I hope you love this post

Many a time I've heard that writers are a weird crew, and it's true: the need to write, like the need to eat or breath or sleep, must be satisfied, and the results are these streams of words strewn forth into the world, bound or on bright screens or on bathroom stalls. It occurs to me that some may find an open Christmas letter to the world by blog a bit strange: some will wonder if this isn't a symptom of my generation's compulsive social sharing in the online sphere; others will long for days when the only airing of skeletons that occurred was through Grandma's shaky cursive on handwritten letters that arrived via snail mail to tell the family news.

My world has shifted again over the past year. These are details of life that I share with colleagues, students, friends, family and therefore details I long to share in a Christmas letter. The Christmas letter of my dreams arrives at your door in a thick paper envelope sometime a week or so before the holidays. Inside is tucked a carefully posed family photo on nice card stock with a wish for your happiness and a handwritten signature. It's typed in Word without any spelling errors, and printed on Christmas paper like it used to be when I had my life "together". I know you're reading this on a rather impersonal screen, and I know it's not the same. I know the photos aren't perfect and I didn't even snap an iPhone pic during that 20 minutes the kids and I had coordinating holiday outfits on Christmas Eve. The whole mission of life this past year has been honesty, so here I type regardless of these failures. I sometimes think my very existence is a punch in the throat to the world in general, and my poor, dear Christian circle in particular. And so I {tentatively} give you...

My Awkward Family Christmas Letter 2014


The year began with enrolling the kids in public school, which was a major sock in the mommy gut - and the former fundamental Christian mommy gut especially so - since I had shakily envisioned at least getting them through basic math in homeschool. Even when you know something will be okay in the end, even when you're sure it's the best decision - it's still hard to buck tradition and long-held personal values.


The kids did enjoy and succeed in school, for the most part. This fall semester has been much easier for all of them as they understand school culture now - where to walk, how to behave, that sort of thing. They've met fewer bullies than I would have imagined, and have made friends on different levels and in different ways. They excel at different areas - some socially, some in math, some science, some reading, some as hard workers, or helpers, or for their empathy - but all stand out as artists and musicians, which makes my mama heart swell with joy. They frequently are singled out as loving and giving, and also have a reputation for being a bit quirky, intellectual and funny. Teachers enjoy their silly accents, professor-mama factoids, and original ideas.


I've continued on faculty at UW-Eau Claire and have enjoyed a stressful but successful beginning to my 3rd year. Health continues to measure high on the Richter scale of our family stress, but the storms seem to at least come fewer and farther between these days, and the seas aren't quite as high during them.

In some ways I wish I didn't have to type this next paragraph. For my own children, I dream of and work toward a world in which they will simply declare whom they love, that person, and those of us who love them will love their person and there will be no more "coming out" as anything. 2014 marked the end of a long process in coming to terms with my identity as a lesbian. "Coming to terms" seems more fitting than "coming out", because reaching acceptance of myself was at least as much part of the process as inviting others into the reality of my life and my being.


In August, I moved full time to my apartment in Eau Claire. Reaching the decision to drive away from the farmhouse I crafted in my dreams, the home I thought I would raise my children in, raise them a certain way, with their parents always there, was the most difficult point of my life thus far. Once it was made though, I felt myself quickly and easily relax into the form of my new life like an old glove. It felt a little like picking up in my early 20's, and re-envisioning where life might lead me, now with four precious pieces of cargo and a heavily invested career in tow. There have been little discoveries of lost joys, like perfume, candles, and funky art; new discoveries, like a garbage disposal and a buzzer to let guests in. New challenges, like establishing a home again at a time when professors haven't been paid for months; and new experiences, like single motherhood, paying for hot lunches, doing homework evenings, and managing a custody schedule.

I will file for divorce legally in a few days. By the end of spring semester, I will be Doctor Holmen instead of Doctor Thul. I have a beautiful girlfriend who has brought my life full circle to a type of joy and peace I haven't known since I was a small girl on a farmstead in fields of gold. The future is still hazy: a lot of puzzle pieces still have to be found and fit with this new, complicated life. The haze isn't the cold fog I've walked alone, though: it is the warm lemony mist of the morning of a beautiful new day, the kind that shrouds the world in tantalizing mystery but holds no fear within it's curtains.

I was starting to heal when 2014 began, just barely budding into new growth. Choosing freedom and truth over rules, judgments and lies set my feet back on the path I know as my own. Walking confidently forward, however alone I felt, has led me to a place I am proud to call my own. Whatever steps I've taken that have required bravery and strength and support, I share because I want it to take a little less bravery, strength or support for someone else to become who they really are, to let their true voice be heard.

So here's to a New Year that is a little less awkward and a little less brave. A little more ordinary and a little more joyful. Here's to a bit more Bohemian drama and a little less stark and stoic, a little more responsibility and fewer expectations.

Wishing you and yours the chance to celebrate the holiday truthfully and fully,
Genevieve & crew

Staying afloat

Why is it that shame drives us further and further away from what we need, instead of calling us to repent? It is shame that sends me lurking into the shadows - not the most menacing of shadow, albeit - when writer's block or sadness or pure joy or just plain old life gets in the way of working through my thoughts here with this proverbial ink and page.

I guess I'll shrug that off and take you to this evening, when I threw a ginormous adult sized temper tantrum over the state of my house, which was justifiably dumpster-like and potentially unsanitary in places. I ranted at my kids about the bowls hidden behind chairs or under a blanket surreptitiously lying on the living room rug (carpeted in land mines the likes of gummy worms, Sour Patch Kids, popcorn, dirty socks and old cereal spoons. Honest to Pete.) I pleaded with them that my health was actually suffering, that theirs was as well, that I can't shoulder the burden of the rotten banana peel cemented to my counter with cooked on over-boiled coffee - at least not alone. I wept rather openly (although I tried to choke it back a bit) as I scrubbed mildew from a oatmeal bowl and tossed Clementine after Clementine down the garbage disposal to cure the stink. Then I threatened to retreat to my room. Not exactly...I stated the fact that I would need a grown-up sized time-out for my grown-up sized tantrum and that said time-out would take place in the confines of my room, door locked, and no replies to incessant requests for Mama in any shaper or form unless I could verify that there was, indeed, an emergency - meaning an emergency by nurse definition: blood, limb hanging by a thread, or you just really need a good cuddle because you are falling apart, really falling apart and you really need me.

