i love you so much

And where do they take you?

I wish I had always known how to listen to my own.

Several times this weekend I crossed paths with art that struggled to be birthed amidst others’ voices. It is a common human dilemma. And it makes my heart ache because I know the turmoil all too well.

What voices do you listen to? I really want to know.

Who’s talking to your head and heart and telling you to be more of something else? Practical. Wise. Better.

I have spent years of my life listening to the voices of my (different than I) mother, men I’ve loved and been rejected by, and religion, mainly the Bible, my tradition’s sacred Scripture as interpreted by others. I want to tell you a secret. On my own, I have not opened a Bible in years. If you want to know why, ask me. I’d be honored to talk about it.

Side note: I recently read of an artistic practice that might help me open a Bible again someday from a friend who understands and is learning to listen a new way:

found poetry

Image by Jamie Bonilla. Using your sacred scripture for found poetry.

Listen to the voices. Let others, like me, help you. What happens to your heart when you hear them? Do they make you laugh or cry? Do you feel freer or trapped? Why are you scared? What in your life shows you are doing all you can to push them away?

I watched “A River Runs Through It” again this weekend. I’ve seen it a half-dozen times and was watching it virtually with one of my Story Sisters. I messaged her. “I have watched this movie so many times and still ask what drives Paul to push the envelope so hard.”

river runs through it

The movie is a based on a memoir of two brothers, homeschooled by their Presbyterian minister father in the early 1900s. They grow up in Missoula, Montana.

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing. We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman who tied his own flies and taught others. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman.” 
— Norman Maclean (A River Runs Through It and Other Stories)

The movie makes me cry every time. When I asked my friend the question, she answered, “The need to feel free and in control of his own destiny and life?”

And I responded, “Or it takes so much to drown the heavy voices.”

Two brothers. One learns to live despite the voices. One does all he can to ignore them. Guess which one it works out better for?

Oh, dear friends. I long for us to know our own voices. Including the ones that haunt us, talk to us, and lead us to where we might not be meant to go.

Listen to your heart. It’s okay. You’re safe there. I promise.

What voices do you listen to the most? Do you believe it’s okay to listen to your own heart? Why or why not? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments or through an email to me.

pizza

Sacrifice is not a sustainable practice. But God’s endless creativity and mercy will keep sustaining the world. –Debbie Blue

It’s so much. Gaza. Murdered AIDS workers. Grief for loved ones in struggling, abusive, and too early death-do-us-part marriages. Children fighting to break through the cocoon to adulthood. Health. So many things that I might think I need to fix. Meanwhile, I eat pizza (dairy AND gluten AND processed meat…three of the seven deadly nutritional sins, for sure) and sleep in and bane exercise UH-gain.

I used to belong to a religion that told me I could have all the answers. If I wasn’t working to implement these answers…which definitely didn’t include pizza and sleeping in (“Jesus rose from the dead. And YOU…you can’t even get out of bed–Keith Green), I was personally responsible for not “moving The Kingdom forward” and God was displeased. I served the God of evangelicalism. “Your life is a testimony and everyone’s watching.” and the American g.o.d., “Stay beautiful. Smiley, Church-going and connected. Sacrifice for your husband (sex and a life of homemaking), children (homeschooling), and ME…the god of guilt, obligation, and duty. That means working at VBS, feeding the masses whenever required, and bringing your young children and family to church Every. Single. Week. “We” (g.o.d.) are paying attention. You are an exhausted mother of three? Well, g.o.d. forbid you wouldn’t be the Madonna, the Sex Queen, and the Sunday School Teacher extraordinaire.

It was all a lie. And SO much pressure.

Guess what happened? I loved a gay friend. I slept at 11am from exhaustion in the middle of homeschooling and could not justify it.  I ached for another man. I QUIT homeschooling. And I ate pizza. And ice cream. And drank wine. I (whispered) began to worship with (that church that BELIEVES in the gays…um, what does that even mean?) Episcopalians. My life did not make sense to those who were watching. And since it didn’t make sense, they stopped watching. I had to stop caring. That they weren’t watching.

