Wednesday, September 5, 2018

My Next Battle

For the past few months or so it seems that one of my emotional, developmental tasks has been coming to grips with going grey. My grasping of this and acceptance of my hair as it is has had its ups and downs, but gradually I am moving in a good direction. It seems my next task may be a bit more daunting. Whereas, should I decide that my confidence, my psyche, my self-esteem just isn't quite there yet, the grey is an easy, quick fix. But my other issue isn't.

One of the reasons that I have so desired to let myself go grey and be at peace with it is to help push back against the cultural stereotypes of beauty and the negative view of aging. I can't complain about it, about the expectations that I can get older internally but externally I can't change (whoever came up with this crackpot idea anyway?) and yet still cave to the pressure. I'm a bit of a rebel. I will refuse the status quo if I think the status quo is screwed up. So, grey I am becoming.

My next task is gonna be a beast though as it entails coming to terms with my changing body. I have so much more against me here. Not only do I have the beauty culture against me, I have the fitness culture against me, too. And behind all that I have the message I received from birth: that being fat is about the worst thing that could ever happen to you.

I have told bits and pieces of my story before. Of my weight obsessed mother who hated her body. Of the weight obsessed culture of my childhood. Of my own success in weight loss that led to a serious eating disorder in high school.

Over time I began to eat healthy and watched my body go up and down in size until it adjusted because it knew I wasn't going to starve it any more. Then I learned to trust my body. My hunger. My cravings. I began eating when I was hungry and not when I wasn't (well, some of the time anyway). I grew babies and nursed babies and my body responded to me kindly as I treated it kindly. My relationship with food has been healthy, I would say more healthy than average, even more healthy than most, for decades now. My relationship with my changing body has been a different story.

It is still so easy to put my value in my appearance. That is what our culture does. I've written about some of my struggles in posts like #metoo and Eating Out of the Trash Can. Youth, beauty, fitness. That's what really matters, right? It certainly would seem so. But time marches on and marches right across your torso, thighs, hips, and arms. Menopause enters. Estrogen leaves. Metabolism tanks. Skin elasticity goes to pot. Who I am as defined by my physical body comes into question. Our culture tells me I must fight. Fight it all. I must eat less. Exercise more. I must look awesome in a bikini at age 62 (yes, I saw that on a magazine cover once). It is all too much.

I am a grandma, dammit! I know people in their 70s and 80s who are still wringing their hands over their weight and trying yet another diet. I don't want to spend the rest of my life fighting my body. Fighting nature. There is do much more to life than driving yourself insane trying to achieve some subjective, and quite honestly fucked up (yes, I said it because sometimes situations warrant it and this is one of those) standard of beauty and acceptance.

So here I am. Looking 55 in the face. A bit more bulky than I was this time last year. Considerably more wobbly. But making the choice to say no to the pressure to maintain the body of my youth. We gotta fight this, people. Who's with me?


Monday, September 3, 2018

Lessons in Lawn Mowing

I cut the grass this morning and it was awful. It often is awful. It is awful because our mower sucks. If you let it cut off then you have to wait at least 30 minutes before you can start it again. And, worse yet, the self-propel function ceased working a couple of years ago. If you live on flat land that might not be an issue, but alas! The mountains. Anyway, that means that cutting the grass needs to be done by brute force without interruption.

This morning I prepared myself, or so I thought. I went ahead and filled a glass with ice water because I knew at some point I would be about to die. I set the glass where I could grab it without letting go of the handle. It was a welcome relief as I came to it about halfway through and guzzled down all that I could, minus the flung piece of stick that swam around.

Unfortunately, this morning was oppressively muggy. The grass was slick from dew. And it just took way more out of me than it might in more favorable conditions. At one point I really thought I wasn't going to be able to finish and tried to yell, over the roar of the lawn mower, for someone to bring me more water. I'm not that much of a loudmouth and nobody heard. I finished. Barely.

