Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Sparkly, Pink Chill Pill

Having cooled off since yesterday, I've had a lot more time to think, and I remembered how things like this all point to one greater problem that I've struggled with for a long time.

Sometimes, I'm angry at God for making me a girl.

Don't freak out. I love dressing up, baking cupcakes, painting my fingernails, and watching handsome sensitive musicians with my fingers crossed. I am not a complete girly-girl -- not many of my clothes are pink -- but to be honest, I am a pretty feminine gal for the most part. I know how to work my smile and I know how to communicate through eyes with other surrounding females about what's going on, since they are the only other ones who understand how this works.

I love eye language, by the way. Nothing is funnier than two girls shredding some poor, clueless soul to pieces right in front of his face, all with a look and maybe some eyebrow manipulation.

These aspects of being a girl are great. I even love being allowed to expect people to do things for me. It's awful, but it's true. Having doors opened for me and occasional things paid for makes half of every month worth it (PMS is just as bad as the actual event, in my opinion). Despite how often I try to do things myself, there is still something cute going on in books and movies with a damsel in distress.

I love being protected and treated like something in a museum: beautiful, priceless, and classic.

The world, unfortunately, doesn't always demonstrate this kind of treatment, though, as shown yesterday. A man went into a gym in Pennsylvania, turned off the lights in an aerobic class, and opened fire, killing at least 3 people. He knew it would be full of women. He was bitter that he didn't think he would ever be loved by anyone, and took it out on women he didn't know.

If this isn't sick and depressing enough, this is only the tip of the iceberg when I think about all the things that women endure that is not fair. It sickens me that I have friends who were raped, friends with eating disorders, friends who were abused. This happens to both male and female individuals, but the statistics lean towards the latter bearing most of the weight. And the U.S. is a paradise compared to what women face in other countries. Having read A Thousand Splendid Suns, I have an entirely new perspective and burden for women in any culture where they are seen as property and where the law is not really concerned with their well-being.

One night, I dropped to my knees and cried, thanking God that I was born in a country where I am mostly treated like an equal. I can go to college, my parents love me, my dad doesn't hurt me or my mother, I can trust people around me to help if someone tried to hurt me, and I don't have to get married when I'm 15 and I can choose who my husband will be when the time comes. I hate that not every girl on this planet will be as lucky as I am, but I'd be a fool not to be grateful for what I have.

Yet, I'm still kind of terrified sometimes. A little over a month ago, two guys followed me while I was driving until I make a good maneuver to get away. I've been approached and called at late at night on campus, when I was too stubborn to accept the offer of some of my guy friends to walk me back to my building (I'm an idiot -- he's cute too). I have 3 years left at an institution every young American knows is famous for parties, spiked drinks, date rape, and variety of other things. Some of my friends live in an apartment together where there was a police impersonator banging on their door.

I don't know what happened to me in this lifetime to make me so wary and untrusting, but I guess it's better to be a little overly cautious than overly ignorant, right?

Having all this in mind has wired me to put walls up a lot of the time. In reference to yesterday's little rant-fest, I think one of the reasons that ticked me off so much is because I could never trust someone else to provide for me and make me happy. The idea of working gives me a place to be where I can ensure my own success and fulfillment. Because no one is perfect, I am not planning on recanting this view in the near future, or ever. But I wonder how other women, who dream about staying at home for a living, can even begin to have the faith it takes to believe that another person can be selfless enough to put your happiness first, when you are already such a useful servant to him around the house. All I can imagine is being used like a maid, a cook, and a courtesan, and not being loved enough to have my needs put first. After all, his needs look like the only ones that matter in this relationship to me. Am I crazy?

It's really a bit early for me to even begin being concerned about all this, especially because I know myself well enough to be sure that I wouldn't even consider being with someone who didn't let me have a say in anything. My mouth and my pride are both far too great to suffer such injustices. The very idea of all this, though, drives me nuts at night. When I start beginning to be upset about something, the first thing I do is go and yell at God.

Why would He let things be this way? Why would He want me to be too weak to really fend off people who could want to hurt me? Why would He let millions of women around the world suffer what they do, and let me be one of the very few who are okay? Will I be okay forever?

This all comes with a presupposition: that God wants all of these things because they are happening. I didn't want to believe this, but how could a good God let this happen?

Well, when I think about it, it's no different than God letting people die. Which has to happen. People blame Him for letting that happen, or letting disease or accidents happen, when everyone is going to die eventually. When that happens, I feel sad, but I tell myself that I believe it was part of His plan to let that happen. While He didn't make it happen, He let it happen. And people get mad at Him for not putting them into millionaire families so that they can have everything they want. I will sit there and talk about how those people are greedy and they should be thankful for what they have.

