Daddy Issues

Wow, Monya. You really just stepped back in after a four month absence with a topic like daddy issues? No personal update or anything, just jumping in, huh?

The short answer is, yes. I thought about a personal update. I even had a draft of one – like 1500 words long! But then I looked back at the history of my posts and realized that 90% of them are exactly that. A personal update post after a long hiatus. It’s obviously not working for me. So I regrouped and decided that whatever this site’s purpose originally was, this blog is for me, and I don’t need a personal update. It’s purpose is nothing more than a place for me to process whatever I am processing at the moment. And at this moment (or collection of moments over the last week or so), I am processing the concept of daddy issues – but probably not quite the daddy issues you may initially think of when you hear the phrase.

I’ve mentioned a time or two before that I have a complicated relationship with faith. There are just so many things that I either don’t understand, or that just don’t quite sit right with me about what I was taught or what I experienced; and don’t even get me started about the harm I’ve observed from afar done in the name of God or Christianity or the Church (hello Conversion Therapy).

Admittedly, I don’t have a very firm foundation of theological knowledge. As a teacher, I would say there are “a lot of gaps in my education,” and while a lot of the books I read and people I follow are in the process of deconstructing and reconstructing their existing faith, I am kind of just getting started and learning as I go. Constructing, if you will. My immediate need is to lean in to the questions I have relating to my own beliefs, and at this particular juncture, my issue is with the way God was always presented to me as a “Father.”

A quick Google search will give you varying answers about how many times God is referenced as a father in the Bible. I suppose it probably depends on what version you’re reading. The one thing all the answers did agree on was that the number is pretty high. One source claims God is referred to as “father” over 100 times in the gospel of John alone. Growing up with my very Catholic grandmother, our prayers always ended with the sign of the cross: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And of course, every denomination shares the Lord’s Prayer, which begins with “Our Father.” I never felt much of a connection to any of it, and until recently, when I started really digging into my faith, I never really thought about why. Now I have a hypothesis.

I was raised with two examples of a father. The first was my biological father, who was, for the sake of simplicity, absent. I have exactly three memories of visiting him between the time he and my mother split up when I was 3 and the time he passed away 10 years ago. Once was at my grandparents’ house in Texas when I was maybe 5 or 6, once at my grandparents’ house in Oklahoma when I was 14, and the last time was at his house in Seattle when I was 16. From what I remember, he was always very nice to me, and he was wicked witty. At the end of every visit, I would go home with renewed hope of how our relationship was going to be from that point forward. It would start strong: I would write him letters, he would write me back, there would be a Christmas gift and maybe a birthday card, and eventually the communication would drop off again. He was not at my graduation, did not walk me down the aisle at my wedding, and never met any of my children.

One of the few photos of me and my father

The second version of father that I was raised with was my step-father. If I had to describe him in one word, it would be unpredictable. One minute he was the nicest person you’ve ever met, and the next he was raging about hairspray or makeup (both unacceptable in his house). He would quote pieces of Bible verses at me, making sure I knew my place in the hierarchy of our home and the world outside of it. He was a strong believer of “spare the rod and spoil the child…” It was one of his favorite phrases.

My step-father actually taught me a lot about God. In fact, God was one of his favorite topics of conversation. He made sure I knew that I would never be good enough for God, but I didn’t take it personally – it sounded to me like almost nobody would. He painted a picture of a deity that was harsh and angry, and would strike down anyone that crossed him. I had better love God and worship him out of fear and respect, or else. It was ironically pretty similar to his own parenting approach.

So here I am, faced with the concept of God as the “Father,” when personal experience has presented me with a father as someone who loves you in convenience, or someone who demands respect through fear and intimidation. Why would I actively seek a relationship with either of these? Neither version reconciles with the unconditional love and adoration I was later told that God also offers.

It hit me out of nowhere recently that this might be a reason (though likely not the only one) I’ve always felt a little disconnected from God. I can’t fathom a father who loves and cherishes and wants a relationship with me at all times. One who accepts me and sees me as worthy just as I am. In my experience, that sounds more like a grandmother to me than a father. And so my epiphany went a little deeper to incredulously ask (of no one in particular), who decided God is a man anyway? Who decided God has a gender at all? How on earth can you hold the divine within a human-made construct? What else? Does God have a race, too?

