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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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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Warning: Spur Of The Moment Rant.

This morning I turned in the TV to check the news for a few minutes before leaving to run errands. I meant to spend five minutes and then be on my way, but as my TV turned on there was suddenly a preacher yelling at me about the dangers of being homosexual. He was quoting scripture alongside statistics on AIDS from the 1980’s and I sat there unable to look away as this obliviously angry man hurled insults through the TV. I was appalled at what I heard:

“Being homosexual is not only evil, it’s stupid. It’s as stupid as you can be and still breathe!”

At first all I could think was, why is he so angry? Why had he chosen this topic to be so upset about? Then I thought about the kind and intelligent people I know who are gay. The woman who’s a family counselor and passionate about the restoration of families. The man I went to school with, who instantly questioned our friendship the moment I told him I was a Christian. He’d been hurt by the church in the past.  How would they feel if they heard this preacher?

Next, the preacher started explaining why every Christian should buy and read his book in order to better spread the love of Jesus.

Really? REALLY?

I’m pretty sure Jesus never went around telling people they were stupid not to believe everything he said. No, instead Jesus proved his love by befriending the outcasts of society, healing the sick and bringing hope to the poor. The things Jesus got angry about were corruption and hypocrisy within the temple and people who hurt little children.

Why do some Christians hyper-focus on this subject of homosexuality? I don’t understand it. Why not focus on the things Jesus himself was concerned about, like poverty, disease and injustice? Why haven’t I heard a preacher getting angry about child molesters? That’s an issue many people I love have been affected by.

I know this is a sensitive subject, but what I think we as Christians all need to remember, regardless of our beliefs about homosexuality, is that Jesus died for all people. Jesus loves all people. Jesus’ brand of love was not ranting and shaming others, it was walking alongside broken, hurting people and giving them dignity. He allowed himself to be shamed in a public way, to be killed for the sake of every single human being.

Listen, if you’re gay and you’ve felt attacked by the church, I’m  sorry.  I apologize to everyone who’s been rejected and shamed in the name of God. Please, believe me when I say that’s not the true spirit of Jesus. Jesus loves you. Please, believe that not all Christians are ranting crazies. I hope you find a community of God-fearing, loving people who will open their doors to you. I promise they exist.

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What I’m Really All About

What am I about?  What are my passions and beliefs? Sometimes it’s easy to go through life and not really think about these questions.  Lately though, I’ve been thinking about them a lot. I guess I need to know that my life has meaning, more than just the daily grind. I want to stand for something. I want to look back at my life when I’m old and know that I accomplished something good.

I think it’s too easy in our society to get caught up in the American dream, or at least a corrupted version of it; getting stuff. Big houses, big cars, big closets. We spend all our energy working toward goals of getting stuff, or for some people just getting by. We work all day in order to pay the bills, then at the end of a long day, flop down in front of the T.V. till it’s time to go to bed, then get up and repeat.

I don’t want to just get by, I want to thrive. Not necessarily in a earthly or monetary sense, (although it would be nice) but in an eternal sense. I want my life to be about more than just survival, or status. I want to make connections, to make a difference. Maybe I’m too optimistic to think I can do all of it, but I’m sure as hell going to try.

It’s easy to get distracted by all the things I think I need to do. An uncleaned house probably doesn’t have an eternal consequence, but not living out my passions and beliefs probably does.

I decided to make a list of all the things I care about, I call it my “About” list. I wrote it a few days ago while feeling frustrated with daily life. Sometimes I need to remind myself there are many important things within daily life that define who I am and what I’m striving for.

I’m  about living with less and being happy with less.

I’m about being a naturalist and finding God’s reflection in an ocean wave or mountain stream.

I’m about learning, growing and challenging myself to think outside the box and come to my own conclusions.

I’m about trying to be a better wife, mother and friend. I’m about relationships.

I’m about traveling and finding new places and new people. I’m about cultures, traditions and art.

I’m about creating. Creating memories, beauty and stories.

I’m about words. Reading them, writing them learning more of them.

I’m about valuing and empowering women and girls. Walking alongside them and finding out our worth is more than skin deep.

I’m about love. Giving it, receiving it and believing everyone deserves it.

