To Love Being a Mother: Part One of a Short Series

I used to think of myself as having “given up” my young adulthood to be a mother. It was a sacrifice, almost a burden. I didn’t get the time that so many of my friends did to work for a while, get some money in the bank, maybe get a down payment for a house saved up.

I looked at it as my lost youth. Not now.

Photo by Evelyn Chong on Pexels.com

I have had to make a major shift lately because if I didn’t, I was going to move into this next phase with a lot of angst and resentment, kicking and screaming. The Empty Nest is a monumental transition. I had to shift or suffer, wasting the next 25 (hopefully) years unable to enjoy and appreciate what life was giving me. I enjoyed a Facetime call with three of my best college friends earlier this week; we suffered the travails of sorority rush when we were just eighteen years old, and now we bemoaned the travails of wherever we are in our motherhood journeys: two empty-nesters (though my house is not actually empty), a mom who has just one senior-in-high-school daughter left at home and can see her freedom beckoning like a fluttering will-o’-the-wisp, and a mom who has seen her eldest through a grueling triple organ transplantation and is now fiercely protecting her younger children from a negligent, violent husband whom she is divorcing. We are all happy about our motherhood and struggling with it in equal measure.

I am changing the way I think: I am glad I started motherhood so young! It means I get to enjoy this new phase while I am hip and (relatively) healthy. And, more significantly, I am owning this thing that people keep telling me, but that I have had a hard time believing: I was a pretty good mother.

Ready Like a Mother

When I became a mom, I had to figure it out. I hadn’t had healthy mothering in my childhood, so my tool box was pretty empty. My mom was debilitated by mental illness and addiction, was damaged by faith and desperately lonely in a house with four other equally lonely humans. I looked to relatives and friends’ moms to help me figure it out. My friend Chellie’s mother, Bea, stood across her kitchen counter and offered sage advice while feeding me scratch-made chocolate cake. Carol Brady, Samantha Stephens, and June Cleaver were role models. When I became a mother, I didn’t have peers to emulate; my best friend and I were the first in our college class to get pregnant. She and I had been roommates and pledge sisters, and we had our first babies just six weeks apart. She was just barely ahead of me on the question train: how to get the baby to latch on, when to add cereal, how to manage tummy aches, and such.

A theme of my motherhood was to protect them by being around just enough: not a helicopter, instead maybe a stealth missile. I wanted to keep them safe while instilling courage, so I instructed them, at ages 4 and 6 to “hold onto my pockets” so that I could carry their baby sister into stores. They never did let go, not once. As they grew older, I didn’t spy, I never did read a journal, though I did go through some drawers. On the night of my eldest’s eighth grade dance, I dropped her off and pretended to drive away, then sneaked back into the cafetorium and hid behind a pillar to watch her have fun with her friends in the dress I’d put the finishing touches on just a few minutes before. In my mind, the dress was my back pocket and I was at that dance with her, still protecting from afar.

Now, I am a grandmother, with a nine-month-old grandson and a twenty-one-month-old granddaughter; they, along with their parents, live with us. I was not ready for this new role, this new identity. Because I started my family so young, I was looking forward to the span during which my own kids were grown and independent, so I could be a little selfish with my time and resources. I thought I could pretend to be ten years younger and travel the world, just being indulgent and drinking pomegranate mimosas. Of course, that’s not how it worked. Honestly, when do our plans ever really go like we thought they would?

On the day my daughter and her partner told us about grandbaby number one, we were sitting at brunch at a local restaurant. I knew something was up and asked my daughter to accompany me to the restroom, where she told me she was pregnant and I slid down the wall and plopped gracelessly on the cold tiled floor (it was a nice restaurant, the floor was clean. Thank goodness we weren’t at a truck stop). After the meal, we continued the conversation at our home, and when they left after a long talk about the impending baby, I just leaned over into my husband’s arms and bawled, “I am not ready to be a grandmother.” “I know,” he sighed, “but are you ready to help your daughter be a good mom?” Of course I am.

The Awesome Power of the Grandmother

I remember the awesome influence of my own grandmothers, especially my grandmother June, whose life was a testament to the beauty of resilience and generosity. She never had a mother of her own, and her father was murdered when she was a young woman, and like me, she had to look around her for women to be role models into motherhood. She taught me about the importance of skin care, and that sitting on the porch watching birds was, in fact, a valuable way to spend time.

Her house was imbued with the magic of hospitality, space to be myself, and a place to imagine: an attic room. The stairs were behind a beautiful oak door, and once climbed, revealed a sublime room with an old iron bed, shelves upon shelves of books, boxes of toys and dress up clothes, and a window seat. This room was where I felt more at peace, more myself, than any place I had encountered. In this room, perched on the window seat, I drew pictures and wrote stories, dressed as a lady, danced, and read books. When I read Little Women for the first time, I recognized Jo’s love for her attic. I had my own attic to love. Almost always, when I was there, my mother was in a completely different town, so the pall of her depression was lifted. My introverted little soul could fly free, all under the gentle and generous eye of my beloved Grandma June.

To become a comparable source of joy and a well of confidence for my grand-kids and, more importantly, their mother, to continue to nurture my relationships with my adult kids who remain single, requires that I look backward into my own child-rearing years. I want to remember, from their births to their graduations and beyond, how I explored the idea of being a good parent as well as how I messed up royally but stayed in the game. I want to acknowledge that I was a good mom, which means I need to figure out how I did it. How I still do it. Because I am definitely not finished being a mom. Nowhere near it.

Lessons from transitioning to being a mother, then to grandmother:

  1. If you’re young, look around for role models and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  2. If you’re older, look around for younger adults who need mentors. We can be a pretty isolated society. You might have a church single or a teen neighbor who could use a friend who’s got a lot of life experience.
  3. Protect, but don’t rescue. Don’t hover. It’s not good for anyone.
  4. Apologize to your kids when you make a mistake. They’ll remember that as they grow. It teaches them that it’s safe to be imperfect.
  5. Write down or otherwise record the moments when you stumbled to goodness. Too often, we focus on the extremes: the picture-perfect happy, glossy moments, or the times when tragedy happens or fierce disagreements cause heartache. I think that lasting joy is found in the middle, those moments when life is just rolling along and you stumble sometimes but you keep going and growing.
  6. Save some toys for your grandkids.

What wisdom do you have about mothering, or empty-nest transitioning? Share, I’d love to learn from you!

Making My Own Magic: The Healing Power of Imaginative Play

Many who know me believe my life is magical, that the shadows of my childhood have been banished. And in some ways, they’re right. My adult life has been enchanted: a long marriage to my best companion, glasses of wine, beloved friends, grandbaby toes and giggles under my roof, puppy kisses, wonderful books, all that stuff. My life seems pretty charmed.

It’s got some darkness, too. There’s some Maleficent energy to counteract the Aurora sparkle. All authentically lived lives are that way; anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t living in truth. Sometimes, we’re floating above the trees, but other times we’re mired in the muck of life’s sorrow.

Maybe the most fantastically and imaginatively magical part of my span here on this beautiful orb called Earth has been the fairy element; yes, I have been a fairy, the professional kind who gets paid to don wings and glitter and charm the public. Bruises have been suffered from the weight of wings. Tears of “smile fatigue” have been shed. Knees have suffered from kneeling to the level of a four-year-old’s bright face to hear a sweet whisper.

