Sunday, October 8, 2017

Authentically Me

My last two years have been an interesting journey for me. I guess the journey has been longer than that, but the last 21 months certainly have been heightened, if that makes sense.

21 months ago I renounced the culture I was raised in. I don’t know how to express the significance of that except to say that, even as a 34 year old woman who is a solid ENTJ and usually falls on the bold side of things, I was scared to tell my parents. It took me four months to tell my family. I was feeling so much happier and freer and better than I had in years, but I was afraid to share it.

When I finally did tell them THAT was freeing too. And in the months that followed I’ve felt increasingly comfortable with letting my authentic self show.

There are things I’m still a little private about...but for the first time in my life I feel allowed to figure out who I am—not just who I’m supposed to be—and more than that I am learning to feel comfortable letting others see that me.

I had a fascinating conversation with my therapist about a year ago about three photographs.

This was taken during a family reunion, where my entire family came to Alaska for a week with us. This was the first time I'd seen them all since 'coming out heathen' as it were, and I'd had a lot of anxiety about it.

We'd hired a photographer for a session to get pictures of the whole group. We'd taken family by family, all the grandkids, all the boys, all the girls...and then we gathered the siblings. We all lined up and took what one might call a 'normal' photo, and then for some reason I got it into my head that we should all get on each other's backs. I'm the oldest and when I suggested it (while grabbing my brother and pulling him onto my back) they all just sort of did it within a matter of moments...and this photo resulted. In those few moments I felt something between us that I hadn't felt since childhood. (That's funny to say, because we weren't even all children at the same time, but it's how I felt.) I don't know how to describe it except to say that it was a feeling of camaraderie and knowing that we all had each other's backs.

This was a moment where I felt unfiltered family, and it shows on my face.

That unfiltered feeling shows in this photo from a few days later. We were on a hike, we were hot, sweaty, tired, and trying to keep continually moving because if anyone stood still the bugs would swarm. I've been self conscious about close-ups of my smile for years because my teeth aren't quite straight, so I normally keep my mouth closed.

But my little guy was cuddly as I carried him out (I carried kids the whole hike, but switched out which one many times. Yay babywearing!) So on impulse I snapped a selfie. And in that moment--in  spite of feeling a little bit miserable--I felt genuinely happy. And it shows. That wasn't something I'd seen much of in my photos from the prior few years, and it wasn't until I saw this one that I realized what had been missing.

Finally, last fall I went to a fancy fundraiser with my husband. I tried on a dozen gowns at the consignment store, and bought a nice short-sleeved one that was flattering...but this one just stayed in my head. Finally, just a day or two before the fundraiser, I went back to the consignment store and it was still there so I got it.

This was the first time I'd ever worn something strapless, and not only doing it but then sharing the photos publically on facebook was definitely something new. Mormons have an easily recognizeable dress code (based upon the temple undergarments which cover significantly more than 'worldly underwear'), and this gown blatantly doesn't meet it. I hadn't hidden my exit from the church but I hadn't really announced it to anyone except my family, so I knew that  sharing this photo was going to 'out' me to many people.

Part of me really wanted to share this photo and part of me about had a panic attack...but I finally posted it.

And you know what happened?

Comment after comment after comment about how lovely the gown was, how good I looked, and how happy I looked. Not a single negative comment. In that moment, I felt accepted for me. Not because I fit within some mold or matched some expectation, but just because I was a person who picked a pretty, sparkly dress that matched my eyes, and who looked nice in it.

That felt so good. ☺

This authenticity thing is certainly much broader than clothing choices or body acceptance, but that's been an important part of it because it's bringing my outside to match my inside. I'm not opposed to modesty at all, but I think a person should be able to be comfortable in their body--not ashamed of it--and that is a journey I've had to take. Taking ownership of my body has been an important part of my authenticity.

18 months before that strapless gown I'd taken two pictures but only shared one.
Wanna guess which one?

 Look at those scandalous double-pierced ears--which I'd had done just hours earlier. 
And those bare 'porn shoulders' tsk tsk.

This week I did something else new: I've been wearing strappy tank tops to exercise in for a few years, and after a while I started wearing them to/from class without always taking a shirt or jacket to cover myself en-route. I happen to think I have very nice shoulders, and I wasn't willing to feel guilty about it anymore. I started making friends with my cleavage too, instead of hating it and fighting it, and that spared me a lot of grief.

