When I saw a post on Instagram stating Josh and Shannon Harris were separating, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve seen similar situations with so many of my friends and acquaintances who followed conservative Christianity's prescribed path to the altar, only to become disillusioned one, five, or ten years later. They all had different circumstances, but shared a common denominator - homeschool & church purity culture didn’t do them any favors. Of course, as the author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Josh Harris gets higher publicity. It seems his failed relationship is sinister proof, twenty years later of what my friends have already experienced.
The grief here is overwhelming. Not dating, not touching before marriage, following these incredibly restrictive rules, was supposed to guarantee happily ever after. This magical land of sexual and personal bliss awaited those who were good, and did things right. Sadly, this isn’t the case, for the Harrises, or for so many of my friends who came face to face with a whole world of life they weren’t prepared for by purity culture.
With the Harrises in the news, I want to pull a few strings and examine why this subculture is so dangerous and toxic to relationships. I cover why it's awful for you personally in "Dear Sister." Let me say this now, if you followed the purity culture rules, and you’re happily married, in a mutually fulfilling relationship where you feel seen, heard, known, and you’re able to fully express yourself sexually, and unabashedly participate in your own & your partners pleasure, I’m sincerely happy for you. Also know, your relationship is an outlier.
In my book, “Dear Sister,” I share chapters on releasing shame, and releasing patriarchy. Shame and Patriarchy are the life blood pumping through purity culture. Sure, there are Bible verses plucked from their original context to champion, but the reasons so many followed the rules were shame, and fear.
The concept of purity culture is based in lack of trust. We don’t trust our single folks to self regulate, we don’t trust their relationships with themselves, with each other, or with God. We are afraid of the potential repercussions of sexual contact. Maybe, we’re trying to protect our girls from the burgeoning sexual interest of boys (because girls don’t have sex drives…) or protect them from the sinister side of becoming a woman, because, specific lifestyle and wardrobe choices are guaranteed to prevent sexual assault and abuse… (heavy sarcasm) Tell me, how does this line up with a faith based in grace, truth, and love? Where is the fruit of the spirit, in these fractured relationships twenty years later?
Sadly, instead of protecting everyone involved, purity culture creates shame, isolation, and misplaced worthiness, especially for women. We are the most responsible, and hold the least power. The men aren’t supposed to look or touch, but when they do, it’s our fault. We don’t talk about the messy things, because purity culture is supposed to save us from the awful, sticky parts of life, if we play the game right. So when they happen anyways, when a spouse is unfaithful, when a spouse is emotionally, spiritually, financially, or physically abusive, when before we even get to the altar we experience assault or abuse, purity culture blames us. Outside the conservative christian subculture, we call this rape culture. It feels normal because it’s in the air we breathe. We didn’t get this from our faith, but a 21 year old boy with no life experience got these ideas from his church.
This really isn’t about Josh Harris. What I find more concerning than Josh writing “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” at 21, is that mature, married people read it, and thought it was a good idea to publish and propagate these ideologies instead of realizing they were harmful. I find it troubling that no one in his life sat him down and had a conversation explaining that no matter how many steps you take to make your life feel safe, you won’t avoid heartbreak. I wish someone had asked him why he felt he needed purity culture. Maybe, his healing journey would have started much earlier.
Purity culture taught us that “purity” (which means lack of sexual experience? That’s another whole post) is where our value lies, especially as women. Our worth doesn’t come from being created in Imago Dei, our worth doesn’t come from our redemption, our worth comes from our virginity. But wait, just until we get married, THEN we’re supposed to magically be able to flip a switch, and be intimate with someone who, thanks to purity culture, we barely know. Purity culture teaches women to disassociate sexually. Sexuality (outside of marriage) is seen as dirty. It’s something we have to hide, but not too much, or we won’t be wanted. It’s also not for us. Sexuality is for men, relationships are what we’re told we want. I have a hard time believing an intelligent creator gave women such a great capacity for pleasure just for the men, but again, that’s another post.
If and when we do reach the altar, our shoulders sag under the requirements and expectations of Bride and Groom. We enter our marriages with no recourse for the hard things to come, and no way to unpack the baggage handed us by communities of faith. With purity culture's skewed priorities,we focus so much on our sexual status, we may not have made sure our values aligned, or that our potential spouse isn’t controlling and abusive. After all, “Christians” aren’t supposed to be like that, and we followed the rules, so why worry about it?
