This is the Work

Happiness Project Experience, Learning, Living

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.


How do we become ourselves?

Healing, Living

I’ve never been a very fast writer, which is why when life gets busy – which is often- I stop writing. I want everything I put out for public consumption to be lyrical and lovely and technically perfect. There’s nothing wrong with wanting anything I create in the world to be a good product, except when my standards are so high that they hinder me from doing anything in the first place.

I occasionally say I am a writer, but I’m not consistent in the practice. I also occasionally say I’m a runner but I haven’t run since the fall. There’s a distinct separation between what I say I am and what I embody. I don’t think this separation is a deliberate form of disinformation; I’m not trying to make myself look better. I think it’s more a form of self-deception – projecting who I want to be on who I really am today.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot along with my word for the year: embody. It’s one thing to say I am something, it’s another thing to embody it. One is a form of self-deception and one is a way of becoming.

Look, even when I am running, I’m not winning any prizes. I’m slow and awkward and usually very red in the face, but if my feet are moving, I am a runner. There are no other qualifications. In fact, one of my favorite things about the running community is how fervently they promote the message: if you are moving, you’re a runner.

But I’m funnier about writing. Perhaps its because I love books so much. People who create those chapters and stories, those people are writers. Me? I’m just me, occasionally playing with words.

Which begs the question: at what point am I writer? Is it when I get published? I’ve been published. Is it when I make it big? Make a career of it? Go on tour? If these are my criteria then I’m also not a runner because I’ve never won a single medal (nor do I expect to) and I will never make a career of it. Why am ok with calling myself a runner (when I run), but not a writer?

It’s an interesting question isn’t it?

At what point do we give ourselves permission to be the person we want to be whether or not the world recognizes it? My husband left professional ministry nine months ago but he still calls himself a pastor because he embodies the traits which make a person pastoral: he loves people and cares for their well-being and they know it. It doesn’t require any form of public recognition or permission for him to be this thing.

I’m definitely one who gets tripped up in if/then thinking. If this thing happens, then I will be ________ (happy, a writer, able to lose weight, good enough, insert your own if/then statement here.) We seek outer validation to apply an inner identity rather than simply becoming that person because she’s the person we envision for ourselves. We make ourselves crazy trying to become someone we already are.

So I’m making myself a promise this week to write more and doubt less. To believe that it’s enough to put words on paper (or on screen as the case may be) whether or not they are perfect or poetic or worthy of national acclaim. A writer writes and I can believe in myself enough to do exactly that thing without needing perfection or outer validation.

It’s a new year – who do you say you are in it? Are you waiting for some form of validation before you embody that person? Do you need permission to become the person you always believed you could be? Don’t be afraid to take that first step and keep taking them one at a time. The Universe is waiting, and She applauds you.

Embody

Healing, Living

In November, I wrote about how 2018 was a year without a name. The concept of a word or theme for the year is fairly widespread (go ahead, google it if you need more information.), and I have taken part in the concept for years. Maybe you think it’s hokey or gimmicky, which is fine, your word for the year can be ‘cranky-pants’, but for me, it’s a deeply spiritual experience.

I listened for this year’s word for a long time. I knew it wouldn’t be anything related to church culture. I knew I wanted it to be self-centered (not in a selfish way, but in continuing to focus on self-love, self-healing, a generative and growing word.) I knew it needed to be feminine and empowering, fully accepting of where I am while allowing me to develop bigger dreams, bigger ideals, and bigger love.

One of the foundational tenets of most Christian theology centers on the depravity of humankind. We don’t just do bad things; we are bad, born inherently broken and unworthy of Love. To be indoctrinated with this message is to learn to hate your self. Hating your words and your actions is bad enough, but it can teach you to hate your very flesh. If you’re also a woman? Forget about it. You ate the fruit; you caused the fall, and the patriarchy has reminded you of it ever since. You are doubly damned.

I’ve lived this reality for a long time, even when I stopped believing it, I couldn’t escape a culture that was steeped in it. Breaking free of this destructive and decidedly unloving doctrine has been like picking sand out of jello. Just when you think you’ve removed it all, you find a little more crunching between your teeth. Believing this body I inhabit is inherently divine and capable of producing beautiful and miraculous things is a conscious act of will every day.

