One Year, Two Divorces

Amanda Mercedes
Jul 21, 2017 · 23 min read

Newly out of an unhealthy marriage and a dogmatic religion, I marched my way to womanhood.

Larissa Puro/USC Institute for Global Health/Creative Commons

Six months ago, I went to the Women’s March in Los Angeles. It was a bit of a last minute decision. I’d never marched for anything, protested anything, or really even jumped on any #bandwagons, but I was intrigued by the historic global scale of the movement, incensed by the damaging rhetoric of the campaign that sparked it, and inspired by a personal journey of rebirth.

It is this journey that made the Women’s March one of the most significant days of my life.

In the wake of the event, many have written about why it was culturally and historically important, why it wasn’t; what and who it represented and what and who it didn’t; why it was necessary and why it was pointless. Maybe there’s a thread of truth in all of it, but for those still wondering if it changed anything, this is the story of how it changed me.

We met early and rode the train in from North Hollywood. In L.A., the concept of mass transit is still a bit novel. Our quad waited an hour to get sardined into the Red Line with hundreds of women, men and children ready to be part of something bigger than themselves. In every face, I saw reflected how personal this was.

None of us had made signs, but we found them along the way, handed out in station lobbies, abandoned on train platforms. I carried “Equal Pay for Equal Work.” My bisexual friend carried “Love is Love.” Her armchair politician boyfriend carried “Elizabeth Warren 2020.” My election-incensed friend carried “Illegitimate Hack” over a picture of Trump’s duck face.

While fitting for each of us, it didn’t matter what the signs said. It mattered how we each felt walking down Broadway, arms up high, breathing in the energy and power of presence with thousands of other like-minded, but vastly different people.

Every race, every orientation, every gender, every expression of human existence was represented in those streets; there was as much awe in our diversity as there was in our monolithic, unified movement through the streets of Los Angeles. All I could do was smile at the sea of beauty around me.

As we walked, we sometimes chanted. The one that rushed over me like a tidal wave was “My body, my choice,” echoed by the men around us, “Her body, her choice.”

The feminine and the masculine in beautiful, harmonious concert.

In a former life, I would have marched silent, conflicted about my attendance and my place in my own body. I would have ached with respect for the miracle of life, but not understood the complications around giving life in any context lacking the privilege I’ve always enjoyed without thinking about it. I would have been appalled and saddened by so many people “advocating for abortion,” oblivious to how reductive that thinking is regarding the many issues surrounding women’s health and autonomy.

But that day, I marched and chanted “My body, my choice” with raging conviction that what is done to my body, with my body and regarding my body is solely mine to decide. Not the government’s, not society’s, and not a man’s. For many, this is the most obvious fact of being a human in the world. To others in particular religious traditions, this is revelatory. And scandalous.

All the Things I Carried

At the risk of making my own reductive summations of a lifestyle, one of the underpinnings of fundamentalist evangelical Christian teaching boils down to “My life is not my own.” Christian marital teaching boils down to “becoming one,” and as a woman, that ultimately meant subjugating my identity, my body, and my autonomy to my husband’s. The conflation of these two ideas left me with, “My body is not my own. I am not my own. I am his.” Today I write for all the years of strength and power I ceded to that falsehood.

I grew up in the Church of God, which is a denomination born out of the Pentecostal Charismatic movement of the mid-20th century in the Tennessee-North Carolina stretch of Appalachia and is characterized by a high view of the presence, activity and communication of the Holy Spirit — third member of the triune God of the Bible, who is the presence of God on earth.

This high view of the Holy Spirit and its work in the world was a double-edged sword. Our understanding of the Holy Spirit provided constant companionship, a feeling of intimacy with the divine, and a place to attribute all favorable coincidence, which translated to receiving the “blessing” or “favor” of the Lord. However, the reliance on hearing, knowing, and obeying the voice of God made authority nearly impossible to question because the trump card was as easy to play as saying “God told me.” In fact, anyone could play this card and about the only possible rebuttal was “But the Bible says…” and then you were prone to “cherry picking,” “taking things out of context” or “twisting God’s words.”

In this world, the Bible is the perfect, inerrant, literal Word of God, divinely inspired by the very same Holy Spirit that prompted full-sentence “words” from the Lord and prophesies to direct the people of God. Yes, we tested what we “heard from God” against the Bible, but there was always a verse to back what we felt God was saying. And with the Holy Spirit in your corner, your prayers were ultimately untouchable ordinances. Commonly, the “still, small voice” we all heard in prayer often came to preachers, teachers and prophets in thunderous downloads of eloquent speech. Sometimes, it was about divine calling, anointing, being chosen to change the world or minister to nations. More often, it was about sin, conviction, repentance, judgement, the end of days, or the dangers of engaging secular culture, which, of course we were expected to be “in and not of.”

