Let’s talk about clay, failure, and the new year

Happy New Year, dear ones! Let’s talk about clay, failure, and the year ahead.


I’m celebrating this fresh start with time in the ceramics studio. After one undergrad course in wheel throwing, so much about working with clay is new or unknown to me. Take coil building, for instance.

Last week, I met the extruder (think Playdoh on steroids! and see the picture). I pumped out lengths of clay. Can you see how hard I worked? I took my pile of clay snakes (that could also be said to look like something else, a-hem), and pressed the soft coils into plaster forms. Like this ↴

This tactile work was such fun that the next thing I knew, I had made four of bowls!Failure

The next day in the studio I turned to mending my work. Why? Because in my excitement and relative beginner state, I didn’t know/think to score and slip the edges of the coils as I pressed them in place. Without this scoring & slipping, the coils will separate as they dry, and the bowls will crack and fall apart. 

Mending means adjusting. I wanted the finished surfaces to look a certain way, but to salvage the bowls I released that plan. I used a rib tool and a scraper to score and scratch the outer surfaces of each bowl. Next, I daubed and smeared and pressed slip (very wet clay) into the deep scratches I’d made. I repeated this work on the inner surfaces. Finally, I reworked the inside and outside of each bowl with a tiny rubber rib for smoothness.

As I scored, slipped, and smoothed, I discovered myself in the zone: that timelessness place that, for me, comes with making. (Or, in this case, fixing, where I’d failed.)

It is possible some of the pieces may survive. I must wait & see. Ignorance is not bliss; however, failure is rarely fatal. 

Redefining failure … is a vital part of creating a strong, inspiring culture. Stop playing not to lose, and start playing to win.” ~ Sam Chand

The New Year

New Year’s resolutions hold little attraction for me. I like the quotidian practice of learning and adjusting course along the way: to live life in wiser, kinder, more joyful ways. So, instead of a New Year’s Resolution, I’m choosing now, and every day, to live wholeheartedly. And hazard the consequences!

Instead of walking gingerly, speaking guardedly, or guessing how my presence, choices, actions might go wrong—in an effort to play it safe, I’m going to do that dangerous and delicious thing: show up as my wholehearted self. Curious. Present. Paying attention. Owning my ignorance. Asking for help. Fixing failures when needed.

Competition doesn’t resonate with me, so I paraphrase Sam Chand’s words, and say I’m playing all inThis year, this month, this week, this day, rather than playing not to lose, I will show up, all in
How about you? 

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I am so happy. Is there something wrong with me?

I am so happy. Is there something wrong with me?

Am I a total narcissist?

I try to decipher the look on my counselor’s face. (I suspect narcissist might be the wrong word as I grope for a strong negative.) She listens and waits.

Because the world is unraveling—earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, the Trump administration, fires, mass shootings. I’m paying attention. But I am still happy. So happy. There must be something wrong. Right?

Her face remains calm.

People are displaced, hurt, many have lost loved ones, and a lot of people are afraid.

All of this is deeply troubling. And yet I find myself thankful each morning I wake up.

My first thought is Thank you Thank you Thank you for my beautiful life!

I love waking up! I love waking up next to Ken. I love all the goodness of movement and the out-of-doors on my morning walk. My heart sings as I sit across the table from true love. I savor fresh fruit and other good things for breakfast. 

Waving my hands in the air I tell her, I love that my fingers work. I am an art student. The car has a full tank of gas so I can drive to campus for classes.

Our children are healthy & like to talk to us. They come home to be with us often, but not too often.

I love all of this. I am so happy. And the world is going mad. Something must be wrong with me.

O, the Irony

For long-time readers this entry will seem ironic. For a year I wrote about Personal Anger: how important it is to recognize and honor this very human emotion. Now I confess daily joy and wonder if there’s something wrong with me.

Within a week of my question to my counselor, I was reading Brené Brown’s newest book Braving the Wilderness. My daily joy, Brown assured me, has a name-able cause.

Brown writes, “…the key to joy is practicing gratitude.” There it is. Gratitude is to blame. I feel joyful, happy, deeply in love with life because I name things for which I am grateful

But something got me worried about my joyful orientation. Growing up I learned to see hand-wringing, anxiety, worry and fear as signs of deep care. You had to be visibly distress & vocally distraught to prove you gave injustice, horror, trauma their proper due. Without putting on emotional sack-cloth and ashes, you didn’t really care.

Borrowing Burdens

Brown goes on to note that

When we surrender our own joy to make those in pain feel less alone or to make ourselves feel less guilty or seem more committed, we deplete ourselves of what it takes to feel fully alive…” 156

Stirring up a second-hand distress is of no help to anyone, especially someone actually in distress.

Back to my counselor and her response to my question, Is something wrong with me?

She assures me:

Gratitude is never a sign of narcissism.

I suspected this. (But it helps to know for sure.) Gratitude does not breathe the same air as narcissism. Whats more, the joy gratitude produces is not something to worry about or feel ashamed of.

A Tonic in Tough Times

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a world gone mad—but you are not homeless, wounded, or bereft—it is time for gratitude. (Of course, gratitude is never out of style. But when you are homeless, wounded, or bereft, forcing it is disingenuous.)

Wondering where to start? How much do you love being able to see? How do you like those toes, ankles, knees that make standing, walking, dancing possible? What about the smell of toast, or coffee, or rain?

There are a million things happening that will break your heart.

There are also ten million things that will make your heart sing.

Mending and tending our hearts with gratitude is a revolutionary act.

Joy is radical.

It is the way to gather strength to push back and make a difference where we can. A way to find peace when what we most need to do is show up with our whole hearts, be present, and work for change.

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Trust Issues

If I asked you to list all that you trust, how long would it be before you named yourself?