I realized that this is life. When faced with an overwhelming task or jam packed week, it is wise to set out points of refreshing. We aren't machines. We aren't even crappy lawnmowers. We need points of rest. Refreshing. A cup of cold water. Sometimes we can't set one out ourselves. Sometimes we might need to ask someone to be alert to our need. Next time I will ask my husband to have his office window open and be alert to my possible yelling for help.

If cutting the grass is easy for you you might not understand why it is such a big deal to somebody else. You might have a kick-ass mower or a level yard or more muscles and stamina and perhaps a cool, refreshing breeze. You might not realize that the person struggling to tame their yard is dealing with steep slopes, rocky soil, soggy grass, heat and humidity, or (like me) rapidly shriveling muscle mass (damn you, menopause!). It is easy to assume that if something is easy for you, it should be easy for someone else. But our loads are not apples to apples.

I know so many with various challenges in life that others just don't understand. They are continually met with the "why don't you just ...." Such ignorant, unwanted advice is condescending and demoralizing. The parent of the special needs child can't just.....whatever. The single mom can't just.....whatever. The person with debilitating depression can't just....whatever. They have more obstacles than you can see.

It is important to look more deeply into the lives of people to better understand the struggle. I know so many whose seemingly easy life tasks are made so much more difficult by conditions I may not see or understand. I want to be there for them with a cup of cold water. Please, if you know you are going to need one, let me know. I may not be able to cut your grass, but I can hopefully refresh your soul when you need it.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Pro-Life Means Pro-Life Down the Road, Too

I am going to be very blunt here but I have to say this to all my friends who are pro-life. Being pro-life has to go beyond birth. Being pro-life means being a caring and loving support to the mother who chooses that life long after that life is born. Single women who choose life make a hard but holy choice. Not only are they choosing life for their baby, they are choosing their life, and it is a hard one. Single motherhood may be the hardest job on the planet. It can terrifying, frustrating, exhausting, and so lonely it crushes the soul. You don't fit in. Anywhere. Not with your single friends. Not with your childless couple friends. Not with your friends with children. So, yes. You make a good, choice. A beautiful choice. But a very hard choice.
So I make this plea to you, my pro-life friends. Don't forget the mothers years after they have made that choice. Check in on them. Encourage them. Include them. If the life she chose was of so much value at birth, remember that that life is still of value. Both lives are of value.
She made a choice to choose life. Please make the choice to support it down the road.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Dear Paige Patterson

(For those who have known me for years. let me explain. Two and a half years ago I became a member of a young church plant in Asheville, Emmaus Asheville. Emmaus is part of the Summit Network out of Raleigh, and therefore a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. So after 31 years as a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, I jumped denominations. It was a hard decision but Matt and I fell in love with the mission, culture, and people of Emmaus and felt God calling us there. Therefore, as a member of the SBC, I signed this letter.)

Dear Paige Patterson-

I signed the letter.

I signed the letter because I am a member of a church that is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and I believe that God has put me in this place for such a time as this.

I signed the letter because I have a voice and choose to speak up. I must speak up.

I signed the letter because the objectification of women has to stop. Because the mistreatment of women has to stop. Because the abuse of women has to stop.

I signed the letter because I have had a front row seat to the devastation of abuse in women I love dearly and I know well that abuse of any kind, be it physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, sexual, financial, can wound or kill the body of the abused but will always, always wound or kill the spirit of the abused.

I signed the letter because I have watched women in abusive marriages treated with disbelief, disrespect, contempt.

I signed the letter because I have seen pastors and people within the Body of Christ ill-equipped to handle the destructive and complex issue of abuse and do more harm than good.

I signed the letter because I am tired of the church giving grace to the abuser and law to the victim.

I signed the letter because I am tired of the church putting the institution of marriage above the care of the people within the marriage.

I signed the letter because an abusive marriage is not a picture of Christ and his church. It is a picture of hell.

I signed the letter because I have wondered why men coming out of seminaries are so arrogant and yet so ignorant of issues such a abuse. Now I know. If the leaders do not show Christlike love and compassion and care toward the sheep, neither will the shepherds they train.

I signed the letter because your attitudes that you have expressed show me nothing of the character of God.

