Falling in love with the Middle East: 100 Story Summer

I discovered a new passion this week. Don’t you love when that happens? I discovered I am completely enamored with authors from the Middle East. Honestly, other than news stories and prejudicial diatribe, the Middle East isn’t an area where I have much knowledge or experience. While it isn’t likely I will travel there anytime soon, I can certainly broaden my horizons by learning from those who have lived there and feel a deep love for their country.

This week I plowed through two books by Middle Eastern authors. I also reread a classic from high school. Although I remember the overall theme, very few specifics, not even the ending, stayed with me. Reading it was practically a brand new experience.

I’m also working my through two non-fiction books, one quickly and one much more slowly as it is a huge tome.  Though these won’t count as part of the 100 story summer, I’ll still share them as I finish them in case they interest someone else as well.

What I Read this Week

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

This novel is a both a dreamy love story and a timely commentary on the experience of being a refugee in an unwelcoming world. While some would call it sci-fi, to me it seems more along the realm of magical realism. The opening sentence reads,

“In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace or at least not openly at war a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her.”  

We never learn the location of the first setting by name, but it’s obviously a Middle Eastern city. When war moves too close, people relocate by moving through a series of magical doors which open to new cities in new and distant countries.  

This story is an exploration of survival, isolation. Exploring the idea dislocation even in a crowd, this book is a beautiful way depiction of a harsh reality for thousands of people every day.

Girl of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsenea 

I really enjoyed this book which seems to evoke mixed emotions from reviewers. It was widely banned in Arab nations for its commentary on upper class Arab women. In America it’s been described as shallow and un-inventive.  However, I don’t think its shallow by accident. Instead shallow materialism serves as a foil for women who are complex, repressed and intelligent. Told as a series of subscription group emails and narrated by an omniscient and provocative narrator, the story follows four women through love, marriage, school, growing up and finding themselves. Fortunately I didn’t read the sharper reviews before reading this one, and I do recommend it.

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Obviously a departure from my Middle East theme, I’ve been wanting to reread this book for awhile. This week I read it as a catharsis and escape from political events. This dystopian story is set in post-was America. Theocratic authoritarianism replaces the democracy in a merciless way. Fertility is a premium and women who are able to conceive become property of the rich and infertile. Following the story of one woman through her nightmare reality, we receive a glimpse of the darker side of power, religion and misogyny.

Hello, goodbye: A self-care guide for my next year

If you haven’t guessed by this week’s writing, it’s a churned-up emotional time here at Palace MoJoy.  MoJoy, in fact, is in short supply. While I purposed internally at the start of this little project to avoid making this a platform for political diatribe – don’t worry, I still won’t – I also can’t change how the political atmosphere affects me emotionally. It’s a self-care nightmare for many of us.  Today my anxiety is sky high and learned helplessness is running frantic laps around my brain muttering, “We’re doomed. DOOMED!” under her breath.

My therapist moved out of town, dang it.

Still, I can’t continue like this emotionally. I can’t be always angry, and the way to stop this cycle is to pull the plug. In the month before the election, I had to step away from social media in order to stop feeling anger towards everyone and everything, all the time. I couldn’t manage my anger so I cut off its supply. It worked, until the nightmare of election night.

However, next week is my birthday week and my 21st cancerversary (you better bet I’ll toast that milestone, and not with Bud Light in the Rose Garden), I don’t want to spend the whole week outraged and offended. I can’t expend all my energy on processes over which I have only miniscule control and which drag on in agonizing slowness.

So, I’m unplugging. It’s all too much, too big, too heavy, too awful. And I’m not a very kind person in the middle of it.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in self-care. I’m teaching it, preaching it, and learning more about it. But I’m not very good at practicing what I already know.  Lately, social media is more about escapism than connection, and it’s an escape which usually leaves me more distraught than whatever it was I was seeking to distract myself from. It’s a draining cycle with only one solution.

Stop it.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how I’ve changed since my last birthday. I’ve drawn some hard lines, rebooted some relationships and just booted others. I lost a pants size and gained reading glasses. So much healing and self-awareness has happened in my soul. I don’t want to go start my 45th year angry and defeated. I need more Truth and less rhetoric. If I can’t change the political climate of the nation, I can at least work to cultivate peace in my soul.

