fearless 2014

How to Transform Discomfort to Strength

“Even though February was the shortest month of the year, sometimes it seemed like the longest.” ― J.D. Robb

Well. It's February.

Each February, I find myself giving myself a pep talk about how Februaries aren't all that bad, really.

C'mon, I tell myself. It's not that bad. A little cold, sure, which has gotten quite old by this point. But it's a short month, and soon March will be here, and that will mean that it's practically spring.

And yet it kind of does feel that bad. Overly long, inspire of its dearth of days, dreary, and not all too warm (here in Montana, anyway). I'm ready for the sun warming my bared shoulders, for sandals and tank tops without any jackets, for naked feet pressing into the earth.

But

it's not that time of year for us [yet].

So I'm trying really hard to practice being in the here and now, no matter how much I may dislike it or long for spring or feel uncomfortable. (Doesn't putting it like that make such an endeavor seem so much easier than it actually is? In reality, this kind of works makes me feel like a rookie in the big leagues.)

But I've been having lots of opportunities for pressing into the uncomfortable. One of the biggest of which is my reason for being mostly absent online in the past couple of months -- I've been working on becoming a certified OULA (sassy dance fitness for body, mind, and soul) teacher. And now I am one! I just learned this weekend that I passed my audition and that I'm in. What a relief and a joy!

And what a journey. A good one, but not one without discomfort. First there was attending the training weekend (on no sleep, might I add, thanks to a puking toddler), and then teaching my first song there. Then I taught my first song in a real class, and then a few songs, and then a whole class all by myself. And even now that I'm certified, there are new challenges ahead -- getting insured, applying to be a sub at gyms, and bringing in students so I don't find myself in the red with space rentals, to name a few.

I take in a lot (a lot) of articles/podcasts/videos/blog posts on being an online entrepreneur, and read a lot of inspiring success stories. But something that I feel too many of these stories gloss over is the discomfort involved -- the discomfort of trying, of failing, and even of succeeding.

Every positive opportunity comes with its shadow side of discomfort, of nervousness, maybe even of fear and anxiety. This is true for me, and I'm guessing I'm not the only one. So if you've been dismayed or surprised by the difficulties that come with even the good things in your life, you're not alone.

Press into the discomfort, don't walk away from the good in order to avoid the discomfort. By sticking with it, by facing at what's hard while celebrating what's great, you will eventually transmute that uncomfortable aspect into strength.

What kind of strength? It depends on what the opportunity in question is. For me, in pressing forward through my OULA training instead of fleeing when it got hard or [really damn] scary, I gained courage to perform in front of an audience. I discovered that it's not too late for me to be a dancer. And -- perhaps best of all -- I've regained a great deal of vocal power by pressing into the challenge of singing, shouting, and generally making a ruckus while teaching a class.

So if you're walking through a door into a spacious new opportunity only to be knocked sideways by an unexpected challenge, discomfort, or difficulty, stop and take a breath, then look that sucker in the eye. What strength or gain is standing beyond it, just for you? Is it worth it to press through that mucky part to stand in the sun? If so, keep going. Endure. Screw up your courage. Be gentle with yourself. And most importantly, do that hard-but-leading-to-awesomeness thing. I don't think you'll regret it.

p.s. If you need a little support, perhaps my mini e-course, Your Fearless Year 2016, might be of some help? Get it for just $10 USD with discount code BEFEARLESS16.

Delicious Words: The Best of Books Devoured in 2014


I love reading.  L O V E reading.  Books have sustained me through some of the hardest challenges of my life.  They are inspiration, education, and sanctuary.  They challenge and uproot.  They uplift my whole person.

That said . . . I've been rather lax in my reading.  Part of it is that being a mama takes up a lot of time (in an awesome way), but then after my sweet boy goes to bed, it's honestly easier to take in some TV shows on Amazon Prime than it is to pick up a book.

Still, my goal was to read ten books in 2014 (I know, I know, such a small goal for a woman who professes to L O V E reading), and I exceeded that.  So yay me.  And also yay to the fact that reading, even what feels like a paltry amount, has reminded me of just how much I need to be reading.  Not just because it is awesome and good for your brain and nourishing to me on a personal level, but also as a writer.  If I want to be a professional writer, I need to be a professional reader, too.

Here are some of my [highly professional?] favorite reads of 2014.


Non-fiction

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd.  This was my first read of the year, and oh man, was it a good one -- and kind of perfect that it was my premiere book of 2014.  It's an autobiographical account of author Kidd's journey out of patriarchy and into her own self.  Perfect for any woman seeking to embrace her own woman-ness in a deeper way.

