Fresh, Not Frozen

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grilled pizza by Alise

When the dark days came the first time, I stopped cooking.

I was nearly 30, I had four very young children, and a husband who was battling demons that nearly took him out of the picture entirely. Chicken casserole gave way to frozen chicken nuggets. Spaghetti dinners turned into SpaghettiOs. The Chinese delivery person predicted my order before I placed it. I knew that my family needed more, but I had no more to give. Preservatives, sugar, fat. Uncomplicated flavors. In the midst of my own depression, I turned to that which was easy, that which was convenient. These became my mode of survival. Foods that filled me up quickly, but left me hungry again far too soon.

It wasn’t a conscious decision. I didn’t wake up one morning and announce to my family that I was going to stop cooking. It just gradually happened, without fanfare, without anyone really noticing. If someone had already gone to the trouble of making and packaging different foods, why did I need to bother making them?

Eventually, I took to saying that I didn’t really like cooking very much. But even that was taking the easy way out. The truth was, I didn’t like the circumstances that led me the place where I didn’t want to cook. I didn’t like feeling lonely, I didn’t like feeling separated.

Those same feelings that led me to stop cooking, led me to stop engaging with my first husband in any meaningful way. It was easier to just find the things that were easy about our relationship and ignore the parts that required work. Things were fine, but they weren’t filling.

None of that could be sustained.

When the dark days came again, I started cooking.

At first, I didn’t want to. I told Rich that I didn’t like to cook, that I wasn’t good at it. But rather than turning to pre-made, processed foods, he cooked for me. He made me soups because he know that was food that gave me comfort.

As time passed, I started cooking with him. At first, I would only chop up the vegetables that we would be using in the meal. Later, I started making the potatoes or rice that we’d serve with the main dish. Then I made sauces, appetizers, desserts. It became that I looked forward to our time together in the kitchen.

I found myself looking for recipes that gave a new take on favorite ingredients. I looked for new spices or vinegars to add interesting flavors to the same tired foods that I had been used to eating. New combinations, new ingredients, new techniques.

The same way that laziness in cooking was evident in the laziness in my former marriage, the new found zeal for cooking led me to work harder in my new marriage. When our marriage struggles, we don’t hide it under a veneer of “fine,” we take a look at what is hurting us and address it. Sometimes it isn’t great, like the avocado vinaigrette we tried to make, but if we don’t try, we can’t know what works for us. We can fall into predictable patterns that feel safe and easy, but ultimately lead to emptiness.

When we talk about our next house, we often talk about what we want in the kitchen. We dream about ample counter space, a huge pantry, an extra large range. We imagine the meals that we will cook together – full of complex flavors, vibrant colors, quality ingredients.

We want that for our marriage as well. Conversations that are don’t shy away from the complex questions. Living out dreams that are vibrant and alive. Treating one another with care because we recognize both the value of the other person, and our own value.

We will cook and we will love in a way that is fresh, not frozen.

(This post originally appeared at A Deeper Story. I’m slowly moving some of those posts back over here, now that ADS has shut down.)

When Jesus Was Dead

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There was a time that Jesus was dead.

Yes, there was resurrection, but today can we sit in that spot before that resurrection, for just a moment?

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Can we sit with his disciples?

They were almost certainly more than that – they were his friends. They had left their regular lives to spend time with this man. They believed his message. They trusted his words. They ate with him, they walked with him, they ministered with him. For the better part of 3 years, their lives were intertwined with Jesus’s.

They had the grief that comes with losing a close friend. They knew that he had spoken of life after death, but how could they know that it meant resurrection? How could they know that he had the power to raise himself from the dead? How could they know that they would ever get to share a meal with him or laugh with him or argue with him again? How could they relish in the “some day” reunion with him when right now they were feeling the ache of loss?

And there was the manner of his death – executed in the public square for the very declarations that they had followed. Jesus was whipped, mocked, and crucified for saying that he was the son of God. They had believed the same. They had said the same. Mixed with their grief was a sense of terror – what if they were next?

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Can we sit with Judas?

One of the original twelve, but at the end, he was disappointed. Jesus wasn’t turning out to be who he thought he was supposed to be, who he had been told the Messiah would look like. He stayed with him, so clearly there was a closeness in that relationship, but Judas could see the turning of the tide, and he wanted to get out ahead of the pain that was about to be poured out on the people who were followers of Jesus. He had information, so he used it.

