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Belief: Then & Now

There was a time in which any question about what I believed merited a simple, obvious, and expected answer. After all, I grew up in the church, went to Christian summer camps and later, a Christian college, was a missionary (!!), married a pastor, led Bible studies for women, even went to Seminary and got my Master of Divinity degree. I had a definitive understanding of who God was – and wasn’t. Until I didn’t. 

In the midst of all this, I divorced the pastor and left the church. I stopped teaching bible studies (though I do still tell its not-honored-enough-stories of women). And hardly definitive, I have an ever-shifting understanding/perception of the Divine. Which is exactly the way I like it! 

Distance from past beliefs, even from religion itself, does not mean disconnection from belief.

I still need and want to believe. NOT because I’m ailing or unmoored without such. NOT because I need something or Someone to rely on. But because what I believe in, how I believe, belief in-and-of-itself is what compels and shapes my story, my life, my world.

What has changed, of course, is the what and who – subject and object. 

Now, what and who I believe in is me. 

In many ways, the world in which I was raised taught me just the opposite. I learned to place my full reliance in the God that dwelled outside of me (at best, in my heart). I learned that I couldn’t trust myself or my desires. I learned that my body/feelings/thoughts were unreliable. I learned that I needed to be forgiven in order to be worthy of God’s saving. Until I un-learned all of these things. 

There is no need to choose between belief in the Divine and belief in self. 

Here is what I believe today: 

  • I believe in the Divine that dwells within me
  • I believe in (and trust) my desires. 
  • I believe in the wisdom, knowledge, and intuition present in my body, my feelings, my thoughts.
  • I believe I am worthy; I don’t need saving. 

None of these are at the expense of belief in the Divine, in the Sacred, in every-and-all things spiritual. These beliefs, when in place and practiced, are the Divine, the Sacred, the most spiritual presence and expression possible. Said another way, this: 

We see, know, and experience the Divine, the Sacred, every-and-all-things spiritual when we are truly and fully ourselves. 

And that? You and me living truly, boldly, out loud, full of desire and fully ourselves? Well, that might be enough to start a revival…or at least encourage a couple conversions!

May it be so. 

Sit still. Be quiet. Feel.

Now that both of my girls live miles, states, and flights away from me, I find myself transitioning into what it means to be alone. 

I have done this more than once:

  • After my divorce when the visitation schedule began. Every other weekend, the girls would be picked up from school by their dad on Friday and I wouldn’t see them until sometime Sunday. It was excruciating.
  • When not just one, but both girls were in college and I simultaneously ended a 2+ year relationship. The house was quiet (and immensely clean). I had no plans. There was nothing that needed to be done or managed or cooked (or cleaned). It was excruciating.
  • Last August when my youngest daughter, after 6 months of being back home because of Covid, returned to her life in Montana. It was quiet (and clean) all over again. And yes, excruciating.
  • Last September when I left my corporate job. From endless Zoom meetings and work-to-be-done to nothing but quiet and time and space. It was excruciating. 
  • Last November when I moved my oldest daughter from her apartment and life in Bellingham (just 90 minutes from me) to Lexington, KY (a day of flying from me). Even though she hadn’t been living at home for years, that return flight from KY to WA was excruciating – and days following, to be sure.
  • Every time I fly to visit one of the girls. Each return flight and for days after, I wonder what I’m doing so far from them. It’s excruciating. 

I should be quick to say that there is much goodness in all of the above, as well. It’s lovely to have a clean home, far fewer responsibilities, less tension, more quiet and time and space. 

But here’s the thing: when in receipt of quiet and time and space (whether that is attached to being alone, or not), I don’t seamlessly move to gratitude and appreciation. I am jumpy and distracted and irritated. I can’t settle down. I don’t feel at all myself. And I’m highly committed to distractions.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. 

It’s why scrolling IG and FB, watching Netflix or Amazon Prime, online shopping,  eating, drinking, and any number of dissociative techniques are what we default to instead of the quiet and time and space we often wish for. (Believe me: this post is hardly a critique of such; more, a confession!)

