Why Christians Should Stop Quoting the Bible.

Many of you who know me know my background. I was raised in the conservative evangelical tradition of Christianity. Instead of girl scouts, I went to AWANA. AWANA, for those of you who are not familiar with it, stands for “Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed.” The focus was on Bible memorization. I don’t remember how many verses of the Bible I was supposed to have learned by the end of my 12ish years in the program, but it was in the hundreds, for sure. 

This was not a completely negative experience. I know a lot about the Bible because of my involvement in this program. I know a lot of verses that still spring to mind with little effort. And for the most part, I even know how to find those verses because we also learned the order of the books of the Bible. But there is a danger to such programs. When we focus on pulling verses out of context and memorizing them, we tend to develop a simplistic view of the Bible. We may began to think that the Bible has an easy answer to every question if we could just find the right verse. We are also in danger of thinking that because we can quote by memory different verses from most of the books of the Bible that we somehow “know” the Bible.

Being married to someone who has undeniably fallen in love with the Bible as holy sacred writings, means that I have begun to realize how little I actually know about the Bible. I do not know things like when a certain book was written, who it was written by, and why. I do not always know the context of the verse that pops into my head unaided. I do not know the history of why the book this verse appears in made it into the Bible. I do not know all the ways in which it has been interpreted and used throughout the history of the church.

Realizing how much I don’t know, I rarely use Bible verses as readily as I used to. But I see it all over, this habit of letting Bible verses speak for us. Evangelicals in particular quote a lot of Bible verses in their social media posts and online conversations.

As an ex-evangelical, these words, pulled out of a book that I do still love, hurt. And sometimes I can’t articulate why. But I want to try. Because this is a habit that needs to be broken. So, here are four reasons that Christians should stop quoting the Bible as responses to life issues.

  1. Quoting Bible verses is like speaking in a particular language that only those who share your specific spiritual identity will understand. For those who were not raised in your tradition and do not know the Bible at all, your words will probably just be confusing. And to those like me, who share the same spiritual mother tongue, but are now more multi-lingual in our faith, the words present a multi-layered complexity that is hard to unravel. When we see a verse, we not only see the verse itself, but we also wonder about the context of the verse, what the verse meant to me when I first learned it, what the verse means to me now, what the verse means to you, and why you would choose this particular verse. You cannot simplify it. These layers exist and in most cases are all very different from each other. When you throw in a healthy mix of questions concerning internalized messages from our past, we are left wondering how to respond. Do I let you continue to speak to me in a way that you think is helpful, while at the same time swallowing the hurt that I feel or the damage I see these words do to others? Or do I speak up and tell you “this verse does not mean what you think it means” and risk your outright rejection?
  2. Verses without context can be dangerous things. Each verse exists within a larger context. If you do not understand that context, you cannot understand the verse. You are saying words that sound good to you, but you might be actually using them to say the exact opposite of what the words were originally intended to mean. With the exception of possibly Proverbs, the Bible was not meant to be taken phrase by phrase. Each verse you quote is a sentence in either a story or a treatise. Sure, you can take great quotes from stories and treatises, people do it all the time. But if they do it without first understanding the whole, they are in great danger of misusing the author’s words. Even if you know the context, if your listener does not, the meaning and intention may be lost.
  3. When used in place of your own words, quoting the Bible can be an unhealthy way of deflecting or defusing a conversation. If I’m having a conversation with you, I would much rather hear your particular words, your voice, not someone else’s. I’d be content with you using a Bible verse if you also at the same time explain to me why you are using that verse and what it means to you. When all you do is quote a verse, with no context and no commentary, I am left guessing at what you actually mean to say. This is not just about your response not being clear, but also about your choosing to be silent. My guess is that sometimes something I said makes you uncomfortable and so you reply with a verse, because somehow that seems safer than actually telling me you disagree with me. No matter what your intent may be, avoidance is often what the hearer sees, and the result will be a distance in the relationship.
  4. Random verses often come across as empty words. For the hearer, the words may feel pointless. I know this might bother you. I know that you feel like it should be full of meaning, that somehow these words should speak the truth and fill the emptiness, while also teaching what is truly important. But in my experience is does not do that. It is too easy for me to assume that there is judgment on the other side of the words, that somehow you are trying to “correct” me, bring me back to the straight and narrow path. Here’s the thing. I don’t want to hear “For God so loved the world . . .” I want to hear, “I love the world and I love you.” If you believe that these words of God are just that, then you should not rest until you live and breathe them, until they become your words. Quoting them does not make that happen. Living them, translating them into your life and your actions and yes, even your words, is what gives them life. You cannot give me an empty shell waiting to be filled. Do the work yourself. Fill it and then give it. It is not enough for the world to hear about the love of God, we must see it. Live the word of God, be the love of God, share the kindness of Christ. And sometimes this means learning another language.