So I judge other people doing the same thing I do, telling them in my head that it's a part of God's plan and that He will use bad things for good, and that they should be thankful for what God has given them in this lifetime, because it's not all bad.


And all this came before I even read some scriptures that totally go against the very notion that God would ever love His daughters less than His sons. Isaiah 62 describes Jerusalem in a feminine way, and just hear the way she is described:

"For Zion's sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet,
till her righteousness shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your righteousness,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD's hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the LORD will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a maiden,
so will your sons marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you."

Isaiah 62: 1-5

He will make us bright with righteousness, and see us as shining crowns, and delight in us. He will rejoice over us like a husband over his wife. Not only does that insinuate that we are meant to be treated by other men in such a way, but it insinuates that God does. His divine mandates concern love, and He expects love to be shown to His children, because He is love and designed us to be the same. He designed us to crave it and want it and sometimes, we will do things we shouldn't to become convinced that we have it -- girls in particular. He gives it freely and made the whole idea of relationships on earth based on the reciprocation of it, too.

Song of Solomon is a huge, epic love poem, which God reveals to us as an example of what love really is. It's super mushy and kind of ridiculous at times, it sounds, but the two lovers go on and on about how beautiful and cherished the other is, and tells everyone else about how they need to look for someone as great as this.

"You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace." Song of Solomon 4:9

God designed every little detail of the way you look, and did it for a reason. No matter what you think of yourself, He's nuts about you. It might be easy to read how God sees all people as equally valuable and not believe it when you look at the world around you, but you have to go back and read the true character of God when you're in doubt. It becomes plain as day.

The funny thing about this book of the Bible is that the very woman Solomon (or whoever) is addressing here is not very secure in herself either! She describes how she thinks her skin is dark and rough because of working outside because her brothers forced her to. She doesn't think she's fit to be seen around him. Which is, uh, exactly what I do all the time. I feel like I'm not worthy of other people or the Lord because of all the crap that I see going on around the world that would convince me that I'm not special or valuable. He's saying no, no, look at this! Look at what's written in this little book that you keep around!

I love you!

I'm bound to keep doubting this, keep acting like it's not true, and keep blaming God for crap; it's just what I do. I hope though that I'll be quicker at abating these stupid thoughts in the future.

I think that's kind of the story of the life of someone who is chasing Christ. We are not perfect, and we won't be on this earth, but we will get better at finding the right path and getting there faster after screwing up.

I just can't keep forgetting that everything about the story of a Christ-follower is as true for me as it is to Brother Joe over there.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hold the Apron Just a Second

I love how crisis can hit me so early in the day. Granted, I woke up at 9:30, and then went back to bed until 11 because I had nothing better to do, but since I'm still in my PJs, I would categorize now as early.

I was perfectly fine this morning, even joyful, despite the fact that I have a dentist appointment this afternoon. I was eating a piece of toast with peanut butter for breakfast while watching Regis & Kelly. I was perusing my usual internet haunts, i.e. Facebook, my email, and this online magazine called Boundless.

Now, I am not knocking this entire website by any means. I've read some really great articles about a variety of subjects, especially in dealing with college and relationships. However, I've also read articles that incensed me, particularly concerning politics. But that's not really the topic that got me in such a bad mood today. What I read was an article tacking the taboo topic of a stay at home wife.

If you could hear me dictating all this to you aloud, you might notice the tiniest, unintentional drip of sarcasm hitting the floor from the words coming out of my mouth, and that's wrong of me. There's nothing wrong with a woman wanting to commit her lifestyle to holding down the fort, because no one should fault people for doing what they really want. The article comprised of a few letters that the veteran author had received about women who were afraid to admit that this was their dream job, and the author's response was to encourage them rather than expose them to more doubt and criticism. Fair enough, right? Why should Christian women be ashamed of perfectly godly desires, such as taking care of other people?

No, what got me was the long list of comments left by fellow readers. I don't know why I treat these like they are quality publications particularly, but I was curious as to what people would say in response to this article praising a stay at home wife/mom. Some people had unmerited comments insinuating that these women are lazy, which is pretty judgmental. Some people expressed that they were supportive of women either way, employed or not. But many people (all female, actually) not only worshipped the author for affirming their own beliefs, but also professed that they believed this was the only calling for a godly girl.

In response to the very notion that a woman could work outside the home, I quote one reader: "We women are just not wired that way."

My tiny little fuse burned up in a nanosecond. Without getting too fancy with my wording, my thoughts were very succint. "SHE DOES NOT KNOW ME!"

