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I believe in feminism

I read an article this morning entitled “I Am A Mother of Two Children and I Cannot (And Will Not) Support Feminism” and a following response article, “To The Mother Who ‘Can’t Support Feminism’ While Raising Her Sons”. It got me thinking.

First, it saddens me that there is such divisiveness over this issue. The first article points to the extremes of feminism and uses that as the argument for why the author won’t support it. This reason doesn’t bear weight with me. I identify myself as a Christian yet there are extremes in Christianity that I do not support. That doesn’t mean I need to stop being a Christian (and I won’t).

The definition of FEMINISM is this: the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men (taken from Dictionary.com). THIS I believe in with my whole heart.

Yes, there are extremes; yes, even male bashing. Yet…yet, the conversation I hear and read on the internet lately is turning more away from “us vs. them” (i.e., women vs. men) to an inclusive movement with women AND men working alongside each other to bring about equality for all. I was encouraged by Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations this summer as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador launching the HeForShe campaign.

I see progress through the lens of my children as well. It’s interesting that the author of the first article I linked to above has two sons and it is out of her concern for her sons that she has chosen not to support feminism. When my 18 year old son asked me this year what feminism was and I told him it was the belief that women should have equal opportunities and rights as men, he took that as a given. He was appalled when I told him that on average women still aren’t paid the same as men for the same work. And I am delighted to see my 8 year old daughter up in arms over the insinuation that she can’t do something a boy can do (of course she can do what a boy can do!).

There are many campaigns and websites to raise awareness and shed a different light on things. Like the Always #LikeAGirl campaign, like A Mighty Girl website and Facebook page (which is a resource for “smart, confident, and courageous girls”). One of the major things they are doing is combating stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘boy’ and what it means to be a ‘girl’. I love a quote by Joss Whedon (creator of one of my favorite TV series, Firefly, and director & writer of the “Avengers” movie). He was asked in an interview “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” and he responded with “Because you’re still asking me that question.” (“American Rhetoric: Joss Whedon – Equality Now Address”. American Rhetoric (May 15, 2006)

I believe gender stereotypes hurt everybody. Should my daughter be thought of as less of a girl because she likes action movies like the “Avengers” and “Captain America”? Should my son be thought of as less of a guy because he is sensitive and still gives hugs to his mom? Stereotypes put people in boxes. Stereotypes can also justify inequality. Until very recently in human history women were still considered less than a person and the property of others. Although our culture has evolved to the point of discarding these views (most people would think it ludicrous today to refer to a girl as property), our gender stereotypes serve to compartmentalize what women and men are capable of. This puts limitations on everyone. I believe it hinders the gifts that each one of us can bring to the world (particularly when those gifts don’t fall along traditional gender-determined lines).

My dream would be for respect for all people, that we would see ourselves together on this earth, not separate, not us vs. them. That we could feel safe with each other (and thereby eliminate our need to be combative towards each other). We share a common humanity in that we all breathe the same air, feel the same emotions, experience shame and empathy. We are not so different from each other. On the flip side, we are all unique and we bring our own unique gifts to the world, the gift of who we are, individually and collectively. We each have our own unique limitations and these limitations can be genetic and/or environmental. Some limitations can be overcome, others cannot. But let us not add more limitations onto our brothers and sisters. Let us encourage each other to reach for the stars in our pursuits in this life, no matter who or what gender we are.

Our Beautiful Land

Canada is a truly beautiful country. I had been to the West Coast before but never to the East Coast and this summer my husband and I took a trek out to the East and saw A LOT of Canada. We took the train from Saskatoon to Toronto and then rented a car and spent time in the Niagara Falls area, drove through upstate New York, spent time in Montreal, drove through Maine, hung around the Bay of Fundy, and ended up at a wonderful bed & breakfast on Prince Edward Island. For the trek back we stopped in Quebec City and then drove back to Toronto to take the train back to Saskatoon (stopping in Winnipeg to see friends for the last leg). It was a wonderful vacation and through it all, I was struck by the diverse beauty of our nation. I also realized that Canada has a lot of BUSH and I don’t know why people complain about the FLAT of the Prairies when most of them are surrounded by BUSH!.

