“OK. So what’s a blow job?” She forced herself to ask as soon as she opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat without even so much as a glance in the direction of my face. The question didn’t particularly alarm me considering my adolescent clients keep me well informed on the milieu of current middle school culture. Oral sex is certainly a popular enough category for me to have estimated this type of conversation at some point.
“Well, I’m happy to unpack that with you, but can you first help me understand the context and why you’re asking?” I responded and watched her entire body sink into her seat as though she had been waiting for permission to wave her white flag and surrender all that she had been containing throughout the day.
She proceeded to share the details of a narrative involving a new friend being propositioned to perform oral sex on a male classmate in exchange for money, a school suspension, and perhaps even an expulsion. I could see her initially fighting back tears and then with another exhalation she let go of any remaining composure. The tears began to stream down her cheeks and eventually found their way into her lap.
I imagine those tears tasted of confusion, of the experience of indirect shame as she bore and divulged this narrative, of grief at the sense of her childhood innocence dissipating. These are often the most painful conversations I have with my girls. How can I explain sexual exploitation in a way that doesn’t frighten them? How do I name the horror of a world that has a long history of sexualizing and objectifying women and girls while buttressing their own capacity for agency and empowerment? How do I talk about the ways our culture has deprived boys and men from believing that they were made for so much more while keeping hope alive that there are boys and men who understand what it means to honor themselves and the women they know and love?
With courage. That’s what I’ve come to rely on heavily in these recent years of navigating the terrain of mothering adolescents. I have transitioned from being a mother of strictly little girls into a mother of little women rising. So with each step, with each conversation, I grab hold of the courage to just show up, to open up, to talk about the things no one ever talked about with me. We sit in the messiness of it all together so at the very least, these little women rising are not left to sort it all out on their own.
I am not a huge fan of the month of love. I have nothing against chocolate or flowers or sentimental cards. I’m actually kind of a reluctant sucker for all three if they are offered out of a heart rooted in desire rather than obligation. So yes, the contrived and constructed nature of Valentine’s Day certainly leads to some major cynicism. But that’s not why February is on the bottom half of my descending list of favorite months of the year. I think it has something to do with the momentum of January with all of its energy and newness beginning to stall, but it may also have to do with the bitter cold and amount of snow we tend to get this time of year in Colorado. I am only a fan of snow when I get to play in it or watch it from my window while sipping on Chai and reading a book, not when I must drive through it or shovel it or scrape it off my car. Lest I begin to sound like a whiner, I must confess that even my irritation with Colorado winters does not fully explain my less than fond attitude toward the month of February. If I’m truly honest with myself, I must name that there is a narrative component to this negative energy.
February 12, 1994 was the date of my first Sadie Hawkins dance. I was 14. The same age that my oldest daughter is currently. I had attended my first high school dance with a group of friends, my date being a dear and kind friend of my older brother. But I actually had a boyfriend for this dance which made it feel more significant. Or at least I thought he was becoming my boyfriend, hence the late night flirty phone calls that led up to this first date of sorts. He was only a couple months shy of his 18th birthday and I was still a rather naive freshman. He picked me up from my house that night with a corsage in hand, but as soon as we walked out the door he informed me that the day before he had been busted for having alcohol in his car while parked on school grounds. He was suspended so we would be unable to attend the actual school dance. As a grown woman, and a therapist who has now worked with a number of abuse victims, it is painfully easy for me to identify all of the red flags indicating the course of events that would transpire that night and the predictable path the “relationship” would take for the next couple of months. But there was no way for me to understand the trap I was walking into back then. There was no way for me to understand how my story leading up to that moment in time had left me vulnerable, characteristic of easy prey, and without the capacity to protect myself.
