The ‘Everybody Must Procreate’ Myth: Freeing Myself From the Societal Imposition of Motherhood

Lately, I’ve been thinking some unhelpful thoughts about the future that rob my mind from experiencing joy in the present moment without distraction. Thoughts that lead me to feel guilty about things that I can do “because I don’t have kids.” For example, I set my alarm many a Friday night to a leisurely waking hour that some folks with toddlers can only dream about. I feel guilty over having time to myself-some might call it ‘me-time,’ but I think that denotes selfishness instead of recognizing our own individual needs for renewal. This is free time that I get to choose how to spend. Time to workout for as long as I’d like, read for pleasure, or simply sit by candlelight in quiet meditation before going to bed. All of this is self-inflicted guilt because I believe I fall into the whole “oh-she-doesn’t-really-get-it-yet-because-she-doesn’t-have-kids” category. I think about the myriad of things my parents did for me and my two siblings; things I cannot even remember, like the hundreds of smelly diapers they changed, or all the times they were patient and forgiving towards me when I threw temper tantrums. And while I’ve been getting better at turning my guilt over these things into expressing gratitude for my parents’ dedication and love, I still get caught feeling like I might be selfish if I don’t do the same for future offspring one day, as though my entire worth as a human being is dictated by whether or not I chose to “selflessly” procreate.

I’ve always intended to have children one day, that is, through the means of adoption. I never was interested in having children biologically, though I’m grateful that there are women who choose to do so, giving the precious gift of life to another human being. Adoption can slow population growth, thus preserving our Earth’s precious resources. It can provide loving parents to one of the 132 million orphaned children on this planet. Additionally, the cost of adoption is not nearly what most might think, with adoptions ranging from $0-$2,500 in US foster care systems, $5,000-$40,000 in private agencies, and $7,000-$30,000 internationally.  Conversely, average costs for a vaginal delivery are $18,329 and $27,866 for a C-section. Despite my research, I’ve been criticized by some for my interest, and was even told surly, “That won’t REALLY be your child!” by someone close to me. I remain undismayed by this, knowing firmly that an adopted child is every bit as much MY child— yes, the kind of child you see on stage or in the pool and want to stand up for all to see, shouting, “That’s MY kid!” Beaming, overflowing with pride. Pride because I’ve dreamed of this child for so long, wondering in which country s/he would be born. Pride because I’ve wanted you, imagined you, and—if I decide to follow through with this desire– will one day treasure you as my very own child. So when asked if I want to have kids, my response is usually: I want to adopt one day, but the age that I wish to adopt gets a little bit later every year as time moves forward while my desire for motherhood halts.

And so, when I see pictures of my friends’ babies on Facebook, or see frazzled parents running to practices and meetings all over town, I lie in bed at night, wondering if that’s my same fate. I see women with pregnant bellies and am grateful that they would be so giving as to spend nine months, sometimes in discomfort, to give someone the opportunity to experience the incredible gift of life. Though I’ve never been pregnant, I contend that we, as a society, are sometimes inattentive on how to treat a woman who is pregnant. I’ve seen people excessively stare at a woman’s belly instead of make direct eye contact with her face. I’ve seen people lose interest in a woman’s personhood, ceasing to ask questions about the woman and her life, instead solely talking about her embryo, as if they choose to now view her exclusively through the identity of mother, instead of a mother AND a person. I imagine myself pregnant and cringe. Some months, I experience dysmenorrhea so intensely, that one time, I had to lock myself in the bathroom at work to lay down on the dirty floor in privacy to relieve severe menstrual cramps, as lying completely flat and popping round-the-clock ibuprofen are my only anodyne. Given my experiences with just having a monthly period, pregnancy sounds like a nightmare that you can’t wake up from until you’ve given birth…and then, there’s breastfeeding.

Let’s be clear. I know what I’m saying is probably skewed. I lack the perspective and maturity to understand the full realm of pregnancy as both a beautiful, miraculous thing to be celebrated, in addition to being something that can be painful or potentially socially isolating for some women. I don’t balance both sides of the beauty/discomfort scale, and my perception of pregnancy is entirely skewed because of it.

Skewed or not, though, I’ve given myself permission to not even have kids. To not even adopt, though my ardent depiction of adoption I mentioned earlier might suggest otherwise. Oh sure, I may very well change my mind. But by giving myself permission to not have children when many of my friends and family members are and when many societal, religious, or familial voices expect that each woman “should,” I am discovering blissful freedom. By loosening myself from the forced grip of motherhood, I am better able to love, understand, care for, support, and be present in the lives of women who wholeheartedly desire and embrace motherhood. I can love such friends (and their kids) without feeling as though I have to be doing what they have chosen to do with their lives. And who knows. One thing I’m learning about life is that things change. Despite being an obstinate person, I’ve changed views and decisions on things that I was once so sure about (like deciding not to go on my Peace Corps assignment). Perhaps in another 5-10 years, I will feel differently about the whole parenthood thing. My views, beliefs, and opinions that I held 5-10 years ago are not tit-for-tat those that I hold now. We exist in a life that is fully evolving, each day marked by choices that twist and turn us into people reignited, perhaps now with gifts like perspective and maturity

