Ladies Day Out

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I am driving from the downtown area of Rockport when I suddenly decide to stop and sit a spell by the ocean. The day is perfect September, all blue sky and mild temperatures. It is low tide and the beach has lost the crowds of summer, leaving pristine sand and so much space. I easily find a bench to sit on and pull out my notebook and pen.

It is then that I begin to observe a group of ladies gathering at the beach. They come in a large group and they are every shape and size. They unpack beach bags and bring out books and suntan lotion. Older wrinkled bodies are revealed without embarrassment, just relaxed satisfied smiles and pure delight in their surroundings. They are short and tall with dyed hair and grey hair. They pull large caftans off of fat bodies and beach coverings off of thinner ones. Their bathing suits seem to perfectly reflect their personalities – the one with dyed hair made up to perfection with the loud Italian voice has a bright coral suit with splashes of white flowers adorning it. The one that struggles to walk has on a black suit with white piping, unremarkable in its style.

Their canvas, beach chairs face the ocean, their backs are to everything but the cool, blue sea. Because really – nothing else matters.

There are no kids. There are no husbands or boyfriends. Just a group of contented women, enjoying a perfect September day on a ladies day out. Their conversation is lost in the waves, but their laughter is loud.

“Look at us!” it says. “This is a day that asks us to leave all our troubles behind. It asks us to enter in with joy and abandon, to splash in a cold, late summer sea; to squint at a bright sun; to smell of coconut lotion and salt water.”

Not all days are like this. Many days require great patience, others require tears, still others ask for anger. But this day? This day says “Welcome! Feel the joy and sand. Feel God’s pleasure. Take it in. Let it revive you. Let it heal you. Let it sustain you!”

And then?

Then go out into this world with strength for what comes your way.

This group of women? They are seasoned and spiced with life. There are undoubtedly countless tragedies among them. Tragedies of broken relationships and marriages; tragedies of death and separation; tragedies of selfish choices and unkept promises – because this is our broken world.

But tragedies are not a part of today’s outing. No – today’s outing is suntan lotion to make them feel young again, ocean waves to cool wrinkled feet, laughter and joking over seagulls stealing sandwiches, and maybe – just maybe a little frozen rosé to sweeten a near-perfect day.

I sigh as I leave these ladies of a certain age. Unlike them, my responsibilities are calling hard today, and I have already ignored them to vicariously participate in this ladies day out. I am rapidly becoming one of these women, and one day soon I hope I too will gather at the ocean with all my friends. Our bodies will be exposed with lots of flaws and little embarrassment. Our laughter will echo across Front beach so all the neighbors will hear and envy us.

I will be the one in the coral suit.

This piece is for the two Carols, Karen, Amalia, Suzana, Leslianne, & Poppadia Paula – with so much love. 

A Life Overseas – Saint Photini: Missionary, Martyr, and Beloved One

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I’m at a A Life Overseas today! I would love it if you joined me there to talk about a story familiar to many. 


One of the best-known yet least known stories in the Gospel of John is about a woman known simply as the “Samaritan Woman.” The familiar story tells us that Jesus had left Judaea and was returning to Galilee. The trip took him through the region known as Samaria where, tired and thirsty, he sits down by a well. A Samaritan woman comes to the well in the middle of the day to get water.

Jesus, breaking every cultural rule possible, engages her and asks her for water.   As the conversation unfolds, we learn that this woman has a past. She is an outcast who comes to the well in the middle of the day instead of in the cool, early morning hours when the other women come. She has had many husbands, and who knows how all that came about. Plus, she is from Samaria and Samaritans and Jews did not mix. The Samaritan/Jewish conflict was centuries old and, like many old conflicts, it was likely people did not even know how it all began. Never one to be put off by a past, Jesus keeps the conversation going and finds the woman a willing, if a bit evasive, participant. From living water to husbands to the Resurrection, Jesus speaks to her heart and her conscience.

The story ends with the disciples coming. It turns out that they are none too pleased about a woman with a past speaking to their respected teacher. The woman leaves her water jar and runs back to the town. There she utters some of the most beautiful and terrifying words written in the Gospel: “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did!” 

