How to start every day

I’m a fan of Seth Godin. He’s a little odd but enormously brilliant. He thinks big thoughts and consistently shares what he’s thinking. It’s not just about his day, but about culture, community, marketing, communication, and personal well-being.

He shares every day and has for a very long time.

One of my goals this month was to write something worth posting twice a week. So far, I’ve managed to hit the goal but I’ve struggled with creating space to do it. Uninterrupted time is at a premium in my life right now. There simply isn’t much of it. Last night I was alone in the house for twenty glorious minutes. I can’t remember the last time that happened. It’s difficult to find the time or creativity to produce “content worth publishing”

I’m also reading a book called Atomic Habits (so practical, no really, if you are interested in habit formation it’s filled with great tools and tips) which talks about skill formation. Apparently – perhaps you know this already and I’m the last person to really get it – it isn’t producing a perfect product/result time after time that really hones our skills, it’s simply consistently practicing. The more we practice and produce, the better we get at it. Garbage product can be as beneficial as perfect product while we are still in the practicing stage.

My inner perfectionist screams and wails at this idea; she’s quite upset that I didn’t throw it out as bullshit to begin with.

Running ten miles is another one of my goals this year. It seems a lot when I look at it as TEN MILES – the finished product. So far, I haven’t run at all. But what I have done is get up every morning and do something. Whether it’s a 4-minute kettlebell workout or a 7-minute HIIT or 10 minutes of yoga, or a 20-minute walk (usually only on weekends *shakes a fist at the dark*), I just have to do something. I know when it comes time to run, I will think of reasons to skip out. I know me. It isn’t the running that’s the problem, it’s the getting out the door. So instead, I’m working on the habit that every day I have to move in some way for at least five minutes. Once the habit of starting is deeply ingrained, the habit of running will slowly follow.

Now, I’m contemplating how to implement this concept for all areas of my life. Rather than focusing so hard on the end result, I’m considering: what could be the most important first step that I can do easily and repeatedly which will allow me to build on them later?

The other day I wrote about accidentally skipping meditation, so I adjusted my parameters. There are some longer guided meditations I want to do, but for now, 5 minutes before I even leave the bed is the plan. Every day. I have to leave the bed to start the day, but I can’t leave the bed until I meditate. If I can find the space and isolation for a longer sit later, I will. 5-minutes. Everyday. First thing. Easy. I can build on that.

So why not with writing? How does that translate? To begin with, I have some things to unlearn. Most of these messages are that “all successful writers do ______” or “in order to gain the attention you desire you must _________.” Basically, I’ve got to release a lot of bullshit and just get down to business. What’s the right way to write? Make words happen. Some words. Any words. Every day. Great words and garbage words and words I can build on.

I need to stop looking over my shoulder or wondering if what I’m writing/creating/forming/learning today is better than what I wrote/created/formed/learned yesterday. It may not be. But eventually the more we do anything, the result will trend towards improvement if we’re really putting our heart into it. Eventually, I will run ten miles; I will sit and focus for twenty minutes; I will read two hundred books. But I won’t start there.

I just have to start somewhere more often than I don’t start at all. I can do that. We can all do that.

How I’m Handling the Inner Critic

It’s been a highly imperfect week. Yesterday, I broke a two-week meditation streak, completely unintentionally. I just didn’t do it. I’ve checked off fewer things and written on fewer mornings. I feel on the edge of mental and emotional overwhelm.

Making room for the unexpected things I wrote about Monday? – HELLO!! I didn’t really mean this week when I said it!

Side note, I became pregnant with my amazing middle child when my first child was 5 weeks old. That’s right, I said weeks. I had just gone back to work and all I wanted to do was be home with my baby. At the time I was still firmly convinced that I would have a cancer recurrence as a result of completing the pregnancy. I didn’t want to miss any of the time I had with her. We joke now, that I prayed to be able to stay home one day and God thought I said “Stay home MONDAY” which is how I got pregnant.

