Author Archives: elizabeth

Month-In-Review: $4 DIY hair coloring, a new Mitford novel and twin witches

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When Jorai (on the right) told me she wanted to be a witch for Halloween this year, I hesitated. We don’t do blood, gore and witch stuff for Halloween. But then I saw a gorgeous Glinda the Good Witch costume and thought: “Hey! The twins could be sister witches from the Wizard of Oz!” Witch-dilemma solved. Here we have Jasiel as Glinda the Good Witch and Jorai as The Wicked Witch of the West. What’s funny is that Jasiel is TOTALLY the floaty, fancy, girly-girl and Jorai is the go-getter-rough-and-tumble-gal. They crack me up.

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After this latest bout with Depression, Mama needed a little Autumnal spruce up. I had a coupon for L’Oreal and so I bought two bottles of “Burgandy” hair dye for $1.99/each. I applied the whole first bottle to just the crown of my head and used the second bottle for the long hair in the back. Then I piled it all on top of my head, wrapped it in a plastic grocery bag and secured it with a chip bag clip. You know, keepin’ it classy. I let the color soak in for a good 40 minutes. Then rinse. Condition. Blowout. And hot rollers. VOILA! It’s amazing what $4 of hair dye and some red lipstick can do for a girl. I almost feel like my old self again. :)

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It’s been awhile since I went to a play. This past weekend I was beginning to feel well enough to leave the house. I attended “Zealot” at South Coast Repertory. What a show. It lit a fire in my heart; a fire that will always burn bright for the rights of women. How I loathe the abuse of women at the hands of religious “authority” and yet, how I refuse to seek justice using the old tactics of might makes right. The feminine way understands that progress is through nurturing relationships and truthful storytelling. The conscience of humanity will be be pricked when we courageously share our stories and unashamedly live our full humanity. As an American woman, I often take my privilege for granted. This play reminded me that to remain silent while women suffer is to abandon them and become complicit to their oppression.

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Jewel’s hamstring has FINALLY healed up and she is back to full training. Because of her hamstring injury, she was unable to work on a new solo. So, she is re-training for the classical pointe solo she performed last year: Lilac Fairy variation from Sleeping Beauty. We are excited to see where she places at YAGP in January. It’s such tough competition. The girls she will be competing against are world-class dancers whose parents are able to invest FAR MORE money into their daughters’ training than we can. We still clean Jewel’s studio to help afford basic tuition! Regardless, we are so proud of Jewel’s hard work and know that her passion for dance is what will bring her the most satisfaction and joy.

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For Halloween, Jude is dressing up as a “nerd.” We’ve added a pair of bright green suspenders to this outfit along with some tape to the middle of his “broken” glasses. He really plays up the nerd-act and gets into character. Funny kid.

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My new morning routine includes praying a Rosary, reading several chapters of Scripture and journaling. I’m finding the Rosary acts as a meditative balm to my mind. As soon as I start saying the Creed, I can literally feel my brain start to relax. I use the Laudate app on my iPhone and pray along with the audio Rosary. At the beginning of October, I committed to praying a daily Rosary. I have so needed her comfort during this most recent bout with Depression.

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During this past month, I’ve stopped listening to the news, reading Twitter or catching up on Facebook. My days became very quiet. My mind was in such a dark place that I could not bear to hear anything distressing. My kids wanted to talk to me about Ebola—apparently there’s been a big Ebola outbreak?—but I asked them to wait. I caught up on some of it this past week. And I’m glad I waited. Instead of listening to the news or watching TV, I’ve done quiet reading. The Mitford series have always been special books for me. I read my first Mitford book in 1997. I love Father Tim like he’s a REAL person. I’ve missed Barnabas, Dooley, Cynthia and the guys who chatted it up in the old Main Street Grille. I’ve tucked into some quiet space with this most recent Mitford book. It’s very slow moving. Gentle. Just what I need right now….

What has your past month looked like? What have you written?
What have you read? What are you into right now?
Feel free to leave links in comments.

I’ve missed you! :)

This is a story about mental illness

photoThis is what Depression feels like for me: I’m walking along the beach enjoying the sunset when suddenly, a rogue wave rises up from nowhere and smashes down, sucking me underwater, pulling me out to sea. I toss and tumble, swirl in a black vortex. I can’t scream for help because I am choking on saltwater. I can’t swim to the surface because I don’t know which way is up. Worst of all, I don’t know how long this will last.

Hello, there. I didn’t mean to disappear. But Depression is what happened to me last month and I couldn’t tell you because I was busy drowning in it. You were right to be concerned. Thank you for the kind emails, for the “where are you’s?” on social media, for the texts. I’m sorry I couldn’t respond—I’d lost my words and to be honest, I feared they might be gone forever….but I found some words today and so here I am, writing again.

