I cut my hair short last week. It's not too short - I can still put it up in a ponytail. But a bun is definitely out of the question, and probably also a braid. For those of you who keep abreast of hair fashions, I went for the long bob a la Emma Stone, Olivia Palermo, and dare I say, Taylor Swift. (And no, I did not intentionally copy her as my dear sister had the audacity to suggest.)
I've been thinking about cutting it this way for quite a while, probably about a year. But I am not very adventurous with my hair and it's taken quite a lot of back and forth in my brain to make this move. Considering it's not even that short, you think it wouldn't be that difficult. But as amply noted by the hairdresser, I had very long hair and this was a really big change.
I have a really difficult relationship with my hair. Since I was thirteen years old, I've been going back and forth between long and short cuts. I was in my early teens the first time I cut it short. I got what I thought was the absolute coolest haircut - a short bob that I had to learn to blow dry with a round brush for the very first time. Additionally, the cut had awesome 90s barrel bangs. I was so proud. But eventually, I realized that a certain piece in the back always stuck out and I couldn't get it to curl under like the rest of the look. So I commenced an effort to grow out my hair back out. What had started as my first departure from little girl locks and foray into grownup fashion had ended with frustration and introduced the first feelings of insecurity about my hair.
By the end of high school, I had the typical really long, really pretty teenage girl hair. It was healthy and shiny, and flowed down my back. My sister dubbed it "The River" and I was incredibly proud of it. When I briefly relapsed my freshman year of college and cut it short, I immediately and bitterly regretted it. The only funny surprise to come out of it was discovering that puberty had given my hair more natural wave when short than I remembered it having the first time. No wonder it held curl so well! Throughout college I continued to work on growing it out again and maintained some sort of long length throughout my twenties.
Growing up is a hard thing to do. Becoming an adult is a rough and gritty process. And I believe this is especially true for women. You see, I wanted so desperately to be beautiful. Puberty causes young girls to become frightened of so many things about their bodies. Things start to happen that make them feel powerless and out of control. Things change and they have no say about it whatsoever. Feeling beautiful somehow seems like a significant affirmation that everything will be ok. Maybe you have to start dealing with weird and distressing hygiene issues. Maybe no one will know what to do about your breasts or your weight gain. But at least you can be pretty. You can still be precious.
I wanted to be pretty, but I didn't feel like anything about me was particularly beautiful. I would frequently ask my girlfriends if I was pretty and bemoan with them what I felt sure to be my plain and average features. Then one day, a girlfriend told me that though she didn't think I was the most beautiful girl ever, she did think my hair was really pretty. It's amazing how the smallest and silliest comments will stick with you for the rest of your life.
From that point on, my hair has been an extremely important thing to me. That doesn't mean I've always been obsessed with it or put lots of time into it. But it does mean that my hair has had a lot of power over the way I view myself. I feel good about my hair, it's a good day. I feel crappy about my hair, it's a crappy day. I think all women have something like my hair. Maybe it's their hair too, or maybe it's some other physical feature, but whatever it is, it's their safety net for feeling pretty. And most likely it's something that they were complemented on during their most insecure time in life so that now it's like a pacifier. "Well, I may not be a size 2, but at least I have a really awesome nose." "Ugh, I always hate my skin, but man, I have good boobs." "I don't like the shape of my eyes, but I know I have really great cheekbones." All women have something they feel they can hold on to in their darkest moments of physical self-loathing. Mine was my hair.
But what happens when even that feature lets you down? I turned thirty years old this summer and a lot of things are changing about my body. I'm ten pounds heavier than I've ever been and I'm finding it absolutely impossible to take the weight off. I'm starting to crease around the edges of my eyes and my neck is getting flabby. And most heartbreaking of all, my hair is just not what it used to be. It's thinner and wirier than ever before. The natural wave is doing weird things. I swear my hairline has receded some. All of this may be my imagination running wild. Or it may not. The point is that my hair, the one thing I've felt to be beautiful about me, is failing to give me that affirmation I'm always looking for.
And so I cut it off. And man, I can tell you that it was one of the most freeing moments of my life. Do I think this is the best haircut I've ever had? No. Do I think I actually look better this way? No. Will I grow my hair longer again? Probably. But I desperately needed to be free of the shackle I had forged for myself. I needed to stop trying to grow my hair longer and longer, chasing the years of youth that are far behind me. I needed to stop obsessing about every reason my hair might not be as great as it once was. I needed to stop feeling insignificant on bad hair days. I need my hair to not be a big deal.
