I leave the parking lot of jacaranda trees and signs for “heroes” with my badge still on, stomach growling for dinner and spirit aching from helplessness. It’s the first day of the week. The purple blooms remind me of a … Continue reading
A woman frantically threw handfuls of cash in the van window as we tried to depart the restaurant driveway. Our translator explained it was for my parents. She was thanking them for adopting us, the children of her country. My … Continue reading
In its lines, crevices, scars, pockets, and spots, by body knows things I do not. In the beginning was my body, within a stranger’s body, when she carried me. She gave birth to me, surrendered my body to another–to the … Continue reading
It has been a minute.
I’ve dived more deeply into a few relationships and wallowed in the shallow, muddy waters of self-pity and resentment. I’ve upset people, disappointed people, impressed people, and loved people. My jeans are tighter as I’ve started exercising again, and I didn’t think those would/should necessarily go together. It’s been a little cranky since, like the jeans, some things haven’t worked out the way we thought. A lot of the crooked scoundrels are still galavanting and a lot of the luminescent shepherds are still barely getting by. I let go of some things, not only because they didn’t spark joy, but also because they robbed it. I went to South Dakota, by way of North, and returned through Denver unfrozen. I’ve enjoyed hours around tables, with new and old friends, eating, serving, playing and drinking. I’ve seen my fair share of hangry homework tantrums and wrinkled worksheets and chapter books printed on the worst of all paper. I have made a small dent in a gallon of molasses and maybe that is also related to the jeans sentence. I’ve kept in touch with my mother, and my husband, and neither one of them seem surprised by anything I do or say. I broke up with a couch, and then with another, but the latter still lives here. I have spent many hours with a fish tank I never wanted but enabled and enthroned in my entryway (it is the worst). I wrote out my life story in three pages and it is completely different from the same exercise 10 years ago. I’m facing a new daunting, long-awaited hope, and it makes me a little misty when I put the curly toddler down for a nap. I’ve taught in some settings, and learned in all the others.
I’ve missed writing here though. Today, I talked about tender things with a couple brave women and then I heard about a teenager ending their life, and a poet who left us hers. Today seemed like a good day to say hello. You’re beloved and broken and I am too. Ignore the naysayers, the ones you cannot mend or shrink down enough for. We each have a place in this family of things.
Wild Geese, Mary Oliver
|You do not have to be good.|
|You do not have to walk on your knees|
|for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.|
|You only have to let the soft animal of your body|
|love what it loves.|
|Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.|
|Meanwhile the world goes on.|
|Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain|
|are moving across the landscapes,|
|over the prairies and the deep trees,|
|the mountains and the rivers.|
|Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,|
|are heading home again.|
|Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,|
|the world offers itself to your imagination,|
|calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –|
|over and over announcing your place|
|in the family of things.|
Follow on Instagram @findwideplacesblog.
Yesterday I had the privilege of introducing Barbara in this space, a 50+ woman writer willing to put herself out there and respond to my request for older women to step into this blog too. Her thoughts about Miriam yesterday came as a beacon of resilience and hope, fitting in this time where women are speaking out and listening to one another with great diligence and admiration.
Tonight, please enjoy these candid responses from our guest, as though we were all on an evening walk together. I don’t know about you but I always want to know more about the author of an article, an actor in the drama, or the spouse the pastor introduced. I wrote yesterday that you won’t want to miss getting to know Barbara Meyer from this limited medium; here is your chance. Enjoy her wisdom and authenticity; I know I have.
- Can you tell us a little about yourself? Where did you grow up, what’s your family system, etc?
I grew up in Southern California. I am the youngest in a family of four children in my birth family. Unfortunately — long story — my parents were working alcoholics. My father died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was four, leaving my mother alone and unable to cope. She went from, as I understand it, being a social drinker to becoming a helpless alcoholic. We were taken away by the state. At first, we went to live with my mother’s brother and his wife. They had four sons, and my uncle was also an alcoholic. Needless to say, my aunt could not cope with all that so we were placed in foster care. I was about seven. When I was about 10, my mother had remarried and we were brought back to live with her and her husband. Sadly she had remarried a man who was not just an alcoholic, but was also abusive. At 11, we went back into foster care.
The family that I went to was very conservative and patriarchal. After leaving the chaos of my family, this family seemed to me to be everything that was safe, good, and right. They were Christian by identity, but broken. I would love to give you a big picture sometime, but it was here that I was actually systematically taught the “right-wing, patriarchal party line:” women are biologically designed to be homemakers. Boys will be boys; they date one kind of girl but marry another kind. Women SHOULD make less money because it is unfair to employers to pay them a high salary when these women will ultimately leave and get married and have a family. With this grounding, when I became a Christian and went to a Christian college, it was easy for me to link my “role” as a woman with my standing and my righteousness before God.
- What has been one surprising thing about getting older?
