Homebirth Safe & Sacred (a book review)

Two years ago, an advanced reader copy of Kim Woodard Osterholzer’s memoir, A Midwife in Amish Country, arrived in the mail for my roommate. I picked it up off the coffee table one night, started reading, and barely put it down until I reached the last page the next day. I was fascinated by Kim’s account of becoming a midwife and the numerous births she has attended throughout the years. I joined the launch team, posted my reviews, and became a fan of Kim and her work. Then a month ago, Kim popped back into the lunch team Facebook group and invited us to help her launch a new little pair of book babies.

Homebirth Safe & Sacred was born to explore “the many misconceptions surrounding the safety…of both American home birth and American hospital birth.” In this small but informative 116-page book and its companion, Homebirth: Commonly Asked Questions, Kim distills the facts and statistics regarding the benefits of home birth interwoven with scenes of one family’s experience with birthing at home.
When I saw Kim’s invitation to join the new launch team, I practically jumped at the opportunity.

For half a second before clicking the Join Group button I thought, “What are you doing? Why would you agree to promote a book on a topic you, a childless woman, has no life experience with?”

“Because it lights a fire in my soul,” I replied to the devil’s advocate in my head as I clicked the button.

Last week when Kim announced the advance reader copies have been mailed and alerted us to watch our mailboxes for the book’s arrival, I commented on her post, confessing my hesitation:

“I read the Q&A this morning and agree that this is a necessary conversation that needs to be addressed by medical professionals and women of childbearing age. As a 35 year old childless woman who has been fascinated by pregnancy, birth, and babies since young childhood and desperately wants a child of her own–but has no prospects of that happening conventionally, my presence on this launch team feels a bit odd. But my dream has long been to have a home birth yes and when I have a child it’s a subject I feel passionately about, yet don’t feel free to share my opinions on because I don’t have personal experience in this arena. I’m weary of feeling like I can’t express my desires and perspectives because I don’t have kids.”

Interest in childbearing and mothering has been part of my DNA since I was very young. I started reading about pregnancy and birth at age eleven, when my mom got pregnant with my first younger brother. At around age 15, with the relatively new introduction of the internet to our household, the popularity of mommy bloggers, and the arrival of my youngest brother, I discovered the literary genre of birth stories and within that group, the even more specific genre of homebirth. All of it fascinated me–pregnancy, birth, doulas, midwives, birth photography, newborns. I was enthralled–and have been ever since. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to have a home waterbirth when I finally got married and pregnant.

But that never happened.

Following the strict tenets of purity culture, I not only stuck to the rules to effectively avoid premarital sex and pregnancy (as was the fear-based aim of purity culture) but also learned to passively wait until my future husband rode up on a white horse (to represent his purity, of course), swept me (in my flowy, white dress to showcase my own purity, of course) off my feet, put a ring on my finger, and offered me the means to achieve this desire of my heart.

That’s how it was supposed to play out, according to everything the church (and the Disney empire) taught me. But it hasn’t.

So here I’ve sat on this huge, secret passion and dream hidden deep in my heart while I’ve watched countless friends and family members have children–married or not. Not talking about it. Pretending it didn’t really matter to me. Feigning ignorance about the topic even when I’ve taken in as much information as I possibly could and have solid views and opinions on the subject.

I’m not suggesting that information and theory is a parallel substitute for firsthand experience, but it’s also not to be discredited. 

In her reply to my comment in the group, Kim confirmed as much: You get to have opinions and you get to share them. Incidentally, some of the finest midwives I know never birthed their own babies.”

For a very long time I’ve suppressed the essence of who I am the me I was created to be in order to fit the expectations of who other people wanted me to be or perceived me to be. Squished my uniqueness down until it would fit in the box built by external influences, effectively locking away the parts of my heart, mind, and soul that make me tick. I learned to keep my thoughts, emotions, and opinions to myself in order to keep peace and avoid conflict.

I avoid conversations about topics in which society would assume I had no credibility. Despite my natural curiosity, voracious reading habits stemming from early childhood, and propensity for extensively researching interesting topics, I have allowed societal boundaries (educational background, marital status, religious affiliations, parental status, etc) to dictate what conversations I could or could not enter–regardless of how much knowledge I possess about a given topic.

No longer am I willing to discredit myself to fit the box in which I wasn’t made to be confined.

I want to listen to the intuitive fire inside me when it leaps enthusiastically, fanning the flame of passionate curiosity, making my heart beat wildly as something comes alive within my soul.

This little book has allowed me to do just that, and I’m not sorry.

