Movin’ on up and over to angiemn.com!

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What’s new??

My new website www.angiemn.com!

Workshop image for webpage (1)

Please hop on over there to check it out!

While you’re there, how about clicking on the subscribe button?? That way our connection will be uninterrupted, and you’ll still be alerted when I publish new posts. From what I understand, WordPress subscribers don’t automatically get transferred to my new site, even though I’m only moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org.

My official, inaugural post will be on Monday, August 19. For now, enjoy poking around,  and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback!

 

Introvert or extravert? How knowing can strengthen your leadership

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No Guilt from "The Happy Introvert"

No Guilt from “The Happy Introvert” (Photo credit: ewagele)

“I see a blind spot in your article.”

Dan, a friend who pastors a church in Rochester, New York, wrote in response to my “Get Thee a Sisterhood” articles posted in March. (Click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 2.)

“I do affirm the articles’ primary points: the dangers of isolation, that the distinctive demands of pastoral ministry require support from those who understand those demands, that such support should be intentional, and that, for women, the situation is even more distinctive, requiring that women network together,” he said.

“The blind spot is one of extroverts. The kinds of support you describe highlight groups, describing group interaction as the best way for appropriate support to happen. All that is, to an introvert, discomforting.”

Dan and I have engaged this topic several times. We laugh at the parts that we appreciate and love about one another that are completely opposite. These same parts can drive us crazy. Our differences are beyond simply “female stuff” and “male stuff.” I am an extrovert, and Dan is an introvert. These are two dimensions of personality types, and they are grounded in how a person is energized.

This article was posted on Gifted for Leadership while I was on vacation with my family last month. Click here to hop on over to the GFL website, read the rest of the article, and engage with me. See ya there!

As the economy strengthens, our fiscal discipline weakens

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photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

The American economy, experts cautiously say, is strengthening. According to a recent NPR report, many households have recovered most of their wealth lost in the 2008 Wall Street fiasco. Consequently, consumer confidence is at a five-year high, and spending is up.

More spending means a more robust economy and an increase in hiring, and more money in consumers’ pockets usually leads to a bump in spending. Around and around it goes. Theoretically, the good vibrations leave few untouched.

The improving economic climate may offer a chance for us to get right with our finances—both paying down debt, and addressing our skewed, and often sinful, views of money.

Freedom to spend as we desire—as often, as much, on whatever—is one of the blessings of a free-market economy, we Americans say. Problems emerge, though, with distortion. Greed scoops up more money than it is needed. Stinginess refuses to share. Prodigal spending thinks of only the here and now, and often uses credit to pay for it. Narcissism sees money as a tool for satisfying our own needs and wants.

A year ago, my husband and I were in deep financial trouble. …

I’m over at her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women, today. Click here to hop on over there. Please stop by and engage!

 

Same-sex Marriage, mental illness, and the Church: A historic intersection

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Photo credit: By taliesin on morgueFile

Gordon and his partner Juno have been together for 13 years. They are proud and loving fathers to Holly, Gordon’s biological daughter via surrogate mother. Earlier this month Gordon and I chatted about the then forthcoming Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage upon which the U.S. awaited. He knew little of the details because he hasn’t been following the story.

Gordon shrugged. “We live in Texas.” I sensed resignation in his voice. “Whatever the Supreme Court decides, it won’t change our family life. Texas will remain reticent to legalize same sex marriage; and we will continue living as we have all of these years.”

After hearing a segment on NPR, I wonder if Gordon, Juno, and Holly’s life will indeed change, or at least be affected.

NPR recalled a report of the National Institute of Mental Health published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2010. It revealed the results of a mental health study conducted in 2004 and 2005, before and after several states passed same-sex marriage bans. The control group was homosexual persons living in mutual, committed relationships in states that banned same-sex marriage. Married heterosexual people, and committed homosexual people living in states where gay marriage is legal were variable groups. The outcome presents disconcerting news for the control group.

“Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who lived in the states that banned same-sex marriage experienced a significant increase in psychiatric disorders,” says Mark Hatzenbuehler, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the health effects of social policies. He analyzed the data gathered before and after the bans to determine how the mental health of people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual had changed in those states.

“There was a 37 percent increase in mood disorders,” he says, “a 42 percent increase in alcohol-use disorders, and — I think really strikingly — a 248 percent increase in generalized anxiety disorders.”

Translation: whether or not a committed homosexual relationship is seen by society as acceptable likely has an effect on gay and lesbian people’s mental health (or lack thereof).

