Announcing: This is My Body

It’s been kind of quiet around this blog recently, folks! You know why?This is My Body-800x600pixels

I wrote a book.

To be more accurate, I registered for the 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing, blindly pitched into a Submittable portal, was floored to have an editor from Upper Room Books contact me, was even more floored when that blossomed into a book contract, and then spent a year writing in agonizing fits and starts and frenetic bursts over weekends.

Then my wonderful editor, Joanna, and a few others waded into the messy product with me to rework it into something that might serve.

I’ve been saved by books before. I’ve been found by books before. And all I can hope for this work is that it might provide some small safety, some small place of being found, for those who choose to spend some of their time sitting with my story.

It’s a story about bodies and blood and babies and boobs and Jesus and what happens when we start to listen to women, and to the new ways God is moving in the world.

This is My Body: Embracing the Messiness of Faith & Motherhood will launch May 1, 2018 and is available for pre-order now through your favorite online seller.

Festival of Faith & Writing: More than Enough

“Things never happen the same way twice, dear one.”
– Aslan to Lucy Pevensie, Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis

To tell my truest Festival story, we have to jump back a bit.

2016
My first festival. A wholly unwritten story. I had no idea what to expect. I knew exactly one person at the entire shindig, I wasn’t sure that I was a writer, and I wasn’t entirely sure why I was there at all. I attended a session in every time slot and drifted from place to place in a dreamlike state. I was overwhelmed. It felt like coming home to a family I’d never met, but always known. I shared a spare room in a couple’s apartment, which I hardly ever saw. I was early for everything, and stayed as long as I could. It was like I’d finally gotten my letter to Hogwarts.
And. 
And the woman who would become my editor contacted me and asked for a chat after fishing my book proposal out of the Submittable portal associated with the festival. She asked after my book, said she was interested, and we parted with some tentative next steps.
(My full festival recap from 2016 is available here)

2018
I highlighted all the sessions I wanted to go to 10 days in advance. I was unable to trust that the book I’d started working on after the last festival was about to be in my hands for the first time, and be sold, at this one. I had a game plan. I knew what to expect.

[Insert Ron Howard voiceover]
She did not, in fact, know what to expect.

My schedule seemed to disintegrate the moment I stepped off the plane. Any level of chill I had was gone the second I saw my book in print. Day 1 was more raw than I was ready for, Day 2 more official than I felt, and Day 3 too fast for my liking (because I never wanted it to end). But I did manage to hold to a few rules, and I would pass them on to any future Festival goer:

  • If you have split interests between a session led by White folks or a Person/People of Color, choose the latter.
  • If you have to choose between a celebrity writer voice you already know and an intriguing panel by people you don’t know, choose the latter.
  • For every work you buy written by a White/centered culture author, buy another work by an author of Color/marginalized culture. 

My festival experience was deeply enhanced by these practices. I heard new voices that both shredded and repaired me in all the right ways, like Padraig O Tuama, Natasha Oladoukun and Robin Coste Lewis. I was called in and called out by Jeff Chu, Austin Channing Brown, and Diedra Riggs. I was given beauty and history and shape by Edwidge Danticat.

These experiences were rich, challenging, joyful, and unlike any I could get from a guest series at my White Protestant Christian points of access. In my spaces, I’m likely to see a number of headliners come through my city or University again. By intentionally leaning out of my knee-jerk preferences, I got a much wider and more nourishing experience than if I had stuck to my script from 2016 – and a much wider list of beautiful smelling, spine-cracking new books.

They will forever be the starry points of light in this story.

But the river that swept me along under that starry sky was a wild one that tossed me into the lap of person after beautiful person who buoyed me through meals, conversation, check-ins. My gracious hosts for the weekend and longtime friends, Kristy and Amber, who housed me in their apartment and laugh-cringed with me through memories of high school youth group events that culminated in contrived tears every night.

My first writer-friend, Shea, who was the first to say “you need to pitch this” and then one of the first to hold the finished work in her hands.

My new author family at Upper Room, J. Dana Trent and Whitney Simpson, whose meditations let me keep finding space in myself despite the overwhelm of the Festival, and who called me to their table with grace and welcome.  And our team, Ann and Joanna, who make heavy work light and possible.

A brand new collection of faithful women writers who added me to their gaggle following the conference, where we broke bread in gratitude and shared moments that were simultaneously hilarious, holy, irreverent and beautiful.

