Tag: Fundamentalism

14Dec

Honest Bones

There’s a short story in the Bible*, barely a blip, which recounts how a man named Philip insists on his buddy Nathanael meeting his new friend Jesus. Nathanael doesn’t buy into the hype that Jesus is the legendary figure they’ve all been waiting for, but he goes along with Philip anyway and is taken by surprise when Jesus greets him with a compliment: “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.”

“Where did you get that idea?” Nathanael asks. “You don’t know me.”

I imagine at this point in the story, Nathanael is feeling equal parts cynical and creeped the hell out. But then Jesus answers: “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.”

And just like that, everything changes for Nathanael. He instantly recognizes Jesus as divine and joins his posse.

I can’t stop wondering what Nathanael had been doing under a fig tree that would hold such significance when brought up in conversation. It would have had to be something spiritual and deeply personal if Jesus’s noticing him translated to God noticing him, and it would have had to be something of incredible importance to Nathanael for him to know exactly which tree and which long-ago day Jesus was referring to.

Had he been wrestling with doubts? Having a meditative breakthrough? Contemplating suicide? Encountering God in a new way? Facing his life with honesty for the first time? Giving the universe an ultimatum? Feeling like he was at the end of his life? Feeling like he was finally at the beginning?

Don’t worry; this isn’t becoming a Bible study blog, and if you’re still reading, thanks for not bolting in terror at the prospect of Preacher Voice (you know what I’m talking about). It’s just that this little story lodged itself in my mind last night, and not even sleep was enough to shake it loose. I keep imagining Jesus’s expression as he said “I saw you.” Under the fig tree in that moment of personal victory or anguish, long before meeting face to face, in a state of such profound aloneness that only God could have known, I saw you.

It gives me shivers, but not the creeped-the-hell-out variety. They’re the deliciously warm shivers of knowing I’m seen. The Bible is such a complicated and mine-sown book for me that I don’t usually have this reaction to it. I’m much more likely to end up crying or furious or weary or curled into a fetal position sucking my thumb. This is not a dignified thing to admit to, especially as a churchgoer who would rather people not notice her Bible closed tight the entire service, but the contrast between forced religious devotion (hi, fundamentalism!) and Jesus is just too much a part of my life not to share.

Fundamentalism leaves no room for doubts or questions or honest soul-wrestling sessions. Its version of faith is inseparable from putting on good appearances, from reciting the script of holiness at all times. Meanwhile, Jesus says I saw you back then, under the fig tree, working through the messy realities of your own heart. I saw you, and I love your honest bones.

~~

* John 1:45-51. I quote from The Message, which is usually the only version I can read without an allergic reaction.

13Dec

For What She’s Worth

I am not an angry feminist. In fact, I’ve never thought of myself as any kind of feminist; gender inequality was never more than an infrequent blip on my radar, and part of me secretly thought that outspoken feminists were like kids whining because their friends have more toys than they do—technically correct, but irritatingly focused on the comparison game instead of gratitude for their own unique lives.

Which is why I was a little shocked to catch myself writing the following in an email to Sarah Bessey about her upcoming book, Jesus Feminist:

I grew up a pastor’s kid and have been a full-fledged member of eight separate churches, plus a visitor at many, many more, and rarely have I heard a women’s Bible study discuss anything except 1) submission, 2) homemaking à la Proverbs 31, or 3) modesty. We as women in the church do not discuss the power of our prayers. We do not discuss our spiritual gifts or how God might have uniquely equipped us to use them. We do not discuss the strong female leaders of the Bible. We do not discuss the fact that our church-approved roles as women seem to be cobbled together from a select mix of Paul’s instructions and sitcoms from the 1950s. We do not discuss the damage done to our hearts every time men in the church label our gender as defrauding, disruptive, or deceived.

No. We discuss how a too-tight shirt will cause our brothers in Christ to stumble, how assertiveness or reluctance in the bedroom will drive our husbands into sin, and how not keeping our homes in order is a matter for repentance.

