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Men + Women

Men and women. The relational narrative between the genders has always been tricky for me to navigate, and rightfully so. My trust of men broke at a very young age, abandoned by a father who, as such, was supposed to stick around, love me and protect me. I was adopted by a wonderful man, but we didn’t always treat each other well...so much hidden pain flowing between us. I no longer hold this against my Forever Dad, but I openly tell of our struggle, dear reader, to set the stage. That pain added to my grudge against men.

Fatherly abandonment is detrimental. It messes with heads and hearts. It breaks a foundational trust that is supposed to be there. Fathers are important. I’ve talked before of the emotional havoc abandonment left behind for me to wade through. It’s been a painful process but also good and necessary. I can look back and see that I was desperate to be found loved and wanted, but instead of turning to and depending on Christ, I turned to boys. I fell in love hard and young. Our relationship was long-lasting for high schoolers. But when it fell apart, I was crushed. I built everything on the wrong thing and when it crashed, so did I. It wasn’t his fault. A precarious foundation won’t stand. My search for love and worth never stood a chance apart from Jesus. But I didn’t know that then. I didn’t even know I had this void I was trying to fill. I continued down this path for years, trying desperately to fix the pain with relationships. It didn’t work. But Jesus? He’s continually binding my wounds, bringing things to the light where darkness can’t stand. He’s healing me. He’s molding and shaping me. I won’t go back. (My fellow brothers and sisters, if you’re listening, seeking worth in a relationship or in self will always fall short. The Bible is true. God is real, and it’s His standards that matter. Your worth is true because He says you’re valuable!)

I’ve written before about the #metoo movement. I’ve been sexually harassed innumerable times. The range of hurt and trauma within this movement is horrific. There are stories that gut me. Mine isn’t so bad in comparison. But that’s where comparison is unhelpful. We each have a story. Sexual harassment affected me negatively. I don’t like being treated like meat. I don’t like being cat-called; it is not a compliment. I’ve downplayed my looks and my figure because I don’t want negative male attention (which I’ve received no matter how I’m dressed, by the way. I wasn’t “asking for it.”) Having men whistle and hit on me is uncomfortable. I’d rather be smart. I didn’t like being called PHAT in high school (pretty, hot and tempting). That’s a steak--though "pretty" is debatable--not a human. Not me. And don’t ever say that to my girls. There are ways to compliment women without degrading us. I didn’t like being afraid to get my mail at college--a Christian one, mind you--because of the unwanted comments and attention I knew I’d get as I walked through the crowd. I waited until the mail room was empty, no matter how inconvenient for me, to avoid lewdness. I’m sick of the excuse “boys will be boys” and it’s “just locker room talk” that brushes women off as insignificant and male comments/actions unavoidable…“Hey girl, that’s just how it will be. Accept it.” No thank you. I don’t want it. I don’t want it for my daughters. I don’t want it for my son.

It came to the point where I lumped most men into two categories: womanizing jerks who take joy in making women feel uncomfortable and/or used, and cowards who stand by and watch it happen, both in and out of the church. 

Though the open lewdness lessened as I began to get involved in a local church body, I still fought the need to be found worthy, loved and valued. The undercurrents of conservative Christianity and its emphasis on what I *should* be as a wife, mother, church member and also what I *shouldn’t* be, played right into my life-time playbook: find a way to be seen as valuable, wanted, accepted, needed. Maybe the rules were the answer! I strove hard after following these expectations, subconsciously hoping I’d found the antidote to the void...but no matter what I did, I found myself falling short. Following the rules didn’t make things better for me or for my relationships. Just like trying to fill this void with romantic interest as a teen, striving after these rules and expectations for women got me nowhere fast, except to think if I did the next right thing, I’d be accepted and wanted. Nope.  

These things, both generalizing men and striving to meet expectations for acceptance, are things I’ve needed to repent of. No matter what I’ve gone through, it simply isn’t true that all men everywhere for all time are scumbags, nor can I ever muster enough good deeds to prove myself worthy...I will always fall short of someone, somewhere. 

