~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

Books That Made a Difference: When We Were on Fire

Note: This post is part of my occasional series Books That Made a Difference.

Addie Zierman is another one of those people/online friends/writers that I don't remember exactly when or how I first discovered. But when I did, I loved the name of her blog, How to Talk Evangelical (which reminded me of this book); it has had a place on my list of Favorite Blogs: Christian Faith & Doubt since I debuted this design. And I loved even more its "thing"--on it, she reexamines her faith, one evangelical cliché at a time. Because...yes. Evangelicalism certainly has its clichés. (Perhaps that's like all traditions. Maybe it's even unavoidable.) But oh, the damage that has been done by so many of those clichés. :sigh:

Anyway, we have a lot in common, Addie and me. We've both lived significant portions of our lives in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area--I, my first 20 years; she, her college years and now. We both left home for a far-away evangelical college--she left Illinois for Northwestern College (now University of Northwestern) in St. Paul, and I left Minnesota for Cedarville College (now Cedarville University) in Ohio. We both ended up living long-term near where we went to school. We've both been technical writers, creating user manuals for computer software companies. We both loved Alias.

Oh, and we both grew up in a Christian subculture, experienced depression, and became disillusioned. She's returned to faith, while I...well, that's yet to be determined.

She tells her story in her first book, When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over

In short, I loved this book and highly recommend it.

But to leave it at that would be to paint an incomplete picture. It would leave out how close to home it often hit for me.

The book's synopsis reads, in part:
In the strange, us-versus-them world of the 90’s Christian subculture, your faith was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore and whether or not you’d "kissed dating goodbye."

Evangelical poster-child, Addie Zierman wore three WWJD bracelets, led two Bible studies and listened exclusively to Christian rock. She was “on fire for God,” unaware that the flame of her faith was dwindling until it burned entirely out.
It didn't have to be the 90s and you didn't have to call yourself evangelical. Because in the strange, us-versus-them world of the 80s Christian subculture, your faith was measured by how many of the DOs you did and how many of the DON'Ts you didn't, from the (partially-man-made!) list.

And because I was an Independent Fundamental Baptist poster child and--out of fear, I attempted to keep the list. I was a "goody-two-shoes," unaware that I was doomed to fail, by the very nature of there being a list, a list that not only your faith was measured by but that your worthiness apparently depended on, too.

Oh, and evangelical was a dirty word. Like liberal. Evangelicals were liberal, which just meant that they believed slightly differently than we did and had slightly-more-relaxed standards of practice, but--I didn't know that, since it was constantly being implied that because they didn't dot their Is and cross their Ts just like we did, they were probably going to hell.

But then I went to Cedarville, which I still sometimes marvel that my parents let me do, and without even realizing it, I became one--an evangelical. (The irony in reading about Northwestern is that while, in my parents' eyes, it was terribly liberal and therefore not to be considered...it sounds like it was a lot like Cedarville. Just...wow.) And it was a lot less strange, and it was a lot less us-versus-them. It's where I discovered that grace didn't just "get you in the door," it was how God treated us generally and how we were supposed to treat each other. And Dr. Dixon talked about there being a difference between biblical mandates and institutional preferences, and it felt revolutionary. And he talked about it being their last chance to treat us as children or their first chance to treat us as adults--and choosing to treat us as adults. And he talked about their being some leeway in the rules, some things open to interpretation by individual RAs. And it all felt like Freedom City....compared to where I'd been.

Oh, and I discovered a vibrant brand of Christianity--based on grace and experienced with joy. A kind I'd never seen before. If I was ever "on fire for God," it was while I was there--and shortly thereafter.

I have a clear memory of shortly after college when I was riding the bus to work one day and reading my New Testament. Another passenger saw what I was reading and was convinced I was doing it because someone was "making" me. I insisted I was reading it because I wanted to. That desire did not last.

And like Addie said of herself, "I almost can't remember what it felt like to be that girl...." Because of everything that came after: getting in touch with my emotions (especially about my childhood) for the first time, multiple rounds of questioning and doubts, disillusionment that has only grown, depression, and--of course--the death of RLK.

It is all of that that makes me so relate to Addie's experiences of being depressed in a church setting and feeling disconnected from the people in that church setting. Like this, from chapter Sixteen:
When I tell Sheila that I'm leaving [the church], she looks at me, surprised. "Why?" she asks.

"I'm just lonely," I say finally.

"Well," says Sheila, looking concerned, "if we had known you were lonely, we would have done something. We all thought you were too busy for us."

I'm sure, in this moment, that she's telling the truth--that she honestly didn't know. That none of them did. But I can't forgive them for not seeing it. For not seeing me.

"I'm sorry," I say, even though I'm not quite sure why I'm apologizing. What I want to say is that for a year of Thursdays I have met with the church ladies at Coffee on Broadway for morning Bible study--and still not one of them ever even asked.
Can I just say? Yes. You feel like you are falling apart in front of people, and you just want someone to notice and care. And they don't notice. (And you wonder if they care.) And when you finally work up the courage to say something, they blame you for not saying something sooner, or they respond with something equally unhelpful--unsolicited advice, uncalled for platitudes, unfitting verses--the ways are myriad.

