Goodbye, Devotion.

And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye, wish me well
You’ve gotta let me go.
— Human by The Killers

When I talked to the artist Jean (with the French pronunciation) on the corner of 9th and Boulevard, he kept saying to me, "I haven't always been this way. I used to really have things together."

I think of those words as a gift. He gave them to me and today I pass them onto you. I haven't always been this way. I used to really have things together.

I am not going to post anymore of my But I AM Home book online. Doing so has been so illuminating for me, but I have made a pact with my MADness that I will follow Her like a white rabbit and this morning She told me She is done posting the home book on my blog. She doesn't care that this makes me look ridiculous. She doesn't care that my word needs to be my word and that I gave you my word. She doesn't care that I like to be known as a person that finishes what she starts, a person that totally has her shit together. 

I want you to contact me if this feels like a let down. I want you to contact me if by chance you are hanging on every word (it could be my ego that suspects this). I want you to contact me if you truly have a question specifically about my spiritual story. I will be VERY present to you if you are out there. Other than that, let's move on, shall we?

With these above paragraphs posted I now feel like a book in the wind, my pages blowing forward several chapters at a time.

It is how I read the end of Rumi's Red Book last night, skimming words, reading only a couple on each page because MAD has taken what She needs for now and is moving on. I am learning to trust Her movement and Her pauses. I wanna be right with Her. She doesn't want to belabor the spiritual turmoil one second longer. She is lighter on my feet. She doesn't pay homage to things any longer than She feels necessary. Her Devotion is haphazard. "Don't screw anything to the wall," She says. "Let's not be so transfixed and worshipful that we stagnate." 

This past weekend She peeled me away from Twitter. She pulled that long Matrix rod called Facebook out of the back of my head. It felt like torture, until it was gone. "There is nowhere to promote," I keep telling Her. "I know," She says softly. "I know." 

I call everything She does a MAD experiment because it terrifies me. She doesn't call it anything. She simply lives, moves, breathes through my flesh. 

Today I cried when a stranger surprised another stranger with concert tickets to a performance of her favorite singer/songwriter. I excused myself because I had to get a tissue and blow my nose!

What is going on inside me?

Today I asked a stranger if she would be willing to let her toddler go where she pleased, knowing full well that "where she pleased" was up on my lap to push keys on my laptop. Mad says, "Come on then!" And up the little girl came, kicking her leather moccasins in so much excitement I thought my heart would burst.  

What is going on inside me?

You thrashers, you delicious Wild Beasts that feel spewed out of Christianity (or fill-in-the-blank with your religion) because for some reason God stuck a finger down His throat and said, "Out with you," I love you so! I don't know where you are exactly, but for me, it is time I stopped circling around the carcass of my Christian body. As that man in the film Love Actually says so aptly, "Enough. Enough now."

From now on I will refer to these thrashing memories like a fuzzy dream. I will see them like I'm squinting down a cardboard pirate's telescope, gazing back to that distant coast where my ship took a most unfortunate turn during that one horrendous storm. I might even say at times, "Hmmmm, I can't quite remember." It will be sort of warmly legendary when I reminisce on it. You will be able to tell I am feeling things about it that just can't be gathered into a language.   

I will honor those years like the wrinkly old woman Rose who weathered her own shipwreck. Rose who clutched a blue jewel to her breast, a breast that knew the cost of feverishly nursing a tender, achey, passionate heart, but still had to watch it die before it could truly live.

That was then. A swirling, dark, risky, ravished then. Today I Am the incarnational MADness. She is wiping my memory. She is returning me to my innocence. Ask me now if you need to know because I can't be sure what I will remember. Isn't it wondrous?

But I Am Home - Chapter Three

Mary E. King

I walked up the two concrete steps to her law office. Mary E. King, Attorney at Law the sign said in black capital letters just above the two picture windows and the large glass door. “This used to be a jewelry store,” I told my kids, filling them in on the changing details of a hometown I grew up in, but hadn’t visited much lately. “And I went to school with Mrs. King.”

