Finding Faith and Community on Virtual Campuses: An Interview with Shaylen Hardy

Finding Faith and Community on Virtual Campuses: An Interview with Shaylen Hardy

Last year the pandemic disrupted the world as we know it–leaving most college students grappling with how to live in a world without access to community, coupled with the pressure of continuing their education. 

For Black students, the exposure of racism locally, nationally, and globally made the Great Disruption even more difficult. The nation witnessed the deaths of Black men and women at the hands of law enforcement and vigilantes while being forced to quarantine. White supremacy and racist rhetoric were often unveiled from the mouths of people who identified as Christian, which left many students wrestling with their faith on multiple fronts without the normal practices and people to help encourage them. 

But in the midst of the turmoil and testing, leaders of campus ministries sought to support  Black students. I had the opportunity to interview Shaylen Hardy, the President of Intervarsity’s Black Campus Ministries, about her experiences and insight leading one of the largest networks of Black campus ministries through the pandemic. Some highlights of our conversation are below, and the full interview can be viewed above and on UrbanFaith.com!

The interview has been edited for clarity.

 

Allen:

I’ll open up our first question, Shaylen. From your perspective, what are some of the challenges that you have seen Black students face in the last year as they’ve lived through this pandemic and the social unrest in our country? 

 

Shaylen:

Yeah, I mean, I think you named some of the major things that they’re facing. I think another thing with Generation Z is mental health issues. We already knew coming into this year, or pre-pandemic, that Generation Z experiences significantly higher amounts of mental health issues. So as you think about it, some of the racial reckoning that we’re seeing in the nation, plus the weight of the pandemic, are actually just compounding the mental health issues that those students were experiencing already. So some of the ways in which they may have negotiated or worked through their mental health challenges, like being with friends, or engaging in activities that are life giving to them, were taken away instantly. So, the challenges of coping with mental health complications are something that we’re seeing. 

And also their academic coursework. I mean, many of us remember getting up in the morning, going to class, and just the weight of that. But there’s a different [pressure] when you have to be virtual and on Zoom calls all day long.  They are expected to retain everything that they’re hearing without the personal interaction with their teachers and other students, and just the fatigue. Many of us working via Zoom for this last year were also experiencing fatigue, but we’re not being tested week in and week out on what we heard during those calls.

 

Allen:  

That makes a lot of sense. A follow-up question that I have is, how are the students able to gather together in life giving ways with organizations like Intervarsity, or with one another? How, in the midst of being virtual, are they finding community?

 

Shaylen:

Yeah, I think part of it is being somewhat creative. And so we recognize that one of our only ways of interacting is virtually. And we know that we’re inviting them to come back into a virtual space after they’ve spent most of their day on it. But we think through developing community in a couple of different ways. 

Yes, we still do our Bible study, and yes, we still have prayer meetings and things like that. But we host virtual game nights where we invite students to come play Spades or stUno, and we have virtual movie nights where we play a movie and students can chat about what they’re experiencing. So we think that community is still very, very vital to their mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. We just have to be creative in how we use virtual mechanisms to help build that community so that when we are able to go back to the new normal, they can pick up where they left off with one another

 

Allen:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I think that hybrid is kind of the future of the world at this point, right? Like, things are not going back to the way that they were. You just mentioned how people are using these hybrid mediums in order to engage in order to strengthen themselves and their faith. What are some of the ways that you’ve seen students really be able to feed their faith or keep themselves encouraged?

 

Shaylen:

I think part of it is we do small groups on different campuses and across the country, and we have had a national virtual conference for students to engage. I think one of the things that we’re learning about Generation Z is that because they have so much content available to them, just showing them a video  isn’t enough. They’re like, help me figure out what I’m supposed to do with what I just heard. And so we’ve actually been able to have a couple breakout sessions [that are]  conversations about what’s happening in the world and what Jesus has to say about justice. And students are like, “Yeah, that was great.” And then we have to follow up by sharing the next two steps to take if you want to figure out how to be more active and engage in what’s happening in the world. So I think part of it is yes, content. But if you think about it, this generation has more access to more content than anyone has ever had. So what we’re seeing is this generation is like, “Yeah, give me content. And when you give it to me, make sure it looks good, but also help me figure out what you want me to do with what I just heard.”

 

Allen:

Wow, that’s huge. The application part makes a big difference for them. Now, the other thing that has been impacting us is not just a pandemic, but also this racial unrest. And I’m really curious, how have you been hearing Black students talk about this deal with this with their faith? How is the racial unrest been impacting them in particular in these times? 

 

Shaylen:

I think in some ways, it’s connected to some of the mental health issues.  Like, it is hard for me to show up because of all of the trauma that I’m experiencing, and so that is compounded with that mental health tension, and then I have to show up and engage academically. But also, I have to be social and be competent in my interaction with my classmates. So it’s like they’re having to pull it all together to be okay, when they don’t feel okay. So that’s definitely a tension that they’re experiencing. 

I will say that we’ve tried to have conversations to help students think through what Jesus has to say about what is happening right now. And I think that a lot of people who would challenge the Christian faith or the Christian perspective will point to broader White evangelicalism of: “That is why Jesus cannot be trusted.” And so some of our students are trying to wrestle with, if this is the fruit [meaning racism], and they say they love Jesus,, can this be compatible with me following Jesus? 

Part of what we’ve had to do is actually expose some of the lies of White evangelicalism. And yes, you can fully follow Jesus as a Black person, as a nAfrican American, as an African [person]. All of those things are compatible with Jesus. But in some ways, I think in order to make that case, we’ve had to k pull back the curtain and say things like, “These are the lies that have been intertwined with American Christianity, and this is why Jesus is trustworthy.” On the one hand, [we] also speak to what Jesus has to say about the Black experience. And I think that there have been moments when [for Black students and myself] I see what’s happening in the world and I live as a Black [person] experiencing it [and], I’m like, “Lord, when will you show up?”