For much of my life, that is all I knew about the story of the Samaritan woman. She had no name, just this one story. Despite the fact that Jesus wasn’t put off by her past, many Christians know her purely because she had a past.

Church tradition reveals much more about this extraordinary woman, and it is a beautiful picture of redemption, faith, and missions. The woman’s name is Photini, meaning “the enlightened one.” She was baptized at Pentecost, and went on to join this early Christian movement. Photini is considered a leader in the missionary movement, going to North Africa and preaching a message of love and redemption. While there, she had a dream that she should return to Rome and confront Nero. It didn’t go well, as was the case with most Christians and Emperor Nero.

Most of the accounts of Photini end with her martyrdom. She, who learned the true meaning of “living water”, died by being thrown into a dry well.

Photini knew what it was to encounter Jesus. Her heart had the ability to both hear and respond to truth. She knew what it was to be fully known, and fully loved. It was this that compelled her to tell others. It was this that was foundational to her faith. It was this that gave her a voice in that initial missionary movement that spread Christianity so long ago. In the Orthodox Church, Photini is not only known as a Saint, but also as equal to the Apostles.

Photini is not someone without a name. Photini is a beloved one

Join me at A Life Overseas for the rest of the article!

International Women’s Day 2018

Every year I write about International Women’s Day – the day set aside to honor women, to highlight the critical role they play in all of life. From nurturing life at its earliest stages to nurturing families, communities, and countries, women are critical to human survival. Not only do women change the world within homes and communities, but they also change the world in their workplaces. But there are still huge changes that need to happen so that women can not only survive, but thrive.

The very first International Women’s Day took place in New York City in 1909 on February 28th. In 1917, the Soviet Union declared March 8th a national holiday. It is interesting that the first countries to embrace International Women’s Day were socialist and communist countries. (That, my friends, is an observation, not an opinion.)

Though I believe implicitly in the importance of this day at every level, this year I find it more difficult to write about. I feel curiously uninspired and not a little discouraged. It seems that we can’t even agree on Women’s Day, let alone anything else. Sometimes we women are our own worst enemies.

As I was thinking about this, I decided that today I would highlight a project that I have been involved in this past year and introduce some of the unique women who have participated in the project.

Let me give you a little history: I began my job working for a state department of public health nine years ago. I began in a consultant role, and three months later I was hired as a full-time employee. The program I work for is a federally funded women’s health program that focuses on breast and cervical cancer screening in underserved communities. Two years after I started I began asking aloud if we might think about doing a project with the Muslim community in Massachusetts. It’s a big, diverse community and I believed we had a lot to learn about the community. Every year I brought it up. Like a record that is scratched and broken repeating the same thing over and over I would say “What about the foreign-born Muslim community? What can we learn in this community?

A year and a half ago, we received funding to do an assessment on attitudes toward breast and cervical cancer screening in the foreign-born Muslim community. I was over the moon.

We finished the assessment this fall, and our next steps are working side by side with the community and taking what we have learned to develop community and health provider trainings.

This project has been a gift. In an era where Muslims are seen as ‘other’ and therefore suspect, I have had the privilege of meeting with Muslim women from many parts of the world. All of them were born elsewhere and most came here as refugees. I have met doctors from Syria, Algeria, and Iran. I have met public health professionals. I have met housewives and many in the service industry. Every one of them has experienced untold loss, and many can never go back to their countries of origin; many cannot go home.

There’s Heba, a brilliant doctor from Syria. She has embraced this project and opened her heart. She is a gifted teacher and watching her speak to her community is amazing. Besides this, she has a new baby boy and a four-year old daughter.

There’s Afsaneh. Afsaneh is from Iran and she is also a doctor. She too has welcomed the project, leading dynamic focus groups so that we can learn from her community.

There’s Houria from Algeria; Saida and Naima from Somalia; and Annam from Pakistan. All of them have offered their unique perspective and stamp on the project. They are diverse in age, culture, and views of Islam, but all of them care deeply about their communities and their faith.

