Jan 25, 2014
[Photo Credit: Daniel and Amie Berryhill]
I don’t usually rant.
If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that I avoid confrontation like the plague. But today, I’m ranting. And I’m not sorry.
Yesterday a friend shared this article from Thought Catalog by Amy Glass. Immediately, ALL THE FEELINGS. Damn it. What the hell is she talking about? I tried to see where she was coming from. I am not a “view it from all angles” kind of person by nature, but my husband is and it’s rubbed off. This is as far as I got:
+I get that she’s pushing back against the norm. We’re conditioned culturally to get married and have babies. Usually in that order. And women who choose not to are looked down upon by some people. I hate that, too.
+Second, I wholeheartedly agree that we should celebrate independent, ambitious women and their milestones with parties and gifts and registries. In fact, I’m all for starting a movement to do just that!
But after that, she lost me. And not only did she lose me, she offended me. Not because I’m a young, married woman with kids, but because I’m an ambitious feminist and people like her are the reason that “feminism” is such a dirty word.
I have several things I would like to say to you, Amy Glass.
1. Do you really think it’s harder to be a single woman taking care of yourself than it is to be a married woman taking care of yourself, your husband, and however many kids you may have? You are right that there is no way those two things are the same. But thankfully, equality and sameness are two different things. I am grateful that I have the ability to honor the hardness and the joy of both paths. It’s hard for me to believe that you completely lack that ability and aren’t just writing for the sake of controversy, ratings, or viralness.
2. Average does not equal settling. And cultural norms aren’t evil because they’re normal. Do I believe that we, as feminists, should questions the standards we find ourselves in and carve out our own new paths as we see fit? 100% yes. Do I believe that my friends who have dreamed of nothing but being a mommy since they were little girls are somehow less than me? 100% no. Because that’s stupid.
3. As a single woman, what on earth gives you the right to say that finding a life partner and having a baby are super easy tasks? And while we’re at it, how do you feel qualified to write with confidence that women who are married with children are not free to pursue their dreams? As a married woman with two kids living out her dream, whose livelihood depends on teaching other women to do the same, I would beg to differ! And I get that we live in a culture that tells moms they need to put their lives on hold until their children grow up. If you want to change a cultural norm, start with that one!
4. I am exceptional. In fact, I’m pretty fucking remarkable. Thankyouverymuch.
5. You never hear men talk about how hard it to raise kids and manage a household, not because they haven’t been conditioned to view those things as important, but because cultural norms falsely deem these jobs “women’s work”. Again, THAT is a cultural norm you could be attacking. And also, I know tons of men who would happily agree that managing a household and raising kids is hard work. Maybe you’re hanging out with the wrong men.
6. It’s not word play holding us back. There is room for all kinds of women. We will gain equality by letting go of harmful judgments. By questioning cultural norms in a way that invites discussion and allows people to be where they are. By building people up—women and men, regardless of their martial status. By living our lives with authenticity and passion. And letting others do the same.
Amy, I hope you read this. I’m not sure what your goal was for writing your post. But here’s the reason I wrote mine: I resent you for bastardizing feminism. I’m saddened by your limited worldview. I don’t want someone read your post and say, “See, this is why I’m not a feminist!” But if they do, I hope they find my words, too. I hope this post compels them to rethink feminism and their role in it.
I want to live in a world where ALL women are equal. Where doing the laundry is sacred. And where women who backpack across Asia can register for gifts at REI. That’s the feminism I believe in. That’s the shalom I am working to restore.
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Jan 21, 2014
[Photo Credit: Jed Curl]
I lost a friend last weekend. She passed away from complications of pneumonia. She was a remarkable person. People keep saying they can’t imagine a world without her and that feels very true. She had that kind of spark. When I met her, she was the head of liturgical arts at our church back in Maryland. The crazy awesome, visceral services that Cedar Ridge Community Church held were largely her creation. Her hair was a different color every week. Pink, blue, purple, orange, green. Jermaine described her as one of the few people we knew who was never really bothered by anything. She had a great sense of humor. She was a dark light in the most beautiful way. I am devastated for her family and our church. She has an eight-year-old son and a husband. I never knew how much she inspired me until last night. But she was one of the pivotal people in helping Jermaine and I find a home in this strange, new way of following Jesus. And, in conversation over homemade pizza years ago, she helped me find the courage to pursue this writer’s life. Please pray peace and love on her family and our church.
