How to be brave (hint: it's simple but not easy)

Well, you just show up. I think that's all there really is to it. You just show up and then you show up again and again and again. And then you go home to your nice, warm bed.

Sometimes I forget how lonely it can feel in a crowd. And how exhausting it is talking about books I've written. I love writing but talking about what I've written makes me so uncomfortable and anxious. Still, I did it. I went to my book party. Seeing all your smiling faces made everything all better. I liked that.

I also liked coming home afterwards.

I can feel my shoulders relax as I pull into my driveway. I smile at the kid stuff strewn across the lawn: scooter, bike helmet, skateboard, basketball. The dogs hear the car door slam and they are already at the door, waiting for me when I come up the walk.

I open the door and I can smell the tater tots that James baked for himself. Sometimes there are brownies. Jewel is in a brownie-baking phase.

I hang my keys on the hook and set my purse on the dining room table. I can hear the TV on in the living room—somebody is watching Shark Tank. I kick off my shoes and go to the kitchen sink. I don't know why but I always wash my hands when I arrive home. A kind of baptismal ritual.

"Mom?"

It's Jude, coming round the corner with his school iPad in hand. Oh, those iPads. I wonder when the school district will regret having bought them. There are constant problems with these things: missing keys, cracked screens. Jude wants to show me his grades. I fill a cup with water and look at the digital grade-book he's pulled up. Almost all A's. I give him a hug, tell him I'm so proud of him.

There are several crafts on the table. Jor drew multi-colored strips across a round piece of cardboard she'd salvaged from a used pizza box. Joss glued a bunch of found items onto scrapbook paper.

My house is very lived-in. It's not dirty. The floors, the stairs, the drawer handles all show signs of wear and tear. Each one tells the story of a big family growing up together, progressing unsteadily and messily but always progressing.

My kitchen counter and sink is cluttered with a few dozen dishes. Sometimes this bothers me. Most of the time it doesn't bother me at all.

I walk upstairs and check on the twins. They are asleep, sprawled out and tangled in their sheets, their favorite Randy Travis CD is playing softly. They've left the closet light on because sometimes being brave means leaving the light on.

I walk down the hall to my bedroom. The dogs follow me. I close the door gently behind us.

I am home now. I am safe. Everything will be alright.

This is all I have to give you: on regrets, imperfection and a new book being birthed into the world today

Teddy came home yesterday. I cradled his little box in my arms and the tears came quick and hot, spilling down my cheeks. The twins and I cuddled up on the couch, a pile of sniffles and soft whimpers. It just hurts so much.

I'm sorry, Teddy. Since the day you died I've thought of all the things I could have—should have!— done differently. They haunt me at night.

I should have put you in your crate before I left for work. I should have mended that loose board in the fence. I should have asked the kids to watch you more closely. I should have texted James and told him to check on you. I should have, I should have, I should have.

All the "shoulds" in the world will never bring you back, Teddy. But still, I blame myself. I let you down. Was I too busy? Was I over-committed? Is there something wrong with how I'm living my life that led to this tragedy?

I remember cuddling you that morning on the couch and singing a little song to you—how could I have known it would be the last? The last cuddle, the last song, the last look into your eyes...the last time I'd see you alive?

The last time I saw you, you were wrapped in towels. You lay on your side, motionless. I kept waiting for you to breathe. You were so still. But the hardest part was seeing your eyes. Gone was the bright, cheerful gaze. Gone was the shining spark. Your eyes were clouded over, a thick veil had fallen inside your eyes and I saw what that meant: we were separated from each other. Death was in your eyes, Teddy, and that made me stumble away, the sobs ripping out of my throat. I don't remember how long knelt hunched over the toilet bowl, vomiting.

My book releases today, Teddy.

It's a good book, I think. It will help people, I think.

But there are so many things I should have written differently, Teddy. They sent me a big box of my books and when I took the first book out and began to read, it only took a few pages before I saw the first thing I should change, then the second I should change, then the third....I had to put the book down. All I could see were the mistakes, the "not good enoughs." I should have, I should have, I should have....

It's not a perfect book, Teddy. But it's all I had to give.

The crematory gave me a box of your ashes and also, your pawprint pressed into a terra cotta stone. We'll bury your ashes under your favorite rose bush. And I'll sleep with your pawprint under my pillow. The vet told me that after examining you she thinks you died quickly. That helps a bit. But I know you died in pain and that will never, ever feel ok.

I need to stop writing now because I can't see the words through the blur of tears.

It's April 19th, friends. I have a book releasing today. It's not perfect. But I gave my best. I hope you'll read it. Thank you for reading here and for being my friends. I don't take for granted one minute you spend reading my words. It's all such an unmerited gift. Thank you. I love you.


Spiritual Sobriety: stumbling back to faith when good religion goes bad is now available wherever books are sold and especially from these fine retailers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble 

Powell's

BAM

Hudson Booksellers

Indie Bound

WalMart 

 

How to start new things: 1. Know where all the restrooms are located and, 2. Bring snacks

This is what I know for sure: my brain doesn't need to sit at home thinking about all my problems. My brain needs to be learning new things, having new experiences and getting OUT THE HOUSE. Let me just put it this way: being alone is NOT GOOD for ENFPs. Weird things happen to us. Our brains go wonka-tonk. Our problems seem like 8 million times bigger than they actually are. We start talking to ourselves. We watch too much TV. We start obsessing about that one random person who unfriended us on Facebook even though they weren't really our friend to begin with but somehow we MUST KNOW WHY and somehow it really MATTERS.

All this to say: I signed up for college. Because my brain is a smart brain and it needs new thoughts. One class. Introduction to Psychology. I figured I'd ease my way back into the academic environment, see what happens, maybe think about grad school.

I've been to two classes so far and OH MY WORD YOU GUYS. The happiness. I woke up this morning and my first thought was: YAY. I get to do homework today!

My kids think I am nuts. Like: what kind of crazy person gets excited about homework? What kind of whack-a-loon thinks studying in the library is FUN?!

I was dancing around the kitchen making up songs about Freud and JESH-STALT and they were looking at me over their toast like WHO IS THIS ALIEN WOMAN AND WHAT DID YOU DO WITH OUR MOTHER?

"Why are you going to school?" they want to know.

"I don't know," I say.

"But why can't you just stay at home and keep sewing stuff?" they ask.

"Because Mama has a brain and Mama's brain has been feeling all desperate and sad and did you know that Mama has a smart brain? Mama needs to utilize the smartness. It would be a shame to let that smartness go to waste."

They still think I'm a whack-a-loon. But that's ok. I'm a happy whack-a-loon.

College, man. It's different nowadays. Here's what I've discovered so far:

#1: Everything is online. Which is awesome and also annoying. I don't LIKE reading my textbook online. I want the REAL THING in my hot little hands so I can highlight and make marginalia. But I had to buy the online version. So, I did. But then I rented a hard-copy too because I am AN OLD LADY WHO STILL NEEDS TO TURN PAGES. Win-win.

#2: I am the oldest person in the class. By at least 20 years. This is strange and disconcerting and oddly intimidating. I forgot how amazing it was to be 18 years old with no wrinkles and a brain that ABSORBS information super easily and REMEMBERS stuff. And I also forgot how 18 year olds have All The Idealism. They are so sincere, eager, awkward, alive. I can't be sure, but they don't seem to mind that an old lady has infiltrated their ranks. They are very nice about pointing me to the bathrooms and the coffee shop and here, this is how you log-on to the powerpoint presentation online. I like being an old lady at college.

#3. I cannot sit for as long as I used to be able to sit. My class is three hours long. I CANNOT SIT THAT LONG. I cannot hold my bladder that long. I cannot REMAIN FOCUSED that long. So, here's what I've learned: know where all the bathrooms are located. Also, bring snacks.

#4. Professors are rad and they just let you walk out whenever you need to walk out. And they give you breaks. And sometimes they end class early because even THEY can't lecture for three hours straight.