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One morning last month I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed. I wasn’t physically sick but I hurt all over. I had zero energy. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I was in such deep emotional pain that I was literally squirming.

I went to a therapist. And then another therapist. And then group therapy. Finally, my husband insisted I call my psychiatrist. I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want that to be my problem. Not again.

Maybe we just needed to sell the house and move to the country! Maybe I just needed to go back to school! Here, I know: MAYBE I NEEDED TO BECOME A NUN.

Nope.

So, I landed in my psychiatrist’s office. He looked at my chart, raised his eyes to mine and asked why I’d gone off my medication three months ago—without consulting him.

I didn’t want to answer that. I wanted to be sick with something else. I wanted to say: Hey, maybe this is diabetes. Or early menopause! Right, doc? That’s a possibility, isn’t it? This can’t be Depression again. I’ve already talked about and written about all my pain! I’m HEALED, see?

But I didn’t say that.

Instead, I looked at my doctor through puffy eyes and said: “I went off my medication because I thought I was all better. I thought I didn’t need them anymore. I thought I was cured.”

And that’s when he told me I probably should be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life.

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Hello darkness, my old friend. You’ve really humbled me this time. I’m done pretending I don’t know you. This time, I’m taking you seriously. I don’t really have a choice, do I? You made sure of that. You took me down so fast and so hard this last time that I’ll never forget how bad it felt. True, I suspected you were coming. I could sort of feel the storm gathering. Of course, I ran away! That’s what I do. I’ve been trying to get away from you ever since the first time you showed up, back when I was just a little girl.

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It took me almost forty years to get my chronic depression properly diagnosed—mainly because I didn’t think Depression was real.

Mental illness is just not something we Christians talked about when I was growing up. We talked about weak faith, doubt and disobedience. We talk about trusting Jesus, writing gratitude journals and praying more as a way to “increase joy.” But we rarely think of mental illness as a real illness. If we did, we wouldn’t advise our depressed friends to just go for a walk and count their blessings.

My family history is rife with mental illness—most of it unacknowledged and undiagnosed. Mental illness isn’t something we talked about in my family until just recently. Now that we’re naming the shadow that’s plagued our family for generations, it’s easy to see how much of it has been here all along.

As soon you name the shadow, suddenly, you start understanding why you had a maternal grandmother who used to lock herself away for days at a time. You begin wondering if your paternal grandmother’s inability to deal with reality was also sourced in mental illness. Remember how she used to be “sick” for months at a time, confined to her bedroom? Remember how she was forever on the brink of death with some inexplicable illness? When you start acknowledging mental illness as part of your family history, suddenly you really want to talk about your grandmother’s sister: you know, The One We Never Talk About. The one who committed suicide.

I’m not blaming my family for not talking about it. I don’t want to talk about it either.

I understand why we keep silent. It scares us.

Mental illness doesn’t feel manageable like other illnesses. There aren’t vaccines. It isn’t curable or predictable. Courses of treatment aren’t standardized. We don’t talk about mental illness because we can’t contain it with words and thereby control it.

Mental illness reminds us too much of our human limitations. It reminds us too much of our powerlessness. It makes us feel helpless and that helplessness is something we can-do-Christian-Americans try to avoid at all costs.

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It’s taken several weeks, but I’m beginning to stabilize on new medication. The worst has passed and I’m feeling a little better each day.

These little white pills don’t magically fix everything. Basically, medication just levels the playing field. It makes getting out of bed possible. I still have to do my part: get enough rest, eat healthy and exercise. Also, I pray. I’m praying more now than I ever have in my whole life.

I’m learning how to take care of myself again. I’ve re-committed to therapy. (Apparently, it’s not enough to just talk about childhood trauma, you also have to process it out of your body). I’ve set some new boundaries—my tendency is to over-work and burn myself out. I can’t do that anymore. My body just won’t let me.

I’m also trying to make amends…because while I was off my medication I hurt some people I love very much. I wasn’t myself and I was making decisions while emotionally compromised. I owe it to myself and to them to get and stay healthy.

Mental illness has become a larger part of my story and since writing is how I process my life, I suppose writing about mental illness is going to become a larger part of this blog.

I hope you’ll stay awhile.

#TreasuryofSmallBlogs, September 2014

This practice of seeking words from small bloggers is breaking me open. I’ve been weeping over your words, holding them close in the lonely night, nodding “yes-yes” as I read your heart, grateful for a sacred journey through your soul. Thank you for sharing your courageous, beautiful humanity. I am honored to host your precious words. 

If your submission did not make this month’s Top Ten, please try again next month. I read everything I receive. I will call for submissions on the last Friday of the month. If you missed this month’s call for submissions, consider liking my Facebook page and following me on Twitter so you’re ready for next month! Once again, thank you for sharing your writing with me. xo. EE.