And Betsy, if you’re among us, reading this, I am so intensely grateful for you and the life you shared with us.
On The Death Of The Beloved from To Bless the Space Between Us
by John O’Donahue
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you.
Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.
The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.
Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.
Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.
We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.
Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.
May you continue to inspire us:
To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.
Editor’s Note: It took me a long time to find the words to put in this space. In the end, I used a Facebook comment I wrote on Sunday and a poem from John O’Donahue. Sometimes, we have no words and that’s okay. But if you would like to know more about Betsy and how much she impacted people’s lives, even from afar, please check out this post from my friend Chelsea.
Jan 14, 2014
God, I love a blank page.
New Years means I get to start over. It means something wonderful is about to happen. I get to try again. The past is void and it can’t catch me. I’m on fire. In the good way.
That lasts at least a week. Sometimes two. But, always, at some point, the dreariness of winter without Christmas sets in and we end up with a blue-tinted January. The vast majority of us are back to work or school now and usually the holiday break was a little less relaxing than we would have liked. The cynicism starts to set in. We’ve failed at keeping our resolutions. We can’t find a daggone word of the year. We stare up at the big hurdles looming in our not-so-distant future and we feel heavy, melancholy, and possibly a little scared.
I’m a big fan of starting out on the right foot. I tend to freak out if I mess up and accidentally step up on the left first. But, I’m learning. It’s all about the reframe.
If you’re feeling fresh and wonderful right now, reading this like I’m being a bummer, darling, then off you go. Go paint those big, beautiful dreams of yours in the sky. You don’t need me today. This post is not for you.
But if you’re bobbing your head up and down wildly while reading these words, thinking about how hard it’s been just 14 FREAKING DAYS IN . . . Oh honey, I’ve got you. And we’ve got this year. It’s going to be a beauty. Even if you’ve already lost count of the number of fights you’ve had with your husband this year. Even if you banged your knee on the coffee table the moment the clock struck midnight on New Years Eve. Even if you’ve picked up smoking again. Or doughnuts. Or drunk dialing. Even if something’s exploded.
There’s still time for a beautiful start. And there’s always still time.
No matter where you are in this moment, January is still a chance for all of us to turn the page.
As a writer, I know that blank pages get a bad rep. They signify blocks and stuckness. But. There is something so pure and sweet about a fresh sheet of paper. What will we write in 2014? What will we dream into existence?
What do you really want? What are you willing to do to get there? What is the thing behind the thing?
How will you honor the divine reverence humming within you this year?
What is your word for 2014? If you don’t have one and you’re feeling frustrated about it, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Take a moment, right now and see. What are its implications? Where does it want to take you?
The Ultimate Jaded Dreamer Exercise
This was an exercise I assigned to my BTDC class last week. Three love letters to yourself. Dear Future Me (compliments of the amazeballs Michelle Ward). And then Dear Past Me. And finally Dear Present Me. Here’s how it works:
The First Letter
My friend Michelle Ward started this practice a couple of years ago. Every January 1st, she writes a letter from herself one year in the future to herself in that fabulous future. I did it, baby. I’ve written my letter twice now. I pursued my dreams and even saw some of them come true. I survived the hard and the beautiful. It’s not too late to write a letter of your own. You can get all of the details on how to do that here.
The Second Letter
This one happened upon me while I was in the shower (sneaky bloke). I started thinking about some of my history, and before I knew it, I had time-traveled 10 years back to a very confused 22-year-old woman, about to marry a man she didn’t love. I felt like a big ol’ failed mess back then. And suddenly, present me needed to communicate to past me and tell her it was going to be okay. I needed to tell her about all of the brilliant things to come. Leaving that guy. Sobering up. Graduating college! Marrying a beautiful man who loves and respects me dearly. Giving birth in my home! Becoming a published author! So much peace when I’d finished that love letter. I can’t help but recommend other people try this, too. Is there a time in your life that you felt all hope was lost? Can you go back and share the good news with yourself? The best is yet to come!
