Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Dark Side of Courtship

Emotional recovery is a unique process. Just when you think you've made good progress, that you've healed and are able to move on with your life, you'll come across something that brings an old memory back to the surface, just waiting there for you to process and deal with yet again. That happened to me this morning when I ran across a blog post that I related to so much that it brought me to tears.

The post was by Elizabeth Esther, and it was about her experience with fundamentalism, particularly her courtship experience and the effect it had on her. She writes,

“Follow God’s will and the feelings will follow,” my fundamentalist father often told me.
Following God’s will meant getting prior approval before doing anything. And emotional purity meant getting prior approval before feeling anything.

This was my experience too. I was given a copy of I Kissed Dating Goodbye when I turned 13, and I devoured it. It was my guideline for all things to do with relationships. God was in charge, which really meant that my dad was in charge, because that was the way God wanted it, of course. I didn't find out that Thad was interested in me from him, I found out when my dad told me. Even though we were both interested in each other, we couldn't begin an actual relationship until my dad decided we were ready, and until then we were to remain friends only- even though we were interested in each other. It was very bizarre.

We weren't allowed to go anywhere by ourselves. I couldn't even ride in his car unless my little sister came with us. We had strict guidelines about when we were allowed to talk on the phone, and for how long. As far as physical contact, there was to be none. Any conversations about the state of the relationship(once we could actually start a relationship) were held with my parents present, and were actually probably initiated by my dad.

It was enough to make anyone crazy.

One of the saddest things that came out of this highly regulated environment was what should have been one of the happiest parts of our budding relationship- the moment that he told me he loved me. I'll leave out the details for privacy's sake, but the gist is that one night(about 2 years into our relationship), Thad told me that he loved me for the first time- and I said nothing back. Oh, I knew I loved him. I had known that for about 6 months. But I hadn't been allowed to do or say anything about it. So when Thad told me that night that he loved me, I reacted with an intense mixture of elation and terror. He loved me too! But- could I respond? Could I verbalize to him that I loved him as well? Was it time for that? Was it appropriate? I'd have to talk to my dad first, of course, and oh- my dad! What would his reaction be when I told him that Thad loved me?!?! I was terrified. Of course, not telling him was not an option. Dad had told me from the beginning that if I kept any part of our relationship from him that he'd shut the whole thing down in an instant.

My life was not my own. The choices were not mine to make. The experiences were not mine to experience, at least not without discussion and approval first- and how much of the experience is left at that point?

Remember when I said that for years I had the nagging feeling that I wasn't really living my life, that it wasn't really me that was experiencing all the events in my own life? Elizabeth explains that so well:

This is dehumanizing because it shames a woman for experiencing normal, human feelings during normal, human development.
So, how do girls in strict, courtship environments cope? We shut down our emotions.
The bad news is that you can’t shut down one feeling without shutting down them all. I thought that by ignoring, denying, shaming and shunning my romantic feelings for Matt I was preserving my “emotional purity” and “guarding my heart.” Instead, I ended up completely numb.

Yep. I had no idea that was what was happening to me, but it was. I couldn't really feel or experience anything. Years later, after we'd been married for a while, I started to come alive and started feeling all those feelings I never had before. I became a completely new person. And then I realized I'd been really ripped off. I was married to a wonderful person, and we'd built a wonderful life together, but all those wonderful, lovey-dovey new love feelings and experiences? I'd missed those. I didn't get to choose those- they were hand picked and approved for me. That spontaneity of finding out that the person you liked has feelings for you too- never had that. The wonderful feeling of being told "I love you" for the first time, and being able to fully, completely, wholeheartedly respond, "I love you too" was stolen from me. Even the genuine moments that we did have, and there were some of those too, were clouded by that ever present feeling that I wasn't really there, that I wasn't really living my own life. I'll never be able to get those moments back. I feel like I missed all the really fun parts getting to know my husband for the first time, and I'll never be able to experience those again.