Years ago, when the visitation schedule kicked in, I talked to a very wise woman about what all of this felt like for me. I told her about how I was scattered and frenetic, frustrated and tense, “off” somehow. And this was her advice:

Sit still. Be quiet. Let yourself feel.

Uh, no thank you! That’s the last thing I want to do!

Except that I did. And it was hard. I felt a lot. It was uncomfortable and sad and often filled with grief. Sometimes anger. A long list of unanswerable questions that, when looked at more closely, led me to deep fears – which I didn’t like feeling and wanted to avoid (by getting up from the couch and making popcorn and pouring a glass of wine and turning on Netflix).

Despite her wisdom and even the years since that I’ve been following her counsel, I still lean toward the distractions. They’re always right there – like a bowl of potato chips – calling my name. (Sometimes the distraction is a bowl of potato chips!)

Thankfully though, my recovery time is getting quicker. Only because I continue to do what she said. It’s not my first impulse, even my second; but eventually I turn within, to the wisdom that resides there, to what is underneath and underneath and underneath – all of which deserves to be heard…and felt. 

do sit still. I can be quiet. And even though it often-and-still feels daunting and scary, I let myself feel. (Just so you know: it’s far less excruciating than it once was.)

I ask myself the following:

  • What do you feel, exactly?
  • Can you name it? Will you?
  • What’s underneath that feeling?
  • And what’s underneath that feeling?
  • What will happen if you let yourself stay with the feeling underneath that one instead of jumping up to avoid it?

Easier asked than answered, to be sure.

To actually feel what we feel, to give our deepest heart the gift of space and time, is scary and daunting (and potentially unraveling). 

But here’s what is more true:

You have BIG and deep and powerful feelings. They matter. And to feel them is the bravest work you’ll do in a lifetime, for your lifetime (over and over again). When you allow them, they are the very things that invite you home to yourself and into the wisdom, courage, and strength that is already and always yours. 

Yes, it’s scary and daunting (and potentially unraveling). Yes, any distraction feels far more desirable. And…self-awareness and growth and transformation and sovereignty is what we’re after, yes? Which is why these three simple steps become devotional practice:

Sit still. Be quiet. Feel.

I know. Deep breaths. I’m right there with you.

This is not for the faint of heart. As you let yourself feel, it is inevitable that you uncover places of harm and grief, emotions you’ve learned to repress, patterns you’ve developed that keep you safe – understandably! To let yourself feel – without restraint or censure – is brave and amazing. Choosing to stay present to every aspect of your story is the most beautiful and sacred work you can ever do. I promise.

May it be so.

*****

As always, I welcome your thoughts, your questions, your response, even your resistance (which I get, believe me!) I’ll definitely stop with the popcorn and cooking shows to respond!! I promise.

 

Photo by Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash

Changing Everything

If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories.

If you want to change a culture, change the stories.

This quote by Michael Margolis speaks volumes. It can be thought of on a wide-scale level: our culture, as a whole. But it is equally applicable and important at an individual level.

Maybe most concisely stated like this:

If you want to change, change your stories.

 

When I began working with the ancient, sacred stories I love, I became crystal clear about what made me crazy and super-frustrated with how their stories had been told over thousands of years: Deeply-ingrained patterns layered onto the page and in between the lines that shamed women who had opinions or used their voice, that believed women to be dangerous who were different, that kept women contained so that they did not disrupt systems of (or persons with) power.

When I looked closer still, something else became crystal clear: what made me crazy and super-frustrated with their stories was exactly what made me feel the same about my own.

MY story was made up of deeply-ingrained patterned beliefs that found me withholding my opinions and quieting my voice, opting to not be different (and certainly not dangerous), to not disrupt the system or upset the apple cart; instead, to play by the rules, be good, stay inside the lines.

That had to change. had to change. Everything had to change.