There’s my optimistic list of what I’m all about. Admittedly, I often lose sight of these things and start to think the most important thing in the world is getting a cup of coffee right now! Or something else equally as trivial, but at least I can come back to my list and remind myself what I’m really striving for and what truly matters in the long run.

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Hope

…so that by two unchangeable things (his oath and his promise), in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.

Hebrews 6:18-20

These have always been some of my favorite verses in the Bible, but for the last few years they’ve been a lifeline. Whenever I read these verses I picture an anchor holding a great ship in harbor, preventing it from sailing away to sea. In the same way, hope has been my anchor through many dark times when I could feel myself drifting away towards depression and fear, hope in God’s goodness was the anchor that kept me from going over the edge.

You see, I have to have hope. If God is not good, then all is lost. People fail, disease disables, loved ones die, dreams are broken, injustice is rampant… Sometimes it feels like goodness is gone from the world, it would be so easy to just ride the current of despair and be consumed, swallowed whole by the sweet waters of grief.  So far, God won’t let me drown.

I’ve been to that edge a few times.

Cancer. Injustice. Incompetence. Lies.

These things have all stolen something from me and made me question God’s character. There was a night a while back that was so dark I just laid down on my living room floor, curled into the fetal position and waited for the whirlpool of hopelessness to suck me under.

But I didn’t go under, my anchor held secure. There was still hope.

Just the tiniest glimmer of light, but I focused on it and watched as it grew, slowly enveloping me in it’s warmth.

I have friends in other parts of the world who’ve lived in war zones and gone through hell, but when I think of their faces I see joy. There’s hope.

My own beautiful girls’ start to life was bleak to say the least, yet when I hear their laughter, I know there’s hope.

I have to hold on to belief in something good. So I hold on for dear life to Jesus.

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Some Thoughts On Art

I’m about two weeks into my personal challenge of writing daily for a year and I’ve already failed. This challenge is so much more difficult than not buying clothes for a year. 

This challenge is about battling some inner demons, those lifelong companions, Doubt, Fear, Rejection and Procrastination.

This is about me creating something and putting it out for anyone to see. And that’s scary.

It’s about self discipline and making time to get better at something, just sitting down and doing it.

So, I failed to write anything for a couple days, but I’m not giving up. My sister-in-law gave me a book last weekend called, Art & Fear  by David Bayles and Ted Orland. I’ve only read the first chapter and I’m already inspired. The book is about why we create art and the fears that accompany most artists.

Here are some personal revelations made while reading Art & Fear and thinking about why I need to create:

Imperfect people create art.  We have a driving desire to take the broken bits of life and pour them into our work, turning them into something beautiful. Our art will suggest our flaws and weaknesses, but overcoming the obstacles inhibiting us from creating will be a source of strength.

Failure is inevitable.  It’s okay to fail, it’s how we learn and it’s a risk that must be taken in order to succeed.

What matters most is the process of creating.  For me the experience of writing is what shapes my art as I process through my emotions and find my voice, I’m learning about myself.

 “To be an artist is to believe in life.” ~ Henry Moore

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Originally written on 9/10/2012

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Final 30th Year Challenge Update

Today is my 31st birthday. I’ve completed my 30th year challenge of not buying clothes for one year. It was difficult sometimes, but to be honest, it was a lot easier than I anticipated. Here are a few lessons learned:

Intentionality.  I know I mentioned this before, but it’s the number one lesson I’ve learned this past year. I’ve become much more intentional with how I live. Not that I don’t still enjoy being spontaneous once in a while, I do, but I mean intentional in a broad sense of living with a purpose. I base my consumption more on need, than on want. I make sure it will serve a purpose, sometimes that purpose is simply spending a fun day with my family (we all need to have fun now and then), other times it’s strictly necessity.

Simplicity. I admit that in the past when I had spare time I would sometimes fill it by going shopping. It was a waste of time, truly. This last year, whenever I had spare time it was spent, writing, reading a good book, working in the garden, hiking, exercising or going to the beach with my family etc. All of these simple things brought me much more satisfaction than a new outfit ever did.

