Openness and Healing

Two Januaries ago, I started taking notes on what books I was reading.

This started because when I was in Antarctica (November/December 2014) and we finished our day’s work [read: quit before our arms fell off so we could still dig the next day], we had a stretch of down-time, and I had some novels in my Kindle app that I’d never gotten around to.

I don’t remember how many novels I read while I was on ice, but what I do remember was my shock at how quickly I could read an ebook. We’re talking an afternoon into an evening. Sometimes staying up late (24-hour light tends to promote such bad habits).

I had been struggling a long time with guilt over not reading enough as a writer, and now, it seemed, reading novels wasn’t so far out of my reach.

I do sometimes entertain the thought that reading is for writers as “good works” are for compassionate-minded people, and practice is for musicians of any kind. However little or much we do we always question whether it is enough.

The beginning of that next year (January or February 2015) was the last of a long stretch of frequent Jay-gone. That last few weeks was really hard, and every hour I wasn’t homeschooling the kids, managing food or the house we’d moved into six months before, I curled up with a novel.

When Jay returned he wasn’t going to leave again for almost a year. (I don’t remember the last time he was home this long of a stretch. Probably before we had kids.) He knew I’d been reading as a coping mechanism, so it was a bit disorienting for him when the reading continued after his return.

It was decadent, inspiring (you can find lots of stories with healthy relationships and characters to admire), and surprisingly soothing. I still can’t tell you whether it was the stories that made me feel so much peace and delight, or the experiential reality of laughing into tears while the house and family carried on for hours upon hours without me. Continue reading »

Convergence (continued.)

It is still my biggest challenge  in storytelling that I cannot select the *perfect* words for a given tale and be done with my work on it. The work is the continual internalization of the story (ostensibly in images– which I’ve learned is not my first language) in such a way that I will feel confident to convey the heart of the story, whether or not I use my most-favorite words.

Of course, between my love for precision, and my gift (I have to call it that, I didn’t earn it) of memorization, I find myself with the impulse to “cram” before every presentation, latching on to my favorite phrases like handfuls of candy, hoping the corner of a wrapper will be enough to hold on to this precious sweetness until I can share it with someone who’s never tasted it before.

From then on, with each day that passed, as the black serpents grew stronger, nourished by their ghastly food, Zohak grew ever more hardened, becoming more cruel and ambitious.

“I have seen the world, Rabbi, and I know that God cannot be here.”

“What would God have to do,” asked the rabbi, “to prove Himself to you, young Chiam who has seen so much of the world?”

“He would have to make a wonder, Rabbi. God would have to make a wonder.”

For all her joy and relief she was near tears.

Every time I tell a story, it is a surrender to imperfection. Not because I’m sloppy or don’t care enough, but because every live performance contains variables, and aside from memorizing the entire piece I can’t guarantee how exactly it will go.

Surrender to imperfection.

Accepting my limits, and believing that the story itself is more important than flawless delivery, as if it could be spoken as poetry.

It reminds me of a G.K. Chesterton quote, “If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.”

I latched on to that saying in the beginning of my fight against crippling perfectionism.

Now I’m just a perfectionist. Or maybe I have perfectionism, like most people get the common cold. It can be an irritation, a distraction from the simple experience and enjoyment of life. It reminds me that failure is all around me, like dog poop, just waiting to be stepped in if I don’t pay close attention to every. single. step.

The difference between this and crippling perfectionism is that I’m no longer afraid of scraping dog poo off my shoe. It’s disappointing, frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing, but it’s not the end of the world. Or even the walk.

That said, I’m not bad at storytelling. A number of people tell me I’m quite good. And everyone should know that the vast majority of stories don’t take themselves so seriously that they are massively improved upon memorization. I think my impulse to memorization is tied to my drive for perfection. There’s a competitive element in my nature that wants to get everything “correct” and that element is tangled with an instinct that sees being right as a sort of armor.

Precision as armor is definitely a hold-over attitude from my journalism mind. When I’m writing about something that could make people uncomfortable (especially if they might feel the need to pass that discomfort on to me), getting all my facts/quotes/statistics accurate is the best way I know to shield myself.

Uncertainty feels like liability.

Uncertainty = liability is a crippling mindset to bring into either noveling or storytelling.

In noveling, this shows up as the critical editor, mocking or damning material before it is evaluation-time, squelching the baby bird of a rough draft rather than letting it hatch, breaking itself free with the muscles that must be developed by the fight of its escape. The critical editor’s voice might purport to try and help open the egg, but most often it is too clumsy and can crush the shell while it challenges the blind and featherless life inside to prove its right to exist.

