The Modest Feminist

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This past week I’ve been following an intense discussion about Harvey Weinstein, sexual assault and victim blaming. 

Mayim Bialik – an “aspiring modern Orthodox Jewish Woman” – wrote a controversial and highly maligned piece for The NY Times in which she seemed to connect her own beliefs about modesty with assault. I’m not going to spend a ton of time going over that piece, but briefly she made some very problematic correlations between her own escape from sexual assault and the fact that she is what she refers to as not a perfect 10, someone who focuses on developing her brain not her body, and someone who dresses and behaves modestly. I think people very rightfully called this piece out for all the problematic ways it tied victimization to dress and behavior, and how it very erroneously labeled itself as a feminist view.

But the entire debacle got me thinking about the topic of modesty in general. One comment I saw in response to Mayim’s piece was that one cannot hold an ethos of modesty and also be a feminist: that the two views are fundamentally incompatible. And I suppose, based on the most common notion of modesty, that statement is true.

In general, most public discussions of modesty are focused on women more heavily than men. Dress codes are predominately concerned with ensuring that women don’t show too much of their bodies so as to become a distraction. Whether that’s spaghetti straps, low cut tops, high cut bottoms, things that are considered too tight… the message is always that women’s bodies are both inherently sexual and inherently problematic, and that men need women to cover themselves up in order to be able to control themselves. We see this all over our culture, from school and workplace dress codes, to public campaigns aimed at protecting yourself from unwanted attention, to television series like “Counting On” – a continuation of “19 Kids and Counting” highlighting the growing Duggar clan and their Uber patriarchal worldview embedded in their conservative Christian beliefs. This representation of modesty is absolutely counter to any sort of feminist worldview, and in my opinion absolutely harmful in the ideas it continues to perpetuate both about women’s bodies and about men’s apparently animalistic sexual instincts. It contributes to rape culture. It sets up women to be responsible for the actions of men. It’s not ok.

Before I continue, I need to admit something. I believe in modesty. 

I grew up in a church that taught me about the type of modesty discussed above. It was almost always presented to me as about honouring the holiness of my body, but with the added need to protect myself and to not “tempt your brothers or sisters” (the brothers and sisters are in Christ – not biological, for those of you not familiar with church speak). You can imagine that this concept of modesty did not sit well with me long before I considered myself a feminist, and certainly after. In my late teens I had pretty much stopped going to church, and while I held on to some fundamental belief in God, I disposed of everything else. I was certainly anything but modest. For me personally, my times of greatest immodesty coincided directly with my times of least self respect. THIS DOES NOT MEAN ANYTHING ABOUT WHY OTHER WOMEN CHOOSE OR REJECT MODESTY – I can’t speak to their realities. I am only telling my own story here. 

As I started to return back to my faith, but this time cautiously trying to think through it all, I kept coming back to modesty. Because it had always been tied to harmful patriarchal ideas, I really had no idea how to navigate my feelings. On the one hand I felt it was a fundamental part of embodying my faith. Not in a turtleneck and long skirts kind of way, but more a maybe I don’t want my boobs to be covered by a 1/4 inch of fabric because it makes me feel like I’m disrespecting myself kind of way. And even in that, I felt uneasy, wondering if feeling like I was disrespecting myself was somehow the product of being told I needed to hide my body FROM MEN. 

I wasn’t sure what to think about modesty. I spent nearly a decade trying to figure it out. Why did I still feel compelled by the idea of modesty, and how could I reconcile that with my understanding of how harmful traditional conceptions of modesty were? Was it even possible to believe in modesty and feminism?

Modesty isn’t anti-feminist. Modesty, at least the kind focused on sacredness instead of sexuality, has nothing to do with controlling someone else’s behavior, or with making you more worthy. 

Modesty as it was intended is about honoring that which is sacred. That being the human body. Each human body, male and female. It’s about recognizing that the same sacred nature of God that required men to hide their faces and cover their heads, to stay behind the curtain because the sacred was so overwhelming – that same sacred nature is embedded in our very flesh. Many of the rules imposed over centuries are most assuredly patriarchal. But holy modesty is not about the rules – it’s about recognizing and honoring the sacred God who lives in us, not just spiritually but physically. 

The relationship between God and our physical bodies has largely been lost in modern Christianity. It’s one of the many things I so appreciate about my Orthodox Christian faith: the recognition that my flesh is as much a part of my story of redemption as my spirit is. And modesty as I now understand it is about accounting for this reality and honouring that which is sacred. Because encountering that which is sacred should not be something casual. It requires attentiveness, thoughtfulness, trust, respect, and holiness. 

There is nothing shameful about my body, and my worth is not increased or decreased based on my modesty. It’s my recognition of the sacredness of my body that increases (or decreases), and my requirement that I honour that which is sacred as a response of thanks, humility, awe and respect to the God who lives within me. 

Glory to God. 

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So, About that Being Gay…

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Being gay. It’s the ultimate discussion of our time. Our churches are publishing statements, holding conferences, amending or reaffirming their creeds.

The truth is we have become pretty obsessed with the sexuality of our congregants.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise. In a North American culture so dysfunctionally obsessed with and simultaneously repulsed by human sexuality, it makes sense that at some point our churches would need to figure out where they stand in the mess. And as our culture marches towards removing all labels and leveling the legal playing field, the church with all its sticky fingers in politics and law is forced to respond.

I’m not someone who thinks these discussions are a waste of time. I’ve heard people on both sides of the coin lamenting the ongoing focus on the “issue” of homosexual attraction, and declaring the seemingly endless discussions a waste of time. “Stand firm in your conviction!” they both  cry. “It’s betrayal to entertain the disgusting rhetoric of the other side” they proclaim.

