the words that dwell among us

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.


Beloved:

adjective

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.

an incoherent stream of consciousness ft. ts eliot

It’s done.

I cried.

It’s like the race you never wanted to run in the first place and you’re so damn tired but somehow your legs carried you over the end

Or the divorce you never wanted and you didn’t know you needed and now you’re grieving but relieved and finally things aren’t entirely out of your control but shit, you loved him, you had a wedding, and the way it ends is a letter in the mail


This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but with a whimper


The pocket in my heart where the last bit of love lived leaks

Are you thinking of me too?

I’m sorry.

We never should have been together.

But, damn, I loved you. I really, really did.

I’ll see you on the other side.

I hope.


How does all of this sit together in the same room?

Its like the circus has met for a funeral.

A champagne toast for Scrooge and his ghosts.

Death meets magic meets hope meets tears meets me


I’ve been mourning motherhood lately, so at least we’ve come full circle. The first reason I left finds my first day as a divorcée. Long lost friends.

It’s not the kind of thing that has support groups or Facebook pages or even a name. It’s not the ache of infertility or the piercing loss of a child.

It’s quieter.

It’s the hushed undertone of something lost before it was had. A no, after no, after no. Months and months over. A man who sees you, but never quite sees you. Who knows you, but not well enough. Who refuses to make you a mother. He does not want to raise children who look like you. Who act like you or love like you or live like you. You are not enough. 

I see friends with babies. Beautiful ones. More than one. 

They don’t panic or hide pregnancy tests at the bottom of trash cans or the bathroom at Kroger. Their husbands look forward to fatherhood. They don’t have to stare as the moments tick by on their phone- has it been three minutes or two?- but watch the colors bleed -is that one line or two?- with someone who loves them. 

I see men who actually care. Who actively try. Who love their children and wives and want a life built with and for them. 

I used to be jealous. Now I’m just sad. 

I think there’s a hole in my heart, next to the pocket where the love leaks out. A little one, but big enough to need stitching- torn by the hurt that grows when you’re told, implicitly and explicitly, that you, specifically you, are not worthy of repeating. You are not good enough to parent children. Your terrible qualities tip the scales too heavily. You’re better off having none at all. 

Nothing stings quite so sharply as allowing yourself to be present- you open your heart and mind and home and body and forgive and forget, love and cry and love again- but you are still rejected, among all the other ways, in this last way.


And now it’s done.

I fall at the manger, a heavy head on the edge of the crib. She looks at me, would I like to hold him? His solid little weight rests on my chest, heavy over the place the anxiety sits; it melts for a moment. I can’t hold my own, but I can hold him. 

I suppose something new is beginning.

after the flood

She’s alert at the bow, her grip on the ledge breaking splinters, bright eyes squinting through tears and the rain of a storm. Wails lost in the wind, the spray, the haze of salt and mist; she rolls in a wave. 

Again and again, merciless, never-ending, until, exhale, it ends. The waves slow. She tucks low, exhausted, surrenders to the sea, heavy eyes under a heavier sky. 

She rolls to her back, sore from the stillness of sleep. Black has poured over the sky; she floats, an island alone in oceans of darkness. There are stars, diamonds spilled from a jar, there is so, so much of the sky; she can breathe. In, out. In, out. Left, right. Up, down. She rocks with the boat, onward, onward; she sleeps.

A bird flutters to perch, riding the waves of a slow golden glow, sunlight melting over the sky, the sea, her skin – she blinks silent greeting to her new feathered friend. 

They watch the day together, blues and grays roll by. She tilts to the sky, eyelashes eskimo kissing the salted breeze. She never knew what it meant to bask before, but there she was, doing it. Basking.

And then there was land.

The loudest sound yet, she leaps overboard, splashes into the sea. 

She is everything and nothing in the pull of the ocean; she is lost in the power of what was long before her and what moves after. She is salt and water and life, she is death and birth and baptism and eternity. She swims and soaks and delights. 

She wades ashore, guiding the boat by hand. Two-handed now, plodding through the thickest surf, moving steadily towards the final grind of wood against sand. 

She turns, hands on hips, facing what lays before her. Lush and green- every shade of green- the hint of honeydew and the depth of pine, the radiance of emerald, the richest of moss- it is here. It is life.

She walks in. 

dear father ryan

“Ask her how she’s doing sexually.”

