Shame and Starvation {PART THREE}

Summer 2009. Unemployed. Graduated from university. Alone in my flat. I was arrested by a voice in my head. It told me to walk down the hall to the bathroom...and make myself throw up.

I’d never felt insecure about what I ate before. I was an athletic teenager. Awkwardly tall for my age and fairly shy. But I had somehow bypassed the usual ‘oh I couldn’t possibly eat anything’ phase of teenage girlhood. I prided myself on eating lots, in fact.

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But now this.

I was never able to make myself be sick, so instead? Starvation. I would make excuses to people that I’d already eaten. All the while hunger pains would rip through my body. I couldn’t feel my fingertips or toes much of the time. I was exhausted. My clothes hung off of me. But I couldn’t see it. All I saw was imperfection. Failure. Shame.

The internal dialogue I had went something like this…. ‘Stupid. You’re so stupid. Why did you say that? Why did you do that? Why did you eat that? Stupid stupid stupid stupid.’ I realise now that this was a voice that had defined my whole life.

This shame didn’t just physically starve me, though.

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It starved me of community. I stopped eating around people….one of the most beautiful and important parts of Christian community. Something Jesus always did and commands us to do. Going to Community Group made me so anxious. An inability to think about anything other than ‘what would I eat’, and ‘what would people see me eating?’ The same thing kept me awake at night. That year I began to suffer from insomnia. Unable to fall asleep because I was so anxious about what I would allow myself to eat the next day. I hid in shame and fear. Controlling every single aspect of my waking days. Isolated and alone.

It starved me of grace. I would walk down the street and in every reflection I would look at myself and judge. But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t just judge myself. I would start to compare myself to every other woman walking down the street. Thinking, ‘Oh, well at least I’m not as fat as her.’ And make myself feel better. Or, ‘I’m never going to look like that’, and feel condemned. Shame can be something you either heap on yourself, or on others. Or both simultaneously.

It starved me of love. I was unable to see or receive any love. I started dating Gordon six months after this began….it took me the longest time (I’m talking years) to actually believe him when he said ‘I love you’.

I remember one night, Ailsa finally asked me (I recognise now how much courage this took - thanks babe) if I’d ever thought of counselling. I was like, ‘But I haven’t had anything traumatic happen to me…I’m normal. So I shouldn’t need counseling, right?’ Oh what a fool.

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I started to realise how starving my body was a physical outworking of starving myself. My fear of getting fat was an outworking of my fear of the future: I had grown up with such high expectations placed on me, and that I had of myself, to be this intelligent and mature woman who was not going to waste her life. I recognised this was rooted in my fear of losing control, of shame in not being perfect, or accepted, of being unlovely, of failure.

I believed the lies of shame and fear….that I was unknown (not understood, not seen), unprotected (my future out of control), and unloved (the people who saw me didn’t REALLY see me and wouldn’t truly love me). I believed I was shameful. And even more, I believed that God was not good, not loving, and not strong enough to heal me.

The single fact that changed me and is continuing to root its way deeper and deeper into my soul?

That the Father of all space and time who has called into being all we see and know, is the same Father who whispers an unshakable love into my ear and shouts His grace from the mountaintops. Being rooted in my identity as His daughter. In the irreversible and unquenchable Perfect Love that drives out fear. I love how our children’s Bible (The Jesus Storybook Bible) puts this covenant love. ‘God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love’. It started with recognising the lies that I’d believed. Repenting. And choosing to replace them with the truth of His love and grace.

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Since all of this, I have gotten fatter than I ever thought possible. In pregnancy. And I realised in a deeper way, that my sin of believing these lies had a direct affect on my son. I had to eat well. His growth and development, his life, depended on my nourishment. And isn’t it the same for us all? As Christians, we are a body. And lies that we believe, affect our brothers and sisters deeply. When we aren’t walking in freedom, the rest of the body suffers.

In all honesty, this isn’t over for me. Some days are still a real, deep, and bloody battle for the truth of God’s love. But the more I choose to replace those whispers of shame, with the lie-obliterating glory of His love and grace, the more I am able to walk in freedom.

For now, I’ll finish. But come prepared. Tomorrow we are going to do something different in this space. All you need is paper, a pen, and some time.

{Grace} 

 

 

 

 

 

How NOT to Announce you are Pregnant. SHAME {Part Two}

I said ‘I am pregnant.’ Then I burst into tears. Not happy tears. Big fat ugly shame tears.

