Some Thoughts on Gratitude, Entitlement and Privilege.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. Mostly because I have so much I’m thankful for. We just bought a house and it’s beautiful and we love it. We’re lucky to have it (we were able to buy it at a price much lower than it’s worth), but sometimes I find myself thinking “Why me? Why do I get this lovely, big house to live in when others have so little?”  Some people have said “You guys deserve it!” and part of me thinks, “Yeah, we’re hard workers, we do deserve it!”  But then I’m reminded of all the people I know in this country and across the world, who have to work much harder than we do just to survive.

The circumstances and opportunities I was born into is like winning the cosmic lottery.  My hard work has nothing to do with the privilege I was born with.   Why, then, would I deserve anything more than the person born with less opportunities?

 

I guess I have a hard time wrapping my mind around our society’s sense of entitlement. Our corrupted version of the American Dream seems to be “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of more Stuff”.  There’s no room for Happiness if all we can think about is climbing the social ladder, getting bigger houses, bigger cars, and just having MORE. 

 

 “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

-Helen Keller

 

I’m not saying having nice things is bad, unless it’s what drives us. Unless our consumerism and accumulation is edging toward gluttony. Unless we justify our constant pursuit of stuff with, “I deserve it”.

I’m also not putting down people in a position of privilege, I consider myself to be privileged. I’m just acutely aware that those of us in this position have so much responsibility.  Obviously, to help those less privileged, but also to remain humble and grateful. 

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”

-Brene Brown 

I’ve been thinking about gratitude recently because I’ve been reading the news. It feels like our world is in chaos.  I was camping last week and enjoying swimming and floating a beautiful river with my family, but I couldn’t completely shake the sadness in my heart, nor did I want to.  I think part of this life of privilege comes with a duty to be informed, to look at the terrible images of children dying, people being attacked because of their race or beliefs, planes shot out of the sky…and to feel something, and then do something. It’s not about politics, it’s about being human.

 

 “The greater the privilege, the greater the responsibilities and sacrifices.”

-Martin Luther King Jr

I’m so grateful my family doesn’t live in a war zone.

 

We can practice our beliefs without fear.

I’m grateful my girls can go to school without fear of persecution or being told they’re not worthy of an education.

 

We have access to good health care.

We have healthy food to eat everyday.

 

I’m thankful for the clean drinking water we have. From a tap. In our house.

It’s humbling to see that short list and know the majority of the world could not write the same things. It can be overwhelming to realize how much of a responsibility I have to the world. Sometimes I don’t know where to start and I begin to feel helpless. What can I do to affect this world of chaos?

I can teach my children to value every human life and show them ways to care for others.

I understand that there are bigger issues than most of my day to day inconveniences.

I believe that I have a voice and can speak up when I see injustice.

I teach my girls they have a voice and not  be afraid to use it. 

I can research ways to volunteer or donate money to help others.

My new home will be a place of peace, building relationships and extending love to those who enter.

And I pray. Sometimes this is the hardest. At times I have no words to pray for the horrors people are experiencing.  Today I remembered Romans 8:26 - 

 

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

 

This is how I pray today:  For strength to do all these things I believe in, to give thanks, and when words fail, to trust God sees my heart, he sees the state of our world and he cares. 

When your heart aches for a world in pain, embrace that ache, it’s called Empathy. We need it to retain our humanity. Hold your dear ones closer, lay aside grievances and just love. Love is what makes life worth living. Hold your possessions in an open hand and give thanks. Gratitude precedes altruism.

 

 “Wealth is not to feed our egos but to feed the hungry and to help people help themselves.”  -Andrew Carnegie

 

 

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Things NOT To Say On Mother’s Day

Last year I wrote about why Mother’s Day gives me heart palpitations and this year I want to send a gentle reminder of some things not to say on Mother’s Day.  This list is based on my own experiences and things people have actually said. It’s not meant to be mean spirited, but to be a helpful reminder that, for some, Mother’s Day is not a happy, clappy holiday. For some of us it’s the one Sunday of the year we’d rather be anywhere other than church. We want to avoid the shame that comes when the mothers are asked to stand and be applauded while we sit in our chairs feeling broken, like our womanhood is not quite complete because we’re not moms.  As a foster mom, this will be my 4th Mother’s Day, but there were so many years prior when Mother’s Day was one of the most painful days of the year because of well meant, but tragically ignorant comments like these: 

 

“When are you going to start a family?”                                                                                             

Josh and I were married for six years before we became foster parents and every Mother’s Day someone would ask, “When are you going to start a family?”  Which is the most painful question to ask someone who’s been trying to start a family for years.

