Category Archives: Faith

a season of beautiful endings

photoSouthern California has two seasons: Sunny and Sunnier. And while we may not have SEASONS per se—I’ve come to appreciate the subtle changes that signal summer is giving way to autumn.

Yesterday, it was the quality of light. Summer’s harsh glare is giving way to a softer, golden hue.

And something inside me is also giving way.

It feels like a death, somehow.

All my children are in school. There are no more babies, no more “little ones.” That season of motherhood feels truly over and I feel something like grief, something akin to loss.

I feel like I am mourning an ending.

This morning, I opened my Magnificat (a monthly booklet with daily Scripture readings) and one of today’s readings was Ecclesiastes 3. It was so precisely what I needed to read that I made a little graphic and saved it to my iPhone so I’d see it all day. Here, maybe you need it, too:

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God makes all things beautiful in its time. Is that hard for you to believe? It’s certainly hard for ME to believe. In fact, I can’t believe it except by faith. My fears, doubts and worries sound so LOUD compared to these few, quiet words from God.

Sometimes, the only thing that helps me shake off my MUDDLING MIDDLE MENTALITY is to write down the ways God has faithfully redeemed seasons of my life.

True, I have faced some serious impossibilities in life. But it’s also true that God has redeemed my impossibilities and turned them into something impossibly beautiful.

I mean, my word. I wrote a whole BOOK about that! So, why do I always forget what God has done for me? I dunno. But I do! I forget all the time! I wake up in the morning and I’m like: ugh! Everything sucks! Blaahhhh. COOKIES.

When I’m feeling like this, it’s hard for me to believe that I’ll ever feel whole and happy and energized again. Know why I like this verse from Ecclesiastes? Because it reminds me that GOD makes things beautiful. It’s not my job to redeem and fix everything. That’s God’s job.

My job is:
Not give up.
Not walk away.
Not quit in the muddling middle.
God is making everything beautiful.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Am I my brother’s gatekeeper?

One afternoon, six years ago, I drove by my local, Catholic Church “just to see.” I didn’t stop. I kept driving. A few days later, I circled the neighborhood several times. Then one day, I daringly pulled into the parking lot. I was terribly curious and terribly terrified.

I remember there was a banner hanging on one of the light poles. Welcome, it said. Still, I wasn’t sure. Did welcome really mean welcome? So, I hunkered deep in my car and Googled the church office phone number. With shaking fingers, I dialed. A wobbly but matter-of-fact old lady voice answered: “Hello! St. Cecilia’s!”

I took a deep breath. “Um. Hi. I was just. Well, I was wondering if non-Catholics can go inside your church?”

“Why, of course, honey! Go right on in and pray!”

“Oh! You mean. RIGHT NOW? Like, the church is open right now?”

She cackled, deliciously. “Why of course it’s open! It’s only 2 o’clock in the afternoon!”

That was my first “real” time inside a Catholic church (read about what I saw that day on page 179 of my book). What I didn’t elaborate on in my book but what I realize now is that this discovery– Catholic churches are open almost all the time–was huge for me.

When I was a Protestant, church doors were locked up Monday-Saturday. We only opened for meetings. But in Catholic churches, the doors were always open. This became so meaningful for me, symbolically and practically.

Practically speaking, as a mother of five young children it was hard for me to get to church. I so appreciated that I could dash in for ten minutes between bottles and naps and laundry. I didn’t have to dress up or put on my Happy Church Lady face (back then, all I had was an Exhausted-Sleep-Deprived-Mommy-Face). Best of all, I didn’t have to wait until Wednesday night Bible Study at 7:30pm. Whether I went at 6:30am or 2:22pm, the Catholic Church was always open.

Symbolically, this openness demonstrated a posture of hospitality. The church didn’t expect me to come to God on its timeline. It just unlocked its doors, held Mass for whoever showed up and then stayed open for prayer and meditation.

This always openness seems like a small thing to me now. Of course the Catholic Church is open! But I need to remind myself that this openness, this posture and practice of generous hospitality was a huge and vital part of my first, real-life encounter with Catholic practice. Without that practice of openness, I might have never stepped foot into a Catholic church because I wasn’t ready to attend an actual Mass. I needed to scope things out first. Feel my way into it. Read my way in. Listen my way in. Watch EWTN my way in. :)

Even the process of entering the church was open, slow and careful. It took a whole year of discerning and inquiry. They called it RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). I never felt like the church was trying to sell me something. Or get something from me. The priest never gave a sales pitch about All The Heavenly Prizes You’ll Win If You Join Our Church! We talked, instead, about suffering. And struggle. And giving to the poor.