A Matter of Perspective

On the very first day of 2nd grade, I read the fable of the Little Red Hen to my youngest child. He followed along with the story as the hen planted the grains of wheat, reaped the grain, took it to the mill, and baked the bread, all while the other characters in the story refused to help. Well, except for the hen’s chicks who followed her everywhere she went, but weren’t much help. In fact, at one point, the hen is exasperated as she tries to bake the bread with the chicks underfoot, and she shoos them outside so she can work in peace. “Why is she being mean to her chicks,” asked D. In hindsight, this should have been my first clue that my son and I were in fact hearing two completely different versions of this story, but I defended the hen and read on.

We got to the end of the story, the twist, where the hen finally pulls the bread out of the oven and her chicks come running, as do the other animals, all hopeful to get a bite of the fresh baked bread, and the hen refuses to share with anyone other than her chicks.

“But why?” He asked. “That is mean not to share.” Immediately I jumped in to defend the hen’s actions by pointing out the unhelpful behavior of the other animals. I was actually quite surprised that the point of the story seemed to be completely missed by him. My husband had been standing on the outskirts of the room the entire time, waiting for a chance to speak. He stepped in at that point and said that D had a point. The hen could have shared. Should we always expect people to “earn” what we give?

I made a few feeble attempts to exonerate the hen’s behavior, but I also stopped and listened to this new point of view. I had never ever been presented with this idea when reading this fable and it took me by surprise. Kindness and sharing are after all traits that I value and want my son to naturally respond with. It was good for me to pause and consider this story in a different light.

The discussion ended there with my 7 year old, but continued between me and my husband, as we contemplated the origins of this story. In my husband’s mind it seemed very much like an American capitalism fable, espousing the “he who does not work shall not eat” mentality. A mentality that he and I both take issue with as it leaves little room for nuance and respect for others. Not everyone can contribute the same amount, and not everyone contributes in the same way. 

Mulling all of this over in my head, I went online to my curriculum discussion group and shared a bit of our conversation, mostly as an endorsement of the Socratic method, encouraging others out there to listen to their children and pause before speaking (something I struggled with in this instance, and realized my need for more practice). Imagine my surprise when over the course of this day and the next my post ended up with over 100 comments! It turns out that a lot of people have opinions, some very strong, about this particular fable. 

Not only does this appear to be a fairly common reaction of kids upon first hearing this story, there were also a lot of parents who shared my husband’s perspective. But others spoke up in defense of the little red hen, pointing to another, possibly more subtle aspect to this story. In their understanding of the fable, it was important to know when to set boundaries, so that people do not take advantage of us. To these people, the little red hen exemplifies these aspects in a way that protects herself and her family. There were even those who brought up the free and often unseen labor of women in many cultures, including our own, and the learned entitlement of those who benefit from said labor. This feminist reading of the story resonates quite strongly with me, and I realized that when I tell the story I am listening most to the hen, whose experiences seem so very much like my own. Her voice becomes mine. But D, he heard a different story. He identified most strongly with the chicks, and in the end even with the other animals who were denied a share in the bread. His experiences allowed him to identify with the shadows of the story that I was blind to.

This story stuck with me all day and into the next. I am encouraged to approach stories differently this year. I’ll be telling a lot of them as we homeschool, and I’m curious now to not only recognize my own perspective, but to listen to those who hear the same words as me, yet very likely an entirely different story.

*Photo is from many many years ago, when my oldest child got attached to a runaway chicken.

The Insistence of Spring.

IMG_4571Spring insists. No matter the turmoil in the world around us, everywhere I look I see it. Quietly, yet persistently pressing forth, until it bursts from every tree bud, emerges through warm soil, and paints its colors across our landscapes. 

Its whisper of hope seems incongruent with the current state of the world. It reminds me of the feeling you have when someone you care for dies. I remember sitting in a restaurant 14 years ago, eating breakfast, on the morning that my daughter Emma passed away. We needed food, and knew no better way to quickly and efficiently meet this need after leaving the hospital without her. But it felt so unreal sitting there in that restaurant, surrounded by people eating, and talking, and living. My world stood still, and yet, somehow all around me, life still moved on, refusing to be pushed off course by the death of one 7 month old baby girl.

As uncomfortable as it may feel, the fact that life encompasses so many competing truths, does in fact bring me hope. A global pandemic can exist alongside Spring. We can mourn death and illness and also celebrate the Easter resurrection. We can be physically isolated, yet be connected to others in love. We can act with caution and yet not be overwhelmed by fear. 

