Adventure in All Grown Up Now Part III: Man, I Feel Like a Woman

On Doctor Who, a long time ago, Queen Thalira who said, “It would be different if I was a man.But I’m only a girl.” To which Sarah Jane Smith beautifully replied, “Now just a minute. There’s nothing ‘only’ about being a girl, Your Majesty.”

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This is it. The big question.

When did you first realize you changed from a girl to a woman? Like the moment you realized.

Maria: Wow, really sitting down to think about this, a moment comes to mind that I would have skipped over had I not really thought about this. The moment I first realized I changed from girl to woman was when I said “no”, for the first time, to a man who was physically and verbally abusive to me…the man that was supposed to be a father figure to me. I said no to going over to his house any more, to allowing his abuse any more in my life. It was the first time I stopped feeling like a girl and more like a woman.

Kristen G.: That is a super good question and I would say my very first day of college. I told my roommate where I was going and when I’d be back and she said “I don’t care – I’m not your mother – do your own thing” and I couldn’t believe I was on my own – – – and not to be cliche, but there is nothing like holding your baby in your arms and thinking “holy crap”

Emily Y.: Hm. I don’t know. I mean, I feel like I want to say when I started menstruating. That’s the most physiologically correct answer. But I started menstruating at 13. In some cultures, a 13 year old female may feel like an adult, but I think that’s more the exception than the rule in America. I honestly don’t think I felt like a woman until much later, potentially even recently. And what is a girl and what is a woman? Is there a distinct difference? I don’t really think so. It’s a gradual developmental change, right? I mean, in baby development in utero, there is never a moment between when you don’t have arms and then you do. You grow arm buds that slowly and gradually grow into fully functional arms. Maybe that’s a weird example, but I think the same concept applies here. I don’t think there was a moment for me. Sometimes I’m not even sure that I feel more like a woman than a girl. Adulthood is a loose construct for me. Although I am an adult, I’m still not sure what that means yet.
I did not answer your question…but I’m not really sure how to.
Also, if you aren’t thinking about “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” by Britney Spears right now, I’m not sure what’s wrong with you.

Kristen K.: I think around age 7 I realized I should start taking care of my little brother and sister.

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Hayley: There are few moments. When I was 6, and my mom and dad explained that my sister wasn’t going to make it. That my baby sister wasn’t going to be a part of our lives. That’s the first time I remember really coming to terms with mortality, and actual disappointment.
When I was 22, and I not only didn’t get a say in what happened to my life and body. But the eventual step when I realized, I needed to start recognizing myself as a powerful entity, because not everyone else will.
And just the other day. This is the day that I realized I was an adult. There were these two boys on my block throwing a kickball at my porch cat Bill Purray. I drove by the house and parked in front of mine. Left my thawing groceries in the 90 degree car and marched down the street. Before I even reached them I said, in the most even tone, “Don’t throw the ball at the cat.” Not “Hey, don’t throw that ball at that cat.” No introduction. Just “stop.” And the older of the boy now red in the face, said, “We weren’t.” It came right out of my mouth, and I still can’t believe it. I said, “I saw you do it. Don’t lie to me.” They turned and instantly ran into their house as I snatched up Bill Purray without missing a beat and walked right back to my house and sat on the porch with her. Eventually, one of the boys came back on his porch and sat in a chair. Pouting. I turned my chair and faced his porch and glared. I still don’t feel bad. That’s a future serial killer.

Harmony: It took me a long time to answer this. It took so long because I am not proud of the story I’m about to share.
I grew up in a safe, loving environment with parents who are truly in love each other. This environment was ideal in so many ways, and even as a young teen, I knew how good I had it. So when the dating scene became a part of my life, I didn’t take it very seriously. There wasn’t anything out there that could even come close to comparing to what my parents had. Dudes were disposable.
Then one day, I realized my heart had changed. I was 20 years old and had been ‘seeing’ (because ‘dating’ was too committed) a guy for almost a year. We were not dating, but we spent a lot of time together; ate meals together, visited with his family together, went to concerts, watched movies, got stoned and shared a healthy physical relationship. But we weren’t dating.
My phone rang around 7.00am one morning when I wasn’t dating this guy, and a very sad female voice spoke quietly to me from the other end of the line. I didn’t recognize the voice, I just remember being so startled at how sad she was; she was sobbing. She had said something about someone, and an accident, and how sorry she was. I was trying to put all the syllables together and still identify the caller…
It was my friend.
My friend that was dating my non-boyfriend’s brother.
On no, something happened to my non-boyfriend’s brother.
But she was apologizing to me – why is she sorry?
The car? Last night. Too much to drink.
Kevin. Kevin is dead. The Kevin that was not mine, but he was.
My non-boyfriend died.
I felt the heat in my face. I felt nothing but rage. RAGE. I told her how dare she call me and dump this load of crap on me. I refused to believe my non-boyfriend friend guy had died. DIED? No. Come on, now. So I hung up on her. Actually, I accused her of lying first, then I hung up on her.
15 minutes later doorbell rang. It’s now 7.15 in the morning and I’m all, “Oh now this has gone too far.” I opened the door, already pissed off, but there she was. Her normally pretty face, pale and swollen. Her eyes, pitted and bloodshot. Makeup, long gone. She hadn’t slept all night. Her hands were shaking and she said one word to me that I will never, never forget: She pleaded, in a whisper, “Please.”
And then I lost me.
Whoever I thought I was.
Whoever I thought he was.
Whatever I thought he meant to me.
Whatever I convinced myself I needed.
It was lost.
It was the day I learned what life really is.
That it isn’t a farce. It isn’t fake or showy or shallow.
In one moment I realized all that I kept from myself in treating him like he didn’t matter.
I realized what I’d kept from him.
Life as I knew it, had effectively gone from 2D to 3D. I felt everything all at once: the laughter he brought to my life. The joy. His old soul; his immense intelligence. The way his hands played the piano; held his brandy glass. How he looked past my distance and into my essence. The way he still held me, long after he’d fallen asleep, as though I were a treasure he protected even in his off hours.
I saw myself through his eyes for the first time. I saw myself as a woman. A woman he loved. A woman he adored. A woman who had willingly kept myself from feeling all these things he felt or me. And then he died. I had run out of time. My lesson came too late.
In the months afterward, I didn’t know what else to do, but march on. After a long time I started dating again, but it was different than before. I dated to get to know them, but I also dated to learn more about myself. It all came full circle when I met my husband, Sam.
Sam’s gentle soul and desire to love me is what opened my heart even further. I wanted to love him and I wanted him to know I loved him. I opened my life to him and he treated it with respect and patience. I appreciated all things about him and in doing so I began to appreciate all things about me.
So, back to the question: when was my moment when I switched from a girl to a woman? Well, like any complicated algebraic equation, there was a roundabout way to coming up with the final answer:
Part one was losing all I didn’t know I had.
Part two was giving it all had and losing myself to it.

Ashley L.: I think I’m still waiting to feel like a woman. I often feel like I’m still a scared little girl trying to put on a brave, “fake it ’til you make it” face.

Courtney: The moment I realized I was a woman… I think I realized something was different when I noticed men were looking at me. I remember two specific times were I was just doing normal activities (shopping, eating), and a grown men were either staring at me, or physically came over to hit on me (which, I didn’t realize what that was then, only that it make me uncomfortable). I remember being probably around 12 years old and confused as to why these people are looking at ME and knowing that I felt not OK with it. And shortly later I noticed more of my body changing. But I don’t think I ever felt anything INSIDE that was different, but realized something was different because of my OUTER circumstances.

