Monday, August 17, 2015

New House New Town New School

Well, we've kept it pretty quiet until it was a done deal, but this past weekend we MOVED! We moved out of Nowheresville into Somewheresville.  It's not quite the city, but Target is a five minute drive away, so I count that as a major step up in the world.

We rented a cute four bedroom house in a cute neighborhood with a cute neighborhood school and a cute-slash-awesome daycare. Instead of taking 45 minutes to get to work, it takes us 15. It's incredible.

When the house gets less boxy and more decorated, I'll take some pictures. It's an older house than the one we left, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The closets are much smaller, the bathrooms are smaller, and it's got old features like popcorn ceilings and wooden panel walls and drafty doors. BUT it's also got some adorable quirks like a wet bar, a wood burning fireplace and a Harry Potter-esque room under the stairs which will double as a fantastic storm shelter in case of a tornado.

The kids are loving the new space. It's such a big house that sometimes I actually can't find someone. Usually though, it's a cat I can't find. They are having a difficult time adjusting to their new digs. I'm trying to teach them to use the toilet instead of a litter box, with modest - very modest - success. More often than not, Sassy pees in the bathtub, but hey, it's better than the carpet! And I'm proud to report there HAVE been some poos in the toilet litter, which means it's starting to sink in on some level. If all goes according to plan, I'll have potty trained kitties in about, oh, three to four months. Worth it!

Today was the kids' first day of school at their new school. I am LOVING that they wear uniforms again. I think uniforms are a great thing for kids, at least young kids. It's easier on parents, it looks neat and tidy, and it levels the playing field for kids across the board.

Jaguar also started in his new daycare. We loved his old daycare and will miss the wonderful people there, but this daycare is super-cool. I told Jaguar they had pet guinea pigs in every classroom.  He laughed in my face and said, "No! Dinosaurs!" I had to explain to him that the daycare did not have pet dinosaurs, just guinea pigs. He didn't really believe me until he saw for himself today.

So now that we have hot water, a fridge (had to buy our own), and internet, the place is starting to feel like a home. Now we just need to stock up our wet bar (we live in a wet county again! No more driving out of city limits to buy wine!) so I can have a nice wee night cap before bed.

Things are looking up!

P.S. We have a guest room now, so if you out-of-towners want to come visit....

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Difference Between You and Me: Or Is There One?

I mentioned last time that I've had several responses to the Screen Doors post that I wanted to address. One of the ones I really wanted to respond to was my friend Kate's response to Screen Doors.

She responded to my blog on her blog.  It is really good and asks a lot of questions that I am eager to respond to. (Response response response, can you say it five times fast?) I'll post snippets here as I reply, but please go read her entire post afterwards. Whether you are a Christian or not, I think it is very inspiring, honest, and furthers this amazing dialogue that is so rarely seen between believers and non-believers.

I'll begin with this:
“Most of the time I feel as spiritual as a plunger.” I worry perhaps a friend saw my sin, my depression, or my bad parenting and they knew I wasn’t being Christ-like. Did this help them turn away from those teachings we grew up with? ... I feel disappointed in myself and my lack of spiritual fortitude.
She was talking about her childhood friends whom she has seen since leave Christianity.

I can't speak for every single person who has ever left their faith, obviously. I am sure there are plenty of people who have left because of the hypocrisy or failings or bad behavior of believers. However, I can say that in my experience (and at least one or two of the friends she might be referring to), this was not remotely the case.

One thing that I do not miss about Christianity is the guilt. Oh, sorry, I mean "conviction".  If you've read my book, you'll know what I mean when I say I was a spiritual masochist. I turned everything inward, wondering if there was any part of me that was to blame for any undesirable situation. I believed this was cleansing me, making me more like Christ. I could not fathom anyone being a genuine Christian and NOT constantly rooting out the evil within them. I recognized my brokenness too deeply. I was ashamed of my poor witness. I prayed constantly to be made more like Christ, but I failed over and over again. This all basically comes down to me saying I relate all too well with Kate's concern.  I too wondered if my own imperfection was driving people away from God. I'm a crappy parent sometimes, I get depressed, and I never felt I was quite living up to the person God wanted me to be. I could be a hypocrite. As hard as I tried to be righteous, I messed up time and again. And I wondered, "Is my light so dim that no one can see Christ through me?"

The answer, almost certainly, was no.