Let every flower, every new leaf, every moment the sun warms your skin remind you of your own capacity to hold joy and hope and love even in the midst of fear and pain and inconvenience.

IMG_4536

 

The Social Distancing Extrovert

Hi, friends. Writing is one of my go to stress and anxiety reducing processes, so I imagine for once I might actually hit my blog posting goals, what with a global pandemic and self-isolation producing all sorts of internal turmoil.

I’m an extrovert. And even though I have found that I’ve become slightly more introverted with age, that underlying need for external stimulation from other people’s energies is still very much there. And guess what? Kids don’t count. I’m not sure why. I think maybe it has something to do with their constant neediness. So no matter how much energy they are giving out, they seem to be draining just as much, if not more, from me. Which is probably why I have felt more introverted the longer I’ve been a parent. The need for a quiet house occasionally, or at least a quiet space to withdraw too, has become essential.

We’ve been in WV for less than a year, so we are still building relationships and finding our community here, which means that I really haven’t had a lot of external interaction in my weekly schedule. It’s something that I had been thinking I’d like to change, but since it was fairly routine to not have it, you’d think that social distancing wouldn’t have changed much in my life now that I am stuck at home. But it feels different, this not being able to to go out. And the little bit of social interaction that I did have each week is sorely missed. I guess I didn’t realize how much Sunday morning, for instance, meant to me. I miss that chance to smile and say hello and exchange a few words and shake a few hands. 

We are, of course, not completely without outside interaction. My husband, an Episcopal priest, has been working long hours setting up virtual services and other opportunities for people to connect. But it’s not the same. I get a bit of an energy upsurge after virtual meetups, but not nearly as much as in person interactions. I’m aching for human touch, not just physical touch, but eye contact, the mingling of emotions in a group, even the feeling you get when you walk down a crowded street. I never realized before how much I live within the energies of other people, how much I need to feel and see and hear people in order to thrive.

But, maybe it isn’t that I’m not getting any of that energy right now. Maybe what is really bothering me is that I am very much in tune with the energy of the people in my community, but that that energy is overwhelmingly negative. Are the tears in my eyes a response to the anxiety in the air around me, the ache in my heart the fear that everyone is sharing for those they love and care about, the hopelessness in my head an echo of the words that people whisper in the darkness after the children have gone to bed?

Wherever it is coming from, I feel overwhelmed by it right now. I’m realizing that if I don’t find a way to counteract it, I will be swallowed up. There is still hope to be found, if we dig deep enough. Love can counteract that same fear that it has given rise to. There is more than anxiety in the air if we pause long enough to listen to the totality of our world, all the voices, and not just the human ones. Perhaps now is a time when I need to dive down deep within myself to the core. The piece of me that makes me an extrovert is the same piece that gives me the ability to be present without being overwhelmed, to see joy in the tiniest speck of light, and to love optimistically with open hands and heart.

 

Fear, Compassion, and the Corona Virus.

IMG_4158In the midst of the upheaval these days–the unknowns, the closings, the call for social distancing–I have found myself recognizing a corresponding upheaval within myself. Almost all of us in this country have found our lives in some way affected by COVID-19 at this point, even if it is just the general noise surrounding the spread of the virus that finds its way into every moment of our days. I know that I am in the best spot possible to handle a life disrupted by a pandemic. Our basic needs are met and not under threat. I work from home already, so I don’t have to worry about needing childcare. None of us is at risk for serious complications should we catch the virus. I understand my privileged position and I recognize that all of this has and will affect others much more harshly.

But despite all the outer stability and my continued assurance that we are all going to be ok, I still felt a rising sense of uncertainty and fear and worry this last week. All week long, I was faced by the conversations surrounding this issue. All my news podcasts were tracking the spread, John and I had many conversations as he worked through his responsibility as a spiritual leader in this time, and my kids continually came home repeating whatever rumors were currently circulating in their schools. One of my four children usually brought home all the insistences that it’s really all going to be fine, another one had me check his temperature every hour because he was convinced that he had contracted the virus. His fears swung wildly between fear that he himself was going to die or that he was going to spread it to everyone else at school. 

In the middle of the week of holding all these things, of trying to manage and assure my children while also giving them truth (some of those school rumors were just plain ridiculous!), we had one really hard day. My worrier child began acting out in extreme ways, culminating in setting the toilet paper roll in the bathroom on fire. In my processing through his inexplicable actions, I realized it was his stress that was seeping out in unpredictable ways. Right on the heels of that realization was the accompanying realization of my own levels of high stress. Tears were below the surface that night as I went to bed, emotionally exhausted and anxious.

