I don’t blog anymore because I can’t react to things at the appropriate times.
I can’t be a journalist.
I can’t be clickbait.
See, these days, I live up in a little top story of a Nashville cottage-mansion with two little souls who haven’t quite learned how to respond when I say things just yet. I could talk at them all day about women’s rights & evangelicalism & purity culture & they’d just blink. Maybe scream. (Prolly scream.) I play mama now, & let me tell you WHAT, is it ever an exercise in rejoicing-with-those-who-rejoice & mourning-with-those-who-mourn. Our tear duct cycles are all in sync, the three of us, in our little Rapunzel tower on our quaint, fiery autumn Nashville street.
I’m not gonna blog about blogging, although I probably should. I should probably tell you why I’ve been absent. I should probably wax verbose on the subject of blog “vision”. Maybe I should care about branding or making this little corner of the internet look less like shit. Maybe I should tell you that this site is UNDER CONSTRUCTION & will shortly be streamlined & professional – all the punk-kid shined off & looking semi-respectable. Maybe someday all my blouses will get hung again after that one bedbug outbreak & maybe someday that little ring of grime around the faucet I can’t quite get to will miraculously disappear.
Maybe someday! *insert cheery shrug*
TODAY IS NOT THAT DAY.
Today, I’m just going to write like we are the oldest & dearest of friends, because I have a little story to share. I made almond icing for these scones in the oven, and boy, I’ve never made anything this fancy so you’d better get it while you can. Pull up a mug of cream tea. I have an announcement.
Today, after 10 months of bathroom-floor tears & planted roots of bitterness & playing the outsider, today I told myself: I FIT.
I choose to fit. I choose a community that is broken & shabby & kind of looks like grandma’s quilt after 30 yrs & moths.
Truth is, by most accounts, I kinda don’t – or so I’ve always believed. “You’re a missionary kid,” the voice that sounded sorta like me would say disdainfully. “You’ll never meet anyone’s expectations. You’re just a punk kid with weird lipstick who loves foreign alphabets and calligraphy and solving Agatha Christie novels and you don’t even look like a good minister’s kid with those sunset-colored PICTURES on your arms! Who would want you?”
(Turns out that voice wasn’t me after all.)
I sat across from my pastor’s wife, a woman in whom I had seen a fierceness, a twinkle, strength & wisdom & humor gathering pooled behind her eyes. She was a deep well. I could tell. She’s a pastor and a therapist, a mama and a leader, and I asked her to meet me so she could tell me I was OKAY. That I fit. I wanted validation, see. I wanted recognition. I wanted her to pat me on the back & say, “Well done.” I wanted her to be the Spirit.
Then, the strangest thing happened.
Turns out – the SPIRIT was inside ME.
& I heard, in my heart’s ear, the whispered truth about my self & how I mattered & without knowing what she thought of me really, I told her I fit anyway. I spoke it into existence.
AND IT WAS THERE, SUDDENLY, IT WAS THERE. IT WAS REAL.
I FIT BECAUSE I SAID SO.
& then, just like that, we were in the thick of it, talking about our dreams for God’s strange, beautiful women in our little city. We are a ragamuffin lot, we are, failed artists & aspiring singers & single moms & boy, do a lot of us have purple hair. A lot of us left other places because we didn’t fit those places & we are all HERE, NOW, not-fitting together. Most of us have probably heard a voice that sounds much like ourselves tell us that we don’t belong where we came from & it had sent us like aimless, doubting Hagars to search for a hometown & answers from heaven.
She told me that the Spirit had given her a dream – a dream about women – and my breath caught. She’d had an inkling of equipping the women of our little body with PERSONHOOD – dismantling the power differentials that kept us from preaching & standing tall & forging ahead with our respective visions. In her dream, that strength & purpose had gone forth through the city, passed on from sister to sister until it spread far outside our four old brick walls & took root in the hearts of this city.
She said, “That’s kinda my thing.” & I said, “That’s MY thing!” & together we soaked in that joyful, pregnant silence just a minute.
