* * * * *
We had two children at the time, ages two and four, and were making the difficult and exciting transition to me working part-time. Within a week I would begin as Associate Pastor at our church and we were scrambling to get things lined up and adjusting to the title "pastor" that matched the calling I'd felt for so long.
It was one of those mornings when I was running late and harried, scrambling in mad circles around the house, watching the day fall apart before it even got started. I was working frantically to get my oldest ready for preschool, while also searching for the car keys when the phone rang.
Seeing it was the babysitter, I quickly grabbed the phone. I had called her the day before, explaining that I would be preaching the following Sunday and wondering whether she could free me up for a few hours of study and preparation. She said she’d have to get back to me and I was eager to hear her response.
To my surprise, she asked if she could stop by to talk for a few minutes. I explained that we’d be leaving soon, but that it was fine if she could get there quickly. It was a strange request and even in the midst of the hectic morning rush, as I continued to plow through drawers and coat-pockets, searching, I felt a shadowy anxiety that had to do with more than missing keys.
She appeared at the screen door right around the same time I resigned myself to having to walk, or rather run, my daughter to preschool. She walked in to the middle of our chaotic morning and stood there at the threshold of our home, tall and willowy, with her long hair that hung down below her waist.
I don’t remember word for word what she said, but as we stood face to face in my living-room, the sunlight streaming in and the children swirling at my feet, she said she hadn’t wanted to tell me what she had to say over the phone. The fact was that while she really enjoyed my kids, indeed, loved caring for them, she wouldn’t be able to babysit for me while I was preparing to preach because she didn’t believe in women preaching. She would be happy to babysit other times, but didn’t want to support this activity that she disapproved.
I stood facing her directly and tears poured down unbidden as she spoke. I felt, of course, the rise of anger, the “how dare she come into my own house and speak to me this way,” but beyond that, empty and exasperated as I already was, I felt clear and simple pain. It was as though her words were a lance that pierced an old and heavy wound.
I don’t know what she expected, maybe that I would scream and shout or throw her out and, if I’d had my wits about me, a mighty slap across the face would’ve been a wonderfully dramatic if not also regretful choice. But I stood there and took it because even in the midst of the pain, I saw myself in her.
I saw the young woman who memorized entire books of the bible word for word throughout high school, the one who spent her weekends traveling with a bible quizzing team, the one who explained to a feminist friend how the seemingly biblical subordination of women was ok.
I saw the courage and conviction that comes so easily with black-and-white thinking, with the clarity and purity of youth and I felt compassion for her, even as I stood reeling from her words. It was as though my own self stood there in the doorway, speaking from across the years and, in a strange way, I couldn’t help but love her for it.
* * * * *
There’s more to the story, of course, like how that confrontation resulted in an important conversation with my Dad around me being a woman who would soon be a pastor. Or how the piercing of that wound was a blessing in disguise that awakened me to the reality that I would be working in a very conservative community; this pushed me to have a clarifying conversation with my soon to be employer while also awakening me to my own need for healing.
I continued to hire her as a babysitter when I was not involved in "illicit activities," trying, I guess, to be the bigger person. And she continued to be available (maybe also trying to be the bigger person?). Having been caught off guard by her judgment, though, I worried when she came to the house. I couldn’t help but wonder what other transgressions I might be making in her eyes – what would she think of the books I read or the beer in the fridge? I refused to give in to the temptation, though, to hide these things.
I was tempted, too, to leave things lying around that might, somehow, “enlighten her” to my way of thinking and I wondered if she might not harbor hopes of doing the same. As time went on I joked with my husband that we were two determined women intent on arm-wrestling each other into our own little definition of the Kingdom of God.
* * * * *
There will always be the need for young women like her, women who stand tall and straight with such clarity and conviction, if only for the way they lance the boil of old hurts, bringing to the surface yet again the fear and pain of coming into being.
Time has a way of changing and deepening conviction, time and pain and the relentless and fierce call of God. For this change in me, I am grateful, and for the seed of compassion that allowed me to see my younger self, again, with love.