The Power of a Teacher


It’s Teacher Appreciation Week.
In the midst of a pandemic.
Classrooms sit empty while teachers and students do their best to maintain virtual connections as the 2019-2020 school year comes to an end.

In honor of those students and teachers, I offer my words about the power of teachers and students in my life.

When I taught, this was my favorite time of the year. We celebrated progress, prepared for end-of-the-year festivities, and yes, looked forward to a summer break. My co-teacher, Christine, and I worked hard to build compassionate trust with our students, to create unity among all who entered our classroom–ourselves, our students, our therapists, our shadows/parapros, our students’ parents. Because our school was unique–a small, private, autism-inclusive model–our physical classroom was also unique. Most of our school’s classrooms and offices were housed in the educational wing of the church where we operated. Our classroom, however, was located in a little white house on the property. The atmosphere itself, though decorated in typical classroom fashion, was homey and familiar.

In October 2010, I began my brief teaching career as a student’s shadow in that classroom. I was already familiar with the student’s family and was excited to be in the classroom each day. The lead teacher, Christine, was out the first few days I was there, but when she returned, our rapport was immediate. We earned one another’s trust and shared similar educational philosophies. Before Christmas break, she began gently inquiring whether I was interested in being in the classroom full time, to which I answered,  “Yes, I would LOVE that!”

By the end of the school year, I’d been hired to replace the assistant teacher who had decided not to return the following year. I was ecstatic. For the next five years, I taught in the little white house on the hill. I also learned. From Christine, I learned to listen to our students–to their fears, their anxieties, their excitement, their abilities, their struggles. From the students, I learned to persevere, to be brave (I actually got quite a lecture about that from a certain 6-year-old the week before I flew to Texas for the first time), to look for the reasons behind behaviors.

I learned that my quiet presence was valuable. I didn’t need to be loud to be heard. I learned that patience, even in difficult circumstances, is rewarded.

Leaving that classroom, those students, that co-teacher was one of the most difficult choices I had to make when I realized Texas was beckoning me. I barely held it together those last few days of school in 2016 while editing pictures for the end-of-year slideshow. When Christine and I parted ways on the last day of school, just two weeks before I moved to Texas, I sobbed throughout my thirty-minute drive home.

The Little White House was one of my greatest teachers.

Teachers have always been important to me.

When I entered kindergarten in 1989, I immediately fell in love with my teacher, Mrs. G. I know that much. And when a new teacher appeared in her place on the third day of school, I was heartbroken and confused. It’s my first memory of loss. The picture of her face, her red skirt, her kind smile have been tucked away in my mind for 31 years, her unexplained disappearance an unsolved mystery to my younger self.

Her brief presence in my life made a lasting impact. That impression told me that my own presence in the classroom as a teacher mattered to my students. If three days carved a sense of belonging and loss so deep, an entire year or two (I taught in a blended-grade classroom and most of our students were with us for two years) with my students was a great privilege and responsibility. Would they remember me in 30 years the way I remembered my own teachers?

Last year, one of my former students moved to Texas. His mom texted and asked to meet for dinner because her son wanted to see me. I was thrilled to see him, this student who carved his way into my heart in the classroom. To know that he fondly remembered our time in the little white house as a kindergartener and first-grader.

My first grade teacher, Mrs. Moody was a gift to my heart not only during the year I spent in her classroom but also in the years after. She gave me a sense of security and was the first person outside my family to cultivate a sense of leadership in me. She trusted me and on the very rare occasions when she needed to redirect my behavior, I felt crushed by her disappointment.

The summer after first grade, I began writing letters to her, a practice that continued throughout my elementary school years. When her first daughter was born, my mom, sister, and I visited them. I remember sitting on her porch swing that day. Over the years, we gradually lost contact. Occasionally, as is the case in small towns, our paths crossed at the grocery store. The last time I remember seeing her was when I was in high school. Later, the elementary-aged kids at my church would tell me when they saw her at the store or school, and I would relay my well-wishes through them.

I should write her a letter, huh?

School was comforting to me. It provided  a safety net in which I could explore my love of learning, my propensity for words, in the company of my peers,  guided by teachers who cared deeply for their students.

When I was pulled out of school in third grade to be homeschooled, I felt a sense of loss though I didn’t realize it then. At the time, I was told (and overheard) explanations that this decision was the result of our persecution in the school system as Christians. As an adult, I realize that the reasons stemmed from religious superiority, conspiracy theories, and cult-like fundamental beliefs. And while that’s an important chunk of my schooling experience, it’s not a period I want to discuss now.

