Wednesday, January 31, 2018

#metoo and Eating Out of the Trash Can

Honesty alert here. Maybe even more honest than usual. Frequently I have other women thank me for saying what they don't have the words, or the courage, to say. I don't know if that is the case this time. I don't know if any other female shares what I am about to share. I guess we'll see.

A few months ago I was walking the dog and a pickup blew past and whistled at me. And I smiled. I actually smiled. I have no idea who was in the truck and why he (I assume a he) whistled. I realized that I like it....I actually like it....if a man whistles at me. And that bothered me.

A few days later the #metoo movement broke wide open. At first I wasn't even sure exactly what women were saying #metoo to. Sexual assault, certainly. But what else? What qualified for a #metoo? I asked around and found out that sure, I could say #metoo. What women were describing was what I assumed was part and parcel of being female. Lewd and crude comments. Propositions. Getting looked up and down. Hasn't every female had that? But it bothered me that it didn't bother me.

The vast majority significant interactions I have had with males I have ended up ignored, shut down, or  corrected. So of course when a guy makes some comment or whistles at me, I eat it up. It is about the closest to being valued I am going to get. My thoughts, my feelings, my experiences don't seem to matter but hell my body does. Apparently it still does. Yes, total honesty. And no, I am not running off with the the next guy that whistles at me. I love my husband dearly. But I also see that in many ways I am starving for interaction with people of the opposite sex and it seems like the only time I am seen of value is if I look attractive (even at 54). And they whistle.

I am eating out of the garbage can. I am ashamed of it. I am ashamed that I care.

I don't know what it is inside of me that so desperately wants to be seen as a person of value by men. I don't know what makes me want my ideas to matter. I mean they do matter to my husband. I wish that were enough.

Do other women feel this way? Do they wish their ideas, their views, their feelings (gasp!), their experiences mattered to all of humanity? Do they want to engage in conversation and interaction that has no sexual expectations whatsoever? Am I the only one?

I read this a couple years ago in an article by Jacob Phillips: "The vast majority of pornography objectifies women; their bodies are important, as is their function as an element of sexual gratification. But their hearts, minds, opinions, experiences, feelings, and everything else that makes them self-consciously who they are is completely irrelevant."

I don't think it is just pornography that objectifies women's bodies and ignores their value. This seems rampant everywhere. At least in my experience.

I don't want to care. I don't want to eat out of the trash can. I read the gospels and I see Jesus and the way he treats women is food for my soul. I want that to be enough.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Engaged and How We Got There

Thirty years ago today Matt and I sat down on a rotting log in the mud and dead of winter and he asked me to marry him. I assumed he was joking. He wasn't. We did get married. Fourteen weeks later. It takes some people fourteen weeks to decide on a wedding dress or variety of cake. We do things differently.

A few weeks ago I was telling a young woman the story of how Matt and I came to be. She found it incredibly encouraging and I realized it was encouraging because ours is not the stuff movies are made of. There was no love at first sight or walking on clouds or a moment when either one of us just "knew" that the other was "the one." Ours was a more organic, messy, wild and sometimes sickening ride through relationship dynamics, with preconceived ideas and unrealistic expectations dying along the way.

So, how did we get there, to that log in North Georgia along the Appalachian Trail on a late January afternoon? I really can only tell my side of the story.

I think I was born in love. I was born in love with the idea of being in love. I don't remember ever not being boy crazy. I had a number of "boyfriends" in my early years and some love interests that were not reciprocated. Perhaps the best way to catch the attention of the man of your dreams is not to do what I did in third grade and write "I Love You" with my spoon into the frosting on my plate and hold it up for the cute, blue-eyed boy I was sweet on to see. I wasn't as subtle back then.

I had boyfriends but never for very long. In 9th grade I fell for the first guy who told me he loved me, that lasted a month, and then spent the next year writing really bad poetry to mend my broken heart. The rest of high school and college, I went through a string of guys, most of them nice enough, but no relationship ever lasting more than a handful of months. Yet my dreams lived on.

I spent the summer after my sophomore year of college in Argentina. I went with the stated purpose of bring people to Jesus but, in all honesty, my real goal was for adventure and romance. Emphasis on the romance. I hoped to come home with a boyfriend. Instead I came home with 15 extra pounds.

