For the Slut Shamers

slut shaming

Since writing about My Date with a Stripper, I have continued to hang out with my friend, “Grace”, and have learned a lot about her world. Usually we just talk on the phone, text, FaceTime, drive around, get coffee, or peruse the shelves of Ross Dress for Less, but last weekend I wanted to step into her world a little more. After debating where to go and what to do one afternoon, she suggested we go to a local beach hangout near her house. I love the beach, and I love to be anywhere near the beach, so I was in. I thought sitting down for a while would give us more time to talk as opposed to going to a movie, so it seemed like a win-win situation.

Let’s just say I had no idea what I was getting into. As soon as we pulled up near the restaurant, she suggested I park behind a nearby strip club because parking would be free. Since I was driving my husband’s car, and I wasn’t so sure about the idea, I opted for a perfect on-street spot that was free and convenient. As soon as we got out of the car and started crossing the street, I noticed total strangers just looked at Grace differently. It was frightening, actually. Where as I am used to being ignored or smiled at politely, she was stared down by men in a butcher-shop-cut-of-meat kind of way, and scowled at by women whom she’s never met. I have never seen anything like it.

As we walked into the restaurant, the male staff members looked her up and down with weird smirks on their faces and women rolled their eyes. The only seating available was bar seating, as people were coming in from a beautiful beach day (the first of the season), so we pulled up two chairs. Within seconds, two middle-aged men were standing behind us, awkwardly staring at my friend and attempting to start conversation. I looked at them with the obvious “Do I know you?” face. She just ignored them. We very clearly did not know either of these men, yet they wouldn’t go away. All of the servers were female, and it took 20 minutes to get one of them to take our order. They wouldn’t even look at us, and when they did I caught some eye-rolls before they turned the opposite direction.

shaming

Now, I will say this. Grace can be a little brash. Actually, she can be pretty rude. It’s usually a defense mechanism, but that doesn’t make it ok to be rude to people. When she snapped at a server for not paying attention to us, I told her that I tend to get a way better response from people when I am nice to them on the front end. We agreed to disagree, for now. I guess it’s hard to be friendly when you are slut shamed every time you walk in a room.

When we were finally able to order our tacos and side salads, I couldn’t help but notice that men, whom neither of us had ever met, were just sort swarming around us, like vultures hovering over a dead carcass. I promise you they weren’t there for me. In fact, I seemed to be invisible. Grace paid them no attention, but these men just wouldn’t go away. I kept giving them the “May I help you?” face a la BonQuiQui, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.

Everyone around us was making a judgment call based on how Grace looked. I thought she looked adorable. She was wearing leggings, running shoes, a workout top, and had her hair in a high pony tail. She was wearing way more clothes than the women who were walking in and out of the restaurant in string bikinis. Her finger nails have been replaced with “glitter talons” (my name for them), but other than that nothing really stood out to me. Somehow, though, every person who looked our way seemed to know what she does for a living, and it horrified me how people were treating her.

We walked towards the stage to hear the band and she was stopped by a table full of guys. They wanted to know who she was and what she was doing that night. Y’all, that has never happened to me in my life. (Ok, maybe once in my twenties when I was acting a fool.) Grace got a little flirty, and the guys were completely mesmerized by everything thing she did and said. They paid no attention to me. One guy finally asked if I was her homegirl, and laughed out loud when Grace said, “Yea she is!” They probably thought I was her bouncer or something.

Grace had no problem telling these guys that she and I met in jail and had become friends. I struck up a conversation with one of the guys who was very full of himself and ready to put on a show. I asked him where he was from, how he got to Florida, and what his story was. I finally felt comfortable enough to ask him what made him talk to Grace and call us over. He said he knew she was a stripper. I assumed he must have seen her dance somewhere, but he said no. He just knew. He said that it’s the woman’s job to “set the tone” when she walks into a room. I asked him if he realized he was treating my friend like a piece of meat. He said she “put that out there” with her “aura”. I called BS. No one wants to be treated like a slut, so what gives him the right to do that?

He said it’s all on the girl. He just responds to what she “puts out there”. I told him it sounds like he is controlled by women. He agreed. He said it was the woman’s job to “put out there” how she wants to be treated.

Now, I just have to confess that in this moment I wanted to kick this guy where it hurts most. It actually took every bit of self control I possess to not engage in a physical altercation. I took a deep breath, though, and remembered his story. And then I challenged him by saying, “What if you decided to treat all women with dignity, regardless of what they put out there?”

He stared at me blankly, then shook his head and said, “Nah. You just gotta understand, this is just how men are. This is what we do.”

I left that interaction so angry and discouraged. I have been married to an amazing man for 8 months and have almost forgotten how bad it was when I was out and single and in the bar scene. I have forgotten that guys used to grab my butt or worse with no invitation. I have forgotten how horrible people treat each other. I have forgotten how rare it is for the average guy or girl in a bar to treat each other with dignity.

My heart has hurt this this conversation. I live in a bubble where people either treat each other well, or just don’t talk about how they really think and feel. I have forgotten just how broken we all are and how we see others and their worth. Y’all, we have to be having different conversations with people. Just telling people to “do better” isn’t working and it isn’t going to work. Silence isn’t going to work.

Most of us treat people they way we have been treated or been taught to treat others. A young man who was raised by his buddies and the internet is not going to treat a woman with dignity. The waitress who judged my friend based on her appearance is obviously harboring some feeling and opinions towards other women. The middle aged men who were creeping around Grace have formed some sort of belief about young, single women.

No amount of shaming or blaming is going to change how people treat each other. We need to be in relationships that change others as well as ourselves. We need to have conversations that change hearts, not just behaviors.

Something needs to change, or I am going to end up in a bar fight.

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Being The Bigger Table

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A few months ago, I stumbled across a book that piqued my interest (no surprise here, as books are my weakness and my current collection already fills all of our shelves and have of a storage unit). I had never heard of the author, but the topic matched most of my current passions and struggles. Once I started reading the book, I realized I didn’t want to read it alone. I wanted to be able to talk about it with others. So I had an idea to “put it out there” for others to read the same book, and then come together over a meal to talk about it. But I didn’t just want to talk. I wanted our bread breaking and discussion to lead to action.

The book is titled A Bigger Table and it was written by John Pavlovitz, a North Carolina pastor who also has a blog called “Stuff That Needs to be Said”. In his book, Pavlovitz addresses the question I have been wrestling with for years. How do we (I), as Christians, get out of our Christianese bubbles and meet people where they are, love people where they are, and share our lives and tables with all people from all walks of life without judgement or agenda? What does it look like for people to build relationships with people, rather than getting stuck in the hamster wheel of doctrine and theology?