Summer 1986 Somewhere in the Eastern Sierras

Trust. That sparkling quality vital to well-being & wholeness. The living water of thriving relationships. Without trust for others we live in suspicion that, over time, annihilates joy, compassion and curiosity. Without trust for oneself we live under a cloud of doubt, loathing, and fear, denying the approval our own conscience.

I inhaled self-distrust before I can remember. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t encourage and support me. It’s that their encouragement was erratic. Praise then criticism. Warmth then emotional chill. You are precious; but just look how intelligent, industrious, and accomplished your brothers are. Their inconsistency left me uncertain, withdrawn, sullen.

I can barely imagine the emotional poverty my mom and dad came from. They told me, “You shouldn’t feel that way. You can’t think that. You didn’t try hard enough! What will people think?” What had their parents told them? (Inherited trauma is real, and as I wrote earlier: You can only give what you’ve got.)

Personal Anger: Elephant Training

Looking back, my childhood resembled elephant training.

“The way circus elephants are trained…: When young, they are attached by heavy chains to large stakes driven deep into the ground. They pull and yank and strain and struggle, but the chain is too strong, the stake to rooted. One day they give up, having learned they cannot pull free, and from that day forward they can be “chained” with a slender rope. When this enormous animals feels any resistance, though it has the strength to pull the whole circus tent over, it stops trying. Because it believes it cannot, it cannot.” 228-229 The Gift of Fear

Tamed by disappointed looks, comment on my behavior, or physical punishment, I believed that I could not trust my preferences, my feelings, my thoughts, my choices, my self.

Some people write or speak about the moment or process of surrendering their will, of relinquishing their voice and vision and caving to social pressure. I have no such memory. I cannot recall a time when I had a personal voice or vision to surrender.

I am angry that early life influences chained me and stripped me of trust in myself. You can be deceived. Look to others—at home, at school, at church—for validation, and even guidance.

I wrote about this in earlier posts: 
Home: The First Time, This Will Hurt 
School: Before It Had a Name, Seeing and Being (seen) 
Church: Behave, Believe

The message repeated over and over: Not reliable, not worthy, not capable. Selfish. I believed. When outside voices failed, I repeated it myself. About the time I turned 35, this belief bloomed into the chronic drag of low-grade depression. It bottomed out one morning in bed. My nose streamed and my tears ran into the funnels of my ears as I stared at our bedroom ceiling. Ken, I love you and our kids so much. But I’d rather die than get up and live one more day.

Mending Trust  

Thirty-one years ago September 1st, I launched into the biggest trust project of my life. I married Ken. I stand by the claims made in the first essay of this series:

Getting married is not an accomplishment.

Staying married is not an accomplishment.

Learning to trust another person, and yourself—that’s an accomplishment! A golden-amazing-worthy-of-the-word accomplishment.

But building deep trust happens slowly and daily (no matter what the retreat center advertises). Like growing a redwood. Like quenching thirst in the desert. Especially if you’re as wounded, as parched, as messed up as we were. Ken, divorced by someone who found his financial and professional potential disappointing, wondered if I would jump ship when the going got rough. I claimed, I’m fine. I’m fine. I am fine, fine, fine! In denial of elephant training and growing up in a Man’s World.

In spite of our histories we said, I do, proving once again that hope triumphs over experience.

After the Wedding

Our first matrimonial year was hell. The authoritarian work environment stank. But wait! There’s more! Married, guilt-free sex was awkward (we had waited), good (in that frenzied beginner way), and sweaty (we lived in Khartoum). Trusting each other was just plain awkward. Neither of us had much experience with trust. Wondering if he’d chosen another partner who would leave him, Ken spent that year dodging confrontation. Coming from a family that verbalized and critiqued life out loud, I talked and talked and talked (even during sex) about all that was wrong with our boss and the work we were assigned. Ken, feeling responsible, hardly spoke. I cried. Ken retreated. I raged. Ken watched baffled.


Grace means we do not get what we deserve; we get what we need to grow.

We survived Sudan. We could have bailed, but we stuck it out. We were stubborn (some said we wouldn’t last, and we didn’t want them to be right.) Plus plane tickets out of Khartoum were pretty pricey, which helped us stay stubborn. But the main reason we survived was grace. Somehow grace snuck into our turmoil and planted the seeds of trust. Eventually, in the midst of confusion and sticking it out, we solemnly promised each other: I am on your side. We are on the same team. (Coming from my competitive background, this was huge.)

Those seeds grew into tiny trust seedlings.

That year in Sudan I became, without knowing it, a co-creator of the emotionally safe space that is our relationship.

Return to the Wild

With Ken and the people who have come alongside me in the dark times, I have broken the chain of elephant training that kept me looking to others for validation and guidance. (That caused quite the stir.) Recently, I’ve been striding so far into the untamed wild—by spending time with trustworthy people, avoiding those who are not emotionally trustworthy, listening to my heart—that I only remember what the chain and stake look like when I write essays like this. Of this emerging wildness, Ken says, “You are way more than I bargained for.” We both smile. I laugh out loud.

Trusting ourselves or other people is a vulnerable and courageous process.” ~ Brené Brown

In other words, trusting moves us from a chained existence to the courageous, wild places of life. I love everything Brené Brown writes about trust. Her words here confirm my belief that learning how to trust oneself and others belongs with the biggies: kindness, patience, and reading. These should be required teachings—at home, in schools, by faith communities. (If you want to know what this teaching might look like, listen to Brenés Anatomy of Trust here.

Summer 2017
That same somewhere in the Eastern Sierras


When we learn to trust wisely and well we find our way back to integration. Trust* mends the breakup of body, mind, and spirit. (*This trust includes trust in the Divine. I’ll write about that next time.)

So this is it, dear reader. My year of Personal Anger. In the process of remembering, writing, and sharing my anger, I’ve learned so much about the importance of owning and examining my story. This series of essays represents some of my examination practice. It is also an invitation to you to own all of your story, including your anger.

