November 18, 2016

On (well)Being and Baking Scones

This morning I got up and cleaned up a dog-made mess in the living room, then walked the dogs and cleaned their bowls, and fed the dogs, and took a deep breath.

Now, there are muesli scones in the oven (recipe below). The pups are lounging, the husband is sleeping in (it's his day off).

While I wait for the scones to finish, I'm reading a research report out of the University of Notre Dame. It's for my job, but it's more than just work. It's relevant to the application I'm working on this week for a PhD program... And it's relevant to my daily life.

The report is on "Flourishing in Ministry" and the factors associated with well-being for pastors working in a variety of church-based roles. I'm working part-time in a church this year, and my husband works in a church all the time, but even beyond that - there are some good reminders/insights for all of us who value well-being (which I think, hopefully, is all of us).

--

Here's what stood out to me:

Generally speaking, in life there are two types of well-being - hedonic and eudaemonic. (YAY, GREEK!)

Hedonic well-being (not hedonistic, for those of you church folks who know this word) is a matter of 'daily happiness,' which includes our moods and emotions plus general life satisfaction. In a somewhat obvious statement, the report says that "we are happier when we have mostly good days," and research suggests "a healthy level of daily happiness is a 3-to-1 ratio of positive-to-negative moods and emotions." Meanwhile, life satisfaction is the extent to which we would say, "My life is close to the ideal," or "I would change little about my life."

But here is something interesting: say, perhaps, you are reading this and thinking, "Oh, I don't think I'm experiencing much daily happiness...at least, not at a 3-to-1 ratio. My life is far from the ideal..." and then you might think, "I need to make some changes, seek some happiness, make things better." Well. I hate to disappoint you, but there is actually an inverse relationship here: "pursuing daily happiness is one of the surest ways to impede or diminish our capacity to experience it." WHAT.

(let's hold that thought)   

Eudaemonic well-being has to do with 'thriving'  - whether we believe we are living a "meaningful, good, worthy life." This includes a sense of meaning and purpose, the feeling that we are investing our personal resources into the pursuit of the things which we value, the knowledge of our own strengths, and the ability to live "in accordance with one's true self." The ability to thrive in this way is intricately linked to having a strong, positive personal identity.

--

So. Coming back to my own life.

This fall has been, for me, a hedonic roller-coaster. I have had some great days. And I have had some terrible days. I have no concept of whether that 3-to-1 ratio was present... but I know I've spent a lot of time thinking, Why aren't I happier? What should I be doing differently? I would say my efforts confirm the paradox that seeking daily happiness makes it more difficult to experience.

As I read this report, I realized that my happiest moments this fall have come from moments of strong eudaemonic experience. As we move further through the fostering process. When I decided to apply for a PhD. Seeing the wheels turning during a conversation with church youth about what makes "the good life." Hugging a friend going through difficulty and loss. These are all things I value, things I believe are worth investing in, things that make me feel more me.

I've had more and more of these moments over the past few years, which I believe are linked to the ways I have been intentionally pursuing self-knowledge and healthy self-love (more on that here).

--

I'm going to keep baking scones on mornings that start out rough, because they are delicious and I experience a very immediate happiness with them. But on mornings when the dog has pooped all over, or I forgot to do laundry and don't have the clothes I want, or when I have to say no to something I want because of budget restrictions, or the two of us can't agree on an important decision - I want to learn to zoom out. Zoom out and reframe.

I am thriving. I am well. My life is moving towards goals I've cherished for decades (literally). I have the space and opportunity and support to pursue my deepest values. And when obstacles come up (they always will), I have the resources I need to carry on.

--

Maybe you can't say the same about your life. Maybe you don't feel like you're able to move towards the goals you cherish, or that you can pursue your values. Maybe you don't know what your values are. Maybe it feels like there's no one around to support you.

That's okay. It's okay to not be okay.

We say that a lot in our home: It's okay to not be okay. Because it is. We all have days (weeks, months) where we are not okay. And generally, we carry on as best we can. We go to work. We find food to eat. We sweep the floors occasionally. We try to sleep.