“I often went to Catholic mass or Eucharist at the Episcopal church, nourished by the symbol and power of this profound feeding ritual. It never occurred to me how odd it was that women, who have presided over the domain of food and feeding for thousands of years, were historically and routinely barred from presiding over it in a spiritual context. And when the priest held out the host and said, "This is my body, given for you," not once did I recognize that it is women in the act of breastfeeding who most truly embody those words and who are also most excluded from ritually saying them.” 

- from The Dance of the Dissident Daughter


Immortal Diamond: The Search For Our True Self by Richard Rohr.  If you follow me on social media, you may already know that I read a good deal of Rohr's works this year.  I even started a free book on Facebook for other Rohr readers.  So I probably don't have to tell you that I really (really, really) like what Rohr has to say.  Reading this Franciscan's priest's words helped move me from seeing the world, and specifically matters of spirituality and faith, in black and white (otherwise known as dualism) to opening up to a greater and more mysterious spectrum of existence and possibility.  Read it if you're weary of spiritual shoulds and are looking for another way.  I also recommend The Naked Now, Job and the Mystery of Suffering, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and Falling Upward, all by Rohr and all among my 2014 reads.

“Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery.” 

- from Immortal Diamond


Red, Hot, and Holy: A Heretic's Love Story by Sera Beak.  I have something of a love/hate relationship with this book.  I felt like the book's description made promises that the book itself did not deliver on.  However, I have to put it on this list anyway because I love how committed Beak is to finding her whole self, no matter the cost.  Don't read this is a self-help book (that's what messed me up, I think -- read her The Red Book if that's what you need) but as an autobiographical love story between one woman and her Holy.

“Ideas aren’t helping you anymore, Sera. Concepts have run their course. Paradigms pop. Theories leak. Techniques are only top-offs. Beliefs brush away. Books close. Workshops end. What truly transforms is this Closeness with Me. You gotta hug Me so tight that nothing comes between Us.” 

- from Red, Hot, and Holy


Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes.  I haven't finished this yet, despite having started it at the end of 2013.  It's not the kind of book you can rush through.  I find it hard to read more than a few pages at a time, because it is rich and healing and alive.  It is a collection of retold myths and fairytales.  Required reading for the awakening woman.

“If you have yet to be called an incorrigable, defiant woman, don't worry, there is still time.” 

- from Women Who Run With the Wolves

Fiction

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  This book.  This book.  It is perhaps the best book I read this year.  It is a work of art, leaving me breathless like few works of fiction ever have.  It is hard, and lovely, and challenging, and sacred.  Go.  Read it.  Now.  I'll wait.  (And read Ness's other works afterward, because those are really quite good, too.)

Stories are wild creatures, the monster said. When you let them loose, who knows what havoc they might wreak?” 

- from A Monster Calls


The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.  This trilogy isn't high art like Ness's book.  But it is really, really fun.  And it's set in a fantasy world based loosely in Russian culture, which I found unique and refreshing.  The story can be a little predictable, but Bardugo makes up for that with lots of engaging adventure, bloodshed, characters that you care about (pirates!!!!), and romance that I didn't hate.  Like I said,  I had a blast reading these, and couldn't stop until I'd consumed all three back to back to back.

“Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.” 

- from Siege and Storm, book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy


His Fair Assassin Trilogy by Robin Lafevers.  I started this series in 2013, but the final book only released this November.  I have been practically panting for it all year, and per-ordered it so I'd get it on release day -- I never pre-order books.  I basically love this trilogy with all my heart.  It's about assassin nuns (assassin nuns, people!!!) set in medieval Burgundy.  Snarky, deliciously dark at times, full of ass-kicking women, they are SO GOOD. 

“I comfort myself with the knowledge that if Duval ever feels smothered by me, it will be because I am holding a pillow over his face.” 

- from Grave Mercy, book 1 of the His Fair Assassin Trilogy


Magdalen Rising by Elizabeth Cunningham.  This book is the first in The Maeve Chronicles, a series retelling the story of Mary Magdalen.  Under Cunningham's care, Mary becomes the fierce and fiery Celtic (eeek!) Maeve, who is raised by seven mothers and goes off for training under the Druids once she comes of age.  Trigger warning: there is sexual violence which, while not explicit, is nonetheless devastating.  Honestly, although it took me awhile to come around to it, this is one of the reasons I love this book.  It's the best fictional representation of sexual violence I've seen because, as with true life sex crimes, it completely stops and reroutes the story.  Nothing is the same after this intimate shattering.  I'm looking forward to reading the remaining books in the series.

“I've outgrown my childhood name, and I haven't found a new one yet.”

- from Magdalen Rising
Poetry

Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainer Maria Rilke.  No best-of-books list would be complete without poetry.  And Rilke's poetry is so, so rich.  It is just what I needed to read: the words of a mystic, questioning, reaching into the darkness, and learning to be satisfied with not-knowing.  Rilke's poetry echoes my own heart's throbbing.

