When Words Become Abusive

Image courtesy of Linden Laserna via stock.xchng

Image courtesy of Linden Laserna via stock.xchng

I put the words “verbal abuse” in the keyword search engine for my local library, and one of the titles it brought back was a grammar [correction] guide.

That made for a great joke on Facebook, but no one asked why I was researching that topic (in fairness, I research a lot of random stuff as a novelist).

One of my skills is what I call “instant extrapolation,” the power to see A and reach G very quickly. I am very sensitive to attitudes and approaches to life and theology that grow into gross misrepresentations of God and his character.

But you see that word, sensitive?

“Admitting” sensitivity in some environments is tantamount to saying your awareness is not representative and may, therefore, be written off.  “Most people are fine,” the math seems to say. “This is just a random data point. Doesn’t matter.” She doesn’t matter.

Having removed myself from an environment that contained mental and emotional abuse, I am already feeling stronger, but I have continued to wrestle with the language to articulate what I walked away from, and I struggle with the question of grace.

That is, I really don’t expect people to be perfect (I am too aware of my own imperfection), so how do I make the distinction between carelessness, or foolishness, and abuse?

I came across a set of words recently that was a huge help in this process.

A few years back there was a huge on-line exchange between some pretty big names in the Christian world, including The Gospel Coalition, Rachel Held Evens and others.

This post includes the relevant links, but also the illustration of that point that has become so important to me.

Words are my gift, but (as much as I joke about it) reading minds isn’t.

I will do my best to be not-unkind, but I cannot control my own ignorance.  I don’t know what I don’t know, so I assume I will hurt people at times. I wondered if this made me an abuser.

The people who hurt me are still at least acting clueless, so I couldn’t figure out the distinctions.

Then this post. She says many meaningful and relevant things, but summed up my own pain and frustration in these words:

My issue is that a violation has occurred and no one will so much as even own it. My issue is that I am hearing almost the exact same words in the exact same mentality and attitude that were spoken to me when I was personally violated and spiritually abused: “I didn’t mean for it to be offensive, so if you’re offended, you’re wrong.”

It made me think of a (disappointingly common) scenario in my own household.

One child will be waving a stick, or throwing a rock, or swinging a toy around like David’s sling, and it will “impact” a sibling who was equally oblivious to the activity as the perpetrator was of the other child’s presence.

I have witnessed the wounder trying to prevent the hurt child from coming to a parent, and, failing at that, accompany the child to loudly protest innocence, even as tears roll over a rising welt on the wounded child’s cheek.

“I didn’t mean to hurt!” is the unchanging refrain, as if intent will absolve them of the effects of reality.

“The fact is, you did,” I always say. “What you meant doesn’t matter any more. You owe him/her an apology.”

This is the missing piece.

This is how I keep from becoming those I used to fear. I acknowledge hurt. I acknowledge ignorance. I acknowledge there is more than I understand, and that a person is worth my compassion, not my condescension.

Brother, if your sister tells you it hurts, it just hurts. If your sister tells you it wounded her, it just wounded her. And all any of this condescension and evasion of responsibility is doing is showing her that your need to be right is worth attempting to argue her out of her violation.

Jamie Finch from The Fig Tree

Mourning Isn’t Over When the Flowers Wilt


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This is a recording I made of poems about admiration, love and loss, from a variety of poems and poets: To be of Use by Marge Piercy, A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Dirge Without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Perfection Wasted by John Updike, and an excerpt from Four Poems in One by Anne Porter.

I have completed my First-10 speeches for Toastmasters, and am now working on my first “advanced manual,” Interpretive Reading.

I performed this collection of poems at a new Toastmasters group yesterday. The feedback was mixed, kind compliments, and appreciation of how I compiled the cycle, with questions from other people about the point or purpose of poetry and such a “dark” theme: Remembrance, death and loss.

Jay came with me to the meeting, and returned to the questions when we got home.

My first response was to think, Maybe I’m just morbid.

But that didn’t fit my intent or my emotional state. I dug deeper while he tried to help.

“Is it to share at a funeral or memorial service like [name] asked? What’s the application?”

“Mourning doesn’t end when the service does,” I finally said, coming to my understanding as I spoke it.

“I repeat the poems because it is a way of remembering. The people who hear only death and gloom hear what they have ears for, and that’s okay, that’s not up to me, it’s where they’re at. But there is ever-so-much more and better going on than gloom.

“There is grief, because I still grieve. That doesn’t go away for me or anybody. And it’s comforting, somehow, to go back to what you might expect at a service. It still honors them, and comforts me.”

