September 2012


Today, as we close out our week on Body Image, I want to share five fabulous women’s stories or words on body image that inspire me. I hope they inspire you too!

“People always ask me, ‘You have so much confidence. Where did that come from?’ It came from me. One day I decided that I was beautiful, and so I carried out my life as if I was a beautiful girl … It doesn’t have anything to do with how the world perceives you. What matters is what you see. Your body is your temple, it’s your home, and you must decorate it.”

—Gabourey Sidibe, actress in Precious

In the blog world…(these are some incredible reads!)

Sarah Bessey writes a letter to her daughters, promising not to call herself fat.

Pam Hogeweide explains why she can’t write a love letter to her body.

Enuma Okoro writes “These are Our Bodies Broken for You” at She Loves Magazine.

“…I can say that I think it is important to pray naked in front of a full-length mirror sometimes, especially when you are full of loathing for your body. Maybe you think you are too heavy. Maybe you have never liked the way your hipbones stick out. Do your breasts sag? Are you too hairy? It is always something. Then again, maybe you have been sick, or gone through surgery that has changed the way you look. You have gotten glimpses of your body as you have bathed or changed clothes, but so far maintaining your equilibrium has depended on staying covered up as much as you can…This can only go on so long…”

-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p.37-38

This past Monday, on her new talk show, Katie Couric talked openly about her struggle with Bulimia that lasted through college and into her twenties. Because Katie has always seemed so put together, Fox News asks is this the “Most Surprising Celeb Confession?”  They say that they “didn’t see it coming.”

Yet many of us women know better.

Whether “put together” in the eyes of others, or a little rough around the edges, very few of us have made it to where we are today, without at least some insecurities about our physical form.  We have body issues that often come back to haunt us in different seasons of our lives.  Many of us have at least approached experiencing what Barbara Brown Taylor describes as a “loathing for your body.”

Blame it on the media, an ignorant comment a kid made in Jr. High, or on our tendency to compare ourselves with the women around us–whatever propelled us, each of us has traveled down the path of body discontentment.  And many of us have gone as far as hurting ourselves physically or emotionally.

All of this, I believe, breaks the heart of God.

In Genesis 1:27-31, we find that God created us in His image, and saw that He created us good.

In Psalm 139, God revealed to David, that He created our “innermost being” and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

And in I Corinthians 6:19, we are that our bodies are meant to be temples.

But often, it feels as if the world we grew up in as women, is screaming otherwise.

So Barbara Brown Taylor invites us to pray.

But not just anywhere or any how. She encourages us to pray in front of the mirror, naked. Now, I will admit, I haven’t done it (I am all for baby steps).  But I do believe that she has a point–our struggles with our bodies “can only go on for so long.”

We can only believe the lies that tell us we are not pretty enough, thin enough, curvy enough, tall enough or short enough, for so long.  

And so we need to pray. We need to look in the mirror and pray.

Because of past weight struggles and believing I was ugly for all of my adolescence, I admit I haven’t been able to do the naked part yet.  But lately, after I am done getting ready for the day, I have made myself look in the mirror a little bit longer.  And as I look, I am beginning to ask:

“Ok God, what do you see?”

The answer, I am sensing, is far better than I think.

“Whether you are sick or well, lovely or irregular, there comes a time when it is vitally important for your spiritual health to drop your clothes, look in the mirror, and say, ‘Here I am. This is the body-like-no-other that my life has shaped. I live here. This is my soul’s address.”

-Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p.38

One of the websites I am reading the most lately is She Loves Magazine. Today they are hosting a synchroblog on times of awakening, and I thought it would be fun to join in, and at the same time, share a little bit more of how this blog has come into being.

I have never fully known the feeling one gets when they see a baby and everything goes gushy inside. I have never experienced the emotions that fill ones body, when the little white stick says “pregnant.” And I have yet to hold a new born that is my own, smell his/her head, and wonder “can I do this?”

