My daughter loves reading right now. Mostly she’s obsessed with Curious George; but when I get the chance I read her a little book called Over in the Meadow. If you’re familiar with the dulcet sounds of Raffi in your family, the title of this book may sound familiar. It’s actually an old counting rhyme, listing out a series of meadow creatures from one to ten. I sing it rather than read it, which keeps V pretty entertained.
I’d heard Raffi singing “Over in the Meadow” many times, but honestly never listened to the lyrics other than briefly noting it generally had something to do with crickets and muskrats. So when hunting through the library shelves one day, I was intrigued to find an illustrated version. We brought it home, I cleared my throat (trying to remember exactly how the Raffi goes), and jumped in. Unfortunately we were only a few short pages in when the beauty of what I was reading/singing hit me. I started weeping, couldn’t keep singing, and needed a few minutes to collect myself while a surprised daughter looked on.
Simply put, if you’re not familiar with Over in the Meadow (or maybe even if you are), it’s one of the best pictures of the creational norm, of the way life should be, that I’ve found.
Each verse is quite simple. It starts by mentioning that over in the meadow some animal, or bird, or bug lives. Then it goes on to describe a mother of [insert animal, bird, or bug] instructing her offspring to do whatever it is said animal, bird, or bug does. The offspring respond enthusiastically, agreeing to do whatever it is they ought to do, and in conclusion they do it happily.
Take for example the third verse about bluebirds:
“Over in the meadow, in a hole in a tree,
Lived a mother bluebird and her little birdies three.
‘Sing!’ said the mother.
‘We sing,’ said the three.
So they sang and were glad,
In the hole in the tree.”
This simple ditty portrays the full glory of creation. In the creation, God said to each living thing, “Do this.” The world responded and God looked upon it declaring it good. The turtles dug, the fish swam, the muskrats dove, the bees buzzed, the ravens cawed, and so on and so on. And then each living creature turned to its offspring and repeated God’s command, teaching their young to joyfully do exactly as the Lord had given them to do.
All that is, except for humankind, leading a simple little book like Over in the Meadow to remind me of the full tragedy of the fall. When I sing this book to my daughter, I feel a deep and longing ache. If the frogs know to croak and they know to tell their young to croak, and this is what they were made to do from beginning of the dawn and what they will find joy in doing until the end of all, what is the equivalent for me and my daughter? What is the one word summary I could give her to sum up the very meaning of our existence? That thing which she might do in response to my command which would give her the joy and satisfaction this song describes of life in the meadow finding the natural rhythms of their short lives? In the fall, humanity lost not only its memory of the life-defining command given to us by God, we also lost the joy inherent to that command. “Be fruitful. Have dominion.” This is a command we barely remember and when we do, it often feels bitter in our mouths. Unlike the bees who buzz in response to the millennia old command engrained in their genetic code, we are a lost and disjointed version of life, leading every human generation to ask again what our purpose here is.
I want my daughter to grow up, knowing and feeling the pain of this loss. I want her to look at the animal world around her and to long for a simple obedience to God’s creational command. I want her to hear this song and one day ask me, “Mama, what should I do?”
My favorite verse is the last one. The tenth verse is about fireflies:
“Over the meadow, in a soft shady glen,
Lived a mother firefly and her little flies ten.
‘Shine!’ said the mother.
‘We shine,” said the ten.
So they shone like stars,
In the soft shady glen.”
When I sing this verse, it takes my mind to words far more ancient that Over in the Meadow.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of this crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.”
Obviously, this mouthful is a lot more wordy than can fit into an eleventh verse of Over in the Meadow. Nonetheless, it’s a solid reminder of the directive that still remains for us fallen and lost children. Obey. For it is God who works in you. Do not complain. Rather shine in this world. Hold on to the word of life. Rejoice and be glad. These are things I can tell my daughter if she ever asks what she, like the animals, birds, and bugs, ought to do.
*I’m guessing there are more than one illustrated version of Over in the Meadow, but I personally recommend the version by Ezra Jack Keats. You may know him as the author and illustrator of The Snowy Day (another personal favorite). His illustrations of this old folk song will not disappoint.
I love hearing testimonies of the saints and often find myself wishing they were a more regular part of corporate worship in churches. Recently I was pretty excited when City Reformed in Pittsburgh asked me to share how God has worked in my life. Hearing people’s stories is always a great encouragement to me, so it was touching to (hopefully) encourage others with my own. I ended up being pretty nervous - it's not easy to be vulnerable about personal experiences in front of a church. But the chance it gave me to really reflect on God’s work in my life, having to process and articulate it, was invaluable. I’ve been doing a lot of that this past year – processing God’s work in my life – so I’ve decided to share some of my processing here on the blog. I’ll start today with the testimony I shared in church.