I should clarify, this was my second pregnancy. I had worked out, by then, how babies are made. In fact, I had decided (as much as anyone has control over these things) to get pregnant. I was well aware of the love I would feel for this baby. I would have even said ‘I wanted to be pregnant.’

I also understood that a lot of people I loved dearly would have given vital organs to be pregnant like me. And here I was crying about it. Which honestly, makes this story harder to tell. I am not proud of my reaction or my feelings. Especially about something that would be pure joy for a lot of people.

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That afternoon, I had sat down with two of my best friends to get them to help me. Because I might have wanted to be pregnant but I knew there was something wrong with me.  I did not want to tell anyone I was pregnant. I was excruciatingly embarrassed that I was pregnant again. I felt like this pregnancy, as my second, required an extra explanation and justification to people that didn’t really have a right to that. I was humiliated. I just wanted to keep it a secret, if possible forever. But you know, this was my second kid, so I had worked out that would be pretty impossible.

Like all good friends, they called me on my shame and didn't let me live in it. They challenged me to identify the lies I was accepting in my life. There were a lot. Some were about my worth as a woman. I felt like being pregnant for the second time, when my first child was only 9 months old, exposed my identity and desire to be a mother. To me that made me look young, naive, and weak. It turned out a significant part of me had a problem with being identified as a mother. Now, you might imagine that having my first child might have highlighted that I was a mother but one child seemed like something you might try out, while two children imply you really like this motherhood thing. I was carrying shame for being a mother despite the facts I actually like being one and it was my dream to have children. 

For some of you reading this none of it will resonate. You might be thinking all I want is babies and 'how can she see being a mother as failing?' I should also add at no point in my life have I seen someone else as a failure when they become a mother, a stay at home mother, or decide to have more children. Rather, selfishly this shame was all about me. This was about how I defined my value and worth. And as with a lot of feelings and internal beliefs, they exist while contradicting themselves. My highest place of worth was in my career, a job where I felt I achieved something, and the ability to make money. I wanted to cry like my unborn baby at the thought of telling my boss that I was pregnant for the second time. She had witnessed me choose my first baby over a long-term contract and now she was going to watch me pick being a mother over my entire teaching career, as I would go on maternity leave and then move country. I cared because I respected my boss and I wanted her to think I was a good teacher. I love teaching. It would give me a high like a drug every time I stood in front of 30 hormonal teenagers and got them to progress in a skill. But how well I taught determined for me if I was a person of value or if I was a total failure. So the very act of choosing to be pregnant again felt like me throwing away my identity. 

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Now, this is not some weird twisted story of how God came along and liberated me from the feminist enslavement of career and that I discovered I was a born homemaker. I am not. Nor is this about a God who is a dream killer. Let's remember children was part of my dream too. This is about following a God who made sacrifices before me so that I can now make some too. This is about knowing where my worth sits. Not with a career. Or with motherhood. But in the one who became a sacrifice for me. This is about recognizing shame in our lives. Areas of our lives where we feel humiliated or like we are terrible failures. The areas that we try to keep away from people.  Because sometimes those can be areas where we have built our identity but we haven't measured up. Shame makes us hide and run away. But the act of exposing my feelings and lies to my friends and God freed me from the power of the shame. The light exposed the lies to their frailty and how they didn’t make sense. I was able to find joy in my pregnancy and I no longer felt humiliated by my own decision for my life. 

So here I am right now a stay at home mother in the city of careers. I am learning where my identity really sits. I see women with careers and I wonder if I'll get there one day. And I see women born to be 'stay at home' moms who are better at it than me. And honestly, right now both of those are okay. I like being a mother and one day I want to work again. Being a mum/mom and not having a career doesn't humiliate me or cause me anxiety. I can be open about my desires and limitations with other people. Shame is not winning in this area of my life anymore. 

Shame turns up differently for different people. I have met women, like me, who feel shame at being a mother with no career and mothers who feel shame that they work. Women who feel shame for not wanting children and others who feel shame because they cannot get their bodies to make a baby. Or people whose careers have just not been what they wanted them to be. Their dream of world domination by 30 hasn't happened. While it turns up differently in all of us, shame is designed to remove us from relationship. It makes us shrink away from people, God, and real relationships to hide this part of ourselves that make us feel humiliated and unworthy. But often when we let someone in the shame has less power. There is power in telling our story.

