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Being a Woman in Southern Culture

In the wake of the Dr. Christine Ford’s testimony revealing allegations of attempted rape by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, there has been much discussion about whether victims of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse have space and a voice to share their experiences. Many have argued that the social climate and context in the 80s perceived attempted rape by a known person as somehow different than by a stranger in a dark alley indicated in movies like Sixteen Candles.

I would argue, too, that the geographic culture of the South and the Bible Belt have also made it difficult for victims to report and to share their experiences. This has a lot to do with the stereotypical picture of a Southern Woman. Growing up as a woman in the south in the Bible Belt, I heard again and again that the greatest aspiration for a woman was to be a mom. As a mother of three and one on the way, I agree to this sentiment, but not to the stereotypes and unrealistic expectations that are in the subtext of that statement. There’s a false and dangerous assumption here that a southern woman should be completely fulfilled when she becomes a mom. There is so much damage in this cultural expectation for women who don’t want to have children, women who need or want to work after they have children, and for stay-at-home moms who want time away from their kids. The expectation that underlies this idea is that a southern woman who is a mom should have endless and boundless amounts of energy to devote to her children, which creates dangerous patterns of ignoring self-care, signs of fatigue and exhaustion that lead to ongoing health problems, and never, ever asking for help because this is what southern women are supposed to do. It’s the idea that somehow as a southern woman who constantly self-sacrifices in the forms of hospitality and serving because that is we are wired and created to do. Not only is this an unrealistic and untenable expectation, it is a gross overgeneralization of gender roles.

I personally didn’t realize how much this was ingrained into as a girl who grew up in the Bible Belt, southern culture until I had children of my own. The pressing thoughts in my head about providing them meals and clean clothes and guidance would drive me to the point of frenzied anxiety. This anxiety permeated our home and our family for no good reason except this internal “this is what I am supposed to do.” Until I took the time to analyze and wonder where these ideas were coming from, I drove myself and my family to the point of exhaustion and fatigue. Perhaps it was also a need to be needed that drove these thoughts and ideas, but no matter the motivator, it was unhealthy and unbalanced.

It is never, ever easy to ask for help, but there is so much more joy and love and just plain fun when we work to create intentional space to grow and learn together. To be certain, I still fall into these learned behavior patterns and those expectations and societal expectations I learned long ago still creep in, but the more time I take to ask myself, “What do I want my children to remember about growing up?” the more time I find for dance parties, fort building and serving our community together.

Halfway There, Living on a Prayer

Yesterday, we hit the 20-week mark on this journey to welcoming a new little one into the Harrelson Pack. It took me by surprise to think that we were already halfway there to meeting this little one. This little one that we just found out is a GIRL!

In the midst of the excitement, I was inundated with the news of the accusations of rape against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaughn and conversations surrounding this news. To read that Republicans claim this wasn’t a big deal and then to read religious leaders claim it’s not a big deal heaping spiritual abuse onto Dr. Ford have left me speechless. To think that these leaders who are trying to push through a Supreme Court nominee who wasn’t accountable to the law is baffling to me. How can we expect that he will not use the law to get away with other forms of abuse once his power increases if he is confirmed?

But even more than these details about the overall health and integrity of the most powerful governing body in our country, my mind keeps returning to our baby girl. How are we supposed to raise a girl to become a strong, confident woman in the midst of this climate and context where women aren’t believed? How are we supposed to keep her safe and strong and brave? How when there are so examples of political abuse and spiritual abuse protecting men who break the law? How when we have a president who has multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment and jokes about women’s bodies?

And I think 20 more weeks isn’t enough to create everything I want to create for this little girl and for our 10-year-old and 8-year-old girls. It’s not enough time. There aren’t enough people working to overcome these powerful, powerful forces that have protected crime against women again and again. There’s not enough money to hire the best lawyers to fight NDAs and settlements and discrimination that sets the foundation for this type of oppression to take place. There’s not…enough.

Even as the tears fall in my laments, there are rays of hope. Women supporting Dr. Ford and her courage and bravery from her high school. Women and men coming together to rally again, understanding that the #metoo is not over and there’s still so much work to be done.

Here we are halfway there, living on a prayer and a hope that we will come together and we will create a better place for girls and women.