In storytelling, this crippling mindset demands a perfection in practice that is not possible before practice. One of the great paradoxes of learning a story is you always have to start before you’re ready. Ultimately, to make a story mine, I have to step away from carving filigree, from expecting the tools of noveling (falling in love with whole paragraphs of beautiful prose), and start making my story selections based on their content, rather than the poetry in the pen of the collector.

In storytelling, as with noveling and my non-fiction work, the key seems to be know and choosing what’s important to me. Once that core is in place I have the motivation that leads to the attention-span that results in quality work.

I’m still figuring out which tools are best for which area, but recognizing a) different forms thrive in difference circumstances, and b) it makes sense that my __________ muscles will get fatigued through prolonged use, I’m learning to trust my instincts. Which, considering I’ve only acknowledged them for the last five years or so, is an encouraging point of growth.

The Convergence of Expertise

It started out badly enough: a journalism background muddying the waters of my novel-creating.

My scrupulosity — the need to cite/confirm/reality-check everything — was getting in the way of just creating a high-stakes story.

I eventually separated that (in my head) by pretending I was one of those high-output authors who just roll with the story and write it as it comes, waiting till the story is done (and someone complains that it doesn’t work) before seriously considering that something is weird or unrealistic.

Last I checked, a lot of the reason people read is the alternative from reality. (As long as it supports their core view of reality — but that’s another conversation.)

Then, just a couple weeks ago, I shifted from a word-glut of novel-production (that is NaNoWriMo) to prepare for a sudden opportunity to bring storytelling into a local middle school.

And discovered another level of complexity.

It makes me think of the red Snap-On toolbox my dad used for his work as a mechanic in the first half of my growing-up years.

The thing was taller than me (with drawers that slid beautifully smooth, and a satisfying solidity that let one bang the drawer shut  for clangs upon clunks as the tools collided at closing), and no matter how full it got, it never ceased to amaze me that a) more might fit or b) more were needed at all.

Eventually I learned about metric vs. empirical measurements, and the need (essentially) to double ones tool stash in order to best interact with different systems.

Add a third measurement system (tonakle?) and you start to see the convergence of journalism, noveling and storytelling.

All require similar skills, and understandings of a fairly consistent process or structure: Problems – real, natural, or created – are encountered, and decisions must be made and/or consequences ensue. That is the core of everything I deal in.

But journalism (what I began with my formal, college degree) uses what I would call the empirical system. It is (sometimes) less elegant, but definitely complete and logical. And (having the advantage of being brought up in the system), it feels as natural as any externally prescribed system to label the world I’m interacting with.

Words themselves are a system of labels, and God knows I’m comfortable with those.

Noveling, as I encounter and interact with it, is more like the metric system. Decidedly more elegant than raw journalism, “literature in a hurry,” noveling gets to make sense (in fact, most readers demand it).

Mark Twain is attributed with this gem: “Of course life is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”

Sense and symmetry in journalism is like the beauty in nature as distinguished from the beauty in human-created art; it most-emphatically exists, but we don’t generally get to choose when.

That said, just like a good photographer can bring meaning and (through that) beauty with the angle of a lens, in the way s/he chooses to frame an image of reality, just so a journalist can seek or distill beauty from a hard place.

Noveling has the freedom to be deliberately beautiful, a freedom that can become a beloved obligation.

I’ve made peace with that. I’m wresting into cooperation my two major art forms of the last 13 years.

And then, Storytelling.

Orally. Out loud, in front of an audience: attentive or indifferent, it doesn’t matter.

Let me rephrase that: It most-definitely makes a difference how engaged the audience is, but my job doesn’t change. If I was more of an expert, I might feel more of an obligation to make sure the audience was connected, no matter what.

At my current level of skill, my focus must still be on the story as much as the audience, and if this particular story doesn’t connect with an individual, all I ask from that listener is a quiet patience till the end where you’ll soon get the chance to try an alternative on for size.

Storytelling is another animal altogether.

It has the requirements of the novel:

  • It must entertain, or why will anyone listen?
  • It has elegance and symmetry, because those are ingredients of beauty as well as aids to memory

But it also reminds me of journalism, because the stories tend to be short and spare– a description that invokes a reaction, not necessarily because of the exact words chosen (since the piece is seldom memorized) but primarily because of the content itself.

When I talk about massive snakes growing out of a man’s shoulders (something, in all my years of folklore I’d never seen before this story), people react. And why wouldn’t they? The original teller told it to get a reaction, and so do I.

That is the work of every journalist, every novelist and every storyteller. To grab the imagination of that consumer of our words.

Ah, but the means.