And that's true. She doesn't! She doesn't know that I am pursuing a double B.A. degree in International Studies and Economics -- two fields currently dominated professionally by men, which is interesting, now that I think about it. She doesn't know how I get excellent grades, and that I'm not paying the school for this education; they are paying me. I'm a National Merit Scholar, and in the Honors College, and have great relationships with the deans there who encourage me constantly to go for things like Rhodes or Fulbright or the myriad of other national scholarships. I wouldn't presume that she didn't have all these opportunities herself, because that would be equally ignorant, but I'm willing to bet that being capable of getting all these things would also indicate a sort of drive to use this education for something important.

I also feel like she was insulting my desire and motivation to work. While I do feel some gratification from being recognized as especially talented or intelligent, I am not looking for a job that makes me incredibly wealthy. I would be miserable if my only motivation for getting out of bed each morning was to ensure a $80,000 total by the end of the year.

What I want is a job where I know I am making a difference for someone out there. I am entranced by the idea of working for a nonprofit, or being a journalist that exposes injustices around the world, or being a lawyer fighting giants that oppress people. That's how I would want to be remembered when I die: "Lara spent her life in a line of work that changed lives. She could have been a business mogul or famous astrophysicist with her picture on the cover of magazines, but instead, she was more passionate about making sure that people had their basic needs met and their voices heard."

I'd make a terrible astrophysicist because I did not so much enjoy science classes, but that's not the point.

I won't repent from this idea, either. There is nothing ungodly or unbiblical about wanting to work as long as I used that job to serve God's purposes. I feel that I'm squandering God's blessings if I ignore my capabilities and passions, which are straight from His hand. I didn't make myself strong, driven, smart, or fixated on justice. There is plenty of scripture supporting women being active, which doesn't go against working outside the home.

I would never have a family if they weren't my priority, because that would be incredibly selfish of me, but let's put this in a focus different from what I had been reading on Boundless comments. So many women said that they found such joy in having the house spotless and relaxing, with dinner on the table, so that their husbands could be comfortable having come home from work. Again, this isn't a problem, because being concerned about the wellbeing of your spouse is important. You are called to love him as yourself. But because my needs are really not contained within a white picket fence, I wouldn't marry someone who was uncomfortable with me working anyway. I wouldn't want to spend my life with someone who was unwilling to pitch in to help do the dishes or at least have some basic knowledge of cooking, even pushing some buttons on a microwave.

To be blunt, I know I would not be happy if I spent the rest of my life post-graduation in servanthood to another person, locked at my house, sans the occasional little women's bible study or convention for moms that homeschool (which I really don't think I'd ever do unless there were some really extreme circumstances).

I have been raised in a house with a happy childhood, when my mom stayed at home until I went to school. Honestly, I might even be able to live with that, as long as I could freelance or work part-time or do something, anything. I understand that. Children should know their parents and not babysitters or daycare workers better than the people who conceived them. My mom started working, and life was still good. My dad goes above and beyond what I've ever seen any other husband do, the way he cooks and cleans and fixes up our house right alongside my mom. They have a very healthy relationship and I've never had any doubts that they would always be together. My brother and I turned out pretty well, if I say so myself.

I have seen this work, and work out great. There might be struggles I can't see, but as far as I can tell, being a woman at work with a family can be done and it can be done happily. My mom doesn't seem to regret anything. My experience has given me some pretty high expectations for how great a life I can have without exactly following the footsteps of my Victorian ancestors. I don't know about every other woman on this earth, but I can say that I'm pretty sure that I was not wired like that lady.

I was pretty confident about all that. The crisis began, though, when I became horribly afraid that God doesn't want me to do anything but sit in a house and knit socks for my six babies. Worse thoughts kept coming.

How much must the God of the universe have to hate me to design me in a way that desires other things, but want me to do something else?

Do I just not trust Him to make me happy?

Or is He really okay with me the way I am right now, and I'm just going insane trying to realize that?

I wish I could tie this entry up neatly, but I can't. I don't know what the answer is right now. I keep thinking of things that people can be or want that are contrary God's design, and then I wonder how much He must not have loved them to make them that way, which is ridiculous. I know it's ridiculous. But why?

I have to rely on the things that I know.

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew 6:25-26

"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Voice in the Night... about Microsoft?

Something weird happened last night. Well, not weird in a way that should concern you or particularly surprise you, but weird in a way that defied what I expected.

See, there's this thing Christians do that I hate: they pray, and they tell me that God told them something. There was something that He "laid on their hearts." Actually, sometimes they don't even have to pray -- this just occurs in the middle of breakfast, or the drive to work, or going to the bathroom.

