There is a little girl, she’s scared, angry, alone.
She’s angry at the world, the world that took away her father. The world that says she needs to be different, needs to be more “like a girl”, needs to like pink, and dresses, and dolls.
She’s drawn to blue, and red, and sports and dinosaurs. She likes cars, and motorcycles, and construction equipment. Tonka trucks and tricycles make the best toys.
More than anything else, she is lost and alone, with feelings bigger than she thought were possible. Feelings that are too big for her and for anyone else. Feelings that make her family upset, feelings she must learn to control and hide, now.
There is no where safe in this world.
As she grows she becomes better at pretending everything is ok, while feelings of rage and despair bubble just out of view. Feelings that are still too big for her small body and worried soul. There is nowhere safe to take these feelings, so she continues to control them the best she can.
There are some places that help her feel right, but these things aren’t for girls. Sports. Big strong movements like pedaling a bicycle, throwing a ball with all her strength, kicking a bag or a board, pushing a skateboard. These things calm the storm that is always hiding just out of view, at least for a few sweet moments.
The girl is the only one at the school father’s day event attending with an uncle. The only one at the childhood support group with a dead parent. The only kid pulled from class to see a consoler.
She doesn’t care about dresses, or make up, or hair, or dolls. But she does start to care about boys. The boys she finds special don’t find her special back. They always prefer the girls with the cool clothes and the done up hair and make up and skirts. So she keeps doing the things that bring fleeting peace, until there is only one thing that matters. Skateboarding. It is all consuming. Nothing else matters. Not school, not family, not even kicking things, only skateboarding.
The girl starts to find people she can trust in this new world, but the boys she likes, still don’t like her back.
She finds a family that treats her as their own, a man she trusts like a father. Until one night, when he treats her like an object. She is frozen in fear as his hands move up her legs.
Again she is reminded, there is no one and no where safe in this world.
Years later, she has found another family that again treats her like she is a loved member of their own family, until she starts thinking too much, too differently. Once the difference is too much, it cannot be overcome. She is no longer worthy, becuase of the way that she is, the way she acts, the way she thinks. What was once acceptable is no longer.
Again she is reminded there is no one and no where safe in this world.
I want to hug that girl. I want to tell her, there are safe people, and you’ve already found one. He’s still learning how to be good at it, but he will learn, and he will be there. He can handle all of you, even the dark parts, even the sad parts, even the broken parts. He will be there by your side while you dig into the feelings left buried for all those, he’ll love you as the skeletons come out of the closet. He’ll help you make the family you’ve so often hoped for. The one that can handle and love you exactly as you are.
You, will get through this. There are safe people in this world. You will find them.
I want to share with you a piece I just wrote in my journal as an example of how powerful writing practice can be. I sat down thinking “I have no clue what I’m going to write about, so I’ll start with that.” Somehow it took me deep down to the depths of my soul and back up. I’ll let you read it for yourself.
Disclaimer: Dear “friends” that may read this, this is not about you specifically, it is about no one specifically. It is an exploration of my raw exhausted self. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk.
I am still struggling deeply with knowing what to write and feeling like a failure for writing so little yesterday after setting such a lofty goal. Yet, I am determined to stretch and flex and build this writing muscle. It is an important exercise that I value. I believe it will help me be better and I value myself. I want to be better. I always feel behind on everything and why would it be any different here? I look around my yard, my house, my life, my business, my finances, nothing is where I want it to be. Everything is behind.
The laundry and dishes are chronically behind. I rarely meet my self-imposed goals and lately that crushing feeling of knowing I will always be behind has gotten me down. I’m tired before I begin. I have no idea what to do about it. I am merely observing it. I do know the part I value most though, life. When the apple tree was on the brink of falling I was there to prop it up. When the sequoias were brown and nearly dead I got the hose to them. When the “elm”, which we now know is a mulberry, was about to loose a massive branch, I got it fixed. I do whats needed in a crisis. But I don’t prevent those crises with daily care. I’m too busy caring for Mark, Ace, the dogs, and myself. Its a fucking lot. Then I have friends that constantly want to be social and thats draining. I feel like I’m not a good friend. I can’t fucking keep up. I have too many of them and my friendships feel shallow.
