Friday, November 27, 2020

"And Yet"

I started my first diet 43 years ago today. Well, not to this date (it was November 25 as opposed to November 27) but it was the Friday after Thanksgiving, 1977. It took me years upon years to see the connection, to see that my first diet of oh so many diets began the week that my world crumbled to ruins. Three days before, I had come home from school to find that my father had moved out, the garage empty of all his belongings (an image that would haunt me the day he died). It was one day before when I watched as my mother fell to pieces, quite literally to the floor, beating it with her fists and shrieking at the top of her lungs in mourning over the death of her 31 year-old marriage. I was 14 and powerless. 

I had grown up knowing that the worst thing that can happen to you is to be fat. Never having been a popular person, never having much skill in any area to speak of, and having struggled with intense shyness for most of my life, I knew that my value in my world rested on what I looked like. And in my world, that value was determined, for the most part, in what I weighed. 

I cannot remember a time when my mother was not dieting. Our shelves were filled with every diet book imaginable. We did not eat the chicken fried steak and gravy, the sweet potato pie, the fatback and collard greens of our Tennessee South. We ate cottage cheese and grapefruit halves. Boiled chicken. Stewed squash. We drank skim milk. Lipton Instant Tea with saccharine. Tab. And glory hallelujah the day Lean Cuisines were invented. 

But I digress. My diet started the day after Thanksgiving, 1977, but it did not end there. I've told the story enough places and times that most know it. The story of how, 2.5 years later I started a real diet in earnest in hopes of putting shattered life back together. Funny how we assume that pulling ourselves together on the external will mend our fractured insides. The story of succeeding quite well at dieting and then losing control of the very thing I thought I could control. The terror of gaining weight. The horror of a 3 week stay in a psychiatric hospital that knew nothing of eating disorders (who did in 1981?), the healing acceptance of a psychiatrist who saw beyond my frustrating impasse with food, the encounter with God. 

There has been so much healing that has happened over the past several decades (yes, decades, because healing doesn't come in the instant variety). And yet....there is still an "and yet." I'll stop here for a minute to clarify some things. I don't struggle with eating. I actually have a very healthy relationship with food. I don't restrict. I don't avoid categories. I don't count calories and haven't since 1988. I don't weigh myself. I don't skip meals. And I listen to my body and eat when I am hungry. That is one thing I have certainly learned over the years. 

So what is the "and yet"? 

I think the "and yet" is that I am still somehow affected by the toxic fitness culture. To be totally honest, I can still beat myself up for not being as fit as other people. And while I know that walking 30 minutes a day several days a week is a perfectly healthy, reasonable, and sustainable way to live a life, I am still affected by the social pressure to do more. 

This, to me, is probably where social media is its most damaging. Oh, I can handle the political posturing and put up with different people's views on all sorts of things. Sometimes I will push back if I think a post is espousing a particularly damaging idea. But somehow what affects me most are the posts of people biking their 50 miles or running marathons or comparing how many steps they took today. 

Yesterday Matt and Lizzy and I were hiking a chunk of the Mountains to Sea Trail. I mentioned something about how my grandparents never would have done such at thing at our age. Nor either of my parents. And yet what we were doing was nothing, really. Such small potatoes compared to what most people I know do. 

There really does seem to be a push to always do more. Run more. Hike more. Bike more. Exercise more. Join a gym. Join Cross Fit. And the older the people are who are doing these things, the better. We applaud them. After all, health is what matters. After all, our country wouldn't be in such bad shape if we weren't so fat. That's what I hear. 

I didn't realize just how powerful those messages were until, thanks to a counselor friend (thanks, Julia), I hit upon the Instagram posts of Dr. Colleen Reichmann, a clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders. Her posts are brilliant and so life-giving. She talks a lot about the toxic fitness culture out there. The pressure to always do more, to earn your calories, to earn your rest. And I totally get that. 

It wasn't until reading her posts that I realized just how far from a wholistically healthy life our fitness culture has pushed us. And how badly at least I need to resist it. 

While I know that my worth was never in the number on the scale or the size of my jeans or the purity of the foods I eat, I need to remind  myself that my worth is also not in how many steps I take a day or miles I walk or hike and doing more and trying harder.. My worth is not in fighting my aging body because the world says it's not OK to slow down or look my age.  