If this is you, I send a giant hug your way, because it is an exhausting place to be. I also send a scone your way, because scones are magically delicious. And I encourage you, when you have the capacity again - seek thriving. Seek self-knowledge, self-love. Seek friendships that will sustain you. Trust that as you begin to thrive, the daily happiness will come.

--


Muesli Scones Mini-Recipe 
(makes 4 scones if you are home alone...double if you have guests coming!)

1 c. flour
1/2 c. muesli (mine was homemade!)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp butter
1/2 c milk (scant)

1. Combine dry ingredients
2. Cut in butter until course crumbs
3. Pour in milk. Stir
4. Shape into ball, pat down and cut in quarters
5. Bake at 400 for 10-12 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.

September 23, 2016

Journal Entry, Dated September 19, 2016

Journal entry, dated September 19, 2016

We are into the fall routine. It is full, and I worry about dropping the ball on so many little details, and yet in the evenings I flop on the couch, or the bed, or a chair. I stop working, I stop thinking. I hold my phone too close to my face. I check Twitter and Instagram, then Facebook. I cycle through. I play Candy Crush, use up my available lives, and check all the sites again while I wait for the next life to load.

I am not proud of this.

I read many interesting things online - recipes, life-hacks, personal essays, posts of people I admire from afar. I measure their lives against my own. Then, to make myself feel better about all the holes and gaps, I measure my life against the people I don't admire, the people who irk me, who have hurt me in the past - I keep them available for this purpose.

It's a game in which we're all losers.

---

I am not writing much these days. I am not journaling, I am not blogging, I am definitely not working on anything remotely close to a creative project - even though I have three (3!) ideas perpetually percolating.

I am not writing creatively because I don't know how to finish the things. I have beginnings - settings, characters, crises - but no resolution. I have form and content but no confidence in my stamina to make it to the end.

I am not blogging because the internet overwhelms me. I am afraid of judgment, of conflict, of causing offence (to some people, not all), of being bullied (by those whose opinions I don't expect to change). I feel sure that all the things I would say have already been said by someone else, somewhere else, in a better way.

I am not journaling because I vacillate between, "I have nothing to process!" and "That sh*t is too scary to put on paper! Writing it down would make it REAL!" Which I think is what my 30s are going to be about - feeling like my life is fairly boring and mostly together and then realizing, "Ah hell naw - here comes another wave of overwhelming emotions and/or pressing weight of life..."

Here are some specifics:

  • We are applying to be foster parents.
  • This fall, he is speaking publicly for the first time about living with a mental illness. 
  • I will also be sharing about living with someone who has a mental illness. 
  • (Side note: I've realized that I prefer the term "mental health diagnosis" because 90% of the time he isn't actually ill and while his diagnosis is an unchanging fact, his "wellness" is not often in the "ill" category.)
  • We continue to navigate the stressful world of finances, though it is less and less stress or conflict between us, for which I am grateful.
  • We have deliberately chosen to keep my work/job load at 'part-time,' but I feel guilty for not making more money to help pay off my school debt. 
  • I am often jealous of my parent friends, and of my single friends, and any of my friends that seem to be making big strides in their lives (at the same time, this sometimes gives me hope that such things are possible). 



Fall hasn't quite arrived at the beach...
---

I think I'm ready to write again. I'm clearly ready to journal.

I think I'm ready to blog. We've had a lot of curiosity about the fostering process so far - maybe I'll write about that.

And the creative projects...well, it's good to have goals.

July 11, 2016

5 Rules for Being a (North) American Adult or No One Wants You to Love Yourself

5 Rules for Being a (North) American Adult
(paraphrased from a lecture by Anne Lamott, whose priest friend shared them with her many years ago)

1. Have it all together.
2. If you don't have it all together, fix whatever is broken in you so that you do have it all together.
3. If you can't fix whatever's broken, pretend that you have.
4. If you can't pretend to be fixed, don't show up - it's a bit embarrassing to the rest of us.
5. If you do decide to show up broken, at least have the decency to be ashamed of yourself.

--

We are encultured towards self-loathing and self-avoidance. 

Be perfect.
Do it all, do it right. 
If you can't be better, pretend you are.
Don't look any deeper.
Keep busy. Keep your chin up. Keep up appearances.

It takes so much energy.
It takes too much energy.