Boom. Apparently I’m not as apathetic toward gender inequality as I’d thought. I know I wrote about male-female roles last week, but that was in a very personal scope, untangling my own thought processes from fundamentalism. This is something bigger. This is about a lie that is such a universal part of the human experience that we only recognize small parts of it at a time.

Like the part that says darker skin is inferior to lighter skin.

Or the part that says inhabitants of one country are inferior to those of its next-door neighbor.

Or the part that says people with empty wallets are inferior to people with 401(K)s.

Or the part that says humans with higher estrogen are inferior to humans with higher testosterone.

This lie that has so thoroughly infiltrated our way of thinking says that one category of people can be worth less than another… and nowhere is this more disheartening to see in practice than among followers of Jesus.

I grew up in a very extreme subculture of Christianity which relegated women to husband-helpers, children to automatons, and Democrats to hell-fodder. Rare varieties of prejudice thrived in that sealed-off environment, and I happily recognize that the perspectives I grew up with are not the norm. However, most mainstream churches still support the doctrine that women, by sole virtue of their gender, are less qualified than men to make decisions, offer advice, or—God forbid—lead. If a woman believes that her true gifting is that of a pastor, most Christians would either take that to mean she is deceived (Eve’s contribution to our sex) or channel her controversial calling into “acceptable” outlets, like teaching children’s Sunday School or possibly running a women’s-only group.

Most churches don’t forbid women to braid their hair, though a Bible verse speaking against that very thing is followed by a verse calling wives “the weaker partner.” The latter is accepted as God’s truth and used to demean women’s minds, skills, and hearts while the former is understood as a) metaphorical, or b) culturally irrelevant. The same thing happens over and over again throughout the pages of this book we call our foundation. I know of very few pastors who still teach that women are saved through childbirth, but the following chapter’s mandate that deacons be men is followed unquestioningly. Women are no longer required to remain silent in church, but they are usually prohibited from teaching men—which makes two different interpretations of the same verse. Reading a single line of Genesis, we latch on to the fact that woman was made to be man’s “helper” while failing to read the rest—“a helper comparable to him”—or noting that the Hebrew word for “helper” is most often used throughout the Bible in reference to God. (Providing help makes God worthy of devotion but women worthy of disrespect? Please explain the logic of this to me.)

How can we believe that both male and female reflect God’s image but the male reflection is superior? How can we think that men have individual and divinely-inspired purposes in life but that women are universally designed for one lifestyle? How can we possibly justify thinking that one soul carries more weight than another because of the body attached to it?

I see this men-lead/women-submit mentality as just another facet of the insidious lie proclaiming that some demographics have the right to lord over others. Once God’s name is attached to the lie, it becomes harder than ever to uproot… and meanwhile, women are absorbing the idea that God thinks of them as less and men are shouldering burdens that were always meant to be shared and the church is missing out on the beautiful power of men and women contributing their strengths in harmony. It’s heartbreaking and discouraging and utterly maddening… which I guess qualifies me as an angry feminist after all.

5Dec

Grace as: Role Call

“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.” ~ John Irving

It all started crumbling at the mention of a playdate. One of our girls is going through some social disconnect at school, and Dan very reasonably suggested that we invite one of her classmates over to spend an afternoon. “You don’t have to do anything,” he added more reasonably still. “In fact, why don’t you take your laptop and go out somewhere to write while I watch the kids?”

At which point I, very unreasonably, began to cry.

~~~

More than a decade has passed since I asked fundamentalism to move out, but I’m still finding his records scattered through my collection. One of them is called Roles, and I don’t mean to play it, not exactly, but its strains are so familiar that my hands move to the needle like a sacrament. One moment of scratchy white noise, then the old refrains start up, pricking at nostalgia as they go.

You are a woman, the record croons in gentle condescension. You were designed to be your husband’s helper, the keeper of his home, and the caretaker of his children. This is your place, the place you were tailor-made for. The music begins to waltz through the corners of the room, brushing across smudged windowpanes and stirring up dust bunnies. The notes touch down heavily on the notebook where I scribble my goals, and I cringe as the song turns sinister.

Shame on you, shame on you, so much shame. Your ambitions are unforgivably selfish. Not only are you neglecting your duties as homemaker, but you ask your husband to give up his valuable time and help you. You ask the family you should be serving to accommodate your dreams. You put your energy and attention into writing instead of hosting play dates, and it is your fault your daughter is struggling in friendship. It is your fault your husband has so little leisure time. It is your fault you have to fight your own mind for confidence. It’s time to give up this charade of individual purpose and passion. You are, after all, a woman.

By the time the melody fades away, my sense of self has faded too. I wonder wearily why I ever asked fundamentalism to leave when he’s the one with the ready answers. I wonder how long I’ll have to channel June Cleaver before my soul stops trying to escape. I wonder what, if any, is the point of me.