Sarah Bessey wrote a post recently in which she quotes BrenĂ© Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

“In another very unexpected discovery, my research also taught me that there’s no such thing as selective emotional numbing. There is a full spectrum of human emotions and when we numb the dark, we numb the light. While I was “taking the edge off” of the pain and vulnerability, I was also unintentionally dulling my experiences of good feelings, like joy. … Joy is as thorny and sharp as any of the dark emotions. To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain…. We can’t make a list of the “bad” emotions and say, “I’m going to numb these” and then make a list of the positive emotions and say, “I’m going to fully engage in these!”

This is why I felt like I wasn't really present in my life. I felt that way until right before Tristan was born- that's one of the reasons his birth was so transformative for me- it was one of the first big moments in my life that I was actually fully there to FEEL and experience.

I've grown, I've grieved, and I've processed, but I'm realizing that I'm not done yet.

Near the end of her post, Elizabeth writes:
It is nothing short of a miracle that my husband and I are still together. What saved us? Getting OUT of that environment, leaving intense holiness behind, feeling our feelings.

Us too, Elizabeth. Us too.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Me? Supermom? Only if you are too!

Someone called me a supemom yesterday. My first instinct was to laught out loud- I do NOT consider myself a supermom by any stretch of the imagination. Then I stopped myself, realizing that she was probably serious, and started to ponder.



Having a blog does not make me a supermom. Posting cute pictures of my kids does not make me a super mom. Feeding them organic food, breastfeeding my two year old, using gentle discipline, co-sleeping and homebirthing- these things do not make me a supermom. Supermom- what does that even mean? I'm just a normal mom, doing the best that I can. The best that I can do is going to look different than the best that another mom can do. Not better, not worse, just different.



Want to know the truth? I struggle with motherhood. Sure, there are parts of it that come really naturally to me(like the whole mothering a newborn thing- it totally clicked for me from day one), but there are so many other parts that don't. Most days I'm tired, frustrated, and giving this thing my best shot, hoping that I don't screw my kids up too badly. Really.


See? Cute picture of us having fun, and Hayden has toothpaste on her face still.


Honestly, my personality type (INTJ) is not the greatest suited for motherhood, especially stay at home motherhood. I'm a BIG introvert, so being around small people that need nearly constant interaction all day every day is difficult for me. I do lots of internal thinking and processing, and having toddlers around is a direct conflict with that most of the time. Nothing like being in the middle of deep contemplation and being interrupted with, "Mommy! I pooped!!!" It's a daily struggle to balance my need for learning, thinking, and processing with their needs for interaction and play. I read the other day that INTJs and ENTJs are the types that are most likely, as mothers, to work outside the home, and it was incredibly validating to me just to hear that. I often think that I would be a better mother if I was working outside of the home at least part time. That's not a realistic possibility for us right now, but even just acknowledging to myself that my current situation is not idea for my personality is helpful for me, and helps me to not feel so guitly or helpless when I do get frustrated.


As an introvert, especially an introvert that was fairly sheltered as a kid, I'm not very social. I don't make enough playdates or provide enough social interaction, especially for my extroverted kid. I struggle with giving them enough outside time. I don't always enjoy playtime, and we don't do a lot of fancy crafts. These are things that I'm working on, but I'm also giving myself space to be imperfect and not beating myself up over these things. Parenting is a hard job, and more and more lately I'm choosing to give myself credit for the things that I have done right, instead of beating myself up for what I haven't done. And surprisingly, when I do let go of that guilt, I feel so much more confident that I actually feel freer to accomplish some of those things that I was feeling guilty about not doing before. Guilt doesn't help me become a better mother, it holds me back from becoming a better mother.


I'm not perfect. I get frustrated, I sometimes speak more harshly than I should, and sometimes I just need a BREAK already! But I never stop trying. I never stop telling my kids that I love them. I never stop trying to do my best to show them that I love them. To me, that's what a supermom really is- someone that loves her kids and is trying to do her best. And that's going to look a little different for every mom. Let's stop comparing ourselves, stop beating ourselves up, and instead acknowledge and celebrate all the good that we do accomplish.