#5. I stink at quizzes. I forgot how hard multiple-choice stuff. I look at all the choices and I'm like: ALL OF THESE CHOICES ARE SO MANY CHOICES THAT LOOK LIKE GOOD CHOICES. I guess that's the good thing about taking quizzes online. We can take them as many times as we want until we get 100%—which is exactly what I did. The first two times I failed. But the third time my brain was finally awake and I nailed it.

#6. It's good for my ego. Which is to say, it's humbling. My ego has been far too wrapped up in Book Writing World. I'm far too concerned with Being A Good Writer. I've attached far too much of my self-worth to how well my books sell. I care too much about what people say about what I write. It's really, REALLY healthy for me to be focusing on learning new things, on education, on making new discoveries, on broadening my horizons. I feel like I am coming alive again.

#7. My book releases tomorrow and you know what? I'm all chill about it. Sure, I'm excited about it—kind of. But I'm not super ATTACHED to the outcome of this book. I did the best I could and now I release it into the world and let it do its thing while I learn about double-blind studies and ethics in research methods. p.s. Freud was whack, yo.

Hey, wanna do some Psych homework with me? My professor asked us to write what we did during the first two minutes after waking up in the morning. This is what I wrote: Dog woke me up by tapping my face with his paw. Checked my phone.

HUH. That is not my IDEAL. I wish I wrote something like: Upon opening my eyes, I smiled and said a prayer of gratitude. I listened to the birds singing outside. I didn't check my phone until much, much later.

OK, so I'm curious: what did YOUR first two minutes look like? Feel free to answer anonymously. I won't judge. Also, what happens in my comment box stays in my comment box. :) I just think this whole psychology thing is super interesting!

Mourning & Evening

I was totally unprepared for how devastated I'd be by the death of my puppy, Teddy. There was no time to prepare. He was so young. It was a violent death. My brain doesn't know how to process this and so, it just doesn't.

I was plunged so quickly and so deeply into pain that I felt crushed. I wandered around for three days absolutely useless. My brain was fuzzy. I couldn't complete sentences. I cried incessantly. Every time I saw his water bowl or a toy he'd played with, the grief would wash over me again. On Friday, I couldn't even get out of bed.

I never, ever, ever want to feel this way again. But I have no choice: to love is to grieve, yes? And I love so many things and so many animals and people. What will the grief look like as time goes on and I keep losing the ones I love? I don't even want to think about it.

It is really strange to me how this event is bringing up emotional baggage from my past. I am not angry. I just feel oddly abandoned and hugely, hugely anxious. Last week I felt guilt and shame. That is gone now. I just feel a hole in my heart where Teddy used to be.

Some people have asked if the other dog was put down. The answer is: no. I would never ask someone to do that. But we are seeking some other solutions.

At some point last week, I decided I better give the breeder a call to let her know what happened to Teddy. I was scheduled to give her an update anyway. I could barely get through the call I was crying so hard.

And then she told me something miraculous: Teddy had a brother. An actual litter mate that she had kept for herself because he was such a good dog. She said she felt so sorry for our loss that she would give Teddy's brother to us...

I had to sleep on it. Was I "betraying" Teddy by taking in his brother? Was I short-circuiting my grief? Was I "taking the easy way out"?

When I woke up the next morning I just couldn't imagine living without him. I needed to feel better again. I needed to LOVE another dog. I needed to get out of this horrible misery. I don't think there's really any "fix" for loss. But it does help to love again.

Over the weekend, we picked up Teddy's brother. I named him Bernie Sanders because I needed a future to believe in.

My imaginary cooking show with Ina Garten

When I'm depressed and anxious, I curl up on my couch and watch "Barefoot Contessa." Look, I don't know what a contessa is or why, exactly, she's barefoot but all that really matters is that Barefoot Contessa is Ina Garten and she's better than Xanax. I'd even watch her show with my eyes closed because listening to her talk about "really good olive oil" somehow gives me hope.

Admittedly, I don't know what she means by "really good" olive oil but I'm pretty sure it's not the plebian, regular olive oil I buy at Trader Joe's. Pretentious foodies usually annoy me but when Ina Garten insists on only using "really good" ingredients, I just love her all the more.

This is about as fancy as i get around here: baked potato with fixings.

This is about as fancy as i get around here: baked potato with fixings.

I love imagining her breezing down the scenic roads of East Hampton in her Mercedes-Benz convertible, rolling up to a quaint farmers' market where she finds her locally sourced, single-origin, extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil harvested from trees in a local farm-to-table backyard.

"How bad could that be?" she'll ask with a smile. Not bad at all, I'll say. Not bad at all.

Yes, I imagine myself in one of her episodes.

In the opening shots, you'll see us standing in her immaculately organized, luxuriously stocked pantry where she'll introduce the "back to basics" recipe she's cooking that day. I'll be humming along to the Barefoot Contessa theme music that I've memorized and she won't think that's weird at all.

Before we start cooking I'll ask her for a hug because her hugs feel like easing up against a pillow made of marshmallows ("really good marshmallows") and also, hugging makes me less anxious. She understands that.

Next, she'll invite me to sit at her kitchen counter and watch her prepare lobster mac n' cheese.

"I mean, what could be easier?" she'll say.

Well, technically Kraft mac n' cheese is easier, I'll think. But I would never say this out loud because I don't want Ina thinking I eat Depressed People food.

"You know I like taking classic recipes and adding a twist," she'll say, smiling conspiratorially. This makes me giggle with excitement because yes! I do know! And adding a twist to mac n' cheese? O, what could it be???

The twist, it turns out, is "sharp and nutty" gruyere and "really good" sharp cheddar.

REALLY GOOD cheese, you guys. That's the twist. Oh, Ina. You sly little fox, you.

She'll let me press the button on her Cuisinart so I can experience grating the cheese to the perfect grate-y-ness.

"I know you don't go in for fancy kitchen tools," I'll say. "But who can live without their Cuisinart, am I right?"

She'll laugh and it makes me so happy to make her laugh that I suddenly know what I want in my obituary: "Elizabeth Esther made Ina Garten laugh." Wait. Why am I thinking about my obituary at a time like this? STOP INTRUDING ON MY FANTASY COOKING SHOW, STUPID DEPRESSION.

"Cuisinarts are nice," Ina is saying, "but the only tools you really need are two clean hands."

She'll hold up her freshly washed hands and I'll hold up my hands, too, and then we'll burst into laughter.

"Now, I know a pound and a half of lobster is luxurious these days," she'll say.

I'll nod wistfully, remembering those bygone days when lobster WASN'T luxurious, when I'd look at my mac n' cheese and think: "Should I add lobster or bologna? Ah, well. Same-same."

"But it serves eight!" she'll say. "How fabulous is that?"

"So fabulous!" I'll cheer.

She'll spoon our lobster mac n' cheese into adorable, individual-sized servings bowls and while she sprinkles lightly browned breadcrumbs on top (for a "little crunch") I'll ask:

"So, when will Jeffrey be home?"

I don't really need to ask this because we both know Jeffrey always arrives at exactly the right moment. But it's fun to pretend we'll be surprised.

This is why Ina helps my depression: because in her life a "twist" is really good cheese and a "surprise" is Jeffrey walking in the door just when you expect him to. Plus, he'll probably be carrying flowers and compliments.

I mean, how bad could that be?

And up next, Company Pot Roast. We know it won't be easy finding organic, sundried tomatoes soaked in "really good olive oil." But it will be worth it. More worth it than Xanax.

An Embarrassment of Tears

 

Here's the short version: on Tuesday, my puppy was killed by a dog who broke through our fence when I wasn't home. I'm not ready to write about the details of it yet because to be very honest, I am embarrassed by my grief. All I can do is cry and cry and cry. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I have felt so wrecked, so utterly grief-stricken that my brain has gone completely mush. I am surprised by the force of this grief. I love my dogs like family. And the fact that my puppy died in such a violent way—well, it's just completely unbearable. I don't know how people get over this kind of thing. I don't know how I'll ever sleep again without him cuddled up on my feet.