Combine all this with the fact most of us weren’t taught to value or explore our authentic selves, and relationships based in purity culture become a time bomb. The question is, after the explosion, what’s left? When all we are left with is the reality of our broken humanity, will there be enough common ground to maintain a relationship? Will we find love there? There’s no intimacy without authenticity, so maybe dropping the purity culture baggage is a start.
I recently led a workshop for teen girls at a youth conference. I included these questions and leading statements in a handout at the end. I thought back to the things that kept me going when I was just starting my self discovery process, and compiled them. Guided journaling is a powerful tool, and as we answer these questions for ourselves they can also become guideposts to return to when we have lost our way. They are a trail of promises and affirmations, leading us back to who we are in faith. I hope this is a helpful resource.
Grounding Questions & Open Statements for Journaling / Self discovery:
Asking myself the right questions is one of the most important skills I’ve developed. Sometimes we don’t need more answers, we just need better questions.
God has shown up for me in these ways:
I feel close to God when:
Ways I practice resilience:
How it looks when I’m not OK:
(Often it’s hard for our communities to know what it looks like when we are in a bad place emotionally, what should they look for?)
How my family & community can help:
These verses comfort me:
These people affirm my identity, they remind me of who I am in Christ:
We can’t be what we can’t see, women I respect who mentor me:
I am intentional with my influence, these girls may see me as a mentor:
Hard things I have overcome:
Harmful beliefs or stories I live:
God makes all things new, what beliefs or stories am I choosing instead?
I’m still waiting on these:
I feel complete & grounded when I am:
(List how you choose to define yourself)
I am passionate about:
Things about myself that I’m learning to accept:
Things I am claiming for myself:
Things about myself that I celebrate:
If you know my family at all, you know my mom loves traditions. We had a program for every holiday when I was growing up. The program was a mashup of worship service and seminar, and it lasted all day. As a kid, I was mostly interested in the food at Thanksgiving, and less in reading the Thanksgiving proclamation, poems about the Pilgrims, or sitting at the table for two hours while we all shared five things we were thankful for. There was one story I did particularly like, called “The Town of Thanks”, but other than that I just wanted stuffing. Looking back,I appreciate the effort involved and the community she was trying to build, although I still mainly want to eat stuffing on Thanksgiving, sorry Mom.
I thought I had a pretty comprehensive understanding of the first thanksgiving, and America's origin story. Then, I started doing some research and reading about the history of Indigenous peoples. We have this habit as humans to focus intensely on the parts of the story that relate to us. The pilgrims (or those who came soon after the pilgrims) are many of our ancestors. We feel a visceral connection and national pride when we think about our forefathers paving the way for the freedoms and privileges we now enjoy. The part that “Indians” play in our national narrative has been reduced to that of a guest at an ancient meal. They conveniently fade from view in our stories after this, other than as tropes and caricatures.
Is it any surprise that the Indigenous peoples of this land have different perspectives of historical events? The story stays the same, but the landscape shifts when we consider them as the main characters, instead of a cameo appearance.
I’d love if you would humor me for a minute, and see how it feels in your mind and in your body to not be cast as the main character. Pay attention to that feeling. Notice how it informs your thoughts and decisions. Does it feel unsettling? Wrong even? Think on that as we move forward.
I don’t know about you, but even with all of the history and understanding I had of the Immigrant / Settler side of the first Thanksgiving, I always imagined more Pilgrims than Indians. Yet, Edward Winslow's records state that only Fifty three pilgrims had survived at this point, and Massasoit brought at least ninety men to the feast.
Historically, it's doubtful that the Native Americans were actually invited to the first Thanksgiving. The common conjecture from several historians, including Tim Turner, (Cherokee, manager of Plimoth Plantation’s Wampanoag Homesite and co-owner of Native Plymouth Tours) is that Massasoit and his warriors heard the Pilgrims “exercising of arms” and came ready to aide their new allies in a fight.
When they found a feast instead of a fight, they became the most gracious guests. This feast was the celebration of a tenuous peace treaty. The Pilgrims, unaccustomed to agriculture or hunting for survival were vulnerable, and the numbers of Wampanoag people had greatly diminished due to an outbreak of disease. (A gift from European predecessors of the Pilgrims who also enslaved Indigenous peoples and took them back to Europe in 1614, four years before the Puritans landed.) Both peoples had cultural harvest celebrations, so this was a natural connection point.
