Category Archives: Love well

Missouri: Growing Women God’s Way

992830_10201197757921776_309796495_nLast year, I joined a group of women in Denver, Colorado to discuss what type of event would best help women leaders thrive. Let me say that again: I joined a group of amazing women, and since then many of them have either shown up in my upcoming book or right here with the Invisible Army Project. One of those women was Christie Love, the founder of LeadHer, a ministry dedicated to “growing women God’s way”. LeadHer is a grassroots organization that strives not only to equip women for leadership, but also send them back into their communities to serve. LeadHer grew out of a painful period after her divorce, when Christie found the superficiality of the local women’s ministries woefully inadequate in helping her deal with life’s Here’s Christie’s story:

Tell me the story of how you came to start Lead Her.

I found myself as a single mom, recently divorced, sitting at a women’s conference. I wasn’t getting anything—it wasn’t clicking with me. I wondered, “How many women are here today wishing there was something different?” I knew there’s got to be something that pulls women together besides holding hands and eating chocolate.

I began praying [for something different], but I didn’t find anything and after several years, I realized God had given this to me. It was a tug of war, and I had excuse after excuse why I wasn’t the one to start something. I wasn’t qualified—I had no college or seminary training. I realized that there may have been another person more qualified, but nobody was more passionate. My heart’s broken—His heart’s broken—over what women go through. So, I trusted that God would show me how to do it along the way.

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What were the specific needs that weren’t being met by traditional approaches to
women’s ministry?

I found myself in a very brown place Halee, longing for someone to say to me, “It’s going to be okay.” I was watching a lot of women go through struggles and getting polished stories of how it turned out. They’re lovely stories, but no one told me how to go through it. I was really hoping to get practical application, “Okay, here’s the problem, here things to try.” Needed more than a pep talk.

I’m like, “It’s not the social club. Women don’t need to go to church to get their hair done. That’s not going to challenge us or help us grow. Women need skills to do reality on a daily basis, to handle reality in a way that they can still make an impact.

Take me through the launching process. What was your first step?

Prayer –lots and lots of prayer. Don’t take any path without paving it in prayer. I needed like-minded women willing to invest time and energy, and skills to fill in gaps where I was weak. Let me tell you what. I started having people message me on twitter, “You’re doing something big, can I help?” I built a team of 25 women in 2 months and we met in a private Facebook group.

How are the women getting connected to the needs in their community?

That’s a huge one. One of the biggest ways is listening to their community, because we often project our needs on the families around us. Encourage them [to listen to their communities] as the chapters get going and find someone with a heart with outreach that’s able to keep a pulsepoint on the community and the struggles affecting our community. In one case, a group “adopted” a single mom with no money or family for awhile.

One of the big ones we see several groups involved in food banks. In Missouri, the local economy is rough and food banks are shutting their doors. Other groups are really passionate about [human] trafficking in their area. It really depends on the culture of that community and where they are at.

Did you always see yourself as a leader?

Great question. I think I did. However, I think there were a lot of times that that title intimidated me because as a woman, I felt like I had to apologize for it. They have been lots of times in my life when I was very aware I had influence and impact. I don’t have this perfect story, yet I’ve learned all of that had purpose and it’s important to lead in seasons of struggle. And I don’t have to apologize for the way He created me.

What kinds of things helped you grow as a leader?

Struggle. I don’t think anything has helped me grow more than struggle. Struggle plays a huge part in strengthening leadership ability and character.

1236395_10202113098812675_1011393799_nWhat are your next steps for Lead Her?

So many… I’ll pare them down for you briefly. I really see LeadHer with three big goals: 1.) Encouraging, equipping, and engaging women, 2.) Getting women to come together to build communities, and 3.) Getting women to see themselves as leaders. We can only pour into women to a certain point before we have to change the status quo and the context in which they’re leading.

Women deal with the same issues over and over. I’ve identified five core issues: emotions (women have got to learn we are not controlled by our emotions), conflict, identity, shame (my acronym for SHAME is: Satan hammering at me endlessly), and authenticity—being able to be who you are and not who you think you should be. As women we need to address these issues so we can help each other move forward.

