Set-Apart Femininity Review #1: Let’s talk communication

Welcome back to Tuesday, and to the first week of our Set-Apart Femininity review series. I’d like to think of this as sort of a long-distance book club. If you have the book and want to follow along that would be awesome; at the end of each entry I’ll let you know what section we’re covering next week. And if you don’t have the book, I’d still love to hear your thoughts in the comments so we can have a discussion on these things and learn from each other.

Sound good? Let’s get started with the introduction, p. 5-6, and talk about communication.

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Does tone matter?

Leslie Ludy begins the book with a two-page introduction titled My Hope and Prayer, written to potential readers. She begins by acknowledging her first book, Authentic Beauty, and how happy she’s been with the feedback from the many girls it’s helped. Though I’ve never read Authentic Beauty, from what I can tell it covers many of the same topics as Set-Apart Femininity: beauty, Christian living, relationships to guys, etc. She goes on to explain, however, the difference she sees between her two books:

When I sat down to write my book Authentic Beauty: The Shaping of a Set-Apart Young Woman, I imagined myself sitting across from my reader in a quaint coffee shop for an intimate, personal conversation. . . .though Set-Apart Femininity is written in a personal style like Authentic Beauty, and I am honest and vulnerable in these pages, this book is not so much an intimate coffee shop conversation as it is a rousing call to arms–kind of like me standing on top of the table in the coffee shop and passionately proclaiming the truth to anyone who will listen! God has challenged me in these past few years. . . .to rise above the typical mediocrity of modern-day womanhood and walk along a road that is narrow, rocky, and misunderstood by the masses.

. . . .Set-Apart Femininity presents spiritual challenges in a blunt, pull-no-punches way that is uncommon in today’s soft-spoken Christian world.

When I was reading reviews of this book, I found a number of low-star reviewers who were there because they had liked Authentic Beauty but were disappointed that this book lacked the well-developed and artful presentation of the previous one. The on-top-of-the-table tone seemed to be a distraction from the points she had crafted well in her first book. On the flipside, there are many Christian pastors and writers who prefer the “screaming prophet” persona and believe it shows passion, fire, and authenticity. But is it really better for the message?

I actually had the experience of someone yelling at people in a coffee shop. My friend and I were chilling at a Caribou when a lady stood up in the middle of the room and started screaming about something (I think it was marijuana legalization). This lady  was passionate, blunt, pull-no-punches, and definitely not soft-spoken. And how did people take her message? Not well. Most people averted their eyes and pretended she didn’t exist until the management asked her to leave. After the lady left, my friend and I had an even-keeled, rational discussion on drug legalization. Whose opinions do you think I considered more seriously: my friend’s or the screaming lady’s?

While some niches of Christianity favor appearing tough and passionate, I think this passion can easily slip into a pride that looks down upon normal (or “soft-spoken”) discourse. Communicate in a gentle and loving way? That’s weak and mediocre. Scream at people? That’s strong and on fire for the Lord. And I find this unfortunate, since in the rest of the world, losing your cool generally conveys a lack of maturity and intellectual integrity. Jesus himself did a vast majority of his teaching in this conversational style, rich with stories and rhetorical questions. What makes passages like Matthew 23 stand out so much is precisely because Jesus did not use this commanding tone as a default but saved it for dire matters, such as rebuking the religious leaders who were leading people astray for their own financial and power gain.

Finally, many people, through various life experiences, associate raised voices or domineering tones with power assertion, pain, and abuse, and hearing such a style from an authority figure claiming to speak on behalf of God can be, I fear, spiritually damaging. It doesn’t mean these people are too weak to listen to God. It just means they need to hear God’s words expressed in love and understanding to hear him well. 

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Conflicting perspectives or personal flaws?

