January 2011


I consider myself a morning person. I have a hard time waking up on cloudy mornings just like everyone else, but once I’m up, I’m up and I love it. In college it was usually the thought of an everything bagel with cream cheese that made me roll out of bed (sad, but true). Now that I have a 35-40 minute commute from LA to La Mirada every morning I try to take advantage of the distance by making myself more aware of current events. One of my favorite morning moments is settling into my car and driving down the 5 freeway while hearing the musical intro to Morning Edition on NPR.

Last week a certain news piece during Morning Edition caught my attention: a Danish research study concluded that women who have had (elective) abortions have no higher risk of mental health problems after the procedure. In fact, they compared the results with women who had given birth, and those women were more likely to have mental health problems.

“Huh. Interesting,” I thought.

Occasionally I find something I want to learn more about and I throw myself into researching it. A few years ago, the week before winter finals, it was the impact of abortion. I spent several hours each day reading the stories of women and men who had been affected by abortion. The depth of pain that these individuals felt was incalculable. The trauma was so pervasive that it significantly impacted – and sometimes impaired – activities of daily living. Now, I’m well aware that this does not happen to all, or maybe even most, women who have abortions. But it made me more aware of the significant need for sensitivity around the issue, considering that 1/3 of women in the United States will have had an abortion by age 45.

What I don’t understand about the article is that the data is based on women who were treated for mental health problems. That leaves out a significant portion of women who are struggling with anxiety, depression and a slew of other things who do not or cannot seek help. Maybe because they are consistently told by their family that they made the right decision and everything should go back to normal. Or maybe because the shame of an abortion is too great because they were raised in a religious home. Either way, they are still suffering.

What this research made me reflect on is the immense odds we (speaking mostly of women, but not excluding men) often go to to control our fertility. Abortion is a form of this, but there are many other ways we can do this too.

On Twitter I follow Christianity Today’s blog for women and this week they posted an article about a women who created a website for individuals born via sperm donation to tell their stories. These stories are powerful! Grown adults who were never told that their father is not their biological dad. Mom’s who, after telling their children how they were conceived, shushed their hurt and invalidated their pain. Teenagers who just want to know what their bio dad does for a living, and if they have any half-siblings. Children who realize, “Maybe that’s why I never felt a strong connection to my dad.” College students who have never told anyone that they were conceived via sperm donation who remain silent, hurting, as their friends discuss why they would or would not use donated sperm to conceive. And again it made me ponder, “How far do we go to control our fertility at the expense of ourselves and others?”

I believe that the desire to have children is beautiful and God-given. I also believe the idea of having children is scary as hell. So I guess my question is, “How often do we think about the ramifications of our decisions on the children we do or do not call our own?”

Jonalyn Fincher, a woman I greatly respect, wrote a powerful blog on lust in women and included a section on “baby lust”. In this paragraph she writes specifically about Kate Gosselin and her concern that she “lived like babies were her God-given entitlement”. As Jonalyn says in one of her comments to a reader, “Every lust object is a good thing, a natural, God-given, innate thing but when we demand any of these things when God has not given them we twist the pure desire into lust. When we treat a person (husband or wife) as a means to an end (whether that end be sexual conquest for a baby) we are using a human being made in God’s image to get what we want. We lust, we covet.” Jonalyn also acknowledges that she is not necessarily against in vitro – neither am I. But I think we need to thoroughly examine our motives in going to such lengths to conceive.

I think “baby lust” is possible in adoption as well. I have a special place in my heart for adoption as I have three adopted siblings. I am VERY pro-adoption. But I do think there are cases in which individuals want a child so badly that they choose to adopt when they shouldn’t. They may not be ready to be parents, the number of children may exceed what they can handle emotionally or financially, or they may not be prepared for the challenges of the child. It’s about our heart attitude and accurately assessing what we can handle… and having others speak truth into our lives about these areas too!

I’ve often wondered if I would adopt if I were still single at a certain point in my life. While I believe that an ideal family consists of a mom and a dad, I do think single parent adoption can be God-honoring. I would not, however, choose to use sperm donation. The loss of never being able to experience pregnancy would definitely need to be mourned though.

