Book Review: "Ordinary Grace" by William Kent Krueger

Bobby had a gift and the gift was his simplicity. The world for Bobby Cole was a place he accepted without needing to understand it. Me, I was growing up scrambling for meaning and I was full of confusion and fear.”

Ordinary Grace opens with the suspicious death of a young boy and becomes a richly drawn, deeply evocative coming-of-age story that is part murder mystery, part philosophical reflection.

Preacher’s son, Frank Drum, finds himself caught in the tragic web of violence that has struck his small, Midwestern town. Despite the heavy subject matter, Ordinary Grace is surprisingly not depressing or dark. Ultimately, it is a redemption story that provides a wise, thoughtful commentary on human nature. My favorite character was the preacher, Nathan Drum, a quiet, deeply faithful, intelligent and unassuming man, a kind of modern Atticus Finch. Ordinary Grace is a true, literary masterpiece and I’d place it in the same category as To Kill a Mockingbird. Definitely worth your time. Five stars.

In defense of a small, ordinary life

A couple of months ago, my twins celebrated their First Communion. It was a whirlwind day—actually, a whirlwind week leading up to it—and yet, when I finally fell in bed after it was all over, I felt deeply peaceful, light of heart and filled-to-overflowing with joy. I noticed it because I rarely feel that way. Most of life feels like relentless grind, endless chaos, laundry, paying bills, omg-when-was-the-last-time-all-you-kids-got-to-the-dentist?

But that night I felt a rare, priceless exhale of joy. Gratitude. It was worth it, I thought sleepily as I drifted to sleep. It's worth every bit of it.

When I pause to think about it, the discontent and frustration I experience in life is mostly my own doing. If I'm unhappy it's because I’ve always wanted more. If I feel that I've missed out, it's usually because I had unreasonable expectations. If I feel restless, it's because I'm always convinced that what I’m looking for is just around the corner, over the next fence, at the next gathering, with the right group of people, traveling around the world.

But it's not.

What I'm looking for is right here. Right very now.

I don’t need to understand everything in order to be happy. I don't have to travel to some exotic location to find God or myself or what I'm looking for. I don't always have to push the limits of what is possible or over-commit to ten bazillion projects to prove that I am worthy of love and good enough for approval.

I am learning the wisdom of a small, ordinary life.

I am learning to truly WAKE when I wake up in the morning. To listen for the birds, to feel the cool, deep quiet of morning. A few days ago I woke up early and went tip-toeing barefoot through my garden, plucking flowers. On a whim I set the flowers afloat in my pool and let my feet dangle in the water. I sank into a deep mediation, a kind of water-and-breath mediation. How simple, how silly? Yes, yes, all of it.

I’ve spent so much of my life rushing around trying to put everything in its place, getting everything in order, making backup plans in case the original plan doesn't work, always always trying to put stable ground under my feet. But all my efforts haven’t changed the nature of what IS. And what IS is that life changes. Nothing lasts forever. We are, as St. James says, “like a morning fog—here a little while and then gone.” (St. James 4:14).

Perhaps the core of our suffering is that we refuse to let things be NOT OK. I know that my own suffering is often caused by a relentless search for—what Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron calls—“constant okayness.”

But "Constant Okayness" is not possible, is it?

The gift of living a small, ordinary life is that I really have no choice but to just let things be.

I'm no longer trying to make things work that were not meant to work.

And I am finding that at the bottom of this "not okayness" is a breakthrough. It is what Fr. Jacques Philippe might call "radical nothingness" a state of being where we discover nothing less than “the inexpressible tenderness, the absolutely unconditional love of God.

God is at the end of my plans not working out.

God is at the end of my broken dreams.

God is here right very now in this small, ordinary life.

And this is where I find my freedom.

Book Review "The Nest" by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

I've decided that this summer will be my summer of fiction. In the past five years I've read so many self-help, recovery, Christian-living, memoirs, throw-away-all-your-stuff-to-be-happy books that I've neglected the joys of fiction. When I asked for recommendations, people said: "Read 'The Nest.'" So, I did. And I give it a 4 out of 5 stars.

I won't give any spoilers, but The Nest is about four adult siblings thrown into chaos when they discover that their trust-fund nest egg has been emptied out to rescue their eldest brother, Leo, from his most recent disaster. "Leo the Lech" (as I began to call him) is a conniving, charming, philandering, entitled, middle-aged white dude who seems bent on ruining his own life and the lives of everyone around him. It was difficult for me to like this character because, having grown up around men like Leo, I'm short on sympathy.

Still, the plot is well-paced, the writing superb and the main characters well-drawn. The author did an excellent job of showing how money—or the lack thereof—changes family relationships and creates power struggles, deceit and codependency. Reading The Nest is sort of like watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians—there's nothing really inspiring or virtuous about this family, but you always want to know what happens next. Delicious summer fiction, indeed.

Up next: The Lake House by Kate Morton. Review coming soon.

Happy summering, friends.

I didn't know how hard I was working as a SAHM until I got a job outside the home (aka: the problem of unpaid work and how it mostly impacts women)

Lest ye think this is going to be the bitter diatribe of an unhappy, angry woman, let me begin me begin by saying: I am actually quite happy these days.  Look at this picture of me. That, right there? That is a pre-twin, pre-book, pre-Depression SMILE. YOU GUYS. I am smiling for real again. I haven't been this happy in years.

Part of this is my kids getting older (which means less physical, janitorial labor—they can do their own laundry, yay!) and part of this is that I’m no longer writing under deadline (which was crushing the life out of me) and part of this is trying new things (like going back to school) and part of this is taking better care of myself (three cheers for daily meds, an awesome chiropractor and regular massages) and the other part—the most unexpected part—is how much happier I have been since getting a full-time job outside the home.

YOU GUYS. I had NO IDEA how hard I was working as an at-home mom until I got this new job.

I had no idea how exhausted, how lonely, how invisible I felt as an at-home mom until I had another job to compare it to.

When I started this job a month ago I expected to feel completely overwhelmed. I kept waiting to feel desperate and exhausted. I kept wondering how I’d survive without my daily, 1:30pm nap.

But instead of not being able to handle it, my new full-time job felt/feels almost like a vacation. A vacation for which I am being paid. Plus, I get breaks. Plus, a 401k. Plus, constant validation (“great idea!” “you’re so smart!” “we love having you here!”). One day last week I worked for 12 hours (one regular shift at my day job and then a restaurant shift after that) and I still came home less exhausted than a typical half day as an at-home mom. WHAT.

Don’t get me wrong. Working full-time outside the home is challenging.

I’m still tired at the end of the day. But it’s not the same kind of tired I experienced nearly every day as an at-home mom.

I don’t feel emotionally drained, utterly depleted, completely emptied out of everything I have to give. It’s more like: yeah, I had a full day but hey kids! Let’s play catch before dinner!

: : :

I’ve been puzzling over why being an at-home mom was so much harder for me and then I remembered an eye-opening conversation I had with my two oldest kids last Thanksgiving.

They had come to me with a list of their teenage grievances. Things like: we don’t like it that you monitor our cell phones. We want to listen to explicit rap music at full volume in the house. We should be able to play Xbox for 12 hours straight.

I sat there and nodded and listened and said a lot of I see’s and uh-huh’s and ok’s. Reacting to teenagers, I’ve discovered, is exactly the same as throwing gasoline on a fire which is to say, DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME. Better to let them unload their heavily burdened hearts and give them unconditional positive regard rather than freaking out and yelling: INGRATES! Don’t do that. Gasoline, fire, etc. I’ve learned this the hard way.

Anyway, they were carrying on like this and I was nodding along and then they branched off into other topics and said something that brought me up short. I was all: HOLD UP. WHAT?

 “Say that part again about what dad does and what I do?” I asked, keeping my voice light, breezy, inquisitive.

“Well,” said the teenager Who Shall Not Be Named, “Dad works really hard providing for the family and Mom…well, what is it that you do?”

 Trying to maintain my composure (and keep from laughing) I asked them to clarify further. It came down to this: their true and honest perception of our family situation was—and I quote—“dad busts his butt” providing for the family and mom…well, “we don’t really know what mom does.”

At this point I needed a break. Meaning, I took the dog for a walk. Meaning, I bawled my eyes out. Meaning, I walked for a long while until I’d walked out all my feelings.

And then: there it was. There was my answer.

Was it possible my kids simply DID NOT SEE what I’ve been doing for them these past seventeen years? Were they, quite literally, blind to it?

I mean, most of us don’t really appreciate our parents’ sacrifices for us until we become parents ourselves, right? But there’s something else, here, too.

This is what I mean: despite my best efforts to educate my kids about sexism and inequality, they have still picked up this idea that what dad does is “REAL” work and what mom does…isn’t.

Why is Dad’s work “REAL” and mine isn’t? Well, Dad brings home a paycheck. Mom is just…here. All the time. Like: WHAT DOES SHE EVEN DO??????