Knowing the difference between the systems has become so important. This is where the tools can start to slip, or have to be held so carefully in order not to strip the useful edges and angles from what we’re working on.

Hardest Writing I’ve Done in a While

I currently have the first regular writing schedule since I began ~10 years ago. The first three hours my kids are gone, I sit down and work on Lindorm Queen.

It helps by having a straight focus (makes it easier to ignore non-novel distractions when I know I’ve just got these three hours — but I do have them, and that creates something of a positive motivation loop…) But that’s not the hard part.

The hard part is looking at a story that seems as though it was written by another person (I started it so long ago), knowing it was me that put all that together, and then remembering to treat me as gently as I’d treat any other fresh novelist who has a lovely story with lots of weak parts.

Sometimes it’s easier to be nicer to other people.

Yesterday I clocked myself (a trick I started NaNo ’13 when I could only write in little chunks) and for raw output I maintained a steady 1100/hour, which satisfies me. Today I went to work, and hit with a familiar problem, I rewound and looked at basics, and saw (perhaps again) the behemoth I’m taking on in changing the story’s main character.

The good news: story’s getting way stronger.

Bad news, that just highlights how weak it was.

You see, the story itself isn’t weak so much as the characters.

Celia and Torbilan, while unique and interesting in LK, were never (in my mind) built all the way up to major-character status. They existed as foils– contrast, backdrop, opportunities to highlight– the main couple of Asmund and Linnea. C & T were (on-purpose) relatively passive in order to give the other characters more opportunities to be active (a technique I don’t think I’ll repeat, but it got that first story told).

Now I have to find a way to work up the goals and motivations of these two very. quiet. individuals so they have enough energy and drive to be the impetus of their own story.

I spent a lot of my work time today on, working through articles and examples such as Obfuscating Stupidity, The Coward, Guile Hero, Master of Disguise, and so on. Torbilan has such a deep hope and idealism in the face of everything that he frequently can look foolish or a little stupid (when he’s not), and that might have to go by the wayside, but I’m hoping that this aspect of his will play well with Celia’s super-practical survivor-cynicism.

My play with opposites is less about “opposites attract” than “filling the gaps.” The similarities have to be there for the initial pairing or the gaps won’t get filled anyway.

What shifting the main characters has also done is made the B-line of the story (a kidnapping) more significant. In the original, it was just a tool to get the men off being heroes so the folks back home were stuck solving the Big Story Problem, but since the B-plot is now about LK‘s main character (not a spoiler– it’ll be part of the book blurb), I have more history and an established character to play with, so the options have expanded.

It’s been a long time since I had to dig down and build characters from the skeleton out, but it’s a tiny bit exhilarating, too.

And it’s a reminder that research is part of the writing, even when I don’t know exactly where it will all be used.

Lindorm Queen in Process

I chose to self-publish Lindorm Kingdom, because it had been sitting too long for me to do something else first. It was a matter of something like fairness, and also insecurity.

The story represented not just the amount of time I’d been working on it, but also the themes that had been weighing most-heavily on my mind during this latest bout of self-formation (and reformation): justice, strength, using opportunity, and one’s voice.

One writing friend voiced dissent among the other people who have known the story as long as its been in process. She hated the idea of my spending more time on Lindorm, she said, because it was such an early work, and that after reading my current stuff, offering criticism/feedback now seemed like correcting my third-grade homework when I’ve already moved on to calculus.

I was determined, however, and I wrestled the behemoth into submission, ultimately dividing the story in two, and determining to return to the second half in the future.

Well, the future has arrived, and after a seven-month immersion in reading published novels, I finally see what my friend was talking about.

Don’t get me wrong – I still think the first part was well-wrestled – but the second part represents everything that has barely been touched in five years. And that was maybe only two passes away from what I wrote nearly nine years ago.

What I find myself with is the classic (?) troubled novel, where the characters are there, and even some significant and (I’ll be the judge) moving scenes, but there isn’t a strong, compelling through-line in this half, binding it all together and pulling it toward the necessary end.

“Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story for themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

–Kurt Vonnegut

As a result, the experience of revision and pulling this draft up to snuff is daunting.

Sort-of as a result, I’m self-coaching now. I am taking the work, and applying what I’ve learned since I first invented Linnea, her stepmother, stepsister, and enigmatic sister-in-law, considering character growth, drive, goal and relationships.

As a fairy tale (or wonder tale, as I prefer to call them now, since so few include fairies), the plot is already determined. For me, the life in this type of novel comes not from any huge surprise, but from a new logic of events or connection with the characters.