I kind of feel like that about this week. “LEAVE SPACE FOR THE SOMEDAY UNEXPECTED, UNIVERSE! THAT WAS NOT A CHALLENGE!” HavemercyAmen.

My inner perfectionist is yelling at me that fifteen days into the year I already messed up. My streak is ended; I’m missing check marks. Yesterday I didn’t even USE my bullet journal. Intentions-schmintantions. Who was I kidding?

I like to step back and take a look at this nasty inner voice lately. Where did she come from and why do I listen to her? Who told me perfection was the goal and why did I believe them? Is it an evangelical wound? Because they do believe that we should be perfect as Jesus is perfect. But I don’t think that perfection means that Jesus never made a mistake, or tripped on a rock or had a bad day, because HUMANITY DOESN’T WORK LIKE THAT, and furthermore, isn’t intended to. Does it go further back than that to when a B wasn’t good enough when I could have made an A? There are so many things that work together to make up our inner voice.

Where do we learn that our inner voice should be a critic rather than a cheerleader? Who sold us the bullshit package that tough love or even worse, hyper-critical nit-picking was the way we would convince ourselves to change?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

I just know that I’m not having it any longer. I didn’t escape a hyper-critical toxic religious environment to just keep echoing that rhetoric with my own inner voice. I can love myself better than that, and I deserve to love myself better than that.

So I’m being transparent. It’s a highly imperfect week; I’m being way too hard on myself about it. Maybe you are too? Let’s stop this nonsense and remember that the journey is the work. The process matters. Lapses, mistakes and difficult days are all part of that process. Evolution is slow and sometimes it gets sidetracked. Birth is messy and bloody, and we’re, all of us, still being born.

Let’s be kind to ourselves, so we can fully love.
Lighten up by throwing out the garbage messages our inner voice has been feeding us for years. We deserve better. We deserve love. And what’s more, it’s already ours, if we only have the gumption to claim it.

Day by Day

Someone asked me the other day about the Happiness Project. I talked about it for a few minutes, about why I paid to join a coaching system and what I hope to accomplish. Then there was a follow-up question: So how many “resolutions” do you have this year?

I don’t know. I’m taking it day by day and month by month.

In years past, I’ve launched all my initiatives at the same time. Do all the things, every day! Do them without missing a day! If you skip a day you’ve ruined everything! Friends, perfectionism ain’t no joke. She’s a terrible life coach.

In my divorce from the rules and regulations of religion, I’ve developed softer lines and fuzzier edges (not just from stress eating and Sunday morning mimosas). My inner voice is softer. I’m no longer thinking in all or nothing terms. I believe not in transformation but in evolution.

This year will bring changes, some of which I will plan, but many of which I will not.

These changes will not all happen at once, but they will happen.

I will hold space to welcome the unknown and the unexpected.

For January, I have four foundational habits I am forming:

  • Pause morning and evening – these are moments of planning, meditation, and evaluation. Sometimes I journal, but if I’m tired or in a hurry, simply a moment or two will recenter and redirect me on the path I intended for the day, or create space for a new intention. Yep, I’ll change a whole plan mid-day if unforeseen events require it, and call it a win when I adapt rather than resist.
  • Keep a bullet journal – I’ve planned and failed at this more often than I care to admit. But my pausing habit facilitates my bujo habit. I’m experiencing more success by pairing the habits and more happiness by tracking, recording and remembering things by keeping them all in one place. And it’s pretty yellow, which makes me smile each time I pick it up.
  • Plan Dinner – This habit pairs with my bujo. I don’t know about you, but when I know what’s for dinner on a daily basis, we eat better and shop better. Also, it cuts down on cranky late afternoon texts with my Hunky demanding a dinner plan. We are both more inclined to cook rather than eating cereal when we know what is prepped and available. Eventually I want to plan out a couple weeks or even a month at a time, but for now, I plan dinner down one side of my bujo page and the groceries required on the other. In a month or so, this will make grocery lists so much easier and that will also make me happier.
  • Move – I do have some physical goals this year that will involve more specific and intense habits, but those habits aren’t for this month which is already pretty full. Instead, I just need to get my ass out of bed, off the couch and away from the desk chair. I follow a 7-minute HIIT many mornings or a 4-minute kettlebell routine. I step out for a 4 o’clock walk, take the stairs, park farther away, walk if it’s under 5 minutes, whatever comes to mind to make motion part of my daily experience, I do it, and I don’t think too hard about it. Good enough is good enough, right now.