It Feels Like Too Much

Sometimes the world just feels like too much to handle. Today is one of those days. Deconstruction, financial stress, shifting relationships, inner turmoil, lack of transportation, emotional upheaval, and past trauma scream day and night, each vying for attention and draining energy like vampires sucking blood from corpses.

It’s not supposed to be this way.

I’m feeling rather nostalgic this morning thanks to memories of the #EpicBookTourTPD. In fact, I began drafting a post about the photos and tweets that showed up on my Timehop today in an effort to remember the bright spots while crawling through the hard spaces. But when I began typing, this came out instead. I could write it all out and then delete, but I’m trying to be brave, real. Last year, I met with a literary agent for feedback on my book proposal and she said something to me that hasn’t left: “If you’re really brave, show me. Tell me exactly what you were thinking and feeling when you said you didn’t want to wake up the next day.”

So, here I am. Because I know for a fact that I’m not the only person who feels this way. Yet, when you’re in a space like this, you feel very, very alone. Maybe if I put my fingertips to the keyboard, my words will find their way to you and make you feel less alone.

Maybe it’s like a two way mirror. I can’t see anything but my own reflection, but you’re there, watching. My words on your computer or smartphone screen appearing before you as if I held a page up to the glass. 

That nostalgia is mixed with a good measure of anxiety, depression, and fear about the future thrown in. Putting one foot in front of the other is basically all I know to do right now in the present.

It’s been a rough few months, and I’ve found myself lower than I’ve been in quite some time. I feel like I’m surrounded by insurmountable cliffs. Slippery, unforgiving, no place to hold or step.

The dark overwhelms. When a momentary prick of light cuts through the black, I burst into action with every bit of energy I can muster. It might last a few minutes, a few hours, a few days, a few weeks. But when it fades, it fades fast.

I’m trying to get my crap together so the rug doesn’t get pulled out from under me. But it’s all so overwhelming. I need my tribe to help me find a place to put my foot, a place to grab hold.

Last night, I created a crowdfunding campaign to help boost me up the cliff of buying a car. It’s been an idea for a few weeks, but I’ve resisted because it feels weak and desperate. (There you go, brave and real.)

Here’s the description I wrote:

After three years of being without a vehicle, I am reaching out to my friends, family, and community for support in securing reliable transportation.

When I moved to Texas three years ago, I left almost everything behind, including my car. (It never would have made the trip anyway.) And I regret having made the move without a car.

I will admit that I could have planned this move better, practically speaking. But those who have filled my journey these last few years know that the opportunity unfolded in ways I never imagined.

Truthfully, Texas has probably saved my life because it gave me a refuge when my life was falling apart. But it hasn’t been an easy road by any means.

I’m in a position now where I need access to my own car. Being a self-employed freelancer is difficult and at times unstable. For my mental and emotional health, it’s becoming more evident that I need a backup plan. I love my current job, but am also aware that circumstances shift and change. I need a contingency plan.

Finding a steadier job would require reliable transportation, so this is the first step toward the next level of independence.

Making this ask is not not easy for me, but it is something that has been nibbling at my brain for weeks. All of this seems insurmountable and out of reach. My anxiety levels are sky high. Checking the car off my get-your-crap-together list would be huge.

People are often willing to help, but may not have the opportunity to do so. If you are so inclined to help, I am ever grateful.

Back in the day, when people like  Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Thoreau, Louisa May Alcott, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were scratching out the words that would become American literary classics, they were often supported by patrons of the arts. People who believed in their craft, in their work, in their messages.

While I don’t consider myself as talented as any of those writers, I do know I have a gift in writing and connecting with people through my words. Sitting behind a keyboard, pounding out words that you hope will impact someone else’s life is often lonely and isolating. But we writers keep doing it not only because it heals our own souls, but also because we believe it will help heal others.

So, if my writing, my story, my journey has touched or impacted you in some way, would you consider making a donation to help propel me up the cliff I’m facing? To the next phase of whatever this journey has in store?

(You’ll be able to call yourself a patron of the Arts, if you need a perk other than helping a sister out. And if when I publish a book, I’ll include you in the acknowledgements.)

 

To donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/ticcoa039s-car-fund

Direct donations may be made here: paypal.me/TiccoaLeister

 

For Rachel Held Evans: a tribute

Rachel Held Evans is, unquestionably, one of my heroines of faith. Though I’d never met her in person, her life has marked my own.

 

original image courtesy rachelheldevans.com

 

Hard News and New Opportunities

Two weeks ago today, I spent my Saturday morning getting dressed and psyching myself up for an opportunity that had popped up quite unexpectedly. A few days earlier, within minutes of sitting down to watch Brene Brown’s new Netflix special, my phone pinged with a text message from my friend, Bob Hamp, who wanted to know if I would consider recording a segment with him and his wife Polly. They wanted to interview me about my faith deconstruction for their upcoming Think Differently video series on Reformation.