I put a request out on Facebook to see if anyone would be interested in reading, eating, and talking about this with me. Then I created an event based on interest. My original plan involved hosting people in the outdoor area of our apartment complex and cooking a meal to be shared, but then I found out we aren’t actually allowed to invite more than two people to the beautiful amenities for which we pay each month. Silly. But whatever.

So Tim and I went to my favorite Cuban restaurant this past Saturday evening and waited to see who would show up. I mean, people RSVP’d on Facebook, but we all know what that means. Nothing. Personally, I ignore most Facebook invitations completely. Many people reply “yes” with great intentions but forget or life gets in the way. I have attempted many gatherings in the past where no one actually showed up and I was left with a table full of food, lonely and hurt, so this was a particularly vulnerable risk for me. I was thrilled when 8 friends showed up to dine and discuss!

The best part was that none of these friends had ever met each other, they only knew me (and, in some cases, Tim). These friends all attend different churches and have very different stories and backgrounds. They all have one thing in common, though. They want the local church to do a better job of being a safe and loving place for all people, and they – like me – have no idea how to make that happen.

As people got to know each other and we all dug into our mojo chickens, plantains, Cuban sandwiches, and beans with rice, I awkwardly started the conversation we had gathered to have. What did everyone think of this book, and what do we want to do about it? I sort of word-vomitted out about several questions in a run-on sentence which somehow lead us each to sharing a little about ourselves. We had all come to faith in different ways and at different times. We had all experienced feeling like “an outsider”, even in our own churches and communities. We all have friends who have been hurt by the church. And we all wanted to see things change.

Early on in the conversation, a very smart friend suggested that this conversation needed to last much longer than one meal, and he was right. As we kept talking, we realized that we had left the content of the book and entered into sharing our own experiences. We recognized that we can’t put all of the pressure on a large organization, such as a church, to foster honest relationships across dividing lines.

We all came to the same conclusion that each of us is, in fact, an agent of change. We also decided we needed more meals and conversations to figure out how, exactly, to be agents of change in our spheres of influence.

I loved our quirky little gathering, but I came this this conclusion: we need more meals, more conversations, and more people at the table who also want to get better at building relationships. We need to be doing this all the time. And we need a much bigger table.

So what are we going to do about it? Well, I hope to gather us all together again. And I hope our little group grows. And I hope our conversations turn to action and action turns to relationships and relationships cause a wave of change in our communities which are currently so incredibly divided.

I don’t have any answers, but I have a passion for bringing people together and asking hard questions and friends who are willing to do the same.

Hopefully the next table will be bigger, fuller, and abundant in life-changing words that turn into heart-changing actions. Do you want to join us? Reach out on Facebook, Instagram, email, with an owl, or maybe even snail mail. We would love to pull up a chair at the table for you.

“Such a Martha”

Martha

I used to love going to summer camp. My friends and I would either load up in a bus or our parents’ cars and head to exotic places like Missouri to spend a coupe of weeks sleeping in bunk beds, participating in outdoor activities, competing in themed games, and hiding magazine tear-outs of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and Andrew Keegan in our bunks. (Fun Fact: My contraband Bop Magazine collection was confiscated one summer and mailed to my mom as punishment.)

I attended one camp during my middle school years where the counselors handed out ribbons at the end of our session, giving us a name associated with the Bible character we most emulated (according to their observations). I will never forget the day when the girls around me were given ribbons that said things like “Ruth” and “Mary” and  “Elizabeth”. When it came time to receive my ribbon, my counselor handed it to me with a huge smile and said, “You are such a Martha!”

My heart sunk. I knew who Martha was. She was the lady Jesus scolded for being too busy to listen to him. She was the Type A clean-freak who was encouraged to be more like her sister, Mary. In that moment I was, in my mind, labeled as an overachieving control-freak who needed to have my hand slapped by Jesus.

So maybe I took this ritual a little personally, but I will never forget how hurt I felt that day. I thought I was intelligent, creative, outgoing, and responsible (my 10-year-old-self confidence had not yet been marred by the world). I didn’t know I was also aggressive, controlling, and incapable of sitting still. I was always taught Martha was the “bad one”, and that Jesus “preferred” her sister because her sister listened and was quiet and did what she was told. To me, that ribbon meant something was wrong with me, and I didn’t know how to fix it.

About a decade later, a popular book was published titled Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. All the Southern Christian ladies had a copy and were reading and quoting it. I read it as well, painfully remembering my Martha Label and how much it had hurt me. Maybe this book would help me be less Martha-ish!

It didn’t. In fact, I don’t think I ever finished the book because I felt worse after reading it. Once again, Martha was used to describe one’s busyness and lack of attention to the important things in life.

I continue to wrestle with my “Martha-ness”. I was once described in a process group as a sailor on a sailboat who spent so much time running around attending to all of the boat’s needs that I never took time to sit and enjoy the experience of sailing. Basically, I was told I didn’t know how to rest.

I don’t think Martha was less-preferred or less-than her sister, Mary. My guess is Martha just had a hard time resting. In a sermon this past Sunday, I learned that Martha was actually one of the very few female home owners during her day. She funded Jesus’ ministry and often hosted and lead those who followed Jesus, including Jesus himself. Her determination, hard work, and financial stability made a lot of ministry possible. It turns out she was a strong woman who probably just didn’t know how to stop when the time came to just BE.

I relate to that. My husband is good at resting. When we get to his parents’ condo in Fort Myers Beach, his blood pressure lowers and his anxieties drift away and he is able to enjoy the beauty of South Florida. I, on the other hand, require at least 48 hours to wind down after I have made sure we have everything we need from groceries to clean bathing suits to streak-free windows. I struggle with this at home, too. I can’t sit still until the sink is empty, the laundry is done, the litter boxes are cleaned and the trash is out. I feel this overwhelming urge to make sure certain things are in order before I can even consider sitting down to collect my thoughts and feelings from the day.

I wrestle with finding a balance between the positive side of my drivenness and my inability to slow down when needed. The world needs people like me – people who get things done, see needs for improvement, and can multitask. My husband, family, friends, and clients also need me to know when it is time to slow down and just be present in the world around me. Without accountability, I will work myself into the ground and completely burn out, which is not only detrimental to my own health but also devastating to all of my relationships.

What I failed to see as a Middle Schooler was that it is ok to be a Martha, as long as I am a Martha who knows how to take it easy and rest. Martha can’t be Martha if she is passed out from exhaustion. Sometimes we need the Marthas in our lives to help us organize and mobilize and get things done. And sometimes we need the Marys in our lives to remind us when to stop and just be present in the midst of a chaotic world.

