Thursday, May 31, 2012

Faithful Presence among Gangs, Mental Illness, and Gun Violence in the City

What a week it's been in Seattle. But really, it started back in January. A stabbing of our neighborhood barista by a mentally ill man a few blocks from my house. A standing room only community crime meeting at our community center in February. Then various incidents for a few months that didn't draw much attention. This last week, a father was killed by a stray bullet fired in a gang altercation. He was in his car driving his parents and kids at 4:30 in the afternoon! This was a block north of one of my kids' favorite playgrounds. Then yesterday, while I was out of town watching orca whales playing around the San Juan Islands, an angry, probably mentally ill man shot and killed 5 people at 11:00 am in the morning in very public, seemingly safe locations in Seattle.

One week ago, it was much easier to write off violence in our city. Gang on gangs. They who live by the sword will die by the sword. If the bullet that killed the father driving his kids and parents had instead hit its intended gang target, the community would likely have reacted very differently (which I am not saying is a good thing).

When I moved to south Seattle in 2003, it was calm. I later learned that after years of gang activity, the city allocated funds for a gang task force, and it worked. But after gang crime rates dropped, the last mayor disbanded the group due to budget cuts. After a few years, older gang members started getting out of jail and younger kids started joining again. Similar budget cuts affected options for the mentally ill.

What's a conservative Christian to do?! Well, people need the Lord. Gang members, the mentally ill, and victims of violence ALL need the Lord. End of post, right?

No – there is more. People need Christ, and until they meet Him and/or He returns and makes all things right again, He's left them us. I love the simple words God speaks to Abraham in Genesis. Through his seed, all nations will be blessed. Through Christ right? And we are His Body. So today, as I look around at my shocked and wounded city, I pray, “How can I bless them in these circumstances?”

For me, I think I can bless by getting involved at crime prevention meetings and adding to the public discourse. Public discourse in such times is not safe, though. People's emotions are running high, and now more than ever the city needs calm voices offering logical practical changes to prevent crime and compassionate support to victims of crime. Our police department is under fire from the Department of Justice, which they frankly deserve. They too need calm, logical voices offering feedback and support in wise ways. They need faithful truth tellers who are FOR the city, FOR the police, FOR the victims, and FOR those who commit such crimes.

My pastor preached a very wise sermon last Sunday that dealt with a broader philosophy of how believers should engage their community. If you are struggling with issues in your community, I can not recommend this sermon enough! It came at a moment when I frankly just wanted to move away to the suburbs—to find a 10 acre parcel in Issaquah, or better yet, Vashon Island. There's nothing like being on a whale watch tour on a boat in the San Juan Islands while listening to news coverage of multiple slayings in Seattle to make you want to pack up and move!

My pastor highlighted several ways Christians have handled troubles in their communities over the life of the church. There is the fortress mentality—it's us versus those outsiders, and we need to do whatever we can to keep ourselves safe from them. Then there is the domination mentality—we're going to engage culture by stridently attempting to take it over. There is the accommodation mentality—we want to positively engage our culture, but we lose the differences that make belief in Jesus a distinct alternative to unbelief.  There is another option that I believe is God's good plan for His children and their communities. It's simply faithful presence. Show up. Be available. And be available in ways that are faithful to our beliefs and blessings to our community.

People need the Lord, and we are His Body.
Jeremiah 29:7  But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Post Mothers' Day: Reflections on Imperfect Affirmations

I had a nice Mothers' Day. But it wasn't perfect. My husband is good about realizing I have expectations that don't naturally occur to him. So he usually asks me what I need on a given day to have my needs and desires met. I told him what was important to me, and he was glad to give me what I needed. He loved and affirmed me and all I do for our boys. That was meaningful. Yet, at the end of the day, it didn't meet my deepest needs for affirmation.

I have learned with time and maturity that, generally speaking, I have a black hole of need in my heart. At holidays, on date nights, on vacation, with my husband, with my children, with extended family, with friends. I have needs beyond anyone's earthly ability to fulfill.

Holidays, birthdays, and so forth can have the exact opposite of their intention (a special day to recognize someone) if our expectations of the day are too high. Expect or need nothing from the day, and everything else will be a blessing. That's great advice, but how do you get to that place? How do you expect or need nothing from someone?

