Let’s Talk About Lack of Choice in the Workplace

 

computer-nostalgia

This past week Brenda Barnes died. She was 64 years old.

You may not know much about Brenda Barnes, but she is an interesting role model for women looking at work choices. Brenda was the first CEO of PepsiCo. She broke the proverbial glass ceiling, but for her it wasn’t enough. After working as CEO for one year, she quit her job. Her reason? So she could spend more time with her family. Her decision made national headlines and anyone and everyone felt they had a right to comment on that decision.

On one side she was seen as a traitor of sorts — how dare she quit! Didn’t she realize that she owed it to all business women everywhere to stay in the job and do well?

On another side she was hailed as a hero — look at her! She gave it all up for the kids.

But this post isn’t about Brenda Barnes. This is about the lack of choice in the workplace in the United States of America.

Let me tell you why I think I have a right to talk about this: I have worked full time for the past 14 years while raising five children. Prior to that, I worked part time for 9 years (24 to 32 hours a week) so that we could put food on the table and gas in the car. Before that, I was a stay-at-home mom living overseas and navigating life in another culture. I’ve been in a place where I honestly didn’t know if we would have the money to make rent and fix our car to a place where I occasionally have extra and can help others. I’ve seen and done it all.

It is the year 2017, and I see just as much rigidity and lack of work-life balance as I did fourteen years ago. Maybe more so. Why are employers so non family friendly? Why do we have such poor working options for parents? Why is maternity leave a paltry three months if you’re lucky, leaving women crying in bathrooms as they attempt to pump breast milk for their three-month-old? Why do employers think more work can be completed in a cubicle, then in a home office? These are just a few of the many questions I ask all the time.

And so I pose a question: In the year 2017, why is it that the two most flexible jobs for women are as nurses and as teachers? This is assanine. Female engineers, chefs, software developers, public health professionals, and doctors (to name just a few) are married to rigid schedules and employers. Pitiful earned time policies and lack of options for women who want to work part time all add up and take their toll on families. In the eyes of employers, our children do not exist. They are neither seen nor heard.

If a woman does take time off to care for her children, it is extremely difficult for her to enter the workforce. The unsaid question is “What did you do all those years that was significant?”

Well, let me tell you what she did:

  • She managed a household and kept a budget, ensuring that her family did not go into debt.
  • She chaperoned hundreds of little kids on field trips, showing her amazing ability to organize.
  • She kept up with children’s extracurricular activities, hustling them back and forth from home to soccer to music to church and then back home.
  • She went to parent teacher organizations and organized plays and dinners for fund raisers.
  • She made sure that immunizations were up to date and kids had braces.
  • She answered to a world that asked her “what she did all day?”.

She could run an entire company single handedly, yet the interview team has the audacity to ask her what she did that was “significant”.

I’m telling you, when it comes to the lack of family friendly workplaces, we need a revolution. It is ridiculous.

So, what are my solutions?  I don’t have solutions, but I do have thoughts.

  • First of all, for god’s sake don’t condemn a woman for her work or home choices. I know how hard it is to make choices on work and home. Every April, I went into a panic thinking about the summer and what I would do in the summer. I got criticism from stay-at-home moms when I went back to work; and I got criticism from working moms when I stayed home. This is what fellow women do to each other and we can’t blame anyone but ourselves — we criticize each other. Remember the mean girls from high school? Well they never really go away. They just have different names and different clothes. They also get a lot meaner.
  • Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask a stay-at-home mom what she does all day. I repeat: Never.
  • If you are an employer or manager, please consider offering flexibility. Offer compressed work weeks; offer part time positions; offer job sharing; offer work from home. We are 2017! These should be no brainers.
  • Today’s working women: Fight for better maternity leave. Fight for better time off. Fight for more flexibility.
  • Figure out what works for you and guard your choice. If you choose to work, don’t assume that stay-at-home moms will always be there to help you. If you choose to stay at home or work part time, don’t whine about not going out to dinner as much as you want.

Lastly, always ask yourself the question “Who do I want to like me when I am 80?” I guarantee the answer will not be your employer. I look back all the time and think “I was so often in a hurry, rushing to get kids here or there. What did all that rushing get me?” A sore hip – that’s what it got me.

Brenda Barnes left an interesting and important legacy, one that I wish was talked about more frequently. Her daughter, Erin, was interviewed this past week by NPR and in the interview, she talked about being influenced by her mom to change her own profession. What did she pick? Nursing.

At Brenda’s funeral, her daughter thanked people for coming, saying “My mom would want me to tell you, ‘Don’t work too hard.'”*  Indeed. 

*https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/24/opinion/brenda-barness-wisdom-and-our-anti-parent-workplace.html?_r=0

On #InternationalDayofTolerance – Fight for Asia Bibi!

slide1

I’m angry. 

A Christian Pakistani woman is sentenced to death in Pakistan. Her crime? She is allegedly accused of insulting Islam after a group of Muslim women did not want her sharing the same water bowl as them. She offered them water and they refused stating it was “unclean.”

I wish this was hyperbole. I wish that I didn’t have to write this piece. But I’m angry. I’m angry that calls for tolerance don’t include the likes of Asia Bibi. I’m angry that Christians, Muslims, or non religious people who care about human rights are not standing up for this woman, insisting on her release. I’m angry that to date, very few people have signed the petition requesting her release.

Her life is clearly of no value to the United Nations, to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to Human Rights Watch international, and Amnesty International. This should be headline news every single day until she is released. This should not be allowed to happen. The last article I have seen on this from Amnesty International is from 2014. That’s ludicrous for a group that purports to care about human rights.

Asia Bibi has been in jail since 2009. That is seven years!  But obviously, her life as a woman, as a minority, and as a Christian is not something that people who generally fight for these things are willing to fight for. 

Today is the International Day of Tolerance – and yet I saw nothing about Asia Bibi. I saw a lot of rainbows, I saw hands held ad nauseum across the globe. But no one is speaking out for her.

My question is: Why? Why can’t the International Day of Tolerance include the likes of Asia Bibi? Why can’t the International Day of Tolerance look at the plight of Christian women throughout Pakistan?

They have no voice. They have no rights. There are many like Asia Bibi who day after day are discriminated against without anyone paying attention.

Christian friends – will you speak up?

Muslim friends – I will fight for you, and speak up for your rights any day, hour, or minute of the week in this country because it is the right thing to do. I care deeply for you and your community. You are my friends,neighbors, and colleagues. Will you speak up for Asia Bibi.

Other friends – will you speak up and sign a petition for a woman who has nothing and no one fighting for her?

Here is what I am going to ask you to do:

  1. Sign this petition
  2. Email others to sign the petition.
  3. Share this post

Here is the summary: 

Asia Bibi is a Christian wife and mother awaiting execution in a Pakistani prison. She was accused by Muslim coworkers of blasphemy. More than 150,000 Christians in Pakistan signed a petition protesting the injustice against Asia and other Christians in their nation. Now there’s a way for people around the world to add their voices to those Pakistani voices, through an online petition at http://www.CallForMercy.com.

I just signed the petition, and I hope that you’ll click on the link and sign as well. As of today, 702,760 people have signed. The goal is to have one million signatures to deliver to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC.

Please add your name and speak out on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Folks, this is 2016 and a woman is sentenced to death because of a poorly constructed blasphemy law. We can’t sit silent on this International Day of Tolerance. 

Blogger’s note: The bigger issue is the huge problem with the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan which has come under severe attack but nothing has yet been done to change it.

The Welcome Prayer

I have to admit I’m really struggling this week. I’m angry at some recent news from an organization close to my heart. I’m disgusted by the political situation in the country where I live. I’m horrified by the people that excuse sexual indecency and the language of predatory sexual assault. I’m embarrassed by those Christians in leadership that refuse to remove their blinders and truly see what’s happening.

