success


My grandparents were blessed with the ability to bring life out of dirt. Thanks to the GI bill, my grandfather had a degree in both horticulture and floriculture, and for years, my Grandmother has served as the president of her town’s Garden Club. As a kid, my grandfather used to show me the tomatoes he grew, and my grandmother would take me to the green house where she brought seeds to life in flower pots. Yellow watering can in hand, she would walk me down narrow rows of herbs and flowers, telling me the names of each one as we passed.

“This one is rosemary…these are rhododendrons…” she’d say, as she watered this one and pruned another.

My Nana continued to impart in me an appreciation for all things plant life, when I moved in with her and my grandfather shortly after graduating from college. On sunny afternoons when I was off from work, she and I would take walks through the neighborhood and she would point out beautiful plants in people’s yards that I would not have noticed otherwise.

One day, on such a walk, we passed by a house that belonged to one of her garden club friends. I looked over and was surprised to see that this woman’s driveway was lined with pots of all sizes, filled with all different kinds of plants. There must of been at least fifty pots and planters on either side of her driveway. This astounded me because it meant that the gardener who tended them had to know a lot about what each plant needed.

I was about to keep walking, when I had one of those inner “I need to pay attention to this” moments. As I looked at the rows of planted pots, I began to sense that God was showing me something. All of these beautiful plants were the product of this woman’s heart, her passion. Then He began to reveal to me that there were going to be things that He was going to grow out of my heart, and my passions. They weren’t necessarily going to be plants, but they were going to be unique to the heart He has given me.

Very often, when seeking success, we focus on our external opportunities and situations, rarely thinking about what is already in our hearts, waiting to be birthed. We look at how others have realized their success, and we try to mimic what they did. But what about the success that only you can have? What about the success only I can bring into being?

Jesus told the disciples that a good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart (Luke 6:45), what is the good in your heart that is waiting to be brought to life?

I have to admit, on more than one occasion, I have wished that there was a manual for life. Being a reader, I would have loved it if the moment I reached puberty, my mom pulled a magic book of Womanhood out of her pocket, that told me how to navigate life as a female in the world we live in. It would have made so many things easier (dating, break outs and break ups, girl drama, etc.).

Similarly, as a Christian, I remember being told at least once that the Bible is our guidebook or instructional manual for life, only to open it in times of questioning, and not find the answer.  The Bible doesn’t tell us things like where you should go to college, what career you should pursue, or who to date. Though it has some pretty important rules (like the Ten Commandments), the Bible is not written to tell us what to do as much it is to tell us how to live as people who are loved by God. Unfortunately, for us a women, there are many differing interpretations on what the Bible has to say on how we are to live.

Recently, a woman spent a whole year taking literally all the passages in the Bible that have to do with women, trying to answer the question “How does a woman live Biblically”–or how she phrases it “What is Biblical Womanhood?–and she has written a book about it!

The woman is Rachel Held Evans, and the book is called A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”. The book comes out officially, next Tuesday. I  had the privilege of being part of a group chosen to receive an advanced copy.  I have read it, and I look forward to sharing over the next few days, some cool, interesting, and important things about the book with all of you!

In the meantime, listen to what Rachel has to say about the book and some of the things she did as a part of her journey!

Confession: I am a planner. I like Calendars–paper or digital. I like being able to visibly view the day, week, or month ahead. I like planning times to get together with friends, adventures we will take on a weekend, what we will eat next week, and even what I will do after I finish writing this post. It can kinda get out of hand.

It began in High School, when due to my “over-achiever” personality, I began to realize that I received a sense of pleasure and accomplishment from being able to juggle everything I wanted to do (student council, youth congress, etc.), with everything I didn’t want to do (algebra and chemistry). I loved when I had a different activity after school every day, or when my Algebra Two teacher asked if I would be attending class any time this semester because all of my activities came with “dismissed-from-class” field trips. The more I “accomplished,” the more I felt almost super-human.

My love for planning (and event juggling) continued through college and into my job in youth ministry.  I loved planning ahead, foreseeing things that needed to be done, and finding a rhythm each year that was just predictable enough–while leaving room for the unexpected. Two years ago, I would have been able to tell you what I was doing in February, May, and in June. But now? Now, I can’t even tell you about next week.

As I shared a few months ago, my plans have changed. Before my eyes, my dreams have become sand. Not working these past ten months have made my days quiet. I am undergoing a planning withdrawal, that sneaks up on me in the form of anxiety.

Who am I if I am not busy?

Who am I without a paycheck?

Who am I without a job?