It only follows that the Pilgrims didn’t have enough food for triple their number, and Massasoit sent his hunters out to bring game and supplement the banquet.
I grew up believing the Puritans came to America and fought for religious freedom, having themselves been outcasts of the English Theocracy. However much of their theology was decidedly harmful to anyone believing differently. The theocratic society they came from also sailed to the New (to them) World. They had learned well how to politicize and weaponize religion.
England had very recently colonized Ireland, as well as led crusades through the middle east. Their form of conquest was practiced there, and also came with the Separatists, who carried out horrific acts of terror in the name of a Prince of Peace. The Salem Witch Trials are another example of this dynamic. After a couple short seasons and a tenuous peace, the Puritans forgot the hospitality and forgiveness of the Wampanoags. They began to dehumanize their Native neighbors for their differences in culture, faith, and skin color.
Dehumanization was necessary to justify the genocide that soon followed in pursuit of land and power.
I find it sad and ironic that in our religious history of Christianity, those who had no understanding of our faith carried it out better than those that professed it.
Brene Brown talks about the dangers of dehumanization in her book “Braving the Wilderness” and I find her work applicable in this story. In this excerpt, she makes the point that dehumanization begins with language. If you’re ready for a shock (and to fall down the rabbit hole) look up the statements about Native American peoples from our founding fathers. It’s convenient that Thomas Jefferson is most well known for penning
“We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” and the fight against “taxation without representation”.
Less the complaint that “(The King) has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
Dehumanizing language is embedded in the very framework of our oldest and most revered political documents, and that was just the beginning. It’s also likely that Thomas Jefferson was referencing the Proclamation line of 1763, which was an undertaking of the Crown to limit westward expansion, and come to an agreement with the Indigenous peoples on set boundaries. Our revolutionary war was a revolt on unjust taxation, but a sinister shadow of unchecked pursuit of power through land came behind the rally cry of “Liberty and Justice for All.”
I looked up a map, and was amazed at where the Proclamation line fell:
In less than 100 years, from our independence from England in 1776, to 1846 the United States acquired the lower 48 states. Before colonization, there were roughly estimated to be between 50 and 100 million Indigenous peoples and an estimated 562 autonomous nations. This was after Columbus and other explorers had brought diseases and taken ships full of captives back to Europe. In America today, with all our cities and urban development, we have approximately 325 million people. So the number of Indigenous peoples living here before us was potentially a full third of the our current population.
The UN Genocide convention was formed after the holocaust, and defines genocide as “Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
This was developed long after the US was fully colonized. However, I haven’t found any other definition that more accurately describes the ways in which Europe and then colonists wrested land and culture from the first inhabitants. In memorandums of war and historical documents words like “extermination” and the phrase “leave none alive” are used to instruct the killing of Indigenous tribes. Indigenous women have been forcibly sterilized - as recently as 2017. Native children were often stolen from their families and given to settlers through adoption as an effort to squelch Indigenous heritage, say nothing of the boarding schools that required them to cut their hair and denounce their former identities. These are all forms of genocide that have been committed against Native peoples.
It’s easy to assume, and many history books may lead us to believe that the New World was basically uninhabited and there for claiming. That was far from the case. Colonization and settling the US territories cost the lives of Indigenous men, women, and children in the millions. Their civilizations brought us many staples we still enjoy to this day, like the cultivation of corn, beans, and their complex trails and roadways. It’s sad we didn’t also learn their understanding of sustainable game management, forestry, and horticulture, or honor their humanity and cultural identity.
Numbering those with Native descent is hard, especially since many have been naturalized and their heritage has been suppressed. However the rough estimate currently is 5.2 million, 22% of which live on reservations.
Native tribes that supported Britain in the revolutionary war (many looking to preserve their lands and heritage) were hunted afterwards with a vengeance. George Washington’s orders are on record to General John Sullivan, who commanded 5,000 troops to oversee “...the total destruction and devastation of [the Indian] settlements and capture as many prisoners as possible.”
