"Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted with Xanax" #BipolarStories Part 2
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Four days after my trip to the hospital, my psychiatrist asks me if there is a triggering event that led to the downward spiral of my mental health. Basically, it all started nine months ago: the day I found out my best friend died by suicide. It was a day that would catapult me into full-blown bipolar illness.

a life unfinished

Katherine died in the dark, early morning hours of Monday, January 16th, 2017. 

I’ve read that suicide is impulsive—that even the most carefully constructed suicide plans are made by terribly ill brains that think death is the only option, the only way to be free from pain. 

I think that’s what happened with Katherine. I don't think she realized how much we loved her and needed her. She had no idea how much she would hurt us by leaving. She was worn out and depressed and, as she wrote in her suicide note to me, she felt like she didn't belong in this world. So, she started drinking heavily and one night, after posting on Facebook that she was "just so tired," she lay down on her couch and ended her life. 

She left her condo in a state of dishevelment. Dirty socks on the floor. Dishes on the counter. Half unpacked boxes from a move two years prior still stacked in the guest room. A life unfinished. A life abandoned.

The night before Katherine died, I was coming down with a cold. It was Sunday, January 15th. I could feel that heavy, solid-as-cement feeling weighing down my head. I went to work that night, anyway. Slogged through. I got off around 8pm feeling sick and bone tired. As I drove home, Katherine came to mind. I hadn’t heard from her for a couple days. I knew she was struggling. I just didn't know how severe it had become.

I should call her, I thought as I pulled into my driveway. I should call her tonight.

But I didn’t. It's a decision that still haunts me.

All I wanted to do was go to bed. Around 9:30pm I pulled the covers over my head and fell into a deep, Nyquil-induced sleep.

At that very moment, 2,000 miles away in Tennessee, Katherine was preparing to end her life. It was 11:30pm, her time. In an hour and a half she would send me an email—her suicide note. But I wouldn’t see it because I was fast asleep by then. In fact, I wouldn’t see the email until two mornings later after receiving a phone call from Katherine’s father, informing me of her death.

I should have called her. I think she wanted me to call her. I’m fairly certain she was hoping I would see her email that night and call her because she left her phone on.

You left your phone on.

Why?

I've asked myself this a million times. You sent me a goodbye email.

But you left your phone on.

Oh my god.

Were you hoping—

that maybe—

Even though it was late—it wasn't too late?

That I was somehow still awake?

Were you hoping that I'd call you?

I would have.

 

are you ok?

I was sick in bed all day on Monday and I didn’t check my email. I didn’t log onto Facebook or Twitter. The next morning I felt well enough to get up and I checked my Facebook messages. A woman I didn’t know had messaged me saying she needed to talk to me about an urgent matter relating to Katherine.

When I saw that message, it was 6:03am on Tuesday, January 17th. My heart dropped. I began texting Katherine frantically. No response. I stared at the screen, willing those little gray flashing dots to appear….nothing. I called her. Her phone rang through. But she didn’t answer. I called again. And again. I left a desperate voicemail for her: “Katherine, call me. I need to know you’re OK.”

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I ran upstairs and pulled up Google maps on my desktop computer. I zoomed in on her address and then slowly zoomed out, looking for hospital markers. I called all the hospitals in her county. Nothing. I called all the hospitals in Nashville.

Nothing.

The worst possibility—the unimaginable possibility—was beginning to dawn in my mind. I pushed it back.

But it wouldn’t go away.

I ran downstairs to the kitchen where my husband, Matt, was preparing breakfast for our children before school.

“Matt, what do I do?” I asked my husband, lowering my voice so I wouldn’t worry the kids. “Do I just start calling the morgues? The coroner’s office?”

Matt shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe she decided she needed a break from everything. What’s to say she didn’t just book a flight and go down to Florida for a few days?”

I understood his reluctance to give in to the worst possibility. No one wants to believe the unbelievable.

“No,” I said. “She’s not spontaneous like that. She plans things like that."

“Then if she’s not impulsive, I doubt she killed her—”

“DON’T SAY IT!” I shrieked. “Don’t say it!”

“Mommy, are you ok?” asked Jorie, one of our twins.

I couldn’t speak. I just stared at her; the horrible possibility becoming a looming inevitability.

“Mommy’s friend might be in some trouble,” Matt explained, as he flipped an egg in the frying pan. He turned to me. “Go ahead and make the calls,” he said. “I’ll get the kids ready for school.”

I climbed the stairs again, my heart thumping wildly. Maybe she accidentally overdosed. I knew she’d been drinking heavily and taking antidepressants.

Once back in my room, I called the morgue in Nashville.

“I’m looking for my friend,” I said to the kind woman who answered the phone. “She’s not answering my calls. She’s not responding to texts. I’ve already called all the—” my voice broke— “hospitals.”

“Well, I can’t give you a positive identification over the phone,” the woman said gently. “But if you give me a description, I can tell you if we have someone here that matches it.”

“She’s 43. White. Her name is Katherine Ray.”
 

“OK...hold on a moment, please.”

She put me on hold and I sat there for what seemed like an hour but which was probably only a few minutes. I bit my nails. I tried to stop crying. Please, please let her not be there.

The line clicked back on. “We do have someone here that matches that description,” the woman said.

I screamed.

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“So, it’s her? It’s really her?”

“I’m sorry but I can’t specifically confirm that or give more information. I’ll have the family call you.”

I could hear the sadness in the woman’s voice. What a terrible job, I thought. To have to break the news of people’s deaths to frantic friends and family members. I felt sudden compassion for her.

“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you so much for helping me.”

“OK, honey. Just hang on and I’ll have her dad call you.”

A few minutes later my phone rang. It was Katherine’s father. He confirmed my worst fears. Katherine was gone.

After we'd spoken, I fell on my bed and wept like I'd never wept before. My beloved friend was gone. I didn't even know she'd had a gun.

Into the darkness

Normal brains move through grief in predictable stages. At least, this is what I've heard. There's denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But my brain isn't a normal brain. And my brain got stuck. I wasn't "moving on." I was moving deeper into darkness. First came the anxiety, crushing my chest like an elephant. Around 4pm every day, I felt a vise-like grip in the center of my chest. It was hard to breathe. My brain was working really hard to find answers. In the days and weeks after Katherine's death, I developed a morbid curiosity about every last detail of her death. I wanted to know what exactly happened. What were her last words? What did she drink before she died? What was her last meal? Why did she use a gun? I wanted a specific timeline of events. As if having this information would somehow satisfactorily explain why she took her life.

This is what I learned: there were no good answers. There were answers, sure. But none of them explained WHY. None of them gave me peace. All of them just sent me deeper into grief.

I began to stammer. My hands shook. I lost cognitive function. To deal with the anxiety, my psychiatrist upped my Zoloft dosage. This is when I became manic (except I didn't know it was mania). The mania lasted for several months. I barely remember most of it except that I was making poor decisions. One day I decided to lease a new car. Just because. There was nothing wrong with my old Suburban. I just woke up one morning and felt amazing and on top of the world and OH I NEED A CAR TODAY! YAY! LET'S GO LEASE ONE! My husband was not happy with me. I couldn't understand why. Why wasn't EVERYONE EXCITED LIKE I WAS? Another day, I decided to make a bizarre, workout video and post it all over my social media feeds. My kids were not amused. They were mortified. I deleted the video.

The mania ended with paranoia and believing the FBI was spying on me.

It would take some time, but eventually the right combination of medication would finally pull me out of the raving darkness and into the stable light of day.

to be continued....

 

That time Jesus said: "Blessed are the bipolar for theirs is the pharmacy of Heaven." #BipolarStories Part 1

I don’t have a cute little mental illness (if there is such a thing). I have Bipolar II with Mixed Features. Which is just a short way of saying, Significantly Impaired with a lot of different symptoms mixed in. Mood swings. Paranoia. Mania. Depression. Psychosis. Panic. You know, all the really fun stuff. All the stuff that makes my kids super excited about having their friends over.

It’s humbling to admit I have this illness. I would prefer to tell you that I’m actually a really super spiritual person; that my bouts of mania mean I’m a mystic. A saint like St. Thérèse of Lisieux: all emotional and capable of deep love for God. But then I’d be lying. I’m no saint. I’m just your average, garden-variety sinner with delusions of grandeur.

These posts are about untreated mental illness and also, my journey toward a proper diagnosis and medical intervention. It’s about highly effective, medically prescribed drugs which keep me from wanting to claw my skin off my face (fun visual, amen?) and it’s also about learning how to live as a normal, sane person—because when you’ve lived with illness for most of your life, being healthy feels really, really weird. It takes some getting used to.

These posts are also a love story. They're about my husband, Matt, a fine Scotsman who—despite being a mere human like everyone else—has miraculously loved and lived with someone as mentally ill as myself. Basically, he’s Braveheart without the warpaint. Welcome to our odd little love story.

The End of My Rope

The day I go mad dawns blazing hot. 

The heat makes everything worse—like the fact that government agents are spying on me. They're watching me through my computer and tracking my movements through my iPhone. I know this like I know the sky is blue. It's just an irrefutable fact.

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The thing is, I don’t know why they’re spying on me. I don't know what I've done wrong. All I know is that I AM NOT HERE FOR THIS. This is extra basic and not on fleek right now.

What do you do when the CIA is spying on you? Well, you throw an old sock over the built-in camera on your computer, shut off location services on your phone and keep the bedroom blinds tightly closed (in case of spying drones, duh). Take that, ye servants of Satan.

From what I am later told, this episode is brought on by too much Zoloft in my system. Apparently, the Zoloft triggered my underlying illness: bipolar. At the time, though, I don't know that I'm bipolar, only that I've been undergoing various treatments for four years for a variety of increasingly severe symptoms: mostly anxiety and depression.