I’ve always felt that the irrational randomness in these tales must have made sense to the principals in the moment, and that’s what I look for in recreating the story – the complexity that creates its own sort of sense. And that eventually becomes (through persistent editing) simple enough to follow.

I am traveling back to basics with this one: premise, hook, characterization, goals. It shines an uncomfortable light on on the cockroaches of my noveling process. Apparently most of my stuff comes pre-packaged, already assembled. Picking apart the yarn to weave in a different, more purposeful direction is a new experience for me. But for now I’ve got a bit of time for that.

God and the Faerie King

I’ve read very few folk tales or traditional stories for a while, but my understanding of that world and mentality is still pretty solid. When I read a fantasy that has fairy tale or mythic roots I can catch the multiple layers pretty effectively.

A year ago I started looking for good self-published books to read, and this was one of the first I bought. It was a cute take on the arraigned-marriage trope, with the (new to me) twist that the bride-to-be was willing to accept her “fate” and wasn’t a jerk to the guy and having to be won over.

What grabbed me wasn’t so much the story itself as the treatment/behavior of the fae, and the Faerie King in particular. The fae were portrayed in an utterly traditional way, with all their predictable selfishness and capricious unpredictability.

The ultimate story-climax-question became Will the Faerie King be just? Will he do what’s good for these good people, who’ve served him all their lives?

And because the faerie king has all the power to do anything with impunity, there’s a real sense of peril. There is the genuine question, since (as a Young Adult novel) this romance isn’t guaranteed the genre’s usual happy ending.

The heroine’s family of origin is blessedly intact and tight (unique and cheer-worthy in YA), but they’ve grown up working for the fae. They (the family) know the faerie folk’s power and inscrutableness, and as much as the humans hope for the good, I got the feeling their long experience also blunted their expectation, tempered their painful hope to the possibility that what they desired — the thing they knew would be right and decent and essential to happiness — might be denied.

And in real-life, sprawled out reading, I was hit with an almost physical ache. Because I recognized that holding-back.

It was painfully familiar. I’d instilled it in myself over years: through ways of praying, fed by fears that cultivated a drive to self-preservation. I’d scraped together a bark shield in an effort to blunt the pain of deep disappointment and loss.

I had done it all within context and language of religious community. I listened to the pedantic reminders that “God’s ways are higher than ours” (Is. 55:9), and “How inscrutable His ways” (Rom. 11:33).

Through distancing rationalization, I hid behind that flimsy shield in a dull attempt to save myself from further pain. If I didn’t expect too much – or if expected a lot, and was prepared to live without, “be it God’s will” – maybe I could avoid deep disappointment.

When I saw how this family’s response to petitioning the Faerie King paralleled my attitude in asking God for Deep Important Things, my eyes were opened to the sickness of it all.

I feared (not too-strong a word) a god I saw as capricious, and once I realized I was afraid, it disgusted me. Because the God I worshiped did not ask (or inspire) me to fear him in that way. It was a muddled attempt to survive pain, and that muddledness distorted my view of the power that touches my life.

I know the difference between the Faerie King and the God I love, and having that stark a contrast, having that vocabulary, helped me peel back some of the distortion that had been weighing on me.

I looked back at the Isaiah 55 passage and saw it wasn’t designed as an excuse for God being confusing, it was a celebration of his incomprehensible generosity. The same with Romans 11– we don’t have the wiring to conceive of the kind of love and generosity that roots such openness and availability.

That’s why it has to be told to us, and told to us again.

According to a study published in 1998, it takes the average child between four and fourteen exposures to learn a new fact. Some children need over twenty exposures for something to stick.

I am 36 years old. I grew up with sermons and Sunday school, and given the topic I can predict a lot of what’s going to come out of a given pastor’s mouth. I am not short on knowledge, or a critical number of times to hear “Jesus loves me.”

But it took throwing the love of God into stark contrast with the bone-deep fear of power without love before this piece of him broke through (again?): God is dependable.

My lack of understanding (even of big things), and my grief and pain (which are real and often enduring) do not negate the dependability of God.

Since I’m constantly depending on this truth, I had to have known it already, but somehow I felt this other side. A fear of pain. I had my walls up, bracing myself for the time he doesn’t do what I need. And what I’m still wrapping my head around, is that God promises to give us the desires of our heart.

I don’t know how that reads in the original language, but in English that phrasing doesn’t just mean God gives us what we want, he gives us what to want.  I put that all in the Mystery category.

There is so much I don’t understand, but I know God wants to give us good things. “So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.” (Matt. 7:11)

There’s no way for us to completely understand God.