Fast forward to the time of Abraham Lincoln, known for his progressive (for the 1800s) views of equality, and even he withheld money from Sioux to fund a war, while colonies already were taking over their land in Minnesota. When a military clash inevitably happened, he sentenced 39 Native Americans to be hung in the largest mass hanging of our country’s history. And yet, he was the founder of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
Juan Gonzalez of Boston rekindles a small fire — the smoke symbolizing a ritual for healing and a connection with the "creator." He has been attending this day of mourning for 30 years. "We feel the pain of the Wampanoag," said Gonzalez. United American Indians of New England gather for the National Day of Mourning across from Plymouth Rock in Plymouth, MA on Thursday, November 25, 2010. The day signifies the deaths of American Indians at the hands of early settlers and colonists and the independence of American Indians. Boston Globe Boston Globe via Getty Images
It’s not surprising to me that now, many Indigenous peoples see Thanksgiving as a day of mourning. Many of us descended from settlers and immigrants, enjoy the nostalgia in the birth of a country brimming with wealth and opportunity. But many others understand it as the foreshadowing of genocide and generational trauma they are still working to heal.
So where do we go from here? What do we actually DO with this information? I’m not suggesting we forgo the turkey, stuffing, or thankfulness. I am suggesting that in 2018 maybe it’s time to bring some awareness to the main characters of the First Thanksgiving, and how things have gone for them since.
I suggest that those of us who identify as Christian research and understand how our faith has been weaponized by colonization, and remember that the sins of our fathers are visited on us. How often do we prioritize the thing we want, whether it’s land, power, or security, over the REAL tenets of our faith, and the humanity of others?
I suggest we raise our awareness of dehumanizing language being accepted in our current culture, and commit to calling it out, and not spreading it. (Yes, memes count here!)
I suggest we actively work to support Indigenous artists, non-profits, and foundations in understanding and empathy of their history and resilience. (Check out my post that details specific organizations supporting Indigenous women and combating violence against them)
I suggest that we research the tribes whose land we now occupy, that we travel on, and look for ways to honor their history. (I currently live on Quinnipiac land.)
I suggest that we learn to navigate the vast chasm between the discomfort of deepening our understanding, and the constant threat of physical harm and oppression our ignorance creates for Indigenous Americans and other people of color.
I suggest that we read books by Indigenous authors, follow Indigenous peoples on social media, and actively work to educate ourselves around a topic that has been silenced for centuries.
This Thanksgiving, I am humbled by the story of Massasoit. A plague had just decimated his people, another number had been shipped off as slaves. And yet he still offered the struggling pilgrims aide. They had raided new, sacred graves of his people, and yet he offered peace.
I mourn how our ancestors and founding fathers repaid Native kindnesses. It disturbs and unnerves me that my country was built out of the decimation of Indigenous peoples. I get a bit nauseous when I remember the faith I practice gained political strength and power through the same events. Sometimes, when we thank God for our freedom to practice our religion during church services I get a chill. I wonder if that's what we really mean, or if we are actually grateful that our religion holds unholy social and political power.
I think I was 15 or so when I started trying to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with organized Christianity.
I read “Blue Like Jazz”, and I found the first description of faith that felt like home. Don Miller is witty and conversational, but above all authentic and vulnerable. As I was writing this post, I kept remembering Don’s story about building a confession booth during Ren Fayre at Reed College.
For those of you not familiar, Don and his friends confessed to the students of Reed. They confessed their own bias, times they had been unloving, as well as more expansive collective sins like the crusades. As Don explains to his first visitor:
“What are you confessing?” he asked.
I shook my head and looked at the ground. “Everything,” I told him.
“Explain.” he said.
“There’s a lot, I will keep it short,” I started. “Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute me. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus did not mix His spirituality with politics. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know Him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, you know.”
“It’s all right, man” Jake said, very tenderly. His eyes were starting to water.
“Well, I said, clearing my throat, “I am sorry for all of that.”
“I forgive you” Jake said. And he meant it”
Don goes on to say that over 100 students participated, and it opened doors for community outreach and growth like they had never seen before, on one of the most secular campuses in the US.
Maybe another thing that we can do to heal our collective histories is set aside our egos, our tightly held national narratives, and confess*.
I would like to thank Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz for her brilliant and detailed work in her books:
"An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States" and
"All The Real Indians Died Off, and twenty other myths about Native Americans"
they have inspired me to research further and greatly informed this post.
*Something I think we Christians can get wrong about confession is the expectation of forgiveness. God may forgive us, but people are never required to. Confession isn't a means to rid ourselves of guilt or discomfort. Confession is acknowledgement of wrong and causing harm.
So I told you I would be featuring some fantastic Indigenous women this month, and I'm so excited to introduce you to the first one! Cali is Sičháŋǧu Lakȟóta from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. She is a trauma nurse, blogger, and ambassador for Native Women's Wilderness.
