Biblical Womanhood

“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she can laugh at the days to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” -Proverbs 31:25-26

In my season of singleness, one thing God has been teaching me is that I am loved fully and perfectly in Him. God’s perfect love gives me a soft place to land when I feel unloved or unaccepted by the world.

I have recently been meditating on the idea that God’s love for me is exhibited by the fact that he made me a woman. God loves women just for being women. The many gifts he gave us ladies exhibits his love for us, and He wants these gifts to be used to glorify the Kingdom of God.

What does it mean to be a woman?

Proverbs 31:10-31 is an “ode to a capable wife” and gives a great description of a godly wife and mother. I love the description of the hard-working, steadfast heart of the home and these verses are a great example of how feminist the Bible can be.

“She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.” -Proverbs 31:16-17

A Proverbs 31 woman is a badass.

And while I acknowledge the cultural context of biblical times may have equated “wife” with “woman,” as a purposefully single woman, I am interested in what the Bible says about a woman’s identity apart from her role as a wife and mother.

I believe to become a godly wife and mother someday, I first must grow into a godly single woman.

All humans are put on this earth as Image bearers, and the body of Christ exists to glorify God. In that respect, women exist to glorify God in ways that He couldn’t be glorified without women. When I think of my own feminine traits- I am caring, empathetic, compassionate, attuned to others’ needs- I see potential for using these traits to point others to Christ.

I would love to hear readers’ perspectives on this hodgepodge of thoughts and questions- why did God create women? How does your faith and femininity intersect? What feminine superpowers do you think help you glorify God?

Proverbs 31

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Before and After the Election

11/7/16
We, as a country, have a lot of healing to do after this election. It has been disturbing to witness the levels of dissonance that have escalated over the last year. We have to carefully analyze the norms of discourse we have created and actively work to reduce hate and divisiveness, in ourselves and in our communities. No matter how much disdain you may feel for someone who disagrees with your politics, at the end of the day, we need each other. Avoid condescension. Care for your neighbor. Be the change you wish to see. Give love.
 
If we all love our country more than we love our political party, this should be possible. If we can focus on our common ideals and love of freedom, this should be possible.
 
11/9/16
 
Love trumps hate. Even if it seems that the reverse was voted into office last night. God is still in control. He is- and will always be- my King. I will bow to Him alone.
 
My first response was familiar to most of you: what country is hospitable to American immigrants? Iceland? Ecuador? Where can I go to escape the inevitable destruction of our country?
 
But then I realized I need to check my privilege. Running away and leaving a dumpster fire burning in my native country isn’t the answer. 
 
 
11/10/16
To my immigrant, refugee, Muslim, and LGBTQ brothers and sisters: I am so sorry. Please know that I stand by you, and I will do everything in my power to stand up for you and ensure your voices heard. Hate was given a megaphone on Tuesday night, but I will work and pray for Love and Compassion to prevail. I vow to not be apathetic to your oppression.
To my fellow white Americans: Let’s take responsibility. We have elected a man who has promised to attack our fellow Americans because of their beliefs and nationalities. We have been indifferent to white supremacy. Let’s make it clear that we will no longer be complacent in the oppression of marginalized communities. Let’s be honest about our resentments and prejudices. Let’s critically think about why we are quick to identify someone as “Other.” Let’s repent. Let’s resist. Let’s get to work.

On Not Being A Sex Object

I have been blessed with the profound realization that I must embrace singleness in order to better understand myself and learn to be comfortable operating in this crazy world without relying on anyone (except, of course, God). If I can’t be by myself, I am doomed to have an unhealthy need for men in my life, whether they are good for me or not.

This purposeful singleness is also something I have felt called to do by my Loving Heavenly Father. It’s not something I could ever do on my own. My nature is to always have a boyfriend, extracting meaning and purpose from my romantic relationships. I am excited to announce that I have realized my worth comes from God and God alone, and this reliance on male attention isn’t helping anyone- me or my partners.

So, one of the things I need to figure out in this Season of Singleness is how to detach my value from the value I have grown accustomed to extracting from men.

This is easier said than done.

For nearly my entire adult life, I have fallen victim to the very clear lesson our society teaches women: your value lies in how desirable you are to the men around you. For almost 25 years, I have been bombarded with images like these:

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Needless to say these images were not created BY women or FOR women.

