PC: KSB

Why I shaved my head

Last August, just before the solar eclipse that crossed the entire nation, I shaved my head as a sign of mourning the sins of racial and social class inequality in the United States.  I had in mind the way poor people in this country are treated on structural levels, for example.

The way black teenagers have to fear for their lives when knocking to ask for directions to school and it’s not an isolated incident or unfounded fear; the way black and white men are given vastly different court sentences; the way the KKK was allowed to riot in Charlottesville this summer, a century after the Jim Crow Era; the way low income families are ripped out of their decades-old trailer homes to make space for expensive, new developments, because the Denver owners lusted for more money; the sin of gentrification – the list goes on.

At the time, I was reading the Biblical book of Amos, which references a solar eclipse and the shaving of heads because of the nation’s sins of injustice and inequity, similar to the ones I mentioned above. God convicted me as I read this timely passage, so as a prophetic move, I went to the hairdresser and asked her to shave curly locks, which are such a part of what I perceive to be my beauty and identity.

As much as we may often be going for style, women’s hair is not merely a part of our bodies or attire; it is symbolic. From owning your afro during the Harlem Renaissance to going natural as a black woman in the American workplace today, many women can identify with this.

Today I stumbled across this article from the New York Times. It discusses the politics of hair and references gun control activist Emma Gonzalez as well as the fierce warrior women in Black Panther, both with their buzzed heads, and it’s worth a quick read. So is the book of Amos, which remains relevant to the USA.

A few passages stand out:

There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
    and detest the one who tells the truth.

You levy a straw tax on the poor
    and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
    you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
    you will not drink their wine.

For I know how many are your offenses
    and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
    and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
    for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
    that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
    just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
    maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
    on the remnant of Joseph.”

-Amos 5:10-15, NIV

After referencing much doom and punishment, Amos 8:3-10 (NIV) continues:

 “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
    that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
    that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
    boosting the price
    and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this,
    and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
    it will be stirred up and then sink
    like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

I will make the sun go down at noon
    and darken the earth in broad daylight.
I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
    and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
    and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
    and the end of it like a bitter day.”

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

Solar Eclipse, August 2017 PC: KSB

God does leave space for repentance; the nation can change. Then there can be hope.

But since August, things have only gotten worse here: established immigrants expelled and new ones not accepted, violating God’s welcoming way of treating foreigners throughout the Old Testament; low and even middle income families in a bind with insurance (I currently have none and my family had to move to a co-op type of plan in order to maintain any); the continuation of the urban camping ban in Denver, which prevents many homeless people from covering themselves in the night; and so forth.

My curls are growing back, a sign of beauty and life. But will America also grow in righteousness (justice) or love?

 

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PC: KSB

To my teen and tween self: I see you

Dear Katelyn,

I see you. You and the one other outcast sit alone at the lunch table. She is a caring, fun, spirited, and beautiful junior high girl, as are you, and your classmates are being jerks by not accepting you two. Keep looking up. She will help you carry on and be a close friend.

I know you are ignored in the hallways and given the silent treatment when you try to make up for whatever wrong you may have committed, though I do not believe there was any because you are so sincere and only want things to be right between you and your peers. Don’t let them silence your voice or deny your worth.

You are different, strong in personality, and unwilling to conform or deny your interests in order to fit in. This is admirable. You are also pure in heart, sweet, diligent, and passionate, and you long for friends. You try so hard, yet you are favored only by teachers in the classrooms. These adults see your diligence and maturity, but they do not see you crying as you leave the building each day. But I see you, girl in grey.

So do a few upperclassmen, who, when you are a freshman, think you are cool enough to go with on barefoot hikes at Sleeping Giant and visit your house, sing with around campfires at their houses, and invite to their graduation parties.

Once, one of them will even notice you at the lunch table and join you to see what is wrong, cleverly protecting you from a girl, one of your bullies, who tries to get the juice. These upperclassmen are awesome, and they think you are, too. They will pour their lives into yours.

They see you and believe you are worth knowing.

When you hit this year, your freshman year, when things are slowly on the incline, you also will see the younger outcasts and reach out to them; you always do. You do not want to be alone, and you know they do not deserve to be ignored because they are different than their cliquey peers.

As you skip ahead in school, you will make good friends with your new classmates. Senior year will be truly fun, loaded with memories, and your new classmates will encourage and care for you, because they are true friends and you have mutual relationships. They will push you towards Jesus and health and hold you to high standards out of their love for you. You will do the same for them.

College will be the best, so set your hopes high. It is always best to dream. From day one, your college peers will appreciate your quirks and interests. They will have their own, such as obsessing about geology, having a special ability to make alien sounds, and knowing how to say “I’m so beautiful” in nine or so languages. You will appreciate these fun things about them, too.

