Author Archives: elizabeth

Bombs and Missiles and…. Ballet

My Ballerina, Jewel. Follow her on Instagram: @dancing_machine

My Ballerina, Jewel. Follow her on Instagram: @dancing_machine

Planes carrying babies and children are being shot down from the sky. And terrorists shell Israel. And Israel invades Gaza. And babies are dying, bloodied and burned from missiles and rockets. I don’t know what is happening in our world except it’s all so wrong, so wrong, so wrong oh Jesus, hear our prayer. For peace in this world, we pray to the Lord…..

And yet, still there is Beauty.

A ballerina dancing at the unprotected edges of passion, pain and determination. There is blood and battle and the incongruity of war. But there is also beauty and music and dancing.

This is my ballerina. This is how hard she's worked to achieve Beauty in this ugly, broken world.

This is my ballerina. This is how hard she’s worked to achieve Beauty in this ugly, broken world.

Some members of my fundamentalist family have scoffed at her pursuit of classical training…”For what?” they say. “And why? A dancer’s life is short-lived. Where is the eternal value?”

And to this, my daughter has answered only through dance. To practice, practice, practice. To spend the hours–the years–disciplining herself to perfect an art form which will never make her rich, which will probably not pay the bills….and why?

Because Beauty. Because this desperate, aching, broken world is crying out for Beauty. Because there are bombs and blood and dying children. And yet—there is still Beauty. Beauty which resonates of Heaven, which whispers in our ear of Hope, which tells us there is Something Better, that even here, in the midst of unanswered questions and wailing grief–there is Hope because there is Beauty.

And so she dances.

She dances even when we can’t afford to send her to American Ballet Theatre or Ballet West–companies which both offered her spots in their intensives this summer.

She dances even when she pulls a hamstring and can only dance on one leg while the other one heals.

She dances even when she has to stay up until 1am doing homework because after school she goes straight to ballet and dances until 9pm.

She dances because God gave her the body and the legs and the facility. God gave her the gift of dance.

And she intends on using that gift.

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She dances until she is good enough to compete at the international level at Youth American Grande Prix–the most prestigious international ballet competition in the world.

This past week, Jewel’s teacher granted Jewel permission to dance “The White Swan” variation from Swan Lake. Jewel is now mature enough dancer to handle the artistic expression that is Odette, the White Swan. This is the variation she’ll be dancing:

But are we able to handle the cost? I don’t know. “The White Swan” means more private lessons, a new tutu and new pointe shoes twice a month.

And so, I come to you.

My husband and I clean Jewel’s dance studio in lieu of partial ballet tuition. I work as a waitress to help pay for costumes and entry fees. And lest you think being a published author makes one rich…well, allow to say, there’s a reason why there’s such a phrase as “starving artist.” ;-)

And honestly, I’m fine with that. I wrote the book because I knew it would help others. I wrote the book because I had to speak, to share my story. I would have written that book even if I never got paid. (Also, I STILL haven’t gotten a royalty check!)

And yet, Beauty.

There is a small window of time for a dancer–a small window when a dancer has the chance to make it. Or not. And Jewel is in that window of time. This year she will compete in the senior category at YAGP–the most prestigious, international ballet competition in the world.

I come to you today not for myself, but for my daughter. For my ballerina.

If my writing has helped or inspired or touched you in any way, would you kindly consider giving a donation to help Jewel prepare for YAGP? All donations will go directly toward new costumes, pointe shoes, private lessons, entry fees and physical therapy (to keep her strong & healthy).

This upcoming year, Jewel will be performing TWO on-pointe solos and TWO ensemble dances at YAGP. Every little donation helps. Thank you for loving me by supporting my daughter, my ballerina.

I love you all so much. xoxo. EE.

DONATE TO JEWEL’S YAGP FUND HERE:

 




 

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The privilege of a white, Christian fundamentalist childhood

I often view my childhood through the lens of abuse. But recently, I’ve been challenged to examine it through the lens of privilege.

This is uncomfortable. It’s hard to to see the privilege when you’re being spanked everyday. Stockpiling for the Apocalypse. Pretty much living in terror.

But last week I also got to listen to a friend give a lecture on social theories, especially as they pertain to education. My friend is a professor at a local college. Twice she’s invited me to come speak to her classes about my book; specifically what it looks like when religious fundamentalism frames the whole of a person’s existence.

Before I gave my talk last week, I listened to her lecture.

And this was my epiphany: in many ways, my fundamentalist upbringing WAS privileged.

In order to staple down my ADD brain, I made a list explaining why:

  1. We Read Books (lots of them): on the radio in SoCal right now, there are PSA’s about the importance of reading to your child for 30 minutes a day. When I heard that, I laughed. THIRTY minutes? That’s IT? As a fundamentalist, it was more like 2-3 hours per day. I read SO MUCH as a child–and still do, as an adult. I never realized it–but the fact that I read so much (and had parents who reinforced the importance of that) afforded me a huge leap ahead of other children my age. My extensive childhood reading directly contributed to my ability to write well. THAT is privilege.
  2. Family Dinners: We ate meals together almost every night. Homecooked meals. With proper table settings, candles and cloth napkins. At the time, I resented having to “wash and dress” for dinner. But now I realize how those meals afforded me the privilege of learning proper table manners, the art of conversation, the ability to ask questions and disagree while remaining civil.
  3. Limited exposure to TV and commercial advertising: To this day I still don’t know the popular TV shows of the 80′s. But I can remember my favorite heroes and heroines from books. I remember long, quiet hours of sustained concentration while completing an art project. Instead of TV, my parents took me to classical music concerts and ballets. I developed an appreciation for art, music and dance. THAT is privilege.
  4. Slow Things Mattered: I absolutely hated the hours spent practicing the piano or learning proper penmanship. But looking back I realize that I can still read music (which counts as a second language). I have beautiful handwriting. I know how to sew. Even though I don’t like cooking, I can put together a well-balanced meal without really thinking about it. I can just DO these things, rather easily. THAT is privilege.
  5. Critical Thinking: As a child, I chafed under Scripture memorization, copying long passages into my journal, breaking down Scripture passages into “chapter summaries” and then writing reflections on what we’d read. But now I realize that these exercises helped develop my critical thinking skills: examining, investigating, processing and synthesizing what I’d read. Ironically, these skills helped me think my way out of fundamentalism and into Catholicism. The ability to think? THAT is privilege.
  6. Socialization & Conversing with Adults:  the average American kid is socialized with kids her own age. Not me. Our “one room schoolhouse” afforded us interaction with children of all ages. Additionally, there were lots of BIG families (4-10 kids per family) and this meant I was in constant contact with babies, toddlers and little ones. I knew how to expertly diaper, feed and care for little ones by the time I was 8. And because we had so many people living with us, I spent a lot of time talking with adults, hearing their life stories and engaging in discussion with them. All this interaction meant my world was actually BIGGER than most American kids my age. I also knew how to do my own laundry, cook, clean, care for babies and speak with adults. THAT is privilege.
  7. Travel: even though our travel was “for the sake of the Gospel,” I still got to visit almost every state in the nation. And also traveled to Canada, the UK and Mexico. I saw and talked with all different kinds of people. Hiked the Grand Canyon. Snorkeled in San Diego kelp beds. Kayaked among sea lions in Northern California. Spent a sweaty summer in Lincoln, Nebraska. Toured the old mansions in Newport, Rhode Island. Visited all the national monuments in Washington, DC. Even though most of my travel was limited to the United States, I still got to see and experience much more than the average kid my age. THAT is privilege.

I have childhood friends who say their view of my life was one of privilege. More than once I’ve been called an “Assembly Princess” because my family was the founding family, the “royalty” of our church. I used to be surprised (and rather offended!) when I heard this.

I mean, my life never felt privileged to me as a kid. It felt terrifying and abusive. I suffered every day.

But perhaps it was BOTH.

I never “felt” rich because we didn’t have the typical markers of wealth: owning homes, luxury vehicles or boats. We didn’t have stocks, retirement or savings accounts. But we did rent homes in nice neighborhoods and drive new cars (paid in full cash through “gifts” from Assm. members). I also had access to life experiences (travel, exposure to the arts, extensive reading, piano lessons) that are typically inaccessible to the poor.

Is it possible for a “princess” to live isolated and abused inside her ivory tower? Is it possible for someone to be both privileged AND deprived? Yes.

My privilege came at a high personal price: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse. I still struggle with the effects of a cult upbringing.

But I also have tools available to me that I wouldn’t have were I not privileged: the ability to read, write, express myself. I am white. I speak fluent, “privileged” English. I have good health. I have a college education. THAT is privilege.

What are some other areas of privilege within fundamentalism? Or American evangelicalism?

Do you think it’s possible to live a “privileged life” while also experiencing abuse?

Do we have a responsibility to examine our privilege and seek ways to broaden our viewpoint and develop empathy for those not as fortunate as ourselves? WHY?

How should we exercise our freedom? I’ll let my 14 year old ballerina answer that…#HappyFourthofJuly

photo4th of July is my all-time favorite holiday. Because freeeedom!

Last night as I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across my 14 y/o daughter’s most recent post. I literally sank down in my chair and wept–for all the right reasons.

Parenting is not one of those jobs where you get pats-on-the-back or positive reviews or awards. But sometimes? Just sometimes you catch a glimpse that maybe, somehow, in spite of everything, miraculously—you’re doing SOMETHING right.

What she wrote? THIS is what we use freedom for: to love others. Thank you, Jewel, for reminding me of that. I love you so much. I’m so proud of you.

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To my USA friends, Happy 4th of July!
It was for freedom that Christ set us free….xoxoxo. EE.

Gonna live like I’m dying–a list of what I’d do/not do if I my time was almost up

 

My ballerina dances like how I want to feel

My ballerina dances like how I want to feel

Growing up at the end of the world (read my book about it HERE!), I kinda hate the whole “live like you’re dying” thing.

I mean, I’ve been living like that since I was a kid and all it gave me was PTSD.

Still, I can see how important it is to seize the day (or, as I said in my book: carpe ALL the diems!) because we humans seem prone to getting off track, getting distracted, procrastinating, letting time slip through our fingers—and then we sorta “wake up” one day and say: “Where did the time go?”

I like summer because life slows down. I have a chance to pause, catch my breath. Do inventory. This summer I’m taking stock of my life, asking myself if I’m really LIVING the kind of life I WANT to live. 

So far in my 37 years I’ve survived a cult, overcome a lot of pain from my past, rebuilt a new life, had five kids, wrote a book…now what?

Oddly enough, thinking about what I would do/not do differently if I knew I was gonna die soon is actually putting things into perspective. Last night I started jotting down a list of things I would do/not do if I knew I only had a short time left.

I like lists. They help staple my ADD brain into one place.