My eldest handed me a school paper as I retreated to my room, nearly stuttering in horror at the depths to which my housekeeping zeal had disappeared. Her paper was topped with a decidedly unpoetic heading, "The UWEC Nursing Building". I notice she offsets her name, date, etc. on the right side instead of the left. A personal seal. A small "stick it to the Man" á la Breakfast Club. I begin reading...and devour the page, in a single gulp without hardly coming up for mental punctuation pauses, no air, just diving the length of this page of such love and such purity and beauty, I know in a moment why I named her "Katrina" ("pure one"). She describes the details in expanded, imaginative and flourished details seen from a child's perspective. She opens right up and spills her dreams, in all their vivid and glorious beauty, in all their charm and originality, right there on the page in stark and everyday font. Just 26 letters, yet their illusive and expansive possibilities, their ability to save a life or lift one up from the depths or express the deepest of human emotions? My daughter lassoed the loosed words and corralled only the most beautiful and rare for a piece she wrote candidly. She showed us her way of seeing the world, the bias toward a particular beauty her eye and brain possess. In that moment, she chose me, wildly, utterly lovingly and perhaps irrationally.

I feel it heal, this achey old wound, and it's you touching it, child-nurse, you who healed me as you split me in two - literally one of my hearts still beating inside, one teetering perilously close to the sidewalk's edge...the bus route...the Future Leaders club. If ever you do catch fear in my eyes as you press onward, my love, know for sure it is this you see, not what you might imagine: it is that watching you leapfrog the chasms, no matter how ordinary, reminds me what potential loss I have faced down before and of the exact distinct value and beauty of this day here, with all it's troubles.



The brave break

Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus. (The Spectator Bird, Wallace Stegner, 1976)

We saw each other in the context of our dreams: a wife busy in a farmhouse kitchen with toddlers playing at her feet in the sun; a husband who could protect and care for a family, legitimize a lost girl by making her a wife. Friendship ripened into love and love flowed quite naturally into marriage and four babies and the making of a family. This was my dream from the time I was small - a man like my father, to know and be known, to birth babies and raise them in a farmhouse on my family's land.

Childhood was full of other people's dreams. It takes the shipwrecks of life to chip away the façade I'd helped the world construct around the real Genevieve. As pain continued to flow as constant as waves on the ocean, I was tossed and tumbled until the sheen of my soul began to shine through. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror of therapy, in the wake of my own early exit plan. I was overthrown by a vision of life that I'd never imagined. A life in which I was important, and beautiful, and whole.

Life changes us, for better or worse. There were decades I was sure I was being broken, used up, stamped out. Hindsight is 20/20, they say, and so it is: all that wreckage was just the shellac of that shell I'd adorned for the sake of others, although at the time I thought I was donning it for myself. I thought I was setting myself apart, keeping myself holy, doing what had to be done - my duty as a woman and a follower of Christ.

I've been living naked, without the lies, without other people's truths, for 3 years. It's scary to choose your own path when it means walking through the woods away from the highway you were set on as a child. Yet wandering alone to find my place, to find myself, reminded me of the little bits I'd salvaged of Genevieve along the way: a preponderance toward lone wolf, the small unexpected joys of the universe cherished close to my soul, the love that used to pour out of me as naturally as blood courses through my veins.

It has always been in the desolation of the wilderness that I come face to face with my own soul. I wish it weren't so, because it is a lonely way to find yourself. I was taught, in a thousand different ways, that it is only through the sharing of ourselves that our lives have meaning and purpose. What I've discovered in my personal wastelands is that life itself is precious and very beautiful. I have no doubt now, finally, that if I were alone for the rest of my life, there would still be something to live for. This breathing in and out that is a daily miracle beyond our understanding is the greatest gift we ever receive. A gift that often gets highjacked by expectations, norms, social patterns. From birth to the grave, it is possible to live never knowing yourself at all: for our strengths are often cast as weaknesses and our weaknesses as possibilities, and we push, push, push to be better, to do better, to be different so we can be the same as everyone else, to be right...do we forget to pause and reflect on what is glorious about ourselves in this very moment on our constant quest for perfection?

It was just a footpath through the woods I stumbled upon at first. The people who had walked this path had tried to leave no trace of their existence. There were no ghosts of campfires built to keep themselves warm. There were no groups of tents pitched in community. There was no other life visible...just an almost imperceptible line weaving through the underbrush far out here from the highway where there is no background noise save for the noises of the earth. Here, on the unbeaten path, the footsteps finally match my own.

I had to leave people behind on the highway. I had to wave goodbye, and it was the hardest goodbye I've ever said. For three years I would hike back to the highway after a while, but I left my trail marked. I retreated to the woods when the din began to drown out my thoughts and my own voice in my head. I showed my children the trail, and it turns out they love being in the woods with me. They have hated the highway as much as I have. And although there are times when we all miss the ease of walking on a paved road with big glowing signs and mile markers, we've come to peace with the fact that we're not highway people. We remind each other through the fireless nights, that we are strong, and we are brave, and we can do this together. I never expected my own children to be my encouragers. I never expected them to love the paths I love or the person I am. But as I slowly shed layers of the world's myths about me, my kids fell in love with me in a brand new way, a much deeper way. They see me in ways I can't yet recognize my own reflection.

And so I've said goodbye to the wife my husband saw in his dreams. I've said goodbye to the husband I used to see in mine. The truth at the center of the heartache is that there is something between us that may just stand the test of time...four little hearts that beat a mixture of our blood, his and mine. All the mistakes we've made together are being transmuted from suffering to awe. I see the truth of him now in ways I never could see clearly when I was standing next to him. He sees me for who I am, and even when it is not who he wants desperately for me to be, I can see the truth reflecting bright off his pupils, and perhaps it is because truth is undeniable that he has been able to loosen his grip on those dreams a little.

I live today in a small apartment by myself. There are days it is filled with the noise and chaos of the family I helped create. There are days when I find my path in the woods waiting for me at the door when I walk into the quietness of my own space.

..............................

I suppose all of this is to say a very simple yet petrifying truth: I am going through a divorce. I am going through the wreckage of old hopes and shattered moments, I am sifting through waste looking for long-lost treasures. I knew there would be a moment when it was time to tell the world. I am not the person I thought I was when I was 23. I cannot dance to the music played by my small world. I will not watch myself disappear into the dark night without struggling to keep breath in these lungs and fight in this body. I finally care. I finally want it, life - like I've never wanted anything ever before.

Here, amongst the wreckage, I am discovering that I never did fade away into nothingness. I just quit speaking, I quit feeling, I quit dreaming, I apologized profusely for the very things that make me, drive me, inspire me. What I found at the end of a marriage is the beginning all over again. I can no longer make amends to the world for being who I am. I can no longer go under the surface just to keep the world afloat.

