Sunday, 23 August 2015

My Wedding Speech

The whirlwind of wedding craziness is passing, and perhaps in an effort to not lose touch with the day I want to share my wedding speech here. Perhaps in another post I will talk about how we managed to get married in a relatively traditional way while sticking two fingers up to as many of the patriarchal elements as we could get away with without rocking the boat right out of the water (!), but for now, here's what I had to say on our special day.

"So writing speeches is something that I'm actually pretty familiar which. My job involves training young women on how to write and deliver speeches at international events, such as the UN, and the last speech I delivered myself was alongside the Zambian Minister for Gender, so no offence, but I niavely thought it was going to be no big deal to make a speech at my wedding.
In fact I would go as far as to say that I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. That will teach me to be so arrogant...

It seems like it is much easier for me to write a powerful speech about what it means to be a girl in a world where 1 in 3 women are victims of violence, or why gender equality is so important to both women and men, or how non-formal education is such a transformative tool for change (just using the opportunity to put some stats and statements out there...), but I can't seem to write about what it means to me to get married. I even have a blog and, not as frequently as I would like to, I write quite openly about my life and my own struggles and passions, things I'm learning and even my slowly evolving faith, but it still feels really difficult to write about my relationship and what it's like to love another person, and to decide to love that person for my whole life. (That's another 55 years if we go by the average life expectancy of a white woman in a developed country by the way.)

I was finding this really frustrating because usually when something is in my head for long enough I can sit down in front of my laptop and the words flow out. Maybe they're not the greatest - I'm not saying I'm a fantastic writer - but I at least have something to say.
When I sat down to do this though I realised that everything I had to say was bloody stereotypes, and I passionately hate stereotypes in any form (especially gender stereotypes, as many of you know) because even when they seem to be true on the surface in their very nature they fail to reflect the complexity of what it means to have a certain identity, or even to be human, or this case, what it means to love.
So I've decided to be a bit cheeky, and start by sharing one of my favourite stories about what it means to commit to someone. What it means to love someone. I like this story so much because I feel like it reflects a lot of what I feel about love at the moment and perhaps even breaks some of the biggest stereotypes I believe we have about falling and being in love. This extract is from "Carry On, Warrior" by one of my new favourite people, Glennon Doyle Melton. It's a book I can't quite finish yet because I know that once I finish it I'm going to feel like I've lost something really special. I'm not going to read you the whole chapter, so to give you a bit of context... Birthdays in Glennon's house growing up were always a big deal. There would be tons of surprises, flowers would get delivered to her school, she would feel like anything is possible. On the morning of her first birthday married to Craig she wakes up excited. Craig rolls over, wishes her happy birthday and goes down to make her some coffee. And then goes to work, telling her he'll see her later. And that's it. No surprises, no flowers, nothing seeming possible. Bear with me.

Now there's so much I like in that, but what I especially like is that Glennon didn't pick up the phone, tell Craig her birthday was off, that she didn't want to go to dinner and that he had really let her down. Which is probably what I would have done, especially going by my temper at the rehearsal in the church yesterday! She instead made a decision to use her disappointment for good, to build something stronger for the future. She recognised that he was her team mate and that he'd dropped the baton, but instead of quietly stewing and letting the bitterness grow or shouting at him she decided to do something that would make it easier for him to keep hold of the baton in the future.

I think we live in a society where we are taught that nothing is ever enough and that life should be easy. It's a bit of an and/both situation, because we are told that love is the solution to all our problems but that this love, if you find it, is easy to lose. We are told that we don't have a choice or any control. That we can't help it if we fall in love and that there is nothing we could have done to stop it if we fall out of love. Now obviously every situation is different and I in no way speak for anyone except myself, but the biggest thing I think I have learned about love in my life so far is that it is not passive, it is an active choice. And by getting married you are saying, "I choose to get up every morning and make the choice to love you". Even if I'm pissed off and you feel far away and I feel under-appreciated or misunderstood, this thing we have is music, and we are the musicians. (This is the start of many methaphors I'm afraid). We have a responsibility to each other and this wonderful thing that we know exists between us, even on the days it feels like it's disappearing, to continue playing, even though we've gone out of tune slightly with each other and our fingers are getting tired. Because actually the uncomfortableness and seemingly 'unromantic' nature of the journey is part of the beauty of making the music in the first place.