I have, however, sat in the audience of a painfully-out-of-tune middle school Christmas pageant, holding my breath, as my student performed his solo.  I have anxiously waited for a student to show up on a Sunday morning to tell me if they made the team, survived math class this week, or got a part in the school play.  I have spent hundreds of hours leading Jr. High girls’ small group bible studies, praying for those light-bulb moments when one would say “God cares about that stuff? He cares about me?

My heart has filled to overflowing, when as a single youth pastor, my hand-me-down dinning room table fit fifteen girls around it for ice cream sundaes and Apples to Apples.  And I have been over-the-moon excited when after they start college, those same girls come back and say “remember how you always told us…”

But now, after seven years of full-time “my-heart-has-adopted-hundreds-of-teenagers” ministry, the past year has felt like God took a sharp turn and my life is heading in a new direction.

At first, when I resigned from my ministry position nine months ago (after a year of struggling to free my heart), I felt like “Ok, God. I can take some time off. I can pursue writing–but then you will take me back, right? Someday, I will go back to youth ministry?”

But He was quiet. He let me grieve the loss of the kids and volunteers I loved. He let me wrestle with my “what ifs.”  And then about a month ago, as I was baking in my kitchen, He softly impressed on my heart that I won’t be going back into youth ministry, at least not in that form.

A new grieving began, yet this time it was different.  I felt God was re-writing my story–making it completely different than the picture in my head. I was confused, and I wanted to be angry with Him. Then I realized, wait, God doesn’t “re-write.” He doesn’t change his mind as to where our stories will take us. He always has a plan, and it is us who try to re-write, re-direct our paths.

For the past eight years, I was so sure I was living one story when in reality I was living a different one. I was really on a journey that led me to a greater knowledge of myself and God’s love for me. Part of my story was being in youth ministry–meeting incredible people, traveling all over the world, making some amazing friends and meeting my awesome husband. But youth ministry wasn’t my whole story.

I thought I would love teenagers forever through church ministry–but I am finding God’s path is taking me in a different direction.  He has given me this season of grieving, yet in the midst of emotions that sometimes feel like death, new life has begun to spring up. 

And one of those new shoots is this blog. God is breaking and expanding my heart for our plight as women.  He is revealing to me His love for us, the women of this earth, and impressing on me a need to write; similar, I imagine, to the burning Jeremiah must have felt in his bones.

I am not sure what is in store for this blog or where this path that God has me on is going to lead.

“I am lost.” I told my friend a few weeks ago. Then two days later, in the midst of worshipping at a Hillsong concert, I felt God speak to my heart:

“You are not lost, I know exactly where you are. Even though you do not know what is ahead, I do.”

I have always been the type of person who wants to plan everything out–and know “the plan.” He is teaching me to trust His path.

Where have you felt like your life is being “re-written?”

Where have you felt the loss of a dream?

Do you know that wherever you are at, God knows exactly where you are?

 

 

I didn’t have any confidence in my beauty when I was young. I felt like a character actress, and I still do.

–Meryl Streep, age 63

 

“My appearance has changed a lot over the years, but it has far more to do with how I feel about being a woman. I`ve never thought of myself as vain. When I was at Cambridge, I shaved my head and wore baggy clothes. It was partly to do with the feminism of that time: militant and grungy. That`s all changed now, though I don`t think it is liberating to get your tits out. I don`t hold with that. But I am much more comfortable with being a woman now than I was in my twenties.” 

–Emma Thompson, age 53

 

“Now all of a sudden I’m so less interested in pretending to be a lot of other people, and much more interested in being me.” 

–Jamie Lee Curtis, age 53

 

 

 “There were times when I hated my nose. But you grow up and you start to recognize that maybe it wasn`t a bad thing that you weren`t born Barbie.”

–Anjelica Huston, age 61

 

Why does it seem to be the common experience of women to spend most of our lives feeling ashamed of our body or looks?  Why do so many of us silently struggle with our size, nose, or smile? Why do we feel somehow that we will never measure up?–That we will never fit the definition of beauty?

