changes, a story, a thanks, and a plea

It appears I’ve changed my blog. I had to do it on a whim last night – it was like a moment I remember having once or twice as a kid. I knew I’d been growing out of a bedroom my parents had helped me decorate a few years before, but one day I walked in and felt downright uncomfortable there. And now I’ve gone and upended my “theme” like I used to do the furniture until I could beg for new paint.

I’ve been waiting all summer to do this. Not to put an awkward, plain, buggy skin on my blog, but to actually redesign it and rename it and re-envision it. But the blog as it has been – [to be honest] – represents a journey whose end I need to mark, for lots of reasons, and I haven’t known how. There is a story I need to tell, and people I need to acknowledge, some observations to make, a final confession or two to confess. I’m somehow a bit afraid of trying to do these things.

The story, like the title of this blog, is both highly dramatic and quite mundane, as stories that span two years and a lifetime are apt to be. It is a story that begins with me typing out words here that I was literally, physically unable to say out loud two and a half years ago. I was gagged by my own self-defense mechanisms, my own fear, my own pride; refusing to let others see my feelings lest I become vulnerable; refusing to ask for help lest I incur a debt. I sat down and began to type here as I emerged from a deep, deep depression, out of some intuition that it would return and that I would have to learn those skills – or succumb again to the airless despair of waking up and knowing your joy has been stolen again today. Perhaps to a worse despair.

I overcame my fears by thrashing about in spite of them for the next two years. It was brave and it was beautiful. There should be a montage, like a real film montage with inspiring music. Cue Sara Bareilleis, “Brave”. Cut to me moving to Syracuse and tumbling the whole story (of my life and breakups and depression and resolutions to stab at honesty, all of it) at everyone I meet – my new housemates in a solemn circle, my new boss and his squirmy toddler off to the side; weeks later at my soon-to-be-boyfriend on our accidental first date, over eggs in my kitchen. Man, can that boy listen.

Sudden flashback: bizarre moment of triumph as I watch myself yelling at a priest I barely know, because I have been treated so badly, and does she even understand that? She is stern and then she is crying from behind that collar, and yes, she does. Some of my anger that day is slightly misinformed, but I will always be absurdly proud of that girl, everything she has on the table, showing her hand.

Recurring, more recent scenes of raising my hand in class to speak my mind through dry mouth and racing heart. This is the part of the show where I realize I haven’t actually learned anything at all about being honest until I can say what’s important to me, even when I’m absolutely certain other people will think I am stupid or silly or out-of-touch or childish or Evangelical for it. Layers of pride I never knew I had, stripping away like this blurted-truth-telling was some kind of paint thinner peeling back the easier, shinier jargon and theories comforting and smothering academia.

Unfunny outtakes, because what is funny (years later) about growing up is that you can make a lot of progress – for you – but learning something new still means you are a tiny clueless baby at whatever it is you’re learning. There is the time I “express my (very important) opinion” by repeatedly shaming a best friend for following the blue Google-Maps dot through the city instead of Getting Lost In Analog Life With Me – and only later bother to care that maps are approximately his favorite thing in the world. Sorry, brother. I forgot that “finding my voice” didn’t necessitate shouting others down.

Moments of clarity – the music begins to lift and resolve – when people stop me on a couple of occasions, near the end of the school year, to tell me how much they admire my honesty in class, how much they wish they could say what they are thinking and contradict important people like I do. The greatest heroism of the whole epic is that I do not laugh in their faces for calling me “brave” when I’ve only choked back completely outsized fears to say something unprofound that probably made people mad at me. I don’t know how to respond, but I just tell people that I feel like I have to do it sometimes, to be true to my convictions. And in saying this, I suddenly realize: I have become an honest person.