It may seem like the most selfish choice in the world - and perhaps it is, at the very core: I cannot live in the life I chose at 23. It is brave and hopeful and revolutionary, to choose life over life for others. What I have learned through all my suffering is simple: life for others can never be lived until you choose your own life first. Most people don't know this because most people never hold a knife in their hands and push it down into their own flesh. Most people don't understand choosing life because it is a default decision for them. All they see is the crooked and thorny path that leads off the highway, full of danger and unknown. To them I say, you don't have to understand and you don't have to know. I do. This is my life I'm talking about. Although it may seem scary and fraught with threats, I will say it again: I am brave and hopeful and I am a revolutionary. I will find my way. After all, this is my home and these woods wanderers are my people, and here I am finally NOT afraid.

If it is on this path that you find yourself? It doesn't matter how slow the going is or how alone you may be. There is sunlight filtering through the trees and eventually you will come to a clearing where you can spread your arms for the very first time and welcome yourself home to your body and your awareness. Don't lie down in the cold and agree with the world's assessment that only the hopeless wander off into the woods alone. Be brave. Be hopeful. Be a revolutionary.

Because the revolutionaries of our times? They aren't wielding weapons on a battlefield of wrong and right. They are seeing through wrong and right to beauty and truth. They are the ones who are smiling because the breath is still entering and exiting, and they are the ones who know the preciousness of seeing yourself clearly. These revolutionaries might turn out to be the visionaries, and they just might be the ones living best for others, because they've bandaged their own wounds and learned how to heal firsthand.

Maybe the road less traveled is for the faint of heart after all: here, in the stillness, we can remember our heart's rhythm and nurse ourselves back to bravery and strength and, most of all, love.

Get help if you are suicidal

Losing light


Robin Williams’ release into the universe has dramatically effected an entire global wave of mourning, perhaps felt most acutely by we who struggle with self-hate, painful memories, suicidal thoughts. Radical acceptance is the only thing buoying some of us through. It is what it is. What it is? A horrible tragedy, a loss to us all, launching a collective scream into the wilderness of the world, begging for help and change. If his desperation does not release from us a communal wave of our innate goodness, our individual opportunity to heal ourselves, each other and the world…we will continue to lose the unique human life light of our brightest, most beautiful, complex and necessary brothers and sisters. We are all made up of the stars, and none of our matter is lost, only transmuted to something less visible to us in our realm of reality. Robin contributed a beautiful verse; but now, for the rest of us, the powerful play must go on without him. 

O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?  
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
(Walt Whitman)

*Reblogged from my new DBT blog, Damn Marsha!

I'm not the worst mother

I am the poet of the Body and I am the poet of the Soul,
The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me,
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.
(Walt Whitman, Song of Myself, 1892)


Every day, I know I've failed. I can feel it in my bones. The dangerous, no warnings world I grew up in taught my brain to tune to the negative frequencies. My mind as an adult is bathed in adrenaline and a very motivating sense of shame. It's taken years of therapy to understand that the picture I paint at the end of the day is not realism. It is dark, devious, like one of the Black Paintings by Francisco Goya: an incomplete representation that captures the darkness of the mind, not just the negative facts in the everyday.
Then something happens: I come across a painting like the one above, left for me on the kitchen counter by my whimsical 9 year-old, who thinks, dreams, breaths music and laughter and sunlight. It seems miraculous that anyone sharing genes with me could be so fancy-free. I read the words slowly: Beauty. Freedom. Love. Peace. Everything. Even through the sudden stars of tears in my eyes, the black letters are shouting to my soul. You taught her this!, my brain screams. All that blackness, fear, pain, suffering in your life? You've transmuted the sorrow into thankfulness for joy. You've taken the fear and transformed it into an immutable longing for peace and love. And these translated whisperings of the soul? The faintly glimmering flame of hope that life can be different and perhaps even beautiful? They have whispered their way into the depths of her heart and this is the song she sings, hope and wide-spread arms flung far toward both horizons, unafraid of sunrise or sunset, sunlight or storms.
I've spoken of this through gritted teeth: those who know the full depths of the pain proffered in this universe have unique ability to comprehend the beauty, to take each nugget of pleasure and value it, celebrate it. Locked in the inhumane routine of the psych ward in June, trying to piece together a spring season fraught with failure and old threats, I stared out the hazy safety glass at a world bathed in the summer sun. I knew I would feel the sun afresh when I walked out those doors. I didn't want it to take misery to make me appreciate life yet again. I want to remember on my own, that every day is a gift, and suffering always passes, and new seasons bring new challenges and new joys. 
I will my body to remember. Remember the significance of every small smile and momentary joy. Remember not to take it for granted. Remember that failure is often the prerequisite for success. What is it about our frail 3 pound human brains that allows us to forget this? To forget the hardest lessons of all?

And so I write. Think. Breathe. I refuse to forget that bittersweet still has sweetness and failure still has possibility and fear can be conquered. Remembering that gives me the bravery to open my eyes to each new day and believe that my scars are equalled by my sacredness and my pain is assuaged by the gifts from the universe that surround me each and every day.


You are your own champion

I went to the same gray-blue office for 4 years. Every week, I sat on a 1980's reception area couch that had been repurposed for my therapist. As time went on, I discovered that my therapist was standing on the shore of the sea I was tossed about in, and she held a rope. I'm sure there had been other people standing on that shore holding rope before her, people whose presence was blurred by the gray fog of depression and voices swallowed by the deafening wind of the screams of my self-hatred. My therapist was just the first rescuer I could see.

Life is a series of small steps. In 2010, I took a small step into a therapist's office, a tentative conversation that led to four years of the most intense emotional healing I've ever experienced. Seeing my therapist and the rope - hope - was another small step. Each step carried me further away from the precipice of suicide and onto ground more solid than I'd believed possible. I wasn't able to do much other than hold on to the rope, hanging on it while the waves continued to pummel me. It was my anchor to a sense of direction in the endless gray seascape of emotion, chaos, trauma. It was what kept me afloat. My therapist stood patiently for 4 years, urging me to climb up the rope to the shore. But all I could do was hold on.

I held up a knife made out of lies. Lies told to protect myself from the x-ray vision of a trained professional. In my tears and my tormented monologues in the office once a week, I was shouting, "Pull me in!" with new desperation. But my therapist kept up her calm encouragement, "Pull yourself in. You can do it. You are stronger than you think."

The rope was cut without either of us realizing it at first. It was only when she pulled in a frayed length, the weight on the end gone, that she looked and realized how far I'd drifted from shore on a tide of those lies. I hadn't shown her myself for weeks, buried as I was under a mound of deception, a maze constructed subconsciously to lead people away from the rawness of my innermost self. She walked away, unable to help any longer. She left a sign on the beach for me, "I'll send someone back to help you."

