Another Trek Through Rising Waters


When it rains, it pours... and can continue for forty days and nights... until your world is under water. 

Right?

Life can be so beautiful for long periods of time, too, sure. But we've all experienced that flooding downpour. Some of us have a constant flood watch warning hovering over us at all times. 

Where my people at?

As I type this, I'm trying to encourage myself just as much as I'm hoping to bring a spark of joy back to your heart, too. Let's try to get there together. 

I've mentioned a few of the situations going on in my life already, so I won't repeat them all here. But yesterday we were hit with another rainstorm. It won't last forever, but it adds to the already knee-deep river we're walking through. 

That sucks. It takes a lot of energy to trek through rising waters. 

When you add on the weight of those you care for, even more difficult. 

How do you push past feelings of frustration and hopelessness you see in someone else? That's tough, isn't it? There's no way to control their thoughts, their feelings. Doing all you can to be positive and point to hope, but unsure if they're grasping it? Seeing another person you know and care about be put in the middle of a crossroad? Watching them nervously trying to sort through an unplanned event in their life? Witnessing the look change on their face when they receive some news they weren't expecting? Wanting so badly to take all the uncertainty and unease away from them?

That's the hardest thing about leadership, in my opinion. If you truly care about those you're leading - which in our case, man, do we! - it brings out some emotion when you have to deliver the news no one wants to hear. Aaron's honest and transparent, so I know he won't mind me sharing. When we finished our day yesterday, he shed a few tears thinking about the conversations he had earlier and the ones still ahead. He puts his all into people and projects... and because of that, he has an innate desire to protect those things. I love that about him more than mere words could ever say. But just as much, I hate how this unsteady life causes more pain for him because of that, too. 

Instead of laying down under water last night, we decided to look ahead and move a little quicker. Put some ideas on paper that could possibly grow into more amazing things. Sort through a list of what we've learned in these hard things. Remind ourselves that we will continue to focus on being good people and rolling with the punches. We won't stop. We'll observe. We'll learn. We'll grow.

And we'll do our best to help others do the same. 

Everything is a lesson, if we look it at that way. I'm not saying to put on a facade of happiness in all situations. Be human. Feel the feelings. But, once you've given yourself time to do that, take a few minutes to see how you can learn from whatever you just went through. There's something there, I promise. 

Today's post is shorter than most... mainly because I just don't have a lot to say at the moment. I'm taking a little time to be still, be quiet, and listen a little longer as I sit in it. 

That's helpful sometimes, too.

I will share a poem I wrote several years ago here, though, that came to mind as I began writing this. It, too, is about rain. This isn't the first time I've felt pursued by gray clouds for long periods of time. Absolutely not. I'm one of those "constant flood watch people" it seems. 

It's all good, though. I really like umbrellas. 


I appreciate the ones who stand next to me in the rain-

The torrential downpour of emotion that knocks the breath from the lungs

with each drop that hits the skin.

On the days it's soothing; liquid petals caressing the flesh, dried and weary from mental beatings-

Seeping in to satisfy the drought of relief and ease.

But those suffocating moments when every watery bullet cuts through every inch of comfort one possesses- 

a flood of chaos and confusion that just won't let up- 

destroying any familiar shelter, hiding all points of refuge. 

When the rain falls too thick and heavy to make out my own hand in front of my face, I feel yours clutch my arm;

a steadying constant in my life. 

While you can't stop the unpredictable outpouring of loaded questions that leave me drenched in disappointment-

you stand there and feel it with me.

Thank you. 

Chiseling at the Wall Trauma Built... for Your Husband


I missed "Tell it Thursday" last week due to a lack of inspiration, you might say. My mind was pretty overloaded with all the goings on of life, and I just couldn't seem to filter anything out well enough to publish. 

Aaron and I talked the following afternoon, and he asked me if I'd written anything. (I'm an Enneagram 9, remember? Sometimes I give up too easily on "me" things. He knows this and keeps me in check.) When I told him I hadn't, and gave him the explanation above, his response caught me off guard.

"You have a ton going on in your life right now. How did you find nothing to write about?"

I shrugged. 

He continued, "What would you most like to talk to someone about right now?"

For a split second all the current bombs currently blowing up within my "should be life," raced to the forefront of my mind. 

Do I want to talk about my brother being in jail, awaiting a trial that was scheduled on his birthday, and all the crazy emotions that come with that?

How about the frustrations that have paralyzed me in this adoption process?

A hard conversation with a parent that left me in awe at their inability to accept responsibility for something that has and will affect so many aspects of my life?

Y'all. Let me say this before I go on any further. If you know me or hang around me at all, you'll experience a light, peaceful, good, encouraging time. Maybe some deep conversations if we're at that place, but I've worked hard to be a person that feels like sunshine. The world is dark and dreary enough and I determined long ago to be a little bit of light in the midst of it. Like any human, I can be a little rain cloud momentarily, but the moment it's made known, I push that gray away.

Nonetheless, I want to be relevant and real. In order to do so, I have to be honest and vulnerable. Willing to share the truth that life isn't always grand. Or fair. Or fun. But we can manage it... and we can enjoy it. 

So... after several more emotionally exhausting events did little dances in my brain, I stopped on the issue most pressing.

