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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I'm finally ok with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some flowers from my garden

Some flowers from my garden

Things like parties make me very unhappy and very homesick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernie relaxing in the backyard :)

Bernie relaxing in the backyard :)

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

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

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

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

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

climbing roses in my front garden

climbing roses in my front garden

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

My sewing, painting, art corner.

My sewing, painting, art corner.

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

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

this post contains affiliate links

August 2017 Book Reviews and a BOOK GIVEAWAY!

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

++++

This post contains affiliate links.

Pinterest helps me decorate my house like nobody lives there

I didn't even tell the dog to lie down there. I was trying to get a good shot and she walked in and positioned herself perfectly for the picture. Because she's psychic. Because she knew I was trying to imitate Pottery Barn. Or at least get 3.2k likes on Pinterest.

I didn't even tell the dog to lie down there. I was trying to get a good shot and she walked in and positioned herself perfectly for the picture. Because she's psychic. Because she knew I was trying to imitate Pottery Barn. Or at least get 3.2k likes on Pinterest.

When I was a little girl growing up in a cult, the world was always ending and woe unto you if Jesus returned to Earth and found you playing with a Punky Brewster doll. Life is too short to waste on things like fun, children. Watch and pray. And keep your room tidy.

I live in the outside world now and although I'm not the best at keeping things tidy, I do love decorating. And re-decorating. Arranging. And re-arranging. Especially if I'm on deadline. OMGOMG WE HAVE GUESTS ARRIVING IN THREE HOURS LET'S RE-DO THE ENTIRE DOWNSTAIRS. I love blasting through the clutter and chaos until my home is a sparkly, newly-baptized, born again believer. Behold mine newly sanctified Entry Way:

Please note the empty coat hooks. This will last about 2.5 seconds. Then it will be back to the Zone of Disaster again.

Please note the empty coat hooks. This will last about 2.5 seconds. Then it will be back to the Zone of Disaster again.

Please note that this picture captures a fleeting moment in time and in 2.5 seconds, this "Entry Way" will revert to its normal state, aka "Disaster Zone" because five children live here.

But I can't help it. I love making my house look all pretty. Even if it changes in a twinkling of an eye.

Guys, I admit it. I love Pinterest.

Pinterest teaches me how to decorate my house so it looks like nobody lives here!

Isn't that what we're all striving for?

This is what Pinterest has taught me about Entry Ways:

Pinterest says an Entry Way is very important because it is the first thing people see when they enter your home. It might be tempting to use the Entry Way as a landing zone for backpacks, keys, shoes and school papers but DON'T DO IT. If it's practical it's problematic. <---memorize that!

Pinterest says an Entry Way is for displaying things. Perhaps that Jute Vase you snagged for only $225. Or perhaps a simple, round mirror you picked up at the bargain price of $1,648. If you want to make a really beautiful first impression, don't forget a Hand-Forged Iron Horse Ring—a real steal at $2,800.

I know it's tempting to think that a jar wrapped in cheap, rough fibers shouldn't cost hundreds of dollars but please understand that attaining the "modern farmhouse vibe" requires authenticity and as any hand-forged horse ring will tell you, authenticity is expensive. <---sear that in your brain

So when Pinterest suggests "10 Chic Ways to Decorate Your Entry Way Wall" you need to translate that as: "10 Quick Ways to Spend $10,000." Now stop complaining and take out a 5th mortgage on your faux farmhouse.

Or you could decorate like me. I call it Cult Girl Decorating because it's a skill I learned growing up in a cult.

My interior design philosophy is pretty simple. It goes like this: redecorate an entire room for zero dollars. <---THIS WORD I HAVE HID IN MY HEART. YOU SHOULD, TOO.

Now, let's get started.

Here's my #1 tip for Cult Girl Decorating: never throw things out.

You're not a hoarder, you're an interior designer. You never know when that vintage, Pyrex, serving bowl with the rare gold bird design will come back in style, so keep it. See, here's the good thing about getting old: 1. Stuff piles up and, 2. You've got enough sense to keep it because minimalism is stupid. 