.....................

For a while, I was angry and grief-stricken. I had become so used to looking at shore and seeing her comforting presence, still holding the rope through every storm. Now I was left to my own devices and adrift once again. What I discovered is that I became more buoyant during those years she supported me in my swimming. I'm more athletic - I can cross great swaths of ocean using only the power of my own body and mind.

Taking ownership of your own recovery is another small step. I still need a therapist every week. Sometimes I still call out for her to toss me some rope. But with each extra hour spent treading water all by myself, I am building the strength to heal myself, to love myself, to navigate without someone on the other end of a rope.

Someday I might even make that swim to shore.

Amputations

I warned her long before, that I can't just let life take it's course at the end of relationships. That my track record is a pretty unblemished path of destruction. I tried to tell her all of it, but damned if my brain didn't hogtie my tongue. What came out wasn't a clear enough description. Once again, someone I loved and trusted, someone who trusted me, I broke it all to pieces and here I am with the sledgehammer in my hand and dust still settling and I'm crying because it's all broken. I broke it. I can't stand it being broken. Where is the middle path? 


In that moment, the waking up moment when your rage and fear subside and you look around and you see what you have done, that is the most sickening sensation I've ever known. When your sickness leaches out and suddenly you are someone else, someone you can't control or predict, understand or desire to be - when all you can do is try to hold the reins as tightly as possible so you are still in one piece when the ride is over - the crash at the end is as much a surprise to you as it is to anyone else.

I didn't see it coming. I can't hear the train of my own crazy leaving the station. I don't even know it's moving until I'm trying to hold everyone in as the wind threatens to tear the cars to pieces.

Much of what I say to the sky these days is unintelligible. The person I'm most angry at is myself. I hate that I haven't grown up or learned or progressed. How is it possible to regress in an instant to the social function of a small child? Who is going to fix me if I hurt anyone who comes close? How do I quit hurting people?

More questions. Fewer answers. More desperate for help, less help available.
No matter how hard you fight the current, we're all just circling the drain.

Missing branches


I think perhaps we're all like trees, and some of us are mighty oaks and others temperamental maples; bristly pines or the social butterfly birches. Our shapes are different...some of us, like the oaks, born more resilient to the elements of the earth, to unexpected storms that threaten to transform us in ways we may not like. I'm a jack pine, I think - I grew up fast and skinny in a lot of ways, thin in places that ended up mattering later on, bent by the winds of my own secret life.



I've been myself at times, sometimes bravely, sometimes barely. Even recently, coming out at work and to my children freed me from another layer of shame that has blanketed me since I can remember emotion. Yet, however dear the new re-envisioned relationships of today, loss of daily intimacy in our most basic humanness - sleep, drool, sex, snoring, unconscious vulnerability - this opens up a deep channel of longing of such an intensity it twists us into a vortex of greed or need, never sure which. Reality is skewed by the pull of that need, as if it's only along for the ride, like a security blanket trailing on the ground behind a child bound for mama. 

Musical notes


It's a classic April day, wet and cold and gray. I turn up the radio as if the beat can drive out the chill and the gloom. I'm humming along, and I realize the tune is "Call Me Maybe", a song that went down in infamy and parody. But I am smiling, and there are tears forming, because this song means Rosy spinning in circles, singing every word into her hairbrush microphone, a sunny summer when her very best friend came to live with us. It means the smell of coconut oil, the glisten of children's skin in the long shadows of evening, crickets singing us through the night.

Music is woven into my very soul. I wonder sometimes if it is my framework, my foundation. Songs become part of memories, and I am used to the saudade that comes with theme songs of friendships, lovers, family. Not until today did I realize that entwined with the faces and places of my 35 years are strands of specific times, vibrant, almost piercing memories of my children's paths to adulthood. It is beyond bittersweet, that unbearable ache that accompanies the joy of our most precious memories. Longing because we wish we were in that time now, in this moment. Sadness that it was so beautiful and now it's over. Ecstasy - a little taste, at least - because you experienced it.


I am learning to walk something called the "middle path". I can hold a burning coal of pain now in one hand, and a bouquet of happiness in the other. My past has been very black and white: people, activities, possessions, goals, hopes and dreams, inner longings and outward behavior - they were all neatly divided into two piles, good and evil. As my eyes adjust to the many shades of gray that is life in this beautiful, tragic existence, I slowly gain a tolerance for ambiguity. I can rest even if I don't have something figured out. I've learned to put deep questions on a shelf in my head when life needs to be lived instead of figured out.

My everyday playlist includes a song from every decade, every genre: because music is paired with memories, not taste. Local Bon Iver is tucked next to Pearl Jam; Chopin's Raindrop prelude is followed by Regina Spektor...
Rascal Flatts for a pity party...
the Weepies for rainy days...
Jewel for my first girlfriend...
the Allman Brothers and Jackson Browne because of my papa...
Bonnie Raitt for the ups and downs of marriage...
Coldplay for a year my best friend spent in Europe...
Linkin Park brings back the dance of snowboarding.
Simon and Garfunkel for the almost suicides...
Rufus Wainwright for babies and children tended on death beds...
Alicia Keys and Nelly Furtado for the summer my first baby girl was born.

Follow this link, click full-screen and turn your speakers up.

Confessions of a former christian blogger: A sense of Pride on Easter


I used to travel a lot. It's one of the shared passions that drew me to Aaron, in fact. He suffered as much wanderlust - if not more - than I, and I thought then it was for the same reasons. We both get wild from being in the same place for too long. He says it is a prairie boy thing. For me, it is the need to blow the dust off and remember who I really am. I have hungered for this my whole life, as long as I can remember. A need for isolation, and unfamiliar vistas, and long periods of relative inactivity of the mind that allows one to drift along through many problems in a short period of time.

I'm driving down the road in the afternoon, on my way back to town to pick up my kids when I stop to take this picture. It's warm, and I'm looking down at the cuff of my chore coat and a sweater, and I'm driving this big truck past the muted fields that seem to go on forever in some places. I am not seeing rural Wisconsin, though. I am seeing somewhere in Wyoming, Montana, Vermont perhaps. All that's missing is the mountains in the distance.

I used to talk to myself in the car when I was younger. It was only by talking to myself out loud that I could unravel my ideas in a time of life that involved a lot of uncertainty and uncontrollable pain. I always tried to stop because I thought it was crazy. I have lived life in fear of crazy, in fear of people, in fear of being shunned and alone...and therefore crazy. Lately, I've taken it up again, along with fantasies of other states and countries. I guess some pain sinks you so deep in the mud of your old self that you start acting like you're 17 again. The inside of yourself is so loud with keening and details and paranoias that you have to say things out loud in order to hear them. You get so lost in the way you're supposed to be, the way that would make other people feel less pain, or accept you, the way that wouldn't change any of your relationships except the one you have with yourself...you get so lost there that you can't remember the sound of your own voice.