I think what my camp counselor failed to explain was that there was more to Martha’s story than that time when Jesus told her to emulate her sister’s behavior. I mean, let’s be honest… who one wants to be told to be more like their sibling?!?! That was just one moment in Martha’s entire life where, I think, she just forgot to slow down. There was so much more to her and her story that was shadowed by this one passage in the Gospel of Luke.

I believe that if I can learn to rest and embrace my Martha-ness, maybe I can learn to see that it takes all of us working together to make powerful change happen. I don’t need to be less me, I just need to take care of myself in the process. Maybe being “such a Martha” isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Two Toothbrushes and a Cell Phone

After posting my last blog, I have a received a lot of texts, emails, messages, and comments with people’s thoughts, feelings, stories, and experiences. I truly do treasure each of these and take them to heart because they are coming from people who care enough to reach out. For a little while, I chastised myself over the last blog for not writing enough about hope. I decided to let that go, however, because it is (and will remain) an honest portrayal of where I was at that moment. I usually receive the following feedback: “I love your writing because you say what everyone else is thinking.” While I am sure most people mean this in a positive way, I am not quite sure how to receive such feedback, mostly because it means one of two things: A) I have no filter for what I say (which is, unfortunately, mostly true)  or B) The general population doesn’t feel safe enough in their current circles to express what they are thinking or feeling. B bothers me more than A. I know that I tend to say what’s on my mind (I have done A LOT of work on this over the last few years), but my word vomit concerns me less than the lack of “safe spaces” in everyday relationships.

The title of this blog may sound more like a Beck song or a vague attempt at being hipster-cool, but I promise you this is only an attempt for me to communicate the huge life lessons I have learned in the midst of the mundane. If you want to skip the bulk of reading and get to the point, it is this: anything used outside of its intended purpose is going to lose its ability to function. This reality stared me in the face this morning as I listened to our friend and pastor Zach Van Dyke teach an entire sermon on sexual abuse as it relates to Jesus’ claim that He is The Good Shepherd. In the midst of MeToos and TimesUps and black dresses and pastors being fired and doctors serving multiple life sentences, there is so much noise that it was time for some truth. I encourage you to listen to the sermon here to have a better context for what I am writing.

According to Christian tradition and faith, God created the heavens and the earth and He created man and woman. He created man and woman in His own image to care for and cultivate the earth and to multiply. He created man and woman for work, for relationship, for fertility, for growth, for pleasure, and for love. Skipping ahead a few chapters, a bunch of bad things happened, poor choices were made, wars were fought, people cheated and speared each other and brought down walls, a ton of people died, and most of what God did in the midst of it all makes absolutely no logical sense to me. Then God made Himself vulnerable by coming to earth as a baby, and through His son Jesus He took out all the wrath He ever had for all of the horrible things we had ever done and ever will do. Jesus absorbed all of the consequences men and women deserve for being, well, imperfectly human. Jesus said a lot of things while He was here, but apparently the greatest commandment He gave was this: To love my neighbor as myself.

This commandment implies something really important that many people, ESPECIALLY traditional Christians, miss completely: we have to learn to love ourselves before we can love anyone else. We were designed to love and be loved. If we try to do anything other than love and be loved, we will fail to function as intended.

Which brings me back to my original point. Have you ever used a battery-operated toothbrush? I always thought they were kind of dumb. Why do we have to put batteries in everything? I’ve been brushing my teeth with a normal, Lindsey-operated toothbrush for over 30 years and it seems to have served me just fine. I have moved through life with maybe two cavities, and generally receive good reports when I go to the dentist. When Tim and I were dating, I couldn’t help but notice that he had a battery-operated toothbrush on his bathroom counter. I didn’t give it much thought, other than I thought it was a waste of money. I made some snarky comments about it a few times, to which he simply responded nothing could beat how well it cleans and I shouldn’t knock it until I try it. Shortly after we got married, Tim went out and purchased a battery-operated toothbrush for me. I wasn’t super pumped about it, but agreed to give it a try. That thing scared the CRAP out of me! It was loud and super vibratey (that’s a word now) and I had no idea how to control the thing. After a few days of use, I have to admit my teeth did feel really clean. (If only the thing straightened teeth at the same time.) Then I just became accustomed to putting a motorized device in my mouth every morning and evening. After a couple of weeks, I noticed that the head of my brush was looking a bit worn and the bristles were starting to spread out. My argument was now sealed. This thing had not served me for more than two dozen brushes and it was in need of replacement. What a waste.

But then I looked at Tim’s brush head. He had been using his far longer than I had, and his looked nearly new. I started watching him brush his teeth, and paying more attention to how I was brushing my own and I quickly realized the issue. Rather than just running the vibrating bristles in and around my mouth, I was forcing the contraption against my teeth with tremendous pressure, convinced that it couldn’t brush on its own power. I was still trying to use it like a traditional toothbrush and I was destroying it. My brush was losing bristles and battery power far quicker than it was supposed to be losing them. In short, I wasn’t using it according to its design. I was abusing its very design.

The same could be said for my iPhone. I used to have a reputation for throwing iPhones across the room during counseling session in order to make this very point. An iPhone is made of glass (and indium tin oxide, but I have no idea what that means). It is designed to be held gently, tapped and swiped gently, and stored gently. It is strong and capable of many things, but it is fragile. It was never designed to be dropped in a pitcher of Bahama Mama mixture, toilet(s), sand, swimming pool(s), bathtub(s), run over with a car, or chewed on by a dog (these are all hypothetical situations, of course). Since I am not capable of handling an iPhone gently, I have an incredibly sturdy case with a screen cover around mine which prevents all of the potential damage I would surely bring to my phone. I sometimes describe our hearts to clients in way. Our hearts are strong, and capable of many things, but they are fragile. They were not designed to be broken, betrayed, abused, neglected, or mishandled. Over time, after experiencing enough damage, most people will start to built invisible walls around their hearts to prevent further damage. The problem with these walls, though, is that they don’t discriminate between bad and good. Walls are kind of an all-in-all-out type of thing. So further damage is done just in trying to protect what has been damaged against its original design.

Men and women were designed to love and be loved. We weren’t created to abuse and be abused. Most faith traditions and beliefs will at least agree on this one creed. When we act or are acted upon outside of our design, we will fail to function and things will start to fall apart.

I recently received a blasting comment on a FaceBook post regarding the death of former Glee actor Mark Salling. Salling hung himself before being sentenced to prison for child pornography charges, and the details of his case and behavior are absolutely horrific. I posted something the effect that I was heartbroken that yet another person chose to end their own life in the face of criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, this happens a lot. One of the many things I learned while working in jail was that the criminal justice system and mental health professions should be working TOGETHER, hand in hand, to bring healing to perpetrators and prevent further crime in our communities. But that is another soapbox.

