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The Women of Haiti

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A woman passed me on the sidewalk with an entire table on her head. It looked like she had put everything she wanted for her journey onto a table, crawled underneath it, and then stood up. She moved down the street with her neck straight, her eyes forward, because carrying the burden takes focus. Nobody seemed to think she was remarkable.

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Little girls balance bags of rice, women twice my age carry full washtubs, men carry bananas in baskets. The movement of goods happens on the streets, resting just a head above us.

Everywhere we go, I have found the women of Haiti to have incredibly straight posture. They move with dignity and steadiness. Perhaps it’s because they have spent their lives achieving the balance required to transport their lives on their brow, and this is no metaphor. Blessed is the woman who carries the burden.

The women of Haiti are straightening my spine.

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A young woman stood at the pulpit at church. Beautiful in her white suit, she lead us in worship, singing strong like Exodus’ Miriam. No whispering, no false shyness, her back was straight, her face was forward, the microphone was on, and she sang the roof off that church. We followed behind her, straight into the throne room of God.

The front two rows were taken up with the women’s choir, all in black business suits. When they got up to sing, they moved easily through their steps, singing Hosanna for Palm Sunday. I sat in the wooden pew and tears filled my eyes. Erika leaned over to me and said, “I bet the angels wish they were here for this.” But I’m not convinced they weren’t there. Blessed are the women who sing.

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The rows of the school are filled with boys and girls. Together. Same classroom, same opportunity. The blue satin hair ribbons, one after another, crowded onto benches, just about laid me out on the dirt with their beauty and determination.

These girls are getting an education. These girls will be able to read a deed to make sure they aren’t getting swindled. Their backs are straight on those tiny benches. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we ask. Nurses. Teachers, Singers. One dream after another. These girls will lift Haiti, I think.

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These two women cook for 150 children every single day. Think about that for a hot second. For many of the kids in Drouin, it’s their only meal of the day. The conditions are primitive to my eyes – water must be fetched and carried and then boiled before use. The tin cooking pots are four times the size of my kitchen sink. There is no light and no fan, just a cook stove and the women.

But those fresh beans and rice, straight off the stove and ladled into a tin plate were the best meal of the week. She grinned at me, her sinewy arms stirring, her headscarf a gleaming white. I thought of Proverbs 31 – she rises while it’s still dark to provide for her children, this virtuous woman. Blessed is the woman who provides for another woman’s child.

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Rosna grew up in a girls’ orphanage herself and then she went on to become a nurse. She got married and her husband planted a church in the same town where she grew up. And now she is the director of Ferrier Village. The first “family style” orphanage in the area, there are five homes filled with 26 children, all of them rescued from trafficking, under her care. Each home has a mother and four or five children. Their mother makes sure they are clean, they are fed, they sleep well, they are seen, known, loved here. Rosna is three years younger than me. Her back was straight, her floors were swept, her work is done well, and her children are healthy.

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When the children first arrive from their rescue, they are often malnourished, their black hair the colour of dried orange straw. But give Rosna a bit of time, because look – this rescued baby’s roots are coming in dark. She’s going to be well because Rosna is a high-capacity leader with hustle and peace for days. Blessed is the woman who leads.

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Wherever I go, children burrow into my mama-belly. It’s a bit soft, never recovered after those three babies in four years, but when I’m around children, I’m thankful for my softness. We mamas from the north, we stood around with their children in our arms, toddlers balanced on our hips. The sway of a mother’s axis crosses cultures, it seems. We met eyes over whiny toddlers who won’t cooperate and shrugged with a grin – we’ve all been there, we’re mothers.

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When we gathered around the women to express our thanks for the meal. “Thank you for cooking for us,” Amber said with a smile. “We have a lot of children and we’re mothers and nobody ever cooks for us!” They laughed and said they understood that.

One woman after another, sometimes in the background, sometimes in the kitchen, sometimes in the pulpit, sometimes in a home, sometimes singing a song, sometimes on the street with her stand of mangoes to sell, sometimes at the blackboard wearing a blue uniform, sometimes sitting in the classroom.

What a privilege to witness these women work.

What a privilege to talk in their kitchens, hold their babies, hear their stories.