I looked at him and said, "How to make your husband happier when he's drowning in disappointment. That's what I'd like to chat about."

He said, "Then there you go. Write about that."

So here we are, with his permission. 

Aaron has struggled a decent amount over the past several months. As I've mentioned in previous posts, faith has been something we've had to work at really hard to keep intact. When you've prayed prayers for years that are left unanswered, and you encounter more hard things beyond your control, doubt has a way of creeping in through one of the crumbling walls of your faith. He's also had a very close friend hurt him in a way that honestly shocked anyone even remotely aware of the situation. This added several layers to the already high wall he'd built around himself. Trust doesn't come easy to either of us because of the people in our past, but it's especially hard for him. 

From the moment I met 18-year-old Aaron, I was smitten. For one, he had the buffest bod I'd ever seen in the religious world I was in... so that definitely caught my (almost) 17-year-old attention. Yup. I said it. He was also refreshing for me in so many other ways.

He was funny. Genuinely, on-a-whim, funny. 


He could sing, play all the instruments... but that guitar! Man. So much talent. He cared about those that were left out. Fitting in was not his main goal. People pleasing annoyed him. He didn't pretend to be anything he wasn't. He didn't stoop to anyone's level of expectations. I mean, he wanted to make people proud. Don't we all? He desired to do what was right. He wanted to learn, grow, and follow a certain path for his life... but he wasn't about changing his personality just because he didn't fit the largely censorious crowd we found ourselves in.

I wasn't used to that. I grew up in a home and in a religious community where you had to cave if you wanted a place in the circle. And you didn't realize it was caving, because you'd been convinced that was the requirement. Anyways- most of the guys I had been around were all the same. Judgmental. Entitled. Flirty, but flighty. And looking more for specific talents and last names than any other quality in a gal. Aaron just appreciated my heart. My passions. He even showed an appreciation for my little quirks. He was the sincerest young man I'd ever met. His only desire was to be a good person, bring people hope, and be loved. Truly loved. 

He was met head-on, with egotistical leadership in many facets of our early ministry. Not all- but several. It's almost like they forgot he was a kid. How would anyone expect a barely-20-year-old young husband to have everything in life together? I don't know. But they sure did. 

There was so much talk that went around about him not having the best jobs our first few years of marriage. (Yet, they left out that he was told to decline several because of "internet" and "cable." The possibility of missing the occasional Wednesday night service...) We were supposed to heed all this advice, so we did... and at the same time were crucified for it. 

What's crazy, is even now, with a very successful career, he still sometimes struggles with feelings of inadequacy all because of the bullying he received by those twice his age years ago. Abuse comes in many shapes and forms, intentional or not, and can take years to fully lose its affect.

Then we move out of state to take a $300/month position to be treated worse than I even want to recount. We were 20 and 22 years old. Babies. Longing for someone to see what good we had to offer and show us how to capitalize on that. Praying for one of these leaders to take us under their wing and make us feel safe and excited about our future. We wanted family. We wanted counsel. All we got was belittled, backstabbed, and bullied until we finally said, "We're done."

There are so many rabbit trails to go down in that little paragraph, but maybe we'll space them out for another day... or 10. Today, it's just to set the stage for understanding how all these current emotions factor in. 

I'm sure some people would think you should just "get over" certain things. While that is the goal, it takes work when you were traumatized and abused at a young age. Even more so, when it was all ignored and avoided by everyone else around. Grown, religious people, that succumb to self-righteousness can be the ugliest of all. You'll never convince me otherwise.

Aaron and I have both been in counseling, separately, trying to work through things from our childhood and our young adulthood. I won't share much of his personal details here, but I know he struggles with being misunderstood more than anything. And because of that misunderstanding certain people put him in a box and refuse to let him out. That's suffocating. And it's infuriating to the woman who knows and loves him more than anyone else in the world. 

Have you been there, ladies? 

It's tough, isn't it? Seeing this strong, capable man shrinking back a little because of hurts brought on for no reason by people that should have coached and cheered him on. I've poured my heart out, tried my best to convince him of how they don't matter... but he has to find that place within himself. What's frustrating is when you see that smile coming back only to witness another idiot pile more bricks back on the wall. 

I remember a short time when I was blinded by disappointment and anger myself. I had these high expectations of certain people we'd allowed into our lives... only to be dropped or forgotten. I had convinced myself for too long that it was my fault... something I did or couldn't do. But once I realized it was their own issue with maybe selfishness, maybe their own hard times, I just got angry. Like, how dare you ask me these personal questions, persuade me to be vulnerable, just to move on to the next person and drop any effort to invest? I was done with that. For too many years of my life I was a gullible and naive little girl. I had to finally grow up and face the fact that not all people have time to care about you. 

Aaron's doing that now. But when it feels like no one has the time... and maybe God doesn't really either... that's a thick wall to break down. You can't do it overnight on your own, or even with another person (me) giving it everything they've got. Walls that thick either take a crowd with the same intent to knock it down, or a span of time consistently chiseling away. 

And that's where we are. Chisels in hand, working day-in and day-out to destroy this wall that a traumatic past built up. 



The one thing we're learning, though, is how easily you can be pulled into a lie that a bad 5 minutes equates to a bad whole day. If we learn to let things go the moment they're over, or the moment we realize we have no more control over them, we'd live a much more blissful life. 