MotherhoodChoosing to become a parent is a deeply personal, intimate decision that only you as an individual, and then ultimately, you and your partner as a couple, can make. It is indeed a choice, though, especially if you use effective birth control (I understand that “oops-es” can happen- and I’ve met some beautiful people that were brought into this world through an unintended pregnancy). Having children is not a requirement. It’s not a demand. Certain religious voices might tell you otherwise. That’s what Evangelical Christians tried to tell me for years- that “motherhood is a woman’s highest calling.” But, like author Rachel Held Evans points out, “A Christian woman’s highest calling is not motherhood; a Christian woman’s highest calling is to follow Christ.”  What’s more freeing than anything else, though, is remembering that none of us have to do anything that isn’t the best choice for ourselves, just because it is the best choice for many others. You can serve and love unselfishly without having children, just like you can serve and love and have children. Not having children can be a great choice for you, just like having children can be a great choice for you. The important part is not to judge other’s decisions and to remember that you have a choice in the matter.

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My friend Jasmine with her daughter Alana, age seven.

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Dad and Sister, April 2010

I keep meeting and spending time with couples who have intentionally chosen to be childless. I’m amazed by their firm commitment to serve their communities, places of worship, and for using their time to promote goodness and peace in this world. Similarly, I’ve been meeting couples that have intentionally chosen to have children, and I’m amazed by how they love their kids with such character, teaching me so much about patience and dedication- what it means to truly love when it’s easy, and even more so, when it’s hard. They’ve taught me that if you quit and give up early, you miss out on beautiful memories that would have never been possible. I’ve watched my own parents deal with behavioral challenge after behavioral challenge in raising a daughter with Down Syndrome. But everytime I see her smile and hear her laugh, I am once again so grateful for their steadfast commitment to not give up on unconditional love, patience, and kindness, when anyone else would understand if they did. Yes. I’ve watched couples create identities as mothers (and fathers) as well as identities in their own personhood, interests, and dreams. Both of these kinds of couples- childless and child-filled alike- help mold, shape, and stretch my perspectives as I carefully, prudently choose the path that fits best for my life.

So until I’m ready to make a firm decision, you will find me musing, and asking questions- LOTS of them. I thank all of you who have patiently let me ask you very personal questions. I especially thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. It’s been said that “maturity is not believing everything you’re told.” So I’m ready to maturely move forward into my adulthood, freed from the critical voices that used to clobber my mind, and unburdened by anyone’s unspoken expectations, knowing that one day, if I decide to become a mother, it is because it was the cry of my heart, the melody of my passion. No expectations. No demands. Just love.

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“The Point at Which a Family Starts”

Another beautiful piece from my writer friend Amber Cadenas as she tackles the meaning of family with beautiful poignant truth.  http://amber-beautifulrubbish.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-point-at-which-family-starts.html#.VEbmsfnF-1T

“And so, with the questions coming not long into this story of marriage – But when are you going to start a family? – I squirm inside, protesting. But don’t you see? We already have.”

Photo: Amber Cadenas

Photo: Amber Cadenas

“It is not children who make a family a Family. It is people, loving each other, in abundance and in lack, in sickness and in health, in desire and in struggle, till death do us part.”

If you enjoy reading about spirituality, grace, and finding God in everyday experiences, be sure to check out her Facebook page for updates.

“I. Choose. You.” Brief Thoughts on Marriage From An Unmarried Feminist

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Photo: MO, 2013

“I wonder what I’m locking myself into,” a friend shared recently when we were talking about marriage. I laughed an understanding laugh, because I got it. “Yeah! It’s hard for me to imagine seeing the same person over and over again every day and night. ‘Aw man, you again?'” I (half-jokingly) shared. A natural introvert, I annoy even myself sometimes. A partner is bound to get annoyed at me, too, and hey, that’s ok.
It’s just that the closer I get toward the possibility of marriage, the more I seem to take a step back from it. Critique it. Question it. Recognize its historical and political roots that have nothing to do with love and everything to do with legality. And I haven’t thought about marriage the same way since reading things like Commited by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which I learned about things like “coverture” for the first time.

But lately, I’m recognizing the cyncism with which I view something that’s inheritently good and beautiful, allowing myself to ponder the beauty of marriage too. I’ve been watching, studying, inspecting long-standing couples who’ve been through adversity. Who experienced beautiful things that wouldn’t have been possible had they caved when things got hard. Had they given up before seeing the redemption and beauty part of the story. Because whether a relationship ends or is unending, every story can experience the kind of resolve that makes you wander out to a lake all by yourself, sit on a log, and tear up at the thought, “I know the journey is hard. But it is good too.”