So be it.

PS I still have seventy days of writing ahead of me, so this little corner of the internet will still have new content daily.

MWF seeks spiritual community outside denomination

I was on Facebook today, you know, perfecting the fine art of procrastination. I saw some friends posting the results of a silly quiz, “What denomination are you?” Because I fit in no religious box lately, I decided to take it too. The results didn’t actually surprise me, Quaker. I mean, I am a pacifist who prefers a quieter, more introspective service. Then again, I’m not entirely comfortable with that label either. I’m a misfit who’s not sure how to undenominate herself, or how to find a new way to express faith in community when you do.

Maybe it’s easier to walk away when you’re disgusted by the religion show, but I this isn’t how I feel. Despite all my deconstruction, I still have a deep, abiding faith. I still believe in the importance of living faith in community. In fact, of all the things I am unsure about, these are the two things I can express with some degree of certainty.

I have faith, or faith has me, or both mixed together.

I’m in search of a community to give and receive support, encouragement, dinner, conversation, disagreement, accountability, joy, laughter, pain, tears, life and death.

I also need a community that’s comfortable with questions, doubts and difference of opinion, is more focused on the Kingdom than heaven and hell and practices radical acceptance.

I find glimpses of it here and there, friends who I know are searching too. But we seem to be all spread out, across cities and even across countries.  It’s a comfort to know they’re there, but it’s also difficult to deliver dinner when life is unkind.

Also, I don’t actually know any Quakers.

They don’t really make want-ads for this sort of thing: MWF recovering from trauma seeks spiritual community. Must have an open mind about vegetarianism, recovery, sexuality, politics and books – especially books. Liturgy preferred, kindness essential.

It doesn’t even fit on a t-shirt.

By the way, as a recovering codependent, I like to add to this sense of disconnect a layer of guilt for being too much, too difficult, too discontent, too picky and too unworthy to hope for this sort of community. Better for everyone if I just learn to get along with the moral majority instead of rocking the boat with my heretical opinions.

Ah, recovery: taking one day at a time, living one moment at a time, accepting that this is the pathway to peace…

So what will we do? We who wander and wonder, who cry when we meet a kindred spirit in unexpected places? How do we find each other without want-ads or t-shirts to identify us?

If I had easy answers, I wouldn’t need to blog.

I guess we watch, and listen. We extend as much grace as we hope to receive, and then a little extra just in case. I always end up needing more grace than I planned for, anyway.  And just for good measure, feel free to reply to my want-ad. There’s always room in the “we don’t fit anywhere” pew for one more.

To be Bold again: a lesson from my daughter

Yesterday evening, my baby girl –or not so baby at just days from seventeen– did a crazy, bold thing. She stood in front of a room full of people, the majority of whom do not agree, who may never agree, and defiantly spoke a piece on racism in America which she wrote herself.

Recently, I, too, have been sharing aloud things I wrote myself, thought nothing so brilliantly bold. It’s very much like standing naked in front of a room full of people who may or may not jeer at your audacious vulnerability. It’s one thing to drop words on paper (a difficult enterprise in itself), it’s another to look a person in the eye as you deliver them.

But there she stood, passionate, offensive, confident in her rightness, and perhaps a bit blinded to her own complicity. Aren’t we all, eh?

I blushed at first, after my initial startled gasp. My oldest daughter echoed my first coherent thought whispering, “Well it won’t be you that gets us rushed out of town this time.”  I wished her wrong, but she isn’t.  I once was inconveniently outspoken, bold, and more than a bit blind to my own complicity.  Genetics aren’t immune to passing on our fatal flaws.

I watched her passion and her defiance against all things expected of someone like her: woman, pastor’s child, church member, white, beautiful, intelligent.  She defies and defines so many things as she becomes herself.

I’m not sure if I envy her more than I am scared for her or not.

I see so much of myself in her.  But I blushed when she spoke because an ice cold thread of fear is twisted through my passion now.  Boldness and defiance can be costly.  They aren’t often well-received, and the culture we inhabit now abhors them more than most. I’ve developed the habit of staying quiet and unnoticed if I can.