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I came home on a Thursday night, sat down at the kitchen table and gave him choices. Stay and get help, I said. Or pack a bag and leave. We know what he chose. For better or worse, the story ended. I loved him. I love him. And I know, deep down, divorcing him was the right choice.
—Sidnie, “Pray and Scrub” Twitter: @sidniemiranda

 

One night in November 2011, I lost my grip on reality. I wanted to end my life. I wanted permanent relief. I couldn’t carry the weight of my failing marriage. I couldn’t handle being labeled something that was so contrary to everything I was before the diagnosis. I had nothing left. Realizing that these thoughts were not my own, as I am typically a happy and positive person, I checked into a hospital.
—Kris Puckett, KrisPuckett.com Twitter: @krispuckett

 

Sometimes Scripture gets abused in the circles I run in. Sometimes it gets used as a weapon, or a rule book, or a primary source for arguments. I think I’ve let those tactics keep me away from the text, afraid of what I might do “on behalf” of the living and active Word…I read these hallowed words: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law,” and I think about how much I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to translate the mother tongue of David’s poetry into my measly musings.
—Lacy Blaine, LacyBlaine.com Twitter: @lacyblaine

 

I feel compelled to speak; to add my voice to the great cloud of witnesses who have already spoken, that feminism is not only important, but biblically mandated. As a candidate for ministry, how could I not speak out against injustice, discrimination, marginalization, and reductionistic theology?
—Jonathan Vanderbeck, Caffeinated Theology  Twitter: @jlvanderbeck

 

yesterday was your birthday
only seven months too soon.
On a pink full moon
I felt your soul drift off to find the eastern eclipse
sliding out the patio door and joining the long lines of misty clouds,
souls searching for something more than this dusty spring
yours is so small, almost lost in the cosmos exit lines
a child who’s slipped his mothers grasp in the train station,
you move on without us.
Definitely Not a Poet, Twitter: @defnotapoet

 

And then the baby was at your feet. She held a bag of lollipops she had gotten from the pantry. She looked triumphant. At one, she is utterly fearless and capable and she is ready to take on the world. This time, she had taken on the shelves and She.Had.Won. “No, no,” you murmured gently, “it’s too early for lollipops. We haven’t even had breakfast yet.” Undeterred, she thrusted the bag up. “POP!” she exclaimed, and the joy was almost palpable in her voice.
—Jessie Leigh Smith, “Parenting Miracles” Twitter: @micropreemies

 

As long as it’s healthy“…that phrase terrifies me. Because we’re talking about our children — an arrangement that’s supposed to be unconditional — and “as long as they’re healthy” is alarmingly conditional. Everyone’s happy for a new baby and congratulations are in order — but only under certain criteria. If the baby doesn’t meet that criteria, well, all bets are off. All the congratulations vanish. Your support system bottoms out from under you. People start whispering. Doctors start talking about going in another direction. Changing the course of the pregnancy. Disrupting the pregnancy. Termination. Because, clearly, if your child isn’t picture-perfect, a SWIFT DEATH is preferable.
—Sarah, “WifeyTini” Twitter: @wifeytini

 

Every time you negate or belittle the truth of depression, you’re piling on somebody. Debating mental illness and suicide with somebody who suffers with the disease is callous and cruel. Stop it.
—Dean Simmer, DSimmer.com Twitter: @mojodean

 

Sharing what you’re going through with someone is crucial, sharing it with everyone is not. Your support system kicks in when they know you need help, but bombarding strangers with woes might make them feel uncomfortable. I try to judge what I am going to share on this criteria: will it interest or amuse people (this is particularly helpful with Facebook posts)? Will it help someone understand something about me that they need to know in that moment? Otherwise it’s probably whining, which I try to limit to my mom and significant other (lucky them!).
—Margaret Felice, MargaretFelice.com Twitter: @margaretfelice

 

I remember the taste
the feeling of nearness
the rush of your spirit
tingling as I was aware…

I remember oh creator
are you done with me?
has our journey come to a close?
is it possible to join together once again?

—Hope Wood, Pursuing The Beauty Writings

Book Review & Giveaway! “Rare Bird” by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

IRare Bird received “Rare Bird” by Anna Whiston-Donaldson in the mail today and I haven’t been able to put it down. In 2011, Anna’s son was swept away in a horrific flash flood and died. This book is exactly what I needed to read right now–not because I’ve lost a child but because Anna’s faith reminds me that even when the worst thing happens, God is still real. God is still good. Anna’s writing is clear, accessible, raw, honest and true. Go buy a copy for yourself NOW–it’s a book you’ll read and immediately pass on to friends. I’m so grateful there are women of faith like Anna in this world. I am so grateful for her book. Anna has generously offered a copy of her book to one of you, my lucky birds. Please leave a comment with a valid email address. EE.