What an honour to learn from their leadership.

Blessed are the women who remain unbowed.

 from the archives

***

It’s been a year since I was last in Haiti. I had plans of returning again this year but then along came little Maggie Love and so travel is at a stop right now. But in the meantime, the work continues – my presence certainly isn’t required by anyone – in Haiti.

Want to help?

You can be a child sponsor in Drouin whose kids are vulnerable to trafficking and or host for a Garage Sale for Orphans to build a preschool for children who have been rescued from trafficking.

And as always, pray for our sisters worldwide who are quietly doing the work.

 

All these photos were taken by Scott Wade and are used with permission.

Continue Reading · Haiti, social justice, women, work · 5

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 · 15

In which I am retiring “In which” and a few other decisions about blogging

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I have been blogging for ten years. Of course, hardly anybody read my blog for the first seven years – and rightfully so – but I have been writing online in some capacity for ten years. I started my first blog on Xanga when I was just twenty-five years old: I was a burned out, over-churched, cynical Gen-X kid with a lot of doubts and questions. I wrote my way through that life and into a new life. Moving, change of vocation, identity crisis, an awakening of calling and purpose, pregnancy and birth, raising three tinies, miscarriages and loss, a deepening of my theology and my Christian practice, a strengthening in my marriage, and everything else that has gone into the past ten years for us. I’m not the same woman I was ten years ago and for that I can only thank God.

But I haven’t been the only one changing over that decade: blogging has changed immensely in the past ten years, too.

The hard thing is trying to figure out when to “change with the times” and when to stand your ground in the place you’ve established. For instance, I still love to tell stories about the daily life and simple joys, even though those don’t get the page views or comments or shares of other posts. I won’t stop telling those stories or writing the way I love to write because it’s not popular. But there are other aspects that I need to embrace – running ads to pay for the upkeep of this site which has become prohibitive, being aware of the power of social media, creating regular content that is relevant, and so on.

When I stopped blogging a few months ago, I was close to quitting altogether. Ten years is long enough, I reasoned.  Half the time, I can’t keep up and I don’t think I want to try anymore.

So it was a nice summer away. I worked on the book, we walked through some changes as a family (more on those later), and enjoyed the summer with the tinies.

But as the weeks passed, I began to realise something: I missed it. I missed blogging because I love it. I love the immediacy of it, I love the mess of it, I love the unedited glimpse into life. I missed writing about my daily life. I did NOT miss huge aspects of social media which has grown wearying for me or the idea of having to create “pinnable” images (I’m crap at that stuff) but I resolved to find a way to blog in a way that brings me joy.

Blogging is a powerful medium particularly for those of us who are outside of the usual power narratives and structures either because of location or religion or gender or orientation or race or political leanings, let alone all the odd combinations therein. This is how we have been heard. When else in the history of the Church would anyone care what a happy-clappy bleeding-heart mum from western Canada thinks about anything? Never. That’s your answer. This is a powerful medium for connection and for change.

For me that meant settling a few things about blogging:

  • My whole self belongs on this blog. I am not an ideologue or propaganda or a brand, I’m just Sarah. I’m interested in a lot of things and I have a (sometimes too) full life. But one of the things I’ve always loved about blogging is that I get to my whole self here: I get to love theology and Church talk, I get to care about race and feminism and social justice, I get to write about mothering and family and marriage, I get to crack jokes at my own expense, I get to love Doctor Who and Call the Midwife, I get to love thrifting and knitting and pretty things as well as being a Jesus feminist, I get to be a homemaker who talks recipes and cleaning and laundry as well as a lover of literature and poetry and history and Girl Power, I love the local church and yet I don’t wear rose-coloured glasses about this stuff.
  • I don’t want to overthink writing right now. I’ve decided to write like it’s fun again. I’ve decided to bench my inner critic – and ignore the thousands of Internet critics – and just write like nobody is reading it. (Which may end up happening.) If I want to write about something, I’m going to write about it. No more overthinking, no more fear, no more worries about “what might happen” or if it “fits my brand.”
  • Write with passion and conviction again, critics be damned. My soapbox has gotten a bit dusty. I might pull it out a bit more now and again. I’ll run the risk of being called emotional and being misunderstood. I have been ruminating on this one for a while. Of course, for those of you who know me or have read me for a long time, you know that I don’t believe you need to speak in anger or judgment or arrogance to speak the truth: but make no mistake, I want to speak the truth. With gentleness, with love, and with strength. Sure, I love to write beauty but sometimes the most gorgeous thing I can imagine saying is the truth.
  • Amplify the voices and experiences of others. My platform might not be a big deal but I want to steward it well and generously.  I want to curate those voices and introduce you to the people who are teaching me, across a wide spectrum of global issues, theology, and current events.
  • Write more about global women’s issues with a focus on prayer and action. Feature the stories that matter to those of us who identify as Jesus Feminists.  I’ll make an effort to stay engaged, to pray with purpose and faith, and then to find ways to engage with hope.
  • Chill out. Write what I want, when I want, and hang the rest of it. I still believe down deep that good content trumps click-bait titles and free graphics.
  • I have a full life offline and that life – particularly my husband and my tinies – gets my first loyalty.

