Children & Marriage, Spiritual Formation, Women

The spiraling nature of nose rings, motherhood, and professional growth

spiral

Seattle, 2007

Having just closed on a home in a tiny midwestern town, I boarded a plane for a professional conference in Seattle. A bustling city, intellectual conversations, and an unfettered schedule awaited me there, offering a much needed break from the everyday insanity of my toddler-saturated world. It would be a temporary refuge from the small town life I had just signed up for.

How would I survive in that isolated space that loved its own but stiff-armed the difference my family represented? The question echoed as I soaked in the balm of an urban environment that posed no expectations of who I was supposed to be. A few days in, I came to a sudden conclusion on how to make peace with my rural fate: I would pierce my nose. An external sign of an inward stance, it would be a daily reminder to be true to who I was – a mother, a professional, a misfit in an environment where belonging was prized. Silly as it sounds, it was a significant mental shift for me, one in which I accepted both my lot and my identity, and made space for the tension that existed between them.

Seattle, 2017

I used to think that life worked like a straight line in which we moved from point to point, learning from one place and moving on to the next without ever returning to the old ones. What I’ve learned instead is that life is more of a spiral in which we revisit the same spaces, each time at a different level with added wisdom and grace from what we’ve learned before.

My spiral-shaped nose ring and I are back in Seattle for the first time in 10 years. This time around, the small town life lies in the distant past. I now live in a metropolitan area, and just left sick teenagers at home with their superhero of a father. It strikes me that I am making my way back to a beginning of sorts. It’s the same thing all over again, but this time at a different level. I still work as an academic administrator, but this time with a whole new size and scope. I’m still entrenched in this mothering thing, but this time juggling the teenage dramas instead of the toddler ones. I’m still working out how to live into the whole of my identity, but this time with a bit more wisdom and grace for myself and those around me.

Over the course of the last decade, my spiral has corkscrewed all over the place, but returning to this space draws an instant connection from where I used to be to where I am now. I think of that moment when I suddenly thought, “I know! I’ll pierce my nose!”, of the lesson it taught me to embrace who I’m created to be instead of running away from it, and I grin at the gently spiraling repetition of it all. That lesson may never grow old.

 

 

 

 

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Social & Political Issues, Women

White women and the problem of race

I wrote a follow-up article to Abby Norman’s brilliant piece on Picking up the Trash of White Supremacy for SheLoves magazine this week. Let’s do better work on these issues, ladies.

While many of us have experienced this reality living as a woman in a man’s world, we know a whole lot less about doing it as a white person in a non-white world. We champion female equality, quote statistics about glass ceilings, and shout our hard-earned rights from the rooftops; but when it comes to race, we’re often shamefully ignorant. We fail to apply the lessons we’ve learned from our own emancipation to the emancipation of others. It’s the Fall all over again, and we’re left holding the garbage bag of our own self-centeredness.

Read more here.

Belief, Books, Culture & Race, Women

If Jesus was brown and non-Western, shouldn’t some of our other heroes be too?

Capture

In search of some role models of faith for my children, I recently began looking for biographies of Christians through history. I found several highly recommended series:

  • Encounter the Saints (Seton)
  • Hero Tales (Bethany House)
  • Men and Women of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Men of Faith (Bethany House)
  • Torchlighters
  • Christian Heroes: Then & Now (YWAM)

As I researched more deeply into these series, several themes stood out:

The Good

  • There are some AMAZING  people out there. The people featured in these titles were take-your-breath-away inspiring. Their examples of sacrifice, passion, commitment, and faithfulness are models for everyone. We need more people who live like they did.
  • We need to spend time hearing stories of those who have gone before us. While many lived in different times, the challenges they faced put our modern sensibilities to shame. Learning about their lives has more to teach us about our own journeys than obsessing over Justin Bieber.

The Needs-Improved

  • The majority of ‘heroes’ were white western men. Looking through the titles, I noticed a significant lack of diversity amongst the characters featured. Most, it seemed, were white men. The current state of the book publishing industry affirms the notion that history tells the story of the ones with the most power. Out of curiosity, I compiled the titles and researched each of the characters for gender, race, nationality, and marital status. Check out some of the results:

weneeddiversebooks (1)

  • Women need more equal representation. While the female figure was higher than I expected, when incorporating marital status, only 6 of the 49 (12%) women featured as the main character of a biography were married. In contrast, 70 out of 102 (69%) men were married. Only five of the biographies I reviewed had titles about men and women together. Who were the women behind the heroes? Why weren’t they featured as prominently as the men since their lives surely included equal levels of sacrifice and commitment? 
  • The Christian world extends far beyond the US, UK, and Europe. China is poised to become the world’s largest Christian country in 15 years. The church is exploding in Africa and the middle east. There is much to learn from the faithful followers in other nations and our faith would be deepened to know more of their stories.

