creating me [using words]

Archive for the month “November, 2012”

Dear Pine Cone

Lines from Mary Oliver’s “It Was Early”:

“and in the pines
   the cones were heavy
      each one,
         ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
   only to stand
      wherever I am
         to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
   Little mice, run and run.
      Dear pine cone let me hold you
         as you open.”

I wish to be held reverently as I open, to be a pine cone someone notices.

Maybe I can hold the world this way, write it letters–

Dear wildflower bloom . . .

Dear night sky,

Dear soft breeze that blows in the fall,

Dear red leaf so rare on a South Texas tree,

Dear fox behind the church I had the luck to spot,

Dear magical canopy of trees

Dear ladybug,

Dear yellow butterfly who flits in my line of vision, then out again

a thousand letters to my thousand lovers


Bloom Her Sooner

I had to learn to be aggressive. Nothing about stealing the basketball from an opponent, scrambling for a rebound, or using my body to thwart someone else’s movement came naturally to me. I had a knack for shooting, which I inherited from my father. Ball-handling, speed, and teamwork found their way to me easily enough. But aggression was like a foreign-country, and I did not speak the language.

Even after I got good at the game, defense included, I still never fouled. I could play every minute of the game, accumulate points, steals, assists, and even a couple rebounds and walk away with only one foul. Never, in all my years of playing basketball, did I get in foul trouble. I could fully engage, exert aggression, hustle, compete, and scrap, but I did it without breaking any rules or injuring other players or getting out of control.

To this day, it is my special life skill I think—I can be feisty without assaulting anyone. I can score without getting the whistle blown. I engage life, but I never blow my top and get thrown out of the game.

This is so very handy as a woman, because the world doesn’t like angry women. The world likes women to be sweet and polite and gentle and skinny. In the early part of the American Women’s Movement, there was some controversy over dress: whether the spokeswomen should express their liberation by dressing more like men (i.e. bloomers) or whether they should disarm the crowds with their feminine charm wearing traditional genteel dresses.

For the most part, I dress genteel, so to speak. I don’t appear this way on purpose; it’s just who I am. In other words, I am non-threatening in tone and appearance almost all of the time—that wiry little player with the awkwardly thin legs you expect won’t need much guarding until she sinks a three-pointer in your face, and even then, you assume she got lucky. It’s not sneakiness on my part; it’s just me to be this way.

But I am a player, you see. Behind this tiny voice and beneath the brim of my feminine hat, I’m all game face. I am tired of seeing my sisters in bloomers get blasted all the time. Constantly benched for too many fouls in a game designed, officiated, and rigged by men.

I do think there is merit in knowing how to restrain your anger, how to show kindness to others, even your enemies, how to be aggressive without directly assaulting another person. But anger itself isn’t wrong—anger is often legitimate and begging us to pay attention to the alarm bells it keeps setting off inside us. It also isn’t wrong to make other people uncomfortable, (which is one of the most startling realizations of my life. I actually don’t need to worry about how being me will make other people feel. I cannot tell you how life-changing that is.)

Metaphorically, I’ll probably keep wearing skirts, because the skirts fit me better than bloomers. But what I want to say to my fellow women is: Wear what works for you and don’t look back. Quit letting men or your mother define what is acceptable behavior; you’re a grown woman now and you deserve to get to live like one.

I’d like to see my fellow women bloom. That’s more important than staying in bounds, or keeping a foul-clean record. Foul if you have to foul. Fight if you have to fight. You can make amends later if you take it too far, but you can never regain a life you forfeit living. Err on the side of listening to your own life, your own heart, your own wisdom, because you are the only one on the face of the planet who has been given this life, this identity, this story. So know who you are. Don’t be afraid that who you are may not be who-everyone-thinks-you-should-be. Who ever found their life purpose by following the norm and meeting expectations? Your good manners will never be noteworthy. Proper etiquette just isn’t a game changer, but I can tell by the glint in your eye, you are a player, so play.

Bloom under the shade of your delicate white hat or bloom and pull on some pants, just bloom, preferably sooner rather than later.

I Practice Noticing

Sometimes I despair for very tiny reasons.

Sometimes I cry over nothing but I tap into a reservoir of pent-up tears and my unacknowledged sorrow waterfalls out and I’m caught in the rapids by surprise.

Sometimes I don’t even know I’m tense until the headache comes.

Sometimes the pleasure of a single bright flower is immense and I am shocked how easy smiles are.

Sometimes the world is drab, too dreary for getting out of bed.

Sometimes the world is fresh, too alive for shutting one’s eyes.

It is such a mystery to me, never knowing what kind of day it will be or what kind of me I will be in it.

I am less in control than I think I am, I find.

But I am glad for this: the world continues to surprise me.

Living with Ellipses

My life is full of ellipses. You know, the kind that end a sentence suggestively . . .

