Last night, I erased the past week from our dry erase five-week family calendar and filled in the dates for five weeks from now. I gasped when I wrote October 1 on the board. It’s hard to believe that I’m nearing the last couple of months of being 36, with a birthday in November.
I am amazed and comforted and excited about how my sense of self has continued to grow so much stronger and deeper in the past year.
During #thisis36, I became a full-time freelancer. I broke up with a bad therapist. For the first time ever, I pulled off my shirt in the middle of hot yoga class to move in just my sports bra, something I thought I could never do five years and twenty pounds ago. That is, when I weighed twenty pounds less but wasn’t as fully at home in my body. The image in the mirror has grown older, but I’ve grown kinder towards her. Not that the process has been seamless. There were about two weeks over Christmas when I was aghast and ashamed of a large new wrinkle that seemed to appear overnight. I was thinking about all the ways I could fix it, then suddenly, like a ribbon above my head, appeared “Or…” Or, I could accept it. It is hard to adequately convey in words how that Or shocked my body. The power of acceptance rippled through me and propelled me through a doorway, set me free in a place that I hadn’t been before.
To feel my increasing sense of agency and power makes me happy to be alive. This is 36.
Today I’ve been thinking a lot about the manipulations that are used to keep people – especially historically disenfranchised people, such as women and minorities – out of places of power. This happens in systemic ways, and it happens in every day personal interactions.
A few years ago and again this week, I had an experience where I was, open-heartedly and with great vulnerability, sharing my thoughts and feelings with other women. What I was telling them weren’t my edicts on the world. They weren’t even feelings I would share publicly, as they were thoughts-in-process. I was searching, to sort through them and pick out conclusions that were good and useful.
The women cut my process short by leveling an accusation at me: I was angry.
This stung me, the pastor’s daughter. This stung me, the authority pleaser. This stung me, the woman who didn’t locate my nexus of control inside myself until my mid-20s.
An extra layer of hurt was added because both were women who would have described themselves as feminists, and because they were older women whom I looked up to.
Anger is a word lobbed at those-with-less-power to discount our experiences: “You’re just angry.” I don’t think the women I was talking with meant to invoke this historical context of the anger accusation. I think what we were discussing triggered their own feelings. It was still an arrow that hit an old, scarred-yet-tender mark in my heart.
I’ve been sitting with this today. I lit a candle. I said a prayer that I would find the truth I needed from this situation. The words just came to me: I’m not angry. I’m awake.
I am a gentle, kind, thirsting-for-righteousness woman who has taken back (from history and society and specific experiences) my power. I am human and imperfect, so sometimes I say the wrong thing or act the wrong way. I am always willing to apologize. In fact, I find peace and healing in saying, “I’m sorry.” I see injustice and powerlessness and pain, and I recognize it and I often use words to express my witness of it.
For those for whom Mother’s Day is painful, may today land gently.
For those who are missing a mother or had a mother ill-equipped to raise them, remember that we are all held, always, in a Mother Love that will never let us go.
If it helps, you can also laugh at this by Anne Lamott:
“But Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path. Ha! Every woman’s path is difficult[…] The illusion is that mothers are automatically happier, more fulfilled and complete. But the craziest, grimmest people this Sunday will be the mothers themselves, stuck herding their own mothers and weeping children and husbands’ mothers into seats at restaurants. These mothers do not want a box of chocolate. These mothers are on a diet.”
So let’s just hold each other and recognize that there’s many ways of mothering, and that not one of us can mother perfectly, and that’s why we need grace, so much grace, because sometimes it goes wrong, even when we very much wanted it to go right, but there’s always – I really believe this – a second chance to be mothered, by mothers who know better now or by friends or pastors or sisters, biological and the ones we meet throughout life.
Another thought I find comfort in, in light of the transient nature of our life here on earth, from Roberta Bondi: “It has always been the deepest of mysteries to me that my mother has an intimate knowledge of me as a baby and as a child that I myself can never have access to at all. It is as though a fundamental part of me has existence only in my mother’s memory, and when my mother dies this part of me will die too. In the same way, God my mother holds the whole of me forever in God’s ever-present memory, and God will never die.”
