The Words I Could Never Understand Then, That Could Only Be Understood Now

ImageI binged on 90s music last week and rediscovered some of my favorite gems. Among them, Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” Primitive Radio God’s “Standing Outside a Broken Phonebooth,” and The Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine.” I sung them freely around the house, delighting in the early evening spring sun shining through opened blinds, grateful to be in the present moment, yet overcome with nostalgia and wisdom from time’s past.
I think that’s one of the gifts music provides. That no matter your musical history, the words and melodies will find a way to speak to your heart. My small brush with musical talent began in first grade when I got to play the glockenspiels for three years in a row in the winter concert. The best part of all— my music teacher would let me come practice in the music room during lunch time. I figured out what mallet to hit based on sound and never learned how to read music. FACE, Every Good Boy Does Fine— that was a foriegn language I could never understand. In fact, I only made it through high school chorus by knowing that when the music notes flipped upsidedown, that was my part to sing, being a soprano. Needless to say, it’s a talent I never possessed but appreciate like no other.

Music’s gotten me through training practices, heartache, amplified my best days, and softened my worst days. It’s provided me clues of my past and offered wisdom for the future. So as I was singing the familiar harmonies of “Closer to Fine,” I was struck by all the things I missed while singing those words back in the 90s. Things I could never understand until my heart developed into a melded mess from beating fast, and being held after brokenness. Things I could never understand until my memories included those of pain, uncertainty, doubt, big decisions, hard breaks, tough calls, and the freedom of the open road and hostels. Experiences, in other words, that my young heart was too naive to understand until it went through the hard process of growing up and maturing.

I think much like music, pictures or stories speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. As a kid, The Giving Tree was an awesome book about a boy and a tree that fell in love with each other, and now -call me jaded, but- it feels like a story of a selfish little boy who manipulated a codependent tree. I’m still a sucker for Oh The Places You’ll Go, though, and will forever wonder what a zizzer-zazzer-zuzz is in Dr. Seuss’ ABC.

Similarly, much like pictures and stories, parents and friends speak to us in different ways throughout our life span. I learned the joy of what it feels like once you finally see your parents outside of an authoritative role and into the role of an old friend, finally understanding the sacrifices they made to bring your little life into existence. I learned the great sadness it feels to see a parent sick in the hospital, as you question their mortality, and yours as well.

And much like parents and friends, faith/God/a Maker/Creator, can speak to us in different ways throughout our lifespan. That’s one of the things The Indigo Girls reminded me of last week. While I relate to the Indigo Girl’s description of what it feels like to take life less seriously and to search for the things that will fill our heart with peace, perhaps what sticks out most to me is the refrain, “The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” And how true is that of life, or faith, or getting older and “growing up?” Why does it feel like my human nature to tighten my fists, muscling through things the way think they should go, when perhaps it really would be easier to turn my gripped fists into open palms? Why do I look at paper applications and beg for certainty that everything in my life will all turn out ok, and then lay on my front porch, stare up at the stars, and suddenly don’t care anymore? Don’t care about career. Don’t care about when to get married, if/when to have kids. Don’t care about my sh*tty salary. Don’t care how I’m perceived. Don’t care if I’m understood. And, most freeing of all, don’t care about certainty anymore. And the less I beg of God for answers to life’s questions, the less I feel like I need to explain or defend why I don’t really go to Church anymore because of the way I experience Church when I ride my bike, when my sister smiles, when I feed the chickens, and when I sing old 90s songs alone in my room that feel less like pop culture and more like hymns. 

I’ll stop asking for certainty.
And trust that the God that got us this far can get us the rest of the way.
I’ll linger under stars.
Stand up on my bike pedals when going downhill.
Do headstands in the grass.
Get fresh Earthen dirt under my nails.
Learn from the birds, the bees, and the beats of 90s rock. 

Because I’m closer to fine than ever before
And we’re all gonna be ok. 


The Gayest Valentine’s Day Ever!! Literally.

Originally posted on The Button Chronicles…:
It would be safe to say that my sister, Stacey, is my Hero… ——————————————————————————– Dear Whitney,  I wanted to send you an email to wish you Happy Birthday. Your D told me that I…

“Unwrapping my Lollipop:” Musings on the Best and Worst “Christian Sex” Advice I’ve Received

“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”

I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of “Half the Sky” as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristoff discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference.