It's safe to say the book triggered me, even. Multiple times. To tears, sobbing tears.

So if it triggered me, why did I love it so much? Because Addie tells her truth, unflinchingly. Because she doesn't whitewash away the sad parts, the unpleasant parts, the this-didn't-work-for-me parts. Because she has such a way with words--simply exquisite prose. Because while we'd connected online before the book came out, now...she truly does feel like a friend. Because I know we get each other; we so get each other.

If you were ever "on fire for God" and watched that fire flame out, if Christian faith and depression have ever been any kind of a mix for you...and you want to feel a little less alone and a little less 'crazy,' read this book.

I will give one spoiler alert: If you're the kind of person who thinks that all the swears are always wrong, you'll have a problem with this book. But I encourage you to read her explanation of why her Christian memoir includes those words.

And I'll end on a lighter note:  In talking about her college experience, Addie relates the following interaction:
"So," he asked, as we rounded the curve of the sidewalk and came up on the dorm buildings, "what's your major?"

"English. How about you?"

"Missions," he said, a sort of confident finality in his voice. "I'm pretty sure I'm called to the Middle East. Or maybe Africa."

And then he gave me That Look. The one that says, Hey there. Want to live in a hut in the jungle with me?
This so reminded me of the Hey Christian Girl tumblr, that I just had to do this:

Rachel Held Evans and Me

I don't remember exactly when I first discovered Rachel Held Evans. But I've been reading and commenting on her blog for at least a year and a half. (Astute readers of this blog will know that hers has had a place in My Favorite Blogs: Christian Faith & Doubt every since I debuted this design.) And last year I read and loved her books, Evolving in Monkey Town and A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Her work, especially Evolving in Monkey Town, is instrumental in my beginning to think that Christianity might in fact be a very different thing from what I'd believed it to be for so long—not only from the legalist fundamentalism I was originally taught, but also from some of the more-disturbing aspects of the evangelicalism I shifted into during college.

Anyway, I've wanted to meet her for quite a while now, and the other night—finally!—I was able to make that happen. YAY!

She was speaking at a church in Louisville, KY, so I took a little road trip. Three hours of driving each way,  sometimes-blinding rain, a couple of backups (on a Sunday evening!), and a very late return--and it was entirely worth it. I'm so glad I did it.

Rachel came across in person to be exactly how she seemed from all of our interaction and from everything I've read and seen of her online. It felt like we already knew each other...I guess in a way we did.

But it still blew me away how incredibly sweet she was to me. From the moment we first actually met—in the bathroom!—to when, right after her talk, she asked if I could stay awhile, to near the end, when she said I could join her and her hosts for a late dinner (which I didn't, because I had to drive back) and bemoaned that we didn't have more time...she treated me like I was actually a friend of hers.

I mean, I had expected her to recognize me--like I said, we've been interacting for at least a year and a half, and as she pointed out, my comments on her blog always have my name and picture with them (thanks to my account with the comment system she uses on her blog). "That makes a big difference," she said.

But in my mind...I was a fangirl. And I figured she'd probably be all, "Hey, nice to meet you; thank you for coming," maybe a comment about our online interaction, sign the book, pose for the picture, and be done with it. And that would've seemed entirely reasonable to me.

I mean, she doesn't have to invest anything of herself in me. I'm just one of thousands of readers. But she made me a friend—clearly, she had already thought of me as one...and now, I think  of her as one too.

This pretty much says it all. ♥

The Mighty Warrior Who Advises the King

As soon as I had the idea, I knew I had to do it. If I could get it in gold.

I'd seen the necklace before, several times. It's one of the many on the website that I'd viewed every page of, several times, searching for something that was "me." I mean, they donate to Soaring Spirits; how could I not get something? But most of their items are silver, and try as I might, I just don't like silver.

But then one time I noticed that the discs on this particular necklace also came in gold, though the chain did not. And that was when I got the idea. And I thought, "If they're at Camp Widow this time, I'll have to ask if I can get the chain in gold too."

I had to choose a different chain, but yes, I was able to order a gold one for this necklace.

And when she asked which letters I wanted on the discs...naturally, I said R, L, K.

That's how I refer to him sometimes when I mention him, like on Twitter or Facebook--RLK. But even more than that...I love the meanings of his names. I've loved name meanings for, like forever.

Ronald means "advisor to the king" (other meanings are "powerful," "mighty counselor/ruler"); Louis means "famous warrior."

Somehow...in the intervening years since I first looked up these meanings, "famous" turned to "mighty." Whatever. I'm not inclined to change it back, in my head.

And can I just say? Fitting. There were other aspects to him too, of course, but these meanings...they speak essential truths about him.

So...now, I have, always close to my heart, another tangible reminder of the mighty warrior who advises the king.

The Classic Initial necklace by Urban Sparrow Designs

Camp Widow East 2013: The Same and Yet So Different

All Camp Widow East 2013 attendees. Hope Matters!
(Official Camp Widow photo courtesy of Soaring Spirits International.)

So...I had internet access issues for several weeks recently (long story); that's why I haven't posted much lately and why I'm only now posting my overall report on Camp Widow East (which was over a month ago). So, without further ado:

Camp Widow was different this time...and also the same. The "different" part will make sense later. The "same" part is...this was my 4th Camp (so hard to believe), and they're starting to run together in my mind. Never thought that would happen.