Recently I've been taking a pole fitness class. I wore yoga pants/capri leggings the first couple of times, but discovered that I needed my legs bare to above the knee because the fabric gets in the way of holding on to the pole. So I got a pair of shorts that are shorter than anything I've ever owned. After several times of covering them up to/from class, this week I just went to class. (Yes, folks, I went in public with all this skin hanging out. How scandalous.)

And you know what? This time I didn't have anxiety over it. That feels pretty good.

Hello world. This is me. 
Just me, myself.
No more filters.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


I carried this phrase as a mantra for many years. As a Mormon I knew that there were lots of things said about my faith--including that we weren't Christian. Since I most certainly was Christian by every definition in the book, I tried really hard to show my beliefs through my behavior, so that I would always be 'convictable.'

I remember one day when I was 17 I was talking with a group of associates at community college, and said something about being Mormon. One of them said "Well, I've always heard that Mormons aren't Christian, but you clearly are, so I guess those other people were wrong."
(Convictable? Yep.)

Now, today, I find myself contemplating this question from the other side.

I do not consider myself Christian anymore. I've left Mormonism and fall somewhere in the complexity of athiest/eclectic Pagan. But even though my theological beliefs have changed, my way of living really has not. I don't believe in Jesus as God or Savior, but I do believe that the teachings to love one another, forgive, and care for others are good moral value and I do follow them. In other words, I'm pretty sure I'm still 'convictable' even though now that conviction would be incorrect.

And it's got me thinking.

I think that "christian" and "Christ-ian" are not the same thing.

I mean, yes, in the literal meaning of the word, a Christ-ian is a believer in Christ-as-Savior.
But in the common cultural use, as in "that wasn't a very christian way to handle that situation," nobody is asking--or even caring--about the beliefs of the person in question. They are simply focusing on behavior. And in that sense, a lot of non-Christ-ians are some of the most 'christian' people I know.

So go ahead and convict me of being christian. (You'll probably want to convict me of being a witch too while you're at it...just sayin...) Neither label is technically accurate, but I also don't mind either one.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Edges of Life

When Wolf was small we noticed that he had an inclination toward violent play (as many little boys do). So we taught him the law of the jungle: one may only kill for two reasons, either for food, or to avoid being killed yourself. (This may have slightly backfired when, at five years old, he asked if we could please shoot--and eat--a songbird in the front yard, and I had to explain that it was too small to provide enough meat to be worth eating. He was terribly disappointed.) But I digress.

For the last two years we have been raising chickens. We are in it for the eggs, and we have quite a flock of happy ladies.
We knew that eventually they'd get too old to lay anymore, and we agreed from the start that when that time came we would kill them and eat them (or--since an old bird is tough and isn't great eating--put them in the crockpot to make soup or dog meals etc). However this last summer it became evident that one of our spring babies was growing up to be...not a girl. And so we had to face the prospect of slaughtering sooner than we had anticipated. I named him King Louie, because he strutted around, crowed a lot, and was destined to lose his head.
King Louie

(At this point you may be realizing that this post deals with slaughtering animals. If that bothers you feel free to stop reading. One photo shows blood but isn't graphic. I do discribe the process but it's not overly gory, and I share because the experience overall has been significant and poignant, so I hope you'll read on.)

We had no use for a roo. He eats food, he harrasses the ladies, we don't need fertilized eggs since we're eating them all anyway, and he doesn't need to defend the flock since we have that covered. So in October I sent a message to my friend who has butchered birds before, and asked if I could come over and she could teach me how. She was willing so we set a date.
Bear greeting the turkeys.

Hubby didn't happen to be available that weekend, and neither was Wolf, so I piled the younger boys into the truck and took them to my friend's house. She had a turkey that was destined for Thanksgiving dinner and the plan was to take care of Louie and her bird at the same time. Turkeys are big and strong and have to be wrestled a bit, so she'd invited another friend (also with experience) to come and help. All of us had young kids there, and we invited them to watch or help if they wanted to, but also told them that they didn't have to if they didn't want to. I feel like it's healthy to be part of the process though if you're going to be a meat eater, and to be conscientious of where our food comes from. (Bear opted to watch us kill the turkey and Eagle helped with plucking it.)

I was so glad that I slaughtered with these ladies though, because the first thing they both said to Louie as I got him out of the kennel was "thank you" and then I held him while one of them slit his throat, and as she did she was saying "thank you Louie" to him again.

It was a deeply respectful process. 
The place where we took Louie's life.

