Definitions


I was determined to make this trip my “vacation” even though I would be having a lot of intellectual stimulation, emotional expression, and very little time to relax. After I arrived at the hotel and explored my room, it hit me.

I’m an adult. I’m a woman. I’m an adult woman.

During life group a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a Sister about why the small group for the high school girls is called “Women’s Group”. Are these teenage girls women? What does it mean if we call them that? It made me realize that I have very specific (and different) ideas about what it means to be a woman. In the adult, “grown-up” sense, “woman” carries a strong connotation of responsibility to me. In fact, I don’t think of much else… Growing up I went from a “child” to a “young woman”. While I was in high school, my parents didn’t like to call us “teenagers” because of rebelliousness, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-ness, and out-of-control-ness that is generally associated with the teenage years. Instead, we were “young women” or “young men” who took responsibility for our actions, controlled our impulses, and were respectful to authority. Lack of “teen years” does create issues but it did make us responsible.

So while I imagine that calling teenagers “women” will inspire them to responsibility and healthy adult life, my Sister pointed out that she doesn’t want her young daughter to think she has the advantages of being an adult woman. An excellent and very valid point! But it really made me think about what those advantages are. I’m still thinking, to be honest. Not because there is a lack of advantages, but because I have such a heavily ingrained mentality that “adult woman” = “responsibility” that it’s harder for me to acknowledge them.

Today as I was sitting in a conference room waiting for the first plenary session to start of the Christians for Biblical Equality Conference, I closed my eyes and took a quick spirit assessment. I immediately became choked up. Being the atypical, unemotional woman that I am, it really surprised me.

There was something powerful going on that I’m still not sure I have an understanding of. But I think it has something to do with feeling safe, feeling relief, feeling seen, valued and affirmed as a woman, and feeling the process of my soul healing from internalized inferiority*.

I felt safe because I was in the presence of like-minded community.
I felt relief because I could be real and honest about my beliefs without being told it’s “unbiblical” or “sinful”.
I felt seen, valued and affirmed as a woman not because of what I do or do not do as a living but because others in the room believe that women are full partners in the Kingdom of God – and not just in a spiritual sense.
I felt my soul healing from the damage I have perpetrated against myself that keeps me from believing life-giving truths about myself and from using the gifts God gave me to their full extent.
I felt more alive.

I told myself that on this trip I want to be present. Present with myself, present with others, present with God. No tuning out, no checking out, no skipping out. Fully present. Relaxing, yes. Mind-numbing, no. Fully present.

So far, so good. I realized that while I had been looking forward to the cable, this means that I won’t be turning on the TV while I’m here. And there are TWO of them in my room (??). I intentionally brought only one book with me, a novel. Purposed to be opened in long periods of transition (aka on flights). I thought my computer might be a distraction, but I hope to use it for times of process, like this one.

I praise God that his Kingdom is so wholly other. It’s so outside of what I can comprehend. There is so much freedom and so much affirmation and so much purpose and so much grace. The boundaries that he does give us provide us with health, life, and ironically, even more freedom.

I love being a part of creation that is being reconciled back to the Creator. Back to the way things were intended. Back to being fully woman, fully human.

——

*internalized inferiority: a deep psychological belief that one is inferior to a privileged group; subscribing to the value system created by those in power who deem themselves superior and others (you) inferior. This can happen to people of color because of the system of racism, as with women because of the system of sexism (and so forth). As I struggle with internalized inferiority as a woman, I also struggle with internalized superiority as a White woman.

Recently I’ve been meditating on the concept of living in tension. Not tension as in anxiety, but as in an “in-between” or “balance”. …but not balance without movement. I’m imagining a teeter-totter that goes back and forth, never stopping completely parallel to the ground. Or a tug-of-war where the cloth tied on the rope signifying the middle goes back and forth over the ground marker as the teams pull back and forth. Or a clock pendulum like the one that my Mom’s parents had in their house.

I think this concept comes out of my previous meditation on balance. I used to say and think that a lot – “everything in life needs balance”, “it’s all about balance”. But this concept brings to mind images of someone carrying a tall stack of books that is teetering and the person is trying everything they can to not let the books do so. Or someone on a tightrope who has to walk a narrow cable with disastrous consequences if they fall.

And I realized that my viewing life as “balance” was related to how I viewed grace. How I viewed grace wrongly, that is. Because for me to insinuate that life could eventually come to this perfect medium of balance is faulty. Let’s get a few things straight: life is messy, and perfection is impossible to achieve. I thought that with hard work life could level out. With that philosophy I was substituting meritocracy¹ for grace.

