writing

Field Notes from a Strong Daughter

Field Notes from a Strong Daughter with Sarabeth Weszley

I don’t really think of myself as a strong woman.

I just think of myself as a woman.

The “strong” is implied. Referring to myself as a strong woman feels like calling myself a “breathing woman.” I think it strange that I could be anything but.

I don’t say this to dismantle the impetus of the blog you are currently reading (how to raise strong women), but to give my mom some credit.

I don’t actually know what she did to raise me as an empowered woman, other than become one herself. I watched (in somewhat of an adolescent haze) my mom as she wrestled with the expectations placed on her as a mom in ministry, and I watched her slowly feel less and less of those expectations coming from God. What Christianity no longer seemed to expect of her, she no longer expected of herself, and I knew that whatever she no longer expected of herself as a woman, she didn’t expect of me. It was a rather free-spirited girlhood.

I experienced pretty dramatic culture shock when I moved three hours West of the Chicago bubble I grew up in, to Iowa. Both of my parents held a view of God that made them feel equal as partners. My dad did the laundry; my mom led a non-profit. I led worship for my home church congregation, composed of grown men and women. None of these ways of life felt political to me; they felt common sense, and they felt spiritual! I didn’t believe God left me out of any part of his kingdom because I was a woman.

I landed in an Iowa church that didn’t let women lead worship, preached on Christian gender roles, and didn’t leave much room for me to question any of that (although I was still quite vocal about my concerns). When I did express disagreement, I was told my defiance was unbiblical womanhood. My role, I was repeatedly told, was to come under men and silently make their ministry unto the Lord look better. This so contradicted my egalitarian upbringing, which also claimed to be rooted in and defended by the Bible. I was confused. I started to study scripture, theology , and church history, attempting to understand how the God who so respected me all my life was also the God of this church.

At the same time, I was old enough that I started to notice the mistreatment of women all around me—not only in my church but also in my classes, and even in the stoner-artist “progressive people” parties I attended. Sexual violence and verbal abuse were commonplace for women in my town, both in and out of the church. I wasn’t quite sure of my theology yet (and to be honest, I’m still not) but I knew this was evil to God.

My mom and dad both let me throw my fists and tell them the world was ending as I discovered gender inequality, as if it hadn’t existed in Chicago. They didn’t tell me to calm down. There were enough people labeling female anger “hysteria” and “moral decay.” They knew I just needed to be listened to, even though not everything I said was entirely sound.

Eventually, through all the unrestrained anger, I began to hear God asking me to forgive my church, and ultimately, to forgive what I now came to know as sexism. I even felt called to acknowledge my own near-sightedness and sin in how I dealt with the leadership there. The funny thing is, when people had told me to do the same (submit, forgive, apologize to people who should be apologizing to me) it felt like sexism. When God told me, it was absolutely liberating.

That’s what I’m most grateful to my parents for. They trusted the Holy Spirit enough to let me discover righteous anger and forgiveness on my own. This was their parenting style as a whole, actually! I’m sure they were slightly terrified at the time, letting me screw up and swing between extremes in my worldview, but that freedom empowered me as a woman, and taught me how to empower others.

Now, although I dismiss many of the expectations my society places on me as a woman, I actually have some new expectations of myself, as a human.

I expect myself to forgive oppressors, as I hope others forgive me for my own inadvertent role as an oppressor in society (my nationality, race, wealth). I expect myself to be kind to the man who comes into the restaurant I waitress in, who asks me to compare my body to his fiancé’s and humor him with some flirtation—not because he deserves it, but because I’ve deserved nothing I’ve received. I expect myself to stand against sexism with strength and humility.

I must repeat, though, had anyone tried to convince me of this besides the Lord himself, I would not have listened; I am too spiteful and stubborn, and all too familiar with human attempts to silence women in the name of “morality.” So thank you, parents, for letting me stumble my way into self-sustained empowerment.

~Sarabeth

Sarabeth Weszely is a twenty-one year old writer, musician, and waitress who recently graduated from University of Iowa with a degree in English and Social Innovation. She recently released her first full-length, live album, I Talk to God out loud and we call each other Babe. This project along with many others serves as an unconventional prayer for those who do not pray and who are tired of praying alike, also addressing issues such as racial injustice from the angle of personal confession and apology. Sarabeth has a passion for human equality, playful art, and free-spirited Christianity. Her poems and essays have been published in the Iowa Chapbook Prize, Earthwords literary magazine, and Mockingbird. 

Angie Weszely is CEO and co-founder of the Christian nonprofit ProGrace. She has spent the past 12 years equipping Christians to create a third response to the abortion debate and meet the needs of both woman and child, first as President of a Chicago-based Christian pregnancy organization, and now in her work with ProGrace. As an accomplished speaker and coach, Angie leads ProGrace workshops and training sessions, while directing the mission, vision and direction of the ministry.  In her free time, she likes to hike in her Colorado mountain neighborhood, watch any BBC drama she can get her hands on, and hang out at home with her husband, two kids and three dogs. Connect with her on Twitter @angieweszely.

What I'm most afraid of writing

 

A few weeks ago I retracted an entire article I had written about race. While it was authentic, raw, it felt naive and simplistic. I decided the world didn't need those words right now. And I needed more experience. I do not regret my decision. As writers, there are words best kept to ourselves. But let's be honest, any and all words have the potential to be misread.

