I am Back (and I’m giving away ART to Celebrate!)

i'm backYES, I am still alive and kicking and am re-entering cyberspace with a spruced-up website and new direction for my blog. Curious? Read on!

It is has been exactly one day shy of a year since my last blogpost. I had wondered if it was time to put my vintage (ahem, outdated) website out to pasture. It has been a good run. I started blogging around 2006.Seriously, ten years ago! And while I’m no problogger or blogging-writer-rockstar, I do enjoy the self-expression blogging allows everyday women like me.

SO I AM BACK AT IT!

And I am back with a broadened perspective and new experiences that will take my blog to new places. Expect to see posts about art and the creative process, identity and how everything shapes us. You will see candid writings about my struggles with relationships and how I am an expert at social insecurity.

You can also expect to see shout-outs for other blogs and creative sites I have been discovering, as well as occasional book reviews. And yes, I will also write a smattering here and there about how my Christian spirituality has devolved to being barely recognizable starting with a post about How I’m Sorta Kinda Still a Christian But Really Not in the next couple weeks.

I realize that some readers may rather unsubscribe and move on despite the tempting blog parties and UNSUBgiveaways I’m planning. Click the Unsubscribe image to make your graceful exit from my subscriber list… and if you do leave, Thanks so much for letting me come around for as long as you did !!! Come back and visit some time!

If you are a new reader who wants to join the party, just click HERE to add your email to my subscriber list and you won’t miss a thing!

To celebrate my relaunch I will send three readers a free 8×10 high-quality  digital print of one of my original pieces of art. (take a look-see at my Art Page for a glimpse of what kind of art I’m talking about!) Just leave a comment to to let me know you’re here and on SUNDAY, Feb 21, I will draw three names.

I have spent weeks gussying up my digital space. Come take a look, poke around, make suggestions if you like and by all means, take off your shoes and stay awhile. We have a lot to catch up on!

So good to be back! Remember to leave a comment at my blog for a chance to win some cool free art.

Let’s do this!

-blueborder

 

 

 

The Queen of Sheba and I

shebaThe Bible is known for many things, but portraying strong women of resolution is not one of them. Yet when one pushes through the throng of Old Testament manly prophets and New Testament male-centric gospel tales, there is actually a bevy of kick-ass women to meet. The Queen of Sheba is one of them.

In my nearly three decades of church attendance, I don’t recall a single sermon devoted to unearthing the mystery of Sheba. Who is she? Why is she mentioned in the book of Kings in the Old Testament? What was the point of that? Is she the same woman Solomon wrote about in Song of Solomon? Was he in love with her? Her with him? And what does it matter? Why do I need to know anything about a has-been queen who had her five minutes of fame several millennium ago?

This is where novelist Tosca Lee comes in.

I first heard of Tosca through Jim Henderson, a writer friend of mine who has authored several books. Tosca and I both had the privilege of endorsing a book Jim wrote in regards to women and equality in the church, a topic that I am wholeheartedly devoted to. (That book  can be found HERE)

Tosca and I hit it off and stayed loosely in touch through social media and email. We sent each other copies of our books. I read her novel, Havah, a fascinating story written as a memoir by Eve. Yes, Eve, as in Adam and Eve. Tosca has written other novels and is a damn good story teller. I don’t read many novels and I have not read any Christian novels since The Shack. It’s just not a genre that resonates with me. (I am being wayyy diplomatic … )

But I like Tosca, and I like her storytelling voice. So when she contacted me about helping out with her new book,The Legend of Sheba,  I was all in, even though it’s a Christian novel, and well, you know how I feel about Christian novels.

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Learn more about Tosca at www.toscalee.com

I hoped I would like her book because I like Tosca. God knows I am not very good at faking liking a book when I really don’t. And that can get awkward when you like the person, but not what they wrote.  Years ago my friend Bill Dahl, who has reviewed a ton of books, told me he only posts reviews of books he likes, I thought yeah, I like that. I’ll adopt that as my guideline, too. This doesn’t mean if I haven’t posted a review that I didn’t like your book (if you are a writer who sent me a copy). It just means that every review I post, I stand by.

That’s what I thought Tosca was asking of me : to write a blog review about her book.

But what she was really asking was if I would endorse her book.  I was like, Whoa! In the world of writing, asking someone to endorse your book means you are asking them to loan you their name and reputation and write something positive  that can go somewhere on their book for all the reading world to see. I am a person who pays attention to endorsements. When I browse a book, I look at who has endorsed it and what they have to say about it. Endorsements matter to me as a reader … and as a writer. I contacted a number of people to lend me their reputations when my own book was needing endorsements to boost it’s credibility. Some people readily said yes. Some said no, and quite a few never even responded. That’s the gig, that’s the way it goes in the publishing world.

I’ve endorsed a number of books over the years. Just about every author has been someone I know or had strong social connections to. I am always honored to be invited to lend my I’m-Not-Famous name to their endorsement list. One of these days I will blog a complete list of the handful of books I have endorsed and why.