But then it wasn’t a long trial. Jesus wasn’t merely beaten and humiliated, he was crucified. His friend, his mentor, his teacher – the man he had devoted his life to for years was utterly destroyed. Sure, he was probably in the clear because he had been the one to give him up, but the devastation of that act ate at him until he could bear it no longer and he took his own life. Grief mixed with guilt and shame caused him to forget all that he had heard about love and forgiveness.

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Can we sit with Mary, his mother?

Just a child herself when she conceived, Mary had raised a boy who became a man and claimed to be God’s own son. And because of the events surrounding his birth, she believed it. But that didn’t stop her from remembering the times that she had nursed him, had held him in her arms, had comforted him when he had experienced pain, both physical and emotional. His deity hadn’t stopped her from thinking of him as her son.

Despite all she had done to protect him, he had still been captured, tortured, and murdered. She watched his back be torn open. She had watched him struggle to carry his cross up to the hill of the skull. She had watched the nails gouge into his wrists and feet. She had watched him struggle to breathe and then she watched him die.

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Can we sit with the brokenhearted today?

People who have heard the Easter story so many times that it has lost all meaning. What does resurrection look like in the face of loss and mourning? What does the promise of eternity look like when you are dealing with the daily ache of missing a person who is no longer here? What does Jesus rising from the dead have to do with grief?

Are we using Easter as a way to avoid talking about the difficulties of living in a world that still has death? Are we using the resurrection as a way to keep from talking about the pain of loss? Are we talking about the astonishment of Sunday to avoid the humanity of Friday?

I believe that Jesus did rise. But there was a time when Jesus was dead. Let’s sit with those who are in that season.

The Lost Boys

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Elliott's feetThe house comes alive with the noise
that only six children can make.

Games are pulled off of the shelves,
with shouts for favorites.
Food is prepared,
with some expressing disdain and some voicing excitement.

Heads rest on one another’s shoulders,
hugs are given,
turn into wrestling,
then to comfortable piles of bodies on the floor.

Sometimes the house echoes with the sounds of arguments,
sometimes with the sound of music,
often with the sounds of laughter.

But this week, the loudest sound
was the cry in our hearts
for the sons who weren’t there.

A Strong Faith

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file0001406187121 I remember in my teens and early twenties praying for God to strengthen my faith. Even when belief came somewhat easy for me and faith seemed simple, doubt has always lurked. I trusted much of what I was taught in church and at the various Christian events that I attended, but there were also questions that remained. Questions about the place of women in Church. Questions about the exclusion of certain kinds of sinners. Questions about the fairness of eternal torment for temporal wrongdoing.

Questions that really boil down to the goodness of God.

I would often consider these questions to be a sign of a weak faith. A sign that I needed to spend more time praying, spend more time reading the Bible, spend more time in church. Something to help my faith be different than it was. Something to help me have a strong, robust faith.

Following Elliott’s death, those questions intensified significantly. I thumbed through books meant to give comfort to the believer after the death of a child, but they left me feeling more frustrated than uplifted. Instead, I read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, and highlight, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”

Hillsong United has a popular praise chorus called Oceans. One of the lyrics says,

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

It’s easy for me to wonder, what is wrong in me that when I encountered tragedy, my faith does not feel stronger, but rather feels like it is barely holding on? I have been through seasons where it has felt battered before, but in them, I could read something meant to be encouraging and be encouraged. I could listen to something meant to renew and feel renewed. There was pain, but there was also a sense that the pain had some purpose – something that I needed to learn.

But Elliott’s death seemed senseless. What is to be learned from the death of an infant? What encouragement can be gleaned from the loss of a child? How can faith be made strong in the midst of aching breasts and empty arms?

And really, what does a strong faith look like? How do we qualify the strength of our faith? What formula do we apply to figure out if we’ve achieved the mythical “strong faith”?

Some days the mere fact that my faith still exists feels like a testimony to its strength. That I can still see beauty in the Church feels like the marker of strong faith. That I can find fellowship where there has previously been rejection makes me suspect that my faith has power.

It is the faith of the Resurrection and the Life weeping at the death of a friend.

It is the faith of the Alpha and Omega asking to have his trials taken away.

It is the faith of the Savior of the world asking God why he had been abandoned.

A faith that sometimes feels loss, feels burdened, feels abandoned.

But a strong faith nevertheless.