I somewhat expected to have a moment where I wanted to back out, but I never did. I didn't wield the blades but I helped hold both birds, helped with the plucking, and I cleaned out Louie's insides. We saved some of the feathers from both birds too--I don't know what I want to do with them but they are beautiful and I feel strongly about utilizing as many parts as we can. One of the ladies kept commenting about how clean Louie was so that made me feel pretty good about how we keep our flock. :)

It wasn't until afterward, when I was packing up and getting ready to come home, that I realized that Samhain was that weekend. That's the old observance of final harvest. (There's a grain harvest observance in August, a fruits/vegetables harvest observance in September, and the November observance is for harvesting animals.) I'm sure you know that Halloween has origins in the traditions about Nov 1 being the new year, and the old year dies on the 31st which is why the veil is thin between life and death and ghosts roam etc. Dia De Los Muertos as well as other ancestor-remembering traditions are celebrated at this time, and it all ties into the recognition of death as part of life, which I think is important even if I've never really been into any of those celebrations. This year we ate Louie on that day. It seemed fitting.


But the story isn't over. Because literally the night that I got home from killing Louie, I heard a crow from the coop.

And that's when we realized there was another roo.

I have to explain a bigger story here. We bought chicks in the spring from a local farm store. But in the summer one of our adult hens (from the year before) got broody. So we got her a few fertilized eggs to sit on, and she hatched three babies. So these babies were four months younger than the spring ones, hadn't reached their adult appearance yet, and thus we hadn't realized that one of them was a roo.

Until we took Louie out of the coop, and realized that he hadn't been the only one crowing.

But back to the broody hen: I was checking on her daily, and I was the first to see the tiny fluffy babies when they hatched. I was even there during one of the hatchings--I watched the mama turn this way and that, continually shifting her weight and position and slowly turning a full circle until a third little voice started cheeping with the other two. It was the first time I had ever been present for a non-human birth, and I felt something similar to the births of my siblings or children.

The longer I live, the more I realize that the edges of life are sacred, on both sides.

The transition between life and non-life is an important time, regardless of what you believe is before and/or after it. And regardless of whether the being involved is human.

We gave Chanticleer time to reach maturity of course, but this week his time was up. I had hoped to wait until the snow melted so that we could do it outside, but we've had a lot of snow this winter and finally we decided to just do it in the garage.
This time it was just myself and Hubby. I opened the door of the little kennel we'd put him in and carefully grabbed his feet with one hand and around his body with the other. He flapped and wiggled a bit, but quickly calmed. I adjusted my grip to make sure it was secure.
Since Hubby hadn't done it before, he asked to hold the bird and have me wield the knife. I had expected this, and had had several months to anticipate doing it, but in the process of getting Chanticleer out some part of me had thought and hoped that maybe it wouldn't be me.

Because here is the thing about taking a life: it is easier to do if you can distance yourself from what you are doing (indeed, the farm kills I had seen in my youth seemed to be of this sort). I certainly understand the inclination to dissociate onself from the act of taking a life. But I think that it is important--even vital--to get ones head INTO the space of what is happening, rather than out of it. The end of a sentient life--as with the beginning of one--should be a mindful thing. 

And it was. 

As my husband held Chanticleer's body and feet, I pulled our sharpest knife from its sheath and circled around to face the bird. I gently took his head in my hand, feeling his neck to make sure I would make my cut at the right place. I looked him in the eye. He looked at me for a moment, and then his eye slid shut, as though he knew what was coming; as though he were resigned to it, and knew that he was filling the measure of his creation. I pulled the knife across his neck quick and deep. His death was almost instant.
We quickly tipped him in a large bucket as he bled out, continuing to hold him as his body spasmed a few times. It's disconcerting to feel a body move when you know it's dead, and I had the fleeting fear that perhaps I hadn't done my job right and he was still alive and suffering... But he was not. I did my job properly.

And that is my biggest takeaway from all of this: how to do the job properly. It's not that I've learned how to hold a bird to kill it, or where to put the knife, or that I've learned how to make sure the blood doesn't make a mess, or that I know how to pluck it quickly and cleanly and how to get the guts out. I think the most important lesson in all of this is that life matters, and that whether I am ushering someone into it or out of it, I will always do it with mindfulness and respect for the life in question.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Holding Space

This may be a difficult post for some to read, but it's one that has been percolating in my mind for a few days and one that I needed to write. Writing helps me sort through my thoughts, and this was something I needed to sort. So I hope you won't mind reading.