I experience that kind of beauty and resolve when I think about the first couple most of us can observe firsthand in our own lives: our parents. Of all the memories of my parents that I treasure most, the moments that stand out the most viscerally come from four weeks in October 2013 when my mom was in the ICU. She was protesting that she wanted to go home, tired of the hospital. And instead of pushing against her resistance, my dad took out a comb, sat down on her bed, and gingerly started brushing her hair. He made small talk with my sister and I while the sun shone through opened window blinds. Later on that hospital visit, he pulled out a picture of the two of them when they were engaged and showed it me. They were high school sweethearts, and their picture captured what it means to be “young and in love.” As things in the hospital worsened, my dad sat by her bedside three times a day to do nothing but simply be next to her. Those moments in the hospital are precious to me. My parents’ marriage hasn’t been easy. I do not think their story is mine to tell. But I do know that there have been many beautiful memories and laughs that didn’t seem possible in periods of challenge several years ago.

When I look at my grandmother and grandfather arm-in-arm in photos taken of them in places all across the world, I experience similar beauty when I look at their smiles. Smiles that say, “things haven’t been easy. But I am for you, and you, for me, and together, we make a choice… I. Choose. You.” I think of the last wedding I attended of two friends whose love has taken them through every shade of emotion possible. There’s just something different in these couples. Because these couples want to give out of their utmost.

Perhaps this is what I’m most amazed by. The every day choices that married couples willingly make to affirm their commitment to one another; to look someone in the eye everyday and say, unwaveringly, “I choose you.” For years, Evangelical Christians tried to tell me “a woman is supposed to submit to her husband, who is the leader of the home.” That imbalance of power always made me cringe in fear of watching my identity disappear. Some other Christians I know use the world “yield,” which sat a little better in my (very independent) heart. Because the kind of “yielding” they described was irrespective of gender. It’s one person yielding to another’s needs or requests as much as you can because you love them. Because everyday, you want to find ways to say through your actions, “I. Choose. You.” And after the arguement—the one over something stupid, and the one that really wasn’t; the one that required the two of you to make life-changing decisions—- after those kinds of fights, to return again in love: “I. still. choose. you.” The other partner does the same exact thing. It’s not tit-for-tat. It’s not some assignment where everyone gives and takes in methodic equality, each paying the other back in detailed increments like credit card statements. No. It’s more like loan forgiveness. It’s sincerely wanting to do all you can for someone you love so much. You still can have your most imminent needs be met and your preferences preferred while all the time doing this giving over and lending to and loving sacrificially.

In my dating experiences, I’ve come to find that this “yielding” is the hardest part. I’ve discovered how selfish I can be. How much I want to ensure that I, as a feminist female, am heard by my partner, a man. How reluctant I am to provide deference because I can think back to an entire history of humankind in which women have been deferential to men. And the terrible repercussions of unreciprocal deference speak for themselves. But it’s a lonely road when your only reason not to give to someone is because they’re of a gender that’s historically been the recipient of privilege. It’s a lonely road when you try to stratify independence and intimacy, instead of accepting the harmonious synergy of interdependence and partnership. A love that doesn’t bend as much as it breaks doesn’t create an inspiring story. No beauty. No real love, anyway.

Real love is found when women and men are allies. When we’re for each other, not against each other. When we forgive the thorny path of past actions and inactions throughout the centuries that both genders have done to oppress or diminish the other- because we both have. I’ve always known this in my head, but it wasn’t until my first serious relationship came and went that I realized my heart is sluggish on my contribution towards being an ally. Heck, it wasn’t until my first serious relationship that I even noticed how all this gender stuff plays itself out.

So one day, when I’ve processed this stuff, developed a framework of feminism that’s empowering for both genders-because that’s what true feminism does-, and stopped being afraid of the commitment and unknowns that marriage entails, I plan for these words to be read aloud at my wedding. More clear than any passage of scripture I’ve read, more real than any marriage book that’s been written, it encompasses to me what “I Choose You” means:

“I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer. I will love you, as sure as God has loved me. I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me. And I will do this to my death, and to death it may bring me. 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 Herself 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 Her, unto us.” -Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (God as female emphasis my own, not author’s)

But until that day, I’ll practice this giving over, in all of my relationships with people I love. And though at times it feels unnatural, I know there’s no other way to look someone in the eye to say “I choose you” with sincerity.

“I. Choose. You.”
It’s a beckoning, hard call.
I dare to say it’s impossible.
But all around me, I see couples who are willing to do the impossible.
I hope I can live up to it.

One of my favorite couples that inspires me to love well: Anastasia and Joe June 2013

One of my favorite couples who inspire me to love well: Anastasia and Joe
June 2013

Beyond Motherhood, Workhood, and Wifehood: Re-defining What it Means to be a Good Woman (or Man)

“They were hoping for a son to carry on the family name,” a woman I work with casually laments in conversation.

