Three Women, Three Windows: Everyday Boundaries

This article was originally published in Summer 2018 Timbrel, “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries”

Where are you on your journey to claiming personal boundaries?

Littlewolf: I am a work in progress. I make boundaries and then reassess and make revisions. When I first became aware of boundaries as an adult, I realized I was putting up walls instead of fences. Now I tend to think that I put up barbed wire fences—where the fence can poke others and it can poke me. I’m still working on a better analogy for my personal boundaries, but the barbed wire fence gives me a fabulous mental picture of where I am right now.

Groff: Over the past few years, my awareness of boundaries has increased. With friends, my spiritual director, and my therapist, I have processed times in my life where boundaries were crossed and violated. Now I’m considering what I learned from those situations and what I want to pass on to my young daughters. I try to strike a balance between accepting what was not my fault while also embracing the concept that I’m not powerless to set boundaries or to say no.

Staton: Just when I think I have a handle on my boundaries, someone will say, “I hate to ask but I’m really in a bind…could you possibly….?” and whamo, I get hooked. Not that helping someone in need is a bad thing, but it’s a slippery slope for me. People in need are my weakness. My life, my mission and my vocation are about helping people. I’m the campus counselor at a university. So when someone “needs” me, I am tugged by my life’s purpose to jump. But it’s cost me. My first year at my current position, students would tell me, “I’m so busy, I can’t meet at any other time but lunch.” So… I would do it.  And just like clock work, I would miss meals, work long days, get run down, end up with bronchitis and miss several days of work where I had to reschedule 16 to 24 appointments just so I could make room for those few who couldn’t meet any other time but lunch. It turns out the biggest violator of my boundaries, is me. That example is from eight years ago, but I just did it again. So I don’t know that I am where I want to be yet, at almost 49 years old, in my boundaries journey.

What obstacles do you face in setting boundaries?

Littlewolf: One obstacle that I face is that when I am tired, it is easy for me to sway my boundaries or give people the benefit of the doubt at my expense. I also tend to second-guess myself and search for external validation that the boundary I set was “OK”. I also tend to realize I didn’t think through my boundaries until after I realize one has been broken, rather than honoring my boundaries from the start.

Groff: People-pleasing is my biggest obstacle! After I set a boundary, I often second-guess myself or feel the need to justify my decision or overprocess it with a friend or my spouse. Instead, setting a healthy boundary should mean letting go after the decision. Yes, boundaries can be evaluated later, but I think it’s best to move forward confidently.

Staton: Turning down new or exciting experiences is an obstacle for me. I’m good about politely telling someone when I’m uncomfortable in a situation or when something doesn’t feel physically safe. I’m really good about saying no when I don’t want to do something, but quite frankly I like to do stuff that sounds interesting and exciting. When someone asks me to do something I’ve never done before, my boundary-awareness suddenly takes a nap, which can be harmful. For example, today I saw a familiar face and we struck up a conversation that led to my mouth making a commitment that I didn’t fully process. Relive my college years and sing in a coffee shop? Sure, you bet! I probably don’t have time for that. But doesn’t that sound fun and exciting? But if he had asked me to wash his car, I could have absolutely said no. I’m a work in progress.

What is one boundary setting goal you have for yourself this year?

Littlewolf: My goal is to  pre-think, or establish boundaries, before they are broken. Right now, I tend to recognize my boundaries after they are violated, instead of recognizing my needs ahead of time. I want my boundary setting to become a natural way of being.

Groff: I am reading the book Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much this year—one passage a day. This passage on busyness is important for me! “How much of the constant repetitive housework I do is because of my need to keep busy and not because it actually needs to be done?… Often, our busyness is a subtle form of procrastination that keeps us from what we really need to be doing.” This year, I hope to do a better job of setting aside what can wait and embracing the moments of connection in my professional life and life as a new mother.

Staton: Every step backwards gives me the opportunity to re-group and re-examine my choices or im-pulsive decisions that may put me in an unhealthy place, and I really do learn from them. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make them again. In therapy there is a saying that “Relapse is part of recovery” and that applies here too. I won’t ever be perfect. The day I think I have it all under control and let my guard down, will undoubtedly be the day I am most at risk! Who knows what I will agree to then! So I guess my goal would be to remember that I can make mistakes while still moving forward.

Healing resources strengthen personal boundaries

This article was originally published in Summer 2018 Timbrel, “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries.”

