The Italian word for prayer

Basilica Facciata, Assisi, Italy

Basilica Facciata, Assisi, Italy

I have a somewhat big decision to make, one that I’ve been thinking about for several months, and I’ve been pretty stressed about it. I’m so bad at making even small decisions, and the big ones can overwhelm me. I keep settling on a course of action, and trying to make it stick, but then the pros and cons will start circling back again. I’m trying to focus on the pros, that there are good things to both paths, and everything will be okay either way. I know this. But it’s not just the cons that haunt me, it’s the decision itself. I get this way even when I have to decide whether to go out for the evening or stay in. Sometimes a migraine can come as a relief, making the decision for me, even as it frustrates me with my limitations.

My friend Judith McCune Kunst is teaching a poetry class in Italy this month. Before I tell you how this ties into my big decision, let me share one of my favorite of her poems, which was published in The Atlantic in March, 2000.

THE GUEST

When Chiqui asked me if my sleep in her house
had been good, I told the truth with a sweep
of my hands: The mattress sags, I said, and left
for Spanish class.
                     She dragged the mattress
off its frame and propped it in the narrow hall.
She pulled the larger, slightly newer mattress off
her and her husband's bed and hauled it
back to mine.
                     Now when Chiqui asks me
how I've slept, I lie: Just fine, I say,
though by this time I've learned
the Spanish word for shame.

I’ll give you a moment to recover from that. It took me several before I could breathe properly again.

Are you ready to continue? Okay. So Judith is teaching a class in Italy, and ten days ago she posted on Facebook that she was traveling to Assisi, the birthplace of Saint Francis, and said to message her with prayer requests and she would pray for us in that holy place.

If you had asked me what I needed to cope with this decision-making process, I would have probably said a better to-do list, a wise advisor, or for something to happen that irrevocably made the decision for me. I realize now that this was a serious lapse of imagination. What I actually needed, and what was provided, was for a poet friend to pray for me on a sacred pilgrimage.

The nature of my decision is that I can’t really take any action on it until the end of April. There is data I won’t have till then, either. So it will be a few more weeks before events are set in motion, before I can stop thinking about it.

But in the meantime, my friend’s prayer perches like a soft bird on my shoulder, like the gentle animals to whom Saint Francis is said to have preached the gospel. I always thought they must have known it already, that Good News that we humans try to pass on to each other in broken English and Spanish and Italian. I think the birds are born knowing it. I think that’s what they sing to each other about, on these April mornings when I’ve dared to leave my bedroom window open a crack, their sweet songs reaching me in my slumber and cheering me for the day ahead.

I think the birds of Assisi already knew the gospel, but I think they still listened intently to Francis as he preached, their little heads tilted as the medieval Italian words filled their ears. Jesus referenced birds when he said, “Your heavenly Father knows what you need.” He already knows. But we pray for each other anyway. I imagine the great-great-great — and far beyond that — great-grandchildren of Francis’s sparrows tilting their heads to listen to my friend as she prays by the slender cypress trees. And God is there, too, his head inclined, nodding intently, even though he already knows.

***

You can read more of Judith’s poetry and prose, including updates of her month in Italy, at her website, www.judithkunst.com.

Wrapping up 2015 and setting intentions for 2016

Setting her Intention by Jessica Kantrowitz

My attempt to draw the Anjali Mudra. She is naked for aesthetic and symbolic reasons, and not at all because I don’t know how to draw clothes.

I’ve written about how Savasana, the meditation at the end of a class is one of my favorite things about yoga. Another of my favorite things is setting an intention. At the beginning of the class you place your hands, palms together, in front of your heart and decide what your intention is going to be for the class. You decide it yourself — the instructor never tells you what it should be. It can be anything you want: to be present, to strengthen your body, to connect with God, to let go of anxiety, or anything else you feel you need.

Your hands in front of your heart — Anjali Mudra — seal your intention. I’ve been doing it in other areas of my life, too, like before bed, sealing my intention to rest and not worry about the next day. Or on the way to work, sealing my intention to be focused and engaged. I’ve been doing it on a broader basis, as well, for years and even decades. It’s different from a to-do list or a list of New Year’s resolutions because it holds itself: You don’t have to do anything more once your intention is sealed in your heart. It’s not something you strive to accomplish. It’s more like turning in a particular direction so that your natural movement takes you where you’ve decided to go.

