Why I Haven’t Been Writing

sad-timesIt’s hard to write when you are sad. I have been sad lately. Things in my life (second child, career) aren’t happening. They aren’t happening in a persistent, door-slam-in-my-face kind of way. This, combined with some heartache in my extended family, is conspiring to Eeyore my days.

In fact, I’m here only because my good friend asked me about writing. Actually, she’s a GREAT friend, and what she did was email me and TELL┬áme to write, which is what truly great friends do. So here I am, writing to ask you:

How do you deal with disappointment? How do you take care of yourself when every move you take is thwarted?

Because right about now I feel awfully tempted to just give up.

Not a Letter to My Daughter on International Women’s Day

womens-dayIt’s International Women’s Day, and there are so many excellent letters from fathers and mothers to their daughters currently trending on the interwebs. Reading them, I realize how much of what I might say to our daughter reflects ME: my struggles, the lessons I’ve learned, the dreams I still have for myself.

Recently we visited with a young mom who is in the process of coming out, and struggling with her conservative faith background. It’s been twenty years (wow!) since I came out, and what I remember most is the fear. I was afraid I wouldn’t survive.

Like so many women of my generation, I excel at people-pleasing and self-negation and here-let-me-squish-myself-into-this-mold-to-make-you-love-me. I knew my desire for women was old, beginning at least as early as third grade. But I figured that everyone had those feelings, and we just ignored them, to do what the church told us to do. Also: I was terrified of losing God.

This blog has been a place where I say things I am not supposed to, a place where I challenge my self-censor. So I will tell you something that I don’t usually tell people, because it is painful and I am afraid you will judge me.

When I made the decision to come out, it wasn’t because I believed in a woman’s right to define her own sexuality. (I would, later, but I hadn’t yet found Marilyn Frye or Audre Lorde.) I was 19 years old.

When I came out, it was to save my life.

In December 1993, I was violently sexually assaulted by a man on the very long train ride from Los Angeles to Salem, Oregon. I didn’t fight back. I was tired. Also: I had lots of practice letting things happen to my body that I didn’t choose. I’d been trained in that, as surely as I’d been trained that girls like boys and men are stronger than women.

I was 19 years old, and I failed to protect myself. I was tired, so very tired, of letting things happen, of the shame and ick and scalding hot showers afterwards.

I knew that I was the only one who could protect myself. I had to claim my body as mine, as beloved and worth the work to defend and cherish.

Here is where I worry you will misunderstand: that you will think that I came out to avoid sexual violence. But I know (perhaps more than the average woman) that being with women doesn’t ensure safety. It wasn’t the gender of the perpetrator, it was me: something in me that I hadn’t been able to hold on to.

So I stepped out to figure out what it might mean to say NO. No, not just to violence, but no to all of it: to everyone’s expectations of who I should be and whom I should desire.

And as I did that, as I stood up for myself, it slowly stopped mattering what others expected or said about God’s ability to love me. Once I stood up for myself, I got to choose. What did I want? That I knew…had always known.

This isn’t a story I am ready to share with my daughter. Perhaps not for a long while, if ever. I want time – years and years – to teach her the good stuff before she learns about the violence, about the reasons we still need a Women’s Day, and feminism, and gender equality.

I want my daughter to learn that her body is hers and no one else’s…that her needs, feelings and desires are important and require no apology or sanction. I want her to be affirmed of what she already knows: that she is beautiful beyond measure and worthy — to her soul’s core — of love and respect.

Writing this now, I realize that the stories I want to share with my daughter are the ones that I rarely celebrate: the day I signed the lease for my teeny first apartment, the outfit I chose for my first date with the woman who would become my wife, the summer I flew to St. Petersburg, Russia alone and backpacked through Eastern Europe solo for eight weeks. My first time preaching, the way my hands shook, and the way I knew — wholly and without question — that God, Holy Mystery, loves not only me but everybody (and my work might just be helping people to see that too).

On this Women’s Day, my wish is that our old stories of what we survived may fall away and the stories of how we thrive may rise up to shine — vibrant, courageous, and true.

What I *Really* Want for Christmas

It’s late and I can’t sleep. Having just survived The Great Puke Apocalypse of 2013, I’m worried about the next few days. How am I going to make it through the rounds of holiday festivities and a week-long visit from my mother-in-law? I don’t feel prepared. I’m behind on everything, and the house…oh the house.

I’ve been working lately on trying to recognize and name my needs. I need a tidy house. This is hard to admit, because some part of my brain scoffs loudly and says that when you become a parent you abdicate any right to non-sticky floors or clean (let alone folded) dish towels (that you can actually find because they are in a drawer instead of toddler-tucked in with the pots and pans or tupperware).

NOT our tree. This is a stock image (c) Ursula Klawitter/zefa/Corbis

NOT our tree. This is a stock image (c) Ursula Klawitter/zefa/Corbis

But…I know it is a need (rather than a nice-to-have) because of the small flame of fury that leaps in my belly when I notice week-old banana mush congealed to the arm of the high chair. I tell myself: this isn’t a health hazard. It’s just disgusting. LET IT GO. But oh that flame, oh that fury.

It is hard to be all ho-ho-ho and welcome-friends in this condition. Plus: PMS. Plus: did I mention…Puke Apocalypse? And the tree fell over? TWICE. Broken glass ornaments and a sopping wet area rug. Also, we are out of cat food.

All of that is just (kind of) funny. Here’s the hard part: I am actually not sure I can be a good parent in a messy house. It is akin to sleep deprivation. I am irritable, because I’m not getting what I need, and furious, because I resent the need in the first place. All these other wise mothers on the internet, they have messy houses, and they aren’t about to snap. What’s wrong with me?

Ok, but that’s an awfully judgmental question, right?

So maybe I can ask, with curiosity rather than shame, why? Why do I need a tidy house?

The answer came fast and just took my breath away.

To be loved.

Because if I am too messy, then I am not lovable. If I am messy, you will be mad and might hurt me.

I have proof of this, I do. So many memories, from childhood. (No, I’m not sharing, you’ll just have to trust me.)

But I’m not a child any more.

The people in my life now – my wife, close friends, my sister – they don’t care how messy or disgusting my house might be. I know this because they say so, and they act so.

So it suddenly occurs to me that there might be a different way, a new way, that I might help myself survive the week ahead. Instead of making detailed lists, breaking my back to clean, and then feeling guilty because I neglect my daughter in choosing mopping over cookie baking and storytime, I could experiment with telling myself: Elizabeth, your house is a mess AND you are lovable.

In fact, you are messy and lovable.
You talk a lot and are lovable.
You obsess over details and are lovable.
You sing off-key and are lovable.
You ___________ and are lovable.

I just practiced saying these things out loud, and it feels really different…in a good way.

In fact, it feels a little like a miracle, like an incredible gift I just gave myself. Maybe THIS is what that whole return-of-the-light-holiday-magic-God-come-to-earth-thing is all about. Loving and being loved. Just as we are. Just as we — this minute, right now, without any clean-up — are. Lovable. Loved.

Oh I hope so.

***

How are you lovable? Tell me!