This time, I didn't know for a long time if I'd be able to go. For the first few months of this year, I wasn't sure I'd be retaining my job, due to changes at the company. Fortunately, in the meantime, I've kept it, but back in March, I didn't know if I'd be able to afford Camp. Well, enter...an anonymous donor. One evening during the second week March, Michele Neff Hernandez, the head of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation and Camp Widow director, messaged me on Facebook to tell me someone had anonymously donated specifically for me  a registration and 2 nights' stay in the hotel. I was absolutely floored...and soon in tears. Though I have my suspicions, I don't really know who this donor was. So I can only put a huge "Thank you!" out into the universe...and find ways to pay it forward.

Another amazing means of help came the night before I was set to leave. After all sorts of talk with the SSLF car pool coordinator (cool, huh?) about things like picking someone up in Charlotte of all places and after a plan with a widow sister from Indiana to ride together (but miss parts of the event), the coolest thing happened. That night I thought, "I should check Widowed Village." That turned out to be fortuitous: a friend had messaged me there saying a widow in my area was driving all the way there the next day. Also fortuitous: that same widow, Beth, came into the chat room shortly thereafter. We started chatting, and pretty soon we'd agreed that she'd pick me up in the morning. All I had to do was pay for a tank of gas. So that is what we did...and we had a good time in the car getting to know each other. Plus--no missing any part of the event. So cool!

Here are some of the highlights/things I remember most from this Camp:
  • The Widowed Village gathering on Thursday night, which I'm so glad I got to attend. After the previous Camp, I realized there were a bunch of WV people I hadn't met...and only after the fact did I also learn they'd had a gathering! So it was good to connect in person with more of them this time.
  • Debra Morrison is awesome. Well, I knew that already. Her session was about how passive investing is better than active investing (something else I knew already). But what I really loved about it was seeing how Debra speaks to and looks out for those who like her are widowed but who may not be financially savvy...and who other less-principled financial advisors might prey on. If I ever decide to get over my wimpiness about money, Debra's wisdom is the first place I'll turn.
  • Audrey Pellicano's session Healthy Living After Loss. A couple of things, both unexpected, from this session stand out: first was how the guided imagery she led us through affected me. I'm half skeptical/half open to stuff like that, but--damn, this made the emotions well up so strong and so fast, it floored me. For some reason I tend think that at 8+ years out, I'm not going to get "so" emotional about it anymore. Wrong. Second was how I have started to think I should take up yoga, after I felt so...loose and, I don't know, different--in a good way--after the few yoga moves she had us do. Me, considering yoga. Whoa.

    (Official Camp Widow photo courtesy of Soaring Spirits International.)
  • Michele's (always-excellent) keynote address. This time the theme was: Instead of thinking of life after widowhood as "Plan B," choose to create a "new Plan A." Keep your arms open to life. Can be so hard to do, but...so necessary.

    (Official Camp Widow photo courtesy of Soaring Spirits International.)
  • The unexpectedly-different-this-time roundtable discussion for those Widowed and Not Legally Married. Usually we have a more facilitated discussion, but this time we just went around and told our stories. Also different: I'd only met one of the people in that room before. While I'm never glad when there are new unwedded widows, it was good to get to know those people.
  • Becoming friends with some of those unwedded widows, especially Tanya Villanueva Tepper. Tanya's fiance Sergio Villanueva was a firefighter who was killed on 9/11.

  • Tanya's session about grief over time. Tanya was one of several people that documentary filmmakers followed for several years after 9/11. They made the film Rebirth. She was able to get just her portions of the film put into a single clip, which she showed in the session. I don't have words adequate to describe the effect it had on me. The emotion welled up so strong that I was a mess for a couple hours afterwards; in fact I had to leave early from the session following it and go lay down for awhile. Simply profound.

  • Chatting with Steve Cunningham and Veronica King Cunningham and attending their session Love in the Aftermath (which incidentally is also the name of Steve's blog). Steve and Vee (as she is commonly called) are one of the couples who help me have hope for finding love again.

  • Meeting Jodi Hutchinson, an intuitive health consultant. We had a great conversation of just sharing our stories, and she affirmed my thinking about a health condition I believe I have (I'll be blogging about that soon).
  • The banquet (where this happened).

    (Official Camp Widow photo courtesy of Soaring Spirits International.)
  • And, as always...connecting with other widows!--renewing existing friendships and making new ones. Here's me and my new friend Orla Green. She's from Ireland, has 12 (!) children, and is both a riot and an absolute sweetheart:

But the most different thing of all was: I detected a shift in my feelings about Camp Widow...not to the negative, mind you! I think it's just that I don't need it in quite the same way I once did. I started noticing this shift when I realized toward the end that, while I didn't want it to be over, I wasn't devastated that it was over.

Do you know how weird all of that is?

Anyway, at the very least, I know that I need to not just "take" from Camp Widow anymore. It's beyond time to start giving back. (I'm already working on one way to do that; so stay tuned!) 

I'm excited that I'm finally to the point where I know that I can be of real service to others in this community. New Plan A, indeed.

