On Being (and being on the beach)

Living, Loving

I just returned from the beach. If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know what that means for my body soul. I am rested, relaxed, restored. We lived by the beach as a family for sixteen years ( Hunky grew up there) and the lifestyle somehow crawled under our skin and into our bones and took up residence. We are beach people. We have sand in the marrow.

The last time I was at the beach, Hunky had just been released from his position in ministry. I sort of love the story: he called at 7am to tell me he was packing his office because he knew what was coming; I went into work and was hired that day as a full-time supervisor (of books and reading!!! Dreams do come true!!!!); by 2pm we were in the car on the way to the beach- headed to the place we love to wed people we love and imagine a life we could love.  I am forever awestruck by Divine Providence and this part of our story is drenched in it.

Last time we were at the beach we focused on getting our feet under us, planning our next steps (by the time we got home Sunday we had a place to live, and would begin moving 72 hours later). We cried a little, laughed a lot, created a retirement plan and remembered who we were before…before what I don’t know. I can’t pinpoint when I lost myself, I only know I did.

This time the beach spoke to me, or God spoke to me, or a holy communion of SpiritsunwindwaterSoulskinsand, probably the last one. I received one Word that sounded like a clear and unmistakable constant call to prayer: whole. Whole. I can be whole. I am becoming Whole. We are becoming Whole.

It may take longer than we think, but the becoming…well, aren’t we always becoming something? One of the choices before me now is wholeness, and the universe wasn’t subtle in telling me which path to choose.  God doesn’t always light the way with trumpets and a band of angels, but when They do…

It’s true though, every book I read – even the junk books- every song I listened to, every voice, everything, everywhere was about becoming whole again. Whole in my skin, whole on my path, whole with my vision, my goals and my future.

There is a form of Japanese artistry called Kintsugi, where the artist takes broken pottery pieces and fills the broken spaces with resin which has been mixed with silver, platinum or gold. The result is a whole piece whose brokeness isn’t hidden, but highlighted,  making the piece far more beautiful than it was when it was unmarked. Wholeness doesn’t erase brokenness but we become more than we were when our broken places are mended with an eye towards beauty instead of perfection.  I am walking Kintsugi. Golden light is shining through my broken places, and yet, I am whole.

I thought a great deal about writing as I stared at the sea. I thought about this space, why it’s here, why I bother, what is my purpose in sitting down and crafting these thoughts? For awhile, I pushed back against writing about God. I didn’t want to be that person: that ‘church’ person, that ‘religious’ person. I didn’t want people painting me with that brush.

But people are going to paint me however they please to paint me. I can’t alter or change it and so, I am letting it go.  This is me, the paint another person chooses reflects their own soul, not mine.

I am deeply Spiritual and writing is part of how I create my being, especially, my spiritual being.  Taking all the dancing and even the dark and deceptive thoughts in my head and focusing them into words, ideas, paragraphs and eventually essays is my way of saying, Let there be.  It is an act of creation. Writing, for me, is a spiritual act. It is about becoming.

This doesn’t mean I write only, exclusively about God, quite the opposite. One of the major issues I have with the evangelical paradigm of God is localized Spirituality. God is in this, but not in that. This is sacred, that is secular. God is here (especially if here is church), but cannot be found there. My whole self rejects this paradigm, and in so doing I affirm that I can write about whatever I want, but nothing I do write can be separated from the Spirit in me. If my paradigm says God is in all and works through all, then whatever I write about will be inherently Spiritual whether or not I choose to name it.

While I was away this week I realized I’ve been pushing back on God: Don’t come too close; be here but not all up in here. My experience with church skewed my boundaries and I forgot that the problem was not God but toxic spiritual relationships, a distortion of God’s image, not the true Divine image. In pushing back, vomiting up, cleaning out all that was poisoning me, I’d tied some of that mess to the Divine Spirit in me, and I was holding her at arms length, afraid of losing myself again.

I’d love to be able to say, this is the moment the switch flipped and I saw everything clearly again, but I can’t. What I do know is that some point I decided let down my guard with God, to invite Them all the way back inside, gulping her down like rum punch after hours in the hot sun, leaving me quenched and heady and little bit drunk.  What appeared as deconstruction was actually God laying down the red carpet and saying, this is the Path; don’t be afraid to dance while you’re on it.

And so I am.

So what does that mean for this space? It probably means I will speak a great deal about God. I may call them Jesus or the Divine, or Spirit or the Universe or Soul or any number of other things. I’ll probaly also use confusing pronouns. Currently She and They/Them seem more appropriate when speaking of the Divine. God’s not a man, that I know, and my record with male religious leaders ain’t great.  I’m definitely avoiding male pronouns for a bit.

I plan to be both playful and honest. As Anne Lamott says,

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

It may make people unhappy or uncomfortable, hell, my life makes me uncomfortable all the time, but it will be real. I’ve had a thousand quiet, private conversations as I tripped and stumbled down the path of deconstruction. I know what the world needs is more voices saying, it’s ok. God’s at the bottom of the slippery slope. Higher up and further in. We can do this; take my hand.

I know professional church wounds as much as it heals and someone has to stand on margins of faith with band-aids and gatorade and sometimes with life support.

I know we need a place to talk about where to go and what to do and who we are when we can no longer be defined by the rules we learned growing up. It’s hard. We all limp out here. But if we remember we move and live under a singing, dancing God who loves with the wild, tender, untamable, unstoppable fury of ten thousand jealous mothers, we can become….whatever we desire to be.

