On women (bloggers) and authority

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” asked everyone.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean——” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was—up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He—I—I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

The others all looked at each other in puzzled silence.

A few weeks ago Christianity Today published an article by Tish Harrison Warren entitled Who’s In Charge of the Christian Blogosphere. The article suggested that there was a crisis in the church because women bloggers were writing and teaching without clear ecclesiastical (church) authority. It engendered a lot of discussion on Twitter, which I spent quite a bit of time reading. There was the usual hyperbole, anger, and miscommunication that happens in online discussions, but amidst that were women of various backgrounds and perspectives engaging in genuine dialogue, wanting to understand as well as be understood.

The issue, in some ways, is very complex, and it is not my intention to dive into it all here. There is, for example, the whole 2000 years of church history, with debates about who is in charge beginning almost as soon as there was a church — Paul challenging Peter, Apollos challenging Paul — and continuing with Rome breaking with the Eastern Orthodox church in 1054, the Protestant reformation in the 16th century, and the church I currently attend leaving its denomination a few years ago for doctrinal reasons — and tens of thousands of breaks and schisms in between, resulting in an almost uncountable number of current Christian denominations. Then there is the issue of women being in leadership at all, which is still, sadly, debated.

But I am not here to discuss church history or ecclesiastical structure. I am here today to tell you a little of my own story. And here it is:

As a Christian, woman, blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. I tried it: It didn’t take.

“Her Majesty may well have seen a lion,” put in Trumpkin. “There are lions in these woods, I’ve been told. But it needn’t have been a friendly and talking lion any more than the bear was a friendly and talking bear.”

“Oh, don’t be so stupid,” said Lucy. “Do you think I don’t know Aslan when I see him?”

“He’d be a pretty elderly lion by now,” said Trumpkin, “if he’s one you knew when you were here before! And if it could be the same one, what’s to prevent him having gone wild and witless like so many others?”

Lucy turned crimson and I think she would have flown at Trumpkin, if Peter had not laid his hand on her arm. “The D.L.F. doesn’t understand. How could he? You must just take it, Trumpkin, that we do really know about Aslan; a little bit about him, I mean. And you mustn’t talk about him like that again. It isn’t lucky for one thing: and it’s all nonsense for another. The only question is whether Aslan was really there.”

“But I know he was,” said Lucy, her eyes filling with tears.

“Yes, Lu, but we don’t, you see,” said Peter.

“There’s nothing for it but a vote,” said Edmund.

“All right,” replied Peter. “You’re the eldest, D.L.F. What do you vote for? Up or down?”

“Down,” said the Dwarf. “I know nothing about Aslan. But I do know that if we turn left and follow the gorge up, it might lead us all day before we found a place where we could cross it. Whereas if we turn right and go down, we’re bound to reach the Great River in about a couple of hours. And if there are any real lions about, we want to go away from them, not towards them.”

“What do you say, Susan?”

“Don’t be angry, Lu,” said Susan, “but I do think we should go down. I’m dead tired. Do let’s get out of this wretched wood into the open as quick as we can. And none of us except you saw anything.”

“Edmund?” said Peter.

“Well, there’s just this,” said Edmund, speaking quickly and turning a little red. “When we first discovered Narnia a year ago—or a thousand years ago, whichever it is—it was Lucy who discovered it first and none of us would believe her. I was the worst of the lot, I know. Yet she was right after all. Wouldn’t it be fair to believe her this time? I vote for going up.”

“Oh, Ed!” said Lucy and seized his hand.

“And now it’s your turn, Peter,” said Susan, “and I do hope——”

“Oh, shut up, shut up and let a chap think,” interrupted Peter. “I’d much rather not have to vote.”

“You’re the High King,” said Trumpkin sternly.

“Down,” said Peter after a long pause. “I know Lucy may be right after all, but I can’t help it. We must do one or the other.”

So they set off to their right along the edge, downstream. And Lucy came last of the party, crying bitterly.

When I say I tried being under authority, what I means is that I tried it for decades, with many different churches, pastors, supervisors, “house parents” and vaguely defined “community leaders.” By “didn’t take” I mean it made me seriously ill physically, emotionally and spiritually. It took me years to recover, and in some ways I am still recovering.