A brunch for the books with another friend from home, Amanda, who braved the ice and other humans to come for a wide-ranging chat over crepes.

And now, a new adventure: A night in a convent with one of those lovely women who pulled me into their circle. A waystation for this snowed in traveler drowning in joy.

A Festival experience with just the starry lights would’ve been enough.
A Festival experience with just the wild current of writing community & soul friends would’ve been enough. 
An impromptu adventure to a Dominican Sisters’ Mother House would’ve been enough.
A visit with just one of the many friends I’ve been with here would’ve been enough.
An experience without a published work would’ve been enough. 
Doing this festival exactly like 2016 would’ve been enough.

But this was more, is more, will be more. It demands more of me, and calls me to pull more people whose voices were not heard at this Festival into the work and demand they be heard in the future.

Thank God nothing ever happens the same way twice. See you in 2020, friends. May we recognize each other then as the ones we are becoming now.

*Credit to Dayenu and my beloved friends in the Jewish tradition for the last bit of this work.

Five Minute Friday: Release

“Send the shoulders down the back body and release.”hand-pump-427770_640

This gently spoken command from my at-home yoga companion, Adriene Mishler, always serves to remind me that I tend to move through life with my shoulder tips pressed almost all the way up to my ears. And every time I remember to let go, I find space I didn’t know existed.

Writing seems to be the same way – I am a word hoarder. I write notes rather than paragraphs, paragraphs rather than posts. Somewhere I seem to believe that the vein I’m mining will run dry, so I must only tap into it sporadically. But I know, intellectually, that the opposite is true: the well doesn’t run dry, there’s always more, the work is enough, and we never stop belonging to each other.

Releasing the tension & fear, releasing some words to the world, all require me to act on a truth I’m not ready to believe:

There will always be enough.

So release, release, release. We’re not going to run out of room. The well keeps running. There’s more space than we think, and we’re allowed to stretch into it.


Five Minute Friday is a great writing community! Follow along, find the prompts, and jump into the party at #fmfparty on Twitter.

What Mary Knew

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Magnificat, Benjamin Wildflower

Before we begin, let me offer a disclaimer. You’re allowed to like the song Mary Did You Know. I’m not saying you can’t like it, or sing it, or use it in worship in your churches. I am not here to pry Mary Did You Know from your ever loving hands. I am not here to rain on the warm or profound Christmas moments and memories you may have attached to this song.

But I also need to be very honest with you:
I cannot “Mary Did you Know?” and #MeToo at the same time.

While this particular song’s lyrics have troubled me for some time, they’ve troubled me for reasons that the songwriter couldn’t really control. After all, it’s not Mark Lowry’s fault that people have repeatedly and habitually assumed that I am clueless about things I am an expert in.
It’s not Mark Lowry’s fault that men have silenced me when I am trying to advocate for myself, because they feel they speak for me better than I can speak for myself.
It’s not Mark Lowry’s fault that I’m used to people doubting me when I tell them important things, especially about important things that I see or experience because I move through the world and the church in a woman’s body.
And it’s not Mark Lowery’s fault that, this Advent, we are living through a great reckoning as our culture finally begins to grapple with the all-encompassing scope of sexual harassment, abuse, and oppression of women at all tiers of employment and in all halls of power.

I’m not laying the problems of sexism and patriarchy at Mark Lowry’s feet.
But I can’t listen to this song without listening through those problems, either.

For thousands of years, the church has taught the wisdom of Mary as captured in our Gospels.

Mary is on record, in black and white, right there in the bible that we American churches hold so dear. She is brave and bossy, revolutionary and strong. Her voice tells us that she knew the stories of her foremothers. In her mouth we hear the echoes of the songs of Miriam, Deborah, and Hannah. She is too self-assured, too wise, too powerful for a young teen woman living in occupied Israel. But her voice in scripture tells us that she knew.

So when we, in our worship spaces, turn around and ask “Mary Did You Know?” without pausing for the answer, or worse yet, smugly assuming that we know better than her – it feels like choosing ignorance over wrestling. It feels like taking the easy way out. And it feels like just another instance of what too many women have come to expect out of their churches: You do not want our answers. You do not want our voice. You only want to pretend like you do.