Meanwhile racial imbalance continues to effect communities across this country. More Syrians fleeing their ravaged homeland have died this week in trying to escape. Much of Haiti’s infrastructure has been erased by fierce winds and waters. Over 800 people died in the wreckage. Thailand’s beloved King has died leaving thousands mourning and in uncertain transition. Yemen is still reeling from the double bomb attack at a funeral last week which left 140 people dead and over 500 injured. The situation in Kashmir is heated and precarious. The Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, once again on trail for blasphemy, has had her case adjourned for the time being with the threat of false accusation still hanging over her.

It’s too much. Never before have I been so tempted to cancel everything, stay in my pajamas, and curl up in my bed for a few days. I’m heart sick and worn out from it all. I want to make friends with denial and ignorance. I’m done.

I was awake early this morning working on a different blog post. It was an angry rant full of passion and fury. As I was madly pounding at my keyboard I realized that the piece had taken on a life of it’s own. The words were nearly typing themselves. Anger was colouring in ugly shades outside the lines of reason and wisdom. I pushed my chair away from my desk, poured myself another cup of coffee and paused.

Leanna Tankersley tucks into her very insightful book, Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding, a chapter entitled, Welcoming It All. In it she includes the Welcome Prayer as written by Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk:

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

Tankersley goes on to say, “I love these lines, this concept, this practice. The Welcoming Prayer takes us out of our heads and into a space where we stop, even for a very few minutes, our analyzing and figuring. We relinquish our strategies and allow God to work within us, in the place where we are far more malleable than our mind. We are opening ourselves up to a divine encounter which is never a bad idea.” (Leanna Tankersley, Brazen, 2016. pg 200).

Admittedly it’s a hard prayer to pray today. I don’t want to “let go of my desire for power or control.” I don’t want to “let go of my desire to change any situation.” I’m rattling at my chain for change and decency and solutions and justice. But, if I’m honest, the rattling isn’t doing my soul any good. I’m worked up and out of shape. I’m a mess. I’d love to escape and avoid and hide.

Even as I sip my now lukewarm coffee, I think there might be a meaningful way to separate myself from the mess of it all. It strikes me that there’s a profound difference between burying my head in the sand and lifting my eyes up to see above the muck. Both refuse to focus on the crud and horror of what’s happening. But one gives me permission to welcome what God is doing. Looking up allows me to make eye contact with a broader perspective and with Hope itself! If I look up I see above the landscape, I see the horizon, wide and eternal, stretching beyond what I now know, making way for what’s to come.

Perhaps today is a day to breath deeply: in and out. I need to remember what is true. I need to be faithful to what I cannot see. I need to call to mind the presence of Christ and the Living Hope that dwells in me. I need to make space inside to choose to welcome what God wants to do in me.

My husband Lowell often quotes from the novel, Brothers K, by David James Duncan. There’s a scene in the novel where an old baseball coach is advising a young batter, “He said there are two ways for a hitter to get the pitch he wants. The simplest way is not to want any pitch in particular. But the best way, he said—which sounds almost the same, but is really very different—is to want the very pitch you’re gonna get. Including the one you can handle. But also the one that’s going to strike you out looking. And even the one that’s maybe gonna bounce off your head.”

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today—even the pitch that’s going to strike me out, even the one that’s going to hit me in the head and knock me out— because I know weirdly enough it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions—including trying to sort out the world’s wounds. It’s not easy but I’m going to try to let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself and the anger and angst I feel when I can’t. Oh God please help me open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

 

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

This is my Body–A Repost

I’ve been thinking about the aging process and how it plays out in my body. And then I remembered this piece I wrote three years ago. I think it relates. It seems like we need to do the work of coming to grips with our limited capacities, our weariness, our weakness. This is (still) my body, breaking and broken. 

Though they may be out there, I have never met a woman who is not consumed with food, and body image.There are those who are clinically diagnosed with eating disorders but all of us are to some degree disordered in our relationship to food and to our bodies. It started, of course, in the garden with Eve and the fruit. It was food and it spoke to her. Granted the fruit didn’t actually talk, but her soul’s enemy spoke to her and the message was mixed in with the food. Temptation with a spiritual marinade, a dipping sauce, a glaze.  Ever since then we’ve battled burgers and burritos; biscuits and beans. Our fight with food has been handed down to us through a long line of mothers.

I am no exception. I’ve wrestled food since I hit puberty. It’s a love-hate relationship. I love to eat. I hate how food gathers and stays on my body. I love the taste and smells of food; the texture, the flavours. I hate the pull and power of food. My history with food includes unseemly weight gain with entering and reentering cultures, with culture shock and stress.

Lately my body has been out of whack. My metabolism is on strike. My ability to burn calories seems to be deterred by fatigue and hormonal changes. I’ve never loved exercising. I love people. I’ll go for a walk if a friend will go with me. But a walk just for a walk’s sake seems like a waste of time. I don’t enjoy it. Now I can hardly eat anything and the weight still seems to creep on. It’s depressing. It’s disheartening.

Last week I was praying again for grace in this…. I don’t want to obsess about it. I don’t want to become consumed with myself, with food, with my body or with my feelings about my body. I was trying to release all that again up to Jesus who understands about bodies. He chose to be bodied, to take on flesh, to become a person. He came for our souls and for our bodies. He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus healed diseased bodies, broken bodies, bleeding bodies. He touched bodies that no one else would touch. He associated with bodies that others avoided.

As I was praying for my body and my emotions about it…these words came to mind. “This is your body.” It seemed a divine pronouncement over me, over my agonies, over my physical frame. I repeated it slowly, out loud, “This is my body. This is my body.” I felt somehow it was a remedy for my conflicted distorted soul stuck in this conflicted distorted body. This is my body. I’ve been chewing this over and over. It keeps coming to mind. As the negative thoughts come, this thought has dropped like a sweet warm blanket to cover the ugliness of my beliefs. This is my body.

At the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends he tried again to explain to them that he was about to be executed, that he would die, that he would come back to life. It was a mystery to them. They couldn’t understand it. Using what was right in front of him (the food!), Jesus, picked up the bread, and he broke off a chunk. This was a metaphor they could figure out. It was the language of survival and comfort. It was memory and mystery. It was bread. “This is my body,” he said, “Broken for you. Take it. Eat it.”

Jesus wasn’t just giving them a cute expression, a fun phrase, or a clever speech. When Jesus says, “This is my body, broken for you,” it’s significant. His broken body—his sacrifice—has the capacity to redeem me. All of me. My body. My relationship with food. All of it. His body restores my body. He offers us his broken body for our consumption. We are invited to, “take and eat”. We consume Jesus and we are satisfied. That alone means something for my food issues and my body issues and my brokenness.

In that moment at that last meal when Jesus proclaimed, “This is my body, broken for you,” it makes me wonder if in some sense Jesus himself had to come to grips with his own body and its impending brokenness. He was about to endure the profound breaking of his own body. He leans into it and he accepts it. That has implications for me accepting my own body and my own brokenness.

This holy truth, with its layers and layers of implication and revelation, has been slowly seeping into my soul this week. This IS my body. It’s the body I’ve been given. It’s no surprise to my Creator that my metabolism is malfunctioning. He’s not shocked by my disdain for exercise. He’s not horrified by longings for a piece of cake or a handful of snack mix. He actually loves me completely. From the freckles on my arms to the hair that’s coming in grey and wiry; from my ingrown toenails to my one short thumb; from the ski-sloped nose to my varicose veins…all of it designed and delighted in by my Potter, my Maker.

And it’s broken. Broken because of the Fall. Broken in childbirth for my children. Broken in India for the sake of my calling. Broken in aging. Broken in natural deterioration. Broken here for my holy now. Broken for Jesus.

We follow in his example. We mimic our model. We saw him lay down his body for the sake of his friends and so we lay down our lives for the sake of ours. It’s our way of participating in the redemption of others. We give ourselves up. We give ourselves over. And we experience that brokenness for the sake of others. Our bodies become a type of sacrifice, living and holy.