Here's another thing: I feel shame. It's weird. I didn't do anything wrong. I did all I could to protect him. I never imagined things would happen this way. And yet, I feel like it's all my fault, I feel really bad inside. This isn't something new. It's always been this way for me. Strong feelings=shame. Or, actually. ANY feelings=shame.

I'm sure there's some link to my childhood, here. THERE ALWAYS IS. Whenever I felt ANYTHING, I felt shame along with it. Feeling good? MUST BE SIN, shame on you. Feeling sad? YOU SHOULD BE REJOICING, shame on you.

Ok, fine. So I know where this comes from but so what? Who cares? I'm kind of sick of understanding everything about myself. That sounds weird, I know. But here's the thing that annoys the crap out of me about therapy: you can understand your whole childhood but you still have to DO THE WORK of healing, of moving on, of figuring out other ways to take care of yourself. Therapy alone doesn't fix things.

And that is so stupid and unfair.

"Maybe he's just sleeping," Joss said. "Maybe Teddy is just taking a nap under the covers on your bed and we'll find him there."

"He's not napping," I said. "He's dead."

I don't believe in sugarcoating it. I'm not gonna say "he passed away" or "he's in a better place" or "he's fallen asleep." He's dead. That's the truth. We don't know where he is. I mean, I believe he's in heaven. I believe all my pets are there. But I don't know for sure. I'm not certain. I just have faith and, for me, that's better than knowing. Perhaps that's why faith is such a gift. It's a gift to havesome kind of belief in SOMETHING GOOD. It's a gift to be able to rest in that faith.

I will tell you what I DO know: I DO know that I can feel the prayers of my friends. When my friends pray for me, I feel it. I feel strengthened. I feel like it's all gonna be ok. Maybe I won't know how or why or maybe it will look a lot different than I expected but your faith helps my faith.

And somehow, that's enough.

I love you so much, Teddy. I miss you so badly my whole body hurts.

Dressing Room Anxiety & Other Apocalyptic Disasters

I need to talk about my arms. They are my least favorite part of my body. And last Friday they were the reason I broke down crying in a dressing room. 

It's ridiculous. I can't believe that at age 39 I still hate my body. Dressing rooms and dressing room mirrors make me anxious. And sweaty. And panicked.

I must've tried on about 25 different outfits—looking for something to wear to my book release party (are you coming? please say you'll come! I'd love to see you in real life)—and nothing looked good on me. Nothing.

Then again, maybe I wasn't seeing clearly. Maybe I looked AWESOME but my inner critic had taken over somewhere between Outfits 10 and 11 and all I could see were dimples and wiggles and wobbles and odd little pockets to fat that rippled under my skin. FUCK YOU, I silent-screamed at the dressing room mirror. I HATE EVERYTHING.

Maybe I should just wear caftans for the rest of my life. Flowing, breezy, comfortable, deliciously floating caftans in bright colors and patterns and I'll never have to look at my arms again.

I fled the dressing room and made a beeline to the food court where I gulped down three glasses of iced-tea with too-many-to-count packets of sugar. This is my self-destructive cycle: I hate how I look and then I go directly to the very thing that's making me look this way—and gorge on it. Mainly, sugar. 

I went to Overeaters Anonymous about a year ago and only lasted for three meetings because it was SO UNCOMFORTABLE and I identified WAY TOO CLOSELY and that scared me to death. I don't want another thing to work on, you know? Like, seriously. HOW MANY ISSUES WILL I HAVE TO WORK ON IN MY LIFETIME??????

A couple years ago I read Women, Food and God: an unexpected path to almost everything and it was so upsetting that I threw it across the room. Because she was SO RIGHT about SO MANY THINGS and I hated her for it. 

Confession: whenever I have Strong Feelings I know I need to slow down and listen but so many times I just scream and flee to the food court.

Gentleness Points: at least I drank iced-tea and not Dr. Pepper. At least I ate a salad with my iced-tea and not fries and a cheeseburger. Progress not perfection, they say.

Deep Breath: I need to remind myself that even when I was a size 2 I wasn't any happier. I still found flaws. I still looked at myself in the dressing room mirror and silent-screamed at myself.

This is what I realize: I see myself through flaw-tinted lenses. I need to see myself through my friends' eyes because they are more gentle with me than I am with myself. My friends assure me I am beautiful and ok and amazing and that when they come to my book release party nobody will be judging me by my arms. That my arms are exactly how arms need to be: made for doing things.

This morning I looked at my arms in the mirror and I rubbed some tanning lotion on them and instead of pinching them, I patted them gently. Cute, adorable arms, I thought. You were made for hugging. I love you.

What if we all did that? What if we said 'I love you' to the least favorite parts of ourselves? What if we just radically accepted ourselves for who we are right here right now? What if we could love ourselves?

m I the only one who feels this way? Do you get dressing room anxiety? How do you deal with it?

50 First Dates with God or WHY DO I ALWAYS WAKE UP BELIEVING ALL IS LOST AND GOD DOESN'T LOVE ME AND AUUUGHHH!

Do you know what would be awesome? It would be awesome to wake up some morning and be all: YAY! GOD IS REAL AND I LOVE HIM AND HE LOVES ME AND EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT!

Because that is SO not how it goes for me. Nope. Instead I wake up with a heart-pounding lurch and jump out of bed, braced for disaster. Omgomgomgomg what day is it?? Is the world ending today? Have I been left behind? MY GOD, MY GOD WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?

I mean, it's embarrassing. You'd think by age 39 I'd have my spiritual shit together. You'd think by now that I'd awake from sleep with a dreamy smile on my face and the first utterance from my lips would be praise unto our God. And lo, the heavens opened and it was a beautiful Monday.

In my fantasies about spiritual enlightenment, I arise from sleep and talk to God and God is all: "Here is the way, walk ye in it." Everything is laid out for me all pretty and precise. Also, there is manna waiting for me on the doorstep (so I don't have to cook breakfast) and maybe a Gospel-choir waiting for me in the kitchen (so I don't have to listen to my stupid, stinking thoughts). And as I pour my coffee they burst into THERE IS POWER! IN THE NAME OF JESUS! TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN TO—

This is not how it goes.

How it goes is how it went this morning when I woke up and it was a massive struggle through The Slough of Despond. My eyes were crusty and my brain was totally convinced that of two things:

  1. God is dead and
  2. why doesn't anybody love me?

Sometimes I worry that I don't have Real Faith™ because I wake up an atheist and it takes strong coffee, 2 psych meds, assorted vitamins and supplements, a fried egg, a bowl of oatmeal, journaling, praying and several jumping jacks for me to start believing again.

By 8:30am I'm starting to come around like hey, maybe there IS a God.

By 9am I've read through my list of affirmations, reminded myself what I believe and why and I usually read through past journal entries to remind myself that OH YEAH REMEMBER THAT ONE TIME when I thought ALL WAS LOST and then I got an email offering me a summer job? See? God hasn't forgotten me! YAY! YAY!

It's truly like I need a "50 First Dates With God" reminder list to read every morning. Do you remember that movie? 50 First Dates? I love that movie. Also, I love Drew Barrymore and the adorable way her mouth moves when she talks but ok, I'm digressing. The point is, when Drew Barrymore wakes up in that movie? She needs reminders. She needs someone to tell her who she is and what happened since her car accident.

This is me. I need a list of reminders that tell me who I am and what happened since the Rapture DIDN'T happen in 1988. Because a lot of awesome things have happened in my life and I don't know why but I TOTALLY forget. As in, I literally forget that God has been REAL and GOOD in my life and I wake up totally convinced it's 1988 and the Rapture is happening and I'm gonna get left behind because I said shut-up to my sister last night.

