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Women in Bikinis

I had my annual girls’ weekend this past month. It always seems like an indulgence for me to go (it is) and a bit of a hardship on my little family (it is) but every time I come home so refreshed, so renewed, so full, that we now think of it almost as a necessity. Few of us live near each other so we rely on social media and the phone for our daily connections but once a year, we gather at a lake to reconnect, tell stories, laugh until we weep and cry until we laugh. Female friendships are so dear to me – I can’t fathom going through my life without women alongside of me and ahead of me.

I was pretty worn out this year, I don’t mind admitting. I had a red-eye flight heading into the weekend, I was four months pregnant at the time, our life is still a bit too full for my liking, and so hello uninterrupted nap time, you’re a priority. When I woke up late on the Saturday, I wandered outside to sit on the porch overlooking the lake with my cuppa tea and I saw one of the most beautiful sights: women in bikinis.

We range in age from late twenties to late forties. We just look like regular women you’d see working at the bank or in the pews at church or handling school pick up. We have our own hang-ups about our bodies: one might complain about her size, another about her boobs, another about her thighs, another about how things have changed as she got older. A lot of us are mothers and that marks a body, you know.

But here they were out in public in bikinis, unashamed and having a great time.

I said it out loud, “I’m so thankful that I have friends who wear bikinis.”

There wasn’t any hiding behind oversized t-shirts or cover-ups. No posing on the dock or the sand with a perfectly bent arm on our hip to reduce arm-fat with an elevated smart phone for a filtered selfie. Just a group of women in the water, wearing bikinis like their bodies were nothing to be ashamed of. Imagine that.

I know that for some segments of the Church the thought of good-Christian-women-in-bikinis jumps your fence because of a lifetime spent labouring under strict modesty rules. Young women were often subjected to horrendous and humiliating practices about their clothing, even being told that their bodies are wrong or evil. Heaven help the young lady who dared to bring a two-piece bathing suit to youth group camp. Strict rules complete with diagrams and assumptions of motives, what started as likely a well-meaning experience to encourage modesty turned into a witch hunt and a theological confusion about responsibility.

Instead of treating women and girls as persons with full minds, hearts, souls AND bodies, they were treated as essentially physical stumbling blocks to men. And I think that dehumanizes women – in the minds of men and in their own souls. In a way, these modesty rules are a version of the tired and terrible questions asked about victims of rape: “What was she wearing?” meaning “Was she asking for it?” Answer: never.

(My other issue with the modesty rules stuff is that it paints men as unable to control their urges or bear responsibility for their own attractions and thought life – and that’s crap.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a pretty modest person by natural style and inclination. I hope I’m teaching my tinies how to choose clothing well AND how to bear responsibility for their own thoughts and choices. But I don’t think you can determine some else’s motives or spiritual life simply by how tight her yoga pants are on a given day. A woman’s spiritual depth or intelligence – let alone her value – isn’t indicated by how high her neckline or low her hemline.

Regardless, growing up in a shame-based culture around one’s body is crippling and hard to release. It leaves one feeling disjointed and separated, unconnected and even ashamed about one’s body. It can take a lifetime to unlearn those lies.

But for me, it’s not the modesty culture stuff that makes me rejoice over the sight of normal women in bikinis.

No, as I wrote for Glennon Melton at Momastery a few months ago for her Sacred Scared series, my battle is much more mainstream: my weight. 

As I wrote for Glennon’s site, “I battle with resenting my own body and the way it has changed over the years.  I feel so achingly and painfully average, a stereotype, like the chubby misfit mama. And it’s so much worse when I am around other Christian women leaders because they are so well put together, so beautiful, so seemingly effortlessly thin, so motivated, and I want to hide.   I know better – I do!  But apparently sometimes I don’t. I know I’m overweight – trust me – but for me, it’s not really about the weight, it’s about how I am often awash in shame and self-loathing about it. Our culture tells me that I am only loveable or sexy if I look like a thin movie star, there is no room for my softness, and sometimes, God forgive me, I believe them. I elevate popular culture’s opinion of me over what I know about being fearfully and wonderfully made, over my husband’s love and desire for me, over my logic, over my own convictions, over my beliefs about who I am in Christ.  I’m still overcoming the lies and some days, let me be honest, some days I am not an overcomer.”