So I read Tosca’s Sheba hoping, hoping, HOPING I would really and truly like it (cuz’ I like her, remember?) and damn, not only did I like it, I savored it like a French chocolate pastry. She created a compelling portrait of this ancient queen, bringing her to life as more riot grrrl than princess in peril. I was more than happy to endorse her book as her interpretation made me want to hang out and get drunk with Sheba and then get tattoos. (and also with Tosca… ya hear me Tosca?! Come out to Portland and let’s hang!)

The Queen of Sheba is a strong read, steady-paced read. Tosca is herself the QUEEN of historical details and is like a time-machine engineer. She takes you there in the story, and God knows I adore travelling.

blurb

My endorsement

I have two copies of Sheba on my shelf. One is my personal copy, and the other is an advanced copy meant for reviewers. I am going to give away my advanced copy to a lucky reader who leaves a comment.

If you like novels, especially historical ones, get Tosca Lee on your radar.  She is a strong, sensual writer who hooks and holds you with her mesmerizing-badass-storytelling voice.

So leave a comment up and maybe you’ll win the review copy. Winner announced in the comments early next week.

Teaser :::::  ART SERIES coming at ya!

 

 

How Cancer Failed to Make me a Super Mom

me and jeremy

Jeremy and I last month at the Caring Cabin, an amazing getaway sponsored by the Children’s Cancer Association here in Oregon.

“No matter what we hear today,” I said to my husband as we prepared for the appointment that would reveal what stage our teen son’s cancer was at, “we have to be like a rock. We cannot fall apart in front of Jeremy no matter how hard the news might be.” With resolve to remain stoic, we drove our son to the hospital for what would prove to be one of the hardest conversations of our entire lives.

Stage 4b. Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Seven different chemo drugs. Radiation. Compromised immune system. Potential side effects. Potential complications. Blood infections… and on and on …

We did remain stoic. We did not flinch. Jerry and I sat there as if we were in a conference discussing the terms of buying a car. I had flipped the switch, a coping mechanism I developed many years ago when facing down stressful, emotionally charged events. I can almost always flip the switch to Numb Mode. I was thankful that this day, this moment, my switch was in working order.

Jeremy, our son, started off in his own place of stoicism. But as the difficult conversation progressed, all entirely focused on his body, his health, his well-being, he became more and more agitated. I recognized he was coming close to losing it, and not wanting my son to become overwhelmed by such difficult information, nor lose his composure in front of new doctors who were strangers to us, I finally held up my hand in the universal stop gesture. “I think we need to end here. It’s a lot to take in.”

That was a good mom moment. I did right by my son as we navigated him home. He did lose his composure in the safety of our car.  Jerry and I remained steadfast in our calmness. I held back tears as Jeremy raged at the hard hand of cards he had been dealt. My own falling-apart’ness came later where my son could not see or hear my anguish.  Another good mom move.

But not all my moves during our sojourn in CancerLand have been as noteworthy. I have failed many times at being the mom-on-task caregiver as the lead nurturer of my son’s care. Like the time Jeremy ran out of a critical medication. We had just been to the clinic the day before and I had completely forgotten to get a prescription. This particular med requires a paper script to be filled at the pharmacy. As Jeremy informed me of this, I grimaced. I had planned my day out, but now with the urgency of going back to the clinic, getting the script, running it to the pharmacy and getting him that much-needed-med before his next dose, ugh … my face scrunched up with the ugh-ness of it all. And he saw it, and it rained shame down on him that his medical need was an inconvenience to me.  That he had become an inconvenience.

I apologized. I reassured him. I spoke of my undying commitment to care for him no matter what and No, he is never ever never ever NEVER EVER an inconvenience “for I am your mom and it is my honor to help you and care for you and be alongside you to help you move towards wellness.”

Another time I ranted to him about an irritation that had happened at work. Jeremy and I developed a strong bond during his treatments, and in that bond I sometimes misplaced my judgment by speaking with him as if he were a friend rather than my ill teen son who is just trying to get through another day of feeling crappy. “Mom, uh… mom,” he would sometimes stammer ever-so-politely, “Can we not talk about this right now?” I flushed with embarrassment more than once as I carelessly crossed boundaries. The stress and isolation of this serious illness affected my mothering limits more times than I’d like to remember.

It became clear to me that with a disease like cancer come weird ideas like  how to be positive all the time and saintly and noble and Hallmark-card-good-all-day-and-night-long. My friend, writer and blogger (and cancer survivor)  Jo Hilder, tells  in her book, Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner, how expecting positivity all the time is like telling a hungry person to never ask for something to eat.

When the person with cancer never talks about the scary parts and is never honest about their fear of pain or death, the only good thing which results is the people around the person with cancer don’t have to be inconvenienced with an awkward conversation, (or) deal with their own fear of cancer…

It was a very weird tension of trying to be the Good  Upbeat Mom all the time.  And though my son nor anyone else put this expectation on me – in fact, quite the opposite – I had  put a huge pressure on myself to Be Super Mom and Super Positive all the Super Effin’ time.