When we walked in, it was her husband, Jason, who greeted us from the front desk, but Mary heard the door open and came up right away. She looked the same as I remembered. Perhaps her hair was a little longer. Maybe her eyes a little tireder, but that’s to be expected, just three weeks out from having her second baby and already back into the office, because as she said, “When you own your own business, the place doesn’t run itself.”

“It’s my dress down day today,” she said, motioning to her semi-casual black top and jeans. “I don’t have to be in court so I relax a little in what I wear. Come on, let me show you around. Oh, and we have a whole box of toys for the kids.”

She pulled out a big plastic tub of activity books and toys as she talked to my kids. They crowded around it like ants finding a drop of a sugary morsel. 

I followed my friend through the office, a glass display case of shelves of legal books ran along the right wall. She explained that she went to the local Law Library to do most of her research. These books were just for display purposes. 

“I can’t believe this is yours. That you are actually here on the main street of our hometown doing what you always wanted to do. Why, I remember being in Youth In Government with you our Freshman year. You talked me into it, and of course I absolutely hated the whole thing. Remember when we went to present our bill about billboard pollution that weekend in Columbus? You wanted our bill to pass, and I wanted it to fail, so we could just have a good time. You’ve always wanted this.”

She laughed, while I remembered my awkward attempt at pretending I fit in with aspiring senators, lobbyists, and lawyers. 

“I guess I have always wanted this, haven’t I? Even if I ran away from it for awhile by going to school for interior design.”

“Yes, but even then you were passionate about designing proper spaces for the handicapped. And you told me about your desire to change the laws so that people in wheelchairs could have more access to public places.”

She smiled, remembering, as she continued to show me around. I saw the beautiful ornate white ceilings that were original to the building and that she just had to keep. The giant wall safe with multiple doors that nested inside one another. The back office, which was hers, and the addition of a bathroom which was great for pumping milk for your baby in the privacy of your own space.

“You are a lawyer and a mom. Look at you!” I was baffled at how she made it all work.

“It’s hard. It was a hard choice to go out on my own and practice law, but my parents and Jason really encouraged me to dream big and to give it a shot.”

“Is it hard working together and being married?” I asked her.

“It has its challenges. But really we have common goals, and what any marriage needs to be successful is common goals. So that helps us.” 

She changed the subject.

“Now you, you’re writing and being an artist. That fits what you always wanted to do too.”

“Yes, you know, this trip back to Ohio has been pretty interesting. I’m supposed to be thinking about the next book I’m going to write, and I had this sense that coming back here would help. And each person I’ve visited with has given me some little token of wisdom. 

“I guess I feel like I was asleep when I lived here, and now I’m coming back and seeing it with eyes wide open and wondering what the people that knew me then can tell me about who I am. I feel like I’ve been running away from my past because it was the only way I knew how to become the someone new that I needed to be. But now I wonder what parts of myself and my roots have I forgotten? Who have I always been, even if I didn’t have eyes to see me as such. 

I continued. “You chose to come back here. I mean, you and I, out of our entire class, we went the furthest away to college. But you came back, and I never did. I used to think the really brave people were the people that got out. The people that went away from here and made an entirely new life, but now I’m not so sure.” My voice wavered and my eyes started watering. “Now I’m wondering if the truly brave people are those who stayed.” I looked up at her face made blurry through my tears, hoping she’d take over the conversation, so I could compose myself. Why was this so emotional for me? Why was I saying these things to her? Did I really mean them?

“I don’t think it has to be one or the other. I think both can be brave. It’s the motivation behind the choice that matters.” She seemed so strong to me in that moment. Her, the lawyer, being all matter of fact and direct. Me, the artist, with the tender parts and the overflowing tear ducts.

All this talk of should I stay or should I go was making me think of Buddy. Buddy is my Boxer-Mix dog that a friend of ours rescued from the streets when he was skin and bones with patches of mange. Our friend got him cleaned him up and we adopted him. He’s been with us for a few years now.

But Buddy likes to run away. And each time he runs away, he runs away faster, harder, further.

He runs away like an animal that knows this might be his only chance, and so he’s going to make the most of it.

