Wednesday, 6 November 2013

I am a Jesus Feminist because of places of plenty.

Growing up in Anglican, Baptist and Pentecostal churches, women popped up in positions of leadership frequently.  The Sunday Schools I attended were run by women, who were incredible, and to whom I owe a lot in all kinds of ways, but women were not confined solely to the leadership of children.  No, I remember female curates, female vicars, female missionaries, female elders speaking, teaching, preaching from the front.  Perhaps not as frequently as their male counterparts, but they were a visible presence when I was a child, and I never heard mention of this being strange or rare or wrong.

My oldest friends are those I made at Secondary school - we banded together aged eleven, an unlikely group of girls, nicknamed the Weirdos (or, Weirdoz, cos it was the '90s).  We had fights, we fell out, but we always made up (eventually), and we had each other's backs.  We shared secrets, like most girls, but what strikes me when I look back now is how much we trusted each other with our identities as they were forming.  We all dreamed different dreams, but our differences did not divide us - we did not feel any need to be the same as one another on the inside or the outside.  I was one of the quiet ones, but my friends could be loud, outspoken, rebellious, controversial.  They were not ashamed to be who they were, they did not let people tell them who (or what) they should be, and their defiance made me less afraid.  I am so proud to be their friends today, this bunch of women who are just as wonderful as they ever were, just as feisty, just as strong.  And just as diverse: within the seven of us, we include a consultant, an astrophysicist, a vicar, an analyst, a manager, a biochemist, an economist, a mother, wives, girlfriends, mentors, a church leader, an artist, a youth minister, a couple of world-travellers, a musician, a vegan (and several lapsed vegetarians).  I say this not to boast (I'm well aware of how that may read!), but because I am so incredibly thankful that I got to grow up with these women, and because, clich├ęd as it sounds, them being them allowed me to be me.

In my twenties I started to attend a teeny tiny church in North London, and it is this church that, eight and a half years later, I'm about to leave.  It is here that I found family for the first time within church.  It is here where I have grown to inhabit my faith more than any other community.  It is here I met my husband, here we got married, here we had our first child (well, we had him in the hospital, but you know what I mean).  It is here where I've laughed and sung and bellowed 'happy birthday' a million times; where I've wept and cursed and mourned; where I've served countless cups of teas, laid hands on people dear to me in prayer, witnessed miracles and wonders, spoken in tongues, found peace, experienced healing, met with God.  And it is also here that I first spoke from the front and discovered a love for teaching - and did not even consider that it might be something unusual or different or untoward or just plain wrong, because this church has a history of women in leadership roles, and because no one - at all - indicated that it might be a big deal.

But in my twenties I also encountered some places of scarcity.  I discovered the the Christian Union would not invite women to teach in case this caused offence to members of denominations that taught it to be wrong.  I met a visiting missionary/prophet who, when introduced to me amongst a bunch of people at church, did not say hello, or engage with me as he had with the men in the group, but instead remarked to his neighbour that there sure were some pretty girls at this church, before moving on to the next person (I did not take this as a compliment).  I spoke to a confused friend who'd joined a vibrant church, a church which served and loved and wept over the community, and yet refused to allow women to have authority to speak.  I began to read blogs, and discovered women fighting for opportunities to serve in church, opportunities to use their God-given gifts, and being denied, turned away, even threatened with hell.

I am so thankful for my places of plenty, but I suppose it took my encounters with scarcity to truly make me realise how fortunate I am, and to truly declare myself a Jesus Feminist.  And I declare this not because I need to in my current community, because there I'm pretty sure we're all Jesus Feminists, so why say it?

No, I declare it because I am growing more aware that not everyone gets to be somewhere where this is taken for granted.  I say it to stand with the women and men across the world who believe that women have voices and gifts and character and blessings that must be shared because just as men can be gifted with such things, well, shockingly, so can women.  I declare it because it hurts my heart to think of women who feel trapped or confined or rejected or not good enough because people will not look beyond their gender.

