(Just some of) the Women who inspire me

It’s International Women’s Day. In no way is this going to be an exhaustive list, but I just wanted to write about some of the women who have really inspired me. Some I only know from media, others I’ve met and there are many that I am privileged to call friends.

Nicola. One of the inspirational women I get to call my friend, and have done since she came to Aberdeen in 2005 and we began ‘Tea, Prayer and One Tree Hill’. I’ve already embarrassed her on facebook today, but I’m hoping she’s given it up for Lent or something. My fellow alien on Planet Christian, who has challenged me to be more faithful in God to provide, to tithe, to spend my money in more ethical places, to read more widely, to not give up shouting about injustice, and not to be afraid of who I am. Currently training to be an Anglican vicar and having to come up against people who believe that as a woman she shouldn’t even be one. She’s going to make one kick ass vicar, and like I said on facebook, I would not be shocked (and I’ve told her on several occasions) that I reckon one day she’ll be a Bishop. And if that happens she’s going to lead ethically, justly and humbly. Because that’s in her character.

Me and Nicola

Miss Flinderella. I met this girl online, and four years ago, I got to meet her in person. I love her passion for feminism and standing up for not slagging off women because of how they look. I love how she has stood up for teenage mothers and the stigma that is often put on them. I love that she has had the courage to go back to university and is now doing a PhD. Yes. A PhD. When this postgraduate student (ie me) was until very recently trying to avoid writing a simple Masters dissertation at all costs so she is putting me to shame! She was the first person to wish me a Happy International Women’s Day and she daily encourages me to be a better person than I am, because she sets high standards for me!

Lupita Nyong’o. I said to my friend the other day that I want to ask this woman to marry me. Her grace. Her poise. Her eagerness to learn. Her passion. Her joy. This speech. She is beauty personified, and I don’t mean just outwardly. She is beautiful inside and out, and  I  was so impressed by her fearless portrayal of Patsey in 12 years a slave.

Chimamanda Adichie. I’ve spoken of this lady often. After many conversations late into the night (well not that late, we were up so early every day!) with my friend I shared a room with in Durban, finding her TED talk on the Danger of the Single Story was a revelation and I wanted to be in the room cheering her on. Let there be more Lupitas and Chimamandas to encourage us not to just share single stories.

Rebecca. Another blog turned in real life friend. This girl is one of the most loyal and thoughtful friends you could have. She sends you random post in the mail. She throws awesome parties. And she worked darned hard to become a nurse. She cares deeply not only about her patients, but their loved ones too. She is honestly one of the first friends I made after I became a Christian that I didn’t feel awkward around or judged by. She is creative, compassionate, caring, courageous. She has blogged openly and honestly about her personal battle with depression and anxiety helping everyone to have a better understanding of the illness and how we can better support loved ones suffering from depression.

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Ruth. Ruth was an online friend when we went to the same church in the same city. And then we found each other. And we did Inter:act at the same time. And once that was all over she left the city but we’ve kept in good contact. We’ve even been on holiday together. She is an introvert and I’m an extrovert. It sounds really daft, but I’ve always been inspired by how Ruth will get up and go do stuff. Me? I’m always sitting in the house with the time to do something and not doing it because I don’t have someone to do it with. I’m trying to learn to be more like Ruth! She is also great with kids and passionate about helping them to learn. Not teaching them, but creatively helping them learn (I believe there’s a difference).

Beth Tweddle. Britain’s most successful gymnast ever. She is only a year younger than me. What impresses me about Beth is her diligence, her work ethic, and the fact that she blazed a trail for both male and female gymnasts in the UK that simply wasn’t there before. Not only that but I’ve heard her cheering fellow gymnasts from the stands when she was out with injury. She never gave up. I love her passion for inspiring young people, and love that her response to internet trolls has been to support charities that are dealing with internet safety and cyber bullying.

Meredith Vieira. I think I found this lady because she interviewed American gymnasts, and then I started noticing other interviews. I loved that she was unashamedly a woman working in a male dominated business. I loved that she had a husband and kids but also worked. I loved that she was always looking great without showing a ton of skin. I love that she was a woman older than my mother not trying to look younger and hadn’t been written off the television. I loved her personality and how she didn’t take herself too seriously, but took respecting others very seriously. I also love her new YouTube channel: Lives with Meredith Vieira.