Not to get off topic but this knee jerk unwillingness to hear things we find offensive may be the root of so many of the issues we see in our culture today. But moving on…

I’ve struggled a lot in the past with where I stand on this one. I think if you profess to be a Christian who believes the Bible is the word of God and that Jesus is the Son of God, you don’t have a choice but to struggle. What I mean is that there is no getting around the fact that the Bible does talk about homosexual activities and attractions, and that the things it does say (though not a ton is said) are not positive. Unless you’re willing to simply dismiss it outright no questions asked, you will inevitably find yourself needing to figure out what to do with both who God is and what his word says. And so I have.
In all my years of searching – which to be clear are ongoing and will be never ending – I’ve read so many different defenses on both sides. Some make more sense than others logically speaking. Some are more developed, others more emotional. But I’ve never really found one that quite encapsulated where I find myself. So, in an effort not to change anyone’s mind but more to add to a rich and difficult discussion, I’m going to attempt to lay out at least in part my thoughts.

I should note: my position is personal. It doesn’t align with my churches position, nor do I view myself as some infallible authority. But for reasons I will explain, it’s not certainty I’m looking for.
1. The Bible does talk about homosexuality and it’s not good.
I’ve seen a lot of arguments that do one of two things in trying to refute this point. First, they argue the Bible isn’t talking about homosexuality at all. This one falls apart pretty quickly if you do any sort of digging. It’s so easy to find interpretations to back up what we want to believe. It’s more difficult to recognize and admit when things are being manipulated beyond reason just to tell us what we want to hear. The Bible definitely refers to homosexual behaviour, and the discussion of it is definitely not good.

The more common and more compelling argument is that while the Bible does talks about homosexuality, it isn’t talking about the kind of consensual, loving, committed relationships we see today. There are many great discussions on this – both in books and online – so I won’t regurgitate them here. This argument doesn’t really hold up if the claim is that there were no committed, adult, homosexual relationships known to the Biblical authors during their lifetimes. Particularly Paul. There are examples of these kinds of relationships throughout history, even though it is true that many of the homosexual relationships during the writing of the Bible, both old and New Testament, were more predatory in nature. What does hold up: there were no examples of Christ centred, monogamous, committed homosexual relationships. And despite one argument I have read that if Paul wanted to single out specific types of homosexual relationships and not universally condemn them he would have, you can’t differentiate between things that did not exist.

 

2. The Bible barely talks about it so it’s not a real issue.

This argument is also pretty popular. The idea is that if God thought it was important he would have talked about it directly (Jesus doesn’t speak directly to homosexuality though he does speak more broadly on sexual immorality which throughout the Bible is treated as encompassing homosexual behaviour) and he would have talked about it more.

This doesn’t really hold up either, though. There are lots of things that aren’t talked about a lot (child rape, human trafficking, bestiality, racism, to name a few) but no one would claim they aren’t an issue or that they are just small things to be brushed aside. In Christ and through the Bible we get to see and know God – a God who infiltrates every aspect of our lives. The point of the Bible isn’t to lay out piece by piece every single answer to every single question. This would be impossible for us to comprehend anyway as God will always ultimately remain the greatest mystery beyond all human comprehension. Rather, the Bible and the man who was the word made flesh exist to reveal to us the true NATURE of God, and bring us into relationship within which we can come to know and live the will of a God we cannot fully comprehend. In other words, we need to shift our focus away from picking apart what was and was not mentioned, and focus on the nature of God that is being revealed, because only through communion with Him, and truly having our own nature replaced with His will we be able to see His plan for us and all creation.

 

3. Being gay is not a choice.

I think this part of the debate is what really separates for me a position which I think can logically be supported and one that cannot. Let me explain.

Whether or not being gay is a choice only really matters if you are arguing that BEING gay is a sin. And if someone is arguing that BEING gay is a sin, they have already revealed a fatal flaw in their understanding of God, of scripture and of human nature.

There is nothing in the Bible that says being gay is a sin. As I mentioned above, there is absolutely and irrefutably condemnation of homosexual sex in the Bible in some places. But at no point anywhere does it say that being attracted to someone of the same sex is sinful.

If all it took was for us to be tempted to do something we shouldn’t to be condemned for it, we would all be screwed. It also makes no sense that the temptation itself is sinful: Jesus himself was tempted many times. His perfection wasn’t erased because He was tempted. He remained perfect because He didn’t give in to the temptation. So if you are going to argue that experiencing same sex attraction is in itself a sin, you’ve already lost the argument.

Another element of this part of the debate is whether being gay is a choice or not, or how much of it is nature and how much is nurture.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no proof yet that sexual orientation is entirely genetically predetermined. I think the thing many people skip over is that even where something is genetically encoded, almost universally our environment still interacts with that in order to produce the final result. Spending a ton of time debating this point doesn’t really make sense either because if you believe being gay is sinful, your answer to biological predetermination will be “nature is inherently broken”. If you believe acting on homosexual feelings is sinful, how those feelings came to be is irrelevant (the argument in that case being that you can be born with an addictive personality and while not fair, we all have sinful urges we struggle with that we did not choose, but that we still have a choice in responding to).

 

4. Being gay is not God’s original design for nature, so we must reject it.

I believe that this belief underpins any position opposed to homosexual behaviour. A close examination of scripture, especially of the creation story, reveals a compelling narrative of a perfect creation that is gendered and complimentary. The recognition of God’s original plan for creation as being both monogamous and male and female is probably the most compelling in my opinion. I have a hard time buying the arguments that try to claim the gender of Adam and Eve are irrelevant, or that our notion of marriage doesn’t come from this understanding of creation. Whether or not you take the creation story literally, it’s a pretty universal Christian belief that God did, in fact, actively create “male and female” in some way and at some point in time. A universe that doesn’t account for God as creator is simply not a Christian one.