For all the horror stories I’d read about the Catholic church and for all the terrible history I knew, the actual practice of ordinary, everyday Catholics was quiet, unassuming and welcoming. Yes, they had dogma but they weren’t dogmatic. Yes, they were welcoming but it wasn’t an Overwhelming-High-Octane-Welcoming-Committee. There weren’t any cheesy little coffee mugs given out to newcomers. Nobody got up in my space, shook my hand and demanded to hear my “testimony.” We were all just humans together. And that was enough.

True hospitality, I’ve learned, seeks only to serve. The spiritual practice of hospitality is kind of about invisibility–getting yourself out of the way so others might encounter God. It’s not about enforcing codes, rules, stipulations and locking the doors of Heaven until everyone has met our requirements. We’re our brother’s keeper, not Heaven’s gatekeepers.

Jesus has already unlocked the door and flung wide the gates of Heaven. All we need to do is welcome people in.

Falling in love with all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons; aka Breaking Up With Cookie Butter Is Hard to Do

I have a tendency for falling in love. Take Cookie Butter, for instance. Just writing the word cookie butter makes the back of my throat ache. We had such a love affair, me and cookie butter. I thought we’d last forever. Alas, cookie butter was the slippery slope that led me into overeating for a whole year. I guess you could say it was a one-sided love affair. I loved Cookie Butter but I didn’t love what Cookie Butter did to my hips and thighs.

This is my problem, see. I don’t just fall in love with things. I fall HEAD OVER HEELS in love with things.

Something sparks my intrigue and suddenly, I’m gripped by the illusion that This New Manifestation of Love is going to be My Everything (it never, never, never is). I’ve chased everything from friendships to scrapbooking to sewing to margaritas. And also, Cookie Butter.

Still, the only way I can quit my obsession is seeing it for what it is. Then, I don’t want it anymore. I mean, I want it. But I don’t waaaaaant it. With Cookie Butter, I finally stepped on the scale and Shakira is right: hips don’t lie. I broke up with Cookie Butter that very day.

I wonder if this is how sin works, too. As one of the old saints once said: When sin ceases being pleasurable, people stop sinning.

I love this perspective because so often I forget why I sin in the first place: not because I’m a bad, horrible, inherently evil person. I sin because sin is pleasurable. Because sin feels good.

Sin is pleasurable in the way Cookie Butter is pleasurable. It is instant gratification. By contrast, virtue looks like a plate of raw kale.

Which is to say, all the abstract threats of Hell and judgment dim in comparison to the immediate rush of pleasure from a very real, very now sin.

I think this is why parents seek to scare their kids away from sin by talking about how IT WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE FOREVER. We use these hyper-scary threats in an attempt to protect them from certain heartbreak, destroyed health or financial ruin. And, I mean, these scary things are often true. Drugs can ruin your life. Promiscuous sex can permanently damage relationships. Gambling can result in bankruptcy. Overeating can result in ruined health.

But even when we know the right thing to do, why don’t we do it? I think it’s because shame is not a longterm catalyst for change. We can shame and threaten people but that will only result in possible short term, behavioral modification.

We forget that fear and shame do not effect longterm positive change.

We forget the importance of beauty and inspiration. We forget that falling in love is good–we just need to fall in love with the right things. We forget–or perhaps have never tasted–the true joys of Heaven.

When the joys of Heaven seem far removed, not real and not here–sin only grows in its appeal. When we haven’t tasted of Heaven while here on earth–sin is more appetizing.

The key to breaking free of sin is not more self-denial, more shame and more thou shalt-nots but rather an experience of Heaven while here on earth.

Scripture tells us, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.” Surely, we aren’t supposed to wait until we’re dead to taste and see! No, tasting and seeing is for the living. It’s for us mortals. It’s for now.

The prophet Jeremiah says: “Thy words were found and I did eat them and they were to me the joy and rejoicing of my soul.”

Once we taste real food–The Word–we no longer crave leftovers. Once we’ve dined on a home-cooked meal, drive-thru food is suddenly second-best. Once we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, our desires change. We want Him more than we want our sin.

The key to breaking free from sin is not fasting from pleasure but rather feasting on better pleasure.