After, expressing my heartbreak over a life lost and so many lives damaged, someone I have never met wrote a scathing paragraph with a lot of expletives basically demanding that I take my head out of my own a$$ and realize that this man deserved no dignity after what he had done. At this point, my heart broke even more. I don’t know the woman who wrote the comment. I hope I get to have a conversation with her one day and understand where she is coming from in her story. But I must disagree.

What my friend Zach did today is something I have never seen done from the pulpit or anywhere else. He offered dignity and hope to both the abused and the abuser. He invited both into safe, honest, vulnerable community. Yes, it is painful. Yes, there will be consequences. Yes, the damage lasts a lifetime. But we need to be having these conversations. We need to be taught and to learn how to love each other as ourselves. It’s how we were created, down to the very genetic molecules of our beings. If we continue to use and abuse each other for anything other than love, we will continue to kill and destroy.

The church should be the first on the front lines to provide a safe place for people to be honest about their sexual brokenness, but unfortunately it has become the last place anyone wants to go for healing, empathy, and compassion. The Christian church has not love the abused or abusers well. The good news is that this can change. It MUST change. The church was designed to love, yet it has become (for the most part) a place of false faces, judgmental glances, and misdirected “prayer requests” aka Food for Gossip. There are so many books and sermons and talks and conversations on how to do this, so the resources are there.

Time should have been up a long time ago on the damaging effects of abuse. It is in the fiber of our very beings to heal those who have been hurt and who are hurting others. We need to tap back into our original design, who we were created to be as people crafted in love. It’s not too late to change things now, but it’s late enough.

The Fertility Blog

I don’t know how to write this blog. I have read so many blogs, articles, journal entries, and more on infertility. I am not sure I can fill a hand with the number of friends who did NOT experience a miscarriage during their first pregnancy. While I deeply desire to be a mother, I am terrified of the fertility process. A large part of me feels like this part of life *should* be kept private. But, there’s that word. Should. Should usually leads to shame, and shame grows in silence. Maybe I am writing for my own sanity. Maybe these words will help someone else. I don’t know. I just know that we need to talk about these things, so I will start here.

Nest

“Nest” by Stephanie Mastrolillo

I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) before it had a name. When I was 18, my doctor put me on synthetic hormones and birth control to manage the symptoms. PCOS is a “thing” now, and lots of people talk about it. It has gotten to the point, though, the term is thrown around so much that I think people perceive it isn’t a big deal. Well, it is. And it makes life pretty horrible sometimes. And I hate it right now.

In addition to the more common symptoms of PCOS – acne, weight gain, inability to lose weight, high levels of testosterone, insulin resistance, depression, anxiety, unusual hair growth, etc – infertility is also a common issue for women who have been diagnosed with PCOS. Having PCOS means that eggs don’t fully develop in my ovaries, so the undeveloped eggs can become cysts. Sometimes these cysts create a lot of pain. Sometimes they burst. Most importantly, these cysts mean that I don’t naturally ovulate. (For those of you who slept through 9th grade biology, ovulation is required in order to get pregnant.)

When Tim and I were dating, I told him that I had health issues that could potentially prevent pregnancy. We had many conversations about fertility, children, and our different options for becoming parents even before we got married. I wanted to be honest, and he wanted to be understanding. I know people who have broken up relationships due to infertility, and I was grateful to have met a man who was willing to walk this road, whatever it looks like.

But those were just conversations. The rubber had not met the road yet. Now we are in the game, and it is painful – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually painful. We are early in the TTC process (Trying To Conceive). Since getting off of birth control, I have felt absolutely horrible. I continue to experience extreme mood swings, a tremendous amount of physical pain, drastically decreased then increased appetite, and other side effects.

We knew this was coming. Tim is phenomenally compassionate and kind, trying to understand and asking great questions when things are murky. (He’s a male only-child, he’s never dealt with this stuff before!) I am working closely with my doctors to track, learn, and make good choices. I don’t need advice. I don’t need another book. I don’t need another at-home remedy. I need the space to just be afraid and sometimes, just to cry.

I have walked with friends through miscarriages, infertility, infant loss, and more, but I never thought about what it would feel like if faced with one of these tragedies myself. It’s too early to deem me “infertile”, but I have always known this struggle would come and now it is here. I think I am mostly scared to be honest about where I am because I don’t want the barrage of false encouragement. I don’t want the memes, quotes, or Bible verses people send to try to alleviate their own discomfort and make things “feel better”. Nothing makes fear feel better other than empathy.

Remember the movie Inside Out? Remember the scene where Bing Bong is crying, and Joy keeps dancing around him obnoxiously trying to “cheer him up” and he just becomes more despondent? Remember when Sadness sits down beside him, exhibits a comfort with silence, cries with him, and then he feels the freedom to stand up and keep moving?

We (I) don’t need more false encouragement. We (I) need empathy. In case you haven’t read a Brene Brown book yet (why the heck not?!?), empathy is the ability to crawl down into someone’s mess with them and just feel with them. Empathy isn’t a quote, or an “at least” statement, or a carb loaded meal, or more energy. Empathy is a person’s willingness to be uncomfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Empathy is compassion lived out in relationship.

Everyone is struggling with something. Whether it is health issues, financial issues, unemployment, grief, anger, infertility, parenthood, childhood, depression, anxiety, body image, weight loss, weight gain, or any of the other myriad issues that plague our human-ness, the person sitting next to you is struggling with something. That is the one thing we all have in common.

When someone is drowning, you don’t throw them a self-help book or a pretty calligraphy quote on a mountain range background. You jump into the water – the same water that is drowning them – and provide a calm presence and, in some cases, strength for a rescue.

I guess this post is more of a plea than anything. I know there are people out there who mean well but who are uncomfortable with discomfort. I am pleading with you to stop trying to “fix” the issue, and wrestle with wading into the discomfort. Sometimes the best words are “This really sucks. Nothing I can say will make it better.” A dear friend said those words to me last week over coffee, and my heart melted. It meant so much to me that she was willing to just stand in the discomfort of the situation and be with me.

Sometimes the best words are no words at all.

I don’t know where the Fertility Road will take us. Like I said, we are just getting to the TTC party, but I can tell you that I am afraid, and I am grateful for those who are willing to jump in the dark and not be afraid of my fear. I hope I am able to extend that same gift to others.

My Date with a Stripper

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I have been reading a lot lately about well meaning people who travel locally or internationally to work with marginalized people. Over the last several years, I would say the average upper-middle class American has gained more awareness of the human trafficking crisis both domestically and internationally. Awareness is a good thing, but it isn’t THE thing. Awareness doesn’t create change. Awareness doesn’t bring freedom. Awareness doesn’t end the problem. Millions of people around the world have not only been aware of trafficking, but involved in it in some capacity, for quite some time.