In the early years of my fae life, I embodied the nymph Nimue in a silver dress that was a replica of Drew Barrymore’s in Ever After and a crown so tall it caught on the tree limbs from which I attempted to enter a fog-laced stage. The actor playing Merlin cackled under his breath as he surreptitiously disentangled me as I sang.

I walked the gravel paths of the Renaissance festival where I worked as two queens of literature and myth: Mab of Celtic lore, and Titania of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Every day, I donned wings and glitter, accessorized with a pouch full of glass stones to give as favors to the small children who timidly approached all day for a little dollop of fairy enchantment. Each morning, I danced with abandon, spinning and skipping to the most delicate and playful music played by flute, cello, and harp; as I twirled, the sun glinted off my shimmery wings, the iridescent cobalt blue silk I wore shifting and changing colors.  Those moments of abandon reminded me of being a little girl twirling in my front yard until I was so dizzy I lay down to watch the azure sky spinning above me. You only get those kinds of moments in your adulthood when you decide to stop worrying about being respectable and start allowing joy to inhabit you.

In the Quiet Time, that period when my throat was silenced by a vocal cord injury, I created a fairy persona, Hush, a playful sprite who collected found sparkly things, magpie-like, and spoke only with my hands and face or the musical toots from my little pottery ocarina. Being a fairy, as an adult, gave me a voice and the chance to revisit the little girl who had struggled and been so lonely. Hush, Mab, Titania, and Nimue blessed me with an opportunity, undergirded by the security of knowing I was surrounded by family and friends, to play. It’s like that scene in Stephen Spielberg’s movie Hook when the Lost Boys try to get the adult Peter Pan to cut loose with them: they play, and he just takes a ball to the gut. Once he has been in Neverland long enough, though, and remembers the love of his children back home, he can play. And fly.

Dragons and Time Clocks

About five years ago, I stopped playing. Packed away the costumes that represented characters I had inhabited, stopped auditioning for plays and musicals, just settled down. Settled into the organizational tasks of my job without the relieving balance of fun, whether at work or on my off time. Though these days, I play tag and peekaboo with my grandkids, those games, while special because of the giggles and memories of their baby laughter, don’t stimulate brain and activate my body in a challenging, restorative way.

I went looking for information about adult play, not expecting to find much there. Who, after all, believes that playing is an important part of adult life? It turns out: a lot of people, including mental health professionals.

“Play is being joyfully immersed in the moment, and as adults, we rarely do that.In a way, it is an active form of mindfulness, which is widely recommended and advocates being present and in the moment. Mindfulness has been proven to alleviate anxiety and depression. Studies also suggest that it can help you manage stress better and maintain a healthy weight,” says Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, Professor of Developmental Psychology at New York University.

Not so very long ago, our office (which has undergone major turnover that has rendered the following scenario obsolete) staff kept Nerf guns and tiny catapults at our desks. It was not unusual for spontaneous battles to break out, and wild laughter would fill the empty spaces between desks and meetings as we bonded and decompressed. Our staff felt more like a team back then. Playing in our offices as well as in our personal time helps us to feel better. It keeps us sane and healthy and happy. It helps us to connect in an authentic way with others. Imagination and play defeat the dragons of boredom and isolation, at work and at home.

Once Upon A Time…

I was my own Tinkerbell. Nothing more magical than that. I learned to play, and to fly, and to trust my own inner voice; the restored voice that can sing or speak truth, even when intertwined with the snares and branches of the expectations or foibles of others. I developed the strength and power to face down dragons, the real ones: family trauma, addiction, loss. I’ve lost touch with that power, though.

So here’s my magic spell, distilled from all the little tokens ever given to me by children who believed: don the tulle. Swing the wooden sword. Wear the wings. Write the poem. Find friends who will play and make the magic happen with you. Speak the truth. It’s all love, and that’s what we need most to vanquish the sinister shadows.

What do you do to play?

https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/adults-need-recess-too-here-s-why-you-should-make-ncna887396

Bell, Book, and Candle: How Books Saved This Lonely Child

School started this week; with students split between virtual and in-person teaching, economic disparity and the limitation of resources for students in the lower socio-economic strata has been thrust into sharp relief. Kids without high speed internet, quick pay Amazon options, or college-educated parents are in a pickle.

I was one of those kids, back in the 1970s, before high speed internet. But the plight was the same. Disparity is a constant, after all.

Ramona celebrates a new book.

We didn’t keep books in my house. My parents didn’t read much themselves, and they definitely didn’t read to me. My literacy was fostered by the captions on coloring book pages, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company. Then I discovered the library at school. Ramona Quimby became my best friend in the years when my unbathed, scraggly self didn’t have pals. Beezus was my big sister, Mr. and Mrs. Quimby my parents. Though I never would have dreamed to indulge the sass that lay buried under my compliant surface, it was there. Every time Ramona mouthed off or struggled with her woolen stockings, I loved her. The days at school when we received our Scholastic book order forms were highlights that thrilled me; on newsprint paper was a four-page brochure of paperback books we could order. I saved up, or sometimes my dad had a little spare change, and I proudly turned in my order, anticipating the day a box of books would be delivered to the teacher and I’d have something new and wonderful: with a slick, untouched book cover that would open upon magical words and worlds, I could inhabit every wish I had ever made. Even in the seven years I taught elementary school, I kept up these book orders, bookworm-y teachers love getting new books just as much as bookworm-y kids.

Our bookmobile looked a lot like this one!

I learned that our town had a portable Book Mobile, a converted bright blue school bus, it was an extension of the town’s public library and traveled to all the elementary schools in the afternoons so that kids who didn’t have transportation to the library could access its wonder. A Wrinkle in Time never had a more devoted follower. I made Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Whatsit my own fairy godmothers, Charles Wallace my brother. I imagined visiting other dimensions by tesseract. I wondered what a Bunsen burner was and how a mom could be a scientist.

I saved my pennies for the book fair and bought a graphic novel of Dracula. My maternal grandmother took me to the library when I visited her in New Mexico or, later, at their lake house in Brownwood, Texas, and I checked out Lois Lenski’s Strawberry Girl over and over. It was a summer touchstone, I only read it when visiting my grandma. My paternal grandmother had Encyclopedia Brown books in the den, and I tucked in on the bright orange mid-century linen couch and read when it got too hot to play in the west Texas sun. I wept every time that Old Dan and Little Ann perished at the end of Where the Red Fern Grows.

Once my teachers noticed my voracious appetite for books and looked at my grades in spelling, they realized I could be a contender in the Scripps spelling bee, it’s the one that you still see on television. Now I had a booklet of words to study and learn! I cloistered myself in my pretty yellow room, copying the words over and over with a pencil or recording them in the cassette player my dad had bought as an Amway tool. I carried my booklet with me everywhere, and begged people to quiz me over words.