And so it is on the eve of Easter on the first year I didn't beg at the foot of a cross to be rid of all this. The first year I have spent this holiday with my very own unredeemed and unabashed self and not needed to join in the scourge that is celebrated at Easter. Like it or not, universe, I don't really have any other choice but to be myself. Even if it takes the occasional trip to the relative isolation of a different place, even if it means talking out loud to hear myself think. Even if it means temporary pain and even if it means losing some things along the way.

Maybe someday I'll go to the mountains just to see them.

I have nothing to say

My feet take me places and my fingers forget to follow: it's as if life, in all it's vacuous chaos, has drained the words right from me with nothing left to put down in black and white. A writer's life has seasons as any artist's does: sometimes life inspires you and you record your perceptions in your own unique voice; then, too, the magnitude of the visual expanse of our world stops us up with it's enormity and no words are adequate to describe it.

My camera is dusty, too. A recent thrift store acquisition of a Yashica medium format SLR camera with a ground glass lens, and an original Canon Super8 video camera have left digital media far behind. I stood in a St. Louis hotel suite a few weeks ago stopped up by the chair they had left for me, the symmetry of it in the lance of light through the crack in the drapes, but more so the fact that I had four days alone in the anonymity of a fancy hotel, with THIS chair to sit in and look out on the urban landscape.


There were other moments of happiness captured: green grass in March under shiny new gray oxfords. An Ethiopian restaurant where I ate mounds of spicy lamb curry with hot from the oven injera. I was on my way to get a new tattoo: something I do when the pain of the past threatens to swallow me whole. I call it alternate rebellion. My brain is sending me on impulsive journeys to places I no longer want to visit, and pain is what stops me in my tracks. No longing wielding weapons against my own body, ironically it is healthier to hand a stranger a hundred and sit for an hour while they stab my skin with a high speed needle and paint.







I rented a car and when my mind began to wander to the sadness and stress of my everyday life, I hopped in and drove fast on the highways to a totally different part of the city. I travel to old St. Louis, which everyone tells me to avoid. I'm not very good at listening to warnings when I'm on an adventure. Especially by myself. So I take pictures of the boarded up old French row houses in the slums; I find a huge stone column, some remnant of a majestic building from the French period - now standing testament to a long-gone era, right in the middle of a road with a round-about built to avoid it. I drink espresso and eat beignets at a bakery advertising "hot and fresh". The windows boast iron bars to deter break-ins, and the inside is dingy and old with cracked linoleum underfoot and wobbly oak tables and chairs. There is a dusting of sugar on everything I touch. The beignets are roasting hot, the sugar melting into the crust. They're the best I've ever eaten. The "espresso" is Southern style - made from fine ground chicory and coffee.


Flowers are just beginning to bloom and I pick a magnolia blossom and set it on my dash. All this beauty in a four day business trip. I breathe deep and think I am lucky - for that is what it is, not a blessing or some experience designed to delight me, but just luck. The worst days of my life have occurred over these same weeks of silence, and it is only by building happy moments into bitterly difficult days that I thrive in no-man's land in a battle I stumbled upon.


The tattoo is my largest yet. I choose my left leg, I choose symbols carefully for their meanings in this season. The top is an enso, a mark that symbolizes an unfinished volume or chapter: it is for strength and for the void that coexists with our universe. Below it, I ask for a colorful eban, a West African symbol that is painted on the fences of small towns vulnerable to pillaging, attack, and other unspeakable violence. It represents the strong fence protecting the village: security and safety for all within it's walls. The diamonds are homes, and the colors all mean something that speaks peace into my situation: black is for warriors; green is for the ability to provide; red is for the deep attachment between the community or family members; and yellow means the space is precious and beautiful to it's inhabitants. The two "e" symbols mean something to me as well. It is a bold move for a bold time, marking a new step in my transformation, a step toward maturity, self-sufficiency, and - perhaps most important - my newly brave and powerful voice.


I return to winter and to adventures with my kidlets. We go to the American Girl store and I am surprised to enjoy it, such a girly place. In just the past year, femininity has been both something I can ignore or choose depending on how I feel, and also it is no longer dangerous. Instead it feels peaceful and joyful and expressive. Watching my girls and niece dance around the store in giddy delight over all the dolls reminds me of the countless hours I spent playing with my baby dolls all alone, dreaming of babies and a home to call my own someday. That desire seemed antithetical to my tomboy nature and my fear of marriage. Things work out differently than we imagine in our heads.


As I write here less, I have sometimes felt a twinge of guilt. But this blog is simply my story. Some seasons have required many lines typed to cipher through all the thoughts in my head. I have less to interpret these days, living authentically instead of in a cage of expectations. So the blog rests for weeks on end while I am busy living.

Which is the best possible development on a blog that has chronicled cancer and illness and loss and grief and shame. Join me in quietly celebrating by simply living the life you were designed to live.

Abandoned

They stand like witnesses to a lost era. Solid brick, lines still nice and square. I wonder if new floors and windows would be all they need, these abandoned houses. Who used to live there? Why did they leave? Why did no one buy a nice 2 story brick home? What led to the boards and the warning placards and the decay?


I suppose I could ask myself these same questions. Long ago, I chose to abandon myself just like an old brick row house that had long since passed it's purpose. I left emotions and being and conviction behind and I followed the paths others had broken ahead of me. I suppose that's how I became a nurse instead of a doctor: a PhD prepared professor instead of a clinical degree; how I became a mother quite by accident but slowly and surely let those responsibilities slide into the abyss of incapacity and unwillingness.


I sit in front of the 16th floor window.  The one that, ironically, still opens out to the street. The pavement glistens with rain many floors below and I am mesmerized. Somehow in this hotel room, accusations and invalidation have taken root once again; somehow, nothing else seems to matter.

But tomorrow WILL contain happy moments, carefree moments, even moments of satisfaction and fulfillment.  I WILL make it. My brain has tried to kill me before, and so far it doesn't fritz out badly enough that I lose myself completely.

So I walk away from the window and decide this is not about my own ugliness or failures at all - it's about those pathways in my brain that were ridden so often the pavement is wearing off. It's those slippery pathways I slide inexorably into, sometimes because of a single thought ("I'm not good enough" or "my place in this person's life is meaningless").