My insides choke. I despise when I hear comments like this because it reiterates that even from birth, there are differences in the perceived value and capabilities of males and females. With this couple’s ideology, a baby born with xy chromosomes will be able to carry on a family name. But if this baby is simply born with xx chromosomes, in the eyes of this couple, she already has something that she CANNOT do: carry on a family name. Rigid standards for what women and men should and cannot do hinder society, forcing women to make “and/or” choices rather than “both/and.”
Now over halfway through my twenties, the inflexible “and/or” message I hear the traditional world shouting out most frequently is this: Soon, if not now, you will be reaching a fork in the road. At this fork, you must decide if you will go the motherhood/wifehood route or the climb-the-ladder career route.  

But before we get to the fork, let’s pause for a minute. What if there’s something different? Or something in between? Is life simply an “and/or”?

I know women who are breaking gender norms as inspirational lawyers, doctors, and authors, addressing gender parity beyond the suffrage movement and into areas of global justice, gender-based violence, and women’s economic development. I also know women who are stay-at-home moms who do anything but “stay at home. They’re volunteering in HIV/AIDS ministries, advocating for the poor, visiting the sick, caring for the hungry, serving as board members, and taking care of their own children. When we underscore one or the other as “the goal,” the thing you were supposedly created to live for; When we dictate what is the “right” or “wrong” way of doing marriage, career, and family, we reinforce the idea that women must choose; they can’t be both. Certain circles will praise her wife/mother/homemaker choice and others, critique it. Some circles will laud the career ladder climb, leaving women who are serving and changing the world in ways outside of a typical employment schedule simply out of the picture, dismissed. Often, “stay-at-home-moms” are portrayed as June Cleavers. Some may be. Some would argue that this is the very thing women “should” be doing these days. While 14% of American women identified as stay-at-home-Moms in 2012, I’d hardly think this categorization gives enough recognition to the ways in which these women are changing the world through their service and leadership in their spheres of influence. On the contrary, when we hold motherhood and “wifehood” as the “ultimate” for women, we imply that those who do paid work outside of the home aren’t attentive to their families, can’t raise good children, and have their priorities wrong, which negates the ways God can use one’s employment to change the world. When we encourage women to solely invest their time and energy in home front matters, we live lives that are small, as if our family of (3, 4, 5 etc) is all that matters. But when 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty, if all we do is snuggle in our children a little bit tighter and keep the floors shined, we’ve sorely missed the point.
These rigid messages suggest that something must be wrong with a woman if she isn’t married by 30. As if the only talent she brings to the world are her breasts and ovaries. As if it doesn’t really matter how much she likes her first job out of college; all she needs to do is suck it up for a few years because soon enough she’ll be married and out of the working world anyway, so what’s the point?
Other messages portray the glorification of brides (have you seen the array of bridal magazines in the grocery line?) through tv, and, in the Evangelical Christian community, books. It’s no wonder the wedding industry is worth an estimated $40 billion– and that’s just in the U.S. Through this culture, women are set up to think their wedding is the pinnacle of their life. The only day that matters. Consequentially, there then becomes a trend of girls selfishly becoming the focal point of their universe, through bride wars, expensive dresses, family feuds, all captured on public tv, after all, she’s the star of her show, both literally and figuratively in cases like “The Bachelorette,” “Say Yes to the Dress,” and the other 26 wedding-themed television shows. When women are encouraged to receive their validation through marriage, we don’t present women with all the ways in which they can become something, someone.
I wonder if this is why many young women and men are disenchanted about their wedding day. Because with the mindset that society and some religious circles embrace, this is the day that a woman will prove that she’s beautiful enough, wanted enough to be “chosen” as someone’s life partner. Similarly, this is the day a man follows through with what he has been socialized to believe about what he needs to do as man in order to be successful: marry, work, and, according to many Evangelicals, “lead.” Both the woman and the man, in this framework, get married for the wrong, self-centered reason: seeking affirmation, acceptance, and a “check mark” from society or religion. And twenty years down the road, many of these couples find that their marriage has not brought them happiness. Their “day in the sun” desiccated a long time ago. The wedding photos are in albums collecting dust somewhere in the basement. Deep intimacy was lost sometime after the honeymoon, but before the kids were grown and out of the house. And once the kids are out, there’s no distractions available to divert attention away from the ugly truth that you and your spouse barely know each other now. Because, from the start, it was all a show- after all, we had “roles” to play, right?

At some point, I wonder if we’ve hyper-focused on such gender roles: manhood and womanhood, instead of personhood. How, then, does one become a good woman or good man, if not through the mores of certain religious circles and society?

We can start by dropping the word “role.”  Women and men have biological differences, but there’s a difference between your sex and your gender. Society or religious circles often shout what your gender “role” “should” be, while your sex just happens to be whatever chromosomes developed in utero. May I suggest that the most genuinely “good men” and “good women” happen to be, in fact, marvelous people, people who delight in simply being a Child of God.