What is comforting and life-giving about my God is that He redeems all these situations. Situations in which a child never has the chance to experience life, in which women are overwhelmed with guilt because of a past abortion, in which individuals grieve never knowing their biological parents, in which a child feels lost in the commotion of a large family. He brings healing and redemption. Healing and redemption is waiting.

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I’ve followed Postsecret since high school, meticulously saving the secrets that resonated with me, challenged me, or gave me insight into the human experience. I like PS because it gives a glimpse into humanity in a very individual way. There are though, a lot of draw backs to it and the expectations around it as well. PS is limited, but it does serve some purpose. Enjoy the first installment of my Postsecret series, themed Parents.

This evening after work I trotted off to the fitness center on campus – Monday’s attempt to start the week off right. It’s fascinating how my self-consciousness quadruples as soon as I walk through those sliding doors. As I was reflecting on my heightened sensitivity to my gait, my oily hair, and the fact that I was about to put on pants consisting of 70% spandex, I realized how infrequently I am thankful for the functionality of my body. Though I do remember going through a phase of thanking God that my kidneys worked every time I peed for a month after studying the renal system.

CS Lewis writes, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” Our bodies serve our souls, express our souls. They are a tool. Sadly, they are a tool marred by the effects of sin and don’t always function the way they were intended to. But a tool, nonetheless, at the beck and call of our souls. Yet, so often I treat my body as if it were all of me, and not to serve me.

I recall watching a clip of a White American woman asking an African woman how she felt about her body, if she felt her body was beautiful. The woman was surprised and a little confused. “Our bodies are like trees,” she said. “Your tree is different from my tree, but they are both trees and they are both beautiful.”

Huhm…

I have this dichotomy going on between my sinful flesh and my flesh as it was intended to be. The former likes to throw pity parties and make expansive flow charts about how to improve the way my body looks. But the truth in the words of the woman above resonates with the latter in a way that makes my essence¹ feel deep purpose, belonging, and gratitude for my body. And I remember that some of the most beautiful women I’ve met are ones who are comfortable in the way their body interacts with the rest of the world. Women who dance to the fullness of their limited flexibility. Women who embrace the uncontrollable changes pregnancy brings to their body. Women who are at ease aging and who wear their wrinkles unashamedly.

Why is it then that I so often want to control and manipulate my body into looking and doing what I want it to look like and do? Why do I have trouble celebrating the functionality of my body, that it serves my soul? Why can’t I seem to welcome the limits and potential of my body simultaneously?

The perfect example is a woman’s fertility. So often I view my fertility as a hassle, a pain, something to be managed and controlled. I don’t think I have *ever* rejoiced that I have the capacity to bear children. Have I had dreams about being pregnant? Yes. Do I have uterus-throbs when I see little kids? Sometimes. Have I ever thanked God for my fertility while I’m curled up on my blue couch with a heating pad and popping levels of ibuprofen that it makes me wonder why I don’t have an ulcer yet? Heck no. –but I want to be able to. Because that’s life, right? Finding the beauty in the funk [Cornell West]. I want to have that kind of attitude.

Throughout nursing school and witnessing several friends getting hitched I’ve thought a lot about pros and cons of various kinds of birth control. That pretty much spells it out, right? Birth. Control. Controlling birth. More like controlling pregnancy. Because Lord knows, you can’t really stop a woman about to give birth [although, strangely, I have seen nurses try]. Ha! Anyway, what I came to realize after mulling over what I learned in nursing and ethics classes is:

1) We have to leave room for God’s mystery. I don’t know if un-implanted embryos have a soul. But there is room for grace in the midst of ‘snowflakes orphans’, embryos conceived naturally that never implanted, and not knowing if the Pill causes ‘abortions’.

2) That’s it’s really all about our heart attitude. Why are we seeking to control our fertility? Will we embrace the disappointing limits of our fertility as well as unexpected outcomes?