So if I find this so compelling, where do I stand?

 

This is going to ruffle some feathers on both sides, but I think it’s important to be clear for the sake of others who may struggle the same way I did.

 

I believe God made us male and female, as companions and help mates. I believe a perfectly balanced and complimentary pair of humans was his original creation, reflections of different parts of His whole, split into parts.

I believe gender is real (though I think the social constructs we have piled onto it are total BS).

I believe God is not male or female, but that both male and female genders are reflections of him.

I believe creation was broken. I believe creation is still broken. Sin pierced the garden of Eden and infiltrated every single part of our world. There is nothing in this world untouched by this brokenness.

I believe that homosexuality is a product of a broken world. I believe it is one product of the fracturing of all of creation. I believe with this fracturing came a fracturing of gender from biological sex, and the role of gender in creation became muddled.

I believe shame is in itself a product of brokenness, and is not something we are intended to feel simply for being part of a broken creation.

I believe that in Christ, all of creation was opened up to the possibility of redemption, and transformation.

I believe that being gay is not something that requires repentance. I believe that acting on your homosexual feelings is not something that requires repentance. I believe that as with all things, giving ourselves to Christ means allowing him to take what we are – in all our brokenness (and we are ALL broken – gay or not) – and to work in us and through us for our edification and sanctification. And to His glory.

I believe God can infuse Christ-centred gay relationships in the same way He can infuse Christ-centred straight relationships, and use those relationships to reveal Hinmself more fully to the people involved.

I believe most importantly that I AM NOT GOD, that the more I come to know Him and his nature, the more I am humbled in my lack of knowing.

I believe that the Bible speaks clearly on homosexual acts being wrong before Christ’s redemption entered the world, that Paul couldn’t speak to a Christ centred reality that did not exist, and that God didn’t stop revealing Himself and his plans for creation 2000 years ago.

I believe God‘s nature is unchanging but that His relationship with humanity is dynamic and as with any relationship, the dynamics of our relationship with Him change in conjunction with our own change and growth. Just like our relationships with our children look different when they are toddlers than they do when they are adults, so too our relationship with an unchanging God looks different based on where we are at in our own growth. Things that are not permissible in infancy become permissible in adulthood. An unchanging nature of God does not preclude a changing relationship WITH God.

 

I don’t know if I’m “right”. But I don’t need to be right. I don’t need to be certain. I need to be a reflection of Love, a messenger for grace, a conduit for mercy. I need to strive always to know God more. I don’t believe it’s ok to just say “do whatever, God will judge”. I do believe we need to struggle with what God has shown us in Christ and in scriptures, because those are two of the most profound ways God has revealed Himself. We don’t get to just dismiss it and say “whatever works for you”. But wrestling with these questions also should not distract us from living out the incomparable, unending, unconditional Love God has showered on us all and has called us to pour out onto one another. Without condition.

 

We don’t need to condone something to love someone. They are not mutually exclusive. And we don’t need to find certainty on a subject to know that grace and compassion are indisputable.

 

If you don’t agree that acting on homosexual feelings is not a sin, then focus on showing love to the people you disagree with, because you believe that God will reveal Himself and his plans to them if they know Him. If you’re so certain you are right, then your number one desire should be to facilitate in any way you can their getting to know the God who is driving that certainty, so that they can come to understand too.

 

And they can’t very well come to know a God whose house they’ve been locked out of, now can they?

The Violence of Orlando

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I haven’t really talked about Orlando yet.

My husband and I have had various conversations online about gun control and the role of religion. We’ve spoken to each other about the need for Love, and the dangers of bigotry and hatred. I’ve read so many posts and articles, watched so many videos, most expressing sorrow or outrage or defiant resilience. But I’ve not really added my voice.

I’m not entirely sure why I haven’t wanted to speak. For one, words seem inadequate, particularly when they are coming from a white, straight, blonde haired, blue eyed, middle class, Christian woman – a cross section of nearly every category of privilege available in our world. For another far more disturbing reason, the most recent news has barely registered as shocking to me at all. How terrible is it that I live in a world where I can hear about dozens of people being slaughtered and my initial emotional reaction just barely moves past apathy? Mass murders seem to have become such a common occurrence that when news of one breaks, I think “again”.

Again.

As if they are all just the same old routine. As if the lives of those involved are all just the same.

Except… the lives of those involved are all just the same. Not in a disrespectful, brush them off, nothing about their story matters way. That’s the way I have come to react to them, but that’s not what they are. I mean that each human involved is infinitely valuable, totally unique, terribly precious, equally as flawed and equally as deserving of life as every other individual involved. They all had names and stories, families, friends, jobs, dreams. And hurts.

In all the reactions I have witnessed in response to this tragedy – let there be no doubt, regardless of my initial emotional reaction I do believe with all of my heart that this is an horrific tragedy – there are two that seem most prevalent. The first has been an expression of sorrow and of solidarity. I have seen so many calls to stand with our fellow humans as brothers and sisters, regardless of race, creed or orientation. I have watched thousands of people stand together weeping at vigils, weeping as a community undivided by hate or fear. As the lives of so many have been torn apart, it seems that much of the world has responded by defiantly joining together, something that is particularly powerful in the midst of an American election that seems aimed at tearing people apart. It is the right response, and it is beautiful to be witness to.