I want to create a life that doesn’t have “role” after the word gender. I am not trying out for a play; I’m showing up to create my life. Therefore I don’t have a “prescribed role” to follow, line by line, scene by scene, for the applause of an audience of conservative Evangelical men.  I want to pursue what I’m passionate about, without worrying if it’s “womanly” or “manly.”

Which brings me back to the beginning. Instead of defining a good “woman” through the sole lens of motherhood, workhood, or wifehood, why don’t we start defining a good “woman” or “man” by being true to their particular calling? To the degree we’ve loved our neighbor, loved our enemy, loved God, and even loved ourselves? Because God doesn’t have the same plan for all of us. And I think there’s still some unreconciled tension among women with differing choices in regards to mothering, marrying, and working.

Conservative Christian voices such as the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, whose board is composed of an entirely white, all male staff, will continue to use God to keep men and women in separate, distinct, inflexible roles. Popular culture might too. But we have a choice, everyday, to decide who we will be and what we will do. And so, here’s my victory statement, my peaceful rebellion: I will live out the life God has planned for me, no “blanket statement” rules here. I will delay marriage until I feel I am fully capable of loving someone unselfishly to the best of my capacity. Truly, we can live from the wisest, most passionate, alive, parts of our hearts. No, you won’t find me making blanket statement rules for an entire gender because to do so limits the diversity of the callings God puts on people’s hearts. Yes. I’ll be walking as a Child of God on the Road of Freedom, having my (wedding) cake and keeping my last name too.

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For Those Who’ve Ever Cringed Through a Wedding Ceremony

This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a wedding service, cringing in their seat over the hurtful, debilitating, limiting words they’ve heard from the preacher, whether about gender limitations, or salvation of some and damnation of others, or both.

This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a church service, for that matter, and shaken in their in their pew, anger slowly boiling up in them, unsure whether they will cry or give voice to their righteous anger.

For anyone who’s ever been to a convention, women’s conference, meeting, or bible study, for that matter, and been told over and over again that Jesus died for you, but were never taught what he lived for. Who’ve been taught that God finds us so utterly, distastefully sinful and so despicable that we can’t even catch a glance at Him without the blood sacrifice of another human being. Because God’s punishment is death when you mess up, make a mistake, or sin. A loving Earthly Father would be jailed for punishing a child in such a manner. I find all of this rhetoric to be a bit of a hyperbole, because the God I know told me I’m made in His image, and like my Earthly Dad, I don’t need to be beaten, spanked, or die when I mess up. Knowing I’ve disappointed him is the ultimate punishment for me in itself because I hate it when I disappoint someone I love so much.

This is for days like today, in which I’m outside on a beautiful autumn day, sitting in a cushioned seat at a wedding, while a white socially conservative Evangelical man purports that this man up front, about to become a husband, is this woman’s leader. And she, the wife, is to submit to his leadership while he “lovingly leads her” and “leads his family as head of the home.”

For days in which the preacher man then describes God’s design for marriage with Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 to designate the husband as a head of a wife and his family instead of Jesus’ words to “love God, love one another, and love others.” I don’t understand why Evangelical preachers focus on gender so much during a ceremony, when Jesus never once used the terms “gender roles” or “submission to male leadership.” I don’t understand why the preacher asks an adult female, who has already consented to marriage, “Who gives this woman to be the bride?” in which the father, not the mother, then states “her mother and I do.” The Jesus I know offers choices and reminds me to grow up in maturity. I don’t need permission from anyone. Even if a woman actually needed permission, why wouldn’t the husband need permission too? Never mind. Someone’s probably going to retort a verse about leaving and cleaving instead of actually affirming equal decision making capabilities among spouses.

A service in which the preacher mentions not once, not twice, but three times in the same half hour service that marriage is between one man and one woman. We heard you the first time, actually, sir. And it doesn’t make you “right” simply because you repeated this three times with a stolid, authoritative glare and had “reverend” in front of your printed name in the wedding ceremony bulletin.

In which the preacher declares that “sin isn’t discussed often enough in the world” and I internally have to remind himself that this is his opinion, which he is entitled to, but it’s just that- an opinion; not etched in stone cement fact.

In which you must shake the hand of this preacher man who just finished stunting your entire gender as you exit the recessional, only to be seated across from this same preacher at the reception table afterwards.

And this, then, is when things start to turn around. Loud sound pours through the speakers and the first song ushering the crowd onto the dance floor is Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT.” You rise to your feet and start singing it at the top of your lungs, in wild, reckless abandon, glancing over to eye this preacher man in the face, as if to remind him to respect the strength, knowledge, power, and VOICE that women have, alongside of men, and that this preacher man’s words will not resound as the only possible way for a woman to be a Christian woman, for we are in an era of freedom and grace and this girl, alongside so many other women and girls, has Kingdom life ready to bust out of her veins to quickly remind other females that you don’t have to adhere to any “role” some white man tells you to… for you have brains in your head, passions in your heart, and your relationship with God to reveal who you are and who you can become.