Recently I had a moment in which I felt the Holy Spirit had briefly cracked a window into my stuffy, stagnant soul. It happened while I was meditating on this verse:

“Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman.” [I Cor. 11:12]

I gasped in, and it’s a good thing, because it was only a fleeting gust of fresh air. But it revived my essence. I felt…noble. Any questions I had about my identity as a woman disappeared in that moment and I felt a sense of dignity, of honor. I felt intrinsically connected to humanity in a new way. Women and men alike are all linked to each other through birth. And it is through women that one generation is connected to another. Women were chosen to do that. Women. Were chosen.

And so, I feel just a little closer to esteeming the function of my body regardless of the effects of sin upon it as seen in stretch marks, gray hairs, and the pull of gravity. I’m learning to embrace the limits and the potential because ultimately, I am not my body; I am a soul that has a body.

 

 

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¹Essence: A spiritual, eternal being. Found housed temporarily in a physical body. I use this term interchangeably with “soul”.

I thought I would eventually calm down enough to be able to blog about Kanye West’s Monster video. But no. I am still SO PISSED. (Adequate descriptive language of how I feel would be inappropriate here.)

Read this article by Melinda Tanard Reist on the video.

“This is the message [the video is] imbibing: Women are slaves and bitches who can service a man’s sexual needs, even in death. Men are brutal and dominant, and have no empathy for women. Men enjoy dead women as sex and entertainment. The female body is to be devoured, reduced to the same status as meat. Female bodies should be displayed before men as a great feast for their consumption.”

To sign the petition against the video, go here.

“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? At the highest point along the way, where the paths meet, she takes her stand; beside the gate leading into the city, at the entrance, she cries aloud…” [Proverbs 8:1-3 NIV ©2010]

This last week I attended the English-speaking life group hosted by the part of the body of Christ I commune with on a weekly basis. I’ve been attending this church in Lincoln Heights since August and while I’m involved relationally and in serving, had decided that I would take another step to become more rooted in this community after the holidays. The above passage was what we spent the majority of our time meditating on and discussing in life group this week.

Wisdom stands in the middle of the busiest intersection in town to proclaim her message. One of the women in the life group related this to the corners of Soto and Cesar Chavez, an intersection long known for being the center of Boyle Heights. How fortunate that wisdom is present in the busy and bustling areas of life! No need to remove ourselves completely from community and responsibilities to meditate for sustained periods of time in order to gain wisdom [not to disqualify solitude as being beneficial]. The Holy Spirit pours out wisdom in the midst of stress and confusion.

In pairs, we shared what “intersection” we are at in life and how wisdom has or can meet us there. I’ve certainly been viewing the last 7 months of my life as a transition period, waiting for a nursing job to point me in the next direction I’m headed. The image that comes to mind is one in the book Girl with a Pearl Earring, when Griet stands in the center of an enormous compass in the middle of the marketplace. So how has wisdom met me in this place?

I’ve been fighting the idea that this time is a transition because I want to be able to be fully present and not fall prey to the idea that my life will begin when I start working as a nurse. The Holy Spirit has been feeding me wisdom regarding my identity; in the last 7 months I’ve wrestled a lot with what it means if I don’t pursue nursing, or if I don’t pursue it right away. I’ve come to embrace that this has been a period of healing from feeling burnt out from nursing school and rest from the responsibility one holds when working in a hospital setting.

During my lunch break on Friday I sat by the fountain at Biola with my feet up, reflecting on what I’ve been learning since graduation. I was appreciating the different kind of responsibility I hold working in Multi-Ethnic Programs instead of in a nursing position. And that’s when I had an epiphany.

Stay with me. This will make sense in the end.