It might be obvious, but trying to sum up a lifetime of God’s work in my heart is really difficult. As I’ve thought about it over the past few days, though, I think it comes down to two significant things. First, my will. And second, my identity.
I’ve always been a very strong willed person, and while this can really be a great asset in life, it also means that I can often find myself in conflict with others. A lot of my memories from growing up involve fights and debates, not only with my parents, but also with my siblings and friends. Simply put, I don’t naturally like having to submit to a will that I disagree with.
I never really connected this aspect of myself with my spiritual life until I was eighteen, though. I grew up in a believing home and thankfully I had a lot of wise people around me with whom I could discuss my more intellectual questions about the gospel. By the time I finished high school, I remember that most of my big questions about the meaning and reliability of the gospel message had been answered. So instead of struggling with doubt, I came to a point of struggling with the call to submit to Christ.
I distinctly remember lying in my bed one night not too long after turning eighteen and realizing that I had no doubt about the truth of scripture and the truth of the gospel, but for the first time admitting to myself that I hated God. I simply just didn’t like the idea of needing to submit my life and my will to something above me. But admitting this to myself really terrified me. Because I didn’t doubt the reality of God or the truth of scripture, I knew that willfully rejecting God was an honest choice of damnation, and I didn’t really want to be damned.
After arriving at this conundrum that night, I spent one of the longest and most “emo” weeks of my life basically just sitting around on empty park benches trying to puzzle out this battle between my will and what I knew to be true. But if you ever find yourself going through a midnight of the soul like I did, don’t expect any sudden revelations or blinding light moments. It took me a long, slow year of processing to ultimately work through this conflict.
But by the end of that first week, I had arrived at a few conclusions at least. Most importantly, I realized that because God’s will is bigger than mine, he would have to choose to let go of me in order for me to really escape him; but, from what I knew from scripture, it didn’t seem like he would do that. I had a vision that God’s will kept me in his hands. I could shake my fist at him and I was free to express my anger, but I could not just loose myself of his grasp unless he desired to let me do so. My will was beat. I could now start the process of learning about and learning to love the God whose will would always be stronger than my own, and I consider that time my real spiritual rebirth.
The second main work God has done in my life involves my sense of identity. Beginning in my childhood, I have moved nine times across three continents. This may sound exciting, but I have always desired a sense of belonging and home. I think for some people, so much transition is pretty easy; but, for me it has brought about a lot of deep rooted struggles that are often expressed in the dual needs to belong and to prove myself.
These two issues came to a head, though, when I moved to China in my mid twenties to work for a campus ministry and within six months of arriving, I found myself so sick that I couldn't get out of bed for about half of every month. I eventually discovered that I was suffering from asthma, but all I knew for many months was that I had gone from being a successful student and worker in the US to what pretty much felt like failing as a missionary. To make matters worse, I was in a strange country and struggling to build community. My sense of identity was challenged to the core as both my feelings of belonging and my ability to prove myself were taken away from me.
But amazingly, that time was the closest I have ever been to the Lord. Having all of my supports taken away from me forced me to fully lean on Christ for my sense of self. All of the worldly things that usually shape my identity were gone, but I didn’t lose myself because I discovered that as a child of God, my identity is ultimately in him. I could lose everything while far from home and still be ok because I was at home in my identity in Christ.
I tend over analyze most things, but these two ways that God has worked in my life are not simply in my head. They have had serious practical results, namely, that I am a less contentious and less fearful person. That doesn’t mean I do not still struggle with these things, but when I look back to my earlier life, I can see a difference. Learning that there is a will larger and stronger than mine has given me a freedom to repent of my sins and to trust in the provision of God. Learning that my identity is completely in Christ has started to free me of my need to prove myself and of my fear of what people think about me.
Since getting married and moving to Boston, I’ve continued to learn and grow a lot. I’m learning about the holy fear that comes when God answers a prayer you were taught to pray from the time you started speaking. I’m learning that marriage demands more of me and gives more to me than I could ever have imagined. I’m learning that loving the church requires a painful level of humility and a supernatural level of grace. And I’m learning what it means to work hard for something you want and believe in without making it an idol. Ultimately, I’ve been learning about the amazing and sweet abundance of the Lord – that his blessings are unpredictable and incredible, and that he gives far more than I deserve.
And while all of these more recent lessons are good and have been so important, I still find myself needing to learn about finding my identity and home in Christ, surrendering my will to his. These are lessons I expect will continue with me all of my days. As I anticipate how God might keep working in my life along these lines, I find myself contemplating how he wants me to learn to rest in him, letting both of these lessons lead me to greater peace.
Our God is a good God, and I hope this testimony of my own relationship with him encourages you in your own.