Many years ago, I heard Beth Moore say something along the lines that the Spirit is the one to fill us to the very top. He is the sustenance, and everything else is only sprinkles on top. You can't live without sustenance. But sprinkles you can. If you get sprinkles and sustenance backwards, you'll never be satisfied. Envision yourself trying to fill up on sprinkles from a shaker meant to decorate cupcakes. That's us when we look to people or days to meet needs in us that are black holes only filled by an eternal, supernatural God.

I've thought lately how my husband's love is like a fine glass of wine. It's an enjoyable blessing when I am fully sated after a meal of steak. But if I'm starving, wine can't provide the sustenance I need. Mother's Day this year didn't meet my deepest need for affirmation, but I was able to receive from my family what they imperfectly gave me. That is a sweet gift of God's grace. He supernaturally meets me in my deepest longings, and then, and only then, can I fully enjoy the secondary blessings from my family.

I shared this with another friend, and she responded, “That's the essence right there - to be able to receive from our family and friends what they imperfectly give us knowing it won't meet our deepest needs for affirmation, but we know the One who will.” It's amazing to me how wonderful the blessings, the sprinkles if you will, have turned out to be once I stopped grasping for them in an effort to get them to meet such deep seated needs in my heart.

I never tire of reading Psalms 73's answer for this deep, very real longing in our hearts.
1 Truly God is good to Israel,     to those who are pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,  my steps had nearly slipped. 
... 21 When my soul was embittered,  when I was pricked in heart, 22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. 23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;     you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel,  and afterward you will receive me to glory. 
25  Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26  My flesh and my heart may fail,  but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ... 
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Identity and Security for Me and My Children

Who are you? How do you describe yourself to others? For what do you want to be known? And in the stillness when no one else is around, how do you view yourself?

These are the opening questions of my Ephesians study, By His Wounds You Are Healed. I'm thinking of these questions a lot today after watching my young son struggle again with self worth and self confidence. I can tell that there is something in the stillness that plagues him about himself, and no trite answer from me will still the voice in his head that whispers, “You are stupid, incapable, and ugly.” I wrestle anew with answering these taunts in my own heart as I seek to help him with his insecurities.

I have spent much of my life trying to figure out what purposes and accomplishments would give meaning to my life. Since I was a young child, I have watched others’ responses to things I said and did. Longing for affirmation and approval, their reactions determined how I would act next. As I grew up, I admired from afar those who seemed comfortable in their own skin with the confidence to act as they were convicted rather than react in light of others’ actions toward them. Nowhere was this more obvious than my years of middle and high school. I was classically insecure—constantly tweaking my appearance and personality to conform to the popular people—then withdrawing altogether when I could not figure out the magic formula for changing my image with either my peers or myself.

The problem was that I was trying to conform to the wrong image. God has created me to be conformed to His image, and it's through that process that He shows me His transcendent purposes that give true meaning to my life. I see my son now struggling similarly, albeit just in kindergarten. It's painful to watch him stop being the sweet little boy I know when he's comfortable and start putting on a different personality in an attempt to keep up with older kids. It's even more painful to watch his despair in the aftermath of his failed attempts to blend in.

Maturity brought a lot of clarity to me, and I wish I had understood this dynamic much younger. It was while preparing for my 20th high school reunion my eyes were truly opened. Despite all the life-lessons learned and maturity gained in the last two decades, I found myself falling back into the same old patterns of insecure thinking as I contemplated what it would take to make me walk confidently back into the small town country club where I experienced my last painful high school dance. I joined a gym months in advance so I could lose the baby fat that clung to me years after the birth of my youngest. If I was going to return to the scene of the crime, I wanted to be svelte when I did so. But after five months of faithful exercise, I had not lost a pound. I searched dress stores for the perfect outfit that would reflect the perfect image—to no avail. My husband finally told me to just be myself and wear the kind of clothes that I normally wear. That really scared me. Wear my usual style of clothes? Do not try to project something about myself that is not true?! But that leaves me exposed! I am a bit heavy and most comfortable in jeans and a black shirt. I'm not going to impress anyone that way!

I started to listen to myself. I sounded like an insecure teenager trying to determine her outfit for her senior prom. Was I really that dependent on my DRESS to prop me up to meet these people I had not seen in twenty years? Did I not have anything better than that on which to rely?