A strange question for a priest to pass along to a friend to pass along to me (follow that?). She told me about it months ago, and we laughed. Strange, though, that the question still echoes in the back of my mind. How am I doing sexually? As a woman previously active, now alone? As a woman redefining womanhood? As a person redefining my relationship with my body? My heart? My mind?

I thought I was fine. I missed sex, sure, who doesn’t? But as my youthful I-better-not-die-while-I’m-a-virgin phase was over, I didn’t feel it’s absence quite as keenly as I thought I would.

Something changed last week. 

As usual, I was working on my annulment paperwork, the familiar cluster of moths waking up in my chest, fluttering away in a panic. I’m annoyed; I appreciate that anxiety shows up to send it’s own weird little message- Something is amiss! Protect yourself! This time, though, I can’t figure out what the heck today’s offending object might be. The writing was emotional, but not impossible. Maybe it’s not psychological this time, maybe just a hormone imbalance? Nutritional deficit? Too much coffee? Not enough sleep? Nothing stood out, so the herd of flapping wings took up happy residence in my throat and I carried on.

Enter Scene: Therapy

We circle through the chit-chat and Thanksgiving plans until we come around to the strange, unname-able, unblame-able anxiety. We work through EMDR and, voilà, like magic, the knots unravel. It seems my poor little mind was more upset than I realized by the disturbing process of filing through my poor little marriage. The offense this time? Sex.

In general, I thought we had been having fine sex. Good, even. We had chemistry, I thought he was hot, it usually worked out fine. I was, in general, satisfied, and felt pretty smug about being the sexually-enlightened and active wife he so longed for while we were dating. 

It only took a month or two before things started taking a weird turn. Irregularly, unpredictably, he’d be completely uninterested. I’d try to make the moves until it felt like begging, until it was too embarrassing and I walked away. Some nights I’d be wrapped up in hardly anything but a Christmas bow, and he would look at me and groan, with a smirk and a half-laugh, he was too tired, did he have to? Of course, on other days, he’d be in the mood, but my body would not (recall, he adamantly did not want children, and I adamantly did not want birth control). Those days, he would either get a fix his way or leave me feeling deservedly alone (Useless wife! -Another joke that stopped feeling like a joke). Occasionally, on stranger nights still, I’d wake up the next day with bruises or sore throats or other evidence of a night too-rough. 

We unravel the stories again, me ever-baffled at the inconsistency of it all. He wanted me so badly when we were dating! Could hardly be moved when we were married! Had such lazy, inattentive sex he couldn’t even tell when I orgasmed. Refused to talk about it at all. Wouldn’t when I wanted, wanted when I couldn’t, left me feeling used, at worst, unseen, at best, and all more often than I preferred. 

But there were nights that seemed good, we felt close, it felt real! Until he would hold me after, joking that I was gross.

How dare I feel wanted or seen for more than the moment required for him to get off.

I needed love. He needed control.

Hearing that for the first time – He Needed Control – hits in the sore spot that makes the most sense, and now I find myself grieving for the sex life I thought I had. I thought I knew what good sex was, but now I’m coming to terms with the reality that just because it felt good doesn’t mean it was good. 

Where I thought it was safe to be vulnerable, I was disposable. Where I thought I was seen, I was hardly noticed. Where I thought I was loved, intimately, completely, passionately – I was nothing but an urge met. I was competing in a battle I’d never win- to fantasy, perfection, endless flexibility and excitement. 

I grieve the small pockets of our relationship that I mistook for love. Those smallest of moments, when not riddled with dysfunction, were something I thought, occasionally, we got right. We’d had fun, it’d felt good, I felt noticed, enjoyed noticing in return. Now even those moments are gone. They never were.

So, Father, I am not doing well sexually. I am realizing that I was living in my own fantasy of sorts, and now I’m facing the possibility that I’ve never really known great sex, and maybe I never will. It’s a bit of a let-down.

Mostly, Father, I’m worried I’ll never actually be seen. That’s all I want, really, in the end.

Sometimes I’d like to run to the next man – that’ll be the time it comes together just right.

A faulty urge, on my part.

I’ll only ever be seen by One, I know that theoretically, but I can’t help but want it ever so badly from a man. It annoys me, how much it distracts me.