Anyways, I was looking through the photos I’d taken on our trip because I was putting together my annual Christmas calendars. I usually just do one with photos of our family but I decided to create one of landscapes from our vacation for myself to hang in my office. Here’s some of the photos I’m using:

IMG_6559 IMG_6895 IMG_7502 IMG_7396

Refusing to Dance

I stumbled across the Momastery blog over a year ago. I love reading & listening to Glennon. Grace is such a big part of what she lives. Here’s a little clip of her (from The Work of the People):

I love what she says at the end: “Grace is the only buzz I have left… and they will take if from my cold, dead hands.” I agree. I wouldn’t give up GRACE for anything!

The invitation

I sense God the Father extending an invitation to me. An invitation to try, to risk, to step out of my comfort zone.

I think He’d like me to start writing again, on a much more consistent basis. Although I live in less fear than I used to, there is still so much that holds me back, particularly when it comes to anything with the possibility of failure. What if I start writing and then stop? What if I can’t be consistent? What if I can’t think of anything to write about? It’s all very frightening to me. I realize there are other people who see these things as an opportunity to grow. But I don’t fall into that category. Shame lurks behind that door, the door of trying something new. When it comes to risking failure, somehow my identity, my self-worth, is at stake.

When it comes down to it, I believe I am not enough. Not good enough to do it, to try. There are others much more capable, more gifted, who can do it better. Who do I think I am?

If I don’t succeed it means that I am a “failure” (not that I failed while trying something). Why is my self worth at stake? Why am I blasted with shame in this land – the land of trying, of exploration, of opportunity, of making mistakes? My rational self knows that true creativity and innovation live in that place. Yet my heart and emotions hijack me and keep me paralyzed.

When I lay it out there, put it on the examining table – making mistakes – it’s not so bad. So what if I make a mistake? Isn’t this what I say to my children all the time: “It’s okay to make a mistake. Learn from it. Try again. I won’t be mad at you.” Why can’t (why don’t) I tell myself the same things?

There is grace for making mistakes. If I wasn’t afraid to try I would have so much more freedom in my life. And I know the only way to really know if something is “safe” is to take the risk to try (and find out in the trying that it really isn’t so scary – that I actually am “enough”).

So I will accept this invitation to try…and remember the grace I have for my daughter (who doesn’t want to practice reading because its too hard and scary). I keep encouraging her that she is learning and getting better at it, that she doesn’t have to compare herself to others (and how much better they are at it). All I’m asking her to do is to try. And it’s okay if she makes a mistake.

I want to learn to have the same love and compassion for myself.

Not Enough?

A copy of “Living Light News” showed up in my mailbox last week.  It’s a Christian publication that comes around a couple of times a year. When I got to the last page and read the headline, I groaned inwardly: “No Cheque is Big Enough to Pay This Off!”.  The picture under the headline is a zoom-in of a cheque with “NOT ENOUGH” written in as the ‘amount’. The article goes on to say that “we have all incurred a huge debt that no amount of money” (or good works or donations to charity) can pay off. The article ends with a prayer to God that starts off with, “Dear God, I am truly sorry for sinning against You. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done…”

This is pretty typical in my experience of the “sinner’s prayer”. It always starts off with a focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The focus is on how we are “bad” and because of that, God is going to punish us. This looks a lot like shaming a person into praying the sinner’s prayer to me. And in light of Brene Brown’s research on shame I would argue that this is a counterproductive approach to encouraging people towards a relationship with God. Here’s what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012):

“…there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” (p.73)

We all want to experience connection with others, to feel that we belong and that we are ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ to be accepted and loved apart from our actions. So why does evangelical Christianity think emphasizing that we are “not enough” for God is a good way to encourage people to follow Him? The motivating factor here is fear. Fear and shame lead to disconnection, not connection. And I don’t think that is God’s desire for us at all.  Love is the essence of who God is (1 John 4:8) and it is His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God loves us and wants connection with us. He doesn’t want us to hide from Him.

I believe it is our feelings of shame that keep us disconnected from God and others. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Once they had tasted the forbidden fruit they hid because they were naked. I think it’s safe to say they were experiencing shame. I believe most, if not all, behaviors that are defined as ‘sin’ have their roots in shame.

