- PERFECTIONSIM: I am more worthy if I am the perfect daughter / wife /friend /employee, if my house is always neat and clean. I am more worthy if my hair is done, my makeup is perfect, if I don’t carry extra fat. I am more worthy if I never take time for myself and invest ALL of my time and energy in others.
- THE LESS LIFESTYLE: Women are more valuable when we are less or shrinking. We must weigh less, talk less. It’s our job to make others happy and comfortable in their lives, this should be our life goal. We laugh when the joke isn’t funny, and we smile when we are uncomfortable and fear for our safety. We suppress all that we are in an attempt to feel safe and accepted, and then wonder why we are forever chasing belonging. (Also, incidentally why the “lets just focus on Jesus” mantra is tempting, it fits right in with our habitual suppression of who we were created to be.)
- EVANGELICAL PATRIARCHY: We as women are both the weakest and the most responsible. We are unable to lead but still responsible for the purity of all. Our spiritual gifts, our testimony, and our relationship with Jesus is viewed as secondary in importance to how we choose to cover or reveal our physical bodies. Our worth is dependent on not only our physical purity but that of everyone we come in contact with.
- MALE-CENTRIC FAITH: Hearing the Bible primarily from the perspective of the men. Hearing about what Jesus was telling the crowd and the men when he spoke out protecting the woman caught in adultery, or Mary Magdalene wiping his feet with her hair. We don’t hear about Jesus interactions with women from a zoomed out perspective throughout his ministry – and very rarely do we hear about what it likely meant to THE WOMEN that were regularly healed, defended, and became some of his strongest witnesses.
I settle into my over-sized couch, snuggle under my fleece blankets, dip into the Ben and Jerry’s, dim the lights and press play.
The Main Character of the Story is on my screen, doing every day things. Jogging, driving to work, waking up and getting coffee. They continue on their Every Day trajectory until they are interrupted by a revelation of Impending Doom. Impending Doom changes everything about their life and perspective. They realize that many people will be killed or harmed if something is not done about this situation. They spend the next 15-20 minutes trying to convince The Powers That Be that Impending Doom is IMPORTANT. The Powers That Be brush them off at every turn until they finally see proof of Now Quickly Approaching Impending Doom themselves, and have a “Main Character was right all along” moment. The last 20 minutes of the movie everyone scurries around, Main Character saves the day.
I have watched this story so many times. I keep going back to watch it play out, and ride the emotional roller coaster for that swell at the end where Main Character is vindicated.
Parts of this story are playing out right now, but I am not the Main Character, I am the institutionalized, comfortable powers that be. I have been told for YEARS now that racism and white supremacy is alive and well, but it was easier not to believe that systems I contribute to and benefit from actively harm others. It is uncomfortable and unnerving to remove the lens I view the world through which absolves me of responsibility. I ignore it because I can. In the stories and in life, Impending Doom left unchecked runs on a timer. Charlottesville is only the beginning of what will happen if I do not act now, educate myself and band together as allies for all of my non white, differently abled, cisgender, or straight friends and family. If I do not do this now, I am complicit in what comes next.
I find it ironic that those of us who feel most staunchly justified in ourselves and in the lives we created also are the most entitled. I have scoffed at those who need help, because I believed I created myself and my life, they should be able to do the same if they only worked hard enough, or were committed enough, or were enough like me. But this is where my entitlement lies – I feel entitled to be the Main Character in every story, not just mine. I worked so hard for this! Even as I start rubbing the sleep from my eyes and viewing a new perspective, my FIRST question is “what about me? am I good in this world?” In this story of White Supremacy vs Equity, I am The Powers That Be. I hold the power to affect change in my community and family, and church. The question isn’t whether or not I hold power and influence, the question is if I am using it to be an ally and create safe spaces for non white, differently abled, cisgender, or straight people or if I am using it to re-enforce and assert that somehow this is about me?
