Sometimes you have to toss the curriculum

a little boy is stretched out on his stomach, reading a big Bible

This past Sunday was one of those days. Instead of talking about the Apostle Paul, I taught my Sunday school class (4-year-olds through 5th-graders) about lament and then we wrote our own.

Here’s what I said:

Normally in Children’s Worship and Sunday school we tell stories about great things God has done and great things people have done because they had faith in God, but there are other parts of the Bible. In some parts of the Bible people are really angry, and really sad, and they’re even angry and sad at God. And they wrote about it. There are a bunch of what we call Psalms of Lament, where people tell all their strong feelings to God.

Now, I may have made a tactical error in the psalms I read. The kids (6 boys, 1 girl) were a little too enamored with Psalm 3:7:

Arise, O Lord!
Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
Shatter the teeth of the wicked!

Not to mention Psalm 58:

Justice–do you rulers know the meaning of the word?
Do you judge the people fairly?
No, all your dealings are crooked;
you hand out violence instead of justice…
They spit poison like deadly snakes;
they are like cobras that refuse to listen…
Break off their fangs, O God!
Smash the jaws of these lions, O Lord!

I apologize to any parents who were wondering where their kids got those images from. I did attempt to point out that the writers were asking God to do these things, not giving them license to, but one never knows how much that sinks in compared to the high drama of slapping faces and breaking off fangs.

After I read a few Psalms, I unrolled a big piece of paper and told them that we’d write our own Psalm of Lament about what was going on in their lives. There is a general structure among many laments:

This is what’s going on in the world and in my life
It makes me feel
AND YET, I know this is true about you, God
O God, please

We followed that structure, and amid silliness and kid squirminess, they were vulnerable and wise and dear, even those who sat quietly, watching with wide eyes. When they were answering what they would do, they got on a roll talking about what they’d eat (strawberries and sandwiches featured heavily), so I interpreted that as taking care of themselves–since we often forget to do that when we’re mad and sad. And the teacher in me couldn’t stop from contributing the last line.

Here’s what was on these kids’ minds and hearts this weekend:


This is what’s going on in the world and in my life
Donald Trump became President
Somebody got in a car accident
My friends get me in trouble
Diseases–they are strong
Blustery winds that made trees fall down
Ungrateful people

It makes me feel
angry at people
like moving to Canada
not happy

AND YET, I know this is true
God be helpful
God is caring
God loves other people
God carries you
God can help people become better people
God helps people get through hard things
God has helped me learn
God has a son named Jesus

Help stop cancer
Help people get through what they’re going through even though I’m going through something bad, too
Keep taking care of myself
Get out and vote
Tell my friends to stop busting me for no reason

O God, please
help stop hurricanes
convince people to go out and vote
help us to love each other better

From troubles with friends to health issues to natural disasters to troubles in our country, kids have a lot going on. It was a privilege to help them put it into words and express it to God and to each other.

I may be directionally impaired, but I can still get where I’m going

Last weekend I went on a road trip with my daughter. I love a road trip.

A gif of Kermit and Fozzie singing in a car.

I load up with books on CD and snacks and we’re off. We went to Toronto, the city of my birth, the city I left at the age of 19, the city I never drove in. I did not have cell service in Canada.

“How lovely,” you may be thinking. “No nagging emails or texts or anything to pull you away from where and who you were with.”

Sadly, no.

Chris Farley driving along all happy, but gets scared as he realizes something.

Because I am directionally impaired. I do not have a N-S-E-W grid in my head that I can use to orient myself any place I go. Even with step-by-step directions, I will make a wrong turn.

A cartoon stork struggles with a paper map and declares, "Definitely lost."

So without my blessed Google maps, there was no yellow arrow telling me what to do and where to turn, no distance calculator counting down the miles and feet to where I need to make a transition. I had only the three sets of directions I had printed out before I left, which didn’t prevent me from veering off the Gardiner once I got into to Toronto and taking the Lakeshore at the first opportunity, instead of at the last opportunity (this was exacerbated by my renting a Canadian car that operated under kilometers, and having directions that were calculated in miles).

The dad from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs is driving his boat, suddenly his eyebrows lift and he says "Nope."

