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Live from the Q: Women & Calling Conference

Live updates from Manhattan

Friday, November 15 is the official launch of the Q: Women & Calling Conference, a one-day event "to discuss the ways women today are navigating calling, vocation and identity." TCW is reporting live from the American Bible Society in Manhattan, where women will be learning and sharing how to "faithfully embrace the life, gifts and skills God has given them" based on nine leading ladies' (and one gentleman's) presentations on topics ranging from ambition to singleness to motherhood and more. Follow our live Tweets @TCWomancom (official hashtag: #Qwomen), and read a summary of the day's events here:

"Is There a Biblical 'Model' For Women?" by Rachel Held Evans, Blogger, Author, and Social Commentator | @rachelheldevans

I'll never forget when someone a friend of mine told me in high school: "You're a really good speaker – too bad you're a girl." That comment led me to try to answer the question: what does it mean to be a woman of faith? What exactly is "Biblical womanhood?" How can we better understand the Proverbs 31 woman? To me, she seemed like a Pinterest board come to life. So I had a friend of mine, an Orthodox Jew, help me out with understanding the context of that chapter. She told me Proverbs 31 is not a to-do list—rather, men memorize it so they can sing it as a song to the women in their lives: to their wives, to their sisters. The only directive language in this poem is directed at men: "Praise her for all her hands have done" (v. 28).

The best translation of verse 10 is, "a woman of valor who can find?" Woman of valor, or "Eshet Chayil" in Hebrew, says it's not about what you do—it's about how you do it. If homemaking is what you do, do it with valor. If you're a CEO or a barista, do it with valor. That's what makes you a Proverbs 31 woman.

I know my highest calling is to follow Jesus Christ, and to love him with my whole heart. I've found faithfulness isn't about roles—it's about character. Our call is to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God—no matter our marital status or career.

"May the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character" (Ruth 3:11).

"Everyone Has an Assignment" by Pete Richardson, trainer and content developer / life coach, the Paterson Center

I walk clients through something I call "The Life Plan Process:" What does God want you to do, and how are you going to get there? We can't predict the future, but we can create it. As Thoreau says, "Most lead lives of quiet desperation, and die with the song still in their heart." That's my vision—to help people sing the songs in their hearts.

The question is: What has God called you to uniquely become/do in your lifetime? The answer could take decades to excavate. How do you discover it? Here are three ways:

1) Identify three to five God-given talents you have in your life. You were born with these—your mission is to cultivate and optimize them. What do you love to do, whether you get paid for it or not? Write down three, four, or five things you're obsessed with (in a good way). What can you not help but think about? What achievements are you particularly proud of? These are clues to your self-awareness.

2) Identify your God-induced desires/passions/burdens for the world.

3) Search for a "common good" expression of your God-given talents and God-induced passions in the world. We're called to build the kingdom of God on Earth, re: Paul's directions to the Corinthians: spiritual gifts were given to us for the common good of the world (1 Corinthians 12:7).

Calling is not a one-time event. It must be cultivated and refreshed in different seasons of life, through this process: Awakening and awareness; searching and discovering; surrendering and owning; focusing and filtering; adapting and renewing.

"In Defense of Ambition" by Kathy Khang, regional multiethnic ministries director at InterVarsity USA | @mskathykhang

We're called to bigger and better things than building a tower to heaven in our own name. We're called to encourage one another to choose the better thing in this season. What is God calling YOU to right here and right now? Set aside your vanity and competition, because that's what we fear when we think about ambition. What will we look like in comparison to others? How will we beat others?

I'm Korean-American, first-born in my family, and I really resonate with the Mary and Martha story, forgetting how valuable it is to sit at Jesus' feet. I often get lost and focus on how I'm presenting myself while God may be calling me in a whisper or a yell to ask me, "What is my purpose?"

This happened last night when I received a text and a phone call letting me know my husband was on a stretcher on my way to the hospital in Chicago, and I was in New York, with no way to get home. In the midst of all that, I wanted more than anything to be with my children. To be at my husband's side waiting for the test results. But God gave me peace in my hotel room. He told me I was exactly where I needed to be.