Metaphor, analogy, simile and Story are all essential to drawing near to him in understanding, but the difference between our God and every other entity in eternity is that a) he wants to be known, and b) he is able to make up what is lacking in our understanding.

His constancy, his desire to be in relationship with us, is bigger than our ignorance, confusion, or misunderstanding. I’m thankful for the way God uses even seemingly unconnected elements to reveal and highlight his character, because even if I don’t have enough ink to tell you all God IS, I can know bone-deep what he isn’t, and even find security in that.

Acknowledgements (aka My Book is Out)

lindormkingdom_smallerThe book is out in the world. (Here, too, if you prefer Kobo over Amazon.)

It would be really encouraging if you bought a copy, or shared it with a friend, or left a review.

With that out of the way, I wanted to share my thank-yous on my blog, since I already know the book isn’t for everyone (seriously, if you don’t like magic, or dragons or if any kind of violence makes you uncomfortable, this probably isn’t the book for you), and I want to say this “out loud” for anyone to hear.

From the back of my book:

Lindorm Kingdom began in 2006 as my first NaNoWriMo novel. At the time my daughters were two and three, and I achieved a decent one-handed typing speed from all the time at the keyboard while I held my six-month-old son (those midnight wakings were put to literary use).

To all the people over the years who asked, “How do you do it?” the answer is Time. The story – more specifically the themes – wouldn’t let me go. I chipped away for years, learning as I went, and eventually it was sculpted into its current shape.

In eight-plus years, a variety of people have read my pages, encouraging me to stick with it, making me feel heard and valued:

Jay (my husband, best friend, protector, provider), Becky (world-champion encourager, endurance reader and editor), and David (the second engineer to read my work and the only reader to catalog all the places that made him laugh), along with Tori, Mitzi, Kim, Bluestocking (Brooke), Katie, Carolyn, Crystal, Tiffany, Corinna, Kati, Annie, Sarah, (another) Tiffany, Bekki, Lara and Daniel.

Special mentions for Lindorm Kingdom include Jerry Smith (who is one of the reasons this novel didn’t end before it was really started), and the delightful Irene who was born after the stepmother’s name was set, and is nothing like the Irene in this story.

Finally, to my friends that share this writing path and the delight of discovery: Becky (again), Jennifer, Kit, Roy, Janet, Beth, Jen, Kati, and Tiana (my precious Watson), I am so glad to be doing life with you.

With fewer years between books, maybe the next Acknowledgements section will be shorter, but I can’t express with fewer words how tremendously blessed I feel to be surrounded by such honorable people and incredibly live-giving love.

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 15) Antarctica Edition


I went to Antarctica for a month. Stayed a bit longer than I planned (weather delays), but hey, now my Book is just about ready to be launched.


I went to the place my husband has gone 9 out of the last 14 Thanksgivings. I didn’t think I’d come, except, last November (when I was smoking NaNo with my delicious Sherlock romance/mystery and fostering a 2-month-old while Jay was gone for a month), Jay asked if I wanted to come this year, and I said no-the-kids-aren’t-old-enough-here-all-ask-them-and-prove-it, and they all shouted that YES! they’d love to spend a month with their Grandmas.

Sooo they did.

And I had Thanksgiving in McMurdo, Antarctica. And learned that apparently it is a thing to bring wine. That was interesting.

Also, had the *best* GF sweet potato cheesecake with pecan crust and pralines on top. Good. stuff.


Did my first winter camping here, after almost 30 years in Alaska, and all I can say: I wasn’t missing much.

We had good gear, and it was rated for the temperatures we were at, but I swear, if it was up to me alone to heat that sleeping bag (and eventually the tent) through the night, I would be hypothermic.

I know this, because I tried to sleep alone in my prescribed mummy bag the first night in field camp. I even closed the hood around my head and breathed all my “hot air” back into the bag (despite Jay’s admonition to keep “just my nose” sticking out in the cold to ensure I’d breathe fresh air).

The two nights I followed his advice, that is, the two nights I covered everything but my nose because it was so cold I didn’t want any more hanging out? My nose went numb. I had to hold my hand over it to warm it back up.

Then there was the day I got a stupid steam burn making dinner, cooled two of the three fingers by keeping them on snow for an hour, and that last finger just wouldn’t stop burning after five hours of melting snow in a little cup.

I left that hand out of the bag, and I didn’t need snow anymore.

After that first night, even though we didn’t have zip-together sleeping bags, we made it work to share heat. The best arrangement for us had the closed foot of one bag inside the closed foot of the other, then the two bags off-set a bit from each other, one past-center on the bottom, and one past-center over the top, so there was a bit of overlap on both sides.

On the colder nights we added our down coats on top, and kept our fleece jackets/long johns  on if we needed them.