Embracing Imperfection.  Since I couldn’t replace damaged clothing, I learned to be okay with a little stain or hole in a few articles of clothing. I learned to not care so much. This attitude overflowed to other aspects of my life as well, like standing up for what I believe in, whether or not it’s popular within my circle of community. We are all imperfect people with different life experiences and opinions and in the end I don’t care how I look, as long as I can extend God’s love to the people around me.  Embracing imperfection has helped me stop comparing myself to others and accept myself  the way I am. It’s incredible the amount of freedom that comes when you don’t care about trends or about making everyone and their mom like you.

Here’s a few of the things I did buy this last year:

  • New sock and undies.
  • I bought myself a red beaded necklace for Easter, because I wanted a pop of color to celebrate the day.
  •  A couple weeks ago I bought a new skirt in preparation for a wedding reception I’ll be attending the day after my birthday. I won’t wear it until then.
  •  A new pair of sandals ($3 on sale!) because our kitten decided my old ones were a good chew toy.
  •  Yesterday, I bought a new pair of shoes because all of my old pairs (except for my boots) are falling apart, literally.

So, that’s it. In the last year I managed to only buy a few pieces of clothing and mainly out of necessity.

Now, it’s another year and I’ve decided to give myself a new challenge. I think it’s important to continue to learn as we age, I never want to become stagnant in life, so this year my challenge is to write everyday. I thought of the things I’m passionate about and where I want to improve and landed on writing. I enjoy it and hate it at the same time. I enjoy the result of writing, i.e. processing my emotions and having a record of things I’ve learned and experienced, but I sometimes hate the actual sitting and writing part. This challenge is about self-discipline and trying to be better at something.  I’m sure there will be days when I only pen a couple lines in my journal, but nonetheless, I’ll be saving a thought or idea for when my creative juices are flowing.

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Originally written on 8/30/2012

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Who Do You Think You Are?

The last few weeks have been stressful. I keep finding myself in situations I can’t control and it makes me crazy. (I might be a tiny bit of a control freak.) It’s not even big things, just a culmination of many little things.

Whenever life gets stressful, Doubt arrives, as if on cue, to remind me of all the times I’ve failed. It’s the voice of Doubt that keeps asking, “Who do you think you are?”

Who do you think you are to be a mom? You don’t have the patience.

Who do you think you are to be a wife? You’re not enough for him.

Who do you think you are to be a youth leader at church? The kids won’t even like you.

Who do you think you are to write about your life? Nobody cares what you have to say.

These thoughts followed me for days, hanging around in the corners of my mind like a cobweb just out of reach, growing and collecting dust. Doubt continued to whisper into each new frustrating situation, “You can’t do this. Why are you even trying?”

Yesterday morning, Rosie and I decided to go to the river near our house to swim. Magda is away at camp, so I let Rosie pick the morning activity. She wanted a picnic at the river. We spent the morning swimming, snacking, picking blackberries, skipping rocks and laying on our towels reading. It was one of the most peaceful and relaxing mornings I’ve had in a long time. At one point, Rosie was in the water with her goggles trying to catch minnows and I was just sitting, taking in the sun and the beautiful landscape when I felt a different whisper, deep in my soul, “This is who you are. A mom who teaches her child to love nature.”

Those words were a fresh wind, blowing through my heart and mind, clearing away the cobwebs. They poured over my soul like a wave, filling up the cracked and broken places. Over and over I felt God’s soft voice.

Who do you think you are? You are my creation.

Who do you think you are? With me, you are enough.

Who do you think you are? You are mine.

Last night before bed, Josh was reading The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen. He handed me the book and said, “You should read page 113”.  This is what it said:

             You are constantly facing choices. The question is whether you choose for God or for your own self-doubting self. You know what the right choice is, but your emotions, passions, and feelings keep suggesting you choose the self-rejecting way.

The root choice is to trust at all times that God is with you and will give you what you most need. Your self-rejecting emotions might say, “It isn’t going to work. I’m still suffering the same anguish I did six months ago. I will probably fallback into the old depressive patterns of acting and reacting. I haven’t really changed.” And on an on.