Day to day, the presence of the Holy Spirit was like Jiminy Cricket on steroids. There was little excuse for sin, temptation, or worldliness if we had the presence of God in us. If we sinned, it meant we weren’t praying enough, reading enough, worshipping enough. The goal was total and constant saturation with the Holy Spirit. Subtext: to make us little gods fixing the world. If confronted with a non-believer, you should be moved to proselytize, and if you weren’t, you were afraid and needed to pray for boldness. If confronted with homelessness, injury, illness or sorrow, you should be moved to pray for that person, and if you didn’t obey the Holy Spirit and do it, you were in rebellion and in need of repentance. Naturally, attempts to follow the Holy Spirit moment to moment tormented followers with perfectionism, performance anxiety, fear of not measuring up or getting it right, and shame.

It wasn’t all bad. I remember feeling strengthened by the Holy Spirit to carry my Bible around my public middle and high schools, or lead my youth group in worship and Bible study. I remember praying and feeling like I’d heard from God, like I’d been granted some sort of permission or special access to the divine. Prayer gave boldness and comfort, power and a sense of holiness.

I was always hungry for more, more, more. That’s what we sang, it’s what we begged for, it’s what we thought we needed to be good Christians.

It was a little bit of Traumatic Bonding for the way we held in tension this torturous standard of godliness and righteousness demanded of us by our conception of God with this adoration for the grace, comfort and acceptance of belonging to Him.

I have no way to tell what was actually an encounter with the divine and what was me coming to some sort of peace with my intuition or maybe even contorting what I heard to fit what I actually wanted, but I’m sure throughout my life it’s been a messy mix of all three. At the time, I had to believe it was God I heard because I was always wrong. My self was always wrong. My feelings were always wrong. My heart and mind were always selfish, deceptive, evil. My personal power was a cross to bear and surrender each day, not a gift or tool to live from.

This highlights another major characteristic of the Pentecostal Charismatic church: an exceedingly low view of the world, including humanity. The “in and not of” creed planted seeds of us vs. them, right vs. wrong, truth vs. lies, good vs. evil in nearly every aspect of life. This view that we belonged to the kingdom of God and were merely exiles moving through a strange land gave us one hell of a superiority complex. Not only were we incapable of embracing outsiders, we were incapable of embracing our own humanity.

This incited deep-seated self-hatred because we could look at our non-believing or differently indoctrinated peers and observe, hey you look, sound, feel, and screw up just like me, but I’m not like you; I can’t be like you. I’m set apart. The truth within us was screaming “you’re the same!” but we drowned out that voice with “I’m different,” and constructed our lives around striving to make that true.

We split ourselves in two — we loved the righteous, godly, earnest, forgiven, grace-accepting, heaven-bound part of us and despised our wicked, fallen, broken, messy, sinful, human parts. We lived a bifurcated identity, one side pitted against the other in an endless war that left all wounds, no victors. We did not know how to love and accept the Other because we could not love and accept ourselves.

The doctrine was ridiculously confusing because we espoused language like “God loves you just the way you are,” and yet the entire system was built around fixing the way we are. We talked “transformation” to death, because it was never enough, and even though we told ourselves God wasn’t looking for perfect and loved us no matter what, we also believed the process of sanctification would never end, that we’d have to die to ourselves every single day, that our carnality would always be in opposition to our spirituality, that life would be a constant battle to be transformed into the image of Christ, that the struggle to be holy could only be eased by devotion to God and the church. This all sounds like hell to me now, but it used to be home.

Disordered

I was twelve or thirteen the first time I encountered pornography. The timeline gets blurry so many years removed from the genesis of my sexual formation, but it was in that delicate crease of time between girlhood and teenhood when everything changes. And oh, how it did.

By this time, I’d already been indoctrinated with sexual purity teaching and made a commitment to save myself for marriage. I was also on the brink of reading purity culture guidebooks I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Passion and Purity, And the Bride Wore White. Ever the overachiever, I would soon go the slightly more extreme route and promise to save my first kiss for my wedding day.

It would be another decade and a half before I realized how reactionary and compensational these choices were.