 

Allen:

That makes a lot of sense. What are some of the other ways that you’re coming alongside these students or ministering to them with Intervarsity? Or even the wider campuses? I know that you guys do work, not just with students, but with folks who are supporting students on campuses. So what have you all been doing in the midst of all this to support campuses?

 

Shaylen:

I think I’m connected to some of our spaces. So we’ve had a psychologist come in and talk about racial trauma, sharing her insights. And then we had breakout rooms where students were able to discuss what they were experiencing. And then from that point, we have prayer ministry rooms. So we’re getting into spaces where students can actually share their story and not just about what they have been experiencing, but also connect to prayer ministry. 

And similarly, at our virtual student conference we had over 300 students and about 10 faculty join us. So we had a conversation and then invited people into prayer ministry rooms. One of the things that was really surprising to me is that I felt like we recruited really well for our prayer ministry rooms, but we were continually having to call in reinforcements because the need and the hunger for prayer was so strong. In a virtual space, we had a Zoom room with music playing [where people could wait for a minister to be available].  There was one point, when I was recruiting people in there who jumped on 20 minutes after we started because they needed people. And there were students just waiting quietly in the prayer room until somebody was available. I think that that was such a stark picture of how we categorize youth often, like they aren’t interested in spiritual things or they don’t love Jesus. [But] they are hungry for what Jesus wants to give them. These students sat through an hour and a half or two hours of programming. And they are sitting in a Zoom call, listening to worship music because they want somebody to pray with them. 

I think just giving those opportunities for people to have encounters with the Lord [is important]. One of the things that we’re learning about Generation Z is that they want access to experts. I think millennials want to be the experts. Generation Z is like, “Just connect me with somebody who knows what they’re doing.” I don’t know that we anticipated this or actually know how it would work virtually. But offering that prayer ministry space has been super significant for students. 

And then I think the second piece that I mentioned earlier, is just opportunities for helping them figure out how to actually do it– how to apply the message to their lives.

 

Allen

So that provides a really great segue for another question I have, especially for a lot of the folks in our audience. We’re touching people who are Christians and especially churches all over the place. And it sounds like there’s a space for the church and an opportunity to reach some of these students. What kind of roles do you think the church can offer to these students as they’re dealing with things on campus and going through this this time?

 

Shaylen

I think one of the things that as I’ve been working on and trying to identify is, how do we actually care for Black college students, and what are the support structures that exist on college campuses? For HBCUs, there’s much more of a community of people already there who can pour into you and to develop you. For students who end up at predominantly White institutions, that looks quite different. 

[On HBCU campuses] there are often support structures and Black professionals who can help pour into you in the same way you were used to in high school. It sticks out to me that Generation Z wants to be developed. They want people who know what they’re doing to guide them.But on PWI campuses, it is very hard to have access to that. And that’s compounded. Most PWIs are surrounded by churches. White churches have money, so they surround the campus. But in most campus contexts, Black churches are about 10 to 15 minutes away from most campuses. And then basically, you’re saying for a Black college student to be connected to community, or to be connected to an older people who could pour into them, pray for them, and care for them, they have to find a way to get there. 

And so I think that my question would be, are there ways that Black church communities can be intentional about supporting Black students on college campuses? Now that’s a little bit complicated due to COVID because we just don’t know how accessible campuses will be, right? But as they open [there are opportunities]. 

My church has been thinking through things like, how do we care more for Black college students? And so I [gave them suggestions’ and  we actually started partnering with a student organization. We attended their meeting every so often and brought a whole bunch of food–wings, pizza.e would let them do their meeting, then do an icebreaker and ask if anyone needed prayer. 

And then we ended up having a college day later in the semester, and we had never had so many college students at our church. I want to say that over 100 college students came over to the event. And part of it was because they saw us being active on campus–they saw us caring about them. We didn’t do a full church service. That’s something we could consider down the road. But basically, we were saying, “We just want to know what you’re going through.” We want to support you. 

Churches might think that they have to have a robust strategy for recruiting for building a whole separate ministry, but I don’t think that they need to do all that. Are there two or three students that somebody in your congregation has trust with? If the answer is yes, ask them, or, for Generation Z, tell them how you want to support them. Say, “Hey, I know that I have meetings on campus. Would it be okay, if our church sponsors dinner for you at one meeting per month? We would just love to meet them and see if there’s a way for us to pray for them.” And then figure out ways that you can invite them to partner with you for something that you’re doing in the community or invite them to church. We don’t have to have a whole robust strategy. It can really start off with relationships.

 

Allen

Wow, I love that relationship piece. And just allowing us to again build relationships as churches with students and be able to support them where they are. So my last question is, with all of that’s going on, are there other people who may be around campuses who  can continue to make an impact with Gen Z?

 

Shaylen

Yeah, so we have a ministry in a university that’s targeted towards Black graduate students and Black faculty. It is called Black Scholars and Professionals, and they recently had a prayer call with Black faculty across the country. I want to say there were 45 faculty who jumped on [the call]. art of that was for encouragement and to tell testimonies of where they’re at and to pray together. 

As we think about faculty, they are carrying tremendous weight. There is the leadership that they already have on campus, but often for Black faculty, they have the unwritten roles of caring for Black students and speaking for diversity issues. And so they are carrying tremendous weights. One of the things that we try to do is to see how we can care for this spiritual life and help a faculty. As we think about wanting to see transformation on campus, students are there for four to five years, but faculty actually have significant influence on both students [and campuses]. If we can care for the spiritual life of faculty, they have access into [students’] lives in ways that we don’t. 