Writing often brought me to tears, while putting it out there for you to consider brought me closer to clarity and compassion: for myself, for others.

Thank you! I am grateful for you companionship, for each one of you who read, commented, or simply let me know, Me too.

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Suffer: You gotta! Work+suffering

In my dream the Washington Monument is falling. (This is a real disaster, not a photo stunt! Ignore the Eiffel Tower.) I stand alone under it, arms straining to keep the stone tower from falling. If I try hard enough, if I am determined and focused, the monument won’t fall.

Growing up in the late 1960’s and the 1970’s, I knew only a few grown up women besides my mother. Most were stay-home moms like mine. There were two or three who were not married, so they had jobs. Of course married women might have jobs too—until they had children. Options available: nurse, teacher, or secretary. Each of these gender-approved professions featured ease of employment, and the bonus of supplementing (but not surpassing) a man’s income. No one I knew admitted to enjoying work. When I began paying attention to what women said about their jobs, a common theme emerged: you gotta suffer.

Like a step-sister in Cinderella, I believed that you’ve got to cut off a toe (or your curiosity, joy, sense of self) to make the coveted glass slipper fit! Never mind the pain, it will be worth it to win—the job, the prince, both. There was also the If you love God, you’ll make sacrifices—suck it up! slant.

As an adult myself, I believed that suffering and work go together like shampoo and conditioner, grin and bear, and pay your dues. It’s tough to escape this ethos. Look at the ubiquitous TGIF or Oh, God! It’s Monday memes on social media. Based on my arm-chair research, the combo of work+suffering is acceptable to and for women in particular. My sample is small, so don’t report me to the people at PEW.

Bloom where you’re planted

Being bright, capable, and good at something that needs doing automatically means you should just do it. Stepping right out of college with my degree in Education and into the first year of marriage, a glow of optimism and can-do shimmered around me. I asked the organization Ken worked with for a job. Boom! Meet the office manager and keeper of petty cash. That sucked all the optimism and shimmer right out of me. Soon I was apologizing for taking up space.

If anyone had told me, “Bloom where you’re planted!” I’d have stabbed them with a fork! Or, more likely, stabbed myself because obviously the problem was my attitude. It needed adjusting and if I were mature (gag) and more determined (grunt) and right with the Lord (gulp) I would accept my lot and be grateful, dammit! The Washington Monument is falling over!! Try harder so it won’t hit the ground…

An 80/20

Today, when I explain my idea of healthy professional life as an 80/20 balance—80% of what you do energizes and 20% of what you do drains—I get a condescending smile. How quaint. Let me know how that works for you. Suffering is so normal that it’s accepted as inevitable.

If you enjoy your work—you look forward to Monday and feel satisfied with you pay and responsibilities—and you enjoy your work environment—the place, the people—more than 80% of the time, I am thrilled for you! And when can we talk? Because you are rare. The list of women I know who fit the 80/20 split is short: my counselor Jackie, my daughter the occupational therapist, my niece the patient educator, and my friend Lisa the church pastor, and my friend Sandra the reading specialist.  

If deep unhappiness at work (aka professional suffering) were an olympic sport, I know 63 or 64 women who’d qualify for the national team, and several would medal. Way too many women spend 40+ hours a week gritting their teeth and waiting for Friday. They dread their morning alarm only slightly less than Monday morning.

Keeping it personal: The lie

But this is about personal anger. I am angry that I swallowed the destructive belief: Suffering is a virtue, and worthwhile work requires self-wounding.

I wrestle with this limiting belief because it goes deep. As I anticipate the next chapter of how I show up and offer my gifts to the world, I want to be as light and as free as possible. Because I don’t trust the echo chamber of my own thoughts, so I’m back to my counselor for a tune up.

My counselor knows my stuff. Together we’ve untangled my issues of worthiness, of boundaries, of self-care, and beliefs that go to the bone, but that don’t reflect the truth.

The truth

Here’s the truth: I am a child of God. Always. Completely. Not in a compartmentalized joy-in-the-sweet-by-and-by way, or the it’s-a-spiritual-reality-and-that-should-be-enough way. I am, in my counselor’s words, a hand-made child of God. Known inside and out. Loved. Understood. Called. And I believe that you are too. Called to a yoke that is easy with a burden that is light. Right now, in this skin, in this messy and imperfect and marvelous life where we can do work that we love with and for people we love.

My counselor helps me examine the spiritual mumbo-jumbo that seems to validate suffering as a virtue: trials and tribulations, the refiner’s fire, talking up one’s cross. She assures me that those words can be read in their divine spiritual intent, but often are not. (When NOT read in their divine intent, these words sound like the step-sister’s approach to the glass slipper.) She assures me that God is with us in suffering, but that God does not order suffering as part of some spiritual get-in-shape plan.

What if

What if, after years of self-loathing and wishing I could be grateful to be miserable, I’m the right size and shape for the work I’m hand-made to do? What if I don’t have to suffer to be valuable? What if I do get to work hard in the calling I love, but I don’t have to hustle, suffer, strive, grasp, and hold up the Washington Monument?

What if I am guided by the Spirit. What if I am yoked with Christ and the yoke is easy and the burden is light? What if my hand-made deep gladness is called to meet some form of the world’s deep hunger?

For starters, I’d feel a lot less angry.

This is one essay in a series I’m writing about personal anger. When we tell our stories we find new ways of living in them. This is an invitation to face & frame your stories of personal anger, to learn how naming anger can serve you, and so that you can write and live different, better endings.
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Understanding & the Discomfort of Mystery

What is it about knowing, about understanding a thing or a person that is so attractive?

As a teacher I sense the hunger for certainty in my students. They want to know what they need to know to get an A (or merely pass) and move on. Tell me what I have to know (and I’ll repeat it back to you). But I teach college writing. There are a thousand—a million!—ways to write a story, a paragraph, a sentence. It’s best if your writing is specific to help your reader understand your perspective—but one right answer doesn’t exist. Welcome to the liberal arts and critical thinking!