It is actually this "and yet," this last vestige of struggle, that might be enough to take me off of social media. Or maybe, rather than escaping social media, I will use it to send a message it's OK if you don't keep up with the frantic pace of fitness culture. That your value is found some place much deeper. And I need to remind myself of this. Daily. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Can You Choose Your Hard?

I have seen this posted several times in the past few days. It has floated around as a meme so I don't know who the original author is. I understand what he or she is trying to say but this is a very simplistic, black-and-white view of life. To be fair, these words may encourage some to be more intentional with their choices and not let the hard just happen to them. I get that. But SOMETIMES it just isn't quite that cut and dry.

Marriage is hard. Divorce is hard. Choose your hard. 

Obesity is hard. Fitness is hard. Choose your hard.

Being in debt is hard. Being financially disciplined is hard. Choose your hard. 

Communication is hard. Not communicating is hard. Choose your hard. 

Life will never be easy. It will always be hard. But we can choose our hard. Pick wisely. 

The truth is that you can try your best to choose the right "hard" and still end up with the other, or with both.
You can work your hardest to have a healthy marriage and still be abandoned or abused or betrayed.
You can work your hardest to be physically fit and still be obese, often for reasons others don't see or understand.
You can work your hardest to live a frugal life and still go into debt when an unexpected expenses or tragedy come your way.
You can work your hardest to communicate clearly and still have your words misunderstood or twisted to mean something you never intended.
No, life is not that simple. We don't always have control. We don't always get to pick the hard we get. Sometimes the hard picks us.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The New Beginnings Shower

Most of us have been to them or at least invited to them. Wedding showers. Here is a couple, often a young couple, setting out on a life together and somebody throws them a party to "shower" them  (or shower her, since it is customarily female only) with gifts for their new home together. It makes sense. I get it. 

Best I can tell, the custom started as an add-on or substitute for the dowry system, a time when the bride's father was expected to provide financial assets or property to the groom at the time of the wedding. An ancient custom for sure but Target and Bed, Bath, and Beyond and, if you are more posh, Williams Sonoma sure aren't complaining. 

Even today the wedding shower makes some sense. Couples who marry young, perhaps before or just out of college, may have never lived on their own. And even those who have may have been making do with household items from Goodwill or dog eared hand-me-downs from Mom. And even those who have lived a bit higher on the hog, so to speak, may want items that are not "yours," or "mine," but "ours." 

That said, there are certainly situations where the wedding shower is less of a necessity and more of a formality. A tradition. Professional couples who have lived together may not need anything at all. The showering of gifts is really more of a celebration. 

I'm not complaining at all about the existence of wedding showers. They are certainly needed at times and almost always wanted, to some extent. But I want to propose that weddings aren't the only time to shower people. And there are times when we need to shower people even more. 

One is when a single person is setting up her (I'll use "her" for simplicity's sake) own household. She needs all the things, too. I'm sure the thinking is that she can make do until she gets married and then she'll get showered, but there is no guarantee. And why wait? Why should a single person on a single income have to make do with what she can scare up when her friend over here who is getting married gets all the goods? 

You're getting married? Congratulations! Let's give you MORE! You are setting up a home on your own? Nothing here to celebrate. The reality is that most people want to get married. And it is hard when those who are getting what they want most, get more, while those who, for whatever reason, have not found the right one, stand back and watch, making do with what they have. 

The other time is when a marriage ends. This is a time when emotional encouragement and financial assets are even more crucial. 

Divorce is a death. The death of a marriage. The death of a dream. The death of a family. The death of a household. And with that death comes a division. It's called Equitable Distribution of the Assets. What was ours becomes yours and mine. And even what stays mine can often be saddled with hard, hard memories. Mine may end up being the dishes I was showered with at the wedding 18 years ago. Mine could be the Pyrex I baked his favorite cake in. Mine are the sheets we slept on. Together. Before he slept with her. While he slept with her. 

At the time when she may be having to set out on a new life, a single life, perhaps with children, she has fewer resources than ever. She may be going from a two to a one-income household. She may be taking a job for the first time since she had children, typically meaning her income prospects are considerably lower. She may have used up all her savings (if she has any) on attorney fees. She can't afford the luxury of replacing household items. She may not even be able to make ends meet. And then, all too often, there is the shame. 