Cali details her journey to embracing her heritage on her blog, Through Her Native Eyes. Cali and I originally connected on Instagram. Her posts are beautiful, educational, and heartfelt. Her blog shares her story, Indigenous history, and how to be an ally to Indigenous peoples. I also loved her guest post discussing what it's like traveling as a Native woman, and how we can be respectful of Indigenous peoples and the history of Native lands.
Cali's love for nature and hiking has been essential as she has been called back to her heritage. Now she advocates for diversity and representation in outdoor and hiking industries, and is an ambassador for Native Women's Wilderness.
You may remember Native Women's Wilderness from last weeks post introducing the unique challenges Native Women face, and the fantastic organizations rising to meet those challenges. They are a Native run initiative that inspires and raises the voices of Native Women in the Outdoor Realm. They encourage a healthy lifestyle grounded in the Wilderness, and educate Natives and non-Natives on the rich beauty and heritage of the Ancestral Lands beneath our feet. (adapted from Native Womens Wilderness mission statement.)
Cali has become a strong advocate for her people, and justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women. I love her story so much. I'm inspired by her concentrated intention and determination to reconnect with and uncover her heritage and cultural traditions. I'm challenged by her calls to action and equity. I relate strongly to her love for the wilderness, and I'm galvanized by her hope.
I was so honored to have Cali answer a few questions for this post!
I loved your post "Being Native in a White World" and how shared so beautifully about your personal history. What has it been like for you more recently as you've been embracing your heritage? Do you feel like it has been a homecoming in a way?
"I feel like I have finally had the honor of truly getting to know myself. There were parts of me that were covered, hidden and ignored for so long. I’ve had a few moments recently where I’m like… “everything makes so much sense now.” I lived a lot of my life unhappy, with no true identity. So growing into my newly reclaimed identity has been life changing for me."
Tell us a little bit about your ambassadorship with Native Womens Wilderness.
"When I was contacted about becoming an ambassador for NWW, it was an obvious yes. I had been growing into my Lakota identity and finding my voice, while simultaneously reconnecting to the outdoors. So to be able to embrace both as they intersect is a huge honor for me. NWW is applying for it’s 501c3 status this year, and we have been focusing on obtaining sponsors so we can provide gear and funding to Native girls and women, sending Native girls and women to outdoor camps and participating in DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) work within the outdoor industry. We have some really exciting and big plans for next year!"
If you could recommend a few resources for my readers and myself to become better educated on Indigenous peoples and their history, what would those be?
"The entire #TravelingWhileNative series on HNTTLABB.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz.
Be sure that you are reading books and articles from Native authors."
What does decolonizing mean to you?
"For me, decolonizing has been learning Lakhotiyapi (Lakota language), returning to ceremony and fully embracing my identity as a Lakota winyan (woman)."
How do you and / or the native communities that you're part of generally feel about the Thanksgiving holiday?
"I can’t speak for the entire Native community, but my family has always used this as a time to be together and enjoy good food. I would never want anyone to miss out on family time, but I do think it is important to acknowledge the truth surrounding the day and how it came to be."
Today I have such a treat for you. FIVE women in one post! I’m half kidding, I can’t even begin to cover all five of these women in one post, however I do want to give you a snapshot of the women I interviewed for my book coming next year, Dear Sister, and why.
From the beginning of my writing process, I didn’t want to just center my own opinion and experiences. Lots of books and authors do that, and it’s not a bad thing. But for THIS book, about sisterhood, I wanted readers to hear from women with different backgrounds, challenges, and victories. Writing can feel like talking into an echo chamber which is great if you like the sound of your own voice, but otherwise it gets old.
The added bonus of interviews, was the incredible support I’ve received (and continue to receive!) from these women through the process of writing. I am so lucky and blessed down to my toes to have each of them in my life. So without further ado, let me introduce you!
Many of you may already know Jaime. We met through shared faith community when I first moved to Connecticut. I'm not going to spoil the story, but our friendship took some time to come about. Now, I am so blessed to be a part of her life.
I interviewed Jaime because her story is just so powerful. I knew she had dealt with a lot of major challenges in life that many of you will be able to relate to. I love how she shares her story so openly and vulnerably. Just a few topics we cover include: The power (for good and bad) of church communities, recovering from eating disorders, growing up with a single mom, recovering from abuse, therapy, and (my favorite) parenting in ways that don't pass on systemic / family trauma. We also talked about the rockstar lineup of women Jaime had to look up to (spoiler, including her mom!) that baked in her resilience and tenacity.