I can relate to my students. Growing up and well into adulthood, not knowing felt shameful. Admitting my ignorance was so scary that I’d nod along AS IF I understood. Sometimes I’d even lie. Then worry I’d get caught. That felt so horrid that I decided to see what would happen if I owned the truth in a conversation, and admitted I don’t know. (This radical approach has been transformational!)

To Know & Understand

Socially, there’s a certain cachet attached to knowing. To know something, to know someone, and, BONUS, to understand a thing all adds up to success. Not knowing is, at best, a gap in learning; at worst a sign of failure, a fault, a personality flaw.

Generally, not knowing is managed by admitting I don’t know*. And then 1) deciding I don’t care or 2) I do care, so I will learn/figure this out.

But what if you can’t figure this out? What if you do care, but don’t understand something, someone? What then?

Ignorance vs. Mystery

When we don’t know something that is known and knowable we are ignorant. I am ignorant of many things: tax law, surgical procedures, how to speak Mandarin. All of the things I don’t know, but that are knowable, would fill a library the size of the Empire State Building. Many things that I don’t know, I honestly don’t care about, or care to know.

Then there’s Mystery: a different kind of not knowing. Mystery is not the same as ignorance. Mystery means we stand in wonder of something that often is not knowable right now, or perhaps ever. Mystery is not managed by education or science.



–Mystery is defined as something that is a secret, something where there is no clear explanation, something difficult to understand or explain or something unexplainable or unsolvable.

  • An example of a mystery is whether there is proof that God exists.
  • An example of a mystery is how exactly people came to be.
  • An example of a mystery is a situation where it is unclear who committed a crime, or what the purpose or point is for a work of art, an experience, someone’s motives and actions.

Mystery sits in the same room as uncertainty and ambiguity. Such and such could mean X, or Y, or perhaps even Z. And on occasion, it might mean none or all of these at once. 

Personal Anger

My father, bless him, features often in this series. I suspect this is because a major trigger for personal anger is broken trust. (Hat tip to my daughter for naming this in a recent conversation.) I feel personal anger when I trust someone close to me for something I need and they do not or cannot provide it. (I could shift focus here to managing expectations and boundaries. But that’s not where I’m going.)

My father sat at my kitchen table in 2009 and spoke the truth, “I never understood you.” Jesus said the first bit first. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

But Gloria’s follow up rings true. Truth leads to freedom, but first it leads you through anger.

My father’s admission was at once dazzlingly honest and excruciating. Suddenly, I knew shy I felt erased, invisible as a child. With his words my relationship with him, and others that I struggled to animate with mutual respect and appreciation, made sense.

With those four words I was set free from thinking I should get a lobotomy rather than have ideas and make choices that he “could not condone or approve”. For example, during my 12+ years in community theater, I asked my anxious parents to trust. “Even if you can’t trust me, can you trust the One who made me, who holds me, who led me here?” Acting, as more than a hobby, was something they didn’t understand, so they could not value it. I was asking for support, for trust, they could not give.

If you can only value and respect what you understand, what do you do with mystery? 

~ How do you relate to mystery when she is your own child? ~

My father, like my students, found not knowing, not understanding extremely unpleasant. We lived in the same house, but didn’t understand me. I didn’t match the efficient guidelines for value that made life manageable, knowable, comfortable for him. Mystery caused him distress. Because of a lifetime of emotional poverty, Dad could not find a way to navigate this discomfort. All he knew to do was diminish or dismiss what caused it. Me.

Mercy & Mystery

For 50+years I struggled to say the words that would magically make my father understand me so that he could affirm, even celebrate, who I am. But before he died, I stopped that wistful, futile, exhausting habit. Here’s my current, ongoing practice:

First, I rest. Nothing good happens when I’m tired.

Next I choose mercy. Mercy for Dad and his need to understand someone before he would appreciate or celebrate them. And mercy for myself for trusting him to give me what he could not.

Finally, I reflect. My earliest model for moving through life taught me that reflection is a choice, not a default. In a place of rest and mercy, I shift my gaze inward and wonder, How often have I raced past the discomfort of mystery? Can I respect and value what I don’t understand?

Warning: This is NOT an efficient practice. I think efficiency is great; if you’re a server at McDonalds, a clerk at the DMV, or a light bulb. It works for anything that isn’t related to deep relationships with others or your Self. This practice involves curiosity. (Never efficient.) What if I am guided by the Spirit? What if, instead of dismissing the discomfort, I sit with my mystery? What if sitting with mystery and being uncomfortable is how I will grow?

Mercy for my own Mystery

This fall I have a chance to find out. I return to school. Again. I’ll be a full-time student pursuing my MFA in Studio Art. (Yes! This totally ROCKS!!!!!!!) I have NO idea what my area/s of focus will be. Not One Clue. Nor do I have a clear vision of how I’ll use my degree when I’m done. What the hell am I doing!? Three years! More student loans!

But—I feel called to this: To sit (even dance) with the discomfort of Mystery. I stand here because of mercy. I got here by grace.

Mercy for YOUR Mystery

You are welcome to use these questions yourself, if you want. See above Warning! This is not easy work. It is totally inefficient and there won’t be one right answer. But when you let yourself keep patient company with the discomfort of mystery, grace and mercy show up too.

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Authoritarianism and Hierarchy: Lessons Learned in Khartoum

Seven days after our wedding, Ken and I boarded a plane and began traveling. Our first shared address: Khartoum, Sudan. Here we are at a party: Ken in galabia and mustache. 

We lived and worked there for almost one year. We were young, idealistic, and pretty clueless about life (married or single) anywhere, but especially in a totally unfamiliar culture. It was a horrible year. Not because of the hot, dusty weather. Not because we struggled to communicate with the kind, hospitable Sudanese. Not because we were learning how to live together, which was its own special challenge. But because the assignment with a small non-government aid agency slammed me into the flagrant disparity that comes with power and control, sometime called Authoritarianism and Hierarchy.