But I never did find my damn cape and the Super powers that come with it.

I wish I had a worthy Lifetime movie of the week story of how cancer transformed me into a better version of myself. Nope. Cancer tested my resolve, yes, and the crisis of a sick child created pressures that I sometimes handled with grace and sometimes did not. Like the time I lost my temper with my 20-year old daughter and began railing on her while my chemo-sick son laid on the sofa…”Please stop, Mom,” he moaned. “I don’t need this.” And of course I stopped … and of course I felt horrible for bickering with my daughter in front of my ailing boy. Another ugh’ish moment.

This is the real stuff of our CancerLand experience. I did a lot right, a whole lot of right, yet I will
always wish that I had done EVERYTHING right. But I’m human, and the crisis of cancer did not suddenly transform me into Super Mom or Super Human or Super anything except maybe super worried … I worried about everything with Jeremy, every little thing, and I still do as he is still recovering from the side effects of the treatments that saved his life.

from Somee Cards

from Somee Cards

Cancer made no saint of me. The crisis, though, made me more aware than ever of how the human experience is full of paradox and contradictions and highs and lows. I wish I had a narrative, a take-away of the valuable life lessons me and my family absorbed from CancerLand. In the end, I have my cancer-free boy (YAY YAY YAY YAY!!!!!!) and a bit more insight of how I am who I am, foibles and all, in the face of extraordinary difficulty.

So what about you? When have you failed when you wanted to be Super You in the face of crisis? I’d love to hear your story and know I’m in good company!

My Son Has Cancer

**I wrote this a few days ago. I didn’t want to post it until my son gave the thumbs up. Tonight he did. This is the hardest post I have ever, ever put on my blog. **

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“Pam, you need to get him checked out right away. A CT scan and a biopsy,” said the naturopath on the phone. “He has all the symptoms of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”

After months of mysterious symptoms and many trips to the clinic and seeing several different doctors, all the clues came together and the tests confirmed what the naturopath told us : My 16y son has Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a kind of cancer that is the third most diagnosed cancer for teenagers in the United States.

Jeremy started having troubling symptoms last September. Headaches, fatigue, decreased appetite, sudden weight loss, random fevers and bouts of nausea and retching. These symptoms begin to randomly appear with no discernible pattern. I took him to the clinic. They ruled out a few maladies (no infections found, blood work good, etc…) and so we’d go back home with instructions to return if he didn’t improve.

Jeremy would have good weeks and my husband and I would think Ok, whatever It was It is gone now.

And then out of nowhere, he’d suddenly be exhausted and barely eating. He also developed a horrendous hacking cough. This in a kid who has NEVER had a horrendous hacking cough. I was mystified.

In a matter of months he lost forty pounds. “It’s not right,” I said to my husband and closest friends. “Something’s not right.” 

Scary things aren’t supposed to be made of you.Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner

My mom came to visit for the holidays. She told me privately, “Pam, all I can think of is cancer when I look at Jeremy.” My mom is an expert worrier so I dismissed her concern. I never once gave a single thought to the possibility that my kid had cancer growing inside of him, draining away his vitality. I never thought it, googled it or brought it up at the clinic. Neither did anyone else. Except  Nana. 

Back to the clinic we went. Jeremy was sent  home with the explanation that it could be acid reflux and was given a prescription for an antacid. I worried that he had some kind of digestive disorder. An ulcer maybe?

Last month he had yet another follow-up appointment and the doctor who examined him prescribed vitamins. We were livid. Really?  Vitamins?!

jeremysleeping

This photo taken in December when his sister stopped by his high school

I decided to take him to a naturopath, first time to ever make such an appointment. She listened to Jeremy’s history, to his description of his symptoms and to my story of it all. By now it had been four months of these weird symptoms and Jeremy was also now reporting night sweats. Jerry and I were also noting an increase in his fatigue. We were watching the vitality of our 16y son drain away. He’s never missed so much school. He’s never slept so much and ate so little. Yet still he pushed through with his studies, pulling strong grades and staying on task with school projects. He had the male lead in the Shakespeare play at school. Many times I urged him to dial back, to stay home, skip school and rest, but Jeremy is dedicated to his obligations, a young man with an old soul who is driven to keep his commitments.

On Valentine’s Day he had a surgical biopsy. The naturopath had discovered swollen nodes on his neck. The CT scan found more, also in his chest.

jeremyphoto

What a beard at only 16. I’ve joked with friends that I’m raising a middle-aged man!

Last week his diagnosis was confirmed, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Our world has been spinning ever since. This was not on the calendar for his junior year of high school. He just landed another major role in the upcoming comedy adaptation of Cinderella. He got the fairy godmother. “I’m going to dye my beard pink and wear a big dress,” he told me when he got the role. Yes, my son has a beard and an insane sense of humor. When the anesthetist nurse asked if had any questions before his surgery, he didn’t miss a beat: “Who has more knock outs? You or Mike Tyson?”  And later when they called our home to check in on his recovery, I heard him say on the phone, “I’m doing fine. You’ll get a good Yelp review.”