LeadHer has already grown to 28 local chapters around the globe. To find out more about the ministry and how to start a local chapter near you, visit http://leadher.org!

On Love as Medicine for Sick Souls

Last year was one of the more difficult periods of my life. The word “horror” comes to mind. Aside from a few years of teen angst and a few months living in the exurbs of Dallas, I’ve never really struggled with depression. Anxiety? Perfectionism? Sure, but not depression. So last winter, I was completely blindsided by an overwhelming sense of dread and hopelessness. It probably had something to do with being pregnant, but mostly I attribute it to living unwisely for a very long time.

During my doctoral program, I worked four jobs and commuted through L.A. traffic two or three times a week. I completed my dissertation in two semesters rather than five. And then a season of loss took its toll as well: I said goodbye to friends and family–home–when we moved from L.A. Said goodbye to a job I loved to be with Ellie and finish my dissertation. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Laska, my sweet rescue dog, before she was shot and killed while staying at my parent’s. I almost said goodbye to Ellie when she contracted RSV.

Ultimately the piper demanded to be paid. The final straw was when winter came here to Holland, Michigan and I didn’t see the sun from November until May. There I was, great with child, staring at gray skies day after day, not knowing what was happening to me. Because of my pregnancy, I refused medication and took matters into my own hands. Although my doctorate is technically in leadership, my work focused also on spiritual formation and soul care. If I couldn’t help myself, well then, I had just paid several thousand dollars to learn something that couldn’t even make a difference in my own life.

Could I practice what I preached? Would it work? I asked myself, what I would say to someone if they came to me with the symptoms I had and I came up with a program of four steps to follow everyday: 1.) Scripture and prayer. My spiritual life needed to increase, not decrease, as is so often the temptation in times like this. 2.) Exercise. The body is important to our spiritual formation, and exercise benefits us not only physically but psychologically as well. 3.) Talk to people. Don’t isolate. 4.) Focus on others. Depression and anxiety become a microscope by which you analyze, over and over again, your own life and the problems you struggle with. Might turning this around and focusing on others, loving others well, get us out?

I made sure to do these steps every day. One, two, three, four, repeat. Of them all, I think number four had the most effect on my outlook, which really isn’t a surprise when you look at some of the research on clinical depression. Although it seems counterintuitive, high rates of depression correspond with high rates of self-absorption. In other words, depression is a vicious cycle because it makes us focus on our own problems, which in turn causes more depression.

See, I don’t think our problem is that we love ourselves too little–it’s that we love others too little. We are so quick to turn inward when things go wrong, and I believe that a great number of suffering people would benefit more by volunteering in a soup kitchen than sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch for an hour a week.

The way out is by loving others well. I’m not saying that medication is wrong or that this is the only solution–each case is different–but I am saying that loving others must be part of of any plan to get well and get whole. In the mind of Jesus, loving others flows out of our love for God. What is the greatest commandment? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.” The second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

That is why the second pillar of this blog is loving others–because it is crucial to our spiritual well-being. I don’t exactly know how to love others well, all the time, but that’s what I’ll be exploring here. I do know that we need one another, far more than we realize.

Let’s Talk About Sex (and Sadism)

When my husband, Paul, tells me he’s going to spend Saturday morning at a meeting called Porn and Pancakes, I don’t even blink. I give him a kiss on the cheek and tell him to have

fun. Since before we were married, Paul’s worked as a therapist for men struggling with sexual addiction. Because of his job, I’ve heard more horror stories about the dark underbelly of the porn world than I care to think about or even count. But because of the violent nature of porn and way porn demeans women and causes a breakdown in relationships, I never thought that women would be drawn to the sexually violent, explicit material. Wouldn’t that, after all, be setting us back 50 years? Au contrare.

In the last few months, E.L. James’ first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, has gone from an underground erotica novel to
mainstream literature, topping both the New York Times and Amazon bestseller lists. Labelled “mommy porn”, Fifty Shades is the story of Anastasia Steele, a naive college student, and Christian Grey, a troubled young billionaire with a taste for BDSM. Fifty Shades, which began as fan fiction for the Twilight seriesexplores the relationship between the unlikely pair, complete with a plethora of NC-17 sexually violent sex scenes.