~~~

Who I am now is a gift, pure and simple. When fundamentalism moved out, freedom and choice and the unique beauty of personhood moved in, and the one-size-fits-all role of woman was replaced with my very own skin. I can’t express just what it means to learn that I, as myself and no one else, am valuable… though truthfully, it’s such a fantastical notion that it doesn’t always stick. Some days, I dismiss it as too good to be true, and other days, old records dismiss it for me. Even the mention of a responsibility-free playdate can trigger a mental landslide, adding support to my fear that this identity is only a façade.

When Dan mentioned inviting a friend over, he had no idea that my mind would snap first to the disaster zone that is our girls’ room, then to reluctance over cleaning it, then to guilt that it isn’t already clean, then to capital-g Guilt that my housekeeping failure is damaging their friendships, then to capital-everything GUILT that I’ve been following my call to write rather than my role as ‘50s sitcom housewife—compounded by the fact that my vastly superior and male husband was offering to watch the kids for me—and finally to utter despair. (Surprisingly, it did not make me feel any less like a worm when he apologized for the misunderstanding. Does the man have to be so kind?)

This is grace though—that I can listen to the Roles record play like an earthquake in my heart and feel my life discredited from the inside out, that I can spiral down into a trapped, hopeless, and shamed shell of myself, that I can reabsorb the bone-deep lie of inferiority… and then, even with tears still blurring my vision, that I can recognize the prison of old mindsets as the real façade, square my uniquely beautiful shoulders, and march out.