For a long time, I thought my word would be ‘Goddess’ honoring the process of coming to know the Divine Feminine. But ultimately, this word still places the emphasis outside my actual body, an outside being or force who acts upon me, which I think is a disempowering view of Divine Love.

Embody is a word which cannot be divided from the messy muscle, blood, and bone of humanity. It is flesh-bound even as it leaves the lips. And yet it is also deeply entwined with the spiritual. As we think in our hearts, so will our body behave. We will embody that which we believe, understand and feel, and we will be affected mentally and emotionally by what our bodies encounter, and how they perform. We are bound together, flesh and soul.

The Gospel of John begins with a beautiful poem: The Word became flesh and lived with us.

I often think of Jesus, His never-ending welcome to those who were considered outside the love of God and man, unworthy and dirty, wounded in body and soul. Religious men hated him for his welcoming spirit, his work of unbiased love and healing. People flocked to his touch and his message of invitation: All who are weary and heavy laden, come… Bring your wounds and your loneliness and receive restoration. Remember you are loved. You always have been.

Fundamentalism has lost this message somewhere in it’s striving to attain what it’s had all along: worthiness and welcome. I hope being embodied will remind me that this body, with its scars, its unshapely bulges, its stretch marks, and failures is that I have always been divinely inhabited by an overwhelming Love, perhaps wandering, but never lost. This humanity cannot be separated from Divinity any more than I can separate my soul from my skin and still exist.

Whatever it is I wish to see in the world, I must first be in the world. This one is perhaps the hardest for me. It is much easier to accept love than to be it, but the two are also impossible to separate. The more open we are to love in the world, the more readily we lavish it on others. Love isn’t merely what we feel or say (if I had a dollar for every time I heard my abuse was enacted “out of love” last year…), it’s what we birth from our bodies in the way we make caress the world as we move through it.

2019 will be a year in which I become what I believe, and so I must curiously explore and wisely choose who and what influences me, and I will practice creative love for myself, for humanity and for the earth.

Embody.

Beyond Belief

Happiness Project Experience, Healing, Learning, Living

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.

When endings are Beginnings

Healing, Living

We had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t leave the house for four days, and I didn’t have to cook after 2pm on Thursday. The weather was cool and slightly dreary which means hours of candles and strings twinkle lights. Over the course of the weekend, we binged the entire first season of The Amazing Mrs. Maisel – OMG why has no one urged me to watch this before?!?! I slept. A lot. Hours and hours each night, awakening long after it was already light in the morning. It was absolutely unremarkable, and yet everything I wanted it to be, especially after the emotionally charged week which came before.

We’ve already begun Christmas shopping here, but I turned my mind a bit to finishing the project. Gift giving isn’t one of my strengths, less so since I became so much more intentional with the things we acquire. But I do enjoy buying a good, useful, meaningful gift, and I love Christmas morning, so it’s worth the effort. As I pondered and searched for gifts by the light of the Christmas tree, I began to think about Decembers past, all the reasons I love the impending month even for the ways it makes me slightly melancholy.

I considered how I want to finish this very eventful year.

December has always been a magical month for me. My wedding anniversary, the birth of two of my lovely children, and of course Christmas are all contained within its days. The memory of my father’s love of the season overshadows the grief of losing him in December as well, at least, it does on most days. December marks twenty years since I last heard his throaty chuckle, a length of time which seems impossible to understand. I have lived almost as long without my father as I did with him. How can that even be?

This particular December promises to be a different kind of month for my family than we are accustomed to. The holiday season, for us, has traditionally been frantically busy, but now that we have left ministry, and especially now that my husband is back in the world of education, it turns out I will be the busiest person in our house this season, and even so, there will be more space for rest and contemplation than I have experienced in years past. We are growing into these wider spaces and finding them more generous than we had dared to hope.

It isn’t often that I find myself presented with so much opportunity for contemplation, and so I’ve decided not to let the opportunity pass. Now, more than I ever realized before, I have the power to shape the patterns of my life to match who I want to be. Perhaps that power always existed and I simply didn’t recognize it, but I see it now. Having spent the last few months really unpacking the events of this year, it’s time to leave them where they belong: in the past.

