My Feminist Manifesto (It’s Not What You Think)

Someone recently invited me into a conversation about feminism, wanting to know my views on the subject.  It’s a hard question for me, but I’m going to try to articulate them here.  I think it matters that we think about these occasionally controversial subjects, and that we talk openly and honestly about them.  Preferably without name-calling and finger-pointing.  So, here goes:

First of all, I am ridiculously thankful for many things the “original” feminist movement wrought.  I’m glad to have the right to vote so that my opinion matters in the greater scope of my world.  I’m glad to have the opportunity to pursue a career of my choosing, knowing that I (for the most part) won’t be relegated to fetching coffee, making the lunch order, typing & filing… unless I want to be.  I’m glad to live in a country (and increasingly a world) where true male-chauvinism is a dying trait, and where my human rights are protected by law.  All these things (and others) have arisen due in part to the women who stared-down the status-quo and changed things that were wrong.  And I am really, truly grateful.

Unfortunately, where those original feminist sisters did so many things right, I think that there are some side-effects of the “modern” feminist movement that aren’t doing women any favors.  Here are a few of the ways I think modern feminism has it wrong:

I am part of the generation of young women that grew up hearing “you can have it all”.  We were encouraged to further our education, pursue careers, and to take marriage and children as they might (or might not) come.  Somehow, this turned into the idea that any woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home-mom is a lesser being than a woman who has a career.  It is implied that she is setting her sisters back by not “fulfilling her potential”.  Sorry, but I don’t believe it.  It actually makes me a little angry.  SAHM’s are functioning as chief operations officers of their families – doubling as doctor, chef, sanitation worker, secretary, chauffeur, butler, housekeeper, counselor, and whatever other responsibility as the need arises.  How is that not fulfilling your multi-tasking, have-it-all potential?!  Meanwhile, working moms are spreading themselves thin for their families while trying to help make sure bills are paid and that there’s clean laundry, food on the table and a story at bedtime.  Seriously — how are we pro-women if we draw battle lines between ourselves and fight over who’s doing it right?  For mercy’s sake… look around!  We’re all doing the best we can with whatever season of life we’re in.

Also, there’s an overarching problem with the aforementioned idea that “you can have it all”.  We hear this in countless ways, but I don’t believe it anymore.  Do we deserve to have options?  Absolutely.  Do we deserve the choice to focus on different things in different seasons of our lives?  Certainly!  But the idea of “having it all”, to me at least, has always carried the expectation of having it all at the same time.  But honestly – is there any woman out there who can deal well with career, husband, family, home management and self-care (while giving her best to all of it and letting nothing slide)… all at the same time?  Because you know that if you’re not doing it all well, it doesn’t count!  ☺

I can only use myself as an example.  Despite my best efforts, I have a really hard time juggling work, family, friends and other commitments.  I find that I’m often frazzled and feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude (and multitude) of what I am doing.  If I am giving my best efforts at work, chances are good that I’m so tired by the time I get home that I don’t give quality time and attention to my daughter and my husband.  If I am concerned about something going on with my friends or family, I sometimes don’t give my best effort to my job.  One of my greatest sources of stress is the idea that I have to keep up some unspoken standard of near-perfection at home, at work, and everywhere else… all at the same time.  And that’s where the trouble starts, I think.  If we can shake loose from the lie of “having it all” and the exhausting expectations that go with it, then we have the freedom during each different season of our lives to decide what is best for our family, our community, and ourselves.   And then to revise our plans when circumstances change – because they always do.  Can we have it all?  I guess so – but maybe it’s better for us if we only have a little bit at a time.