What I Would Do/Not Do If I Knew I Only Had a Short Time Left to Live:

  1. Listen to live music more; go to concerts
  2. Take my dogs to the beach at least once a week
  3. Exercise at least 4x a week (I know, right? Who wants to exercise if they’re gonna die anyway? Well, I do. Because exercise makes me FEEL better!)
  4. Spend more one-on-one time with my children and write down what we talked about or did.
  5. Try to be more accepting of my Dad and think of ways to engage him that will let him know I love him
  6. Write funny stories and perform them for the kids
  7. Teach catechism to 2nd year faith formation kiddos
  8. Preach on the love of God
  9. Go to Paris, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Greece
  10. Meet Pope Francis
  11. Host dinner parties more often
  12. Run more 5ks
  13. Run outside more often, find new trails
  14. Journal every day
  15. Pray the Rosary every day + Adoration
  16. Have friends over at least once a week
  17. Play cards with friends
  18. Print pictures instead of keeping them hidden on my hard drives
  19. Send my nieces & nephew birthday presents more consistently
  20. Text my sister encouraging words
  21. Stop seeking affirmation from people who can’t/won’t give it to me; affirm MYSELF more often
  22. Let go of obsessing about all the ways I’m not perfect. Just let things be what they are.
  23. Quit worrying about my weight, my body, my stretch marks. Love and appreciate my body the way it is.
  24. Hand write an encouraging note to a friend at least twice a week
  25. Keep my gratitude journal up to date with at least 5 “gratitudes” per day
  26. Work on my Spanish
  27. Take piano lessons again
  28. Learn how to cook Greek food
  29. Be intentional about saying kind, encouraging words to my husband
  30. Get a pig, a goat and a miniature horse.
  31. Build a “writer’s cottage” in my backyard
  32. Become an NYT bestselling author
  33. Use Charmin toilet paper exclusively
  34. Get my graduate degree in English so I can teach at the junior college level
  35. Write more inspiring books
  36. Memorize more Catholic prayers
  37. Floss every day
  38. Stop imagining worse-case scenarios
  39. Allow others to love me
  40. Lay off the self-deprecating talk
  41. Drink more good wine
  42. Be gentle with myself
  43. Weekly massages
  44. Stop apologizing for things that aren’t my fault
  45. Surround myself with people who make it safe for me to say “no”
  46. Let go of pursuing friendships with people who just aren’t interested
  47. Plant a vegetable garden
  48. Adopt more rescue dogs
  49. Go on picnics
  50. Spend time in the woods.

What about YOU? What would YOU do if you only had a short time left to live?

Agree with SCOTUS? Well. You’re a “far right” conservative whackaloon/anti-woman rape apologist who should “call it a day” and shut up about religious liberty already, amen.

It’s been a weird month. Two weeks ago when I called for a sexual predator’s post to be taken down, all the progressive Christians were like: YES! and PREACH! And “thank you!” and #Solidarity and #Sisterhood.

Today when I tweeted that I agreed with the SCOTUS ruling, suddenly I became an anti-woman rape apologist. Because of COURSE.

Among a plethora of bossy, angry tweets, I was accused of believing “that raped women should just live with it.” Another progressive Christian dude suggested I should “call it a day.” Because as long as he’s progressive, there’s nothing sexist about a man telling a woman to shut up, am I right?

To his credit, the guy apologized. But the women? Not so much. Here lies #Sisterhood, she died on Twitter.

Well, maybe the Internet just needs a nap. And a glass of wine.

Still, I gotta take responsibility. Twitter is a difficult place for in-depth discussions. Pretty sure nobody walks away from a Twitter argument and is all: Wow, that TOTALLY changed my mind. So, in that regard, I kinda asked for it because *I* engaged on Twitter and *I* argued on Twitter and *I* tweeted lots of stuff.

So MEA CULPA, MEA MAXIMA CULPA.

But now that we’re here on my nice, comfy blog, I can discuss in depth. Mwah-ha-ha!

So. FIRST THINGS FIRST.

A handy little Hobby Lobby Kerfuffle Timeline (all quotes from SCOTUS found in today’s majority ruling available HERE)

1.
ObamaCare becomes law

2.
ObamaCare requires contraceptive coverage. But Congress did not specify which types must be covered (generally speaking, for-profit companies must cover the 20 kinds approved by FDA)

3.
Owners of three, closely-held, private for-profit corporations believe that life begins at conception and thus, mandatory coverage of 4 types of contraception (which, according to current FDA labeling, may have abortifacient properties) are a violation of their religious beliefs.

4.
They sue HHS.

5.
They are denied, courts claiming for-profit companies cannot “engage in religious exercise.”

6.
10th Circuit Court reverses that decision, saying that under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, the government is prohibited from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion. Under this act, Hobby Lobby qualifies as a “person” due to it being a closely-held, privately-owned, family company.

7.
The Supreme Court agrees with the 10th Circuit court, noting that since HHS conceded that a for-profit company “can be a ‘person’ under RFRA” so can a for-profit company. In other words, just because a company MAKES MONEY doesn’t negate its “person” status when seeking judicial protection from the substantial burden of, in this case, the HHS contraceptive mandate.

8.
The Supreme Court further noted that “protecting the free exercise rights of closely-held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.”

9.
The Court made clear that this ruling is for contraceptive mandate only and “should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” In other words, THIS case is concerned with the contraceptive mandate and is not intended to set a precedent for other religious beliefs, which should be dealt with separately.