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Are there areas in your life where you feel humiliated and you shrink away from sharing these feelings with others? Where do you feel you are failing to measure up to your own desires and expectations? Where are the areas of shame in your life?

{Ailsa}

 

 

 


 

Shame {Part One}

Yes. We are doing this. We’re going to talk about shame. Shame in all of its seemingly unquenchable glory. But before we delve into the topic completely, blind and holding our breath, we thought it might be good to start with a definition. We’re both English graduates, after all….seems a respectable place to begin.

Shame is one of those slippery words. It moves about in your hand any time you try to grasp it firmly. I don’t know about you, but I find it to be so innate within me that it is hard to muster up a definition that seems clear and distinct.

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The dictionary defines as ‘a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behaviour.’ It’s the moment you’re discovered. Found out. Exposed. The moment someone sees, or you think they see, a part of you that you’d rather remained in the shadows.

But I think it goes deeper than this. I think shame begins with our identity. It’s not just the ‘finding out’ about something, it’s the WHAT that is being found out. And that ‘what’….that is me. You. Us. WHO we are, not just what we do.

You see, shame ultimately lies inside of us. The lie resides in our hearts. It started in a garden. The covering up of our bodies after believing the lie that we weren’t like God and needed to DO something to be like Him, needed to taste of a fruit in order to perfect our own selves….make our own selves. Believing the lie that God isn’t who He says He is, and we aren’t who He says we are.

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Our story started when God breathed into us His life, and declared we were made like Him, in His image….and we were very good. No need to perform or do or strive. Just BE. But we broke it when we believed the voice of shame and fear that questioned His goodness and in turn questioned our own identities. ‘Did He really say this? I don’t think so. But if you do this, if you try to perform this way, you will be perfect. You will be like God.’ Two lies. He isn’t good. And we aren’t enough. We believed. And we were all plunged into the murky depths of shame and fear. Desperately trying to control the ways we are seen and perceived. Covering up with fig leaves and hiding behind bushes.

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Shame, as the incomparable Dr. Brene Brown states, ‘is the most powerful, master emotion. It is the fear that we aren’t good enough.’ ….It screams out ‘YOU aren’t good enough….you aren’t strong enough, you aren’t whole enough, you aren’t a good enough friend, you aren’t listening enough, you aren’t loving enough, you aren’t giving enough, you aren’t saying enough, you aren’t being enough….You aren’t enough.’ I believe shame is the root of all the brokenness in our world. What started in the garden has spread like a wildfire of disease through every heart ever to walk this earth.

The good news is that our stories don’t end here. There is a Love that has reached out, beyond all space and time, and declares to our weary and broken hearts, ‘I have loved you always, I will love you always, and I will love you with a perfect love’. Our children’s Bible puts God’s love this way…. ‘A Never-Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love’. This perfect and enduring love, willingly present with us and in us, is what drives out the fear that shame brings into our lives.

So for the next wee while expect a few vulnerable posts about shame experiences in our own lives. Things we’ve wrestled with, lies we’ve believed, and fears that shame has held us captive to. The one thing we ask is this….would you come with us on this journey? Extend grace to us – we will probably get things wrong – and step out in vulnerability. We want to hear your story too.

{Grace}

Friendships {Part 4}

People often ask me what I miss most about Scotland. I am sure nobody will be surprised to hear it is not the weather (parts of Scotland get 250 days of rain a year), haggis (though a sheep’s stomach full of offal is surprisingly good), or even the landscape (which is actually good, see all that rain). You are getting closer if you guess I miss the accent, the ‘could be misconstrued as mean but is really playful’ banter, and generally the ‘we will rise as underdogs’ spirit of the Scot. But the real answer is quite boring because it is so obvious. My friends and family.

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I left Scotland knowing I would take a handful of best friends with me. These are friends who have been through it all with me and I knew we could build a transatlantic friendship. These friendships are worth preserving but it is also slightly disheartening because the circumstances of life mean the way these friendships work has to change. All of a sudden you don’t see these people regularly like you used to or share the same experiences. You can't just meet up for a natter or grab dinner together. These friendships require a different kind of intentional work. They take on a new significance in your life. 

