The one about biting my tongue

Nobody has ever told me I need to be more assertive. Nobody has ever told me I need to speak up more. I’ve never been told “you let too many things go.” I once had someone (yes it was a boy) tell me that when I got married I would pick up a dirty sock my husband left on the floor and yell “You left this dirty sock on the floor! This means you don’t respect our marriage!” Zero to 60 in fifteen seconds. To be perfectly honest, that criticism stuck with me for a long time. It was always there to pull me out of a really great mood; to remind me that at the end of the day I have a big mouth and I make a big deal out of every little thing.

But lately, I’m not as bothered by this aspect of my personality as I used to be. I’m realizing that I would rather be the woman that needs to learn how to stay silent than the woman who needs to learn to speak up. I was raised in a family that didn’t just allow my opinions to be heard, they insisted on it. We are a family of talkers. If someone is upset we talk about it, doesn’t matter how big or small the situation. If it’s enough to upset someone in the family, it’s important enough to talk about. As I’ve gotten older I have realized that I do need to learn to let things go. Every Facebook status doesn’t need my attention. Every misogynistic comment doesn’t need my rebuttal. Sometimes the sock on the floor is just a sock on the floor. Sometimes I will find myself so mad about something and when I sit down and really think about it I realize I’m not just making a mountain out of a mole hill; I’m making an erupting volcano out of an ant hill.

So yes, part of my maturation into adulthood is learning how to be quiet. I’m learning that waiting a minute to let someone else speak can be just the encouragement the shy person in the corner of the room needs to make herself heard. I’m learning that small issues don’t always grow into big ones. I’m learning that silence has its own kind of power. Yet, even so I’m still glad that this is the strategy I have to learn. Listening instead of speaking. Letting things go instead of picking things up. Releasing small things instead of ignoring big things.

I’ve come to this conclusion because I’ve watched people I respect and admire choke back their thoughts because they don’t want to rock the boat. I see relationships falling apart because one partner just can’t get up the courage to tell the other partner what is bothering her. I see people calling something a small problem when really at best it’s a medium size problem swelling to gargantuan size because they “don’t want to fight about this.”

“If we ignore it, it’ll go away.”

Maybe

“I want to say something but this isn’t that big of a deal.”

It isn’t?

“I’m going to look petty.”

So what?

“This shouldn’t bother me. I’ll just get over it.”

What if you can’t?

I’ll be honest, I tend to hear these sentences mostly from the women in my life. That’s the stereotype right? Women make a big deal out of everything. We’re always upset about something. All we want to do is talk talk talk. Of course behind every stereotype is some truth, but are we okay with living in a world that teaches a woman her first instinct should be to doubt herself? That when she’s upset about something the first thing she should do is make sure it’s okay for her to be upset before doing something about it?  I’m not okay with that. When I watch people I care about struggle to make their voices heard, I’m thankful all over again that silence is a skill I have to practice. I stay silent not because I’m afraid to speak. I’m not worried that my opinion might offend someone. I’m not worried that I’ll lose a relationship. My silence comes from thoughtfulness and respect, not fear.

Learning to be silent is a process. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m doing better than I was. I’m having more success at it now than I’ve ever had. I think it’s because I’ve stopped feeling bad that my gut instinct is to speak up. It’s good that I care. I’m learning that being quiet can be its own form of caring. It’s caring enough to let someone else speak. I know I’m going to keep getting better the more that I practice.

If I could go back and tell the me who first heard that sock statement anything it would be this. Okay so the point you have just heard is not completely invalid. However, the dude that said this to you is a jerk whose MO in life is to avoid avoid avoid. You can take this advice with a GIANT grain of salt. Someday you will understand that when you are in healthy relationships, romantic and otherwise, silence won’t be demanded from you as some sort of power play. Rather, it will be asked of you by people who have your best interest at heart, love that you aren’t afraid to say your opinion, and want to help you grow into the most complete version of yourself that you can be. With those people silence isn’t a choke hold; it’s a gift.