Day by day these four small things are making me happier and making my life flow more smoothly. Doing them regularly may take an extra 30 – 40 minutes, but generally save me well more than that amount each day. They are investments in myself, my family and my time. They make me happier which is what the Happiness Project is all about.

For the months to come, I have some general ideas and a rough sketch of what goals will fit where, but I’m taking it day by day and month by month. Change will come whether I want it or not, the question is, will I have the tools to shape those changes or will I simply let them roll me along with them? I’m choosing my tools this year, but prepared to enjoy the rolling along for a short time, if and when it comes.

What changes are you making this year? What tools are you using?

This is the Work

On Monday of this week, we held job interviews for a couple of positions we had open at my workplace. Truth be told, I really, really love being part of a team that gives people jobs. It’s amazing. However, the day of the interviews can be long and tiring. It’s an enormous amount of social energy for me (hello, introvert) and our interview process has several steps which require set-up and recording scores and printing rubrics and just lots of little details.

And all the while, the work of the library flows around me so my train of thought is often interrupted and side tracked, which isn’t an ideal mental situation for me.

I love helping people get a job, but the process can be exhausting. Isn’t it funny how so many worthwhile things are like that, and so we avoid them? Or maybe you don’t, but I do.

Anyway, we had a bit of a mid-day break between interviews where I grabbed lunch and dropped one of my people at their job and tried to spend a little time with the dogs who aren’t loving the 5 people at school and work most days schedule after Christmas break. When I returned to the building, I began setting up for the final interview of the day, and I thought to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today. And then my entire mental momentum came to a screeching stop.

All I had done all day was work, and work well, and work hard. I do a good job, sure I have loads still to learn but I am good at what I do. Still, I literally told myself: you haven’t done any work today because you haven’t really done anything visibly productive or which was in your wheelhouse routine. I considered this terrible message I was selling myself and I realized:

This is the work. Enjoy the process.

How often do we do this? How often are we involved in something which is large and complex with many moving pieces, which requires a great deal of energy and time and which carries some pretty serious weight but because the visible product is small or perhaps even non-existent, we think to ourselves, I have to get back to the work, the real work. We are selling ourselves a great big load of bullshit, and most of us are buying it most of the time.

I stayed home for almost twenty years to raise my ladies, and there were many days where I fell into bed exhausted and thought to myself, I didn’t get a single thing done today because I missed the point that this is the work – not the to-do list or the product, but being fully present for the most important thing at the time.

The work is not the product; the work is the process.

I’ve embarked on a pretty big project this year, Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Experience. The point is not only to explore things which increase my happiness but to actively engage in those things and measure the result. I expect to have as many failures as successes. I expect to sometimes expend a great deal of effort with very little product other than my own personal satisfaction. I know there will be days when I think to myself, I haven’t gotten any work done today.

And hopefully when that happens I will remember that crystalline moment standing at my desk with the whole library buzzing around me and remember:

This is the work. Be present for the process.
This is the work. Don’t miss it rushing to cross off the list.
This is the work.


Beyond Belief

So here we are, at the dawn of a new year. I’ve thought quite a bit about this writing space during the waning days of 2018. I’ve considered its presence and its purpose, how I have used my voice and how I want to use it moving forward. I even considered how I felt about having shared my experience in so public a forum, knowing what people are saying about the things I write and the person they assume I have become.

Vulnerability isn’t easy at any time, but least of all when it questions the most basic tenets of foundational belief systems.

2019 is a brand new page to write upon. I have considered whether I want to keep sharing the story of my experience with fundamental theology, and why I understand now that unless it evolves into wider, more open space, it will continue to devolve into more rigid and abusive means of expression. Unfortunately, when the stakes are the eternal damnation of your soul, questions and doubts are singularly dangerous. Slippery slopes end only in lakes of fire.