That's not always easy, though, is it? The aggravation, the fear, the sadness, the feelings of loss that come from some of those "bad 5 minute things" tend to linger. It takes intentional effort to put them in their place. But it can be done. One of my favorite scriptures is 2 Corinthians 10:5, "...bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." It's possible to do... but it does take that intentionality.

That's the piece we're working on. That's the whole reason for the chisels in our hands. Breaking down those walls... those thoughts... those memories. We always think the protection we build around our hearts is to keep bad things from making their way in. Maybe so... but it keeps the good things out, too. But what's most heartbreaking to me, is it limits the amount of good already within us that gets out. 

Aaron is my hero. Truly. Is he a perfect human? Pretty close, but no. He's not. Still, his heart is unlike any I've ever been so blessed to truly know. And I notice when he's hiding behind his internal fortress, that incredible light he carries within himself has a harder time breaking through. The whit isn't as quick. The smile doesn't come as easily. That natural ability to extend some sense of security and a zeal for life stays hidden. I want those lucky enough to be a part of his day to encounter all the amazing nestled inside his soul. Before that pile of bricks began growing, nothing but joy radiated from his eyes. Fun practically oozed out of him. He established a net of safety naturally and quickly for anyone around. The best kind of energy. 

It's still there. I see it all the time. But I know the level of goodness is stifled a little due to the time it takes to climb over that blasted wall. 

So, we keep chiseling. And we'll continue to do so. Friends of ours have picked up their own tools to help with the process. Given time, I'm sure the crowd will grow, and we'll all celebrate when it crumbles. 

Friend, if you can at all relate to this, don't stop trying to remove the stones thrown at you. I know you think you've built your own castle with them, and kudos to you for standing in the midst of a war zone, but come outside. Experience the freedom of no walls. No limits. Find you a person or two that is willing to do the work with you to destroy anything blocking you from that. If you can't think of anyone, reach out to me. I'll help. I'll cheer you on. 

Trauma sucks. Plain and simple. It temporarily destroys at any stage of life. But it can be overcome. Don't let it take any more from you than it already has. Take control of your life again. Be who you want to be. Don't let people or situations hold you back. Pick up that chisel and go to town. You'll be so impressed when you see what's on the other side. 

Fluffy Faith


 Faith can be a little weird, huh?

If you say no, you're either lying to yourself or have achieved some secret to non-humanity that I'd encourage you to sell on the black market. Heck, sell it anywhere. 

It can be strong and steadfast, but it can still do odd things to a human heart. 

Faith in people, yourself, life in general... all rollercoasters of ups and downs and swirly-twirlys that can make you half sick after a while.

Faith in God... now that's your special pillow. The very thing in which you find your best rest and comfort. The fluff that cradles your head as you snuggle in to end a long day. But, even still, when your back is aching or your head is pounding, that pillow doesn't provide immediate, instant, complete relief. You lay down, fully surrender, in hopes that all pain and discomfort go away, but they don't. That can be challenging to understand. 

Even harder still- is when your introduction to faith in God was more like a blind date with a thousand people all talking at the same time about different things with a multitude of agendas. Trying to decipher who it is you're really there to meet is nearly impossible... until you're in a place alone with faith itself.

I still burst into tears at times, because I know I'm still trying to clear my head of all the false fears that were fed to me as a child. If I get too angry, I must not be good. If I think an unpleasant thought, I must really be evil. If I'm tired or emotional, that's it. I'm a weakling that just can't do life. 

It took me years to confront my feelings. I didn't think I was allowed to. Admitting them or talking about them would surely mean I wasn't a Christian and I didn't love God. I can't be sad and have faith. I can't question God and still believe in Him. I can't be upset at how my life is going and truly believe He's in control. There's no way for me to be confused unless I also admit I'm faithless. 

Breaking through all the tangled, thorny branches of withered up nonsense takes time. I'm still not completely out of the gnarly mess. 

About a year or so ago, I was talking to my therapist; trying to figure out some inner turmoil. I was at that point where you just feel all the things behind your eyes. We'd faced a plethora of unfortunate and disappointing circumstances that were completely beyond our control. Siblings going to jail for unimaginable things; struggling to figure out who they are or who they've been; parents refusing to comfort us when that's all we asked for; health scares back-to-back; being used and then quickly abandoned by people we invested in for years; and that unexplained infertility monster still clawing at our lives. 

It's my norm to try to figure out "the why" in every scenario. We don't have kids yet, because XYZ.  Maybe those people did us wrong so that we could 123 and not have to worry about ABC.

That was all fine and dandy until it wasn't. 

I remember breaking down as I was living in my false future and avoiding my very present reality. I finally said what had been hiding out in my heart for a long time. 

"I'm so tired of always looking for the best in bad situations."

That was my mini breakthrough. Being able to admit I was human. That I didn't have all the answers. That I wasn't always thrilled with life. That I didn't fully understand why God hadn't intervened or spared me from some awful, unfair situations. That I longed for a family that was healthy, close, and comforting. That I was tired. 