In college, I returned to the classroom, and fell in love with it all over again. The teachers who poured into my life were like water to my soul, especially the English department. I spent hours in White Hall, where their offices were located. Soaking up their wisdom, their encouragement, their tough love. Late afternoon conversations in the rocking chairs on the front porch were therapy for a heart that was desperately trying to figure out who she was and what she wanted.

Dr. Drummond
Dr. Sepko
Dr. Thompson
Dr. Collier

The Core Four.

They were the matriarchs I trusted to tell me the truth. They saw the good, the bad, the ugly, the celebratory. And when I dove deep into depression and regret, they were there to listen and grieve with me. I treasure them as friends even now.

These last few weeks, the teachers and students I know personally have been heavy on my mind and in my heart. The end-of-year celebrations they’re missing, the virtual graduations, the disconnection. I know it must be excruciatingly hard.

And it made me reminisce about all the teachers, students, and classrooms I’ve had in my life.

Which brings me back to kindergarten and those three days with Mrs. G.

I don’t know exactly why she made such an impression on me, but she did. I’ve felt it in my mind, body, and soul for three decades. The mystery of her has revisited me often enough that it makes me ponder why she mattered so much to five-year-old me. Thirty-five-year-old me is learning to pay attention to these things from my past. They reappear for a reason. The body remembers more than we give it credit for. Which is why, when I left my own classroom, I was adamant that my students and their parents be told I wasn’t returning the following year. I wanted my students to have closure rather than wandering where I disappeared to when they came back to school in August.

So last night, I found myself thinking of Mrs. G, her red skirt, her kind smile. With only a last name and a fuzzy memory to go on, I started searching Facebook. Eventually, I scrolled across a profile with the last name. Same school district. Approximate age range.

Could it be?

I took a deep breath. And messaged the stranger.

This morning, she responded. It was her. I couldn’t believe I’d found her all these years later.

Mrs. G.

No longer an unsolved mystery in the heart of my younger self.

Teachers, you are superheroes. You don’t need to wear capes to prove this. Your kind smiles and red skirts are enough to make long-lasting impressions in the heart of a child.

2019: The One Where I Rose From the Ashes

It’s been awhile since I’ve met you here, hasn’t it? Last time we chatted, I was sitting in a pile of rubble, sifting through a mountain of ashes.

I thought about skipping the year-in-review post in favor of leaping into 2020 fresh and anew. But as difficult as this year began, it has brightened tremendously in the last quarter, and I want to record the beauty of my rise from the ash pile in which I sat during the first half of the year.

Settle in: it’s been quite a year.

January – May

My word for 2019 was THRIVE. The first half of this year felt anything but thriving. It was desolate, empty, scary, disheartening, lonely, confusing.

While 2013 and 2014 were hard years in which I felt numb to the world, the tail end of 2018 through mid-June 2019 was brutal. Instead of being numb, I was hyper aware of the grief and pain of unfulfilled dreams, unprocessed trauma, and decades of negative self-talk as everything I thought I believed crashed and burned. I was angry, shell-shocked, sad.

In April, I attended Wonder, our annual #the4500 gathering. I went because my friends were going to be there, because it was in the gorgeous Texas Hill Country on the banks of the Guadalupe River, and because I still hold a ton of gratitude for #the4500 and how it was a catalyst for so much change in my life. But I was very resistant to any spiritual emphasis and sat through the teaching and worship sessions in a very angry and apathetic state. I wish I had felt the freedom to just skip those sessions without judgement, but I didn’t.

At one point in May, I wasn’t sure I would make it out of the wilderness in one piece. I felt as though every part of my mind, body, and soul had split and was floating, just out of grasp, in the air. I wasn’t sure I wanted to keep living in my skin. I felt trapped, isolated, forgotten. I hit rock bottom and it scared me. But a few friends–the ones I felt safe enough to reach out to–refused to let me become totally untethered. They rallied, surrounded me like the pack of elephant-sisters they are, and gave me a safe space to process my darkest, deepest wounds. I reached out to the only two people I trusted to hear everything that was swirling around in my brain without judgement and sobbed my way through our conversations. They triaged my heart, mind, body, and soul long enough to keep me afloat.

In the midst of all this, I realized just how damaging the years of berating myself with negative self-talk was. And even as I stared out the window with empty eyes from the dark of my bedroom, my mind replaying the phrase, “this is how it will always be,” I knew something had to change.

