Blue On Red: The Women of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

“Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” — Matthew 20:22 (KJV)

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We’re now four episodes into Hulu’s marvelous adaptation The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and the show is hitting me hard in ways both expected and surprising. For instance, I had no doubt that systematic, institutionally-endorsed rape would be disturbing on a whole host of levels, but I’m actually seeing the sinister aspects of Scrabble, macaroons, and Latin primers.

There is much to explore in this show, but one thing I’ve found particularly compelling is the interplay between two groups of “legitimate” women in Gilead’s hierarchy: the Wives and the Handmaids. The Wives are taking quite a bit of heat from viewers (and rightly so). One author calls them the true “gender traitors”; another says they are “cruelly complacent.” And it is impossible to deny either of those descriptions when several of the scenes involve Serena Joy clutching cruelly onto Offred’s wrists during “the ceremony.”

Breathe. Hold. Push.
But the scene that throws this relationship into sharpest relief happens in episode two, “Birth Day.” I’ll give you a brief run down. In one room of a palatial estate, the Wives sit around Naomi, the Wife of Ofwarren’s Commander. She is in labor, but hers is of the faux variety.

Dressed in an elegant white nightgown, she reclines against a nest of pristine pillows on ivory carpet, sunshine streaming through the windows. A harp plays soothing music in the background. The Wives, in their standard blue attire, encourage her through her false pains—the only experience of childbirth she can ever have since she is sterile—all the while drinking tea from prim china cups, feasting on nibbles, and quietly repeating the word “breathe.”

The rhythmic chanting is also going on upstairs, but the words “hold” and “exhale” are added to the mix. Here, the handmaid Ofwarren (A.K.A. Janine), assisted by several of the dismal brown Aunts and a passel of red-clad Handmaids, is doing the real teeth-gritting work of birth—complete with the screaming, panting, and valor it requires.

Offred, via voiceover, sums it up perfectly: “There’s a smell coming from that room, something primal. It’s the smell of dens, of inhabited caves. It’s the smell of the plaid blanket on the bed where the cat gave birth before she was spayed. It’s the smell of genesis.”

Despite the vast number of people in the room, we recognize the moment for what it is. And that makes it one of the most “normal” scenes in the show…until, well, things get very weird and very Gileadean again.

When the time comes to push, the Wife is brought in to experience the moment of birth. She sits behind Ofwarren in a birthing chair—an echo of the ceremony that made this baby possible in the first place—and mimes the moment until the child is born. There’s an instant of respectful silence until Aunt Lydia pronounces the baby to be a healthy girl.

All the women celebrate, and for a fleeting second, there’s harmony. Then the cord is cut and the girl is wrapped up in a clean blanket, but rather than be handed back to the woman who carried her and brought her into the world, she is given to Naomi who has settled into her “rightful place”—the bed Ofwarren previously occupied. As far as the Wives and Aunts are concerned, Naomi has always been there. The birth mother doesn’t exist.

As they coo and carry on over the little miracle, the Handmaids are left to look on from a distance and care for Ofwarren who sobs into her hands. In a moment of solidarity (that also bears a striking resemblance to another, less lovely group scene in the first episode), they wrap arms around the poor woman to comfort her.

It’s very easy to hate the Wives here. After all, they’ve done none of the sweating, bleeding, or suffering. They’ve sacrificed nothing for this moment—only swooped in to capture the prize that makes it all worth it. Yes, they are part of the evil system that made this all possible. Yes, they are cruel and capricious and oppressive. Yes, they are preying on those weaker than they. But—and hear me out here—they are victims too in a way. Like the Handmaids, they endure the ceremony designed by men. They live within the tight confines of the caste system. They feel fear, loss, and shame.

In the hierarchy, they have greater power. Yet when it comes to childbirth—the great pinnacle of achievement for women in this dictatorship—they are powerless. They can do nothing to make themselves (or their husbands) fertile. For that reason and others, theirs is a hollow existence, and all they can do is watch and yearn and covet. Say what you will, but that’s a lousy place to be.

