chapter one

the danger of change

New books always make me a little nervous. An unopened book holds all the hope in the world until, with bated breath, you meet the first page. In those first lines you often either realize you’ve wasted $9.99 in the Kindle store, or you find yourself settling in, patiently wading through the planting of characters, setting of scene, and foundation-laying of your next favorite story.

You’ve become an adventurer. You’ve let yourself into the front-yard garden and found it enchanting enough to tread down the lane, where you let yourself into an empty house. There you wait, contentedly, for the rest of the tale to grow up around you. You’ve committed, so slowly you’ve hardly noticed what’s happened, until you’re in the thick of it, lost in the magic. It is then that you realize the most important thing: chapter one was just an invitation, and this, now, is what really means something. Chapter two.

Here I am, a newly minted MFA student very wary of my own chapter two- this part of my journey that will mean something more. This undertaking that sounded fun a month ago as a hazy theory is now taking shape in real time, and I’m starting to see a future where I’m stretched and tired, overwhelmed, and likely in over my head.

It’s all so very different than the projects I’ve taken on before; moving from the task-oriented type-A-friendly world of nursing to a place where philosophy, psychology, spirit, and story are what counts – it’s significant, to say the least. I’m walking straight out of the land of flashcards right into a world of vulnerability. Imposter syndrome settles in like a cold as I google “what the hell is literary fiction,” transition from APA to MLA, from symptoms to syntax. I may have seen death in the flesh but, somehow, this feels more dangerous. It’s risky, this road; I’m unsure, insecure, unprepared, and, worse, I care more.

More than anything, I don’t know how to be in this world- I’ve never sunk into this side of my mind so purposefully, where learning is less about tasks and grades and more about craft. Truth. Love. What does this new style of living look like on me? Who will I become when I stop stuffing creativity into her cupboard under the stairs and let her out to see the stars? I guess we’ll see.

In the meantime, I carry on with the revolution armed with a new planner, a new haircut, and an old mantra: I can do hard things and these hard things are good. I keep reminding myself, too, that as hard as it looks, this still feels like coming home to a part of myself, and I imagine that is one of the keys to a good life- to come home to ourselves in more and more beautiful ways until we are home forever in the land where beauty multiplies endlessly. Once again, C.S. Lewis wrote it best: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now… Come further up, come further in!”

And then, a bit of truth from the same bit of childhood magic: “…for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning the Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

Into the garden I go, coming home to an empty house, ready to see what grows in this place I’ve planted- a place held together by the author of the Great Story, the Great Story in which I will be writing a chapter. Further in we go.

a convert to feminism

adopting a movement i misunderstood

I cringe when I think of the things I used to say.

“I’m the furthest thing from a feminist.”

Feminists were frightening. They were nit-picking, angry man-haters, busy trying to become the men they hated in pursuit of power. Plus, feminists didn’t like stay-at-home-moms, and I thought I’d like to do that someday, so I distanced myself from the movement.

“Women are pretty emotional, they probably shouldn’t be president.”

I’d heard this argument and agreed. I was emotional, and this meant I could step into that office and be one missed Midol away from sending nuclear weapons to God-knows-where. Emotions were unpredictable, hormones unruly, so how could any of us be expected to rule the free world? Better leave those jobs to people with more even-keeled brains. Thank God He gave us men.

“Allowing women in combat is a bad idea.”

I used to nod along, quietly listening to the debates of military minded men and soak in the lessons they taught. According to them, adding women to their combat teams would change the dynamic and, ultimately, their world-saving capabilities. They made sense, for a while. Women aren’t biologically built the same. Maybe it really would distract men to have to worry about protecting their female counterparts. Maybe women wouldn’t be able to keep up. 

But then I started to ask questions.

What if she could keep up?

What if she was perfectly capable, and she just hasn’t had the chance to prove it?

What if she wanted that chance?

The questions continued. One debate-heavy night I got to the heart of the issue with another military-minded man, and it turns out there was another problem, which was, perhaps, the real  issue: a woman on the team meant that “men couldn’t act naturally.” Really, this meant that men would have to stop making derogatory, sexist, over-sexualized comments and cursing as much as they pleased. Or they wouldn’t stop, but they’d be too self-aware, and that would no longer be entirely comfortable. It would get in the way of the workflow.

I called bullshit; most people in the world need to learn how to regulate inappropriate behaviors, and the military shouldn’t be an exception to this norm. And, honestly, wasn’t it time to stop worrying about how free you are to say what you want and just worry about doing your job? Or, heaven forbid, reprogram your thinking so rude/inappropriate/sexist comments don’t even cross your mind?