And what is the best pleasure?

Jesus, in love poured out for us. Jesus, in the delighted laughter of children. Jesus, in the brilliant colors of a summer sunset. Jesus in the shared community of friends. Jesus very real, very present and very NOW in the Eucharist.

But if I’ve never tasted that pleasure, if I’ve never tasted and seen that the Lord is good and if I still believe that I’m a bad, horrible person undeserving of love–then I will always grab comfort from whatever is closest: a fast food restaurant, a local dive bar, online porn, the 24 hr. donut shop, Internet gambling, compulsive shopping, casual sex…

Sin will always hold allure as long as I live from a place of scarcity. Sin will always grip me in its vice-hold when I have never “tasted and seen” that the Lord is good.

It’s only when I am captured by a more beautiful vision and filled with the true food from Heaven that I will easily lay aside my cheap thrills and comforts.

It’s only when I’ve been fully sated by the love of Jesus that I will desire nothing else but more of Him. 

 

I believe in God the Father…{why Christians use “He” when referring to the First Person of the Trinity}

This past week there’s been some Internet talk about whether Christians can rightly refer to God as a She, as God our Mother. I find this conversation fascinating. I also find it troubling–especially since Christians can’t seem to have this conversation without throwing around the word “heretic.”

I don’t find it helpful or loving for Christians to call each other heretics. I think it creates an us vs. them mentality and does not advance the cause of love in this world. So, let’s not do that here, k?

Allow me to preface this post by saying this: God is big enough to find us anywhere. It’s OK to be wherever we are on our faith journey. You will have no judgment from me in that regard. Peace and love and light be with you as you travel! If your journey takes you outside Christianity, I still have nothing but love and acceptance and big, warm hugs for you! :) 

I’m writing this post is for those of us who have found our way back to Christianity. I’m writing this post for those of us who DO affirm the Nicene Creed. For us, there DOES come a time when we defer our preferences (and for me, my FEARS!) to the teachings of our Christian faith. With that in mind, I’ll share my thoughts on why it’s important for Christians to be careful to how we refer to God.

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As Christians, we have been taught how to refer to God by Jesus Himself.

I find it only respectful to defer to the pronouns God has chosen to use about Himself. Which is to say, God calls Himself Father. And when Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to address God using the words: “Our Father.”

Yes, throughout Scripture, God uses traditionally feminine imagery to describe facets of His nature and His behavior towards us. But figurative descriptions are not the same as literal statements.

When Jesus teaches us about His Father, speaks about His Father and prays to His Father, He always uses male pronouns. Why? Because the First Person of the Trinity is God the Father, not God the Mother.

I’ve had several people tell me that Jesus taught us to pray to a Father because, in a patriarchal context, a female pronoun would have scandalized the listeners. That doesn’t seem right to me.

I mean, what are we saying? That Jesus was just trying to make His words relatable to a certain time and place? This can’t be true because if Jesus’ Words are Truth then they transcend time, place and context–patriarchal or otherwise.

Furthermore, by claiming the use of male pronouns as contextual to patriarchy, we are saying that the Holy Spirit was bound by time and place. By dismissing “God our Father” as the result of patriarchal society, don’t we diminish the power of the Holy Spirit?

Patriarchy wasn’t (and isn’t!) more powerful than the Holy Spirit.

Patriarchy isn’t the boss of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus didn’t bow to patriarchy’s preference for male pronouns. The Holy Spirit didn’t check in with patriarchal society and get its pronouns approved before letting Jesus teach us how to pray!

The work Christ did was for all times and places and peoples–and His Spirit was at work then just as it is now.

And through the power of His Holy Spirit, Jesus chose to use the word Father. Jesus used a male pronoun all the time when referring to The One Who sent Him. If nothing else, I think it’s wise for me to respect the pronoun Jesus chose to use when addressing His Father.

Furthermore, it’s a fallacy to claim Jesus used “Our Father” because He didn’t want to scandalize His followers. Jesus never shied away from scandalizing His followers. In fact, scandal was the very definition of His ministry! After all, His scandalous claims got Him crucified.

: : :

Still, I agree that God–as expressed in The Trinity–contains both male and female. This is why, in Genesis 1:27, we are told that both male and female are created in God’s image.

I also completely understand the desire–no, the NEED–to be able to relate to God via my God-imaged femininity. As a woman who has experienced severe spiritual abuse at the hands of men, I completely understand the pain of being forced to relate to God through a male-dominated narrative.