Me? Supermom? Only if you are too! I think we're all pretty darn super. Let's start giving ourselves credit for it.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Resentment, or How The Church Opened the Door to Getting Sucked into a Cult.

I'm feeling resentful today. (Oh noes! Not a negative emotion, especially not resentment! Run away!!!)


Why am I feeling resentful? I'm feeling resentful because so much of the church, including the church environments in which I grew up, does not talk about gender issues, marriage issues, and inequality issues beyond their comfortable little complementarian box. So much of the church is so busy pushing the man as leader/woman as follower message that so many churchgoers have no idea there's an alternative(and when the alternative is mentioned, it's in such a ridiculed, straw-manned, misrepresented way that no one could be expected to give it a second thought anyway). Why is this an issue? Because it removes choice. Because I was well into my twenties(and many years married) before I even heard the word egalitarian, or even had a concept of what an egalitarian marriage looks like. Because so many women are miserable within that system, not even knowing that there's another option.


I'm feeling resentful because when I first started to question the status quo, I wasted a couple of years of my life, and had my marriage nearly destroyed in the process, because I didn't know that there was an alternative to complementarianism. Let me explain.


I always had this nagging feeling that something wasn't quite right. More concerning, I always had a feeling that I wasn't completely living my life, that I was somehow an outsider to my own existence. I hardly allowed myself to acknowledge these feelings. After all, what could be wrong? I grew up in a loving Christian home, I married the first and only boyfriend I'd ever had, we did the whole "courtship" thing, didn't have sex until we were married, and I was trying as hard as I could to be a Good Christian Submissive Wife.


So when I caught my first EVER glimpse of something that said that I didn't have to be subordinate to my husband, that I was an equal to him and should be treated as such, and that I could and should think for myself, I was ALL OVER IT. It felt like a light had been switched on, like the moment in The Wizard of Oz when it switches from black and white to color. It felt like I had been living in a cage that I didn't even know existed, and then the door had been swung open to a wide, amazing world.


Colour mosaics

Photo credit

There was one small problem. That glimpse I caught? It was from a book that was written by some people whose "ministry" is just one step shy(or maybe not, I'm trying to be generous) of being a cult. Without going into all the details, it was bat-poo crazy. You know all the red flags for a cultish mindset- the intense pressure to study their books, visit their web forums, sign up for the crazy emails, the phone calls, and ultimately pay and attend the week long intensive in Florida where you could get one on one help from the authors of the book(how awesome!). Oh, and I can't forget to mention the warnings not to read any other books written by anyone else(except for these two or three other ones that they've hand selected and approved), because those authors just don't know what they're talking about, and could mess up your progress in their system. Yep, the red flags were all there.


Their theology wasn't right either, far from it. They weren't even teaching healthy, mutually submissive egalitarianism. They had rejected the typical hierarchical model that most of the church teaches, sure. But what they were teaching was their own special brand of crazy that was different enough from what everyone else teaches that they could conveniently isolate themselves, their followers, and make a lot of money preying on women and families that had been hurt by the church's damaging teachings about marriage.


I'm going to let your imagination fill in the blanks as to how well that went over in my marriage. Like I said, nearly destroyed.


So why would I feel resentment for the church because of that? Because the fact that I literally had NO IDEA that there was an alternative to hierarchal marriage, which made it incredibly easy for me to fall prey to this "ministry"- the first thing that had ever opened my eyes and offered me a little bit of freedom. OF COURSE I clung to it for dear life. Of course I did! The concept that I could think for myself and that it wasn't Biblical for me to be subordinate to my husband was like a wellspring of life to my parched soul! That feeling that I wasn't really living my own life was starting to go away, and it was one of the most wonderful things in the world. It's amazing what a little taste of the truth can do for you. It's just so, so unfortunate that in my case, that nugget of truth came tied to so many lies.


