A few years ago, strange things started happening to me at church. I’d find myself in the middle of a lighthearted conversation with a woman I’d just met, and the woman would make a joke that didn’t sound like a joke suggesting that our family was “perfect,” and that this “perfection” made her feel bad about her family. This happened three of four times over a two week period. Once a woman said “You are so PULLED TOGETHER. It just makes me feel so APART.”
Craig was standing behind me and I looked at him confused and he looked back at me equally confused. If you are friends with us in real life you know the interaction I’m describing well. It is our signature interaction. I stammered my way through the rest of the conversation and on the way home, Craig and I debriefed.
We were confused. Craig and I love each other dearly, but neither of us would describe the other as “pulled together.” These women may as well have been saying to me “I’m just so jealous of your HEIGHT and CULINARY SKILLS.” I was baffled. During our debriefing, Craig and I developed a theory that if you are thin and smile a lot, people tend to believe that you have the universe’s secrets in your pocket and also that a raindrop has never fallen upon your head. If you also happen to be wearing trendy jeans…just FUGGED ABOUT IT.
This theory distressed me greatly. Kept me up at night. I do not like to make other women feel sad. And I also like to match. I wanted my insides and outsides to match somehow. But I was scared I’d have to start looking like Pig Pen or Courtney Love to make that happen.
One day I was at the playground with a new friend from church named Tess. That’s not her real name, but it’s one of my favorites, and so is she, so Tess it is. I suspected that Tess was sad, and that she was having some trouble in her marriage. We hadn’t discussed this though, because we were too busy discussing more important things, like soccer practice and highlights.
All of a sudden I heard myself saying the following to Tess:
Listen, I want you to know that I’ve had some major issues with food and alcohol. I’ve been arrested several times because of the alcohol. Craig and I got accidentally pregnant and married a year after we started dating. We love each other madly but I’m secretly terrified that my issues with sex and anger will eventually screw things up. I get jealous easily…sometimes I actually feel sad and worried when good things happen to other people. Oh also, I snap at customer service people and my kids and husband regularly. I feel like I always have rage right beneath my surface. And right now I’m dealing with some post partum depression, I think. I spend most of my day just wishing my kids would leave me alone. Chase brought me a note the other morning that said “I hope mommy is nice today.” It’s depressing and scary, because I keep wondering what happens if that feeling never goes away? Maybe I just can’t handle this many kids. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know those things.
Tess stared at me, long enough that I wondered if she was going to call our minister or 911. Then I saw some tears and we sat down on a bench and she told me everything. Things with her husband were bad, apparently. Really bad. Tess felt scared and alone. But at the playground that day Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect.
We hardly knew each other. But we both realized at that moment that we were in this together. We went through some tough times over the next few months. A lot of tears, therapy, separation, anger and fear. But a little army of love circled the wagons around Tess and her family and blockaded anybody from getting in too far or out too far. And eventually, things got better. A lot better. Tess and her husband and their beautiful children are together and healing and thriving now. And I got to watch all of that. I actually got to SEE the truth set a family free.
At that point in my life I was dying to do something meaningful and helpful, outside of my home, but no one would have me. We were turned away again and again when we tried to adopt. Then I tried to become a volunteer at the local nursing home. They seemed thrilled with me until the background check, at which point they never called me back. Perhaps they thought I had a secret motivation to get all the old people wasted. Then I tried to volunteer at a local shelter for abused women. It actually looked like they might take me until the final interview when the woman said “As a formality, I just have to ask if you’ve ever been arrested.” She never called me back. It’s hard to explain it away as only several times.
I was depressed.
But then the Tess thing happened. And I thought, maybe I could do THAT. Maybe my public service could just be to tell people the truth about my insides. Because it seemed to make people feel better, for whatever reason. It struck me that for this particular “ministry,” my criminal record was aPLUS. It gave me street cred. And I considered that maybe the gifts God gave me were storytelling and shamelessness. Because you guys, I’m shameless. I’m almost ashamed at how little shame I have. Almost, but not really, at all. So I decided that’s what God wanted me to do. He wanted me to walk around telling people the truth. No mask, no hiding, no pretending. That was going to be my thing. I was going to make people feel better about their insides by showing them mine. By being my real self. But I was keeping my trendy jeans. I decided they were part of my real self.