Disclaimer #1: Many things could and have been written about Sudan at the end of the famine in the 1980’s. My story is neither political, comprehensive, or objective; it is one that I will dissect and rewrite many times, for many reasons. Today’s reason: Personal Anger and Authoritarianism, also known as Hierarchy. Or A&H for now.

Growing up in a Man’s World, I saw A&H all the time. It colored everything I knew. But the coloring was subtle and muted because I’d had enough freedom and education to think hard work and smarts would earn me respect and a voice, that, on the whole life is fair, we all have the same opportunities and we get what we deserve. When I pointed out disparity, institutions of power, that is men, were happy to let (a-hem) me think I had a voice. They assured me that all I needed was a bit more effort, a bit more patience, a bit more diplomacy. And, by the way, they 1) knew what was best, 2) had always done it this way, 3) wished me well and/or loved me.

Seeing vs. Recognition

In Khartoum I started to recognize the no-win reality of the system of power distribution in which an individual or group is privileged over others within a culture, organization, or society. Personally, and as an observer, I began to wake up and see the ranking of people and their worth based on sex, skin color, wealth, faith, education—all of the things considered proof of what make us better (or worse) than someone else.

Disclaimer #2: Before I give the impression that Khartoum is where I became “woke”, let me quickly add that I am a bad feminist and a slow learner. As a newlywed, I shrugged off thoughts of authoritarian leadership (too close to home) and had no idea what hierarchy was beyond a brief encounter with Maslow. Figuring out that hierarchy is totally effed up—that it creates and feeds on division, distrust, and discontent—has taken me a very long time. For me, identifying and living an egalitarian life is an ongoing, hit and miss endeavor.

Ken and I landed in Khartoum in late 1986. The Horn of Africa, including Sudan, was recovering from devastating famine. Ken was there to work for the development and aid organization of our church as a one of many non-governmental channels disbursing assistance from USAID and a few international charities. We joined a small team of expats and Sudanese nationals working with food distribution and a mother/child health program.

When the primary purpose for a relationship is to dispense aid, power and control issues stand out in bold relief. Initially, the aid is a response to an emergency. Efforts to develop connection and understanding are skipped in the name of efficiency. One party becomes the good and powerful helper and giver, the other party a pitiful and needy receiver or taker. Respect withers before it is born.  Continue Reading →

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No one talked about consent

Grief fatigue. It’s a real thing. Trump’s election. Favorite son moving far away. Trump’s inauguration. Finding a dear friend dead. Helping pack up her house and participate in the memorial. Juggling the work of teaching and student-ing with all of that. So, yeah. It’s been a while. The last time we met here was November. For over a month I’ve scribbled lists of ideas, thinking of ways to continue the Personal Anger series with all the transparency and grace I can muster. There was the reminder of rebirth and resurrection with Easter. I’m swimming again. I watch satire. Favorite son moved back to the area. It all helped.

Then May 4th happened. The Affordable Care Act was repealed by the House. And along with taking health care from a few million people, the current bill will also allow states to permit insurance companies to deny coverage, or charge some ungodly fee, to those with pre-existing conditions. In case you wonder, pre-existing condition applies to sexual assault, postpartum depression, C-sections, and victims of domestic violence. Often known as being human and female.

Stop saying the United States is a Christian nation. Please. Stop!

There is nothing Christian about a system that dialogs primarily with the influential and powerful, and privileges the very same. There is nothing Christian about labels and limits. There is nothing Christian about withholding treatment and care based on a person’s race, gender, religion, income, passport, intelligence, work ethic, or lack thereof. There is nothing Christian about a system that withholds basic human rights from the poor, ill, or marginalized. If you don’t believe me, check out the bible stories of Jesus.

This is capitalistic, marginally democratic, and totally selfish. Call it that. But STOP calling it Christian.

Personal Anger

Please. Stop! I said. He didn’t listen. He pulled me down between rotting corn stalks. Built like an athlete, he easily pinned me against the damp dirt. Stop! Don’t! No. I pleadedHe hissed “You want it!” and forced me open.

I have a pre-existing condition. I was sexually assaulted. More to the point: I was raped.

Remember how I began this series? When I met Ken I was vibrating with rage for many reasons, but especially this.

All the Personal Anger I’ve written about so far—violence in response to truth telling, breaking the cycle of emotional poverty, living in man’s world, self-betrayal, striving to belong by behavior and belief—played into accepting that relationship. The one with the guy who raped me.

Growing up in a sheltered, faith-based community, I learned that a girl should be warm and affectionate, or she’s an ice princess. A girl must also put the brakes on because men can’t control their passions. Point of Personal Anger: No one talked about consent!

No one at home, school or church talked about pleasure, desire, or sex except to say that it is taboo outside of marriage and okay after you say I do. Abstinence only, dearie. End of conversation.

Because of my beliefs, I told myself Now that he’s had sex with me, I have to marry him. According to 1 Corinthians 6:16, having sex made us one flesh. No matter that he was violent, disrespectful, and didn’t listen to me. I’d absorbed the cult of virginity. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. He had taken the one thing I had of value.

But the main point of this essay is not about being raped. I’ve processed that anger and worked through recovery. (My relationship with my body today is one of tender awareness and intentional care. I’m vigilant about consent in various areas of my life.)

I’m angry about a culture that still thinks a woman gets what she deserves, that in some way she asked for it. Rape should disgust us. Full stop!

Rape should disgust us
I am angry there was no such thing as dialog about consent: 
what it is, what it is not, how to talk about it. And that instead of open and often, conversations about consent even today are pretty rare.