I believe that the most insidious side-effect of the modern incarnation of feminism is what has been called “reverse sexism”.  This perspective perpetrated by feminists has turned men into something that they ‘re really not. It’s obvious if you’re paying attention.  Start by taking a close look at the commercials next time you watch television.  Observe carefully how the men are portrayed, and watch for these characters: The Sniveling Idiot (this is the man whose wife has to step in and save him from his stupidity); The Animal Appetite (I really think those Hardee’s commercials with scantily clad women noshing huge burgers are targeted to this guy); The Thoughtless Clod (these are the guys who spill food all over the floor while watching sports… good thing their wife uses Product X to clean!); The Helpful Bungler (this guy tries to help the kids – changes a diaper, does the science project – but he ends up making a mess for his wife to clean).

at-and-t-digital-life-piece-of-cake-large-2Take a look at this one (Piece of Cake) that seems to be saying: “Hey, moms! Dads are unreliable idiots, but with an AT&T Home Automation System you hardly need them at all.”   I get the humor — no really, I get it — but why not have one of the kids forget to turn off the lights and have dad fix it while in the school drop-off line?  Or have dad ask himself, “Did I close the garage door?” and then fix his own mistake.

This disastrous depiction of men is probably the side effect I despise most.  I watch commercials and sitcoms, and think “I don’t know these men”.  Do I know men who do silly things?  Of course — but they usually figure it out on their own and take steps to make corrections and fix things.  Do I know wives who give their husbands occasional “Bless Your Heart” looks?  Um, yes.  Of course I do!  But the thing is this: my husband helps at home, and almost never leaves a mess for me to clean up.  He cooks, cleans, and helps take care of our daughter.  He also works a very time-consuming and emotionally draining job to serve others.  I know I’m lucky (he’s taken, ladies) and I know not every man is like him.  But I also know tons of good men who are.  I am acquainted with men who are hard workers, committed to their families, honest, steadfast – admirable in every way.   Sure, there are some selfish jerks out there — idiotic, selfish and thoughtless.  But while they’re portrayed as the most common variety of man, I suspect that they’re more likely the exception to the rule.

Equality is a wonderful thing.  But why can’t the feminist movement lift up women (and I know there are a great many women around the world who need to be lifted up) without using men as stepping-stones?   Why are women who won’t “toe the party line” not allowed into the feminist club?  If we want to be equal, but achieve that equality by shoving others down – what good are we?  I believe that women are a compassionate and capable creation of a God who loves us.  We are able to do so much for the people who are influenced by our lives, but I think when we get tangled up in the web of confusing propaganda that is so prevalent these days we are diminished.  We are stymied in our attempts to “do it all at once” so that nothing we’re doing is achieving its full potential.  We are bound by the views we’re told to have of men such that we cannot see their willingness to come along beside us and help.  We are blinded by the desire to be equal to the point that we often cannot receive the grace that is intended when a man seeks to shield, protect or defer to us.

What I want for my daughter is freedom: freedom to vote, to think, to study, to participate and to choose; but also freedom from expectation and formulas for who she should be and how she should act.  I want her to live into the fullness of a life that God designed for her, realizing that all people have inherent worth and that all people are worthy of respect.  I want her to understand that we show God’s grace to one another when we love and help,  guide and shield, work and play – together.

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Wildlife Surveillance

I’m not sure if you’re aware of my love for all things nature.  Not that I’m at all outdoors-y in the traditional sense, mind you.  I just really appreciate beautiful scenery (we’ve spoken on this blog about how much I love the mountains) and I enjoy watching animals do the things that they do.

For example, we have two hummingbird feeders at my house.  I derive great pleasure in watching the tiny feathered critters flit around.  They are completely amazing – small, speedy, quick… and also greedy and territorial.  The fights they have over who is boss of which feeder are so funny to me.  We have one itty-bitty, four-star general who guards his feeder from a perch atop our patio awning – even after he MUST have drunk his fill.  He takes on all comers, and does not back down.  Their squeaky chirps are a pleasure to my ears.  Nerd that I am, I imagine that they’re thanking me for giving them food.  (Either that or warning me away from their snack supply.)