June

Things began to shift toward the end of June when a bunch of #the4500 gathered in Missouri to celebrate our friend Holly’s book launch. Just spending time with these women breathed fresh air into my lungs. They spoke life-giving words that were a balm to my soul. They reminded me how very far I’ve come in a relatively short amount of time. And the icing on the cake? Anna, Kris, and I stayed an extra day so we could take a little road trip to Hannibal with Holly and Bree to do all the touristy Mark Twain things.

Earlier in June, an interview I’d taped with Bob and Polly Hamp was released. Bob had invited me to sit down with them and discuss deconstruction. When his text with the invitation arrived in early May, I told him I had no answers about deconstruction and that I was still very much in the messy middle of it, but I was game. So we filmed the session on a Saturday morning…the same Saturday morning that I learned Rachel Held Evans had died. RHE was a trail-blazing voice for the outliers in Christian circles. She spoke up for the outcasts, for those who dared to doubt and question what they’d believed their whole lives. Her books and blogs and Twitter feed gave me hope that there was something better waiting for me on the other side of this ashy wasteland.

July

Over the Fourth of July, I flew to S.C. to visit my family and a few friends. I surprised my grandparents at their church’s BBQ and let them show me off to their friends. Then my mom, brothers, and I spent the weekend at the beach. I got to spend time with my nieces, have lunch with Becky, an afternoon with Doc S. and a coffee date/therapy session with Ashley.

I came home to Texas with a few days to introvert before spending two days at Rachel Hollis’ RISExDallas conference, which I’d given myself as an early birthday gift. While I’m not a total fangirl over RH, she has helped me reframe some of the beliefs I held about myself and motivated me to start thinking differently about my present and future. And honestly, though I didn’t know it in July, RISE was the best thing I did for myself this year. The energy and passion that Rachel and her team brought to that arena has pulsed through my veins since I walked out those doors on July 20th. (Also, Rachel gave me the gift of Lizzo, another one of the biggest saving graces of 2019.)

On Day Two, Rachel asked us to write down ten dreams in ten years. She asked, “what are ten things the best version of yourself will have accomplished ten years from now?” Ten big things that seem impossible, but live deep in your heart. Ten things you would regret not having achieved or at least tried to achieve.

For the first time ever, I wrote those ten things down without thinking about it. Those ten things rolled onto the paper almost faster than I could write. When I’ve participated in goal-setting with Anna, Madlin, and Celia the past four years, it’s always been hard. But because I’ve kept trying and participated year after year, it didn’t take long to wade through all the limiting beliefs that were standing in the way of reaching my goals and achieving my dreams. So when Rachel asked us to write down our ten goals, they flowed from my mind and from my heart like water from a tap.

The next day, Anna, Madlin, Celia, and I met for my birthday dinner and I shared some of my goals with them, the biggest, scariest one. They were supportive, and the relief I felt at sharing that goal was tremendous. There really is so much power in speaking things out loud.

On the 22nd, Anna and I packed the car and drove through the night to El Paso. I wrote this Facebook post that evening, ending with a vague nod to the new adventure that awaited me. That adventure was my first international trip. In May, I’d rushed to get my passport before I even officially decided I was going on this trip. Ultimately, I knew I’d regret it forever if I didn’t go.

On July 23rd, my 35th birthday, we crossed the border into Mexico. We were headed to Anna’s hometown. To say this was a huge milestone for me is an understatement. In some ways it felt like a full-circle adventure–visiting the place where Anna was born, the place that I’ve read about in her and Ruth’s books. It was sobering and enlightening, thrilling and endearing. And a little nerve-wracking, too.   

With the jumpstart RISE gave me, I engaged in deep, hard, heart work over the course of July and August. I examined the beliefs that have not served me well, zeroed in on envisioning the life I want to be living in ten years, practiced voicing my needs and opinions, set boundaries, paid attention to what my body was telling me, and kept kicking those negative voices out of my head when I caught them trying to sneak in. I’m still doing all of this, but it’s getting easier to try softer with myself each day.

 

August


Anna had several speaking engagements in August that kept us on the road a bit, including two in Corpus Christi. Since we were on the coast, we decided to stay a few extra days and relax. We bounced from Corpus to Padre Island, found an adorable little Harry-Potter-themed coffee shop, and lived our best lives on the beach for 8+ hours a day.