We’re trying to think through what faculty need so we can be present to their needs, but also for prayer and fellowship. On the student side of things, we have a point person on most campuses  who can provide discipleship and engagement. But also, we’ve been trying to kind of brainstorm how to do this work, even if we don’t have a staff available. 

The reality is, for the amount of Black students who are on college campuses across the U.S., we don’t now, nor will we ever,  have enough campus staff to reach all of them. How can we actually empower students to reach other students? How can we empower volunteers to reach other students? We are trying to be creative [about] how to partner churches, alumni, people in the community and students  to do the work of reaching other people on campus.

 

Allen

Absolutely. I thank you for naming just the needs of the faculty because they don’t get thought about a lot. Is there anything else you wanted to just say?

 

Shaylen

So, I would say that being in college is a really, really important time. You’re figuring out who you are, what you believe, and also what you’re going to be about. A lot of the decisions that you make in college shape who you are for the next 40 to 50 years. One of the difficult parts about college is that those decisions are made when you’re the most distant you’ve ever been from your spiritual community and [broader] community. So I want to encourage college students to look for people who can support them on the journey, because it’s significant– these are important decisions. Ask your parents and pastors who they know in the school or college town. If they don’t know anyone, reach out to different networks to try to figure out who in your community will support you. 

I think about my local church community when I moved into the town. They were so extremely helpful people wanting to pour into me–people wanting to know what I was  passionate about. Generation Z, doesn’t like the idea of taking the risk and going to somebody’s church or a place you don’t know. Having to socially interact with them in person might seem very, very risky. But I think thatB the benefit will far outweigh the risk.  That’s where you can have intergenerational fellowship. I think you will get much more than you are giving, and it will be worth much more than you risk. Ask your spiritual community where you are, if there’s any connections to where you’re going, and then seek those out. And if they aren’t a good  fit for you, I promise there’s someone in the community who can help you develop into who the Lord is calling you to be.

Allen  

Well, thank you so much for this interview, Shaylen. It has been fantastic. It’s awesome work that the Intervarsity Black Campus Ministries is doing all around the country. You guys are impacting so many students, faculty, and grad students. It’s wonderful to be with you again. And I hope that people are able to take something from this. I know that I’ve learned a lot about what’s going on on campuses, especially in the pandemic with racial unrest.  God bless you in this work.

Shaylen 

Thank you. And lastly, I’ll just say, we are on social media if people kind of want to see some of the things that we’re doing. It’s under Black Campus Ministries on Instagram, and we’re on Facebook. If you want more information, you can check out our website at BCM.intervarsity.org 

A Mom Trusting God in The Unknown

A Mom Trusting God in The Unknown

Raising children is not an easy task! There are many articles, friends, mom tips, and overwhelming support from mom groups that make our jobs a lot easier. From the first day I found out I was going to be a mom back in 2010, I knew that I had support. Whatever question or concern I had, all I had to do was ask my mom or google and there it was: an instant answer! But in early 2020 this reality changed for me and many parents across the world. A devastating pandemic reared its ugly head and completely shut the world down without warning.

In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, my husband and I received news that we would be expecting our third child. I remember the excitement we felt at first!  We would have the opportunity to love, mold, and nurture another gift from God. Shortly thereafter, an overwhelming sense of panic and worry crept over me. I was frightened. I had no idea what to do. I do not believe anyone knew what to do as they faced the reality of a pandemic. I could not turn to my mother, articles, or blogs for advice on how to proceed or respond and receive the same knowledge or wisdom as I had before. 

At the same time my children as well as many others across the world were being sent home from school and away from their friends and community. They were told to socially distance when we had no clue how to define what that meant. During this abrupt transition parents were being held to an even higher level of expectation. We had to continue on with our lives and keep it together as if the world was not in turmoil right before our eyes. I often asked myself how could I protect my children from something I knew nothing about? How could I protect them when thousands of people were losing their lives on a daily basis? Reports were circulating about pregnant women who were infected with a mysterious virus who were being denied their birthing rights. Some even had to experience giving birth alone. Reality hit home for us when I was instructed to attend my first prenatal exam alone and was told that would be the norm for the remainder of my pregnancy. 

Like many others I could have given up, but I knew the first step in figuring out how to proceed within the unknown was to pray and be encouraged by the Word of God. My husband and I had to learn to lean on the Lord in a different way to lead and guide us in raising our family as well as being aware of our own emotional, physical, and spiritual needs throughout the pandemic. 

Proverbs 3:5-6 to tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

This scripture took on a new meaning for my family. As a wife and mother, I had to be intentional with every decision I made moving forward even when the circumstances presented to me did not make sense. I learned to trust that God has our steps ordered and regardless of what was happening in the natural, God has and will always provide all of our needs according to His riches and glory in Christ Jesus. I had to learn to ask for wisdom in a different way every morning before I started my day. I learned how to increase my ability to listen to my children and be ok with not having all the answers.  I learned more than ever to just be present with them. 

There are many accounts in the Bible of those who were faced with numerous challenges and the unknown. What kept many of the people in scripture anchored was God’s faithfulness and their ability to trust Him even in the unknown. Many mothers like Sarah, Rachel, Mary and Elizabeth did as they were instructed, although they had no idea what lay ahead on the journey before them. They did not have books, articles, or even written history to reflect back on to determine what they could and could not do. All they had was God’s faithfulness and promises that He had given to them. They all had the choice to accept or reject the promises the Lord had for them, but they did not. They could not foresee what the future held for them and their families, but they trusted that the Lord’s will would be done through their obedience. These examples from scripture encouraged me in to trust God throughout this pandemic. Because of God’s faithfulness, I have truly seen the Lord’s hand on my family members’ lives. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl, our two older children are thriving in school, I am able to be present and responsive for my husband, and our home has been filled with the pure joy only the Lord could give. 

