Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Small Pleasures

Some Pleasant Thoughts for the Week:

*Denver is real green, and the grass is soft.  Rain is wondrous.
*Next Monday is my first day off since Christmastime! (Excluding the two days of vomiting...)
*Vacation in less than 30 days!  My dreams consist of nothing less than Napa orchards, sandy beaches, Haight-Ashbury, a plethora of playlists, quality bonding inside Classy, and mucho coffee.  And plenty of uses of the phrase, "Let's do this thing, Africa!"
*The running habit is back in full-swing, and I have new jeans to keep me accountable.
*I almost have my interviews for my social work internship nailed down-the first one on Friday.  Whew that was fast!  And super easy!
*Explosions In the Sky-the band that has accompanied my every low and high since sophomore year of college-is playing a show in Denver in the fall.  OH EM GEE!  Tears will likely be shed at the sound of Your Hand In Mine, no exaggeration.
*Our small group is almost one year old!
*All the HALO Denver kids get to go to summer camp, and some will see the mountains for the very first time!  All thanks to a bunch of partying philanthropists.  Alcohol and large bank accounts do incredible things in conjunction with one another...
*The Malaria Griot Project I worked on last month is complete, and we've got some crazy-awesome stuff planned for this upcoming year.  I can't wait to take Denver by storm... for the greater good.
*If this rain lets up, I get to ride my new bicycle work.
*My skin is too shades darker than it was at the end of April.  I'm looking like a real Asian.

People always say to live your dream, but when I look at my list, I can't help but feel like I'm already there... with plenty more dreams to dream, goals to achieve, and people to love somewhere on a bright promise of a horizon.
I am reading a book called Amazing Grace by Jonathan Kozol, which tells the story of kids living in the poorest congressional district in the United States, a neighborhood in the south Bronx.  I don't have much to say about the book, other than a recommendation to read it with a box of tissues and an open mind if you are at all interested in America's educational apartheid and inequity.  I want to share with you the last paragraph of the prologue:

"What is it like for children to grow up here?  What do they think the world has done to them?  Do they believe that they are being shunned or hidden by society?  If so, do they think that they deserve this?  What is it that enables some of them to pray, what do they say to God?"

It's that last line that chills me.  How do they pray, and what do they say?  I think of the children this book describes:  people with nothing whom society regards as close to nothing, if noticed at all.  But these boys and girls at the kings and queens of God's kingdom.  And I have so much to learn from their precious hearts.  And to think that this book is on my syllabus for my grad program at DU.  God has a clever way of weaving himself into everything and everywhere, even where he isn't necessarily welcomed readily.

(Amazing Grace:  The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation by Jonathan Kozol)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Being Of the Female Persuasion - Part Two

I'll spare the details of where and when this conversation occurred to keep the involved individuals as anonymous as possible.  In a conversation about life developments of mutual acquaintances and friends, someone referred to a group of girls as the "most attractive" and "dateable" women in our community due to their "godliness."  Maybe his confession of a stereotypical view of Christian women compliment invoked a little jealousy or something, but it bothered me a good deal and invoked definite feelings of annoyance, judgement, and animosity.  I confess I was wrong, but despite the obvious immaturity of my reaction (to an extent), the feelings were justified, I think.

Don't misunderstand; these girls are good people-kind, generous, friendly, dedicated, etc.  On top of possessing admirable qualities, they are beautiful women who love the Lord.  I don't want to berate them or men who think they are the "godliest" women they know, but this comment exemplifies the stringent definition of "godliness" and limiting expectations placed on Christian women (and women in general) today.  I realized these girls were the "godliest" women-to this guy-because they had no problem praying on the spot openly for anyone to join, read their Bible daily and spoke of the experience as highly enlightening each time, and interjected scripture and phrases such as "the Lord's," "it's God's will," and "the joy of the Lord is my strength today" frequently into common conversations, etc. etc..  If I take a step back, I admit his comment was not intended to imply that I was not a godly woman, but I took it personally and got frustrated.  Frustrated because I wasn't those things in that way.  None of these qualities are wrong, and I admit I could learn a thing or two from their example; however, I do not think that their faith or expression of it makes them more godly.

The irony of the guy's comment is that these girls embody everything we glean from Proverbs 31 in initial glance.  And unfortunately, we-note I'm including myself here-seem to settle at this as either the perfection we're going to attain or the definition we're escaping our entire lives as Christian women.  I fall into the later category, and I realize by posting these long complaints about my irritation with the "P31 Woman" that I am guilty of intense pride and cynicism.  Those traits are unacceptable as children of God, whether male or female.