If  you aren’t a Jen Hatmaker fan, you’re probably blissfully unaware of the whole religious drama unfolding around her. However, she’s a shaping voice in my world. She and I now share the dubious honor of excommunication from church due to an inability to conform to expectations. Then she had the nerve to speak out about it.

Every time I read about Jen, I blush and my heart races. I know this pain, this grief. We pay a steep price, we women who can’t calm down, play nice, fall in line. I know and yet my once bold voice is silent now. I only  manage shameful flushes and an overwhelming urge to disappear.

So what will I do with my brave, bold, passionate beautiful woman-in-the-making who speaks her heart and blazes forward damn the consequences, damn the damage?

I’ve thought about it all night and all day, and here is what I’ve decided.

It’s time for me to follow her example, rather than asking her to follow mine. I lost myself these last few years. I listened to the voices: be quiet; fall in line; fit in; play nice, listened and tried to disappear.  These decisions have done me no favors. I’m in danger of becoming less myself than ever .  The cost of conforming is far higher than the cost of becoming.
If we fall, we fall. If they throw things at us and turn away, then we will leave the stage together and move on. We’ll hold each other when we hurt and cheer each other when we stand.  We’ll whisper truth to the other when they condemn us and possibly pay the price again and again and again.

I wish I’d stood and cheered my daughter when she left that stage. I wish I’d whooped and hollered instead of clapping politely and wishing we could just get out of there. But I didn’t.

Next time, I’ll follow her example. There’s so much she has to teach me.

How to choose between restlessness and presence

We’re in a very in-between place in our lives right now.  Not quite finished with one thing, not quite certain what the next thing is. Me? I’m a plan girl. I like a list and dates with a destination. I can fit all kinds of flexibility and focus within those parameters, but I need parameters.  In-between is not my favorite place.

Most days, I can take my restlessness and tuck it obediently in the corner. I distract it with 100 books to read, or take it for a run.  We organize and binge listen to podcasts.  I tell my restlessness we’re making progress, and usually it’s tamed by these distractions.

Today I’m watching other people’s weather. I’m circling the house like a caged tiger, shooting anxious texts to the Hunky. (I know tigers don’t text, but my restlessness uses mixed metaphors.) I’ve spent the last hour telling myself to put my butt in a chair and write some words…any words…JUST SIT DOWN AND TYPE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS.

restlessness

 

There are six countdown widgets on the front of my phone: my birthday, the next book club mailing, Christmas (237 days, folks), New Year, 100 days of writing, and Labor Day.  If my life is a bulletin board full of the one thousand sheets of paper which try to define me, then those countdowns are the push pins holding the pieces in place. When I’m not sure what to do, I look at my widgets, pick a point and try to move a little closer. It’s crazy, I know. But those countdowns mark parameters which guide the way I go.

Today even the widgets mock me. I pick books up and put them down. Then I clean the sink, just to say I’ve accomplished something, then I take another lap.
Do you ever feel like this?

There’s a thousand things which are fabulous about my life today, even the weather is insanely beautiful, after a stretch of wicked humidity hinting at high summer. I tell myself to settle, focus, lean into those things, and I do. I am.

Except I’m also dreaming of what could be and this high, blue sky only reminds me of how wide and far it stretches.
Maybe I’m an anticipation junkie. Something is out there. Something is calling me. Eventually it will make itself known, and I want to be ready, ready with wide open heart.  And yet, I want my wide open heart to also embrace what’s right here, happening in my home and town and my life. These days are good, worthy of my full attention. Meant to be lived not merely endured.

So what do we do when the caged tiger roams and every shiny thing looks better than the beautiful things we’re already holding? I wish I knew. I do. However, I’m learning quick fixes and easy answers aren’t really the way we live a meaningful life. Sometimes you have to climb on the tiger, leap the walls, and just let him go where he will a bit. Somedays we lean into the restless and trust that we don’t have to choose between what’s wonderful here or what’s possible tomorrow. Instead we choose to believe our arms are big enough to hold both at once, tigers and vacuums, the possible and the present,  what we have and what we don’t yet see.