Today I'm paving new pathways. Today I refuse to slip into old patterns. When the ugly thoughts come, yes, I still think them. But somewhere mid-thought I realize I'm headed down that pathway again, and I stop and reassure myself and climb back up the hill to self-compassion. My therapist says eventually it will work. Eventually, if I train my brain to toss those useless, fictional thoughts, slowly I will go free from the prison of my own mind. Maybe someday, my brain won't try to kill me anymore.

Utopian? Yes. Unrealistic? Yes. Worth trying? Yes.

Water babies

Spring break arrived all at the same time for the kids and I, so we bundled into the Sub and drove up to the iced over Lake Superior with Ali along for company. There is something about water - I don't put much credence in astrology but it is noteworthy that I am a Pisces and my name means "white wave". Water speaks my language and syncs my soul with the mighty universe, tapping me back into the source of energy, peace, growth. Here I am safe and I am whole, I have limitless potential, I believe in myself and the earth and others. It is respite much needed from dangerous precipices of past and present colliding to set me off center.


The textures and colors on the shore are breathtaking. The harsh cascades of ice off the rusty cliffs, the contrast of the soft and solid ice, the pools of water melting from the brief sunlight, the sound of an underground river running...


Of course, we have adventures: I brave the icy waters below and try to edge my way along the shoreline to the caves that I've never been able to see. Sliding each foot forward tentatively, one finally pushes through the mushy top layer. I almost put weight on it, thinking it's just surface melt. But Lake Superior is unforgiving always, and deadly in winter, so I push with my toe once more, and my boot goes down into the icy water. I keep my balance, pick the slab of ice out of the hole, and look clear through to the bottom 15 feet below. Every pebble is visible in still relief through the viscous water, clear as glass but with that wintery blue hue that bathes the world up here.




We pick rocks, dig through to the underground river, slide and skip stones across the glassy ice in the cove. Facts and ideas and things to teach keep leaping to my tongue, but the hollowly silent air by the waveless expanse swallows up my intellect and we are all just awe and contentment and bliss.


Little fingers are red with cold and cheeks have angry splotches, but we press on into the twilight after sunset, skating with our boots on a small natural ice rink, eating snow, sliding on our butts down embankments and boulders covered in inches of ice.



Recharged, refreshed, rested, we drive away on a sunny Thursday with the lake sparkling like an vast field of diamonds. There are no words for the joy of seeing a once-in-a-lifetime natural event like the ice over on the big Lake this year. There are days you barely scrape your way through to bedtime and wonder how you made it, and then there are days you know you will never forget: days like these last stolen few on the wild, boundless beauty of our favorite shores.

"shine bright like a diamond"

Plowing new furrows

Sometime in the last weeks the winter air has lost it's arctic bite, and I turned 35, and our whole family life turned upside down and it is only in the last few days that it seems to be righting itself again. Caleb and Rosy have birthdays, and there are sleepovers, presents, ice cream on carpets, art messes and confetti detritus. 







We are up early every morning, packing bento boxes and supervising baths and outfits and homework. At first it was pure adventure, then some growing pains, now it seems like regular life. Caleb still whines about putting pants on so early in the morning; Katy's stress over homework gives her stomachaches…even though she is performing well above grade level. Ahh, my perfectionism repeating itself!



Into the vacuum faith left, I fight against the tug. I find ways to build this new life, this awake life, this purposeful life. I take down old mantras and verses and I begin to craft sentences that fill the void left. After all, if this is all there is, I have no reason to die and every reason in the world to live!







Dismantling

You may notice that the blog is significantly smaller than previously. For personal reasons, I have unpublished posts from July 2011 onward. If there is a specific post you would like to read in the future, please contact me. It is deeply painful to unpublish so many hours spent pouring my heart and mind out in type. But many writers have books burnt or banned, flops and momentary failures before new flashes of brilliance. 

And so, I start fresh. It has been a year of fresh starts…jobs, schools, schedules, living arrangements. Now the blog. Hopefully this change will prove as gratifying as the others.


Let it go

I've been sleeping hippie style on a short platform bed - just 2x4s and plywood, no headboard. It's comforting somehow - closer to how I slept as a kid on the futons on the floor, against the wall, my hand tucked above my head, up in the corner. The house is pretty quiet this Saturday, the kids sprawled across different areas of the house catching up on their books, texting friends about their first week of school. They started at an area public elementary school just a week ago, and they've made it through 5 consecutive days of 6 a.m. wakings, grumpy breakfasts, walking home…so much change in so little time! We are all feeling generally positive about the decision, but the emotions are still running high because of the chaos of change, the upheaval and uncertainty that comes with it.


We spend hundreds on complicated school supply lists; backpacks; lunch bags; Thermos' for drinks for lactose sensitive kids. I pin fancy bento box lunches: pandas with faces; PB and J sushi rolls; love notes written onto food canvases with raisins or chocolate chips.

All four kids go to the eye doctor to get a check-up before starting school. Three of the four need glasses this time around. They pick dark, hipster frames (like Papa's) and I shed a few tears at how grown up they look.


Giving up control has never been easy for me. I haven't understood why until recently. Why? Giving up control forces us to stand face-to-face with our insecurities and inabilities.  Handing the reins to someone else means I am not always the best driver in all situations. It's admitting, in public, that I am not perfect, not even close. I cannot meet 100% of my children's needs. With that thought used to come guilt, shame and disgust. Slowly, I am learning it is what it is. We are raised by a village.



Wedding day


The bobby pins hit the ceramic of the sink in a torrent, a whole box of them spilled from the top shelf of the bathroom cabinet. I sigh. It's been such a long morning...now this. Bend down, pick up the box, pick up the first copper brown pin. I bought these to match my hair on my wedding day. They matched my hair back then. I hold one up to my post-cancer crown, now almost black no matter how hard I look for my familiar red and gold highlights. In a moment, holding that bobby pin up to my hair, everything crystallizes and a flood of memories washes over me.

I remember not washing my hair for two weeks before my wedding. I wanted it to be nice and curly, and the only way to do that was to let it be. The morning dawned humid with a thick cover of gray rain clouds. Our September day looking questionable. I rinsed my hair that morning in patchouli and vanilla water, my signature hippie cover-up for two-weeks-unwashed-hair. It looked great in the mirror, bouncy and sassy and beautiful. My hair has always been one of those features I can focus on when I look at myself and still think I am pretty. Later that day, I pinned up my hair loose around my face, and stuck baby's breath in the pins. Simple, no veil, no hair stylist, just my hands and those copper bobby pins.