I feel shallow.
What depth do I have that makes me me? Why should someone want to be with me as opposed to any other clump of conscious cells? My good looks? My deep philosophies? My attitude? I just don’t understand who I am. I guess this is a classic dilemma. It is the thing that makes science so interesting to me. Just as it made theology once so irresistible. Maybe it can give me some insight into who I am and how to be better at being me.
I want to love harder, “friend” better, be more productive. I want my house and my yard to serve my life instead me feeling like a slave to all the stuff and responsibility. I feel like there is no way I can maintain my house without becoming a slave to that and having no time left to enjoy said house and yard. I guess thats why I’m so apathetic to its forever half finished state. I know. I know I want to enjoy it. If I make it what some part of my mind thinks of as perfect I won’t be able to do that [enjoy it] anymore. So I must live in the tension of done and not yet done so I can have those moments of enjoyment with my friends.
I really do love this place even with its constant rough around the edges unfinished look. I fucking love my yard. It is the perfect place for my son to grow up. Its so perfect it gives me hope that God is real and he game me this one thing. I’ve lost so much else and the struggle to pay bills is so fucking real, like I’ve never known. But I have this. I have [****] Ogden St. And even though I could rent out the yard or the garage for a decent amount of money I hope it never comes to that. I want this little escape in the city be for me, and for Mark, and for Ace. Not for money. Its too wonderful to be turned into a thing designed to extract a profit. I’ve buried two dogs here. I saw a solar eclipse here. I had my vow renewal here. This property chose us as much as we chose it. And its a perfect fit. I would be happy to stay here forever.
Again, I’m not sharing this for the content in and of itself, but as a personal example of how valuable writing practice can be. These thoughts were all just passing thoughts. I love my friends DEEPLY and appreciate my time with them. The point of sharing this is to say, just sit down and write. Even if you feel like you have nothing left to give. Even if you are so tired you should be in bed. You just might start your session feeling like failure and walk away crying in happiness because you love your yard so much, with maybe a little bit of nihilism in between. You don’t know where you will go until you sit down and go. Just move the pen across the page.
I’ve been slacking off on writing the last few weeks, both here and in my various notebooks. In an effort to revive my writing practice I’ve committed to filling an entire notebook in one month. I found this challenge on reddit and it immediately resonated with me. It was presented as an alternative to NaNoRiMo (National Novel Writing Month) for those of us with no aspirations to write long form fiction.
I’m using my current journal as my notebook to fill, I’ve only been using it for a month and only have a handful of pages filled. I counted 133 remaining blank pages yesterday, which means if I shoot for 5 pages per day I will have a little wiggle room for the days I don’t quite meet this goal.
In order to meet the goal I’m starting up timed writings again. I set a timer for 10, 20, 30 minutes, and I go. No set idea about what I’m going to write about, I just move my pen and try my best to not stop moving until the time period is up. This has already generated some writing that is of a higher quality than I expected. A peice on some special times I shared with my Grandmother and a peice about the significance of my son turning seven.
I plan to take a few of my timed writings, type them up and edit them so I can share them here.
Writing really keeps me centered and sane like almost nothing else. Its the one habit I’ve returned to throughout my life in times of stress and times of happiness. So for the next month I’m really going to lean into it. I have until my my son’s birthday, September 18th, to fill a whole lot of pages!
I wrote that in my journal about a week ago. Its been true every day since.
I had a lot of panic at church Sunday evening. I felt like a fraud just being there. It was especially hard that there were some very churchy people there using language about God that I’ve mostly abandoned. My anxiety was high. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I couldn’t eat. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. I hoped to be able to sit down with our pastor this week, but she’s busy. Such is life. I haven’t even talked to Ace about it. Maybe this will pass. Maybe it won’t.
I do know cognitively that my life is safe. I believe now that my friends are my friends regardless of my spiritual beliefs. I could tell them tomorrow that I’m hindu now and most of them would say “Tell me more about that” and that’s what I need. Thats what we all need. I believe the same thing about my spiritual community. I would still be welcomed no matter what I believed as long as I’m open to listening to everyone else at the table. My amygdala isn’t so sure though, its terrified. My brain remembers last time I shifted my faith, just a little bit, and I lost almost everyone. I didn’t just loose them, but they hurt me in the process.