I am, after all, a woman.

~~~

{I’ve always had trouble comprehending the word “grace” as it’s used by religion or defined by Webster, but something in me knows it’s integral to who I am and who I’m becoming. In this Grace as: series, I’m attempting to track it into the wild and record my peripheral glances of it, my brushes with the divine. Come along with me? You can follow along via TwitterRSS, or my piping hot new Facebook page… and as always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comment section!}

Previously:

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

Grace as: Three-Week Smiles

Grace as: Permission to Celebrate

28Nov

Grace as: Permission to Celebrate

 [Photo: circa 2009
Nisse hats: Danish, via the whimsical Rachelle Mee-Chapman
Sophie’s pantslessness: Her idea]

I’ve never set foot inside a church that seemed entirely comfortable with Christmas. Their relationship always strikes me as more of an uneasy truce, one side agreeing to adopt a festival with pagan origins, the other agreeing to be picked apart at Bible studies and put back together as a subdued and thoroughly de-Santafied version of itself. A sermon on “the true meaning of Christmas” is usually a given, though even the pastor starts to squirm when it comes to discussing practical applications. It’s easy enough to condemn materialism from the pulpit, but few clergy are willing to look into the eyes of their congregants’ children and denounce Christmas gifts as evil.

Not to say that doesn’t happen too. Our family didn’t celebrate Christmas for years, and I still have Christian friends who see the tradition as unjustifiable. After all, Christmas isn’t in the Bible. Jesus’s birth? Yes. A bank holiday to commemorate it? No. For so many Christians I know, red and green are the team colors of GUILT, and even just enjoying a glass of eggnog can set their minds scrambling to find a moral, a Scripture reference, something to assure them Jesus would approve.

And I get it. I do. I am an over-thinker at heart and a religion-wrestler by birth, and I have grappled plenty of times with the web of cultures, histories, and traditions linking the Nativity to roast goose. To be honest, I have trouble enjoying anything if that enjoyment hasn’t been earned or justified or sanctioned by a higher power, and the holiday season is especially great at breeding angst. My fellow serious-hearted belief-wranglers? Consider this a virtual fist bump. (And to those of you whose hearts are naturally merry and light, feel free to commiserate—or whatever cheery thing it is that you do—with my husband and/or play him with cookies.)

I remember the day I let go of the Christmas debate though. Dan and I were at a Bible study, and the leader opened by asking how we thought consumerism fit with the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps because it was such a loaded question or perhaps because it was the tipping point at which a phrase like “the true meaning of Christmas” goes from annoying to nauseating, but I realized that I was done. Done trying to legitimize the joy I felt in picking out gifts for loved ones. Done hunting for Bible verses to sanctify the fun of putting up our imperfect little tree. Done vilifying Santa Claus and the Whos of Whoville and every cautiously cheerful cashier who wishes me “Happy Holidays!” Done debating, done nit-picking, done shouldering assumed guilt, done.

Here’s the thing—The Bible makes no mention of December 25th, but it does talk extensively about being part of our communities, taking an active and empathetic part in each other’s lives, extending love at every opportunity, and living with joy. It talks about opening our eyes to wonder and lavishing generosity. It tells us that the details of everyday life are made holy by the who and the how rather than the what (“TURNING THIS SHIT HOLY,” as Momastery puts it), and that a life lived in cahoots with God is spacious, expansive, and freeing. Paul calls it “The new country of grace.” I call it “Let’s get some rum in this eggnog already!”

All of those times I’d thought I was wrestling with my conscience, I had actually been wrestling with the restrictions and anxieties woven like a dark pattern through church tradition. That guilt was never mine to own because what I truly believe—what my soul and the divine glow in it whisper to me as truth—is that we were designed to love the liturgy of candlelight and cake. Whether you observe Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus, it doesn’t really matter, does it? There is so much joy wrapped up in the practices of giving and inviting and feasting, grateful remembrance and togetherness, and it is a gift straight to the core of my too-serious heart that I have God’s personal permission to celebrate.

~~~

{I’ve always had trouble comprehending the word “grace” as it’s used by religion or defined by Webster, but something in me knows it’s integral to who I am and who I’m becoming. In this Grace as: series, I’m attempting to track it into the wild and record my peripheral glances of it, my brushes with the divine. Come along with me? You can follow along via TwitterRSS, or my piping hot new Facebook page… and as always, I love hearing your thoughts in the comment section!}

Previously:

Grace as: Glitter in the Floorboards

Grace as: Three-Week Smiles

20Nov

Day In and Day Out

A few days ago, as I was rummaging around in the darkest corner of our fridge for the ginger, I found a granddaddy long-legs, its limbs pinched around itself like a claw. It was so unexpected and out of place—this arachnid death-tableau in the crisper drawer—but it struck me immediately as a totem, an image bearer for the memories that have been creeping around my consciousness on skeletal legs these last several days.

I’ve grown unaccustomed to bad memories, healed as I am by years of color and distance and impromptu dance parties. Yes, PTSD is a zombie escape artist who rears through the packed earth every so often to feast on my brains, but the breakouts have become rarer with time, and I simply wasn’t prepared to feel the past whisper-scraping up to me again.

It’s like this:

First, the sound of a lock turning from the inside; stealthy intentions grating against rust. I know what comes next, but I’m slow to react, seconds too late to stop the iron-plated door from sucking suddenly open. And there it is—a memory no longer pinched around itself but extending its claw legs, freezing me in a moment I once fought hard to escape. My perception of the world fractures, and I become the spectator and the victim at once. I relive all the helplessness I felt as a young girl in extreme emotional and physical pain, and then the helplessness of regret. I should have known it wasn’t right. I should have told someone. I should have fought, tooth and nail and voice and soul. Why didn’t I fight?