Not all the relationships of authority were bad. I’ve had great mentors, employers, and teachers. I studied under many amazing professors at seminary, did internships under wonderful pastors and lay leaders. The difference, I’ve found, besides the people themselves, is that in the great relationships the authority was clearly defined and limited. In the bad ones, the ones that did the damage, the authority over me was broad and poorly defined. Employers in Christian organizations gave me advice/instructions on my living situation, friendships, healthcare. People claimed authority over me I had never agreed to by virtue of their age and gender.

They dropped off to sleep one by one, but all pretty quickly.

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name. She thought at first it was her father’s voice, but that did not seem quite right. Then she thought it was Peter’s voice, but that did not seem to fit either. She did not want to get up; not because she was still tired—on the contrary she was wonderfully rested and all the aches had gone from her bones—but because she felt so extremely happy and comfortable. She was looking straight up at the Narnian moon, which is larger than ours, and at the starry sky, for the place where they had bivouacked was comparatively open.

“Lucy,” came the call again, neither her father’s voice nor Peter’s. She sat up, trembling with excitement but not with fear. The moon was so bright that the whole forest landscape around her was almost as clear as day, though it looked wilder. Behind her was the fir wood; away to her right the jagged cliff-tops on the far side of the gorge; straight ahead, open grass to where a glade of trees began about a bow-shot away. Lucy looked very hard at the trees of that glade.

“Why, I do believe they’re moving,” she said to her self. “They’re walking about.”

She got up, her heart beating wildly, and walked towards them. There was certainly a noise in the glade, a noise such as trees make in a high wind, though there was no wind to-night. Yet it was not exactly an ordinary tree-noise either. Lucy felt there was a tune in it, but she could not catch the tune any more than she had been able to catch the words when the trees had so nearly talked to her the night before. But there was, at least, a lilt; she felt her own feet wanting to dance as she got nearer. And now there was no doubt that the trees were really moving—moving in and out through one another as if in a complicated country dance. (“And I suppose,” thought Lucy, “when trees dance, it must be a very, very country dance indeed.”) She was almost among them now.

The first tree she looked at seemed at first glance to be not a tree at all but a huge man with a shaggy beard and great bushes of hair. She was not frightened: she had seen such things before. But when she looked again he was only a tree, though he was still moving. You couldn’t see whether he had feet or roots, of course, because when trees move they don’t walk on the surface of the earth; they wade in it as we do in water. The same thing happened with every tree she looked at. At one moment they seemed to be the friendly, lovely giant and giantess forms which the tree-people put on when some good magic has called them into full life: next moment they all looked like trees again. But when they looked like trees, it was like strangely human trees, and when they looked like people, it was like strangely branchy and leafy people—and all the time that queer lilting, rustling, cool, merry noise.

“They are almost awake, not quite,” said Lucy. She knew she herself was wide awake, wider than anyone usually is.

She went fearlessly in among them, dancing herself at, she leaped this way and that to avoid being run into by these huge partners. But she was only half interested in them. She wanted to get beyond them to something else; it was from beyond them that the dear voice had called.

She soon got through them (half wondering whether she had been using her arms to push branches aside, or to take hands in a Great Chain with big dancers who stooped to reach her) for they were really a ring of trees round a central open place. She stepped out from among their shifting confusion of lovely lights and shadows.

A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all round it. And then—oh joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.

But for the movement of his tail he might have been a stone lion, but Lucy never thought of that. She never stopped to think whether he was a friendly lion or not. She rushed to him. She felt her heart would burst if she lost a moment. And the next thing she knew was that she was kissing him and putting her arms as far round his neck as she could and burying her face in the beautiful rich silkiness of his mane.

“Aslan, Aslan. Dear Aslan,” sobbed Lucy. “At last.”

So as a writer, as a blogger, I am not under anyone’s authority. But I do have a lot of really smart, wise, loving friends and family, old and young, Christian and not. I listen to their advice. They listen to mine. Sometimes they’re right. And sometimes what they tell me doesn’t jive with my own experience or what I feel God is speaking to my heart. Then I’m so glad they’re not my pastor or supervisor, because I am free to say, thank you, but God is calling me in a different direction.

