New website!

Hello friends! I’m so sorry I haven’t posted here in so long. There has been a LOT going on, which I will tell you about, drum roll please….on my new website! I’ll be sharing links to new posts here for a while, but will have subscriptions set up there soon, too. And you can always find me on social media as well!

Here’s my new post, November newsletter!

Much love to all of you.

Jessica

Returnings

Autumn came and went quickly here in Boston, with many rainy days and a few gorgeous sunny ones. Then, some time in November, it became winter. Meteorologists and philosophers alike agree though they have no explanation. It got cold, that’s one way to define winter, but also that seasonal sadness settled in, to those that are prone to it and to a few, befuddled others.

Autumn brought me my first book contract, which I just realized I didn’t announce on my blog. If you don’t follow me on social media — guess what! Here’s my elevator pitch: I’m writing a book about my own experience with a time of depression that coincided with a faith-shift, drawing from books that helped me through that time, and speaking to those who are going through something similar. This will not be a how-to-get-over-depression book, or a pray-the-depression-away book. I want it to be a book to hold on to as I held on to Henri Nouwen’s and others. I want it to be a friend to sit next to you through the night until the morning comes. If you are going through a time of depression, or if you love someone who is, I am writing this book for you

Autumn brought joy, excitement, overwhelmederment (Shakespeare made up words so I can, too), gratitude, and determination to write well and without the standard existential crises and imposter syndrome that it seems most good writers experience. It’s going to be a short book, and I have nine months to write it and a good idea of what I’m writing, so it should be entirely doable.

I still think that’s true, but winter came early, and brought that seasonal sadness to me along with others. I’m writing a book about depression, but the days that I’m not depressed are much easier days to write in. The early sunsets and long, dark evenings are going to be part of my chapter on what darkness has to teach us — it’s going to be so lovely and profound — but they are infuriating to live through. They suck the energy out of me. They inspire only in prospect or retrospect, not in presence.

It is a sunny early afternoon right now, and I’m drinking coffee, so I have an hour or two — or at least a few moments — of mental energy and inspiration. I play with words. I discover the assonant pairing of prospect and retrospect and consider whether joining them with presence adds to or takes away from their effect. I start a short story for the very last new writer contest at Glimmer Train. I am a new writer because I haven’t had a fiction story published. I am a new writer in non-fiction, too, but only because online articles don’t count. Actually, there is an ebook with a flash fiction story and a poem of mine in it. I’ve been sending stories out since 2004. I’ve been writing in my journals for almost thirty years.

Sunset in Boston is at 4:32 tonight. That’s still brutally early, but it’s twenty-one minutes later than the earliest, back in December. It hasn’t been this late since November 7th, actually, to be precise. Those twenty minutes are already making a difference. It’s still light when we get home from picking up the seven year old I nanny. It’s dark soon after that, but the light is returning. I hope for you the light is returning as well.

Love,
Jessica

***

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates about the book, my haircuts, and making it through the winter, and join in the conversation!

Twenty ways to say, “I love you” to someone who is depressed

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002If you haven’t experienced depression yourself, it can be difficult to understand what your loved one is going through. Your daughter, or friend, or spouse, or sibling who used to be cheerful and energetic now stays in bed most of the day. Or they still get up, go to school or work, but don’t smile anymore, or talk to you much. Or they talk so much that it’s exhausting, and it’s all about how bad they’re feeling, and you don’t know what to say or to do. They don’t seem to hear you, or believe you, when you say you love them. As someone who has been through times of deep depression, I thought I’d write down some of ways my friends and family said, “I love you,” that meant a lot to me, as well as some things I wish someone had been able to say. If you struggle with depression yourself, I would love if you would add to this list in the comments.

Love,
Jessica


“I am not going anywhere.”

“You are worth more than your accomplishments.”

“I believe you are doing the best you can.”

“What do you need?”

“You are important to me.”

“We need you here.”

“Your needs are valid.”

“If you want to talk, I will listen.”

“It’s okay if you want to be alone, but I am here when you need me.

“I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I want to. Can you tell me how you’re feeling?”

“I believe you.”

“Call me anytime.”

“I can’t talk on the phone much but I will read every text, email, or message that you send me.”

“I can’t _____ but I can _____.”