Reasons Why I Commend This Ruling:

1. I believe in religious liberty. Religious liberty is the source from which all other freedoms flow. I support religious liberty for EVERY religious group, not just the ones I happen to agree with theologically.

2. I grew up in a cult and I have a severe allergy to ANYONE–government included–telling me which religious beliefs I’m allowed to exercise and which I am not. Mandatory ANYTHING gives me hives. Also, my husband owns and operates a small business. We have employees. It would take me like five hours to explain how freaking DIFFICULT it is to own a small business in California. How insane it is to do taxes, pay 8 billion fees, insurances, coverages, workers’ comp, liabilities, etc etc. etc. We comply. But damn. Government makes it HARD. Our country was founded on the principles of small government and I still believe small businesses are the backbone of this country. Therefore, I’m just philosophically opposed to unnecessary government intrusion.

SIDEBARS, CAVEATS & DISCLAIMERS!!!!

A. Do I think Hobby Lobby is hypocritical for removing coverage of these contraceptives only AFTER ObamaCare is passed? Sure. Doesn’t change my opinion about this ruling. SINCERITY is not a qualifier for religious belief. It just needs to BE the belief. Our Courts are not in the business of determining whether someone’s beliefs are SINCERE or not. There is no litmus test for Sincerity. If there was, I’m pretty sure we’d ALL fail. Because nobody is a Perfect Believer. Amen and amen.

B. Should companies be required to cover blood transfusions and vaccinations despite holding contrary religious beliefs? YES. And again, THAT issue is NOT what this case was about.

C. Am I a crazy Tweeter? YES. But I love this stuff. I realize I’m totally just an armchair Constitutional scholar. I like to read. And I read a lot. I like big books and I cannot lie.

D. Let’s all go drink wine. Or not. If that’s against your religious belief. Kool-Aid will do. KIDDING! KIDDING! OH MY WORD, kidding!

E. Lastly, in the immortal words of my husband: “What have you been talking about all day? Handy-Dandy?” #NailedIt

P.S. MY HUSBAND SAYS YOU REALLY NEED TO READ MY BOOK! :) CLICK HERE! BUY! SHARE! LOOOOVE! :)

A Treasury of Writing from Small Bloggers

Last night on Twitter I spontaneously asked bloggers to send me a link to their favorite piece of writing. I thought maybe like five people would respond. I was flooded with replies.

As of this morning, people are still replying to me–eager to share their favorite writing. I am overwhelmed in all the right ways.

Tears pour down my cheeks as I read of lost brothers, the beauty of living a life of “measurable solitude,” of unabashedly “being fat,” of new definitions for Godly womanhood, of being discouraged by how Christians use the phrase “speaking the truth in love” and wanting to BE something kinder.

I’m amazed by how many “undiscovered” writers there are–bravely putting their feelings and thoughts into words and sending them out into the great void–many times without receiving a comment, a tweet, an FB share or word of encouragement in return.

Your bravery, friends. Your beauty. Your daring. It touched me so deeply. It convicted me.

I realized how “stuck” I’d become in my own little online niche–always reading the same blogs, the same Twitter feeds. I was reminded how important it is to read widely, read outside my comfort zone.

There was one common refrain among those who shared with me. It went something like this: “I’m not a great writer, but here’s a piece I kinda like…” Or: “Nobody reads my stuff, but here’s a piece I’d really like more people to see…”

That broke my heart. I, too, remember feeling invisible. I remember wondering why I kept blogging and writing when nobody was reading. I remember checking my stats and seeing 38 pageviews. I was like: WOW! THIRTY EIGHT! And then I remembered that probably 20 of them were me checking my own site, lol.

But the same fire that was in me back then is still in me today and so I kept writing. I wrote because I loved writing, because I dared to hope someday someone would read my words and say: “YES! Me too! I’ve felt that way.” I blogged because I longed for connection.

We so NEED encouragement on this writing journey, don’t we? Writing is such a solitary endeavor and with it, the deep-seated fear that no-one will like what we wrote, no-one will understand us. I’m here today to tell you: what you’re doing is valuable. It’s meaningful. KEEP GOING.

Today, I’d like to encourage that connection by sharing a few of the most outstanding excerpts from the posts I read last night.

And I hope you’ll continue the encouragement by clicking over to their site and leaving an encouraging comment. Tell them what it was about their writing that you loved. Share your own story with them. If you’re a writer or blogger, you know how much it means when someone takes the time to tell you they appreciate your words.

I don’t have a problem referring to myself as “fat” and “ugly” because those are simply descriptors. They hold no moral weight. They are not indicative of my value as a person…Acknowledging the reality of my appearance has not been depressing; it has been freeing. I don’t have to pretend that I’m pretty..Joi @ Confessions of a Fat, Ugly Geek

Sometimes I feel suffocated. The guilt is the absolute worst. It sucks that I have to do extra stuff for him. But it sucks worse when I don’t want to do those things, because that makes me feel like a horrible person…I have to do all those little extra things that come with having a quadriplegic husband and taking him to the beach, and making sure he doesn’t get too hot, and making sure there is parking, and not being able to go down to the water to lay out because the planked walkways only go so far in that particular spot. –Dana @ Love Like This Life

You decide to write about your day. Then you remember that your days are spent in measurable solitude. Alone, but surrounded by people. You worry that people will pity you. That people will think how you must be sad soul. How lonely you must be. You write it anyway.  –Melody Cook @ Melody’s Musings