By midday, I am gnawing on my nails and scribbling in my journal. I’m trying to make a list of things I know to be true. It goes something like this:

  1. I know it is Friday.
  2. I know The State is spying on me.
  3. I know I haven’t done anything wrong. (Have I?)
  4. I know I’m a mom who works part-time as a server in a Greek restaurant—OH WAIT! OMG, that’s it. The State suspects I haven’t properly reported my cash tips. 
  5. Dear IRS, mea maxima culpa. I get it. I know. I’m a horrible person. I’m sorry. I have five kids. They need things like food (not that I cook) but they need things. Like Netflix. And tacos.
  6. I know I’ve been having nightmares—especially that recurring one where I’m arrested and placed in solitary confinement for some crime I don’t remember committing. And nobody will tell me.
  7. I know my family thinks I’m going crazy. Well, THEY are the crazy ones. THEY are the unwell ones. Not me. Nope. And anyway, aren’t we all kind of mentally ill? Aren’t we all a bit touched in the head?
  8. I know that I grew up in a cult. Such a beautiful childhood. So healthy. So happy. Har-har.
  9. I know that I might need help. But I don’t know if I can get it because stupid health insurance companies are stupid about behavioral health. They keep it all hidden and hard to access. They like to give you things you don’t need: like high deductibles. Insurance companies are like Aunt LaBelle who used to hide her cigarettes in the cookie jar and when you went to her house she was like: “Me? Smoke? Never. Here, have an antihistimine”—because you were wheezing asthmatically from all the cigarette smoke that permeated every corner of her house. The point is, insurance companies keep high deductibles in cookie jars.
  10. I know that eight is my favorite number. Eight years old was my favorite age. It was the last time I remember being happy. That was the year I climbed the tallest pine tree in my yard and was able to see the Matterhorn mountain ride several miles away at Disneyland. And that made me impossibly happy. I had only been to Disneyland once and it was addicting. I was like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe tasting Turkish Delight for the first time. Yep, I would totally hand over my family to the White Witch for just one more taste of Mickey Mouse. I could eat that Mouse all day. Ew. But alas, I wasn’t in Disneyland, I was in a cult. Thanks for that tiny glimpse of happiness, age eight. Thanks for showing me what was possible and then yanking it away. I won’t see happiness again for another gajillion years. Cue sobs.

 

Somehow I have enough presence of mind to ask my neighbor to drive me to the hospital...

The young, fresh-faced volunteer at the ER intake desk looks up at me and says: “Just sign here.”

    “I can’t,” I say.

    He looks baffled. “You can’t sign?”

    I lean forward and whisper, “I’m not ok, ok? I’m not ok, ok? I’m not ok—”

    He sees my shaking hands and a light seems to go off in his head—

Suddenly I am being hustled to a chair, papers are given to my neighbor and I’m told just to wait for a moment. I don’t know what is happening. I just sit when they tell me to sit. I just stand when they tell me to stand. Why is that young lady staring at me? Why are the lights so bright? Why are the sounds so loud?

    “Can you hold me down in my seat?” I say to my neighbor. “I feel like I might float away if I’m not pinned down.”

    She presses a reassuring arm on my shoulder.

    Someone is calling my name.

    OH, NO. THEY FOUND ME.

    I look up to see someone all dressed up in a nurse’s uniform holding a clipboard. NICE COSTUME, FELLAS. I know who you are! You can’t trick me!

    “Elizabeth, they just want to check you in,” says my neighbor.

“I just want to die,” I say.

Her eyes grow wide.

She helps me up and I hobble over to the intake desk again. Apparently, the gig is up. I’m caught. Oh, well. Solitary confinement here I come. Beam me up, Scotty.

I don’t remember much of what happens next except that I am asked a lot of questions, taken to a room with a bed and told to undress, told to swallow a pill, poked with needles and, several hours later, sent home with a prescription for Zyprexa and strict orders to call my psychiatrist the following Monday.

When I ask the psychiatric nurse to let me stay, she says: “I’d rather send you home because I think being around other really mentally ill people will make you worse.”

Apparently, I’m not going to prison, after all. Apparently, I have to keep on living. UGH.

Ever since my best friend died by suicide, I can’t seem to get a grip on this new, horrible reality without her.

Katherine is the reason why I used to laugh and now she’s the reason why I cry.     

I really thought I had a handle on this stupid grief thing. Instead, things got worse (witness: the spying drones, witness the CIA tracking my iPhone).

    I thought I was getting better.

    I thought I was moving on.

    You know, MOVING ON. That’s the thing people say to grieving people. They say: “You’ll always cherish the special memories but now it’s time to move on.”

    I wish people would stop saying that.

Because the thing is, after losing Katherine, I didn’t get better. I got worse. I moved deeper into grief, deeper into a dark hole that spilled itself like black ink all over my mind. Losing Katherine triggered all the underlying symptoms of Bipolar II and it came roaring to life like a beast released from its cage.

Katherine, ever since you died:

I can't figure out what to do with all these things I need to tell you.

I can't seem to remember who I am or why I’m here.

I keep calling your cell phone just to hear your voice.

I can't concentrate.

I forget everything.

I imagine your voice in my dreams.

I wish I would have done more to help you.

I tell you everyday how much I love you, how much I miss you, how much I hope you're OK.

Katherine, why did you have to go?

 

Zyprexa zombie

Zyprexa is not my friend. I learn this after the ER doctors prescribe Zyprexa and it wallops me upside the head and knocks me out for sixteen hours straight. When I wake up, I don’t wake up. I mean, technically. I’m awake. But my eyelids won’t open. My eyelids are all: We hate you right now so we are going on strike. Your eyelids will be closed until further notice. Signed, The Management.

This is perplexing. Also, highly inconvenient. Maybe I should just prop open my eyelids with Q-tips. That’ll work. That won’t be weird at all. My kids won’t mind if I drop them off at school with Q-tips taped to my eyeballs.

This could be a new look for me. Zyprexa Zombie Mom. Somebody get me a TV show, stat. AMC, I have a new show for you: The Walking Q-Tip Head. You’re welcome.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Zyprexa Zombie. Let’s discuss how fun it is to show up at your kids’ school in 3 day old pajamas and matted hair. Let’s discuss how many awesome invitations you’ll get to playdates and Moms' Nights Out. Exactly zero.

This is the first thing you need to know about severe mental illness: it is lonely.

    You don’t get invited to things.

    And if you do, the host regrets it.

I mean, there was a time when you got invited to things. But on the day of the party, you were burrowed under your covers convinced the CIA was spying on you through your computer so you didn’t show up for the party. In fact, you completely forgot about it. Throwing the CIA off your tracks was more important. But three days later—in a blind panic—you suddenly remembered: THE PARTY.

You frantically text your friend: Hi, Kate. I’m so so so so so so so so so so sorry I missed the Moms Night Out. I was sick in bed with bipolar 2. It’s a severe mental illness. Have you heard of it? It used to be called manic depression. I can send you some articles if you’d like to read up about it!

    And then you wonder why you never hear from Kate again.

Here’s the second big lesson of mental illness: I am not my feelings.

    Oh, boy. I’m in trouble now.

 Mental illness has taught me that my feelings are not the be-all, end-all of the entire world. The Earth does not spin on its axis because of my feelings. The sun does not rise because I felt like it should. Everything goes on with or without my feelings which is why I need to learn to how to detach.

Detach is a terrible word and I hate it very much. But that’s mostly because I am way too attached to my feelings. I am way too attached to my way of seeing the world. Did you know that the medieval definition of attached was NAILED TO? Yeah. That’s me, alright. I am nailed to my feelings. I can’t go anywhere or do anything because I am nailed to how my feelings feel about where I go or what I do. I am the handmaiden of my feelings. I serve my feelings with gladness and thanksgiving because my feelings are….uh-oh. My feelings are beginning to sound a lot like God.

    Ay, there’s the rub, Hamlet.

 I feel so many things and they feel so very real and yet, those feelings are not me. I am the one having the feelings but I am not the feelings themselves. This is good news because it means I can detach from your feelings. I have the power to change my feelings. Except when I don’t. Except when my neurotransmitters have gone horribly awry and my brain is lacking dopamine and then I'm like: AAAUGH.

 But the point is, once my neurotransmitters are stabilized, it’s actually possible to get a handle on my feelings. This is not to say I don’t feel your feelings. It’s just to say that I don’t let your feelings boss you around. My feelings are not the boss of me. I am the boss of me and if my feelings are getting too out of control, I have every right to put my hands on my hips and say: “GET THEE BEHIND ME, SATAN!”

TO BE CONTINUED..... 

 

EE's Best Books of 2017
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2017 was a rough year for me and so I didn't read as many books as I would have liked. But I did read a few really great books and I thought I'd share them with you.

FICTION:

 

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW
In this delicious novel, a Russian Count is imprisoned in a hotel after being deemed an "unrepentant aristocrat" by a Bolshevik tribunal. A beautifully rendered period drama, the novel is a story-within-a-story: following the Count's life and relationships inside the hotel while volatile history takes place right outside it. A lovely read.

SING, UNBURIED, SING
Jesmyn Ward's exquisite writing captures the raw, tender life of a troubled family. 

MOVING KINGS
Joshua Cohen writes with an edge. It's been a long time since I read a book that so deeply and succinctly wields descriptive language. Rich character studies. Reminded me of Donna Tartt's "Goldfinch" but with a quarter of the words. Literary-types will enjoy this one.

WATCH ME DISAPPEAR
A quick-moving, fun thriller. I loved this book and gobbled it up in two days. Fans of "Girl on the Train" will love this book.

THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR
I will always remember this as the book I was reading when Katherine died. It supplied a momentary relief from grief. It's a charming, witty and very British book about a lovely young teacher who arrives in a small Sussex town to teach Latin during the last, golden summer before World War I.

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN
John Green returns with another teenage love story but this time, our protagonist suffers from a severe anxiety disorder. Gut-wrenching and true-to-life.

Non-Fiction:

I'M JUDGING YOU
It's rare to find a book that combines humor with such varied topics as friendship, racism, rape culture and all the ways we suck at life and how we can do better. Luvvie lays it down true. Don't miss this one.

THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F*CK
I was on the fence about this one but it won me over. Quick-moving insights on life and how to quit carrying the excess baggage of caring too much about what other people think.

OF MESS & MOXIE
Jen Hatmaker is the best friend you need when navigating life's tricky and surprising detours. This book is chock-full of witty insights and tenderhearted stories.

FALLING FREE
Shannan Martin's words were deeply convicting and also, highly encouraging. This is a woman who is truly living her faith. She's real. She's down to earth. I loved this book immensely.

FREE OF ME
This book was the biggest surprise for me in 2017. I went into it unsure whether I would enjoy it and found myself underlining page after page. Sharon's heart of gold shines through every word with compassion and conviction. A must read.

Those were my 2017 favorites. What books did you read this year that you loved?

 

Elizabeth Esther Comment
Why I Stopped Listening to @TheLiturgists Podcast (and why I hope I can listen again sometime soon)

The Liturgists Podcast has long been one of my favorites. A voice of progressive faith and non-fundamentalist conversations about God, the blend of music, meditation and discourse was always a rare gift.

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But something changed for me over the past few months and I stopped listening. I could no longer handle the way they treated female guests on the show.

I looked back at three different episodes to see if I could identify the problem and this is what I found:

There are three behaviors that occur repeatedly:

  • a woman makes an intelligent, on-topic point and the men do not respond to her subject matter but respond with a joke. Or...

  • they respond by talking about themselves, their own stories, struggles and questions—basically re-centering themselves—

  • and sometimes, the men will talk right over her (interrupting/silencing).

The male hosts inadvertently diminish the voice of the female guest by:

  • derailing her talking points with jokes
  • diminishing her commentary by going off-topic
  • not responding to her points at all, and
  • re-centering the conversation on themselves. 