They are nevertheless everywhere I look, from the sidebar of websites to the side of buildings downtown.

Women are trained to filter our value through the eyes and words of men. The pervasiveness of the male gaze has led to a culture that is looks-obsessed, eating disordered, and perpetuating the myth that women are incomplete without a man to validate them. The American Psychological Association has studied this phenomenon, noting that self-objectification  is the third variable in many cases of depression, substance abuse, and anxiety in women.

I have fallen victim to this myth, despite my perceived independence and feminist ideals. In addition to placing too much weight on my own appearance, I have also let myself become an object for men to use. On several occasions, I have allowed men to take things further than I wanted them to go, be it with a pushy stranger in a bar who insists on talking to me despite my ignoring him, or allowing a man to kiss me when I had no interest in kissing him.

I am just now realizing this is problematic. I am just realizing that I have been self-objectifying for all these years. It’s overwhelming to think about the scale of how this affects women, men, and our culture at large. No wonder we live in a rape culture, where 1 in 6 women is the victim of rape or attempted rape. Women are taught to adhere to the desires of men, and men are taught that women exist for their use.

Part of the reason I was blind to the problematic nature of how our society treats women is the myth of empowerment through sexuality. An illustrative example is my former obsession with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.

From ages 17 to 22, I religiously watched the VS Fashion Show every year, absorbing the images of scantily clad women strutting down the runway. I admired their comfort in their sexuality- I thought that’s what female power looked like. But I have since learned that Victoria’s Secret teaches and normalizes self-objectification and pornography as desirable, self chosen, and empowering.

There is probably such a thing as female sexual empowerment, but it doesn’t involve objectifying yourself or existing for male viewing pleasure. I’m not sure what it involves, but I’m guessing it’s not “being good at pleasing your man” either, as Cosmopolitan obsessively suggests.

The issue of self-objectification goes beyond sex. It affects me emotionally and professionally. It makes me scared to speak up in a meeting at work where men are dominating the discussion, and I tell myself “What you have to say isn’t important.” It limits me; it disempowers me; and, yes, it makes me feel worthless without a male partner.

This is a scary thing to realize. It’s scary that as smart, capable, and (in many ways) empowered as I am, it has taken me this long to realize the impact of this troubling phenomenon.

As with most problems in life, the word of God offers healing from the negative impacts of sin in our world. The Bible talks about God’s unconditional love for us countless times, and I know that the more I view my value through His eyes and not the world’s, the better off I will be.  Zephaniah 3:17 says

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.

I think part of the solution is absorbing God’s Word and combating my negative self-talk with his promises of love and acceptance. But again, it’s easier said than done. One only needs to turn on the TV, open a magazine, or even look at “fitspiration” posts Instagram to feel like they aren’t good enough, or in women’s case, to feel that their value lies in how they look.

I am very interested in hearing any readers’ perspectives on how to move forward and shake off this parasite of self-objectification. Please comment below or let me know your reactions in person.

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On Knowing When It’s Not Working

(This is another one of those posts I wrote months ago, but am just now publishing)

I am an optimist, so I have a problem with staying in mediocre relationships because I am able to make the best of it. I focus on the positives. I forgive shortcomings. I am good at loving.

I am also blinded by my upbringing in the traditional South, which instilled a subconscious view of the woman’s role in a relationship as secondary and subservient. I have to actively overcome the tendency to put my partner’s needs before my own. This makes things complicated when I know that it is time for a relationship to end; it goes against my nature to bring conflict and dissonance to my relationships.

A shallow understanding of my most recent relationship would prove it to be a success. I was dating a successful, driven man who loved me as well as he could. However, once I was honest with myself, I realized that something about it just wasn’t working.

One revealing episode came last Christmas, when I was lying in bed with my mom, getting real about love (as we often do). She asked me if I could imagine myself marrying this man. My instinctive reaction was, “No, I am pretty sure he is going to marry his best friend.”

Who in their right mind casually admits this about a man they have been with for over a year? It revealed that I didn’t see a future with him. I knew that he deserved something (someone) else that I just wasn’t able to give him.

So why didn’t I see a future with him?