It often feels like I’m standing in front of an eternal card catalogue, where I’ve so carefully filed every experience and insight about God, the life of faith, the church. I’m standing there, pulling out one card at a time, and I’m flummoxed. Is this true? Why do I think or believe this? Is this mine? Or did I inherit it from my parents, my church, my fear?  Not everything is wrong, not every foundation I’ve built my life upon is sand. Thank you, God. –Sarah Torna Roberts

The language we have access to really determines the thoughts and feelings we’re allowed to have, and while CCM was its own unique kind of solace to me in hard times, it also limited my emotional range and somewhat hid me from the fact that pretty much all of my feelings were normal (not necessarily “good” or “healthy” way but “hey, many people feel like this, no you’re not a monster” way). –Kirby @ The Coffee Spoon

In such an atmosphere of freedom and grace,I find that I’m not such a drinker these days. And there you have God’s approach in a nutshell – change never comes from Him belittling you or making you feel like a failure, it comes from a place of complete love and acceptance. -–Emma @ Faith Monkey

This is not a story of how things get better real quick, or how time heals everything, or how there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel because you realize that isn’t always true when you’re a year past trauma and you’re still clinging to your pillow and kleenex like they are your life line. –Rebekah Richardson @ With His Hands

I am a woman and I want to be treated as a human being who has valuable thoughts and opinions. I want to be treated this way not just by other women, but also by men. –Maggie @ Sparks From the Soul

Renewal is a PROCESS, not a one-time event! This approach to our spiritual, emotional, and personal lives would reap far more benefit than a “resolution.” If we embrace the PROCESS, than any day is a day in which we can decide to start or continue renewal. If we don’t expect a one-time event, then we can be patient with ourselves and with our God… –Clark @ Mirrors

Married people have babies. These things happen. And then we are married almost three years and I CAN’T WAIT ANY LONGER. The plan is to start trying. Sooner than later.And then lymphoma. --Andrea @ Honesty With Andrea

Thank you for sharing your hearts & writing with me. I’m beyond honored. Keep going. KEEP WRITING.

Protecting Christian homeschooling’s reputation vs. protecting abused kids, slam poetry for menstruation, children of Christian narcissists and books I’ve been reading

This is how I imagine myself. Minus the lung cancer, of course. (Click on the pic to see the whole collection of classy people from the past)

See the whole collection in this piece from Distractify: 50 Classy People From the Past

See the whole collection in this piece from Distractify: 50 Classy People From the Past

Slam poetry for menstruation? Oh, yeah. I watched this with my 14 year old daughter and was hollering “YES YES YES” the whole time. “If any fool mishandles your wild geography…spill your impossible Scripture all over everything he loves…” (Note: some salty language, NSFW)

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Children of Christian Narcissists: Religion is not a requirement for emotionally abusive behavior, but I do think it is fair to examine how Christianity (the dominant religion in the United States) can act as a great disguise for narcissistic people….READ MORE HERE “It’s Not Me, It’s You: Children of Christian Narcissists.” 

 

Old Schoolhouse Publishers Accused of Protecting Child Molesters: “Paul and Gena Suarez — publishers of The Old Schoolhouse Magazines and owners of a global homeschooling empire and Speakers Bureau — have tried to hide and protect (1) a teenage child molester, (2) a convicted, known, and repeat child abuser, and (3) an adult in possession of child pornography. This account has also been corroborated by numerous members of the Suarezes’ company and community.” READ MORE HERE (their OWN teenage son was allegedly sexually molesting his 6 year old nephew.)

 

12 year old Detroit boy missing for 2 weeks found safe in his basement:The boy, who was homeschooled and on a strict exercise routine, was often beat with a PVC pipe that has now been taken in as evidence.” Read more: http://q13fox.com/2014/06/25/12-year-old-detroit-boy-missing-for-nearly-2-weeks-found-in-his-basement/#ixzz35r3qMPxg

After I shared the above story on my FB page, the following comment made me really upset–and furthermore that TWENTY people liked it.

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So, I answered:

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I LOVED this photography collection of abandoned amusement parks, palaces, trains and monasteries. Haunting and beautiful. The above abandoned monastery was my favorite. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

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I finished Emily Giffin’s “The One & Only” this week. It was a quick read. But something just didn’t sit right with me. It was unsettling. I couldn’t get over the whole “I fell in love with my best friend’s Daddy” thing. It felt squicky to me. Also, I’m not a fan of football so all the insider-football-language was totally foreign. A decent poolside read, I guess. But maybe wait until the paperback comes out.

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“Women, Food and God: an unexpected path to almost everything” is gonna be a life-changer for me just as soon as I finish eating this donut. This book, you guys. Whoa. It’s challenging. The driving idea behind this book is that the way we eat is a true indicator of our deepest held beliefs. If you really want to know what someone believes, watch their actions. Or how they eat. I’m learning so much about compulsive eating. Crying a lot, too. Did I mention I packed on 35 lbs. in the last year? Yeah. Just. WOW.

Lastly, I dyed my hair by myself this week. And then Matt snapped a pic of me before I could “pose.” Apparently, my regular, resting face looks like I wanna kick somebody’s ass. WHO KNEW?!

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So, what have you been reading on the Internet this week? Please share.

How a Protestant Learned to Pray Like a Catholic (and actually started LIKING prayer)

IMG_6974The only reason I pray is because it makes me feel better. There I said it. I’m not very happy about this. I really wish I was one of those people who prayed because it was the good and godly thing to do. Because their hearts were heavily burdened for the poor. Because they liked praying.