Come now my love. My lovely one come.

Become.

Be whole.

Be.

 

What happened when I finally stopped moving

Learning, Living

My husband was out of town last weekend. I don’t mind when he leaves town as long as its not too long or too many weeks in a row.  I often joke that he is the cog that keeps the family running with any sort of consistency. When Craig goes out of town, I don’t cook. We barely shower. One year Lindsay and I watched three seasons of Doctor Who in three days while Craig was away at camp with the younger two. We strategically planned take-out meals so we could eat them twice and not have to leave the house or spend too long in the kitchen.  I don’t know if you can combine the words sloth and debauchery, but if there was such a word, that describes our household when Craig is away.

Last weekend wasn’t any different. Craig left on Friday. I didn’t cook again until Sunday night. 50% of my meals were cheese and crackers. I don’t even know what the kids ate. I wore pajamas to take people to work. I watched a season of Bones and crocheted. I’m not even ashamed.   Sometimes these types of weekends are necessary in order to reset my mind to the reality of the present.

We’ve done a lot of transitioning over the last year(ish). I feel like we’ve done a decent job rolling through the changes as they’ve come. Yes, there has been some trauma, and we are still dealing with emotional fall-out. But over all, we are recovering in a healthy way. Honestly, changes have been happening so fast, I have taken almost no time to reflect on anything lately. I needed some space to compare the trajectory of my life as it is now to where it was a year ago.

I was in the car in my pajamas at 10:30 Friday night, as I left to go get Bailey from her job, when I realized I haven’t left the house after dark since we moved in. Granted, it’s summer, and I am an introvert, which means rain or shine when it’s 8pm, I want to be holed up in my room recovering from a day of people-ing ( I am who I am, and I like me. You do you.), but this thought led me to the revelation that I have been traveling only between what I consider the ‘safe places’ in my life, basically on survival auto-pilot. Without thinking, I’ve been avoiding anywhere that I might encounter someone emotionally unsafe or to whom I might feel deserves explanations  which I am unwilling to pretty-up for public consumption.  Work to home to places out-of-town. These are the roads I have traveled every day, week after week until months have passed.

No wonder I feel a low level of exhaustion at the end of most weeks, my fight or flight hasn’t lowered at any point this year.  Just like a secret app constantly behind the scenes makes your phone sluggish, my sympathetic nervous system has been ticking along in the background, preparing me to take on attackers at a moment’s notice, and just as quietly draining my energy and emotional reserves.

While I was still digesting this little tid-bit of knowledge, I experienced another sweeping breath of fresh air (I think its because Christmas music was playing in the background): I have more freedom now than I ever have to orchestrate my life the way I want it to be.

Perhaps this concept isn’t revalatory to you, but as I transition out of some abusive relationships and toxic systems, I am only beginning to realize how much of my freedoms I had willingly given away. For a long time, I was a slave to a “higher calling” and while I still believe in the goodness and support which can come from being part of something bigger than ourselves, I no longer believe that I must sacrifice who I am to be part of it. Or, I am learning to believe it. It’s a process.

The fact of the matter is, when changes are flying at you fast and furious, when you are making literal life-altering decisions on the fly and then racing along to stay even a little bit ahead of them, there isn’t a whole lot of time for self-reflection and examination. We’ve been in survival mode for a long time, culminating over the last months with the  few final pieces of the picture (for now) falling into place. It took so much of ourselves to get here, that I haven’t had time to stop and consider what it meant for the future other than the fact that we still have a future, and it’s a good one.

But this weekend I finally stopped. I didn’t read or rush or push ahead or even think very much (or shower regularly, true tale). Coming to a full stop allowed all the whirling, swirling thoughts, ideas, healing truths and stray bits of lies and delusions I’ve been holding tightly to coalesce and settle. Some pieces finally drifted softly away and some quietly sank to the floor of my soul and landed with a soft thump. The idea that I have, at last, the freedom to create the life I want landed with the most impact.  I’ve been contemplating it with awe-struck wonder ever since.

I believe there are seasons in life where we intentionally trade freedom for something bigger than ourselves. The years of raising wee ones, times of living with restriction for a larger purpose whether that restriction is financial, or dietary or living situations are examples of this type of self-limiting. There are also times where mere survival forces us to set severe limits, or we may face a series of less desireable outcomes as a consequence of choices we’ve made. I have lived through many of these seasons. They come and they go, in their turn.

But what I am finally gaining is the perspective to see is how much of myself and my freedom I gave away willingly, but not necessarily. I became less, not because it was required but because I was willing to trade myself for lifestyle which was never meant for me.  What that choice has cost me, and also how much work will be required for me to regain strength in those muscles again, is something I wasn’t ready to face before.  In a way, I am grateful for the pace of life lately. It’s forced me to develop some healthy patterns and boundaries without over-thinking or letting co-dependency rule my emotions. Having moved some distance away from the foundation of those boundaries, now I am able to go back and see where I was and also just how far I have come. Seeing my life from this different perspective makes how far I still have to go, how far I still want to go, a little less daunting.

 

How it feels to leave church

Learning, Loving

I met a friend while doing some birthday shopping this week. We were out in public and as we chatted a bit, she said some things which made me realize she didn’t know about our recent life changes. When I told her my husband left his church position, her next question is the one which seems the inevitable follow-up: where are you going to church now?