A dear friend gave me a book by Glennon Doyle filled with several great quotes, but one of my favorites registered deeply with me:

"It's okay to feel all of the stuff you're feeling. You're just becoming human again. You're not doing life wrong; you're doing it right. If there's any secret you're missing, it's that doing it right is just really hard. Feeling all your feelings is hard, but that's what they're for. Feelings are for feeling. All of them. Even the hard ones. The secret is that you're doing it right, and that doing it right hurts sometimes."

Whoa.

She then goes on to say, "What I thought would kill me, didn't. Every time I said to myself: I can't take this anymore-- I was wrong. The truth was that I could take it all-- and I kept surviving. Surviving again and again made me less afraid of myself, of other people, of life. I learned that I'd never be free from pain, but I could be free from the fear of pain, and that was enough."

That last sentence for me was more than a lightbulb going off in my brain. It was like the sun finally rose in my heart and I could clearly see my life meet up with faith for the first time- alone, genuine, and intimate. 

Feeling disappointment is never going to go away... even with the strongest faith. Being angry, when life deals you an unfair hand, is natural and certain. Experiencing hurt and frustration when others bring negativity into your long fought-for peaceful world is inevitable. Know that these situations will arise at some point or another. Feel them. Deal with them. But don't fear them. You will survive them. 

I'm trying to rebuild my faith into a more sound, steady, sturdy thing. While I do believe God cares about us and wants the best for us, I'm not sure He will answer every single prayer... especially if those prayers involve other people... because let's face it-- people can suck. 

You can live your whole life right, expecting things to go a certain way because of the effort and integrity you've invested into whatever plan you saw for your life. But, when others get in the way, that are selfish and - I don't know - just not great people... that plan can be postponed, delayed, or completely demolished. 

It's easy to question God and your faith at that point. But (and here I go looking for that "why" again) it could be the very thing that wakes you up and causes you to begin dreaming about what was really meant for you in the first place.

People that don't believe in God, or perhaps a different kind of god, deal with these same things, too. They have to tear down and rebuild. It's part of life. It comes with being human and sharing a world with other humans. It can't be escaped. 

Finally grasping that truth let the healing begin for me. 

I had felt abandoned by God for a long time. I wondered why I had to deal with abuse as a child, and why no one had discernment to figure it out. I prayed that someone- anyone- would get the message and save me from all the things that came with what I had faced. I saw it happen with other things for other people. I saw individuals approach others and speak things that had to have come from a Higher Source. I witnessed the wonder and relief on faces that I longed to also experience. I tried to create relationships with certain people in an attempt to be seen... be asked... be rescued. 

So many of those attempts caused more pain. Rejection because my family wasn't "spiritual enough." Break-ups because I wasn't "talented enough." Being unincluded because I didn't live close enough. I was longing for love and acceptance and protection anywhere... but it was hard to find everywhere. It hurt to see other peers surrounded by large, loving families treat me with anything but approval. I yearned so badly to have anyone in my life truly be there for me. Love me. Support me. Challenge me in a healthy way. I was a hopeless romantic, a suppressed best friend, a desperate kid. 

Thank God I found Aaron. Literally, the best person in my life. Without him, I just... I don't know. I'm not sure how I'd be today without the intense love and friendship we have. Don't get me wrong, we're not perfect. We have our issues. It's still wonderful, but there are days we have to decide to like each other. 

Even with a strong marriage, I continued to deal with those same strong longings until a few years ago, too. I expected every church leader to hear from God and know what my heart was so desperately needing. I wanted a friendship so tight it filled the voids I'd had since I was 5 years old. I felt so hurt any time I was disappointed or let down by someone I admired and respected. 

I had to come to the realization that it really wasn't their responsibility to fill that gap for me. They had their own lives, families, responsibilities... their own inner struggles. I had to know when it became necessary to just understand this wasn't going to be a relationship I could invest in. 

While that helped me, it still didn't heal me. 

It still left holes in my faith. Because I still felt like God wasn't listening. 

But- what if He was... and they weren't?

When I asked myself that question, I had to search my own heart. Do I pay attention enough to other people who may be hurting? How often do I give of myself? Am I praying for others to feel loved and accepted? What am I doing to ensure others feel seen and heard?

I wish there was a way for everyone to reach perfection, but it won't happen here. So, let's all just do our darndest to be really good. 

That's what my "new" faith has shown me. It's not about being happy all the time. It's not that kind of "fluffy faith." Things aren't always sunshine and roses. Having faith doesn't make your life perfect. You can struggle. Be angry. Mess up. Ugly cry. Just understand that when the day is over, you still have that pillow on which to rest your head. Be comforted and know that your life still has meaning, new relationships are still coming, amazing opportunities are still out there. Faith is there to remind you to keep going. To indulge the non-fluff sometimes. Lay down. Snuggle up. Take a break. Wake up refreshed and empowered to do just a little more good because we realize it counts. 

Stuck. (a poem)

 



Stuck-

like a tree whose roots have sunk deeply

into the earth where it stood-

Unaffected by the gentle push of the wind,

who daily stopped by

to share its greetings.

How it longed to go, too, -the tree- like the wind-

roaming freely about

with no one to doubt

its reason.


How absurd a scene to watch a tree blow by,

or how wretched a sight

to see it float in the sky.

Ridiculous! for it to fly.


So, it remains

stuck.