Why does it matter?

Our children need to see that people from any background can follow God. If Revelations tells us that people from every tribe and nation will be in heaven, surely we can write a few books about them here on earth. The message behind the message when the majority of ‘heroes’ are white men is that this status is held only for a privileged few. Until our stories reflect this truth, children will subconsciously absorb this message.

Women need to see themselves as full participants in God’s story. We were not created to hide behind men but to walk beside them as equals. When we are relegated to the woman-behind-the-man, it becomes easy to shirk our own responsibility to heed God’s call on our lives, husband or not.

We need more diverse books. A popular Twitter hashtag, the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement applies in equal measure (if not more) to the Christian publishing industry. Let’s dig deep into our history and publish the stories of our brothers and sisters who have followed Christ around the world, from places of low status and persecution rather than just privilege and power. Perhaps it would give us a deeper understanding of Christ’s call to make all things new.

Women

Lessons from an ex-Baptist attempting Zumba

Taking a commercial break from the heavy stuff…  today it’s all about Zumba and the lies my hips don’t tell.

I went to my first Zumba class recently and learned a few surprising things about myself.  I was temporarily under-employed, so I decided to make the best of my extra free time and work off some of the taco-induced jiggles that have joined me here in Southern California by hanging with the retirees swiveling their hips at the gym.

It’s probably relevant at this point to admit that I was born a Baptist.  (The frozen-stiff kind, not the wavy-hands kind).

I secured my spot in the back corner of the aerobics room, as far away from the instructor and public windows as possible.  The svelte instructor cranked the music, struck a pose, and we were off to a Salsa beat.

It took about two minutes for me to curse my undergraduate Spanish degree for not including Latin dance classes.  I can move my feet. I can move my hips. I can even wave my arms.  But I cannot move them all at the same time, especially in multiple directions at high speeds.  About five minutes in, I started thinking that while my hips had been quite adept at propping up babies and collecting the extra yumminess from all this uh-maz-ing ethnic food in LA, they had certainly not been endowed with the ability to swivel.

Thankfully, about half the class was old ladies.  My hips were in good company, so swivel (or something like that) they did. Those Baptist-born hips have never seen so much action.  If my children had been in the room, they would have died of either embarrassment or laughter.  Heck, I don’t think my own husband could have kept a straight face.

But me? My hips and I were determined to stick out the entire class, so I tripped over my feet, waved my hands in the air, sashayed, air-lasso-ed, bounced, kicked, and flailed my limbs in every direction.  About half-way through, I acknowledged silently to myself that most of the little old ladies swiveled waaay better than I did so I just kept hopping around and avoided direct eye-contact at all costs.

The class ended with an enthusiastic whoop as the instructor dismissed us with a cheerful “Wasn’t that fun?!”

As I made a bee-line for the door, I met eyes with an old lady who grinned at me, “Fun!?!?  I think I’ll go die now.”

I chuckled all the way to my mini-van where I spent the drive home formulating a few conclusions from my ill-fated Zumba class:

1.  I’m not very cool, and I’m ok with that.  I kinda liked the fact that the old ladies had more zip than me.  It gave me something to look forward to.  It reminded me that closing in on 40 means I feel a whole lot more comfortable with who I am, and that comfort will only grow stronger as the years pass.

2. It’s a good for me to do things I stink at.  I’m a teacher and a writer who generally controls everything around me.  Swiveling my stiff hips and tripping over my feet keep me humble, reminding me that I don’t always have everything figured out, especially my own body.

3.  Old ladies who do Zumba are freaking-awesome.  I may go back just to hang out with them in the hopes that they’ll rub off on me.  I mean, seriously, who can argue with this?

4.  Growing old need not be boring.  Even though #1 gets truer and truer by the day, I’m reconciling the fact that cool does not necessarily equal fun, and that old does not unequivocally equal boring.  I have a whole lot of life left to live, and there’s still so much to learn and understand and grow into that I know so little about.