There has been a second response as well, only ever so slightly smaller than the first. As news of the massacre spread, the flames of fear and rage have spread too. Of course there is the obvious example: the rhetoric of Trump renewing his cries for a ban on Muslim immigration, blaming the actions of this U.S. citizen on Obama (who apparently traveled back in time and let the shooter’s parent’s into the country). But there are plenty of seemingly less egregious expressions of fear and rage as well. It seems only natural in the face of such an evil act to define the killer by that evil, to identify them as “other”, not human, not us. We speak out against not just their actions but against them, each of us trying to push the perpetrator as far away from any connection to us as possible. “He was a Muslim, Islam is the problem” says the Christian. “He was religious, religion is the problem” says the atheist. “He was an extremist, extremism is the problem” says the Muslim. “He had access to guns, guns are the problem” says the person who believes in gun control. “He was mentally ill, mental illness is the problem” says the mentally sound. “He was closeted, bigotry is the problem” say those who are out.

I get it. In fact, I do it. In moments of fear and anger, it seems so natural to box the evil-doer in as the other, to protect ourselves from them and to distance them from ourselves. “I would never do that” we rationalize – even when on occasion we may find ourselves identifying with some part of their thinking or some experience from their life. “They did something so evil, they have to be a monster” we tell ourselves as we look for comfort in our differences from them. “I’m sane, I’m just, I know when to get help, I have appropriate outlets for my anger, I am right”, we say. “I would never commit such violence”.

I would never commit such violence, I say to myself. But it’s a lie.

One of my favourite Christian bloggers – Rachel Held Evans – posted a poignant response to the Orlando massacre. In it, she talked about the leaders in the Christian church responding with calls to love and support the LGBTQ community in this time of tragedy. While this is absolutely the right response, she noted that many in the LGBTQ find these calls to love ring hollow. Why? Because the same people who are now calling for love and support have spent years sowing seeds of hatred, contempt and disgust for the LGBTQ community. It is their words and ideas that have propagated so much of the violence against the LGBTQ community, by fueling societal attitudes of bigotry. Their forked tongues seem to preach love and support at the same time as they continue to relegate those in the LGBTQ community to second-class citizenship, to unworthy outsiders, making clear at all times that “they” are “other”.

This is an act of violence.

With each wedge we push between ourselves and our fellow man, we contribute to the violence. I would argue that even though lack of gun control and bigotry and extremism are all contributors to the massacres we see on an almost daily basis now, they are all rooted in something that is far more pervasive and to which we all contribute in some way or another on a daily basis: The violence of disconnection. It is disconnection that leads us to believe we need to protect ourselves from our neighbours with guns, in case the need arises for us to decide between killing or being killed. As if we aren’t all in this together. It is disconnection that allows us to convince ourselves that someone’s differences are more important and more profound than the things we share. It is disconnection that pushes outsiders to search for anything and anywhere to belong, and to hold on so tightly that they will give their lives for an ideology of hate because at least inside that hate they were finally offered a sense of belonging and connection. They were allowed to funnel all of their hurt and rejection back toward those who told them – and keep telling them – that they will never be allowed on the “inside”.

While it feels natural and right to distance ourselves from those who commit these atrocities, it is far more honest – and far more difficult – to acknowledge that those committing these acts are more “us” than they are “other”. When we spend our time putting more and more distance between ourselves, we contribute to the violence that spurred these evil acts in the first place. We become part of the violence we are denouncing. Our forked tongues shout solidarity and seclusion in the same breath. And we truly believe that in doing so we are right.

It is a painful thing to acknowledge that it is not just the victims we share so much in common with. These evil-doers often have families and children, friends, jobs. They grew up in communities just like ours. And as much as it is convenient to tell ourselves that their otherness is what made it possible for them to go to such lengths – an otherness we swear we do not share – I don’t believe that’s usually the reality.

The reality is that we are all broken people in our own way. We are all violent people in our own way. We search for opportunities to tell ourselves we are better, stronger, kinder… different. And while my impact may not seem great on its own, when you combine the billions of tiny fractures we humans make in the fabric of our society each day, you start to comprehend the culmination of our violence, and the damage it does.

We are part of the problem. When we react to violence with violence, we are part of the problem. When we convince ourselves they were “other” we are part of the problem. When we contribute to the disconnection of humanity by polarizing one group against another, by separating “us” from “them” we are part of the problem.

Violence isn’t just guns in crowded bathroom stalls, or bombs in public spaces. Violence is the words and actions we use every day towards each other. And the evil we see is the culmination of that violence and that disconnection.

Until we are willing to acknowledge our part in the violence of our world, we cannot become part of the solution. As long as we are intent on putting each other into boxes, we will continue to propagate the very evil we swear we would never participate in.

But when we see it, when we call it what it is and understand that no matter how small it may seem, a billion tiny words spoken together become a deafening roar, then we can speak different words. We can speak words of connection, and love and healing.  As our voices leave, the roar of hatred and violence will grow ever weaker, and the call of us, of humanity, of one, will inevitably drown it out.

You are one small voice. Speak for peace. Speak for unity. Speak for humanity.

Speak for us all.

Choose to connect.

We are all human.

We are all in this together.

I am 30

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I was 13 the first time I tried to lose weight.

I remember that I attempted to make it through a whole day at school with only an apple to eat. I remember I was famished by the time I finally got home, and gorged on whatever I could find. I remember it only lasted a week or so before I gave up.

It was the first time I ever felt hunger brought on by my own choice. The first time I ever thought of food as the enemy as opposed to the thing that I eat when I need it – the thing that gives me life and energy. It was the first time I ever felt out of control when eating. It was the first time I ever thought of my body as anything other than useful, strong and capable.

I was 13.

I had learned to be ashamed.