Case in point: a recent episode called "Shame."

I actually thought this was an amazing episode and had some really beautiful moments. Hillary McBride was the guest and she provided brilliant commentary about how shame functions in our lives and how it even affects our bodies. 

The trouble starts during the group conversation (beginning at 45:00). As soon as Hillary begins to respond to the questions, things become problematic. The men do not respond to her points but respond with jokes or with their own personal stories. Here’s a list:

A joke about masturbation

A joke about being helpless on a desert island

A joke about favoriting someone’s tweet while on the toilet

A joke about using a gendered pronoun

A joke about Calvinists listening to the podcast

A joke about God’s wrath

A joke about “turtles all the way down”

A joke about back hair

A story about Mike McHargue’s own experience of shame

At this point, Hillary turns the conversation into a therapeutic exercise which ends the joking and leads to some genuinely authentic moments. However, in my mind, the damage was already done. Her subject matter had already been hijacked.

Here are a few more examples:

In an episode called "Names," the female guest shares a poignant realization she had while reading the book of John (15:26) and the men do not respond to this at all. Instead, Mike McHargue launches into a different topic. Later in the show, the female guest shares another story (32:00) and again, there is no response. No followup questions. No further discussion. Instead, Mike McHargue shares another story. Again and again on The Liturgists Podcast, it's as if women are speaking into a void and their words are neither acknowledged nor discussed.

In another episode called "Pale Blue Dot," a female climate change scientist is the guest. While she is given plenty of time to speak without interruption, the same strange dynamic occurs: the men neither engage or discuss her commentary. Either her comments are followed by a musical fade-out, a different question or one of the men changing the subject entirely. It was so strange to me that I wondered if they had intentionally edited the show to sound like a woman sitting alone, talking to herself.

The podcast bills itself as the progressive voice of faith but it functions just like other patriarchal media. Which is to say, it’s two white guys leading and dominating a conversation.

I know the guys are trying to change this, even describing themselves as "reluctant participants" in one episode that addressed female-centric material. I guess what bothers me is the implication that because they WANT to be inclusive, they are. That just because they WANT to be an allies, they have already achieved it.

Defenders of The Liturgists have said that because The Liturgists "give their platform to women," they are, in fact, true allies. It upsets me that women are supposed to feel grateful for being “given” The Liturgists' platform. It reminds me that women are always supposed to be grateful for any scrap that falls from the men's table.

In my mind, allyship is like trust: it's earned. Being an ally is not a declaration. Not a trophy you are handed upon retweeting progressive activists. And inclusivity is not just about inviting marginalized voices to speak, it's also about HOW those people are treated.

The Liturgists like to say that they want everyone to know that whoever you are, you are welcome. But how is this possible when women's voices are silenced? To me, that's just performance allyship.

Mike McHargue talks about how he wants to make things right for the ways he perpetuated harmful beliefs and behaviors in his younger years, but as with all of us, one's advocacy can only go as far as one's healing. One has to wonder if the reason why there is so much silencing behavior is because the podcast's hosts are still wrestling with their own spiritual trauma. 

Here is what i would love to see from the liturgists:

  1. Become better listeners: never interrupt a woman while she's speaking. When a woman makes a point—respond to that point (after she's done speaking). Engage her commentary. Ask questions. Acknowledge and respond to her words. Don't use her commentary as a springboard for your own story. Don't ignore her commentary by moving on to the next topic without engaging her first points. Don't re-center yourself.
  2. Cut back on the jokes: I know that humor keeps people interested but when dealing with serious subject matter, jokes about masturbation are crass and beneath the dignity of the guest you're hosting.
  3. Adopt a posture of humility and willingness to learn rather than being "the experts." When you listen to great interviewers—take Oprah, for example—you will see that she takes the role of learner. She truly seeks to understand her guests and their subject matter. Their commentary is not used to re-center herself.

May The Liturgists Podcast can become the inclusive, welcoming space they are trying to be. I sure hope so because I'd like to listen again.

Elizabeth Esther Comments
Forgiving Josh Harris
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Many of us who grew up in evangelical purity culture had lives built on faulty scaffolding that crumbled years ago. We rebuilt our lives from scratch. We had to deconstruct—sometimes by burning the whole thing down—before we could see what was worth keeping (if anything) and constructing a new scaffolding upon which to hang our new lives.

I've learned that life post-cult is not easy. There are no easy answers. I've had to learn to think for myself. The process of recovery was (and still is) untidy, gangly, misguided. Like a toddler learning to walk, I've fallen down time and again. My journey has taken more twists and turns than I imagined. And I've made mistakes. Many mistakes. I've even hurt other people in the process of trying to heal. I'm grateful to the friends and companions who gave me grace in these strange, middle places, this wilderness of relearning.

And now, I desire to repay the kindnesses granted to me by extending that same compassion toward Josh Harris.

A quick background: a little over a year ago, Josh and I interacted on Twitter. He apologized for the ways his book hurt me. The conversation picked up some attention and pretty soon, Slate magazine wrote an article about how Josh was "kind of maybe sorry" about his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. Then Josh read my first book "Girl at The End of the World." Then we had several long, deep conversations about his book and why what he wrote hurt so many people.

I haven't written about these interactions because I wanted to give it time. But recently, Josh gave a TED Talk about what happened, citing me as the person who started the whole thing for him. So, I figured now is a good time to talk about it.

What I see in Josh is someone who is trying to do better.

And I just can’t fault him for that. It's a helluva lot more than ANY religious leader I’ve ever called out has done. To be honest, it's healing to see someone take a measure of responsibility and accountability for what they perpetuated—even if their process isn't perfect. Even if, in the process of making things right, they make more mistakes. 

I think it’s easier for me to extend compassion because I’ve had the privilege of speaking with Josh personally. I heard his contrition and believe it was genuine. I now count Josh as a friend. Yes, we were on opposite sides of the experience of his theology but we both suffered because of it.

All that said, I've had reservations about Josh's "Apology Tour," so to speak. I'm a bit worried about how his documentary will turn out—will it really be about helping victims or will it be about Josh Harris? And while I'm grateful our initial Twitter conversation got this whole thing rolling for Josh, I know it's much harder to do the real work of change in real life than just offering a public apology on social media.

But still, he's trying to change and he's challenging himself to change. That counts for something in my book. I thought Josh had a lot of good things to say in his TED Talk, even though I felt a bit uncomfortable with how much of the talk focused on his personal journey of admitting wrong vs. what those of us who were hurt needed to hear; i.e. what, specifically, was wrong with what he wrote and how it was wrong and why he believes differently now.

Those of us who were hurt don't really need to hear another religious leader talk about their journey. To right the wrongs, Josh will have to de-center himself and his story. Frankly, he'll have to stop doing things like talking about himself on stage. 

I know that may sound harsh. Listen to me: I forgive Josh but that doesn't mean I need to make him feel better. Soothing Josh's feelings is not my job. He messed up and his book messed people up. There's no changing that. We bear in ourselves the wounds of his misguided and harmful theology. His book was a mega-hit bestseller in our strange, little world of evangelicalism. It's going to take a lot of work to undo that damage.

I can certainly accept his apology; mainly because I want to be the kind of person who accepts apologies. That's just me. I want to be the kind of person who gives others a second chance. Goodness knows I've needed second, third, gazillion chances.

Here's what I know: recovery work is damn difficult and nobody does it perfectly.

In my recovery and advocacy, I've made mistakes, too. I do my best to stay informed and educated. But I'm going to make mistakes. I'm going to disappoint people. I don't expect people to try and make me feel better. Other people's opinion of me is none of my business. But at the same time, I hope there is still space for me. I think there's something beautiful about offering grace to the person who doesn't deserve it.

We don't owe Josh our forgiveness and he doesn't "deserve" our forgiveness. But here's something I hope we consider: there never will be a perfect apology. 

The wounds we've sustained are far too deep and too lasting for any human apology to mend. There will never be an apology which will make everything ok. In my own experience, only God can heal those deepest wounds. 

I also want to remember that Josh was a victim of his own theology and childhood abuse. This is a hurt person who, in turn, hurt others—he just did it on a grander scale than most of us will ever have access to. 

I can have compassion on Josh because I see someone who—though his experience was one of fame, recognition, validation and worldwide "success"—still suffered deeply as a result of his own fear-based theology.

When the fame faded, when the lights went down, when the applause stopped—I'm guessing he got to experience the vacuum of emptiness and loneliness that many of us had already experienced as the direct result of what he was doing onstage. 

Josh will have to rebuild his life just like we did. He will have to deconstruct and resurrect a new scaffolding to hang his life on. He's really just at the very beginning. I guess what I'm saying is: I'm willing to give him time.

I'm tired of being angry. Anger served me well at the beginning of my recovery journey. But anger is an exhausting emotion. It takes a lot of energy to sustain anger. My anger just doesn't serve me anymore. Perhaps this is why I'm willing to give Josh a second chance. I've healed from a lot of the damage caused by fundamentalism and evangelicalism. From this vantage point, it's probably easier to extend forgiveness because I don't need him to make it right for me. I already did the work.

I just hope he doesn't give up. The road ahead isn't going to be easy. But the Josh I got to know over the phone and via lots of messages isn't going to give up. It's going to take time—if I had to guess, at least ten years—but I think he'll keep going. I hope he does. I hope he earns our forgiveness. I hope he's able to forgive himself. I hope he gets to experience life on the abundant side of grace. I hope we remain friends.

Elizabeth Esther Comments
My rapidly deteriorating brain and other dust bunnies

Matt says the plumber Did a Bad Job. Matt doesn’t cuss so he says things like: “That dude did a half-butt job patching up the hole” which I find hilariously uncouth.

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I follow Matt into the hardware store because I don’t want to be home alone with my brain. It’s been playing tricks on me lately and Matt is the only person who can take one look at my face and know if I'm losing touch with reality. He’s my DIY psychiatrist. I like to keep him on hand for emergencies.

We're shopping at OSH which stands for Orchard Supply Hardware but I like saying “OSH” because it’s more fun. Usually I don’t accompany Matt on these home repair errands because, well, I used to think it was boring. The world of DIY home improvement is a foreign land to me.

Matt is saying words that sound like English but which I don’t understand:

Rapid Set Stucco Patch

Vapor Barrier Stucco Backing

Stucco Float

Concrete Rubber Bucket

Saw-All

I follow him around like a duckling, listening to him talk with the OSH guy about things I have never heard before and I wonder how it is he has managed to keep this manly world of trowels and wire cutters private from me. Then I remember that for the last twenty years or so I’ve been chasing delusions of grandeur. Also, this manly world is boring.

I pick up a broom and a roll of masking tape. I carry the broom on my shoulder like a fishing rod. I imagine myself as Huck Finn, trawling Aisle 32 for channel-lock wrenches, whatever those are.