“I circle around God, that primordial tower. / I have been circling for thousands of years, / And I still don't know: am I a falcon, / A storm, or a great song?” 

- from Rilke's Book of Hours


The Anatomy of Being by Shinji Moon.  I'm still working my way through this collection of poetry, but it is powerful.  Visceral, electric, and full of emotion.  And I love that Moon independently published it.  Basically, yum.

“You will lie to everyone you love. / They will love you anyways.” 

- from The Anatomy of Being

Friends' books

This list would not be complete without mentioning the bravery of my friends who published books in 2014.  I've blogged about a couple, but here they are in their totality, all gorgeous and worth reading(I feel pretty sure I'm forgetting someone . . . if so, my deepest apologies! pregnancy brain strikes again -- remind me and I will happily add yours to the list!)

For 2015 . . .

I've already started reading some of the books that will become my best-books-of-2015 list, I can just feel it.  Like A Discovery of Witches, for example, which I'm currently devouring.  I'd like to read more fiction across a variety of genres, styles, and topics, both for fun and for my edification as a writer.  I tend toward reading a lot of more self-help-y kind of books (usually spiritual ones), particularly when I feel like my heart is spinning.  So more fiction for 2015.

I'd also like to read more parenting books.  I've bought a decent bunch of them over the past two years, and have barely touched them.  I'd like to finish one or two.

Similar to my accumulation of parenting books, I've accumulated even more books on writing over the years -- and again haven't read most of them.  So I'm planning on reading more of those, particularly Writing Begins With the Breath because, well, writing tends to bring out the worst of my neuroses, so writing + breathing sounds like a better plan than writing + emotional eating, or writing + floundering in self-doubt, or writing + depression.

Looking back over this list, I notice that the authors mentioned are predominantly white.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is curious.  I'd like to widen my range of authors, to take in the experiences of those who don't look like me.  I think it's important, as a person and as a writer.  I've already started doing this with my son's books, expanding our picture book collection with stories featuring non-white characters and both male and female main characters, as well as purchasing toys that aren't all male, or the kind of toys marketed only for males.  It's time to challenge myself and expand my mind in some of the same ways as I'm doing for my son.  One book I'm particularly looking forward to/nervous about reading is Writing the Other, which delves into penning characters of a different ethnicity than the author.

And more poetry.  Because poetry = awesome.

On top of that, a number of my friends are publishing new books in 2015, so I'm also looking forward to getting my hands on those.

Most of all, though -- I've purchased a TON of books I haven't read yet in the last year or two.  So my main book goals for 2015 are to a) read a bunch, and b) buy no more books!  (Anyone else have a book buying problem?)

I'm also having a baby in the spring if all goes well, so I'm setting these book (and all 2015) goals with fluidity and grace.  Who knows how much time I'll have to read/create/brush my teeth in the second half of the year, so I'm holding everything quite loosely (or trying to). 

Okay, enough from me.  Your turn!  What were some of your favorite reads of 2014?  Anyone with me in the assassin nun fangirling?  How about your reading hopes for the new year?


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I Believe in the Night {On Decembers}


There's something about December.

I've long resisted it.  The depth of night . . . the buzzing of the holidays . . . the overabundance of delicious and bad-for-you things in all the places. 

I used to say that this was my least favorite time of the year.  And that was before my baby was stillborn days before Thanksgiving.

But this year feels different.

Maybe it's that I'm resting with the hibernating earth, staying away from the manic hustle and bustle of holiday to-do lists and presents and unnecessary obligations.  Maybe it's that I'm doing the holidays my way, perhaps for the first time, and choosing only what is nourishing and enlightening for my spirit.  I feel like I'm wrapped up in a cloak of star-marked night, breathing in time with the bears sleeping winter away in their mountain dens.

Maybe it's that I'm pregnant -- a time that always makes me feel more visceral, more embodied, more sexy and sacred.  Maybe it's my body waxing around the seed of life in the darkness within that makes me appreciate this time of thick, cold night.

Or maybe it's that it's my fearless year (just for a little while longer now), and I'm reaping the benefits of challenging myself to find treasures in winter's darkness. That I'm learning to not run from the dark, but slowly turn my face toward it and invite it in for tea.

This year is different.


I hope next year is different in the same kind of way, too, more and more different-in-a-needed-way, as I learn to trust this soul of mine, and the feeling coursing through my marrow. 

I hope I never forget to honor these long, dark nights. 

I believe in the night, when dreams run free across the stilled landscape.  When the moon wanes and waxes and wanes above, her eternal dance that tells us so much about ourselves.  When the stars play behind the wandering clouds, and all the earth is a question.  When I teach myself again and again, and sometimes learn, to surrender to myself, to this body, to rest.  When slumber makes us children again for a time, trusting in what is, if only for this night.