The other decision I made was to kick “in which” to the curb at long last. All those years ago, I began to start my posts with “In which.” I wish I could tell you it was a big conscious decision but it wasn’t. I just loved the original Winnie-the-Pooh books by A.A. Milne and all of those chapters started with “In which…” I have always hated titling posts – in fact, for a good long time, I just published essays without titles, if you can believe it. So this was just an easy way for me to work. It became a habit and then a routine. I never even considered anything else.

But I’ve decided to retire the whole “In which” thing now. I’m kind of tired of it and I imagine everyone else is, too. I think the passive sentence fragment as a title has run its course. Plus a lot of other bloggers use it now and so it’s not a differentiator for me like it used to be. And it makes the other aspects of blogging – particularly sharing on social media – difficult.  (I might use it now and again, of course. I reserve the right for retro writing.)

I’ve broken almost every “rule” people make about blogging. This post itself is a big no-no: “Never blog about blogging.” But so many of you have been on the journey with me for so long that I felt like I needed to share a bit about where my thoughts were at after a summer of quiet in this space.

I’m looking forward to this new season of writing my life out online.

It means more to me than you could know that you are here with me. Sometimes I still can’t believe I get to do this or that anyone reads it. But my life has been enriched with your presence here, your influence has changed me, and I still love what I do even ten years in. I’ll call that a win.

 

Continue Reading · blogging, work, writing · 148

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

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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

In which streams run uphill :: guest post by Mihee Kim-Kort

I’m honoured to welcome my friend, Mihee Kim-Kort to this little corner of the Internet today. You’ll see why I love Mihee as you read her important essay below – she’s brave, she’s honest, she’s smart and so on – but beyond all of that, there is a realness and authenticity to her that is so needed in the Church. I love to listen to her, to learn from her, to walk alongside of her even from far away.

And as a sidenote, this book project of hers below is a must-read. Mihee is a pilgrim pastor for many reasons – race, age, gender, politics, stage of life, among other reasons – and she is forging a path for many other women to follow. 

Me and Anna on FB

la vida es la lucha

Coined by our mujerista theologians it literally means, “life is struggle,” or even more simply “to live is to struggle.” Conversely, the flip is true, too – to struggle is to live. The book Streams Run Uphill: Conversations with Young Clergywomen of Color was first inspired by an African proverb that echoes the sentiment above.

Where streams run uphill, there a woman rules.

The original subtitle was “The Pastoral Identity and Ministry of the Other Clergywomen.” The word other is significant. It conjures up orientalism, exoticism, colonialism, and those felt effects still present today even in the more liberal disciplines and vocations. The history of feminism especially in North America has mostly been narrow and has excluded women of color until fairly recently. But, this isn’t unusual. Much of majority culture has often marginalized groups based on gender, race, economics, orientation, and ability. Still, especially in the church, there continues to be an urgency in working towards reconciliation at all levels, and at the vey least it means making sure there is a space for all voices and experiences.