In both birthwork and bereavement work we often do something we refer to as "holding space." It means that there is not anything particular we are doing or saying (sometimes not anything we can do or say) in the situation, but we stand as sentinel over the space. We protect the peace, the calm, the energy, the emotions, and the simple right to feel.

Over the years I have held space for grieving mothers: sometimes in person but more often in virtual space, via phone or instant messages with someone geographically distant but emotionally close. Similarly I have held space for friends and family members as they labor through the delivery of a child or through any difficult time.

I have also held space for my children on many occasions; holding a small one on my lap and surrounding him with the calm of my arms and my breathing, and giving him permission to feel what he feels, and also giving my support in getting through it.

In recent days I have come to recognize the need--and value--for holding space in another way.

My paternal grandfather's health declined sharply a few months ago. He moved in with my aunt so that she could help care for him, and we have all been aware that he would not live much longer. Early last week we learned that he had stopped eating, so we knew to count time in days.

Meanwhile, my maternal grandmother has been dealing with multiple health issues for many years, and in the last few years her hospital stays have increased in frequency, duration, and complexity. A couple of weeks ago she entered the hospital, and within a few days it became apparent that this time was more severe than others had been. Last Thursday her doctor said she probably had a week left.

Last Friday my grandfather passed away. His funeral was on Wednesday.

On Tuesday my grandmother came home under hospice care, to spend her last few days with her spouse in the home they had built and lived in together. My mother was there with her, and said that grandma sat at the window and looked out at the trees that they had planted and raised together, and seemed to be at peace. She had some good hours, and got to spend her 58th anniversary in the arms of her sweetheart and with family by her side. Today she passed on.

I had neither the money nor the scheduling flexibility to visit my grandparents in their final days, nor have it now to attend their funerals. I think they will not mind, seeing as how funerals are for the living rather than the deceased. I had time to send letters, call and communicate my love, and I am grateful for the time we had to do that. Now their spirits are free of the worn out bodies that had held them back, and all I can do is hold space.

This is a different kind of space-holding from what I have done before. My grandparents are no longer here, and do not need me to hold the space for them; instead I must hold it for myself. I must allow myself to feel--whatever I feel--without judgment or guilt. I can hold their memories, carrying them onward by sharing them with my family. I must allow myself to be quiet, to rest, to think, to cry, and to be not-my-best-or-brightest at some things for a while. I must also allow myself to laugh and play and carry on, because the cycles of life continue always.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Choosing My Peace

We all make choices every day. Some are bigger, some are smaller, some have long-term consequences and many do not. Sometimes we make smart and thoughtful choices, sometimes impulsive ones. Eventually, our lives (and our selves) become the sum of our choices.

Sometimes we make a choice that seems like a good idea at the time, but which soon reveals itself to have been a poor one for whatever reason. I recently made a choice which I felt strongly was the best thing out of my options. I am not exaggerating when I say that within a few days I began to feel physically ill over it. I pondered the situation and the choice. I counseled with my husband (who can be a goofball sometimes, but is also thoughtful and wise and often can see perspectives I hadn't thought of). Over the course of a couple of weeks I concluded that the decision I had made--which I thought I had made so carefully--was a poor one. I forgave myself and made a new decision. Almost instantly I was flooded with inner peace, and felt certain that this new decision was the best thing for me and my family. It is fraught with complications of its own (complications I might have avoided with the original choice), but the peace and serenity I have over this decision give me certainty that it is better.
In my experience getting sufficient peace
can make up for a lack of sleep;
but no amount of sleep
can make up for a lack of peace
We all make mistakes, probably every day. Some are bigger than others. Some have bigger consequences than others. But in almost every case we can take steps to undo those mistakes, or to repair the consequences of those non-ideal choices. We can apologize--to ourselves as well as to others--for the choices we've made. And we can make new choices. Choices that are better for us or our families or communities or whatever is applicable. Life is a pretty transient state. We can fix a whole lot of things if we are willing to be humble enough to say "I was wrong" and "I'm a work in progress" and then change tracks and do something different.

I realize I'm "vagueblogging" here, and that is intentional. I don't want this to be a commentary about me and my choices, but more of a musing about the bigger picture. (Remember when this blog used to be "Musings of Mommy Bee"?!) I am hoping that these thoughts will be helpful to someone else contemplating choices that lie ahead (or behind) and that they will be able to apply them in some useful manner.

Take care of yourself. 
Trust your feelings. 
Be honest and authentic with yourself and with others. 