I nestle into December's darkness and try to heed the quiet throb of my own heart's pace.

"You, darkness, of whom I am born–
I love you more that the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illuminates
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations–just as they are.
It let’s me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night."
- Rainer Maria Rilke, from Rilke's Book of Hours*

Your turn: how is your December different this year?  Is it a welcome kind of different, or something less desirable?  How would you like it to be different next year?  Let your thoughts wander over how you can make December 2015 a good-different for yourself.


*affiliate link

My Fearless Year: Farewell, For Now


Well, my dear Fearless year, we've had quite the time, haven't we?  We crashed into 2014 together, intent on growth and success and soul-knowing.  And we did it.  We grew.  We saw some successes (and some failures).  And today, I know my soul far better than I did at this time last year.

It's been quite the year.

I wrote a book.  And published it.  And then wrote most of another book.  And a book of poetry (coming soon, I hope). 
I did a lot of things to my hair, intent on discovering what is most me-ish.
I pierced my nose, after much dreaming, and made plans for future tattoos.
I made art.
I made love.  I enjoyed my first orgasm.  And then a bunch more after that.
I fought for my marriage.
I fought for my soul, reclaiming it for myself from all those darn shoulds.
I fought depression
I released.
I said hello, hugged beloved kindreds.
I said goodbye.  And it hurt.  A lot.  Especially when my farewell went unnoticed. 
I traveled (twice!!).
I went down a scary water slide . . . and liked it.
I said no.  And yes.
I explored.  I found a cave.  I found my self.
I thrashed.
I burned
I howled at the moon.
I said hard things.  I said nothing.
I made mistakes.  A lot of them.
I cursed more.  I listened harder.  I tried to love better.
I wore real lipstick for the first time, and loved it.
I charged forward, and stepped back. 
I rested.
I healed.
I danced wild. 
I (with some help) gave a new person life within me.
I whispered "I love you" an extravagant amount of times into my beloveds ears.
I was afraid.  I did it anyway.  And sometimes I didn't.

Quite the year.  I've never lived a year so full, I think.  Not ever. 

What I've loved about my Fearless year is how I went after it, sometimes aggressively, went after the life I longed for, the self that I wanted to be, the way that I wanted to walk in the world.  I went for it.  And what I found difficult about my Fearless year in hindsight, is, um, that selfsame aggression.  Sometimes I went too hard (and sometimes not hard enough).  I was not always the most nuanced in my awakening.  I stepped on toes, quite a few of them.  For that I am sorry.

But

I also pulled my own toes out from a number of different heels, of things that snagged my soul and kept my knotted up and small.  So, for all my mistakes and stumblings, it was worth it.  I look back at my Fearless year and am satisfied.  Because I went for it.  And that is, if not everything, then a lot.

Thank you, my Fearless year.  You taught me a lot about how I want to be, and how I don't want to be, and who I'd like to walk with, and where.  You taught me that fearlessness is not a state of walking without fear, but a state of being fearful but daring to walk anyway.  You taught me about the nature of courage, and how sometimes it is loud and sometimes it is soft, and sometimes it can look a lot like sleeping, which was unexpected.

I felt so young this year, my Fearless year, so full of life.  And then sometimes I felt excruciatingly old.  That was harder, but you had lessons for me there, too.  You taught me more in the art of turning the everyday into magic that is no less sparkling for its mundanity.

You taught me to be me, and you taught me well, I think.  And now it is time to say goodbye, my Fearless year, to release and renew and rediscover.  I'm sure I will meet you again one day, and perhaps even one day soon.  But for now, we part.

Thank you and thank you and thank you, my Fearless year.  I will never be the same, and I will never stop being grateful for that.










 





We are Made For Changing

one of my poetry holiday ornaments -- find them all here, with new ones like this going up soon

I really don't know what brought it on.  Maybe it was the early morning dark, or the fact that I was still bleary from recent sleep.

But all of a sudden, it dawned in the dawning hour -- the next shifting.

Don't you know, we all shift in small ways and large throughout the day, month, year, and all years together?  Or we should (and not that icky, "do more, do better, rush rush rush" kind of should -- I mean the slow and nourishing and natural kind).

We are made for changing, not for staying the same.  Look out the door, the window.  See how the earth makes way for roots and greenery, how the trees blossom then turn skeletal, how the sun and stars and moon turn and turn, always turning.  Watch the snake shed her skin, the woman shed her bloody monthly lining, the child shed his baby teeth.

We are, all of us, made for changing, growing, shifting.

This morning, my next one came.  Or arrived.  Or began.

I had begun to think that it wouldn't.  That I was trapped in this sameness, and while it's not a bad place to be, you may have heard that we're made for changing.

Then, there it was, blooming wide in my heart and mind: I don't want to live that way any longer.  I can't. I have decided that I won't.