Weddings are most often big and beautiful declarations of love between a man and a woman. Sometimes they are flashy, sometimes quietly artistic, and usually highly emotional. Whatever the budget, weddings are a time for individuals and families to lay aside other important endeavors and invest what they can into the creation of a new family. They take a lot of energy and a lot of focus.
In the West, we commonly talk about a wedding being the primary time for a women to "express herself," carefully arranging even the smallest details to reflect her beliefs, tastes, whims. If she wants to feel like a princess, her wedding will involve sparkles and tiaras. If she is an environmentalist, she will work to make her wedding as green as possible. If she is a musician, great care will go into arranging the music. The list of things to express is as varied as women are. Every bride has been told, "It's your day." We've all had conversations with women who are greatly concerned with displaying the best things about herself through her wedding. The West looks at a wedding and expects an answer to the question, "Who are you?"
We need to pause here and consider how much pressure women are under by believing the idea that their weddings must demonstrate who they truly are. So much of the stress surrounding weddings is first and foremost stress concerning identity. Even the bride who declares, "I don't care about all of these silly details!" is often still trying to tell the world something about herself. She is still telling us what to think of her as much as any other bride.
If this is all true, and weddings have become the primary place for women to express the things they identify with, then I've come to realize that weddings really incredibly fragile and tender things. And the women behind them even more so. How can an event and the woman behind it bear not only the weight of a covenant and vow, but also the brunt of ultimate self-expression?
I first started to see this problem in myself when I got engaged and then married. Up until my engagement, I had exhibited many different attitudes towards weddings. As a little girl growing up, I idolized them and dreamed of the day I would act and feel like the fairy princesses I dreamed of being. In high school, I believed a wedding was an inevitable dream and would never have doubted my chances of wearing the white dress. By college I started to develop a more critical attitude. A hint of scorn started to show towards other women who openly obsessed about their future wedding day. Though a wedding still loomed large as my secret heart's desire, I thought it best to approach it circumspectly and realistically.
In the five years between finishing college and my own marriage, I mostly harbored bitterness towards weddings. Really what I harbored was bitterness towards other women's weddings. I hid this jealousy under a veneer of criticism concerning "wedding traditions" and "frivolous expectations." The amount of money, time, and energy given to weddings became ridiculous to my mind and only the closest and dearest of my friends escaped my all out exasperation with wedding season. I declared to myself that I would not be like every other bride if I ever found myself planning a wedding. I was going to be sensible, after all, and avoid throwing myself into the unnecessary craziness of obsessing about insignificant things. My three main goals were to never make wedding planning a bigger priority than all of my already established relationships and responsibilities; to never obsess over what I perceived to be the silly and superfluous "details"; and to make sure the wedding was a community event, not something isolated from the people involved in every aspect of my life.
But once the ring was on my finger, and real decisions had to be made concerning an actual wedding, it felt like something slowly and powerfully started to take over my mind. I cared about everything connected to the wedding and obsessed over every detail. But it wasn't an obsession that led to joy and delight in the coming day. It was an ensnaring obsession that more often than not led to insecurity and worry. I could not let go, because in my mind, the decisions being made weren't about an event, they were about me. For example, if I had never been a girlie girl, but chose pink bridesmaids dresses, what did that say about me? My girlfriends were all surprised with this color choice, as was I, so how could I not contemplate what these physical details told the world about the changes romantic love was creating within my personality?
As I broke everyone of my three "goals" concerning weddings, it felt like I was slowly loosing ground to a version of myself that I never wanted to exist. I felt guilty about putting so much time into the wedding, but I didn't know how to not think about it. I became more and more isolated over the period of engagement, one of the primary things I had promised myself would not happen. I wasn't being the person I wanted to be, but I didn't know how to be free of this thing that was so incredibly important.
I continued to muddle through this minefield my entire engagement, through the wedding day, and into the first months of marriage. Of course, I often found peace in knowing that in the light of eternity, the details of the wedding didn't matter. In the comfort and love of my fiancé, I knew that the vows we made were the most important part of the whole thing. And of course my wedding was one of the most wonderful and amazing experiences of my life, blessing my husband and I deeply as we committed our lives to each other before the Lord.
But I started to realize something was really wrong when I continued to obsess about my wedding after it had taken place! For days, then weeks, then months, I found myself going back over the details of the wedding. Had everything been as I wanted it to be? Maybe if I had just changed a few things here, a few things there, then it would really have been ideal. I fully acknowledge that some of these things can be chalked up to personality - it's rare, but sometimes I really can be a bit of an OCD psycho.