For years I’ve witnessed the tongue clucking, pearl clutching, shake-your-head-in-shame response to people who forgo the experience of the Sunday church service. I know what to expect when I give my reply. Still, I take a deep breath and mentally gird my loins every time I speak it aloud. At this point, I’m not telling people what they want to hear.

We aren’t attending a church service, right now.

(I use the words ‘right now’ to soften the blow. Eventually my husband will miss church, but me, I have no plans to return to evangelical church, not now, not ever. Not church as we’ve experienced it.)

I realize this question, and the ensuing behavior correcting protests which follow are seen as a loving way to ‘guide me back into the fold.’ Clearly, I’ve backslidden in some invisible way. I need only be reminded of the importance of having a place to worship and the tribe which accompanies my brand of loyalty. I can be fixed. After all, God commanded us to go to church is part of the doctrine I’ve been fed for decades.  But I’m no longer swallowing religious platitudes wholeheartedly, and unfortunately, I can’t seem to find those verses.

Please, don’t go quoting Paul at me, now. Paul isn’t God and our female church population aren’t wearing head covers, either.

Leaving church for me is a strange untethering, like walking around in unlaced shoes. Sure there’s more room for comfort, but my stride is a bit awkward while I adjust to the change.  As much as I enjoy the freedom of being myself after years of failed attempts at conformity, it doesn’t make facing people’s reactions any easier.

What I’m not saying is being part of a church is wrong or bad, nor am I demeaning people who find great depth and meaning in their religious community. I just don’t buy into the whole ‘worship service experience’ as the end-all-be-all test of my relationship wth God or my ability to develop and thrive as a spiritual being.  I have repeatedly been loved more deeply and treated more humanely by those outside the church community than those associated with it.

I don’t think church is a bad thing, but I absolutely think the way I experience it currently is a toxic environment for me.

Leaving church has made me feel a bit like Paul who had an experience with the Divine (in the middle of a common street, no less. No alter call required) which caused scales to fall from his eyes. After this experience he never saw the same way again. He never rested very easy with established religious leaders afterwards, either.  Paul found himself in all sorts of communities: professional, neighborhood, long distance, home gatherings. We call these communities church, now, but then they simply called it ‘ecclesia,’ literally, a gathering of people. In fact, the word ecclesia was informal and organic long before we grabbed it and mashed it into a religious construct and declared it superior to any other gathering.

I do believe we are called to community. Even this hardcore introvert recognizes the need for connection. I’m part of many groups of all sorts and constructs. Most are open and welcoming, a few are new and a little intimidating. None of them force me to believe a certain set of doctrinal norms to be accepted. In fact, most of them don’t give a hot damn about my theology. It’s my humanity they love and care for, my emotions, my health, my needs and my person.

These groups are all ecclesia to me, a group of people working together for a common goal and taking care of each other along the way. To say the divine is not in our midst as we go along, is to limit the Divine in ways I no longer recognize.

I’m still sorting out what it means to be spiritual but not evangelical.  I’m still a Christian in that I still see Jesus as the true revelation of God, even though I no longer see Jesus as exclusive or final revelation of God. I’m releasing inerrancy, exclusivity, superiority, mysogyny, nationalism, violence and retribution and leaning into the inherent goodness of humanity, the beauty, fragility and diversity of this earth, blessing over curse, love over morality, peace over punishment, but it is often difficult to rewrite the tracks written into my heart and mind for so long.

Mostly I’m setting the healthy boundary that no person or group of people automatically has the authority to tell me what to think and how to feel based on religious positioning. Authority doesn’t indicate relationship, compassion or compatibility. Spirituality and development aren’t one size fits all endeavors; acronyms are cheap ways to dictate behavior modification and call it community.

Maybe your experience is different. I hope your experience is different. No one should experience the layers of rejection I have from an organization professing unconditional love. But I know there are many of us on the outside, and we deserve a space to talk about our experience too. This is my space, and you’re welcome here even if you are reading this on your phone in the middle of Sunday service thinking I’ve got it all wrong. In some ways, I am sure I do; I’m just no longer concerned with getting it all perfectly right.

No, I’m not ‘going to church’ right now. But I am part of community, ones which make me better, which change my thinking and transform my life, but most importantly, communities which make me more of who I was created to be instead of less like me and more like someone else’s vision of who I should be.  My ecclesia is exactly as its meant to be even if it isn’t at 10am on Sunday morning with three songs to get me in the mood for God.  I know, that may make you uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable sometimes, too. But mostly, it makes me grateful and joyful and full of love and life. I think Jesus called it, worshipping in Spirit and Truth.  He didn’t limit that to service times or congregation.

 

 

Better

Learning, Living

Last week I wrote about time, how I track it in small increments and try to capture it’s shape and meaning.  I am a marker of time watching the moon, following the seasons, counting the hours and minutes of daylight. This week is the summer solstice, the turning of the earth. This week we mark the longest days this year will see. We begin the turning of Earth towards dark and cool and rest.

This week also marks three months since…well, since things got better.

It feels strange to say it that way. The last time we were involuntarily ousted from a place of worship, it seemed a more catastrophic event had never happened to us. This time, we only feel peace. Peace and release and the most amazing sense of freedom.

I’ve observed time for many reasons: birthdays and cancerversaries, weddings and funerals, travels and trials, events good and bad and those simply unimaginable. I try to take note of the events which change and shape me, even years later, watching for growth and change, noting scars and swimming in grace.