Part of the mystery includes offering to Jesus our brokenness. Our Catholic brothers and sisters understand this. When they write about suffering some of the first words out of their mouth are almost always that we get to give our suffering as an offering to Jesus. There’s certainly no sense that Jesus takes and eats us. He doesn’t consume us or use us up.  But we do get to offer up our broken bodies to him, our broken and stale bread, our broken and moldy connection to food.

That is a spiritual reality made present and tangible in our physicality. Hurting, aching, bearing, enduring, suffering. All in our bodies. St Paul wrote that he was glad to suffer, for his friends, in his body…somehow he knew he was participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for Jesus’ body, the church. Paul understood that suffering bears fruit. He was “willing to endure anything” –and as preposterous as it sounds–he even considered it a privilege, a divine opportunity, if it would result in the rescue of another or in glory going to God.

This is my body, a holy temple filled with his Holy Spirit presence. Broken it may be. Damaged. Wounded. Lumpy. Chicken pock-marked. But there is a mystery at work in my members. And I give myself up to be consumed by others. I get to participate in that redemption-rescue mission work, where bread is broken and wine is poured.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)

(Col 1:24, 2 Tim 2:10, Phil 1:29)

International Women’s Day 2016 – Bringing All Voices to the Table

“What, Sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce.”

Mark Twain

Every year I write about International Women’s Day. This is the one day a year when the focus is solely on women and the issues that are most important to them.

In some ways I struggle with this day,  not because I don’t support women, but because I feel the focus is always too much on Western, white women. I don’t believe it is purposefully exclusive, but I believe that too often the deciding voices are those who are at a general advantage racially, economically, and socially. The voices speaking for women are privileged. Those voices do not include women of color, the poor, the refugee, or the disabled. 

Perhaps the best theme for International Women’s Day would be “Bringing ALL voices to the table.”  Because until we have all these voices, we have a false narrative.

The women that I meet in my work and in my traveling rarely know about International Women’s Day. They don’t necessarily worry about the themes of this day. They worry about their finances and kids. They often work two jobs to support their families. Many of them have grown old before their time, wearing the battle scars of daily life on their skin. These women are still worrying about food, security, and safety. Gender parity does not figure into the conversaton. Most of these women are marginalized by society because of the color of their skin or their life circumstances. But they know how to laugh and face each day.These women are examples of resilience and strength. They are women of worth, made in the image of God.

These women are true champions and they need a seat at the table. 

That’s what I think about today on this day set aside for women. I think about these women and I honor them. And with apologies to the planners of International Women’s Day, I’ll keep my own theme this year: “Bringing All Voices to the Table.” 

After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.

Mark Twain

Sharmeen Obaid and the Power of Story

Sharmeen_Obaid_Chinoy_World_Economic_Forum_2013

Watching the Oscars has long been a tradition in our family. When our kids were younger, an Oscar party was a yearly event. We would literally roll out a red carpet, serve fancy food, and dress up as characters from the year’s films. The kids invited their friends and we had ballots where we would attempt to guess the winners. Though always on a Sunday and thereby a school night, we always watched until the end when the year’s best film was announced.

Engaging with film and story is something everyone in our family loves to do. Perhaps it is no surprise that one of my children lives with his wife in Los Angeles and works in the industry.

Though we didn’t have a party last night, we did watch the Oscars and eat gorgeous, fancy food.

I’ll confess that I have not seen a lot of the films that were nominated so I felt a bit out of touch. But for me, the best part of the evening was when Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid won her second Oscar for the film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.” The film in the “documentary short” category is about “honor killings,” a practice that still goes on in the world today where a woman is killed so she will not dishonor her family. Tragically, many women die every year from this practice.

Her particular film was about a Pakistani woman, Saba Qaiser, who survived an attempted honor killing by her father and brother.

It was Sharmeen Obaid’s speech that had me cheering her on from my spectator spot on the couch. She used her 45 seconds in the best way possible by saying this:

This is what happens when determined women get together. From Saba, the woman in my film who remarkably survived an honor killing and shared her story, to Sheila Nevins and Lisa Heller from HBO, to Tina Brown, who supported me from day one. To the men who champion women, like Geof Bartz in my film, who’s edited the film, to Asad Faruqi, to my friend Ziad, who brought this film to the government.

To all the brave men out there, like my father and my husband, who push women to go to school and work, and who want a more just society for women.

She ended her speech by saying this:

This week the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.

There are so many things about this that I love. I love her emphasis on determined women, her recognition and honor of the woman in her story. I love that she praised the men who are a part of this, recognizing that men standing up for the rights of women is also an important part of changing a society. Most of all, I love that this film has the highest office in the country of Pakistan realizing the need for a law to change.

The well-told story of one woman changing the lives of millions. That is the power of story folks! 

I join the thousands around the globe who are cheering on Sharmeen Obaid and story tellers like her – story tellers who use their craft to create change.

[Photo source: Copyright by World Economic Forum.swiss-image.ch/Photo Sebastian Derungs, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 ]

The Urban Disadvantage – State of the World’s Mothers 2015

state of the worlds mothers 2Every year around Mother’s Day a report is released from Save the Children called the “State of the World’s Mothers.” And every year, I write about it.

Because it is so important to me. If I could spend all day every day with moms and babies, I would. There are so many reasons for this – but partly its because I have five of my own and I learned so much from those younger days. I know what helped and I definitely know what didn’t help. Healthy moms and babies are critical to a healthy world.

In the last 60 plus years, the number of city dwellers in the world has increased by over 20%, so that half the world’s population now lives in the city. While this creates incredible advantages for many of us, there are many others who live in extreme poverty where disease is prevalent, nutrition poor, and violence high. The World Health Organization (WHO)estimates that nearly a billion people live in urban slums, shantytowns, on sidewalks, under bridges, or along the railroad tracks.” One of the worst places in the world for a mom and a baby to be is in a city slum. 

state of the worlds mothersThis year’s report is on mothers in urban settings and is appropriately called “The Urban Disadvantage.” Here are some summary findings, taken directly from the report:

“Every day, 17,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Increasingly, these preventable deaths are occurring in city slums, where overcrowding and poor sanitation exist alongside skyscrapers and shopping malls. Lifesaving health care may be only a stone’s throw away, but the poorest mothers and children often cannot get the care they need.”

  • The world, especially the developing world, is becoming urbanized at a breathtaking pace. Virtually all future population growth in developing countries is expected to happen in cities, resulting in a greater share of child deaths taking place in urban areas.
  • In developing countries, the urban poor are often as bad as, or worse off than, the average rural family, and for many rural families, moving to the city may result in more – rather than less – hardship
  • Few countries have invested sufficiently in the infrastructure and systems, including water and sanitation, which are critical to addressing the basic health needs of the urban poor. More countries need to adopt universal health care as a national policy to help address the unmet needs of the urban poor.
  • While great progress has been made in reducing urban under-5 mortality around the world, inequality is worsening in too many cities.
  • The poorest children in almost every city face alarmingly high risks of death.
  • High child death rates in slums are rooted in disadvantage, deprivation and discrimination.
  • Malnutrition is the underlying cause of 45 percent of deaths of children under 5, leading to over 3 million deaths each year, 800,000 of which occur among newborn babies.
  • Among capital cities in high-income countries, Washington, DC has the highest infant death risk and great inequality. Save the Children examined infant mortality rates in 25 capital cities of wealthy countries and found that Washington, DC had the highest infant mortality rate at 6.6 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2013. While this rate is an all-time low for the District of Columbia, it is still 3 times the rates found in Tokyo and Stockholm.