You will change your name at this fresh start, and you will thrive in your relationships, Skye. You will remain compassionate and empathetic, with an eye for the outsider. At the same time, you will find your place in the in betweens.

One last note, dear Skye: As an adult, you will still meet people who treat your poorly, even some who will remind you of your junior high bullies at times. Try not to reciprocate. Don’t retreat into a shell or ignore them when it is hard to keep trying and trying. Do your best to be understanding. Love them regardless of how it turns out.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God.

Stay pure in heart, embrace your differences, and remember who you are: a beloved daughter of God and, of course, a Bennett. And you progress on this journey called life, don’t forget to have fun as well! You’ll make your mama proud.

I see you, girl in purple, full of worth. I see you.

Sincerely,
Your twenty-something self

PS – I stumbled across this song by Hunter Hayes last week, and it nearly brought me to tears. It was healing, as I pray this blog will be for you.

Dark purple lips to match my shirt and skirt. I was ready for the job fair! PC: KSB

My story: how fashion reflects my spirit

Purple lipstick is always a good choice. Wearing it last week, I felt confident and on top of the world, basically like Fena Gitu. I wore it to match my skirt, and it changed my outlook on the day. I love lipstick and purple and the two combined. But there’s a spiritual point to this, and it applies to people of all genders.

Thanks for sharing in my story.

Today when the cashier at Wendy’s said purple looked good on me, it reminded me of how far I’ve come. I dress how I feel, but I have a rule now that I must always wear some splash of color in my outfit to share some joy. I began this practice during an eternal Chicagoland winter several years ago when everyone around was wearing black and grey like the gloomy sky above. Even when I’m mourning, I’ll wear a bright scarf or necklace on top of the black to symbolize hope.

But this was not always the case. In junior high, life was rough. Some girls at my tiny Christian school bullied me, and I had few friends. Why they excluded me, I never knew. I was different than them and refused to conform. Did our particular differences weird them out? I honestly never found an answer. I tried to keep a pure heart and to be on good terms with these girls, but that didn’t stop my understanding of my worth from dropping as they treated me poorly and ignored me.

My attire also reflected my musical interests, one of the differences I mentioned. Skillet was my favorite band at the time; I was obsessed with the band that evolved from grunge when I was born to hard rock around the time of my obsession. A quick Google search will show how it impacted my fashion choices — in short, with lots of black. The punk, rock, and emo scenes drew me. I still enjoy those genres, but my situation and outlook on life has changed, as have my clothing tastes. I don’t wear t-shirts displaying mummies anymore, although I really loved that one in eighth grade before I lost it at a basketball practice. (Sorry I can’t find it online to show you, but here’s a photo of me around the same time.)

Me and a special friend the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

My special friend and I the summer after eighth grade, lol. Photo belongs to KSB.

Life was miserable at school, and so I dressed how I felt: in black, lots of grey, sometimes olive green — generally lifeless colors. At the time I thought I just liked the colors, but I see now that I wore them as a reflection of my emotions.

I had a total of two friends at school in eighth grade, and I must have had a few clothes items that weren’t black or grey, because one day one of those two girls told me my purple sweater looked good on me. This comment, however random it was, stuck with me.

Slowly, I began incorporating more color into my wardrobe, including a lot of purple. (Towards the end of high school, a girl I babysat was wearing a turtleneck she liked asked me what my style was, and I could only think to say purple.) School also grew gradually better over the years. College was the real game changer. People accepted me with all my quirks and unique interests there.

Today I adore color — particularly purple, which does go well with my complexion and green eyes, but I appreciate anything bright. Color is beautiful. It represents life, joy, and hope. Color makes others smile. This is why I love to wear it now: to bring smiles to those around me, particularly when the weather is grey and everyone’s attire matches it. I want to be a ray of sunshine.

And I’m not the only one who’s had to overcome something difficult and came out rocking colorful lips. Nyakim Gatwech faced discrimination and harmful ignorance based on her dark skin in her modeling career but decided to rock bold colors in the face of the naysayers. Her story is quite different than mine, but I encourage you to read it here. Her colorful style is symbolic, too.

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As a disclaimer, I do know some exuberant people who prefer to wear dark colors, but I personally view color as symbolic of life and have found that a bright sweater can make people smile when it stands out amidst grey coats on a rainy day. I praise God for bringing me joy in Him so that I can share it with others, even through something as simple as my wardrobe. Evidently, our outfits aren’t always just clothes, after all; as symbols, they contain meaning.

Seven years ago, I felt invisible. Now I am a new woman, a confident one who is learning her worth and beauty and calling that out in others. As Fena sings*, do your thing and be a queen. And of course, remember that you were created in the image of a loving, holy, and entirely capable God who sees you.

 

*See link in first graf. Really. It’s worth it.