We must learn to name personal limits, needs and desires, and create communities where we can express them aloud in safety. When the agendas of institutions meant to protect and serve us — home, school, church, government — don’t intentionally foster this, we became predators or victims, mere ciphers.

This Cipher will not Consent

To the lawmakers who approved the list of pre-existing conditions in the May 4th bill, I am just a cipher. Other ciphers include anyone diagnosed with:

AIDS/HIV, acid reflux, acne, ADD, addiction, Alzheimer’s/Dementia, anemia, aneurysms, angioplasty, anorexia, anxiety, arrhythmia, arthritis, asthma, atrial fibrillation, autism, basal cell carcinoma, bipolar disorder, celiac disease, cerebral palsy, cervical cancer, colon cancer, polyps, congestive heart failure, COPD, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, DMD, depression, DIABETES, disabilities, down syndrome, epilepsy, glaucoma, gout, hemophilia, hepatitis, herpes, high cholesterol, hypertension, kidney stones, leukemia, lung cancer, lupus, mental health issues, migraines, MS, narcolepsy, obesity, OCD, organ transplants, osteoporosis, a pacemaker, paraplegia, Parkinson’s, pregnancy, restless leg syndrome, schizophrenia, seasonal affective disorder, seizures, sickle cell, skin cancer, sleep apnea + other sleep problems, stent, stroke, thyroid problems, tooth disease, tuberculosis, and ulcers; to name a few. Oh, and survivors of sexual assault/domestic abuse.

Think of all the people in your family. Now those in your workplace, school, or community. Who looks “sick”? People who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act say they shouldn’t have to pay extra to cover “sick people”. But people who look sick are such a small segment of the group affected by the current health care bill. Many of us look like we are just fine. As things stand now, having a pre-existing condition is not a medical diagnosis. It’s a societal one. It’s a way to divide, label, and exclude. Instead of health and wellness being seen as human rights, they are seen as privileges. Using labels like pre-existing condition is another way to call out “sick” people as “other”—to say they deserve what they’ve got. It’s a lot like the culture of rape.

Please! Stop! I DO NOT CONSENT. Let it go on record: I do not understand the fear and scarcity that motivates the current government. But that is what it is — fear and scarcity. I will not play by their twisted rules. I am not a cipher. You are not a cipher. You may not have one of the pre-existing conditions, but someone you know does. And one day you may too. 

Stop saying the United States is a Christian nation. Please. Stop! Or: Start acting like one. Care for the stranger like your brother, your mother, your child. Live like we are all in this together. Vote as if we belong to each other.  

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Believe. How to Belong, Part II

I grew up in a group that had a lot of beliefs. Beliefs about what happens when you die, the right day to worship, what sin is, how the world was made, and that God was Christian. I breathed in these beliefs at home, school, and church. Believing these beliefs mattered about as much as how I behaved. Concerned group member felt compelled to finish the work, ie: get their beliefs (and behavior) in order and get others to believe the beliefs (and behave) too.

concerned!We believed that the world would end. Soon!  Just look at all the wars, earthquakes, famine, television, drugs, rock and roll, and Watergate! No one I knew wore sandwich boards emblazoned The End is Near. Repent!

Instead, my group offered solace and peace with pictures like this:


and simple charts like this:

eschatology chart

Jesus was coming soon and there were two big questions:

  • Are you ready?
  • Who is gonna rat us out?

We knew that before earth’s grand finale our beliefs would make us targets. Our obedience would be our undoing. Entwined with the mission to spread Truth was the conviction that whoever didn’t accept it could one day hand us over for a reward or just for spite.

Heaps of people didn’t accept Truth even when it was clearly illustrated and charted. So there were heaps of people to fear and suspect. We had to watch our backs.

Group membership came with a winsome combination: 1) we were right. 2) we would be persecuted.

Fear and suspicion came at no extra charge.

Behavior, Belief, & Belonging

The graduate class Colonial & Postcolonial Literature, introduced me to the definition and problem of the concept of “the other” for the first time. I was 46 years old.

I can now define and opine about insiders and outsiders and others, but I don’t often think about the politics of belonging. Until now. Like a houseguest from Uzbekistan, I’ve entertained thoughts on the politics of belonging for weeks. Awkward. Fascinating. Foreign. Limited vocabulary. I feel vulnerable processing my thoughts in public. Here goes.

There is no “other”. There is no them or those people. There is only us. 

Belonging is our deepest, most human desire. The need to belong drives everything we do. We work, speak, defend, pretend so that we feel worthy of belonging. On good days we do these things so that someone else will feel he or she belongs. On bad days we withhold belonging to discipline, censure, and wound another. Ironically, we cut off approval, kindness, and connection for ourselves when we feel unworthy of belonging.

Personal Anger

My behavior and beliefs do not align with the group I grew up in. Because the group is about proof and argument, I’ve been grilled about my behavior and beliefs to the point of tears. Many times. But my personal anger is about the fear. For years I feared that if the group didn’t approve of my beliefs and behavior, I would be lost and alone. I performed, behaved, and tried to believe so that I would belong. I was taught that love casts out fear, but I felt the fear of abandonment for most of my life.

The Present

The need to Belong — to be heard, seen, accepted — underlies the way each of us voted in the recent election. We may have voted in hope, but now we fear that we have not been heard, seen, accepted.

It’s tempting to say we no longer identify with this system or with people who voted a different way. Give up and move to Canada.

I no longer identify as a member of the group I grew up in. I just about gave up. But I love the people where I worship. The other worshippers and I don’t behave or believe alike. But I belong to them and they belong to me. We need each other. Especially now. Since the election I wonder how I can possibly make a difference. How can I extend belonging? The needs are enormous! I want to join my energies with others involved in a focused effort to creating belonging — not based on behavior or belief, but on the common need to be heard, seen, accepted. The congregation I attend is out to do this.

