Question | Self-preservation? by Cyneatha Millsaps

I have had the pleasure of speaking with young men from rural and urban spaces in the past month. I am amazed that both see to the issue of guns from the same point of view: self-preservation. In the various conversations, all the young men thought that carrying a gun was not only necessary but also a call to duty. One young man, at a mission’s fundraiser, said that he had is firearm in case something jumped off. My husband asked, “At a church fundraiser?” He then proceeded to tell the young man to leave and remove the gun from church premises. Another young man posed this scenario: if you were in a convenience store with a gun on your hip it could deter a possible assailant. I asked, “How do we know who the good guy or the bad guy is?” If self-preservation is the main point, then how do we decide whose life is more valuable? And what does that say about us as Christians? Jesus followers don’t seek to save their lives but lose them for the sake of the good news. If your Christian witness starts with self-preservation from “the other” regardless of whom that might be, chances are you are not a Christ follower.

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Mark 8:35-36

Cyneatha Millsaps

Honoring our history, celebrating the present by Denise Nickel

Denise Nickel is the Central States representative for the Mennonite Women USA board. 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.

As I near the completion of eight years on the Mennonite Women USA Board, I have been reflecting. Our programs sometimes change or even end in order for us to grow as an organization. One of these is the Sister Link program, which bridged Sisters in the U.S. with those in Central America. It was time to bring that program to completion and continue those relationships in other ways. Another change is MW USA leadership; the former board chairs and executive directors have been instrumental in shaping our organization. We are now anticipating the gifts that Cyneatha Millsaps, our new executive director will bring.

The Sister Care program, developed by Rhoda Keener, former MW USA Executive Director and now Sister Care Director, has gone international. The program has also ministered on our college campuses and Sister Care Enrichment has been developed to take foundational Sister Care seminars to a deeper level. Former executive director, Marlene Bogard, embraced the celebration of MW USA’s Centennial year in a number of ways. One way that MW USA has been visible was the publishing of our history in “Circles of Sisterhood” by Anita Hooley Yoder. It is a must read!

There are a number of women in the Bible we can see as our model for Mennonite women. One of these women is Phoebe. In Romans 16, Paul says that Phoebe has been proven as a leader for others and for him. She was a deacon in her church who exemplified leadership skills, faith, integrity and maturity. Her material wealth was a tool for ministry, as were her personal gifts and abilities. She had a servant’s heart. She gave so that others could grow. Following Phoebe’s example, the MW USA Board strives to discern ways we can help others, whether it is raising money to fund further studies for women theologians through the International Womens’ Fund, sewing wall hangings for the Heartwarmer project with Mennonite Disaster Service, encouraging Conference level women and women’s groups, or giving a prophetic voice through Timbrel and wisdom from the Bible Study Guides and Grapevine. We know from Phoebe’s story that even a small act of service can have a tremendous impact on someone else.

Just like the ministry of Phoebe and other women in the Bible can inspire us, the Mennonite women who came before us have influenced us. If you have read the book “Circles of Sisterhood”, you will have noticed that our history is rich proof that Mennonite Women have NOT been quiet. We are proof that a trail of impressionable footprints have been left behind and have paved a way for the present and those coming in the future. The singer LeAnn Womack has stated, “if we want to be remembered and leave legacies to those whom we’ve touched and will be leaving behind, the difference we can make is showing love, one person at a time.”

Women’s groups have evolved from sewing circles into unique (Sister) Care groups. Some groups have disbanded; some have a new focus, but even those that have disbanded keep some form of service and sisterhood relationships through their church or conference. MW USA strives to provide resources and develop programs that will meet the needs of older women, younger women and the future for girls in a variety of cultures and in many areas of life.

Ponder, Celebrate, Question and Affirm

My prayer for the Mennonite Women blog is to offer women weekly nuggets of thought. I pray that together we can discuss important messages facing our community and world together. This blog is not a place for anger and negative feedback. Any messages that are not positive will be removed immediately and blocked.
I encourage everyone, to read, respond and offer prayers.