 

Rocking the purple hair in South Dakota with my bestie. PC: KSB

Thick, curly hair

Thick, curly hair:

Some say it’s a mane, wild like a lion,

But our hair is beautiful, not beastly,

not something dangerous needing to be “tamed.”

Is it unruly simply because it does not lie flat?

Are “tangled” locks not close to the heart of curls,

which intertwine to form a loose and lovely lattice

around our stately domes?

If you imply we ought to control our hair,

maintain our hair for a week;

Our hair requires constant upkeep

for health.

We do control our hair, and our halos of coils and curls

are the glorious result.

I will wear my hair with pride.

Call it wild because it is purple and, yes, twirls off at all angles,

But also see that it is thick, curly and naturally beautiful.

Beauty in the Broken: I Have Worth

“She has great worth, and he saw that in her.” My best friend Annabelle’s mom spoke this about one of her daughter’s best friends and that girl’s boyfriend, but I immediately thought, “Someday somebody will say that about me.”

This summer I have been learning that I have worth, value, and beauty. God used my time in Denver with my mentor Melanie and the Denver Urban Semester (DUS)/ Issachar community to begin healing my heart from half a lifetime of not believing who God says I am — a woman of “beauty beyond measure,” as my friend Blake told me, and someone with great worth.

If I took the time to reflect on my friends outside of school during secondary school or my friends from senior year and a few others, I am sure I could compile a lengthy list of people who loved me and appreciated me. However, I never felt as if I truly belonged until I was out of my former school environment and in college. I never searched my heart and put to words my feelings about not believing I had worth until this summer in DUS.

Although I know my female friends have affirmed and accepted me this past year and in previous years, I receive the messages better from males. I do not know why male affirmation appears more significant and believable to me than that of females, but my brain and heart work that way. Hence, I would like to note and thank several guy friends who have especially revealed my worth to me.

Niles, Lauren, and I after the hospital day

Niles, me and our friend Lauren. Photo credit: Millie Cline

Niles McConnell sees such treasure in me. He said I am his friend, and for him to let someone in like that is significant. He sees me as a woman, and he informed me that my love for God is obvious and uncommon, which is the highest praise I could desire. Niles’ refrain of “You’re the woman, Skye” boosted my confidence this summer. When we spent a day at the hospital because of his hand injury, he encouraged and affirmed me without my asking, and he asked me questions about myself, contributing to what ironically became one of the best days of my summer in Denver. I know that Niles cares about me because of how intently he listens to me and asks hard questions. I am honored to know a man like Niles, for he loves our God and his Eastside and lives so purely for Jesus.

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Brandon and I decorating cookies last summer. Photo credit: Mrs. Wallis

Brandon Wallis is one of my best friends. He lives in Connecticut, “back home,” although we know each other from RBGY Camp. We have been friends for about seven years, and we have grown especially close in the past one or two. Brandon “gets” me, which is rare. He trusts me and opens up to me more and more each time we are together, subtly affirming my worth. Honestly, I am simply grateful that he trusts me and calls me one of his best friends.

Brandon and I are like the same person in some aspects such as our unique movie tastes (we love Barbie movies) and enjoyable pastimes. We make beautiful music together, color in coloring books and spend time doing other odd and creative recreations, laugh and have fun anytime we hang out, and talk about deep things and about life in general. I feel comfortable wearing sweats or pajamas around him, yet his making me comfortable no matter what makes me want to dress up sometimes. Basically, I always feel beautiful around him. I love Brandon and thank God for strengthening our friendship in recent years.

The Liar with Josh Fort, Shinyoung, and Ili

From L to R: Josh Fort, Shinyoung Kim, Iliana Rivera, and me at Arena Theater’s performance of The Liar. Photo Credit: a girl who lived in Fischer Hall

Josh Fort encourages me by saying how I encourage him, which I find ironically humorous. He takes care of me by making sure I do not eat lactose and that I get rest; he notices when I am not my usual, cheerful self; and he knows who that normal, healthy self is. The fact that he knows who I am stands out most to me. It demonstrates that he knows my value and inner beauty.

I am also incredibly grateful for Josh’s compassion, how he is always a phone call away for either an emergency or to hang out, and for his kind care for me. Several times this summer, I thought of how Josh takes care of me and how he is one of my top four closest friends at Wheaton College, and this makes me believe he is one of my best friends as well. Finally, Josh is forgiving. I have cried with him over my sin, and our relationship has burgeoned since then; may all praise be to God.

Maurice Bokanga

Maurice Bokanga in his noble hat. Photo Credit: unknown; stolen from his Facebook page

I can cry on my friend Maurice Bokanga’s shoulder. He understands why I walk in the snowdrifts instead of on the sidewalk, and we build each other up in our faith by encouraging each other to boldly proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He makes me laugh, and I trust him. My trusting someone on a deep level means a lot, incidentally.