How to Cope with Retriggering Your Breakdown (Wyn Magazine)

Co-written by me and Kristen Kansiewicz, a Licensed Mental Health Counselor on staff at East Coast International Church outside Boston, this article addressed something all our Wounded Healers at Wyn Magazine experienced as they wrote their stories of falling apart for our inaugural issue in June.

If you are one of the millions of women who have experienced an emotional breakdown at some point in your life, you may find that from time to time you re-experience that low point.

Often in the process of healing and recovery, you work through stressors and emotions and eventually feel whole again. There is a relief and gratitude and maybe even the assumption That’s finally over, now I can get on with my life.

Months or perhaps years later, you may find yourself talking with a friend or writing about your experience of breakdown and that moment of reflection causes all those feeling to return as if the problem never ended.

Read the rest at wynmag.com

Strength is Overrated (Wyn Magazine)

This is the story of my ending up in a very unexpected and deep depression.

It is a long story, and still not complete, even its indulgent length, but it is a start. And it says a lot about expectations and assumptions.


The short, bitter version is that I thought I could do it all, and I was wrong.

The longer, more compassionate version is that I never saw it as inappropriate to “do it all.” It didn’t seem like too much, at first.

Read the whole story at wynmag.com

Then you’ll understand why a camel is the featured image {wink}


Wyn is Live!

It is with great delight that I announce and present the first issue of a new online publication.From the About page:

Wyn is an online magazine focused on providing resources and hope for mental and emotional healing. Each month’s issue has a specific theme that runs through all the articles. Articles and columns are published every-other-day or so throughout the month. To receive one email a week with the latest stories and news, sign up for the Wyn Weekly Newsletter in the upper right corner of the site.

The name Wyn is from the Old English rune that later became “w.” The word “wyn” means “joy/delight/pleasure” in Old English. The goal of Wyn Magazine is to help bring joy to women who have lost hope.

After Managing Editor Becky Castle Miller and Associate Editor Amy Jane Helmericks went through different experiences with depression, they talked about the resources they wished they’d had for themselves…and decided to create those for other women. The idea (and name) for Wyn came together in December 2011, starting a two-year project assembling a global team of writers, designers, and photographers. Wyn officially launched in June 2013.

Becky emailed me with great intensity (if you can accept that as a combination) toward the end of November 2011. Four hours ahead on the East Coast, she wanted to set up a mutually kidless time to talk about an idea.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I’m all about talking ideas, but we’re talking the end of November (days away from my third win in NaNoWriMo). I hesitated just enough for her to remember my near-goal and reschedule for December 1.

During that phone conversation we entered into hope and delight and concrete planning that tied to our strengths in a way that the world of dirty dishes and dirty diapers just couldn’t touch.

I don’t know about Becky, but for me the fit and the energy seemed too deep to be real. But there’s something true about speaking reality into life.

Becky and I talked about creation and consistency and content and sparked this hunger that we might have an opportunity to spare other women the confusion and isolation we experienced as we struggled for language and right-response to this unfamiliar entity called depression.

Becky’s years of traveling as a military kid and facility on the internet made her the hub of our writing and photography pool. My intensity, love for words, and impulse for instant-feedback (or maybe Becky can say the real reasons?) combined with hers to move us forward.

All the delight and hope-of-purpose suggested by our initial conversation has persisted. There is something ineffably rich about participating in a project so perfectly aligned with one’s natural gifts and natural brokenness.

Courage– Revisted

Image courtesy of Colin Brough via stock.xchng

It takes one kind of courage to look straight at  your life, compare where you are to where you want to be, and then dive into making your life the one you want to live.

It is another kind of courage (more in line with General Sherman’s definition) that has us look straight at the cost of something, and choose it anyway.

Both have been coming into play in this “year of courage” (as I labeled 2013).

I have had a string of successes and delights this spring.

  1. I adopted a dog that was just what I wanted (still learning how to train him ;])
  2. We had a family vacation in Hawaii that was almost completely stress-free and got me far enough into my novel that the momentum meant something.
  3. I finished my first 10 speeches to achieve my “competent communicator” award in Toastmasters
  4. I finished my novel last week, and am now letting my story-brain rest, working on non-fiction writing instead (blog, WynMag).
  5. I’m wrapping up a last few editing of WynMag projects and the first issue will go live soon. (And I’m ahead on my submissions for the next issue).
  6. I’ve got the children signed up in a homeschooling program for next year (that we will actually start this summer), so that we have more financial flexibility to explore and experiment with curricula to find what will work best for our family.
  7. We’ve sold the rabbits (most of them, anyway), bringing us down to pet-levels.
  8. Our second round of baby goats is due this week (and we know better what to DO this time, so the enjoyment level will be even higher).
  9. The children will complete their first year of “away school” next week, and I won’t have to be the bad-guy, sending them on with empty hopes that people might change, and the slightly less-empty hope that there’s not many days left.