And I’ll be honest, in this moment of #MeToo,  it is demoralizing to me. If we the faithful can’t or won’t even listen to the mother of God Incarnate, straight from scripture, how can I ever believe that you will hear me? Or any other woman? Or any other person who we’ve grown accustomed to projecting onto and talking over?

So in this season (and in all Advent moments), I would invite us to spend time remembering some of what Mary did know. And this will require the unthinkable:

We have to listen to a woman and let her be the authority on her own experiences.

Deep breaths. We can do this. It’s good practice, I promise.

Mary knew pregnancy and childbirth were dangerous and women did not always survive. When the angel visited, she was promised that her son would be Most High. (Luke 1:32) She was not promised that she would survive that birth.

When we are unwilling to risk ourselves and our lives in order to help God’s world to be birthed – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.

Mary knew her life, reputation, and all else would be at risk. She was engaged. Her engagement (and her stability and safety in the world) were reliant on her status as a virgin. She was defined by the men in her life – her father, and her fiancéee. A pregnancy was a disgrace to both and a great risk to her. In a move of great trust, and knowing her whole identity to her community and her world would shift around her, she said a triumphant Yes. “Let it be unto me as you have said.” (Luke 1:38).

When we turn away from the hard work that God calls us to because our identity is more closely tied to patriarchy than to God’s calling – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.

Mary knew the little baby boy she was carrying would live life as a Jewish man in an occupied territory. She knew that as he grew, he could be compelled by Roman officers and soldiers to carry their burdens for a mile on a moment’s notice – where he would be out of her reach and protection. (If you don’t believe me, recall her son’s words about going the extra mile).

When we want to turn away from the harm that our systems of culture and government perpetuate on minority people – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.

Mary knew what God was about – a total inversion of how our world normally works. A revolution where the mighty are brought low and the lowly lifted up, where the poor are filled with good things but the rich are sent away empty. She proclaims, in a Roman occupied territory, the sovereignty of God and the nation of Israel.

When we worry about the political repercussions of proclaiming the difference between God’s kingdom and our own government – we should remind ourselves what Mary knew.

Mary knew the God she trusted with her life and body and future, as much as any of us can. Mary knew that nothing about being a God-bearer guaranteed her safety – in fact, it greatly jeopardized it.

When we choose safety over pursuing God’s works of justice, when we ask for peace without being willing to lose everything in order to achieve it – we should remind ourselves of what Mary knew.

If the four minute performance of Mary Did You Know? Is the total time that the church spends thinking about, and learning from Mary – we are robbing ourselves of some of the most profound theology of the season and substituting it with a poor, thin replica. Something that is all shine on the surface, but of little substance. A candy theology that, without balance, will cause decay.

So in closing – remember. Yes, you are allowed to like the song. And even sing it. Loudly, and emotionally.

But if we’re going to ask Mary loud and emotional questions, we must listen to her answers. We must treat her like a person.

When you do, I promise she will deliver, with greater power than we’re ready for. She will answer loudly and emotionally. In all her raw and revolutionary power. She will give you permission to break out of your boxes, deny those who would belittle you, and put wild hope and trust in the God we strive to serve.

And, after all, it’s great practice for listening to women and treating them like people, too.

Murmuration: My Hope for the Women’s March

It is Inauguration Day. Or, as I have been prone to think of it, the eve of the Women’s March.

Like all big movements, we haven’t gotten here smoothly or quietly. In fact, I’d guess that the people I’ll be marching with tomorrow would rather they didn’t feel compelled to be there.

After all, if we felt safe and cared for, if we felt equal, if we felt our futures were reasonably safeguarded, we’d spend our Saturday morning sleeping in. Or at the farmer’s market. Or snuggling our pets. Or nuzzling a cup of coffee. Or nursing a hangover. Or nursing a baby.

But we know that we do not feel safe, or equal, or like our futures are a priority. So instead of doing what we’d rather do, instead of doing the things we’d do if our lives were not hanging in the balance, we march.

For some of us this is a new feeling. The election was a wake-up call. This seems to be true of many national and local organizers, who in their zeal to do something forgot that the fight was not born in the moment of their epiphany but has instead been carried all along by those who have never been granted the privilege of safety.

For some of us, this will be the first time our soles hit the street in response to the pain in our souls. It will be the first time our feet and bodies ache in unison with our internal tensions – fear hanging with hope, despair with determination, this-is-not-right with it-can-be-better.