Jeremy starts chemo this Friday. We don’t know yet what all that means. He hasn’t been staged yet as more tests were done and on Monday he has a bone marrow and a port put in his chest. We’ll know more later this week.

My best friend in the world drove down from Seattle after hearing the news. Our families became friends when she was pregnant with her first and me with Jeremy. They were born two days apart. When she saw him she burst into tears. He was forty pounds heavier when she saw him last spring.

The bright spot in this devastating news is that HL is one of the most treatable forms of cancer there is. No matter what stage, HL responds really well to chemo and radiation. I comfort myself with this when the scary gremlins try to hijack my imagination. I refuse to feed those hungry little trolls.

Another bright spot is the community support. Jeremy decided to go public and posted about his diagnosis on Facebook. It is definitely a sign of the technological age we live in when social media becomes part of your decision making process with a life altering event. “Think I should post it, Mom?” he asked. I love the relationship Jeremy and I have. We talk often and freely about so many things. He recently asked for a subscription to a magazine called Philosopy Now. Yeah. That’s my kid.

“You are a person who likes to process verbally and also joke around about things. Posting it on Facebook will give you lots of freedom to do that, ’cause you know it will spread like wildfire around at school,” I said.  “And most of all, it will provide you with lots of support. I say go for it.”jeremyfacebook

We messaged our daughter Rose who is in Ireland for study abroad. The other upside of technology is that we can use it to stay close to her while she is so far away. You can imagine how tough this is for her.

jeremycarwash

Jeremy (pre-beard) and his best friend drumming up business for a school fundraiser with their sexy bods!

Jeremy will be getting treated at the children’s hospital which is a part of the hospital campus where I worked for three years. I’m already bumping into former coworkers, another bright spot. I have missed them. He has an excellent healthcare team, which here’s a little weird coincidence: Jeremy’s best friend was diagnosed a year ago, by a week apart, of a different kind of lymphoma and was treated by the same team. We walked this road with him a year ago and today, he is healthy and robust. We are all blown away that these two boys who have been friends since they were in diapers, could both get hit with cancer, and 12 months a part. Seriously!

A couple of weeks ago  I was listening to a radio fundraiser for a children’s cancer organization. Usually I turn the dial. Too depressing. But this day I sat there in the parking lot, crying as parents told their stories, and yes, I pulled out my credit card and called the number and made a donation. It’s not supposed to happen to Us. 

I want my son well again. I bought him new jammies recently. Last year he needed size L. Last week it was size S and they are still too big. I nearly lost it among the racks of flannel and jersey bottoms in the men’s department.

Cancer sucks.

I don’t want my kid to have this. I want him to be healthy and well, with normal everyday teenage problems like his mom nagging at him and studying for tests and rehearsing for the next play. I wish with every part of me that he did not have to face this down. But he will, and we will do it together as a family and as a community. He is well loved and cared for.

 Look up. There’s the map telling you where you are. Look down. There are your boots, and it’s time to set off.Soul Letters for the Cancer Sojourner

I am well cared and loved for as well. Prayers and well wishes have come flooding in as word spreads. “What can I do to support you?” asked a neighbor as a few of us sat together visiting in another neighbor’s kitchen. “I don’t know,” I said. How can I possibly know what we’ll need when I have never been in this wilderness before? “But this right here,”I said making a sweeping gesture of the circle of women, “this right here is working pretty good. This is what I need.”

And that is why I decided to post this on my blog. I have a great relationship with my readership. Some of you are new readers and many of you have been subscribers for years. I count my online connections as a vital part of my tribe, the men and women who enrich my life with their presence. You enrich my life. Really. You do. Near and far away. Like Jo, in Australia, a soul sister writer friend who I only just discovered had lymphoma a decade ago. She’s written two books about it. I’ve already devoured one of them, as you can see by the scattered quotes in  this post.

I have vowed to my closest friends that I will not  isolate and numb myself which is my default setting when I am in pain. I can’t do that to myself, or my family. I need to be at my optimum and staying in the light amongst those who care about my well being helps me be my optimum.cancer1

So that’s where we’re at. This is a big week. His first chemo on Friday will be inpatient. The docs told us that he might be able to have subsequent cycles as an outpatient. They are forecasting 4-6 cycles which would be such good news to us. Out patient. He will rest better if he can be home in his own bed. It is not lost on us the strange context of good news when dealing with cancer. Suddenly good news means outpatient and single digit chemo cycles.

If you’ve read all of this, I thank you. Thank you for being present as I storytell a story I wish with all my heart I did not have to tell. But here we are, the opening chapter of a hard story. But it’s not the only story and it won’t be the defining story of Jeremy’s life nor of mine. ‘Tis but a scratch on life,” wrote one of Jeremy’s friends, quoting from Monty Python.

Yes, he’s right …  ‘Tis but a scratch.

