Finally, that exclusion has been rectified. But I didn't anticipate what it might do to him.
My husband became a church lady.
Like a good church lady, I was prepared to say yes to making food, even though I was beyond tired that day. I believe in hospitality. I believe in providing food for neighbors and friends. I believe that it's an important factor in church unity and fellowship. I don't love making salads, and I don't have limitless energy to buy and chop vegetables, but it's generally a sacrifice I'm willing to make for my community.
As I gathered the energy to cook, Sam did something unusual: he volunteered to make the salad. He told me to do something else with the hours I would have spent on it. He told me to write, to rest. He would take care of it.
And the next week, he did it again.
Not because I was tired again. Not to be a hero. But because he wanted to be a part of the hospitality.
This is what I love about Sam: he recognizes the importance of the little things. He knows that a salad isn't just a salad. It's an opportunity to love and bless. It's a reason for people to gather, to get close. For some, it might be the difference between feeling welcome or not, a part of the church or not. The Bible often encourages us to practice hospitality, because it makes a difference in our relationships. Once someone's been in your home and eaten your food, you're no longer just acquaintances. You're part of a community.
Hospitality is transformation work. And it's for everyone. My husband knows this.
Around the world, from Asia to America, we've seen church ladies take up the brunt of this work. It's the residue of gender roles: women tend to know how to do these things, because they've been taught the art. In some places, though, it's the only thing church ladies are allowed to do. So they put everything they have—all their love and talent—into those salads. Like me with my cakes, they guard their territory, because this is their excellent offering to God. It's their place to shine.
But what if we all became church ladies? What if we all learned to make cakes or salads?
I often think of the story of Martha and Mary. When Jesus was at their home, Martha felt obligated to stay in the kitchen and cook. That would have been her traditional role, her usual offering. But Mary gummed everything up by sitting at Jesus' feet, learning from him in the posture of a male disciple. Crazier yet, Jesus praised her for it. He told Martha it was time to get out of the kitchen, time to rest from the work and learn something new.
For everyone, there is a time to serve and a time to learn. Both are so valuable.
Cake-baking was my territory for a long time. It was a safe way for me to serve, and I often got praised for it. But I believe God wants more from me than just this. He wants hospitality in our community, but he doesn't always want it from me. Sometimes he wants me to spend my time doing other things: reading, writing, learning. Sometimes he wants Sam to step into service mode instead.
It only took a few cooking lessons and a little pride-swallowing to make this possible. Now we have one more person in the kitchen. And one more liberated church lady.
If you're burnt out on being the perfect church lady (no matter your gender), I would encourage you to ask someone if they want to learn to cook (or whatever you do to serve). You are the bearer of important skills: pass them around.
And if you're on the other side—if you don't often serve in the small places—get in the kitchen and try your hand at it. You might, like my husband, make a better salad than me. And you might really like it.
Together, we can be the church, learning and serving side by side. Transforming a broken world.