As a woman who has been single for the last 5 years, I’ve spent a bit of time getting to know myself. I still feel like I’m acquaintances with myself, not even friends, but I take comfort in knowing that Someone knows me thoroughly and there is grace for what I don’t understand. Okay, but singleness. During this time, I’ve recognized in myself waves of desiring a significant relationship that ebb and flow, lasting a variety of durations for just as many reasons. Some reasons are incredibly selfish and other less so. I’ve come to:

– acknowledge the desires I’m having (selfish or not)
– embrace the fact that desires are a part of my humanity (selfish and not)
– learn from these desires (repent of self-centeredness or affirm pure motives)

Recently the desire for a relationship washed up on the beach of my life a little farther than I anticipated. So as I was reflecting last Friday lunch on the relief I felt from hearing back that I was not chosen for a nursing position because I didn’t feel ready to handle the responsibility yet, I almost choked on my turkey sandwich.

And I realized my heart’s motives behind desiring a relationship this time.

1. I feel slightly overwhelmed that I am ‘alone’ during a period of significant change in my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not be ‘alone’.
2. I am uncomfortable with the responsibility of making decisions all by myself that will considerably impact the direction of my life, and if I were in a relationship I would not have to bear the weight of the responsibility by myself.
3. If I were in a purposeful, serious relationship that was moving towards marriage it would be considered ‘successful’ and would be a distraction from me feeling as if I’ve failed for not finding a nursing job.

Basically, the theme is abdication of responsibility.

There is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom in the advice and input of others. But I don’t think it’s healthy for me to want someone else to share responsibility with me because I’m afraid of ‘failing’.

Dr. Ron Pierce, my Theology of Gender professor, once related a story to my class of a female student who told him that she couldn’t wait to get married so that she wouldn’t have to make any decisions and would just do whatever her husband wanted. At the time, I thought this girl was out of her mind – why would you want someone else to make all decisions for you? But now I can relate to her motives of not wanting to take responsibility more than I wish I did.

As humans, we must take responsibility for ourselves and the decisions we make. And no ‘failure’ is greater than the grace that is waiting.

This afternoon I was reading on my porch, conveniently located just a few blocks south of the intersection of Soto and Cesar Chavez.

“Christian vocation is not so much about career as about a call to the fullness of life – an invitation not to leave the world, but to embrace it. John Neafsey writes that vocation has to do with“the quality of our personhood, the values and attitudes we embody, the integrity and authenticity of our lives.” For Christians, vocation is the invitation to follow Jesus. “Come after me,” he said in Mark (1:17), an invitation to discipleship that – “more than an assent of the heart” – demands, as Ched Myers put it, “an uncompromising break with ‘business as usual.’” We all bring to our vocations experiences, gifts, and relationships. We bring the obstacles and distractions that clutter our lives. We bring who we are and who we are willing to become. We bring the context in which we live and a particular time in history. Vocation is about the totality of how we live the gospel in these times.” -Marie Dennis, Toward the Fullness of Life in Sojourners, February 2011

Wisdom made herself known to me in a momentous way in the current intersection of my life. She called out to me in the midst of struggling with the role my career and my relationship status play in my identity. And she proclaimed the truth that there is fullness of life right now, for who I am, and where I’m at. My vocation is to live out the grace I’ve been given as I grapple with learning about my humanity.

A meaningful song the last few weeks.

It was the year
The crows and the locusts came
The fields drained dry the rain
The fields are bleeding

“Daddy don’t cry, it’ll be alright”
She puts some water on the wound
And hums a little tune
While her courage puddles on the ground
Pooling, pooling

See the murder and the swarm descend
And the night is getting thick
The moon telling her tricks
She’d betray her every time

It was the year
The crows and the locusts came
The fields drained dry the rain
The fields are bleeding

It was the age
The foxes came for the fields
We were bleeding as we bowed to kneel
And prayed for mercy, prayed for mercy

The rumble is low and the heat is high
Got a feeling that there’s rain out in the oil black sky
Gonna chase away the devil when that sun does rise
Gonna plead the blood
Gonna plead the blood

It was the year
The crows and the locusts came
The fields drained dry the rain
The fields are bleeding

It was the age
The foxes came for the fields
We were bleeding as we bowed to kneel
And prayed for mercy, prayed for mercy

She limps on up to the top of a mount
Looks at the faltered harvest
Feels her sweat in the ground and the burn in her nose
And the knowing in her guts
Something’s still gonna grow
She ain’t leaving ’till it does.