Here’s the good news: We know what works! This is huge. Save the Children looked at six cities that, despite significant population growth, have made strides in saving children. Again, from the report:

The cities are: Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Cairo (Egypt), Manila (Philippines), Kampala (Uganda), Guatemala City (Guatemala) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia). These cities have achieved success through a variety of strategies to extend access to high impact services, strengthen health systems, lower costs, increase health awareness and make care more accessible to the poorest urban residents.  1) Better care for mothers and babies before, during and after childbirth; 2) Increased use of modern contraception to prevent or postpone pregnancy; and 3) Effective strategies to provide free or subsidized quality health services for the poor. 

The yearly report always ends with recommendations, and this year is no exception. As a public health nurse, I am always encouraged and discouraged about this report. On the one hand, the statistics are depressing and overwhelming. On the same hand, its all well for a group like Save the Children to talk about what needs to be done, but it is completely different convincing country, state, and city governments that money needs to be given to these efforts.

So where’s the good news? The good news is in places like Heartline Ministries in Haiti. I’ve never been there, but feel like I know two of the midwives who work with Heartline – Beth and Tara – through our email and online interaction. They are two of my “sheros.” Heartline’s mission statement is “Intentionally walking alongside the impoverished men, women, and children of Haiti during their life journeys, meeting critical physical, emotional, financial, educational, and most importantly spiritual needs.” Their maternity center exists to provide prenatal, labor and delivery, and postpartum care to women in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. If you want to know where your money is going to, and want to make a difference, I highly recommend this group. Connect with them on Facebook here.

And the other place I’ve written about before. Shikarpur Christian Hospital has met the needs of moms and babies for years with little recognition and a lot of perseverance. Pakistani and Western staff work hard to give great care to moms and babies in Shikarpur and surrounding areas.

In my public health heart, I know that for real and lasting change to happen, policies are needed at the highest levels. I know that some things are completely impossible without the support of local government. I know in my soul that for real and lasting change, hearts have to change. But while some may say these places are bandaids on a gushing wound, I would say that until we live in a perfect world, thank God for the people who are willing to put on bandaids.

Photo Credit – https://www.pinterest.com/pin/13370130120653125/

International Woman’s Day 2015 – “Make it Happen”

Today is International Woman’s Day. Yearly a day is set aside to honor women around the world, but also to bring attention to areas where changed needs to happen. This year the theme is broad and wide.

“Make it Happen” 

Is it sports? Bring more attention to women in sports and the amazing,strong women athletes. Open up the world of sports for girls all over the world.

Is it the arts? Encourage women in this area, stressing what women can bring to poetry, acting, visual arts, and music.

Is it leadership? How can women be encouraged to both take more leadership roles and empowered with help to be able to both care for a family and exercise leadership outside the home?

Is it medicine? Science? Business? Engineering? Financial independence? In each area there is opportunity for growth and change.

And I agree with all those. But none of those things can happen without women feeling safer and stronger.

It’s like the International Women’s Day planners have skipped over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They’ve gone to the top – self actualization, when so many women in the world today have not even reached first two bars of the hierarchy: physiological and safety. If a woman doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from, it’s highly unlikely that she’ll be looking to start her own business. If a woman fears her community or her home, she will not be able to create, to learn, to grow.

In Iraq, Yezidi women have been systematically targeted by ISIS, kidnapped and taken from their families and communities. In Syria women flee over the border trying to escape the chaos and violence of their home country. In India women fight against rape culture and the distorted views of women. I could mention hundreds of other situations where anything like sports, art, leadership is far from the minds of the women who wake up every day to a reality I can’t even imagine.

So yes – let’s make it happen! Let’s make safety happen. Let’s make food security happen. Let’s make clean water availability happen. Let’s make security of body and mind happen.

Let’s make International Women’s Day not about a privileged few, but about the marginalized majority!

Women in Hebron by Stefanie Sevim Gardner

My daughter Stefanie returned from a 3-week study trip to Israel and Palestine this past Monday. We have delighted in her stories, oohing and ahhing over her pictures, and in general vicariously taking part in this amazing trip. Today she has given me permission to use an essay she wrote for her team. May you enjoy this piece as you travel with her to Hebron, a place where people like Layla daily face the realities of occupation. Please feel free to interact with Stef through the comments. 

Hebron - Stef with LaylaWomen in Hebron by Stefanie Sevim Gardner

On any given day, the winding alleys in the city of Hebron are full of shopkeepers selling scarves, spices, and everything in between. The colors, smells, and sounds keep your senses busy. There is so much beauty and life to soak up. One shop in particular doesn’t catch your eye at first glance, but the story behind the shop is unforgettable. The shop owner’s name is Layla Hasan. She is Muslim, a mother and a grandmother, and she happens to be the only female shop owner in Hebron.

Layla works with Women in Hebron, a non-profit that employs a few hundred women through the production of handcrafted goods. Women in Hebron’s website says the following: “Our work is based on the idea that developing Palestinian handicrafts is more than just an income-generating project. It is in of itself an act of community-strengthening, of honoring the role of women in our society, and a means to show sumud – steadfastness – in the face of the occupation of Palestine and the harm it has done to the people of Hebron.”

Our group spent the day in Hebron and saw this quote personified through Layla and the life she has created. Layla led us to her home, made of old stone that kept us cool from the Middle East heat. We sat on intricately designed cushions that lined the room as she served us a home cooked meal made of rice, chicken, cauliflower, and potato. With each empty serving, Layla would come over and pile our plates with double the amount that we had already consumed, insisting that we continue eating. She sat and talked with us as her granddaughters snuck peeks through the doorway and laid their heads on her lap.

Hebron - Layla's home

Layla’s genuine Arab hospitality came through serving us food and tea as well as entertaining us with laughter and good conversation. Layla told us about her family. Her daughters live in nearby villages and her sons are in jail for attempting to work in Israel proper, because finding jobs locally can be difficult. She told us that her father and husband never approved of her working, preferring her to remain a homemaker. Layla defied their expectations, however. In jest she quoted to us a phrase that is embroidered on hand purses in her shop: “Men can do something. Women can do anything.” Though laughter accompanied this statement, it is one that holds true to her life. Layla said it is not easy to be the only female shop owner nor is it easy to work when the prominent male figures in her life do not want her to do so.

Layla helps provide life and prosperity for the women she employs, despite the fact that the odds are against her in a male-dominated society. Layla doesn’t brag or boast, but happily speaks about her life and shares her stories to those who will listen. Every day, she works in her shop and carries out the mission of Women of Hebron: to provide a place for community strengthening where the role of women is honored and represented. Despite the tumultuous state of Hebron, Layla brings hope to her community, and as the hand purses that she creates assert, no matter what odds are against them, “Women can do anything.”  

Hebron - This is Palestine

To read more about this organization and the work they do head to Women in Hebron: A Palestinian Women’s Embroidery Cooperative. Also stay tuned for more photographs from Stef in a future post.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 28 “On Mother Susan and Popadia Paula”

20140504-162225.jpg

“That Mother Susan is really wise.” We had arrived back home after Divine Liturgy and the welcome “post-fasting” coffee hour, designed to be substantial since we fast before communion. My husband burst out laughing. “She’s not Mother Susan” he said. “She’s Popadia Susan.”

Once again I find myself traveling into the land where I forget titles, where I sit at the wrong times, where I finally get up the courage to go to the front and venerate icons only to have a deacon pop out of nowhere and look at me over a sensor with an “I am on a mission and you are in my way!” Will I ever get this right? Probably not, but at least I no longer go into crisis mode and immediately dismiss this ancient faith simply because I don’t like the way I feel during these times.

But back to Mother Susan. In the Orthodox church for the most part priests have wives. Not only do they have wives but the role is respected and honored as such. They are called different things depending on the jurisdiction — khouria in Arabic; presbytera in Greek; and in the Russian Orthodox Church they are even called “matushka .”little mother.”
One person described them as having wonderful titles with no real job description

Four years ago I would occasionally visit the church that we now regularly attend, the community that has walked with us these past two years. I visited as a complete outsider, ill at ease and out of sorts. I froze when greeting Father Patrick or Father Michael, both of whom communicate well and make all feel welcome. I sat on the sidelines, an observer – alone and foreign.

