The Trauma of Being a Woman

These posters were drawn by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and hung around major U.S. cities

These posters were drawn by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and hung around major U.S. cities to raise awareness about street harassment.

This semester in Quito I am volunteering at an organization called CEPAM, information pills which is a center the promotes the welfare of Ecuadorian women. The organization does research, phlebologist writes books, treatment and does community projects to educate people about gender violence. They also offer legal and psychological help to victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. One day in a staff meeting one of the women asked me what I wanted to do for a career and I answered trauma therapy. And she made a joke about the “trauma of being a woman.”

The trauma of being a woman has never been as apparent to me as it in now, living in Ecuador. There have been some times in my life that I’ve felt the trauma of just existing in a woman’s body–when I’m not affirmed as a leader at church because I’m a woman, when people don’t take me seriously because I’m just a girl, when I struggled for 12 years with horrible body image and an eating disorder partly because of society’s pressure for women to look perfect and skinny–but I’ve never felt it so acutely and so regularly as I do here in Quito.

Everywhere I go in Quito, I can expect to have men staring me down and making comments on my appearance as I walk by. This is absolutely constant and an every day occurrence. It makes it absolutely exhausting to go anywhere. Whenever I step outside of my apartment, I have to prepare myself. Anywhere I walk I have a blank expression on my face, I look straight ahead, and I do not smile or respond to anyone. I don’t like living like this. I enjoy smiling at people when they walk by and maybe saying a “Buenos días” as I pass people. But I can’t do that here because I don’t want to encourage any of the men who are staring at me and I want to try to avoid seeing the looks they give me and ignore the whistles or things they say. And it’s really hard.

For example, on a normal day the building manager who always greets me in the lobby calls me, “mi niña bonita” (my beautiful girl). Then I leave the apartment and walk to the bus where men either stare at me, very obviously, the entire time I walk by or whisper comments like, “Qué deliciosa” or “tstststs” in my ear as I walk by. Oh and let’s not forget the classic whistling. Then once on the bus I face other challenges. Besides having to be aware that at any moment someone could try to steal something from my bag (pick-pocketing is huge here), I have to navigate the uncomfortable situation of men who have absolutely no sense of personal space. One time I got so flustered by a guy who was standing pretty much on top of me that I got off at the wrong bus stop because I needed to get off the bus. And I’ve been lucky that so far I haven’t gotten groped or grabbed like several of the girls in our study abroad group. We’ve had experiences where Ecuadorian guys take pictures of us without our permission or friend us on facebook and then do not stop messaging us.

For anyone who’s reading this and thinks that I’m making too big of a deal out of this or that I should take it as a compliment that these guys are noticing me have clearly never had the experience of being victimized and objectified. I do not feel special when a guy comments on my appearance. What I do feel is objectified, as if I’m only walking by for his enjoyment and not because I actually have important things to do that day. I feel unsafe. I feel gross. I do not need the approval of random scumbags men on the street.

The thing is, street harassment happens everywhere, I’ve just been lucky enough to have not experienced it in the other places I’ve lived. Latin America has a machismo culture in which men think that being a man means harassing women. In Ecuador I see such an ignorance surrounding this issue. My family in Quito was telling me that on the coast on Ecuador there’s a lot of this sort of cat-calling, “Not like here in Quito where that doesn’t happen.” And I sat there dumbfounded. Let’s STOP saying that street harassment doesn’t happen and let’s STOP saying that it’s a compliment to women.

Why am I sharing all of this? It’s not to make you feel sorry for me or to make you worried about me or to make you scared of ever visiting Ecuador. I’m writing about my experience to raise awareness that street harassment is very real and many women have to deal with it every day. We need to do so much to educate young boys how to treat women with respect and to educate women that they deserve so much more than cat calls. To women who are being catcalled–stay strong and please keep the conversation going. To men who harass women or think catcalling is ok, please stop and please listen and understand what we’re communicating. I’m a real person. I have value. I deserve respect and to be able to walk in peace.