These are all tied, in my mind, to the first type of courage.

Now comes the second kind.

Image courtesy of Sarah Peller via stock.xchng

In the process of getting healthy on a mental/emotional level, I’ve come to recognize a series of needs that I must not just balance or juggle, but meet.

  • Writing
  • Exercise
  • Right eating
  • Sleep

These are the non-negotiable for internal stability.

But having those covered allows me to see there’s a second tier that really enhances the first tier.

  • Clean Space
  • Calm companions
  • Achievable, completable goals
  • Spiritual pursuit (singular)

I suppose having spiritual pursuit in the second category is going to look bad to some people, but it’s true. Until I am stable physically and mentally, asking the hard questions and pushing in any realm that has Deep Meaning is simply asking too much.

One of my biggest problems, all through my mothering journey (I can’t remember much thinking about it before then), was an image of a robot changing its own batteries. That’s how I saw “self-care”.

Continue reading »

Officially Sick of it {Just give me a day.}

But it’s a celebration, too:


Image courtesy of Wong Mei Teng via stock.xchng

The Lindorm Novel is once again making its rounds in the real world of real readers.

How did this finally happen? (You should ask.)

The last time I released LINDORM to betas was June 26, 2010.

(I know because I was so ecstatic about being done I had to try to dig up guilt at having no party ideas for my middle girl’s birthday.)

God provided so perfectly for that event that I felt its success as an extension of His pleasure in me, that I’d persisted in what he designed me to do.

That would be both momming AND writing.

Here was one glorious example of how I didn’t have to do everything, and God supplied for my deficiencies. *happy sigh*

She had a lovely, lovely 6th-birthday party with way more of what she wanted than if I’d put it together.

That was version 8.7.

Yesterday I released version 13.1, one paper copy and three kindle mailings. After Jay converts it to PDF, I have another four friends on the internets who will receive it for review. A couple more friends at church will get paper copies. This is the largest pool of beta readers I’ve yet had, so I’m excited, even though it is unknown how many will actually Finish & Respond.

Jay just started reading it this morning and came running out from wherever he was reading with a rushed, “You ready for feedback?”

And my skin crawled, but I said yes, and he said something really relevant and meaningful (translation: embarrassing to have someone else notice before me), and I reluctantly asked, “Should I correct that before you PDF and print it?”

He instantly went from intense to bland.

“It’s your book. Do whatever you want.”


This is what I call emotional whiplash.

ETA: Jay clarified later– it wasn’t meant as emotional whiplash. There were more words than just that, and it was him challenging my response: Did I really want to change bits and pieces as feedback came in, or did I want to wait for the weight of everybody and make my decisions/revisions at that point.

It isn’t deadly, but sure as rain & taxes it’s disorienting.

This is what I experience when I get in (say) a stylistic or story-question debate with someone about a movie/book/television show, and it gets a little intense, diffuses, and then the person I was just as loggerheads with shrugs and says, It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter?

What were we just arguing about then?!

And I’m reminded that some people really do argue recreationally

(Jay’s not one of them, thank God, but this exchange reminded me of similar, less peaceful interactions).

Now, I enjoy a good argument– if it’s clear, and I think I can win, and I think it’s worth the effort– but part of what makes it worth the effort is that I actually care about the thing we’re discussing.


Image courtesy of pixaio via stock.xchng

I proof-read the first 35 pages of LINDORM after I printed out the whole thing, and in the 2nd chapter I found a bunch of pronouns that needed correcting.

I tried to continue the read-through after Page 37, but didn’t get far. I was just tired.

Then I figured, you know, I’m not publishing-publishing now. I’m doubtless going to make corrections/revisions in response to my Betas’ responses. So enough with the line-editing. Put it away. Let the ashes fall where they will.

And that felt really good.

One of my efforts at present is to be content with less-than-perfect.

Not strictly to celebrate sloppy (I don’t see that as any sort of need), but to keep things moving by accepting limitations.

This novel is being released now because I let some stuff go.

The second part of the story, to be specific. The Huge Second Part that refused to be wrestled into submission or structure or anything like coherence within acceptable word-counts.

Version 13.1 is 74,000 words.

Compared to version 8.7, it stops at chapter 21 of 45. Version 8.7 was 88,000 words.

All along this journey I’ve had people tell me I needed to break up the story, that it was too big for one book.  And I agreed, but I couldn’t give you two *whole* books out of this story, either.