Inside my soul–that is, the me that I am inside–I am 22. That is the last time I recognized changing as I grew older. However my body keeps aging. It is the difference between how I feel and what I see in the mirror that is shocking.
- What is something you’ve changed your mind about? What “fallout” or freedoms did this change allow?
The biggest change has been in the realizations about feminism I have come to as I dialogued with my brilliant daughters, Erica and Beth, and as I have searched deeply for what I actually believed (as opposed to what I thought I “should” believe). I saw that I did grow up never saying but actually believing and accepting that “women are second-class citizens in our country and in the church.” The particulars would be better explained in a conversation, however there is fallout. There are people in my family, people that I love, that are very uncomfortable with my ideas about women, roles, justice, political issues, etc. because I no longer just accept a “party line.” We avoid discussions, but disapproval is pretty palpable. The freedom I have gained is that I now feel like I am seeing a whole new world. I look back at what I “understood” about theology, history, society, etc. and I know that I am seeing a different world. My conclusions are different. My view of God is much bigger.
- What’s an important message you’d like to share with younger women? Or what do you wish you had understood sooner?
I wish I had understood that unless men and women walk in equality and as a team, they do not display an accurate image of God.
God created man[kind] in his own image,
in the image of God, he created him;
male and female he created them.
NIV Gen 1:27
I would love younger women to know that insecurity is lethal, that respect is an indispensible ingredient in love, that theology is not a men-only field, and that age is not something that diminishes us. I am hopeful because I believe many, many young women are growing up with these ideas as their foundational truths.
/ / / / /
If you didn’t read it yesterday, being saturated with news or stepping intentionally away from screens, be sure to check out Barbara’s connection with Miriam here.
We have all watched, read, and maybe even felt within ourselves today courage. It is not only a scary time of reckoning in our country, in our Church, and in our families; it is also a time where immense bravery … Continue reading
Once, when we were support-raising missionaries for a Christian church planting organization, a funder wrote me and warned about our going down a slippery slope. Falling away, going down a slippery slope, turning one’s back and back-sliding–these were the worst … Continue reading
Why use a pencil, when we could use a knife? It seems that that rationale helps explain some of my family of origin’s culture. Before moving to Kenya, we lived in two homes I remember well in Oregon–and there were … Continue reading
Growing up, a lot of traps were pre-determined for me, and I was a hospitable Type-A place for accepting these immanent perils seamlessly. Through osmosis I gained a robust wariness of other ways of thinking, to both my benefit and my harm. I was a good host to the necessary and superfluous transplants–of right, ordered, and true, and the red, white and blue. There were so many traps to beware of; vigilance found a home in this Enneagram 1. To name a few: The liberal agenda. Those who baptized infants. Immodesty. Gays. Sexuality period. MTV. People who wouldn’t learn English. Feminism. Ferngully. People who wanted to take advantage of the hard work and generosity of others. (I did not grow up in fear of gluten, however, and I devoutly continue in this doctrine.)
When I read Psalm 31 with this sense of Christianity, I understand why the church can become a somewhat bureaucratic enclave of similar-thinking people. The WORLD is out to get US, and the vulgar and sinful traps of the other people are encroaching. The unity births from what is going on on the outside more than what is going on on the inside and the motivation is about safety and adding to the numbers. While a victim mentality is so often hurled as a discrediting insult to those reliant upon public aid or protesting systemic injustice, it also describes a segment of the Christian Church that primarily understands itself as persecuted and, therefore, justifiably and righteously self-protecting.
Of course the whole of scripture, the arc of the Story, warns us that the traps are much sneakier than Us vs. Them. The traps are inside the sanctuary. The snares are inside the postured martyr herself.
As humans, we look inward increasingly as we grow up. I might invite the Divine to show me where I am and what God would have me see, change or grow, as I become more self-aware hopefully. Parts of my defense mechanisms and the distorted lenses I use to view the world and God will hopefully become less required for survival, and less important to my story; those could be considered false parts of self. In exchange for the arms length between limiting but useful mechanisms of protection and performance, I hopefully gain greater value for things that do not rely upon circumstances–the true self God endows us with, that Jesus makes possible. The false self is not to be shunned and ignored as though it never had a purpose or affected the journey and relationships now, but it must have space enough to be examined and dealt with.
So too, as we look inward on this Bride, though our talk of Her is always imperfect, we grow in Self-awareness as its bought in members. We examine it as subparts of the one, holy, apostolic, catholic Self of Church for we are it. Good and bad. False and true. When we take inventory of where we are as Christians, we grow in the ability to peel away parts of the false Self we have collectively adopted and inherited and passed on, and, because our story is redemption, find a truer Self.
As I have looked and considered more of the underpinnings of this polarized time in our one-ness, and thought more about my background and the outspoken evangelical voices of the day, at least one thing has come into focus. One thing about the American Church’s false self has become clear: Whatever unity that comes from a collective sense of Christian-centric persecution has increasingly become a toxic and alienating death sentence.