And that was it.  An end, a beginning, and the start of a new middle-ish place.  I can't say where this will bring me, only that I am glad.  Because I am made for changing.

I wrote it down so I wouldn't forget it:


A declaration?  An anthem?  Maybe.  A fitting way for starting to bring my fearless year to a close?  Absolutely.

I've been wanting this for a while.  But I wasn't brave enough, wasn't quite ready.  I was too afraid of what -- who -- I might lose.  Until I saw that I lose those things, those people, anyway, because I guess people can sense when you're not being all of you, or that maybe you really weren't meant for each other anyway, not in this here and now, at least.

This time, I'm ready, I think (I hope).  I feel like I can't afford not to be.  We are made for changing, you know.

I can't, I won't keep asking permission for the things no other person has the power to permit or deny.  I refuse to keep asking if I'm allowed to be who I am, because I am.  You are.  It's allowed.  It's necessary. 

Just like that, the inner walls of stasis and stagnation begin to crumble.

Because we are made for changing and changing and changing, becoming ever more of who we truly are at the core.


Your turn: what are you asking permission for that perhaps you don't need to be?  What's one think you'd like to try on in order to become more fully and authentically you?

When Forwards Feels Backwards {On Depression, Pregnancy, & Other Things}


This summer was hard.  Hard.

It shouldn't have been.  Everything lined up.  My son was napping regularly and sleeping well, not to mention continuing to exponentially grow in cuteness daily.  I had time for creating -- lots of time, in fact.  I traveled -- alone! -- to a writing retreat and got to meet some of my dearest kindreds.  The weather wasn't too oppressively hot, much to my relief.  I was in good physical shape, doing dance workouts that fed my soul as well as tended my body.

It should have been a glorious summer.

But it wasn't.  It was hard.  Damn hard.

* * *

In June, I stopped taking my depression medication (under medical supervision).  At first, everything was okay.  Great, even.  But then my eyes started leaking all. the. time.  And then I got tired.  Really tired.  And soon after that, the iconic what's-the-point's set in.

And the summer that should have, could have been wonderful felt like a forced march with no known destination. 

Most of all, creating was hard.  Sitting down to write or paint felt like an exercise in self-hatred.  It got to the point where I had to either step away or risk losing my love for these outlets entirely -- not to mention launching myself deeper into depression, and possibly back into eating disorder land.  This has happened before, and it's not an ordeal I care to repeat.

So I did.  I pulled back.  I spent more time at home, focused on snuggling my sweet son, and waited for fall.  Because surely the cool spice-scented air of fall would bring the refreshment and soul-growing it always seems to.



But it didn't.  And then I became pregnant.  It was (is) a planned and wanted pregnancy, but oh those first trimester hormones had me reeling more than I already was.

Now, though . . . now, I slowly feel myself coming back to my self.  There's something about pregnancy that, as the second trimester draws near, protects me from depression.  It's happened in my two previous pregnancies and, thankfully, seems to be happening again.  I'm finding some words, finding some energy, some much longed for want to.  And that is very good.

* * *

But.

I look at this year that I called my fearless year, of all things, and only about one third of it so far feels fearless.  The first part of the year, I pushed every envelope I could get my hands on, challenged myself and my thinking, tried on new practices and ditched old ones, and set so many things alight in the renewing fires of needed destruction.

This summer, though?  I existed. And maybe, when depression comes back on the scene, maybe that's enough.  Maybe that's fearless.

But what it feels like is backwards movement.  Like I lost all the ground I'd taken.  Even writing these words, a thing that used to feel fluid and effortless, feels odd, awkward.


For the last year or so, I felt like I was in the midst of a battalion of lioness women charging up a mountain toward its pinnacle of freedom and authenticity and love and enough.  And now, it seems like all of those women are [awesomely!] continuing onward and upward, while I'm trying to extricate myself from a mud hole somewhere around halfway -- or worse, slipping back down in slide of scree.

And it's scary.  I wonder if I'll ever reach that peak.

* * *

But then I wonder -- maybe it's not about reaching the peak.  Maybe this isn't the peak that I'm supposed to be sweating and loving myself toward.

Maybe I'm supposed to be climbing another mountain entirely.

* * *


It's a funny thing about pregnancy -- that while it is a very real and literal growing, there's also an internal stripping away.  

It was most stark and obvious in my first pregnancy, which ended in an excruciating and incredible life-altering stillbirth, but happened with my second, too.  I came home with a beautiful baby boy tucked against my breast -- and a sense of my soul tearing away from itself and morphing into something new.

I already feel it happening this time around, and this time instead of being scared of it or flailing against it, I am trying to allow.  

Because maybe at the end of this pregnancy, I'll know if indie-publishing-mama truly is the present incarnation of my soul goals, or if I should be looking at some other work.  Maybe I'll have a clearer picture of who I am, and how I want to be that glorious woman.