Right now Christianity (even “good” Christianity) is making me uncomfortable. I just don’t believe in a God as personal as the Christian God. I don’t believe in a God that speaks real words directly to me.
Yet, I still believe in something. I believe in energy and oneness. I am solidly not an atheist. But yet, its hard to consider myself a theist, thats too concrete. If I had to peg myself down in the moment I could call myself a mystic. I feel comfortable with that. But tomorrow is a new day and tomorrow that may not fit quite right anymore. And I’m ok with that.
I also feel as if maybe I’ve finally completely deconstructed. Deconstruction is a popular term among progressive Christians. It is the disassembling of your former (often evangelical or fundamentalist) theology over time. I spent years studying and building that theology, but I started on a foundation handed to me by someone else. Heck, the whole house was handed to me and I just spent all that time replacing the windows and remodeling the kitchen. I kept the parts I liked and changed what I didn’t. It was an important part of my life. But I didn’t build that house and more recently I’ve been taking it apart and now there is really nothing left. Just the ground beneath my bare feet.
So here I am with my theology gone, dust in the wind, standing on the bare ground wondering what is next. Wondering if I even need a house at all. I’m not even sure how I got here. I didn’t consciously do this. I just looked around and noticed it was all gone. And honestly it scares me. I’m very used to having a theology. Yes, its changed drastically over the years from biblical fundamentalism in high school, to a slow shift to more progressive Christianity, but this is new territory. I’ve had times when I’ve doubted. This doesn’t feel the same, this is true and complete deconstruction. Its all torn down.
What’s left for me right now is seeing something more in all that is.
I love the night sky. I love learning the names of the planets and the stars. I love telling random people “See that bright star, its actually Jupiter!” Kids especially are receptive to this. They love watching the International Space Station pass over as much as I do. Many of my adult friends just don’t care what that speck of light is called or how far away it is. I do. And in those billions of tiny specks I see something bigger than myself. There is something more, something spiritual. Looking into the stars stirs it inside me. Every night I go outside and its cloudy, which is a lot, I live in Portland, I am disappointed that I don’t get to have that moment of true awe before I lay down to sleep. Even here in the city where I get to see two dozen stars half the night of the year I’m given an overwhelming sense of wonder each and every time. The moments I get to get out to a truly dark sky are utterly overwhelming for me.
I see something more in children as well they are the most amazing complicated fantastic people. They come out of the womb with a sense of wonder unlike anything they will experience again. Everything is new. I wish I could stand the loss of sleep that having a baby involves just to watch those first two years again. They are utterly beautiful. I see something more that just cells at work in children. There is a spark of something more, something spiritual. Every child I meet has that spark, even the ones who have needed to hide it to keep it safe. Its still down there and I still see it.
I love and study science and the more I do, the more I see something more, so no I’m not an atheist, but right now I don’t believe in God either.
The mind is a mind boggling thing. The fact that we use this tool in an attempt to understand itself shows how complex it is, and how far we are from understanding how it works.
I often hear we are in the days Galileo when it come to neuroscience. We finally have imaging devices, but they are crude and showing us things at a macro level, while the micro details still elude us. I’m a little obsessed with neuroscience right now, every other book that I’m reading has “brain” in the title. To the point my friends poke friends at it. (Angie, I’m lovingly looking at you!) I feel like this is both because of my intense curiosity, and becuase of my desire to understand myself. Maybe if I understand the biology at play I can better understand why I have the strengths and weakness I do, and maybe even work on the weaker parts.
Lately I am again being tormented by dreams. At least its not so bad that I am afraid to sleep, as its been in the past. I still vividly remember the period of nightmares I had in high school that left me sleepless at night and falling asleep in class. And more recently, about a year or two ago, I was having dreams of dying and waking up unable to breath. That was another time I was too scared to sleep. Both of those times I would read or watch TV until I was physically unable to stay awake.