Allison: I don’t recall having an “ah ha” moment about changing from a girl to a woman. Is that a thing?! Maybe it is for some, but I have been wracking my brain trying to remember if I had one. It definitely wasn’t when I got my first period and it definitely wasn’t the first time I had sex! Neither were very pleasant experiences and did not make me feel very womanly. Perhaps it was more of a series of moments and events that made up my transition from a girl to a woman. I suppose for me, the broader experience of trying to get pregnant, getting pregnant, and having miscarriages are the most womanly experiences I have ever had. You ain’t a child anymore when you have gone through that. Sometimes I look at women who have children and I still see myself as a girl. Certainly that isn’t true, but our culture tells us that part of being a woman is being a mother. Well of course I know that being a mother is not what makes a woman and being a woman is not what makes a mother. But sometimes it stings, you know? If I truly think deeply about this, my journey to becoming a woman has the thought of motherhood in it, but it is not what defines me. To me, being a woman is living through the tough moments and milestones and the happy and joyful times, to come to an understanding what it means to be a female in our society, and then embracing and spreading that power. It is important to me to try embody the positive and empowering aspects of what it means to me to be a thoughtful woman and a feminist for the sake of the young men and women I come into contact with.

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Danee: I don’t think I’ve had that moment of realization yet. I mean, I know by all societal standards, I am a woman. However, there are many ways in which I still feel like a girl. When I’m with my mom, for instance, or my sister, it’s easy to slip into a more child-like version of myself. Old friends can have this same affect, and my partner, Brown, probably sees this side of me more than anyone. Of course, there are many other situations where I feel old as hell. When I’m teaching college students… yeah, those moments definitely make me feel like an old lady. Does that count?

Amber S.: I’m not sure I always feel like a woman versus a girl at this point in my life. It’s so easy to feel lost and weak. I’m not sure if I ever feel like a woman without someone else being involved.

Rebekah: The moment I realized I had become a woman was just a little over a year ago. I was in a production of “the Music Man” and a friend took a backstage photo of me in the “Grecian urn” costume. When I saw the photo, my instant thought was “I look like a woman.” (my mom had the same thought, and expressed it on Facebook.) It was a bittersweet thought. At 29, it seems I ought to have become a woman years ago, but I was sad that the spritely youthfulness of my face had diminished. It made sense. I’d done a lot of growing up that year, and it showed in my complexion and my eyes. It also felt true in my soul. I had faced what seemed unbearable, and I was okay. I was going to be okay.

Emily L.: Another cliche answer, but it would have to be when I first became a mother. Up until that point I was being taken care of and had no real need to truly think of anyone else, but when I became a mom I was completely responsible for someone else and not to mention what my body was able to do by carrying and delivering a child made me realize a whole new side of womanhood.

Alex: I’m not sure I can define the difference from child to adult. I feel there were different stages in my life that matured me into my own autonomous self but I am not sure this makes one an adult. I am over the age or reason and hold responsibility for my own actions in God’s eyes, but again, not sure this means adult. I am over the legal age and deemed an adult when it comes to our governments laws but again does the single second between 11:59:59 the day before my 18th birthday to 12:00:00 really change me that much? I guess the closest thing I have to an answer is telling my parents I was moving to Indiana for school despite the cost. And despite feeling like an adult at that moment, telling my parents 2 years later that I was leaving this same school with all kinds of debt and no degree because I wanted to live authentically. It made me realize how much of a child I still was in ways I wasn’t sure would ever change. I feel like any time I do something new for the first time, no matter how prepared or confident I am, I still feel a little childlike.

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Laura: Here’s the thing: I don’t like the word “woman.” It’s a soft, round word that has connotations of periods and menopause and chunky robes and fuzzy slippers and cold coffee. Now don’t get me wrong, I like chunky robes and fuzzy slippers as much as anybody, but to me the word has connotations of giving up. I don’t even know why those connotations exist. They have no basis- my mom is a go-getter who never gives up. I can’t think of a single woman who speaks into my life who is this tired picture I see in my head. But I still don’t like the word.
So I don’t see myself as a woman. Instead, a grown-up girl. A lady, maybe. A chick, even? All words with hard consonants and bright vowels. The moment I felt most like a woman is when I was pregnant- a literal “womb-man.” There was no getting around it. I was grown, about to give life, carrying a baby in my belly. And I hated being pregnant. I was slow and hot and tired all the time. I lost creative energy and wasn’t allowed to lift heavy things. I didn’t look like myself and people treated me differently. So I guess, in my own thoughts, I prefer to distance myself from my baby-making capabilities and don’t really think of myself as a “woman.”

Dana: It’s funny, really; it has been a sneak-attack in three parts. The first, when I was bold enough to speak my mind with my mother about views she did not share. I realized that I was my own person. I had my own thoughts and feelings that were no longer dictated by her. I felt freedom…and fear. I felt my growing up that day. (Thankfully, my mother has done well with that transition. As well as expected anyway) The second, when I was speaking at a conference, promoting the empowerment of women and purity. It was something I would have never seen myself doing, but I felt an ease and comfort and passion that has only grown since then. And third, I was bold enough to wear HOT red lipstick and sassy heels for a formal banquet once. And I carried on with myself as normal, but people (specifically men), stopped to say how beautiful I looked. But not in that “she’s so sweet and cute and 10” kind of voice, but “WOW. You’re you in all your youness” voice. You know the one.

Ashlee: Do people really have moments? I don’t even know if I would consider myself a “woman.” I don’t feel old enough for that. I still drink on weeknights. I suppose during my sophomore year of college I started doing things more independently. I learned about cleaning my own bathroom and buying groceries to make meals. I took ownership of my education. I think that’s what I started developing my own thoughts and feelings towards important issues. That made me feel more like an adult woman.

Jessica: I think the girl to a woman moment for me was likely when I finally understood that I could not be first. In my marriage, in my teaching job, in my life, I needed to put others before myself. When I was able to let that bit of selfishness go I was able to mature and see a greater picture of the world that didn’t center around me and my problems.

Amber F.: Hmm, I don’t know. My gut says when I got married, but I’d say it was more recently- after getting divorced, I had to learn all sorts of things about being an adult. I think I feel like an adult for the first time in my life right now.

Brett: I feel like I’m still waiting for that moment. I think it will come, but it may not be until I’m 75, and I’m cool with that.

Allie: I honestly cannot pinpoint a moment like that. If I have to narrow it down at all, I’ll say that I only started thinking of myself and referring to myself as a woman when I learned that calling adult females “girls” is condescending. This realization came about three or four years ago, but I still struggle to think of myself as a woman the way I think of other women as women. It’s often easier to see other women for who they are instead of what they do or accomplish, and I am learning to extend myself the same grace rather than focusing on the ways I fall short of my own or other people’s expectations.