The great beast rolled over on his side so that Lucy fell, half sitting and half lying between his front paws. He bent forward and just touched her nose with his tongue. His warm breath came all round her. She gazed up into the large wise face.

“Welcome, child,” he said.

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”

“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

For a time she was so happy that she did not want to speak. But Aslan spoke.

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not lie here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost to-day.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so——”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that … oh well, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone, I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen,” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up; and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must all get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

“Do you mean that is what you want me to do?” gasped Lucy.

“Yes, little one,” said Aslan.

“Will the others see you too?” asked Lucy.

“Certainly not at first,” said Aslan. “Later on, it depends.”

“But they won’t believe me!” said Lucy.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Aslan.

My authority to write, to speak, to tell my story, does not come from having a pastor or a bishop or a priest overseeing me. My authority comes from Jesus who said, “Talitha koum” — “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” My authority comes from the angel at the tomb who said to the women, “Jesus is risen — go tell his disciples.” My authority comes from Jesus who spoke alone to the Samaritan woman at the well, and in whom many believed because of her testimony. My authority comes from the book of Revelation where John wrote, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” My authority comes from Peter and the prophet Joel, who said, “”In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” My authority comes from Jesus’ last words to his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” My authority comes from the Spirit within me, from the fire in my belly that compels me to write.

Friends, do you have something to say? I believe so strongly that if you have something inside you longing to be expressed, there is a good change that it is something someone else needs to hear. Have you been waiting for permission to speak? Good news! You are free! We have been waiting around for someone to unlock our chains, but it turns out the chains have been loose the whole time. All we have to do is stand up straight and step forward in faith, and they will fall off of us.

Love,
Jessica

***

As always, I have more to say but I am running late. Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

And if you haven’t had a chance, stop over at my birthday post and take part in my self-love project, going on the whole month of May.

Save

Save

Save

As you love yourself, a birthday project

Good morning, friends! It’s my birthday today, and I have a (hopefully) fun project I’d love for you to take part in. Earlier this week I wrote about a photograph of people in London clasping the body of a man to prevent him from taking his life, and asked you to study the photo and think about who you identified with. I then shared a passage from Matthew where Jesus answers the question, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ answer was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” I asked you to notice that there are actually three people God is calling us to love in those commandments: God, our neighbor, and ourselves.

How can we love our neighbor as ourselves if we don’t love ourselves? How can we treat people as we would want to be treated when we often can’t even treat ourselves with kindness and respect? In a culture where women and femmes especially are taught to examine our every flaw, outward and inward, to apologize for everything even when it’s not our fault, to be meek and submissive, to be beautiful but not vain, and to view our own emotions as unreasonable and manipulative, it can be hard to know how to simply love ourselves. (Not to leave out the men-folk — I know you can struggle with this, too.) Self-love is viewed as narcissistic, vain, selfish, or overly-indulgent. But, guess what! There’s a loophole! There’s one time when it’s okay to be self-focused, to pamper yourself and accept pampering from others, and to accept compliments about your appearance — it’s your birthday! So since my birthday is today, I’d like to share that dispensation with you. And since I don’t want to put too much pressure on one day (and since it is going to rain all day today in Boston) I’m claiming the whole month of May as my birthday and ours. Hey la! It’s our birthday month! Let’s celebrate!!!

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give you five suggestions of ways to treat yourself, to celebrate your life and practice some self-love this May. For each of you that does one and leaves a comment about it, I will donate $2 to Together Rising. I’m poor right now, so I’ll have to limit it to 15 commenters, but I really want to get up to 15 so please play along. It’s my birthday, after all, and this is what I want for my present. Here are your choices:

  1. Have a selfie photo session! You can put on your favorite clothes, jewelry, and make-up, or snap a picture after a work-out — whenever you feel most lovely and most like yourself. Find your light and your favorite angle, snap several photos and choose your favorite one. Then study it for a moment and tell me two or three things that you like about your face. My selfie is the one at the top of this post. I turned toward the morning sun and took a photo from above. I’m not wearing any make-up, but I love my freckles and rosy cheeks, rightfully earned at playground and parks, and the friendly crinkles of my crow’s feet. You can read more of my thoughts on selfies here.
  2. Eat or drink something that you usually deny yourself. This can be as simple as cream in your coffee when you usually have skim milk, or as decadent as an ice cream sundae (it’s our birthday!). And — this is a two-parter — don’t beat yourself up about it. You don’t have to punish yourself with thoughts of shame and disgust every time (or any time) you eat something the diet magazines tell you you shouldn’t. They don’t know you or your body (and, frankly, their science is pretty shoddy). Let the soft animal of your body love what it loves (thank you, Mary Oliver!). You can read more of my thoughts on eating here.
  3. Take a 20 minute vacation. Leave the dishes in the sink and the emails unanswered and go for a walk, or read a book, or sit on your porch and watch the sunset. Sleep in an extra 20 minutes, or get up 20 minutes early and do some yoga — whatever would make you feel loved and cared for. If you need your significant other’s help to make that happen, ask for it.
  4. Buy yourself flowers, or a house plant, or — what else do people get for themselves for treats? I mostly get plants. If you can’t think of anything else, I recommend getting a tiny mint plant and putting it outside in the biggest pot you have. By mid-June the pot will be overflowing with mint. If you don’t like plants, feel free to substitute your own favorite treat here.
  5. Notice your negative self-talk and replace it with a truth. If we talked to our friends the way we talk to ourselves we wouldn’t have any friends left. Notice if you are saying things in your head to put yourself down. I had a friend who constantly called herself stupid. I tend to say, “What is wrong with me?” when I do simple things like forget why I came into a room. (There’s a scientific explanation for that, by the way.) Think of a truth you can replace it with. I have gotten in the habit of saying, “I’m doing my best, and that’s enough,” to which I often add, “and so are most people.” You might also try, “I am God’s beloved child, made in the divine image” or even Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

Okay, I have to go pack for a quick, fun, last minute birthday trip to New York City to see some friends. Happy birthday, everyone, and I can’t wait to hear what you got yourselves!

Love,
Jessica

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

Save

Love your neighbor as yourself

Four days ago in London a man climbed onto a bridge to end his life, and passersby gathered around him and held onto him for two hours to keep him safe until help arrived. (Thanks to James Rhodes for sharing this on Twitter.)

Meanwhile, I spent several hours last week reading endless Twitter arguments about whether women bloggers ought to be under ecclesiastical (church) authority. Listen: Those discussions are necessary. Amidst the frustration and vehement disagreement, wise, loving people shared their perspective vulnerably and listened well to each other. But I am afraid that we have mistaken the calling of the church. It’s good to have theological discussions. But they should not be where most of our energy and resources go.

This picture, those arms stretched out through the bars of the railing — this is what church should look like. Study it for a minute. Actually, study it for several minutes. Look at the bodies in the picture. Look at the tension in the muscles, the pain and struggle in the faces, the wrinkles in the clothing. Look at the person whose arms are wrapped around the man’s neck, whose face is so intimately close to his own. Look at the person who squats near the man’s feet, whose arms clutch his legs, whose face we cannot see because he has chosen a position of discomfort and service over one of glory. Who do you identify with in the photo? The man whose desperation led him to climb over the railing of the bridge? See how he is held, how much even these strangers value his life. Do you identify with the helpers? Can you feel the man’s calves under your arms, shaking with the fear of death and the fear of hope?

Now read this passage from Matthew 22:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Who are the people in this passage? Who are the people we are told to love? I have to run off to work now, but I’ll write more about this later this week. (And I do have some things to say about women bloggers and authority, too.) In the meantime, please consider: What does it mean to love God with all your heart and soul and mind? What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? What does it mean to love yourself?

Love,
Jessica

***

P.S. I just realized what the photograph reminded me of: Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son.


***

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

On eating and rewiring your brain

They say you are what you eat 🙂

Hello, friends! I’ve missed writing here. Life has gotten unexpectedly stressful lately, and all my energy has gone into getting through each day, coping with things as they come up and trying to make plans for changes that will make life less stressful. In related news, if anyone knows of an affordable two-bedroom apartment in or near Boston, let me know.