And so I’ve decided that if, in fact, I have to personify God in order to be in relationship with her, I’m going to have to change the image my mind conjures. God is a tiny but mighty little old lady. We drink coffee and eat cinnamon toast while we watch The Price is Right and talk about life. She listens with care and answers with wisdom. She is strong, but she is fair. She loves me simply because I am hers; I have nothing to earn or prove. Maybe someday I’ll be secure enough in my relationship with God to think of her as a “father,” but for now, for me, God is a grandma.

A Convoluted Musing about Prayer

It turns out that the first Thursday in May is recognized as National Day of Prayer*, and it got me thinking about my personal relationship with prayer. What feels like another lifetime ago, I wrote a blog post about my inconsistent faith journey in general (you can find that post here), so my complicated relationship with prayer should be no surprise.

I grew up around recited prayer: Our Fathers and Hail Marys; nice words with unknown meaning behind them. As I got older and started saying prayers that weren’t memorized, I tried to be very fancy about it – everyone I had ever heard pray out loud always sounded so articulate and well versed. Meanwhile, I would stumble around thanking God for vague blessings, asking those same blessings on others, and guiltily asking for… I’m not entirely sure what, because I always felt very selfish asking for anything at all.

In adulthood, I have questioned a lot of elements of my faith; prayer being front and center in those. Questions like, with all the billions of people in the world – many undoubtedly holier and more deserving than I, praying beautiful prayers, and dealing with far more important issues than I could even fathom – are my prayers even important to God? Am I being selfish for bothering God with my wants and needs? Or, even if my prayers are important enough for God, how will I know if He responds? Even if signs are real – I’m not very good at recognizing them. I’m more of a someone needs to explicitly tell me what to do type of person. People on social media request prayers, and I’m always happy to oblige, but I can’t help but wonder if my prayers are actually doing any good.

But that’s why it’s called faith, I suppose. Faith is believing in something even when you can’t observe it with your physical senses. I have to believe that God is there, and that He is listening, and that He does care; because if I don’t have that belief, then what is the point of anything at all? I also believe that not all of my prayers are going to be answered, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been heard. It may not be the right time. Or they may be answered in a way I didn’t expect. I hear the requests my kids make, but that doesn’t mean they always get what they ask for. Furthermore, I have decided that God doesn’t care how I pray. There doesn’t need to be recitation of something specific, or beautifully articulate and ceremonial prayers. My prayers have evolved to something more like a running conversation. I stutter. I stumble over my words. I explain things that God doesn’t need explained because… well, He’s God, but I need to process out loud. Sometimes I cuss and yell and cry. And sometimes I keep it all in my head like I’m communicating telepathically. After all, if God is omniscient, I shouldn’t have to say it out loud right?

So on this National Day of Prayer, I don’t really have anything beautiful to recite. I don’t have anything profound to pray for. If you want to pray a memorized recitation, I think that’s ok. But if you just want to ramble on in an incoherent string of words, I think that’s ok too.

*It’s also World Password Day, but I opted to not write about that after spending half an hour trying to figure out the master password to my password recovery app

There are no resolutions here

It’s New Year’s Day, and this year is a weird one. There are plenty of posts out there that will break down in detail what a mess 2020 was (and don’t get me wrong, it was), but this is not that post. There are also many posts talking about finding the blessings amidst the destruction of 2020 (of which there are plenty if you bother to look), but this is not that post either. Though there is much value in reflection, and we’ll need to do a lot of reflecting to even begin to heal from the events of last year, this is a post looking forward to the year upcoming. But instead of resolutions and specific goals, I am choosing instead to focus on improving specific areas of my life through habits and systems. There are five areas in my life that I have decided to focus on for growth this year.

Focus 1: Physical Health

First, let me emphasize this focus has nothing to do with weight loss. I haven’t weighed myself in months, and I have no intention to do so anytime soon. It’s not even about how my clothes fit or what the mirror shows. It’s all about how I feel. For example, I know by listening to my body that I am sensitive to sugar. Too much in the morning makes me nauseous, and too much any time gives me a headache. I also know from experience that sodium effects me pretty strongly. My hands and feet swell when I am the slightest bit dehydrated and have had anything too salty. I know I feel my best when I eat real food that is prepared fresh and hasn’t been in a package for who knows how long. The solution to this problem seems pretty obvious: just eat healthier, home cooked food. Ironically, I actually enjoy cooking. But often by the end of the day, I’m tired, and I don’t feel like it, and it’s really easy to talk my family into ordering takeout (we are a family of loving enablers). But in the interest of focusing on taking care of my physical health, I am putting in place a system that at 5:00 each evening, I will cook dinner.

