There is a lot of talking lately about being real.
Real America, many people argue, lies in the heart of the poor, rural Midwest communities with silos and farms. As if the big cities no longer matter. Coastal elites, they claim, don’t represent REAL America.
Real Christians vote Republican.
Real women have curves.
Real men don’t cry.
Real patriots don’t question their country or its leaders.
But who gets to define what it means to be real?
I have lived in both California and the rural Midwest. The view outside my window was different, but the issues were the same. Both locations are full of people trying to navigate life, trying to pay their bills and trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be.
I have been both a conservative and a progressive Christian – and even a nonChristian. But whether conservative or progressive, the people are wrestling with the same issues: What does it mean to be a follower of Christ in this day and age? There are different approaches to the questions and very different answers, but at the heart of it people are wrestling with the same questions.
I have no idea what it means to be a man, but I know that my husband was the realest and the rawest when I broke down crying after his father passed away. Emotions are real. Humanity is real.
I have been both anorexic and overweight, and in both situations I was a real woman.
My biggest freedom came to me when I decided that other people didn’t get to own the terms and make the definitions for me.
I am a mom who works. I love working and I travel and leave my daughters for several days in a row in order to do this job that I love. I love my daughters but I don’t always love the details of parenting. But I am a real mother. I’m even a good mother, though not a perfect one. I don’t judge mothers who choose to stay at home and they don’t get to judge me for making different choices. Those of us who raise children, whether they be children born to us or children that have come to us in other ways, are mothers.
Men who cry, men who make art, men who play video games, men who play sports, men in business, men who stay home and raise their children. They are all real men.
Women who decide not to have children. Women whose bodies won’t let them have children. Women who work. Women who don’t work. Women who are thin. Women who have curves. Women who wear make-up. Women who don’t. Women who play sports. Women who love fashion. They are all real women.
Americans who question their government. Americans who take a knee during the national anthem to make a statement. Americans who stand and place their hand over their hand. They are all real Americans.
The truth is, there is no one right way to be a thing. And we don’t get to define it for each other.
For me, being an active American citizen means putting country over party, and being a good Christian means putting people over both.
For me, that’s what loving my neighbor means.
Working with teens, I have often been privileged to see the moment when my teens stand up straight and say in their hearts, “you don’t get to define me anymore.”
You don’t get to define me anymore.
I may not think like you or act like you, but I am real. A real American. A real Christian. A real woman. A real mother.
No one gets to own the definition of what it means to be real. I define myself.