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“What if heaven is boring, Mom?”

“Eternity seems like way too long to be in any one place.”

Forever scares me.”

Jack was afraid of heaven.

We would talk about it at bedtime, and I wondered if I was the best person to calm his fears. Sure, I wanted to go to heaven someday, but I couldn’t imagine it being all that great. I’m not musical, so choirs of angels don’t appeal to me. Streets of gold and jewels? Ick. Over-the-top opulence struck me as gaudy—a cheesy amusement park gone wrong.

And the idea of constant worship freaked me out too. It has always been hard for me to truly let go and worship God. In fact, one of the easiest times for me to really get into worship, swaying, clapping, and calling out to Him, happened to be at a retreat in Indiana—a plane ride away from anyone I might know. I guess you could say the idea of holding up my arms in the air or falling on my face in worship makes me mildly uncomfortable, so I didn’t relish the idea of doing it for all eternity.

And then there was my mom. It was a hard sell for me to believe there could be any better place for a forty-six-year-old woman than with her kids, on earth, where they needed her. She was the heart of our home, and home was where she belonged.

And what if heaven was too formal for her? She loved Jesus—the dusty-footed, sinner-loving Jesus. Would heavenly Jesus be a little too…stuffy for her? She liked to dig her hands in the dirt, eat half a pound of gumdrops in one sitting, throw back her head and laugh, and screw up the punch line of the only joke she knew. Can you even do those things in heaven?

After she died it was as if a steel wall came down between the two of us, between here and there. Heaven felt so far away. I saw no signs indicating she was okay. I felt no closeness, just absence and lack. I did not comfort myself knowing we would see each other again someday, because I wasn’t sure if that’s even how it worked. I didn’t want to get my hopes up, only to be disappointed later.

Fortunately, I didn’t dump all of this on Jack, but I just listened in his bed in the dark to his concerns, which were similar to my own. We read a few books about children who had gone to heaven and come back. That helped. So did a conversation he had with a camp counselor when he was ten. “I’m not afraid of heaven anymore,” he announced as we debriefed after his week away. I got no more details, but I was relieved. Jack was now fine with heaven. But that didn’t really change my own views.

In the few weeks since Jack’s death I’ve gone from being someone who rarely thought about heaven to someone living with one foot here and the other there. My kid is in heaven. I don’t need to know the nitty-gritty, like how big it is, where it is, or absolutely everything you do there. But I need to know something! I never even let Jack go to a sleepover if I didn’t know the family well andwhat he could expect there. But now he’s somewhere very, very different, and I don’t really know what it’s like.

And here’s the strange thing. Heaven is central to our belief as Christians. We believe that Christ offers us eternal life in heaven, but in my almost four decades in church, I’ve rarely heard anything about what heaven is like. Aren’t we curious? Why are our minds not being blown by the fact that a soul can live forever with God? Do we consider ourselves too intellectual to consider the spiritual realm? And if so, why do we bother saying we have faith in the first place, when to have faith is to believe in something we cannot see? Are we so rooted in the here and now that we treat heaven just as some insignificant, distant reward?

I’m pretty clueless about heaven, and even though I want Jack’s new home to be better than anything he could experience here, I have a hard time accepting how it could be better than life with us.

In October, I write on my blog:

Heaven had better be:

Better than any stinkin’ Youth Group costume party.

And being trapped inside a Lego Factory over a long weekend with plenty of Cheez-Its and Dr         Pepper.

And the buzzy feeling you get when the person you have a crush on crushes on you back.

And sledding down a huge hill with your best friends until it’s cocoa time.

And a wonderful, fumbly first kiss.

And skiing black diamonds with your dad in Colorado.

And a high school debate trip to New York City with fun but slightly lax chaperones.

And praising God at a retreat and finally getting how much He loves you.

And sitting around with your friends at college laughing until yourstomach hurts.

And falling in love.

And watching in person as the Yankees win the World Series…again!

And surprising your little sister by flying in for her college graduation.

And doing work that fulfills you and honors God.

And dancing with your mom at your wedding.

And holding your newborn baby—staring at your wife thinking,“We made this?”

And giving that baby a bath and zipping him up in footy pajamas.

Oh yeah, and sex.

Heaven had better be more wonderful than sex.

Okay, God? Good.

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Anna_Edit for Head Shot

 

Excerpted from Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson Copyright © 2014 by Anna Whiston-Donaldson. Excerpted by permission of Convergent Books, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

I love you, therefore I hit you…er, SPANK you. {How Christians conflate love with violence}

Once again, child abuse is in the news. This time, a star football player beat his four year old son with a branch, leaving welts and marks all over the child’s body.