Not only is extended, excessive volume distracting from content and not conducive to a well-rounded conversationit can also seem rather like a cop-out: if someone doesn’t like your message, you can say it’s because they can’t handle your passion. Someone has different opinions? They weren’t up to my challenging style. Someone thinks you are wrong? They’re just too afraid. And I wonder if that’s part of what Ludy is doing here: purposefully setting herself up as abnormally passionate to create a protective coating against criticism. In the introduction she goes on with other words that seem to deflect criticism before it happens:

If you want to remain comfortably where you are in your feminine journey, this book won’t be your cup of tea (or coffee, since we’re in a coffee shop). . . .it may not sit well with those who dislike strong statements about absolute truth.

These statements seemed to me to be poor logic and poor form. When engaging in an intellectual discussion, one cannot assume that a naysayer disagrees because of personal flaws, such as wanting to remain comfortable or not seeking truth. That’s what we’d call an ad hominem fallacy. There are numerous philosophical and theological reasons a reader may dislike this book, but Ludy narrows down any critiques of her writing as being attributable to the personal flaws and lack of godliness in her readers.

Additionally, Ludy places her readers in a curious position: you are either assumed to agree with her, or are assumed to not care about “absolute truth.” Personally, I’m wary of any authority figure who feels the need to use such tactics to get readers to listen. I feel that if you have a strong message, you shouldn’t have to strong-arm people into listening.

Applications to broader Christendom

My reason for bringing up the “passionate prophet” persona and ad hominem fallacies are because I’ve seen quite a bit of such thinking in modern Christianity, and despite using these concepts to appear strong, I think they can be harmful to people who are seeking answers about God. Thoughts such as “anyone who disagrees with us is deceived,” or “anyone the Spirit is really working in would realize we’re right,” or “you only think that because you’re a new Christian or go to that church or just don’t know enough, etc.,” are so common and yet so quietly hurtful.

And I wonder: how many learning opportunities are we missing out on because we dismiss others with these personal attacks? How afraid of engaging with ideas do we have to be to shoot down the idea holders with ad hominem fallacies? How many conversations are lost because people are too afraid to be labeled for bringing up certain opinions? How many people are we turning away from the church because it seems like there’s just no room to talk about things honestly?

I think to have any growth, any connection, any relationship, we have to stop cutting down those who are different from us. We have to be brave and willing to engage. We have to be willing to admit that, “yeah, there are some cool, faithful, intelligent people who might disagree with me, and that’s okay.” We have to realize that a conversation is only part speaking, and mostly listening with empathy.

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For our talks

As we begin this discussion, I want us to think about how we can communicate well with one another. How we can communicate in a way that upholds the honor and value we see in one another, and in a way that doesn’t let the fear of different opinions drag us down into the realm of name-calling and brushing others off for presumed personal reasons.

Let us not yell at each other or assume that any of us is the sole possessor of truth. Rather, let us move forward in humility and love, and think about how we can each show some humility and love to those around us.

For next week, we’ll look at the first chapter: “Sacred Intent: unlocking femininity’s spectacular purpose.” p. 7-29

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Introducing new book review series!

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When I told my husband that I’d ordered a copy of Leslie Ludy’s Set Apart Femininity, he looked at me like I was speaking French. Or like I said I’d taken to eating peanut butter. That would be even stranger.

Although he was the one to introduce me to the Ludys back in our dating days, it’d been a long time since we’d read any of their material. Excluding, perhaps, that one night we spent annotating a particularly alarming article from Leslie Ludy’s website that ended with us pretty much nodding and saying yep, we’re feminists through and through.  So flash forward to the moment when I say I’m ordering this book, and you can see why it would seem out of character.

But this is more than just getting another book to read. Rather, I’ve decided to embark on a project here on this blog, a project involving this book and discussing the subject I’m most passionate about: how the world views women.

The plan is to go through this book section by section and review, discuss, and analyze the ideas and themes presented. 

Why review this book?

Doing an in-depth book review is an idea that’s been brewing in my mind for months. I’ve heard of other bloggers doing similar projects, and as it turns out, literature analysis is a really nifty springboard to launch into some meaty topics that I’ve been wanting to discuss here. I knew Captivating had already been done, and though my first thought was to do Lady in Waiting (hands down the worst book I’ve ever read), my copy had been ceremonially burned at my bachelorette party and I just couldn’t bring myself to spend any amount of money on another one.