“Whole” being defined as at least 65,000 words–  and that seemed short anyway.  I knew my genre, or the closest thing to it, and few of those books are tiny. I imagined the challenge it would be to connect with that type of reader when my book looked different from what was familiar.

Image courtesy of Verzon via stock.xchng

Revision #13 was going really well, and at some point I realized I was well past the natural break between the “set up” story (Modified Beauty & the Beast, where the Beauty is a single mom and the Beast is a dragon-sized serpent) and the *BIG* story of the second part.

I had already decided to indulge myself and “just see how the story flows” with word-count not a factor. With all the scenes left in.

I’ve also been reading (even re-reading!) a lot this year, and that added to the amalgam that has been my intense life over the last year. I saw things in this story I had only sensed before. I had words for feelings I’d never recognized.

And I put everything I could think of into my work.

The effectiveness of this new vision yet to be tested (figuratively biting my nails, waiting on reader responses), but my favorite addition to bulk/meaning in the story is the addition of non-story goals. Or, put a different way, Pre-Story Goals.

More on that tomorrow.


Courage is a virtue recognized in every culture.OneWord2013_Courage150

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point, which means at its point of highest reality.

A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions.

–C.S. Lewis

In The Mystery of Courage, author William Ian Miller asserts courage is unique among the virtues because it is the only one where stories of its opposing vice are less gripping or tantalizing than stories of the virtue. ;}

This is a story of my rediscovering courage.


There are two kinds of courage: physical courage and moral courage.

Both types, as General William Sherman observed, involve a full awareness of the risk involved, and a willingness to endure that risk.

There is an additional, third element within moral courage, and that is a driving motivation of some deeply-held principle.

When, at the end of December, I designated 2013 as a “Year of Courage” for me, I was not looking at these definitions.

I could not tell you what danger I felt was arrayed against me, or the mental math that I undertook to decide what made the risk worthwhile, or even what risk I felt I was taking.

Image courtesy of Bina Sveda via stock.xchng

What I could tell you is that months off of a two-year depression I was still a fearful person.  Not consciously, but pressed by a friend I admitted that I made most of my decisions primarily through the matrix of safety.

I did whatever I could to minimize every kind of risk, but it didn’t make me feel any safer, only claustrophobic.

Then, during Thanksgiving break, I read a blog post that made me ask, “What could I accomplish if safety wasn’t my primary objective?”

Continue reading »

Seven Years of Words

  • 880 posts (not counting this one)
  • 49 categories (and you wondered why I don’t have them in my sidebar anymore…)

All started this last day of February mere months before my 3rd child was born.

He will be seven in May, and I can’t think of anything more than this blog that helped me navigate the diminished language application of 3 babies 3-and-under.

They were read to and talked to, and held and fed and ignored and loved on.

And I wrote and wrote, untangling my muddled thoughts and enjoying the clear ones.

When I started, this was my “About” page:

Why this Blog Exists

I’ve been asked why I blog. In short, two main reasons: a sense of community in the relatively isolated workplace of motherhood, and regular writing exercise.

That, and, like I heard Lord Byron said:

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.

On this blog I explore all that pleases me: stories, words, writing, some music, discovering ideas, and how to think about them.

I am someone who has always processed by articulating. This is where my content comes from. Some is substantiated by my own research, but all is substantiated within my experience, and it is on this authority that I write.

“Where did you get your copies?”
“Out of my head.”
“That head I see now on your shoulders?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Has it other furniture of the same kind within?
“I should think it may have: I should hope–better.”

Jane Eyre

Who knew an ordinary life would require so much thought?

Anyway, I couldn’t let this day pass as a complete blank. Seven years seems pretty significant.

I’ve never felt like an expert, but we all start somewhere, and this has been my journey. If you want to see where I’ve come from here is a list of my favorite posts from year one, and year two.

Speaking Practice #1: Start as You Mean to Go On

I gave my first speech at Toastmasters today.

Posting here at UT will probably be limited to speech-topics and/or the speeches themselves while I push through this speaking track. (There are 10 speeches in the first book, and my goal is to do one/week as long as the children are still in school.)

Part of what I find interesting about this start is comparing it to the first time I gave an “Icebreaker” speech.

It was literally my first blog post, almost 7 years ago. It had three precise points, and a reasonable structure. This one dismisses the possibility from the very beginning.

I started blogging at the same time I (tried) to start speaking, and blogging is what stuck. Instead of wondering what to get up and say, I made notes, some of them incredibly short, of complete thoughts.

I got used to “capturing” ideas. And organizing them (somewhat) and presenting them. Continue reading »