At the bee, as each word was called, I repeated it, closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and visualized the page. Here was the miracle of my spelling strategy: I could see each page, find the word’s location on it, and, using my finger to trace the letters as my right hand hung by my side, spell it perfectly. I spelled with confidence, emphasizing each final letter with a declarative tone that left no room for doubt. I wasn’t smug, I just knew. I trusted my own voice and my own gift. The youngest girl in the competition, I watched competitor after competitor leave the stage and take a seat at cafeteria tables. Then, a snag.  A problem. A hitch. The pronouncer called out the word “forte,” pronouncing it “fort-ay.” This was not a word that had ever been called to us in our after school practices with Mrs. Goodwin. My brain searched for such a thing on the F page that existed in my memory, but came up with nothing. I asked for both definition and sentence, neither helped. I relied on my phonics comprehension, took a deep breath, and spelled the word phonetically: f-o-r-t-a-y? Ending my spelling on an upward inflection alerted everyone in the room that I was unsure. I waited anxiously, but not for long. They rang that stupid little silver bell. Ding! Neither my homeroom teacher, who had been the coach at school, nor the pronouncers at the table caught on to the fact that the word has multiple pronunciations and meanings, and so one was giving me “a person’s strong suit” and the other was giving me “the musical term meaning to get louder” along with both pronunciations. I was thoroughly lost. When I sat down, I spelled every word to myself, furiously and correctly, for the rest of the contest.

You never forget your first spelling bee loss.

As I continued up grade levels, I kept spelling, and I kept winning. When I won the eighth grade bee, and thus the right to move on to the district level competition, the Jackson Middle School newspaper sent a boy to interview me, which he did before the tardy bell rang in English class. We were surrounded by other students, who were listening attentively:

“Why do you think you’re so good?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “I guess I just have a knack for it.”

He didn’t recognize the word. He did not have the vocabulary.

“A knack? What’s that? Are you trying to show us how smart you are? How much smarter than all of us?” He laughed. Others laughed. I was both embarrassed and indignant. Why should I have to pretend I didn’t know these words? Why should I have to dumb down my vocabulary, which was extensive, to meet the lower denominator? I learned to be more discreet about my intelligence that day. I didn’t stifle it, my hunger for words was too powerful to ever be curbed, they were the flame that fueled every step, every decision I would ever make. Words, books, stories, they were a candle in the dim shadows.

I kept competing, and winning, in spelling all the way through high school. I even have two adult spelling bee trophies that I treasure. I admit that I mentally correct spelling on social media, and the office has me proof everything.

Studies indicate a direct correlation between literacy and mental health. Being equipped to succeed in reading or given the opportunity to develop empathy through identification with a character helps kids to move through the world in emotionally healthy ways. Books and words saved me when I was a struggling kid. They still do, and all of us who are fortunate enough to have easy access to knowledge and its delivery systems owe it to our fellow humans to find ways to share the light.

So, what’s your favorite book?

***

If you’re interested in supporting literacy, here’s a link to the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation.

https://www.bushhoustonliteracy.org/

Starting at the End: Owning the Remnant of Our Trauma

I am really glad to share the words and work of mental health professional and fellow blogger, Hannah Siller. She and I share some common life experiences: traumatic childhoods, addicted parents, fractured sibling relationships. Coming from trauma doesn’t sentence us to sitting in pain, though. There is, in everyone’s story, an opportunity for redemption, for repair, for reclaiming who we are in our very deepest souls. I hope you’ll be encouraged by Hannah’s story:

To start at the beginning is too complex. This isn’t a bedtime story that can begin with a “Once upon a time” and end with an “And they lived happily ever after”. Trauma is messy, living in an abusive and toxic environment is messy. Those who have been allowed to glimpse these less pretty parts of my life often say it would make a great movie or book. I guess in some ways they would be right, but it’s not that simple. To know the past I endured doesn’t get anyone any closer in knowing the me that I am now. For a person that has experienced prolonged types of trauma such as childhood abuse, there is this permanent change that happens. We are our past, but at the same time, we are also our journey to heal. This is a process that is continuous and is lifelong. But if that is the case then where would one consider to be the end of their story? Where would I set the last chapter of a book or the final scene of a movie? Searching for this answer kept me from really telling my story. But then it found me. So instead I’m going to start at the end, or at least what I consider to be the end of my trauma story. 

The summer of 2018 was kind of a big-time in my life. I had just graduated with my master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis in trauma and crisis and was figuring out what my next steps would be. A lot of defining moments would come from this summer, but for this entry, we will focus on just one, Jess. Jess had been the daughter of my dad’s girlfriend for a good part of my younger years. The four of us lived together, Jess and I were raised as sisters. Our parents’ relationship was problematic, as they were both drug dealers and users. With a relationship like that comes many issues of violence and potential legal problems. It ended in epic fashion with her mother in jail and my father not. Emotions in both families were high, for obvious reasons, and Jess and I were separated and kept apart, forcibly at times.

Given that this was far before the internet was commonplace and social media was yet to exist, there was little I could do to connect. Once I reached adulthood, even with these means, so much time had passed it was near impossible to even know where to look. But it was Jess, and I had to try. Every few months I would spend a late-night scrolling through Facebook for a lead, occasionally messaging someone who looked similar to her mother or who had her name. For years I did this with no luck. Then on August 19th, 2018, I tried one last time. The next morning, I received a response. After almost 30 years I had found Jess and she was once again in my life.

Our relationship wouldn’t be the forever I had wanted, but that is a story for another time. At the moment I had found a missing piece of my life. It’s impossible to completely explain all of the emotions I experienced during this reunion, but what I can say with certainty is that the experience changed me. Suddenly I found a connection between my past and my present that I never had before. Growing up in an abusive environment like I had, there is this question you tend to ask yourself, who would I be if I had never had to endure such pain? Being around Jess answered that for me. There were these times she would comment “oh that’s my Hannah” as if she almost expected me to do or say exactly what I just did. It would take me by surprise that this person who had been so long removed from my life still knew me so well. Somehow through all of the bad stuff I still at my core retained who I really was. Maybe in a different environment, I would have had more opportunities or chosen a different career path, but as far as the root of my being I was always this person.

I gained closure from this relationship. Jess set straight things about myself and my life that no one else could. She had experienced so much of the same things I did in those early years. She could confirm the memories of events I had and allow me to discuss the pain of these events with complete understanding. But most importantly I found that the love I had carried for her was the same she had carried for me. Through everything, I went through there was one person out there that loved me and thought of me and to whom I was important. By finding Jess I was finally able to find an ending of my trauma story. My past will always have a degree of influence over me but the story and the pain from that part of my life is officially over.  

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*Names are modified to protect the identity of the individuals discussed. Please respect the privacy of these individuals and refrain from posting additional information.

* I have worked hard to heal from my past through professional therapy and personal growth. Over the years I have become comfortable enough to start using this story in public speaking events and as a major part of my writing. Writing about personal trauma can be very triggering and is not recommended for those still working through trauma unless instructed to do so by a mental health professional.

About the Author

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After pursuing a career as a clinical counselor for at-risk youth, I made the important decision to go back to school. I am currently working towards my Doctorate in psychology, which I hope to find better trauma preventions and PTSD treatments. My spare time is devoted to my business Serene Life Consulting, which provides life coaching, public speaking survives, and is home to home to my blog. Like in all areas of my life, the purpose of my writing is to bring mental health education and an inspirational message to others. My dream is to continue this message throughout my life in everything I do. From teaching to publishing a book to research, I just want to make everything I lived through count. 