What’s Yours Is Mine
Unlike the women of Gilead, I never needed to give birth. I likely never will. I am, however, a mother of two young boys my husband and I adopted from the foster care system. I didn’t go through the months of pain and suffering it took to bring them into being. The State gave them to me.

It must be acknowledged that my sons’ birth mother made poor choices. She didn’t see to their welfare and, at times, even put them in danger. Despite multiple opportunities to change, she did not. She has yet to do so. And yet…

Once the adoption was finalized, we applied for updated birth certificates, ones that show their new names. When they arrived, our lawyer advised me to check over everything and make sure all the spellings were correct and the dates accurate. That’s when I saw something that left me dumbfounded. In the section labeled “mother,” my name was written. My birthdate. My address at the time of the delivery. My state of birth.

All evidence of their biological mother is gone.

Her name and information is buried in court records and electronic details, but as far as this piece of legally binding paperwork is concerned, she’s a ghost.

At each stage of the adoption process, I never lost sight of her. I always reminded myself that my good days—ones where the legal system did its job and brought the kids one step closer to being ours forever—were likely her worst.

I didn’t “steal” her children as Naomi and the Wives did, but some tiny part of me understands their joy. I have children to love and care for, to raise and celebrate. Their base hits in little league are mine. Their science fair wins and good report cards. I’m the one they run to now saying “Mama!” with their little arms outstretched. And while I relish every moment of it, a piece of me knows it came with a price.

So no, I can’t fully hate the Wives though they are petty, heartless creatures. In some ways, I even pity them. Their children and mine became ours as a result of a broken world, one filled with hate, heartache, and sin. But thankfully, a better day is coming—not in the form of a bloody coup, but in the One, the pioneer of our salvation who drank the cup of suffering and died to bring many adopted sons and daughters to glory.

 

 

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Our Level Best

It’s always a treat when I get to write about my family for the magazine. I’ve been honored to tell stories about a great date, memories, and even my testimony in previous issues. And in July/August, it’s all about my husband and his penchant for perfectly straight pictures.
It goes a little something like this….
Image courtesy of blog.forever.com.
Image courtesy of blog.forever.com

When my husband and I married 16 years ago, we came from very different backgrounds. He’d spent most of his life in the same home, his surroundings largely unchanged. I, on the other hand, am the daughter of a retail manager and—like the children of military men—was used to putting my things in a box every two years. Moving on so my father could move up.

By the 12th new address, my family could strip a house, pack a truck, and do a final clean and patch job in under 10 hours. We were never sure if this was something we should be proud of or sorry for. And when we got to the rented house in the next town, we’d unload in much the same way—placing furniture and slapping pictures on walls at a pace that would make a NASCAR pit crew jealous.

But just because the work was done quickly didn’t mean it was done well….

Check out the rest here!

 

In Honor of a Great Man

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know that my grandfather, Boyce Dale Lindley, fought a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. At 5:42 AM on Wednesday, August 5th, that fight finally drew to a close, and he went to be with the Lord.

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 6.00.12 PMI am beyond heartbroken for myself and my family, but I am thrilled for him. I know he stood in front of God’s throne and heard those words we all long for: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” The things we perceive through a glass darkly are clear to him now. Every mystery has been solved. Every tear has been wiped away by Jesus himself, and there is nothing left but joy eternal.

To me, there was no finer man on this earth. Patient, hardworking, loving, kind, giving, and gentle—he set the standard to which I hold all people. And it is likely none will ever measure up.

If you knew him and would like to sign his memorial page, you may do so here. Also, we are asking that in lieu of flowers, people would consider giving to the missionary fund at his church. Specifics can be found by visiting the link above.

I will be one of three people speaking at his memorial service this Sunday, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you here as well. It is my hope that they will give you some idea of the kind of wonderful man he was.