It is hard not to listen to these voices. Still, you know that these are not God’s voice. God says to you, “I love you, I am with you, I want to see you come closer to me and experience the joy and peace of my presence. I want to give you a new heart and a new spirit. I want you to speak with my mouth, see with my eyes, hear with my ears, touch with my hands. All that is mine is yours. Just trust me and let me be your God.”

This is the voice to listen to. And that listening requires a real choice, not just once in a while, but every moment of each day and night. It is you who decides what you think, say, and do….Choose for the truth of what you know. Do not let your still anxious emotions distract you. As you keep choosing God, your emotions will gradually give up their rebellion and be converted to the truth in you.

I hadn’t told Josh about my experience at the river. I don’t know why he thought I should read that page. But, God knew my heart. He is faithful to meet us where we are.

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Originally written on 8/16/2012

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Strange and Beautiful People

 

The other day while my husband drove through town, I sat in the passenger seat and just looked out the window. I really looked though, like at people. It’s easy for me to space out and not see people, they just blend into the background noise of my day. As Josh drove through town I saw a man helping another man jump start  his car, a man comforting a crying woman, friends greeting each other with a handshake, a woman speaking to a homeless man with a cardboard sign. I saw people making connections. Touching and smiling and speaking.

I decided to keep doing it. People watching that is. The last time I went for a run through my neighborhood I went past a man on horseback who nodded his cowboy hat to me. A little, pigtail haired girl ran out of her house, screen door slamming behind her, with a squirt gun in hand to spray and chase a squirrel up a tree. An older woman on a bike, wearing a football helmet and basketball shorts over her sweat pants, while riding without using the handlebars and swinging her arms as though she were sprinting. Several people were talking and laughing together while working in a community garden.

Other interesting sightings around town include: a man on a bike wearing only a speedo, a gentleman in a coffee shop with a long braided beard who’s intently reading Byron’s poem’s and occasionally lets out a loud sigh or “Wow, beautiful.”  A woman belly dancing on the sidewalk while she waits for traffic at the crosswalk and a very large man wearing a tutu and riding a tricycle. The lovely woman at the farmer’s market with the most amazingly, long dreadlocks I’ve ever seen. The waiter at our favorite restaurant who speaks with a Australian accent one minute, German the next and is fully Irish by the time we leave.

All this people watching has made me realize that people are strange and beautiful at the same time.

People make life interesting and I enjoy the company of others, but often I tend to be solitary and prefer silence over constant chatter. I have two girls who love to talk. All the time. Sometimes, when they’re talking, I just look at them and wonder if they ever get tired of moving their lips. They don’t.

Being a mom has forced me into situations where I have to meet new people. My girls are so different from me, they’re social and thrive in big groups of people. They have all these friends who have parents that I’m supposed to meet and hang out with during play dates. It’s not that I’m socially inept (not completely anyway), it’s just that I don’t do fake and I’m not good at small talk. Most people are fine with that, but others get nervous when the conversation starts to ebb. Truly though, most people I meet are kind and funny.

Still, there are times when it’s so hard for me to like people. Can I just be brutally honest for a minute? Usually the people I struggle the most to connect with, are other Christians.

I’m sorry if that’s offensive, I’m just trying to write how I feel. I’m not talking about all Christians, I’m talking about a few. You know who I mean, they keep everything surface level and think they can wipe away a painful situation with a verse or a phrase, “If it’s not alright, then it’s not the end!” They’re convinced that their way of loving and worshiping God is the best and only way. I visited a church once where someone said from the stage that “if you’re not jumping and dancing in your worship, you might as well go home because God doesn’t want your half-hearted worship”.  Really?  Someone who worships quietly could very well be worshiping just as much as the person dancing and doing back flips for God.

I try not to be judgmental and mostly I’m fine with weird people, ( you pretty much have to be okay with weird in order to live in Oregon ) but some days I’d rather not be around people. Maybe I’m easily discouraged, but when people who claim to love God act as though they don’t love anyone except others just like them, it makes me want to move to a cabin in the woods. I’d isolate myself and pretend nothing is wrong with the world.