But who among you married women of my generation hasn't dealt with some of these feelings when you first get your wedding pictures back from the photographer? You scour them, desperately hoping that the photographer has captured the true atmosphere of the day, the one that you skillfully crafted and planned. You look to make sure that you are captured as you want to be, according the image that you picked for yourself on the most special of all your days. And if something, anything in the pictures didn't turn out how you hoped? You have to admit you feel like a key piece of the wedding, a key piece of your identity, has been lost.
So let's pause here. What am I trying to get at with all of this musing and soul sharing? Frankly, I believe modern weddings have become a quagmire of idolatry in our generation's drive to create their identities. Women are being trapped within their own drive for self-expression when it comes to their weddings. I spent a lot of my first year of marriage chewing the cud on this topic and here are the conclusions I came away with.
1) We need grace.
Your identity is not found in your wedding. Christ has made you free and given you a new identity! You do not need your wedding for anything - anything - to tell yourself or the world who you are. That is Jesus' job, let him do it. If you want an environmentally sound wedding, and styrofoam plates show up, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to lose ten pounds and instead gain twenty, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to create community by inviting everyone you know, and your parents will only pay for half of the guest list, the blood of Jesus covers you. If you want to walk down the aisle to Sufjan and your best friend insists on singing a duet, the blood of Jesus covers you. Create beauty and do good in your wedding, but remember that not a single thing on that day can stick to you like the sweet blood of Jesus. Claim it is as the strongest identity you have.
2) Think upon the wedding feast in heaven.
Because of your new identity, you know where all of this is headed - think upon it in the months leading up to and following your wedding. Whether your wedding turns out exactly as you dreamed up, is an unmitigated disaster, or just more normal than you're content to accept, it is only the faintest foreshadowing of the real wedding we expect to attend. Relish the good things about your wedding as a foretaste of heaven and mourn the disappointing things about your wedding as the remnants of a fallen world, but in both, keep your eyes on heaven. With the whisper of heaven in your ear, the work of a wedding will become sweeter and the disappointments less tragic.
It took me months before I could think about my wedding without worrying over everything that went wrong and what people would think about it. But I learned that with your identity soaked in the blood of Jesus and your mind caught up in the winds of heaven, the anxieties and frustrations of "your day" can blow away like the chaff of yesterday. There are many things I still wish had ended up different, or better, about my wedding. But when I think back on it, I delight in the beauty that was created not because of what it said about me, but because "...Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know if part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." The feast of Christ is coming and I could see its approach on my wedding day.
A few years ago there was a popular cartoon floating around Facebook. It depicted the Disney princesses and then purported to unmask the true moral behind each story. Every princesses's story was displayed as derogatory to women in one way or another, and the general idea was how harmful the Disney princesses are for little girls.
While I didn't disagree with every point made in this cartoon (Belle really does seem to have Stockholm syndrome and Ariel really does promote the idea that talking isn't necessary for women to be happy in a relationship), and I do think that much about the Disney princess obsession and culture is unhealthy and at times destructive, much about the cartoon left me befuddled. In particular, I felt confused about the complaints against Cinderella.
Cinderella was never my favorite Disney moving growing up and I still don't respond to it emotionally as I do to many of the other films. But my entire opinion of the story changed dramatically in my early 20s. Sometime towards the end or shortly after finishing college, I happened to watch the old cartoon while babysitting some little girls. What I saw amazed me - Cinderella is one of the most woman-centric Disney cartoons made. And I am not unversed in feminist theory - I wrote my senior thesis on the New York Heterodites and Simone de Beauvoir.
Let's think about it. There are no men as central characters; all of the primary agents of action are either female or non-human (and even then, the strongest non-human elements are female). My biggest complaint about Cinderella growing up was that it did not depict true love because the prince wasn't a real figure in the story (this is still a valid complaint). But if you are complaining about misogynistic Disney movies, I suggest you reconsider the fact that Cinderella is the only Disney movie thus far in which the prince is pretty much unnecessary. It isn't a true love story, because it's not a story about love. Rather it is a story about one woman's struggle against the circumstances which keep her down. Cinderella repeatedly and methodically works to overcome that which oppresses her through decided and concerted effort with the best means available to her. Isn't this the most simplistic cause of feminism?
Since this realization, I've been deeply loyal to the story, and in particular Disney's rendition of it. So, when Kenneth Branagh's version came out last month, it was with both breathless anticipation and dreadsome lothing that I went to see it. In short, this movie could not have better identified and exploited all that is marvelous for women about the Cinderella tale. I've heard many people praise it for its simplicity, lack of cynicism, and willingness to embrace fairytale. These are all indeed commendable. But I don't think it is in these things that its power truly lies. After all, there are times and places for complex stories, cynicism can speak truth, and no story but One should be left unrevised.