Matt says: “Why did you get the corn stalk broom instead of the synthetic, angled broom?”

I don’t have an answer for this except that it looked like how a broom was supposed to look: like something a witch would ride.

“Angled brooms are better,” Matt says and so we switch them.

I feel proud of my new angled broom. Take that, ye dust bunnies. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this new, angled broom could also sweep away the dust bunnies in my mind? Tidy it up? Sweep it clean of its bipolar dirt?

“Am I boring you in here?” Matt asks.

“No,” I lie.

The truth is that I’m bored stiff but I much prefer boredom to being at home with my rapidly deteriorating brain.

“I think you need a nap,” Matt says after we pay for our stucco and trowels and broom.

“Yes, I think you’re right,” I say. “Home repair is exhausting.”

 

EE Author Interview: Shannan Martin "Falling Free: rescued from the life I always wanted." #EEAuthorInterview

Q: In the book you write: "When we gauge our sense of security on things like low crime rates, high-achieving schools, and padded retirement accounts, what we're essentially saying is, "We'll take care of ourselves, thank you very much. We've got this." Honestly, it's really hard for me to think otherwise...I have felt for most of my life that it's MY responsibility to find safe, good schools for my kids to live in. Now that you've lived this new life for awhile, how have your kids adjusted? How did you—practically speaking—overcome your fears of living in a "bad part of town"?

Shannan: Trying to stop solving my own problems was one of the most challenging heart shifts. It was also really necessary in order to trust that God is so much bigger than we can comprehend.

In some ways, my family was sort of forced to recognize we were in over our heads, which honestly helped.

We had so much transition coming at us and we were losing so many things, including
our sense of control (financial and otherwise) along with our basic reputation as good, Christian
people who had their lives together. During those times, we found ourselves needy and desperate
for the compassion of God in a new way.


Because of the abundance of our community, we are surrounded by people who don’t have it in
them to pretend to be something they are not. When we moved, people were lining up to tell us
we were going to ruin our lives. We were afraid we would arrive to gangs, drugs, and crime. And
on its face, that’s exactly what we found in pockets. But we also found a community that teaches
us about dignity, generosity, community, and grit. Once we actually got to know our neighbors
and started walking with them through everyday life, the potential problems became distant
background noise.


We have been here for five years now. This is our new ordinary. Our younger kids, now ages 12,
11, and 9, adjusted really easily. For our two youngest, this is by far what they remember most of
life. It’s interesting to think about how that will shape them into the future. I was raised in a
really homogenous, tiny, rural community and though no one overtly taught me to fear the
“other,” over time, I just did. We can’t love what we don’t know. My hope is that in living in a
richly diverse neighborhood, in terms of race, socioeconomic structures, and politics, my kids
will hold a wider view of the kingdom of God and understand what it means to live as neighbors
within it.

Q: 4. Your chapter on hospitality struck a chord with me, especially when you wrote on page 133:
"But it seems the best way to welcome the broken neighbor is by hanging up the charade that weare somehow more whole." This really flies in the face of the Put Together Christian who, out of some kind of spiritual noblesse-oblige, helps the broken other people. Has this way of
hospitality brought new and true relationships into your life? How has it leveled the
playing field in terms of realizing that not only are you serving others, but THEY are
serving YOU?


SHANNAN: Yes! I don’t think we can claim to give hospitality if we aren’t ready to receive it, especially inunlikely places.

Jesus was a pro at receiving hospitality. He modeled this far more than he
modeled the flip-side. My whole perspective on hospitality has shifted pretty dramatically. In my
“old” life, when I hosted, I definitely wanted to bless people, but I also wanted them to be
impressed with my skills. It was more about hiding all of the chaos and clutter and creating this
enchanted reality that I don’t actually live in.

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I still enjoy throwing a real party now and then.
There’s nothing wrong with doing that. I just can’t roll that way in my regular life every day. For
one thing, I couldn’t keep up with the sheer pace if I was still trying to be fancy.
Our home has become the landing place for friends in work release who need somewhere to
spend their Sunday pass after church. The house is always a disaster when we walk through the
door together, but they don’t even notice. They don’t care that I usually serve soup. In fact, they
are more comfortable with really simple, familiar meals, so I have learned to save the
adventurous, foodie side of me for other days.

 

I want to provide a tangible place of welcome for lonely, weary souls. I want to give our friends
the true solace of home, where they know they belong just as they are. This is something I’m
actually learning from them. So if you ever come over for dinner, (and I hope you do!) you will
probably find me in yoga pants and no make-up. The sink will be full of dishes. The plates might
be paper. The kids will be naughty and loud. The bread might be burned. But with any luck,
we’ll see ourselves in all of it, and remember we are fully loved by God and each other, no trying
necessary.

TO WIN A COPY OF SHANNAN'S BOOK, PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT OR SHARE THIS POST ON SOCIAL MEDIA WITH THE HASHTAG #EEAUTHORINTERVIEW

 

Elizabeth Esther Comments
Why 12-Step Groups Can Be Harmful for Survivors of Religious Trauma

After three years in 12-step meetings I stopped attending over a year ago. I had learned what I needed to learn and it was getting to the point where the group dynamics were backfiring for me. I didn't know it at the time, but the way 12-step programs are set up and organized can actually be damaging for people with religious trauma.

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When I first started attending, a therapist of mine expressed concern because she said 12-step groups can sometimes function like fundamentalist groups. I disregarded her advice and lived to regret it. 

Here are a few problems I encountered in 12-step programs:

SAYING A PRAYER IN UNISON: One of the very first things that happens at the start of a 12-step meeting is that everyone says the Serenity Prayer together. But for those of us with religious trauma, this can remind us of chanting or communal prayer which was used to manipulate our state of consciousness. It can seem as if we are being forced onto the same "wavelength" as everyone else. For survivors of spiritual trauma who have fought so hard to regain our God-given freedom, this can almost feel like a personal violation.

SLOGANS: 12-step programs are full of slogans which members repeat to each other. Things like: “It works if you work it” and “One day at a time” and “Keep Coming Back” are repeated so often that they almost function like magic spells. For those of us with religious trauma, using a slogan can remind us of when people responded to our pain by quoting Christian platitudes or Bible verses: “All things work together for good!” or “Prayer Changes Things!” Whenever I felt vulnerable enough to share my pain and someone replied with a slogan, it paralyzed me.

CODED LANGUAGE: 12-step has its own unique language and is protective of how 12-step literature and pamphlets are used. Only “conference approved” literature is allowed in most meetings and members are discouraged from directly referencing outside material. This was a big red flag because I grew up in an environment where only “approved words” were allowed. As a newcomer, I once made the mistake of sharing about an outside-of-program book that was helpful to me and was interrupted by another member. She literally interrupted me right in front of everyone and said:  “we don’t name other books during meetings.” The embarrassment I felt reminded me of being shamed for reading anything other than the King James Version of the Bible.

THE PROMISES: at the end of many 12-step meetings a list of “promises” or “blessings" are read to the group. These "promises" are like miniature pep-talks that promise future success in life if we just work our 12-step program. The first time I heard “the blessings,” I had to restrain myself from bursting into laughter because it reminded me so much of prosperity gospel preachers promising us financial wealth if we just had enough faith (or gave our money to the church). 

THERAPY is DISCOURAGED: 12-step groups take a rather dim view of traditional therapy and counseling. While it’s generally acknowledged that many people do seek therapy, the perspective of most 12-step programs is that therapy can only go so far. I’ve heard from many sponsors and people in the program that therapy can help identify the reasons why we behave self-destructively but can’t help us change our behaviors. They are quick to testify that only 12-step programs actually saved their lives or changed their lives.

I would like to clarify that I do indeed believe 12-step programs work for a lot of people. I don’t dispute that. I’ve seen firsthand the positive outcomes for people and members of my own family. But I know there are others like me for whom the 12-step programs did not work—in fact, they may have even damaged us further. And it's important to me that our stories are heard.

The reason I chose to write about this was because every time I expressed my concerns to a sponsor or other member of the program, I was brushed aside. I even had a sponsor once tell me that: "Well, even if it IS a cult, it's a healthy cult."

Friends, there is no such thing as a "healthy" cult. And if your gut is telling you something is wrong, LISTEN. We have fought hard for our freedom. Nobody can take it away from us—unless we let them, unless we give it away. Remember: there is always hope.

The same hope that found you inside the cult can also heal you outside of it.

And for me, hope arrived in the form of helpful therapists and counselors. If I would have listened to the advice from 12-step groups, I wouldn't have found the healing I so desperately needed.

We all need a helping hand. We all need community and connection. It's ok if we can't find that in 12-step groups. We don't have to feel ashamed if 12-step groups don't work for us. God is big enough to find us wherever we are. There is always a path to healing and there is always hope.

Elizabeth Esther Comments
Don't be the grumpy guy in line at Mailboxes, Etc.

I went to Mailboxes, Etc. last week and after that I started adding "Etc." to everything I said. Get dressed for school, Etc. Do your homework, Etc. Give me all your money, Etc.

It works for a variety of scenarios including highway robbery—if you're into that sort of thing. It also made me realize I would like to change my name to Elizabeth, Etc. 

Elizabeth, Etc. would be less confusing for everyone especially the people who can't figure out whether to call me Elizabeth or Esther. Or Elizabeth Esther. Or EE. It's totally a branding problem.

Elizabeth, Etc. takes care of that quite nicely. It encompasses all the iterations of my name, including my alter egos and various personalities that seem to appear when I'm manic. Elizabeth, Etc. Branding problem solved! I should go into marketing.

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Anyway, the reason I was at Mailboxes, Etc. was because I had to submit my fingerprints for my new job. I don't know why, but submitting my fingerprints made me paranoid. I was like: "Did I commit a crime I'm not aware of? What if I have a secret criminal record that I don't know about and the FBI is just waiting for me to submit my fingerprints and then, WHAMMO, I'm locked away for 50 years without parole?" See, this is why I take medicine.

So there I was standing in line at Mailboxes, Etc. and there's this old dude in front of me who also came in to get his fingerprints done. But he was not happy about it. He wanted everyone to know that this fingerprint dealy-o was a "total racket" and that he was Very Angry About This Great Injustice. 

I was standing behind him silently judging him in my head: I think your real problem is switching jobs too frequently. Maybe try sticking with one job for awhile. Not that I have any credibility, here. I'm just the failed writer who can't seem to hold a job. But I try, friends. I try.

The Mailboxes, Etc. clerk was trying to be kind and helpful but the old dude just kept going on and on. Finally, the clerk was like: "I have an idea. Here's the number for the fingerprint company, you can call them and ask them to use the same set you submitted last time. It hasn't worked for anyone else but maybe it will work for you."