  1. The most profound reason was the lack of meaningful communication in our relationship. I just didn’t find compelling things to talk with him about that often, besides what we did with our days. I rarely found myself engrossed in deep conversations with him. I really need a partner who introduces me to new things, who helps me grow, who encourages my life curiosity. I suspect this first reason is connected to reason #2.
  2. Our relationship was based on sex. It started out as a one night stand, that organically transformed into a relationship. Our lives just happened to have melded together due to our spending almost every night together. Something about that just doesn’t seem right. It certainly can’t be a healthy foundation for a relationship. We were physically attracted to each other, and I think that was enough to keep us together for over a year. But it’s not enough to sustain a marriage.
  3. I need to marry a Christian. W said more than once that he didn’t understand the purpose of marriage, and I firmly believe that is because he lacked faith. A marriage cannot last without God, because our sinful, selfish desires will ultimately win if we don’t rely on God. God wants me to have a Christian marriage with a man who brings me closer to Him. I would also be ill-advised to repeat my mom’s mistake of marrying a non-Christian and being challenged by that choice every day.
  4. W did not make me a better person. He encouraged me to drink, smoke, overeat, consume unfulfilling media. Our relationship discouraged me from reading, seeking God, cultivating new friendships, and generally getting to know myself better.
  5. I have an unhealthy pattern of serial monogamy. I fell into a relationship with W only two months after ending another long-term relationship. I think I am used to the relationship state of mind, so it feels natural to be someone’s girlfriend. My comfort zone is in relationship mode. However, I will never be able to have a healthy, non-dependent relationship unless I am happy being by myself first.
  6. It was unfair to stay with W if I wasn’t that committed to him. For months, I knew that our relationship would not last long-term. He deserved better than my apathy. I wouldn’t want to date someone who wasn’t that serious about me, and he should be free to find a relationship with someone who is just as committed as he is.

Breaking up sucks. But there came a point when the pain of fretting over the relationship and knowing it’s not what either of us need became worse than the pain of losing him.

On Doing Something

My heart is heavy after this week. Heavy from the senseless murders of innocent black men. Heavy with the weight of my privilege- the privilege of not fearing for my life or the lives of my family members just because of the color of our skin. It’s difficult to know what to say or do to make things better. But just because it is difficult doesn’t mean it should be paralyzing. Here is a working list of actions one can take to feel some power to make positive change:

Sign up for a course on bias. Portland State is just one of many institutions who offer courses on white privilege and bias. Last fall, Professor Rachel Sanders taught a class called “White Privilege.” Implicit bias is powerful, real, pervasive, dangerous, and invisible to nearly all of us. The more we can learn about bias- and its effects on our decision making- the better equipped we will be to combat it.

Or start smaller, online. For people seeking to understand implicit bias – the idea that people can hold damaging stereotypes without being conscious of them – take Harvard University’s Project Implicit online tests, which can reveal hidden associations based on race, gender or sexual orientation. Find them at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/.

Read up, for more context. There are so many great books on racial justice: “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander; “White Like Me” by Tim Wise; “Sister Citizen” by Melissa Harris; “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson; “Race Matters” by Cornel West, to name a few. We also live in the age of technology, where countless articles are available at the click of a button. Take note of who each author is, and try to read articles written by people of color to understand their perspectives.

Look for groups already doing work you support. National organizations as well as local chapters and organizations (like PDX NAACP) are on the front lines fighting for racial justice in our communities. Churches, school groups, NGOs, meetup groups, and others exist and need support in the forms of money, publicity, and volunteers.

Self-reflect on how you might contribute to systemic racism. This post by Donald Miller posits that subtle racism is the most dangerous kind of racism: a hint of condescension; wariness of a stranger; a stereotype or generalization you have come to believe. These second-nature thoughts reinforce our white supremacist culture. I liked this excerpt:

“I wonder how much good we are doing—as a white and privileged people—if we don’t first stand aghast at the reflection in the mirror. Maybe we’re not getting any better because we’re not being honest about our personal, deeply ingrained, shamefully racist tones. For how does anyone heal if she does not first admit that she is sick?”

Consider stepping away from social media. Ana Cunningham, a teacher in Charlotte, NC, says she doesn’t post on social media in response to events like this because it tends to be a short-term release. “Our action lags behind our fervent rhetoric. It’s great that people want to be awoken, but it’s passive to post on social media. It’s passive to have hashtags and prayers and marches.”