The conversation turned to books, & she said, “Have you read N.T. Wright?!” & I said, “Have you read Jesus Feminist?!” & she took down a little note to herself that out there in the world was a lady named Sarah Bes – no, two S’s – ey who thought that being a Jesus feminist was a real thing.
She hadn’t had the words for it, you know?
She didn’t have the language.
But she had the Spirit, & the Spirit had spoken anyway.
It was then, I think, that my little abstract dreams of feminism in the way of Christ took flesh & blood.
They had a name.
They were April.
It’s taken a long time for my dreams & theories about feminism in the way of Christ to take any sort of tangible form. Praxis is not my strong suit. Tonight was a tiptoe in the right direction, though, and in the name of the Spirit who speaks to us even when we don’t know all the fancy words & in the name of Ruth, who declared Naomi her home & Boaz her kinsman-redeemer I say, with all the clarion tones my timid voice can muster,
I say to you
& you & you & you –
I FIT, & so do you.
I broke my four-year dating fast and dated four men this year.
Call it a response to purity culture.
Call it an attempt at personhood.
Call it whatever you please.
Four times I ventured outside my comfort zone. Four times I decided to let someone inside my wall. Four times I took a deep breath and said, “Hey, yeah, in spite of logic, in spite of even my better judgment,
you have the permission to know me.”
Four times I showed up as myself, and four times I learned how to stay myself when it ended.
Four things stuck out as my take-aways from these experiences. Four quotes come to mind when I see each of their faces. I’m going to share them with you because I am tired of the way that people who love Jesus DO love, and I am trying to change.
I am trying to work harder.
I am trying to be better.
And if I stay single for the rest of my life after this sudden surge in my romantic life, Lord willing it will not be because I never figured out how to love.
Relationship #1: “I’m not over her.”
This one killed me. This one put me through two months of early morning torment,
waking up every morning to lethargically to drive to work and run through that last freezing Friday evening when he told me he wasn’t over her, and he wasn’t ready.
It turns out that wasn’t true. I’m sure he meant it, and I’m sure he really thought he wasn’t.
But this same man just sent out his save-the-dates with some other woman, so I can only conclude that was not quite true.
Here’s what I can conclude, because I still respect and trust the man who told me this particular un-truth.
He wasn’t over the idea of her… and I know a thing or two about that.
I spent three years of my life being in love with an idea, and here’s the thing about ideas:
Ideas can’t spoon you. Ideas can’t hold you. Ideas can’t pull your head onto their shoulder when one too many three-year-olds yell at you one day.
Ideas are the loneliest things to love, and they are also the easiest.
They require nothing of us.
We get to write angry love poems about them and pine for them and route and re-route our potential lives like a thousand Google maps for them.
We’ve gotta stop. We need to do better.
Relationship #2: “I’m not trying to tame you, I just wanna come along for the ride.”
So this was technically the right thing to say.
This is what I always wanted a man to say.
I wanted to be loved for my fire and my quirks and my passionate couch-jumping and my loud voice and my red lipstick and my cut-off t-shirts and my adventurous, wandering, grieving, revolutionary-type soul.
And he did, he really did. Or at least he tried harder than most.
Except he didn’t tell me the truth either.
Because most of us ARE actually trying to tame somebody. We are trying to love a real person while somehow fitting all of their square pegs into the round holes of our well-edited good Christian checklists.
We’re not looking for people, we’re looking for spouses. We are desperately trying – to fill this role of our perfect sexy virgin spouse and none of us – NOT ONE OF US – is good enough to be anybody’s perfect sexy virgin spouse.
Epilogue of relationship #2: also engaged.
What can I say?! I’m good luck.
Relationship #3: “I’m not what you need, so I’m not gonna fight for you.”
He sat across the table from me, one of my dearest, oldest friends,
and before this last quote, he half-heartedly said something about how we weren’t that bad. We could still work things out. Things hadn’t been bad that long.
It only took twenty minutes for him to give up on all that.