Maybe I'll find the mountain I'm meant to climb.

* * *

That doesn't mean that depression will never rear it's ugly head again, of course.  But I've learned (the harder way) that I need medication to help me fight this very real disease, and that that's okay.  That my life, my mothering, my creativity, my courage, my everything are better when I'm getting the help I need.  

There is no shame in this.  I already knew that, but I was stubborn, didn't want to rely on what might be a crutch.  

But when you have a broken leg, you need a crutch.  And sometimes, when you have depression, you need medicine.


And while part of me hopes that when I start taking my medication again sometime after this pregnancy ends I will find myself back among the lionesses, growling and purring and climbing together, I have a suspicion that I very well might not.  That this part of my journey is perhaps more intimate, more solitary.

* * *

There's no good way to end this post, of course.  I'm still here, twelve weeks pregnant, incubating both this child's new life and my own, wondering.  I am wiggling my toes in the mud and keeping my eyes open for the next signpost to show itself to me on this odd and winding path.




It's a little early to be thinking holiday shopping, but holiday shipping is not to be toyed with, so make sure you order your Epiphany Art Studio holiday gifts by the end of November to guarantee delivery by Christmas!  Check out these yummy one-of-a-kind handmade poetry ornaments.  And don't forget my fabulous art originals, fine art prints, and the sale section! I'm also still offering signed copies of my sassy love story for people who don't like love stories, The Light Between Us.

Sex and Marriage: Thoughts on Waiting

https://www.flickr.com/photos/stolensnapshot/3827502237/
 image by Sam Davis via Creative Commons
I am angry.

This is a portrait of the woman, angry.

Because I was made certain promises, promises that did not come through.

Because every day I hear of more and more people who were handed those same broken promises.

Or -- dare I say it -- the same lies.

And I am angry.

I wonder if you will be angry, too.

* * *

I trusted.

This is a portrait of the girl, trusting those words spoken by others as certainty.  

Perhaps you've heard them, too.

Save yourself for marriage.  
True love waits. 
Resist the devil and he [and his sexual temptations] will flee from you.  
Sex is dirty.  
Your body is dirty.
You are dirty if you think/want/wonder about sex.
Save yourself for marriage, and you will never regret it for a moment.

I listened.  I waited.  I saved myself.

I will regret it for a lifetime.

* * *

I feel betrayed.

This is a portrait of the woman, betrayed.

The betrayal, the regret, was born on my wedding night.  The night that finally -- f i n a l l y -- after twenty six years of life, it was acceptable for me to be a sexual being.  Not too sexual, of course, but sex was finally permissible.

My husband and I came as virgins to the marriage bed.  And -- 

we walked away virgins.

We did not have sex until four months after our wedding.
I did not enjoy sex for years after our wedding.
And we didn't learn why we couldn't have sex until many weeks after our wedding.

This wounds us, wounds my husband and I to this day.

* * *

I was broken.

This is a portrait of the woman, broken in body.

Or really, not broken.  Not breakable.  That was the problem, you see.

I trusted the church, trusted the people who said to wait, wait for sex.  I told them I was worried, because I couldn't even wear a tampon.  It wouldn't go in.  It felt excruciating.  They told me this was normal, that all would be made right on my wedding night.

It takes a penis, I figured.

But they were wrong.  I was wrong.

Because what it really took was a surgery.  Did you know that a woman's hymen can sometimes be not-mesh, not-breakable, can be skin?  Skin with holes in it so she can menstruate regularly, unsuspecting?

I didn't.  And mine was. 

My gynecologist was shocked that I got to my wedding night without knowing this about myself, my body.  She said this condition is not uncommon, but quite rare to remain undiscovered in the way mine was.

One surgery, a complicated healing, and a full season of the year, we consummated our marriage.  And when we did, it hurt like hell -- for years.

But what hurt even more is that I had done what the elders of the church told me to do.  John and Stasi, Shaunti, the few women in my life who were talking about sex and such, the leaders of the local and global church -- you promised me that the wait was worth it.

And it wasn't.

* * *

I am hurt.

This is a portrait of the woman, hurt by some of the very things she was taught would save her.

It's not just about my irregular hymen.  That makes for a dramatic story, of course, and it was anguishing to live.

But even if my husband and I had fully, awkwardly consummated our marriage on our wedding night, I would still be angry.

Because my sexuality is mine.  It is a part of me.  It is mine to know, to enjoy, to create life with.  

And the church made it not-mine.

I believed that if I waited to have sex, I would be handing my husband a priceless gift.

But the reality is that I gave my sexuality to the church -- or to God, if that sits better with you.  And therefore it was not mine to give to anyone else.  I didn't have a clue about how my body worked, about anything but the very basic mechanics of sex.  