Don't be afraid to say NO to things that bring you down instead of lift you up. 
Don't be afraid to say YES to the things that sustain you, 
even if they were not the things you expected.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Finding My Place

Today was the fourth annual "wear pants to church day."
I know, I can hear you saying "she hasn't blogged in almost two years, and now she's back to blog about this?" Yeah, I am. And if that bothers you, well I guess you know where I will tell you to stick it, right? Because (in case you're new here or something) I don't see a point in beating around the bush. If you don't like what I write, feel free to go read something else. Nobody is making you stay.

But if you are here, and reading, I thought maybe you'd like to know some of my thoughts about why I do this, and what it means to me.

I participated the first year, and the second, and if you are scratching your head and trying to figure out what on earth I am talking about, please go read the posts that I wrote about those two days.   I didn't participate last year, actually, because I didn't attend church on that day. I don't remember why. I do know that I wore pants on the first day I attended my ward here in Kenai, and no one batted an eye that day (just as they did not today). No one minds here.
And it's not as if wearing pants is dressing down. (In fact, due to my body deciding that metabolism is not a thing we do anymore these last few years, I've had to rebuild much of my wardrobe, and actually my 'best dressed' mostly IS pants because it's my work wardrobe. But I digress.) This year my sister lives with me, so she joined in.
The obligatory 'pants picture'
The point of pants day is to stand up in a visual representation of fulfilling the calling--the covenant--to love. To comfort those who need comfort. To be a light for those in darkness. To say loudly and clearly to everyone "I am here, I accept you as you are, and I claim you as my sister or brother."

Over the last few years my relationship with the church has changed. I've written about it here on and off under the tag 'my faith journey.' I know my journey is troubling to most of my family and probably to some of my friends. Others of my friends are supportive and even wholly understanding as they travel or have traveled journeys of their own. I don't know that I have figured out everything, but today I made some decisions.
Let me try a metaphor. It may help.
Water sustains life; it can also kill you. It all depends on the specifics of who you are and the situation of the water around you. 
They always say that if you see someone drowning, you should not go out to them. You should keep yourself safe, and toss a life preserver or something to them. You should never jump into the water with them. 
But what if that person is a tiny child who is not able to understand about grabbing onto the life preserver? Or what if you are are a lifeguard. Then you are supposed to jump into the water, because you are able to be safe even as you save that person who literally needed you to be right there. 
Some people cannot jump into the water safely. We do not blame them for the fact that they cannot swim, or have not been trained for this task. They do what they can from the shore.
Some people can jump into the water safely. And therefore it seems to me that perhaps they have a responsibility--a moral obligation--to do so.

With that in mind, I return to my story:

Within Mormonism I am disenfranchised now more than ever. My spouse is no longer a member of the church. My children prefer to stay home with dad. I, myself, have only attended sporadically for the last year or so. It was a sabbatical, I suppose. Time I needed for pondering over many things. 
It has been a long time since I felt like I got much out of my relationship with the church. I have felt like it was a very one-sided relationship, where I gave and gave and gave, and was asked to give always more, but was not receiving even the little that I had been promised (peace, hope, support, or inspiration). I could find those things in other places--and I did--but it was not coming from church sources. So I took a break. I stopped giving so much. I took care of myself.
I work in behavioral health, and when someone is in a one-sided relationship like that, the typical advice would be to move on. Leave it behind. Find someone or something that gives to you as much as you give to it. So, naturally, this is something I have contemplated.

It is not something I am choosing at this time.

Remember the part of the story about having a moral obligation to go into the water if you are able to do so safely?
The Mormon church is flawed. There are imperfect people and beyond that there are policies in place within the organization which are hurtful and damaging. I will be honest and say that I do not believe in the literalness or infallibility of many things which I once did. But I also do not forget that this is my heritage and my culture. That doesn't go away, even when I am deeply troubled by some of the things happening right now. 
I am also aware of many people who do believe in literalness and infallibility, and who are hurting (even to the point of suicidality) at the situations they find themselves in because of it. That is where the metaphor comes in. Because there are some people who cannot swim in the waters of Mormonism safely, even at the same time as there are those who need it to sustain life. Some people will choose to exit the water (with or without help) and they have every right to do so. Some people need the water, even though they are literally dying by being in it. 
And here is me. I can swim these waters. I may no longer feel the need for them as I once did, but I am safe within them nonetheless. I can help others learn to swim (or get safely to shore, if they prefer). I can do it safely and without judgment toward those others, regardless of which path they choose. can be what I have always been--what I have always felt called to be--a teacher, a healer, a helper. I can be that person who makes the comment in sunday school that was inclusive instead of exclusionary, or the comment that makes everyone think instead of just repeating the status quo. (I've always done that; might as well carry on!) I can be that person who has the knowledge and credibility of being an insider, but who also boldly wears this necklace week after week, or who wears pants to church, thus establishing myself as someone who is not entrenched in habit or closed-minded. I can be a safe space for those who feel they are drowning, or for those watching others drown and not knowing how to help.
I do not know what the future holds or where I may go next, but this is where I choose to be now. So perhaps it is not accurate to say that I am finding my place, but rather to say that I am choosing my place.