#OneWord365 Update: Finding Me

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“Most of us don’t live our lives with one, integrated self that meets the world, we’re a whole bunch of selves.”
~Christopher Moore, A Dirty Job

At the beginning of the year, I said that I believed that this year, my word was “voice.” Then I promptly fell into a funk that stole all of my words.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

For a while, I wasn’t sure what happened. I attributed my lack of motivation to the grey days of winter. I blamed the anniversary of my mom’s death for inhibiting my writing. I thought that perhaps dealing with a child coming out as transgender made it hard to find words.

There’s an element of truth to all of those things. There are a lot of events occurring that I have big feelings about, but that I still don’t have enough distance to write about them. There are stories where I am still trying to sort out what parts belong to me and what belong to others.

But a big part of my struggle right now is that I’m having a bit of an identity crisis.

Identity has always been kind of fluid for me. When I started college, I knew that I wanted to major in communications, but after just a few weeks, I realized that I was far more suited for music than journalism. I was excited to be a teacher, to share my passion for music with students.

But teaching in the inner city when you’re a newlywed and pregnant is damn hard, and  when I was laid off, I swore that I never wanted to teach again. We moved closer to family and I stepped into the role of mother, one that I would occupy for many of the following years. It wasn’t one that I was always particularly good at, but one that I loved. For 16 years, my primary identity was mom.

Of course, that wasn’t my only identity. I was also “church piano player.” I was “interfaith couple” lady. I was “cross-gender friendship” woman.

Then everything went away. All of the identities that wanted to wrap around me were negative. Cheater. Liar. Abandoner. Hypocrite. And for a while, I allowed myself to hold those identities close. I hadn’t just done a bad thing, I was a bad thing. Identity wasn’t something that I thought about because all of my identities were cloaked in shame.

Shaking that has been difficult. Therapy has helped. Being a part of a generous church family has helped. Cultivating a life married life with my very best friend has helped. But I’m only now starting to examine who I am again.

I continue to discover that grief has seasons. The initial losses have pain that blocks out everything. All you can see is the loss itself, the agony of not having that relationship or person there. But as that initial pain mutes, it can leave you wondering who you are.

As I enter this season of grief, I’m going to start discovering me again. I’m going to try to avoid “orphaning my story,” as Brene Brown suggests, acknowledge, and then let go of the shame that wants to make a permanent part of my identity.

My voice can only be as strong as I allow it to be, and being unsure of who I am, makes for a weak voice. I want my voice to be strong, so I need to know me.

4 Things To Know If Your Child Comes Out To You

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I’ve been affirming of the LGBTQ community for years, so I always assumed that if any of my children came out, it would be no big deal. Of course I would love them, of course I would support them. These things weren’t up for debate. I would read posts by parents who talked about what they would do if any of their kids were gay and I nodded my head. Yes, having a gay child would be easy.

Then a few years ago one of my kids came out as pansexual and genderfluid. Two letters not even in the regular LGBTQ initial grouping! I kind of understood pansexual – sexual attraction, even if it’s not like your own, is pretty straightforward. If you experience sexual attraction, then certainly it will have different expressions. But I didn’t really get what it meant to be genderfluid. I understood that it meant that sometimes they felt male and sometimes female, but not feeling like your reproductive parts match your gender was completely foreign to me. I tried to empathize with them, bought some opposite gender clothing for them for those days, and didn’t really do anything beyond that. Supporting their pansexuality was easy because they were in a relationship with someone of the opposite biological sex. Supporting their gender fluidity was a little bit harder because I didn’t understand it, so I mostly ignored it.

Being a supportive parent was challenged a bit when they started dating someone of the same biological sex. It wasn’t that hard to communicate love to my child and their significant other, but there were times when I wondered if I was really supporting them well when I didn’t post pictures of them on Facebook or when I didn’t mention them to family members. Some things that I read said that they wouldn’t keep their gay child a secret and I wondered if I was contributing to a shaming culture by not talking about it at every opportunity.

Things continued here for a while. I assumed that this was where we were landing. A child that wasn’t straight, a child that had some gender identity issues.

Then one day I was reading through their Tumblr and I came across a post where they came out a second time, now as transgender.

Not genderfluid, not questioning. A post that indicated they were born into the wrong body, that their insides did not match their outside at all, ever.

My world was rocked.