Shame was not something I had known. I was active as a girl, raised in the country on a hobby farm, next door to dairy farmers. I was outside most of the time, or upstairs escaping monsters and searching for hidden passageways in my parent’s closet, or playing in our library building massive forts, or in the chair near the fireplace reading our endless number of books. I was preoccupied with my brothers and fascinated with the world of my imagination. Apart from choosing glasses frames, I spent almost no time so much as thinking about how I looked. I was concerned only with what I could do.

But that all changed, and far too quickly.

I was 13. I had started to put on a little weight as many teen girls do. My body was growing up. I didn’t notice it myself however until it was pointed out to me. A training bra was recommended along with well intentioned words saying I would have to start paying attention to how I ate and what I did. In those few words I heard for the first time that my body was changing, but that it was my responsibility to make sure that it changed appropriately, and only in ways that were acceptable. It was my job to fit myself into whatever was deemed an appropriate amount of weight gain, to reign in my hips and my breasts and be sure they didn’t get out of hand. I had never thought of my body before but suddenly it had the potential to speak poorly of me if I didn’t control it.

My body was something to be controlled.

I spent my early teenage years trying to hide my developing body. I wore baggy clothes and wanted nothing to do with make up or high heels or anything else “girly”. In grade 9 I went in the opposite direction and wore mostly skirts for a year. I still felt out of place in my own skin. I was not huge, but I was heavier than many of the other girls in my class, and I felt ashamed of it.

As I grew older I became more and more self conscious. I put on more weight, and couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to dress. I didn’t know how to control my body, but I knew I wanted to. I remember one day in grade 11, I was walking out to the car after school when my brother looked up at me approaching and said “Brynn, you have boobs!”. Even coming from my brother I knew this was something that bestowed me with a new and different kind of power. I started to understand that my body was once again useful, though now in an entirely different way.

In grade 12 I met a man who was 10 years older than me. I was awkward and uncomfortable and had no idea who I wanted to be, but he paid attention to me, and at the time that was enough. We began dating. He drove a sporty car, and I started to wear tighter clothes because I felt it made me more attractive.

Then he cheated on me. I was devastated. I had no idea what to do. All I knew was that his cheating meant I was not good enough in some way so he went to someone else to get what I couldn’t give him. I asked him if he’d like me better if I was thinner. He admitted he would. I discovered it was incredibly hard to control what I ate, but I could easily control what I got rid of.

I was 18. I was bulimic.

That relationship ran its course eventually, but it left me deeply wounded. When I finally left him, I believed that I was not good enough for anyone. I believed my only worth came from my body, and my body was only as good as it was thin. I purged more and more.

I was 19. 

I started to date another older man, a coworker who made me feel attractive. It was a toxic relationship in every way. I started to smoke, and realized it made me less hungry. I started to run and realized I was getting even thinner. My boyfriend liked it. He had told me once that if he ever got married and his wife got fat, he’d divorce her. I ran harder. I smoked more. I ate less. by the age of 20 I was working 2 jobs, 80 hours a week, smoking a pack and a half a day, running 2.5 hours 5 days a week and eating about 800 calories (if that). My boyfriend told me he hoped I wasn’t planning on losing too much more weight. I felt so good – I knew I was succeeding.

I was 21.

I returned from a solo trip to Australia and I was the thinnest I had ever been. I had gone there with plans to go on a road trip with an Australian friend I had met while he was living in Canada. When I got there and he found out I had a boyfriend, he cancelled the trip and I had to figure out what to do on my own for a month. He wanted sex and when he realized I wasn’t going to give it, he dropped me. Why wouldn’t he – it was the only thing of worth I possessed. My boyfriend dumped me soon after I returned.

I was lost.

I spent the next year with a series of boyfriends, searching for someone who would Love me, knowing my body was all I brought to the table. I drank too much, smoked too much, and worked too many hours trying to escape myself. At 22, I realized that if I ever wanted to heal I needed to get away. So I packed my station wagon and drove to Nashville. And I started over.

I was 22.

I met a good man within the first month and immediately started dating him. He was kind and generous and broken in his own ways, but he was the first man I had ever known who was genuinely interested in something other than my body, and he made me feel safe. I healed a little. I changed a little. But I still secretly threw up in the bathroom of his bachelor apartment.

I was 23.

We moved to North Carolina, a mutual decision and his attempt to gain some traction in his musical career. It lasted about 3 months before we both gained the perspective we needed to know what we needed to do. He moved back to Nashville 6 months later, and I returned to my parent’s home in Ontario to finish my undergrad. I missed him, but we both knew it would never work. I wanted a family and he wanted his music and our lives just weren’t meant to be together. We officially broke up in the fall. My heart broke too and I once again felt alone. I ate less, I purged more.

I was 24.

I desperately tried to find a replacement. I dated guys in quick succession, lost in a blur of recreational drug use and desperate attempts to give each man whatever it was I thought he specifically was looking for. I was rejected, time and time again, solidifying my belief that I was not enough, that I had nothing to offer other than a good rack. I was set up with someone who I knew was wrong from the first second that I met him, but I was so desperate to be Loved I went so far as to fly across the country for a week long kayaking trip off of Vancouver Island with people I had never met. In close, wet, cold quarters. An introverts nightmare. I just wanted someone to think I was worth it. It failed, of course.

I was lost.

I was 26, had just finished school, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, or who I wanted to be and was working as a waitress. I made good money. I knew how to read people and give them what they wanted. And who doesn’t like a pretty girl. I smoked a lot.

