I've been going through a season of personal growth. Strange but true. I feel like a teenager in some ways. But unlike when I was a "teen turning adult," this similar stage of "adult turning into older adult," has plenty of responsibilities to keep me from obsessing about all this personal growth and stretching through which God is leading me. Mostly it's in the back of my mind, but sometimes some revelation comes to me that causes me to think a little bit more intently on this process.
Maybe I've written a little bit about it before. I've been thinking along these lines, a little bit at a time, for two or three years.
The first revelation that came to me, is that I am not my mom. I am also not Naomi Peterson (the dear wife of the ELS Seminary President during Joe's years there, and who became in our young "wife minds," the gold standard of good pastor's wife, to which we all held ourselves). I am not Olivia Walton. Or Ma Ingalls. Or my Grandma Hinderer.
I am Mary. I am my own unique blend of genetics and nurture and experience and faith. I have my own unique mix of struggles and gifts. And in order to best fulfill the vocational callings God has set before me, I have to use ME. The ME God has made me, and not the THEM that I see in all these other women and mistakenly think I ought to be.
This realization hit me about two or three years ago. Since that time, I've been thinking, as time allows, of what this means. What does it mean to be MARY? Who is MARY? What are the traits and gifts that make me unique, and how can I best use them? What are some of the habits I've developed that hide these gifts or bury them?
Within this same period of time our family life has changed in some major ways. Instead of continuing to homeschool, we put our kids into public school. Our oldest son graduated. We went from all elementary children, all at home; to having several high school aged kids who drive, and work away from home, and join the Marines, and go to Italy for foreign exchange.
I stopped having babies. At least for now. At this time God has said, "No more." No more of the constant pregnancies, constant newborn stage, constant nursing of infants, constant diaper bags and etc. All that goes along with a woman at the stage in which her primary vocation is the bearing and nurturing of babies and young children. All of that is set aside.
And related to that last is the fact that I am entering that stage of life often called peri-menopause. The years during which a woman's hormones go stark raving mad, and which will lead eventually to full menopause. The best description I've seen of this time of life was in the title of a blog I found a while back, Peri-menopause: Yes, it is real; and No, you are not crazy. All the women I know who are about my age are experiencing their own unique brand of crazy.
For me, the primary example of my unique brand of crazy is this depression in which I find myself. Through it I've seen sides of myself I hope to never meet again. Through it, I've come to feel more empathy, understanding, and patience toward others who struggle similarly.
And this whole depression thing also relates directly to one angle of this most recent exploration of my mind, heart, and soul. This will be hard to describe, so please bear with me. The reason I here draw a connection with the depression is because of the prozac I'm on. One of my fears in going on prozac is losing my inhibitions. I have a friend who behaved and spoke in a very uncharacteristic fashion after she went on prozac. It was almost as though every sinful thought and deed that she had previously held in, came tumbling out in one fell swoop. Her filters were suddenly missing. It was a hard time for everyone close to her, until she realized what was going on and asked to be put on a different medicine.
But I'm a pastor's wife. I can't afford to risk being irresponsible in my talk and behavior. It is one of the things my husband and I talked about before I started taking prozac. I can't lose my filters. I've talked to my closest friends about these fears. I've exhorted them to please tell me if I start talking or acting in a fashion that seems out of character.
But here's the rub. The crux. I'll bring it full circle later, and you'll see the full connection then.
The combination of trying to be a "good pastor's wife," and dedicating my whole self for the last 19 years to raising my children, has left me feeling like a shell. An empty skin of person who is almost no longer ME. Suddenly I find myself with strange new opportunities to interact with others, and have opinions, and socialize even, in ways I haven't in forever-and-a-day. And I find that I no longer know who I am or how to behave in such situations. How do I "put myself out there"? And how ought I not so to do? What parameters ought I to have? I can no longer simply occupy myself with a fussing baby or dirty diaper in order to avoid such decisions. I have to be. I have to live.
Now let me be clear. I am in no way implying that mothering children is not living or being. It is probably the richest sense of life and being that there is. But like anything else in this life, it will gradually come to an end. Even now, even with almost all my children still at home, and two little ones still home all the time, even now my life has changed. My whole entire self is not occupied in the minutiae of mothering, as it was in former times. And those portions of myself that are now less occupied are having a little bit of a hard time figuring out who they are, who they want to be, and who they ought and ought not to be.
I used the following phrase with Joe the other day, "I'm tired of being good. I've been good for so long I don't know how to be Mary."
Joe's response, "What part of Mary is not good? Why do Mary and good have to be opposites?"
My instinct is to respond, "No part of Mary is good. Every inclination of my heart is only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5)
And that's the truth. But that's not really what I meant, nor was it what Joe meant.
Mary is an OK person. Not perfect, but OK. She messes up and is forgiven. She's washed in the Bood of the Lamb.
Mary is fun and energetic and creative and silly. But she is also prone to sticking her foot in her mouth. She tends to be obnoxious and annoying. She is a huge klutz and also very prone to distraction. She is insecure in certain social situations and behaves awkwardly.
I feel as though, so as not to risk annoying anyone at Joe's churches, that I've turned off any of the fun and energetic and creative and silly parts of MARY-ness; in order to avoid risking the other less desirable parts of my personality showing through. I'm certainly not perfect. I am nowhere near "the perfect pastor's wife." And I don't really expect myself to be.