In the wake of his suspension, Peterson’s supporters are quick to claim we’re all mistaken. Ignore those welts, please. Adrian Peterson is REALLY a loving FATHER! His former coach:  “he’s not a child abuser” and he’s “gentle toward children.” Peterson’s mother: when you “whip those you love, it’s not abuse, but love.”

I’ve heard this line of reasoning so many times I could barf. I have a whole chapter in my book called Love is Patient, Love is Violent. I’ve written before about how Christians conflate hitting with love.

And as my friend, Matthew Paul Turner pointed out, Christians often support spanking as the “false gospel” of godly child rearing.

You guys, we have a severe problem.

Too many Christians believe violence against children is love.

We call it “spanking” instead of “hitting.” We call it “discipline” instead of violence. 

Violence by any other name is still violence.

Think about how children view spanking. The author of Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren, once wrote:

When I was about 20 years old, I met an old pastor’s wife who told me that when she was young and had her first child, she didn’t believe in striking children, although spanking kids with a switch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time. But one day, when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking–the first in his life. She told him that he would have to go outside himself and find a switch for her to hit him with.

The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, “Mama, I couldn’t find a switch, but here’s a rock that you can throw at me.”

All of a sudden the mother understood how the situation felt from the child’s point of view: that if my mother wants to hurt me, then it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone. And the mother took the boy into her lap and they both cried. Then she laid the rock on a shelf in the kitchen to remind herself forever: never violence. And that is something I think everyone should keep in mind. Because if violence begins in the nursery one can raise children into violence.

Next time you are tempted to spank your child, think about it from a child’s perspective. In their eyes, you might as well be throwing rocks at them.

Even so, in defending spanking we often hear people say: “I was spanked as a kid and I turned out alright.” Um…no, no you didn’t. By defending spanking, you have turned out to be someone who perpetuates violence against children.

I get it. Those of us who were spanked are usually quick to say “we deserved it.” We defend our parents: “They were doing it out of love!” It’s really hard to look at what our parents did and say: “My parents hurt me.”

It’s even harder to say: “My parents permanently damaged my brain.”

And let’s be clear. That’s what spanking does.  Spanking damages a child’s brain:

Researchers found children who were regularly spanked had less gray matter in certain areas of the prefrontal cortex that have been linked to depression, addiction and other mental health disorders…What is spanking associated with? Aggression. Delinquency. Mental health problems. And something called “hostile attribution bias,” which causes children, essentially, to expect people to be mean to them.

This is the sad, scientific fact: if you were spanked more than once a month for more than three years, your parents spanked your brains out. Literally.

When I read this, I cried.

Because. Um. I got spanked WAY more than once a month.

Now, let’s talk about “hostile attribution bias.” This means you live your life expecting people to be mean to you. UM. WHOA. Hi, self. My ingrained response to the world is that people are mean and scary and out to get me. I am constantly surprised when people love me–and I have to repress the urge to be suspicious when they are kind.

Here’s my default thought process: What do they want from me? Why are they being nice? They must have an ulterior motive! Don’t they know I’m a bad person? I can’t trust them! BLOCK THEM OUT.

The hardest thing for me to do is receive love. There, I said it. I have a huge fear of intimacy because I just don’t trust people. This is my trauma wound.

I can’t go back and change my past. But I can change my future. I don’t have to perpetuate the cycle of violence. I can do something different. You can, too. Our children deserve it.

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More reading: 

We were like horses, it was our parents’ job to break our wills

How many more children must die before Mike & Debi Pearl are held accountable?

The cognitive dissonance of “Biblical” child-training

Why does Christian media minimize child abuse?

Even God does not try to break our will: why ‘breaking’ a child’s will is NOT Biblical

Note: I will delete any and all comments that defend the abusive “child-training” practices of Mike Pearl, James Dobson, Bill Gothard, the Ezzos or the Duggar family. I’ve already had that debate a bazillion times and I’m over it. My comment box is a safe place for survivors of childhood trauma. Period. My blog, my rules. You no likey, go write your own blog.

“You are ALREADY free!” <—pretty much I went to Texas to preach (and eat queso). Listen HERE.

Queso cook-off winner Amber and her precious baby who wanted some, too (they raise ‘em right in Texas!) :)

Arrived home safely from my time in Texas and I’m dead tired—but it’s a GOOD tired. Not a stressed-out tired. Not a energy-sucked-dry-tired.

Tired like: WHOA, I LOVE DOING THIS tired. Tired like: I LOVE ALL THE PEOPLE! LET’S TALK ‘TIL MIDNIGHT and then GET UP AT 6am AND TALK SOME MORE! Which is super awesome.