Before I said yes, I clarified with Bob that I was still deeply entrenched in the middle of my deconstruction process. I had no definitive answers to any of my questions. I had little idea of where I would land on the faith spectrum when all was said and done. It’s still a bit fuzzy. But I’m okay with that fuzziness. Well, at least for today. Tomorrow might be another story. Such is deconstruction.

I digress.

I told him I would think about it and let him know the next day.

As my mind started immediately weighing the pros and cons, I texted Anna and told her about the invitation. While waiting for her reply, a thought settled gently in my mind. “I trust Bob and Polly with this conversation.”

My answer was yes, but I waited until the following day to accept the invitation.

When Saturday morning came, I was busy talking myself down from my nervous excitement. I paid little attention to social media as I prepared to leave the house. On my way to pick up Anna, who was going to the shoot with me, I turned on my favorite playlist and worked hard to push my anxiety to the edge of my mind.

Then, as I sat in the car waiting for Anna, I scrolled Facebook. That’s when I saw Sarah Bessey’s post.

image courtesy rachelheldevans.com

After a weeks-long hospital stay, Rachel Held Evans had died.

Tears stung the corners of my eyes immediately and the words on the screen blurred. I held the tears at bay to preserve my camera-ready face. But my heart was splitting in two. For Rachel’s sweet babies, for her husband, for her family, for her friends, for her readers. We had all lost something precious. #PrayforRHE, the hashtag that had been trending on Twitter for weeks, told us she mattered. #BecauseofRHE, the hashtag that flooded social media at the news of her death, told us she wouldn’t be forgotten.

By the time I arrived at Bob’s office for our recording session, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I wasn’t only telling my story for my own healing but also for those who were sitting in their own ash heaps. My story might give someone else permission to ask questions and courage to begin rebuilding. Even in the middle of my own process, I have a voice.

image courtesy Anna LeBaron


I am telling my story for myself and for those who are sitting in similar ashes.

~*~
Meeting Rachel through Her Words

I knew who Rachel was before last summer, but I hadn’t yet read any of her books. Then Anna was hired to run her launch team for Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving Bible Again, and in a degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon way, I too worked on the launch behind the scenes. When Anna received her very early ARC of Inspired, I knew it was a book I wanted to read.

image courtesy Ticcoa Leister

When I picked the book up last May, I had no idea that I was headed into a deconstruction of faith and everything I believed. But I did know that Rachel saw the Bible as more than a rigid rule book that could not be questioned. My English major background had given me tools to dissect texts of all kinds–to question, to poke, to test, to re-imagine. But my evangelical, Southern Baptist Christian upbringing had clearly defined the Bible as off-limits when it came to investigating it from any angle other than what my churches taught.

Rachel gave me permission to explore the possibility that the Bible wasn’t meant to be so rigid.

Rachel gave me permission to be curious about the contents of the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to pick up my literary tools alongside the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to think critically rather than believe blindly about the Bible.

Rachel gave me permission to explore the Bible as a collection of different literary genres.

Rachel gave me permission to wrestle with the contradictions and discrepancies in the Bible.

~*~
Searching for Sunday

Several days before the news of Rachel’s hospitalization became public, I’d ordered a copy of Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. It arrived the day after her illness was revealed. Flipping it open the next day, the first words I read were the first sentence of Glennon Doyle’s foreword: 

 

Whenever I want to scare myself, I consider what would happen to the world if Rachel Held Evans stopped writing.

 

Nearly a year after reading Inspired, I found myself in a desolate season. Questioning everything I thought I knew about God and the Bible. Raising hell against the patriarchy and chains of the purity cultural movement. Closing my Bible and insisting that God find another way to speak to me. Yelling. Weeping. Cussing. Wrestling.

Now, I knew I was in the throes of deconstruction. It’s a lonely place, sitting in the rubble of your beliefs after they’ve burned to the ground. But when I found myself there in the ashes, I knew there were people who had been there. People who understood. People who had a wider vision of faith, God, and the Bible than I’d ever known. And those are the people I seek to learn from.

Jen Hatmaker.

Sarah Bessey.

Nadia Bolz-Weber.

Elizabeth Esther.

Pete Enns.

Jonathan Merritt.

Bob Hamp.

Rebecca Reynolds.

Alia Joy.

Anna LeBaron.

Rachel Held Evans.

(this is not an exhaustive list, by any means.)