Maybe we count down to what we know and watch for what we don’t and are grateful for someone to read our words, both texts and on-screen who says, Me too; let’s sit right here in this chair and watch the sky awhile.

Self-care and minimalism: How to create space for a lazy day

I think about self-care a lot lately. I’m certain it’s partially because of this 100 day project, which is entirely about  self-care. I’m also getting ready to teach for several weeks on Inventory (step four for those of you familiar with a 12-step program), and inventory is all up in the self-care business. My awareness tells me I’m dancing perilously close to depression – though perhaps not as close as I was month ago, thanks to…self-care.  So you can see why it’s frequently on my mind.

This morning on my run, I distracted myself from the hills by considering how minimalism is a form of self-care. First, it’s a way to feel empowered instead of powerless. Second, when minimalism creates margin for priorities, there is more time to do the things which inspire us rather than the things which drain us.

I spent most of Sunday afternoon and evening reading.  I also napped. Normally, these activities make me feel guilty for not being productive. After all there are always things which need doing, right? Except, for me yesterday, there was nothing urgent to be done. My house was mostly clean. I spent a bit of time every day working on my projects. There were things I could choose to do, but to what end? To appear busy? Exactly who am I trying to impress?

So rather than make busy work for myself, I relaxed. I took care of myself.

As I look back over this, I realize it is easy to respond with, “It must be nice to have it all together like this.” It is, except when I don’t. Honestly, last week I worked hard getting things done. I used my bullet journal like a boss. I wrote stuff down and systemically worked through the list, asked for help when necessary, and practiced my no.  I’ve picked up these tools over the years of practicing minimalism. When I use them, I am more likely to “have it all together,” or at least I know where it all is. When I don’t use them, I forget, or procrastinate or create busy work because I have no real direction, driven by an overwhelming anxiety that I am desperately behind on something.

Because I am self-aware, I know that I can function under pressure, but I prefer not to. I do better handling one thing at a time with plenty of forewarning. Practicing minimalism and using my tools usually provides the margin I need to thrive. Obviously, no system is fool proof – crises and the unexpected will always be part of the world we live in. But when I have a well-rested Sunday afternoon to draw on for extra strength, even a curve ball isn’t so frightening.

Practicing minimalism has created space for self-awareness which in turn creates space and opportunity for better self=care. Healthy behaviors lay a foundation for a lifetime of learning and putting into practice, of receiving and in turn pouring out from a soul of abundance. Last month, if asked, I would have said I felt worn out, used up and tired.  This month, when I’m worn out, it’s the kind that comes after a well-lived day. If I’m used up, it isn’t without space for refilling on the calendar.  I’m listening to myself even as I spill words out into the world.

Sometimes I even have room for an entirely self-indulgent Sunday afternoon.

Something Fun Sunday: Episode 3, The one where I take a nap

I’m I the only person who feels worn out each Sunday? I know it’s traditionally the first day of the week, but my mind has given that title to Monday. By Sunday afternoon, I’m just tired. In just a little while, one of my fun things for Sunday is going to be a great big afternoon nap. Amen!

This week threw curve balls and changes galore. The Hunky and I finally got a new bed. The Portwood-ettes barreled on through their last semester before college. Summer is so close they can practically smell it, and the weather here wants us to believe it’s summer already. Have I mentioned my disdain for summer?

I’m two weeks into the Whole 30 eating plan today. Every Sunday I want to give up and eat a loaf of bread, but every Monday pushes me one week closer to the finish line and I batten down my self-control and power on. This year I am measuring inches instead of mean old LBS, and I’m about 2 more inches from a crisis in the pants department. I dislike clothes shopping, but I suppose this is a pretty good reason to need to.

On to the Fun Stuff

Yesterday I shared what I’m reading for 100 story summer. But I never read only one book at a time, and I always have a non-fiction going along with my fiction. This week I am reading about some natural ways to combat depression. I’m on a huge self-care kick (if you couldn’t tell), so this is right up my alley.

I’m always late to a band wagon – if I choose to join it – but I’m only a few weeks behind the S-town podcast bandwagon. Friends, I gotta tell you, this is one great story. I didn’t expect to be so emotionally invested or to relate to so many of the events. I’m halfway through and it’s all I can do not to quit everything in order to just sit and listen. Hello, self-control.