After all, beauty is the eye of the Beholder and he tells me to live in freedom.
And because I'm woefully behind on this whole one-post-a-day project, I'll just leave this little story right here:
Once upon a time, three women walked through Washington Square Park. The sunlight was flitting through the trees as they laughed loudly with each other and sipped their cappuccinos. Jazz wafted across the square from the Japanese musicians honing their craft for all to enjoy. The day was beautiful and magic was in the air when...
All three women jumped and immediately started to shriek. To their left a healthy and plump squirrel had just leapt from one 100-foot-high tree branch to another 100-foot-high tree branch, only to grasp onto a dainty twig too small to sustain his weight and plummet to the asphalt. Expecting squirrel brains and guts to spill out across the sidewalk, the women watched in horror as the squirrel twitched violently and then lay flat.
Hurriedly averting their eyes in a mad attempt to block out the horror, the three women rushed away from the sight, crying out in sorrow. But the youngest of the three glanced behind in pity only to find...
The squirrel running across the sidewalk.
Needless to say the recently quieted shrieks resumed once more, but this time passersby noted amazement lining the edges of the women's sounds. Running back to the location, they gazed in awe as the squirrel sat very still in the grass, collecting his breath. How could this make sense? The women had just watched this little animal plummet to his death not seconds before. They had witnessed him twitch and writhe, and ultimately go cold. They had heard the dead and sickening thud of his body against the ground. How in the world was this squirrel now...
Climbing the tree?
With supreme agility the tiny creature made his way back up the 100-foot-high tree and lighted once more upon its branches. The women stood in wonder at the little guy, wishing him sturdier branches and better days ahead.
And that is how we found out in a New York City park that squirrels can sustain a fall of over one-hundred feet and be totally ok. According to online sources, these amazing little animals fluff out their tails to use as a parachute when falling and are able to puff up their bodies in order to break the fall. This would be the equivalent of an adult human sustaining a fall of more than six-hundred feet.
The Snoke women have a new hero. And his name is squirrel.
I spent the past weekend with my mom and sister. As Ruthie stated in her post earlier today, it was a long time coming. The last time we had a true girls weekend was when I moved back to the United States after living in China for two years.
That was an amazing time together, but also challenging in its own ways. I was going through extreme culture shock, my sister was at the end of college, and my mom was just getting used to life as an empty nester. It was the first weekend we had gone away just as the girls and it was the starting point for us learning how to settle into our own and each other's lives.
And settle we have. Many things about who we are today feels much more familiar and comfortable. Though all three of us still have great challenges and uncertainties ahead, we are all three much more certain of where God has us right now in relationship to ourselves and to each other. It's a beautiful thing.
The most beautiful thing to my mind is how we talk with each other these days. Thinking back over the weekend, I realize that we talked about a lot of really deep and important things - things about our lives, things going on in the family, things pertaining to friendships and community, things concerning the church, things concerning our biggest hopes and dreams. But I can't pinpoint one time and place that we discussed these things. The conversation freely flowed in and out, meandering along with us around the city.
These women know me and I know them. We don't have to worry about being open with each other, because it's all just out there to see and understand. And that is something for which I am truly grateful.
I found some new music recently that I think you all will enjoy. I don't know much about her and hadn't heard any of her stuff until I listened to her do an interview on the radio. But she is soooooo good. Her sound is kind of old-school pop, but in the best of ways. Heavy on vocals, very soulful and romantic, Jessie Ware's music is just really beautiful. So far my favorite tracks are "You & I (Forever)," "Say You Love Me," "Keep on Lying," "Champagne Kisses," and "Desire." Ok, so that's half the whole album, but it deserves a good listen. Don't just put it on in the background, but sit an enjoy wherever you best can.
Check it out. Jessie Ware's Tough Love.
This is about one of the funniest things I think I've ever seen. And from my personal experience, it's spot on.
Happy hump day, y'all.