“I wonder if this is our experience because we always adopt strays.” I told my husband, while fiddling in the kitchen one day. “I mean, remember our dog Ninja? He always ran away. Maybe there’s something in a stray that always loves to roam.”

The gate to our backyard is a bit jankety. By jankety I mean that it might as well be held together by duct tape and spit because it’s not exactly a sound structure. At the base it opens wider than at the top, and when closed securely, our dog has found he can use his snout to create enough leverage to squeeze through his entire 55+ pounds of fur and bones. So when we see him slink around the side of the house, we know he’s trying to make a break for it.

He looks for other opportunities too. A cracked open front door. The door out to our garage left ajar by a kiddio who came in for water and a bathroom break before going back out to ride their bike.

The first time he escaped he didn’t go far. He smelled neighboring trashcans, peed on a neighbor's bushes, wagged his tail when I called and ran back. What a good dog!

But each time he got a little more daring and a little more deaf to my calls.

The last time was by far the most adventurous, and afterwards I declared, “If that dog gets out again, he can just go. I’m done chasing him. If we wants to live here, well then he can find his way back to us.”

My kids hope I’m kidding. I’m not sure if I am or not.

Across the street from us my neighbors’ houses back up to a vacant lot. The vacant lot is currently unmowed and to get to it requires a bit of a jaunt through a thin line of heavily wooded land. The day I traversed this land, I was in my pajamas with flip-flops. It was also right before we were needing to leave for school.

My husband ran out first, but I was quick behind him.

“Where did he go? I don’t see him anywhere!” He said, exasperated.

“Oh, I know exactly where he went. He tore between our neighbors’ houses and now he’s somewhere in the forest, making his way to the vacant lot of freedom. I’ll find him.”

And off I went. I had grabbed a bit of dog food on my way out the door, hoping I could lure him back.

I heard the jangle of his collar before I saw him. He was already through “the forest.” I hesitated, not wanting to have to pay later for the consequences of my deathly allergic reaction to poison ivy, and then, deciding I had no choice, I went in after him.

At first I was hopeful, but eventually I got lost in the rescue mission and just became an observer. Mesmerized by his nose to the air, wondering how overloaded his senses must be in a wide open field of wild life, I trailed him. He was like a dolphin in an ocean, coming out of the sea of overgrown grass and then disappearing as he dove back in. So far, he was steering clear of the busy street of traffic that ran parallel to the empty lot of land.

I didn’t know him in this environment. He looked a little scary, untamed, frantic. He acted as if he didn’t recognize me, as if he might bite me if I got too close. His instincts were raw, uncaged, and I realized, maybe for the first time, that he was in fact an animal, in the wildest sense of the word.

Eventually I trapped him along the edge of a ditch leading into the surrounding neighborhoods. Or maybe he just wore himself out. When I grabbed his collar and walked him across the field and forest to home he went peaceably for a bit, and then as the sudden realization of what was occurring hit him, he would leap into the air and pull backwards, trying to loosen my grip on his collar. I felt like I was forcing him to do something apart from his nature. Back to the house, back to the cage, back to entrapment.

As I made that walk back home with him, I contemplated my own wildness. How often I have felt drug by the collar by a well-entionened soul back to a place of safety and four walls and convention and proper behavior. How often I have lounged on couches of good girl all the while scheming up plans to nose my way out of a jankety gate or make a dash for a cracked open door. How good it would feel to run until I got tired. To explore until my senses caved in. To maybe even growl at the hand that fed me, just so I could have some time to myself to be about the business of adventuring.

I think I, like my dog, live in both worlds. Domesticated and wild. Street wanderer and air-conditioned pillow cuddler. Able to escape when a scent simply must be followed and able to run laps in the backyard when the energy feels warranted to be exerted closer to home. I don’t know really what I’m getting at in writing all of this, but to say, I know the tug that my once-a-stray dog feels innately. I know it because it is my own once-a-stray, always-a-stray heart.

And maybe it’s the “knowing I can roam” that keeps me coming back home.

So here I am, back in my hometown, standing in the lobby of my friend’s law office and wondering what I’m supposed to learn from this moment of tameness. I continued the conversation.