: : : :

This is what an at-home mom does: emotional labor.

For the past seventeen years I’ve been the primary caretaker. I’m accustomed to no-breaks, no-thanks, no raises, no promotions. I've had a bit of paid help now and then. But nothing significant or long term. That has been my normal.

My main job was providing high-quality, full attentive, deeply intuitive child-care. But that was just my 9-5, so to speak (although it was really like 6am-5pm). What makes at-home work so exhausting, though, is all the OTHER WORK on top on top of the regular, child-care work. After my “regular job” as an at-home mom, there was a whole OTHER job of:

Dealing with all the school stuff, homework, registration, grades, emails with teachers, assignments, school projects (miniature scale California missions!) pick up and drop off, carpools, arranging carpools, communicating about the carpools when I couldn’t do it, calling in absences, taking care of them when they are sick at home, following their grades online, making sure everyone has all the proper supplies.

But that’s not all. Oh, that is not all.

I’m also the one who:

Researched after-school sports, made countless trips to and from dance classes, dance workshops, dance intensives, dance supply stores, baseball practice, baseball games, lacrosse practice, water polo practice, water polo games, Mommy-n-me-classes, library reading times.

I’m the one who remembers all the birthdays, holidays and special occasions and shops and plans accordingly. I’m the one who gathers information regarding Christmas presents and plans the social calendar. I’m the one who gets them signed up for drivers’ ed and SAT tutoring and math tutoring. I’m the one who volunteers in their classroom and who picks them up if they are sick during school hours.

I’m the primary disciplinarian. The one who sets and enforces boundaries.

And yet, all of this—this whole at-home mom job plus the activities-coordinator/chauffeur/cook/tutor/therapist job that I do as a mom isn’t considered “REAL” work. WHY is this?

Well, for one thing, at-home work is mostly invisible. You can’t graph it on a quarterly-earnings chart. There are no PowerPoint presentations explaining the cost/benefit ratios of at-home motherhood.

But here’s the biggest reason why at-home work isn’t viewed as “REAL” work in America: because if we can’t attach a dollar amount to emotional labor then it doesn’t even exist in our capitalistic society.

: : : :

 I read somewhere recently that men are defined by their work whereas women are defined by the work they do for others.

Even when I was writing two books and being paid for it, the expectation I placed on myself (and the expectation I felt from others in my social groups) was that I was a mother first and a writer second.

I was and am defined by my emotional labor more than my professional labor. The expectation is that I will be a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend first and fit writing in on the side.

Even as a paid professional author, I never felt like a true WRITER-WRITER. I felt like a full-time mom who wrote as a “side-hustle.”

It is not this way for men. I’ve noticed that men who are my age and at the general same stage of life in the writing industry have no problem defining themselves as Writers. They define themselves as Writers even if they are also husbands and fathers. They are writers first and fathers second. And nobody raises an eyebrow. Nobody suggests they are neglecting their children in order to write their book. Nobody says: “I don’t know how you do it!” Nobody suggests they are putting their career before family.

So, why does it matter if men define themselves by their work whereas women are defined by the work they do for others?

Well, here’s why: because even if a woman is holding down a pay-the-bills job, much of the emotional labor of raising a family still falls in her lap. Hear me on this: I am more than happy to perform emotional labor because life sucks without it. I actually enjoy emotional labor. Nurturing is my jam.

What I’m pointing out is that because there's no way for our society to measure at-home work in dollars, it’s easy to pretend that at-home work isn’t comparable to the “REAL WORK” that men do.

The irony is that child-care is exorbitantly expensive. If I had actually been paid for all the child-care I’ve done for the better part of two decades I’d have a nice little retirement nest egg.

: : : :

When I look back at the past seventeen years, I ask myself if I would do it all over again and the answer (like much of life) is yes and no. Both/and. I’m glad I stayed home with them and I don’t regret one minute of it because I love them so infinitely much that I would do it all over again because THIS IS WHAT LOVE IS.

Sidebar: I know many, many women don’t have the luxury of being able to stay home and I fully acknowledge I was granted the privilege of even HAVING this choice. I have so many more words about this like: WHY DON’T WE HAVE more mother-friendly social policies? It’s shameful!

If I had to do it all over again, I would only stay home until my youngest kids were in kindergarten and then I would go get myself a full-time paying job because the reality for women is that things are still not fair for us. We still have to have a backup plan. Actually, we need more than one backup plan. Plan B isn’t enough. Most of us need plans C, D and effing E.

Look, I know life isn’t fair. I get that. But also: I believe part of my job here on earth is to make life MORE fair. That's why I’m writing about this stuff because, at least for me, awareness of the problem is the first step.

Up until about four weeks ago I didn’t even realize how hard I was working and how much of it wasn’t considered “real work” and how that’s a huge problem for women everywhere.

Now, I’m gonna go put on my jammies and pour myself some white wine and crochet some granny squares. Whoomp, there it is.

p.s. fear not, all is well between my teenagers and me. which is to say, apologies were given all around and lots of hugs and follow-up conversations. life goes on. and so does their curfew.

It still matters

Jewel went to her first prom a couple of weekends ago. I was so excited for her—and anxious for her, too—what time will you be home? are you going in a group? where are you going after prom? what time will you be home? did I already ask that? OMG I AM SO EXCITED FOR YOU.

"You are stressing me out, Mom," she said at one point. "Can you just—like. Can you not?"

She was right. I was firing off questions and instructions like a crazed robot. I needed to check myself. But not before I snapped a bazillion pics of her on my iPhone. Because PRIORITIES.

I know moms say this all the time but seriously, WHERE DID THE TIME GO? How did my tiny baby girl grow up into this strong, confident young woman who organizes an entire group of sixteen people for prom? How did this all happen so fast? 

It's a question that I've been dealing with for the past year or so. I've mentioned it before but I'm pretty sure I'm in full-blown mid-life crisis mode. Do all women feel this? We near forty and start feeling as if we are becoming slowly invisible, slowly irrelevant, slowly unnecessary, slowly unimportant?

A few days later, just as Jewel was climbing in the car with her friends to go to prom, I felt the Old Pain rise up inside me. So, I ran to her and and hugged her before it became too much. I caught a glimpse of my face in the car window as I shut the door for her—I looked so....old.

I ran inside and up to my room. The Old Pain washed over me—the regret, the missed opportunities, the prom I never got to attend because we were fundamentalists and fundamentalists didn't go to proms.

I can't believe it still matters. But it does.

It's so stupid. But it's true.

It still matters that I never went to my own high school prom. It still matters that I missed out on things. After all this time, it still matters, dammit.

Just when I'm beginning to think that I've finally shed the last dead layer of fundamentalism, something happens to remind me that nope, nope. I'm still that weird girl from the cult. I still inhabit this skin.

Growing up fundamentalist made me old long before my time. When I was 20, I felt like I was 40. Now that I'm almost 40, I feel like I'm closer to 60....

It's not all bad, of course. I've accomplished a lot of amazing things in my 39 years. I'm proud of myself. I suppose my tendency is to be a "glass half empty" kind of person. I've been working on that. I love the science of neuroplasticity and I've been trying to actively "re-wire" my thought patterns through meditation, daily affirmations, happy-lists (my version of gratitude lists) and "acting as if" things are good until I feel better. It's working. Slowly.

I believe happiness is possible for me. Indeed, it becomes more possible each day. I love people. I love working. I love going to school.

The Old Pain isn't as strong anymore. But it's still there. I guess I needed to share it with you just to say: Hey, it's ok that we're human. It's ok if we feel the Old Pain sometimes. We're getting better, you and me. One day, one blog post at a time!

And THAT'S what matters most.

"By this will everyone know you are my disciplies, if you mock one another" —thoughts on the @babylonbee

Yeah, I'll admit it. At first I was amused. How clever, I thought. A Christian version of The Onion. So, I retweeted a post or two. I chuckled along. But the more The Babylon Bee popped up in my social media feeds, the more uncomfortable I became with laughing along. What if this "trusted source for Christian news satire" was actually just a poor excuse for Christians to slam other Christians on the Internet?

I mean, to watch Christians gleefully retweet and share The Babylon Bee, you'd think Jesus said: "By this will everyone know you are my disciples, if you mock one another."

And there was something else, too. Something more troubling. It looked a lot like a hidden agenda.

OK, YEAH: I realize I'm sounding like an 80 year old grandmother full of conspiracy theories. I don't care. I'm fed up. AND PLEASE. SPARE ME THE WHOLE: "But Jesus! He was sarcastic! He knocked over tables! He told those Pharisees what was UP!"

Because for #1: you are not Jesus.

Because for #2: there is no comparison between your mean jokes about fellow Christians to Jesus' righteous rebuke of corrupt religious authority. Check yo self.

Because for #3: when Jesus told parables or used clever turns of phrase, the intention was always to bring liberty to the captives—NEVER to mock their earnest (if sometimes unwieldy, break-through-the-ceiling-to-lower-your-sick-friend-down-to-Jesus) attempts at connecting with Him.

