big-footOver the last few years more often than not it feels like we have had to take the slow route or the difficult route in most things. Partly that’s through life being life and also some of it comes from the way we’ve chosen to live our lives and the things we have chosen to value.

We’ve also had the last few years peppered with the most breath taking blessings that turned up just as we felt completely hopeless and all the barriers just felt too heavy to shift and too high to get over. My Grandad calls it providence and it’s a beautiful thing. It’s the type of blessing that you look back over life and see again and again, that what you needed was provided.

I can often get caught up in the chop of the waves of life and yesterday I found myself reflecting and asking ‘why does all of this stuff keep happening?’ And not to go into every dirty gritty little detail of this stuff but here’s just the car related highlights… firstly the clutch went on our car and we faced the just sack it or fix it dilemma. Then our license plates got nicked. As an aside loads of people we’ve chatted to couldn’t work out why someone would do this…maybe it’s just I grew up in London that I am aware of the ‘benefits’ of such shenanigans, who knows…it’s so if you want to partake in any somewhat illegal activity and avoid the fines and charges that local friendly police officers or any other type of authority type people want to give you using their clever camera’s they can’t because you aren’t using your legit plates…they’re using ours…definitely makes speeding fines ‘cheaper’]. Then our car got broken into and the radio and a jigsaw were stolen. And then the van we hired that did have our parking permit in it but may not have been parked that well in our private car park at 8pm on a Friday night got fined. So we have paid a fine of £60 for the luxury.

So all little things, super annoying and frustrating things, inconvenient things but in reality no one died. But this is the stuff that wears us down, temps us to harden our hearts, temps us to kick kittens and laugh at people who fall over, temps us to let things be someone else’s problem not ours…

And it in my asking, the answer that came was…it’s a messed up, fallen world.

Simple.

It’s not that we disserved it or we had it coming. It’s the reality of this world and the times we live in. And the response it should prompt is not to get hard or get even, or stick a finger to the world but that we should love it more.

Whatever we’re tempted to do, love and kindness are solutions that don’t perpetuate or add to it. We more we just look after ourselves and only the people that we think our worth mattering about the more we just add to a bit of a crappy world.

‘I found that it is the small everyday deeds of the ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay…small acts of kindness and love’

Gandalf, The Hobbit

My dysphoria with gender

In recent times I’ve chosen to stay silent as America and much of the world joined in becoming obsessed with a man who became a woman. What kept me silent wasn’t the immediate issue at hand but all the arising comments that I struggle with. Gender. So much has been said which shows the limiting and oppressive views that society holds about what gender means.

I thought I was just insecure growing up but what I have come to find in my twenties is that I was also battling against society’s binary (a mathematical or digital system expressed in either 1 or 0) views of what gender means. Despite never feeling that my biological sex was a mistake I did hate having been born a girl for much of my teens. My gender was an ongoing area of frustration. It felt that my gender didn’t seem to properly fit who I was as a person. What my gender was meant to mean seemed to be very apparent to society from the day I was born, and this seems to be confirmed by entering any shop with a baby or toy section. There’s the pink section and then there’s the blue section and for clothing there’s the cream/white section for ‘we don’t know yet because we’re keeping it as a surprise’. As a slight aside, I get it babies normally look more like an it than a he or she and people chose to clarify this with pink and blue but why is it so important for us to make sure that others understand that our wonderful precious little individual is a he or a she?

But to get back on point, toy shops are the best at demonstrating our society’s very simplistic expectations of what gender means. If you are looking for a doll, a kitchen set, children’s make up, or a toy hoover they can all be found in the pink section. Growing up everything seemed to be categorised, and as far as I was concerned there was the fun club and the boring and rubbish club and unfortunately I was born into the vagina club so I thought I was lumbered with the less attractive options. And therefore also thought there must be something wrong with me.