When I moved to Orlando six years ago to pursue a Masters in Counseling and become a mental health therapist, I thought I wanted to work in the inner city with at-risk teens to help them carve out a life path other than sex, drugs, and violence. When one of my first clients walked into the office – a middle-aged female heroin addict who had been selling her body for money since childhood – the trajectory of my career path took a drastic turn. This woman really put me through the ringer. She screamed at me, hallucinated, showed up high, forced me to chase her out into the parking lot once, and called and left panicked messages on my voicemail. I was a graduate intern and I was already deeply entrenched in some very difficult work. But I felt like I was supposed to be there, and I wanted to understand her world better.

After spending three years working as a pastor, counselor, group leader, and teacher in the local jail, I learned and saw just how big and dark and bad this world is. No one grows up wanting to be an addict, convict, or prostitute. Many of the women I met over the course of three years had the same things in common: no parents, no education, no resources, and a complete lack of access to any form of life skills training or health care. When we go to victimized, at-risk, or marginalized men and women and say, “You need to make better choices”, it’s like going up to people in the ICU and saying, “You just need to be stronger.”

It’s one thing to be well-meaning Christians who reach out and say “let me help you”. It is quite another to join others in their world and say, “teach me what your world is like so I may love you better”. I learned the hard way that I know absolutely nothing about helping someone who has been trafficked, the trafficker, the scapegoat, or incarcerated. My passion and vision for my counseling practice is to provide high-quality, affordable mental and emotional health care for people who cannot afford traditional therapy, but I need to spend more time walking the streets rather than reading books and dreaming. When my husband, Tim, read this before posting he asked a very interesting question: “Babe, you write a lot about what people shouldn’t do. What SHOULD we do?”

Great question. Tim is right. I have become quite cynical over the last few years, and I can talk for hours about what I have done, or seen others do, incredibly wrong. I think what we SHOULD and CAN do starts with education. It starts with becoming aware, reading books, watching documentaries, and listening to the stories of others. But it can’t end there. At the end of the day, each of us needs to spend time in someone else’s shoes. We need to get out of our own comfort zones. We need to spend quality time with people who seem to be different than we are.

This is tricky, though. Just walking up to someone who seems different and saying, “Hey! Tell me about your life so I can learn how to have empathy” probably is not the most effective way to go about this. Walking in someone else’s shoes requires building a relationship, which requires a lot of time and energy. It requires becoming a student of someone else and letting someone else become a student of you at the same time. In this process, a friendship is created and must be nurtured in order to truly see what life is like for someone else.

This is what I set out to do with my friend Grace*. I met Grace in jail over a year ago, and we have stayed connected ever since. When she was released, she was sent home with no driver’s license, no money, and no transportation, so she moved in with a family member and got the only job a young woman can get with no education, no license, and no work experience. She dances several nights a week at various local strip clubs, and is saving the money like crazy. She picks up extra “work” on the side to make ends meet. Believe it or not, she is making some different and healthier choices this time around, but she is still in the same game she was in before because no one would give her a chance anywhere else.

After reconnecting, she wanted to know if she could come to church with me one day. I was ELATED because I wasn’t sure she would ever actually want to hang out. A lot of women get out of jail and contact me, saying they want to meet up, but they rarely show. I get stood up a lot, so I was pleasantly shocked when Grace told me where to meet her and that she wanted to follow through. She called me via FaceTime from a department store because she was not sure she had anything appropriate to wear for church. I “walked through the store with her” and helped her pick out a really cute outfit that I would wear in a heartbeat! When I arrived to pick her up, she looked beautiful. We hugged tightly, she hopped in the car, and we started the hour-long drive to church.

I learned all about what she had been doing lately, how her family is doing, and then she started telling me work stories. Grace told me that most of her “clients” are white, middle-aged, white-collar men who visit the clubs before they go home to their wives. She told me about the “no touching” rules that no one adheres to, even when it is strict policy. She told me about fights in the back rooms, work competition, who she can and cannot trust, and how she works really hard to maintain some level of integrity and dignity in completely dehumanizing work. We talked about books she has read, songs we both like, and her dreams of being a professional singer.

By the time we got to church, Grace was really nervous, wondering if people could “see it on her” – who she “really is” – and if she would fit in. She relaxed a little by the time the music started, and we both really enjoyed the service. I won’t go into her experience here, because it isn’t my place to share that, but I can tell you that I was so proud to have her sitting next to me. I am so glad she agreed to go. And I can’t wait until we hang out again.

On the way home, we talked a little more candidly about the ins and outs of Grace’s current profession. I cried. I told her some of my tears were for her – not because I am a naive white girl, but because things like “escort rating apps” exist and how girls are ranked. I cried because violence – gruesome, unnecessary violence – is a part of her every day life. I cried for the men who hire her and the women who try to fight her. I cried because gangs and strip clubs and prostitution still exist and because the “world’s oldest profession” is the quickest way for an unsupported, uneducated woman to make ends meet in this world.

I cried because every day women are killed for who and what they know, and no one knows it or does anything about it. I cried because most of us are either unaware or unwilling to change things.

And then Grace changed the song, made a joke about my crying, and we laughed for the rest of the car ride. I hugged her tightly, handed her some books I had been saving for her, made sure she was safe, and I proceeded to cry the whole way home.

I want to know more about her and learn about her world, but I also don’t want to hear anymore heartbreaking details because sometimes the truth is just so horrible. I am so sheltered. I am so protected. I have hard days and face hard things, but I never question if I am loved or wanted for something other than my body. I want Grace, and countless others, to have the same reality. I want the world to change. I want people to change.

So we will keep being friends. We will keep talking, and I will keep listening. And hopefully, prayerfully, I will act in a way that is both loving and fiercely effective in ending this mess we have all created.

I, for one, can’t wait to have another date with my friend who happens to work as a stripper.

New Year, Old Promises

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Image courtesy of http://www.olivesnwine.com

Well, it is the new day of a new year. Most, if not all, of us are making vows either silently or as loudly as possible in order to stick to the promises we have (repeatedly) made ourselves over the years. I heard a great sermon on New Year’s Eve at Summit Church by visiting pastor Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie’s teaching always amazes me, but he did something so simple yet so radical in this message. He acknowledged that we are all going to make vows this new year, and we are all going to break them. So what’s the point?

Then I woke up this morning to read a social media post by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott.

“It’s really okay, though, to have (or pray for) an awakening around your body. It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It’s within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true.”