I praise God for my study of Ephesians during that season. Though I had read through Ephesians before and heard several sermon series on it as well, my time of study in this season was different. I was aware of my insecurities in a way I had not been before, and Ephesians' description of my identity in Christ deeply moved me. Ephesians explains my identity and security in Christ. It tells me in detail of the real benefits I have as a daughter of God. It shows me how these benefits equip me to reclaim my identity in Christ. And it draws a straight line from all those gospel truths to the heart of my insecurities today. It showed me how to walk into my 20th class reunion as a secure (though chubby and not particularly fashionable) woman who knows who she is in Jesus.  That evening turned out to be a very sweet time of reconnecting with childhood friends.

I've gotten these truths for myself, though God knows how often He has to remind me as I face new and different circumstances that challenge my identity and confidence regularly. Now, I seek to disciple my son in these truths, equipping him to face the mental battles that come with his personality. Perhaps he'll be good at soccer or excel at math. Maybe one day he'll be class president or win a scholarship to college. But whatever giftings emerge as he gets older, they won't quiet the accuser's voice in the still of the night.

Only Christ can do that.
I John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. 
Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 
Philippians 1:6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Jesus' Example for Parents

I had a sweet dinner with two friends last weekend. We are all right in the middle of raising our children, and our concerns for our children and fears for the future dominated our discussion. We listened and encouraged each other, and here are the big ideas that have stuck in my head the week since that discussion.

Do unto our children as we would have them do to us.

I wrote about this in a post 2 years ago. You would have thought I had actually learned to live it out by now. Yet, once again, I've been responding to my boys' anger problems with my own personal anger. News flash – that doesn't work! This week, I've focused anew on responding to my boys with the tone I want them to learn to use – patience when angered and a rational tone that seeks to work out problems rather than escalate them. It's amazing to me how much more affective positive example is than negative reaction when my boys get angry.

End the day with unconditional love and affirmation. 

Despite my best efforts during the day, I fail my boys. And they fail me. I have learned that no matter how bad our day has been, it is incredibly healing to repair with my boys before they go to sleep. Sometimes, I need to ask their forgiveness. Sometimes, they need to ask mine. But most of all, I reaffirm my unconditional love for them. “I love you very much, and nothing will ever change that. I am so glad God gave me you for my son.” They often say exactly the same thing back to me (substituting mom for son) without any prompting. That blesses me. Then we give each other strong hugs, and no matter what else happened that day, they go to bed knowing that I love them, and God loves them. That is a precious gift to both them and myself.

Remember that Jesus' discipleship at first looked like an utter failure. 

I feel most undermined as a parent by my fears for the future. I know many adults who seem to have left the faith in which they were raised as kids.  I often feel plagued by Satan with fears for the faith of my own boys. Will they love Jesus as adults? Will they love me? Will they walk out of the house when they turn 18 and never look back? Will they remember me on Mother's Day? Will they come home for holidays? Will they throw my mistakes as a parent in my face when they grow up?

They may very well do any or all of those!!! And Jesus' example comforts me. He was God! Yet look at the short-term results of His 3 years of discipling the 12. Judas betrays Him. Peter denies Him. And only 1 of the 12 remains at His crucifixion. What underwhelming short term results.

Then look at the long term results. That little band of fearful, denying disciples changed the world! The Spirit did this. He brought to remembrance all Christ taught them, though at the time they walked with Christ they NEVER demonstrated that they really understood anything He said to them. But the seeds were planted, and truth eventually popped up through the soil of their hearts and brought a great harvest.

Christ's example with His disciples reminds me well of my hope for my children. And it is God Himself, who sends His Spirit to live in their hearts and remind them of truth. It is the Spirit who causes the blooms of fruit to present themselves in my children's lives. I imperfectly sow my seeds, water, and fertilize. But God brings forth the harvest in His good time, and He is a very good farmer.

Friday, May 11, 2012

A Mother's Day for All Women

Last year, I wrote a version of this post and was surprised by the reception. It apparently struck a nerve. I needed to read it again personally this year, because I fail fairly regularly as a mother. A single friend also asked me to repost it. So here's my ode to both women who are moms and women who aren't but want to be.

Like any holiday, Mother’s Day is sweet for some and bitter for others. For some, it’s both. I remember feeling on the outside looking in on Mother’s Day, first as a single woman and then after I miscarried our first pregnancy. Our church had an entrance near the nursery called the Family Entrance. Could I use it? Were we a family? I finally just used it regardless, almost as an act of defiance. Now as the mother of two little boys, I can deeply appreciate someone setting aside parking near an entrance that kept me from having to walk my kids across a busy intersection. But at the time, I was dealing with emotions that weren’t swayed by practical realities. I just wanted to be a mom. And that sign at the church entrance reminded me I wasn’t.