A friend of Meredith is Ann Curry, and I know that is a woman who inspires Holly. Holly inspires me because she is not afraid to be herself. She bravely shared a series on atheism on her blog and sadly lost some blog readers due to the fact they were so ‘offended’ by her beliefs and those of her guest bloggers, that were different from their own. She has watched her home city be devastated by earthquakes. She has gone through scary treatments for kidney disease, and like Rebecca, she has been willing to share the ups and downs of her journey and battles with it. She has moved to a country on the other side of the world from home. She has embraced her curls much better than I’ve (not) embraced mine.

Kathy. When I first met Kathy & her husband I thought they didn’t like me or just thought I was weird. It was only when they laughed a lot about my incident with a trolley in a supermarket car park that I realised that even if they did think I was a complete fruit loop, they liked me anyway. A more generous pair I dare you to find. Kathy has this amazing discipline and work ethic. I don’t know how she did it travelling the world, working crazy hours and still finding time to bake gluten free brownies for someone as a treat or making a vat of soup to be taken to feed the homeless. She is super intelligent (folks, she can do MATHS!), she makes the best brownies in the world, she knits, she walks, she travels and she wears jeans. She uses her knowledge of business and mixes it with her creative talents to proactively find solutions to inequality. And I can always rely on her to challenge me when I’m in need of an attitude adjustment. And she’s a fab mother to her son.

Vicky. Where do I begin? She was my first new friend when I moved back to Edinburgh. She is like my community education buddy because she loves it too. She is an eco warrior. She is an awesome mum, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard her yell or shout. Her discipline is always so gentle, and if I ever get the chance to be a parent, I know that I’ll be a better parent because of what I’ve learned from observing her parenting in action. She is a fantastic artist and uses art to get people thinking. She is generous with her time and so open with her resources. Not least of which is her home.

Olympic torch relay

Carrie. My friend of more than 10 years now. The woman who had met me once, but was willing to come and retrieve me in the middle of the night when I had dehydrated myself so badly for fear of having to use a portaloo covered in puke I’d collapsed at a music festival.  She has always given care, advocacy and consistency to vulnerable people, whether it be children in care or adults with disabilities. In every community she has lived in she has  actively sought to provide opportunities for disadvantaged and/or vulnerable people. She makes awesome cakes. She lets her sons make a mess, try new things and let’s them fall so they can learn to pick themselves back up again. She has two confident young boys as a result! She also did me the honour of asking me to be both her bridesmaid and her firstborn’s godmother.

There are also many, many other friends and ladies from over the years. I’d say every single member of my Senior Section Unit. The Girlguiding Leaders that I work with currently. My Ranger Leader, Penny and her daughters. Many of my high school friends. Many of my university friends. So many gymnasts (not just Beth!). Clare Balding. Sarah Millican. Joanna Rowsell. Friends from church. Friends from workplaces past and present. Malala Yousafzai.

Oh so many women. And this is just a handful.

We have the ability to make the world a better place just as much as dudes do. :)

So let’s do it!

Is inequality why girls aren’t inspired by women?

Last Monday, the patrols I was working with finished doing the Promise Consultation earlier than we expected. And knowing that after half term they’ll be using time to plan the two nights they are leading next term, I wanted to get them thinking about International Women’s Day.

So I asked them what I thought was a simple question.

‘Can you tell me about a woman who has inspired you?’

With blank looks, I asked them if there was a woman who they looked to as a role model, or did something they thought was cool, or maybe showed characteristics they’d like to have as they got older.

One girl (aged 10) piped up with ‘Rosa Parks’.

The rest of the two patrols all looked at her strangely then looked at me and said ‘Who is Rosa Parks?’

With some help, this 10 year old girl explained who Rosa Parks was and her simple act of courage. But all the girls struggled to come up with their own answers. One said ‘Peppa Pig’ and someone else said ‘Can we choose One Direction?’