I still got to where I was going, but I was worried the whole time that I’d done the wrong thing and I’d have to backtrack and I didn’t know enough about that part of the city to wing it and I couldn’t call my cousin because I had no service, and on and on.

My cousin believed me when I told him of my affliction, and took me on a Google street view trip to get to his dad’s condo, which was glorious. But later that day, when I had to follow instructions in reverse, I still managed to turn the wrong way–during rush hour–and added 30 minutes onto what should’ve been a 20-minute trip.

Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, looks around her surroundings in confusion.

And on the way home, I missed the turnoff to the 402 and wound up in Windsor instead of Port Huron. I toyed with heading back to London and continuing on as I normally did, but I went with my mistake and took the tunnel, had a super-short border experience, and The Blessed Phone Worked Again, so I was able to find my way out of Detroit and onto I-96 and home.

Michelle Obama does a happy dance with two muppets.

So what might I have learned from this slightly silly story:

  1. When I make a wrong turn, I can correct it.
  2. When I feel lost, it doesn’t mean I’m irredeemably lost.
  3. It may not be perfect, but I CAN DO IT.

You know what? Those are good things to know about myself and about life in general.

Do you have any good getting lost stories you want to share?

  • All gifs courtesy of the very fun-to-browse

But does it have to be this hard?

a woman looks up, questioning

Just because my hand is on you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

These are words I believe God spoke to me as I was raking leaves in my front yard several years ago. They didn’t come out of the blue: I was pouring out my heart about my disappointments and rejections, mainly to do with my writing and (lack of) publishing.

There were three things I took away from this message:

  1. My hand is on you.
  2. It’s not going to be easy.
  3. Things being easy is not the sign that my hand is on you.

Number 1 was powerful and moving to hear, and #2 wasn’t exactly encouraging, but #3 got at an assumption that hadn’t yet made its way to my consciousness: I’d been thinking that when God was with me, all paths would open up before me and I’d skate right through to success.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with this assumption. It comes out in positive comments when things go your way, “God is really blessing you.” I heard it recently from a child of friends who, when thing after thing went wrong, asked, “Is God against us?” My complaint that day went along the lines of, “I thought this project had your blessing. You’ve energized and grown my writing and my faith so much through it, why isn’t it finding a home?”

Where did this assumption come from? Maybe a bit from Old Testament passages where God is begging the people to obey and they will have peace and rain and good harvests. Job’s friends certainly ascribe to the math of you are righteous = God’s blessing comes in the form of tangible success; therefore, lack of success = lack of righteousness.

Maybe a bit from my old fixed mindset: some things are easy for me, which means I’m good at them, I must be bad at the things that are difficult (or even, that something is difficult means that I’m not worthy).

And maybe a lot from the very simple human preference for things to be easy.

So those words that day changed me. Once that assumption came into the light, it was revealed as a sham, as something that was getting in my way.

These days, everything is hard. Getting published was a ton of work and risk and learning new things and tears and yelling at the computer, and there’s only more to learn and more to risk and even more work to do to make the book a success. This week is just really tough. Three days from now, it would have been my 22nd wedding anniversary, and as luck would have it, I have to be with my ex-husband that day; I’ve had a constantly simmering panic attack for over a week. I had a job set-back, so now I’ve got some employment decisions to make that could impact my availability for making the picture book a success. And I’m scared and grieving for my adopted country that is so divided, and so in love with guns.

But at least I know that none of these are signs that God is not with me, that God isn’t blessing me.

Just because my hand is on you, doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

I said that to a friend about her situation on Sunday, and, as it often goes, I needed to be reminded of it, myself. Maybe you do, too. Let’s go forth and do hard things, secure in the knowledge that Jesus’ promise below is given in the present tense: I am with you.

“I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.”
(Matthew 28:20 NLT)

In suspense and incomplete

a rock climber suspended on the rope at Moab

Only God can say what this new spirit gradually forming in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

The prayer above — that starts, “Trust the slow work of God” — has always just slayed me. There has never been a time when it didn’t speak to me about the deep things I was going through.

I have a printout of the whole thing tucked in my prayer journal, so I often return to it … when I’m using my prayer journal. But since my marriage imploded, I haven’t been writing my prayers. I’ve been praying. Oh, yes, I’ve been praying. But I let that longtime spiritual practice go. In its place, I’ve been resting.

