Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Express Yourself or Suppress Yourself?
(The Day I Was Compared to Whipped Cream)

I've never written about this before.

Photo Credit: fotologic, Flickr
My closest friends know, and I have shared it before in one message that I preached. But I've never written about it openly. I was encouraged by a mentor many years ago when it first happened to not make this issue a focal point. Applying my mentor's wisdom, I kept my God-given message the main thing, and prevented this from becoming a needless distraction. Many years have passed now. I can briefly reference this for a purpose, yet not allow it to over-ride my life's mission.

If if you are a pastor and you're a woman, Florida is seriously the place to be. It's a mecca of sorts for women preachers. So progressive. I'll never move. This is my eleventh year pastoring here and nobody has ever given me a bit of a problem as far as being a woman in leadership. At the same time, I work very hard at what I do, have steadily proven myself for well over two decades, and don't expect special privileges.

It was another world decades ago in ministry, something thankfully unrecognizable to young ladies who are just starting out today. When I was in my twenties, I applied for my first level of ministerial credentials in another state, the southwest area of which was sooo backwards such a difficult place.

Larry and I arrived at the church where the interviews were held and were soon called in to be interviewed by the committee. I hadn't even opened my mouth to answer any questions nor say a word and two men in the room went in for the attack. Just because I am xx and they are xy. Seriously. That was it. Chromosomes were killing this interview.



Photo Credit: dhorn2013, Flickr

I swear to you on a stack of Bibles, there was no other reason for their aggression.  I wasn't even blogging back then. I had yet to tick off a segment of the world with one fell click. My husband stayed under control although he had already killed two men in his mind.

"Sister Shrodes," they began... I hate being called that even now. It makes me sound so old and I was only twenty-something at the time, "We know the AG credentials women for ministry, even ordaining them, but it's not one of our 16 Fundamentals of Truth, nor do all of us in the room necessarily agree with it. But nevertheless, here we are, to interview you today, because it is our duty..."

This was the prelude to what was the most pathetic interview I've ever been a part of, secular or Christian. Seriously, these guys would win no Human Resource awards. 

Photo Credit: Elspeth Maxwell, Flickr
 
A few minutes later, I had not said anything much beyond sharing my "call to ministry" that they asked me about and listing my current duties in the church. In response that that, another official piped up and said, "Sister Shrodes, women in the ministry are like whipped cream. A little bit on top of a piece of pie is nice, but a whole bowl of it makes you sick."

No. I. Am. Not. Kidding.

In case you don't understand the magnitude of that statement, he was saying that women being involved in ministry/leadership is acceptable only in small doses. It's a nice touch to have women in the ministry, marginally involved. However, to have women involved to a great degree in leadership is sickening.

My response was silence. I didn't flinch or react in any way, awaiting their next question.

As the meeting went on they fired questions at me, and said things that I've tried hard to forget but never did although I did forgive with God's help.

 In answering them, I shared my passion for people, for serving, for changing the world. The majority of what I spoke about was simply loving God and loving people.

 Several times they interjected with, "we can see, you're very passionate..." but not as if it was a plus. They spoke of passion as if it was a red flag. Passion was evidently dangerous and something to be avoided as a female.

One of the men sternly spoke up and said, "Something you need to realize is that to be successful, a woman in the ministry needs to learn how to suppress herself. You'll need to do that if you're going to be effective."

Really?

I felt like I had just been punched in the face.

I said nothing.
Gave no rebuttal.
I am rarely at a loss for words but had no idea how to respond.


I glanced over and noticed the redness, creeping up my husband's neck and face, to his ears. He was so angry, his ears had turned bright red. But he was silent. He knew I wanted to be credentialed and didn't want to ruin things for me. And he knew to speak up could very well do that. He's so much more politically inclined than me. Diplomatic. Whatever the heck  you want to call it. He knows when to hold em, when to fold em, when to walk away, when to run.

One of them asked the final question: "what are you going to do if we don't approve you?"

Looking at them, in almost a whisper, I answered, "I'll just keep doing what I'm doing now."

"And what is that?" they asked.

I answered: "Preach the gospel."



Silence.

More silence.

Staring.

Shuffled papers.

More staring.

Holding hands with my husband.
Feeling the tenseness in his body, though only our hands were touching.
Watching his feet nervously shuffle back and forth underneath where they couldn't see.

Picking up my file off the desk in front of him and slapping it on top of a stack of others, the leader of the meeting curtly said, "Well, I hate to admit it, but I believe you're called."

One of the others pursed his lips and looked at the ceiling. Another just looked down, no response.
The three of them looked like they seriously needed anti-depressants.
And with that the leader of the group said that someone would be in contact with me about the next step.

I was so glad to get out of that room. I felt like I had been held down at the bottom of a pool and was fighting to get to the top, just to breathe.

