Saturday, December 31, 2016

Shedding My Skin

One day perhaps I'll pick up Our Courtship Story again, but for now, I have to jump to to the end and write an epilogue. 

Wedding shower my parents' church held for us.

When I worked for IBLP in Oklahoma, my roommate and I once perused bridal magazines and selected our favorite dresses. I was conservative, of course: the gown I chose was appropriate for a much older woman, rich with textures of silk and lace.

Sometime after Chris delivered an engagement ring to the southern Philippines, I began browsing for dress patterns over SIL's tenuous Internet connection. Believing I'd have to sew much of it myself, I looked for simplicity and lines that would easily skim the figure I considered "curvy". (These days, a few pounds heavier and many scruples lighter, I dress myself two sizes smaller.)

The ivory raw silk came from a textile bazaar in Manila. I adored its natural texture, not satiny like lingerie I'd never owned, but nubby and matte. I'd warned my parents that I would not be wearing snow white, but I don't recall that they expressed any alarm. I was still as sexually ignorant as they could have hoped, but years with IBLP had given me an aversion to white.

The zipper and darling oval buttons we bought at a fabric store in Wichita, where Chris's mom did most of the sewing for me three weeks before the wedding. Fearful that my mom would find fault with the dress (the bust too tight? the neckline too scooped? the hips too hugged?) I left it in Kansas, revealing it to Mama just days before the ceremony, with my outspoken aunt present to deter any negative remarks.

Minimize cleavage!
I did feel slightly princess-like in the dress, in a medieval sort of way, but it was far from the image I'd always carried of what a wedding gown should be. Its lack of sparkle, detail, and embellishment was a great disappointment to one of my baby sisters, who reassured herself and me with, "Well, I guess you're just having a cheap wedding..." It was true. The simple nylon slip underneath--necessary to hide the full-coverage bra and granny panties--cost more than the dress itself.

Bless my maid-of-honor, she tried. She took me to Victoria's Secret herself and bought me a black lace bra, which she declared every married woman ought to have. But like David walking around in Saul's armor, I was not used to such accoutrements. So for my wedding day, I stuck to the familiar.

By the time I exchanged the bridal gown for a honeymoon travel dress a few hours later, I'd acquired a new ring, a new name, a new status. Not to mention my first kiss.

The cleaned silk hung in the back of our closet for years, coming out on rare occasions: A church Valentine's banquet. Our wedding anniversary between pregnancies. When I was finished breastfeeding, to see if it still zipped! And then, last year, when I again withdrew the dress from its vinyl sheath.  

My sentiment for the gown had diminished, representing as it did too much of the life we'd repudiated. We'd taken the wedding photos off the living room wall years earlier and hidden them in the spare room closet. I'd found it healing to recount the unwritten portion of our courtship saga to another lover. I was mourning my first romantic break-up. And I had an idea for a costume for my first Halloween party, and it involved repurposing my wedding gown.

On that September day, I slid the silk off the hanger and eyed it anxiously, scissors in hand. Isn't a bride's dress sacred, in some way? Yet here I was, ready to do some permanent damage.
Pulling out my wedding gown again was more triggering than either of us expected. So many emotions and flashbacks! Then I remembered that the guarded girl who donned that dress one October morning fourteen years ago has vanished. Out of that silken chrysalis has emerged a stronger vibrant woman carrying all the old memories but possessing new powers and a hell of a lot more wisdom.
I didn't end up using the dress for Halloween, but Chris did agree to help bring another artistic vision to life that day. He also finally told me that he'd never found this dress sexy. Ahem! Well, at least he was smart enough not to judge the cake by its austere frosting!

Those yards of silk were more symbolic in the backyard that day than they ever had been. I was as if I had at last shrugged off a skin that no longer fit, fought out of a cocoon to enjoy a winged new life.

In the year since, I've been aware of rapidly increasing distance between my past and my present, and most of the time, I'm completely comfortable with that.

I have finally created the life I want, and how many people can say that?

Thursday, November 17, 2016


MI Right to Life oratorical contest
As a teenager raised in the Religious Right, I was passionate about politics, state and local government, and activism for the causes we supported, though I struggled with cognitive dissonance regarding the biblical role of women! 

After I married and moved to Kansas, for a host of reasons, my community involvement waned. The passion was still alive, but life was broadening my experience and my adult values were evolving. 

Midsummer last year, I decided to attend an ACLU meeting held at a local church. I was uncomfortable walking into a church building to listen to a man named after an Old Testament prophet, but was relieved to see some familiar faces around me. As the speaker talked and answered questions, I began to feel that I belonged, after all. 

A friend who witnessed my almost giddy afterglow that night said I ought to get more involved in activism--it animated me so. I took his observations to heart and weeks later, I volunteered at an abortion clinic for the first time. Turns out, that was only a beginning!

Since then, I've met so many brave and amazing people. 

I've been trusted with so many personal stories. 

     I've cried and cried. 
     I've felt fear, and even hate.
     I've been angry to my core. 
     I've given and received the best hugs.
     My compassion and courage have grown.

I've been yelled at by Christians who take down my license plate number.

I've learned how to treat myself more kindly.

My values have become crystal clear. 

Distributing condoms at Kansas State Fair

Representing Wichita NOW
in the Wichita Pride Parade

Campaign to rally feminist votes

Honk if you like safe sex!

Post-election rally for equality and justice
(Wichita State University)

Whether I'm speaking up loudly or quietly supporting people exercising their rights, whether I can measure it or not, I know my involvement makes a difference. 

I want the world my kids live in to be more fair, more equal, and more kind. I'll keep doing what I can to make that happen. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Moving Forward by Looking Back

"...A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them..." 
Eccl. 3:5

Last month, I revisited my hometown.

I was homesick for the fall beauty of the Great Lakes region, for the wooded trails and the beach sand, for whitefish and Cornish pasties and cherry wine.