I met Kelly through Grrrl Clothing, and her Instagram. She has created an amazing space online for body positive fitness and personal growth. I was so intimidated by how fantastic she was when I first found her, that it took me MONTHS to reach out even though we had so much in common.
I interviewed Kelly for my book because I so greatly value her story, and her work in cultivating autonomy and personal worth, as well as community and sisterhood. We talk about searching for healing and wholeness in faith communities and how that can be so challenging.
Erika Kimberley is the amazing founder of To Be Praised ministries, which encourages Christian women to uncover their gifts and claim their faith. Her work of encouraging women of faith in leadership is SO needed, and one of the main reasons I wanted to interview her for Dear Sister.
I heard Erika speak at a women's event a few years ago, and I was in awe. Fun fact, it took me at least two years to have the self image to initiate a friendship, and she has been such a blessing and inspiration in my life ever since.
We talk about identity, autonomy, claiming faith as our own, as well as moving towards healing faith communities that still have massive racial divides.
I met Pam Conklin almost thirty years ago now. She has known me the longest of any of these women. Oh yeah, and she's my mom.
I included an interview with Mom for several reasons. First, while I don't consider her old, she does have a lot of experience. She has been a part of multiple different types of church communities, raised a family, homeschooled, lived all across the US and internationally, and been a Navy wife.
Second, I talk about my own experiences and growth journey a lot in this book, but it's not an expose or a dig at my family. I wanted Mom to be able to weigh in on her experience as I processed much of these things, and to discuss how that impacted our relationship.
Third, and this may be the biggest reason, I think our relationship is has probably changed more drastically than any other in my life as a result of the things I discuss in Dear Sister. I went from moving out at 19, against her wishes and having a very surface relationship with her for a while, to coming full circle and being able to share openly (and even disagree openly) in trust.
I have known Heather for almost as long as I have known Mom (although not quite.) We were childhood friends, and our families attended the same church and were part of the same homeschool program.
Heather is a blogger as well, and I interviewed her because her story is just so relatable for those of us growing up in very conservative churches and homeschool settings. We talk about what it's like growing up without having leadership gifts affirmed, and sorting that out in adulthood. We also discuss finding our voices, how to know if a therapist is a good fit, and how Heather is teaching her (adorable) twin daughters autonomy from day one.
I hope that our conversations give you some inspiration, relief, and confirmation that you're not alone in any of this. That is after all, what sisterhood is all about.
I’ve got my roots down down down deep....
So last week we talked about the importance of developing root systems, and how the basis of self awareness and compassion can sprout up compassion for others.
Today I want to dig a little deeper into exactly HOW to develop self awareness and self compassion. Sometimes, we feel like we are running on empty. Sometimes we feel strung out and isolated. Sometimes we feel… Worthless.
But those feelings, are just feelings. They aren’t facts.
Self care is a buzzword right now. You see it associated with things like shopping and bubble baths.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret. Self care isn’t always or even usually glamorous.
Self care means choosing to prioritize YOUR NEEDS and INTEGRITY over the comfort and wishes of others.
Take a beat and think about that. Self care means choosing to speak up and assert your NEEDS, and what you BELIEVE, down deep, over what other people are just used to.
Many times we are socialized as women to take care of other people first. That we are here for them. In religious circles sometimes there’s another layer placed that we are unholy if we prioritize ourselves.
None of this is truth. I have given full forty five minute talks on why our worthiness matters, and even how acting out of our worthiness is a way to commune with our Creator, but that’s coming another day.
For now, I want you to sit down and really think about how often you prioritize the things you really need over the things that other people close to you really want. Do you ever choose yourself?
We teach people how to treat us. We teach them that we will always prioritize them. We teach them what we believe about ourselves and our worth too. What are you teaching the people around you? Do they respect your boundaries?
These are the first steps towards developing true boundaries rooted in self care.
Choosing ourselves whenever possible gently and gradually teaches us that we matter.
Affirmations and mantras can be incredibly helpful. Last week on Woman Up Wednesday I talked about one of my all time favorite women that I follow; Erin Brown. She makes affirmation cards, which are some of the best tactile tools I have found for drilling into the best mantras for me specifically on any given day.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a deep breath on a hectic Monday and repeated to myself from one of her cards “I can let my best be enough.”