Starting last summer, references to resting in God have come to me in waves. I did a silly post about it (Apathetic Prayer), but then they kept coming, which I experience as God trying to tell me something. So I’ve payed attention.

It’s not easy to come to God without an agenda, whether that’s a long list of prayer requests or the need for spiritual insight and practical assistance, but the truth I believe is that God loves me without any striving necessary on my part. It’s easy to get hung up on the striving, to get all into checking things off lists and feeling like I’m doing all I can to move forward, whether that’s practically or spiritually.

But for this time, God clearly wants me to rest in Him.

I’ve had some powerful experiences in prayer in the last six months. The 90-minute Garden Prayer on Maundy Thursday at The Revolution. And the contemplative prayer time at the Renew and Refine mini-retreat before the Festival of Faith and Writing. There have also been plenty of walks in the Calvin Nature Preserve when I let myself feel God’s pleasure. Plenty of times I’d breathe slowly in and out and ask God to be with me. Any word/impression I’ve received during those times has fallen into two categories: “You are my beloved,” and “Rest in me.”

So instead of berating myself for letting the practice of writing my prayers slide, I’m seeing this time as learning to experience the love of God independently from anything I may try to do to “earn” it or “deserve” it. Because God loves me. End of sentence.

It’s my way of trusting the slow work of God, and of “accept[ing] the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Because anxious and incomplete and impatient and suspended between old and new is definitely how I’m feeling. I’m trusting that a new spirit is gradually forming in me.


In case you need it, too, here’s the full prayer:

Above all, trust the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end
without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on
the way to something unknown,
something new,
and yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability–
and it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually–
let them grow,
let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and
circumstances acting
on your own good will)
will make them tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself in suspense
and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.


I do my best negotiating against myself

Photo by Drew Hays of a woman with her hands blocking her face; illustrating the blog post, "I do my best negotiating against myself."

I’ve been doing the 30 Day Yoga Challenge, and yesterday’s practice was a challenge — not because of the physical moves, but because of the emotional ones. Every day there is a different statement/theme/mantra for the practice. Some of them are peaceful and lovely: I Accept, I Release, I Am Alive, I Am Present. But yesterday’s was a doozy:

I Respect.

Because the phrase that came to me to complete that sentence was

I respect myself enough to ask for what I need.

This may come as a surprise to people who know me as a strong, confident, opinionated woman, but in my most intimate relationships, including with myself, I tend to negotiate myself out of my needs.

A silly example first. After my marriage imploded in August, I couldn’t eat, so I lost weight. Then I discovered that exercise was a major mood/mindset stabilizer. Since I had all sorts of free time in the evenings now that I wasn’t keeping myself available for a moment of connection with my husband, I got really into Youtube yoga and Pilates and bought a treadmill from a lady on Craigslist, and lost a little more weight. When my pants became too loose, I bought new-to-me ones right away (hooray consignment and thrift stores!). But there was one item I really needed that I put off and put off and put off: new bras. The old ones not only didn’t fit anymore, but they each had one crooked hook that jabbed my back — and had been jabbing my back for at least a year. So I’d needed new bras for a long time before I lost that weight. Still, I didn’t do it. I’d make deals with myself, “When I finish this project, I’ll do it,” and not follow through. Until finally I did. It felt important all out of proportion to the actual act of buying myself underwear, because I’d negotiated myself out of it for so long.

Bigger example: for twenty-one years, I negotiated myself into staying in a marriage in which I wasn’t getting some of my most basic needs met, because I was getting others met, so I talked myself into accepting things that grieved me on a daily basis.

For the last month, I’ve been deciding whether to ask for alimony in the divorce. On the one hand, I don’t want to because I’d rather be independent. On the other hand, we made decisions as a family for me to be a stay-at-home mom who worked freelance, which means that I’m not as employable as I would’ve been if I’d been working a regular job. So while I have work, I’m cobbling together a number of freelance jobs, and I make a quarter of what my husband did. My heart is racing and tears are burning behind my eyes just anticipating typing this, but I’m asking for alimony. Even so, I negotiated against myself, reducing the amount down to a fraction of what the state recommended for me, but it’s still really difficult to ask for.