Let me fill you in on a little secret: If someone has been married for a while and doesn’t have kids, then one of two things is happening, 1) They don’t want kids yet, if ever, or  2) They’re struggling with infertility.  So, when you ask a question like, “When are you going to start a family?” you have a %50 chance of saying something hurtful and a %100 chance of saying something inappropriate, because guess what? It’s none of your beeswax.

 

“I’m so blessed to be a mom, God must really love me!”                                                                     

This comment insinuates that moms are favored by God. By this line of reasoning we have to conclude that someone who’s not a mom or unable to have children, is not as loved by God.

I understand the sentiment here, but the word “blessed” gets thrown around so easily in Christian circles it’s easy to forget the definition; sacred, holy, worthy of worship, divinely or supremely favored, or contented.   

Those are powerful words and to someone who either desperately wants to be a mom or has decided motherhood is not for them, those words can be as sharp as knives. 

Maybe a simple, “I’m thankful for my kids” or “I love being a mom” would suffice. 

 

“You’re a mom too, happy Mother’s Day!”

People sometimes feel they need to remind me that I’m a “real” mom too, or differentiate between me and “real” moms, I’m not really sure which. But, here’s the thing, I’m a mom, just like the woman who adopted her children is a mom.

We might not have physically labored and pushed our children out of our own bodies, but we labored. 

We labored not in a delivery room, but on our knees begging God to give us a baby. 

In the dark as we lay awake with a hand on the hollowness of our belly.

As we received yet another negative pregnancy test. 

In a courtroom advocating that we can be good parents to a child who needs a home.  

We’re real moms because we get up in the night with our children when they cry, we’ve been vomited on, we’ve endured temper tantrums, and our hearts melt when our kids say, “I love you”.

  

“Being a mom is the best and hardest thing a woman can do.”

Can I just say that being a mother does not validate you as a woman?  There are so many things a woman can do with her life and being a mom is just one of them. Yes, being a mom is great, but it feels like, especially in the church, that motherhood is put on a pedestal and held as the ultimate goal every woman should be striving for.  

Sometimes the best and hardest thing is to chose not to be a mother. Not every woman should be a mom. Being a mom doesn’t make you a saint. 

Not every woman has found the right man to start a family with. That doesn’t make her less of a woman. 

Some women have decided they can serve others better without the burden of little mouths to feed. That makes them a necessary part of our world.

 

So, tomorrow as we celebrate, lets do it with sensitivity and tact. Lets remember all the important women in our lives who have extended love and support to us and our children.


 

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The Silence of God

012s“The music is not in the notes,
but in the silence between.”
-Mozart

All those months of busyness, parties and holidays, hosting friends and family, the whirlwind of life. It’s exciting and fun and yet, my soul is hungry. Hungry to hear your voice.

But, you are silent.

I search for you at the stillness of dawn, hoping for a word, a whisper, a feeling.

You are silent.

I fill my time with so many things, two jobs, a family, church, Bible study, youth group and social time with friends, but something is missing. I read my Bible searching for a promise, a conviction, an experience.

You are silent.

I walk in the forest, a place you’ve met me before. I’m grateful for your creation, I soak in the beauty and I wait. I wait for the knowledge of your presence to rush to me on the wind rustling through the trees, but I only feel more alone.

You are silent.

I remember all the times you’ve been so loud and near. The mountain tops, the feeling of being held in your arms and I just knew we’d always be close. Yet, this valley is so still, so quiet.

You are silent.

Today I broke.  I opened my Bible only to slam it shut. The silence was too much, too heavy. I yelled to fill the stillness, I told you all the ways you were unfair, aired all my grievances. My soul broke open, I felt helpless, hopeless. I sat empty on the floor with my heart and soul in pieces all around me, Silence filling the room.

Silence so tangible it covered me like a blanket. Silence so loud it was calling to me. Calling me to be still and know you are God. To trust.

You are in the Silence.

Silence flowed through the hollow, broken space of my soul, gathering pieces, mending wounds. Trust. Everything comes back to that one word. When I ache to hear you and all I hear is Silence, trust.

You are in the Silence.

Calling me ever deeper, ever closer to you. In the busyness of life you call me to the quiet place, the secret place.

You are in the Silence.

I can lose touch with you in the crazy day to day. Even when I’m immersed in the Christian life of serving, studying, fellowshipping, I need the quiet moments to breathe in the Silence.

You are in the Silence.