I don’t think I reacted badly, but it wasn’t what I pictured happening. If we’re affirming and we know that our kids know that we’re affirming, we can have a glamorous view of how the coming out will happen. A quiet confession from a child who is a little bit afraid to see your reaction followed by a tearful embrace and an immediate visit to the Human Rights Campaign website to order a new equality sticker for the car and mug for your desk. You wave a rainbow flag and you all march in the next pride parade together. Ours was just a Tumblr post making the announcement and then another really awkward one talking about how to order a STP device. We talked in a car ride to a music lesson. No big dramatic moments, just little discussions here and there.

That’s my story of my kid coming out to me. It doesn’t really fit with a lot of the more beautiful posts about kids theoretically coming out. And that’s what I want to write about today. Here are a few things to keep in mind if your child comes out to you as LGBTQ (or any other initial!).

1. This isn’t about you. One viral post said, “If I have a gay child, you’ll all know it.” I understand why he would say that. We want our children to know that we’re proud of them, no matter who they are dating. But the truth is, sometimes our kids aren’t quite ready for that information to be public. Maybe there are people they aren’t ready to be out to. Maybe they need time to process among the safety of their supporters before venturing into the world where some may not be so understanding. The truth is, we as parents don’t get to out our kids to the world, they get to do that. Holding their secret for them can be a way of supporting them. Coming out is a process and every person is going to approach it differently. Honor what your child wants, not what you think they should want.

2. This is about you. A lot of posts detailing what parents will do if their child comes out completely ignore that there can be a sense of loss that occurs when your child reveals that they do not conform to gender norms. This does not mean that you don’t love your child. This does not mean that you do not support your child. But every change means the death to something, and it is good and appropriate to mourn those losses. For me, the loss of a name that I dearly loved was particularly difficult. I love the name that my child chose for their new identity both as a name and as a nod to their former name, but I no longer have a child with the name that I gave them. That can be difficult to accept, even while fully accepting my child. Feeling guilt over a negative-seeming response is far more likely to result in more negativity. Acknowledge and name your grief. It makes moving past it easier. Not easy, but easier.

3. Coming out doesn’t have one expression and isn’t necessarily a one time thing. Kids come out to their parents in many different ways. For some it’s a meltdown during back to school shopping. Some will text their parents to tell them. Some will come out on social media and parents will discover that way (holla!). Some kids wake their parents up in the middle of the night from a dead sleep to tell them. Some will just mention it casually in conversation and others will prepare a full presentation to let their parents know. As a parent, your initial response will differ depending on how you find out. It’s not really something you can prepare for, so maybe don’t sweat it too much.

4. Having a not great response doesn’t make you a bad, unloving parent. Like every single other aspect of parenting, you are not going to get this 100% right. There will probably be times when you don’t want things to be the way they are, days when you wish your kid was just like all the other kids. There will be times when you forget the new name they’ve chosen and call them by the wrong name (holla again!). You may say something that’s interpreted as dismissive. You’ll feel sad or angry about something that makes your child feel happy and alive. You can still be a good parent, even when you’ve screwed up. Apologize when you need to. Cry when you need to. Celebrate successes when you have them. Find others to share your successes and failures with. Acknowledge mistakes, do better.

A child coming out is a big thing for them, and it’s a big thing for you. Loving one another can be bigger than all of that.

As Long As They’re Healthy

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“Do you want
a boy
or a girl?”

Expectant parents have been asked this question
since we realized it could be one or the other.
And most reply the same way.

“I don’t care, as long as they’re healthy.”

We say this,
and we try to mean it.

The day comes and we have our
healthy pink or blue.

But sometimes the blue covers up the pink,
and it turns out
that healthy isn’t what was wanted
after all.

Telling A Relatable Story

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The worship practice had wrapped up and the couples who had invited us to grab some food after extended their invitation once again. Even though it was late and I was tired, I nodded at my husband, signaling yes, we should go. Building relationships with people in my church is something I want to improve on this year, and that can only happen when we spend time with them.

We sat together, chatting over french fries and hamburgers. We shared book recommendations, griped about jobs, rolled our eyes at people taking articles from The Onion seriously. We discussed our church, and someone mentioned that there was a yearly sermon series that was simply people from the congregation sharing bits of their stories to help encourage one another. As one of the groups was talking about it, one of the women there was shaking her head. She said that she didn’t feel like she could share in something like that because she was worried that whatever story she would share might not be relatable to the congregation at large. Maybe to a small group of friends, but not something for everyone.