To check out more of Hannah’s work including Life Coaching Services and her current blogging project “Diary of a Trauma Survivor” see her website:

https://sillercounseling.com/

serenelifeconsulting.com  

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She Was A Voice: A Review of “The Book of Longings”

“Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.”
― Sue Monk Kidd, The Book of Longings

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The reclamation and rediscovery of my voice have been the driving throughline of my life since 2011 when my vocal cords were damaged resulting in a year of silence. I already felt pretty invisible in my daily life, as though I was seen and heard only by my husband and kids. Though I regained my voice through the miracle of a silicone implant, the trauma of the muteness has never fully left the deep recesses of my heart and soul. Those who have known me in an up-close way, or who read my work know this truth about me.

In her latest and most audacious work, inspirational author Sue Monk Kidd imagines another invisible and unheard woman, telling a life of her creation, a wife of Jesus during the period of unknowing: the years between his temple conversations with the rabbis and the day he stepped into the river Jordan to be immersed by John the doomed prophet. Only an undiluted curiosity undergirded with a fertile and open mind will be able to read this beautiful fiction unthreatened.

We meet Anna as a teen, full of restless joy and enormous dreams of writing, a voracious reader who had begged her father unrelentingly to be taught how to read and write. Anna is a young woman of expansive ideas trapped in an ancient patriarchal culture. I recognized her heart-cry immediately, I too was once a young bookworm with a passion for justice and a tendency toward the favoring the underdog.

The Hebraic culture of the New Testament era comes vividly alive in the author’s adept hands. Ms. Kidd revealed in an interview with researcher Brene’ Brown that she spent 14 months of eight-hour days immersed in history and religious study, joking that she was smitten by Roman aqueducts in Galilee; her daughter finally intervening with an exhortation to get on with the writing. Her dynamic descriptions of the terrain, the architecture, the food, the daily life are so real I expected to see dust on my sandals and to smell olives on the breeze upon lifting my eyes from the page.

Anna is to be married to an old man in a play for power by her father, a wealthy, landless scribe in the court of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch who would eventually see Jesus in his court. Events twist and turn, and Anna is instead married to young Jesus, a man so full of compassion and the spark of joy that he is utterly captivating. I have wondered since I was young enough to watch Sunday School stories be told by puppets and felt board cutouts what the young man Jesus might have been like, and this imagining feels completely credible.

SMK

Ms. Kidd is careful to craft a plot that is fully supportive of the sparse details of Jesus’s life that are written in the Biblical gospels, she doesn’t rewrite or recreate Jesus and his ministry, she simply attempts to create a fictional idea of what might have been, and in doing so, she provides a feminine window into the early Christian world that has not often been seen. Anna is, in truth, a proxy for all the women who have ever felt absent in the Jesus story, who have been unheard in the power plays and overlooked in the histories executed by men. “The deeper we go into our own experience, our own journey, the more likely we are to hit the universal,” says Ms. Kidd.

As a companion read to The Book of Longings, Ms. Kidd’s spiritual memoir, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, is a remarkable deep dive into the fracturing and rebuilding of feminine faith; it too is universal. I have been working through it for some time. I say “working,” because the truth of what Brene’ Brown calls her “mid-life unraveling” is unfolding in my own life, and has been for a period of long years. It was only in the last three that I began to tiptoe from the desert created by church trauma to embark upon newer vistas of grace on my way back to verdant faith. Reading the final chapters of Dissident Daughter simultaneously with Longings scored the truths of both deeply into my heart in the same way that Anna inscribed her prayers into a bowl: women are deeply, tenderly, radically loved by God.

If a reader can access her imagination and be unafraid to ask “What if?” there is abundant grace, wit, and courage in this gorgeous novel. What a bold, yet humble gift is Sue Monk Kidd. I encourage all to read, and to listen to her episode on Unlocking Us. Its radical, gentle message is both balm and benediction.

Brené with Sue Monk Kidd and Jen Hatmaker on Longing, Belonging and Faith

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Into The Storm: A Hurricane Hanna Tale

“Phooey,” I replied as I stood in the torrent. And then I laughed. I laughed out loud and I snapped photos and I dug my bare toes into the wet sand. It was no coincidence that the storm had a feminine name this time and I met Hanna head on and ready to be filled with feminine strength. What I didn’t expect was the joy, the sheer joy that her wind-and-water-dance would engender in me.”

Sometimes the big life lessons, the ones that alter your perception, the ones that are like the tiniest shift in the tube of a kaleidoscope leading to the unfolding of a fresh worldview, happen in unexpected places. Maybe it’s a change of scenery that can knock us out of the stupor of automatic living. That happened to me this week, on the south Texas Gulf Coast. In a hurricane.

My husband and I had this trip planned for about a month. By planned, I mean I had simply booked a bungalow for a week and let a friend who lives in the area know we would be in town. There was no agenda, which is unusual for us. When we travel, we typically have each day scheduled with trips to museums, cathedrals, and theatres; our vacations are never restful. But Covid has forced a new kind of getaway for us, that of little plan, lots of naps. We had been looking forward to the trip, we really needed some quiet time, what with two babies (and their parents) living with us, with bonus grandkids visiting as well. There’s been a lot of joyful noise at our house.

A few days before our scheduled departure, a tropical depression popped up in the Gulf; within a day it had been upgraded to a tropical storm. I contacted our hostess to see if we could delay our trip by a couple of days to give the storm time to play itself out. Unfortunately, the bungalow was booked for check in just a few hours after our check-out. So we loaded up the SUV with a beach umbrella, ice chest, a DVD player and our new boxed set of “The Office,” and headed south. Just a few minutes before we crossed the tall bridge over the bay, my phone buzzed with a weather alert: the storm was now expected to hit landfall as a hurricane. We contemplated turning around and going home, but the bungalow was paid for. On the advice of my local friend, we continued to our destination to assess if it felt safe, with an invitation to hunker down at her heavily fortified hurricane-proof place if needed until the storm passed.

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When we arrived, we found a cabin that has stood since the 1940s, its deep pink stucco walls surrounded by live oak trees of such girth that the house is ensconced in a sort of protective shell. We unloaded our belongings and settled in, getting a feel for the history of the place as our hostess, Juli, chatted at length about her own life as caretaker of the home. The smooth, timeworn floors are the original pine, tinted in a seafoam green wash that lets the natural patina of the wood peek through, and I slipped off my flip flops to walk on warm wooden floors that simply can’t be replicated by modern materials.

Then I headed outside, where I immediately wrapped my arms around the enormous bent limb of the largest of the great lady trees; I told her hello and asked her to protect us in the storm ahead. I descended the grassy lawn to the water’s edge to snap photos and sit on the wooden picnic tables that are mounted on stilts just where the tide can ruffle one’s dangling toes as it repeats its perpetual dance, advance and retreat, advance again, retreat again. When I went to bed that night, it was a challenge to sleep deeply, I rose several times to look outside and see if the storm was arriving.

Hurricanes travel in large circling bands of wind and rain, there is always a precedent as the outer bands of the system make landfall, and overnight, the waves at the shore splashed higher, the strengthening wind was made evident in the movement of the trees. When morning came, we made a quick trip to the store for rain ponchos, then I put the phone in a waterproof sleeve and headed outside.

I was drawn to the storm, compelled to stand in it. Throughout the day, as the storm made landfall, I continued to run outside, staggering a little in the buffeting wind, getting soaked with rain, sprayed with salty seawater, and feeling utterly alive and completely defiant.