It is an age-old conundrum in humanity in general and Christianity in particular. How do you honor someone who has something good that you want too? How do you applaud the sacrifices of one without minimizing the suffering of the other? I don’t know exactly, but I do think there is an over arching principle that is helpful. Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman.

Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of the Christ to the glory of God. Now, motherhood is certainly one of God’s primary tools in His arsenal for this purpose for women. But it is not the end itself. Being a mom doesn’t make you saintly. Believe me. Being a mom exposes all the ways you are a sinner, not a saint. Not being a mom and wanting to be one does too. We may long to get pregnant, looking at motherhood from afar. God sanctifies us through that longing. We may lose a pregnancy or a child, and mourn the loss of our motherhood. God conforms us to Christ through that as well. We may have a brood of children of various ages, and heaven knows God roots sin out of our hearts that way. It’s all about THE greatest good, being conformed to the image of Christ – reclaiming the image of God that He created us to bear through gospel grace.

Single woman watching your biological clock tick away, I encourage you to look today at your longings through the lens of the gospel. You don’t have to deny your longing or talk yourself into a happy attitude for all the good things you can do without kids. It’s ok to mourn the loss. God said children are a blessing. But after the fall, we do not all get to experience that blessing. The gospel makes up the difference. While you are disappointed in deep ways and that disappointment is real, you will one day sit with Jesus in heaven profoundly content with His work in you through this disappointment. In heaven, you will have no longing for something you missed. You will not be disappointed. May confidence in that hope sustain you.

Married woman experiencing infertility, I encourage you with similar words. People can be callous with their words, especially in the church. But believe in confidence that God in this very moment loves you with a deep love. You may feel estranged from Him, knowing that He has the power to give you that sweet infant that He has given so many around you. It seems like He is dangling a desire in front of you, teasing you with it. But understand that unfulfilled desire is a tool He uses to give you even better things – things of Himself that you cannot know in easy ways. Believe in confidence that this time of waiting is not just a holding pattern with no discernible value, but it too is a blessing, albeit in disguise, as it increases your strength to run and not grow weary and to walk and not to faint. Wait on the Lord, dear sister, in confidence.

And mom who fails her children regularly (because that’s most everyone else), preach the gospel to yourself this day. If you have any grasp on your reality, you are likely painfully aware of every failure you’ve made with your children. And maybe you are fatigued by the fears of future failure as well. It’s okay that your children expose your own sin to yourself. In fact, it’s the moms who don’t seem daily aware of their failures that most concern me. Christ has made the way for you to be at peace. If you sinned against your kids, ask their forgiveness. If you are kicking yourself for your failures, preach God’s grace to yourself. Don’t learn to live with your sin – don’t embrace it with the attitude “that’s just how I am.” But don’t deny it either. Be honest about it. You sinned. You confess. God forgives. You get up and walk forward in confidence. It’s called gospel grace, and THAT is the legacy to leave your children.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Gospel, My Health, and My Weight

Feeling bad and feeling bad about myself are closely intertwined feelings for me. I have felt bad physically for a long time. It started with chronic sinus infections about 3 years ago. I took an antibiotic now linked to tendon rupture and developed pain in my feet which turned into severe plantar fasciitis. In the fall of 2010, I finally had sinus surgery. 6 months later (and with the discovery of a dairy allergy) I found long term sinus relief. But the pain in my feet got worse and worse, and with it, my ability to exercise or do much of anything healthy. I'd have short bouts of relief, but the pain would come back in waves. Last fall, we discovered I had some type of inflammatory arthritis which complicated everything (people like me with one autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes also are at a higher risk for developing another autoimmune disease like inflammatory arthritis—apparently, my body just tends to turn on itself). Finally, at the end of January this year, I had surgery on my foot.

Since about a month after the foot surgery, I've slowly edged back toward the land of the fully functioning. I walked slowly, then walked a little faster, then jogged a little, then jogged a little more. I bought new running shoes last week. I'm signed up for a 5k in two weeks. I've built up to a therapeutic dose of my arthritis medicine (and cut out gluten). I've lost a little weight. I'm feeling much better physically. And I feel better about myself.

As I jogged today (just 2.8 miles, walking .8 of that), I thought a lot about why I feel so much better about myself. Why am I so much happier now? I have several friends who are right now smack dab in the middle, or even worse, of what I was physically experiencing just a few months ago, and I hope and pray for them to feel better about themselves in the worst of it than I did!