**Post Script: Today (Thursday) is a hard day. It is going to be Jeremy’s last day of school and also today we find out how extensive the cancer is in his body and his treatment plan. Prayers and good intentions for Jeremy and our family so appreciated. This is the hardest road we have ever walked. **

 

 

 

 

 

Letting Go of a Church-Centered Me (Plus, WINNERS Announced!)

***Thanks to all who celebrated with me and participated in my 1000 Sales Giveaway! I am happy to announce that with the good help of RANDOM PICKER I have three winners to announce. (Drumroll……)

CARRIE         DEB          J. STAHL


Yay! Congratz on winning a signed copy of Unladylike! I can post it in the mail by the end of the week. LEt me know the name you would like me to sign the book to, though Carrie don’t you still live in my zip code? (A great excuse to hook up and catch up!) Deb and J. Stahl please click HERE to email me your address. So excited to have done this!

This has been SUCH A BLAST that I am going to come up with another giveaway for spring time. One of my love languages is gift giving, so it just CLICKS that this is a great way for me to love on my readership. Duh!

Thanks again everyone for celebrating with me!!! 

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I recently stumbled upon an old blogsite I started working on years ago. Adrift in the blogosphere (who knew?) it actually still retains many of my old, classic posts from my original blog, How God Messed Up My Religion, which is where I cut my teeth as a writer and a blogger. I had sifted through those old posts when I set up this new site and deleted many of them. I was kinda regretting that I had done that, for it is often beneficial for me to go back and read again something I wrote, like looking through an old journal and you’re like, Oh yeah, I remember feeling all that when I wrote it.

In the spirit of all-things-retro, I am reposting here a vintage post of mine from the fine year of 2011. Not very old in the real world, but in virtual life, it is pure vintage.For those who are not familiar with my blog past, I used to write almost exclusively on issues of faith and Christian spirituality. This is a great post showcasing why my original blog was called,  How God Messed Up My Religion. (Sidenote, I still toy with the idea of writing a spiritual memoir and this definitely would be the title!)

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Letting Go of a Church-Centered Me

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Screenshot of my abandoned test blog

A profound spiritual encounter with God at the tender age of 18 derailed the train of self-destruction I was  living on. Jesus helped me disembark and with the wisdom and power of the Holy Ghost, I have managed to stay off  that train

Instead, I have  hung out in churchyards. From the get-go, I loved this thing called church. Each Sunday was like a party. People from all walks of life gathering together to sing songs, hear a sermon, pray and cry and laugh together. Sometimes there were potlucks. Along the way, though, somewhere in adulthood when I realized church is not a party but is an expression of a higher kingdom, and thus, people must  serve and use their gifts to keep the kingdom of church going, this is when I shifted into living a church-centered life, confusing church living with kingdom of God living. (I think this is tweetable)

I evolved into a super-volunteer. I was at everything. At one time I was teaching Sunday school, leading a missions program for kids, on the prayer team and I joined  a Bible class on Sunday mornings as well as attended three services a week. I kept this kind of pace up for years, thinking it was how I was supposed to be serving the kingdom of God.

I felt pangs of tension along the way, though. When I slowed down long enough for the dust of my chaotic church schedule to settle, I’d hear the faint voice of my real self buried under the rubble of over-extending-myself saying, “This ain’t right. You’ve created an insulated church life for yourself. Break out.” But the voice was so little that it was unable to get my attention.

But then, one fine Portland morning when the rain was falling  pretty as the grey clouds cried from the sky, I had what some would call an epiphany. I had sat down to pray–and Lord knows I was a workhorse of a prayer warrior on top of everything else–when I felt the overwhelming presence of the Creator Lifeforce whom I know as God hush me right down with a startling single sentence :

unplug from every ministry you are in.

 That was a small voice I could not deny and when that Small Voice spoke it became Big inside my spirit.

I began to cry like the rain clouds outside my window as the voice of Love exposed my wretched overworked soul. Oh how hard I was trying to achieve worth through spiritual service and gain people’s favor through church volunteerism. I was desperate to belong. Without the security of self-acceptance, I could not trust that anyone, God or the family of God, could accept me for Me. I had to work my way into that acceptance, and ohmyfuckinggod, I was wearing myself out  and neglecting my children along the way.

MANTRA

a core fear that surfaced in my art journal

I trusted that small but big Voice I heard that day. I began to unravel my ministry obligations.

And then…

I sat.

I just sat, like a second-string right fielder sitting the game out in the dugout.

I sat.

And as I sat with my unscarred calendar hanging in the kitchen and my voicemail box empty and lonely, life unfurled within my perishing soul. I was in the wilderness, and wild as she may be, there is a beauty there that can’t be found unless you leave the hustle of the crowded city and head deep into it. (I know  that’s tweetable!)

That was more than five years ago. I have discovered new canyons and mesas of wilderness wisdom on this spiritual trek. I learned that I actually do have an anchoredness in the love of God. We are good. But what is lacking is trust and security with the people of God.

I still have a bent inside of me to prove myself lovable and likeable. I want to show you how cool I am so you’ll be my friend.

