Sipping on coffee, I was sitting in the café of a church in a Dallas suburb where I’d just spoken, when I noticed a man’s military boots in front of me. As I lifted my eyes, I saw the desert fatigues. And then my pupils met his. I knew this man! “Justin!”
The soldier standing in front of me was someone I had loved and mentored in my job as a seminary professor. He was one of my artistic geniuses, eating up every word I’d had to say about how to tell a story. I jumped up to greet him. What a wonderful surprise!
But what I had assumed was a random intersection of our lives was actually a planned meeting. He was headed out on his first tour of duty to Afghanistan, and he’d tracked me down to say goodbye. But first he had something additional to say. It went something like this:
“You believed in me from the start, nurturing my dreams, and modeling for me what a godly woman looks like. Like a spiritual mom. Thank you, ma’am.”
I had no words. It was too much.
“I didn’t want to deploy without first . . .” he stammered, “making sure I said those words to you.”
Isn’t that just like the body of Christ at its best—providing mothers and fathers for “kids” and children for the childless. Because who doesn’t need more love and support and nurturing to thrive?
* * *
I had not set out to be a seminary professor. In fact, I didn’t think seminary was a place for a woman….
I had always dreamed of having a large family—I’m the fourth of five kids. But seven early pregnancy losses and an ectopic pregnancy told my husband and me that we would never have biological children. So we pursued adoption.
Meanwhile, career doors kept opening for me, but all I wanted was motherhood. I had devoured the classic complementarian-on-the-traditionalist-end-of-the-spectrum manhood/womanhood book and quoted it frequently. The woman’s role was in the home caring for children, right? I had the gift of teaching—and wasn’t that what 1 Timothy 2 taught? That a woman’s teaching gifts should be directed not to helping mature the body of Christ but to strengthening her nuclear family?
So we pursued adoption. I took birthing classes with the birth mom we linked up with. But she changed her mind. And then another birth mom changed her mind. And another.
“Why, God?” I begged. “Why would you take a woman committed to what you value and keep her from becoming who you made her to be?”
Meanwhile, my husband—a seminary grad—and I took ministry trips abroad, and we saw for the first time how much our views of man and woman and what the Bible teaches about them had been shaped by American, white, middle-class culture. While people in churches back home were arguing over whether (mostly white) women had God’s permission to work outside of domestic space, women in less developed countries did not have the luxury of even raising such a question. They just wanted their children to go to bed with bellies at least half-full. And maybe own a pair of shoes. How could I reconcile these two worlds? Surprisingly, through Proverbs 31. A fresh look revealed a woman who contributed to the economics of her household in every way possible, enabling her husband to do work that did not appear to be income-producing but that was community-building. That chapter even had a bunch of war imagery applied to that strong woman (e.g., valor, prey, strength), as if women are supposed to engage in warfare or something.