From radio to TV to online columns, people are raving about Fifty Shades, so in keeping with my commitment to stay on top of the popular literature in our time (a commitment that has introduced me to character greats like Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Lisbeth Salander), I read Fifty Shades. There is so much to be said about it. It’s poorly written with a terrible plot and poor character development. It’s hard evidence that the use of pornography and erotica is on the rise among women, that it’s not just part of some fringe culture (as I naively mistakenly thought), but mainstream. It is, indeed, a backsliding among a generation of women who take for granted their hard-won equality and fantasize about sexual subservience. It’s an illustration of how far our desires have fallen, how twisted and off-the-mark they have become.

But what concerns me most about the Fifty Shades phenomenon is how deceptive these fantasies are in how they twist the realities of violence against women. This week, The Atlantic published a story that documented the lives of six women from the Pakistani city of Karachi. Aeyesha, 18, was raped in her uncle’s house while she was trying to get bread for her family. Rehana, 37, says that since her husband sees her as an “animal with no rights”, broken ribs, broken teeth, and miscarriages are “routine”. Salma, 39, is often threatened with acid and cries in the shower when she sees her battered body, broken and bruised again and again by her husband.

These are only a few of the handful of stories emerging from Pakistan, the third most dangerous place in the world for women. in 2009, 8548 cases of domestic violence were reported in the four provinces of Pakistan. Four in five women face some form of domestic violence. But that’s Pakistan … surely things are not so grim in the Western world? Au contrare. In the U.S., the number of abused women falls to one in four, but domestic violence is still the leading cause of injury for women between the ages 15 and 44–more than car accidents, muggings, and rape combined. In America, a woman is beaten by her husband or partner every 15 seconds.

But Fifty Shades is all in good fun–it’s consenting sex, and after all, Anastasia is presented with a contract that if signed, will be her consent to be a Submissive. By signing the contract, she will knowingly be agreeing to stipulations such as, “The Dominant accepts the Submissive as his, to own, control, dominate, and discipline during the Term. The Dominant may use the Submissive’s body at any time during the Allotted Times or any agreed additional times in any many he deems fit, sexually or otherwise.”

The real harm in Fifty Shades–and other “literature” like it–is that it dulls our conscience to the hideous crime that domestic violence really is. Studies show that repeated exposure to violent pornographic material–(like Fifty Shades) is linked to more aggressive behavior. Feminist writers have rightfully long argued that pornography ”promotes a (cultural) climate in which acts of sexual hostility directed against women are not only tolerated but ideologically encouraged”.

(Un)Twisted Sisters

Most of us have memories of them. Those girls on the playground, in high school, in our sorority house and even in our workplace, who were bent on making life miserable for anyone not included in the elite “clique.” They teased, bullied and alienated. These are the girls now epitomized in a slew of Hollywood teen films such as the “Mean Girls,” but it’s a relational dynamic that strings it way through human history all the way back to Rachel and Leah: the harsh reality of female rivalry.
In politics, business and our personal lives, both men and women are guilty of merciless competition, envy and cattycriticism. We don’t need to look any further than ESPN or E! to know that competition and envy abound in relationships regardless of gender, but in relationships between females, it takes on a new form because of the scarceness of opportunities for women and even the scarceness of “good” men.

Often times envy is spurred on by fear: fear of rejection, of alienation, of anonymity, of a perceived purposeless of one’s life because ‘someone else’ did it first. Unfortunately, these expectations and fears can cause women, even more so than men, to have twisted relationships in which we are constantly comparing or criticizing one another.

As Kelly Valen, author of Twisted Sisterhood: Unraveling the Dark Legacy of Female Friendships, stated in an interview regarding an incident of alienation and abandonment by her sorority sisters, “Although the incident obviously involved both men and women, it was that lingering hurt that I had from women and that betrayal … we have expectations of support from women.”