A Week Ago

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A week ago, we headed to the doctor for our 40 week appointment. I convinced Sam to put the hospital bag, camera, and car seat into the car just in case they sent us straight to the hospital after the doctor’s visit. He humored me, but he knew it wasn’t time yet.

A week ago, at 40 weeks and 3 days, we walked into the same doctor’s office that we walked into today. Last week, we had an ultrasound and found out that Baby H was estimated to be 8.5 lbs., and that he was head down getting ready for delivery. This week, three of us walked into the doctor’s office.

A week ago, we sat on the same couch in the waiting room. I leaned on Sam’s shoulder every 8-10 minutes as the pre-labor contractions came and went. Today, I leaned on his shoulder and peered down into a baby carrier and into Baby Ben’s blue eyes.

A week ago, Sam was right, and we headed back to the parking lot to our car to head home with the explanation that if something happened before 6 am on Thursday morning to come to the hospital, but if not, to come to the hospital, so that the induction process could be started.

A week ago, Sam tried desperately to entertain me and detain me from walking to the hospital as back labor was added to the contractions I had been feeling all morning. A week ago, we walked around Target, Panera, and the parking lot trying to do all those things you are supposed to do before you go to the hospital and to avoid going to the hospital and being sent back home.

A week ago, we came back home and made it until 3 am on Thursday morning when my water broke, and I finally had the reason I needed to head to the hospital.

A week ago, we checked into the hospital at 4 am and made our home in a labor and delivery room knowing that we would soon meet our baby. A week ago, I received an epidural and a drip to keep labor progressing. A week ago, as the medicine kicked in, I was able to rest for the first time in 24 hours.

A week ago, Sam sat by my side hour after hour as we waited and welcomed each happy report that “things were moving along.” A week ago, we talked and predicted and bet about what time he would be born. A week ago, we received the report that the illusive 10 cm had been reached, and it was time to practice push. A week ago, I looked at Sam and said, “Finally.”

A week ago, we waited between practice pushing sessions for the doctor who was “just next door finishing another delivery” and wondered why they got to go first. A week ago, the doctor came to tell us that we were back down to 8 cm and that it was time to start talking about the possibility of having a C-section because Baby H was turned to the side a little bit.

A week ago, Sam held my hand as I cried because I was so ready to see our baby and simultaneously uneasy and nervous and scared about having major surgery and not knowing what all that entailed. A week ago, Sam looked at me and said, “It’s ok. This is what he needs us to do.”

A week ago, they rolled me across the hallway into the OR and Sam sat by my head and whispered that we were so close to getting to see Baby H. A week ago, we heard a cry that meant Baby H was finally here.

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A week ago, we met Baby H who we started calling Big Ben because he weighed 8 lbs 7 oz and was 20.5 inches long. A week ago, I fell in love with Sam all over again for being by my side and for being my rock and for being Big Ben’s dad. A week ago, I was left speechless by the miraculous power of life and birth and breath in our baby boy.

What a difference a week makes.

“Do you have a baby in your belly?”

We were on the playground as part of our Fall Break celebrations when another 5-year-old merged into playing with our girls. I stepped back to let them play, but inevitably was called to “Watch this!” on the monkey bars. When I came over, the other 5-year-old looked hard at me and paused for a minute, then asked, “Do you have a baby in your belly?”

I explained that yes I did and asked her if she thought it was a boy or a girl. She looked at MH and LC and declared confidently that it was another girl. I told her that it was actually going to be a boy. LC took over from there to explain that the baby was going to be sleeping in her room and that she was pretty sure that the baby wasn’t ever coming out.

I chuckled and wondered about the memories that our girls were making in the waiting and anticipating their brother’s arrival. More than likely, they won’t remember much of this waiting period because soon their memories will be crowded with a new sibling and this side of their family will be new and different.

As we approach All Saints Day and the practice of actively remembering those who have passed on this year, I can’t help but wonder if this active remembering isn’t something that we should incorporate into our daily and weekly lives.

Active remembering is different than reminiscing in which there is a wistfulness to return to the time before. Instead, active remembering is what God has asked God’s people to do throughout the biblical narrative.