This is for Jesus’s words in which he asks us to, “be one, like I am one with God, to complete unity.” And to “love your enemies.” “Do good to those who disagree with you.” Because we’re all in this together, even if we come to different understandings.

This is for gathering around the table, the same table, with that preacher man and the rest of the body of believers, and sharing in the same cup, partaking in the same bread, whispering a  prayer to the same God, realizing that our God is bigger than the divisions we’ve created.

This is for unity without passive agreement to everything “Christian” that you hear.

This is for asking questions. Lots of them. Any of them you’d like.

This is for speaking up, recognizing that your voice is equal to that preacher man’s, regardless of title, gender, professional studies, or social beliefs.

You see.

There’s a place, there on that same dance floor that Aretha was singing out from earlier, that’s big and open and free.

A place you can go to physically, or carry within your heart on days in which you feel stuck hearing another message that doesn’t ring true of your study of scripture, who God says s/he is, that is subtly being used to denote a hierarchy of gender.

We’re in that place with you.

It’s this wide open field.

Some of us do cartwheels here.

Others, handstands.

And some of us just like to sit on our backs, gazing up at the sky, deciphering the shapes of puffy, white clouds against a contrast of ocean blue, while warm zephyrs tickle your face and the tip of your nose.

We love each other here.

We offer freedom here.

There’s more of us out here than you think.

Look around.

We exist.

We sit in church pews next to you, putting our arms around you when  they tell you that the Muslim woman on the tv screen suffering in Saudi Arabia from gender based violence, rape, female genital mutilation or human trafficking, is, undoubtedly going to Hell, banished from God forever. We know that all you want to do is hug this woman and sit down with her, like Jesus would have, and listen to her story, her pain, her dreams, her brokenness and affirm her strength and dignity and that God knows her heart, her beautiful, pained, but still resilient heart that’s being redeemed by the Healer of the World. This is what happens when we embrace. When we engage in loving kindness and this is how we make Jesus visible. Not through forecasting doom and hell and who’s “in,” and who’s “out,” as if you are the gatekeeper.

We sit beside you in wedding services that often feel unbearable and oppressive.

We dwell inside of you, the voice that longs to be heard, to be voiced, to be understood.

I promise you, there’s more voices than you think.

You just have to be courageous and dare to believe that the God you worship is big enough to hold you, those you disagree with, room for all of us… to believe that God is big enough for our questions, our doubts, and differing interpretations and studies of scripture.

We have a dance floor too out here in this open space.

And our song is freedom.

We’d love for you to sing along.

We will comfort you when you are cringing in your seat, in disbelief of what you are hearing.

We will listen to your questions and share some of our own.

We will help you find new places and ways to worship, places in which you are free to express your thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas, longings, and aren’t restricted by an authoritarian, intransigent pastor.

We will cheer you on when you speak up for the first time.

We will support you when it feels like no one else is.

You don’t have to be afraid here.

You don’t have to submit to one of your fellow, Earthly, breathing, pulsating human beings here.

You don’t have to vote any particular way.

You are free to love whomever you love, irrespective of gender.

We are people of grace. We are people of second chances. And third. And ninety nineth. We’ll come back to find you if you lose yourself along the way.

We are people who are willing to stand, or at least try to stand, in the face of those who try to tie boxes around you, dismantle your voice, stereotype you, or shame you.

We are outsiders, on the fringe, and our God has brought us into inclusion.

Instead of shrinking and succumbing to words of preachers who try to tame your gender, passions, feelings, and questions, we ask that you speak out.

You are needed.

You are wanted.

You are welcomed.

We want your presence. The world will be stronger because of it.

We want your voice. The world will be more courageous because of it.

We want your song. Whether it composes a beautiful cacophony choir of Aretha Franklin’s R-e-s-p-e-c-t or the song we have yet to hear because you only sing it alone in your shower, where no one can judge you or tell you you’re not good enough. We’re here to tell you it is good enough. In fact, we’d like an encore.

Enough of walking on eggshells.

Enough trying to please everybody.

Enough division.

Enough of the disrespect and incivility.

Come, let’s lock arms together, you, and me, the preachers who are willing, all of us, each of us, each of us who recognizes the Image of God in ALL of us, not just some.

Let’s run.

Let’s laugh.

And instead of debating and arguing and trying to convince your “rightness,” and their “wrongness,” hop on the dance floor. Put on your boogie shoes. Play your funky music, [white/black/Asian/Indian/whatever culture you identify with] –[girl/boy/man/woman/transgender/whoever you are, wherever you come from.]!

Because you can’t argue and dance at the same time.

And remember, the place we’re headed- we’ve already been told there will be dancing and merriment.