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It may sound like an awkward thing to say but I also need friends here. I believe we were made for relationship. It would be a bit weird if I only had friends in Scotland and tried to just live in New York without really investing in relationships. I have great deep friendships that are transitioning into long distance relationships but I also need day-to-day friends. Friends that see your life. So they can see when you are having a bad day without you needing to tell them and be there to celebrate with you in the happy moments. You need the friends who can hang out with you last minute. You need the friends who see your vulnerability. I mean I probably could survive without any more friends but I probably shouldn't. 

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So here I am at 30 years old trying to remember how to build friendships again. I watch my son play with a kid in the park and suddenly become best buds. It is all so simple at 3. Just play a game of tag and share a toy car. I don’t know about you but I no longer play with toy cars and I am busy. I have children that require constant love and attention, a husband that requires slightly less love and attention, and we are trying to pastor a church that perhaps needs the most love and attention. With all that it can be hard to have room for friends. I am just not in the friend making sweet spot that was my twenties. 

I may have just admitted I need some friends but no one likes to look like they are desperate for a friend. I think we probably all have hang-ups left over from High School and the pressure to look like you had the 'required amount' of friends. And like dating, being in a state of building new friendships is not always a comfortable experience. The other day someone asked me if I have made friends since moving here. Which is a really tricky question. Needless to say, I spluttered, started to overthink the whole idea, and then tried to get my husband to answer the question for me. My brain was going,

‘Gosh, what even constitutes a friend? In all my life have I ever had a friend?’

It wasn’t my slickest moment. It was like watching a millennial's brain shut down through over-analysis....oh wait it was watching that. I should add this answer came even though I have lots of interesting people I hang out with and I am building friendships here. I can only imagine what my answer would have been if I was feeling all alone. Our culture makes it awkward and uncomfortable to desire some more friends as adults and it judges our worth accordingly. 

But I don't think my awkward situation is exclusive to those of us who have moved country. Maybe you have just moved city, changed job, or gone to college. Perhaps your life stage changed or you had a baby and now your friends are all working 9-5 while you have the afternoon chat shows to keep you company. It could be that all your friends moved away or got married (which is sometimes harder because they drop off the face of the earth and still live on the same street). Maybe, you took a look at your life and realized you need some better friends. 

I think that we should just admit right now that this is normal. If you have never found yourself needing some more friends I guarantee it will happen at some point. Sometimes we just find ourselves in a friendship deficiency and we should embrace that as a standard experience. Because we are no longer in High School it does not have to mean something terrible about our identity. It just means we are humans experiencing human things. When someone admits they feel lonely or would like more friends we don't have to feel pity or look down on them. We should just empathize that this is living. 

{Ailsa}                                                


 

Friendships {Part 3}

Moving across an ocean at 17 did NOT do wonders for my FOMO. I mean, it wasn’t even a handy acronym at the time, but it was definitely still a thing.

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For any of you who have made a significant move in life, you will know what I’m speaking of. That fear of missing out. More and more this is becoming the story of our world. People living thousands of miles away from the most significant relationships in their lives. Missing out on graduations, holidays, weddings, births....and deaths. Distance is heartbreaking.

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Back to 2005. Several of my friends were off to the same university, or still in high school, and I was about 3,000 miles away. That first lecture, I sat in a 400 seat auditorium and didn’t have one person who had known me longer than a week in the entirety of the undergrads that walked on campus. (Granted there were a few masters students who were a part of the church plant team, but no one my age.). And most of these people didn’t really like Americans either. Loooools. The fear of missing out stepped up a notch. Skype didn’t exist at that point. No what’s app. We had instant messenger, emails, or phone cards. Daily life went on, and I was not a part of it. The fear of not knowing what was going on in the lives of those I loved....the fear that we’d drift apart and I’d drift off into a sea of loneliness....though it sounds overly dramatic, it was so real.

Looking back, some relationships have grown and deepened over the years. Others have faded. A part of my life back then, but no less beautiful. For me, a few things have defined the former....

First, I think long distance friendships require real intentionality. I’ve been known to schedule Skype dates over a month in advance. It sounds crazy....but it’s so vital. Intentionality also involves messaging the other person even when they forget to ask. You had a big day last week at work and they didn’t remember to text and ask how it went. Tell them anyway. Be vulnerable. In an intentional way, not in a passive aggressive way.....ha. (She speaks from experience. Oops. Sorry.)

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Second, friendships that span the miles require perseverance. Perseverance past the insecurity and fear. A transcontinental friendship can really reveal to you your deep insecurities. Are they forgetting about me? What if they meet someone awesome and stop sharing their life with me? The fear of unworthiness is real. But the reality of the God of love is more tangible than any lie that would try to tear you apart. The antidote to fear is always love. Receiving love, enables us to give it without fear.