Of course this isn’t the end of the journey, but a chapter with a certain emphasis has definitely come to a close at some point this year. This blog has been a layer in that story at every step, and everyone who’s read it has joined the adventure. You have all made me more a writer, more a truth-teller, more a person with every What-Have-I-DONE “publish”-clicking moment. If you are like most blog readers  me, you read lots of blogs and find it suspicious when writers tell you how important you are to them. But if you are a writer, you also know that we do it all for the attention and then claim to do it for our sanity – but only because it’s sliiiiiightly easier to get attention this way than by going insane. Thank you for paying attention to me. Thank you for commenting or retweeting or emailing if these words have ever mattered to you.

Some continuing observations and confessions are coming soon, but they will be part of some transitional things. I want to have a real big overhaul done here by the time school starts (HAhahahahaha) for real this is very serious.
Some blog spoilers:
* shiny design things I cobble together while constantly wishing I could use crayons!
* more photos with my brand-new smartphone!
* I subject you to my overwrought fears about owning a smartphone!
* recipes!
* decorating!
* seriousness optional!

Some life spoilers:
* I move into a new apartment, completing my sixth address change in two years
* I find with a sinking sensation that the next chapter will be decidedly less exhilarating, consisting of life lessons in humility which is mostly code for episodes of minor confusion and failure
* Hopefully some of these failures involve crafts so I can take pictures and we can laugh
* I discover a quieter triumph, in learning to hope for change without hoping that everyone becomes like me.


[Does anyone have a clever title they'd let me lift, for a retooled little blog by a seminary student who mostly just likes cooking and parties, but also thinks about God all the time, and is very very busy, but deep down wants to live a simple life and pretend to be a monk, and is from the South but accidentally lives in the North, and rides a bike and is an Evangelical Episcopalian? Thanks in advance!]


what there is to hold on to

I wait at the mall – you have to drop me off before work for a bus that leaves hours later. There is a carousel here whose manic music-box effect betrays the place for the madhouse it is; still I always fight the urge to buy something, anything, in hopes it will dull the pain of watching you go. The little numbing comforts are insidious that way.

This is the deal we’ve made with the long-distance devil, though – two days of travel for two days together. This morning again we’ve handed in rich simplicities – hand-holding, people-watching, picnics – for thin complexities: texts, calls, and the wishing silences, once the day’s been described, that finally undo me.

Our together has been long-distance now for longer than it was not. Some days it surprises me that we are already two years older than when we met; if only because I still so often feel so giddy that he really likes me! But so many other days feel like rocks added to a backpack I’ve shouldered all this time.

Today I just can’t remember or understand why I’m traveling away from you when it feels like an exile, like something is broken, like I will be waiting another three weeks to breathe again. I can’t be practical or make the most of this when everything in this world insists that life is short and love is precious and nothing is guaranteed. With so much pain on this Earth here in August, and so little I can do about any of it, I am not interested in being strong, no matter how small my problems look next to others’. I need your arms around me and your voice in my ear when so little else is right and safe, when I am sure that so little else matters.

_20140819_214102I took refuge in the woods yesterday from watching all this pain unfold on my screens. I walked among growing things and was strangely comforted by a passing thought – there have always been war and disease. people have always had to miss one another. there is nothing new under the sun; these are ancient enemies. The world is not ending and we are not forsaken. Today it is the lady I read sometimes and the book your father sent me which remind me that this world is not our home –  more, that the God who calls us into our little lives faithfulness is the God who promises fruit like the blackberry miracles you and I picked at dusk. This is all much bigger than my own despair.

One long bus ride later, I walk beside the river Charles, who has been the one saving grace of a lonely city summer. In a few days I will go to see my family and I will pull them close, we will eat outside, I will thank God that we are all alive and together for those days. But now it is only Charles and I, and I lean on a railing and pray and pray like I haven’t been able to do in a while. I pray for you and your own worries. I pray for the lovers in this world separated by more and darker things than just their own choices and ambitions. I pray for my parents and my brother. I pray protection for those working against ebola. I pray that justice will flow like a river in Ferguson and that peace will grow on its banks. I pray for Gaza, Libya, Iraq, and every place where violence holds its demented sway. I pray for this sharply segregated city and for the river and for my church.

