A Moment for the Middle Child

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Seven years ago today, I woke up with a back ache which wouldn’t go away. It got worse and worse, and after an hour of shifting positions, it dawned on me that perhaps—just perhaps—I was in labor. I was 40 weeks pregnant, after all. It shouldn’t have taken me that long to work out.

A very hurried two hours later, I held our newborn boy in my arms: slick white, chubby, cooing on my breast. My body was in shock and I, shivering, had a wild, lucid thought flash through my mind:

Pay attention to this moment. Remember the details of this birth, so that it doesn’t get blurred between your first and your last baby. 

I remember the thought as a shock: I’d been a mother of two for barely ten minutes, and yet a voice—whose voice?—seemed so confident there would be a third. So, pay attention to this one, the one in the middle, for he is unique. special. God’s good gift to you this day.

This morning, I held that much-bigger-but-still-sweet boy in my arms, whispering Happy Birthday and telling him—as I do every year—the story of his birth. I remember the details and honor him, just like the voice told me too. My second-born, and in no way crowded out, precious middle child.


My friend Kate Motaung hosts a wonderful community of writers who take on a five-minute writing assignments on a Friday. This week the prompt was middle, so how could I not take her up on this? Five minutes of writing to remember, and honor, my boy on his special day 🙂 You can click over to Kate’s lovely site and read more.

‘Get the Girl to Do It’ – Thoughts on race, the space race, and gender in “Hidden Figures”

I got to see an early screening of Hidden Figures (in theaters this Friday) and wrote about it for Christianity Today Women. Here’s the link if you’d like to click right over to read it, and here are the first paragraphs if you’re curious:

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The rush to sign kids up for summer camps is always intense, but this past summer, few filled up as quickly as the one targeted at girls interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). My family lives in a college town, home to one of the top-ranked science schools in the country, and getting my scientifically curious nine-year-old daughter into that camp felt like shooting for the stars.

We didn’t even make the waiting list for the camp last summer. However, this last week I did make the long drive into the city to take my daughter to see an early screening of Hidden Figures, which in some ways offers something better than a STEM camp. Summer camps and chemistry kits under the Christmas tree do much to kindle curiosity in the sciences, but this movie presented an opportunity to fan that curiosity into flame with a potent story of possibility. This, after all, is the power of fictional and nonfictional role models: They give concrete shape to inchoate longings. (Read the rest here…)

On Adulting, Growing Up, and Turning 40.

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Along with “woke” (aware of societal injustice, especially racism) and “coulrophobia” (fear of clowns), adulting made the 2016 Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year list. I like word lists, and I’ve done an awful lot of “adulting” lately, and so perhaps it was inevitable that at some point my jumble of thoughts would turn into a blog post.

The Word of the Year list defines “adulting” this way:

The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.

These last six months have been very busy for us. I didn’t write most of the summer and then wrote a hello-its-me-I’m-back post in September, and then pretty much fell off a cliff immediately afterwards. There are many reasons for this: within a week of the school year starting up, we decided to buy a house and got word that our permanent residency application had been approved (This is HUGE. Here’s backstory if you need it!) This triggered an avalanche of paperwork, and I dutifully donned my administrative SCUBA gear and dove headfirst into the depths. Six weeks later, my kids were falling apart at the seams from neglect, and we still had to finish packing up and moving house. Our new house is wonderful in most every way, except that what we had hoped would be a minor “updating” of the kitchen turned into a complete-gutting-and-remodel when we found some structural problems that needed to be addressed. For the record, we’ve been in our house for 7 weeks now and still don’t have a kitchen. Not a sink. Not a countertop. Not a single working outlet in that room. sigh.

In the midst of this, I turned 40 – a milestone I wish I was cool enough and mentally healthy enough not to have dreaded as I did, but whatever. Turning 40 is like a mean game of hide and seek: no matter where you hide, the countdown continues and it’s coming whether you’re ready or not. But being found by the big-four-oh wasn’t as bad as I’d feared (the build-up is always worse than the thing itself, I think.) Mostly, I’d been afraid that the big milestone birthday would include some sort of reckoning of my worth: if I wasn’t wildly celebrated would that mean I didn’t have friends? If I still didn’t have a work permit and closed out my thirties without having had a paying job for a decade, did that mean I’d wasted it? These are silly questions when you speak them out loud, but they can shout quite loudly when you’re up at 3:30am contemplating kitchenlessness.