"I Want to Live"

Saturday night at Camp Widow means one thing: time for the banquet. We doll ourselves up, we put on the fancy, and we celebrate our strength, celebrate that we've made it this far.

At the banquet with my friends and widow sisters Beth and Judy.
And there's a dance floor and a DJ...who by the way is instructed to play no slow songs. For one Camp, they happened to hire a live band, and for whatever reason there was no instruction on what to play or at least not to play. Which was unfortunate, because they played At Last, and there were people running out of the room crying. That had been some people's wedding song. Hmmm, can you say "sensitivity fail"? But--I digress.

At one point during this Camp's banquet, I was dancing near my friend Barbara and a woman named Betty, who I hadn't really had a chance to interact with yet. All of a sudden, she says to Barbara, "I feel old," and when Barbara asked how old she is, she gave an answer in the late 60s.

A few minutes later, Betty and I were still dancing near each other, and she said something that I couldn't quite make out, so I asked her to repeat. She said, "I want to live."

I want to live.

The tears welled up instantly...as they still do every time I think of it. All I could do was say, "I don't even know you, but now I have to hug you," and she let me. Further evidence, by the way, of how the bond between widowed people can form--instantly, strong, and very deep.

I mean, how easy would it be for her to give up? To give up on life, to give up on ever enjoying it again. (It's a temptation I am all too familiar with.) But no, something in her has risen up and refused to take the easy-but-ultimately-self-destructive path. Just...wow.

Talk about inspiring!

Favorite Finds: March 2013

Here are some of my favorite finds from this month:

Favorite image: Paris, from Rays of Light by Bethany Salvon on Beers and Beans:

Hat tip: @AprilA2Z.

Favorite health reminder: Your Phone vs. Your Heart by The New York Times' Barbara L. Fredrickson:
Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit.
Hat tip: Dirk Stanley, M.D.

Favorite piece of life advice: Always Go to the Funeral by NPR's Deirdre Sullivan:
Sounds simple — when someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.

"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to. I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy.
Hat tip: Larry Levi, MFT.

Favorite weird-but-true-story tweet, by Sarah Pulliam Bailey: "Big Cheese: Man busted for stealing 21 tons of Muenster worth $200,000. Cheese=most stolen food in the world (ABC)." (Fair warning: ABC plays different videos in sequence after playing the one you loaded the page in order to play. Annoying-but-true.)

Favorite shows of vulnerability by courageously telling a hard story: I Wasn't Raped, But I Was Still Violated by Caris Adel (trigger warning for abuse, victimization, assault, creeps):
[I]t’s on me to handle it, right?  It’s the woman’s job to suck it up and deal with it.  I know creeps count on women who shut up and just sit there.  And even after all of these months of learning about feminism, equality, rights, abuse, victimization – I still found myself incredibly vulnerable.  I knew the information and yet I still sat there, terrified and uncomfortable.  Side aching from the tension and the stress, and the unnatural position I was in.

And On Feminism: The Rehumanization of a Soldier and the Reconstruction of a Man by Luke Harms at Living in the Tension (trigger warning: sexual assault and violent sexuality):
Feminism was what allowed me to begin reclaiming my own humanity by seeing that exact same humanity in others. Starting at that fundamental precept, the "radical notion that women are people," I was confronted with my own privilege and my propensity for dehumanizing others. It started right here at home, with the way I saw my wife and the way I saw our relationship. (In fact, if you go back to the first post I ever published on this blog, you can actually see the metamorphosis taking place.) I stopped seeing her as a means to validate my own masculinity, and started seeing her for the incredible human being that she was in her own right, regardless of (perhaps in many ways in spite of) her relationship with me. It was feminism that gave me the tools to critically deconstruct the false idol of masculinity that I had fashioned over the first 25 years of my life. When there was nothing left, it was feminism that allowed me to reconstruct a healthy view of maleness that respects the humanity, the Imago Dei, within us all.

Favorite hilarious parody: How Sesame Street is Undermining Biblical Values by Matt Mikalatos at The Burning Hearts Revolution:
I know, you might think I'm overreacting, but the Bible is very clear on the role of bears in human relationships. They are meant to be voracious killing machines. I mean, the ONE COMMAND God gives specifically to bears is to "Arise and devour much flesh." This attempt to anthropomorphize and humanize bears strikes at the heart of everything the gospel teaches about bears.

Favorite analysis: "But That's What the Bible Says" by Kristen Rosser on Wordgazer's Words:
And this is the sad thing.  That we'd rather live with cognitive dissonance, believing that women are somehow equal but yet somehow lesser-- or that they are to be restricted for no reason, but that God is still just-- than to believe it's possible we're misreading our Bibles.

We'd rather restrict women and have the Bible be "clear" than admit that we just might be wrong.
Hat tip on the previous three: Rachel Held Evans.

Favorite pointing out of an amazing-but-often-unknown reality: When the bias of our blinders changes the Bible by Fred Clark at Slactivist:

Junias is a character in some translations of the Bible.

More specifically, he’s a character invented by translators and inserted into the Bible. He’s a made-up person with a made-up name.

Junias never existed. And Junias’ name never existed.