The Giver | Is Love Worth It?

the giver

Warning: Spoiler alert for The Giver

I, gynecologist like probably every other student in the U.S., hepatitis read The Giver in middle school. I really wasn’t a fan, this possibly partly because I didn’t like my English teacher, and so when the movie came out earlier this year I wasn’t super enthused to see it. But when I did see it, I was absolutely blown away. The movie made the book come alive in a really special and beautiful day.

The Giver is set in a dystopian society that has gotten rid of all potential causes for conflict such as sickness, lying, violence, and race. But along with that they have also gotten rid of emotions, biological families, music, art, color, sexual attraction, and love. The Giver is the only one in the society who has memories of the past and through these memories he experiences all the pain that used to exist in the world, but also experiences true joy and love. Jonas is a young man who is chosen to be the Receiver, to receive all the memories that the Giver has. As Jonas receives these memories, he experiences both the pain and beauty that used to exist in the world, which the community he’s grown up in has eradicated. At the end of the movie he decides to escape from the community and travel through the world of “Elsewhere” to cross the boundary of memory so that all the memories will return to the people of the community. Jonas decides that even though returning the memories will mean that people will have to experience immense pain, suffering, disease, and war, it’s worth it because they will also experience the astounding beauty of love.

The movie brings up poignant theological questions. I believe that we, along with angels and demons, have been given free will by God. This has created a world in which people do terrible things–there is murder, cancer, abuse, and rape. So why has God given us free will?  LOVE.  A world with free will is the only world in which there can be true love. And so the question is this: Is love worth it? Is the incredible beauty of love worth the pain and suffering we go through?

Some people would say no. But I agree with Jonas–love is inexplicably worth it. The warm hug of a parent, the feeling of holding your baby for the first time, your wedding day, being overwhelmed by the majesty of the world around you, crying at a beautiful song, feeling enveloped by the love of God, the power of forgiveness and healed and redeemed lives…it’s worth it.

As we fall more in love with Jesus, the more our heart breaks for what breaks his and the harder we fight against the powers of darkness. Because one day heaven will come to earth and there will be no more tears or dying or suffering because the old order of things will pass away. And He who is seated on the throne will say, “I am making everything new!” And we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, have the privilege and responsibility of living every day fervently calling the Kingdom of God to Earth.

And if you still don’t think love is worth it, watch The Giver and maybe you’ll be convinced.

Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson | Book Review

rare bird

“In her beautiful, cure clear-eyed prose Anna brings to life complex miracles: that the anchor of being strong is tied to feelings of unbearable weakness; that the ache of grief is often accompanied by glittering beauty; and that all we do not understand is more important to making sense of life than what we know. Her story, internist as well as Jack’s story, is gorgeous, bold and true, and no one will be unchanged in reading it.”
— Stacy Morrison, Editor in Chief, BlogHer; author of Falling Apart in One Piece

I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Rare Bird by Anna Whitson-Donaldson and let me tell you, it was a hard read. I’ve read a lot of really sad memoirs but there this one was particularly devastating–I actually kept checking to make sure that this was a memoir and not a work of fiction, hoping that I had somehow made a mistake.

Unfortunately, this book is indeed a memoir and tells the story of the tragic death of Anna Whitson-Donaldson’s young son, Jack. I found myself absolutely sobbing throughout most of this book–Anna’s beautiful writing made it easy to enter in to her pain and her family’s experience of losing their son/brother. But this book was not written to simply make readers sad, but rather to testify to God’s absolute goodness and bigness in times of unimaginable sorrow. And I will say that Anna absolutely succeeded in this aspect. She writes about how her picture of God was forced out of the box she had kept Him in and that God became much larger and much more tangible through Jack’s death. I was amazed by the ways God not only comforted Anna through her pain but also used her to be a comfort to her entire community. One of the scenes from the book that stuck out to me most is when Anna and her husband get the news that Jack is dead. In that moment, Anna is completely guided by the Holy Spirit to testify of God’s goodness to the men who just delivered her the news of her 12-year-old son’s death. It absolutely blew me away.

Rare Bird is a powerful story of resilience and demonstrates the Lord’s ability to redeem even the darkest of situations. My understanding of the Holy Spirit as comforter was definitely expanded as I read Anna’s story. Another thing that was really wonderful about this book is that it taught me how to better support people through grief. Anna talked about how wonderful it was when her community remembered and memorialized Jack and his life, hanging ribbons around town. She also talked about the people in her life that consistently showed up and didn’t leave her alone. I think in times of loss and sorrow I fear being a nuisance to people who are suffering. This book taught me that physically being with someone who is suffering is not a burden but rather a gift.