For me, for the last two years, this has had a lot to do with writing. The rest of this post is a summary of the last two years, my intentions and what has come of them. If you only have a few minutes, though, and want to skip to the action point of this post, here it is: What is your intention for the coming year? Is it different from last year? Take a few moments to sit with your eyes closed, hands together in front of your heart, to breathe deeply, and to consider what direction you want to turn for 2016. Set your intention, and then let go, trusting that you have placed it in your heart.

In May of 2014 I turned 40 and I set my intention to write. In a post entitled Forty: A preface I wrote:

I have some ideas, some thoughts I’d like to share, some stories I’d like to tell. I have some inklings and some convictions, some anecdotes and some parables, some bluntly factual reports and some metaphorical fictions.

They’re in me. I feel them brewing.

Ever since I was five or six I’ve wanted to be a writer. I still have stories from those days, mostly about cats and unicorns, with an overabundance of commas and adverbs. I’ve kept up my writing in various ways over the last thirty five years, through journaling, writing poems and short stories, several brief attempts to formulate novels and, most recently, blogging. I sent stories to literary journals in my late twenties, had a writing partner for a while in my early thirties. Yet I remember thinking, as early as college, that as much as I wanted to write, I didn’t have my stories yet — my life experience to draw on. I kept writing anyway. But I had this strong feeling that it wasn’t until I was forty that I was going to be able to write anything real. That feeling has stayed with me.

Three weeks ago I turned forty. And I feel it. It’s time.

For a while now I’ve been thinking about what Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird:

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

There are other people in my stories. Some haven’t behaved that well, and their bad behavior is part of my story. But, still, this doesn’t feel quite right to me. *I* haven’t behaved well in other people’s stories. And other people have blogs (and theoretical book deals) too. So I’ve been worried, not wanting to be unjust or to write to validate myself at another’s expense.

But then Glennon Melton posted this the other day:

When internet writers ask me for advice- one of the first things I tell them is: ”If you can avoid defending yourself for being human, you might have enough energy to keep writing. Don’t defend yourself, and don’t get your needs confused. You don’t need to be right- you just need to write.

So, I am going to write, knowing that I may not be right about everything, but knowing, too, that I have to write. “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer,” said Maya Angelou. “It sings because it has a song.”

I have a chronicle, a myth, a fable; I have a memoir and an apologue. I have a saga, a romance, a spiel; I have a scoop and a cliffhanger. I have a song.

After that post I started blogging more frequently and writing longer posts, more like essays than the brief observations I’d been posting before. And that year I wrote, among other things, a post entitled Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one. It was the processing of a difficult time in my life, and of a difficult relationship, and I needed Anne, Glennon, and Maya to help me know how to write it. To tell my stories. Not to be right, but to write. Not because I had an answer, but because I had a song.

On New Year’s Eve of 2014, I set my intentions for 2015:

My new year’s resolution this year is to mostly keep doing what I’ve been doing, because I think I’m on the right track. I will not be dieting because diets make you fatter, and I will not be hitting the gym — though I would love to, actually — because I have a bunch of little chronic injuries at the moment. The one big thing I want to do next I’ve already signed up for: A writer’s workshop through The Frederick Buechner Center at Princeton Seminary. I am really excited about it. It’s the first time I’ve spent money on my writing, the first time I’ve been to a conference in seven years, and the first time I’ve been to a seminary in nine years. Don’t tell Gordon-Conwell that I’m cheating on them with Princeton.

But the things that I want to focus on next year are the same things that I’ve been focusing on this year. Nothing new or particularly ambitious. But they work for me.

1) Be the best nanny and editor I can — focus on being present and paying attention.
2) Write weekly (I can’t swing daily right now, but I’m getting good at weekly).
3) Do yoga and bike when I can.
4) Keep seeing friends and family in person as well as connecting online.
5) Eat mostly healthy food and resist equally the temptations to eat too much and too little.
6) Look for ways to connect with God, and don’t be discouraged when I can’t find Him in the same places I used to.

To briefly touch on nos 1 and 3-6, I did those things mostly well, but not always. Being a good nanny got harder when I moved from a family with one little girl to one with three children under five. I felt like a good nanny a lot less. But I think I still mostly did my best, so that counts. I did yoga and biked when I could, but a knee injury slowed me down, and when my wheel broke at the end of the summer I made the difficult decision to pay down my debt and wait till the spring to get my bike fixed. I saw lots of friends in person, and stayed connected with many others online. I ate too many pastries when the winter got tough in February and March, but I started eating mostly healthy again in the spring. And I did keep turning my focus toward God, setting God as my intention and focus again and again throughout the year, even though that looked different in 2015 than it did in, say, 2006 when I was doing daily Bible readings and intercession-style praying. Prayer in 2015 looked more like a deep breath and lifting up a person, a thought, a worry, a hope, a fear, a praise, or simply gratitude to God.

