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What to do the morning after…

What to do the morning after…

I cried myself to sleep last night.

And then woke up this morning still carrying the crushing weight of grief and worry. It sits in my gut like an anvil. It makes my hands shake when I try to type and my eyes water over at a kind word or gesture.

As I pulled the covers up over my shoulder last night I remembered the last time I had cried myself to sleep: when our son Tony was taken from us. This crushing weight, this mind-numbing worry, this panic for the future, it all feels very familiar.

So what did I do then? How did I get up and go about life? How did I not lock my doors and shut my windows and keep my family safe inside this bubble that I think I control?

Here’s what I did then:

  • I was very tender towards myself. I didn’t rush to get dressed or put makeup on or get back to business as usual. I let myself grieve. I sat on the floor and sobbed. I laid on my bed and shouted at God. I let myself feel.
  • I dug into Scripture. Into the truths found there. I spoke them aloud even if I didn’t believe them. I let friends speak them to me, even if they made me mad. I knew that ultimately hope and healing would be found within, so I kept going back to those words.
  • I prayed. Sometimes with words, most often with tears. I prayed for my son and for the family he left behind–especially the sisters who didn’t understand his abrupt departure. I prayed for the family he joined. I prayed for the social workers and the people who worried for me. And I prayed for my enemies: for the ones who took my son and scrutinized my actions and told me I wasn’t a good mother.
  • I nourished my body when I could. I gave it long walks and good cheese and the best chocolate.
  • I looked for God’s faithfulness. And when I looked I found it in big and in small ways. I opened my eyes to the wonder that is God’s constant care of me and I was renewed by the gratitude it brought about in me.
  • I answered my children’s questions with the best honesty I could. I let them see me sad, grieving what in no way was right or fair. I showed them a mother daily fighting to choose faith over fear, confident that someday I wouldn’t have to fight anymore.
  • I scrubbed my kitchen floor on my hands and my knees. I gave myself work to do. I sweat it out. I was proud of my labor.
  • I let my people love me. And when I was ready, I got to the work of loving them back.

 

Here’s what I’m going to do now:

  • I’m going to be tender towards myself. I won’t be rushed to get dressed or put on makeup or get back to the business as usual. I will let myself grieve, to cry and wail and sob and feel what I need to feel.
  • I’ll return to the Book that gives life and hope and healing. I’ll speak its words aloud, even if I don’t believe them right now, because I know I will again.
  • I’ll pray. I’ll pray for my friends and my neighbors. I’ll pray for Holy Spirit power over my fears and panic. I’ll pray for those who lost and those who won. I’ll pray for my enemies, and ask God to grow in me a tender heart where I do not see anyone as such.
  • I will nourish my body with movement and with good food. I’ll let myself rest. I’ll drink a Starbucks without regret.
  • I will continue to look for God’s faithfulness and proclaim it when I find it. Because I know it is here.
  • I’ll sit with my children in their feelings too. I’ll show them a woman grieved and grieving, but a woman who will use this grief to fuel her actions. I will answer their questions and hold them tightly. I will remind them of what I know: they are loved fiercely by the God of the universe and the parents to whom God entrusted their care. We will work together to choose faith over fear.
  • I’ll find work to do. Laundry and sweeping. Cooking and crafting. Reading and writing. This is holy and I do it not to distract myself from my pain, but to work my way through it.
  • I will look for love. Always. It is there, it is here. It is all around.

 

When we lost Tony a friend shared these words with me. They comforted me and challenged me in the way Scripture seems to: inspite of everything, keep doing good.

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In her gracious and humble speech today, Secretary Clinton invoked these words from Scripture, and in a similar way my friend had, reminded us to keep doing good. “My friends” she said, “let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary and lose heart, for there are more seasons to come and there is more work to do.”