So there’s my tale of three steps forward and one step back — one of my favorite dance moves for illustrating the Christian life. I wish it weren’t so much work to respect myself enough to ask for what I need. I’m hoping you don’t have that same struggle, but I know some of you do. I’m going to continue to work on this, and I hope you do, too.

I respect.

As Real As It Gets is getting very real!

My new best friend is command + shift + 4. Because that’s how you take a screen shot on a Mac while choosing exactly what image you want to steal … um, I mean share.

Back in October, I posted a lot about a Kickstarter project for a picture book about a boy who can’t help yelling, “You’re not my real mother!” We made the goal (hooray!) and the always-brilliant Joel Schoon-Tanis has finished the illustrations, so now the project is on to the photographer and the book designer. It’s getting closer!

As a writer, it’s unusual for me to be at a loss for words, but that’s where I’m at every time I look at these illustrations. My co-author, Amanda Barton, and I pounded out the story and shaped my words, and now here they are, given bodies. It’s moving.

So as a treat for us all, here are a few of the illustrations I screen-shotted from Joel’s Instagram feed. To see more of them, as well as other great paintings and images, follow him:

If you weren’t part of the Kickstarter and you’d like to find out when the book is available, head over to West Olive Press and sign up.


It's like a T Rex taking over my body, jaws opening wide for a prehistoric roar.
Some kid on the playground was going on about the monster under his bed. Hah.
I know where a real monster lives.
In my belly.
It’s like a T Rex taking over my body, jaws opening wide for a prehistoric roar.


Like a gas bubble, stretching me until I’m a balloon about to pop.
Like a gas bubble, stretching me until I’m a balloon about to pop.


The monster always thinks this will be the time it shocks my mother...
The monster always thinks this will be the time it shocks my mother…


She plops down with me. “Forever means always. Longer than you can imagine. Longer than even I can imagine.” My “okay” is kind of wobbly...
She plops down with me. “Forever means always. Longer than you can imagine. Longer than even I can imagine.”
My “okay” is kind of wobbly…

Hello, darkness, my old friend

A man on boat on dark water.

I recently finished reading Learning to Walk in the Dark, in which Barbara Brown Taylor pursues literal, physical darkness as a spiritual discipline. She explores the gifts of lunar spirituality to counteract the American church’s preference for full solar spirituality. There are things to learn in the darkness that you’re not going to find when you’re always trying to stay the bright light.

To my favorite biblical passage about darkness, “Moses approached the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21 NIV), I got to add this one:

And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lordthe God of Israel, the one who calls you by name. (Isaiah 45:3 NLT)

Brown Taylor goes for walks in the dark, spends a night in a cabin with no electricity, and reads about the Dark Night of the Soul, but the part of the book that is sticking with me the most is her discussion of wild caving (going into the parts of caves that are not nicely prepped for tourists). She quotes Barbara Hurd’s book, Entering the Stone:

When you’re stuck in a squeeze, the best response is to study the rock and pay attention to where you are and how your body feels.

Which is also good advice for those stuck in an emotional squeeze of grief and pain. The more you thrash against the constriction, the more you panic, the less able you are to see how you will get through.

It’s also the source of my new favorite phrase: The only way out is the way in. Brown Taylor also puts it another way: The only way out is through. In caving, you literally exit by backtracking. Emotionally and spiritually, it means that the only way out of the dark emotions is through them — not denying them, not burying them, not pretending they have no sway. But examining them, there in the dark, seeing what they are saying about you, about your circumstances, what they might be telling you about God. (Note that she differentiates between this process and depression: her book is not a suggestion to forgo medication if you need it.) Her final wish for us is that we get curious about our darkness.

I found this wonderfully freeing. I’ve always been a rather passional feeler of my feelings, and in the last five months, I’ve certainly let wash over me whatever the daily wave of feeling was: grief, sadness, pain, joy, determination. Not denying them. Not pretending them away. I appreciate Brown Taylor’s assurance that this can be a spiritually healthy practice.


So, of course, now I read about darkness everywhere.


In How To Live Life, John Vorhaus talks about facing a situation we’re sure is hopeless:

If this feeling is strong enough, it snuffs out all thoughtful reflection. Night descends and the spirit quails, brought low by the assumption of failure (p.30).