I’m trying to remember who I looked up to when I was their age. I remember Betty Boothroyd being the woman with the gavel in the House of Commons. I remember the Spice Girls and finding out a lot more about their back stories – I really admired Melanie C because it was someone who wasn’t wearing teeny skirts and high heels all the time. I wasn’t a fan of Margaret Thatcher, but I do remember being told she was the first female Prime Minister. I admiring the dancers in the Scottish Ballet. Lavinia Milosovici, Kerri Strug and Amanda Borden because they seemed like nice people as well as so hard working that they got to the Olympics! Perhaps Mother Teresa and Princess Diana.

But really most of history seemed filled with men. Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Steve Redgrave, Linford Christie, Winston Churchill, soliders from World Wars, Stephen Biko, Donald Woods, Nelson Mandela… All the ladies just seemed to be there to look like human Barbie dolls. Perfect hair, perfect make up, pristine clothing. That wasn’t me, and I didn’t identify with them. There just didn’t seem to be many equivalents to not just admire their talents but their ability to live functional ‘normal’ lives.

I have been blessed to grow up in a world where anything seemed possible for women. The only inequality I found growing up is that girls were not allowed to play football at primary school. I remember distinctly there being a football team set up for the boys, but there was absolutely nothing for the girls. Not even another sports team of any sort.

And so it makes me wonder why it is such a difficult question to answer.

And how really I’ve believed a myth of no inequality when actually there seems to be a special secret going on.

Only just this morning, I heard that the Scholastic Athletic programme in Massachusetts is doing away with Men’s Gymnastics.  The MIAA spokeperson went so far to say this: “It’s a girls’ sport…. when was the last time you watched boys’ gymnastics? They don’t get on the cover of the Wheaties box. They don’t get the endorsements.

Oh. My. Word.

Who hires people like this?! First of all, I’m not even American, and I know plenty of male gymnasts with endorsements. Hilton Worldwide. BMW. Ralph Lauren. That wouldn’t have been John Orozco on Piers Morgan would it? And no they haven’t been on a Wheaties Box recently. Because they haven’t been quite so successful as the American women’s gymnastics team.  But hey – in the UK, Louis Smith made it to our equivalent of Dancing With The Stars and you’ll see him on Subway shop windows. And maybe, just maybe,  the state that produced one of America’s most well-known male gymnasts perhaps wants to rethink that decision. Especially if that’s your sexist and severely misguided view of the sport of gymnastics.

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So it makes me wonder if the problem with inequality lies in ignorance or stereotyping. Perhaps some of the guys out there have the same problem. Who are the male role models for them?

I think I have a lot more to say on this subject, but I would love to hear your thoughts…

What would you tell Sophie?

This week, Girlguiding UK has been spreading the #tellSophie meme. The idea is to leave behind a legacy of wisdom to inspire the next generation of women. I’m guessing they chose the name ‘Sophie’ because of its meaning (it comes from the Greek ‘sophia‘ which means ‘wisdom‘). But I’ll admit that when I first saw it appearing on my twitter feed it gave me a little shock given the title of my blog & the story behind it.

It reminded me of when Alisha and her friend ran a simulblog where we all wrote letters to our sixteen year old selves too.

I tried to think about what advice I would give to a 10 year old. And yes, as I said back in January – if my pregnancy had gone ahead and ended with a daughter in my arms etc – she would have been 10 this year and therefore moved into Guides! I realised that I really don’t remember much about being 10. I remember starting puberty, and being in P6. Having to wear glasses all the time (I was quickly getting to the stage of being blind without them). Starting at a ‘proper’ dance school for the first time and being allowed to go to my dance class each week with my friend on the bus without any adults. My younger brother wasn’t even born yet! But I’m not sure what advice I’d give my 10 year old self. I can’t remember what I felt (other than wanting school to be over for the rest of my life and SOON).

The Guides that meet on Monday evenings are all aged between 10 and 14 years old. If Sophie was amongst them, what advice would you give her? It’s an interesting question…

Retiring at 18? Not Johanna…

Today, I came home and was catching up on my gymnastics twitter feed to see what the news was from the Doha World Cup competition. Which Beth Tweddle won a Gold in.