Autumn has always been the most emotional season for me, and after so many years away, I was hungry to experience it again in Michigan. So I packed up my "magic carpet" Honda and set off on an adventure--my longest road trip yet!

Shore of Lake Michigan

My daughter rode along and we made lovely new memories without much triggering unpleasant old ones. Friends spoiled me with kindness along the way. Driving near Chicago and recognizing landmarks from my IBLP days, I felt powerful. As we got closer to my childhood home, I realized I was driving some roads for the first time. (I never owned a car when I lived at home, and Chris did most of the driving on our family trips.) 

It felt strange not to visit my parents! One of my baby sisters kindly shared her apartment with us, but this trip was for my own healing, not a family reunion. And after four years of anxious avoidance, it was healing!

Grand Traverse Wine Country

I let my senses delight in Traverse City: blazing autumn trees, indecisive rain, beach sand, chill breezes off the lake, smoothed flat stones picked from the cold water, fishy air by the marina, fuzzy scarlet sumac, squawking gulls, black swamp mud, soft and aromatic fresh pine needles, damp smells of the forest, crunching fallen leaves, fragrant ripe apples...

Every beautiful step was awash with memories good and bad. but this time, instead of feeling triggered, I felt "grounded". Aware that while my life there will always be my Part One, I am living my Part Two here in Kansas, where I choose my own roles among people who love, value, and support me. I've shed the parts of my past that no longer fit the woman I want to be and created the life I actually want.

I feel incredibly lucky to have all the things that make me happy:
A generous and loyal partner.
Enriching relationships of all kinds.
Stories. Sex. Dancing. Art.
Meaningful work: motherhood, feminism, and helping women create the lives they want.

Shedding my old "skin" 
It feels good to be alive right now.

Breathing freely.

Embracing and letting go.

Saying and doing all the things I want to say and do, and trying all sorts of fun new things!

I'm glad life has seasons that soothe us and help us heal so that we can grow and thrive once more.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Living Poetry

Professionally he declines and falls, and as a friend he drops into poetry.
--Charles Dickens (in Our Mutual Friend)

I dropped into poetry a few weeks ago.

Coffeeshop Earl Grey.
New acquaintance, let me pay.
Did you say--? No way!
Lunchtime, can't stay.
Food trucks, bands play
While friends find, oh, so much to say.
Backyard reading...risqué!
Bell rings out the school day.
This is Daisy's birthday.
Cooking with her in the way.
More adventure--gangway!
Let's embrace it, come what may.
Mango passionfruit sorbet
Floated in chilled Chardonnay.
And the dusky curtain falls on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Peach Tart

No sooner had school started last month than I found myself backstage, helping to manage a burlesque show for Wichita's American Rose Theater! As Peach Tart, I even got to perform in one of the acts.

Photo credit: Glenn Gunnels

One evening earlier in the summer, a group of us ladies dressed up and handed out flyers for the troupe's upcoming events. I came home and told Chris that the experience was almost entirely unlike handing out gospel tracts!

Peach Tart's next adventure? A introduction to belly dancing!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Comfort, Connection, and Community

For years, we felt ill at ease in Wichita and frequently plotted our escape to another state...someday. This year, though, it finally feels like home. I think the biggest difference is feeling at home with myself, comfortable in my own skin. Now that I am sure of who I am and what I value, connection with the rest of my community seems to come easily.

Open mic, downtown Wichita
Just in the last month, I've helped organize a pro-choice rally, attended a meeting of the county commission, performed open-mic comedy at a bar, learned some new dance moves, presided over my first NOW meeting, registered for a burlesque workshop, listened to women of all ages share deeply personal stories, gone hiking with my family, tasted sushi for the first time, and gotten to know some new friends!

Which all means less time for writing blog posts...

But remember, you can still follow Heresy in the Heartland on Facebook! I often share articles, videos, or photos that speak to me or make me think of all of you.

Many of you are waiting for the rest of Our Courtship Story, and I do hope it gets written some day. For now, rest easy knowing that everything turns out all right. The tale doesn't have an ending: we are still making up our happily-ever-after, and it has twists I never dreamed of when I first began telling the story!

And now, my library book is calling. Revival is the first Stephen King title I've picked up, and I'm intrigued. Still waiting for it to turn spooky. Maybe my upbringing has made me immune?



Friday, July 15, 2016


This impulse to connect the dots--and to share what you've connected--is the urge that makes you an artist. If you're using words or symbols to connect the dots, whether you're a "professional artist" or not, you are an artistic force in the world. 
-Amanda Palmer 

"Graduation" 2016

I've been thinking a lot about art lately. And about artists.

In kindergarten, the teacher had us fill out autobiographical sheets. I wrote that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. At home, there was much mirth over the stick drawing I used to illustrate the page. The next year, though I enjoyed many craft projects in class, I didn't much like Mrs. Kirkpatrick, the art teacher. She seemed grumpy.

I never had an art teacher again. I figured art and I just weren't that compatible. If I was to create, I would use words.

The "Art" entry in our World Book Encyclopedia was stapled together so we wouldn't see anything corrupting. In other volumes, illustrations deemed inappropriate were covered over or cut out. Most art museums were off-limits (we might see nudity!).

Art galleries were...unsettling. Fundamentalists prefer depictions of heroism, paradise, or optimism portrayed as reality. Think GettysburgLeave It To Beaver and Thomas Kinkade. We were taught that the Impressionists were wishy-washy. Picasso was an anarchist pervert, a threat to moral society.

Yet as an adult, I found myself drawn to art.
M's school art project

I approached with caution, recognizing quickly that art is unpredictable.

Uncomfortable, even.

It could be absorbing... illuminating... breathtaking... grim.

At times incomprehensible.

A room's worth might be forgotten, while a single detail could wedge itself into my mind for months.

