Friday, February 15, 2013

I've been thinking and writing lately about what it means to be a good man or woman, but the more I think about it the more I realize it's not necessarily a gender issue. I mean, for every guy out there whistling and cat-calling there's a girl who's very goal in life is to get guys to notice her. I also know there are plenty of men confident enough to support and empower strong women.  Maybe it's time to be defined not by our gender, but by our humanity.

We're not so different after all.  I think we essentially want the same things; to be heard, respected and loved.

We've been told men and women are opposites.

Men want respect, women want love.

Women are emotional, men are stoic.

Men want sex, women want intimacy.

The truth is I want respect just as much as my husband does. I like sports even more than he does. I love hiking and backpacking. I can "rough it" and live without a hair-dryer. I also occasionally like to watch a girly movie and dress up. I don't think being a woman encompasses who I am. My personality, interests and beliefs are what define me.

I recently watched a video series with a church group about marriage. The whole premise was the differences between men and women, how to relate to each other and understand each other.  While I appreciated some aspects of the message, I constantly found myself wondering if it isn't just about the fact we are man and woman, but that we are two separate people with differing thoughts, ideas and needs.

If I want to be a good wife and have a strong marriage, I don't need to learn everything there is to know about men, I need to understand my husband.  I need to know what he's passionate about, what makes him upset, what being loved means to him.

Marriage isn't so much about men and a women learning to live together, it's about two people learning to live together.

If men where all the same then it would makes sense to study their gender in order to learn how to be a good wife. Obviously they're not all alike, just as women are not all alike.  It's strange to me that we buy into this idea of gender roles so wholeheartedly. There have been situations when I've felt trapped by stereotypes and expectations of my gender and I feel unable to be myself. Sometimes I just want to hike a mountain or watch a football game, not go shopping or sit around talking about (or in my case listening to) birth stories. I know other women who, like me, feel somewhat out of the loop within their community of friends and/or church because they don't fit the bill of how a woman should think and act.

I feel like so many relationships, not just marriage, could be stronger if we stopped trying to make people fit into the roles we think they're made for.  I know men who've felt ostracized for being sensitive and experienced major pressure to be "manly" or "sporty".  I know women who've felt looked down on because they choose not to have children, they're made to feel like part of their womanhood is broken or will never be fully realized.

What if we accepted that we are unique individuals with our own ideas and beliefs regardless of gender?

Yes, genders were created to compliment each other, but that can't happen until we stop trying to force people into preconceived notions of who and what they are.

My spirit has been bruised and damaged too many times by messages of how to be a Godly woman/wife/mother that conflict with my personality.  Early in our marriage Josh and I had arguments because of unmet expectations of each other.  We'd been told from books and well meaning mentors exactly what a husband or wife should be like. Josh was surprised to find out it wasn't my life's dream to clean the house and cook meals every day.  As we began to understand each other better we grew to love the things that made us different than what we'd expected. Josh likes that I'm not high maintenance (usually) and I appreciate that he has a soft side and writes me love letters and tears up at sad movies. (Don't tell him I told you! He's also hard working and strong and drives a truck!)

I can only speak from my own experience, but growing up, the church communities I was in seemed to put a lot of emphasis on being a "Proverbs 31 Woman".  My interpretation of Proverbs 31 was that being a good woman meant being a wife, a mother, a morning person, a cook, having a clean house, always being happy and patient, never getting discouraged, being good at everything. Essentially, I thought it meant perfection. As a young wife I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect.  It didn't work. I was just more discouraged and imperfect than ever. Plus, what about women who aren't married, don't have kids or can't have kids? Where do they fall in the spectrum of godly women?

Then, in Bible school, I actually studied Proverbs and made a crazy discovery: The Proverbs 31 woman isn't real. That's right, she's fiction. The author says in verse 10, "An excellent wife, who can find?” and then goes on to make a list of desirable characteristics. He's not describing his wife, he's describing his dream wife. (It's also an acrostic poem using the first through last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.) The characteristics described are admirable ones wives should strive for, but that probably no one woman can fully encapsulate.

*Side note: if Proverbs 31 is the Bible's portrayal of a godly woman, where is the male equivalent?*

Now lets think about some of the real life, flesh and blood women of the Bible:

Rahab, a prostitute.

Sarah, who doubted.

Ruth, who worked the fields.

Leah, who was unwanted.

Esther, became queen.

Hannah, who begged and cried and never stopped praying.

Mary Magdalene, who stayed at the cross.

These are a few of the women who are honored in the Bible. They struggled, sometimes failed, found redemption and were far from perfect.