I don’t like praying. It’s uncomfortable and difficult. No matter WHAT time of day it is, praying seems TOTALLY inconvenient. I have this iPhone alarm set on my phone and every time it dings, reminding me to pray I’m like: What? Pray? NOW?! But NOW is inconvenient!!!

But then I pray anyway because prayer is like a shot of WD-40 into my brain. It unsticks things. It loosens things up. I run more smoothly after I pray.

It wasn’t always this way.

Growing up Protestant, I’d been rigorously trained in the practice of prayer. Which meant: lots of THINKING. Lots of PLANNING. Lots of PROPER TECHNIQUE.

Praying was sort of like giving a well-prepared speech: 1. Insert 1-3 Scripture references, 2. Glorify an attribute of God, 3. Give thanks for 1-2 answered prayers and most importantly, always always use proper format when opening and closing prayers. We prayed to “Dear Heavenly Father” and we closed with “In the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ, amen!”

If there was a Chicago Manual of Style for Prayer, we had it. And used it exclusively. Only lesser Christians (read: WORLDLY, PAGAN, HEATHEN, CATHOLIC etc.) prayed outside THE STYLE.

But praying like this was exhausting. Also, it lent itself too conveniently to spiritual pride and showboating. Every time we had a church meeting, you could count on some guys engaging in what could only be described as Competitive Praying.

You know, some zealous bro would burst out in a prayer incorporating Old Testament types and shadows, only to be loudly followed by another bro reciting a bunch of verses from memory and then a third bro booming out a mini-exegesis of the book of Daniel culminating in the ETERNAL FULLNESS OF THE TRIUNE GODHEAD, forever and ever amen.

It was like Dueling Pianos except minus the pianos and minus the awesomeness.

When you grow up that way, learning to pray like a Catholic is almost like learning a foreign language. You gotta unlearn a whole bunch of stuff. And by that I mean, you gotta stop thinking and sorta just feel it.

The first time I heard the Rosary, I was breastfeeding newborn twins. They were eight weeks old and pretty much I’d been stuck in a rocking chair 24/7 feeding them. I was worn out. No, that’s an understatement. I was a ZOMBIE OF EXHAUSTION.

I was flipping through the TV channels and came across EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network) 10401726_1428455147417535_1232132536_sand saw a group of nuns praying together. Their voices soothed me. It felt like listening to a gentle lullaby.

And in my achey, exhausted, postpartum state—that was exactly what I needed.

So it began. Every morning after I’d gotten my babies all “plugged in,” I flipped on EWTN and just let myself sink into the rhythm and cadence of the nuns’ lilting, gentle voices.

It was like relaxing into a warm, bubble bath. Except it was a bubble-bath for my mind.

I mean, on the one hand I was pretty sure Catholic prayer was TOTALLY blasphemous because they kept Hailing Mary like every five seconds. But frankly, I didn’t care. It felt good.

Eventually, I started murmuring along with them. For the first time in my life, praying felt good.

There was no thinking involved. It didn’t stress me out. I didn’t have to get all freaked out planning my prayers. There was no showing off for God–or anyone else.

Catholic prayer was accessible. For an exhausted mother of five, this was EVERYTHING.

But even after I’d begun praying along with the nuns on EWTN, I still felt a little guilty like maybe I was doing that whole “vain repetition” thing. I had this idea that my prayers didn’t really “count” unless each one was a unique, original composition. I’d been taught that saying the same prayers over and over was empty, meaningless, borderline irreverent. A mockery of true, authentic prayer.

If that were true, why did I feel so much better afterwards? Why was the Catholic way of praying making me calmer and more peaceful?

So, I decided not to worry about it and just kept praying. The more I prayed, the better I felt.

The Catholic way of prayer, I discovered, was only vain repetition insofar as ANY prayer is vain repetition when uttered indifferently, from wrong motives or without heart. I came to treasure the simple, Catholic prayers because they were beautiful, succinct and relieved me of the burden of trying to invent something new every time I prayed.

What a relief to discover I didn’t need to re-invent the prayer wheel. Jesus had already taught His disciples how to pray. And the Church had built on that foundation, providing me with a treasure-trove of readily accessible, written prayers. Prayers for every occasion! Patron saints who prayed for specific requests! HA-HA-AT LONG LAST A PRAYER FOR FINDING MY LOST KEYS! YESSSSSS.

Learning to pray the Catholic way–sometimes only half a Rosary or a scrambled-brain-Rosary–even those imperfectly prayed prayers have changed my life. The biggest change of all? A renewed love for Jesus. 

No way THAT would have happened if praying like a Catholic was just “vain repetition”!

 

 

I met him online. It was love at first pixel.

Those eyes. Those chiseled features. That vaguely-aloof-yet-vulnerable expression. And, of course, the missing leg. Amputees are hot, am I right?

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Photo Credit: Donna Edman Photography

The more I got to know him, the more I fell in love. Rico had been through hell and back. Last year, he was hit by a car. Bloodied and broken, he was taken to an animal shelter. This is where his story could have ended–this is where the story ends for many dogs like him.

But Rico’s story didn’t end. Because there are good people in this world. Real, true heroes. And one of them is my friend, Tiffany.

Tiffany is a veterinarian who started CARMA (Compassionate Animal Rescue for Medical Aid), an animal rescue organization committed to saving animals who need medical attention. Last November, Tiffany busted Rico out of the shelter and brought him to her animal hospital where she performed surgery–a complete amputation of his right leg.

And then another angel showed up. Michelle is a “foster mom” and she took Rico in during his rehabilitation. She nursed him back to health, took him on walks and encouraged him back into an active life.

