Thursday, September 24, 2009

About a Girl

My mom says that I basically came out of the womb yelling about gender inequality and scaring the boys as early as preschool. My friend Joe confirms this, as he has several negative memories of encounters with the 3 year-old me. Sorry, Joe. I remember being overwhelmingly angry in elementary school when the gym teachers would say they needed some "strong boys" to help carry equipment outside for a game...these "strong boys" were generally ones who I could beat in a race or a game any time and had proven so at recess. Why was I, as a young girl, being told that boys had this physical strength to be prized and I should just sit by the sidelines when I could be helping? Why couldn't I carry those mats or be in charge of distributing the balls? Stubbornly, I'd raise my hand any time anyone asked for a boy volunteer and I got picked every time. Maybe my gym teachers were also afraid of me.

As time went on, gym class receded into the background but the comments that men would send my way became my new battleground. Sexist jokes, comments, small slights that were said in passing. If you are someone who decides to speak up against these you are told "I'm just kidding" or "Don't take everything so seriously." As if a slight on my very identity is just a dumb joke not to be listened to. Who started that lie? Why is it funny to essentially demean someone solely based on her gender? So, I fought back. I've spent most of my life angry at men, trying my darndest to prove that I can hack it alongside them no matter what. I tried to outsmart them in school, outplay them in sports and, in the process, ended up treating a lot of them pretty poorly and contributing to the strife between the sexes.

The thing is that when it comes down to it, I'm jealous. I'm vaguely angry with God that he made me a woman and not a man. There it is. After 30 years, I've said it. All those years I was mad in gym class, all those oral reports on the glass ceiling or tirades against a guy who had the temerity to make a joke about women and inside I was thinking, "I wouldn't have to deal with this crap if I were just a guy. People would assume I was strong, would encourage me to play sports, would never make jokes to my face about being barefoot and pregnant and then laugh when I got upset." And it would be one more moment of bitterness, one more moment where I let my identity get even more skewed becuase I couldn't understand why I didn't seem to fit into the "model" of what a woman was. Why weren't all these other women upset? Why did they laugh at these jokes? What was wrong with me?

Every once in a while I think I'm over it and am glad to be a woman and then something sets me off again. Some ridiculous book I've read that tries to fit all women or all men in some kind of box. I find myself at square one, like the 3 year-old who somehow already felt that she was at a distinct disadvantage in life for being a girl and so she was going to fight. At this point, the fighting looks different. Less vocal, more internal. The fact remains that I'm still not sure I'm happy about my XX genetic code. Add to all this chaos the extra baggage of the church and gender and, well, you get a blog post that becomes a novel. So, I'll wait until another day to tackle that. In the meantime, for all you guys who've been on the receiving end of a gender-based tirade, I apologize. God's working on me, I promise.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Wall

I ran track in high school for one season and one season only. This is because my coach thought that I would enjoy running the 400 meters and the 4x4 and I'm not sure my body agreed. He taught me early on that by the beginning of the final 100 meters of those races, if I were running them well, I should no longer really be able to feel my limbs. I should hit "the wall" but as long as I kept pumping my arms, I'd hit the finish line whether I realized it or not. Needless to say, the thought (and experience) of that wall was not something I enjoyed and so the following year I tried out for the musical instead. Better fit.

As I've been reading a book called "The Critical Journey", I've really been struck anew by this idea of the wall. Much like what I experienced in that final 100 meters, the wall, in spiritual terms, is a place that we can hit and feel profound disappointment, confusion, doubt, anger, bitterness...and for many of us, we don't even know why. The idea of this book is that we are all on a spiritual journey and throughout our lives may experience any or all of these 6 different stages. Some of them will be easy for us to experience and others will be really difficult.

I think I've spent about 15 years hanging out in "Stage 3: The Productive Life" and avoiding moving on. Stage 4 is called "The Journey Inward" and for someone like me who thrives in Stage 3 it is not an easy stage to move into. I think that for years my soul has been yearning to move on but my lifestyle has prevented it. I've taken too much pride and self-identity in what I could "produce", in using my "gifts", in striving hard to be loved for what I've done rather than who I am and haven't wanted to venture on into the uncertainties of that journey inward because, frankly, uncertainty is terrifying. The book says this makes for a pretty lonely person. Yup.

The thing about moving from Stage 3 to Stage 4 is that we often have a crisis that shakes that stability of Stage 3 and propels us on. This has been true for me as it has for most and I think I spent the last year hitting the "wall" of Stage 4, which is to say that I've done a spectacular job of pushing aside my questions, ignoring my frustrations, not dealing well with grief and loss and just sort of trying to magically push through that wall, which is actually an impossible thing to do.

One thing about the wall that the authors talk about is that you have to be willing to give something up when you hit it. I've spent awhile thinking about this and am pretty sure I know what God is asking me to give up. I'm also pretty sure I'm not ready yet. I'm not ready for my legs and arms to turn to jelly and to let God propel me that last 100 meters. I'm still too scared and stubborn. But, I'm hopeful that in the coming weeks and months that God will continue to work that surrender out in me. That He'll not let me stop at 300 meters and call it quits, because He knows the pain is worth it and that at the end of that last 100 meters, I'll realize that He is the only One that could've ever brought me through it anyway. I want to know that and believe it, so I'll continue to seek and wait and ask for the courage to surrender.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Dancing Nancies

I spent part of the summer after my sophomore year of high school driving around upstate New York with two dear friends and my mom. The scenery was gorgeous, the goal a choice in college and the musical backdrop an album called Under the Table and Dreaming by the Dave Matthews Band. I think my mom would probably cringe if she had to hear one song from that album ever again, but I've recently rediscovered it and, typically, I hear a lot more in it than I heard as a naive 16 year-old whose only care in the world was hoping to find the perfect school that had enough trees to keep me happy.

One song that I've been listening to in particular is called 'Dancing Nancies'.

"I am who I am who I am who am I
Requesting some enlightenment
Could I have been anyone other than me?"

I think Dave was asking a really critical question and one I've subconsciously been wrestling with for a long time. Who am I, really? Am I moving along a path that will let God make me into who I was made to be? Do I believe I really could be anyone other than who that is? Would I want to be?

Starting in a new place presents a lot of opportunities. I didn't really want to move, to change jobs, to stay home with my son, but I'm seeing the timeliness and the necessity of this fresh start. There are ways in which for the past few years I have not been brave enough to be who I am. I have let myself feel bound by who and what is around me, by cultural norms that aren't mine. Worse, I've listened to the voice of man far more often than the voice of God and that voice has pulled me away from that path of being beautifully and uniquely me. This wrong posture has created pride, fear and an unhealthy desire to please others instead of God.

So, as I continue through my Ardennes I am looking to find me again. To unashamedly seek to know my God and, thereby, to know myself more fully. This is a scary endeavor because I believe it is risky to seek God. Not risky because I cannot trust Him, but because I know that He will change me and I have to be willing to see that change is, indeed, desperately needed.

Thomas Merton says that "it takes heroic humility to be yourself." He also says that "I who am without love cannot love unless Love identifies me with Himself. But if he sends His own Love, Himself, to act and love in me and in all that I do, then I shall be transformed, I shall discover who I am and shall possess my true identity by losing myself in Him." I don't know if Dave Matthews would've agreed with Merton's answer to his question but I think they could've had some great conversation.