The sexual creature within was awakened too early with a pop-up on my dad’s laptop, which he had given me permission to use for a school research project. As I faintly recall, the pop-up depicted several gifs of explicit sex, complete with a soundtrack of a woman moaning in pleasure. My eyes grew wide as the space between my legs grew warm.

Appalled and terrified, I exited the browser and mashed my eyes closed, wishing to unsee, unhear, rewind. I don’t remember if I kept working on my project that night, but I do remember every night after that approaching my dad’s laptop with equal parts fear and anticipation, half hoping for another pop-up because I was just so damn curious about what I had seen — and felt.

Curiosity eventually overpowered my fear and my willpower. I went seeking out pornography, and before long, a disordered introduction to sexuality came solely through my relationship with the internet. I felt like Jekyll and Hyde: every night succumbing to the urge to feel aroused, every morning waking to a cloud of shame and disgust with myself, which I assuaged with hours of prayer and Bible study, miles of running and rigorous exercise, over-involvement in church clubs and school organizations. I filled time and space with good to make up for all I perceived was wrong and bad in my soul.

I was a fraud: the poster girl for purity and holiness in the daylight, and an insatiable deviant in front of the computer at night. I was also a bulimic of sorts, trapped in a cycle of binging on sexual stimulation, then purging with self-abuse to make the hollowness of guilt go away.

This cycle was extra cruel, extra self-perpetuating because I am female. Girls aren’t supposed to be tempted by porn. Girls, especially good Christian girls, are supposed to be appalled by the idea of it. So when my father, who was also my youth pastor, was giving the boys their talking to about the addictive dangers of pornography, my girlfriends doodled in the margins of their Bibles waiting for the talk about modest dress, and I held my breath like a deer trying to avoid detection.

I was an imposter in every way, carrying this dark secret with me like a Pandora’s box I felt sure had already tainted my sexuality. I was damaged goods, and even as I accepted my parents’ purity ring at 16, I knew it was with a compromised innocence at best. All those books and promises and desires to save sex for my husband became outward acts of obedience, attempts to erase the truth.

The self-hatred was too much to bear for a well-adjusted, high-achieving model student and youth group leader. So I became a master at suppression and self-denial. I did everything right. Never broke the rules. Obeyed my parents (mostly). Courted a good church boy who took me to prom and only ever kissed me on the cheek. Wore my public titles proudly: Most Likely to Succeed, club leader, pageant queen, straight-A student, worship leader, goodie-two-shoes, cheerleader, drum major, band geek…

They all protected me from myself.

In Sickness

We met at a well-known private Christian college. You probably know the type. The ones that tease about MRS degrees and getting a “ring by spring.” First day. Transfer student orientation. We exchanged vows privately four months later, age 20.

We had our first sexual encounter before we had our first kiss.

It happened on a twin trundle bed in my father’s office, the same room I’d discovered pornography in eight years earlier, right after we exchanged vows before God and called them binding. In our “progressive,” forward-thinking collegiate minds, we were free to consummate our love sexually, because what did the laws of man have to do with covenant before God?

I was face down in the mattress, him on top of me, our newly naked bodies awkwardly navigating the transition between foreplay and intercourse. But suddenly and without fanfare, it was done. Inwardly, I recoiled a bit, because this wasn’t the intimate, bonding moment I’d imagined. No eye contact, no kissing, no lovemaking. Just intercourse. But we were new at this, right? Everyone’s first time is awkward. What we had was special and spiritual, and God-ordained. So what if the physical wasn’t quite seamless at the outset? We knew what was most important and we had a lifetime to figure out the rest.

And we did. Kind of. Turns out his porn habit and mine made us pretty rowdy, adventurous lovers. We didn’t suffer the more common symptoms of Christian purity culture: performance anxiety, low libido, orgasmic disorders, vaginismus, physical pain or depression. We felt free, like we’d finally arrived at this destination our whole adolescence was constructed toward. But two more insidious currents were already eroding the sandcastle this couple of horny, sex-starved kids were building.

His was intimacy. With the two extremes of porn and abstinence as his only sexual models, what constituted good, loving sex for him wasn’t. Our sex was hot, but not intimate. Pleasurable, but not bonding. I often confused the two at first because my own impression of sex was built solely on pornography, but eventually I began to see that good sex didn’t mean good love. Fun, hot sex is great, but we were missing the other side of this really beautiful coin. Even years into the marriage, our sex felt like the out-workings of pornographic fantasy instead of intimate, connected lovemaking.