I'm not excusing my actions, or refusing to take responsibility for my choices. One one hand, I deeply regret many of the things I did and said in that season of my life. On the other hand, I know that I was only doing the best I could with the information that I had, and that I never intended to get caught up in a cult or purposefully damage my marriage(who would?!). The truth is, I never got to make an informed choice about the type of marriage I wanted to have.


Like we say in the birth world, in order for a mother to make an informed choice about her birth options, two things have to be true- she must be both informed, and she must actually have a choice. That applies to marriage as well, and I was neither informed nor aware of a choice. I grew up in a hierarchal home, went to churches that promoted hierarchy, read books and magazines that promoted it, got married when I was still just a kid with next to no life experience(19, FTR), and was never introduced to the concept that there was another Biblically based concept of marriage(in fact, even the slightest hint of that concept was strongly ridiculed)- I was neither informed, nor presented with a choice.


Again, I'm not blame shifting or excusing my actions- if I was into that I'd still be stuck in that cult and almost certainly divorced by now. I'm simply pointing out a dynamic that removes choice from so many women, and makes it easy for them to fall prey to those that are waiting to take advantage of their weaknesses.


I thank God that I was able to get out. I thank God that we got some counseling and it actually helped. I thank God that he made me resilient and determined- that once I caught a glimpse of truth and freedom, I knew I could never live without it. I never stopped digging, and found that there's an entire world of egalitarians out there- ones that aren't culty, actually have healthy, balanced, God-honoring relationships, and aren't looking to take advantage of people. I thank God that my husband was patient enough to stick it out, to go to counseling with me, and ultimately to give egalitarianism a second look even after being SO badly burned by our experiences with that cult.



It's a miracle that we are where we are today.


Monday, January 7, 2013

I'm an Egalitarian- and That Doesn't Make Me Less of a Christ-Follower.

Just a note: Today's post (and probably several to follow in the next weeks and months) takes on a completely different issue than the parenting related posts that I usually write. I apologize to my readers that have no interest in this topic, but as I have explained before, this blog is mostly an outlet for me, and because of that I'll naturally be focusing on what interests me, not necissarily on creating a cohesive blog with one type of content. Sorry! But who knows- maybe you'll find a new topic of interest that you hadn't discovered before!

I am an egalitarian. I haven't always believed this way, but my history as a complementarian is a big part of the reson I'm an egalitarian today. My personal history as a complementarian is also central to one of my biggest issues with complementarians.

You see, I don't like not being taken seriously. I don't like being told that my experiences don't matter, that I must not have been "doing it right", and that I couldn't have possibly experienced what I experienced. And unless we're talking about things that are so incredibly essential to Christianity(things like the deity of Christ, His resurrection, etc) I really don't like being told that someone's doctrine or belief is the One Right Way, The Only Way to be a true believer. I don't like when people take non-essential doctrines and treat them as essentials, and judge people as if they were essentials.

One Way
Photo Credit

(That's what complementarians have done with the gender/marriage issue. Egalitarians say, "This is a non-essential! Can't we agree to disagree, and walk in unity in the areas that we do agree?" And complementarians respond by saying, "Nope, sorry, because this actually is an essential doctrine to us. You see, if you misrepresent the marital relationship, you misrepresent the gospel." I believe this is a cop out- an easy way to try to avoid really engaging with the issue. I could say that about almost any non essential, but important doctrine. Do you believe in Calvinism? You've misrepresented the nature of God. Do you believe in Armenianism? You've misrepresented the nature of God. You believe in a post-trib rapture? How could the God of the Bible allow his children to experience His wrath by going through the tribulation? I could go on. The point is that gender roles are not an essential doctrine, and to elevate them to an essential doctrine requires the same kind of "theological gymnastics" that complementarians accuse egalitarians of.)

Elevating the non-essential to the essential- that's what complementarians do, you know. Not all of them, but a lot of them, especially the outspoken leaders of the movement. They make statements like this one from Nancy Leigh DeMoss:

"Before you go any further, I feel I should warn you that what you are about to read is not politically correct. It flies in the face of what we have been taught as 21 st-century, “liberated” women. It is contrary to our natural instincts. It will never be the majority position and is likely to make some women uncomfortable.