What’s amazing to me is that my body really did adjust (it put on some weight, and maybe that had something to do with it). I actually stopped being cold all the time, and that was very impressive.


We woke up every morning, and worked every day, under a smoking volcano. There’s something very cool-sounding about that.


There was this awesome thing with the clouds the first few weeks we were here: they were low enough at times to see both the top and bottom simultaneously. The sunshine turned it gold on top, like a never-ending sunset, and the underside (because the light got to it indirectly) was like bleached cotton.  Coolest thing a camera could never capture.


Actually, that’s one of the main elements of Antarctica: the uselessness of cameras to convey the essence of the space. Because space is the essence.

One of the times we were out at one of the sensor sites where I was being Jay’s extra hands, and when we got to the “wait” part of the exercise, I returned to the snow machine, lay on my back the seat and looked up at the sky.

It was probably the same distance to the clouds as it was to the mountains, but because of the absence of anything that might be used to indicate scale, everything always looked “just a bit further” no matter how far we went.


The snow was the most mind-numbing exercise of all (and not in the ice cream headache/brain freeze way).

Our group’s first task once we got to camp was to pull and dig up all the equipment from a year’s accumulation of snow.

This was work, but it was measurable and finite with an established, working system and a fairly low learning curve.

What really got to me was starting out on pristine (far as the eye can see, diamond-shine) snow, digging down to the base of “the vault” (eight of these), being literally up to my eyeballs in a snowy pit, and thinking how the depth we’re all standing on was surface level just a year ago.

We walk around, pulling up equipment pipes and marking flags that are maybe two or three feet above ground, and reset them in the current snowpack, so they’re taller than me, and I stand behind the un-snowed vault (because there is literally no earth– to say we unearthed them– on the Ross Ice Shelf), head swimming at the understanding that I am walking on snow, sinking 2-6 inches in the fresh stuff, that will be five or six feet under the new top when next winter’s crew arrives to do it all again.

7 Quick Takes (Vol. 14) Oh the things I can’t say…


Pastors is interesting folks.

So is Doctors.

Image courtesy of Joseph Mankin via stock.xchng

Seems to me that they are trained (by their experience?) to question the motive and perceptions of anyone who comes to them.

I happen to have a very good track record and set of references that affirm my reliability as a narrator and communicator, but talking with a new doctor or a new pastor always leaves me shaken, because I have only met two (maaaybe three) in the last few years who treat me as though I know what I’m talking about.

Oh they’ll listen, they’ve all been decent at their core job (knowing what they’ve studied), but if I treated my interview sources the way these culturally respected individuals treat me… I don’t think anybody with decent self-esteem would give me a second interview.


We’re all special, unique snowflakes — just like everybody else.

Sure you think you’re the exception, but everyone does, so how do you know you really are if *everybody* thinks they’re the special one?

Well, study and statistics help a bit. That way when peeple sez you don’t know whatcher talkin about, you know you do. It doesn’t mean they’ll let you educate them, but it means they can’t un-educate you.

Which I’ve found is worth a surprising-lot.

It also helps to know what you expect (or want, or need) as the result of this specialness.

  • To be noticed?
    • Weeeelll, I think you’re still going to go out and do something cool.
  • To find extra help or understanding?
    • This is where it can get tricky, and all I can suggest to you is ask for it, and if that person acts like you’re too big for your britches, or you’re not worth their time (even if they’re a doctor or pastor), ask someone else.

And keep asking.


A: If you’re a jerk and don’t know it, things are always going to be hard for you (but harder for those around you).

B: If you’re not a jerk, you might still get treated like one for having different needs than the people around you want to meet, but you have every right to seek legitimate ways to meet your needs.


From Shiftless (not the best werewolf book I’ve ever read, but this got a reaction from me):

I’d spent the morning helping my stepmother prepare the day’s bread…. Later we hung sheets out on the line to dry… each task provided immediate gratification that had been lacking in my previous life. Now a traitorous part of my mind told me that perhaps my father had my best interests at heart all along – maybe this simple women’s work was what I’d been born for…

Which reminded me of the very worst part of my voluntary incarceration. I was beginning to understand how to be content here…

My hands went cold when I read that bit. It felt scary and familiar, and not because I don’t think bread-making a worthy art.

It was disturbing because I heard a similar message for a long time, that this small sphere of action and love should be enough to satisfy me. If it didn’t feel like enough, that proved some defect of character in me. A flaw in my spirituality. A misunderstanding of my identity.

Image courtesy of Cris Watk via stock.xchng

I would get tired, often, of the unending nature of treading water, trying to rise above or “escape” its confinement.

