Author Archives: elizabeth

Book Giveaway: “Inseparable” by Ashley Linne

inseparable coverFor many years I’ve been wary of Bible Study-type books. But this past October, I found myself desperate to see myself as God sees me. Ashley Linne’s new book, “Inseparable: who I am, was, and will be in Christ”, intrigued me. All I can say is that this beautiful, gentle exposition of who I am in Christ nurtured my aching soul at just the right time. I’m honored to host Ashley on my blog today. If you’d like to receive a free copy of “Inseparable,” please leave a comment for a chance to win. xo. EE.

 

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I was raised in competing faith traditions that both focused largely on perfecting oneself through good, old-fashioned strength of will. Ironically, even though each of these faiths points to the other and calls it apostate, both sent me the same message: you’d better be good and believe what we tell you, or God will smite you.

There are a couple of memories that stand out to me as I was growing up, torn between these two worlds. One day, when I was about eight years old, I was talking with an adult about shortcomings. At some point in the conversation I said that no one is perfect. The reply was, “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be.” I took this to mean that unless I tried to be perfect, I couldn’t be saved.

At another junction not far down the road, the war between the two faith traditions came to a head via an unsuspecting woman who was a “counselor” for those who went forward at church during the altar call. I sat with the woman and shared that one side of my family followed a certain religious ideology, and she replied that they were all going to hell and I would, too, if I believed what they were teaching.

I remember staring at the blue carpet and crying. I didn’t know whom to believe.

Even though I’m now firmly rooted in my relationship with God and learning to grasp grace more each day, I find myself tangled in a different sort of struggle. What if by focusing on God’s love, I somehow imply that there isn’t any value in holy living? What if people think I offer a cheap grace?

Rather than obsessing about whether I’m doing things right, I have learned to focus on listening for the voice of the Spirit. Otherwise, it’s just too easy for me to hold Jesus at arms’ length and get sucked into the frozen state of fear.

When I say that, “If I err, I want to err on the side of grace”, it doesn’t mean I have lax standards or don’t value holiness. It means that I know God, and because I am in Christ, I have already been made holy. In light of my own humanity and my battle against the flesh, instead of making me proud this makes me grateful.

When I was desperate to have control of my own life, Christ died for me and made me holy.
When I refused to depend on anyone but myself, Christ died for me and made me holy.
When I holed myself up in a cave of fear, Christ died for me and made me holy.

He died and raised from the dead, and now I live in Him. In Him I am holy, blameless, forgiven, accepted, and loved to depths and heights that I haven’t even discovered yet.

THIS is why I seek His face above all else. I don’t seek to be perfect. I seek HIM.

I seek His Kingdom and His righteousness, because He is faithful and gracious and loving. I seek Him. And I do it with a limp, I do it with wounds that aren’t scarred over yet, I do it imperfectly… but I do it knowing I am in Christ and He is in me. I know that even when I stray or revert to my old ways of thinking, He’s not going to cast me aside for messing up.

In His grace, He will sustain me through the pain of refinement as He chisels away parts of me that shouldn’t be there. I’ve learned that this chiseling is just another aspect of His grace. As I follow His movement and participate in His work, I am His representative to a world gone mad.

What will they see when they look at me? A crazy woman? Perhaps. I do hope they see something that perplexes them, but I hope it is because they’ve seen a living, breathing example of real love.

I hope that they see a glimpse of Christ. And I pray that anything that doesn’t look like Him would be scrubbed away.

For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.” (Galatians 2:19-21, NLT)

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Ashley Linne CroppedAshley Linne is a wife and mom who loves to write, sing, and travel. She is passionate about discipleship, mentoring, and sexual abuse prevention. She has been leading small group Bible studies for over 15 years is the author of Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ. Ashley lives with her husband and son in Bellingham, WA.