I explored art with Chris, with friends, and finally on my own. One morning on the way to my therapist's office, I stopped at the studio of a local artist whose work I had admired at the Wichita Art Museum. The studio was closed, but I rang the bell anyway. Marilyn Grisham answered, invited me in, told me stories, and showed me projects she was working on. When I told Chris what I'd done, I could see that he was proud and a little in awe. Art had drawn me beyond my usual anxiety and allowed me to have an adventure far outside my comfort zone.

I learned that art is as least as much what I bring to it as what the artist offers me. Art is an exchange, a relationship, a gift.
When artists work well, they connect people to themselves, and they stitch people to one another, through this shared experience of discovering a connection that wasn't visible before.   (Amanda Palmer)
B's creation
We all know those people whose work lights up the world for us. It was easy to see art flowing out of my friends, my siblings, my heroes, the writers and musicians and artists, the people who inspire me. I read about famous artists with their communities and collaborations and felt envious.

But, slowly, I arrived at the conclusion that I, too, am an artist. Not in a commercial or professional sense, obviously. But Chris and I, indeed, our entire family, are artists.

We love to create bold new things that challenge traditional ways of thinking, please our own senses, and express our values. Sometimes with words, but also with colors and costumes and drawing and acting and building and programming.

"B.S." 2013
Most of  my art is temporary. Each time I take the hand of a dance partner, together we create something new. I draw with sidewalk chalk, decorate a cake, sculpt a snow statue, arrange cut flowers, present snacks on a platter, put on make-up. Choosing items from my closet, I pull together a look that is new for that week, that day, that occasion.

Perhaps some of the projects I'm working on will endure longer and be seen by more eyes, heard by more ears. Perhaps not. What matters is how I value what I do.

This week I am reading about art, and artists, and community and relationships and vulnerability in Amanda Palmer's The Art of Asking.

I discovered Amanda partly because her husband happens to be my husband's favorite author and mostly because of her amazing feminist song in defense of pubic hair. Then I found out they have an open marriage and that she reads live bedtime stories on Twitter. And I finally picked up her book.

When the world feels too dark or too topsy-turvy, you know whose Twitter feeds I run to? Artists. Comedians. Writers. Musicians. I've decided that artists are society's shock absorbers. They feel the quakes first and most deeply so they can help the rest of us process them. Amanda has been one of those people for me lately.

So much of what Amanda writes resonates with me. I started this blog because I kept connecting dots and needed to have a place to share what I was seeing, "bleeding my heart onto the page". Even when hitting "Publish" made me quake with anxiety, it was worth it to know I was being seen.

And then you began commenting or writing to me and letting me know that you were seeing the same patterns, that my stories informed your own.

R setting glass in wet cement last week

I'm going to keep connecting dots. I can't help it! And as I find ways to share what I see, I'm going to keep doing that, too.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Last year I became painfully aware of my scarcity mindset.

Most of my life, I'd lived in fear that there might not be enough good to go around. I might run out of Time. Money. Food. We might not get enough Sleep, or Attention, or Rain, or Sunshine. What if I found myself needing Help...Comfort...Love? I might not always have enough Sex, Health, Joy, Pleasure...

Maybe I'd reach the end of the roll and THERE WOULDN'T BE ANOTHER ONE.

For decades, "contentment" had been my mantra. I'd practiced doing without--or preparing to do without. I even got good at it.

"I have learned... to be content. I know both how to be abased... and how to abound."

The above quotation from St. Paul hung over our toilet when I was growing up. I read it, recited it, sang it to a little tune I made up. I was never too sure about those categories, so I focused on the first part.

But hand in hand with the type of "contentment" I cultivated went a reluctance to enjoy what I had. I was habitually hesitating, holding something back in case.

We spent a lot of time--and emotional energy--inhabiting a future that was bleaker than the present.

Early in our married life, Chris and I discussed the concept of Margins. We managed our anxiety by keeping a reserve, always holding back some of our finances, some of our schedule, some of our energy.

We lived conservatively. It provided a security that comforted us at the time and it helped us function, but it didn't help us live.

When I faced my obsession with scarcity head-on, I didn't like it at all. I understood why it annoyed my friends, too! I began to observe how other people chose to live and whether they were more or less happy. And realized my biggest regrets were the experiences I'd missed because I'd been too anxious to say yes.

I began to practice saying Yes more often. To myself, to my kids, to friends, to opportunities and adventures.

It certainly didn't happen all at once, but I spend much more time living in my now. Where there IS enough. Usually more than enough!

On Mother's Day, I felt like celebrating so I invited some of my favorite people to a party. My house was filled with friends, flowers, good food, wine, laughter, even a puppy! After everyone left and I was left with happy memories to savor, one word popped into my head. 


And just like that, I had the motto for my lifestyle this year. Being "all in". Living out to the edges. Letting myself use the whole space, fill up the schedule, spend the entire budget, try all the things, flow over the sides, be more spontaneous, and not hold back.

Long ago, Chris taught me about lagniappe, the word Louisianans use for "a little extra". I think of it now when I feel the tug of old habits and choose to enjoy my abundance instead.

We make more memories and enjoy life a little more when I remember to say "Yes!"

Monday, June 27, 2016

Reclaiming Agency

Something I love about the internet is how it allows those who once felt isolated to connect with others who shared the same experience. Being seen is incredibly empowering!

One of the honors of being in the homeschool "survivor" community is getting to witness others on their healing journey. For many of us, a crucial part of recovery has been finding our own identity, accepting it and then asserting it. As we peel back the layers of trauma, manipulation, brainwashing, or abuse, we discover our true selves.

And the positive ways we find to reclaim agency over our bodies--our selves--are as varied as the negative experiences that etched our childhoods.

Exercise. Running. Bodybuilding. Sports. Yoga.  
Sex. Dancing. Tattoos. Surgery. Orthodontics.
Art. Music. Theater. Drawing. Painting. Building. Sculpting.
Photography. Fashion. Costumes. Comedy. 
Selfies. Name changes. Piercings. Hair styles. Facial hair.
Travel. Gastronomy. Dating. Reading for fun. Writing.
Education. Employment. Activism. Advocacy. 