We occasionally have deer feeding in and around our yard.  This is less of an issue than you might think – my “yard” is more of a field.  We love to watch them – as long as they stay away from the landscape plants.  On several occasions earlier this year we watched a pair of spotted fawns graze.  We’ve seen a fox, had a resident wild bunny for a while (I suspect the aforementioned fox made away with him), and then there are the run-of-the-mill songbirds that eat us out of bird feeder and home on a regular basis.

Anyway, I have recently discovered this wonderful storehouse of wildlife surveillance webcams.  (Some are even for not-so-wild life; there are dog and cat rescue centers with live cams set up, too.)  My favorite is the set of cameras in Katmai National Park in Alaska. Bears, people!  Eating salmon out of the river!  Four different vantage points of the park, and at a few points in this past week there has been a bear in every single frame.

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Running a close second is the set of African Water Hole cameras in Kenya.  Hippos, elephants, and birds of various types are all I have seen so far.  But I have hopes of glimpsing a zebra or maybe a giraffe.  There are cameras that follow puffins, underwater cameras dedicated to whale or shark watching… even a hummingbird cam.

The whole thing is completely enchanting to me.  Travelling to these places would be better, but failing the ability to do that (and actually see what I hoped to see)… these cameras are a wonderful way to get a glimpse of some amazing animals in their natural space.   It just seems like life is better when there are critters in it — whether they’re pets or just wildlife that I’m illicitly spying on.

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Fifteen Years is a Really Long Time

Three years ago yesterday, my husband was approved (chosen?  elected?  selected?  confirmed?)  as the new lead pastor of the church where he had been serving for many years as youth pastor.  We’re in our fifteenth year at this church, and it is staggering to me when I think back on all the things that have happened in that time – not the least of which is that I’m now 15 years older than I was!  Yikes!

Around this time three years ago, I started a blog entry while we were away for a few days of rest — we stole a long weekend at a friend’s mountain cabin to allow us to hit the “reset” button.  To make a clear break between our time as student ministry leaders and the start of our stint as pastor and “first-lady” of our church.  This is a look back at what I was thinking:

Today, as I was reading the morning office, I was struck by these words from Psalm 8: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out? You have made him but little lower than the angels; you adorn him with glory and honor; You give him mastery over the works of your hands…”

My family and I recently spent a week in the Smoky Mountains.  We were enjoying some sabbatical time – a break for us between the end of an almost 20-year career in student ministry and the start of a new career for my husband as a lead pastor.

I always feel nearer to God when I am in the mountains.  It isn’t because I’m higher in elevation, either!  It’s the vastness of the creation that I inhabit when I visit the mountains: the enormity of the sky, the brightness of the stars, the endless vistas from atop the higher peaks — even the looks down into the valleys. 

We took the time to take our two-year-old daughter on her first (hopefully of many) hikes.  It wasn’t a difficult trail, and her dad and I only carried her over a very small part of it.  But the trail ends at a beautiful waterfall.  It’s not the widest waterfall I have seen, or the tallest one, or even a particularly strong-flowing one.  But its location is isolated (quiet and wonderful) and the fall itself is lovely to watch — the water dances down over a multi-level rocky terrace.  Again, I’m struck by the beauty of what God has created on this earth – the beauty of things that are seen by so very few people in the grand scheme of things.  Why would He bother? What are we – in our self-centered, tiny little worlds – that God should leave us these monumental markers of his power, creativity, and endurance?

And as I was reading the Psalm, it occurred to me:  I derive a sense of comfort in knowing that Someone out there is bigger than I am.  There is comfort in knowing that these mountains have lasted for hundreds of years, will certainly outlast my life, and all the while God has been fully aware of the existence of each rock and tree and bird and bush.

And as much as God is interested in those things he created, he is so much more interested in me.  He wants to spend time with me, and has offered me countless gifts — among them the church family that I have spent nearly fifteen years getting to know.  People who have loved and supported me, walked with me, aggravated and confused me (as only family can!), prayed and cried with me… people who have embraced me as family when mine is so far away.  I am thankful for God’s grace and his complete awareness of what I truly need, even when I don’t know it myself.