My struggles with my gender weren’t just limited to what I felt I was meant to like or dislike or the activities I was allowed to partake in but based on my being a girl. I also thought there was something wrong with my body, having a small waist compared to the size of my hips and the ‘curves’ that this created. I felt like my body was wrong, that it didn’t match the person inside it. It would be incorrect to call this body dysmorphia which the NHS defines as  “is an anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance and to have a distorted view of how they look” because I didn’t have anxiety about it or even gender dysphoria which the NHS defines as  “Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity…” because it wasn’t a mismatch of biology and gender. It was a mismatch of who I was and what others projected onto my body. What I found projected onto my young body was sexualisation. I didn’t want that, it’s not that I didn’t want sexual intimacy or for no one to see me as sexually desirable but I didn’t want the intrusion which sadly most grown women can testify to receiving. I felt my body was created wrong because of the sexualised attention my body attracted. The body I wished I’d been born with was more of an androgynous body than what I had, why? So I could be understood as an individual human with an identity worth knowing rather than a physical appearance. When I look back I feel sad. I feel said that as child that I desired to be gender-neutral so that I could be recognised as an individual human. The saddest part is a child in my misguidedness I had unearthed a dirty social truth that I am more identified as a person from my gender by others than who I am, that others who do not know me will think they know things about me simply based on identifying my gender.

My frustrations weren’t simply isolated to feeling like I wasn’t the things that a girl should be but also with what a girl was, emotional. Due to being rather an emotional individual at times I felt even further like somehow there was something wrong with me due to having this female attribute of strong emotional feeling. I had emotions and they were confusing and unreliable and inconvenient. I hated them and this only fuelled my dislike of being a girl. So again I feel a sense of sadness,  instead of society helping my confused frustrated self out and everyone else for that matter we are told women are emotional and if you’re male and have emotions you’re just being a girl which is a problem. This is especially a disservice to teenagers who are trying to negotiate massive changes in their bodies and minds without help and then they grow into adults who still struggle to have a language and expression for their feelings. We are all meant to have emotions and by the state of society (ever increasing numbers of those suffering from mental health difficulties and numbers of suicide deaths) it’s clear that to define emotion as a characteristic specific to a gender is completely flawed and unhelpful and certainly isn’t helping with the barrage of other things diminishing our national well being yet it seems to be normal.

These examples are but a few examples from my struggles to come to terms with who I was and what it meant for me to be a woman, there are so many more. My journey in becoming accepting of myself as a person would have been far easier without such narrow ideas of gender. What does it mean for me to be a woman now; well it’s simply a biological thing. What does it mean for me to be me well that’s a much more interesting unique beautiful mysterious question which is an adventure of discovery that I continue in but that thankfully is less and less confused by the presence of a vagina or breasts or socially binary limiting views of what a man or a woman is.

It also means that I have becoming accepting of my dysphoria, my dysphoria at views of gender and what that means to the individual. My dissatisfaction at the disservice done to people with emotions, the disservice done to children who don’t want to play with certain toys and may only realise too late that their gender does not predict their job, life opportunities or their likes or dislikes, to the men side-lined as fathers because they don’t have breasts and the apparent assumed uselessness as care givers this can result in…the list goes on but so sadly does the divisions of roles due to ideas of gender and what that means.

roughtrade

We’ve now been married for over a year, not by much but enough so that there’s still the novelty of being able to use the Y-word, YEAR! Like in the first few months of being married when I talked about my HUSBAND and Blakey talked about his WIFE…I’m not going to lie even though I’ve been married to my HUSBAND for just over a YEAR it can still feel weird. But then I look this picture above, I love it. I just want to laugh with joy every time I see it, and that feels really normal even if wife is still a bit weird. We feel like the perfect fit.