That bench in my Entry Way is 15 years old. The beat-up (vintage!!!!) little red chairs are 14 years old. I've had that runner for three years and the baskets, clock and old books for at least 10. The only things I bought were the bulletin board, the horizontal calendar-thingy and the faux milk jug with faux flowers, all 50% off at Hobby Lobby. OK, OK. I spent more than $0 but compared to $10k, it's basically free, amen?

Let's move on to my bookcases. Redecorating these actually cost me zero dollars.

Cult Girl Decorating Tip #2: Pinterest is like the Bible—a lot of stuff doesn't make sense. Just go with it.

Pinterest told me to turn all of my books backwards and I thought: huh. That doesn't make sense. But apparently, turning books backwards is what all the cool stylists are doing these days and since it doesn't cost dollars, I did it. Speaking of stylists, did you know that "styling" is a thing we do to bookcases now? I thought styling was something we only did to hair. Who knew. ANYWAYS, when my son asked: "But how will we find a book if we can't see the titles?" I sat him down and had a serious talk. Books are not for reading, son. They're for decorating. Don't get it twisted.

Bookcase 1

Cult Girl Decorating Tip #3: if you liked playing dress-up, you'll like putting dress-up on display.

Guys, mannequins aren't scary. Especially when they're decked out in that Marie Antoinette costume you sewed for your daughter last year. After all, popular stylists are always going on and on about texture and dimension. What's more textural and dimensional than a real-life, 3D costume? BAM. Win-win. (Please note that in this picture I have moved several items from Bookcase 1 (ivy plant, cough) to Bookcase 2 (old wedding picture, cough). It's called rearranging. It's also called "staging." HEY, I NEEDED A GOOD PICTURE FOR MY BLOG STOP JUDGING!

Costume Display

 

Cult Girl Decorating Tip #4: use your seasonal decorations year round.

Who cares if it's 115 degrees outside? Bust out the autumn decor. There's nothing like pumpkins and gourds to put you in a good mood. Also, fake daisies. I'm all about the fake daisies. No watering, no maintenance, just an occasional swipe with the feather duster. And why wait for Christmas to hang the sparkly lights? Keep them up, friends. Ye are the light of the world. The light shineth in the darkness and the annoyed neighbors shall not comprehend it.

Piano

Cult Girl Decorating Tip #5: so whether you decorate or redecorate, do all for the glory of scented candles

When all else fails and you have zero dollars AND zero energy to spend on decorating, just light a bazillion scented candles. This is a classic Cult Girl Decorating trick. When your entire house is filled with the glorious scent of lavender-honey, nobody notices whether you have an AUTHENTIC hand-forged iron horse ring hanging on your wall. Believe me. Smell is everything. You could have ALL your books facing forward with titles exposed (gasp!) and nobody would care because their noses are all enraptured with Cinnamon-Nutmeg-Pumpkin-Pie-Spice-Eggnog-Latte smells.

Forget shiplap, guys. All you need is a Yankee Candle.

I'm waiting for your call, HGTV.

I (still) believe in Jesus

A humid summer night and I can't fall sleep. But it's not the heat keeping me awake. It's my restless heart. Ever since Katherine took her life back in January, I've been in a death match with my faith. This isn't new, exactly. Seems like I've always struggled with my faith. It has never come easily for me (growing up in a fundamentalist cult probably didn't help). Faith—and especially a belief in a loving, truly good God— is something I have to fight for, something I have to CHOOSE each day.

What was new after Katherine's death was indifference.

I've never experienced that. Whether I'm losing faith or finding it, I've always had strong feelings about my relationship with God. I thought about God all the time. But that all changed after Katherine died. For the first time in my life I was indifferent toward Him.  

In n the days following her death and heartbreaking funeral, I felt numb. I don't think it was a conscious choice, really, to turn away from God. I just kind of shut down and shut Him out.

Here's what I learned (again): life without God is hard. It's harder than it's meant to be. Trying to live my life without a trusting faith in a loving God is riddled with anxiety. It's easier to let the lies in: 

I'm not good enough

I don't belong here

I'm not lovable

Incidentally, these are some of the same things Katherine believed about herself. In her goodbye letter to me, she wrote that she always felt like she didn't belong. I can't tell you how many times I've wept over that line.