I've been really busy the last couple of days and haven't had much time to write. Even now I'm pretty tired - I've been spending a lot of time with people and even though I love every single one of them dearly, this much time interacting with folks makes me want an adult sized hamster ball in which I can roll around without bumping into anyone. Don't worry, I'll be fine once I've had 24 hours to reset and then I'll be up for whatever society may throw at me!
It's at times like this that I am particularly thankful for who my parents are and the ways they instilled their value of people in their children. Neither of my parents are really people persons. That may surprise some of you who know them - they are constantly surrounded by people!
My mom and dad are really different from each other. My dad is a scientist who loves academic discussion and debate, especially when it intersects with faith matters. I wouldn't (and nor would he) say that he has the most natural people skills. His mind is always off in another world, thinking thoughts. My family often jokes that he wouldn't have made it in this life without my mother to look out for him in all practical matters.
He is one of the least judgmental men I know, in the truest sense, meaning simply that he will not harm or reject you though he may strongly and harshly disagree with you. I have never known him to believe a person couldn't change and for that I respect him deeply. My dad believes every person is complex and worthy of grace. Even though he jokes about his lack of people skills or inability to enter into people's emotions, I have seen him serve those in deep distress in remarkable ways simply out of conviction of his responsibility in Christ regardless of his particular gifts.
To many, it would be shocking to think of my mom as anything but a people person. It's simply impossible to count how many women she has let cry on her shoulder. Her love for and patience with young women, and in particular young mothers, has left a mark on her community. From my best friends in college to the strangers she sits next to on planes, everyone I've ever know has loved talking to my mom. Just as we tease my dad about his absent mindedness, we tease my mother about her incredibly ability to not only strike up a conversation with anyone and everyone she meets, but to strike up such a conversation that she somehow induces them to tell her their whole life story. She always claims she doesn't do anything to induce this phenomenon, but we all know that isn't true because she's an expert at the strongest magic of all people skills - listening.
Despite all of her gifts, though, I'm not sure my mom is truly a people person. At the core of her being, in her heart, my mom is hobbit. Whenever she has a day to enjoy simply as she pleases, she gardens and piddles around the house in relative solitude, singing along to her favorite music while she cooks something truly delicious.
And this gets to what I appreciate about my parents. They are not amazing people. They are not the people who get singled out as natural movers and shakers. They are not the people who enter a room and attract people magnetically with their presence. Rather, they simply believe that people matter. And they have made conscious, sacrificial, and sometimes painful decisions according to that belief in order to make people the priority.
To my mind that is what makes a difference in this world. Living in Boston and witnessing on a daily basis communities that do not make people the priority has sobered my perspective. It's so easy for Christians to think that the most important thing is for people who are gifted at relating to people to excel at using those gifts. We assume that caring for people is just one of many potential gifts people can have. If you are a people person, use that gift. If you are not a people person, use your the other gifts you have been given. But what the world needs is not more people with perfect people skills. We do not need more professionals. What we need is ordinary people who, whatever their gifts might be, are willing to make people a priority and bear the burden to whatever degree of discomfort that might inflict upon them.
I don't find it easy to spend all day every day interacting with people. As the child of my parents, I inherited both their good and bad traits when it comes to people. In some ways, I am gifted. In others, I am not. But at the end of the day, it's not the particular gifts from my parents that matter. When I am tired from the people I interact with from work, and church, and community, and life, it's not my excellence or failings that make a difference. What matters is the knowledge that the God I serve and to whom I give my allegiance sees the human beings around me as of paramount importance. And therefore, as his servant, I have no right to do any less. Like my parents, if that is my motivation, feeling tired at the end of the day from all of the people I've seen will seem small and insignificant in the light of eternity.
Today I ate breakfast with someone who asked me, "Do you like Boston?" I laughed in response and gave my husband a knowing look. This has been the question of the last two years. Do I like it here? And if not, how can I learn to like it? I've definitely grown in my love for the area, but there is still something about it that's hard to embrace. I so seldom feel carefree here, completely abandoning myself to the enjoyment of my surroundings. I see beauty here, but I don't often dwell in freedom. I'm learning and growing and I believe God is not done with my story in Boston. So let's hope I start to laugh a little bit more and stress a little bit less!
In every other place I've lived as an adult, I've made a list of 50 things I love about it. This is the first place it's taken me this long to come up with that list. But now I've finally done it. And it feels good.