So what have we learnt from our first year of marriage…probably that it’s in the lows that a great marriage is made and the highs are better for it. In marriage, I believe there should be nowhere to hide from each other, as tempting as hiding my heart can seem at times when I’ve feel hurt or unsure. One of these times, was as I sat in the bottom of the bath with the showing running over me crying feeling crushed by the weight of my feelings and toughness of life (quite the pity party), as tempting as it was to hide I allowed myself to be honest. I then allowed myself to be honest with Blakey. In his humbleness and mercy he listened. What did I tell him? I told him that my pre-wife, pre-marriage, pre-Blakey self wouldn’t have married a fictional man in his position. Ouch! I was able to be explain that I hadn’t not wanted to be married to him for one second but that it was simply something I wouldn’t have chosen. And I think this is a natural part of settling into real life marriage rather than our fictionalised fantasies of what marriage will be like. Maybe it’s the scars of divorce or the fictionalisation of perfect problem eradicating marriage, our pre-conceptions of marriage our dangerous when carried into relationships because they can sabotage them without us realising. Ditching my past notions about what marriage or a husband would be like allows me to be present in the present and enjoy the adventure.

And talking of ditching fantasises, would my vain list of fictional specifications husband chosen me…? Would any sane man dream of a wife who often struggles to she her beauty or worth, a wife who cries her eyes out late at night when he’s most tired and got to get up for work the next morning at 6AM…but the very real human man I married thankfully married a very real human me, and together we committed to stick out what ever changes came along…

“To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”

And oh how sticking it out with each other in the present, even with our brutal honesty (the good and also the hard), has made things so much better… the cuddles better, our sex better, our conversations, our kisses, our touches, the way we look at each other, even holding hands. It’s so good to be with each other because of not in spite of the rough bits.

 

‘A real challenge for “celebrity” Christian Leaders.’

This is the comment that got me after reading Mark Anderson’s blog post, http://mikeyanderson.com/hello-name-mike-im-recovering-true-believer. I came across it thanks to a friend sharing the article and this comment was from their sharing not the original post. It’s an interesting article. Yet the comment feels so true of us as a culture, forget whether the celebrity is a Christian or not as its merely a niche group of celebrity-ism.

It concerns me that ‘we’ (the collective of followers) don’t seem to associate ourselves with the pedastal or the spot light that holds up the celebrity. You know that deep philosophical question “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”, raising questions regarding observation and understanding reality. Well here’s a new one “if a celebrity, alone in a forest without a camera, acts in a wonderful celebrity-ish manner will anyone care?”…

Our attention is a deeply fought for currency…

It us, each individual one of us, that gives and sustains their status and thus the responsibility lies with us.

Coming back to Christian ‘celebrities’…
Barring a few, who genuinely are seeking celebrity status, in my individual opinion they aren’t looking to be celebrities instead we are creating them. What they are is leaders and we confuse them for celebrities seeking our currency as we dare I suggest we try to conform our Christianity to the world around us. We miss their heart desire, in their fallible humanness, to encourage us into deeper communion with the King of kings, Lord of lords…God,and confuse it with desire for attention.

How we treat leaders, how we think about them and speak about them is the real challenge for change rather than seeing ‘them’ as the ones who need challenging. So who’s up for a turn around? Myself included!

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Marriage is a funny old thing… Some people seem to think it makes no difference whether you’re married or not, where as I believe that isn’t true. I believe it depends on how you got into it is that is the real thing that makes it different or not. For us marriage was a complete game changer, it affects our actions, our thoughts, our arguments, our disagreements, our sex, our dreams, our goals, our direction…

Why? Because from ‘I do’ divorce was never going to be an option. I guess maybe I’ll first say that I believe all marriages are headed for divorce. This probably sounds like a very strange statement to follow up my first statement with. Every day we choose to put the hard work in to keep divorce not an option. At this stage in our marriage, just over 6 months in, choosing isn’t that hard but we’re not planning on waiting for it to get hard to put the effort in. The picture above is of the when our “rev’ Andy said  to the congregation once he’d married us ‘What God has joined let no man put asunder’ which we choose to take that statement more seriously than anyone else.