So with that in mind, I propose there is a better, more positive way of introducing people to a relationship with God. And the foundation is love:

You are made in the image of God and He loves you. And because He loves you, He wants to experience this life with you. He longs for connection with YOU. His son, Jesus, came to earth to show us what God’s love is like. He came to break the power of shame in our lives that keeps us disconnected from God and from others. Jesus introduced us to grace. It means God already accepts you and that you are ‘enough’…right now. All He asks is that you believe it and accept it. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, believe that you are forgiven. If you don’t think you’re ‘worthy’ of this kind of love, it’s simply not true. Your ‘worth’ is not based on your actions but on the fact that God says you are precious and beautiful to Him. He doesn’t want you to hide in shame any longer. He wants you to be free. Will you take Him up on His invitation?

Disclaimer: please understand that what I’ve written above does not mean I don’t believe what the Bible says about sin – I do believe that we are all broken (we have all sinned) and that we need to accept God’s forgiveness; I believe the consequences of sin is death…’death’ being the damage to our souls from years of living in shame and disconnection from God

Balancing Dreams & Disappointments

I’ve been thinking about dreams and disappointments lately.  How does one balance the two?

I was listening to a song by Hedley the other day, “Anything”.  Here’s part of the chorus:

Everybody said boy don’t go any higher
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything
Never push the limit and don’t play with fire
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything

I think there’s been a shift in our society and I see it expressed in pop culture: “follow your dreams – you can do anything”.  To a certain extent I agree with this.  I believe that it’s important to follow our dreams and that too many people (including me) have been told our dreams are not worth chasing, they’re impractical, irresponsible, and so on.

However…life does not happen exactly how we plan it and sometimes those dreams are never realized.  I admit that I’m jaded in this area.  I grew up in an environment that told me to be responsible, to play it safe, and that my dreams were irrelevant.  AND…my life has not happened how I planned it.  I had many dreams I wanted to share with my husband and then he passed away.  Part of the grieving process was learning to let go of some of those dreams and learning to fulfill some of them without him (like taking my boys to Legoland).

So how does one balance their dreams with their disappointments? IS there a balance?  Or is there a different angle to this?  I’ve been thinking about this in the context of my own life but more importantly I want to ‘wrestle this through’ for the sake of my children.  I don’t want to pass on my jaded upbringing to them where their dreams are not important.  At the same time I don’t want them to grow up believing life is going to go how they plan and then they’re unable to navigate the disappointments that come.

I was talking to a friend about this and she said sometimes we have to revise the plan.  Our dreams are still worth pursuing but sometimes there’s a different way than we envisioned to get to those dreams.  I think there’s wisdom in this. We need to learn to be flexible.

I’d also add another dimension: we cannot let our dreams define who we are.  My worth is far beyond the fulfillment of my dreams.  When my worth is wrapped up in my dreams and then the dreams don’t happen, it’s a disaster because unfulfilled dreams mean I am worthless.  And that’s when it’s really hard to swallow disappointment.  If I can keep my dreams separate from my sense of worth I can take risks and pursue my dreams and even if the dreams aren’t realized I can still be ok with it, knowing that at least I tried.  I think it’s worse to avoid pursuing our dreams in order to play it safe and live with regret never knowing if my dream could have happened because I never even tried.

This is a lesson I’m learning slowly.  Taking risks always seemed too scary for me because the thought of failing was paralyzing and kept me from trying.  And I would feel so annoyed with those people who seemed to freely pursue their dreams spouting that “they could do anything”.  I wanted to yell back, “So what happens when you can’t do anything?”  These people never seemed to live in reality like the rest of us who had to deal with the disappointments of life.  But maybe I was so negative because my dreams equaled my worth and it was better to avoid them than risk failing and being worthless.  And yet I wanted to follow them and I was annoyed with the people who seemed able to do that where I couldn’t.