These questions find me at random moments, picking away at any sense of contentment or faith, until I catch myself from falling into the valley of despair–but honestly, there have been days when I don’t catch myself. Days when my husband comes home from work, to find me sitting on the couch in a funk, because these questions have over taken me.

I can’t plan anything right now because I don’t know where this path will take me. I can only take steps of faith and one day at a time. I am used to being the one with “the plan.” Now, I don’t have any plan. And you know what?

It’s OK.

Like I said, it often doesn’t feel OK, but it’s OK because I have been in places of the unknown before, and God has always been faithful. It’s OK, because busyness doesn’t always equal fulfillment, accomplishment, or any of those things I used to believe in High School. It’s Ok, because even though I don’t have a plan, God promises that there is a plan for me, and that it is good. Finally, it’s OK, because although I haven’t always had friends on the journey, God has blessed me with some very good ones right now, and one of them told me last week:

“You can’t plan your significance.”

God ultimately decides, and if I can’t plan the most important thing I will do or be, then its time to embrace this vacation from planning, this time of waiting.

Today, this post is linked up with:

On In Around button

This week we have talked a lot about success–about our answers to questions people have about our futures (“what are you doing after college?” etc.), and then about the pressure we sometimes feel to become the mythical perfect woman.

And as I have been thinking about all of this, I began to wonder if we as women sometimes feel the need, not necessarily to “have it all,” but even to just strive to succeed in one or a few areas, because deep down, we believe we aren’t enough. 

One of my guilty pleasures this past year, has been Pinterest. I really love baking and cooking, so it is a great place to “see” recipes already made. I love pinning baked goods with the thought that on a rainy day, I will make them. The other thing about Pinterest is that all the pretty things we love about life–fun kitchens, beautifully decorated rooms, already coordinated outfits, quotes that “say it all,” etc.–are all grouped into one place! It’s so fun!

But then, this past week, I came across an article entitled “How Pinterest is Killing Feminism”. Perhaps a little exaggerated, and I am not deleting my beautiful pin boards anytime soon, but the article did reveal some scary pinning habits of women that speak to the pressure we feel to reach some version of “perfection.”

For example, if you use Pinterest, have you ever searched for women?

A couple of months ago, when starting Redefining Female, I did. What you’ll find among a few inspirational and funny quotes, is a lot of photo’s of women with either incredibly sculpted bodies or emaciated, sickly thin bodies. Scroll down some and you will begin to  see a few better, more realistic images–but not many.

The article pointed out that “Pinterest…blurs the lines between unhealthy diet obsessions and health tips.” Among dinner recipes for families, are pins for fad diets and weight-loss smoothies.  Among pictures of fashion, are photoshopped images of sickly thin women, pinned to encourage weight loss.

But what the person writing the article doesn’t realize, is that this isn’t a Pinterest issue (after all, we women are the ones doing the pinning!); rather Pinterest is revealing an issue in our hearts as women.  Though perhaps it is not as much as an “issue,” as it is a question.

As women, our brains have been flooded all of our lives with images of the “perfect women,” or ways to try to become her.  At the same time, many of us seem to feel a sense of inadequacy from a young age that we tend to try to fill either by controlling our weight/looks, entering into dating relationships, or by being incredible overachievers. The question our hearts is trying to answer is:

Am I enough?

Another variation of this question may be: Am I lovable? 

Some us, have tried to become “enough” by going to some scary extremes.  Others of us, have just teetered on the edge of unhealthy. Either way, this question has taken up residence in our hearts, sneaking up on us when we least expect it or spurring us on when we think we have found the answer.

So how do we answer this question, once and for all? How do we get to the point of embracing who we are?

This is where I think we need to start:

We need to stop looking at/pinning things that make us feel less than enough.

We need to stop looking to others to answer the question for us.

We need to start seeking to really know ourselves, so that we can answer this question on our own.

Yet, none of these things, I believe, we can do without seeking the One who created us. I don’t believe we can truly know ourselves without seeking God;  only He can tell us that we are enough, in a way our hearts will believe it.

 

In the hearts of women and men everywhere, there lies the myth of the perfect woman.  She is beautiful, put together, and does it all. We think we see glimpses of her–When Martha Stewart displays the perfect meal. When a mom drops her kid off at school, looking completely unruffled with flawless make up, as if every morning is a breeze. Or when we see a women at the grocery store, in her “after the gym” attire,” yet it doesn’t look like she even broke a sweat and she has a body that makes you think she doesn’t even need the gym.