The sad things is, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.
But let’s go back to the beginning.
Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. Truth is, I kinda wish my parents did. Not in a lecturing way or in an embarrassing way incorporating stick figure drawings, but honest talk about human sexuality. When you give youth freedom and a framework for values that don’t demand or shame, youth, in my observations, are generally receptive to what you have to say. ((Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, sorry. We can talk about this over Christmas dinner. Should make for lively conversation while we’re passing around the ham.)) According to the 2010 National Campaign report, eight in ten teens (80%) say that it would be much easier for teens to delay sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents. Similarly, six in ten teens (62%) wish they were able to talk more openly about relationships with their parents.1

Moving away from the home realm and into public education, I remember first being presented with the birds and the bees in 6th grade health class. I didn’t quite understand it, but “The Miracle of Life” video in 9th grade biology class certainly helped clear up a few things. Then came my freshman year of college in which my Sexuality in a Diverse Society professor had the class write a list of as many words as we could think of for “penis” and “vagina.” One person from each group had to read their group’s list aloud to the class. There were lots of giggles and guffaws, plus a few phrases I never thought to associate with human genitalia, leaving me utterly baffled and slightly disturbed.
Sex ed’s debut can be traced back to the 1970s, when their was growing public concern about STDs, teen pregnancy, and increased access to birth control.2 Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education. 17 states and the District of Columbia require that information on contraception be provided. 37 states require that information on abstinence be provided, 26 of which require that abstinence be stressed, while 11 require that it be covered.Generally speaking, you can’t be a teen in America and not hear something about sex during the course of your education, but the content of what you hear may vary greatly depending on your state, locality, whether the school was public or private, or whether it had a religious affiliation.

Moving away from public education into the media, it can go without saying that sex messages are rampant. “Whistle,” a song apt to play on any pop station since it’s release in summer 2012, teaches youth how to perform a blowjob in one catchy tune. But let’s not be naïve here, sex has always been sung about, whether subtly or directly. Baby boomers, remember Peggy Lee’s 1958 hit “Fever” and Righteous Brothers’ “Ebb Tide” circa 1965? Oh, and let’s not forget about Marvin Gaye’s 1973 smash hit… well, you probably already know the title.4

Moving away from media and into religion, this is where I heard both the most appalling as well as the most beautiful messages about sex, some of which are quoted below. Too often, I fear the Church is silent and bashful about sex; one reason, I purport, that youth look to society and friends for answers to questions that they fear are not allowed to be talked about in religious settings, perhaps feeling embarrassed for even pondering such thoughts or questions.

Conversely, when the Church has spoken out about sex, many messages I heard have either been shaming or repressive. Specifically, shaming messages have concentrated upon condemnation of pre-marital sex, and in the process, have hurt and shamed young men and women who have regrets in this arena. Not a picture of the grace and forgiveness I believe Jesus wishes we could experience, and certainly not helping any of us to forgive one of the hardest people to forgive when it comes to something so personal: ourselves. Repressive teachings in the Evangelical culture are those often associated with women and sex. This includes messages ranging from giving your husband pleasure whenever he wants it because this is what he is entitled to as “your leader;” to “You’re a woman. You shouldn’t feel sexual until you’re married. Be pure and chaste.”

I think there’s a place away from both the over-sensualized music videos of Rihanna girating on youtube, and away from bashful “don’t have sex” conversations that discusses sex in a real, authentic way, unabashed in rich, non-shaming, gracious, and open discussion. Bona fide conversations, not lectures, that point to something to bigger than ourselves… our Creator. Herein describes some of those aforementioned messages and a more holistic alternative:

Worst Messages Received About “Christian Sex”:
“In the past, teenagers heard lessons or sermons with theologically suspect object lessons–involving simulated plane crashes, cupcakes with mangled frosting, boards with nail holes in them, roses with missing petals, and wads of chewed gum–meant to be analogies for sexual sin and its consequences.” -Linda Hoffman Kimball, Teaching Saintly Sex (great article on not-so-great teachings)

Give your husband sex whenever he wants it, even if it hurts you; menopause is no excuse. -Debi Pearl, Created to be his Helpmeet (see chapter 16)

Have long hair. -Athol Kay, Girl Game: Have Long Hair

It is your role to lead your wife into a fuller understanding of what Scripture teaches about your sexual relationship. -CJ Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know with a Word to Wives from Carolyn Mahaney