Maybe I’m not supposed to care about so many things or pray such long lists, like a child praying for her stuffed animals, but I am a child before all of these things. I am small and helpless and tonight I have only my tears to offer a world ravaged by indifference. I will not shake my head and wish these problems away; I will take them to my Father, who holds them and mourns them and gives us the faith to believe he is working in the lost Saturdays before resurrection.


sometimes it doesn’t make sense

Robin Willliams has always been the celebrity I’d like have dinner with, and he’s one of the greatest improvisers I’ve ever seen. When I heard that he’d died, I ended up bawling in the business school where I’d set up camp with my laptop. I spent the night at a friend’s house to watch Good Will Hunting, and wrote most of this on the train ride there.

Visit On Pop Theology to read.


a meandering update on all that is fierce and mundane around this bit of blog

There is a kind of writer’s block that comes of having too much to think and say. I have been stuck here for a long while, now. It is a strange summer and a strange bit of life I find myself in, and when I begin to process parts of it here, I lose my way rather quickly.

It’s been hard to write, too, while there’s a breather from school and Deep Thoughts and computers. Much as I think of myself as a creature positively made of words, there is something in me these days that wants to soak in every outrageously gorgeous bit of life in this world and refuses, for a while, to analyze or define or describe it. I want to wander down alleyways of the city and throw flavors together in the kitchen without knowing where I’m going or what the chemistry will produce. I want to twine my fingers into all the thick tangled threads of every day and not let go, not if it’s scary, not if it’s sad, not if the beauty finds a place I never knew could ache with so much longing and so much gratitude.

Call it an experiment, to just feel things for a while, all the smallest things – eyes wide to the absurdity and the tragedy and the wild celebration of every day – and not to have to come up with rationalizations and defenses for the ruckus in your heart. Maybe it helps to work with kids on a river all day, with lots of free time to talk to squirmy animals or wend about the city or take in a sunset until it takes you in. It certainly helps to visit family and oldest friends, and to dance at weddings ’til you’re dancing with a vaccuum at the cleanup after-party. And it certainly hurts when you come back to a stifling summer housed in a dorm room, where all those dear hearts feel so far away; and the sense of purpose you used to feel about this whole Boston escapade leaked away at some point, and there is nothing in its place but a giant cliché cartoon question mark mocking you.

Am I being a little melodramatic about a couple of lazy months with a summer job? Yes, I think so, and I think that is the point. The point is to care too much, because life is important, dammit, and we forget that. We forget that wishing away the days til the weekend is a waste of opportunity. We let our routines take care of us because we have to, we need the brain space while we’re brushing our teeth; but then the routines lull us into trudging through a life meant to be lived abundant. They whisper that life outside the routine is dangerous and unpredictable. And they’re right. There’s no protection. Once you start engaging with things that used to pass you by, once you take down the walls between you and the stuff of life, they’ll just come right up and bump into you. They’ll shock you. You’ll cry, just all the time. Explaining why you’re crying will make you sound crazier than if you just say you’re crying for no reason. “These trees are really really old, some of them are so old, and isn’t that the most wonderful, hopeful thing?”


Part of why it’s hard to write is that all of this has something very directly to do with the childlike faith and unseen trust of Being Honest, something I can’t quite articulate yet. Now, after two years being gripped by the thought, the Spirit-leading, that I must learn to be honest, no matter what, I have slowly felt a sense of release from the intensity of that calling. Not because honesty is less important, but because – well, to be honest – I have learned it. There is so very much I need to write about what I mean by that, and what that journey has been, but for now I will leave it at an inadequate thank you to every reader who has waded into this blog. It started here when I was quite literally too terrified to speak, and this space has been a springboard for every new step on the way.