Pros: This book is a wonderful testament of God’s love for us in the midst of tragedy. It is beautifully written and utterly raw and authentic.

Cons: Anna doesn’t talk about theology much in her book and just briefly addresses the question of “Why would a good God allow my son to die.” She essentially says that she doesn’t have an answer and her theology of how she explains Jack’s death even changes day-by-day. But she does say that she tends to hold to the theology that God controls everything that happens and therefore caused Jack to die. First of all, I have a hard time criticizing Anna’s theology because this book is her story, not a theology book. However, I would most likely not recommend this book to someone who has suffered a tragedy like Anna’s because I believe that at it’s core, the theology that God causes both all good and all evil is a horribly distorted view of the Lord and ultimately causes a huge amount of damage.

While I was reading Rare Bird, I sensed so much spiritual warfare surrounding Jack’s death. If my heart was breaking over the loss of a boy I’ve never met, how much more was God’s heart breaking over the death of the son he so intimately created? (To read more about my theology about good/evil in our world, click here).

Do I Recommend It? Obviously I’ve listed some of my concerns in recommending Rare Bird because I don’t agree with Anna’s theology and am concerned that it could hurt someone who is going through a tragedy like hers. However, I personally am glad I read Rare Bird and fully expect the Lord to use this powerful book to positively impact the lives of others.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

What if we actually believed that we’re holy?

What if we actually believed that we're holy--He is Making Everything New

Last week I read something that was posted by Spiritual Ecology on Facebook. This is what it said:

The Babemba tribe of Africa believes that each human being comes into the world as good. Each one of us only desiring safety, disorder love, medic peace and happiness.

But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes.

When a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he/she is placed in the center of the village, alone, unfettered. All work ceases. All gather around the accused individual. Then each person of every age, begins to talk out loud to the accused. One at a time, each person tells all the good things the one in the center ever did in his/her lifetime.
Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.
The tribal ceremony often lasts several days, not ceasing until everyone is drained of every positive comment that can be mustered. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe. Necessity for such ceremonies is rare.

Isn’t that beautiful? It turns out that this story is most likely not true, but it still really stuck with me and I feel that we can learn a lot from it.

Most Christians have some sort of conception of original sin. Depending on one’s understanding, this can mean a few things. One understanding is that everyone who is born automatically shares Adam and Eve’s guilt for eating the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, when you become a Christian you are absolved of your guilt and avoid the punishment you deserved. Another understanding is that everyone is born into a fallen world and shares in the brokenness of this world, meaning that when you become a Christian, you receive healing of your brokenness. Or it could be some sort of nuanced combination of these two perspectives. I personally hold to the second view, but either way the end result is the same–a life free from sin.

Paul writes about this transformation constantly. Here are just some examples:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -2 Corinthians 5:21
God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. -Galatians 4:5, NLT
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” -Galatians 3:13
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. -Galatians 5:1
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. -Romans 8:11

After we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells within us. We are transformed into sons and daughters of the living God, we become co-heirs with Christ, and we are set free from the curse of sin. But I think as Christians, we often completely forget this. 

Read what Paul writes in Colossians:

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproachif indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. – Colossians 1:21-23

Did you all catch that? You were FORMERLY alienated YET NOW you are HOLY and BLAMELESS and BEYOND REPROACH.

How many times have you been told by your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that you are holy and blameless? How many times has that been taught on Sunday morning?

I think so many of us never make the switch of thinking of ourselves as holy, we continue to think about ourselves as sinners, alienated, hostile in mind, and engaged in evil deeds. And we forget the crucial words YET HE HAS NOW. You are not a sinner. You may sin but sinner is not your identity. Jesus did not disarm the powers and authorities by making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross for you to continue to live out your identity as a sinner. You are a daughter. You are a son. You are equal to Christ (Rom 8:17). What if we really believed that?