Here’s where I am today. I’ve gained weight. I struggle to go to church. I no longer ache for another man, but wonder about the death do us part in the new medical world. I reject the purity culture idols and want my children to know freedom and learn from experience. I still love my friend, who happens to be gay, but I ask, “Why does it matter?”. If I do make it to church, it’s not the same place my teens have chosen to attend. I have rejected the pressure…most days. And I’m on many pieces of pizza later as I write. But, thanks be to God, I also accept the power of a consistent yoga practice. Because Nameste is Godly. The divine in me bows to the divine in you. I choose to see God’s imprint in everyone.

Here’s my plan in the meantime. After spending my 20s trying to “do church right” and my 30s trying to “do family right”, I am spending my 40s trying to “do me well.” This is what I can give. This is what I can’t. I choose to stay faithful to my husband and children, but not condemn those that can’t. I will stop fighting to be perfect. I will not IMAGINE that I am g.o.d’s voice to the world. And I Will. Eat. Pizza…Lots.

save the tatas

This is a ConformityFree message and story for anyone who wonders and struggles with violence done in the name of prevention within Western Medicine.

When I left off at Part I of my story, the biopsy had been ordered and scheduled. I wasn’t worried. I wasn’t worried? Didn’t I want to get fit in that afternoon, the nurse asked? No. I have a life! Things to do! People to see. I made my appointment for the following week and thought so little about it, I had to contact a friend and tell her, “Oh, yeah. Sorry! I can’t get together today after all. I have a biopsy scheduled.”

Here’s the truth. I had more personnel attend to me for my breast biopsy than I did for any of my three births. There were two nurses and one doctor throughout the procedure. I’m pretty sure one was there just to hold my hand.

So for those of you who have not experienced this privilege of Western medicine, a needle biopsy requires a numbing of the pectoral muscle and the insertion of an instrument that clicks twice, once to insert into the tissue and once to extract some. That I was prepared for. And yeah, there’s blood.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was two-fold. Since my first biopsy in ’06, they now “mark” the place of the biopsy forever and ever amen with a piece of titanium so that any future mammogram will show where my biopsies have taken place. This is where it got a little dicey. For whatever reason, the doctor couldn’t get it to stick. So he dug, he moved, he fished, he jiggled, breaking blood vessels right and left to mark me with titanium. Five days later, the bruising is severe enough that I wonder if that is all the marking I will ever need.

I also didn’t remember from the first time around that they take a second “simple” mammogram immediately following the biopsy for their records. So once the doctor had marked me, my tissues got squeezed in a vice grip again and now you know more about my internal bleeding and baseball-batted-breast than you ever wanted to know.

I made conversation with the nurses while the doctor did his thing. “Y’know. I worry way more about ovarian cancer than breast cancer.”

“Oh yeah,” they agreed. “It’s so awful. Ovarian and pancreatic. If you get diagnosed with one of those these days, you’re a goner.”

Great. So, insurance, can I get a yearly ultrasound on my ovaries instead?

I didn’t expect to feel so shaky when I sat up to have to walk down the hall to the vice-grip machine.

I didn’t expect to feel so sore and not be able to hug my husband chest-to-chest for a couple of days.

Two days later, I got the call. “Congratulations! There’s nothing there! Go out and celebrate!”

But instead I cried about how mad and hurt I felt by the whole experience.

I cried for my friend who suffered terribly under the medical costs her breast cancer brought, knowing none of the research money helped her or her family.

I cried for the time the dentist told me my little one had to have eight teeth extracted and I didn’t ask enough questions and just let them.

I cried because despite all the times I’ve been to the doctors since puberty to try and treat my anxiety and depression and ultimately fibromyalgia and chronic insomnia, they’ve had no answers but more drugs.