I know that letting myself get sucked back into that room only does me harm. There is no redemption in unanswerable questions, and their cobwebbed pain will cling to my skin for days after I leave. I do leave though, on the strength of repeat forgivenesses and the strain of personhood that runs deep enough to wake me from dreams. In this case, it wakes me to compassion, and I turn my anger from the child who didn’t know better, who had been taught wrong-as-right and don’t-tell-a-soul all her life. My anger turns away from my former abusers as well. They deserve my anger, certainly, but I’ve expended plenty on them in years past, and grace gives me room to breathe.

As my anger fades to the bigger picture—to religious despotism and church-sanctioned cruelty and this messed-up world where anything can be justified with enough jargon—my memory-cell fades from view, and I hear the door thud shut as if from underwater. There are other doors, of course. Perhaps tomorrow, or next week, or even an unguarded moment later today, I’ll hear the scratch of spinneret against doorjamb and scramble first to hold the past shut and then to escape it. This is the reality of life after trauma.

But there is also LIFE after trauma, a spacious world of possibility surrounding and surpassing moments of regression. In fact, that’s what I most wanted to put into writing today—that the very best way I’ve found to keep bad memories at bay is to invest myself in the present. Looking into my daughters’ eyes just to study their blue, to count the laugh lines ringing their irises… Folding the laundry with fingertips attuned to the interplay of threads, each filigreed whorl of cotton… Holding the bitter of coffee and the sweet of cane sugar on my tongue a few seconds longer… Pressing snooze to slide like a puzzle piece into the curve of my husband’s back, to soak in our collective warmth before the day… Turning the music loud in my earphones and feeling, with all my heart, the beauty of this unpredictable, compassion-won life I’m living.

18Sep

Schooled

Today marks one week back at school for the girls. Summer lasts long in Italy, and I can no longer contemplate freshly sharpened pencils in the same month when all our neighbors are headed to their beach homes, or apples for the teacher when we’re still in the syrupy peach haze of August. No, the backpacks come out of storage with the skinny jeans here, and this, my fifth back-to-school as an expat mother, is the first time I haven’t been afraid of it.

You have to understand that few personalities are less suited to the learningcoastercrazyspiral of expat life than mine. Two words: shy perfectionist. I’m easily intimidated by the challenge of opening my mouth in my own language, much less a foreign one, and I desperately want to do every last little particle of life right. Moving to a new culture where I am 100% guaranteed to make mistakes every time I a) step out my door, b) open my mouth, and c-z) try to pass myself off as a confident, capable adult who knows what the hell she’s doing in line at the post office has been an ongoing exercise in recovering from mortal embarrassment and pinning my worth on something other than social finesse. (Baked goods, perhaps?)

The girls’ back-to-school transition is particularly prone to trial and error because parents are expected to know through a combination of telepathy and strategic neighborhood networking who to register with, where to order books, how to stock up on supplies, which uniform is required, and what day and time of day school starts. I am inordinately grateful each year when we manage to show up before the bell and with a majority of the right supplies. This year, however, my gratefulness was due less to beating the telepathy game and more to having a great group of friends we can hit up for details. I didn’t have to worry that my child would end up the only second-grader without 5-millimeter graph paper or that my other child would be kicked out of kindergarten for lack of a sun hat. I really didn’t worry at all, which was a welcome departure from tradition.

This lack of anxiety was significant for another reason too, another kind of cultural divide overcome. See, I was raised in a hyper-fundamentalist Christian lifestyle based almost entirely on fear. First and foremost, we were afraid of God; he was demanding, judgmental, and vindictive, and he dangled the threat of hell above our heads like a sword hanging on the gossamer strand of his patience. We were so afraid of incurring his wrath that we accepted every passing religious do and don’t at face value and left critical thinking to those damned (literally) liberals.

We were almost equally afraid of “The World,” the term we used to describe any society or person who did not share our beliefs. The World was the government who collected taxes and redistributed them as welfare and failed to enforce our country’s founding values. The World was secular media, with its television programs and feature films and news bulletins all designed to glorify sin. Most of all, The World was public school, Satan’s greatest ploy for corrupting young hearts and minds. The only times I set foot in a public school as a child was when my parents went there to vote, and despite the empty classrooms and quiet halls, I was terrified that the godlessness of the place would seep into my pores like an airborne disease.