Back to writing. Thirteen days after I’d set my New Year’s intentions, my friend Glennon shared Things I’ve been wrong about for most of my life, part one on her Momastery Facebook page, and 30,000 people read it. Thirty thousand people read about a time in my life when I’d felt isolated and alone in my confusion and struggle, and hundreds of them said, “Me, too.” Thirty thousand people read something I’d written, which is kind of more than I’d ever dreamed, except that in my dreams they were holding my book in their hands. My 12 year old self was impressed but confused when I told her about it. We hadn’t published a book, so were we a writer or not? The internet is a weird and wonderful place, I told her. You’ll get used to it; but not really.

For three weeks in a row there were blizzards Sunday into Monday.

For three weeks in a row there were blizzards Sunday into Monday.

At the end of January, 2015, it started snowing, and pretty much kept snowing all the way through February. For a couple of months most of my blog posts were about the weather and living through it in Boston:

The darkest night of the year

Florida: A true story

Boston in January

Self-talk

Of monster and men

Consider the birds of the air

Dear February

Before we move on from that topic, I would just like to add that there was so much snow in Boston last winter that it didn’t completely melt until July 14th. Here is the NPR article for proof.

On April 1st I moved on from the weather to write about something that had been weighing on my heart for a long time. Someone who disagreed with my essay asked me why I felt I had to write it, and I said: It wanted to be written, and I couldn’t write anything else until I did. Bake for them two went viral on a scale I never expected, and I have spent a lot of the rest of the year trying to figure out what that means for my writing career. Was this my big break or just a freak vicissitude of the internet? Where did I go from there? Was this a subject about which I had more to say? I processed with my writer friends, two of whom rolled up their sleeves and helped me wade through the 1500+ comments (thank you, Judi and Heather!!). I went to the writer’s workshop and was able to pose some of my questions to Rachel Held Evans, as well as other wonderful writers and editors.

by Denna Jones

by Denna Jones

Some of my questions had answers, and some of them still don’t. But one thing going viral taught me is that I don’t have much control over what happens next. All I can do is to keep writing whatever is on my heart. I’ve had posts I’m proud of only reach 100 people, and others gain traction and reach 500, 1000, or 15,000 (the latter was my June post about Sam and Anne Lamott). But I don’t get to decide which ones catch on. All I can do is keep writing what is in me, and keep being curious about where and for whom my writing might be relevant. Going viral didn’t lead to a book deal, but it did help to get noticed by editors at Think Christian and The Good Men Project, who published my Bake for them two piece and my Sam and Anne Lamott piece, respectively. (The Good Men Project also gave my piece the gorgeous artwork above.) And that, in turn, helped me to write a respectable author’s bio.

The answer to, “Do I have anything more to say on this subject?” turned out to be, yes, but really only three things. In my follow-up posts to Bake for them two I wrote about why we need to stop saying “love the sinner, hate the sin, about how my dad’s choice influenced my own, and, in answer to those who asked me why I as a Christian supported gay marriage and full inclusion of LGBT people into the body of Christ, my testimony.

In September and October, continuing to follow my intention, I took part in a six week writing contest for Mythgard Institute. This was pure fun — I got to write micro-fiction and even a poem, inspired by Tolkien-related prompts and specific word limits and guidelines. They are going to do it again next year if anyone would like to take part. I was completely surprised and honored to win the literary prize (judges’ choice) for my “minute mystery” and the popular prize (readers’ choice) for my poem. They will be a part of an ebook, available soon from Oloris Publishing. (My twelve year old self was much more impressed that we won an award for writing a story than she was by going viral for an essay. She still doesn’t get what an ebook is, but, honestly, I don’t either. A book with no pages? Maybe in another 29 years we will start to get the hang of things.)

I swung and missed a few times, too: I entered a poetry contest and another micro-fiction contest that I lost, and sent three or four article proposals to magazines that were turned down. But rejection letters are badges of honor, and proof that you are writing and moving forward. I also received the discouraging news that it was next to impossible to get a book of essays published unless you already had a successful book, or, “Unless you are Anne Lamott” as one editor told me. But that is good information, as well.