Unable to move from the very spot it was planted.


All around it things changed.

People grew... cities, too.

It heard the laughter of children, 

cries of the needy,

the screeching tires of people in a hurry

to move, to go-


How it longed to go, too.

Speeding past the norm,

from the view that had bored it.


How foolish a thought...  A tree to drive down the road.

How ludicrous an idea to see it pick up and go,

wherever it chose.


So, it stood

stuck.


Firmly rooted in this place,

longing to be where it wasn't... 

anywhere it wasn't.

Some land where the hills were rolling,

where the mountains were showing.

A country whose culture it had yet to see.

Foods not yet smelled...

To be on a sea listening to an exaggerated seaman's tale.


How impossible a wish!

It could never be.

There's only ever one spot- just one spot-

for a tree.


So, it stood

stuck.


It watched the sunrise,

and viewed the moon

take ownership of the sky.

Stars would glisten and sometimes fall.

Clouds would form and slowly pass by.

Birds would land, nest, then fly away.

Time taught them when to leave, 

and when it was time, they'd go.


How it longed to go, too.

It would return, but oh!

to see an uncharted territory,

a place not found in a memory.

To hear the sound of Amazon rain!

But, insane!

it is to think such a thought.


A tree cannot travel. A tree cannot search.

A tree has big purpose, 

but only few can it serve.

It will remain in one place, rooted in the ground,

unless someone comes and cuts it down.

Its dependence rests on others around.

Unable to choose a course for itself, 

a path picked by another is all its allowed.

Anytime it moves it relies on a crowd

to get it where it's going.

No thought for itself.


It must remain

stuck.


Unless another deems it convenient to move it.

No changing, lest someone else sees fit.


So, it waits

stuck.


Needing someone else to come and deliver...

Someone else to free...


You blink your eyes twice; awake from this dream.

Then inhale... exhale... breathe in your reality.


Still in this season, no difference to claim.

This place that you're in is unsure and bleak,

and its where you'll remain.

Life rolls past you, opportunities kiss your cheek.

You feel a slight rush, you feel your excitement peak.

Fear holds you back, tightly in place,

unable to move or create your own way.


Waiting for assurance from those who will never give it,

You live it...

This life with such limits.


You must know! Open your eyes and see...


You, my friend.

You are not a tree.


Finding Faith After Leaving Religion




So, I'll let you in on a little secret. I tend to thrive at starting things. The continuing piece, though... Well, thank God we just came up with some new resolutions again, you know? 

I'm not talking about completing projects. Oh, I'll follow through with a commitment. It's just routines that require my dedicated attention over a long span of time that I struggle with. Like, I've completed a Color Run before... You heard of it- The "Happiest 5K on the Planet"? Well, I was all in, bro. 100%. 
Wore the tutu, crossed that finish line, about died in the pretty- yet severe- powder storm, and danced around like a crazy person. But... that was nearly 10 years ago, and I haven't run another 5K since. Just couldn't seem to keep up with the necessary training. 
(I'm working on it. Don't shame me too much, ok?)

Anyhow, my point is, I want to use some Thursdays as the day to answer some questions or just say a few things that have been on my heart and mind for a bit. Take them or leave them. I don't claim to be some great philosopher or have all the answers to life. I'm just someone who has experienced more than most probably realize, and I'd love to share some of what I've gleaned from those experiences with anyone who'd want to hear. Several of these topics will be highly geared toward conservative, religious communities, whether previously or presently involved. That's a huge piece of my past and in such, a large piece of the girl that I shed to become the woman I am. 

A generous amount of these posts will revolve around sexual abuse and what I've overcome, but also those lifelines I wish I'd had in the moments that were significantly hard.

There will be posts about infertility and how it can affect someone. What you may or may not know about foster care and/or adoption. Narcissism. The enneagram. Difficult family. The raw struggles with faith. Leadership. Workflow. Home life. 

I hope I can make time each month and find inspiration enough to make this more than just a clever little slogan I put on a picture. 

If you haven't read my last post, "The Girl That Started Using Her Voice," you probably should for any of this to even make sense. To summarize, I've let fear and brainwashing convince me to stay silent about too much for too long. I'm starting to speak up about how certain events in my youth still affect me today in hopes that others can grab onto some encouragement, or better yet, discover the strength they have within themselves to know when it's right to make hard choices, too. 

Some people have asked questions like, "Why do you have to say anything about how you were raised?"

Well, it's Thursday... so I'll tell you. 

There are too many dealing with the same struggles I fight through each day, because no one was brave enough- or observant enough- to speak up about issues that needed to be addressed when that timing mattered most. I want to see the chains of that cycle obliterate into nothingness. I want to draw attention to specific things more than you could imagine. Some have convinced themselves certain topics are miniscule, deceptive, or wrong. They refuse to heed any warning signs from those on the outside. As long as they continue to listen to the people in the same ship as them, they think all will be okay. But they're sailing their own Titanic straight toward an iceberg.

Today, I want to elaborate a little on what I meant when I implied that my religious upbringing took away my voice.

To put it simply, when you take away someone's ability to freely make choices without fear of some form of retaliation, in essence you steal who they are as an individual. You silence them. 