This one punched me in my soft, fluffy gut. For the last several months, I have been repeatedly torturing myself for not losing the weight I promised myself I would lose. As January 1 quickly approached, I made myself more promises to eat well, drink less alcohol, set good boundaries, do more yoga, sleep better, and get in the best shape possible to get pregnant in the near-ish future. At the same time I am furiously studying for my mental health licensure exam (which I should have taken two years ago), working on opening up my own practice, learning how to be a wife, navigating the holidays with a new family, and trying to read every book that my brilliant friend, Lauren, recommends to me. If a client told me he or she was trying to do all of this, I would interrupt immediately and give them a speech about slowing down and being kind to his or her self.

So why I can’t I extend this same grace to myself? Anne and Eddie’s words reminded me that I am, in fact, not Wonder Woman and that I am not exempt from limitations. No one could do all of those things I have just listed all at once. As my wonderful husband is so keen to point out on a daily basis: when will you realize that you need to care for yourself?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw an Instagram post that simply said, “You can’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” Ouch. This didn’t hit me hard because I think I am some kind of martyr for the human race, but because I consistently preach to others about their own self care while completely neglecting my own. My husband sees it. My friends see it. My family sees it. How can I not remember this?

I would love to make a million resolutions today about my weight, my alcohol consumption (look for another blog post soon on this one), my skin care regimen, and my sleep cycle, but the truth is that I will let myself down. I won’t get it right. However, in the midst of it all, can I believe what yet another favorite author, Brennan Manning, tells me? Do I truly know and believe that I am loved even when I don’t “get it right?”

That is my real challenge this year. I hope some weight comes off. I hope I seek less comfort in a good pinot noir and more solace in warm hugs andquiet meditation. I hope we get pregnant. And those are great things to move towards. But I believe my real resolution this year is to be kind to myself, at least as kind as I am to others. I don’t need to be the first person in line to throw myself under the bus. That’s just cruel.

Shoulding Myself

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I have been completely overcome with anxiety over the last few weeks, which is incredibly depressing considering this is, in theory, the most wonderful time of the year. The older I get, the more I realize how much expectations (both realized and subconcious) dictate, and sometimes destroy, relationships and experiences.

We all have expectations in some capacity. Some of us have learned to set expectations pretty low because we have been so hurt in the past. I used to think I had given up expectations completely, but then I realized what I had given up on was hope. While the two terms are used interchangeably, there is actually a big difference between expectation and hope, and failing to recognize the difference is dangerous and sometimes destructive.

The basic definition of expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future.” Having an expectation means believing that something should be true. If I submit my timesheet to my employer, I expect that he will send me a check for time worked because I should be paid and that is the agreement we made when we started working together. After Tim and I had been dating for a while, and had talked about marriage and looked at rings, I expected that he would propose because he said he would and he should follow through on that. Expectation is more of an “if this, then that” equation that can be reduced to logic.

Hope is a little different. The most basic definition of hope is “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” Hope is the emotive response to expectation. Hope is more amorphous in its nature, and harder to define or identify. I hope that I get to be a mom one day soon. I hope that Tim’s job is made permanent. I hope that Memphis wins the Liberty Bowl on Saturday and that the Tigers bring glory back to the Liberty Bowl Stadium. Hope involves longing for something over which I have no control.

Having both expectation and hope is a good thing, but we are in danger when we confuse the two. An expectation comes with a certain amount of controllable factors. If I consume less calories than I burn, I can expect to lose weight. I can hope to lose weight, but unless I take some action in the process that is a pretty foolish hope. Problems occur, especially in relationships, when we believe that a hope SHOULD become an expectation.

That word is so tricky. “Should.” It’s kind of a beast, really. That six letter word gets me into more trouble than my ongoing fascination with a burning flame. “Should” is the dynamite under the bridge between hope and expectation. It is almost always tied to shame, and we all know by now how deadly shame can be.

Before I met Tim, I hoped to meet a man who would become my husband. I went on dates to open myself up to the possibility of meeting this man. Hope was distorted when the “shoulds” started rolling in. “I SHOULD be in a relationship. I SHOULD be married by now. I SHOULD be thinner/shorter/taller/prettier/smarter/more successful/less successful/funnier/less funny for someone to love me.”

When Tim and I started dating, my shoulds shifted in his direction and almost destroyed our relationship. I wanted to dump him after he came over for dinner one night because he didn’t take his dishes to the sink. He SHOULD do that, right? Why didn’t he give me flowers more often? He SHOULD do that. Now that we are married, there are shoulds flying all over the place. He should empty the dishwasher! He should fold clothes the RIGHT way! He should have vacuumed if he had 10 free minutes. He should have celebrated my birthday THIS way.

This all came to a head at Christmas when my SHOULDS fell out all over the place. Since we spent Christmas in Memphis with my family last year, we committed to spending Christmas in Fort Myers Beach with his parents this year. That seems fair, right? I didn’t think much of it until we got to his parents’ condo and nothing was what it “should” have been. I had, subconsciously, developed an expectation that his family should celebrate Christmas the exact same way that my family does. I had hoped to really enjoy this time with my new husband and his parents, but my hope was destroyed by the shoulds of unmet expectations. By Christmas Eve, my face was buried in Tim’s chest as I cried for a good 30 minutes before passing out. I missed my family, my stocking, my Christmas Eve dinner, my family jokes, and the way I thought Christmas should be.

Tim thought he had done something wrong by bringing me to Fort Myers for Christmas. I assured him that neither he nor his parents had done anything wrong. In fact, they had given us a lovely Christmas. I had just been so wrapped up in the way I thought things should be, that I failed to enjoy the reality in front of me.

I have realized that most of my recent stress and anxiety (and consequential health issues and lack of sleep) can be traced back to shoulding myself. I do it all the time. I create completely unrealistic expectations which are not based in reality at all, and then I confuse those for hope and am devastated when these things don’t come to pass. I am learning to decipher between what I hope for and what I can expect. I can expect Tim to clean the kitchen if I tell him I need help with that because he always follows through when I ask him for help. But if I expect to come home to a spotless apartment when neither of us has been home all day or I have not communicated my need for help, then I am fooling myself.

Author Terry Pratchett is credited with saying, “There isn’t a way things should be. There’s just what happens, and what we do.” I need to write this in large print all over our home, on the back of my hand, and in my heart. If I am not aware of the reality of my current circumstances, I will completely lose myself in unmet expectations, “shoulds”, and misdirected hopes. I will constantly be let down by life and by others if I refuse to accept the world as it is, and stop hoping for what it could be.

Ideally, “should” will start to disappear from my vocabulary in the coming new year. At least I hope it will.