I recently read the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, about discovering the way you best relate to God, your “spiritual temperament”.  In the book he describes nine different temperaments, some people are Caretakers, Contemplatives, Ascetics, Activists….but I’m almost entirely a Naturalist, meaning I experience God the most while alone in the woods or at a river or the ocean. Learning this about myself is good and gives me permission to take a break once and a while and be alone in creation, but it also becomes a temptation to want to be alone a lot. In some ways Jesus was a Naturalist, he would often go to a garden to pray and once spent forty days alone in the wilderness praying and fasting, but he also spent most of his life with people, caring for, teaching and loving people.

In order to love people you have to spend time with them. In some ways I’m good at caring for people, I can get behind a cause, be an activist and bring attention to a problem and help be part of the solution. I care about injustice, what’s hard is caring about the ones who are the problem. When people choose not to care about others or are downright mean, all I want is to move to that cabin and hide. Here’s an excerpt from my journal entry the other day:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 

Ephesians 5:1-2

I’m learning more and more that in order to reflect Christ, I must love people. I’m not always good at that. I can love the down and out, the oppressed, but what about the oppressor? What about the people I find myself at odds with? Jesus loves all people. He died for us all. His salvation is available to all.

Jesus loves everyone. That means I should love everyone.

Jesus loves rude Christians.

He loves the guy who ran a red light and flipped me off when I honked.

He loves politicians.  

 He even loves me.

  Jesus loved the man on the cross next to him who had presumably committed a violent crime. He promised him salvation. 

 Unfortunately, I can fall into my own category of “rude Christian”.  It’s a constant internal struggle to be Christ-like towards people who claim to love God, but are apathetic to the plight of others. And yet, I can be just as oblivious. I’m ashamed to admit all the times I ignored an opportunity to help someone out because I was in a hurry.

Here’s a thought: let’s love each other. Let’s reach out and be open minded about each other’s point of view and realize we all come from different backgrounds and that in the end I don’t think it’s going to matter how we look or dress or how we worship. In the end all that matters is if we loved. If we claim to love God then lets agree to love people. All people. I think we’ll be surprised at how beautiful people truly are.

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Originally written on 7/25/2012

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The Lie Called “Perfection”.

The topic of self image and our society’s objectification of women is something I’m passionate about. Even more now that I’m raising two girls. I might eventually write more on the topic, but direct it towards men.  For now, this post is mainly directed at women.

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As a teenager, I was a crazy perfectionist. Okay, sometimes I still am, but I’m working on it. I used to care way too much about what others thought of me.

I’d worry that I’d say the wrong thing, so I wouldn’t say anything.

I had been convinced I was “uncool”, so I became obsessed with trying to become cool.

I was scared to death that people would discover how weird I truly was, so I tried to be someone else.

I hated telling people I was home schooled  because they automatically expected me to be, smart, nerdy and socially inept. I never believed the part about being smart.

All this accomplished was people thinking I was stuck-up because I wouldn’t talk to them, wasted hours trying to look a certain way,  the pain of not being myself around my peers and a messed up sense of self worth.

I wish I could tell my teenage self how trivial perfection is in the long run. I wish I would have known then what I know now. Perfection is not real. It’s a lie. It doesn’t exist. Our society would have us think perfection can be bought in a bottle or in the department store. Countless lives are being wasted trying to achieve the perfect image. I heard a statistic the other day (I can’t remember the source, I heard it on the radio.) that said a third of women would trade their IQ for larger breasts. Seriously? That’s deplorable. Heartbreaking. Is that what we’ve come to? Wanting to be defined by our looks? Wake up women! We are worth a hell of a lot more than that.

A couple years ago, I worked in the beauty industry doing hair and I can’t tell you how often I heard women complaining about their looks. They’d pick themselves apart saying, “I don’t like my nose”, “I don’t like my hair”, “If I could just lose a few pounds…”. Not only is this attitude sad, it’s unattractive.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to look nice, I wear makeup and style my hair (most days anyway) and I exercise to maintain a healthy body. I just don’t think a woman’s image is what should define her worth. The most beautiful women I know are not models. They’re real people with hard jobs, they’re mom’s, wives, students. They’re not perfect and that imperfection is what makes them most beautiful. They’ve lived through incredible experiences, good and bad. They’re strong.

The most beautiful women I know are confident women.