It’s not that Christianity is in vogue. It’s that it’s not even a part of the conversation (unless you count political exploitation). And therefore, it’s not a band of the persecuted and the hunted. Self-protection limits the adaptability, discernment, compassion, and generosity of its bearer. Adopting this orientation has skewed our identity to a degree that causes us, 100 steps down the line (i.e. Franklin Grahams and Rod Dreher…), to resemble nothing of our Story, our Savior, and our supposed Hope. This false self in our Church has run a muck and instead of being simply irrelevant to our culture, we have become an official mechanism of hate and hypocrisy. It turns out the bunker is very, very deep. Insofar as we allow leaders with this worldview to represent this Church, our meaning will be continuously hijacked by a paranoid and bizarre narcissism. Where did the Good News go? Who is in charge of Our Story?
By placing ourselves as the sympathetic central character of every social and political scenario, we have normalized and prescribed the dismissal of truly vulnerable groups of people and problems that are actually central to our collective identity and creed. Or, in other words, imperative to our true self.
This reckoning time is heart-wrenching and the R-rated times this presidency has brought forth has certainly shed light on places that previously enjoyed a blur. Light, we believe, overcomes darkness. But it is grim to wake up sometimes.
May we release the traps we set in our sleep and wise up to the ones around our necks. May we listen to the prophets and shut up the liars. May we turn to the leaders who have walked with Jesus in this Church, without enjoying any power or privilege for doing so. May we reach a truer Gospel Self as we re-find our Way.
Preemptive parenting is my strategy. I have a running schedule and clock in my mind at almost all times because either it’s how God made me, or I’m a catastrophizer. I dislike being late, being complained to, and being under pressure so much, I will put the 6-year-old down for a nap, I will start Operation Shoes and Socks 15 minutes before we actually need to leave, and I will pack back-up Goldfish, gum, diapers and wipes in the car because so often in Los Angeles, we are without access to food, other people and stores.
Preemptive work in relationships requires a lot more vigilance and gumption. While a Christian woman might be affirmed for being prepared with a kids travel game or for bringing snacks, she is not usually applauded for boundaries, saying no, or sharing her expectations for an event in advance. Those are typically assigned negative hues of guardedness, selfishness, being a control-freak, anal retentive or other suspect characterizations (I have heard…). We are trained to defer, accommodate, submit, overlook, and serve. While at times these actions can be great strengths and hold within themselves a powerful freedom and love when chosen, they can also enable the entitlement of other people to the diminishment of our own personhood. We are not destined to become smaller; it is not our job to disappear.
Going into the weekend, my spouse and I often have expectations for the precious 48 hours. They are generally competing. Going into the holidays, we may all be facing the same dilemma, only with the added help of multiple-day road trips, long-distance family suddenly sleeping in the next room, candied children, and, if we’re lucky, bacterial infections. Nothing says joy and peace like spilled juice in the car, sliding around snowy passes next to semis, mysterious and constant appearances of glitter and snot, and off-colored jokes from the uncles, ammiright?
I’m just here to say, if you can pack a diaper bag in your sleep, or have thus far managed to feed, clothe, and bandaid actual living people, including your self, you are allowed to say “no,” or “I want,” or “we will.” Merry Christmas. The safety and intimacy of our relationships relies upon our exercising agency and boundaries. Particularly for those of us who struggle with anxiety, depression or addiction.
It’s not about controlling others or being rigidly closed off. It’s about self-awareness and working from the best part of your self and not the worst, or fastest, or most sensitive. Preemptively making a plan to cut off chaos at the pass.
This may look like extending a request along with an invitation: would you be willing to not discuss ______, or isolate anyone in conversation regarding that topic? (And if this does happen, my family and I will be taking a walk.) It may mean saying ahead of time that you will be leaving by 9, when things really get boozy. It may look like staying at a hotel instead of your childhood bedroom, with the nephews and the giftwrap. It may mean scheduling alone time, and letting your host know you won’t be around Friday afternoon. It may mean using paper plates no matter what your mom thinks.
What are your expectations for the rest of this year, which, for the most part, has been really challenging? What concerns do you have going into group gatherings and which of them are valid, addressable, and likely shared (ie: managing uncle bob’s anger, not addressable; making a plan for when it is triggered, absolutely)? What would it mean to experience the holidays with freedom and presence rather than anxiety and reactions? (“While we love traditions, we won’t be squeezing in the movie this year between presents and dinner; we’ll see you when you get back!”) What preparation and communication would help these times be building rather than destructive? Who are the safe people who can help you stick with the plan?
I encourage you in your preemptive policies. I cheer you on as you exercise agency, take your heart and brain seriously, and invite others to do the same. It will be a gift to the people ready for better relationships; it will be a model for our sons and daughters.
When I think about it, my relationships and the way I enter 2018 are at least as important as how many snacks I’ve packed. It’s time to get planning.