The point is, don't be that guy. If only because it's too exhausting. Why waste energy railing against the injustices of fingerprint systems? Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there are more important ways to spend my energy. Life, etc. Happiness, etc. Love, etc.

Let's discuss life for one minute. There's a little cliche I've come to despise. You see it everywhere. Plastered on signs. Hand-lettered on chunks of reclaimed wood. Stamped onto burlap garlands. LIVE. LAUGH. LOVE.

I hate that phrase. 

I realize it's supposed to cheer me up, make me think positive thoughts, maybe heal all my childhood traumas. But instead it just makes me ragingly mad. It makes me want to shout LIVE. LAUGH. BARF.

But that would be inappropriate so I don't shout, I just write about it on my blog.

Look at me turning into Grumpy Mailboxes, Etc. Guy.

I'm sorry, but there are just some things that should not exist. And that stupid phrase is one of them.

Do you know what's weird? Now that I'm all stabilized on my medicine, my brain won't let me freak out about stuff anymore. It's annoying. I miss freaking out. I miss my feels.

Except that while my medicine works on my head, it doesn't seem to work on my stomach or my jaw. Which is to say, the only way I knew I was getting nervous about my new job was NOT because I was having anxious thoughts—my thoughts were super chill—but because I had a stomach ache and I kept grinding my teeth at night. It's weird to have my brain on vacation while my body is still here in this REALLY OVERWHELMING LIFE. I miss having a full-being freakout. You know, where my brain is going a million miles a minute and my hands are shaking and my stomach is cramping and everything is working beautifully together to remind me just how awful life is.

Just kidding. I don't miss that. 

I certainly don't miss the mania. Or the crashes.

Life has become suddenly, rather boring. Is this how normal people feel all the time? I ask myself. Like, they just go through life without panicking over mailboxes, etc.? You guys, I'm turning into a normal person and this is very, very strange. I don't quite know what to make of my new normal. My family seems to like it, though. They have a No-Freak-Outs-Mom and apparently, kids dig that sort of thing. WHO KNEW. Life is strange, etc.

 

Elizabeth Esther Comment
The indignities of Greek yogurt

If you buy an individual sized Fage greek yogurt you will notice a pronunciation guide on the side of every carton. Fage (pronounced: fa-yeh!).

Yes, it has an exclamation point because nobody talks about Greek yogurt without proper pronunciation and excitable punctuation.

Pronounced fa-yeh!!!!!!!

Pronounced fa-yeh!!!!!!!

I am a real Greek. My maiden name is Geftakys. Well, that was the Americanized version. Family lore says that when Great-Grandpa George came through Ellis Island in the early 1920’s, the customs agent changed our Greek last name to something more pronounceable in English. Hence: Yeftakis became Geftakys.

Back to yogurt.

i am perplexed by the packaging of Fage Greek yogurt (pronounced: fa-yeh!. 

With the small carton you just peel back the foil lid, mix in the fruit jam and begin eating. If, however, you buy the larger size, things get a bit more complicated.

First of all there is the plastic lid which is whatever. Everything has a plastic lid. No big deal. But the question is: why?

Why does the larger Fage yogurt (pronounced: SHUT UP!) get a lid and the little, individual sizes get none? It’s not fair. Does this mean the little guys can keep themselves all fresh and Greek-y with just the foil lid? Is it because they’re so small and cute and nobody would suspect them of going sour?

I suppose it’s like Spiderman: with great yogurt comes great responsibility. More yogurt requires more lids. Might as well double up. It’s also sort of like birth control. If you’re smack-dab in the middle of your most fertile years, double up. You’re going to need a plastic lid and a foil one.

Of course, we can’t forget the round parchment paper that is underneath the foil lid, sitting flat on top of your yogurt.

This parchment, we learn, is supposed to absorb the whey that rises to the top after yogurt is made. This parchment, I say, is terrifying—especially when you go to take your first bite and up comes your spoon there it is, this horrifying slimy thing hooked on your spoon like some beast rearing up from the bog of your yogurt.

You didn’t know the Loch Ness Monster lived in Fa-YEH! yogurt, did you?

This parchment paper is a hazard and there should be warnings. I mean, what if you’re looking at your phone checking Facebook and whatnot while you and you absentmindedly dip your spoon into the yogurt? Then you bring it to your mouth and Fa-HEY! Monster paper on your tongue. Not that I’ve ever done that.

There are other considerations pertaining to Greek yogurt: mainly, is one supposed to stir the yogurt before consuming it? Is Greek yogurt like Laura Scudder’s (pronounced scuh-ders) peanut butter? You stir before eating?

Because that means there’s just one more opportunity for the monsters among us to make themselves known. You know who you are: ye non-stirrers of the peanut butter. Ye lazy lobsters, you. NOT EVERY PEANUT BUTTER IS JIFF!

Modern life is overwhelming for me. So many options. So many different ways of eating the same kind of food. So many different ways of flushing a toilet.

I was in the airport last year on one of those super rare occasions where I have to fly (which is terrifying all by itself) and the airport toilets were a mystery to me. There were so many options for flushing. I just wanted the one that said: LEVER HERE. But instead there were diagrams and flowcharts (har-har) and even little drawings depicting the forcefulness of each flush. Do you prefer the single drip flush? The double drip flush? OR THE MEGA WHOPPER OMG DID THAT JUST COME OUT OF ME flush? I go for the mega whopper every time. Because I like killing the Earth. Kidding. It's because I’m super paranoid that the next person in line will come upon my excretions.

I have issues. I don’t like the way we flush our toilets and I don’t like the way we eat in these modern times. Then again, now it’s trendy to eat like they did in the olden days. Like Neanderthals. Or Paleo-enthals. Look, I have deep suspicions about the Paleo diet thing. I just know those olden-day humans were sneaking in Wonder Bread with their side of cow.

You know there just had to be some kid choking on the parchment paper of his Greek yogurt and then saying: screw it! And eating peanut butter straight from the jar. Without stirring it.

 

Elizabeth Esther Comment
Author Interview & Book Giveaway! Sharon Hodde Miller's "Free of Me"! #EEAuthorInterview
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LEAVE A COMMENT TO BE ENTERED TO WIN A COPY OF SHARON'S NEW BOOK!

I read Sharon Hodde Miller's new book, "Free of Me: Why Life is Better When It's Not About You", in one sitting. Convicting, encouraging and utterly read-able, Sharon's heartfelt writing is overflows with grace. I couldn't wait to interview her for my Author Interview series.

Here is our conversation:

EE: In Free of Me you write: "From a worldly perspective, freedom usually means...the liberty to do whatever you want. From a gospel perspective, "freedom" is freedom from sin and the flesh, not to live however you want but to live for God. Freedom means you are no longer bound by the tyranny of self, but you are free to focus on Christ." I love the distinction you make here. Can you give us an example of a time when you experienced freedom from the tyranny of self and how that freed you to more fully love God? What kinds of things hold us back from experiencing this kind of freedom and why do we choose them over true freedom?

SHM: For me, this freedom has been more of a journey than a single experience. I recently read a sermon by Eugene Peterson in which he talked about the Israelites learning to live in their newfound freedom. After they were freed from slavery in Egypt, they had to learn an entirely new way of life, and sometimes they defaulted back to their old, familiar ways. I really resonate with this, and in many ways I am still learning this freedom. Sometimes my soul defaults back to those captive ways.

What has helped me, though, is the story of Paul in Philippians. It's the portrait of a man who is truly free. He is in prison, but his soul is totally unchained. He doesn't care what people say about him or think about him. He doesn't care if his mission fails, or if he ultimately perishes. So long as people know Jesus. That's his number one concern, and I can see the freedom that this mindset produced in his life. And I want that for myself. 

I have tried to adopt a similar mindset in my own life. If someone hurts my feelings, or rejects me, or doesn't approve of my writing or my teaching, I want to hold it all lightly, as someone with nothing to prove. If I can, in any way, pivot that experience in a way that points more people to the love of God, than that's all that matters. I find a tremendous amount of freedom in that perspective.

EE: I love the research you provide about how focusing on self-esteem doesn't actually increase self-esteem. And you also agree that low self-esteem is real and painful and that the gospel has an answer for it. You write: "When you struggle with degrading lies about who you are, the answer is biblical truth—about God, and about yourself. His love, his compassion, his acceptance, his affirmation: it's all a healing balm for the wounded." For those of us who have experienced spiritual wounding in the church and thus have low self-esteem, how can we find this healing balm when perhaps even reading the Bible is triggering for us? Can God reveal his love, compassion, acceptance and affirmation for us in other ways besides just reading the Bible? What would that look like for the spiritually abused?

SHM: I want to be mindful of my limitations in answering this question, because everyone's story is different, and everyone's journey of healing is different. I am so grateful for the wisdom and insight of trained counselors who can speak more knowledgeably into the this topic. They truly are a gift from God.

With that in mind, I think it's normal to go through seasons when we can't read the Bible. In my experience, this is especially true in times of suffering or grief, and I think God has a lot of grace for it. If David's trembling anger in the Psalms is any indication, God understands, and God's patience is inexhaustible. We do not have to feel pressured or rushed to heal.

I am a big believer in the value of healthy, humble, Jesus-loving community in the healing process. Healthy churches can help us identify the lies and distortions of former abusers. However, if even a healthy church community feels overwhelming at first, another baby step might simply be asking God to reveal his love to you. Pray for the eyes to see God's care and embrace in the world around you. Look for it in the attentive presence of a friend, the love letter of a vivid sunset, or the enjoyment of a savory meal (after all, God dreamed up those amazing flavors for us!). 

These little gifts were never meant to be the substance of our faith, but I think we can view them as gentle invitations back to the One who is. 

EE: Later in the book you write about getting the dream job you thought you always wanted but then experiencing dissatisfaction. You write: "That's because my pain and discontentment were a taste of the life I thought I wanted. God was letting me taste its fruits, just a bit, so that I would develop a distaste for it." I thought this was so profound! And I could totally relate to getting the life/success I thought I wanted and then having it become sour in my mouth. You also share that because St. Paul's ministry was never about him—never a a Paul-centered calling—that he was able to bear the betrayal and abandonment of others. So, after you got a taste of the life you thought you wanted, how did an other-centered calling differ? Did giving up your "dream job" increase your level of contentment?

SHM: One of the ways we sabotage our callings is when they become entangled with our identities. When our sense of self depends on our achievements, success, or validation of our work, it's only a matter of time before we become enslaved to it. When this happens, our confidence and security will really depend on the day, and that's the danger of making our callings about us. 

When I wrote that "God gave me a taste of the life I wanted," what I really meant is that God allowed me to taste the fruit of putting myself first. When my calling was about me instead of Christ, and I experienced crushing insecurity as a result, it's like God was saying, "This emptiness, this loss of joy, this pressure you feel to keep up and measure up? This is what it feels like when your work is about you." That's when I realized I had a choice to make. I could continue on the path I was on with the priorities I had--which were making me miserable--or I could re-orient my calling back towards God.