Admittedly, my communication skills leave whole worlds to be desired.
Bono said that “the best of us are geniuses of compression”, and I am an expert bottler. My heart is a bottling factory.
All of a sudden all of the concerns that I’d kept inside our whole relationship came spilling out of me.
They were good ones, too. I was fighting for my faith; he was letting his slip away. He was spending his nights bar-hopping with co-workers; I was reading and blogging and studying and arguing theology with people who actually cared. We were growing apart before we even had a chance to grow together.
But what’s sad is… we could have. We could have worked at it.
And when he walked to the door that night, tears gathering just underneath his lids –
when he turned around and said,
‘I needed this, Hannah. Nobody ever calls me out on anything.
I wanna fight for you, but I feel like you’re speaking from the Lord and I need to heed this warning…
… So I won’t’
I couldn’t help but think how different things could be, if he hadn’t walked out just then.
If he had tried.
If we both had just tried a little harder.
RELATIONSHIP #4: “Move across the country for me.”
Finally I had found my soulmate.
I had found him three years too late, but I had found him.
We had tried to date back when I was celibate and heartbroken, and I had rejected him one too many times.
But here he was, knocking on my door, keeping me up late on the phone, and he got me.
He practically WAS me.
We agreed on everything. We cracked jokes about all the evangelicalism and feminism and we questioned all the same things. We were so in sync. I was getting somewhere. I could feel it. Here was a man I could maybe marry…
if I moved across the country for him.
He was real set, you see. He had grown up in his city and he wanted to die in his city. I couldn’t understand that devotion to a geographical point on a map, but I respected it. I could go, right? I could find something to do, something to BE there, right?
And then, just as suddenly as he had happened to me, he disappeared. I was worried about moving for him for no other foreseeable reason, and at the first hint of strain, he just stopped. No more words. No more phone calls. He just
Four relationships later,
I’m wide awake.
I remember what it was like to love.
I remember what it was like to open up my heart and let somebody walk in my gate.
I remember what it was like to beat down somebody’s gate too.
I used to be real good at this, when I was 18 and in love and planning a marriage to a man I don’t know anymore. I asked all the questions and I listened to all the answers. Then I lost him and I thought, maybe, I hadn’t loved him hard enough.
Maybe, maybe, if I had just tried a little harder.
If I had just fought a little longer.
But what I’m learning is,
whether right or wrong, I am
I am condemned to beat down the doors of the men that I love. I am a hard worker. I’m a fighter.
Because love – love is a skill. Love is a habit. Love is something you work at. Love requires effort. Love requires patience. Love requires determination.
Love means deciding, after considering all things, that
“where you go, I will go.”
After four boyfriends in 2013, that’s what I’ve learned.
For better or for worse, it is my calling.
And I am called to stay single, until I meet a man who can handle that kind of commitment, regardless of emotional attachment and regardless of the reasons why not.
And today I realize that I am rehabilitated from purity culture. My project is complete. I have learned how to be me, and I have learned when to withdraw. I have learned to accept my body as the gift that it is – no more, and no less. I have learned that, while everyone must decide for themselves what these are, physical displays of growing emotional intimacy and attraction are actually healthy. Whereas I used to boycott the institution altogether to set myself apart, I have learned how to be in relationship without giving in to the dating requirements of the increasingly obsolete Christian subculture.
I have learned that my well-being is not dependent on my relationship status.
I have learned that my comfort zone is not necessarily the way things should be.
I have learned how to look in a man’s eyes and tell him exactly where I stand, without using God as my crutch.
I have learned how to just BE.
And I urge you, in the same token, not to expect anything more from anyone else. Don’t expect anything more from anyone than being who they are. None of us deserves any better than that. Love – romantic or otherwise – is something we learn how to do.
Love is a skill. Hone it. Develop it. Stay up late practicing it. No one expects you to know how overnight, but you will be –
you ARE –
expected to try.