I left the faith, and many, many others leave the faith, simply because we run out of faith. We started the race like marathon runners, but after the first 26.2 miles and the next 26.2 miles and the next, we started to slow down. We ran out of breath.  We hunched over, panting, trying to keep running. Finally, we collapsed. The faith that we either longed to have (but could never admit was lacking) or the faith that we held unquestioningly somehow just began to run out. Whether the burden of reason grew too great or the allusiveness of God too wearisome, losing faith in a religion is often a highly introspective experience. It's not caused by other people's behavior. It may be, but I'd venture to say a genuine loss of faith is usually very inward-looking.

People who care enough about their faith to worry that their imperfect lives may be causing others to stumble are almost NEVER the people who should have to worry about that. You are usually the best people around. You are empathetic, you are introspective, and you are genuine. You're the good guys.

Let me add before I go on that the greatest joy I feel daily is the lack of guilt and shame and brokenness. I thought I felt whole as a Christian, but now I realize I only felt fixed. It is only now that I feel truly whole, now that I realize I was never broken in the first place.

Another huge issue for me is my own unbelief. All Christians struggle with unbelief or doubt at times. I have gone through seasons of my life -sometimes even years- when I feel disconnected from the Lord and full of doubt. When I have a friend who outs herself as an atheist, a big part of me wonders if she is going through a similar season. And, to be very honest, sometimes you feel like your friendly atheist has made some excellent points and all your doubts coming flooding back to the surface.
Let me repeat the caveat - I can't speak for everyone here. Just myself and several people I know.

Yes, we all have our doubts, Christian or not. Sometimes they are huge and leave us in a pit of despair for far too long. And for some, that faith does return. I followed a blog for a while called Gakeat's Musings, in which the author ruminated on his crisis of faith. He eventually reconciled his belief in Christ (and has sadly stopped blogging - I'd love to hear his thoughts now that he is back on this renewed path!). Some people do go through a season of doubt and come back to their faith.

And some of us are beyond seasons. If you are an evangelical, you likely had some sort of turning-point moment that you could never go back from. I know I did. Whether that was the moment of "salvation" or just the moment where my spiritual journey took off like a rocket, I don't know, but it fundamentally impacted the next decade of my life.

I had that same kind of experience when I de-converted. To go back now seems, well, unthinkable.

For some people, it is only a season of doubt. For others, this is our new (improved) reality.

As for the "friendly atheist [making] some excellent points", that's another, more difficult topic. Do I want to venture into it? Maybe later ... But for now, my goal is not to turn people away from their faith. It's only to share the view from the other side and to keep a dialogue going.

When I found out a friend was no longer a Christian I was full of questions and worries. ... How can this be? ... We cried together, and worshiped together. Or at least I thought we did. Was she lying to me? When did this start? Was she doubting her faith when she was praying for me when I was struggling last year? Was she just acting or bowing to societal pressure this whole time?
I'm not the friend she's referring to, by the way. So I don't know what her friend was going through. But if she HAD been talking about me, here's what I'd have to say.

Those moments you refer to were real, for both of us. For me, those moments were never put on or intentionally deceptive. Growing up (adolescence, young adult years), my faith was solid. I cried and worshiped with hands lifted high.  It was never fake. Christ was my center, my All In All.  When my faith began to waiver, though, I did hide it from most people. I was afraid of being judged. I didn't want anyone to know that this girl who led worship at church, who helped in the Sunday School, who facilitated the Prayer Wall, who had been on mission trips, was now starting to doubt. I didn't know if my doubts were just one of those aforementioned seasons or not, so to share them seemed premature. But I was ashamed. So at that point, I did keep it inside. But I wasn't acting. I was just hiding in fear.

If I'd been praying for a struggling friend during that time, those prayers would probably have been the most heart-felt prayers of my life, because I was living the struggle too. No one can empathize better than the person walking in the exact same shoes.

So much of my identity is wrapped up in my relationship with the Lord. When I found out that Jane had rejected Him, it is shocking because I feel like she is rejecting part of me, and in some cases, her upbringing ... I want to say, “Jane, do you remember that [time] when I went forward and received prayer at church? It was terrible and wonderful at the same time.  I felt so embarrassed when I cried and my nose ran and I was shaking as you and the others were praying for me. I hated for anyone to see me that way. I hated to make myself so vulnerable, but I knew you understood. Do you still understand or do you look back on that time and pity me and revile my weakness?”
Oh, my heart breaks at this point. You can't imagine what feelings reading those words brings up in me. Yes, we still understand. I'm not Jane, remember, but this could easily be asked of me. I have had so many of these moments; the vulnerability, the ugly tears, the weakness, the love and thankfulness I felt for my friends who held me and understood me and prayed for me. I can never forget my own moments like that; how could I ever revile someone else for theirs?