5.  As Shakira suggests, hips don’t lie.  Mine were shouting loud to the whole world that the gift of groove was not bestowed upon me.  In our world of plastic bodies and photoshopped selfies, my clumsy hips reminded me to be true to myself just as I am, not as the world tells me I should be.

I’m not sure how soon I’ll be going back to swing my hips with the old ladies.  (I’m pretty sure I’m more of a yoga girl.)  But in the mean time, I’m walking hobbling around with a slight grin on my face, grateful to a silly little Zumba class for reminding me of both who I am and what I am becoming.

Books, Women

Wonder Women: Navigating the challenges of Motherhood, Career and Identity | a book review

The Barna Group recently published a new book series called “Frames“, a series of short but meaningful issues people face in modern society. Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity packs its 84 small pages full of rich statistics and ideas for women to explore.  Their logo of ‘read less, know more’ proves quite accurate.

Since I’m forever sorting out how to prioritize and balance my life responsibilities, I appreciated the pause to sit with Kate Harris, the executive director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, as she reflected more deeply on questions of how women in all stages and phases of life explore ideas like vocation, creativity, constraints, and community.

Wonder Women was a quick read (I finished it on the couch while my kids watched two episodes of Ninjago) that left me with a significant amount of both data and ideas to process.  Since I’m a visual learner, I especially enjoyed all the visual data included from the Barna group.  I also appreciated how the book addresses women in a wide variety of situations – single, married, mothers, professionals – without demonizing any of them. One of the most jarring statistics was the high percentage of how many women feel persistently lonely and long for connection with friends.

It left me thinking what a rich experience it would be to read and discuss Wonder Women with a small group of other women to learn how they work out not only the logistics, but the internal details of their lives.  It provides a thoughtful, do-able starting point for women seeking wisdom and wholeness while balancing so many things, and would beat a women’s ministry tea party any day in my book.

Be sure to check out Barna’s other titles in this series on hot topics like adoption, peace, information overload, career, church and education.

Social & Political Issues, Women

Naked lies

I’ve been busy settling into life here on the West coast, processing and growing from and understanding all the new around me.  Hence, I haven’t had much to post here since I prefer to process things, then share them.  Clearly, I’m still processing!  Here’s one small thought I’ve been chewing on:

The half-naked image advertising liposuction on the billboard, unfortunately, did not escape my seven year old son’s gaze.

“Sheesh!” he exclaimed dramatically. Rather than commenting on the nakedness (as seven year old – well, actually, any boys – are prone to do), his next comment surprised me, “Why do women think they have to be so skinny all the time?!? They look fine the way they are.”

Damn you, Los Angeles.

Don’t you dare go ruining my little boy’s fine views of women.

I really like your beaches and mountains and weather and all, but this whole obsession with flat tummies is a bit much.  Apparently, Hollywood knows it’s a problem, it’s just not willing to change its image.  When Hunger Games lead Jennifer Lawrence says, “In Hollywood, I’m obese” and concludes that she’ll “be the only actress who doesn’t have anorexia rumors”, I think we can safely assume there are some misaligned priorities being paraded in mainstream culture. It’s not just about being a size two, looking sexy in a bikini, and having an enviable body. It’s about the souls of women, about us exchanging, as my cousin so powerfully explains, our lives for our bodies.

Ironically, the story wasn’t too different in the Midwest.  It was just told from the other extreme – obesity – people attempting to fill their souls by obsessing over food. Instead of not eating enough, they ate too much.  In DC, it was all about power. Worldwide, lust for both human bodies and material goods consumes a huge amount of our energy. Clearly, our problem is not about food, it’s about longing for more, whether it’s food or perfection or iphones, and living on the surface rather than digging deep. Instead of promoting the depth that wholeness brings, society parades the shallowness of its brokenness on billboards.

Living at the surface is tempting on so many levels…For one, it’s a whole lot easier to dress up our outsides than to clean up our insides. A close friend battling with anorexia recently sent me an email about her process of doing just this, “How do I sink this love that [God] has for me straight into the empty parts of my heart?” she asked. “All my life I’ve gone from god to god to try to fill that deep deep emptiness to no avail.  And I don’t know what the rest of this journey looks like but this I know… His truth will set me free.”

Wholeness begins with the willingness to boldly proclaim, “The emperor has no clothes!” because it’s true, instead of keeping our mouths shut because no one else is saying anything. Or, putting it in today’s terms, “Damn you, Los Angeles and your impossibly flat stomachs.  You don’t fool me with your lies,” and then letting that truth sink straight to the empty parts of our hearts.