Growing up, I envisioned so much for myself but only for a short while. I became highly aware of people's expectations and the fact that I was required to meet them. When I look back, I realize that I'm a little angry, heartbroken, and jaded. People took more than I gave them. The life that could have been was stolen from me.

Don't get me wrong... as I mentioned in my last post, because I kept fighting and clawing and rising again and again, I stumbled into a delightful place I never thought possible. Nonetheless, I wonder what doors I could have walked through if I was allowed to have dreams and encouraged to chase them. 

Instead, they were squashed by this generalized, misleading comment, "You have to keep God first."

While my religious walk looks different than it used to, I still have a high reverence for God. I believe in a higher power wholeheartedly. Mere words couldn't clearly define how much I love Jesus. But, I'll be the first to tell you that religion as a whole has become a breeding ground for manipulation, narcissism, misogynism, and loads of confusion.

Comments like the one above work well on a vulnerable soul desperately seeking to please their Creator when you have a plan for them. 
Tell them they shouldn't take that job because X, Y, Z, so they can be available to do 1, 2, 3. 
Tell them they shouldn't move there, because they could do (insert anything) here.
If you use those words, please make sure you check your own heart for a hidden agenda. They may come from a sincere, genuine place. But too often people place God in a tiny box and try to throw the rest of the world in there with Him. 

Why is it impossible for someone to "keep God first" as they pursue art, nursing, architecture, or journalism?  
That thought set my soul on fire. I wanted to travel the globe and write the most intriguing stories. I longed to meet people of every culture just to understand the world a little better. Taste all the food. Do all the dances. Spread all the hope. Share all the joy. Experience all the things. 

I'm a little peeved that I graduated with a 4.0 GPA, valedictorian, and couldn't apply that hard work to the school I really wanted to attend. Remembering someone stomp out that fire, convince me I couldn't turn out good if I went to NYU is infuriating. 
That's still happening to kids today. If people spent more time teaching them to think for themselves and learn who they are and what they believe, you wouldn't have to place so many "safeguards" around them for fear that they'll walk away from their faith.

But is it their faith? Or is it your set of rules that they follow blindly because that's all they know? The thing is, I wasn't shown how to have faith. I was instructed to meet standards and decipher every possible code of expectations known to man. 

I found my faith after I left my religion.

Religion is like fencing in your yard and never leaving, because it was put there for your protection.

Faith is like walking around everywhere freely and breathing in all life has to offer, because you're surrounded by bodyguards that keep you safe.


I know I don't have kids, but I was one at one point in my life. So was my husband, my siblings, and apparently all my friends. A few of them also live with nearly full-grown children of their own who have shared things with me on the regular, so I feel like I can speak about this just as much as the next person. 

If you don't allow your children to find out who they are, they will have lots of questions and severe frustrations one day. Are you choosing every single thing for them? Do you have severe limitations on how you allow them to express themselves? Are you steering them in a direction that you know others would find acceptable? 
Obviously, raise them to be kind and good... teach them about right and wrong... train them up how you think you should. But please save a little energy to ensure you're not suffocating their potential with another man's limited set of preferences. 

I know girls today that are more bendy than Mrs. Incredible... but they'll never be able to pursue any sort of gymnast life, because someone convinced them that God just wouldn't be pleased seeing them in anything other than specifically approved attire. They can't play sports, do karate, get into horseback riding or rock climbing... the list honestly goes on.
Boys can't pursue much either. If they have to miss a single service for a game, they're terrified that they'll grow up believing faith just isn't that important. 
Look within yourself and honestly ask- what are they allowed to go after?

When I look at people like Tim Tebow, Simone Biles, Chris Pratt, etc... my heart begins to ache for the kids I know that could make it there, too. A world-wide stage to show their faith, hope, and wishes for the human race. The financial ability to do so much good for whatever causes they'd see fit. The joy of doing something they absolutely adore. 

And we take all that away? Why? Because someone else at one point in time said we should? Some have gotten so caught up in "setting themselves apart" that they are setting the next generation up for disappointment. They have isolated themselves on an island where they're honestly unable to make an impact. They're so far removed from society that they have become unapproachable and unrealistic.

I don't say that with anger or disdain. I say it with a deep sadness, because I've been where they are and have experienced the difference. A difference bursting with wonder and fulfillment... things that were entirely foreign to the girl I once was. 


Can we talk about those safeguards I mentioned earlier? 

Why do we feel it's mandatory to live by such a strict set of rules? Are you really so scared that you'll stop loving Jesus if you pursue a career, write a novel, travel the world for a month or two? Are you really convinced that God would punish you for allowing your kids to chase a dream that doesn't involve traditional church ministry? Or are you terrified of how that might set you back with those unofficially appointed to a seat at the round table? How your world might crumble for a bit because of the lost connections?

While you've been told to focus on working "out your own salvation with fear and trembling," don't pass over two important words: 

YOUR OWN. 

No relationship, at any capacity, is identical to another. I'd say it's safe to guarantee that's also true when it comes to matters of faith. 


If you're someone that grew up without a voice, and you're struggling to find it now, keep making noise. Even if it's barely a whisper, don't stop. Learn what it is you've felt burning in your heart and go after it. Realize that it's never too late to start over and that God can still do incredible things in your life. You can accomplish whatever you set your mind to do.