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Samuel and I goofing off. Photo credit: us 😉

Samuel Kim, another friend from Wheaton, also “gets” me. When he asks how I am, he honestly cares. His care makes me feel incredibly valued. Samuel and I have shared laughter, serious conversations, tears and prayers, and spicy birthday Thai food. (I had to bring that up, Samuel.)

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Shinyoung and I. Photo credit: Shinyoung Kim

Other times this summer when I thought about times I truly felt valued, I repeatedly remembered eating at the Stupe with Shinyoung Kim, a new friend at Wheaton. I remember sharing some childhood story in which he was honestly interested. He intently looked at me as I shared memories and was not bored by me. I bring this memory to mind when I need to remember that people actually want to listen to me and care about what I say.

I am also grateful for my other DUS brothers and everyone else who has shown me my worth by telling me of my value and beauty, caring for me, praying with and for me, listening to me, simply liking who I am and not being judgmental, hugging me and working through the causes of my tears. God used you gentlemen on my road to healing, to believing who Jesus says I am and who He made me to be. I love you, my friends, and I thank you from the center of my heart.

Beauty Week: Giving up Guys

My floor held Beauty Week this past week. Every girl who participated gave up something dear to herself with the intent that she would see her true beauty because of God’s image in her. Many girls fasted makeup, a few gave up looking in mirrors, some gave up sweets, one temporarily quit baggy sweatshirts, and another resisted asking about whether her clothing looked perfect every day. One of the things I fasted was initiating conversation with guys.

I decided that if a guy talked to me, I could converse with him, but I could not start the conversation. There is something special about having male friends, something I cannot place, but I know that my desire for attention from them is often sinful. I realized that I was not secure in God’s love for me and that I looked for that attention and future affection in guys instead of in Him. Going into beauty week, I was convicted to give up seeking this attention from guys, even though I knew it would be difficult.

In fact, day one was awful. It had only been a day, but I could barely stand it! This proved further how much I idolize guys. God is gracious, however, and he allowed me to converse with one of my best friends named Samuel since it was in the context of a discussion with another friend.

Throughout the week, I was able to have many regular chats with my guy friends after class, before chapel, and in passing because they said hello and asked how I was doing. In this respect, the week was normal. Nevertheless, I was unable to text or call Samuel to ask if he could hang out, and I could not visit him at work on Friday as I have taken to doing. I could not text or mail some of my other friends to say I was praying for them or to send them a Bible verse. I also could not ask them various questions about what was going on in their lives, and I was frustrated by this.

I evaluated my week on Wednesday night and realized how much I appreciate my guy friends. I am so grateful for Josh Fort, Daniel Yoon, and Samuel Kim, to name just a few. As I reflected on the first half of the week, I was warmed by remembering a past conversation with Daniel when I had visited him at work, a normal occurrence, and he had said he appreciated my visits to him.

In my Wednesday night reflections, I also realized more of my intentions when I seek attention from my guy friends. My dependence on them has been unhealthy. God calls me beautiful, He loves me, He knows what He is doing, and He is all I need. Why do I turn away from Him and to guys so often? That being said, I felt ready for the week to end. I thought I had learned my lessons and wished I didn’t have to continue the fast for the rest of the week.

After Wednesday night, I gave up much of my resolve. On Friday afternoon I purposefully broke my fast. I saw Samuel come out of class, and I waited for him and exchanged a few sentences with him for a minute before our paths split. While our brief chat calmed my ridiculous fears that our friendship would dissipate after a week of not talking, I broke my commitment to Beauty Week by deciding to approach him to talk. I tried to convince myself that it was a good thing; he looked haggard, and a good friend would certainly ask how he was. Yet I went out of my way to do so, and I know I was actually being selfish. My insecure and auditory self wanted to hear his voice to reaffirm what I know is a solid friendship. The guilt of breaking my signed commitment to Beauty Week overshadowed the comfort I received from speaking with my male friend.

Looking back on Beauty Week, I wish I had depended on Christ Jesus instead and had not broken my commitment. I am grateful that Jesus has forgiven me, however! I need not dwell in my guilt any longer but must continue to run to Jesus. He is the one Lover and friend that will never, ever fade away from His beloved people, and I will thank Him both now and into eternity.

To conclude these ponderings on Beauty Week, I shall simply add one more thought: I often felt as if I had to ignore males during Beauty Week. In this time period, I realized that interacting with males is fine, good, and normal. God made both males and females for a reason; we need each other. Having male friends is a blessing from Him, and I thank God that He has altered my perspective so that I can appreciate platonic male friendships more.

I encourage you, readers, to fast something you love for the sake of growing closer to God and for your health. I would not have chosen to fast on my own, but signing a commitment alongside many other girls and maintaining accountability with them throughout the fasting period greatly assisted the discipline. Thus, fast joyfully and in community so that you can personally grow more intimate with the God of the universe who gave up everything to be with you.