Growing up, I always felt very competitive. I had to be the best, all the time, at everything.  Thankfully, I’ve moved away from that mind-set over the last few years. There are many things I want to do well, but I want to do them well for me, not in order to beat someone else or prove anything. Mostly, I want to lead a quiet, fulfilling life. That’s why I love this article: What if all I want is a mediocre life?  I don’t have to be the best at anything as long as I am striving to be the best me.

I know I proclaim my love for Spotify often and loudly, but it really does bring so much fun into my life. This week I put together a playlist so fraught with nostalgia, I can’t stop listening to it. I grew up in Nashville listening watching Hee-Haw, loving the Grand Ole Opry and listening to classic country. My dad loved the Outlaws ( Waylon and Willie and the boys), and me, I just love it all. No one else in the house wants to hear it so I have to listen wisely, but just a little everyday is enough to make me happy for hours and hours. So, if you want to laugh at me, or join in my reverie, I’m sharing the playlist here.

I hope everyone gets a little nap today, and we all head into next week knowing everything is already ok. Hey, it’s May…BIRTHDAY MONTH!! Whoooo-hooo!

One Hundred Story Summer: Adventure in Empathy, Week 1

Last week, I shared my plan to read one hundred stories this summer.  While I allowing a wide open field, any fiction counts, I also have some intentions for my grand adventure.

  • Read authors from many backgrounds, not just white folk.
  • Gain understanding and empathy for lifestyles and cultures unlike my own.
  • Learn about culture.
  • Focus without being “busy”
  • Re-visit well-loved favorites.
  • Have conversations about fun, interesting, difficult or controversial issues.
  • Gain a better understanding of myself.
  • Have fun.

I can’t remember a time I didn’t want to lose myself in a book.  I’ve used books as escape, comfort, adventure, and for companionship.  My reading ranges across most genres. I generally go where ever my reading muse takes me, a pattern I will follow this summer too. However, I also plan to be more intentional and self-aware in my reading.  I want to get outside my own experience and as Atticus Finch prescribed, “climb into [someone’s] skin and walk around in it.”

I can’t be another ethnicity, or change my cultural upbringing, but I don’t have to accept it as the superior or majority experience. Essentially, I hope to increase my ability to empathize with someone I may never actually meet. Expanding my experience, even my reading experience, with the human condition will help me connect with humanity instead of ignoring it, or worse, judging it.  My summer reading adventure is active resistance against the callous indifference generated by a constantly overwhelming news cycle.

This week started off wonderfully.

What I read this week

Underground Airlines

I shared a bit about this book last week, having just started it that morning. This served as the third book in an excellent book grouping covering the themes of slavery, racial ethics, and race relations.

Underground Airlines approaches these issues from an alternate reality. Abraham Lincoln does not become President and thus, never implements emancipation. The ramifications of this change reach farther than I could have imagined. The ideas of power, freedom and survival are deftly woven as a fast-paced thriller filled with double-cross and deception.  I loved every minute of it.

This is How It Always Is

I heard about this book on the What Should I read Next podcast. After hearing Anne Bogel of WSIRN call it a favorite of the year, I grabbed it off the New release shelf at the library without looking inside the cover. Here is what met me when I finally did.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

What follows is an exquisite exploration of the things which determine who we are (hint: it’s not what’s under our pants), and how those things may constantly change.  It’s a beautiful exploration of family, relationships, acceptance and humanity. The subject matter is incredibly important and is handled with equal parts of humor and heartache. Full of hope and secrets, fairy tales and sibling rivalry, this story has impressed itself on my soul. Rich and detailed writing make a great story into a beautiful journey.

The Grownup 

 This book keeps showing up on my recommended reads list on Amazon. I enjoyed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but I haven’t read anything by her since. When I saw it sitting on the end of the library shelf last week, I snagged it. This book is only sixty pages having been originally published in a collection of paranormal stories by George R R Martin. Honestly, I’m glad to have finished it in less than a hour. Because it was so short, it felt rushed. There was no time for character or atmosphere development.  The ending felt jumbled by too many possible twists, too conveniently assembled. It seemed as though it wanted to be haunting and mysterious in the vein of James’ turn of the screw, but that’s a feat which cannot be managed in so short a time. I’ll read more Flynn for sure, but I won’t recommend this one to anyone.