I just took a tough email conversation to the phone because I feared we were both totally misreading each other. We were and it was a different set of words when we could hear tone, sorrow, and humor. Sometimes our words are too one-dimensional. They need texture that a screen or page cannot offer.

I have been putting many words to paper this last year and have started sharing with certain people. To be frank, I'm a little sick of my own verbage as I find myself quoting entire thoughts, sentences, and paragraphs in normal conversation. Out of my mouth, they do not just hang in mid-air. They are received and reacted to and gain substance in the process. Suddenly, misreading or disagreeing become live experience. We are dialoguing and it is adding texture to my writing.

It is also freaking me out.

The more women I talk to about their parenting, their relationship with their kid, or their own story, the more I fear writing words that are naive and simplistic. Does the world need these words? My list of what to cover, who to address, and caveats worth mentioning grows by the day. Who will I offend? Who will assume I can't relate? Who will feel this message is not for her?

Who do I think I am?

Aw, Emily Freeman. I return to her book, A Million Little Ways, frequently. Her words remind me:

When you finally show up, you will hear this question whisper dark words into your soul. When you are on the verge of discovery, on the edge of risk, when you're ready to take the next step toward influence- this question will come out of nowhere, asking who do you think you are?

Pay attention to what you're doing when you hear it. I bet you one million dollars you aren't watching TV. We have an enemy who wouldn't bother to threaten you if you weren't dangerous. So the question who do you think you are? only comes on the cusp of risk.

When have I heard those "foul six words" creep into my soul? When I'm with women. Talking about our journeys, wrestling with parenting. Wondering about obstacles to intentionality. Considering alternative ideas. All conversations aimed at fully offering themselves and calling their children to do the same. I've heard those words when I've been on the edge of risk.

My greatest fear should not be writing words that might offend. My greatest fear should be not writing words.

What about you? When do you hear those words most? Be encouraged today that you are worth threatening. You are dangerous!

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Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul with Aubrey Sampson

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Shame is a new word to me. Oh, I've been experiencing it for years, but have only named it in the last few months. We've been getting acquainted as I realize what a constant companion it has been for much of my life. Brene Brown has made this word famous, of course, but I love what Aubrey Sampson, fellow Redbud, does with it in Overcomer. Her book comes out today and I couldn't be more happy to have her share with us here. Stay tuned for my personal shame journey on Friday. ****************************************

Too many women have allowed shame to condemn and confine them for far too long. If you’re ready to break free, regardless of the shame experience that is holding you back, Aubrey Sampson--a pastor’s wife and an advocate for at risk women—invites you, like her, to be an overcomer. Sampson courageously shares her own history with shame, ranging from sexual assault to everyday imperfections and laughable mistakes. But it doesn’t end there.

Sampson identifies seven major lies of shame, such as, “I cannot experience freedom from shame,” “My past is unsalvageable,” and “Shame is experienced only in traumatic situations.”

Written with a strong biblical theology and a humorous authenticity, Overcomer equips readers with the spiritual understanding to overcome shame.

Through her personal experiences and true-life stories shared by women of all ages, Sampson deals directly with the shame that comes from the humbling moments in life, as well as from the tragic—sexual abuse, eating disorders, addiction, abandonment, and more. Then she empowers women to transform their life’s story into ministry, creating ripple effects of hope and healing that can change the world.

Written for any woman whose self-worth has been stolen, Overcomer gives you the courage to kick down the walls of shame and embrace freedom and a future in Christ.

Aubrey Shame

AUBREY, CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT SHAME?

Shame encompasses such a wide range of emotions it can be difficult to define. Perhaps the simplest way to understand it is to think back on a moment when you experienced it. You may have felt embarrassment, discomfort, or self-consciousness (I was a middle schooler with pink and purple braces and bangs up to the clouds, so yeah, I know self-consciousness!). Shame can also express itself in much weightier emotions, such as when we feel humiliated, inadequate, injured, or abused. Another difficulty with shame is that so many of us live under the weight of it without realizing it because we’ve been conditioned by culture and life experience to accept that feeling as normal. Shame is simply always there; it’s that familiar yet profound feeling that we don’t measure up.

Add to all of that, the pressure in our Christian culture to operate above reproach all the time, we can feel ashamed when we make even the tiniest of mistakes. We may even believe that if we aren’t shaming ourselves, we’re in danger of becoming prideful. So we beat ourselves up as the “better,” more Christlike option. It’s a vicious cycle. At its core, an identity of shame is the belief that, in whole or in part, I am not enough.

Throughout Overcomer, I share my own history of “not-enoughness,” along with stories from others who’ve overcome shame in their lives— ranging from situations of abuse to struggles with body image and eating, to everyday laughable imperfections.

The ultimate message of Overcomer is this: in spite of the overwhelming nature of shame, there is good news. The promise of Scripture is that when we look to Jesus, our shame is transformed into sparkling, beaming joy (Psalm 34:5). There may be moments in life when we feel condemned, but when our identity is centered in Christ, we can discard the dark covering of shame and rise in radiance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aubrey Sampson is passionate about empowering women of all ages to experience freedom from shame. An author, speaker, church planter, and member of the Redbud Writers Guild, Aubrey lives and ministers in the Chicagoland area with her husband, Kevin and three young sons. Connect with Aubrey at www.aubreysampson.com and @aubsamp.

Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding your Soul, www.aubreysampson.com, is available TODAY on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Christian Books and will be available wherever books are sold.