Those of us who are working on the project have been received into the broader Muslim community with uncommon generosity and grace, sharing meals and conversation, brainstorming sessions and ideas. Although we could easily have been viewed suspiciously, we weren’t. Instead we were welcomed with arms and hearts wide open.

And we have learned so much. Women shared honestly and openly about their views towards women’s health in particular, and the health care system in general.

I’ve learned a lot in this project, but one of the biggest things I keep coming back to is that change takes time. For me, being bold for change meant being persistent in my request for time and funds to do this project. Being bold for change means humbly going to a community and saying “I don’t know enough. Please help me understand more.” Being bold for change means going out of your comfort zone and hearing another point of view, another side of an issue. Being bold for change means building bridges that connect, not walls that divide. All of this takes time.

Today on International Women’s Day, I celebrate this project even as I remember the bigger picture that shows me so much more needs to be done. Happy International Women’s Day 2018 – All is not lost. 

Building bridges means moving beyond my enclave of cultural comfort to a place of cultural humility and willingness to learn.”*

____________________

*from Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging

Let’s Talk About Lack of Choice in the Workplace

 

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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

Daughter, Your Faith has Healed You – SheLovesMagazine

Readers, I would love it if you joined me today at SheLovesMagazine.com.  It is a privilege to be there and to introduce many of you to the writing over at SheLoves. SheLovesMagazine is “a global community of women–a Sisterhood–who want to know and experience freedom, justice and transformation, for ourselves and others.” The mission is clearly stated on their site.

Our mission is: To mobilize and empower women, so we may transform our world together.

This was largely the inspiration of Idelette Mcvicker who is an amazing person. So I would love for you to head there after reading the trailer below!

*****

Pakistan - Family

I grew up in Pakistan. As an only daughter in a house full of boys, my family treated me like a princess.

I loved Pakistan. Pakistan was my home, the place of my earliest memories. All of my firsts happened there. As I grew up, I learned more about my adopted land. I learned about the amazing and complex country of extremes. Pakistan has some of the highest and most beautiful mountain ranges, a reputation for being graciously hospitable, and arguably has the best food in the world.

And yet, women there are in difficult situations.

Throughout my childhood, I have met women who were strong and beloved, but were in some of the worst conditions imaginable.

I was 16 years old when I first encountered a woman with a fistula. I was volunteering at a women and children’s hospital in the southern area of the country. I remember opening the door to the hospital room and seeing a young woman sitting on her bed wearing a look of defeat and resignation on her face. The smell of urine was overwhelming and the fan that whirred above me did nothing to take away the smell. Read the rest here

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

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!

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

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“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)

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Where is the God of Deborah?

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“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/

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

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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!

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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)

No Wonder We Have Issues!

No Wonder we have issues! –a superficial exploration of this woman and her obsession with food! By Robynn

What’s with women and food?

crepes, foodWomen have a strange relationship with food. Maybe it’s not just women. Maybe
men have an odd entanglement with food too. But certainly women do. Traditionally men were the ones that killed the food and brought it home. And it seems to me that women have been in the kitchen ever since preparing it.

Is it any wonder that we have issues with food? Food is such a complicated thing.

We need food to survive. We need the nourishment that comes from the nutrients. We need the energy that comes from the calories.

In the west food is everywhere.  Advertisers appeal to our base appetites and instincts. They convince us that we deserve the most delectable treats. We’re worth it! We’re entitled to the tastiest morsels, the fanciest of feasts.  Food is sensual and supposedly satisfying.

And yet at the same time we’re served up such mixed messages.

The media tells us to diet, to become skinny, to lose weight. We’re trained to fixate on food and we’re taught to obsess on size. Supposedly we can have our cake and eat it too!

The plot and the waistline thicken when we consider all the roles food plays.

Food is a central part of celebration.