Exploring hobbies, devoting energy to our passions, and trying new things are all exercises in personal autonomy. I may not share your enthusiasm for tattoos or understand what drives you to work out regularly, but on a deeper level, I do get it. I've made choices that would shock my younger self, but they were crucial to my growth and independence. What is highly symbolic to me may seem trivial to someone else.

Embrace the choices that are constructive to you. Not only will I celebrate their meaning with you, I will defend your right to make those choices... for your self.


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Bramble Who Would Be King

Sometimes Donald Trump reminds me eerily of Bill Gothard, with his swirl of unnaturally colored hair, his narcissism, his similar gestures and cadence, his lust, and his repetitive vocabulary.

Mostly, though, Donald reminds me of this Old Testament parable.

The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us.’
But the olive tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?’

And the trees said to the fig tree, ‘You come and reign over us.’

But the fig tree said to them, ‘Shall I leave my sweetness and my good fruit and go hold sway over the trees?’

And the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us.’
But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my wine that cheers God and men and go hold sway over the trees?’

Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us.’

And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.’
 Judges 9:8-15

May we all be spared the shade of bramble kings.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Growing Up (like Kimmy Schmidt!)

I went downtown last night...

I knew a place with live entertainment.

I knew there was no cover.

I knew what a cover was!

I knew where I could park.

I sat at the bar.

I knew how to order a drink!

I knew how to pay, and how to tip.

I enjoyed myself and the company of my friend.

I exercised my imagination, tried something new, and left with fresh ideas sparking away in my mind.

I felt comfortable walking in the city at night and driving home as an impending storm lit up the sky.

I could not have done any of this a year ago!

Friday, May 13, 2016


Blood, sweat, tears, rain, the surface ripples just the same.

The word became my mantra during a rough patch last year.



When the water's surface is torn, rhythmic rings carry the impact outward. Diluting it? Magnifying it? The wound is healed, the pierced place mended.

Still, the rings keep moving. Growing. Meeting and intersecting with others in their path.

I used to picture my life as a line. With inevitable ups and downs, always headed in one direction. (No, I really did, as this graph in my journal illustrates.) We thought in linear terms, cause-and-effect, formulas. Up was blessed and morally good; down was wrong, when God stopped smiling.

Melodramatic self-analysis at age 15

These days my life feels far too rich to be summed up in a single line. Lately, I've been imagining a dynamic pattern of concentric circles.

Each time my calm is pierced, whether the disturbance comes from without or within, my response sets a new set of ripples in motion. They collide and connect, change direction and color, and it's all unpredictably beautiful. And amazing to trace the ripples back to the choices I made that got them started.

If I hadn't tried v, I would have avoided w, but then I would have missed out on x entirely and it was x that intersected with y, introducing me to z...

In our days of quoting the Bible, we would say, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good",  and "We know that all things work together for good". Ripples are another way of tracing healing in trauma's wake, deficits that become assets, flowers that bloom in compost, happiness wrung from sorrow, loss that somehow leads to unanticipated abundance.

"Ripples in still water... " It's one of my favorite songs now, but this time last year I'd never heard the Grateful Dead. It took a while for the rings of one friendship to extend far enough to introduce me to their music. That friendship faded, triggering a new series of ripples that led to other friendships and different music and new discoveries and adventures, but the song was a ripple that is mine to keep.

Maybe I like to imagine ripples because they appeal to my driving curiosity and my interest in integrating past experiences with present realities. As I make choices that reflect my values, I no longer feel at the mercy of "evil" or "God's plan". I am just eager to see what happens in the next chapter.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In Which We Meet Daisy

Sequel to "On Becoming Human"...

Chris and I were strolling 'round our neighborhood one day last fall when I brought it up. "New research shows that children raised in a home with a dog have reduced risk of anxiety issues," I said.

And that's how it started. Turns out Chris had already been mulling over the idea of a dog, but he'd been waiting to bring it up. There'd been enough other things going on in our lives! But now the subject was open.

For weeks, we talked about what it would mean to get a dog. We talked about other people's pets, family pets from our childhood, how our lifestyle would be affected. We had most of our discussions while walking sidewalks littered with autumn leaves, and it didn't matter how the subject came up, or how good a day I was having--every time we started talking about dogs, tears would start pouring down my face. Every stinking time! It didn't take a psychologist to discern that there was some deep-seated pet-associated childhood trauma locked up in my brain.

Since I'd been delving deep into other painful places for months, I figured I might as well dig in. I unpacked as many old memories as I could. I visited a friend and witnessed what a difference a dog made to her. I talked to my brothers about Max, the family pet for a year or two of my childhood, until Mom had had enough of his misdeeds and had him put to sleep. Eventually I was able to put my finger on the fears I had about adding a pet to our family.

The fears had always been there, but if I'd learned anything from my summer adventures, it was that I can change, and grow, and take risks. That reality can turn out far better than I imagine. That my heart can expand. That relationships can be unpredictable and heartbreaking yet still worth every minute. That I only regret the things I don't try.

The week before Christmas, Chris and I decided to "window-shop" for dogs. The fear still lurked, but by then I was ready to take the plunge. I told him if he thought a pet was a good idea for us, I was in. I'd probably cry, but he should know it was okay.

Daisy came home with us the next day.

We hadn't even planned on getting a puppy, but that's how it happened.

The kids were taken completely by surprise.

One was over the moon. One shed tears of sheer shock. One was quietly pleased.

And I surprised myself.

I discovered that a puppy is incredibly grounding. That observing another mammal makes me both grateful every day for being human, and acutely aware of my own needs and limitations as a member of the animal kingdom. Since Daisy arrived, I've spent a lot more time doing nothing. A lot more time playing. A lot more time on the floor. We all spend more time on the floor! A lot of time stroking and hugging and being licked.