So for me, the first step was to accept that I still have worth…even if I fail.  Mind you, I haven’t completely learned this yet.  But I’ve learned it enough to be able to take some risks and try things I’ve never done before.  To actually acknowledge that I have dreams and that they’re worth pursuing, even knowing that disappointments will come.  I am realizing that I am worth pursuing my dreams.

As I said I’m still ‘wrestling this through’ so I’d love to hear what you think about all this.  Feel free to leave a comment.

The Parable of the Hired Hand

I’ve been looking at the parable of the prodigal son in a new way lately (Luke 15:11-32).  I think it’s more a parable of the hired hand.

“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.'” (Luke 15:18-19)

Twice the prodigal son says this.  Once to himself as he is rehearsing what he will say when he returns home and once when he actually sees his father.

And this is the older brother’s response:

“…but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.” (Luke 15:29, emphasis mine)

I think for many Christians, we have made ourselves the hired hand.  We have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior but we can’t accept God’s lavish grace.  We don’t deserve to be rescued.  We must do something to make up for it.  We OWE God.

So we make ourselves the hired hand.  We slave away in service to God but many of us don’t understand that He is not demanding works from us.

“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6); which Jesus quotes twice (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7).

I know I certainly have lived that way.  And my ‘works’ were based on fear – fear that I would not be ‘good enough’ for God, that He would not accept me if I didn’t behave in an ‘acceptable’ way.  But as I’ve let go of striving and trying to be ‘good’ and simply…accepted…grace… I can be more like the prodigal son when he returned home.  He accepted the party his father threw for him.  He received the Father’s free gift.

What would have happened if the prodigal son had dug in his heels and said to the Father, “Absolutely not!  You can’t throw this party for me.  I don’t deserve it.  I’m making myself your hired hand and that’s that!”  I think we subconsciously do that to God.

And the older brother, the ‘good’ one, didn’t understand either.  He stayed behind and was faithful to the Father, but he didn’t see himself as the free recipient of the Father’s riches.  He saw himself as a slave, as a hired hand (“…all these years I’ve slaved for you…” Luke 15:29).

And yet…”His father said to him, ‘…everything I have is yours.'” (Luke 15:31, emphasis mine)

Do we understand that everything God has is ours without having to work for it?  That we can cease our striving and rest in grace?  Or do we live our lives as hired hands?

More than jars of clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 1 Corinthians 4:7 (emphasis mine)

For the month of December I decided to follow a Bible Plan.  From the 1st of December to Christmas day I am reading someone else’s thoughts on the Christmas story.  I never use these plans as I find I get more out of just reading the Bible by itself and talking about it with other people than following a prescribed plan but I thought I’d do something different this year.

There are a few things that have quickly become apparent to me.  I’ve been out of the evangelical Christian mainstream for a while.  Until very recently I have not attended an institutional church that meets on Sunday mornings nor have I really hung around the people who attend those churches.  There’s a lot of evangelical Christian jargon that I haven’t heard for a while.

So when I started reading this Bible plan all this Christian jargon started popping up again.  It’s not that I haven’t heard these things before, albeit many years ago. But some of the lingo sounds very ‘odd’ to me now even though I had just accepted it in the past.  Some of the lingo downright bothers me, in fact.

Take, for example, this quote (in speaking of God’s favor to Mary): “…favor means, simply, that God is willing to use you.” (emphasis mine)  What?!  ‘Use you’?  Why would the author employ this language?  Where, in the realm of our human relationships, would we ever speak of ‘using’ people?  Not in any healthy relationships, that’s for sure!  When we hear the language of ‘using’ people, it is largely in a negative context, such as cases of abuse and exploitation.  Is this the picture we would want to paint of God?  The concept of ‘using’ people implies a devaluing, that people are ‘property’ to be ‘used’ rather than holding any intrinsic worth.  This is certainly not how I believe God views people or how He views humanity.

