Kid, I Hope You're Weird.

I sit back and watch you play. I've been doing that for as long as I remember. You used to sit in front of me with Woody and Buzz and act out adventures as if I wasn't even there. I'd watch you and laugh at your story lines, occasionally taking a video of your silly voices and phrases. Over the years, your imagination has grown and your adventures have, in some ways, become more realistic, but in other ways, even more outlandish. You used to tie a pillow case around your neck and jet through the house with one fist stretched out in front of you. Now you draw up plans and blue prints and supply lists on what you need to buy to make a real Iron Man suit : batteries, jet packs, metal, magnets, lights, robot wire. 

Your father and I don't tell you those things aren't possible or real, just like we never told you Ninja Turtles weren't real. You'll figure those things out eventually. We let you take your imagination as far as it will go and as far as we can help you take it. So now our home is filled with cardboard boxes ripped apart and twisted in contraptions of what purpose I'm not even sure you know. There are Tupperware containers in your room filled with wires, buttons, springs, and switches that you pulled apart and dismantled from old toys and electronics. You know how to use a soldering iron and wire cutters and hot glue guns and we have to constantly remind you exactly why you can't just take the wire cutters to your room and cut things. You are brilliant and inventive and believe in big things and you're starting to realize that you're not like most kids. 

They're starting to tell you that your ideas are stupid, that Ninja Turtles are fake, that Santa isn't real. When we get home from church or from playing with friends, you tell me things like, "So and so said that robots are stupid." I can see it in your eyes and by the expression on your face that you're starting to feel the cold heat of rejection ... of being different. You're not into what a lot of other kids are into and to top it all off, you're homeschooled. We're really stacking the odds against you, kid. But it's not just you! 

Your little brother is the beefiest, stockiest kid I've ever known (besides your uncles - they were preschool linebackers), but he is sensitive and emotional and dramatic. You've seen him walking around the house with jewlery on, with your sister's shoes and headbands. He goes back and forth from pretending to be Batman, destroying the city and beating you up, to putting on a pink sparkly shoe, singing Let it Go and telling me, "You're so beautiful, mom. I love your hair." And just like we did with you, we let him pretend and play and pursue his interests. He loves color and flair. He memorizes songs and melodies and can rival Ariana Grande with his vocal runs. He is wild and unpredictable yet sweet and intuitive. 

Your sister is only two, but she knows who she is. One day she wants to wear pink head to toe and the next she's putting on your clothes and your brother's shoes and refuses to change. She loves her baby dolls and she loves to play in the dirt. She's tough and can handle her own with the two of you. I hear her yelling, "Give that back to me NOW." And then silence, so I'm assuming she got what she needed. But she is also sweet and caring and will check on you when you're in trouble or hurt. She does her thing, just like you all do. 

The point of all this is to tell you that the world has an idea of how kids are supposed to act and behave and what they should play with and what interests are "normal" and "age appropriate". There's a standard that someone made up, I'm not sure who, and anyone who doesn't stay directly on that line is either "above average" or below it. But you, kid... you're none of the above. Your dad and I don't let other people tell us who you should be, so you shouldn't either. We're not concerned about you being anything other than exactly who you are.   

Normal does not exist. There is no such thing. It's make believe. If you're interested in things other kids are interested in, that doesn't make you normal. That doesn't make you anything. You aren't defined by what you like, what you learn, what you imagine, or what you watch. You're just you. But if normal is the standard, be weird. Be unapologetically, authentically, weird, if that's who you want to be. You don't have to bend and stretch to make other people feel comfortable. "Fitting in" is a lie. Nobody fits in. Everyone feels awkward and rejected. I hope you never feel like you have to change who you are to make other people like you. You don't need to blend in, kid. Stand out, build a robot, dance with your sparkly shoed little brother and baby doll carrying, basketball shorts wearing little sister. You'll get where you need to go and you'll do it your own way. 

You dad and I will be behind you every single step, cheering you on, and indulging in whatever wildish idea you come up with next. 

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Me Right Now

It's been a while since I wrote a blog post just telling you where I'm at in the moment. That used to be all I ever wrote about, but being in full time ministry again has kind of put a heavy filter on my writing. I can't write as openly as I used to because my life revolves around church, so I just don't have that kind of freedom anymore. But it's early in the morning, my kids are playing quietly (WHAT) in their room, my chai is still hot, and I'm in the mood to be candid and rambly so whatever. 