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“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” Audre Lorde

Adventure in All Grown Up Now: Part I

Bossypants

Recently, I reread Tina Fey’s Bossypants during the day and Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bees and Wannabes in the evening. Okay, truth is it was the first time I actually read Bossypants with my eyeballs. The first time I listened to it, read to me by Tina Fey. The point is they have a tendency to go hand-in-hand for me. Or maybe better said heart-and-head for me. Mostly, here’s why: On this reading of Bossypants something struck me. In the second chapter there’s a moment where Tina (we’re friends now. I can call her that), is talking about writing Mean Girls and attending one of Rosalind Wiseman’s workshops. A self-esteem and bullying workshop. She had everyone write down the moment they realized “they were a woman.” Tina (no, I’m not worthy) Fey talks about how so many of the women, most of the women, explained that their moment was largely when men started reacting to them. Indecently. In a real sexually harassy way.

It of course started my dumb brain churning. So I asked. I asked a lot of women to share their answer with me, so that I could, in turn, share that answer with you. I asked them more questions. I asked them 13 questions in total. (I think). I made myself answer them too. In retrospect, I’m a real monster. These were hard questions. Some people answered the questions and shared the answers with me, but asked that I not share them with you. I respect that. Some people answered every question. Some picked and chose. Some answered only the one question, which was all I truly insisted. If they chose to participate that they answer that one question. Like I said, they’re hard questions. And they’re personal questions. I still appreciate their willingness to share. Some people found it cathartic. I think some people are still afraid of me.

What that also means is that I didn’t think through how looooong this was going to be. I’m so sorry! I thought about doing a spotlight on each person. I thought about just posting it all at once. But I think it’s important. It’s important. They’re important. It’s important to me, at the very least, and I don’t want to take it lightly or gloss over anything. So I’m going to do this in a series. For me some of this was heartbreaking. Some of it was funny. All of it encouraged me. I hope it can offer you some of that as well.

Today, we’ll give you the introductions and the first few less terrifying questions, and we’ll work from there. I asked them all to include a photo and a 1-3 line bio, but I’m a dope so it was an afterthought, and I feel weird guessing at people’s lives or making them labor more. So I’m sorry to those of you who did labor over those (Meg). I believe I’ve kept everyone in the same order as well. So you can hopefully follow along. And thank you to everyone who I asked, who declined, who answered quietly. Thank you to Maria, Meg, Kristen G., Emily Y., Kristen K., Harmony, Ashley L., Courtney, Allison, Danee, Amber S., Rebekah, Emily L., Alex, Laura, Dana, Ashlee, Jessica, Amber F., Erica, Brett, and Allie. for sharing with all of us. (Apologies. Allie has just reminded me that I completely neglected her answers. Which was a stupid error. Please. Take the time to get to know her better as well!)

Ready?!

What is your favorite book of time, or did one ever change your life?

Maria: Tuesdays with Morrie was really impactful for me so much so that I still think about it years later. The idea of knowing you are going to die and walking through life with that perspective and what you leave behind.

Meg: Harry Potter all the way. I have read the series over and over again, which is something I have never done with any other book. It gives me an escape during times of stress. I even listen to the musical scores from the movies when I need to focus. :)

Kristen G.: The 21 Balloons – I don’t know why, just loved it and launched my love of reading. I also want to add The Red Tent to influential books

Emily Y.: I don’t know if I have a favorite book of all time, but Atonement by Ian McEwan was really formative for me in high school. It’s a book about how misinterpreting the intentions of others can spiral out of control to the point of unraveling the lives of those around you. It’s about how things aren’t always what they seem at first, and how speaking with authority on things you don’t understand is hugely detrimental. These are really important lessons to learn, and I’m so glad this book opened up my eyes to these concepts while I was still young.

Kristen K.: HP. All of them.
Changed my life because Dumbledore.

Hayley: I was not a big reader as a kid. I loved books. I loved the idea of books. But reading was a huge struggle for me. It really is today still, but I have a little bit more will to do it than I did when I was tiny. The Chronicles of Narnia are key to my heart. Still. I read them every year, and still find myself getting lost, getting angry, getting hurt, laughing. It’s weird how it still pulls at me.

Ashley L.: Anne of Green Gables. I have always very much admired Anne’s spunk. She did things her own way, and she didn’t apologize for being herself, even though she dreamed of more.

Danee: Unbearable Lightness of Being. It is romantic and philosophical and poetic and sad. It grapples with all the big questions in life and gave me a new understanding of the difference between empathy and sympathy and why the former is so rare.

Amber S.: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster has been a story I’ve enjoyed every time I’ve read it. I’ve actually been staring it down pretty frequently this summer. Maybe it’s time for another read.

Rebekah: So many books have changed my life and perspective. I’ll mention one: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. This novel-about a human colony on a distant, inhabited planet-beautifully explores the struggle to understand that thinks in a completely alien way: the underlying structure of the way the alien cultures think and the reality of their lives was mind blowing for me. This translates into my everyday life all the time. I’ll be in the middle of a conversation with someone and I’ll realize that the structure of their thinking and their fundamental beliefs about how the world works are so different from mine that we’re probably not understanding each-other. It’s my ongoing goal to try and learn how to communicate with my fellow humans in these situations.

Emily L.: Might sound cliche, but I would be lying if I didn’t honestly say the Bible. It has truly transformed and continues to transform my life. I have many other books that have spoken to me, but the Bible is the only one that continues to challenge and change me.

Alex: Brave New World was the first book that stuck with me to the point of losing sleep. I call it my favorite, but I’m not sure if it is my favorite for reasons other people would choose a favorite. I’ll just go with it changed me

Laura: I, like many people, love Harry Potter, but the book I would say changed my life is a YA best-seller that I will leave unnamed. I was reading it one day and thought, “This is a best-seller? It’s not even that good! I could do this. I bet I could do this.” So I started writing a novel.

Dana: Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson
—>The Holy Spirit met me each time I opened this book, revealing truths to me about fear and freedom. It was filled with the echoes of “Amen”s straight down to the core of my soul.

Jessica: My favorite book as a kid was Island of the Blue Dolphins. After middle school I didn’t read much and haven’t really picked it back up. Nothing monumental

Amber F.: That’s a hard one- many books have influenced me but I’d say Tiny Beautiful Things, by Cheryl Strayed has had the most impact in my adult life. It is a compilation of advice columns she wrote as Dear Sugar for The Rumpus

Erica: My favorite book changes all the damn time. Currently, it’s Sugar Run Road by Ed Ochester.

Brett: The first book that changed my life was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. But books keep changing my life daily. Another big hitter was Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, and more recently, The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

Allie:   Predictable as this is, the Harry Potter books are my favorite. They teach me virtues that I consider necessary for living a good life. A book that has changed my life is Beloved by Toni Morrison. The intersection of injustice and motherhood has helped me see the world in a new way.  

Who was your childhood best friend?

Maria: Oh dear…Caitlin Haller (Whitman) and Hayley Johnson

Meg: Krista Seaman. She was my neighbor, but we became more like sisters. I am honored to stand up next to her as she marries her partner next summer. We’re still quite close

Kristen G.: I would say that I didn’t have a dear, best friend of my heart until college. But, to answer your question, Joanne Nirella.

Emily Y.: I’ve never really had just one best friend. That’s not really how I have ever functioned. But Rose Walters is probably the one I remember most from elementary school.

Kristen K.: My cousin Kate.

Hayley: Maria Bowersock(see above). The way friends are when you’re small. Sleepovers. Birthday parties. Lasting embarrassing pictures and fashion mistakes. Dreaming of the future. Giggling in matching Little Mermaid sleeping bags. We stayed close through high school. College happened, but we’re still friends. I think to a degree you never lose that person. Not really.