Here's the deal, Babylon Bee: I just don't want to read mean, stupid stuff on the Internet anymore. And I especially don't want to read it from fellow Christians.

Cuz I already graduated from middle school.

Cuz I don't think it's funny or Christian or edifying to crack jokes at other people's expense.

Cuz I'm pretty sure Jesus isn't slapping his knee and chortling along like: YEAH, HA HA LOOK AT THAT WOMAN CRYING DURING WORSHIP. SHE IS SUCH AN EMBARRASSMENT TO ME.

I mean. Dude. If I were The Babylon Bee, I'd be ducking for cover because last time I checked, Jesus didn't take kindly to religious folks being judgmental towards women.

And really, that's what The Babylon Bee is all about.

The Babylon Bee isn't about equal-opportunity laughs. Or speaking truth to corrupt power systems.

The Babylon Bee is all about making you laugh at the harmless joke so that later, you're more likely to laugh at the sexist joke. THIS IS PSYCHOLOGY 101. It's called foot-in-the-door compliance. And it's a real thing.

This is why the Babylon Bee pumps out lots of LOL-Christian-Culture jokes like: "First Year Seminarian Ready to Take Over for Senior Pastor" because those easy, breezy jokes pave the way for what The Babylon Bee really wants to say.

Thankfully, The Babylon Bee isn't THAT clever. It's ain't rocket science figuring out its editorial bias.

The Babylon Bee has a definite agenda and it looks like making fun of how women talk, mocking transgender identity, belittling Mormons, pretending that Christians who deny LGBT folks their civil rights are the REAL victims, accusing women who read Amish romance novels as having a porn addiction, shaming Joyce Meyer for using her God-given gifts to preach. I could go on but if I keep rolling my eyes they might get stuck in my skull permanently.

The point is, The Babylon Bee doesn't expose oppressive religious culture and structures (which is what true satire does), it actually reinforces them.

Or, to put that in a headline for ya: Studies Show New Condemnation Same as Old Condemnation.

Or as Solomon might write: History Proves Nothing New Under Sun.

As if this whole shebang isn't disturbing enough, look who runs ads on Babylon Bee: Compassion International. Just WHAT. A Christian relief organization seeking to empower children in poverty is partnering with a website that disempowers other Christians? The cognitive dissonance is jarring.

Dear Babylon Bee Editor: A little sexism leavens the whole lump. I'm not laughing anymore.


Five Tips for Overcoming Learned Helplessness (from someone who used to collapse/not get out of bed when faced with stressors)

Gratuitous puppy pic because my puppy is awesome. Bernie sanders! you are the cutest!!!!

Gratuitous puppy pic because my puppy is awesome. Bernie sanders! you are the cutest!!!!

In her excellent interview for an article called "The Hidden Trauma of Life After Fundamentalism," therapist and author Dr. Marlene Winell ("Leaving the Fold: a guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion") highlights a few symptoms afflicting people with Religious Trauma Syndrome:

Those who leave such denominations may experience symptoms of RTS, which include, but are not limited to, learned helplessness, identity confusion, dissociation, sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse, anxiety, depression, and interpersonal dysfunction. Critical thinking and independent thought are often underdeveloped. (emphasis mine)

I recently discovered this term "learned helplessness" and it was a huge ah-ha! moment for me. Here's how my psychology text describes learned helplessness:

Do you believe that you have no control over stressful life events? Do you believe that even your best efforts will result in failure? When you blame yourself for any failure you experience, are you more likely to attribute your failure to a specific factor—you're just not good at soccer—or to a more global feature—you're just too uncoordinated to do any athletic activity? These questions illustrate the key feature of a personality feature called learned helplessness, in which people develop a passive response to stressors based on their exposure to previously uncontrolled, negative events. (Pastorino, Portillo. What is Psychology? Cengage Learning, 2016. pg. 527, emphasis mine)

In other words, learned helplessness means we give up or have a passive response when faced with stressful situations.

In the context of recovery from Religious Trauma Syndrome, many of us may have experienced learned helplessness starting as infants.

For example, think about the damaging effects of the popular "sleep training" method "cry it out".

When parents leave a baby alone in a room to cry it out, researchers found that the baby didn't "learn the 'skill' of sleep... rather her brain escapes the overwhelming pain of abandonment and shuts down. While such a shutdown brings a quiet reverie for frustrated and exhausted parents, it comes at a steep price. The implicit memory encoded in the CIO baby is that the world is an uncaring place."

Can you see the difference? The baby doesn't stop crying because she's finally being obedient (as we were taught by parenting gurus like Dr. James Dobson, the Ezzos or Mike & Debi Pearl). The baby stops crying because she has learned that help isn't coming. The baby stops crying because she is overwhelmed by despair. Her brain shuts down and she collapses into exhausted sleep because that's the only escape.

"Cry it out" is a very popular practice in MANY religious households. I remember the authors of "Babywise" even going so far as to tell parents not to give in to a baby's cries for help because the infant was trying to "manipulate" them.

Sadly, the practice of "cry it out" is very widespread these days. Think about all the babies who are learning that nobody comes when they cry for help. Think about how this will play out in their lives: when faced with the inevitable stress of life, how will they respond? Probably by shutting down.

Well, I know a little something about this. Growing up fundamentalist gave me a debilitating case of learned helplesssness. A big part of my recovery has been learning how to handle stress and how to problem solve.

So, when we're faced with a problem, what can we do to overcome learned helplessness? Here are some suggestions I've culled from my own research + things that work for me:

  1. EMBRACE MAKING MISTAKES: honestly, I'd rather do ANYTHING other than find solutions to my problems. My house has never been cleaner, my laundry never more caught up than when I have an actual problem to solve. Experts suggest that what makes problem solving difficult is picking the solution from a selection of options. This is probably why it's more difficult for ex-fundamentalists to problem solve. We weren't ever given options. We were always told what to do and how to do it. Finding solutions to problems often means making mistakes. And mistakes aren't devastating when we are operating from a place of worthiness. Meaning, when we know we are unconditionally loved, our mistakes no longer have the power to crush us (THAT'S FROM MY NEW BOOK haha!!). When I first started speaking out against Mike & Debi Pearl, I was under incredible pressure to remain quiet. There were times when I wanted to quit. What helped was telling myself that speaking imperfectly was better than not saying anything at all.
  2. PAUSE: Take a break. Take a walk. Meditate. These things interrupt negative/defeating thought patterns. When I'm feeling totally helpless and overwhelmed, I give myself a break. NOTE: this is different than procrastinating which usually leads to MORE problems! :) A couple of Fridays ago I was feeling frustrated and helpless about some life situations. So, I cleaned up my room. After I was done, my problem was still there but I *felt* better and was able to handle it.
  3. RESIST "ANALYSIS PARALYSIS": many of us from controlling religious environments are hyper-vigilant and have a tendency to over-analyze every single decision. We are experts at making pro/con lists. We want to make The Right Decision. Unfortunately, making a very detailed pro/con list can easily trigger our "analysis paralysis" and prevent us from making any decision at all. The reality is that there are often many "right ways" of doing things. Sometimes we won't even know the next step until we take the first step. And even if we make a mistake, that's ok, too (see #1).
  4. TRUST YOUR GUT INSTINCT: I read an interesting research study about people test-tasting strawberry jam. The people who tasted and scored the jams without analyzing them were more likely to score closer to expert tasters' scores than another group of people who had to explain, analyze and defend which jam they liked and why they liked it. In other words, having to "give an answer" for every decision can interfere with better outcomes. Many of us who grew up in fundamentalism were expressly discouraged from trusting our gut instincts and our hearts. We may not even know what we like or dislike! Learning to listen and trust our gut instinct is often a process of trial and error but that's ok! see #1 and #3! Knowing ourselves is totally worth the mistakes we make along the way. Give yourself permission to go at your own pace. It takes time to figure out what WE like and want and need. We are allowed to change our minds, take our time and we don't have to defend why we like or dislike something. We don't all have to like or want the same things in life. :)
  5. INCUBATE: Sleep on it. Take the pressure off. Our brains need time to "encode" new memories, find solutions to problems and come up with new ideas. Although I've learned how to trust my gut instinct, I try not to make big decisions impulsively. I sleep on it. Our brains are VERY active while we are sleeping. I can't tell you how many times a solution will come to me in a dream or upon waking or a day later. Be kind to your brain and let it do the work for you while you take a snooze. I also highly recommend daily naps. I lie down every single day around 1pm and sleep for 15-20 minutes. This keeps my brain from "overheating" and perks me up for the afternoon and early evening.

How about you? What kind of tools have you found helpful in overcoming learned helplessness, "analysis paralysis" or the fear of making mistakes? I'd love to hear what works for you!