I would console myself that I was used to sitting on the sidelines, alone and foreign. But I still wasn’t okay with it. There was a piece of me that desperately wanted this Orthodox faith to work for me – but I wouldn’t admit it.

As I observed from the sidelines I watched the women of the church and I was fascinated. There were young women of college age, women with young children or newly married, middle-aged women, older women, and old women. They were from Bulgaria and Romania, Russia and the Ukraine, Greece and the United States. They were dark-haired and blonde haired, some with head coverings, some without. Some in long skirts and some in shorter skirts.

The interactions were multicultural and multigenerational. It was common to see older women pick up little children to comfort them, regardless of who they belonged to. I watched young women seek advice and comfort from older women, talking earnestly together with heads bent forward. In the churches I had attended I was used to a far more fragmented system where young marrieds were in one place, young moms in another, empty nesters were usually traveling, and older women set to the side.

Two women stood out and it was clear that they were seen as leaders. But their leadership was winsome and drew people in. They laughed a lot and sometimes talked during liturgy – something that attracted me immediately.

After some time I found out that these were the priests wives – Popadia Paula and Popadia Susan (the one I had mistakenly referred to as “mother”). I was fascinated by their engagement with the church. It didn’t come in the form of leading Bible studies or playing the piano, a non-existent instrument in the Orthodox Church. Instead they seemed to function as unofficial mentors. They seemed to know every woman, man, and child in the church by name. They had a security and confidence that was refreshing and admirable. I couldn’t put my finger on why I was attracted to this.

And so I watched them. For about a year I didn’t have many conversations with either woman. I just observed. But what I saw reminded me of the women that surrounded me while growing up in Pakistan. They were women with a solid security not based on an agenda created by the broader culture that surrounded them. They knew who they were before God and it translated into a confidence in all they did. The women who surrounded me while growing up were Dr. Mary and Auntie Hannah, Auntie Phyllis and Auntie Bettie, Auntie Connie and my mom. Some were single, others were married; some were doctors, others were nurses; some were teachers, others were linguists. But all were strong in who they were. They did not let either American or Pakistani culture dictate who they should be and what they should care about, instead they knew who they were before God. In short they knew what a woman was worth – that as women they were understood by God, called by God, most of all beloved by God.

And that’s what I saw in Mother Susan and Popadia Paula, no matter what their titles.

As time has gone on I have gotten to know both these women a bit better, a gift during this time in my life. Popadia Paula has walked beside me as my sponsor during the months of preparation before getting baptized. In that role she also stood with me during our marriage ceremony. I have found that these priests wives are fun and strong, they are wise and sensitive, they are imperfect and know their flaws. They are moms and mentors, sisters and sinners. They are and will always be Mother Susan and Popadia Paula.*

*Pronunciation is (PO pa DEE ya)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Where is the God of Deborah?

silhouette-march on quote

“Where was the God of Deborah? Deborah, whose words ‘March on, my soul; Be strong!’ echoed God’s affirmation of the strength and leadership of women. Where was the God of Hagar? Hagar, who was cast out in a desert as hot as the one where I stood, certain she would die only to be met by the living God and living water. Where was the God of Mary? Mary, who was greeted with the words, ‘The Lord is with you,’ words unmistakable in their promise. My soul ached with the absence of God; the woman’s eyes mirrored the vacancy I felt.” from What a Woman is Worth Civitas Press 2014 “Relentless Pursuit” page 87.*

The story was in Dawn newspaper, published yesterday. The title hid nothing and I didn’t want to read the article. “Woman Stoned to Death Outside Lahore High Court”.

I clutched my stomach, nauseated and feeling weak. An honor killing outside the High Court in Lahore; a 25 year-old woman stoned to death, large bricks picked up and thrown at her until she was pronounced dead at the hospital. Her family? They were included in the group of attackers stating they had a right to do this, she had shamed the family name.

And I weep at this injustice, this gross misunderstanding of honor and shame, this tragic and polluted view of women. A distorted theology, an incorrect belief. Cultural views are not all benign. Some are plain wrong. There is no excuse for this atrocity. Neither is there an excuse for the atrocities of rape on college campuses in Ivy league schools with people who have no cultural view of honor and shame. Or the gang rapes resulting in death in India. All are wrong. All are sinful. All should be condemned. There are too many events like this in our world and the heart of evil and sin is like a killer weed that takes over and covers everything in its path. And we who are on the outside should do all we can to support women and men on the inside who do care, who do look for change. 

And I wonder – Where is the God of Deborah? Where is the God who fights, who goes before us? And I wonder – Where is the God of Hagar? Where was he with this woman? And I wonder – Where is the God of Mary, the God-bearer? The blessed Theotokos?

But he is here. He is with the women around the world who fight against this every, single day at great cost. Those who stand up for justice and fight for human rights and dignity; those who are in the business of rescue and advocacy. They are the Deborahs of our world. They are the ones who march on. They are the ones who give of their time, their talent, their love to make a difference.

Where is the God of Deborah? He is with Myra Lal Din – a Pakistani woman with a dream to change the status of education for girls in Pakistan. Myra attended the same school that I did in Pakistan. When she was 13 the school was attacked by fundamentalist terrorists and she relocated to Thailand to finish her education. She recognizes that most girls in Pakistan are not so lucky. And so she longs to make a difference. She says this: “Through my work with young children, I discovered that I felt called to use education to try to bring real, lasting change to the kinds of opportunities that are available for young women in my own country. I want to make sure that every woman in Pakistan has an opportunity to experience the kind of life-changing education I did without having to escape to another country to do it.” 

Where is the God of Deborah? He is at a women and children’s hospital in Shikarpur, Sindh where primarily Pakistani staff work daily to meet the health care needs of the community, offering living hope, living water in the desert.

Where is the God of Deborah? He is with us as we take a stand against injustice even as we reel with nausea from the horror of these acts of violence.

Where is the God of Deborah? He is still here. He is still present. He is still at work. This I must believe. This I do believe.

“I would never stop believing that worth could be restored by a relentless pursuit, an unstoppable love, and the words “Go in peace and be free from your suffering.” from What a Woman is Worth Civitas Press 2014 “Relentless Pursuit” page 88.*

Blogger’s Note: If you would like to learn more about Myra LalDin’s important work take a look here “Help me bring real and lasting change to girls in Pakistan through education.” You can also take a look at this video – I guarantee it will be worth your time! http://vimeo.com/93046290 and her website is here: http://www.edu4pak.org/

Another group to note is the Aurat Foundation, “a civil society organisation committed to work for women’s empowerment and citizens’ participation in governance for creating a socially just, democratic and humane society in Pakistan.” (Aurat is the Urdu word for woman.)

*The quotes are taken from my essay “Relentless Pursuit” published this April in What a Woman is Worth. 

picture credit:http://pixabay.com/en/silhouette-woman-door-light-shadow-68957/

Enhanced by Zemanta

Interview with Tamara Lunardo – Editor of What a Woman is Worth

What a woman is worth picture

On April 1st the book What a Woman is Worth was released. Today I’m excited to introduce you to editor and writer Tamára Lunardo. In today’s post she talks about birthing the book, weaving her own story throughout and what she hopes readers will take away from What a Woman is Worth. Read more about Tamára at the end of the post. 

 

1.  How would you describe the book What a Woman is Worth? It’s a diverse and unified gathering of women’s voices to challenge and inspire people’s understanding of the value of women and girls.

2. How did you get the idea for the book? The responses I got from people who read my blog post “What’s a Girl Worth?” made me realize that I wasn’t alone in my hurts and questions of worth– so many others were struggling too. So I wanted to create something that would say to the world, “Women and girls need to hear a better story of themselves.” 

3. Your story is the common thread that weaves these diverse essays together–can you tell us a bit of what this was like for you? It really messed me up in terrible and necessary and beautiful ways. I thought I was going to just put together other people’s stories and that would be that– very sanitary. I’m a professional.