A few days after I told Craig that I was going to “volunteer” as a “reckless truth teller” my minister called me on the phone. My first thought was that Tess had ratted me out. But this is what the minister said: “I know you’re having a hard time with the baby and it might seem like a bad time for you, but I feel like the time is now for you to tell your story to the church. The whole church. On stage. Live.”
Craig sweated and looked into whether or not he could be fired for having an ex -con for a wife. I planned my outfit.
Then I wrote my story, without leaving anything out. And read it to my church. And it went really, really well. Lots and lots of people wanted to laugh and cry with me, and to tell me their stories. And I thought… WELL. OKAY, THEN. Take THAT, NURSING HOME. I DIDN’T WANT TO SERVE YOUR STUPID LEMONADE, ANYWAY. Do you get STANDING OVATIONS AND TEARS OF JOY FOR SERVING LEMONADE? I bet NOT.
I’d found my thing. Openness. I decided, based on firsthand experience, that it was more fun to say things that made other women feel hopeful about themselves and God than it was to say or omit things to make people feel jealous of me. And it was easier, too. Less to keep track of and monitor. So I decided to put down my guns, peel off my armor, and walk out of my bunker waving a little white flag.
A few months later, I started feeling a relentless pull to start writing each morning. I didn’t want to. What I desperately wanted to do was start researching adoption options again. But I could sense God saying No, No, No and pointing to the computer. So I told Him that obviously I couldn’t write on that particular computer He was pointing to because it was yucky and old and too big altogether. And when Sister asked me why I wasn’t writing yet, I told her it was because I’d decided if God really wanted me to write, He’d send me a shiny new laptop.
So the following week Sister showed up at my house with a shiny new laptop and said, “Oh my gosh, G! Look what God sent!” And then she raised her eyebrows and said something like, “Get…To…Work.” She’s tricky, that one.
So I finally told them both – God and Sister – fine.I promised them I’d show up at my pretty green computer every single morning at five to tell my story, and I’d allow Him to lead the telling. Because when you tell your story, it is very, very important not to accidentally tell anyone else’s. And it is crucial to tell your story gently and with love. There is no room for carelessness. So there was a lot of praying. A lot of Jesus. A lot of yoga.
This weeks marks Momastery’s First Birthday. Look what He did, Monkees. Look what can happen when we just show up because we believe in God, and ourselves, and other people.
This year you and I have written about faith, religion, money, addiction, sex – every controversial, potentially divisive subject about which we are not supposed to speak. And thousands of women from all over the world have come to visit and read. In its first year, Momastery received 300,000 page views.And I have not received a single nasty email or comment. People have disagreed sometimes. Of course they have.But they’ve done it with love, respect, and the genuine motives to understand, be understood and find common ground.
This year I’ve learned that when love is the driving force behind our words . . . others actually hear the love louder than the words. And people respond to the love, regardless of how they feel about the particular words. I’m starting to understand that the words don’t count for much at all. It’s the motive, the intention, the heart behind them that people hear.
This year I’ve learned that I must always take the time to find a place of love from which to speak. And if I haven’t found it yet, I must not speak yet. Because announcing your brilliant opinion is not revolutionary. Everybody’s got those. Opinions, dogmas, thoughts, ideas, beliefs . . . they’re a dime a dozen. But speaking and listening with love,and with the motivation to be a peacemaker instead of to be right…that is the only hope we have for progress, for personal and global peace. If we want our world leaders and children to do it, then we should expect ourselves to do it, too. We don’t need to be right. We need to be peacemakers. And so we all must get over ourselves. As Ghandi said, We Must Be the Change We Want to See in the World.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13
Thank you for taking this Momastery journey with me. The past year has changed me forever.
So what do we do now? Do we wrap it up, call it beautiful, and put it on a shelf to look at when we need to? That might be a good choice. Or do we keep walking together? That might be a good choice, too.
Tell me what you want, Sweet Monkees.
Thanks for rollin’ with a Sister.
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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