Grace. It’s one of those words that are used (and thrown around?) a lot in the Christian community. Which makes sense as to why I understood intellectually what grace was growing up, but I’m not sure if I really felt grace until my fourth year at Biola. Oh, I understood mentally that I was saved by grace. But I didn’t allow myself to feel the presence of grace in my life. And once I felt grace, I also began to feel freedom.

How did I feel grace? I learned how to say no. And by that I mean, a few times in situations where I was pretty sure I knew what the “right” decision was, I would willfully choose to do the opposite. And then I would sit and claim grace over my decision. Sounds crazy, right? Now, before you think “disobedient!” and “you’re not a true Christian!” know those voices were already yelling in my head loud enough for my whole neighborhood to hear. Learning to trust that God knows the condition and intentions of my heart regardless of my actions is a lesson I’ll be on for a while.

There are a lot of individuals like myself who grew up in the church and have a difficult and frustrating time owning and experiencing their own relationship with our Savior. My journey of ownership began in 8th grade. Since then I’ve continually had to reexamine and deconstruct everything that I’ve been taught growing up. I literally have to relearn it all. And it’s tricky and challenging because there are beliefs I’ve found in myself that I didn’t realize I was taught – like how I viewed and experienced grace.

I’m living in tension between…

Legalism and antinomianism.
My and others’ expectations for myself and God’s expectations of me.
Being responsible for or to someone or something and not claiming responsibility.
Living to gain material wealth and living simply, generously, and sacrificially.

…and a whole lot more, of course.

I’m coming to terms that I’ll never be in perfect balance. Hopefully as I swing back and forth I will eventually not swing so far from side to side, slowly making my way closer to the middle, the perfect balance. I know achieving that will not happen in this lifetime though. So for now I will live in tension, and live in grace.

—–

¹Meritocracy: Believing that the harder one works, the more he/she will be rewarded. That success in life is directly correlated to how hard one works.

In late January Mark Driscoll tweeted:

“I will never understand why people think the carts at the grocery store are free like the bakery samples & just push them home?”

Now, Driscoll and I have our differences when it comes to our beliefs on men and women. But I still respect him and think he is an incredibly talented preacher.

BUT.

When I saw his tweet I felt as if I had shriveled up inside, suddenly aware and ashamed of the privilege¹ that I benefit from on a daily basis that keeps myself and others like me blind to the reality of others who are living alongside us.

Driscoll has never had to think about why someone would actually need to push his or her groceries home in cart.

It seems like a simple, black and white issue. Taking a grocery cart off store property is considered stealing. Stealing is wrong. So why would you ever do it?

Growing up as a White, upper-middle class, non-disabled woman, I never had to think about how to transport groceries without reliable transportation… because I always had reliable transportation. To this day, I’ve never had to walk or take a bus because it was my only means of getting somewhere. There was a year or two in college where I would ride my bike to the store and come back with bags swinging on my handlebars. But for the most part, someone has always been available to give me a ride, let me borrow their car, or I had my own vehicle.

Let me tell you about my 80 year-old neighbor, Rosa*. I’m not going to pretend to know anything about her life, but this has been my experience with her.

Rosa lives next door to me in a yellow stucco quadruplex with black wrought-iron bars across the windows. Her adult son also lives with her. When I moved to Boyle Heights last summer, the first place Larry and Niki (the owners of the house I live in) took me to eat was at Rosa’s restaurant. We went out to breakfast and, having taken French in high school and ASL in college, I learned how to order “dos huevos con jamon”. She also makes fresh juice… cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon. And damn, the food is good.

Rosa’s restaurant is so small that you could easily pass it on the street without realizing it’s there; tucked between several other businesses on busy 1st Street, just 3 blocks away from my house. Inside, the restaurant has 3 booths and 2 small square tables; square feet-wise, the entire restaurant is probably smaller than my kitchen. Rosa has one other person help her, but she does all the cooking. We give our order to her and then she literally walks 5 feet and cooks it for us.

I often bump into Rosa leaving her home, pushing a grocery cart full of fresh food ready to be cooked, around the same time I leave for work in the morning. I greet her in Spanish and ask her how she is doing. Though she moves slowly, she is always cheery and happy to talk. Because of my delinquency in the Spanish language, our short conversations usually start in Spanish, morph into Spanish and English, and end in English. At night, around 9 or 10pm, if I’m in the living room, I’ll see Rosa coming back from her restaurant, pushing her empty grocery cart.

This is her work. This is how she supports herself. Her restaurant is open for all three meals of the day. This is a good time to remember how old she is. She’s 80.

I can see her grocery cart now, from where I’m sitting in my back yard. It’s a matte medium gray and doesn’t have any store markings on it, resting outside her doorstep. It sat through the hail and thunderstorm last night.

Not everyone takes or uses shopping carts for the same reason. But I wish that next time Mark Driscoll wonders why a person would push one home, he would picture someone like Rosa.