Favorite defense: ...But I'm Still a Christian! by Perfect Number, guest posting at Love, Joy, Feminism:
Apparently, Christianity is about holding certain political views. Apparently, it’s about gender roles. Apparently, it’s about not asking too many questions. And if you just go along with all those things, you get to call yourself a Christian, and no one will challenge that claim.

Why is this? Why is it that, in the section of evangelical Christianity I come from, those issues are so tied up in the definition of “Christian”? I thought Christianity was about proclaiming Jesus as Lord. I thought it was about loving God and loving people. I thought it was about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I thought it was about proclaiming freedom and healing and rescue. I thought it was about taking up my cross and following Jesus, no matter the cost. I thought it was about studying and obeying the bible—what the bible ACTUALLY says, not what we’re told “the bible clearly teaches.”

Favorite takedown of a theology that deserves to be taken down: Bite Me, Joel Osteen by Chad Jones at Randomly Chad:
My Best Life Now? Seriously?

Does that best life include:

My sleep apnea

My wife’s:

Diabetes, Fibromyalgia, and allergies so bad she can’t breathe through her nose for months on end?

My son’s chronic back problems?

Loved ones dying of cancer?

What part of this is “best,” Joel?

Favorite posts about the giving of one's heart: Hearts are not construction paper by Aprille at Kindred Grace:
A broken relationship can leave you with a broken heart, but it can’t leave you with less of a heart. Your heart is still yours, and you can choose what you do with it. Mr. Knight-In-Shining-Armor-Who-Fell-Off-His-White-Horse doesn’t carry around that piece of your heart in a box somewhere…it’s not collecting dust on his shelf. It’s where it’s always been. Within you.

And I stopped guarding my heart ten years ago. by Emily Maynard at Prodigal Magazine:

As with all significant events in my life, I bought a new journal, hoping for a fresh start and new inspiration. I didn’t end up writing much in it, but I wrote one thing in there that has been written on my life since: I will never withhold the words I love you. When they are true, I will speak them. This applies to family, friends, boyfriends, puppies, and strangers.

I made that small commitment with a heart that had been ripped open by new grief. I didn’t even really understand what I was saying or if it would stick. But it did. I’ve gone back to that open-hearted idea over and over in the past ten years. Every time I want to shut down emotionally, every time I’m feeling bashful or embarrassed by my affections, every time I’m scared I’ll love something I can’t have, every time a wave of unexpected grief knocks me down again, I go back to that scrawled choice. I’m committed to a whole heart in all relationships, not just romance.

* * *

What's your favorite thing that you've read or written lately?

Dear Mayor

San Diego mayor Bob Filner has announced that he will declare June 28 (the first day of Camp Widow West 2013) Camp Widow Day! While that might not sound like the biggest deal, it could very well have positive outcomes not immediately apparent. (You'll see what I mean below.)

Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, which puts on Camp Widow, has asked those who've benefitted from it to e-mail their thanks to the mayor. I have done so...and I thought I'd share that letter here as well:
Dear Mayor Filner,

Thank you so much for declaring June 28 Camp Widow Day!

I love that Camp Widow is getting this kind of recognition not just because this event has come to mean so much to me but also because: the more people who know about widowed support, the better.

Michele Neff Hernandez, founder of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation and creator of Camp Widow, has spoken publicly about how she continually battles the stereotype that many in the media have regarding the widowed and discussing widowhood: that widows are solely little old ladies with rocking chairs, knitting, and grandchildren--and that talking about widowhood is only depressing. In a sense, one can hardly blame them: our culture simply does not deal well or even much at all with death and grief.

But here's the thing: it doesn't just happen to elderly women. It doesn't just happen to women. It doesn't just happen to married people (I myself am an unwedded widow). It doesn't just happen to straight people. Far too often people in these situations have their loss minimized and their relationship dismissed...as if somehow it doesn't mean as much just because one of these other factors was true. As one who's been told over and over that I am not really a widow because my fiance and I were not married when he passed, I could not appreciate Soaring Spirits' inclusiveness more.

And yes, clearly, a depressing thing has happened to us--among the most depressing things that can happen to a person. But the end of our partner's life doesn't have to mean the end of our own as well...as much as it can feel like it, for a long time. That is where Camp Widow comes in: to tell those on this journey, "You are not alone. Others are walking this road with you. And those of us who are farther along, we'll light the candle of hope for you until you can light it for yourself." That is precisely what Camp Widow was instrumental in doing for me. Besides which, the bond between widowed people is like nothing else. When you've all survived the worst, when you can speak your loved one's name without worry that the other person will be uncomfortable, when you "get" each other and don't have to explain...well, that's like gold.

Mayor Filner, your declaration can help to dispel these myths and to spread the word that help and hope are out there. and for that I thank you very much. As far as I'm concerned, if even one person who could benefit from it hears about Camp Widow (and other forms of widowed support) through this declaration, then every single bit of effort that went into the declaration will be worth it.

I have family who have lived in San Diego for many years, so I've been to your fair city many times--and love it. Now...I love it even more.

Photo source: City of San Diego - http://www.sandiego.gov/home/graphics/photomayor.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30688829

"Special Sizes"

screenshot from
Dear Major Department Stores,

I am what you and most people today would call a "plus-size" woman. And while I'm glad the world has come as far as it has in acceptance of and fashion for women of my size, when I go to your website, and I see this (screenshot, right), I have a few thoughts:

My size is not "special." It's just...the size that I am.