I hate 3:30am.

This is what happened on my fortieth birthday: I canceled brunch with a friend because I needed to troubleshoot a crisis with the countertop installation in the kitchen. I then sat at home and paid bills and did laundry. I shampooed marker out of my son’s carpet. I answered the phone. I read two hundred Facebook messages and smiled at each and every one of them. I drove carpool, picked my kids up from school, and they had piano lessons. I adulted.

And I was okay with that.

Part of the reason I was okay was that I had received the perfect card from my husband that morning, and I read and re-read his words multiple times throughout the day. He acknowledged that he knew I’d been anxious about this birthday and he wished we’d been able to do something really big to celebrate: something on our bucket list like a trip to Italy! But, he said, when we look back on this season of our lives, perhaps it won’t have been the most fun birthday, but it was a season in which we bought a house we love, raised children, and changed countries. “Perhaps we will look back on this as the time we finally became grownups,” he said.

I laughed through tears as I read that. How ridiculous that we should be in our FORTIES before we were ready to acknowledge we were grownups. But therein lies the paradox of “adulting”. Unlike a student card or a drivers’ license or a passport, nobody issues you were a “Grownup card” to make it official. We feel for years and years and years that overarching sense of continuity between our teen selves and the person we are now. Surely we would know we were adults because we would feel different? And yet we don’t feel different – the evidence of wrinkles and a spreading butt notwithstanding – and so it seems somehow strange to have crossed that threshold without it being official in some way.

And so it is that when we are adults who somehow still vividly remember being 20 and on-the-cusp-of-adulthood, and we find ourselves filling our days with mundane but necessary tasks, we need a word to describe it: “adulting”. As if these were activities abnormal to our true state of (carefree, youthful) being. As if we were really big children playing “house” where I pretend to be the mom and he pretends to be the dad and we pretend to go to the store and make dinner.

Nope. We’re not adulting. We’re adults. This is not a dress rehearsal. As it turns out, we’ve been adults for a while. And maybe turning 40 is not so bad when I realize it is not an unfair number to slap onto a feels-much-younger self. It’s exactly the right number for someone who has lived and loved and learned for 40 years.

After my ordinary day of regular tasks as an adult on my birthday (note, I didn’t say adulting), my husband took me out for dinner. Towards the end of dinner, two friends—dressed like clowns!—rapped at the restaurant window and kidnapped me for a surprise birthday party, complete with chocolate fondue and the world’s largest balloons. We drank liquor without being carded, and at the end of the evening we all headed home to our love-and-responsibility-filled-houses. This, too, was adulting: the up-side of having responsibility and freedom and choice… and luckily no-one with coulrophobia.

On The Pain of Going to Church and How Community Orchestra Helped

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It was hard to be in church yesterday.

Trump won the US presidential election, and it is no secret to readers of this blog that I was sad about that (although I will respect him and pray for his government). But I was sadder still that pollsters said more than 80% of evangelical Christians voted for him, and so it was hard to go to worship in an American evangelical church on Sunday morning. With a US flag up front. Even though the prayer was tender, and the sermon spoke so directly and kindly about loving our Muslim neighbors. It was hard to be there.

I was sad about how divided the church is.

I was sad about how much damage we’ve done to each other and the witness of the Gospel in the world by presuming to speak for God with “endorsements as Christians.”

I was sad about what felt like a win for fear and divisiveness, when the church is supposed to be about mercy, radical welcome, the kingdom of God, and love.

hate feeling this way. I feel a bone-deep grief for the church and our community, and I’m wrestling with my own attitudes and judgments towards other believers who are just as loved by God but who seem to come to such different conclusions about life. “What a mess we are. What a mess I am,” I wailed as I drove alone in my car yesterday afternoon. “What do you think of this, God?” I challenged.

He didn’t say anything.