Those who Journey with me: Voices in my Head Pt 2

Yesterday I wrote about finding the courage to tell my story, and why telling our stories matters.  I’ve been writing about the three boxes: order>disorder>reorder.  Until now, my journey through the box of disorder has been like my dirty little secret.  I don’t often talk about publicly about this because it makes people uncomfortable, or it looks bad, or it’s not what’s expected from someone in my position. Honestly, much of the pressure to not talk is internal. I struggle with a high level fear of rejection, for obvious reasons, but as I said, that’s not the narrative I’m accepting anymore.

Church is a funny sort of creature, both the theological construct and the various local tribes. In order to belong, we have to believe and practice certain things. Over time these things become sacred, unquestionable. They are the way things are, the markers which come to identify who is in the tribe, and who is not in the tribe.  When we start to question these markers, the push-back can be both cruel and severe. Or sometimes it’s more subtle, a quiet and gentle withdrawal, a dismissal delivered congenially behind closed doors. Whatever the method, it hurts, deeply. I’ve seen it happen in multiple ways in my own life and watched it happen publicly and terribly to others.

Which is why I kept my own counsel, mostly.  Fortunately, I’m a reader, so I relied on what came most naturally to me to find support. I went to books. Books turned to podcasts. I found a few lovely, courageous people who were also deconstructing, who could sit with the questions I asked, and who honored me by sharing their own. I may most often wish to be a hermit, but this process of deconstruction is nearly unbearable without some form of community. 

Today I want to share a few voices that have meant the most to me over these last few years. Perhaps you need them too, or maybe you will one day.  

7: an Experimental Mutiny against Excess by Jen Hatmaker and Beauty will Save the world by Brian Zahnd.  I credit these two books as the ones that started it all. Or perhaps it’s better to call them the books which finally gave permission for me to explore a different way of faith.  They gave voice to what had already begun to stir in my soul. They are spiritual catalysts.  Brian Zahnd went on to publish Water to Wine last year, a semi-autobiographical account of his own disorder/reorder journey, which I devoured in two days.

Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar.  This is the book which helped me believe I was not crazy.  All the emotional wreckage I was sorting through, I found in this book. I read story after story of those who also survived the journey. I learned how they did, and that no two journeys are exactly the same. Faith became mysterious, organic and impossible to predict. I learned there are paths for those of us who leave The Path too.

Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty and The Bible Tells Me So.  I read the Bible Tells me so before I read Sin of Certainty, mainly because the second book wasn’t published yet. When I recommend them to others, I advise reading them the other way around though.  The Sin of Certainty is another journey of disorder story, encompassing faith from many aspects and embracing the idea of mystery, questions and the unknowable. The Bible Tells Me So deals specifically with scripture, introducing alternate perceptions and various accepted theological understandings.  For those of us who have learned there is only one way to look at scripture, this is a doorway to a whole new world, inhabited by more than just heretics and fringe lunatics.

Brian McLaren – A New Kind of Christian and A Generous Orthodoxy.  One thing I appreciate about these new-to-me authors and their stories is their overarching willingness to say, this is what I think, but I might be wrong. I’ve never lived in a spiritual space where the possibility of being wrong was tolerable. Being right has always been very, very important. But Brian’s is a voice willing to speculate, to have a conversation. He makes room.  It’s feels not only refreshing and lovely, but welcoming and safe.

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans and Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey. I could write for days and days the way these two brave, beautiful souls have ministered to me through their words and witness. I desperately needed women of faith who’d been on this journey too. Their pain and their passion mirrored my own; their desperation to know God in a way they hadn’t previously even known was possible, made it possible for me as well. Because they shared their story, I believed I, too, could reconstruct a living faith eventually.

There are others, many others, voices I am just discovering or ones that would take me down rabbit trails to a dozen other titles and voices if I listed even one more. 

I want to finish by listing a few podcasts which have also helped my sanity tremendously.