Why one rotten church experience can spoil the whole bunch (and some ideas for how churches can help change that)

How many times have you heard a Christian say: "I'm sorry you had a bad experience at your church but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater"? I understand where these (usually) well-meaning people are coming from: they don't want you to miss out on something good; which is to say, something that has been really great for them. But their words are not only shaming, they are ignorant. As in, literally ignorant.

Let me explain. There's a scientific explanation for what happens to some people when they are subjected to painful/harmful experiences. And I think it applies to some of us who can no longer tolerate church. It's called stimulus generalization (yes, I'm learning lots of stuff in my college psychology class and the connections I'm making to real-world situations is SO MUCH AWESOME, thanks for asking).

Here's what stimulus generalization looks like:

Imagine that as a child you were bitten by a big dog. Before this experience, you may have had a favorable/neutral view of big dogs but after being bitten, you feared them. And eventually, this fear spread to all dogs. No matter how many times other people told you that THEIR dog wasn't dangerous or that THEIR dog was friendly or not to "throw the, dogs...out with the bathwater," you still experienced an involuntary fear reaction upon seeing a dog. Just hearing a dog bark aggressively might scare you. This is stimulus generalization.

Stimulus generalization doesn't happen to everyone. Some people are more resilient than others. Some personalities are less prone to anxiety. Some bad experiences are more traumatic than others. I'm guessing that the more trauma there is around the negative experience—let's say you were chased by a big dog, then bitten, then had to walk home bleeding—the more likely that trauma is gonna stick with you.

When we've had a horrible experience, it's normal (and GOOD!) to be wary/fearful of similar situations and to avoid them.

Now, let's apply the idea of stimulus generalization to a church context.

For those of us who have had bad/traumatic experiences with churches or church-people, we may develop an aversion to All Things Church.  The problem is that we are often shamed by other Christians for not being able to "get over" our bad experience. But as stimulus generalization demonstrates, our wariness is not an issue of sin. It is not an issue of rebellion or allowing "bitterness" in our hearts. It is, quite simply, a normal, biological response.

If you have a fear of dogs, can you imagine someone telling you that you need to confess your grudge against dogs? Or saying you need to repent of bitterness? Can you imagine someone telling you that you need to forgive the dog that bit you—or worse, turn the other cheek?

Of course not! And yet, this happens ALL THE TIME in a church context.

So, let's go back to the dog biting analogy. Maybe after many years have passed, we decide we'd like to be able to have an enjoyable—or, at least, SAFE—experience with dogs. 

So, we decide to expose ourselves to friendly dogs in a controlled, safe environment with dog-owners we trust. This is process de-conditions our fear response because we are building new, positive associations and memories with dogs.

The catch is that this needs to be OUR decision. If someone else is pressuring us to to "get over" our fear of dogs, the healing/de-conditioning process will likely backfire.

Now, back to the church issue: it's even harder to get over a bad church experience because there are so few safe environments in which to do this. I mean, there are lots of loving, responsible dog owners whom we might meet throughout the course of our lives. But how many safe, accepting, sympathetic and affirming churches do we come across? Not many.

And even if we DO find a church where we feel safe, there are very few people and pastors who are knowledgeable about spiritual abuse and know how to care for us.

If Christians want to be known by our love for one another, then WE MUST PRIORITIZE caring for our own wounded.

We need churches that are well-trained in "spiritual abuse triage," so to speak. We need safe communities that are knowledgeable about "religious wound-care." We need hospitals for victims of spiritual abuse.

If churches really want to help those of us who have been hurt by bad churches, then they must be willing to do one major thing:


We are not going to join your Bible Studies or bring a casserole to your potluck. We probably won't even attend the potluck (because we'd rather not break out in hives).

Here's the thing, if churches want to be welcoming places for wounded Christians, they must take off all the pressure and expectations. Just the fact that a wounded Christian is showing up at your church at all is a MAJOR BIG DEAL. Don't ask for anything more.


  1.  FOLDING CHAIRS NEAR EXITS: Many of us will arrive late (to avoid the nerve-wracking chit-chat) and leave early (for the same reason). We need a quick n' easy entrance and exit strategy. We don't want the ushers marching us to the front of the church where there are two empty spaces in the middle of the second row. HELLO PANIC ATTACK. Grant us the kindness of easy access.
  2. NEVER EVER DRAW ATTENTION TO US: some churches like to "welcome the visitor" and this can be intensely stressful for us. Please don't ask us to stand so the church can applaud us for visiting. Please don't ask personal questions if we happen to stay long enough for you to greet us. Grant us the courtesy of observation without the pressure to perform or participate.
  3. LET US BE VISITORS FOR AS LONG AS WE LIKE: in many churches there is pressure to "plug in" and "get connected." For those of us who have experienced spiritual abuse, it is much safer for us to NOT plug-in. Let us retain our Visitor status indefinitely. Maybe we'll always arrive late and leave early (thanks for the folding chairs by the exits). Let this be OK. Let there never be side-remarks or "encouragement" to join small groups/serve/volunteer. Grant us the freedom to decide when/if/how we want to become more involved.
  4. LET US TITHE ANONYMOUSLY: we might put a few dollars in the basket but we don't want to fill out those little offering envelopes with our name, address, phone number, email address, etc. We don't want to give you our bank information. Let this be OK. Let us tithe privately. In fact, let it be OK if we never tithe (we probably already gave thousands of dollars to the other church that hurt us). Grant us your trust, believing that how we handle our finances is between us and God and not a matter for church scrutiny.
  5. KINDNESS:  so many of us come from church backgrounds that were unkind, judgmental, condemning, accusatory, gossipy and performance-based. Kindness goes a long way. A caveat, here: please don't be offended if at first we are suspicious of your kind gestures. We are all too familiar with Christians whose kindness comes with strings attached. It's not personal. We're just protecting ourselves. But if you keep showing up with kindness and without expectation, we will notice. Grant us unconditional love and acceptance and maybe, just maybe, we will feel safe enough to release our fears and free enough to love you back.


Now, it's your turn. If you've been wounded or turned off by a bad church experience, what would make feel safe again? What other things can churches do to create a welcoming, non-judgmental environment? Is it possible to de-condition our stress/trauma responses to church? How did that happen for you? Or, maybe you never ever want to return to church again. I get that! I'd love to hear about that, too. (anonymous comments ok!)

When things fall apart, new things can begin

This is your daily reminder that you have permission to let go of relationships that harm you.

I wrote this in my journal the other day and then sat there for awhile and stared at it.

For me, this is a radical, revolutionary (rebellious?) thought.

Perhaps like many women, I've let my sense of well-being become inextricably bound to the stability and longevity of my relationshipseven when those relationships hurt me. I'm an eternal optimist in relationships. I can change him! She's not really that mean! It's ok if they hurt me because I'm turning the other cheek!

These are the things I'm learning about relationships:

1. Forgiveness is not synonymous with reconciliation.

I forgive because this is what God asks of me. I forgive because, ultimately, letting go of resentment helps me live a better, happier, fuller life. Forgiveness is not about my relationship with the person who hurt me so much as it about my relationship to myself and God. I forgive because it frees me up to be the person God created me to be. I forgive because hanging onto dead or harmful relationships is lack of acceptance and denial of reality. I let go in love because my worthiness as a beloved child of God is not dependent upon the approval of others or whether our relationship is fully reconciled.

2. Mistaking codependency for forgiveness

I am one of those people who can't sleep at night if I know someone is mad at me. Desperation clutches at my chest and I cannot rest until I know things are going to be OK. A breakthrough happened for me when I began to see what drove my desperation: relationship codependency. I know codependency can sound like an off-putting psychological label, but here's what it means for me: placing my happiness and well-being in the hands of others. My codependency manifests itself when I rush back into harmful relationships. I think women are conditioned more often than men to equate their self-worth with the stability and longevity of their relationships. I was taught that tolerating hurtful behavior from others was actually the Christian thing to do because it meant I was "being forgiving." It's hard for me to distinguish sometimes between codependency and forgiveness which is why having trusted friends is so important. My friends only want what is best for me and they help me stand up for myself in relationships.

3. Relax and detach

I have so much anxiety around relationships. I can become so other-centered that I completely lose myself in their needs, their wants, their expectations—to the point of harming myself. I feel so much better about myself when I relax and detach. I don't mean callous disregard or giving the cold shoulder. I simply mean, relaxing my grip on outcomes in relationships. Letting myself relax into the flow of what is happening without needing to force/control things is so much healthier for me. Here's a revolutionary thought (haha): I can't control or change others. Ultimately, people are going to do whatever it is they are going to do. There's freedom in that because it means my responsibility is simply my own thoughts, words and behaviors. When I'm taking care of myself and my responsibilities, I like myself.

Endings are not always bad. Things fall apart and this is just a part of life. When something ends, a new thing can begin. And when things fall apart, I find myself free to let myself relax into whatever the future holds.

It's not always easy, but it IS simple—if I just let it be.

How to be brave (hint: it's simple but not easy)

Well, you just show up. I think that's all there really is to it. You just show up and then you show up again and again and again. And then you go home to your nice, warm bed.