I speak for myself here when I say that even though I often feel embarrassed by the things I said and did as a Christian, and even though I sometimes feel regret and anger and frustration, I also have come to a place where I can give myself a lot of grace. Yes, grace is a word that's been co-opted by Christianity, but it's a good word. It's something we all need, regardless of who gives it to us. I am learning to give it to myself. But I never needed to learn to give it to others; for me that just came naturally. I'm way more forgiving of others than I am of myself. I don't look back at your weak moments and feel embarrassment or pity. Just love and grace.

One other thing to mention here is the use of the word "rejection". It's a commonly used word in this context; the atheist "rejects" God or even "denies his existence".  Yet that is an entirely inaccurate word for most people.  I don't think I know a single atheist or agnostic who feels they have rejected or denied God. We simply don't believe a god exists (or are not sure either way). I don't deny or reject Zeus, nor do I deny or reject Allah. I don't believe either exist. When it comes to our friends, we no longer share that thing we once had in common, true. But we don't reject it or you. However, I can completely see where you're coming from. I don't think that's a crazy way to feel at all. When your faith is your essence, then someone leaving that shared faith can absolutely feel like a rejection. But just please remember that it's not. Again, the loss of faith is highly internal. There certainly must be people who throw out the baby with the bathwater, or in this case the Christians with the Christianity, but I hope those people eventually see that this isn't necessary.  Just as we non-believers long to be loved and accepted by others, we should extend that same love and acceptance to our believing friends. Without judgment, without arrogance.

One close friend told me that he realized his unbelief was a bigger deal for me than it was for him. ... I’m worried about his soul ... but he isn’t.
Yeah. I think this is probably true. For a lot of people, de-converting is fairly uneventful. Especially when it was a largely intellectual affair. For me, it was highly emotional, but this not normally the case. Most of my religious-turned-nonreligious friends had a harder time emotionally with losing friends and family than losing their faith.

Finally, I must address her last thought. This is truly the crux, if you ask me, of the entire subject.
I wonder about my friends who don’t have the Lord in their lives. How do they make it through the day? How do they have the strength to be the mom their children need? How do they stay married? I doubt they would say they have everything figured out or that they are better than me. They are taking it one day at time as well, but I cannot comprehend how they are still functioning. This raises all kinds of confusion within me. I am less a capable woman than them? I am just trained to be dependent on the Holy Spirit because of my upbringing and beliefs? Are they failing miserably and not telling anyone? Am I a horrible person with unfathomable depths of depravity that I need help overcoming while they are just normal functioning people?
My answer cannot be summed up succinctly or in some quaint, quirky, poetic little sentence. Here's the thing: We ALL struggle. Constantly. We are all human.

How do I personally make it through the day? When I was a Christian, I truly believed God was bringing me through. I believed he had his hand on my life and was guiding me, protecting me. When that faith began to disintegrate, I had no idea how I could cope without him.

I'll never forget the day I realized that not only could I go forward on my own, but that I'd ALWAYS been on my own. When you come to realize there is no almighty god guiding you and protecting you, you eventually make the connection that such a god didn't just disappear leaving you in the lurch but never existed in the first place. Therefore all those years before HAD been on my own. And I survived. The feeling of empowerment and strength that moment afforded me is inexplicable.

Wait, I know EXACTLY what you're thinking. How presumptuous of me! How arrogant! I seriously deserve pity now that I've come right out and said "I can do this on my own without god!" Oh boy, am I the classic Kevin Sorbo character atheist now! But hear me out, if you can.

The way I see it, you and I are no different. You and I both struggle. We have bad days, we have bad months, maybe even years. We get depressed, we get angry, we fail miserably. Yet we both find the strength to get out bed (most days) and push on. We both look at our children and think, "You are worth me trying to do better." We look at our marriages and think, "This is worth fighting for."

Your strength rises out of your faith. I admire that. I think that if faith in Jesus Christ gets you out of bed and makes you a better person, then that is awesome. Regardless of whether or not I think your strength actually comes from inside YOU or comes from God, the fact is you are strong, and you are making the world a better place for yourself, your children, and everyone else around you.