But what grabbed my attention was a female gymnast at the Cottbus Cup…Johanna Quaas.

Johanna is 86 years old.

Yes.

You did read that right.

Her floor routine may not qualify her for the Olympics, and women no longer compete on Parallel Bars. But what an inspiration.

Johanna started gymnastics at 30 years old (there’s hope for me then!) and has won multiple medals in senior artistic gymnastics in Germany.

Johanna, I salute you! And may you encourage others to stop with the ‘I’m too old’ excuses, and live life pushing the boundaries of what is possible.

What has inspired you this week?

Lent Sunday Causes – Girlguiding

Every Sunday of Lent, I choose to highlight one of the charities that I support. This weekend, I choosing Girlguiding because earlier this week it was World Thinking Day. (This is the birthday of the founders of Guiding & Scouting, and the day when Girl Guides & Girl Scouts all around the world think about their sisters globally each year).

I’ve been involved in Girlguiding for half my life. I was a Rainbow; a Brownie – where I first got a taste of leadership becoming seconder, then sixer of the Pixies; I moved up to Guides where I first got thrown into having to work things out as a team, went to camp and met several of my high school friends. As a Guide I learned Scottish country dance, how to do a reef knot (actually kinda handy), how to pack to go on holiday super efficiently, First Aid, sign language, leadership skills and team work. Doing my Baden-Powell Award I had to do all sorts of things including becoming a leader at a local Brownie Pack for a year. I still have the toy Mushu (a character from Mulan) that one of the Brownies gave me for my 16th birthday. I was a Young Leader - I stayed on with the Brownie Pack and then later helped at a challenging Guide unit in Leith. While working on a service team at a big Scottish camp me & my friend Kate met our friends Lizzie and Karen and they introduced us to Rangers. We got to go on Venture Scout camps doing activities we’d never have got to do usually, did community projects and ended up becoming finalists in a competition where we got taken to London to give a presentation about it.

All of these things gave me skills I’ve been able to use in the workplace and at university. And I’m super grateful.

I am super happy after a 9 year separation from Guiding, to be back as a leader!

Girlguiding has 500,000 members in the UK alone. The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) has about 10 million members across the world, making it probably one of the largest international youth organisations.

I loved guiding. For a while as a teenager I thought it was a bit ‘uncool’ but now I’m so happy I stuck with it, because I learned a lot and made some amazing friends. I love guiding still because I’ve realised how inclusive it is compared to most youth organisations. I also love that it has stayed ‘girls-only’, because I think it’s important to have a place were girls can be girls with no pressure to look good because of the distraction of boys!!

If you are female, and would like to be involved in your region’s Girlguiding/Girl Scouts you can find out how to contact them here on the map of WAGGGS member organisations. There are so many ways to be involved – by volunteering your time, by donating to your local organisation or some of the Global funds…

Sharing hope & Sophie

Thank you to those of you who were praying, thinking positive thoughts and have contacted me to ask how the women’s conference went last weekend.

The answer: It went well. Completely beyond many of my expectations.

Phew.

I had to follow Heather, and let me tell you she set the bar high. She shared from her heart about prayer and talking to a God who loves us, cares about us…but also challenged us on the importance of interceding for and forgiving others.

Then it was my turn.

For some weird reason I started by sharing about my name. I really believe names matter. I hadn’t planned to do that, but for whatever bizarre reason it was where I began. I shared about David and his response to losing his son and how it tells of a hope of returning to the ones that died before us and seeing them again. I shared quotes from 2 ladies that have inspired me greatly – Angie Smith & Sarah Williams – their thoughts and struggle with grief after losing their children. And of the hope of the new heaven and earth (at this point I remember getting a little overexcited about what that might be like and how with all the freaky living creatures from Revelation 4 & 5 it was going to be ‘mental’). And I shared about my fears that I couldn’t be a Christian because of having had an abortion, and about how I had named my unborn child Sophie. And how I sometimes wonder if I was wrong about her being a girl and that when I meet her in heaven she might be like ‘Mum? Seriously? SOPHIE?! Why did you call me Sophie?!!