“I can’t _____ but it is not because you are too needy; it’s just that my resources are limited.”

“Can I help you find someone to talk to?”

“Can I bring you a meal? Ice cream?”

“We are going to get through this together.”

“You are not alone.”

“I love you.”

***

If you want to read more about my own experience of depression and how I made it through, I’m writing a book for Fortress Press due out in 2019. Subscribe to this blog or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and to join in the conversation.

Anger beauty

JessSwimmingOn Monday I was mad that at forty-four years old I am still struggling with my eating and with body image.  On Wednesday I read this article about obesity and was angry about all the years that society and even doctors have lied to women and made us unhealthy in the name of health. On Thursday I got a letter from a woman who had gained weight and said she hated herself, and I was furious that my self-image and that of so many other women has been decimated by this toxic culture since we were very young. All week I’ve been pissed off reading reactions to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s account of sexual assault, and reading the #WhyIdidntreport hashtag, realizing again and again how many of us women have been sexually assaulted and then shamed about it. I felt the anger in my body. My muscles felt tensed and taut and strong. My blood flowed faster. My skin warmed.

On Saturday I went to the gym and in the locker room I changed into my bathing suit. I walked by the full-length mirror on the way back to my locker, head down, thinking about goggles and kick boards, then I made myself come back and look at myself. I gained twenty pounds last year, and another five this summer, and I’d been fixated on my stomach and thighs, how much bigger they felt and looked, how the skin lay unevenly after years of losing and gaining those same twenty-five pounds. I’d been walking bravely from the locker room to the pool this past year, but it was not because I thought I looked good — it was because even though I thought I didn’t I was determined to not let it stop me.

I had done so much work to accept and love myself twenty-five pounds ago, but this recent weight gain seemed to unravel all my self-confidence. I looked in the mirror because I wanted to learn to love myself in the present, how I was on any given day, not wishing I weighed what I did in 2016, or looking forward to what I hope to weigh in 2019. I wanted to be em-bodied, not lost in my mind like I was for so long, sometimes so much that I was surprised that people could see me. I wanted to be friends with my body, and a part of her. But I still expected to have mixed feelings when I looked in the mirror. I expected to like parts of myself, but not all.

Instead, what I saw was a perfectly-fleshed, fully-bodied woman. I was beautiful. The flaws I expected to see were probably there, but I would have had to search them out and I didn’t. I looked at myself like I would look at another woman I saw in the locker room, noticing her kind and open face, her long legs and statuesque figure, her pale skin against the black of her bathing suit, her short, asymmetrical hair. I was younger than I expected, too. In my mind I had become middle-aged, lumpy, gray. But my eyes were bright and the highlights in my hair were silver.

I didn’t look angry. But I have a theory. I think the anger of the week is what made me beautiful. I think I spend so much time trying to fix the parts of myself that were broken by this horrible, toxic, misogynistic culture with self-love, and ministering to my likewise wounded friends and sisters and siblings with kindness and love — and that is good and necessary. But sometimes I think it can turn into just one more thing I need to fix about myself. Anger turns that feeling outward, towards the culture that hurt me and others and is still hurting girls and women today. When I am angry at the right things it draws the poison out of my own body. Anger strengthens my muscles, stirs my blood, prepares me for battle. Anger reunites me with my body, and reminds me that my body — like all bodies — is good.

Love,
Jessica

***

Books I can’t wait to read:

Fat and FaithfulFat and Faithful: Learning to Love our Bodies, Our Neighbors, and Ourselves, by J. Nicole Morgan. It is well past time that we address the convergence of the culture of body-shaming and (white) Christian culture. I am so grateful to Nicole for writing this book, and I want everyone I know to read it. You can order it here.

 

 

 

 

 

A Light so Lovely

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle, by Sarah Arthur. I met Sarah at a writer’s conference where I basically sidled up to her and said, “Hi, can I sit with you? Did you know there are famous authors here?” not realizing she was a famous author herself. Nevertheless she was delightful and welcoming to me, and as a personal favor (i.e. a complete coincidence) has written a spiritual autobiography about my favorite author, Madeleine L’Engle. I did a bunch of research myself two years ago for an essay that I never wrote, and uncovered some sad and fascinating things about Madeleine’s life. I can’t wait to read Sarah’s take on it. You can order it here.