This surfaced again in my life not too long ago. My family and I are now part of an irreverent, irreligious faith community of fierce no-bullshit-allowed sisters and brothers, and even in this freeing space of life, I managed to once again move in a spirit of codependent neediness for love and approval. Once again the spirit of epiphany rescued me and once again, I am relegated back to the dugout which is just fine with me. I am blackdog determined to let the people of God prove that I am a woman loved even if I never do a damn thing to pitch in and help with whatever church chores that are begging for volunteers. I am capable, oh-so-capable, but my capability will ruin me like that first drink a recovering alcoholic takes. I have to say no and recover from my churchaholism.

It’s liberating and unsettling. I suppose there might always be a bit of a limp in me to veer into unhealthy service mode. But I’ve thrown the crutches of church-centered living down into a gulley somewhere in the wild. I’ll stay on my wilderness sojourn knowing that I’m in fine company with other sun-kissed women and men who will enjoy my company without needing me to do anything for them. This is life unfurled on the inside and out.

**Postscript: This post, nearly three years old, was written while my family and I still identified with a local church. We no longer do which you can read about HERE if you are curious to know more about my spiritual journey out of the institutional church. **

Discussion starter: Who else has overserved in their church or some other sphere of society out of a need for approval? Do you identify with my journey? Would love to hear about yours…

To Be Seen

BeSeen

I wrote this on the wall in my writing cave.

My core fear is that I will be forgotten. I am the one who is terrified that  when I leave the room, no one will notice nor care. It is what drove me to insane levels of overserving and volunteering in order to garner not only belonging, but also to maintaining a sense of purpose and higher mission. I refused to be left behind as  the forgotten one. It is a long story for another time, but as I came to realize my toxic codependent service in the communities of faith I served in, I dialed back,  though fearing that by not serving I would become invisible. And my fears were realized. In two separate tribes of church, my withdrawal from communal serving resulted in withdrawal of relationship and acceptance. Where I once was in, I was now Out.

It hurt, but it was a good kind of hurt, for I survived, and in the surviving I came to learn that I can be forgotten and it won’t kill me. We all forget someone at one time or another. I would like to think that everyone who comes across my path will be slayed by my remarkable, magnetic personality, but the living truth is that I am mortal, and so are you, and we will let each other down and abandon one another and socially ostracize people who care about us without even knowing it. Such is the human condition. We will not always see who is among us or when they leave.

This is one of the chief driving forces for me as a writer. To be seen by my words. To be heard by my voice. I write and blog because I feel the desperation to know that my life matters.

That I matter.

TrusttheWriting

Posted near my desk in my writing cave.

Which is why the wrestling match with being a writer is so intense for me. Writers are measured in our culture by success and that success is measured by numbers. Big numbers. Numbers like how many hits and how many likes and how many sales and how many followers and How Many How Many How Many How Many HOW MANY ….. to no end. We want to be seen and heard, writers more than any one else.

I heard Oprah admit that when her movie, Beloved, was beaten out in sales one weekend by Bride of Chucky, it spun her out to a mac ‘n cheese feeding frenzy. Such was her disappointment and shame that a gore flick outdid the beautiful film she had helped bring to the silver screen. Even at her level of success, there remained the strong desire to Be Seen and Heard. 

To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.― Elizabeth Gilbert, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

We do so many things to make our presence known. Besides writing, we make art, we sing, we dance, we woo lovers and we create cities. In the ancient caves of our paleolithic ancestors art has been found, a testament to the insistence that humans want to leave our mark on the world.

This is why the message of dreams and passions is so compelling to us. What is our purpose? Why I am here? What is the meaning of my life? Will I be forgotten once I am gone?

Members of the northern Natal tribes of South African greet one another daily by saying, Sawa bona, which literally means: I see you. The response is Sikhona,  which means: I am here. This exchange is important, for it denotes that until you see me, I do not exist; and when you see me, you bring me into existence. Members of these tribes go about their day with this personal validation from everyone they encounter – seen for who they are. (the rest of this article can be found here)

Two bloggers I know both just posted within hours of one another posts that deal with dreams, passions and purpose. It is encouragement that we all need, for me, it seems, on almost a daily basis for such is the grip of anxiety that I will be dreamless and purposeless and left behind, forgotten in the boneyard of hope ever searching for Meaning.

~What Is Your Purpose?

 You have one.

Yes, You. Do.

The question is,

have you tapped into it yet? Have

you heard those voices within your head saying,

“Do it! Just bloody do it!” (from my Inner Chick)

Those voices in my head, I suspect, are my inner children who insist on being seen and heard. Isn’t that the common denominator of all dreams? To leave our mark on the world we find ourselves in?

Blogger and writing mentor, Claire DeBoer posted about dreams, encouraging readers to not give up the chase.

That’s why I think dreams matter, whether you’re six or sixty and whether the dreams are large or small. Dreams give us hope. They set us on a journey towards becoming more of ourselves by discovering who we are along the way.

