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.
Last month, my friend Jaime texted me. “I just listened to this interview on NPR about a woman who wrote a book on evangelical purity culture, and I thought of you.” I immediately looked up the interview with Linda Kay Klein, the author of “Pure” and after listening to it, I ordered it on Amazon. It came in a day, and before I knew it I read the first chapter and was twelve again, feeling like it was God’s sovereign will that I marry my first crush.
I consider myself to have grown up on the fringes of purity culture. But “Pure” called out experiences that I’ve had or I’ve known friends to have that hit so close to home. I read the first few chapters and had to put the book down. It was just too real, too big of a reminder of mindsets I’ve come so far from.
I picked it up again a week later. The content was still hard, but also so vital. I felt like I needed to read the stories of these women, that they needed to count and matter for something. Their pain MUST pave others healing journeys.
Personally, the chapters that resonated the most with me were; “Going Home”, “Dementors” and “Sanctuary”. The rest were great examples that I identified with strongly, but I guess those three center either in where I feel I am right now (A mix of the creative owning of self explored in “Going Home” with the growth and expansion described in claiming faith through “Sanctuary”.) or where I feel my call lies (“Dementors”.)
"Going Home" explores the authors writing process as she confronted her family’s fears as she worked on a topic that is potentially so volatile. It pictures her still looking for confirmation of belonging, even as her faith and calling looked so different from what her parents ever imagined.
Personally, writing and sharing is really scary. I get it. I have written parts of my book (and even parts of my blog and instagram posts) and wonder which one will bring the raised eyebrow, or the shutdown of local ministry opportunities. I went through the “will my family stick with me through major change and disagreement” phase a long time ago, but I had never openly questioned or critiqued long cherished patterns of life in Christian communities. Perhaps this is another commentary on evangelical culture, that I assume if I am fully myself and live into my calling, my community will desert me. I assume that parts of myself and my calling will be seen as “too much” or “too intense”. So I feel for Linda, knowing that she must write potentially controversial stories, even though the kickback could be severe.
“Dementors” describes the religious PTSD many women (and men) who have been traumatized through harmful teaching experience when they walk into a church. For some women Linda interviewed, just talking to a clergy person or standing in a pulpit brought on actual panic attacks. I write for so many reasons, but these people are such a HUGE reason that I write. I hope and pray that these people find the healing they need in whatever way they need it. But as long as this keeps happening, I have work to do. My goal is to see Christian faith acting as an actual sanctuary. A place of healing, safety, and reprieve for ALL.
“Sanctuary” gives me hope that this can be achieved. Linda features a few churches which have focused on teaching Christianity in autonomy. Somehow she managed to write a book on one of the most painful and traumatic parts of life for evangelical Christian women, and end on a beautiful, hopeful note.
Also of note, and covered in detail in this book, the physical, emotional, and mental trauma caused by various (non biblical) purity teachings in evangelical faith.
Who should read this:
Those of you who are searching for your path out of the life force sucking traumatic experiences that encompass purity culture.
You will find so. much. affirmation. You will find (hopefully) hope. You will finish this book saying #metoo and maybe #churchtoo but also with an understanding that you can overcome this messaging.
If you have influence in faith circles, I think knowing the dark side of purity messaging is really important. Purity culture is alluring because there are set ways to “win” when we play the game right. It sells the idea of “safety” from having to sort out an murky feelings about sexuality, desire, or consent. We need to know what mindsets we are passing on to the kids and teens in our spheres of influence. This book will stick with you. The stories will haunt you, and they should. They will be reminders every time you want to give a pat answer, or trite example of “sexual purity”. Let the eighty plus women interviewed for this book always help you remember the gravity of this topic. Don’t let your teaching be the reason someone can’t step in a church without having a panic attack.
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.
The last two weeks I talked about authors that have been instrumental in my life. But today I want to talk about a woman I know personally, who always encourages my growth.
My friend, Lorri, has faced a lot of challenges in her life. Single parenthood, kids with serious health concerns, an abusive ex, stories a lot of us can relate to.
I find her so inspiring.
She is one of the most grounded women that I know when it comes to her faith. No matter what she’s going through, she is always looking up. She is always looking for ways to serve, even in the middle of her own crisis.
She is always looking for ways to educate herself and grow. She is unpacking and laying out the path for her healing journey, and deciding which of her old, faithful, coping mechanisms might not be serving her the best now. She reads, she teaches, she learns new languages in her spare time.
She is a thoughtful and present parent to her kids, who are mostly grown now. She is moving into adult relationships with them and guiding them through the first steps of college, jobs, and first cars.
She talks about writing books, and for all your sake I hope she follows through, because I’ve only skimmed the top of her story.
I love sitting down and getting a heart to heart with Lorri.
When it comes to faith, we may not always agree on interpretations of scripture or all of our belief patterns, but we respect each others journeys.
This is something I want to see more of in Christian faith communities. We are divided for many reasons. I’m not going to bore you with a detailed explanation of how the denominations came to be (hint: they exploded during abolition and civil rights movements…) but when we separate ourselves from everyone who believes something slightly different than we do, it’s isolating and dangerous.
We need to know how to have healthy relationships and conversations with people we disagree with.
We need to know how to respect people we disagree with.
I saw an Instagram post this past week stating how a Christian woman read about an author, and then unfollowed her and stopped reading her book because the author didn’t line up with her theological beliefs.
Here’s the thing. The Bible tells us to beware of false teachers. But if your theological beliefs are so flimsy that just reading about another woman’s journey or walk makes you rethink them, maybe you SHOULD be rethinking them.
Jesus says in that same passage that we will know which teachers are of God by their fruit. Is the fruit of their lives and work loving, joyful, peaceful, compassionate? This is the fruit of the spirit. I don’t know about you, but I grew up with teachers ensconced in our religious circles who couldn’t claim that fruit.
It’s sobering to consider that not being able to share mutual respect in faith is fruit.
What belief systems and theologies led to our total intolerance of the walk of a brother or sister in faith?
So here are some sisterhood marching orders: Go sit down with a woman who has a different story than you, who holds some different beliefs from you, and practice mutual respect and love. Pray together. Support each other. Affirm each other in your journeys.
The fact that we aren’t all the same is beautiful, not scary. We don’t all hold the same gifts or functions in faith, and that’s reason for celebration, not disconnection.
If you’re looking for some ways to reach out in love and practice non judgement and respect, take a look at my post from Monday for five mantras to nurture compassion!
As always, thank you for walking with me.
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.