Like a lot of women, I think my battle started when I hit puberty. It turned out that my grown-up body was much more curvy and full – even at my thinnest – than what was in fashion or even what was considered “normal” within my family. I have been battling the feeling of “not enough” ever since then. I was very easily wounded by comments about my weight or size, carrying them and never forgetting the words.

I think that’s part of the reason why I write so often about body image – half the time, I’m preaching to myself. I need to hear the truth still. I need to have good boundaries about what I say about myself.

Overall, I consider myself remarkably healthy at this point in my life – both physically and emotionally – as it pertains to my relationship with my body. And I’m proud of this.

I have made my peace with my body and I even write love letters to my own body as a radical act of faith. I rebel against my own social conditioning about my body by choosing to not only accept myself, but celebrate my body.

But make no mistake: it’s been a hard-won freedom with occasional stumbles.

So I never thought I deserved a bikini. I thought those sorts of things were for thin women, for women without my breasts and my hips and my little pooch-y belly. I was meant for full-piece miracle suits and oversized cover-ups and quick dashes to the change rooms.

I thought bikinis had to earned. I never wore bikinis. Even in my teens and my twenties when I still had a belly unmarked by bearing children, I thought I wasn’t in the bikini class. The thought of wearing a bikini now was unthought by me. It never would have even entered my brain to choose a bikini.

Seeing my group of friends having a great time out on the lake – paddle boarding, laying out on floating rafts, swimming, jumping off the dock with abandon, unashamed – changed me.

Their hair was wet, there was no make-up, no self-consciousness. They were without shame about their bodies. It was stunning. I mean, yes, they were beautiful, absolutely. But it was stunning more because in our culture that constantly tells us that we aren’t enough or we’re too much, these women simply didn’t care and went out for a swim in a bikini. Each body was different from the other and yet each one was beautiful. Turns out you don’t earn a bikini by having a “bikini ready body” – you “earn” a bikini by putting one on your body as it is. Done.

I’m so thankful that I have friends who wear bikinis.

These women set me a bit more free with the glorious sight of their own freedom.

There is something about seeing women who walk in a freedom that we don’t yet enjoy that ignites us. I’ve had the same feeling when I saw women doing something I longed to do myself and hadn’t yet gathered the courage or conviction to step into.

When I see women enjoying a freedom that I can’t yet imagine, I think: I’m going to get there. I have a vision now for a new area of freedom and wholeness in my life. Whether it’s in my vocation and calling, my opinions and daily life, my priorities or whatever, I want to get there.

This is what I love about my friends. They challenge me simply by living their lives. I could tell you the dozens of ways I came home from our weekend together challenged.

And this seems like a silly one perhaps – women in bikinis, good gracious – but it was really a challenge about my body and how I view my body, about shame and freedom, about the goodness of our bodies before God, pushing back against my own prejudices and cultural conditionings.

It wasn’t really about the bikinis. Not really. (And we’re heading into the fall and winter so we’re past bikini season anyway. But wouldn’t it be awesome if more normal women in the middle of their years wore bikinis? I think so.) Really, my thankfulness was more about the presence of women in my life who extend to me a glimpse of wholeness and freedom.

There were other moments of challenge regarding calling and vocation, mothering and marriage, sex and Scripture, hospitality and theology, you name it over the course of our couple days together. All of those conversations arose in the context and safety of long friendship.

Far-away women on stage or writers from the pages of a book teaching me or preaching at me are great and I love that. I receive a lot of life from women of influence, I do. But I also need women in my real walking-around life teaching me with their own lives, living as testimonies to freedom and wholeness, as invitations for my own life.

Next year, I’ll be bringing a brand new little nursing baby with me – and hopefully a bikini.

 

Continue Reading · fearless, friends, women · 86

Propel: for women who lead

from Propel Magazine

from Propel Magazine

Sometimes we spend so much time helping women understand that they CAN lead that we forget how to empower them once they’re already there.

This is something that came up in a conversation I had with Christine Caine a few months ago. We are from related faith traditions that have fully affirmed women in ministry and leadership for years now –  indeed, we know nothing else! So for us, the conversations about “should women do this?” or “should women do that?” are over and done … and often feel disingenuous at times.

