A “Nasty Woman” and the Enneagram

“What a Nasty Woman!”

This is what we get called when our need for truth-telling outweighs our need for approval.  When the anger, passion and injustice flood over the dam of societal convention that dictates women are to be small, quiet, uncomplicated and, above all, pleasant.

Why is that the first insult leveled at a woman who dares to step out in front and call a spade a spade, or, as in the case of a Mayor Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a disaster a disaster?   If the Mayor of San Juan were a man, you know the narrative would be different. Just that one word, nasty, has the power to denigrate both a woman’s character and physicality. It is a uniquely misogynistic insult and an unlikely feminist rallying cry.

But a rallying cry it has become.  Embracing your inner “Nasty woman” has been for a while the preserve of the third-wave feminist. Worn with a pink knitted hat, the nasty woman T-shirt is practically a 21st century feminist uniform, declaring opposition to the patriarchal put down in the most elemental way. But what if we, women who don’t fully identify with all the causes of a secular feminist movement, and yet full of vim and vinegar as many of us are, embrace it too?  What does it mean to let the world fully see us? How much better will the world, and yes, even the church, be served when we use our voices and our gifts to full effect.

This is part of my journey in rediscovering my identity. The inner work of shaking off outer conformity requires me to look full into the face of the nasty woman inside. The woman who is loud, opinionated, and often angry in a culture that idolizes the quiet, submissive and gentle woman.  The woman who comes out as a 7 and 8 on the Enneagram; Types exclusively reserved for my Brothers in Christ.  The woman who is ENTJ on Myers Briggs, and DI on the DISC test.

For almost a decade, I have lived in the heart of Bible Belt society, I have learned the ways, tried to conform (mostly unsuccessfully), have thrown myself into “approved” activities and groups, but at every turn, I find that nasty woman rising up and challenging. Not challenging Jesus, but challenging a culture that many small ways (and some large ways) seems to say;

” A good woman would be quiet. An excellent woman would prefer caring for her family over speaking out over injustice. A woman is for the home, for the family, for her husband.  The men don’t need your voice.  Quiet, dear, the men are talking! Isn’t it enough for you to raise Godly children? Be satisfied with your lot. Don’t complicate it, the system is for your good. Be pleasant, that is how you win influence”

And herein lies the rub, most of those things aren’t inherently bad… and if you are reading this, you don’t need me to point out the egregiously misogynistic ones.  But what those voices say, over and over to me is that I am not good, or excellent, or satisfied!

These voices declare that the very nature of me, which, to quote the Enneagram “exemplifies the desire for freedom and variety and for exploring the many rich experiences that life offers. Thus, they are probably the most enthusiastic, extroverted, and outgoing type of the Enneagram….Eights are assertive and passionate about life, meeting it head on with self-confidence and strength. They have learned to stand up for themselves and have a resourceful, “can-do” attitude. They are determined to be self-reliant and free to pursue their own destiny. ” … is unacceptable, is nasty.

I know I am not alone in this.  I also know that this is not everyone’s experience, but in the interest of being a truth-teller, I will risk the inevitable censure of my peers to offer a hand of solidarity to the younger ones coming after me and to say, “Here I am.”

To you, my sweet younger sisters, I say,

“Come, let’s be whole together. Let’s battle and explore and fight injustice. Let’s discover and share and teach, because the world needs you. The world needs your voice, your passion, your creativity and your compassion.  The world is not served by your shrinking but by your blooming into the fullness of the fierce warrior you are created to be!”

Join me

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Rescued: A Story in Stages – Part 2

(Part 1 is here)

Sometimes the paths laid out for us don’t make sense, sometimes we deliberately run off into the thicket just to feel the thorns.

My path, it seemed, was to be no dance through the bluebells. On a cold, typically rainy January morning, my carefully constructed life of worldly goals came crashing down in a storm of infidelity, recriminations and broken glass.

I fled.

Rain-soaked and grieving a life I didn’t even like, let alone respect, I rode my bike into Oxford town centre to take solace in the one place I could count on; the pub. Exhausted, wet-through and broken, I had neglected to notice the calendared fact of Sunday morning and the total absence of open pubs.  Shelter from the rain took the form of a church, the only building open that promised, at least a warm place and the potential for a cup of tea.

My history with the church had been varied.  From an early age the smell of aged stone mixed with polish and flowers, the feel of dented kneelers  and straight-backed pews brought a kind of quiet to my maddened soul.  Sunday mornings spent kneeling next to my creaking, faithful, grandmother whose very faith mirrored those pews; straight-backed and resolute in its permanence, brooking no disagreement but asking for little more than the solace of communion. Saturdays spent mowing and weeding and flower-arranging spoke to me of a sense of place.

To this day, St Michael’s, Haselbech has the power to still my soul, the generations’ worship washing over me like a baptism.

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St Michael’s, Haselbech, Northamptonshire.

During the torturous years at boarding school, church was a blessed reprieve, a Sunday morning spent buried in a hymn book, or eyes lifted to painted arches. Where, despite not knowing the true Presence of God; I sensed a depth, a Shalom in the rhythm of ancient words and songs. Briefly at fifteen, during a retreat weekend for those preparing for Confirmation, I sensed the Still Small Voice grow clear in my soul. The invitation to More, to Deeper was there, gently insistent that joy and grace were available – drowned out once again by the loud voices of bullies and peers calling me back to the here and now.