I don't have that strength anymore. Not from faith, that is. Nor do I want it. Faith no longer has that rosy fragrance drawing me to it. Now, I have a different strength.  What gets me out of bed in the morning is the realization that life is short, so very short, and I barely have any real time to put my imprint on it. I want to live every moment as a totally alive person, making the short lives of others as meaningful as possible. I want to do better for my kids so they can do better for their kids. I want to fight for my marriage, because life is too short to be alone and sad, and I've been so lucky to find someone I'm desperate to share my short life with. Since realizing that there is no afterlife in which to make up for whatever I missed here on earth, my concept of time has radically changed. Like a heart attack survivor, I've got a new lease on life. To use someone else's words - because they are so much better than mine:
I suddenly felt very deeply that I was alive: Alive with my own particular thoughts, with my own particular story, in this itty-bitty splash of time. And in that splash of time, I get to think about things and do stuff and wonder about the world and love people, and drink my coffee if I want to. And then that's it. -Julia Sweeney, "Letting Go of God"
So, no, back to your original questions, you are not a horrible person who needs God to overcome your failings while the rest of us go on functioning normally. You have tapped into a source of strength. So have I. Many people have not tapped into a source of strength yet, and for those people, I do wonder how they get through life. I hope everyone finds a source of strength, as long as it is not in something destructive. For those who find their strength in faith, I ask only that they do not use it as a weapon also. Same goes for anyone who finds strength anywhere - within themselves or externally. We are all prone to weakness, therefore we all have a responsibility of empathy. We should use our strength to lift the weak up, not beat them down. 

Sunday, August 09, 2015

The Difference Between a Screen Door and a Porch

A beautiful and wise friend left a comment on my "Screen Doors" post recently. I started to reply in the comments section, but her words said so much, I decided to post them here before replying.

When you were a Christian, didn't you sometimes feel that you had to hold back about expressing your beliefs, for fear of putting a huge block in your relationship with your atheist friends? We all make mistakes and (I think) just stumble along in life. I can be quite critical of others until I realize how many time I put my own foot into my own mouth. So I am not trying to defend anything here, and I figure for every person with fairly clear thinking and fairly good motives, there may be a completely muddled and selfish person, Christian or atheist alike. But I'm trying to say that I think maybe a screen door is an attempt to avoid building a brick wall. I say this because my youngest son hit a faith crisis right about the same time you declared your atheism. I don't think he'd say he's an atheist. I think he believes there is a God; he just doesn't particularly like God right now. Between the two of you, my world has been rocked with a massive sense of loss. Yet I have hope in my Lord, and I pray for Him to reveal His light and beauty and grace. When I held my tiny baby boy and felt all that mother-love for him, when I nursed him and burped him, washed him and dressed him, cared for him and delighted in how cute he was and the funny things he said and did, I never imagined that we would be here at this point today. I still love him with all my heart, but there are many things I cannot say to him. To me, this is my screen door: I am open to him, I long to have a full relationship with him. I pray for him multiple times every day. He is always welcome in my home. I love to be able to cook for him, or do his laundry, although he rarely allows me to. When he wants to talk, I am ready, I respond. But I have to wait. I have to wait for him to open the door. My screen door is unlocked and I stand behind it watching the horizon for his silhouette, hoping like crazy that he will come home and turn the handle.

First, let me say what a beautiful picture she just painted. It brings tears to my eyes. I remember lying on my side in the still and silent hours of the night, cradling my nursing infant son in the crook of my arm and crying noiseless tears over the enormity of my responsibility to him.  As I struggled with my own faith during those days and months, I prayed with all the strength of my being that he would grow to love God and that he would be saved. Nothing frightened me more than the idea of my perfect baby boy (or either of my perfect girls) rejecting Jesus as their Savior and spending eternity in hell. I remember the passion, the pain and the desperation I felt as I begged the Lord to spare my children, to spare this innocent child at my breast, to give them all life everlasting, in spite of my own shortcomings.

I remember like it was yesterday.

And I can only imagine it gets harder with age, as these young people develop into their own selves, and create their own identities and pursue their own paths. For a believing mother to watch her child struggle with faith or turn from it completely must be heart-wrenching agony to say the least.

But to respond further to what my friend said, let me say that I don't think she has put up a screen door at all.  Judging by her words, it sounds more like she and her son are both sitting on the porch swing, sipping a glass of iced tea together and trying to understand.  They've met in the middle.

I feel like this with my own mom. I know it kills her that I'm not a believer anymore. I know her heart aches, and I know the number of tears she has shed is uncountable. But she's not hiding inside behind a screen door, keeping me out, waving to me from a distance. She has stepped outside, feeling a little out of her comfort zone, to meet me on the porch. And I too have had to step out of my comfort zone to join her there. It's not comfortable for me to face the pain my unbelief causes her, but I do not want to walk away or avoid her. I would rather walk up those steps and join her on the porch, both of us feeling a little unsure of what to say but allowing love to fill the silences.