If you believe all lives matter, she says, you should volunteer in high-poverty schools , register voters, or help an immigrant learn to speak English. And you need to stay involved for months and years, not days: “It takes going beyond our comfort zones” to build lasting relationships with people who are different.

Talk with someone you don’t know. Molly Barker, founder of Girls on the Run, now runs the Red Boot Coalition, which works on getting people from different communities to interact. “I keep coming back to my belief that what the world is yearning for are bridge builders,” she says. “A lot of my white friends, people I know, really, really want to engage and are afraid simply because they’re afraid of offending. We’ve got to get over that. Being open to dialogue doesn’t fall on just one group.”

Talk and listen even more. There is a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth. We should listen twice as much as we talk. Listen to people who are directly affected by violence and discrimination. Listen to people who are dedicating their lives to fighting racial injustice. Listen to people with different perspectives from your own.

Get political. Opportunities to make a difference come at the local and national level; in the White House and the courthouse.  Examine legislation at the local, state and federal levels and get in touch with representatives to tell them what you think is needed. REGISTER TO VOTE, contact your state legislators, contact your federal representatives, educate your friends about important legislative issues.

Contact local police. Call Portland Police Bureau (or your local police station) and ask them what they are doing to ensure this violence will not take place in our community. Demand to know how they are training their officers to use non-lethal tactics to deescalate situations so they don’t lead to murder.

Turn off the TV. Unfortunately, news coverage is mostly concerned with making money and less concerned with affecting positive change for people of color. This means sensationalizing everything and turning black deaths into entertainment. Also, journalists often use police jargon to obscure the truth about police brutality: think terms like “officer-involved shooting” rather than “murder by a police officer.”

Stop waiting. Everybody is waiting for someone else to do something. But we are who we are waiting for. Don’t forget Gandhi’s advice to be the change we wish to see in the world.

I was dead, now I am alive.

It’s funny to look back on the two blog posts I wrote a year ago. Mostly because I was a completely different person then. I didn’t know my life was about to change completely.

In the summer of 2015, I was working my first legal job assisting the attorneys for DHS in trials to terminate the parental rights of abusive or neglectful parents. I thought I would find purpose and fulfillment in the job because I would finally be getting paid to use my compassion to help the vulnerable. What I found instead was that my empathy was a hindrance- not an asset- to the job. My job involved reading police reports documenting egregious abuse. I made copies of pictures of children who had been beaten or murdered. The attorneys I worked for were hardened and cynical, oftentimes making dark jokes to cope with the horrifying stories written into the job. I was very sad, and sometimes crying, at the end of each workday.

Amidst one of the darkest periods of my life, God walked in and took my hand. I spontaneously decided to attend a book release at Powell’s in Portland, where Kevin Palau was discussing his new book “Unlikely.” Former Portland mayor Sam Adams wrote the forward to the book, and I attended the event because of my interest in city politics. I didn’t even know the book was written by an evangelical Christian.

The book discusses the “unlikely” relationship that formed between local churches and the mayor of Portland. Specifically, churches were meeting needs the private nor public sector wasn’t (feeding the homeless, caring for foster children, etc.) I learned about Imago Dei Community, a church in Portland that was clearly defined by compassion, unity, and activism rather than hatred, division, and status quo.

I started attending Imago Dei and became involved in their foster child ministry. The differences in outlook between the folks at Imago Dei (which, by the way, means “Image of God”) and the attorneys I worked for were stark. One group had endless light and positivity; the other was worn down and cynical. In short, the people I spent Sundays with had hope; the people I worked for during the week lacked this mysterious hope.

In the roughly 10 months since I started attending Imago Dei, I have found the source of this hope. It is the power of our loving and merciful Heavenly Father. As with many things, it is difficult to describe without experiencing, but there is a new purpose to my life that doesn’t involve fame, money, or “happiness” as defined by our culture. My new purpose is to serve and pursue God.

In my view, Christianity isn’t about having a perfect life or being a perfect person. It’s about accepting that I am a sinner in a broken world, but I have a Father who loves and cherishes me anyway. It’s about experiencing grace, hope, and joy in the Lord. It’s about acknowledging that He has a plan for my life that is far greater than my own.

A year ago, I was beaten down by the sadness of our world. Now I rest in the knowledge that our loving Father is in control. There is profound peace in living in God’s Kingdom.