Which isn’t a real ending at all, if you think about it . . .

There isn’t always closure where I want closure.

My life leaves me hanging with unknowns.

I don’t get to know how this line of my life will end . . .

And yet . . .

My life keeps writing new sentences anyway . . .

I grasp backwards, wishing for proper punctuation to wrap up an issue neatly, to label a problem solved, to see a disagreement resolved. My own story draws my eyes forward in spite of myself, but sometimes I linger on a ellipsis and wonder what to make of the lack of an ending . . .

Guest Post from Ryan

(One quick unrelated-to-this-blog-post-in-any-way comment: my contribution to the “Day in the Life” series on the BWIM blog went up yesterday, and you can read it here.)

This post is a guest entry from Ryan Stauffer in response to my question,What is a fear you have abandoned and did you discover anything beautiful and wholesome in the process?” Ryan blogs at, where he (yes, a man) writes about feminism. Interesting, right? Here’s his story about one unusual way by which he learned to let go of some fear: 

In the spring of 2006 I left my house empty and unlocked for an entire week.

I was leaving for a trip with my church to visit some of our missionaries in Italy. A few days beforehand, I realized that my roommates, all college or seminary students, would be out of town due to the coincidence of spring break. The house would stand empty for about nine days.To most people this would present no quandary; they would simply lock their doors, possibly plugging in a few of those timers that turn the lights on and off in the evening to create the illusion of occupation, make sure someone stopped by to feed the cat and take in the mail, and depart.

I did ask a friend to take care of my cat, but I didn’t do any of those other things. I had recently decided to stop locking my doors, and I didn’t want to derail the progress I had made in learning to trust that God would take care of my stuff (or not).

I grew up in Dayton, and when you live in a city you lock your doors. The muscle memory for tapping the lock on the car door doesn’t even connect to the brain—it bypasses straight to the muscles in your legs. As soon as your feet hit the pavement your hand locks the door; you have no actual control over this process. Despite my generally trusting nature, urban life had conditioned me into security paranoia.

But I went to college in a small, semi-rural city of only 40,000 with comparatively miniscule crime rates, and I bought a house there after graduation. The house came with a wonderful owner-convenience feature: you could open the locked side door with a screwdriver. The first time I forgot my keys and had to pop the door open with my pocketknife, I realized the futility of continuing to lock the house and began leaving it unsecured all the time.

My pastor had recently preached about faith in God as opposed to self-reliance, and it occurred to me that I had already started on the path to trusting God with the security of my possessions. I could take the baby step of leaving all my doors unlocked—not as great a risk in Warsaw, IN as in a metro area—and cultivate the mentality that if God wanted me to retain ownership of my stuff he would do that with or without the assistance of a latch.

The first time I left my laptop in my unlocked car while I went into Walmart, I definitely felt nervous, but I reminded myself that if God decided I shouldn’t have that computer a lock wasn’t going to stop anyone from stealing it. I went inside, resisting the urge to at least hide the computer under the front seat, and when I returned it was still there. I never looked back.

Over the next year I shed nearly all my worries about the fate of my earthly possessions. Leaving the car unlocked became routine procedure rather than an act of the will. My roommates never seemed to mind the house being open; every time I welcomed a new resident I offered to start locking the door again, but no one ever took me up on that offer. Our friends grew accustomed to finding the house unlocked and even began walking straight in without knocking. I enjoyed the family atmosphere this practice created, and nothing boosted my day like hearing the kitchen door open and looking up to see that a friend was paying me a spontaneous visit, or coming home to find an impromptu gathering already underway without me.

Now, I am not suggesting that God wants us all to stop locking our doors. I believe he gave humans the ingenuity to invent locks, and I also believe that “trusting God” does not excuse foolishness. The reasonable precaution of locking your house or car does not necessarily indicate an unspiritual self-reliance any more than going to the doctor when you get sick. And even though a comparative stranger who heard about my experiment accused me of “testing the Lord,” I wasn’t trying to put God on the spot. If I had come home from Italy to find my TV missing I would not have cursed God but only reminded myself that he was the one in charge of my things.

I will admit that as I was leaving that week I felt a pang of anxiety. Would my house be intact when I returned? What if God really wanted me to do the sensible thing by locking it up? He might not be all that eager to protect my stuff if I was going to act like a dummy. As I stood in the driveway, suitcase in hand, I stared at the doorknob and wondered if I should just open up the door again and give that lock a little twist.

Fortunately for my Friends-watching habit, my TV was still there when I returned, and so was the rest of my stuff. Perhaps God was actively taking care of my finances by protecting my belongings, or maybe it just happened that no burglars were in the neighborhood that week. I went ahead and said a short prayer of thanks to God anyway.

Hardly More Than a Tweet

This isn’t a blog post per se, just a query.