Of course, physical health isn’t only about food. Movement is important too. I go through pretty drastic hills and valleys with regard to exercise. I’m either working out 6 days a week and feeling amazing, or I haven’t gotten off the couch in a week with no current desire to do so ever again (one guess as to which extreme I’m at now – hint: I’m currently lying in a recliner watching my 4th Marvel movie of the day, typing on my phone because my laptop is charging in another room). The challenge with this one is finding the best time to do it. If I start my day with movement, I feel great, but then I feel like my day is running late. If I wait until the end of the day, it’s likely something will get in the way and I won’t get to it. So the system I’m putting in place for this one is at 4:00 each afternoon, I will move my body for 30 minutes. This could be a jog around the neighborhood or a workout in the garage. Hopefully before too long it can be a gym workout, but right now that’s not in my comfort zone due to Covid.

Focus 2: Mental Health

A lot of the mental aspect of health can be improved by improving physical health, so if I can get that under control, I feel like I’m that much closer to better mental health. Unfortunately, I have historically focused specifically on one or the other meaning that the one that wasn’t the focus at the time only got as much benefit as the other provided. For example, in times that mental health was the focus, I tended to make sure that I was prioritizing rest, meditating regularly, and being kind to myself without putting any real emphasis on nutrition or movement. My mental health systems are small, but impactful. Most of these practices are how I start my day. I will list 5 things to I am thankful for first thing. I will not check my phone for the first hour I am awake. I will meditate and reflect each morning before I start my “work” day (more on that in a minute). I will continue to meet with my counselor every other week.

Focus 3: My Work

This is a tough one because it doesn’t yet have a specific focus or determined direction. That’s why I’m putting these systems in place – to establish that direction. I have joined author Kathi Lipp’s ministry team as an intern to learn more about how to build my brand and put myself out there. In joining this team, I have joined the Writer’s Collective which is a program that I feel will really strengthen my progress toward my goals. The program is broken down into three categories: create, build, and serve.

3a: Create

Creating for me means making progress toward writing my memoir. The plan is for this manuscript is to follow my evolution of a mother through my life as a pregnant teen, teen mom, single mom, married mom, and now that my kids are mostly grown, as a self aware individual. I will spend 90 minutes daily, Monday through Friday, working on some aspect of this manuscript.

3b: Build

In addition to writing, I am also putting a system in place to spend 90 minutes each day building my platform and community. This will be useful in hopefully increasing my readership, but also in attracting an audience that will actually find value in what I hope to offer in terms of hope and support and acceptance.

3c: Serve

The final 90 minute block in my “work” day is dedicated to serving my community. Right now this will be primarily through blog posts, but as I get more comfortable reaching out and as it becomes safer to interact in person post Covid, I would like for service to be feet on the ground serving marginalized communities wherever I can.

As I mentioned before, all things “work” related are pretty vague. The systems are there, but the projected outcome is not. Not yet anyway. If nothing else, I’ll be learning.

Focus 4: Personal Growth

Another pretty nondescript category, but not any less important than the others. I would like to set aside time to discover new interests and rediscover interests I have set aside. I mentioned earlier that I enjoy cooking. I’d like to remind myself that regularly and make a habit of it. I used to play piano, and while I hated it as a child (to be fair – my teacher was really mean – even my mom will back me up on that), I wish I still played. We got rid of our piano about 5 years ago, but I think maybe I’ll pick up a keyboard and try to get back into it. Part of me would like to learn to dance, though that sounds terrifying. Regardless, I plan to set aside 30 minutes per day for some sort of personal growth activity.

Focus 5: Spiritual Growth

This one is a little bit scary for me as my spiritual upbringing swings between my step-dad’s extreme Old Testament, fire and brimstone beliefs and nonexistent avoidance. I’m in a place now where I’d like to learn actual truth. I have a hard time accepting a God that is ok with things like misogyny and white supremacy and homophobia, yet sends his son to teach love and peace and acceptance. I need more information. I need reconciliation. Last year, I started to get involved in the Daughters of Abraham and was looking forward to learning more not only from women from my own faith background, but women from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds as well. Covid put a damper on that though, and it fell by the wayside with so many other intentions. I plan to get more involved with the group this year – even if it is virtually. I also virtually attended the Evolving Faith conference this year, and found myself among a group of seemingly like minded people. My hope is that in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have the opportunity to make some connections in person and find a church community that I can plug in to and learn from.