Faith, my oldest daughter, attended her first high school dance at the end of January this year. She went with a group of friends and had what she considered to be a fantastic time. After a full day of playing beauty salon and prepping her for the dance, her dad and I dropped her off with her friends, took a few photos, told her how much we adored her and then departed for the evening. Brian had to head to an event at his school for the evening (Assistant Principal duties) so I had a rather lonesome car ride home. It was enough space and time for the tears to emerge and trickle down my face in a way that felt cleansing, redeeming parts of me I didn’t know were still longing for redemption. I couldn’t protect or equip myself back then, but by the grace of God…truly by the grace of God, this child of mine has had a very different story than my own. I know that we do not live in a bubble, which means that a culture bent toward the objectification of women and girls has been woven into her narrative in ways that are seen and unseen. Just recently, the hype and buzz around 50 Shades of Grey necessitated a lengthy conversation around the disturbing content of the books and movie introducing categories I wish her mind did not need to hold. Heck! We returned from a weekend in Vegas for a soccer tournament only a few weeks ago, where each of my girls were exposed to the horror of strip club adds littering the streets. We were ALL literally walking all over the nude bodies of women. Images of their bodies, their beautiful and miraculous bodies- meant for SO MUCH more than being used as objects of pleasure for others – were being discarded like trash. I kept telling myself that each of these women have a story. They have a story. They have a being. They are not just a body. It’s the very same thing I keep trying so hard to instill in the hearts and minds of my daughters. Each of us are marked by this culture, there is no way entirely around that reality. But on that evening drive home, I saw the fruit of our efforts of resistance. At 14, Faith has more of a self than I was afforded at her age. And she continues to grow day-by-day in that direction.
February will likely always remind me that the battle against a culture of objectification, a culture obsessed with the sexualization of women and girls, must continue to be waged. It will likely always bring me back to the violation and darkness of that evening when I was 14, but perhaps facing death is the way toward life. Goodbye February of 2015, I am glad you’ve come and gone. Hello March. Hello Lent.
The night of Faith’s first high school dance. Woman becoming, a piece of my heart that lives and moves outside of my body, beyond my story and into her own. I love this child of mine fiercly.
Something extraordinary happened last weekend. It was the 2015 Women’s World Cup Draw. I stood behind our couch ironing clothes as my 14 year old sat before me glued to the television. The broadcast opened with a panel of former and current female soccer elites. Their anticipation and excitement for the draw matched our own. We were within minutes of knowing how the first round of matches would line-up when I felt an all-too-familiar lump in my chest. It’s a physiological sensation I tend to get when an unexpected emotion is about to surge through my body and being. I couldn’t completely discern the emotion in those moments that tears began to well up in my smiling eyes. Was it gratitude? Anticipation? Joy? I wasn’t quite sure…but I know what you’re thinking- Really? All of this emotion over the Women’s World Cup? And the answer is YES. And not exactly.
I must disclose that I did not really grow up loving soccer. I was an athlete in my early years, no question about that. I spent most of my time in dance studios, including the one my mom owned for a period of time. As I approached middle school, I discovered I was fast and strong and tall and determined on both the basketball court and the soccer field. My father had a brief basketball career extending beyond college to the professional realm of European sports. My mother was a dancer, turned aerobic instructor in the eighties before beginning her career in nursing (I should mentioned she competed in Rebok’s National Aerobic Championship when I was still in elementary school). So it was sort of in my blood, but I never really landed and settled onto either the dance floor, the soccer field or the basketball court. Looking back, I was probably most physically suited for soccer, but by the end of my eighth grade year, when it was time to anticipate athletics in High School, one of my girlfriends asked if I’d tryout for cheerleading with her. With little personal direction and having an adolescent-hormone-bathed-brain that already identified the amount of attention the cheerleaders received from the male athletes, I hopped right on that train heading no where good. Thus marking the end of my athletic opportunities. Though, I should mention (or brag) that I did later play on an adult co-ed soccer league in the beginning of my marriage and also went on to fulfill a bucket-list item when I danced for a hip-hop company after having my first two babies.
I promise there was a point to that personal narrative detour. As I stood at my ironing board that morning, peering at the screen that was showcasing such strong, talented and beautiful female athletes, it dawned on me that I couldn’t recall a single strong female role model from my childhood memory. I’m not suggesting that there weren’t women worth admiring and looking up to when I was a developing girl, but I don’t recall being exposed to any that awakened my heart, strengthened my hope or focused my dreams. I pondered for a moment how my life may have taken a very different path had I been witness to more female narratives of greatness back then. In a split-second I was overwhelmed with the importance for girls to WITNESS the possiblities for their lives. We need more women in the pulpit. We need women in governement…yes, we need a female president. We need women’s voices to be present in the media. We need women’s sports to be televised. We need coming-of-age stories that showcase a female narrative. We need Oprah. We need Katniss Everdeen. We all need more women.