I'll start with the not so great things. It's been six months since my last panic attack, but I haven't stopped feeling tremors. I get heart palpitations every day because I just haven't learned to manage my stress well. My kids are so intense and loud and they don't get along and it puts me on edge from the second they wake up everyday. I feel like I'm failing them, like I don't know how to parent them. Since pulling Jonah out of school and deciding to homeschool him, my stress has tripled. Not because of him, he's such a good kid, eager to learn and quick to pick up on things. It's just the pressure of having to be the one that makes sure he's learning what he needs to be learning. Is he learning enough? Am I pushing too hard? Am I not pushing enough? Zach loves the idea of homeschooling all of our kids until they graduate, but I'm really hoping we can get him into a magnet school. The public schools in our city are just not for us. They have wonderful teachers and staff, but Jonah was really not doing well and I have to remind myself of that every time I angry text Zach, "WHY DID WE TAKE HIM OUT OF SCHOOL!?". So the stress is real and I'm learning to manage it, and I must be doing a lot better than I was last year because not having panic attacks is seriously the best thing ever. It's nice to wake up everyday and not be surprised that I'm still alive.

Since postpartum depression has made an exit (for the most part - i still have sad days every now and then) and anxiety has become manageable, I've finally had some free space in my brain to want to do things again. I have goals again! I want to write again! I want to be in ministry again! All great things, but it's been frustrating trying to find my place. It's like my life hasn't caught up with my mind yet. I guess I just expected opportunities to fly at me because I'm amazing and have so much to offer (haha) but every time I put myself out there and tried to do something....rejection. I put that in bold because rejection feels like bold font. I was really discouraged for several months. I started feeling the familiar heavy dark cloud pulling me down again and telling me those familiar lies, "You can't do anything. Nobody wants you. You're pathetic." But then I heard someone say something, and I can't remember who said it, or what it was, or maybe I just dreamed it? But whoever it was said, "If you can't find a ministry in your local church to be a part of, create one. If your can't create one, go outside the church and find one." I had never, ever, considered finding a ministry outside of my church. Ever. I've been in ministry literally my entire life (pastor's kid problems) and have never thought to leave the church walls to serve. Sad, I know, but I'm conditioned, ok??

So anyway. I'll try to make this story shorter. I got sick sometime in December and stayed sick until a week ago (not kidding-it's been awful) but in one of those really intense sick weeks, I started watching the show "Lock Up" on Netflix. It's a documentary series about women in prison and I just went IN. I couldn't stop watching the show and somewhere around episode 6, I started feeling a heavy burden for incarcerated women. Years ago, I was asked several times to be a part of prison ministries and always gave a confident "no" because I just didn't feel like I could do anything for them. Their problems were too intense and I was too young, too peppy, too full of excuses, I guess. But watching that show stirred something in me and I started to think about our city. Zach and I are passionate about investing in our community and creating change in our city, on small levels,  and doing what we can to help people break cycles of abuse and addiction and, of course, to know how much Jesus loves them. Watching that show and thinking about our city and its drug and gang related problems made me realize that working with women in prison is exactly what I needed to be doing. It's the first time something that totally does not make sense for me really makes sense for me. If that makes sense. So I googled "how to teach writing to women in prison" because I thought that would be a natrual way for me to serve and I found an organization called Voices from Inside. It's a non-profit that teaches writing workshops to women who are incarcerated or in drug recovery programs. I emailed the director, had a phone interview, and  spent two eight hour days in training. Now I'm just waiting on my placement! So. Pumped.

The training was phenomenal. It confirmed that working with underprivileged and marginalized people in our city is exactly what God has called me to do right now and it ignited passions in me that I didn't even know were there. I sat in the room with 13 other women, some who were training with me, some that were facilitators already, and I was so inspired by them. I've spent so much time at home, raising my kids, with little connection to the outside except through Facebook and Instagram. All I see on my newsfeed are political opinions and people ranting about the left and the right, telling me why I should hate Donald Trump, or love him, or whatever, but I don't see anybody talking about what they're actually doing except marching or making phone calls. I naively (maybe pridefully) assumed I was the only that believed real change happens on smaller, local levels. You can march on Washington, but if you're not investing in your local community, I don't really put much stock in what you say. Put your work boots on where your heart is. Or something. But in that training room at Smith College, I was surrounded by women who were there to help marginalized women not for what they can get out of it, but for what they can offer. It's probably going to go down as one of the most eye opening and inspirational moments of my life. And I haven't even been inside the jail yet. 

That was not a short story. Sorry. I'm just excited about it.  

Anyhoo. So that's kind of where I'm at right now. I'm balancing this excitement about what I'm doing outside of my church with the disappointment and frustration of not being able to find my place inside it. I have felt like the walls are up on all sides and I don't blame my church for it. (Although I definitely have spent a lot of time doing that.) I think this is a God blocking my path to get me on the right one kind of thing. It's this awkward stretch of muscles that I haven't used in a long time and I'm not exactly sure what to do with them, but I'm just going to keep stretching. A few months ago I was talking to my mom about some of this stuff and she said, "God's not done with you yet, Kristen. Just be patient." I hate when moms say stuff like that, but she was right. (I hate that too!) I'm finally starting to believe that God's not done with me yet. I'm trying to stop taking rejection so personally and think of every "no" as a "not this".  It's hard, but I'm trusting that God has me, just like he always has. 