By the end of college I was looking to get out on my own in this brave new world. I moved to Asheville the week I graduated from college and started my new job. I didn't know a soul. I found a group that met every Friday evening called Fellowship of Christian Singles. It was more of a cultural experience than my trip to South America.

I had grown up rather sheltered. Not sheltered from pain and despair and dysfunction. Goodness no. I had that in spades. But sheltered more socio-economically. Educationally. I grew up in a rather upper middle class, private school, college educated crowd. This was the first time I encountered people who were shocked that I went to all four years of college. This was 1986. The era of the yuppies. I don't know where the yuppies in Asheville were were but they weren't in this group. And yuppies were all I knew. But I was willing to learn.

As most single young adults know, any singles group is, more of less, a meat market of sorts. Each person there clamoring, best they can, to find their mate and any new addition to the group is a nightmare for the same sex and a windfall for the opposite sex. The gals wouldn't speak to me and the guys looked at me like I was a bug in a jar.

I had dates with a couple of different guys in the group. Both of them 36 while I was in 22. One was an overgrown hippy with his van covered in bumper stickers and the other was a song writer who invited me over to dinner in his singlewide, adding manufactured housing to a list of new experiences that year. Both guys were nice and they really did love Jesus but we didn't "click" for a variety of reasons.

I wasn't in despair though. There was a guy, Mr. Missionary, on my radar. But he wasn't in the country...yet. He had spent the last 2 years on a short-term mission project and was returning to the states in December. This guy made sense. We had so much in common and I built him in my overzealous imagination to be the pinnacle of all my hopes and dreams.

In November a neighbor invited me to Trinity Presbyterian Church. They were just starting a new Sunday School class for single adults. I had visited this church once before and liked it so I figured I'd give it a go. Also, another single female said that she thought that church was more "yuppy-ish" so I figured maybe I would find somebody I had something in common with.

So Sunday morning, November 23, 1986, I walked into a classroom at the Eliada Home (for wayward children). Yes, Matt loves to tell local people we met at the Eliada Home and see their reaction. At that time Trinity was meeting in a building next door to the Eliada Home and used one of their buildings for classrooms. So, that morning a young man walked up to me and handed me a penny as part of an ice breaker, get-to-know-you game. I wasn't what he was looking looking like my mother had dressed me in my medium-blue Pendleton wool suit (with Tyrolean jacket) and my black patent leather pumps and a satin bow in my hair (Matt was more attracted to artsy fartsy). And Matt, with his boot cut jeans and non-button-down shirt (who didn't wear a button-down collar?) and really hideous tan suede jacket (I like yuppy, remember?). But we did talk. And he wasn't shocked that I had gone to college. And we discovered that we actually knew many of the same people as he had lived for 8 years of his life on Lookout Mountain while his father was a professor at Covenant College so he had gone to grade school with people I knew from high school.

After church we went to the Shoney's breakfast bar, an entire group of us. I was so thoroughly thrilled to have found a group of people that I had something in common with that I talked nonstop. I mean really, really jabbered. As Matt and his roommate, Gregg, were leaving Shoney's, Gregg (who was practically engaged at this point so not in the market for anyone) asked Matt what he thought of the new girl. Matt's reply was that she seemed nice enough but talked a lot. To that Gregg replied, "She's lovely. Marry her."

That didn't happen right away, obviously. What happened was that we became friends. Good friends.  Fast friends. Come over and let's order a pizza and play Trivial Pursuit and listen to The Weather Channel friends. We didn't have a whole lot of options in town so we clung to each other. He had another artsy fartsy girl on his mind and I still was thinking of Mr. Missionary.

Well, I did end up having contact with Mr. Missionary when he came back from the field. I saw him over Christmas when I was back in Chattanooga and again in early January. In fact, he and I went out with a group of mutual friends and ended up sitting in my mother's driveway talking well into the early hours of the morning. He told me he had been counseled not to jump into a relationship immediately upon returning to the states but that didn't mean he couldn't like one woman over the others. I melted.

A couple weeks later Mr. Missionary came through Asheville and we spent the afternoon together talking. It seemed that I was not the only one who had eyed him as a possible mate (the single scene is brutal indeed) and there were a number of other prospects on his plate. Then he told me that he had some hesitation about me because I came from a broken home. And his mother was concerned that my background would bring difficulties into a marriage. And, yes, I felt like the broken car sent to the trash heap. I told Matt about this later that day and he was pretty much appalled. That should have told me something.

But Mr. Missionary still wanted to go out and, since I was going to be in Chattanooga the next weekend anyway, we made a date. Or so I thought. I got in town and waited. And waited. And waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and by Saturday evening I was kinda like "screw this" and drove back to Asheville. And called Matt. And he came over that night to talk me down from my frustration and give me a map he had bought me at an estate sale. (What can I say? The man knows the way to my heart.)

The next day we took a long drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, stopping at an overlook in the blowing snow and it was romantic and he didn't kiss me and then went back to my apartment where he did kiss me amid the dishes and The Weather Channel. And so we were dating.

(For the record, the next week I heard from Mr. Missionary that he had bailed on our plans to attend a conference on Christian fatherhood his mother wanted him to attend. I laughed and figured he was never going to get to fatherhood until he could get dating down a little better. That was the last of him.)

So, here we were, dating. But things went up and down. And then, only about six weeks after we started dating, Matt moved to Atlanta to find work. We still talked a lot on the phone. Remember this was way before things like cell phones and free long distance. At one point we had a 5 hour conversation but he only got billed for 2 of the hours, AT&T assuming that there must have been some mistake. Nobody would be frivolous enough to talk for 5 hours straight long distance.

With Matt in Atlanta, life wasn't terribly fun in Asheville and so I followed him to Atlanta and lied and said I wasn't following him. I got a job and an apartment a respectable distance away so as not to seem too clingy. We hung out together. Every day. We would be dating. Then we would not be dating. Sometimes he would break up with me. Sometimes I would break up with him. He wasn't exactly the Marlboro man of my dreams and I wasn't exactly the artsy fartsy woodland fairy of his. But dating or not, we spent every free minute together. And if we were dating we kissed and if we weren't dating, we wouldn't. And that was the only difference between the two.

At one point that summer we both came down with mono. He would come to my apartment and we would rent a VCR (yes, the machine and you picked it up at the store in a little briefcase, like you were making off with cash) and movies and would unfold my hide-a-bed and spend all day in bed together and not touch each other because we were so sick and we weren't dating at that point.

Come fall the roller coaster of "to date or not to date" was getting old. By this point I was pretty sure that I could spend the rest of my life with him, seeing how he was my best friend. I remember trying to think about who I trusted the most in the whole world (I even envisioned myself on The Price is Right and looking out into the audience to get guidance for the right numbers and the only person and who would I trust). And it was Matt. I couldn't imagine life without him.

He wasn't quite so sure about me, though. And he felt bad about that. So he finally decided that if he couldn't say "yes" to us, he would have to say "no." He told me this on Thursday, November 5, 1987 (known in our history as Black Thursday). I still remember the horror and the pain and even the anger, which wasn't something I typically felt. I grabbed my Bride's magazine and stomped out of the apartment and slammed it into the dumpster while he watched. Then he left. (He says he found my gumption impressive.)

The next week was horrible. I was more pathetic than a lost puppy. Finally I called some friends of ours, Wesley and Renee Horne. Wesley had been the assistant pastor at Trinity while we were there. They told me all this sounded normal, not to give up hope, and to contact their friend, Joe Wolstencroft, who lived near us in Marietta and was teaching a class at one of the local PCA churches. We did. And our daily lives began to weave back together.

I don't know when we started actually "dating" again, this time. But we were serious enough that by Christmas I was hoping for a surprise.

We spent Christmas Eve and morning with my mom and family in Chattanooga. Matt's present to me was in a shirt box but he told me he put it in there to throw me off from what it really was. I could shake the box and hear something smaller shaking around inside. I have never been accused of being an optimist but I sure was that day. I was convinced this was it. A ring inside a box inside a box. As we were unwrapping presents on Christmas Eve I braced my giddy self and opened my gift and there it was. A compass. And a book on how to use it. Matt could not understand for the life of him why I didn't seem to be more excited about this. Never a good actress, I failed to hide my disappointment.

But there was still hope. We were flying to Philadelphia Christmas Day to spend a week with Matt's family and he told me that there was another gift for me but it was was so small it could fit in his pocket and he would give it to me when we got there. Of course! Here is comes. So, for the second time in 24 hours Matt handed me a gift. This time it was an envelope. And I opened it. And inside was a 10-session ice skating pass. Again, wonderfully thoughtful gift for the girl who doesn't do jewelry or bling, but woefully far from a profession of everlasting love and commitment.

I got over it, best I could, and went on. We had been doing some pre-pre-marital counseling with our friend, Joe, and things came to a bit of a head again. Joe emphasized to both of us that that perfect person that we might be holding out for doesn't exist. I think we both felt a relief to hear that. It is so easy to turn your mind into a Build-A-Spouse shop and lose sight of the beautiful people who cross your path in real life. Yet I was still more settled than Matt was. So Joe told Matt to get off the fence and not come back to talk to him without having made a decision. I knew nothing of that conversation.

It was January 30, 1988. We decided that things had been stressful enough so we were going to take Saturday to just go hiking and enjoy ourselves. Matt had the idea of eating at Howard Johnson's for breakfast because he had such fond memories  from his childhood of eating there on early morning road trips. But even in 1987, Howard Johnsons were a dying bread and near extinction We kept driving and I was getting hungry and grumpy way before hangry was a word. He refused to eat at Waffle House (Matt: "I was NOT going to eat at Waffle House the day I got engaged!") so we found a Shoney's, which I suppose is more appropriate anyway, given that the first meal we ever shared together was at a Shoney's in West Asheville.

After that we headed up the the Appalachian Trail, to a trail head where we had been before, but this time we went the other direction. I was just jabbering away with no clue what was up and he kept looking on the map for a beautiful overlook but there wasn't one. It was just brown January mud. At one point he thought he saw the name Hickory Falls on the map and set that as the goal. If not a view, a waterfall will do! But no water came and the world got flatter and muddier and when he checked the map again he saw it said Hickory Flats. At some point we decided to just stop and sit. On a log. He pulled out a little Bible and read a Psalm (I think something short like Psalm 131, which is only 3 verses) and then asked if I wanted him to read a Psalm and I said Psalm 18 and it went on forever and he said later he was thinking it would never end and was like "Good grief! Woman! Why'd you have to pick that one?" And that is where he started talking and I can't remember all the words.

Somewhere along the way he said he was thinking and asking himself if he loved me and wanted to marry me. And then he asked me. And I asked him if he was joking. Because I couldn't believe he was serious. And he was serious. And pulled out a ring. In the mud. In the dead leaves. On the log.

It wasn't a picturesque moment. There was no friend hiding behind a tree with a camera, ready to catch it all on film for all of social media to see. It was just us. All mud and leaves and flannel and overalls and fog and mist and confusion and certainty and fun.

He says that once he made the decision to marry me, he never doubted it. Well, he didn't have time to. We got married May 7, 1988, just fourteen weeks later.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Going Grey

A couple months ago, without much forethought and quite on the spur of the moment, I made an executive decision. I am going to let myself go grey.

It all came from a photograph. Usually the decision is the other way. You see a photo of yourself that showcases your cellulite or your wrinkles or your aging locks and decide that you have to do something, anything, to ward of the sands of time.

But this time I saw a photo of myself with my husband, Matt. He, with his salt-and-pepper, still mostly pepper, hair and his saltier beard and he looked so distinguished. So natural. So much like home. And there I was next to him. My hair with that unnatural for me hint of, mixed with a mousy brown and it looked so unnatural. And I wanted to match. I wanted us to be a set.

I never dreamed I would be one to dye my hair in the first place. I had always looked younger than I was and, being the youngest of four children, longed to catch up with everybody else. Then I married Matt, who looked like a mere babe himself. We were a pathetic set. We appeared to be teenagers playing house. We couldn't be taken seriously in stores. Waited on, even. Several times door-to-door salesemen came to the door of the home we owned and ask to see one of our parents. It was irritating. I should have cherished it.