Excerpt from “Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be in Christ” by Ashley Linne. Download a FREE Chapter from all three new Inscribed Studies Here. (No email required)

Book Giveaway: “Fierce Convictions” by Karen Swallow Prior

UnknownToday, I’m thrilled to host literature professor and author, Karen Swallow Prior. Karen’s new book, “Fierce Convictions” is about poet, reformer and abolitionist Hannah More (1745-1833). Hannah More was a woman after my own heart. Strong and yet deeply sensitive, she also suffered recurring episodes of deep depression. Reading “Fierce Convictions,” I couldn’t help but be inspired by this courageous Christian woman who didn’t let mental illness define her life but fought against the great injustices of her day. Karen has offered two copies of her book to my readers. Please leave a comment to win! xo. EE.

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The following essay is drawn from Karen Swallow Prior’s new biography of this exemplary woman, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson):

The image of the suffering artist is deeply embedded in our cultural imagination.

Hannah More’s passion—the word means “suffering”—for writing, language, and words first took bodily form. She was so moved when she read Shakespeare as a girl that she couldn’t sleep. As a child, she practiced her French so fervently that she is said to have fainted under the effort.

On the other hand, her love for words offered release, too. Once, during one of many illnesses that kept her bedridden for periods throughout her life, the doctor came. She engaged him in such a lively fashion on the topic of literature until both forgot her bodily complaint. The doctor was on his way out before he remembered the purpose of his visit and had to cry from half-way down the stairs, “How are you today, my poor child?”

More’s suffering seemed to be constitutional. More contended all her life against bouts of illness: headaches, colds, numbness, nausea, vertigo, sharp pains, and “rheumatism in the face.” Many of her illnesses resemble what today would be identified as migraines; some of her bouts suggest even the possibility of clinical depression. Her bedridden bouts were often triggered by times of stress, such as her broken engagement with Turner and her yearly trips to London.

Even as her illnesses increased with age, More’s wit, will, and words provided her best medicine. And when she was well, which was most of the time, she demonstrated extraordinary fortitude.

Yet, the obstacles women writers such as More faced added pressures that only exacerbated her health struggles. She described the obstacles feared by women writers in her early drama The Search After Happiness:

“Tho’ should we still the rhyming trade pursue,
The men will shun us, — and the women, too;
The men, poor souls! of scholars are afraid,
We shou’d not, did they govern, learn to read,
At least, in no abstruser volume look,
Than the leam’d records – of a Cookery book;
The ladies, too, their well-meant censure give,
“What! – does she write? a slattern, as I live -
“I wish she’d leave her books, and mend her cloaths,
“I thank my stars I know not verse from prose … “

She noted elsewhere that the woman writer “will have to encounter the mortifying circumstances of having her sex always taken into account; and her highest exertions will probably be received with the qualified approbation, that it is really extraordinary for a woman.”

But More’s special savvy was in turning obstacle into opportunity. If esteem were necessary to succeed as a woman writer, then she would gain that esteem. At times, perhaps, she valued that esteem too much. Her greatest illnesses occurred following attacks on her work.

When More—a lifelong member of the Church of England—was accused of “Methodism” because of the extemporaneous prayers taking place in one of her schools, the controversy that ensued consumed all of More’s energies and attention. After raging for three years, the controversy finally saw vindication for More. But it proved too much to take, even for as tough a woman as she. In 1802, she confessed to her good friend and fellow abolitionist, William Wilberforce,
“I have been so batter’d daily and monthly for the past two years about the wickedness and bad tendency of my writings, that I have really lost all confidence in myself, and feel as if I never more cou’d write what any body would read ….”

More was strong, but she was sensitive. When she was strong, she was very strong. When she was weak, she was debilitated. From 1803 to 1805, she underwent what came to be called her “great illness.” Today we would call it full-blown depression. On November 27, 1803, More wrote in a journal entry, “I have to lament that through my want of faith and piety, they [attacks against her] had nearly destroyed my life.”

Her sisters rallied around her; she stayed home from London that winter and emerged from one of her worst illnesses yet. Although nearing sixty, More had another phase of life ahead and volumes yet to write. She was overtaken by renewed vigor, and lived and wrote for another 30 years. However, she probably never fully recovered from the physical and mental toll of this event.

Years later, she would still decry such strife within the church body, writing, “Oh how I hate faction, division and controversy in religion!”