But the thing is, when you allow someone else’s story to get into your heart, you come face to face with your own– heart and story. So it delayed production for about a year because my story began to change as I acknowledged and interacted with it. And it was far from sanitary– it was messy, because that’s how hearts are, and our stories are our hearts. So now a lot of that developed story is woven into this book. And a lot of it will become a book of its own.

4. What do you hope women who read the book will learn or gain? I hope they will see that they’re not alone in their experiences, questions, or hurts and that who they are is intrinsically, unshakably valuable.

5. How about men– why might it be important for men to read WAWIW? The book has a female perspective on a universal issue because that’s where I come from. But I don’t think we have to have the same perspectives to learn from each other’s stories; in fact, we often learn more from those who see from a different vantage point.So this book is important for men, first, because the question of worth is one that every human is faced with and, second, because they have so much power in the world to make it better for everyone. I want them to see how women get such wrong messages about their worth, and I want men to step up and take part in sending better messages.

6. As a writer what’s next for you? I told my awesome agent, Rachelle, about the journey my life has taken throughout this book process– the frightening self-discovery, the painful divorce, the upending yet comforting of God’s good voice, the surprising, beautiful new life ahead. And she said that it’s a story I have to write because other people need to know what I’ve learned, which is that you only get to meet with God when you show up as your real self.

7. Any last thoughts about WAWIW to leave with readers? It’s terrifying to become vulnerable in front of the world. And I want you to know that the 30 women, plus me, who dared to shared their most personal stories could only have done it for a damn good reason. That reason is you.

We would love to hear from you! Leave any questions about the book or thoughts in the comments.

Want a copy of What a Woman is Worth

Order a paperback on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/p2z7hrsOrder a Kindle version on Amazon: http://tinyurl.com/qdrqywv

Tamara thumbnailAbout the Author: Known for her disarming honesty and humor, Tamára is the editor of What a Woman Is Worth, a monthly contributor to A Deeper Story, an award-winning, syndicated blogger, an essayist appearing in several anthologies, and a copywriter for a large, child-focused anti-hunger organization.She holds a degree in English from the University of Florida, and her five kids, when they let her; she almost never holds her tongue.

Enhanced by Zemanta

What a Woman is Worth – Buy Your Copy Today!

Two years ago I sent off an essay to a woman I only knew from blogging – Tamára Lunardo. I sent it off with shaking fingers, afraid of rejection, knowing I was an ‘unknown’.

Tamára had written a blog post that resonated with hundreds of readers. The post asked this question: Have you ever struggled to believe what you’re worth when God and the world disagree? The responses came from the hearts and souls of woman with an overwhelming “Yes!” “Yes – I’ve struggled to believe I have worth” “Yes – I’ve struggled to believe I am okay, I am worthy, I am beloved.” 

And from that one blog post, a book has emerged. A book called What a Woman is Worth. It is a set of 30 essays, woven together by Tamára Lunardo to create a tapestry of truth. In it Tamára offers up “an invitation to discover alongside [me] what a woman is worth.”

The book is divided into five sections:

  • Part 1: Am I Loved? Stories of Relationship
  • Part 2: Am I Broken? Stories of Abuse and Healing
  • Part 3: Am I Visible? Stories of Society and Culture
  • Part 4: Am I Good Enough? Stories of Expectations and Pressures
  • Part 5: Am I Whole? Stories of Faith

And yes – my essay was accepted. It is called “Relentless Pursuit” and sits on page 85. And I am grateful and proud in what I hope is a good way – because I think this work is important. Because every day in a million ways the world can shout that as women we are not worthy; But our Creator God whispers “Yes You Are! I died for you! I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

So this book is an important work, a work that shouts to the world we are loved, we are visible, we are good enough, we are whole. See what the primary author and editor says about the book here.

You can purchase the book at Amazon or head to the publisher Civitas Press or head to Tamára’s blog. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview on Communicating Across Boundaries with the Editor! 

Read what others have to say about What a Woman is Worth.

“A powerful, moving read, What a Woman is Worth brings together an all-star cast of today’s best storytellers to tackle some of the biggest, most complicated questions of the heart with unusual bravery and grace. The writing is sharp, funny, colorful, and raw, and the diversity of perspectives represented in this collection brings womanhood–in all its contradictions and shades–to life. It’s a celebration of what we all have in common, and it’s beautiful.” Rachel Held Evans, author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“The question of our worth lies at the root of so many things that hold us back in shame, fear, or doubt. This book is a brave ‘I’ll go first,’ inspiring all who read it to take important steps forward into freedom.” – Kristen Howerton, Professor of Psychology, Vanguard University, and author of RageAgainsttheMinivan.com

“What a Woman is Worth is a powerful collection of voices finding their home. Through words, these women link arms and make the powerful statement that our worth will be found in the whispering of our stories. The time for silence is over, and Lunardo does a beautiful job collecting and guiding these voices into song.” – Elora Ramirez, author of Every Shattered Thing

“A must-read for any parent concerned about how girls receive, internalize, and manifest the myriad subtle familial and societal messages about a woman’s worth.” – Cymande Baxter-Rogers, ARNP

“What a Woman is Worth is an engaging series of essays. Challenging, convicting, and artfully rendered, the collection of voices offers not only unique perspectives on what it is to be a woman but also how different women come to terms with defining womanhood — for themselves and for others. Sometimes humorous, often clever, this series is a tapestry of lived experience.” – Preston Yancey, author of Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again (Zondervan)

“Powerful, compelling, and sometimes heartbreaking, What a Woman is Worth reminded me of the destructive narrative often force-fed to women in our culture. I came away with a renewed determination to help my wife and two daughters remember where their true value lies.” – Shawn Smucker, author of Refuse To Drown

Enhanced by Zemanta

International Women’s Day 2014 – “Remember the Ladies!”

Today is International Women’s Day – a day set aside worldwide to “Remember the Ladies.” The theme this year is “Inspiring Change – for greater awareness of women’s equality” and today we celebrate – we celebrate the economic, social and educational achievements of women even as we remember – we have a long way to go! 

I wrote the following post 3 years ago, just 2 months after I began blogging. I re-post it today to celebrate women worldwide! 

…in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation.” Abigail Adams‘ letter to her husband john Adams, March 31, 1776

A fitting quote for International Women’s Day with the resounding cry “Remember the Ladies!”.  Its time to pause, take a look at history and celebrate Women. Thousands of events around the globe will be held for the sole purpose of inspiring women and celebrating women’s achievements. It has been 103 years since the first International Women’s Day celebration held in 1911.  World-wide, women and men are gathering for events to honor this day.

In the myriad of blogs, online news articles and other media stories you will find much news on the day and the issue of women – work for women, equality, fair wages, childcare, places to breastfeed without feeling like you’re committing an indecent act and more. But the story I want to relay is a story you won’t hear in mainstream media sources and as I think of the purpose of International Women’s Day, I think on this women as a picture of persistence, entrepreneurship and hope. She is a symbol of someone who inspires change. 

*****************

Day two of flood relief in Pakistan saw us at a Baloch village. Maybe it was because it was day two and the excitement was now coupled with exhaustion and recognition of how limited our skills were within our current context, but everything felt a bit more difficult. As we were packing up after a busy morning of multiple cases of malaria and malnutrition a woman arrived at the village where we had set up camp. She was accompanied by two other women and after walking over a mile in one hundred degree heat approached the men in our group unafraid to voice the need at her village. “We’re just a short distance away! Why can’t you come to our village?” She was indignant as she looked around and said”We have needs there too!” And so we went. The coldest of hearts could not have refused her persuasive words and our hearts were warm.

