For the One Who Isn’t Wonder Woman and Never Will Be

FullSizeRenderIn my twenties, I attended a company Holiday party hosted by my husband’s then-employer. It was held in a dimly lit ballroom with a dance floor and wandering balloon artists creating phallic symbols to be worn as hats. I was nervous about meeting his colleagues for the first time because of my small-talk allergy, so I tried to make myself as pretty as possible, to offer at least the appearance of being put together.

Had I known about the pen*s-shaped balloons, I wouldn’t have worried so much. I wore an ankle length, velvet dress in a deep shade of burgundy, and around my waist I wrapped a rhinestone belt that circled once, then dropped into a long line of faux jewels hanging down like a string of glittering diamonds. The first co-worker I shook hands with looked at the trailing rhinestones, and asked if I was wearing a Lasso of Truth that evening.

Obviously I wasn’t, otherwise when I asked him if he was insulting me, his reply wouldn’t have been a hasty “No” and a fast exit. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what a Lasso of Truth was at the time. I didn’t read comic books as a girl, and so my knowledge of Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth was rudimentary at best. I knew she was a superhero, but I didn’t understand why.

Before I left for my MFA residency in England last month, I quit my day job. You aren’t surprised, and neither was anyone related to me. The twenty-five hours a week I spent working as an admin assistant for five (yes, FIVE) campus pastors, became unsustainable with my husband’s new work schedule and my desire for sleep, sanity, and seeing my kids (and grad school, and running a busy household, and writing projects…). I have entered retirement, effective immediately.

I also discovered administrative work makes me feel as if I’m wearing restrictive undergarments at all times. Is this what Spanx feel like? If so, no thank you. I found myself expending an enormous amount of mental energy trying to hold everything in–the schedules, the expense reports, the emails, the to-dos, along with my own internal crazy. I’m far too relaxed about the details of life (and especially the administrative tasks related to life) to sustain that kind of work long-term. Being “organized” is a totally different animal than being administratively gifted. Lesson learned, and as usual, I learned it the hard way. Thanks, office job, for teaching me I have no future in, well, anything but the creative.

For six months, I pretended I was Wonder Woman, managing tasks at the office and managing life at home. But, one can only ask their family to eat so many take-out dinners and wear the same pair of dirty jeans on repeat so many times, before the illusion begins to wear off. In my case, it wore off pretty quickly. I wish I had it all together. I wish I could work outside the home and take care of a family and finish grad school and write in my spare time, but I can’t do it all and do it well. I just can’t. It’s very hard to admit this to one’s self, let alone admit it to the internet. But here I am, bleeding a little from my wounded imperfections onto this page, because I suspect some of you feel the same way too.

You don’t feel like Wonder Woman. You feel as if there isn’t enough of you to satisfy all the needs and expectations and desires placed on you daily. Sure, you could squeeze more into your schedule to assume something akin to “productivity”, but you don’t want to. You want breathing room. You want space. Like you, I am tired of this insane frenetic pace we’re all expected to keep, in order to do more. Trying to do more, makes me feel like I am less. Less capable, less competent, and less connected to my inner self.

A friend once said to me, on becoming an adult, “You reach a point in life where you don’t need anyone or anything to tell you who you are. You already know.” This is a lesson I’m learning in reverse. I’ve become more and more undone as an adult. Life experience has unraveled me, but I’m beginning to see myself more clearly with each success and failure. The puzzle pieces are snapping into place, and they tell the story of who I am and who I will become. I will not be Wonder Woman, and even though many of my friends manage to pull this off, this is not me.

Working outside the home wasn’t the problem, but sacrificing the hours I need to write and study, to pursue something I find incredibly life-giving, became too much of a tension for me. Through trial and error, I’m discovering who I am. I have zero employable skills apart from writing. I may not be Wonder Woman, and I may not be able to force others into the truth, but I can tell the truth about myself. Rhinestone lasso or not.

Roots and Sky: A Book Giveaway

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***This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who left a comment here, there, and everywhere:) Kate Rice is the winner of Christie’s book, Roots and Sky!***

“…home is the ground we measure with our own two feet. And home is the place that measures us. Home is the place that names us and the place we, in turn, name. It feeds us, body and soul, and if we are living well, we feed it too. Home is the place we cultivate with our love.” ~Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky

For years, I’ve circled around the idea of what it means to be “home”. What it means to belong to a place, to people, to a chosen life. Like a dog with a bone, I have scratched at it, sniffed it out, chewed on it, buried, and dug it up for consumption over and over again. And for years, I’ve come away with more questions than answers, more head knowledge perhaps, but with a nagging sense in my heart that I haven’t quite figured it out. Home is something I want to understand at the soul level, so you can imagine my delight and anticipation when I arrived home in New Jersey, after an extended stay in England, to find Christie Purifoy’s book Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons waiting for me.