““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
One of my 2017 “resolutions” was to not shy away from messy conversations. Last night I laid in my bed and I cried. I cried for those in Charlottesville. I cried because I had the privilege yesterday of spending a relaxing day with my husband without it coming up, and the fact that this is even possible speaks to both of our white privilege. Having privilege is not wrong, the morality comes with what we decide to do with it. I cried because of comments that have been made by people I love, that in the past I have let hang, lest I have to deal with discomfort of others who don’t want to face themselves. I cried for my faith – because my faith – people professing as Christian- is deafeningly silent when it comes to social justice. No, actually I take that back, we are not silent, we speak with our votes and what we have been saying lately feels decidedly unchristian. We have programs. We send out missionaries (many of whom are really doing great work) but what is it worth if we cannot even speak up for “the least of these” at our dinner tables? If our focus in legislation and politics is primarily self preservation and fear? If we can’t set aside our fears and our own narratives for long enough to listen to someone who lives a vastly different experience, AND BELIEVE THEM when they tell us? Our lack of faith speaks when we choose our comfort over equity.
I am writing this because I am coming to believe that not only is this important for “the least of these” but I am seeing it more and more to be a salvation issue. When I was a child the above passage of scripture scared me – how could you know if you were really reaching out to those in need like Christ would? Now it seems painfully clear. I’m not making judgments on anyone else’s walk, but if this is triggering to you ask yourself if you are really living in love towards all? I am not advocating tolerance, I am advocating love, self examination, and repentance. I am asking that we confess our sins to each other that we may find healing and restoration. (James 5:16)
I confess I have chosen comfort over equity.
I confess I have stayed silent out of fear instead of speaking truth in love.
I confess I have missed chances to feed, clothe, and minister to those less fortunate and less privileged than I am.
I confess the terror of dealing with my own issues has kept me from being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Idolatry is subtle. It’s not always status, the car, the house, the job. We can make an idol of comfort, control, or security. Proverbs 10:24 says “What the wicked dread will overtake them; what the righteous desire will be granted.” What the wicked dread will overtake them. We dread acts of terror, so we turn away refugees – and then, and then, we become the terrorists marching through universities, when our idols are threatened. We become what we fear.
I’m not making any judgments here on anyone’s spiritual walk or journey. I’m not claiming to know where anyone else is in their walk. But if you do profess Christianity as your faith, join me in confession. Help us heal our faith. 1 John 4:18 says “18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” FEAR is the opposite of love, not hate. No response out of fear is Christian as far as I can tell. I think this is the strongest post I have made, but I need to make it. I need this to be said. I refuse to be complicit in silence. If you’re reading this, know I really and truly care deeply for you and love you. I welcome your thoughtful discussion as we find ways to actively serve our hurting communities and our country.
Transition phases are messy and difficult. Harbingers for change and growth are uncomfortable, bringing up the most artfully concealed wounds and challenging us to be more. Each transition phase I experience presents new keys to unlocking and dismantling old belief systems I didn’t even know I acted on.
2017 rung in a major transition phase for Chris and I. There are many things that I’ve noticed and learned, and that we have been growing through together, but lately I’ve been unpacking what authenticity means to me. I started working on aligning myself more authentically a couple of years ago. At first it meant pushing *myself* to do things I always wanted to try, and putting in that extra effort to find what was most important to me. I have spent the last two years or so performing mental archaeological excavations, dismantling what parts of myself were based in social constructs, my own reactions to social constructs, unhealthy coping mechanisms, and ultimately, what parts were truly who I am or who I want to be. The more pieces of that puzzle that are restored, the more grounded I become.
Having more of myself awake during this last transition has been invaluable. I most recently noticed a change in how I prepare for events, trips, and how I respond to outside changes and challenges. In the past I would spend a lot of additional time stressing, worrying, researching and preparing for an event or trip. My first response to uninvited change was trying to find all the ways I could mould and control the situation. I felt that having the perfect plan and packing list would effect how enjoyable an event or trip was. The more outside factors I could control the more secure I felt. I needed the perfect dress, lipstick, and itinerary to get MAXIMUM ENJOYMENT (and have social media worthy proof that I was living life TO THE FULLEST.)