That was Wednesday. Thursday I had a previously scheduled EMDR session with my therapist, so I brought all my baggage to her and she helped me unpack it. I told her that it felt immature to admit that I was scared, and that I felt at war within myself over that fact. My head kept feeding me the assurances that things really were going to be ok, but deep inside something was still very scared. When we provided space for that fear to speak, I realized that it was connected to a previous version of myself. As a child, I was constantly worried about the spread of germs and washed my hands and arms repetitively. I was never worried that I myself would get sick, but rather that somehow I would get someone else sick. It was a compassionate impulse, but one that resulted in some very unhealthy obsessive behaviors.

That is very much a PAST version of myself. I spent years learning to not take those impulses quite as seriously, to relax, and to only wash my hand at appropriate intervals. I count it as a huge success that I no longer live my life constantly aware of everything my hands have touched and how long it has been since I washed them. But this week, as I was attempting to reassure my worrying child, I was telling him to wash his hands. Because, despite the fact that he is very like me in many ways, washing hands is not something he routinely does, EVER. So, I was attempting to point out the one thing he has control of that would have the greatest effect over his and everyone else’s health. At the same time I found myself washing my own hands much more frequently because I was recovering from a cold and was trying to be extra cautious. I didn’t realize how on a subconscious level all of these conversations and my own actions were poking that earlier version of myself. I realized how even though this part of me no longer controls my daily decisions, she still whispers to me occasionally, clouding my judgement with complicated emotions. I hear her every time one of my children tells me they are sick and can’t go to school, she’s the part that makes me feel guilty when I send them even though I have other voices of experience reminding me of the personal anxieties and common physical complaints of each child. I can be completely convinced of my child’s wellness and still feel a twinge of doubt because of this internal voice.

All that to say, this voice, though still often present, is not usually controlling. Continued experience continues to contribute to my present much more laid back common sense approach to life. But this week, that worried little girl in me was poked one too many times and past emotional baggage rose to the surface. My therapist encouraged me to cease my fighting, to instead, listen to the voice that wanted to speak and respond with compassion. I realize now that what that little girl needs is for me to figuratively wrap my arms around her and tell her it is ok to be scared, but that everything is going to be alright. I need to ask her to let the adult me take charge of the situation, to let go of the weight of responsibility that was threatening to overwhelm her. This is, of course, the same thing that I as a parent can do for and say to my worried son.

Our session wrapped up with her asking me to envision the possibility of a school closure, what that would look like for our family and to choose a positive cognition to approach the weeks ahead with. I chose “I am capable.” The day after my appointment all schools in WV were closed. I am thankful I had the chance to process and prepare internally for this event. I am capable. We will make it through, even though even in the best case scenario that I envisioned, it will be exhausting and we will probably make mistakes. But I have decided to proceed not only with caution, but with compassion.

Years ago, another therapist helped me see that what I thought were the worst parts of myself were shadows of my greatest strengths. My worries as a child were often centered around compassion for others. I hope I never lose that impulse towards love. 

Compassion allows me to hold in my heart all those who will be affected negatively by this pandemic, those who are at a greater risk of complications or death, those vulnerable to loss of income and/or access to regular food, those with insufficient healthcare, those who may find themselves caring for a sick family member, those who will be helping on the front lines. I can hold all that while also not internalizing it as crippling worry. Compassion can also hopefully help me find little ways that I as an individual can help counter the negative impact for others. Compassion will also counteract the fear that sometimes wants to drive my choices, helping me not give in to the panic. Yet at the same time, compassion allows me to treat with gentleness those who have lost the battle with fear and are driven by their own panic. I can have compassion for them because I recognize those same tendencies and urges within myself. Compassion allows me to reassure my family members, while also reminding them that the sacrifices we make right now are because we care for everyone around us, that our choices are motivated not just by a desire to protect them, but to protect everyone. Compassion allows me to forgive those leaders who may make mistakes in this time of unknown, knowing that new situations require our best efforts, but will often be filled with trial and error. And compassion also allows me to take care of myself, allowing space for all the emotions and confusion and fear, while also countering it with rest, wise consumption of media, stable routines, and grace for my own mistakes.

 

Mourning Winter

As I walked the short way to the bus stop to meet my boys’ afternoon bus, I breathed deeply of the cool refreshing air. It was cold, but not terribly so. The birdsong along the footpath sung to me of Spring, even though we are still technically in the dead of winter. As a breath of air hit me, I had a sudden flashback to my childhood. A day just like this popped into my head, cool and refreshing, with hints of Spring coming on the wind. Little piles of melting snow filled the yard, and the Stars of Bethlehem were just starting to push their way up through the muddy yard. It was March, and Spring was just around the corner, all the more beautiful because of the long weeks of cold winter. This day felt just like that day, except this day was one of the last days of January, not March.