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Writing a eulogy is no small task. How do you even begin to explain how much a person meant to you or how his presence in your life changed everything for the better? As a writer who believes in the power of narrative, I thought it best to begin with short stories, snapshots that would give you all a sense of the man Boyce Lindley was.

I began recalling memories, scrambling to write them down, and then discarding them almost as rapidly as they came. One was too flippant. Another was a family joke that would take too long to explain. A few were much too sad for a “homegoing” like this one. There were moments I remembered vividly, but when I held them up to the light of others’ recollections, I realized I had embellished mine a bit—decorated it with prose-y flourishes that filled in the gaps and made it more satisfying.

But just because it’s satisfying doesn’t make it true. And if there is anything I hope to do for my grandfather today it is to speak truly of him because he deserves nothing less.

There are people I’ve lost after long battles with cancer—my great uncle James, my young friend Trevor Alexander, a bright and promising student named Catie Carter—and remember them well. For each, there are bright, concentrated moments, as golden and gilt as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But for all their brilliance, they are but a scant handful of memories. Bright drops of color on the canvas of my life.

But for my grandfather there are no standout moments, no highlight reel I can play, no bullet list to quickly go through to explain why he means so much to me. At first, this realization caused me no small amount of panic. What kind of granddaughter was I if I couldn’t remember my precious grandfather down to the most meticulous of details? And there was grief too, wedged between my ribs, thick and immovable, because I believed I had somehow lost something in my negligence. That somehow all the years of knowing Boyce Dale Lindley had been rubbed away and faded by time, never to be returned to me.11855673_10153577670751789_6362311139780261916_n

But then I thought about my grandfather and the kind of man he was. He was rarely front and center in our family. That was a task he left to my grandmother, his two bright and vivacious daughters, and his three gregarious grandchildren. No, he was happiest watching others, sitting or working quietly on the periphery—helping when and wherever he was needed. Always there, always in the moment, in a supporting role. You would always find him out front sweeping the sidewalk, whistling to himself, washing dishes in the kitchen, or taking out the endless bags of trash our family seems to create every time we’re together. Thankless but necessary jobs—ones that he happily completed for decades.

There was but one exception to this rule.

At the gaming table, he was a king. He was also our scorekeeper, arch nemesis, and teacher extraordinaire. He was never one to turn down a hand of dominoes or hearts, beloved games in our family. In fact, he played them both like a Vegas-level professional—with remarkable skill and style. No matter how many steps ahead you thought, he had already gone as step or two further. He was man who had no college degree to his name but could manage to complete complicated math problems in his head and remember years worth of sales figures on the spot. As I was fond of saying regarding his talent with the bones, “Papaw could make off a dead dog.” And though he beat you consistently, you couldn’t find it in yourself to get upset—because on those rare occasions the victory was yours, he’d celebrate like it was his own.

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I didn’t spend time with him sporadically, as I did with my beloved great uncle James, or know him for only a few short months, which was the case with Trevor and Catie. Boyce Lindley was there in the hospital when I was born. He swam with my brother and me for hours on end, long after he was waterlogged and ready to get out. He was a part of Sunday dinners, fish fries, church picnics, and cookouts. He was there for the big moments—recitals and holidays and graduations, family reunions, trips to Disney World, and days at the beach—and for all the run-of-the-mill days in between. For 30+ years, this man was an ever-present and influential participant in my life. That’s not the kind of exposure that leaves behind a few bright blobs. No, it’s the kind that saturates everything it touches.

Boyce Lindley is in my DNA yes, but that’s just simple genealogy. What matters more is what he did in this life. That has sticking power. And it’s tucked deeply into the marrow and bone of me.

I am patient because I never once saw him lose his temper. I give of my finances and time because he showed me how important it was to do so. When I am kind, the person on the receiving end has Boyce Lindley to thank for it. I know what it means to be a Christ follower because I watched him do it without fail for 37 years.