It took me a very long time to be able to call God my Father again. It’s a sad testament to the abuse I experienced that I am often triggered by “alpha male” language–especially when it is used in conjunction with Scripture.

However, what I’ve discovered is that my reactions are often sourced in reactions to prideful POSTURING and not MALENESS, per se. I am triggered by swaggering, bigger-than-you posturing. I have been bullied and abused by behavior like that.

And to be quite honest, I also suffered the same kind of abusive posturing and behavior at the hands of women. Abuse isn’t mutually exclusive to men. Both men and women can engage in abusive behavior and posturing.

But as I’ve found a gentle mother in Mary, she is teaching me about the gentleness of my Savior. Her merciful, sweet love has gently led me back into an increasingly trusting relationship with God my Father.

I am discovering God my Father delights in me. He loves me with an everlasting love. He provides for me, loves me unconditionally and cares for my every need.

God is doing for me what I could not do for myself; mainly, heal from the abuses of men. Earthly fathers may have failed me, but God my Heavenly Father is demonstrating His abounding faithfulness to me.

It is my honor to call Him Father, Daddy, Abba.

His arms are thrown wide to welcome me–to welcome us all.

My comment box is a safe space. Conversation and discussion is encouraged. Disagreement is allowed. Disagreeable behavior is not. All unkind, baiting, name-calling, hurtful comments will be deleted. I appreciate your help in keeping my site a safe place for people of ALL different persuasions and opinions. Thank you! xo. EE.

Top Ten Ways to Misuse The Bible {from an ex-fundamentalist guilty of ALL ten}

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The worst use we can make of the Bible is to use it simply as a source of proof verses.
–Matthew The Poor, The Communion of Love (pg. 20)

  1. Read the Genesis account of creation as a science text.
  2. Insist that every verse shall be interpreted literally.
  3. Pick and choose which verses shall and shall NOT be interpreted literally.
  4. Assume your interpretation is God’s interpretation.
  5. Use Bible verses as ammunition in theological debates.
  6. Say: “If it’s not in the Bible I don’t believe it!”
  7. Subject Scripture to an individualistic, Americanized lens; ie. “The American Patriot’s Bible.”
  8. Elevate intellectual assimilation of Scripture over spiritual understanding.
  9. Use the books of Daniel, Ezekiel and Revelation to create charts and timetables that predict The End of the World.
  10. Know All The Words without living a life to back them up.

Top Ten Ways to Use the Bible Respectfully

  1. Read the Genesis account of creation as it was meant to be read: as a figurative story for non-literate peoples, understanding that the point is still the same; mainly: God created the Heavens and the Earth.
  2. Respect the various genres in the Bible and interpret them accordingly: i.e. poetry is not intended to be interpreted literally. However, it IS wise to believe Jesus means what He says in St. John 6 about the Eucharist.
  3. Refrain from picking and choosing which verses to interpret literally; deferring YOUR individual interpretation to the wisdom of theologians who have done that work for you over 2,000 years.
  4. Unless you are God, your interpretation is not God’s. Humility is best served when we preface any statements with something like: “My church teaches…” or “This is what I believe” instead of: “God says…”
  5. Remember that while you may win the theological debate with your battering-ram of verses, you won’t win any hearts.
  6. Understand that before Christians had the Bible, they were Christian. The Bible as a book is a modern luxury for us. But even without it, we can come to a saving faith in Christ.
  7. View Scripture as words for ALL peoples–not just white, Anglo-Americans who vote Republican. Choose a translation accordingly.
  8. Intellectual assimilation of knowledge is ME working, spiritual understanding is GOD working. Remember that sometimes God reveals His greatest truths to children! So, spiritual understanding of Scripture is not about knowing All The Right Verses. It’s about yielding to God’s love and letting God reveal what He wants to me.
  9. Remember that Jesus said even HE didn’t know the day or hour of His Second Return. So, maybe just let go of End Times predictions. What will be will be. And all will be well!
  10. The brightest witness of faith is a life LIVED faithfullyBe a doer of the Word, one day at a time. A heart full of LOVE is far more powerful than a mouthful of words. Love, always.