Rachel wasn’t ashamed to ask hard questions and sit in the ashes without answers. Her bold and authentic personality blazed a trail for those of us who weren’t even sure if were allowed to have the slightest bit of doubt. She, and others, created space at a table much wider than the the one evangelicalism built. Rachel pulled out chairs for the people on the fringes. She smiled big and introduced us to the Jesus who welcomed the very people who the church condemns.

Rachel was brave. She gave us agency to get to know Jesus in the ashes.  
Rachel was true. She didn’t pretend to have all the answers.
Rachel was courageous. She stood up for her beliefs in the face of vehement backlash.
Rachel was a woman of valor. She fought a good fight and finished–too early–but well.

~*~
Christ Have Mercy…We Give Thanks

Yesterday, I was reading Searching for Sunday. In chapter ten, What Have We Done, Rachel begins by discussing ways the church at large has twisted its beliefs to harm and destroy human lives. Breaking between each paragraph, she offers a line of liturgical prayer:

“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.”

In the second half of the chapter, she honors a bunch of people who have stood for their beliefs in order to provide more freedom for others throughout history. This time, each paragraph is sandwiched  by a different liturgical line:

For [name] we give thanks.

The chapter ends with a quote from the Book of Common Prayer:

Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.”

The list of faith heroes includes Teresa of Avila, Anne Hutchinson, William Wilberforce, Rosa Parks, and Sojourner Truth. The section ends with this sentence:

“For all who did the right thing even when it was hard, we give thanks.”

The way Rachel wrote this chapter was beautiful and lyrical. When I came to the end of the we give thanks list, I sat for a moment with the complexity of feeling both inspired and grieved by the paradoxes in the chapter, compounded by the weight of Rachel’s death.

Then I picked up my pen and added my own tribute to the bottom of the list:

image courtesy Ticcoa Leister


For Rachel Held Evans, who made a way for raw questions and messy faith, even when it wasn’t popular to do so, we give thanks.

 

I Wish I Could be Hopeful About Dating

I wish I could be hopeful about dating.

About even the possibility that it could happen.

But the reality is that it feels very much like a pipe dream to me. 

Because the hard truth is that I am so very inexperienced when it comes to relationships.

I feel robbed of the opportunity to experience the carefree, exhilarating thrill of young love.

I feel weighed down by the baggage with which purity culture teachings saddled me.

I don’t have any past evidence that I am worthy of pursuit and emotional investment.

I am plagued by anxieties and fears and questions.

Am I enough for anyone?

Am I capable of being in a healthy relationship?

How the hell does a woman in her mid-30s with no prior dating experience meet an eligible partner who isn’t a creep without bar hopping and scoping church singles groups (both of which seem like an incredibly bad idea to me)?

(But for real.)

Is it worth dreaming and hoping for someone to share my life with? Or am I just increasing the sting of inevitable disappointment?

They [the church, both in general and my own specific congregations] built an altar to marriage and said it was good.

They taught me to be submissive—preparation to be a good wife.

They took my body and told me it was not mine, but my [near] future husband’s. I belonged to him and him alone.

They said if I kept my heart locked away, he would find me and unlock it with the key.

They told me I was a jewel, a treasure to be found.

They warned me that my appearance made men lust and I was responsible for his actions and reactions. They taught me to be passive, waiting for the fairy tale to begin.

And when I crossed an invisible line of no longer being a hopeful, young, virgin-in-waiting, they pushed me to the edges where I became a faulty, inexperienced, perpetual single.

They boxed me in, stole my femininity, made me small, and rendered me invisible.

Now, I realize that the fear-filled and shaming approach of purity culture produced shame, fear, and scarcity. [These are not the fruits of the Spirit.]

Now, I panic when someone mentions dating.

Now, I see the harm and the damage they caused.

Now, I weep for the innocence I lost.

Now, I fight to take back my power.

Now, I unlearn what I thought was the only way.

But is it too late?

It feels too late.

Today is the Day to Thank the Administrative Mary Poppins In Your Life

Do you have an administrative Mary Poppins in your life? Today is Administrative Professionals Day–the day to thank them for all they do.

Who is an administrative Mary Poppins?

An administrative Mary Poppins is someone who helps you run your business, someone who knows what’s going on and can answer your questions before you finish asking them. They can recite the history of your company and your credit card number. If they’re the best of the best, they’re also a vault that holds all your information in a fire-proof chamber of their brain.

An administrative Mary Poppins runs the world–or your world, at the very least–behind a computer screen, juggling calendars, sorting emails, and dozens of other tasks that keep everything in order.

An administrative Mary Poppins works mostly backstage to free up your mental bandwidth so you can focus on the front-of-house matters. They make you look your very best on the stage.