God has begun to peel back layers, using a few good men’s voices to show me a different way--one full of possibility and hope. I want to share three examples of brothers in the church--all pastors--who have helped me (NOTE: this is NOT an exclusive list!):

Pastor Jerred. I’ll never forget sitting on a barstool in the Unruh’s kitchen talking theology around the table--Jerred, Kerrie, Brad and me--as we often did as our kids played. One evening I surprised myself by telling Pastor Jerred I trusted him. “Hey, that’s no biggie,” you might say. As church-going believers, pastoral trust is ideal after all. But to me, those words were a big deal. You’ve read a shortened version of my history here. For me to trust a guy and actually say so was...a big switch! But he had earned it. He hadn’t automatically assumed I should trust him. He worked at it. He had listened to me. He had believed me. He had given me a voice and space to ask questions. He didn’t brush me off or belittle me, but he did challenge me. After one particularly charged conversation where I mentioned maybe it would have been better for God to make me a male and not a female, per my talents, interests and giftings, I saw something pass over his face...shock maybe, but compassion, too, I think...because a few days later he invited me to use my talent to edify the church body by writing a series for our church to use on Sunday mornings during Advent. This commissioning is still some of the most meaningful work I’ve done...not just because of the wonderful subject matter, but because my pastor gave me a voice. He also gave me space to share my testimony with the church body, the first to believe I had a message to deliver. He encouraged me to study theology and took the time to discuss it with me. Over time I realized I had a brother--no not of flesh and blood, and not one to simply replace my own brother who died when I was a teenager--but a brother nonetheless, one founded on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Up until that point, it had been a long time since I knew what having a brother was like, and I’m thankful God saw fit to bring Jerred (and his wonderful family) into my life. 

Pastor Jack. When the Unruhs moved, God gave me a friendship with Pastor Jack--another amazing brother in Christ--to keep me moving forward in this process. Jack had a willingness to engage with me about my “place” as a female in ministry. I often feel like a fish out of water, and Jack listened to this. He gave me things to study and a safe place to talk about things I disagreed with. Jack listened when I described how tone of delivery matters--how some articles, while maybe theologically correct--turned me away because of the condescending, prideful tone. He listened when I said that writing about this topic with harshness isn’t a way to lovingly encourage women, but simply a way to enforce submission--to put women in their place--which is a form of fear, not to mention sinful. Jack has sent me other articles knowing that because of my work as a writer and speaker, I would need to wrestle through this subject and land on solid ground. This has made me a better thinker, too. He took the time to preach a loving sermon series on women. It was beautiful, encouraging and rooted in scripture. (Beautifully Designed Part 1, Part 2) Instead of beat down as I often feel after listening to men teach on this subject, I felt refreshed, seen, loved and valued. Additionally, his openness about the times he must “stick a flag in scripture and leave it there” when he doesn't understand or maybe even disagrees gave me the courage to do the same.

Eric Schumacher. I don’t know Eric in person, though we actually do have a mutual contact, so you might wonder why I would include him here. Over the last couple years I have had an increasing awareness of the global church (another post for another time), and this is where Eric comes in. He is a pastor in Iowa that I “met” through Twitter. He first earned my profound respect with his blog post, “An Open Letter to Rachael Denhollander” in response to her heartfelt plea on Twitter after a series about sexual abuse in the SBC ran in the Houston Chronicle. She asked this: “Pastors, where were you? When we were pleading for you to speak up against your peers or the leaders your support props up, where were you?” Eric spent time answering, and I read it all, hungry to read the thoughts of a brother who found his sisters in Christ worth supporting and worth apologizing to. I gave him a follow and have since grown to trust his voice as one who truly concerns himself with the well-being of women. When I found out he was co-authoring a book with Elyse Fitzpatrick (whom I also respect) I knew I would read it. I finished it the other night, and this whole post is a culmination of SOME of the thoughts I had as I read “Worthy: Celebrating the Value of Women.” It is a book that speaks lovingly, without condemnation and without obscure loopholes to develop its premise. The examples used are easily accessible to readers by opening scripture...no Greek or Hebrew needed. It’s a breath of fresh air and my main recommendation is this: Male or female, no matter your “camp,” please, please, please read it. And don’t just read it. Consider it. And as you do, consider also the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Eric and Elyse repeatedly draw on. 

There’s much to say, but for now I’ll end here: just as Eric openly confessed his need to repent in his response to women, so must I in my response to men. While my suspicion of men came from life-experience, lumping all men into my limited categories of high-suspicion was unfair and sinful. Just like some men need a new way to think about women, so I need a new way to think about men. Brothers, I ask for your forgiveness and for your patience as I learn to trust in a way that is outside my comfort zone. You’ll probably have to make an effort--I don’t have excess trust after all--but I’m willing to try a new way.

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