His solution:

You don’t need to fix a problem the minute you see it. (Yikes! I’m in a bad situation! Must flee!) And you don’t have to assume that it can’t be solved. You can choose to look at your circumstances frankly and gently, with acceptance….It’s so weird. We won’t look at ourselves honestly for fear of feeling worse, yet every time we look at ourselves honestly, we end up feeling better (p.70)

Vorhaus is so wonderfully blunt: ask yourself the big questions, dare to answer them, use your imagination and your curiosity, gather information to equip yourself with new insights, eagerly engage with the world and investigate any mystery it presents (including the mystery of you).


It’s even showing up in my fiction. I’ve been reading the last books of the City Watch books of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and Commander Sam Vimes confronts darkness, his and a mythic darkness, very directly. In Thud!, he becomes possessed by an ancient entity called the Summoning Dark — but not taken over. As a copper who’s worked the night shift most of his career, he knows all about darkness, both literal and internal. He knows the darkness in his soul, and he’s prepared to shake hands with it, use the zeal it gives him to pursue justice, but to not let it overtake him so that he ignores his values. This enables him to use the Summoning Dark, and to develop a relationship with it, without it possessing him. The S.D. leaves when it discovers how at home Sam is in his own darkness, but it gives him a scar, and gives him gifts: Sam can see in the dark, and converse with the S.D. when he needs to for a case.

This is the conversation from Thud! between the S.D. and inside-Sam (the first line is his):

“…Who watches the watchmen? Me. I watch him. Always. You will not force him to murder for you.”
“What kind of human creates his own policeman?”
“One who fears the dark.”
“And so he should,” said the entity, with satisfaction.
“Indeed. But I think you misunderstand. I am not here to keep the darkness out. I am here to keep it in.” There was a clink of metal as the shadowy watchman lifted a dark lantern and opened its little door. Orange light cut through the blackness. “Call me… the Guarding Dark. Imagine how strong I must be.”
The Summoning Dark backed desperately into the alley, but the light followed it, burning it.
“And now,” said the watchman, “get out of town.”

 I also love this one, from Snuff, about the distinction between being acquainted with the dark and being the darkness:

he wondered if one day that darkness would break out and claim its heritage, and he wouldn’t know … the brakes and chains and doors and locks in his head would have vanished and he wouldn’t know.

Right now, as he looked at the frightened child, he feared that moment was coming closer. Possibly only the presence of Feeney was holding the darkness at bay, the dreadful urge to do the hangman out of his entitlement of a dollar for the drop, thruppence for the rope and sixpence for his beer. How easy it is to kill, yes, but not when a smart young copper who thinks you are a good guy is looking to you. At home, the Watch and his family surrounded Vimes like a wall. Here the good guy was the good guy because he didn’t want anyone to see him being bad. He did not want to be ashamed. He did not want to be the darkness.


Don’t you just love it when everything seems to conspire to communicate with you about the same topic?

And don’t get me started on the other one — ASK. This post is already too long.

Clarity Hangover

There are few times in life when what you should do is utterly clear. About nine years ago, I left my kids and husband in the States for four days, and went to Canada to take care of my cousin, Esther, who was dying of metastatic colon cancer. I was providing weekend relief for her father, my uncle, who’d been providing 24-hour care for months.

My main tasks were to “burp” her colostomy bag throughout the day and night so it wouldn’t explode from gas build-up, give her all her medicines at the right times, try to get her to eat and drink, and help her go to the bathroom. The colostomy bag job was smelly. She didn’t really want to eat or drink, and she’d always hated taking pills, especially giant doozies like these, so it took a long a time for any ingestion to happen. Even with all the meds, she was often in pain to the point of it seeming cruel that pain alone couldn’t kill a person. It turned out that I was the last person to get her all the way out of bed, the last person to help her use the potty.

The job was messy, and smelly, and sad, and my sleep was constantly interrupted.

Those were four of the best days of my life.

They weren’t the best days in spite of all the mess and stink and grief, but because of them. My job was so clear: all I had to do was take care of her. Her needs were clear. I’m still proud that she told me I could be a nurse, I was taking such good care of her.

We had lovely moments: laying on her bed together during her lucid times, going through her jewelry box, sorting through mementos, telling stories about our childhoods and our Oma, sampling the nice-smelling lotions people gave her. Choosing what she gave me.