I grew up in Arkansas, so winters were never terribly extreme or very long, but in my memory, they were colder and more solidly winterlike than they are now. I have distinct memories of struggling through knee deep snow drifts, sledding down frozen hills in the cow pasture, and waking up early to break through the ice in the stock tanks. I remember winters with broken water lines, large elaborate snow sculptures, and even a collapsed roof on the milk barn due to too much snow weighing it down.

I’ve never been a huge fan of cold, and I rejoice just as much as the next person on the random 70 degree days that are becoming more and more frequent in today’s winter. But, at the same time, I feel sad. Sad that a whole season seems to be slipping away all too quickly. I get insanely happy with every flake of snow I see, I like crunching through frozen puddles just as much as my kids, and I long for days of creative focus indoors while a snow storm rages outside. I’m mourning the loss of winter.

IMG_3865

I recently finished reading The Overstory by Richard Powers, a story focused on trees and their relationship to humans, centered, as you might suspect, on our destruction of both the magnificent beings that trees are and the environments they live in. As the story wound its way towards the end, the various human characters’ stories intertwining in a complicated dance, the crisis turned chaotic. Things seemed to be rushing towards a terrible end, and I worried about how this book would finish. I wanted it to end with hope rather than despair, yet at the same time, I didn’t want that hope to be shallow or false. I really wanted to hold on to this sense of impending doom, because I think our only chance of shifting anything in our downward spiral towards extinction is to accept that it is actually happening. I know that there are people who refuse to acknowledge climate change at all, but I feel as it gets harder and harder to deny, the vast majority of people find themselves in voluntary denial. They admit that climate change is a thing and a very big problem, but find it much easier to close their eyes and ignore it in order to get through their days. And I don’t blame them. I find myself there often, because the problem seems too big and I feel too small.

I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who wants to read this book (which I do recommend), but I will say that I did find a sense of hope, but it wasn’t an individual hope or an easy close your eyes and relax sort of hope. It was collective and complicated. And as I finished my walk to the bus stop with all of these themes settling into my consciousness, I felt a kinship to all the living things around me, not just humanity, but the world of trees, birds, and animals. We humans are a relatively late addition to this society of living things. I hope we have the time to learn from our brothers and sisters before our time is up.

 

Let Advent be Dark

Grief. It’s been nearly 14 years since Emma died, long enough that I have to mentally do the math every time anyone asks me. It doesn’t feel completely true to say I’m still grieving the loss of my daughter, but there are definitely still times of grief. Times of sadness, times of confusion, times of anxiety. A few years ago, I had one therapist talk to me for five minutes and tell me that I still had some grieving to do, which was an idea that I rejected in the moment because I was sure I had reached acceptance. I’m realizing now that she may have known more than I gave her credit for.

In my EMDR session last week, my therapist illustrated grief for me with this diagram:

IMG_3327

That little double-ended arrow next to acceptance is the most empowering part of this image for me. Grief is a journey. You can reach acceptance and still have times of slipping back into the cycle of anger, sadness and anxiety. And that’s considered normal. This was freeing for me to know, because my EMDR session was on Emma. And it was rough. 

There’s a piece of her story that I have never shared publicly, a part that still holds a lot of questions for me and is linked to some self-blaming and shame. Most of the time that piece is safely tucked away beneath my consciousness, but in times of turmoil, when I slip back into the grief cycle, I sometimes get stuck in the anxiety stage (Anxiety is the stage that has sometimes been labelled bargaining. I find that the word anxiety resonates with me more, and still gets across the idea of our tendency to ask “what if”). I get pulled right back to the part of the story that I’ve never been able to completely accept. It is one small moment of one day where I made a choice, the consequences of which I worry may have negatively affected my daughter’s health. It’s a memory that will never have complete answers for me because there is no way to know exactly how this one event affected things, so to accept this part of the story means to accept the unknown. And instead of accepting it, I continue to ask, “What if? What if I had done something different on that day? Would the story have still ended up the same way?” 

In my session on Monday, my therapist uttered the most powerful statement I’ve ever heard in relation to that one piece. She said, “The truth is that even though you’ll never have the answers to that question, there is most likely nothing you could have done that would have saved your daughter’s life.” As soon as she said it, something clicked. By focusing on the one moment where I failed her, I have avoided grieving the deep harsh truth that there is no way I could have saved my daughter’s life. I held no such power. In almost every other moment of her life I gave her everything I possibly could. And it wasn’t enough, and that really sucks. 