“Things have changed for me. Things have changed for me in my faith, and I am not in church, and I don’t feel drawn to be anytime soon. My beliefs used to be so black and white and sure, and now they are messy and grey and full of uncertainty. I love where my personal spirituality has brought me. I love the mystery of it all and the closeness I feel with that Something we call God, but I am not who I was when I lived here. I’m like Humpty Dumpty, except I have no desire to put myself back together again. I’ve changed, and I don’t know how to come back here and know where I fit or if I still even do.”

I feel like I’ve been on a journey of running away so I could have the space to discover myself, and now I’m figuring out how to be brave enough to bring the real me back “home,” without losing mySelf all over again.

“You know Mandy, I see most of my clients on the worst possible days of their lives. They’re usually either dealing with the death of someone in their family or they’re going through a divorce. They come to me when it seems that their lives have completely fallen apart. A change has happened and life will never be as it once was. I know what it looks like to find a new identity in the midst of swirling change that feels forced upon you. I don’t get to celebrate with people in my job. It’s like an emotional ER in here. And you know what I realize? I realize we are all just doing the best we can. And there is a powerful Source of love and grace extended to any us if we’re willing to accept it. Other than that, I don’t have many answers either.” 

She paused, and then went on, “But I do think you’re the person to write about this. I do think you should do that. Go write. Go write about the questions that can’t be answered and those days where life explodes and you realize this isn’t going to all play out like any of us thought. Someone’s going to need to talk about that so we all don’t go crazy down here.”

“I miss you,” I said. I miss her, and I don’t feel like I even really know her. How is it I feel like I don’t know any of these people I spent a big chunk of my life with? Who are they now that the sole purpose of my faith is not to win other people to it. Who can other people be now that I just let them be them? No more manipulating or sizing up or converting or evangelizing. Just sitting alongside, shoulder to shoulder and saying, “You’re doing a damn good job at living your dream. A damn good job despite it all.” 

But I Am Home - Chapter Two

*Author's note: I am thinking this might be better as a first chapter. This discussion was held before I took my trip back to Ohio. So as far as timeline goes, it comes first. 


Book Agent

It is helpful to have a book agent. Sure it’s helpful for the obvious reasons - that they know the publishing industry, that they have good connections, that they can walk you through the process of book proposals and that they can pitch to publishers when the time is right. But there is another reason - they can swoop into town on occasion and ask you the questions that get under your skin and get you writing again.

“So, are you working on a second book?” He asked me, while his wife generously corralled my then three-year-old at a nearby table.

“Well I did get about 20,000 words into one, but then I lost momentum. Couldn’t think of anything else to add to it.”

He nodded and took a bite of his food. I continued.

“So I’m thinking about writing fiction."

“Why is that?” He said, his interest perked.

“I just feel like 'that thrashing book' took everything out of me. Like I gave everything away and now I’m standing here naked and not wanting to call anymore attention to myself. With fiction, the characters can say whatever they want and no one has to point a finger at me. I can hide behind fiction.”

“You may not be good at fiction.”

His comments were usually like this, short and to the point. I appreciated his ability to cut to the chase. In the moment though, I was feeling overheated and highly distracted by a chatty three-year-old in my peripheral vision that didn't want to sit in his seat. I didn't want to sit in mine either.

“Honestly, I don’t know that I can write a book that a Christian publishing company will want to publish. We both know things had to be cut out of the first book, like the yoga chapter where I talked about zen buddhism and all the references to God as She. Those things were too on the edge, and two years later in this faith journey I’m on, I’m afraid I’m not getting any closer to the industry’s standard. It’s just so hard to write when you don’t know where you fit.”

“What is your aim in all this? Are you wanting to lead people to Universalism? Do you want people to leave church and stop reading their Bibles? Where are you taking people? Summarize for me what your first book said and what your second book might say.”

I came into this restaurant today with a light heart. I was going to write fiction. I was going to forget the past. I was excited for the first time in a long time about stringing words together again. I was over the hump of being an angsty, dark wanderer, and I was going to move onto the part of my newly budding career as a writer that would include “shiny happy people holding hands” and bestsellers. Of course I would write bestsellers. People like books with light I had told myself, and I could move on. I had dealt with my shit. 