What your administrative Mary Poppins wants you to know:

Due to the nature of the job, your administrative Mary Poppins is likely introverted, intuitive, detail-oriented, a problem solver always looking for solutions–even to issues you don’t see yet, and focused, along with a host of other qualities.

Often, administrative assistants–especially those who work virtually–are overlooked. They easily slip into to the shadows while you’re in the spotlight.

But sometimes they need a spotlight, too.

Administration is a skill I’ve developed over the years. In college, I unofficially assumed the role of an administrative work-study for the English department until an official position became available in my senior year. I found grading tests and filing essays immeasurably enjoyable while sitting in the floor of my favorite professors’ offices.

I’ve been focusing on being an admin and virtual assistant for just over three years. My tasks during those three years have ranged from traditional administrative tasks to special projects, event planning, book tour management, book launch team management, social media, web design, graphic design, online course creation, copy writing, editing, ghostwriting, proofreading and more.

I’ve found that I’m more willing to work with clients who acknowledge the presence of their administrative Mary Poppins–whether that be an individual or a team of people. Some clients I’ve worked with prefer to take all the credit themselves, declaring their public image self-made when it’s actually took an army to help them get on stage. To me, that feels dismissive and unappreciative of the effort made by the backstage crew.

Others, like my main client, frequently pull their administrative Mary Poppins to the stage alongside them, to share the spotlight of the work they’ve done together. These clients recognize the efforts made by the backstage crew and celebrate them with their audience. That definitely makes me feel more invested in my backstage role.

Celebrate your administrative Mary Poppins

Your administrative Mary Poppins probably doesn’t need a showy display of appreciation; nonetheless, a token of your gratitude for them will go a long way toward boosting their enthusiasm for running the show.

Give them a shout out, a coffee shop gift card, a day off…whatever you think they’ll enjoy on Administrative Professionals Day.

The actual gift doesn’t really matter as much as letting your AMP know you see how valuable they are to your daily life and to your work.

They are a  supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

 

 

The One Where We Talk About Circumstantial Infertility

Circumstantial infertility is one of the areas I have found to be a direct cause of harm resulting from the teachings of purity culture.

Since I started deconstructing, I’ve realized that my process sometimes causes other people discomfort because it rattles their own beliefs. Circumstantial infertility is one of those taboo topics society sweeps under the rug, so let’s talk about it, shall we?

Purity Culture Fallout

The dogmatic doctrine of purity culture screwed me, even as one who followed the rules hook, line, and sinker.

I’ve discovered in the beginning stages of my deconstruction—as my beliefs and faith have imploded—there is an ever-growing mess of fallout to sift through, not just from growing up in purity culture but in evangelical Christianity itself. So here I am, picking through the rubble, one area at a time, allowing myself to process the full emotions of each new discovery.

Learning to suppress your emotions as a child poses a problem. Once faced with a loss large enough to uncork the flow of grief both past and present, the tap flows freely.  In turn, you awaken to pain you’ve been able to numb for decades as a matter of survival.

Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief is defined as ““grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

It must be held close because it is not understood or widely excepted.

I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half grieving the insurmountable and irreconcilable loss of my sister. Tapping into the messy emotions of that understandable, accepted grief has awakened other areas of raw pain and deep disappointment. One of the most painful areas I’ve found is the disenfranchised grief of circumstantial infertility.

Circumstantial Infertility

Circumstantial infertility  refers to the deep desire to have a baby but being hindered from getting pregnant and giving birth, not by biological infertility but by other circumstances.

For single, childless women suffering from circumstantial infertility, there are few resources to help us carry our pain. Once we reach a certain age, we find ourselves as a minority. Most of our friends are married-with-kids or divorced-with-kids or single-with-kids.

When we try to explain our longings and desires to have a family, some of those friends say they understand. Perhaps they struggled with medical—or even circumstantial—infertility at some point. They attempt to empathize, but that season is now behind them.

Yet, I’m left to reckon with the ever-deepening awareness that my biological clock is ticking like a time bomb.

Tick, tick, tick…


Unfulfilled Longing

I’ve been drawn to babies, young children, and all things pregnancy my entire life; mothering is carved into my DNA.

As a  child, I had a half-dozen dolls that I carted around everywhere. I nursed them, talked to them, diapered them, fed them, bathed them.  I could rattle off every one of their names to you today. First and middle. They were real to me, and I was very offended by anyone who suggested otherwise.

The first time I remember seeing a pregnant woman was at a grocery store. I was probably four or five, and when she came around the corner of the aisle, her protruding belly was at my eye-level. I remember staring with wide-eyed wonder at the mystery of the life within her, fascinated.

At eight, I wanted to be a “baby doctor or nurse” when I grew up.

