Relationships


We rarely talk about it. It sneaks up on us when we least expect it, and we often deny we have it, even to ourselves. We catch it, almost like a terrible cold.  We are all fine, walking around content with life, and then, we run into her.

You know, the woman who we think has everything? Or at least everything we think we want?

One of my most memorable moments in which I caught this awful bug, was early in my freshman year of high school. This new girl moved in from out of town, and almost instantly we became friends. We sat next to each other in English class, and passed each other notes. We were friends for a few weeks, until all of a sudden, she was dating an upperclassman on the football team. Before I knew it, we’d say hi now and then, but that was all–she had “moved up” socially.  She made a varsity sports team, and got a lead in the high school play. It seemed like she had the golden touch, and me? I seemed completely, and utterly average.

For a few months, I was seeing green. I couldn’t understand how God could make some people who seemed like such shining stars, and then make people like me–who had to work for my grades, whose asthma made it impossible to run the mile in gym, and who, as a girl, felt physically plain. There weren’t any football players knocking down my door, and though in hindsight, it was probably a good thing, it further solidified how invisible I felt. I became angry with the one who made me this way, God.

“Why didn’t you make me good at anything?” I remember asking Him, from the depths of my heart. “Why did you even make me, if I don’t have anything to offer?”

He didn’t answer with a deafening roar, He didn’t use any words.  He didn’t send me a guardian angel. In fact, He seemed rather silent. But then, opportunities started opening up for me. Before I knew it, I was on student council, youth congress, and taking a photography class. It was as if God was saying “just because you aren’t good at what this girl is good at, doesn’t mean you are talentless and don’t have anything to offer.” I had been so focused on what she could do, that I was missing out on discovering who I am.

Now that I am older, I still find myself at times, falling into similar traps. I meet or get to know a woman, and somehow feel out-shined by her.  Maybe its her clothes, what she does for a living, or how confident she seems on a day I am feeling shaky inside. Whatever it is, in that moment I start to focus on who she appears to be, and I forget all that God has made me to be. When I do this, it is a problem because in my mind, rather than celebrating her identity, I am allowing it to diminish mine. The more I feel diminished, the more I resent the woman standing in front of me, rather than loving her as a fellow human being. Both of our dignities are lessened when my heart is in this place of envy.

But I am learning that there is a different way. The more I seek to know the person God has made me to be, the more I am able to celebrate the good He has put inside of me. The more I am able to do this for myself, the more I am able to celebrate the other bright, shining women that I meet.

And celebrating is always more life-giving than jealousy, don’t you think?

Advertisements

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

As I have mentioned before, I am somewhat of a coffee addict–not just caffeine–but caffeinated coffee addict.  I love the kick I get from the caffeine obviously–but I LOVE the taste of a good cup of coffee. So much so that sometimes, at night, I start craving it and looking forward to the cup I will have in the morning. Sad, I know.

But I think part of what is tied up in my coffee love is many good memories of conversations that have happened over hundreds of cups of coffee. Sophomore year of college, almost every day, my friends and I would walk to a coffee shop in town, where we would sit for hours talking about “girl stuff.”  Then, my junior year, one of my mentors affirmed my calling to ministry over styrofoam coffee cups, in a Dunkin Donuts. Finally, some of the most powerful conversations I have had over the past eight years, have been at Starbucks, where I have witnessed young women make life changing decisions.

The reason I share all of this, is because I like to think of this blog as our coffee shop–the place where we can have conversations about life-changing things.

As many of you know, I was away for the past week or so, but our journey of Redefining Female was not far from my thoughts. As I thought about this blog, one thing kept coming to my mind:

Redefining Female has to be a group effort. 

It has to be actions more than words. It has to be you and me, our best friends, our mothers, grandmothers, and sisters–all the women we know and don’t know–deciding that we will no longer stand under the small umbrella definition that has been put over our heads.

It means seeking to change our own definitions of beauty, success, and fulfillment–and then learning to live those definitions, not just pay them lip service.

It means learning to use our voices in ways we have never done before.

It means seeking out the true place of Eve in Creation–asking “How does God define female?” (I believe the answer is more wonderful that we can imagine)

It means seeking out women who are further along on this journey, who we can learn from, to be our mentors.