To all the mothers, I want to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!  You are strong, resilient, appreciated and loved. I want to encourage you all to not lose hope. Keep praying, seeking, and trusting God even in the unknown. He has proven himself faithful and will continue to be faithful for generations to come!

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

Originally published by The 19th

It was the morning after Thanksgiving when her body finally gave out. The layers upon crushing layers of loss — her grandmother two days prior, her job at the start of the year — tethered her to her bed. As did all the little losses, the in-between bits this year where structure dissolved, order vanished and sanity waned.

Amy Kugler had reached the point where the answer to her husband’s question — are you OK? — came out as a resounding “no.”

But Christmas was only 28 days away, and even as she said it, her mind wandered to the tree they were supposed to be picking out with their 3-year-old son and the Christmas lights. My God, she thought, she couldn’t put up the lights.

In her head it was a ping-pong between obligation and exhaustion.

Can I do this? Can I rest? Can I do this? Can I not? 

Kugler had to mourn the grandmother’s death, which was not caused by COVID-19, but was still affected by it, through a funeral broadcast on a Facebook Live video. Would she mourn Christmas, too? She wondered whether for the first time, she wouldn’t be able to complete all of the tasks — the workthat needs to happen to conjure up Christmas magic. It’s work that too often falls on moms to perform, the same moms who have already endured an unmooring year that has displaced them from work, tested the reaches of their patience, and still asked them to give more and more and more.

Kugler could already see how Christmas day could play out: She would be the one fielding texts all day about when to Zoom the grandparents and when to FaceTime. She’d be the one cooking dinner, an extra special version that said, “we survived a pandemic this year.” And she would have to make time to play with her son so he has a memory to tuck away about his pandemic Christmas.

“It’s going to be the most stressful holiday, in my opinion,” said Kugler, speaking on Zoom from a Starbucks parking lot in Seattle — the only place she could go to get some quiet.

“I’m not a bare minimum person,” said Kugler, 39. “And that’s where the rub is. I feel more guilt put on myself for not being able to be that person.”

Pressure and guilt, in all their forms, converge around this time every year, when the invisible work women typically do at home gets ratcheted up a few notches for the holidays. Add to that the pandemic, which has claimed more than 300,000 U.S. lives and, at its worst point, 20.8 million jobs. People are burnt out. Women most of all.

And yet, the household work — who keeps track of what groceries to buy, what appointments to make, the outfits needed for the holiday photos — continues to fall on women, as it historically has. In the paid labor force, women continue to make up the majority of caregiving positions. (They’re 95 percent of the child care workforce and 75 percent of the health care workforce.) In the unpaid labor force, gender norms ensure much of that same work was delegated to women in the household, said feminist sociologist Lisa Huebner, a professor of women’s and gender studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

“We’re gendering anything related to care, so the holidays become like, ‘This is how you show your love,’” Huebner said. “We don’t talk about those things in terms of workplace skills, like strategies and being creative and being intelligent. Instead we still frame those as being caring and focusing on family, and then we further attach that in gendered ways.”

Women are still socialized to be the organizers, cleaners and emotional managers — ideas that are further reinforced in the media, advertising, even at school.

“It’s not that men can’t or even don’t want to,” Huebner said. “It’s that they’re not practiced at it.”

All of that was already true before 2020, before the year that changed everything.

For Kugler, now it also feels like every task on the self-regenerating to-do list of the holidays will be mixed with grief and exhaustion.

For some, the pandemic has, somehow, impossibly, added even more pressure — the desire to give something positive to hold onto at the end of a year that has seemingly only taken away.

And for others, it has recalibrated the holidays, unraveling years of thinking less wasn’t enough.

Kristina Aleksander, for instance, is ready to cancel Christmas.

She had the talk with her husband, an attorney who promptly pulled out a yellow legal pad and started making a pros and cons list. It all boiled down to a simple flip: If he really wanted Christmas to happen this year, it would be his job to see it through instead of hers.

Reaching that decision feels like they’ve come miles from the time last year when her daughter was born and Aleksander plunged into postpartum depression. She’d hide away in her room at the end of a day working in communications at the Iowa State Capitol. Her husband once said her mood was affecting the entire house.

That labor, invisible and emotional, was hers alone to bear. Her husband helped with many tasks, but she was the center of the household for them, and that responsibility came with expectations about the work they relied on her to perform.

Not this year.

“There is a lot of forced expectation around Christmas and New Year’s where you just have to enjoy yourself and have fun. At least for my age group, women who are in their 20s to late 20s, it feels like a performance that we are putting up for Instagram,” said Aleksander, 26. “And I am just out of energy this year.

I don’t want to perform for anyone.”


The performative aspect is especially visible on social media, where people are spending so much more time as they stay socially distanced and quarantined.

“We have this very intensive Pinterest culture that backs up against these ridiculous expectations for homemaking,” said Eve Rodsky, who has spent a decade talking and writing about invisible labor. “Women were conditioned to have it all and do it all. And then doing it all is a lot higher level threshold because doing it is inspired by Pinterest and Instagram and a lot of counting and competing.”

But doing it all, especially at the end of the year, requires time — and at the source of the problem is the way we look at how men and women spend it.

“We’ve been guarding men’s time since the beginning of time,” Rodsky said. “Women’s time is infinite.”

Rodsky’s book, “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” draws on her work talking to couples, most of them heterosexual, about the way they approach invisible labor and outlines a road map for addressing it. She usually guides couples through two key points.

First, there has to be buy-in. Most men Rodsky works with tell her the tasks their wives obsess over are unnecessary, and they don’t understand why they’re nagging them to do it or why it’s taking place at all. But, Rodsky said, part of it is men often don’t understand the unseen work: the cognitive load of keeping track of something, organizing it and executing it.