So this is my new dealy-o. When I wake up in the morning I'm gonna be all gentle with myself and just give myself 50 First Dates of Elizabeth:

"Good morning, Elizabeth! Here are the important facts about your life: #1 You're not 11 years oldanymore! YAY! And you've done a WHOLE BUNCH OF AWESOME stuff in your life! #2: God loves you and thinks you are AMAZING #3: You are stronger than you think you are and so courageous and beautiful and just downright MAGICAL. #4: Go take your meds because I promise by 9am, you'll feel better. #5: Give it to God and go kick some ass."

And all the people said amen, halleujah, BREAK EVERY CHAIN.

Being an at-home mom is actually being an Uber driver who never gets paid.

A big part of my mid-life crisis is that this whole motherhood thing has changed up on me and suddenly, nobody needs me anymore. Well, OK. They still need me but only for a ride to Nick's house or ten bucks for the movies or hey, Mom, can you sign this permission slip? About 98.9% of being an at-home mom is being an Uber driver who never gets paid.

I swore I was never gonna be one of those moms who lost herself in motherhood; whose whole identity was her children but apparently, I've done exactly that. I gave my whole self to this endeavor, just completely sunk myself body and soul into this thing and, now, 17 years later I find myself wandering around the house all aimless and melancholy singing: "Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? Sunrise, sunset! Swiftly flow the years!"

Gah. I am a walking cliche.

I am frustrated with myself for CARING this much. Who IS this person and WHY is she sobbing into her morning coffee? GET A GRIP, LADY.

The other day at breakfast I burst into song (as I do on the regular)—HOW MUCH WOOD COULD A WOOD CHUCK CHUCK IF A WOOD CHUCK COULD CHUCK WOOD?!— and nobody laughed. Nobody smiled. Everybody was face-down in their Honey-Nut Cheerios. I know it sounds pathetic but I was devastated. I used to have a wildly enthusiastic audience to entertain with my antics and now, now they are all bored with me. My jokes fall flat. My funny little ditties are ignored.

So, I sang the song again but this time using Jasiel's nickname: HOW MUCH BOSS COULD A JOSS BOSS BOSS IF A JOSS BOSS COULD BOSS JOSS?!

Nothing.

I sang it again. Louder. Eventually, Joss flicked an eyeball in my direction and in a couldn't-be-more-unimpressed-voice said: "Mom, I'm not the Joss Boss anymore. I'm Jasiel."

She murdered my heart with those words, she did. I sighed one of those shuddering sighs and real, actual tears came out of my eyes.

"Here's a shocker," James announced. "Mom's crying again."

"Sorry, guys. I'm lame," I said and shuffled over to the sink.

Blah. All these thoughts are rushing through my head: I can't burden my children with my mid-life crisis! I shouldn't let them see how hard this is for me! I am so emotionally immature. Ugh! I need to stop holding everyone hostage to my moods! WHY DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS???????

(This post is beginning to sound really whiny. I'm gonna stop whining now).

Here's the crux of it: I didn't expect motherhood to be so lonely. I thought it would get LESS lonely. I thought if I just crammed all these babies into my life it would eradicate the huge, gaping hole of loneliness I feel all the time. And now I have five kids and four dogs and I'm here to tell you I still feel lonely.

It helps me to remember that loneliness is just the human condition. Single people are lonely and married people are lonely and people without children are lonely and mothers of twenty five kids are lonely, too. Maybe there's not a FIX to the loneliness except to find ways to be of service to other people. Yes, loneliness is real but what is also real is that when I find ways to help and love others, I feel better.

Here's another truth: I feel better when I'm busy. I like being around people. I like taking care of people. I like being of service. The kids are getting older, I've written two books and my busy-ness is decreasing. I don't like THAT. But maybe I can find a way to be busy again. Did I mention I'm working as a server again? Yep. So, there's a start.

Here's something else I know: it's not my kids' responsibility to make me happy. I am learning how to make myself happy. It's just that—I didn't expect it to be so much work! Being happy is hard work, you guys. But I am determined to keep working at it, to find a new life for myself. I'm in research mode. Should I go back to school? Should I be a nurse? Should I write more? SHOULD WE SELL EVERYTHING AND TRAVEL THE UNITED STATES IN A CAMPER?

Blah. I also need to take breaks from figuring things out. It's exhausting. Where's my Cookie Butter?

"TWINS GET IN THE CAR!" I hollered two days ago. "IT'S TIME TO GO TO SCHOOL!"

So, they did. I was busy fiddling with the defroster when Jor said:

"Mom, can you sing the buckle-up song?"

My heart leapt with joy. Did she really just ask me that?

The Buckle-Up Song is a little ditty I cobbled together when James was about 3. He always forgot to buckle his seat belt so I made up a song that I sang every time we got in the car. It's an embarrassing song, a kind of rap-sing-song-mash-up that goes:

Buckle up, buckle in, let me begin
Party on party people, jump jump rejoice
Big Jimmy's in da house gonna make some noise!

It's awkward and weird but the kids always loved it and now, James never forgets to buckle his seatbelt.

So, of course I sang the Buckle-Up Song. I sang it loud and proud and I sang it several times in different voices and accents because why not. And when I glanced in the rear view mirror, the twins were grinning at me.

I grinned back.

Oh, look. My roses are blooming. They'll never leave me! WILL THEY? OH, ROSES MY LOVES WILL YOU BE MY FRIENDS FOREVER??

 

To The Gospel Coalition: please stop insulting our intelligence. It's not "Gospel-shaped manhood & womanhood," it's sexist-shaped ideology @TGC @OStrachan #ThisIsWhyWeNeedChristianFeminists

Sometimes I forget just how asinine Christians can be. Blame it on my mid-life crisis but these days I have no patience for intellectually dishonest theology. Take this recent piece published by The Gospel Coalition called "Pursue Complementarity, Not Compatibility." Don't let the fancy wording fool you. "Complementarity" is just a gussied up way of saying sexist.

There are a whole slew of ridiculous claims in this article but I'm gonna spare my blood pressure by focusing on just one.

The author, a professor named Owen Strachan who teaches at a Baptist seminary (why is it always the Baptist seminaries? WHY?!), writes: "The biblical perspective, however, says that the taproot of a happy, healthy marriage is Gospel-shaped manhood and womanhood." Indeed, he goes on to say, "Life in marriage simply doesn't make sense without this vision."

Just WHAT. 

Quick! Somebody get me a Gospel-Shaped Womanhood cookie cutter so I can smash myself into it and have a happy, healthy, biblical marriage!

UGH. Any intellectually honest person can tell you that there are plenty of happy, healthy—dare I say GODLY!— marriages all over the world that don't follow the complementary model. To claim otherwise is patently ridiculous. And absurd. And so blatantly false that I cannot believe anyone takes this guy seriously.

And yet, major Christian websites and publishing houses give dudes like Professor Owen a platform to spew this false and easily debunk-able pablum. Just WHY. Because it sells? Because sexism worked so well for the first few millenia of human existence? Because there isn't enough OPPRESSION IN THE WORLD? Because the Gospel is REALLY ALL ABOUT making sure everyone conforms to rigid gender roles as defined BY UPPER MIDDLE CLASS, WELL-EDUCATED, WHITE, AMERICAN, HETEREO, CISGENDER WHITE GUYS?*

Apparently, THAT is the "biblical perspective"? Right. Gotcha.

Holy crapfire and brimstone, people. I'll tell you what. There's a reckoning coming for that kind of twisted theology. As I recall, Jesus don't take kindly to religious authorities placing yokes of bondage on regular folks.

Look, it's no secret that I've never been a fan of The Gospel Coalition (and they've never been a fan of me—they blocked me on Twitter long ago cuz I'm a mouthy woman dontcha know). My point is, I don't really expect high standards of intellectual honesty from TGC.