I have some ideas for where I’d like to go in 2016. But, since the best laid plans of mice and men “gang aft agley” and since “We live the given life, and not the planned” I am not focusing so much on specific goals or resolutions. Instead, I am setting the same intention I did back in May of 2014: To write. My friends Heather and Glennon shared with me this great TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, in which she wrestles with similar struggles, and comes to the same conclusion: Write. I probably won’t go viral again in 2016. I may not get a book deal, or publish another article, or win another contest. But I know what I will be doing, week after week: Paying attention to the world around me and then sitting in front of my computer trying to organize my thoughts and write them down.

Other intentions for 2016:

1) Be the best nanny and editor I can — focus on being present and paying attention.
2) Look for ways to actively work for racial justice.
3) Do yoga, bike and walk when I can.
4) Keep seeing friends and family in person as well as connecting online.
5) Eat mostly healthy food and resist equally the temptations to eat too much and too little.
6) Look for ways to connect with God, and don’t be discouraged when I can’t find Him in the same places I used to.
7) Keep breathing deeply, forgiving myself and others, and letting go of pain from the past.
8) Read books!
9) Go outside!
10) Take care of myself, even if that means saying no to things I really want to do, or that others really want me to do.

What about you? What are your intentions for 2016? Let me know in the comments. And thank you so much to all of you who have visited Ten Thousand Places this year, who have shared my posts, and especially to those who have left such thoughtful comments, even those that disagreed with me. Will, Brian, Meredith, Hope, Suzy, Juanita, Rachel, Soundtek, Somewhat Anonymous, Judith, David, Dawn, Mary, Linda, Elaine, SueAnn, Cindy, Liza, Michelle, Frodo, Beth, Debbie, Steve, Scarlett, Alethea, Julianne, Donna, Mike, Rachael, Monique, Olivia, amgregory, patiencewithquestions, joyfulmelody, Robyn, taracope, and everyone else who took the time to share, your words meant so much to me. I hope to see you back here next year.

Love,
Jessica

 

 

Homelessness and acts of kindness

*Quick note about the snow: For those of you who are bothered by the snow falling on my blog, I apologize. To tell you the truth, I set it up several years ago and can’t figure out how to remove it. It only lasts through December. I love it, myself, but if you are having trouble reading the posts because of it, please send me an email at tenthousandplacesblog@gmail.com and I will send you the text of today’s post. Thanks!

Yesterday evening I smiled at and greeted a homeless man outside of CVS. He asked me to buy him a soda and I was so excited! Something I could actually do! (I usually say no, sorry to people who ask for money. It’s a complicated issue, and I know some people feel strongly about giving to whoever asks without judgement, but based on various experiences and trainings, my decision for now is to acknowledge people, look them in the eye and treat them like a human being, and say yes whenever they ask me to buy them food or a drink, but no to money.) Anyway, it was so fun to be able to say yes this time. I asked him what kind of soda he wanted, and then told him I was getting a flu shot so it might be a couple of minutes and he said, “That’s okay, no hurry.” I loved that our roles had reversed, that he was extending grace to me. I needed someone to tell me it was okay to be a little late. I’d been on time all week.

The painting I made at Common Art

The painting I made at Common Art

*****
It’s actually not that hard to find food in Boston — there are churches and soup kitchens that serve hot meals, and several food pantries open throughout the week. I had a homeless friend a few years ago that I hung out with quite a bit, and he took me to a few meals, as well as some other services and activities. I still have a painting that I made at an Episcopal church that supplies materials and space every Wednesday for anyone who wants to participate. I kept whispering to my friend, “Is it okay for me to be here? I’m not homeless.” And he answered, “Yeah, it’s okay. It’s for everyone.” You could keep your painting or leave it with them and they would put it on display and/or for sale, and save the profits for you for when you returned. I kept mine, feeling it would be dishonest to have someone buy my piece thinking it was by a homeless person.

*****
I was homeless for a month, but not really. I had a lease signed for an apartment for October 1st, but the community where I’d lived for seven years had changed their guidelines and even though they didn’t have another tenant for my room for the month of September, I wasn’t welcome there anymore. I have tried for two years and three months to think of how to write those last two sentences truthfully without sounding judgmental and bitter. I don’t feel judgmental and bitter. I have done a lot of work on forgiving them and forgiving myself. But I think I must still be because it keeps coming out that way. I don’t want to write to judge people and to garner sympathy. I want to write to find the deeper truth of our common humanity. I want to say, look at us, we are all broken and doing the best we can, living on scraps of grace from one another.