I think that's where I used to put myself as a believer with unbelieving friends.  They weren't in my church buildings or on my mission trips, and I wasn't exactly where they were. But we met in middle. I wanted them in my church, perhaps, and they probably would've loved for me to living free and easy where they were "in the world" (as I'd have considered it). But if Christians. or any other version of believers, hide behind their closed doors or screen doors, they will never touch the lives they long to touch, and they will miss out on relationships with amazing people. And if non-believers stay off the property of believers, wanting nothing to do with them, they will miss the love and friendship of some wonderful, beautiful people. There is discomfort on both sides, and there is sometimes misunderstanding or miscommunication. But if we can join each other on the porch, we can learn to speak one another's languages and start to understand. There can be love freely given and freely received.

For me, it's uncomfortable sometimes to feel like someone's mission project. Sometimes, taking those steps up onto the porch is daunting. I am confident in what I believe (and don't believe); I don't want to preached at or "reached out to". However, until I join you on the porch, I'll never know if you've just got a religious agenda to "save" me or if you truly, genuinely care about me.

For you, it's uncomfortable to feel judged or ridiculed for your beliefs.  Taking those steps means you might be vulnerable to someone's scorn or rejection.  You might be vulnerable to your own pain and worry for them and their souls.  You don't want to be mocked or attacked, and you want to guard your heart. But until you join me on the porch, you'll never know if I just have an atheist agenda or if I just truly, genuinely care about you.

My friend, you haven't just left your screen door open and unlocked for your son.  You have confronted your discomfort and have stepped outside to meet your son on the porch. I hope he has joined you there.  I hope that it is there, in the slightly humid air, on a slightly stiff swing, that the two of you can feel the cool evening breeze of understanding and love that makes sitting on that porch worth the uneasiness that such a fundamental divide stirs within the both of you.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Reading Challenge Update

When I committed to the 2015 Reading Challenge of reading 52 different books with specific requirements, I half expected to totally drop out.  Where was I going to find time to read 52 books? And in genres that I've never had any interest in, like sci-fi or graphic novels?

But lo and behold, it's the last day of July, and I'm halfway through. With almost half a year to go, I only have 23 left to read. Which, actually suddenly makes it sound like a lot...

Here's the categories I have left to tick off (some with the qualifying book already scheduled):

A book with 500 pages (Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres)
A classic romance (Time to re-read my old favorite,Bronte's Wuthering Heights)
A book with a number in the title (Unless I come across something else, I plan to re-read Dickens' Tale of Two Cities)
A funny book (Reading right now, The Rosie Effect, sequel to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion)
A mystery or thriller
A book of short stories (I left two of my favorite books of short stories, Dying Light and The Lives of Kelvin Fletcher, in Scotland, so this might be my chance to repurchase. Both written by Arkansas authors who taught at my university, Donald Hays and Miller Williams respectively)
A book set in a different country (Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe)
A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet (God Help The Child by Toni Morrison)
A Pulitzer Prize-winning book
A book based on a true story (12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup)
A book your mom loves (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson)
A book that scares you (Maybe, if I can face it, Kiss The Girls by Alex Cross)
A book more than 100 years old
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't (But I read them all! Can I count college?)
A book with antonyms in the title (Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace by William Lobdell)
A book that came out the year you were born (The BFG by Roadl Dahl - going to read it to the kids out loud)
A book set in high school 
A book with a color in the title (The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Always wanted to read that.)
A book with magic (Either going to read Tolkien's The Hobbit for the first time or re-read Rowling's Harry Potter)
A graphic novel (Incognegro by Mat Johnson)
A book that was originally written in a different language
A book set during Christmas (Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Never actually read it before!)
A book you started but never finished (That could be any number of books currently on my shelf - maybe Warriors, the book about cats by Erin Hunter that my 8-year old Fi really wants me to read)

I also need to figure out how to fit Still Life With Woodpecker (Tom Robbins) in there, our next book club book.

I'll take suggestions on any topics with no book!

And on that note, I'm off to read. I'd like to finish The Rosie Effect this week and get back up to my minimum five books a month in order to finish this thing out! Only got two each in for the months of June and July!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Screen Doors

Just over a year ago, I came out as an atheist. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I still remember how my heart pounded, how I kept the post in my drafts folder for days, trying to decide if I should publish or not. How I asked my husband repeatedly if he was okay with  me outing us.  How I worried about all the people who would be upset, all the doors that would slam in my face.

I ended up posting it, though, with shaking hands but an enormous sense of relief. The truth was out. I could finally be honest. Now I just wait for the reaction.