The day I left professional church, whether only for now or for good, is the day my life began turning for the better. The same way the earth tilts to the sun, the way a sunflower tracks the path of light across the sky, my soul is turning to the warmth and light of growing into my nature.

We, my family and I, are getting better. Healing. We are remembering who we were before we crammed our souls into shapes they weren’t created to hold. I tried to uphold a way of thinking and living which directly contradicted the contours of my heart, growing stunted and brittle. I didn’t begin in this distorted form, but as I grew and changed my environment didn’t. I withered and stunted like a flower left too long under a blazing and relentless summer sky.

Life has turned, and our parched, weary souls are remembering what it means to rest and find water in unexpected places.  We find ourselves with new relationships and shifting communities whose gentle presence asks no more of us than to be exactly who we are. Mother God can handle the rest, and all will be well.

While I’ve been at odds with the Bible lately, I find myself leaning into the Message translation in moments when I do reflect on a book I hope to connect with again some day.  Today, I am meditating on these words:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

‘Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.’ This is a promise I can rest in for awhile.

It is the time of turning seasons, and we are better for it and in it.

 

 

Creative tension: a call and response to living in the unexpected

Learning, Living

You know what would be fun to write about? How to have it all together. I’d like to write about that because it would mean I am on a journey in that general direction. It would feel as though I am beginning to figure some things out.

But, no.

Last week was a nutso butter and crazy sandwich.  I worked weird and wild hours, tried to maintain a low-level walk/run routine, wrote hardly at all, didn’t read as much as I wanted to, didn’t log my hours regularly and generally don’t feel as though I accomplished very much. Oh, and my husband started a brand new career, at 46. As you do.

But I did survive, and that’s saying something.

Amongst other things this new career means the nice self-centered existence I have been living since starting my own brand new career at age 45 – yes, I do feel one-upped – is about to be flipped on its ear. Friends, I haven’t made dinner since March. MARCH. I’ve barely done laundry, cleaned house, or handled any of the transportation issues faced by a 3 car,  5 adult family. While I re-learned what it’s like to be a professional person in a professional world, my husband took care of the domestic details of life. All of them. This is a definite advantage of him leaving his career the day mine launched (it’s also a super-cool story which I will share another time).

But isn’t this always how life is?

Life. Love it or hate it, her favorite pitch is the curve.  Sure it’s nice to go along knowing what’s next, knowing how it will all work out, knowing exactly what’s for dinner and that all the ingredients will be there and someone else is cooking them and all you have to do is show up. I like that, too. In fact, I love the predictability of routine. I love always having clean laundry.

But to expect that life will always flow towards the smoothest path is to set ourselves up for constant and profound disappointment. I have often commiserated with moms of the little guys that just as soon you develop a nice schedule, there’s a growth spurt, or a developmental leap and BAM, you’re figuring things out all over again. What we often fail to realize is that this pattern isn’t exclusively for the new mom. This is the pattern of life. Just when we get things all figured out, a new piece is thrown into the pattern and we’re juggling all over again, trying to make art instead of chaos.

I actually think it’s kind of brilliantly beautiful.

See, I’m not the same person I was when I was twenty-five. I’m not even the same person I was in January.  I often don’t welcome the shifts the which generate this slow and steady evolution, but I know for a fact that it’s the unpredictable moments, and our response to them, which create the friction that changes the shape of our souls. Our souls are shapeshifters and this is a good thing. Just as a garden goes through cycles of life and death, our souls cannot maintain the abundance of a constant summer, no matter how much we may want them too. Routine and preparation have their place, but they are neither the source of growth nor the better path.

For several years now, I have struggled with anxiety. I used to think it was because I was afraid of the unknown. but my anxiety wasn’t caused by unknown patterns, it was the known which had me freezing up and freaking out. Known patterns which I felt I could not escape left me unable to take another step. Yes, the unknown is frightening, but sometimes it’s the learned patterns of existence which damage us far more.  Yet we stay because the routine is familiar. We know the steps, the roles, and the rules, even if they are slowly killing us.

By the way, I also haven’t had an anxiety attack since March, and I don’t think it’s just about the dinners.

I still love routines and I do often wish I had a peek into life a bit further ahead than, say, Wednesday.  But if that were the case, I would lose all the creative effort I put into every day, deciding who I will be, where I will find beauty and joy. These ways of responding shape my soul into something unique and lovely, something routine and answers never will. Routine is safe and comforting, a necessary element of life, but it’s when we’re off the map that we learn who we really are, and where we learn the skills to become someone different if we don’t like who we find.

So I hope to run and read and write and work in ways that are a bit less crazy this week. But I’m also really looking forward to enjoying those unexpected encounters, the surprise belly laughs, and the sheer pleasure of not knowing exactly what’s next but knowing whatever it is, all will be well.

 

How to make friends with Time

Learning, Living

I’m a big proponent of self-examination. Honestly, that’s pretty much a guaranteed part of the introvert package. We’re introspective all the way down to our genetic code. It’s a great asset and also sometimes my worst enemy. But personality tendencies aside, I believe in seasonal life-examination. It’s humbling, for sure (I am forever fretting about how much time I “waste” and working on shifting that mindset), but it also helps me re-focus and re-direct when I begin to drift aimlessly, which I am wont to do.