But that September was a hard month. My things were in storage in the basement of the apartment where I’d live in October. One of the women in the community generously babysat my 10+ houseplants. If I hadn’t had a job in Boston I could have stayed with my parents in New Hampshire, but that would have been too far a commute. My best friend lived in Burlington, about 45 min to a 2 hour commute, depending on the vagaries of Boston’s rush hour. One of the families I babysat for had a guest room, but they could only offer it for a few scattered days that month; the other families might have offered if I’d asked, but they didn’t have space.

So I pieced together the different options, stayed in NH a few days, in Burlington a few, and with my local friends a few. I lived out of my trunk, and spent hours and hours in rush hour traffic. But of course I was never unsafe. I was never in danger of having to sleep outside or in my car. I had lots friends and family outside of Boston who would have taken me in, given me a couch if they didn’t have a bed. And I had a steady income and a signed lease, for which I’d written a check for first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit. Honestly, being able to write that check was a miracle. I can’t really explain it. I mean, I know I worked and people paid me and I deposited their checks, but I don’t know how I managed to set aside that much money. I never had before, and I haven’t since.

*****
It’s Saturday today and I’m tired. I’m up to a 35+ hour work week, which is the most I’ve worked in ten years. My health is somewhat better, but more what makes me able to do it is years of practice pacing myself, emotionally and physically, and knowing what I need on days off, which is often to be alone and do nothing, or just little things. And I’ve been paying down my debt from when I was sick a few years ago, and that’s necessary and feels good.

Still, I don’t know if I can keep up this pace indefinitely. I started volunteering at a homeless shelter at the same time that one of my nanny jobs added a shift, and it’s really good to be out in the world physically doing something, caring for kids and families that can’t pay me the top rate for a Boston nanny. It’s only two hours a week, but it’s hard, for many reasons.

I am doing it for now, but I’m praying and wondering if there might be a different way for me to serve at some point in the future. We’ll see. For now it’s going okay, putting one foot in front of the other, just doing the next thing that needs to be done. The thing that encourages me the most is that despite the busyness I’ve still been able to write and post something on the blog almost every week. The other stuff, the sodas, the volunteering, the Love Flash Mobs (I’ll get to that in a minute), that’s good to do, but I feel like Someone gave me a job description a while back, and that’s the priority for me: “Pay attention. Write what you see.” Do any of you have a job description written on your heart like that?

*****
I have a friend, Aimee Parrot, who is also a writer. Three years ago she came home to find that her husband and writing partner had taken his life. Actually it was two years, eleven months, and 29 days ago. This Monday, December 21st, will be the three year anniversary of that day. Aimee has started a Facebook page called Dispel the Darkness, to help us work together to bring light to those who are struggling. For the past 29 days, Dispel the Darkness has been doing 31 days of kindness, leading up to December 21st. Back in November Aimee wrote,

Today is the first day of the month leading up to the third anniversary of my husband’s death. He is gone, but so many are still struggling with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other diseases of the brain. For many, the world is a dark and threatening place. They feel there is no kindness. No light.

Will you join me? Starting today, and for each of the next 30 days leading up to December 21st — the shortest day of the year — I am going to do everything I can to spread light. I am going to be kind. Some of my acts of kindness may cost a few dollars, while others are free. I am going to start today by making a few kindness cards — just card stock with a few kind words and maybe a drawing — and leaving them for people who live in my apartment complex.

Every day, I will post a new idea for an act of kindness, and a video or image that demonstrates the importance of casting light into the darkness surrounding mental illness. If you are so inclined, please share. I want the coming month to be one that helps people who need it in a concrete way. The month will culminate with what I hope will be a massive, worldwide day of kindness on December 21st.

I meant to share this with you when it started, sorry, but there’s still a chance to be involved with Aimee’s worldwide day of kindness coming up on Monday. Do you know what? Aimee’s not asking anything of us. She’s offering us something. She’s showing us our own power. We have it in us to heal others. We have it in us to change someone’s life, and even to save it. You’re not just another cog in the machine, going about your day, working to pay the bills. You hold the light that another soul needs. Whether you follow Dispel the Darkness and share your act of kindness, or do it quietly on your own, you can be part of something bold and bright on Monday.

Coincidentally, and also miraculously, there is going to be another Love Flash Mob over at Momastery on Monday. As big as the other ones have been, this one looks like it will be even bigger. And what a big love flash mob means is that lots of regular non-millionaire people like you and me give small amounts, and because there are so many of us it becomes HUGE. Subscribe to Momastery and watch your email on Monday morning (or follow Momastery on Facebook), and watch the magic happen. I’ll be making my donation in honor of Aimee and Tony, and looking around for a way to show kindness to someone in person, too. After all, we’re all in this together, doing the best we can, giving each other scraps of grace. And that’s the best I can write about it all, at least for today.