“Stay inside where it’s safe!” I could hear the voices speak to me. “You can’t take a risk- too many people need you (which is patently untrue these days, I have never felt less relevant in my own life, but we’re sort of programmed that way as women- to assume we’re needed to do the laundry or some such chore). What if a tree limb blows and hits you in the head? What if a sheet of rusty tin slices into your gut? What if the water swallows you up?”

“Phooey,” I replied as I stood in the torrent. And then I laughed. I laughed out loud and I snapped photos and I dug my bare toes into the wet sand. As the storm progressed, I stopped taking photos and moved about 15 feet back from the shoreline, far enough from the waves to avoid being blown into the surf (hurricane winds have that power) but close enough to feel, really feel, the force of Hanna. It was no coincidence that the storm had a feminine name this time. Hurricanes alternate between male and female names, and I met this one, a lady, head on and ready to be filled with feminine strength. What I didn’t expect was the joy, the sheer joy that her wind-and-water-dance would engender in me.

I’ve lived an adult life of safety. My family of origin was turbulent. My mother was an abuser. I married very young, intent on creating a new home, a new life that was reliably secure. Its certainty has been challenged a few times, that’s for sure. And under all that, under the suburban idyll, the sweet hubby, the three kids with cute snaggle-toothed smiles and the dogs and the baseball bats and ballet shoes, my spirit ran restless. I made the mistake of confiding it to my mother-in-law once, this desire I had to move our family to a new place, simply for the experience of being somewhere new. “You can’t go somewhere new just for the sake of it, Kim,” she said. “You’re a mom. You owe your children stability. Safety. No, put that dream away,” she said.

Hers was the voice I heard behind me as I turned my face to the rain. I don’t fault her, not at all. She was right in the sense that it was not the right time to go adventuring. We didn’t have a financial safety net that would protect our kids while we gadded about; I had grown up with the spectre of poverty and wouldn’t inflict that on my kids. So I did it. The safety.

But now, I am hungry for something new. Something dangerous. A thunder of the spirit, a wind-shaking of the foundations. I sense it in my friends, too. In so many of the women of my generation whose moms may have marched in the women’s rights movement of the 1960s or who sat at home folding diapers and watching the bra burnings on tiny televisions but ultimately settled for the safer path and encouraged that for their daughters as well.

I think women have too long been denied this restless hunger. We’ve been told to play it safe, to care for our families, our communities, our churches. We’ve ignored the calls of the Feminine Divine to practice radical, risky love in favor of feathering safe little nests. There is a place for those nests, to be sure. But they are not our only calling. We are called to challenge injustice, to heal old wounds, to speak Universal Truth, to form circles of protection and friendship with other women, with bands unfurling and extending into the world to love men and nurture kids. Think of the good that can happen when women stand in the surf and shout their moxie!

If we will but avail ourselves of the wild love of Goddess and each other, if we will learn to listen to the inner voice who teases us into dancing, if we will look around us for the adventures waiting to be had, our lives will grow as powerful as the storm, and as gorgeous as the calm which follows it.

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My Single Daughter Is An Equal Citizen: Confronting Bias at the Polls

Cathy stands there, slack-jawed, stunned in her American flag tee shirt and jean capris, salt-and-pepper bob riffling in the breeze that makes door monitor duty bearable on a Texas day with temps around 100 degrees. Taking my measure, as I take hers, only our eyes with lifted brows visible to each other over masks.

I have just revealed that I vote Progressive, and it lands upon her like a wrecking ball. She is knocked off balance by my conviction, a conviction that was informed, not ignorant. Not accidental. My purpose, my work and writing, have always been about grace. Resilience. Healing relationships. For me, faith and political ideology are intertwined in my purpose. But that’s not so for everyone. We should all have a deep appreciation of the beautiful mosaic of our diverse worldviews.

Cathy didn’t.

So then came the arguments: Muslims are in charge of our schools and Christians are being sidelined, the Founding Fathers had no intention of keeping religion out of government, that was only meant to be a one-way street that protected churches from government interference.

This lanky, opinionated, perhaps lovely person and I crossed paths this week when I worked as an election clerk in my local primary runoff election. She’d arrived a little late in the pre-dawn morning, Old Glory mylar balloon affixed to her purse strap, ready to help set up tables or clean. I had already hung all the various postings about ballots, voter rights, social distancing, and concealed carry. At 6:55, I headed to the exterior door at the school entrance so that I could redirect voters to the gymnasium at the rear of the campus. Though I was initially meant to sit in that spot for only a couple of hours, I enjoyed my post. I could easily maintain a safe distance (I am at high risk for Covid, as I have an autoimmune thing) while being friendly and helpful. So I stayed put. It was hot, but I am pretty tolerant of heat if I am adequately hydrated. My husband had brought me an ice chest filled with Diet Dr. Pepper, sparkling water, and snacks. I had a Sue Monk Kidd book to read.

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Around lunchtime, Cathy escaped the heavily air-conditioned gym to sit outside and warm up. She perched on a corner of a wooden bench and commenced to chat. Now, we weren’t wearing party affiliations on our name tags, and she had arrived after the election judge checked me off the list as being the Democrat clerk, but living in a county that skews heavily Red, I imagine she assumed I was one of her kind. That happens a lot around here.

There’s this interesting thing that happens to folks like me, folks who are highly empathic. People talk to us. And I don’t mean they chat about the weather. They share. Before I knew it, I was hearing about her alcoholic father and how Al-Anon and Adult Children of Alcoholics had made her life so much healthier and happier. That’s fine, I am always glad to listen. She wasn’t unburdening, her spirits were high, she was simply being frank about things. I’m frank, too. I talked about my kids a bit, my grandkids live with us and I told stories about their personalities. In the course of the conversation, I mentioned my daughter and her “partner.” Cathy’s eyes widened. She couldn’t let it pass.

“Your daughter’s partner? What does that mean? Is she…?” She couldn’t say it. She just couldn’t. But I could hear the unspoken words floating in the air: a lesbian…? I confess I let it hang for just a second longer than was strictly necessary, her squirm was delightful. “Oh, she and her boyfriend are planning to get married. Their relationship just hasn’t followed the traditional timeline, they’ve done a few things in a different order! Hahaha!” Relieved, Cathy showed no interest in my grandchildren. She showed a lot of interest in my daughter’s relationship choices. Marriage was to be achieved, posthaste. She conceded that our country’s tax codes are not supportive of marriage (score one for the covert liberal sharing space with her).

I moved the conversation along, told her a little about my older daughter, the one who divorced after seven years in a relationship that resulted in just one year of marriage to a man who was tormented by an addiction to opioids and lying. Cathy had sympathy for that situation, she understood about addiction after all, and she applauded my daughter for giving it a go. Yet she was firm, “the traditional family unit is the foundation of this country. We cannot survive without it.”

Uh-oh.

My daughter has a vibrant family of origin. But as a single woman living in LA, she also has a family of her own creation, friends and companions who uphold each other in times of strife. Family comes in many forms. It is not only and always mom, dad, and 2.5 kids. I thought, too, of my single son, who may or may not ever marry. I decided not to even bring him up. I clenched my lips tight and let my eyes glaze over. It was time to disconnect. My empathy had run out.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

She was sufficiently warm, so she went back inside and I was relieved. I continued to read and highlight my book about feminist divinity between offering instructions to the assortment of voters, “You can reach the gym at the rear of the building by driving to the next left turn, or you can walk on this sidewalk, just follow the red signs posted on the fence. Thank you for voting!”