The real power of Disney's live-action Cinderella is that they got the hidden strength and power of the story right - that not all attributes traditionally associated with women, namely kindness, are signs of weakness. As I think back on Disney's original cartoon and why the Jezebel readership despises it so much, I am convinced it is because Cinderella is too nice. I hear so much about women needing to step up and take control and it often really only amounts to devaluing kindness. As a result, stories that exemplify a woman for displaying such a trait are belittled and mocked. Kindness is associated with an inability to defend or promote oneself, so best to do away with it altogether.
But is kindness really about becoming a wet rag? In order to be kind women, must we also be domineered? I find it very sad indeed to associate the two. Sometimes it feels like women are in such a rush and frenzy to do away with the things that have truly oppressed us for so many millennia that we label those true strengths that have always been ours as false and harmful. I propose that kindness is a strength women need to be careful not to weed out of our gardens in order to play with the boys.
And Cinderella depicts why this is true. As women, we may be inspired by and fall in love with the Katniss Everdeens of this world. When faced with unimaginable situations, we may hope to take up our arms and fight. At times this may be available to us; there are times when fighting openly and bitterly is in our power. But what about the many times that type of fight is not in our means? What about times when the forces are just too great and we are just too small to become Katniss? What if we are Cinderella? Are we really willing to say that the only strength that matters is the strength to fight? Or do we have a definition of female power that is both big and small enough to include kindness and perseverance in times of trial and duress?
Part of the debate around the Disney princesses concerns what values we want to instill in our daughters. As a child and I teenager, I didn't resonate with Cinderella. I resonated with Belle, and Mulan, and Katniss, and Eowyn - the women who were strong and could put up a good fight. I am glad that I had these characters to look up to and be inspired by and I am thankful for parents who never dampened my love of them or tried to instill a singular vision of feminine virtue. I will give my future daughter these women to admire. And I will tell her to fight when and if the time is right.
But I will also give my daughter Cinderella. And if my daughter is anything like me, I will give her Cinderella more than the other women, because kindness and perseverance are not my natural gifts. I want my daughter to know that strength is multifaceted. I want her to know that kindness is not weakness. I want her to know that serving the good of others does not mean giving up her agency. Most of all, I want her to know that like Cinderella, there may comes times in which she is not enough to beat the bad guys and when or if that happens, she will need to live in such a way that acknowledges their power but not her moral defeat.
As I said above, there is only one Story that does not deserve revision - it is the single story for all ages. The point of this post is not that we should withhold doubt and reexamination from the stories we tell our daughters. What we tell them does shape them more than we can ever imagine. I just don't think our current version of Cinderella is one to do away with, for it rounds out and enlivens all that we want our little girls to grow up to be.
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.
These two articles are spot on and they are excellent food for thought. I've found them deeply challenging and hope you do two. We simply have to rethink what it means to be the church. Period.
"Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away...
The sexual demands of discipleship will become more plausible and practical to our gay (and straight) single friends if they see everyone in the community taking seriously all the demands of the gospel, not just the sexual ones."
"Today, whenever I listen to “Whole Again” or “Undo Me” or the spine-tingling “Martyrs and Thieves,” I’m sad.
Sad because of the painful choices Jennifer’s parents made in the name of “self-discovery” and “self-expression” that led to harmful repercussions in the lives of their children.
Sad because evangelicalism’s lack of ecclesiology and reliance on experience has led to so many strange and harmful expressions of faith.
Sad because even though Jennifer had the integrity to be honest about her life rather than continue to make money under false pretenses, she received ridicule and insults from Christians she once wrote for.
Sad because of the way faith gets privatized to the point that the exclusive Savior’s inclusive call to repentance seems too narrow a road to freedom.
Sad because evangelicals are so quick to catapult converts into the limelight before they’ve had time to grow in wisdom and truth.
Sad because of the pain many of our gay and lesbian neighbors have endured within a church culture that calls sinners to repentance but not the self-righteous.
Sad because, apart from affirming her sexuality, I can’t see any way that Jennifer would think someone could love her.
Sad because many Christians find it easier to love positions rather than people, while others believe it is impossible to love people without adopting their position."
I turned 30 this summer. I've been reflecting on a lot of things about my life in the last year, but one thing I've thought about most is how difficult it is for me let people into my life. Whenever I hint at this with friends and acquaintances or mention that I consider myself an introvert, people act really surprised. I have so many people in my life. I have always been pretty social and when I'm around people I tend to engage. Nonetheless, the fact remains that at the turn of my third decade, I find myself reflecting on the lack of input from others into my life.