Mine was shame. Between the night we exchanged vows in my dad’s office and the day we exchanged them in a park in front of a bunch of people, we were in leadership at our Christian college. To be sexually active outside a publicly acknowledged marriage was sin. And sin we did. The burden to say no was mine, and as my resolve weakened repeatedly, I felt myself falling back into that disordered relationship with sex and shame, only this time my partner wasn’t the internet, but the man I was pledging to spend my life with. I thought our wedding night would be a fresh start, a release of all shame, and the beginning of a lifetime of saying “yes… yes! Yes!”

Instead, we brought our sicknesses into the marriage.

In the Church, we spend exorbitant time and energy talking about sex before marriage, posturing everything around damning sexual desire, but then the Church goes silent once those rings slip on. Sex becomes private and taboo (because people are actually having it), leaving couples to troubleshoot on their own or find the courage to seek help — which means admitting there’s a problem — which means admitting this whole message of abstinence yielding blissful marital sex doesn’t always work — which doesn’t compute in a mind built to trust the system completely. Instead, couples assume they are either normal or blame themselves for dysfunction.

With no tools to deal with my shame and his intimacy problems healthily, and no one to talk to about it, no one to say “this is not normal” or “this is not okay” or “it’s not supposed to be like this!” we stayed sick and got sicker. I had constructed so much of my self-worth around the value of my virginity, of saving myself for marriage, of gifting myself to my husband whole, complete, untarnished. And I’d done it. I’d managed to preserve this high prize for the one man I’d committed my life to. It was his, this thing I’d worked my whole adolescence to protect and defend.

And then it wasn’t enough.

My adventurous, rowdy self started saying no to sexual acts that felt “outside the lines.” No, we shouldn’t watch porn together. No, I don’t want to try anal again. No, you cannot keep pushing the line on rough sex. No. No. No.

But for every “no,” there was a “yes” — some sort of compromise because I felt guilty for saying “no.” Yes, you can wake me in the middle of the night for sex, even when I ask you not to because I’m getting so little sleep. Yes, you can whisper your dark fantasies in my ear. Yes, I can let you choke me. I can let you make me cry. I can let you continue intercourse even when I’m clearly in pain — I assure you I’m okay. All because I gave you everything I had to give, and it was less than what you wanted.

***

October in Southern California is blistering in the day, chilly at night. The ample bougainvilleas have just started rotting, filling the air with a mix of putrid and sweet.

It was late and cold the night I climbed a ladder up the arbor, sat on the roof of the 100-year-old Craftsman house we rented a room in, and wept aloud: “How did I end up in a marriage like this?”

I’d refused anal sex just minutes before and he’d gotten angry. The kind of angry that reminds you that you are not extensions of the same being, but separate animals. That night on the roof I was just broken enough to venture a second question: “God, if you are good, if you love me, if you know everything, and if you ordained this marriage the way I once believed you did, why would you call me to this pain?”

I had two options: get angry with the omniscient, omnipotent chess-playing God of my youth for “calling” me into this marriage when he knew the hell it would become; or rewire my thinking about God and choice, and uncover a new narrative about how I actually got where I was. I eventually chose the latter, and it changed everything.

Eventually.

Twelve months after that cry out to God on the roof, I sat across the kitchen table from my then-husband and told him I couldn’t do it anymore. I released myself from a toxic relationship and all the toxic ideas I’d had about sex and love and God and myself.

Sex wasn’t the only thing that tore us apart. It’s never just one thing. But all these years of feeling divided, disintegrated, and conflicted came to a head with a single Google search.

Freefall

“Can you trust your intuition?”

I felt silly typing the question into a search bar, but I was desperate.

Over several years, my outright confidence in the evangelical machine wavered in stages. I had questions that weren’t easily answered, doubts that challenged my beliefs, and noted contradictions both within the Bible itself and between the Bible and Christian practice that told me something was amiss. But the comfort and stability of community was enough for me to willingly put my questions, my doubts, my observations in a mental closet, out of sight and out of mind while I tended the more important work of keeping up appearances among friends and family.

Early last summer, while grappling with the nature of God’s will and how human choice factors into it, I opened the closet to tuck these uncomfortable mysteries into my collection. But by this time, every square inch of space I had for willful ignorance was occupied, and I was met with an avalanche of doubt. My belief constructs tumbled rather quickly, leaving me in wall to wall pain.