Ashley L.: I’ve never had a true “best friend.” I’ve made some close friends throughout the years, some of which I am still close with, but never a “bosom friend,” as Anne would say. Growing up as an only child, I learned to entertain myself, so I guess you could say that I was my own best friend growing up.

Courtney: My childhood best friend (or at least, the first best friend I can remember) was Alex Knupp. We met each other in elementary school and became fast friends. Going over to her house was a treat for me because she lived out in the country and had a barn that was filled with baby kitties. I remember one time I visited her house, I was able to hold a kitten that had been born that week. It was so tiny and small – I had never seen such a small, baby animal before then. The year after we became friends, she told me she was transferring to a new school and I was devastated. We promised we would write to each other and we did – we were pen pals for years both through snail mail and now email. I still have some of the letters she wrote me- you know, saying the normal “School is ok…” “I have a tennis championship coming up I am excited about!” “My sister is driving me crazy…!” Small little memories… Now, she pops up in my News Feed and I see her life unfold. She just had a baby a month or so ago. I should drop a line and say hello.

Allison: My best friend since I was 12 years old is Dawn. She was kind to me when a group of girls I was friends with suddenly decided that they didn’t want to hang out with me anymore. That’s middle school for ya. Dawn and I rode the same bus and she reached out to me to sit with her, knowing that I had been ostracized. We’ve been fast friends ever since! We egged on each other’s sense of humor and had a million inside jokes. It kept us going through the awfulness of middle school and high school. We had a running gag that we did for a few years where we faked each other’s secret admirers for Valentine’s Day. I wrote her a letter that detailed how I first fell in love with her. I saw her running to the bus and trip in fall in mud, and she laughed at herself and just got right back up and got on the bus (this is all a lie of course!). My friendship with Dawn taught me that it is okay to laugh at myself and have self-confidence. Even though we have moved apart and don’t talk as much, we still have a soulful connection that is quite strong.

Amber S.: There was a small group of us all through elementary school. Sara and I shared the same birthday (she’s an hour or two older). April always had awesome slumber parties. Kelsey’s parents were friends with mine.

Emily L.: I had many at various times, but the one I had for the longest amount of time was Jennifer Berry

Alex: My childhood best friend was Shawn Flynn; a person, not unlike myself that was perfectly happy not fitting into gender roles and beating the boys at their own games. Shawn and I are still friends to this day, though not as close as we once were.

Laura: My childhood best friend was Sarah- a girl who went along with all of my schemes and got everything I ever wanted. Seriously- cookies for lunch, a puppy, a horse, you name it.

Dana: Hands down, Rebekah Nimtz. So much can be said about this beautiful woman. But I will be brief, laying down the basics. I remember first seeing her on the slide at recess in third grade, a year before our divine friendship would begin. It’s probably the most beautiful love story of my life to date. :) I remember seeing her and knowing we were kindred spirits. How did I know? Pretty sure is was a Jesus thing. She became a part of my life at just the right time (my parent’s divorce). She brought a calm and peace that carried me through some very difficult, lonely times. Hmmm…she may not even know that. But I thank God for her every day. She was Jesus to me. And don’t even get me started on her family!

Ashlee: Stephanie Rutan was my childhood best friend. We bonded over big glasses and bead lizards. She and I remained friends all through high school. We moved through all the typical teenage phases together. We followed all the rules together, and then broke them all. We went through our first boyfriends and break ups. We became distant throughout college, with only a few visits here and there. I am so glad that after college she and I reconnected. We were able to make up for lost time so quickly. There is something so beautiful about being known and deeply loved by someone who knew and loved you in middle school. Becoming distant during such formative college years has made this new phase of our friendship such a beautiful thing.

Jessica: I had a few good friends growing up but they all ended badly so my looking back version of the relationship is skewed. I don’t have any “life long” friends.

Amber F.: Elizabeth

Erica: Heather Baldridge

Brett: I don’t have just one best friend from childhood. I made friends easily as a kid and had many of them. My mom used to joke that I could make a friend in the bathroom. One time, I did.

Allie: Kristen Koenig (her maiden name) and I became friends in third grade, based mostly on the fact that we loved Point of Grace and were over-achievers and teachers’ pets. Apparently that was enough, because we stuck it out through middle school, high school, and were in each other’s weddings. 

When you were small what did you want to be?

Maria: A teacher

Meg: I wanted to be a lot of things, but I think I wanted to be a teacher the most. Some of the closest relationships I have had in life have been with educators. One of my college professors actually married my husband and I. I guess from an early age I felt like if I could be that difference for one student, I will have honored my previous teachers. Does that make sense?

Kristen G.: Teacher. But that’s all I knew :)

Emily Y.: A Pediatrician.

Kristen K.: At age 7 I decided to be an actor because I was shy in real life, but not shy on stage. This is still true.

Hayley: A mermaid.
Reality set in eventually. Sort of. Explorer, teacher, abandoned in the jungle, a fairy, a lost boy, a newsboy. Then I learned about acting.

Ashley L.: I had all the usual little girl dreams, including a figure skater, ballerina, actress, and singer, but I finally settled down and told my parents that I just wanted to be a professional. It didn’t matter what occupation it was, as long as I was a professional. For awhile in elementary school, there was a waitress at Pizza Hut that I really liked, so I wanted to be a professional pizza waitress.

Allison: When I was a kid I wanted to be one of three things: A ballet dancer, a singer, or a counselor. I have since abandoned the first two dreams, but it is quite possible I will become a therapist one day. I plan to apply to a Social Work grad program next fall.

Danee: A librarian. I loved the idea of being surrounded by books and I thought librarians must get to read all day. Instead, I became a perpetual student, and haven’t had nearly as much time to read for fun as I thought that would afford me.

Amber S.: A meteorologist. Then an accountant. What a weird kid.

Rebekah: A missionary and a scientist.

Emily L.: Many things-a teacher, waitress, mom, brain surgeon.

Alex: Happy. Being a queer kid growing up in the Bible Belt of Missouri during the 90s wasn’t fun. This isn’t to say I had a horrible life. It just means I was aware before I could articulate the details that I was different. I grew up watching my brother be called a ‘fag’ for the smallest things that had nothing to do with his orientation. If my straight brother was attacked I was certain this was what would happen to me as a person that was different. I knew that my lack of heteronormative behavior resigned me to suffer at the hands of others if I was authentic. Thankfully the world is changing and my parents did/do a great job of supporting me and attempting to understand.

Laura: A boy. Or a dog. Or (more realistically) a veterinarian.

Dana: I desired to be an artist of every possible facet. It’s the first thing I can recall. I think the artisan in me has flourished each day ever since.

Ashlee: I can’t remember wanting to be anything other than a teacher. I really wanted to be a truck driver, but my parents quickly discouraged that dream!

Jessica: When I was small I wanted to be an archeologist.

Amber F.: A teacher

Erica: A police officer. They rescued me many times from some serious home situations. I respected them, a lot.

Brett: I always wanted to be an author. Before that, I wanted to be a bird.

Allie: My young career ambitions stemmed from my involvement in Science Olympiad (yes, big nerd). In middle school I wanted to be an astronomer, but I often got the terminology mixed up and would say astrologer. Then I wanted to get into forensic chemistry. 
If you could have one super power, what would you want?