Today I thought I’d write a bit about eating — eating disorders, or disordered eating — and healing from them. I’ve never been diagnosed, but I’ve definitely had times in my life when I was anorexic-ish, starving myself and exercising obsessively to lose weight, and other times when I have been unable to stop over-eating. My weight has swung up and down 100 lbs since college. I’ve written about how I learned to break the cycle of over-eating–> feeling shame–> starving myself at the shame part of the cycle here. Basically I decided to stop dieting and stop punishing myself when I overate; to do my best to eat healthy foods when I was hungry, stop eating when I was full, and to forgive myself when I did eat too much. The forgiveness, for me, was the key. When I recklessly and completely refused to feel shame for overeating, I found myself feeding myself more lovingly, and stopping when I was full more naturally.

Another thing I’ve done is to try to replace overeating with other, healthier coping mechanisms. Meditation and centering prayer (a particular type of prayer in which you sit in God’s presence without speaking) helped me to learn to be still, to quiet my mind and my hands so that I did not need the activity of eating to soothe myself. Candles, incense, and scented oils (my favorites are peppermint, rosemary, and lavender) helped to satisfy the cravings for comfort and stimulation that I often mistook for hunger. And yoga has been a wonderful way to reconnect with my body, calm myself, and exercise without the obsessive calorie-counting I used to do on the gym treadmill. I’m now at about the halfway mark in that 100lb weight swing, and have stayed there for six years. I could lose more weight by dieting, but then I’d be right back in the cycle, losing and gaining, feeling constant shame and frustration, thinking about food all the time. I’m much happier where I am, eating healthy, exercising naturally, and trusting my body to know where it wants to be.

My friend Arwen Faulkner wrote a few years ago about something called neuroplasticity. It’s the idea that our brains are rewriteable, that even programs of reaction and response learned in childhood can be changed. Arwen writes poignantly about what that has meant in her life as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. She says that

Neuroplasticity involves the spontaneous rewiring of neurons, the reassignment of neural pathways. Neurons are able to strengthen well-worn connections while weakening or eliminating others. Imagine, the road less travelled, essentially disappears. A healing process, this gives us the power to literally change our minds.

You can read the rest of her essay here. I’ve been thinking about that lately, and how I’ve done just that: rewired my brain, created new well-worn paths to replace the old ones. I don’t really believe in will power in the context of eating — I think white-knuckling it can work for a time but there will always be payback. My times of extreme self control, eating 500 calories a day and burning them off plus more on the treadmill, ultimately resulted in obsessive eating and a ruined metabolism. The body is hardwired for survival. But I do believe that we can replace unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones. My brain responds differently to food than it used to. I don’t get the same intense rush from binge eating sweet or salty foods. I don’t get the same emotion-numbing effect from piling on the calories long after my hunger is sated.

You know what’s funny, though? I kind of miss it. I’ve never used drugs (illegal, I mean – I’ve used plenty of prescribed drugs for the migraines, and I live in fear of someone discovering that coffee is bad for you) and never drank very much, but I imagine being in recovery from abusing food is kind of like being sober. It’s so much better, here, on the healthy side. But, as I mentioned, the last few weeks have been very stressful. Meditation helps, yoga helps, scented things help (I am currently running a humidifier with rosemary and peppermint oil as I write). Getting outside helps, as does focusing on the moment, on what’s in front of me. Breathing exercises help, talking to friends, reading a good book, writing. I have so many healthy coping mechanisms. But they don’t give me quite the same buzz as overeating used to. They walk me through my problems, bring me to a place of peace that is deeper than the circumstances around me. And they don’t hurt my body and make me hate myself. It’s a much better way, really. But still, as I walked through CVS yesterday, looking at the giant bags of popcorn and candy, I thought of how it would feel to climb back into those bags of salt and sugar, the way an alcoholic climbs back into the bottle. To lose myself again, after all this work finding myself. And I felt a moment of regret that that escape was no longer available to me.