In hindsight, I now see my insecurity and loss of joy as a severe mercy. Through it, I learned to choose the path and the priorities that lead to freedom. If I experience failure, it hurts, but not as much as putting myself before God. If I experience embarrassment, it hurts, but not as much as putting myself for God. Now, I can receive those pains and give them to God to redeem, instead of frantically protecting my image or my need to succeed, which only leads to emptiness.

EE: I love how you write that using your God given gift to write is not selfish because "our gifts are meant to be used. God grants us our abilities, not to set them on a shelf but to build up his church. As long as our motives are for God's glory, our work is not selfish but ordained." How can we know that we're using our gifts for God's glory and not our own? What does this look like? What kind of fruit will we see in our life and in the lives of others?

SHM: I write about this some in my book, but there is freedom in knowing that none of us has pure motives 100% of the time. As broken people, we all have broken motives, and that doesn't necessarily disqualify us or our calling. It just makes us human. If anything, it's helpful to be honest about our selfish motives so that we can deal with them. It's the motives we deny which wreak the most havoc in our lives.

When we pretend our selfish motives aren't there, then we will lead or serve out of a place of pride rather than humility. We will be less teachable, and more defensive. We will, ironically, engage in less self-care, because we will sacrifice our health on the altar of image. And we'll be more prone to hurt others, because we won't be able to admit when we are wrong. 

Conversely, one of the best signs that we are using our gifts for God is flourishing--both in ourselves, and in others. When we use our gifts for God, we bless and encourage our families, neighbors, and world. And when we use our gifts for God, we personally grow in the Spirit--in joy, peace, goodness, love.

To enter the book giveaway, please share this post on a social media outlet using the hashtag #EEAuthorIntervieW or LEAve a comment! One winner will be randomly selected on Friday, November 10.

Tuesday Writers' Collective: share your writing with other writers!

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Elizabeth Esther Comment
Fridge Selfies

Cleaning out my fridge is like traveling through a museum of shattered dreams. Granted, it’s a bit more smelly than your average museum. But it’s educational, nonetheless.

Ah, there’s the moldy kale I once dreamed of making into healthy breakfast smoothies. Remember how it was gonna cure my psoriasis, stabilize my mood disorder and ramp up my sex drive? TRASH.

This is my real life fridge. I know. You're jealous.

This is my real life fridge. I know. You're jealous.

Oh, here we have some clumped-together, foul-stenching flax seed. Remember when I was gonna sprinkle it atop all my organic, free-range, Paleo meals? TRASH.

Why do I have so many varieties of beets? TRASH.

I don’t even know what this thing is. But I better wear gloves to scrape it off the shelf.

My fridge is not Instagram-worthy. I don’t voila! my quinoa. I don’t humble braggage about my cabbage.

But still, I keep buying stuff I’m never gonna eat because I want abs like FabFitWonderMom8675 on Instagram. #NoExcuses #Fit4Life #IHateMyself

Just kidding. I don’t want a six pack. I like rolls. Rolls are squishy and comfy. Rolls don’t have hard edges. Kids like to pinch rolls. Husbands, too. Rolls are warm and soft. Rolls taste good with butter. Wait. Wrong rolls.

OMG, that was a Dad joke.

Come to think of it, nothing in my life is Instagram worthy. It cracks me up when people caption their Instagram post: “Just keeping it real” and their kitchen has maybe ONE dirty dish in the sink. Or when Christians talk about their “messy, broken” lives because one time they told their kid to shut up.

If somebody’s life looks like a gorgeous Instagram feed, they are trying to sell you something. Telling you they’re “broken” is just part of their brand.

The thing is, living a life of obedience to Christ doesn’t look pretty. In fact, it can look downright boring. It can look like drudgery. That’s why so few people choose it. Because the life of a Christian is not glamorous (at least, it’s not supposed to be). Christ is our treasure, not our social media reach.

About 99.9% of my life is not Insta-worthy.  This actually gives me great hope. It reassures me that my goal is not to have a pretty, picture-perfect Instagram life. My goal is to live a life worthy of my calling, my goal is to delight in God’s will—and that usually doesn’t look awesome, even with a pretty filter on top.

God’s will for me when I am dealing with my illness means lying in bed, trying to breathe through crushing despair and stumbling through my Rosary. My brain is broken. There’s nothing Instagram-worthy about it. A lot of my days are spent in bed staring up at the ceiling. Nobody wants to see pictures of my ceiling.

People who are truly broken—those of us who are chronically ill, or bankrupt, or wounded from a divorce, or worried about our errant adult children, or wrangling with addiction—we don’t go around staging our life for Instagram.

Because our lives aren’t stage-able. Our lives look the opposite of staged. We’re too busy trying to survive to worry about impressing strangers on the Internet.

But here’s the thing: we really need each other’s REAL broken stories and not the fake ones. I’m no longer ashamed of showing you my broken brain because, well, what do I have to lose? I’ve already hit rock bottom. There is true freedom in rock bottom. So, I show you my brokenness with my words. And in the end, these aren’t shattered dreams.

This is the real life God has called me to live and I’m living it.

 

 

Elizabeth Esther Comment
Author Heather King + Book Giveaway "Shirt of Flame: a year with Saint Therese of Lisieux" #EEAuthorInterview
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Today I am absolutely thrilled to bring you Heather King, an author I consider one of my spiritual mentors. Her book, Shirt of Flame: a year with Saint Therese of Lisieux was life-changing for me. 

I've written about following St. Therese's "Little Way" and how being blindsided by longing helped me channel that passion into love for God and that embarrassing moment when Jesus spoke to me through a Ne-Yo song.

In case you haven't heard of her, St. Therese was a young nun who followed her sisters into the Carmel convent in France and became a cloistered nun at age fifteen. She died at age 24 from tuberculosis. But in her brief, shining life she developed a spiritual discipline called "The Little Way." St. Therese considered herself "too small" to do great and glorious things for God so she decided to do offer every action of her "little" life with great love. Heather King quotes Joseph Fr. Schmidt, FSC as saying: "[The 'little way'] was a matter of allowing the divine will to unfold in very ordinary, everyday experiences of life and of responding with generosity, confidence and love." [p.71]

In her autobiography, St. Therese writes that her 'little way' was not the easy way or the lazy way. It was, in fact, a way of mortifying herself for the sake of others, of "holding my tongue instead of answering back; in doing little things for others without hoping to get anything in return, in not slumping when I was sitting down..." [p. 164, Story of a Soul]

Those little mortifications, those little ways of saying no to my own laziness, my own will, even my slumping posture—even those small things I can offer as a living sacrifice. 

 

Here is my conversation with Heather King:

 

EE: In Shirt of Flame, you write: "We can only know that we are not loved one iota more if we get sober, or one iota less if we stay drunk. We can only hope to do the best we can with what we've been given." (p.20) For those of us who have grown up with a wrathful, vengeful perception of God, HOW can we learn to BELIEVE this truth? Do you have any tips for us? How did you come to believe this yourself? 

HK: I believe it on faith. And I believe that we‘re loved because we exist, not because our virtue or good deeds or sobriety have earned us a special place in Jesus’s heart. As my friend Fr. Terry says, “The good news is you’re loved by God. The bad news is everyone else is loved just as much.”

I don’t have any tips. I think faith is a long, rocky pilgrimage that does not take place on our timetable. For me it’s been decades of progress that is so slow I’m never sure it’s progress at all. My only idea has been to stay as close to Christ as possible. I try to stay close to the Gospels and close to the Sacraments, especially Mass. It’s really about serving God, and letting Him heal us in his way, on his timetable, in the way he sees fit to heal us. Just the fact that the good Lord has got me up and running such that I’m dressed, sitting up straight, and have showed up to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass itself is a miracle. My question isn’t so much what is the Eucharist going to do for me; how is it going to heal me? My question, my prayer, is to abandon myself completely The miracle has already happened. The reign of love has been established. God became man, pitched his tent among us, let us kill him and was resurrected. So I get to simply show up and be part of that.  

 

EE: Later in the book you write: "The way to become whole, in other words, is to become fully ourselves....we can't cloister ourselves out of fear of relationships—as Therese certainly did not—but we do need to offer up our ideas of whether and in what way people 'should' love us." (p.32) Oh, my goodness, this struck me so deeply and it is a passage I have returned to time and again. For those of us, like me, who are bound up in needing, wanting, aching for others to love us the way we believe they SHOULD love us, how do we learn to let go of this? What does that kind of practice look like for you? Is it still difficult for you to let go of wanting others to love you in a particular way?

HK: Oh my God, of course, yes! Though I must say less so. This has really been my lifelong journey—maybe it’s everyone’s. If you’re talking about romantic love, I think we’re drawn to whoever we’re going to be drawn to and then the carnage begins. The being shattered, ripped apart, nailed to a cross. At least that’s what it’s been like for me, always. I think that’s often how God works: through another person in the absolute last way we would have wanted or asked for.

But when I say we can’t cloister ourselves out of fear of relationships I don’t mean just romantic relationships. We’re formed by our suffering and exile for a very different kind of love than the love that grasps and wants to possess. That takes most of us a long, long time. You have to sort of give yourself to God to dispose of as He likes. Which, no matter how seemingly painful and lonely turns out to be a lot less painful than, say, piningover some guy who is emotionally and every other way unavailable. We have to take responsibility for our own happiness—we get to order our lives to the search for beauty and truth, surround ourselves with books, music, activities that nourish and challenge us. I think we do care less and less about ourselves as we continue on the spiritual path. We’re ever more sure or our worth, in God’s eyes, and we’re ever less concerned about our worth in the eyes of the world. 

EE: You quote St. Therese, as she is dying, that she doesn't happier to die sooner rather than later but: "What makes me happy is only to do the will of God." How did you learn to trust that God's will was the best for you? How do we get over the fear that God doesn't have our best interest in mind? How can we learn to be happy in only doing the will of God?

HK: Well again, this is the whole pilgrimage, or at least the first part of it: coming to believe that God has our best interests in mind. That we are loved and that He is in our corner, completely. The problem is that we seek and think we want instead the things of the world: attention, security, fame, youth, beauty, money, the admiration of our fellows.

St. Therese of Lisieux had a very well-known “second conversion” on Christmas Eve at the age of I think 13 or 14. Up to that time, she was kind of clingy and co-dependent and overly emotive. Something happened, I won’t go into the whole story here, but on a dime, everything changed. She said on that “night of lights” Christ did for her in ten seconds what she hadn’t been able to do on her own in ten years. She said that night “charity entered my heart”—and ever after she was “happy.” In spite, of course, of more or less unrelenting suffering till the day she died, in agony, of TB at the tender age of 24.