For some of us, this will be only the latest in a long line of miles stretching behind. For some of us, the fight for justice has never been optional. For some of us, there’s never been the option to not be awake. Some of us have fought just to stay alive.

And some of us, long wearied by the treadmill of injustice, may just need to sit this one out.

Even still, they expect us to be numerous. The expect us to fill streets. They expect us to show up, because we’ve said we will.

And I hope we do.

I hope we show up with every fierce and flawed molecule. With every miscarriage story, every scar, every preexisting condition, every moment we’ve had to pause and consider how to correct the man in power without damaging our own credibility. I hope we show up with our children. I hope we show up with our tattoos. I hope we show up with our wheelchairs. I hope we show up with our bras and our binders. I hope we show up with our tears and our daring and our laughter, the laughter that sparks bravery and reveals just how small our abusers are.

And I hope, when we step on each other, we apologize and adjust.

I hope when we white women demand that our sisters of color claim allegiance to one part of their identity over the other, we apologize.

I hope when we cis women ignore the unique fears of our trans sisters, erase their experience, or respond to them in fear, we repent.

I hope when we straight women downplay our queer sisters’ concerns, we hear ourselves inflicting on them the same minimizing that’s been done to us.

I hope when we all show up with all of ourselves, we plan to adjust and make room accordingly.

I hope we can, like starlings, respond to this threat with flight and dance.

As it turns out, the way groups of thousands of starlings manage to twist and undulate and accelerate in seeming unison is an adapted technique. When one bird senses a predator, like a hawk or falcon, it takes off. And the whole group takes off with it.

These movements, I’ve learned, are called a “critical transition.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

But what seems like a liquid, unified, choreographed motion actually comes down to each bird taking its cue from the bird closest to it. When your neighbor moves, you move. This is why, during a murmuration, small groups may break off from the larger group for a time before rejoining. And yet each motion serves the same purpose: to confuse the predator and protect all birds in the group.

And this is my hope for the Women’s March, and for all our actions in the ongoing march toward justice. That we attend closely to one another. That we adjust for one another. That we remember that a movement that benefits and protects one of us protects us all. That we go where the person we are next to in that moment needs to go, whether we know them or not. That, as we fight for ourselves, we create a spectacle worth remembering. That we remember unity is not a perfect goal if it means we sacrifice agility and protecting our neighbor. That we remember when a group separates from the larger body, it is not a defection, but a defensive distraction to those who seek to harm.

And that when we land at home after the big show, we keep watch, ready to take flight again when it’s time to dance our way out of danger.

Just as this is not a beginning, neither is it the end.

If we are fortunate, there will be more slow Saturdays in between. Saturdays for bloody marys and football and the weekend crossword puzzle. But we must remain ready to get back in the street when we are called.

I hope we white women will take off work and take flights and take our babies and take our moxy to march as other vulnerable people are placed in danger by the Administration our white sisters voted in.

I hope we cis women will fight like hellfire for our trans sisters, for their healthcare and safety and freedom.

I hope we straight women will get creative and take action alongside our queer siblings, to preserve and further their rights.

I hope we Christians will defend our neighbors of other faiths and will denounce fear and hatred whenever we encounter it. Perfect love casts out fear.

I hope when a predator comes for one of us, we know they’ve come for us all. And rather than lash out and destroy, we murmurate.

Tomorrow we practice. Tomorrow we learn. Tomorrow we show up.

Fly right and fly well.

Remember Mary

On this Christmas Eve I am thinking about Mary. And I’m silently begging, as I have all Advent long, for the preachers and teachers who will work all this night to get Mary right. Or at least, to not get her wrong.

Maybe it’s because it’s Year A* and we still see little wrong with a liturgical practice that all but erases a birth mother every third year.

Maybe because we need the church, now more than ever, to stand up and say “God doesn’t rape.”

Maybe because I’ve felt the tug of the gravity of a child and the temptation to slip under and behind one, to allow my identity to be subsumed. To disappear into mothering and have my songs of faith, strength and revolution ignored.

Maybe because I’ve sat through too many Christmas seasons where the only time Mary is mentioned is when someone sings a song pondering her perceived ignorance of what God asked her, and what she said yes to.

But whatever the reason, I’m asking now.

Parents.
Christians.
Preachers.
Friends.