It shattered my heart because she did belong. She really, really did. She was so loved. She was a good, good person. A truly kind, gentle, sensitive soul.

Months later, those same lies were creeping into my thoughts.

The good thing is, I knew they were lies. Sometimes I struggle with believing I'm ok, that I belong, that I'm deeply loved. This time around, though, I began to see that the reason I was struggling so hard with these lies was because I wasn't asking for help.

I'd tried my best to do life by myself, without God. And this is where my best efforts had landed me: unable to sleep at night, restless, despairing.

That night, lying in bed, I felt a gentle whisper: How about you just talk to Me about it? I'm here for you.

Jesus is so gentle with us, isn't He? It's how I know it's Him.

It was a simple, quiet invitation. It was the invitation to rest, to lean against the everlasting arms and talk about what was bothering my heart.

I got out of bed and got on my knees. It's been a very long time since I did that. My knees were out of practice. My knees weren't super thrilled to find themselves on the floor at one in the morning. 

But somehow, I knew I needed to kneel. The physical posture of kneeling is important for me. It connects my body to my spirit. For me, kneeling is the quickest way to get honest about reality; mainly, who God is and who I am. Kneeling helps me get honest about what I've done and what I have failed to do. The longer I stay away from God—the longer I don't spend time on my knees— the more dishonest I become about myself. It's not even intentional. It's just a casual slide into unawareness. Kneeling is a way of saying with my body: God, I know I'm not God.

Kneeling is a simple beginning. 

There on my knees, I began with confession. First, I admitted I needed help. Second, I repented of trying to heal from this grief all on my own. My confession wasn't dramatic. It was simple. God already knew. It was just time for me to acknowledge it that I need Jesus just like everyone else.

When it was over I stood up and got back in bed. I could feel the tiniest crack of light enter my soul, the tiniest beam of hope....the Lord my God will illuminate my darkness (Psalm 18:28).

I still miss my beloved friend. I still struggle with unbelief and trusting that God is good and that I can trust Him. But I'm no longer struggling alone. I'm grieving with Jesus by my side. He has become such a good friend to me. A friend that sticks closer than a brother....

"But those who HOPE in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40:31

Some new writing...

Hi, friends. It's been a minute. Or two. I've been quiet, here. Processing my best friend's suicide has been a daunting and overwhelming challenging. But the darkness is slowly lifting. I have been painting, going to therapy, taking my medication and spending time with my family.

A few weeks ago I began writing about Katherine's death. After sharing the writing with some close friends, I was encouraged to share the writing with others. To this end, I have set up a website and am sharing stories, thoughts, poems about this grieving process.

Please come visit me at Somewhat Predictable. I titled it "Somewhat Predictable" because that's life. It's only somewhat in our control. The unpredictable parts are why we need each other.

Thank you for reading. Much love. EE.

A Sabbatical

Hi, friends. On January 16, 2017 I lost my dear friend, Katherine Ray, to suicide. It has devastated me. I know I haven't been blogging much—or at all, really—in the last year. But I've maintained an active presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, after Katherine's death, I am taking a complete sabbatical from the Internet in order to grieve. Please be assured that I am taking good care of myself and receiving the love and support of family, friends and the amazing mental health professionals in my life.

You can always reach me by email (my address is available on the CONTACT page). I don't know when/if I'll return to blogging. I'm sure I'll return to Facebook and Instagram at some point but until then, I need a good, long rest. If you're looking for a specific topic regarding cults, spiritual abuse, fundamentalism, purity culture and my journey to freedom, all my old posts are available by topic on this site's ARCHIVES page. If you'd like to stay in touch with me and/or stay updated with books I'm reading, published articles and any other good stuff I may write about, please also subscribe to my newsletter (sign-up box in the sidebar).

Lastly, I'd just like to thank everyone who has read my blog these last 10 years. It has been an incredible, life-changing journey. I am so grateful you found me and I found you. Please do stay in touch. 

Much love, EE

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 baby...er, 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:

LET US REST

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.

SOME IDEAS FOR CREATING SAFE SPACES IN CHURCH:

  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.

"Mom?"

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:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble 

Powell's

BAM

Hudson Booksellers

Indie Bound

WalMart 

 

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.