Ambition is keeping your focus on Jesus and listening to what he wants you to do. You'll only discover this when you sit at Jesus' feet like Mary. Let's have one another's backs, and allow each other to pursue our ambitions—to encourage one another to sit at Jesus' feet.

I defend ambition because I believe we're called as women to fill and subdue the earth alongside men and to encourage one another to choose the better thing whatever that may be in this season of life. So to you all my sisters, "#flymysweet."

"Face Your Fears" by Bobette Buster, Story Development Expert | @bobettebuster

In facing your fears, you'll discover courage. We're all born with bravado, but courage is a learned spiritual muscle. What are you resisting? In the root of discovering our fears and facing them, we're on the path of becoming man fully alive. As St. Iraneus said, "The glory of God is man fully alive." This won't happen if we don't face our fears.

Olympic gold medalist Laura Wilkinson faced her fears when she broke her ankle then went to the Olympics anyway. She chose to overcome her fears of damaging herself further by walking out on the high dive on her hands. She won a gold medal by overcoming her fears.

Take a moment in your life to dive and leap into your fears. Strengthen your imagination by using courage, hope, and faith—these are the path to love. When you dare to do the things you think you cannot do, there's a ripple effect that's healing in the land.

The path to your true calling is to kill your darlings. When you ask God for the desires of your heart, often you'll be asked to kill it or let it go. That's what God does in the Bible, as with Abraham when he longs for a son. Could you imagine Abraham's fear? But he dutifully walks up, and is about to strike Isaac with a stone.

Do the very thing you fear. Your heart will be broken eventually—open your heart, walk through your fear, and love anyway. It's then you'll find companions and affirmation. Don't suffer from "Queen Bee Syndrome" – make sure you're looking out for the women coming behind.

"Learning From Our Mothers" by Shauna Niequist, Author | @sniequist

A lot of people ask me to talk about my dad, Pastor Bill Hybels, but not many ask me to talk about my mom, Lynne. My mom will be 62 next week, and she's never been more alive or filled with passion and energy for life. She's a woman of creativity and conviction—and she's been a social worker, stay-at-home-mom, oil painter, contemplative, and volunteer global ministry leader. She's an involved grandma. She's also involved with peacemaking in the Middle East.

She grew up in Michigan with a fear of God and a fear of hell, but mostly a sense of Midwestern "niceness." She married my dad, and they started Willow Creek Community Church when they were 23. I was born when she was 24, and it was practical concerns that pushed my mom into the role of "home manager." She was always home, and my dad was at church a lot. She was an excellent caregiver, a loving parent, but in her own words, she was not happy. We had a "good" mom, but she was not a happy one. Seventeen years after becoming a pastor's wife, she walked into a counselor's office, and said she didn't know who she was anymore.

So my mom began to look inside herself. She began to serve with our urban partners in Chicago, and took trips to Latin America. She found she felt more alive in Mexico passing out peaches to children in the streets than she did at home in her affluent neighborhood creating a carpooling schedule. Her journey of self-discovery began when I was 14, and helped shape mine. Watching my mother come alive, I promised myself I'd pay attention to my gifts and my passions because the life I saw in her was so inspiring that I wanted it for myself. My mother pushes me to use my gifts and to write and travel, because she knows how painful life is when you're not living out of your passions.

When I asked my mom what I should say today, she said: "You tell them I found my voice in my 40s, and my vocation in my 50s. It's never too late for anyone. But if it's at all possible, don't wait that long. It doesn't have to be all or nothing. Just because you cant put 40 hours per week into creative work doesn't mean don't do it. Keep your dreams alive and they'll energize you. Don't let logistics stand in the way."

"Defining Vocation" by Kate Harris, The Washington Institute

Vocation is the ultimate church word, like accountability or community. Defined, vocation is a big word, and means "one's entire life lived in response to God's voice, or call." It's synonymous with "calling," from the Greek root kaleo.

