You're Not Perfect. You're Something Better.

I had a friend recently text me in the middle of a very difficult day. I think her text came in response to my post about our family going bowling. What she said really touched me. And at the risk of sounding like a ridiculous braggart, I thought I would share what she said. "You are inspirational. God does a mighty work through you!! I have had friends where I would have thought about how I needed to be more like them. You, my dear friend, make me want to be more like me. It's the best! Thank you!!"

Again, it's kind of silly to publish a compliment. But I thought what she said was so poignant. I know I spent YEARS of my life in the former category, the type of person who was so fed by accolades that I lived in a way so people elevated me as an example of what to be. I wanted that. I wanted to be the best leader, the holiest Christian, the most responsible and caring mother, the untouchable perfect person. Only then would I be safe. And I think that gaping need for perfection came from a place of unworthiness and a need for control. When your filter is low, whatever feedback you get from others might as well be truth. There's no room for someone to assess you and be wrong in their perception. So if I was perceived as less than the best I could be, failing to perform to the highest standard or hinting in any way a lack of integrity or faith, I scrambled to patch the hole in my persona. Because if that was true, I had nothing.  

There are so many problems with this. Primarily, this makes people feel like shit. By living your life to an impossible standard and promoting that in others, you make people feel like shit. Every day. Whenever they interact with you, see your perfect posts on social media or have a moment where their humanity takes center stage in their life you are heaping shame on them for not measuring up. I guarantee you, if you have someone like this in your life, it's actually because they feel like shit about themselves. They may not know it (I didn't). But they are projecting their un-fillable hole onto you to make you feel bad. If everyone doesn't play this game, the perpetrator is losing in a different way. She doesn't feel she can opt out, so neither can you.

Sometimes this comes out in church (my hotbed for performance and shame). We act like everyone should be a leader and being a leader means providing a good example. It's why shame-based "sins" like pornography thrive in evangelicalism. No one can keep up with the perfection so they choose something super-shameful (which fuels the addiction because it creates a shame spiral) and keep it hidden as best they can. Because it's not based on actually being a good person. It's based on appearing to be a good person. 

So the problem isn't the shameful behavior. The problem is someone discovering the shameful behavior. This is why we punish girls for getting pregnant but have no words for the boy who impregnated her. She's the one who appears sinful. So she's the problem. Though if she "solves" the problem with an abortion, then she's a way worse person. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Jesus responded to this repeatedly, having mercy. This is why men like Josh Duggar get a pass and his wife gets to share the responsibility for his pornography addiction, molestation of under-aged girls (including his own flesh and blood) and repeated infidelities. He'd been doing this for YEARS and his family knew about it, at least the early stuff. The problem became a real problem when it became public. Nevermind that he came home to his pure, modestly dressed wife of five children in as many years having spent himself on another woman. You are unable to take personal responsibility for your choices when you're living in the land of appearances. The shame is up for grabs and can be conveniently placed on another person. If someone in your life never owns their shit and is always blaming others, this dynamic is probably at play. Because owning your shit means you're a piece of shit. It's a lie.

And you may hear ideology at church about how we're all pieces of shit but for the grace of God. So there's this self-hating, God-loving premise that fuels a lack of self-care, grace for self and others, and a genuine self-hatred as a form of worship. DO NOT BELIEVE THIS. Why would God call us his masterpiece, send his Son to die a painful death to save us, make us in his image because he thinks we're pieces of shit and are so lucky to be here at all? HE LOVES US. Not because he's so great and we're so unlovable. Yes he's great. But we're his. Which means we're great too. He created us because he wants relationship WITH US. Not in spite of us. Not because we screwed it up and he had to scramble for a Plan B. I believe God made us human ON PURPOSE. That means that he's not surprised by our frailty, our humanity. He. Made. It. He finds beauty in us, a reflection of his creator self. And again, not because he has super God goggles and we're really just pieces of shit. What if we're actually great? Have you ever thought about that? Yes, we are happier and healthier humans when we embrace each other and forsake greed, violence and hatred. Yes. But those moments when we don't measure up? He knew that was going to happen. And IT'S O.K. 