What a ministry opportunity this is for the Church. In her recently published book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013), author Amy Simpson calls the Church to better care and behavior towards mentally ill people. In Simpson’s own study of 500 churches across the U.S., 98% of pastors acknowledged seeing some type of mental illness within their congregations.

photo credit: darcyadelaide via photopin cc

photo credit: darcyadelaide via photopin cc

This makes sense considering a November 2012 report of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration citing that 1 in 5 American adults suffer from mental disorders and illness, and a May 2013 report of the Centers for Disease Control saying that the same statistic is true for American children.

Mentally ill people are in our pews, including me. I struggle with chronic depression and anxiety. And unlike those who are physically ill, the church does little to care for this population. Reasons abound. We are neither well prepared nor educated; there is a huge social stigma surrounding mental illness, and people bury their diagnosis under shame and fear; sometimes, suffering people are quite needy and their behavior is inappropriate; and some Christians may believe that the person’s behavior is caused by demonic possession.

Sadly, only 3% of church leaders feel equipped to minister to sufferers of mental disorders, according to Simpson’s survey.

“We can’t change everything about the suffering of mental illness and its treatment,” Simpson writes. “We can’t take mental illness away. But we can do better in the life of the church. We can extend the humanizing, loving, friendship every person needs” (96).

A move in that direction would bring us closer to fulfilling one of the two greatest commands that Jesus gave to his disciples (read: us) — love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:31). And how, exactly, are we to be neighborly? By showing someone mercy (Luke 10:37).

Put all of this together, mix it up, and what have we got?

A Church that heeds the call to care well for the mentally ill. A church that extends love and mercy to LGBTQ sisters and brothers who suffer from mental disorders and alcoholism in states where same-sex marriage is banned. A church that may just look like the ragtag group of peeps who Jesus loved on and gathered around him in his day.

This (and more) is exactly the vision of church that Margot Starbuck casts in her new book Permission Granted: And Other Thoughts on Living Graciously Among Sinners and Saints (Grand Rapids: BakerBooks, 2013).

Amongst other gold nuggets, Starbuck addresses the fear that some (many?) evangelical Christians have. The question begs, “Would simply loving and supporting an LGBTQ person (without trying to dissuade them from their lifestyle) communicate to the person and others that I condone homosexual behavior?”

Starbuck answers this by pointing us towards our Savior.

If Christians’ presence amongst and merciful love towards folk deemed as sinners is an implicit endorsement of their behavior, then Jesus is not the man a lot of us think he is, Starbuck says.

“According to this line of thinking, [Jesus is] pro-prostitution, pro-extortion, pro-adultery, pro-gluttony, pro-hypocrisy, pro-drunkenness, and pro-syncretism. The twisty logic says that if you [mercifully love a sinner with neither judgment nor agenda to change her or him], you necessarily condone everything about that person. Even if you don’t. Whether or not Jesus condoned or condemned the behavior of sinners, he did [love them]. He recognized what was, without signs of anxiety or distress when others failed to behave the ways he thought maybe they should” (231).

Christians are called to do the same. The Church is called to do the same. No condoning, no condemning. Just merciful loving, and letting God take care of redemption.

Once at a sleepover, a teammate of Holly’s asked her where her mother is, as no one ever sees her at practices and games. “I don’t want to talk about it,” Holly answered shortly. Her face flushed, and her body tensed up. She removed herself from the fun for a while, and was not her usual jovial self the rest of the night.

Even at 9-years-old, shame and anxiety threaten to drown the light of God within.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

What do we have here? The sad, but true commonality of mental illness. A group of people who almost universally feel unwelcome at Christian churches and gatherings. Landmark decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court released today. A potential increase in mental disorders in states that continue to ban same-sex marriage, despite the Court’s rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.

This historic convergence of events and phenomenon gives the Church an opportunity to be what it is called to be: people called out to share the merciful love of Christ and the good news of redemption in Christ.

Oh Lord, may it be so!

Questions for y’all:

  • Is the church capable of loving people without trying to change them?

  • How might (or might not) you relate with the “evangelical question” that Margot Starbuck posed?

 

Blogging my book idea: Breaking the Mama Taboo, Part 1

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“Think left and think right, and think low and think high. Oh the things you can think up if only you try!”
~ Dr. Seuss

“God doesn’t want us to be shy with [her] gifts, but bold and loving and sensible.”
2 Timothy 1: 7, The Message

Over the years I imprisoned my thoughts. The Mama Taboo served as correction officer.

photo credit: ilmungo via photopin cc

photo credit: ilmungo via photopin cc

As byproducts of my emotions that I took care to bury one at a time, my thoughts are a force of their own. Empowered by shame, pain, anger, and confusion they curse something fierce. They regularly inform me of the truth of the matter, lest I forget.