I’m a parent of school-aged daughters myself now, and I understand more than ever what my parents feared about sending me off to school. When I pass my girls into the waiting arms of their teachers, I relinquish a very large measure of control. I no longer act as filter and gatekeeper to my children’s minds, and yes, it is incredibly scary to imagine what ideas and mannerisms they could absorb away from home. My kneejerk reaction would be to protect, protect, protect, to turn our home into a bunker of parental-approved thinking and only let in whatever wafts of the outside world won’t disturb our family ecosystem.

I know from deeply personal experience, however, that mind control is a losing game for everyone involved. Discernment can’t grow in an environment where only one side of an issue is ever presented. Conflict resolution can’t be learned where conflict is never allowed. Grace can’t thrive in a relational or ideological vacuum, nor can compassion, courage, or humility. We were designed to live in a multifaceted world full of wonderfully unique people who hold diverse opinions, and I want my children to experience the horizon-expanding beauty of this design instead of hiding from it in fear.

Beyond the fact that I would be a terrible homeschool teacher (seriously, the worst), I don’t actually want to be the only adult my girls look up to or learn from. I don’t agree with everything that their teachers and Sunday School leaders and even relatives tell them, but those differences in opinion have a way of sparking great conversations with the girls, conversations we wouldn’t get to have if they were getting a single-minded stream of information from me. Besides, facts aren’t everything. The girls also get love from the “outsiders” in our lives, and part of the joy of their return to school this year was in their reunion with much-beloved teachers and classmates.

How could I be afraid of that, I ask?

First grade done

(I can’t.)

2May

Recovery Mode

May 1st is Labor Day here in Italy, and in order to fully celebrate its freedom to work, the nation exercised its freedom to take off from work starting last Thursday evening. Folks, we’re talking five full days of weekend. Five! Traditionally, one of my favorite things about any given weekend is the opportunity it affords me to catch up on unfinished projects, but this time, my body took a calculating look at the swath of free time ahead, mumbled “It’s about time,” and punched out. I don’t know how many hours I slept over the last few days, but they never seemed like quite enough. While the rest of the country picnicked, I passed out. They shopped, I snoozed. They went camping, I went comatose. You get the idea. At any rate, this morning, its gray light and calendar flip equally disorienting, is probably as good a time as any to accept that I’m in recovery mode.

To fully understand the issue that’s had me reeling lately, you’d have to peek among the pages of my childhood journals. The back story is all there, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time. You see, one of the most basic tenets of my family’s fundamentalist lifestyle was that children were inferior. Outwardly, our movement held up Bible verses labeling children as a gift, but more quietly and much more pervasively, it taught that children were little sin-bred decepticons with no intrinsic worth until they were broken in. A child’s mind was a thing to be shaped, not acknowledged. Growing up as a child of that movement, I had little right to my own opinions, and if my perspective ever differed from an adult’s, I was wrong, automatically and without question.

There was a personal element to it as well. Because I was the oldest child in our family and the one whose independent streak clashed most visibly against our movement’s ideals, I needed to be put down more decisively than most. Whereas other children in our lifestyle had at least the hierarchy of age in their favor, my words could be invalidated by those of younger siblings. I can vividly remember being forbidden to tell my side of a story because it wouldn’t count anyway. I was guilty until proven innocent, and my proof was often disqualified unheard.

It’s lingered with me long, that poisoned whisper from my past: Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway. Safely ensconced in adulthood, I see the lie for what it is, and I win another victory against it every day that I post an entry here or submit an article or talk honestly with a friend. However, some hurts are too powerful to simply keel over and die; instead, they lie dormant until a specific trigger jolts them back to life.

That trigger came a couple of weeks ago.

I had been asked for my help in a situation that quickly turned more complicated than anyone had expected. As weeks went by, the situation became increasingly unmanageable, and I finally went to the party that had initially asked for my help to ask them for help. Their response came hurtling out of left field. Where I’d anticipated a brainstorming session, I was met by a flurry of emotional outbursts and unfounded accusations that continued for an hour unabated. The only reason I stayed, tears welling with each insult, was that I hoped the situation could be salvaged once the other party calmed down enough to listen to me. Then the trigger—They refused to hear my side of the story. They let me know they wouldn’t believe me, that my words were automatically invalid to them. The conversation was closed.