Afterwards there was much hugging. I was asked if I would stay to anoint people with oil and pray with them.

I did that for almost 2 hours.

And as I did, some women shared their stories with me. They too had lost children and grandchildren through miscarriage and termination.

The moment that will remain with me was a woman who told me about her own abortion and  whispering to me as I anointed her hands with oil, that after hearing about Sophie, she felt she could now name her own unborn child and do something to remember and honour him/her.

I almost started bawling.

Mostly because I was so thankful that sharing about Sophie had made a difference by giving women permission to grieve.

Thank you to all the ladies at Liberton Northfield Church for making me feel so welcome and giving me the opportunity to speak. :)

Community Blog Party: Shelley’s Take

Shelley Hendrix is a wife, mother, teacher, speaker, author, and television talk show host. She launched Church 4 Chicks in 2008. But more important than any role she fills, she is most grateful to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that she belongs to and matters to God. You can connect with Shelley on facebook & twitter

Shelley Hendrix

Community: this word brings to mind different scenes and various emotions. I’ve experienced both deeply positive and extremely negative extremes of this. For some, community evokes feelings of joy, warmth and belonging. For others, it prompts emotions of concern at best and anxiety at worst. I’ve lived on both sides of this fence at different times in my life. I’ve lived this reality in schools, neighborhoods, family circles, and even in churches.

I’ve learned over the years that we have a very relational God—He is the one who created the whole idea of community, of living life together rather than alone. He never said “it isn’t good for man to be single.” He said, “It is not good for man (i.e. human beings) to be alone.” (See Genesis 2:18) There’s a big difference between the two. So, it makes sense to me that with this being of such supreme importance, we would find it to be the area of greatest struggle. If you wanted to take down your enemy, you’d attack what’s most vital, right?

It’s my deep conviction that because God created us to be relational, and that this is a good thing for us, we need to be intentional to press past the negative experiences and memories of times we’ve been wounded by others, so that we might not miss out on the greater blessings of ties that bind us to amazing people who just might be instrumental in helping us reach our destinies—and us, theirs.

I have friends in Phoenix, AZ who pose this question: “What if there was a place that was so safe that the worst about us could be known and we would be loved more, rather than less, in the telling of it?” THAT is authentic, Christ-honoring community. It’s the driving passion of my life: to help create and cultivate these kinds of environments within my own home, my circles of friends, and in ministry. It’s the foundation for the call to start a ministry in my home town called “Church 4 Chicks.” Out of both experiences—the worst to the best—as it pertains to community, God deposited a desire in me to be a host to environments of grace. Places where He gets to be the hero of the stories and where we get to be who we really are: flawed, fragile, unimpressive, and broken.  Places where we take the risks together to learn what it means to live out of who God says we are. Places where we can make mistakes and not be defined by them. Places where we get to be honest that our greatest wounds come through relationships and where we get to experience that our greatest healing does, too.

Low fat soya lattes

One of the sports I love is gymnastics. I think because it’s the closest to dance you’re going to get in an Olympic Sport. I can’t even do a cartwheel, but I can totally relate to the training and learning to control your body to do what you want it to do – always pushing the boundaries.

What has really ticked me off though – as I’ve watched some videos of some of the recent competitions (catching up to see who I should be looking out for in 2012!) is the comments people have made about some gymnasts saying that they are fat.

I think you’ll find that they are pure muscle!

Plus, many of them if they have stopped their intense training will not be as skinny – but they are certainly not fat.

At the same time, it’s something I’m struggling with. I struggled a little bit after I gave up dancing when I was 16 – I probably put on a few pounds after I stopped, which was to be expected. Even though I didn’t expect it! I stupidly began starving myself for a while, and was lucky I didn’t make myself seriously ill. I’ve realised that since South Africa, I’ve put on a fair bit of weight. Last year, I had a panic when Powerpoint returned when I discovered that none of my jeans fitted anymore, and I needed to be able to clip a powerpack onto my clothes for my in-ear monitors.

I’ve hated seeing photos of myself taken from the Powerpoint events last year, because I look so much bigger.