Yes, things happened, good, bad, delightful and deplorable. Some things were random caprices of the Universe and some the hurtful machinations of other humans, but here we are happier, healthier, more excited, more content and more ourselves than ever. We chose this path. It’s time to own that fact entirely – the shitty, the gritty and the I-can’t-believe-this-is-real wonderfulness of it all.

The time for unpacking is passing, and I am ready to let it go.

The time for celebration is approaching and I am ready to leap in.

This is the season I have always loved above all others, the doorway that stands between all that was and all that will be. Even as we approach the solstice, the turning of days from darkness into light, so I am turning from the years of shadow and opening myself to all the possibilities the world has to offer. I’m learning to embrace all that was because it is the only path to all I am. The fullness of me is very full indeed. It is difficult to hate anything that came before in light of what I am becoming. I cannot have one without the other; this is the paradox of living. Glennon Doyle coined the term “brutiful” to express the idea that we see the beauty in our lives more clearly because it stands against the backdrop of the brutal. We are forever destined to dance the line between the terrible and wonderful, and sometimes we fall.

Here’s to December, the closing days. Whatever this year has brought you, whatever you have purposed to happen, let’s promise to each other to end it well and fully. We close the doors which need closing, speak the words that need speaking and when we have done so, we will leave them where they lay. We are made for the present, and here is where we find our joy. There is still time to be the person we long to be before the year has passed.

My daily bread: thoughts on gratitude

Healing, Living

I haven’t wanted to write over the last week. My family is in kind of a crazy season right now; it’s been difficult to find the mental space necessary to write. Besides all that, the local government abandoned my library community for a bit – I’m generously calling this a grievous error due to lack of information on their part – by threatening to defund the public library system.

This incident has carried some pretty serious emotional distress for me, I know I am far from alone based on the thirteen pages of letters and statements from our library-loving friends that we carried with us to the budget meeting last night. While the issue is not resolved, I am hopeful we will gain full funding, and the first budget increase in thirteen years as well, for our community within the community.

I didn’t make it into the meeting room last night. The irony of this situation is that we stayed to close the library at its normal time, even while the future of the library was being decided. I may have waited in the hallway, but even then, I wasn’t isolated from the precedings. We were all there together working for the well-being of our community, wanting a chance to add our paragraph and chapter to a much larger story.

I’m not all wrapped in the rosy glow of a hallmark ending this morning, far from it. Our immediate library funding is fixed, but in six months we could be right back in a room trying to show people who make no use of our public facilities understand exactly what it is we do. I’ll be there again, if it happens.

I share all of that to say this, on this chilly and battle-fatigued Thanksgiving Eve, I am grateful for two gifts. The first is being removed from community.

Last fall, I began the great divorce from church. It was a long time coming, and I wish I had mustered up the courage to leave sooner. The toxicity of that specific environment left permanent scars, and for a while, I withdrew from everyone. I prayed without hope for a long time that we could get out of ministry and find a healthier way to live in the world. Although the process of realizing that prayer was painful, I haven’t lived a day since without a profound sense of gratitude for freedom from religious ties altogether.

Although I was part of a congregation, there was no community there for me. I was in the hallway, but I was never part of the process, not even when I was in the room where decisions were being made.

I am daily grateful losing my place in community.

However, the synchronicity of the Universe delights me. In the same month that I signed the contract of silence, I also found my voice. On the same day my husband resigned from his calling, I stepped into mine. At the same time as I experienced profound gratitude not to be part of something, I was becoming part of something else. This is the second great gift of this year.

I could gush for a thousand more words about all the ways this new community has restored and continues to heal my soul. I realize, not every organization, not even every library, is fortunate enough to employ the caliber of people with whom I work. Perhaps we are a one in a million place, and I was just damn lucky to find a space in it. But through the library, I experience welcome for myself and for an entire community. Each day, I get to serve people creatively, and I am trusted to do my work and do it well. These experiences are treasures I hold like chocolate on my tongue, savoring each as it passes.