But I do expect more from publishing houses like Zondervan. It's disappointing to see such a reputable Christian publisher provide a major platform to sexist theologians. It's heartbreaking for women like myself to watch Christian publishers promulgate this harmful poison by giving book deals and marketing dollars to religious teachers like Owen Strachan.

They should know better.

They should do better.

We Christians deserve better.

*(HT @HalleyBallast for that awesome description).

Hi. I would like to blog again.

I'm having an existential crisis. My kids are all growing up and I did not consent to this!

"Mom, when are you NOT having a crisis?" That's my 14 year old son, James. We call him the lawyer. Go away, James. I'm talking to my blog friends who understand me, thank you verrrrr much.

ANYHOO. I'm having a crisis because I'm almost 40. I refuse to call it a "mid-life crisis" though because that sounds like Mrs. Rodanski who lived next door when I was a kid and whose husband bought her a 1987 Pontiac Trans Am when she turned 40. But this did not make her a nicer person. She was still the same grumpy old lady always yelling at me over the fence to stop staring at her and for godsakes stop sucking on those bleepity-bleep dandelion stalks don't you know bleepity-bleep dogs pee on it?

"MOM, DID YOU JUST SAY A BAD WORD?"

"No, Joss. I bleeped it out."

She gives me the side eye. Meet Joss. She's 8 now and our resident theologian, Expositor of the Mysteries and Chief Executive Enforcer of the Rules. On Good Friday: "Mom, mom, mom. It's Good Friday and that means NO SAUSAGE for breakfast. And James? You need to make a sacrifice for Jesus, too. No video games after school today. Right, Mom? No video games for James today?"

So, I don't want to be like Mrs. Rodanski but then again, maybe I do. Maybe I do want to waddle about my garden in my robe and slippers with my hair up in ridiculous huge rollers while I smoke a cigarette with one hand and water my roses with the other. Maybe I do want to roar off to lunchin my flashy Pontiac Trans Am and lunch with the ladies just because I can!

Well, nope. I can't be Mrs. Rodanski because she only had one kid and I have twenty-five kids and none of them are named Bobby. To be fair, we never knew if Mrs. Rodanski's son was named Bobby. We just called him that because we thought he looked like a Bobby. That sounds terrible. What does a Bobby look like? Well, he looked like a pudgy boy with curly blonde hair, thick glasses and an affinity for wearing dark red polo shirts. He also wore his pants high tightly belted over his belly so that he resembled a double-link sausage. A double-link sausage wearing glasses.

Sausage appears to be a recurring theme of this post so I might as well tell you that I can no longer eat sausage without getting heartburn. Now, THAT is a crisis.

"Mom, can I borrow the car?"

Oh, hey. Say hi to Jewel. She's 16 now and a newly minted and licensed driver. I can't let her drive with me in the car because I gasp and shriek and pump an imaginary brake. Last time I tried to let her drive, we only made it half a block before I had her pull to the curb. Because I was about to have a heart attack. Good thing I went to Confession a few months ago and can die with a clear conscience.

"Mom, can I go to Bible study tonight? I finished all my homework."

There's Jude. Awwwwww, Baby Jude. He's not a baby anymore and I totally don't approve. He just turned 13. Thankfully he hasn't really hit his growth spurt yet so I can still pretend he's my adorable little round-cheeked baby. Jude is the entrepreneur around here. He runs a little coffee roasting business out of our garage. He's still refining his signature roast with input from the Professional Taste Tester by which I mean myself. And he spends most of his spare time going to church, going to Bible studies and feeding the homeless on skid row. I know I'm making him out to be a saint but he kinda IS a saint. I swear to you, butterflies land on him whenever he stands in our garden. It's become something of a family joke: St. Jude. The Butterfly Whisperer.

Now, I can't mention Jude without mentioning his little disciple: Jorai. Or, Jo, as she prefers to be called these days. Jo adores her big brother Jude. She follows him around. She wears his hand me down clothes. She laughs at all his jokes. She started skating because he was skating. She started playing basketball because he played basketball. They have such a close and unique relationship.

OK, wow. So maybe I'm not Mrs. Rodanski with her flashy Trans Am but I think I like my full, crazy life. And I've missed blogging. I really have. Why did I ever stop? Well, I wrote two books, that's why. I was kinda tapped out. Burned out on words.

But I'm back now. I hope. I even made my blog my home page again because I LIKE BLOGGING. So, there. Crisis solved. And all the peoples said amen.

(I've missed all of you. Would you please leave a comment telling me who you are? Maybe just where you're from, how long you've been reading? I would SO LOVE to reconnect with you again!)

Hi, I'm Elizabeth and I'm a honk-aholic

For Lent, I gave up honking my horn at other drivers. Had I known how difficult this would be, I would have given up something more hip like single origin coffee. Or gruyere cheese. But no, I chose No Honking because, well, honking has become something of a problem for me.

I am a gratuitous honker. A honker for all seasons and reasons. I honk pre-emptively and post-emptively. Heck, migrating geese don’t honk as much as I do. Hi, I’m Elizabeth and I’m a honk-aholic.

Something needed to change and Lent seemed like a good time to address this bad habit.

Truth is, I needed a more challenging Lent this year, something closer to the path I’m walking—a path I call “spiritual sobriety.” This way of living means I don’t get to take the easy way out anymore and it requires a combination of rigorous honesty and daily accountability.

The first week without honking was the worst. I just couldn’t stop. My hand kept darting to the horn involuntarily—Father, forgive me I know not what I do—which is to say, I failed a lot before I started making progress. Little by little, though, my honks decreased.

I went from repeated blasts to one-tap-toots to half-strangled-beeps. But it wasn’t easy. I wanted to quit my fast every time I got in the car. This was a Lenten fast for hermits! monks! saints!—not sweaty, frazzled mothers of five just trying to get to the library before it closes because OF COURSE MY KIDS DIDN’T TELL ME ABOUT THEIR BIG SCHOOL PROJECT UNTIL THE NIGHT BEFORE IT WAS DUE. Breaking up with honking felt impossible! But why? WHY was it so hard?

The epiphany came slowly. I began to realize that normal, healthy people honked occasionally—only for a “good reason” or an “emergency.” But for a honk-aholic like me, every honk was for a “good reason” and every reason was an “emergency.” Healthy people might be able to honk without a problem. I, on the other hand, I couldn’t honk without honking myself into full-blown road rage. It was better that I abstained altogether.

The second epiphany was when I discovered that honking rarely changed things anyway. Basically, people were going to drive however they were going to drive regardless of whether I blasted my horn in their ear. This was especially true about my biggest peeve: waiting behind drivers who were looking at their cell phones when the light turned green. I’d always, ALWAYS honked in this situation. Now that I couldn’t, I was shocked to discover that even without honking, the distracted driver eventually realized the light had changed and started moving. My horn didn’t control other people’s behavior? WHAT A REVELATION.

The more I practiced not honking, the more I realized that even if other people were driving badly, I didn’t have to react. Who knew? Apparently, there were other options like:

  1. Go around the bad driver
  2. Slow down
  3. Relax until whatever had annoyed me was over—usually about five seconds later. Most of the time, all I had to do was wait. Aye, there’s the rub. Waiting.

Since when had I become convinced that waiting 5 seconds was absolutely IMPOSSIBLE?

To my honk-aholic mind, waiting wasn’t just an inconvenience; it was unfair, unjust. It was PERSECUTION! During the third week of Lent, I began to wonder if my my addiction to honking was actually an addiction to punishment. Startling other drivers with my horn is a kind of punishment, isn’t it? I mean, when someone honks at me I always gasp or jump in my seat. So why did I do this to others?

Herein lies the crux of my whole addiction to honking: a deep-seated belief that I—and everyone else—deserve punishment.

I grew up in a high-demand religious environment where our beliefs were used as punishment against others and ourselves. We believed we were inherently wicked, vile creatures and that God’s love for us was conditional. But despite rejecting that theology long ago, this year's Lenten fast has reminded me how much it still impacts my life today—like while driving.