If you haven’t done so yet this year, mention Mary. And when you talk about Mary, talk about her as a human. Not as a disembodied uterus, not as a mere servant, not as a meek virgin.

Let her have her body, broken.
Let her have her blood, shed.
Let her keep her labor, her sweat, her fever as her body staved off any infection that may have tried to take her after birthing in a manger.

Let her be seen, along with Christ and the angels and shepherds and Joseph and Charlie Brown.

Let the Incarnation be every inch of its miracle, including the guts and the milk and the helplessness of Godself thrust into the arms of two exhausted and terrified and elated humans.

We don’t celebrate God Alone on this night, we celebrate God With Us.

And God-With-Us had company, including a mother.

There isn’t a tidy end to this. All I know is that too many times, I’ve been asked to show up in worship as a disembodied woman, and it would be truly awesome for the church to name, name, name that even God gets consent first. And that mothers of all kinds are not asked or expected to disappear.

 

*Year A is the name for the current part of the cycle of the Common Lectionary, a calendar used by some Christians that guides the church’s path through Scripture. Many churches use the Lectionary, many do not. It happens that this year in the cycle, Mary is all but absent from the chosen Scripture readings for the season.

The Other Sister: A Christmas Tradition

This story was told live for Second Tuesdays St. Louis, a monthly storytelling gathering. 

It is December 1992. You are in your favorite acid-wash jeans and flannel-lined denim jacket. You are also in some ridiculous hat that your mother insisted upon, probably some cast off from your older brother. You are seated on the tailgate of a silver Chevy S-10 sporting the license plate “SOLJER” on the back. Your feet dangle freely and the air in this cut-your-own Christmas tree patch smells like clean, American country. Like pine and diesel fueled chainsaws.

You are ten, and you have the misfortune of being my sister.

I am four. I am loud. I am unpredictable and unwieldy, and you are my favorite target. Your reverie is broken, again and again, by my shrieks, taunts, dawdling, and general brattiness. I am an Id on legs, and my puffy fuschia snowsuit has my panties in a wad.

We bump slowly through the Christmas tree patch, ostensibly looking for the Perfect White Pine to murder and drag home for the annual corpse decoration. When someone sees a tree they like, a shout goes up, we traipse out to measure it, and if it’s a contender we mark its location with a scuff mark in the sandy road through the patch.

I fall in a patch of cacti. I am covered, head to toe, and no needles pierce my skin but I shriek and sob anyway. You roll your eyes as mom and dad pick me up, dust me off and, in their sweet Midwestern way, tell me to “suck it up!”

Seated securely again on the tailgate, I start in. Whether it was the “I’m not touching you” bit or playing the repeat until your head caves in, one of my bits finally sends you over the edge. You snap. But this is you we’re talking about. Whip smart, but understated. Calculating. A glint comes into your eye and then it’s gone in an instant. An air of sophisticated calm comes over you as you lean down and look me straight in the face.

“If you don’t quit it right now, you’re going to end up like our other sister.”

I am four. I also am too smart for my own good, but I trust you. You are my older sister. I idolize you, even as I annoy the shit out of you. My beady eyes narrow with skepticism.

“What other sister?”

You unspool a tale of horror, about a long-lost sister who existed before me, who was, like us, taken into this very Christmas tree patch. A sister who, like me, was annoying you to no end, driving you to THROW HER OFF THE TAILGATE OF THE SILVER CHEVY S-10 AND INTO THE WOODS. Mom and Dad didn’t realize she wasn’t in the truck until after we drove all the way home, and by then it was too late. They could never find her, and she’s never been seen or heard from again, though some hear tell of a feral girl in the woods of Cass County who’s been raised by coyotes.

My four year old mouth hangs slack. You adjust yourself on the tailgate and swing your legs freely, again enjoying the quiet and the crisp air. Mission accomplished.

Or so you thought.

For now I am twenty-eight. And for twenty two years, I have insisted that you tell me the same. damn. story., over and over, every time we go back to Rawlins Tree Farm for our poor tannenbaums. For twenty-two years straight, I have begged you in person or called you over the phone, asking to hear the tale of our other sister.

This year when I called, your seven-year-old daughter recited the story along with you on speakerphone. And as the story ended, she shrieked “AND THEN SHE BECAME A WEREWOLF.”

And so the legend grows, and you will be doomed to tell the tale again and again for the next generation.

Merry Christmas.