Q & A with Guest Writer, Barbara Meyer

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.

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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. 

 

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Speaking of Brave Women: A Guest Post

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

Feels Like September

I have a half-written grant proposal collecting dust in my computer. It talks about the dream of sitting under someone much farther along, who is not emotionally invested in your identity and protection in the way that your mother, or even grandmother, is, and should be. But she is someone who still knows, and who, because of her completed steps, can guide or understand or cushion your own. The brewing idea is one of intergenerational community of sisterhood, that debunks the mommyblogs and echo chambers we fall into, because like tends to like, and our technological toys silo us as much as they can connect. She is the see-er. The voice missing in our confounding mental loads as women doing it all, fighting competition, pushing justice, weighing obligations and avoiding high fructose corn syrup.

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I have this idea of learning from older women, not in spurts but in rhythm, and making it more possible for others, because of the incredible women who are already a part of my life. But in practice, I’ve struggled to do this.

Because the ladies in the shallow end at swimming lessons have also recently given birth. The women in my grad classes were career-minded, seeking first mortgages, internships, and noble peace prizes. The ladies on my feed are in the trenches, reaching out in the nano seconds of alone time our thirties give us for a like, a laugh, a lunch break. And it’s hard to stop and visit with my senior neighbor when the whining pulls. It’s hard to interview and take long walks and listen to senior women when I am chasing, scrambling, and budgeting every minute and dollar.

There is another voice I have missed, in addition to the one far in front of me. It is my own. To a lesser degree, to a smaller detriment, but still. Interruption is my norm. Bending and adjusting is the plan. I forget things when I only have to think about myself at this point; I am more awkward and uncertain the fewer moods rely on my preparation. I have sought the help of professionals and brutal/beautiful friends to help remember me before us.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but women throughout history have traded their very lives for the idea that there is nothing more important than nurturing others. In some ways, I believe that. In other ways, I know that idea, unexamined, threatens my sanity and health.       –Courtney Martin

I promote solitude in theory, primarily as a mode through which we hear God’s heart, not just our own. Not to brag but I have exercised it in 90-120 minute parcels irregularly over the past 11 years of adulthood/marriage/motherhood. The last time I had solitude that was not measured in minutes, but days, in which I was not completely anxious, was probably when I was 20. I am soon turning 33. I tried taking an overnight solitude retreat a few years ago. An alarm kept going off and there were no curtains in the sweet cottage nestled in the woods. I was officially citified by that point and completely distracted and edgy. Barely slept. When I was 20, I had 48 hour of solitude on a rock face, with a clif bar, a journal and bible, a sleeping bag, a headlamp, a water pump and bottle, and some sunscreen. It was one of the best things of college.

Tomorrow I embark on both a time of sitting for extended times with a woman much farther along than me, and being alone with my self and God, for not a matter of hours, but days. And I have no idea what to expect. It is a completely different situation than the past, oh, all my years, and I’m so grateful and humbled in advance, but also have trepidation. What does a day look like without a deadline and nap schedule and bell system? What DO I want to eat for breakfast, that meal that always eludes me? What will God show me as I sit, awkwardly quiet and un-needed? How will my life of planning, devoting, working, fighting for causes, and connecting with friends leave me to be, or inform who I am, away?

This summer has left some scars and presented good gifts. The school year is in full swing now. I remember that feeling of September, up in Oregon when we’d start school after Labor Day. Excitement. Unknowns. Courage and nerves, holding hands. Tiredness from that summer still on our shoes. This kind of feels like all of that. September is about diving in, and stepping out, and back to school. This year, me too.

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“Look at this perfect house we made!”

I am officially, permanently, 29 today. (God bless that waiter who asked for my ID tonight.)

I have nothing particularly profound to say except many thank you’s and thanks, and thanks a whole lot. To my Shepherd, to my husband, to my family and friends. Such a good, good company I have walked through life with. Many parts are not acquainted with the others, but in my heart, you are all my Church, my companions, my neighbors and witnesses.

In the midst of this inspiring company, I am currently struggling to remain faithful while truthfully realizing a valley. But I have so many hills that have been covered and moments of green pastures and rods of comfort that even though I may cry frequently (though less now than a couple weeks ago), the valley is becoming less unfriendly and urgent to this soul.

The past year has included some amazing developments. Marriage counseling, One Thousand Gifts, growing in understanding of church planting, Guatemala, the adoption process, shared spirituality practices and finally reading Walk Two Moons come to mind. We truly don’t know what this next year will hold. Ryan is 30 now, after all.

Today was not an especially restful day but lazy birthdays are not really in the plans for several years. Until then, I must.teach.children.to.do.chores!!! I did sleep in till 7 and was showered with delicious kindnesses throughout the day, just in case my aging metabolism needed help slowing down. I read library books to my children. I raced cars, jumped on the trampoline, built bugs, and worked on fine motor skills. I skyped with my parents and youngest sibs. I ate with dear friends. I did some official, super-high-profile work.

I also had the chance to tell my story, that convoluted, unconventional story, to a social worker. I sat in a room for two hours with an adult, no children, and answered grown up questions about my life, from birth till now, and my extended family and my thoughts on adoption and… What a special opportunity. It really was a birthday gift.