Then one day, a tall, dark, handsome stranger sat down at table 42 in my section. And a voice in the back of my mind told me that someday I would marry him. It was weird, and impossible and I tried to forget it, but every time I saw him something happened to me. So I talked to him. And he invited me to see his show. And I went, and we went out for a drink after, and we talked and laughed and talked and 4 hours later I dropped him off at the house he was staying at. This happened every night for the next week. The more I got to know him, the more pulled I was, and the more conflicted. I found out he was married with 2 kids, and that the facade of his broken marriage had been kept together “for the kids”. I called him out on that, I said your kids deserve to see what Love really looks like. He didn’t run away. He cared about who I was. He cared about what I said. He wanted to know my mind, and didn’t care about my body. He was the first man I had ever met who I could talk to the way I talked to him. And he still technically belonged to someone else.

The more I got to know him, the more I saw his brokenness. He felt trapped and whatever was happening in his life, I could see it was destroying him. This talented, smart, kind man was dying in front of me, and I could see it so clearly. I didn’t know what to do. So I did the only logical thing and moved across the country to a city where I knew no one to help this man who I had met 3 months before find himself again.

I was 27.

I fought him, hard, day in and day out. I fought for him when he didn’t know how to fight for himself. I stopped thinking about me and started thinking about him and I finally got to the point where I told him I don’t care if you ever want anything to do with me but you have to end this sham of a life you have been pretending to live because you are dying in front of me and I can’t bear to stand by and watch it. And he did.

I was valuable to him, and not for my body but for everything else that I was. I thought I had it figured out at last. I thought I had found my worth.

I was 28.

I spent all of my energy fighting for him, and for his kids. I had found a way to be useful and I was on fire. I could think and Love and heal and protect. I could be all the good that they would ever need. Perfect partner, perfect stepmom. I wasn’t just more I was everything. I was so important.

I was 29.

And then I wasn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. I had tried to carry everything for too long, and I started to fall apart. I had a baby, and I didn’t sleep enough. I didn’t have the energy to cook healthy delicious meals every night. I couldn’t keep the house clean. I got angry and impatient. When I was hurt, I couldn’t hold it in. I took a lot of things out on him. I was sure he would leave now that my body was ruined from stress and pregnancy and all the perfect alternatives I brought weren’t so perfect after all. I was certain that once again I was not enough.

And the truth is? I’m not. I’m not enough. He’s not enough. Our kids aren’t enough. Our Love isn’t enough. But that’s the thing – we never were. And we never have to be. We aren’t called to be enough. We are called to do our best, and Love each other and give each other all that we can. Then give the rest over, and humbly live in gratitude.

I am 30.

My body is powerful, strong and capable. My arms are filled with little hands, two strong arms wrapped around me. My heart is humble and full.

My life is just beginning.

The Many Moods of Motherhood

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*Disclaimer: This post is about motherhood. I have two other children – my stepsons – who I Love deeply and uniquely and with my whole heart. But because they have a mom who is present and active in their lives, being “main mom” is not my role in their lives. Even though I have been stepmom for 2 1/2 years already, being main mom has still been a completely new experience.

 

 

Six and a half months ago, a mother was born.

Standing on this side of the motherhood experience, I can say with absolute certainty that there is nothing anyone can say to you that will prepare you for being a mom. Sure, you may know how to care for babies and change diapers, have your dos and dont’s of discipline laid out and understand your position on vaccines and playdates and private schooling, but there is nothing that can make you understand the emotional impact being Mom will have on you.

Everyone talks about the overwhelming, life altering love new parents feel. It is true – you will Love this child of yours in a way you can’t comprehend. It’s an incredible reorientation of self that occurs. Everything in your life passes through a new filter now – that of parenthood. Priorities change.

But not everything in motherhood is butterflies and roses and lollipops.

I spent a lot of the first few months of being a mom feeling like I was a bad person. Why? Because while I felt all the love that everyone always talks about, I also felt a lot of other not so nice things.

For one, I felt a lot of resentment. Resentment that I had lost my ability to just go out for a night with my friends without having to get a babysitter and pump and leave instructions and then worry the whole time anyway about whether or not the baby was doing ok and if the babysitter could handle it. Resentment that my husband could turn over and go back to sleep whenever the baby cried while I had to get up to feed him. Resentment that I couldn’t browse through clothes at a store without a baby hanging off of me or the looming deadline of having to be done in 2 hours so that the baby could eat again. Resentment that even when given the chance, I was unable to nap, as the phantom cries of my sleeping child would wake me. And I didn’t just lose my physical independence (at least for the time being). Even more than that, I lost my mental independence. This baby invaded my every thought. I couldn’t even eat or drink without having to consider how it would affect him. Every single choice I made had to be made with consideration for the implications it would have on another human being. It was totally and completely overwhelming.

I was also frustrated. Before having a baby, I was the most efficient person. I got things done, and I got them done quickly and completely. Now, I found myself struggling to accomplish even a quarter of any given task. Everything took ten times as long and only (maybe) got finished after 4 or 5 attempts.

Then there was the crying. I’m lucky – my baby is a pretty damn good baby, and he’s never been a super crier. But when those times did come when my baby wouldn’t stop crying NO MATTER WHAT I DID, and I was exhausted from only getting 5 or so interrupted hours of sleep every night for the past 4 months, that crying felt like the most effective psychological torture ever invented. On more than one occasion I had to put him down and walk away so I could cry myself in the other room, afraid I’d shake him or possibly throw him out the window from overwhelming frustration and exhaustion and helplessness. Then I’d feel horrible for even thinking those thoughts (even though I knew I would never actually do anything of the sort) and inadequate for not being able to take care of my baby and I’d question why I could not do what all other mothers could. I felt so alone.