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So dear ones, if you are grieving with me today let us grieve and cry and work through our pain. Wallow. Sit in it. Wail if you need to. You have my permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling. But at the end of it, we must get back up. Let us not give up or run away. Let us continue to do the good work that God has called us to. Let us together promise to choose faith over fear, to love with abandon, and to look for God’s presence and care because I promise if you look you will find it. It may be in unexpected places and unexpected faces, but it is there. And together we will not only find it, we will become it.

Christian men, your sisters need you!

Christian men, your sisters need you!

I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was sitting on the stage at my church waiting for my rowdy group of kids to be picked up. We had just wrapped up another night of Awana ministry and the kids were running wild around our sanctuary. My coworker came to sit beside me and say hello before departing with a “see you Thursday night!” I must have looked confused because he stopped and gestured assuringly, “You know, at the pastor’s Christmas dinner party.”

I simply shook my head as my heart sunk: I hadn’t been invited.

 

My first all-staff picture.
My first all-staff picture.

 

There is a really cool God-story connected with how I got this job as Children’s Ministry Director. (When I tell it now I usually call myself a Children’s Pastor, but that’s another story for another day. As is the one about how I got the job.) It was my first “real” job after college graduation if you don’t count my internship that turned into a 6-month contract and a summer spent at day camp as a women’s lead counselor. I loved this job working with kids (and their parents, and leaders, and volunteers, and paid staff) and was passionate about growing the ministry and myself as a leader. I worked hard and it showed with glowing reviews both from parents and my supervisor.

But during my first months there I began to realize that there was something different about me in my role. These differences became especially clear as a new youth pastor was hired. While I had a similar education, led a similar-sized ministry, and worked just as many hours as he did there was things he was included in that I was not (including a higher salary and a housing allowance). Was it because he had children and I did not? Was it because he was a man and I was a woman? Was it because his role was labeled “pastor” and mine was only “director?” I had a lot of questions that went unanswered, mostly because they went unvoiced. I was new and I was young and never felt confident enough to push. So I just prayed a lot and kept doing my work with excellence.

 

 

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I LOVED teaching Kids Church.

 

But that night sitting on that stage my youth pastor friend reacted strongly to my admission that I hadn’t been invited. He took it upon himself to call up our senior pastor who was hosting the dinner and make sure my name (and my husband’s) was on the invitation list. And I don’t know what kind of back-room deals went on regarding me, but it didn’t take much longer for me to be included in the weekly pastoral staff meetings and the monthly pastoral staff lunches. Even when I was the only woman in the room for years, I worked hard to do more listening than speaking. I learned to use my voice wisely so that when I spoke up, those guys listened. And because I was in the room I was able to advocate for my ministry, for the kids and the families I was charged with the care of. And I got to read the prayer cards each week, bow my head, and enter into pastoral care for the families I loved.

And all it took was one man standing up and saying “she needs to be included. Her voice is important and we need to hear it.” I am forever grateful for this man who stopped long enough to see me, and then went to work on my behalf.

 

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My very first office. I loved this space. Still get a little teary-eyed looking at pictures of it.

 

 

Christian men, we need you. Your sisters are working hard and faithfully living out our callings in the building of God’s kingdom. We need you to be our friend, and our advocate. Speak up. Invite us into the room. Tell the stories of how our words or actions have mattered to you.  We need you on our team, fighting with us and for us.

Because we all benefit when leaders are unleashed. When men and women work together based on giftedness and not on gender. When a multitude of voices are included and encouraged.

 

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On a staff retreat, very pregnant with Daisy.

 

Who has been an advocate in your life? How can you be such an advocate for someone else today?

Scenes from an Egalitarian Marriage: Halloween

Scenes from an Egalitarian Marriage: Halloween

We may read a lot about complementarian versus egaliatarian marriages in theory, but what does an egalitarian marriage look like in practice? That’s the purpose of this series: a glimpse of how roles based on giftedness and not gender, how mutual submission and genuine partnership can look in the midst of a real-life relationship-ours. 