I signed the letter because I believe that the pushback and criticsim you have received, that you labeled an attack and circled the wagons, was instead a calling out of your very own sinful behavior and attitudes.

I signed the letter because I am actively, in my own small voice of one, asking you to humble yourself, step down from your position of leadership, and seek the forgiveness of the God you profess for your own sins against women.

I signed the letter because I have a hope, a flailing one, but still a hope, that the views within the church are changing and that one day women will be seen and treated in every way, with the utmost care and respect.

I signed the letter and would like to call all my brothers and sisters within the SBC to do the same. To turn the tide. To bring hope. To be Jesus to each other and to a hurting world.

Ginny Barker
Swannanoa, NC




Saturday, February 24, 2018

Dreams

It is Saturday evening and I can't seem to get hooked into any of the five books I am trying to read. I keep striking on on the sudoku because I have done all the easier ones and the only ones left are the ones that require a skill set greater than mine. I've read over the home inspection and vacuumed the house. And I started thinking. Maybe Saturday evening is for thinking.

I used to be quite the dreamer. At least I was when I was a kid. I was always dreaming of being someone else. Somewhere else. When Olga Korbut broke into our world and flipped and turned and jumped and twisted her way into our living rooms via the 1972 Olympics, I dreamed of doing the same. I suppose every little girl did. When The Sound of Music came to the movie theater I went to see it seven times and dreamed for months of being a little Bavarian girl high in the alps. And when The Waltons played out their rural mountain story every Thursday evening at 8pm I longed and longed and longed to be one of them. And to one day grow up to be just like Olivia Walton with a big farmhouse full of lively children who jumped from haylofts and milked cows and walked to the general store just like in the good ol' days.

As a teenager and even a young adult, I still spent a good deal of time, maybe way too much time, dreaming. Those dreams were mostly of whatever young man was my love interest of the day and when and how he would realize that he couldn't live without me.

I've had other dreams over the years: of living in an interracial urban intentional community, of raising my kids on a farm, of delivering babies or chasing storms, of playing the fiddle, of getting a masters degree, of writing a book, of being good at something. Of making a difference. Dreams live and then they die.

I have never done well with those "Where do you see yourself in 5 (or 10 or 20) years?" I have never had that kind of vision. I have never equated my dreams with where I could see myself. I usually couldn't see myself. I used to think that was some awful omen that I was to die young but I've made it to 54 so far so there's that.

A while back my husband asked me that question. "What do you want to be doing in 10 years?" I just can't see it. I just don't know. I just don't dream any more. And I don't know why.

Perhaps it is because I've seen the foolishness of my dreams. Or the futility. Perhaps it is because life is just so different from how I ever pictured it. It isn't bad, there are indeed very wonderful things about my life, but it is different. Perhaps it is because my dreams are no longer just mine. My life is tied to so many people and therefore what I want doesn't hold the same weight any more. Perhaps it is the feeling of powerlessness that overtakes me when life seems to have spun out of control and I figure why get my hopes up to be disappointed. I really don't know.

Dreams at this age are different any way. What do you dream about at this age? My brain doesn't work. My body has taken on a life of its own without asking my permission. I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up. And maybe I am just tired.

I guess life has taught me that my dreams pretty much need to stay just that. Dreams. Part contentment. Part resignation.

After all, it isn't about me.. I need to keep an open mind and take what comes.  Maybe dreams are overrated. So much else matters more.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Experience and Its Lessons

Experience is an excellent teacher. In fact, some might say it is the best teacher. An experience that brings on intense emotion can become seared in our mind and in our heart like nothing else. Students leaving college and seeking to break into the job market know the frustration of being told that you can't have a job until you have experience and yet wonder how you can get experience without a job.

Yes, experience teaches well. But what it teaches can be limited to, well, our own experience. It can be easy to assume that our experience is everybody's experience which, in fact, may be far from the truth.

Think about the person who trusts no one. They probably got that way because they have had their trust betrayed once, twice, or time and time again. On that front, their distrust makes perfect sense. Their experience has taught them well. Except that it hasn't. It has taught them not to trust when, in fact, there are trustworthy people out there and a life where you trust no one is fraught with angst and fear and cynicism and there can be no true bonding of friendship or intimacy without trust. So, the experience taught them well but taught them only part of the story.