At nine, my mom began babysitting a six-week-old. B was the first baby in whose care I played an active role. I quickly claimed her as my own special baby, which I earned by feeding, diapering, supervising, soothing, and entertaining.

At eleven, a new brother arrived, further cementing my love of babies.

At fifteen, another brother joined our family. I spent the night at the hospital after he was born because Mom was recovering from emergency surgery. When they came home, I slept with a baby monitor on my nightstand, so I could help care for him when he woke in the night.

And on goes my history of enchantment with babies and young children…

I’ve watched many friends and family members get pregnant and have children. And while I have genuinely celebrated with them, my heart has felt the void of my own dreams deferred.

Seven years ago, I received the privilege of aunt-hood from close family friends. They have willingly and enthusiastically shared their two girls, a gift to my soul.

Still, my arms ache for a child of my own.

Front Row Seats

Over the next few months, I’m going to have a seat close to the stage that is the wonder of developing life and the exhilaration of the newborn stage.

And while I, like the rest of the family, look forward to the new arrival with joy and anticipation, the emptiness I carry is sometimes too much to bear. So I avert my eyes, escape my seat, and grieve in the dark shadows of the theater.

Limited Options

This year, I turn 35.  This year automatically signals the decline of reproductive health and ushers the status of high-risk pregnancy. That sense of time running out coupled with the stark reality of perpetual singleness* strangles hope and shatters dreams.

My options are so limited, they’re practically nonexistent. (*Another area of purity culture fallout.)

It feels as if it’s a cruel joke to be imparted such a deep, intrinsic desire only to watch it rapidly dissipate with no hope of seeing it manifested. Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but I’m not even sure I know how—or even if it’s sane—to hope in this vein any longer.

Do I accept the hand I’ve been dealt or continue wishful thinking, knowing reality paints a much less hopeful picture?

Neither seems like a good option.

Wrestling Well Through a Hard Season {an (in)courage guest post}

“I have one question for you,” she said, leaning on the kitchen counter.

Dirty dishes in hand, I stopped loading the dishwasher and looked at my friend.

“Have you said goodbye?”

Her words were gentle yet pulsed with concern.

My eyes slid closed to hold the tears at bay; I bit my lip to quell its quiver.

My sister’s death was eighteen months behind me, but I was still slogging through the muck of grief.  I didn’t want to hear this question, much less ponder and act on it. Saying goodbye meant letting go and I was not ready to face the finality it would bring.

Three days later, my friend, Anna, and I attended a getaway with a few friends. Her question had not left me since she released it into the air.

I opened my journal in the quiet hours of the last morning of the trip and started writing. My pencil scratched furiously, unspoken words pouring forth from its tip. Tears dripped down my nose as the things left unsaid made their way from the shadows of my heart to the page bathed in light from the window.

I reached the end of the second page, signed my name, and let the journal fall to the floor. Turning to look at Anna, I said the words at the exact moment I realized what had just happened…

Join me at (in)courage to read the rest of the story.

 

 

 

 

When There’s Nothing Left To Do But Burn It All Down

Sometimes there’s nothing left to do but throw all your experiences, beliefs, and structures in a pile, light a match, burn it all down…and then go about the heavy lifting of sifting through the rubble and rebuilding.

During the last few years, I’ve learned so much about myself through a variety of self-help books, personality theories, personal growth tools, retreats, goal-setting exercises, belief vs. lie exploration, journaling, and conversations with trusted friends. I’ve realized how much childhood trauma and the beliefs we develop early in life affect us in adulthood. I’ve learned how the body remembers emotional pain. I’ve learned the importance and worthiness of loving myself just as I am…without judgement or shame.

I had lunch with a friend this week that turned into an afternoon-long discussion of how my perspectives have changed during this de/reconstruction. Let me tell you, the whole conversation was a balm to my soul. I allowed myself to be honest and open and gave myself permission to answer whatever questions she asked.

We were both nervous to broach the topic at first, because it’s just plain scary when your close friends start deconstructing their belief systems. If you’ve not deconstructed and reconstructed your own beliefs, you’re suddenly faced with a choice: distance yourself for fear that the actively deconstructing person is no longer someone you can relate to or enter open, respectful, and honest dialogue to learn from one another.

We chose the latter. I invited her to ask me anything she wanted—and she did. My answers flowed readily and freely; when I came to an issue I’m not yet clear on, I said so. When I knew I had a strong conviction and opinion about other issues, I said so. During our entire conversation, I neither apologized (or felt apologetic) for the views I expressed, nor did I feel compelled to convince her to agree with my viewpoint.