(Consider the Christmas dinner or the food at Eid; the sweets for Holi and the feast at Thanksgiving!) Food is also a reward. Side dishes of consolation are served up as comfort. Friends get together for meals. It’s part of our hospitality and included in our invitations. “Come over for dessert!”  Food is the subject of countless studies. (Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? What is the role of the family dinner in our children’s state assessment scores? ) Food and it’s production have become highly political subjects as well. High Fructose Corn Syrup sneaks into most things we eat. There are lobbyists in Washington making sure that doesn’t change! Meanwhile down the street Mrs Obama is planting a garden and encouraging us to eat better, more of this, less of that.

Food is nostalgia.

It’s childhood. It’s memories. For those of us who’ve been other places and come to love other foods it represents a deeper type of longing for a place faraway.

Boarding school further complicated my food issues. Food meant status (those who had special imported treats and those who didn’t). Food meant love and connection with home. Sharing our “feastings” was a way to share our families and the love of our families. Reunions always meant food. Mom cooked all of our favourites for each reunion. It was her way of welcoming us home. It was one of the languages she used to say, I missed you so very much. Pending separations were counted down with food. Three more days at home meant three more home cooked meals and another opportunity for mom to lavish love in three more meals of our favourites. The train trip back up to school included shoe boxes lined with wax paper and filled with food!

That travel food was prepared with tears and consumed by little brave travelers trying not to drench cinnamon buns and elephant ear pastries with more tears.

And yet now food becomes practical, and real and down to earth every day. I have to think about it. I have to plan for it. I have to go get it. I push my cart through the shop, load it up, empty it out at the check out, bag it, load it into the car, unload it into the house, put it away and then bring it out again, cut it, chop it, stir it, cook it and serve it!

Food is universal.

Everywhere, every day, we wake up and we think about food. This is true for the rich and for the poor; for the full and for the hungry.

There are those who are sick because of food and the power it wields. Those who eat too little or eat too much. Those trying to drown their souls in their stomaches. Those trying to hold on to a bit of control in a world wild with chaos.

But in a way I think I’m sick with food too. As my metabolism slows and the emotions of yesteryear begin to simmer up inside food somehow grounds me….or at least it pretends too. I realize my reasons for eating are as complex as the personality I’ve been given or the story I’ve been living.

I find food too oppressive. I’m weary of the obsession. I try not to weigh my emotions or my convictions about food as I stand on the scale, naked, vulnerable, weary.

I tried to give it all up for Lent….not food itself…but the longing and love of food. It’s not working.

But today, on International Day of the Woman, I will put aside the obsession and celebrate – celebrate that at the very least food does serve to connect me with women across the globe. Food ties our stories and struggles together. binds us tight with spices and tastes. And that I can and will celebrate.

Spice Your Monday With All the Wrinkled Ladies

I’m breaking away from my usual Monday morning contemplation and bringing you something with a bit more holiday spirit. In the United States today is a Federal Holiday – evidently we have a few dead presidents that had birthdays during these months and this is our way to celebrate them. I’m all for it if it means a 3-day weekend.

And in the spirit of the holiday I wanted to post a response to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl appearance. I’d venture very few women can relate to her super sexy over the top show – and I won’t even get into how oblivious the Super Bowl planners are to kids in the audience and parents who want their kids to have  a little G rated fun.

But the video below? I’m pretty sure you’ll love this parody of “All the Single Ladies” from Anita Renfroe. Take a look at “All the Wrinkled Ladies” and see what you think.

Guest Post – A Response to “Burqas for Babies”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs most readers of Communicating Across Boundaries know, since childhood I have known about  the veil, whether it be the burqa or hijab. Many of my Pakistani Muslim friends wore the burqa, and I watched the hijab grow in popularity during our years in Egypt. I often defend this practice, feeling like the eyes and judgement of the west would best be turned inward rather than being a voice of disapproval toward a practice they know little about.

It was with shock however that I read an article sent to me by a friend  on a recent fatwa (legal ruling) issued by a cleric in Saudi Arabia saying that babies should wear the face veil. ‘Burkas for Babies’ Saudi Cleric New Fatwa Causes Controversy

I immediately contacted one of my Muslim friends and asked her to guest post on her reaction to the article. This article is longer than usual but I urge you to read it – first off because many of you don’t know Muslims – you only know what you read in the newspapers or see on television. Second – I guarantee you will learn something and have a greater appreciation for a faith that may differ from your own.