My natural daily inclination is to relax to the point of laziness despite the fact that I find that an unsatisfying lifestyle over longer periods of time. It’s taken me forty-five years to fully accept and act on the fact that “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” I actually thrive on ticking off accomplishments and completing projects, two things which never happen accidentally.  There’s obvious tension between daily-me and long-term-me in light of these two facts.

Recently, I’ve been following Laura Vanderkam’s advice (as an aside – her new book Off the Clock is very enjoyable and not at all a ‘how to be more productive’ manual.  Thoughts on the nature and theory of time and how to make life more meaningful? Yes, please! ) by keeping a log of my hourly activities. Sometimes, it is as tedious as it sounds. But more often, it helps me to realistically understand the ways I spend and, yes, waste my time.

For instance, in May, I read fourteen books, averaging around 300 pages apiece. Granted, I  read ridiculously fast, not to me but in comparison to others. This isn’t something I feel competitive about as in ‘My Reading Speed can Beat up Your Reading Speed’, it’s simply something I’ve come to realize over time as I talk to other readers, but I digress. I also worked forty hours a week, hosted a family gathering weekend, graduated two children, traveled to Kansas City for three days and watched the first season of Lost in Space on Netflix ( SO GOOD!). Yes, I also slept a decent number of hours each night and wasted time in various ways online.

By tracking my time, I’m finding little windows of opportunity to finish more books than I believed, and what other people assured me, were possible each week. Reading is important to me. It’s not only a big part of my job, it’s how I learn, relax, relate and enjoy myself. I’m never going to be productive every moment of the day, a ridiculous goal to set for anyone, but knowing I am making time for the things that matter to my well-being, means those hours where I write ‘scrolling’ or ‘puttering’ in my log no longer lend as much volume to my inner-critic. You know the jerk I’m talking about? The voice who tells you all the things you’re doing wrong and all the ways you’ll never be enough? That voice. For me, words on paper – or on my computer screen as it were – do a great job of refuting his nonsense.

As we celebrated my birthday this year, my youngest daughter said, ‘Whoo-hoo! Half-way to fifty!’  Which caused my oldest daughter to retort, ‘Nope! Half-way to ninety!’ And truly for a moment, my brain said, ‘Oh shit; she’s right! I AM halfway to ninety!’ Age jokes aside, we’re right in the middle of many major transitions right now, not just mid-life realizations. It seems the perfect time to consider, re-create and re-imagine the kind of life we want. I want to use my time wisely and also enjoy as much as I possibly can. I want to know where the hours have gone because the inner critic plays dirty using shame and lies.  I want to experience as much as I can of the things that matter most, not putting everything off to a more convenient, more perfect time.

Being half-way to ninety doesn’t bother me. When I was a half-way to forty-five, I had cancer and turning forty seemed an impossible goal.  And yet the hours and days and weeks and years rolled by. Some of it I remember vividly, a lot of it is gone, whether wasted or well-used. Time is like that for all of us. But now that the pace of early motherhood is long gone, now that a job I love lays claim to forty hours of every week, I need to see that I’m not still waiting for a ‘better time’ to make time for what I want.

The better time is now. We’re as financially independent as we’ve ever been. We’re starting new journeys which we hope will be our last in the professional field (early retirement, we’re looking at you!). We have trips to make and places to experience. Books to read and relationships to cultivate. None of these things happen when I’m simply sitting in the hammock – though I make plenty of time for that as well.

How are you spending your time and what would you like to change?

What are you waiting for?

 

Weekend Reads, Ep. 1

Reading

I’ve long aspired to be a regular book reviewer.  I’ve also started and stopped on more than one occasion. But I also know all the cliches about starting over, falling off the horse, and if at first you don’t succeed… you know the rest. So at the risk of beating a dead horse – once I start the cliches, I can’t stop – I’m starting again with some weekly suggestions of books I love.

New Releases:  

I received these advance reader copies from Net Galley for a fair review:

this could change everythingThis Could Change Everything.  I’m torn on what to say about this book. On the one hand, it tends towards formulaic and predictable. On the other hand, it has some really fun characters, a great underlying theme and even its predictability couldn’t stop me from rooting for the happy ending. So what I’m landing on is this: sometimes I watch an action flick because it’s familiar and fun, not because it will win Oscars. And sometimes, I read a book, because it’s familiar and fun, not because I expect it to win a Pulitzer. There’s nothing wrong with writing for a certain niche and hitting the mark perfectly, and that’s what Jill Mansell has done here. It’s a fun, flirty, predictable rom-com that makes you feel good, has a ton of enjoyable and well-rounded characters and guarantees a happy ending. Ain’t nothing wrong with that, if it’s the mood you need to hit.

Us Against YouUs Against You. Last year, Beartown became one of my all-time favorite books. This development, honestly, shocked me since I am not a sports-er. This year Backman does it again with Us Against You, a book about people, motives, relationships, brothers, enemies, love, survival…and oh yeah, hockey. I am fascinated by Backman’s ability to take any character and show the spaces between the actions and the words, to make things a little less black and white. People are not good, or bad, they are people. They make choices and do things because of the million moments that came before this one. Each one of us is only a step or two from greatness or disaster. And love, love, love weaves through it all – through the grief, through the pride, through the pain. We are the bears. The bears of Beartown.

when life gives you lululemons

When Life Gives you Lululemons. Should I feel guilty about enjoying a book that is the moral equivalent of reading the National Enquirer while watching the Maury Povich show? Maybe I should, but I don’t. This book is laugh out loud clever, scandalous, sharp, and just flat out fun. It’s not groundbreaking or illuminating, it’s what you read in the bath with a glass of wine after a long day, or on the beach while trying to forget your own problems and issues. It’s a make-believe gossip-fest with girls you can’t quite believe you are actually hanging out with. I enjoyed it immensely, right down to the predictable, yet still satisfying ending.