I find myself now, bumping around in that grief cycle once again. But it’s different now as I try to name and acknowledge the grief of powerlessness. Grief is such a tricky thing. It’s not just sadness, but the need to be sad. It’s not just circumstantial, but comes and goes from your core. Grief means looking at the world around you and seeing how dark it actually is. Grieving Emma’s death yet again isn’t just grieving one event or one life or one loss. It connects to all sorts of other losses, and speaks to me in echoes of a broken world.

When I returned to EMDR this week, I was hesitant to delve into this. Christmas is coming. I want to focus on happy things, gift giving, plans for the break, work that I want to get done before the kids are off school. I thought that this was a bad time for my grief. But my therapist encouraged me to be intentional this week at facing the grief and feeling it. I can’t magically skip ahead to the acceptance stage, I have to be in the dark for awhile. She told me that it won’t be easy, but to face it now, when my body and mind are telling me they are ready, will result in a quicker, smoother process overall. I left the appointment with greater intention to do what needs to be done this week, rather than avoid it. And, as I reflected on this, I realized that the darkness of Advent is the perfect time to process grief. In Advent we get the chance to acknowledge the brokenness of both ourselves and the world around us. This is the time to “sit in the shit,” as my therapist says, so that we remember what hope is for. After all, resilience and health are built by descending into the pit of despair, disappointment, heartbreak and hopelessness and then climbing back out over and over again.

If that doesn’t sound like Advent as you know it, perhaps it is time to reclaim it. Some find their hope in the declaration that Jesus is coming! Christmas, for these people, is a time to reaffirm their faith in the hope of an external Savior who came once to save us and will come yet again. For these people, Advent is basically waiting, waiting for someone else to do something.

I personally think a hope in an external Savior is misplaced. What if true salvation cannot come from outside our world, but only from within? If this is the way we view salvation, then Christmas is a celebration not of the coming of God, but the realization that he was here all along. Emmanuel–God with us! What if every single one of us, no matter who we are, has the potential to be both a giver and receiver of salvation? Our ability to do either of those things will be increased by our willingness to spend time in the darkness of Advent. Because if we are the ones who are called to do something about the brokenness, we need to know it intimately.

I encourage you this Advent to take time to name the brokenness in yourself and in the world around you. Let’s acknowledge the darkness of this world, so that when Christmas comes we will each light the candle that we hold, see once again the saviors that live among us, and work together to build the steps of hope to bring us out of the darkness and into the light.

 

Body and Soul

I lay on the table listening to my body as the fingers of my therapist moved gently over my back and legs, flipping switches, releasing energy and emotion that surged up towards my head. When I scheduled my first Bowen session, I could hear those skeptical voices in my own mind telling me that this was a desperate and useless attempt to treat my neck pain. But I did feel out of options and there was a deeper voice inside pointing out that all of what I’d read about this method completely aligned with my view of the world, of spirit, and of body.

In that first session the release of emotion within my body left me in uncontrollable tears and the therapist ended up wrapping her arms around me in a hug as I cried into her shoulder. It really doesn’t matter how or why it happened, but only that it happened. I was holding on to things that needed release and somehow that day they were released through tears in a healthy and safe environment.

None of the following sessions have been as intense, but I still feel both energy and emotion pulsing through my body as she does tiny adjustments down my spine, legs, arms, neck and finally my face. And this day as I lay feeling my own body, giving weight to its voice, I realized how much of my life has been spent doing the opposite.

My body has always spoken to me quite loudly. It’s why I always wanted to dance as a child, and why I was always super conscious of making sure I didn’t move my body in certain ways in public because certain types of dancing (particularly those that involve your hips) were considered inappropriate in the culture of my youth. Because I was always so conscious of my body’s place and movement in the spaces I inhabited I practiced rigid control over it when surrounded by others. But in the privacy of my own room, I let my body lead the way in my dance, and those hippy, suggestive dances were precisely the type of dances I wanted to do.

I knew why those dances were looked on with suspicion and I knew why they were considered inappropriate, but there was something within me that was captivated by my own body and the power it held. I don’t think that all of this had to do with sexuality, but because that was one of the energies that pulsed within me, I viewed this fascination with fear and shame. I think this was mostly because no one in my close circle of trusted individuals knew what to do with my body awareness. Without really meaning to, they taught me to fight my body, to feel shame over any attraction or confusing thoughts, and to link everything from suggestive dancing to masturbation to a part of myself that I thought was dirty and sinful. Sex was a beautiful and wonderful thing, I was told, but only in one specific context. I therefore learned that my body could not be trusted, and though I couldn’t silence the messages it was sending to me, they were often warped. I looked for the answers to life’s questions outside of myself, and tried to categorize those things within me depending on how they compared to the external messages I read in the culture around me. I labelled those that lined up as coming from the Spirit and those that didn’t as coming from my untrustworthy body (well, technically, I believed they came from Satan, who I viewed as the source of all sinful nature and impulses, which meant I gave no weight at all to my own body as a source).