I'm Still Here

Hi, it's been a while, I know. I haven't posted here in nearly two years because my life has moved into a new season and I simply don't have the time. But I will catch you up a little on my life these last 21 months, and at least tell you where I've gone.

I finished graduate school in August of 2014 and shortly thereafter began working full time in behavioral health as a case manager. I enjoy it and (at the risk of sounding not humble--which is fair because I'm not) I will add that I am really darn good at what I do. With that said, work now consumes 40 or 45 hours of my week, and when I am home I try to put my attention and energy toward my family.

Also in the spring/summer of 2014 my depression reared its head again. It has done this periodically over my life, but certain spells are worse than others. This time however there was something that helped. It was unexpected, but it was the right thing at the right time and has made an enormous difference in my life: Glee
Yes, I do mean the TV show. I had started watching the episodes on Netflix that spring, and yes it's a cheesy dramedy and sometimes the writing is terrible, but the musical and dance performances are amazing. And more than any of that, Glee reminded me of something: It reminded me of my own love for music and dance. Somewhere along the way I had forgotten how much those things mean to me. Somewhere along the way I had stopped singing and dancing around the house (or anywhere else). I had gotten so busy with the many things I had to do that I had forgotten what it was that drove me to major in theater only a decade ago. 

I started singing again. I downloaded music and I started singing along with it. I had fallen out of touch with the arts so gradually that I hadn't realized how far I had moved. But now I sing again. I dance again. I feel more (dare I say it) glee than I did for years.

The other thing that Glee did for me--or helped me to do for myself--was writing fiction. For years I've said that I'm a good writer, and a good storyteller, but that I didn't feel that I had any original stories to tell. (So much for writing a bestselling novel, right?) But then with Glee--because it was impacting me so significantly, and because I wanted more of it--I learned about the phenomenon that is fanfiction. And lest you be too judgmental (because I was too at first), I will clarify: Fanfiction is original stories--sometimes really impressive ones--that just happen to borrow characters. But do you know how helpful it is to be able to practice writing with borrowed characters? Without having to create everything from the ground up? Did you further know that authors do it all the time? Shakespeare hardly wrote anything original, and how many novels or movies are "based on" or "inspired by" another story? Yeah, so everybody writes fanfic. And, for me, Glee fanfic was a gateway. Reading it was a gateway to writing it, which in turn was a gateway to something else... Because dabbling around with borrowed characters gave me confidence to build my own. And now I'm writing my own fiction (working on two different novels actually). The practice with fanfic helped me build up my writing chops--I can write longer things than I ever used to. It also gave me the chance to get feedback on my writing from readers and other writers, and that's invaluable (and good for the self-esteem too).

So the time that used to go to writing nonfiction (blog posts and then grad school essays) has now turned to fiction. I plan to submit my novels for publishing when I finish them, but I also know that now I'm not going to stop writing either. Writing (along with dancing, music, and knitting) are my antidepressants, and they are working pretty well so I'm sticking with them.

At first I felt silly, saying that a TV show had changed my life. (Sounds crazy, no?!) But it did, and it does, and I'm better off for it. And you know, I'm not going to be shy about saying it either. Because maybe it will help someone else.

So no, I haven't written here on the blog in a long time. The truth is that I don't know how often I will write here in the future either. I am spending more time in the real world and less in the digital one. I do still see comments that are left, here, and I will reply to them and to emails. I'm also on facebook fairly regularly. I don't know how much I will post here, but I am not going to take it down because I believe that the archive here can be useful to others. I know it is useful for me: both as a reference, and as a reminder of where I've come.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Being an Instrument

When I was first married there was a series of visiting teaching messages (for the women of the church to share with one another during monthly visits) that were centered around the theme of being steadfast and immoveable. I remember one lesson in particular which had the title of "being an instrument in the hands of God by being steadfast and immoveable." I talked with the other woman I was with about the idea, and she said that it confused her. How could someone do anything if they were being immoveable? So I shared what had come to me when I read it. A sculptor, potter, painter, or writer needs a tool (chisel, brush, pen, etc) that will not move on its own. The artist needs a tool that will be reliable and still, so that s/he can guide it and have it go where s/he wants. If the painter's brush droops the paint will get in the wrong place. If the potter's tool bends then the clay will not be crafted in the way s/he wanted it to be.