I warn you, you’ll learn more about cosmetic surgery than you ever wanted to know. But if you don’t laugh so hard you’ll nearly wet your pants (there’s a procedure for that), then you’re taking this book too seriously.

On shelves now.

I’m lucky enough to have unlimited access to my library shelves. Here’s what I read straight off my library’s new release shelves, and you can too.

educatedEducated: A Memoir. There are times when you finish a book and you know the visceral reaction will likely never leave you. Tara Westover’s story is one of extreme fundamentalism, abuse, ignorance, and poverty. It is also a story of immense courage, incredible forgiveness, heartbreaking self-awareness and nearly unbearable sacrifice. What did it cost her to be educated? Nearly everything. It also likely saved her life. Once I started this book, I could hardly make myself put it down, so badly did I want to see her escape and achieve wholeness. The echoes of fundamentalism resonated with my own unlike and yet occasionally similar experience so that I sometimes had to stop reading and breathe in order not to fall into panic. Tara’s writing is so clear, gorgeous and unrelenting, even a lesser story would have captivated me, but her story, her real-life story is nearly beyond imagining.

My one caveat to this is how filled it is with triggers for those who have suffered emotional, physical or spiritual abuse. Be aware there are no soft edges to this narrative, and yet to soften even a moment of it would be to coat it in a lie. Tara Westover is done lying in order to normalize the actions and effects of abuse.

From the Stacks

I don’t just read new releases. There are plenty of books that have been sitting on my to-read book for years. Here are a couple that were worth the wait.

devil wears pradaThe Devil Wears Prada. I’ll be honest, this isn’t a book I ever really expected to read. But I have the opportunity to read the third installment in the series as an ARC and I can NOT read the third book in a series first. But, despite my total ignorance and perhaps a bit of disdain for the haute couture culture, I did really enjoy this story. Alex is a likable and endearing protagonist and Miranda, of course, is the ultimate antagonist. There isn’t anything groundbreaking or provocative in this book, it’s just a well-written story with good, complex characters and an ending that doesn’t rely on tropes.

PS The kindle edition is $1.99 today.

 

 

Hello Georgia: thoughts on change and happiness

Learning

In 2017, my family set its sights on leaving Georgia. We had an idea of how we wanted life to look, but we weren’t terribly particular about where the difference took place. I was of the mindset ‘anywhere-but-here’ and Hunky was of  the mindset ‘wherever-will-take-me.’  We tried California, Nebraska, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin and even Canada, to name just a few. Our attempts were met with varying degrees of interest, but we never made a love connection.

The funny thing is, even though we cast a wide net, we had a very narrow window. We believed that there was one path for us to take, and only that path, that calling was our vehicle to the life we wanted. We had a plan, a map, and we were set to follow it to the end of the journey.

Then in September, I began working at our local public library. It was just a part-time gig, to begin with, a few hours a week since my kids are grown and in college, a way to re-enter the wider world since we didn’t know what would come next…when we left Georgia.

However, my job didn’t go the way I planned. It wasn’t just something I enjoyed or was good at – though it is those things – it awakened something in me that I didn’t even know was there: a deep and abiding love, not only for the work I was doing but for the place I was doing it. For the first time in ten years, I felt anchored to a place almost as deeply as I felt anchored to a lifestyle or a belief system.

This caused a bit of tension with our leaving plan.

But we pushed forward anyway because our window, our vision, was still too small to see any possibility of finding happiness in this place while maintaining our lifestyle. Even though things got harder, and heavier, nearly unbearable, in some ways, I was thriving in my new job. Its voice was louder than the other voices taking inventory of my shortcomings, my wrong beliefs, feelings and ideas, and demanding conformity.  In a storm of uncertainty about the future, my job was a life raft, keeping me afloat which in turn helped to keep us all afloat.

We weren’t willing to quit, but we were also unable to let go of our plan. So we floundered and flailed, unable to find happiness in a life that no longer fit.

Have you ever known anyone who lost a lot of weight, maybe yourself, even? For a while, everything fits as it should and then things get a little loose, so you tighten your belt one notch, and then another. Your clothes flap around you but you wait, because even though things don’t fit, you know you aren’t done changing. Anything you buy now will probably be discarded too soon to make them worth the money and effort. But one day, you wake up, and there is just no wearing anything, not one thing, you had before, no matter how much you loved it at one time. You can’t keep wearing the same clothes. You must find something new.

By February, that’s where we were, absolute crisis, jumping through hoops like circus performers in order to hang on to what we had until the door magically opened for us to step through – to step out of Georgia.

Which is why we never paid much attention to the escape hatch we were already standing on. When it finally opened beneath us, we were momentarily startled, but not really surprised. In fact, after the initial shock, we were overwhelmed with relief. It’s as though someone handed us a treasure and said, “Here, I found this. It was already with your things. So it’s yours.” Georgia was still for us, still on our map. It was ministry we had to release.