I've started to see this as a significant problem, particularly when it comes to my relationships with older women. Simply put - I do not know any older women who regularly speak into my life apart from my mother. Thankfully, I have an amazing mother with whom I can speak openly. She is the greatest source of advice and counsel in my life and I would never ever want to replace her. But surely, there should be more women than my mother speaking into my life? While she is the wisest woman I know, that doesn't mean only her experiences are valid in regards to my life. We are made to live in community that includes our family relationships, but also extends beyond it.
As I've started to think more about this over the past year, I've had a difficult time figuring out why I feel like such a lone wolf. Is it my fault that there aren't older women investing in my life? Am I not putting myself into situations where I could be meeting such women? Am I not listening to whatever women already are in my life?
While I truly do not know the answer to these questions, I do keep coming back to a few thoughts. Recently, my husband told me I am the most intense person he's ever known. This was not a criticism and it came up as a passing comment in an unrelated conversation. But it's stuck with me because while ten years ago such a comment would have been crushing to me as someone desperate to be liked and enjoyed by all, these days I just kind of nodded my head and said, I know. I know I'm intense. I have a lot of thoughts and opinions and I stand by them. I don't mind being an intense person.
But I also have started to realize that it gives people a really false understanding of who I am. It's funny how the offhand comments of the ones you love most stick with you forever. Another observation made by husband in the last year truly surprised me. He told me that though I may be an interesting person in my "public" personality - intensity and passion usually ratcheted up to level ten - it's in my weakest moments that I'm compellingly beautiful. I laughed when he first said this, and I still think it's a funny thought, but when I consider his observations in the light of sensed lack of older women investing in my life, I realize that most people around me probably have absolutely no sense of who I really am. I wear my passions on my sleeves, but I don't wear deepest fears and insecurities and hopes on my sleeves.
Women love to help people. Women love to help women. But I think women really love to help women who are open with their needs. Women don't usually like "intense" women. I don't usually like intense women and I'm not sure I would much like myself if I were not me!
So I'm just going to make this general statement. Don't assume that anyone has their stuff together. Don't assume that intensity and independence mean a lack of desire for input. I can't tell you how many times in the many cities I've lived in as an adult that I have desperately longed for an older sister to simply ask me a question or two to see how I'm doing because I couldn't get past my own personality to bring up my struggles.
Trey and I just had the best weekend. We went on a "workcation" to an island off the coast of Maine. Trey took his homework and I took some personal projects I'm working on and we hung out in a beautiful renovated barn. Every morning we woke up to the sound of crickets and seagulls out the windows. We opened up the french doors to look out on our host's luscious garden while cooking bacon and eggs for breakfast. After dinner we drank wine and listened to jazz. It was great.
Now we're home and for the past couple of hours, I've been really struggling with disappointment. We're anticipating next year holding a lot of changes for us as Trey wraps up his degrees and works while I become a full-time student. For the past couple of months, I've been trying to figure out exactly what I'm going to study and where. But it's all so complicated and it seems like every day I have a new plan. And plans can be very dangerous things for me.
Part of the joy of this last weekend was that the seclusion and disconnect from reality gave me space to think and dream. I have so many ideas about my time in school and I think they are good ideas. A weekend of reading and contemplating and hashing things out with my husband was so exciting. My imagination could just run with its thoughts.
But coming back home and regaining cell service and unlimited internet access reawakens reality. I'm confronted with costs and time constraints and professors retiring and all I can feel is disappointment seeping in. Reality is not bad and I know it, but I still feel frustrated and let down.
As I descended into the pit of self-pity this evening, a thought occurred to me and challenged my disappointment with the situation. Here was my thought: I am going to be the same person after this degree as I am now. Such freedom accompanied this thought! Going back to school is going to be a really good thing. Getting to study and write about my particular interests would be a really great thing. But none of it is going to magically alter my life.
It's so easy for me to see these changes coming my way as something that will make me happier. I look forward to getting to do what I want to do and developing certain skills I believe I have. But none of that is going to change who I am at the center of my being. Wanting change is not a bad thing. It's just that I have to ask myself, am I wanting the right change? Maybe school will enable me to do certain things, but it's not what will make me a better person. If I'm tired of myself now, relief won't come through avoiding disappointing circumstances, but rather through changing my heart.
Going back to school won't somehow make me the person I've always wanted to be. It won't save me from let down and disappointment. Seeing myself through the eyes of Jesus will turn me into the person my soul longs to be. For in him I can find satisfaction not only with the ups and downs of sunrise in Maine and sunset back in my home office, but most importantly, with the person he has made me now and the person is making me to become.
I've read a couple of great posts recently and thought I would share. It's always exciting to find people either saying the things you want to say or saying things your mind simply isn't smart enough to think of. So here are some borrowed words on topics we love to discuss at Carved to Adorn.
First, Ruthie found an amazing article over at First Things on Lena Dunham's Girls, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, and the sacred stories we tell. Alan Jacobs's thoughts are chewy, but every bite is fantastic.