Friends, it is time to begin again. It is time to start something new. Something real. Something that does not shame us, something that does not inhibit us from being the men and the women that we miraculously, imaginatively, creatively ARE.
And if you’re ready, let’s get started.
Let’s try. Together.
the six of us were gathered on and around our friend Jacob’s bed,
the very picture of intimate community,
our hearts heavy with the weight of a secret only we knew.
I was acutely aware of my tear ducts that evening, as I had just spent the previous one emptying them in front of this very same group of (mostly) men.
It had been decided the week before that the small community we were in charge of had grown too much too quickly, and now instead of a home for the hurting and a haven of accountability, we were just the new cool hang for everyone in our church under the age of 30. It was time for us to disband, and to start over. As wise as this choice eventually seemed, my heart was with every one of our students in the next room, praying and laughing and catching up, oblivious of the changes we had not yet announced – and I ached to think how little time was left for me to spend with them before new communities & homework & extra night shifts scattered us to the winds.
So here we were, gathered to pray over our little flock, and naturally, we start to reminisce a bit.
“Maybe we can still meet every month or so, ” someone remarked. “Half the reason these kids are here anyway is to hook up.”
I must have scoffed, because suddenly all eyes were on me, and the protagonist of this inane conversation starts in on me. “You know that’s why you’re here, Hannah,” he said, amused at my apparent distaste for his general premise.
“Come on, you at least thought about it.”
Think about it? I mean, I’m sure I did. Who doesn’t? You can read my previous post about how I have trouble not putting people in boxes. But any romantic inclinations I may have worked through for my friends and co-leaders – and work through them I did – were nothing compared to the hours I’d spent praying over, worrying about, and drinking inordinate amounts of coffee with the men and women that had come every Tuesday night seeking love & a home & somewhere they could get their questions answered.
But here we were, trivializing that entire endeavour and pretending that we were all just sorry we hadn’t dated everybody.
“No, I was NOT,” I retorted. (My retorts are usually razor-sharp, I assure you.)
“Oh, good,” he said. “That just means that you are waiting for a man to pursue you, like you should be. Good girl.”
He said it with all of the genuine concern and kindness of someone giving a compliment. “Good job, Hannah, you’re serving God just so that some man will see you and want you! Keep up the good work.”
And that was the end of it.
If I was not a feminist when I walked into that bedroom, I was when I walked out.
Because my sex drive or romance drive or whatever inherently human part of me thinks it would be a good idea to ever marry somebody does not guide my life or ministry choices. I am not sitting around, believing that I somehow have nothing else to do than be loved and rescued by any earthly man.
WHOLE & COMPLETE, NOT LACKING ANYTHING.
(except maybe holiness. we’re working on that. )
I am a full person – a free moral agent – and my individual pursuit of God & any other person is my journey to take.
I was angriest that day because a boy had said out loud what I’m always afraid men are thinking.
That, as a woman in the church, I am by very nature a HALF.
Half a heart. Half a body. Half a purpose.
That I walk through my weekly acts of service – leading songs, stacking chairs, greeting new faces – just to be noticed and found by the puzzle piece that will complete me & make me a whole person, able to live out Proverbs 31 and become an acceptable, respected member of society. Until that day, however, it seems that my every move can be boiled to my one obvious motivation:
FINDING A HUSBAND.
So, why feminism?
I balk even typing that word. I can’t stand to use it in everyday conversation.
Maybe one day I’ll grow into it. Maybe I’ll learn to stretch out under its vast canopy, breathe a little deeper, and own my freedom a little more.
But today, feminism is a gate – and on the other side is an expedition I’m starting on to take back my personhood.
Feminism – because we can’t just keep telling ourselves that we are worthy, cherished daughters of the Most High, and then living like damsels in distress living in towers of inertia waiting for a kiss of true love to awaken us from slumber.
Feminism – because if we are whole people, then we should be doing a lot less waiting and a lot more speaking, singing, preaching, and crusading against injustice, wherever we find it.
Feminism – because I,
will no longer be half the women we were created to be.