***

Come follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and join in the conversation! (I used to say I was feistiest on Twitter but honestly I’m getting pretty feisty everywhere.)

Searching for community

“Suddenly I realized – two people isn’t enough. You need backup. If there are only two people, and someone drops off the edge, then you’re on your own. Two isn’t a large enough number. You need three at least.”
~About A Boy, by Nick Hornby

“You will be too much for some people. Those aren’t your people.”
~Karen Salmansohn

“Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.”
~Frederick Buechner

It was a long summer. I finally caught up by phone with my friend G last week and we filled each other in on some of what we’d been up to. G and I are best friends from college, and have known each other for twenty-six years now. She’s married with a ten year old son, I’m single and living in the city. This summer she found her stride leading weekends of deep healing at her church. I didn’t go to church at all this summer (I’m writing this in my parents’ quiet apartment as they attend church this morning) and made it to just two meetings of the small group I (sort of, obviously) attend. Both experiences have been healing for us.

I spent seven years living in an intentional Christian community. Seven years. Before that I was in seminary for eight years, and did a live-in internship, as well as various ministries — leading worship, teaching the Bible, facilitating small groups, leading youth group, teaching ESL, and traveling overseas to observe ministries there. In college I got so excited about the student ministry that I went to two small groups every week, in addition to the large group meeting. I have always craved community, and I have always tried to cram myself into it. And I have almost always left — or been forced to leave — with experiences of burn out and even trauma.

I know so many others who have had similar experiences to mine. Part of it is because of foundational flaws within the groups themselves — their theology, their power structures, their emphases, their focus on the needs of the majority to the detriment of those on the margins. Part of it, I think, is just the fundamental inability of people to get along with each other. The more people you have, the more perspectives and personalities, and the harder it is going to be to come up with a way of organizing ourselves that everyone agrees with.

But what are we supposed to do with this, given the other fundamental fact that we need each other?

I don’t know the answer to this question. But earlier this summer I spent a chunk of the little money I had in savings to fly to Seattle to see my aunt, cousins, and some dear friends I’d lived with in the community several years ago. The week I was there was one of the most beautiful of my life. I stayed part of the time with my friends and part with my aunt, and every day I spent with people who loved me and whom I loved, having great conversations, encouraging each other, cheering each other on. It was exactly what I’d always wanted community to be. Of course I was only there for a week, and I was on vacation, so that added to the idyllic nature of the trip. But it made me both happy and sad, to feel that kind of community I’d been searching for and then to leave it.

Near the end of my trip to Seattle I got the news that my father had fallen out of his wheelchair and been injured. I had plans to go up to Maine later in the summer, to see more old friends and some new ones and to eke out a little more vacation time, but instead I spent most of my free time driving up to help out my parents. Dad has a degenerative muscle disease that has slowly disabled him, and the fall gave him a concussion that seems to have advanced the disease. He is still faithfully doing ministry in the New Hampshire jails, but he has to be driven there in his wheelchair van. (You can read more about his work on his blog, Visiting Jesus in Prison.)

My dear friend and housemate, Mark, has been away since April. We moved from a three-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom last summer, so with Mark away I have been living by myself. I love many things about being alone, but it has been a bit lonely, too. I email with Mark, and shoot texts to friends when I feel lonely, but I miss having a friend right there to touch in with every day. I don’t need — or want — a lot of interaction, but it is really good to be able to share a little bit about my day. I think I’ve been the worse for it, emotionally and intellectually. I think that’s part of the reason I haven’t been writing as much: The little things I used to quickly process with Mark every evening have become jumbled up in my head so that the big themes can’t get out around them. He’s coming back this week, though, yay!

The thing about my friends in Seattle, and G, and Mark, is that they’re old friends. We’ve had conflict, but we moved through it, and our affection for each other is now firm. Settled. The only way to make more of that kind of friend, though, is to plow through the weeds with new friends. So last week I fought of inertia and social anxiety and went to the Labor Day cookout that my small group was having. I’ve been going there, sort of, on and off for a year now, and I was delighted to find this Monday that some of those friends are starting to feel like old friends. That community is starting to feel more like my community.

