My second act.

After years of frustration and a sense of feeling unsettled and unsatisfied, I *think* I have decided on my second act.

A few months ago I read the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I devoured it actually.  It's the kind of book I didn't want to put down and it was the perfect point in my life to read this book. Untamed met me where I know so many of us 40-something women are at--especially moms who identify as formerly-evangelical.  It's only been during the past few years that I have found myself in a club of women who, after years of being raised in, and eventually self-selecting the norms of evangelical culture, are at a moment of rebirth.  We are trying to figure out what faith looks like when it is stripped of the dangerous patterns of patriarchy, homophobia, racism, political affiliation, xenophobia, and misogyny* that have defined the movement, and in which we have willingly participated.  What I don't think we fully understood, however, is the extent to which we were groomed and coerced to be willing participants.  

Untamed is the story of Glennon rebuilding herself after the dissolution of her marriage.  It's made up of short stories and essays, all wrapped up in an overall memoir arc. The message of the book, in my opinion, it that we all have a deep "knowing" inside ourselves.  We all have things that we know and feel to be true.  And sometimes, those "knowings" butt up against other parts of our life or societal expectations of what what women "should" be like. That's okay--we should follow our "knowing" anyway. Hers is a story of giving space to her "knowing" and making difficult choices to follow it to freedom.

As soon as I read the book, ideas started to churn in my own head about my own "knowing."  I wrestled with these ideas, but kept them to myself for a while.  A couple weeks later, I asked Nick to read the book. I said, "I mean, it's a book for women, but I want you to read it too because I have some thoughts I'd like to discuss."  Nick, being the evolved human being he is, read it at my request. (For what it's worth, he devoured it too-- it's really an easy read). 

After he read it the first thing he said was, "I think it's funny that you described the book as a book for women.  There was nothing explicitly said about it being for women.  But I understand what you mean.  In the book, Glennon basically gives the reader permission to feel what they feel and want what they want.  Men don't need that permission.  We already do that." (Exactly! Well said, Nick.).

"So," I said to him, "After reading this book, I think I want to go back to school. I feel like I have a million reasons why that won't work, but I want to have a career and the education I have now isn't going to provide me with a career I would love."

Nick's response, without hesitation, was, "Great!  Let's do this!"

And I said, "I don't know where we would find the money. I don't know how we could afford to have me in college AND Nia in college and me not working. The numbers don't add up."

And Nick's response was, "We can do this. Let's do this!"

I brought up concern after concern.  All the reasons why it wouldn't work--why it would be "selfish" for me at this time--how the kids would suffer. (Do you see my evangelical history coming through here?) But Nick's response was unwavering, "This book was about choosing do do hard things and how the example of living authentically is the most important example you can provide your kids. You can do this.  We can do this. Let's do this."  And while I didn't NEED Nick's affirmation to start on a journey like this, having him parrot back to me all the things I felt while I read Glennon's words was really nice.

I have always been deeply passionate about children and families getting the support they need to succeed. And so in January, I am going to start applying to grad schools to get a Master's in Social Work. But I am actually starting school as a Non Degree-Seeking student THIS semester. I am going to be taking some prerequisite classes online at our local community college as well as a couple of undergraduate level Social Work classes just to make sure this is really what I want to do. Kind of like a soft commitment before I dive in with both feet. Yesterday I registered for 3 classes and I am hoping to get off the wait list for one more. These four classes would be 13 credit hours, and *technically* full-time-- but a light full-time load.

I feel excited and nervous. There have been so many reasons to say no to this. We absolutely cannot afford this, especially with Nia starting college at the same time next year. And then there is the concern as to whether I really have the brain elasticity to START working on a new degree at 44 years old with the pressure of 4 kids? But I already know I can do hard things.

I felt very motivated to listen to my "knowing" and really consider who I am at the core, and how that could correspond to a career that would bring me a sense of purpose. As Nick and I hammered out some details, we came to some conclusions. If I graduate at 46 years old, I would still be able to have a 20-30 year career before it's time for Nick to retire-- there's a benefit of marrying a younger man (Rawr!). That's plenty of time to pay back student loans. Plus, I feel like I am too young to give up on myself and think my most valuable years have already been used up.

One of the things that upsets me about being an evangelical for most of my life is the realization that women were very much shepherded into desiring the career of being a wife/ stay-at-home mom. And while I don't regret my choice of partner, and while I wouldn't say regret is the right word for how I feel about getting to spend quality time with my kids when they were young, I also definitely am seeing it through a different lens now. I didn't realize how the decision we made for me to stay home would negatively impact MY career choices later. At first, I thought of this as an unintended consequence--that it was this thing that (male) evangelical leadership hadn't thought through all the way.  The more I think about it though, the more sinister I feel like the reality actually is.  I think they ABSOLUTELY knew the professional consequences this type of persuasion would have on women.  I think they knew how it would lead to women being financially dependent upon their husbands-- after all, by taking care of the children and the house, women were freeing their men up for an unimpeded climb up the career ladder.  Again, let me be clear that this is not about Nick Mangine, but about the idea of women sacrificing their future choices in the name of following God. I am super thankful that I am not married to an asshole who lords my financial dependence on him over me.  But dear God, convincing women that their highest calling should be to their husbands and children places them in situations that are difficult to get out of, should that become necessary.

I am encouraged that I see a lot of people (women and men) trying to forge a different path forward.  I see a lot of husbands/partners/dads who are much more involved in parenting and the work of running a home, keeping the family fed, the house clean, etc. than in previous decades. But please note, while I appreciate this, I also don't feel like men deserve any special awards or medals for helping to care for their own children and their own home and their own stuff. It's time for more of this kind of change-- the kind that expects more of men in terms of balancing out the emotional and physical workload of being a part of a family.

But at the same time as I am encouraged about these kinds of changes, I am also discouraged because I see a lot of people (both women and men) content with the status quo who think that feminism is destroying families. They think it comes from a place of arrogance or selfishness.  They think that it's anti-man.  They think that women are saying they want to be better than men. But I don't think that's what it is. I actually think that patriarchy is a far greater risk to families than feminism. 

Think about last week, we had a male member of congress refer to his female colleague as "a f*cking b*tch" and then have the audacity to defend himself by saying, "I cannot apologize for my passion, or for loving my God, my family, and my country."  Guys. This literally happened. And there are people (even women) still defending him and will, undoubtedly, vote for him in the future.  I think that wanting this (and things like this) to be unacceptable is not an issue of man-hating. I think it's more like that famous quote says, "your liberation is bound up with mine." There's a limit to how free someone can be while someone else is not.

So I have a message for all you 40ish women out there who feel dried up-- to those women who, like me, are feeling like we gave our best years away and now have little to show for it. We can pivot. We can do hard things.  We can change the course of our own lives. We can embrace our own "knowing." We have the permission to want the things we want.  We deserve to feel satisfied and accomplished.  We deserve to feel smart. We belong in all the places. Our contributions are important.  So here's to us.  Yeah, 2020 sucks.  But let's let that suck motivate us towards something new that doesn't.

And, as always, this is only my current theory.  So if I pivot again in what I need or want, I also have permission for that, because to quote Glennon Doyle in Untamed (as she quoted Alicia Keys), "I do what the f*ck I want."


*please note: This list of isms is not, in any way, comprehensive... these are just a few off the top of my head.

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