I can understand where she’s coming from. I struggle with talking about my story. For one thing, there is little glory in writing about an affair, a divorce, and a remarriage. It’s humiliating to put that dirty laundry out there for people to pick over and quietly shake their heads at you.

Today is my last day over at A Deeper Story. It is closing its virtual doors and going silent at the end of this month. I’m so honored to have had the opportunity to be a storyteller in that space – it is one of my proudest achievements as a writer so far. It has pushed me to be a better writer and has put me in contact with some of the best writers that I’ve met. I’m sad to see this chapter end, but excited to see what new adventures lie ahead.

Head over to A Deeper Story to read today’s post.

Trust Between Friends and Strangers

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Dinner was over and we were gathered in a make-shift circle in the living room. We had attended this group before, but that time had been right before the holidays and most had been out of town or at work parties, leaving just a few couples available to attend. That time we had attended largely with people we knew through the worship team, people we considered friends. Tonight, however, the room was filled with people, some who I had never met.

The host indicated that it was time to go around the room and share about our week. I snatched my hand away from Rich, pulled out my phone, and typed one word on the screen. A single name that summed up everything that had been on my mind for the week. I showed it to him and gave a look that asked “Yes? No? Can I trust them with this piece of my heart?”

I felt relatively certain that it would be okay. This group had welcomed us even knowing the details of our own story. They had been gracious to us despite our flaws, and I believed that I would see that same grace extended once again.

But behind that voice was another one telling me to keep it to my self. There was a limit to what people could embrace. This time there would be blame. This time there would be shame. This time there would be rejection.

When the woman to my left finished and eyes turned to me, I blurted out what was going on. The words spilled out in an ungainly mess, but they were out.

I held Rich’s hand, half expecting acceptance, half expecting accusation. What I received was the former. Heads nodding, friendly countenances.

They sat with me in that place between rejoicing and mourning – that awkward place that often feels like it needs to be filled with words and encouragement, but usually just needs to be left in silence. They were present in that silence. Present for me, present for Rich, present for the name on my phone.

I often think of trust as a one-sided venture, but they showed me that it is not so. The trust that I had shown them, they showed me as well. Trust that we can share hard things and then wait with the person in the midst of that. Trust that we can give and receive kindness without ulterior motives or hidden fears. Trust that we can engage with one another with honesty and with compassion.

Trust that we can love one another, when we’re friends, and even when we’re strangers.

One Year at Knitting Soul

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I just got a notice that I’ve been blogging here for one full year. In that I haven’t amassed even 100 posts here, I’m not sure how FULL the year has been, but even so, I’m so thankful to all of you who have stopped by and read my words. I don’t know if it’s so much in vogue these days to do an anniversary post, but I’m pretty happy about being able to write again, so I’m doing it anyway.

Here are some of my favorite posts from the past year.  They may not be some of my most popular, but they are the ones that I’m the most proud of. Thank you again for taking the time to read and share my words. I look forward to doing more of that in the coming year.

  • Scarlet is the New White – “But my story, just like the story of the characters in OITNB, just like your story, is not strictly one of villainy and bad choices. It’s about redemption. It’s about forgiveness and love and joy. It’s about owning our bad decisions, but also about owning our right decisions as well.”
  • The Black Dress – “And despite all of my hesitations because of the differences between this wedding and my first, I knew that I didn’t want to wait any longer to be his wife. I was in love with this man, and I didn’t want to wait another day to be married to him.”
  • 7 Ways To Honor Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day – “Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Certainly not all parents who experience a miscarriage share that information. And some people aren’t particularly chatty about the death of a child. But if a parent brings it up, please don’t ignore that. It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out conversation, but at least acknowledge that they mentioned their child. Saying something simple like, “I’m so sorry,” shows that you heard what they said and that you care about them and the humanity of the baby that they lost.”
  • Empty – This was a poem I wrote shortly after Elliott’s passing.
  • The Desperate Woman – “She was married to the man who had kissed her. The baby she had considered aborting became a cherished dream that was lost to pre-eclampsia. Relationships with her family were healing. Relationships with her children were improving. Relationships with her friends were starting to mend. But her relationship with God still felt distant.”
  • Always After An Affair – “Always loses a lot of its shine when it’s consistently not something that you really want to do. Always becomes tedious when it’s separated from happiness. Always is tenuous when you have to grind it out.”

I’d love it if you’d share one of the best things that you’ve written or read this year in the comments!

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