And that's another reason I like that story so much because Glennon doesn't moan about Craig's mistake, or frustratingly sigh and reluctantly give him a second chance under the guise of "well love takes work and the good times make the bad times worth it" (which is of course true in its own way) but she embraces the opportunity to work on another part of their piece and find a way for them to get back in tune with each other together and ultimately produce an even better sound. She is enjoying the journey of this 'marriage thing' even when things aren't going to plan. I feel like Dan and I have so much 'work' ahead of us, but that's not a bad thing, it's exciting. I don't think it's taking the romance out by accepting that your partner's not going to be able to read your mind and by having to ask for surprises sometimes. Or by having to discuss what your new traditions will look like rather than them just naturally happening. If love is a piece of music that two people are trying to play together then I think sometimes you do have to stop and say, "actually I really like it when that section is repeated again before we go back to the beginning, is that ok?" Rather than assuming that they would know that is how you want the piece to sound.

So I think I've realised that the reason I can't talk about my relationship and what it means to love someone else is because it is a work of art that me and Dan are creating together, so it's precious and it doesn't just belong to me and I don't know all the answers and I don't know what the next 8 bars will sound like, never mind the whole next symphony. What I do know though is that we will sit down and discuss it together, so that when we do play it out it sounds beautiful.

With that in mind, I want us to raise a toast to Daniel, or Dan or Quinny, whatever it is you call him. I want to say thank you for agreeing to spend your life actively choosing to love me and working with me to create something beautiful. Thank you for helping me get dressed in the morning when I'm too overwhelmed (becauae let's face it, everything overwhelms me), thank you for your kindness and your generosity with your love and time. Thank you for making me laugh and gradually learning when it is time to stop winding me up... Thank you for always choosing to see the better way, and for picking up the baton whenever I trip and fall and giving it back to me with a cuddle rather than throwing it down in frustration. I think we've had enough of my many methaphors now, so let's raise our glasses... To Daniel."

Thanks for reading. Now go read 'Carry On, Warrior'!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Finding my worth

Last Saturday was International Women’s Day, and I am currently in New York at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, fighting for girls’ rights to be recognised rather than rolled back. My fiancĂ© wrote a wonderful ‘shout out’ to me, praising me as ‘amazing’ and a friend mentioned me in a competition being run to celebrate women who fight for ‘freedom and wholeness’. I am incredibly grateful, but you know what? I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m falling apart.

This morning, as I stood paralysed in the shower with tears rolling down my cheeks, having to accept that today was not going to work out the way that I’d planned, I found myself making a choice I haven’t made before. I stopped. I decided not to go where I was supposed to be going. I decided to get back into bed and refuse to open the door to anyone. I decided that I would not force myself to do this because I simply didn’t have the strength.

Over the last couple of days I’ve started to question everything that we do here when we bring a delegation of young women to a global decision-making space. I’ve started to question whose voice we are really hearing. I’ve started to question the space we create and the pressure we seem to all too willingly distribute. I’ve started to question our expectations of each other, and our expectations of ourselves.

Now please know that I am not questioning or discrediting the amazing work of my organisation or of the incredible young women who I am here with - this is about me, my experience and changing my own perceptions.

Every single one of us is unique and different and yet I feel like being here in New York we are told that we can only make change if we fit into a certain mould, and do it in a certain way. I am not happy to wear the hat of an ‘amazing’ change maker if that hat only looks one way. I am not happy to take that praise if that praise would not be given to a single mother who simply keeps surviving.

I have started to question my own worth because there are young women around me, who only do this on a volunteer basis, who know so much more than me, and seem to do so much more than me. And even though I know it shouldn’t make me react like this, it makes me feel ashamed. And then I get angry. Because I can’t cope with the lack of sleep and feeling like I'm having to network when I struggle with simply making conversation on a day to day basis. And this may be because of my anxiety, but even if I didn’t have anxiety I shouldn’t be told that I am not allowed into this space ‘where change happens’ because I can’t do it in the way that is expected.

So I’m pausing. I’m asking if subconsciously we are reserving the title of ‘change maker’ and the praise of making a difference in this world to only certain types of people. I’m asking if we are reserving this international space to only those who have the confidence to walk up to their ambassador and start a conversation. I’m asking if we value the girl who may be too cripplingly shy to network but will be so inspired by the speakers on the panels that she hears at the different side events that she will go back to her family and change mindsets with her words. I’m asking if we value the woman ‘behind the scenes’ who analyses the data and writes the position paper but will not be the person who hands those positions over to a decision-maker. I’m asking if our definition of ‘change maker’ is really so narrow that fitting into it depends on making the right choice at the right time and having the right opportunities available to us.