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24:30 Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.
24:31 And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their………..
33:59 O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

These are verses from the Quran. To understand these verses, we have to understand pre- Islamic, Arab society in Mecca. Mecca was the place of pilgrimage for the pre-Islamic polytheists, and Arabs from all over came here to worship, making it a very rich city. The Meccans were an arrogant people. Women and the poor were treated with little respect. Though men had wives and families, prostitution was rife. The rich noblemen visited prostitutes and when a son was born, they drew straws to claim the paternity of the child. Most newborn daughters were buried alive and women did not have any status whatsoever.

Into this scenario, Islam brought modesty and respect for women. Pre marital sex and adultery became crimes. It also established the girl child’s right to live. People were not allowed to kill their female babies. Earlier the Polytheist Arabs used to bury their daughters alive in the burning desert sands, post Islam their daughters had status. They could accept or reject proposals. They could also inherit half the property their brothers inherited, (this is because the money a girl inherits, is hers to spend. No one including her husband and children have any right to it. Moreover, she also receives her meher from her husband and he has to support her financially in every way. The brother on the other hand has to give the meher to his wife, support her from his income despite any wealth she has, support his children, any unmarried sisters and his widowed mother.) Therefore what the daughter receives compared to the son is fair and just. Men twist it to mean that a woman is less than a man in Islam, which is not true.

Islam also gave great emphasis to certain character traits, which had to be compulsorily developed in any Muslim, man and woman. Chief among these were modesty, humility, generosity, kindness, justice, fortitude and patience.

Many verses were revealed about these qualities. The verses which obligate modesty are the ones above among others from the Quran Chapter 24:30,31

Verse 30 exhorts men to lower their gaze and Verse 31 says the same to women. The verse for women goes further though, as it tells women to cover their bosoms and not to show their beauty and ornaments except what appears ordinarily, except to the men who are their mahram (close relatives one is not permitted to marry).

Ayat 59 in chapter 33, regarding the covering, was revealed when some women complained to the prophet of eve-teasing. Muslims lived in a mixed society much as they do now and as such it was a dress code that said “I am a modest believing woman”. Also any Muslim man would recognise a Muslim woman and protect her. A Muslim is certainly not supposed to molest her or make unseemly comments or passes. Nor, as per the previous verse, is he supposed to look with desire or lust upon a non-Muslim woman much less molest her.

There are those who say that women get molested because of the way they dress, but in Islam you are only responsible for your behaviour. When the Quran has told Muslim men they have to lower their gaze, then they have to lower their gaze, irrespective of how any woman is dressed. They are only responsible for their own gaze, not for any woman’s dress or lack of.

Men cannot take one verse and force it upon women and disregard another verse which relates to themselves. Islam simply doesn’t work that way. For all Muslims these are Divine decrees and not following any is a sin.

There are disagreements between those who interpret the verses of the Quran regarding the prescribed covering of women; according to the majority, hands and faces are not to be covered, while some insist that the woman has to be covered from head to toe. Covering though, does begin only after puberty. Women of Abrahamic faiths used to wear a robe and cover their hair in a scarf for millenniums, much as Muslim women do today.

No society or religion though, has ever asked babies to be covered. It is disgusting that a society that professes itself as religious, should in anyway, be so degenerate that innocent little babies are not safe from their lustful and depraved thoughts and actions. Looking at babies with sexual desire is so reprehensible, nobody can ever condone it. What happened to modesty and lowering of one’s gaze? Personally, I believe very strongly in the hijab of the mind.

There are some questions I am asking myself? Does a baby go out on its own? No, of course not! A baby can only go out when it is accompanied by an adult, usually the mother. In this case, how does a baby, which is accompanied by someone close to it, get molested outside the house? So where has this baby been molested and by whom and if it is someone close to it, even someone who by every law is its protector, then how would covering it up, help?