I remember reading an article detailing symptoms and common coping mechanisms for anxiety, one of them being over preparing and researching. I thought “that’s silly, being prepared is logical and smart.” What I didn’t realize until several months later was how much emotional and physical energy I was using trying to be perfectly prepared for everything that happened in my life. This was just another futile attempt at pretending I had control over things that never were mine to own. It also invited judgement of others who did not seem to plan ahead into my life, which is not a quality I want to personally identify with. I have stepped off the hamster wheel of pretending I’m perfectly prepared.
I have begun focusing on controlling and analyzing my responses to stress, instead of how to control the stressors. My mantra lately (ask my coworkers) has been “It’s not about me.” This may sound harsh at first but has nothing to do with invalidating my experience. “It’s not about me” merely reminds me that how others respond to me, what they bring to me on a daily basis at work, or the intrusion of uninvited change in my life is usually not about me personally. Just as how I respond to outside situations is a reflection of my personal history and the internal work I’ve done, how others respond to stressful situations is a reflection of their individual world views, coping mechanisms that may or may not serve them, and how they choose to respond to stressors and uninvited change in their lives. Remembering this helps me to keep a little more calm in my life and conserve some emotional energy.
I’m also working on cultivating more curiosity and openness as opposed to my natural flinch response of fear and resisting changes. None of us were meant to be static. Changes in our lifestyles, personalities, or world views are inevitable and show our growth. In my personal life I’ve been finding approaching change with curiosity and wonder promotes growth, while attempting to resist inevitable change only stunts my potential and limits my connection with others. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds.
I wanted to believe that feminism was an issue of the past. For many years I gave it the cursory nod that we women have access to education like men, we work like men, we vote like men, and that’s that. The fact that I could even think this shows my privilege of growing up in a country where women do automatically have access to education, employment, and voting as this is NOT the case for most of the developing world. First world feminist problems are much more insidious. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I should just be grateful that I can get an education without risking being shot on my way to school, or that I wasn’t married off as property at the age of 12 or 13. However I like to think that we can do better. I don’t even care for myself – but for my niece, and the girls I know, we can do better. I think about the possibility of having a daughter someday, and there is always a knot in my stomach – not just the normal freak out about the responsibility of a child- but the deep understanding and dread of the path you walk as a girl. Knowing I would be signing my daughter up for fighting objectification and constant barrage of self esteem. That even if she fights, even if I can give her the tools to be a warrior, and she learns to advocate for herself, it will always be a battle. First world sexism feels like drowning. Everything looks normal but you can’t get any air. No-one will listen, because everything looks fine. Perfectly coiffed suffocation, it’s the American way.
I read an article recently about how we as women constantly deescalate situations to protect ourselves. Because we all know we are in danger of being assaulted, because it’s happened to our friends and family, and we count ourselves lucky if it hasn’t happened to us. More of my friends than not have been sexually assaulted or raped. All of us have done things like crossing to the other side of the street if we feel like we’re being followed, or adjusting our keys in our hands to be used as a weapon if necessary. I know some (awesome) ladies who have a conceal carry permit and carry in their purses. Safety is a ever present issue, not because of how we dress or how we carry ourselves but just because we are women. As a woman I feel small, weak, and easily dismissed. Not only do I feel like this is the legacy femininity lends me, I am socially expected to be small, weak, and easy to dismiss. People are threatened by power and strength in women. Strength and power are qualities that are admired in men. Men can be abrasive and get away with it because it can be rebranded as leadership. We women stand up and assert ourselves and we are “bossy” or “b*tchy”. From the time I was a little girl I saw how the deck was stacked – how boys were encouraged to do the things that looked most fun, and girls were expected to be interested in more delicate and “refined” pursuits. I remember passionately telling my mom as a little girl that I would never grow up to shave my legs and wear bras. Guess I have always been a little feminist! I was lucky that my parents didn’t push me into specifically “girly” things, however it’s impossible to live out in the world and NOT be affected by this. I have many times over wished that I were not born a girl. Not because I thought I was anything but female, but because I hated the list of expectations that came along with being a woman. Then there’s childbirth, who would willingly sign up for that?