I won’t lie, my prayers to leave Georgia balanced equally with my prayer to just not be part of church leadership anymore. This was my dirty little secret. I didn’t just want to leave a place. I wanted to leave a mindset, a doctrine, a behavior pattern, an environment that was toxic to me. The things which fit, no longer fit. The ways of thinking were no longer my ways. But the space to be different in any way did not exist. I felt trapped. The clothes weren’t too big, but far, far too small and all my imperfections were spilling out for everyone to see.

I wonder now, in hindsight, what might have been different if we’d had the courage or the bravado to widen our vision, to believe there is more than one right path to take, that calling evolves and changes, and that who we are isn’t defined by our station. In my head, I know these things, but I didn’t live them. They weren’t my practice.

It’s June now, and as for Georgia, we’re all in. The shock of leaving church didn’t upend and send us tumbling across the wilderness. Rather, it forced us to push roots down deeper, to strengthen and grow quickly. I think we may even begin blooming soon.  Our narrow window closed completely. Instead, God ripped the ceiling off and said, “Here, take a look at this sky. Better yet, step outside those walls and start really living out here in the world. It’s a place I’m especially fond of.”

Funny, it’s a place I’m especially fond of now, too.  Finally.

 

5 things I learned in May

Learning

I haven’t found the words yet to convey how huge and all-encompassing the changes in my life over the last two months feel every day. I’m still joyfully learning to navigate my way through this new landscape of full-time work for me, leaving ministry for Craig and graduating college and high school for 2/3 of my children My lovely middle child is once again in the middle of both these events and completely unphased by all the hullabaloo. She’s amazing.

I suppose I could wait for things to smooth out a bit more, to have my schedule better in hand and feel more put together and less in recovery mode to make try to put together a new space, but why wait? If I want to be a more mindful person and more prolific writer, the time to start is right now, and so I shall. I’m joining in with Emily Freeman in sharing what I learned in May.

Although I am an introvert, balancing my personality with a job I am passionate about means I am filled as quickly as I am depleted.

This has been an important discovery as I transition into full-time work. Most days I come home pleasantly (or completely, depending on the week) worn out, but I seldom feel unready to face another day at work. Working in the reference area of the library means tons of face-to-face interaction with all kinds of people: the public, my co-workers, contractors, school kids, parents, people in a hurry, people with no computer skills whatsoever.  Each encounter is entirely unique, and there is no blueprint for any of the interactions. Normally, this is a nightmare scenario for someone like me, but I find myself thriving in the challenges and opportunities each day present.  I also learned that I do suffer if I don’t put the brakes on the social component of my life during the weekend. It takes a day or two of introverting between the workplace days to really be myself again.

Kansas City is a really cool place, and visiting libraries in other towns makes me swoony.

I was fortunate this month to travel to Kansas City for a conference. Not only was it a great time with people who share my passion, but the city was so fun to hang out in! We visited the library hours before the conference started just to poke around and ended up hanging out until time to begin. The Kansas City central library is housed in a 100-year-old bank which is absolutely captivating. We explored, asked questions, and poked around from the underground vault – which is now a 28 seat public movie theater – to the fifth-floor rooftop patio and local history room. Clearly, libraries are my natural habitat. I’m not even ashamed.

It’s better to start imperfectly than to wait for the perfect moment.

In my head, I’ve known this for awhile, but in my practice, I’m still prone to procrastinate by waiting for the perfect moment to arrive. I know this stems from both my co-dependency and my perfectionism, but knowing why I do it, hasn’t made it easier to stop doing it. Growing up, I learned that doing things perfectly the first time is the best way to gain the praise I desired. These beliefs aren’t easy to unlearn in adulthood. When I am uncertain or overwhelmed, I often revert to them even though I know better. But I’m learning that a little bit of an imperfectly good thing is better than constantly waiting for the perfect moment or level of readiness. Perfection is an illusion. Starting and continuing despite flaws and imperfections is a superpower. I am learning to be my own shero.

It’s hard to be yourself when you don’t really know yourself.

I’ve been untangling this one for a few years now, but it hit home with me in a new way this month as I work at something I think I do well, and doing so without any of the labels I’ve previously worn. I don’t regret the years my identity was wrapped up in motherhood, or as Craig’s wife (which I still am, but differently). I somewhat regret other labels I have embraced and embodied believing I could make myself fit, but that’s a therapy session for another time. For long stretches of time every day, I am just me: doing what I love, working out what I want, embodying who I am. I’m fortunate to work in an environment that believes I can learn it, conceive it and orchestrate it well, and which encourages my creativity and my voice. You know what? I’m a pretty amazing person when I am not contorting like a pretzel trying to meet someone else’s ideal. I’m learning who I am as myself again, at last. This is freedom, and it’s wonderful.

45 is a great age to start again.

This month we celebrated my 45th birthday and the fact that I have now lived as long since my cancer diagnosis as before that nightmare day. These events were overshadowed – rightfully so – by the graduation of my oldest from college and my youngest from high school. Hunky and I are shifting into the ‘parents of adult children’ stage with our youngest daughter’s 18th birthday. All the babes are still here under our roof, but life is so different now than even two months ago. I’m learning new skills and concepts as fast as I can in my new career. Hunky is out of professional ministry and poised on the brink of a new path (further details aren’t quite ready to divulge yet). Everything feels fresh, new, and clean. Life is exciting and I’m finding ways to hope and dream in ways I had forgotten. I believe we can begin again at any time, every moment is new, but I’m claiming 45 as a pivotal year, one which can affect the trajectory of our lives in ways that excite me.