A big, HUGE thanks to Pastor Rob Carmack and the wonderful folks at Collective Church in Fort Worth for welcoming me. And also, for introducing me to Queso. Life after Queso will never be the same. I could eat Queso for days. Nom-nom-nom.

And guess what, guys? I like totally preached. I mean–it started off as me just sharing my story and then, suddenly, I just sorta fell into it. I was PREACH.ING. Then I opened it up for a Q&A and THAT was awesome, too. Guess what?! You didn’t miss you!

You can listen to the whole thing:

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO MY “SERMON”: ‘YOU ARE ALREADY FREE’

Or you can download it on iTunes

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If you’d like me to speak at your church, event or book club, please email me.

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Yo, Texas. I’m headin’ your way this weekend! Let’s meet up, k? Also: QUESO.

Let me begin by saying I’ve never had Queso. I know, I know. WHAT SORT OF DEPRIVED LIFE HAVE I LIVED? One word: fundamentalist childhood. Oh, wait. That’s two words. Point is, from what Texans tell me, I’ve been REALLY missing out. So, I’m gonna remedy that this weekend.

This Sunday, September 14th, I’ll be speaking about my book and life after fundamentalism at Collective Church in Forth Worth, Texas. Afterwards, there will be a Queso Cook-Off. AND I GET TO JUDGE MWAH-HA HA!!

For details and directions CLICK HERE. The event is free and open to all who wish to attend. Let me know if you’re coming because I’d love to meet you, my dear bloggy readers, in person. WARNING: I’m a hugger! :)

Advice Fair-EE: “I was homeschooled and now have trouble making friends.”

6a00d83451d95b69e20134898b1eb3970c-500wi1-375x480Look who’s baaaack!

It’s The Advice Fair-EE!

And she’s here to answer your burning questions, soothe your aching heart and fix you up right quick!

Think of her as your very own Fair-EE Godmother Life Coach. She gives you free advice sprinkled with pixie dust and WHO DOESN’T NEED A LITTLE PIXIE DUST? 

Do you need frEE advice? Send email to the address listed on this blog’s Contact page with subject line: “Advice Fair-EE.” 

I can’t wait to SPRINKLE YOU WITH COOKIE BUTTER…I mean. Pixie dust. (did I just betray my secret habit for cookie butter? Methinks I did. AHEM. Let’s just keep that between you & me, k? K!)

*Boring But Necessary Disclaimer: Since many of the questions I receive are similar, I may combine some in order to answer more efficiently. All names and identifying details are changed to protect anonymity. I am not a licensed therapist. The advice I give is based on my own experience. Take what helps you, leave the rest! BOOM CHICKA ROCKA CHICKA BOOM. Disclaimer Finito.*

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Dear Advice Fair-EE,
I was Christian homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. I had a great experience but now that I’m in college, I struggle making friends. Often, I’m confused by people’s behavior. For example, I have this classmate who keeps saying we’re “friends” and that she “totally wants to hang out,” but every time I text her, she’s busy. Then I’ll see her on Instagram hanging out with other people on the very same day she’d said she was “too busy” for me. This has happened more than once. I was taught to persevere in relationships and to keep trying no matter what. But it’s like the harder I try, the more she pushes me away. Is there something wrong with me? Should I ask her why I wasn’t invited? Or is she just SAYING we’re friends but she doesn’t mean it?
Sincerely,
Feeling Left Out

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Dear Left Out,

Rejection is the worst feeling! I’m so sorry this is happening to you. And you’re right, it’s very confusing when so-called “friends” say they wanna hang out but never make good on that. If you were raised by serious Christians, you were taught that your yes means yes and your no means no. It can be confusing to discover that mainstream Americans are very casual with their speech and that “yeah, I totally wanna hang out” sometimes means “maybe, maybe not.”

To make things worse, in the age of Instagram, we no longer have to wonder whether we’re being left out–we get to SEE everyone at a party we didn’t even know was happening. Ouch.

After I left fundamentalism, I had a hard time making friends, too. I want to encourage you to watch actions rather than words. I’ve discovered that many people will say all kinds of BFF! Forever! stuff. But that means nothing unless they show up. Love is action. A good friend is someone whose actions match their words.

And since you deserve true friends, give your time and attention to people who make you feel refreshed, happy and peaceful. If you leave feeling drained, upset or confused please pay attention to those feelings. There’s a reason why you’re feeling that way: that “friend” probably isn’t a real friend. A true friend won’t leave you hanging, make you second-guess their intentions or ignore you.