They’re confident that they are enough. They’re comfortable in their own skin, they wear what they like and don’t chase trends or spend all their time and money trying to conform to the world’s standard of beauty. Their beauty radiates from the inside. I truly believe that confidence affects your outward appearance.

Learning to like and even love myself was a hard lesson for me to learn.  I used to be so insecure, I remember several times as a teenager, hiding in the bathroom at church because one of the boys in youth group made fun of my hair or my clothes. I took everything so personally, I hadn’t figured out that teenage boys can be jerks and not to take what they say to heart. One particularly bad Sunday of hiding and self-loathing, my dad took me aside and gently reminded me of one of the older ladies in our church who was currently being treating for cancer, “She’s here today even through she’s sick and losing her hair and possibly doesn’t feel very pretty.” He went on to tell me he thought I was beautiful and that if God loves us like it says so many times in the Bible, then we must learn to like ourselves and be grateful for the way he made us. I’m quite certain he also had a stern talk with the boys and/or their parents. My dad can be scary when he needs to be.

That talk with my dad was the first time I thought about the fact that not liking myself was sort of disrespectful to God. Like telling an artist that their creation is ugly.

Of course, I’m not perfect, I’m a flawed human just like everyone else, I’ve just learned (and am still learning) to like my physical attributes, talents, interests and life experiences. Even the weird ones.

When Josh first asked me to be his girlfriend, he told me that in order for us to be together I had to believe him when he told me I was beautiful.

I think we often fall into a habit of being self depreciating and rejecting or minimizing compliments. Learning to believe others when they tell us we’re good at something or that we’re beautiful takes a change of mindset. Society feeds the mindset that image is everything and women are objects. We hold ourselves to an impossible standard.  For me that change was a long process, but thankfully I have an amazing husband who doesn’t need or expect perfection, he just wants me to be true to myself and be confident in who I am and what he believes me to be.

Women, let this be a lesson. Any man who says you aren’t good enough or doesn’t like you, unless you look and dress a certain way, is not worth your time and effort. If only my teenage self had believed this simple truth.

A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old daughter came home from school and told me the boy she shares a desk with had called her fat. Turns out it was not the first time he’d been mean to her.  I saw the pain in her eyes and felt the unspoken questions, “Am I good enough? Am I pretty enough? Is something wrong with me?” Two things happened at that moment. First, the mother bear in me reared up, I wanted to protect her. (Later, I called the school and made them aware of the bullying and made sure the boy would no longer share a desk with her.) Second, I made a decision to never complain about my own appearance or degrade my abilities in front of my girls. I can tell them they’re beautiful, talented and smart a hundred times a day, but they’ll never believe me unless they know I believe the same about myself.

Ladies, lets start being the women we want our daughter’s to be. I pray that my girls will be strong and self assured, I want them to believe they are beautiful even if someone tells them otherwise, but that will never happen unless I’m their example of a strong and confident woman.

Every time you call yourself fat, your daughter becomes more aware of her own weight.

When you say you hate your hair, she wonders if her own is pretty or not.

When you call yourself dumb, she second guesses her own mind and abilities.

I don’t want my daughter’s role models to be actresses or women on magazine covers, I want their role model to be me. I hope they look up to real women, like their Nana and Grandma, their Aunties and my friends who are all beautiful in the true sense of the word.

Women, lets stop being our own worst critics and start demanding the same respect of ourselves as we do from others.

And trust me, life is so much better when you stop trying to be perfect. As I get older I’ve learned to embrace my inner nerd, to just laugh when I’m clumsy, accept the fact that I’m weird and just have fun.

The first time I visited Uganda, one of my friends there, Simon, greeted me once by saying, “Bre, you are looking so fat today!” When he saw the look on my face he rushed to explain, “I’m sorry, I think in your country that is an insult. In Uganda, when we say you look fat, it means you look healthy and strong. It’s a compliment”.  Another common Ugandan compliment is to tell someone they look “smart”.  I think in western culture if you told someone they looked smart, they might think it was code for, “you’re a super nerd”.

I have to admit, there is something refreshing about a culture where the kindest praise a woman can receive is to be told she’s smart, healthy and strong.

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Originally written on 6/15/2012

 

 

 

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