And the struggles with motherhood continue. In one week, I am starting law school. My son is now almost 7 months old, and while I am so fortunate to have my husband being the one to take care of him while I’m at school, I still battle off thoughts of being a bad mother for leaving him while he’s so young. I worry that he will feel insecure and abandoned. I feel guilty that I don’t have the time or energy to pump while I’m at school during the day requiring him to be on formula during those hours. I know I’d be unfulfilled staying at home full time but I question whether I can be a good mom AND be a good lawyer at the same time. I wonder if someday he will resent my career.

I have spent so much time over the past 6 months feeling guilty for not being a good mom. But the truth is, I AM a good mom. I’m a great mom. I’m a real mom. I’m a whole human being and all the different parts of me came together to join in my motherhood. It’s not all love and happiness. It’s not all joy. Sometimes it’s frustration and anger and resentment and fear, and that’s ok. That’s part of it. That’s part of the growing and changing and learning and mourning that all comes with being a mom. In motherhood we gain so much but we also lose our old selves and our old lives, and we do ourselves a disservice if we refuse to acknowledge the not so nice things that are part of our motherhood experiences.

Motherhood has many moods. Many different shades of joy and sorrow, of love and longing, of learning and of letting go. It is the most difficult role I have ever taken on. It is also the most edifying. While I am thankful every day that I have the honour of being someone’s mom, I’m here to tell you other moms – past, present and future – that motherhood permeates us in our entirety, and there is nothing wrong with parts of us struggling to accept the new reality of this enormous responsibility. We are not one dimensional beings, so to expect that our experience of motherhood would be one dimensional is unfair and unrealistic.

You are a good mom when you are nursing your child blissfully in the wee hours of the morning. You are a good mom when you joyfully play on the floor, laughing at your child’s simple pleasures. But you are also a good mom when you hate the thought of having to feed your child YET AGAIN and fantasize about the day when your boobs will once again belong to you. You are a good mom when you just can’t bring yourself to play the same song for the 50th time in a row and you long for uninterrupted adult conversation. You are a good mom when you question if you did the right thing by having kids right now. You are a good mom when you wonder if you are a good mom.

Motherhood is not just about loving your kids unconditionally and feeling blissed out and blessed by their presence in your life. It is also about struggling to maintain your own identity under this new umbrella of motherhood, and figuring out how to balance your needs and theirs. One of the best gifts we can give your children is to be whole people, and achieving that wholeness requires that we embrace both the joyful and the more difficult parts of life. Our children love us for being their moms, even when we aren’t sure exactly how to be one.

Hello, motherhood. I look forward to all you have to offer.

Him

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If you are looking for a light hearted, witty post, you will want to stop reading. This post will not make you laugh. It won’t be sarcastic or funny. This post deals with something very real and very difficult, because sometimes life is very real, and very difficult. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

I met my husband at the end of 2011. We were both broken people, trying to figure out how to Love and be Loved. We made many mistakes in our lives before each other, and we each carried with us a lot of history. But we also carried something more. You see, my husband and I are not alone in our marriage. We are joined in our union by a companion of sorts, a third party. A terrible creature raised in the confines of our histories.

His name is Addiction.

For those of you who are familiar with him, you know that Addiction is a force to be reckoned with. Seemingly quiet and unobtrusive, he creeps in so often without us even knowing. He lives in the shadows, lurking behind every unspoken word, every white lie or untold truth, clinging to the darkness brought on by fear. Fear is his greatest weapon. He feasts on it, and feeds it to us in turn. Tells us we are unlovable. Tells us we cannot trust. Tells us we cannot go on without him, and in so doing we are consumed by a fear so great we lose sight of all that is real. And so we devolve into hopelessness and despair.

He is not a welcome companion. Our only advantage is that we knew of his presence when our relationship began. And so we sought to contain him, to pour all the light we could procure into our marriage, eradicating the shadows in which he flourishes. We pushed him out as best we could, naming our fears day by day, unraveling our secrets, chipping away slowly at the darkness. We worked so hard, and we made great progress.

But Addiction is much smarter than people give him credit for. As hard as we were working to limit him, he was working just as hard to limit us. Addiction delights in inching us apart. He pries us from one another, reveling in each step we take in opposite directions. His only goal is to have us each alone, because in our solitude he becomes our only companion. He is a jealous being. He does not want to share.

He does his work well.

He starts small, with whispers that it’s not really a secret. He tells us that the not telling is an act of Love. He makes the omissions seem like acts of mercy – not lies, just a means of protecting the other from unnecessary pain. Then one day we find ourselves standing beneath a mountain of lies, pebbles piled one on top of the other, so high now that he assures us should we attempt to move even one stone the whole mountain will crumble and we will surely be crushed beneath it. And so we cower behind our mountains, anchored there by our shame.

He cajoles us into believing that if we know more, we will trust more, that the constant searching and questioning of the other is the path to healing. He offers a sense of control, all the while stoking the fires of distrust within us. He tells us that if we know, we cannot be hurt. The embers start so small that we do not even notice them; sparks in the night. But his whispers turn embers to flames, fanning the fires with our fear that not knowing will destroy us, until suddenly we are being consumed by a fire so hot we cannot breathe. We have no idea how we came to be in the middle of it, or that we are accomplices in our own destruction.

We would be utterly destroyed, trapped forever, burned alive at the hands of Addiction, were it not for the one thing we possess that is more powerful than Addiction: Love. Love is stronger than fear. Love is greater than shame. Love is a fortress that no mountain can crush and no fire can consume.

When we find ourselves cowering behind our mountains, and burning in our fires, we reach out for the other. We cry in the dark “Please Love me! I’ve forgotten how to Love myself…” We cover each other in Love, wrap each other up in it. We hold tightly onto the other and as the mountains crumble around us and the flames slowly die, we look up to find ourselves still whole, even amidst the shambles of the life Addiction tried so hard to have us build for him. Our Love is a light, permeating every corner, and Addiction has no choice but to cower in the shadows of the rubble and ashes his lies have left behind.