Some come on.

Dance. Dance with somebody who loves you.

Turns out there’s a lot of us.

Transplant.

2/15/12

I couldn’t find the word for it, until I came across it in something I was reading. The author1 was talking about faith stages of being rooted, in transplant, or sprouting. Transplant was exactly where I landed, both spiritually and developmentally- I’m quickly finding the post college world is, well, real…

I’m in a season of life where the old answers and ways of doing things don’t make sense anymore. A season of faith where I have more questions than answers. And. I. love. that. It’s a season of shedding old beliefs and being convicted by new ones. A time of kicking voices out of my head that have done nothing but exhaust me. A time where easy answers and shallow,deduced solutions frustrate me. A time where I feel like a bent puzzle piece, a complete enigma to the Evangelical world. I don’t fit there anymore, at least not in the typical sense of the word. A time in my faith where I can shake my head, and feel frustration, pain, and confusion with verses in the bible (Have you ever read Deuteronomy 22:13-21? I pose a challenge for those who say, “I just do what the Word says”). I can wrestle with each word and its Greek and Hebrew translation, syntax, hermeneutics, and etymology; and then, in the same breath, celebrate with the Psalmist some of my deepest praises and mourn my biggest, “my God, my God, where are you?” moments. It’s a time where I can get so stuck in my own head, my own life, my own self-centeredness, that God will find a way to humbly take the attention away from myself and my life by leading me into wonder and awe— “Do you know who created the Earth? Do you know who chose its size? Can you make the sun rise or the night fall? Have you ever knitted together a snowflake? Can you make the rain fall or the wind blow?” (Job 38) I read that chapter and feel an appropriate sense of smallness, a tiny speck in the midst of grandeur, like looking at the night sky on the clearest of nights, involuntarily dropping my jaw, and whisper a barely audible, but completely appreciative, “WOOOOOWWWWW!”

This is a time where I wrestle with the balance of speaking out about convictions or trying to make peace. I am determined to figure out how to do both, accepting the fact that you can’t please everyone. Stances aren’t everything; relationships are better, and I believe that Jesus’ intentions were for us to be “one” (John 17).

But.

Simply put, I am tired and tired and tired of seeing headlines about the next Christian politician who is outspoken against abortion and homosexuality, as if those are the cruxes of the Christian voter, but silent on the waging of war and global suffering. It’s a time of my life where the only thing I want to pledge my allegiance to is the God of faith, hope, and love. I’ll pray my biggest hopes for this America whose freedoms I’ve come to appreciate and whose priorities I’ve come to question.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read one more article, or catch one more clip of a radio preacher about women needing to be submissive to their husbands, that men are the only leaders, that women shouldn’t preach/read scripture/have any position of leadership in the church (http://www.christianpost.com/news/john-piper-god-gave-christianity-a-masculine-feel-68385/). Imago dei. In God’s image. We are all created in God’s image, not just half of us. We were all created to be a part of the Kingdom of God and to bring God’s will on Earth as it is in heaven. Not just those with an x and y chromosome. I want my faith journey to be filled with teachings shaped by many colors and dual genders. I want my faith to be shaped by people who don’t even have seminary degrees— the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed. Sometimes I learn more about who God is when someone shares their testimony of finding God in this midst of an HIV diagnosis, or in the gut-wrenching journey of a young woman’s long-awaited freedom from sex trafficking, than when I’m in a Bible study or church service. So while the white man is shouting, I will join other women and I will write. I will pray. I will speak. I will listen (there’s certainly some white man pastors I really dig.) I will ask questions. I will need others to be patient with me. I will need to be patient with others. I will learn. I will be wrong sometimes. I will confess cynicism. I will ask for forgiveness. I will be inspired into action.2

It’s a time in my life where I would sit behind this woman reading the Torah on the subway and think about how I could have just as easily been born to Jewish parents instead of Lutheran. I always smiled at this woman when I used to see her on the way to work. She might have thought I was weird because if there was a seat near her, I’d try to sit there. But anyway, I felt like I had this connection with her— that her God was my God, and my God was her God. That our prayers are heard by the same deity. There is something holy and mysterious and connected about this and I love it. There is so much that we share, I think, ignoring the voices in my head trying to convince me to be a good Evangelical and hand her a tract and explain in four easy steps why, blatantly, her religion is wrong, mine is obviously right, and Jesus proves that.

It’s a time in my life where I cannot read about one more suicide of a young boy or a young girl being bullied because of their sexual identity. I cannot then read about a Christian politician who openly denounced homosexuality in that same town, just a few days prior to a string of suicides. (http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/one-towns-war-on-gay-teens-20120202). It’s a time in my life where I see “Is homosexuality a sin?” pamphlets inside subway cars and realized that Christian tracts are now not only trying to tell people how to avoid hell, but how to love the correct gender. “Build love, not walls!!” I want to shout. I look at the cover one more time. “Can it be cured?” I read. I wonder where along the way certain Christians have developed a mentality that’s decided it’s acceptable to treat people like they have some despicable disease, and ponder if we’ve forgotten the dignity Jesus gave to the Lepers with His divine touch. But it’s doesn’t matter since you’re right, I’m wrong, God said it, and that settles it.