Rob Bell, the Robcast – Far and away the voice I have relied on most heavily in the podcast world.

The Liturgists – generally topical, this podcast provides the voices of several folks as well as guest speakers.

The Deconstructionists – A great podcast for those who are deconstructing, but who also want to connect and reconstruct in new and exciting ways.

Brian Zahnd – As the voice who started all of this, I seldom miss his weekly sermon. When I need a reminder to inhabit the Kingdom and reject the empire, Brian delivers.

Greg Boyd – Greg is new to my list of voices. I hear his books would probably also make my booklist above, but so far I have only enjoyed his podcast. Challenging, engaging and relevant. He’s currently at the top of my list.

The voices in our head: Why story matters

I relied on many voices to help me through the box of disorder. Of all the voices who share about their experiences, Rob Bell’s is one of the kindest, wittiest and most inspiring in my world, currently. Each week, when I listen to his podcast, I find myself agreeing, stopping to swear (which is apparently how I voice my agreement when it’s too strong to keep inside), or sending quotes and links to anyone who will listen. Most people aren’t as excited as I am, probably. Having felt alone for a very long time, I throw connecting moments out like candy from a parade float and hope it reaches someone who really needs it.

Anyway, I was listening to the Robcast recently, specifically, The Importance of Boredom (weeks later and this is still rolling around in my soul so maybe you would like it too). He tells the story his wife’s experience with pregnancy induced asthma, which was terrifying. After the trauma of daily fearing for her life, she would talk with Rob about her story: how it felt, what happened, what she thought, over and over. She talked about it every day until finally the experience was actually in the past instead of continually happening to her in her mind.

Trauma is like that.

It isn’t only mental. It’s physical. It’s on our cells. Scientists can find it in our hair and our fingernails months after the events themselves. We carry it, and often we carry it silently, pushing it down into deep dark corners and hoping it will just go away.

But trauma is not like that.

Trauma grows in dark places and secrets. It gets bigger, and hairier, and meaner. The only true cure for trauma is light and love. Light and love over time, sometimes a long time. Sometimes days and weeks and months of bringing our trauma out into the light until finally it begins to fade, never leaving us entirely, but certainly becoming more like all the other events that make up who we are instead of THE event which defines us.

Love and light and time.

I listened to this podcast within the first few days of deciding to write for one hundred days. When I heard this part about trauma I wanted to yell, That’s it!!! to anyone who would listen.

Over the last seven years, aside from my messy spiritual disintegration:

  • we’ve been kicked out of church,
  • lost our home,
  • filed for bankruptcy,
  • my brother endured his own trauma of stage 4 colon cancer,
  • my mom had a melanoma on her face,
  • two of my three children have graduated,
  • all three children have started college,
  • we’ve lost two close friends to suicide and
  • endured several episodes of “not the same, but feels the same” as my previous spiritual abuse.

But only some of these things are socially acceptable to talk about, or at least, that’s the message I received. The rest are private, or make other people look bad, or are bad for the church, or so many other reasons why it was simply easier to not tell my story.

So I didn’t. And in the dark spaces it grew teeth, and claws, and these things became who I am instead of just things that happened to me. Because I couldn’t put them in the past where they belong, they jumbled up and piled up, and stacked up, always in my face, always part of my present, always something I had to be afraid and ashamed of. Always.

Every single day.

Until I finally decided that the chips will fall where they will. It’s time to let my story out. Again and again. As many times as I need to share it, until finally, it becomes merely part of me instead of defining me.

So you’ll forgive me if you’ve heard this one before, but I’m not done telling my story yet. Even though it’s no longer happening, I’m still living it inside. I’m still understanding all the ways it broke me and strengthened me and changed me. Stories matter. They are how we heal, how we tell the voices in our head what really happened.

Maybe you have a story too. Maybe it’s big and scary and ugly and all up in your business day after day. I encourage you to find a safe space, a person who loves to hear the same story time after time, a recovery group, a therapist. Tell your story; bring it out into the light. Let someone love you right in the middle of that great, big, hairy-scary mess.

I promise, pinky-swear even, with light and love over time, it really does get better. It never goes away, but we learn to live with it. The weight becomes bearable, and we become ourselves again.