These themes don’t only affect my relationships and exchanges with men, they have affected my relationships and exchanges with women. I have (especially in the past) felt threatened or intimidated by strong women who own their space. I have felt that I have little to nothing in common with women who look like they subscribe to how we are “supposed” to be. I have been the girl that “just doesn’t have girlfriends” or “is one of the guys” and wore that label proudly for a while. But here’s the dirty secret: That’s not who women are. There is no list of typical “female” qualities – because we are brilliant and deep and amazing enough to encompass ALL of them. We can love dressing up and getting dirty. We can fix things around the house and then go to the spa. We can love lifting heavy weights and still get pissed if it messes up a new manicure. We can be brilliant scientists and still want to spend time nurturing a family. It’s all woman! Woman is strong, woman is soft, woman is curvy, thin, tall, short, we are *all* of that. Women aren’t any more naturally catty and vindictive than men. We are just taught this is the only acceptable way for us to express our negative emotions. We can’t stand our ground and state our opinions and how we wish to be treated and expect that to be taken seriously, so we find ways to hide and manipulate which is in no ones best interest. Instead of being our fiercest allies, other women turn into competition. And so we continue to drown, feeling isolated, not realizing that we are all dealing with the same issues and can reach for help, and a breath of fresh air.
2016 was the year I began to feel authentic in my adult life. I’ve slowly been learning to relax into who I really am, and it’s liberating. In some ways it feels like a purposeful return to aspects of childhood. Maybe there are some things we lose in the hustle of growing up that need to be discovered again. I’m gently challenging myself in areas I feel uncomfortable speaking up. But advocating for myself and for my sisters is one of the best feelings I have ever had.
My first book read in 2016 was “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown. This book made so many connections for me! Most of them are connected to intrinsic worth, authenticity, and the constant, unrelenting hustle of always trying to measure up.
Growing up, “self acceptance” was preached and touted in our small, homeschooling circles, but very rarely modeled. Everyone was trying so hard to fit an image – that’s what Christianity is supposed to look like, right? Perfect “ministry smiles” and ankle length denim skirts…? Right? No? I knew so many things about that life weren’t for me – however I still missed the boat on real belonging and living authentically. I studied “normal” people. I watched hours of old and new TV shows on the internet and downloaded popular music trying to catch up and to understand cultural references. I was looking for belonging, or as my blogging idol Jenny Lawson would say, my tribe. I pored over fashion websites and scoured second hand stores for clothes that would help me blend in. Camouflaging myself was my first goal. I thought looking the part and being able to carry on a current and relevant conversation would do it. But being accepted inauthentically is empty. I remember reading a HONY story of a man who walks dogs and loves his life. It was apparent from his photo and from his commentary. I was so inspired and thought wow, he is really onto something. He has got it! (his story has also been covered by the new york times for inquiring minds) For at least a day I was jealous of the mental clarity of the new york city dog walker who came up with his uniform while smoking a joint.
Being yourself is a glib description of authentic living. The problems with “just be yourself” are twofold. First, you have to know yourself. Second, you have to like and respect yourself well enough to be honest with the world. You must own it. For a long time I mentally filled in the “JUST BE the version of YOURSELF that makes me comfortable” sarcastically in my head anytime I saw or heard that phrase. We don’t have a culture built on authentic living. Sure there are individuals that appreciate it, and once you establish your boundaries people will eventually accept them, but that’s a far cry from mindful questioning of authenticity. Instead we have advertisers telling us our lives will be magically better if we have X product, if we are skinnier, if we have a bigger house, or a better car. Our spouse, our families! They must be the problem! Capitalism, while great for the economy can do a number on our souls and self worth. We fill every waking moment with something – anything to keep from being still. Advertisements are snuck in everywhere, luring us with something better and shinier. We shrink and shy away from asking ourselves tough questions about our lives because the answers might require us to change something. We just might have to break out of our carefully constructed social facade and surprise some people.