But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind to pass over the earth and the water subsided. Genesis 8:1

Then God remembered Rachel and gave heed to her and opened her womb. Genesis 30:22

Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Exodus 20:8

He will remember his covenant forever. Psalm 111:5

And he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke and gave it to them saying, “This is my body given for you; this do in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

Active remembering is a holy endeavor. It reminds us of where we have come from. It reminds us of the journey in which God has spoken to us. It reminds us of the people who have influenced and invested in our lives.

As we celebrate All Saints Day this weekend, this do in remembrance of God’s love for us.

Pregnant Preaching

At each stage of this journey of pregnancy and preaching, there have been physical adjustments that have altered my sermon preparation. First trimester: How much ginger ale can I consumer before 9 am? Will four or five saltines be the winning number for keeping something on my stomach, but not too much. Second trimester: Is it time to highlight the baby belly or is a flowing top a better option? How many breakfasts is too many breakfast before 9 am? Two? Three? Now in my third trimester as the weeks get closer and closer to 40 weeks, I approach Sundays a bit differently. My Sunday morning routine has changed from, “I think this outfit looks most like a pastor” to “Ok, what fits?” My water intake has to be a little more mindfully timed in order to make it through the service and my delivery has to take into account this almost 7 pounds of life that is pressing into my lungs, making phrasing and breathing more difficult.

But it’s not the physical ramifications of the pregnancy that have been weighing on me most heavily. Now my heart and mind as I prepare are concerned over whether this Sunday will be the last Sunday I will be able to stand before my people and offer a word from God before I go on maternity leave. I wonder is this sermon powerful to sustain and challenge them while others so graciously step in a step up to fill the pulpit.

I wonder as a single-staff pastor whether the time we have planned during my maternity leave will be meaningful and challenging and continue the work God has called us to. Can you really plan that work as far in advance as we have and still make it relevant and responsive to the needs of the community? Should it really be ok for the pastor and preacher to not be there during Advent on of the holiest seasons in the life of the church?

But what if this new life is the gospel message? What if the hope and anticipation along with the physical adjustments are what new life is all about?

Perhaps this is the most powerful lesson of the last 40 weeks. New life doesn’t come without it’s discomfort. New life doesn’t come without work. New life doesn’t come without sleeplessness and restlessness.

New life changes every aspect of who we are and how we view the world.

9 Months and Waiting

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This morning I had my 36 week appointment with the doctor. I have certainly gotten used to the routine of going to the doctor, but today was significantly different. There were signs over all the sinks, “Do not use sinks.” There were signs over the water fountains, “Don’t drink this water.” And there was almost no parking because the picture above is what the hospital next to my doctor’s office looks like.

The National Guard is there as well as tractor trailers pumping water into the hospital because the hospital and entire Medical Park is still in a zip code where the water has not been cleared for consumption. My doctor explained her shock as she has come to the office in the past 10 days that she never thought that as an American doctor in the capital city of South Carolina she would ever be practicing without clean water and without being able to wash her hands with the water running from the tap.

I replied that it was a weird existence. I got lost twice trying to detour around road closures on the way to my appointment this morning. I haven’t been drinking as much water as I should for Baby H because it’s hard to remember to bring multiple bottles of water with you when you have been using water bottles and other containers that make it easier to carry more than one serving of water.

And yet, both us of relayed that in the midst of all the inconveniences we were very lucky to have sustained minor damage to household materials. It’s hard to express the frustration of this modified existence in the midst of other people’s devastation.

At the same time, it’s important for those of us who haven’t lost everything, but have lost the sense of security and safety of having clean water to be able to express that frustration without guilt. No, we aren’t saying that we can’t survive, but we are saying that we are concerned about finding clean water for our children to bathe in, to cook food in, and to drink for our growing babies. The mental capacity that it takes to reroute routines is an added stress for all of us living in the aftermath of the #SCflood and it’s not insignificant.

As we help those who have lost everything, we also need to be able to laugh, rant, grieve, and cry because this was not something we were planning for and this is something that has opens our eyes to how easily our lives can unravel.

And so as month 9 begins for us, we are waiting. Waiting to meet this sweet boy. Waiting for clean water. Waiting for a hospital that doesn’t have to have clean water pumped into it. Waiting for new hope.Waiting for new life.