—–

*name has been changed to protect and respect identity.

¹Privilege: An advantage or immunity given to a certain group of people. This could be based on gender, race, socioeconomic status, able-bodiedness, sexuality, education, language and much more.

I spent this weekend propped on a plush, pillow-laden couch in a large studio in North Hollywood filled with Persian rugs, floor chairs, and even more colorful pillows, decorated with paintings resembling the intersection of pregnancy and seed life.

Why was I there?

I was taking a birth doula¹ workshop to become a certified doula. And it was amazing. For 2 days, 12 women ranging in age from 20 to 40 shared enriching and traumatic birth stories, role-played comforting a laboring woman, affirmed each others strengths, and watched videos of women giving birth. It was powerful. We sipped Moroccan peppermint tea from Trader Joe’s and talked about organic food and ate fresh bread with butter. We practiced massage techniques on each other and coached each other in breathing patterns. We were mesmerized as our instructor shared the contents of her doula bag with us – everything from grape seed oil to a light purple rebozo to her aromatherapy kit.

Our instructor said something today that stuck with me: “Women are dying for compassion from one another.” And I think that’s so true! We become so competitive, so catty, so desperate to “one-up” each other. So to be in an environment where we were cultivating health, affection, and support of one another was incredibly powerful and life-giving.

And that’s when I realized, I love women. I mean, I LOVE women. There is just something about witnessing women cry and grieve over their birth experiences or share in the struggles of parenting while working full-time. Somehow women who are single or do not have children are able to relate. We have so much in common simply because we share the same body design. And yet, we are so diverse and unique. The beauty of unity within diversity.

I think women are my calling. I want them to be my work. I don’t think it will always be in the same capacity, but I think that they will be the common denominator in whatever slew of careers I end up having.

We ended the weekend by sitting in a circle and listening to a song that spoke of sisters: women leaning on and believing in each other because of their friendship. Below are the lyrics.

“Sister”
by Cris Williamson

“Born of the earth
Child of God
Just one among the family
And you can count on me
To share the load
And I will always help you
Hold burdens
And I will be the one
To help you ease your pain
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend
I will fold you in my arms
Like a white wing dove
Shine in your soul
Your spirit is crying born of the earth
Child of God
Just one among the family
And you can count on me
To share the load
And I will always help you
Hold burdens
And I will always help you
Hold burdens
And I will be the one
To help you ease your pain
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend
Lean on me, I am your sister
Believe on me, I am your friend”

We need more of this mutual support! I know I could use it, and I certainly need to learn more about what it means to provide it.

I was thinking about the women in my life and all the various roles they play. I want to share some of them with you, so below are links to blogs of women I really admire.

Jonalyn Fincher blogs on women and spirituality.
Hollie Baker-Lutz has a new blog on “finding feminism in the everyday”.
Kimberley B. George blogs on the intersection of gender and all kinds of injustice.
TulipGirl blogs on “mothering, theology, and gracious living”.

—–

¹Doula: a woman who provides emotional, physical, and informational support to a woman during pregnancy, labor, birth, and the immediate postpartum period.

I’m nervous about starting a blog. …but I’m getting over it. Sort of.

Initially, my idea was for the blog to be focused around the topic of gender. I had even thought of a saavy title: Gender Jenga – a visual play-on-words of the process of simultaneous deconstruction¹ and reconstruction². An explorative passion of mine, I thought that a blog would be a great place to deconstruct gender in the church and media and begin to reconstruct a gender paradigm that is balanced on the Truth that the Bible gives us, while allowing room for mystery and grace.

But then I realized, that as I am human³ – complex and multi-dimensional – I would soon find the topic of gender limiting. Not because there is a lack of material to discuss but because the topic of gender ties into an incredible amount of other conversations. Conversations that I would also be interested in hosting.

I hope that this blog can be a sanctuary of ideas and emotions, a safe place that exudes love and respect for the diversity of humankind, a peace-promoting haven of unity that can be a small glimpse of the Kingdom happening right here on earth.

So here we are. I pray that through this venue, whether just skimming or contributing to discussion, that you and I both begin to formulate a healthier concept of what it means to be human. The limitations, the complexity, the brokenness, the potential, the need for grace. We are all students as we learn how to embrace being human. Welcome. Let’s explore together.

——-

 

¹deconstruction: to intellectually and emotionally confront and tear down faulty ways of thinking and perceptions of oneself, God, others, and the world.

²reconstruction: to intellectually and emotionally discover and build up new true ways of thinking and perceptions of oneself, God, others, and the world.

³human: the state of being a spiritual essence (or soul) housed in cohesion with a limited physical body; the state of being broken spiritually and physically; the state of being in need of grace.