The Future

My daughter called me in tears the day after the election. She sees the future as dark and scary. It may be. I offered her the tiny light that keeps me going. Do something radical. Listen, stay close, extend respect and kindness to one person at a time whether she agrees with your beliefs or not. And if you’re lucky, you do this in concert with other people.

The Truth


No matter how we behave or what we believe, this is the hard and beautiful truth: We belong to each other.

Over to You

Where can you join forces to create belonging beyond behavior and belief?

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Behave. How to Belong, Part I

With my siblings off the Isle of Skiathos, 1967.

With my siblings off the Isle of Skiathos, 1967.

In June 1967, my family had to leave our home in Beirut because of the Six-day War. While other expats waited it out in Cyprus, the Waring family soaked up the sun on the Island of Skiathos. After about a week on the Greek isle, we returned to the small college compound that held all my before-evacuation-vacation life experiences.

For a long time I thought evacuation was the way to vacation.

For even longer I thought right behavior was the way to belonging.

On the small island of my experience, most every person I met — from earliest memory until I entered college — belonged to the same group. Everyone I knew studied at the group’s schools, worked at one of the group’s hospital, or, most important, attended the group’s churches. These people all knew the same Truth with a capital T — so they all behaved in certain ways. And I learned early that good behavior meant approval and belonging.

Imagine my surprise when I found out about life beyond my island of experience; not everyone on earth was part of the group!! My illustrated story book showed dark-skinned women with huge gold hoops in their ears. I prayed that they would stop wearing jewelry because it meant they didn’t know in Jesus. But if they stopped wearing earrings, they could go to heaven.

As I grew older, belonging became super important. I might live in a man’s world and feel like an unfriendable freak, but I was part of my group. I knew almost everything about good behavior and bad behavior.

Good Behavior

Bad Behavior

Pray Listen to Rock music
Obey Skip church
Stay home and study for school and memorize Bible verses Eat meat, drink beer, smoke, use drugs, go to movie theatres, dance, wear jewelry
Make parents proud: get good grades, keep room tidy, practice piano Disappoint parents: get bad grades, talk back, or do the above bad things

You either stand inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” ~ Brené Brown.

Without a thought, I hunkered down to hustle and behave. I needed to say I am fine. I am fine. I am fine, Fine, FINE! Behavior was a stellar way to smother all that was not fine and numb the pain that was below the surface of my story.

Behave (get busy!)

I found heaps of acceptable ways to live on the surface, to ignore the inner ache. In high school: sing in the chorale, work on the yearbook, take violin lessons, work part-time as a hospital messenger, join the drama club, play summer softball, learn racquetball, and shadow the hospital chaplain on visitation. In college: sing, run, swim, jazzersize or play more racquetball, join & then lead a student volunteer organization, work part-time on the paint crew, join a national honor society, and become student body religious vice president.

Looking at my day planner with every slot filled made me smile. An empty hour slot made me anxious. Was I slacking?

The beauty of busy was that when I kept moving and I could mostly rush past the moment in front of me. The busy bonus: I proved over and over and over that I was worthy of belonging to the group. I might even score points in the game How Will You Make Us Proud?

Keep Watch

It’s so easy to figure out who belongs by watching how they behave. And boy, did we group members watch. We watched each other and wondered, Is that right? Do I do it as well as that? We watched ourselves and wondered, What will other people think? Between looking at other group members and worrying about how our own behavior measured up, it’s amazing that we had any energy to look around us. But we did!

We had the truth. And the MOST important behavior was to spread it!

Spreading the truth made me queasy. I lived in fear of meeting someone outside a story book illustration. Someone real who wore earrings, ate meat, danced, said Jesus as a curse word, prayed to the Pope, or smoked pot. In short, behaved badly.

The non-believer’s agenda frightened me: she wanted to tempt me to smoke, drink, dance, eat lard, say sh*t, and deny Jesus. My own agenda was just as scary: I must fix the person. Explain the Truth, give her the list of right behaviors, and convince her to fix her behavior. This would prove that I was a worthy sharer of the truth. That I belonged. Oh, and I that really loved Jesus.

Honestly, I didn’t care enough for anyone’s eternal salvation — mine or a stranger’s —  to resist temptation, explain truth, and fix behavior. I loved Jesus, but couldn’t I love him with the people who already knew how to behave the right way?

Right behavior & belonging

Without question I saw myself as broken and in need of fixing through right behavior. (In college there was still the small matter of waves of wonderful to confess and stop.) I saw other people as broken and thought it my job to fix them by fixing their behavior. If I could fix my behavior, I would belong. If I could fix others’ behavior, they would belong.

Belonging never came with right, approved, or perfect behavior. It never does.

I am angry that I believed behavior was the way to belonging. For. So. Long.

But now I am here

How has belonging bloomed for me? I’m still a bit puzzled on that one. I do not have a full day planner. I don’t own a day planner. This makes me so happy. On good days, I have nothing to prove. Zip. Zero. And there are fewer and fewer bad, prove-your-worth days. It is a privilege, a small victory, to show up as myself and believe that is enough. Honest about pain, joy, loneliness, and confusion as I pay attention to the difficult and delicious moment that is right now.

I never expected to have this life of connection, hope and wonder. But I’ve decided to stand inside my story, and that has brought me here.

Over to you

What have you mistaken for ways of belonging? Do you feel angry about it? You can’t change the past, but you can change how you see it and choose how your story ends.

When we deny our stories, they define us. When we own our stories, we get to write a brave new ending.” ~ Brené Brown

It’s time to step inside your story, sit with personal anger, and start healing.

If you appreciated this essay, let me know. And feel free to share it with your friends.
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Self-Betrayal; The Big Break Up — Part 2

The standard-issue horrors of puberty ambush me in 6th grade. Why is my body so stinky, hairy, oozey, curvy and big? I am five feet, eight inches tall. I tower hideously over most of my peers. Why am I so not normal? I ask Julie Whitman if I can borrow her cool pants. We are both tall, but the cool pant legs drag and the waist is too low on me. I am a freak. When it starts, my period is totally unpredictable, but the science textbook in Mrs. Mauler’s room says “the normal cycle is every 26-28 days”. I am a freak! And how charming are feminine pads worn with wandering belts under my old-lady panties the other girls see when we change for P.E.? My freakness is complete!