But his questions were coming like knife slashes into the barrier of my pretty white sheet. I didn't take it calm and gracefully. I took it defensively as a personal attack. My emotions got involved. I felt old panic flood back in.

Had I learned nothing? Was I still a thrasher at heart? Why does everyone want to know my intent? Why does everyone want to peel back my plot of ground and hover over to watch me, the little pill bug, making a mad dash for my mud hole where I can bury my head from the intense spotlight. What if I just want to burrow tunnels of exploration and not have to give an explanation for it? Can I just get lost for hours (months? years?) playing in my spirituality like a child in a sandbox?

I felt put on the spot, unprepared for the direction the conversation was going. I murdered words and sentences as I tried to formulate an answer. An answer that would what? Please him? An answer that would what? Sell my lifestyle choices as well as a second book? An answer that would what? Make me seem less like the heathen I felt like whenever someone wanted me to explain?

Is everyone waiting for the happy ending where I throw myself back into the arms of church, tote my Bible around like the grade-school age, newly baptized version of myself and belt out praise songs that speak of swallowing pride, repentant hearts and second chances because shame on me? Is everyone holding their breath for a second book that will be the hallmark holiday special all neatly tied up in a red ribbon? I took a deep breath.

“The first book was a search for my voice amongst all the noise. It was a returning to me. What do I need to be happy? What do I need to live a fulfilling life? And will God still love me if I am finally myself? It was working through a lot of fear because my religion had asked me to be somebody specific so I wouldn’t let God down, but that somebody was not enjoying life, in fact the devotion was smothering her. That book was me walking myself out of a dark scary forest and learning to trust the compass that is woven into the very core of my being.

“But now, after two years have gone by, I’m not scared anymore to be me. I trust my voice. I trust my intuition. I trust I am loved. And I feel pretty unapologetic about my need for wandering and exploring the mysteries of my spirituality. I hardly ever wonder anymore if God approves of me or my choices. I wonder if people do, but not God. I don’t feel cut-off from God anymore. I feel a sort of intimate union with the Divine that I aim to protect and cultivate. My questions are no longer will the church approve and am I getting the doctrine right so I can be liked? My questions now are, where do I fit? If this is me, where do I fit? In the world of religion and faith and spirituality and church, where do I belong? And I don’t have an easy answer yet for that, so maybe that is my next book.”

I heard myself saying the word God over and over again. I didn't like the word God. It had baggage, but I knew that was a word he would understand. I marveled at how difficult it was for me to find a common language to communicate the internal growth I had undergone.  

“So the first book maybe is here is what God did for me, and the second book is, here is what I’m doing for God?” He asked, trying to translate my garbled supposings into his short and to the point language.

“No. I don’t think that’s it exactly. Oh, I don’t know. I’m just not afraid to be me anymore, but I’m afraid that me is not going to look appealing to a Christian publisher.”

“How about this. How about you just write. You write what is on your heart to write, and then I’ll decide what to do with it.”

In that moment I thought about my all the stories I couldn't share with a Christian publisher. I thought about my Hindu friend with the icon of the elephant-headed god in her living room, the living room that felt like home that day I was sick with Bronchitis and oh so tired. When I was in her presence, I felt comfort and love. I could let my guard down.

I thought about my altar with the Mother Mary holding my burning incense and the hot pink camel and the Jesus and Angel candles and the Buddha figurine, and the salt crystals infused with a night of the full moon. I thought of the Kama Sutra book with the beautiful artwork that sits beneath the altar with the likes of Hafiz and Rilke and Rumi. I thought of this sacred shrine hidden in the back of my clothes closet where my mysticism and eroticism feel safe.

I thought about smoking cloves on my back porch and sipping wine from a jelly jar. 

I thought about my gay friends.

I thought about the way my husband looked on his bike during a race and the way my three-year-old used to pray “I love you, God. I don’t love you, God” before bed each night. 

