I don’t really think of myself as a strong woman.
I just think of myself as a woman.
I don’t really think of myself as a strong woman.
I just think of myself as a woman.
When I was a teenager, I had the amazing opportunity to hear Maya Angelou tell her story live. I had been blown away by I know Why the Caged Bird Sings and her poetry including the beautiful and a bit cheeky Phenomenal Woman with the famous refrain, “I’m a woman phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me”. I loved the strength that Maya Angelou projected in her story and especially in this poem. So, when my husband and I decided to design a coming of age process for our twins building up to their 13th birthdays, I was inspired to call the process with my daughter the “year of phenomenal women.”
As I thought and prayed about how I wanted my daughter (and me!) to grow, the fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5 seemed a beautiful guide for our journey. During a silent retreat, I sketched images linked to each fruit and brainstormed scriptures, books, movies, songs, inspiring women and related activities. I then reached out to an artist at Kitengela Glass to commission small round stained-glass circles to represent each fruit. Each outing began by giving my daughter a stained-glass which now all hang across her bedroom window. Our outings ranged from extravagant nights away to a simple lunch on the way home from the salon but each holds a special place in our hearts. Our conversations ranged from the silliness of crushes to the deep complexity of cross-racial adoption and identity. We laughed. We cried. And we each grew more into the phenomenal women that God made us to be and become.
Here is a taste of our experience during the year linked to each of the fruits of the spirit:
Love: We kicked off the year with a night away including a sushi-making class. We studied the famous love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 about love as an action, not as a fairy tale. The stained-glass was a simple but powerful heart. We stayed up late watching movies linked to love (one from her generation: Catching Fire with lots of examples of selfless love and one from mine: Pretty in Pink with several different angles on what love means). I tucked her into bed by reading our worn copy of I Love You as Much and singing The Rose, a song I used to sing at bedtime.
Joy: We considered the joy of our salvation in Psalm 51 and the line in Amazing Grace “the hour I first believed” that always brings a smile to my face. The stained-glass was a smiley face. The outing was a lunch out where we spent time joyfully staring at the clouds and imagining what shapes we could see.
Peace: We explored the armour of God described in Ephesians 6 and especially what it means to have our feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. The stained-glass shows a dove in the shape of a hippy peace sign. Our shoe shopping outing was perhaps a bit too silly of a connection but we had a deeper conversation around I am Malala.
Patience: We listened to U2’s 40 inspired by Psalm 40 and the idea of waiting patiently for the Lord. This stained-glass is an acacia tree reminding us of the patience of Wangari Maathai who embodied peace in her fight to bring the green belt movement to Kenya. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, the same year we adopted the twins while living in Kenya.
Kindness: We pondered the words of Isaiah 58 to loose the chains of injustice, share food with the hungry and provide shelter for the poor. The stained-glass was a sunrise recalling verse 8 “then your light will break forth like the dawn.” We also learned more about the work of Jane Addams and the Hull House.
Goodness: What better description of goodness could there be than the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5? The stained-glass was a mountain and I had hoped we would go for a hike but she wasn’t interested so I didn’t push it and we still had a good talk.
Faithfulness: In a world where faith can be so misunderstood, Romans 12 especially verse 2 reminded us that faith is not about conforming but about being transformed by the renewing of our minds and testing and doing God’s will. The glass was a simple cross reminding us of how Jesus embodied faith as well as all the other fruits.
Gentleness: The imagery of Psalm 23 reminds us of God’s gentleness as he leads us beside still (and gentle) waters. The stained-glass was a stream and we read a stunning rendition of Psalm 23 interpreted for an African-American urban community.
Self-control: We used Paul’s self-discipline metaphor in 1 Corinthians 9 of training for a race as we prepared for a 5k and our last night away. The stained-glass was a rainbow finish line accompanied by a silver necklace with all the fruits inscribed. We ran the 5k on our own because the race we registered for was the same morning as the baptism service. Both twins had decided to follow their steps of faith into the pool that morning where Daddy dunked them with tears in his eyes.
It has now been almost a year since we finished the Year of Phenomenal Women. The teenage years continue to come with the expected and some unexpected challenges. But those stained-glass windows still glisten in the window to remind us both what it means to be phenomenal women.
Tamara is a follower of Jesus, wife of an amazing man who happens to be a pastor (www.lavingtonvineyard.org), mama of three very cool kids, and head of digital innovations at Financial Sector Deepening Kenya (www.fsdkenya.org). She was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, studied international affairs at George Washington University, got an MBA at INSEAD in France and has lived with her family in Washington DC, Nairobi, Paris and Seattle while working to increase the value of financial services for people living in poverty.