And I declare it with a thankful heart for all the women and men who fought for my places of plenty, and I declare it because I long to create more such places, to spread the plenty further.

Today I'm linking up with Sarah Bessey, celebrating the launch of her book, Jesus Feminist.

Friday, 26 July 2013

On reading, writing and church (with a baby)

After my last post, I realised I'd forgotten a few key things about life with Button, things which could fall under the umbrella 'stuff that keeps me sane', as opposed to things we do together, namely: reading, writing, church.

These are things I've done consistently throughout my life so far, more consistently than any other thing (since I could read, I've always had at least one book on the go; I've kept journals since I was ten or eleven; I've been going to church since, umm, birth), and things that give me refuge.

It's tricky, with a baby, doing anything consistently.  And in the first month or so, all of these pretty much ceased as I got to know my new son, and got to grips with being a mother.  Which was a shock, particularly the lack of reading.  But now things have settled a little and aren't quite so overwhelming, I'm finding ways to do these three things, because I've realised how much they mean to my peace of mind.

I've had to mourn the long hours I could spend with my nose in a book, and accept that in choosing to have Button, that's a very fair trade off.  But I'm learning that if we go out I should always bring a book, as there's likely to be some point where he'll sleep and I'll find myself on my own, even if just for five or ten minutes.  And now that Button is sleeping better, I have a little time to myself when I go to bed, instead of collapsing and passing out, and this is perfect for reading a chapter and winding down from the day.

Books I've enjoyed since Button was born are all non-fiction, which is really unusual for me, although mostly memoirs or memoir-style books, which is less surprising since I'm nosy and like hearing stories.  So far I've read: Love Does, by Bob Goff; A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans; Carry on, Warrior by Glennon Melton.  And I'm currently working my way through Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran; Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, by Lois Tverberg; and Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott.

I'm pleased that I've managed to keep writing, as I was determined to keep a journal of Button's first year, and it's going pretty well so far.  I also vent in my regular journal, the journal I spill my guts into, the journal I hope no-one ever reads.  Blog-writing comes low down on this writing pecking order, as it requires more thought and time, so if Button naps at home, it's either one of my handwritten notebooks I'm likely to reach for.

And church.  We took a break from church when Button was first born, partly to give me a chance to recover and rest, and partly to give Button a chance to develop a bit of an immune system.  I was relieved to have a break, but I also missed my little church family like crazy.  Attending a service is something that helps keep me sane - no matter how I'm feeling about God or life, whether I'm hopeful or scared or happy or apathetic, committing to be in a space where we're called to focus on worship is such a valuable discipline for me.  It's good for me to be reminded to put myself aside and focus on Someone a whole lot bigger.

Church with a baby is different, especially when your baby is the only baby in a church of 15 people.  I'm more distracted with Button, even when he's asleep, always keeping one eye on what he's doing, checking he's okay.  But, I love being there with him, holding him as I sing (trying not to sing right into his ear), jiggling him about on my lap, walking him around as people speak.  And this family love him so much!  If ever I do need to rest my arms (he's getting big now), there's always someone who'd love to take him and have a little cuddle, someone who'd like to try to make him smile, someone to keep an eye on him.

I suppose the thing I'm learning with these three things is that they all take a little more thought and discipline than they ever did before Button.  It's easy to waste time faffing about online when Button sleeps and there are Sundays when I really can't be bothered with the rigmarole of getting us ready to go out.  But I'm learning that they are all worth doing as they all help me recharge, so I fight to make sure they're part of my week.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

A letter

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Psalm 139:13-14

Dear body,

We've not always got on too well, you and I.  Over our years together, there have been shots taken by both sides.