And I think that for a woman to reach her marriage bed without a working knowledge of her sexuality -- without knowing what makes her tick, sigh, moan, orgasm -- she has nothing to give to her husband but a passive piece of flesh.

An unknowledgeable, fearful woman lying flinching on a mattress is not much of a gift at all.

* * *

I am embodied.

This is a portrait of the woman, embodied.

Because now, I know my self.  I know my body.  She is mine, I have learned how to inhabit her fully.  

Did you know that I only recently had my first satisfying orgasm?

My husband and I will be married for seven years.  It took me seven years of idling passive in bed, certain that a woman wasn't "supposed" to be alive, active, asking, needing in terms of sex and the having of it, to finally throw all that garbage out the window.

And let me just say -- seven years is too damn long.  

I didn't -- couldn't -- enjoy sex for seven years because I didn't own my own skin.  I didn't own my own sexuality.  Because I was not fully at home in this luscious body.

Both my husband and I agree that we regret waiting to make love until after "I do."  Not just because of the hymen thing, although we both would have really, really (really) loved to have dealt with that before our honeymoon.  

But because sexuality is an aspect of embodiment, of personhood, of compatibility that should be taken into account when deciding whether to marry a certain somebody -- one that the church not only does not value, but ignores at best and demonizes at worst.

I think that if my husband and I had come to our marriage as whole persons, sexuality included and embraced, our early years as one flesh would have been, could have been different.  Better, if not in all ways, then certainly in some ways.

Not because we would have slept around, not because we would have mindlessly fucked anything of the opposite sex that moved our way.  But because we would have shared all of ourselves with each other, and known more fully whether we loved each other.  

* * *

I am speaking.

This is a portrait of the woman, speaking about what does not get spoken of often enough.

Because it's not just me, not just my husband and I struggling still because of how the sexual  realm was handled when we were younger.

No, there are many -- too many -- other couples whose marriages are on the rocks because of this whole sex thing.  They lacked that certain something, that special spark that forever lovers share, but they didn't know they lacked it because they didn't know each other fully before they wed. 

I know couples who felt a blaring lack of spark before they got married, and were told by trusted pastors to marry anyway, that it would come -- and, years and years and children later, it has not come.  

I know couples who are living in turmoil because one spouse has finally, finally awakened to his or her (more often it's her, intriguingly) sexuality, and now needs to the freedom to explore it, to own it, but the other spouse will not or cannot meet them there.  And so the light of growth, of embodiment, that had finally begun to truly burn is doused. 

We should have known who we were as fully as possible before rings were exchanged.  We should have made our marriage choices based on whole persons, and we didn't.  We couldn't.  We were told to do so was bad -- no, was sin.

And now I see an epidemic of failed marriages of those who perhaps never should have married in the first place.  

* * *

I am thinking.

This is a portrait of the woman, thinking about sex and lies and how to start fixing this big damn mess.

It's not just about sex, this mess, this epidemic.  But sex and the vilification of sex is a big part of it -- and an even bigger part of the rape culture that we live in (and yes, we do live in a rape culture -- and while the church is not the only one responsible for rape culture, the church is also a major encourager of it).

Do all Christian couples experience this disappointment in waiting?  No.  Definitely not.  And for those couples, I am sincerely glad.  I truly delight in and celebrate the uncomplicated nature of sex and sexuality in your marriage and your life.

For the rest of us, however, I demand alternatives -- an alternative vocabulary for discussing sex and sexuality, for exploring one's self before and after the wedding day, for embracing sex as the beautiful expression of love and intimacy that it is.  Because I believe that such alternatives will create more mature, responsible, and healthy people -- and marriages.


Here are some starters for sexuality-related alternatives I would love to see:
  • sex and the body embraced as the lovely gifts and works of art that they are
  • a discussion of what masturbation is and how it can be helpful, healthy, and fun
  • parents encouraging teens to appreciate their sexuality while also helping them to be responsible for it in a way that won't make them scared of it (i.e., encouragement for youths to know all of themselves, and be responsible for all of themselves)
  • authentic conversations about what sex is for, and how to decide for one's self when to have it
  • "sex = dirty" talk ditched
  • an end to the objectification of women and women's bodies, and, relatedly, an end to the overtly communicated lie that men are victims of their bodies' naturally functionally mechanisms of arousal
  • the glorification of virgins and virginity
  • abstinence-only sex "education" eradicated; it has been proven not to work
  • gender equality, equivalent rights and opportunities and respect for women in practice, etc.

As for my husband and I . . . well, we're making it work, or trying to.  We're becoming more and more whole, each of us more and more of who we are -- all of who we are.  This is hard to do when you're married and have a kid, hard to do now this work that was made for young adulthood.  But we're doing it anyway, because the alternative is soul death.  And we've had enough of that.