Love,
Jessica

What kind of month has it been?

stepsI have a bunch of ideas for blog posts but life has been so busy the past few weeks that I haven’t had a chance to sit down and flesh them out. So I thought I’d tell you about what has been keeping me busy.

The most exciting thing was the Love Flash Mob over at Momastery. In 24 hours we raised over $475,000 dollars to build a new wing for the Heartline Maternity Center in Port au Prince, Haiti, and to buy warm clothes for mothers and babies from Syria who are still living outside in Berlin, even as the cold weather has set in. These Love Flash Mobs are my favorite times of the year because we take the power of community and turn it into concrete, practical action to love and care for each other. The maximum donation is $25 — the average for this one was $21. That means my $25 counts just as much as that of the millionaire or billionaire or anyone else. 21,000 of us got together and gave, and countless lives will be saved because of it. You just can’t get efficiency and joy like that anywhere else on the interwebs. Check it out here. And don’t be sad if you missed this one, just follow Momastery on Facebook and/or my Facebook page and we will be sure to tell you when the next one is happening.  I even stepped way out of my comfort zone for the flash mob to create and video tape myself doing a touchdown dance for every flash mob update. Enjoy!

I’ve also been busy with the launch team for Sarah Bessey’s upcoming book Out of Sorts: Making Peace With an Evolving Faith. The book is amazing — You are going to want to read it, trust me. I’ll have a review up soon, but for now you can preorder it on Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble, or support your local small bookstore by buying it there. The release date is November 3rd.

The launch team has been an incredible experience, not only discussing Sarah’s book with her and the others, but getting to know the other team members as well. I have two new favorite blogs through the launch team: Esther Emery’s Church in the Canyon and Tanya Marlow’s Thorns and Gold. Esther is a homesteader, deep thinker, and a brilliant writer. She crafts sentences like this, which I read several times over: “And even here I see God revealed — refracted, bent, and shattered — shining out the cracks of crooked people.” Tanya Marlow writes about struggling to find God and God’s will in her life while suffering from debilitating chronic illness, something which you know is dear to my heart. And it was also through the launch team that I found this beautiful, moving letter from a 19 year old girl with Asperger’s to her ten year old self. (The rest of Debby’s blog is well worth checking out, too.)

AAI_WritingContestAnother project I’ve been a part of is the Almost an Inkling flash fiction contest happening over at Mythgard. It’s a six week contest with a different prompt and guidelines every week. We’re in week five now, which is poetry. I just tried my hand at a Clerihew and a Triolet, two forms which were new to me. I actually won the literary prize for week three, the “Minute Mystery” which was very exciting for my twelve year old self, who didn’t dream of writing viral essays about gay weddings, but about writing stories. (She doesn’t really get blogging, even though I’ve tried to explain it to her. She just wants to know why we aren’t writing more stories about cats and unicorns.) My story for week two, with the prompt “Here Be Dragons” was dedicated to Say it Survivor, my friends’ Laura and Mary’s organization dedicated to helping women and men who have survived childhood sexual abuse tell their stories. They have workshops and talks coming up in Massachusetts and beyond — check it out on their website. The challenge for the story was to surprise the reader with an unexpected perspective on the dragon. My heart was full of Laura and Mary and the other brave survivors that week, so this is what I wrote:

She first saw the dragon the same night her uncle first came into her room. She was very young. After he left she lay there, choking back tears – he had warned her not to cry – and wondering, for the first time in her life, if there was something wrong with her. Then, suddenly the dragon was there, hovering over her bed, its green eyes shining in the darkness. It had brown-red scales, like muddied flame, and its wings spanned the room and, somehow, beyond.

She caught her breath and stopped crying, terror of the dragon greater than the pain. She waited for it to pounce, but it never moved, other than the slow beating of its wings and the whirl of its eyes, locked on hers. Time passed, minutes or hours. Then, despite her uncle and despite the dragon, her eyes began to droop and her small body fell into sleep. It was very late, and she was very young.