Arriving at the village it was a whirlwind camp set up, a quick plea for triage from the doctor, and patients, accompanied by diagnosis and treatment papers, quickly seen and sent off with the right medications. In the midst of this we learned the story of our strong woman friend. She was a widow with eight children. She was a seamstress and proudly sewed for her family and others in the village. Her livelihood had been severely compromised by loss of her sewing machine during the flood. Her story was compelling and her spirit did not call for sympathy or pity, rather it called for partnership.

And we were the ones who knew the need, had the resources and could be partners in moving her back to a place of economic freedom where she could continue her work, her parenting, and her contribution to the village. Our team leader along with the Marwari men, the organizers of all our work, located the perfect sewing machine in the Shikarpur bazaar. It was not electric so could be used despite the frequent power outages and it was shiny, bright and perfect for our entrepreneur.  The sewing machine was purchased and the task was now to find the time during our schedule to return to the village.

The perfect time came as we discussed what to do during our last day in Pakistan. We knew the work of running another medical clinic and felt it was not possible. The decision was made to return to this village with a plan to do some teaching of basic public health, relay some stories of faith in the midst of tragedy and top it off with mithai (Pakistani sweets) and delivery of the sewing machine.

I’ll never forget the corporate joy expressed both visibly and verbally by the entire village. Our lovely lady could not rip open the plastic protective covering fast enough. There it was. Shiny and perfect. A symbol of restoration, hope and resourcefulness.

The last memory we carried with us was the woman dancing, the machine balanced perfectly on her head with her smile radiating from her heart to her face, accompanied by men, women and children in the village.

Women worldwide don’t need pity but we all need partnerships and some could sure use a sewing machine,so today ‘Remember the Ladies!’

I’m celebrating Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day by blogging for the #WomenInspire Campaignsponsored by USC’s masters degree in social work program. Join the blog carnival to honor a woman who has inspired you!

women's day badge

Enhanced by Zemanta

Face Transplants, Domestic Violence, & Identity

In September of last year I wrote a post about meeting the mother of Carmen Tarleton in Thetford, Vermont. I relayed how while in line for a barbecue on a holiday weekend we began talking and she shared with me the story of her daughter. Her daughter was a victim of a vicious domestic violence attack. Her ex-husband assaulted her one night and after beating her senseless, sprayed industrial strength lye all over her body.

I wrote these words:

“I learned what living hell on earth was” said the mom, shaking her head.Her voice trailed off  “But I also learned what Heaven was. Seeing her walk through the door when she came home from the hospital? That was Heaven.” I looked at her and had nothing to say. All I could think was how little I understand of the resilience of the human spirit – that spirit that reflects the image of God.

Into this unimaginable story of living through abuse, living through the healing and scars of burns that cover your entire body, living through the moment by moment nightmare that is survival, comes a will and a strength that can’t be stopped. Blind, disfigured in a way that makes people recoil, but facing this with courage and resilience. This is the wild grace and spirit of God. from In a Few Short Moments

*************************

On Valentine’s day this past year, Carmen Tarleton received a new face. She underwent a transplant surgery that was 15 hours long and is now one of the few people worldwide who have had face transplants. It was, and continues to be, an enormous risk — but Carmen was taking on this face for good reason. The residual effects of the attack included scars that caused much pain, inability to blink, and inability to express emotions because of the scar tissue.  A face transplant is not only a physical procedure, but one that is deeply personal and psychological.  For better or worse, our faces are uniquely ‘us’. We have had them since we were in the womb. To take on the face of another, even though in Carmen’s case this is a gift, is to think about the heart of where our identity lies.

I felt many emotions as I read the follow-up of Carmen’s ongoing journey. Emotions about strength, about love, about resilience. But perhaps the most significant is what I felt, indeed feel, about identity. Because Carmen has not ceased being who she is with a new face, she still has the same personality, the same wit, the same disposition. The core of her, the part that matters, is still unique to her.

And this is the part that her abuser couldn’t touch. He wanted to “steal, kill, and destroy” – but she lived. She defied what he wanted, what he tried to do.

October is Domestic Violence month. Unfortunately it has to vie with the pink of breast cancer to make the headlines, so it often ends up on the back page when it should scream from the front page of every journal, every paper, every magazine.

My heart hurts when I read the statistics on this issue. One in Three women, yes 1 out of 3, one-third, have experienced some form of domestic violence from someone they are intimate with. Behind every statistic is a real person, a real story. This is control and manipulation masquerading as ‘love’ – the worst kind of betrayal. The profound impact of these statistics shows in many ways beyond bruises or scars – headaches, difficulty sleeping, chronic pain, and emotional pain to name a few. But the biggest impact is on the sense of self — for abusers never honor the word ‘no’, the word ‘stop’, the words ‘you’re hurting me.’.

Domestic Violence crosses all class, religious, and cultural boundaries. Make no mistake, you could on any given Sunday be sitting in church next to a friend who is being abused. And this can be the hardest – because what good, believing woman wants to accuse her man of abuse? And so she cries soundlessly late into the night, praying for strength to confront her abuser or to leave the relationship.

Yet Carmen’s case shows that the abuser doesn’t have to win, doesn’t get to win.

The heart of where our identity lies is deep within our skin. Others may curse the outside, hurt it, betray it, but ultimately we don’t have to let them win. We may dress the outside, paint it, primp it, and dye it, but our identity is our core. You can paint mean all you want — it’s still mean. You can primp insecure – it’s still insecure. All of us have to face our true identity and it goes way beyond the surface.

Beyond Carmen’s new face lies a strength and a will that make her a true hero. She’s learned to live with stares in grocery stores, with disfigurement that to most of us feels unthinkable, with constant pain and daily therapy. But she no longer lives with an abuser, she no longer has the daily trauma of someone trying to rob her of self.

Face Transplants. Domestic violence. Abuse. All this would try to take away Imago Dei, would rob the victim of who she is created to be. But the strength of this image lives; lives in a true identity through strength,resilience, and love. It’s the wild grace of God. 

Survivors

  • Telling you that you can never do anything right
  • Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away
  • Keeping you or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members
  • Embarrassing or shaming you with put-downs
  • Controlling every penny spent in the household
  • Taking your money or refusing to give you money for expenses
  • Looking at you or acting in ways that scare you
  • Controlling who you see, where you go, or what you do
  • Preventing you from making your own decisions
  • Destroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets

This is My Body

This is My Body by Robynn

Though they may be out there, I have never met a woman who is not consumed with food, and body image. There are those who are clinically diagnosed with eating disorders but all of us are to some degree disordered in our relationship to food and to our bodies. It started, of course, in the garden with Eve and the fruit. It was food and it spoke to her. Granted the fruit didn’t actually talk, but her soul’s enemy spoke to her and the message was mixed in with the food. Temptation with a spiritual marinade, a dipping sauce, a glaze.  Ever since then we’ve battled burgers and burritos; biscuits and beans. Our fight with food has been handed down to us through a long line of mothers.

I am no exception. I’ve wrestled food since I hit puberty. It’s a love-hate relationship. I love to eat. I hate how food gathers and stays on my body. I love the taste and smells of food; the texture, the flavours. I hate the pull and power of food. My history with food includes unseemly weight gain with entering and reentering cultures, with culture shock and stress.

Lately my body has been out of whack. My metabolism is on strike. My ability to burn calories seems to be deterred by fatigue and hormonal changes. I’ve never loved exercising. I love people. I’ll go for a walk if a friend will go with me. But a walk just for a walk’s sake seems like a waste of time. I don’t enjoy it. Now I can hardly eat anything and the weight still seems to creep on. It’s depressing. It’s disheartening.

Last week I was praying again for grace in this…. I don’t want to obsess about it. I don’t want to become consumed with myself, with food, with my body or with my feelings about my body. I was trying to release all that again up to Jesus who understands about bodies. He chose to be bodied, to take on flesh, to become a person. He came for our souls and for our bodies. He healed the lame, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. Jesus healed diseased bodies, broken bodies, bleeding bodies. He touched bodies that no one else would touch. He associated with bodies that others avoided.