 

Truth-be-told, I found it far easier to change stories that are thousands of years old, than to do the same with my own. I could endlessly talk about Eve (which I continue to do) – praising her for eating the fruit, listening to the serpent, following her desire, and honoring her own wisdom. But to do that for myself? To tell and live that story? Much, much harder. And…ongoing; a life’s work, to be sure.

As I’ve remained committed to reimagining, retelling, and redeeming ancient, sacred stories, I’ve worked to do the same for myself. And I’ve learned a few things along the way:

  • The stories we’ve been told, the way they’ve been told, live deep within us. Sometimes for good; sometimes, not so much. 

  • Those stories (and the lessons within) turn into the stories we tell ourselves – the inner-voice that constantly reminds us we are too much, not enough, potentially both. 

  • When we listen to these stories, name them, acknowledge them honestly, and choose to change them, we can then begin the work and practice of telling and living the stories we desire and deserve. 

Every bit of this is sacred practice; responsibility, privilege, and gift. It’s also the most important thing we can possibly do.

 

When we change our stories, we change everything.

 

And perhaps it’s dangerous and disruptive to say so, but changing everything is what matters most, what’s required of us, what we’re called to – for ourselves and for our world.

May it be so.

 

*****

 

The process and practice I have developed with ancient, sacred stories (and my own) is probably the most concise way for me to describe what my 1:1 work is about: inviting you to name the stories that have made you you, then helping you reimagine and rewrite them in ways that empower, embolden, and, well, change everything!

I currently have space for new clients. Book a free, 30-minute call with me. No pressure or obligation – just a chance to chat (which I’d LOVE).

 

*****

 

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

Wisdom does as Wisdom says

Women hold all the wisdom they could ever need, that the planet could ever need, that the world so desperately needs.

 

With that bold a statement as start, why then, do we so rarely trust ourselves? Why do we, individually and collectively, know the pain and trauma and anger and mess-of-it-all that we do? Why is the world not already changed, or at least changing faster?

I won’t speak for you, but I am pretty clear on my own answer to these questions:

There’s a vast and painful difference between hearing our wisdom and actually trusting it, between knowing what we know and acting on what we know, between what wisdom says and what wisdom does. 

Why?

We hear our intuition, that know-that-we-know-that-we-know voice within. It’s clear. It’s decisive. It has a very strong opinion! But instead of going with it, making choices in alignment with such, saying a clear “yes” or “no,” we waffle.

And why?

Because to trust our wisdom, to act on it, will – inevitably – have risks, costs, and consequences.

We’re afraid of those.

When fear shows up, the tendency is rife to try and find other wisdom; something that does not have risks, costs, or consequences attached. Which usually means we repress our own knowing and default to the wisdom around us. We look to and lean on those people/institutions/powers (translate white and male) that promise to keep us safe as long as we don’t step out of line, don’t speak our truth, don’t speak at all.

I can type these words because they have been true about me. Decades of growing up in the shadow of the church and an authoritative wisdom that I was not to question. Self-esteem that was shaped by the glorification of self-sacrifice on the one hand and shame on the other (NOT a good combination). And a way of being in the world that was determined by anything/everything other than my own knowing and intuition.

But inevitably, a day came when the gap between what I heard/knew and who I was required to be, grew too wide. I could no longer bridge it with more comprome and compliance. I had to act on my wisdom, to trust it, to trust myself. No matter what.

And no surprise: risks, costs, and consequences abounded!

But there were benefits I couldn’t have imagined, as well: empowerment, discernment, clarity, hope. Even more, the establishment of a baseline: Oh, this is what my wisdom sounds like, feels like, looks like!

Believe me, I’m far from perfect at this. But I have come a long way, have let a lot go, have lost a lot along the way, and have gained far more.

It is a powerful thing: a woman’s wisdom. Following through on it? Life-changing. World-changing. And then some. 

How about for you? (Just a few questions to ponder, journal through, and if you’re up for it, DM me your answers! I’d love to hear: truly.)

  • What would be different in your relationships, your sense of self, your work in the world, if you could consistently hear and trust your wisdom?

  • What is compromise, compliance, and not acting on your wisdom costing you?

