purposeful living

Discovering a Nation of Heroines in the Netherlands

We went to the Netherlands to bike. Amsterdamweb

We also went to see Corrie ten Boom's Hiding Place and Anne Frank's Annex. We went to experience their stories and immerse ourselves in their world, strong females whose voices still live. In a land that produced such women, I suspected there were more. I sensed we would discover them on the journey. Yet for all the heroines, I also knew the Netherlands had thousands of exploited sisters. Women from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East sex trafficked in the infamous Red Light District. I wanted to experience their stories too. If I'm going to invite my daughter into the company of women as a finale to this rites of passage year, she needs to know the breadth of the sisterhood: pain and need coexist with strength and hope.

In Utrecht, we searched in vain for a statue of Trijn van Leemput, pick axe in hand, symbolizing her rally of other women to demolish a castle-turned-Spanish garrison at the onset of the 80 years war. Historians have picked at the veracity of this tale, but I guess that a people who valorize women can have all the legend they want.

In Gouda, we stayed with Jet and discovered a woman motivated by God's love to care for people in her home: foster kids, long-term residents, weary travelers like us, and entire families during transitions. She lived in a 19th century town home, so narrow the stairwell resembled a ladder. It had one small toilet closet and a newish shower room on the 3rd floor. She had recently been to Cambodia to learn more about IJM's work and we connected over human trafficking.

In Oudewater, we weighed ourselves on the official scales used to acquit Dutch women accused of witchcraft during a time in which thousands of women were put to death. It was thought that witches needed to be light enough to fly and if one could prove her weight was "normal" on Oudewater's official scales, her innocence was sealed. We were appalled at the crazy false accusations and hysteria around women who deviated in the slightest way from the majority.

The scales used to weigh women accused of witchcraft

Haarlem gave us Corrie ten Boom, a woman compelled by her faith to protect as many Jews during the German occupation of the Netherlands as she could. A woman who sacrificed her own security and ultimately, lost her father and sister in concentration camps. We learned about Hannie Shaft, 25-year-old Dutch Resistance fighter known as 'the girl with the red hair'. She was killed by the Germans just 3 weeks before liberation for her ceaseless fight to sabotage their efforts. And long before WWII, there was Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, the fearless Dutch heroine who inspired Haarlem to rebuild the city's defense wall. Her statue stood proud in the train station courtyard, sword beneath her feet.

Corrie ten Boom's bedroom hiding place.  Six people hid and escaped while Corrie and her family were arrested.

 

Kenau: The Woman who Inspired a City

By the time we were back in Amsterdam, I was pretty convinced we were walking among giants. My daughter had easily named women who exhibited the categories we discussed all year: Jet loved, Kenau led, Hannie fought, Corrie sacrificed, Anne Frank created. And what about the women who have lived in the Begijnhof since 1150, the devout women (not nuns) who chose to serve the Lord in prayer and service within a circle of Amsterdam townhouses? Or all the brave women highlighted in the Dutch Resistance Museum for their courage during the occupation of Germany (in Holland) and Japan (in the Dutch East Indies/ now Indonesia)? What of the women we had met along our bike journey who went out of their way to escort us to the next path, stop others for assistance, and offer us shelter?

The Begijnhof: A Chosen Path of Quiet Service for Women

On our last day, we made our way to Dignita, Not For Sale's cafe and culinary training program site. I wanted to learn more about the state of the Red Light District and hear from on the ground experts. Secretly, I wanted my daughter to see the out working of a life lived with passion. My passion may never become hers, but I desperately want her to discover one as meaningful. In fact, I have a working theory that the antidote to a teen's obsession with boys, bodies, and besties is catching a vision for a bigger story.

[bctt tweet="I have a working theory that the antidote to a teen's obsession with boys, bodies, and besties is catching a vision for a bigger story."]

Dignita is committed to re-creating stories for the trafficked men and women they offer culinary certificates to. We didn't need to walk the district to learn about the women photographed like monkeys in a window; to hear that the majority are threatened to come under the rule of a trafficker. We were told the district is dying (because more tourists are voyeurists than paying customers), but that it is moving underground, online. Why pay 200Euros/ hour for rent when the sale of sex can be arranged online? My daughter was concerned about the laws (having heard all about human trafficking already). Why was this legal? Why were there not better laws to protect these women? Who is going to change this?

I saw her blood begin to boil. The first signs of a heart breaking is anger. Holy anger leads to passion.

[bctt tweet="The first signs of a heart breaking is anger."]

This is catching a vision for living a bigger story.

Experiencing the women of the Netherlands, the strong and brave and exploited alike, provided a framework upon which to hang meaning. These are lessons you can't just teach from a book or gain from a movie. Sometimes you have to walk in their shoes, see the places from which bravery sprung forth, imagine the moments in which choices were made.

[bctt tweet="Sometimes you have to walk in their shoes, see the places from which bravery sprung forth, imagine the moments in which choices were made."]

We've come from a beautiful global sisterhood. To this I invited my daughter: this, this is the company of women you join as you become a woman.

Over-Sexualized Children: One Way to Stop the Sponge Effect

 
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My friend’s daughter is in the 1st grade. Though they do not own a TV, she is already sporting a sexy sass and eying boys. The only real explanation is that she is mirroring what she sees at school. Kids are already talking about “dating.” Her class has a collective conscious that their sexuality is something to wield as a means of control, like Samantha’s nose twitch on Bewitched. (And I promise, it was already in reruns when I was a kid!)

In a meeting with a school counselor, I hear of another 1st grader. After he recently smacked a classmate’s butt, he wound up in her office. As she pursued the little boy and his reasoning, his attitude said “duh” everyone knows, while he verbalized, “It’s what girls deserve.”