As I was praying for my body and my emotions about it…these words came to mind. “This is your body.” It seemed a divine pronouncement over me, over my agonies, over my physical frame. I repeated it slowly, out loud, “This is my body. This is my body.” I felt somehow it was a remedy for my conflicted distorted soul stuck in this conflicted distorted body. This is my body. I’ve been chewing this over and over. It keeps coming to mind. As the negative thoughts come, this thought has dropped like a sweet warm blanket to cover the ugliness of my beliefs. This is my body.

At the last meal that Jesus shared with his friends he tried again to explain to them that he was about to be executed, that he would die, that he would come back to life. It was a mystery to them. They couldn’t understand it. Using what was right in front of him (the food!), Jesus, picked up the bread, and he broke off a chunk. This was a metaphor they could figure out. It was the language of survival and comfort. It was memory and mystery. It was bread. “This is my body,” he said, “Broken for you. Take it. Eat it.”

Jesus wasn’t just giving them a cute expression, a fun phrase, or a clever speech. When Jesus says, “This is my body, broken for you,” it’s significant. His broken body—his sacrifice—has the capacity to redeem me. All of me. My body. My relationship with food. All of it. His body restores my body. He offers us his broken body for our consumption. We are invited to, “take and eat”. We consume Jesus and we are satisfied. That alone means something for my food issues and my body issues and my brokenness.

In that moment at that last meal when Jesus proclaimed, “This is my body, broken for you,” it makes me wonder if in some sense Jesus himself had to come to grips with his own body and its impending brokenness. He was about to endure the profound breaking of his own body. He leans into it and he accepts it. That has implications for me accepting my own body and my own brokenness.

This holy truth, with its layers and layers of implication and revelation, has been slowly seeping into my soul this week. This IS my body. It’s the body I’ve been given. It’s no surprise to my Creator that my metabolism is malfunctioning. He’s not shocked by my disdain for exercise. He’s not horrified by longings for a piece of cake or a handful of snack mix. He actually loves me completely. From the freckles on my arms to the hair that’s coming in grey and wiry; from my ingrown toenails to my one short thumb; from the ski-sloped nose to my varicose veins…all of it designed and delighted in by my Potter, my Maker.

And it’s broken. Broken because of the Fall. Broken in childbirth for my children. Broken in India for the sake of my calling. Broken in aging. Broken in natural deterioration. Broken here for my holy now. Broken for Jesus.

We follow in his example. We mimic our model. We saw him lay down his body for the sake of his friends and so we lay down our lives for the sake of ours. It’s our way of participating in the redemption of others. We give ourselves up. We give ourselves over. And we experience that brokenness for the sake of others. Our bodies become a type of sacrifice, living and holy.

Part of the mystery includes offering to Jesus our brokenness. Our Catholic brothers and sisters understand this. When they write about suffering some of the first words out of their mouth are almost always that we get to give our suffering as an offering to Jesus. There’s certainly no sense that Jesus takes and eats us. He doesn’t consume us or use us up.  But we do get to offer up our broken bodies to him, our broken and stale bread, our broken and moldy connection to food.

That is a spiritual reality made present and tangible in our physicality. Hurting, aching, bearing, enduring, suffering. All in our bodies. St Paul wrote that he was glad to suffer, for his friends, in his body…somehow he knew he was participating in the sufferings of Christ that continue for Jesus’ body, the church. Paul understood that suffering bears fruit. He was “willing to endure anything” –and as preposterous as it sounds–he even considered it a privilege, a divine opportunity, if it would result in the rescue of another or in glory going to God.

This is my body, a holy temple filled with his Holy Spirit presence. Broken it may be. Damaged. Wounded. Lumpy. Chicken pock-marked. But there is a mystery at work in my members. And I give myself up to be consumed by others. I get to participate in that redemption-rescue mission work, where bread is broken and wine is poured.

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)

(Col 1:24, 2 Tim 2:10, Phil 1:29)

Broken Made Stronger

Today’s post is written by Brooke Sulahian. Brooke and I have never met, but every time I receive an email from her I stop and read it. Because Brooke has a passion and a mission: to see women who are suffering with fistula healed and whole. She began an organization called Hope for our Sisters, Inc. with a mission statement that is simple and enormous:

“Changing the lives of women, one woman at a time”

I hope this post by Brooke brings you both hope and a challenge. In fact, i would love for this post to generate funding for one more surgery! just $450.00 to give hope! You can read more about Hope for Our Sisters, Inc. by going to the website.

My heart broke in Angola, but it was not Angola itself. Abject poverty, lack of sanitation, and poor medical care options abound. However, Angolans display pride in late-night celebrations and the care invested in each basket made and produce sold. The paradox of pride and joy midst sadness and need.

My heart broke anew when I dove deeper into the realities of fistula, a medical condition caused by obstructed labor and/or trauma leaving women incontinent, resulting in isolation from family, friends and society, lack of dignity, and loss of hope. Lives destroyed.

My door was open. My first trip to Africa. I dreamt of this journey since reading about fistula in 2010. Friends and family supported me with prayers and financial aid. Yet, constant questions took residence in my mind.

Why was I going to Angola? I’m not a doctor. I don’t speak Portuguese. I am simply a wife and mom who said, “Yes”, when called to speak out for our sisters with fistula. Was that enough? Through God, Hope for Our Sisters, Inc., (HFOS), had been fruitful, but I still had questions. In the end, I went.

I traveled with three HFOS team members (Kristen and Paul Coats, Jean Campbell) to visit the Evangelical Medical Center (CEML) in Lubango and bush hospital in Kalukembe, where we fund fistula surgery. We hoped to meet fistula patients to enable us to more effectively raise awareness, help others find healing, and work to prevent this horrific condition. God surprised us as we met fifteen precious fistula patients! Through Audrey Henderson, nurse, fistula advocate and interpreter, we respectfully captured their stories through pictures and video.

Another surprise awaited us as Dr. Steve Foster invited us to watch fistula surgery. Ana* was first to the operating room. Filled with fear in a new environment and unable to speak Portuguese, what amazing courage it took for her to come to CEML. At 20, having lost her first child during labor, Ana* longed for healing from fistula. Joy replaced her fear as she took this brave step towards restoration.

Celia* developed a fistula after her sixth pregnancy. In December 2012, at 29, abandoned by her husband and damaged by fistula, she left her three children with family to travel all day to the hospital. As Celia* awaits healing at the Patient Village, she displays amazing resilience; smiling, laughing, and teasing with fellow fistula patients, living as one victorious.

Luisa*, 32, stays at the Patient Village of the state hospital in Kalukembe, the one remaining former missionary hospital of the 150 before Angola’s civil war. Abandoned by her husband in 2009 after developing fistula and losing her child, Luisa* arrived in December of 2010. After nine unsuccessful fistula surgeries, she remains hopeful. Successive surgeries often decrease the chances of healing, but Dr. Foster recently helped a patient become dry after eleven surgeries. There is hope. Luisa* and fellow fistula patient, Joaquina*, have become each other’s “family” as they await healing.

As for me, I returned with a broken heart. A cost we must all be willing to pay when pursuing justice and healing. An incredibly minor cost in comparison to that paid by those robbed by injustice, but a true cost nonetheless. However, it can make us stronger.

I return to America with greater passion as we continue to raise awareness of fistula. Since these sisters cannot afford to pay for surgery, HFOS’s donors and supporters enable us to fund free fistula surgeries. For less than the cost of a new iPhone ($450), the life of a woman or girl suffering from fistula can be physically restored, paving the way for social, emotional and spiritual healing.

160 fistula surgeries funded…many lives restored…more to come…

*Names have been changed to protect these sisters who so openly shared with us.

Brooke F. Sulahian is the President and Co-Founder of Hope for Our Sisters, Inc. For more information about Hope for Our Sisters, Inc., or fistula, please go to the website at hopeforoursisters.org or visit the Hope for Our Sisters, Inc. page on Facebook.