Remind me always of this truth. When I feel alone, when I can’t hear you. To trust you’re still here, in the words of my friends, in the laughter of my children, in the kisses from my husband, in the water of the ocean as it caresses my feet, in the stillness of dawn, in the Silence of night.

You are in the Silence.

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When God Feels Far Away

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There are days when God feels a long way off. Like today when I wake with a heaviness in my heart I just can’t shake. I pray, I beg, I plead for him to come back so I can feel his presence again, but all I feel is emptiness.

Sometimes this emptiness stems from my own depressing thoughts and insecurities, other times from the world around me, when I read about current events and it seems humanity is spiraling into godless chaos.

These are the days I remind myself of all the times God has been near, so close I could feel the warmth of his breath on my face. The momentous events full of happiness or despair or both. But, also the small things, the seemingly ordinary moments that surprise me with joy.

Today, I remember when Josh proposed to me in the middle of a storm, next to a lighthouse on a cliff, overlooking a churning sea. I’ve always felt closest to God when I’m at the ocean and that day, as I ran down the hill with a ring on my finger, hand in hand with my future husband, I heard God’s laughter in the roaring of the waves.

I remember the day Josh and I were told we would never get pregnant. I felt myself falling, clawing the air for a shred of hope, but my husband, family and friends caught me. Their hands held me while I cried, their tears mingled with my own and they were the hands and tears of God.

I think of the day at the hospital with Josh and his family as we gathered around his grandpa to say goodbye. This amazing man was a pillar of faith to his family and many others and as he breathed his last breath, there was a wrenching inside of us as we each felt a piece of our hearts move from this world to the next. Yet, as his body became still and we wept, I felt peace flood the room and that peace was God’s comfort.

I think about the last time I was in Uganda. I went with a local pastor and several others to visit a small village where they had recently planted a church.  When we arrived the people of the community celebrated by feeding us, playing music, singing and dancing. The celebrating continued as night fell.  As much a I enjoyed the entertainment, I was hot, dirty and tired from riding in the back of a truck with fifteen other people across many miles of bumpy, dusty road. As if she could read my thoughts, a woman from the village approached our group and asked if she could heat some water for us to bathe. We gratefully accepted and a while later she came back, took my hand and led me to a low, round, stone wall right next to where people where singing and dancing. There was a small entrance with a bit of cloth for a curtain and inside was a steaming bucket of water. The woman shooed me inside and left. I had to crouch low as I undressed to keep from being exposed since there was no roof. It was getting darker by the minute and I didn’t have my flashlight. I heard children giggling and was sure they were peeking through holes in the wall at the naked white lady. I was getting frustrated while trying to cup water in my hands to pour on my body and feeling the lack of privacy, when I looked up to see the most beautiful night sky I’d ever seen. The stars moved in close and bright by the millions. Suddenly, all I could do was laugh, I was in the middle of the African bush, naked as the day I was born, surrounded by the sound of drums, singing and children whispering. I saw God’s face in the stars, the smile-lines of his eyes in the constellations and heard his voice in the songs of the villagers. He laughed with me and said, “Welcome to this adventure!”

I remember when Magda, Rosie and Isaiah came to live with us and all the crazy times of trying to figure out what I’d got myself into. There’s joy in a house full of children, there’s also chaos. There are messes, meltdowns, and laughter. God was changing me and teaching me through all of it.

I remember when Isaiah left our home. Even though Josh and I had been told we’d have all three siblings forever, Isaiah had to move out because of a judge’s decision.  I watched him walk down the porch steps with his caseworker, clutching his favorite toy and a bit of my soul went with him. His empty chair at the table, his empty bedroom, the stillness of the house without his feet running about, were all screaming reminders of the missing piece of our family. When I screamed at God how cruel he was to break apart a family, he let me. And he came again in the form of family and friend’s hands and tears to hold Josh and I and the girls together.

The last few years have been beautiful ones, though devastating at times. We’ve lost too many loved ones, we’ve stood along aside friends suffering tragedies, but life keeps going. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, we go to the ocean, spend a day in the forest, we come to the table, break the bread, drink the cup and remember that our God suffered too.

Today, in spite of the emptiness I feel, I remember God is also in the stillness and the mundane. Between rain storms there’s a ray of sunlight that streams through the window and warms my face, I feel a flutter of hope that today will get better.  My girls will come home from school, we’ll sit together at the table, shoulders touching, as we look over homework and eat apple slices. Josh will embrace me and kiss my forehead, I’ll kiss his lips and these simple daily traditions become holy as they usher in the presence and love of God.