So with that I will close out this entry on silence (clocking in at over 900 words I know, I see the irony) by opening it up to my readers. Are you a person who needs to learn to be quiet or a person who needs to learn to speak up? Which do you think is harder to learn and why?

The one about marriage

This is the fifth part of an ongoing series delving in Sarah Bessey’s book “Jesus Feminist”. The other entries can be found here.

Growing up one of the first times I ever thought about getting married was when I watched the Anne of Green Gables mini series. If you are unfamiliar with the story a quick overview is all that’s needed. The main character, Anne, meets a boy, Gilbert, in school and they move from sworn enemies, to best friends, to husband and wife over the course of the mini series. At four years old I determined that when I got married it would be to someone exactly like Gilbert Blythe. Someone who could challenge me, was kind and loyal, funny, and most of all loved me fiercely.

I found myself thinking about all this again while I read chapter five of Jesus Feminist. Bessey begins the chapter by talking about her own relationship with her husband. She likens it to a dance the two of them are in where each of them take turns leading the other, and where sometimes nobody leads at all; rather they just dance in place. I love this quote

Well, who is in charge here?

“We are.”

“Yes, but if push comes to shove, who is the leader?”

“We are.”

“But then who is the spiritual head of your home?”

“Only Jesus. Only ever our Jesus” (p. 73)

Reading that passage I felt a recognition. A recognition of the kind of marriage I want, and a recognition of the kind of marriage I’ve seen modeled by those closest to me. If you asked the younger version of myself who was the spiritual head of my household I probably would have been confused. What did that mean? The answer that eventually came out probably would have been “…..Jesus?” I would have been even more confused if you told me that the man was supposed to be the “head of his household.” That was DEFINITELY not what I saw modeled at home.

Let me clear some things up first. Yes, my father was outnumbered being the only man in a house full of women. Yes, on Sunday afternoons our television was not tuned to any type of sports. Yes, my dad watched every girly TV show, movie, and mini series my sister and I imposed on him. (Seriously he’s seen all of Downton Abbey and loves it). Yes, it was (and still is) hard for him to get a word in edgewise when my mother, sister, and I are all around.

BUT I have never thought that this means he was not the “leader of our house.” In fact, I put that phrase in quotes because I find it laughable. My dad was not the leader of our house. My mom was not the leader of our house. As a child I felt clearly, even if I couldn’t have put it into the words, that Jesus was the leader of our house. He helped my parents figure what was the best choice to make, and they helped Jena and me live those choices out. Period. End of discussion.

When I read the verses about wives submitting to their husbands I always felt a little uncomfortable. I knew that what some people counted as submission did not happen in my house, but I also believed the way my house was run was the best way it could be. It wasn’t until I got older, and honestly, began reading this book that I began to put to words what I’ve known deep in my bones my whole life. The verses written in the New Testament about wives submitting to their husbands are written to fall within the Greco-Roman household codes that existed as law at the time. That is why you see this listing function happen; slave to master, children to parents, wives to husbands etc. Bessey quotes theologians Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe when she says

Peter and Paul worked within imperfect systems because “with Roman officials looking for every excuse to imprison Christians, any challenge would bring scrutiny and persecution for the early church.” The Apostles advocated this system, not because God had revealed it as the divine will for Christian homes, but because it was the only stable and respectable system anyone knew about at the time.” (p.76)

Bessey then writes my favorite line in the whole chapter. “Paul and Peter used the codes as metaphors or scaffolding because they were familiar and daily, not because they were prescriptive or ideal…Life in Christ is not meant to mirror life in Greco-Roman culture.” (p.76) Some might say that a line hierarchy from God to the husband to the wife is the ideal because after all in the Garden of Eden got created Eve as Adam’s “helper.” Bessey, with some help from authors Carolyn Custis James, and Rachel Held Evans reminds us that the phrase used to describe Eve in Genesis, ezer kenegdo is used in three different contexts throughout the Old Testament.