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A Snoodle’s Tale

I wrote this about a year ago, and have just edited it to publish…

I started leading a preschool choir group at church this year.  It has been great fun, although it feels sometimes like I’m herding cats.  We did a performance a couple of Sunday mornings ago that I counted a victory – nobody picked their nose on stage, everyone pretty much stood still, and a few of the little ones even sang the song.  Anyway, as a reward during choir time the following Wednesday I let them watch a movie and eat goldfish crackers.

We watched a VeggieTale DVD that included one of my favorite VeggieTale stories ever – A Snoodle’s Tale.  Have you seen it?  It’s a wonderful story of how God has made each of us special.  The little “snoodle” in the story is not good at the things other snoodles can do, and they make fun of him.  Each time something goes wrong for the little guy, a nearby snoodle draws him a picture of how silly he looks.  The pictures begin to weigh him down, and he climbs a mountain to be alone so people can’t hurt him anymore.  (I’m afraid I’m not doing it justice – it’s really a good little story, complete with Seuss-ish rhyme.)  Atop the mountain he encounters the Creator, and learns a whole lot about himself and the other snoodles.  Where they come from, what they’re made for, and that they’re each valued by the Creator who knows them.

As I watched the three-, four- and five-year-olds in my choir watch the movie (and laugh at the silly parts), I wondered how many of them are already getting weighed down by the words and actions of others.  I wondered how often something they do or say puts a burden on the back of one of their classmates.  It is hard not to think about how it won’t be long before they learn the lesson that words DO hurt.  Because you and I know that they do.  We’ve seen it.  I worked in student ministry for something like 17 years, and I’ve talked with teenagers who were weighted down by the opinions of others, by the words that had been said to them by friends (and sometimes relatives) and by the fear that they were worth no more than what others thought of them.

It happens with adults, too.  It’s so common, so pervasive, that we don’t even recognize when we do it.  We see someone walking toward us – down the hall or on the street – and we make judgements about who they are, what they’re doing and where they come from.  And without thinking, we say these things that label people based on what we think.  Lots of tattoos?  “He looks like a rough character.”  Suit and tie?  “That one’s successful – he has it all together.”  Mini-van and two kids?  “Check out the soccer mom.”   Smartest kid in class?  “What a nerd.”

Sometimes the labels are (partly) accurate, but they’re never giving us the whole picture.  And once the label is attached, it’s awfully hard to get our minds to open up and change their opinions.  (My dad used to tease me by saying, “My mind’s made up.  Don’t confuse me with the facts.”)  But anytime we buy into stereotypes; when we make assumptions and judgments and comparisons — we’re living a painful lie.  People are so much more than how they look, or what they say or how they act.  Sure we can learn a lot from these things, but we need to be able to see beyond them, too.  Truth is, God means for us to look at each other and see his creation – not our labels.  All lives matter, because all of us have a divine spark within us.  Every one of us (whether we like it or not) was created in the image of a Creator God, so why don’t we look at each other and think of God?  Only the Creator knows our true potential, and the way HE sees us is the most important truth of all.   The little snoodle in our film found that out, and it’s a lesson we could all learn a little better.
Instead of pointing fingers and attaching labels, we should be busy pointing the way up the mountain.

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Preschool Goodbyes

I have discovered something.  My preschooler is, on occasion, very unpredictable.  Are you shocked?  Then clearly, you have never dealt with a preschooler!  The thing that has brought this not-so-startling realization to the forefront of my mind is a pattern of behavior that I (suddenly) recognized this morning.Preschool Goodbyes.

It happens about once a week at my house; almost always after we’ve had a really busy few days.  And it tugs at my heart every time.  Apparently, it’s a pretty common thing for toddlers and preschoolers.  So much so that there’s a whole list of “funny” ways to say goodbye to your little one to make parting more fun and less painful.