The Third Letter
Ah, okay. I haven’t had a chance to do this one yet. It’s on my to-do list this week. Basically, after I wrote to Future Brandy and Past Brandy, I felt like it only made sense to write to me as I am, right now. Oh! But from the future! I’ve chosen to write to myself from age 42. To see what wisdom I might have that I don’t even know I have. To see how I might feel when those big dreams of mine come true. You can choose however far in the future you like. Ooh, but let me know how it goes! Since we’re all kind of guinea pigs with this one. I have a feeling it’s going to be the best kind of dream-casting. And I also think we may not realize its impact until we get five or ten years down the road and find that what we were actually doing was writing our dreams into existence.
Wow. And, amen.
I hope this post fills your heart with hope and happy stuff. Some parts of this year might end up hard or mundane, but my prayer for us is that we may find the holy and the golden in all of it. Have a sweet, sweet day.
PS. UM ALSO. Gearing back up for the 2nd annual Lent Course right now! Haven’t updated the page yet, but stayed tuned. It’s going to be the most epic Lenten season ever (well, except for that one time).
PPS. Are you on THE LIST?
Dec 25, 2013
“2013 was just so hard.”
I kept telling him, over and over again. I was exhausted. Bone tired. Before he got home, my friends and family kept trying to reach out, to love me and help me through the grit and grime, but, I couldn’t. I just wanted to sleep. And drink. And watch Vampire Diaries. I was officially the worst digital pastor in the world. Probably the worst parent, too. And I didn’t care.
Now, I cared a little more. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to enjoy life with my soldier back from the other side of the world. But I still felt depleted. Looking back, I have no idea how I got us here.
He messaged me two Tuesdays before Thanksgiving. He said it was important. I didn’t want to Skype. It was the only time I’d ever not wanted to video chat with my husband so far away. But, though I didn’t know it at the time, my oxytocin levels were plummeting. I was on the verge of a two-year-late bout of postpartum depression.
I never thought I’d nurse a toddler. But, if I had known this was going to happen, I never would have stopped. I kept waiting to be over it. To get sick of having this little person literally attached to me. I’m not a caregiver by nature. I mean, sometimes I get mistaken for one because, generally speaking, I’m a gentle person. But I don’t relish in bath-time. I didn’t start combing Brooklyn’s hair daily until about two months ago, when someone pointed out that he was starting to get baby dreads. I have two kids with eczema and I am the worst in the world at remembering to put on their daggone lotion every day. That’s why I never expected to last as an extended nurser. Especially in a culture that is as hostile to nursing mothers as ours is. But I wasn’t prepared for the healing.
Like doubled-sided tape, we developed a bond I’ve never experienced with any other person. Because of abuse from my past, it’s difficult for me to let people touch me. Over the years, I’d crafted a bubble to keep others out. When people entered my invisible circle, I would cringe and flinch and recoil and attempt to take up as little space as humanly possible. Having someone so remarkably innocent burst my bubble several times a day for over two years was better than the best therapy I could afford. It was like being touched by God.
And, on the other side of the tape, when Brooklyn had his first febrile seizure, he was just over a year old. Our societal norms pressure us to stop nursing at the first birthday. In that hospital bed two months later, when breastfeeding was the only thing I could offer my limp, exhausted little boy, I wept tears of joy that I hadn’t quit.
But, one year later, it seemed a lot more logical. I didn’t want to be nursing a preschooler. And, quite frankly, I wanted some time to have my body to myself before my husband got home. So, slowly, we weaned. And I thought I was headed for blissed-out freedom. But it was a hellish kind of opposite.
I should have known. I had severe postpartum depression with my first daughter. It was so bad that you could say I started self-harming. I never cut myself, but I don’t know what else you could call the things I did. At 20 years old, I didn’t know what to call it. Expect bad. I was a bad person.
I took great precautions with my second pregnancy. I paid to have my placenta made into tiny capsules that I could pop every day until the birth hormones stopped torturing me. They helped. A lot. I was able to enjoy the first months of Brooklyn’s life and not fall into a black pit I couldn’t explain.
In my experience, knowing it’s coming is half the battle. I am grateful it didn’t take me very long to figure out what was going on when I stopped nursing this time around.
I felt like death and he was strongly encouraging me to video chat. Finally, I gave in. He looked at me with wide eyes and a half-smile, “I’m not supposed to tell you yet. But, there’s a chance that I’m coming home early.”