Maybe you can pray me through that bit, if you’re up to it.

Thanks,

Me

thinking and thanking and dating

If you looked into the windows of our first Thanksgiving you’d see us laughing. 

About the turkey I let rot on the counter for a week. About what No-Shave-November had done to his face. About the fish at the restaurant with eyeballs.

Sweet, at first glance. 

Look closer.

You’d see me panicking in the bathroom thinking I’d tracked my cycle wrong and we were going to be pregnant.

You’d see me praying at mass that I wouldn’t be, that it’d all be okay, that he’d be okay, that he’d still love me.

You’d see me leaving for Kroger, telling my parents I needed Midol, buying First Response. Hiding in the bathroom by the check-out, heart pounding in my ears watching the timer tick down.

A negative test washing the anxiety off.

Back to laughing.


I’m sorting through my life again, turning stories into essays for the never-ending ever-involved annulment questionnaire. 

I put down paragraphs on the tangled mess of my marriage; it’s winding the strand of anxiety back around my heart.

Why was I so stupid

Why couldn’t I see

Why did I stay

I was young

So dumb

In love

Maybe love is just as blind as they say. Maybe it shouldn’t have been.

I read a book on annulment the other day, and as I type along I wonder why the author said I’d get through this process and see how I’d contributed to the divorce. 

I certainly contributed the lawyer, so I guess there’s that. 

I look again, but still, no, it wasn’t my flaws that fueled our demise. My error wasn’t in the end, but in the beginning. I’ll take responsibility for that- I knew what marriage was. I knew what marriage should be. I didn’t know enough about what it would be with him, and maybe I should have.

The rest is on him.

Leaving was the bravest thing I’d ever done, and that is the only part of this story I will take ownership of. Aside from picking poorly- I did not deserve the hell he put me through. I did not deserve the callous cold, the manipulation, the fear, the anxiety, the neglect, the rage. Those were not my mistakes. 

I continue narrating my story, the list of questions stretching on like a bad dream.

I wonder why the process wasn’t this thorough before our wedding day.

I wonder how to explain the bits that need explaining without scandalizing the readers.

I wonder what to call it when you’ve been fighting with your husband because he’d lied about the strippers and later when you’d asked him what to do about the day you’d had sex – should you drink at the wedding in case you’d be pregnant in two weeks – his response was a laughing, “Better drink up!” 

What do you call it when you’re so mad you make him a bed on the couch but he’s drunk and wakes you up from sleeping to have awkward clumsy uncomfortable sex you weren’t interested in and you were angry and it didn’t feel good but you don’t tell him to stop because good wives don’t deny their husbands?

What do I call that?

I’m writing it up for a committee to review and I’m not quite sure what else to say.

This whole thing sucks.


Except, a little bit, it doesn’t.

Begrudgingly, after my fuss about the Church’s encouragement to avoid dating, I find it’s possible the advice might be valid. I feel a bit like a harrumphing teenager, skulking off, too moody to admit she was wrong. 

Eventually, though, I stop worrying about finding new men and start worrying about finding myself.

I suppose if I spent last year heart-broken this is a good a time as any for re-building. 

Makes enough sense, so I reinvest in the things I used to love. Ever-so-gently my heart starts putting itself back together.

Instead of men, I’m dating words. I’m writing. I’m reading. I’m soaking up stories. Book after book, I’m eating them up, finishing the ones that’ve been half-done for years. I’m choosing a life of expansion over life with a man who thought he was good enough, who scoffed at self-improvement. 

I date music. I realize this year alone I’ve been to more concerts than I’d gone to in years. I play classical at dinner, pop in the car, country in the shower; I soak in new albums and genres and pianos breath over me like a balm.

I plan to date the world. He didn’t want to travel. Didn’t like it, didn’t want it, angrily planted in America, uninterested in cultures or places or people or putting his feelings aside to invest time in his wife. To that I say – I’m going to Ireland this winter. To Italy this summer. To France next fall. I will see the world, I will see it’s people, and I will learn. I will explore. I will adventure. I will be a student of all this earth has to offer.