Today, Ryan and I had separate interviews with DCFS. Suddenly, we are at the top of our social worker’s list and we see the finish line in the adoption approval process. Which means we are very close to when a random phone call could be a significant invitation to our third child’s life. We are very close to the waiting game. While I was testifying to God’s goodness in an office building and all the caring souls in my company, a few miles away my 4-year-old exclaimed suddenly at the lunch table to his dad, “Look at this perfect house we made!! — Look!” while taking in the kitchen, the living room, the walls, the windows, as if all for the first time.

I love that. I love that something that has been relatively the same, going without his notice, for 3+ years, is all of a sudden something to shout about and find a burst of joy in. As Ryan and I wander nonsensically around the house tonight, arms full of misplaced books, toys, outlet covers, and cleaning supplies, as we prepare for our final home study and interviews tomorrow, my mind keeps traveling back to Dante’s lunchtime wonder. Look! Look at this great set of cupboards in the bathroom. Just look at what a perfect bed this is. Look! There’s our front door!

Oh! To have wonder. To have it in the next decade of adulthood, well before everything is nostalgic and before the toy and diaper chaos is over. Before all the answers, before the healing, before the valley has been walked. Oh to see something that is dramatically the same and find something new. If that is not the Gospel, I don’t know what is.

It is such a perfect house. With its unpainted walls, dusty surfaces, loose papers and cruddy carpet. It is grand and excessive and a blessing. And has room for more. One more.

And even in the valley, this valley that has layers and depths that continue, there is room. There is room for something else.  When I see the old, crusty familiar and the tears well again, and I think I know what everything means and what the setting is, may wonder and thanksgiving surpass my poor 29-year-old vision. May I hear the word, “Look!” from a delighted Maker above and see the same, anew.

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Mind the Gap

“Grandmothers and grandfathers dragged themselves to him with their toothless mouths, with their eyes that seemed not to see but saw all that is deep in our hearts. They had been walking the four paths of the earth for a long time–the red path, the white path, the yellow path, and the black path–the four magical paths of wisdom. That’s why they couldn’t see things far off, but only those close up, with great depth.” – – from Rigoberta Menchú’s account of a Maya myth about elders.

These days I find myself craving age.  Age without pretense or disguise–just crusty, dragging, aged people who see more deeply than anyone with a microphone or a corner office or a blog. I crave elders who may not be strong enough for a flight of stairs but can support an entire community with their backbone of experience. People who have long grown away from worldly titles or degrees or fashion but who have been acquainted with hearts and souls long enough to speak plainly to both. Whose health is unattached to a trend, whose beauty surpasses the new formula. I crave their anchoring, example, and calm. I am noticing their absence.

One of the great disservices of our internet and technology-dependent society is that it has become even easier to live without contact with the Deep-seers. We’ve poured everything in a development race that generally excludes certain populations, our grandparents being one. Facebook seems real but is only a keyhole view. In the plugged-in world, we rarely interact or have to make room for someone who has seen their name pass down two, three, or four generations. That is really strange. Millions of threads and forums feed our interests and concerns online, most responders probably being people in our same peer group, and we don’t have to ask our mothers, our grandmothers, and we have an answer but something is lost.  I am missing that something; I am feeling the gap. I am missing the company of the people who have walked those paths because seeing things far off gets exhausting and it is tiring to always study the horizon.

One of the people I have had the privilege of watching age was my Grandma Jean.  She did not fight time. I was fortunate to be around in her last days on earth and introduce my firstborn to her the Christmas before.  Growing up, I didn’t live next door to her but many holidays and camping trips were spent in her company. High school overseas and college a thousand miles away meant less contact with her and Grandpa in my adolescent/pretend-adult years. But they were there. In the same house, with the same traditions, same stories, relics, marriage, jam, smell, and love as the day I joined the family.  She knew she was facing death when she received her final diagnosis and handled the process with grace and care for others, just as she handled life.  She left us with so much though I did not stay in touch with her over the miles well. I did not ask to look through her eyes enough while I could.

Youthfulness is idolized and fast-paced, mobile, unsettled lifestyles are envied. But quietly, knowingly, some bow out of the frenzy, or the frenzy whizzes past them, and it is they, people like my grandparents, who help ground us and who we would go–should go– running to for balance, safety and some sort of orientation in time.  They are a control, a fixed point, a key to tune to. My generation and younger have had very little sameness. Along with a $5 check on my birthday each year, Grandma gave me that.  Without me realizing it, she, and other elders in my tribe so to speak, gave me footing. After she died, though my daily life was no different, it felt a little like trying to settle into a wobbly chair. You’re not falling, but it just isn’t level.

I am better at listening to old stories than I used to be, which is to say I am not very good but I know it now. I am working on slowing down my pace so I can notice if the abuela next door is sitting on the porch. I am trying to care for people nearest me so that they can grow old without burning out and feeling like they must escape here to retire–so that the average age of my coworkers actually grows with time. I am wondering what it would take for us to last a long, long time in ministry. I am hoping that I will learn to be a deep-seer from Deep-seers. I am writing Grandpa letters. I really want to hear from the oldest people in our church. These are the only things I know to do in this vacuum of age. Tiny invitations. Baby ideas. Because that is what I am.