So there you have it. No actual resolutions, but plenty of areas to focus on growth. I’m seeking out accountability resources to keep me from losing focus, and the only real goal is growth. Here’s to 2021.

Hope (an Advent post – kind of)

*I am not a historically religious person, nor am I in any way a Biblical scholar, so please forgive my elementary interpretation of all things theological in nature as I attempt to educate myself.*

Yesterday marked the first Sunday of Advent, the 4 Sundays before Christmas that focus on waiting and preparing for the coming of Christ; the theme of the first week being hope. Although my knowledge of the history and meaning of Advent is incredibly limited, it has always been one of my favorite seasons, and marking the beginning of the Christian calendar, I thought it a good starting point to try and deepen my understanding of the Christian faith as I attempt to reconstruct my own.

One of the most familiar images of Advent is the wreath of candles representing the themes of the season – three purple (representing hope, love, and peace and lit on the first, second, and fourth Sundays of Advent), one pink (representing joy and lit on the third Sunday), and one white (the Christ candle lit on Christmas Eve).

Now that I have shared my elementary Sunday School knowledge of Advent, let’s dive in to the main idea for this post: Hope.

This is a pretty timely topic for me as it has been the subject of more than a few recent conversations I’ve had with my counselor as I continue to explore what I feel called to do since leaving the classroom this year. Changing paths is a hard thing to do when you only have a vague idea of what the new path is. All I have been able to come up with so far is “I want to empower people – especially those in seemingly impossible circumstances. I want to give them hope.”

From that stemmed a conversation about hope in general. What does hope look like? What actually is hope? Where does hope come from? Who has provided me hope? All questions pointing to a bigger issue: I cannot aspire to be a source of hope if I don’t acknowledge where my own hope has come from. Thus began a long period of reflection.

First, I had to figure out what I meant by hope, because I feel like hope can mean different things in different situations. Some days I hope the chicken I set out won’t thaw in time to start dinner, and oh darn, we’ll just have to order take-out. This is obviously not the hope I am talking about here. When I say I want to give people hope, I am referring to the hope that encourages them to get out of bed each day with the belief that they are greater than their current circumstances and that some day their circumstances will change to reflect that.

But how? To be honest, the how has been slow to take shape. So slow, in fact, that it is still in some abstract form out of reach from me. More important than the how though, is the why. This was a big part of the reflection I’ve been doing over the past several weeks. And as difficult as the work was, the why suddenly appeared very simply: because someone once gave me hope. And that is where things started to make sense.

I got pregnant when I was 16; just before my junior year. Being an accelerated honor student, I had extra credit hours and was able to enroll as a senior, putting me on track to graduate a year early. Now, if you’ve ever been a 16/17 year old, you know it’s a rough season under the best circumstances, and hope can often be elusive; but even more so when those circumstances involve challenges like the obvious pregnancy and an entirely new cohort. It was an incredibly lonely time, and many days doing my best was comprised of just getting out of bed and making it to school. Hope didn’t exactly spring eternal during that time, but it wasn’t altogether absent either, and it came in the form of a teacher. My senior English teacher was one of the primary sources of hope that year. Without going into vast detail (she gets an entire chapter in the memoir), I will just say that she made an impact on my life beyond any teacher I had ever had – and I had some pretty incredible teachers.

Back to present: I had identified my why: I want to provide hope where it is scarce because someone had once given me that hope. But now I needed to acknowledge that hope in a way that went beyond my own private gratitude, because what good is gratitude if it’s not expressed to the person to whom it’s owed? So at the direction of my very bossy counselor (who I am positive does not follow my site, but I have to get a shot in just in case), I got out a pen and paper and wrote a letter to my former teacher. And then I marked it up and scratched things out, and threw it away and wrote another letter. And after a lot of indecision, I stepped out of my Enneagram 9 zone and reached out to her and asked how I could best share it with her. She shared her address with me, and before I could talk myself out of it, I mailed it. To my surprise (and a little bit to my introverted horror), she replied a few days later with her phone number and asked if we could chat by phone. We set aside a time, and as nervous as I was when I dialed her number, my nerves were almost immediately calmed as we talked and I was reminded of why I saw her as such a huge source of hope in my life all those years ago. We talked for an hour about how important it is to give people hope and take care of each other. We shared stories about life, about challenges and successes and failures and heartbreak. And above all, hope.

And so here we are in this first week of Advent, with its theme of Hope. And I feel incredibly fortunate to have been the recipient of hope so many years ago, and to have the opportunity to pass it on.