I dove off a cliff into a lake once in college, and I still remember the sheer terror of those 3 seconds in the air between earth and water. The twisting pain in my gut, the bulking pressure in my lungs, the stabbing sense that my heart would explode out of my chest… I hate freefall. I much prefer at least the illusion of control and feeling securely grounded to something.

Every morning I was reliving those terrifying 3 seconds over and over again as I woke remembering that life as I knew it was over. I’d crossed a threshold, and I could never go back. I couldn’t eat. Couldn’t breathe. Sunk deep down into a bare subsistence of tears and coffee and books. So many books. I was ravenous for answers to my many questions about God and humanity and free will, religion and marriage and divorce, bodies and brains, flourishing and wellbeing. I spent so much time (and Amazon Prime money) collecting endless answers when really I was just seeking the one: Can I trust my intuition? Can I trust myself? Is this deep, visceral knowing in my body speaking truth or lying to me?

Somewhere amid my months of reading, listening, and seeking, I decided that my body had been observing and absorbing the events of my life far more closely than my conscious mind had, and she might have something helpful to contribute to the conversation about what to do about this shambly pile of existence. When I accepted the idea that the body was an instrument of connection, not an inherently destructive force to be subdued, I was finally able to listen. And when I was finally able to listen, I knew what I wanted.

I just didn’t know if I could have what I wanted.

All that indoctrination about self-denial and my life not being my own made choosing myself seem like an impossible, forbidden task. It was selfish to leave my marriage, delusional to leave my version of faith. Self-love was self-worship and a deception from The Enemy (for the unindoctrinated: Satan, the Devil, the Father of Lies). Acceptance of self was condoning sin and embracing “worldy” thinking.

My “salvation” and all the beliefs I carried with it were what gave my life meaning. Without it, who would I be? Who would I have?

While I was shedding more and more of western evangelicalism, I didn’t want to fully abandon the tenants of Christianity. Though my views of the Bible and the Church had changed, my views of Christ as Love Incarnate had not, and I saw hope in eastern contemplative sects of Christianity, in progressive, inclusive mainline protestant denominations, in Christian mysticism.

But that hope didn’t assuage the deep conflict I felt between self-denial and self-acceptance. Choosing myself meant exorcising decades of self-hatred. There’s no on/off switch for this kind of transformation. There’s no way to fast track it. Instead, you work a little every day, putting the old ways of thinking on trial, leaning into the pain of indicting them, and letting them release in their own time.

There is a futon, affectionately called the “cuddle pit,” in the corner of the house we shared that year where all the light comes in at dawn. It is always warm and sun-kissed, a palace of pillows and comfort. Around it are light curtains that just barely separate the space to create a makeshift guest room when needed, or in my case, a sanctuary.

I spent a week there in early September with my books, my God, and myself. I sat there in the messy middle between old and new, sifting through bits of baggage, finding as much pain in memory as I did in daydreams about what my life could look like moving forward. Illusions of who I am and who I was meant to be were falling away, but not cleanly.

It was as if I was sitting in a pile of a million puzzle pieces, two puzzles dumped together, trying to sort edges from middles, arranging piles by colors and shapes. The curtains billowing in the breeze were no real shield from the outside world, but I felt safe and held in that space. I was unafraid to think and feel. Unafraid to get it wrong. Unafraid to meet God without assumption and pretense. Unafraid to hurt, to grieve, to breathe.

I stayed and I wrestled, and I sought ways to keep staying, keep wrestling. I desperately wanted to reconcile my new ways of thinking about God and self with the life I’d already built.

I devoured podcasts about deconstruction and post-evangelical thought. I took up yoga and experienced for the first time what it meant to be a fully integrated being — spirit, mind and body. It felt like church used to. I prayed and I wept, but all any of my staying and wrestling did was affirm what I’d known deep down for way longer than I’d like to admit.

As the summer waned into fall, I came to understand there was no structure left of what had once been. I was demolished. No matter what choices I made from here, I was facing a ground-up rebuild.

Rebirth

The weekend after I told my husband it was over, my body started nourishing itself again. The weight of the choice had been lifted, and though the grief was nowhere near over, I felt hungry again for the first time since summer began.

I would stay in the house until Christmas, living in this awkward in-between state, facing my grief and his every day, maintaining as much stability as possible as we both prepared, in our own ways, to start new and separate lives. The weekend of Thanksgiving, our last joint possession was destroyed in a rain storm when our Toyota Matrix hydroplaned on a stretch of highway between San Diego and Los Angeles, rolling twice down a muddy embankment. That we walked away without injury was a miracle. That our close encounter with death could not re-magnetize us was a nail in the coffin. It was finished.