I also grew up in a family that used spanking as a method of discipline, at least when we were very young. I never thought twice about this until I was a parent myself and had to wrestle firsthand with the implications for myself and my children of this disciplinary method. Now I look back and realize that this was one more way that I was taught to separate myself from my body, as if bodies could be subjected to pain without damaging the spirit or soul beneath. And as a parent, I realized that not only were my children the victims of my choice to inflict pain, but that the very act of inflicting that pain was also damaging my own soul.

In our Christian context we were taught that our bodies are the temple of the living God, and yet we were rarely taught to pay attention to the Spirit moving within us. Instead our bodies were seen as temporary shells, something that we would one day discard and therefore were not as important as “soul.” That the two could be separated so easily was never questioned.

But through all of it, I still loved my body. I danced in front of the mirror. I brushed my hair while admiring the glisten of it. I admired my own shape, and secretly loved any admiration I received from others. I was once called vain. I preferred to think of myself as self-confident. Whatever you name it, I am grateful for it now because I think it preserved a connection to my body that could have been lost. I was, of course, not immune to the messages of body idealism that we have all struggled with at one point or another. When my stomach was flabbier than I wanted or my hips and thighs wider, I wished they were different. After having kids, this of course, got harder because my body had changed. That thin, curvy in all the right places, body that I had in my teenage years had become soft in the wrong places, thick where I didn’t want it to be. I may not be fighting my body in the same way I did as a kid, but I do often find myself fighting the way it is now. Always wanting to be lighter, thinner, stronger. I struggle to find a way to work with my body to find my healthiest version of myself instead of seeing my body as the enemy.

But our bodies are not our enemies. On the contrary, no matter how much we mistreat our bodies, they continually work to support us. Our souls are not held in an empty shell, but rather entwined in an amazing living body that pulses with light and energy. Within my body I have found love, wisdom, intuition and creativity. And also scars. Our bodies hold the emotional and mental pain that we find too great to bear. All our traumas, large and small, scar our body as it willingly holds the pain for us so that we can survive. Yet we ignore it and push away the signs when it says it is now time to deal with this hurt that they’ve been holding for us. We get angry, wondering why our bodies are now failing us, when in fact our bodies hurt and ache specifically because they have been doing all along what they were made to do. We ignore those voices within that are asking now for our attention, and thereby continue to add to our own pain. I do not believe that our souls and bodies are as separate as we’d like to believe. What hurts one hurts the other.

Ironically, the one thing that has ended up treating my chronic neck pain most effectively has been dance. That thing my body was always telling me to do was the thing I needed most. And all that pent up emotion, fear, confusion and stored pain? I’m working on releasing that too through EMDR therapy, which includes a lot of body listening. The Spirit moves within me, just as it does within each human being. I try now to pay attention to it. I try to embrace all of myself. I dance the way I want to dance. I smile when I look at myself and see the beauty my body holds. I embrace that power I feel within myself instead of fighting it. I look with curiosity and acceptance on all the ways in which my body speaks to me, whether that energy be sexual, intuitive, creative, divine or just pure joyful. I am learning to see my body and soul as intertwined. Only in that understanding will I be truly whole.

bodyandsoul

To the Mom in the Dentist’s Waiting Room

To the mom in the dentist’s waiting room this morning. As you held your one month baby in your lap and your rambunctious toddler circled the room with ever increasing energy, I wonder if you felt invisible. Every person who passed, including me, commented on the adorableness of your baby. As you sat there answering yet again the repetitive question: “How old?”, did you wonder if anyone’s eyes saw you?

I saw you. I saw the tiredness in your face, and heard the frustration in your voice as the appointment dragged out for longer than expected. 

I saw you. I saw when you reached your emotional limit and tried to instinctively protect yourself by deferring the important decision that needed to be made about your son’s tooth to your husband, adamantly refusing to take part. I saw you, not because I judged you, but because in that moment I knew what you felt, because I have felt it too. 

I see you. Just one month from the labor and delivery of your child, learning to add another little one to a household that already requires so much from you, you must be exhausted. You must feel so close to your limit every single minute of every day. I see you.