In other news, Jonah turned 6, Anna turned 2, and Zach bought me Nikes for Valentine's Day. Well, really Christmas, but it took him a while to find the right pair, so I got them on Valentine's Day. We're romantic like that. I'm still learning Spanish, so hablame, por favor! Necesito practicar.  

And now my kids are demanding cereal, which we're out of, and juice, which we never have, so I'm going to deal with that. Here's a photo of me and three of my long time friends after our Women in the Church chat a few weeks ago because this is the first picture taken of me in a long time where there is life behind my eyes. Also my friends are gorgeous, so that makes me look better. Happy Tuesday, friends!  

Biblical Feminism - Resources

Hey everyone! I sincerely hope you enjoyed our chat on women in the church and that you walked away feeling encouraged, inspired, and challenged. Here are all the resources we referenced in our chat (and a few extra!). Feel free to leave any other suggestions in the comments and let us know what you thought! We're on this journey together and would love to hear from you. 

 Books : 
 
Jesus Feminist - Sarah Bessy
Finally Feminist - John Stackhouse
Lioness Arising - Lisa Bevere
Paul, Women, & Wives - Craig Keener
After Eden - Mary Stewart Van Leeuwenhoek
God’s Feminist Movement - Amber Picota
Half the Church : Recapturing God’s Vision for Women - Carolyn Custis James
Two Views on Women in Ministry - James R. Beck
Partners in Christ : A Conservative Case for Egalitarianism - John Stackhouse Jr.
The Blue Parakeet - Scot Mcknight
Fashioned to Reign - Kris Vallotton

 Podcasts : 
 
The Liturgists (Episode 40) - Woman
Bethel Podcasts - The Theology of Empowering Women Part 1 & 2 
 
 Articles : 
 
 http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200102/082_paul.cfm
 
 http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/5-ways-bible-supports-feminism
 
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/why-you-should-be-christian-feminist

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I'll Take Boaz Over Christian Grey

*I wrote this post several years ago, when the first 50 Shades movie came out. It was deleted while transferring sites, but I thought now would be a good time to re-post.

Oh great. Another Christian woman writing about about 50 Shades of Grey. The only reason I'm even attempting to discuss the social phenomenon that is this movie/book is because this month, my Bible study has been in the book of Ruth. It's kind of ironic that I'm studying this book about a man and woman, of which I find striking similarities to Christian Grey & Anastasia (the main characters in 50 Shades of Grey), at the same time the movie is released causing a hail storm of discussion. So aside from all of the obviously negative things we can talk about inside 50 Shades of Grey, I just want to discuss the main men in these stories : Boaz and Christian Grey. These two many have many things in common and I'm going to break them down for you now. 

*necessary disclaimer : I haven't read the books or seen the movie, nor do I intend to.  My information about the book and characters comes from various online sources and blogs. * 

Both Christian and Boaz are men of influence, power, and wealth. Christian, a self made billionaire and owner of his own corporation. Boaz, a wealthy farmer, well known in his town and highly respected. The most significant similarity, in my opinion, is that both men were interested in weaker, vulnerable women.

Ana, Christian's "love" interest, is a 21 year old virgin. She has little relationship experience, has yet to graduate college, is shy and resistant to his advances. Ruth is a poor widow. She has no means of income and has to "glean" (collect grain that has fallen on the ground) to be able to feed herself and her mother in law. She is a foreigner with no rights to land or property, living in a society that is not friendly or respectful to a woman without a husband. Both women are vulnerable and weak, from a certain standpoint.

So we have two wealthy men, two weaker (so to speak) women. Now let's talk about how these two guys are totally different.

Christian uses his wealth and power to assert his authority and control over Ana. He goes as far as to buy the company she works for so he can keep tabs on her and control her even more than he already does.

Boaz uses his wealth to help the poor, giving generously to Ruth, even telling his workers to purposefully drop extra grain for her to pick up and harvest so that she'll have more than food to eat.

Christian completely and shamelessly takes advantage of Ana's weaknesses. He exploits her sexual immaturity and uses it to his advantage. When Ana expresses her nervousness about having sex, Mr. Grey lets her know that he intends to "rip through" her virginity and that he wants her to be sore afterwards. When the deed is done, he becomes even more possessive than he was before their relationship began (he had already bugged her phone and found out where she lived at this point) and tells her, "Every time you move tomorrow, I want you to be reminded that I've been here.  Only me.  You are mine." 