 

While we’re not really into the spooky/scary stuff of Halloween, the Gemmer family has always been into dressing up. Early each fall we sit down as a family and decide what the girls want their costumes to be, then we divide up labor and make a plan. Nothing against those families who chose to let their kids explore the costume aisle at Target to pick their Halloween duds, but we just think homemade costumes are much more fun.

But we are also a family with two parents who are busy and have multiple commitments to keep. Just because Darin’s job supports our family with a paycheck, doesn’t mean my volunteer job is any less important. And while I may be the one “at home” with the munchkins, our two heads put together are much more creative than my one.

The first year we really dove into the homemade costumes was the year Daisy decided she wanted to be a butterfly and Dani jumped right aboard that bandwagon. Darin had a vision that involved flexible pvc and tulle, and I was happy to be in charge of antennae and black clothing. This costume was a big winner and the girls loved all the compliments they received, even if they had to walk sideways to get through any doorway they encountered.

Giant butterflies! They had to turn sideways to get through doorways.
Giant butterflies!

 

The following year we were way into Pippi Longstocking, and Dani had fallen in love with a horse costume her Gran had sent her. With Dani’s costume already taken care of, Darin took on the making of the Pippi wig and once again I was in charge of clothing. I found the dress and some way-big boots (Daisy fits into them now, 4 years later she’s wearing them as actual shoes) and sewed some patches on a play apron they owned. But the star of the show? Darin’s amazing handiwork at her wig.

That evening as we were trick-or-treating in the neighborhood, Darin overheard a couple of parents talking about Daisy’s costume. They had done a costume parade at school earlier in the afternoon and the parents were agreeing that Daisy’s costume was the best in the school. You better believe my husband took great pride in overhearing that comment.

Pippi Longstocking and her horse Alfonso.
Pippi Longstocking and her horse Alfonso.

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By now Darin was starting to get a reputation he needed to uphold. The next Halloween Dani wanted to wear her new Rapunzel dress so we convinced Daisy to become the chameleon pal – Pascal – from Tangled. Darin took full ownership of both Dani’s wig and Daisy’s costume. You can’t see it here but Daisy’s chameleon not only lit-up, it changed colors. It was a perfect for trick-or-treating in the dark, it was just too bad that Daisy got sick that year and wasn’t feeling up for a trek around the neighborhood. And Dani’s wig? Masterpiece!

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The summer of 2014 Daisy spent developing her own superhero alter-ego and really wanted to dress the part of “Rainbow Zap” for Halloween. Since my sewing skills are much better than Darin’s, I took ownership of this year’s costume and sewed a cape, wristlets and mask. Dani found a Peacock costume in a consignment shop that she fell in love with and since we had store credit to spend I couldn’t say no. Somehow Darin got out of costume work this year!

Rainbow Zap and Peacock - only one of these costumes is homemade.
Rainbow Zap and Peacock – only one of these costumes is homemade.

 

One more Halloween, one more costume conversation. Dani was excited that it was her turn to wear the Chameleon costume (easy, check!) and Daisy was really interested in dressing as her favorite My Little Pony. Darin agreed to tackle her costume if I would search out some ideas for him. While searching I stumbled upon an Etsy listing for a homemade costume, in Daisy’s size! What a gift. Knowing we couldn’t do a homemade costume for any cheaper than this one was listed, I hit order and Darin counted his blessings.

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The chameleon returns and in joined by Pinkie Pie.

 

Sometime over the past year since I’ve been in Seminary, Darin has taken up crochet as a hobby. He was tired of sitting alone bored most evenings while I studied, but knitting wasn’t his favorite. But when he moved over to crochet he was all in – making hats and scarves and other fun things for us and for gift giving. This isn’t a typical “manly” hobby, but one that is affordable and practical and one that Darin really enjoys.