A church had always been something of a sanctuary, a place of solace in ancient words and songs, and not least significantly on that rainy Sunday, a place with good heating and no people! Perhaps a granny with a tea urn, a good biscuit and a few hymns sung feebly from the front was just what the doctor ordered. Perhaps…?

The particular church I found myself in was indeed warm, but not really on account of the heating, rather on account of the population, definitely more than a granny and a vicar. St. Aldate’s, Oxford, looked the part, cloistered by Pembroke College, another spire amongst the city of dreaming spires. And yet, as I was drawn in, my Eyeore-like cloud of personal despair was interrupted by the sight of a building packed to the gunwales with 400 students, all worshipping, praying and enjoying God. Through the eyes of my brokenness, though, what I saw were 400 clearly insane people, 400 people who, despite the evidence to the contrary, must have been bullied, bribed or cajoled to be here, clearly this was not normal!

As I pressed myself into the farthest back pew and attempted to be invisible, I encountered the tangible presence of The Invisible God Himself.  It was as though I had hit a brick wall and God was saying to me, “Alexandra… I AM”.  There was nothing else, I recall no finely crafted sermon, no impassioned songs and no reasoned response, only the overwhelming, overpowering Presence.  And He was asking me to follow Him, to trust Him, me – an insecure, alcoholic, nicotine-addicted, mess of a human, full of selfishness and self-loathing, and He wanted me!  He didn’t ask me to change, He just said, “Come”.

I vaguely remember stumbling over my fellow back-pewers, and shuffling up to the front during the prayer time, and mumbling something about wanting to become a Christian. And wondering why the prayer team had gone from smiling to grinning like idiots!  Then it was six hours later and I was made New. I spent my first six hours as a follower of Jesus totally engrossed in a vision of Him, flat out on the ancient stone floor, being healed from the inside out and freed from addictions and oppressions that had held me for so long. I do remember walking out into the rain and across to the parish hall and meeting all these students who, like me, had been transformed by the love of God.

I met my best friend that day. We have walked together for 21 years, through marriages and miscarriages, through births and deaths, through divorce (hers), and bankruptcy (mine) and we have survived, with grace and, hopefully, humor. We marvel at those idealistic kids, and we rejoice in a friendship that is so uniquely Church, so bonded that oceans and years separate us and yet we are still, in some wonderful ways, home for each other.

Over the ensuing months, I wallowed deep in joy, in freedom, in grace and truth.  I was a starving beggar suddenly given unlimited access to a banquet, and I gorged.  Every time those great old doors creaked open, I was there, face to the weathered stone floor, drinking in the words of life. I was insatiable and every new revelation was hungrily grabbed.  I have mentioned that I am not necessarily given to moderation, by temperament, that is.  When, deep down, I deem something worth my attention, I am “all in”, no holds barred and something of a whirlwind. Now 21 years later, the power of that first encounter with Jesus still takes my breath away.  It has been a beacon in the darkest of storms, whenever the arguments over this theology or that orthopraxy threaten to overwhelm me, I remember that broken girl, drowning in a life unlived, and I remember my Rescuer.  My King in shining armor, who sat in the mire with me and said my name, who lifted me up and redeemed every part of me, who gave me gifts and words and passions and vision.

I remember the Rescuer.

 

[to be continued…]

 

41 – Just another number?

I turned 41 this weekend.

How did that happen?

The funny thing about that question is that the assumption you probably made when you read it is that I am in denial about my age, that, perhaps, I am going to rail against aging and bemoan the youth that is lost.. etc. etc.

I will not be so prosaic… I hope.

I love being 41.

There! I said it!

Over the past year, it is as though I have passed through a veil into security, confidence, a little more self-knowledge.  I didn’t expect to actually wake up and feel different, you know, the way you think you will on a “big” birthday like 16 , or 18 or 21.. or even 30! Yet, somehow, this weekend, it is as though I really did feel different.  I don’t believe that there is something magical about the actual day, but rather that the introspection this season has afforded me is allowing me to walk in more fullness, more courage, more passion.  I know who I am, I know who I can be and, I am confident that I am on a journey worthy of the telling.

When you are struggling through your 20s and 30s, it seems impossible to hear the gentle voices of secure identity, voices who long to share the joy of freedom with you… you who are so concerned with the way the world sees you…  you who cannot hear the Still Small Voice for the clamor of your life.

Oh, how I wish I could have heard!

How grateful I now am for those dear friends, who planted themselves, gentle and firm, within the whirlwind of my 20s and early 30s. How honored I am that men and women of God stood in the raging rapids of my arrogant proclaiming and anguished wailings and spoke, “Grace and Peace”.  How I treasure brothers and sisters who could see through the maelstrom and steady the quailing, fainting heart within and say to me, “Take Courage”.

Those seeds of Grace, Peace and Courage have slowly, subtly rooted.  They have continued to grow, stubbornly reaching up, through marriage and miscarriage, through babies and on into teenagers, through stifling restriction and joyous release.  They have grown into great trees, and, like the tree that has grown slowly from sapling to beauty in our backyard, I am a little awed by their presence, sudden-seeming in their fullness, in their insistence of their place, in their confidence.

For me, 41 is not just another year, but seems like a beginning of sorts.

Come along for the journey and let’s see where the road leads!

Grace and Peace,

Ally