The discussion (argument) spiraled out of control to end with a surprising, even more disturbing conclusion. That night I learned that some people actually think that men are smarter, as well as stronger, and women make sub-par career choices because of their limited capabilities. They were small-minded, unintelligent, and weak.

I was there, faced with these comments and questions and this male’s narrow-minded belief system, and I was dumbfounded. Shocked, really, and much angrier then I thought I’d be. This moment changed all; it goes down in history as was the moment I realized that I am, and probably always was, a feminist. 

I used to be afraid of being lumped in with those angry protestors. I was not the man-hating type, and I thought that if I didn’t don a labia-hat to march about town I had no right to the movement. Plus I had opinions that contradicted the loudest in the platform, so it would probably be best if I just keep my mouth shut altogether. Most of all, I thought that if I wanted to be a mother, forgo a career, and love a husband from home, I shouldn’t consider myself liberated or enlightened. 

That night set something free in me, though, and I realized that I had been wrong. Feminism is not, and should not, be narrowed down to a select group of political policies, reproductive laws, or who’s doing what with their jobs or their homes. It is more than that. 

Feminism is the belief that women are of equal dignity as men. As worthy of respect as men. Women are valuable, capable, contributing members of society, and should be treated as such.

Today I thank the man who was so absurdly wrong that I now see what is right: I am a feminist, and feminism is good. I have finally seen that this is not the movement I once hid from, but a well-founded belief that women are humans deserving of respectful treatment.

We are not playthings, trophies, or rewards. We are not sheep. 

We deserve the opportunity to serve wherever we please, in whatever capacity we please, and to do so with support. We should feel free to serve in the home, if that is where we’ve found our most authentic selves, but also free to pursue that same whole-hearted living in the classroom, the boardroom, the battlefield or wherever else we walk. We deserve to do so without being cat-called, shunned, or shamed. 

We deserve to engage with this world as whole persons, not divided into half-selves that don’t feel or make mistakes. We do both, and we need our male counterparts to continue letting us in anyway. Not in spite of our differences, but because of them. Without us an entire portion of the human experience is lost.

We are owed equal freedoms and the chance to pursue what is good without the pre-conceived judgement of men who believe they are wiser before they’ve even known us.

And then when they do come to know us, we should be free to embrace our nature, with all the mess and hormones and emotions, as our gift; perhaps this feminine range of experience would make us wiser leaders, not wild ones.

At the very least, no matter what we choose to do, it must be clear that we are more than mere ornaments, and we are not more worthy of respect if we are smaller, more attractive, or more pleasant.

As women, our hearts and minds and souls are as wide as the sky, as diverse as the earth, and we are all good.

Thank God for that.

cleaning in spring

restore the peace, remove the rest

I’ve been doing some purging. 

The easy stuff was first. The closet! The nightstand! The dresser! The cleaning buzz even took me through the wilds of the file boxes. And then the bathroom! The bottoms of purses and the pockets of backpacks! Then the car! The work bag! Nothing felt better than the hours of sorting and tossing and donating. What inspired the frenzy I’m not quite sure, but something in me wanted to be more portable. Unattached. Ready to move and flow without the bog of sticky old cough drops and forgotten bits of mail weighing me down. 

The most thorough part of the purge was the clothes. I’m usually pretty good at pulling out the older things, but this time around I went a step further. Not only did I get rid of the clothes that obviously didn’t fit, I got rid of the clothes I wished would fit. The tops and skirts that were ever-so-slightly too snug, that 5 or 10 pounds would fix, those pieces I begged to stretch just a bit so we could be happy together- all removed. Goodbye to them, goodbye to wishful thinking. Up next, the clothes I thought I liked but never actually wore. Time to stop lying to myself; I’m never going to wear that sweat-dress and I don’t actually like mini skirts. Farewell. 

Today I’m happy to report I’ve been able to get dressed quickly, both in clothes I like and items I don’t have to change because I’m being choked by collars or buttons. Magical. 

Next was the scale. I held it lovingly, looked into it’s cold, dead eyes, then promptly shoved it into the trash. Goodbye little black machine that kindly ruined so many of my days. We are no longer friends. I’ve had my physical and, yes, though I’m heavier than last year, the rest was A-okay. I’m not a diabetic, don’t have anemia, am free of vitamin deficiencies and my blood pressure was fine. The scale-free experiment of the last several months proved successful- my body knew what it needed without your direction. It asked for the right amount of exercise and the right amount of nutrients, I obliged and, shockingly, did not turn into an amorphous blob of cholesterol. I am now firmly convinced that weight can’t be the only marker for health and I’m pretty done letting it run the show. My mind was made to obsess over more important things than calorie counts. 