Maria: To fly!

Meg: FLIGHT! I would love to fly. I often dream that I can :)

Kristen G.: To be “ready” in the morning with the snap of my fingers. Showered, hair done, etc

Emily Y.: MEAT VISION. No, just kidding. That’s actually kind of gross. This question is hard, because I want to say something like invisibility or flying or reading minds, but if I was a witch in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter world, I could do all these things if I worked hard enough or studied enough, probably.
I think I would like my super power would be to be Hermione Granger.

Kristen K.: Pee money. The more water I drink the more money I have.

Hayley: Adoptive muscle memory. That’s the ability do a thing after you’ve seen someone do a thing.

Ashley L.: If I could have any superpower, I would want the ability to transport myself anywhere with the flick of a finger.

Danee: To control my dreams. I love being able to see and speak to my deceased relatives in my dreams. It always feels so real and so comforting. I wish I could visit them every night!

Amber S: Teleportation, for sure, if that’s a super power. The ability to instantly be in the middle of a quiet forest, or in a busy city, or at that cafe for the perfect cup of coffee.

Rebekah: Long-distance teleportation

Emily L.: Difficult question because I feel like many super powers aren’t applicable in every day life(I’m practical like that), but I guess the power to transport anywhere quickly would be most convenient

Alex: Does being Sylar count as one or is that cheating? Too bad.

Laura: Teleportation. Seriously. Could you imagine? “I’m spending the afternoon in Italy…”  :)

Dana: Am I allowed to say that I don’t think I’d want one? After careful consideration, I think this would probably be best. I first thought I’d love the power of healing at my fingertips. But then, I’m not God. And the weight of that kind of responsibility–I don’t know if I could rule that gift wisely. I think the humility of such a power would wear off, and my ego would get in the way. So…
Maybe flight. I’d like to fly.

Ashlee: Being able to talk to and understand animals. God, I want to know what Izzo is thinking.

Jessica: If i had a super power I would want to know what other people are really thinking.

Amber F.: Invisibility

Erica: The power to make anyone feel better

Brett: The power of invisibility. I know I would get into lots of trouble though.

Allie:  It’s a toss up between time travel and teleportation. 

What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Maria: walk in the boys locker room while they were all naked (total accident of course!) ha but seriously, going to my parents funeral and walking in the hospital to see my brother in a coma after a plane crash. Never been so scared in my life.

Meg: This last year, I watched my godmother be taken off life support. I knew it was the right thing to do, and she would have been glad to know she was surrounded by those who loved her, but it was maybe the scariest moment of my life. I’m still trying to pinpoint how life exists without her.

Kristen G.: I don’t know. Can’t think of a thing. What does that mean?

Emily Y.: Interviews for PA school. You put everything about yourself that “matters” on an application. They see everything you have worked so hard for your whole life. GPA, GRE scores, a personal essay about what matters to you. Then you go in and they evaluate you. On paper, by how you look, by how you speak, byy what you say. And the whole time you are just hoping and praying that the picture they get of you is how you actually are…but you know it won’t be, because that’s not possible. You spend a TON of money on this process. And then you wait and wait and wait and hope someone likes you enough to invite you to go to school to live out your dream. SO MUCH is riding on that process. I mean, I’m good at interviews, and I really don’t mind doing them. I do well in them. My interviews for PA school were no different. But when I stopped to think about the weight of each one, I was totally overwhelmed. I was thinking, “If you screw this up, you have to pick a different dream.” That’s scary.

Kristen K.: Everything.

Hayley: Tell people in my life that I love and need the truth about the things that have happened to me. Not because I believed they wouldn’t love me, but because it’s so scary to say out loud. Still is. Reactions are scary.

Ashley L.: Whenever I have to drive at night while it’s pouring down rain, it’s the scariest thing ever. I have literally cried and prayed, “Jesus, take the wheel” during a bad weather driving experience. Other than that, I would say cutting my long hair into a pixie cut back in 2011. I was used to having my hair to hide behind, so that was scary. Plus, I was worried that I would look like a little boy.

Courtney: Went to the movie theatre to see Wolfman. Duh

Allison: This is a tough question for me. I have always had great difficulty with anxiety and fear. Growing up and through my early twenties even, there were many scenarios that seemed like they were the scariest thing I have ever done. I let fear and anxiety rule my life. In the last 10 years or so, I have been working harder than ever to face my fears and do the things that I am scared of. When I was living in Chicago, I worked at a job that terrified and tortured me on a psychological level for longer than I probably should have. I stayed because I was working with a therapist who encouraged me to push through and because I couldn’t find another job! But I survived and it’s over. I look back on that and I think “if I can do that, I can do anything.”

Danee: I once decided to move to Muncie, Indiana for grad school and within one week, I packed all my belongings in my Toyota Tercel and drove to Indiana with no idea what to expect and no place to live. It was terrifying, and ultimately that decision changed the course of my life in really incredible ways. The most incredible of which was leading me to my partner and my other half.

Amber S.: Anything that involves standing up for myself is absolutely petrifying to me. There have been quite a few moments of that recently that have left me in a constant state of stressful uncertainty.

Rebekah: Stand up for myself during my divorce.

Emily L.: I do tend to shy away from scary things the older I get, but the most recent thing I can think of that I willingly did that was scary was give birth naturally to my children.

Alex: I think the scariest thing for me was being authentic. I spent years lying about the most basic things and having to construct a world where my life made sense in order to survive. There are many people in real physical danger due to their orientation and gender identity on a daily basis but mine was far less physical danger and more the fear of ultimate rejection and disappointing those I loved. Even with people I knew had accepted other LGBT people I always felt I was going to be the exception to their acceptance. Living honestly is hard, especially when the world wants to silence your voice.

Laura: Have a baby.

Dana: Speak my mind. Open my heart. To ones who were entirely capable of destroying both. But in that, there came a great freedom. It continues to make me brave each day. And bold.

Jessica: The scariest thing I’ve ever done was quitting my teaching job when I had no plan. I just knew that I needed to do something different to keep my sanity so I just did it.

Amber F.: Hmm, another hard one. I play it pretty safe, but I’d say getting married and then 15 years later getting divorced.

Erica: Applying for grad school. And actually GOING to grad school.

Brett: I fell off a cliff when I was 18.

Allie: Parenting has been the scariest long-term thing, but I didn’t know it would be this scary when I started. Besides that, I did a six-month youth ministry internship that terrified me. I woke up almost every day scared of what I had to do, even though it was pretty normal stuff for someone in that field. Walking up to high school students I didn’t know during their lunch hour and starting a conversation, learning a culture I was unfamiliar with, and believing I had something to offer on a team of people I respected were just a few of the things that scared me. I left that time of my life feeling like I could do anything because I had to face small but real fears every day. I don’t often feel that confident anymore, and I also think I haven’t pushed myself to risk in that way in a long time. I’m sure there’s a connection. 
What, without fail, makes you cry?

Maria: Wanting to walk in my parents home again and all to feel “normal”

Meg: When people do genuine good deeds. It chokes me up every time and reminds me that humanity still exists.

Kristen G.: Children being hurt – abused – neglected

Emily Y.: Seeing videos of people suffer.

Kristen K.: Little boys who resemble the blonde haired, blue sunken eyed little brother of mine.