Sister Care seminars have consistently recommended and often provided several resources to help deepen women’s capacity to set clear personal boundaries as part of self-care. Two of these resources are available free of charge from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC):  Created Equal: Women and Men in the Image of God by Linda Gehman Peachey and “Home shouldn’t be a place that hurts” brochure. The third is Carolyn Holderread Heggen’s book: Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches.

These resources provide information about domestic violence and sexual abuse, and new ways to understand biblical teachings regarding women and men. It is significant that all three were written by Mennonite women, and the personal stories in Heggen’s book are all from Mennonites whose abuse happened in the context of Christian homes and churches. The book states that sexual abuse can involve verbal, visual, and psychological contact as well
as physical contact. The information in these resources enables women to realize the scope of abuse.  This awareness contributes to healing and setting limits.

“Created Equal” addresses scriptures that have often been interpreted to give greater power to men than women. How women understand biblical teachings on equality, submission, and suffering makes a difference in their ability to resist abusive behaviors. As it says in the unit titled. “I am God’s beloved daughter” in the Sister Care manual, “Any religious teaching that isn’t Good News for women and children and those with the least power in our community is not teaching the truth that Jesus came to bring.”

At each Sister Care seminar, each participant receives the “Home shouldn’t be a place that hurts” brochure. Internationally, when language is a barrier, a few leaders receive the brochure so  that they can adapt the information for their context. Participants are encouraged to place these brochures in a bathroom so women can pick them up privately.

Last summer I received an email from Linda Herr, MCC’s Training Development coordinator in Akron, Pennsylvania.  She had received a call from a woman, who, while at a garage sale, went to a nearby church for a restroom and found a “Home shouldn’t be a place that hurts” brochure. She called MCC asking for help, and I was able to recommend local resources that Linda communicated to her.  I have often wondered if those brochures were placed there following a Sister Care seminar.

Knowledge gives power. Let’s continue to share resources to strengthen our ability to set personal boundaries.

#DoneWishing

This article by Marlene Bogard was originally published in Summer 2018 Timbrel. Marlene will conclude her time with Mennonite Women USA July 31, 2018.

I wish I had known about personal boundaries as a young girl. I wish I had constructed my own space bubble. I wish I had been coached on my Circle of Grace. I wish…

As a second grader, my head was pushed against the rough brick wall of our school. Howard mushed his face into me and pressed his lips against mine. I was a skinny seven- year-old and this incident happened on the playground during recess.  It was not OK. A classmate of mine had decided to kiss me, forcefully.  Not OK. I do not remember reporting to my teacher or my mother. Perhaps I did.

Today I wonder, what would your daughters or nieces or granddaughters do or say if that happened to them? Would they be sufficiently trained and empowered to push away, to yell no, and to report the assault?

In almost every decade of my life, I have experienced harassment, inappropriate touch, unwanted sexualized language and jokes. #youtoo?

When the #metoo movement became prominent, I decided to  recite all the ways  I experienced harassment while my husband and I were on a road trip. I began with the recess incident and carried on to the present. At various points in my monologue, he exclaimed, “Really?” and “Wow!” and then, “There’s more?”

“Yes, “I nodded, “All true.”

And I am not alone. I have minimized or shaken off some of these instances over the years, even chalking them up to my clothing selection or my vivacious personality. I have even said the dreaded, “Boys will be boys, and men will be men.” I am done with that kind of reasoning. It was never my fault. I did not ask for it.  I may have not known how to respond, but I will not bear the responsibility of men and boys acting inappropriately.

I wish I had known about personal boundaries as a teenager. The language of boundaries, of  sense of self, of empowerment was absent. No one (church, parent, school) offered advice or guidelines or about dating, about touch, about sexual activity.  Some things were communicated as taboo, but other than a little information about getting my period, there was a huge void. What did I do to fill that void? Act on impulse, surrender to those more powerful, get caught off guard, be driven by some vague notion of morality?

More than you wanted to know? Too much information? I would wager a guess that most of you reading this have had similar or worse experiences while you were growing up.

Recently, our four-year-old grandson proclaimed, “I have a space bubble around me!” His dad explained how his preschool is teaching about a safety zone around each child. With pleasure, I quickly jumped up and invited him to do the Circle of Grace meditation and motions with me.

Circle of Grace is a Christian safe environment curriculum that helps to form and educate children and youth about the value of positive relationships with God and others.