My size is bigger than some people's and smaller than others'.

My size should not mean that to you, I am a whole separate category. Apparently, to you, I'm not "Women"; I'm a "Special Size." (As are "Juniors" and "Petite"s.) Um...seriously??

screenshot from
What if, instead of lumping everyone not in "Misses" (who came up with these category names, anyway?) into "Special Sizes," you just put all clothing for women under...oh, I don't know, "Women's Apparel"?

And if not everything comes in every size, then feel free to have a "Shop by Size" section in your navigation...in addition to the general categories and subcategories.

If you did that, then maybe--just maybe--more women would be inclined to shop at your store, because they wouldn't feel like that store is treating them based on their size and not on the fact that they are women.

Humility and Van Cliburn (R.I.P.)

The world lost a musical giant last week. Van Cliburn (July 12, 1934 - February 27, 2013) will forever be known for winning the very first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958 (at the height of the Cold War, no less). When he returned to the United States, he was honored in New York City with a ticker tape parade. He is the only classical musician, indeed the only solo musician of any genre, to be honored in that way.

Not long after his win, he recorded Tchiakovsky's First Piano Concerto, and that album became the first classical music album in chart history to sell a million copies. To date it has sold over 3 million.

Van's first piano teacher was his mother, Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn. She was taught by Arthur Friedheim, who was a student of Franz Liszt. Franz Liszt.

Oh and his other accomplishments? They're pretty impressive, too.

But what might be the most impressive thing about Van Cliburn is his humility. Though honors flooded his way, he shirked the attention. He viewed himself as a servant in the cause of classical music. Richard Rodzinski, who presided over the The Van Cliburn International Piano Competition for 20 years, related that Cliburn took the word ("servant") seriously and said, "He feels he is serving the purpose of being able to bring beautiful music as he sees it, from his garden to an audience." In 2011 Cliburn returned to the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow for the first time since his 1958 victory, this time to serve as an honorary judge. He sincerely asked his friends, "Do you really think they'll remember me?" He was mobbed in the streets.

* * *

Dear Van: Thank you for serving. Thank you for serving the cause of classical music. Thank you for bringing your magnificent playing to the world. Your playing delights me. Your humility inspires me....Rest in peace.

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Favorite Finds: February 2013

Here are some of my favorite finds this month:

Favorite glorious photo set (of my own favorite photography subject): The sky, from boston.com's The Big Picture:

Hat tip: Sarah Bessey.

Favorite Facebook status, from Michele Neff Hernandez (President and Executive Director of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation and creator of Camp Widow):
I think I will always be kind of awed by the idea that I loved Phil to the end of his life. As much as losing him still hurts, I am honored and proud to have been his love to the end of his days. Every once in awhile this knowledge strikes me, and I realize what gift I was able to give him. If you have loved someone to the end of their days (whomever and whatever their relationship to you) know that your love mattered. Being loved right to your last breath is an incredible blessing.

Favorite show of courage and vulnerability in service of a greater good: What Could Have Saved My Brother From His Mental Illness by Rachel Hollis:
She feels impotent and frustrated in the face of a disease [mental illness] she has no experience with and beyond me, she doesn't know anyone else who does. She told me yesterday: "If he had cancer or heart disease, I feel like I could talk about it with other people and find support. But I'm terrified to say anything, I don't want them to think this is all he's ever been... he used to be so much more."...57 million people in this country are suffering from variations of the same disease and we're not talking about it. [emphasis hers]

Favorite post on mental illness by a Christian: Finding God in a Little White Pill by Amanda Williams at A Deeper Family:
It’s funny how the Gospel that embraces the weak with sure hands, that binds up brokenness and grants access to the Holy One without a secret password, can be twisted into religion that claims weakness as lack of faith.

I thought that was it. I was doing it all wrong. I’d prayed and prayed and prayed, but could not dig up the answer. I’d asked God through earnest tears to help me fix myself. It took me years to understand the irony.

Favorite new poem: Forgiving by Alise Wright:
I thought that forgiving you
would be a one time event.
We would embrace
and I would softly whisper in your ear,
“You’re forgiven.”
Then we would shed a few tears
and share a few laughs
and things would be normal.
We would be okay.
But it’s not been like that.

Favorite warning: When Things Get Weird at Church, by Allison Vesterfelt at Prodigal Magazine:
Things didn’t start bad with Jim Jones’ church. They got bad over time. And it made me think about how things can deteriorate when we stop asking questions.
Hat tip on the previous two: Preston Yancey.

Favorite reminder: So you’re feeling too fat to be photographed . . ., by Teresa Porter:
Isn’t it amazing we can see the beauty in our best friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts without the slightest thought to their flaws . . . but can obsess for hours on our own imperfections? We fixate on our flaws to the point we shirk at any documentation that our round faces and curvy bodies ever walked the earth. No pictures to show how we LOVE, how we laugh, how we are treasured by our families. How is it possible that a double chin can overpower the beauty of a mother cuddling her child? How does arm fat distract from the perfect shot of a spontaneous hug?...So you’re feeling too fat to be photographed? . . . Ok. But you’re the only one who notices. The rest of us are too caught up in loving you.