Sometimes I forget how lonely it can feel in a crowd. And how exhausting it is talking about books I've written. I love writing but talking about what I've written makes me so uncomfortable and anxious. Still, I did it. I went to my book party. Seeing all your smiling faces made everything all better. I liked that.

I also liked coming home afterwards.

I can feel my shoulders relax as I pull into my driveway. I smile at the kid stuff strewn across the lawn: scooter, bike helmet, skateboard, basketball. The dogs hear the car door slam and they are already at the door, waiting for me when I come up the walk.

I open the door and I can smell the tater tots that James baked for himself. Sometimes there are brownies. Jewel is in a brownie-baking phase.

I hang my keys on the hook and set my purse on the dining room table. I can hear the TV on in the living room—somebody is watching Shark Tank. I kick off my shoes and go to the kitchen sink. I don't know why but I always wash my hands when I arrive home. A kind of baptismal ritual.


It's Jude, coming round the corner with his school iPad in hand. Oh, those iPads. I wonder when the school district will regret having bought them. There are constant problems with these things: missing keys, cracked screens. Jude wants to show me his grades. I fill a cup with water and look at the digital grade-book he's pulled up. Almost all A's. I give him a hug, tell him I'm so proud of him.

There are several crafts on the table. Jor drew multi-colored strips across a round piece of cardboard she'd salvaged from a used pizza box. Joss glued a bunch of found items onto scrapbook paper.

My house is very lived-in. It's not dirty. The floors, the stairs, the drawer handles all show signs of wear and tear. Each one tells the story of a big family growing up together, progressing unsteadily and messily but always progressing.

My kitchen counter and sink is cluttered with a few dozen dishes. Sometimes this bothers me. Most of the time it doesn't bother me at all.

I walk upstairs and check on the twins. They are asleep, sprawled out and tangled in their sheets, their favorite Randy Travis CD is playing softly. They've left the closet light on because sometimes being brave means leaving the light on.

I walk down the hall to my bedroom. The dogs follow me. I close the door gently behind us.

I am home now. I am safe. Everything will be alright.

This is all I have to give you: on regrets, imperfection and a new book being birthed into the world today

Teddy came home yesterday. I cradled his little box in my arms and the tears came quick and hot, spilling down my cheeks. The twins and I cuddled up on the couch, a pile of sniffles and soft whimpers. It just hurts so much.

I'm sorry, Teddy. Since the day you died I've thought of all the things I could have—should have!— done differently. They haunt me at night.

I should have put you in your crate before I left for work. I should have mended that loose board in the fence. I should have asked the kids to watch you more closely. I should have texted James and told him to check on you. I should have, I should have, I should have.

All the "shoulds" in the world will never bring you back, Teddy. But still, I blame myself. I let you down. Was I too busy? Was I over-committed? Is there something wrong with how I'm living my life that led to this tragedy?

I remember cuddling you that morning on the couch and singing a little song to you—how could I have known it would be the last? The last cuddle, the last song, the last look into your eyes...the last time I'd see you alive?

The last time I saw you, you were wrapped in towels. You lay on your side, motionless. I kept waiting for you to breathe. You were so still. But the hardest part was seeing your eyes. Gone was the bright, cheerful gaze. Gone was the shining spark. Your eyes were clouded over, a thick veil had fallen inside your eyes and I saw what that meant: we were separated from each other. Death was in your eyes, Teddy, and that made me stumble away, the sobs ripping out of my throat. I don't remember how long knelt hunched over the toilet bowl, vomiting.

My book releases today, Teddy.

It's a good book, I think. It will help people, I think.

But there are so many things I should have written differently, Teddy. They sent me a big box of my books and when I took the first book out and began to read, it only took a few pages before I saw the first thing I should change, then the second I should change, then the third....I had to put the book down. All I could see were the mistakes, the "not good enoughs." I should have, I should have, I should have....

It's not a perfect book, Teddy. But it's all I had to give.

The crematory gave me a box of your ashes and also, your pawprint pressed into a terra cotta stone. We'll bury your ashes under your favorite rose bush. And I'll sleep with your pawprint under my pillow. The vet told me that after examining you she thinks you died quickly. That helps a bit. But I know you died in pain and that will never, ever feel ok.

I need to stop writing now because I can't see the words through the blur of tears.

It's April 19th, friends. I have a book releasing today. It's not perfect. But I gave my best. I hope you'll read it. Thank you for reading here and for being my friends. I don't take for granted one minute you spend reading my words. It's all such an unmerited gift. Thank you. I love you.

Spiritual Sobriety: stumbling back to faith when good religion goes bad is now available wherever books are sold and especially from these fine retailers:


Barnes & Noble 



Hudson Booksellers

Indie Bound



How to start new things: 1. Know where all the restrooms are located and, 2. Bring snacks

This is what I know for sure: my brain doesn't need to sit at home thinking about all my problems. My brain needs to be learning new things, having new experiences and getting OUT THE HOUSE. Let me just put it this way: being alone is NOT GOOD for ENFPs. Weird things happen to us. Our brains go wonka-tonk. Our problems seem like 8 million times bigger than they actually are. We start talking to ourselves. We watch too much TV. We start obsessing about that one random person who unfriended us on Facebook even though they weren't really our friend to begin with but somehow we MUST KNOW WHY and somehow it really MATTERS.

All this to say: I signed up for college. Because my brain is a smart brain and it needs new thoughts. One class. Introduction to Psychology. I figured I'd ease my way back into the academic environment, see what happens, maybe think about grad school.

I've been to two classes so far and OH MY WORD YOU GUYS. The happiness. I woke up this morning and my first thought was: YAY. I get to do homework today!

My kids think I am nuts. Like: what kind of crazy person gets excited about homework? What kind of whack-a-loon thinks studying in the library is FUN?!

I was dancing around the kitchen making up songs about Freud and JESH-STALT and they were looking at me over their toast like WHO IS THIS ALIEN WOMAN AND WHAT DID YOU DO WITH OUR MOTHER?

"Why are you going to school?" they want to know.

"I don't know," I say.

"But why can't you just stay at home and keep sewing stuff?" they ask.

"Because Mama has a brain and Mama's brain has been feeling all desperate and sad and did you know that Mama has a smart brain? Mama needs to utilize the smartness. It would be a shame to let that smartness go to waste."

They still think I'm a whack-a-loon. But that's ok. I'm a happy whack-a-loon.

College, man. It's different nowadays. Here's what I've discovered so far:

#1: Everything is online. Which is awesome and also annoying. I don't LIKE reading my textbook online. I want the REAL THING in my hot little hands so I can highlight and make marginalia. But I had to buy the online version. So, I did. But then I rented a hard-copy too because I am AN OLD LADY WHO STILL NEEDS TO TURN PAGES. Win-win.

#2: I am the oldest person in the class. By at least 20 years. This is strange and disconcerting and oddly intimidating. I forgot how amazing it was to be 18 years old with no wrinkles and a brain that ABSORBS information super easily and REMEMBERS stuff. And I also forgot how 18 year olds have All The Idealism. They are so sincere, eager, awkward, alive. I can't be sure, but they don't seem to mind that an old lady has infiltrated their ranks. They are very nice about pointing me to the bathrooms and the coffee shop and here, this is how you log-on to the powerpoint presentation online. I like being an old lady at college.

#3. I cannot sit for as long as I used to be able to sit. My class is three hours long. I CANNOT SIT THAT LONG. I cannot hold my bladder that long. I cannot REMAIN FOCUSED that long. So, here's what I've learned: know where all the bathrooms are located. Also, bring snacks.

#4. Professors are rad and they just let you walk out whenever you need to walk out. And they give you breaks. And sometimes they end class early because even THEY can't lecture for three hours straight.

#5. I stink at quizzes. I forgot how hard multiple-choice stuff. I look at all the choices and I'm like: ALL OF THESE CHOICES ARE SO MANY CHOICES THAT LOOK LIKE GOOD CHOICES. I guess that's the good thing about taking quizzes online. We can take them as many times as we want until we get 100%—which is exactly what I did. The first two times I failed. But the third time my brain was finally awake and I nailed it.

#6. It's good for my ego. Which is to say, it's humbling. My ego has been far too wrapped up in Book Writing World. I'm far too concerned with Being A Good Writer. I've attached far too much of my self-worth to how well my books sell. I care too much about what people say about what I write. It's really, REALLY healthy for me to be focusing on learning new things, on education, on making new discoveries, on broadening my horizons. I feel like I am coming alive again.

#7. My book releases tomorrow and you know what? I'm all chill about it. Sure, I'm excited about it—kind of. But I'm not super ATTACHED to the outcome of this book. I did the best I could and now I release it into the world and let it do its thing while I learn about double-blind studies and ethics in research methods. p.s. Freud was whack, yo.