I see the power you hold without always wanting to, the power of motherhood. Those dentists kept coming to run things by you even after you told them to talk to your husband because they sensed that power and respected it. I know you probably in that moment wanted someone, anyone, to see your pain, your cry for help, and to realize that you just wanted to give up, even though you knew you couldn’t. I see you. I see your pain. I heard your cry for help.

I didn’t give you any words to show you that I saw. I wasn’t sure if you would welcome me stepping into your world. And I didn’t know what to say anyway. But I wish that you knew. Knew that this morning I saw you and you made sense to me. I wish you knew that sitting in a doctor’s waiting room with your child feels so mundane, and yet I believe it is one of the most self-sacrificial ways in which you can love your child. As you sit there, watching the minutes of your precious life tick by, you are giving a part of yourself to your child’s wellbeing. It will often take mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical strength that many people will underestimate. You will make so many decisions every single day, whether in or out of a doctor’s office that affect your children’s health and wellness. Each of those decisions takes something from you. And it will often feel like that sacrifice is not visible or appreciated. And so, I hope you know that this morning, I saw it. And I valued it. And I honored it.

You are strong and resilient, even though you do not feel like it on this day. Every single day that you are a parent is a day in which you are growing ever stronger, ever more skilled, and ever more resilient. But every day is also a day that has the potential to drain you more than you ever imagined possible. You will be tested to your limits and then past them, day in and day out, and you will sometimes wonder if it is worth it. You are not just a mom, but I know that in these first years of parenthood, you will feel like you disappear behind your children. And so, I really wish I had told you today that I saw you.

 

Untitled Blog

IMG_3001

I pulled up my blog today to see if I could find a post I wrote about friendship. It surprised me to see that it was my most recent post because I wrote it almost 4 months ago. I knew I had been silent on the blog lately, but I hadn’t realized that it had been that long. I actually have been trying to write, but I often feel really stuck.

Sometimes my lack of ability to write comes from a realization that what I have to write is complicated and deep and extremely vulnerable. Being in a new community with people who do not truly know me yet has made me a little more hesitant to bare my soul. Either I try to write it out and it feels like a rambling mess of words that are perhaps coherent, but not cohesive, or I sit with my fingers on the keys waiting for words to come and not wanting to record the ones that do. I value vulnerability, I really do. But sometimes things feel too raw to say in public. It’s easier to be vulnerable about something in the past that has been resolved. It’s hard to be vulnerable in the middle of the darkness. It’s hard to share ambivalence. It’s hard to share questions that have no answers as of yet. It’s hard to paint a picture that I know will not be pretty and maybe doesn’t yet have any redeeming messages.

When I write, I want to make a point. Even when the words are dark and swirling, I like to end on a hopeful note. But, maybe right now I need to ramble. But also, maybe I don’t have to make all that rambling public either. Maybe I just need to find those few people who will listen to me ramble and sit with me in my confusion. Those people who will catch my tears, and tell me they love me no matter how complicated and messy I am. They can’t give me answers either. But is it answers that I need? I actually don’t know. It feels like there has to be answers at some point. That some of what I’m feeling has to eventually come together and make sense. But who knows? Maybe life is learning to be comfortable with the questions.

It is perhaps insanely insensitive of me to post this vague rambling blog publicly. I know you are now all wondering what’s going on. “Is she ok? Should we be worried?” you are probably asking yourself. You are welcome to reach out to me privately and I may or may not share more of this with you. If I don’t, please do not be offended, it is all very private stuff. And I am mostly doing ok. I am coping really well, actually. It is just that I have moments when my coping strategies fail or my hormonal balance swings to the extreme or I don’t get enough sleep. And in those moments I discover that what lies just below the surface right now is a lot of sadness and pain and confusion. I’m working in several different ways to sort it out and thankfully the lows are different than the anxiety I’ve dealt with in the past. I feel just a bit more in control of it than I used to. But it does sometimes come unexpectedly. This last week I had a sudden drop into a dark pit of despair, but I was spending a couple days with a friend at the time, and he caught me when I fell and comfortably sat beside me in the pit for awhile. Sharing tears with friends is incredibly healing and cleansing, and I am so thankful for that time. See, there I go again, trying to find something hopeful to end this on. That is, I guess part of what makes me who I am, so I will not fight it.

Writing is part of how I process and find my journey through the wilderness. But not all of what I write will be posted here, especially right now, so I anticipate that my posts may continue to be few and far between. And while I know I don’t need to apologize for that, I also somehow feel it is worth you knowing, because it is always good to be reminded that everyone, even those of us who are more publicly vulnerable than others, put up walls to hide behind. We are none of us completely transparent. Make safe spaces in your life for those you love, because you never know who might be in need of dismantling their walls right now.