courage


tree a glowThree years ago, four minutes past midnight, on Christmas morning, I said yes.  Though it was more like “YES! YES! YES! YES!”

In plaid pajama pants and thermal shirts, hanging out in my parents family room, my now husband asked if we could stay up just a little longer…”until Christmas.” He pulled out a box way too long, and way too big for a ring, and told me I could open it at midnight. But just as twelve o’clock came, my sister came down the stairs looking for wrapping paper. Anticipation growing, we waited for her to go back upstairs. Then, four minutes later, when we heard her door close up stairs, my then boyfriend said “open it.”

Opening the box, I found a beautiful card that he had made with a picture of us on it. “One plus One…” it read. Then, he pulled out a much smaller box–a ring-sized box–got down on one knee, and asked me to be his wife. My heart soared, and all I could blurt out was four “YES’s”–because I wanted to make sure he heard me! He kissed me. I looked at the ring on my finger and then at him. We paused to take in the moment…and then woke up everyone in the house!

Christmas/Christmas Eve is a pretty common time for proposals (my dad hid my mom’s ring on the tree).  But, an important part of Christmas that we often forget is that it too, began with a “yes.”

Nine months before Jesus was born, we are told that an Angel appeared to a young virgin, Mary, and that he greeted her with these words:

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28)

As any of us would be, Mary was troubled, and so the Angel went on to say:

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High…his kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-33)

Despite not having Sex-Ed in school, Mary knew how babies were made. This, just didn’t add up. So she asked the Angel, “How will this be, since I am still a virgin?” The Angel went on to explain the miracle God was about to bring about, and then finished with the words:

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (v. 37)

Up until this point in Scripture, there are no other stories about Mary, and yet what she is about to say speaks volumes:

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (v.38)

Mary didn’t live in a time where she had a lot of options, or where she was waiting for that one moment when Prince Charming would ask her to be his wife. Instead, her choices had been made for her. She was pledged to be Joseph’s wife (Luke 1:27), but it was her father who made that arrangement. She lived without power, and without choice.

Still, becoming the mother of Jesus was something she said yes to. God did not impregnate Mary and then tell her that she was going to be Jesus’ mother. No, He sent her a heavenly messenger, telling her that she had been chosen to be the mother of His Son. When it comes to following God, He always gives us the choice. She could have responded differently. She could have said “I will be stoned to death if I get pregnant out of wedlock,” or “Joseph will never want me if I am pregnant.” or “Why me?”

Instead she said “May it be to me as you have said.”

She said yes.

Mary said yes to bringing the Son of God into the world.  She said yes to the seemingly impossible, believing that with God, nothing is impossible. She said yes to possible alienation–even stoning by her community–believing that God would not forsake her–and that rather, through her, He was coming to save His people.

Because Mary said yes to the plan that God had for her, Jesus came into our world and began His still unfinished work of restoration. Christmas is both a celebration of the work He has done, as well as the work that He has yet to do.

Mary said yes.  How may we be called to say yes this Christmas season–not to a ring, but rather to His work in our family, our community, and in our world? 

Redefining Female will be taking a break until after the New Year. Wishing you a Blessed Christmas and New Year!

It was the middle of July, yet I was dressed like an eskimo. I was wearing more layers inside, than I would normally wear outside in December.  And when I talked, my breath became an icy cloud.

It was winter in Chile, and I was there–with my husband, some friends, and a team of incredibly great Jr. and Sr. High students. We were partnering with a church in a suburb of Santiago to reach out to kids in a poor neighborhood. For a week, we would provide art lessons, dramatic readings, and help host a skateboarding competition. We were there to give, only we were to be given so much more.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

We arrived on a Saturday, so the second day we were there was church day.  We were staying in pairs with families from the congregation. Two by two with our Chilean families, our US team arrived bleary eyed to church, that Sunday morning. We sat with our hosts, waving to each other from our pews. We joined the congregation in singing worships songs that we knew from home; singing in English, as they sang in Spanish.  Then, we listened to the message the best we could, most of us having only a limited Spanish vocabulary. From what I could tell from the congregation’s faces and body language, it was a meaningful service. However, when “church” was over, it was then that I was able to see the real Church in action.

My host family was one of the few from the congregation to have a car, which meant many others walked miles in the cold winter weather to get there for service.  After church, we walked out to the car, only to find our host dad piling us, another family, and a few others, into the car (read that car, not minivan). The Chileans are an incredibly giving people–forget seat belts, people needed a ride home. When everyone was in, and the doors securely closed, off we went. I sat up against the car door, with a person on my lap, trying not to squish the person to my left. We dropped a few people off and then headed to the next home.