Dating: From a Man’s Perspective

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Every once-in-a-while, Lindsey and I get into some really interesting conversations while sitting on the couch at home.  Well, sometimes I am stretched out on the futon, but, hey, you get the point.  Recently, we were sitting there chatting and oddly enough we were talking about dating.  A couple months ago, we joined a small group for young married couples, as in couples that had been married for less than five (5) years.  We started watching this series by a pastor in Texas, whose name I am not recalling at the moment, and it all began with dating.  I found this odd, since, dude, I am already done with that and am married.  But what it did do was get Lindsey and I talking and asking questions of each other and about each other.  Then top that off with that fact that many of our unmarried or non-dating friends have been asking questions of us also.  Therefore, I decided, that maybe I would pipe up and release my knowledge to the masses, whether it’s wanted or not.  So that means that this is another hijacking of the wife’s blog to talk about:  Dating, What Worked, What Didn’t.

Let me preface this by saying that I am no expert in this field.  While it did take me 44 years to get married and gave me ample time to date, I do not claim to have all the answers, all I can say is what worked for Lindsey and I.  Also she is aware of what I am going to be saying and has cleared me to present some of her side of the story.  And by no means did Lindsey and I get it right all the time. I am simply offering this as a possible insight.

To begin with, let me give you a little background on myself regarding life in the dating and personal world.  I am Tim, Lindsey’s husband of six (6) months.  I am a motion graphics designer and this is my second career, my first being in hotel management.  My first date was to my Sr. Prom in high school where I took my Eighth grade sweetheart.  My first real relationship wasn’t until I was 19 and it lasted a year at which point after a trip I came back to propose only to have her leave when I had the ring in my pocket.  I had several more relationships, making mistake after mistake, at one point I even dated five (5) friends all at the same time.  BTW, I don’t recommend this.  Up until I was 25, I was the one that was always getting left.  I would generally do something, make some mistake or who knows and the girl would leave, crushing me every time.  Around 25, I was working in an upscale athletic club, 180 lbs and built I have been told like Jake Gyllenhall.  I decided I would not be hurt anymore, so at that point I became the user.  The five friends thing was during this time period.  I dated older women, I dated younger women, I did what I wanted when I wanted and I didn’t care about their feelings.  There is one woman in particular, Chrissy, whom to this day I still feel I need to apologize to.  I treated her EXTREMELY poorly, this woman that just simply wanted to be loved and instead ran into me.  This continued for several years, then I got a desk job and tone turned to fat, rather quickly I might add.  I still continued to date, culminating in the ultimate mistake of dating my married boss, not my finest hour or year.

It was at this point during the break-up that I decided it was time to make a change in my career.  So I went back to school at 35 and got a degree in Video Production and decided to specialize in Motion Graphics.  I bring this up, because during this time, I decided that I would not date.  I had allowed women to effect too many parts of my life before, but I really wanted this to succeed, so I said no dating.  After school, it took me several years to land a fulltime job and therefore did not allow me the money to date, cause let’s be real, dating is expensive.  It wasn’t until Christmas time two (2) years ago that I decided that it was time to get back into it.  I felt that I reached a point that I was ready.  But, DAMN, if 10 years hadn’t gone by at that point.  How the heck to do you do this again?  What is it like out there now?  What about this internet thing?  Where can I find a good woman?  How do I truly honor God this time around?

That last question really stuck with me as I approached things this time.  In the past, all I had cared about was what did I want, what did I want to do.  During the dating hiatus, I had really taken some time to restore my faith and find my walk and relationship with Him.  I knew this time around, if I was to get it right, He had to be a part of it.

If you are like me, this time of year as a single person, can be the loneliest time of year.  You see couples EVERYWHERE.  Truth is, there aren’t any more now, but we just see them more and they are constant reminder of what we don’t or didn’t have.  Truth be told, I still struggle this time of year and I am married and married to the most incredible woman on the planet. All I can say is keep your chin up, cause in the end you are never alone, He is with you.  I know it is not the same, but He does care and He is there.

So what I can offer now, is really some tips on what I found to work best for me during this new attempt at dating and ultimately marriage:

The last section of that sentence is really a great place to begin.  What are you after?  Are you looking to just date?  Are you looking for a spouse?  Are you looking for a friend?  What are you looking for?  For me, the goal was simple and clear, I wanted a woman that I could spend the rest of my life with.  Once I had that, the next question was, how in the world do I do that?  I haven’t been on a date in almost 7 years, I went on 2 dates during the 10 year break.  But at that point I stepped back and thought, before I tackle the how, I need to tackle the who, cause that might influence the how.  One thing that nearly 15 years of dating, it gave me a lot of insight into what I did and didn’t want in a future spouse.  So I proceeded to make a list of what I wanted.  I wanted someone attractive, she had to be honest, caring, loving, willing to go beyond the normal.  I wanted a woman who was smart, killer eyes that I could get lost in, bigger boobs, had a belief in God, was shorter than me.  I knew that I wanted someone younger than me since I do not even remotely act my age.  The smile had to be captivating, they had to have the courage to call me on my crap, but could do it without being condescending.  I needed a woman who needed me, but wasn’t needy.  As you can see, I built quite a list comprised of both internal and external qualities.  As I reviewed the list, I came to the realization that I had in fact made two (2) lists, Needs and Wants.  There were certain things the woman needed or had to have and there were things that I wanted.  I feel like this is where I had gone wrong in the past, every other time I made EVERYTHING a need and now I was beginning to see that they weren’t all needs.  So I did the needs list.  Everything on the needs list became the internal stuff, smart, faith walk (this was REALLY important), honest, call me out, caring, loving, etc.  I had ONE external quality, I needed to be attracted to her. Some people would say that this is a want, but I disagree.  I believe that you NEED to be attracted to your partner, because we are visual creatures, especially guys, but that it doesn’t end there.  External beauty is enhanced by internal beauty, not the other way around.  The rest of the original list went on the want list, eyes, boobs, smile, size…  One thing that I emphatically believe is that if any of the external qualities are on your Needs list a side from attraction, then you are setting yourself up for failure.  Your partner is never going to look great all the time.  They are going to have ugly moments just like you and it is during those times that the inside will be the attraction and if that isn’t there, then what is the point.