But instead of being a bad pastor's wife, or a good pastor's wife, I feel as though I am nothing. I have become a bland and totally neutral nothingness, so that I don't risk bothering or annoying anyone. (Yes, I know, I know. I have almost certainly not avoided annoying people. There are probably plenty of people out there who periodically just want to grab me and shake me! But still, trust me, I've not been nearly as annoying as I might have been. Just trust me on this, OK.)
I had opportunity this weekend to attend a social occasion. We were invited to an anniversary dinner with a large group of people, an extended family into which we have been welcomed as part. This family is great fun to be around. They are all generous and loving and would give the shirt off their backs to anyone in need. But more, they tend to give of themselves in other numerous ways when there is any kind of need. They are an excellent example of a family that sticks together through thick and thin.
But I digress. The dinner was at a supper club, and before it got started, we were all standing around the bar area, visiting. I was not drinking. I seldom do. The practical side is that it's simply not in our budget to drink socially. But another part of it is that, in the name of responsible behavior, I don't trust myself to drink publicly very often. And yet a third factor is that socially awkward part of myself that freezes into stupidity when asked if I want anything to drink. I simply cannot remember what I like to drink and how to order. I'm very out of the habit of such things.
So returning to the social occasion of the other night, the first few times someone asked me if I wanted anything to drink, I turned them down.
It's easy that way. "No thanks; I'm fine."
But eventually I went out on a limb and ordered. Of course I couldn't think of anything to order, so I just pointed at Kelly's drink and said, "I'll have one of those."
(And I have to say, although it was totally a "candy" drink, it was really good. Cake vodka and Dr. Pepper! Can you believe there's such a thing? Cake flavored vodka! What will they think of next?)
But enough of that. In the joking and trying to explain about how my brain freezes because I'm so out of the habit, I mumbled something about something...I don't even know what I said. But Kelly's response stuck with me. Not because it bothered me in any way. But because it made me think again of this naggling question that's been on my mind of late, "WHO IS MARY?"
Kelly said, "Do I need to ask you each time we're together whether you are pastor's wife, Mary; or friend, Mary? I could ask you which hat you have on."
And there's the thing. Friend Mary is Pastor's wife Mary. I am me. All my various facets. I am the mom of many, Mary. I am the formerly constantly pregnant and caring for little ones, Mary. I am the homeschool mom, Mary. I am the Christian, confessional Lutheran, Mary, who is able to hold her own talking theology with pastor types.
I am the awkward, geeky, curious, fun, dorky, energetic, silly, foot-in-mouth, Mary. I am all these things.
But for the first time in many years, I have opportunity to figure out how to assert these parts of ME-ness.
I have the leisure, so to speak, to BE rather than merely to SURVIVE. In all the rush and adrenaline of being a mother of many, a homeschool mom, and a pastor's wife, I never had time to even think about how to behave. I mostly just shut up and smiled politely. And every once in awhile I spoke my mind or let a little energy and enjoyment shine through, and usually felt bad for doing it afterwards. Isn't that crazy?
So, now that I've realized all this, I feel as though I am on a quest to FIND MARY. But, and here's where things get dicey again, and you'll finally get to see the whole circle...Is this a good thing? Or is it the prozac tempting me to such indulgences? It sounds silly to put it into words. But there it is. Is being myself a sinful indulgence?
And the answer, quite obviously is both yes and no.
We are certainly called to control our sinful inclinations. God's righteousness is absolute. The Law is unbending and unswerving. We are called to perfection. Be perfect as God is perfect. (Matthew 5:48).
The disciples had to leave their nets and follow Jesus. They were still fishermen, of course. That was the livelihood through which they provided for their families. But they were called to change. To change their focus.
Jesus says to take up our cross, to deny ourselves, and flee temptation. We are to love others more than ourselves. St. Paul exhorts us to take every thought captive to obey God. (II Corinthians 10:5).
But we are also given our own personalities. God wants us to use ourselves to His glory. All the aspects of our personality. They are all good and bad. But we dare not hide our talents in fear of our hard master. (Matthew 25, Luke 19).
We are created in God's image, but that image is soiled by sin. How do we justify these difficulties?
And that leads me to where I am today. And really, to where I've always been. I live by grace. Every day, I get up and do my thing. I make choices; I do the work put before me. Sometimes (most times) I will mess up. Even when I don't mess up in any obvious ways, my accomplishments are tainted by sin. My very life's work is blemished.
But it's also cleansed. The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses me from all sin. (I John 1:7). Although my sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18).
I am given the wedding garment, the clean and pure covering of Jesus' righteousness with which to cover myself. (Matthew 22). Through this alone is anything I do worthy. Only through this are any of my works good. Without it, all my righteousnesses are as filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6).
And because of Jesus' righteous life, because of His sacrificial death on the cross and His resurrection, because of these gifts of God, even my works that are most definitely not good, are made good and pure. They are made holy. Sanctified. Set apart as good.
And that's who MARY is, first and foremost. An adopted child of God. A sister of Jesus, Himself. A washed and new creature. A woman who still lives in this world and will mess up.
But who is baptized into Jesus Christ.