Happily curled up in pants (that fit) I finally came to the next great purge: The Application for Annulment. At the end of it all the thing turned out to be a thesis paper better off titled: Reasons Why I Should Have Known Better. A small book of lessons learned and shame packed into 70 pages of double-spaced type, neatly mailed away for examination by a crowd of church-goers I’ve never met. At worst, they’ll be scandalized, at best, they’ll be impressed by our profoundly poor decision making skills. I could be wrong- maybe they’ll all just be nice. Either way, I’m trying not to think about it and I’m mostly just glad it’s done. If anything, hopefully at least they’ll be pleased with my A+ work; all my years of training went into this project. The finished product was a binder complete with slip-covers, tabs, tables, headers, footers and 1-inch-wide margins. Now it is off in the universe waiting to be graded like my life’s most terrifying SATs. At least it’s out of my hands.

My name got chopped up next. Goodbye to the married, exotic, Sicilian experience I used to be a part of. Welcome back to the name I learned to spell in kindergarten and had printed on diplomas. Driver’s license, social security, credit cards, nursing board all changed, changed, changed. A long but satisfying list to check off, with every completion another snip at the dangling threads of my old life. I’m still working on my signature- it’s a confused mess of letters that don’t belong to each other, so don’t look too closely if you find my notes at work. In the meantime, I’ll try not to make you feel weird when you congratulate me on the change because you think I’ve gotten married. 

In other news, Lent is here now. A season practically devoted to purging. What else is left to trim? I am portable, satisfied, free. I am unmarried. Back to the name I was born with. 

After some thought, I found the next victim- now on the chopping block are those pesky apps threatening to upset the peace. Those harmless looking squares make me question my worth, my value, my beauty, and, worst, distract me from the present. So, once again, I bid adieu to you, Dating Apps. We had a nice little time together, but you were disturbing the state of the union. Maybe I’ll see you on Sundays, but the days between you’ll find me reading good books, practicing Italian, and remaining blissfully unavailable to the men who say they’ll call but then swipe, swipe, swipe their way through Nashville’s brightest. Adios. 

Or rather, arrivederci. 

a woman in the world

independent women who like men

How am I supposed to pass the Bechdel test?

There should be two women (this woman) in a room (on a blog) talking about something other than men. Preferably they have names.

I tried to pass. Put in my very best effort. I went to Ireland last month a very happy me, full and satisfied and single and thoroughly enjoyed all things green.

I started to worry, though, because I had nothing to write about. Nothing new to say. I was just living, and living well. There’s not much to tell when I’m wasting hours in the back corner of a pub with my Baileys coffee and book. No drama to investigate. Just me, feeling alive, riding bikes on an island, content with sweaters and soups, just as impressed with latte art as real art. No story hidden in the simplicity. No secrets.

Who wants to read about girls who are, well… fine?

Am I interesting anymore, without a man? Without a story to tell? With the story I have that’s just featuring me?

But then again, it’s not just about me, is it? I don’t want it to be, anyway- I still would like to find a man, right? (*cue feminist cringes*)

Should we be cringing, though? What’s wrong with men? What’s wrong with wanting to be with a good one?

There were some Irish nights, instead of soaking in my singleness, that I found myself putzing around on newly downloaded dating apps. I wasn’t really interested in the guys looking for someone who’s “a freak for her man” (whatever that means), and not really interested in guys who think Vegas bachelor parties are considered world traveling. Even still, I was there, and a little interested. 

Why couldn’t I just be the lovely, independent, strong woman that Lizzo wants me to be?

Why was I on the other side of the ocean with two sisters, adventuring away, and still hoping for the attention of heavily accented red-headed bartenders? Go back to your Guinness, girl! 

No Irish bartenders for me, but I did get home and try to go on a date. Shocking, I know.

We met on an app (weird), he asked me on said date (weirder), then hours before meeting flaked on date (weirdest). No explanation, no follow up, hardly even an apology. Maybe the actual weirdest part was that I was surprised. 

Anyway, it was a strange, disappointing entrance into the so-called dating scene. 

In an effort to redirect this post away from the feminist rant it could be and towards the peaceful, lovely, self-secure place it should be, I’m going to tell you the truth now. 

I was annoyed, yes. However, primarily, I was relieved. Despite my wishy-washy I-want-a-man meanderings, I don’t think I actually wanted to meet the man. 

Probably in part because it’s much safer and easier to be single. No one can hurt you when you take yourself to the movies, right? Also, I really don’t know if I have the energy right now to form a meaningful connection with a stranger male, or the real desire to take responsibility for a that same male and incorporate him into this life of mine. I’m still busy stretching and wiggling and allowing myself to toy with the idea of learning Italian and taking writing classes and doing whatever the hell I want because I’m relearning what it is I want. 