Each moment with him was like a drip of bright blue that fell into the clear pool of my heart, gradually turning it from sky to cornflower, cobalt to navy. That’s why I have no standout memories that feature him alone in the starring role. Simply put, there is no dividing line between us, no moment where he ends and I begin. I am thoroughly infused with him—each member of my family and every person who ever had the privilege to know him is too. And in that way, he will live on in and through and even beyond us. So yes, today we’re all blue, but not only with sadness. And that’s a very good thing.

Heart of Stone, Heart of Flesh

There are times when “God did it” is the only answer that makes sense.

Last Thursday, Wayne and I attended a “Family Meet Up” event in Atlanta. In essence, it was an adoption fair where representatives and case workers from all the regions in Georgia came together with information and flyers about kids who were available for adoption in their areas. The goal? To match prospective adopters like us with adoptees in need.

I expected the event to be interesting but perhaps not overly busy, but every time I’ve gone to a foster care adoption event, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find the place is full of interested families and single parents. Well, as per usual, this place was packed to capacity, and folks were asking questions, giving and taking names, and making connections like crazy. It was overwhelming to say the least.

Wayne and I visited each booth, each of which had a different theme. Some were simple and cute: a cowboy themed “Adoption Round Up” and another called “Matchup Madness” that was, you guessed it, all about basketball. My two favorites were a Lego themed one called “Build a Strong Family” and a Peter Pan one called “From Neverland to Foreverland.”

Well, we finally got to the Frozen themed booth (“Some People Are Worth Waiting For”), and something interesting happened. No, it didn’t make me like Frozen—that isn’t even a possibility. They had several sibling groups, so we started asking questions of the case worker in charge of finding them permanent homes. We were discussing a brother and sister, and then she dropped a bomb.

In the brochure, it stated that the boy had a “medical condition.” It turns out that condition is cystic fibrosis.

The entire time we’ve been looking to adopt, one thing Wayne and I have agreed on is that we cannot adopt a child with special needs. Our reason? We just don’t have the bandwidth. We both work outside the home and have only a handful of relatives nearby, all of whom are several hours away.

My reaction to this news should have been an audible gasp, a cluck of the tongue, a “Poor baby,” and a subtle return of the flyer to the table. Thanks, but no thanks.

But none of that happened. Instead, I said, “Tell me more. How did they come into care?”

I didn’t back away. And almost a week—and a few hours of research into CF later—I still haven’t stopped thinking about that boy and his little sister. And though everything in me is saying, What are you doing!? This is too much for you to handle. Get real.You’re not strong enough…loving enough…faithful enough…patient enough…spiritual enough, I still can’t quite let go of it.

A few months ago, my CEO preached on the moment in Joshua 4 when Israel crossed the Jordan on dry land and erected twelve memorial stones to remind them of God’s miracle. At the end, he invited each of us to come to the front and select a stone of our own from the pile in front of him. We were supposed to use it either to mark something God had done for us or something we were praying for him to do.

I drew this….

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I keep telling God I’d like a little boy and a little girl, ages eight and six respectively.

Guess what the brother and sister we talked to that case worker about are? Yep, eight and six.

Maybe it’s just a coincidence. Or maybe that’s the reason CF hasn’t scared me off yet. I keep thinking about how hard those kids’ lives have been, especially his. Not only does he live each and every day wondering who is going to feed him, shelter him, and take him to school. He also has to wonder if he’ll get his breathing treatment and if someone will help him clear the mucus from his lungs. He has to wonder if anyone will take him to the doctor when he’s sick and get him the many medications he needs. If someone will hold him when the coughing just won’t stop and will love him as their child even though they will be asked to attend his funeral one day.

And the thought of a child being asked to bear all that leaves me furious and brokenhearted at the same time. Me…the woman who never wanted kids and who, even after she said yes to adoption, added the caveat “but absolutely no kids with special needs.”