I had to cut my prayer rant short and find parking: I’d arrived at the community hall where a local chamber orchestra was giving a recital. I brushed the tears off my face and slipped into the back row. They had just started the opening notes of Beethoven’s 5th: a well-known and well-loved piece if ever there was one.

And friends, it was…. how shall I put this? It was…. not the best rendition of Beethoven I’ve ever heard. I confess I winced more than once in the first few minutes, particularly when the cellos sounded discordant (I’m not sure if that’s because the strings section was weaker or because I am particularly aware of cellos since it’s the only orchestra instrument I’ve ever played.)

But it wasn’t long before my wincing was replaced by more tears as God gently walked me through a series of thoughts:

“This doesn’t sound very good, but I couldn’t play any better than this.”

“The skill level of each of these individuals is pretty high, but getting people to play music together is so much harder than playing alone.”

“A player’s individual weaknesses are sometimes disguised by the sound of the group, but each person’s weakness also lowers the overall quality of sound.”

“And when they’re not listening to each other or the conductor, it sounds particularly messy.”

And then,

“Each one of these musicians knows how this piece is supposed to sound. And each of them knows that it doesn’t sound like they wish it did. Perhaps they’re tempted to quit because they don’t want to be a part of something that sounds so awkward. And yet they keep playing. It doesn’t sound as it should but it’s better than it did when they first started rehearsing. And so, they keep playing, and doing their best. Measure by measure. Movement by movement.

“If the cellists were to realize they were the weakest in the group and simply stopped playing, the whole thing would fall apart. All the parts matter. Rather like 1 Corinthians 12. Who are we to honor one part above another, or say to any one else “I don’t need you?”

“And, still, they are making music. Listen, that part with the pizzicato was lovely. Listen, your heart beat faster in that section. Listen, awkward as it is at times, they are making music together and look: it is finished, and you are clapping, and you mean it.”

God showed me a glimpse of the church as his little community orchestra, filled with faithful-and-far-from-perfect musicians. Each person with their skills. Each person with their weaknesses. All of us letting the others down at times, and yet all of us soldiering on together at the conductor’s urging. Sometimes the combined sound makes us wince, but what shall we do? We’re not where we should be yet, but God knows: we have to keep playing.

So I’ll go back to church on Sunday, and I will focus my efforts on playing as faithfully as I can and keeping my eyes trained on the Great Conductor. We all will. And one day, we will look back, and we will have muddled through and made music together, and we will be glad.

A Prayer for Election Day

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We were apprehensive about that election in 1994: the first democratic vote in South Africa’s history. There had been so much bloodshed leading up to that point, and I was just one of a throng of believers who prayed fervently as people cast their ballots. More often than not, I found myself praying 1 Timothy 2:1-6: for a government that would allow us to lead peaceful and quiet lives, so that the gentle work of God drawing people to know him could continue.

Today is election day in the USA, and again I am one of a throng of believers praying. This time, these are the words I keep finding myself praying:

Our Father, who is in heaven,

Hallowed be your name.

Your Kingdom Come,

Your Will be Done –

– on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread,

and forgive us our sins. Even as we forgive those who’ve sinned against us.

Lead us not into temptation,

Deliver us from Evil.

For the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory are Yours.

Now, and Forevermore.

Amen.

Ask Me: “Should I go to grad school if I want to be a mom one day?”

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Dear Bronwyn,

I finished college and have been working for a few years. I love my job, and pursuing graduate school feels like the logical next step for me and had been a part of my original plan. Yet I strongly feel that if I have children, I want to raise them. My question is this: is it wise to continue to go to school and invest time and money in advancing one’s career if one’s eventual hope is to be a mom? Advancement may make scaling back hours or taking a few years to raise children difficult, and taking time off to raise kids may result in slacked skills/practice upon re-entry into the working world.

There’s a second part to my question: if one isn’t even dating anyone and not currently bearing children, is it wise to make decisions on something that may never happen? I feel that we as women are not supposed to sit back and twiddle our thumbs until/if we get married, yet there is a reality to consequences from decisions made.

Do you have any thoughts?