Daisy has brought out sides of each of us that weren't exposed before. It's been a delight to watch new aspects of the kids' personalities develop as they play with Daisy and take care of her. She's made a difference in our family's vocabulary and how and where we spend our free time. She makes us laugh. Her affection does us all good.

My beloved grandmother adored dogs and our youngest daughter seemed to inherit her fondness for the species. Still, I didn't anticipate how much I would enjoy having such a loyal and enthusiastic companion, or how much a pet alters social interactions.

Daisy loves to go along to pick the kids up after school.
And what is more soothing after a rough day than puppy hugs?

In some way, getting a dog seems to have made us more human. Softer. More humane. More attuned to our senses. And, yes, less anxious, too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

On Becoming Human

Back when I wanted to enroll in IBLP's new law school, I had to take CLEP exams covering two general academic disciplines: Natural Sciences, Social Science & History, or something called Humanities. At nineteen years old, I had no idea what that term meant. My mom said I should take the other two, even though I was not strong in science, because, apparently, "humanities" could involve nudes and other objectionable art. She was surprised IBLP would even suggest it to their students. Of course, I complied, though I always wondered what kind of evils I could have encountered on that test. Looking back, I think the nearest my home education ever got to the humanities was the study of [Koine] Greek.

Gothard exposing the dangers of humanism for his followers. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer first introduced me to the phrase Christian humanism. It was a good placeholder until I lost my fear of secular humanism.

My very first blog post was about humanism.
I have not always been encouraged to value humanness. Humanism was warned against as the enemy of both our souls and our society. Mankind’s primary value was presumed to be in his proximity to divinity. An individual’s moral influence, for good or evil, was viewed as his most important attribute. Needs for rest and exercise, proper nourishment, medical care, human touch and friendship, education, self-expression, self-determination—those were secondary, a lower tier of existence. We grew to deem those things weaknesses in ourselves, obstacles to our desire to be our "best".
That was over four years ago. Chris and I have changed a lot since then, but this interest in humanity has been a constant. We spent so many years trying to be super-human, to live beyond our senses. We disdained being merely human. Mostly, we tried to be right. We had the willpower to be "better" than human. Now, we would rather be alive.

Last year, I put a special emphasis on learning to be human. Caring for and celebrating my body. Exploring human expression: visual arts and theater and comedy and live music. Learning to dance. Tasting new ethnic foods. Trying new alcoholic drinks. Getting my ears pierced. Exploring my own sexuality. Changing my wardrobe. Spending more time with people, all kinds of people. Listening to them, learning from them, connecting with them, loving them. Letting myself feel... love, passion, anger, fear, joy, jealousy, and a host of other emotions. I finally learned how to let myself have fun!

Since beginning that journey, I have felt so very human.

Fragile, at times.







Driven to express myself, to communicate, to build alliances, to influence my society.

And last fall, Chris and I started talking about a big step toward becoming ordinary humans.

Bigger than buying a new car.

Almost bigger than sex.

A step I'd said for years I would never take...

To be continued!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Living Backward

Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now.
--Bob Dylan

I had to laugh when I finally read the story of Benjamin Button. Because that is so us. Call me Zelda Zipper. Or Valerie Velcro. If the traditional cultural model goes something like: dating, college, marriage, pets, kids, career, mortgage payment, retirement...well, we've been living life backward for a long time.

How many people pay off a house before sending kids to school? Change adult diapers before infant ones? Get their ears pierced after their youngest daughter does? Or spend a year in law school before passing high school algebra?

We were engaged before we'd dated and married before we'd kissed. We unwrapped a condom for the first time when I was in my third trimester with our second baby. We uncorked our first wine bottle at 30, when I was pregnant with our third! I don't remember turning 21 because there was nothing special about it--no fuss, no friends. If alcohol had been involved, it would have been unforgettable because I would have been in so much trouble!

We succumbed to a cult as impressionable children, not as seeking adults. We were obedient, disciplined teenagers who listened to classical music and watched G-rated films. We followed the rules and didn't make waves.We were in "full-time Christian service" before we had jobs, or education. We knew the Bible before we knew ourselves. In the places where other people find God, we lost him.

As a teen, I wore SoftSpots, granny panties, and Alfred Dunner two sizes too big. I tried on my first pair of pants at 24 and had two maternity bathing suits before my first bikini. As a young mom, I shopped at Christopher & Banks and worried about being immodest. At this rate, I'll be shopping at Wet Seal when I'm a grandma!

I had two kids before discovering tampons and three kids before my first real date. I awoke to my body's sex appeal after it had stretch marks. We were each nearing 40 before so much as kissing anyone else.

So, hey, if we seem a bit disordered, understand that we are living life in reverse. We may spend hours playing video games now, because we worked our tails off when we were young. Or we may not have time for what's popular with our peers now because we're busy reclaiming something we missed out on as teens. We've been old and responsible already. Now it's time to rebel, enjoy life, and, who knows, maybe change the world.

"I have everything," interrupted Jennie.
            "Experience, too?"
"Experience? Never heard of it."
--Maurice Sendak, Higglety Pigglety Pop! or There Must Be More To Life

Giving an earnest anti-contraception speech 25 years ago

This year as a full-fledged sex-positive feminist

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Violence, Abortion, and Frank Peretti

Last November, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs was taken over by a gunman. Robert Dear, who killed three people and injured nine, believed he would be thanked for taking action.
Dear told a detective that "his dream" was that, when he died, he would be met "by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him for what he did because his actions saved lives of other unborn fetuses"...
--NBC News report

Forensic psychologists have testified that Dear has a delusional disorder, yet the image of "aborted fetuses" talking in heaven jogged a deep memory from my early adolescence. 