  • What might happen if you allowed risk, cost, and consequence to be the very discernment tools that tell you you can trust your wisdom?

  • What is the change you most deeply desire for our world? (Your wisdom already knows what to do. What if you did what it said?)

It has always been needed: women’s wisdom.

And it has always been present.

Now it’s up to us to bring the two together…

…to be women who listen to and trust ourselves. On our own behalf. On behalf of the planet. On behalf of a world that so desperately needs us to not just know, but to “be” and most of all, to do.

 

May it be so.

 

If your stories could talk…

A number of years ago I learned about intertextuality.

It is how one text speaks to or shapes another; how seemingly distinct texts can be in relationship with one another.

Here’s an example: three books stacked together in my home:

  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is the powerful story of a womans moral and spiritual development in 1st-person prose.
  • Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton captures the spirit of a city (and our humanity) through photography.
  • Women is a collection of 170 photographs by Annie Leibovitz with an accompanying essay by Susan Sontag.

If they could talk to each other, imagine the dinner party conversation they’d have.

Jane Eyre and Bronte would talk with Liebowitz and Sontag about all that has changed (and hasn’t) in women’s perceptions of themselves. Stanton would jump in and speak of particular images he took where those very perceptions were what he saw through his lens – and sometimes just the opposite. Sontag, a brilliant critic, would draw everyone’s attention to the larger themes and constructs present in all three of their texts: what we see, what we don’t see, what that says about us.

There would be no end to the things they could discuss! All the ways in which their perspectives and protagonists and photographs and prose would overlap and intertwine. This is intertextuality. You have this kind of dinner party taking place in your life all the time: texts and stories that operate in exactly the same way – overlapping and intertwined and endlessly speaking.

But let’s be honest: we work pretty hard to keep everything compartmentalized and separate. More than opposite ends of the dinner table, we often put our texts and stories in completely different rooms in the house. As example:

  • Your teenage years.
  • Your current Netflix binge.
  • The predominat way in which you “show up” at work.

These are not all at the table together, right? Chances are high that you are pretty determined to keep your teenage self as far away from your work self as you can. Still, let’s acknowledge, shall we, that the two are completely interconnected?

It’s possible that you are pretty sure your viewing habits on Netflix have nothing to do with your past or present. But when you apply the rules of intertextuality (even imagining such) you see they have much in common, much to discuss, and infinite overlap in the most curious and complicated of ways.

It’s possible – and probable – that things can get even more complicated (and noisy) when you add in “guests” like cultural background, family of origin, organized religion, socio-economic status, politics, any number of things that have a tendency to bump into one another at parties, at dinner tables, and certainly within.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that you try to figure out how these particular “texts” speak to one another. (OK. I am actually suggesting that…) More than the details of being a teenager, watching Netflix, and going to work, this is my point:

 

It is necessary and profoundly healing to see the way in which the texts and stories of your life talk to each other all the time.

 

Want another three to consider?

  • The stories you were told growing up.
  • The stories you tell yourself (you know: that endless chatter in your head…)
  • The cultural stories and messaging you injest via social media, all media, the water in which we swim every damn day.

Again, picture the dinner party: Hansel and Gretle, Cinderella, even Eve are making polite and sometimes pointed conversation with your endlessly-chattering inner critic who you know so well. That inner voice, a bit on the defensive, is being assuaged by the latest IG Influencer or targeted FB ad – sitting there in all their slick beauty and endless promise. And later, IG and FB chat away with your childhood stories; their not-so hidden agenda of either reinforcing or rejecting what you’ve believed and held on to all these years.

It’s true: intertextuality is *simply* a conceptual framework; but the stories and texts that are yours (conscious and not, known and unknown) are far more. They are real. They are active. And they shape every bit of who you have been, who you are, and who you will yet become.

Intertextuality, looked at another way, is considering – with depth, compassion, and curiosity – all that makes you who you are: the stories you are proud of and those you try to hide or wish you could evade. It offers you a way of looking at the complexity of your own life – the influences, the influencers, the pain, the joy, the harm, the hope – all of it speaking and speaking and speaking. Because at the end of the day…

You ARE your stories. And they are interacting with each other all the time, whether you take a seat at that imagined dinner table, or not.