From the front seat, our host mom was talking excitedly to her friend in the back, and every now and then, our host sister would translate.  “They are going to join us for…how do you say?… supper?”  (every now and then, she would apologize to me that her English was bad, yet it was much better than my Spanish). The car stopped in front of a row of homes, and everyone in the back seat shifted a little so that our host mom’s friend could get out.  We waited, parked with the engine running.  A few minutes went by, then the woman emerged from her house with a cooking pot and a bag of potatoes in hand. We shifted again, she got back in the car, and off we went, this time to our host home.

When we arrived, we sat in the living/dining room, as our host mom and her friend started cooking lunch.  Amazing aromas began making their way from the kitchen, and before we knew it, lunch was served. These two beautiful women had joined together the food that they had to serve their families and us, a wonderful Sunday meal. Their dinning room table wasn’t huge, but everyone squeezed around it. They didn’t have a lot to give, yet they gave fully.  And what we continued to discover, is that everyone we met in Chile treated us this way.

As we approach Thanksgiving next week, and then the Christmas season, I am reminded of our wonderful Chilean friends. Because we have been in a recession here in the US, we could easily fall into believing that we have little to give to those in need around us. But, from being given to so fully by people who have less material possessions–people who had just met us–I know that even in this difficult time, we have so much to give.  Before we enter the chaotic season of shopping and Christmas parties, I want to ask:

What do you have to give?

Though we can get caught up in getting new “stuff” for the Holiday’s, sometimes what people most need, is what we already have. Do you have time? Can goods in your pantry? A meal that you could share with a family in need? Often, we are the greatest gift we can give to others.

In my friend’s church office, I sat. Tears were streaming down my face, as she quietly listened to my story. I told her things about my life I had never admitted out loud, and as I did, she watched my face. When I was finished, she was quiet for a moment, and then she said:

“You are tired of being the strong one.”

Though for so long I felt like the lesser and the weaker, my friend named me in that moment. For friends, for my family, I had worked so hard to be “the strong one” –the one no one had to take care of, the one who took care of everybody else. I was trying to be Superwoman, but I had come to the end of my reserves. No longer could I be strong for everyone else, because I couldn’t even be strong for myself. I was wrung out. Broken. Not just from circumstances I found myself in at that moment, but from already being worn down from years of trying to do it on my own (or for others).

A couple weeks after that conversation, I found myself in the front seat of another friend’s car. We had been running errands together and somewhere in the middle of it all, I found myself in tears once again. I was an overflowing well of exhaustion and pain.

“You don’t always have to be the strong one, you know?”

Its frightening when people see you as you are. Another friend was exposing the same truth of who I had tried so hard to become. I looked my friend in the eye, and answered her with a nod. I thought for a moment, and then said:

“I don’t know how to be any other way.”

A few years ago, on Grey’s Anatomy, Abigail Breslin played a little girl with a similar (yet more severe) issue.  She was a foster kid who kept getting shuffled around from home to home. At some point, her character discovered that when she was physically hurt, she didn’t feel pain.  She had a very serious nerve condition, yet thought she didn’t experience pain because she was a real live superhero with the responsibility to stand up for all the kids being bullied at school. Being shuffled around so much, she began to believe that she wasn’t very important to people, but that she could find her worth in being strong for others.

In a touching scene, one of the doctors, Alex, has to explain to this girl that it isn’t her inability to feel pain that made her a superhero–that made her special–but rather her concern for others who are in trouble.

Have you ever felt like you had to be Superwoman?

Maybe we get the message from society or from our circumstances, but it is not uncommon to hear women talking about the pressure they feel to be a Superwoman, Supermom or Superwife–as if its required for us to be Superhuman. (Maybe we think we have to become more than who we are, in order to be loved?)

For me, believing I had to be the strong one began with my circumstances as a kid. I had a sibling that was in the hospital a lot, and I didn’t want to add more to everything my parents were trying so hard to do to take care of us. But when the crisis passed, I didn’t know how or if it was OK to ask for help. I lived thinking I had to be superwoman, until I found myself in my twenties, in a heap of tears, and thankfully, in the presence of friends.