Journaling can be another great way to get to know ourselves, and develop self awareness. It also gives a record of where we’ve been which is pretty awesome. Prompt journaling, which is just journaling in response to specific prompts can be helpful if you feel like you don’t know what to say. I created a resource of prompt questions that you may find helpful here:
Last week I saw someone quip on instagram that self care is actually more like self parenting than having the “treat yourself” mentality. I identify with this. So often self care is also doing things that just need to be done, like paying the bills, or cooking a decent meal. It isn’t shoulding, but it is taking into consideration how to care for our needs, not just our wants.
Ultimately, what self care tools we use are so individual.
For some moms I know, it means setting a timer for their kids to leave them alone, and having an undisturbed cup of tea or coffee.
Boring self care can look like taking our meds as prescribed.
It can look like taking care of a corner our space, when we don’t feel like we have the energy.
It can look like reaching out and asking for help, when our ego and fear of rejection scream “NO”
It can look like just saying "no".
To develop strong root systems that can support us in our lives, whatever way we decide to branch out, our self care needs to be built on a deep understanding of our personal identity and autonomy.
Self care isn’t a magic charm. Once upon a time, I was in such a bad depression that I was just trying to do all the “self care” things I could think of to tread water. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.
Friends, we have to do the excavation first. We have to be willing to evaluate everything in our lives, and consider why we do what we do, and if that really aligns with who we are and who we want to be. Those two things don’t always line up, (who we are and who we want to be) but where we find that gap we find our capacity for growth.
Nancy Levin says to “Honor the space between no longer and not yet” and I have always loved that.
It means we can visualize, but we’re still figuring out the path and that’s ok. In fact, that’s the story of most of our lives, and it’s really a glorious one.
In January I’m hosting a patriarchy detox, where we are going to dig deep into our belief systems and mindsets.
I know Patriarchy can sound like a big scary word. I’m hosting this because digging through what stories and paths I lived out of society’s plan for me as a woman was both necessary and isolating. I wish I had had someone guiding me through that. I was so blessed to find a group of women online, unofficially walking that path but finding them took a lot of energy.
I want to make it official. I want you to have the opportunity to engage in communal healing and unleash your identity as we claim 2019 in power and boldness. The Patriarchy Detox is a five day challenge that starts January 7th. You’ll get a daily email with an awkward video from me, as well as the option to read a transcript so you can absorb the information whichever way works best for you. Then, you’ll have a prompt of a photo and caption to post on Instagram, (I will include a stock photo that you can use if you don’t have something that you feel goes with the prompt as well.)
I’m calling it a detox, because January is when the diet marketing really hypes up. “New year new you” (when the you you’ve always been is totally fantastic already.) The whole “detox” trend makes you feel like you’re dirty and need something to clean out your system, when we have organs like our liver that are designed to do that constantly.
But here’s the thing, we do have harmful mindsets and belief patterns that hold us back, and what if we could shed some of those? How would our new year look different?
We talk about the plant analogy here a lot (at least on Mondays) and this is like preparing your site for a garden. Flowers don't grow very well if we just try to stick them in the middle of our lawns, do they? We need to prepare the site, dig out the rocks, whatever the previous owners buried in the yard, and add organic materials to nurture them. We have to do the same thing with our mindset. Self care, self love, affirmation, and compassion don't grow well in the middle of what's always been there. We need to get ready to receive them.
Welcome to Woman Up Wednesday!
Where I link you up with the women who have had incredibly powerful impact on my life. A huge part of my why is to show other girls and women that they have options. They have ways to explore their creativity and healing. Growing up in extremely conservative Christian church circles, I knew from a really young age what I didn’t want for my life. We knew some fantastic families and women, but my inner empath is a powerful detector of pain and lack of fulfillment. A large percentage of the women we knew weren’t happy or free. They weren’t living into their callings, they were living the life they were told made them holy.
I knew that path wasn’t for me, however I didn’t have other women to look up to and follow that showed alternatives. I finally sought them out in my adult life. I am so excited to bring them to you, and share the impact they’ve had on me and my journey.
So, let me introduce you to Erin Brown! Erin is an author, activist and speaker from Lawrence, Kansas. I found Erin through Girls Gone Strong several years ago, when she (and I) were more focused on empowering fitness. Her books and presence have played a vital role in my healing. There are three, and she is working on a fourth which I can’t wait to get my hands on.