I was getting ready to walk out the door this morning, heading to work, when I heard the heart-wrenching phrase, “Mommy, wait!  I want you!  I need to give you a hug and a kiss.” Who doesn’t want another hug and kiss from their child?  That’s right – another.  Because I had JUST given her a kiss and hug goodbye.  I hear those words, “Mommy, I want you!” and I know I’m about to be late for work.

I can’t ignore her – don’t judge – so I scoop her up for the extra hug and kiss and take a minute to reassure her that Daddy is going to drop her off at preschool in a little while.  (This whole time, he’s sitting right there, but she wants me.)  Well, what she really wants is for me not to leave.  So I talk about how I’ve got to go to my office and do what I do, but I’ll pick her up from the babysitter’s house after lunch.  About how we’ll do laundry, or dishes, or whatever, when we get home and she can help.  About how we’ll make a cheesy-roll-up for a snack, and watch her favorite show on television.  We pretty much debrief the plan for the day, and suddenly this morning I realized — what my little girl is really interested in is reassurance.  She wants to see my face and know that she is loved as we say goodbye.  Hurried kisses-in-passing don’t do it for her.  She wants to know what to expect from her day, and that her Dad and I have the day’s calendar of events under control.  She wants to know that there will be someone there to take care of her when she needs it.

And when I stop to think about it, I realize that she is exactly like me.  Because this is the same kind of stuff that I want to know:  I want my loved ones to look into my eyes and let me know I am loved.  I want to know the plan for my day, what to expect and where to be.  I want to be reassured that even if something happens that is outside the plan, I have someone backing me up and helping me cope.

And then I figured, if this scenario is common with little kids, I can guess that the root issues are just as common with adults.  Don’t we all want those same things?  I realize this is not a treatise on human nature that is astonishing anyone – not really – but it amazes me to realize how many grown-up traits are already planted within my tiny girl.  Or maybe, more accurately, it amazes me how much alike we all are on the inside – no matter how big (or little) we are.

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When Chaos Reigns

I just had to do a follow-up on yesterday’s post.  Especially after blowing it so completely this morning.  The last thing I want to do is seem all high and holy – I simply do not have this whole thing figured out, and it would be less than honest to let it seem like I do. Because, after yesterday’s post, I’m fairly sure that the Devil was laughing up his sleeve at me while he prepared to throw me a couple of curve balls.

Things were really going well so far this (hectic) month, and I was very pleased.  Ah, but pride goes before a fall!  Last night, we had a fun outing scheduled with our little one.  Some friends with girls close to her age were joining us at a local Christmas Light display, and we were all looking forward to it.  Then, the first hitch: my favorite guy called to say that he had forgotten a meeting that he could not evade… and of course the meeting was right in the middle of when we planned to be gone.  Christmas girls 2014aI’m not sure I was as kind to him as I should have been – it is a wonder this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often with a schedule like his – but, I didn’t growl or complain (much).  We shuffled the schedule a bit and made it work as best we could – started early so he could join us for the main event and then leave in time for the meeting.  He was bummed at the change of plans and so were we, but having him there for a little while was better than him missing out completely.  Overall, it was a slight inconvenience, but manageable (thanks to some kind and flexible friends).  And we all had a good time.

But (and isn’t there always a big one of those somewhere in our journey?) when it was time to leave the fun, my tiny girl wasn’t happy.  And really?  Who wants to leave a place that has a hayride through a super-fun light display, marshmallow roasting, and – most importantly to her – a big play area with plenty of playhouses to climb into and slide out of?!  My exhausted-but-refused-to-admit-it child whined and begged and whimpered and cried that she wanted to stay.  And then she whimpered all the way home about how sad she was to leave, and begged to go again tomorrow.  All while I tried to soothe, cajole and calm her — while driving the van.  On the interstate.  And I did not do it as well as I should have.  I was tired, too, and in a hurry to get us home in time for her bath and bedtime.  Thankfully, our mutual tiredness didn’t result in a major meltdown, but it wasn’t the peaceful kind of busy that I envisioned yesterday.  Possibly, I don’t deal with adversity as well as I thought.  *sigh*