I like that. Becoming more of ourselves by discovering who we are along the way. What we dream and wrestle with is revealing to who we are. I wrestle with fear of being forgotten. Being a writer is in large part driven by my need to be seen and heard. Yet (oh the place of tension that yet is to me!) I cannot write any longer for hopes of spikes in numbers of readers and followers. I don’t even read blogs any longer that want to tell me how to strategize for marketing and attracting readers and build up a platform that will make me publishable. The desire in me to be seen by others has become overcome by desire to be seen by Me.

I must see me for you to see me.

opportunities

Also written on the wall of my writing cave.

I don’t have a success story for you about how to attain your dream or unleash your hidden passion. I wish I had an inspiring tale of how life in my former faith communities informed my purpose and laid track towards a more successful version of myself that I could showcase to you. I am not a star. I was not born to change the world or save the whales. Or whatever. But as I see myself for who she really is in all her grit, guts and glory, I discover that Kim from My Inner Chick is right, I am an Effing Super Star when I am who I am…

You must transform and become who you were always meant to be. (My Inner Chick)

Who I am always meant to be is not a successful blogger or writer. Who I am meant to be, my grand purpose in this great big mystery known as Life, is to uncover within and without the woman I am and let her be seen and known to those who would see and know her. It is that simple. To be seen is the and to see others is the stuff of life.

What about you? Are you wrestling with dreams, purpose and being seen? Help me out by leaving a comment and letting me know I’m not the only one. Let me see you!

writing is my calling

Collage by Pam Hogeweide

 

 

 

The Everyday Ordinary of Being True

couragecollage1

collage art by Pam Hogeweide

I have known dozens upon dozens of people who despise their ordinary existence and think that their life does not have much significance.

This is the revolution I am most interested in — the grassroots, invisible reformation of the Everyday Woman and Everyday Man.

The revolution I need is to revolt against the cultural, national and religious forces that have built into my identity a plan for how I need to live and have my being in order to be significant. I am on the road to living a storied life that others may interpret as mediocre. I call it the Everyday Ordinary of Being True. 

Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.” 
― William MartinThe Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

Ordinary living (at least in Western nations such as the United States) is often interpreted as settling for less as if the ordinary woman and man are living lives of quite desperation in having failed to reach their true potential. Purpose and calling become suffocated in the mundane and routine. This is where the vendors of hope find their money spot: selling secrets  how to live your best life now in order to NOT FAIL AT BEING HUMAN.

How is it that we judge our ordinary lives as being insignificant? When we admire nature do we look and say, “Oh that hummingbird is just a bird that flits about doing nothing in particular. When it dies, no one will notice.”

Of course not. We value and enjoy the lovely hummingbird for it simply being an ordinary hummingbird. It does not need to perform to prove it’s worth, nor strive to earn adulation. The hummingbird does not lose sleep fretting over purpose and the meaning of life.

There is an unseen realm of immeasurable significance that belongs to the Everyday Woman and the Everyday Man. In this realm, being ordinary is to be like a hummingbird. Just being True to Who You Are is the epitome of purposeful life.

You are LOVED.

Simply because you exist. – Deborah and Ken Loyd

In Leo Tolstoy’s gorgeous spiritual biography, A Confession and Other Religious Writings, he writes with vulnerability of how at the apex of success in his life he wrestled with despair over the meaning of it all. “What will become of my entire life?” he lamented. Mind you, he was wealthy, well known and dined with the aristocracy of the Russia of his time. He had become a cultural figure and was sought out by the rich and powerful. Despite his influence and prestige, he suffered debilitating depression rooted in despair that all of  life is meaningless.

But his story does not end there.

Tolstoy describes how he began to gaze upon ordinary peasants reflecting on their simple yet content living. He wondered at their peaceful acceptance of daily life and certainty of death. On the brink of killing himself, he had an awakening. The great and mighty Tolstoy discovered faith from observing the humble path of the common Everyday Russian. In time, Tolstoy would renounce his aristocratic life and embrace the simplicity of peasant living. He found God and salvation at the abyss of the mediocre masses living uninteresting lives.

The Everyday Ordinary of Being True  was buried under the rubble of accolades and applause. Tolstoy was freed when he shed extraordinary living for ordinary being.

Being true to who we are might not mean excommunicating ourselves from our lifestyle, but for me it does mean exiling myself from the success-driven messaging from culture and my former tribe  of faith. Oh the woes of American Christianity where power and popularity are trademarks of our prophets rather than commonness. I do not miss the thousands of sermons purged from my brain that instructed me to live great for God. I am content living small in the everyday ordinary of being true to who I am.

A popular writer once emailed me warning me about writing on accepting our ordinary smallness. “You are in danger of giving people permission to settle for less rather than pursue the great plans God has for them.” I considered his admonition, taking it to heart. Was I ?

I wrote him back that he was in danger of contributing to the great shame and self-loathing that many people already struggle with in that they are not superstars for Jesus.

Living without a grand purpose or mission to fulfill is Ok. Some will find a calling. Many will not. I don’t think I ever really have. I’m at peace, for  at the end of it all, it is good to live under the banner that proclaims, I am loved and worthy of existing simply because I am.