Your opinions do not matter. You have nothing worth saying. No one wants to hear what you think. No one will believe you anyway.

My panic attack was already gaining momentum by the time we said goodbye. An old current of pain jolted alive and coursed through my body like fire and ice, unbearably strong. The fresh pain of the other party’s words and the stress of the already-unmanageable situation crushed down on my head and lungs, and all oxygen vanished from the room at once. I don’t know how long it lasted before my sweet husband was able to calm my heart rate and restore feeling to my limbs; minutes turn into eternities when you can’t breathe, and I know we came close to an ER trip. I could no sooner control the panic than I could fly, but even in the worst of it, I understood how absurd it was to be having such an intense physical reaction to the evening’s conversation. As an adult, with both logic and a clear conscience on my side, I could have fought for myself or, even more easily, stepped away. No one had forced me to stay on the line, much less take the hurtful concepts to heart. Beyond that, I knew better than to believe the insidious lies used to control me as a child, so how could I be falling apart over them? How could I have let a few misguided words yank my stability out from under me?

I guess the truth of it is that I’m not fearless, nor am I immune. Some small part of my heart is willing to believe that the voices from my past are the right ones in a world of attractive deception and that no matter what sort of façade I build for myself, others will still be able to sense my worthlessness. This small part of my heart had found confirmation in the unkind things said to me in that trigger-quick conversation, and so even once my breath returned, I kept my mouth shut and my feelings on ice for the better part of a week. I felt like my voice had been stolen and only a ghost of a woman remained.

The feeling of bereavement didn’t last, of course, and as my confidence began to trickle back, I started drafting a letter that I hoped would bring some resolution. However, each version I wrote struck me as too confrontational, so I kept gentling it down until I had written a full letter of apology. From me. To the people who had hurt me. For the sole purpose of convincing them to have a better opinion of me in the future. I think I was hoping the apology would count toward me as turn-the-other-cheek karma, a sort of magic spell for reconciliation and happiness and divine brownie points all around, but reading back over those unctuous paragraphs in my own handwriting was like catching myself with tongue out, inches from a dirty boot. Sure, someone else may have triggered my emotional beast, but here I was keeping it alive, perpetuating the lies. Me.

Dear Lord. Was I still so willing to believe myself a cosmic mistake? Was I really so eager to discredit all the love and encouragement shown to me throughout the years in favor of the soul-killing ideologies I thought I’d escaped?

I didn’t send the letter. As much as I wanted to make peace with the situation, I recognized that I wasn’t doing anyone a favor by patronizing a lie, and I made myself promise that I would respond to my accusers face to face once the time was right, once my feet were planted firmly enough in grace to lavish it on all of us. And so I wait in recovery mode. This is such a passive process that the insistent, sleep-for-five-days bout of exhaustion caught me off guard, but I guess it’s not the easiest thing in the world to let go of an identity-lie.

This process has a lot in common with running, actually. I’ve started up again, and for as slowly as I move and as embarrassingly little endurance as I have, I’m proud of my breathing. It’s been my one athletic success so far, learning to fill my lungs to capacity and then release it all, step after step. My natural inclination is to hold myself in and conserve breath under an airtight diaphragm, but as I run taut against the wind and feel increasingly convinced I’m dying, panic clamps down on my lungs like a desperate hoarder and I finish the workout doubled over. Attractive, let me tell you.

I’m learning about letting go, though, about trusting that each new breath will be waiting within reach and that I’ll have the energy for each new step as it comes. Relaxing into the process doesn’t come naturally to me, so I’m doing the clumsy beginner routine right now both in running and in living—inhale and exhale, acknowledge and release, listen and move on, grace and more grace. The rhythm doesn’t come easily yet, but time is kind, and at least I can rest assured that if my tongue sticks out these days, it’s only in concentration.

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