When I prayed for him to come home before the holidays the week before, I hadn’t fully considered the consequences of my prayer. We lived in Maryland, where I’d moved us. And now he might come home—to North Carolina—but regardless if he did or not, I had three weeks to pack up all our stuff, rent a truck, find a house, and get us back down south. Because if I didn’t, he wouldn’t have a home to come back to.
He was originally supposed to come back in March. And the money that was supposed to move us back home wasn’t coming until January—if he didn’t come home. It wasn’t coming at all if he did. And that was all me. Piss poor planning. And I let myself have it.
And then there was Sadie. She was old enough to know what was going on, but that almost made it worse. I moved us to Maryland honestly thinking there was a solid chance she’d be able to finish out the school year near DC. Now, I just felt like a fool. An emotional and depressed fool who couldn’t get it together for the sake of her children or anyone else. In desperation, on one particularly bad night, I cried out for prayer to my Story Session sisters. For Sadie. For Jermaine. For Brooklyn. And for my pitiful self. They rallied around me and prayed and lamented alongside me. It was in that conversation that it dawned on me that there might be something more going on than sheer sadness.
I Googled “stopping breastfeeding and depression”. Oh God, those are my symptoms. Tears of relief and sadness flowed. I’m not crazy. It’s chemical.
I don’t know how I did it. I got us here. In a beautiful house that I found in a day. Packing didn’t take very long. I’ve moved 13 times in the last ten years and so at this point, I’m kind of a pro. Loading up the truck was a nightmare. Not the big stuff. My friends and I did that in an hour. I thought the last few odds and ends would take a similar amount of time. But there was much more left over than I thought there was and it took me and my friend, Tiffany, who had graciously volunteered to be my truck driver, over three hours to figure out how to get all that “little stuff” to fit. And it was snowing. We kept slipping on sidewalk ice as we carried it outside.
That’s why, even now, two weeks later, I cant’ explain how my dad, who is 65 years young, got the entire truck unloaded into our new home by the time I returned from taking Tiffany to the airport an hour away. That was our first Christmas miracle.
This whole time, we didn’t know if Jermaine was coming home. We’d hear he was. And then they’d changed their mind. Back and forth and back and forth. It was a special kind of torture.
But then. He was on the plane. And then. We were all in the car driving to pick him up. And then there he was. I don’t have words for those emotions.
The first week was really hard. Unpacking in this new space gave me the room to breathe but also to cry. I still felt sad. I was still exhausted. And I was still pissed off at myself for feeling all of the feelings.
I told him before he got here that though I was, of course, thrilled he was coming home, I was sad he was coming home to me like this. He told me not to worry. He’d pick up the slack. He’d let me breathe and sleep. He’d watch our little hurricane.
He’s gotten up with him every day he’s been home that he hasn’t had to work. He makes me coffee in the morning. He helps with potty training and temper tantrums. He locked me in the bathroom last night so that he could wrap my present. I’m still not 100% back to myself yet. But I’m starting to dream again. And to let myself sink into the beautiful right now. At some point in the resting, I realized it was time for a reframe. Yes. 2013 was hard. Every year is hard. But, there has to be some soft edges, too.
I decided to make a list. And I ended up overwhelmed by the gifts this year had brought us. How much I’d grown. The milestones of ours littles. How much closer I’d gotten to this big, elusive dream of mine. And when I shared it on Instagram and Facebook, it sort of blew up. I realized how powerful reframing can be.
So, I’m writing this to share our story. To share why I haven’t been as present as I planned on being these last few months online and in person. But also, in case you need a 2013 reframe, too.
Much love. And happy Christmas.
PS. Annnd, without further ado, our reunion pictures! Taken by a very talented 11-year-old! And! Our Christmas 2013 pictures. Which feel like more of a miracle than I could have ever imagined.
I am overflowing with joy.
Our dog, who hates to be held, would not rest until he got some special attention from Jermaine.
So much love.
I nearly attacked him.
Photobomb race to get Brooklyn.
Sadie’s dance explains everything.
Our new space. And our very first house!
Sadie’s Christmas present to me. I bawled.
The wreath I made my mom.
‘Twas a very Mickey Christmas.
I hope this year, for you, had soft edges to compliment your hard ones. I hope this season held moments for you that were merry and bright. Thank you reading my words. Happy holidays, from our family to yours.