This is why I had to control them, or at least try. Internal conversations anchored me in the pit of my own despair.

Me: What child has the audacity to think, much less say, that her mother is unloving?

Mama Taboo: A bad and ungrateful one.

Me: How could I possibly want more when my mother burnt her work-candle at both ends, and even moonlighted, so that I could have, rather than have not? And yet, I did. Stuff wasn’t enough. I wanted Mom’s soul, I wanted a connection.

Mama Taboo: You’re asking way, way too much. Selfish girl. Don’t you know how much your mother sacrificed for you?

Me: Will I ever be able to tell my mother that my upbringing left me wanting? That she failed to nourish me? That I didn’t, never have, and still don’t feel her love? That I feel like she really doesn’t see or know me?

Mama Taboo: Don’t you dare. These are the most disloyal things a child could say to her mother. You could really hurt her by saying these things; and if you do, I wouldn’t blame her if she abandoned you for good. And then what will you have to say for yourself as you complete your life all alone?

I deemed it easier to endure this mental oscillation than take the steps necessary to break free. I didn’t know the steps, anyway; so why not just stick to what I know, as whacked as it may be.

Irony at its finest. Fear at its most gripping.

Good thing that God isn’t into allowing me to plot my own (self-destructive) course, as She (God, that is) says in Jeremiah 29: 11-13 (The Message).

I know what I’m doing, [my daughter]. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for. When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.

I could do nothing but lift up a defeated prayer on that fateful day. I had no idea that God chose that day for my prison break.

photo credit: DeeAshley via photopin cc

photo credit: DeeAshley via photopin cc

Blasted were the barred walls and doors I’d placed my thoughts within. Busted open and infused with light was the dungeon in which I’d laid my painful emotions. Interrupted and banished was the voice of the Mama Taboo that had kept me still and silent for way too long.

But what does a person do after the explosion? With rubble all around, in what direction does a person go? Where does a person begin to pick up the pieces? With one’s long-time, yet inadequate shelter dismantled, where does a person repose? Stripped of shabby-yet-familiar clothing that had barely covered few body parts, where does a newly-freed and naked person find warmth and covering?

“Come to me,” says the Savior. “Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11: 28-29, The Message).

So, I did.

We began with my thoughts.

“Free your mind, and the rest will follow,” God whispered. “And when words bubble up and strike terror in your soul, fear not, for I am with you.”

Questions for y’all:

  • How is the Mama Taboo preventing you from acknowledging what may be painful memories of your childhood with your mother?
  • How do you imprison your own thoughts and feelings?
  • What will it take for you to be free, and begin healing?

“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input. Click on the dates below to read previous posts in the series.

April 11    April 18     April 25      May 2     May 9     May 16     May 23     May 30

June 6

What stressed, overly serious adults need to get our groove back

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photo credit: mwkelley via photopin cc

photo credit: mwkelley via photopin cc

Summer is nascent, and I’m stressed already.

This writer covets the seven hours that school days provide. Prayer, research, reading, thinking, outlining, marketing, social media-ing, and of course writing happen during this precious span of time.

Summer places my girls at home, and takes that time away from me. I scratch and scramble for “craft time.” I’m grumpy about the scraps that I do get because I’m typically tired. I kinda don’t blame my Muse for not showing up every now and then, God bless her.

So many ideas to explore, books to read, publications to pitch, deadlines to fulfill, and social media “responsibilities” to keep up with in this writing life. So little time to engage my craft during the summer when Lovies are out of school and at home.

Bah! Humbug! I grumble more during June, July, and August, and not because of the Texas heat.

“Mama? Will you play with me?”

Loving eyes that want no more than my attention implore me. Sweet voices say that they want to share time and make memories with me.

“Uh…” I say. I stall and think of all of the things that I “need” to get accomplished. My daughters don’t wait for my answer to respond. Their heads, shoulders, and hearts drop in dreadful anticipation.

All of a sudden, I see.

I see my daughters’ faces morph from excitement to disappointment. I hear their hearts ask, “Why doesn’t she want to play with me?” I sense their young minds conclude, “It must be me. She’d rather write than spend time with me.” I follow this faulty-but-not-corrected assumption to the depths of my girls’ experience and memory where it will lodge until it is cathartically expelled.