That’s why I loved the story of the African tribe so much…Even if Christians don’t believe that we are born holy, Jesus makes clear that we are re-born into holiness. What if when one of our sisters or brothers in Christ sinned we didn’t think, “Well it’s inevitable that we sin because we’re sinners,” but instead gathered around them and reminded them of WHO THEY ARE, of their own HOLINESS through Christ Jesus our Lord?

I know in my life I’ve had a really hard time seeing myself as blameless and holy and pure in God’s eyes–Satan’s really good at convincing us otherwise. And this is precisely why in our communities we need to remind each other of who we actually are and call each other higher. Because the deepest reality is that you are HOLY. You are BLAMELESS. You are LOVED by the Most High who does not doubt your holiness.

Life in the Clouds #ecuadorgroupselfies

This past weekend has been super busy and really fun! Saturday we went on a Quito City Tour with our BC group. I walked with another girl who lives close to me to the fútbol stadium a few blocks away where we all met up and got on our bus!

The first place we went is called El Panecillo and it’s a huge hill that gives you a great view of the city.

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At El Panecillo is a huge statue of the Virgin Mary, tuberculosis who protects the city. Those tentacles she’s stepping on represent demonic forces/Satan that she has crushed. At the time of the statue’s installation, resuscitator the Virgin was facing the entire city and protecting all of Quito. But since then, more has been added to Quito and much of it is impoverished housing. So the people who live in that part of Quito say that she has her back turned to them.

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Then we headed to the Historical Center of Quito, which was super pretty! There were lots of colorful houses. We saw the President’s house (top left)–it’s not where the President lives, only where he works. We also visited two churches–La Iglesia San Francisco and a Jesuit church as well, both built around 1570. They were both absolutely beautiful and so ornate–everything was coated in gold. We ate at a restaurant here and it was super rico (yummy). Steak is pretty cheap here so almost all of us had it and it was quite tasty!

8.23.6Then we headed to the volcano Pululahua. This volcano is still active, although there hasn’t been an eruption in around 500 years. Still I would not want to take the risk that a whole community is taking by living and farming inside this volcanic crater! Yes, that’s right! The elevation is so high that we were literally standing inside a cloud which was both amazing and cold. At first we couldn’t see anything inside of the crater:

8.23.4But then the wind shifted and we got to see a little glimpse of the community that lives below:

8.23.3That was a really special view :)

I’m really loving the group of BC students studying abroad with me and I feel like they get me because they are totally on board with my love for group selfies! Here was our first group selfie. Everything is white around us because we are in a cloud! (You can find us at #ecuadorgroupselfies).

8.23.1After this we went to La Mitad de Mundo, the center of the earth! I’m so happy I wore my pretty sandals because I, of course, had to take a picture of my feet as I straddled the equator.

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And here we had to do our second group selfie :) Of course you can’t really tell where we are but oh well!

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Last night most of us went out to the Foch, which is the area of clubs and restaurants. Yes, guys, I went clubbing. So not in my comfort zone but I actually had a lot of fun :)

Today we went to Papallacta, which is a hot spring that is fed by waters heated by a volcano! I don’t have a picture of it but just imagine crowded outdoor hot tubs. It was nice but we were scheduled to be there for 5 hours which was a little overkill! We stayed a couple hours and then took our bus back and then got ice cream at the mall. Today we did another group selfie, this time on the bus with “not-impressed” faces in response to the Papallacta thermal waters. Although I enjoyed myself :)

8.24.1I can’t believe I’ve only been in Ecuador for a little over a week. It feels much longer! Classes will start this Wednesday and I’m excited to get into more of a routine here.

God continues to be so faithful to me here. I’ve continued to have sweet times with the Lord and today I finished reading The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. It was one of the best things I’ve ever read. I’m so glad my friend told me to read it since so many people write it off and skip it when reading the Chronicles of Narnia. Don’t skip it, people! There’s one chapter with Aslan that is so powerful–I was blown away by the goodness of God and just crying at how amazing He is. I feel like it added a lot of insight for my Lion of God research, which I’m loving :) I have a lot of blog posts I want to write and I’m going to try to alternate those with my Ecuador updates. Thank you all who keep checking in on me and praying for me! God is so amazing and so good and He keeps surprising me and amazing me with his love and affection every day :)

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