When it was Cathy’s turn to vote, she came out to get her ID out of her car, and she paused at the curb, clearly wrestling with some thought. She turned back to me, compelled to ask if I had actually read the platforms of both parties. I suppose my tolerance of unmarried daughters had prodded her concern.

I didn’t know it, but on the day in 2016 when I slogged through pages and pages of dry political jargon at my computer in anticipation of the conventions, I was being prepared for this day. This very exact moment in time.

“Yes. As a matter of fact, I have. And what I found, as I read them both, was that the Democratic platform aligns with my core values. The Republican one doesn’t. At all.” And there was that stunned look. I could almost see the wheels turning, the assumptions crumbling. I am white. I am middle class. I have nice clothes. I am educated. I am not the sort of person she assumes votes Democrat. “But, the Democratic Party isn’t pro-Christian!”

“I am not a Christian,” I reply, straight-faced. Calm.

She stammered. She argued. She tried to make a case and I was having none of it.

I am not a Christian. Certainly not an American Evangelical. I have a deep, abiding relationship with the Divine One that has absolutely nothing to do with contemporary  American churches. I endeavor for that relationship with my Creator to imbue my treatment of the people I meet; it informs how I vote and donate money so that the people I don’t ever get to meet are treated compassionately. I am not perfect at it, but I try.

This woman had, in just two short conversations, canceled the lives of my daughters, my son. She’d negated my own value and worth as an American citizen because I don’t share her faith.

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Photo by Edgar Colomba on Pexels.com

So right here, for the world to see, I am making a statement of political, civic faith:

My grandchildren, who are eligible for the Daughters of the American Revolution while also being first-generation Americans of Mexican descent, are equal participants in the American pursuit of happiness.

Single Americans are equal participants in the American pursuit of happiness.

Couples who live in partnership, whether married or not, are equal participants in the American pursuit of happiness.

People of different, or even no, faiths are equal participants in the American pursuit of happiness.

BIPOC are equal participants, as are LGBTQ+, First Nation, convicted prisoners, and even people who love cats. Perfume-scented drivers of Mercedes and smelly pushers of shopping carts containing all their earthy possessions, all equal participants. Those who watch MSNBC get a seat at the table. So do those who watch Fox.

I contend that traditional families as traditionally defined, are not the foundation of this country. Relationships, connections, caring for our fellow humans are. This country’s foundations are built on the rock of diversity, service, and activism. Freedom is our foundation, grace is the scaffold, and the whole structure ascends upon “ladders of opportunity:” authentic equal opportunity. The house of this country has rooms for all of those who yearn to create their own life stories. And I will, to the best of my ability, wield my gifts and my voice in honor of those stories.

In the words of national treasure, Dolly Parton, who has herself wielded her inimitable voice for good:

“Oh, sweet freedom, may you stay
In our land and lives always
And may peace and beauty fill our hearts anew
And may we all stand up for you
May our thoughts and deeds be true
And be worthy of your stripes…red, white and blue.”

May the Divine One bless America and its citizens. All of them.

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Scaling the Rock of Disappointment: Tales of Coronavirus Setbacks

“What do you do when disappointment comes? When it weighs on you like a rock, you can either let it press you down until you become discouraged, even devastated, or you can use it as a stepping-stone to better things.”– Joyce Meyer

Yesterday, while on my walk, the word “Disappointment” was dropped into my head and heart as if by some Divine force. Sometimes, that’s how my life works, God lays a bread crumb trail to where I’m needed. I followed the crumbs to Facebook, where I asked people to share their experiences of disappointment. Nearly twenty hours later, I am still getting pings on Messenger, and the stories have brought me to tears.

I’ll start with mine.

I have, for two consecutive years, been interviewing to work with the Disney Corporation in a department so perfectly suited to my talents, training, and experience that it might have been created specifically for me: to host in the student field trip program at Disneyland in Anaheim. Last year, I got so close to a job offer that I put myself on a waiting list for a spot at a long-term camping resort just a couple of miles from the park, and, in an attempt to put manifestation to work for a dream, I wrote a blog post that I never got to publish to announce my new position:

“And so here I am. I am about to leave for Anaheim, where I will spend my days with student groups, taking everything I have learned about teaching and classroom management as well as all the skills I honed running the School Days program at Texas Renaissance  Festival to walk alongside them in the most magical place I know. I will get to share my love of theatre and my love of Mickey Mouse. I don’t know if this will be a forever career or a seasonal one, but I have spent enough time among seasonal festival business people to have no fear of the unknown.”

It is only slightly comforting to know that the coronavirus would have halted the dream. Had I gotten the job and toodled my tiny camper to Cali only to be sent home like all the frontline Disney employees were in April, the knowledge that I had gotten the offer, that I had done the work for a couple of months, that I would have a place waiting for me when the virus had run its course, does not dampen the tremendous sense of disappointment.

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It is likely that this year I would have gotten an offer in September. No more. The parks are barely functioning, schools are unlikely to open as normal this fall. Budgets on both ends of this equation are stripped to their bare minimums. I may be able to postpone this dream for one more year, perhaps September of 2021 will bring me an offer.  But damn, it has been excruciating to examine that dream, then stash it in the box on my highest closet shelf, a  clear plastic bin full of Mickey ears, souvenir pins, and my name tag from the Disney leadership summit I attended in 2018.

Disappointment.

A dear friend of our family, a young woman I held when she was just three days old, graduated from high school this June. We had watched all her posts of spinning flags in her school’s corps, her photos of banquets in pretty gowns, her braces on, then her gleaming, perfect smile when the braces came off. She didn’t get her prom, her graduation was weird. I had a hoodie custom made for her to wear at her university this fall, but her family is not even sure what university life will look like- will she get to move into the dorm, attend Fish Camp, pledge a club? Disappointment.

A friend miscarried at 7. 5 weeks, but because of Covid didn’t have access to in-person medical care until her 13th week, when an ultrasound revealed a gestational sac that had stopped growing. With only virtual visits and a revolving door of doctors, her diagnosis was missed, and what was meant to be a Father’s Day announcement of a new baby became instead a D-and-C. Profound, heart-wrenching disappointment.

My friends have lost dream careers, canceled long-awaited family reunions, foregone first-baby showers, and summer camps. They’re scared they’ll lose their aging parents during this awful time when they cannot say goodbye except through a video app on the phone or computer. One is, in fact, watching her mother die and she can’t say goodbye in person. A couple have lost close family members and could not seek the comfort of ritual and family to sustain them in their grief.

One of the strongest women I know wrote:

“This pandemic has caused great grief and managed to unbottle all previous grief. Nowhere to go, no outlet to channel it, it just keeps crashing over and over again.
The riptide has taken me and all I can do is keep calm, hold my breath, get my bearings, and try to swim even with the shore or the wave will win.”

Disappointment.

It starts early in our lives and comes in big packages and small. A birthday party rained out, a cancer surgery unsuccessful. A cake is dry, a parent abuses. Disappointment may be mild, it can be devastating. And we all know that the very worst critique we can receive from a parent, teacher, or boss is, “I’m disappointed in you.”