Sure, we could go on for hours and days talking about the media’s part, the cultural messages we are sent, and the billions of photoshopped images of women that are in our faces every day.

Yes, all of these things have played a pretty big part.

But why have we believed them? Why are these women in their fifties and sixties saying they are just beginning to accept themselves? And rarely do I hear women in their twenties and thirties being able to say the same?

What is the switch that needs to be turned on inside of us as women, that will enable us to fully accept ourselves, imperfections and all?

I don’t want to wait until I am fifty, forty-five, or even a few years from now when I am thirty-five; I don’t want to wait any longer to begin embracing the body, personality, and heart that God has given me.

And, wherever you are on this journey, I don’t want you to have to wait either.

What step can we take today, to begin to embrace ourselves a little bit more?

If you have been following Redefining Female this week, you know we have been covering the topic of Feminism.  Monday, I shared my ever evolving thoughts about the importance of fighting for women’s economic and social rights. And Wednesday, we talked about how women and men need each other, because it is their calling to jointly lead and take care of the world.

So, rather than do our traditional Fabulous Female post, I thought it would be so cool to share a few famous examples of successful working relationships between real men or women that weren’t romantic. Do you know how many examples I found?

Zero.

It could be that I couldn’t find the right language for a google search. I tried “Successful male/female partnerships” and got something about transgender relationships. I tried “successful female/male business partners,” in which the closest find was an article on the top business partnerships in History–all but one of the partnerships, were between men. (The one including a woman, talked about how through her partnership with a businessman, she became rich, yet he basically cheated her out of her company).  I tried many variations of the same to no avail.

Does this mean that successful non-romantic partnerships between men and women aren’t possible? That they don’t exist?

No, but I would say that they are rare, and they are not talked about in our world the way that they should be. And, I believe that there are a few reasons for this:

Successful People/leaders are usually loners: Many leader types know how to take control over a company or group of people, but very few of them know how to share that power with another human being. Both women and men can get caught up in the responsibility at hand and not realize the benefits of having another perspective in the mix.

Male/Female partnerships are important, yet difficult: Besides power, I think another historical reason some men have hesitated when it came to inviting women to partner with them in business, is because we are different. We as women approach things differently, and so inviting us in, means change.  Finding the right balance of her way/his way and working together for the betterment of the whole, is necessary, yet not easy.

We live in a sex-obsessed culture: Since Freud, the emphasis in our news, entertainment, and story-telling has been on sexual attractiveness, desire and relationships. “Sex sells,” hasn’t only effected the world’s spending habits, it also has negatively effected our ability to see someone of the opposite sex for more than their physical attractiveness–and this isn’t just a male issue!  Many times have I heard women talk about a male co-worker’s looks or relationships status, without any part of his attributes as a co-worker coming into play.

So, do we just give up? Do we just say this is the way its always been? Or do we seek to more knowledgeably overcome the obstacles we face as both men and women, believing that our differences can be what make our world better?

I choose the latter, believing we have so much more to gain together.

(P.S. If you have any examples of non-romantic partnerships between men and women, I would LOVE to hear about them!)

“Girl’s rule and boys drool!” some of my Jr. High girls used to say. Then, the next minute they would be chasing one of those “drooling boys” down the hallway, trying to get his attention. There is a connection between men and women at any age that is undeniable, and yet we still have such broken ways of relating to one another.

Last week, I shared that during our vacation my husband and I visited the National Park dedicated to Women’s Rights, in Seneca Falls, New York.  What I didn’t share was that as we left, I experienced this unexpected sadness. In a place where many had fought for women to have a more equal footing in the world, I thought I would feel inspired to pick up the torch and carry it on.  Instead I felt depressed.