There are a few assumptions we carry with us: first, that vocation has a lot to do with our career. Does it include paid and unpaid things? Second, that vocation has to do with potential. That it's future-focused; that, one day, far off, later, I'll figure it out. Third, that our vocation has to do with our gifts. These three things are good, but not enough. The true God we serve is much bigger than these categories. Vocation is holistic. It's comprehensive.

Our lives are increasingly marked by dimensionality. We have these disparate connections that we're not sure how to fit together. We're stretched across a variety of tasks, trying to make sense of our longings. What's the thread that strings them all together? Cultivating friendships, hobbies, making friends…we are made in the image of God to be whole.

Most of our days and situations are full of tension and fear—we try to avoid the present moment to wiggle out of its confines. We just want to move on and embrace our vocation and calling, but that's not the model we have before us. The incarnation is central to everything we profess as Christians. God himself became man, and chose to work thru the constraints we all face. It's only by embracing our limitations that we're able to do something significant.

Vocation is not only about our gifts—it's also about our griefs. The work God uniquely calls us to heals the broken parts in our own soul. He chooses to use us as catalysts for great redemption. Through death there can be new life—by his wounds we are healed. God can often use our own wounds to heal the world.

"A Single Advantage" by Katelyn Beaty, Managing Editor, Christianity Today | @KatelynBeaty

If you'd pulled me aside at 19 and told me all that would happen the next 10 years of my life, I would have been surprised. I committed myself to Christ at a Geoff More and the Distance concert at the age of 13, and went to Calvin College admitting I was a Christian. I loved learning, loved the classroom, and also knew I really liked boys. These three things remain true today.

After I graduated, I got a job in the field I studied in college. At age 22, I started as a copy editor at Christianity Today. Over the years I've learned how to work with writers and editors, speak up in meetings, and create content that would bless and edify the church. Five years to the date of when I started, I was offered a position as managing editor.

If you'd told the 19-year-old version of Katelyn she'd go through the next decade of life not married, she would have been surprised. I've never been a girl to cut out pictures of dresses and put them in a folder called "dream day," but I just assumed marriage is what happens when you become an adult—especially a Christian adult—that God would bring you a ministry partner to do work in the world together.

Marriage and family may seem normative in our society, but we are also able to see singleness today s an opportunity to invest in kingdom work we've been made to do to make the most of this season. Jesus and Paul spoke highly of singleness as an opportunity to dedicate undistracted energy to ministry. Before marriage and before family, there is Christ's call on our lives. Our lives do not begin the day we get married—our lives begin the day Christ calls us into his kingdom to participate in his kingdom work. For us who are in Christ, that's the most foundational thing. As I've watched the church grapple with the number of single people in its midst, I don't think it's offered this news to singles—especially single women.

We Christians believe we're headed toward a reality where no one will be given in marriage and no one will have children, but this truth doesn't necessarily lessen the desire for marriage and family in this life. Everyone in my apartment complex is married with babies. So it's easy for me to look at what they have and say, oh gosh, why hasn't that happened for me, I see good things I want.

I know I have unmet desires. We all have unmet desires. But we're free to live as complete persons now. As Mary Oliver says, "When death comes, I don't want to wonder if I've made of my life something particular and real . . . I don't want to find myself simply having simply visited this world." I don't want to spend my days waiting for a "real" calling to start. I want to make the most of the opportunities I've been given now.

"When It All Falls Apart" by Lauren Winner, Author

"Inspiring the Next Generation" by Nicole Baker Fulgham, The Expectations Project | @nicolebfulgham

"In the Pursuit of that Elusive 'Balance'" by Rebekah Lyons, Author & Host of Q Women & Calling | @rebekahlyons

"Called to be a Woman" by Kathy Keller, co-founder, Redeemer Presbyterian Church

"The Role of Rest" by Deidra Riggs, managing editor, The High Calling | @DeidraRiggs

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Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Allison J. Althoff

Allison J. Althoff is Today's Christian Woman's online editor. Follow her on Twitter @ajalthoff.

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