Here are my wishes surrounding Christian women:
- We would live more freely, which means we do not allow ourselves to feel inadequate or compare ourselves to an ideal of what the godliest woman looks like or other women we encounter who appear to have it more together than us or be better Christians than us. 
- We would extend more grace and forgiveness to one another and accept that godliness has little to do with modest clothing, submission to men (as husbands or authority figures-yeah, I went there, and we can go there more if anyone wants, but I'll save it for a later post), domesticity, or child-rearing.  And we judge each other's godliness less/not at all.
- Accept that we will do things differently.  Some of us will be full-time moms and housewives creating cozy and welcoming homes.  Some of us will create a family and a career, never leaving one behind and integrating the two lives together the best we can.  And in that acceptance, we will appreciate that each chosen path is a direction given from the Lord specific to each individual.
- Speak with freedom and great clarity in the company of everyone we meet, uttering powerful words that challenge and encourage.  Act in a manner motivated by compassion and generosity.
- Enjoy our lives more and live them to the fullest extent, prioritizing ourselves... not in a selfish way, but in an appreciate way that leads to greater understanding and knowledge of the self so we can serve others to the best of who we are and our abilities.  Revel in being women!  (I learned this one from Beth Moore!)  
- Appreciate both genders for the unique things they do and aspects of God the other can't convey.

Overall, I resolve to try harder to appreciate the women around me and the men, too.  I want to appreciate the differences and see them as assets rather than divisive elements in community.  And I will try to work on embodying that above list better.  Balance, it's all in the balance.  

As I've thought through this and read the passage in Proverbs again and again, I conclude that the words aren't so much about being the perfect woman but give us something to work toward so we don't get complacent.  I breathe a sigh of relief, as I don't have to change into a morning person for the sake of my hypothetical children's breakfasts or resort to a career of selling handcrafts on Etzy while hypothetical husband does the cool work in the real world.  I can be me and be a godly woman... so long as I'm focused on being the me that God sees, the best me.  That's all he asks of me, and I like that so very much.  :)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Being Of the Female Persuasion - Part One

"An excellent wife, who can find?  For her worth is far above jewels."
"Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised."
-Proverbs 31:10 and 30

The two verses above are the current thorn in my womanly, Christian side.  I guess I am supposed to see them as an encouraging charge toward excellence, but they wear me out, and I feel grumpy reading them.  Instead, I like these:

"For attractive lips speak words of kindness.  For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.  For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.  For beautiful hair, let a child run their fingers through it once a day.  For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone.  People, more than things have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed.  Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of each of your arms.  As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself and the other for helping others."  
-Audrey Hepburn

And  words slightly less whimsical and orthodox:
"I'm selfish, impatient, and a little insecure.  I make mistakes, I am out of control, and, at times, hard to handle.  But if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best."

"Imperfection is beauty.  Madness is genius, and it's better to be ridiculous than absolutely boring."
-Marilyn Monroe

If I am honest, the later words make me feel lighter.  And I am ashamed that the Scripture passage above doesn't do that for me.  I am certain the scriptures are not the cause for my funk, but our contemporary discussion and interpretation of them frustrate me beyond adequate expression.  In preparation for writing this post (yes, I make a nerd confession that I sometimes prepare my blog posts like a paper...), I Googled "Proverbs 31 Woman," "Proverbs 31:10-31," and "I hate the Proverbs 31 woman."  All searches, including the last phrase, yielded dozens of hits.  We-Christian women (and men do this too, I believe)-idealize the "Proverbs 31 Woman" into the person we want to become or the symbol we loathe.  Whether we idolize the "perfect wife" in order to become the "virtuous woman" described in Proverbs or run in the opposite direction (which is a woman, like me, who buys her clothes and wakes up not at the butt-crack of dawn to homebake fresh bread for the kiddos... laugh, People, please!), we trap ourselves with her ideal.  Audrey's words are whimsical but empowering; they paint a picture of a different, brighter world.  And Marilyn's words are simply honest and raw.  I relate to her frustration but believe she has not abandoned hope of becoming a better person despite some flaws and imperfections she will carry always.

Recently, the thought of becoming the Proverbs 31 woman makes my nose wrinkle up and skin itch.  Don't get me wrong:  I want to be thrifty, frugal, wise, thoughtful, respected, and trusted.  And if I am ever blessed with marriage, I want a husband whom people admire and seek out, and I want to be a wife that pleases him... and you sensed it coming... BUT I do not want to be just that.  

... I want to marry a compassionate and intelligent man, be a "good" wife (whatever that means), and share life with my best friend, discovering God and becoming better together then changing our world.

... I want to explore every corner of this world, make new friends everywhere, and learn from everyone I meet no matter how different we are.