However, to be fair, there are Bible references that have been used to reinforce this concept of God using people.  Very often it is the references of God being the potter and man being the clay (Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:6, Romans 9:21).  When I looked closer at these passages, from my perspective, their main point is to emphasize that God is greater than we are, so who are we to question His actions or think we can hide our actions from Him.  These passages don’t explicitly speak of God ‘using’ people.  When I looked for specific references that would say “God uses…” or “God used <so and so>…” I couldn’t find any…in the whole Bible.  There is one passage I found that speaks of us being ‘useful’ to God (2 Timothy 2:21) but that doesn’t communicate the same thing as God ‘using’ us.  You can still have intrinsic value and be useful to a task or project.  Rather, I’ve found references of God appointing people or choosing them for a purpose.  Again, this doesn’t communicate the same devaluing message as the idea of ‘using’ people.

My point in all of this is we should be careful the language we employ when describing God and His relationship to us.  All throughout the Bible, the stronger message is that God loves the human race, that He put Himself in harms way for humanity, that He goes to whatever lengths necessary to communicate to mankind that we are dearly loved by Him.  But when we say things like “God uses us”, it undercuts that whole message of love.  If a person hears such things long enough, they will subconsciously start to believe that they do not have worth in God’s sight or that He actually loves them, rather that their only worth is in what they can ‘do’ for God.  This message marginalizes grace.  The Gospel is no longer the ‘Good News’.  It puts heavy chains on people who are broken and just trying to scrape by.  If they do not know they are loved, if they do not believe they are precious and beautiful…in the midst of their brokenness…, what hope will they have?

We all need to know we are loved and valued.  We need to know we are so much more than jars of clay.

Humbled and honoured that you would join me

It has been one month of daily blogging.  NaBloPoMo is officially over!

I ran into an acquaintance yesterday.  We grew up in the same small town and are friends on Facebook.  She told me she’s been reading my blog this month.  Really?  And this morning when I tried to pop onto my blog, an error message came up saying my bandwidth was exceeded.  My IT husband told me that is because a lot of people are reading my blog (and thank goodness for him, he could very easily remedy the problem).  Again I say, “really?”  I know there are the handful of friends I’m fairly close to that read my blog.  But beyond that, I’m always surprised to find out there are others reading as well.

I feel humbled and honoured that you would join me in my journey.  I am but one voice and there are many, many other voices with varied and rich stories to tell.  Who am I, that you would take an interest in my story?  I’ve never been one seeking a blog ‘following’.  It doesn’t really matter to me if there are 2 or 200 reading my blog.  I use this space as a way to process what I’m thinking (sometimes I do a lot of thinking) and as an opportunity to share what I’m learning about life. I haven’t ‘arrived’ yet so I’m sharing as I go, sometimes stumbling through the mud and sometime leaping through the meadows.  I think I’ve gained a bit of wisdom along the way and I’m very happy to share that with you.

My greatest desire is to make the world a better place by helping others, whether that is an encouraging word or volunteering at my daughter’s school or helping a client plan an event.  In the realm of this blog, it brings me joy to think I am able to spread some empathy and hope and encouragement to others along their journeys.  Let us never feel we are alone.  May there always be a listening ear and someone to say “me, too.”  Though I don’t hear from many of you (apparently) may this blog be a space shedding a little more light in your world.  I am honoured that you have chosen to spend some of your time here.

‘Tis the season…for schmoozing

In 2 days it will be December and the time of Christmas celebrations begins: client receptions, dinners, lunches.  As someone who is trying to “get the word out there” about my business I know it is important to ‘network’ and I will have plenty of opportunities to do so in the coming days.  I know it is necessary, but I’m not necessarily looking forward to it.  Sure, I’m looking forward to enjoying lots of good food.  But lots of business people I don’t really know…not so much.  It is getting better…slowly.  At my last client reception I ended up talking to a few different people and realized I am getting to know more and more people in the business community.

Yet these sorts of events push me out of my comfort zone every time.  My discomfort stems from a few places.  Being an introvert means ‘schmoozing’ does not come naturally for me.  But I think one of the things that these networking events brings me back to is this: memories of being in high school at community dances and standing off by myself, not knowing anyone, being too shy or afraid to talk to anyone, feeling alone and insignificant.  It was not a pleasant feeling. 

It’s not that I have the same experience now.  I can make conversation with people I don’t know.  But there is a subconscious fear of being ‘left out’ and my feelings from high school come back to me.

Isn’t it amazing, how our experiences from 20+ years ago can still have an impact on us today?