Eventually, Rico began attending adoption fairs and looking for his new, forever home.

A month ago, I saw Rico’s picture on CARMA’s Facebook page. I gasped when I saw him. I just knew he was The One. 

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Photo Credit: Donna Edman Photography

Well, OK. Rico was My Second One.

My first rescue, Penelope, is a pit-bulldog mix who was found pregnant and wandering in Costa Mesa. Tiffany took her in and helped Penelope give birth to ten (yes, 10!) huuuge puppies. After nursing her pups and watching them all get adopted out, Penelope was left alone in the animal hospital. That’s when I came along.

I was SO nervous about Penelope. I’d never had a Big Dog–let alone a pit bull. I’d heard so many horror stories about pit bulls. But Penelope was nothing like the stereotype. She was calm, submissive and eager to please. The moment I met her, she rolled over on her back, begging for a tummy scratch. Pitbulls, I discovered, have a horrible reputation that is NOT at ALL like their true nature. The reason a pit bull is “mean” is because a mean OWNER has forced them to be that way.

Anyway, we took Penelope in on a trial basis. Two weeks later, we were head-over-heels in love with her. And so was Darby–our tiny little King Charles Cavalier. So, we adopted her. Two years later, my Instagram feed is pretty much ALL dogs ALL the time. :)

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I can’t help it. My dogs have taught me so much about unconditional love. My heart could just explode.

And that’s why I needed Rico. Because my heart was so full of love and I was ready to love more–but in a deeper way, in a more helpful way. I already had a snuggle dog (Darby) and I had my Big Family Dog (Penelope). It was time for me to give back and help a dog that wasn’t easily adoptable.

Rico was that dog. He’d been to lots of adoption fairs, written up in a newspaper and gotten close to adoption multiple times. Everyone loved him but nobody adopted him.

Photo Credit: Kevin Chang, Daily Pilot

Photo Credit: Kevin Chang, Daily Pilot

I met Rico at Tiffany’s animal hospital. He was alert, watchful but oh, so gentle. I knew he’d be a good fit for my other two dogs. So, I brought Darby & Penelope to meet Rico for a walk in the park. The dogs were immediately friendly, casual and relaxed with each other.

I was thrilled. The kids were thrilled.

Matt was not.

“No way,” he said. “Absolutely not. 100% NO.”

“Please. He’s calm. He’s mellow. He sleeps most of the day!”

“NO.”

Experience has taught me that this is when I’m supposed to shut up. So, I did. Also, I prayed. Lots of desperate prayers like: “GOD, PLEEEEEASE” and stuff like that. Also, I may or may not have texted Matt cute pictures of Rico. Because Valentine’s pictures of dogs are worth a thousand words, anyway:

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Photo Credit: CARMA

At bootcamp, I told one of my friends about Rico. She laughed and shook her head: “I mean, how do you say NO to a three-legged dog? Matt is NOT that guy. Just wait.”

This gave me hope. And a little more patience for waiting.

But then….Rico was adopted. By someone else.

I cried the whole entire day. I mean, I was happy for him. Really, I was. I wanted him to be in a good home with a loving family–and it had finally happened for him,

But Rico was mine, you know? He had my heart. How could I just let him walk away, leave without a trace? He’s the only one who really knew me AT ALL.

SO TAKE A LOOK AT ME NOOOWWWW, THERE’S JUST AN EMPTY SPACE!

Ahem. Please excuse my inner Phil Collins.

So, there I was. Crying. Karaoke-ing to old love songs. You know, the usual.

It took a few days of melancholy love songs, but eventually I let Rico go. I moved on.

Ok, wait. DO WE EVER REALLY “MOVE ON”? Because I hate that phrase. The answer is no. No, we do NOT move on. But we adapt. We make do. We look at our amputated heart and we say: “Ah, well. At least I’ve got three hearts left.” Or one leg. Whatever. WHO’S MIXING THESE METAPHORS ANYWAY?

The point is, a piece of my heart was lopped off and there is no MOVING ON from amputated. There’s just sort of gluing it back together somehow.

So, I was limping along and stuff when last Thursday happened. Mainly, this text (and yes, that’s my IMMEDIATE response in blue):

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Did I mention I responded BEFORE I talked to Matt? Ahem. But then Tiffany saved my bacon by asking if we could just “foster” Rico temporarily.

Ahhhh. Yes. TEM•PO•RAR•I•LY, from the Latin ‘temporâius” meaning impermanent, passing, a TRANSIENT CONDITION.

In other words, ding-ding-ding!

So, me and the kids waltzed down to the animal hospital and brought Rico home for a TEMPORARY stay. You know, cuz the kennel was FULL. And Rico’s original foster mom was gonna be out of town. It’s all TOTALLY LEGIT is what I’m trying to tell you, MATT! And I’m NOT trying to ADOPT him, this is  a TRANSIENT CONDITION. This is TEMPORARY–as in! From the root word TEMPORÂRIUS!

Five minutes later, Matt was love–on the inside. He doesn’t SHOW these things in recognizable human facial expressions or words. But! I know the signs. I knew it the moment he was all: “Hey, let’s buy Rico a bed. Oh, look! Here’s an ORTHOPEDIC bed that’ll be good for his shoulders.”

I tried to be all demure: “Good idea, Matt. That’d be nice.”

But inside I was SHRIEKING with joy because hee-heeeee-victory is miiiiiine! I mean. You do not buy an ORTHOPEDIC bed for a dog who is on a TEM•PO•RÂR•I•US stay. Do you? No, no you do not.