I believe it is a rare quality in the world to find a space that encourages freedom of thought, access to knowledge, unbiased dissemination of information and celebration of the individual. I don’t profess to do any of this perfectly, but it is the space I inhabit now. In it I have found myself again. I have found my people, as widely varied a community as any I have ever been part of and yet somehow we work together and move forward. Maybe it’s diplomacy and professionalism, but I secretly think it’s also love, for each other and for the world we inhabit, including the people who are in it. At least, that’s how I feel about it. Even when I’m standing in the hallway silently begging the universe to open other people’s eyes to the same experience I live every day.

I am daily grateful for finding my place in community again.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I hope wherever you are, and whomever you’re with, you feel welcome and whole. And if not, I hope you find your way to whereever that place may be.

How to avoid a dumpster fire

Healing, Learning

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.

How I changed the story

Healing, Living


I was listening to Brene Brown yesterday because I love her and want to grow up to be her. She was talking about the stories we tell ourselves, or as she likes to call them, ‘shitty first drafts’. If you haven’t read her book Rising Strong which focuses on how we overcome hard things, I highly recommend it. I think I have listened to it twice this year; it’s that important. But back to shitty first drafts. Brene’s – I call her Brene because we’re that close in my mind – premise is that whenever something emotionally difficult happens, our brain goes into storytelling mode. It wants a hero – always the self, and a bad guy- always the other person; a reason and a response. The brain works quickly to assemble these pieces in a moment of emotional crisis because our amygdala is screaming, FIGHT OR FLIGHT, WOMAN! FIGHT OR FLIGHT! It needs an answer and it needs it RIGHT NOW because our lives depend on it.

And this was true, a few million years ago. Life is a bit more nuanced now, if no less dangerous.

But the amygdala doesn’t evolve. We’ve grown a lot more brain around it, intuitive brain, creative brain, emotional brain, amazingly beautiful unfathomable human brain. But when it’s crisis time, it’s the amygdala who controls the shots and she has one job – protect the self. Fight or Flight.

People who live with on-going emotional abuse, develop a twitchy, confused amygdala. She’s almost, always on because the world never feels quite safe enough to let down her guard. She sees everyone and everything as a potential threat. She doesn’t trust. She doesn’t want to be there at all. Her chant is almost always FLIGHT! FLIGHT! FLIGHT! FLIGHT!

Fortunately (or unfortunately in the case of abuse), the rest of the brain also has a say, and these parts have conflicting messages for amygdala. They say things like, it’s not that bad. They don’t really mean it. We can do better. We can be better. We just need to try harder. We can do and say the right things to earn their approval and then we will be safe. We can find a way to belong, to be loved. WE HAVE TO STAY UNTIL WE MAKE IT WORK.  No fight. No flight. Stop talking, amygdala.

These parts of the brain cover up and try to placate the amygdala, who never stops kicking and screaming, by the way. She’s like a two-year-old in the throws of the worst emotional overload ever, and she really just needs a time out. But all she hears is danger, danger, danger so she just keeps screaming. And all the while she’s writing a narrative, a shitty first draft of who’s to blame and why this keeps happening.

For awhile, she recognizes the harm being done to her, but the rest of the brain refuses to comply with her fight or flight message. So eventually, she changes the narrative:

I am the problem. I deserve this pain. I am useless. I am worthless. I don’t belong here or anywhere.

She believes what the rest of the brain is telling her about working harder and trying harder and earning the right to finally, finally relax and stop constantly firing the fight or flight message. But the rules keep changing and the pain keeps happening and nothing we do is ever, ever good enough.

And around and around we go, faster and more frantically until we either become numb or explode.

I’ve done both.

There have been a lot of shitty first drafts in my experience with emotional and spiritual abuse, and the longer the abuse went on, the more I believed I was always the villian.

I am not worthy of love because…
I am not good enough to…
I deserve this…
I don’t look right, act right, say the right things, obey the right rules, submit enough, be quiet enough, disappear enough…
I just need to work harder to be perfect. Then I will earn love and approval.

Poor little amygdala. How do you resolve the fight or flight issue, when you are the problem?

However, there’s more to the story than this shitty first draft. True, we can accept that script as the finished story, as the way things are. But we don’t have to. My friend Brene also says this: when we don’t write the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.