"What we need is not condemnation of Adam, or condemnation of Hannah for liking Adam, but better art and better stories, better fictional worlds, by which I mean fictional worlds that rhyme with what is the case, with what is true yesterday, today, and forever. Not the abolition of mythic sandboxes but the making of sandboxes in which to play with true, or truer, myths: fictive spaces in which Hannah can do better than Adam, and Adam can better than what he is, a bitter prisoner of past angers and resentments."
Read it here.
Second, in order to help keep the conversation about female sexuality going, I recommend Jordan Monge's post yesterday on Her.meneutics titled The Real Problem with Female Masturbation, Call It What It Is: Ladies Who Lust. I'm not sure that I agree with everything in it, but it is an honest discussion and a good place to start. Please add any thoughts you have about it to our comments!
Lastly, since I'm sure we could all use a good laugh after reading the first two articles, I give you this to end on a lighter note. If you're like me and secretly wish you lived in an Anthropologie storefront, you will identify with these 87 thoughts.
Quoting Ruthie’s intro to her post last week:
“This is the kind of post that is addressed explicitly to Christians, and will be confusing and strange for many of my friends who are not Christians. So, secular friends, if you keep reading, you are about to get an intimate glimpse into one aspect of Christianity. And Christian friends: grace. Grace all around.”
"Men enjoy sex more than women."
Of all the conversations I had about sex during my adolescence, this phrase was the most important. Spoken by a trusted and authoritative source during a conversation about how a young teenage girl with a blossoming bosom should conduct herself, this comment shaped and formed much of my views on sex. It’s important to understand that the person making this statement was not in any way trying to denigrate sex. Actually, it was quite the opposite. As typical of orthodox Christian beliefs, he was speaking quite eloquently on the beauty of sex and how good a part of creation it is. The goodness of sex was the key reason why this man wanted his listeners to know that it should be protected and not treated carelessly. He made the above comment upon noticing the discomfort his female audience displayed, proceeding to explain that while women may not see certain issues concerning sex as a big deal, all men did.
The tenor of this conversation is very familiar to most women my age who grew up in conservative Christian homes. We grew up with the idea that all men we encountered were loosely reigned-in hormonal torpedoes possible of being set off at a moment’s notice should we give any false encouragement. Now that I look back on adolescents, I actually think this very well may be true of most lads between the ages of twelve and twenty. I do not believe it was damaging to be told as a young woman about how much men are wired for sex or that how I act and dress can communicate certain unintended things. What I do lament as I look back upon my sexual awakening was the constant and pervasive idea that somehow keeping male sexuality in mind meant women do not like sex as much as men or that women do not struggle sexually as much as men.
Because here was the problem - by the time I heard the above statement, I was already struggling greatly with my sexuality. I don't remember exactly how old I was, but I think I was about fourteen or fifteen. The reason I didn't feel comfortable with discussing the topic was not because I didn't like the idea of sex, but rather that I was terrified of how much my body did seem to like the idea of it. I truly believe many young women's reticence to talk about sex in our teenage years was not because weren’t interested in it. It was because sex seemed like a daunting and awe-some thing and we couldn't find the courage to speak up concerning the questions we had or the hormone induced feelings we were feeling.
As I let the idea of men liking sex more than women sink further and further into my teenage psyche, the more and more confused I started to feel. I liked the idea of sex and I liked the sexual feelings I was feeling. Did that mean I was some kind of outlier of femininity? Was I somehow a dirty, over-sexualized woman because the idea of intercourse sounded great? I was convinced that I must have been way more sexually wired than every other good Christian woman I knew, and within my world, this did not seem like a positive thing.
For me as a woman, ideas of sexual purity were somehow closely linked with sexlessness. Teenage male sexuality was recognized and addressed as a good and natural drive; male purity seemed to be defined as Christian restraint. For us young women, though, our own blossoming sex drives were mostly unacknowledged. Purity for us was about helping keep male sex drives in check rather than learning how to address our own rising desires. Male lust and masturbation were seen as natural inclinations out of place of what God intended. The idea of female lust and masturbation did not even exist.