E's gifts to N

She asked me at least once a day whether we were square, or whether anything needed saying between us. We were good. She was good.

All she wanted to do was see her daughter, her lively, beloved, long-awaited little girl, who was three. I have a memory of the little one jumping on the bed, and it hurt Esther, but her daughter was giggling and happy, so she withstood the pain for awhile. Her daughter still has an irresistible laugh — in fact, her out-of-control, crazy laugh is just like her mother’s.


This post was going to start with Esther and then move to how rare clarity is, and how I’ve had it the last four months — terrible clarity fueled by anger. And about how the shell of my anger is cracking, and how it’s easier and more satisfying to be angry than to live in my hurt.

But I know how to live with grief and hurt. Next week would have been Esther’s 48th birthday; she was 39 when she died. We were born only one month and eight days apart. Our Opa was our minister, and he wouldn’t baptize me until he could do both of us, so by the time it happened, I was too fat for the lovely baptism dress my mother had sewed for me.

N's baptism dress

We were friends from the start — not always uncomplicated friends. My parents still talk about watching her shove some of her mother’s forbidden china into my hands to throw me under the bus when her mom saw her with the tea cup. Her mother gave her thick hair beautiful ringlet curls when I barely had enough hair to comb.

N and E toddlers

In fifth grade, when I came back from three years in Australia and started at our tiny alternative Christian school, she was often the ringleader of my social exclusion, telling me once, “I’m so glad you finally started wearing pants. We’d decided to tell you not to come to school until you did.”

But we also ran around the beautiful Mt. Pleasant cemetery, making up spy clubs and freaking ourselves out. We took photos of each other taking photos of the other.

N taking photo of EN taking photo of E 2

We made chocolate frosting and ate the whole batch. We tried making 7-Up pancakes, but they didn’t cook in the middle, and scrambling them made the whole thing worse — it was over 20 years before I attempted pancakes again. We went on crazy diets at the cottage and then broke them with feasts of saltines and liverwurst. The first time I got drunk was with her. We lived together for a year in college, when she’d walk around the house singing snippets of “Walking After Midnight” and “Crazy” all the time. All. The. Time. We closed the curtains and had an impromptu dance party one night, grooving to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer.” She loved to visit me when I lived in New York.

N and E at Sonali

She always sent me the photos she took on visits.

N and E at K's wedding

She gave wonderful baby gifts.

W in E's gift H in E's gift

When I’d visit Toronto, she’d make sure there was a party so I could see everyone.

Damn cancer.


If I think back to that time, as well as reflect on the time I’m in right now, I think I’ve got a bit of a clarity hangover. That kind of clarity is intense and wonderful, but also terrible and unsustainable. Afterwards, we’ve got to learn how to live with it. So that’s what I’m doing.


If any of you have made it this far (thank you!), I invite you to share your own stories of times of clarity, your own stories of Esther, your own stories of people cancer has stolen from you. We’re all in this together.

Thank you, kids, for calling me out

Integrity can be so inconvenient.

Having children has taught me so much:

  • Rice is easier to clean up if you let it sit on the floor for an hour or so.
  • There is darkness in my soul.
  • Being truthful with kids and following up on what you say builds trust.

And one other little, teeny weeny tiny thing:
If I am remotely hypocritical, they will call me on it.

I often spotted my hypocrisy myself when they were younger. When my son was 2 or 3, I swatted him on the butt for hitting his baby sister, but the act of hitting a child while telling them not to hit a child felt so illogical that I never did it again. Instead, I used this airtight argument:

“I don’t hit or push you when I’m upset with you or you don’t do what I want, so you may not do it. That’s not how people solve problems.”

Now that they are both teenagers I, like many other parents, regularly nag them about doing something other than being in front of screens of one kind or another all the time, and I maintain the rule of no phones / laptops / iPads in their bedrooms at night. But then my son noted that I keep my phone and laptop in my room at night.


I do.

Every night.

Now, I have my reasons. The phone I keep up there because if there’s a problem in the night, I want to have quick access to it. A few days after getting rid of the landline, one of the kids needed to be picked up from a sleepover in the middle of the night, and it didn’t happen because the cell phones were downstairs. So that’s a safety issue; it stays with me.

The laptop is another story: I’m afraid I won’t be able to fall asleep without it.

It started during my third year of college, when a roommate moved out and left me her ancient little black-and-white TV (bunny ears included). I enjoyed winding down at night with a little Johnny Carson and David Letterman. The next year, when I lived alone, I grew to rely on late-night comedians (and the occasional middle-of-the-night infomercial) to relax me enough that I could fall asleep. It continued through graduate school, and after I was married (marrying a night owl meant that I still fell asleep on my own most nights), and became a firmly entrenched part of my sleep process.

I managed to interrupt this pattern this Spring (The good that I should do, yadda, yadda, yadda), but then I slid back into it, and when my marriage imploded in August, hardcore insomnia moved in and the laptop was my only comfort.

And then my son had to go and point out my hypocrisy. Which means it’s time to give it up. Again. Starting on the time-honored date of January 1, 2016.

My heart rate sped up, just typing about it. I’m scared. But my forties have taught me that being afraid is not a sufficient reason to avoid it, and that fear often indicates that Resistance is trying to steer me away from healthy change. I’ve also learned that I can do hard things.

So on Friday night, I will leave the laptop downstairs. The Kindle is loaded with all sorts of books, I’ve learned how to borrow ebooks from my library, and I’m hopeful. My kids are the secret weapon: I’ll repeatedly disappoint myself, but I’ll fight like crazy to avoid disappointing them.


I wish we each had a Lying Cat

There is one fictional character that I want to be real more than any other: Lying Cat from the comic book series, Saga, by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples.

Lying Cat is not pretty.

lying cat is not pretty

But Lying Cat has a special ability: she can tell, definitively, when anyone is lying — lying to others, but also, and even more powerfully, lying to oneself.

She accompanies a bounty hunter, The Will, who makes use of this ability in his work: she’s able to call out his potential employers and any leads he interrogates on any lies they may be trying to get away with. It’s satisfying to watch this.

Lying Cat calls out The Will's employer

And entertaining when Lying Cat catches The Will.

The Will tries to fool himself

But Lying Cat proves her true power after The Will rescues Slave Girl (later named Sophie) from her sex traffickers. For two panels, she’s talking to Lying Cat, telling her all kinds of things: “My name is Sophie. I am six and a half years old. I can stand on one leg for a real long time. My favorite color is blue-green. I want to be a doctor or a dancer when I grow up.” Throughout this, Lying Cat remains silent. And then there’s this:


And Sophie knows she is not all dirty inside because of what was done to her. Because Lying Cat’s supernatural ability is definitive.

* * * *

I just came from a funeral for a 17-year-old classmate of my children, a young woman who took her own life. It was an amazing service, full of tears, and singing, and telling of emotional truths.

But I couldn’t help thinking about the lies that young woman had to believe in order to kill herself, lies that came from her own mind — that it’d be better if she weren’t here, that the pain would never go away, that there was no hope, or whatever she was telling herself. And I couldn’t help thinking of the kids at the funeral who were currently or had been suicidal; I know there were some.

How wonderful it would be to give each of them a Lying Cat to follow them around, who they’d believe when it said, “That thought is a lie.”

The lies of depression are so enticing, because they often involve a truth. With Slave Girl/Sophie, she felt dirty because of all the things done to her, but she, as a person, was not worthless because of it. When I’ve been in the grip of depression, it always felt like I was telling myself deep truths about my reality, but they were only ever half-truths. Which means they were half-lie.

Here are some truths that speak to the lies of depression:

You are not worthless.

You are not ruined.

You can get through it.

It does get better.

There is hope.

It won’t be easier for everyone if you are gone.

It’s not all your fault.

You are loved and treasured and valued.

You are worth the effort.

But I’m not Lying Cat, I’m just a random grown-up, so my words don’t carry the weight of a supernatural ability. I’m a grieving grown-up in the grips of some magical thinking, imagining that if we could give Lying Cat to each suicidal teenager, it would make a difference.

It’s a lovely fantasy. The reality is much tougher. We have to be Lying Cat for each other. But we have an advantage over Lying Cat, because we have a greater vocabulary. We can not only identify a lie, we can also tell the truth. We have to tell the full truth to each other, and tell it often enough that we start to believe it.