As I shared Monday, we as women are strong, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be strong all the time. Since that day in my friend’s car, I have been learning to ask for help. I have been learning that there are times to let others be strong for me. And I have been learning that people don’t need a superhero in their life, they need a friend for the journey.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

Proverbs 31: 25-26

The day that felt like it would never come, has finally arrived–the day after election day. No more awful commercials abouthow bad every candidate is (except the ones “approving this message”). No more awkward conversations with people you love, who happen to have very different political opinions than you. No more debates. No more debate remixes (sadly).

It’s done.

And yet, perhaps you are like me and have felt, at least a few times during this past year, powerless to help change our country for the better. Our country is facing many challenges right now, and perhaps, even if your candidate won last night, you have your doubts about how much they can accomplish, working in a broken system. It can be easy to find ourselves under a dark cloud in all of this, but when we do, we are forgetting something important about strength and power.

Over the past year, candidates–presidential, congressional, etc.–have campaigned for us to give them authority and power in our government. Today, because of our votes, some are looking forward to taking on that responsibility. But, they aren’t the only ones responsible.

The thing we often forget about strength and power is that we have them.

Though we may not hold a public office or have a known position of authority in our community, we still have both the ability and the opportunity to bring about change around us. Yes, only one person can be the president of the United States, but there are things we can change in our town and community, that the President can’t.  There are needs that we see, that he won’t be able to get to. There are things that we have the power to change, if we just begin to look outside of our own homes and we begin to partner with one another in community.

One of the things that bothered me the most this past election year, was that there were very few women in the race and that there are few women in Congress in general. But then I realized, though we may not have political equality yet, we do still have great strengths and abilities to bring about change.  As relational beings, we as women are uniquely wired to bring our neighbors together, to network within and outside our towns to bring hope and change to our communities.

Famous author and poet, Alice Walker has said “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” We as women have so often made this mistake, yet the world and our country needs us now, more than ever, to use the strengths God has given us. If we look back in History, we will find that the strongest people who have affected change, have not always been the people in positions of power.  People like Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King, have shown us that we don’t need titles to help bring new life to our world.

So, as we all heave a communal sigh of relief that election season is over, I want to ask:

In your community, where to do you want to see change? 

And how may you be a part of the solution?

There is a lie that has transcended cultures, one that has existed almost since the beginning of time. It is a lie that feels like a reality when things get hard, or when we are told we can’t do it so we shouldn’t even try. It is a lie that comes with slogans like “women are the weaker sex” or you don’t want to do anything “like a girl.” Its a lie that some believe only men tell us, yet it falls just as powerfully from our own lips to each other, and is most paralyzing when our own brains whisper it to our hearts. The lie:

We are not strong. We who are women, are weak.

A chilling piece of fiction, it casts an effective shadow over us in our most insecure moments. It keeps us silent, when we know we need to speak. It keeps us still when we know action is needed. It keeps us sidelined when we belong in the game. But, these moments are not the majority. More often are the times when we completely forget how true the lie seemed a few minutes ago, when strength is our natural reaction, and this fiction is rendered powerless.

Like the time you sat alone in the cafeteria day after day, with no friends to sit with you, yet you held your head high anyway. The time you told him no, even though you knew it meant he wouldn’t call again. The time, after graduation, when you took a different path than all your friends. When you began to wonder why you decided to live so far away from home because you have never felt this lonely, yet you stuck it out. Or the time you felt like someone took everything out of you–either they stole your heart or your dream–and you still found a way to get out of bed in the morning.

The time you became a mom; being up all night with a baby that wouldn’t be soothed, only to get up the next morning for a long day at work. The time you worked so hard in a job you hated, to help someone else’s dream come true. The time you stood by your friend, when her husband left. The time you held things together when sickness struck your family in a way you never thought it would. The time you found a lump, and all of a sudden, you were the sick one.

The list of examples could go on and on, proving that:

Female, You are strong!

Your Creator made you strong. Whatever is making you feel otherwise, fight it by remembering your track record. Remember the times you have been strong, for yourself or for others, and know you will get through it. May you speak when you need to speak, act where you need to act, and know that you belong in the game.

Last January, I came home from seeing our families for the holidays to a big change: I came back to a life in which I didn’t have a job. I came back exhausted, grieving that “former life.” And I came back with a question–after seven years in which my focus was often on others, my soul asked:

“What does it look like to take care of and value myself, without becoming self-absorbed?”

As women and as a society, we tend to gravitate toward extremes. Not only that, but we do “extreme” really well, and I think we have a hard time finding the middle ground. According to our perceptions, we are either succeeding or failing (often considering “average” to be failure).  And in our actions, we are either eating too much or starving ourselves, working out too much or not at all, ignoring our appearance or thinking about it way too much, others-focused or inward focused, etc. Very few of us are able to find the healthy balance for eating, work and play, or determining our self worth. Those of us who do, often struggle to keep it.