On our way home from the coast, we made a pit stop in San Antonio and toured The Alamo, a rite of passage that officially cemented my status as a Texas citizen. Then, when we neared the metroplex, we made a very spontaneous decision to see if another author whose book, Walking with Henry, Anna launched in March was up for an impromptu visit. Rachel Anne Ridge was an enthusiastic and wonderful host, and we got to meet her donkeys, Flash and Henry, too. (Meeting authors and their beloved rescue donkeys is super fun!)

I began my first book launch as a leader for a major publisher in August, as well. Thomas Nelson hired me to launch Jaci Velasquez’s memoir, When God Rescripts Your Life. Leading Jaci’s launch team was another full-circle event. Hers was the first concert I ever attended back in the late 90’s and my sister and I shot our own very-low-budget music video for her song, On My Knees, when we were in our early teens.

September and October
Labor Day weekend is when my mindset really began to shift. Holly, Bree, Kris, and Kelli gathered in DFW for our annual Rangers game, and a conversation I had with Kelli during the game gave me the clarity and courage to make a concrete decision toward pursuing one of my ten goals.

Mid-September brought the beginning of a second book launch for Thomas Nelson, this time for Tricia Goyer’s, The Grumble-Free Year. Her launch team was very engaged and super fun!

September and October were less hectic than July and August had been, but also brought a couple of big editing projects my way. (Those are my favorite!)

In October, Anna and I attended a taping at Life Today and met Ashley Abercrombie, whose book, Rise of the Truth Teller, Anna launched this fall.

November
November started out a little rocky as some of the old voices snuck into my head, trying to lure me back into old patterns. I was aware of them though, and made the effort to keep them from settling in and making themselves at home. That looked like using the tools I’d learned through studying the Enneagram throughout the year (another absolute lifesaver this year), talking through uncomfortable feelings when they arose instead of bottling them up and stuffing them down, and being very gentle with myself.

I was also preparing for this year’s goal-setting retreat. Unlike every other year, I was excited about the process. And because of the work I’d done to set my ten goals at RISE, I already had most of my 2020 goals mapped out, and I had a solid “why” to motivate me to accomplish those goals.

November also meant the release of another book Anna launched: The Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation by Wayne Jacobsen, Arnita Willis Taylor, and Robert L. Prater. If you’re familiar with The Shack, you might recognize one of those names. Jacobsen collaborated on writing The Shack and helped create the company that originally published the book. Anna and I attended a meet-and-greet with Jacobsen, Taylor, and Prater, which was fun. (Meeting authors is the best!)

I spent another Thanksgiving with my Texas fam, and made an absolutely divine pecan pie cheesecake as part of my contribution to the meal. Why have one when you can have both?!? I think I started a new tradition.

December
December began with seeing LIZZO in concert at the Jingle Ball with Anna and Kris. This was big because I don’t voluntarily attend concerts. It’s just not at thing introverted, highly sensitive types enjoy, generally speaking. This was only the third non-Christian concert I’ve attended in my life (following N*SYNC in 1998 and The Fray in 2009). BUT LIZZO. She has become my anthem. Lizzo’s brand of self-love and body positivity makes me love myself, so seeing her live was an immediate hell, yes. We had SO MUCH FUN.

Then came the goal-setting retreat. Five of us returned to the same AirBnB farmhouse we’d gathered at last year, and this year, I was the first person to arrive. Walking in the familiar house was comforting and being out in the country brought a deep sigh of relief to my soul. A pretty significant event that has helped heal my soul in grieving the loss of my sister happened on the last day of the 2018 retreat, and it was comforting to be back in that place again. I wrote about what happened at last year’s retreat for (in)courage.

I went into the retreat with my goals and why in mind. As a result, I had the emotional and mental bandwidth to be present with these women who have become my closest IRL support system. I had the freedom to voice my opinions, goals, and motivations. I was able to show up and be seen. One of the most fun perks of not being weighed down by the usual mental and emotional baggage was having an impromptu photo shoot and getting some really great pictures that capture the vibrancy of life that I’ve experienced these last six months.

I stayed in Texas for Christmas, too, which was lovely. After a nap with the princess baby of the family, I made Christmas dinner for the fam, then spent the rest of the day and night on the couch. And Mom conspired with Anna to get me my most-desired kitchen appliance: a red KitchenAid Stand Mixer, which was a total surprise.  (If you have one, I have two questions: 1. What extra accessories do you love? 2.What’s your favorite thing to use your mixer for? Recipes welcome!)