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p.s. This post will make WAY more sense if you read my book: “Girl at The End of the World: my escape from fundamentalism in search of faith with a future” :)

The false, glittering promise of Christian conferences

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I’m done with Christian conferences. I’ve really tried, you guys. I’ve attended and listened and smiled and wept and sang my way through conference after conference. I’ve attended an “exclusive” leadership conference and been asked to provide feedback. And there was that one time when I actually spoke at a conference.

But something just isn’t working anymore. At this point I’m not sure if it’s just me or the whole system of Christian Conferences. I’m guessing it’s probably a bit of both. Maybe I just need to stop attending evangelical conferences? Maybe I need to start going to silent retreats at monasteries?

I mean, maybe if I had a How to Fall In Love With Jesus book to sell or a charity to promote or a cause to rally around–then maybe evangelical Christian Conferences would make more sense for me. You know, in a network-y, bussiness-y kind of way.

But as it is, I’m just a blunt-spoken and prickly personality With Baggage. Which is to say, I’m a former fundamentalist turned evangelical turned Catholic. Christian leaders don’t know how to categorize me. So, usually they don’t. Oh, but they’re very polite about it.

They all tell me: “Elizabeth, we just love your passion and your voice and your honesty but…there’s not a space for you in our conference/speakers list/leadership group.” Or perhaps it’s: “Elizabeth, we love you! We love you SO MUCH!” And then silence.

There is no action to back up those words. I’m supposed to believe they Love Me So Much because….they said so. And here it is: Christian Conferences are all about words, words and  more words. Speeches. Talks. Sessions. Break-out groups.

But then everyone goes home.

And reality bites. Hard.

I call it the Post-Conference Crash. For me, it feels like falling off a cliff into depression. For one thing, I’m physically exhausted. But I don’t really mind that part because BECAUSE! I’ve made all these heart-connections! And I BELIEVE something wonderful is just on the horizon! God! Is! Moving! And! I’m! PART OF IT!

And then I hit the Second Crash. This one is more painful. This is when I realize that all those sincere heart-connections I made? I’ll probably never see any of those people again. There is no follow-up. Even if there IS follow-up, it’s just not the same. After tasting IN-REAL-LIFE community, going back to Internet chatter feels almost like a betrayal.

Then I begin to wonder if all those connections I made were even real. Slowly, a dreadful realization dawns on me: I begin to realize that at a Christian Conference things were set up to whip me into an emotional frenzy. There was the heady, Jesus-Is-My-Lover worship sessions, the inspirational speeches and all kinds of weeping. Everyone was going around saying: “God is really HERE!” and “The Holy Spirit is just MOVING!” And I thought I felt it, too.

So, I fell for it. I believed it. I believed the false, glittering promise of Christian Conferences: that this was a new beginning, that God was Doing Something New, that the Holy Spirit was busting down walls, TO DREAM THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM! TO FIGHT THE UNBEATABLE FOE! TO REEEEEACH THE UNREACHABLE STARRRRRRR!

Oops, sorry. My Man of La Mancha is showing.

The point is, I felt it. And it felt so real.

But as the days turn into weeks following a Christian Conference, I can’t help but wonder if I’d swallowed a false promise. I mean, I didn’t really KNOW the people I fell in love with. I only FELT like I did because, well, the music. The giddy worship music. The weeping. The Weeping For the Poor African Orphans!

I mean, you don’t just weep with people over poverty and then…nothing happens, right? You weep together and you’re bonded for life and you go OUT AND CHANGE THE WORLD! Right? RIGHT?! 

Wrong.

Most likely you go home to piles of dirty dishes, backed up laundry and neighbors who are more interested in you maintaining your lawn than in bonding with you over Jesus-y worship songs.

I know of people who are pretty much Professional Conference Goers. They go to Christian Conferences like it’s their drug of choice. It’s like they’re inspiration addicts. I get it. I really do. Heck, if I had a ton of disposable income, I’d probably be jetting off to every conference just so I could get that high. Just so I could feel that hit one more time.

And I guess that’s where the problem is all mine. I want to feel something. And I want that feeling to last. I always dream too big and hope too much and have such wild, impossible expectations that of course, the Post Conference Crash is bound to happen.

But you know what? The Post Conference Crash isn’t worth it anymore. I’ve woken up on too many Morning Afters and felt the sickening, deepening chasm of emptiness open up inside me. I’ve waited for too many days, weeks and months after a Christian Conference for something to materialize, some glittering promise to come true.

The only thing that materializes, the only thing that comes true is a credit card bill. Beauty for ashes, indeed.