There's one other way I see this happening. It seems really sweet and "safe" but it's started to really bother me. I'm describing when someone literally has no concept of self outside of God. We've told Christians that they're good BECAUSE God says they're good. They're okay BECAUSE God says they're ok. I get it. When you believe everything begins and ends with what God says, this makes sense. But it's saying that self-love only comes as a response to God saying we're worthy. That implies that if he said we weren't, then we really would be pieces of shit. And I know many people can't go here with me. But what I believe is that even if God changed his mind and decided we were pieces of shit, I don't believe we are. What this has done is affirmed my faith in God but also in myself apart from God. I think it's dangerous to base our entire self-concept on what God says about us because our interpretations of God vary, even if he doesn't change. Is that not just the more spiritual version of what I described above? That I was okay because others were impressed by me. Can we be okay regardless of anyone's opinion, even God's? I know it's a stretch for some. But if we can sever this final cord, what happens is we have a less conditional relationship with God. We can stand on our own feet and interact with him. Obviously not as equals, but as dual participants in relationship. What if we are inherently lovable? Even when we "sin"? Not because God forgives us but because our humanity is not a problem to be solved but intentional? It also frees me from the constant analysis of my behavior and what categorizes as sinful or acceptable. If we're safe forever, can we release the list of do's and don't's and just be loved and loving? I feel like I finally understand that verse "there is no fear in love for perfect love casts out fear." I never, ever could allow that verse to sink into my bones. Maybe this is what it meant? 

What kind of posture would you have in the world when you believed, deep in that un-fillable hole that you are great? As is. Just inherently great. Full stop. How would you treat others? How would you speak to yourself? Would you project your perfect image into the world to reflect your own glory? Or would you feel a quiet confidence, a willingness to be vulnerable, a deliberate embrace of yourself as human, not perfect? I am not an example. I am a human. And I am wonderful. When those things become real to you, you no longer feel the need to convince others of that truth. Or if you do, (in my case right now) it's to free them from themselves not to secure faith in yourself. 

I would like to make one final point about all this self-love and awesomeness. This applies to all mankind, not just people who look like you or believe like you do. I believe that God loves every human, made every human in his image and thinks every human is beautiful. Not every human behavior. Every human. And so please don't take my special words and apply them to special groups. I used to feel threatened by God's lack of special favors. I wanted to be set apart, better, safe, special. I didn't want everyone to be equal. How would I win if everyone gets a participation trophy? There are so many examples of this exceptionalism in the New Testament. I understand it. But let me be clear - that is UGLY SHIT. Do not elevate yourself. God loves Muslims. God loves refugees. God loves poor people, yes even the ones on social programs. God loves Republicans (ouch). God loves Democrats too (yea!) Do not take the beauty inside yourself and draw lines around it. Share the love in your heart indiscriminately. And if you need a reason outside yourself, remember, this is what God does. 

You do you. Love yourself. Believe in your goodness. Give yourself a fucking break. Honor the pain you feel, the journey you're taking, the growth you've experienced. See yourself as someone worthy of compassion, validation and acceptance. As is. Don't set deadlines for your own mercy (I'll like myself when...). Stop pushing yourself now. Accept yourself and figure out who you really want to be. Then pursue it in freedom and love full of grace for the process and for the beautiful person courageous enough to speak her dreams and reach for them. 

TREAT YO'SELF, ALL THE TIME

It's Mother's Day, the day that women who often go unacknowledged receive a lot of praise and gifts. I'm a big fan. The thing that makes me twitchy is the idea that Mother's Day hooplah should be reserved for one day a year. Mother's Day type of gratitude is a pretty regular thing around here. I think that's come from a rather long lesson I've learned (and am still learning) about self-care and the balance of being a mother and being a person. Being a person is first and, dare I say it on this sacred day, more important. Being a mother is a huge piece of how I expend my time, energy and resources. It undoubtedly is one of my greatest sources of joy and feelings of accomplishment. It had fundamentally affected my self-concept. And I am so proud to be a mother. HOWEVER, I am a person. I am a woman. I am an artist. I am. 