The question of health too occurs to me. Lack of Vitamin D is very common in many countries among women who are either housebound or then cover themselves completely. How would the bones of a child develop if they were covered from head to toe when they were outside?  How would a growing child play and enjoy all the things that is a child’s right by the innocence of their nature, to enjoy? I follow my religion because it makes a lot of sense to me and when something goes against nature’s design, which I only think of as God’s Design and Plan, then it doesn’t make sense to me. Covering any human being up in a way that will deprive them of their nutritional and health needs doesn’t make sense to me.

Instead of bundling women and children and even babies, should not some way be found instead to control the lusts of men, which are not just uncontrolled, but crossing every limit of decency? Shouldn’t the protectors of faith see to it that the right teachings are received by Muslim men, so that as believing men such a thought doesn’t even enter their heads.

Instead of punishing women by pushing them behind burqas, even the Quran has not prescribed for them and punishing babies, why don’t these learned protectors of faith, find a way to teach the men who practice these pervert acts that go against the laws of God, Nature, and man the right religion?

The writer of this post is a poet, photographer, and contemplator of life. She blogs at Weaving Tapestries. 

Bearing Witness

English: The Witness Cairn The Witness Cairn.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about surviving these past weeks. The blind rage I have felt for victims who haven’t survived, the incredible respect I have for those that survive and enter into healing – they have occupied my mind, my heart.

And though I have never been raped or attacked, though I can’t begin to understand that deep agony of body and soul – I have learned one thing. When we bear witness to the stories of those who have experienced the wounds of rape and violence, we help in the healing process.

Conversely, when we dismiss them, we become part of the attack, part of the abuse.

When we hear people’s stories, when we are present through listening to events in their lives, we are bearing witness. Bearing witness to the moment that changed their lives. Bearing witness to why they have pain. Bearing witness to the deep struggles of the soul that come out in stories, not in facts.

Bearing witness means that we are showing by our existence that something is true. To listen to the survivor of rape and abuse without judgment but with love is saying to them – “I believe that this happened. I believe that you bear the cost”. To listen to the refugee with their story of losing home, family members, walking miles to safety, finally arriving at a crowded, disease-ridden camp is to validate their experience.

Bearing witness is more than just hearing the stories. It’s entering into stories. Entering in with body and soul. Entering in with empathy and kindness. It’s entering in, and in our entering offering hope and healing.

Bearing witness is a good phrase.

Whose story will you bear witness to this day? To a friend who has tried a hundred times to tell you of their pain, but you have dismissed them? To your child who longs to communicate something about who they are, but is afraid to tell you? To an old woman who once lit up a room with her dance step and her smile? To a paralyzed young man who is dismissed, ignored because he sits in a wheelchair? To an angry coworker?

Who has walked beside you as a witness to your stories, so that you can move forward with purpose and hope?

Blogger’s note: Might I suggest this excellent op-ed piece from the NY Times: After Being Raped, I Was Wounded – My Honor Wasn’t

Wrinkled Beauty

Female beggar at Haji Ali in Mumbai, wearing a...

She’s Wrinkled Beauty. It’s as though all the years multiplied on her face into wrinkles expressing and describing each year; the hard years defined by pain and tears, the good years adorned with smiles and laughter, the mundane years demonstrated by stubborn “I will not quits”.

As I age I recognize more and more that beauty is about life lived well. Beauty is about wrinkles born of love, wrinkles born of living through the pain and hard stuff. Beauty is about a mind that is ever inquiring. Beauty is about a face where a million stories live in the lines of the eyes and marks by the smile. Beauty is about a heart that knows how to love, how to forgive, how to live.  Beauty is about a faith that sustains and can be seen when looking at the eyes, reflections of the soul. Beauty is about wisdom.

Beauty must be earned. Earned through the wrinkles, earned through the years. 

Young women, with their fresh faces, perfect teeth, and ability to wear whatever they want may be pretty, stunning even…but beauty? Beauty must be earned.

And this wrinkled beauty? She’s earned it!

But I have to ask myself – if I truly believe she is wrinkled beauty – why do I spend so much money on face cream?