half the sky

51nP6EDfu0LI started reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Krsitoff and Sheryl WuDunn end of  2011. (Thanks Goodreads for keeping track.) This was one book I knew I needed to read, but I kept getting distracted. I am glad I stuck with it. This book addresses the oppression of women worldwide and offers an introductory overview of the scope of the problems. It tackles the matter head-on, beginning with human trafficking–the modern day slave trade. From there it jumps into rape, honor killings, maternal mortality, death in childbirth, family planning, female genital cutting, education, microloans, and equality. In each chapter it takes a different piece of the puzzle and holds it up to the light so we can examine it alongside them as the authors discuss the obstacles and what people are doing to overcome them.

But more than just a global look at all the problems, the authors share stories of women who have faced the atrocities they are detailing. They highlight how even in the midst of the oppression and hopelessness, women are thriving and fighting–sometimes just because someone gave them a goat. In the midst of this fight normal people are doing small things that have a more widespread impact than you might think.

One thing I loved about this book is that the writers are realistic about some of these problems and how there aren’t easy solutions. And what works in one spot, won’t necessarily translate. But they encourage people to get involved, to share their ideas and to do what they can.

The name of the book came from a quote by Mao Zedong, “Women hold up half the sky.” This book tries to encourage us to take that seriously, and to really think how the world would be a much richer place if women were freed to engage. I highly recommend this book for pretty much anyone. And if you’re not a big reader, there is also a documentary that encompasses the same material as the book. Here’s the link for that: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/

 

(un)caged

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Image courtesy of http://thegraphicsfairy.com/vintage-clip-art-victorian-bird-cage/

She’s fighting me,

bringing out her claws.

She doesn’t want to let go.

It’s been safe this way.

She’s survived for so long–relatively safe

hiding behind false humility and changeability.

Wearing stolen clothes,

playing the game,

staying masked.

Keeping everyone out

polite enough,

friendly enough,

nice enough–

so they don’t look too close.

Because all this is known, familiar, safe.

It’s not living.

But it’s enough–not too scary.

She doesn’t understand why I’m tearing down walls.

Why I am stealing and ripping and gnashing.

Why I am rebelling against the cage she locked me in.

She tries to placate me with platitudes we learned.

She tries making peace,

keeping everyone happy,

tries to overpower me.

But I am bigger now,

stronger,

braver.

She twists the key, nervously in her hands.

She led me here so long ago and I let her lock me up.

What changed?

Why do the bars feel so small now?

You are safe, protected.

No one can hurt you here.

You are hidden.

But it’s a lie.

The cuts and bruises still get through the bars.

I bleed alone.

No one sees

everyone is locked out.

But she can’t keep me here.

I stare at the gilded cage

afraid to stay inside

afraid to step out.

I hesitate on the threshold.

I pause for breath.

a little love story

There was a moment when I had to face my past. I came face to face with all the mistakes I had made, all the hurts I had caused…All the things I had done wrong. It was a few days after my 21st birthday. I encountered God authentically and quietly for the first time in my life. It was just him and me on my couch without all the fanfare of retreats, or camps, or passionate sermons. There was no epic high–or the resulting crash. Just an honest look. There’s a verse in Scripture that talks about the kindness of God leading us to repentance. I experienced, lived and breathed that here. He looked at me and said, “this is me, Sarah. This is my work in you. Not your works or your hands or your effort. Just me. Let me do this in you.”

So I wrote it all out. Every time I had betrayed the one I love, every stolen moment, every time I craved something else and said, “your love isn’t good enough.” It was all there–stacked against me.

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And when it was over, when the tears had quieted, I turned to my fiance–I held up the broken words to him. I asked him if he wanted to read these things because in the moments written on these pages I had betrayed him too. I had cut him deeply–taken a knife to his heart and spat in the face of his love for me. Some of these moments he knew about. Some he didn’t. And here they all were, written down.

It was a moment of confession and deep intimacy–and I was scared that he would see me for what I really was. He looked at me, and he looked at the offering in my hands and he said, “I don’t need to see that.” At the time I remember this immense feeling of relief that my darkest moments could stay a little less visible.