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Karen Swallow Prior 2013Karen Swallow Prior, Ph. D., is an award-winning Professor of English at Liberty University. She is the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press 2012) and Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist (Thomas Nelson 2014). Prior is a contributing writer for Christianity Today, Think Christian, and The Atlantic. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective and serves on the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband live in rural Virginia with sundry dogs, horses, and chickens.

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A&E “Dogs of War,” New Books (!!), #ENFP Problems and Other Happy Cornucopias coming your way this week!

Jorai with Rico, our rescue pit bull. What an amazing family dog he is!

Jorai with Rico, our rescue pit bull. What an amazing family dog he is!

When we adopted our rescue pit bulls, I completely underestimated how much love and joy they’d bring into our lives. We couldn’t imagine our family without them! This week, we’re especially excited to watch a new show on A&E called “Dogs of War,” premiering on Veterans Day. It’s about a combat veteran who returns from war struggling with PTSD. Once he realizes how expensive it is to get a service dog, he decides to start his own non-profit. He rescue dogs from high-kill shelters, trains them and provides them to other vets at little to no cost. I got tears in my eyes just watching the previews! The show premieres THIS TUESDAY, 11/11 on A&E. I dare you not to cry happy tears!  A&E, you have my heart.

This week I’m also celebrating my love of books with TWO book giveaways!

On Tuesday, you’ll have a chance to win Karen Swallow Prior’s new book, “Fierce Convictions.”

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And on Thursday, I’m featuring Ashley Linne’s new book, “Inseparable.”

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Be sure to come back on Tuesday & Thursday to read posts by these wonderful women and enter to win a copy of their new books!

61XtJyaIAwL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Speaking of new books, my friend Rob Carmack—the pastor who hosted me at “Collective Church” this past September—has written an eBook called “Lost in the Flood.” I was honored to help Rob edit his book and now, it’s available on Amazon. Even better? Proceeds from the book are going toward an adoption fund so he and his beautiful wife, Caroline, can adopt a child from the foster care system. LOVE THAT. Rob’s book is a lively, easy-to-read and informative exploration of the Biblical flood narrative. READ IT!

Well, well. Look what we have here.

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Yep, yep. That is the opening sentence of my second book.
My editor said, “Just send a messy draft. No deadline.”
He gave me permission to be imperfect.
And that’s how I was able to find my words.
This past week I emailed him 10,000 words.
YOU GUYS. SECOND BOOK IS HAPPENING OMG.

Photo by Courtney Perry @ http://courtneyperry.photoshelter.com

Photo by Courtney Perry @ http://courtneyperry.photoshelter.com

My all-time favorite podcast is “On Being” with Krista Tippett. This past week I listened to her October 23 episode featuring everyone’s favorite Sarcastic Lutheran, Nadia Bolz-Weber.  I was listening to the podcast while taking a brisk morning walk and kept fist-bumping the air and shouting YES! YES! so many times that I figured I’d better go home and quit making a scene. Seriously, you guys. This episode was amazing. Some favorite lines: “This is Western individualism run smoke: it’s not YOUR creed, it’s the Church’s Creed” and “I try to preach from my scars and not my wounds.” If you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud and inspiring preacher, listen to this podcast. Wow. Just so happy!

Sooooooo, this is Jorai.
One 30-second conversation, about 30-million facial expressions.
Think she’s my kid? :)

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Lastly, thanks to fellow ENFP Megan Tietz of “Sorta Crunchy,” I’ve been thinking about problems unique to ENFPs. And guess what—there’s a blog for that!  I started compiling a few of my own #ENFP Problems and here’s a few from last week:

ENFP PROBLEM: While taking a walk, I felt bad for some LEAVES. Yep. They’d fallen on the ground so prettily and a Mean Gardener was just blowing them AWAY like trash.

ENFP PROBLEM: I wonder if the pool toys feel lonely now that summer is over and nobody plays with them.