Though Lady in Waiting has long been ashes, I wanted to discuss a “Christian women’s book” for a few reasons:

  1. I’ve been saying for a while how I hate “Christian women” things, and this will provide a way to discuss why, and give some actual reasons for those feelings.
  2. Some of the things that are taken for granted in Christian women’s culture are completely bizarre to the rest of the world, and I’m curious to explore that (my mom’s jaw about hit the floor when we explained how Lady in Waiting assumed unmarried women feel like ‘crusty oysters washed up on the shores of singleness.’ Again: normal in Christian women’s culture, bizarre to the rest of humanity).
  3. I’d like to unpack some of both my and evangelicalism’s views on women, their roles, and this myth of what an ‘ideal woman’ looks like.

And so we come to Set Apart Femininity, a book that promises to reveal “God’s sacred intent for every young woman” as well as give “the blueprint for world-altering femininity.” If you want to know what makes a Good Christian Woman, this is apparently the guide, as evidenced by dozens of reviewers saying that this book is truth or that it changed their lives or that everyone should read it. It made the rounds in my college church group, and I personally haven’t heard anyone apart from me have any criticism (constructive or otherwise) for anything Eric or Leslie Ludy have written. They’re big writers in the evangelical world who are kind of taken as gospel, even though not all of their opinions are the absolute truth they sometimes claim them to be.

A few points before we start:

I’m not here to say that everything about this book is bad or flimsy or false. There are some good passages, and I know this book has helped some women’s faith journeys. We’ll talk about the good things. This review is also not a personal criticism of anyone who loves Set Apart Femininity or other Leslie Ludy writings; if this book rocks your world, that’s cool. Rather, I hope that we can dive into some thoughtful, thought-provoking, and intellectual dialogue about evangelicalism’s messages to women and how that’s affecting both the church and women in and out of it.

If that sort of discussion sounds appealing to you, then join me on Tuesdays to discuss Set Apart Femininity. And if you have a copy and would like to follow along as a sort of virtual book club that would be even better.

And when we’re done if you want to join me for a week in the wilderness to forget about how many times this book uses the word “princess,” that would be wonderful, too.

Agnosis and faith? On seeking through the mystery

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I came across a video not too long ago by some YouTuber I vaguely follow. It was one of those muscles-ache-stomach-twists-lying-in-bed-days I so despise but are (thankfully) becoming less and less frequent due to some new measures I’ve been taking. As I was letting autoplay do its thing, eyes not really watching but ears tuning into whatever pain distractor they could, this vlogger began to talk about her religious beliefs and how she describes herself as an agnostic atheist. The atheist part, she said, because she doesn’t have faith in a god. The agnostic part, because she doesn’t know logically, with the mind, whether she can be sure her beliefs are correct. Two different beings, the mind and the heart, and two different descriptors for each entity. Agnosis and certainty, atheism and faith.

I turned off the video and slumped back into the overstuffed pillow, thoughts veering quickly into existential crisis mode. What even am I? If someone asked me what my religious affiliation was, at this topsy-turvy-sorting-it-all-out time of my life, how would I even respond?

For starters, I only bring this up because I’ve written about and alluded to the spiritual journey I’ve gone through multiple times over the last year or so, and have had people ask me about it too. There I go, from cradle Orthodox to wide-eyed campus ministry member to disillusioned mess to: what?

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Tired of the arguments

I think about this as I walk through the yard one bright Saturday afternoon, the snow recently receded from the yellow grass and lying in soggy puddles over the still-frozen ground. I take solace at the foot of our pond, cooling hot tears with the late April breeze and chill that radiates from the still waters.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” I whisper. My voice joins the wind and gets swept somewhere into the forest’s arms. I love the forest. It’s the lone positive thought that pulls me out of the miry mental mess I’d faceplanted in.