1) The creation of woman

2) When Israel applied for military aid

3) In reference to God as Israel’s helper for military purpose (it’s used 16 times in this context) (p. 78)

When we think of the God who helped Israel in battle do we think of him in terms the way some have us think of Eve as a “helper”? No! As Bessey says “Our God is more than that: he’s a strong helper, a warrior.” This is how God intended women to be not just in their marriages, but in every relationship they encounter in their lives. I love the quote from Biblical scholar Victor P. Hamilton Bessey uses.

“Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity, and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole. She will be his strongest ally in pursuing God’s purposes and his first roadblock when he veers off course.” 

I’m not finished the book so I can’t say this definitely yet but this may be my favorite chapter. It’s given voice to what I felt all along. That marriage is not a line down hierarchy, but rather a triangle with Jesus at the top point, and the husband and wife as equals on the bottom points. This was the model my parents showed me and the one I still see them put into the practice today. It’s the way my sister’s marriage functions. It’s the way every marriage I know and admire seems to function. And it’s the way I know my own will function someday.

What I love about this model is how it frees us from preconceived gender stereotypes. My dad didn’t need to be the tough man around the house telling us all what was what. If you’ve ever met my dad you know this is FAR from who he is. In fact nobody in our house walked around telling us what was what. My mom and dad prayed and asked God for direction. If God didn’t speak to both of them, they stayed still right where they were until he did. When I needed a battle fought for me, mom was the one I called. Not because my dad is weak, but because mom was much more suited for the role. When I needed  the knots brushed out of my hair dad was the one I called; he was MUCH more suited for that role. When I needed help in the kitchen dad was the one who offered the most help. Not because mom was incapable, but because dad loves to cook and mom cooks because she has to.

If a girl has a great father the cliche phrase is that she wants to marry a man just like him. In my case this is very true. I want to marry a man like my father because I see how much he not only respects my mother, but delights in her. He feels no compunction to assert his authority because he is secure in the man God made him to be. I won’t settle for anything less in the man that I marry.

What are your thoughts on wives submitting to their husbands? Single people how has this affected the way you think about marriage and relationships? Married people how do you deal with this idea in your own lives? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

The One about my nephew

This weekend my nephew Lincoln will turn 5 years old. I was a senior in college when he was born and have been lucky enough to be able to physically be with him on every birthday since then. This year changes all of that. My parents will be visiting for a few days as usual, but this year I will be at home. I’m feeling pretty bummed about not being with him this year, but also feel really grateful that I live in a time where technology allows me to watch him open his presents in St. Louis Missouri while I sit in my house in New Jersey. As amazing as Skype is though it is still no replacement for actually being with him. Watching my parents get in the car to go to the airport I felt really melancholy and sad. So I decided I would write about Lincoln today to channel that melancholy into happy memories.

As I said, Lincoln was born my senior year of college. When my oldest niece, Lily, was born her Aunt Kristin and myself were at the hospital for the whole time leading up to the birth. (It was the first grandchild for both sides after all). I can’t remember what the plans were for Lincoln’s birth because whatever they were we did not adhere to them. I remember the night/day it happened very clearly. My college had two events every year that were a chance for bands to play, people to make funny videos and sketches, and the students to dress up within a set theme called Spring Fling and Harvest Festival. The weekend Lincoln was born was Harvest Festival. I had been up late with my friends. I think it was actually around 2 am when I finally got back into my room for the night. I had gotten into bed when I got a text from my brother in law telling me that he and Jena were on their way to the hospital.

In a way it’s fitting that I’ll be celebrating Lincoln’s 5th birthday with him over Skype because his first day of life was also celebrated over Skype. When Jena had been pregnant with Lily our mom and dad threw a baby shower when she visited the Christmas for her New Jersey friends and relatives. Because Lincoln was due in November my mom had come up with an different plan for this baby. She planned to have friends and family to her house on a random Saturday and then call Jena on Skype to talk and visit as well as show her the gifts that would soon come in the mail for her. The shower was scheduled for November 8, 2008. The text I got from Tim came in at 2 am November 8, 2008. I remember laughing at how perfect the timing was before rolling over and going back to sleep for a few hours.