I will be retiring from my position at the end of July. But not before I help lead an event that is designed to help girls and women understand and claim personal boundaries. Because I am #donewishing and we are now proactively empowering girls and women to understand, claim and proclaim their own personal boundaries. I hope to see you at: Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries.

Want to register for our summer event, Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries? Click here for more information!

Whoops!

During some website maintenance this evening, a post from April 2013, “The Governance Structure of Mennonite Women USA Adopted February 27, 2002 (last updated April 2013”, was accidentally republished and sent to all of our lovely Mennonite Women USA subscribers. We are sorry for the inconvenience!

Planting Seeds by Shannon Unzicker

Shannon Musselman Unzicker, Benson, Illinois, is an active member of the Mennonite Church of Normal where she serves as a cluster group leader along with her husband, Keith. She teaches a primary Sunday school class and participates in the local Moms in Touch. Shannon is employed as a librarian at Roanoke-Benson Junior High School and is the mother of four children. She serves as the Great Lakes regional representative on the MW USA board.

As I’m writing this post,  I’m enjoying the changes that the season of summer brings. For the last ten years on Memorial Day, our family has attended a summer kick-off event at Menno Haven Camp In Tiskilwa, IL. It is a time to meet the summer staff and learn about what is planned for coming weeks. There is singing, prayers of thanks for God’s faithfulness in years past, and the anticipation of what lies ahead. I’ve heard it said that part of the ministry of a Christian camp is to “plant seeds” in the hearts of those who attend—seeds that grow a desire to learn more about Jesus and what it means to follow him.
There is much similarity in the work of MW USA. Through our publications and social media, we offer stories of how women have been and continue to be hands and feet of Jesus.  Our Sister Care ministry seeks to plant seeds of growth and healing in the hearts of the women who attend each seminar.  Mennonite women continue to plant seeds of God’s love and hope in the hearts of those nearby and far away—even those they will never meet—through the ministries of MW USA. For this we are grateful and thankful, and we pray that these many seeds will continue to grow and advance God’s kingdom here on earth.

 

Sharing the Joy by Kate Mast

Kate Mast is the Workroom Supervisor in the Material Resource Center for MCC-Central States and lives in Hesston, Kansas.

A “charming” hallmark of my personality is that when something excites me or makes me happy, I want everyone else around me to also love it! I naturally become a salesperson for whatever brings me joy. Over the past few months, I have tried to convince my friends to try a Zumba class, claim their free trial of Spotify Premium, buy the “hot and spicy” version of Cheez-Its (so much better than regular, in my opinion!), and watch the “Yodeling Walmart Boy” video on YouTube. As much as my friends might roll their eyes, there is something to be said for sharing what brings us joy and satisfaction, even if some of these things are more trivial than others. So, if you have talked to me in the past year or so, you probably already know that a newfound joy in my life is comforter making, specifically comforters for Mennonite Central Committee!

MCC sends comforters to overseas partners working with vulnerable populations, such as refugees, displaced persons, and people affected by natural disasters. Before starting my role as the Workroom Supervisor in the Material Resource Center for MCC-Central States, I was only vaguely familiar with what went into making a comforter. However, on my first day of work at MCC, I was introduced to a wonderful group of volunteers with a contagious passion. They carefully showed me the many steps in the process: matching fabrics, cutting squares, measuring, piecing, pressing, sewing, pinning, knotting, trimming, and binding… and reassured me that there are many steps that even beginners can do! I have always been attracted to colors, textures, patterns, and creating with my hands, so I was immediately drawn to the process. I’ve now been working at MCC for almost two years, and I can honestly say that working with comforters is my favorite part of my job! I jump at the chance to host or attend comforter-making events, I love to unfold every comforter that is donated and admire the patterns, colors, and creativity. I’ve learned so much from the act of creating beautiful things together, and so much from the volunteers who give their time, talents, finances, and efforts for this cause.

One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned is that “comforters for relief don’t have to be ugly”—a direct quote from a talented and dedicated comforter maker in Illinois. Although the idea that a gift shouldn’t be ugly is not revolutionary, it is a statement that initiates a shift of mindset. Often times, our instinct is to keep what is beautiful for ourselves, and use what is leftover for others. However, this quote is a challenge to use our best—either using the beautiful fabric from your stash that you’ve been saving for an unspecified project, or being creative in pairing leftover fabric with complimentary fabric to make it look attractive. When MCC is able to send beautiful and well-made comforters to our overseas partners, it sends a message of dignity and humanity to the recipients. I love to observe the intentionality and quality of comforters that volunteers are continuing to create, some simple, some with hundreds of seams. Donated comforters can be so much more than mere constructions of materials that will keep someone warm or “be better than nothing”—they can be works of art; well thought out gifts of love for brothers and sisters around the world.