I've felt let down by you, when dizziness strikes, seemingly from nowhere; when adrenaline races and I crumple in panic; when food is not digested well; when I struggle to find energy and stamina; when tall heights make me sway; when my eyesight gets that bit poorer.  Over time, all of things things have led me to seek control, or to hold back - ultimately, to have little trust in you.

But I am not blameless.  I have not always treated you kindly.  I have spoken ill of you.  I have compared you unfavourably with others - forgetting that there can be no comparison in all of our uniqueness.  I have harmed you, physically, in my desire to control.  I have placed unfair expectations on you, all kinds of pressures.  And then I've criticised and scorned and backed away when you've failed to meet them.

My dear body, I am sorry.  In all your so called 'weakness', you have helped me develop strength of character.  You have helped me persevere.  You have helped me appreciate the wonderful good health that I experience for the majority of the time.  And even in hard moments, dizzy moments or anxious moments, we find a way through.  Sometimes I feel like you hold me back - but really, when I look at my life and the things I've been able to accomplish, the things I've been able to enjoy, nothing could be further from the truth.  Sure, some things have been a little tougher than they might have been - but really, there are few things that I've longed to do that you've kept me from.

My dear body, I am sorry.  For all the times I have spoken or thought ill of you.  For all of the times I placed unreasonable expectations on you, and then detached myself even more when you failed to measure up.  For all the times I hurt you, whether it be by mistrust, or control, or harm.  For all the times I fail to appreciate all the wonderful things you do each day without me even realising.

My dear body, I am so thankful for you.  I really am.  I am thankful for you as you are - and of course I still seek healing for those areas of 'weakness'.  But even if they were never to heal or mend or lessen, I could still rejoice and be thankful.  You are a gift to me.  You enable me to experience so much good!  Whether in the day to day actions of living, to bigger adventures, I have so little to complain about!

My dear body, I am particularly thankful for this pregnancy.  For what it has done for our relationship.  I've done so little - you have stepped up and grown and developed and carried this little person.  And all I've been able to do is sit back and watch in awe.  Sure, there have been tricky moments, but we've weathered them together, and I've been learning to give you as much grace as I can muster - and found that we meet each other in the gracious places.  And, my eyes have opened to how beautiful you are!  How ironic, that when I'm at my heaviest, my curviest, bursting at the seams of my regular wardrobe, I feel so comfortable in my own skin, so free, so unapologetic for how you look, so proud in fact, of what you have become.

My dear body, as I await for you to deliver my little boy, I've noticed some of the old patterns emerge.  The expectations.  The mistrust.  The fear.  Because there is little I can do to make this next bit happen - I have to wait, to be patient, to trust that you know what you're doing.  And that frightens me - I want to know!!  And when I can't, my mind goes to those dark places that say that you'll fail me, that you'll let me down, that you won't cope.  Well, my dear body, those are lies.  Because no matter how this next bit goes - whether you spring into action on your own or whether you need a little (or a lot of) help, you cannot let me down. We're in this together, and I am determined to be your cheering squad rather than your enemy.

My dear body, please bear with me.  I am still learning, and years estrangement are tricky to overcome.  There will be times when I react in fear, or when I seek to control, or when I think or speak ill of you.  Please be patient, because I am trying, I truly am.

With love and thankfulness and hope.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

In which Charlie Brooker describes the inner workings of my mind

It can be hard to explain what it's like to be an emetophobe (someone with an irrational fear of vomiting).  After all, no one likes to vomit (well, maybe a small, specialised group).  Trying to communicate that it's not just that you dislike it, but that you actively are terrified of it and would do pretty much anything to avoid it and that it can dominate your life and your thoughts - which is annoying when it's the last thing you actually want to think about - is a bit tricky.

Last year, I went through a course of CBT to address my emetophobia.  I not entirely cured - but I am much better than I was.  I gained some perspective, and made more progress than I ever could have imagined in terms of exposure to the thing that terrifies me (I won't go into details about what exposure entails, except to say that no, I didn't have to make myself ill, and if you are interested, contact me and I'll tell you all about it!).