I see myself. More accurately, God shows myself to me.

The whole scene could take place in the Hundred Acre Wood. My daughters, both Tiggers, pouncing and bouncing up to me with energy and laughter enough to share, asking me to play. Me, Eeyore, finding a reason why I cannot. (Will not?) Any bystander, Pooh, shaking her head at the scene, and saying, “Oh, bother.”

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

Eeyore as depicted by Disney

When did I become Eeyore? I used to be Tigger — full of life, ready to play, wanting to bounce, enjoying all of life around me — when I was a child my daughters’ ages.

In a sense, we all become Eeyores as we age. With adulthood comes seriousness, and a propensity to take life and ourselves too seriously.

Unlike our childhood selves, adults tend to be more critical than creative, controlling than engaging, competitive than cooperative, consuming than care-free, and cautious than bold.

As far as I can tell, that’s not really living. It’s more like functioning, or surviving, or ticking like a time bomb that’s apt to explode if we’re given (or we take on) another responsibility.

The antidote?

Play. Specifically, living a play-full life.

“Play-fullness rehumanizes us,” writes Rev. Dr. Jaco Hamman in his book A Play-full Life: Slowing Down and Seeking Peace (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 2011). In contrast to play, which “is often seen as a purposeless, unproductive, even useless, yet restorative activity,” play-fullness is a way of being, of living life “to the full,” even in adversity. Play-fullness infuses and informs our leisure and labor, and all of life’s drama, comedy, and tragedy.

A play-full life takes risks, pushes against inhibitions, and breaks through self-imposed constraints empowered by the words “should” and “should not.”

A play-full life encourages us to be fully present to each moment, “mindful about our reality, and to engage it with all of our heart, mind, and soul — with our whole being.”

Through [such a life] we improve capacities, such as problem-solving skills, and meet specific needs, such as letting go, needing to take risks, exerting control or being controlled, feeling empowered, and feeling connected. Furthermore, play helps us discover the importance both of setting boundaries and engaging others and instills in us a love for culture and art. It helps us manage our destructiveness and rejuvenates the mind, much like deep sleep does.  Stress is toxic to our bodies, but play improves our health and helps to strengthen our immune system.

“Work first, reward yourself with play.”

I wonder how many generations of my family this aphorism has shaped. Maybe it’s just my daughters (I doubt it.), but it doesn’t seem to work all of the time.

So, the other day I tried something new.

Instead of ending our day with play as we usually do, we began it this way. An hour and a half of swimming and playing with my daughters did us a world of good. I was quietly amazed at how well my girls got along throughout the rest of the day; how creative I was able to be in instructing, redirecting, and disciplining them; and how the three of us were able to make the day’s work into a game, and thereby get it done — with fun, no less.

Who knew?

Who knew that play balances work and stress, if not counteracts it?

Who knew that getting off of the lounge chair, getting into the pool, and pretending to be a shark who doesn’t eat her “prey,” when she catches them but gives them kisses and zerberts could change the direction of an entire day for not just one, but three people?

Who knew that “getting over” one’s adult, responsible, and serious self spices life, and attracts the Muse?

ImageIt seems that my daughters did. Thank God for them.

Questions for y’all:

  • How can you say “yes” to play and life play-fully today?
  • Where do you see God at play in your life and in the world?

Female Fight Club: Why We Must Put Down Our Gloves

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Angie’s thoughts:
Dr. Christena Cleveland and I connected via social media. We both are passionate about calling out racism and prophetically prodding the church to do what she should: confess of the sin of racism, heal relationships, and live into Galatians 3:25 – 38 on this side of eternity. Although we have yet to meet IRL, I have uber respect for Christena, my sister in Christ. She gives an offering today on “Woman, in Progress…” while I am on vacation with my family.

Last year, I preached on the topic of singleness at my church and during a post-sermon public Q&A session, I was asked a rather strange and baiting question that solicited my opinion on egalitarian and complementarian marital relationships. Clearly, the questioner wanted me to extol one approach and bash the other.

However, rather than choosing sides, I briefly articulated the merits of each approach and suggested that each can potentially bring glory to God. Not surprisingly, as soon as the service concluded, I was verbally accosted by people from both camps who believed that their perspective should have been championed and that the other perspective is ungodly, disrespectful and just plain WRONG. I quickly realized that none of these people were interested in engaging in healthy and loving discourse on this topic.