Homosexuality provides a particularly obvious example. Lesbianism typically presents a different picture from male homosexuality. Many lesbians were once actively, unambivalently heterosexual, whether promiscuous or faithfully married. They might have conceived, borne, and raised children without much questioning of their sexual identity. But over time the men in their lives proved disappointing, violent, drunken, uncomprehending, or unfaithful. Perhaps during the unhappiness of a slow marital disintegration, or while picking up the wreckage after a divorce, other women proved to be far more understanding and sympathetic friends. Emotional intimacy and communication opened a new door. Sexual repatterning as a lesbian came later. The life-reshaping “lusts of the flesh” were not initially sexual. Instead, cravings to be treated tenderly and sympathetically—to be known, understood, loved, and accepted—played first violin, and sex per se played viola. -David Powlison, Making All Things New: Restoring Pure Joy to the Sexually Broken (I would love to see the research that supports Powlison’s claim that “many lesbians were once heterosexuals unambivantly heterosexual but the men in their lives let them down”).

We women were designed by God to be helpers and to make men successful- Carolyn McCully, Sex and the Single Woman

We need to discover what makes us attractive to our husbands. What clothing, hairstyle, or makeup do they find most appealing? As always, the standard of “modesty and self-control” set forth in 1 Timothy 2:8-10 applies. And we should strive to care for our appearance—not only when we go out, but also at home where only our husbands see us. As my childhood pastor used to say, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!” Well, what color should that barn be painted? The answer is, whatever is attractive to our husbands! -Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Wife Needs to Know, Carolyn Mahaney (Maybe we can explore how to honor our husband’s/wife’s/girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s preferences regarding attraction, but what I wish I heard in each of these relationship talks is that first we need to discover what makes ourselves feel comfortable in our own skin. We need to have our sense of self before delving into the wishes, preferences, and requests of what others would like from us. That quality- being a person who possesses their own sense of self and identity- is damn sexy.)

When we choose to obey God and give our bodies to our husbands—even if we don’t feel like it—God will reward us with pleasure. -Carolyn Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, pg. 118 ((I do not think women should be encouraged to “martyr” themselves with their vaginas for the sake of a man’s sexual promptings. I’m not saying to ignore your partner’s desires completely, as I think that would be selfish, but if women are to pleasure their husbands when they don’t feel like it, why aren’t men being told that they should pleasure their wives even when they have E.D. or aren’t “in the mood? (Yes, I believe that there are actually times when a man may not wish to have sex at that particular moment.))

Let her breasts satisfy thee at all times, and be thou ravished always with her love.-Proverbs 5:19 (I don’t think it’s a woman’s responsibility to let her boobs satisfy a man at all times–i.e. 24/7. For one, if you’re around each other 24/7/365, you’ll probably wish for some space away, even for an hour, at some point- which naturally includes boobs. Additionally, I think this puts so much value and emphasis on a woman’s breasts- is that fair? What if she has a mastectomy? Similarly, some men who have ED experience feelings of worthlessness, shame, and depression.When we put so much emphasis on particular parts of the body, we forget about the rest: the WHOLE person that you committed to loving “in sickness and in health,” which I think also includes “in arousal and non-arousal.”)

-You’re not married: Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Sex is bad. Oh you’re married? Sex is good. Sex is good. Sex is good. (Is it wise to make grand-sweeping claims that sex is a “bad thing” that suddenly becomes “good? Can we better articulate this by proposing that there is a life stage in which sex can be maturely enjoyed physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and other life stages in which this would be premature?)

-Sex is solely for procreation. (This is where I disagree with the socially conservative sects of the Catholic Church. Sorry, but I think ya’ll are missing out.)

-The pages I ripped out of “Undressed” by Jason Illian (Apparently, I disagreed with them so strongly that I threw them away- specifically pages 105-108).

“Let me teach you something. Those who tell you that sex is intimate and sacred… they’re right. But please also know that you are God’s child, not an item to be assigned a value. Your sexuality can never make you worthless. It is your responsibility to respect and love the part of yourself that creates pleasure and life. Get to know yourself well enough to decide what’s right for your body. Always honor your boom-shaka, va-va-va-voom, and chicka-chicka-wow-wow, because this world is jam-packed with people who will try to tell you what those things are for. And if you lose your own voice amid the warnings, whining, and admonishments, you’ll lose the most important matter at hand: Your Creator gave you sexuality because He loves you. It’s a blessing. And it only belongs to you.” -Abigail Wurdeman, Sexual Responsibility

“Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” -Song of Songs 2:7 (“Can’t Hurry Love” pops in my head every time I come across this verse.)