We see glimpses in TV ads and shows, that tell us “she’s out there, you just have to change these twenty things about you, and you will be just like her.”

From the time we received our first Barbie doll, we have been bombarded with the image of the perfect women, making us believe she exists.  But have you ever noticed that this perfect woman–who doesn’t have PMS, mood swings, or insecurities–also doesn’t have a voice?

The women who portray her on TV, are only following a script and rarely does it reveal the true heart of a woman.  The media, our society, and even the organized church have given us one dimensional views–though different–of what a woman can be, do or care about. Rarely do they truly speak to the complexities that we face in the world and inside of ourselves.

So often, I hear the phrase that women want to “have it all.”  It is thrown around as if we are selfish, driven, myopic beings. Some of us are, yet the majority of us just want to be able to share with the world all that is inside of us.  Some of us want to use our talents and abilities in the business world. Others of us want to take on the heroic task of nurturing children by being mothers. Some of us want both. We are artists, leaders, teachers, ministers, businesswomen, writers, etc.–who are trying to give life to what is inside of us, while also trying to live up to the cultural expectations that we should become the mythical “perfect woman.”

In her article, Why Women Should Stop Trying to Be Perfect, the president of Barnard College, Debora Spar writes:

“…we are laboring…under a double whammy of impossible expectations—the old-fashioned ones (to be good mothers and wives, impeccable housekeepers and blushing brides) and those wrought more recently (to be athletic, strong, sexually versatile, and wholly independent). The result? We have become a generation desperate to be perfect wives, mothers, and professionals—Tiger Moms who prepare organic quinoa each evening after waltzing home from the IPO in our Manolo Blahnik heels. Even worse, we somehow believe that we need to do all of this at once, and without any help.”

So, what do we do as women who are being measured by–or measuring ourselves up to–this mythical creature? What do we do as women who have so much in our hearts that we are striving to make into a reality?

I believe, we need to start speaking.

We need to start using our voices to speak truth into the lies the mythical woman would have us believe. We need to begin living into our own skin and encouraging others to do the same. We need to start telling the world the truth about us women, rather than letting the world tell us who we are.  And, we need to give each other permission to talk about when we have failed, because when we do, I am sure we will discover we are not alone.

I also believe, we need to let some things go.

Rather than trying to make all of our dreams become reality, we need to pick the most meaningful ones and seek to give them life. We need to accept that we aren’t humanly able to look like, be and do all that “perfect woman” image tells us is possible.  Rather than trying to do it all, we need to be OK, when some things get dropped.

As much as we all would like to believe we are Superwoman, we are not.  She is fiction, and we are reality.

Just last week, one of my former students tweeted:

“I wish everyone would stop asking me what I am doing after graduation!”

I felt, almost tangibly, her frustration. Then I remembered that in life, even after we decide what we are doing after high school, the questions about our future keep coming:

What are you going to do after you graduate college?

Where are you going to work?

Are you dating anyone?

When are you guys going to get married?

When are you guys going to have kids?

Often these questions come from well meaning, caring people in our lives who are just interested in our future.  But what they often don’t realize is the amount of panic they induce, when we don’t have an answer.  

“Great Aunt Bee” may be just trying to show some interest in our lives, but what we hear is “Why haven’t you picked a college?” or “Why haven’t you gotten a job yet?”

And as we are trying to come up with a good-sounding, “I am not wasting my life away” answer, all we keep thinking is “as if we aren’t already asking ourselves these very questions, each and every waking moment!”

Recently, I have found myself in such situations.  After resigning a job I had for over seven years, and being out of work for over nine months now, my “favorite” question that I get asked by friends and family is:

“Sooo, what are you doing these days?”

To which I have to respond with the brilliant, accomplished sounding answer of:

“I am writing a blog.  Oh, and learning how to bake bread.”

I don’t have a better answer than that. Yet what I am realizing, by lacking an impressive answer, is how much we tie our worth and sense of success, to our answers for these questions. There is the impression that if we don’t have great sounding answers like:

“I started this job where I make double the money I did before.”

or “I am getting a lot of scholarship offers, so I am waiting to choose where I go to college.”

or “I just started dating this guy; he is a Pediatric Surgeon, who saves babies.”

Then somehow we are failing. Yet none of the answers to these questions tell others if we are kind, if we are hard workers, if we are good people, and if we are more than just what one finds on our resume or Facebook profile. None of our answers to these loaded questions are supposed to define us, but for some reason, we believe that they do.