Third, I think in ordered for these relationships to thrive there has to be an awareness that both of you are no longer the same person that you were when you lived in closer proximity. New experiences have become a part of who you are. You’ve both grown and changed. And this is a GOOD thing. Not a thing to be feared!

 2011. My bridesmaids and I, the week before my wedding. Now they are all long distance friendships! 

2011. My bridesmaids and I, the week before my wedding. Now they are all long distance friendships! 

And fourth? An embrace. Embracing all the transition, the loneliness, the messiness, the pain, the longing, the change, the joy, the laughter, and the uncertainty of it all. Embrace the sharpening iron of friendship.

This started off being about long distance friendships. But here’s the thing.....distance is measured in miles, but also in years. We all have lived lives of distance. And when love travels the distance of miles and years, there’s a beauty that wouldn’t have been there if it weren’t for the deep pain of separation. Physical. Emotional. Mental. The pain breaks you open. And if you’re broken open - broken free from insecurity and lies - more love, joy, and grace can break in.

 {Grace}

Friendships {PART 2}

When I was eleven years old I received the Balfron Primary Citizenship Award. It was basically my school's trophy for being a good person and a good friend. Don’t worry this is not a brag about how I was a kind and sweet friend-to-all as a pre-teen. You’ll see.

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The award was a tie between three people. My friend Lynn, one of the other awardees, and I had spent the year collected clothes and supplies for refugees in Kosovo. Those of you who remember the war in Kosovo can now work out how old I am. So of course when two prepubescent girls use their time to get clothes and supplies to the survivors of genocide you give them a freakin’ award. Lynn and I may have single-handedly fixed a major European crisis but the other winner hadn’t done anything like that. He had just been a good friend. He wasn’t the most popular guy in our year but I realize now that when we were all asked to vote for the person who was good at friendship it was him who won. I see now with adult eyes that he was the kindest person in our year and he was most people’s ‘good’ friend even if he wasn’t their best friend.

In contrast, I wasn’t always a kind person with good friend qualities. To illustrate this let me tell you another memory I have when I was eleven. The same year I was into righting the wrongs of genocide, I also played netball. Don’t worry people who know me and that I have a ridiculously hard time catching a ball; everyone played it. Anyway, we hosted a tournament for the whole area at our school and I was hanging out with some friends avoiding actually playing sport. A girl, who I did not know, came to ask me for directions to the bathroom. I gave her some. To the boy’s bathroom. Which my friends and I thought was hilarious.

When you are ten or eleven is there any greater social faux pas than entering the public bathroom belonging to the opposite gender? I think not. I met this girl years later when we were both women, both married, and thankfully both forgiven by Jesus. And she told me her story of how when she was ten I sent her to the wrong bathroom. She still remembered. And she made me remember. I remembered that yep, I had definitely done that to a stranger on purpose. I remembered my cocky ego only truly possessed by eleven-year-old girls at the top of the pecking order. Happy to stamp on anyone weaker whether strangers or friends. And I remembered that in some circumstances I wasn’t a very nice person. What is more, I am strategically avoiding the questions of whether that counts as bullying.

Recently, my three-year-old has started to declare various people his ‘best friend’. These people range from the woman who birthed him (yes me) to a nameless child he played with at the park for 10 minutes. Brace yourself Ailsa, here it comes. He is starting to enter the complex world of friendships and relationships outside his family. I worry, in equal measure, that he will be the child purposely sending someone to the wrong bathroom or he will be the child being sent to the wrong bathroom. I am not sure which is worse.

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Now as a mother it is my job to teach him how to be a good friend. Or perhaps teach implies the wrong thing because really children generally learn from seeing you do something not telling them what to do. I have to show him how to be that boy I went to school with who also won the trophy. But of course, I am meant to model this for him at a time in my life when maintaining and building friendships is at its most difficult. In your thirties everyone is busy and friendships are the easiest place to slack. Friends don’t wake you up at 3 am to ask for water or to tell you they have wet the bed. You are not contractually obliged to work on friendships from 9 am - 9 pm. And you never make a public declaration in front of 150 people and God that you will always love that friend. 