In the upstairs of the Women’s Rights Center, there is a whole exhibit on the history of the suffrage movement all the way up to the 1980’s.  There is station after station, all on women’s journey towards equality, with the end of the exhibit sharing that there is still much to be done. Perhaps some of my sadness was based on that fact–but that wasn’t even close to most of it.

I left with this low feeling in my chest because no human being was meant to ever have to fight for another to acknowledge their humanity, worth, and beauty.

“This isn’t what God had planned,” I felt, as we slowly went down the steps and toward the exit.

Today, because people have many different beliefs about Creation and God, I think we have lost sight of what the Genesis Creation Story tells us about what our relationship as women and men was intended to be. It was supposed to be way better than what we know, and our role in creation, as women, is greater than history has made us believe.

In the book of Genesis, when God goes about creating Earth, He does all these things and says “it is good.”  He spoke light into being, separated the earth from the water, put the stars in the sky, created fish to swim in the sea and animals to walk on land, and out of dust, created man in His likeness.  And after every thing He created, He “saw it was good”–until He saw something that was not good. In Genesis 2:18a:

“The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’” 

So what did God do?  Did He create “man’s best friend,” a golden retriever to keep him company and do whatever he said? Did He create another man–a Frat buddy–for him to rule over creation with, and on the weekends, watch football with?

No. When God created Eve, He said:

“I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Gen. 2:18b)

Only in the original Hebrew, the language the Bible was written in, the word meant a lot more than “helper.” It was actually two words: Ezer Kenegdo.  Hebrew Scholar, Robert Alter, translates the phrase as “a sustainer beside him,” but John and Stasi Eldredge in their book Captivating, write that a better translation “of ezer would be ‘lifesaver.’ And that “Kenegdo means alongside, or opposite to, a counterpart.”

We talk so much about how men are supposed to be our “knights in shining armor,” yet the Creation Story tells us, we are supposed to do the same for them.   We weren’t created to be under them, we were created to be alongside–leading, creating, and living together.  Yet in a world where women are oppressed–from the western work place to the darkest corners of the world in which they are literally bought and sold–we are unable to fully accomplish our God given calling as daughters of Eve.

And this is where Feminism and Men need each other.

If women are unable to use their voices, gifts and talents fully as they seek to flourish alongside men, and if men are given such a distorted, small view of the role women are to have in their lives, than the world misses out on experiencing the most incredibly designed partnership.

In fact, the whole world has been missing it.

With some beautiful exceptions where men and women have truly seen, celebrated, and worked with one another, the world has largely missed out. Men have missed out on having their Ezer Kenedgo, the ultimate best friend, because they have been told that to be “the man,” means dominating and leading your family or business by yourself.  Men need Feminism because they need to be freed from carrying the weight of the world entirely on their shoulders.  They need the women of the world to be reinstated to their true place--not above them as some Feminist would argue–but alongside them.

In order for women to be reinstated, however, we need men who are willing to join the plight of Feminism. We need men to tell us that the world needs to hear our voices.  We need men to speak out when they witness other men speaking degradingly about us. We need men who will help us change man-made business structures that are only friendly to the male way of doing things. We need men who will give us opportunities and empower us to use our gifts. We need men who are more concerned with the best for all, than the power they may lose for standing up for our cause.

Finally we need men because we were created to be unified and to rule over the Earth together.  After God created male and female in His likeness, He blessed them and He told them together:

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28

If I am honest, I never would have guessed that I would be writing a blog for women. I am loving it, yet how I have arrived here is an interesting journey that I hope to share more of with you soon.

Today, however, I will share one part of this journey, that began long before this year–my ever evolving thoughts about Feminism. I will tell you upfront, just as I believe Female needs to be Redefined, I also believe that Feminism needs to be Refocused. I can’t possibly cover the topic of feminism–or my thoughts about it–conclusively in this post or even this week, but here is how my journey with Feminism, has gone so far:

I first heard about Feminism probably around the time I was eight or nine years old, and I have to admit, it was something I had a hard time understanding.  Feminists are usually portrayed in the media as angry women whose slogan is “I am woman, hear me roar,” and they are known for things that didn’t make any sense to me as a preteen.