What I know about marriage (after 16 years)

January 10, 1998

January 10, 1998

What I know is that I don’t know much. After sixteen years I feel like I’m only beginning to scratch the surface of this mysterious, magical, wild thing called marriage. Still, I have learned some lessons (most of them the hard way–ARE WE SURPRISED?! Nope!) and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first thing I learned is that our culture gives really bad relationship advice. Here are a few examples of things I heard that turned out to be totally and completely false:

1. “You’re too young to get married–you need time to Find Yourself!” One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is the honor of bearing intimate witness to my spouse’s life journey–and he to mine. It is precisely because we married young (he was 24, I was 20) that we were granted this privilege of watching each other grow up and into the people we were meant to become. He is not only my husband, he is my best friend and I have “found myself” in the context of committed relationship. My deepest happiness has sprung from Finding Myself by serving and loving my husband and children.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

Spring 2002: James & Jewel, ages 2 & 1.

2. “Don’t have too many children!” My experience has taught me there is such no such thing as “too many children.” The happy clamor, fullness of daily experience and countless opportunities for growth, sacrifice and intimate relationship are among the most priceless blessings of my life. As Mother Teresa once said, “How can there be too many children? That is like saying there are too many flowers.” Initially, I only “wanted” one or two children. I’m incredibly grateful God didn’t give me what I “wanted”–He gave me something far better!

Summer 2003

Summer 2003

3. “You should wait to have children.” Again, this hasn’t proved true to my experience. By all societal measures, we ‘shouldn’t’ have had children when we did. We were young, financially limited and living inside an oppressive religious environment. We weren’t “ready” to have children. But we had them anyway. And having all five babies by the time I was 30 was, quite possibly, the best decision we ever made. Having our babies while we were very young (and with limited financial resources) meant our options were limited–in a good way. It meant we spent more time at home doing simple things. We ate meals at home together, played board games, took walks to the park, spread blankets in the shared yard of our duplex and read books together. I couldn’t afford to send my first children to fancy preschools or buy them lots of new clothes from fancy children’s stores, but I could give them the gift of my time. I don’t regret one minute of “giving away my 20′s” to my children. It was the best investment I ever made.

And despite the bad advice our culture gave me, I did receive some good advice–mostly from people of faith. Here’s the good advice I received that has proven true to my sixteen years of marriage:

1. “Easy does it:” I learned the hard way that there’s just no good reason to stay up until 2am arguing. It’s much better to wash your face, brush your teeth, kiss your spouse and go to sleep. You can solve the problem in the morning when you’re rested. Give yourself some space. Give your spouse some space. Be gentle and easeful with each other. There’s no need to nag, prod, argue or debate (don’t ask me how I know–har-har). Let the other person be who they are and let them have their own process on this journey together. I’ve found greater results in simply maintaining my OWN side of the marriage without worrying about what my husband is or isn’t doing.

Winter 2009

Winter 2009

2. “Love, honor, cherish and forgive. Rinse. Repeat.” When I was single I used to say things like: “If my husband EVER did _______(fill in the blank), I’d leave!” How precious of me. What I’ve learned is that we have BOTH given each other ample reason to leave the marriage. But instead of leaving, we have BOTH done the work. We’ve stayed. We keep recommitting to staying and working. And then, seasons change. There were hard years of bearing and raising very small children. There were sick years where it seemed we caught every single flu and virus known to man. There were poor years where we had to scrimp and make do. I’ve learned not to make big, life-altering decisions during difficult years. In other words, I didn’t need to decide whether we should get divorced when our preemie-twins were only three months old and we were sleep deprived, exhausted and stressed out of our minds, ya know? I could wash my face, take a nap, kiss my spouse and forgive.

Spring 2012

Spring 2012

3. “Speak well of your spouse:” I’m a talker. This we know. I’ve made some pretty big mistakes with my words. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s very important to speak graciously about my spouse and to my spouse. I’ve also learned to avoid correcting, nagging or complaining. Do I really need to be right? About everything?? No. Sarcasm, teasing, crude jokes and words that cause hurt or fear really have no place in a loving relationship. I’ve learned (and am learning) to use my words to bind up the wounds, heal, restore and inspire. As Buddha once said, “When words are both true and kind they can change the world.” Or my marriage. :)

4. “Forgive and begin again:” My husband has literally forgotten all my mistakes. It’s weird. Sometimes I’ll remind him of something unkind I’ve done and he’ll be like: “What? I don’t remember that.” My husband teaches me how to see the best and believe the best. This is love. Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. My husband sees me through the eyes of love and it is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. This is what it means to live without resentment. It means we don’t give safe harbor to wrongs done against us. We let them go. We forgive. And as we do, like the springtime, love is renewed again and again and again.