If that’s not a moment where you have to say,”God did it,” I don’t know what is.

I’ve been praying for God to change my heart, to break it for what breaks his, and to soften it in preparation for all the challenges Wayne and I are going to face. I’m essentially asking him to do what he promised in Ezekiel 36:26-27: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

I’m starting to realize that, no, I will never be spiritual enough or strong enough. I will never be sufficient for the task to which I’ve been called. But I’m not supposed to be. However, Jesus is all that and more, and recognizing that has given me a peace about our adoption that I’ve not experienced in the many months we’ve been attending classes, filling out paperwork, and meeting with case workers.

I’ve come to understand that a heart of stone doesn’t protect me or keep me from getting hurt. It only prohibits me from feeling the emotions (both good and bad) that I need to experience to become who I am meant to be. God doesn’t give us a heart of flesh only to leave it exposed to the elements and susceptible to wounds. Quite the opposite is true. The apostle Paul tells us, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).

I may not adopt this little boy and girl, but the sudden and inexplicable willingness to do so taught me a great deal about myself, God’s design, and how he does indeed purpose all things—even a headstrong, unwilling mom—for good.

Free Indeed

Meet Valeri and Valentina Seleznev—two of the most amazing, godly people I have ever had the honor to get to know. They are the In Touch Ministries employees selected as the March 2015 Faces of In Touch special feature, and I was blessed to be able to sit down with them to hear their story and to share it with our readers. I knew the rough outline from talking to folks around the ministry, but when the Seleznevs filled in all the blanks, I just sat with my mouth hanging open. Talk about guts!

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Photography by Ben Rollins

Valeri Seleznev is a man you can’t help but look up to—oftentimes because, as the senior maintenance technician at In Touch Ministries, he’s perched atop a ladder, changing a light bulb or repairing HVAC fixtures. But no matter what he’s working on, Valeri never fails to wave or say hello to passersby. His warm smile and openness make it hard to imagine who he was 20 years ago—an official in the Communist party who was labeled as disloyal to the Soviet Union. Eventually, he knew it was no longer safe to stay in his home country. And so he fled to the West with his wife Valentina, unsure of what awaited them in a new land.

A few weeks after the Seleznevs learned they were under suspicion, they boarded a plane in Moscow for a 10-hour flight to New York City. And they were up in the air—both literally and figuratively—every minute of it. Their paperwork had been acquired through back channels, and they weren’t sure if it was even valid. When they landed, the couple would either be allowed to enter the United States or be forced back to the country they loved but had to flee….

To read the full article, head over to In Touch Ministries’ website. And don’t forget to leave a comment there!

In Due Season

Believe it or not, November is just around the corner. And that means cooler temperatures, football, and Thanksgiving! We decided to feature food articles once again in In Touch magazine, and opted to include several different articles about the way it feeds our souls as well as our bodies. My contribution for this special section features my grandfather and the way he and I spent time working a BBQ smoker/grill.

This is a collection of articles I highly suggest you enjoy in print, so please visit this site and get yourself a free subscription. The layout is just gorgeous and is filled will illustrations created by the uber talented Jeff Gregory.

You can also view my article and the other wonderful pieces from authors like Rachel Marie Stone, Leslie Leyland Fields, Matt Woodley, Chad Thomas Johnston, Aline Mello, and Leigh McLeroy by clicking here.

 

Lyrical Witness

As someone who’s spent a lot of time performing and contemplating church music, I know how hard it can be to keep your passion for it intact. That’s why speaking with Keith and Kristyn Getty was truly refreshing. Not only do they have a great love for leading worship, they also are intentional about creating music that helps the church sing well together.

This Q&A with the talented husband and wife duo is featured in the September 2014 issue of In Touch magazine. If you’d like to receive your own copy of this magazine free of charge each month, please visit this page and give us your name and address. There are some great articles and series in future issues, and I’d love for you to be as blessed by reading them as we have been putting them together!