Hayley: Strong sibling relationships. In real life. In media. When sisters can’t survive without each other. When one sibling calls another as everything falls apart or comes together. Sobfest.
Xander saving Willow.
Hedwig’s death.

Ashley L.: The song “It is well with my soul.” Listening to it is hard enough, and I can’t sing it all the way through without getting visibly choked up and teary.
So I just remembered another thing that always makes me emotional and choked up…and this one is dumb. The Michael Jackson song from Free Willy. So embarrassing.

Danee: Thinking about all the things my dad has missed out on since he died. I’d say more, but I don’t have any tissues around right now.

Amber S.: I’m not sure if there’s anything that makes me cry every time, but I’d say the one thing I cry about most often is being limited/constricted by life in the city. I grew up spending any day above 50 outside in gardens and barns and my body yearns for that like I never imagined possible.

Rebekah: George Kirk in the opening sequence of the Star Trek reboot

Emily L.: I’m not sure there is an automated cry with me. I tend to be all over the place. Usually something with children growing up or not getting the chance to grow up makes me teary eyed or more recently in my pregnancy induced, hormonal state, I almost always cry during worship on Sunday morning.

Alex: Tons. Some less heavy than others.
-Mufasa dying. Well Simba crying and cuddling after.
-Dawson’s Creek, when Mitch dies or Jen is leaving the video message.
-Grace. From Christ or even just a human whom I have failed in some way reaching out despite the pain to reconcile.
-The mere thought of living a day on this earth without any one of three people. Like panic attack crying if I genuinely think about it. Hopefully we all die in a really fast and easy way together.
-The act of someone harming anyone else. Emotional, physically, sexually, financially, etc. it breaks my heart to watch others have their light stolen.

Laura: Anything to do with military. Particularly all those videos of kids crying and pets rejoicing when their parents come home from deployment. I have no idea why- I never had any personal experience with this. But I cry every single time. Veterans in a parade, my grandpa’s WWII photo album, you name it, I cry at it. And I’m not really a crier.

Dana: Oh my.
Just so many things.
-watching a father love his daughter
-when my soul is beyond satiated in the presence of my Holy Father
-forgiveness
-sweet, unexpected reunions; not even my personal ones. If every day was like the first five minutes of Love Actually? My eyes would be swollen with tears.
-seeing a strong man cry
-AND…the occasional love song that says all the right things. Like–right now–the song “Marry Me” by Train?

Ashlee: Any time they move that bus on Extreme Makeover Home Edition. Because I am approaching the end of my twenties, I cry when I work through family of origin issues.

Jessica: The special occasion cards/notes my husband writes always always make me cry

Amber F.: Thinking of my Papa (my mother’s father). He was my “person” and he died 5 years ago.

Erica: Thinking about my childhood dog, Heidi. She changed me.

Brett: My go-to TV shows. The ones that allow me to fall in love with the characters and feel close to them: The West Wing, Californication, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars, I’ll stop now so you’re not reading for 2 months.

Allie:  Women and men, boys and girls knowing themselves and finding freedom from gender stereotypes. I recently sobbed while watching the commercial about what it means to run and throw “like a girl.”

Adventure in Babysitting

Hey! That’s a real thing. 

Anyway. I’ve been watching two kids a couple of days a week for next to no money for about 12 hours a day. The good news is they’re great kids. The even greater news is it’s really no work at all, especially since they started school. Frank is 14, and Lenie is 10. In fact, the only reason I’m even here is Frank has been having seizures since about January. He hasn’t had one during the day for five months, but he does have them. He has to take a nap every day. And now that school has started and he has to be awake and using his brain that nap is almost 3 hours after school. And he hates that he has to take it.

They’re good kids. I like them. They like sports, which meant I actually watched the Olympics, and not just swimming and gymnastics. In fact, hardly that. I watched basketball. I watched soccer. I don’t even know who I am anymore. Lenie dances. Lenie plays with Barbies. I’m not exactly ideal for either of them.

But last week I had a cool conversation with Lenie. We were watching TV, and a commercial came on for “Lego Friends.” If you don’t know about Lego Friends, let me tell you about them. If you do know, well good news, you can skip this bit.

 

Lego Friends has Lego bases. Those look like Lego flowers. And a few Lego blocks. But mostly Lego Friends is large pieces that make play sets for your Lego Friends, which are just over-sized Polly Pockets. You can’t take a tree apart and build a dragon. You can’t take a vet’s office apart and build a spaceship.

That being said this was a conversation I had with Lenie when the Lego Friends commercial came on.

Lenie: Those are stupid.
Hayley: Why’s that? (trying not to sound eager to agree)
Lenie: You can’t even build other things with it. What’s the point? If I want to play with dolls, I have my Barbies. But if I’m going to play with Legos I want to be able to build things. It doesn’t make sense. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I don’t see that they think we only think about dolls and puppies. I like to build things too.

Mouths of babes. I’m not even going to say anything else.

Adventure in My I.D.

This Saturday I spent 14 hours with over 200 middle school and high school girls for an event showing and teaching the girls all about where their value comes from and that they are important in a world that wants them to believe they are not. That they are loved. It’s an amazing thing.

First a crazy story.

For weeks leading up to What’s Your I.D.2012 women in the community were praying for and writing letters to the girls that would be there that Saturday. I volunteered late during the week of the event. The opportunity to fill in gaps where I was needed was calling to me. I arrived Saturday morning and was greeted with the opportunity to write letters to girls who had registered last minute or were registering as they arrived.

I prayed for the girls and began writing my letters. Many of my letters were reminding the girls not just that they are loved by God and the women around them, but that they are valuable. They aren’t just valuable; they are being used by God at this very moment. He is constantly shaping them. I went about my day, and filled in where I was needed.

Before dinner that night Leah shared the Gospel with the girls. She had asked anyone who felt comfortable praying with the girls who came forward after the Gospel was shared to go into the next room and pray with them. I went to the room as the girls left and was met with six girls. They shared their names with me, but were not very talkative. One girl only held up her name tag. I realized, as they told me their names, that these girls were almost all of the girls I wrote letters to that morning. I prayed over them knowing that every part of that moment was orchestrated by God’s plan.

At the after party the girls were singing karaoke. I learned at the party the girl who had only held up her name tag had not said anything to anyone all day. So when her name was called for karaoke I squealed! I couldn’t believe it. She went up to the stage and sang her song. Her voice could hardly be heard, and then it was almost lost entirely. Because moments later about 25 girls rushed the stage. They stood in front of the stage singing and screaming along with this shy little lamb. I saw the girl begin to smile for the first time all day as these girls showed her more support than they showed anyone else as she made such a bold move.

It was all just so wacky. These girls being built into and up by so many women in the community.

But then came the bad parts for me.

While I spent 14 hours with over 200 middle school and high school girls, I also spent the day with an unknown number of women. Women with opinions. Women who say one thing to the girls and another to each other. Women who, well…

On several occasions I found myself surrounded by conversations with different groups of women. On more than one of those occasions these groups of women began discussing a woman’s role. And then it happened. As it always happens. Just like the pastor who at a wedding said if you aren’t married you aren’t fulfilling God’s will for your life these women said that if you aren’t serving a man and tending to his needs you aren’t fulfilling God’s plan for all women. And not just in general if you aren’t serving. You have to be serving a man. And not just humanity. A woman’s role is to serve one man.