I had just escaped (um, I mean, left) an encounter with some Jehovah’s Witnesses who had shown up at our door, an encounter that I’m ashamed to admit left me more furious than I probably had been in years. I don’t really get furious. Angry, sometimes. Impassioned, almost daily. But furious?

I was surprised, really, to see how I—someone who had spent so long in a spiritually casual mode—could get so heart-poundingly angry at these people’s claims to being the sole possessors of Earth’s Perfect Truth. How they had shown up with their Bibles as weapons to find some unsuspecting people to argue about doctrine with, and were just so convinced that nobody else could have insight apart from their sect. Historian Rae also became very irked when they claimed Constantine had invented the doctrine of the Trinity in the 4th century.

“Have you really never read Polycarp or Ignatius of Antioch?!” I gape.

Blank stare. “Is that in the Bible?”

I shake my head, ask them to leave, and leave them in the company of my miraculously even-keeled husband. I take my tea out to the pond with me so we can both let off some steam together. How could anyone be so awful, so conceited, so arrogant?

As I breathe by the pond my fury subsides into irritation. Mostly at myself. I thought all this soul-searching stuff was coming to an end, but a scrape like this and my colorful reaction certainly doesn’t indicate that. And I’m tired. Maybe that’s why I’m angry. I’m tired of it all and want to be left alone.

And I stare at that water and whisper my lament and it floats to the trees and I don’t know if it was a statement or a dare or a question. I wanted to find something out here, under the sky and beneath the trees, some sort of answer that didn’t lie in millennia of religious sects arguing about who was right, more right, and the rightest of them all. Maybe this weary soul just needed to be done.

But done with what? I chuckle as I observe the situation. Here I am, fuming at religion and claiming to be done with it all while I’m sitting and hoping for spiritual answers to supernaturally invade my soul take away the pain. I really am a hot, contradicted mess.

Or maybe not.

Which takes me back to how I began the post, and how the idea of different planes for faith and knowledge has finally started to give me some ground upon which I can begin to understand myself. Understand what’s really going on in the depths of this human who’s murkier and more convoluted than this weed-filled pond.

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Embracing seeking

I don’t know. At this point, I can honestly say I don’t know, and that I am thoroughly tired of the scripture-and-science-and-scalpel arguing of those that think they do. Or maybe they do really know something that I don’t: it’s probable. I don’t know everything, and I’m okay with that. Knowing everything sounds like it takes a lot of time.

I am on a journey, to employ an overused metaphor, and have to be content with mystery. Perhaps, as I go at my own pace, less will remain mystery. Or I’ll discover more mystery. That’s the beauty of taking the journey, isn’t it? But I know, almost for certain, that I don’t need arguments and convincing and proof of anything. All that has proven to be confusing and hurtful, as counterintuitive as it may seem. I don’t need to be convinced. I need to walk my own path, and know that I’ll still be loved in the midst of it.

I adore those whose paths are so simple, who just wake up certain that what they know is right and let that bring peace into their lives. Who can rest in their own conviction and move on with little worry. Who just live day-to-day life in the here and now without all those deep questions haunting them (maybe there are people like that, but then again, everyone is more complicated than they seem).

I’m not one of those people. I can’t not think of the deep questions.

I’m a seeker, through and through: an exploring-dimmed-paths and clawing-through-the-dirt and asking-questions and feeling-that-never-ending-gnaw-of-the-existential seeker. I resonate not with stories of those who were born knowing and never waver but with those on quests: like Harry Potter silently screaming at the memory of Dumbledore, wondering why why why he couldn’t have more answers, yet believing all the while that the answers—and someone who can give them—did exist. With those who climb mountains and cross oceans to discover what it is that’s out there and calling them. With those who moved to caves in the wilderness to come to some deeper grasp of the holy. With those who exude kindness and love even if they can’t give you a 12-step diagram to explain the history of everything. That’s my breed, my tribe.