“I’ve taken my heels off as a feminist statement really, because why do we wear them? They’re so painful. And pointless, really. You know, I really would like to urge everyone to stop it. Just stop it. Don’t wear them anymore. You just can’t walk in them, and I’m so comfortable now.”
~ Emma Thompson, accepting the National Board of Review’s Best Actress Award in 2013
I grew up in the South and in church, which meant I grew up wearing high heels. When I went to college, I even wore full make-up and heels to classes. The first time I eschewed heels was after college when I was living in London, and I had places to go. I needed to walk long flights of escalators (real city folks WALK the escalators) and jump on Tube cars before the doors closed, and heels slowed me down and got caught on things. I still wore stilettos for nice occasions and to go dancing.
In recent years, I’ve begun to feel that there isn’t any occasion that necessitates wearing things that hurt me. Not that are simply less comfortable, like the difference between trousers and yoga pants, but are painful and proven to hurt my body for Pete’s sake, which high heels are.
I am thus thankful to Emma Thompson for her permission to forego heels. Even more importantly, though, her words have needled out the essence of feminism for me: I’m so comfortable now.
Years I’ve spent dismantling patriarchy in my heart and life. I’ve cried. I’ve prayed. I’ve voted. I’ve marched. I’ve talked to my therapist. I’ve created rituals with friends, to honor our sisterhood. I’ve read Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde and Roberta Bondi and Sue Monk Kidd and many others. It has been good and hard work, and it all comes down to this simple intention, this simple four-word North Star: I’m so comfortable now.
Everything that makes that true, stays. Everything else goes.
Earlier this year, I was getting Maggie, my toddler, ready for preschool. I had brushed her hair and was trying to convince her to wear a small bow clip to keep her hair to the side and out of her eyes. And, let’s be honest, because I think it’s cute. Because I let her wear her hair as she pleased in our family photos last autumn and her wispy blonde bangs going every which way made me afraid that people would think I hadn’t combed her hair. I was afraid of what other people thought.
Finally, I asked Maggie why she wouldn’t wear the bow, and she replied with gusto, “It’s not comfortable!”
There are few prouder moments I’ve had as a mother. I am so grateful to have two daughters as my reminders of the person I want to be. I try to teach them to be true to their selves, and they reflect back to me that law in moments when I forget it.
I hope one day my girls have the opportunity to live in a big city and run to catch buses. Wherever they are, I hope they choose the shoes – and all the things – that make them say to themselves, “I’m so comfortable now.”
PS I am sensitive to the fact that saying that feminism comes down to, “I’m so comfortable now,” could come across like an egregious exercise in privileged white feminism.
I am not comfortable with the threat to their physical safety that women and people of color and members of the LGBTQIA community and nonconformists experience every day.
I am not comfortable with the gender wage gap.
I am not comfortable with harassment and discrimination.
I am not comfortable with a lot of things.
I am not comfortable with, yes, the privilege that I experience, in all my white feminism. I am working to be more aware of it and to destroy it.
What “am I comfortable” does for me is challenge me to continue the work of feminism that asks me every day to be radically accepting of my self and others. In that space of grace and acceptance, I am comfortable.
I love Bernie Sanders. I voted for him in the primary. But Bernie is wrong to refer to reproductive rights as “just one issue,” as he did yesterday in his defense of campaigning for an anti-choice mayoral candidate in Nebraska: “I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”
For context, Bernie recently declined to endorse Jon Ossoff, Democratic candidate for the Georgia congressional seat Tom Perez left open when he became Trump’s Health & Human Services Secretary, stating that Ossoff was “not progressive” on economic issues.
I want candidates who are progressive on economic issues, too. It is inconsistent, however, to hold such a hard line with Ossoff yet be willing to overlook the harmful anti-choice stance of another Democratic candidate.
Here’s the bottom line, and listen up, because this is important:
Abortion is not just one issue. It’s health and economics and education and stability of families.
Most of all, access to abortion is VIEWING WOMEN AS AUTONOMOUS BEINGS.
I discovered the OR Principle last year while standing in a fitting room, and it changed my life.