Sera Sera

Dear Sera Sera,

As the old song goes: “Que Sera Sera; whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.” That’s all fine and well, but the question remains: so, if I don’t know the future, what should I do now?

My advice: make the best decision you know now based on the information you have now. We don’t know what we don’t know, and when we do know better/more, we can adjust accordingly. Or, to put it in Christian parlance: be faithful with the opportunities and talents you have now, and entrust the future to God.

It sounds like God has given you the ability and resources to serve him and others in your career, and if you have a desire to pursue that more, I want to encourage you to pay attention to those desires. Jen Michel’s book Teach Us To Want is so helpful in this, as it teases out what life and ambition in the life of faith could look like. For us to learn how to name and ask for what we want—acknowledging that our interests and longings and skills are part of who God created us to be—and to prayerfully and faithfully pursue those while simultaneously holding outcomes with an open hand (“thy will be done”), is a mark of deep maturity in faith. If you feel a calling to specific, further training in your profession; I’d encourage you to press into that and see where it goes.

The second part of your question has to do with the bigger issue of whether (and how much) to pursue a career if you hope to be a full-time, or most-of-the-time mom, in the future. To this end, I want to highly recommend Katelyn Beaty’s book A Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the WorldBeaty spells out that as image bearers of God, women are called to be flourishing culture-makers alongside men. That deep need we feel to make an impact for good on the world is part of the way God has wired us, and the hundreds of women (including homemakers) she interviewed bore out what my testimony is, too: staying at home to raise children can be exhausting and fill every second of every minute of every day… and yet somehow we still feel we were “made for more” influence than just the walls of our home.

So… all of that to say, I would want to encourage you to think about the fact that even if The Guy walks into your life right now—the one whom you will relate to face-to-face, and then also side-by-side in service of the Kingdom— and even if you have a whirlwind wedding and a baby within a year (go ahead, snicker. But these things happen)… I’m betting that the longing you have for developing your passions and serving in your area of training and gifting is not going to magically vaporize should you become a Mother. Even as a Mom, you will still be you, and you will long to make a difference and you will still be interested in the things that interested you before… and the task then will be figuring out how to pace your interests and responsibilities for each season of life.

So I want to encourage you to take the next steps to living out your calling as you have opportunity now, whether that be taking a career risk and trying something new, or pursuing grad school, or whatever. Sitting around and waiting feels a lot like the servant who buried his talents to me. My one caveat would be this: if taking this next step involves such a huge financial commitment (like medical school, for example, which is not only a commitment to 6 or so years, but a further commitment of 10 years at least to pay off the debt that most people incur!), take more serious counsel. That’s a BIG commitment, and not one you could walk away from 2 to 3 years down the line. But if the opportunities before you have a much shorter commitment in both time and money, then maybe consider that this might be God nudging you to be and serve just as He intended you to be.

Oh, and one more thing: just a reminder that even in the absence of an exclusive dating relationship with marriage potential, all of us are always called to a life of increasingly deep, intimate, loving and others-centered relationships with the people around us. No matter whether you study or stay or marry or move… committing to loving those around you better and growing in depth of relationship is something you will never regret.

All the best,

Bronwyn

 

Got a question you’d like to ask me on my virtual couch with a virtual hot beverage in hand? Contact me here….

 

 

 

Crossing the Waters: Me and Zebedee teaching our children to fish (a guest post by Leslie Leyland Fields)

Leslie Leyland Fieldscrossing-3-d-small is an award-winning journalist and author of ten books; which should be reason enough to commend her writing. But I also get to call this women I admire and appreciate a friend, which is a heaping bounty of grace to me. Her writing is beautiful, and her photos are beautiful… and even those are just a snapshot of this radiant, fierce, gracious woman. I’m thrilled to share an excerpt from her latest release: Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt the Seas. (It’s a good one, you’re going to want to read more. Trust me.)

 

 

This work doesn’t make sense. Why are we here? I glance at my son Elisha, 19, here beside me in the skiff, and then at Micah, my youngest son, 11. We work too hard out here on this ocean, our piece of the Golf of Alaska. There have been summers when we worked unending hours every day of the week for four months—and earned nothing.