So here it goes...
(The first 15 are from my first 6 months here, so some of them aren't as applicable anymore. But I think they're good to keep on the list since they were important at the time.)
1. Having a home with my husband
2. Apartment windows that look out onto trees
3. Neighbors who a) own horses, and b) ride their horses around the neighborhood
4. Living this close to the ocean - a first!
5. Mike's Pastry Shop
6. The Boston Public Library
7. Hearing Turkey's gobble out the apartment window
8. The commuter rail and the T
9. Finally having somewhere to hang my art collection
10. Lots and lots of used book stores - seriously could not ask for a city with more of them!
11. Reuniting with old friends from China now living in Boston.
12. Decent Chinese food and lots and lots of other international options.
13. The autumn leaves and beautiful sunny days. Boston in the fall really is great.
14. Our futon (since it has hosted many friends in the short time we've been here!)
15. A job lets my use my mind and challenges me each and every single day.
16. The Minuteman bike path.
17. New windows that look out on rooftops and beautiful sunsets.
18. Walking to the Somerville Theater or the Capitol theater.
19. Birds and raindrops on the roof tops outside my windows.
20. LL Bean makes sense up here.
21. Breakfast at Renee's Cafe.
22. Takeout from Za Pizza.
23. Beer club!
24. Stalking Puggy Pug.
25. Whale watching.
26. Antique stores everywhere.
27. Needing a wider variety of coats than I ever realized could be necessary.
28. Exploring Mount Auburn Cemetery.
29. The bus stop literally outside my front door (although, that is definitely a blessing and a curse).
30. Feeding the birds at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary.
31. The girls in my women's fellowship group.
32. Maine. I don't even know if that's allowed on a list of things I love about Boston, but I'm putting it down.
33. The Megabus to New York City.
34. The Fung Library at Harvard
35. The Boston Athenaeum!!!
36. The craziness of our landlord doubling the size of our apartment and making it awesome.
37. The Boston Ballet.
38. The Boston Opera House.
39. The Thinking Cup.
41. Game nights with friends.
42. REAL German pretzels at Pemberton Farms.
43. Any situation which I can use the hashtag #wearesobostonrightnow.
44. Sailing on the Charles River.
45. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
46. The MFA.
47. The walking path to Davis Square.
48. Dressing Trey like a Boston-man.
49. Tons and tons of amazing ice cream and creameries.
50. Market Basket. 'Nough said.
And you know what, I'm going to keep going since it's good for my soul.
51. Multiple Anthropologies.
52. Concord and the Luisa May Alcott house.
53. Date nights with my hubby.
54. The classes I've taken at Gordon-Conwell.
55. Family visits!
"Until all Christian women have learned that the cross of Christ is not to be sung about nor wept over, nor smothered in flowers, but set up in the midst of our pleasures; that our Lord never commanded us to cling to the cross, but to carry it, the work of the missionary circle will not be done, nor its warfare accomplished."
-Helen Barrett Montgomery
Last night Trey lay on our living room floor groaning as he suffered from stomach problems that will here remain undisclosed. In due time his problems passed and as soon as speech was restored to my sad husband, he commenced making a series of jokes about the event. Most of his jokes were about bloating and how miserable it must be as a woman to deal with such occurrences on a regular basis. Of course, I agreed. From there we somehow ended up on the topic of menopause and whether it is a relief for women or not. Of course, I have no experience and very little knowledge regarding this life event, but I told him that I didn't think women ever felt much relief from their bodies, even post-menopause.
The female body has been on my mind a lot in the last twenty-four hours. I've been reading a really interesting book on the social and intellectual history of American women in missions and yesterday I read the story of a sixty year old missionary who was forcibly circumcised and then murdered in her home almost one-hundred years ago in protest to the missionary community's stance against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). FGM is something I had heard of before, but didn't know much about, so I spent a good hour researching it online. By the end of that hour I was pretty sick to my stomach. Even though it is illegal in most countries today, FGM is still widely practiced. It seems change has been slow over the last one-hundred years.
I've also been reflecting on the physical suffering of many women near and dear to me. Many of those close to me have suffered from a variety of illness all related to the female organs. From cysts to cancer, I've seen many friends face the realization that these things which belong to us women in order to give and create life in fact bear the marks of death. Wombs which are designed to grow living things and breasts that are intended to nourish and feed somehow become woman's greatest liability, things which doctors and celebrities tell us we should be unafraid to hack off or away, but which every woman I know touched by such scars grieves immeasurably over.