In many ways, punishing other drivers for their bad driving is also a way of punishing myself. Honking is just another way of saying there’s no room for mistakes, there’s no room to be human, we have to get it right all the time, we have to explode off the starting line as soon as the light turns green.

The unexpected grace, though, was that the more I didn’t honk my horn, the more I became aware of how often others didn’t honk at me—even when I “deserved” it.

Basically, refraining from using my horn taught me the power of pausing, of giving others a break. It’s ok—in fact, it’s good—for us to slow down. Indeed, if we are to break any kind of bad habit, the first thing we have to do is become aware that it’s a problem and then, learn to pause after we experience the urge to engage it.

By the end of Lent, the practice of abstaining from honking had created many moments for self-reflection. After each Urge To Honk, so to speak, I had the opportunity to reflect on why I wanted/needed to use my horn. Most of the time it was because I hated being inconvenienced and viewed minor delays as a personal affront. In a lot of ways, I worshiped at the altar of Convenience. When other drivers inconvenienced me, I had a RIGHT to lean on my horn because they deserved to know they were bad, bad drivers! I hated waiting and I especially hated it when OTHER PEOPLE made me wait. If had to be inconvenienced, it better be on MY terms!

How silly of me. Couldn’t I see that most of the time I honked at someone it just made them angry and more likely to flip me off? And didn’t this make me even more offended and more likely to speed up, try to pass/cut them off so I could arrive at the next stoplight a whole 2.5 seconds before they did? Why not just chill out?

This is what I’ve learned: how I drive is a reflection of how I live my life.

How I drive is not an isolated, compartmentalized area of my behavior. In many ways, my integrity (or lack thereof, ha!) is mirrored back to me every time I honk my horn, every time I cut someone off, every time I yell at another driver to pay attention.

My Lenten fast provided a convicting and humbling view of my impatient, often emotionally volatile behavior. And it also provided me with the opportunity to change it.

 The catch is that life—and traffic!—is just so LIFE-Y sometimes. It helps to remember that life is this way for everyone—not just me. Everyone has problems and struggles and character defects. We are all just human. It’s good to give ourselves and other people a break, to lay off the horn and be hospitable.

As for me and my horn, we are giving it a rest. And not just until Easter, either. To practice my spiritual sobriety I won't be honking for the rest of the year. Oh, I’m still a honk-aholic. But I’m a sober honk-aholic. A dry honker, if you will.

Hi, I’m Elizabeth and if you need to change lanes, I’ll let you in.

The Inceptive Soliloquy

While earning my bachelor's degree in English, I took several graduate level classes in poetry writing and explication. Poetry has always been my first love. I dream in couplets. I can't say I'm very good at it; my poetry always falls short of the image, feeling, event I'm trying to capture. I haven't written much poetry in the last five years. In January, though, I started writing it again. And I thought maybe I'd share a little something with you. I've been working on this poem for a couple of weeks. I'm not sure it's exactly where I want it. But it's getting there. This is about my relationship with God and words. xo. EE.

 

The Inceptive Soliloquy

 

These, my words, burned up like chaff,

burned out like the sleep deprived mother of a newborn baby.

Words broken like bread,

poured out like blood,

shed for you.

 

Words sweet as honeycomb

and damning as fire,

all given, all-all, until one word remains—

                           your name, set as a seal on my heart

seared into my soul.

 

Year after year pressing deeper, jealous

after every jot and tittle

gathering colloquies, vernaculars, dialects to yourself,

giving and taking away

from conception to grave; You: the inceptive soliloquy

bespeaking every alphabet

every elementary particle,

entangling me in the fundamental question:

 

In the beginning was the word,

would you have spoken it knowing

we’d reject You?

 

EE
March 13, 2016

It's my birthday so I'm giving away free copies of my new book #SpiritualSobriety READ THIS POST to enter the giveaway!

My second book, "Spiritual Sobriety: stumbling back to faith when good religion goes bad" is being published on April 19, 2016 and is NOW AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble 

Powell's

BAM

Hudson Booksellers

Indie Bound

WalMart 

But since it's my birthday, I wanted to celebrate by giving away TEN signed copies to my loyal blog readers!

To enter this giveaway, simply share this post on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #SpiritualSobriety.

You can share this post by linking to it directly OR by using one of the free graphics below. Or, if you're an ENFP like me, maybe you'll just gush about how wildly excited you are to read my new book. ;-)

Note: Please include the hashtag #SpiritualSobriety so we can track all entries. Winners will receive their books a few weeks before the official release date.

 

#SPIRITUALSOBRIETY INFOGRAPHICS!

 

 

 

To receive insider news and a quarterly EE Newsletter, please enter your email below.



A little Valentine's Day gift for you! #SpiritualSobrietyBook

I have a new book arriving in two months and I am a bit of a mess about it. I despise self-promotion. I hate asking people to buy my words. And yet, I truly believe in the message of my new book and that means readers must buy it to read it….sooooo...Hi. Here's my new book. Wanna pre-order it?  CLICK HERE. :)

You can also purchase my book by visiting one of these fine retailers:

Barnes & Noble 

Powell's

BAM

Hudson Booksellers

Indie Bound

WalMart 

And here's a little gift from my publisher: if you pre-order my book, I get to send you the complete first chapter NOW. Just email me your purchase confirmation number and I'll get it to you ASAP. Email me at: elizabeth at elizabeth esther dot com.

OK. Phew. That wasn't so bad.

And I mean, yes, I'm full of self-doubt but then I read something like this that I wrote in my new book and I feel just a wee bit better:

 

When someone tells me they love my writing I am always surprised. What?! Really?! But then again, you don’t see what I see: all the mistakes I made, all the ways I could have said it better. Truth: when I get a box full of the final copies of my book I don’t open the books because I know what I’ll see: how the reality of my art falls so short of how I imagined it.

But then I remember that saying it imperfectly is better than not saying it at all.

Still, my fears are loud and I've been doing a lot of nailbiting. I am a sensitive person with some obsessive tendencies and I can keep myself awake at night worrying about minutia. Sometimes I have to read my own words to remind myself what I believe.

 

“You are learning to feel your feelings without reacting to them,” my 12-step sponsor says to me. “Welcome to emotional sobriety.” She is right and I hate that. FEELINGS. They might be the death of me. “That’s a little dramatic,” my sponsor says. “You won’t die from your feelings. The bad feelings will pass, I promise.”

Yes, but WHEN?!

“Go take your dogs for a walk,” she says.

So, I do. And I notice the birds, the sky, the angle of winter sunshine through the trees. And it helps.

I remember that my worth isn't found in Facebook likes or 5-star reviews on Amazon. I've been down that road. And it didn't end well. In fact, I talk about that a lot in my new book:

My worth exists because I exist. I am so deeply loved. And so are you. And this, really, is the message of the book:

People say Southern California doesn’t have seasons but it’s not true. We have seasons, they’re just very subtle. You have to really look for the signs. Yesterday I noticed that my rose bushes were showing the tiniest signs of new life. Tiny, paper-thin leaves now adorn the stark, barren stems. It isn’t much. But it is something. And I felt the usual thrill. I so love my roses. If I could, I’d wear them in my hair everyday and fill my home with overflowing vases of roses, roses, roses.

There’s another sign, too. The Mourning Doves have returned to my garden. It must be mating season. They don’t eat from the bird feeder so I sprinkle seed along the ground and fill the bird bath with water. They are quite shy. So I must wait quietly. They come tentatively, gently. Perhaps I shall see their babies this spring.

Art teaches me to let the seasons change.

What I write now is different than what I wrote five or ten years ago. And what I say in five or ten years will be different than what I’m writing now. Perfectionism will kill me, if I let it. I need to give myself permission to be in process.

My new book is the very best of 2015 EE. And I think you may find it helpful. I hope you’ll read it. And maybe even consider pre-ordering it? Thank you. So much. XO. EE.