As a dyed-in-the-wool former evangelical and an Enneagram type 9, this was HUGE for me—especially since some of the things I said regarding gender roles, sexuality, purity culture, and the nature of God were things I never fathomed crossing my lips. Yet, as soon as they did, I felt more freedom to stop hiding behind the fear of what I’m supposed to believe and live as the person I was created to be, to have my own thoughts and opinions that were formed through careful thought and personal intuition rather than merely absorbing and adhering to the traditions handed down the family line and presented as the only possible worldview.

Layers upon layers of these beliefs entangle every aspect of my life because I was so entrenched in environments that sheltered me from any other perspective including attending conservative, evangelical churches in the bible belt; being home-schooled; employment at Christian institutions; attending a conservative, evangelical college; growing up in a dysfunctional home with emotional and verbal abuse; witnessing borderline physical abuse; both witnessing and experiencing religious/spiritual abuse; experiencing psychological abuse; the principles of purity culture; patriarchal hierarchy; and body-shaming.

It’s an absolute dumpster fire and I’ve come to the place where there’s nothing left to do than light a match and burn it all down so I can rebuild a healthier, stronger structure in its place.

God gave me a brain and the mental capacity to use it to think critically…and that is exactly what I’m doing. Looking at all sides, considering different perspectives, and following the path of my personal curiosity about the world.  I have an innate desire to learn; I’ve hungered for information and words and texts since I learned to read. I enjoy hearing other perspectives and sifting through them to find the pieces that resonate with me. Majoring in English taught me not only how to approach literature from a myriad of perspectives and theories—it taught me how to approach life and all its intrinsic complexities with many lenses.

I can’t speak for my friend, but I know that I walked away from our conversation with a deep peace, a better understanding of my deconstruction process, and the hope that it won’t cost me everyone I’ve ever associated with in conservative, evangelical circles.

Will there be disagreement?

Yes.

Will there be awkward moments of stumbling through new territory on the shifting sands of deconstruction?

Absolutely?

But I think it’s so, so worthwhile to wrestle out your faith and find the truth that resonates in your own soul. If we refuse to do the hard work of examining our own lives, we grow stagnant in beliefs that are no more than ill-fitting, old hand-me-downs from the past. So often, I’ve witnessed proclaiming Christians berate and belittle others who do not believe as they do, demanding they fit into a prescribed box and shunning them when they do not.

Is God not bigger than the containers we’ve built to hold him in a way that our finite capabilities can process and accept? If God is as powerful as we say we believe he is, is it possible that all the legalistic, fundamental chains we’ve bound ourselves in don’t exist in his plan for us?

So, although I am still very much in the process of deconstructing the beliefs that were thrust upon me from the very beginning of my life and reconstructing them into my personal beliefs that I can firmly stand on, I want to record some of the things I am actively adopting and/or working through. These may serve as an outline for future blog posts as I dive deeper in this process.

Here’s where I’ve currently landed:

I believe God exists.

I believe God created us in his/her image.  (On that note, I suspect God is more non-binary than we’ve realized. And yes, I know that’s going to be a very hot button for a lot of people. I’m not going to try to convince you…I just invite you to be curious enough to wonder whether he is all-encompassing enough that we could have missed the mark on this with our finite human capabilities.)

I (think I) believe Jesus was born to a virgin, crucified, and rose again.

I believe that salvation/relationship with God is more of a journey than a moment/recitation of the sinner’s prayer.

I believe the bible is more of a wisdom handbook than a black and white road map for all issues humans might/will face. It is a collection of texts written by many men, across thousands of years, to address a variety of cultures, people, places, and periods. It is more fluid than it is rigid.

I do not believe in the absolute hierarchy of the “umbrella of submission” whereby a wife is to submit, without question, to her husband. I believe humans fall under the submission of God once they profess their faith, but on equal footing as men and women rather than God–>man–>woman.

I believe “sin” has been mis-defined to some degree by the church and that God is concerned about it on a far more personal level than what we’ve taught. (Less checklist-y, for sure, and perhaps more cognitive-based than behavioral. Again, I’m not [yet] saying this is absolute, but worth considering.)

I believe that Jesus is love and believers are to live in that love, thereby exhibiting the nature of the trinity to others.

*deep breath*

When you’ve been raised not to question the authority of the church and those who stand at the pulpit, putting forth questions and unpopular beliefs like some of those above, it’s terrifying. You wonder where the debris will fall when you’ve blown up everything you were told and oppose what you are expected to cling to. You fear losing people because they just don’t understand where you are or how you got here.