Most importantly, I spend time dating God. Where my husband made me choose between love of God and him, where he yelled when I chose God and put a hole in our bedroom wall, where he told me I was selfish for choosing my faith, I was uncompromising and hateful and made him feel unloved because I wanted a life with children in it- 

Now I pray. And I pray and pray and pray. I go to holy hours without sneaking out of the house. I go to church events and confession and mass. I play Lauren Daigle and Audrey Assad and hymns and podcasts and there is no shame. I read about saints and philosophers and Scripture and faith. I rest. 

There is no more fear. 

I am free.

I am me. 

I am thankful. 

a prayer for frostbite

What do we do when the Church feels cold?

When it starts to feel like no, after no, after no?

No sex outside marriage. No birth control. No same-sex relationships. No IVF. No surrogacy. 

Even in the smaller things- no meat on Fridays, no food before mass. No getting high, drinking too much, eating too much, shopping too much.

In some circles, the more ridiculous things- no bikinis, no shorts, no working mothers.

It can all start to feel a little heartless.

I won’t pretend to understand the struggle of those in the world sorting through heavier things, but recently I’ve been faced with my own small ‘no’ and I’m a bit at odds.

See, according to my Church, I’m supposed to avoid new romantic relationships until my annulment has been finalized. 

For those unaware, an annulment is basically the Church’s way of confirming that a marriage was, at the time of the vows, not sacramental- not a free, total, faithful, fruitful, holy union at it’s inception.

In ‘guilty until proven otherwise’ fashion, we are meant to assume the marriage was sacramental until Step One: The divorce is legally finalized and Step Two: An official Church tribunal reviews the case (comprised of documents, testimonies, questionnaires, and supporting accounts from outside observers).

In the in-between state of a marriage dissolved by law and not by faith, involved parties are advised to “remain faithful to the wedding vows” until an annulment is, or is not, granted. 

This process, tacked on top of my already never-ending divorce, promises to be another lengthy, involved, and emotional one. 

In reality, holding off on dating is probably for the best, as I’m not really interested in exploring vulnerability with men. And to be completely honest, I’m enjoying this space for myself.

Even still, it feels rather harsh to encourage me to “stay faithful to my vows” when the male half of this situation was not faithful to any vows on any level. Not in dating, not in marriage, and absolutely not now. 

So what am I staying faithful to? Lies? Deception? Cover ups? A sham of a marriage and a liar of a husband? And why am I the punished party? If anyone needs a little churching here, I think it might be him. 

So I’m annoyed. 

And I’m tired. 

I’d like to feel free to move and make decisions of my own volition, not as a slave to an abusive husband, the inefficiency of the Californian legal system or the intricacy of an annulment process. I’m tired of being manipulated and under control and out of control, financially and emotionally and spiritually and physically.

On top of that, I feel like I’m grieving again. I’m just starting to realize that- surprise!- I’m really, really, single. A mental spiral triggered by the settlement submitted last week for final legal processing.

I’m relieved, but a little more broken than I thought I’d be. 

I feel abandoned. 

I keep thinking, over and over,

but what if he’d loved me?


There’s a voice that follows, whispering is this it

Is it?

Am I going to be alone? Forever?

I suppose I was alone before. Loneliness in a marriage was certainly painful in its own special way, leaving me by myself at church, with family, in prayer, in thought.

One of those last summer nights found me alone in my home, again, calling him over and over at three am, wondering where he was, again. I tossed and turned, coming to terms with a truth I’d been avoiding: I’d rather be alone forever than live like this. 

So what if this really is forever?

I don’t want to hear that God has a plan or it’s all going to be okay. 

This might be the plan. 

Is it ok?


I try to look beyond the rules.

I put it all away, and I try to look to Jesus.

I try to sit in mass, sit in adoration, sit in prayer.

I try to get beyond the sterility of rule-following to the heart of it.

I sit, and sit, and sit, and stare into the face of God until as much as I wrestle, I can’t help but rest.

There’s something undeniable; it’s tangible, concrete peace. It’s grace.

There is a real encounter with a real God, and real love, so maybe- maybe- singleness is not synonymous with loneliness. 

Maybe these rules aren’t the iron-cold bars of a cage, but the warm walls of a home within which I encounter love in the most healthy, human way possible. 

Maybe here, in this home, there is a life of abundance waiting around the corner.

Or maybe that life is right here, waiting for me to live it.

a season of shavasana

I’ve been making time for yoga lately. Not with the skill or intensity of a Lulu-clad millennial- I’m mostly in my room with my dog- but it’s felt good all the same. 