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True Love is Freedom

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Nearly ten years ago I walked down an aisle in a white dress and made a promise about forever. Twenty-one years old and certain I was in love, I had yet to understand true love.

True love is not a desperate clinging, mad dash of passion and tears, an unwillingness to part.  It is the choice to let the one you love be free.

Free to be who they are, not to try and force them into a mold of what you want.

This is the lesson I’ve learned these last ten years: True love is freedom.

No ball and chain, no holding each other back, but support, encouragement, helping each other reach our goals.

Sometimes our goals coincide, we’ve had many adventures together and are planning many more, but other times our goals are separate. We allow each other to have our own adventures, to travel on our own and experience life in our own unique way.

It’s the beauty of trust. The quiet understanding that, at times, we will have different ideas, different world views and it’s okay. We still support one another, we respect each others experiences and reasons we’ve come to this understanding of life.

True love believes in the abilities of your loved one. I feel loved when he believes I’m capable of making decisions concerning our family and our future, or when he knows I’m able to set up a campsite, start a fire, catch a fish and prepare it for dinner. I return the favor by trusting he can provide for us, understanding his need for space to create and spurring on his ideas and projects, by knowing he will always come home after a night out with friends to climb into bed and kiss me good night.

A trustworthy man is worth his weight in gold.

True love is freedom, selflessness, encouragement, two lives joined together not by an unbreakable bond, but by choice.

True love is found in adventure, in the mundane, in the good-byes and in the coming home.

It’s knowing you’ll not be alone in the bad times. Like when he carried me to the car and drove me to the hospital because I was so sick I could barely stand. He stayed by my side and held my hand and whispered how he loved me, told me I was beautiful and strong. All this when just a day earlier he’d been diagnosed with cancer.  Then, when I was well, he let me care for him after surgery and radiation.

Then, he let me fly to Africa.

True love is a give and take. If my only concern is what love can do for me, I’m lost. There’s joy in serving and caring and letting go.

We decided to make a family. After months of classes, interviews, paperwork and cross examination, we were given two small children. We learned how to be husband and wife as well as mom and dad. We had a routine, a schedule. We had movie nights all together on one couch. We had a family.

Then, I let him fly to Mongolia.

It’s true that separation makes the heart grow fonder.  Our love is made sweeter by knowing we are free and knowing we’ll always have each other to come home to.

Our next adventure will be a road trip to Canada. Together.

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July 31, 2013 · 4:22 pm

Why Mother’s Day Gives Me Heart Palpitations

I recently read a couple of articles on this subject that inspired me to tell my own story. You can read them here: http://www.messymiddle.com/2012/05/10/an-open-letter-to-pastors-a-non-mom-speaks-about-mothers-day/  

and here: http://www.salon.com/2010/05/08/hate_mothers_day_anne_lamott/

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There were years when the approach of Mother’s Day gave me heart palpitations. It was a day of extreme awkwardness and tears. Some years I avoided being around people and skipped church. I couldn’t handle the looks of sympathy, the well-meaning “You have a mother’s heart” comments or the oblivious “When are you going to start a family? Your biological clock is ticking!” comments, but the most painful part of Mother’s Day was when the mothers at church were asked to stand. I know it’s a well intentioned gesture, meant to highlight and celebrate moms, but it felt as though the spotlight was on the few of us women who remained seated.

As much as I wanted to be a mother, it’s not medically possible. Sitting in that chair while most of the other women were applauded, left me feeling gutted. Empty. Unimportant.

And I know I’m not the only one.

What about the woman who’s single, but wants to be married and have a family?

What about the woman who suffered a miscarriage?

What about the woman who lost a child?

What about the childless divorcee?

What about the woman who suffered loss through a failed adoption?

This gesture only pours salt in a very real, raw wound for these women and exposes their loss and grief.

I felt acutely excluded even though I taught pre-school and spent every day with children. Even though I loved and cared for my nieces and nephews. Even though I loved and held the babies in the nursery at church. I wasn’t a mom. Not really.

Except to the little boy at pre-school who whispered in my ear that he loved me like a mommy because his was in heaven.

Except to the infant girl in Uganda, I was one of a handful of mothers who bathed her, fed her, changed her diapers, soothed her, gave her medicine, rejoiced when she smiled and loved her till she died of AIDS.

Mother’s Day and the celebrating of all mothers enforces the idea that mothers are superior to all other women. This is simply not true. The fact that a woman gives birth does not make her a model citizen.