My wardrobe includes what is essentially a dozen variations on the same loose, soft material, you-can-breathe-in-it Loft blouse. One can never have too many of these blouses, and I was trying on a new one for summer. I looked in the mirror at my bare arms and thought, “I really HAVE to work on toning my arms.”
The words floated in my brain, and each letter was tipped with the same stones that line a flagellant’s whip. This is always how such thoughts appear to me. A whip that was handed to me in a fitting room many, many years ago when I was just a child, when someone pointed to my stomach and told me I needed to “lose that belly.” The whip was given to me as if it were my birthright as a woman. I was to carry it with me for life. It was to be used as necessary to force both body and soul to submit.
As women, whenever something doesn’t fit – whether it’s a blouse or a job or a relationship – our first instinct is to think of how we can change our selves. That is the default solution. That is the norm. Our realities and our bodies are the aberrations to be controlled. Squished, contorted, fit into the appropriate space.
But this time, as soon as I began to calculate how many gym classes I needed to take and how many calories I need to not take in order to get my arms in shape, a new thought formed and even escaped through my mouth: “OR.”
That’s exactly how I said it. It was a bold, 20-point font OR.
“OR, designers could start making shirts with some damn sleeves on them,” I said.
And everything changed.
In the year since, every time the whip appears above my head, there is an OR right behind it, gently placing its hand over the one holding the whip.
When I am feeling trapped by a problem at work or home, OR opens a door: “This situation is hopeless. I’ll never get it right. I’ll never be good enough. OR…… there may be a different way that I just haven’t thought of yet.”
OR is an invitation to a bigger life. OR opens up space.
OR has a great sense of humor. OR is the wise woman I’ve always wanted to be. The one who has seen it all. Who knows that the energy of her wild spirit should not be used up in keeping a running mental log of calories. OR knows that the way to get a bikini body is to put a bikini on her body. OR knows that it is also perfectly fine to want sleeves on her shirt. OR’s body is soft and strong and sturdy. It exists outside the purview of others to judge. She is soft and strong and sturdy. She exists outside the purview of others to judge.
I am soft and strong and sturdy. I exist outside the purview of others to judge.
You do, too.
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One of the most important reasons I started this blog: to fill the void of too-few liberal voices talking about how our faith inspires our politics.
When I was about ten years old, growing up in a conservative Christian home, I asked my grandmother if she was a Republican or a Democrat. Obviously, I knew she was going to say Republican, because all Christians were Republicans. (My grandparents, who were given awards for their perfect Sunday School attendance – as adults! – and watched Bill Gaither Homecoming videos, were most definitely Christians, in the cultural sense and in the most personal.)
Except she said she was a Democrat, and it poked a hole in my worldview.
It was the first hint I had that politics might be more complicated than I had previously realized. (To be fair, I was ten. The entire world was more complicated than I had previously realized.) What I didn’t know then was that Democrats, with their New Deal and Social Security and fairer labor laws, had made the American Dream possible for people like my grandparents, who never graduated high school; who drove a garbage truck; who worked at a factory. Democrats made it possible for them, and so many others, to create a good life out of hard work and to raise children who had more than they did. One of their sons went on to own his own business. Another, my dad, got a doctoral degree. My grandparents were so proud.
Back to faith.
My grandfather who was a garbage truck driver was also a farmer. At his funeral, people our family didn’t even know packed into the church and later told us how he would bring them food from the farm when they were down on their luck. That was part of my inheritance from my family: I learned that you’re supposed to help other people because that’s what Jesus would do. That’s what love would do.
Republicans argue that government shouldn’t be in the business of helping people, because people should be helping people. I can understand that to some degree. Certainly, the onus is on us as individuals to love our neighbors as our selves.
Unfortunately, no matter how I and my local faith community may help people, I have to recognize that not all people have access to a community that gives generously. I have to recognize that too often churches place restrictions on their helping, that exclude the very people who may need it the most. Additionally, I recognize that not all congregations have equal resources to help their communities. Some areas of the country need more help than others. I appreciate that there is a federal government that can provide help and is accountable to us, its people, for doing so in fair ways.
One may deride that as socialism, but when all is said and done, it is, for me, more personal than any political label. It’s about my faith. It’s about what I learned, deep in my bones, from the words of Jesus and the life of my grandma and grandpa.