It means seeking out women who are coming up behind us, and mentoring them. (because we have more to offer other women, than we realize!)

Finally, it means we need to keep talking, keep seeking together. Terry Tempest Williams writes:

“Word by word, the language of women so often begins with a whisper.”

May you imagine, when you visit Redefining Female, that we are whispering over funky mugs of coffee (or tea), in our favorite coffee shop.  We are whispering into being a new definition, a new way of being female. We are whispering now, but my prayer is that someday, our voices will raise–not to a deafening roar, but rather an inescapable song that will catch on.

This post is linked up on Emily Weirenga’s Imperfect Prose! Click the button below to read more!

For hundreds of years, in the rural villages of Jiangyong in Hunan Province of China, there existed a secret language among women, known as Nushu. In her book, When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams explains “ These whispered writings were passed on from mother to daughter and the closest of friends, ‘sworn sisters.’” (p. 156-157) Nushu was the way that woman shared their souls. A Nushu saying is telling:

“ Beside a well, one won’t thirst; beside a sister, one won’t despair.”

Last week, I was walking with one of my “sister friends.” We were spilling out all of what is going on in our lives, and my friend turned to me and she said “Man, without good friends, we’d all need counseling!”  As human beings, but even more so for women, there is something about sharing our stories and burdens with one another that enables us to not only cope, but also rise above our circumstances. Something sacred happens when two women share a journey together.

In the book of Ruth, we find a such a friendship. In the first chapter, there is a passage of scripture that has been used as wedding vows, yet was actually a promise made between two female friends.  After both women find themselves widowed, Naomi tells her daughter-in-law, Ruth, to go home to her family, for she has nothing left to give her.  But Ruth refuses, and she promises what one would promise to a spouse. She says:

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Ruth 1:16b-17

Ruth’s name means friend, something Naomi greatly needed, and yet it was in this friendship that Ruth found her place in History in the lineage of Jesus.

It is in our female friendships that we share some of our most intimate struggles, grievances, and victories–yet our friendships are also our key way of dealing with our stress. A  UCLA Study of Friendship Among Women, explains scientifically what we know intuitively: that when under stress, we as women don’t always experience the “flight or fight” response.  That actually, one of our first inclinations is to gather with other women. The study goes on to say that when we do this, a calming effect occurs.

Those of us who have had a friend hold our hand during heartache or listen to our numerous “vent sessions,” know this calming effect well. Yet for some reason, when things get crazy in life, it can be easy to let those friendships fall to the wayside.  We can get so caught up with work and family–or get so overwhelmed by the stressors of our life–that we forget the importance of picking up the phone for some girl time.

Just over a year ago, I called my mom and I shared with her that I was struggling with some things in my life, and like mom’s often do, she had some important advice.  She said, “do you have any of your girl friends that you can talk to and pray about this with?”  I have an incredibly supportive husband–but by the sound of my voice, my mom knew–I also needed the support of my friends. I needed some girl time, and I had to be intentional about making it an-as-regular-as-possible part of my life. And the times I do this well, are incredible blessings.

Amidst our increasingly busy schedules, how can we seek to make time for one another?

How can we make “coffee dates” or “girl’s nights” happen?

If we are in a friendship “dry-spell,” what would it look like for us to seek out new friendships? (Perhaps with a woman who has been on the fringes of our circle of friends?)

Regina George from the movie Mean Girls

“There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women.”

–Madeleine K. Albright, Former Secretary of State

We’ve all crossed paths with them somewhere on our journey.  They are known as the “queen bees,” Regina George’s, mean girls of the world.  Whether we were in 7th grade, our freshman year of college, or even in our workplace–each one of us bears our own share of scars from times when we have found ourselves pushed out of our circle of friends, humiliated in front of that “one guy,” or been the subject of a nasty rumor that went through the whole school before we found out. We all have at least one story–and that is if we are lucky!

But what about the times that we are the “mean girls?”

The times we walk into a new group of people and size up the other women in the room–deciding who will be our friends, who will be our competition, and who we don’t want to be seen with.  The times we see a woman in the mall and think “what was she thinking when she put that on, this morning?” The times we gossip with our friends about another woman because it temporarily makes us feel better about ourselves. The times a woman we know succeeds in something, and we just can’t be happy for her. Or, when we let jealously separate us from someone who might have been a good friend.