Later that day I drove over to the hospital with my laptop and met my new nephew for the first time. To make the day even sweeter, everyone that came to my mom and dad’s house for the shower got to see him too!pic1He was tiny little one wasn’t he!

Since that day life with Lincoln has been fabulous. I love being his Aunt. The joke in our family is that Lincoln doesn’t always take the best pictures. See below for a few examples.

pic12To be fair the Jersey shore can be very confusing

pic10Lincoln! Over here!

But honestly I’ve always felt that the reason Lincoln can’t always be captured on film is because he is so full of life and energy that he doesn’t have time to stop for one minute! And too be fair, he can take some pretty decent pictures when he wants to.

pic2See!

When I think of Lincoln I think of how sweet and generous his heart it. Last year my sister severely injured herself while running a marathon. The family had just moved to a new house, Tim had two out of town trips happening almost back to back, and Jena couldn’t walk. So I came out for a few days to help out. The day I arrived, I walked upstairs where Lincoln after greeting me with a bear hug whispered in my ear “I’m so happy you’re here Aunt Nell.” The phrase melt your heart must have been invented for Linc. The kids came to visit for a few weeks this summer. We had a great time together. One day while sitting on the front porch swing Lincoln turned to me and said “Aunt Nell, I wish St. Louis and New Jersey were right next to each other so we could see each other all the time.” In a world that can often push a sense of hyper masculinity I love having a nephew who can create a mess with the best of them, but also express his feelings to those he loves in such an honest and unassuming way.

pic15Walking with my buddy

The other great thing about Lincoln? He’s hysterical. He always has a smile on his face and his giggle is infectious. He’s creative, kind, and loves books and puzzles.

pic16Combining his love of dinosaurs and puzzles in one!

Lincoln is turning five. I had to type it again because I still find it hard to believe. He was only a baby yesterday! As much as I’ll miss being there to celebrate in person, I’m so glad he gets to grow up having me just a Skype call away. On November 8th this year this will be the little face in my mind. It’s a quintessential picture that sums up who my nephew is without using any words.

pic9

He’s Lincoln. He’s my nephew. And he rocks.

Do you have a child in your life that just makes the day a little brighter? Tell us about them in the comments!

The one about my sister

Today is my big sister’s birthday. It’s been a few years since Jena and I have been able to celebrate her birthday together. I’ve been wanting to write something about her for awhile now and I decided her birthday was the best day to do it. When your birthday is September 11th you are always doomed to share the day with lots of tears and remembrances being written about a tragic event. I thought it would be nice for her to read something that is only about her on her birthday. So, here we go!

I’ve heard it said that siblings are the most important relationship you will have in your life because they know you the longest. Parents usually pass away before their children and rarely does a spouse come into your life before a sibling and even if that is the case the spouse usually isn’t consistently in your life the way a sibling is. If the relationship is healthy you know each other through all facets of your life; childhood, adolescence, young adult and adulthood. However just because your sibling may have longevity of relationship it does not always follow that the relationship is a good one. I’m thinking of the mother on Downton Abbey talking about her three daughters and lamenting that instead of a Little Women type of relationship her daughters fight like cats and dogs. Although I’m not really sure I’d advocate for a Little Women type of sisterhood (let’s be honest Beth is so good it’s almost annoying and don’t even get me started on that brat Amy), I’m very lucky that my relationship with my sister is closer to this picture than the sisters on Downton Abbey.

Being the youngest I have no memories of being an only child. You would have to ask Jena what life was like before a sister, but I do know she was anxious to have one. (At least before I was born she was) Growing up I was always aware of how much Jena wanted me in her life. A story told time and time again in my family is how Jena found out I had been born and was in fact a girl. (This was in 1987 so everyone didn’t find out the sex of their child back in the dark ages) My mom and dad had gone to the hospital in the early morning hours of March 19th dropping Jena off at a family friend’s house on the way. My mother had been the principal of the elementary school Jena attended which was run through our church. So when my father called to tell Jena that I had been born and everything went well the secretary, Sister Kathy, asked him whether I was a boy or a girl. My dad replied that he had promised Jena she would be the first to know that so he couldn’t tell Sister Kathy until he told her.