I’ve a few friends who’ve chosen not to become mothers, either because they feel they would make poor mothers or simply a lifestyle choice. These women are amazing women who are doing the most beautiful things with their lives. Being a mom is not the only way a woman can have value.

Having said all that, I do respect mothers. Now that I’m a mom of two daughters (permanent foster daughters) I believe being a mom is an incredibly hard job that deserves celebrating. BUT, can we find a way to celebrate that doesn’t exclude and expose women who, for whatever reason, are not technically mothers?

Perhaps we should acknowledge all women who invest in our children and/or are in many ways making our world a more beautiful place. Isn’t that the true heart of a mother?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gender Roles and the Proverbs 31 Woman

I’ve been thinking and writing lately about what it means to be a good man or woman, but the more I think about it the more I realize it’s not necessarily a gender issue. I mean, for every guy out there whistling and cat-calling there’s a girl who’s very goal in life is to get guys to notice her. I also know there are plenty of men confident enough to support and empower strong women.  Maybe it’s time to be defined not by our gender, but by our humanity.

We’re not so different after all.  I think we essentially want the same things; to be heard, respected and loved.

We’ve been told men and women are opposites.

Men want respect, women want love.

Women are emotional, men are stoic.

Men want sex, women want intimacy.

The truth is I want respect just as much as my husband does. I like sports even more than he does. I love hiking and backpacking. I can “rough it” and live without a hair-dryer. I also occasionally like to watch a girly movie and dress up. I don’t think being a woman encompasses who I am. My personality, interests and beliefs are what define me.

I recently watched a video series with a church group about marriage. The whole premise was the differences between men and women, how to relate to each other and understand each other.  While I appreciated some aspects of the message, I constantly found myself wondering if it isn’t just about the fact we are man and woman, but that we are two separate people with differing thoughts, ideas and needs.

If I want to be a good wife and have a strong marriage, I don’t need to learn everything there is to know about men, I need to understand my husband.  I need to know what he’s passionate about, what makes him upset, what being loved means to him.

Marriage isn’t so much about men and a women learning to live together, it’s about two people learning to live together.

If men where all the same then it would make sense to study their gender in order to learn how to be a good wife. Obviously they’re not all alike, just as women are not all alike.  It’s strange to me that we buy into this idea of gender roles so wholeheartedly. There have been situations when I’ve felt trapped by stereotypes and expectations of my gender and I feel unable to be myself. Sometimes I just want to hike a mountain or watch a football game, not go shopping or sit around talking about (or in my case listening to) birth stories. I know other women who, like me, feel somewhat out of the loop within their community of friends and/or church because they don’t fit the bill of how a woman should think and act.

I feel like so many relationships, not just marriage, could be stronger if we stopped trying to make people fit into the roles we think they’re made for.  I know men who’ve felt ostracized for being sensitive and experienced major pressure to be “manly” or “sporty”.  I know women who’ve felt looked down on because they choose not to have children, they’re made to feel like part of their womanhood is broken or will never be fully realized.

What if we accepted that we are unique individuals with our own ideas and beliefs regardless of gender?

Yes, genders were created to compliment each other, but that can’t happen until we stop trying to force people into preconceived notions of who and what they are.

My spirit has been bruised and damaged too many times by messages of how to be a Godly woman/wife/mother that conflict with my personality.  Early in our marriage Josh and I had arguments because of unmet expectations of each other.  We’d been told from books and well meaning mentors exactly what a husband or wife should be like. Josh was surprised to find out it wasn’t my life’s dream to clean the house and cook meals every day.  As we began to understand each other better we grew to love the things that made us different than what we’d expected. Josh likes that I’m not high maintenance (usually) and I appreciate that he has a soft side and writes me love letters and tears up at sad movies. (Don’t tell him I told you! He’s also hard working and strong and drives a truck!)

I can only speak from my own experience, but growing up, the church communities I was in seemed to put a lot of emphasis on being a “Proverbs 31 Woman”.  My interpretation of Proverbs 31 was that being a good woman meant being a wife, a mother, a morning person, a cook, having a clean house, always being happy and patient, never getting discouraged, being good at everything. Essentially, I thought it meant perfection. As a young wife I put a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect.  It didn’t work. I was just more discouraged and imperfect than ever. Plus, what about women who aren’t married, don’t have kids or can’t have kids? Where do they fall in the spectrum of godly women?

Then, in Bible school, I actually studied Proverbs and made a crazy discovery: The Proverbs 31 woman isn’t real. That’s right, she’s fiction. The author says in verse 10, “An excellent wife, who can find?” and then goes on to make a list of desirable characteristics. He’s not describing his wife, he’s describing his dream wife. (It’s also an acrostic poem using the first through last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.) The characteristics described are admirable ones wives should strive for, but that probably no one woman can fully encapsulate.