I can do nothing to change the path I’ve already walked. I can’t retrieve the years I lost to narrow-minded concepts and “loving” with an agenda. But I do know I am in good company where regrets are concerned. We’ve all gathered a fair collection, and now it’s our decision how far we carry them, and what lessons we will take when we lay them down.

For me, I’m still working it all out: faith, wholeheartedness, emotional health, relationships, kindness, empathy, loving humanity. It’s hard work interspersed with tremendous beauty and glorious belly laughs. I want to end my days feeling I have lived them well, not that I have lost myself in the bitterness of what has passed.

And yet, there is an empty space which demands the voices of those who have been down the slippery slope and lived to tell the tale. Whether we call ourselves the Nones or the fringes, whether we are humanists or agnostics or atheists or simply none of the above, there is space for us to come together and share ourselves and our dream of a better world and kinder humanity, a space beyond belief. Whatever label you affix to its members, I believe that space is sacred, and it needs voices brave enough to stand up and say, “A shitty thing happened to me! I was changed by that thing, but I am not defined by that thing.”

I’m developing a set of personal commandments, which I am sure I will talk about more in the days to come. One of the fundamental understandings upon which I intend to live is this:

People will love me. People won’t love me. Carry on.

I won’t continue to dwell in the events leading up to and culminating our graduation from religion in 2018, but I also won’t ignore they happened, and they still happen to people who desperately need to know they aren’t alone.

It’s been over twenty years since I had cancer, yet every time I hold space for someone walking their own cancer journey, it hurts as much as it did the first day a surgeon said to me, “You have a cancer.” I have lived that moment a hundred thousand times in my mind, and will probably live it a hundred thousand more, but I can carry it and not be victim to it as long as I let it remind me how strong it made me, and the rare and strange gifts it left behind.

I can follow this same pattern with my experience of spiritual abuse. I can hold space and still live and grow and move away from the reality of it. The reality will fade, but the experience will remain, and others will need to hear it.

I intend for 2019 to be a year beyond belief, outside of the faith constructs which guided me at one time, but which eventually strangled and expelled me.

I also hope 2019 will be a year of growth, experience, and adventure. I invested in myself and joined the Happiness Project Experience (The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin is a book I have read and reread and enjoyed every time). I believe there is space for this voice too, the voice of a woman rediscovering who she is in the middle years of life, a woman embarking on a journey after the kids are raised and after a year where everything, everything changed.

So much change happened unintentionally in 2018 that it excites me to imagine how much can change when I intentionally set out to expand my life, my heart, my understanding of the world, and my love for myself, for humanity and for the earth. The possibilities are endless. There is space for that adventure and all the stories and ponderings it brings.

Thus we ring in a whole new year in this space. People will love it. People won’t love it. And that’s exactly as it should be.

How to avoid a dumpster fire

This is an actual conversation that happened at my house last week (details blurred to protect my integrity)

Craig: I saw (unnamed) at (event he attended).
Me: REALLY?!?! Did you tell him he’s a jackass and kick him where he wishes he had balls?
Craig: Yes. I decided utter annihilation was the best way to handle the situation rather than communication and conversation.
Me: Whatever, you totally talked to him like a person and didn’t kick him anywhere. Hmph.

Friends, this is literally my marriage in a nutshell. I want to punch people in the throat and call them names, and my husband has actual productive conversations and doesn’t take my interpersonal relationship advice. It’s ok though, I recognize my need for improvement. Believe it or not, I am trying. Whether I choose to exercise my better social skills and values usually depends on how vulnerable I feel. The more vulnerable, the harder it is for me not to throw the first punch.

One of the ways I am learning to be myself again is to let down my defenses. It isn’t easy to leave an abusive relationship without feeling like everyone else is the enemy. In my situation, I was often told “people” (always nameless) were watching, calling, complaining and it was up to them (men in leadership) to uphold these complaints, rebuke and punish me. This pattern went on for years. I was never allowed to know the identity of those who monitored my every move. I actually began to believe that every person in the vicinity was a potential enemy and that no place was safe.