Boaz has a slightly different approach. He never pursues Ruth, she offers herself to him and asks him, in a very cultural and kind of odd way, to take her as his wife. Boaz is humbled and honored by her request and tells her that while he'd love nothing more, he was not first in line to take her as his wife. In those times, when a woman's husband died, the closest of kin would then take  the widow as his wife. Ruth's husband and his brother both died around the same time, leaving Boaz and another relative as the "kinsman-redeemer". Boaz acknowledged that there was a relative who was closer in blood line to Ruth's late husband and he must first go to that man and receive his blessing to take Ruth as his wife. A man of respect and honor. He tells her, "All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of nobel character. Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I .... if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it." 

Christian is verbally controlling and abusive. Here are just a few of his comments to Ana :

“Don’t start with your smart mouth in here, Miss Steele. Or I will f*ck it with you on your knees. Do you understand?”

"Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you. I can track your cell phone-remember?" 

"So help me God, Anastasia, if you don't eat, I will take you across my knee here in this restaurant and it will have nothing to do with my sexual gratification."

I'll just stop there. Let's look at some Boaz quotes.

"May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." 

"The Lord bless you, my daughter. This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier. You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask." 

Oh hey. Swoon.

So here we have two men, safe to say they're equal in stature and wealth and social standing. Both men have a younger, more vulnerable woman interested in them, and they have two totally different reactions to the situation. So when I read all these articles online from all these women saying Christian is the perfect man and they wish their husbands/boyfriends/sex partners were more like him, I'm just baffled. Because he sounds like a big abusive jerk. To say the least.

I'll take Boaz over Christian any day because I deserve more than that. Every woman deserves a man who respects her, honors her, and cherishes her. We don't know much about Boaz outside of the few chapters in the book of Ruth, but we know that he was a man of honor, that he didn't take advantage of a meager widow, and that he honored and respected the traditions and laws of his culture.

When did our standard become so depressingly low that Christian Grey would be an arousing fictional male character? Is it because he was abused as a child and that abuse is the driving force for his disgusting and repulsive behavior? Do we pity him? Do we want to be the woman that breaks the abusive cycle and teaches him to truly love? Is that really appealing to women? To be abused for the sake of true love?

In high school, I hopped around from guy to guy. Nothing serious. Never anything that I would ever deem a "relationship", but two specific guys stand out. I actually "dated" them (if that's what you want to call it) at the same time and kept it a secret from them both. Neither one of them had a car, one of them was jobless, and both of them were verbally abusive. It was like a drug to me. I took it as a challenge. I loved the emotional vulnerability I experienced when they called me names, when they got mad because I wouldn't have sex with them, and even when one of them threatened to rape me if I didn't consent to having sex with him, I didn't break it off. I loved the attention. It was addicting. Until it wasn't. Until I was actually afraid that the one who had threatened me would actually follow through and I had to rush from his house in a panic while he was in the bathroom. (I've never seen or talked to him since.)

So when I hopped from those destructive relationships to my first serious, long term relationship, you can understand that my standards were kind of low. During the relationship, I didn't notice the emotional hold the guy had on me, or how his words manipulated and controlled me, but looking back on those years of my life now, I'm repulsed. Not just at him, but at my response to the stupid and offensive things he would say. His cruelty (whether intentional or not, I'm still not sure.) is what kept me attached to him. I wanted to try harder, to be better, to be prettier, to be somebody worthy of him. I never once asked myself, "Is he worthy of me?" Eventually I broke up with him, but the damage was done.

But then I met my Boaz. My well respected and honorable man. I was weak. So weak. I was vulnerable and afraid and considerably messed up. He saw it, acknowledged it, and gave me my space. As much as I wanted to jump into a relationship with him, he took a step back, and let God work in our lives separately, before we even tried to walk together as a unit. He didn't try to fix me. He prayed for me. He didn't take advantage of my neediness, he turned away from it and pointed me towards the Cross. He drew lines and established boundaries and while it drove me crazy at times, it set our relationship up for success. He respected me. He respected my past. He respected my fragile heart. He was strong and assertive and sexy, but he never used his obvious power against me. If anything, the idea that he could control me based purely on my fragility and weakness turned him away and made him become more intentional about helping me focus on things other than him. On positive things like friendship with other people, on my schoolwork, on my relationship with Christ, on my prayer life, on my ministries, on my calling. I married my Boaz. He earned my love and I earned his. And by the way he treated me, honored me, and respected me, he proved himself to my family and in turn, earned their respect and honor as well. (I'm pretty sure they prefer him over me these days.)

It breaks my heart that so many women find the persona of Christian Grey appealing. It's heartbreaking and tells me that there is clearly something deeply wrong with what our society deems a loving and respectable relationship. Christian Greys are a dime a dozen, but a Boaz? He's worth waiting for. He's worth so much more than you can ever imagine.

And you, young woman reading this, are worthy of him.