Occasionally I would surrender, hold my breath, and just let the water, this limited world, cradle me – I could feel the relief of rest, believe for a time that there was nothing else I was made for.

It was peaceful.

So peaceful.

But I am a creature of air and of light. Though I can paddle when I must, I was not made to live underwater.

A huge part of my growth and peace has come from finding different times and places and ways to meet my needs along with my family’s. And to trust that sick feeling that warns me I’ve swallowed too much seawater.


Years ago I attended a seminar that was aimed largely at “middle class” folks who wanted to help people “stuck in poverty.” Part of the presentation included examples of how different classes responded to common experiences.

For example, food. Each class has a question about food that is either irrelevant or secondary to the others:

  • The poor: “Is there enough?”
  • Middle class: “Does it taste good?”
  • The rich: “Is it pretty?”

The presenter gave six or eight sets of examples before someone asked, “Why are you bringing in ‘rich people’? None of us here is rich.”

She smiled like she’d been waiting for the question and said, “The way you feel about that ‘rich’ category, that their assumptions are unnecessary – and maybe even a little ridiculous – that is the extravagance of the middle class to the truly poor. You have to understand this gap in mindset and definitions of a good life if you are really going to reach them.”

I don’t know about anybody else, but (while I have a heart that burns when I look at the effects of poverty and racism) I seem to have such a hard time finding and figuring out my culture, I’m terrified at trying to “reach out” to those unlike me.

This is not about “comfort zone.” I am uncomfortable all. the. time.

This is me recognizing I’m clueless, and have no point of reference to turn around (as with an understanding of grammar when learning a new language) and have a framework to start from.

Maybe that is an unwarranted fear. Maybe “I don’t need anything but love,” but since even love takes different forms, I’m thinking, no.  I don’t know what it is, but I need some kind of starting place.


Most people are not logical.

This is why logic is something that actually needs to be taught.

But most people think they are logical.

It’s rather like “specialness” that way.

In the 1970s (according to the book Thinking Fast and Slow) researcher-types based their hypotheses on the assumption that human beings are fundamentally logical in their thinking and behavior.

After a few decades of studies, researchers don’t think that way anymore.

To say someone is not logical comes across as an insult, but really, it’s a bit like belittling a horse by saying it has no opposable thumbs.

It is a pejorative statement, but it references an inherent limitation that can (in theory) be worked with, or got around.

For example, don’t create a situation where you need a horse to peel an orange.

(Okay, that implies people can’t even learn to be logical, which isn’t my ultimate point– but it still makes me laugh after a dozen passes, so I’m keeping the image.)

I wish someone had told me this sooner. I might not have lost so much time trying to understand how complementarians and bible literalists can display more conviction than their reasoning supports.

I really used to think I was missing something.


Maybe because I am personally safe from the dangers connected with poverty and racism, this is what threatens me the most:

Religious people of influence who claim both to offer women freedom in the church (involvement opportunities, leadership responsibilities, and “we’ll listen to you” responses, so your run away as fast as you can radar doesn’t go off) but restrict women from the highest roles that would include teaching men because, OBVZ: the Bible says no right here!

This actually scares me, because it tends to come from people who highly value the Word of God, and yet contains inconsistencies.  “Plain reading” of scripture also has women wearing headcoverings as a sign of their godliness, women being fully silent in church, and women not communicating with any male she’s not related to. Stuff these generous people don’t emphasize.

I have asked multiple conservative Christian leaders:

What safeguards are in place to prevent bible-lovers from becoming more restrictive in their application of plain scripture?!

This is a question that has literally kept me awake at night when trying to navigate new church environments, and it is the major element that turned me away from the complementarian view I embraced most of my life, practically pushing me into being egalitarian instead.


1 Timothy 2:12 is the main verse used in opposition to the idea of women in all levels of leadership, and I love what this guy points out:

“This one verse is the lynchpin in the entire complementarian argument, [but] it is an important principle of interpretation that we NOT build entire systems of theology upon a single verse.”

(He addresses another biggie from 1 Corinthians, too.)

Image courtesy of Piotr Bizior via stock.xchng

And for the people who say (as has been said to my face) that “plain-scripture” is what we should live by, and if you need to “interpret” a passage to get to your meaning, that invalidates the argument (makes the explainer not worth listening to) — please read 1 Peter 3:21.

I’ll remove the suspense: it plainly says that baptism saves us, which protestants don’t believe because we give more emphasis to other passages of scripture.

This is the way of all Christians — including those who will or won’t affirm women at all levels of church leadership: we have a gut sense of right and wrong, we take it to the bible, and let that sense be informed and deepened (and I hope corrected) by what we read and study.