In order to be a tool in the Lord's hands, our job is to be available, and to be steady, but not to try to do everything ourselves.


Somewhere in my late teens I started singing in church. Or rather, I'd been singing musical numbers in church for years, but somewhere in my late teens I got up the confidence to start singing solos. I liked singing, I liked performing, but I also have always known that singing in church is not a performance or a recital. Singing in church is about bringing the Spirit into the space. And so before I sang I always prayed that I could be a conduit for the spirit. That the Lord would use me and my voice to speak to the members of the congregation.
It has always worked.


Recently I moved to a new city and a new congregation. I had called ahead to find out when and where church meetings were, and so someone had my name...and even before I had moved the compassionate service leader Sister J had called me. She is a woman of generous size and spirit, who knows everyone's business and everyone's needs (because she calls and asks) and then she doesn't take no for an answer in taking care of people. Two weeks after my arrival she called me again, to see how we were getting settled in, and whether we needed anything. She apologized that she had not called sooner, but explained that she had been called upon to help arrange a very unexpected funeral and that that had consumed much of her time. She mentioned, almost in passing, that the one thing she still needed was a musical number, and that she was not sure what she would do for that. I responded instinctively, almost without thought. "If you can find an accompanist, I can sing."
"I can play," Sister J said. "Is 'How Great Thou Art' ok?"

And with that it was decided. I was going to sing at a stranger's funeral. Now truth be told, this was not the first  nor even the second time I have sung at a funeral where I did not know the deceased; but it was the first time where I really did not know anyone.
Especially in the context of this funeral, where a young father had died unexpectedly, I knew the grief at this funeral would be extra acute, and that music is a powerful medium. I felt awkward and I felt pressure and nervousness that I have not felt about church music in a long time. 

When I was rehearsing with Sister J, she started singing along at one point. Then she apologized. "I got caught up in it," she said, "this song moves me so much. I don't mean to steal your thunder if I start singing along at the funeral."
"Singing in church is never about thunder" I replied.
She hesitated, as though she had not thought about it that way. "You're right," she responded, "it's not." 

The rehearsal was ok, but particularly with the high note at the end I felt like I was not singing it very well. I knew this funeral was important for all the family who would be bidding a premature farewell to their son, brother, and father, so for a day and a half I did what I always do. I prayed that I could be a conduit for The Spirit...but something still felt off. I couldn't quite place it, but I knew that what needed to come through me at this gathering was not like most meetings.

As I pulled into the parking lot with ten minutes to go until the funeral, I still felt shaky. I took the key out of the ignition, bowed my head, and murmured one last prayer...and the words came to me "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace."
An instrument of peace. That was precisely what I needed to be. Calm came over me.
So I prayed St. Francis' phrase over and over as I walked into the chapel. When my turn came I walked up to the podium and started to sing...and then I gripped onto the side of the podium and just held on as the music poured through me with the words and notes all where they should be.


An instrument is a still thing. I played the flute for a couple of years as a tween, and I can tell you that no matter how shiny that flute was, it couldn't do anything unless I held it, pressed the keys, and gave it my breath.
Yesterday I was an instrument with endless potential but little possibility except in the hands and with the breath of Someone else.
I am grateful for the opportunity, and touched by the experience. Because as much as I (hope I) gave the family the peace they needed yesterday, my own soul was filled too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Winter Gear Storage

I am currently adjusting our family of five into living in an apartment that is a little under 1000 square feet. We were already pretty minimalist about our possessions after several major moves and having to fit everything into storage. However one thing I'm still refining is fitting everything into a small space AND still being able to find what we need.

One thing we need pretty often is winter gear such as mittens, hats, scarves, and so on. The thing about this type of gear is that when a four-year-old goes out to play in the snow, his mittens get wet, so when he wants to play two hours later, he needs a second set of mittens... this makes for lots of mittens. Not to mention things like "cold weather" gear or "I'll be outside for 15 minutes" gear versus "obscenely cold weather" gear or "I'm going fishing in twenty-below" gear.