While the universal wedding shower pours out support in the form of good cheer and material goods to the lucky couple, what if we had a divorce shower? If you don't like the sound of that (you are afraid it sounds like a celebration of divorce), we could call it a New Beginnings Shower, not necessarily a party but an outpouring. We could shower her over time with gift cards and offers of babysitting. We could fill in the gaps left by the loss of so much. 

I have watched so many people that I love dearly enter into the New Beginning with grace and courage. It is incredibly hard. It takes guts to stare the great unknown in the face and move on. It takes stamina to work day in and day out, helping your children navigate the tumultuous world of shared custody. It takes resilience to put one step in front of the other while mourning the death of what you had. I say we ease that burden just a bit. Let's be the cheering section for the New Beginning. Let's shower her with love and support, both emotional and financial, and celebrate the New Beginning. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Spiritual Privacy

 A few years ago now I came across something on Facebook that really troubled me. For whatever reason that Facebook does what it does, the powers that be put into my news feed a post that a distant friend commented on. A father posted photos of his grade school son at the pinnacle of some mountain, praying, with the commentary of how proud he was of his son who "prayed to receive Christ." I was shocked and quite troubled. I wasn't troubled because this boy was at perhaps a critical point in his spiritual life, I was troubled because this father felt the need to document it with photos, post it on social media, and then brag about it. 

I have seen this a lot over the years, parents applauding their children's spiritual accomplishments and apparent godly choices and character. And while there is nothing wrong with encouraging your children and sharing about them, there are a couple of things that concern me here. 

One problem is that parents whose children are no so overtly Christian or do not wear their spiritual lives on their sleeves can feel like they are doing something wrong. In a world of "if you do it right" it is easy to compare and find yourself coming up short. The guilt and fear is multiplied exponentially when your child's spiritual condition is a supposed result of your performance as a parent and your failure as a parent could impact the state of your child's soul for all eternity and whether or not your child is playing in the youth group worship band or memorizing the catechism is evidence for all to see. 

The other problem is this public bragging treats your child's spiritual life like a performance. We all know that children want more than anything the approval of their parents. If your children know that you want them to look like Christians and act like Christians in the most Christiany sense of the word based on the standards your particular culture has set up to measure such things, they are likely to try to live up to those standards, whether that is what is going on in their heart or not. This is a grand setup for all sorts of hypocrisy or internal conflict (with perhaps self-medication) or out and out rejection of any and all of it. 

My concern is that kids won't have the opportunity or feel the freedom to discuss their needs and desires and questions and doubts and frustrations and fears and will stuff them all down in lieu of looking like they are supposed to look and making their parents proud. 

One of the things I regret most as a parent is not emphasizing with my kids that it is OK to have questions and doubts and not understand why God calls them to a certain kind of life. I regret that we didn't have the opportunity to grapple together some of the legalisms and expectations put on us all. 

I read recently about the concept of Escalator Christianity, where we are expected to go from level to level, always improving, always getting better, always getting more spiritual and ever closer to God. That doesn't happen in life. Not in an adult's life and certainly not in a kid's. The spiritual life is not a serene ride up the escalator but more of an amalgam of every carnival ride ever with highs and lows and twists and free falls and sometimes dark, dark tunnels (this past year I ended up on a slow moving ride through the bowels of the earth). 

Expecting our children to take spiritual steps at certain times and then bragging about it and even patting ourselves of the back (or patting others on the back) for doing such a good job is just incredibly damaging, as they will often do what they think they are expected to do. This is not the National Honor Society or Eagle Scouts or Bible Verse Memory Award. This is a relationship and God works in each kid's life in a different way. 

Our kids get so little privacy on social media as it is. Let's keep their relationship with God something they can wrestle with in their own way and in their own time and not use it as an occasion to toot our own horns. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

More Than Objects

An article came out today in Relevant Magazine adapted from the book Talking Back to the Purity Culture by Rachel Joy Welcher. It mirrors a number of other articles I have read lately from therapists such as Andrew Bauman and Jay Stringer, who work extensively with men and sexual addiction. Their message is this: the current strategy of dealing with pornography addiction and sex addiction and lust is only making matters worse by turning women into dangerous objects of lust and seduction rather than creatures of value. 

My husband will say that most men know that women are not the danger. Men are. And yet it is the women getting punished by this method of managing desire. 

Last week a friend heard a sermon where the pastor acknowledged the huge problem of pornography addiction within the church and how incredibly destructive such addiction is to relationships and marriage. Good enough. And yet his advice to men was to "stay far away from the opposite sex." 