I constantly feel like I shouldn’t be here because I’m just a little girl who did an acting degree. I made the ‘wrong’ choice because I didn’t value myself, and instead of focusing on my A Levels I allowed my worth to be defined by whichever man was willing to ‘love’ me. I don’t have a deep and natural academic understanding of many of the issues being discussed in this space, and while I’m pretty good at faking stuff and asking the right questions I feel small and ashamed.

Today I found some comfort in acknowledging that my worth is not defined by the number of business cards I collect or the number of hours I volunteer for or the number of networking opportunities I take advantage of. My worth is found in the Lord my God and the power of His restorative, saving and transforming love and grace. He wonderfully and fearfully made me just the way I am, so it is my job to trust that He will use me in the way He sees best to help bring His Kingdom into this world. A Kingdom not defined by patriarchy, where the last – the marginalised, vulnerable, poor and needy – will be the first and everyone will have a seat at the table. I don’t know whether my role will involve making a speech at a global event or simply getting out of bed every morning and making meals for my children.

I recently devoured Sarah Bessey’s ‘Jesus Feminist’, through tears, laughter and an overwhelming sense of hope from the stories of how many women around the world are already, simply by getting from one day to the next, bringing us a step closer to God’s Kingdom.

But despite all of this, today I just want to go home. I want to see my fiancĂ© and I want to take care of myself. I’m not sure this is where I’m supposed to be. So if you are the praying type, please lift me up because I’m confused and tired, and I’m not sure I’ve got the strength for this place.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Today, I'm still breathing

Some days, I feel deep down in my heart that there’s just something wrong with me. Like I was born broken. Like I don’t have the ability that everyone else seems to have to do normal every day things. To be satisfied. To be ok with the small talk and the pretending. To not be constantly scared of rejection. I wonder how other people are not constantly questioning every word that comes out of their mouth or not finding every day conversation difficult. I wonder if I'm the only one that purposely avoids having to speak to people because the experience is too stressful. I wonder how other people can be so confident about making and keeping friends, and not constantly worrying whether people find them annoying, or wondering how everyone else seems to find it all so easy.

Last year I was ‘diagnosed’ with anxiety and depression. I put diagnosed in inverted commas because I still cannot deal with it. I don’t actually think it’s real, I just think that I’m overreacting. And I’m probably just stupid. Because some days I feel almost fine and I don’t have it as a bad as other people I know. So I think that the doctors have probably just doled out a ‘diagnosis’ to get my tears out of their office. I think I have been given a bandage when actually all I needed was a plaster.

For as long as I can remember I hated myself. I went to an all girl’s school and made a very quick observation that if I kept my mouth shut I would not be bullied. I didn’t realise at the time the price of silence.
When I started sixth form it suddenly came to my attention that boys found me attractive. So although I continued to hate everything inside of me I found a way to like myself – by appreciating the power of what was on the outside. I don’t know many other people who preferred their own bodies to their own minds. I almost laugh because I basically objectified myself. How messed up is that?
But about three years ago, haunted by hopefully the biggest screw up I’ll ever make, I made a conscious effort to start liking myself, and I thought for a long time that it was working. I thought I was fighting and figuring it all out. I thought I had found a way to appreciate myself for what was on the inside instead of what was on the outside.

I thought all of that until about six months ago, when I realised that all I had done was put all of my anxieties and hatred and worries in a box marked ‘keep out’, put thick black tape over it and hidden it away in the deepest darkest corner where I thought no-one could find it.

Except I was wrong. There is (although I appreciate that not everyone will agree) someone who was well aware of it and was not ok with me hiding it away, pretending I’d got it all sorted out. Someone who was determined – slowly and at a pace I could manage – to help me pull out that box and start ripping off the tape. Someone who is carrying my weight as I dizzily open the flaps and start taking out what’s inside. Someone who holds me when it gets too much and gives me space and peace to rest. I feel Him whispering in my ear, “It’s ok, I’m here, I’m not going anywhere.”

I feel like an onion and God is softly peeling back each layer. Not because He wants to bring me back to a place of pain and discomfort but because He wants me to work through it properly. To come out stronger. To genuinely like myself, and for it not just to be a phrase I tell myself to convince myself I’ve worked through it all. But I think that most of all, He must be there encouraging me to keep going deeper, because He believes that what is really inside is beautiful. I just have to trust that He’s right.

So yesterday I may have found it almost impossible to get out of bed and tomorrow I may float through the day with a knot in my stomach and sadness in my heart. But for now, I can’t worry about that. Because today, at least I’m still breathing.