This morning, the tiny girl (who is less and less tiny every day) woke up just as I was about to walk out of the house to head to work.  I hugged her, told her I was headed to work and would see her later… and she clung to me and cried, “Mommy, I want you!”  And rather than feeling the melty-heart moment I should have, I was irritated.  You must understand that we do this dance fairly often.  I’m thankful that she wants me (I want her, too) but this dance we do makes me late for work about once every week.  I was not very gracious; I certainly wasn’t very peaceful.  Don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t mean.  But neither was I as loving and patient as I hope to be with her.  Looking back, what is five extra minutes when I am getting that kind of love from my girl, who soon won’t be small enough to “want” her mommy anymore?!  I let the stress of my self-imposed requirement for total punctuality rob me of the chance to reassure my daughter of her Mom’s love.  What a mommy fail.

So, back to the drawing board for me.  Teach me again, Father, what patience and grace and peace and love look like.  I haven’t got it yet, but I’m trying.  And I’m so thankful that Your love and Your patience never fail me.

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Welcome to the Chaos

Welcome to the chaos… of the holiday season!  I always seem to approach the months in which we celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas with equal parts anticipation and anxiety. I absolutely love the holidays – I love getting to spend time with my family, thinking of special things to do with my little girl, eating the decadent foods I otherwise never enjoy, and I love the idea of relaxing with a cup of coffee and a book once all the work is completed.  The anxiety comes in when I remember that I almost never actually accomplish the relaxation that I envision, because the work never seems to be done.  Am I right?  There are so many good and wonderful things to do during this time of year that our calendar easily fills up with fun “experiences” that we want for our little one (and for ourselves, if I’m honest).  The days begin to run together and I run out of time to enjoy that elusive coffee-and-book-break.

And honestly?  I just hate that feeling.  That rushing-and-stumbling-and-trying-not-to-fall feeling that I get when I try to do everything.  That resentment that builds when there is one more thing that needs my attention, and one more thing added to the list and one more thing that these people want from me!  Seriously – who wants to feel that way during “the most wonderful time of the year”?!  Every year, I find myself feeling like George Jetson – running headlong on a treadmill that is moving too fast, yelling for someone to “stop this crazy thing!”

unwrapping-the-greatest-gift-cover-350hThis year, though, I am working even harder than I usually do to counteract this headlong rush.  This year I decided to force myself to slow down by making time to adjust my focus every day.  Each morning, my family and I are reading a passage in this beautiful book.  (Please, get yourself one.  Totally worth it for the artwork alone.)  We have the companion ornaments for our Jesse Tree that the little girl gets to hang up at the end of each day’s reading.

I’m also working through a four-weRP-W1ek Bible study with the Love God Greatly team.  I have done one other study with them, and I really like the format.  They are simple and easy to follow,  and they give me another chance to pause every day and think about where we’re headed during these four weeks of Advent.

Already, just a few days in, I feel calmer about it all.  I’m pretty sure that’s no accident, because I still have lots to do.  There are presents to wrap, a party to plan for around 60 people, a huge church-wide project coming up, last-minute shopping to complete, food gifts and baking waiting in the wings, Christmas lights, parades and tree-lightings, movies to see with my husband, travel to plan – and that’s not even an exhaustive list.  I admit that when I start to list it all, I can’t help but wonder how I’m going to get it all done in just a couple of weeks.  But I know I will.  I always do… the difference is that this year I plan to enjoy the process rather than resent it.  And feeling calmer will certainly help – nobody does their best work while in panic mode!  I’m hoping to maintain this peaceful kind of busy.

I hope that you have a peaceful kind of busy this year.  I hope that you’re able to take a few moments each day to focus on the promise of Advent and re-adjust your expectation of the season.  Happy Advent!

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