And the reaction was more positive than I ever could have hoped. A few people Facebook-unfriended me. A few people stopped talking to me. But the overwhelming majority of people offered me either words of encouragement, words of solidarity, or words of love. Some people offered their own faith and prayers, which I appreciated. Some people confided that my story resonated with them deeply and mirrored their own feelings and experiences. Very few doors slammed.

I was still fairly new in Arkansas at the time, only back a year. I was still making friends. I joined a book club around that time, the best book club in the universe, by the way. They made me feel safe, accepted, unjudged.  I made friends at the gym. They treated me as someone they trusted, cared about, someone worthy of their friendship.

These people around me - they kept the doors wide open and welcomed me freely into their lives, because of who I am, not what I believe (or don't). Most of them are Christians. They believe in living out the kind of life Jesus asked them to in the Bible, one of love, compassion, and acceptance. These people around me - they succeed in their quest to be like Jesus. I waited for the judgment to eventually fall, but it never did. They just loved.

I thought maybe coming out as an atheist wasn't nearly as terrible as everyone said it would be. After all, very few people shut the door in my face, which was far cry from what I'd braced myself for. Those who did were never close enough friends to begin with.

Now a year has gone by. But as I look back over the past year, I see something else that I never expected.

As time wore on, I noticed that some other people seemed to shy away from me, put up their guard. They hadn't shut me out, but they made some distance. This was to be expected. I imagined many people around here knew nothing of atheists beyond the loud, outspoken, and frankly not very nice Richard Dawkins types. They probably had reason enough to be concerned, a little fearful, a little unsure how I was to change. I noticed people who didn't shut the door in my face had at least taken a step back. A curious step, perhaps, or maybe a suspicious one. There was a distance there that hadn't been there before.

A screen door.

Like one who didn't want to give a salesperson too much encouragement, I realized people were standing behind their screen doors to talk to me.  They weren't shutting me out completely, but I was no longer invited in. There was an unbreakable politeness and a general kindness, but the warmth had cooled. At first, I passed it off as my imagination. A year later, though, I'm not sure it's my imagination after all. There are still screen doors making sure I don't get past the threshold.

I guess keeping the screen door closed to me is less cruel than slamming the front door entirely, but it's only slightly less hurtful. It keeps me on the defensive, paranoid, constantly over-analyzing. Is this really happening? Do they really feel this way? Was that me they were referring to? Publishing my memoir has made it even more complicated. It's one thing to be out on a blog with a small readership. It's another to be featured on the popular

I have been so lucky to have so many friends - every version of Christian even, from evangelical to liberal to Mormon - keep their doors wide open. People who can look at who I am and still believe I'm the same trustworthy, good person I've always tried my best to be. I doubt every atheist in the Bible Belt is so fortunate. I'm also lucky to know who not to bother with anymore too - the door slammers.  Good riddance to them. That kind of rejection simply makes my life easier.

But the screen doors?  Where do I go with them? Where do we stand? Will I ever prove to them that I'm not an awful human being simply because I don't believe what I used to? Are these doors locked forever or just temporarily? Is there even any point in worrying about it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


My husband is a Salesforce guy. He's always tsking about various organizations' and companies' poor handling of data and how they should try Salesforce.

I think churches could use Salesforce too. Imagine the marketing and donor tracking they could do with all that data! Just imagine...

It's WJWD.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Dinosaur Splash! Jaguar Turns Three-osaurus

I wish I could've had the time to write some beautiful, meaningful, heart-wrenching words regarding my youngest child turning three last weekend, but with my new job and trying to throw a birthday party with next to no planning, I just didn't have the time or the energy. I also just can't face it. If we were still in Scotland right now, this little boy would be starting Gaelic nursery next month. (Never mind the child is only just starting to speak English! Speech therapy has been awesome.) To think that this baby...

... is now this kid...

... is pretty much incomprehensible. Where did those years go? He has had one busy life in his eensy weensy three years. 

So last Saturday was his birthday, and we wanted to indulge his obsession with dinosaurs while also keeping the children from dying of July heat exhaustion, so we put on a Dinosaur Splash party for him.

My amazing friends Victoria and Brian lent us use of their incredibly awesome inflatable water slide, which seriously made the party. We had paddling pools too, but only the babies were interested in those. Everyone else went bonkers for the water slide.

We tried to make it as dinosaur themed as possible. Starting with the invitations I never sent out.

(These are actually purple, not blue. Jaguar was adamant that he was having a "puhple didor" party. It had to be PURPLE or else.)

We may have never sent the invites out, but we did at least manage to make him a purple dinosaur cake. Thank you, Pinterest!

Even the inside was purple. Jaguar freaking LOVED it.