This year he created a Gru (from Despicable Me) character for camp and the girls loved it so much they wanted to do family costumes when Halloween rolled around. And Darin, once again, had a vision for their costumes that was unmatched. He crocheted them each a hat, adding yarn-covered jar lids for goggles, and chenille stems for the crazy purple minion. The costumes fit our family personalities quite perfectly.

Gru and Lucy take their Minions to the church trunk-or-treat party.
Gru and Lucy take their Minions to the church trunk-or-treat party.

 

At the school carnival Dani happily told everyone who complimented her hat (once again Daisy was sick) that her dad made it. While they received several questioning looks (Dani told me one guy tried to convince her that she was wrong, that it was her mom who made the costume) it is so fun for me to see our girls gleefully extolling their Dad’s creative talents.

We work together to create costumes each year, because we are both creative. We both have something to bring, not based on our gender, but on our God-given gifts. And our whole family benefits when everyone gets to use their gifts to the fullest.

Can’t wait to see what Halloween 2017 brings our way!

Want to know more about egalitarian marriage and how this model is fully Biblically supported? Click here.
Daughters, Jesus, & the F-Word

Daughters, Jesus, & the F-Word

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For the past few years my daughters have been involved in a local Wednesday-night girl’s ministry. They have loved the program and it has been a great opportunity for them to learn Bible verses, make friends, be mentored, and grow in their understanding of Christian principles. They were excited to go each week.

But at the conclusion of the end-of-the-year awards night, my youngest leaned over and told me she wanted to join the boy’s club next year. And I didn’t blame her. We had just heard all about the fun things the boys were doing: survival skills, rowdy games, snow cave building, archery, and campouts.

My husband looked over at me and rolled his eyes, knowing that if our girls really wanted to join that boys club, I would fight for them to do so, no matter how many enemies it might make us. (Or maybe I would just have to fight for some big curriculum changes to the girls’ program?)

Honestly, I don’t want to take anything away from the boys and all the cool things they’re doing. I’m just wondering why the girls group isn’t engaging in those kinds of activities too? Sure, my daughters love pink and a good glittery craft. But they also love building forts and going camping. My oldest wants to be an inventor and is really into robotics. My youngest is super athletic and loves a good challenge. I want to do everything I can as their mama to cultivate their interests and encourage learning and play in all the ways God has designed them to learn and play. Seriously, girls AND boys can be both Christ-followers and outdoor adventurers!

You see, I’m a proud feminist. I’m the daughter of feminists. I’m married to a feminist (yep, men can be feminists too). I’m raising feminists.

Last semester at school we read some feminist theology and a lot of my male colleagues had no idea feminism meant “equality for women” and not “men are evil.” I hate that the word feminism has such negative connotations, but I love that my classmates were getting shaken up a little. Over the past few years I have come to embrace Sarah Bessey’s notion of Jesus feminism: “I define feminism as the simple belief that women are people, too. At the core, feminism simply means that we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women. That’s it.” Sarah calls this Jesus feminism because it is most-heavenly influenced by the attitude she sees in Jesus.

Just this week a picture went viral that reminded us feminists just how much work we have to do. A mother snapped this picture of two magazine covers:

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Ugh. Just ugh. Girls are told about fashion, makeup, hair, and getting a first kiss. Sure, there is something there about friendship, and a note about getting good grades, but they are pretty buried, especially when shown next to the Boys’ Life cover. Look at all these cool jobs you could have! As the mother who snapped the original photo and wrote to the Girls’ Life editors said, the girl’s magazine is all about “be as pretty as this girl” while the boy’s says “be who you want to be.”

So a big hearty thank-you to Katherine Young for fixing it! Now this is a magazine my budding engineer, artist, athlete, entrepreneur, and feminist would definitely want to buy. And this mother would happily fork out the money to do so.

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Now a change in our family’s schedule meant that the Wednesday night programs were no longer a possibility, but you better believe I would have gone to the mat for those girls if they had asked me to.