For me, my greatest struggle to find balance lies in valuing myself. It is a struggle I think many women have. For longer than just this past year, I have wondered what does the middle ground look like between door mat and prima donna?–Only thinking about others, and only thinking about ones self? For most of my life, I have erred on the “others-focused” end of the spectrum, at times wearing myself out to the point of sickness. I have believed anything else would be selfish. I have believed I wasn’t worth taking care of. And when asked, by people who care about me, why this is, I haven’t had an answer.

The middle ground of healthiness that I have experienced, the one that lies between only thinking about others and only thinking about ones self, is a very thin, fine line. “Don’t get too close, or you will become a diva!” Yet I am beginning to realize that the healthy middle ground in my life, has been a very fine line not because it has to be, but because I am so afraid of one extreme, that I have sacrificed myself to the other.

Like I shared on Monday, I have based so much of my life on what other people think of me. I have used others as my starting point for how I focus my life, rather than starting from a healthy, balanced view of myself and who I am called to be in this world. I need to create space for the healthy middle ground so it is a place that I can live out of, a place I can dwell.

While I still am without a job, and I am in this time of waiting, I am beginning to see that part of my current heart-work is creating this healthy middle space. I don’t exactly have a “how-to” set of instructions, but I am blessed to have this time to figure it out with God’s help.

How about you? Do you live out of a healthy middle ground?

This past week, the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, gave birth to a baby boy.  But rather than a slew of media stories offering her congratulations, Mayer has been met with criticism for saying she will only take a two week maternity leave, and for using a photo of herself pre-pregnancy, for the cover of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Most Powerful Women issue, in which she is listed at number 14. Yet, this is not the first time she has felt pressure from the media.

A few months ago, when she announced her pregnancy soon after taking her CEO position at Yahoo, Mayer also found herself under scrutiny.  If a man found himself in a similar position–becoming a new CEO and a parent in the same year–it wouldn’t make headlines. But for Mayer the combination brought much criticism, questioning if she could handle the pressure. (And we wonder why she’s not taking a longer maternity leave?) We all know there is a double standard for men in our culture–whether they want it or not–in regards to business and having a family. But what makes me most concerned is what stories like this do to us as women in our thoughts on taking roles of leadership.

From the time we are young, we overhear phrases that make us as women out to be “less than” our male counterparts.  The most common phrase being “you throw like a girl.” Though revealing some truth that generally men have more upper body strength than women, it makes boys believe that its a negative thing to be like a girl. But it doesn’t just effect the boys, it effects us as girls too.  Phrases like this one enter into our psyche, and our view of our abilities begin to diminish slowly, over time. Whether we realize it or not, because of our media and cultural stereotypes, one of our abilities that we begin to doubt the most, is our ability to lead.

In the documentary, Miss Representation, Dr. Caroline Heldman, explains that little girls and boys, when they are seven years of age, equally want to be president of the United States. But she says when you ask the same group of students when they are fifteen, you see a massive gap emerging. Miss Representation powerfully shows how the media is effecting the world’s view of women, and therefore our view of ourselves.

One of the phrases that keeps occurring in the movie is “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Because we have seen so few positive examples of women in visible positions of power, I think you and I, as everyday women, can subconsciously fall into believing that we aren’t leaders where we are, nor could we be leaders in what we do.  This line of thinking isn’t just dangerous for our future, it is also dangerous for the young women and our daughters who look up to us.

If they don’t see us leading now, what will inspire them to lead in the future?

One of the things, I believe, that holds us back from taking leadership roles is that we think we don’t have much to offer.  But have you ever looked around a business or work meeting and noticed who was doing most of the talking? Are you in a situation where it is usually the men?

When we don’t speak up and share our knowledge or opinions in meetings, it is as if we are saying that a woman’s perspective isn’t needed. We are denying all that we do have inside of us that is important, and forgetting that we are in our positions for a reason.

Now, I am not saying for you to go into work this morning, and totally change who you are. What I am saying is that your voice matters. Your actions matter. Are there ways–as a businesswoman, teacher, mother, student, etc.–that you are leading and you don’t even know it? Areas in which you have been holding back, that your voice and perspective is needed? Ways that you can speak truth? Ways that you can encourage the best out of those around you?

Whether you are being followed by one or by many, you have a lot more to offer than you realize.

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