I also made a few dirt cakes with plastic dinosaurs stomping about in them. The plastic dinosaurs may or may not have been food safe, but just shhh. We don't need to talk about that.

And I even went so far as to order a dinosaur piñata. Which of course the kids had enormous fun bashing to death. Sadly it wasn't puhple, but the Boy didn't notice.

(The best part about this piñata was how the candy flew out of it's mouth when you hit it. Even I sort of squealed the glee the first time a Tootsie roll projectile vomited out of its mouth.)

I found some cute dinosaur cups on Amazon too, which I filled with dino tattoos, stampers, candy, and more probably-not-food-safe-but-whatever mini dinosaurs. I didn't get a picture of these though, because I almost forgot to even hand them out. They never made it out of the house into the backyard, actually. I hope everyone took one home anyway. If you didn't, I still have a whole box of them in my kitchen.

Can you guess which was Jaguar's favorite?

So, despite lacking my usual over-preparedness, the party was still a smash - or shall I say a "splash"? Everyone had fun celebrating my little boyosaurus's third birthday.

Fifi apparently needed goggles.

So did Lolly.

Thanks to everyone who came over to celebrate Jaguar turning three and for making his dinosaur party a hit.  We love you!

A very happy birthday boy. He slept great that night
amongst a huge pile of new plastic dinosaurs.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Working Girl

So I have survived my first two weeks at BANPO (Big Anonymous Non-Profit Organization).  If I had tried to blog even four days ago, it would have been a disaster.

I have never been so stressed in my life.  The first full week was a hurricane of new information, new things to learn, new responsibilities, and new names and faces, and that didn't even include the slew of crazy emotions I felt from leaving my kids all day (and for the first time in Jaguar's life) and only seeing them for a couple of hours at night, during which time I was exhausted and grumpy.  I know it takes supposedly six months to really learn a new job, but I'm impatient. And I'm a perfectionist. Put the two together, throw me into a new job atmosphere, and you've got a pretty useful nuclear weapon.

My first day.
About midway through this week, I calmed down a little.  I took some work home, got myself organized (with Scott's enormous help - all hail Scott!), and took a lot of deep breaths and shed a lot of tears, and then... ahh.

When in job interviews the interviewer asks what your biggest weakness is, it's the running joke to say, "I'm a perfectionist." But y'all, the struggle is REAL.  I don't give myself any slack. I berate myself over every tiny mishap. I torment myself over every stupid or misinterpreted thing I say. I hate asking for help, because I believe I should know it all right away, immediately. And that kind of perfectionism and lack of self grace is actually pretty debilitating.

I'm feeling better about my job now, though. I do not under any circumstances have it all down, but I feel like there is going to be a point in the future someday, somewhere, when I probably will. I work with an amazing team who are all really supportive and great to work with.  It's a big adjustment, working full time after having been a stay-at-home-mum slash work-at-home-mum for the past eight years. I'm still trying to figure out how to prioritize my home time. I still have so many of the same responsibilities as well as hobbies that I did before but only a fraction of the time.  I have four baskets of laundry on the couch waiting to be folded and put away - and it's the weekend, so I'll be doing laundry again. I have complimentary copies of my book to mail out to various people but no time to get to the post office, plus I haven't had a chance at all to market my book, which is a little disappointing. I am still trying to get to the gym at least three times a week (which I managed the first week) but only got there once this week. It's mid-July, and I'm still trying to read the same book I started in mid-June. (Half of that is due to it being a long, dense book, of course.) And I miss my babies, and I miss my friends.


I'm using my brain again. I'm becoming a stand-alone person again, not just a mummy. Even as I work in the same company as Scott, I don't feel like "Scott's wife". I'm my own me. My confidence is building, though ever so slowly. I am brushing back up on my skills. I am contributing financially to the family again, and not just in a small way like I did when I worked from home. We're going to get to take our family on vacations, maybe even back to Scotland again one day (for a visit). I get to eat lunch with my husband, which is like a mini-date every day. I get to dress nice, wear heels, and put on make-up. I get to meet tons of new people and network. There are a lot of benefits to working again.

I always knew I'd go back to work eventually, so even though it's hard (especially not having Jaguar around - I miss that boy!), I have no regrets. I am sad to see that lovely chapter of my life close, but the new chapter looks promising too. Maybe even exciting. It is the year of adventure, after all.

However, it's the weekend now and time to stop thinking about work.  I'm off to go read some more of my book before turning early into bed. My mom, aunt, and I have a garage sale in the morning, so it's early bells for me!

Next on the blog, I'll talk about my little baby boy turning three. THREE. He turned three last weekend. Sob!