I can’t get over this mentality. One, because I know a good number of amazing women who have never married, and many who never will and are constantly serving God. One might say they’re doing more for the Kingdom because they aren’t married. They’re all very dedicated women. Dedicated to any cause. And while I’m sure they aren’t opposed to marriage, I know that at least a few of them would admit that would serve as a distraction from Kingdom thinking rather than a benefit to Kingdom thinking. Some of the most amazing women I’ve ever known have never been married. And they aren’t just amazing because of that or because they’re strong or any of that. It’s because they’re focus on Christ is so strong. They truly find their value in Christ.

The second reason I can’t get over it is because it hurts me. It made me physically ill a few times Saturday. Because THAT is the sort of thing Satan creeps into my mind. Many, if not most, of my friends are married, and often being around them makes me feel like a failure. Not because of them, but because of the lies we’re fed. And in steps Satan with words from other women. Women who are working toward the same end I am. Women telling me that not being married and serving a man means I’m not doing God’s work. And my brain screams they’re wrong, and there’s Satan whispering in the gasps for breath that they’re right. And I hear him. And it starts to sink in. And I get sick.

If you aren’t taking care of children, and if you don’t have children of your own to take care of for your man you aren’t fulfilling God’s will for your life. How is it all of these other people seem to know exactly what God’s will for my life is? How could they conceivably know that? I think what they mean to say is, “This is where I find my fulfillment, and I have to believe that if it’s true for me it’s true for everyone.” And I feel shame because now I’m two steps behind God’s will for my life.

Adventure in Girls’ World

It should come as no surprise that when I heard Tina Fey was hosting a program on NPR I knew I had to listen. When I learned it was about coming of age stories and strong women in a program titled “The Hidden World of Girls,” I was completely on board. It’s brought to you by the Kitchen Sisters.

I listened to an hour of it today. I think it’s a good thing to listen to, not necessarily for entertainment, but for understanding. As a woman, hearing what other women go through throughout the world, I think it’s important. From Ireland to Native Americans to hunting cheerleaders to Venus. It’s a hard world out there for women to this day, and to hear other women struggling and surviving, I think, is an encouraging thing. And for men, I think it’s good to hear that it isn’t easy. It’s easier, but it’s not easy.

On the whole though, there are some really wonderful things in the world that bring girls into the magical world of womanhood, and it isn’t their period. A lot of it has to do with the encouragement and guidance that comes from a strong woman in her life. It’s a good thing being a woman in a girl’s life. Because as it may be getting easier for women, to a degree, it isn’t getting easier to be a girl in the world of girls, but a strong woman can make that easier. Girls need to be heard, and women are who should be listening. It scares me when girls rely on boys and men to hear their stories. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does. A lot. As women we need to step up our game. There’s a lot of pain in the world of girls, in general. Pressures, fears, abuse. It’s a scary world out there.

Now, it’s your turn. Go on and give it a listen.

http://www.prx.org/pieces/68507-the-hidden-world-of-girls-with-host-tina-fey-hour

http://www.kitchensisters.org/girlstories/

What women in your life offer you strength and encouragement? For me it’s my mommy, Headset and my sisters from the 509.

Adventure in Questioning

Eight weeks ago I walked into a local rec center and set up a room for ten 11-year-old girls. The girls were quiet and attentive. Seven weeks later, with a break in the middle because of Super Bowl traffic, they were noisy and distracted. And yet, by that seventh week I heard the girls not answering my questions at all, but asking me questions.

It intrigued me. It’s one thing to answer the questions posed to us. It’s easy to talk about ourselves and even easier to talk about things outside of ourselves; i.e. the media. It takes a certain amount of confidence and/or comfort in a situation to ask someone else questions about her. It’s really one of my greatest failings as a human. I’m quite awful at knowing how to engage a conversation with someone else, and I think, or maybe I’ve learned, that part of that comes from my own discomfort and lack of confidence with even my dearest friends. But to an 11-year-old girl it only takes about 5 weeks to ask “when did you get that?” as she points at a ring in my nose. An 11-year-old girl has not qualms with the socially inappropriate questions “How old are you?” They know which of the two leaders looks more like to be married and asks if she is. While I have a hard time asking people I know moderately well about their childhood or about their families. My knowledge of my friends’ families is mostly what I’ve surmised from their stories or from photos, because I have no idea how to engage in a conversation.

After six weeks in a room with 11-year-olds I don’t know that I taught them much. I do know that after six weeks they felt comfortable with us. Not because they told me. Certainly not because they listened to us. One of them hugged me when I had early, but more importantly they prodded me. So even if I taught them nothing, which I hope I taught them something, they taught me just how apparent my discomfort is with other people. I must get better at knowing how to ask people even the simplest things. It isn’t prying; it’s one of the most basic ways we learn about each other. Because assumptions are only so valuable before they become destructive.

Adventure in another year another Valentine’s my way

It’s coming. The bane of single existence. A day we all hate so much so long as we’re single. But the instant you find yourself someone to share it with you suddenly fall in love with Valentine’s Day.

It’s so much pressure for anyone. It’s pressure for the guy to be impressive. It’s pressure for the girl to be impressed. It’s pressure for the guy to be endearing and creative. It’s pressure for the girl to react appropriately. It’s silly. St. Valentine doesn’t even understand our insanity, and quite honestly neither do I.

In high school for a couple of years an odd group of single people would meet up at Wendy’s for a classy dinner. We’d be clad in sweatpants or jeans. We treated it like any other night. Completely unspecial. The only real difference was people who rarely spent time together made the choice to spend some quality and strange time together. It’s weird in high school.

In college though it’s just frustrating. Especially if you are single, but it offers the same opportunity. Don’t be discouraged by your nearly vacant resident hall. Your ghost town of a floor. Grab your other single anyones. Celebrate your independence. You get to do whatever the hell you want. Be unimpressive. Think of it as the Independence Day, not starring Will Smith, that you actually understand!

Call your mom. Tell her you love her. Send your grandma a card. Call your dad. Call your old college roommate. Call your best friend or if she’s single go grab a cuppa or see a movie.

But don’t see a chick flick. That will just add insult to injury. I personally will be spending it the very same way I have for the last five years. Curled up in front of the TV watching scary movies with my favorite date. Me! Because nothing quite says, “I love life,” like serial killers cutting up sexually active teenagers.

Adventure in Stating the Horrifying

A week ago Monday I had an interview to volunteer with the national organization Girls, Inc. Well, she called it an interview, but it was a lot more like an opportunity for her to tell me more about their work and an opportunity for me to pour out my heart about how important that work is.

It should, hopefully, come as no surprise to my regular readers that I care deeply about the image women and girls put on themselves. The hateful image. The worthless image. The shattered image. Because of all of the factors. Media, men, culture, women, family, friends, self. And I acknowledge there is some irony and probably a bit of hypocrisy in talking to these girls about what beauty looks like, how important they are, where their value is, because frankly, I struggle with it. I’m riddled with fear of never being good enough for anyone, including myself. That’s sort of a personal struggle for my heart, because God’s shown me time and again he has a reason for me and my creation in His Image speaks well of my own image. But I get distracted. I get lost. I get beaten down. But if I can even for one moment in my life step outside of myself and show these girls, and hopefully myself too, what their value is about, what beauty looks like, where strength comes from then I think I’m pursuing what small semblance of a passion I have.