I thought about the women with their funky hats and their statue of the black lady of the chains in the book Secret Life of Bees

I thought about the moment where I experienced my first tarot reading with my friend Valerie and how she gave me money when she found out I had bought my first deck of tarot cards for myself. "The first deck is always a gift from a friend," she had said warmly. She had passed tarot on to me like a holy rite.

It all fits into my faith. It all holds sacred pieces. It all is holy ground. Even the parts the publisher will need to cut. Even the parts I know others can’t, if they are being honest to their own faith, condone. 

Does this make me a Universalist? Does this mean I’m asking people to abandon their churches and shelve their Bibles?

I don't believe I am. After all, don't I love our differences? Don't I love that Janita taught me about the Hindu belief in avatars and that Jean and Daphne burned incense to their gods and liked the firecrackers to be loud so the evil spirits would flee? Don't I love that Ms. Martha calls herself a Christian, but a bad one? Don't I love the story about how my cousin was a counselor at church camp when he discovered he was an atheist? Don't I love that the Buddhist Nun taught me how to say, "How wonderful." I don't want any of them to abandon their faiths, do I? 

My agent's question was a good one.

Where do I belong and what am I trying to say about the belongness of others?

Where does this all leave me? Prone to wandering but not lostness?

Maybe one can never be lost if they know where they are. And I know I am here, on this page, trying to carve out a home.

I want you to see that there is divinity in you. I want you to see that there is divinity in me. I want you to see it is everywhere, now, not only when we repent or when we get our theology straight, whatever that means. I want you to see the collision of humanity and divinity and I want you to marvel and ache and embrace it.

I told my agent I would see what I could do. I told him I would write what’s on my heart and see what can be done with it.

When the first draft of the book was finished my agent said, "You’ve hit a very hard spot in your nonfiction book writing. In some senses, neither fish nor fowl. Just a well written and honest portrayal of your journey. If we can find you a home who embraces your style and journey, then great."

So it is that great IF I am learning to call home because otherwise there is just no place to lay my head. My home is an anomaly. I stand between yin and yang and invent ways to get comfy. 

Secret Message Society Zine - Pisces

ISSUE 23 is here!

Members can tiptoe into the Secret Lair for a digital download right NOW!

Sneak-peek at art by Alexia.

Sneak-peek at art by Alexia.

The Pisces issue features Alexia as the centerfold artist! 

And also contains contributions from these artists:

I would really love to send you my gypsy journalism in the mail. There are digital and snail mail options available. AND there are additional perks to belonging to the Secret Message Society. 

Read about them HERE

Join us for our 2015 theme - Zines of the Zodiac. Find your inner sign by trying them all on for size, one month at a time. 

Back issues are available in my Etsy store. Once they sell out they're gone. 

Other sneak-peeks of this issue:

But I Am Home - Chapter One

Dear Mr. Sauer

I wrote him a letter in 2011, but I never sent it. 

Dear Mr. Sauer,

It has been years since we’ve spoken, I hope you are doing well. I’ve recently been going through a crisis of faith of sorts, and many times throughout that, I have thought about you. You see, I haven’t been able to read the Bible anymore. It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I have tried, several times, but each time I return to the pages it is as though putting together polar opposites of a set of magnets. 

I can remember you speaking of the Bible in English class. Discussing its passages as though literature, like pieces of the finest cut of meat, to be chewed on and savored. I do not know if you believe everything verbatim that is written there. Of this I do not care, but I do wish I could read the Bible again with your eyes. To be able to step back from it and hear it not as commandments or wrath or condemnation, but as rich as the richest Shakespeare play you taught us. 

Maybe if I could sit with you over a good meal and a glass of wine, you could teach me how to squirm less. Maybe I could hear the words differently if read with your mouth. Maybe that’s all wishful thinking. At any rate, it would be good to see you.

Thinking of you,

Mandy Steward

I’m not sure why I never sent it. I suppose it was because so much time had gone by since my Senior year of high school when he taught my AP English and Drama Literature classes. 15 years. Can you just drop into someone’s life after 15 years, proclaiming ancient memories and demanding present action? Can you say to someone, “I was sleeping when I knew you, but now I’m waking up, and I want to know you in my waking, not just in my dreams”?