***

I don’t really want to write about what’s going on right now, because it seems unfair to vent about my housemate when I have a blog and she (as far as I know) doesn’t. But I do want to say a few things about it:

  1. Thank God for Mark. Really. He is away right now because his mom broke her arm and he is taking care of her, and that makes the current situation even harder, but I am just so grateful to have such a kind, thoughtful, intelligent, and wise friend and housemate.
  2. I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over again, but I think I’m finally getting it: Not everything is my fault, and not everything is fixable if only I can find the perfect thing to say or do, or the perfect way of being. Some things are other people’s faults, God help ’em, and other people’s problems to fix, and all I can do is take care of myself the best I can and leave space open for other people to do their part if and when they’re ready.
  3. This is super hard when the person you’re having a hard time with is living in your house.
  4. Seriously, does anyone know of an affordable two-bedroom apartment?

***

How are you all doing? I’ve missed you. What have you been up to lately? What are some of your coping mechanisms, healthy or unhealthy? Tell me here, or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

You are not alone, I promise.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

Prayers for lost things

I rescued two lost things last week. One was my responsibility, and one was not. One I’d lost myself (though it would’ve been easy to blame the five year old), and one someone else had lost. One was a coat, a green child’s coat, possibly a hand-me down, but it would have been expensive to replace. One was a dog. One was lost on a beautiful, warmish, sunny afternoon, and the other was lost the following day which was sunny but bitterly cold and windy.

The coat was the most upsetting, because it was my fault (though it would have been easy to blame the five year old). When I drove Louise to kindergarten that morning it had been cold and rainy, so she and her toddler brother, Manny, wore raincoats over their winter coats. Afterwards Manny and I went to the library and it wasn’t raining anymore so I took off his raincoat and left it in the car. Later, while Manny was napping and I was reading Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, the sun broke forth from the clouds and the temperatures soared into the fifties, and I gratefully made plans to take the kids to the playground after school. That last hour and a half, after I pick up Louise from school, can be hard. She is tired from following the rules and doing what she was told all day at school, and resents any more instructions from me. She wants to talk and play, and needs me to be very interactive and follow the rules of the games she makes up, and she gets frustrated if I don’t pay complete attention. Manny is getting tired despite his nap, and though he has spent most of the day ignoring me and pretending to cook elaborate meals with his toy pots and pans, his sister’s presence makes him suddenly need my constant attention and to be constantly in my arms. It can be fun, if I can rally my energy. But it’s infinitely better if we can spend that time outside. Both kids like people-watching, the fresh air and sunshine put their nanny in a much better mood, and there are other kids to play with so I am not needed as intensely as when the three of us are home alone.

It was warm, so I let Louise take off her outer raincoat, but it was not warm enough for her to take off her other coat, so the several times she asked to I said no. The kids had a great time, and I absorbed the fresh air and sunshine as I chased after them, and waited till the last possible minute to say that it was time to head home. As we walked back to the car I looked back and saw that Louise had taken off her coat. She saw me notice her, grinned, and said, “Is it okay?”

“All right,” I said. “Put it in the stroller,” thus teaching her the truth of the expression that it’s easier to get forgiven than permission. When we got to the car I strapped them into their seats, folded up the stroller, and put it into the trunk. A few minutes later we pulled into their garage and I said to Louise sternly,

“You need to either wear your coat or carry it, Louise. I have to get all the other coats, the diaper bag, and Manny.”

“Okay,” she said. “Where is it?”

“It’s back there with you.”

“No it isn’t.”

With a sinking heart I realized I’d never taken it out of the stroller. I opened the trunk and unfolded the stroller but it wasn’t there.

“It must be back at the playground,” I said. She started crying.

“It’s okay!” I said. “Let’s go inside and drop you and Manny off with your mom, and I’ll drive back in my own car and get the coat. It must’ve fallen out when I put the stroller in the trunk, so it should be right there waiting for me.”

“But what if someone took it?” she wailed.

“No one would take it,” I said, hoping this was true. “People are generally good and want to help each other.”

I dropped them off and hopped into my car, driving back towards the playground and praying the following strange prayer:

“Lord, please let the coat still be there. I don’t want to be responsible for losing it. Also, take care of the refugees. And if you can only answer one prayer, then take care of the refugees.”