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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Disappointment is something we humans must wrestle with, though thankfully, not constantly. Even in a challenging, dark life, there are glorious moments when we get the part we auditioned for, when healthy babies are born, when the movies we’ve anticipated are as good as we’d hoped. Medical tests come back with favorable results, apologies are offered and accepted, the sun shines on the wedding day; simple kindnesses like bread shared or a letter received bring just a glimmer of joy.

I have learned that the best way to overcome disappointment is first, acknowledge that it’s there. We can’t deal with what we’re too afraid or ashamed to name. Share the burden of it with a friend. Let them share with you as well.

Next, we look inward, which requires a commitment to gentle but honest self-examination. I used to believe in rigorous, unflinching self-examination, but that only led to being hypercritical of myself, unforgiving and unwilling to grant grace for my own failures. To grow in grace, to be honest about my own disappointments, to acknowledge when I have disappointed others, I listen. I seek wisdom from those who are living lives that shine, sometimes in the form of conversations with trusted mentors, frequently in podcasts, constantly in books.

Spend time in fresh air. For me, this is to walk or ride my bicycle or, when rheumatoid arthritis is wracking, to sit. To settle among birds, dragonflies, and breeze is healing. I do not know that there is a way to live in spiritual or mental health unless one gets outside. When I am among the trees and grass, I have my best ideas, I lay plans and untangle the knots in my thinking. And I am, thank all that is good and wholesome, not mindlessly scrolling the swamp that Facebook can become.

Express the disappointment, if it lives in the shadows and crevices of your heart, it will fester. I write. Every day, every morning. I write by hand, two to three pages. It is a practice that has become as necessary as air. I used to think it was my daily orange juice that got me going in the morning; I know for many folks, it’s their first cup of coffee. But for me, spending thirty minutes writing before I dive into my day has been life-changing. The words are uncensored and inelegant, a nearly-illegible scrawl. I ponder and process feminine spirituality, I list things I am grateful for, I articulate dreams, I unpack the worries that are plaguing me. I have been sleeping better since I began this writing practice, I think it’s vital.

To look outward, though, that is the final stepping stone to lay on our path to healing and mental health. We can’t look outward in a way that compares our own suffering or disappointments to others’, on that path exists only bitterness or pride; there will always be someone who has it better and someone who has it worse. Our disappointment is ours, and it is valid. No, what I mean by “looking outward” is simply this: look for ways to serve, to heal. Write letters. Call a lonely friend or elder person who lives alone. Sew masks and distribute them to the less fortunate. Listen to the stories of the unheard. Deliver meals. Discover your gift then ply it to plug joy back into the connected race that is all of us. Set your sights on the restoration of the soul of humanity.

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These actions serve to nourish and defend against the sharpest nettles of disappointment. They are stones that can be stacked, one beside and above the other, to forge a path that leads us out of today’s disappointment and ahead to tomorrow’s blessing. It’s hard to see sometimes. But stillness followed by service can be a gorgeous way forward. The inimitable Marilyn Monroe once said, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” I love that. Our world is falling apart. Perhaps we will build something better, both in a global sense and a deeply personal one.

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Depleted, I Pause: A Devotional for the Weary

It’s month three of a global pandemic, and I am depleted. Rusty, dark, creaky of soul and bone as a recently diagnosed (but not only recently experienced) autoimmune disorder slows my body while my heart and brain try to process fear of disease, fury at racial injustice not only for black people but for the brown people held in cages at my state’s border, and a tendency toward fatalistic distrust in my government’s leadership in the face of so much turmoil, injustice, and ache.

With my head lying on my arms, sobbing at my desk, I realize I will only survive with spirit intact if I stop relying on my own wisdom to replenish and sustain. That tactic, in isolation, is so much spraying bright paint on a rusty bike, hoping to just coat the battered frame underneath with a sparkle of glossy color.

And so I have been reading, listening, and observing while tucked into my tiny camper in the woods or sitting on my screened-in sunporch (ah, what privilege to even have such places). This week, I am not sharing my own deep thoughts, I am sharing from those whose work is enabling me to stay on the path of a beautiful, rich, magical life, though for the moment I am just plopped down in the dirt of it, not going anywhere. I don’t expect the wisdom of others to shine me up, in fact, I am no longer sure that’s even the goal. No, I hope rather for lubrication of my spiritual frame, a juicy-ness added to my soul. Perhaps part of growing older is accepting that the vehicle is showing signs of wear, but choosing to move forward anyway.

“In God, we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28, the New Testament

“We all get shit wrong…The question is: have you built the capacity to care more about others than you care about your own ego?” Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, to Brene Brown on her podcast “Unlocking Us.”

“Despair is the fear that tomorrow will be just like today.” Rob Bell, author of Love Wins

“I tried to imagine a church that did not support its country’s wars as a matter of patriotic course and instead stood against the devastation and suffering they caused in people’s lives.” Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

“For the universe is full of radiant suggestion…Over and over in the butterfly we see the idea of transcendence. In the forest we see not the inert but the aspiring. In water that departs forever and forever returns, we experience eternity.” Mary Oliver, Upstream

“I’ve got a dream!” Rapunzel, Tangled

“I’ve got these conditions—anxiety, depression, addiction—and they almost killed me. But they are also my superpowers. The sensitivity that led me to addiction is the same sensitivity that makes me a really good artist. The anxiety that makes it difficult to exist in my own skin also makes it difficult to exist in a world where so many people are in so much pain—and that makes me a relentless activist. The fire that burned me up for the first half of my life is the exact same fire I’m using now to light up the world.” Glennon Doyle, Untamed

“Da! Wow-wow! Thhhhhhh? Woooo!” Hazel Fernandez, 18-month Queen of our Household

And with those words that I am certain are full of the toddler wisdom that so thoroughly lives in the present moment, I say blessings and peace to all who read. May your day, filled with both light and shadow, be lavish in love. Namaste’.

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From Silenced by Church to Outspoken Advocate: A Feminine Journey

My eldest child, a woman of 31 years, is a rocking Social Justice Warrior, and I couldn’t be prouder. She is one aspect of the woman I wanted to be, a woman who had the courage to strike out on her own path early. Bravely. And with enough humility to learn what she didn’t know. She is learning daily to listen; she’s teaching me to listen, too. Her causes are civil rights. For People of Color. For the LGBTQ+ community. For women.

I was a kid during the Women’s Movement that championed the Equal Rights Amendment. To my young mind, the idea of a woman being paid less simply for being a woman was incomprehensible. I didn’t get it then. I don’t get it now. Because ours was not a political household, I didn’t get these radical ideas from my parents, so the only things I know to credit are Helen Reddy singing about roaring, and television. It never occurred to me that Mary Tyler Moore’s single reporter was revolutionary. She was just a young woman who was funny while doing a job she was good at. Neither Lieutenant Uhura’s color nor her gender made me question her placement on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. Laverne and Shirley worked in a beer factory and had their own apartment. I guess I was too young to be aware of the radical new ideas that were being depicted. These were women who did not stay at home wearing petticoats and cooking, anxiously waiting for their men to get home so they could bring them a cocktail.

Then there was church. At church, women only got to talk in front of boys thirteen and younger, or a segregated group of just girls and women. Women could work in the nursery, teach Sunday School, wash the baptistery robes, or cook and clean up for potluck dinners.

Women could not pray aloud in a mixed-gender setting, they had to let the men be their conduits to God.