In fact, I told her that that very thing was a big part of my heart as I was writing Jesus Feminist – I wanted to give a glimpse of what life looked like on the other side of the gender debates that have gripped our churches for far too long. I wanted to show the beauty and freedom and hope that exists within egalitarianism – for marriages, for mothering, for the Church, for the world. For those of us who have had these issues settled in our families and churches for generations now, we know that it’s time to simply live into the other side of God’s “YES.”

That’s when Chris graciously gave me a peek into a new dream of her heart: to create a leadership network for women who are already leading – and not just in the church or in full-time vocational ministry, oh, no. This network would be for high capacity women in every area of life, not just the ones who write books or preach on stages. Propel is for women who lead, period. As soon as I heard about this, I knew that it was going to be good.

First, because it’s Chris, right? I mean, the woman is a powerful leader with contagious passion and purpose. But secondly, there are too few resources and communities for Jesus-centered women who are already leading. And yet there is such a powerful grassroots rising-up happening across denominational and geographical lines. Women are leading in business, in tech, in science, in global humanitarian work and so on. And so as the generation of women alive today, we better be ready to lead and lead well, too. This is the time, I believe, for more networks like this. We would be well-served by clear visions of leadership from the women who are a bit ahead of us on the path and a community of women to travel that path alongside of us as peers. I’m excited about Propel because it’s another indicator that things are changing and will change and have changed for God’s daughters.

Christine partnered with the powerhouse duo of Bianca Juarez-Olthoff and Alli Worthington to launch this network. It will open officially in 2015 but you can subscribe here now and receive the inspiring magazine as a free download. It features articles, stories, and personal wisdom all from women who are already leading. I can’t wait to learn from these women.

If you are a woman who leads or a woman who feels called to leadership, these are your people.

We aren’t interested in justifying our place in the room anymore: we are simply getting on with it.

 You can also follow Propel on Twitter.

Continue Reading · women, work · 13

You are Not Powerless: One Way to be a Beloved Warrior This Week

beloved warriors

Sometimes I feel quite powerless and small. I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling. The heart of the world is breaking wide open, particularly during this summer of sorrow, and we feel powerless to help. We pray and we weep, we listen and we pay attention but it never feels like quite enough.

But let me settle one thing: We are never powerless. 

I believe with my whole heart is that the daughters of God were called to be Beloved Warriors. That calling might look different for each of us – some are called to the front lines, others of us are called to beautiful obscurity. But as a Jesus Feminist – someone whose feminism was birthed in and is now shaped by Jesus Christ – I want to engage with the fullness of that calling and the wonder-working power.

I want to pray with my voice and heart, absolutely,  but you better believe I’m also going to pray with my wallet and with my mind and with my feet and my hands. 

We’ve not been called to the people-pleasing life, to the approval seeking life, to the bow-down-and-give-up life or the sit-down-and-shut-up life. We’ve been called to the peace-making life, the truth-telling life, the she-who-the-Son-sets-free-is-free-indeed life.

We’ve been called to the spirit-filled and God-breathed life, living out the ways of the Kingdom and the life in Christ to every corner of our humanity. We are, what N.T. Wright calls, parables of hope.

We’ve been called to the life of the beloved. We’ve been called to the life of the disciple. We are not powerless.

So, I’ve decided to start highlighting simple ways for us to engage as beloved warriors on behalf of the daughters of the world. I hope to feature one way to engage with God in peace-making every week – a simple and from-home way to help write a better story for God’s girls in many locations and contexts around the world.

These are simple things, maybe you’d say they aren’t that big of a deal, really.

But we serve a God who takes the smallest seed of peace and justice that we can plant and then….watch….watch….watch….the mighty oak that will appear. These seeds are seeds of faith.

As I wrote last week about how to have hope that God is transforming the world, sometimes, absolutely, mountains move in a great sweep, picked up and cast out into the sea.

But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time.

Faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain.

***

This week, we’re going to send new and gently used books to the women of Joe’s Addiction Community in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA.

I received a beautiful message from Jamie Z. on my Facebook page a few days ago. As soon as I read it, I cried. I emailed her and asked for permission to share this idea with our community here. I knew you would love this. Jamie and her team have been leading the ladies in their community in a study of Jesus Feminist.