Dec 6, 2013
His friends were livid. His wife and infant were in the house when they bombed it. If his family had been in the living room, they could have been killed. Clearly something had to be done.
The atmosphere was near riot when the police chief pulled him aside and asked him to do whatever he could to stop the madness. Dr. King stepped out onto his porch and gave this to the crowd:
“Don’t do anything panicky.
Don’t get your weapons. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword. We must love our white brothers, no matter what they do to us. We must make them know that we love them. Jesus still cries out in words that echo across the centuries: ‘Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; pray for them that despitefully use you.’
We must meet hate with love. If I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”
I read these words late one night, shaking. Oh my God, I thought. This is what we need.
I became a feminist in 2009. As a sociology major, the gender course was required. But, I told myself, I didn’t have to like it. I’m not a feminist. I could never be that confrontational.
I ended up with a C in the course. And honestly, my professor was doing me a favor. But I think he understood that in spite of the turmoil that was my life at that time (a new marriage, a young daughter, my husband freshly unemployed, and the brilliant decision to take on 18 credit hours that semester), I had genuinely learned from him. I learned that we’ve developed whole cultures and civilizations that oppress half of our population. At the time, I was deeply embedded into the modern abolitionist movement. In that class, I learned some of the systemic reasons that slavery exists.
Frankly, it kind of messed with my head. Around the same time, we’d starting going to a new church. They taught an introductory class called “The Journey”. Many of my liberal and progressive Christian views have their roots in that class. We actually took it three times. They joked we could teach it. But both Jermaine and I were completely enchanted that this way of following Jesus existed. Toward the end of the second class, we were chatting with the people around our table, and it suddenly occurred to me that the pastor, the man teaching the session, probably didn’t believe that men were the spiritual heads of all the households. I don’t know what part of the class made me think that, but I had to ask.
“No,” He smiled, “I think we’re equal.”
I had never met a Christian who held egalitarian views. It rocked me. It was becoming clear that the world as I knew it no longer existed. But the problem with systemic oppression is that knowing is only half the battle. Now what was I supposed to do?
In 2012, I spoke at a conference on how to teach our kids creative nonviolence, how to deal with bullies and oppressive systems. For the past several years, I’ve been increasingly drawn to what Walter Wink calls “The Third Way”—an alternative to our natural fight or flight tendencies. Dr. King was a shining example. Mother Teresa, too. And, of course, the great Nelson Mandela. According to Wink, Jesus was the originator of this radical creativity. If you read the stories of the ways he handled confrontation in the Bible with an eye for mischief, you can see his humor and his humanity. Jesus offered us a compelling way to deal with oppression and evil.
At its core, it’s love. It’s loving people so much that it brings them to a place where they cannot help but see the oppressive system in which they are participants. For years, we’ve dealt with sexism and patriarchy by hiding, and by taking it when we could no longer hide. The history of feminism has shown us a new way. We don’t have to lie there, the Women’s Liberation Movement told us, we can fight.
And we did! And we are! And it is good! Our militant ways have created a ruckus. Those who seek to keep us down know, at least, that we’re going to fight back.
But, I would argue that there is another way we haven’t fully exhausted.
Feminists can be serious lot. We are pissed off. People have hurt our mothers and our daughters for far too long. We’re tired. We don’t understand why we got the short end of the stick. It doesn’t seem fair.
It’s not fair. This is not the way the God of the Universe created the world to be. We know it. We can feel it in our bones. And we see how it affects our brothers, too. When being unemployed can be tied to your worth as a person. How not wanting to play with guns can earn you the nickname “Vagina”.
But ranting rarely alters opinions.
I believe in real change. I believe we can help create a world where women are not judged by the hem of their skirts. I believe that whatever our religion, we can meet sexism with love. We can use Jesus’ principles to create a new kind of ruckus. I believe, in doing so, we can change hearts and minds. We can change cultures and attitudes. We can get conservative ladies and badass boys on our side.
We can love our way to a new normal. And we can do it, not out of anger or fear or disgust, but with love and humor and massive amounts of creativity.
I’m not saying it’s the only way. But let’s call it a third option.
This is the second post in a series called 31(ish) Days of Meaningful. If it moved you, please share the love on Facebook or Twitter. And, if you want to catch the rest of the posts in this series, sign up here and get them straight to your inbox.