Recently, a friend of mine was in a salon getting her hair done, and when the girl in the chair behind her was finished, she got out of the chair and started playing with her hair in the mirror.  She then grabbed her purse, and as she was walking out, stopped again to look in another mirror, saying to herself, loud enough for everyone to hear,  “I’m so cute.”  All the other women in the room watched, speechless.  The girl paid for her hairdo, and then looked at herself in another mirror, one last time before going out the door.

My friend admitted to me something that I have been guilty of too:  In that moment, her first thought about this girl was “how vain is she?”  Then she caught herself.  She explained to me “ We are so used to women complaining about their looks that when we hear someone be happy with the way they look, we accuse them of being shallow and vain!”

For some reason–perhaps it is how we have been conditioned, or its our own insecurities–our first default response as women is often to judge one another.  As my friend shared, not only do we struggle to celebrate ourselves, we struggle to celebrate each other.  We struggle to celebrate with women who are able to do things we can’t. We struggle to offer grace to women who don’t measure up to the impossible standards that we, ourselves are struggling to reach. And whether we are just “silently judging” or blatantly judging, I am afraid we are doing more damage than we realize–not just to others, but to ourselves as well.

By placing walls of judgement between us, we are missing out on opportunities to build up other women and to learn from them too.  When my friend realized her attitude toward this girl was faulty, she told me that her thoughts began to change to “wow it must be really nice to see yourself that way. Good for her! I wish I could know that feeling too!”   Perhaps if we were able to be kinder to each other as women, we’d also learn how to be kinder to ourselves.

What would it take for us to reprogram our hearts and minds so that our default towards other women is no longer judgement?

What would it look like for us to offer grace to or even celebrate with the women who are outside our inner circle of friends?

 

I am a little behind.  The book Fifty Shades of Grey has been out for a while, and Magic Mike, has been in the theaters for at least a month.  But, I couldn’t not write about this “new” craze that people are calling “mommy porn,” better known under the genre of Erotica.  So, here it goes.

Whether we are aware of it or not, books and almost every form of media have become solely about entertaining us.  Very often, when choosing to see a movie or to read a book, we are thinking about the experience it will give us–Will it make us feel good? Will it make us feel a part of something? 

Perhaps we are too trusting of the media industry, or we value keeping up with the times too much. Perhaps, like I mentioned, we are caught up in how it makes us feel.  But my concern is that we don’t stop and ask “how will this effect me?”  or my favorite question:

Will it make me more whole?

This post isn’t about judging those who have read the 50 Shades trilogy or were the first to see Channing Tatum as “Magic Mike” the striper.  But rather an invitation to discuss what is becoming a culture-wide phenomenon.

Are these things building us up as women?  Are they making us stronger?  Are they strengthening the relationships that we have with the men in our lives?

The Media, deeming this “Mommy Porn,” is equating these things with an incredibly large pornography industry that traditionally targeted men.  However, statistically, one in three visitors to every porn site is a woman. It is a growing issue for both genders, with effects that we may not realize.

When speaking about the negative effects of male usage of porn in marriage, Rabbi Schmuley, in this article says that “Porn portrays all women in one of four degrading, dehumanizing categories,” and that it is a form of sexism. It “makes men get bored with their wives,” and it “cultivates a single standard of beauty that no real women can live up to.”

If this is what happens when a man uses porn, how is Erotica going to affect our relationships? Is it creating a standard of masculinity that real men can’t live up to?

For those who aren’t aware of the hype, Fifty Shades of Grey is about the character of Christian Grey, who convinces a recent college graduate to sign a contract in which she becomes his sex slave. From what I have read about the book, it gives us a picture of sex and love in which the woman is in bondage.

True love and sex in its best form, was created to free us, not enslave us. It was created to connect us with another human being, and to make us more whole.

Fifty Shades seems to be an invitation to disconnect from the world and the men in our lives, and in a sense, become enslaved in a fantasy.

You may disagree with me. You may still feel it is just a guilty pleasure.

But is it making you more whole?