That mode of managing desire may work for an alcoholic (just don't go where they are serving alcohol) or an ex-smoker (avoid people who are smoking) or a member of Gambler's Anonymous (stay the heck out of the casinos). But women aren't alcohol or cigarettes or one-armed bandits. We are people. Real, live breathing beings with minds and hearts and souls. 

For the past 37 years of my life I have been in churches that hold to the view of male only leadership. This complementarian view says that, while men and women are created of equal value, they have different roles and, per certain passages of scripture, men are the leaders and the heads of churches and families. Some hold a "loose complementarian view" while others are much MUCH more hardcore. But every church I have been in has had only male pastors. Only male elders. Only male deacons. Any questioning of this becomes the "I didn't create this order. God did." 

I am not a Bible scholar and certainly not versed in the hermeneutics of scripture. But I am a woman in this system and I will ask you this: 

What do you think happens to women in the church when you combine 

A.) a complementarian, male headship only ideology and 

B.) "avoid members of the opposite sex"? You get 

C.) Women lose. Women lose out on it all. 

You cannot on the one hand set up all sorts of restrictions against interacting with women and then on the other insist that only men are allowed in leadership positions within the church without women really, really, really getting a raw deal in the process. The women get no real care and have no voice because the men in power have to keep their distance. 

I have experienced this over and over and over again. Other women share the same story. And it is absolutely heartbreaking. 

I know some men try to remedy this in different ways. I have had plenty of pastors who will meet with me (upon my request) but insist that my husband come along. Do you know what happens? He ends up talking with my husband and I am left out of the game. My voice is lost. My story goes unheard. My ideas count for nothing. I no longer matter. 

My husband says by way of observation that it could be that men are just more comfortable talking with other men. If that is the case, then they either need to learn how to talk with women (practice is always good) or they need to have women in leadership positions who can talk to women. But you cannot hold to the ideals of male-only leadership and avoid the opposite sex without more than half the church suffering from neglect and, quite often abuse. 

(Yes, abuse. I need to save this topic for another post because so many women, suffering abuse at the hands of their husbands are not listened to or believed by the leadership in their churches and are quite often excommunicated or disciplined for seeking to leave their abuser and is a tragedy that deserves to be addressed separately.)

What is so interesting is that Jesus was continually moving toward women. Not away from them. He approached the woman at the well and didn't end the interaction when she drew him water. He didn't send Mary back into the kitchen as she sat at his feet, in fact he said she chose the better way. When a prostitute washed his feet with her tears, he saw her heart and dealt with her so gently, while the leaders wanted to send her away.

It is passages like these that give me hope that I am something more than a collection of cooties or a walking death trap. That I am not invisible. Or dangerous. 

So many women I know long for healthy, encouraging interactions with men. And men need healthy, encouraging interactions with women. 

As Welcher says, "If women are to be viewed as whole person, the male gaze must be addressed holistically. The problem of male lust is not solved by looking away from women, but by looking at them correctly--as more than their physical bodies, the temptations they pose or the sexual satisfaction they provide. They must learn to see them as sisters, image bearers and coheirs of the kingdom of God."If women are to be viewed as whole persons, the male gaze must be addressed holistically. The problem of male lust is not solved by looking away from women, but by looking at them correctly—as more than their physical bodies, the temptations they pose or the sexual satisfaction they provide. They must learn to see them as sisters, image bearers and coheirs of the kingdom of God.


Saturday, October 3, 2020


 In her book When the Heart Waits, Sue Monk Kidd writes:

At my darkest moments I did feel as if my heart was groaning. As I write about those terrible sounds, I do so with that odd kind of trepidation that comes from being human in public. Recently I received a letter from a reader who was "surprised at me" because I'd written an article expressing some of my midlife feelings, "Christians shouldn't feel that way," she said. (The implication was pretty obvious.) But the truth is Christians have all kinds of feelings. Their hearts groan in many ways. And frankly, I believe we'll all be better off when we take off our religious masks and become more human. Then we can get on with what really matters--the act of cupping our ears to one another's hearts with compassion.

It is time, people. It is time to take off the mask. It is time to quit pretending that "good Christians shouldn't feel that way." Stop putting people in a box. A tidy, pious box. That box may make life more comfortable for you but it is suffocating to your neighbor. And it looks nothing like Jesus. Take off your own mask and quit insisting other people wear one. And listen. Listen without an agenda. Listen without judgment. Listen with compassion. That is what really matters. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Where Are the Single Moms?

