#40acts

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What a great idea!  Whether you are a Christian in the midst of Lent or not, come February 18th you can choose to take part in the #40acts challenge.  We can all do kind things for one another.

 

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Unconditional Love

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I had a thought today:

You know how parents can love their children unconditionally?  What if we use that model and love one another unconditionally?

I am going to try to remember that this week.  I want to take others for who they are.  I do not want to point out their faults or complain when they are not the person I want them to be.  I am going to simply love them for who they are and what they are trying to do.  I will see the good in them and the simplicity of their intentions.  This is what I hope others will do for me.  Too often I think we personalize others’ actions when really, it’s not about us at all.  This week I will try to be less self-centered and realize, it might not be about me.

I do not want to interrupt anyone, make snap judgments about anyone, or try to manipulate others’ actions.  Live and let live.  See the good.

Don’t you think this will bring peace and harmony to us all?  Especially with the little annoyances we let ourselves get so wrapped up in each day.  Let those annoyances go.  See the positive.  Change your point of view in different situations.

I am going to challenge myself this week to change my outlook.  Will you do the same?

I Want to Tell You About *Heather

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This Sunday morning, I would like to tell you a true story about a girl named *Heather (real names have been changed).

Heather was someone I got to know in middle school.  She had a friend, *Anne.  Every day at lunch they sat together, alone, at a table in the lunchroom.  Other tables, including the one I sat at, would take extra chairs from other tables and crowd groups of 10-12 around tables meant to seat 8, but there they sat, a table of two.  I remember watching as chairs were asked to be taken from Heather and Anne’s table, sometimes by me, and how the two of them always said yes and kept on with their own conversations.  They were true best friends and everyone treated them terribly.

Heather and Anne were bullied.  Whether it was outright public-shaming or mean words behind their backs, their peers were unkind.  I thank God we didn’t have facebook when I was young.  I can’t imagine what the bullying would have looked like for them.

I remember hearing boys laugh about how they were invited to Heather or Anne’s birthday party or how gross it was that Heather and Anne had crushes on them.  Girls would snicker when the two friends walked by.  The worst thing I recall was when we were taking yearbook photos for student-voted awards; “Best Eyes”, “Class Clown”, etc.  The student body played a trick on Heather which was that they voted her and a boy named *Grant for “Best Couple”.  (The fact that a middle school was even voting people “Best Couple” in the yearbook is beyond ridiculous, but let’s not even go there right now as this is about Heather.)  Heather had no idea it had been a prank orchestrated by Grant and she was elated.  I remember thinking that maybe if she didn’t know it was a joke, it would be a good memory for her and she could actually enjoy one day at school.  I congratulated her when we were walking for photos and she smiled and thanked me.  I noticed that she had dressed up, put a headband in her hair and put on a light shade of pink lipstick.  In fact, she was glowing.  I felt sick inside.  Even though I had not been a part of the trick, I knew about it, and that was enough to make me an accessory.

Grant showed up and came barreling down the outdoor hallway calling after Heather.  He wanted to hold her hand, but first, he held up his finger so she’d wait while he put on latex gloves, then he held her hand.  Others started laughing.  I told those near me to cut it out but didn’t really say enough to make it stop.  The photo was taken – Grant tried to pose in typical cuddling boyfriend positions and I could tell Heather was uncomfortable.  I just wanted this day to be over, and I’m sure she did, too.

Looking back, I should have done something more to save her the humiliation of that day.  It’s sad that out of over 200 students in our class, no one spoke up.

There were a few lunches where my friend *Sarah and I would sit with Heather and Anne.  We felt bad that they were always alone.  They welcomed us and we would talk, but after those lunches, Sarah and I always went back to our group of friends and Heather and Anne went the other way, on their own, again.

The last memory I have of Heather is her singing while her mom played the piano at our 8th grade graduation.  People were saying snide comments to their friends under their breath during the performance – it’s always funny how those who don’t have the guts to stand up and sing can make fun of the others who do.  Heather looked nervous, but I saw her mom give her encouraging glances and she began to sing.  She had a really sweet voice, something I did not know about her.  I can still picture her standing up in front of everyone who put her down and singing a song about friendship and togetherness.  It’s a nice last picture to have of her – she was always kind to everyone, even those who did not reciprocate the sentiment.