--

What would happen if I just loved myself? is the question I have been asking since my last post. 

It's the question I hear when I see photos of lovely fat ladies who refuse to be shamed for being 'unconventionally' sized, or any women who post proud selfies, pleased with how they look.

It's the question I hear when I see women like Leslie Jones and Serena Williams who are bold and black and refuse to hide or hate or deny their beauty and their black-ness. 

It's the question I hear when I wish I had cooler clothes, or knew how to wear makeup, or when I get into a funk because I dislike my behaviour, or think I should "know better."

--

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that no one wants you to love yourself. 

Hopefully that's not quite true. Your partner, if you have one, should love you deeply and encourage you to do the same. I hope you have at least one friend who is fully on your team. But there likely aren't more than a few voices urging you to truly love the you who is.

Not the self who is just beyond your reach.
Not the self who you could be someday. 
Not the self you think you should be.

The person you are right now. 

--

I want to love myself as I actually am.

Not just Beth five pounds lighter.
Not just Beth who is more patient.
Not just Beth who knows what kind of career/job she should pursue.
Not just Beth who does the dishes every night.

I am none of those people. 

I don't think self-love is the same as self-wallowing. Self-acceptance does not mean ignoring or denying my weaknesses, my flaws, my favourite little sins. 

It's just that shame, fear, and guilt are terrible taskmasters. They'll never get me far enough. There's always further to go, always another hoop to jump through, always something more to change. 

Guilt and shame will never motivate us to freedom.

--

Whether we're talking innards or outsides, character qualities or physical appearances, choosing to love yourself is a radical, rebellious act. 

Rebellious in the best way possible - rebellious against the consumer culture in which we live, one that is always telling us, This product will help you be cooler, this product will help you look better, this product will make you feel better about yourself. In short, this product will make you more lovable, because (is the inference), without it, you are not - or at least less - lovable.

Rebellious against our media culture that tells us to put a nice filter on our lives, to show off the glitz and the glam, to show the world and to convince ourselves that we are great and everything is awesome. But no one's life is like that all the time. 

Rebellious against the inner voices of shame and guilt that say do better, try harder, you're too much, you're not enough, change, change, change.

--

What if I just choose to love myself?
As I am.
What if I love the stretch marks on my hips, the cellulite on my thighs, the new little ring of belly pudge my 30s has brought me?
What if I apologize for my anger, and then forgave myself instead of replaying all the wrong things I said for the next six hours?

What if love is mine for the taking? 
What if love is yours for the taking?

--


My friend Katie took this photo a few weeks ago. My first thought was, Oh, I don't like...

And then I stopped. 

I looked at myself. 
And I said, I like me. I like this laughing, happy me (and I like me even when I'm not laughing).
And there wasn't room for any buts

--

After my last post, a friend shared something with me that she wrote when she "decided to stop fat shaming myself and start loving myself more."
This morning as I was getting ready, I took a moment to look at myself naked in the mirror as I'd done so many times before, but something struck me this morning and I patted my belly and I squeezed my fat all over and I told her that she was good. I told her she was a good body and that she didn't have to be sexy; she was a good body and she didn't have to be thin for me to love her. I loved her and I was sorry for all the times I'd told her that I hated her and for all the times I wanted to, and did, hurt her. Then I dressed her in confidence and I left the house feeling not beautiful but just as I feel a human should about the house she lives in, content.
This, I think, is beautiful. It is honest, and difficult to do, and it's radical in the most compelling way. It's about choosing which voices to listen to, and which we will refuse. It's about moving away from shame and guilt, and towards Love. 

That's where I want to go. 
It's where I want to live. 

June 1, 2016

Some Sins Are Not Like Stealing Plums

Some sins are more comfortable than others.

(More comfortable to confess, at least.)

William Carlos Williams’ poem, “This Is Just to Say,” is a quintessentially endearing confession:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

It’s not that hard to confess eating the plums. We sheepishly shrug our shoulders, offer a hug or a kiss, buy a few more plums for tomorrow, and move on.

But it’s harder to confess the sins on my heart this week. Sins that are not only my own, but make others culpable too. Sins rooted in arrogance and self-centredness (okay, all sins are rooted there), sins that categorically look down on other people simply because they are not like me.