I had only recently outgrown my baby dolls when I read Tilly, a 1988 novelette by Frank Peretti, with a foreword by a Christian contemporary music artist. The story was written in 1986 as an audiodrama which aired on the Focus on the Family radio broadcast August 10, 1987, before Peretti had gained fame among evangelicals for his vividly imaginative stories of devout mortals engaged in fantastic "spiritual" combat between angels and demons. 

The book Tilly reads like the script for a Hallmark movie. A short movie, because the text takes up only eighty of the book's one hundred twenty-six pages. (In 2003, the anti-abortion group LoveLifeAmerica turned the story into a forty-minute film that aired on PAX TV.) The writing is sentimental, the characters two-dimensional. This is undoubtedly a fable with an agenda. 

Kathy and Dan have three children and difficulty communicating. Their troubles began after Kathy terminated a pregnancy nine years ago and they never talked about it. Unbeknownst to Kathy, she'd actually delivered a live fetus. 

Botched abortions, more common with outmoded methods, are the "pro-life" movement's wet dream. In 1977, Gianna Jessen was born alive following an attempted third-trimester saline instillation abortion. More often used in the 1970's, instillation abortions counted for less than 2% of U.S. abortions in 1985 and only 0.1% in 2007. Graphic photos displayed by abortion protesters still often represent the effects of saline abortion. But back to Tilly

After breathing for an hour, Kathy's fetus-now-newborn expires in the hands of the Hispanic nurse Anita (Peretti makes a point of her last name and draws attention to her "dark Latin eyes"). The body is described as "burned and scarred", suggesting that Peretti pictured the effects of a saline abortion, though that method was already rare in the mid-80's.

The nurse leaves the Family Planning Clinic with the remains and takes them to a Reverend O'Cleary who makes arrangements with a funeral home and a cemetery, despite having neither a birth certificate nor a death certificate. Nurse Anita wears black and is the only one present at the service. The funeral home director finds the scene of her grief "shattering". The minister provides financial assistance and Anita has the grave marked with the name "Tilly". 

After a chance encounter with Anita at the cemetery, an exhausted Kathy dreams she meets her aborted daughter, now a polite nine-year-old, one of many children who arrived in heaven as aborted embryos and have grown up nameless but safe in a sort of Neverland-plus-Jesus where they are generally happy except for longing to be held by their mothers and given names. Half the book takes place in this dream where both motherhood and childhood are idealized ad nauseam. Tilly, the only child among hundreds in possession of a name, tells Kathy she forgives her and Kathy wails out her anguished remorse. Before waking, Kathy tells the girl she has always known her as Tilly. 

As a young teen not much exposed to fiction, I found this tale gripping and heart-wrenching. As an adult, I find it flimsy and fake, but that doesn't mean it hasn't quietly conditioned many a young evangelical to find abortion emotionally distressing, even if they don't understand it. 

Last month, the Indiana legislature passed a bill requiring fetal remains to be buried or cremated following abortion or miscarriage. Governor Mike Pence signed the new law "with a prayer that God would continue to bless these precious children, mothers and families". I had to wonder, where did these legislators get the idea of burying fetal remains? Could some of them have read Tilly, perhaps? What's next? Will women have to give their pregnancies names before getting abortions? 

This truck parks daily across the street from a women's clinic.
Theologically. Peretti's description of heaven is confusing. Some children are described as "ugly". Tilly, who sobs, sings like a bird, and has impeccably manners, reassures her mother, "I'm happy here!" and "Life isn't that long." In Peretti's world, terminated pregnancies have souls that go to play with Jesus, who lives down the road and tells them stories while they wait for families who will finally give them names. 

Anti-abortion rhetoric is rife with extreme and imaginative beliefs. When I was a naive, young, and vocal opponent of abortion, no speech or rally was complete until the Holocaust had been invoked. Actually, the Holocaust was trivialized each time the comparison was made, since Nazi atrocities paled beside the perceived magnitude of this legal medical procedure. Occasionally this rhetoric does get criticized, but it is still commonplace in anti-abortion circles, where women choosing to terminate unnamed pregnancies are rated a horror ten times worse than the Holocaust

If one believes the anti-woman propaganda that claims a doctor can be worse than Hitler, resistance begins to seem logical. Yet when over-zealous men and women resort to violence against abortion providers or pregnant women, abortion opponents are always quick to distance themselves from the "delusional". 

Kathy asks for Tilly's forgiveness, though we are not told what she wants to be forgiven forIn the conservative narrative, abortion wracks women with guilt, disrupting their marriages and robbing them of maternal fulfillment, no matter how many children they already have. That may be a delusion, but it is shared by many religious Americans, who will not be satisfied until women accept their role as mothers and abortion has been restricted out of existence altogether.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

For Love of Libraries

This was originally a piece I wrote for the Wichita Public Library. I love sharing my passion for books!

My Grammie taught me to love aisles of books by taking me along to her "li-ber-dee-dee" before I could pronounce it. I used to imitate the way my elementary school librarian read to us, the way she wore her reading glasses. After my parents pulled me out of school, the public library was a magical passage to other times, places, and knowledge. That my mom saw its treasures as potentially dangerous added to the thrill. The day I got to wield the "date due" stamp while assisting a church librarian, I felt I'd arrived. Another church we attended met in a rural school library, I read titles whenever my attention drifted, and the Harry Potter poster behind the preacher. I took my baby sisters to the public library, introducing them to my favorite characters. Lyle the Crocodile. Curious George. Amelia Bedelia. Years later, I stole time with a library book while my own children were in Sunday School.

Libraries have always felt safe to me, hushed retreats from too many people, havens when adjusting to an unfamiliar place. From Oklahoma, Illinois, and North Dakota to the southern Philippines, I always found the libraries. So when I moved to Wichita as a new bride, the library was a natural place to seek the books that had always my best friends and mentors.