And that is the other trouble with writing these days: that I feel a slow turning toward a completely unknown destination – this waiting for a direction in several areas of life that leaves me unsure what this blog is becoming. It is becoming something other than To Be Honest. Day to day I decide that it’s just a redesign, or that I’m going to start taking it way too super-seriously, or (when I’m overwhelmed by writing for school) that now is not the time and it needs a very long hiatus. I think that it will stay what it’s been, for the most part: a lifeline to a style and audience of writing that is not dry, pretentious, obscure academia. And we will see what that looks like as life turns, turns, turns.

Meanwhile, there will be a sunset every single day. Also strange little birds and people to miss and this little girl I heard the other day shouting “Wait up, Slowpoke!!”

Wait up, slowpoke. Look up. There’s a world to love.

how to love your body (habits + experiments)

Some thoughts, plans, and action items to start reorganizing your life around a vision of yourself as adequate, after all.

Fake it. What would I do if I loved myself? What would I do if I loved my body? What would I do if I were a confident person? I’d stop berating myself as if feeling guilty was itself a virtue. I’d eat one Oreo instead of eight. I’d laugh out loud and wear that dress I secretly love that isn’t in style. Act like the person you want to be – it will get easier and easier until one day, you are that person.

Exercise. Just do something. I used to think I hated all forms of exercise, but I never really tried it for long enough to know I hated it. What I really hated was being sweaty and feeling like a failure. But what I needed to do was just to try something. Showing up is success. You don’t have to take up muay thai boxing to impress a boy (like I did); just get some exercise. And if you hate hate hate running, don’t do it! Find something you enjoy and prioritize that. You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of other people – it’s self-defeating to cut out exercise when things get busy. Take care of your body; appreciate what it can do for you; watch it start to change and realize that it’s a miracle.

Focus on your favorite parts of yourself. Dress to show them off.

Learn to take a compliment. I dare you: next time someone says they like your eyes, don’t make them feel embarrassed by making it clear that you’re embarrassed. You have nice eyes! You’re allowed to say, “Thank you. I like them too!”

Fill up your body and your space. Maybe you saw this video go around a few months back. It’s pretty eye-opening if you’ve never noticed before. I see it happen on the train: men tend to sprawl around, legs open, elbows in other people’s laps, while women shrink and shrink and shrink.
Are men terrible human beings with no regard for others’ space? Maybe some of the time. But they’re also just generally not afraid to be the size they are. Whatever size you are, fill up your body. Be all in that space, no apologies. Try this: take the slowest, deepest breath you can. Fill up your lungs from bottom to top until they can’t hold anymore (hint: this requires your belly to get bigger). Breathe all the way into your toes. Throw your shoulders back. Stretch your arms across the back of the chair next to you. No one is begrudging you the right to have mass and volume.

be thankful. Say “thank you for this body” until you actually mean it.

dirty. making weird faces.
dirty. making weird faces. having more fun.

Dance. get dirty. get wet. get ugly. Live your life, looking silly, and if other people are worried about whether you look silly, you’re having way, way more fun than them.

Be naked. No clothes or no makeup. Get used to your “natural look”. The no-makeup thing was really hard for me, but I’ve re-learned how to be OK with looking in the mirror and saying, “hey, that’s me,” instead of diving for my mascara.

Stop your thoughts. “Does he like my hair? Why didn’t someone tell me to stand up straighter in that picture? Would he have flirted back if I were wearing lipstick?” Learn to recognize thoughts that focus on things you don’t really value, or want to value. Focus on whether your charm or intelligence is shining, not whether your hair is. Think about the fun memory the photo represents – do you really wish you could go back to change that moment? When it’s not time to be superficial, let the superficial thoughts pass you by.

Kill the ads. Maybe you can’t escape them, but you can talk back. Go on the offensive when it comes to your own brain space. Someone else is trying to take it from you.