That summer, before entering high school, Heather died in her father’s arms in the middle of the night from a brain aneurysm.  My mom got a phone call from another parent at our school.  She asked me if I knew Heather and I said yes.  My stomach was sick.  I cried for her, I cried for her family, and I cried for Anne.

I know others felt guilty for bullying her, but they would never admit it.  It was like this thick, heavy air hung over people whenever she was spoken about after that.  No one said mean things anymore.  People didn’t know what to say because inside all they could think about was the way she was mistreated.  No one had the chance to apologize to Heather or to try to make things right with her.  She is immortalized in the yearbook under “Best Couple” in a photo that brings back the awful trickery of that day, but I remember her on stage, singing.  Thank God for that.

The first day of high school I found Anne, sitting alone at a table, and I sat with her.  I told her how sorry I was and if she was ok.  She seemed so sad.  I imagine Heather and Anne had stayed up late during sleep overs, predicting how high school would change their lives.  There would be new people and new groups to fit in to.  The boys would be cuter, the grass would be greener.  Anne must have felt that hope for a better future at school died with Heather.

I am no saint.  I sat with Anne the first day, but not after that.  I would say hi in the halls, but what was I really doing to help her?  Anne made new friends and I think she had fun in high school, but I don’t know for sure because I never asked her.  I keep up with her on facebook and she has definitely found her stride in adulthood.  A good job, good friends, supportive family.  She recently posted that she’s pregnant with her baby’s due date, and I noticed a comment from a man I am assuming is Heather’s dad.  It said, “That’s Heather’s birthday.”  Isn’t that how it should be?  Anne will always have Heather with her, and I hope that her baby is born exactly on its due date and will share a birthday with Anne’s best friend.

I hope that what people learn from this is to always treat others with kindness.  It’s not fair to Heather or her family that she had a hard 14 years of life.  Be kind.  Speak up when others are not.  We are all capable of kindness.

I love Katy Perry’s “Firework” and I think it fits this especially.  For Heather.

Seriously? – Lift Each Other Up, Don’t Push One Another Down

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This is a new segment of the blog I am going to title Seriously?  Too often I find mind-boggling things that make me wonder why people were even given the ability to express irrational thought.

The first contribution to Seriously? comes after doing my morning scan of internet headlines.  I came across one that read “Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge Dismissed As Britain’s ‘Queen Wag’ By Feminist Author Joan Smith.”

I didn’t want to jump to conclusions right away, so I read over the article.  Apparently, Joan Smith, a feminist author whom I really know nothing about (therefore my opinions are based solely on this article I have just read), believes that Kate Middleton has done nothing since graduating university other than support her partner and get married in a large ceremony, and Joan Smith thinks this is terrible.

Seriously Joan Smith?  You are a feminist and you’re going to publicly shame and put down a woman?  My number one hope for women everywhere is that we help each other by not tearing each other apart and cutting each other down – especially when one has a platform to be a role model as an author does.  A big part of feminism, for me, is that women can choose to be whoever they want to be and do whatever they want to do (as long as it’s not hurting anyone).  This includes this right to support your partner, get married, have children, etc.  Although that may not be a choice fit for Joan Smith, I hope that she would be able to accept that it is Kate Middleton’s choice and that is fine.

There is enough pressure on women by our societies that we do not need to add to it.  It is wonderful that we have outspoken and uber-motivated feminists like Joan Smith to fight on the front lines for women everywhere.  It is also great that we have women who choose to support their families emotionally and raise children.  While some women work, some volunteer.  Seriously, just because a woman is not outspoken about causes doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have any.

Seriously!  Let’s put more attention into our own lives and try to see the best in each other.  If women don’t support and respect each other, we can’t expect anyone else to.

The same goes for the other author mentioned in the article, Hilary Mantel, who has publicly commented on Kate Middleton’s weight as being “painfully thin”.  Seriously Hilary Mantel?  You’re going to criticize a woman’s weight?  Come on!  This causes a huge offense to the feminist community because weight and micro-criticisms of women’s bodies is a major issue with our media and it is affecting young and mature women everywhere.  God forbid people have different weights and different shapes.  Seriously?  Let’s put the focus elsewhere and work together.