In an attempt that is in no way meant to be an act of rebellion against a day that many oft-overworked women get their one morning a year in bed, I would like to say that we need to stop acting like women are only good mothers if they don't take care of themselves. Memes and cards are full of praising mothers for giving up everything, doing everything for others, not once thinking of themselves, yada, yada, yada. And most definitely, there are seasons in life, in trauma, in physical and emotional development of little humans, in great adversity where mothers choose their children over themselves. You better believe it takes sacrifice to get up to a crying infant all through the night to share not just your sleep, but your very breast. No Doubt. 

And yet. Are we being good mothers if we teach our children that being a good mother means not giving yourself, your talents, your dreams, your very humanity, a voice? What are children learning from mothers who do nothing but care for their every need? Now this has nothing to do with whether you're a "working" mom or not (that's in quotes because every mom is a working mom whether she has an employer or not). I know plenty of working women neglecting their dreams and plenty of stay-at-home women kicking ass at pursuing their passions. I just want to say, sometimes the moms who are out in the world pushing themselves to do things that scare them, to create moments to shine bright might be the very women we're telling aren't doing enough for their children and families. Maybe the bravest women among us are the most wracked with guilt? That is a travesty.

I'd like to say that being a mother is whatever you make it to be. Being a mother is being yourself with little people in tow. Do not lose yourself. Yes, take on the beautiful identity of mother. Bask in the glory that is both late night snuggles and vomit on your carpet. Motherhood is to be embraced. But motherhood is defined by you. Because you're the mother. Don't let someone else tell you how to mother. And don't listen when someone tries to tell you how to be yourself and live in your world because you're a mother. If you're a mother, be yourself as a mother. Whether that involves Pinterest or vodka. Be a mom. Be there for your kids and be there for yourself. These things are not mutually exclusive. No doubt, there are moments when they are. But those moments are not lifetimes. Don't let your life pass you by in a haze of diapers and painstakingly planned birthday parties. Enjoy yourself. Right now.

Motherhood involves sacrifice. But I would like to say that we get a say in how that manifests. We get to decide how motherhood edits, demolishes, delays, accelerates and even motivates the pursuits of our dreams. There are women who pride themselves on giving up everything for their children. They deserve all the handprint clay wall-hangings in the world and I will not take them away from them. But that is not the only way to mother. And if I'm being honest, I believe it could be a one-dimensional way to be one. What if our kids saw us kicking ass in the world from the audience, paving the way before them to do big scary things. Yes, I will be in the audience of my children's lives. But I will also forge the path in front of them, clearing away the brush in the wilderness. Their story, their courageous adventures will be theirs. But I will show them how to do that. I will show them my way of doing that. And if that isn't mothering, I don't know how to be a mother. 

So let's stop acting like one day of appreciation hits the snooze button for the next 364 days. Let's stop immortalizing mothers for being so giving and never taking care of themselves. I'd like to see more cards that say, you taught me how to be a person who loves herself, who cares for her body, mind and soul, who invests in her relationships with her partner, with her girl friends, with her family. You taught me how to think big and take risks and to love my body in all its beautiful complexity. You taught me to live in the moment and laugh when things get messy. 

Ladies, we don't have to wait to be appreciated. We can also show our own self-appreciation all year round. Would you like a massage, schedule it! Would you like to get away with a friend? Book it! Would you like to be alone with your significant other, call a sitter! Don't wait for or feel guilty for having needs. Living a life of sustained unmet needs is not what being a mother is about. If we are to teach our children how to live, let's start by living. 