Something to ponder

One week ago, James Garrett, a 19-year-old senior at Butler Prep Academy in Chicago, Illinois, was shot and killed while attending a vigil for a friend that was killed in an automobile accident. James was a good student and had been accepted to a couple of different colleges already. James was reported as having a passion for life and was looking forward to leaving Chicago to pursue higher education.

I was struck by the words of his mother. James’ mother said that she had moved neighborhood to keep her children safe. She drove them everywhere, to make sure they would not be victims of street violence. And despite all her attempts to keep her children safe, she lost her son while attending a vigil for a friend. Someone drove by the vigil and began shooting into a crowd of around 100 people.

I wonder what, if anything else, this mother could have done? What is wrong on the streets of America where there seems to be no respect for human life?

The city of Chicago has seen 432 homicide so far this year. This is just one city in the U.S.

Today I invite you to offer a prayer for the Garrett family. But also, a prayer for peace and a call for the respect of human life.

Cyneatha Millsaps

Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino // A Community of Sister in the Journey by Marta Castillo

El Comite de Hermandad de las Conferencias de Franconia y Distrito Este patrocinó un taller de Cuidándonos Entre Hermanas (las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU) en español presentada por la Pastora Ofelia Garcia de Mexico en el Centro de Retiro Spruce Lake el fin de semana del 21-23 de septiembre, 2018. El siguiente es un artículo por Marta Castillo sobre el taller.

Scroll down for the English version!

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosa brillante y la tendió en la forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a uno de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosa brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentos al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adicciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de sus hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderosa de hermanas acompañando una a la otra.

Photo by Marisa Smucker

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos la comunión juntos y nos bendecimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la oradora porque ella había apoyado en el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países.  Pastora García recibió por primera vez la capacitación de liderazgo de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres en Guatemala en 2012, enseñada por Carolyn Heggen, una psicoterapeuta especializada en curación de traumas, y Rhoda Keener, directora de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) para las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU, quien desarrolló el ministerio de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres. Heggen dice: “Ofelia es una maestra talentosa y creativa. Estamos encantados de que ella haya compartido estos materiales con niños, con mujeres de la Colonia Mexicana en Chihuahua y ahora con mujeres hispanas en los Estados Unidos “.

La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyuges, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni consejos a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotros mismos y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotros mismos y a otras mujeres como nosotros. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo “.

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”


The Sistering Committee of the Eastern District and Franconia conferences hosted an all Spanish language Sister Care seminar featuring Pastor Ofelia Garcia as a speaker at Spruce Lake Retreat Center on September 21–28, 2018. The following is an article by Marta Castillo about the seminar.

She thought for a moment, then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross in the narrow space between the beds. She then instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross. The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt laid there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom. We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed as she processed letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before. We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God. I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another.

During the weekend of the Sister Care Retreat, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols. We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined our personal boundaries, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend). On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing. Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and blessed one another. I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds. The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone.

Pastors Letty Castro and Ofelia Garcia

This was the first all-Spanish Sister Care Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have  imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelphia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care. It truly was a team effort. Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to speak because of her previous experience in developing and presenting Sister Care seminars. Pastor Garcia first received Sister Care leadership training in Guatemala in 2012 taught by Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care Director for Mennonite Women USA, who developed the Sister Care ministry. Heggen says, “Ofelia is a gifted, creative teacher. We are delighted she has shared these materials with children, with Mexican Colony women in Chihuahua and now with Hispanic women in the US.”  

Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District. Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend. Pastors helped get the word out to their Spanish speaking members. A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together. Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning.

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment; verbal, physical, sexual abuse; marriage difficulties; mercilessness; anger; loss of a child; and so much more. We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future. We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened. We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other. The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came. We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation. We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and other women like us. We shared deeply and encouraged each other. As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.”

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Three Women, Three Windows: Working towards equality

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Timbrel, “Faith and Feminism.”

What is your definition of feminism?