There comes a point where you just have to take an honest look at yourself, and this is one of those points. There is something healing and clarifying about just letting all the questions and doubts hang out there and saying, “This is honestly who I am right now.” Not everyone is going to like it. And that’s okay. But I think it’s better sometimes to be honest and have people not like it than to have people continue to approve of a persona that’s not actually you.

Actual Rae is this: someone who doesn’t have all the answers, or sometimes any answers. Yet someone who has faith and believes in wonder and love and the sacred and mystery. Someone who doesn’t necessarily know how to define all that with a nifty diagram or a systematic theology, but feels it as true all the same.

Actual Rae is a seeker. I’ll see you on the road.

 

8 reasons Luna Lovegood is the best Harry Potter character

Hello dear friends!

The other day’s April Love theme was “inspiring person,” which gives me the opportunity to put together a fun piece I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Because what better way to spend a blizzard than to think about Harry Potter books, right?

So today for my inspiring person I’m picking the lovely and fictional Luna Lovegood, complete with eight reasons why she’s the best Harry Potter character. Well, my favorite, but you know.

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1. She’s the most original character you’ll meet

Even by magical wizarding standards, Luna is odd. Harry’s very first impression of her confirms this.

The girl gave off an aura of distinct dottiness. Perhaps it was the fact that she had stuck her wand behind her left ear for safekeeping, or that she had chosen to wear a necklace of butterbeer caps, or that she was reading a magazine upside down.

Luna is fascinated by magical creatures others’ don’t think exist, reads a magazine Hermione dubs as “rubbish,” and makes her own jewelry out of strange objects. Luna is one of a kind, and it’s not just her uniqueness that makes her awesome, but how she is true to herself and is honest about the things she likes. That being said…

2. She doesn’t try to stand out

Luna’s character doesn’t read as one who tries to stick out. In fact, she sometimes seems blissfully unaware of how others perceive her. What makes Luna’s quirkiness so much more palatable than say, Professor Trelawney’s, is that Luna isn’t trying to put on a show. She simply is as unique as she seems.

3. She really doesn’t care what others think of her

Luna is one of the few people who seem not to care about others’ opinions. She can wear radish earrings or a lion hat and be totally cool with any reactions she might get. Further, she isn’t angry even when others steal her things because they think she’s weird.

“How come people hide your stuff?” he [Harry] asked her, frowning.

“Oh…well…” She shrugged. “I think they think I’m a bit odd, you know. Some people call me ‘Loony’ Lovegood, actually.”

“That’s no reason for them to take your things,” he said flatly. “D’you want help finding them?”

“Oh no,” she said, smiling at him. “They’ll come back, they always do in the end.”

Even when targeted, Luna would rather be herself than conform, and simply deals with the reality of getting things back rather than worrying about how her classmates find her odd.

4. She’s genuinely kind

One of Luna’s most striking characteristics is the kindness she shows toward others, a pure kindness unmarred by superiority or judgmentalism. She reassures Harry that he’s not crazy for seeing thestrals, and after Sirius’s death she shares with Harry her experience with loss after her mother died. It was also Luna who spoke at Dobby’s burial, offering a just the right words during such a sad moment.

“Thank you so much, Dobby, for rescuing me in that cellar. It’s so unfair that you had to die, when you were so good and brave. I’ll always remember what you did for us. I hope you’re happy now.”

5. She’s a devoted friend

Luna deeply values her friendships, perhaps because her oddities have made friendship difficult for her. She’s thrilled when Harry asks her to come to a party:

“Oh no, I’d love to go with you as friends!” said Luna, beaming as he had never seen her beam before. “Nobody’s ever asked me to a party before, as a friend!”

Her gratitude to spend time with a friend is unparalleled by anyone else in the series.

Later, when Harry, Ron, and Hermione visit Luna’s house, they find that she’s painted her bedroom with the faces of the three of them as well as Ginny and Neville, with the word friends threading through each picture. This is especially endearing since it doesn’t seem any other the others have shown the same degree of appreciation for Luna that she’s shown to them.

