My son is wearing half of the cream cheese from his bagel on his pants. I believe the other half made it into his mouth, but I can’t be sure. Please don’t judge. He needs a lot of wiping up, and it doesn’t matter how often we plead with him to not use his clothes as a napkin. He still does.
Are you a family with linen or cotton napkins? Fabric niceties? Or are you like us, grabbing a handful of paper towels on the way to the table? Perhaps you’re in between, using the elegant, disposable napkins? At our house, you are a special guest of high-standing if we bring out the fabric napkins, but you are family if you get paper. Which is better? I suppose it all depends on the circumstances!
Here, lay this across your lap, have a cup of tea, and let’s chat about this.
There is a perception out there that Women’s Ministry is just about cute little tea parties and happy socials where women dress up, show off their new hat, gush a bit over each other, and then fold the napkin prim and proper and leave. That’s been my impression at least. Sure, I grew up seeing some of that; I wasn’t the PK for nothing! But I’m starting to see that the napkin isn’t to be folded. It’s to be used as a tourniquet to stem the bleeding, or as a handkerchief soggy and slimy, to wipe away the stains, to sponge up the mess. Ministry of all kinds is more like walking into triage than through a flower garden. Because it’s messy out there.
Have I told you that my last pregnancy was really messy? I was pregnant, but I kept losing pregnancies so we had to watch the first weeks carefully. Then we found out the hormone levels were doubling and tripling what they would be for a normal pregnancy… that seemed great, except I felt like I was swimming in a sea of off-balance, out-of-body nausea that wouldn’t quit; and I didn’t want it to. Then there were two babies to rejoice over and plan for and there was our nearly 4 year-old to take care of. Plans came to a halt because there was only one baby now, and deep, deep ugly mourning. And that one night when I rocked my babies, one alive and kicking and one dead, and God spoke clearly to me that my baby angel had done his purpose. He had accompanied Joseph through those difficult first stages and was now living in Heaven… twins separated before birth. The prolapsed cervix that followed had me struggling to move. Afternoons of Angelina Ballerina on the sofa trying not to vomit, to mother my out-of-the-womb child and my in-the-womb child simultaneously when all my energy seemed to be going to growing that baby and there wasn’t anything left over for me or her, my already-been-born baby. There are videos, songs, books, and smells that have such strong nausea associations with them that I can’t look, watch, read, or sniff without a physical and emotional reaction. There was bleeding and pre-labor and a shot to speed up the lung development and then swollen ankles and fingers and pain in every ligament as I was stretched taut. It could have been a lot worse, but it certainly wasn’t a beautiful thing to watch…not in the way that some women carry babies like a fanny pack.
Into that mess stepped a few women who agreed to bring meals to help us out. Women from church, most of whom were living chaotic lives raising children of their own, swung by every other day with a meal, a moment of explanation of what needed to be done to finish it off, a smile and an encouraging word. Then they were out the door easy-breezy and I felt like the Holy Spirit had just swept through. Because I was hungry for sisterhood, for someone to come alongside me and wrap her arms around me and tell me that this is what women do for their families, and that it would be okay in the end. One poor woman arrived with a meal, harried, rushed, and I needed to talk because I was kind of at the end of my wits. And she was too. I felt it in her presence and I saw it in her face as my need to gush overpowered her need to get out the door. Shock, unpreparedness, and discomfort all played like banners across her face. She wanted to scream, “TMI!” And I wanted her, anyone, someone, to sit and listen and grab a Kleenex for me.
Have I told you how lonely those days were once Joseph was born? Trapped at home with two little ones, wishing there was a nearby grandma who could swoop in and relieve me so I could run to the grocery store for much needed medicine or grab a nap or a shower. The meals had stopped and our neighborhood seemed so quiet and empty during the long days and longer evenings before hubby got home from work. Where was everyone? Where was the community, the village I needed to help me raise my kiddos?
Oh, but I need to tell you how, through attending Aphesis (now known as Head to Heart) and Bible Study at VCC, I met some amazing women. Kelly, Jan, Kristi, Denise, Sheri, Becca, Michelle, Sandi … these became my sisters, brought to me for a very difficult time, investing in me and my family during a time when I wasn’t able to function as I ought. I’ve spoken of my season of anxiety and of the straw that broke that back, that left me incapable of taking care of my family. And these women stepped in and played mommy, chef, taxi driver, mentor, and leader for me in the interim, while God and I were working through the healing. Praise God for taking me to the breaking point so I could heal. Praise God for providing the safety net I thought I would never find. Praise God for the women who became my sisters that cared for me and my family in tangibly helpful ways. I treasure the ministry others have poured into me.
And I treasure my time to serve you. The word in Christian circles has been about glorifying God in the little things, in everything we do from changing the diapers, sweeping up Cheerios, carpooling, folding laundry, photocopying at work, grocery shopping. And I try. I try to say as I’m folding Mt. Laundry that this has a very important role in my family life and I’m doing a great service of love for my family. I try to look at the grocery store and the playground and the baseball field as my mission field.
Likewise, Bible Study is my mission field. I love learning about God and his Word. Don’t you? But, dear Sister, Jesus didn’t come into the world simply to read the Torah and to discuss it with the religious leaders. He walked the roads, dined with the dirty, forgave the unclean, healed the scarred and sinful, confronted the self-absorbed and falsely pious. Imagine if he had only studied God’s Word!
When Jesus looked at the people with whom he interacted, he saw their scars and their wounds and their pain. In studying together, we begin to see each others’ scars and wounds and pain. We begin to share the pain and the scars and the wounds. Sometimes we call it spiritual warfare, sometimes we call it out as Satan attacking, and sometimes we just need to go in a room and cry. Someone pass that napkin; we’ve got an ugly cry in room 3!
Cancer strikes. Death leaves a void. People betray trust. Sanctity is destroyed. Families are tearing each other apart. It’s messy out there. But that’s what the napkins are for!
Ministry is serving each other. (For our word lovers, the word ministry is from the Greek word diakoneo, which literally means “to serve.”) And serving means wiping tears and making meals and inviting others and standing in the gap and praying all out with someone. It looks like family, the kind of family God, in his triune perfection, models for us and draws us into. So when we talk about Women’s Ministry, please don’t think about fancy hats and pious tea parties. No, it’s about real life together. We’re studying how to follow Jesus together. That is critical. With that foundation, we can then help each other raise our kids, mature our relationships, kindle our marriages, support each other in the suffering times, rejoice with each other in the healing and growing times. The Word comes first because only there is true connection and fellowship born. And connection exposes the dark underbelly of living, the places where we need more of Jesus. So, put out the napkins. It’s messy out there. And we’ve got some wiping up to do.