I want to endure hard times with joy, confident in our future glory in a way that sustains me in the midst of current discouragement. Doesn't the gospel secure for me that hope?! But ongoing physical discouragement is a rough one to navigate. And the clarity that comes with the relief of feeling better makes me long for a more hopeful gospel-centered reaction when I'm at my worst.

I wish I hadn't felt bad for every bit of food I ate during that time. But as my endurance got worse and my weight edged up, I daily felt guilt, guilt, guilt for pretty much every bite I ate. I love good food, and I can easily overeat because I savor rich flavors. I certainly could learn more about moderation. But EVERY bite shouldn't have made me feel guilty. Unless it was a salad or low carb protein, I felt shame for every bit of comfort food I ate. My fear of gluttony didn't help me eat less. It only served one purpose – to make me feel bad about everything I ate. I really believe there has to be a better way to think about food when you're in such a season. But when you know you aren't burning any calories, every bite above mere survival seems excessive.

I also wish I didn't feel bad for feeling bad. I had legitimate physical problems! No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't go for a walk most days, let alone a run. I tried a rowing machine on the advice of my podiatrist, but eventually my shoulder gave me big problems before I figured out the arthritis issue. When my shoulder gave out, I struggled with a mixture of bitterness and guilt. “Lord, I am TRYING. I know all about gluttony and laziness, and I don't want to lay around all day. But each time I try to make headway toward better endurance, I just get kicked down again.”

As I think back, it's so much easier now to extend myself grace for that period of time. I could barely WALK some days. It's OK that I didn't exercise and enjoyed a 2nd helping of my favorite meal many days. But society doesn't project that kind of grace on us (at least not from afar – I certainly received that kind of grace and encouragement from those closest to me).

During these better days, where I'm able to exercise, my clothes aren't so tight, and I'm generally feeling upbeat over my health, I want to lecture myself in clear terms on the gospel, my health, and my weight. Because I have many friends who are still right in the middle of the worst of their health crises. And also because I know at any time I could enter my own new crisis.

Here's my lecture.

First, fatigue and laziness are two very different things. Second, enjoying food, even if it's more than you need to stay alive, is not the same as gluttony. And third, Christian discipline does not demand that we feel bad about ourselves when we simply feel bad physically, even if it's a long term, ongoing physical ailment that results in gaining weight. 

Feeling bad about yourself for things that are not sin issues rarely helps solve anything. Instead, PRAY! Ask God to be clear about what is and what is not a sin problem. Ask for peace so that you can rest when you need to and eat when you need to without guilt. And ask for relief. Cry out to the God who Heals! He may answer quickly, or He may wait a long time. He may wait until heaven. Receive the waiting time as a gift. Don't view the wait for healing as a holding pattern with no discernible value. I don't understand it, but I have no doubt that God places some kind of supernatural value on waiting periods. There is BLESSING in the waiting, and it is a miracle. However, I can't ever remember a time of waiting in my life when I recognized its value WHILE I was waiting. It's always after the fact that the value makes itself clear to me. I pray in the future I could readily receive the gift of waiting AS I AM WAITING.
Isaiah 30:18 (ESV) 18Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. 
Isaiah 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. 
Lamentations 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
There's nothing like feeling bad for a very long time to make you incredibly thankful for feeling good. If you are still in the middle of a season of debilitating physical issues, I encourage you that this season doesn't define you. If you are IN Christ, God speaks beautiful words over you of your value and His acceptance of you. Do wrestle with God in prayer daily over what if anything He'd have you proactively do. And then REST. Rest mentally and rest physically as you wait for Him to be gracious to you.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Controversies on Gender and Gospel

Apparently, a session at the latest Together for the Gospel conference has generated some controversy in the blogosphere on how we talk about the gospel and gender issues. I wasn't at the conference, and I haven't listened to the session. I have noticed a lot of criticism, but I haven't read the criticism in detail. Actually, this last week I mostly just got my boys ready for school, bought groceries, and did laundry all while high on cold medicine. And vacuumed. I did a lot of that. But while doing laundry or vacuuming, I also tend to think and mull over bits and pieces of news I pick up online. And this week, I've had that controversy buzzing around in the back of my head (along with the cold medicine).