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If You are Female

It is a truth universally accepted: How you look is more important than how you see the world, what you think, or the things you do or dream of doing — IF YOU ARE FEMALE. Attractive women have glossy lips, perfect hair, and run braless in high heels. How do I know? Charlie’s Angels starts daytime reruns. In 7th grade I kiss a boy underwater at the pool. At the eighth grade class party I have my first experience with something totally taboo: dancing!! (Why don’t Adventists have sex standing up? People might think that they’re dancing.)

Farah Fawcett, kissing, dancing. Consciousness level raised — self-consciousness that is. I am so sure everyone is looking at me and criticizing my appearance that sometimes I get cramps in my shoulders. How anyone survives middle school is a total mystery. And that’s just the warm up for high school.

The First Bad Boyfriend

I have my first boyfriend at 15. His name is Dal. Point of personal anger: I am so desperate for male attention, that I think Dal a catch. He is an 18-year old who 1) dropped out of high school, 2) has his license suspended, 3) often stinks of beer and sweat 4) believes that life is like Saturday Night Fever. Yup, lucky me.

A walking ocean of hormones he is quick to tell me I look good. He whistles at me. He is thrilled that I’m a tall blonde. Dal believes deeply in transaction/exchange relationships: time listening to me traded for time touching me. With a wink he calls me Jailbait which I think means I’m so cute it’s criminal. Yes, it is possible to be that sheltered.

We talk, but have little conversation. But that’s okay; Dal thinks I could be a model! I tell Mom and with very little urging she enrolls me in Barbizon School of Modeling. What if I could skip college? I’ve been told how hard serious subjects are for girls, so posing in fashionable clothes would be great. Other people will do my hair, make-up, clothes. Pay attention to my body, my skin, how I look. Wait, what?

When we first make out I feel some chills and a few thrills, but no waves of wonderful. I think, Gross! What is with the tongue?! So so so gross! Keep it to yourself. But there’s something even worse. This boy introduces me to the term erection in the practical sense. We kiss good night at my front door and one time I pull him close for a proper hug. Oh! The rigid shape below his belt startles me. He quickly says, See what you do to me. I do not like knowing this or feeling it. But once I do, it becomes a routine part of every good-night ritual. Mentally, I check out. I abandon my body and enter my head. Is that geometry quiz tomorrow? Are my favorite jeans clean? Are we almost done?

Who’s Driving

We never have intercourse — I am jailbait and a nice girl — as Dal says, but his hands end up on all parts of me. A horrific burning develops between my legs. I’m scared it’s an STD. The shame of my first yeast infection — thanks to his filthy fingers on my privates — burns as much as the itch. But if I want someone to listen to me, call me, take me rollerskating — the understanding is clear. He will (seem to) listen, I will let him touch.

When I was very small my father would tell me, Be a good girlie. I wasn’t sure what this meant. What would be good enough for him? Now my father tells me: It’s the girl’s responsibility to put on the brakes. I don’t drive yet, so what does that mean? The metaphor is a one-line harpoon of guilt because at summer camp I was told that Jesus should be in the driver’s seat of my life. Now I’m supposed to be in the driver’s seat, but I’m taking Jesus to places he doesn’t want to go, and not putting on the brakes! I am a physical AND spiritual mess. Not ever good enough.

How do I put on the brakes, I want to ask Dad. But I don’t because Dad has lots of work to do and expects me to know. 

Let’s Pretend I’m Fine

My busy father makes time to play golf with my brothers, and takes time to give me a dating tip. That’s all he can give me; it’s a man’s world. I tell myself that if I don’t put on the brakes I’ll just get what I deserve. It is supposed to happen. I have to accept it and be fine. I start pretending.

I complete the modeling course. I break up with Dal. My mother is upset. She takes Dal’s side. But I soon have another boyfriend. Mom is happy again. I have a string of less-than-great boyfriends. Mom likes them all. Dad not any. With an exception or two, each boy expects the trade: listening for touching. I believe I get what I deserve. I pretend I am fine. I get so good at pretending I forget that I’m pretending.

I’ve heard the phrase Damaged goods. I know I am a damaged, a disappointment, nothing near good enough. Jesus knows too. If my parents knew of all the time I didn’t put on the brakes — Hoh, boy! Talk about disappointment. I feel ashamed and alone. According to the transaction model of relationships, aside from my body, I have nothing to offer. I have nothing that is worthy. What I have is shame and secrets and a freakish body I do not know how manage, protect, or respect. 

I am unfriendable. Who would want me as a friend? If someone could see the real me she would be utterly disgusted! She would throw up. Then leave forever. Or the earth would swallow me whole. Same thing. So I try to look totally fine. I tell people I am fine. I am fine. I am fine, Fine, FINE!


When I began writing this series about personal anger and the break up of my Body/Mind/Spirit trinity, I thought of it as just that — a split, a Big Break Up. Now I see that it was not so much a Break Up, but a process of self-betrayal. I compartmentalized. I abandoned the truth. I said I’m fine when I was not.

All kinds of things contribute to the self-betrayal process. But I can name the trifecta of self-betrayal: Pretending. Silence. Shame. So I continue writing. When I click Publish on this piece and share my story of anger and shame the world will not stop spinning or swallow me whole. And someone reading, maybe you, will say me too.

Enough Pretending. Enough Silence. Enough Shame.

Because we are enough as we are.

Thanks for reading, friend. With gratitude ~ Rebecca 

If you know someone tired of pretending, tired of silence, tired of shame — please share! Thank you.

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