Needless to say, there is a lot of this type of gear around our house.  And for the last three or four years it has basically all just ended up in a plastic bin or box... lots of harried looking for the other mitten in the set, lots of "but I need the other hat because this one is his" and so on.

Then inspiration struck.

$11 and five minutes of effort later we have everything where we can see it. Mittens are paired with their mates, scarves, hats, earmuffs, and everything is easy to reach.

Most of these seem to be "over the door" style organizers. If you have a regular closet door, perfect! Or maybe you can hang it on the back of your entry door. If not, three little nails and a little wall space (as I did here) works pretty easily too.

Greene's "Plan B" in the Trenches

A few years ago I wrote a review of Ross Greene's "The Explosive Child" and in that I explained about Plan B. (Yeah folks, this is a parenting post, not a birth control one.)
Dr Greene discusses 3 plans: Plans A, B, and C.
Plan A is where the Adult forces his will on the child...
Plan C is where the adult capitulates and just lets the Child do what he pleases...
Plan B is to utilize what Dr Greene calls "collaborative problem solving" (CPS) to find solutions that will solve the concerns of Both adult and child.
This last weekend I had a chance to use collaborative problem solving to find a Plan B with my thirteen-year old Wolf.
The scenario was thus: I have established a household policy that food and drink (with the exception of closeable water bottles) remains in the kitchen/dining area. More especially, food is definitely not allowed in bedrooms. Wolf is well aware of this policy, and breaks it repeatedly. (I only catch him actually eating in his room occasionally, but there are often empty wrappers or crumbs in his room, so the evidence is obvious. And this has been going on since he was four. When he was little I tried to focus on teaching him better, as he got older I started punishing...the behavior has never changed.) Of course in addition to breaking the rule, he also is sneaky about it so as to be able to get away with it, so he's adding deceit to disobedience, and sometimes lying on top of the whole pile. Last week he did that (lying on top of it all) and I lost my temper at him. I decided it was time to step back and bust out some CPS about this.
oh look, he's not the only one!

CPS can be hard for a parent, because it means that *I* have to be willing to compromise too. But it's also a recognition that I can still get what is most important to me, while still giving my kid a chance to have something that is important to him, and give him some practice in collaboration, problem solving, and compromise. (Yes I like and still use the Oxford comma, bite me!)

I began by clearing the air about my outburst the other night. I asked him why he'd lied to me, and if he'd really thought he could get away with it. He said no, he was pretty sure I knew, but he knew that lying would get yelling, whereas if he had only gotten caught with the soda can--and not lied about it--then he would have gotten a lecture. He just wanted it over fast so he chose lying/yelling.


My concern
Alright. So, I had already considered my position, and I knew my most important concern in this conflict. I am concerned about mess. I don't want crumbs, or spills, or sticky spots, or wrappers, or garbage in his room. I'm concerned about it attracting insects or vermin partly, but I also just think it's really gross to have crumbs in your bed and wrappers on the floor.
His concern
Wolf considered, and concluded that he really only wants to eat in his room when he is playing games on his computer because he doesn't want to be interrupted. (The computer is only a few months old so I don't know what his excuse was for the last nine years, but we'll work with this for now and re-evaluate as necessary.) He has no problems leaving his room for a snack when he's supposed to be doing homework! But he plays some online real-time games with his cousin or other friends, and if he's absent from the game for five or ten minutes his character could get booted off the server.
Our collaborative compromise
I will get him a garbage can for his bedroom--he hasn't had one, but promises to utilize it if one is present. He will handle emptying it as well.
He is considering purchasing an anti-tipping or spill-proof cup (with his own money) to use in his room.
He has to ask an adult before taking a snack--to ensure that the food he wants isn't earmarked for something, or that dinner isn't imminent, or that sort of thing.
With those criteria met, he may take food to his room when gaming. This may be a weekends-only thing, or (depending on his homework load) an after-homework thing.

When I raised the point of having to have homework done before playing, he asked if we could adjust that a little "perhaps one late assignment per week?" I gave him a full-blown stink eye and told him I wasn't going to go for that idea. Then I nudged him to articulate his desire in a different way, and he was able to explain that after six hours at school he just wants a little break before diving into the homework. Now THAT I can support. His school day lets out at 2:30, so we've agreed that he has to get started on homework by 4. (Of course, if he is really eager to get to his games, he may change his mind about this schedule, because I'm still thinking no games before homework...but maybe that will be another Plan B for us to play with.)

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