I have been wanting to say this for about eight years and have never really had the courage to do so but life is so weird now people are doing and saying all sorts of things and so, hey, there's no time like the present. 

As most of you know, back in 2012 our then 20 year-old unmarried daughter gave birth to our granddaughter. I realize that for much of society a 20 year-old giving birth isn't a big deal, even an unmarried 20 year-old, but in the communities we were in, it was, well, an event. One to be talked about in hushed tones. One to be handled with care. 

Knowing how badly our daughter would need support and knowing that likely the best support would come from other women who had been in her shoes, I began asking around to friends if they knew of single moms in their churches. What I found was shocking. While many knew of a few single in their 30s and 40s who were divorced with older kids, almost nobody knew of a woman in their church who had been in our daughter's shoes. 

People, this is a demographic anomaly. For the past decade or so approximately 35-40% of the babies born in our country have been born to unwed mothers which leaves one to ponder WHERE THE HELL ARE THEY? Well, they certainly aren't in church. 

But why not?

Interestingly enough, a few months ago my husband and I were visiting a church nearby and I asked one of the men there about single moms in the church and his reply was shocking and disturbing. He basically said that single moms probably don't come to church because they feel so much guilt over the sin that got them in that situation in the first place. And I thought, no WONDER there aren't single moms in the church. If that is the attitude of those who are so unsullied as to not have to live forever with the consequences of their actions, then no wonder single moms make themselves scarce. 

I did, by the way, educate this man. I let him know the reality is that single moms are left out everywhere they go. They have no place to fit in. They don't fit in with the singles, because they have a child to care for, and they don't fit in with the families, because they aren't a couple. I watched my daughter attend two different churches and regularly get left out of things, not necessarily intentionally, but left out nonetheless just because she didn't fit. I would imagine that she is not alone in this experience. (For the record I know that my friends who are single moms via divorce have often had the same experience.)

I really don't get it. For all the pro-life talk out there, the support for women who choose life, so to speak, is pretty pathetic. A while back I saw somebody cooing over an article about how wonderful it was that a group of pro-life college students had donated some large number of diapers to a crisis pregnancy center. And while that is great and babies do need diapers, the help has to, HAS TO go beyond diapers. Babies don't stay babies. 

What single moms need more than anything else is community. People there to take up the slack. To give them a break. To notice them out there on the fringes. To invite them into community. To listen even when their words might be impolite and their honesty jarring. To listen without lecturing or fixing. To me it is really sad that this doesn't seem to happen in the church because that should be the place where it happens most of all. 

In the first church my daughter attended as a very young single mother, she tried to be involved with the other singles. And yet she would be crushed over and over again when she saw photos of the others in the group doing activities to which she was never invited. When she was struggling and went to the pastors they told her she had not been trying hard enough. One, that was royal bull***t because she lived with us during this time and I watched and watched as she tried to fit in. We even hosted the young singles Christmas party at our house. Don't tell me she didn't try. But more importantly, since when did church become the survival of the fittest? You can only get your needs met if you do all the right things and fight your way in to the core? 

Jesus, after all, moved toward, not away from, the marginalized. He knew something of the shame society heaps on people. He knew that the hearts of the least of these mattered more than all the programs and agendas in the world. He told his disciples to not get in the way of the little ones coming to him. 

Throughout scripture we are called to care for the widows and the orphans. I think unwed mothers and their precious children are the widows and orphans of our day. 

James tells us this: 

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress

I realize some people are completely at a loss for what to do. If and when you encounter a woman at church, here are a few ideas:

-Don't assume that she is married. Don't ask her where her husband is or what her husband does. 

-Invite her to do things with your family and/or friends. 

-Listen to her when she has had a bad day, without trying to fix it. 

-Ask her what she needs from you and from the church. 

-If you are a leader in the church, go to her. Ask to hear what life is like for her. Check on her often.

-Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Pour out on her grace and mercy, not accusation and judgment. 

Notice that none of these suggestions have to do with diapers. Not the diapers aren't important, but they are temporary. They meet a physical need, but not an emotional one. Not a spiritual one. Diapers don't raise a child. A village does. This is what single moms need and it is too hard to find it in the church. Let's change that.