What happened at my church is not unique. In my diversity work with churches, I find that most Christians agree that we should unite across ethnic, linguistic and socio-economic lines. However, as soon as unity requires that we reconsider how we think about or express faith, we stall. Further, if we’re not careful, the mere existence of cultural and/or ideological difference can provoke hostility towards the other group.

Armed with the belief that our perspective is entirely right, we easily come up with reasons why other perspectives aren’t valuable and why dissenting voices should be extinguished.

Photo credit: Lemon Lime Moon

Photo credit: Lemon Lime Moon

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that while the body of Christ experiences significant intergender (man vs. woman) division, it is also plagued by intragender (woman vs. woman) division. In addition to the egalitarian-complementarian divide, Christian women erect divisions between stay-at-home moms and working moms (the infamous “Mommy Wars”), feminists and traditionalists, married women who take their husband’s last name and married women who don’t, single and married women, urban and suburban women, black and white women, mothers and non-mothers, and young and old women, to name just a few.

In theory, we support the vision of a diverse, integrated and interdependent body of Christ, but we rarely engage in meaningful interactions with women who are very different from us.

Instead, we tend to ignore these women – or worse, focus on the things that differentiate us from those women, underestimate the richness and value that those women bring to the Kingdom of God and foster negative attitudes about those women. If we interact with those women at all, we usually do so at a distance and with at least a hint of suspicion. Indeed, these divisions invade even the lives of women who are otherwise conscious of and working toward race, gender and class unity in the Church and beyond. If we are a body, then we are one that is afflicted with an autoimmune disease.

Why do these intragender divisions exist and persist? One reason is because we think that homogeneity is harmless. We naturally gravitate people who are like us. Similarity is one of the most important predictors of liking because we like people who can affirm our worldviews, understand our jokes and share our experiences.

As a single, urban, professional, ministry-oriented, woman of color, I simply like other women who share these characteristics. My interactions with them are easier because we speak the same “language,” roll our eyes at the same things and can easily rejoice and commiserate with each other. And spending time with women who are a lot like me isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in many ways, it can provide a much-needed drink of cold water in an otherwise desert-like world. Further, my desire to spend the vast majority of my time with women who are like me is not consciously motivated by a prejudice against other types of woman.

So what’s so bad about my homogenous social and spiritual world?

Photo credit: mom logic

Photo credit: mom logic

Unfortunately, there are many negative unintended side effects to homogeneity. For example, social psychological research shows that when we succumb to homogeneity, we often end up drawing strong lines between us and them.

Further, our lines often evolve into value judgments (I.E., we are right and they are wrong) and our perceptions of them are often inaccurate and tainted by negativity. These perceptions lead us to devalue women from other groups simply because they are different and serve to widen the divide.

Additionally, our inaccurate perceptions often go unchallenged because we spend most of our time with similar others who share our perceptions.

By the time I reached my late-20s, I’d lost touch with my Sisters who married young and are now stay-at-home suburban moms to multiple children. Our life paths diverged years ago when I discovered that maintaining a friendship with women with vastly different schedules, locations, responsibilities and perspectives requires a fair amount of logistical gymnastics and is no easy feat. As a result, I naturally fell into a social and spiritual world that was almost devoid of meaningful interactions with stay-at-home moms. Predictably, the simple separation resulted in inaccurate perceptions that robbed me of a desire to form rich friendships with this group of women.

My lack of desire for friendships with stay-at-home moms was spurred on by my own difficulties in carving a path for myself in the Christian world. I often observed that the Christian world validated more traditional female roles and was threatened by what I perceived to be a lack of support or understanding of my non-traditional path.

For this reason, I incorrectly identified stay-at-home moms (who, in my mind, embodied the narrow Christian female ideal that threatened my worldview and way of life) as willful contributors to my misery.

Consequently, I had no problem avoiding them and even devaluing them.

Upon realizing my own contribution to this intragender division, I repented for my prejudice and joined a weekly “mom Bible study” at my church at which I opined little and listened much. Over time, I discovered that many stay-at-home moms actually feel threatened by the likes of me and that we had mutually labeled each other the enemy while losing sight of the fact that we have a very real, very cunning Enemy who would love for us to devalue and antagonize each other. I was also reminded that I don’t know everything and that stay-at-home moms have a perspective that I desperately need.