God only knows what God thinks of prayers like that. Covering our bases, hedging our bets. Hoping for God’s favor and help to save face for ourselves and a few dollars for our employer, while knowing that others are shivering on the cold ground, hungry, homeless, wondering where God is and where the generally good people wanting to help each other are. Did God laugh at my second, guilty prayer? Did God listen carefully and file the prayers in order of importance? Did God guide the hand of the person who walked by Louise’s coat in the street and hung it carefully up on the fence for me to find, gratefully, moments later? Is God guiding the hearts of those who have it in their power to help the refugees?

The next day the temperature dropped sharply and the wind blew fiercely. The kids’ dad needed the car, so he drove Louise to school but I had to take Manny in the stroller to pick her up. The walk to school and back was cold and hard, with the wind seeming to always blow against us. I struggled on the way there, but the way back with Louise was harder — uphill and I had the additional job of keeping Louise’s spirits up while we fought against the wind. She was struggling, and trying not to cry.

“Remember what Dory says in Finding Nemo?” I asked. “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. And then, just when they are too tired to go any further, a miracle happens and they find the warm gulf stream current which carries them safely to Nemo.” I’m pretty sure I had some of those details wrong, but Louise thought about it for a minute and then started repeating: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” We chanted it together, pausing each time the wind caught the cloth of the stroller like a sail (always in the other direction) and made walking momentarily impossible.

Suddenly a very small dog came towards us from a driveway, barking loudly. Louise screamed and I told her to move to the other side of me while I spoke gently to the dog.

“What’s wrong puppy? It’s okay, we’re friendly. What are you doing out here in the cold?”

The dog was shivering, and I realized that its barks weren’t coming from anger but from fear. I felt the calmness that comes over me when anxiety is replaced with knowing exactly what action to take. I don’t know how I knew. Was someone somewhere saying a prayer for lost things? Was someone praying for creatures who were cold and scared? Either way I knew for sure that the dog was stuck outside and needed help getting home. There were several houses there, but I turned toward the nearest one as the dog ran away back down the driveway. There was a set of steps going up to the front door, so I carefully parked the stroller at the bottom.

“No!” cried Louise. “I don’t want to go there! I want to go home!”

“When you see a creature that’s cold and scared, you have to help it. That’s the rule,” I answered, and, convinced either by compassion or canon, she followed me up the concrete stairs.

I rang the doorbell and we stood there shivering. I saw the blinds opened slightly and I waved and tried not to look like a salesman or an evangelist. A woman opened the door and asked us suspiciously,

“Yes? Can I help you?”

“There’s a small dog out here,” I said. “He seems scared.”

“Oh my God! Chico?” she asked, looking inside and realizing he wasn’t there with her. “How did he get out? Where did you see him?”

“He just ran back down there,” I said, pointing to the driveway.

She came out onto the porch, standing in the wind in bare feet, and called,

“Chico! Chico!”

The dog ran up to her instantly, and they hurried back into the warm house together, the woman saying a quick and still surprised, “Thank you!”

Louise, Manny, and I continued up the hill, against the wind. A few weeks ago we had made the same trip after a snowstorm, and as we’d walked I’d told Louise the story of Good King Wenceslas, and how he and his servant had gone out in the bitter cold to bring food and firewood to a poor man they saw from the castle window.

“It was so cold and windy,” I’d told her, “And the servant grew so tired he couldn’t go on. But King Wenceslas told him to walk in his footprints, and when the servant stepped right where the King had stepped, he found the footprints were warm! So then he was warm enough and encouraged enough to go on.” I’d sung the last verse of the song to her, trying unsuccessfully, as always, not to cry:

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.”

“We saved that dog!” I said, feeling as warm as if I were stepping in the Saint’s footprints. “And we’re almost home.”

“We’re almost home!” said Louise. “Just keep swimming.”

“Just keep swimming,” I said.

***

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter!)

Save

Remember your training

rememberyourtrainingI had a small anxiety attack last night. I’ve been sick for three weeks and couldn’t sleep ’cause I was coughing so badly, and worried about my parents, and worried about our world, and my heart started beating too hard and I started thinking things that aren’t true, like:

Nobody likes me. Everyone is mad at me and probably talking behind my back about being mad at me. I’m a mess, and this panic attack is proof of it.