This time is a little different. I’m having dreams about specific people in specific scenarios and it seems every time I dream it escalates in intensity. This is paired with waking up feeling not well rested and tension in my neck and head. I feel like its a window to some unresolved trauma from broken relationships, but what the fuck do I know? I really wish that part of me would speak more clearly to the rest of me so I would know if there is something I can do to resolve this. Until that happens I have writing, yoga, and meditation to try and keep me grounded.
Finding words can often be the hardest part of life. And putting words to your deepest feelings in incredibly powerful. A huge focus of my work with the kids this summer is helping them find words. I want to give them examples when I see them struggling and then have them articulate them back to me. Sometimes I need someone to do the same for me. That can come in different forms, friends, family, professionals, but the most powerful place I find words when they don’t come for me is in art.
Carrie & Lowell has been an incredibly important album for me since I first heard the single “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross.” I had no idea what it was about, but I could feel the heaviness, and the Christian imagery resonated deeply with me. The first time I listened to it straight though, I had to listen to it again. I listened to it daily for weeks, I learned every word and I cried and cried and cried.
There is a hurt deep at the core of who I am. A loss that had defined me since I was 4 years old. The vast majority of my life I’ve lived without my Father. He died in a horrible accident when I was not quite four and half. He was in his late 20s.
I spent my childhood feeling a profound loss and also feeling like I was never allowed to speak of that loss. I had to keep it deep within myself. I was often angry, but I kept it under wraps as best I could expressing it though various sports. You can throw a ball hard or kick your foot though a board and people don’t get too upset. I was never good at finding the words to tell anyone how I really felt. I still kind of suck at it, but I’m getting better. I have a few safe people now, and I write. I write here, and in other more personal places.
But Carrie & Lowell reached something I never was able to reach in myself with lines like
For my prayer has always been love
What did I do to deserve this?
Do I care if I despise this? Nothing else matters, I know In a veil of great disguises; how do I live with your ghost?
How do I live with your ghost. Thats always been the struggle.
And then there is
Should I tear my eyes out now, before I see too much? Should I tear my arms out now, I wanna feel your touch
Which so captures the deep visceral physical feeling of loss. To feel a loved person’s touch again. Nothing can actually communicate that feeling. But Sufjan does a damn good job.
Those past two lines are from the track “The only Thing” which resonates most deeply with me of any track on the album. I’ve struggled with feeling this loss so intensely I want to hurt myself. I’ve imagined how easy it would be to escape it all from driving off a bridge or into a tree. Then I realize I would only be passing on this same intense pain to the people who love me that dearly, and there are at least a few. I would never wish this pain on anyone, so I continue to find the best ways I can to cope, I search for healthier ways to deal with my struggles. This album provided one I didn’t know existed. Sufjan’s mourning of the loss of his mother and his reminiscing of his childhood helps me to explore those own intense feelings in myself.
I forgive you, mother, I can hear you And I long to be near you But every road leads to an end Yes every road leads to an end Your apparition passes through me in the willows Five red hens – you’ll never see us again You’ll never see us again
I feel extremely fortunate to have found a church community that feels safe to me. I know that this is a big struggle for people who have left their church or plan on leaving. What next? Is there a place for me? We worry about this as we exit. This is why back in Illinois we created our own place. Most of the churches in our area were evangelical or catholic. We didn’t feel like there were any safe churches, but we still wanted that type of community to be a part of our lives, so we formed it, and invited people to join us.
It was wonderful, it was beautiful, it was downright fun. But it was also hard, stressful, and tiring. Without a denomination behind us we weren’t getting paid. In fact it cost us quite a bit to host Mosaic every week. Soon we had a baby and it made everything harder. We knew we couldn’t keep doing it. It was especially hard for me, an introverted, stressed out, new mom. I just couldn’t handle the amount of work it created in our home.
When we decided to pack up and move across the country we also decided to end Mosaic. It was a hard choice but it was clearly the right one for my sanity. It also happened to work out that a large core of the people attending were also moving away to other parts of the country at the same time.
When we moved to Portland we took a break from church for a while. I had zero desire to go within 1000 feet of a church and was again questioning everything I thought I knew about God. I was starting to doubt God was real. The only overtly spiritual element to my life was occasionally listening though an entire Gungor album on a long drive. Those solo worshipful experinces kept this tiny spiritual lifeline alive for me. I didn’t know who God was, or what they did, but I was pretty sure there was something more still out there.