But I can assure you that it is the only path to true joy, peace, and fulfillment as a woman. You see, God made us, He loves us, and we can only be whole when we function according to His design for our lives."
(emphasis mine)

 Did you catch what she said there? Not, "in my opinion, this is the only way." Not, "as far as I know", or "what I've concluded". Nope, just "this is the only way". Do you know what that infuriates me so much? Because not only is the bolded statement completely false, but it totally invalidates my experiences. It tells me that what I've experienced is somehow wrong, that I'm somehow out of God's will and not fulfilling my full potential as a Christian woman.

(I'm not even going to go into DeMoss' "True Woman Campaign" today. The title alone is exclusive and elitist- as if anyone who doesn't believe that way is not a true woman- whatever that even means.)

Photo Credit
How do I know that DeMoss' statement is false? I know because I've lived it. I grew up in a complementarian home. I can't even count the number of times my mother would exclaim how great it was that she was supposed to let my dad make all the big decisions, because then she didn't have to take any of the responsibility for them. It was the whole complementarian package- men were the leaders and women were the followers. Men were to make the big decisions and women were to submit. Women shouldn't be leaders in religion or politics(their pesky menstrual cycles rendered them too unstable for such things, obviously), and in most cases, women shouldn't work outside of the home- don't you know that the reason so many working mothers are unhappy is because they're not following God's prescription for their lives? My mom dropped out of college to marry my dad when she was just a couple credit hours short of her associates degree, and never went back.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that complementarianism played a huge role in literally destroying my family of origin. I'm not going to tell the whole story today(though more of that is coming soon), so for now you'll just have to take my word for it.  By the time I reached adolescence, the marriage and family that looked so perfect on the outside was literally falling apart. My parents were on the brink of divorce, and I was confused and depressed. Even when my parents reconciled, their relationship still wasnt anywhere near healthy, and my mom wasn't happy or fulfilled(and neither was I). My dad passed away shortly after that.

Less than a year after my dad passed away, my mom remarried the most controlling, abusive man she could find, less than 6 weeks after meeting him. I belive with all my heart that this decision was a direct result of the fact that complementarianism had not allowed her to create her own identity outside of my father's. She didn't know who she was or how to function without a man to "lead" her. Her decision to marry this man has alienated her from the rest of her family, as he is so incredibly toxic it would be dangerous for any of us to be exposed to him.

I married shortly before my mother remarried, and complementarianism didn't do any favors to my marriage either. I was unhappy, unfulfilled, and oh-so confused- not because of my wonderful husband, but because of my perceived role as a Christian Wife, and because no matter how hard I tried(and I honestly believed at that point that it was the Right and Godly way for me to function as a woman) I just couldn't make it work for me. Thankfully, I was able to discover that there was a different way, my husband and I learned how to communicate and relate in a healthy way, and we now have a (mostly-we're not perfect)healthy and happy marriage. Not because of complementarianism. Oh no. Because I rejected complementarianism and found a healthy freedom in Christ, and in egalitarianism.

I have never felt more alive. I have never felt more peace, more contentment, more fulfillment. I have never felt closer to my husband, in every way. I have never felt closer to God or more dedicated to serving him with my life. I have never felt like I truly understood the heart of God in the way I'm beginning to now. It's been such a life altering, complete transformation that it's hard to describe in words- and it all started when I started questioning complementarianism. So how in the world could complementarianism be the key to a Christian woman's life?

This is why it makes me so angry when complementarians and much of the evangelical church at large shouts from the mountaintops that this is The Only Way. It's impossible for me to believe that way anymore. I simply can't believe that complementarianism is the only way, not when it destroyed my family, continues to rob my children of a grandmother, and nearly destroyed my own marriage. Don't tell me that's the only way when the only true fulfillment and purpose that I've been able to find has come after I rejected the teachings of complementarianism.