As an example, she told the story of Ed and Julie, a couple at a crossroads over a second grade DIY secret Santa project. Julie had to explain to Ed why it mattered: The girl their son got as his secret Santa had few friends — Julie, as the designated drop-off parent for school, knew this — and their son delivering on the gift would mean a lot. Once Ed understood the stakes, he could get to the second part of the equation: ownership of the task.

Watching Ed go to Michael’s, the craft store, and make popsicle-stick jewelry holder with glitter-covered hands changed their relationship that year. Julie felt Ed was really in it with her.

It started with creating room for a conversation most women don’t know how to start. It’s completely different in many of the same-sex couples Rodsky works with, she said, because many already have the context for starting difficult conversations — about coming out, or introducing partners or making health decisions for their children. “What a lot of same-sex couples will say to me is that the reticence of hetero couples to have these types of conversations because roles are already assigned feels sad to them,” Rodsky said.

I am just out of energy this year. I don’t want to perform for anyone.

Kristina Aleksander

This year, it feels like the pandemic has been the catalyst for some of the conversations to take place, she said. With so many people working from home, the labor that happened in the background is now happening at the fore, with everyone around to see it. And so more and more people are choosing to unburden themselves for the holidays, opting for a slimmed down approach to the festivities.

Laura Mayes, a spokeswoman for the City of San Antonio who has been working on the city’s COVID-19 response, is exhausted after a year that eliminated the concept of a break. That’s why she’s planning a smaller Christmas at home, far from her family and without the opportunity to really start creating memories for her 3-year-old, who won’t sit on Santa’s lap or see her grandparents this year.

But even with abridged plans and being tired from a long, stressful year, Mayes admits there’s a part of her that likes the control of doing most of the holiday work herself.

“When I let go of control, then I get all anxious and I want to know what’s going on,” said Mayes, 33. “Where I’ll accept the extra work, I also know at the end I would have wanted it done in certain ways, too.”

That’s another tension point, one some women whisper almost shamefully. By admitting they like the organization or prefer to do it all themselves, that could absolve their partners of needing to help.

It’s even more complicated for stay-at-home moms. Carly Gibbs stopped practicing law to spend more time with her three kids — a first grader, a preschooler and a three-month-old baby — while her husband kept his job as a doctor in Salt Lake City.

If she’s not going to be an attorney, she tells herself, she has to be an excellent mom.

“I am very bad at feeling OK with not doing everything,” said Gibbs, 37. “My inclination is I need to do everything and if I don’t, usually the consequence I am most fearful of or anticipate is my kids being disappointed in any way.”

It takes some mental fortitude for her to reason out of that sometimes. They won’t really care if they don’t build the gingerbread house this year — right?

The pressure women put on themselves is common, said Celeste Headlee, a journalist and author of two books on communication and overworking. So is the desire to want to take up the task themselves because they’ll do it faster, better — in a more organized fashion with less fuss.

Headlee suggests making a list that makes easily visible all the invisible tasks and then dividing it by strengths. Each person puts their initials next to their task for accountability, and the list goes in a public place.

“We are dealing with centuries of pressure that come from religious forces, political forces and corporate forces that led us to believe we have to be working all the time, and we will never meet the bar,” Headlee said. “Instead, I would approach this like you would a project at work — who is going to do what?

Liza Dube and her two sons are going to celebrate their Christmas on their own timeline, a liberation from the years of big parties and coordinated family Christmas caroling.

“What’s driving all of that is really that emotional labor and that tradition-keeping and magic-making, memory-creating and relationship-maintaining,” said Dube, 42. “So this year I feel like we’ve really been trying to kind of get a little bit closer to what the intent is behind a lot of those things, and figuring out simpler ways to meet that intent.”

She plans to celebrate with the boys on a day of their choosing, and they’ll spend Christmas Day with their dad, where they can bake the cookies and do the traditions without having to be shuttled from house to house in their small Massachusetts town. Dube, meanwhile, plans to spend Christmas Day doing something she’s always wanted to do: volunteer, this year with a crisis hotline.

She wonders if she’ll ever do it the old way again.

“I’ve been saying a lot this year, ‘Everybody has to make choices,’” Dube said. “We are all just making choices and we can’t even compare them with each other’s choices anymore.”

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

In a pandemic holiday, women still do it all

Originally published by The 19th

It was the morning after Thanksgiving when her body finally gave out. The layers upon crushing layers of loss — her grandmother two days prior, her job at the start of the year — tethered her to her bed. As did all the little losses, the in-between bits this year where structure dissolved, order vanished and sanity waned.

Amy Kugler had reached the point where the answer to her husband’s question — are you OK? — came out as a resounding “no.”

But Christmas was only 28 days away, and even as she said it, her mind wandered to the tree they were supposed to be picking out with their 3-year-old son and the Christmas lights. My God, she thought, she couldn’t put up the lights.

In her head it was a ping-pong between obligation and exhaustion.

Can I do this? Can I rest? Can I do this? Can I not? 

Kugler had to mourn the grandmother’s death, which was not caused by COVID-19, but was still affected by it, through a funeral broadcast on a Facebook Live video. Would she mourn Christmas, too? She wondered whether for the first time, she wouldn’t be able to complete all of the tasks — the workthat needs to happen to conjure up Christmas magic. It’s work that too often falls on moms to perform, the same moms who have already endured an unmooring year that has displaced them from work, tested the reaches of their patience, and still asked them to give more and more and more.

Kugler could already see how Christmas day could play out: She would be the one fielding texts all day about when to Zoom the grandparents and when to FaceTime. She’d be the one cooking dinner, an extra special version that said, “we survived a pandemic this year.” And she would have to make time to play with her son so he has a memory to tuck away about his pandemic Christmas.

“It’s going to be the most stressful holiday, in my opinion,” said Kugler, speaking on Zoom from a Starbucks parking lot in Seattle — the only place she could go to get some quiet.

“I’m not a bare minimum person,” said Kugler, 39. “And that’s where the rub is. I feel more guilt put on myself for not being able to be that person.”

Pressure and guilt, in all their forms, converge around this time every year, when the invisible work women typically do at home gets ratcheted up a few notches for the holidays. Add to that the pandemic, which has claimed more than 300,000 U.S. lives and, at its worst point, 20.8 million jobs. People are burnt out. Women most of all.

And yet, the household work — who keeps track of what groceries to buy, what appointments to make, the outfits needed for the holiday photos — continues to fall on women, as it historically has. In the paid labor force, women continue to make up the majority of caregiving positions. (They’re 95 percent of the child care workforce and 75 percent of the health care workforce.) In the unpaid labor force, gender norms ensure much of that same work was delegated to women in the household, said feminist sociologist Lisa Huebner, a professor of women’s and gender studies at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.

“We’re gendering anything related to care, so the holidays become like, ‘This is how you show your love,’” Huebner said. “We don’t talk about those things in terms of workplace skills, like strategies and being creative and being intelligent. Instead we still frame those as being caring and focusing on family, and then we further attach that in gendered ways.”

Women are still socialized to be the organizers, cleaners and emotional managers — ideas that are further reinforced in the media, advertising, even at school.

“It’s not that men can’t or even don’t want to,” Huebner said. “It’s that they’re not practiced at it.”

All of that was already true before 2020, before the year that changed everything.

For Kugler, now it also feels like every task on the self-regenerating to-do list of the holidays will be mixed with grief and exhaustion.

For some, the pandemic has, somehow, impossibly, added even more pressure — the desire to give something positive to hold onto at the end of a year that has seemingly only taken away.

And for others, it has recalibrated the holidays, unraveling years of thinking less wasn’t enough.

Kristina Aleksander, for instance, is ready to cancel Christmas.

She had the talk with her husband, an attorney who promptly pulled out a yellow legal pad and started making a pros and cons list. It all boiled down to a simple flip: If he really wanted Christmas to happen this year, it would be his job to see it through instead of hers.

Reaching that decision feels like they’ve come miles from the time last year when her daughter was born and Aleksander plunged into postpartum depression. She’d hide away in her room at the end of a day working in communications at the Iowa State Capitol. Her husband once said her mood was affecting the entire house.

That labor, invisible and emotional, was hers alone to bear. Her husband helped with many tasks, but she was the center of the household for them, and that responsibility came with expectations about the work they relied on her to perform.

Not this year.

“There is a lot of forced expectation around Christmas and New Year’s where you just have to enjoy yourself and have fun. At least for my age group, women who are in their 20s to late 20s, it feels like a performance that we are putting up for Instagram,” said Aleksander, 26. “And I am just out of energy this year.

I don’t want to perform for anyone.”


The performative aspect is especially visible on social media, where people are spending so much more time as they stay socially distanced and quarantined.

“We have this very intensive Pinterest culture that backs up against these ridiculous expectations for homemaking,” said Eve Rodsky, who has spent a decade talking and writing about invisible labor. “Women were conditioned to have it all and do it all. And then doing it all is a lot higher level threshold because doing it is inspired by Pinterest and Instagram and a lot of counting and competing.”

But doing it all, especially at the end of the year, requires time — and at the source of the problem is the way we look at how men and women spend it.

“We’ve been guarding men’s time since the beginning of time,” Rodsky said. “Women’s time is infinite.”

Rodsky’s book, “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” draws on her work talking to couples, most of them heterosexual, about the way they approach invisible labor and outlines a road map for addressing it. She usually guides couples through two key points.

First, there has to be buy-in. Most men Rodsky works with tell her the tasks their wives obsess over are unnecessary, and they don’t understand why they’re nagging them to do it or why it’s taking place at all. But, Rodsky said, part of it is men often don’t understand the unseen work: the cognitive load of keeping track of something, organizing it and executing it.

As an example, she told the story of Ed and Julie, a couple at a crossroads over a second grade DIY secret Santa project. Julie had to explain to Ed why it mattered: The girl their son got as his secret Santa had few friends — Julie, as the designated drop-off parent for school, knew this — and their son delivering on the gift would mean a lot. Once Ed understood the stakes, he could get to the second part of the equation: ownership of the task.

Watching Ed go to Michael’s, the craft store, and make popsicle-stick jewelry holder with glitter-covered hands changed their relationship that year. Julie felt Ed was really in it with her.

It started with creating room for a conversation most women don’t know how to start. It’s completely different in many of the same-sex couples Rodsky works with, she said, because many already have the context for starting difficult conversations — about coming out, or introducing partners or making health decisions for their children. “What a lot of same-sex couples will say to me is that the reticence of hetero couples to have these types of conversations because roles are already assigned feels sad to them,” Rodsky said.

I am just out of energy this year. I don’t want to perform for anyone.

Kristina Aleksander

This year, it feels like the pandemic has been the catalyst for some of the conversations to take place, she said. With so many people working from home, the labor that happened in the background is now happening at the fore, with everyone around to see it. And so more and more people are choosing to unburden themselves for the holidays, opting for a slimmed down approach to the festivities.

Laura Mayes, a spokeswoman for the City of San Antonio who has been working on the city’s COVID-19 response, is exhausted after a year that eliminated the concept of a break. That’s why she’s planning a smaller Christmas at home, far from her family and without the opportunity to really start creating memories for her 3-year-old, who won’t sit on Santa’s lap or see her grandparents this year.

But even with abridged plans and being tired from a long, stressful year, Mayes admits there’s a part of her that likes the control of doing most of the holiday work herself.

“When I let go of control, then I get all anxious and I want to know what’s going on,” said Mayes, 33. “Where I’ll accept the extra work, I also know at the end I would have wanted it done in certain ways, too.”

That’s another tension point, one some women whisper almost shamefully. By admitting they like the organization or prefer to do it all themselves, that could absolve their partners of needing to help.

It’s even more complicated for stay-at-home moms. Carly Gibbs stopped practicing law to spend more time with her three kids — a first grader, a preschooler and a three-month-old baby — while her husband kept his job as a doctor in Salt Lake City.

If she’s not going to be an attorney, she tells herself, she has to be an excellent mom.

“I am very bad at feeling OK with not doing everything,” said Gibbs, 37. “My inclination is I need to do everything and if I don’t, usually the consequence I am most fearful of or anticipate is my kids being disappointed in any way.”

It takes some mental fortitude for her to reason out of that sometimes. They won’t really care if they don’t build the gingerbread house this year — right?

The pressure women put on themselves is common, said Celeste Headlee, a journalist and author of two books on communication and overworking. So is the desire to want to take up the task themselves because they’ll do it faster, better — in a more organized fashion with less fuss.

Headlee suggests making a list that makes easily visible all the invisible tasks and then dividing it by strengths. Each person puts their initials next to their task for accountability, and the list goes in a public place.

“We are dealing with centuries of pressure that come from religious forces, political forces and corporate forces that led us to believe we have to be working all the time, and we will never meet the bar,” Headlee said. “Instead, I would approach this like you would a project at work — who is going to do what?

Liza Dube and her two sons are going to celebrate their Christmas on their own timeline, a liberation from the years of big parties and coordinated family Christmas caroling.

“What’s driving all of that is really that emotional labor and that tradition-keeping and magic-making, memory-creating and relationship-maintaining,” said Dube, 42. “So this year I feel like we’ve really been trying to kind of get a little bit closer to what the intent is behind a lot of those things, and figuring out simpler ways to meet that intent.”

She plans to celebrate with the boys on a day of their choosing, and they’ll spend Christmas Day with their dad, where they can bake the cookies and do the traditions without having to be shuttled from house to house in their small Massachusetts town. Dube, meanwhile, plans to spend Christmas Day doing something she’s always wanted to do: volunteer, this year with a crisis hotline.

She wonders if she’ll ever do it the old way again.

“I’ve been saying a lot this year, ‘Everybody has to make choices,’” Dube said. “We are all just making choices and we can’t even compare them with each other’s choices anymore.”

Can kindness heal a world divided by pandemic, protests and politics?

Can kindness heal a world divided by pandemic, protests and politics?

Video Courtesy of SSM Anaheim


When asked what she would write about if she could write about anything, Ashlee Eiland’s answer was immediate.

Kindness.

It was 2018, and the pastor said the divisiveness and contention in public conversations was weighing heavily on her. Eiland, the formation and preaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church near Grand Rapids, Michigan, said she felt a “holy discontent” to offer an alternative.

She wanted to help people talk across their differences and, at the same time, still be able to recognize each other’s worth as human beings created in God’s image and likeness.

“I wanted to recapture that because I feel like, especially two years ago, some of that was being lost. I was sensing that would take us down a really hard trajectory if things continued in that direction,” she said.

But kindness isn’t all holding doors and letting people merge in front of you in traffic. The goal of kindness is restoration and transformation, Eiland said.

“I think sometimes what kindness means, if we’re doing it well, is that we are righteously angry,” she said.

“We are lamenting, we are grieving and sometimes holding that grief and anger and lament with someone,” she explained. “I’m specifically thinking of people of color in this country and Black people, who, for generations, have endured an injustice. That should not be met with a pithy call to just be nice to one another, meet each other in the middle of this and this will all be OK.”

Eiland’s book “Human(Kind): How Reclaiming Human Worth and Embracing Radical Kindness Will Bring Us Back Together” was published in April of an election year, in the midst of a polarizing pandemic and not long before protests over the death of George Floyd would reveal even more divisions in the United States. Kindness can reach across those divides, she said.

In a series of short essays, the pastor and author shares her experiences as a Black woman in predominantly white Christian spaces. She writes of encountering both racism and belonging, of confronting her fears and offering kindness even in the face of radical opposition.

Eiland talked to Religion News Service about what it means to be kind, why it’s important to be able to speak to others across divides and how churches can play a role in that.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What does kindness look like in the midst of a pandemic, when fear and distrust are running high and people are unable to be in physical proximity to one another?

It is interesting talking about up-close kindness now that we are encouraged to not be so close anymore.

Before we get to this idea of outward kindness, have we truly sat with being receivers of God’s kindness toward us? Are we regularly coming back to self-kindness? One quick exercise would be over the next 24 hours just to actively note our own voice and how we speak to ourselves. And if that doesn’t reflect a level of transformation and reconciliation with ourselves, as God has offered it to us, then how are we ever going to extend that to the world around us?

I think there is a level of heart work involved before we look outward. I’m thinking of Paul’s words to the Ephesians, where he actually cautions the people of God away from hardheartedness. He says, “But be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God through Christ has forgiven you.” There’s something about maintaining a tender heart first, before we can look outward to the work of forgiving, to the work of reconciliation, to the work of truth-telling.

In the book, you share the pain you felt on election night in 2016 and your fear about “what this presidency and the rhetoric that accompanied it would mean for the poor, minorities and marginalized.” Afterward, you reached out to a Republican friend to understand why she had voted for President Trump. Why do you think it is important to try to understand and have conversations across differences?

I’m thinking of the greatest commandment — to love God and to love our neighbor — and maintaining distance in an unhealthy way. There are so many good reasons to maintain distance for the sake of healthy relationship in the way of boundaries, but I’m talking about choosing to stay distanced from one another just for the sake of maintaining our own narratives. It has great potential to create a hotbed for bitterness, resentment and hate. And if our hearts are hotbeds for bitterness, resentment and hate based on the narratives that we are persistently pursuing, then we can’t love God and love our neighbor.

I didn’t really have a desire to debate her because I knew where she stood. I really wanted to know why for the sake of seeing her humanity up close. Her being my friend is a key part of this, too. This wasn’t a random person I’d just met. This was someone I’d already done relationship with, had history with, who I’d seen lead teenagers out of addiction and into relationship with Christ — I mean, a stunning legacy. I wanted to act against the potential for bitterness, anger, resentment to grow my heart by being close to her and asking God to show me how he saw her.

Because we had a relationship, the beautiful thing was she was able to hear my heart when I was able to hear hers, and our relationship to this day is wonderfully intact, and not just intact, it’s thriving. To me, the end goal of my relationship with her isn’t to hold her close in order to change her mind or to prove I’m right. I’m pursuing unity, and unity requires truth telling, it requires the pursuit of justice and reconciliation, it requires peacemaking.

You also write about the importance of speaking out and taking action. How do you balance that?

Wisdom and discernment are key here. Spout out an issue, someone’s going to have an opinion about it. We all have opinions on everything, but for me personally, that doesn’t mean my voice needs to be heard in every single instance for a couple of reasons.

You talk about racism. There are times where I feel strong in my spirit to lead and to point others in the direction of how to be a better reconciler and how to do the work of antiracism in a way that honors Christ, how to speak up and to be strong and courageous, to use one’s voice in a way that doesn’t allow the people of God to suffer. And there are times when I feel like that’s not my work to do for that moment. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about it. And it doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion. But there are some times, for example, when you talk about racism and bigotry, where I feel more wrapped up in the community of God, when my white brothers and sisters speak up.

There’s discernment here. I don’t want to speak for the sake of just being heard. I want to speak for the sake of transformation. And that means I have to be attentive to the role my voice plays, whether in that moment I need to make room for someone else’s voice.

Social media is important, speaking outwardly is important and maybe a yard sign is important. I’m not minimizing those things, but am I doing the hard work within the relationships in the spheres of influence that have already been given to me? For some, the Thanksgiving table and the Christmas dinner table this year are going to be the battlegrounds because you’re talking across the table from someone who might hold a different opinion from you, and that might be the place that requires the most courage.

You also share a story about confronting your fear of police by inviting police over for coffee. What does that experience have to say to readers now in a moment of reckoning over systemic racism and police brutality following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others?

Again, I am careful not to be prescriptive. In that moment, that felt like a good next step for me. I felt like I had the energy and the desire to really step into an engagement like that with our local police department at the time. If I’m honest, there would have been other days that would have happened and I would not have had the energy or the desire because so much of what is happening is repeated trauma. So I’d say you have to be really discerning on whether that type of proximity is a good next step.

Fear was leading me, and I didn’t want fear to lead me. I know what happens when fear leads. When fear leads, the oppressed is in danger of becoming the oppressor. When fear leads, I am paralyzed (from) carrying out the mission that God’s called and placed on my life. For so many different reasons, I was sensing fear in that moment was not leading me to the flourishing and wholeness Christ desired for me.

I felt like the next step was to humanize individuals who are part of a larger system. It was also acknowledgement that not every single individual who’s operating within the system is interested in brutalizing citizens. There are good law enforcement agents who have protected and served really well. And so I wanted to counterbalance what I was seeing in the media and seeing around my neighborhood with my own eyes. To be open to it, exploring what would it be like to share with our local law enforcement how this feels for us and to be mutually curious, almost going against my natural instinct. It wasn’t like this Hallmark moment. I think what it did is it interrupted the fear that was festering in my own heart, and it gave face to a system. I was able to engage with individuals, not with a system.

In the afterword to the book, you mention the burden of being a Black woman in a “predominantly culturally white church.” We’re in a moment when many churches are saying they want to listen, learn and do better. What’s something you would share with churches about what it means to be culturally white and how wearying that can be?

Cultural whiteness says to every other culture represented within one’s congregation or staff that ours is the norm, that cultural whiteness is the norm. There might be room made for the existence of difference, but we might be hesitant to let that difference lead us in different spaces.

One is I think for church leaders to say, “How can we get a better perspective and move away from our own blind spots by listening to Black, Indigenous, people of color within our church and staff on their perspective of what whiteness is like in our church context?” If there’s a white staff or leadership team defining the culture, it’s like being a fish swimming in the water and not even knowing you’re wet. There has to be a different perspective to help inform what its impact is for others who are entering into that environment.

So a lot of listening and then examining spaces where there’s not just representation, but leadership. You can say, “Yeah, we’re a diverse church. We have 20% Latinx people. We have 10% African American.” You can say that and think you’re diverse, but unless there is someone who’s sitting at the table, not just offering ideas, but you’re actively asking to lead you, then cultural whiteness will remain dominant. And so there has to be a real reckoning — are you willing to give up some of your own space or for someone else to lead and shape and form culture?

And it won’t be just in one space, like Black History Month or an MLK celebration. Cultural whiteness, because it can be so deeply embedded in so many different church spaces, there has to be commitment to this over time repeatedly. It might seem like you’re talking about it too much or it’s coming up too much, but if it’s not revisited regularly, and if you’re not loving people well by inviting them to the conversation to help actively shape spaces, giving them leadership and authority in some senses, then we won’t see change over the long haul.

Specifically, this shows up on platforms, in the ways of worship and preaching and teaching, all the way to children’s ministry, what Bible characters look like, who’s teaching the story. Cultural whiteness impacts not just staff teams and the racial makeup of a congregation, but systems of how ministry is done. How ministry is done is directly tied to how people are formed and their view of God and life with God and each other. There has to be a willingness to be shaped and formed in any other way.