Nearly three years ago, my husband drove our three older girls to Utah so they could watch the US Women play in a friendly against Canada prior to the Olympics. Alex Morgan was being interviewed just before the game was about to begin directly in front of where my girls were all sitting. It was a moment they will never forget. We realized then that we would need to be intentional about exposing them to the narratives of a multitude of strong, determined and talented women, but my heart aches for a time when such intentionality is no longer necessary. I long for the day that women’s narratives hold equal weight in a world where they carry half the sky.
My 3 loves taking a photo of one of their heroes (standing behind a fan with a ridiculously large hat)!
It’s been awhile since I shared a few #SundaySpecials with all of you. So here are some good reads for those interested in a few culturally relevant topics.
Soapbox Warning: On Jian Ghomeshi and the Acceptiblity of Sexualized Violence Against Women By Sarah Bessey
I’m a feminist because I follow Jesus, my feminism is shaped by my discipleship to Jesus. And so yes, I dare to have an opinion precisely because of that distinction.I’ve grappled with writing about sexuality on several occasions – mainly because I think the Church has often gotten it so wrong. Over the years, I’ve taken issue with everything from purity culture to modesty rules to how we treat those of us who not only engaged in premarital sex but dared to enjoy it as ‘damaged goods.’ I’m never one to argue for repression or shaming as healthy sexuality, let alone someone who places one individual in the relationship (typically the man) as the sun around which our mutual sexuality should orbit. I rarely fall neatly on any one ‘side’ – I’m often too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives.
Our culture sings in only two keys about how successful women manage motherhood and work: either you’re driving a hard line to the C-suite, parking the crib in your corner office, or you’re shredding the Mommy track. But what about those of us who are still working hard, and who live and work somewhere between the two? I love being a mom, and I also love (and can’t afford not to) work.
In America, today’s parents have inherited expectations they can no longer afford.The vigilant standards of the helicopter parents from the baby boomer generation have become defined as mainstream practice, but they require money that the average household earning $53,891 per year— and struggling to survive in an economy in its seventh year of illusory “recovery”— does not have. The result is a fearful society in which poorer parents are cast as threats to their own children. As more families struggle to stay afloat, the number of helicopter parents dwindles—but their shadow looms large.
I hate the word “relevant,” but for lack of a better term, I can’t imagine a more relevant dystopic vision for today’s fantasy-saturated audiences than this one, or a series I would be happier to see young people reading, watching, and discussing. Our futures will be shaped by the capacity of rising generations to challenge and test what their screens and gadgets tell them about the world, and The Hunger Games is a parable for them, about them, summoning them to demand freedom, human rights, and the truth.
What caught your attention around the web this month? Feel free to leave a few words, links or funny photos in the comments!
I have a confession to make. I haven’t picked up my bible in four years. And the three years before that, most of my engagement with the text was connected to my graduate studies. No, I wouldn’t say I’ve suffered from the burn out so many former ministry workers describe feeling when they’ve been overworked and underpaid and feel like the well of inspiration and passion dried up years before they finally found the courage to seek rest and recovery. Then why the resistance to engaging this sacred text? I am convinced that the answer is far more complex than a lack of discipline or a season of “falling-away” from the faith. I am reminded of the words of one of my favorite professors as he taught me how to hear children and adolescents (and really all humans) at a much deeper level, “What is the behavior trying to communicate?” Bear with me, as I allow that question to guide this post.