All this begs the question, in the absence of awards and votes, how do we define the qualities of a good friend? Not how should my son get a best friend, but what qualities should I teach him to have to be a good friend to others? And perhaps more importantly, what qualities should I have as a friend? I’d like to think I am past the ego-driven nastiness of being eleven (yet another reason to be thankful to Jesus). You can decide that one. But, now I have to fight the busyness and obligations of life to truly be a good friend. And, honestly, how well I am doing at the friend thing is not something I have spent much of the last few years thinking about. So I am challenging myself, as I start to talk about friendship values with my son, to not be lazy in my own friendships. They require effort just as much as the next relationship. I will try to model something worth having to my son. At the age of thirty, I am going to try to live up to that Citizenship Award. Easy. 

Who do you know that is the best at being a 'good' friend (not necessarily your best friend)? What do you think are the most important qualities that make a ‘good’ friend?

{Ailsa} 

Friendships {Part 1}

We had such a lovely time. Chatting about sleep schedules and food consumption, running after our offspring, negotiating toy treaties, distributing snacks to each other’s kids, getting quickly to the ‘how’s your heart’ conversation because that’s how it rolls in this stage of motherhood (you gotta get to the depth quickly before nap time calls or someone starts to cry).

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Then we said goodbye. And the doubts started to creep in. ‘Oh my goodness I shouldn’t have said it that way...she’ll think I was judging her mothering style’ or ‘Why on earth did I say that...that probably hurt her’ or ‘Maybe she misunderstood that and now hates me’. Thought after thought. Always ending with ‘Stupid. That was so stupid. Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Stupid stupid stupid. I’m so stupid.’

The voice of shame.  

YOU are not enough. You’re not selfless enough, you’re not kind enough, you’re not a good enough listener. You’re not enough.

It’s so easy, especially in friendships, to allow the voice of shame to keep us from vulnerability. To keep us bound in fear. Fear of being known. And fear of being rejected.

I have been so convicted recently. And in the name of vulnerability, because that’s the tone we hope to set on this blog, felt like I should share....I’ve been convicted that I’ve allowed this voice of shame to mark so many of my friendships throughout my life. Looking to these friendships to give me the security and peace, love and grace, that my heart so yearns for. But there are hurts. Big betrayals and little ones. Deep wounds and harsh words spoken thoughtlessly. I’m so afraid of being hurt....And so afraid of hurting. I listen to both the voice of shame speaking to me, and also the voice of shame that judges and wounds others.

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But what if there’s another way. A way that implodes this controlling voice of shame. That keeps us from looking inward for our sense of love and belonging. Jonathan Helser describes insecurity as this....looking inwardly for security. So simple, yet so profound.

What if the rumours are true? What if we are indeed understood at our deepest level. What if we are truly loved at our farthest and worst, not just at our best and kindest.

Tim Keller puts it this way in his book on marriage, ‘To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.’

When we know this very best and most faithful of Friends....we have the grace with which to see others clearly and love others truly. Not for the sense of love and security they can give to us. But for themselves.

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And maybe, just maybe, this can be the beginning of a freedom from shame in our friendships, and the growth of deeply vulnerable love.

To My Daughter: A Few Notes on Being a Woman.

At my twenty week scan, I found out you were a girl. I had a mild panic. I realized I was going to raise a woman and honestly that was petrifying. It is complex being a woman. I mean I am sure it is complicated being a man too but I have never experienced that. But instead with you, I have some idea of what you will face. Hence, the mild panic.

You are only one year old right now but I already see that you are fearless and reluctant to take my help. But I am your mother so I choose to give you advice anyway. You can read these at your leisure…. you know when you can read.

1. Society is full of contradictory and complicated standards for women. Be hot, be nice, be successful, but not intimidating. Be a domestic goddess but don’t look like you are trying too hard. Make sure you have a great body etc. Let me help you out, as the woman who loves you the most, you will never meet them all. But if you turn out to be a rebel and try to shun them all you will get yourself into a guddle too. Try not to be defined positively or negatively by the standards you see around you. And yes I would even include church standards in that. We are guilty of adding definitions to womanhood that I am not sure are any more Godly than others. Instead find what is true, worth fighting for, and define yourself by that. I would call that walking by the Gospel and the fruit of that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

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2. Don’t be a gossip. There are just some opinions you shouldn’t share. If you can’t say it to someone’s face then don’t say it. We often gossip to make us feel better about our lives and our problems. ‘Look, at least I am not them.’ But inflating yourself by indulging in chat about someone else’s issues is a cheap and mean way to make yourself feel better. The Gospel calls us to a level of realization about our own brokenness so we don't consider our issues as superior to others' issues. Oh, and don’t you dare use God as an excuse to legitimize your gossip.