It is the dynamic but unexpected harmony of streams that “run uphill” that compels me the most. There is struggle in an uphill endeavor, but miracle in its very existence. There is an irrationality about it, as well as a subversive, kingdom-shaking quality. There is something off-putting and hard to swallow but undeniably compelling about it. So, too, it is with the “other” clergywomen and our work and ministry, their calling and community relationships, their voices and their perspectives.

I find myself often being the only one. On most committees or organizations, I am usually the only one. The only woman. The only young person. The only racial “minority.” The only liberal. And most recently, the only mother with young children. It was something I grew accustomed to rather quickly, this being the token fill-in-the-blank. 

One of my favorite novels, East of Eden by John Steinbeck, speaks of the struggle of this phenomenon. There’s a telling scene between Samuel and Lee, the Chinese servant who is with the family, about Lee’s (exaggerated) Chinese accent: 

Lee looked at him and the brown eyes under their rounded upper lids seemed to 

open and deepen until they weren’t foreign any more, but man’s eyes, warm with understanding. Lee chuckled. “It’s more than a convenience,” he said. “It’s even more than self-protection. Mostly we have to use it to be understood at all.” 

Samuel showed no sign of having observed any change. “I can understand the first two,” he said thoughtfully, “but the third escapes me.”  

Lee said, “I know it’s hard to believe, but it has happened so often to me and to my friends that we take it for granted. If I should go up to a lady or a gentleman, for instance, and speak as I am doing now, I wouldn’t be understood.” 

“Why not?” 

“Pidgin they expect, and pidgin they’ll listen to. But English from me they don’t listen to, and so they don’t understand it.”

“Can that be possible? How do I understand you?” 

“That’s why I’m talking to you. You are one of the rare people who can separate your observation from your preconception. You see what is, where most people see what they expect.”

Before reading this Steinbeck piece, I could never put my finger on that slow chipping away at my dignity and humanity I often felt each time someone introduced him or herself, and met my response with surprise. “You’re English is so good!” or “How long have you been in this country? You have no accent!” Even the most educated would ask, “Is English your first or second language?” I still struggle with simply glossing over those comments with a smile and nod as if I just received a complimented somehow.

Not everyone has these experiences. And thankfully, I didn’t have only these experiences. But they’re out there and real.  

I let myself savor the stories in these pages like a glass of fine water turned into wine from that wedding at Cana. I celebrate, I give thanks, and I am deeply humbled by all the sacrifices and risks made by these writers. These clergywomen were vulnerable. They were transparent. They were genuine. And they were and are trustworthy. These are only glimpses into much more complicated histories and larger narratives. Yet, even these small windows allow us to see the possibilities for real connection and community, a little taste of the kingdom of God and how we experience that in the midst of struggle and surrender, in those places where reconciliation with God, neighbor, and self is rooted in embracing the other.

Being the other is not only a philosophical, social, political, or literary concept. It is a theological image. It speaks of a God of the margins, a God for the oppressed, a God who loves and pursues the stranger. And despite the history behind it and how it traditionally is a negative phenomenon, being the other does not have to be associated with colonial and imperialistic movements or a tool of oppressors or a burden of those who internalize what it means for the oppressed. The language of the other is redeemable but also an instrument for redemption. It speaks of the extreme and miraculous routes God forges to connect to us. It is the other that helps us to see God’s love for us even more. It is when we see and recognize the other in ourselves that we begin to fathom the depths of God’s love for us.

Join us in the struggle not only for voice and validation but for the sake of all lives that are created with dignity and love.

Rev. Mihee Kim-Kort is an ordained Presbyterian minister and mom to 3 under 3 (twins Desmond and Anna, and Oswald now 13 months old). Her current ministry is UKIRK (www.iukirk.com) to college students at Indiana University through the two PCUSA churches in town and collaborating with others on ecumenical community at Fringe Christianity (www.btownfringe.org). She graduated from the University of Colorado-Boulder with a BA in English and Religion, Princeton Theological Seminary with her MDiv and ThM (Religion and Society). She is author of Making Paper Cranes: Toward an Asian American Feminist Theology and blogs at Deeper Story, 8asians, Fidelia’s Sisters, and First Day Walking (www.miheekimkort.com).

Continue Reading · Guest Post, women, work · 13