Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Color of Your Broken Pieces

For years, I didn't think I fit in to Women's Ministry. I would attend women's Bible studies and my thoughts didn't seem to align with the women with whom I sat. I would attend women's events with fabulously decorated tables and decor. Over-the-top beautiful settings. And I would sit at the table, uncomfortable, self-conscious, just waiting for the moment I knocked over my ginger-peach-sweet-tea-in-a-fancy-goblet.

Once I was asked to decorate a table at a Women's Event. You know, since I was a wife of one of the staff pastors at church. It's actually called "Festival of Tables." I wish I had pictures to show you. It's amazing, truly.  They gave me the theme of (drum roll please): Africa (insert pet-peeve about Africa being considered one big country)  Oh y'all, just imagine the mess: I owned four place mats; I think they were green. "Good," I thought, "Green. That can be African." So I brought them. And I had some random wooden African animals I'd brought home from Ethiopia for my kids. And a multi-colored wrap Rob bought me in Swaziland that I wear when I'm there (and I'm fairly certain a Swazi child peed on once). It was clean. I think. I put it all in a bag and arrived to set-up. Someone asked me, noticing my one bag, "Oh, do you need help for the rest of your stuff?" That was when I thought I might be in trouble. Women needed rolling carts to bring in everything they had for their tables.  I tossed my wrap on my assigned table, eyeing the women around me artfully arranging their table-scapes. I didn't know I was supposed to bring my own china, so used the church's plates (which were way nicer than anything I had at home anyway). Two places didn't have place mats. Some kind soul tried to help and encouraged me to "create some height" while handing me a small cardboard box. I plopped it in the middle of the table and stuck an elephant on it. I learned later it was supposed to be covered in some kind of linen and covered it in some of the church's napkins. You know, since I hadn't brought any napkins of my own. The table next to mine had a 5 foot-high centerpiece made of real flowers, matching china and embroidered place mats and napkins. And a personalized take-home treat for each guest matching the theme. Yup. Y'all, I didn't even sit at my own table! I hid out at a different one across the room, hoping no one would ask any questions. When it was over, I lingered, pretending to "chat" and then hid in the bathroom until other ladies had carefully dismantled their tables. Then I threw all my stuff in a bag and high-tailed it outta there. I probably don't need to tell you I wasn't invited to decorate a table the following year. I think the organizer knew that was an act of mercy, really.

I attended Bible studies about motherhood, about being a wife, about being a pastor's wife. And I always left feeling like a fish out of water. I wanted to believe God had a plan for me, but I could never find it in those beautifully decorated spaces where women discussed their roles as it related to their marriages. I thought it meant something about me. I wondered why I couldn't fit into the role God had put me in. Why don't I feel comfortable in all the ministry settings designed for women? Why does a doily send me into a tailspin? Why can't I play the piano and create beautiful spaces like all the other pastor's wives? What is wrong with me? Why don't my broken pieces fit?

So I stopped going. I realized it wasn't the place for me and it was too painful and exhausting to pretend all the time and bite my tongue. But over the years, I've found the places God has for me: I am at home at the homeless shelter; I have found groups of women with whom I feel safe being real; I can be me when I'm working on social justice issues and how that relates to following Jesus.  I discovered that people write books called "Jesus Feminist" and that God made me who I am and I don't have to mess with his design. My path isn't in the beautifully decorated spaces. And today that is just fine by me. I no longer worry about not fitting in. Because God has a place for me where my broken pieces fit. Even though those pieces aren't pink, pretty, or even coordinated.

This past weekend, I had the crazy honor of helping at the Connected in Hope table at a women's conference. Connected in Hope is an organization I believe in with my whole heart - they are helping the orphan issue in Ethiopia by helping mamas KEEP their children - providing the opportunity for sustainable, predictable incomes, and access to healthcare and education. Just amazing. And the icing on the cake?  Jen Hatmaker was going to be the speaker. I was SO excited.

As I walked in, I stopped dead in my tracks: the place was head-to-toe hot pink. Hot pink tulle draped from the ceiling, cascading down the stairs, tied in big bows in the center of tables. Black and white damask photo booths with ornate frames hanging on ribbons for photo ops. Tiny pink cupcakes on over-sized cake stands (artfully interspersed with chocolate brownies, of course). Hot pink couch with lacy pillows. Beautifully dressed women in perfect makeup walking around wearing monogrammed boots (For real. Maybe you already know about this? Monogrammed boots. This is a thing.).  This was the exact kind of event that made me feel so apart and alone years ago.

So clearly, I fit in just fine.

But instead of feeling inferior, I was happy. I looked around and saw the thousand women there and how comfortable they were in that setting. I thought about how much Jesus loved them. They did some kind of cheerleader-y dance in the morning session and I stood in the back, watching the participants clapping and singing along. (confession: I may have texted a few friends in search of some support. I had a teeny moment in which I thought I might sink through the floor. But, never fear, I persevered). I no longer need my broken pieces to be pink and I can celebrate the pink pieces of my sisters. I am not the woman this conference was designed for and I no longer worry about it.

Instead, the amazing part of the conference was hearing Pam Simpson speak about Connected in Hope; it was getting to proudly stand at the table and tell the story of my sisters in Ethiopia. It was having the honor of selling (and wearing) their beautiful scarves and jewelry - the amazing work that provides them the sustainable and predictable income they said they needed in order to break the cycle of poverty. My broken pieces fit just fine at the Connected in Hope table.

My broken pieces aren't pink. They are the red, green, yellow, and blue of the Ethiopian flag. They are the varied browns of the faces of the people I love in Swaziland. They are the dirty denim color of a donated pair of too-big jeans on a precious soul in the homeless shelter, they are the rainbow of the allies of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. My broken pieces aren't pretty or lacy or monogrammed. And I am a woman, designed by God, forever-learning to follow Jesus. I'm not a mistake.

I'm trying to learn that God loves me, no matter the color of my broken pieces, as much as he loves those hot-pink-pieced women. I know he does. I'm so thankful that he is proving it to me over and over again.

Are you a hot-pink-pieced sister? I love you. I love that you can go to those Women's Ministry events and connect with God. Are you an anything-but-hot-pink-pieced sister? I love you. And I'm so thankful to have discovered that you ladies are out there. I'm not alone with my hot-mess-colored pieces. God has a place for our broken pieces, sisters.

No matter the color of your broken pieces.... you can make a difference for a sister on the other side of the world. We can help fellow mamas, just like us.  I have yet to meet a mother who doesn't want the same things for her children: for them to be healthy, to have hope, for education. As a social worker, I have pretty high standards for organizations I support. Connected in Hope is getting it right. Take a minute and check them out here. Plus your broken pieces can look pretty fantastic in their awesome jewelry, scarves and bags. (ha. See what I did there?)

Our little team working the Connected in Hope tables

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