And so we begin, as before but stronger. Addiction will never leave us completely, but we have hope that our Love will keep him at bay and illuminate his whispers for the lies they are. Love is not control. Knowing is not trusting.

To be Loved allows us to trust that we do not need control to be safe.

We rest within the safety of our fortress. For today, at least, Addiction cannot get in.

Don’t open the door.

 

 

I’m not in Love, and so can you.

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I recently had a conversation with a close friend about the nature of relationships. They were struggling with the thought of ending a long term relationship, one of the reasons given being that they didn’t feel the same way about their partner anymore. They worried that the relationship had simply run its course, and figured it must be time to move on given the lack of romantic passion that once was present. In its place was deep Love and friendship, but they just weren’t “in Love” anymore.

I tried to nod and be supportive – I really did – but if you know anything about me, you know that withholding something from someone I care about is just not something I do, no matter how hard hearing it might be. And so, I spoke. And this is essentially what I had to say.

 

I want to start by saying that you may or may not have very valid reasons for ending your relationship. I don’t know what happens inside of it, so I cannot make any judgment on that. You may be right that you will be happier apart. You may be right that this is the right thing to do. You may have a million very good reasons for why you need to be single right now, or why your partner isn’t the right person for you, or why a break up is inevitable.

But not being in Love is not one of them.

It’s not your fault that you believe it is. Not really. Our culture has been telling us for years that the key to happiness is finding our soul mate and living happily ever after. We are supposed to have 50-60 years of wedded bliss, mind blowing sex, total romantic connection. Sure, we are allowed to have our disagreements – after all, that’s a sign of passion. But we are never ever ever supposed to feel bored, or question our choice of partner, or be attracted to anyone else, or feel totally and completed disconnected from our soul mate. Because those are all signs that either the relationship has hit its expiry date or it was never really meant to be in the first place.

I have news for you: IT’S A BIG FAT LIE. And at the root of this lie is the idea that we are supposed to base our relationships on falling in Love in the first place.

I fell in Love with my husband. Boy, did I ever. Hit me like a truck and dragged me down the highway at top speed, leaving me with a major case of road rash. He was charming and charismatic and from literally the first moment I saw him I knew I had found something amazing.

That lasted for about 3 months.

After 3 months, our lives started to get very real very quickly. I won’t go into specifics because this is not the time or place, but needless to say, things got HARD. I don’t mean we had our first fight and I gained 5 pounds. I mean shit hit the fan in pretty much every major aspect of life. And pretty quickly, I fell out of Love.

Let me stop you here. I know, you think this sounds horrible. I mean, I just admitted I FELL OUT OF LOVE WITH MY HUSBAND. But it’s the truth. The shiny happy feelings of the early days were replaced with a lot of stress and worry and fighting to stay afloat in the midst of the storm around us. Our lives were anything but romantic. I didn’t have the naive, head in the clouds, we will always be happy feelings of the days of yore. I had a very real and very difficult decision to make: do I really want to fight for this relationship? Is it really worth it?

Clearly, you know the answer to this question. Let me tell you how I got here.

Once I fell out of Love, I decided to start living IN Love. In order to do that, I needed to figure out what Love really and truly looked like. So, I looked at my husband and I asked myself:

Does he respect you?

Does he make you a better version of yourself?

Does he make you laugh?

Does he support you even when you aren’t very likeable?

Does he challenge you and force you to grow?

Does he tell you the truth?

Do you feel safe to be your true self with him?

Does he choose you first?

I asked myself these questions, and I found that the answer to each and every question was a resounding “YES”. (*Disclaimer – we are human, and not every single situation we ever find ourselves in will result in a “Yes” to these questions. Answer in regards to the overarching themes). I may not have felt “in Love” with him the way I once had, but I was very much living in his Love. It was surrounding me and lifting me up. I just needed to know where to look.

And so, I asked myself a second set of questions.

 

Do you respect him?

Do you bring out his best qualities?

Do you laugh with him?

Do you still see the man he is, even when he makes the choice not to live up to that?

Do you push him to keep growing?

Are you honest with him?

Do you make him feel safe to be himself?

Do you choose him first?

I wish I could say that my answers to these questions were all “Yeses” too, but they weren’t. I had been relying on him to Love me, and I had been relying on my being “in Love” so much, that I had forgotten to BE Love. I had forgotten that I too needed to consciously and actively Love my husband. And so I made a choice. I made a choice to live in Love with my husband, to surround him with Love in the same way I wanted to be surrounded. I made a choice that every day I would Love him. In big ways and small ways, I would Love him. I would Love him when I was in Love with him, and when I fell back out, I would Love him even more. Because being in a committed partnership is not and should not be about being “in Love”. It is about being IN Love, by choice, through it all.

You may be right – this might not be the relationship for you or for him. But if that’s the case, it’s because your answers are more nos than yeses. It’s because you aren’t ready to be in a place of choosing a life in Love, or he isn’t someone who makes you feel safe, or you don’t even know who you are yet so how can you know if he helps you be the best version of that unknown self. But no longer being “in Love” is not a valid reason, because no matter who you choose in the end, sometimes you will not feel in Love. It’s just the nature of our fickle emotions. And yet, in those moments where you aren’t uber connected and having great sex and feeling warm fuzzies, you will find you are experiencing a Love far more profound, both being given and being received.

One last thing: he won’t always be “in Love” with you either. If he’s living in Love with you through that, then you know he’s a keeper.