Read more from Tamara in A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Mother-Daughter Journey into Passionate, Purposed Living.
Disney's Queen of Katwe opened in theaters on Friday and is a huge departure from the studio's typical films. Based on a true story, it is nothing short of stunning. I took my 10-year old daughter and her first request upon leaving was, "Can we own this one?" Here are 5 reasons this is worth watching:
1. Phiona, the protagonist, is an uneducated girl from the slums of Kampala, Uganda who discovers a talent and a passion embedded within. She is relatable enough to American girls (she argues with her mom) and yet different enough to stretch their familiarity. She is Ugandan! How rarely are we given a heroine from another country whose accent is even difficult to understand at times!
2. This is a story about Uganda: it's economic disparity, it's poverty, it's struggles and it's joy. There are no white people! It is filmed in country. And it does not shy away from the brutal reality of Phiona's life. In a way that is entirely age appropriate, viewers face the fear that Phiona's only future may involve being taken by a man.
3. It is pro-marriage. Phiona's chess coach is a loving, caring mentor as well as husband and father. His wife financially supports their household so he can work with the slum kids. Their relationship is a healthy example of marriage both for the chess club as well as the viewing audience.
4. There are strong female leads without debasing the male characters. Phiona's mother is a richly complex character. In her we see the fight to survive and provide for her children mixed with realism and cynicism. As we watch Phiona develop and change, we see similar growth mirrored in her mother. Theirs is a beautiful, loving relationship.
5. It is simply inspiring! You will find yourself cheering for a chess game and simultaneously crying and laughing with all the kids. They are delightful. (And for those of you with an intolerance to pain, it has a happy ending!)
Get thee to the movies!
We went to the Netherlands to bike.
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.
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.
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?
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.
There are many places to begin this story. And many parts of the story that should be told. All in good time. I want to tell you about my daughter's rites of passage year and how we ended it in an epic quest to answer the question, "where are you going?" I want to tell you all about hanging meaning on experiences and how metaphors are for parenting. I want to tell you about her test and how she passed into the company of women. These stories will come. For now, I need to tell you about the bikes. We like to bike. And this daughter, this one needed a physical challenge to really test her grit. I figured, the Netherlands is the flattest country in the world and has more bikes than people. How hard could it be? I had a book that outlined the routes in painstaking detail, I was going to a spin class once or twice a week, my mom was training 15 miles/ day, we had butt butter. We got this.
We are late picking up our bikes. I have already made a huge mistake in not renting a hotspot and have snuck into another bike rental shop to use their wi-fi to find the shop where I have made a reservation. With 10 minutes to closing, we rush through Amsterdam's Dam Square with our backpacks, already looking ridiculous: we are not 22-year old backpackers, but 68, 42, and 13.
Mike, the owner, is still there with an incredibly helpful co-worker. Too chatty. Our hostess is expecting us right now and I want him to stop being so friendly, so slow. There are chain locks to describe, wheel locks, handlebars, and repair kits. The friendly co-worker claims they've never had a flat tire, but just in case... There are seats to lower- none of which are low enough for me to comfortably touch the ground at stops. This will prove to be an issue. But what are we to do? We have spent the afternoon in the city, and have noticed the number of people on bikes, mopeds, in cars, and on foot. For a fleeting moment, I consider scrapping the whole idea. What are we doing?
The map shows we are only 2 miles away from our hostess' house and once we get through Dam Square and reach the last canal, we should be in a nice park the remaining stretch. We are not so arrogant as to think this will be easy. The afternoon has shown us we are out of our league. I contemplate walking the bikes the whole way to the park. My mom and I look skeptically at each other.
I decide there is no choice. I lead. We walk the bikes down the alley to the street and wait for long minutes for a break in the traffic long enough to aim the right way, mount, and get into the stream. I feel more vulnerable than I ever have: my body is exposed to this hoard of movement.
I am trembling. I want you to picture the last place you went with throngs of people: a concert? a ball game letting out? rush hour at the metro station? taste of Chicago? Imagine that of these thousands of people, 5% are in cars, 5% are on mopeds, 10% are walking and 80 freaking % are on bikes. 3000 people. 300 are on foot. 150 are driving cars and 150 are driving mopeds. And 2400 people are on bikes. Do you get the idea? Madness is all around.