That interview from hell was pretty much null and void because I had to start all over again. We moved to a new place of ministry in another state and I was required to begin the whole process over again, which was actually a gift.  In my new and much more progressive district, I would meet with another set of officials who were nothing short of amazing. When I walked into the room, with big smiles they exclaimed, "Welcome Sister Shrodes!! We're so glad you're here!" I was almost slain in the spirit right there. A night and day heaven and hell difference between those in the previous state. These men knew Christ. For my next level of licensing years later, we had settled in Florida which in my opinion is the greatest state in the nation for women preachers, especially in the AG.

Photo Credit: s.u.g.a.r.r.u.s.h., Flickr

Over these years, my best friends have known that story. I also shared it once in our church here in Florida when I presented a message entitled, "When Life Gives You Whipped Cream, Make Cream Puffs!"  As I preached, ushers passed out hundreds of cream puffs on trays and gave them out during my sermon which was about rising above obstacles to reach your destiny. (It was a huge hit! We shouted the victory, we danced in the aisles and we ate cream puffs during service.) One of my close friends said we should have mailed a video of that service to the officials who were a part of my first credentialing meeting. I chuckled and said, "Well, two of them aren't even in the ministry anymore, and I'm still here. I doubt they'd be interested in listening to a sermon, but whatever..."

Back when it happened, there was nothing to laugh about. I came home from that  interview, absolutely despondent. I was invalidated by those who were in a position to confirm the call of God on my life but did so in a way that was not celebratory. They grudgingly admitted my call but made it clear that my passion and personality must be squelched at all costs if I were to ever do anything significant.

I'm a wordsmith so I knew what the word suppress meant, but I looked it up in the dictionary anyway.

Suppress: 

1) To put down by authority or force.
2) To keep from public knowledge.
3) To keep a secret
4) To stop or prohibit the publication of or revelation of.
5) To exclude.
6) To keep from giving voice to.
7) To press down.
8) To restrain from action.
9) To inhibit the growth or development of.
10) To inhibit the expression of.
No thank you.



God didn't save me to suppress me.
God didn't save me to keep me down by force!
God didn't save me to keep me from public knowledge!
God didn't save me to keep me a secret!
God didn't save me to prohibit the publication and revelation that He's put in my heart!
God didn't save me to exlude me!
God didn't save me to keep from giving voice to me!
God didn't save me to press me down, to restrain me from action, to inhibit my growth and development, or to inhibit my expression.

God saved me to send me, to a world in need.

I'm so glad I didn't listen to those men. I could have used another word besides men, but I chose to be nice. I also want to keep my credentials now that I have them.

So why am I sharing this story now? Because yesterday I was reminded of where I've come from.  It took years and wrestling with my call and my God-given passion and personality to get to the place where I'm not just comfortable in my skin, but will settle for nothing else.



Writing is just as much a part of my call as pastoring.

Before I left on vacation, I was contacted by Jane Ballback, a publisher/editor of a magazine who is interested in my writing. I let her know I was getting ready to go out of town with my family but would love to make arrangements to talk to her when I got back. We had a meeting yesterday for about an hour. This was our first conversation, however, she has read my new blog pretty much in it's entirety. It was pointed out to her by some very kind readers and writers (unbeknownst to me) who told her she needed to come and check it out.

So this is how the conversation went:

Jane: Good afternoon! How are you today, Deanna?
Me: Great. It's good to finally connect with you..
Jane: Yes, it is. Did you enjoy your vacation?
Me: Oh yes. But I'm glad to be back in Florida, where I can thaw out.
Jane: Well as we begin today, can I just say that you're sassy?

 (She had no idea my husband has called me "Sassy" for 25 years. It's his cute little name for me.)

Me: Really?
Jane: Yeah...I mean, you're edgy, Deanna. Just really edgy...
Me: (not sure how to respond) Well...yes, I guess you could say that...
Jane: And, I love it! I absolutely love it! You're a fresh voice. I love your sassiness...love your edge...it's just what I'm looking for...
Me: Really?

I was surprised and humbled to hear her go on to say she was crazy about every single piece I've written that she's read so far.

I sat there with tears streaming down my face. Because her invitation was something I never expected. And on top of that, she fully embraced who I am and how I express myself.

I adore this space of time I'm in where sassy and edgy and passion are celebrated and suppression is not only unexpected but is so very uncool.

And with that...thanks for celebrating with me. In addition to pastoring in a church and a district that is so welcoming, and serving in all the other ways God has blessed me with the opportunity to do, I am now a writer with Adoption Voices Magazine

This is a door I never knocked on, yet it has opened. Only a month after starting my adoption blog!  Whodathunkit? Now that's a God-thing if I ever heard one.

I am honored to serve and so grateful that God uses me just like He intended...as He made me. Not as man or woman expect me to be, but as He fashioned me to flourish.

He wants to do that with you too, you know.
He has purposed for you to flourish, in the unique style He has given you.
Your imprint on the world is not designed to look like any other. 

 "Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." ~ Oscar Wilde

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