*Side note: if Proverbs 31 is the Bible’s portrayal of a godly woman, where is the male equivalent?*

Now lets think about some of the real life, flesh and blood women of the Bible:

Rahab, a prostitute.

Sarah, who doubted.

Ruth, who worked the fields.

Leah, who was unwanted.

Esther, became queen.

Hannah, who begged and cried and never stopped praying.

Mary Magdalene, who stayed at the cross.

These are a few of the women who are honored in the Bible. They struggled, sometimes failed, found redemption and were far from perfect.

I only say all this because it’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of gender roles and being a good man or woman, when really I think it just creates a lot of pressure, confusion and frustration.  Ultimately, in order to be a man or woman of God, we don’t need to subscribe to a set of rules and expectations based on gender, we only need to follow the example of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t tell Mary to get back in the kitchen with Martha, he honored her desire to listen and learn.  Jesus himself washed the feet of his disciples. And wept. He didn’t go around acting tough and demanding to be served and respected. Let’s start emulating our Savior and valuing our differences. We were not all created exactly alike, we are men and women, but we are individuals. We are all human.

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This One’s For The Boys

12103492720314903_cykBelqZ_cI’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but was having trouble finding the words. I wrote a few months ago about women and perfectionism, that post was written to women and since then I’ve been wanting to continue the topic, but write to men.  I could write about how insane it is that millions of women all over the world are seen as disposable, worth nothing more than sex, or the fact that women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of its food and earn only 10% of its income (according to UN gender reports), but what I want to write about is the role men play in either empowering or devaluing women in our western society.

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A few days ago, I was sitting at a park reading a book while my girls attended their dance class, when I couldn’t help but over hear a conversation between several young men. The conversation was about how stupid women are. Most of it I won’t repeat here, but one man was complaining loudly about how he hates it when his girlfriend tries to talk to him about life, all he wants from her is sex, he hates the sound of her voice etc…  The other men were agreeing with him and telling stories about their own “stupid” girlfriends. I wish I’d had a bit more courage to confront them about their ignorance.

Where does this notion of women being stupid, annoying and worthless come from? I think it’s a matter of control and cowardice. Some men are intimidated by intelligent women, they only want women for one thing and it’s not their brain.  Granted, there are a lot of silly and unintelligent women in our society. Why?  Because they’ve been told that their only value is in their looks. The media says we have to look a certain way in order to be attractive to men. Instead of being valued for the miracles our bodies are capable of (including our brains), that beauty has been replaced with an unachievable standard. Instead of being praised for our unique characteristics, we’ve been told what the perfect body looks like, what the perfect face and hair looks like. The media created this standard and men have repeated it, boldly, loudly, to each other and without regard to the strong and beautiful women beside them.

Men, listen:

Every time you look longingly at another woman, you’re telling your wife she’s less than adequate.

Every time you linger over the magazines of airbrushed women, your daughter believes that is the standard of beauty.

When you brag about sexual conquests, your female friends think less of you.

Guys, I’m not saying you should keep your head down and never look at a woman who’s not your wife, it’s okay to appreciate beauty, but there’s a difference between appreciation and lust. I understand you’re visually wired and that’s fine, I just think that media and our society has corrupted and manipulated your perception of women.  There are a couple guys I know who are especially good at complimenting women. They’re obviously happily married to beautiful women, but they also extend praise to other women  by telling them they’re talented,  they look nice, have cool style etc.  They give compliments without expecting anything in return. That’s the difference I’m talking about.

The difference is between giving a compliment for the sake of being kind and starting a conversation – or making a crass comment because you want something from her.  (Side note: Guys, does making crass comments and whistling or grabbing butts really work? How many women actually respond well to that? Are you just trying to get a rise from us? It’s confusing to me.) Unmarried men should take note; if you want a woman to notice you, be selfless in your praise. It sounds contradictory, but if you acknowledge someone’s beauty and worth with no strings attached they’ll be more comfortable around you and respond in a positive way. It takes the pressure off.

There are so many good women in the world, truly beautiful women, if you can peel your eyes away from what the media is screaming for you to look at. Seriously, look up, look around at the women next to you. Your neighbors, sisters, mothers, friends, these are real women, the women that make the world turn. Where would you be without them?  If you want more female attention stop whistling at strangers and start honoring the women around you.