It’s a time in my life where I need to stop proclaiming that Evangelicals have logs in their own eyes and accept that I have some two by fours in my own. I hope that together we can take these logs to the lumberjack yard and feed some beavers the grandest feast they’ve ever eaten.

It’s a time in my life where I muse about the mystery of love and marriage. This divine human connection between two people. That we have to learn how to love the other man/woman. It doesn’t come completely natural to pour out true, deep, unwavering love. Love itself to me becomes this holy mystery/experience. Being raw and open and letting someone into your life, forever, deciding the paltry, “so, how many pillows do you sleep with, honey?” to suddenly having this little tiny creature to care after forever. If I’m honest, marriage scares me a little. I’m in no rush to get there. But I do want to get there eventually. It almost seems odd to me. Call me selfish, but from age seven onward I shared my room with a just few stuffed animals and the occasional slumber party friend. In college, my horizons broadened a bit as I had girl roommates who shared everything from make up to Gatorade and swim caps (thank you, Lady Tigers). We would dance to “Single Ladies” while getting ready to go out, and now my current roommate and I have these sporadic nighttime chats and prayer about life in inner city Baltimore. I treasure such moments. But one day, you get married, and it’s like all of that disappears. “Hey honey, it looks like you’re coming home with me tonight….” …And tomorrow night. And the night after tomorrow’s tomorrow. I hope to still go out at least one night when I’m married and still have a sleepover with my best girlfriend; I don’t want to completely lose that sense of laughter and togetherness that comes with pillow talk and a best friend. I hope that when I get married there will be singing in the shower, guests around the dinner table, and a goodnight kiss every night (but please don’t snore!). I hope to learn how to love unselfishly, to build something together, to give everything I have because I want this person to experience all the love, joy, and happiness an imperfect human being can offer. All of these profundities and longings make me smile, as I think about God watching from above and seeing into each house, all of his little creatures, just living life the best way they know how.

It’s a time in my life where I realize that trying to figure out the future will only drive me crazy, and, not to mention, whatever I decide is going to happen in the future, will, in turn, take a twist and throw me something entirely unexpected. I’ve spent months wrestling in my head with career choices, graduate schools, and living abroad. Taking it one step further, the wrestling match explodes into some kind of WWE Smackdown, as I grapple, mull over, and daydream about which country my adopted kids will come from, and how they will be parented, and which country I can move to when I retire, suddenly realizing that I had taken my brain to the year 2036 or some strange number that looks weird on paper, making me scratch my head and think, that cannot possibly be a year. But alas one day that calendar will turn, and New Year’s will ring in 2037, and I’ll be shaking my head wondering where all this time has gone. Bringing myself back to today, the present moment, I unleash myself to God. I stop demanding a cradle-to-the-grave itinerary and when my brain starts to run into years unseen, I remind myself of what I have been promised: a future and a hope.

And so this is transplant. I’m not sure when I’ll be “rooted.” But never the matter. I’m here. And, though I get confused and cry and apologize later for things I shouldn’t have said, I also laugh and smile and make ruckus. I am content. I am happy. I don’t belong with the crowds telling me who I can’t become as a woman; I don’t belong with the crowds who try to convince me what my family, marriage, and faith should all look like (as if God hasnooriginality and forgot to make us all unique). So I’m ok here. I’m ok with where I am. There is freedom here. The door is opening; it’s barely ajar. But I can see it. I can taste it. I can hear it, smell it, breathe it, and it is beautiful. You see, I grew up swimming long, laborious laps in the swimming pool, and there’s this daring in my heart to dive into the deep end and feel cool water and sunlight swirl on my face. So today I think I’ll head out to the ocean instead of the natatorium, and make some waves, because the “no-wake zone” is far behind me; in fact, I can’t even see it anymore. All that’s ahead of me are new sights to see and more shores to swim to. There is plenty of wide open space here, and you can paint with any color brush you choose. Yes, come on in, there’s room for you. And as we run through open fields, I know one day our feet might take to a certain patch of grass in which we will blossom and sprout and plant our flowers. But for right now, I’m in transplant. And I am more alive than ever before.

1 Check out Ed Cyzewski’s Divided We Unite: Practical Christian Unity, available free to subscribers of In.A.Mirror.Dimly.Lit’s Women in Ministry blog: http://inamirrordimly.com/the-women-in-ministry-series-home-page/

2 I’ve been inspired into such action by Sarah Bessey’s post, “In Which I am Done Fighting for a Seat at the Table.”Check it out here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2011/12/fighting-for-a-seat/