I spent a good deal of high school surrounded by eating disorders and depression. I think the thing about it though that scares me the most, even in working with Girls Inc., is that stories have this tendency to be more of an endorsement than a deterrent. I remember sitting in a chapel in seventh grade maybe and hearing an upper classmen, a girl in my brother’s class, talking about her struggle with her eating disorder. How God pulled her out of it. But she wasn’t out of it. She was very much still in it. She was a popular girl. She was well liked and stereotypically beautifully. Academically and athletically successful. It wasn’t long after a girl in the class below her started down the same dangerous path, and in a worse state. A couple of years later I’m in the car with that girl and some girls in my class. She’s telling us about her struggle and pulling herself out of the dark. It’s not long after that a girl from that car is even deeper in the woods than either girl, and her friends around her start to fall victim too.

Where’s the balance? How can we tell our own stories without breaking into someone else’s and leading them into our own dangerous hole? I don’t have an answer. I’m obviously without an answer.

What was most staggering in my “interview” though wasn’t my own realizations about myself, staggering though they were; it was some of the statistics. Heart-breaking truths. Truths I wish could soon become history, or even gradually. That 46% of girls ages 9 and 10 are some times or very often on diets. That 80% of girls have been on diets, whether put there by their families or themselves, before the age of 10. 51% of girls ages 9 and 10 feel better about themselves if they’re on a diet. 91% of women on college campuses attempt to control their weight by dieting; 22% of those women are often or always on a diet. 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. 43% of 1st through 3rd graders want to be thinner.

That’s horrifying. It’s simply horrifying.

Just think about it.

Adventure in Applying Pressure

I went away from Home for College. I was part of a very small percentage of my graduating high school class to do this. Every time I returned home the only question anyone had to ask me was “So, are you dating anyone?” My Friends asked me. My Family asked me. My Friends’ parents asked me. People I didn’t really know asked me, “So, are you dating anyone?” I answered “yes” to this question three times, but I didn’t really want to answer it. The question itself precludes that anything else could be important. Like my education or the espionage team I had joined or the shows I was working on.

“So, are you dating anyone?”

Now that I live away again, any time I’m home someone inevitably asks me about men in my life. I’m 24. I’ve been in three relationships, and they’ll tell you the relationships were not ideal. It made sense at the time, but in the long run it really probably just hurt our friendships. It was convenient at the time. When it grew inconvenient I gave up. These relationships unfortunately did not have a lot to do with the relationship itself or the guy involved. I’m a pretty selfish person.

This is going to get … messy?

This Spring I had a special friend removed from my previously non-functional Ovary. Apparently, removing something horrible from one’s Ovary, and forcing hormones into one’s Body until the Body produces its own causes a flood of crazy. All the discrediting I did of the weird things women blame on hormones because it didn’t happen to me, I rescind. I was wrong. That crap’s serious. I cry at everything. I wig out when my period is coming. I crave chocolate from time to time, and I don’t even like chocolate. Loneliness hits harder, and what’s worse a Biological Clock I scoffed at begins to tick.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Not so much the pining for children to rear, but the desire to be a part of something greater than myself. Some relationship beyond my own selfish murmurings. And that’s when it hits. My human, media-driven brain tells me that has to be some human relationship. That has to be me in a, for lack of a better word, “romantic” relationship. But that’s just it isn’t it? That’s where God kicks me in the head. If I’m looking to be part of something greater, if I’m feeling a pull to get beyond my selfish murmurings what’s stopping me from looking beyond myself altogether. While the damn hormones persist, I feel God constantly reminding me that that is far from the most significant calling I have. He pulls me out of myself, out of my bed, out of my head, out of my apartment to find a way to love and live beyond what is important to me. If I’m driven by what is important to Him, what’s so seemingly important to me will fade or take care of itself. Right? I hope.

Adventure in Early Insult or Early Superiority

There’s a shaky sense of superiority that comes from being truly insulted, especially at a young age when you have not really begun to think ill of people.

The first instance that I can remember being told I was not pretty I was 7 and in the third grade. It wasn’t that I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t pretty enough. I was also 7 and in the third grade when I first became overwhelmed with a sense of superiority.

Pulled aside on the way to recess Jessica Hardy told me that I was not pretty enough to be friends with my best friend Maria Neal. Now Maria, who was adorable and still gawkish at the time, has grown up to be one of the single-most beautiful women I have ever known. I have not seen Jessie Hardy since third grade so I can’t speak to her change in character or appearance. I suspect she grew out of third grade though.

She assured me at the time Maria deserved prettier friends than the likes of me. And that if I knew what was good for me and cared about what was good for her I’d stay away. As a third-grader I did not think someone could possibly be using a situation to manipulate me. It’s probably, that I can recall, the first time that happened too. So I was in a pinch. I didn’t want to lose my friend. My best friend, but I also didn’t want to drag her down with my stick-straight then beach blonde hair. With my comparatively small hairbows.

And then the cold, unfeeling, judgmental voice in my heart cried to my head, “But you’re prettier than her!” It’s the first time that I can recall being truly judgmental. At 7 I had decided that I was prettier than Jessie, and if I’m not pretty and I’m prettier than Jessie than she shouldn’t be around Maria either. That Jessie was dragging her down too.

Looking back I can’t help but wonder how it happened. What in me became so cold and judgmental? Was it some sort of switch? Did it take one insult, one cold-hearted insult, to teach me to be judgmental? I hate this moment, because I know that it is very likely the moment that I nurtured and let grow inside of me. It’s the moment that I let poison my heart to become disgustingly judgmental. 

There are other things that help that flourish and make it hard to suppress. There’s the media. The culture of women. The need for superiority. One at a time.

Media. I’ve discussed it before. We dedicate TV specials around award shows to judge the way people are dressed. We have shows that tell people with beautiful voices their faces are no good. We laugh and laugh at the people with dreams that take the chance to pursue them when they aren’t up to our standards.

Women. It’s not without reason we’re believed to be catty or bitchy. I even believe that we’re all bitches. I’ll hash that out another time. But I don’t believe I’m unfounded in it. We make snarky, snap judgments about everything and everyone. Hair, clothes, teeth, makeup, nails, cars. And I feel guilty saying that we all do this, but I promise to tell you the day I meet a woman that doesn’t. I cautiously tell you that my mom and I do it. We speculate at the lives of other women, some times under the guise of concern, but more often than not it’s just blatant judgment. My friends do it. Pointing out how his girlfriend wears so much make up she looks more like a raccoon than most raccoons. Or relieving pains about other catty girls by showing how catty they are or what unrelenting flirts they are.

Superiority. It makes us feel better. 9 times out of 10 we watch things like “The Biggest Loser,” which I’ve seen half an episode of, not to encourage the participants or in well-wishing, but to remind us how much better we are. “Well, I can get away with this pint of ice cream, because I’m not that. You go, fatty.” We point out how monstrously flirtatious another girl is to make our friend believe that’s why the boy isn’t paying to her. “You don’t look stupid. At least you aren’t wearing that! She looks ridiculous.” Why do we need it? Why do I need to feel like I’m better than someone else? I’m not. I’m not better than you, and in case you’re wondering you’re not better than I am.

If we constantly compare ourselves we’re not going to ever make any strides forward are we? And for the sake of any possible question, no. I don’t see how to justify a judgment. And I’m not going to try. I’m only going to try to change.