‘I have to tell you this so you can pray.’

That is using God’s name in vain. I will metaphorically kick your butt if I hear you do that. I am sure God is not that pleased either.

3. Please do not mistake ‘being nice’ with kindness and love. Often as women, we are taught that love equals saying the polite encouraging thing rather than the challenge in love, respectfully disagreeing, or explaining in a situation that you were hurt.

‘Oh it’s okay, you didn’t hurt me.’

‘I love it when you do that. You are so sweet.’

‘I totally agree.’

Don’t misunderstand me you have no right to dehumanize someone or take your pain out on them by hurting them. But I do challenge you to love by being truthful, having opinions, and having hard conversations. When we assume that God calls us to always say the ‘nice’ thing rather than the ‘hard’ thing we sometimes deal with that pent-up energy and frustration by venting and gossiping about someone. Say the hard thing to people’s faces so that you don’t dehumanize them behind their backs.  

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4. If you find yourself single when you would rather you weren’t, please know you are not in a waiting period before marriage. If you get married, know you have not made it to a more legitimate stage in life. Both singleness and marriage are representations of God’s love for the world. Marriage is an expression of the depth of God’s love by concentrating on one person. Singleness is an expression of the breath of God’s love by the diversity of the relationships you can build. Both require work and faithfulness to walk in healthy marriage or healthy singleness. Try not to look down on one or the other whatever your stage in life. Be friends with married people when you are single and single people when you are married. We can learn a lot from each other in community. If you are single don’t let other people assume upon your time and faithfulness. You also have relationships to build and invest in.

5.  Don’t watch porn. This is hard to summarize in a paragraph, especially as a woman because the dynamics here are varied and far-reaching. But we were designed for connection. And porn was designed to bypass connection. It was designed to give pleasure without the need for the ‘messiness’ of relationship. It is the easy way but it is also the falling short way. I will also add, that no matter how many women you know who watch it, porn was designed for men by men. You are watching something that will warp your definition of power in a relationship. And it will warp your definition of womanhood. I am pretty sure we should not learn our definition of female identity from a medium designed for men to masturbate alone in their bedrooms.  

6. You may find yourself taking your struggles in life out on your body. Either by controlling it to feel like you have some form of power in life or abusing it to walk out your pain. You might do this by restricting food, indulging in food, addiction, or self-harm. You may concentrate a lot of energy on your body to define your self-worth. This might get confused with normal ‘feminine behavior’ but women and their bodies have a complex relationship. Your body is a poor vehicle to express control and it is heart-wrenching to take your pain out on yourself. If you find yourself doing this please find someone you trust and tell them. You may not want to tell me. That is okay. Please tell someone.

Love, your mum

{Ailsa}

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Women.

We all have stories. Stories of the backs that have broken. The blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured out, the battles fought, the arms that have pushed us forward at the very moment their own strength failed. The shoulders of greatness upon which we stand.

Today is the day to tell these stories. Stories of women who have gone before us.

One of these courageous women once wrote....

‘I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.’ (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

Here are some of the women that have gone before me, and bravely fought through the stormy waters, ensuring that I had a sail and a compass to go forward....

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Here’s my mum. Carol. Of the many things she gave me, my education was one of them. She decided, against cultural norms at the time, to homeschool me. All the way till university. She would hand pick the curriculum every year, driving hours to a conference to wade through the decision making process. Now that I’m a mother myself, the weight of that sits heavy on me. She gave me a love of health food well before it was fashionable. One of the most incredible gifts she gave me was ensuring my brother and I had read through the entire Bible before we graduated high school. What has shaped me the most, though, was the way she created a home that was founded upon hospitality. From the age of nine, we always had people living with us. To this day, I have many older ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ around the world of different ethnicities and backgrounds. We hosted meal after meal, guest after guest. As a kid, it meant a lot of chopping, cleaning, and laundry. But, I am beyond thankful for this. Thankful for growing up in a home centred on hospitable love and welcome. 

