“If you get up one more time than you fall, you will make it through.” – Chinese Proverb
Years ago, when I was in graduate school dreaming about my future, the absolute last thing that would have crossed my mind was becoming a pastor. I was destined for business, certain I would make loads of money as a consultant, executive or some kind of big-wig. It never occurred to me that because I was a woman, I might be considered less-than in business. I felt I had as good as shot as anyone at making it pretty far in the corporate world.
Then I got married. I gave up my good job to follow my husband’s Navy career.
We plugged into a conservative church, and I started having babies. I decided to stay home for a lot of years before I got a stirring for leading healing and recovery ministry, went to seminary for spiritual direction, and through all kinds of crazy twists and turns ended up as a pastor. Everyone seemed to accept it pretty easily, because I was “under” the authority of a male lead pastor for several years, but when we planted The Refuge in 2006 and I was one of the co-lead pastors with my friend Karl, I began realizing how foreign it was in the evangelical world I came from.
It wasn’t just foreign, it was challenging.
As I was trying to stand up straight and step into what God was calling me to do, I kept feeling my legs get knocked out from under me.
At the beginning, some people weren’t sure they could be part of our church with me as a co-lead pastor. Others on the fringes of our life together questioned my theology and pointed out the scriptures that we’ve all heard many times to keep women from teaching and preaching. Some knew it felt right for me to pastor but quietly wondered if by supporting it they were committing some kind of heresy.
Over time, though, it wasn’t hard to stand tall inside of my community; it’s filled with incredible men and women who value equality and are learning to stand up straight and hold heads higher in so many of their own ways, too.
The hardest part has always been intersecting with the wider Christian community and feeling the subtle and overt discrimination that many women experience as pastors and leaders.
It’s hard to stand up against.
Over the years, many people have just automatically assumed I’m my fellow co-pastor’s assistant. A major Christian publisher refused to sell my book (even though it was written for women) because of their theology about female lead pastors. I’ve been uninvited to speak at a baccalaureate service after a group of evangelical pastors discovered I was the keynote speaker.
After each of these blows, it’s been hard to stand back up. My legs grow weary. My heart begins to hurt—and then wants to harden. I get another wave of shame. I tire of the battle.
But Jesus always seems to whisper “Stand back up.”
“Yes, stand back up.”
This past week a dear young women connected to our faith community died in a tragic car accident. I’ve journeyed with her and her family for almost 9 years as a pastor on a bumpy, pain-and-grace-filled road, and we are all so sad that it ended this way. A few days ago we were with her family working on a venue for her memorial service, and the large church her family was connected to offered their space.
Until they found out I was a female lead pastor.
Yes, it’s 2013 and we are still having these conversations. Why?
Because there is a battle that is beyond flesh and blood to keep women around the world on their knees.
The associate pastor at the church called us on speaker phone and shared that unfortunately, their theology couldn’t support a woman in the pulpit. They said my co-pastor Karl could perform the memorial service in their church, but not me.
I was sitting, but I could feel my legs crumble beneath me. My heart fell to my feet, and the sting of tears rose to the surface.
But here’s the most beautiful part of that moment—Karl shook his head, “No way,” and the father of my sweet friend immediately told him, “Okay, well I guess it won’t work. There’s no way we’d do it without Kathy,” and politely got off the phone.
They stood with me.
And I stood back up.
That’s our only hope for real change.
We have to stand up every time we get knocked down.
We have to stand up when we feel like maybe we were meant to crawl.
We have to stand up when shame flushes our face.
We have to stand up when we hear a voice in our head that tells us we are supposed to sit.
We have to stand up even when our legs are so very tired.
Because there are far more pressing issues for women in this world than whether or not we can preach from the front of North American churches, and we need an army of women who will get off their knees and stand up for dignity, equality and restoration in this broken world.
But here’s the greatest part—we don’t have to stand up alone. Like Aaron holding Moses’ hands up when he became weary, our friends can lift us back up again and again and stand alongside us, shoulder to shoulder, toe next to toe, hearts supporting hearts, hands lifting heads.
Yeah, in the kingdom Jesus spoke of, God’s daughters are not supposed to crawl. They’re supposed to stand.
Dear SheLoves sisters, every time you get knocked down, stand back up. Hold your head high, and stand back up.
When you keep standing back up, I can, too.
When we stand, others begin to stand, too.