Hey, wanna do some Psych homework with me? My professor asked us to write what we did during the first two minutes after waking up in the morning. This is what I wrote: Dog woke me up by tapping my face with his paw. Checked my phone.

HUH. That is not my IDEAL. I wish I wrote something like: Upon opening my eyes, I smiled and said a prayer of gratitude. I listened to the birds singing outside. I didn't check my phone until much, much later.

OK, so I'm curious: what did YOUR first two minutes look like? Feel free to answer anonymously. I won't judge. Also, what happens in my comment box stays in my comment box. :) I just think this whole psychology thing is super interesting!

Mourning & Evening

I was totally unprepared for how devastated I'd be by the death of my puppy, Teddy. There was no time to prepare. He was so young. It was a violent death. My brain doesn't know how to process this and so, it just doesn't.

I was plunged so quickly and so deeply into pain that I felt crushed. I wandered around for three days absolutely useless. My brain was fuzzy. I couldn't complete sentences. I cried incessantly. Every time I saw his water bowl or a toy he'd played with, the grief would wash over me again. On Friday, I couldn't even get out of bed.

I never, ever, ever want to feel this way again. But I have no choice: to love is to grieve, yes? And I love so many things and so many animals and people. What will the grief look like as time goes on and I keep losing the ones I love? I don't even want to think about it.

It is really strange to me how this event is bringing up emotional baggage from my past. I am not angry. I just feel oddly abandoned and hugely, hugely anxious. Last week I felt guilt and shame. That is gone now. I just feel a hole in my heart where Teddy used to be.

Some people have asked if the other dog was put down. The answer is: no. I would never ask someone to do that. But we are seeking some other solutions.

At some point last week, I decided I better give the breeder a call to let her know what happened to Teddy. I was scheduled to give her an update anyway. I could barely get through the call I was crying so hard.

And then she told me something miraculous: Teddy had a brother. An actual litter mate that she had kept for herself because he was such a good dog. She said she felt so sorry for our loss that she would give Teddy's brother to us...

I had to sleep on it. Was I "betraying" Teddy by taking in his brother? Was I short-circuiting my grief? Was I "taking the easy way out"?

When I woke up the next morning I just couldn't imagine living without him. I needed to feel better again. I needed to LOVE another dog. I needed to get out of this horrible misery. I don't think there's really any "fix" for loss. But it does help to love again.

Over the weekend, we picked up Teddy's brother. I named him Bernie Sanders because I needed a future to believe in.

My imaginary cooking show with Ina Garten

When I'm depressed and anxious, I curl up on my couch and watch "Barefoot Contessa." Look, I don't know what a contessa is or why, exactly, she's barefoot but all that really matters is that Barefoot Contessa is Ina Garten and she's better than Xanax. I'd even watch her show with my eyes closed because listening to her talk about "really good olive oil" somehow gives me hope.

Admittedly, I don't know what she means by "really good" olive oil but I'm pretty sure it's not the plebian, regular olive oil I buy at Trader Joe's. Pretentious foodies usually annoy me but when Ina Garten insists on only using "really good" ingredients, I just love her all the more.

This is about as fancy as i get around here: baked potato with fixings.

This is about as fancy as i get around here: baked potato with fixings.

I love imagining her breezing down the scenic roads of East Hampton in her Mercedes-Benz convertible, rolling up to a quaint farmers' market where she finds her locally sourced, single-origin, extra-virgin, cold-pressed olive oil harvested from trees in a local farm-to-table backyard.

"How bad could that be?" she'll ask with a smile. Not bad at all, I'll say. Not bad at all.

Yes, I imagine myself in one of her episodes.

In the opening shots, you'll see us standing in her immaculately organized, luxuriously stocked pantry where she'll introduce the "back to basics" recipe she's cooking that day. I'll be humming along to the Barefoot Contessa theme music that I've memorized and she won't think that's weird at all.

Before we start cooking I'll ask her for a hug because her hugs feel like easing up against a pillow made of marshmallows ("really good marshmallows") and also, hugging makes me less anxious. She understands that.

Next, she'll invite me to sit at her kitchen counter and watch her prepare lobster mac n' cheese.

"I mean, what could be easier?" she'll say.

Well, technically Kraft mac n' cheese is easier, I'll think. But I would never say this out loud because I don't want Ina thinking I eat Depressed People food.

"You know I like taking classic recipes and adding a twist," she'll say, smiling conspiratorially. This makes me giggle with excitement because yes! I do know! And adding a twist to mac n' cheese? O, what could it be???

The twist, it turns out, is "sharp and nutty" gruyere and "really good" sharp cheddar.

REALLY GOOD cheese, you guys. That's the twist. Oh, Ina. You sly little fox, you.

She'll let me press the button on her Cuisinart so I can experience grating the cheese to the perfect grate-y-ness.

"I know you don't go in for fancy kitchen tools," I'll say. "But who can live without their Cuisinart, am I right?"

She'll laugh and it makes me so happy to make her laugh that I suddenly know what I want in my obituary: "Elizabeth Esther made Ina Garten laugh." Wait. Why am I thinking about my obituary at a time like this? STOP INTRUDING ON MY FANTASY COOKING SHOW, STUPID DEPRESSION.

"Cuisinarts are nice," Ina is saying, "but the only tools you really need are two clean hands."

She'll hold up her freshly washed hands and I'll hold up my hands, too, and then we'll burst into laughter.

"Now, I know a pound and a half of lobster is luxurious these days," she'll say.

I'll nod wistfully, remembering those bygone days when lobster WASN'T luxurious, when I'd look at my mac n' cheese and think: "Should I add lobster or bologna? Ah, well. Same-same."

"But it serves eight!" she'll say. "How fabulous is that?"

"So fabulous!" I'll cheer.

She'll spoon our lobster mac n' cheese into adorable, individual-sized servings bowls and while she sprinkles lightly browned breadcrumbs on top (for a "little crunch") I'll ask:

"So, when will Jeffrey be home?"

I don't really need to ask this because we both know Jeffrey always arrives at exactly the right moment. But it's fun to pretend we'll be surprised.

This is why Ina helps my depression: because in her life a "twist" is really good cheese and a "surprise" is Jeffrey walking in the door just when you expect him to. Plus, he'll probably be carrying flowers and compliments.

I mean, how bad could that be?

And up next, Company Pot Roast. We know it won't be easy finding organic, sundried tomatoes soaked in "really good olive oil." But it will be worth it. More worth it than Xanax.

An Embarrassment of Tears


Here's the short version: on Tuesday, my puppy was killed by a dog who broke through our fence when I wasn't home. I'm not ready to write about the details of it yet because to be very honest, I am embarrassed by my grief. All I can do is cry and cry and cry. I can't eat. I can't sleep. I have felt so wrecked, so utterly grief-stricken that my brain has gone completely mush. I am surprised by the force of this grief. I love my dogs like family. And the fact that my puppy died in such a violent way—well, it's just completely unbearable. I don't know how people get over this kind of thing. I don't know how I'll ever sleep again without him cuddled up on my feet.

Here's another thing: I feel shame. It's weird. I didn't do anything wrong. I did all I could to protect him. I never imagined things would happen this way. And yet, I feel like it's all my fault, I feel really bad inside. This isn't something new. It's always been this way for me. Strong feelings=shame. Or, actually. ANY feelings=shame.

I'm sure there's some link to my childhood, here. THERE ALWAYS IS. Whenever I felt ANYTHING, I felt shame along with it. Feeling good? MUST BE SIN, shame on you. Feeling sad? YOU SHOULD BE REJOICING, shame on you.

Ok, fine. So I know where this comes from but so what? Who cares? I'm kind of sick of understanding everything about myself. That sounds weird, I know. But here's the thing that annoys the crap out of me about therapy: you can understand your whole childhood but you still have to DO THE WORK of healing, of moving on, of figuring out other ways to take care of yourself. Therapy alone doesn't fix things.

And that is so stupid and unfair.

"Maybe he's just sleeping," Joss said. "Maybe Teddy is just taking a nap under the covers on your bed and we'll find him there."

"He's not napping," I said. "He's dead."

I don't believe in sugarcoating it. I'm not gonna say "he passed away" or "he's in a better place" or "he's fallen asleep." He's dead. That's the truth. We don't know where he is. I mean, I believe he's in heaven. I believe all my pets are there. But I don't know for sure. I'm not certain. I just have faith and, for me, that's better than knowing. Perhaps that's why faith is such a gift. It's a gift to havesome kind of belief in SOMETHING GOOD. It's a gift to be able to rest in that faith.

I will tell you what I DO know: I DO know that I can feel the prayers of my friends. When my friends pray for me, I feel it. I feel strengthened. I feel like it's all gonna be ok. Maybe I won't know how or why or maybe it will look a lot different than I expected but your faith helps my faith.

And somehow, that's enough.

I love you so much, Teddy. I miss you so badly my whole body hurts.

Dressing Room Anxiety & Other Apocalyptic Disasters

I need to talk about my arms. They are my least favorite part of my body. And last Friday they were the reason I broke down crying in a dressing room. 