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This is my mum’s mum. Nana. She was the daughter of Portuguese immigrants to the USA at the start of the 20th century. She battled through discrimination (she changed her name from Rosa Edwina to Edna Rose in order to fit in with all the other northeastern fashionable girls) and poverty. She left school after the 8th grade, was sequestered in a sanatorium for two years at the age of 16 for tuberculosis, and saw numerous young women die. Age 18, she met my Papa at a 25 cent dance hall, he was in the navy and soon after they were married. She went on to have 7 amazing children, 25 grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren. All of whom still love each other and who prioritise family. But most of all? Her love of Jesus shined the brightest. Her favourite thing to do was lean over to a stranger in the grocery store queue, or next to her in the doctors office, and ask ‘Do you know Jesus?’ What a legacy. What a saint.

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This is my dad’s mum. Grandmother. Helen. She raised five children with a husband who flew planes for a living and had to be gone much of the time. Her strength carried her family through when my Grandfather, Jim, was in an accident that left him in a coma whilst she was pregnant with my dad. Her home on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia was an oasis of peace and beauty. She went before me. Raising a man, my dad, who serves and loves with dignity and strength. Her legacy.

Who are the women in your life who courageously set out from the calm waters and braved the storms so that you could sail?

 

{Grace} 

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I am an Ignorant Immigrant 

Most people don’t like being faced with their own ignorance. Like when people are talking about the finer points of the crisis in Syria and you realize, as they use countless names, dates, and acronyms, it’s not as simple as ISIS. Or everyone seems to know about the latest music trend and you realize you haven’t found a new piece of music since 2012 (no, just me?). It is uncomfortable to feel like there is a whole section of knowledge you have failed to acquire. Generally, we avoid such feelings. That’s why most of us tend to surround ourselves with people just like us.

 My first time in America and New York City. What a baby. Circa 2010.

My first time in America and New York City. What a baby. Circa 2010.

The thing is when you become an immigrant you pretty much submerge your life into a pool of ignorance. It is astounding what I do not know and what I have had to work out since moving here. A few months after arriving I had to ask a woman I had known for a very short time how to post a letter abroad. After texting her I realized ‘post’ is not even the right word here. (I should add that this woman, let’s call her Becca, is an actual Godsend. When I first got here she put up with my stupid questions regularly and graciously answered them in detail.)

Now you may be thinking don’t be such a drama queen Ailsa just work it out. And I assure you I am just working it out. But it is not just mailing a letter. A lot of knowledge that you assume is universal, is not.

How do you pay rent here?

How do I go to the doctor if I am ill?

How do I find my son’s social security number that has gone missing?

What do the coins mean?

What is the public transport etiquette? (And there definitely is one. I can walk you through Edinburgh’s but I am sure I screw up NYC’s all the time.)

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The sheer amount of things I don’t know is tiring. Being faced with your own ignorance on a day-to-day basis is tiring. Now please don’t get me wrong, I do not say this as a plea for an Ailsa pity party. I am working out how to live here. The everyday ignorance will subside. I will work out how to write in American English, how to get a cervical smear, and how to buy my groceries without spending a small fortune. It is the underlying ignorance that will last longer.

I would like to think I have an understanding of America that I have built from being married to a native, a healthy dose of the back catalog of Shonda Rhimes, and my obsession with American politics. I’d like to think I have nailed it from afar. But I can’t even fathom what I don’t know. I literally don’t know what I don’t know about the unspoken cultural history that has built this nation. Like all countries, America has a history and multiple (and sometimes contradictory) stories that underlie the unstated values. And it is a rare person who can consciously explain the values and all the stories to you.

It can be hard to just sit in your own ignorance. And even harder to admit to everyone you are just getting to know that yes, you are this ignorant. It is uncomfortable to realize and admit. Honestly, it is just a bit embarrassing. But at least I know I don’t know things here. So I am open to learning. I have to ask questions and listen in order to understand what I am looking at.

 Our last Scottish elevator for a while.

Our last Scottish elevator for a while.

But perhaps you are reading this living in your country of birth and thinking ‘No way am I moving abroad, ya crazy.’ Fair enough. However, I still have a challenge for you. Work out what you don’t know. Find your points of ignorance. We make assumptions about our own culture. We make assumptions about other people. We especially make assumptions about those that are a little different to us. The chances are we are ignorant of the culture and life experience of many of our fellow citizens and many of our fellow humans on earth. So join me in this learning experience. I can’t promise it will be comfortable but ignorance isn’t bliss either.

{Ailsa}