I was living for myself, now I live for Him.

I was in the dark, now I am in the light.

I was dead, now I am alive.

Invisible Flags

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(this post was written in July 2015, shortly after the massacre in Charleston, SC)

Following the massacre of 9 innocent black people at the hands of a white supremacist, the media and the general public have chosen to channel their anger at the Confederate flag, which still flies in a number of southern states.

The Confederate flag represents a disgraceful time in Southern history. It should not be sanctioned by state or federal governments. It should be as stigmatized as the swastika.

However much I and most Americans disagree with what the Confederate flag represents, we should acknowledge that it is just that: a representation. A symbol.

Our energies might be better spent abolishing the “invisible flags” that perpetuate racism in our country. Some of the “invisible flags” that perpetuate racism in our society include:

  • A political picture painted by the right wing that inaccurately portrays blacks as “lazy, no good, government money suckers” i.e. the welfare queen
    • The reality is that the black community has been dealt a pretty crappy hand. Income inequality, a problem that has proven to have numerous ill effects, impacts people of color disproportionately. Being, in many cities, literally pushed into ghettos has hindered the black community’s ability to thrive as some other communities have. Underfunded public schools, food deserts, high-crime neighborhoods, and, yes, racial stereotypes negatively impact the black community, yet white Americans find these issues too multifaceted to actually address.
  • The devaluing of black and brown lives is a byproduct of the prison industrial complex, which is the result of our deeply-embedded white supremacist laws and policies. The War on Drugs has now been admitted to be about detaining Black Americans as a new form of social control. Mass incarceration continues to ruin the lives of countless men, women, and children.
  • White America finds these conversations awkward, thus leading to a failure to act on- or adequately consider- these problems which we (meaning, comfortable, Smartphone-carrying white Americans) perpetuate.

The first step to solving these deep-seeded, systemic problems that lead to a 21-year-old white supremacist murdering a black congregation in a church is talking about and acknowledging these issues. Pretending we live in a colorblind world doesn’t help anyone. We should embrace our differences, and lift up those who have been knocked down. These are- after all- the values our country was founded on.

On Feeling the Bern

Bernie Sanders is a dream-come-true for most of us progressive gen-Ys. An Independent, seasoned Senator who challenges corporate greed and addresses the pressing problems that plague lower and middle-class Americans? He marched in solidarity with Martin Luther King, Jr., for goodness sake. It’s hard not to jump on the bandwagon. Especially with all those Bernie’s face-and-quote pictures floating around social media.

Although I agree with Bernie Sanders on nearly every front, I was skeptical to throw my support behind him when his popularity exploded over this summer. Most of the peers (my peers being 20-something Portlandians) seemed to have some idealized dream of Bernie that he could fix all of our nation’s problems. Many of my friends had chosen to support Bernie Sanders because of a single quote or article they encountered on Facebook or Twitter. I was suspicious that Bernie was making a lot of appealing promises without proposing actual mapped-out plans.

I attended the Bernie Sanders rally in Portland, Oregon, with 20,000 of my fellow Portlandians. I cheered and yelled when he spoke about combating wealth inequality and getting big money out of politics. He was literally reading my mind when he said that progressive Americans should “reclaim family values” and ensure that paid sick leave and access to contraceptives should be ubiquitous.

Despite my admiration for essentially everything Bernie Sanders stands for, I do not think he should be the Democratic nominee for the 2016 election. It is unlikely if not impossible for a self- proclaimed Socialist to become the next President of the United States. If Bernie gets the nomination, I fear that, no matter how related-to-George-W.-Bush the Republican nominee is, that person will win the election.

Another consideration is the lack of corporate support. The unfortunate reality is that having ties in Big Ag and Wall Street is beneficial to a presidential candidate’s campaign. Jeb Bush is essentially bought and paid for by the military, and that much internal power is a force to be reckoned with.

I support Bernie Sanders’ platform, but I support Hillary Clinton as the next President. She has, after all, already been the President (they were called “Billary” for a reason). I think she knows what the job entails. More importantly, she is familiar with the barriers and shortcuts to implementing actual change in our nation. She has the tools necessary and I have no doubt that she is the most qualified candidate.

Bernie’s promises are tantalizing, but Hillary’s experience is what our country needs.

It certainly doesn’t need the risk of a Republican president.