But one night, their book discussion didn’t go so well….check out what Jamie had to say:

We encountered a sad and sobering reality, as we read a chapter called Patron Saints, Spiritual Midwives and Biblical Womanhood. In this chapter, Sarah talks about the many women who have been heroes in her life. Bible characters, such as Deborah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, historical figures, like Corrie ten Boom and Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, Amy Carmichael, Dorothy Day, Gladys Aylward.

As I read out loud to our precious ladies, the tension in the room built. It was tangible. I wasn’t sure what was happening. After reading the chapter, I simply asked one of the Discussion Questions that the author has for the chapter: Who are some of the women heroes in your life, in your history?

There was silence. Total silence. Everyone looked around the room at one another. Finally one of the ladies (an incredibly strong woman who has survived a lifetime of unspeakable abuse), spoke through closed throat and tear-filled eyes. She said, “I’m so far behind. I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up. I don’t even know who any of these women are that you read about.” Another woman said, “I have no one. No women in my history that I could look up to.” The others in the room nodded.

No mothers, no grandmothers, no female community leaders, no role models, NO HEROES at all.

So many of us have grown up in the comfort of Sunday School, of Christian schools or home schooling. Many of these ladies have not even graduated high school. They are the FIRST in their family line to lift their heads from the dust and look to a possibility of a better future for themselves and for their daughters.

So Jamie Z. has decided to create a library for her friends. She wants to create a REAL bookshelf full of biographies and Bible stories about women of our history and legacy – missionaries, women of valour, faithful women, kingdom women, women who have changed the world.  The women who can read can check them out, but they’ll also be available to do read-alouds for women who are still learning to read. Biography, autobiography, essays, children’s books, young adult books, and audio books, whatever – they want to begin to create spiritual midwives and patron saints for each other.

I believe in the work that Jamie is doing, absolutely, but I also believe in each woman who is there. They are women of valour! This is kingdom work.

Beloved Warriors, here is what we will do: let’s build the  library for these precious women.

If you have these kinds of books just sitting on your shelf, please consider mailing them to Jamie! Walk around your house or your local bookstore or your church library, toss a few books into a box, write a note of encouragement, and pop it in the mail.

Send new or gently used to 1806B SE 59th St. Oklahoma City, OK 73129. 

For instance, you could send books about Corrie ten Boom, Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Harriet Tubman, Amy Carmichael, Evangeline Booth, Gladys Aylward, the women of the Bible, or even current heroes like Malala Yousafi.

And Jamie, to you and all the women – eshet chayil! Woman of valour! We are all cheering you on. 

 

 

Continue Reading · Beloved Warrior, Jesus Feminist, women · 46

In which we are chasing dreams in the Midst and in the Afters

A_Sarah

 

I have a confession for you: sometimes I used to get so mad at the Inklings. I have felt resentful because C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and all these other writers, real writers, had luxuries like housekeepers and pubs and colleagues and writing cabins and a way to pay their bills, they had creature comforts and every time the Muse arrived, they didn’t have to shush her, plead with her to come back later because, right now, Muse, can’t you see? Preschool, supper, diapers, bath times, and everything wonderful in my life needs my attention.

I’m not someone who has pursued a very traditional path to becoming a writer. Even now, my life doesn’t resemble the Great Writers and their habits.

Instead, I imagined my little yellow book while I was a full time working mum with another one on the way. And then I actually wrote most of it while I was on maternity leave with a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn.  I remember once crying in self-pity, “Hell, anyone could have written the Narnia books if they had a housekeeper and sustained silence. Even I could construct Middle Earth if I had a full night’s sleep!

Instead, I wrote most of my book at my kitchen table during naptimes or sitting on the bathroom floor while a kid was in the bathtub or at the public library with earphones on so that the study groups of teenagers wouldn’t distract me.

This is the season of chasing my dream in the Midst of my life and in the Afters of my life: in the midst of raising tinies, after supper, after bath times, after stories, after kitchen dance parties, in the midst of Saturday morning cartoons, after bills are paid, after work, after groceries are put away, after laundry is folded.

I write after it all and in the midst of it all because this life is what I’m writing about….

If it wasn’t like this, I don’t know what I would write about anyway. Our lives are always content. I remember hearing once that all theology has its roots in autobiography.

I’m over at SheLoves Magazine today sharing about why I believe there isn’t one way to be a writer. A lot of us write in the Midst and in the Afters. Click here to read the rest of this article.

Continue Reading · SheLoves, women, work, writing · 20