ENFP PROBLEM: I think I’ll sit down and write a to-do list for today—oh, look at all these pretty pens I have for coloring! *Doodle, doodle, doodle*

If the waters can redeem me…

photoThere was a full moon last night. I felt its pull. All day my body ached. I’ve been carrying pain. I’m so accustomed to carrying this “pain-weight” that sometimes I believe I must carry it.

I lose hope that feeling good is an option for me. Indeed, I begin to believe I deserve this pain. I’ve made mistakes, haven’t I? I’ve hurt myself and others, haven’t I? Well, then. This is justice. I am reaping what I’ve sowed.

Ah, no, love. That is the old mind. That is the old way of might-makes-right, of eye-for-eye. Those are the old voices. It’s time to speak words of gentleness to those old voices, to kindly but firmly tell them where to go. It’s time for grace to pick me up and do for me what I cannot do for myself.

Last night I walked out under a cloudless, dark sky. I let moonlight fall over me. I breathed. I’d poured out words on paper, all my longing and pain and heartache bound up in black and white. I held those words tightly and then…it was time—the moon was full, she was tugging at my pain, urging me to release it. I tore the paper and I loosed my pain.

I didn’t plan what happened next…but suddenly, I needed to be in the water. I ran inside, tugged on a bathing suit.

Mama? You’re going swimming? At night in the cold water?

My son followed me, bewildered. Me—his wild Mama—I threw my head back and let the laughter bubble up. Yes, let’s be silly and wild under this silver full-moon.

I stepped into the pool and gasped with the cold shock of it. Cold right. Cold good. I was in my pool, stretching my arms to the moon.

Tree shadows and reflected moon rippling across the water, silver light falling all around me; a kind of baptism. I prayed: Holy Mother, untie these knots that bind me.

My son stood witness. He held out a towel for me as I emerged from the pool, shivering. We scurried inside together. Silly Mommy. Silly, silly swimming at night in the freezing cold water. What laughter! What wide-eyed wonder. What unexpected joy.

I felt the pain lift and when I woke this morning, the moon was still shining—beginning to set in a sky turned pink with sunrise.

With deep gratitude to my soul-sisters…your words of affirmation poured grace over me last night and gave me the courage to be born again under a moon-drenched sky.

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This song. It’s my soul-home. I’ve had it on repeat all day. Maybe you’ll find soothing here, too?

Mother of God, my true North Star

The beautiful chapel at The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Orange, CA.

The beautiful chapel at The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse in Orange, CA.

I’ve never once felt a kinship with Mary. All the heroes of my fundamentalist upbringing were men. We loved and exalted the apostle Paul or John the Revelator. We quoted Romans or pondered the Epistles, but I never heard a sermon devoted exclusively to Mary. We studied our Bibles backward and forward but somehow had entirely neglected to meditate on Mary’s hymn of praise to God as recorded in Luke 1:46-55. I begin to wonder if I’ve never felt close to Mary because I’ve been trained to look elsewhere. I blindly adopted the male-dominated narrative I learned in fundamentalism. Now it seems this neglect of Mary in both doctrine and devotion has cut me off from the maternal comfort I need…I need a woman’s touch, a woman’s understanding, a woman’s empathy to comfort me as I watch my babies suffer in the hospital…A crack of light appears in my consciousness. Mary understands. — from my book Girl at The End of the World, p. 177, 178

I would say my biggest “stumbling blocks” to becoming Catholic were three things: Mary, Mary and… Mary.

After one RCIA session (RCIA is like a year-long “membership class” which teaches curious seekers about our Catholic faith), I remember asking one of our catechists: “Well, could I still enter the Church even if I didn’t believe what the Church teaches about Mary?”

She chuckled, kindly. “Maybe the more appropriate question is: Why don’t you want to believe what the Church teaches about Mary?”

I already knew the answer to that. “I’m just concerned that accepting the Catholic teachings about Mary will make me guilty of idolatry. I don’t want to neglect Mary, but I’m worried that asking for her intercession or calling her the Mother of God somehow diminishes the worship that belongs to God alone.”