I promise we will notice.

When I was first getting to know Josh, one of the things that drew me to him and confirmed he was a safe person was the way he treated his female friends and family members. He’s kind to his mother, he has three sisters who love him because he respects them and isn’t intimidated by their strong wills and personalities. Girls who are friends with him and had gone to high school with him told me what a great guy he is

The way Josh first caught my attention was by asking me about my interests.

He didn’t cat-call or whistle.

He didn’t grab my butt.

He listened to me talk.

And he wasn’t intimidated when he realized I love football more than he does.

Or upset by the fact I almost never wear high heels and that I love to go hiking and fishing, having adventures and traveling.

Men, please stop buying into this lie that women are disposable, only good for one thing. Stop preying on women who have believed in this lie themselves. Instead, be the stronger sex and protect women. Flex your mental and physical muscles by putting down the magazines, quit looking at porn, stop listening to the lies of the media and begin appreciating the beauty of the mind, body and soul of a woman.

Protect a woman’s intelligence by listening to her speak, you’ll probably learn something.

Protect her heart by validating her interests and desires.

Protect her body image by understanding what she is physically capable of.  See the beauty in callused, hard working hands and stretch marks.

Evaluate the way you think about women. Do you empower or undermine? Look at male dominated societies and the effect it has on families and the economy. Read Half The Sky. Learn about recent events in India. What would happen if men led the charge against violence toward women?  What would happen if everyone began to value women has humans, not objects?

I thank God for the empowering and protective men in my life. I’m keenly aware of the fact not all women know that type of man. Some women believe sex is the only thing men want from them.  Men, now is your chance to prove them wrong and show your worth.

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Eventide of The Feast

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This is one of my favorite short stories by Kahlil Gibran.  I think it’s relevant to the Christmas season and how easily we’re distracted this time of year.   I’ve made it a tradition to read this story every December and decided to share it this time. Enjoy.

Eventide of The Feast
Kahlil Gibran

Night had fallen and obscurity engulfed the city while the lights glittered in the palaces and the huts and the shops. The multitudes, wearing their festive raiment, crowded the streets and upon their faces appeared the signs of celebration and contentment. I avoided the clamour of the throngs and walked alone, contemplating the Man whose greatness they were honouring, and meditating on the Genius of the Ages Who was born in poverty,  lived virtuously and died on the cross.

 I was pondering the burning torch, which was lighted in this humble village in Syria by the Holy Spirit…. The Holy Spirit who hovers over all the ages and penetrates one civilization and then another through His truth.  As I reached the public garden, I seated myself on a rustic bench and commenced looking between the naked trees toward the crowded streets; I listened to the hymns and songs of the celebrants.

After an hour of deep thinking, I looked sidewise and was surprised to find a man sitting by me, holding a short branch with which he engraved vague figures on the ground. I was startled, for I had not seen nor heard his approach, but I said within myself, “He is solitary as I am.” And after looking thoroughly at him, I saw that in spite of his old-fashioned raiment and long hair, he was a dignified man, worthy of attention. It seemed that he detected the thoughts within me, for in deep and quiet voice he said, “Good evening, my son.”   “Good evening to you,” I responded with respect.  And he resumed his drawing while the strangely soothing sound of his voice still echoing in my ears. And I spoke to him again, saying,  “Are you a stranger in this city?”  “Yes, I am a stranger in this city and every city,” he replied. I consoled him, adding, “A stranger should forget that he is an outsider in these holidays, for there is kindness and generosity in the people.” He replied wearily, “I am more a stranger in these days than in any other.”

Having thus spoken, he looked at the clear skies; his eyes probed the stars and his lips quivered as if he had found in the firmament an image of a distant country. His queer statement aroused my interest, and I said, “This is the time of the year when the people are kind to all other people. The rich remember the poor and the strong have compassion for the weak.” He returned, “Yes, the momentary mercy of the rich upon the poor is bitter, and the sympathy of the strong toward the weak is naught but a reminder of superiority.”  I affirmed, “Your words have merit, but the weak poor do not care to know what transpires in the heart of the rich, and the hungry never think of the method by which the bread he is craving is kneaded and baked.” And he responded, “The one who receives is not mindful, but the one who gives bears the burden of cautioning himself that it is with a view to brotherly love, and toward friendly aid, and not to self-esteem.” I was amazed at his wisdom, and again commenced to meditate upon his ancient appearance and strange garments. Then I returned mentally and said, “It appears that you are in need of help; will you accept a few coins from me?” And with a sad smile he answered me, saying, “Yes, I am in desperate need, but not of gold or silver.”  Puzzled, I asked, “What is it that you require?” “I am in need of shelter. I am in need of a place where I can rest my head and thoughts.” “Please accept these two denars and go to the inn for lodging,” I insisted. Sorrowfully he answered, “I have tried every inn, and knocked at every door, but in vain. I have entered every food shop, but none cared to help me. I am hurt, not hungry; I am disappointed, not tired; I seek not roof, but human shelter.” I said within myself, “What a strange person he is! Once he talks like a philosopher and again like a madman!” As I whispered these thoughts into the ears if my inner self, he stared at me, lowered his voice to a sad level, and said, “Yes, I am a madman, but even a madman will find himself a stranger without shelter and hungry without food, for the heart of man is empty.”  I apologized to him, saying, “I regret my unwitting thought. Would you accept my hospitality and take shelter in my quarters?”  “I knocked at your door and all the doors one thousand times, and receive no answer,” he answered severely.