Anyway, lately I’ve been praying for charity to enter my heart. This would be a tall order as I am very possibly the most selfish self-centered person on earth. I’m a terrible exaggerator but I am not exaggerating about that. I can’t wish away or will away my selfishness. Jesus says that whatever we ask for in his name, he will give us.  So I asked recently in Jesus’s name for charity to enter my heart. For Jesus to help me to be a little more generous, a little less judgmental, however he might make that work.

Well I have sponsored for a few years this darling young girl, Brenda, from Honduras, through a Catholic program called Unbound. I send 40 bucks a month and we write back and forth a few times a year. Brenda finally moved to an area that Unbound doesn’t serve, so the other day I got an envelope with a photo and a little bio of my new person I get to sponsor, Gilberto, 7. The CUTEST child ever (besides Brenda). Little blue shirt, standing tall, hands clutched to his side. He lives in a freaking room with 5 other people. His father’s a laborer who finds work only sporadically and his mother sells tortillas.

And you know, I looked at that photo and I thought of all the things in my life I’ve felt are “unfair” and I thought What is really unfair is that I’m sitting in a cozy apartment in Pasadena CA with food in the fridge, a laptop, my piano, my garden, my birdfeeders—and Gilberto’s mother is selling tortillas. I mean really I do feel this is the stuff we should be concerned about.

That doesn’t mean I won’t be elbowing people aside TO GET WHAT I WANT in various ways tomorrow, or five minutes from now. We think we want to be the favorite and always in the limelight and understood and comforted and adored. But the older you get, if you’re lucky, the more you realize you can just never get enough of that stuff. It doesn’t last and you can’t get enough of it. No-one knew that better than Jesus. He was tempted by those things out in the desert and he said no thank you—no matter the price.

Not long ago I was in the waiting room at the doctor and I opened a Vanity Fair and there was an ad for a luxury car or a handbag company or something like that. A photo of a drop-dead gorgeous model, alighting from a town car to make her entrance to some flashy hotel nightclub, guys slavering all around to help her out. And I thought that is so not what I would wish for. I would wish to have the heart of Mother Teresa. A heart for the poor. A willingness to serve. Freedom from the bondage of self. That is the pearl of great price. And there’s no shortcut.

book giveaway details:

to enter the book giveaway, please share this blog post on social media and include the hashtag #EEAuthorInterview.

 

all posts Must include the hashtag so we can keep track of entries. winner will be randomly selected on friday, november 3rd.

 

Thank you, heather king, for graciously sharing yourself with us.

 

 

 

Elizabeth EstherComment
Following in the Little Way of St. Therese
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St. Therese of Lisieux was something of a drama queen. In her biography, Story of a Soul, she wrote that she was "really unbearable" to those around her because of her “overly great sensitivity." The littlest thing could set her off crying and then just as she was feeling comforted she “cried because I had cried.”* 

I don’t know anything about that. Nope. Not me. I’ve never ever ever cried because I cried. AHEM.

OK, fine. I admit to being something of a drama queen myself. I know. You’re shocked.

I was a sensitive child by nature but instead of growing out of those sensitivities—or at least learning to manage them properly—childhood trauma made them worse. Studies show that adults who experienced a debilitating number of adverse childhood events are 460% more likely to be depressed and 1220% more likely to attempt suicide. I’m not suggesting that depression is the result of being melodramatic, I’m merely pointing out that my own ‘overly great sensitivity’ was exacerbated by abusive situations outside my control.

I sometimes wonder if I’d had a fairly happy childhood with minimal trauma, would I be a mostly-normal adult without debilitating manic depressive disorder? I’ll never know.

What I do know is that there is hope for even the most sensitive of souls—because I’m one of them. And so was St. Therese.

A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This illness has been the undercurrent for most of my adult life, but after my best friend's suicide this past January, it roared in like a tsunami.

One blazing hot summer afternoon I found myself hunkered down in my bedroom, blinds closed, convinced someone (the CIA? FBI? ex-fundamentalists with a grudge?) spying on me through my desktop computer. Yeah. Fun times.

I was rushed to the hospital and after a series of appointments with various doctors, was given the Bipolar 2 diagnosis. 

This is why I adore St. Therese of Lisieux: precisely because she experienced mental illness (a childhood bout of neuroses) and also, she allowed herself to feel everything so deeply. She never apologized for wanting the fullness of love. In fact, she actually proclaimed "my vocation is love!" 

St. Therese didn't reject her feelings, she used them to enhance her obedience to God.

She was not immune to the problems, pains and temptations of everyday life. Being a cloistered nun did not mean she was cloistered from pain. She suffered tremendously (dying at age 24 of tuberculosis while refusing pain medication). And yet, she found a way—a “Little Way” as she came to call it—of offering the smallest acts of love and obedience to God for the benefit of others.

There’s a story about St. Therese where she disciplines herself not to snap at another nun who had an annoying habit of clicking her rosary against teeth during choir. This nun sat right behind St. Therese and the repetitive clicking noise just about drove her crazy. But instead of spinning around and giving the nun a dirty look or shushing her, St. Therese offered her irritation up to God pretended the sound was music to Christ’s ears. Hello, saintly behavior.

How often—especially when I’m not feeling well—do I become irritable with others? All the time! ALL THE TIME. I don’t believe the feeling of irritability is sinful. We all have feelings and they are just that: feelings. It’s what I do with the irritability that makes all the difference. Do I turn my irritability into a kind word? An act of service? Do I mortify my pride and annoyance and offer a friendly smile even when I’d rather look bored or annoyed?

St. Therese also went out of her way to attend to the sickest, frailest and most “difficult” nuns in the convent. It was almost as if she mortified her flesh with acts of kindness. Instead of doing what was required, she did what was unthinkable: pouring out kindness like expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus.

When I can feel nothing, when I am altogether arid, I seek tiny occasions, real trivialities to give joy to my Jesus: a smile, for example, or a friendly word, when I would rather be silent or look bored...I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. —St. Therese of Lisieux

The monotony of obscure sacrifice. Well, I certainly don’t prefer that. Give me ecstasies any day of the week!

And yet, faith isn’t faith if it is dependent on feelings. This is not to say that feelings are wrong—no, not at all! God gave us our feelings and how beautiful and wonderful they are! But for me, I have found that especially with my sensitive nature and my mental illness, I need to be careful about not relying solely on my feelings.

It is An impoverished faith that depends on ecstasies, consolations, signs and wonders. it is a wobbly faith, a weak faith that crumbles when the feelings inevitably change.

A true faith believes even when I don't feel like it. It believes despite how often my manic depressive illness flares up. Despite whether I’m going through a remission or in the midst of the darkest valley.

I am so thankful for St. Therese’s example because she shows me what is possible in the life of faith. She is the saint for sensitive souls, for fainting hearts, for swoon-prone poets like myself. She is the saint who performed a miracle on  my behalf and later, kept me from killing myself.

She is the saint for melodramatics, of whom I am the chief drama queen. She is the saint who helps me believe—as a Jewish poet imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp wrote on the cell wall—'I believe in the sun even when it is not shining, I believe in love even when I cannot feel it, I believe in God even when He is silent."

 

* Heather King, Shirt of flame: a year with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (Brewster, MA.: Paraclete Press, 2011), 25-26.

Elizabeth Esther Comment
Let's burn all the GET WELL SOON cards, k?

Have you ever noticed there are a gajillion kinds of greeting cards for people in love and only one for sick people? GET WELL. That’s it. That’s all we ever say to sick people. GET WELL. Sometimes we add: SOON. Because the only thing Americans hate more than being sick is being sick for an indeterminate period of time. It's an affront to our American-ness.

Are you listening, Linda? I said GET WELL. SOON!

Sick doesn’t work that way. You can’t just bibbity-bobbity-praise-the-Lord-pass-the-essential-oils and the sick is gone. Sick doesn’t GET WELL SOON on command. Sick is not a Pavlovian dog.

This is why we need more greeting cards for sick people.

How about: “Saying a prayer for you, Fred, that your cancer cells DON'T GET ALL fruitful and multiply.”

Or how about: “Get thee behind me, chemotherapy.”

Here's the only greeting card I need these days: “Sorry to hear you got a majorly serious, like-whoa mental illness. Here, have some chocolate. p.s. don't die.”

Why don’t these cards exist? How did this dearth of greeting cards come to be? I imagine it happened one boozy weekend when The Greeting Card People were sitting around in a comfy mountain cabin having their annual writing retreat and nobody felt like writing get well cards. Instead, everyone was sipping wine and writing stupid stuff like: I don’t know much, but I know I love you and love is all you need cause if you like the way you look that much, oh baby you should go and love yourself. 

This is the mountain cabin where the Greeting Card People have their annual writing retreat. Yes, I painted it myself. No, I've never been there.

This is the mountain cabin where the Greeting Card People have their annual writing retreat. Yes, I painted it myself. No, I've never been there.

But when The Greeting Card People move onto Sickness Cards, everyone is all: “HARD PASS.”

The wine ran out. That's what happened. The wine ran out and everybody lost their imagination and found a headache.

Except for one person. That person is Bob from Sympathy Cards. Bob is—how shall we say—different. Bob is the Dwight Schrute of greeting card people. Anyway, Bob jumps out of his chair and blurts out: “The Eskimos have 50 different names for snow!”

Everyone looks at Bob. Bob looks at everyone. Terry from Birthday Cards clears her throat.

“Oh, Bob. Have I told you lately that I love you?”

The room bursts into uproarious laughter even though it wasn't that funny. And then they all go to bed with their headaches and aspirin.

Well, the Greeting Card People really missed out. Because Bob From Sympathy Cards was making a good point. You just need to know how his brain works. Here, let me translate: “Hey guys, just like the Eskimos have 50 different names for snow, there should be 50 different cards for sickness.”

See? That’s not so hard to understand.

It doesn’t take a oncologist to tell you that having cancer is not the same as having a cold. Having a broken leg is not the same as having a broken brain (I’ll let you guess which one I have). You need different cards for different ailments.

I mean, sure. Go ahead and get all bossy with the guy who has a cold. Throw him a GET WELL SOON card and tell him Linda’s right, having a cold is no excuse for missing work.

But giving the guy with cancer a GET WELL SOON card? Now, that’s just rude. What’s he supposed to do with that? Yell at his cancer to GET WELL? He’s not in control of his cancer. Cancer does not bow to his command. Cancer is not on his timetable. Cancer does not arrive and depart on time.

Bossing at people to GET WELL SOON is like those pink T-shirts that tell women with breast cancer to NEVER QUIT FIGHTING.

UGH. Just lob off my boobs now. 