Martinez: My definition of feminism comes from author bell hooks: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I use this definition because it’s active—it’s not a passive belief that all gender expressions deserve the same dignity. It is a call to take action to end patriarchy, which hurts everyone, not just women. This definition points out that feminism goes beyond gender equality—it must also include a consciousness of all the contributing factors of our oppression under patriarchy —including capitalism, racism, colonialism, ableism, and more.

Goerzen: As Anabaptists, we take our cues from Jesus, who treated women and other undervalued members of society with dignity and respect, while challenging societal norms that diminished people’s worth. I also believe that when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church, everyone, regardless of who they were, was empowered to proclaim God’s good news. Therefore, to deny or reject the gifts of someone based on gender, race, or class seems to diminish what God is doing through God’s people.

Prothro: My definition of feminism is a hodgepodge from other women like bell hooks and Margaret Atwood. To me, at its core, feminism is a movement that strives for equality of all people. Ideally, feminism dismantles systems of sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression in all forms.

How does feminism influence your faith and spirituality?

Martinez: I grew up in a con-servative church community where women were expected to submit to the men. Realizing I was a feminist meant leaving that community behind and trusting God that I could find a place where all gender expressions were treated with the dignity given to them as God’s creation. I still vividly remember the first time I heard a women preach on a Sunday, and the first time I heard feminine pronouns for God. I remember feeling my heart swell and my eyes water, knowing that God has so much more for us than we ever knew—and that feminism was my gateway to a better understanding of all that our Creator wants for us.

Goerzen: Feminism—or the foundational belief that all people are equally created in God’s good image, equally worthy, and equally called by God—affects all aspects of my life and faith. For example, it influences the language I use for both people and God; it affects the stories and images I choose to use in worship and teaching; and it influences the ways I seek to encourage people to use their gifts within the church and the world. I want everyone to see that there is something of God within them, and that the gifts they have been given are vital to God’s mission in the world.

Prothro: In my spiritual journey, feminism has helped me to realize that I—as a woman—am created in God’s image. It’s such a foundational piece of one’s faith that some take for granted, but I don’t because I lived for so long believing that God was a man and that I was “other.” The greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourself. Recognizing that all women are adjectative of God has empowered me to really love myself so that I am more able to accept and channel my power to love others.

What are your hopes for the future of feminism in the Mennonite Church?

Martinez: I hope that the Mennonite church can be an agent of change in the feminist movement—that based on our understanding of the dignity of God’s creation, the Mennonite church can actively fight sexism, sexist exploitation, and all forms of oppression. That as a church, we recognize that God’s desire is for the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven—a kingdom where there are no such divisions as Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female­—but that while we all have a unique expression of love that honors God, these things make us bigger and more beautiful as a whole.

Goerzen: I hope that the church can explicitly and continually affirm and proclaim the goodness and worth of each person. It is important for the church to teach that every person is equally created in God’s image regardless of gender, race, or social class, as well as that every person is equally called by God for the sake of God’s mission in the church and in the world.

In order to proclaim this, we also need to critique and challenge the ways that the world around us is selling people short of God’s redemptive and equalizing vision. Likewise, we will need to do the hard work of discerning and confessing the ways that we within the church have fallen short of this vision. I have hope, however, as more and more people are engaging in these conversations. We trust that God is already at work and will continue to work so that all may know their deep worth in the eyes of God and have their God-given gifts affirmed for the sake of God’s reign.

Prothro: I have three hopes for the future of feminism in the Mennonite church. The first is that we accept and embrace feminism. Many of us do not yet self-identify as a feminist because of what others have told us it means. Embracing feminism would help us listen to each other better and draw more people into our story as a body of Christ-followers. Second, I yearn for all people, especially girls and women, to recognize they are beloved children of God, created in
God’s image. Third, my hope is that systems of oppression—sexist, heterosexist, racist, classist, etc.—fall by the wayside so we can grow as a community that represents the fullness of who God is. My
sense is that we have not yet come to terms with how rampant sexism and sexual abuse are within our church. Much of what allows these toxic patterns to persist are the sexist and oppressive structures that benefit men and protect abusers. When we dismantle these systems, my hope is that we are all safe to participate in the beauty of Anabaptist calling.