I think it’s time to pay attention to our mediocrity and call it what it is:  ordinary life. Most of us most of the time for most of history, are everyday, common men and women who live our lives in unassuming steadiness. We are not the history makers or agents of change. We are not the reformers or revolutionaries or revivalists of faith. We are commoners. The peasants of the kingdom of God who do not look for grandness in the great scheme of things, but are content to possess meaning in the mundane and obscure. 

 Own up to your mediocrity. It’s a gift in disguise.(from my former blog, How God Messed Up My Religion, 2009)

 

Food Lady : Low-brow Curiosity and My First Patient

*****Here’s a little sample from my current book project, Food Lady: What I Learned about Life and Death Working at a Hospital.   I had hopes of releasing it before the end of the year, but my new job has slowed down my progress. Still on the fire, though, simmering instead of  boiling, but on the stove and not the shelf!

***names have been changed****

foodserver“How do you do it, Tara?” I asked when I had gotten word that I was hired and had a start date. A perpetual worrier, I was already fretting about the skill needed to talk to the sick and dying about something as intimate as food choices. I imagined mangled bodies deluged with tubes and wires. As the patient clung to life, there I’d be, the food lady asking what they want to eat as they face down the beast of mortality. How would I do it?

I’m a people person and can talk to just about anyone—just ask my kids who have been mortified more than once by my habit of striking up in-depth conversation with total strangers—but the random people I take an interest in talking with are healthy and upright. They’re not lying in a hospital bed with some crazy-ass disease ravaging their body. (Except for that one lady I met at a clothing boutique who disclosed that she had a bladder infection and that peeing felt like liquid fire burning up her va-jay-jay.  TMI, lady, TMI).

I had known Tara for more than twenty years, back when our families lived in California. Her husband and my husband are musicians and used to play music together. It was a fluke that we all managed to end up settling down in Portland.

After being self-employed for a decade, I decided I needed a job with a steady paycheck. So I called Tara. She’d been working at the hospital for a few years. I hoped she’d have a good lead for me and she did. Her referral helped me get the interview, but I like to think that it was my magnetic personality that got me the job. And probably my humble attitude.

“How do you, well, you know … how do you talk to people who are sick and dying? How do you go in there and ask what they want to eat?”

“Oh Pam,” she said, “you will be surprised by what you’re gonna get used to. I’ve seen patients with gunshot wounds, and women who’ve been beat up. You’ll be helping all kinds of people. You will be fine.”

I held onto Tara’s words like an anchor as pre-new-job-jitters stormed up throughout my insides. And then the day came, my First Patient.

I had been training for about a week in the hospital’s basement kitchen when I was finally turned loose on my first unit. I was paired with Lorena, a petite Latina woman who used to be in banking before she got on at the hospital. I balanced the food tray with my left hand as we approached the patient’s room. Lorena had been schooling me for the last two hours about patient protocol. Now it was time to put it to practice.

I was just about to knock on the patient’s door when Lorena spoke up.

“This is a hard one. Maybe it shouldn’t be your first one. I can do it,” she offered reaching out for the food tray I was holding.

It was tempting to postpone the breaking of my food lady cherry. But I was committed. I had to learn and the best way to learn was by doing it.

“Thanks, but no. I need to learn how to serve patients. Might as well start with this one.”

“Ok,” she said sounding tentative. I wondered what she meant by hard and what kind of distressed, diseased human being was on the other side of the door. Time to find out.

“Room service. Can I come in?” I called out as I rapped on the door twice and opened it a couple of inches, just as I had watched Lorena do when I shadowed her during the first part of the shift.

“Yeah, come on in,” answered a male voice.

As I entered the room I saw what Lorena meant. The man in the hospital bed, not more than thirty years old, seemed to be missing part of his face … and hands. I’m no medical expert, but I’m guessing that he had a disagreement with an explosive and the explosive won. I hid my shock.

“Hi, I’m Pam. I have your lunch tray for you.”

I maneuvered the tray onto his hospital table, which let me tell you, was not an easy feat. It was cluttered with newspapers, bandages and also his urinal. I don’t know what weirded me out more: his half-blown face or half-full urinal. But I faked my way through it as if I was a seasoned diner waitress serving a long-time regular.

“Yeah, you’re right. That was a hard one,” told Lorena when we were back in the hallway. “What happened to him?”

“I don’t know,” she said, which I quickly learned was typical for service workers in the hospital. We were not medical staff so we were not privy to what ailed the patient. Sometimes, I learned later, food workers might know the patient’s story, but for the most part, my coworkers and I usually had no idea.

I shifted quickly into learning how to serve all kinds of patients. It was just as Tara had predicted.  I was surprised at what I was getting used to. Like private body parts. After seeing a few butt cracks from open hospital gowns, it no longer titillated me. Which mind you, I don’t mean to say ever titillated me, but I have to admit, I was curious what other people’s butt cracks looked like since I had such limited exposure up to that point in my life. Low-brow curiosity I know, but there you have it—my dark confession as a hospital food worker.