The good news is that your happiness is not held captive in a bad friend’s hands. You can walk away. You can choose new friends. You are not required to stay in a friendship that does not feed, respect or nourish you. I wouldn’t suggest confronting this “friend” as that will probably only result in you feeling worse. She has shown you the kind of friend she is. As Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

I know this is probably really hard to hear. But take heart! Since you were raised to persevere in relationships, you know what it takes to be a good friend. Don’t squander your precious energy on people who will throw away the gift of your friendship. Instead, honor yourself by doing what you like to do, being around people who make you feel good and giving your friendship to those who show up for you. 

Much love & pixie-dust,
Advice Fair-EE

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Dear Reader: do you further advice or encouragement for Feeling Left Out? Feel free to leave a kind comment. xo.

So…you left an abusive church? 5 Tips to Start Healing NOW. @MarsHill #MarsHillChurch

Your pastor is hunkered down behind locked gates, his only communication with the congregation via pre-recorded video messages. Fifteen of your sister churches are closing. The church you believed in, the pastor you loved, the people you came to call brothers and sisters–it’s all falling apart. With a heavy heart and after much prayer, you decide it’s time to leave. You make a few phone calls. Or maybe you just disappear. Either way, a few days later you find yourself in full-blown withdrawal. You haven’t felt this way since you quit cigarettes ten years ago. You feel desperate. Freaked out. Confused. Depressed. Maybe you’re having nightmares. Maybe you’re doubting yourself. Did you make the right decision? Is God angry with you? Friend, I’m here to tell you–you’re not alone. Others have walked this path. I’m one of them. I even wrote a book about it. I’m here to help you. Let’s start with your immediate future. Here are some things you can do right now to insure a full and healthy recovery…You’re gonna be OK. We’re all gonna be OK. xo. EE.

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1. Refrain from diving into another church. Just like leaving a bad relationship, you suddenly find yourself with a huge, empty hole in your life. The urge to fill that hole is overwhelming. Just wait.

 You need time to heal and recover from what you just experienced. Your soul needs rest. Go to church if you feel that will help you–but avoid becoming involved. Let yourself heal.

2. Write Down Your Experience. As time passes, it becomes increasingly difficult to remember what happened. Especially when it comes to trauma, our brains might try to “block” us from remembering what we experienced. If we don’t write down what happened, it’s easy to fall into nostalgia, reminiscing about all the “good times we had.” Distance makes the heart grow fonder. By writing it down you remind yourself why you don’t want to go back and you identify harmful patterns of behavior so you will avoid similar churches in the future.

3. Seek Support. Sometimes if our spiritual abuse was so bad, we may isolate ourselves. As someone who has done this repeatedly, I can assure you that isolation only makes things worse. It locks us in with our obsessive ruminations. This leads to resentment. We need the support of others to help us process and release our trauma. Seek support through safe ex-members.

If you can afford a therapist, seek a certified professional not just a  “biblical counselor.” Avoid public online interaction (at least initially). Ye shall not be healed via Facebook, Twitter or blogs. Healing takes place offline. However, secret FB groups can be very helpful.

4. Change your phone number, unfriend unsafe people, move out of town. Depending on the severity of the abuse and how close you were to the inside circle, you may need to make radical changes in the interest of healing. Sometimes a total cut-off is necessary. If you are like I was, you needed to cut everyone off (save for a couple safe, trusted friend) in order to re-learn how to live. Being around people who are still involved with the abusive church or who still defend it will trigger old thought patterns and behaviors.

5. Radical Self Care: You are probably burned out, disillusioned and exhausted. Take a FULL YEAR to take care of yourself before you commit to anything new. Many people don’t realize that leaving an abusive church is a major life event similar to birth, death or divorce. After a major life change, we are tempted to act out in unhealthy ways. Perhaps we eat too much, drink too much, watch too much TV or become sexually promiscuous. I can guarantee you that these behaviors will only lead to more pain. Self-care is not self-indulgence. Self-care means prioritizing sleep, healthy eating and rest. Choose one thing to focus on. Perhaps start a gentle exercise routine or choose to eat healthy. Maybe give your mind a break by limiting social media use or turning off your phone. Little steps of self-care lead to big, overall changes. Whatever you choose, don’t overdo it. Remember that you are vulnerable right now and the tendency is to overdo everything–even healthy things. You are learning–maybe for the first time–how to be gentle with yourself. Take your time. Go slow. It’s all gonna be OK.

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Death of a Cult Leader OR “How are you doing since your grandfather died?”

Grief is weird. Just when you think you’ve got it all washed, dried and neatly tucked away in a little compartmentalized drawer called “The Past,” well, something happens and suddenly, everything is dirty and messy again. I sat down to write yesterday and this came out. So. This is me answering the question: “How are you doing since your grandfather died?” Warning: salty language.