... I want to raise kids of all colors, shapes, and sizes to love people better and live abundantly-free every day they breathe.

... I want to serve people that the world forgets, ignores, and bypasses and help them understand that they are valuable, beautiful, and integral to changing this world for the better.

... I want to wear sexy sundresses, sip wine, laugh uncontrollably, and talk for hours with my friends, enjoying every minute together.

... I want to bake homemade bread, create my own organic cleaners, and make any place I live homey and beautiful.

... I want to be known as an intelligent, independent, giving, and loving woman who does not pass by opportunities because she is a wife, mom, or woman but uses each job and each vocational opportunity to be a better wife, mom, and woman and vice versa.

But above everything I want to use every last ounce of energy and life in me to help people know and love my God.  That seems more important, more fulfilling, more purposeful than being the "perfect" woman, wife, or mom in Proverbs.  And if I pursue the kingdom of Christ, serve his children, and lead others toward him, won't my lamp always blaze brightly?  I'm chewing on what it means to be a "godly" woman this week.  Join me.

Friday, May 6, 2011


I have a Twitter account only to win free give-aways through blogs, but I logged on this week to read the feed.  And every time I opened my Facebook, the News Feed was full of arguing and joking about Osama Bin Laden.  The dialogue (and implications of said words) interest me, and it raises the constant questions nagging my brain and heart about justice.  What is it?  When someone does something terrible that causes pain and the end of life for one (or many in the case of September 11th, which America coincides often with Bin Laden and his death), and justice is "served" through that person's own death, is the right reaction celebration?

By voicing these questions, I am neither affirming his death as the "right" thing or condemning it as "wrong."  My pacifist leanings (which apply generally to the death penalty and war, etc.) go into a chaotic frenzy over an occurrence like this one.  Bin Laden's death raises more questions in my mind than provides answers.  The biggest wondering I have is this:  Did the murder of one man vindicate the lost lives of thousands?  I have a twisted knot in my stomach, because, to me, it does not seem like death in any form redeems what was lost.  I know this is all very idealistic, and my heart breaks at the lack of justice in our world... for the countless hurting, lost, and broken individuals that we deem so often as "beyond repair" and "deserving" of punishment.  I am not saying Bin Laden deserved a break or should have escaped any form of consequence or retribution (including death, again I don't know what I think about it...), but I am saying that my heart longs to believe, has to believe that his soul was not beyond redemption and transformation through grace when he died.  I think the knot in my stomach goes beyond Osama Bin Laden's death and stems from my own sin and filth.  If Bin Laden is beyond redemption, then aren't I beyond redemption, too?  I long for a time and a world where justice is restorative and beautiful, and we speak of it not with sword and battle allegory but words of understanding, forgiveness, and peace.  Justice consumed with grace and motivated by love.

These are the times I wish I could have a sit-down with God and throw my heart at him and cry.  But I know he cries, too, maybe not for the same reasons as me, but for lives and souls lost to violence and hate.

To Mom

In honor of my great mom, I dedicate an entire post to her.  She's incredible, and I am thankful to have a woman for a mother who is caring, dedicated, thoughtful, and generous.  Don't get me wrong; we could not be more different-I suppose this is one of the bi-products of adoption-but our differences have moved from sources of tension in the past to qualities that strengthen and beautify our relationship now.  Here I go:  the top five reasons I love my mom!

(All the Girls:  Me, Mom, and Erica)

1.  She's determined - My mom wanted to be a teacher but did not have the degree, so she went to school, worked full time, and went to all of our events, performances, etc. simultaneously.  Despite the hecticness of the situation, she received her degree during my junior year of college an fulfilled her goal:  to finish college before I did :).

2.  She's Creative - Mom is a creative person, always thinking up new ideas or ways to do things.  She loves to share this gift with others and teach them how to do crafts\ or give away her projects.

3.  She Believes with Faith - My mom and I see God in a different way and approach our relationships with him differently as well, but she shared her faith with me in a young age and gave me a priceless gift.  She believes easily and without restraint, and I really admire this in her.

4.  She's Thoughtful - Mom sees importance in little things and uses even the smallest opportunity to make someone's day a little brighter.  She goes "above and beyond" to make someone happy.

5.  She's Professional - Mom works hard and does her best consistently.  She never stayed at home with us but strove for balance between her professional duties and family responsibilities.  I don't feel that I was neglected or deprived, because she worked, and I feel I have been taught a valuable lesson and given a great example of being a "career mom."  I don't think it's wrong to stay at home with the kids, and I don't think it's wrong to be a working mom either.  At this point I think I want the later, so it's nice to know that it can be done and the kids don't turn out too weird :).

Happy Mother's Day, Mom!  I love you!