Think about the person who trusts everyone. They may have grown up in a world of good and kind and trustworthy people. Many of us might call this person naive. A Pollyanna. Foolish, even. Their experience has taught them that people ARE trustworthy. This person can end up a sitting duck. A target for scammers. We still need to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves. People aren't always acting in good faith. Trust...but verify.

Our experiences are so important. Yet if we only focus on our personal experiences, we become nearsighted, only seeing what is right in front of us instead of the entire picture. And from there it is an easy step to black and white thinking. Setting up our perspective as right and all others as wrong. Champion my position and demonize the other party. We become so certain about what we believe, what we have seen, and that puffs up into arrogance and offensiveness, and before you know it you are living in a world of snarky memes and pat answers. A quick spin through the Facebook newsfeed and you'll see what I mean.

How do we fix it? I think we start by listening. Listen to each other. Learn from each other. Share our experiences with each other. The broader your frame of reference, the less foreign and scary other people will seem. They are people, by the way. Human beings.

It is so easy to get frustrated with people until you find that their experience may be coloring their thoughts and actions. I used to get so annoyed driving down a particular road in town when I got behind slow drivers. My shortsightedness had me antsy and eager to get on with things. Then I got a ticket on that road. After that, I drove the speed limit (a ludicrously low one) and understood why others had driven so slow. Sometimes I would have people behind me obviously irritated at my seemingly laid back and pokey pace and I wanted to stop and yell, "Don't you understand? I just got a ticket!" But no, they didn't understand because they hadn't gotten a ticket.

I need to remind myself of this the next time my adrenaline surges at somebody else's opinion. They have experience that is informing their ideas, words, and actions. Maybe I should ask what those are.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Empty Nest

Last night, for the first time in 28 years, Matt and I slept in an empty nest. Officially empty, that is. I mean, at this point, I still share a bed 3-4 nights a week with my granddaughter, a pint-sized, human version of a Kitchen-Aid mixer on overdrive. For some reason she detests the thought of covers and spends half the night pulling on my hair to self-soothe (Ow! Ow! OW!). But this is a season that I know will, one day, be behind me. And life will change. As it always does.

The empty nest is one of those things that parents long for and dread, sometimes with alternating emotions and sometimes at the same time. That is the way most of parenthood is, really. Mixed emotions. Mixed everything. A perpetual state of confusion. You love them so much you can hardly breathe and they drive you positively insane at the same time. You remember how badly you wanted a baby and then you wonder what the hell you were ever thinking and when when WHEN will you ever have a moment to yourself to think or your house to yourself to have a little bit...just a teensy weensy bit of peace and quiet where you brain cells can come out of hiding and maybe, just maybe, you can coax them back to life again.

So here it is. We went to bed last night and it felt so empty and it was weird. We woke up this morning and it was still weird. Peaceful, but weird.

I recently read the book Walking on Eggshells by Jane Isay. It was so wonderful to hear that other parents find having adult kids a challenge. In fact, the author said that most parents find parenting kids in their twenties (though you aren't really parenting, you are still relationaly their parents) just as challenging as any other stage. Sigh. We are eight years in to that decade with eight more to go.

That really was a wonderful book and encouraging to the likes of people like me, who want to have a good, healthy, respectful, loving relationship with my adult children but are having to learn by hunting and pecking, trial and error, like a dance. Step forward. Step back. Step forward and stumble on toes. Fall back. Gradually get the swing of things. Do a cartwheel. Look ridiculous. Whatever. Be a safety net, not a hammock. Love them but don't smother them. Listen way more than you speak. As one woman interviewed for the book said, "Keep your mouth closed and your door open."

Today I will go downstairs, to the emptiness. I will tidy up and clean. I will sort and stow. I will put my clothes in the washer without having to take out someone else's load first. I will look around and remember and be thankful for what I had. And what I have. For who I have. Even if they don't live here any longer.