I first decided to go to law school in 2007. At the time, I was deeply entangled in an ultra-conservative, evangelical church that relied more on control and manipulation than it did the gospel of love. I had been raised conservatively from the very beginning so that religion wasn’t just something we did on Sundays or the salve to get us through tough times. It informed every facet of our lives. I was devoted to denying myself in the service of others – a noble cause, yet one that is easily abused. My misguided application of this value meant that I shouldn’t pursue anything that was personally fulfilling or could be construed as selfish ambition. The suppression of my needs, thoughts, and feelings in order to accommodate the needs and fulfillment of others defined my life. My declaration to attend law school was my sincere effort to impact the world in a tangible way. But there was a problem. My ambition threatened the control church leadership wielded over my life. Attending law school would have been an exercise of empowerment, a demonstration of my ability to think for myself. This threat was compounded by my gender. Women were not created to lead. The male authorities who were responsible for my spiritual well-being reminded me of my obligations to the church. Because I was naive and impressionable, I let their discouragements realign my priorities and resigned myself to staying where I was.
I finally gained the courage to remove myself from this body of believers and in its place chose a church that provided more autonomy, or so I thought. In my new church home, censorship of any idea that was a departure from the “unity statement” was necessary to protect the church family. Expression of liberal ideals (such as the equality of women) was judged to be unhealthy, even dangerous. When I realized that opportunities fitting for my gifts and passions were off-limits simply because god made me female, I became a feminist. For the first time in my life, I seriously considered the possibility that the church wasn’t always right. Shocked and bewildered, I discovered how patriarchy and misogyny are deeply embedded in so many faith traditions and how I had unwittingly contributed to the destructive consequences of these ideologies.
I began listening with empathy to the stories of those outside of the church with as much passion and investment as I had given to the church. I read stories of racism and violence towards women. I read about the Syrian war and the worst refugee crisis our world has ever encountered. Knowledge of these issues demanded a response so I began utilizing social media, writing on my personal blog, and donating to specific causes. Yet the inadequacy of what I could offer to improve these situations compelled me to find more effective solutions. As I devoured these stories and meditated on them, I lost my timidity and inclination towards “keeping the peace.” I also found my privilege and the motivation to use it.
All my life, successful people were like gods. I took for granted that they were smarter, more talented, and most certainly had been granted their positions in life just as randomly but irrevocably as I was granted my red hair, blue eyes, and freckle-prone skin. If you were going to be the president, it was in your DNA – like destiny but not as romantic. The arrival of my daughter put this fallacy to rest for good. This future woman whose well-being and education are in the palms of my hands has made me live. Her very existence brought clarity and purpose. When I replayed personal moments of oppression and imagined them happening to my daughter, the manipulation and spiritual abuse were undeniable. This perspective vanquished the guilt and obligation that kept me dutiful, quiet, and “good.” Now, empowered feminist, mother, triathlete, I live my life by this motto, “I am who I want to be” – a person worthy of my daughter’s admiration and respect – someone who, if she did turn out just like me, would be honorable, compassionate, and strong.
Having stepped onto the slippery slope that my past faith communities identify feminism to be, I have happily slipped completely off that slope and consider myself to be a non-religious, human-affirming individual who is happy for the good fortune to be alive and the ability to contribute to the world. I’m a writer, problem-solver, and optimist. While I’ve encountered some of the darkest yet socially accepted aspects of the Christian faith, I’m thankful for the many Christians who represent a faith that is empathetic and affirming towards those with differing beliefs. I’ve processed my anger towards the people and churches who hurt me and channeled it into passion for others experiencing oppression. I want to empower those who are disenfranchised and advocate for their legal right to freedom, equality, and justice.
When I first decided to go to law school, I didn’t have the focus, self-determination, or confidence to keep me from being derailed. And yet I’m thankful that it didn’t work out the first time around. My evolution into a person who validates the experience of every human being, seeks justice for those unable to advocate for themselves, and fights for freedom for the oppressed will define the change I strive to make as a lawyer. Now, I make decisions independently based on my values and desires rather than religious obligation. I set my sights on an ambitious goal and work for it without feeling selfish. I seek out the beauty and strength found in the stories of others without fear of their influence. These qualities demonstrate my transformation into a person who is ready to tackle the challenges of law school with all of the grit and gumption necessary to succeed. So I return to my law school dream – eyes wide open, fully empowered, knowing my own mind, and believing that if I work hard, stay focused, and keep learning, I can offer something to the world.