In response to Rob Bell’s five year old son asking his wife, Kristen, what “sexy” means: “Sexy is when it feels good to be in your own skin. Your own body feels right, it feels comfortable. Sexy is when you love being you.” -Rob Bell, Sex God, p. 46

“You are not alone. Whatever you struggle with, whatever you have questions about, you are not alone. It doesn’t matter how dark it is or how much shame or weakness or regret it involves, you are not alone.” -Rob Bell, Sex God, pg. 62

-The entire “Flame” video by Rob Bell

“Everything is permissible but not everything is beneficial.” -1 Corinthians 6:12 (Something to the tune of we have freedom here to be whoever, do whatever, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Also remember that every choice we make- not just our sexual decisions- has a consequence- either positive, negative, or a mix of both).

“Her desire for children doesn’t come from between her legs. It comes from her heart. She believes it’s possible God wanted to give His children a gift so grand, that He created the most intense bodily sensation.” -Susan Diamond, God’s Gift So Grand

If none of those messages hit home, may I offer another alternative? Gracious, comprehensive, and holistic dialogue to counter an all-too-often rote conversation about just waiting to have sex until marriage. This one’s particularly for all the girls out there— as many messages (such as the “lollipop” quote) are disproportionately directed at girls’ “purity:”

To all the high school (and middle school) girls out there— if you have a friend who is being pressured into having sex, do her a favor and help her listen to and discover that voice that’s inside of her, her very own, somewhere, potentially pleading to be heard among the sea of other voices trying to drown or dissuade her. In a joint-survey, Seventeen Magazine and The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy discovered that one in five teenage girls (22%) reported having sex because they were pressured to (not because they wanted to).6 Help a sister out and ask her to look deep inside and see what she really feels.

-If anyone tries to shame you or invoke fear about a sexual decision you have made in the past, remember that you are more than your past regrets and realize that the person sharing this is more concerned with displaying pompous power than being a source of grace and guidance in your life.

-Ask yourself some good questions. What does sex mean to you? What do you think is the purpose of sex? How do you believe you can honor yourself, your relationship(s), and God with your choices?

-Don’t be afraid to speak up when you hear something that seems incongruent with what your heart, soul, and faith tell you— Even if it is someone from the Church.

-Challenge yourself to define your view of love. This, to me, is the most beautiful thing I’ve read about love and wish to include it as a reading at my wedding one day (way down the road):

“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz

And one final question to ponder… where does your affirmation come from? If you can’t find value, worth, and acceptance from within-the person made and loved by God,- it’s going to be even harder to find it when placed into the hands of someone else.

Feel free to comment below. Please note that any derogatory comments will be deleted.

What messages have you heard about sex? What resonated with you as wise and helpful and what was not?
Looking back, have your views about sex changed over the years?
Why do you think conversations or messages about sex are often “hush hush” or overtly hyper-sexualized? (I realize that sex is a personal and intimate thing to discuss, but on the whole, I believe it is being talked about anyway—- and often in extremes.)


When Calories Have a Gender

I was driving home yesterday only to be greeted with a Dr. Pepper  radio advertisement emphatically proclaiming that their new soda has “10 manly calories” and that “it’s not for women,” so I can “keep my romantic comedies and lady drinks.”

How can an inanimate object like a beverage have a gender? I wondered.

How can calories be “manly” or “womenly” for that matter? I mused.

Thinking more expansively, I pondered, “Why does media focus on Kim Kardashian’s newest beckon for attention instead of highlighting the stories of women like Wujdan Shahrkhan and Sarah ‘Attar, who are breaking cultural taboos by becoming Saudi Arabia’s first women to compete in the Olympics?”

“How can more women, girls, men, and boys hear the life-altering message of freedom in Christ rather than hearing each of the ways in which we are to comport ourselves to propriety (if we were born with two “x” chromosomes) or leadership (if we were born with an “x” and “y” chromosome).”

Can I sing “Courageous” by Casting Crowns and alter the lines to “women of courage” and proclaim that we will love our husbands and children (and friends and orphans and neighbors),” proudly exclaiming, “let the women of God arise!” instead of the true lyrics?

Feeling frustrated yet imbued to continue promoting gender equity with ardent fervor, I spent the rest of my commute home reconciling how Church, media, and society all have perpetuated stereotypes for genders and how this can be changed.

I don’t have all the answers, but I believe that we can make the Church and society more equitable and just when we omit exaggerated stereotypes, challenge cultural norms, and affirm the imago dei in all.