Love never fails.

16 Years!

16 Years!

In 2014, I resolve to fail more

I beeliieeeve I can fly! Or, at least, jump on this here trampoline.

I beeliieeeve I can fly! Or, at least, jump on this here trampoline.

I learn nothing from my successes except how disappointing they are and how they rarely live up to my expectations. I learn far more from my mistakes because they give me the opportunity to learn something about myself and about reality. Thing is, if I’m not learning anything, I’m not failing enough. Or failing big enough. This is why, in 2014, I resolve to Fail More, Fail Boldly and Fail Better.

Fail More

Reality doesn’t work the way I want it to work. My plans–mwah-ha-ha–MY PLANS–are futile attempts at pretending I have control over reality. I am Master of my Destiny! I haz the controoollllll! Yeah, no. I have no control. This is what failing more teaches me. Failing more gives me an opportunity to come face-to-face with my profound frailty, my inability to bend reality to my liking. As William Blake once wrote, “A fool who persists in his folly becomes wise.” I intend on failing so hard and so often this year that my only option is total dependence on grace.

Fail Boldly

Remember when i was gonna blog every day? HA HA HA. Remember my 31 Days of the Little Way that was more like A Few Days Before I Got Bored and Moved On? And then there were the failed drafts of my book. Honestly, I lost track of how many Final Drafts I turned in. Probably something like eight. Or ten. But all these failures taught me how to better manage my limitations. I have limitations and as much as I’d like to pretend I can Do All The Things, I really can’t. Failing boldly teaches me to slow down. It’s OK to take my time, apparently.

Fail Better

Failing better simply means failing differently. I don’t have to over-commit to blogging because I already failed at that last year. This whole Philosophy of Failing More means learning to fail in a different direction. PROGRESS! At least I’m failing in new ways and not repeating the insanity of failing in all the old ways.

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I’m kinda stoked about my book release (“Girl at The End of the World” releases March 18, 2014!) because I can’t wait to see how hugely it fails to sell. I wrote a real good book (if I do say so myself) and I’m very proud of it (it only took me about 80 billion failures to get it written). But even industry insiders don’t know how well my book will sell. Do you know why this doesn’t bother me? Because even if my book doesn’t sell, I did my absolute best and THAT counts as an Awesome Fail Better.

I call that progress. A life fail lived.

I like Dave Ramsey’s ideas but I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey

A few years ago, the recession had taken almost everything: 40% of my husband’s income, 100% of our retirement, 100% of our savings. As a one-income family, we were staring down the barrel of mounting credit card debt and a house rapidly decreasing in value. Our home was still above water and so we decided to sell it and use the profit to pay off our debts and start over with a clean slate. Then we found Dave Ramsey. We went to a cash-only/envelope system, made huge cuts to our family budget and within a year, our financial situation improved. Most importantly, we were able to stay in our home.

Here’s the thing: I didn’t really know he was a Christian until after we’d been using his system. I didn’t really care whether he was a Christian. His little cash-envelope system worked and THAT’S what mattered to me.

Maybe I’m clueless but I never once thought Ramsey was teaching a get-rich plan. His advice was practical and accessible and for someone who hates all things money-related, Ramsey’s system was easy-to-follow.

I’ve had family members and friends in desperate financial straits for whom Ramsey’s system worked wonders. All this to say, I’m really grateful for Dave Ramsey and honestly, I find the criticism against him baffling.

A recent list of “20 Things the Rich Do Everyday” that was posted to his website has stirred up a bunch of controversy. I dunno. I read it and was like: huh, makes sense to me. Sure, I wondered where he got his stats. But for the most part, I didn’t see what was so crazy-awful about it. Reading books and exercising—these are good things, right? There are reasons successful people are successful and I’m not entirely sure I understand why stating these things is Horrible, Awful, Prejudicial and Shaming?

I did find Rachel’s piece on CNN helpful inasmuch as she pointed out that “Corley and Ramsey have confused correlation with causation here by suggesting that these habits make people rich or poor.” Good point!