There’s no pride in admitting I was a shitty pastor’s wife. I mean, I got us kicked out of church twice! It’s a role I never embraced. I questioned the system, bucked the rules and allowed my mind to be open and accepting. There aren’t many roles in the world I am less suited for.

I should have stopped trying to be something I was never meant for long ago. I should have advocated for myself, believed I deserved better and not cowered and kowtowed before my abusers. I spent far too long trying to be someone that men in authority believed I should be. And honestly, because I didn’t realize this sooner, I am a party to the emotional damage I experienced. This part of the story sucks, but it’s true.

But being a shitty pastor’s wife, doesn’t mean I was a shitty person. And that is where my amygdala would have been better served with some nuance and complexity. Fight or flight is a binary response system which categorizes everything in two ways: good or bad. But life comes with about a million more categories.

Emotional abuse sometimes comes with an isolating component, which my own introversion and response didn’t help. The more I pulled into myself the fewer voices I heard until finally the only ones were the ones reminding me what a shitty soul I was. Those voices often included my own.

It’s been just over a year since I stopped letting the shitty first draft control the narrative. I wish I could give a series of 1-2-3 steps to follow, but we all have our own story to write. I began by becoming vulnerable to other voices, voices which certainly could have echoed the message I had already taken to heart, but they didn’t. And when they didn’t, I started to believe them.

I was all at once surrounded by beautiful, strong, proud, powerful women who didn’t apologize for their being or their voices. They reminded me of another story I was writing about my life, and about the story I wanted to write for my children. Not pastor’s wife, meek and mild, but Woman, bold and wonderful. Their voices reminded me of the woman who survived cancer, and grief and loss and who raised children and stood up for injustice and who gave a damn about people in the margins, and who adored her LGBTQ neighbors, wasn’t afraid to learn new ways of thinking and being, and who thought tradition for tradition’s sake was a pretty lame hill to die on.

She is me. She is my story too.

I wanted that story back. So I started writing it IN ALL CAPS when the voices telling the shitty draft got louder. I started writing because writing is what I do. It’s my super power that I signed away with the contract of silence. If I were a man, the contract would have been so castrating, they wouldn’t have considered it, but because I am a woman, it was simply ‘the right thing to do.’ How shitty an ending would that have been?

I’m rewriting the narrative of my life now. I’m even learning to write some of what I have called the shitty years as good. For a time, church was good to my family and to me. It did take care of us and give us a place to belong. Until it didn’t. Maybe we should have realized sooner that we didn’t belong there. Maybe we should have been braver and walked away. Who knows what the story could have been, But we didn’t. There is plenty we did wrong.

But none of who we are deserves the years of emotional ambushes, power plays and spiritual abuse we endured. Not even simply because we stayed.

I was a shitty pastor’s wife, but that’s not the whole story, it’s not even a whole chapter. I know this, because I’m writing my own story now, and it’s beautiful.

Waiting for the Advent

Healing, Living

Last week I found references to women being silenced everywhere I went. I kept sending picture after picture to my husband – who never makes me feel unheard – and sending all caps texts about synchronicity and the Goddess and whatever other rant came out in the process. Both of us are moving away from trauma, but leaving church has left empty swaths across our identities which I, for one, am letting lay fallow before I rush to fill them. Every day, the Universe reminds me that finding the self-I-have-always-been is a process which cannot be rushed.

Recently, I began searching for an alternative way to observe Advent, the season of waiting. For years, I have quietly held space for the year’s winding down, the pause in time when we wait for something new to spring forth. This observation and anticipation appeal to me. I am a marker of seasons and change and a lover of ceremony and ritual. But this year, I need to divorce the observation from some of its more painful associations. I’m not interested in the churchy, patriarchal aspect of Spirituality, and the Bible, by and large, is men telling the story of God. Although to be fair, women get a larger voice than usual in the celebration of Advent, the Goddess has always been subversive in that way – allowing women a prime position in singing the song of the Kingdom breaking through.

Basically, I’m standing in a large empty space, looking at the wide open sky and waiting.