In my post on Things That Undermine the Complementarian Position, I said this.
“Problem number 1 is calling this debate a gospel issue. Now it’s true that the interplay between husbands and wives in the home is a TESTIMONY of the gospel as it reflects the nature of Christ’s profound love for the church. But being a testimony of the gospel is not the same as being the gospel. I said in another post that the gospel informs everything, but it is not everything. And we start entering dangerous territory quickly when we are not precise in how we talk about the link between the gospel and the complementarian position. The gospel plus anything is not the gospel at all.”
The gospel informs everything, but it is not everything. Perspective helps on this issue. I was raised in a group that followed the teaching of “separation.” The wikipedia article is somewhat helpful if you want to understand the doctrine of separation. The groups with which I was associated also espoused an idea called “secondary separation,” where you separate from those with which you agree on the gospel if they don't also separate from the people with which you disagree. Extrapolated out by people without common sense, the end result was that my Christian college forbid the attendance of any student or staff at Southern Baptist or Presbyterian Church in America churches. At some point in my early 20's, I stumbled across John 17 and Ephesians 4 in my own Bible study, and the Spirit started working in my heart on this idea of who could hang with me in fellowship as believers.
John 17 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
In terms of the glory of God and furtherance of the gospel, unity is a precious thing according to these words of Christ. There is something about the oneness of believers in Christ that gives testimony of the truth of Christ and His love for the world. And from Ephesians 4,
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
There is only one Body of Christ, and we must be eager to maintain with one another in it unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The punishment that bought us peace was upon Christ, and that peace binds us together, like ligaments hold a body together. In fact, that same Greek word for bond is used in Colossians 2:19 exactly that way.
Colossians 2 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.
Putting it all together, we are bound together like ligaments in the Body of Christ by peace. What bought us this peace? His punishment on the cross! It bought us peace with God and therefore peace with one another. So we are held together as the Body of Christ (which gives testimony to the world of His love for them) singularly by the gospel—all Christ's life, death, and resurrection has accomplished for us before God.

This shows me that there is a gospel testimony that trumps (not sure that is the right word, but you get the idea) the testimony between husbands and wives of Christ and the Church. Or one that supersedes it from which the other flows. And that is the broad unity of all who put their faith in Christ. The question we all must wrestle through is what impact we will let disagreement over the second testimony (which is definitely spoken of in Scripture as a testimony) of husbands and wives, heads and bodies, reflecting Christ and the church, have on that larger testimony of unity among believers. That is a big question. I know in my own heart the answer for myself. But I have lived under the extrapolation of secondary separation to the point that I couldn't attend a PCA church, and I am extremely wary of the road that sets up secondary issues as a dividing line between Christian fellowship.

In my own life, I don't see my conservative convictions on gender issues as a gospel issue. I definitely see living them out as something that I can not do apart from the gospel. In my life, it is gospel empowered. There's no way to do it otherwise. And I want to give testimony of the gospel as my husband and I interact with love and submission as Christ does with His Church. But I'm uncomfortable with language that links my convictions on gender with the gospel. The gospel plus anything is not the gospel at all, and I need to be precise with the words I use to reflect the link between gender and the gospel.

I do however see it as a Scripture issue. I have a core conviction of the perspicuity of Scripture—that Scripture is transparent and can be taken at face value. Paul talks of the mysteries of Scripture that have been revealed. The Greek term for mystery is musterion. It has a slightly different meaning than our English word mystery. In English, we think of a mystery as something dark, puzzling, and hard to be known. In contrast, the Greek word is simply a truth in which someone has been initiated, such as the initiation into a cult in which the mysteries of the cult are revealed. In Christianity according to John Stott, the mysteries are those truths we could not discover on our own but that God has now revealed openly to the whole church.

The mysteries of Scripture have been revealed through Christ, and the Word is transparent. I can read it at face value, and with a little bit of study (and the Spirit's enabling), take its instructions in a straightforward way. THAT conviction is core to my beliefs on gender issues. If I don't take Scripture at face value and try to work my way around words like head, submit, or respect, I feel I lose way more of Scripture that is precious to me than I gain in equality.  Of course, face value is in the eye of the beholder, and there's the rub.  Yet it is a goal nonetheless.

All that to say, gender issues are not gospel issues.  The gospel affects everything, but it is not everything.  That distinction has to be CLEARLY made. On the flip side, my convictions on gender stem from my convictions on the perspicuity of Scripture. And if I give up a face value reading of Scripture, at what point does that affect my reading of the very gospel that unifies us?

I do not know the answer to that last question.