Another beautiful thing I have observed is the natural community that is formed around comforter making. Last week, a donor brought 12 completed comforters she had made in her home to donate to MCC. The volunteers in the workroom all gathered around the table and opened up each of the comforters, oohing and awwing, touching and feeling the fabrics and creative patterns. A few were even taking pictures of design ideas to be replicated. There was an instant connection between everyone around the table­—over the love of fabrics, the eye for design, and the care put into these gifts. Oftentimes, a comforter will be worked on by at least 5–6 different people before it is complete. It takes many hands, many ages, many different skill levels. Week after week, comforter-making groups find joy in working and creating together for the good of people they will never meet. There is something so satisfying about finishing a comforter… I’m telling you, it is contagious!

As I work with volunteers who are making and donating comforters, they often dream out loud about what they think might happen to their creation. Where will this comforter end up? Will it keep a person or family warm, or will it go to a hot climate? Perhaps be used as a mattress or a curtain or a wall divider? Will kids play “I-Spy” with this scrappy design? Will they be able to tell that a group of 5th graders tied this one? Will this bright design make them smile? Will they know that I prayed for them as I pieced it together? It is all part of the intrigue of making comforters for relief.

In my job, I often hear stories about the creation of the comforter. But, the truth is, the maker will never know what happens to the comforter once it is donated. It could be loved and cherished, it could be muddied and destroyed, it could be re-gifted, it could cover someone who is dying, or swaddle someone who was just born… the comforter will go on to have a story of it’s own that we will never know, and I think there is beauty in that mystery!

Now, it wouldn’t be like me to share all of these musings on comforter making without also inviting you to join in the fun! Last year, MCC sent 51,062 comforters to seven countries, including Jordan, Syria, Bosnia, and Haiti, and continues to receive requests for more. For instructions and MCC approved guidelines, you can visit www.mcc.org/comforters, or reach out to your local MCC Material Resource Center. If you have made a comforter you are particularly proud of, or have a comforter-related story to share, I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out to me at katemast@mcc.org. Happy comforter making!

Worshiping Together Daily by Denise Nickel

Denise is a member of Tabor Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas. She is active with the worship team, children’s ministries, deacon and women’s Group. She is secretary to the principal of Goessel Elementary School. She and her husband, Elton have three children and seven grandchildren.

My husband and I are in a small group of six couples at our church, Tabor Mennonite, rural Newton, KS. In early January 2018, one of our small group friends called and said their Christmas season had been one with an unexpected turn of events. Our small group had not been in regular communication with one of the couples, Rosie and Kent, because Rosie is also our pastor and she was on sabbatical. When she called the rest of us in January, we discovered that instead of spending time reaching her sabbatical goals, she accompanied her husband to doctor appointments. They had both gone for annual checkups in December but were told to come back in early January when they received devastating news that Kent’s tests proved positive for prostate cancer. They were told that the cancer was treatable but not curable. We were all shocked and overwhelmed, but God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

What could we do to show our love? Our group immediately kicked into action and fixed a meal and gathered as a group to share their burden.

What else could we do? How could we practice Sister Care? Lois, our member who enjoys quilting, started percolating an idea. We would give them something of ourselves that would be a constant reminder that we are praying for them and that they would never leave our thoughts and prayers. It would be something special for these friends to show them that we are walking the difficult road with them. Lois had made a Cancer Quilt for another friend a couple of years earlier so her wheels were already turning.

Lois asked all of us, including Kent and Rosie, to send her our favorite colors and hobbies or interests. The next thing she did was gather fabrics that symbolized all of these things. She also purchased fabric phrases that said “What Cancer Cannot Do”. She included light blue because she discovered when making her first Cancer Quilt that different types of cancers use different colors. Prostrate cancer is light blue. With fabrics surrounding the “cancer” fabrics of farming, mechanics, estate sales, gardening, reading, going for coffee, sewing and steam engines, we hoped this would serve as a symbol of us surrounding them with love and prayers.   We added red and blue cancer ribbons to represent hope, and balanced that out with Kent’s Kansas University Jayhawks and farming and the inspirational fabric as we need the Lord’s presence to walk with us. On February 17, the ladies met to sew the top, Lois quilted it, and the ladies got together to finish the binding on February 27. Lois wrote a poem (of which some phrases I have use in this blog), and we met our deadline. Before the stitching had time to cool off we presented the quilt to Kent and Rosie on March 4, 2018.