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I don’t know how to answer this question out loud. I certainly can’t answer it in the three minutes we have while standing in line at the coffee shop. I mean, I guess I could say: “Do you have four hours?” Because maybe in four hours I could accurately answer the question: “How are you doing since your grandfather THE CULT LEADER died?”

Ok, ok. Nobody asks it like that, really. But that’s how I hear it. That’s the subtext. That’s how I’ll always hear it, I think. Even when people are trying to be kind and polite…..

So I just say: “I’m doing better.” Which is true and also not true. In the immediate aftermath, I mustered something respectable to write. But now, all the impolite feelings are pouring out and I guess that’s how I’m really feeling: messy.

Is it ok for me to admit I’m happy? I mean, I know that sounds horrible. How can I be happy someone is dead? I’m not happy-happy. But I’m happy he can’t hurt us anymore. He caused so much pain. And all those years of silent denial was him hurting us again and again and again. He fucked up every single relationship he ever had. He damaged every single relationship *I* had! He tore apart my family. He destroyed the church he built. And then he strolled away from the nuclear disaster site and lived comfortably for eleven plus years. What a horrible way to end the story. So, yeah. I’m happy he’s gone because he can’t hurt us and I’m unhappy that it ended this way.

Can I admit that I’m worried he’s in Hell? And that gives me nightmares. Despite everything he did, I don’t want him to suffer. He used to love Dante’s works–Inferno, Purgatorio…maybe he’s in Purgatory working things out. Dealing with his shit. I believe God is just. I believe God is merciful. Maybe God gave him diaper duty in Purgatory. Or washing dishes for eleventy-hundred eternities. Whatever. I just hope he’s not in Hell. I know he’s not. Actually, scratch that. I don’t know that for sure. Only God knows for sure…..and even that–the not knowing gives me nightmares. I wish I knew. For sure. But I don’t. And I hate that.

Is it ok for me admit I’m terrified? I’m his flesh and blood. I have nightmares that I’ll turn out like him. That I’ll make mistakes like him. That I’ll fuck up my family and all my relationships. I’m terrified it’s inevitable. I’m terrified I won’t be able to break the cycle. Do you know how much endurance and strength it takes to break the cycle of violence, fundamentalism and terror in a family? It takes so much energy. I’m always exhausted. Sometimes I just want to give up, runaway and start all over. But I know better than that. I know that wherever I go, that’s where I’ll be–and THAT reality? The reality that I’m George Geftakys’ grand-daughter? That reality will never go away.

And that is really hard for me! This whole situation is showing me how desperately alone we all are. This is the human condition that even when surrounded by love and family and children and All the Things–we are still so very, very, VERY alone.

God, relieve me from my alone-ness! God, relieve me from this terrifying loneliness! The only relief I find is gentle, loving service. To be exhausted on behalf of others sometimes blots out the pain of this deep, constant loneliness.

Is it ok for me to admit I’m angry? Outraged, really. My grandfather wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without the help of all his yes-men. And yet, when the shit hit the fan, all these dudes backed away as if they did NOTHING wrong. “Well,” they said, “we didn’t REALLY know what was going on. We were as shocked as everyone else!” Bullshit. They knew what was happening. They chose to ignore it. When everything was imploding, they pretended like they didn’t directly aid and abet his abuse. Like my grandfather, these “leading brothers” walked away totally oblivious to the hurt they caused. Now they have the audacity to leave Facebook posts praising my grandfather and urging the rest of us to “forgive and move on.” To let go of our “bitterness.” What utter bullshit.

Is it ok for me to admit I have unceasing anxiety? People don’t understand that when you’re brainwashed from infancy to age 25, something permanently breaks inside you. I have to work hard every single day to think differently, live differently, BE the me that’s always wanted to be ME. Just managing my emotions and trauma and “moving on” and dealing with ongoing family drama and trying to raise my own kids DIFFERENTLY takes every ounce of energy I have. I am doing OK because I admit there is something horribly wrong. I admit something broke inside of me and I choose to face the wound every single day. I accept it. I surrender to it. But it’s never easy. I don’t know how to explain this to people.

So when people ask me how I’m doing, I just say: “I’m doing better.” Because that’s all I can say. Even when things feel stupid and broken and hopeless, I raise my tiny little fist against the inevitable and I live anyway.

“We’ve got to live no matter how many skies have fallen.” –D.H. Lawrence

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Epilogue: After I wrote this post, I walked away from it. I slept on it. I read it again briefly this morning and what I realized was that I felt much lighter, much freer for having put these feelings into words. Today, I feel released. What I felt was true and real–and I released it by writing it down. Maybe next week I’ll feel something different. Maybe I’ll feel heavy with grief again. Maybe the words and feelings will build up again. But as long as I put my feelings into words, I’m gonna be a little less broken….