In her book, Christie recounts the first four seasons she and her family spent living in Maplehurst, a well-loved Victorian farmhouse without the pleasure or pain of a farm. Christie writes of home and rootedness in a way that is fresh and poetic and gentle. She writes of the everyday, ordinary circumstances through which God used this home to help her discover where she belongs, and in turn to grow deeper in her belonging to him.

I came away from her words feeling understood, feeling as if I’d met a kindred spirit across the page, which doesn’t happen often when I read memoir. I felt as if Christie gathered up all of the questions and longing I’ve held for a true place of belonging, and placed them in her love letter to Maplehurst. I feel confident her answers will help me discover my own.

Christie’s words act like an anchor, tying me to the place I belong today, right now, and helping me see that every question doesn’t need an answer. Only an open heart to receive it, should one come along. Over the past few weeks, just as she geared up to release her book into the world, Christie’s brother-in-law was in a fatal military accident, leaving behind a wife (Christie’s sister) and four young children. Christie knows something of grief. She knows something of releasing. And this gives even more weight to her words, layering them with profound truths only those who’ve known such grief can understand.

“This is not my first spring, and here is something I know: the day when daffodils emerge is not the day for hope. The day when seedlings show the bright green of new life is not the day for faith. That day came and went. Hope is for the dark days.” ~Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky

These words remain as true as ever. For Christie, for her family, for you, and for me. Hope is for the dark days. Hope will guide us home.

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I have one copy of Roots and Sky to give away! If you’d like to enter to win Christie’s new book, drop me a line in the comments section here, on Instagram or on my Facebook page (if you’re feeling extra sweet, you could like/follow my page while you’re there). I’ll enter a name to win with my totally un-scientific method of pulling it out of a hat. You have until Tuesday 2/2 (release day!) If you can’t wait, and really, you shouldn’t, purchase a copy of your own. And one for your best friend. Your sister. Your mother. They will thank you.

One Word 2016: Restore

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Over the past few years, rather than making resolutions I will never keep, I choose a single word to guide me through the next twelve months. Sometimes it works, and I return to my word time and time again like a touchstone, a place where my inner and outer self join hands together. And sometimes, I forget my word altogether and flim-flam my way through the months without so much as a glance back.

I have a watercolor painting of the word “Embrace” hanging on my wall–a handcrafted gift for my fortieth birthday last March, from my Martha Stewart sister-in-law. It sounds soft doesn’t it? Gentle. Embrace sounds like a word you want to pursue, like a warm hug from a friend who knows how to give them. Well, it isn’t. I found I wanted to brace myself against my swiftly turning world in 2015, rather than actively embracing it. It spin in directions I hadn’t anticipated–unexpected challenges with my kids, a new job I hadn’t planned for, my husband’s even newer job, which brought with it a hellish commute and much longer hours, and most painful of all–a pause button pressed down hard on my writing.

My word for 2015 didn’t come with how-to directions. Embracing every hard and imperfect gift was not a part of my plan. When I found myself bracing for another shift in the winds, I remembered my word. I tried to loosen my white-knuckle grip and open my arms to it, if only begrudgingly and if only a little.

It has taken a month for me to work my way into a new word for this year. I was hoping it would be something delicious. A word without a difficult verb hidden in the middle, a word with which I could sing myself to sleep. Something like “hope” or “dream” or “truth” or “beauty”.

But as I turned these words over like rocks, examining their undersides, I found that none of them were meant for me. None were my ebenezer for the year to come. Instead, the word “Restore” continued to turn up and waited patiently for me to acknowledge it. I waited for a month before I finally claimed it as my own.

I imagine I’m not alone in saying I have lost a few things while walking the path to maturity and adulthood. Some are burdens I was meant to leave behind, but others were not. Wonder, joy, mystery, peace, and delight have fallen away to make room for worry, weariness, frustration, and busy. There are other things too, desires that have died like shriveled fruit on a vine. I believe this will be a year of restoration and life for at least some of them.

Restore, as a guide, may be a double-edged sword, but I feel ready now. I have spent a year embracing sharp-edges. This year, like all years, will be no different in that it will have both adventures and challenges. I’m ready to receive it.