Misogynistic Song Lyrics

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Here’s a link to a great blog about misogyny in song lyrics.  http://misogynisticlyricsthatarentrap.tumblr.com/

I have to say, I was so upset the other day because “Yeah” by Usher (featuring Ludacris and Lil Jon) came on the radio and took me right back to my senior year of high school.  I loved that song and loved dancing to it at parties.  When I began singing along I was so bummed to realize how demeaning it was to women and how it actually expressed some violence against women in the lyrics.  I ended up changing the station.  (See some lyrics from “Yeah” that I am referencing.)

*Misogyny is defined as the hatred of women.

“Forget about the game I’m a spit the truth, 
I won’t stop till I get em in they birthday suits. 
So gimmie the rhythm and it’ll be off with they clothes, 
Then bend over to the front and touch your toes. 

I left the jag and I took the Rolls, 
If they ain’t cutting then I put em on foot patrol. 
How you like me now, 
When my pinky’s valued over three hundred thousand, 

Lets drank you the one to please, 
Ludacris fill cups like double d’s. 
Me and Ush once more and we leave em dead, 
We want a lady in the street but a freak in the bed to say”

 

The Beautiful Dilemma

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For women in our western culture, the concept of beauty is extremely prevalent.  Marketing is always geared toward improving it, and billions of dollars are spent every year trying to achieve it.  What happens when one is physically beautiful to our standards?  Is it all roses and rainbows?

I have amazingly gorgeous friends (outside AND IN, I must say), and I have seen how their beauty has affected them negatively at times.

If a beautiful woman who is very smart and dedicated gets a promotion, jealousy among her peers almost always stems from her physical appearance.  Hard work and qualifications will be looked over and some will believe she only got the job because the boss thinks she’s pretty.  Others may even insinuate that she’s flirting or worse with the boss to have achieved the position.  This is a form of misogyny (hatred or dislike of women or girls).  Instead of immediately attributing her promotion to her looks, let’s try to first think about what qualified her for the position.  Putting in lots of overtime?  Her degree?  Her ability to make tough decisions?  Challenge yourself.

What about the girl considered to be the most gorgeous girl in the whole school?  Do you think she had many female friends?  Other girls who got to know her loved her and saw that she was kind and funny.  Those who judged her by her appearance only labeled her a “bitch” and “slut” without even knowing any concrete information about her.  Have you ever done this to someone?  Think about why you assumed hateful things about someone you didn’t even really know.  These kind of misinformed conclusions contribute to setting women back every day.  As women, we need to help each other rise up and not play a part in this kind of misogyny.  If women put women down, who is there to make the changes that we need?

Here is some personal experience that I have been encountering lately.  I work as a social worker with women.  I work out in the community and at times attend things where there are men and women present.  I feel silly even having to say this – but because of the lines we have drawn for women in society I will add this disclaimer – I do not dress provocatively in any way, I wear minimal makeup and often times wear a ponytail when I am at work.  In fact, I layer my clothing often wearing sweaters that drape past my bum and I never show cleavage.  While working, as a clearly marked professional in the community (I wear a brightly colored lanyard with my ID card and carry a giant folder), these are some things I have been told by men or I have heard men say as I walk by/sit in the room.

“Where are you going?” (This has been said to me as I walk by men on different occasions, in a tone that let’s me know I may not be capable to making my own decision to leave.)

“It’s a good thing when the pretty girl is here.  Get’s the men’s motors running on a cold day.”

“Has anyone ever told you you have amazing eyelashes?” (Flattered…BUT I AM WORKING!  Would you say that to your doctor?….if she’s a woman, they actually might say that to their doctor!)

“I wanna work with her.”  (Said in a suggestive tone.)