From then on, whenever her uncle came into her room, after he left the dragon would appear. Soon she found that she would wait for it, lying in the dark, holding her breath and blinking until its unblinking eyes appeared above her. She never really stopped being afraid of the dragon, but she was comforted, too, by its presence, its strong, sinewy legs and sharp claws, its tireless wings that beat the air, swirling it into a gentle breeze. Even though the worst had happened, even though she was so, so far from safe, she felt something her young mind did not have words for yet. Something like hope, something like confidence.

She only spoke to the dragon once, a year or so after the dual visits had started. One night she took a deep breath, lifted her small chin and said,

“Just go ahead and eat me, dragon. Do it.”

And the dragon lifted its own chin, and opened its jaw, and a blast of fire came out, heating the air above her head, but she was not harmed. She understood its answer: Yes, the dragon had said, I could fry you and swallow you whole, but I will not. And she cried harder that night than she ever had before.

The last time the dragon appeared to her was years later. She was older now, not young anymore, not at all young anymore, and the dragon came to her late one night. And she looked in its eyes and noticed something she never had before: They were the same color as her own green eyes, with the same brown flecks. And she saw that the mud-red scales were the same color as her own auburn hair, which shone in the sunlight.

Then she flexed her arms and legs and she felt the sinewy strength of a dragon flow through them. She felt the movement between her shoulders of powerful wings. And she stretched out her wings and she flew.

The Almost an Inkling contest is still going on if you would like to try your hand at a poem this week, or next week’s prompt which will be “Speculate and Subcreate.” Also at this link you can read the winning entries from the first three weeks, and vote on the poems from week five. The winning entries will be published in a special-edition ebook by Oloris Press and we’ll be reading our work aloud during a webinar at the end of the contest on Halloween.

restwellWhew, well, there’s more I could tell you about — what a busy month it’s been! — but I’ll stop there and give you a chance to check out the links I’ve included. I hope you’ve all had a good October so far! What have you been up to? Let me know in the comments. And if you haven’t been doing that much, that’s okay, too. The resting is part of the doing.

Love,

Jessica

On resting well

restwell
Yesterday, after a Saturday spent in a familiar struggle, I wrote a letter to myself in my journal. I thought I’d share it here, in case some of you could relate.

Jessica,

Here are some things you’ll need to remember: When you’ve been pushing hard and are really tired, you’ll need to rest. You’ll be looking forward to that rest. But when it comes you probably won’t be able to enjoy it very much. It won’t feel nice and peaceful. You’ll feel bored and lonely. You’ll have a migraine and you’ll feel resentful that the migraines are keeping you from leading a normal life. You’ll wish you could be outside taking advantage of the beautiful weather, or at least at the gym exercising. You’ll wish you could be with friends and you’ll start to feel like you don’t have any friends. You’ll think you should be working more and you’ll worry about money. You’ll feel the depression edging in and you’ll start to worry that if you don’t do something it will come to stay. You’ll worry about eating too much or too little, and that if you spend the day lying around you’ll get fat. You’ll question every hour, and if you should be doing something other than what you’re doing.

All of that will happen, as it always does. And you’ll try to reinvent the wheel and reexamine your life and your game plan, every time. The problem is, that’s not restful. So here are the three things you need to know:

  1. You need the rest.
  2. You’re doing your best.
  3. You can trust God to do what you can’t.

Here are some other things to remember:

You used to eat a lot more. Remember those big bowls of popcorn with butter and Parmesan cheese, those variety packs of candy? The salt and sugar from those binges produced dopamine. Eating + watching TV lulled you and allowed your mind to rest. Without the food you’re more squirrely. It’s okay. It was a coping strategy when the migraines and depression were so bad, but it was bad for you. It’s good that your eating is healthier now. But it makes sense that it would take some time to re-learn rest without that coping strategy. Remember the lesson from centering prayer and savasana: Observe your feelings without judging them. And trust that the good habits you’re learning will continue to fill in the gaps left by the bad ones.

Also, don’t compare your life and schedule now to when you were running and exercising hard four or more times a week. You were only working three easy days then, and now you’re working four and two of them are quite hard (three small kids for ten hours). Plus, you get home later, and need to go to bed earlier to wake up earlier. You’re not going to be able to replicate 2011’s schedule of coming home from work and going straight to the gym for two hours. That’s okay. Do a little yoga. Maybe go for a walk — but it’s okay if you’re not even up for that. Your two ten hour work days are like a marathon, and the other nanny days take energy as well. Just listen to your body and do what you can.

And — You’re living well at work! You pay attention, take in the beauty of the days and the children. You have good relationships with the kids and their parents. You use your mind and your body. You laugh and make other people laugh. You exercise — lifting the kids, pushing the stroller, cleaning up after them. You get outside. You do fun things. It’s not a typical social life, but it’s a good life. So it’s okay not to do a lot on your days off — Your days on are packed!