A big joke in our family is how I have no childhood memories. It’s true. I can look at pictures and videos of me and have no memory of the moment captured. This isn’t just when I was a toddler, I’m talking into early adolescence. My brother-in-law Tim has a theory that I always had my head stuck in a book until the moment someone asked me to look up while they took a picture. Whatever the reason I don’t have a filing cabinet full of deeply remembered memories to pull from when I talk about my sister.

jenapic20002            Can’t you feel the love? Not sure of our ages in this pic

While I might not remember events very well I do have memories of being very proud to have a big sister. Most of my friends growing up were oldest children and I always found it very cool that I had a big sister. I was always anxious for her attention.

jenapic30002Again, not sure of our ages. However, I am sure my parents still have those dinner plates!

Looking back Jena was always very patient with this little girl who always wanted to be around her. There is a 6.5 year age gap between us so her kindness is even more impressive when you realize that right when I was getting to the most “interesting” age of 5 and 6 she was entering her teenage years. But still we would occasionally sleep in the same bed at night and sometimes we’d fall asleep holding hands. When I lost my first tooth she was the first person I wanted to show it to. Anything Jena was doing I wanted to be a part of it and for the most part she let me.

jenapic40002Thanks to the date in corner I can put our ages as 4 and 10 (almost 11) respectively. Also I think this at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Jena moved away to Springfield Missouri for college when I was 11. She was only home for short breaks for those 4 years and in the fall after her graduation she got married and moved to the Midwest where she still lives today. I call the years from when she left for college until I went to college the “lost years”. We talked of course and still were close in many many ways (including being her maid of honor when she got married). But it was only natural that a college student and her teenage sister should connect a little less than they had. We were living very different lives! She was dating the man she would end up marrying, and I had braces and was trying to not freak out about going to high school.

jenapic50002Getting ready for our family trip to Disney World. I’m making a really great fashion statement with my purple shirt and green pants.

When I decided to go to Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri Jena and Tim were just about to move back to Springfield for Tim’s job. The summer before I moved was when Jena told me she was pregnant with her first baby. This time in our lives I would call “The Renaissance”. Now we could truly connect in a way we had been unable to up to this point. We were both adults and the gap between us seemed to shrink to minuscule.  This period was when Jena went from being my sister to being my friend. Getting to be with her while she went through her first pregnancy and being a part of my niece Lily’s early months of life is one the sweetest memories of my life. When we talked and spent time together it no longer felt like an older sibling giving a younger sibling advice. Instead it felt like 2 friends talking through the experiences and sharing thoughts and advice with each other. Jena became a sort of “honorary sister” to a bunch of my girlfriends in college and every time one of them would ask her for help or lean on her for advice I would be filled with such pride that I got to be in a family with someone this awesome. I look at Jena and I realized the potential within me to be a good wife, mother, and contributor to society all without having to change the basic frame work of who I am. Jena is confident in who she is and I try to emulate that confidence in my own life.

jenapic60002                                               A family vacation to Busch Gardens.

The older I get the more I realize how lucky Jena and I are to be friends. Adult sisters don’t always get along. Sometimes the relationship can become quite toxic. I don’t say this to build the two of us up as paragons of how sibling relationships should be. We have to work to have a healthy relationship. Sometimes she still drives me nuts and I’m sure the same is true for her with me. But I know that at the end of the day she roots for me. Just like I root for her. She’s the longest relationship I’ll ever have. I’m so glad it’s such a good one.

jenapic10002

Do you have siblings? Do you agree with the idea that siblings are one of the most important relationships in our lives? What about honorary siblings? Leave your thoughts in the comments!