I only say all this because it's easy to get wrapped up in the idea of gender roles and being a good man or woman, when really I think it just creates a lot of pressure, confusion and frustration.  Ultimately, in order to be a man or woman of God, we don't need to subscribe to a set of rules and expectations based on gender, we only need to follow the example of Jesus.

Jesus didn't tell Mary to get back in the kitchen with Martha, he honored her desire to listen and learn.  Jesus himself washed the feet of his disciples. And wept. He didn't go around acting tough and demanding to be served and respected. Let's start emulating our savior and value our differences. We were not all created exactly alike, we are men and women, but we are individuals. We are all human.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Some Thoughts On Art

I'm about two weeks into my personal challenge of writing daily for a year and I've already failed. This challenge is so much more difficult than not buying clothes for a year. 

This challenge is about battling some inner demons, those lifelong companions, Doubt, Fear, Rejection and Procrastination.

This is about me creating something and putting it out for anyone to see. And that's scary.

It's about self discipline and making time to get better at something, just sitting down and doing it.

So, I failed to write anything for a couple days, but I'm not giving up. My sister-in-law gave me a book last weekend called, Art & Fear  by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I've only read the first chapter and I'm already inspired. The book is about why we create art and the fears that accompany most artists.

Here are some personal revelations made while reading Art & Fear and thinking about why I need to create:

Imperfect people create art.  We have a driving desire to take the broken bits of life and pour them into our work, turning them into something beautiful. Our art will suggest our flaws and weaknesses, but overcoming the obstacles inhibiting us from creating will be a source of strength.

Failure is inevitable.  It's okay to fail, it's how we learn and it's a risk that must be taken in order to succeed.

What matters most is the process of creating.  For me the experience of writing is what shapes my art as I process through my emotions and find my voice, I'm learning about myself.

 “To be an artist is to believe in life.” ~ Henry Moore

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Final 30th Year Challenge Update

Today is my 31st birthday. I've completed my 30th year challenge of not buying clothes for one year. It was difficult sometimes, but to be honest, it was a lot easier than I anticipated. Here are a few lessons learned:

Intentionality.  I know I mentioned this before, but it's the number one lesson I've learned this past year. I've become much more intentional with how I live. Not that I don't still enjoy being spontaneous once in a while, I do, but I mean intentional in a broad sense of living with a purpose. I base my consumption more on need, than on want. I make sure it will serve a purpose, sometimes that purpose is simply spending a fun day with my family (we all need to have fun now and then), other times it's strictly necessity.

Simplicity. I admit that in the past when I had spare time I would sometimes fill it by going shopping. It was a waste of time, truly. This last year, whenever I had spare time it was spent, writing, reading a good book, working in the garden, hiking, exercising or going to the beach with my family etc. All of these simple things brought me much more satisfaction than a new outfit ever did. 

Embracing Imperfection.  Since I couldn't replace damaged clothing, I learned to be okay with a little stain or hole in a few articles of clothing. I learned to not care so much. This attitude overflowed to other aspects of my life as well, like standing up for what I believe in, whether or not it's popular within my circle of community. We are all imperfect people with different life experiences and opinions and in the end I don't care how I look, as long as I can extend God's love to the people around me.  Embracing imperfection has helped me stop comparing myself to others and accept myself  the way I am. It's incredible the amount of freedom that comes when you don't care about trends or about making everyone and their mom like you.

 Here's a few of the things I did buy this last year:

  • New sock and undies. 
  • I bought myself a red beaded necklace for Easter, because I wanted a pop of color to celebrate the day.
  •  A couple weeks ago I bought a new skirt in preparation for a wedding reception I'll be attending the day after my birthday. I won't wear it until then.
  •  A new pair of sandals ($3 on sale!) because our kitten decided my old ones were a good chew toy.
  •  Yesterday, I bought a new pair of shoes because all of my old pairs (except for my boots) are falling apart, literally.

So, that's it. In the last year I managed to only buy a few pieces of clothing and mainly out of necessity.

Now, it's another year and I've decided to give myself a new challenge. I think it's important to continue to learn as we age, I never want to become stagnant in life, so this year my challenge is to write everyday. I thought of the things I'm passionate about and where I want to improve and landed on writing. I enjoy it and hate it at the same time. I enjoy the result of writing, i.e. processing my emotions and having a record of things I've learned and experienced, but I sometimes hate the actual sitting and writing part. This challenge is about self-discipline and trying to be better at something.  I'm sure there will be days when I only pen a couple lines in my journal, but nonetheless, I'll be saving a thought or idea for when my creative juices are flowing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Who Do You Think You Are?