Families, Children & Marriage, Miscellany, Women

Back to work…

and so it is that the slow summer days have come to an end, when we all return to the much faster pace of the school year. my summer was full and rich – swimming pools, lazy days, lots of books, long conversations and short to-do lists.

Returning to school involves a whole different energy level. Though I do get tired, I find that the emotional energy it takes to shift back into our respective worlds is the heaviest.  Kate Daniels sums up my conflicted feelings about the whole transition in her poem below – loving work, quietness, contemplation, yet pulled by those precious little ones toward a much noisier existence.

In My Office at Bennington
 
Mornings, I sit by the open window
in the red barn, reading poems
and quietly thinking.  Coffee idles
in a cracked blue mug, and bees burst
in and out of the unscreened window.  At last, a poem seems possible
again – brain knitting a scarf
of thought, purling it into words.
 
Metaphors emerge after long seclusion –
a green crocus, crusted with dirt, thrusts
through the rotten fabric of an ailing lawn
late in February.  The season is almost
over, or it’s not, in fact, begun. 
 
But then I hear the voices of my children
returning from a meal, hiking up the hill
from camp.  Or the plastic wheels of Janey’s
carriage clattering in gravel.
The cheerful firstborn’s off-key whistle,
airy through the gap in new front teeth
 
and I’m paper torn in half,
 
the poem that didn’t work,
the wrong words, sour sounds,
ruptured rhythms, the confusion
as to what was meant, what I actually
desired besides those three small faces
raised to my open window, calling
my name over and over, Mama?

 

Daniels, K. (2001).  In my office at Bennington.  In M. K. DeShazer (Ed.), The Longman anthology of women’s literature (pp. 872-873). New York: Longman.

Women

Women’s rights, early 19th century style

Smoking flapperI was so intrigued by this statement making doll that I snapped a shot of it in the museum I recently visited.  Apparently, early suffragists smoked as a means of expressing their freedom – men smoked, but for women to smoke was considered horribly inappropriate.

Times have changed some, and at least if women smoke, they’re not usually dressed like this while they’re smoking!  It made me wonder what women currently do to ‘assert our voice’ that may or may not be an effective means of developing our ability to be heard.  I have my own ideas, but I’m curious to hear yours first…

Families, Children & Marriage, Women

Confessions of a Slow Mama

The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.
She never existed before.
The woman existed, but the mother, never.
A mother is something absolutely new.
-Rajneesh

When I was pregnant, a friend of mine told me that her mother hadn’t been much into babies.  She chuckled a bit as she recounted her mom’s comment, “I didn’t even like you until you were three.”  In the midst of the mystery and sentiment of pregnancy, I had a hard time following her mother’s thinking.  I mean, life was growing inside me – precious, beautiful, mysterious life! How could someone not like a baby?!?  While I chuckled at the sentiment, I couldn’t quite grasp it, that is, until one actually showed up in my arms.

I suspect my inability to understand had something to do with the fact that I had not yet lost years of sleep, been puked on (and more!) multiple times, gained over 50 pounds, spent months nauseated, endured repeated bouts of mastitis, or tried to reason with a screaming 2 year who insisted on watching TV at 2 am.  I also had not yet encountered the daunting challenge of quieting a screaming baby on a 20 hour flight, keeping fingers out of electrical sockets, short-changing engaging conversations with friends/husbands/mothers to clean up the box of cereal dumped on the floor. Continue reading “Confessions of a Slow Mama”

Families, Children & Marriage, Women

Sorting out motherhood…

Another area in which I live ‘between’ is motherhood.  I am both a stay-at-home and working mom.  For the past five years, I’ve worked from home nursing both a career and several children in between warming bottles and chicken nuggets.  I’ve found myself in Halee Gray Scott’s shoes more than once trying to reconcile my abilities as a mother and gifts as a career woman.  Her article The One Necessary Thing on Gifted for Leadership’s blog hones in on the centrality of what is essential in the role of a parent, not the details of how we do it.

Belief, Books, Women

BOOK: 30 Days of Prayer for the Voiceless

Guide to prayer addressing global issues of gender-based injustice.  I just started this this morning, and it is powerful and very difficult to read…  It goes through issues such as abortion, child prositution, domestic violence, eating disorders, female laborers, incest, and pornagraphy.  (Like I said, difficult to read!)