It's ridiculous. I can't believe that at age 39 I still hate my body. Dressing rooms and dressing room mirrors make me anxious. And sweaty. And panicked.

I must've tried on about 25 different outfits—looking for something to wear to my book release party (are you coming? please say you'll come! I'd love to see you in real life)—and nothing looked good on me. Nothing.

Then again, maybe I wasn't seeing clearly. Maybe I looked AWESOME but my inner critic had taken over somewhere between Outfits 10 and 11 and all I could see were dimples and wiggles and wobbles and odd little pockets to fat that rippled under my skin. FUCK YOU, I silent-screamed at the dressing room mirror. I HATE EVERYTHING.

Maybe I should just wear caftans for the rest of my life. Flowing, breezy, comfortable, deliciously floating caftans in bright colors and patterns and I'll never have to look at my arms again.

I fled the dressing room and made a beeline to the food court where I gulped down three glasses of iced-tea with too-many-to-count packets of sugar. This is my self-destructive cycle: I hate how I look and then I go directly to the very thing that's making me look this way—and gorge on it. Mainly, sugar. 

I went to Overeaters Anonymous about a year ago and only lasted for three meetings because it was SO UNCOMFORTABLE and I identified WAY TOO CLOSELY and that scared me to death. I don't want another thing to work on, you know? Like, seriously. HOW MANY ISSUES WILL I HAVE TO WORK ON IN MY LIFETIME??????

A couple years ago I read Women, Food and God: an unexpected path to almost everything and it was so upsetting that I threw it across the room. Because she was SO RIGHT about SO MANY THINGS and I hated her for it. 

Confession: whenever I have Strong Feelings I know I need to slow down and listen but so many times I just scream and flee to the food court.

Gentleness Points: at least I drank iced-tea and not Dr. Pepper. At least I ate a salad with my iced-tea and not fries and a cheeseburger. Progress not perfection, they say.

Deep Breath: I need to remind myself that even when I was a size 2 I wasn't any happier. I still found flaws. I still looked at myself in the dressing room mirror and silent-screamed at myself.

This is what I realize: I see myself through flaw-tinted lenses. I need to see myself through my friends' eyes because they are more gentle with me than I am with myself. My friends assure me I am beautiful and ok and amazing and that when they come to my book release party nobody will be judging me by my arms. That my arms are exactly how arms need to be: made for doing things.

This morning I looked at my arms in the mirror and I rubbed some tanning lotion on them and instead of pinching them, I patted them gently. Cute, adorable arms, I thought. You were made for hugging. I love you.

What if we all did that? What if we said 'I love you' to the least favorite parts of ourselves? What if we just radically accepted ourselves for who we are right here right now? What if we could love ourselves?

m I the only one who feels this way? Do you get dressing room anxiety? How do you deal with it?


Do you know what would be awesome? It would be awesome to wake up some morning and be all: YAY! GOD IS REAL AND I LOVE HIM AND HE LOVES ME AND EVERYTHING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT!

Because that is SO not how it goes for me. Nope. Instead I wake up with a heart-pounding lurch and jump out of bed, braced for disaster. Omgomgomgomg what day is it?? Is the world ending today? Have I been left behind? MY GOD, MY GOD WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?

I mean, it's embarrassing. You'd think by age 39 I'd have my spiritual shit together. You'd think by now that I'd awake from sleep with a dreamy smile on my face and the first utterance from my lips would be praise unto our God. And lo, the heavens opened and it was a beautiful Monday.

In my fantasies about spiritual enlightenment, I arise from sleep and talk to God and God is all: "Here is the way, walk ye in it." Everything is laid out for me all pretty and precise. Also, there is manna waiting for me on the doorstep (so I don't have to cook breakfast) and maybe a Gospel-choir waiting for me in the kitchen (so I don't have to listen to my stupid, stinking thoughts). And as I pour my coffee they burst into THERE IS POWER! IN THE NAME OF JESUS! TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN TO—

This is not how it goes.

How it goes is how it went this morning when I woke up and it was a massive struggle through The Slough of Despond. My eyes were crusty and my brain was totally convinced that of two things:

  1. God is dead and
  2. why doesn't anybody love me?

Sometimes I worry that I don't have Real Faith™ because I wake up an atheist and it takes strong coffee, 2 psych meds, assorted vitamins and supplements, a fried egg, a bowl of oatmeal, journaling, praying and several jumping jacks for me to start believing again.

By 8:30am I'm starting to come around like hey, maybe there IS a God.

By 9am I've read through my list of affirmations, reminded myself what I believe and why and I usually read through past journal entries to remind myself that OH YEAH REMEMBER THAT ONE TIME when I thought ALL WAS LOST and then I got an email offering me a summer job? See? God hasn't forgotten me! YAY! YAY!

It's truly like I need a "50 First Dates With God" reminder list to read every morning. Do you remember that movie? 50 First Dates? I love that movie. Also, I love Drew Barrymore and the adorable way her mouth moves when she talks but ok, I'm digressing. The point is, when Drew Barrymore wakes up in that movie? She needs reminders. She needs someone to tell her who she is and what happened since her car accident.

This is me. I need a list of reminders that tell me who I am and what happened since the Rapture DIDN'T happen in 1988. Because a lot of awesome things have happened in my life and I don't know why but I TOTALLY forget. As in, I literally forget that God has been REAL and GOOD in my life and I wake up totally convinced it's 1988 and the Rapture is happening and I'm gonna get left behind because I said shut-up to my sister last night.

So this is my new dealy-o. When I wake up in the morning I'm gonna be all gentle with myself and just give myself 50 First Dates of Elizabeth:

"Good morning, Elizabeth! Here are the important facts about your life: #1 You're not 11 years oldanymore! YAY! And you've done a WHOLE BUNCH OF AWESOME stuff in your life! #2: God loves you and thinks you are AMAZING #3: You are stronger than you think you are and so courageous and beautiful and just downright MAGICAL. #4: Go take your meds because I promise by 9am, you'll feel better. #5: Give it to God and go kick some ass."

And all the people said amen, halleujah, BREAK EVERY CHAIN.

Being an at-home mom is actually being an Uber driver who never gets paid.

A big part of my mid-life crisis is that this whole motherhood thing has changed up on me and suddenly, nobody needs me anymore. Well, OK. They still need me but only for a ride to Nick's house or ten bucks for the movies or hey, Mom, can you sign this permission slip? About 98.9% of being an at-home mom is being an Uber driver who never gets paid.

I swore I was never gonna be one of those moms who lost herself in motherhood; whose whole identity was her children but apparently, I've done exactly that. I gave my whole self to this endeavor, just completely sunk myself body and soul into this thing and, now, 17 years later I find myself wandering around the house all aimless and melancholy singing: "Is this the little girl I carried? Is this the little boy at play? Sunrise, sunset! Swiftly flow the years!"

Gah. I am a walking cliche.

I am frustrated with myself for CARING this much. Who IS this person and WHY is she sobbing into her morning coffee? GET A GRIP, LADY.

The other day at breakfast I burst into song (as I do on the regular)—HOW MUCH WOOD COULD A WOOD CHUCK CHUCK IF A WOOD CHUCK COULD CHUCK WOOD?!— and nobody laughed. Nobody smiled. Everybody was face-down in their Honey-Nut Cheerios. I know it sounds pathetic but I was devastated. I used to have a wildly enthusiastic audience to entertain with my antics and now, now they are all bored with me. My jokes fall flat. My funny little ditties are ignored.

So, I sang the song again but this time using Jasiel's nickname: HOW MUCH BOSS COULD A JOSS BOSS BOSS IF A JOSS BOSS COULD BOSS JOSS?!


I sang it again. Louder. Eventually, Joss flicked an eyeball in my direction and in a couldn't-be-more-unimpressed-voice said: "Mom, I'm not the Joss Boss anymore. I'm Jasiel."

She murdered my heart with those words, she did. I sighed one of those shuddering sighs and real, actual tears came out of my eyes.

"Here's a shocker," James announced. "Mom's crying again."

"Sorry, guys. I'm lame," I said and shuffled over to the sink.

Blah. All these thoughts are rushing through my head: I can't burden my children with my mid-life crisis! I shouldn't let them see how hard this is for me! I am so emotionally immature. Ugh! I need to stop holding everyone hostage to my moods! WHY DO I ALWAYS HAVE TO FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS???????

(This post is beginning to sound really whiny. I'm gonna stop whining now).

Here's the crux of it: I didn't expect motherhood to be so lonely. I thought it would get LESS lonely. I thought if I just crammed all these babies into my life it would eradicate the huge, gaping hole of loneliness I feel all the time. And now I have five kids and four dogs and I'm here to tell you I still feel lonely.