The last few weeks have been stressful. I keep finding myself in situations I can't control and it makes me crazy. (I might be a tiny bit of a control freak.) It's not even big things, just a culmination of many little things.

Whenever life gets stressful, Doubt arrives, as if on cue, to remind me of all the times I've failed. It's the voice of Doubt that keeps asking, "Who do you think you are?"

Who do you think you are to be a mom? You don't have the patience.

Who do you think you are to be a wife? You're not enough for him.

Who do you think you are to be a youth leader at church? The kids won't even like you.

Who do you think you are to write about your life? Nobody cares what you have to say.

These thoughts followed me for days, hanging around in the corners of my mind like a cobweb just out of reach, growing and collecting dust. Doubt continued to whisper into each new frustrating situation, "You can't do this. Why are you even trying?"

Yesterday morning, Rosie and I decided to go to the river near our house to swim. Magda is away at camp, so I let Rosie pick the morning activity. She wanted a picnic at the river. We spent the morning swimming, snacking, picking blackberries, skipping rocks and laying on our towels reading. It was one of the most peaceful and relaxing mornings I've had in a long time. At one point, Rosie was in the water with her goggles trying to catch minnows and I was just sitting, taking in the sun and the beautiful landscape when I felt a different whisper, deep in my soul, "This is who you are. A mom who teaches her child to love nature."

Those words were a fresh wind, blowing through my heart and mind, clearing away the cobwebs. They poured over my soul like a wave, filling up the cracked and broken places. Over and over I felt God's soft voice.

Who do you think you are? You are my creation.

Who do you think you are? With me, you are enough.

Who do you think you are? You are mine.

Last night before bed, Josh was reading The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen. He handed me the book and said, "You should read page 113".  This is what it said:

You are constantly facing choices. The question is whether you choose for God or for your own self-doubting self. You know what the right choice is, but your emotions, passions, and feelings keep suggesting you choose the self-rejecting way.
The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, “It isn’t going to work. I’m still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fallback into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven’t really changed.” And on an on.
It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God’s voice. God says to you, “I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God.”
This is the voice to listen to. And that listening requires a real choice, not just once in a while, but every moment of each day and night. It is you who decides what you think, say, and do….Choose for the truth of what you know. Do not let your still anxious emotions distract you. As you keep choosing God, your emotions will gradually give up their rebellion and be converted to the truth in you.
I hadn't told Josh about my experience at the river. I don't know why he thought I should read that page. But, God knew my heart. He is faithful to meet us where we are.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Strange and Beautiful People

The other day while my husband drove through town, I sat in the passenger seat and just looked out the window. I really looked though, like at people. It's easy for me to space out and not see people, they just blend into the background noise of my day. As Josh drove through town I saw a man helping another man jump start  his car, a man comforting a crying woman, friends greeting each other with a handshake, a woman speaking to a homeless man with a cardboard sign. I saw people making connections. Touching and smiling and speaking.

I decided to keep doing it. People watching that is. The last time I went for a run through my neighborhood I went past a man on horseback who nodded his cowboy hat to me. A little, pigtail haired girl ran out of her house, screen door slamming behind her, with a squirt gun in hand to spray and chase a squirrel up a tree. An older woman on a bike, wearing a football helmet and basketball shorts over her sweat pants, while riding without using the handlebars and swinging her arms as though she were sprinting. Several people were talking and laughing together while working in a community garden.

Other interesting sightings around town include: a man on a bike wearing only a speedo, a gentleman in a coffee shop with a long braided beard who's intently reading Byron's poem's and occasionally lets out a loud sigh or "Wow, beautiful."  A woman belly dancing on the sidewalk while she waits for traffic at the crosswalk and a very large man wearing a tutu and riding a tricycle. The lovely woman at the farmer's market with the most amazingly, long dreadlocks I've ever seen. The waiter at our favorite restaurant who speaks with a Australian accent one minute, German the next and is fully Irish by the time we leave. 

All this people watching has made me realize that people are strange and beautiful at the same time. 

People make life interesting and I enjoy the company of others, but often I tend to be solitary and prefer silence over constant chatter. I have two girls who love to talk. All the time. Sometimes, when they're talking, I just look at them and wonder if they ever get tired of moving their lips. They don't.

Being a mom has forced me into situations where I have to meet new people. My girls are so different from me, they're social and thrive in big groups of people. They have all these friends who have parents that I'm supposed to meet and hang out with during play dates. It's not that I'm socially inept (not completely anyway), it's just that I don't do fake and I'm not good at small talk. Most people are fine with that, but others get nervous when the conversation starts to ebb. Truly though, most people I meet are kind and funny.