We follow the masses and make it through the first light. We high-five each other. It truly feels like an enormous accomplishment. But at the first turn, Ella is cut off and pushed into another stream. We share a lane with mopeds and cars the size of golf carts. There are bike lights and pedestrian lights and car lights. There are lanes that are vertical, horizontal, and diagonal. The hidden rules are known by all, except us. Everywhere, there is water. Bridges and boats and streets with names that all look the same. We are going to die. By the second light, my mom's backpack has fallen off the back of her bike. At the third light, I struggle to get back on and teeter so much, the light turns red again. These first signs of our novice, amateur naivety will prove to be patterns that repeat, repeat, repeat.
An hour and a half later, we pull up to the flat where we are staying and I promptly trip and fall off the bike, getting my first of multiple bruises. My pulse is racing.
The plan is to take the bikes on the train to Utrecht and bike into the "country" to Gouda, land of cheese. We are looking forward to a castle, a famous witch weighing station, and lots and lots of sheep. 30 or so miles today. On flat land. We got this.
Miraculously, we manage to navigate the bikes into Amsterdam Central Train Station, find the bike lift, get them on the right train car for bikes, lock them in place, and get off at Utrecht before the train pulls out of the platform again. Granted, by now we're hours past when I thought we'd be here.
My mom's pre-trip job was to find stories of women in the towns we'd pass through and she has found a statue of a Dutch heroine in Utrecht's town center. We follow the signs to the Centrum, where our bike route starts anyway. In the Visitor Center, I buy a regional map and learn that the guide we're following is outdated. Holland is changing its bike path system. None of our numbers are trustworthy. My mom tears up the pages. We fail to find the statue and look for the first number on our new map.
Thus it begins.
We find our number and head out, exhilarated. We have begun! We follow the bikers, the path, the twists and turns, and then we lose the number. At the first fork, there is no sign. NO sign! I have not yet learned that there is an app for this. That would come in the afternoon of the last day. I have not yet started taking pictures of maps when we find them to refer to later, nor writing numbers on my hands. All of this would come later. Today, on day one, I am completely taken off guard. This was supposed to be easy!
What we learn today is that everyone speaks English and everyone is willing to help. We begin to shamelessly stop people mid-ride and ask for their help. 6 people and an hour and a half later, we meet a woman who is going in our direction! She offers to lead us and along the way, we learn she is going to a badminton club, that she has extra mattresses and is willing for us to sleep on her floor (she must think we'll need it!), that Utrecht is growing and redoing everything and that the numbers for the bike path will be the last thing they finish.
When at last we reach the castle, it is raining. My butt is so sore I have lost feeling. I wonder if my butt is misshapen? Surely no one else feels this level of pain because someone would have invented a new bike seat by now! We are 1/4 of the way to Gouda and have been on a bike for 4 hours already. We sit near the moat and piece together the ripped scraps of our outdated map to figure out clues as to how to proceed on our own. We leave and turn the wrong way, only to realize it a mile down the road and turn back. This becomes the rhythm of the next few hours, all the way to the next city with a train station, which we decide is about as far as we will make it on this gloomy day.
It took all of Holland to get us through this trip. Over the course of our 4 days on bikes, we were escorted no less than 5 times- by a couple as confused as we were, but determined to get us to our next path, by a man who put Ella on his wife's bike while he peddled and held on to our flat-tired bike (the first of two bikes that got flats), by a man who took us back to his house to pump our tire. We stayed with hosts as part of "Friends on the Bike" which saved money and gave us an inside look into Dutch culture. And we even had a blessed angel selling ice cream from her farm in the middle of nowhere.
But most importantly, we had an adventure.
How is this like life?, I asked Ella. As we consider finding the answer to "where are you going?" it turns out this journey through the Netherlands was a perfect metaphor: you always need a map, sometimes you need an actual guide, but the more experienced you get, sometimes you just go with your gut. Oh, and there will frequently be challenges. In all our preparation, there was no way to account for the wind and rain, the sore butts, the flat tires, the number of times I would teeter on the bike at stop lights, the near misses Ella had with cars, mopeds, and trams, and the complete lack of signage. Truly, in life there are so many things we are never prepared for.
Looking at life as metaphor helps you name that which is too often invisible. It brings story into everyday living. It shifts your perspective as you see through a different lens. It distills the abstract into concrete tangible lessons. And it is such a valuable tool for parenting!
At least, that's what I told myself whilst trying to keep my daughter and mother alive.