That night I remember the tinny sound as each pin hit the sink, dropped from my hands as I stood fresh from the shower, shaking rice out of my hair. I drew it out, the time in the steamy bathroom, because you were out there waiting and I was shaking in my boots. As much as I loved you, as much as I truly desired to spend the rest of my life with you in that longing, aching way that cannot be squelched, I was afraid to sleep with you. Every morning thereafter for almost two months, I cried in our bed and you held me in your arms and were quiet with the unknowing and the wanting to fix me. It wasn't commitment - I signed a 30 year mortgage at 21 without blinking an eye. It wasn't you - you with the handsome Roman nose and the shock of thick curly brown hair and the dancing eyes. Every dream coming true, and all I could do was cry.

I come back to myself, here at the sink in 2014. This September is our 12th wedding anniversary. It seems like such a very long time ago, when I try to remember past babies and chaos and the rollercoaster of our life since. I hold the copper pin, running my thumb over the sharp grooves. Tears fill my eyes and I think, I've dropped it, just like the box of pins. I've dropped it - the memories, the beauty of this marriage - and now it is scattered and broken and I just want to salvage one little piece for my dreams if loneliness is my future. I walk out of the bathroom and tuck that bobby pin into my journal.

I'll find it again someday and perhaps I'll cry. But perhaps I'll smile with the warmth of your memory spun round my fingers for a brief second as I fly back to that Indian summer day on my parent's lawn with you squinting in the sun and I smiling brave.


Staring at the ceiling in the dark
Same old empty feeling in your heart
'Cause love comes slow and it goes so fast
you see her when you fall asleep
But never to touch and never to keep
'Cause you loved her too much
And you dived too deep

You only need the light when it's burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you've been high when you're feeling low
Only hate the road when you're missin' home
Only know you love her when you let her go
~Let Her Go (performed by Jasmine Thompson)~


Confessions of a Former Christian Blogger: From Doubt to Acceptance


The snow lies in waves like a summer river, polished and bright from the high winds sweeping the country. The temperature is below zero again, and indoor activities have long since lost their luster for the kids trapped by the cold. I watch the wind whip snow devils up from the hills, carrying the drifts up and over and up and over again. When it finally dies down, I think most of our snow will be in Lake Michigan or Illinois.

Winter is a time for hibernating in the colder areas of the world. We pack up our summer clothes, unpack the wool and the down, the coats and the long underwear, the duvets. We hustle around sealing holes and cracks against the wind. Sometimes, when the night chill threatens to sneak in on us around the door corners and window frames, we cover the windows with sleeping bags and pretend we are in Alaska's eternal night.

Doubt has turned into a restful state of not knowing. I tell people I am agnostic these days. I learned long ago not to profess what you will be in the future. One never knows how life will change us. I learn more about agnosticism, gnosticism, atheism, deism…words that had short bullet point definitions in my mind before now have paragraphs attached to them.


My earliest memories tell me I was once a gnostic theist, born into religion and faith as most of us are. I was sure of everything - at least until I finished high school. Because I was in the U.S., the god I was taught was Christian. Eventually, without really knowing why or how or when, I became an agnostic theist: I struggled over issues of creationism vs. evolution and landed on theistic evolution; I didn't understand how the Christian god could apply to the whole world when the whole world hasn't even heard of him, so I tried to find links between Christianity and other faiths, like Buddhism, Hinduism and Muslim. Could we all be worshipping the same god? I wasn't sure - and I didn't think anyone else was, either.

I used to think that as I went through life, I would grow into myself. I would understand myself, the world around me, and the universe a little better each day. It really wasn't until I sat with children dying that I began to understand how little I really knew with any certainty. My own kids, my career, my successes and failures, my cancer journey - all these have taught me, over and again, that I won't be more sure of myself by the time I die. Rumi famously said that we are each "the universe in one drop". We are made of the stars, the same chemicals and bonds. As life goes on, we grasp the fact of our smallness in relation to history, the universe, and the future. We are just a dot on a pointillist painting of billions and billions of dots. The most profound, daring, successful, and intriguing people of any era will disappear, too, into that sea of people that records no names and sees no faces. Death comes to us all, and our legacy is soon swallowed up with it.

What am I sure of, at 34? Only that I know very little for certain. I am certain I cannot explain the universe, not even one person at a time.


The leap to life without god was not made overnight, nor even in one season of my life. It started when I began to question the tenets of the faith I inherited when I was in my teens, facing a potentially terminal heart condition and the constant threat of death lurking around the corner every time I fainted and stopped breathing. I felt doubt as hot and painful as the breath of a stranger filling my lungs. It couldn't be ignored.

In my 20's, I came back to mysticism, but I was a skeptical church-goer at best. I tried all the time to see or hear god. I listened to the wind whispering, I looked hard at every cloud for a face or a hand. I kept a steady stream of worship music playing in my car to squeeze out the lingering questions that I struggled to ignore. My faith became my own. For over a decade, I worked hard at it, studying the Bible more often and with more tenacity than any book I read in graduate school. I used the principles of the Bible's teachings, especially in Psalms and Proverbs, to change my character, eliminating adult temper tantrums, weeding out negativity determinedly as I memorized verses and forced myself to stop "bad thoughts". Including doubt. I tried to kill it every way I knew how.

By 30, I was in serious trouble. Faith had taken a backseat to the constant erosion of the chaos of life. My own brain was trying to kill me, mostly because faith was telling me exactly how horrible I really was on the inside. I lived in fear of someone discovering the "real me" I kept buried, locked away, chained to the darkest and deepest corners of my self.

I opened the door to the cage in the beginning of this decade. I've slowly emerged, in all my failings and all my glorious individuality. I've long since learned to like myself, and slowly like is turning into love. 
It takes courage to grow up and be who you really are. ~e.e.cummings

Memories versus moments

The photos of me sniffing my babies are covered in dust, thick as carpet. I remember when life was like soup broth, thin and warm and full of good things, beauty, joie de vivre. Then came the great reduction, the splitting off of people and things and places and beliefs and safety. Life is kind of gravy right now, not in an easy way, I mean the food. It takes time and energy to produce but you don't need much gravy to live on. I've learned to live with less. I'm still learning to love with less.

Through the fog of depression, love leaks out of me in long wails like a wolf at twilight. The children's happiness is as unreachable as the moon is to the wolf. Instead, my mind goes skipping off across the mirrored pond of memories using shards of broken dreams like stepping stones. They are as hard and unyielding underfoot as real rocks born of eons of pressure and heat.


Memories are mirrors because they only reflect ourselves - our perceptions, our truths, our meaning. There is no going back to understand. There is no way to break the mirror and see through to the objective truth. Many are more beautiful than the actual experience, some are even more ugly. The pain of the insults tossed my way in 7th grade? It's like the state of Texas in the nation of my memory. My brain seems bent to crystallize the bad as if to freeze it's power, to breathe in the good as if to swallow the sensation. Those glaciers of the bad times are fraught with danger - sharp ice, gaping crevices, avalanches and cold temperatures. Go exploring there, and you just might get lost forever.