Kent and Rosie continue with their journey of cancer shots and chemo pills and we trust that God’s presence is upon them as friends carry them with prayers. One of Rosie’s favorite verses is Prov. 3:4-5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” Believing in this verse is providing some hidden blessings amidst their walk with cancer.

 

Balancing Technology Use

Hear from Madalyn Metzger, Amy Gingerich, and Melody M. Pannell on faith and technology in our Three Women, Three Windows Timbrel column.

How do you use technology in your work? How do you use technology in your personal life? Are there any perceivable differences?

Metzger: In both my personal and professional life, I use technology to access and share information. The primary difference would be the type of information. Professionally, I use it for information related to Everence, marketing, financial services, and the various denominations that Everence relates to. Personally, I use it for social reasons and to receive news about current events.

Gingerich: My coworkers and I are constantly connected digitally, if not in person. With our staff spread out in different locations, we connect throughout the day on various electronic platforms and try to utilize video connections as much as possible. In my personal life, I try to limit how much I use my phone or social media. As a parent, I do not want my kids to see me on my phone checking Facebook or email, so I try to keep it to a minimum when my children are awake.

Pannell: As an educator, I use technology for email correspondence, learning management systems, shared documents, video conference meetings and educational webinars. In my personal life, I use social media for  “self-help” education, entertainment, communication with friends and family and engaging in hobbies. At work, my focus is more external as I communicate with and give my attention to others. In my personal life, I use social media in solitude and my focus is more internal.

How does technology affect your faith formation?

Metzger:  Technology gives me access to discussions and ideas around faith that I may not have been part of on a regular basis without it. But, it’s also easy to participate only in discussions about faith that I agree with, which has the potential to stifle faith formation, rather than grow it.

Gingerich: About 15 years ago when people started to subscribe via email to daily devotionals or inspirational thoughts, everyone thought it was great. But I sense that this era has waned. In terms of personal spiritual development, people are going back to print – whether physical Bibles or printed devotionals. There’s something about holding printed words in my hands that lets me engage more deeply than the skimming I would do if I were reading on my phone. Technology provides instant accessibility, which is not always helpful to me in my faith formation.

Pannell: Technology gives me access to “toolkits” to assess my spiritual growth, provides me with  avenues to engage in mentorship and creates platforms in which I can share my faith journey with others. I see these connections and resources as positive influences on my faith formation.

How does technology connect us as a church? How does it distract us?

Metzger: I think technology serves an important role in connecting us as a body of Christ. It gives us the ability to touch parts of the church that we may not be as naturally connected with (geographically, theologically, racially, ethnically, economically, etc.), which I believe is an important way for us to grow and learn as the body of Christ together. On the other hand, technology can distract us. It’s too easy to jump on the bandwagon when someone posts something, rather than enter into a thoughtful discernment about a topic. It’s also too easy for us to stay in our own theological bubbles, and only interact with others who think the same theologically as we do.

Gingerich: Technology can make us feel connected to others in our congregations but I sometimes wonder if we feel more connected than we actually are. Am I really getting to know someone in my congregation and taking time to engage with them or am I getting to know their Facebook or Instagram profile?

Pannell: Technology has  the potential to connect us as a church in meaningful ways. With the use of technology as a “strategic tool” for church growth and congregational engagement, church leaders can use apps with the intention of encouraging enthusiastic giving, expanding audience participation and creating exciting visual examples of Christian Discipleship and Faith Formation. If utilized in a positive manner, engaging in an online church community creates safe and brave spaces where people can continue and embrace conversations about the challenges and joys of faith formation and com-munity outside of the walls of the church or a set schedule of sanctioned services. However, the power of technology with-in the church can definitely distract us from prioritizing face-to-face relationships and communication skills. Technology lends itself to easily enabling us to form a false sense of connection with one another. When social media, email or online church services take the place of authentic, accountable faith formation with a body of believers, we may be settling for an easy distraction from the process of wrestling with what it means to be in relationship with Christ and the ebb and flow of growing towards spiritual maturity.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 issue of Timbrel, Faith Formation in the Digital Age. To subscribe to Timbrel, click here.