The simple and seemingly harmless act of spending most of our time with women who are essentially just like us results in sinister consequences that prevent us from seeking to understand and form bonds with our diverse Sisters. I believe that the metaphor of the body of Christ, which preaches mutual interdependence, was designed to rescue us from homogeneity. When we stick to people who are just like us, we will fail to appreciate the rich diversity of the body of Christ. When we engage with different others on a regular basis, we will begin to see our Sisters in all of their diverse glory.

Christena Cleveland uses social psychological insights, biblical principles and practical applications to equip people – from head to heart to hands – to do the work of unity and reconciliation. She blogs at christenacleveland.com and tweets @CSCleve.

Blogging my book idea: The Mama Taboo and point break

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photo credit: waterarchives via photopin cc

photo credit: waterarchives via photopin cc

What happens right before a dam breaks?

What is the catalyst that causes what was once naturally flowing water to unleash itself?

Does the river resent being stuffed and shaped into a body that it wasn’t meant to be?

Years of pressure pushing on the dam’s surface. Gazillions of water molecules banging their heads against something that God didn’t place there. It’s beyond me how all dams don’t break.

Some (most?) may call a dam breaking faulty or failed engineering. Residents down stream, I’m guessing, would call it a disaster. While environmentalists might feel badly for decimated towns, likely they would contend that a dam break is nature is restoring itself.

I’m no engineer. But I can relate to the river, because I know what it feels like to be dammed up.

I’m no engineering failure. But I know what it feels like to buckle under intense pressure, and unleash pent-up rage.

It’s that split second (or that slowly degrading process), though, that I cannot describe. The moment that the held transitions into release.

How does that come about?

If I could answer that, then I could create a clear formula for breaking the Mama Taboo.

Follow these 10 easy steps to break free of your emotional prison, speak honestly about your mother wound, heal, and renew your relationships with yourself, your mother, and your children!

But, there is no formula. It’s a mystery.

I liken it to the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday when we have no idea what went on. (I suppose the facts are between God and Jesus, and probably Satan, too, according to the Apostle’s Creed.) What happened to bring Jesus from being dead to being alive? How did Jesus feel, physically and emotionally? Was the war that waged between sin and salvation, between life and death, between grace and damnation ontologically colossal? Or was it somehow contained within Jesus’ body? Or both?

At least we know how it turned out. As we say to greet one another on Easter morning, “Christ is risen! The Lord is risen, indeed!”

A physical threat of eruption drove me to my church’s sanctuary. Something was internally stirring. I felt I might explode at any second. I picked a pew that had a box of tissues, and sat down. I didn’t know why God brought me there, and I knew there was nowhere else I could be.

Prayers and meditation restless and distracted, I rose to walk. Sometimes walking prayers calm me, the feeling of my feet touching the surface beneath me connecting me to sacred ground and its Creator. Soon it’s not enough that only my feet are there.

My legs collapsed as if someone withdrew their strength, and I found myself on all fours. That wouldn’t do, either, I quickly discerned.

photo credit: superfem via photopin cc

photo credit: superfem via photopin cc

It was as if something overcame me, and I couldn’t contain it. A possession that my spirit wouldn’t tolerate.

Out it had to come.

And…

Kaboom! 

On my knees, face down, prostrate, wailing in the fetal position.

What was flushing out of me?

No matter.

I needed to cry, and so I did.

Weeks, months would go by until I began to grasp what happened to me.

It remains a mystery. But, at least I know the outcome — sort of. I grasped only the larger picture at first. Specifics would come in time.

What I did know was that I could no longer function the way that I had been — struggling not to prevail, but to strangle myself with silence. The war that waged within my soul was killing me.

Is it worth dying for? the Spirit whispered.

“No,” I answered out loud. “No, it is not.”

Then you must follow where I take you. Recognize, acknowledge, face, feel, grieve, and when the times come, speak. And then you will be free. 

That was the day that God broke the Mama Taboo’s power over me.

It hurt like hell, but now unlocked was my emotional prison cell.

“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input. Click on the dates below to read previous posts in the series.

April 11    April 18     April 25      May 2     May 9     May 16     May 23     May 30

Justin Bieber was right about my Mom

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The father of a teenage boy possessed by a demon brought his son to Jesus for healing. “Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.” “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.” The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9: 21b – 24, NLT)

Never say never.

The quip is much older than teenage phenom Justin Bieber, but it is irrevocably connected to him. His face wallpapers teen magazines; his voice croons on mp-3 players around the world; and millions of young girls chat about his on-again, off-again romantic relationship, wishing that Justin would just be single so that his heart could be theirs. He’s living the life most vocal artists only dream about.

It hasn’t always been this way.

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul Internati...

English: Justin Bieber at the Sentul International Convention Center in West Java, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Born to 17-year-old unmarried mother Pattie Mallette, the Canadian 19-year-old grew up in low-income housing. Mallette worked a series of low-paying office jobs, and raised Justin by herself. Justin’s maternal grandmother was also a prominent presence in his life. He taught himself to play piano, guitar, drums, and trumpet.

Ask any of the gazillions of peeps who have tried their chops on American Idol, America’s Got Talent, and similar international shows. The chances of making it to the recording and performing big time are S..L..I..M.

To his credit, Bieber knows of the statistical unlikelihood of his success. He didn’t have famous parents who are loaded with money and connections who put him on the “right” paths in front of the “right” people. Yes, he worked hard, and Mallette worked hard for him, as well. But, Bieber was discovered out of obscurity. He offers himself as an example, and tells his fans and anyone who will listen to “Never say never.”

My faith and relationship with God are the cornerstones of my life. I also struggle with doubt like everyone else.

Internal conflict stirring, I confess that I gave up on my mother.

I became convinced over a period of years. My own anxiety and years of counselors guiding me after hearing only my side of our mother/daughter story led the charge.

Chibies Queen Elinor and Princess Merida by *princekido on tumblr.

Chibies Queen Elinor and Princess Merida by *princekido on tumblr.

For the longest time I had hoped and prayed that she would change. Like Princess Merida in Disney’s movie Brave, I felt my destiny tied to my mother. I felt equally desperate and frustrated as the Scottish red-haired youngster, but I didn’t go so far as having a witch concoct a spell-laced cake for my mother to eat.

No, my possible happiness, I thought, lie only in Mom’s acknowledgement of my pain that she caused by not being there for me, an apology from her, and a huge embrace that only a mother can give to her child — one that lasts as long as I need for it to while I cry cathartically. (Yes, I recognize the all-about-me language.)

“I know that God is able,” I said to my counselor-du-jour. “So, I keep waiting and hoping for Mom to ‘wake up,’ and for everything to be fine between us.” My ongoing waiting and hoping and terrified refusal to approach Mom about my feelings impaired my healing, a toxic combination that didn’t help in the least. I feared that if I told her the truth — all of it — that she would abandon me for good for sure. And then, my life-long nightmare would come true. I would be unloved and alone. I couldn’t risk that happening, so I all-but-drowned in my pain and fear.

She’ll never hear me, I sobbed. She’ll never “get it.” She’ll never be able to hear, really hear, the depths of my mother wound. She’ll never see that I needed her love, time, and attention more than the stuff that the money that she earned bought.

For 10 years, each day went by offering no evidence to refute my assumptions. I became more and more convinced about the “neverness” of it all, and my vision of my mother as an emotionally unable and unaware person clarified with each passing 24-hour period.

Despite the hardening of my heart, I felt compelled to pray — to pray for Mom, to pray for myself, to pray for our relationship. I came to God regularly, saying, “I know you want me to pray, but I don’t know what to say. So, I’m just gonna sit here in your presence.” Sometimes, this is enough, as Paul says in Romans 8: 26-27.

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And [God] who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.

Out of God’s own freedom, She (God, that is) moved mightily throughout those dark years. And in the wee hours of Saturday, June 1, 2013 God blasted the dividing wall that had stalwartly stood between my mother and me.

Mom asked questions. She listened. She heard me. She stayed put as I unleashed 42 years of pent-up muck. Tears. Memories of events that differed completely from hers. Accusations.

And then Mom apologized, and she held me as I cried and moaned like a beleaguered child.

As soon as I could get my breath, I apologized to Mom for giving her such a hard time for years on end, and for giving up on her.

If someone would have told me just a week ago that this would have happened, I would have not believed it. “It’ll never, ever happen,” would have been my answer.

Justin Bieber doesn’t know me or my mother, but I gather he would have said otherwise. Probably has something to do with the Christian faith in which Pattie Mallette raised him.

I don’t know why this breakthrough happened for my mother and me, and why it doesn’t happen for other people who bear the mother wound. As Job knows quite well, the freedom of God can be quite maddening from a human point of view.

I will muse on that in the days to come as God and I continue to work on my book idea.

For now, I marvel with thanksgiving and speak the eternal words of Job (42: 3b, 5) to both God and my mother.

I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did now know. … I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.