I have almost made up my mind to give up Facebook for good. It has become an energy-sucker: bad for the self-esteem and bad for the blood pressure. I just checked and I have 766 Facebook friends–why am I holding onto the illusion of friendship with people who get on my nerves? (No offense to my blog readers who I also know on FB; I don’t mean you of course.)

But lately I am wanting to open a Twitter account. Is that because I have a social-media-shaped-void in my heart, just waiting to be filled in the absence of Facebook? (i.e. Am I that pathetic?) Or, does Twitter actually offer a healthier alternative? I have this idea that it will all be different because I get to choose who I want to follow. That, and people can’t write lengthy comments.

Also, I recently read an article about how introverts rule Twitter, which sounds awesome.


The Murky Waters of Fearless Faith

“Invite your spirit-guides and your angels into your healing,” she said as her hands gently touched the soles of my bare feet. I was trying to relax, but I was momentarily distracted by how freaked out I would have been by a reference to “spirit-guides and your angels” just a few years ago, and I felt the old fears creeping back in, whispering to me that I must be crazy to be lying here on the table for a healing touch session.

But eventually I recognized that something real and entirely non-threatening was in fact happening to my body, which softened the fears and I relaxed into the experience. To my surprise, I felt my own Chi (or something like that) as my knees tingled without being touched and an odd sensation (which turned out to be an energy block) moved through my gut.

After the brief session, the practitioner talked with me far longer than the 20 minutes I had paid for, and she spoke with remarkable, but not creepy, insight into my life. It was not as if she was psychic, but like she had good intuition and knew the right questions to ask. I found myself telling her more than I tell most anyone, simply because she knew what to ask, and she asked with such genuine interest and care.

I have recently developed a tenacity about pursuing my own healing, even if it is a path that takes me outside the box of “acceptable” behavior. In this case, I began hearing about healing touch practices from other people I trust, which always makes a foreign thing more approachable, and I began to think it was something I was willing to try.

I am so drastically less afraid of stuff than I used to be that sometimes it scares me (ironic, I know).

When people ask me if and how my theology has changed since getting an education (college, then seminary), I say yes and no, but the most significant change is that I have quit believing in religion based on fear. I mean, theoretically, I always believed that God is not a God of fear, and I heard churches quote 1 John 4:18 (“perfect love drives out fear”) even as a child, but you tend to do what churches do, not what churches say, and every church I knew was motivated by fear, so for all my young life, I followed suit.

We were so doggone afraid of bad influences, evil people, Democrats and Disney. Beer, boys, bands, Halloween, a college education, evolution, Barbies, strangers, theme parks, Hollywood, hormones, Santa Clause: serpents lurked everywhere. It was best to stay home. (Fortunately, there were church services four times a week so you wouldn’t go stir-crazy.)

My intention isn’t to poke fun at the tradition that raised me, but I do think there are some absurdities at play, and we shouldn’t be afraid to name them.

The residue of past fear is veeeeery sticky, but love is an oil that washes it away. The fear keeps trying to draw me back within its sticky grasp, but the more I move ahead, the more I realize I’m just not anxious anymore, and why would I want to be? I’m not scared of contamination anymore. I am free, and this has bettered my faith, not damaged it.

Sometimes I think about all the fears I’ve given up and I am quite nearly alarmed to think what I may have inadvertently “opened” myself up to. But opening hasn’t harmed me, or caused me to lose my way, not once. It’s taken me deeper, every time. Deeper into myself, deeper into my faith, deeper into compassion and truth and justice and humanity.

Freedom is too great a thing to sacrifice on the altar of appearances and expectations. My friends, do the unexpected.


P.S. Anyone want to give a testimony?? What is a fear you have abandoned and did you discover anything beautiful and wholesome in the process?

Too Poor to Buy Fair Trade


 This is us on Halloween: Wall-e and Eva from the Pixar movie Wall-e

I have a horrid confession: When I saw an essay about the injustices of the chocolate industry circulating the internet right before Halloween, I purposefully did not read it because I didn’t want to feel guilty when I bought my Halloween candy. (Side note: I felt guilty anyway.)

I mean, I get it. The problem for me isn’t about understanding the need for justice. I believe in ethical buying, I really, really do—enough that is has changed some (many?) of my shopping decisions. But at the end of the month . . . I’m still on a budget. And I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it is my honest truth.

I know I could do better than I am doing. I know I do not need everything I purchase, and I felt horrible, truly horrible after purchasing my iPhone case on Amazon for less than $3, and then realizing after the fact that it was coming all the way from Hong Kong, which means I didn’t even pay enough to cover shipping which makes it inevitable that somebody is getting screwed in this deal, and it sure isn’t me. (Not to mention the ethical dilemma of whether I should have an iPhone in the first place, and so forth and so on.)