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Challenge Accepted! June Books

June. Oh June. I read only two and a half books.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (A book with a love triangle)
Continuing along with The Hunger Games series, I read Catching Fire, the second book. I think I possibly liked #2 better than #1. I don't want to give any spoilers, so I'll just say A) the characters in this one were all so much more interesting, complex, and diverse and B) the love triangle sucked. Gale? Seriously? I'm #TeamPeeta all the way.

I mentioned last month that Fi wanted to read the series too. I went ahead and let her. She whizzed through The Hunger Games and has now started Catching Fire. She used to want to be Hermione Granger and do magic. Now she wants to be Katniss Everdeen and shoot arrows.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (A book by a female author)
As for checking off Reading Challenge categories, yeah, I'll admit it, I had to stretch for this one. It was the only way I could simultaneously finish the series AND check off a box. "Book by a female author" ... it was always going to be a throw- away.

I didn't enjoy this one. It must be a YA trilogy thing, but I just don't enjoy the way the third part of these stories unfolds. Death and destruction, rebellions, endless warfare. Bleh. I felt the same way about Mockingjay as I did about Allegiant in the Divergent series. I soared through the first two books then had to trudge through the last. It took me a while to finish it. I will say this: the ending to this series is far more satisfying than the end to the Divergent series.

As for movies, I watched Mockingjay Part 1 after finishing the books and was okay with it. It wasn't great, but it was entertaining. As usual, though, the book was better. (And I didn't even like the book, just Katniss and Peeta. And Haymitch. Haymitch is my favorite. Katniss should've ended up with Haymitch. Just sayin'. I've got a whole theory about this.)

Also, Fi may be allowed to read the books, but she will NOT be allowed to see the movies. It's one thing to read about blood with an imagination of an eight year old who has never seen such gory images and therefore can only take it so far in her mind (or even let them pass over completely). It's another to see those images in all their horrific detail, thus imprinting them in her innocent little brain. She can watch them when she's older. A policy she thinks is totally unfair and preposterous.

I did start reading a third book last month, but I'm still only half way through. I'm reading Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (Mr President himself), but it's a little dense (in a good way) and very thought-provoking. The main theme throughout is race, particularly what it's like being a black man in America, even more particularly, a black man with a white mom and white grandparents trying to figure out where he belongs in America. It's so full of things to think about and ponder over that it's taking me some time to get through it. I read a chapter, then have to sit on it. Hopefully I'll be finished with it soon. If I only read two books a month, I'll never complete the challenge! I'll do a more comprehensive review on Dreams... at the end of July.

To see what else I have read this year:

Monday, July 06, 2015

My Book ... Is Totes On Amazon: The Last Petal Falling

I kind of almost can't believe it. It's pretty much totally surreal.

My book is now available for purchase.


I'm incredulous, but I'm also beyond excited. And nervous. And scared.

People are going to read the intimate details of my life. Worse, they are going to read the intimate details of my SOUL. And along they way, they will read some intimate details of my friends' lives (names changed though). I hope you will all forgive me for that...

But that's what it's all about, right? Write a memoir, a true story about your life and those who touched it (or bruised it), and then let people read it. It's part of the writing process: the sharing.

It's the most vulnerable thing I've ever done. Far more vulnerable than blogging. This is truly heart-on-my-sleeve stuff.

But y'all, I've done it. I've actually done it. I started, finished, and (self) published a book. I wrote, edited, and formatted a book. (If there are STILL mistakes after ALL the editing I've done, please don't tell me. Just shhhhh.)

I'm kind of at a loss for words. Let me just say this:

Thank you so much, all of you who helped me along the way. Those of you who helped me in the writing, editing, and publishing process, and those of you who were with me throughout my life in the good times and the bad. And thank you to everyone who encouraged me to keep writing and who made me believe it would be worth it to finish. At the end of the day, I wrote this book for you as much as I wrote it for me.

It's available right now on Amazon (including UK and Prime!) and Kindle. It is also available from CreateSpace and if I'm remembering correctly, a few other online retailers (like Barnes & Noble). You can choose paperback, if you like something you can hold in your hands (like I do) or you can go the Kindle route. I kept the price as low as I could without totally underselling it, because I want it to be as accessible as possible. I don't care about making money off of it. I am just happy to have it out there. My story isn't all that different or unique, therefore I know it will resonate with many.

Please also feel free to share the link. And if you read it, please leave a review (good or bad!) on Amazon or GoodReads. I'd really appreciate that!

So without further ado...

Here is the link:

The Last Petal Falling by Lori Arnold McFarlane

And for those of you who have no idea what the book is about, here is the back cover: