Thursday, December 28, 2023

the grief rearranged me

the grief rearranged me 
smothered my dna and resurrected me as someone else 


though it seems as if I am a part now 
of a long line of people
holding hands through history

grief and resurrection wrapped like a thick rope around our waists
school children on their way to wherever they go next 
the safety of numbers
the danger of losing all at once

so maybe not new
but certainly something else 
someone else

the grief comes through
the same as the hope
filtering through cracks in the vase
maybe they are one and the same

could you even tell the difference
when it's shining in your eyes?

it's handfuls of sand 
you could no sooner count them
than you could tell which piece
once belonged to the land and
which floated in the sea

they are both just here
slipping through your fingers


Friday, December 22, 2023

I Tell My Children They Are Good

I tell my children they are good. 

I whisper it into their ears at night, when we are snuggled beneath their covers waiting for sleep. 

"You are good," I say. "I love you no matter what," I promise. 

"Okay," they say. "I love you, too," as they squeeze in closer.

When I take my daughter shopping for a school dance, we read over the dress code. Nothing tight, must have straps, legs covered to an acceptable degree. I tell her we'll comply, about following guidelines in places we've agreed to be in, but in the same breath I make sure she knows her body is not shameful. 

"Your shoulders are not sinful. Your body is beautiful. Our bodies are not inherently bad." 

From the passenger seat she looks at me with a bemused glance and laughs, "I know." 

I know, she says. She knows. 

I tell my children they are good. 

I tell them about their Imago Dei, about the Imago Dei in others. 

"We are made in God's image. Everyone is made in God's image. Treat them like it. Treat yourself like it." 

Yes, mom. We know, mom. Moooom. 

I say it over and over. Remind them when they are angry, when they are heartbroken, when their tongues become sharp. I want it ingrained in their brains, the way it is already written in their DNA. 

I tell my children they are good. 

They already know the world is broken, humanity along with it. Maybe not in so many words, but they exist in this place and so they know.  

I knew it, too, at their age. I know it still now. 

But I did not know I could be good. That I was good. 

How could you know that you are good when you are being taught that you are no better than the worms in the dirt? That, sure, God loves you, but out of obligation. In spite of yourself, not because of yourself, His creation. 

Aren't we so blessed that He deigns to look in our direction? Us, vile creatures that we are? 

Sure, He is Love, but what really is love anyway?

Love is patient
Love does not dishonor 

Love is short-tempered
Love does not think you are good


I tell my children they are good. 

I tell my daughters they are good, before they are told they are not. Before they are told they are meant for silence and submission. Before they sit in church meetings and sermons and cultures that question their voices or worse, don't hear them at all. Before they twist themselves in knots every Sunday, wondering if their clothes cover their terrible, sinful bodies enough. I tell my daughters they are good. 

I tell my sons they are good, before they are told they are not. Before their softness can be shamed out of them. Before power can be demonstrated to them as domination and bending people to their will, before they cannot bend themselves anymore. Before they wonder just how closely they really need to listen to voices quieter than their own. I tell my sons they are good. 

I tell my children that they are loved, that they are love. I tell my children about their Imago Dei, in the hopes they will not hate themselves into utter darkness. That they will, in turn, understand a Creator's goodness. 

I tell my children they are good. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Giant and The Tiny Useless Person

Written Spring 2021

Right now, I talk to God in the space between sleep and wake. I meet him there, in these moments between worlds, because I can’t do it anywhere else. 

As I’m slowly waking, before I’m alert enough to put up my guard, I talk to Him. I tell Him I’m mad (spoiler alert: He’s already very much aware of this. I tell him a lot). I ask Him to just figure it out, do what He’s going to do, and to pull me through. Sometimes I say names over and over again, unable to formulate thoughts around the tenderness these wounds bring so instead I give them up for Him to do with as He wants. 

In the vulnerability of night, I exhale my prayers weakly. I have made it through another day and He did not let me go, though many times I asked him to. 

I have wanted God to let me go. I have begged him to do this.

I keep getting this image in my head of God, a giant, holding me, a tiny useless person, tightly in his fist. We are at eye level, his fingers wrapped around my middle, my arms resting on his thumb. And I just want Him to let me go.

I can’t be who I think I’m supposed to be for You. I certainly can’t be all the quiet and not-so-quiet messages I’ve been fed all my life. I can’t do it and I’m tired so please just release me, I beg of you.  

Release me. Release me. Release me.

Dear God, just do it. 

But He won’t. The grip does not loosen, the arm does not lower. Sometimes (most times) I flail and yell. After I have exhausted myself, we contemplate each other for a while. And then the cycle continues. The giant and the tiny, useless person.

I am in this place, this stalemate with my Creator, because I pulled a thread. I pulled a thread and wound up with a whole mess in my hands. 

I pulled at the parts of my faith that had been so tightly intertwined with man and country that I could hardly tell the difference between the two. I watched in a sort of bemused annoyance then abject horror as my people built golden calves; sure of the deliverance they would bring, insistent on the deliverance they brought. 

I examined the pieces of me that I had always tried to hide or silence, for fear of sinning or making others sin. The tender and bold parts of me that were both praised and admonished, called forth and called out, leaving me confused about what exactly a Godly woman should be, but also quite certain I was failing at it nonetheless. I covered up. My shoulders, my legs, my mouth, my heart. So much of my life has been spent trying to uncreate what He had created. 

I tugged at the part of me that held all the bones and sinewy muscle, the tendons and organs and blood. I pulled at what held me together and found it lacking. I found that what held me together wasn’t as tightly bound as I thought, nor did the pieces fit together the way that they should. 

In some ways, this wasn’t a surprise. Instinctively, I think I already knew that I was a delicately held together mess. I am too much and not enough, all in the same body. I cannot lessen the parts of me that make others uncomfortable nor grow the parts that they find more palatable. What do I do with this mess of a person?  What is to become of a too-much-not-enough woman? What to do with a heart too sensitive, a mouth too loud, a body that shares Eve’s form?

I expect hard things in life. I love people and community and I find great joy and fulfillment in the way God has made us to be relational beings. But I’m also highly sensitive to the tension and conflict and heartache we bring one another. I bend towards melancholy and lament. I walk with sadness tied loosely around my shoulders, a sweater easily slipped on (I’m actually much more fun at parties than I sound, I swear). 

I couldn’t pull the thread and not pull His people, my people, along with it. We are not islands. Our stones ripple far beyond ourselves. I had to grapple with the things I had done to them, and the things they had done to me. I had to confront that what I had been taught and what I was seeing were two different things; the bewildering confusion of Word and action at odds with one another.

This is where I broke pace with God. The heartbreak and rage I felt over my people felt like it would kill me. For months, I couldn’t talk to God. Not wouldn’t, but actually couldn’t. It’s like my brain would hit a wall when I went in His direction. It was a hand held lightly over the water but never able to break the surface. I was so exhausted and hurt and angry and filled with such deep, abiding grief that all I could do was curl into it. My anger blanketed me. 

This time of reckoning, of world shaking, of thread pulling, brought me to my spiritual knees. No, that’s not right. Even on my knees would have been better than where it brought me. I was a curled up mess on the floor, both metaphorically and, oftentimes, very literally. There isn’t a part of me that hasn’t felt poked, prodded, or utterly decimated. The tiny, useless person in the giant’s gripping hand.

I used to keep my phone on my bedside table and I would stare at it right up until the minute I fell asleep (sometimes falling asleep while looking at it), and I would grab it before I had even fully woken up in the morning. I was very purposeful in needing to distract myself from the heaviness of my grief; from God.

But after it was clear He would not let me go and that we were at a standstill, I have relented this one, tiny part to Him. Awake, I keep him in my peripheral view; unfocused but still able to track any sudden movements. But at night, I leave my phone in the kitchen and let Him have the moments between sleep and wake.  I am weary and reeling, and this is what I have to give.  I know it isn’t enough, it is simply what I have, and so I give it.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Rotten Fruit

I wrote this post in the spring of 2021. I was shell-shocked and reeling from a pandemic that seemed to shake every area of my life and a presidency that seemed antithetical to everything I had been taught to revere but that the American church seemingly could not get enough of. 

It had been a full year of being a part of church leadership during a time when plans could change in an instant and just doing the next right thing was impossible, because truly who knew what the next right thing was? We had been in leadership for the entirety of our marriage (nearly fourteen years at that point) but we could have been in leadership for decades more and nothing could have prepared us for what being in leadership would mean during a pandemic and on-going cultural upheaval. 

I was exhausted and heartsick and angry as hell. It was like living in the Upside Down. Nothing made sense and there was no reprieve. My faith in humanity was shaky at best, but even more painfully, my faith in faith was wildly spinning out of control. I could not reconcile what I had been taught with what I was observing and experiencing firsthand in the broader American church and often in my own community. 

I participated in a writing mentorship as a way to have something for myself, outside of all the chaos I was experiencing daily. But chaos has a way of seeping into every corner, even those you'd hope to have closed off, and that mentorship turned into a sort of extended therapy session. 

And so, during the spring of 2021, I poured out my anger and rage and confusion into these assignments, believing myself to be at the very end of my very frayed rope. 

Oh, sweet, naïve, spring 2021 Emily. In the words of Leslie KnopeYou sophisticated newborn baby.  

When I read The Gift of Anger now, it's hard to believe I wasn't writing about the months that followed the spring of 2021. I look back on it now, 20/20 vision being what it is, and see the almost prophetic nature of what I did not know was coming. I thought I had experienced the worst church life had to offer me, and I hadn't even scratched the surface.

I did not know that a mere two months later I would get a headache that would be unrelenting from May until September.

Or that my body would begin to live in a state of fight-or-flight for so long that even when the the storm subsided I would not be able to live as if it were gone.

That every Friday my body would start to anticipate Sunday morning, the dread building over the course of thirty six hours often culminating in a full blown panic attack.

That I would go to bed at night and think how much easier it would be if I just didn't wake up in the morning. 

That the resulting pain and grief would be so great that I thought I would have to lose everythingmy faith, my community, my relationships—because I simply could not function, could not survive, in the space I was in any longer. 

What do you do with that? I didn't know what to do because what prepares you for that? 

I have been in the church since I was born. I have grown up attending kids church and AWANA and youth group. During all of this time I struggled to fit into what I was told a Christian woman was. The goalposts were always moving, but I still tried so hard. 

And when I failed it was because I couldn't get it right. Because I was wrong. I was the failure. I was too much and not enough and the one who could never get Christian womanhood quite right. 

When I asked my questions about women in the church and the answers were confusing or hurtful or even non-existent, it wasn't because the theology (or the people perpetuating it) was flawed. I was flawed. I believed this even as I struggled against it. 

And then, when I was already battered, the culmination of years and years of screaming into the abyss about the plight of women in the church, came to a head. The bill came due. The thirty-three year harvest begot fruit. 

And it was rotten. 

The Gift of Anger

Written Spring 2021

I think you need to sit with your anger for a bit. 

I know you’ve seen how anger can destroy whole worlds and you’re scared at how she brews in you, so instead of examining anger you have denied her existence with a false smile and flighty hands. 

But I think you need to sit with her. 

Sit with her. You won’t move forward until you do. 

You can hide for a while. Push her off for a moment. You can walk around the circle, play musical chairs for a song or two. But eventually the music stops and you are tired and you must find a seat. 

So sit. 

Let anger climb into your lap. She is a personal bugger and demands to be seen up close. Remember what it was like to sit in your mother’s lap, her arms loose and strong around you, your head tucked up underneath her chin? Hold anger like that for a minute. 

Now, I think you should tell someone about her. 

Find that friend or that partner, that sister or brother, the one who can withstand hurricanes and isn’t frightened by raw edges. Tell them about the anger. How she claws at your shoes, how you’ve picked her up and are in an unsettled moment of truce with her. 

You might find in that moment that your anger has a twin flame. That you and anger are not alone in this fight. Or maybe it is still just you and anger, but she is slightly lighter now that you have spoken about her. She’s starting to yield, to shift in your arms as you understand better how to hold her. In holding her, you better understand who she is. 

You start to recognize that anger is never just anger. She is heavy, crushing grief. Tiny, sharp fractures to your soul that have gone unchecked and unhealed. She is all the times you saw every red flag but someone else insisted you did not. When you yelled into the nothingness of a crowded room and the deafening silence echoed back, anger covered your fear and abandonment. 

She is the bewildering moment when you pulled one string and a knotted mess wound up in your hands. You fumbled for hours trying to separate each one, to put them in their proper place, but each one that was freed revealed another three that were tangled. 

Now that you’ve sat with anger for a bit, gotten to know her quirks and nuances a little better, maybe it’s time to set her down. No one said you had to sit with her forever, but plenty told you not to acknowledge her at all. With acknowledgement comes an understanding, and anger is ready to be out of your arms and by your side now. Close, fingers touching, but set down.

I think you should do something about her now.  

There are certain things a girl is admonished to do, and showing her anger makes the top ten. She’s a bitch or a jezebel (pick your cultural poison), too coarse and unbecoming, a shame to her people. Be softer, more pliable. Be putty, be clay. 

Clay is good and holy in the hands of its Maker, but even the Potter flipped tables sometimes. 

Before, when you hadn’t sat with anger, when you hadn’t talked about her, acknowledged her, anger was an unruly, unholy mess. You were at her whim. Disheveled and heartbroken as you tried to stanch the pain of her without looking her in the eye. You couldn’t move forward because she was a brick wall and you the Wile E. Coyote, forever crashing and never learning. 

But now, you have an agreement. Now you know each other. And you see anger for all that she is. She’s not pushing you around anymore, but you also don’t have to carry her. She was a brick wall before, but up close you see tiny sprouts of green life pushing through her cracks. She yields her strength to give you a gift. 

You did the sitting. You did the talking. You understand something about the world now that you didn’t before.

Now it’s time to take the gift and move. 

Saturday, December 16, 2023

It's Been a Minute

 I haven't written here in years. I have written much in years. Well, that's not entirely true. I raged in my journal every few months. I participated in a writing mentorship where I...raged in every assignment given to me. My Notes app is filled with paragraphs and one-lines and sometimes even just a few words of, you guessed it, rage. 

My body has carried it in a multitude of ways, as bodies are often want to do. 

The rage and the pain and the grief settled into every part of me. I carry it in my bones, this white hot grief that I could not reconcile or understand no matter how many times I turned it over, examined it, poked at it. 

I resisted it, even as I sank into it. It is not becoming to let rage settle into your being. Women's hearts should be tender and docile, even as they crumble into ash. A Christian woman's heart? Well, forget it. 




"Bear one another's burdens" turns into "bear his burden. bear his anger. bear his sins. Bear it with a smile, because the men are speaking and you are so loud when you exist." 

The last couple (few? five? ten? thirty-five?) years have been...exhausting. Confusing. Devastating. 

Eye opening



I am going to start posting here again, even just for a bit. I'm going to try to not spend too much time editing or perfecting it. Some of it will be things I have written privately over the past few years. Some of it will be new. All of it will be me processing, in all of the messy, broken, beautiful sense of the word. 

I imagine it will be uncomfortable.