For example, they would burn their bras publicly. I would wonder, “why would any woman burn her underwear in public?” After an embarrassing incident with the boy across the street when I was three-years-old, I learned you do not show your underwear to anyone, especially a boy. The symbolism of being restrained was obviously lost on my eight-year-old self.

Then, there was the fact that they were against men, which also didn’t make any sense to me, because I was fortunate to have a dad who is a good man and worked hard to provide for us. I also had a grandfather who never showed up to our house without lollipops or mini rolls of Lifesaver candies. He would say “Hold out our hand,” and the candy would be so perfectly hidden in his big fist that you weren’t sure what he was giving you until you felt it drop into your palm, and his hand moved away. He was one of my favorite people.

So Feminists to me, just seemed like people who got angry just to get angry.

But then, as I entered college and began to contemplate my future as a woman, I began to realize that the landscape ahead was quite complex.  I had grown up in a pretty liberal part of the U.S., and yet in a conservative home.  I was an ambitious student with big career dreams, and yet still knew how amazing it had been to have a stay-at-home mom. The message of our culture seemed say “you can do anything if you just try.” But what I didn’t realize was that some paths were going to be harder for me because I was a woman.

When I felt a calling to youth ministry, I was told by enough people–either by the look on their faces or straight out–that because I am a woman I wouldn’t get a job in the church.   And then there were times, after getting a job in the church, when I was treated by some (even by congregation members who loved me), as if my ministry wasn’t the “real” ministry, because “real” ministry is done by men. I found out the hard way that there are still paths that are difficult for us to take as women, paths that are still thought of as belonging to men.

My heart began to stir with a feeling of injustice–the feeling that women, not just in our churches but in our workplaces and society, aren’t truly being seen for who God has created them to be. I was wrapped up in what I saw in my small sphere of the world, until God expanded my definition of injustice, to see the ramifications of this issue globally.

In 2009, I had the privilege of going with a team from our church to rural, southern India, to spend time in a girls’ home and teach English in a school. In the mornings, we would teach on homonyms and adjectives, and the majority of faces looking back at me were beautiful, smart, young women. In the afternoons, I would visit these same girls where they lived, and they would teach me their dances, decorate my hands with henna, and in quiet moments, share with me heart breaking stories of their lives. Because of women’s low social status in India, I found myself over and over, praying that God would bless these young women with good husbands in the future, knowing that it would be key to their quality of life.

Then, we visited a baby home, where parents dropped off the children they couldn’t or wouldn’t afford to raise, and the majority of babies and toddlers there, were little girls. Because of the cultural system in India, it is far more economically sound to have a son, than a daughter, so literally thousands of baby girls are abandoned every year.

But India is not the only country in which female infanticide or poor treatment of girls and women occurs. In her Ted talk about her book Half the Sky, Sheryl WuDunn, shares that demographers have estimated that there are between 60 and 100 million missing women in our population due to infanticide, gender based abortions, poverty, and discrimination.  In fact, she says that more girls in the last half century were discriminated to death than all the people killed on all the battlefields, in the twentieth century.

And we haven’t even talked about the $32 billion sex trafficking industry.

Feminism is at its core about fighting for the social and economic rights of women. I am not in agreement with everything everyone in the Feminist Movement has stood for, but I am finding that the more I am aware of our state in the world as women, I am not becoming an angry Feminist…I am becoming a grieved one.

A Chinese Proverb says “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.”

It is my prayer that our hearts will awaken to our worth as women, and that we will begin  to use our voices to speak on our own behalf, and on the behalf of our sisters world wide. That we will see that we can move mountains, and do it.

Wednesday Sneak Peak: I don’t believe we can or are supposed to fight for women alone. Wednesday we will talk about why Feminism needs men, and why men need Feminism. 

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