Favorite response to (others') fat shaming: Fat Shaming Doesn't Work -- Here's Why by Brittany Gibbons at Huffington Post:
Reminding me I'm fat, threatening me with being bullied because of my weight, providing me with no fashion options, shaming me at restaurants, mocking me on national television; that didn't scare me into thinness -- it locked me in a closet with my emotions and a secret stash of food.

Favorite posts about faith and doubt: Spiritual Journey: The Mad Season, by Addie Zierman at How to Talk Evangelical:
To the one who is angry: you get to be angry.

You are not late or behind or wrong; your struggle matters. Ask the hard questions, the ones with the sharp edges. Sometimes they are the truest ones.

I want to say to you, Angry One, I know. I want to say take your time.
Even here, you are Beloved. Especially here.

And “Don’t Tell Anyone” – Jesus’ warning against always expressing right belief, by Michael Kimpan at Red Letter Christians:
Jesus seemed quite comfortable with people following Him, some for long periods of time, while simultaneously being uncertain as to His divine nature. Jesus didn’t correct them or chastise them for not ‘getting it‘ – in fact, He told the disciples not to tell anyone once they did!

And I Wish I Didn't Have Faith by Zack Hunt at American Jesus:
I’m willing to bet if you’re a Christian, there are many times when you feel the same as I.

When you have doubts.

Tragically, doubt is an unwanted guest in much of the church today, particularly amongst those who call ourselves evangelicals. In the face of historical criticism, scientific breakthroughs, and the arrogance of fundamentalism, we are left thinking that doubt is the opposite of faith. Doubt, we are told, is the weapon of the enemy. If we allow it gain even a toehold, then the enemy wins and the Christian faith itself will come crashing down.

What we need instead is faith.

But faith is not a vaccination against doubt.

It is the embracing of it.

Favorite post about the dangers of public shaming:  There Has to be a Better Way by Luke Harms at A Deeper Family:
We, as a community of faith, have so distorted our notion of love in the context of parent/child relationships that we have become enthusiastic endorsers of what essentially amounts to parental cyber-bullying.

Favorite way to realize that I really do (sometimes) compare my pain to others' (ouch): Somebody's Princess at theWiddahood.com:
I was sure MY STORY was much more aweful [sic] than anything they could imagine....

Favorite harmony-between-the-sexes report: A message that made my day... from Rachel Held Evans:
[M]y friend had been the mastermind behind the whole project: he picked out the flowers, got our teacher’s approval, and recruited his fellow senior boys to help deliver them. There was no ego involved; the boys simply wanted to humbly affirm their female classmates and sisters in Christ. For many girls, Valentine’s Day normally involves copious amounts of insecurity and anxiety, but instead I saw many smiles as girls walked down the halls with their flowers. Today, women of valor were honored by MEN of valor.

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What's your favorite thing that you've read or written lately?

R.I.P. Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz, June 17, 1952–January 22, 2013

This week I learned the devastating news that my doctor, Joseph "Doc Joe" Franz, had passed away.

Doc Joe was so much more than my doctor. Even to call him my friend isn't quite right. He was almost like a father figure in my life. He didn't just care for me medically, he cared about me personally. A line from his obituary reads, "Doc Joe was a compassionate and caring man who treated his patients as if they were family." I am here to tell you: this is true.

The first time I met Doc Joe was many years ago, when he treated me at an urgent care place. (I had a different regular doctor at the time.) I left with one of his business cards. Some time later, when I couldn't get in to see my regular doctor, I looked up Dr. Franz. I discovered he had his own practice, so I went to see him for whatever my concern was at the time. In that visit, I ended up telling him about some of the difficult things I was going through. He sat with and listened to me for half an hour, and not once did he look at the time, tell me he had other patients he had to get to, or hurry me along in any way. I left his office thinking, "I'm going to him from now on!" And I did. I had my other doctor transfer my records to his office, and he was my doctor from that day on.

We talked often about my struggles. And many times when we did, he'd use the analogy that I was lost in a forest...just trying to find my way out, to the sunshine. It was apt.

I remember how sad he was for me when Ron passed. He said something to the effect of...he'd seen me already go through so much, and things had just started looking up. Yeah, no kidding.

And I can't forget the day I told him that I suspected I was hypothyroid. As I've said before, he surprised me with how open he was to listening to my symptoms and the research I had done. Being on thyroid replacement therapy has done a lot of good for me, and I owe that in large part to him.

I've already thought many times about how I can honor his memory. What can I do specifically to pay tribute to his spirit? But it pretty quickly came to me: I can determine even more to finally, fully find my way to the sunshine.

My life is forever enriched for having known Doc Joe. There will never be another like him.

* * *

Doc Joe: You were a bright spot in my life. You cared for me and you cared about me. I can never thank you enough for that. I promise you: I will find my way to the sunshine. The rays have started to peak through (thanks in part to you), but there's still work to be done. I'll remember you when yet again I'm tempted to give it up. Someday, I'll be dancing in the clearing, bathed in the sunlight...and I'll remember you then too.

Tell Ron how much I miss him.