I need to confess these sins because I don’t entirely know what to do with them.

I need to confess these sins because they are almost ever-present in my life.

I need to confess these sins because even though they seem “mild” and “not such a big deal,” I am contributing to systemic, large-scale sin. And the only way systemic, large-scale sins are stopped is when individuals own their sins and change their behaviours and then make noise about those changes.

--

So here is my confession:

I am racist.

Many of you will remember that a little more than five years ago (!), I held an art exhibit for my birthday. My 26th birthday, and it was called 26 Secrets. I’d been thinking recently about the poems and photos I shared that night, and decided that it was high time I make a little photo book to remember and share the important milestone that it was for me. I was excited to create a permanent memento of work I was proud of, images and words that had been a revealing and opening of my heart.

As I was uploading the images to my photo-book-maker-of-choice, I went through and read the corresponding poem. And one of them stopped me in my tracks.

Woah! I thought, I can’t put that poem in! 

I remember writing it. I remember the feeling I was trying to capture. I wasn't trying to be oppressive. But five years later, what’s clear to me is that the sentiment of the poem is at best, racially na├»ve. At worst, it is straight-up racist.

It's a poem that lessens the experience of black women and elevates my experiences of sexual objectification as a white woman as somehow worse or more exaggerated than those of women of colour. This is categorically untrue; historically, women of colour have experienced much more extreme (and violent) sexual objectification and abuse than white women - which is not in any way to minimize the real suffering of white women, myself included, but I can't make sweeping and untrue statements about the experience of a people to whom I do not belong.

I sat staring at the computer screen, and then I started thinking about this tweet, which totally convicted me about how we white people (especially white Christians) like to pretend we are above racism. Even though we know we aren’t above any of the other sins, like greed, or gluttony, or lust.

I was racist five years ago, and I can’t claim I’ve reached perfection since. I am part of the problem that has a stranglehold on much of North America. I assume falsehoods about people because of their skin colour. I project value on lives based on cultural history. I come out on top when it comes to privilege.

I cannot ignore this truth.

--

My other sin is not so different.

It started with a draft of a blog post, one about body image and how I’ve started seeing my body change since I hit 30, and how I feel like I’m getting a mom bod but without the baby to make up for it.

It was going to be an ‘honest’ post, and I was almost ready to publish it.

Then I went to my local mom-and-pop grocery store, and the woman behind the counter Oohed and Aahed over my choice of brussel sprouts, and asked how I cooked them, and said I must eat so healthy, because I was “so skinny!”

And I left grouchy and annoyed, thinking, Why do people say s@#* like that? I wish people would stop telling me I’m skinny...

I’ve spent most of my life pushing back when people tell me I’m skinny.

“I have child-bearing hips!”
“Oh, I’ve got stretch-marks and cellulite where you can’t see…”
“Actually, that won’t fit. I’m a size __.”
“It’s not that I’m skinny, I just know how to dress to hide my flaws.”

But here’s the thing. I am skinny.

I am skinny enough to buy clothes in almost any store I want (except Gap Kids, but that’s only fair…).
I am skinny enough that people don’t ask me if I’m pregnant.
I am skinny enough to not be judged or mocked by strangers simply for being.
I am skinny enough that the health problems I encounter are not assumed to be my own fault.
I am skinny enough that my eating habits are not dissected by those with whom I share a meal.
I am skinny enough that people don’t doubt my self-control.
I am skinny enough that people assume I respect myself.
I am skinny enough that no one is predicting I’ll die young.
I am skinny enough that I never have to worry if I’ll fit in a chair at church, or an office, or any sort of space outside my home.
I am skinny enough that I’m not embarrassed to get on a plane.

Not only am I “skinny enough” to experience life in this privileged way, I have participated in the shaming, the mocking, the judging, the pitying, and the despising of those who are not “skinny enough.”