Having my lists in hand, I proceeded to decide how.  I am an introvert.  Even to this very day, Lindsey and I will go out with people that I don’t know and I will speak maybe 10 words the entire night.  Part of it stems from trust issues, part of it stems from fear.  So, for me, the choice was easy.  Internet here I come.  Now, while endorse the internet here, I will say I recommend only doing 1 or 2 sites at a time.  I don’t believe this is one of those times where you throw as many lines in the water as you can.  Lindsey did this and said she found herself overwhelmed and confused about who was where.  I did research and decided on eHarmony.  Why eHarmony you might ask?  Well I will tell you.  I knew what I was looking for, I wanted a wife and with eHarmony you do an extensive personality test, plus it was one of the most expensive.  I figured that those two things meant that only people who were seriously looking for spouses like I was would be on there and it wasn’t all based on looks, so no swiping left here.  Plus, since they had to take that test, there was some pretty serious vetting going on there.  I joined.  Took the test.  Uploaded my profile.  Had photos taken by a professional photographer, who is also a good friend.  And waited for my first round of potentials to come through.  I asked questions, I received questions.  I had a couple give me phone numbers to talk.  I talked to one for a month before asking her out and another for two weeks before she asked me out.  Both of these were complete disasters.  And then I came across Lindsey.  She didn’t answer my initial questions and original attempts, but she kept viewing my profile.  Finally, I just emailed and said that I wanted to get to know her more than what was in the profile.  She responded and by the end of the first day we were talking on the phone.  By the end of the first week, we had gone on our first date.  By the end of our first year we were engaged and married 4 months after that.

So what was it that made it all work?  Did she fit the list perfectly?  Was I just lucky?  As to the list question, no she did not fit everything on the Wants list.  I got butt instead of boobs.  She is a little bit heavier, but then again, so am I.  But the Needs list, she fit EVERY SINGLE ONE and then some.  And that is the key, I let go of some Wants to make sure I had the Needs.  Now is my wife beautiful?  You better believe it!  But it is just as much what is inside as what is outside.

But how did we get through it all?  Lindsey likes to call this my A to B.  I love it when people are all about where they are, but never tell you HOW they got there.  Lindsey and I got there because of one very simple, hard rule: EVERYTHING IS ON THE TABLE.  That means that we are honest with each other about everything.  It doesn’t matter if it is your favorite color or your stance on the abortion issue.  We are free to ask each other anything and tell each other anything while knowing the other is not going to judge or hold our answers against the other.  Do we always agree?  Are you kidding?  We went through 35 web pages of dishes before finding a pattern we both agreed on.  But where we do line up perfectly is the foundation, faith, love, honesty, here we agree always.  And injecting that into a dating environment is one of the most liberating and freeing things that you can do.  The pressure to be something you are not comes off, you are free to be yourself and are encouraged to be.  What this ultimately does is create a safe environment for everyone.  Girls, guys need the safe place just like you do and Guys, this is almost a must for every girl.

Dating is NOT about playing a game.  I know the game exists and I found out that I could play that game very well, but it never brought me fulfillment.  I was always left empty, but when I quit playing the game and was just myself and encouraged her to be herself, the world of possibilities opened up.  Does that mean that you won’t fight or argue, of course not.  Our biggest fight to date is because I called Lindsey out on something where I felt she wasn’t being herself and at the time she didn’t even realize it was happening.  But if you base everything on the Wants list and not the Needs list, you are going to be disappointed every time.  It might last for a little while, but in the end, it will come crashing down.

The final thing I will say is, really allow God to come into the date scene with you.  Allow Him to be a part of it, because He will encourage and assist you in ways you can never imagine.

Guys be brave.  Ladies you can help by being polite in your turn downs if that is the case at the time.  It takes a lot of courage to approach a woman if you are being yourself.  Ladies, remember that it not only falls on the guy to create the safe space, but you as well.  Showing respect to each other and allowing and encouraging everyone to be themselves can bring a fullness and an intimacy that is beyond the superficial.  And lastly, in everything we do, we should be honoring The Big Man Upstairs.

I hope this gives you some insight into what worked for Lindsey and I.  If you want more information, please feel free to contact us privately.

May the force be with you!!

The Grit Scale

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When I hear or read the word “grit”, I first think of John Wayne. For those of you who weren’t raised on a healthy cinema diet of old Bond movies, Westerns, and war movies, John Wayne defines grit. With a birth name of Marion Morrison, I guess he felt like he had a lot to prove. Wayne played the most rough-and-tumble characters in cinematic history, winning an Academy Award for the 1969 film “True Grit”. When I think of grit, or the characteristic ascribed to someone who is willing to push through all odds regardless of ability or what others think of them, I think of John Wayne.

Aspiring to be John Wayne is not exactly the easiest thing for a young Southern girl to do, though. I remember being drawn to The Duke’s devil-may-care attitude, and wanting to be as tough and resourceful as he was in any given situation. I started searching for women who embodied this same approach to life, and I found many: My paternal grandmother, my 7th grade teacher Mrs. Zehring, Anastasia Romanov, Bea Arthur, Scout Finch, Mary Poppins, The Little Match Girl, Angela Lansbury…and countless others.

So what is grit? According to Angela Duckworth, the academic-turned teacher-turned psychologist who wrote the new book Grit, it is this ferocious mix of passion and perseverance that some people have much of, some people have less of, and it drives us to pursue dreams and goals in spite of all odds. I have been reading Duckworth’s book and have become fascinated with all of the scientific research that describes, well, me. I’ve always known I possess an internal drive that has pushed me through life regardless of my circumstances. According to Mrs. Duckworth’s scale, I rank a 4.4 on the Grit Scale, putting me in the 90th percentile of the thousands of Americans who have also taken the same assessment.

I just thought I was “scrappy”, or at least that is the attribute I have ascribed to myself when people ask me why I do some of the things that I do and how I do them. I always just thought I had a high tolerance for pain, or a low-failure threshold, but it turns out that now this “grit” has been coined and is being marketed to companies, schools, organizations, infantries, and parents world wide.

Duckworth presents some outstanding research on developmental psychology, as well as the need for children to be encouraged to play before they can be expected to “succeed”. For the most part, I have really enjoyed this book and have learned a lot. My fear comes into play when I question the purpose of this, and other books sold in the “personal success” sections of bookstores around the world. Good and useful data can be dangerous in the wrong hands. I want people to know how much life functionality is affected by ambition, and how ambition is affected by poverty, and how we can eradicate and prevent poverty and “high risk” situations in our communities. At the same time, I fear another parents picking up another book so that they can now drill “you just need grit!” into their tiny minds so that they will work harder in school.

While I faced some hard things as a kid, and my parents were far from perfect, they did allow me to play. They encouraged me. They let me dream and create and break bones and explore new things and figure problems out on my own. They didn’t sit me down one day and say, “Look, Lindsey, you just need to develop grit.” They gave me the opportunity to develop my own skills, passions, and personality on my own without the stress of performance.

My hope is that, with each generation, we raise better parents who will raise creative, brave, empathetic, compassionate, intelligent, resourceful, generous children of all skill sets, walks of life, belief systems, and cultures who will bring the world together rather than keep tearing it apart.

Maybe that requires a high grit score, or maybe it just requires some courage and a little bit of empathy. After all, “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne