It’s story time

I’ve been wanting to tell this story for a while now but with the holidays and all that jazz, it just never made it down. I did scribble it in my personal writing pad, which gets written in daily. But here it is:

 

I have a few friends who recently started producing a show called The Drunken Telegraph. It’s a live storytelling installment and I’d missed the first two or so. Finally I went a few weeks back to sit and listen to some live stories. I even signed up for the story slam at the end. I’m glad that I didn’t know it was a type of contest or I don’t think I would have signed up. I didn’t want the pressure to perform, or maybe outperform, I just wanted to have fun.

 

Well, I had a blast. So much of how I use to teach was through story telling and I honestly think that’s why a lot of my students really enjoyed the weeks that I was with them during my years of itinerant guest speaking. I got my points across by just telling a lot of stories. I was going to tell a story about our team getting robbed and stranded in China but during the break people who I hadn’t seen in months kept commenting on my hair and I had quite a story to tell about being a female with VERY short hair. Through their prodding I decided to tell the hair story. It was something like this:

 

In our culture there is a huge connection with femininity and long hair. I’d had short hair just after I got pregnant with my first-born and during that time I was living in a very populated college town. I noticed the difference in how the young men looked, or rather didn’t look at me, after I cut my hair. I went from being cute with flowing locks, to being someone they would look away from if I was coming down the street. It was almost like they looked away because they were embarrassed for me (insert crowd laughter).

 

Then it grew and was once again, long and lovely. I had two more kids and recently cut it all off again. I was tired of dying out the grey so short hair made so much sense. Plus, I like how cute and sassy it looks. But over the years, as I’m aging…getting more wrinkles and more body fat I notice that there are days where having short hair is a bit inconvenient as I’d like to have something long and feminine to fall back on during the days when I don’t feel so young and cute.

 

A few weeks back I was having an off day and I kept catching glimpses of myself in storefronts while I was on a walk. I thought my eyes looked puffy and tired, my puffy winter coat kept me from having a girly figure and then there was my short hair. I wished I’d had dark lipstick on so I could at least feel like I looked girly, but no such luck. My hair made me feel sort of boyish along with looking old and tired.

 

I didn’t give all of this as much thought as I’m writing. Catching glimpses here and there only took a few seconds of thought but it lingered. At the end of my walk I saw a man around my age riding a bike towards me so I did the friendly thing and I smiled and said hi. He nods, passes me then says, “Excuse me!” I turned around. “You are SO beautiful!!!” I, of course, giggle and downplay it like what he said was cute and that this happens to me all the time. I may have even put my hands in the shape of fake guns and fired them at him, “Oh…you!!! Thanks….haha”. Then he says, “NO! I’m serious! You’re so beautiful!” and rides off.

 

This is how I ended my live story: “No matter that he was a man in his mid-thirties riding a kid’s BMX  bike. No matter that he was missing a few teeth and seemed as though he had a slight drug problem. After his comment I still walked away thinking, ‘Damn! I still got it!!!’ “.

 

That was my story. At the end I even won the slam. I had so much dang fun. I haven’t told a story to an audience in months. I haven’t taught in years. I love the power of story. It has a way of making you laugh or cry or ponder. You make connection points with people into your own life, “Oh! They GET me!” Or we see their own vulnerability in a story. This is a huge part of why I love to read and write. I love a good story and a well told story. Hopefully I captured both that night. In the end, it was just a whole lotta fun. Thanks, Tacoma. Stay classy!

 

 

 

 

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Rite of passage for girls (the battle of the body)

Photo By Leanne Surfleet

The other night I watched America the Beautiful by Darryl Roberts and it tells the story of a common concern these days,  females and body image. One of the girls they track over about 5 years is a young model who is on her way to becoming the world’s youngest supermodel at the ripe age of 12. Of course she fits into size 2 at 6 feet tall! Of course she has a tight body with flawless skin! She’s 12!!!! The irony is that her mother is the one pushing her out there to get noticed at a young age, allowing her to party with the big girls. Everyone is worried about what all of this exposure will do to her self image and by the end of the movie, sure enough… well you should just watch it.

At one point in the movie Eve Ensler recalls a trip to Africa where a woman is explaining how she sees her own body, in contrast to how the average Western woman views her body and it is profound. “My body? I love my body. My arms are so strong because they carry children and my legs are strong and can hold a man and crush him. My skin is dark and lovely. What do you mean you don’t love your own body?” It spoke a lot to me about the stories our own bodies tell. It makes me sad at the same time that they aren’t a treasure of stories and memories but are usually a source of pain and resentment for many women and young girls.

My daughter is still so young and innocent so I havne’t thought much about her teenage years or her adult life and the abundant badgering she will receive in the form of advertising, telling her that her looks might be ok but could really use some enhancing. I consider myself pretty well adjusted in my body’s self evaluation but I certainly have moments of weakness and I can easily begin to compare or see my body as my enemy while it ages and my tush moves south, hoping to one day join forces with my mid thigh.

I’ve often treasured the lines on my face. In my opinion they seem  a bit classy and refined, symbolizing that I don’t have that round little girl face anymore, I look like a woman. I must admit that pregnancy has brought a shock to the system in terms of how I see my body. Things change so fast and furiously that it’s actually a rather difficult adjustment for most women (it was also for me) even though I loved how I looked once I actually looked pregnant and not just bloated.  In the first few months it just looked like I hit buffet table a time too many. When having a baby should be a time to glow and radiate as you feel a life move inside your skin and embrace another rite of passage into womanhood (bearing children) it’s often a time of complaining about growing breasts, a back side that looks like another person is following close behind you and thighs that wobble and could possibly crack walnuts (or crush a small child). God forbid if a woman should get stretch marks (a self induced symbol of ‘shame’ for a woman who wants to keep the resplendence of her childhood skin)!
Here in the West, we loathe our bodies more than almost any other culture. That is actually an interesting study in sociology. Often it’s attributed to media involvement and how influential it is on a culture. Obviously our media influence is of epic proportions in the US.
One study on the media’s influence in this documentary was in the islands of Fiji. During the 80’s TV was brought into the cultural mainstream and the older generation was concerned about the influence the media would have on the traditions of how they viewed family, wealth, quality of life, their own cultural practices and, of course, their cultural perception of beauty, specifically the body.
Fijians are larger islanders who also tend to live a rather long time on a high fat, low chemical diet complete with sun and salty ocean water to boot. When I traveled to Fiji in 1994 our entire team of caucasians were told to eat more every time we sat down to feast with anyone. “You’re too skinny. Eat plenty! How do you expect a man to find you sexy? You’re too skinny!” followed by a lot of effervescent laughter (they are beautiful, joyous people). Once the TV took over the islands they noticed the rate of parental disrespect and self loathing of the body in the form of eating disorders jumped about 20% in just 5-10 years. These are islands with very few white inhabitants so the influence was not coming from the interior. So much of our worldview is shaped by what we buy into. To my shame I have bought into the lie at times when I should have seen over the dusty horizon to a richer and higher place.
My question is, how will I raise my daughter, and son, to see beyond the haze of a superficial culture which praises youth in a variety of forms (young executives who just graduated from party-ville and are now running our institutions, supermodels at the age of 14, over the hill actresses by the age of 40 who can only land acting gigs as hags, alcoholic mothers or grandmothers, and the decadence of young skin that is plastered over billboards and magazines all over the US!)? How will I teach my children this is all a dream, not reality? This is a strange and unreasonable world that has been created, much like the Matrix, and real women and men aren’t like this! Granted there is merit to being the best, radiant self that you can be and it’s ok to go to the grocery store in an aesthetically pleasing outfit rather than jammies, slippers and rollers in your hair. You can look nice and take care of yourself without feeling shameful or superficial. In fact, do take care of yourself. Love your body enough to care for it!

This is actually not as big of a fear for me as I am embellishing in my writing. I have a plan, see! A lot of experts say that we should limit our children’s exposure to media,  advertising images and the amount of garbage that they see and hear while growing up. Mothers (and fathers) are not to defame or devalue their own bodies and talents especially in front of their children for obvious reasons. I know too many mothers who, even at this age (mid thirties) verbally deject their bodies in front of their children. Many girls remember their mothers as being on a perpetual diet. “Mom just needs to go on a diet, sweetie. Why? Well, her thighs are too big.” Or worse, telling a teenage daughter that her butt is getting too big and “you don’t want her to end up like your fat mamma, do you?”. Easy ladies! To our children we are perfect and flawless. We are also their introduction into how they should view themselves (and for our sons it’s how they will view other women).

I want my plan to go further than just avoiding the problem. I believe that what we expose our kids to really does have a lasting effect but I think there is something missing as we simply try to cut out media and it’s negative influence. My goal is to not only cut the exposure out but to add other elements. I’m  not so concerned with what is out there as I am with what is missing. Where is the exposure to real beauty, art, poetry and nature? I think if we expose our children to the good life in it’s lovely and awesome forms they are less likely to feel the void and run towards what is available only on the surface.

Rather than follow the Pied Piper into the sea of bodily insecurities why not raise smart, confident and strong men and women who know how to live within the story? Who write the music or the books that everyone wants to read or who create the art that we want to see; who imagine and create a world with better working gadgets and inventions and who love, help and serve others? We can expose them to the good life without being so afraid of them falling prey to the deadly abyss of bodily insecurities, greed and immorality. Too many youth groups out there are primarily focused on keeping our kids from sleeping together when they should also be telling the stories of young men and women who succeed and draw deep from life. It will give them something to reach for. Another great quote: “If you want to teach people how to build better boats, don’t run them through an exhaustive course on boat making. Tell them stories of  far away places”. -unknown author

We never get rid of wrong thinking by trying to pretend the Matrix doesn’t exist. Put another way, we can’t rise above if we’re still focused on the problem, we have to replace the problem with something better and higher, more magnificent. Instead of keeping our kids from bad media why don’t we just expose them to real art and poetry? Read to them from the time they are young. Take them outside to play instead of letting them watch crap with tons of commercials. Let them get bored and learn to create, draw or escape into their imaginations instead of feeding the boredom on a minute by minute basis. Expose them to more amazing possibilities rather than protecting them from the ‘polluted world’.

I realize I may be stepping on toes and touching on parenting practices but these are challenges I am laying down for myself as I raise my little people. I also know this issue is a bit more complex but I’m  trying to live counter culture and often our culture’s way of dealing with problems and statistics is to cut out the cause of the problem rather than reaching for something lovely outside of the realm of possibilities. Personally I think this is how God deals with us. God brings more beauty and richness in front of us, shows us the mansion so we will get outside of the shack, and this lets us see what we’ve been missing rather than focusing on wrong thinking or wrong behavior. CS Lewis says, “We’re busy playing with mud pies because we don’t know that a holiday at sea awaits us. We’re far too easily satisfied” (a paraphrase of his quote). Focusing on my junk never gets rid of it anyway, it usually keeps me chained to it. Ironic, eh?

So this is my plan for my kids: I think I’m going to chose to believe there is still a lot of real beauty out there and I’m going to try and expose my kids to it rather than living in fear of what they might be seeing. We’ll still leave the TV unplugged in the basement mainly because we can’t find much to watch that is decent anyway but we’ll show them the DVD of Star Wars because it’s awesome and creative and they need to know that people are capable of creating amazing things when they have the space and courage to create. That’s just one example. Here’s to raising amazing children!

I heart girls!

Today was Chloe’s second ballet class. I never thought I would love having a girl so much but there are moments which I completely delight in sharing with her. I don’t always understand boys, even though I am trying, but I get her. I took ballet for a bit when I was young and I never dreamed of becoming a dancer nor did I grow up extremely girly (I’m still not- whatever that means) but I signed her up for a class because she has taken an interest in dancing. When I’ve shown her clips of ballet on the internet she becomes captivated.

I took her to her first class a week ago and I didn’t have slippers for her because I had no idea where to buy them. I just showed up for her class with a leotard and tights thinking, “Well, the kids are only three years old. Who’s going to have slippers?” Turns out they all did and as soon as she saw the various slippers on the little girls she asked, “Mamma, where are my ballet shoes?” It was the first time with either of my kids that my heart sank and I felt so sad that I didn’t have something precious to give her. It was that, “Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry but I don’t have slippers for you” feeling. She wasn’t fussed about the fact that she’d be taking her first lesson with just tights on but I actually felt sad for her.  Matt and I aren’t at all the ‘keeping up with the Jones’ type people. We get most of our kid’s clothes second-hand and I buy almost exclusively from thrift stores and yard sales when I purchase books, games and toys for my kids, all without feeling any sense of shame that would be attached to poverty. NONE!

But for some reason I really wanted her to have little slippers. So…. I made some. My first attempt was hilarious. My friend, Brandy came to help me figure out a pattern, since I didn’t have one, and I wanted to make them out of a shrunken, red wool sweater. Well, the wool was too bulky and it was a failed, and laughable, project. So I had Chloe pick out the fabric; shocking pink with white hearts. To me the pattern ended up looking a bit like clown socks but she likes them and feels proud to have slippers that no one else has.

She showed up for class today and placed the slippers on her tiny feet, excited to dance. I caught a few glimpses of her in her class walking on her toes and I must say it’s moments like THAT where my heart delights that I have a little girl.

Created or constructed?

This is from a previous post on our last website, posted August 16, 2006. I wrote it while I was still pregnant with my daughter. My husband moved the website and didn’t take my writings with so now I need to cut and paste quite a few. Here is one I was very proud of…PS- there are suppose to be links but our new site isn’t quite as straightforward as the last one so I’m unsure how to set it up….

This is an excerpt from a very interesting article that a friend sent me. The author is commenting on the new book Captivating by Sheri Eldridge. You may have heard of her husband John Eldridge who wrote Wild at Heart, the book that made every man want to wrestle a bear. But for those men who love to bake and play with children you may have found yourself questioning your gender identity. Did I just write that? Perhaps I have strong opinions on books like this.

Agnieszka Tennant writes:

I may not be an Eldredge kind of lady, but I know beauty when I see it. And the most regrettable failure of Captivating is its tame idea of beauty. “Beauty is core to a woman—who she is and what she longs to be,” Stasi Eldredge writes. “Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman.” She gives examples: “Pioneer women brought china teacups into the wilderness, and I bring a pretty tablecloth to eat on when my family camps. We wear perfume, paint our toenails, color our hair, and pierce our ears, all in an effort to be ever more beautiful.” Sure. But there’s so much more.

If you want to read the article and let me know your thoughts I am very curious. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/008/25.60.html

I really appreciated Tennant’s commentary and I must admit that I haven’t read the actual book yet so perhaps I shouldn’t even have an opinion on such topics. But I do! I have been frustrated to no end on the stereotypical, evangelical construct of gender roles in this culture.

As I see it God made man and woman with an equal mandate, to rule and take dominion. I don’t see Him establishing roles, in the traditional sense, or even portioning out character traits that are specific of one particular gender. “Women are more emotional so they will always ‘feel’ more. Men are more visual so they will always struggle to some degree with lust.” How many people have comments such as this set up for a life of constant defeat and unending struggle?

While I do agree that genetic make plays a role in gender behavior (i.e. woman have more estrogen so therefore their emotional hormones can come into play while men have more testosterone and different “bits” that keep sexual desire at more of the forefront) I do not at all believe in attributing certain personality traits to one gender or the other. Nor do I believe that we are locked into our genetic make up. If the cross is to give all authority then surely our daily physiological struggles can bend their knee as well. I believe that such a dogmatic approach to defining gender “roles” has led to sexual confusion on a massive scale, specifically in Western culture which makes such absolute distinctions.

What does a man do if he has no desire to marry and loves art and beauty; if he loves to garden and bake? What category does he belong in if he has no desire to rescue a damsel in distress or to overtake the powers of a wild animal then eat it’s heart for dinner?

Likewise, what category does a single middle aged woman who enjoys reading or watching movies like Jackass rather than The Notebook, and never desires to have children so she owns a cat, or 10 of them? Where does she fit? You all have seen them…these are the women most of us “wonder” about when we see them walk into Starbucks with their tapered jeans, mullet hair cut and stone washed jean jacket. Are these women less beautiful and less of a woman because they do not fit this “role” of womanhood. Is it curious to us if they don’t break down and cry when watching a romantic movie? Is it eyebrow raising when a man does?

Are women really more emotionally driven and therefore need a practical man to “balance” them out. Dude, if I hear the word “balance” again while referring to men and women….well, I guess I’ll just deal with it. Probably not the best thing to scream and beat my breast during a sermon.

What about a man or woman who remains single forever? Are they not balanced? Do they have no other relationships in their lives to “balance” them out; anyone who will challenge and quicken their maturity? Are they incomplete because they do not possess “both aspects of the character of God”? Well if that is the case then all of you parents with a brood of children who are all boys need to have a girl soon so as to create some balance in the home.

Recently I had a discussion about the role of the Elder in a church and asked the question of why women aren’t allow to be Elders. Again, I am not interested in equality because everything has to be “fair”. If that were the case Matt would be having this baby. I had the last one! I was just curious as to why this group didn’t feel a woman could be an Elder of a church. Remember an Elder is someone who is committed to the spiritual journey of the church and who is there to pray and counsel the members in times of need. In my mind both men and women would be, as John Bender put it, “outstanding in that capacity”. Shouldn’t a role be based on qualification rather than gender? I sure am grateful that my pastor isn’t threatened by my physical design and has asked me to teach on Sunday morning. I even got through it without crying. Just kidding.

The question I have asked over the past few years is whether or not our gender views are created or constructed, a title I borrowed from a fascinating book I read. I highly recommend it. I wonder where we get such views of men and women. Are they created by our maker who put certain characteristics in us from the beginning? Or are they constructs of our culture that either affirm or shame us in our journey through the adventure we call life? Both? Which ones? Who defines them? The Eldridges?

Have these “roles” perhaps created confusion in those who do not fit into the specific box or caused others who do fit to judge and repel those who do not? Have they created more walls and barriers than entry ways of understanding and affirmation? I have my opinions but maybe not the answer. Just a line of questioning to make us all think.

Do not misunderstand me. I see there are differences. My son is already playing with blocks just for the sake of knocking them over and stepping on them while our friend’s daughter draws and colors quietly in the background. She is happy to sit with her mum in a strangers house while Oliver has already touched everything in the house that he isn’t suppose to and yelled at the items that he has fondled. However, my son also loves animals and flowers. He loves being outside and doesn’t just want to kick something. He cuddles, kisses and caresses a newborns face. He even comes to put his bare cheek on my tummy and sweetly says, “Baby!” He is who God made him to be. It will change and morph as his life matures but I want to see who he becomes rather than making him into the traditional image of what a male should be and I fear for him growing up in a culture that ostracizes someone who refuses to bend to the stereotype. This is most likely, for our kids and any of us on this journey, the road less traveled.