What can wash away my sin
Nothing but the blood…
What can make me whole again
Nothing but the blood…

I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a book buying problem. I constantly find myself on Amazon looking up titles that were mentioned in other books and the site’s “related” feature sucks me in to what becomes a long trail of wish list- and cart-adding. I recently bought three new books when I have only finished one of the four books that I ordered in December, and one of the six books from my new favorite bookstore (The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles) that I bought in November. I just can’t help myself. My mindset has changed from, while in high school and early college, HAVING to finish any book I started to, now, considering myself better off for having read a chapter of a book than none at all… and plus I have all those books on my shelves in case I ever want to reference anything. Anything related to gender, that is, as those have been the majority of my book purchases as of late.

My most recent batch of literary-goodness that arrived in brown cardboard on my doorstep includes How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals by Alan F. Johnson (isn’t “F” a wonderfully strong middle initial? Those perpendicular and parallel lines making up crisp right angles? Mm). I attribute the consistency of my reading of it for the past *two* days to the short stories that make it up; lots of wisdom nuggets in a small amount of time. I would like to share a quote that made my spirit feel lighter and my soul feel more grounded.

“My journey to biblical egalitarianism was essentially complete. While I did not, and do not now, claim to have the final answer to every question or difficult passage, I was convinced the framework sketched above was clearly a superior way to account for the varieties of biblical evidence. […] But there was one more piece to my journey that is important, though seemingly small and unrelated to anything that had happened up to this point. It was the final piece that confirmed for me that I was on the right path.

In early 1974 I was preparing for a doctoral field exam in American church history by reading selections from some of the more important primary source documents representative of that history. When I came to the early and mid-nineteenth century, I was immersed in the literature surrounding the questions of slavery and abolition. The defenses of slavery by leading theologians and churchmen from the southern states were especially fascinating. Whether the men were from the Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Congregational, or Roman Catholic traditions, the biblical and theological arguments in defense of slavery were essentially the same.

Abolitionism was said to be anti-Christian. Defenders of slavery claimed that abolitionists got their ideas from other sources and then went to the “Bible to confirm the crotchets of their vain philosophy”. Scripture, it was repeatedly argued, does not condemn slavery. In fact, Scripture sanctions slavery. In his parables, Jesus refers to masters and slaves without condemning slavery as such. In the New Testament, pious and good men had slaves, and they were not told to release them. The church was first organized in the home of a slaveholder. That slavery was divinely regulated throughout biblical history was evidence that the institution was divinely approved. When Scripture, as in Galatians 4, uses illustrations from slavery to teach great truths without censuring slavery, it was considered more evidence that the institution had divine approval. The Baptist Declaration of 1822 did accept that slaves had purely spiritual privileges (as Christians), but they remained slaves.

The defenders of slavery within the churches all claimed the Bible as their starting point, and all developed their defenses by appealing to Scripture in much the fashion I have summarized above. With one voice Southern churchmen defending slavery charged that to reject slavery as sinful was to reject the Word of God.

I had heard this line of reasoning before, but to actually read it for myself was an eye-opening experience. I was appalled and embarrassed that such an evil practice had been defended in the name of God and under the guise of biblical authority. How could churchmen and leading theologians have been so foolish and blind? […] It hit me like a flash. Someday Christians will be as embarrassed by the church’s biblical defense of patriarchal hierarchicalism as it is now of the nineteenth century biblical defense of slavery.” -Stanley N. Gundry in How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership


This realization was also a “rest stop”, so to speak, of my gender journey and I am so thankful to see it be so essential to someone else’s journey that they documented it. Reading about nineteenth-century Christians who defended slavery as being divinely approved knocks me off my feet and makes me think about other beliefs that I accept and practices I follow that I have never examined through the broad lens of the redemption story God is enacting throughout history. The Kingdom is coming, but He is also bringing the Kingdom now. And women and men get to be partners in seeing it happen!

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