Over the last fifteen years, I've moved....
from cookbooks and John Grisham and theology
                          to politics and parenting and dinosaurs,
from Dr Seuss and childbirth and American history
                          to education and neuroscience and trauma recovery,
from memoirs and Bill Peet and Tolstoy
                          to the history of Palestine and the meaning of marriage,
from Agatha Christie and ancient mythology
                          to binge-reading Margaret Atwood
                                       to Neil Gaiman
                                                    to Furiously Happy
                                                                 to Kansas geology.

Flannery O'Connor blew my mind open in the best possible way.
Arnold Lobel's Frog & Toad are part of my romantic history.
Craig Thompson's graphic novel Blankets healed portions of my soul
And Shalom Auslander made me laugh till I couldn't breathe.

Via audiobooks, David McCullough and Neil Simon kept us company on cross-country road trips.

The films we've borrowed--on VHS, DVD, and Blu-Ray--have brought us together, made us feel, and shown us what we value.

I've frequented the Wichita library at half a dozen locations and volunteered at my local branch.

I love new books, classic books, picture books, and banned books.

I love the smell and feel of dead trees coming alive with meaning again in my hands.
My husband prefers to receive his stories wirelessly as 1's and 0's.
My children, all avid readers, are well-acquainted with books in both forms.
The summer reading program has been part of their lives as long as they can remember.

The riches that are the Wichita Public Library taught me to dream and enabled me to transform myself into the person, the mom, the lover--the Woman--I imagined.

Each book leaves its mark,

I believe in words, in books, in literacy and libraries.

I believe in pursuing answers to questions one is afraid to voice,
And thanks to the Wichita Public Library, I could always afford to do that.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thoughts On Mother's Day

In a society that is conflicted about motherhood, it is not considered acceptable to criticize a devoted mother's choices. Like Pip in Great Expectations, we are urged to “be grateful to them which brought you up by hand.”
I recognize that my mother likely did her best while coping with more than a dozen pregnancies, untreated mental illness, and psychologically abusive religious teaching. Her best was not good for the children she raised over those decades. I do have happy memories from my childhood, but Mother's Day tends rather to send them scurrying into corners.
This post is dedicated to the many Quiverfull "sister-moms" who are learning as adults how to mother themselves.

Panic clutches my throat in the Hallmark aisle. Its tingling waves lap at my fingertips.

“You’ve always been there for me, Mom.”


Always. Always there.

Swaddling me in your cold anxieties. Suckling me at the breast of your fear. Training me to live like you. Good enough means safe. And it’s hard to be sure. We are sinners, after all, whose self-centeredness sentenced Jesus to execution. I am three when I ask God to forgive me.

You guard me from the godless dangers of Halloween, and Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy. You feed me carefully, anxious about my nutrition. I learn to cook at your elbow. You teach me to shun the mysterious evils of shrimp, pork, excessive sugar, fortune cookies, and blue food coloring. You bake me carob chip cookies and put sesame-honey candy in my stocking.

You are anxious to protect my feminine purity. My pajama pants and girlish blue jeans are deemed immodest and “that which pertaineth to a man”. You replace them with nightgowns and denim jumpers and dress me like Laura Ingalls. You send me to Grammie’s house with a cotton dress for swimming. No matter how far away you are, I feel guilty for watching TV.

You hate your straight hair, so you teach me to curl my own fine waves. My ears stick out like yours. You tell me they are large, so I try to hide them. When you decide to perm my bangs, I pray that the chemicals will not blind me. When my waves are finished, I am relieved that I will not have to learn Braille.

You teach me to sew, but when the puffy-sleeved sateen blouse the color of rose petals fits my budding figure too well, you send it straight to storage to await a less-developed sister. I try to understand your reasons. I really do. Just like the time I got a makeup playset for Christmas and you wouldn’t let me open it. Or when I won The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe for memorizing Bible verses in Sunday School and you took me to the store to exchange it. Or the time your dad sent me Anne of Green Gables and you refused to let me read it. Later, I will return a necklace to JCPenney because when I bring it home, you pronounce it too gaudy.

Vaccines frighten you. When whooping cough strikes, watching my brother choking on his own breath terrifies me. I have my shots, so I am safe. Years later, I will make certain my babies are immunized before coming to stay at your house where their aunts have been coughing for months.

My birth must have traumatized you—you deliver the next ten babies at home. Attended only by my young engineer father. I am nine when you have me read the Emergency Childbirth Manual for firefighters. Just in case. I am six when you thrust my newborn sister into my arms as the afterbirth contractions hit you hard. I hold her and try not to watch you writhing in pain in the rocking chair. Not long after, my neck spasms. For months, I cannot turn my head, or sleep through the night. Kids at school ask why I hold my head funny, but I don’t know. You treat the tightened muscles with alternating ice and boiling hot compresses, and by nightly pinning my legs and shoulders to the carpet with your arms and legs while Dad firmly twists my head to either side. I cry.  

The government and teachers’ unions frighten you—so you pull me out of school. For the next decade, I fill in workbooks by myself at the dining table. But you are there. A “keeper at home”. Cooking, cleaning, diapering, sewing, breastfeeding, potty-training, praying, gestating, napping. Always there. One afternoon you send us to our rooms to rest and you lie down, too, forgetting the saucepan on the stove. The screeching smoke alarm rouses us all. You extinguish the burning kitchen cabinet while I haul my baby sister from her crib and wait with her in the front yard.

I am both the top and bottom of my class. Sometimes I grade my own work. We skip subjects you can't teach. When you don’t like my attitude, you send me to your bedroom with the “Grandmother’s Flower Garden” quilt and the crystal prism and the cane-seat rocker, where you beat me with a wooden spoon while rainbows dance on the walls. Afterward, I apologize to the whole family for “being a bad example”.