I’m trying to discern what my gender means to me, but one thing I know for sure is that it looks counter-cultural to the “rules” upon which I have been imposed. I tell people that I often think about keeping my last name when I get married because I don’t think the woman should have to drop her last name simply because it’s expected or implied. I often joke that if I were to ever have a child, I would make birth announcements in pink for a boy and blue for a girl and laugh at all of the comments I’d get that I can just hear now… “Was your printer not working?” “Was something wrong with your ink?” Hear me loud and clear, there’s nothing wrong with changing your last name and nothing wrong with donning pink and blue, but I’m ready to ask bigger questions, such as why is a  woman ‘supposed to’ change her name? What makes pink a ‘girly’ color?

When God is described as one sole gender, we negate that God is Spirit (John 4:24) and that the excessive use of gender depictions of God focuses more on humanness, dulled down to words that we can understand, rather than dwelling in the mystery and richness of the God who created the Heavens and the Earth.

When calories have a gender, we exacerbate gender stereotypes instead of leading our generation into partnership and teamwork.

When we extol men to be courageous, we must then do the same for the women and girls of this world, particularly encouraging those who face dowry murder, honour killings, genital mutilation and sex trafficking.

When we learn that ultimately, male or female, we are one in Christ (Gal 3:28), we can drop our arguments and stereotypes and calories at the foot of the Cross, united together in synergistic partnership, ready to change to the world.

In Which I Would Gag if it Didn’t Sting so Bad

Tonight I heard the song “Lead me” by Sanctus Real. Normally if that comes on the radio, I switch stations, but this time it was playing from my friend’s ipod over dinner. I politely stay hearken to our conversation, but inwardly, I am distracted. The song echoes,

“I look around and see my wonderful life
Almost perfect from the outside
In picture frames I see my beautiful wife
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear her saying…
“Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?
Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life.”

In this song, the woman is portrayed as a helpless, passive, beautiful person who longs for her husband to rescue her from whatever pain or challenge she is currently facing.

Some Christian music is hokey and makes me want to gag. Others are beautiful, leaving me in awe of so glorious a Creator. And still others hurt like a slow wound as I curl my lip, unsure of whether I will cry or whether or I will become angry and outspoken.

I ponder the song for a moment and wonder what the reaction would be if the song went like this:

“In picture frames I see my handsome husband
Always smiling
But on the inside, I can hear him saying…
Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can’t
Don’t leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?
Show me you’re willing to fight
That I’m still the love of your life.”

Doesn’t sound like any song I would hear on Christian radio.

Hearing that song again tonight brought back dismal memories of my college ministry leaders instructing us women that we “need to be willing to be led” and addressed the men to “step up and lead.” I am reminded of being encouraged to read “Captivating” by Stasi Eldredge in which I was told that deep down every woman longs to be seen as beautiful and to be rescued by a man, precisely the message that Disney princesses taught me too for that matter (Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Shrek… I am surprised at how many movies one can make from the “damsel in distress” theme). Also during that time, a friend of mine was reading “Made to Be His Helpmeet,” in which Debi Pearl warns women that there is no excuse for her not to provide sexual gratification to her husband, even if it hurts her (i.e. vaginal dryness in menopause).1

I don’t like to criticize others’ work, be it books or songs, but I have reached a point where I would like to remind young women that there is freedom in Christ beyond prescribed “gender roles.” There are marriages outside of husband-as-decision-maker-and-leader while-his-wife-stands-back-in-adoration. Ephesians 5:21 tells us that we are to submit mutually one to another. Galatians 3:28 tells us that there are no male nor female, but rather, we are one in Christ. Jesus taught and talked to women, against Rabbinical Law (Luke 8:1). Then Jesus didn’t even mention the word “headship” when talking about marriage; rather he just encouraged people to stay together if they do get married (and even if they don’t, I’m quite confident that Jesus is the ultimate forgiver and welcomer of divorcees).

And so as I tend to the wounds of past teachings on gender and leadership, I ask God for healing, for fresh influences, and to use my voice to speak hope and freedom to all of the daughters of the church. I celebrate with other young writers, write some of my own thoughts on this topic and make up my own songs. And then, when I’m tired from staying up late at night to write about all of this, I pray for GOD to lead me with the strength of the Spirit, who is able to stand while I find rest and renewal in living a life in which I am a Child of God, no more, but certainly no less.

1. Chapter 16 of “Made to Be His Helpmeet” by Debi Pearl