Blogging my book idea: Mothers and the Mama Taboo

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photo credit: SimplyAbbey via photopin cc

photo credit: SimplyAbbey via photopin cc

My inner life was a wreck, even though I didn’t know well enough to call it that. As young as seven-years-old chaos reigned inside of me. My brain constantly churned, and the lack of downtime exhausted me. My stomach shook, rattled, and rolled. Anxiety catalyzed my food’s digestion. THE question, omnipresent and unsettling, haunted my heart and soul.

Surely my mother loves me? Right?

I knew that she did.

Well, I thought I knew.

If I was honest with myself (which I was terrified to be), I would admit that doubt ravaged me.

Sometimes Mom was fun and funny. Other times she was angry and perfectionistic. Still other times she had work to do and I was persona non grataa bother who broke her concentration. “Can’t you find something to play by yourself?” Often…usually…I was afraid of her, afraid that my behavior, and even my essence would set her off and take her love away yet again.

I never asked her outright whether she loved me. Maybe I knew that the question was disrespectful and ridiculous. “Every mother loves her child,” the saying goes. Maybe I feared the answer.

The Mama Taboo kept me silent.

It’s possible, even probable, that Mom didn’t know the God-honest truth, that she was unloving and that we were not as emotionally attached as a mother and child should be. It’s possible, even probable, that this truth may have been too painful for her to bear.

This is the mother side of the Mama Taboo.

In her book Mean Mothers: Overcoming the Legacy of Hurt, Peg Streep defines the multiple aspects of the Myth of Mother Love. The word “myth” fits perfectly because it is culturally formed, passed down through generations, powerful in defining “truth,” and simply not true.

The Myth of Mother Love assumes that

  • unconditional love for her child is instinctual in all mothers.
  • all women want, if not need, to become mothers (aka, the biological clock).
  • every woman is naturally compassionate, empathetic, and nurturing.
  • every mother sacrifices herself for her child, always putting herself and her needs on the back burner to tend first to her child.
  • women’s raison d’être is fulfilled in motherhood.
  • mothers are never unloving, inattentive, unattached, distant, cruel, or abusive;
  • and mothers are always attuned to and there for their children.

We’ve briefly explored here and here how the Mama Taboo restricts undermothered children. Despite the loneliness, lack of attachment, and low self-value that they feel, these children will not speak truthfully about their less-than-loving relationship with their mother. To do so risks Mother removing what intermittent love the child receives; and nothing is worth that risk to a young child. Many adult children of unloving mothers feel the same way.

photo credit: lewishamdreamer via photopin cc

photo credit: lewishamdreamer via photopin cc

Deep pain also gags mothers and keeps them from speaking honestly, and even being honest with themselves, Streep says. So powerful is the Myth of Mother Love that women who find themselves unable to love and nurture their children, or possibly only one of her children, are shamed.

Where is there room within our culture for the mother who resents her children for limiting her, or preventing her from living her dreams? What do we do with mothers who, because of their own unloving mothers and/or dysfunctional upbringing, not only do not know how to parent, but are jealous of and cruel to her children because they need her and her care? How do we treat wounded mothers who tacitly require their children to care for them? When society sees a woman who is a philanthropist, ubiquitous volunteer, and mother of talented and academically gifted children, why do we dismiss the testimony of her children who say that she is unloving, negligent, and harsh? (See Anne Lamott‘s Isa in Blue Shoe for a great example of this.)

These mothers are everywhere (yes, even within the church). But, likely we wouldn’t know one even if she was standing right in front of us. This is because, as I’ve stated before, “The term ‘unloving mother’ is a [cultural] oxymoron, a mythical combination that we’d like to believe doesn’t exist.” At best, society shames mothers for not fitting into the Myth of Mother Love. Typically, though, they are anathema.

With such societal pressure, what woman in her right mind would admit to flunking motherhood?

Most don’t. Many won’t. Some can’t.

And so, the Mama Taboo strikes again. Mom is unloving, but she will not speak this truth. Her children know and experience this, but they will not speak the truth. The sacredness of the mother-child relationship is both music and space for their disjointed, and on-again, off-again dance. The family exists and functions within a lie, the Myth of Mother Love to be exact. But they keep on dancing because they know not what else to do.

With everyone scared to face reality, the Mama Taboo keeps everyone in the family in check, and ensures that yet another generation is branded with the mother wound.

Questions for y’all…

  • What experience do you have of an unloving mother, either yours or another mother you know?
  • How do you experience the Myth of Mother Love?

“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input. Click on the dates below to read previous posts in the series.

April 11    April 18     April 25      May 2     May 9     May 16     May 23

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