What lessons did May hold for you this year?

How do we live in the world

Living

(Upon rereading this, I believe the title may be a little misleading. I don’t have “5 easy steps to for living in this world.” If only I did. In fact this post is entirely about me. Whether that’s self-centered or self-reflective is for you to decide. What I found in all the perspective changing books I’ve read recently – more on that later in the post- is that I mostly enjoy descriptive instead of prescriptive books. By that I mean, I would rather read about someone else’s experience and see myself in it as well than have someone tell me what to do or who to be. So you be you, with all my blessing. This is who I will be. Perhaps you will see yourself in it as well.)

Earlier this week, God or the universe, or the benevolent life force or however it is that you relate to the workings of this world (Goodness knows I’m still working it out) showered me with gifts.

Everywhere I turned were messages and promises which spoke directly to me. Not only did nature and media speak to me, but a young gentleman who used to be our neighbor dropped by to tell us about good things which are happening in his life after much struggle. I had a conversation with a gentle hearted friend whom I have missed lately. Finally, I received the kindest, most delightful, silly text. A friend from work sent me this: “I realize that days I don’t see you are slightly darker.”

It’s been a struggle these last few years to find my place and my voice, even more so these last six months having been displaced and unvoiced, rather violently, from a community I wanted to trust, but I don’t think I ever really did. Fortunately when the bottom fell out, grace swept in and put something completely new and unexpected in place, a place for me to stand rather than plummet to the depths and disappear.

But even further back than these personal events, the world at large, culture wars, racial and gender and social injustices all force me to question and wrestle and struggle. How do I want to live in this dangerously restless world? These angry and divided times? Honestly, I fall and fail quite often. Bitterness whispers in my ear daily about how right I am, how wrong everyone else is, how obviously I deserve more, better, different than what I already have. Sometimes I give in and speak these whispers aloud.

But I don’t want to believe that message. Those words are the path to loneliness and isolation. They are words my ego wants to hear, but it’s not words that will love or heal my soul, let alone anyone or anything else in the world. I’m turning down voices, especially my own, when they seek to divide and tear down. Us/ them, hero/villain messages aren’t helpful. They won’t restore the broken people, places and relationships of this world to wholeness.

It’s paradoxical, really. Self-preservation tells me to pull in, protect, build walls, be safe. But self-love tells me to open wide, to release, to be soft, and vulnerable and definitely place myself on the side of universal human dignity. I’ve spent a fair amount of time ranting about an actual wall, and the people who accept and live by that ideology, which makes it pretty ridiculous that I would choose the same tool to protect myself, literally or metaphorically.

So, how do I want to live in the world? How do I protect myself and yet fully engage? I’m not certain it’s possible. I’m beginning to realize that I may have good boundaries, but not everyone I encounter will respect those boundaries. Openness invites injury; there isn’t a way around it. But I’ve finally figured out it’s better to be myself, complicated, contradictory and definitely rebellious against labels and boxes (guys, I didn’t tell people I work with that my husband was a pastor for weeks so that I could establish my own personality outside the most convenient definition, which definitely does not fit me.) For some I’m an acquired taste, and for some I won’t ever please the palate and I just can’t worry about that anymore. I will be hurt, insulted, cast out. And I will survive.

I will thrive, anyway.

I believe certain things about the universe that it’s making me soul sick to deny:

“Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

I believe in love, in justice, in mercy, in openness, in generosity – of spirit and pocket, in hope, in goodness. I have to. I must see the spark of the divine goodness first within me, then within the eyes of every other person I meet or my soul shrivels and becomes brittle, rank with cynicism.

Over the past year I’ve read and talked to and mostly listened a great deal to the voices of various ethnic, sexual, gender and religious orientations who are different from my  personal experience. I’ve found what my soul already knew, we are more alike than we are different. It is not our ethnic/sexual/gender/religious orientations which separate us, but the way in which we choose to relate to the world around us which creates the deepest divide.

Those who embrace diversity, beauty, and joy are closely related with any other person open to the wide ranging presence of the Divine, despite the labels we use to sort individuals. Those who see themselves as somehow tribally exclusive, even superior, are much like any other private ideological enclave, and incredibly disparate from more inclusive thinkers. It is our ideologies which divide us far more than any biologies or geographies.

And even then, there is the commonality of humankind, the foundation of clay, or primordial stardust which is our genesis, that binds us together. As a walking, moving, living, eating, procreating, loving, fighting, creative, destructive species, we are clothed in a holiness, which I choose to acknowledge and embrace.

This is, of course, much easier to say to about the nebulous global “enemies” than say, a person who actively searches out ways to destroy my character and acts on those impulses. I can embrace the divine within wall-builders and terrorists more easily than the intimate acquaintance. Ideology is easy until it’s personal.

And so the work continues.

I love Brene Brown’s recipe for living: “Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart.” I am challenged by every element of this, but I’m trying. Trying to learn healthy boundaries and to love myself exactly where I am and who I am, while also realizing I am deeply flawed and often difficult. Trying to embrace a world that may hate, hurt and reject me, and continue to embrace it when it does. Trying to let my heart be its true self, regardless of labels and expectations, believing I can trust where it leads me because all of us are above and before all things, created as good and loved beings.

This is how I live in the world, imperfectly, with great difficulty, with gentle softness, and with immense, overwhelming love.