I’ve been unlearning this false reality for a while now, but when I feel threatened or emotionally overwhelmed, all my defenses slam back into place. My sharp edges emerge. I plot how to hurt them before they hurt me. These patterns aren’t healthy, but they were the lens of my reality for a long time. I’m learning to create space before responding in order to step back and remember not to come out with my flame flower already blazing. My healing process is awkward and imperfect. I’m growing into new patterns slowly, but I am softening.

Learning to be soft and open is a long process after trauma. When we are wounded we tend to guard the area where the injury occurred so it doesn’t receive further damage. But eventually, if we don’t move in natural ways, the ways we are designed to move, we become stiff and stunted where once we were supple and smooth. I feel stiff and stunted most days. It’s easier to resort to defensive techniques and name calling then it is to open to pain again. I tell myself it’s better to drive people away and be safe than to allow them close where they can wound me again.

I know these feelings aren’t based in reality, but they are easy and known. Easy and known can feel safe and true, even if it isn’t.

I don’t want to be a cynical, snarky, and mean person, not even when it gives that little zing of naughty pleasure. I’ve achieved expert level skills in the game of caustic comeback, but it’s not really the reputation I desire. In fact, this narrow, fearful, binary thinking of us vs. them is what led to the abuse which damaged me. In seeking to shut down and silence the ones I see as my “opponents,” I become like the very ones who damaged me so deeply.

I sure as hell don’t want that.

I don’t want to perpetuate the type of treatment I experienced. I want to be soft and open and loving. I want to hear what someone else has to say, which is hard to do when you’ve already punched them in the throat. I want to be warm and welcoming and speak with intelligence and compassion. I may eventually even overcome muttering “jackass” under my breath when I see them coming, even if I don’t go for the throat punch.

I have these heroes (my husband is one) who are strong and emotionally self-aware and able to hold conversations (without crying) about things they feel passionately without being prickly and defensive. I’m starting to love myself enough again to see the value in “the other” more than the value of being right and putting them in their place. I keep practicing vulnerability so these healthy responses are my go-to behaviors rather than all the self-protective bullshit I currently employ.

I’m working on it, working on me. Every day I’m unlearning the lessons of religion and replacing them with the truth of being human, and frail and fraught with error and filled with the Divine even so. Me, you, them, everyone. All of us needing a little less annihilation and a little more space to be heard.

Diving into heresy

“Some say I fell from grace; they’re being kind. I didn’t fall –I dove” – Sue Monk Kidd

Last weekend I reconfigured a room in my house, one which I have barely used since we moved here. I didn’t purchase anything new for the room, except some white Christmas lights which use year-round, but somehow simply shifting the furniture made the room warmer, more welcoming.

I’ve been sitting here all morning watching the shadows play across the walls and listening to Mo snore next to me on the sofa. It’s Sunday morning, and I’m not at church. I am grateful for this grace anew every weekend. I suppose eventually the novelty of it will wear off and it will feel like this is how life always has been. But currently, this peace is a gift from the Universe full of emotional rest and safety, and usually a steak and eggs breakfast. Falling in love with Sunday is a treat I will not hurry through. Perhaps this is how Sabbath is meant to be experienced. I only know my soul feels still on these long lazy mornings.

Strangely enough, I’m also thinking about heresy as I sit here. Perhaps it’s the recognition that a few simple shifts can change everything. As I reread my November prayer, I contemplated how moving on so often also means letting go. But I think sometimes we confuse letting go with acting as though a thing never happened. When our lives are drastically altered, whether the transition is “good” or “bad,” (this binary sorting of experience is a blog for another time.), we often work very hard at putting the event behind us so that we can get back to being “our usual selves.” It’s true, our usual selves are known and comfortable, but they are also often a false construct since we are always evolving and changing. There is no putting an event behind us. The circumstances of our lives mold and shape us, physically and spiritually. For better or worse, we are changed. A wise person incorporates these changes into their understanding of themselves and the world.