I’ve spent my whole life making sure everyone else was okay. I’ve avoided conflict like it’s my job. I’ve sat down, shut up, and suppressed my emotions, thoughts, opinions, and voice since I was a child. I’ve listened to the voices—both internally and externally–that told me I was too much, not enough, irrational, rebellious, too sensitive, making things up, not saved enough, allowing satan to build strongholds in my life (yeah—as an eight-year-old…fun times). I was made to distrust my intuition, taught to equate mental health with spiritual health, robbed of my dreams, and promised that the ultimate end goal, the fatted calf of the church—marriage and a family–would be mine if I just followed all the rules.

I pasted on a smile.

I buried my heart.

I disconnected mind from body, from soul.

I made myself small. I disappeared.

Enough.

I’m waking up.

And I’m no longer apologizing for being me.

This is who I want to be.

 

 

———-

*Note: I am open to respectful, thoughtful discussion in the comments both here on my website and on social media; however, I reserve the right to remove any dismissive, cruel, and polarizing comments. I’m not interested in perpetuating unhelpful and hurtful religious agendas. *

I Saw Her

They said she was the enemy.

Her people vile by nationality.

Different, other.

Discarded as a whole.

Individual souls unseen.

Relegated to the shadows by the hierarchy on the platform.

So I adopted their ideologies and carried on the tradition of fear and ignorance.

Compliant, I assimilated.

I averted my eyes.

Ignored her existence out of fear.

No common thread of humanity bound us; religious differences separated us.

Different, other.

I pretended I did not see her.

Her dark hair cascaded down her back, the vibrant yellow of her dress contrasted.

She sat in the living room, an immigrant from a distant land.

An individual with a story to tell.

With the accent of her people on her tongue, she came across oceans to find her way.

Different, yet the same.

I listened.

Our eyes met as we examined and selected our produce.

Hers a deep, liquid brown.

Mine a deep, liquid brown.

Fear nowhere in sight.

No words spoken.

I paused, smiled, held her gaze for a brief moment.

Her face ringed by dusty rose,

She smiled.

An individual, different, yet the same.

She wore a hijab.

I saw.

Her.

 

Are You There, God? It’s Me…

Are you there, God?

It’s me, Ticcoa.

I’m barely confident you are…

For the first time in my life, I can clearly understand something that baffled my naïve, younger self: how Christians can leave the church and deny the faith of their youth. I am undeniably at a crossroads in my journey. I do not deny the existence of a higher power, yet I can’t reconcile the incongruencies of the tenets of my childhood faith with the realities of my adult experience.

Nothing makes sense anymore. Well, actually that’s not entirely true. The most sense I’ve been able to make of matters of the spiritual realm have been presented through the teachings of Bob Hamp. His perspectives of freedom and the correlation between the natural world and the supernatural world make more sense than anything I ever heard in the churches in which I grew up. Honestly, it’s probably what’s keeping me somewhat grounded in this messy phase of deconstruction—though it was Hamp’s books that piqued my curiosity and led to this process of deconstruction, reconstruction, and transformation.

Tearing down the walls of your belief system is not a neat and clean operation. No, it is painful and unsettling.

…but if you are still there, you’re going to have to let me know.

Everything I learned as a child and adolescent about the nature of God was framed in such a way that I internalized two fundamental beliefs from which almost every point of contention in my belief systems stems (if not every point of contention—I’m still examining this by way of flow charts and timelines because that’s the way my brain works):

1. You must check all the boxes of the denominational code to please God and be a “real Christian”    (i.e. church attendance, baptism, abstaining from all “sinful, fleshly desires” including but not limited to alcohol in any form, music other than traditional hymns or without a CCM endorsement, dancing, premarital sex, immodest dress [this applies to females only, apparently, as the most-cited offenses are low cut tops and short skirts] are just of few of the rules that may be communicated either covertly or overtly)

2. You are God’s child. He is your Father.
This one is great news for anyone who has a stable, secure, loving relationship with his/her father. I am not that girl. Never have been. For me, this tenet, though meant to comfort and encourage, tells me I am unlovable, unworthy, and unimportant. It tells me that I have to work harder to earn God’s love—or even gain his attention. Whereas other people know what it’s like to have their father’s eyes light up when they are present, I know what it’s like to be ignored and treated as an inconvenience for merely existing. Rather than crawling into my daddy’s lap, I walk on eggshells, tiptoeing past lest I draw attention to myself and make my presence known.

I have no idea what a good father is.

After picking up various translations of the bible over the past year or so and being so triggered by the fundamental evangelical biases my brain holds toward scriptures, I’ve concluded that, if God truly pursues me, he’s going to have to speak to me without me opening my bible.

Plant your truth in my heart so that it outgrows the institutionalized tenets of man-made religion. Make it simple, make it plain.