 

GIVEAWAY! FairyTales hair care products!

If you're a mom like me, you dread the day your child comes home from school with a head full of lice.

This happened to my family when my twins were in kindergarten. It was an epic, itchy disaster.

Ever since that fateful day, I've been on the lookout for an all-natural lice repellent. Last summer I found the PERFECT solution in Fairy Tales hair care products and my girls have been using them ever since.

And just in time, too. This past October, lice broke out again—this time in my twins' 2nd grade classroom. But guess who DIDN'T get it? My twins! We were so relieved that I reached out to Fairy Tales to let them know how much I appreciated their Rosemary Repel shampoo and conditioner.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that Fairy Tales is offering a package of their all-natural hair care products to FIVE of my readers!

To enter this giveaway:

1. LIKE OR FOLLOW Fairy Tales on either Twitter, Facebook or Instagram

2. and then LEAVE A COMMENT here for me. Winners will be notified via email.

Follow Fairy Tales on Twitter HERE

Follow Fairy Tales on Instagram HERE

Like Fairy Tales on Facebook HERE

NOTE: don't forget to use a valid email address when leaving a comment below!

Do What You Love Just Because...You Love It! {Or: how sewing "impractical" costumes is teaching me to live a happy life}

When I was a little girl I dreamed a wild, improbable dream. I wanted to be an actress.

My favorite pastime—after reading and writing—was playing dress up. When I invited friends over to my house to play, we would spend hours playing dress up up and inventing elaborate stories for our characters. I loved fully immersing myself in a make-believe world. It felt absolutely delicious.

But, of course, being an actress was out of the question. It was "too worldly," they said. It was "too dangerous." Good, Christian girls didn't become actresses.

I gave up on the dream of being an actress and became a writer instead.

I don't regret it. Writing was (and is) a gift to me. Writing is my art. Writing is my passion. But I miss PLAYING. I miss the child-like wonder of imaginary worlds.

After sewing Joss's Victorian costume for Halloween, I fell in love with an adult costume pattern (McCall's pattern no. M6911) and purchased it on an impulse. I still wasn't sure I would actually make it for myself. For awhile, I was just content to look at the pattern and dream about it.

Actually sewing it—purchasing fabric and notions—that seemed....impractical. And impractical was wrong, wasn't it? WHERE would I even wear it?

But then it hit me: why I waiting for permission to do something I love doing? Why NOT just let myself PLAY?

So, I did.

I just finished sewing the costume and I'm incredibly happy. I had forgotten how much FUN it was to do something I loved JUST BECAUSE I loved it!

The hardest part of this costume was the bolero jacket. I was so worried about messing up that I decided to take the pressure off myself by using "practice fabric." I scrounged around in my stash and found some old drapery fabric I'd planned on using for kitchen curtains....NINE YEARS AGO. For whatever reason (read: TWINS!), I never got around to making those curtains. But I held onto the fabric (three cheers for people who don't like to declutter!) and NOW? That old drapery material was PERFECT "practice fabric" for my Victorian costume.

Taking the pressure off myself worked like magic. I wasn't stressed at all because I was PLAYING. And the jacket turned out far better than I expected. In fact, now now I can't imagine it made up in anything other than the drapery fabric.

Here's another funny thing: I figured the zipper on the back of the skirt would be covered up under the bustle. So, I just used an old purple zipper I had in my stash instead of buying a black zipper or an invisible zipper. Welp. I ran out of "practice fabric" and didn't have enough to make the bustle. SO. If you look closely, you can see my exposed purple zipper. HA! It may not be "authentic Victorian" but I guess you could say I'm just keepin' it real.

I know this might sound strange, but sewing is so HEALING. In many ways, sewing is a microcosm of life. If you let it, sewing—or any art form—can teach you how to live a good life. 

For example, I was having trouble with the black lace I wanted to use on the collar. I was afraid it wouldn't lay flat.

But I told myself not to worry and just sleep on it. After all, it was just PLAY. The next morning I woke up and knew just how I could get the lace to lay flat. I experimented a bit and it worked!

Here's what I learned: taking pressure off myself RELEASED my creativity. New ideas came to me when I allowed myself the freedom to use the "practice fabric" and PLAY with with pattern instead of following it exactly.

This process reminded me that I loved-loved-LOVED writing until I wrote my first book under a deadlines. Although I'm very proud of that book, working under pressure (and writing about such intensely personal subject matter) was exhausting and killed the joy of writing. At least, temporarily. On my second book, my editor knew me well enough to know that I didn't NEED TO KNOW the exact deadline. In fact, he took all the pressure off of me and just let me write as the ideas came to me. He gave me permission to PLAY. And so, I did. I read as many books as my little heart desired. I took copious notes with lots of different colored pens. I journaled. I doodled. I took long walks by the ocean.

And, you guys, my second book is AMAZING. (More on that next week!)

Here's the thing I learned: Sure, I can PERFORM under pressure. But it's not GOOD for me. I can Get Things Done but that doesn't mean I take any joy in doing them.

In fact, performing under pressure is damaging for someone like myself. It evokes a trauma reaction. I'm a sensitive, artsy, bookish person. If someone starts cracking the Whip of Productivity I either either burst into tears or completely freeze up.

Recently, several people have asked if I will sell my artwork and costumes. I've given that some thought. And I think maybe I will. At some point. Once I feel comfortable. But maybe not. I don't know. The thing is? If I try to set up an Etsy account or start sewing professionally, I'll start feeling PRESSURED. I'll want to make YOU happy. I'll worry that I'm not doing a good job. It will become WORK.

I am sewing and drawing because *I* love it. Because it brings me back to my true self. Because it is ME. For now, would it be ok if I just sewed and colored and painted for MYSELF? Would it be ok for me to just take care of ME?

This brings me to another lesson I've learned from sewing an "impractical" costume.

Someone asked me: "But where will you even WEAR that costume?" It was the question I was dreading. I felt instantly guilty. I didn't have ANYWHERE to wear it. I was sewing it because...well, just BECAUSE I wanted to! Was that OK?

Still, that question bothered me for awhile. And here's why:

Underneath that question is a kind of accusation. It's an accusation that says "unless you're doing something USEFUL, it's wasteful." We live in a society where the bottom line is EVERYTHING. As Brene Brown says, we wear exhaustion like a status symbol. We don't let ourselves PLAY anymore.

I'm beginning to think it's actually a radical act of self-care to do things we love simply because we love them. In fact, it's EMPOWERING.

I'm creating art because creating art makes me happy.

I'm creating costumes because it reminds me that PLAYING is vital to my happiness and well-being.

Guess what? We have permission to enjoy our lives!

And be happy!

Sewing is my happy.

That is enough. That is everything.

(During the photo shoot, I was just so incredibly happy that I started giggling uncontrollably and prancing around in the leaves and twirling and dancing all by myself. This next pic is just a candid shot but when I look at it, I'm so happy. Because LOOK! That's ME! Smiling! HAPPY! This is what happens when we allow ourselves to do EXACTLY what makes us happy. This is what happens when give ourselves permission to be child-like. And full of wonder. And "impractical." And "ridiculous." This is what happens and oh my goodness, it is beautiful. Please, friend. LOVE YOURSELF today and do something you LOVE doing just BECAUSE you love doing it!) xoxo. EE. #ThisIsMyHappy



What if we just let ourselves enjoy life?

To celebrate New Year's Eve, I sewed a maxi skirt and a matching scarf. Because sewing makes me happy and why go out to a fancy party when you can sew away to your heart's content and then put on your PJs at 3pm and watch the Lord of the Rings marathon on TV? I mean. Does life get any better than that? I think not. Also, I fell asleep at 10pm because my tired, little, old-lady eyeballs just couldn't stay open until midnight. (And anyway, who wants to feel all groggy and tired the next day? NOT ME!).