Now I see it as freedom. He loved me and he saw me for who I am–not what I had done. He stood by me in these moments and he didn’t call me anything less than beloved. He had brought me into his heart four…five…six years before, and no one could remove me–not even me. He held me when I didn’t want to be held. Protected me when I resented him. And through all of this strove to show me my value to him. He spoke love over me. He said I mattered to him.

And in the moments of darkness when I’m fighting for breath, he stays.

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In many ways I am still fighting him. I don’t believe that I am enough. I don’t believe that no matter what he will stay with me. Because why would he? And so I wrestle through the darkness to find this light. To believe both my husband and my God when they say I am worthy and loved. Because in some ways I “get” I was worth dying for–but I don’t believe that I’m worth staying for. Does that make sense?

And in almost every way imaginable Doug shows me over and over again that I am worth staying for. He stands by my side when I’m facing past hurts and he’s bearing the brunt of it. And he fails me, sweet baby Jesus, he fails. We can talk about my birthday last year, or Christmas this year. We can talk about the broken promises and the times he was “a human being having a human moment,” as my dear friend likes to describe our humanity. But he stays standing beside me, fighting with me and for me and learning and trying to find the best way to love me. And this to me, more than any other thing in my life has been the gospel. Sermons are great, retreats can be useful. But it takes the hands and feet of Jesus to show a broken girl how beautiful and loved she is just because he says so.

We get to be the hands and feet of Christ to a sad and hurting world, and this is a glimpse of what can happen when we are walking that well. We get to call broken things healed. Dead things alive. Hopeless things full of hope. We get to light up the darkness. We are the beacon in this fallen broken world–a beacon of hope and light and love.

We got married six months after this. It will be ten years on June 19th–a day famous in Texas for a different reason. But special to us because it was the day I stood before my husband for the first time, feeling loved and chosen. This was the beginning of walking in that  new identity.

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a different kind of family

I have written some about this before–the years I spent doing everything in my strength to find this thing called community. I followed the rules and lists, dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s, helped out, got involved, took classes, joined groups to the extent that almost every day began or ended with some type of church-related activity. I signed up for everything hoping for some kind of spark, some sort of connection; a moment when someone would say, “You are welcome here.”

I felt lonely and alone. I was surrounded by amazing women and armed with clear instructions on how to get this connection and I just didn’t fit. I experienced it as rejection over and over and over again. I felt like that kid crying out, “Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!” And then not being chosen at all. I would have amazing conversations where I thought we were on the same page, and then when I tried to pursue relationships I felt the door slam in my face.

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So weary after years of feeling and fighting these feelings, I quit. I stopped all the restless activity, I stopped expecting to find a friend just around the corner and I curled up into myself. You know what hurt worse than feeling rejected? No one noticed when I left. I stopped trying, stopped coming on Sundays, stopped taking classes…basically ceased to exist and not one person wondered where I was. That was debilitating. I couldn’t breathe through it.

I yelled at God and he comforted me. He loved me and he led me through this. In some ways, he showed me that my expectations and conditions on what this relationship needed to look like were flawed. I wanted something that was pretty and that I could fit in this box. But he had something much more untamed for me–wild and free in its beauty.

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Somehow I managed to find, or rather was found by, this place where “…they live their lives as an invitation: to the world and to each other. You are always invited to participate, and you are always invited to start something if you don’t see it existing yet” (Bessey, 2013, p130). We are not pretty. We all have soul deep scars that we have allowed each other to see. We cuss and drink and wrestle with the messy. We hurt with each other and sometimes we spend an entire evening just groaning over this fallen broken place. We celebrate each other well–from birthdays and holidays to book deals and job changes. We serve each other with our gifts. We are tenacious over one another, quick to comfort and defend–and sometimes we cross a line and we gently call each other back from it. But as a girl who never felt like anyone was taking care of her–this matters to me. I have been called loved here. I have been accepted, not because I look like them, or always say the right thing–and trust me, we offend each other. But we are family and it goes beyond the here and now.

This group has been a balm to my weary soul. And as I lean into my word for 2014, I see how this groups has healed me and started me on that path. I am stronger and braver because of them. I am able to forgive and walk in freedom because they’ve got me. They will catch me when I fall. And it’s quiet the beautiful mess.

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Bessey, Sarah. Jesus Feminist. New York: Howard Books, 2013. Print.

photos courtesy of Self Image Photography: http://selfimagephoto.net/

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