I used to practice casually in my little North Carolina town, attending beginner classes with retirees and other inflexible townspeople. It was around that time my marriage was at a low point, and I was grateful for mornings alone to unwind. It was just for myself, without people-pleasing or clock-ins or competition. My body moved the way it wanted and needed, without pressure or judgment or the eyes of a husband who loathed me.

All was well – I could even touch my toes! – until my foot broke, I had to stop working, and me and my paisley mat moved to California.

Unfortunately, years of picked-last-in-gym syndrome kicked in and I avoided yoga like the plague, unhappy in my skin and ability and intimidated by the way everyone in Southern California somehow grew up doing yoga (how?). I couldn’t compare or keep up, so I let it go.

It’s October now, another season of letting go. The heat fades, the colors change, the air cools, life stills. 

What am I shedding this season with the leaves? What am I letting settle to the earth with the reds and yellows and oranges? What is the sun warming again with its sweet autumnal light?

I turn into myself, stretch out tight hips, and unwind again in the evening golden glow.

I am in a new season, too. In my room, lengthening and strengthening, I’m given permission to reclaim what’d been forgotten as I greet downward dogs and fish and frogs like old friends.

I am learning to sink further into my body. I am slowly celebrating small victories, making peace with small failures and, through it all, enjoying my muscles and breath and sweat and strength.

More than anything, I find I’m enjoying this new space for aloneness. I sweep out the rooms of my mind, say goodbye to unruly, unwanted visitors, and close the door. There is quiet, there are candles, and at the center of it all, I lay a mat out to take care of myself, for myself, with myself. An outward sign that yes, I take up space in this world, and yes, I will foster that space. 

At the end of it all, I’m in shavasana, the corpse pose. On the outside, I’m looking like the meeting place of life and death. On the inside, I am anchoring. Settling into myself, my skin, my life, my mind, and letting go. Making room for the season I am in and new seasons to come. Sinking deeply into a rhythm.

As much as fall brings death to life, maybe this season, this shavasana of nature, is simply about making space. New space, new room, to breathe. To sink, once again, into a rhythm.


In this new light and space, I am most happily embracing this fresh sense of stillness. A significant stride, considering the unrest of last October.

Last year I was living at home, paying for lawyers, starting a new job, learning about life in a new state. This year, much is the same, but, even still, much is changed. Yes, I’m at home, paying for lawyers, not divorced, but, today, my heart is rested. The constant weight of his presence is fading. He isn’t driving me forward, moving me urgently towards the need to heal, pushing me towards conquering, fighting, processing, growing. 

I continue on my own road, this October, still conquering, processing, growing- but no longer at his expense. It is, this time around, for me, and me alone. This season, this version of me, is a little less tethered to that man, the one who held my heart and mind from a distance.

Now I move through my day, clear headed, both purposeful and purposeless, in a rhythm set by me. He doesn’t hover over my shoulder, doesn’t remind me I am alone, doesn’t tell me I am unlovable, doesn’t say anything at all. He isn’t anywhere to be found. 

Of course, occasionally, when I’m least expecting it, he does come back. October is for ghosts, after all.

Most recently, he was in a song floating over the trees, a tune from the family across the street. Those words had always brought me back to him, back to dancing at bars and at weddings, leaning into each other closer and singing louder, feeling breathlessly this is our life, feeling seen and seeing and wrapped up in home. 

My heart hurt, for a moment, and I wonder if these moments plan on revisiting me for forever. I wonder if I’ll go longer than hours or days- maybe years- until a song or a laugh or a smell returns my heart to his. And then again, for a moment, all the sorrow and all the ache will be back like a strike of lightening, a piercing flash, before returning to nothing. Just another rain storm, just another fall. 

I wonder if someday, at the end of these earthly days, I’ll see him again in another flash of light. Another strike without the pain and the anger and sadness and brokenness. 

I wonder if a part of my heart, a part of my soul, will be his for always. And I wonder if, maybe, someday, those littlest parts will be together again, in the briefest exhale, ah, I know you, and there will be a moment of love, the way we meant it to be. Now, as through a mirror, then, as face to face.

Or, perhaps, more autumns will pass by, and it’ll all be nothing but a lightening strike, an unseen scorch of earth in an overgrown forest, buried and buried again under the falling leaves.