Why bother with all this effort…because we believe in love. We believe that love is a choice, the love that changes the game is a sacrificial one. Where did we get an idea like this…Jesus. Jesus lead the way on game changing love and we want to follow in his example. We got married believing that our marriage wasn’t just for us. Why? Simply think about the aftermath of divorce… it doesn’t just leave a couple hurt, angry and having to separate out two lives that had been invested into as a shared life, not even close! I’m sure you’ve seen the devastating hurt that divorce leaves in families, in children and in communities of friends.

Our marriage isn’t just a joining of two lives into one but a ’til death do us part’ commitment that we have entered into to honour God and to glorify Him, in the hope and joy that we will see His kingdom come not ours in our marriage. So marriage has changed everything. When you have promised to not matter what to be together we have to let go of grudges, we can’t keep records of wrongs, and even harder we have to communicate to each other how we feel wronged and be willing to admit how we have wronged each other.

No marriage is without risk…love is always a risk. Mike Pilavachi recently said ‘No one marries the right person’ because the two people who marry each other wil change over their lives together. I didn’t say ‘I do’ to Mr Right, I said ‘I do’ to Mr ‘Right at the time’ and I’m married to Mr Blakey, my husband and we decide all the time to be Mr & Mrs ‘always the best choice we made’…

 

The Eek Hat is out!

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I have the pleasure of being a Gang Knitter for a fashion company called Wool And The Gang. They have a simple Manifesto, every piece is made unique, never from a factory and they want you to know your knitwear (fashion transparency). Simply they are a fashion breathe of fresh air.

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And recently myself and other Gang Knitters have been busily working away on a secret project. I knit (and embroidered) 15 of the Magic Mint EEK Hats. As of tonight the secrets out!

“As seen at the autumn/winter 2014 Giles catwalk show at London Fashion Week, the EEK Hat is the ultimate fashion statement for the season ahead. Wear it with your head held high like a true style insider. #madeuniquewithgiles

Made with our sustainably produced Crazy Sexy Wool, which comes from happy Peruvian mountain sheep. Hand–knitted and embroidered by our Gang of London knitters.” Wool And The Gang

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[Gasp] Oh my, how dare a newly married woman say such a thing!

It’s odd because pre and post wedding single people seemed to be the most excited about said event. It’s not that it wasn’t, I married the love of my life…and I’m way to early into the adventure to even really know the depth of what that actually means yet and the brilliance of what we committed to on that exciting day. But it’s not a fairy tale, and I’m tired of feeling like the honesty of real marriage is going to burst some idolised bubble of single dreamers. I may have found my prince but I am no Disney princess.

The first few months of married life were littered with excited people who I didn’t really know with any depth asking me how married life was. Personally I think it’s quite a personal question, but that’s not relevant. I felt like there was a set answer which was the only acceptable answer…’It’s brilliant’. When people who genuinely asked me got an answer a little more like…’honeymoon hadn’t even finished before I realised I actually was self-centred and selfish when it comes to love’…or ‘I panicked internally when I got scared that maybe I didn’t really love him sub-conciously because in the middle of the night I didn’t want to snuggle anymore’. My fears and insecurities are still here, yes love is healing a lot of them but there is no quick solution.

Marriage doesn’t make perfect…this is not a Disney story it’s a God story…psst…you know the pick up your cross type. The only difference is I have promised in covenant to do that with my husband…no getting out of it now. And actually in real friendship and real relational community we can celebrate singleness and marriage as equal blessings. What a sad world we live in that we feel the need to have a spouse to make sure we’re not alone. The real beauty of my life is the friends that do life with us, they are the greatest blessing!

The only thing I would go back and change pre-wedding is I would have treasured singleness more tightly. It has a freedom that marriage doesn’t. Staying married takes up a lot of time and energy, especially emotional energy. I would have adventured more, spent less time worrying about guys, spent more time with my friends, valued myself more and spent a whole lot less time waiting for a guy to join some guys adventure.

Marriage is wonderful. Singleness is wonderful. And if it isn’t, why not?