Fighting. Could we please stop with the whole FIGHTING thing? It’s ubiquitous. It’s like you can’t be seriously ill without someone telling you to FIGHT. You go, girl. You FIGHT that cancer. You’re gonna FIGHT to the very end. You’ll never stop FIGHTING. Guys, please. Find another slogan. Better yet, don’t use slogans. Burn all the slogans to the ground.

It’s all a little shame-y, if you ask me, bossing at people to FIGHT and GET WELL. Sick people don’t need to be bossed at. If they want to fight, great. But a sick person who doesn’t wanna jump on your FIGHT WAGON is not less of a person. Just go ahead and back that wagon on up and  move on out. 

Go do something helpful and buy them ice-cream. Or cigarettes. (OMG did she just suggest—?) YES I DID. Cigarettes. They’re gluten-free.

Look, if your Grandma wants to smoke before she dies, let her smoke. 

This exact thing happened to my friend, Felecia. Her Grandma was 103 (for real, onehundredandthreeomg) and finally had to move into a nursing home.

Well, the over-zealous Nursing Home People told her she couldn’t smoke anymore. This was preposterous. Grandma Lillie Bell was born smoking. Grandma Lillie Bell had been smoking for 103 years.

But the Nursing Home People were like: “No. No more smoking.” They took away her cigarettes and forced her into nicotine withdrawal and that’s when they discovered she had stomach cancer.

Moral of the story: smoking keeps you healthy. Don’t quit.

Now Grandma Lillie Bell is dying of stomach cancer and all she wants is a cigarette and the Nursing Home People are all: “No, honey. You’re gonna FIGHT THIS CANCER and you’re gonna GET WELL. SOON.”

“What for?” Grandma says. “So I can live a long, full life?”

The hospital people were like: “Sorry, smoking is against nursing home policy.”

As soon as Felecia heard about this injustice, she drove straight over to the nursing home, wheeled Grandma Lillie Bell out into the sunshine and gave her a pack of smokes.

Basically, Felecia is a hero. I’ll never say bye to her.

 

I don't have a lot of friends...and actually, I'm ok with that

For most of my adult life I haven't had a lot of friends. I still don't.

I've never written about this because I've always believed that the measure of a successful life is having many, many friends. I've worried that my lack of friends means something is wrong with me. That is it somehow MY fault.

If I was just happier, kinder, more fun, more involved, more  _____(fill in the blank), I would "attract" friends, lots of them.

But I've tried really hard. I am friendly and empathetic and "likable." I have no problem talking with and meeting new people.

But here's the honest truth:  I don't maintain an active and busy social calendar because...I like being at home.

I don't host dinner parties or entertain during the holidays because, well...large groups of people frighten me—especially if they're in my home. I don't like traveling because I get terribly homesick. I don't like group activities because I chafe under membership requirements, rules and expectations. 

I guess you could say I have social anxiety. I mean, I know some of this is fallout from being raised in a cult (I associate social activities with trauma). But even if I hadn't been raised in a cult, I still wouldn't like group activities.

My idea of torture is a party. Or a women's Bible Study. Or a mommy-and-me group. Or—God forbid—a conference. But if you don't go to parties, or attend lots of group-y things, then how do you make friends?And we're all supposed to have lots of friends, right?

OK, but maybe having lots of friends isn't a good measure of a happy life. Maybe it's ok if we just have one or two friends. 

One of my therapists recently asked me if my friends could tell that my mental health has improved over the last couple of months and I just stared at her, embarrassed. "Well," I squeaked. "I don't really have friends that I hang out with regularly."

To my surprise she didn't react negatively. "That's ok," she said. "You're more of a homebody, right? You're more family-centered?"

I almost wept tears of relief. Because YES. And also: It's OK? It's ok for me to be like this?

Here's the thing: I am a very happy little homebody. I like being in my garden with my roses. I like watching my dogs play. I like my bedroom and my writing desk and my art corner and my books. 

For me, a quiet home is the measure of a happy life.

And I'm finally ok with that.

My living room fireplace with my original artwork, "Blue Roses." I love this little area of my home.

My living room fireplace with my original artwork, "Blue Roses." I love this little area of my home.

I like being home and I like taking care of my home. I like arranging and rearranging the furniture. I like organizing and decluttering.

I like couponing. I like sewing and baking and painting (---> those paints over there? my FAVORITE watercolors!)

I like quiet nights by the fire. I like animals and trees and looking at the night sky.

Whenever I have to leave home, I feel terribly homesick.

Some flowers from my garden

Some flowers from my garden

Things like parties make me very unhappy and very homesick.

Parties are so noisy. So many people. So many lights. So many facial expressions I must plaster on my face.

Weirdly, though, I love the idea of a party. I have this fantasy party in my head which is a small gathering of two or three likeminded people who enjoy deep, quiet conversations. This doesn't happen at any of the parties I've ever attended. Especially when it's a kid party or a party where a lot of alcohol is served.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a little wine with a nice dinner. But I get very nervous and even frightened when people drink too much. They start getting noisy. They say things they don't mean. They think they are so funny and expect everyone to laugh at their jokes. They break things. Sometimes, they lose their tempers. Why risk that kind of evening when I'd be much happier at home with my dogs, reading or writing by a cozy fire?

A built-in bookcase in my living room plus the marie antoinette costume i sewed last halloween for my daughter

A built-in bookcase in my living room plus the marie antoinette costume i sewed last halloween for my daughter

Here's the thing: I am an ambivert. I am energized by people. But I also need a lot of quiet space.

It took me FOREVER to learn that while I am energized by people, it has to be the RIGHT people in the RIGHT setting. A quiet lunch with one or two friends is quite enough for me. I have the ability to connect deeply with people but I don't have energy to connect with all the peoples.

To the outsider, my quiet homebody life might look boring. Or like I'm not DOING anything. But this quiet life IS something.

It is something very, very important to me. And it is also vital to my health and wellbeing. I need quiet and space to reflect, to come up with new ideas, to stare into the garden, to take a long walk in silence. I need time to really SEE things. I can sit in one place staring at a tree for thirty minutes and find so many wonderful things happening there.

Bernie relaxing in the backyard :)

Bernie relaxing in the backyard :)

I decided to write about this today because I know I'm not the only one who enjoys a quiet life at home.

If you feel badly because you don't have a WHOLE BUNCH OF FRIENDS or you're feeling somehow guilty because you don't keep a busy social calendar, I want you to know that you're not weird. There's nothing wrong with you.

People may misunderstand you but that doesn't mean you are required to meet their expectations. Or even explain it to them.

 Sometimes my kids are frustrated that I don't go out very much. I know they sometimes wish I enjoyed going to parties like all the other "cool" parents. They often ask me to be more involved in their schools. Or chaperone field trips. They get annoyed that I so rarely allow their friends to sleepover. They wish I was more comfortable in crowds so we could enjoy a whole baseball game without me needing to leave at the 7th inning, or refuse to sit in a seat unless I'm on the aisle.

I don't expect them to like my rules or like my peculiarities. But I do expect them to be respectful. They know that I have anxiety issues. They know I need my home to be a safe, sacred space. Over the years, they've learned to accept me and they are very understanding. I think when they are adults they will realize I gave them a different kind of gift: the gift of a quiet, loving, stable home. A home where they could always find their mother. A home they could always return to, no matter what.

climbing roses in my front garden

climbing roses in my front garden

I am not a good cook. I don't use my back yard for entertaining. I have mental health issues. But I love sewing for my kids. I love creating beautiful spaces for us to enjoy as a family. I love nurturing pets and roses and connectedness. 

My sewing, painting, art corner.

My sewing, painting, art corner.

I have finally figured out that it's ok for me to be me. And guess what? It's ok for you to be you, too. Comparing yourself to someone else's life will only lead to despair. We can be quiet little homebody nerds together, k? Look, here's a little birdie I painted for you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go cozy up with a good book and hot cup of tea.

Speaking of books, maybe you'd like to try something like this? I suggest "Big Little Lies." It was FABULOUS.

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August 2017 Book Reviews and a BOOK GIVEAWAY!

Joshua Cohen writes with a sardonic edge. MOVING KINGS is at times both profoundly engaging and wincingly irreverent. His riffs on Jewish identity, divorce, the immigrant experience and relational estrangements of all kinds is pure, descriptive brilliance. But it's also borderline offensive— some of the commentary leans anti-Semitic.

Cohen definitely has the gift of language. He wields his extensive vocabulary like a sword. There is a lot of fancy thrusting and parrying which can be overwhelming at times. So many obscure, four syllable words. So many run on sentences. And yet, there's something undeniably hypnotic about it. Something dense and substantive. Cohen's style reminds me of Donna Tartt's "Goldfinch" except with 1/4 of the words.

MOVING KINGS is a literary book for literary readers. It's not a page turner. It's a prolonged character study. The plot moves extremely slowly—even by page 130 (the book is only 240 pages), I still felt as if the story hadn't really started. I had to quell my annoyance and keep pushing through. There were moments when I felt Cohen was showing off his writing prowess rather than telling a good story. Which is to say, I don't know many readers who happily stick with an author through 130 pages of description.

Still, it is a book worth reading which is why I gave it 4 stars. There are so few eloquently written, truly literary novels being published these days that 'Moving Kings' moves far ahead of the rest. Just don't mistake it for a light, beach read.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed KATIE LUTHER: FIRST LADY OF THE REFORMATION. by Ruther Tucker. It reads like a compelling historical novel. Except it's true! Ruth Tucker did an amazing job researching Katie's life and the world in which she lived. I was especially fascinated by the period-specific details about what life was like for people during that time in history. Katie Luther herself is an interesting woman. Strength. Determination. Survival. And the patience to live with Martin Luther, a man who was prone to wild, dramatic actions and pronunciations (not to mention sexist behavior and racist beliefs). I found myself cheering her on and always curious to see what would happen next. Definitely a must-read for church history lovers.

 

Well, here's a book I just could NOT put down. WATCH ME DISAPPEAR by Janelle Brown is a suck-you-in-and-never-let-you-go pageturner. Janelle is a master storyteller, revealing just enough information to keep you guessing and weaving her web of mystery with thrilling expertise. I will say that I found the main characters quite unlikable. The mother, especially, is selfish, self-absorbed, reckless and sometimes just downright cruel. I connected the most with the bereft daughter. The ending is a big surprise so I won't give any spoilers. However, I did figure it out before it happened. Just pay really close attention to details. This is a marvelous quick read.

You guys. This book. Oh, it's just PURE DELIGHT! OF MESS AND MOXIE by Jen Hatmaker is hilarious and honest and real. I found myself underlining half the book! AND?? GUESS WHAT?!

I'm giving away one copy of Jen's new book! Please go to my Instagram to enter the giveaway. 

I will announce the randomly selected winner on Friday afternoon, 8/11!

++++

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Elizabeth EstherComment