Such an event sounds wonderful and cool until I try the same thing, and nothing happens. I never feel sure that I've been given any new information. The proverbial list of objectives in my head doesn't seem to change. It bothers me because I feel like there are two possibilities. Either they are all using God as an excuse to do whatever they want, justifying their actions by professing that God told them something that no one else heard. Other Christians feel they can't question this claim because that has the potential to be a doubt against God, and who wants that? On the other hand, it could be that they totally have this little phone line with the Lord, and actually hear His voice in their heads, which means that I'm missing out. I'm not praying hard enough, or I don't have a relationship with Jesus like I thought I did, or He is just ignoring me. He has nothing to tell me.

I know, I've heard a million people tell me the whole schbeel about the Bible being God's message to His people. I have also heard this not only from a million people, but a million sermons, a million books, and millions of other things. (I am a really busy person.) But there is just something so mystifying about God speaking to me specifically. The idea makes me feel more secure about my faith, as if I've finally unlocked the truth of the universe, because the Creator of everything has finally shown Himself to me in a tangible way. If God did this all the time, then there would be no reason for faith, opening a Pandora's box of reasons why this wouldn't really make Christianity meaningful, but come on -- just once in a while would be nice!

Well, I've complained about this to God who knows how many times. I've heard such great stories about God telling people to do cool things that totally worked out in ways that could only have been divinely inspired.

I was beginning to feel left out.

Last night I cracked open this book that my friend lent me a long time ago that I accidentally took home for the summer. It basically profiles each world religion, belief system, cult, affiliation, you name it, so that you know the history and details of each one. It's really nifty, especially if you want to quick reference something about Islam or Scientology or whatever. I was flipping through a bunch of ones in the middle that I hadn't seen before, and I found that there was actually a section on atheism. This surprised me just because I didn't consider it to be a belief system particularly, but I guess it is, in an opposite sort of way.

The last page of each profile has a little section that lists some famous people who identify with that belief system, just for your little trivia box. The atheism page had more than a couple -- Angelina Jolie, Jack Nicholson -- lots of movie stars and such. But one stuck out to me for some reason.

I really can't think of a reason why I was surprised or even particularly stopped at his name, but it was Bill Gates. Now, don't get me wrong about atheists, because I do not belong to the school of thought that they are all bad, scary people, or anything of the sort. I have plenty of friends who identify themselves as believing in no gods and they are very nice, loving, dependable, trustworthy people -- sometimes more than Christian friends, for that matter. I just feel like I have things in common with Bill Gates. He has the appearance of being so mild-mannered, and he gives back so much of what he has to the community. He actually has to stagger his charity giving so as not to flood the economy.

That really nice guy who built a Microsoft empire doesn't believe in God?

And then, without really knowing whence the thought came, I felt it hit me: "Pray for him."

I prayed for him. I just felt like I had to. It's always good to pray for people, sure, but I just felt like I had to do it right then, and it had to be for him. And I felt like I had to keep doing it. "Keep him in your prayers."

Who'd have thought that I would feel the overwhelming need to pray for Bill Gates, the most famously wealthy person in the country?

Well, regardless of how strange it might sound or feel -- I still don't quite understand -- but I think that it might have been God laying it on my heart to pray. For all I know, He could be sitting in heaven shaking His head at my guessing His will, but at least I know this is something that He would want anyone to do. Pray for people in the world.

I am praying for Bill Gates' family, health, and that he sees the face of God. Somehow, somewhere, I am petitioning God to reveal Himself to the man who has everything. It's between the two of them, and not me, but even rich geniuses need a Savior when all worldly things blow away with the sands of time.

Whoah, I just had another revelation! Right here! Right now! This is big! Check this: if I am so sure that Bill Gates needs to know Christ, then how stupid am I for always trying to live without Him? I mean, I sit here all the time thinking about how smart I am for getting this grade, how pretty I am for making that guy look at me, how comfortable I am laying in this bed with a feather pillow. God has given me plenty. Not billions of dollars (...yet), but plenty. Still, all those things can disappear in an instant. Humility is a lesson that shouldn't wait for an accident or tragedy. Ultimately, no matter where I am in life, either a mountaintop or a dark pit, the God of the universe extended His hand towards me to a better life on earth and an eternity in His palace, and who am I to say "no, thanks" to such an offer?

Basically, I'm an idiot. I believe in the one true God and I still sometimes get all self-sufficient and pacified by earthly crap. Being able to hand all that I have back to Him so that I can live happily with just the love of the Lord on my shoulders -- that's the goal I need to run towards.

I'm praying that my pal Bill Gates one day might do the same.

Maybe God will speak to Him like He spoke to me last night.