And at Christmas, and over the last 2 months I no longer fit into any of my clothes. It’s really upset me if I’m honest.

I know that the main reason for the weight is because of an injection of hormone I get every 3 months – and started getting in March 2009 so I would be able to go to South Africa (that wasn’t the only reason, but it probably sped the process up a bit!). It’s normal for people to have appetite changes, metabolism changes and higher blood pressure after a while. I just didn’t think it would happen when I never had those issues with any other treatments they’ve given me which are similar.

I know part of it means I just need to get out there, do more exercise and be much more aware of what I’m eating.

But I confess that I’m finding it stupidly tough to adapt or accept.

There’s the other side to as well – I’m getting older, and with that comes a slowing down of metabolism anyway. It’s been cool chatting to some of my female friends who are my age (or older) about the whole thing, and discovering that they are finding getting used to their body changing tough too. I’m not the only one – phew!

I guess I thought that these kind of issues I’d leave behind at 13!

I am not looking forward to the grey hairs coming in… :)

Learning to embrace my femininity

Being a girl is not something that comes easily to me. I know that probably sounds very strange, because well…I am a girl! But for sure, the moment I get put in a ‘girl box’ all my insecurities come to the surface. Whether it’s because a guy opens a door for me, I’m in a dress or shopping with other girls…I’m freaking out.

In early 2005, my friend was a leader of a YF I sometimes went along to at another church. They were going on a retreat weekend in the Cairngorms, and she invited me to come along. At the time I was struggling – I’d been pretty hurt by church during my recovery from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and I wasn’t sure where I stood with a great many people in Aberdeen. Plus God seemed to be saying for me to do something that seemed totally crazy & I was terrified to admit to anyone. Eventually it was decided I would come along, and I drove me and my friend down early, I was so happy to realise too, that the 2 of us had a room to share with no one else.

That weekend, the guy that was teaching and ministering to us was a man named John Scott who at the time was a pastor at the Glasgow Vineyard church.

And apparently he had a gift of prophecy.

I had laid down some ‘well God, I’ll do xxxx if this guy says xxxxx‘ without telling anyone, and was shocked to tears when the guy began to not only say those very words (like word specific) but began to speak stuff that he couldn’t possibly have known unless someone had told him.

On the final morning (as I was trying to avoid him…) he cornered me, as I stood alongside my friends Jo and Gill, and told me that I needed to start embracing my femininity.

I wanted to punch him. Gill just stood by me sniggering as she knew exactly in what way the words he spoke over me were relevant.

As much as I did ‘makeovers’ when my friends and I had sleepovers, quite frankly I’d rather sleep than get up earlier so I have time to do my hair and make up. I can think of much better things to spend my money on than expensive make up. I get bugged at the female characters in chick flicks and Disney Princess movies (give me Lilo & Stitch or How to Train Your Dragon any day!). I was far too busy cycling to the gym, talking to friends online, going to dance classes to bother to learn any culinary talents (why waste time cooking?!). I was so bad at sewing that I got banned from sewing ribbons on my own pointe shoes by my main ballet teacher and I ended up sticking my Girl Guide badges to my sash with fabric glue. And I never cease to amaze with my ability to iron more creases into something than an item of clothing had to begin with.

And so at 26, I’m learning how to be a girl again. Though I doubt I’ll ever be wearing pink, or seen walking around with perfect hair, have patience with girls when they aren’t just upfront with stuff, become a fan of period dramas, X Factor or ever feel 100% secure in anything but jeans. Then again, I have discovered this year that tops or dresses over leggings are great when my stomach is swollen and I can’t fit into my jeans. (This has pleased my mother no end unfortunately. I guess the teenage rebellion has to end at some point…)

I have embraced one girly thing – my nails which seem to grow and grow and grow. Though rarely seen with nail polish on them, I will be upset on the rare occasions where I break one! Working in health & social care sector for several years, I had to keep my nails short, and seen as I can no longer play guitar I was finally able to start keeping them long again.

And it’s both cheaper and less painful than fully embracing my love of shoes. :)

Plus I can be a girl and still love Top Gear and dream of driving a Pagani Zonda…right? ;)