Bottom line? Kids are sponges. They will absorb whatever is most frequently put before them, whether it’s domestic violence and machismo at home or over-sexualized peers in class. And the reality is that our seven-year olds are exposed to far more than we can prevent or control.

The same school counselor expressed her concern that her kids have to code-switch: shed what they know as normal from home when they come through school doors and vice versa. NPR hijacked this term from linguistics to broadly describe the “hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.

My friend’s daughter has to code-switch everyday when she enters her classroom: Mom may say it’s not appropriate to “date” at age 7, but every single one of my girlfriends likes a boy and to be cool, I have to too. The butt-slapping 7-year old code-switches every time he returns home: Ms. Smith says girls don’t deserve to be treated like that, but my uncle and granddad and older brother treat all their girls that way, so what’s the deal? Can we truly expect children to switch so quickly, so effortlessly? Is it any wonder that these incidents are happening?

As adults, unless we raise children in an isolated bubble, they will absorb the rhetoric and narrative of those with whom they spend most of their time. And yet, if we don't expose them to the world, how can we teach them to respond in beautiful and honoring ways? How do we raise boys and girls to value themselves and others within their own selves, not to the manipulation, control, or degradation of the other?

I offered my friend one nugget of a suggestion, timidly, for my own kids are still in adolescence and I have no proof my hypothesis works.

But I’ve seen the Sponge Effect.

And to combat it, I’ve sought to raise my kids’ perspective above the daily drama of school politics, relational positioning, and cultural messaging. I’ve read them stories of girls living on the other side of the globe, forced to walk miles for water, marry at their age, or stay home from school because of hygiene issues. We’ve watched films about Jewish children smuggled out of ghettos or Vietnamese girls who bike for hours a day to attend school. I’ve opened their eyes to sacrifice, for sure. But more than that, I’ve opened their eyes to the bigger narrative of kids: past and present in every corner of the world. If we were all created in God's image, do we not all deserve to be valued in a way that is honoring to Him? Now, when one of them complains about the most recent school drama, I remind them that we all have something in common.

My goal is to locate my kids in a meta-narrative: Yes, I believe there are universal truths. Let us at least start with human dignity for all (and abolish butt-slapping because of the belief it’s what she deserves!) Perhaps then, we can agree to valuing ones self for one's self, not based on the arm one is attached to? Of course, there will be differences in opinion on sexuality, gender norms, and roles in relationships, but can we not agree to these basic truths? Children ought to learn to value themselves and others with dignity.

And that is worth absorbing.

What about you? What have you done to help curb the sponge effect?

 

For The Mom Who Aches For More

 
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Dear Mom,

Is this you?

You have battled thru the Mommy Wars and wrestled with sleep training and discipline methods and school choices and career/stay at home dilemmas. You have fought to find your own voice and now you know, in your bones- you are valued, purposed, wanted.

And more than anything, you want your daughter to know this too, beyond question.

You read Sarah Bessey and Addie Zierman and connect- your faith has taken a beating too. The same Evangelical space no longer fully holds you. You attend IF: Gathering and your heart swells- there are strong women speaking your language. Jennie Allen and Jen Hatmaker and Ann Voskamp remind you- you are strong, valued, purposed, wanted.

You are a mama to a tween. And you are wondering. How in the world am I going to raise her in this new spiritual space I find myself occupying?

You look out at what's available to your kind and you find princess archetypes, balls and promise rings, purity and covenants and spiritual weekends and you think, fine, good, but insufficient. The weight of your daughter's glory hangs in the balance and requires so.much.more.

You look out at her kind and you see young women living small stories, preoccupied with a world of their making of which they are in the center, being swallowed whole by the drama and gossip and narrative of teen culture. You wonder, is it stoppable? Preventable? Especially when you glance back at your kind and realize some of them never grew up. You have people in your spaces still living small stories.

[bctt tweet="You have people in your spaces still living small stories."]

In fact, you realize this is an epidemic. Too many peers have yet to discover their voice. Too many are preoccupied with a world of their making. They can't see past the immediate, the constraints, the hurdles, but worst- they don't believe they're needed, valued, purposed.

And so you look at your daughter. This young girl becoming.

She must know in the core of her being that God has purposed her. She must know He is the center of the story of which she is called to be a part. She joins the tale He is telling, through the passion he has placed in her heart. And the drama? The drama is the unfolding of redemption; the story of mercy poured out on a people. Who will be her people? What will be her place? Which problem will she embrace?

Because you realize, a girl living out her passion does not have time for drama of the teen sort. She is too busy growing in curiosity and wonder and being wrecked by a God who calls us to a story of epic proportions.

Is this you, Mom?

Is this you looking for hope for your girl-child-becoming?

Can you recall a memory of when you were first wrecked? When you were young and naive, did you ever get preachy and make everyone around you feel guilty? When were you so gripped with passion that you sacrificed time and money to advance your cause?

Mine? I became a right-wing, secular humanist-fearing activist in high school because of a camp I attended. I came home and raised my voice and got all heated about certain magazines in our public school library and went before our school board and landed front and center in our local newspaper. It makes me chuckle and roll my eyes now. I would love to take my principled 17-year-old self out for coffee!

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But you know what? I was passionate. I had been wrecked by God. My faith was young and naive and maybe I was hearing him wrong, but I loved him and wanted to align my life with the things he cared about. I did it in messy, broken ways... the way we do when we are following a story one chapter at a time.

Do you want more for your daughter? Pray that God would wreck her. Pray that she would develop a passion that sets her sights on a meta-narrative and gets her out of the small story of American teen drama. Welcome her into your own passion.

And mom? If you lack your own, well, you know where you must begin.

Together on the journey,

Beth