Yep, my hair is blonde now. Did I mention that? I like it. If the year 2015 was a Broadway show I could call it "EE & The Technicolor Dream Hair." These were just a few of the colors:

Playing with hair color was a journey of self-expression for me. I gave myself full permission to experiment. It was so much fun. It felt like different facets of my personality came out to play. Dark & Mysterious. Purple & Playful. Pink & Pretty. But I've settled into blonde now and I think it's here to stay awhile.

This morning I woke up and it was New Year's Day and everyone was still asleep. So, I shuffled downstairs in my slippers, fed the dogs, started the coffee pot, sneezed a few times and then curled up on the couch to read my daily devotional and write in my journal.

The twins were up first, as usual. "Mom, your coffee is ready!" Joss informed me when she heard the coffee pot beeping in the kitchen. I fixed myself a cup and settled back down on the couch while Jor nestled in beside me. This is happiness, I'm sure of it.

After breakfast, we went for a long ramble in the hills.


Sunshine and birdsong and wild bunnies. It did my soul good.

In years past, the New Year found me full of plans, goals, ambitions and the sharp ache of dreams unfulfilled, hopes deferred. But now, this year...my soul is at rest. I know who I am. I know how far I've come. I know what is important in life and what is NOT important. I know how to be happy. I don't need a list of resolutions or a diet plan or anything, really, than what I already have. I have found that gratitude opens my eyes to the beauty of the life I already have and isn't that a miracle?

We walked and walked until our legs were tired and our lungs heaving for breath. Then we got juice smoothies and pretzels. We sat in the bright sunshine and talked about Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty and even though Linus looks like a baby carrying that blanket he always has something profound to say. We laughed at the little birds hopping around our feet, chirping. We tossed the little birds a few pretzel crumbs.

This is my life now and I am so grateful for it.

Let's love our lives together this year, shall we?

We don't have to wait until things are perfect before we allow ourselves to enjoy the lives we already have. Things may be broken. But there is still beauty. And love. Always love.

From my heart to yours, Happy 2016.

Following my {he}art

Seven years ago I began a journey and now it is coming to an end. Something wild and free needed to be released. And so, I let it be. I love this picture of me. This was right in the middle of the most painful part of my journey. This was when I wasn't sure I would make it. This was when I didn't know where I was going or where it would end. I love this picture because it isn't photoshopped or filtered. It is just me. A little messy. No makeup. Unsure. Determined. Hurting. Taking it one day at a time.

 

And now, here I am. I have written two books. I have deconstructed, advocated and told the whole story. Now, something is changing inside me. I can feel it happening. My art is calling. And it looks a little something like this....

 

OK, let me back up a bit.

I've spent the last seven years of my life deconstructing my past and advocating for victims of spiritual abuse. It's been hard work. I found myself often fighting two battles: those in religious power who wanted me to be quiet and sometimes, the victims themselves who wanted me to say more, do more or do it differently.

Sometimes, helping those who have been spiritually abused feels like rescuing a drowning person—the victim may lash out and struggle against their own rescue. The rescuer can sometimes drown alongside them.

The point is, I know what it’s like to make mistakes while advocating and deconstructing. I have often been too reactionary to those in power and I have often taken personally the lashing out of drowning victims. There were times when I should have done more. There were times when I should have done things differently.

What I have learned is that I cannot fight every battle and I cannot save everyone. I wish I could. But I can’t. If I try, I will drown, too.

 

In the past year I have stepped away a bit from advocacy work—to reflect on my involvement in it, to check my motives and to ask myself where I need to go from here. My focus was beginning to shift from deconstruction and advocacy to rebuilding and recovery.

I wrote a second book (more about that in the New Year!).

I am so very proud of this book. It is the culmination of everything I have learned in the process of recovering from spiritual abuse, religious addiction and finding my way back to healthy, thriving, sustainable faith. 

Since finishing my 2nd book, I have taken a rest from writing. The last seven years of intense writing and blogging and speaking about fundamentalism, religion, faith, finding my out of abusive relationships….all of it had utterly exhausted me.

I needed a break.

In some ways I have felt like an artist who was called away from her art and home to fight a battle she never wanted, a war she never started, called to clean up a mess she didn’t make. I answered the call. And now, I’ve returned home to my art and while the war isn’t over, my part in it HAS been completed.

It is time for me to move on.

It is time for me to be human again.

Yes, the world is broken and darkness threatens to overwhelm, but in my own little corner of the world, there are books and Beethoven and sewing.

Here in my corner of the world, we are focused on recovery. We are focused on building connections.

I am done deconstructing.

I am ready to enjoy my life.

I am giving myself permission to be happy and enjoy my life.

I'm giving myself permission to wear silly, fun Christmas sweaters. EEK! The cuteness.

sweater from the wonderful Tipsyelves.com

sweater from the wonderful Tipsyelves.com

 

I'm giving myself permission to re-discover my passion for long-forgotten hobbies.

For example, a couple of months ago, I came downstairs one morning to find that my husband had set up my sewing machine. “I just thought maybe you’d like to tinker around with this,” he said.

So, I did.

What happened next took me by surprise. A well of creativity bubbled up. My burned out, exhausted brain began releasing new ideas—not for writing, but for art, costumes, dresses, pillows! What started out as: “Well, I guess I’ll just finish this dress I started seven years ago” became a full-fledged Victorian costume complete with detachable bustle.

 

And then, suddenly, I was on a roll. I sewed all these other things:

 

And also, I began drawing and painting greeting cards:

All this to say, my art is calling. I have to answer.

It is another avenue of storytelling that I am excited to explore.

I am not built for sustained warfare. Although I have spoken loudly and fought fiercely when necessary, the very truth of who I am is much different. Under my hard shell, I am a cuddly, soft, gentle little bookworm. I don’t like fighting. I like making pot roast. I don't like arguing. I like baking chocolate chip cookies. And painting pictures of dancing hippos. And sewing Victorian costumes. I don't like deconstructing what's wrong with the world. I like watching "The Sound of Music" and singing along. I like going to Mass and praying the Rosary. I like sitting quietly in front of the Blessed Sacrament and resting on the heart of Jesus. I like talking on the phone with my sister. I like cuddling with my twins on the couch and watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I like making up nonsense songs for my dog, Darby. She's a good listener.

 

As I go in this new direction, I see glimpses of my writing future. I have a few ideas percolating quietly. I am content to let them take their time to develop.

I think I will keep blogging. I do like this medium so much.

Most of all, I want to thank all of you who have stuck with me through all these years. Thank you for growing with me. Thank you for emailing me and talking to me. The time you spend here is a beautiful gift to me and I don't take it for granted.

I am excited to see where my art takes me! I hope you'll come along.

And most of all, I'm very excited to share my new book with you very soon! STAY TUNED!

Much love and peace to you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

*big thank you to "tipsy elves" for letting me pick out a super cute christmas sweater!*

DAY 4 GIVEAWAY: THE SPIRITUALITY BOOK BUNDLE!

Welcome to Day 4 of the EE Christmas 2015 Book Giveaway!

Is there anything more wonderful than a good book? I think not. Well, the only thing better than ONE good book is a BUNCH of good books, amen? :)

So, I've done a lot of reading this year (over a hundred books) and to celebrate YOU, my faithful readers, I'm giving away a few bundles of my favorite books! Merry Christmas!

Friday, 12/18: THE SPIRITUALITY BUNDLE

 

To win this 3-book bundle, simply subscribe to my "EE Newsletter" (in the form below) and you will be automatically entered to win!


*If you are already subscribed to my "EE Newsletter," you may enter the giveaway by leaving a comment. NOTE: the "EE Newsletter" is DIFFERENT than a subscription to my RSS blog post feed. The "EE Newsletter" only arrives a few times each year whereas the RSS blog post subscription arrives every time I publish a new blog post. Winners will be notified via email by Saturday, December 19th. One bundle/bundle-type per winner.