I didn’t believe those things, but my body was reacting as if they were true, panicking, trying to fight or to flee. But I remembered the things I’ve learned about anxiety and put them into practice. I took deep breaths — through my mouth, since my nose was hopelessly stuffy. I breathed Psalm 23 in and out: “The Lord is my shepherd” (in) “I shall not want” (out). I got through the psalm and I felt a little better so I did it again. Then I used my phone-a-friend lifeline and texted Gina. Good job, she said. Psalm 23 is what you pray when you can’t pray anything else. Then she prayed for me. I still felt unsettled, but my heart rate had slowed, and I knew that things would look better in the morning. Or at least that I would be able to think things through more clearly in the morning, and figure out if there was any reality behind the thoughts.

And sure enough, when I woke up, once two cups of coffee had staved off the cough medicine hangover, I asked myself: Do you really think your friends are mad at you? Do you really think they’re talking about you behind your back? And, no, I said, they’re not. And do you think a panic attack means you’re hopelessly messed up? No, I said. Everyone has bad moments, and we all have to get through them the best we can.

I love what Jen Hatmaker wrote on her Facebook page today:

Our family went to a Texas basketball game last week, and as always, it is hilarious to sit by Remy. She doesn’t understand sports and never picked up on proper cheering, so she has her own special brand of yelling. One of my favorites from last week was this (always said with full sincerity):

“Keep trying! Make it into the basket! Remember your training!”

LOL. Wondering if any of you need to “remember your training” today? Nine times out of ten when I face a dilemma, I already know what to do. I know what to choose. I know what to apologize for. I know what to hand over to God because He knows how to run his own world. I know who to call. I know to get my nose in the Bible. I know who to forgive. I know what to stop doing. I know who to speak up for. I know its time to get over myself. I know how to act like Jesus.

It’s all right there in the training.

Keep trying, sisters! Remember your training. Most of us know what to do; it’s just the doing of it that is hard. And truthfully, it isn’t even the doing of it that is so hard as much as the DECIDING to do it part. The worst of the battle is usually borne out in our minds; once we put our hands to it, we discover relief, healing, joy, peace.

I’ll go first. I have gotten sideways with someone and I am going to call her today. I could not, because women especially know how to fake it and sidestep and let unresolved conflict weaken a relationship until it is a ghost of its former self, but I’m going to press in. (WHEN DOES LIFE GET EASY??)

Remember your training. Do the thing that needs to be done.

When the depression and anxiety got really bad ten years ago my mom and various therapists tried to introduce me to breathing exercises, cognitive behavioral exercises, and various prayers like the welcoming prayer. I tried them, but at first they didn’t work. They seemed like such weak tools in the face of such strong emotions. It wasn’t until I’d practiced them for a while that they started working. When I read Remi’s exhortation to “remember your training” I thought of last night. It was because I’d practiced so much and sharpened my skills — by praying, meditating, doing yoga, and walking myself through the bad times — that I was able to perform the play I did last night. Even sick as a dog, coughing and going through tissues at an alarming rate, my training kicked in. To be honest, I didn’t really think it would work when I started breathing deeply and reciting the psalm. The anxiety felt too physical, too irrational. But just as the muscle-memory from years of training kicks in when an athlete feels the ball in her hand, my body remembered what to do. Deep breaths slowed my heart rate, the words of the psalm calmed my thoughts. Contact with Gina made me feel loved and important. And trust in the morning to smooth the rough, shaky angles of the night got me through.

Puffy eyes warm heart. :)

Puffy eyes warm heart. 🙂

How are you all doing? Is there something in your life you know how to do right now, but you just have to remember your training? Or do you need some more practice before it becomes second nature? Do you have all your life-lines in place? Should we have a team meeting before the big game? Alright, my metaphors are becoming jumbled, and it’s time for me to take some more cough medicine and go to bed. Hang in there, friends. Its winter, but spring’s a-coming.

Love,
Jessica

***

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I’ll tell you a secret: I’m feistiest on Twitter — especially lately!)

Oh, and here’s the full Psalm 23 if you need it.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Save

Save