When Trauma Comes to Visit

Don't you hate it when you've done all you can to process a trauma and it still comes to visit from time to time? I wish there was a way to not be shaped by our traumas. I know that's not possible and probably not even good as terrible things often shape us in somewhat positive ways, if you're in a frame of mind to see it. Though I must admit, that's hard to do in the middle of the night when you wake up from a nightmare sobbing. It's been 5 and a half years since we left professional ministry. We've been through other traumas since that time that were even more severe and yet that one still leaves a mark. I think I must admit to myself that it always will. My ultimate goal is to not let my traumas make me a bitter, hardened person. Unfortunately, sometimes in order to get to that place, you gotta work through a lot of pain and anger.  

I am still connected to our old church through a weekly MOMS group I attend. Most of the women there are unaware of my history and the church has been through a major overhaul in both style and leadership since we left. Yet, I'm still walking those halls, seeing many of the people from our "old life" and everyone acts like nothing ever happened. I guess that's the only way to move forward. It's not like I want to spend my 2 hours of weekly free childcare sussing out old pain with people I don't really trust. And I know I've already had the hard conversations I needed to have way back when. The group has been a great source of fun and friendship for me (I feel I need to justify my attendance since being in that environment is clearly still triggering).  

Perhaps it is the perfectionist in me that wants to check "professional church ministry trauma" off the list and move on. And I have moved on in ways I am really proud of and genuinely grateful for. I know if the trauma had not happened, we would not be the people we are today. And I think we are better people. I am so much more humble, gracious and honest than I was before. I was always a nice person but leaving professional ministry helped me embrace my humanity, give myself grace and become an all-around kinder person. I've found my voice, my values and my own footing having had that formerly precious security blanket ripped from me. And yet, it's still hard. It's still sad. And sometimes, that trauma comes to call. Maybe that's how you know something you lost really meant so much. When that pain knocks, perhaps the healthiest thing to do is open the door, embrace the pain and let the tears flow.

To The Beautiful People in Professional Ministry Being Treated Like Shit

I have a lot of friends in professional ministry. I, of course, used to be in professional ministry both paid and unpaid (spouse). And after a traumatic, unwarranted firing from the ministry, we left ministry for our spiritual and emotional well-being. It's been 5 years and there has been a ton of personal growth. That being said, I am often triggered by the stories of my dear friends who remain in professional ministry. The problem with the eldership model in the churches of Christ is that many of our churches on the west coast are small. We have no oversight outside of the local church (something we take pride in) which means that often elderships have no accountability and total control. Sometimes this power falls into the hands of 2-3 men, one of whom is often bordering on senility because for some reason, we don't know when to boot out the old guys. The elder with the biggest swagger is always wealthy. It's rude. But it's true. So I would like to write an open letter to my dear friends in ministry, who give everything they have to the church in often unhealthy, secretly abusive leadership models. 

Dear Friend,

I see you. I see you putting yourself out there. I see you initiating relationship when you'd rather be in bed watching TV. I see you planning events and hoping people come. I see you getting pulled aside at church to listen to someone who doesn't really know you or care about you as a person criticizing the work you do prayerfully and with the utmost care. I see you nodding while tamping down anger and resentment. I see you being unable to defend yourself because that would be considered threatening. I see you trying to decide if you should cater to the bullies or follow your leader gut that's telling you to go in the direction you've been going. I see your exhaustion. I see you tire of pushing so hard. Pushing yourself to keep going. Dragging the dead horse behind you that is everyone's resistance to change. I see you compromising. I see you questioning yourself - your abilities, your calling, your very worth. I see you stagnating in your faith because it's become a function of your work. I see you towing lines of theology you'd love to leave behind but you can't for risk of losing your income. I see you wondering if anyone around you really loves you. You - the person, not the role. I see you proving your worth with activity, calendars, ministry updates. I see you hustling - greeting new people, trying to be friendly all the time. I see you missing your family, missing bedtime routines, missing sex because you're just too tired at the end of the day. I see you wishing you had the energy to be more present in your neighborhood. There's just nothing left when you get home from church. I see you longing for rest, like poor people long for winning the lottery. 