Favorite Finds: January 2013

Today I'm beginning a new monthly series I'm calling Favorite Finds, where I'll share things, mostly internet posts, that I most enjoyed or appreciated in the past month. (They'll be things I found during the month, regardless of when they were posted.) Hope you also enjoy these selections. And feel free to share in the comments your favorite finds and recent posts from your blog as well.

So here are some of my favorite finds from January 2013:

Favorite jaw-dropping photo set: Chicago's Freezing Fire, from The Atlantic:

Hat tip: Rachel Held Evans.

Favorite weird-but-true story (as told by Time): Giant Goat Cheese Fire Shuts Down Norway Tunnel.

Two favorite posts on body image: Megan Gahan's A Love Letter to My Body, at She Loves Magazine:
I never really saw you, did I? For what you really are.
So please accept this most humble apology. I promise to show you the respect you deserve.
Dear Body,
I love you.
And Dani Kelley's The body I have:
Neither being fat nor being female is shameful.
Favorite post that reminded me of an Oatmeal cartoon without being an Oatmeal cartoon: Jeremy Bowman's Me and Sleep vs. Things.

Two favorite posts about the Christian church: church and dysfunctional family, also from the nakedpator:
I’m reading an excellent book by by the Jungian analyst James Hollis called “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life“. On his chapter on family, he wonders what would happen to our lives and to our world if parents could “unconditionally affirm the child“....
What if the church chose to embrace and proclaim [similarly affirming people unconditionally] with sincerity and conviction? In my opinion, this would be true evangelism and a revolutionary kind of church-planting where new, diverse and unique communities of unconditional love would crop up all over the place.
And Matthew Paul Turner's Spiritual Abuse Must Stop (A Blog Post):
In my opinion, despite all the good deeds that might happen inside the machine, in order to measure a church’s worth, one must also take into consideration the souls, the people that church has bruised.
So many wrote that they’ve pretty much given up on the church. And that might be true. But in many instances, the church gave up on them. We, members of the universal church of Christ, need to stand up and speak out on behalf of the victims of spiritual abuse. All too often, because of fear or because of disbelief or because “the church must have had their reasons,” we ignore and devalue the stories of hurting people. Sure, sometimes a person’s story might turn out to be farfetched. But that is an excuse we have used for far too long. That is how abuse continues to occur inside the walls of churches.
Favorite new contribution toward the healing of America's political divide: The My Obama Year project:
It’s against that backdrop of endless noise [our current political climate] I’m deciding to make an intentional change. As I have planned this project over the past months I’ve had many people tell me that they think taking a year to live on the other side of the aisle an interesting idea then they ask the inevitable question “So how exactly are you going to do that?” My answer is that I’m going to use a skill that has been seemingly forgotten; something that my father always taught me was the most powerful thing that one person can do for another. I’m going to listen.
Instead of arguing I’m going to try to understand. Instead of waiting for the other person to take a breath so I can jump in and make my very clever point, I’m going to spend this year putting myself in the position of supporting the President and sojourning with the majority of Americans who have given him two terms in office. I’m embarking on an Obama year.

Some may not understand why I have chosen to walk this path. Some will think I’ve given up my principles and compromised my beliefs. Still others may think that a project like this is a waste of time better spent in other pursuits. To them I simply reply that while I cannot predict where this path I have started on will end up I have (dare I say it?) the audacity to hope that perhaps I can be a small part of the healing that our country desperately needs.
Two favorite ways that men have tried to better understand what women sometimes go through: Men Try Machine That Creates Sensation of Labor. (video!)

And Joel Anderson's T.I., "Gender Night," and Unlearning Misogyny.
So...the boys were told to get into a single line as we gathered outside the camp’s central building. Then, a twist: we were told we had to go in one at a time. The girls would be waiting on us.
I was first in line. The room was dark. All was silent.
I nervously walked inside and briskly walked down the narrow path to the other side of the room. The girls were lined up on each side of the path, and bombarded me with the sorts of lewd catcalls that I had laughed off for much of my life.
Hat tip: Dianna E. Anderson.

Favorite reminder re depression: Jamie Wright's Jesus or Zoloft?:
I remembered the one thing some Christians will never admit out loud, which is that sometimes Jesus isn't all you need. Sometimes you need Zoloft....

And guess what? It helps!

Guess what else? Depression is not a sin.
Favorite post with a globalizing perspective: Lynne Hybels' Women in the Holy Land — Just Like Me:
On subsequent trips to Latin America, North Africa, and the Middle East [after trips to the Balkans and sub-Saharan Africa] I discovered more women just like me.  Except they were suffering in ways I never have—and probably never will....

Robi [an Israeli woman] has become my friend and mentor.  She’s a mother and a grandmother—just like me.  But she and the other peacemaking women I met in Israel are more than that: they’re heroes.  They believe in the security, freedom and dignity of all the people in the Holy Land—Christians, Muslims and Jews—and they aren’t afraid to see and to speak the truth, even when that truth is unpopular or controversial.  My goal for 2013 is to become more like them.
Favorite segment (from my all-time favorite morning show, CBS Sunday Morning): Global show of support leaves Newtown "snowed in." Might want to have the tissues handy!

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What's your favorite thing that you've read or written lately?

Wordless Wednesday 1/16/13

© A Road Less Traveled

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