Now I was convinced that he was truly a madman, and I suggested, “Let us go now, and proceed to my home.” He lifted his head slowly and said, “If you were aware of my identity you would not invite me to your home.” “Who are you?” I inquired, fearfully, slowly. With a voice that sounded like the roar of the ocean, he thundered, bitterly, “I am the revolution who builds what the nations destroy…. I am the tempest who uproots the plants, grown by the ages.…I am the one who came to spread war on earth and not peace, for man is content only in misery!”

And, with tears coursing down his cheeks, he stood up high, and a mist of light grew about him and he stretched forth his arms, and I saw the marks of the nails in the palms of his hands; I prostrated myself before him convulsively and cried out, saying, “Oh Jesus, the Nazarene!” And he continued in anguish, “The people are celebrating in My honour, pursuing the tradition woven by the ages around My name, but as to Myself, I am a stranger wandering from East to West upon this earth, and no one knows of me. The foxes have their holes, and the birds of the skies their nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest his head.”

At that moment, I opened my eyes, lifted my head, and looked around, but found naught except a column of smoke before me, and I heard only the shivering voice of the silence of the night, coming from the depth of Eternity. I collected myself and looked again to the singing throngs in the distance, and a voice within me said, “The very strength that protects the heart from injury is the strength that prevents the heart from enlarging to its intended greatness within. The song of the voice is sweet, but the song of the heart is the pure voice of heaven.”

WWW.ConsciousLivingFoundation.Org

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The Still, Small Voice

I have a vivid memory of an argument I had with my mom when I was young, probably about 6 years old. I don’t actually remember the argument itself, but the aftermath. Mom became exasperated with the arguing and sent me to my room. I started down the hall, then stopped, looked back and stuck my tongue out at  mom while her back was turned. I stood there wagging my tongue and my head when suddenly, with lightning speed, she turns and sees me. I’m frozen solid unable even to put my tongue back in my mouth. As I stand there I watch as my mom’s face turns red and smoke begins to pour out of her ears, the earth quakes, mountains tremble, birds and squirrels run for cover and then, mom explodes. A mushroom cloud forms in the air above where our house once stood.

At least that’s what it felt like inside my 6 year old head. In reality my mom simply looked at me and said in the softest voice, “That makes me sad”. Crap. I’d rather have the mushroom cloud.

When mom got quiet and leaned in close to speak, I knew I’d crossed a line. I was in deep and I’d better stop and listen.

Funny thing is I still experience this instinctual  respect for the small, quiet voice in my relationship with God.  Like my mom, he never yells or explodes, (although, sometimes I wish he would) he speaks softly to my spirit, usually in the voice of a friend or my husband and children.

Last week it was through the words of a friend who spoke during communion at church. He was talking about remembering the sacrifice Jesus made for each of us on the cross. He said when we take communion we should take it without resentment towards others in our hearts. That made me sit up and listen.

You see, it had been a rough morning with my girls. We’d argued, I felt frustrated, we stormed out of the house and went to church. (Ironic and ridiculous, I know.)

Then, my friend spoke a quiet sentence as he prayed that seemed to pierce my soul. He said, “Picture the person or people you’re upset with and realized that Jesus sacrificed his life for them. Picture that person as Jesus himself because Jesus said everything we do to the least of these, we do to him”.

I pictured the girls and all the frustration of the morning melted away as I saw Jesus in them. I felt ashamed, convicted and knew I’d crossed the line. Okay God, maybe I should be a grown-up and not lose my crap over two young girls who know how to push my buttons. 

Seriously, that still, small voice is killer.

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