Around the time we turned 30 that changed. Matt grew a beard and I had our third child and then our fourth and the stress of being so over my head in parenthood took its toll and nobody ever mistook us again for teenagers playing grownup. Sigh. I missed the good ol' days.

But still, hair dye was not on my radar. I'm not a hair dye kind of person. Or a makeup kind of person, really, beyond anything I can apply in 7.2 seconds. I don't even wear jewelry beyond my wedding band and a pair of earrings. To me, the hair dye was left for the bleach blondes and the "fancy" ladies who wanted to pull the wool over everybody else's eyes and pretend to be somebody they weren't.

Then it happened. I was 39 and a friend of mine a handful of years younger was in labor. I got the call in the middle of the night and went to the hospital to provide some moral support. As I was walking into her hospital room the nurse stopped and asked me, "Are you her mother?"

Crestfallen: dejected, discouraged, disappointed, disconsolate, downcast, despondent, woebegone, forlorn, humiliated. I felt all of them. And then I went out and bought a box of hair dye.

Fast forward fifteen years. Fifteen years of fighting off the inevitable. Fifteen years of longing for somebody to say, "I never dreamed you were that old!" "You don't look old enough to be a grandmother!" "Can I see your ID please?" (OK, that's a bit of a stretch.) But you get the picture. I wanted to not only not look older than I was. I didn't even want to look my age.

But that isn't me. I am nothing if not honest. Sometimes painstakingly so. I am so much of a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person. And I wish the world was like that, too. No games. No putting on masks. No pretending. If I've spent most of the past 10 years living one great experiment in vulnerability then why on earth am I covering up who I am? Who set the arbitrary ideal that grey is old and grey is bad and old is bad?

In the book Going Gray (why can't we decide how to spell it?) by Anne Kreamer, she chronicles her own journey from decades of dying her hair to embracing her grey. In it she says that, by the age of 50, fifty percent of women are at least fifty percent grey. That's a fascinating thought. How many of us cover the grey because we think we are the only ones? How many of us know women who continue to color their hair well into their really old years and it looks downright creepy? Why did so many of us drink the Kool-aid?

Anyway, I've decided. I am what I am and my hair will be what it will be. Yes, it's a bit scary. I'm terrified of the day I get offered the senior discount. Or when I am mistaken for my older sister's older sister. Or when it is ever so obvious that I really am my granddaughter's grandmother, and not just a mother on the older side. I am sure all those days are coming. Some have already come.

With only about 2-3 inches of grey coming in, my granddaughter has taken to calling me an "old lady." Last night, a gentleman asked what our relationship was with the 2 young women a few yards away. Matt answered that they are our daughters, and this man said back to him... to my husband...not to me...but to my husband, you know, the one with the GREY beard, "But YOU look too young to have daughters that age!" Translation: but this haggard old thing here, the one resembling Granny Clampett or Old Mother Hubbard, she's washed up and hung to dry. It was disquieting, to say the least. But, strangely enough, it didn't deter me.

There comes a time and a place to put away some things. To step out. Or in the words of Theodore Roosevelt (and Brene Brown) to step out into the arena and dare greatly. No, this isn't a bull fight or a boxing match, but it does take courage. To take on society's values and turn them on their head. And to take on my own value of myself. And seeing my worth in my appearance. In my body. In the things that are aging, changing, mellowing...if you will.

For me it is time to throw away the endless pursuit of youth and physical beauty (at least by our screwed up society's standards anyway) and channel my energy into the things that really matter. Kindness, integrity, compassion, humor, authenticity, courage, mercy. Those things I can be no matter what color my hair is.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Beyond Behavior

People communicate. One way or another, they communicate. They don't always use words. The powerless and children (who are almost always powerless) are less likely to use words. They may not know the words or be able to find them. Or they may fear (or they may know) that their words will fall on deaf ears. But they communicate all the same.

They communicate by what they do and often that includes what we consider bad behavior.

I recently read Gregory Boyle's heart-wrenching and heartwarming book Tattoos on the Heart about his decades long work with gang members in Los Angeles.

You stand with the belligerent, the surly, and the badly behaved until bad behavior is recognized for the language it is; the vocabulary of the deeply wounded and of those whose burdens are more than they can bear. 