I am learning that mindful change is the only way to: a. figure out who you are, and b. own it. It means asking hard questions. It means noticing my internal dialogue. It means being kind to myself. It means being OK with making little changes, and trusting they will grow into something worthwhile. (Or in Mark Mansons words: Shut Up and Be Patient) It means being aware of what and who I fill my newsfeeds and pinterest boards with. It means being honest about my story. It means seeking out help and support when I need it. It means focusing on my strengths and what I like about myself instead of all the things I wish I could change.
I have many problems with the “health and fitness” industries – but really, if we all just decided to improve ourselves from a secure place of belonging and contentment, I think most of those problems would fix themselves. We wouldn’t want or need a 21 day fix of any kind. We wouldn’t feel so disgusting we starve ourselves with “detoxes” when our liver does a fine job of that already. There would be no more desperate grasping for something to give our lives worth and meaning at best, and to fit into the hustle at worst.
This is your first installment of my thoughts on “The gifts of imperfection”. I leave you with my goals for 2016. BTW I post most of my day to day stuff on instagram. So if you want to follow more closely, go over there!
This morning I stumbled out of bed and half asleep thought through my breakfast options. Oatmeal? Eggs and chicken sausage? Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with some granola? Yes, yogurt with granola. As I put my greek yogurt and kind granola in a bowl and mixed it up I started thinking about food habits, how difficult they are to change, and how much easier it is to keep working towards habits in the gym than it is habits in the kitchen.
In the gym, you are always working for that next personal record. You measure your progress based on what you can do now that you couldn’t before. It’s hard to measure progress in the kitchen. A lot of people try to measure it by weight loss, but we all know that is not a good indicator of health or progress. While your body may revolt if you eat something unhealthy (or just overeat), you don’t get an endorphin rush from eating a healthy meal like you do at the end of a workout. What motivators are there for us to really stop having sugary cereal every morning, or three pumpkin spice lattes a week? What motivation is standing behind us when someone brings donuts to work, and we already have a planned splurge? For me, it’s the knowledge that I can give my body what it needs nutritionally. (with or without that donut. ;)) I know what foods will keep me full longer, fuel my workouts, and help me reach my long term goals. However there are few short term results from food habits. I think the *quickest* results I have seen from nutrition changes have been over a month or two. I was in a fitness group for a while, where girls would start counting their macronutrients and post “before and after” photos that were a week or two apart. Yes, I’m sorry, you still look exactly the same. I feel like this is the reason consistent eating is so much more difficult than consistent exercise. The problem is, it’s well documented that consistent eating is *more important* than consistent exercise. Think about it, even if you work your butt off 7 days a week at the gym, that’s a max of what, seven workouts? How many meals do you eat in a week, at least 21, right? You eat at LEAST three times as often as you exercise.
So I thought I would document a few positive nutrition habits that have formed for me over the last couple of years, because they have been hard fought – harder fought than my squat or deadlift personal records.
– I used to eat cereal every morning for breakfast, and whenever I felt snacky. Now I have several options for a much more satiating breakfast (and most of them give me a good head start on my protein requirement for the day.) I actually quit buying cereal, I bought a box of lucky charms at one point this year and ate the whole thing in like three days, so I have just quit bringing it home. I also really like subbing yogurt or cottage cheese out for milk with high quality granola, more protein, less sugar.
– I drink a lot of water every day, especially when I’m at work.
– I no longer drink coffee (and cream, and sugar) all day long. I usually only have one cup in the morning now. In the interest of full disclosure it is sometimes a very large cup.
– I am still working on bringing lunches with me every day (I go in phases with this) but I have a solid list of fall back places I can go get lunch from that are healthy.
– While I am not currently counting macros or calories, (I don’t feel this is a healthy long term thing for me to do but have done it and am not against doing it for specifically defined periods of time) I have a pretty good idea of what I’m putting in my body macro and calorie wise.
Of course there are always more things to work on… mine include
-Eating more veggies, regularly. (this is a big one for me)
-Having healthy snacks I can grab around the house
-Expanding my healthy dinner repertoire
-Continue re-training my taste buds
What are healthy food habits that you have developed, and what are the ones you’re still working on?