By New Year’s Eve, I was more than ready for a fresh start. I holed up in an AirBnB, ceremoniously beginning again in solitude. In the quiet last moments of the worst year of my life, I laid down under a blanket in a kind of Shivasana, and wept through a song that came to define my restart. Rebirth by Vancouver Sleep Clinic reverently depicts surrender to death and embrace of resurrection.

A week later I moved into a new apartment and began the long process of rebuilding myself. My nascent thoughts about God are still evolving, but I’m more convinced than ever that God’s patience is as expansive as my curiosity about divine expression in the world.

These days I attribute fewer words to the mouth of God and trust that the Spirit’s work in me is articulated through the tools given to my body, mind, will and emotions. My body is less in conflict with my earthly home and more in partnership with it.

***

I’d only been in my “new life” about three weeks by the day of the march. My wounds were still open, my grief still raw, and the sensations of the day were palpable, healing. Matching the raging conviction of “My body, my choice” emanating from a thousand strong feminine voices was the thunderous echo of the men around us chanting “Her body, her choice.” We were surrounded by allies, shoulder to shoulder with partners, fathers, brothers, sons who truly believe in a woman’s right to her own body, her own autonomy, her own space in the world. I felt strong, empowered, embodied. Fully integrated. Fully accepted. My whole womanhood was embraced, celebrated, venerated, not for how it can serve masculinity but for what it is.

We arrived at 6th and Broadway where a smattering of cultural icons voiced the rallying cries. Some were angry and incendiary (Jane Fonda); others were hopeful and confident (Barbara Streisand); but Natalie Portman’s speech… Undone. She was pregnant at the time, experiencing womanhood in a primal way and with fresh awe at the biological weirdness of giving life.

I always vilified pro-choicers for the obvious reasons most pro-lifers always do, but also because I never felt the weight of not having the choice. I never felt fully my own to begin with, and therefore the power to make choices for my body was never in question — it never actually existed. I couldn’t put myself in other women’s shoes outside my community, couldn’t see things from their perspective because all that was filtering through to my church community and through the pulpit was that children were dying because women were selfish and unwilling to take on the sacrifices that motherhood asked of them.

That day, standing in front of Natalie’s bulging belly, may have been the first that I was on the other side of that: unafraid to make choices for my body, my life, and unwilling to judge the choices of other women making decisions for their bodies, their health, their lives.

“We women are the founts of all creation, and we need to take that inherent power with us more into the world. … We need to take inspiration from nature and remember that we hold the mystery of life and the seed of every possibility within our bodies. … But not every womb has to carry a baby any more than every vocal cord has to perform opera.” Two hearts beat in her body and yet she stood in more conviction than ever that a woman’s body is as beautiful for its power to choose not to create as its power to create.

I hung on Natalie’s every word as a woman with an inherent reverence for the power of conception, pregnancy, birth, motherhood. There was a time I wanted nothing else. To see a woman empowered to give life while also empowered to defend the choices of all women was new to me. It was the reconciliation of old and new I’d been seeking. She was, in that moment, the full incarnation of all I hoped womanhood could be.

The Work of Womanhood

The day of the Women’s March I swelled with pride, conviction, and gratitude. The day after, I wilted in mourning for the girl who missed so much of herself in her 20s. Here in this grieving place, I recognized two things:

Now this woman — this fully awake, integrated, empowered woman — must do the same.

For me, the work of womanhood began as a dramatic departure from much of what defined the first three decades of my life. The work is now discovering a new way of being in the world, while keeping an open, loving and respectful relationship with the community that raised me.

For others, the work may be doubling down in the life they’ve built for themselves without justification or explanation, without shame or fear of judgement, just strength in the power to choose, and confidence that a woman’s life is hers to build.

There’s no prescription for how to be a woman. Whether we march or stay home, manage companies or households, wrangle babies, animals or people, we make our choices because they feel like the right thing to us, no matter how simple or complicated our reasons. Different reasons yield different outcomes.

The challenge is to not apologize for our choices and what led us to them, or lash out at others for theirs. That’s no easy task. For all of us, the ongoing work of womanhood is to cultivate radical compassion not only for others, but also for ourselves.

Amanda Mercedes

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word spinner || story teller || beach bum || book hoarder || yogi… ish