Acceptance slowly leads me to see those sharp and scary parts of my life kind of like Mount Everest. I know it's there. I can see beauty there from afar. I just never, ever want to try to climb it. The view from the top isn't worth the risk. That sense of conquering? I've given that up with my youth. I don't need to be right; I don't need to be the best or brightest; I just want to survive. It would be a fool's game for me to climb up those memories in some quest for understanding or meaning.

The kids come running to cuddle when I say I need to "soak up some love". They know it means I will open the pores of my consciousness to the moment with all my will. It feels quite literally like soaking something right up into the very core of me. The dried out painful sharp-cornered wad there fills and saturates and becomes forgiving and yielding again.

Sometime soon I will master the closing of my pores to the sadness. I will let memories wash over me and bead up and fall off like water on a duck's back. I say this to myself like an affirmation, as if to will it into being. I am learning to speak positive words in the same certainty and black ink I use for the negative ones. All part of changing the voices in my head.

Meanwhile, I soften my arms for hugging. I curl the edges of my lips up into a half-smile. I bury myself in moments, pour my very soul into them. I hope that's what the world sees. I hope you see my love and not just my pain.

For that would be a successful life.

Acceptance: OneWord365

"Radical acceptance is the willingness to experience ourselves and our lives as it is.”
― Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha

I sing the words under my breath as the kids jam in the backseat: I'm friends with the monster that's under my bed, Get along with the voices inside of my head… I ask them about monsters, and they say they've never seen any. I wish I couldn't picture mine so clearly. It was next to my bed, not under it. Inside of my head now. I've internalized the voice of the abuser and trauma-driven self-talk rattles around on loop-repeat as my modus operandi.

New Year's Eve, and I'm thinking about the monster. Trying to get a visual. I sit down to draw, sketch a little girl walking in the darkness covered by a cape. The monster grows giant in charcoal strokes as I draw in the shadows behind her. A little girl runs away with dirty hair. A grown woman walks with head down and hands in pockets. There is another reflection, skewed, elongated. Most people can't see the cloud of thoughts I carry with me everywhere. I can feel them buzzing, like exploding sizzles of color in pastels bursting over me. A personal fireworks show whenever I am lost in thought.


Just a week ago, I got lost in the sandstorm of pain, the inevitable tide of emotion in the wake of trauma. I lost myself so completely I tried to lose myself forever. In the midst of the memory-driven panic, something inside of me must have wanted to be found. I called my therapist on her help line, and she sent someone to find me. I spent a few days recovering in the hospital.

This, then, is my one resolution for 2014: stop running - from myself, from my pain, from my past.


I once thought my goal for each day was wisdom. This is too lofty for baby steps toward healing. What I search for instead is mindfulness: the ability to stay in the present moment, whatever that moment is. Keep your mind out of the past and off the future so you can live fully in the now. Which, after all, is the only moment any of us are promised. Mindfulness helps me believe that I'm not in danger when everything in my physical body is tuned to high alert, a knee-jerk reaction that doesn't include forethought. I see other survivors, like me, who jump at sudden noises, squirm in chairs while they try to stay still, pace instead of sit, fidget, gesture, everything a big puff of smoke meant to confuse and intimidate the enemies that are no longer there.


I see my past mistakes as signs of weakness, stupidity, naiveté. What I forget is the courage it took to stand back up each time. The gritting of the teeth as I look terror in the eye and walk on. The fortitude to get out of bed and face the day when you live in fear of being maimed, torn apart, desecrated, destroyed.


This is the year I will accept the past, one memory at a time. I cannot change it; there is no hope for a better past. Acceptance, admitting the truth - that's the only way back out of the darkness that threatens to consume me. I am learning that to accept something as true does not mean you agree with it, like it, want it, or support it. It just means you are saying: this was. This happened. To me. I couldn't stop it, I hated it, it burned my very flesh and altered the development of my mind and personality. This is how I plan to cut the chains that bind me to the trauma and swallow my ability to cope, believe, trust, love, empathize, accept my self as I am now.

I always struggle to pick a word that I want to define my year. I picked Hebrew twice but my love affair with that language is definitely over. In 2012, I picked "succeed". That, more than the words before, became a solid foundation on which to build the next 365 days: my dissertation was approved; I graduated with my PhD; cancer went into remission; homeschooling blossomed; I landed the job of my dreams. It was a really good year - minus the depression and anger and all they brought with them. For 2013, I chose the word "less". I was panicking that money and status and privilege could destroy us. Ironically, I thought of less in terms of "less me, more god". Instead, I ended the year with less faith and somehow, fewer questions. Less soul clutter, less mind pollution, less bondage. Sometimes the heart knows better than the mind what is necessary: last year, it was not less of me, but more. I needed to clear my head of the absorbed misperceptions and negative beliefs. I needed to come to terms with myself, and I did. I ended the year feeling more love toward my self than ever before, a sense of adventure as I began to explore, for the very first time, who I am and what aspects of myself I liked.

This year, I tossed around words like "sophrosyne" - a Greek word often simply translated as prudence, meaning the state of a healthy mind, characterized by self-control, moderation and a deep sense of self. I landed for awhile on a related Greek word, "metanoia" - the journey of changing one's mind, heart, self, or way of life. I considered run-of-the-mill English words like change, being, healing, identity, self, understanding. There were some more heady terms like metamorphosis, transformation, equanimity, mindfulness, intuition, authenticity, unafraid, justice, diversify.

I landed again and again, in the synonyms of the words I pondered, on acceptance. I couldn't get away from it, and for good reason - whether it is accepting the past or accepting myself or accepting my limitations and mistakes, I definitely need more of it. And so I landed, for a few days, on this word. It grew on me. It seemed to encompass all the other goals for the year in one simple term. I write my list of goals from this singular perspective: that acceptance will mean more health, happiness, balance and beauty in our lives, my life.

This year, I will strive to:
1. accept myself
2. accept my past, trauma and all
3. accept the good things in my past as well
4. accept my life circumstances
5. accept my burdens, fears, and failures
6. accept my family, one member at a time, just as they are
7. accept others - students, coworkers, friends, strangers
8. accept ambiguity and uncertainty
9. accept that some answers will always elude me

Have you ever thought about selecting a word that speaks to the personality you want your year to take on? Or perhaps describes a goal you will work on, a concept you are trying to understand, or something you want to change or maintain? Join me at OneWord365 if you wish to read more stories or contribute your own…