So…why not pull up a chair?

 

  • Listen closely to your own texts, your own stories. They usher you into the wisdom and courage that is (already) yours; all that you long to experience and express.
  • Pay close attention to the stories you’ve been told. They help you better understand the stories you continue to tell yourself.
  • Determine, with great intention, the stories you will give credence to, will listen to, will allow and endorse. They create the world  you live in, the one we live in together, the one that is ours to nurture and heal.

None of this is easy. And as you know, few things that are of value rarely are. You are of value, though – worthy of any and every effort on your own behalf. So this is the question to ask again and again and again:

If my stories could talk (which they can and are), what do they have to say?

 

(If nothing else, look at the books on your shelves. Pick a few that are sitting side-by-side, and imagine what they talk about when you’re asleep, what they have to say about you while you sleep and what they hope for you when you’re wide awake. All. So. Delicious.)

Hearing Voices

I am neck-deep in manuscript-writing these days. This book, my book, this thing I’ve been nurturing and holding and holding back for years (and years and years) is now making its way into the world. Much like labor, I can’t stop it now – nor do I want to.  

The section I’m working on currently tells the story of a young woman whose life was violently, brutally ended.

I don’t like the story at all.

I wish it didn’t exist.

There’s no justification of it, no making sense of it.

And though I might wish to just ignore it – to dismiss it as one more piece of evidence against the text within which it’s found – that only perpetuates her harm. Which isn’t acceptable to me.

It is in telling women’s stories – even and maybe especially the most painful ones – that we invite the healing we desire and deserve.

When I calm myself down, at least for a bit, about the injustice and senselessness and violence, I can hear a different voice; I can hear hers. The one that was snuffed out. The one that was permanently silenced. The one we’ve rarely-if-ever bothered to listen to. The one that I imagine she’d speak on our behalf if only we could and would hear.

This is what I believe she’d say:

  • Fear is not your birthright.
  • Do not hold back – no matter the danger or risk.
  • Pursue what brings you life.

I am clear that these three statements are, indeed, the wisdom she longs for all of us to embody – in honor of her sacrifice, in honor of her story, in honor of her, and most of all, in honor of the life and story that is ours.

I am clear that were we to follow these three statements as gospel, it would be our own healing and that of our world that we would enable, invite, witness, and proclaim.

And I am clear that if I were I to imagine her saying even a bit more, it would sound a little something like this:

I’m right about this! Fear is not your birthright. But courage is. Write. Speak. Say. Do. Be. Say “yes.” Say “no.” Quit. Continue. Decide. Whisper. Roar. Love. 

Risk is a given. To try and mitigate it, lessen it, create a balance sheet to show you exactly what might happen if you move this way or that is not the the least bit practical nor remotely close to your destiny. Do not hold back. Let risk and danger be the signs that you are moving in the right direction. And then read the paragraph above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright.

Learn from me. Let my life (and death) offer you invaluable perspective. Cherish every moment. Pursue all that is yours, all that awaits you, all that exists within and around you, all that you desire and deserve. And then read the two paragraphs above over again so that you can remember that fear is not your birthright and you must NOT hold back, no matter the danger or risk!

Of course we wish that stories like hers did not exist, then or now. We must rage (rightly and justifiably) against violence. And in the midst of both, we must honor the voices that can no longer speak, the stories that are rarely if ever told.

We must use our own voices and live our own stories in ways that are courageous and risky and full of life.

 

And when we do? Well, Jepthah’s Daughter smiles and says “Thank you.” Oh, and this:

Read the three paragraphs above over again? And then maybe a few more times? 

With her wisdom as rubric, encouragement, and hope, I labor on – knowing and trusting that the imagined words of even one ancient, sacred young woman might strengthen you in the labor that is yours, in the story that is yours, in all that is yours to birth and live and heal.

May it be so.