I'm here to say - you are gifted. You are loved. You matter. Not because of how you perform, what you can accomplish, the numbers you can bring in - you matter because. You matter. If you laid down all this today, you would still matter. Your value does not come from your abilities, your performance, your care of others. You matter. Your soul deserves care. Not just from you, not just from God, but from the people around you. Your body deserves care. You are allowed to sleep, eat, relax and breathe. You are allowed to spend time on things that aren't perceived as spiritual. You are allowed to act your age. If you are young, be young. Don't carry the world on your shoulders like it's up to you to save it. It's not. You can't. What you're doing matters and if you intend to stay in it, you may need some therapy. And if you need to leave to shore up your faith, your psyche, your family - you should. You are worthy of emotional health. You are worthy of being poured into not just out of. Do not cast the pearls of your soul before the swines who feel no remorse for stamping it out. Do not let anyone speak into your soul, question your worthiness, make you feel ashamed of who you are. You are beautiful. You are precious. You do not need to live in shame. Do not pay back a debt of shame by giving service to people who don't appreciate it. Do not serve out of some sort of penance. You are loved. You stand in grace. So stand up. Don't let anyone tell you who you are. 

No one's perfect. I get it. Sure, you probably need to work on some stuff. But no one takes the kind of shit people in ministry do. You might not even realize it because you're so entrenched in it right now. Be brave. Don't allow your imperfections to give them a pass. They have imperfections too and you'd never throw it at them like they do with you. Claim your dignity. And be honest with yourself - you'll always be an employee first in the church. So if you are taking more shit than an employee should be taking, know that the ideas of "family" don't really apply to you. That's terrible, but it's honest. So make your peace with that and set your boundaries. Don't delude yourself to thinking you're not expendable. 

I see you. Do you see yourself?

Breathe in Life and Grace

It's such a gift to feel like after speaking with your Reverend, you've breathed in fresh air. I feel really lucky to be building that relationship, as it's a balm to my soul both from past experiences that were unhealthy and from the pain this world inflicts on me day to day. One of the things we talked about today was how we connect with God. I've struggled with my relationship with the Bible these last few years. As soon as I open that cover, it's like I'm pressing play on all my Church of Christ tapes and I can't seem to press stop until I close it again. I've studied the Bible A LOT. And when you read the same version and hear the same lessons, they make an imprint. Many of us pursued that relentlessly. This was not something put upon me. This was something I chose. And yet now, I can't seem to un-choose it. And so I wonder, how can I connect with God without listening to tapes that reinforce shame and cause me to set aside my humility and compassion? 
I was raised to believe that the Bible was a critical piece to faith. That I must submit to the Bible's authority in order to be close to God. And while I believe through my writing and various other activities and relationships I am pursuing God, I haven't felt close to Him since I put down the Bible, like I had confidence in what I knew He was doing. I'm a lot less likely to attribute events to Him, motives to Him, politics to Him, disasters or blessings to Him. I hesitate to put His name on stuff. I admit that I'm not totally sure what He is or isn't actively doing in the world right now. But I feel more in tune that when I see Him, I feel love, grace, mercy, forgiveness. I see Him in neighbors and friends standing up for each other. I see Him in children. I see Him in activism. But I don't "know" as much. I am less likely to "know" and a lot more likely to "hope." I believe this has made me a better person and has taught me to tune into and use my voice. Yet, sometimes I wonder, am I close to God? Is that even really possible? Or is my western idea of God interacting with us personally all the time, just that, a western, modern idea?
I've had to sift through all my faith experiences and just like when you move and sort into piles, I'm figuring out what goes in the "church pile", "God pile", and "human error pile." It's not easy and it's wildly subjective (pretty major factor in the "not easy" part). 
My Reverend and I discussed many ways to connect with God. She suggested I tune in to how I feel close to Him already (in nature, through self-expression, art, music) and to implement those practices into my regular life. She talked about how spiritual practice is just that, practice. There's a balance where we're never quite settled. It's something we pursue and practice all our lives, should we choose to lean in to our spiritual selves. I realized that one of the main ways I commune with God is through human conversation. In her quiet grace, I was reminded by God of so many things that are hard for me to remember. I actually took a few notes after we got off the phone so I could remind myself of these important, life-giving things. She reminded me, "You don't have to do everything." HA! That is one of those things I could nail to my forehead and forget. And this is why we need reminders. And this is why I write this today. Other people need reminders. 
You are enough. 
You deserve rest. 
You can't fix everything. 
Exhale, inhale. 
Just breathe.
We talked about how one of the things I struggle with is self-care in Facebook conversations. I really care about social causes and I've developed a skill set for moderating difficult online conversations. And I love it so, so much. It gives me energy and purpose. But sometimes, because I choose to stay soft, I need to pace myself because it can be very difficult. After Orlando and the modern day lynching of Ronnie Shumpert, I am overwhelmed with sadness for our world. And I know there's more that I just can't even sit in. Turkey immediately comes to mind. It's important to me to hold space for grief. And yet, sometimes it's okay to say, I need to hibernate in my grief. Or I need to step away for a minute from my grief. Or I need to distract myself with some fun because my grief is killing me. I wanted to say today that that is okay. Self-care and holding grief have to work in tandem. My Reverand said, "Do what you do best and use the influence you have. Release the rest to God. The rest is not yours to fix." May I never get to a point where my heart is hard. And in order stay soft, I must occasionally step back and rest. 