I saw these things play out with even more intensity at my small Christian college. The idea that women did not enjoy sex as much as men and therefore were more naturally pure continued to cause major confusion as young women entered and went through college. Sex was the primary topic that we all wanted to talk about, that we were all obsessed with, but hardly ever got to really engage on. When I look back on life in the female dorms, it seems like the sexual tension was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife. Though it may have looked different from the struggles of our male co-eds, I do not believe we women struggled any less with sexual issues. Porn was not an open problem at the time (though I'm guessing it would be more of one in today’s generation, at least statistically), but there were hardly any limits on what movies or tv shows girls felt they could watch. They had so imbibed the idea that they were more naturally pure that girlfriends frequently told me they didn’t think it mattered what they watched. I frequently and commonly heard women talk about men in ways that if the genders had been reversed would have been immediately called out as sinful lust. Young women, including myself, got away with this kind of openly sexual talk, again, because of our Christian culture's assumption that women do not struggle with lust as much as men. Female masturbation has been the absolute taboo topic of recent Christianity, (most people, male and female, simply do not want to believe that women have the type of sex drives that would be tempted by it), but I know it was very present within our dorms.
Yet, even with all of these very real ways in which we young women were struggling with our sexuality during college, we never once stopped believing that we might not actually like sex itself. I'll never forget the time there was a panel discussion on the topic of sex at the college. I didn't attend it myself, but something was said by one of the panel members that threw all of my female friends into a tizzy worrying about whether or not they would like sex after getting married. One of my friends was engaged and I can still see the panic-stricken look on her face as she worried about what her future would hold. A few days later, a recently graduated and married friend visited campus and many of my friends fell upon her with questions about whether or not she liked sex. An open and unassuming person, she simply smiled widely with a glint in her eyes and said, "Yes. Very much. You have nothing to worry about." A loud collective sigh echoed throughout campus. Somehow, despite everything that almost every fiber of our bodies was telling us about our sexual desires, we needed convincing that it was possible for women to like sex.
I never needed convincing that I would like sex, but I did need to understand that my sex drive did not make me less pure as a woman. I had many fears about sex going into marriage, but figuring out how to want sex was not one of them. It's sad to me now that I ever feared I was too sexual. How can that even be a thing? I and many of my dear friends often talked with each other about wanting to get married simply so we could have sex, but these conversations were always quiet and in private so that we would not seem like “those” type of women. It is a common idea within the Christian community that it’s good for men to get married so that they do not burn in lust, but who has ever heard women openly talk about the goodness of getting married for their own sexual needs?
During the first few months of my marriage, I had a recurring experience after having sex with my husband. We would have a glorious experience, full of love and adventure, but when we finished, I would go and sit in the bathroom by myself. A few times I cried, but mostly I just sat as a certain wave of emotion rolled over me. I still can't name the emotion specifically, but there was a sense of emptiness and loneliness to it, along with a profound recognition of loss. It was similar to homesickness, but wasn't the same. I was not unhappy; I had just been exuberant. I was not ashamed; I have never been more sure and confident of my body. I was not really lonely; my husband is my best friend.
The feeling stopped after a few months and the farther away from it I’ve come, the more I think it stemmed from the perceived loss of my sexual identity. Before marriage, Christian women have a certain and particular identity - sexless and pure. And now, all of the sudden, in the throws of marital passion, I was experiencing a profound and fundamental shift of identity. I was now a fully recognized sexual being in the eyes of my Christian subculture. During my times sitting in the bathroom, my soul was mourning the passage of my perceived purity. But how was I at all any less pure than before I was married? How was I any more a sexual being than before I was married? It seems to me that in our Christian views concerning sex, men simply go from being inactive sexually to active. Why is the change for women so much more fundamentally deep and dramatic? Because the Christian community tends to falsely believe that sexual purity for men is a matter keeping in check something that is already present, while for women, marriage is the turning on of a sex drive that shouldn’t have previously exist.
Like men, women are sexual agents and the Christian community has got to start talking and acting like this is true. In a culture as saturated with sex as our is, we need our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and dearest friends to be showing the younger generations that they are sexual beings who have something to say to us. Of course there are tasteful and dignified ways to do this, but there is nothing healthy about us pretending that sex is not an issue for women. Women want sex and we can either keeping telling them to deny their identities as sexual beings or we can start an ongoing conversation about the glories of female sexuality as God created it.
So... let's talk about sex.
Addendum: This post was getting really long, so I’m leaving it here for now. But this is a conversation we want to keep having at Carved to Adorn. I’m listing a few points below that I think would be beneficial for anyone to consider when taking up this topic and hopefully Ruthie and I can attempt to write about them in the coming months.
First, Christian purity does not equal female sexlessness. Second, women and men may experience sex differently and prefer different aspects of it, BUT women do indeed love sex. Third, in most cases, good sex takes work, so if a woman does not enjoy it right away, it doesn’t say anything about her (or the gender as a whole’s) natural capacity to enjoy sex. The wisest and best women (and men!) know there are ways to increase your pleasure during sex. Fourth, women are not limited to liking sex when they are young, but rather they can and do love sex throughout the many different stages of life.
If these points can start to be more a part of the general conversation concerning female sexuality, we will make long strides in helping women, young and old, embrace all that God made them to be.