When we first left the church, God blew doors open right, left and right again, challenging us to make bold decisions and making it easy for us to ‘get the hell out of dodge’, as it were. We welcomed this unmistakeable Presence, even as we wondered if we could keep up with her. It was exciting and exhilarating and a distraction from the immediate pain of the emotional blows we had just suffered. It gave us just enough room to begin processing, but not enough room to wallow. For a time, it was exactly what we needed.

However, the real work of healing from emotional and spiritual trauma is slow and deep. Learning to relate healthfully to people and situations around us take time. I still flinch often, waiting for the blow to fall. I don’t always know what triggers this feeling, but six months later I sometimes find myself walking around with an impending sense of doom. I trust I am healing, but I don’t always feel like I am.

I’m learning to listen to those feelings; they are trying to tell me something. I can only determine if feelings are a true message or a shadow voice left over from abuse by allowing them to have their voice. Those shadow voices have become to me like small, wounded animals, recklessly hurting whoever and whatever they touch simply because they are in pain. If I can get past the initial bite, sometimes we can overcome the pain together and be transformed into Truth.

These are all advent feelings, the waiting, the longing, the hard work of healing the damage to our souls while we wait for the light to break through.

I haven’t read Scripture at all this year. Not in any intentional way. Sometimes Craig talks about what he is reading, and more often pieces of scripture enter my mind unbidden, rising from the depths of myself. Sometimes I welcome it, and sometimes I shove it back down where I relegate things that make me uncomfortable until I am ready to deal with them. I am not ready to deal with my feelings about Scripture. That’s what I tell myself. I’m tired of men telling me what to think, how to feel and all the things I can’t say or do. Scripture is all tangled up with men who took control of the Divine story and made it about them, their plans, their wars, their power. It’s why God is Father but not Mother. It’s why the Goddess disappeared. She may subversively reassume a position in the Catholic Church as Mary, but evangelicals quash even that, making Mary an anathema and putting her soundly in her place of pious silence.

I simply cannot incorporate these cruel patterns into my new/old way of being until I learn to elevate them to higher ways of thinking and understanding. I believe Scripture can transcend the narrow confines Church has placed upon it, but I haven’t learned how to do so within myself, yet. I’m leaning on other voices to lead me back around to sacred understanding. Voices which don’t glorify violence towards women and the suppression of female voices as the heart of God. In other words, I want to learn to elevate bullshit to understanding my true sacred position in the Kingdom of the Divine, but I don’t feel I have all the necessary tools yet.

There is holiness here in the waiting place, in the anticipation of a long-expected breakthrough. The Divine has not abandoned me here to my own devices, She keeps reminding me of this time and again by dropping perfect gifts quietly into my life day by day. She is here. I am here. We are here together, and when the time is right we will take the next step into this new life. The next step closer to the Herself I was always meant to be.

Prescription for a weary soul

Healing, Loving

We can climb mountains with self-love.  – Samira Wiley

For someone who has never been terribly invested in politics, the 2016 election played an enormous role in many of my recent shifts. Perhaps it’s because I want a better world for my children and their children then the one I see coming to pass, or perhaps because this new season in my life I have more freedom to widen my scope to a more global and less individual focus. Who knows why things shape us as they do. I only know those events, and so many since, have rendered me unable to be silent. I promise this whole post isn’t going to be about politics. I only mention it because since then, I have had to work very hard to maintain a healthy emotional balance, which is what I want to talk about today.

I awoke the day after the mid-term elections feeling soft and fragile, like a bruise. Here in Georgia, things still aren’t fully decided, which honestly, is a miracle in itself. I battled my inner idealist in the weeks leading up to the election. I didn’t want to lean too hard into hope, but couldn’t stop myself from getting swept up in the emotional wave of change. When things didn’t go as I anticipated, I experienced the giant emotional deflation that accompanies large-scale events. Expectations – such a bitch, eh?

Every so often lately, I have to step off the current events train if I want to maintain any form of sanity. Look, I love the internet as much as the next person for near effortless communication and information, but it’s easy to become buried in the never-ending stream of news, opinions, and vitriol. Sometimes I have to let the world move on without me. It doesn’t hurt that it’s November now, the month that makes me want to pull in, and sip whiskey in my flannel pants and pretend no one and nothing else exists outside my own home walls.