Women! Are you like me and doubted if it was possible to address the bulk of what we face as Christian women without alienating one end of the spectrum or the other? Did you wonder if there was a framework that could encompass, for example, the realities of our bodies or friendships in a deeply spiritual, yet tangible way? Fellow Redbud, Amy Davis Abdallah, PhD, has crafted such a "manual." It is a comprehensive exhortation to women to live fully into who we were created to be.
Now, here's the funny thing. As I struggled to design a yearlong rites of passage journey for my tween, one of my early thoughts was to organize it the same way Amy has: Relationship to Self, God, Others, and Creation. Some of my original scratch pads contain these wandering thoughts. In grad school, I learned that these 4 categories make up Biblical Shalom - the true meaning of peace. I decided to go a different route, and I'm so glad I did! I could not have addressed them in the same beautiful and powerful way as Amy.
One of the things I appreciate about The Book of Womanhood is its lack of judgement. Topics such as "Femininity and God" and "Sexy Self-Care" could be rife with conflict, but are handled in a gentle, accessible manner. Another thing I wholeheartedly agree with is the journey mindset which invites the full spectrum of women to contribute and receive. Amy writes, "A rite of passage invites 'younger sisters' to journey together with 'older sisters' who offer wisdom and experience and are still continually growing."
This was written for college women at the college where Amy teaches and seems entirely appropriate for that audience and older. As I continue (6 more weeks!) to usher my own tween through an initial transition from girl to woman, there are solid principles I find helpful even if I won't cover them in detail with her. The only thing missing is a detailed plan of how the college women walked through this material over the course of the year. I want details!
So here's the cool thing women: for ONE WEEK, Wipf & Stock Publishers will offer 40% off The Book of Womanhood. Use the Discount Code "WOMAN" at check out. Don't miss this amazing opportunity to be affirmed and exhorted in your unique design as a woman.
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?
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!
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,
Kisses From Katie is one of my favorite nonfiction books of all time. It is about a girl in her upper teens who gives up her luxurious life in Little Rock, Arkansas for the rural regions of Uganda as a missionary and later, a mother of over 15 Ugandan children. At first, her stay was temporary, but the need for love in Uganda drew her in and wouldn’t let go. She began as a teacher, raising just enough money for her own food and a little extra to help those in need. With much effort and prayers, she succeeded greatly and ended up with many children, a nice home to host picnics and meals, and a well- funded organization to sponsor Ugandan children by giving supplies, uniforms, meals, and even money to the kids and their families. Nonfiction books normally don’t excite me, but Kisses From Katie hooked me in until the end.
My favorite part from Kisses From Katie wasn’t her extraordinary success in her business for Ugandan kids, or her dedication to all of her children, but it was her attitude through it all that set her apart. Throughout the entire book, she continued to state “It was God who brought them to me” or “I wasn’t the extraordinary one. I was the host for the extraordinary One doing His thing” or something like that. Her face was always on the Lord, and never on herself. She’s humble and kind, which are the two most important things I look for in an autobiography. Katie also was relatable and easily connected with me as I was reading. She never said “I was strong” or “I never cried,” but she actually explained her sorrow and pain, like there was nothing to hide. It truly is Katie’s lovable attitude and humility that supports my claim that Kisses From Katie is my all time favorite nonfiction book.
This post originally appeared on Restoration Project, but since I'm married to the author, sometimes I get to poach.
There is no doubt that fathering sons is overwhelmingly challenging. And up till now, much of my focus has been on the making of men out of our sons. Here's why. But make no mistake. It takes just as much intentionality and purpose to raise daughters into vibrant and alive women. But fathering girls is a whole different animal.
I am in the heat of it, so let me start by asking you to cut me some slack. I have two daughters, one age 12, and the other age 9. And while I have some thoughts, experiences and perspectives on the father's impact and importance on girls, I humbly admit my ignorance and beg for both forgiveness and wisdom from those who have gone before me. And yet, I will rise to the challenge of fathering my daughters to the best of my ability.
My wife and I are currently crafting a "Becoming" year for our oldest daughter. She's 12, and on the verge of womanhood. In the coming months, we will have much to say about the experiences we have created for her. You can follow my wife's perspectives here. While there is much theology and intention behind each aspect of her passage year, for now, I am certain of these five key perspectives every father must understand if he is to raise an alive woman from his girl.
Girls need your warmth, not your heat There is an African proverb I've quoted in the Man Maker Project book that says, "If we do not initiate our sons, they will burn down the village just to feel the heat." In order for a boy to make the transition into manhood, he needs some level of heat to test his grit, burn away the chaff and forge his masculine soul. Far too many fathers, however, get this wrong with girls.