Still, there are times when it's so hard for me to like people. Can I just be brutally honest for a minute? Usually the people I struggle the most to connect with, are other Christians.

I'm sorry if that's offensive, I'm just trying to write how I feel. I'm not talking about all Christians, I'm talking about a few. You know who I mean, they keep everything surface level and think they can wipe away a painful situation with a verse or a phrase, "If it's not alright, then it's not the end!" They're convinced that their way of loving and worshiping God is the best and only way. I visited a church once where someone said from the stage that "if you're not jumping and dancing in your worship, you might as well go home because God doesn't want your half-hearted worship".  Really?  Someone who worships quietly could very well be worshiping just as much as the person dancing and doing back flips for God.

I try not to be judgmental and mostly I'm fine with weird people, ( you pretty much have to be okay with weird in order to live in Oregon ) but some days I'd rather not be around people. Maybe I'm easily discouraged, but when people who claim to love God act as though they don't love anyone except others just like them, it makes me want to move to a cabin in the woods. I'd isolate myself and pretend nothing is wrong with the world.

I recently read the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, about discovering the way you best relate to God, your "spiritual temperament".  In the book he describes nine different temperaments, some people are Caretakers, Contemplatives, Ascetics, Activists....but I'm almost entirely a Naturalist, meaning I experience God the most while alone in the woods or at a river or the ocean. Learning this about myself is good and gives me permission to take a break once and a while and be alone in creation, but it also becomes a temptation to want to be alone a lot. In some ways Jesus was a Naturalist, he would often go to a garden to pray and once spent forty days alone in the wilderness praying and fasting, but he also spent most of his life with people, caring for, teaching and loving people.   

In order to love people you have to spend time with them. In some ways I'm good at caring for people, I can get behind a cause, be an activist and bring attention to a problem and help be part of the solution. I care about injustice, what's hard is caring about the ones who are the problem. When people choose not to care about others or are downright mean, all I want is to move to that cabin and hide. Here's an excerpt from my journal entry the other day:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 
Ephesians 5:1-2

I'm learning more and more that in order to reflect Christ, I must love people. I'm not always good at that. I can love the down and out, the oppressed, but what about the oppressor? What about the people I find myself at odds with? Jesus loves all people. He died for us all. His salvation is available to all.

Jesus loves everyone. That means I should love everyone.

Jesus loves rude Christians.

He loves the guy who ran a red light and flipped me off when I honked.

He loves politicians.  

He even loves me.
Jesus loved the man on the cross next to him who had presumably committed a violent crime. He promised him salvation. 

Unfortunately, I can fall into my own category of "rude Christian".  It's a constant internal struggle to be Christ-like towards people who claim to love God, but are apathetic to the plight of others. And yet, I can be just as oblivious. I'm ashamed to admit all the times I ignored an opportunity to help someone out because I was in a hurry.

Here's a thought: let's love each other. Let's reach out and be open minded about each other's point of view and realize we all come from different backgrounds and that in the end I don't think it's going to matter how we look or dress or how we worship. In the end all that matters is if we loved. If we claim to love God then lets agree to love people. All people. I think we'll be surprised at how beautiful people truly are.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Lie Called "Perfection".

 The topic of self image and our society's objectification of women is something I'm passionate about. Even more now that I'm raising two girls. I might eventually write more on the topic, but direct it towards men.  For now, this post is mainly directed at women.

As a teenager, I was a crazy perfectionist. Okay, sometimes I still am, but I'm working on it. I used to care way too much about what others thought of me.

I'd worry that I'd say the wrong thing, so I wouldn't say anything. 

I had been convinced I was "uncool", so I became obsessed with trying to become cool.

I was scared to death that people would discover how weird I truly was, so I tried to be someone else.

I hated telling people I was home schooled  because they automatically expected me to be, smart, nerdy and socially inept. I never believed the part about being smart.

All this accomplished was people thinking I was stuck-up because I wouldn't talk to them, wasted hours trying to look a certain way,  the pain of not being myself around my peers and a messed up sense of self worth.

I wish I could tell my teenage self how trivial perfection is in the long run. I wish I would have known then what I know now. Perfection is not real. It's a lie. It doesn't exist. Our society would have us think perfection can be bought in a bottle or in the department store. Countless lives are being wasted trying to achieve the perfect image. I heard a statistic the other day (I can't remember the source, I heard it on the radio.) that said a third of women would trade their IQ for larger breasts. Seriously? That's deplorable. Heartbreaking. Is that what we've come to? Wanting to be defined by our looks? Wake up women! We are worth a hell of a lot more than that.