Also, I am learning that by believing I need to have a perfect sounding answer, I am trying to rush through the process of finding the right answer. During the past nine months, there are things I have begun to understand about myself and my past that I wouldn’t have learned had I rushed into a new job. And, the things I was looking for in a job then, aren’t necessarily the things I am looking for now.

Finally, I am finding that the people who truly know and love me, are going to hang in here with me, even if my answers to their questions aren’t fancy or inspiring.

What loaded questions are you avoiding?

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.”

–Elizabeth Cady Stanton

For our vacation last week, my husband and I went to the Finger Lakes in New York.  It isn’t far from where we live, and we heard it was beautiful up there.  So, a couple of months ago, I started doing research about places we may want to check out while we were there.  Wouldn’t you know, I discovered that the First Women’s Rights Convention was held just north of one of the Finger Lakes, in a place called Seneca Falls. There is a whole National Park dedicated to Woman’s Rights.  My first thought was “how did I not know this?”

My second thought was to do more research, and I found out about the friendship between two key players in the Women’s Rights Movement, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, which I wrote about here.

But then, when we visited Seneca Falls last week, Stanton’s story seemed to be what stuck with me above everything else, and so she is today’s Fabulous Female.

Born, November 12th, 1815, she was the eighth child of eleven in her family, yet only her and four of her sisters lived to see adulthood.  When her only surviving brother passed away, she tried to comfort her dad by saying she would do all that her brother would have done.  He answered her with the words “Oh, my daughter, I wish you were a boy!”  Fortunately, her neighbor, Rev. Simon Hosack counteracted her father’s favoring of boys over girls, by encouraging her to read widely and by teaching her greek.  His confidence in her intelligence encouraged Elizabeth to succeed academically. Though she wasn’t permitted to attend college because of her gender, she did go to Troy Female Seminary.

Later, she became involved with both the temperance and abolition movements, through which she met her husband, Henry Brewster Stanton.  And it was on their honeymoon in London, when they attended an Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840, that the importance of women’s rights first ignited for Elizabeth.  During the convention, the men voted to remove the women from the discussion, even though some of them were sent as official delegates from Anti-Slavery organizations. All the women were forced to sit in the back of the room, while the men had the “real discussion.” In her book, Eighty Years and More, Stanton explained:

“The general discontent I felt with woman’s portion as wife, housekeeper, physician, and spiritual guide, the chaotic conditions into which everything fell without her constant supervision, and the wearied, anxious look of the majority of women, impressed me with a strong feeling that some active measures should be taken to remedy the wrongs of society in general, and of women in particular. My experience at the World Anti-slavery Convention, all I had read of the legal status of women, and the oppression I saw everywhere, together swept across my soul, intensified now by many personal experiences. It seemed as if all the elements had conspired to impel me to some onward step. I could not see what to do or where to begin—my only thought was a public meeting for protest and discussion.”

She began networking with friends and women in Seneca Falls who had similar thoughts, and in July 1848, the First Woman’s Rights Convention was held. Over 300 hundred people attended, both women and men.  It was there that Stanton read her Declaration of Sentiments–her response to the Declaration of Independence–in which she states “all men and women are created equal.” Her words are now memorialized in stone, outside of the National Women’s Rights Museum.

Her Declaration of Sentiments was only the beginning of her writings and speeches that helped propel the fight for Women’s Rights.  For years, Stanton wrote, and later traveled and spoke all over, even appearing before Congress. She was the voice for the Suffrage Movement for over fifty years, and was the first president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Sadly, she died eighteen years before women received the right to vote in 1920; yet she was fighting for more than just voting rights.

What stood Stanton a part from most of her partners in the Suffrage Movement, including her friend Susan B. Anthony, was that she had a broader view of what women really needed to experience equality. Where most were fighting for the right to vote, Elizabeth saw that better property laws, economic opportunities, gender neutral divorce laws, and the right to sit on a jury, were also needed to change a society in which women were essentially property in the eyes of the law.

Through her writing, Elizabeth did not fight for women out of an ivory tower, but rather from her home in Seneca Falls, where she raised seven children. A quote from outside her house reads:

“How much I do long to be free from housekeeping and children, so as to have time to read, and think, and write. But it may be well for me to understand the trials of woman’s lot, that I may more eloquently proclaim them…”

There were times she was asked to speak but she couldn’t travel because she was pregnant, or couldn’t leave her children, so she sent her speeches and later, Susan B. Anthony in her stead. Though I am sure at times it was overwhelming or discouraging, Stanton was both devoted to her children and to the cause. She never gave up fighting for the best for her children, and for the voices of women to be heard in our world.

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