Whereas boys need a father's heat (his testing and pushing the boy toward risk and danger in order to prove himself), girls need the father's warmth. The world is a cold, dark place, and she needs the warmth of her father to stay alive. She needs to know the comfort of his arms, the gentleness of her head pressed against his chest, and the graciousness of his eyes when she feels alone, scared, ashamed or broken.
This is not to say that she does not need his correction or direction. No, it means that the warmth of his love for her is ever-present in their interactions, and she knows that there is always a place for her. Boys must face risk to become men. Girls don't. They may love risk, love danger, love proving their strength to others (my daughter does this all the time). But what she needs from Dad is an affirmation of her strength not a testing of it. She needs to know that you hold her in such warm regard that nothing could ever remove her from your tender strength.
Girls need your heart, not your stone Last night when I arrived home, my son gave me a high five and a fist bump. But my girls encircled me - one hugging me from the front, the other from the back. We stood in the kitchen while I was still trying to take my coat off for about 5 minutes in a tender embrace. Both of them needed to communicate to me, "I'm glad you are here," and to hear me respond with, "I am too."
The world requires men to be chiseled (and I'm not only referring to the ideal male body). We must have chiseled determination, chiseled fortitude, chiseled clarity, and a chiseled presence. Throughout much of our days, we are pushed, prodded, challenged and cut by the pounding and hammering forces of life. But when it comes to our girls, we must put away the stone-shaping chisel and offer our strength in a different way. Indeed, they need our strength, but covered in our heart-level tenderness.
Girls need your hand, not your fist Almost every morning in the car on the way to school, my daughter reaches for my hand. She holds it for most of the 7 minute journey. It is a tender gesture, one that I cherish at the start to my day.
At times, however, I need to communicate some aspect of correction, unmet expectations, or suggestions to her about her decisions, actions or failures. It remains my chief responsibility to raise an adult out of my girl, and I will not hesitate to show up for her in a way that molds her for a better future.
With my son, I can speak directly, correctively, and let him know that I will not put up with his shenanigans. But when I do this with her, I see her visibly shrink into self-condemnation and despondency. Her countenance changes, and the "fist" of my words carries a weight and impact I never intended.
Instead of my fist, she needs my hand - both literally and figuratively. I have learned to gently take her hand in mine, to hold it with intentional connection and care, and to speak my words of correction with invitation and hope rather than with the force of a left upper-cut. By offering her a hand rather than a fist, she more often responds with understanding and attentiveness. She needs to hear that my words, though directive, are meant to be helpful and not harmful.
Girls need your delight, not your degrading Masculine culture is not safe for girls. Our culture raises boys (sometimes unintentionally and unconsciously, but often with full awareness and intent) to degrade women, objectify their bodies and belittle their value. One merely needs to watch an evening of primetime television to see the overwhelming messages aimed at boys to consider their female counterparts as "less than." Fathers, it is our responsibility to make sure this brainwashing does not occur to our boys. In the same vein, we must protect our girls from the harmful effects of female degradation.
The most powerful weapon fathers have against this is their DELIGHT. When a father is moved with sheer joy and delight towards his daughter, and she sees this and experiences it from him in word, deed and face, it obliterates the ravages of negative and degrading messages that have attached to her heart. She needs to see the light in his eyes when she enters the room. She needs to hear the shift in his voice, his posture and his awareness of her. She needs to experience his smile, laughter and joy. A father's delight is the antidote to evil's attempt to destroy her beautifully strong soul.
Girls need your love AND your like I love my daughters. I really, really do. I tell them I love them so regularly a sweet interchange has evolved between us. "I love you," I say. "I love you more," they say. "I love you mostest," they say. "I love you mostest mostest," I reply. I never want my daughters to question the power of my love for them.
At the same time, they need to know I like them. They need to hear and experience not only my love for them, but also my affinity towards them, how enraptured I am by their beauty, strength and creativity. They need to know my enjoyment of them, of spending time with them, and of even thinking of them. They need my like as well as my love.
Too many fathers inadvertently communicate dislike. They are bothered, busy and tired, and despite a regular communication of love to their daughters, they do not like their girls. Girls are too girly. They are too emotional. They are too different. And fathers far too often miss their hearts because of their lack of intentional liking their daughters despite their clear love for them. Our girls need to know both.
Now, let me remind you where I began...asking you to cut me some slack. While I am able to identify these crucial aspects of the father-daughter relationship, I regularly fail. We all do. And in the midst of failing, we must continue to press in and seek God's grace for ourselves and for the precious women of tomorrow.