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Still, we came back to our fish camp island the next year. And the next. I’ve been out here for 39 summers now; my husband for 53. It’s a sickness. It’s a disease. It’s love. It’s hope. Once you have spent any part of your life on water—living throbbing thrilling liquid moody dangerous unsinkable water—you cannot turn away. It gets inside you. No, it’s already inside you. We are made of humus, it is true, of the soil itself, but the ocean roars in our chests, pulses through the river of our veins. And there, on the sea, blown about by winds, floating between sky and earth, working by tide and by fish instead of time, fishermen feel a kind of freedom from those who live on land, punching a daily clock. We are slaves to sea and fish, but somehow, paradoxically, we feel a strange sense of freedom. Why would we give this up?

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But they did, those fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Those four, or perhaps even six of the twelve, dropped their nets to follow this new rabbi. Why did they do it? The gospel account makes it all so simple, so immediate, and their obedience so unquestioning. “At once” it says, “they left their nets and followed him.” But they weren’t just leaving the nets behind. They were leaving their family business. They were leaving their father. “At once.” That fast.

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I turn and look at Elisha, 19. His young beard is sparse, his eyes are half-lidded against the wind and spray as he shakes out finger kelp from the net. His face is neutral though I know he hates this—a whole carpet of kelp clings to the meshes and must be shaken out. We all hate it. I automatically help him, my own arms raising and lowering the net with him. Micah, 11, beside me, follows suit. I am standing between them, my youngest son on my right, my middle son on my left. The three of us now, arms out, waving and vibrating the net in perfect unison. I glance at them and almost smile. I know they do not see this, the wonder of it.

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And this is just what those men left behind. They left their father, and maybe even other brothers. And this business they had worked in together all their lives. How do you give this up? I have some idea what those years looked like, those years of training since they were small. First, where to sit in the boat, how to stay still and keep your place and not get in the men’s way.

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Then how to pull on the net, where to pull, how to extract the fish, how to tie up to another boat and not get your fingers smashed between them. And among all this, all of us parents watching these little boys and my daughter making a way to play in the boat while the men work: the fish recruited as talking puppets, the bull kelp carved into flutes, the games and stories and falling asleep in the stern when the hour got late.

For Zebedee, the patient teaching on the oars, how to position them, how to dip them efficiently. For us, the gradual move to running the engine, the intricate steering and landing. Then teaching how to mend the nets. Then working in storms. Until the day the son or the daughter stands in the stern of their own boat, only fourteen, but on the water they’re adults now, teaching their crewmen all they know, and driving out onto the ocean ahead of you or beside you. You still work together on the same nets, in the same ten miles of ocean, but now in separate boats. You still have to hire workers to help, but no hired men can replace your own sons and daughters.

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I know how this feels, to be Zebedee, and to see your children called away from the nets. He could not operate without them. Nor can we. My children leave fishing early to return to school—first elementary, then high school, then college. Duncan and the rest of the crew stay another month to finish the season. My kids leave for internships, to do research with a professor. Some do not come back, except for a short visit. And after college, what then? One does not come back, except for short visits. Another son says he won’t come back after he graduates. Will they leave fishing forever? I know how it feels, the empty place at the table, their skiff run by someone else. It’s a loss. An aching loss. Will they come back, any of them? That’s all we want to know, Zebedee and I.

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Crossing the Waters: Following Jesus through the Storms, the Fish, the Doubt and the Seas  is Leslie Leyland Fields’ tenth book. Others include Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, and The Spirit of Food. When she isn’t fishing, speaking or writing, you’ll find her on her island picking rose petals for jam or creating a new recipe with her favorite food—Alaska salmon.

In Crossing the Waters, you’ll be swept up in a fresh experience of the gospels, traveling with the fishermen disciples from Jesus’ baptism to the final miraculous catch of fish―and also experiencing Leslie’s own efforts to follow Christ out on her own Alaskan sea. In a time when so many are “unfollowing” Jesus and leaving the Church, Crossing the Waters delivers a fresh encounter with Jesus and explores what it means to “come, follow Me.”