What does that do to a young girl who has deep thoughts and a gift for leadership but not so much for cooking?

“Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” (I Corinthians 14:34)

This is the scripture that has, more than any other, served to keep the women of Christianity silent. Now, I don’t have any desire to get into a deep theological debate about the inerrancy of scripture, because my own journey is probably not going to be enough to open the mind of a die-hard believer who is sure that the Christian Bible is the “holy, perfect, inspired word of God,” as though the writers were simply taking divine dictation while God spoke directly to them through a Dictaphone. Thus arguments of first-century cultural patriarchy and the historical passing around and editing of the gospel and epistolic writings before the scripture was codified in the third century C.E. may not matter to others. But those things matter to me.

Because, for all intents and purposes, my church put a gag in my mouth; my mouth, and the mouths of every wife, sister, mother, and daughter. And you know what? Most of us capitulated because we believed what we’d been taught. By the men. The men in our churches and the men in the Bible.

I attended a church college where I sang in a chorus that traveled all over the country to sing hymn arrangements. As young women, we were allowed to step forward and sing in solos or small ensembles, but only sing. We could not use our speaking voices. In daily chapel, women were allowed to talk if it was during a secular assembly, but the moment a church song was sung, it became worship and the women had to hush up.

My husband entered ministry after we graduated. To be a youth minister’s wife in this world was definitely a challenge for me. I chafed against the muzzle, I had things to say, experiences to share, a gift for words and presentation and I had to wait for a man’s permission to say them; in a literal sense, not a figurative one. My husband would have granted me every permission in the world, but his hands were tied by the conservative elderships who signed his salary checks.

Some of the churches we worked in were more progressive in their thinking- they were willing to talk about grace and even sing contemporary worship songs, perhaps even with a praise team! Even so, the women were mute. In one of the most puzzling examples of this subjugation, our tradition was to have a weekly communion service.

Usually, after the congregational singing but before the sermon, a group of six to eight men marched soberly to the front of the church and lined up behind the communion table, hands folded in front of them in that classic man-coach stance. One of them read a scripture, most likely from one of the gospel accounts, a prayer was recited, then they solemnly passed the little silver trays down the pews. There was a system: one man on each side, alternating rows, front to back. If the church was large, the B string of servers would come in the back and the same process would continue from rear to front until the men all met in the middle. You heard the “snap! snap!” of tiny little bites of matzo cracker being broken off as each church member took a portion. Then the whole process was repeated with grape juice.

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Women were utterly excluded from passing the crackers and juice because even though the only words spoken were by the scripture reader, it was still seen as an honor. A designation of leadership. Once, in the second church where my husband was a youth minister, I challenged an elder: Why were women prohibited from even this silent ritual? He mocked my question: “Sure, you’re willing to pass the communion, but are you willing to actually make the trays behind the scenes?” For the record- I was willing to do either. The subtext of this comment, made by one of the town’s wealthiest citizens, was made clear: Don’t ask questions if you want your family to make the mortgage. Woman, know thy place.

In a break between churches, we spent a semester in graduate studies at Abilene Christian University, and in this setting, I flourished. I was accepted as a student, right alongside my husband, and I reveled in ancient Greek declensions and Dr. S’s class in Church Leadership. Ensconced in an academic religious setting, my intelligence was encouraged, my ideas and observations given credence. We all understood that I was studying to work in a ministry for women, I was equipping myself for a task I would love to do. My professors created an environment where my reticence could be shed and my voice could be heard.

We eventually made our way to what would be our final church ministry, at a church that had been, on some issues, more forward-thinking and open than any congregation we had been in since we had left college. There was a co-ed worship team that sang on the stage, there was a children’s musical with instrumental accompaniment tracks, produced at every summer’s Vacation Bible School, there was even a female Children’s Minister. But…

I have to tell you about Bible contest, an event where thousands of Christian kids get together at a huge city convention center and try to win medals by showing each other up in events like memorization, preaching, and puppetry. I guess Jesus’ admonition to the mother of James and John about competition and prestige didn’t apply when gold Jesus medals were on the line.

My daughter decided to enter the traditionally male preaching competition. It threw the organizers for a loop, but there was not a rule specifically against it, so they let her compete. I guess they figured she could grow up and lead ladies’ Bible class. Now, my daughter is a gifted writer. No lie. She’s good. She’s also a skilled performer, she grew up to earn a theatre degree. Those kernels of talent were there in 1999 when she was ten years old. She won a gold medal.

At the following Sunday night worship service, all the students who had competed, not just those who won medals, but simply competed, got to read the sermons they had written and presented at competition. Well, not all of them. Not my daughter. She was relegated to reading in the gym after service. She stood at a podium with about ten listeners, and we strained to hear her over the several hundred people who were loading up their plates for the hot dog supper. Because she was a girl.

When I look back on it now, I know something in my faith, in my love for church, was irrevocably broken that night. If our very livelihood had not depended upon my compliance, I would have marched to that podium after H’s speech, and I would have told that group of oblivious, hot-dog-loving people to hush. I would have told them that they had, in that moment, the spirit of a young woman who was Divinely created and loved by God in their hands, and they discarded it. I didn’t say it then. I am saying it now.

In her book, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd describes a collective feminine wound, one that all women share, and its origins go all the way back. All the way:

“If she sees few women in places of real power, hears few female voices of strength, and witnesses little female creativity, then despite what is said to her about women’s equality, she experiences women (and herself) as absent and silent.”

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I vividly remember the day I read that the ancient Hebrews had a word for the feminine aspects of the Divine Creator, Shekhinah. I was sitting at my kitchen table, stunned, barely breathing, for about five minutes. Even better, do you know how Shekhinah is made manifest? Joy.

Joy.

The religion which lay the foundation for the faith I would grow up in acknowledged that when it comes to gender, the Divine One is neither and both. A lifetime of prayers to the Father were incomplete. All the years of being told “God is like your daddy,” only told half the story. All the questions about being less than were suddenly invalid. The Divine One’s own Chosen People understood that joy, sisterhood, Shekhinah, were all equally holy. If I were to find a church that prayed to the Goddess/Mother as often as to the God/Father, I might be able to feel safer. More valued. In tune.

“The feminine wound is created as we internalize all these experiences-the voices we hear at church, school, home, work, and within the culture at large suggesting (in ways both bold and subtle) that women and feminine experience are ‘less than.'” (Dance of the Dissident Daughter)

We carry the wounds of mothers and grandmothers. I carry my own wounds, too: being allowed only to listen, never to speak; all those times when I was banished to the four-year-old classroom, where my teaching voice was not a threat to the men of the congregation; repeatedly being shuffled to the back in praise team so that the worship leaders could sing or let their wives sing, and when I questioned it, being told by a man who barely knew me that I was ruining the group with my ego; and seven years of being expected to bake cookies when my real gifts of leadership and speaking were lying fallow and rusty.

I also carry the wounds of my daughter who, on that bright spring day, was shown how little she mattered to her church and to the God they proclaimed.

I am so grateful that her journey to the Divine Creator did not end in that gym packed with people who completely ignored her. I am glad that her heart was open. She made a few more trips to church camp, then set out on her own quest to meet God. She spends time with the Goddess daily, she marches and produces work that is inclusive and awakened. She leads. And she is not silent.

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