I can recall my first Bible. It had a blue hardcover and was a Student NIV bible that was gifted to me by my youth leaders a few days after I responded for the first time to an alter call. Yes, that was my initiation into the faith and I have all sorts of complicated and ambivalent thoughts around that subject matter as well, but regardless I still believe something supernatural happened that night and have only had a handful of equally as powerful spiritual experiences in the 18 years following. So perhaps I will revisit the alter call ambivalence at a later time. Or perhaps not. But that bible was a central component to the shift my relationship with the God of the universe was about to take in my late adolescent years. Prior to my so-called conversion experience, I would say I always entertained the notion that there was some sort of energy or divine force in the world, but the abundance of heartache and trauma that filled the pages of my early childhood narrative left me no real choice but to assume that force was poised in opposition to my very survival. My early journals were filled with poems about the divine hand I felt gripping my neck and holding me underwater. After being forced by my desperate-for-help mother to attend a youth program for several weeks, I wound up at a Christian concert where one of the band members had the audacity to suggest that this very God, whom I had presumed was opposed to my existence, actually loved me – not just a love that encompasses the whole of humanity, but a love that holds in it’s very being my particularity and unique beauty. And so I found the courage to suspend the belief structure I had held to be true long enough to entertain the idea of a complete paradigm shift. Days later, the team of youth leaders who were just as shocked as I was that something had shifted inside of me, handed me the book that was supposed to affirm and build upon the possiblity that I was the target of Divine Love as opposed to a divine wrath.
Thus my years of devouring that student bible began. I engaged it like my life depended upon it. It was never really something I read for “devotion” – a term I heard often and assumed had to do with a conscious choice or practice of creating space in one’s life for a ritualized relationship with the text. There was never an established ritual of reading the text in my life because in those early years it was something I read out of a ravenous need for understanding, for meaning, for purpose in a world that was being born out of the soil of chaos from my early years. This impassioned pursuit likely led to my premature transition from student of the text to teacher of the text. I was never one to cloak myself in the clothes of an expert, but instead stood as a questioner, a ponderer, and wonderer of the stories, the poems, the wisdom, the accounts of this man named Jesus. I wanted to invite others to explore alongside me in the journey. My wonderings aloud began with the youth of the church and eventually migrated through the terrain of the college ministry and ultimately occasionaly landed in the pulpit. It was in that season that I first discovered how my voice, my questions and explorations of the text unnerved a good number of people. For some it was simply that my voice was female. For others it was that my voice had not yet gone through the refinement of a seminary education. For many, I believe it was that my lack of church upbringing led me to confront the text with questions that those who had been spoonfed dogma for their entire lives weren’t yet free to ask. Or perhaps I was and am heretical in my questions. Whatever the reason, my voice became a point of contention in the church that had previously been the only “safe” place I had ever known. I came to understand just how quickly this book could lose its sacredness and become a weapon. I learned how distrusting many people actually were of the text they claimed was divine – they were frightened that it could be destroyed by the questions of skeptics, by those who wondered about the cultural influences, by those who acknowledged the complexity of swallowing the thing whole without question.
I knew something had to change. I knew I was loved by many in the church that had given birth to my faith, but I also instinctually knew I needed to individuate, to separate and find a way to follow the questions that captivated my very heart and soul. I eventually followed the questions all the way to The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. I felt a whole new world opening up in that space. It was a relatively safe place to ask the questions written on the pages of my story. I went there thinking I would wrestle my way through the questions and eventually find my way to solid ground. Instead, I experienced an even greater level of opening up, an expanding of the mind and heart. This funny thing happens when I follow the questions – instead of finding answers that make life feel safer or smaller, I discover life to be more beautifully mysterious than I ever could have initially imagined. This mystery is at times difficult to bear, but at other times it is the only thing that makes life worth living. It was in the season of my graduate education that I stopped using the sacred text as a means to force all of life to make sense and fit together in a way that my human mind can grasp.
So four years have gone by and I’ve been unsure of how to engage the text in this new chapter of my faith journey. My oldest daughter, who coincidentally is named Faith, came to me this past week asking for some help with a school assignment inviting her to explore the book of Genesis as literature and that’s when I felt something that I can only equate to the fluttering of my stomach. It’s that common human sensation that happens when we have first kisses, or receive an acceptance letter to graduate school, or buy a plane ticket to another country. It’s a sensation linked to desire. Unsure as I may still be as to how to engage this particular sacred text, I am aware of a new kind of beckoning. I believe it is asking me to come home. I don’t think this home is a return to what has been, it is an ever-expanding moving forward form of becoming. I am ready to opt back in to the conversation. Anyone care to join me?