It was 2012 and my kids were on Fall Break. I seized the opportunity to take them, by myself, on a 15 hour road-trip to small-town Ohio. I had not been back to my hometown since 2010, and I thought it would be fun for us to visit family. 

In 2010 I was just entering that very dark place of my faith that the book Thrashing was birthed out of. Internally, I was angry, angsty, removed and cautious. I was watching all the answers to my questions prove useless, and I was flailing in the burning flames of all that once was. I was suspicious of anyone who had answers. I was cocooning to take care of me. But this trip in 2012 was different. This was the dawn of a new day. This was a chance to sift through the ashes to see what treasures still remained. It felt as though there was something of me still living in Ohio, and I needed to reclaim those pieces, and glue them into the mosaic of my present day life. 

Throughout my week in Ohio I tried randomly to get in touch with Mr. Sauer. I knocked on his front door. I called and left a voicemail. I asked others I ran into that knew him, “Is Sauer around?” or “How’s Mr. Sauer doing these days?” I really didn’t expect to catch him. He had always been a lover of travel, and having now retired, I could only assume he was off galavanting through China or driving his car across Route 66. 

“He’s a wanderer. Always has been. He can’t really seem to settle down,” a friend had said of him, with a worried tone to his voice. 

“I know that. I think that’s why I need to talk to him. I think I am more like him than I ever realized.”

I gathered up what little hearsay I could about him from a fellow teacher. 

“He smoked a lot in his last days of teaching. He’d wander out of school on his breaks and drive around town and smoke. Some days he’d go missing from his classes. ‘Where’s Mr. Sauer?’ His students would ask. One time we found him in the cemetery, standing beside his idling car, smoking a cigarette, Something in him changed his last couple years of teaching. He’s different now. It’s a shame.”

But is it a shame? He didn’t sound that different to me. I remembered him as someone that wasn’t predictable. That wasn’t nailed to convention. (I had a mental picture of Sauer stirring his coffee with a metal ruler or a pair of scissors or whatever he could find in his desk.) If we’re all writing stories of our life, then that cemetery one sounded like a pretty interesting scene to have in a story.

“Did I ever tell you about the time he took me to a prairie dog exhibit at the zoo? I mean, who does that? But Sauer did. He wanted to see them, but he didn’t want to go alone, and so he invited me, and my parents let me go. We ate Thai food and it was a really good day. He was so eccentric, but he didn’t care what people thought.” My classmate was sharing this with me as we drank vanilla cokes at the Frische’s Big Boy bar one night during my visit to my hometown.

“Prairie Dogs?!” I said with fascination, shaking my head in disbelief. “That man was always exploring. Life never got old to him.”

On the last morning of my visit I received a phone call from him. “Mandy, it’s Sauer. I am in town. Can I take you to lunch?”

“Oh yes, I would love that.” He had no idea how much I would love that.

“Oh great, we can meet at the old Risch Drugstore. It’s a restaurant now called Fast Lanes.”

“I’m looking forward to it.”

I got there early, seating myself at a front table facing the door, so I could see him when he walked in. I was surprised to see the menu had a drink list, and so I ordered a mojito while I waited. This moment seemed to call for a special celebratory drink. I was not nervous, but I was excited. I had a sixth sense that he held pieces to my puzzle. That he would reach deep down into his wind jacket and pull out permission slips, hall passes, and gold stars that would help ease me into this new awakening season of my life.

“Awakening is a bitch,” I recalled a text message from one of my friends. Her response to my text that said, “I feel as though I made choices in my life when I was asleep, and now that I’m waking up, I have to learn how to navigate those choices and make the most of them.”

I heard his voice from behind me, distinct as ever. “Why hello,” he said, to one of the waitresses. I wondered if she two had been a student of his. I turned to look at him, and felt the warm feeling of Christmas morning rise up into my chest. He walked slow. I stood to hug him.

“You snuck in the back door,” I said. “It’s so good to see you.”  

“It’s good to see you as well,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting a head scarf.”