Get over yourself. We all need to do some work to learn to live with ourselves, but you can only achieve so much introspection and self-awareness before wandering into self-obsession. And for some of us, a lot of this is just as much about our own pride as it is about society or whatever. Let go of fear about your looks. No one else even notices all the imperfections that glare back at you in the mirror. Take the risk of loving yourself so you can get on with loving other people. Tell your friends how beautiful you see them, and dare to believe that they see you that way, too.

How to love your body – new thoughts

When everybody everywhere keeps trying to tell us that we should love ourselves and that “confidence is sexy” (while also trying to sell us false eyelashes and Emma Watson’s body), we end up feeling even more inadequate about being unconfident than if everyone had just left us alone with our sickening sense of regret over yesterday’s donut and today’s apparently-new extra chin. The best I come up with, some days, is a sort of resignation to my body, like I’d accidentally adopted an uncontrollable puppy I didn’t actually like but couldn’t really get rid of.

Loving my body some days honestly just sounds like a lot of work – and it is. It’s really hard, and it doesn’t sell much merchandise, which is why no one invests much into telling you how to do it. But it is important. It is a fight we owe to ourselves and the women around us. It might just be the first step in aging gracefully. It is worth it, I promise. And it gets easier over time.

babies can do it

Love your body as your self. Literally. Your body is yourself. You are not a “spiritual” being that belongs in some kind of Care-Bear-pastel, airy, non-concrete, limitless sky-self, who is accidentally trapped in a kind of yucky, small, flesh-case. This attitude (a real live heresy with many names) is the source of about a million problems Christianity has with itself, despite the writers of the Bible trying really, really hard to shut it down. It is also an incredibly prevalent idea in American culture – that the spirit or the mind is better and more important than the body. But the Hebrew Bible, in particular, lends itself much more to an interpretation that views the body as inseparable from the human person. Don’t let your “spirit” get abstracted from the beautiful, sensual earth you are a part of, and from the body God has promised to resurrect*. Paul, Peter, Jesus, a bunch of Church Fathers and Mothers and I are pleading with you.
*Yes, you are really stuck in it.

Dwell in God’s love for your body. This is not a silly or sinful thing to pray about. It is a cultural sickness. By all means, pray about it like you’d pray about contracting an epidemic. Ask God to show you God’s love for your body, for every bit of it which was formed with care and gentleness and delight. Keep this truth near to your heart, that God shaped your eyes and your curves and the back of your neck with immense fondness and love. Find a way to believe it. Find a way to look at yourself with God’s eyes. Put a reminder on the bathroom mirror for everyone who passes through.

Your body is not your enemy; it is your home. Your real enemy is a culture that tries to tell you you’re not good enough. What if you stopped fighting your body and started taking care of it the way you take care of your home? Snuggle into your body the way like it’s your favorite chair. What if getting dressed meant adorning your body for the simple pleasure of it, instead of feeling desperate to cover over all the “bad spots” and then trying to use your angry-eyes to laser-beam away that one spot of fat you especially loathe? Take joy in the creativity of getting dressed; let go of insecurity.

Make Peace. Turning your body from an enemy to a friend requires taking intentional action to change the way you see it. This is hard. This is super hard. For some people, this may be months-of-therapy hard. And, honestly, it never ends. I constantly have to remind myself that my love handles and my crappy joints and the right side of my face really mean well, and that I appreciate them for coming along on this ride*. But as long as you are treating parts of yourself with hatred and contempt and “torture” that will “blast” them into “horrible fat oblivion”, you are divided against yourself. I’m of the hippy-dippy school that thinks even the parts you still hope to change will be more apt to do so, once you’ve accepted them as they already are. If, when you’re being honest, you’d say “I love myself, except…”, then you need to keep making peace. Maybe you can’t love that one scar or your thighs right now. At least call a truce in the battle against them.
*Anne Lamott has a lovely/hilarious piece on this in Traveling Mercies - you can grab a copy here.

Still to come: some more day-to-day experiments and habits for learning to see ourselves new.