What I’m trying to tell you is: if it’s meant to be, not all the 100%-absolutely-nots can stop it. Not time. Not circumstance. Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers….er, please excuse my KJV.

*shakes head* *clears throat*

Maybe sometimes you have to let go for awhile. Make do. Mend your broken heart by finding a way to be of loving service to others. 

Love, if it’s meant to be, will be.

Which is to say, this is my boy Rico. We’re keeping him.

Love is all you need.

Love is all you need.

Fighting shifting shadows (or what mental illness feels like)

For as long as I can remember, I have fought the darkness.

I used to hope someday I’d grow out of it like other kids “grew out” of allergies, old sports equipment or acid-washed jeans. Or maybe it was like a headache–temporary. Easily fixed with an Advil.

I’m 37 now. The darkness isn’t going away. It’s not like a headache. There’s no “growing out of” this. It’s in me.

Sometimes the darkness fades to light and I walk in sunshine for a bit. But the shadows always come back. It’s not a matter of if. Just when.

The only question: in the end, will the darkness win or will the light?

: : :

For the past couple of years, we’ve been trying to figure out “what’s wrong” with me. Generalized anxiety? ADD? PTSD? Bipolar II? Or a mixed bag of lingering effects from long-term childhood abuse coupled with triggering life stressors?

There are no easy answers.

It takes a lot of work to untangle the strands. I’ve been to rehab and therapy and 12-step programs. I’ve done the work. Sometimes I just feel like: why the fuck do I keep fighting? It’s only going to come back again later. Maybe worse.

But then I remember something funny my kids said. Or see a new bird on my bird feeder. My dogs romping happily on the beach. This novel I wanted to write….it’s the little things that keep me going.

: : :

Sometimes I wish I had terminal cancer. I know, I know. I don’t know what I’m wishing for. But my point is: then I would at least be fighting something tangible. Not these shifting shadows.

Then there would be a “good reason” for why I’m occasionally taken down by this illness, confined to bed and barely able to move.

If I had terminal cancer, then I’d be almost done. I wouldn’t have to fight anymore. At least I would know there would be an End Point.

: : :

As a mother, it’s particularly difficult for me to admit I have this sickness. It’s not the disease I would have chosen–I mean, if there WAS such a thing. This is not the problem I wanted.

I don’t want other people to know I have Mental Illness. I’ve spent a lot of years hiding it, masking it, claiming I’m “just tired.” I’ve spent a lot of energy trying to control my illness.

Two years ago I started getting proactive about it because, well, I was sick of living like this. I wanted answers.

: : :

My mental illness looks like this: I’m chugging along quite normally–not really high or low, just calm and peaceful. Then something happens: a PTSD event, a triggering incident, a flashback, a group setting that reminds me too much of my past.

I have an anxiety attack followed by a terrible, deep low.

Something SWITCHES in my brain and I’m falling off a cliff. Fuzzy-brained. Panicked. Nightmares. And soooooooo tiiiireeeddddd.

I never know how far DOWN I’m gonna go. How long will I fall? So, I go to bed and fall asleep. I could sleep for days. Getting out of bed feels like a Herculean task. The lows usually last three days and then I’m ok again.

: : :

What sucks about mental illness is that you have to fight to fight it. You have to fight your insurance for coverage. Fight for a different doctor. Fight for a new doctor. Fight to switch medications. Fight the pharmacy to yes-this-is-supposed-to-be-an-auto-refill. All the while you’re fighting your brain which seems determined to sabotage your every action because all your brain wants to do is sleep. And sleep. And sleep.

: : :

There are very few psychiatrists who actually take the TIME to figure you out. Truth is, I probably can’t afford the psychiatrists who DO take the time. Ha. I’ve got HMO insurance which means I get the guys who barely look you in the eye while dashing off a new Rx before you’ve finished explaining your first symptom.

I don’t blame them, really. Mainly, I’m just tired because I’ve had to do a lot of the footwork and research myself.

I’ve read books, filled out questionnaires read up on the Internet. So, I bring my sheaf of papers and highlighted books and questionnaires and I’m all: “See? I scored a 20 on this test which means I probably have Bipolar 2, but last year I thought it was just ADHD followed by regular depression but then there’s this PTSD element that seems to pop up frequently and-I’m-not-an-expert-can-you-please-help-me?”

And even when I bring in all my research, I get the same sort of blank-eyed-stare which translates to: “You have HMO insurance which means even 3 minutes of my time is a profit-loss.”

Maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe they’re not thinking that at all.

Maybe my psych is just having gas or something.

Either way, I’m not the expert and all I want is a little professional help.

: : :

So, this is my reality. Right now, I’m OK. I had a triggering event two weeks ago: I unwittingly walked into a craft store which turned out to be the business side of a religious cult. I had the biggest anxiety attack I’ve had all year, followed by a week-long super-low. But I’m out of it now.

I went to my psych to talk about what happened. And to talk about the stupid 35 lbs. I’ve gained in the last year (turns out the medication I’m on causes “significant weight gain” arrrrgh). So, we’re switching medications again.

But I still don’t feel confident we really know what’s going on. We’re just kicking at the darkness. Throwing various combinations of dosages at my brain to see what helps. We’re guessing.

Is it ok for me to admit I’m tired of fighting shadows?

But I won’t give up, dammit.

I’ve come so far, survived so much. I won’t give up now.

I want a happy life so badly I can taste it…..