It helps me to remember that loneliness is just the human condition. Single people are lonely and married people are lonely and people without children are lonely and mothers of twenty five kids are lonely, too. Maybe there's not a FIX to the loneliness except to find ways to be of service to other people. Yes, loneliness is real but what is also real is that when I find ways to help and love others, I feel better.

Here's another truth: I feel better when I'm busy. I like being around people. I like taking care of people. I like being of service. The kids are getting older, I've written two books and my busy-ness is decreasing. I don't like THAT. But maybe I can find a way to be busy again. Did I mention I'm working as a server again? Yep. So, there's a start.

Here's something else I know: it's not my kids' responsibility to make me happy. I am learning how to make myself happy. It's just that—I didn't expect it to be so much work! Being happy is hard work, you guys. But I am determined to keep working at it, to find a new life for myself. I'm in research mode. Should I go back to school? Should I be a nurse? Should I write more? SHOULD WE SELL EVERYTHING AND TRAVEL THE UNITED STATES IN A CAMPER?

Blah. I also need to take breaks from figuring things out. It's exhausting. Where's my Cookie Butter?

"TWINS GET IN THE CAR!" I hollered two days ago. "IT'S TIME TO GO TO SCHOOL!"

So, they did. I was busy fiddling with the defroster when Jor said:

"Mom, can you sing the buckle-up song?"

My heart leapt with joy. Did she really just ask me that?

The Buckle-Up Song is a little ditty I cobbled together when James was about 3. He always forgot to buckle his seat belt so I made up a song that I sang every time we got in the car. It's an embarrassing song, a kind of rap-sing-song-mash-up that goes:

Buckle up, buckle in, let me begin
Party on party people, jump jump rejoice
Big Jimmy's in da house gonna make some noise!

It's awkward and weird but the kids always loved it and now, James never forgets to buckle his seatbelt.

So, of course I sang the Buckle-Up Song. I sang it loud and proud and I sang it several times in different voices and accents because why not. And when I glanced in the rear view mirror, the twins were grinning at me.

I grinned back.

Oh, look. My roses are blooming. They'll never leave me! WILL THEY? OH, ROSES MY LOVES WILL YOU BE MY FRIENDS FOREVER??


To The Gospel Coalition: please stop insulting our intelligence. It's not "Gospel-shaped manhood & womanhood," it's sexist-shaped ideology @TGC @OStrachan #ThisIsWhyWeNeedChristianFeminists

Sometimes I forget just how asinine Christians can be. Blame it on my mid-life crisis but these days I have no patience for intellectually dishonest theology. Take this recent piece published by The Gospel Coalition called "Pursue Complementarity, Not Compatibility." Don't let the fancy wording fool you. "Complementarity" is just a gussied up way of saying sexist.

There are a whole slew of ridiculous claims in this article but I'm gonna spare my blood pressure by focusing on just one.

The author, a professor named Owen Strachan who teaches at a Baptist seminary (why is it always the Baptist seminaries? WHY?!), writes: "The biblical perspective, however, says that the taproot of a happy, healthy marriage is Gospel-shaped manhood and womanhood." Indeed, he goes on to say, "Life in marriage simply doesn't make sense without this vision."

Just WHAT. 

Quick! Somebody get me a Gospel-Shaped Womanhood cookie cutter so I can smash myself into it and have a happy, healthy, biblical marriage!

UGH. Any intellectually honest person can tell you that there are plenty of happy, healthy—dare I say GODLY!— marriages all over the world that don't follow the complementary model. To claim otherwise is patently ridiculous. And absurd. And so blatantly false that I cannot believe anyone takes this guy seriously.

And yet, major Christian websites and publishing houses give dudes like Professor Owen a platform to spew this false and easily debunk-able pablum. Just WHY. Because it sells? Because sexism worked so well for the first few millenia of human existence? Because there isn't enough OPPRESSION IN THE WORLD? Because the Gospel is REALLY ALL ABOUT making sure everyone conforms to rigid gender roles as defined BY UPPER MIDDLE CLASS, WELL-EDUCATED, WHITE, AMERICAN, HETEREO, CISGENDER WHITE GUYS?*

Apparently, THAT is the "biblical perspective"? Right. Gotcha.

Holy crapfire and brimstone, people. I'll tell you what. There's a reckoning coming for that kind of twisted theology. As I recall, Jesus don't take kindly to religious authorities placing yokes of bondage on regular folks.

Look, it's no secret that I've never been a fan of The Gospel Coalition (and they've never been a fan of me—they blocked me on Twitter long ago cuz I'm a mouthy woman dontcha know). My point is, I don't really expect high standards of intellectual honesty from TGC.

But I do expect more from publishing houses like Zondervan. It's disappointing to see such a reputable Christian publisher provide a major platform to sexist theologians. It's heartbreaking for women like myself to watch Christian publishers promulgate this harmful poison by giving book deals and marketing dollars to religious teachers like Owen Strachan.

They should know better.

They should do better.

We Christians deserve better.

*(HT @HalleyBallast for that awesome description).

Hi. I would like to blog again.

I'm having an existential crisis. My kids are all growing up and I did not consent to this!

"Mom, when are you NOT having a crisis?" That's my 14 year old son, James. We call him the lawyer. Go away, James. I'm talking to my blog friends who understand me, thank you verrrrr much.

ANYHOO. I'm having a crisis because I'm almost 40. I refuse to call it a "mid-life crisis" though because that sounds like Mrs. Rodanski who lived next door when I was a kid and whose husband bought her a 1987 Pontiac Trans Am when she turned 40. But this did not make her a nicer person. She was still the same grumpy old lady always yelling at me over the fence to stop staring at her and for godsakes stop sucking on those bleepity-bleep dandelion stalks don't you know bleepity-bleep dogs pee on it?


"No, Joss. I bleeped it out."

She gives me the side eye. Meet Joss. She's 8 now and our resident theologian, Expositor of the Mysteries and Chief Executive Enforcer of the Rules. On Good Friday: "Mom, mom, mom. It's Good Friday and that means NO SAUSAGE for breakfast. And James? You need to make a sacrifice for Jesus, too. No video games after school today. Right, Mom? No video games for James today?"

So, I don't want to be like Mrs. Rodanski but then again, maybe I do. Maybe I do want to waddle about my garden in my robe and slippers with my hair up in ridiculous huge rollers while I smoke a cigarette with one hand and water my roses with the other. Maybe I do want to roar off to lunchin my flashy Pontiac Trans Am and lunch with the ladies just because I can!

Well, nope. I can't be Mrs. Rodanski because she only had one kid and I have twenty-five kids and none of them are named Bobby. To be fair, we never knew if Mrs. Rodanski's son was named Bobby. We just called him that because we thought he looked like a Bobby. That sounds terrible. What does a Bobby look like? Well, he looked like a pudgy boy with curly blonde hair, thick glasses and an affinity for wearing dark red polo shirts. He also wore his pants high tightly belted over his belly so that he resembled a double-link sausage. A double-link sausage wearing glasses.

Sausage appears to be a recurring theme of this post so I might as well tell you that I can no longer eat sausage without getting heartburn. Now, THAT is a crisis.

"Mom, can I borrow the car?"

Oh, hey. Say hi to Jewel. She's 16 now and a newly minted and licensed driver. I can't let her drive with me in the car because I gasp and shriek and pump an imaginary brake. Last time I tried to let her drive, we only made it half a block before I had her pull to the curb. Because I was about to have a heart attack. Good thing I went to Confession a few months ago and can die with a clear conscience.

"Mom, can I go to Bible study tonight? I finished all my homework."

There's Jude. Awwwwww, Baby Jude. He's not a baby anymore and I totally don't approve. He just turned 13. Thankfully he hasn't really hit his growth spurt yet so I can still pretend he's my adorable little round-cheeked baby. Jude is the entrepreneur around here. He runs a little coffee roasting business out of our garage. He's still refining his signature roast with input from the Professional Taste Tester by which I mean myself. And he spends most of his spare time going to church, going to Bible studies and feeding the homeless on skid row. I know I'm making him out to be a saint but he kinda IS a saint. I swear to you, butterflies land on him whenever he stands in our garden. It's become something of a family joke: St. Jude. The Butterfly Whisperer.

Now, I can't mention Jude without mentioning his little disciple: Jorai. Or, Jo, as she prefers to be called these days. Jo adores her big brother Jude. She follows him around. She wears his hand me down clothes. She laughs at all his jokes. She started skating because he was skating. She started playing basketball because he played basketball. They have such a close and unique relationship.

OK, wow. So maybe I'm not Mrs. Rodanski with her flashy Trans Am but I think I like my full, crazy life. And I've missed blogging. I really have. Why did I ever stop? Well, I wrote two books, that's why. I was kinda tapped out. Burned out on words.

But I'm back now. I hope. I even made my blog my home page again because I LIKE BLOGGING. So, there. Crisis solved. And all the peoples said amen.

(I've missed all of you. Would you please leave a comment telling me who you are? Maybe just where you're from, how long you've been reading? I would SO LOVE to reconnect with you again!)