There are still a whole lotta Catholics, many who are really neat people and I’m thankful to know them. In the same way I expect there will always be people who (in good conscience) never accept women as affirmed by God to lead.

I continue to pray my daughters won’t marry one of them, and my son never becomes one. This because the attitude that allows you to look at gender before spiritual gifting is an invitation to quench the Spirit of God at work in an individual.

I don’t question that we are all believers (till someone crosses the line that excuses abuse).

I do think that Catholics are Christian, too, but I can’t make the full leap, “convert,” and be one of them. They believe/emphasize certain things that I cannot affirm, and that would actually undermine my faith and practice if I were to embrace them.

This same awareness is why I am (and teach my children to be) egalitarian, and, in a nutshell, that’s why I left my old church.

Where is Your Faith?

Stone tower

I grew up with the unspoken assumption that having faith in anything but God is silly. At best.

Getting worse, I sometimes heard words like foolish, idolatry, and maybe once even heresy.

And that made for trouble later on, because one of my biggest growth-steps well into my adult stage of life was learning to trust myself. I have faith in myself, a phrase I never would have had the guts to say in high school or college, maybe not even for orthodoxy reasons.

It just sounds cheesy and I’ve never liked cheesy.

But I went through this book with a neat batch of women in the fall, and one of the things that came up toward the end was the purpose and place of faith.

In the context of the study, the book was reminding us that we are to live this Christian life the same way we came into it: by faith, not by our efforts to prove ourselves worthy.

This I love. This I can get behind, and cheer, and find relief in.

And I have no idea how to define it.

Image courtesy of Michaela Kobyakov via stock.xchng

But it got me thinking of what we put our faith in, and I realized that for me, real flesh-and-blood people make that list.

For example, I trust that my parents love me.

I know that my husband is going to be loyal only to me as long as we both shall live.

I am confident that various friends [Becky, Kit, Jennifer, Sarah, Tori, Paul, David, Josh, Aaron, and more] are examining themselves thoroughly and submitting themselves to the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, so that I don’t have to interrogate and squish them through a garlic press before I believe they’re right with God.

I have faith in my parents, my husband, and my friends.

And there is nothing wrong with this.

Like the word love, our language has the single word faith that has evolved various meanings.

I have to have faith in myself if I’m going to trust my own capacity to make meaningful decisions (that’s why this was a personal growth-step for me).

I have to have faith in my husband’s and parents’ love if I am going to talk with them about difficult things and trust that their love for me will endure. Without this I will always be afraid to reveal what’s inside me or seek help with what confuses or hurts me.

I have to have faith in my friends’ ability to grow and individually hear from God, or else I will be forever limited to myself.  I will also be responsible for, or at least carry an undue weight and concern for their spiritual well-being, when their relationship with God is one-on-one and only last because they consistently surrender to his God-ness.

This isn’t about conflict-avoidance or not asking questions or challenging people ever, but it is about basic assumptions and simply being able to trust people.

In all these cases the faith is not based on nothing.

“God demonstrated his great love…”

So have all of these people.

Over the years as I’ve come to know them, I see different levels of maturity, different needs and gifts, and (wonder of wonders) places where our strengths and weaknesses braid together in a beautiful cord that is stronger than the sum of its parts.

And they love me. They value me.

When I have a depression relapse, or find myself in an environment where most people are blind to my value, rehearsing my place in these lives, and the respect they’ve given me, reenforces me to me.

~ ~ ~

I have found one of the most loving, nurturing, gifting thing we can do for each other is to have faith in one another.

Now, none of us want to look like fools. None of us want to discover someone we trusted was able to pull the wool over our eyes. It can shake our faith in all our other relationships, because our ability to recognize a fraud or cruelty is part of what allows us to trust those we trust as much as we do.

Image courtesy of amsphotos via stock.xchng

I don’t give my trust to just anyone. But for the reasons listed above, I need to trust someone, and I am incredibly thankful to have more than one.

In most of my experience this faith doesn’t happen because of a resume, or a creed, or the right number and combination of boxes checked off on some form.

It happens over time.

So this faith thing can highlight a hole in our Christian community: have we cultivated or intentionally created the space for the nearness and openness– the vulnerability and authenticity– of communication and relationship that allows us to build relational faith.

I’m told time is a precious commodity in today’s world.

I can’t imagine this is new to our place in history or unique to me, but I know there’s no other reliable methodology to building this faith.

And you might say that discussing my faith in people gives me a better idea of what faith in God looks like, or could be made of.

Time is a good starting place.