These are the things spoken.  There are also things unspoken that make me uncomfortable, like unsolicited stares or awkward closeness.  While waiting in a room the other day, the woman I was with got up for a smoke, and a man came and sat right next to me when there were plenty of other chairs.  I politely said, “Oh, she’s coming right back.” He replied, “Well when she comes back I’ll move.”  Then he proceeded to try to pick me up with a cocky attitude.  I was slightly backed into a corner because I was working and had to maintain a professional attitude that would not reflect back poorly on my employer, but I also needed to assert myself to let this man know it was inappropriate to be acting like that.  I think there is a better way to handle this situation, but I always feel intimidated when things like this happen so I maintained appropriate conversation while being abrupt and a bit standoffish.  I did not give him eye contact, either.  Unfortunately, this probably conveyed to him that he had power over me, but I was also not trying to excite/escalate this already bold individual.  One day, I hope that I am able to state confidently, “I am working.  It’s inappropriate for us to be conversing.  I would appreciate you sitting somewhere else.”  I think part of the reason I didn’t do this is because I knew that he would have a cocky response and it may have made the situation worse, or drawn attention to it, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid as an employee.

Another side to the beauty dilemma that is often overlooked, is when we compliment other women on something physical.  It feels good when a friend notices a new haircut or weight-loss we’ve worked hard for, but I can’t help but feel this contributes to putting too much emphasis on women’s appearances.  If a friend notices weight loss, she also probably notices weight gain.  The pressure on women to achieve positive comments from others about our appearances is always there.  Think about another way to compliment your friend.  A friend who lost weight: The phrase, “You look healthy,” (which is better than “You look like you lost weight”) could be improved by changing the word “look” which implies appearance.  Instead, say “You seem happy,” or, “Wow.  You have a light about you today. Whats’ new?”  Let your friend begin the conversation about her weight if that is what she wants.  The important thing is that you are saying you notice something positive about her but you are letting her steer the conversation.

It’s a touchy subject.  My goal with this post is to create awareness.  Be conscious of what you say to others and how you phrase it.  Words are so powerful; use them for good, not evil.

Caught Between a Vegetable and a Hard Place

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vegetarianI have wrestled with the idea of vegetarianism for so many years.  My reasoning, at times, was that it grossed me out to think of a live pig while I was downing bacon, or seeing a feather fried into the side of my chicken wing (that was the last time I ever ate a chicken wing).  Mostly though, it hurts my heart to think of animals dying because I need to satisfy a food craving.  In July 2012 I finally made a commitment longer than my past three-week-max tries and gave up eating pork and beef.  Other than a beef cutlet at Christmas Eve dinner and a slice of ham on my eggs benedict Christmas morning (both of which extremely upset my stomach), I have not touched either meat since July.  I added on beginning January 1, 2013 and took poultry out of my diet, as well.  Currently, I am eating a vegetarian diet (with fish now and then).  I think it will stick this time because when my body says, “order a steak,” my heart says, “no.”  The thought has become stronger than the physical impulse, which is huge for me and I am quite happy to be at that point.  Also, don’t ask me to tell you about my improved BM’s, because I will talk openly about it – fair warning.

When I was recently at the drug store looking to replace some old makeup items, my thoughts went to animal testing.  I was considering kindness to animals with my what I put in my body, but what about the things I put on my body?  I post-poned my purchase and was shocked when my research turned up that almost none of the products I currently used were cruelty-free.  I printed a list (you can find one at peta.org or leapingbunny.org) of cruelty-free products and headed back to the store.  I chose to update my shower products, makeup products, and lotions first.  I feel much better having purchased cruelty-free products (and seeing the cute little bunny logo makes me smile).

cruelty freeI would like to eventually have an animal-friendly home but I know that it will take time.  It is difficult to find all products that I use that are free of animal testing (ie: nail polish remover, deodorant – other than the crystal kind because this girl can get ripe, etc.) but I am making a commitment to change what I can.  I was pleased to find out that I already was using cleaning products that do not test on animals – Method products.  I think what I learned today – after spending over an hour on something that normally takes me 10 minutes – is that with some effort I can make basic changes that I can feel good about.  I also learned not to google images of animal testing when looking for photos for this blog post because that really made me sad – DON’T DO IT, TRUST ME.  The way I explained it to some friends last night was that I do not need to know specifics about how animals are mistreated – I don’t need to read about it or see pictures of it.  I will believe people when they say bad things happen – no elaboration needed.  I am a vegetarian-work in progress, but I will get there.  Thanks for those who always have open conversations with me about this lifestyle change.  And to the animals – sorry for the way humans have treated you.  Hopefully change will come.