And then I've been thinking a lot about the most fundamental of woman's sorrows - the angst and pain of childbirth. The longing and fear associated with everything from conception to birth is so complicated, but so basic to every woman. No matter how advanced our society becomes, this basic issue remains at large. How can I control what my body was created to do? How can I live a life that isn't in tension with what my body will naturally do? How can I produce results when my body won't do what I thought it was supposed to do easily? Pregnancy (whether wanting it or avoiding it) has always been and will always be a battleground for women and I understand this more and more and as I hear my friends' stories about pregnancy, birth, nursing, infertility, and miscarriage.
My conclusion last night while joking around with Trey was that every woman is looking for heaven for, in, or through their bodies. We are waiting for, longing for, peace with our female physical existence and all women, throughout the ages, have desired such redemption.
As twisted as they are, we see the striving for heaven in FGM practices - women themselves are at the heart of female circumcision and it seems that fundamental to the practice is the desire to maintain purity. Women who practice FGM see their cultural definition of purity as necessary to their existence and happiness - their attempt to attain the ultimate good in their temporal reality. And in order to attain this purity they want so desperately, women willingly perpetuate a cycle of physical mutilation.
We see the longing for heaven in the Western world's glorification of birth control and family planning. Unlike our sisters in Africa, purity is not our greatest desire, but rather freedom from our physical reality. We are looking for redemption from our bodies and have created complicated systems to liberate ourselves from their natural functions. We believe that our heaven lies in Western medicine and its ability to control what for millennia has felt completely out of control.
In the most brutal and bloody ways, we see the longing for heaven in the diseases and mortality rates suffered by women. In the developed world, we witness women faced with decisions of cutting off their breasts and cutting out their wombs in order to survive. In the developing world, we watch as early marriage and childbirth itself both threatens and delivers women. Threatens because childbirth itself wrecks a woman's body and particularly so when the woman is really only a young girl and medical assistance is nonexistent. Delivers because early marriage saves the girl from certain shame at the hands of men and ostracism at the hands of women. For women suffering in hospitals around the world, their bodies are a constant reminder of the longing for deliverance.
The woman's body is a place of suffering and it produces a universal longing in women for things to be made right. The ways in which women seek for things to be made right might change over time and cultures, but from the first menstrual cramps to the last battle to save one's breasts, women are constantly reminded that all is not well in this world. We know things must be set right because we know that things must be set right in us. We take extreme measures to find heaven for our female bodies through FGM practices or abortion or preventative double-mastectomies because we are desperate to make all well as we face the physical reminder our own bodies give us that the world is broken. The problem is that we most often seem incapable of knowing what heaven to be long for and it leads us to dark and twisted places.
Women are earthy. Our physicality makes us so as we bleed and lactate and cry. Religions and philosophy and medical practices over the vast array of civilization have demonstrated the degree to which woman's body is associated with the earth. And along with the creation, our female bodies groan for redemption.
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the songs of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."
I don't know what our physical existence will be like in the new heavens and new earth. I don't think scripture reveals much about it to us. But I do know this - the longings and groanings regarding the realities of my and my sisters' bodies will be redeemed. It may include all of my reproductive organs or it may not, but I know that my female body will find heaven at last.
Came across this article yesterday. While we many have lots to debate and ponder in the Western world regarding women, we seem to so easily forget the lives that many of our sisters lead across the globe, including our sisters in the faith. Take some time to look at the portraits in the article, learn about the suffering involved, and consider spending some time in prayer for the worldwide condition of women, particularly young girls. Women are a beautiful part of God's plan - they always have been and they always will be. After all, he is the God who humbled himself to a woman's womb, a scandalous conversation at a well, and the news of resurrection voiced by those with no legal standing.
"Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. It is a U.N. event with a grand name and a powerful mission. Girls around the world, especially in lower-income countries, often face terrible things, from genital mutilation to child marriage to kidnapping. We asked five photographers, who devote much or all of their time to documenting the lives of global girls, to share photos with special significance and talk about the images."
Check out the portraits and read the article here.