Still, I’m not entirely convinced this means Ramsey is “wrong about poverty” as a whole. What am I missing? Someone explain it to me? (Long comments OK! Just don’t call me ignorant or immature, k? :) )

Speaking of name-calling, that’s when I started feeling uncomfortable with Ramsey. When he  started calling his critics immature, doctrinally shallow and ignorant and then failed to provide answers to honest questions about where he got his stats for that post (at least, I haven’t seen them anywhere), I suddenly felt queasy. Then he took on the martyr mantle by claiming he was receiving “abusive” criticism. Does he really not understand how social media works? 

To be honest, I couldn’t understand why he was so defensive. If he stands behind what he teaches, why stoop to name-calling? As someone who often gets criticized for her blog content, I understand how difficult it is to respond to criticism. The attacks often feel personal. I’ve made mistakes in how I respond and I’ve learned the hard way that responding with personal attacks; ie. name-calling, getting overly defensive, etc. only makes one problem into two.

I mean, I like Dave Ramsey’s system but now I’m not sure I like Dave Ramsey. His debt-elimination plan is awesome but he’s kinda acting like a jerk online. And these days, business is just as much social-media savvy as it is IRL practical advice.

I mean, if Dave Ramsey acts like this online, I’ve gotta guess he might be a meanie IRL, too. Something just smells fishy, is all I’m saying. What is going on, here???

Still, I like my little cash-envelope system. Excuse me while I go check my emergency cash fund.

UPDATED AT 12:20PM PST: I’ve been listening to Dave Ramsey on the radio this morning. And it’s just really sad. His posture is prideful. He’s refusing to engage the actual substance of those who have questioned him. He’s mocking. He’s mean. He’s only taking calls from people who agree with him. Just whoa. WHOA. Very telling.

Giving thanks for messy family relationships

Thanksgiving 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get is: “How is your relationship with your parents?” Blog readers ask me this. People who knew my family when I was a kid often ask me this. Even Michael Pearl asked me this after I confronted him on Anderson Cooper’s TV show. And I’m sure this is a question I’ll receive repeatedly after my book is published this coming March.

 

Here is the short answer: It’s messy.

Unlike many people who left my childhood church never to see its leaders again, I didn’t have that option. My parents WERE church leadership. I could leave the church but how exactly does one leave family? 

All I can say is that for the past ten years, it’s been an imperfect process. We’ve had our ups and downs. We’ve had our times of silence, we’ve had to cobble together a kind of uneasy truce, we’ve had to draw and redraw boundaries. Sometimes we agree not to discuss Certain Topics. Other times we dive in headfirst. Mistakes have been made on both sides.

But here’s the thing: we keep trying.

To be quite honest, I’ve had enough of schism, division, fighting and theological wars. I’ve discovered that if we can meet on neutral ground, we find common ground.

I’m not worried about my parents reading my book. They already know everything that happened–ha ha. There aren’t going to be any surprises. The only surprise, perhaps, will be for them to see the experiences through my eyes.

I’ve already given them permission not to read it. I’ve said: “If you think reading my book will cause you unnecessary suffering, by all means, don’t read it.”

It really no longer matters to me whether my parents ever truly understand or DON’T understand what my life was like inside fundamentalism. Because I’ve dealt with my sh*t, ya know? I’ve hashed it out in years of therapy, journaling and twenty jars of Cookie Butter. Give or take.

I didn’t write the book so other people would understand me, I wrote the book so others would understand they are not alone. I wrote the book for you. I wrote the book because if I know one thing it’s that many, many people undergo harmful church experiences and even if their stories are not the same as mine, those who read my book will find themselves. Or someone they know. Or maybe–perhaps–see the ways they unwittingly perpetuated harm.

I believe in reconciliation begins with mutual respect and understanding. My parents have changed so much over the past ten years. I have, too. Over the past ten years, we’ve been involved in the sometimes difficult, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes triggering work of reconciliation. I have to take lots of breaks. Lots of naps. But ultimately, I keep coming back and this is what I’ve learned:

I accept the things I cannot change.
I cannot change my past.

But I can be serene.
I can be kind.
can be courageous enough to change the things within my power–mainly, myself.

This is why I keep doing the work of reconciliation. Because when both parties are willing to come to the table peacefully, leaving space for God–that is when the healing begins. 

I guess that would be my answer: “My relationship with my parents is healing.”

And for that, I’m thankful. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.