Soon after Sovereign came out, Erin released affirmation cards. I use these almost daily. Having those cards and her books is like having her sitting next to me, sharing her wealth of experience and all the healing work she has done. Empathizing and affirming me, while still calling me to be and do more. Erin released these cards when I was actively moving through seasonal depression, and they were a complete lifeline in that season specifically.
Erin also came to Connecticut (!) and hosted a “Sovereign” workshop in January. It was phenomenal, and probably as close as I’ve come to fangirling over anyone I’ve met. My version of fangirling equals watching them closely from a corner, gathering the courage to ask for one selfie, and driving home in a trance.
It’s really hard for me to fully quantify the impact Erin has had on my life through her work.
Her instagram stories remind me she’s a real, human, woman.
How she talks about parenting, and Letters to Lola, reminds me that it’s possible to break cycles of trauma for the next generation. That our healing not only matters, but is vital to healing our world.
Engaging with her through social media shows me the life of an artist and creator.
Participating in her many projects has shown me that growing and changing as a creator and artist is amazing, that we can always continue to reinvent without shame.
Reading Sovereign, and regularly using her affirmation cards as mantras, has constantly reminded me to keep choosing my integrity.
She has reminded me I am capable.
She has reminded me I am strong.
She has reminded me that those who are meant for me, will keep walking with me on my growth journey.
She has reminded me to seek healing.
She has reminded me to seek a sisterhood.
She has reminded me I’m worthy.
She has reminded me to take care of myself, but to keep showing up.
So, if you’re not already following her; let me formally introduce you! Her books and cards are linked through the pictures above, but can be found on Amazon, and her instagram is @iamerinbrown
Her website is www.iamerinbrown.info
I hope she illuminates your healing journey as wonderfully as she has mine.
First off, WELCOME to my new blog! I’m so happy that you’re coming on this journey with me. Like all the rest of them. I’m on a lot of simultaneous journeys. This month of Mindset Mondays is going to be themed around plant analogies because I’m a little obsessed. Also, how are plants not great examples of almost everything meaningful in life?
Today, let’s review an overview of developing mental root systems - learning self awareness, self care, and self compassion. I’m going to share why I feel putting intention and effort into these things is such a vital and necessary way to develop root systems that will continue to serve us and all our relationships.
Spoiler: It isn’t actually all about us!
There’s a popular and true statement going around that goes something like “What other people think about us isn’t about us, it’s about them”.
Often we don’t pay attention to the fact that the converse is also true: What we think about other people isn’t about them - it’s about us.
I think this is a great example of why we need self awareness, and we need to know how to take care of and manage our internal landscapes. Even if we ignore our internal world, it still affects how we view and interact with everyone we come in contact with.
I find being aware of my internal world a necessary part of showing up in my relationships authentically. I have the ability and responsibility to show up as the most present and mindful version of myself. If I don’t take care of myself emotionally and physically I am not able to be there for the people I care about in the same way at best. At worst, I project my challenging emotions on them. This can be SO HARMFUL, and honestly, seems like a leading cause of misunderstandings and friendship fall-outs.
Self awareness and self compassion are the root systems of a mindful and authentic life.
This is the beauty of cultivating self compassion: The kinder we are to ourselves, the more grace we hold for others. I personally think just learning to be kind to ourselves for our own sake is reason enough, but if you’re looking for ways to turn down the automatic judgemental thoughts we all get, build up your self compassion. Look at what you say to yourself around those topics you’re so judgemental of.
I used to be really judgemental of other people, other women specifically. I was judged their life choices. I judged what they chose to wear, or what makeup they liked. I judged how they managed their lives.
But as I’ve become much more compassionate with myself, and let myself realize that I have a full spectrum of life choices, none of which would make me less of a woman, I’ve been able to give those other women a break.
As I’ve gone from wearing makeup every day, to barely wearing it, and everything in-between, I just am happy another woman has something in her life to give her that boost.
As I’ve found myself time and again just doing the best I can on the daily through various life challenges, I’ve realized that other women are in that same, sticky, messy space.
The roots we develop in self compassion sprout into compassion for others.
So if you don’t know where to start, just start with paying attention.
The rest will follow.
Megan is a writer and creator from Wallingford, CT. She is passionate about empowering women to step into the full power and identity they were created to embrace and claim.