If you're someone raising a little human, please listen to who they are. I know you know, Mom. 
Dad, pay attention to what brings about a genuine smile and a sense of pride to your kids. You see them... Let them know you do. Don't put out their fire because you sort of, kind of think you need to because of fears that were never intended to be a part of your faith life. Don't put them in a box that's closed off to the world. If you really do have faith, trust that God can make Himself real enough to them that they can sense His presence at every stage of their lives. 

They're going to grow up one day... They're going to ask questions. Please be satisfied in the answers you have to give. 

Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen, right? Let's dig a little deeper into that key word.

-Evidence- the available body of facts indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.

They need their own substantiation. Help them walk out their own faith. Teach them to listen for their own convictions. If you force upon them every man-made ideal that you've heard, you're only teaching them to always follow after someone else's experience. The kicker? No two lives will ever be the same. They have to become strong enough to know who they are and Whose they are on their own so that when they are out there facing real life, they'll be confident enough to travel their own roads and know how to achieve the success that was meant for them.

I know it's scary. I know there are questions. No doubt you've been convinced that any other way will lead only to failure and destruction. 

I thought that, too. 

But today, I know true joy and unshakeable faith. I'm figuring out who I am and how I can use my talents to help spread a little good and give me a little purpose. My marriage is strong. Success is tangible. Stability is inevitable. Friendships are raw and real. Life is messy but so good. I get to embrace my little quirks and live authentically. No matter what passions we pursue, I can carry my faith with me. It's resistant enough to come out of the box it was taped up in for too long. Sure, sometimes it gets heavy. I drop it every now and then and have to polish it a bit. It's a little beat up, a little fragile in some areas, but it isn't weak. And since it's now visible and a part of everyday life, I get to share it a whole lot more, too. 

Religion is like staying in the house because it's raining outside. 
Just stay put. Stay dry. Avoid anything out there that could possibly be inconvenient or scary. Stay where it's familiar and where you won't be bothered.

Faith is like wearing a hooded yellow rain jacket and your favorite rubber boots. 
You can walk right outside in a torrential downpour and be almost entirely unaffected. 

There's no need to avoid or fear experiences, because you're covered from head to toe.

You shouldn't have to work so hard to protect your faith. Faith in and of itself is there to protect you.

The Girl That Started Using Her Voice



See that girl there? 

Well, for starters, she's an enneagram nine. Biggest thing about us "nines"?

We rarely use our voice, because something or someone along the way made us feel like ours didn't matter. 

I'm already emotional starting this post because honestly, when I look back at my childhood/youth/young adult life, I don't even fully understand how I'm still standing... and smiling. 
But I am. 

I'm so proud of myself for fighting and clawing and rising again and again, until I finally had enough strength and nerve to start speaking up and contributing to this beautiful thing called life.

I can't get into everything all in one post, and I'm fully aware some have had it worse and turned out better... but this is my story... and the events that occurred in it, have caused that girl up there to morph and evolve and start over a couple times. 

For 34 years, I've held off telling my full story, because of who it might offend or affect negatively. I didn't want to be labeled a drama queen or attention seeker, either. I've also convinced myself that no one would care about anything at all I had to say. All those fears that make me a "nine."

Now, I've realized, I just need to say it for me. 
So, I'm going to write it like no one's ever going to read it... cause that's the only way to bare all and be raw.

That girl was only two years old when her parents divorced. An entire lifetime of  "every other everything" laid in wait for her. 

Her voice got a little quieter after this. She would cry for daddy, but that made mommy upset. She would miss mommy, but daddy only got four days a month with her; she didn't want to leave him either. So, she learned to hold those feelings inside so as not to upset anyone she loved.

When she was four, an additional family was added to her life. Could've been great, and some of it turned out to be after years of effort, but those crucial childhood years were rough. 

Not only did she feel awkward being left with total strangers, she was told she "wasn't blood" so she "didn't count." 

Her voice? Yep. Lowered a couple more notches. 

From ages four to seven, that girl faced sexual abuse by the new man that was supposed to protect her. When she finally realized something about this was wrong, she told the only person she knew could and would help her get out of that situation. 

But that didn't happen. 

Ever.

Just a teeny, tiny sliver of vocality left in her after that blow.

But more of that chapter another day. 


Right before her seventh birthday, she and her "most-of-the-time family" started attending a very conservative church. One of which she was a member until she was twenty years old. Some of the memories are precious and ones she'll cherish forever. But any volume left within those vocal cords of hers were silenced almost entirely within a few short years. 

All sense of individuality was stolen. All desire for creativity was smothered. Anything "new" was usually deemed "unnecessary." Anything other than what she was told was permissible (which wasn't much) was thrown out the window of her room of possibilities. 

Don't wear that. 
Don't go there. 
Stay away from them.
Don't watch that. 
That's bad music.
Say no to that. 
Respond with a yes on this.
Be like her. 
Read books written by these authors.
Don't shop there.
Don't eat there. 
Don't.
Don't.
Don't.

Everything she imagined her life to be was drained of its color and replaced with matte black and white. 

In order to survive and be heard, she had to learn what they wanted her to say.

And she did. 

So many dreams were put on hold until the stress of it all exploded. At 22 years old, she and her young husband decided it was finally too much. There were too many questions that remained unanswered. Too many things weren't adding up. 