I have friends who are big (or fat, or curvy, or whichever term they choose for themselves), and I’ve somehow thought that put me more or less above size-ism. I don’t care about size! We’re friends! But size-ism the same as racism; having a black friend doesn’t mean I’m not racist. It probably just means my POC (person of colour)/fat friends are exceedingly gracious towards me. If I’m truly honest with myself (and with all of you), I have had size-ist thoughts towards women I love:

If they can run a 10k, surely I can too?
I don’t understand why they don’t just eat a little less.
It’s kind of annoying we can’t go shopping together.
Don’t they need to lose weight? Heart disease and all that…
It’s probably rooted in childhood trauma, so it’s not really their fault.

These things are not okay to say, and they’re not okay to think, and I want to change.

Many of my friends who weigh more than I do are also healthier, more active, stronger, and eat better than I do. Yet no one shames me. This is unfair and unacceptable.

I've come to believe that Health at Every Size is possible, and to be celebrated.

--


In the Anglican Church, where I currently make my spiritual home, the act of confession is built in to our weekly church service. The standard confession begins like this:

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.


I need to say that every week. Because it is true every week.

I believe that racism and size-ism are sins against God. Against what God has made and called good.

They are also sins against people. Real people with real feelings, with struggles I cannot deny, facing prejudice and needless obstacles because of me and people like me.

I have not loved my neighbor as myself.

I am truly sorry.
And I humbly repent.

--

I don’t really know how to make amends.

But here’s where I want to start:

  1. I will face my racism/sizeism*. I can’t pretend it doesn’t lurk in me, and I can’t pretend it’s ok. I want to address it at its stem, in my thoughts and in my heart.
  2. I will speak up when others say or do things that are discriminatory or oppressive. I’m not willing to hide behind my own privilege anymore. It’s not right.
  3. I will be willing to learn. I will be willing to be told I’m being racist/size-ist, to hear and receive correction. Because I’m not perfect. I’m not above it.
  4. If you are a person of colour, or a person of size/fat/big/curvy, I would really like to hear how I (and others like me) can help fight against these sins on both an individual and societal level.


*also, related sins of which I am also culpable: ableism, sexism, oppression/judgment against LGBTQ individuals, and probably all the other –isms I’m currently forgetting.

April 2, 2016

Ten Years Later

This post has been ten years in the making.

It started when I graduated from my undergrad degree, and created this blog. I had just accepted my first full-time job. I was getting ready to move across the country. I bought my first cell phone. Twitter didn't exist. Facebook was just a baby.

Now here I am, in 2016, about to graduate from my Masters degree. In the intervening decade, I have:
  • Moved across the country, and then moved back east, to the largest city in our nation. 
  • Held four different jobs - ministry, nanny, small business, college office. 
  • Freelanced as a photographer, and as an editor/writer.
  • Traveled to six different countries- three each in Europe and Africa.
  • Lived in five different homes (#6 is two weeks away!). 
  • Dated five men, and been on many other dates.
  • Been a bridesmaid six times. 
  • Celebrated other weddings, births, and joys. 
  • Walked with loved ones through illness (physical and mental), death, infidelity, and other heartache.
  • Gone into debt to go back to school. 
  • Curated a poet-ography exhibit of my poetry and photography.
  • Taken a class on memoir writing.
  • Hosted a blog series on sexuality and shame that has had a huge impact on both my own life and others' lives. 
  • Married one of the boyfriends.
  • Adopted a dog. 
  • (and since I started this draft, adopted a second dog!)
  • Wrestled with my faith and how to live wholeheartedly.

It's not an exhaustive list. But the point is, there have been some significant life experiences and changes and growth.

Pig & Ivy out for a walk.
And the world around me has changed too. I'm starting this entry on my phone. My smart phone with WiFi and separate apps for all my social media platforms. I have Internet friends I've never met in person. Facebook and Twitter have changed how we have online conversations.

And I still have this blog.

--

I've been thinking about all this and how it relates to the drastic decrease in the number of posts I've published in the last few years, and I see three factors:


1. Marriage and work change privacy parameters. I remember watching my blogging friends disappear after marriage, and I swore I wouldn't go their route. Oops. Turns out that it does change. For one, I can't write carte blanche about someone else the way I could about myself. And also, thoughts I used to bring here first often get resolution offline before I have time to sit down and write it out. 