Can a Care-Taker Learn to Take Care of Herself?

I've just had an epiphany, and it's not something I'm particularly pleased to admit. I consider myself an advocate for others. This spirit of advocacy is innate and I believe, God-given. If you want to hear me rant, ask me about the significance of movements like #blacklivesmatter or my newly-discovered yet completely-true white privilege. Ask me how I feel about homelessness, sex-trafficking and children growing up in this country without access to books. Don't even get me started on the FDA or Monsanto. It's so easy for me to see the need to champion the rights of others. As a black and white thinker, it makes sense that I want to right the wrongs of our unfair world and to give everyone an equal shot at their dreams. But here's the problem: I have a really hard time with self-advocacy, hence the epiphany. Looking back today, I've realized that the times I've faced uncomfortable conflict head on, it's because I believed it would benefit someone else, whether it was the person I was confronting, or on whose behalf I was advocating. 
As a caretaker, I've worked hard to let go of the need to do hard things because I am somehow responsible for other peoples decisions. If I confronted someone in the past with great difficulty, I did it because I wanted to protect the next guy from their behavior. But I'm not in charge of their behavior and I do not need to carry responsibility for their future potential infractions just because their current acts have hurt me. (Though I can see how abuse victims following this path are probably making a very understandable mistake). So now that I'm not facing difficult confrontation on behalf of someone else, I'm finding myself hiding from necessary conflict and wallowing in shame as a result. I'm really hurting, guys. And yet, I feel dumb about my big feelings and don't want to have the difficult conversations required to rectify the situation. How incredibly difficult it is to say, "Your behavior, while most likely unintentional, hurt my feelings in a big way and with humility, I ask for your apology because my feelings matter." Agghh!
And yet, I've learned these past few years how incredibly important self-care is. That I deserve love and care as much as anyone else in my family, church and community. That there is no need to apologize for being human, needing space and having needs that require money, time and solitude to meet. And while it's simple enough to drink a cup of tea or serve yourself breakfast first, how hard is it to validate your very real feelings in a difficult situation? (Frankly, I'm being cavalier about the tea and breakfast first, but that was actually really difficult in the beginning). How hard is it to let people love you when you're purposefully exposing "weakness" (big feelings aren't weakness but my shame voice begs to differ) that you just can't seem to rationally contain? This, my friends, is the ultimate self-care act and this care-taker is wrestling, for sure.