And then we throw this Halloween party for the youth at church, and on top of that, I want to be a good neighbor to all the trick-or-treaters, and both those things required (required, I tell you!) lots of candy. I cannot afford 150 pieces of fair-trade chocolate. Or, at least, I don’t yet know how to work that expense into this already flimsy budget that we’re barely holding together.

Mind you, I am not proud of this; that’s why this is a confession. We have made some important lifestyle decisions in the right direction, but it feels like we are just scraping the top of the iceberg, you know? Like there are a thousand more to make, and sometimes I am just plumb out of decision-making energy, and into my mouth goes a Hershey bar, just like that. I mean, what’s my $5 going to accomplish in a war against chocolate? Somehow, it seems the odds are against me.

I was going to poll the audience for solutions to the dilemma, but I recognize there are no simple answers. Besides, I am trying this new thing where instead of looking for answers, I look for the right question.

Here’s an example: Do I really need this? can be a helpful question when making purchases, but in my experience, it is not really the best question. Sometimes it is okay to buy things I do not need. Both feasting and fasting are spiritual disciplines. Sometimes my husband and I blow money on a nice date night, and I am glad we do. Traveling to Europe for fun is going to be ridiculously expensive, but I still plan to do so before I die. I need a better question than simply asking what I need, because that question is not broad enough.

So, what are the questions you ask to curb your consumerism? What are the questions that guide your decisions? Questions you may never answer definitively, but you intend to keep on asking for the rest of your life if need be?

In the Lap of Angst

Regina once told me she has grown as a minister by learning to sit with her anxiety. This is some of the best advice I have ever received; unfortunately, I have loads of anxiety with which to sit.

Many days I feel at odds with most things ministerial, but I have determined to listen to the tension rather than stuff it away, and somehow I find in the angst my real workplace.

Example: I revolt at the phrase “I do ministry” or “I want to do ministry” or “I love doing ministry”—common denominator being the words “do ministry.” Ugh. Such language sounds like I am a dispenser of the sacred wealth. Gross. I do not want to be a distributor of mercy funds. I want to believe that mercy is there already, and I happen to be skilled/learned at spotting it, like a bird-watcher. I don’t give birds to people. Sheesh. That would be presumptuous, not to mention a violation of the wild. But I hope to help people see what’s perched right above their heads, if only they pause and open their eyes, or glance from a different angle than the one they are currently stuck in.

“Do ministry” sounds like people need something done to them, like a facelift or a tummy tuck, a perm or a hair dye. But I am not in the business of fixing people or accessorizing them. I’m in the business of simple observation, which hardly sounds like a job worth paying money for, though it turns out to be what many people are most craving—to be noticed, deeply.

Example: I dislike, disown even, the word leadership. Attaching the word servant to the front-end doesn’t impress me either. I just don’t like it, period. Call me naïve. Call me timid. Call me a follower. But I just cannot be cajoled into owning this “leader” title. I have tried to wear it, and it doesn’t fit—too tight here, too baggy there. Supposedly leadership is hip these days, because everywhere I turn someone is trying to be a leader or form leaders. I wonder, if we all become successful leaders, who is going to do the following?

Practicalities aside, I still don’t want to “lead my people.” (On that note, I don’t like the phrase “my people” either; it sounds like I am a collector and people are my trophies.) Here are some of the things I try to do instead of leading: I spend time with people, and I listen to them. Sometimes, I try to offer people a new set of lens, because I am sometimes good at that kind of thing. I ask questions and I try to withhold answers. I try to notice when I see a person coming awake. I throw an inner celebration on their behalf when I see them living, and, if necessary, grieve if I suspect they may be dying a little on the inside. I think really hard about what it might mean to fiercely guard the dignity of each person, though I constantly fail at doing so. I follow my own spiritual path with absolute tenacity and fully expect that will influence others for the better rather than the worse.

Example: I am severely uncomfortable when pastors talk about their congregants as if church members were children and we were their parental figures who have to settle their sibling disputes. I mean, I know it can feel like sibling rivalry in the church, and sometimes we all act like grumpy teenagers, but I sure don’t want to parent anyone through that hormonal mess other than my own flesh and blood kids, and even then, I will probably do it out of obligation, not desire. Am I the only one who thinks that treating people like children will only encourage them to act like children? I like instead to think of every person as my equal with the expectation that we will keep rotating hats—teacher to student, back to teacher.

These are just a few of the things that stir the pot of my angst, and over-analyzer that I am, I might be thinking myself into an unnecessary mess . . . and yet, I am trying to break this habit I have of talking myself out of my feelings. Instead, I am trying to ask, Why do I feel this way and what do these feelings have to teach me?  I have heard that your inner wisdom only gets rambunctious and troublesome when you’re refusing to pay attention, so if something is eating at you, that anger/angst/agitation may not be a character flaw but an S.O.S. flag stirring wildly from your soul.

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creating me [using words]


creating me [using words]