That tender, bruised feeling, where my emotions are held back by a blister thin covering, is a warning sign that I have reached the healthy balance threshold. I can keep going, but not effectively. My soul is trying to tell me something important now.

When my emotions fray and snap, I become someone I don’t like. While I am (mostly) no longer concerned if everyone else likes me, it is very important that I like myself. My integrity matters more than a self-righteous rant, a biting comeback or the micro-aggression meant to make you understand just how put-out I am. I’m far from perfect on a good day, but when I lose my focus on loving kindness because I’m swimming around in martyrdom, it’s past time to make adjustments.

Kindness isn’t about “being nice” and remembering I “look prettier when I smile.” That’s just more bullshit. Kindness remembers the counter to gaslighting, greed and rhetoric is being fully grounded in our integrity, recognizing the humanity in each of us. The way to shut down the rage machine isn’t with more rage, but with a strong spine wrapped in gentleness and compassion. When my sharper edges begin to cut people, I’ve allowed the anger I carry become bitterness. Anger is a vital fuel and a necessary tool these days, but bitterness is only ever destructive. I want my flame to burn brightly, not rage out of control destroying others and myself.

One of the concepts I have been so struck with lately is that of being an embodied Creator, a bringer of life. I, personally, have an inherent nurturing streak; it’s always been part of me, not because I am a woman necessarily, but because it is part of my personal nature. Now that my children are grown, I still love to care for people, but I’m thinking about creation and nurturing now on a deeper level. What sort of world am I creating through my actions and interactions? What is the generative force of my time, my expression, my money, and my relationships? What am I giving birth to with my life?

I’m amazed every time I watch my daughters make themselves present in the world. They are boldly creative individuals. The world is made better by their existence. I am not the cause of this creative force, but for a time I was the keeper of it, both inside my body and later inside my guidance. But my sending forth love and generosity into the world embodied by these women isn’t the sum of my contribution to the universe. I want to continue to create environments and opportunities which promote this bold and beautiful self-expression. But I can only bring forth this possibility if I also give life to creative, nurturing spaces for myself when I’m feeling like a small tap might make me shatter.

There’s a difference between other people labeling me hysterical – which they always will – and knowing that my emotions are entirely out of control and causing damage. This is the edge I am walking today, for many reasons, not all political.

So how do we care for ourselves when loving the world has worn us down? That’s not something I can answer for anyone but myself. For me, it includes flannel pants and whiskey sipping, twinkle lights and Christmas music. Not leaving the house for days. It means puttering and organizing and watching movies while crocheting and definitely staying away from news and the internet. It means putting my phone in a drawer, telling FOMO to shut up and snuggling with my husband. These are things which make me whole and promote wellness within. I can’t predict what will work for you. If you aren’t certain, it may mean you’re well overdue for a self-check and some serious self-care. Fear tells us the world can’t run without us, but love tells us there’s more than enough room for self-awareness in the expanse of time.

When I was training for a half-marathon, there were days when I pushed very hard. I ran long and exhausted myself. Then there were days when I rested – and ate a lot of cake. The rest periods were absolutely critical in order to heal and strengthen my body for the next long run. Without rest, everything begins to break down and deteriorate, causing fatigue and injury. Eventually, if we don’t surrender to rest, the body will push back, forcing us to give it the attention it needs.

This Divine work of creation is a marathon. There are days, weeks where we show up and give. Simply being present to see and hear another person is a holy act which draws on the energy of our souls. Most of us have days filled with interactions and activities which slowly deplete our energy and creativity. We then come home and fill our loved ones and living spaces with more of our energy, sleep for a bit – usually not enough, even I am guilty – and repeat the process. This is stressful, even eustress eventually demands a period of rest and regeneration.

This weekend I will be taking a restorative late fall rest. We have a three day weekend which I plan to fully inhabit without interruption from the outside world. Retreat is how I restore my emotional balance and my ability to see and be love in the world. These necessary pauses are how I ground myself again in the type of being I choose to embody. Have you listened to your soul recently? What’s one thing you can do to restore peace and healing to yourself this weekend?