A couple years ago, I worked in the beauty industry doing hair and I can't tell you how often I heard women complaining about their looks. They'd pick themselves apart saying, "I don't like my nose", "I don't like my hair", "If I could just lose a few pounds...". Not only is this attitude sad, it's unattractive.

I'm not saying we shouldn't try to look nice, I wear makeup and style my hair (most days anyway) and I exercise to maintain a healthy body. I just don't think a woman's image is what should define her worth. The most beautiful women I know are not models. They're real people with hard jobs, they're mom's, wives, students. They're not perfect and that imperfection is what makes them most beautiful. They've lived through incredible experiences, good and bad. They're strong.

The most beautiful women I know are confident women.

They're confident that they are enough. They're comfortable in their own skin, they wear what they like and don't chase trends or spend all their time and money trying to conform to the world's standard of beauty. Their beauty radiates from the inside. I truly believe that confidence affects your outward appearance.

Learning to like and even love myself was a hard lesson for me to learn.  I used to be so insecure, I remember several times as a teenager, hiding in the bathroom at church because one of the boys in youth group made fun of my hair or my clothes. I took everything so personally, I hadn't figured out that teenage boys can be jerks and not to take what they say to heart. One particularly bad Sunday of hiding and self-loathing, my dad took me aside and gently reminded me of one of the older ladies in our church who was currently being treating for cancer, "She's here today even through she's sick and losing her hair and possibly doesn't feel very pretty." He went on to tell me he thought I was beautiful and that if God loves us like it says so many times in the Bible, then we must learn to like ourselves and be grateful for the way he made us. I'm quite certain he also had a stern talk with the boys and/or their parents. My dad can be scary when he needs to be.

That talk with my dad was the first time I thought about the fact that not liking myself was sort of disrespectful to God. Like telling an artist that their creation is ugly.
Of course, I'm not perfect, I'm a flawed human just like everyone else, I've just learned (and am still learning) to like my physical attributes, talents, interests and life experiences. Even the weird ones.

When Josh first asked me to be his girlfriend, he told me that in order for us to be together I had to believe him when he told me I was beautiful.

I think we often fall into a habit of being self depreciating and rejecting or minimizing compliments. Learning to believe others when they tell us we're good at something or that we're beautiful takes a change of mindset. Society feeds the mindset that image is everything and women are objects. We hold ourselves to an impossible standard.  For me that change was a long process, but thankfully I have an amazing husband who doesn't need or expect perfection, he just wants me to be true to myself and be confident in who I am and what he believes me to be.

Women, let this be a lesson. Any man who says you aren't good enough or doesn't like you, unless you look and dress a certain way, is not worth your time and effort. If only my teenage self had believed this simple truth.

A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter came home from school and told me the boy she shares a desk with had called her fat. Turns out it was not the first time he'd been mean to her.  I saw the pain in her eyes and felt the unspoken questions, "Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Is something wrong with me?" Two things happened at that moment. First, the mother bear in me reared up, I wanted to protect her. (Later, I called the school and made them aware of the bullying and made sure the boy would no longer share a desk with her.) Second, I made a decision to never complain about my own appearance or degrade my abilities in front of my girls. I can tell them they're beautiful, talented and smart a hundred times a day, but they'll never believe me unless they know I believe the same about myself.

Ladies, lets start being the women we want our daughter's to be. I pray that my girls will be strong and self assured, I want them to believe they are beautiful even if someone tells them otherwise, but that will never happen unless I'm their example of a strong and confident woman.

Every time you call yourself fat, your daughter becomes more aware of her own weight.

When you say you hate your hair, she wonders if her own is pretty or not.

When you call yourself dumb, she second guesses her own mind and abilities.

I don't want my daughter's role models to be actresses or women on magazine covers, I want their role model to be me. I hope they look up to real women, like their Nana and Grandma, their Aunties and my friends who are all beautiful in the true sense of the word.

Women, lets stop being our own worst critics and start demanding the same respect of ourselves as we do from others.

And trust me, life is so much better when you stop trying to be perfect. As I get older I've learned to embrace my inner nerd, to just laugh when I'm clumsy, accept the fact that I'm weird and just have fun.

The first time I visited Uganda, one of my friends there, Simon, greeted me once by saying, "Bre, you are looking so fat today!" When he saw the look on my face he rushed to explain, "I'm sorry, I think in your country that is an insult. In Uganda, when we say you look fat, it means you look healthy and strong. It's a compliment".  Another common Ugandan compliment is to tell someone they look "smart".  I think in western culture if you told someone they looked smart, they might think it was code for, "you're a super nerd".

I have to admit, there is something refreshing about a culture where the kindest praise a woman can receive is to be told she's smart, healthy and strong.