I've been in school for the last three years. I pay money to write papers and read books. Which means that in my free time, I'm not doing as much reading or writing. I watch a lot of sports, now. I take the dog(s) out when my brain feels fried. And as I graduate, I'm closer to something like a "career," some sort of work that I feel passionate about and want to honour and guard by being careful with what I say online. Because like I already mentioned...


2. The Internet and I have substantially changed. At 31, the things I'm interested in and the way I process my life has shifted. I don't feel the same need for broad affirmation that I felt at 21. I'm a grown-ass lady, and even if I feel like I'm faking it on many days, I have the white hairs to prove that I am firmly ensconced in adulthood. 

The links and little thoughts I used to post here are on Twitter now. Pictures go on Instagram. (Not very much goes on Facebook, except links to this.) I read (skim) dozens of headlines and articles every day. There are voices writing about every topic imaginable. We live in an age of information overload. 

And let's be honest, I'm more afraid of online bullying/arguing than I was a decade ago. It is different to be a woman writing publicly online than it was in 2006. I feel a lot more nervous about getting caught in arguments I don't want. I also fear saying ignorant or ill-informed things. Which leads into the next reality - 


3. My audience has grown. When I started writing here, maybe fifteen or twenty of you would come check things out and follow along with my (mis)adventures and rather random thoughts. Now, strangers read these words. I have friends in foreign places, friends I've never met in real life (but who are, nonetheless, real friends). My circle of real-life friends has expanded as well, and we're a less homogenous bunch than my core group was a decade ago. 

When I write now, I often think of one person or another, and feel that I can't write for the whole lot of you. My faith is a big part of my life, but I don't want to be someone whose thoughts are unintelligible for those outside of church. I also have a few convictions that are unpopular with some of my church friends, and I've stayed silent on some topics that I'd like to explore. 

--

I guess the bottom line is that I feel like my day-to-day life is, after several years of change and turmoil, settling in to a rhythm and space that I'm happy to inhabit. But my online voice has been a bit behind. 


And I'm hoping to change that. Which is why I wanted to sort all this out for myself, and then let you in on the thoughts that have been rolling around for weeks.

--

Two weeks from this evening, I will be done all the school, and moved into a new home across town, within walking distance of our church, and even closer to the beach. If you follow me on Instagram, expect a lot of waterfront photos... 

Gonna be here erryday.

I know life isn't going to be a golden haze of perfection, but I think it will slow down a little. I'm looking forward to being back around here a little more regularly, and I hope to hear from you as we go. You're a great crew, and I've missed you. 

March 13, 2016

Love Is a Waste of Time (Lent Poem)

“Love is a waste of time.”

The best possible waste –
an extravagant gift
with no guarantees.

No measure of success
and a great deal of risk.

Love is a waste
that we all want to have

too much of

running over

flowing freely

wasted on us.

Love is a waste of time –
but I still hope you waste your time on me.

--

Today's Scripture readings include this story about a woman wasting a year's worth of perfume on the feet of Jesus. It is one of three stories we have about this Mary. The other two are the death (and return to life) of her brother, and her refusal to leave the presence of Jesus to help her sister prepare dinner.

I think that this trio of stories is worth looking at together. And I think that what we find here is a woman whose relationship with Jesus was characterized by intimacy, and that intimacy gave her a willingness to be judged by others, to let her love be seen as wasteful and extravagant. She defied societal norms. She gave sacrificially. She made herself vulnerable.

I don't believe that love can ever be wasteful, or wasted.
And I think there is much for me to learn from Mary of Bethany.

February 21, 2016

A Terrifying Darkness (Lent Poem)

“Count the stars,”
he told me.
“This land will be yours,”
he said.
Outrageous!
I thought.
“How will I know?”
I asked.

I brought the sacrifice,
slaughtered the animals,
sat down,
and waited.

He didn’t warn me
that after the promises,
the obedience,
and the waiting,
the darkness would come.


From Genesis 15, the Old Testament lectionary reading for today.

This is one of several passages in which God makes a covenant with Abram. What struck me in this particular instance is the strange, unsettling way in which God reiterates the covenant. What was Abram expecting; how did he think God would respond to his request for a sign or guarantee of the promise? Why did God put Abram to sleep and send a "terrifying darkness" after making these massive and intimate promises? And what does either of these questions have to do with us today?