Eventually we decided to actually look around for a church. We found a few we were interested in and visited. Those visits were hard. It took a lot of courage to go though those doors. We visited a UCC church and the people there were so kind, but we knew before the service even ended it wasn’t for us. We visited another church that met in a bar, ok thats kind of progressive, but it really wasn’t anything different from any other evangelical church besides the location.
Two churches and I was done. I just couldn’t do it. The one in the bar was trying to recruit me for ministry after only being there for 20 minutes, ughh… I was not ready for that.
I gave up. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to find a church where I felt safe. I still had my car rides with my Gungor albums, the only “Christian” music I could stomach anymore. That was enough “church” for me.
Then one day, 3 years after we moved to Portland, on a typical trip to the grocery store I was stuck in traffic and looked out the window of the car to see a sign that read “Sellwood Faith Community.” I wrote before about how I went home and read the whole blog that night.
I wanted to visit right away. I was too excited to wait long! The fact that they met in a house and not a church was huge to me. By this point in my life I had started having crippling anxiety attacks. It got so bad that a few months later I had to leave my job and get in therapy. It was a really hard time for me and my family. Going into a church building was too much, if this community had met in a traditional looking church I wouldn’t have gone. So for me, a huge element of the church being safe was the fact that it was a house church.
They also met over dinner and had a real group discussion (the bar church claimed to be discussion based but, disappointingly, was not). This was also big for me. I was not ready to sit down and be preached at. I had done that before, I was trained to preach myself. I’m not much into preaching anymore. Another element of safety for me was the lack of preaching.
A factor that surprised me was how wonderful it has been having a female pastor. I wasn’t specifically looking for that, and it didn’t seem important at first. Now I feel like having a female pastor has allowed me to feel more like I matter. I don’t feel like she is an authority figure trying to reign over my life, which is how I so often felt with all the male pastors from my past. I don’t think every male pastor is like that, but for me, a female pastor has helped SFC feel like safe space.
I didn’t walk into SFC and have this glorious moment where I knew I was at home. I walked in and had a panic attack. I came back and had another panic attack. Some weeks I had to work super hard to not have to run out the door. I felt for sure these people were judging me, or would turn on me at some point. At first I was worried about every word I said. Would I say something too conservative? Did I doubt too much? Was it ok that I was super unsure about God these days? Was it Ok that I wasn’t a democrat? Would they think we were insane for being Unschoolers? I was terrified of doing the wrong thing, or thinking the wrong thing. “Wrong” thinking was what led to me leaving my home church.
It was weird being part of community that held so many opposite beliefs of our old community. It has also been strange being in a space where differing thoughts are valued. It has been extremely difficult to learn to trust a religious community again, and I can’t say I even do trust them 100% yet. But I’m getting there. They have been gracious, welcoming, and kind. They are loving towards my son, who might not receive the same treatment in a typical church due to some of his developmental and behavioral characteristics. This is obviously extremely important to me.
I’ve heard people say things like “Trust God” or “Trust the Universe” when it comes to finding the right church, the right space for my business, the right friends, or even the right employees. Its been true in this case. Sellwood Faith Community (a United Methodist Church) came into my life at the exact moment I needed it and I met this community of wonderful, passionate, loving, patient people. This is my safe church. I can’t tell you a single denomination that is “safe” becuase safe is going to look different for you. You might need pews or a particular style of worship or some other thing. I would say at minimum a safe church is a place that doesn’t ban any questions or concerns. It is a place that accepts you and all your baggage and all your doubts and struggles. What that looks like in practice is going to be different in each community. I found a safe church, and I think safe churches are becoming increasingly common across the country. Keep an eye out and you might find one.
Thank you Eilidh, Jeff, Paige, Kat, Micheal, Austin, Maddy, Chris, Travis, Jeff, Amanda, Colleen, Aric, Stacia, Curran, Avery, and others that I’m know I’m forgetting. Thank you for accepting us right where we are. You have helped me heal in more ways than I can accurately express. You have succeeded in being a safe place for us and I love all of you.