Now, it’s that weird time of year in which no one knows what day or time or year it is–which is especially true if you work from home and haven’t left the house in a week. (Has it really been that long?)

Two of my roomies and I are saw the new Little Women movie last night. I’d seen quite a range of opinions online, though I’ve tried to avoid spoilers. As is always the case when a new adaptation of a beloved classic is released, I went in prepared to be disappointed, yet hopeful that I would be pleased with the new version. I was pleased.  

Oh, and I also picked my word for 2020 a couple of weeks or so ago.

I’ll tell you about that in a few of days.

2020 is going to be an exciting year, y’all. I can feel it in my soul. Because I’ve come back into a more glorious light than I’ve experienced in my life. I’ve come home to myself, the me who has been buried deep for a long, long time. This version of me has dreams to pursue, goals to crush, hope to lean on, motivation to move forward, and choices she never dreamed would’ve been an option.

She is THRIVING. I love watching her grow. I’m so glad I got to meet her this year, and I am incredibly proud of her.

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.

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.

 

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.

The Risk of Becoming Real and Why It Is a Worthwhile Process

There is a certain risk involved in deconstructing one’s faith to rebuild it in a new and stronger way. You risk being misunderstood, accused of heresy, and otherwise shunned. You risk hurting the feelings of those closely associated to your own story. Committing to a deep-dive expedition of sorting through the roots of your belief system guarantees discomfort and some degree of conflict. As the beloved, classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit, reflects, becoming real is risky, harrowing, and often lonely, yet enormously rewarding:

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”



 

Growing up in a relatively unstable and dysfunctional home required me to learn some unhealthy coping and survival skills. Sure, things looked okay on the outside because we learned to mask the uglier facets, but we were not a happy family. There were moments, of course, especially in my younger years when we managed to complete a family activity in relative peace. Yet, for as long as I can remember, there was an underlying current of tension, an expectation that the lid would blow at any moment without warning—and it grew increasingly heavier as the years passed. It wasn’t until my teenage years, when my sister and I referred to our father as “the man who lives in our house” (because he was physically present, but emotionally distant) that I began to realize  this wasn’t normal.

Looking back, I can see how many of my behaviors and thought patterns developed as coping mechanisms and self-preservation tactics.  Only recently have I learned that some of the things I experienced actually fall under the umbrella of trauma—including psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse.

I know those are weighty admissions.

Believe me when I say I’m aware of their implications. But I’m tired of minimizing my experience to make others look better; I’m tired of remaining silent to keep the peace. It wasn’t my responsibility to do so as a child…but I did. As I work on healing and re-parenting my younger self, the best gift I can give her is to let her have her voice back.

In the past ten months, I’ve begun to realize just how much growing up not only in evangelical Christianity itself, but also during the height of the evangelical purity culture movement has informed my views of myself, the world, and the nature of God. While seeking growth and a deeper understanding of who I am, I hold a tangled ball of readily-accepted lies, wounds, and assumptions that formed from early childhood forward.

Not everything I learned was bad—and I believe most (emphasis on most) people who were responsible for teaching and guiding me did not have motives to harm. Many of them were merely passing on the tradition of the faith culture they themselves were fed. The problem, though, is that going against the grain or questioning the authority of those in leadership roles is highly discouraged and, therefore, taboo.

Well, I’m questioning.

And it isn’t a tidy little Q&A panel with answers handed out in neatly packaged boxes. No, this feels like a throw-everything-you-know-in-a-dumpster-douse-with-gasoline-light-a-match-and-toss-it-in season. You know how people describe working through issues as peeling the layers of an onion? This feels more like hacking the onion to death and hoping for the best.

Even in nature, death precedes growth—seeds must die before trees grow; seasons must rotate through fall and winter before the bounty of spring and summer.  Pearls begin as an irritant inside an oyster’s shell. The process of change and discomfort is necessary for transformation and beauty to be birthed. It’s a healthy, natural process to wrestle through the beliefs, patterns, and circumstances that have irritated the human soul to find the core of one’s true identity without merely accepting Sunday School answers at face value.