Several years ago I attended the Darkness to Light Training, led by my friend Steve Collins of Adults Protecting Children. Much of the training was in video form as we watched interviews with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. After hearing the stories, the survivors then shared how the abuse impacted their mind, soul, body, behavior. As Steve led us in discussion, he asked the question, "What do we call these kids?" And answered it himself, "We call them bad kids." The point being, we see the behavior rather than hear the language of defeat, the yelp of despair, or the cry for help behind the behavior. This should not be so.

We Christians talk an awful lot about the heart to be so focused on the behavior. I think it would do us all a lot of good to see the person behind the behavior. To ask what might be going on. To think outside the box of what we see. I understand that this can be hard. It is difficult to imagine the level of trauma or pain or mental illness or desperation that would drive people to do things we disapprove of. If you just don't get it, seek understanding. Listen to stories. Read books. Expand your horizons so that other life experiences are on your radar.

Sure, pride or lust or greed or selfishness or a downright wicked heart might be the reason behind bad behavior. Or it might not be.

Willful sin is not always the reason behind every act that doesn't pass muster. We are quick to punish the starving beggar who steals a slice of bread and slow to feed his gnawing hunger. I think there is such a fear of "excusing" sin and such an eagerness to jump on the admonishment and accountability bandwagon that we never even listen to the sinner...and thus miss the real message, the cry for help, and the opportunity to be Jesus to that person.

As Boyle says of his mission:
It's about gang members, not gangs. It's about infusing hope to kids who are stuck in despair. It's about healing the traumatized and damaged so that kids can transform their pain and cease to transmit it. It's about delivering mental health services in a timely and appropriate manner to the troubled young among us. Above all, it's about reverence for the complexity of this issue and a singular insistence that human beings are involved. There are no demons here. Just young people whose burdens are more than they can bear and who are having difficulty imagining a future for themselves. 

The pointing fingers and the Nike version of sin management, "Just Stop It,"  don't reach into the heart of a person in despair. Boyle's success with gang members has everything to do with looking beyond the behavior to the human beings dying behind it. Can we do that, too?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Numbers Game

We humans love numbers. And sometimes numbers really do matter. Blood pressure matters. Temperature, be it body, outdoor, or oven...matters. Money matters. especially when there isn't enough, it seems. Weight matters...if you are on an elevator, that is (how many of us haven't done some hasty estimating and computing when stuffed cheek by jowl with 15 other people in a tiny box of steel) . Weight on the scale...doesn't matter as much...or at all (I tell myself).

We like to use numbers to count things, too. Every year I write down each book I finish. Nowadays I need this remember to what it was I actually read, brains cells being AWOL and all, but I started this practice years ago in order to have a sense of accomplishment. I needed to see that I had done something that stayed done. The more books, the more accomplished I felt. And somehow, being the insecure and flawed human being that I am, the more accomplished I felt, the better I felt. I have to justify my existence somehow. Right? Sigh.

I think it is only human nature to count. To measure. And to use those numbers to measure our worth. But I don't see this counting being anywhere in God's economy.

Eugene Peterson in The Message has an interesting take on the first few verses of John 4. The other versions I have read don't say this is actually what happened but I wouldn't doubt it, humans being what we are. We like our numbers and a good competition any day.

Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. 

Keeping score. Really? Yes, really. It happens.

Churches count members and visitors and measure. All the time. It somehow determines the success of the ministry. The numbers.

And years ago I had a friend who was on staff with a campus ministry. Each Friday she had to meet with her superior and give an account of the number of people she had witnessed to and the number of converts. I think she even had a quota. As if the Kingdom of God operates on a budget. As if the hearts can be measured.

Bob Bennett nailed it.

You can show me your sales curves. Plot my life on a flow chart. You can count up your converts. And miss where it all starts. You can show me your sales curves. 
But there's just some things that numbers can't measure. These fragile pieces of priceless treasure. There's just some things that numbers can't measure.
In Matters of the Heart
Hope isn't another notch in the belt. Compassion can't be written in a ledger. The numbers game is dehumanizing. It strips us of our true worth, which can't be measured that way. We matter more than that.

I find it interesting that Jesus left all that baptizing and numbers behind and went back to Galilee.  But he went through Samaria. Where he encountered one woman. ONE. At a well. And we know how that turned out.