Of course now that I am settling in they’re changing it — the group has gotten too big so they’re going to split into two. When I heard this news I wondered who was going to lead the new group, and for a brief moment I thought, *I* know how to lead small groups. Then I laughed and shook my head. As grateful and proud I am of my friend G for being a leader at her church, I’m not ready to go back to that myself. I may never be. But I think I am slowly finding my own way of doing community. I am piecing community together like a quilt. Seattle friends and family stitched together with my parents in New Hampshire, Suzy, Gina, and Judi outside of Boston, Laura in Connecticut, Matt and Judith in Indianapolis, Miriam, Sarah, Claudia, and Ivy in Boston, Mark in the next room over. It is not as easy as going next door where 4-12+ people were hanging out on any given night. But it is also not as hard. Go figure.

If you are reading this and feeling lonely and excluded, first of all, you’re included here. I want my blog and all my writing to be inclusive and community-focused. If you’re here, you’re in, you’re one of us. Second, don’t give up. The place where you are — your church, your school, your current group of friends — might not be where you find your community, but you will find it. Your people are out there. And they are looking for you, too. The party isn’t complete without you.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

Another damn post about migraines

I am lying on my parents’ bed, half on my back, half sideways, trying to balance the computer while holding my body at an angle that at least minimizes the throbbing pain. It’s August 4th. I’ll tell you why I’m counting the days in a minute.

I drove up here yesterday, after three long nanny days in the heat and humidity, to supposedly help out my parents as my dad recovers from a fall out of his wheelchair. Instead I’m lying here watching my mom do all the work.

There is a lot of pain. Then there’s the nausea, vertigo, sensitivity to light and sound. I have meds that might cut the pain a little bit, but I have another full week of nannying before I can refill my prescription, and only three doses left, so I can’t waste them on a weekend. Plus there’s a thing called a medication overuse migraine, and I took meds all week to get through the nannying.

I’ve written all of this before.

Right now I’m just thinking about what a waste of a day this is, and how many days have been similarly wasted. I have things I want to do. I want to do my laundry and my parents, and help my mom sort through what needs to be done to apply for a home aide. I want to write the essay that’s been growing like a baby inside me for a month now. I’m past my due date, but I’m too tired for labor, so my belly swells and swells.

I want to move my body, to feel fresh air, to get my heart rate up, to lose the twenty extra pounds I put on last year, that I can feel wrapped around my bones and muscles like extra layers of clothes. I want to go to the lake that’s only a mile away from here and swim. It’s August 4th and I’ve only been swimming once so far this summer, back in June, in an indoor pool. I love swimming. I love exercise. I also love lazing around the house some days, but I’d like it to be because I’m in the middle of a good book, or because I biked twenty miles the day before and need a break. Not because standing up sends the blood throbbing to my head, and spins the world around me like a tilt a whirl.

My next neurology appointment is August 17th. I’ve been trying to get in earlier, because I spoke to my doctor and she said she thinks she can get the prior authorization for my insurance to cover the new migraine medication, but she wants to see me in person first. That was two weeks and maybe four migraines ago. I’ve lost count. Two weeks to go. How hard can it be to wait another month, when I’ve had these migraines since I was young? But each one is just as hard as the last. Pain, nausea, boredom, frustration. And now — hope. But a mixed hope.

It’s a hope mixed with a kind of pre-survivors guilt. What if I get better, but others don’t? What if this is it, a real treatment finally for migraines (which it seems like it might be) but meanwhile those with fibromyalgia and depression and the terrible illness that debilitates one of my best friends and the degenerative muscle disease that has put my dad in a wheelchair continue to suffer? And what if, after all of this, it doesn’t help anyway, or I’m one of the very rare people who has a bad reaction?

I have an essay I want to write about that, too. But right now I have to close my eyes, because these few paragraphs were written at a cost. Don’t worry about me, I’m okay. I know what I need to do to take care of myself. I hope to be back soon, with a bouncing baby essay to show you, forgetting the pain of labor in the joy of new creation.

Love,
Jessica

***

In between migraines I wrote this piece for Sojourners on Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tweets, and Lin said I made his day!

Check it out!

I also loved this other Sojo piece by Joy Netanya Thompson about Queer Eye, which Bobby Berk retweeted! What a week for Sojo contributors!

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