If it's working for you, I'm happy for you, really. I'm not going to tell you that you're misrepresenting the gospel, that you're a Jezebel, that you're corrupting the church, or that God is displeased with you(all things that egalitarians hear from complementarians on a daily basis). Don't I deserve the same respect? It's a different viewpoint, not the end of the world or the gospel, I promise. If complementarianism is working for your marriage, I'm so glad. But please, don't get angry when I point out the inconsistencies and warn you that it caused and continues to cause heartache for me. Don't tell me that I did it wrong, that I probably misunderstood something, and that I should probably just repent and try again. Please don't completely dismiss my experiences as irrelevant, because they're not.

Complementarianism is NOT the only way to live a fulfilled, Godly life as a Christian woman, and I stand every day, with so many others, as living proof of that.

 This post is just the first of many to come on this topic. I hope that no matter which side of the issue you fall on, or if this post was your first exposure to the debate, that you'll continue to read as I share more of my story and my thoughts on this issue. There's so much more to my story than just what I shared in this post, and while I'll be sharing more of that in the future, for now I'll just hope you can do exactly what I argued for in this post- take me seriously, even without knowing all the details.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

San Antonio and How I'm Letting Go of Must-Do-It-All Guilt.

We're back! We had such a great time on our mini vacation in San Antonio! We:


Took goofy pictures

Did an obscene amount of walking along the riverwalk

Slept in every morning(not pictured)

Ate a ridiculously amazing steak dinner topped off with a perfect creme brulee(also not pictured- I felt a little awkward busting out the camera in such a fancy restaurant)

Visited the Guenther House, which had an incredible gingerbread replica of itself inside


Saw Les Miserables(incredible! Go see it right away!)


I'm thankful for:

The fact that my gut is healed enough to handle things like corn and sugar occasionally, and that I didn't have to obsess over my food except to make sure that it was gluten free

The afternoon at the mall that I got all to myself, dressing up




and finding the Alamo.

Also thankful for the quiet breakfasts I got to myself,

and the fact that we're secure enough in our relationship to not have to spend every minute together. Thad wants to stay in the room and watch football while I go shopping and explore the town? Sounds like a win/win to me!



We had a great time, and we were so happy to get back home to see the kids.


But WOW. I was NOT expecting reintigration to be so hard. Apparently just three days apart was long enough for the kids to forget all the boundaries that we've been setting for forever, and for me to forget just how HARD this parenting thing is! We were back to snatching toys away from each other, forgetting to use words to talk to each other, and forgetting to ask mommy for help when the words aren't working. (They don't normally do these things perfectly, of course, but we've made some good progress and they're learning well.) There has been lots of boundary testing since we got back. I'm sure that's normal, but it sure isn't fun! Lots of patience required.


Even though I knew that the first day back was a little harder than my average day at home with the kids, I found myself thinking, "No wonder I'm so tired all the time! No wonder I always feel like I can't get anything done! No wonder!" Parenting these two is a non-stop job, from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep. NON- STOP. Even when I am able to step away and get something done, I always have to be ready to drop everything to help a child, and that by itself is exhausting, at least for me. I don't know how I let myself forget that, and how I let myself feel guilty for not doing more, but I'm stopping with the guilt.


Parenting is a really difficult job. I think I need to give myself a little more credit. Even on days where I don't get anything else done besides care for the kids, I've done something awesome and I don't need to feel any guilt over that. On days when I'm able to get other things done as well(which is most days), I need to celebrate that, not feel guilty that I wasn't able to do more. I'll be able to do more when the kids are older, but for this season that requires non-stop attention, I think I'm doing pretty darn good, and I'm going to start giving myself credit for it.


Less guilt. More being proud of myself. More encouraging myself. I think that's the big lesson this vacation taught me.



Do you ever find yourself feeling guilty for not doing more? Do you have a hard time remembering that simply parenting small children day to day is a big accomplishment on its own? What helps you keep these things in perspective?