Last thing: You actually do a lot outside of work, too. Just this summer you went to a writer’s conference, went to two of Glennon’s talks in Boston, and went to a Shakespeare play on Boston common. You spent time with Laura, Suzy, David, Megan, Gina, and the Lundquists. You went to Walden Pond, to Crane’s Beach, to Hale Reservation; you swam and kayaked. You went to the library and to the Arboretum, to Lars Anderson park, to Jamaica Pond. You went to church three whole times! You write a blog and are doing a flash fiction contest, you’re on Sarah Bessey’s launch team (#outofsortsbook), you’re in a writer’s group. You keep in good touch with your friends, you visit your parents often and you went to Connecticut to see your brother. You try to be a good friend to Mark and a good housemate to Jill, you offer support and encouragement to commenters on your blog, on Momastery, and on Facebook. You make soup. You do yoga. You keep your house clean and keep more than a dozen houseplants alive. You put out sugar water for hummingbirds and seeds for the other birds.

You read books, albeit slowly. You read articles and blogs. You think deeply about things. You sometimes pray.

You do a lot.

The resting is a part of the doing.

Rest well.

Love,

Jessica

Say it Survivor — Today is the day!

marypaullaura

Mary, Officer Paul and Laura. January 18, 2015

Today is the day! In January, Officer Paul wrote down the story of my friends Laura and Mary’s abuse. Here is a little bit of Laura’s incredible essay, He Wrote it Down, which went viral:

We were ushered into a conference room, where a young officer came in to talk to us. He handles all of their sexual assault and rape cases. He introduced himself, sat down and proceeded to ask us questions about what happened. Names, addresses, dates. I called my sister, Aimee, and put her on speakerphone. We were all crying.

Aimee, I said, He’s writing it down.

He wrote it down.

We said, This happened to us, and he listened. He WROTE IT DOWN.

You can read the rest of the post here.

Since then they have been working hard to bring that same hope and healing to others. You guys, I’m so excited and proud of them that I almost can’t breathe. Look what they’ve done:

First, they have an article in the October issue of Boston Magazine. I drove all over my neighborhood yesterday looking for it but all the stores near me still had September’s issue. Come on, stores, seriously. September is so last month. I’m going out again in a little bit to look again. If you find it, will you let me know, here or on my Facebook page? You can also read it online, here.

Second, they are unveiling their new website, Say it Survivor, which features gorgeous videos of Mary and Laura sharing their story and their mission statement. Here’s a little bit of what they’re doing:

The thing is, our stories only have that power if we decide to give it to them.  They only wield that power if we keep them hidden inside, if we decide that our truths are so awful that they must be kept in the dark.  If we attach shame to them.  If we decide that they are UNSPEAKABLE.

Here’s the good news- and there is good news.  Shame cannot survive having a light shined on it.  Shame cannot survive being spoken aloud.  Shame requires a host, and it can’t survive if you don’t feed it.

Say it, Survivor was born when two cousins, abused in childhood by the same predator, decided to plant their feet firmly inside their stories and say them out loud. They wrote them down. They sent them out into the world.

Go read more and watch the videos at their website! www.sayitsurvivor.com

When He Wrote it Down went viral (spurred on by shares by Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker), so many people wrote to Laura and Mary, sharing their own stories, saying “me too, me too.” Laura wrote down the first name of everyone who wrote to her, bearing witness to their stories. And through that sharing and bearing witness, healing began to happen, and community was formed. So Mary and Laura asked, How can we widen this circle, and bring this healing to more survivors? And, knowing the power of writing down their own story, they created a writing workshop to help other survivors write theirs. The first one is November 14th, in Westford, Massachusetts. You can register here. And Mary and Laura will be traveling, speaking their story, speaking out for other survivors, and for change in perceptions and legislation that will prevent abuse from happening and make reporting it easier and more effective when it does. If you want to bring them to your town to speak, you can find more information and contact them here.

Me with Mary and Laura at Old South Church, waiting to hear our friend Glennon speak

Me with Mary and Laura at Old South Church, waiting to hear our friend Glennon speak

I am so darned proud of my friends. Look at them. Warriors.

And I am proud of all of you, too, who have stories of childhood abuse. You have been through hell but you survived. You are here. You are stronger than you know. I pray that you would find community and find the words to tell your story.

So much love,

Jessica