Equally Beloved

This article by Rhoda Keener was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Timbrel, “Faith and Feminism.”

We had just taught that each woman is a beloved daughter of God at a Sister Care seminar in East Africa. At the break, a woman told me that her husband left her because she did not give birth to a son. She went on to say that her greatest fear was not knowing who would bury her when she died.  Because she has no husband or son she lives in poverty and has lost the esteem of her family and community.

When Carolyn Heggen and I ask women around the world to list the challenges that women face in their churches and communities, invariably we hear that “men are more honored in the church” and that “women are expected to have a job plus do most or all of the housework and childcare,” and that “women often experience violence from their Christian husbands.”

In the first unit on being a beloved daughter of God, we teach that scripture can be used to help or hurt women. I often quote Jimmy Carter who says in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, “There is a [worldwide] system of discrimination based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.”  The rest of the book describes the many ways that discrimination against women follows the belief in male superiority.

How we interpret scriptures is an integral part of how we experience our value as women. In Sister Care, we teach new ways to understand three mistaken theological beliefs: 1) that God wants men to dominate women, 2) because of the Fall women are more easily deceived and cannot trust their own judgment, 3) women in particular have been chosen to be suffering servants.

After the seminars in East Africa, one woman wrote, “I have learned that God loves me the way I am.”  Another, “I have learned that God does not discriminate.”

I encourage each of us to embrace the radical simple assertion that women and men are equally beloved by God just as we are.   

Sister Care in Cuba

At the Sister Care Level 2 Sister Care training in Havana, Cuba in January 2018, artist, Ruth Castro (above), shared a painting (left) she created of the “Sister Care women” standing together on the island of Cuba. Describing her art that embraces women’s diverse life experiences, she said, “You will see that on my painting, one of us is pregnant, one has a cane, and one is a little fatter. We want you to know that we are here in Cuba!”

August Grapevine is Here!

Each month we publish an issue of our digital newsletter, Grapevine. To view the August issue or subscribe, click here.

This month’s issue features a prayer for transitions; news about our July event, “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries” and more!

International Women’s Fund

Mennonite Women USA has a long and rich history. We are starting into our second century having celebrated 100 years 2017. Over the years women have recognized the value of faithful accountability. They have honored their desire for mutual nurture and fellowship. They have followed the call to serve.

As affirmation for women in leadership, and particularly pastoral leadership, emerged in the Mennonite Church, Mennonite Women USA embarked on a new ministry. The organization budgeted to provide scholarships for international Mennonite women studying theology throughout the world. In 2000, the International Women’s Fund (IWF) assisted the first 4 women, each from a different country, with money to pursue theological education. The ministry has grown and in 2018 twenty-eight women from 14 countries were supported through the fund.

After having received her Certificate of Theology, Zaraí Gonzalía from Bogotá, Colómbia, applied again in 2016 for scholarship to begin her studies for her Masters in Theology. In her letter of thanks for the scholarship, Zaraí concludes, “It remains for me to thank the Good Lord for his strength amidst all of you for your company and prayer. God bless you! A HUG!” Since 2016 when Zaraí started her Masters work, she has gone on to serve in the administration of Seminario Biblico Menonita de Colómbia. Find out more about Zaraí here:

Rebecca Osiro, Nairobi, Kenya, was a recipient of these funds in the early 2000’s. She went on to be the first woman ordained in the Kenya Mennonite Church. In 2016, Rebecca was selected as vice president of Mennonite World Conference. Here is a recent blog post by Rebecca:

A first-year student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and new recipient of an IWF scholarship is Febri Kristiaini. From a small village in Central Java, Indonesia, Febri was “the first person in my village who went out from our village to get a better education. She left the village for middle and high school. She came to the states first as an MCC International Volunteer Exchange Program volunteer, working in Hutchinson, KS. She is now at AMBS to pursue a Master’s program in pastoral care and counseling. Read more about Febri in her own words here.












Pictured: (L-R) Former International Women’s Fund recipients Elisabeth Kunjam and Rechal Bagh from India.

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.