I cried for a woman, a mother of 3, who fought brain cancer for 7 years undergoing all the violent chemo and radiation and surgeries, but still lost her battle last month at 41 years old.

I know a woman who tells her OB-GYN that her GP is taking care of her mammograms and the GP that her OB-GYN is taking care of it and though she’s over 70, she hasn’t had one in 11 years.

I don’t know the answers. But I have decided that when it comes to prevention…I have got to be a better advocate. For myself, my family, and those who suffer financially or in their bodies and souls with these more violent ways we try to cure all. the. things.

practice youishness

So much of my life-long religion has taught me how and why I need to deny myself. But since turning 40, I’ve become more open to practicing You-ish-ness as part of my spiritual discipline instead. It’s provided me healing, greater compassion for others, and freedom from serving the little g.o.d. of guilt, obligation, and duty.

Want to know more? I’m featured on The Story Unfolding blog today writing about why You need to know You. Read it to find one of the things Oprah and Jesus Culture have in common that hasn’t helped us and what I believe can transform us instead.

Continue reading here.

*You-ish-ness was first termed at a recent Story Sessions retreat I attended by my friend, Jamie Bonilla.

Next up this Thursday: I’m Over It–Part II of the Biopsy Story

save the tatas

If I was a less distinguished person, I would start this post off with a picture of my left breast. Unadorned.

That is, except for the rainbow of red and black and blue that looks like someone took a baseball bat to me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my corner of the Internet, spending time deciding what I really care about, what I want to share with you. And trust me. Stay with me. My left breast applies.

I want to write about what I truly care about that involves being free from conformity. My journey. Your journey. Freedom.

And that includes freedom from the Breast Cancer Frenzy.

I know, I know. We all have friends who have had to go through the grueling experience of finding and treating breast cancer. It is not my intention to negate that breast cancer is a real threat. That early detection saves lives. That maybe Angelina Jolie did the right thing.

BUT. I have a story to tell.

And I am angry.

I did what was right. I showed up for my yearly physical after several years of avoidance. I fasted another day and let them take my blood. Those results came back and my cholesterol was slightly over 200. Isn’t 200 supposed to be the limit? I can’t keep track. No phone call.

Blood work and a mammogram are the routine for women in America. Some say every year, some say every other. Who can keep track anymore? I diligently signed up and made sure in my full life to make it a point to go. After all, I have friends who go every year in their birthday month. (Please tell me there’s a better way to celebrate my birthday month).

Now. When I showed up at our local Women’s Imaging Center, I was somewhat impressed. It’s obvious to me where some of the research money they try to rally while you check out at Safeway has gone. The staff is numerous and gracious. The art work is beautifully pink. The refreshments are plentiful, including a mini-fridge in the waiting room. And the vice grip I stuck my breasts in definitely cost a fortune.

Here is where I want to say that I think the solution to boob-fascination in our culture is that all young people need to intern at a Women’s Imaging Center. Those technicians “man”-handled me well. They see every shape and size and nipple hair all the day long.

And they kept asking me. “You haven’t had a mammogram since ’06?” 

No, ma’am, I have not.

Because back then you found a benign fibrous lump. And I went through the entire procedure back then…mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, waiting, results. Yes, I’m 45. But this is a pain in the boob and I hate it but I’m here anyway and I’ll bet you find another one.

Yep. They sure did. I got the call. “We need to take a look at something we found in your left breast.” Well, that’s the other one. Maybe this is different. Ultrasound appointment made. Dr. F has also seen every shape and size and nipple hair. “It’s very small. I’m 97% sure it is nothing. But you never know. Good to be sure.”

I suppose. Nothing in me was concerned. I just wanted to be a good girl and do what I should do.

And everyone treated me so kindly, reassuringly, gently.

BECAUSE AMERICAN WOMEN ARE SCARED.

To be continued…