This time of year is always tricky for emetophobes like me.  Winter can become synonymous with norovirus.  This year, ironically considering it's my first after therapy, seems to be a bumper year - the media is going crazy detailing the extent of the outbreak - and I have to admit, it really does freak me out, and I can feel the old terror grasping hold each day.*

Thankfully, I am not alone.  Or rather, I'm not thankful - it would be nice if no one was freaked out by it.  But I am weirdly reassured, because, once again, Charlie Brooker, awesome writer and fellow emetophobe, has written something which entirely communicates what it is to be phobic during an outbreak.  I read along, nodding my head and giggling at just how ridiculous but also how accurate his description is.

So, if you are curious, you can read along here.  If you are not curious, you should still read along, because he is incredibly funny, and hey you might also find it amusing to discover what crazy strategies we employ in order to cope.  Enjoy.

*Writing this blog is actually a form of exposure for me.  One of the ways the fear manifests for me is that even though I worry pretty consistently about vomiting, I am terrified that if I externalise these thoughts, somehow that will make it happen.  So up yours vomiting - here are my thoughts for all to see!

Thursday, 3 January 2013


One of my projects during the Christmas break was to go through the storage boxes under the stairs in an attempt to clear out, de-clutter, and generally make some space for all the shizzle we'll need to store once the wee one arrives.

I did quite well, considering my tendency towards hoarding and my ability to let nostalgia derail any attempts to clear out: I got rid of one box worth of stuff.  Which doesn't sound like much, but we're talking big, reinforced storage boxes here, so it was enough for me.

But still.  I have a lot of stuff.  Some of it is antiquey/vintagey stuff, given my by parents/friends/relatives over the years.  Some of it is stuff I'm saving for my kids (old school jigsaws, kids books, toys and the like).  However, the vast majority can only be described as an archive of my life.

As the husband pointed out, if ever someone wants to do a research project on what it's like to grow up as a middle-class, white, English, hugely introspective girl around the late 20th, early 21st century - well, it's all here.  All my journals.  Photos.  Mementos from holidays, trips, visits, childhood in general.  Selected (see - I did clear out!) school work, from Primary through to University.  Certificates (mainly ballet, though there is a cycling proficiency one in there somewhere!).  Posters, gig tickets, festival wristbands.  Notes on post-its written by my flatmates.  Take your pick, it's all in there.

But probably the biggest portion of my saved past (or at least, big enough to rival the journal collection) is the vast volume of letters I've received.  If you've ever written me a letter, chances are, it's saved somewhere in a storage box.  I must confess, I was taken aback by just how many there were: from holiday postcards, to birthday cards, to long, rambly updates - the majority hand-written.  My first year at University yielded a gigantic pile - I must've received something in the post nearly every day!

I say this not to brag, but because as I sorted through everything (there's no great order to my archive except  to group by year), I realised that I'm never likely to amass such a stash in the future.  Everything is online now.  Every now and then I'll exchange a hand-written letter with a friend, but mostly, we write emails.

When I was a student, I didn't have a laptop.  My Uni email address was my first proper email address, and while I had access to email via the library or my kind flatmates, often it was just easier to get out my notepaper and write to my friends.  And I think too, most of my family and friends knew that I'd been dreading going off to University, fearing the huge wrench from home.  As it turns out, I loved it pretty much straight away, but I reckon a contributing factor to the volume of post that first year is because those who know me, know that to me words are like hugs, and that I'd likely be in need of many many hugs that first year.

So I decided to keep the lot, for now at least, because they have become a genuine artifact of a era gone by.  (And that definitely reassures the husband.  Although he is trying to convince me to move my journal-writing online too.  Never!!).  And one day, when I have time on my hands, I'll look back through my 'archives' and relish the letters: the handwriting, the events long passed, the dramas, the encouragements, all from a very specific time in my life.