Of course, I’m also relieved to learn of flake-boy’s flakiness before I’ve started to care. He’s been kind enough to reject me before he’s actually met me, which is much gentler on the ego. 


I’m failing Bechdel again.

I would like to have something to say that doesn’t have anything to do with relationships, whether that’s getting into them or out of them. 

Or maybe Bechdel was a little bit wrong. Maybe I just need to make peace with relationships and having things to say about them. Really, the whole point of life is relationship, isn’t it? It’s an endless back-and-forth between us and ourselves, with God, with others. It just so happens that a significant portion of those others are male. And, ultimately, I’d like to be with one of them. 

In the long run, it’s not going to be the most interesting thing about me, but it might still be worth my attention.

Yes, I’m already on an adventure- insert strong independent woman cliché- but I’m thinking that maybe strong independent women can also coexist with men who respect them. Maybe she’s even encouraged by them. 

In the meantime, I’ve gone to Ireland and bought my own Claddagh ring. I’ll not die pining after anyone like the sad little man who made the first one. I’ll buy my own jewelry and I’ll turn the heart towards me, not because mine is taken by a man, but because I’m already cared for. I’m quite securely held by God, my friends, my sisters, my parents and myself. 

I think I’ll try to operate out of that place and let go of the rest.

Bechdel approved or no, I’d like to anchor into myself just enough that I can still move through the world with love. After all, isn’t that the most wild adventure of all?

Ever so slowly, these doors I’ve closed are opening. Fresh rain-clean breezes are blowing in freedom, untamed by rules or tests or time. This new, free, self will be the best self.

All will be well, no matter who’s talking in what room. Just love. Live well. Drink Guinness. Move on.

the words that dwell among us

good gifts for the new year

This Christmas I was given the gift of words.

Between a New York Times subscription, Kindle Unlimited and a handful of paperbacks I have enough to keep me going happily for all of 2020.

Even the mass readings were a gift: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Very explicit, courtesy of John, followed up with, “What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1, 4-5).”

That last bit I had carried in my heart through this year; light was the word of the season as the darker parts of my heart were illuminated and the dusty corners of my soul cleaned out. A year of open windows, fresh air, therapy, journals, night skies, starlight and the first pinks of dawn. A year of refusing to be overcome, and then, beyond simply defying defeat, a year of resilience that overflowed into life.

What word, of all the words, will speak to the season ahead?

I was out last week with my cousins and we walked by a bar, all cheerfully buzzed on G&Ts and the cold December air. A bouncer stopped us, begged us to come into the hazy-blue bar with it’s empty dance floor. I’m sure we were an impressive bunch; a gaggle of tall, red-lipped, long-haired twenty-somethings. We walked past, intent on our destination (pizza), and continued to ignore the calls of the boy behind us. I trailed behind and heard him plead, one last time, “Come on, come in! You’re pretty too!”

I rolled my eyes, shook my head, and marched on to more important things (pizza). A couple slices and an uber ride later we were safely in our beds, bouncers all but forgotten.

The next morning, though, I found traces of annoyance lingering.

Was this boy used to having girls do his bidding just by calling them pretty?

Why had I even turned around at all?

And, by the way, aren’t I more than just pretty?

Such a small word, but enough to throw intelligent women off their axis at the mercy of smaller boys.

Which is the word I want? If I got to pick something better than pretty, what would be enough to catch my attention and hold it?

Which is the one that I am?

Which is the one God says I am?

Another Christmas Scripture nudges my heart and settles in like the last puzzle piece: “No more shall people call you ‘forsaken,’ or your land ‘desolate’ but you shall be called ‘my delight’ and your land ‘espoused’ (Isaiah 62:4).”

I wouldn’t mind being a delight. I’d definitely like to move away from those old characters Forsaken and Desolate.

I think back to a few weeks ago when I felt Jesus whisper “let me take you to France.” A small, almost silly, thing, but a thing that meant something to me. I went home that day and booked a trip to visit the land of my dearest Saint friends. That day felt like the beginning of this- a journey where I am no longer espoused to the little earthly man who hated travel, but rather to the man who died for me.

Another whisper takes shape: This year is the year I am beloved.



be•loved /bəˈləvəd/

dearly loved

Thank God the open windows of last year let in the holy breezes of this one.

I am seen. I am known. I will learn to live out of a place where I am anchored, deeply set in who I am and who I belong to. Beyond pretty, but beautiful.

A lot of words packed into one little word.

I’ll take it.