Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

It’s been two years since Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood published. I know because it popped up in my “memories.” It made me pause and think about how long and impactful these last two years have been. A lot has changed in my life. I’ve changed. Peeling yellow wallpaper is painful stuff. When writing my book, I didn’t realize how much of it was all over myself.

For those of you who haven’t read Recovering, I am referring to the infamous 19th century novella, The Yellow Wallpaper, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s a brilliant and disturbing exploration of the effects patriarchal attitudes and constrictions have on female psychosynthesis.[1] Being forced into “rest therapy” for a bogus diagnosis of neurasthenia, the narrator of the book becomes completely fixated on the disturbing yellow wallpaper of the run-down estate she is made to stay in and becomes convinced that there is a woman trapped inside of its smothering pattern. She must peel it back to set her free. You see, the yellow wallpaper in this confined room of which she is made to stay is a symbol of the traditional patriarchal structures of family, medicine, and society. Following the stream-of-consciousness writing of the narrator’s journal-like entries, the reader joins her downward spiral from sanity. At the end, her voice changes to that of the woman in the wallpaper whom she’s set out to free.

In the Introduction of my book, I ask the question:

Is the woman in this story crazy for what she saw in the yellow wallpaper, or is everyone else crazy for not seeing it?

Because in reading it more than one hundred years after its publication, I too see the lingering yellow wallpaper. Much of it is ripped off, of course—thanks to the woman who was behind it. Thanks to the many women who have come before us in history. I’m so thankful for the yellow wallpaper peelers. I was introduced to another amazing peeler of the paper in reading about Elizabeth Packard in The Woman They Could Not Silence. But it painfully reminded me again of what the church often does to yellow wallpaper peelers: labels us as crazy. Or the worst of sinners.

Recovering was an attempt to reveal the yellow wallpaper respectfully but directly in our churches today, much of which manifests itself under the teaching of “biblical” manhood and womanhood, and to do something about it. Peel. Because there is something beautiful and glorious behind it. I wrote that one of our biggest challenges is to actually see this yellow wallpaper’s scrawling patterns that are stifling the force of the Bible’s message and strangling the church’s witness and growth. Don’t we want to rip those away and reveal the beauty and unity in God’s word?

I didn’t realize that in revealing and peeling the yellow wallpaper, things I held with value in my life like my job, “good” friends, my denomination/church, my reputation even, were in the paper’s patterns and would peel with it. It was some painful revealing and peeling! I can see why the narrator has us wondering if we can hold onto our sanity through it all. But that is what we are doing in the peeling. The message is clear: seeing it is holding onto our sanity and goodness.

And it is worth it. With the loss, I’ve looked beside me and found other yellow wallpaper peelers. There hasn’t only been loss, but recovery. Recovery of depth of Christ’s love for us, of our eschatological imaginations, recovery of curiosity, the meaningfulness of the theology of our bodies, and the heart of our creation: to covenantally share in the Father’s love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Our bodies call us to imagine the story of a gift given in eternity—a gift of a bride to the Son. Imagine man and woman revealing the deep mystery of an eternal trinitarian covenant that is prefigured in creation. Who wants to allow yellow wallpaper to cover all that?

Gilman wrote her book because she was misdiagnosed with neurasthenia and the “treatment” almost drove her to madness. She explained, “I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its embellishments and additions to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.” He didn’t acknowledge it to Gilman, and yet years later she learned that he quit prescribing his rest therapy after she sent him that copy of her book. Dr. Mitchell wasn’t going to admit to seeing the yellow wallpaper, but he did change his treatment.

I will say this. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

And once you see the beautiful picture before us, you can’t unsee that either. It’s irresistible. Yellow wallpaper peeling is worth it. The Lord uses this very challenge as a backdrop to get our attention and reveal that discipleship is more than we ever imagined—it is a participation in the covenantal, spousal union with Christ.

Like I said before:

Women, you are disciples of Christ. This is dangerous business. Count the cost.

[1] I snagged this great word from a review posted by “bookeros,” “The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Review,” Guardian, November 25, 2014, http://www.theguardian. com/childrens-books-site/2014/nov/25/review-yellow-wallpaper-charlotte-perkins-gilman.

One thought on “Two Years of Peeling Yellow Wallpaper

  1. Bill says:

    Under the yellow(ing) wallpaper, we find the gospel spoken by the God Who is Love, Who in a Mystery, came down and walked among us that we might know the God of Love and become disciples who walk with Him in Life, loving others:

    1 John 4:7 ¶ Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
    1 John 4:8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
    1 John 4:9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
    1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son {to be} the propitiation for our sins.
    1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
    1 John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
    1 John 4:13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
    1 John 4:14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son {to be} the Savior of the world.
    1 John 4:15 ¶ Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
    1 John 4:16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
    1 John 4:17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
    1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
    1 John 4:19 We love, because He first loved us.
    1 John 4:20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
    1 John 4:21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
    1 John 5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the {child} born of Him

    Could it be any plainer than this?

    Why is the wallpaper there? The verses immediately preceding this passage tell us why that wallpaper exists:

    1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
    1 John 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
    1 John 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the {spirit} of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
    1 John 4:4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
    1 John 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak {as} from the world, and the world listens to them.
    1 John 4:6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

    Thanks, Aimee, for listening and hearing, and speaking so others can hear about the God of Love, who calls us to know Him, and walk with Him every day in life, proclaiming the gospel of Jesus , Who is the promised Messiah Who came to establish a New Kingdom in which HE reigns in Justice, Righteousness and Lovingkindness, as foretold! We exhibit love as we walk in Justice, Righteousness and Lovingkindness, proclaiming the gospel as Jesus did, in His deeds, accompanied by words. Our God, the God of love, delights in these things (Jer 9:23,24).

    Brothers and Sisters in Christ, beware the leaven of the Pharisess in our day; those who speak a gospel not at all consistent with love.

    Heed the warnings Jesus gave, often, against the error of the Pharisees, summed up in these two passages:

    Matt 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

    Luke 11:42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every {kind of} garden herb, and {yet} disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

    We can choose to walk a path different from the one that seems to be the path many in the evangelical (and reformed) church have been on, for too long. We can choose to pursue the very people Jesus spoke of, when He began His ministry-the broken in our world:

    Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.
    Luke 4:15 And He {began} teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.
    Luke 4:16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
    Luke 4:17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
    Luke 4:20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.
    Luke 4:21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

    I write after some thought to commemorate two difficult years that a sister in Christ has gone through, with words that have meaning not just in the difficult path God led her through; but in light of two years of God calling on us, HIS PEOPLE, to TURN OUR EYES TO HIM as HE SPEAKS SOLEMNLY TO OUR WORLD.

    our SOVEREIGN GOD has called US, HIS church to HEED HIM, as He has throughout history at TIMES LIKE THESE, when HIS JUDGEMENT FALLS ON THE ENTIRE WORLD…calling us ALL to REPENTANCE; to RETURN to FIRST THINGS.

    There are no more basic ‘first things’ than what JOHN writes in his first letter; and what Jesus spoke as He began His ministry of speaking the GOOD NEWS that HE the MESSIAH had come to establish HIS KINGDOM in which HE NOW REIGNS… in JUSTICE, MERCY and LOVINGKINDNESS.

    Do JUSTICE, MERCY and LOVINGKINDNESS characterize how a sister in Christ has been dealt with these past two years?

    Not at all, to me, as someone who has no ‘subjective’ interest-but who is ‘reformed’ (or was-now-I see ‘reformed’ more in the light of Paul’s warnings to the Corinthians against any such labels that might set us into contention with one another…

    Does our WALK WITH GOD satisfy the words of JESUS against the Pharisees given to US to hear as true warnings that we NOT walk their path?

    I walked in love where God sent me, in a vocation of mercy to the sick, and the poor; there was a group captive and oppressed whom GOD FREED… but it came at a cost.

    I WONDER why Aimee has been treated the way she has; and why NO ONE REPENTS and seeks to walk the path of JUSTICE, MERCY AND LOVINGKINDNESS where there has been SIN AGAINST HER that is PUBLICLY KNOWN.

    WHY DOES NOT LOVE TRIUMPH HERE, and in OUR WALK individually and collectively, today as FOLLOWERS of Jesus.


    Aimee marks two years; I mark this as the fourteenth year, since God began a work that stopped a predator in a medical school; and led me to isolation from not only the university I served in, but even my faith community; not one as difficult as the path Aimee has walked; but one I was forced onto by the passivity of too many who chose to NOT ACT IN LOVE.

    The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable of OUR DAY.

    The ENGAGEMENT some call christians to walk in, is that of the PHARISEES-a CONDEMNING MAN CENTERED RULE ORIENTED path, NOT the path of LOVE that JESUS CALLS US TO WALK. The path of OUR CHOSEN STRIFE, is NOT THE PATH OF LOVE JESUS SPOKE AND WALKED (nor the path of strife when OTHERS persecute us for BEING LOVING!).

    I’ve read what Aimee has written, myself (all but one book–didn’t get to the first one, yet). I’m encouraged by what she’s written in MY walk and MY faith in God; to pursue discipleship MORE; to disciple others MORE; to address the yellow wallpaper that has been plastered over in MY lifetime with MORE such coverings.

    Brothers in Christ who are set apart for the ‘peace and purity’ of the church in the OPC–READ what she’s written, not biased-but to HEAR what she is saying-and the SUBSTANCE is for EDIFICATION aimed at women-but edifying to men, TOO. HOW is that wrong? Do I ignore the book of Ruth because it’s about a woman?

    This is longer than a normal comment would be. But this post marks and commenorates two years of your life, Aimee. And merited a comment that took a few days to come to.

    I wish you well; I pray that God will continue to sustain you, work in and through you as the Spirit enables you to walk with God in the light of the gospel of Love, with your eyes set on Jesus, following Him with faithfulness and encouraging and strengthening the faith of others.

    HIS peace be with you.


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