Additionally, it’s suggested in the seventh book that after the DA’s disbanding, Luna was one of the few who kept checking her coin to see if they were getting together again.

6. She has a deep and open-minded wisdom

One of the best and perhaps most underrated of Luna’s qualities is her intelligence (she is, after all, a Ravenclaw). Behind her strangeness, what I appreciate about Luna is the special kind of wisdom she has. When I was younger, Hermione was definitely my favorite character. She was the smart one, and very well-read. And while Hermione certainly is brilliant, I think now I resonate with the creative and intuitive wisdom that Luna possesses even more than Hermione’s logic.

Luna certainly thinks outside the box, and while she’s very well-read, she’s open to original thoughts and ideas that aren’t found in textbooks. She sees the deeper meaning behind The Tale of the Three Brothers and believes in the Deathly Hallows before any of the other students do. She later goes on to discover many of the creatures others scoffed at but she believed in. Luna also makes sense of the voices that she hears from behind the veil in the Ministry of Magic.

Luna also seems to get people and their relationships, offering thoughts on others’ behavior that could seem rude but is actually merely observant.

Altogether, Luna’s creative thinking, intuitive understanding of people and mythology, and wisdom beyond her years help make her my favorite character.

7. She stays strong in the face of danger

In addition to being one of the six students to go the Ministry of Magic at the end of Order of the Phoenix, Luna spends quite a lot of the seventh book locked in a dungeon of Malfoy Manor. Ollivander credits Luna with helping him bear the horror of being imprisoned.

“I’m going to miss you, Mr. Ollivander,” said Luna, approaching the old man.

“And I you, my dear,” said Ollivander, patting her on the shoulder. “You were an inexpressible comfort to me in that terrible place.”

8. She helps Harry locate one of the last horcruxes in the final battle

When Harry enters Hogwarts to find the final pieces needed to defeat Voldemort, it’s Luna who paves the way. She knew about and believed in Ravenclaw’s diadem, even when everyone else considered it long-lost. Luna also knew to talk to the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw about the diadem, suggesting that, like Harry, she had also discovered several things about Hogwarts few other students knew about. It was her knowledge that enabled Harry to destroy the diadem and thus defeat Voldemort at the end of the battle.

 

That’s all for now, friends. Time to enjoy the fire and read from these books I’ve been talking about.

Who is your favorite Harry Potter character?

 

Happiness is acceptance

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We all know that person, or–if you’re lucky–those many people who make you breathe a little easier. Who, when you’re with them, you can feel your shoulders relax a little because it’s alright.

We know what it’s like to be with those people who let you know that it’s fully okay to be fully you, who don’t question or try to change you, who you can feel yourself opening up to without fear of judgment over the things you have to say.

We know that safe and glorious feeling of having permission to let your fears and weaknesses show and know that it won’t change what the other person thinks of you.

We hopefully all know that keep happiness and love that can only come with true acceptance.

Thank those people in your life today. And be that person who listens with patience and understands that we all are fighting a battle, and sometimes we just need a little permission to breathe.

light never leaves

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can i tell you a secret?

 

light will never leave you

strange as it may seem while we wait out the inky black

deep that falls no matter how bright the sun shone on our bare faces

today we knew it had to end

 

even as we strike the match to bring life to a dusty

candle from the back of our closet to cheer the day

of darkest skies that cover snowswept fields

it’s not really gone, is it?

 

i’ve seen people search life for what was in front of their

eyes that couldn’t see the truth of the stars that shine while dawn sleeps

but can you see there, the pine’s silhouette against the star-drenched sky

how even on the darkest of winter nights there’s still enough to tell the branches

from the rest? how we’re never really left alone?

 

the absence of light remains for the few who seek caves

and tombs and hands to strain out the rays,

but you have to walk toward that kind of dark don’t you?  it doesn’t just happen

naturally out here under the vivid night sky, there’s always enough

ever enough to never leave you dark

April love: 2018 so far

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How do I sum up 2018 so far?