Yet, in 1 Thessalonians 5:11-14, the apostle Paul calls Christians to rise above these contentions and set an example for those outside the faith.

In this passage, Paul exhorts us to “untwist” our relationships by encouraging one another, building up one another, helping one another, and seeking the good for each other. Matthew Henry comments, “We should not only be careful about our own comfort and welfare, but promote the comfort and welfare of others also. He was a Cain who said, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ We must bear one another’s burdens, so as to fulfill the law of Christ.”
I’m learning that to truly “untwist” our relationships, as Christian women leaders, we must be willing to stretch ourselves and let go of both our judgments and perceptions about other women—as well as our fears about our own perceived shortcomings—by acknowledging and supporting the giftedness of other Christian women.

Marriage Matters: All the Single Ladies

I never planned to get married at the early-spring age of 23.  While all my friends were either pairing off or pining to do so, I was plotting how to live several years on each of the seven continents (yes, even chilly, dark, Antartica).  Husbands and babies were the furthest thing from my mind, and at 23, I had room enough and time to be cavalier about my singleness.  I knew my desire for adventure and my lack of desire for marriage were unusual, but I never felt insecure or ashamed.

All the Single LadiesAccording to the sprawling cover story of The Atlantic, had I remained single rather than choosing to marry, being a single female would no longer be that unusual.  According to Kate Bolick, culture editor for Veranda magazine, more and more women are remaining single due to a shortage of “marriageable” men—men who earn more money and are more educated.  The perfect storm of women’s ascent in society and the simultaneous decline in life prospects for men has led to a “crisis in gender” in which women must choose between deadbeats and players.

For Bolick, the economic crisis has split the dating pool into two camps: deadbeats who are unemployed, underemployed, or uneducated, and the playboys who eschew commitment because the demand for successful men outnumbers the supply.  These changes come in conjunction with the tendency for people to marry later, marry less, and the ability to have a biological child without a physical partner.

Bolick argues that the world must come to grips about these changes in marriage, intimacy, and kinship in order to have less unhappy families.  As an alternative to the nuclear family, she suggests the collaborative raising of children by a group of women who reside together—a variant of the social structure demonstrated by the Mosuo people in China.

Bolick makes some important critiques about the way society views single woman—as if they were adjuncts to society, incomplete in themselves.  She urges others to not reduce women’s identity to just whom it is they do or do not marry, but to consider the depth and complexities of the network of relationships that emerge from our roles as daughters, friends, aunts, and cousins.  Bolick makes her finest point when she resolves to accept her singleness.  “If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional,” she writes, “perhaps I’d be a little more … happier.”

Still, a number of concerns surface in Bolick’s piece regarding the nature of marriage. First, Slate’s Jessica Grose offers an incisive critique that most of the twelve cover stories written by women have toRosie do with nothing more than specific women’s issues.  Second, Bolick states that due to the economy, single women must choose between deadbeats and players.  Given that Bolick has more experience than I do in the dating game, I can take this at face value as her experience, but I have trouble equating men who have lost their jobs or have taken paycuts due to The Great Recession as “deadbeats.”  Are marriageable men only those who make more than we do?  Does that automatically make men “losers” if they don’t? Do we want gender parity, or to be able to marry up?

Second, she places the blame for the shifting state of marriage in America on the broad back of the women’s movement.  Due to the women’s movement, we are putting off marriage, marrying less often, and have developed biological means to have children without a man.  Although she doesn’t support her claim with evidence, a connection between the two can be reasoned.  However, she takes this to nth degree when she proposes to raise children in families of women, and reduce the role of male to a sexual partner.  This greatly diminishes the role and identity of men and minimizes the gratifying, mutually beneficial relationship that men and women were designed to have.

Bolick’s article is endearingly rambling—one feels as though they were along on the ride with her as she comes to grips with her singleness.  Life experiences are, after all, very rarely as straightforward as a three-point essay.  But her perceptions about marriage and men underscore the importance of Christians providing—by rhetoric and by example—a meaningful alternative to the prevailing views about marriage.