I hope that my readers—both those who have known me my whole life and those who have known me only briefly in person/this virtual space can respect and honor my perspectives. We certainly don’t have to agree in order to honor one another’s stories. You don’t get to sit in the cheap seats and tell me I’m doing it wrong “if you aren’t in the arena getting your [butt] kicked” too, as Brené Brown says. Because I process so much of my inner life through writing and because a lot (though not all) of that happens on this platform, I need to make this clear: I’m not seeking to cast blame on any particular individuals but rather to share MY experiences from MY perspective as well as the culminating effects of those things. I’ve spent too much of my life suppressing my own emotions, thoughts, and beliefs because I worried about what everyone else would think.

Brené also says, “You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”

I’ve stood outside my story all my life.

Now, I’m stepping inside and owning it.

Some Days Are Like This

Residual melancholy.

An inexplicable ache in your gut.

Unanswered questions, unattended emails.

Too little sleep.

Too much procrastination.

Not enough energy.

More than enough doubt.

Endless tasks.

Unhelpful voices to silence.

Some days are like this. 

Anticipation of what’s on the horizon.

Words to write.

Ideas to flesh out.

Manuscripts to edit.

A blank slate of a new year to dream upon.

A tribe to cheer you on.

Some days are like this.

Sometimes even simultaneously.

Little by Little: A Winter Solstice Reflection

Maybe it’s been a long year.

Perhaps you’ve slogged through, begging for relief.

The days have passed slowly in the minute-by-minute until you suddenly blink and wonder where they’ve gone.

The dark nights have lingered endlessly.

You’re surviving, clinging to the last shred of hope that it won’t always be this way.

Today marks the Winter Solstice.

The shortest day.

The darkest day.

The day that gives way to a little more light each day.

The first day of Winter.

I’m reminded of the C.S. Lewis quote in The Chronicles of Narnia when Mr. Tumnus explains the effects of the White Witch’s icy reign:

“Always winter and never Christmas.

And I wonder if, in the days before the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary experienced a season of winter in their hearts, minds, and spirits.

As they trekked from Nazareth to Bethlehem, were they not only physically tired, but also mentally, emotionally, spiritually weary from the journey they’d been on since the angel came to Mary with news of the impending birth?

Could they see the light at the end of the tunnel clearly or was their vision clouded with uncertainty?

Did they know Christmas—the true essence of Christmas—the Light of the World in the form of a baby—was just ahead?

Perhaps in the the cold grip of unsettling circumstances, you are wandering through the night, waiting, wondering, hoping for relief from the burden tucked inside you.

Little by little, dawn is breaking.

Christmas is coming.

The Light is on its way.

On the Road Again: The Summer of Endless Miles, Days 7&8

Days 4-6 offered a few days back in Dallas. One of us spent that time introverting while the other flitted about for interviews and meet ups. I’ll let you guess who did which.

On Day 7, we packed up the truck and hit the road. In Anna’s words, we were “off again like a herd of turtles in a cloud of peanut butter.”

Houston, TX was the next stop on the tour. Evelyn A. had planned a meet and greet for that evening—and we had six boxes of books awaiting us. About halfway to Houston, Anna had an epiphany that we were wasting valuable advertising space. We Googled the nearest Walmart and whipped off the highway via the designated exit. I ran into the tiniest Walmart I’ve ever seen and located the desired item: white shoe polish. (I also grabbed a package of socks since I’d not been able to locate any of my own while I was packing for the long haul.)

Purchases in hand, I headed back to the truck. Anna met me at the rear and emblazoned a message across the back window:

Free advertising secured, we jumped back in the car and resumed our journey.

That evening, Evelyn hosted a lovely party. Along with Evelyn’s friend’s, we were joined by some of the girls from #the4500 for an evening of book discussion and enjoying one another’s company.

The next morning, we crammed the boxes of books in the truck and went on our way. Our next stop was a youth conference in Houston on our way to Liberty, TX. In Liberty, Anna spoke at a women’s event hosted by her literary agent, Jessie’s, church. This event was exciting because it marked the first time Anna and Jessie met in real life. They’d spent more than a year trading emails and phone calls as Anna wrote her book proposal and, eventually, her book.

Seeing them meet each other was such a sweet moment!

We stayed at Jessie’s parents house that evening and had a truly delightful time. As we told Jessie about our unconventional plan for the book tour, I pulled the wall map of our route out of my notebook (which was affectionally dubbed the book tour bible), her eyes widened in awe.

I mean, it was an impressive sight to behold, if I do say so myself.

We stayed up late talking about our plans and the journey Anna had taken to reach the point of having a published book. She had come so far, yet we had only just begun our journey. Little did we know, the very next day would hold an unexpected surprise or two.

To be continued….