I could dissect it, with a rational scalpel: the minutes passed, the percentage gone. It’s just another time around the sun.

I could weep over it, over the lives lost in schools, the conflicts arisen abroad, the injustice delivered everywhere. Over anger and disagreements. Just 94 more days of strife.

I could find power in it, in the children standing up for safety, in the women seeking equality, in new medical developments, in the slow-but-sure movement toward a more understanding society.

I could shrug at it, at the everyday hum of driving to and from work, returning phone calls, taking out the ever-growing pile of recycling (I swear it’s on steroids), all powered by daily cups of chai.

I could find pain in it, in the ache of my joints, the suffering of friends and family members, the news of young children in surgery or chemotherapy. Is there anything not deteriorating?

I could find excitement in it, in addressing envelopes for my sister’s wedding, in friends moving to new horizons, in new dogs and new jobs. In the fact that no two days are alike.

I could find love in it, in cards written and meals given to those in need, in phone calls and hugs and gifts and helping strangers. We’re all in this year together; we might as well help each other out.

Which of these measures a quarter of a year passed? Perhaps one, perhaps none. Perhaps there’s no real way to do it except acknowledge the bad and embrace the good. Perhaps each day is an opportunity to learn, and to leave the world just a tiny bit better.

 

April love: We smile. We fight.

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These are the smiles of sisters.

Of women who have stuck together for 22 years.

These are the smiles of two people who have been mistaken for twins more times than I can count, though in all honesty I still don’t see it.

Behind these smiles are more laughing fits, creative thoughts, and defeated tears than anyone can count.

These smiles shine, however small, in the midst of ongoing physical pain that the medical world doesn’t seem to have a place for. But no matter what, we know that our iron wills can’t be touched by whatever storm our bodies decide to deal out on a particular day.

These smiles haven’t always come so abundantly or easily. They’ve made it through years of scrutiny; of believing our noses are too weird or skin too spotted or lips too small. Of being told by fellow girls that there was just something wrong there, that for whatever reason, we didn’t belong.

Does anyone come out of those years unscathed?

Now we know what the beauty narrative doesn’t: that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you put on makeup and a red dress or if you slapped on a hat and ripped-up jeans over unwashed hair and unshaved legs. Neither make you more or less of a woman. Neither change who you are inside.

These smiles have made it though times of undue attention, of whispers behind the hands of insecure teenage boys and cat-calls on the streets near our college. They’ve made it through boys who want ownership when they should show respect, make fun when they should say “I’m sorry,” exhibit anger when they can’t understand that “it’s over” means that yes, it’s really over.

We learned a lot from those times, I suppose. And now we cherish the gifts of respect, maturity, and thoughtfulness in the men we’re with today.

My sister is beautiful, in every sense. She’s been through more than I can say, more than I even realized at the time. Some days I wish I could go back and love her a bit louder than I did. All days I’m grateful for who she is and how she’s using her voice to make some right in a world that sometimes seems only skin-deep.

These smiles haven’t come free. Keeping them has been a fight. These women have been through hell, but they’ve seen heaven too. There’s far more on the road ahead, but if there’s anything I know, it’s that they will stick together, and will keep on smiling.

These are the smiles of women who have stuck together for 22 years.

These are the smiles of sisters.

 

This is a video my sister made, in which she speaks out about her struggles with bullying and self-image. I think everyone should listen to it. Your words matter. Be kind.

April love: Inspiring quote

In my little world, it’s both spring break and Eastern Orthodox holy week. It also feels like February at my parent’s house in Wisconsin, following a full-day snowstorm that left a fresh eight inches of fluff. What a snowy Pascha it will be.

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s become hard to find the time or energy to craft lengthy think-pieces, so I’m embarking on an exercise in both simplicity and consistency by giving Susannah Conway’s April Love 2018 a go. Expect some short and sweet posts this month. Maybe I’ll throw in a little poetry too:)

Cheers!

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Photo from the inspiring A Year in the Wilderness book