Monday, August 30, 2010

Bittersweet Honesty About Life and Such

Recently, I received a review copy of Shauna Niequist's soon-to-be released memoir/blog style book - Bittersweet. I loved both the topic (thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way) and the cover photo with its crumbly chocolate cookie. While this is a bit off topic, I am including a review for my blog readers, many of you in your 20s and early 30s, a few who are moms, and all of us women who have experienced the rocky bittersweet moments of life that Shauna writes of in her book.

Shauna's writing makes you feel like you have joined an inner circle of really cool 20-something girlfriends, the type of friends who are at different stages of single, married, and mom-life, yet still squeeze in time for blogging, freestyle impromptu Italian dinners, and long talks over chai tea. Her book is equal part reflection, honesty, advice, and food. She made me hungry, not just for the bounty of farmer's markets, but also for those types of friends who can linger over coffee and bare their souls with one another.

Perhaps my favorite chapter was her writing on friendship. As I finished it, I sighed, wiped away a stray tear, and made another resolution to call all of the dear women who have drifted out of my daily life (you know who you are). She writes:

"Share your life with the people you love, even if it means saving up for a ticket and going without a few things for a while to make it work. There are enough long lonely days of the same old thing, and if you let enough years pass and if you let the routine steamroll your life, you'll wake up one day, isolated and weary, and wonder what happened to all those old friends. You'll wonder why all you share is Christmas cards, and why life feels lonely and bone-dry. We were made to live connected and close . . .

So walk across the street, or drive across town, or fly across the country, but don't let really intimate loving friendships become the last item on your long to-do list. Good friendships are like breakfast. You think you are too busy to eat breakfast, but then you find yourself exhausted and cranky halfway through the day, and discover that your attempt to save time totally backfired."

So true. And, I can add as a woman who is at least a decade or so Shauna's senior, it doesn't get easier when your kids get older or your career is more established or you get married or you have more money. It is always hard and always worth it.

Shauna speaks some rich truths here. I found her honesty touching and refreshing. My only critique is that it feels, to the reader, as if one has stepped midstream into her life story. While I treasured many of her individual essays, the overall story line sometimes left me a bit lost and confused. I'd love to hear more of her backstory and the overall circumstances of her bittersweet mood at the beginning of the memoir so I could better appreciate the role faith played in her life.

Thank you, Shauna. Now I must go and find my long-lost girlfriends...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Charlie's Angels and Brave Women

When I was in junior high, all of my girlfriends wanted to look like Farrah Fawcett-Majors, or at least copy her blonde shag hairstyle.

Her tragic death after a long battle against cancer made me reflect on my school-girl admiration of the tv star.

Farrah Fawcett played Jill Munroe in the 1970s television show Charlie’s Angels. Her character was one of a trio of female detectives – young adult women who were smart and strong and brave as well as beautiful. They could drive fast cars, solve complex crimes and outrun men. They didn’t let fear or villains stop them. Although I was definitely much more fearful of danger, I admired those women.

I was also a fan of the Bionic Woman played by actress Lindsay Wagner. Her character, Jaime Sommers, was noted for her amplified hearing, a greatly strengthened right arm, and the ability to run faster than a speeding car. She also happened to share my first name.

While these two shows certainly did not have a profound influence on my life, they did shape my idea of what a woman should and could be. Growing up as I did in the 70s – girls were trying to redefine themselves. Who were we meant to be? What type of roles should we fill in society?

While young girls in my generation were starting to be told that we could do anything and be anything we wanted – our main toys were still domestic or beauty-oriented items. We played with Easy Bake Ovens and dressed our Barbie dolls in the latest fashions.

For me, Wagner and Fawcett represented a different kind of woman, one who could break stereotypes and be more than just a pretty face. These women were taken seriously – and could look good doing it. They didn’t have to choose between beauty and intelligence – they could have both.

As women, we often get mixed messages about what it means to serve God. The brave missionaries I heard about as a young girl were always men like David Livingstone and Jim Elliott. While in Sunday School, I marched like the infantry, and sang songs like ”Onward Christian Soldiers,” rarely did I hear about brave, daring women. The ideal Christian woman that I read about in stories was demure and modest, quiet and submissive.

But the Bible is filled with strong women. Esther defied the King and saved her people. Ruth lost her husband and still braved the fields alone to care for her mother-in-law. Deborah was the only woman to hold the office of Judge for Israel, when no man was willing to fill the position. Rahab risked her life to save the Israelite spies from certain death.

Like these biblical heroes, the youn g women I meet in my teaching career at Moody Bible Institute are an assorted group. Some are quiet and delicate, others are artistic and unconventional, still others are strong and athletic. Yet, each of them have been called by God and have bravely answered His call for service.

I guess we are a bit like Charlie’s Angels after all. We too are agents on a mission. We are serving an unseen Boss and facing a dangerous enemy.