My catechist was very wise. She didn’t get all tangled up in a theological argument. She simply suggested I try to learn what the Church taught before I judged it. And then she suggested praying the Rosary to see if I experienced anything. GAH. What good would THAT do? I wanted chapter-and-verse answers, not experience! At the same time, I had to acknowledge I’d already experienced something while watching nuns pray The Rosary on TV. That something wasn’t something I could necessarily put into words. But it felt like relief.

And then there was that time in the hospital when the twins were born….I’d definitely felt comforted by Mary. So, why was I still so troubled?

The answer to my questions about Mary came about indirectly. It began when, a few months later, I broached a different topic with my priest. This one was about papal infallibility. I wasn’t sure I could say aloud—during the Easter Vigil—that I accepted what the Church taught because the idea of infallibility made me break out in hives. I mean, I just had this visceral reaction to any human being claiming to have that kind of 100% true, direct-from-God’s-mouth authority.

My priest engaged me in conversation—not in argument. First he explained that papal infallibility wasn’t what I thought it was. I was like: “Oh! So, not everything that pops out of the Pope’s mouth is infallible? Huh. Didn’t know that.”

SIDEBAR: The more I learned about Catholicism, the more I ended up saying “I didn’t know that” over and over and over. Cue humility check. END SIDEBAR.

Then he asked me to explain what my hesitations were about Catholic teaching in general and where they came from. He asked me explain the Bible verses I’d used to debunk “false Catholic teachings.” Eventually, I could see that I was approaching Catholic teachings through a very fundamentalist-y lens.

I was suspicious of any doctrine I couldn’t nail down with a literal interpretation of chapter-and-verse. I felt compelled to be a “good Berean” and figure everything out for myself. Furthermore, my Western individualism insisted every doctrine had to make sense to ME before I believed it. 

Ultimately, most of my fears were sourced in fear of mystery. I was afraid to acknowledge I’d experienced Mary’s comfort while in the hospital with my twins because I was afraid it meant I didn’t believe Jesus Was Enough. I was afraid experience meant I was trusting in something “extra-Biblical” (read: faulty). If I couldn’t validate my experience with Mary through chapter-and-verse, maybe it wasn’t true. Maybe I’d just been hopped up on painkillers and adrenaline?

The thing was, I’d already become convinced of the Church’s teaching regarding the Eucharist. That was an “easier” bridge for me to cross because Jesus’ own words about it were pretty clear: “…anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. For my flesh is true food, and blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (St. John 6:54-56, emphasis mine).

I mean, Jesus says it three times, not to mention the surrounding verses that speak of Him being the bread of life and bread from Heaven, etc. etc. Point is, taking Jesus at His word seemed more logical than trying to come up with explanations as to why the Eucharist wasn’t His true body and blood.

So it was in this indirect way—accepting the Church’s teaching regarding the Eucharist—that helped me accept its teachings about Mary. If the Church had gotten it right about the most important thing of ALL—the Eucharist—wasn’t it possible that it also got it right about Mary? I had to admit that was a possibility.

I could see the poetry in it, somehow. In the hospital, Mary was my true North Star, pointing me home to Jesus. And now, my growing love for the Eucharist was pointing me to love and accept her.

I remember the day it dawned on me. I was in my minivan, driving to pick up the kids from school and listening to a CD about Marian doctrine. Suddenly, it hit me. It was ridiculous NOT to love Mary! It was ludicrous NOT to honor her. I mean, was Jesus gonna say: “I’m not happy with you because you just loved my Mother too much”?

It was like Jesus was saying: Permission granted. You’re free to love my Mother.

Now, my unabashed love for Mary comes from a sincere understanding that honoring Mary doesn’t diminish Jesus, it brings more glory to God. When I seek to know and cherish her, the mother in whose womb God was made flesh, I am filled with wonder for what God has done, too. When I thank her for her “yes” to God, I am thanking God for my salvation. And when I seek to imitate her “yes” to God, I too am learning how to trust Him.

The more I get to know her, the more I come to know a good, kind and gentle Mother. Mary is such a good Mama. She understands. She just gets me. I want to spend the rest of my life getting to know her.

Sáncta MarÍa, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.

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.

: : :

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.

: : : :

“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.

:  :  :  :

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.

——————————

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.