Your turn -- how has your experience of sex and sexuality and related discussion, vocabulary, indoctrination, education/lack of education impacted your current sexual/marital/personal health?  What would you like to see change in our culture, and in religious culture?  What do you think should stay the same?


*this post contains affiliate links

When We are Wanted


When you spend long enough doing a certain thing, no matter what it is, I think, you put down roots.  You meet people.  And you find things you might not have been looking for, but now would never, ever trade. 

Blogging has been like that for me.  I'm not sure why I started that first LiveJournal in 2004, exactly, except that I enjoyed writing, enjoyed being read, and thought making money off of blogging was a thing (uh, yeah).  And while I haven't exactly hit the financial motherlode, I have discovered exquisite treasures that I never expected.

Story Sessions, an online community of writers run by Elora Ramirez, is one of those things.  A few of my online friends had taken Elora's intro ecourse, Story 101, and I like what I saw of them and their writing enough to give it a try myself.  I enrolled in 101 in the spring of 2013, and have never looked back.  I went on to take Elora's next course, Story 201, and participate in online retreats and workshops. 


The writing part of Story Sessions is good.  It's really good.  Like, really good.  If you want help discovering your voice, discovering your why, pushing past fear, and finding your legs in the publishing industry, then Story Sessions is for you.

But that's not the greatest treasures that I've found here.

No, for me, it's the community itself, these amazing women, that are the unlookedfor diamond that fell, shining through the dust of excavation, into my lap.


So many people roll their eyes at me when I tell them that I met some of my best friends online.  That's not real community, they think or say.  Remote community can't ever compare to local community.

For a long time, I thought the same thing.  I thought that online community was lesser, less than.  I ached because I failed to find the in-person kindreds that I'd found in the women of Story Sessions.  I thought there was something wrong with me.


This June, though, those digital hands and feet grew flesh and blood.  I flew to Texas to take part in the annual Story Sessions retreat, and those women who were my "lesser" community, my "not as real because it's online" kindreds, stormed into my life and swept me off my feet with their unconditional love and caring.

I went into the retreat lonely, desperately lonely.  My soul has been leading me on walkabout, as you know, and to my dismay I've had to abandon the local friendships and attempts at friendships that I'd been selling myself to.  Not because there as anything wrong with those local people, not because they didn't or don't try hard to love me, but because (through no fault of their own) I felt wrong around them.

I went to Texas nursing this long-gaping wound of being different-in-a-bad-way, broken, of always being the outsider.  When I got to the retreat, I expected to be disappointed, to find myself the outsider once again.

And --

there were no outsiders.


These women, these women, they put their hands in my hands, rubbed my shoulders, pulled their fingers through my hair.  They celebrated my newborn book, and my heathenry.  They looked into my eyes and heard my words and found no fault there.

They saw me, and loved me -- as is.

No caveats.  No conditions.  No "I'm worried about you" or "you're on a slippery slope."

(Did you know that Story Sessions is a Christian community?  Doesn't sound like the "Christian" communities I hear way too much yuck about way too often.)

This condition-less love and acceptance -- well, I didn't expect it.  I hoped for it, but life had taught me that it was likely out of reach for me.

But it exists.  It exists for me, and for you.  It's out there, and it's powerful beyond the imagining.


In Texas, I found women who celebrate my quirks and eccentricities and odd little passions.  I found women who run after me, literally, when I run away, who see my soul weeping when I hide my tears.  I found women who reminded me of the sacred truths of my glorious soul, and who continue to remind me when I forget.  I found women who tell me that I am beautiful-in-all-ways, and mean it.  I found women who cry with me, who rage with me, who will not, cannot accept injustice.  I found women who I can snuggle on the couch with without wondering if I'm doing the wrong thing, and who love how I don't love small talk.  I found women who ask me to howl at the moon with them.

I found women that I'd bleed for.  I found the women that would bleed for me.

I found the artists and renegades and lovers and world-changers.  And because of them, I remembered that I am one myself.  
 

So -- if you're looking for a writing community, well, Story Sessions is a good one.  Story 101 is running for its final time, so this is your last chance to get in where it all began.

But be careful, because you're not only getting a writing education when you sign up.  You just might find that you've found your courage, and the holiness in the darkest places of your soul, and some of the truest friends that you could ever have hoped for.


Online community is real.  It is true and authentic and alive.  And the folks you meet online have the powerful ability to slip quietly into your heart and turn your life upside down in the best of ways.

I hope that this is the case for you, no matter what digital hook you may hang your hat upon.  It has been one of my greatest privileges and joys to discover it for myself.

If you're interested in the final run of the ecourse that started it all, you can learn more about Story 101 here.

https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?cl=176080&c=ib&aff=168836

*this post contains affiliate links