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Do you have a word for the year? How well did you receive it?

In other news, I have a giveaway of my friend Christie Purifoy’s new (brilliant, beautiful) book, Roots and Sky, coming up later this week. Join me here, for a chance to win a copy!

 

Telling The Truth in 2016

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Hello, Friends! It’s been a while.

I took an unexpected break from blogging over the holidays, and decided to extend it through my grad school residency in England. I have so much to unpack mentally, so much gathered over the last year and the last few weeks, I don’t know where to begin. Writing has become the best way for me to process my life and, ironically, my time away at school didn’t allow for much reflection or writing, apart from specific class assignments.

One of the pieces we worked on during our workshop, was to write a self-portrait in disguise, and in the second draft, introduce a swerve, something that changes the direction of the piece. I chose to disguise myself as a midwife, and then remove her sense of sight. It was weird and wonderful, and reminded me how much a sense of play and experimentation is important in writing, but also in life.

Emily Dickinson said to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant…The Truth must dazzle gradually, Or every man be blind.” This is how I want to live into the next year. I want to see the world, and express the truth I find there from a slant view.

I often live blind to everything but the most obvious.

I want to live into what lies beneath the surface. What is the Truth that dazzles? How can I recognize it, and tell it in such a way that it doesn’t blind us in the telling?

Telling all the truth, but telling it slant requires us to step outside of ourselves. To see the world in ways we haven’t seen it before, to taste it differently, to hear the sounds we usually ignore, to feel the emotions we’d rather bury. To play.

This past year has been all about utility, getting by, doing what needs to be done when it needs doing, practicality. This next year, I want to restore a sense of wonder and play and sight. How about you?

When You Want Less Cynicism and More Child-like Wonder and Delight

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He sits next to me in the car on another mild-December day. We’ve abandoned coats for light jackets, but I wear a scarf in protest. It’s December in New Jersey after all. Christmas music, the traditional station my kids think sounds too much like big-band jazz, plays in the background. The music is the reason my car battery died in the lacrosse parking lot ten minutes earlier, while I sat waiting for my son. When the music stopped abruptly, I looked around and saw one other car with its lights on. I walked across the parking lot, and I asked a guy sitting in a Tesla for a jump. He hid a smile when he told me his car is electric, and I shuffled back to my mini-van a little amused and a little embarrassed. I found a good Samaritan sitting in a Mercedes, and asked him to help me.

After the jump, we drive home through neighborhoods lit with colored trees, garland strung in loops across picket fences, and one home outlined in white lights like a gingerbread house from a fairytale. My son turns the air conditioning on, and he tells me, “It doesn’t feel like Christmas this year, Mom.” He’s just not feeling it. I suggest it’s the weather. The busy schedule. The full days of school leading straight up to Christmas day. He shakes his head.

Earlier in the day, we decorated gingerbread houses. My husband baked cookies. We played the music, lit the tree, burned the Christmas scented candle. In spite of the busyness, we’ve created the usual holiday atmosphere at home. What can it be, I ask him? He doesn’t know, he grasps for the words to describe his feeling, but finds nothing there.

I look at his man-sized feet taking up space next to me, and I ask him if maybe he’s outgrowing the magic. As I listen to his voice crack while we talk about his thirteenth Christmas holiday, I remember the long season of adolescence when the wonder and delight of childhood stalls and turns over. When you need someone to bring the child inside you back to life, when you need something other than sarcasm and peer pressure to fuel your sense of astonishment and wonder. When presents bring a short spark of happiness, but you’re doubtful about the promise of Emmanuel offering everlasting peace, love, joy.

As I think on these things, with the man-child in the seat next to me, I realize I’m the one who typically feels drained of life this time of year, worrying about presents over presence. Celebrating Advent in my own mixed-up, hodgepodge way has brought my sense of amazement and joy in this season back to life. It has saved Christmas from being consumed by commercialism and my own heart from becoming jaded and false. Advent has brought reverence and true joy back into my celebration.

I look at the kid. I see the way his eyes smile at the sight of the homes lit up in fairy lights, but I also see the cynicism growing underneath. Later, as we sit around the dining room table, I read aloud Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. I read of angels and promises and wombs filled by the power of the Holy Spirit. He pretends not to listen, but when I question him, he repeats the story back to me verbatim. And somewhere deep inside that adolescent heart of his, I see something catch a spark of life, I see a flicker.