Year after year, I take my example seriously. I dutifully make you cards and buy you gifts. When you are sick, I bring you snacks. I write letters at your bidding and sign my name. I balance your checkbook. I make clothes for you. I cook when you can’t. I learn how to teach my siblings. I bathe them, braid their long hair, sew their nightgowns and pinafores, push them on the swings, watch them at the beach. When you give birth while our old plumbing is broken, I take your bloody linens to the laundromat. I do the grocery shopping for twelve. I change a thousand diapers. When you have a breakdown, I pack your suitcase. I care for six of your children for a week while you are out-of-state. I do it again when I have two infants of my own.
  “Saying thank-you hardly seems like enough...”
“I can’t imagine a force more powerful…”
“We’re lucky to have the special kind of relationship we do…”
 What the fuck, Hallmark?

A thousand miles of distance couldn't keep me from feeling you always there, needing something indefinable from me. 
We did have a close bond. And it took me too many anxious years to realize I could dissolve it.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I was always there for you. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

Taking the Wheel

If you've never had a panic attack while driving,
     never rolled down the window when you broke out in a sweat on an icy day,
     never hyperventilated while trapped in traffic,
     never taken the nearest exit just to get off the highway,
     never told yourself, "Just breathe"...

You may not be able to imagine the invigorating joy
     of finding yourself on the freeway
     going 65+ mph,
     crossing the city
     in the middle lane
     after dark,
 And realizing you never even thought about it.

If you bought a car before college,
     or drove cross-country alone,
I invite you to picture the freedom
Of making your longest solo roadtrip ever
At forty years old.
Consulting maps or GPS,
Stopping at rest areas at your own whim,
Pumping gas at unfamiliar crossroads,
Eating when and where you like,
Sitting at the wheel till you find mountains.

In recent months,
My magic carpet
Has carried me
To cities in four states--
To learn new things,
To meet friends and make them,
To laugh, and dance,
To eat and drink,
To share moments of life with people I like,
To soak up fresh ideas.

And all the way back:
Feelings to process,
Music to pulse to,
Landscapes to savor,
Memories to live again and again.
As the miles roll by,
Even the prairie
I thought frighteningly raw
Unbares its wild beauty.

Back at my beginning,
Kisses and hugs and tales to share.
Puppy leaps for joy and licks me.
Stories of fun while apart
Show how my role's evolved,
My family's dependence
Not less,
But less palpable.
They feed themselves,
Work, and rest, and play.
Yet my return,
Unpacking my adventures,
Makes home feel right again.

We each have changed,
Defined ourselves
And gained experience.
And best of all?
Anxiety didn't ride along.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What's My Name?

What's your name,' Coraline asked the cat. 'Look, I'm Coraline. Okay?'
'Cats don't have names,' it said.
'No?' said Coraline.
'No,' said the cat. 'Now you people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names.
―Neil Gaiman, Coraline

At the beginning of the new year, I began exploring the mixed feelings I have about my name. I spent January puzzling over it, playing with ideas, experimenting, feeling slightly disoriented each time a cashier asked me to sign a receipt.

Judging from my friends list, the yearning for a fresh identity is not uncommon among my homeschooled peers. We know after all, that we are not the "arrows", the culture warriors, the virtuous men and women we were expected to be. Some resent the meaning of their given names, some crave anonymity or have safety concerns, some want to sever ties to an abuser's name. Some change their names to escape expectations tied to gender roles. Some simply want to define themselves.

I adopted Jeri as a nickname a few years ago because I wasn't ready to put my real name all over the internet. I liked that it was short, secular, and gender-bending in the vein of Little Women's Jo March. It was easy for strangers to pronounce and it fit easily on a name tag.

I first tried the new handle at Starbucks (because what did it matter what I told them to write on my cup?) and then when I met new people locally, because they weren't acquainted with my family of origin ("Yes, all our names come from the Bible; no, they don't all start with J.") and, as I transitioned away from Christianity, I was weary of the questions my given name always raised ("It's from the Hebrew, think Jerusalem. No, we're not Jewish. Or Amish. Or Catholic."). Eventually, for convenience, I switched my name on Facebook and even toyed with the idea of of changing my name legally.

Jeri feels very much like "me" these days. She's liberated and brave, sexy, self-determining, compassionate, engaged in the community. She dances and practices yoga. Jeri has friends. Jeri has adventures. She is a left-wing version of what my teenage self hoped to be!

But Jerusha is a lovely name. The name of a Palestinian queen (well, a king's mother, anyway--not quite the same as a queen!), according to Jewish mythology. It's unusual, and almost nobody can pronounce or spell it right away. When I hear it these days, I'm usually in a doctor's waiting room and the nurse has to guess whether I'm Hispanic, black, or Caucasian.

Lately I've missed Jerusha a little, even though electronic devices like to put a red wavy line underneath her as I type, as if she's wrong somehow. She's getting eclipsed by Jeri and I've realized I don't want to lose her.

Jerusha is more introverted and she feels more deeply. She is the bookworm who imagined becoming an artist. SHE experienced my childhood, is connected to my siblings, and fell in love with "Chris" (another name-identity story in itself!). Jerusha had to fight her way out of the cult, break up with an abusive god, and learn how to be a gentle mother while accepting not having one herself. Jerusha is strong, resilient, and cautious.

I now have people in my life who know me by one name or the other. But the most important people are acquainted with all sides of me. I don't want to be the "before" and "after". I want to be both. There have been a few moments over the last year when I felt Jerusha was merging with Jeri and those moments felt very powerful and healing. I want more of those! So I've been pondering how to further integrate the two versions of me.

In recent months, I've reconnected with more people who know me as Jerusha but are accepting of the way "Jeri" has evolved. Hearing them use my given name has caught me off-guard a few times, but it's also felt reassuring--friends building me a bridge to help connect my identity with my history.

My parents didn't give me a middle name, so Jerusha is what I have to work with, and I'm not going to part with it. I put it away for a while while I worked through a lot of emotional baggage, but now I'm ready to dust it off again and see how it feels.