God is this incredible artist, the most brilliant creator establishing every breathtaking color and shape and sound we get to experience, and yet they were stuck in a cookie cutter world with only the tiniest flicker of vibrancy.

Her comment to the amazing man she was so incredibly blessed to find? 
"I've lived my entire life trying to be exactly who they want me to be, and where has it gotten me?" 
A few seconds passed. Then a chuckle. "That's the problem! I shouldn't be living my life for them!"

There was her voice. It scared her a little. She hadn't heard it speak up in so long. 

"I can't do this anymore, babe. I'm miserable. These people are miserable. We're stifled. So limited." 

That young girl, with tears streaming down her face, looked into the eyes of the man she loved, as he said, "I hear you, babe... and I agree. We have to make a change."

What? He hears me? Maybe I can speak a little louder.

"We're missing out on so much goodness that was supposed to be available to us. Where's the abundant life?  The priceless freedom? The unspeakable joy?"


It felt good to freely speak. Even better to be fully heard. 
What happened over the course of the next few days were the best decisions of our lives. 
We resigned positions. We made tough phone calls. Endured a lot of harsh comments. Lost nearly all of our connections. Had to start figuring faith and life out on our own. 
But those choices led us to where we are today. 

Fourteen years later, after therapy, new friendships, deconstructing and reconstructing of faith, uncomfortable conversations, lots of highs, a bunch of lows, that girl's voice has gotten louder. There's still some volume control she's working through... but she's getting there. 

You know, as I typed out that last line, I realized that I've carried on this entire post in third person... Maybe it's easier to let things out that way? Doesn't hurt as much?
Well, time for additional growth.

Obviously, I'm that little two-, four-, seven-, and twenty-two-year-old girl that faced some unfair, crappy things that I didn't ask for. I'm the one that was left in a scary situation that causes me issues today. I'm the one that was told I didn't count. The one who was publicly criticized and not believed. 
I'm the one who kept fighting... clawing my way out of the hole I was buried in. 
I didn't stand a chance. 

But I made it anyway!

Almost 16 years with the most amazing man you'd ever meet. An asset manager of a reputable property-management company. Founder and Director of a women's conference. A blogger who is starting to tell all. Happy despite the crappy. 

And I've been told I'm still very nice!

Simple though it may be, I was brave enough to purchase those granny glasses (that aren't even prescription) and rock them all day. Part my hair in the middle because that's the current trend. Thicken those eyebrows because I wanted to. Wear that nose ring. Go to those concerts. Wear that outfit. Apply for that job. Go for that promotion. Write my story.

I'm the girl that started using her voice. 

I wonder what I'll say next?

 

Charcuterie 101


Sometimes a charcuterie board is the only dinner you need!

While the arrangement may be simple, these foods are glorious!

Lifestyle changes are easy to keep up with when they're fun, convenient, and sustainable.

It sure helps when they're pretty too!

Also- I've learned that dates and cheese... followed by a Turkish fig... are a favorite snack combo!

Umm... yum!

Pair that yumminess with some summer sausage, prosciutto, cornichons, olives, and even more cheese... you're all set!

What's one of your favorite things to munch on?


 


A Whole Friggin Lot of Good


Good riddance, 2022!

This year has been one I'm glad I'll never see again.

It's been filled with hard and disappointing conversations, family decisions that leave you heartbroken, "friends" that blow your mind, and health scares and ER visits...

It's left me longing for "real" more than ever. It's caused me to observe and rethink a lot of things. Invest in healthy self care. Cherish simple things while still chasing a few big ones. Set boundaries. Be willing to say no. Laugh more. Create fun. Work hard. Play harder. Love big.

I'm taking all these learned lessons with me into 2023, anticipating this year to be one filled with peace, authenticity, sincerity, and abundance!

Ringing in this new year with the one that helps get me through it all! We'll "never give up... never surrender!"

Even amongst the crappy there's a whole friggin lot of good!

Let's gooooo!

Benfield Jalapeno Cornbread



This was hands down the best cornbread we've ever made. Aaron and I tag teamed this one and crushed it!

To (quite literally) spice it up, we threw in some diced jalapeƱos, too.

This was just one of three pans used... the mixture made a decent amount.

I've never been huge on cornbread, honestly... but I could eat this quite often.

1 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1 2/3 cup all purpose, unbleached flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 2/3 cup almond milk
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup, plus 2 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 375F. Place your generously greased cast iron skillets in immediately, so they can get piping hot. 

In a large bowl, mix your dry ingredients. Once combined, make a well and pour in your wet ingredients. Stir together the wet and dry ingredients just until combined. Your batter should still be slightly lumpy. You don't want to overmix. 

Remove your cast iron skillets and pour in your batter. Bake until the bread is golden brown around the edges. (If you're using a "special" cornbread cast iron skillet like the one in the picture (or the ones that look like corn cobs) you'll bake for about 7-10 minutes.) If you're using a normal cast iron skillet, you'll bake about 25-30 minutes. A cake tester inserted into the center should come out clean. Let the cornbread set for at least15 minutes before you try to remove it from the pan.

I'm telling ya; pairing it with the right soup would make some hearts warm and happy this winter!