Which brings me to the heresy.

Over the weekend, I added two important pieces of writing to this space. They are concepts I have been exploring for several years and eventually are what led me to split from evangelicalism entirely. This split happened spiritually long before we actually left the church, and in retrospect, it was foolish of me to think professional ministry would ever be a fit for me again. I am constantly grateful for Divine intervention closing the doors to all the church jobs Craig applied to. Even last fall, I was still trying to get back to an old, familiar self, and not incorporating all the ways my faith and my worldview have changed. I was a heretic in sheep’s clothing.

While the manner of our leaving church was abusive and soul-crushing, the actual leaving was a Grace I do not take lightly. I forfeited church but gained back my soul. Even the hard work of returning to wholeness is a gift. I know and love my soul so much better now that I am able to see it clearly as a beautiful, deserving, creative part of my whole Self.

I didn’t share openly all the things I was feeling at the time because admitting them aloud makes me a heretic.

In my fifteen years experience with professional church, doctrine is the holy throne upon which the Lord is seated. This doctrine may or may not be strictly Biblical (many of our modern church traditions have their roots centuries after the nascent period of the Christian church), but once you wrap the Bible itself in an unquestionable layer of authority, there is no room left for interpretation or discussion. Doctrine is as holy and inerrant as scripture itself.

“This is the way God/the church is. There is nothing to be said or done about it.”

Years ago I stopped putting so much faith in traditions, layering heresy upon heresy.

Inerrancy of scripture? Nope.
Existence of eternal fire and punishment hell? Don’t believe it.
The primacy of Christianity to any other spiritual expression? Not having it.
Penal Substitutionary atonement? Forget it.
Patriarchy? Hell no.
A god who commands genocide and rape? Monstrous.
Original sin? That’s a hard pass.
Scientific accuracy of the biblical creation account? I just don’t think so.
End times rapture and apocalyptic theory? Are you kidding me? That’s not even ancient tradition. It’s 1990’s Jenkins and Le Haye pop-culture claptrap the church has used to whip up fear and furor.

I never dared admit any of this lest the church ladies clutch their pearls and call the priests and Pharisees…err…pastors and elders. Which they did anyway, even without saying these things. And now I suppose all the worry and flutter was justified. Look at the near miss they’ve been given. There was a heretic in their midst! Oh, the destruction I might have wrought.

You can see how I was fooling myself that any sort of congregation we were considering would be a good fit for me for long. I simply grew another direction from that sort of faith and thinking. I ask too many questions and draw too many aberrant conclusions. Also, I research and read a lot, both of which are threatening to the men in power. I don’t subscribe to the ideal Christian feminine template. I wear leggings far too often.

However, while I definitely have my issues about the church, I don’t think it’s a terrible place filled with terrible people, quite the opposite. My personal experience is with small men of great insecurity, but I also know some wonderful, generous, courageous women and men who lead and love and serve in beautiful ways. I admire them, even though I may not be like them in the ways I understand and express spirituality. But we don’t have to view the Divine the same way to love well together. Just ask the Jewish and Muslim communities in Pittsburgh.

I’m thinking about all these things this Sunday morning because it’s time to finally let go of my religious identity. It wasn’t all bad, but in the end, I was far more damaged than helped by professional religion. We were fervently and well loved by individuals, but the church as a business is crueler and more calculating than most “worldly” companies I’ve been part of with fewer people to answer to for their cruelty. Religion has changed me; this is undeniable.

Now I need to incorporate those changes into the new self I am becoming, one who is more whole and more honest than she’s had the freedom to be in a while. Apparently, this is the space for working that out. So here’s where I admit, we’re about to leave the map. If heresy isn’t your cup of tea, maybe it’s where you get off. And that’s okay. It’s about to get sort of feminist and Goddess-y and messy in here because that’s where I’m going next. Finally, all the doors are open; I have stopped holding my breath.

Welcome to the dark woods. Here there be wolves and witches and wild women and dancing under the moon. At last.