My dreads were pulled back with a floral silky scarf. I made a mental note that I looked different to him.

“My manager said we can’t make you a mojito because we ran out of mojito mix. I apologize. You can pick another drink if you want,” the waiter said to me.

“I’ll just have water, thank you,” suddenly feeling incredibly shy that I had ordered a celebratory drink at all. Maybe this would be just another ho-hum moment. Why did I arrange this reunion at all? 

“I’ll have a water as well,” Sauer replied.

We made small talk until we ordered our food. I told him I was living in Oklahoma City. He said he had visited there once and seen the memorial. “Traffic was horrendous. Of course the whole downtown was under construction.” 

He shared with me that he had retired from teaching and was traveling as he could. He had, in his words, “stupid medical conditions” lately that were ruining his plans. Gout on his feet, hence the slow walking. Dental work to be done. Missing his annual trip with a married couple, who were also former English teachers of mine, to Holden Beach where they relaxed and read books. Then he said sharply, “And that will be all of the medical talk because who wants to hear an old person complain about their ailments?”

I could listen to him talk about anything.

We ordered tortilla soup. He got a sandwich with it, I got a salad. He got a tiny cup of soup, I got a bowl. I felt time pressing on me, poking at my temple with the pointed minute and second arms, threatening me to say what I needed to say. This was to be no polite conversation of watered down milk. I needed the steak only he could serve me.

“I wrote you a letter about a year ago,” I paused to take a drink. “But I never sent it.”

“Oh, thank gawd.” He said relieved. “I thought I must have misplaced it or just never responded.”

I laughed. “No, I never sent it, but I want to tell you about it now.”

I went on to explain the contents of the letter, including that I had written a book that would be published the following year. I told him the book was a sort of means to walking myself through those darker days of my faith. I had stopped reading my Bible, stopped going to church, and yet was experiencing a closeness with God I had never known. 

Then I took a deep breath and said, “I wish I could have really heard you and valued my time with you when I was a teenager. Was I asleep?”

“First of all, I don’t expect you to hear things as an eighteen year old the same as you hear things as a thirty-something-year-old woman. And secondly, as far as the Bible goes, I’ve had some help in learning how to read it from my priest at the Episcopalian church. She helps me see things in a different way. And of course, as any work of literature, some things are not meant to be taken literal. A lot of the Bible is telling a story and using imagery and metaphors.”

“But does any of it ever infuriate you?”

He looked off into the space over my head momentarily, as if the dust was going to align itself into a pathway to take him back to memories long forgotten. Then he said something profound. Something that makes even more sense to me today then we first said it.

“You know, I do think I’m forgetting what it’s like to be your age. To be so fresh on this journey and to have so many things appall me. I know there were moments in my life where this was harder to approach than it is now. For instance, I remember I couldn’t be Catholic because I didn’t for a minute believe that the wafer going down my throat was actually Jesus’ body. I mean who wants to believe they’re swallowing the Savior’s knuckle?”

We both laughed.

“But you are in a church now,” I said to him. “That’s something I still haven’t been able to do.” I said it to him like it was a confession, and I was looking for some absolution.

When Tony left church staff in 2011 I stopped going to church again. I didn’t miss it, but for a time I did feel a sort of residual guilt for not being able to find my peace with it again. I thought if I worked through my anger issues or authority issues, maybe softened a little, I’d feel like making it work. But the more I was gone, the less I wanted to be there. I felt broken. I wanted to know how a guy like Jonathan Sauer could make it work because a part of me still felt like if I was truly healed and healthy, I should be able to go.

“Well, I haven’t actually been in four months. They were saying these long prayers, and all that praying gets on my nerves. I’ll go back again sometime, maybe I’ll even try out a Unitarian church if this one ever gets to be too much for me.”

I appreciated his honesty, and felt a surge of relief. He continued.

“When you get home, you could make some phone calls and set up some times to talk to an Episcopalian priest and a Unitarian Priest. Ask them your questions. Tell them your story. See where you fit.”

“I don’t think I fit anywhere anymore. It’s so strange.”

“I travel around a lot. I have the mother of all National Park Passports. And you know, I get a real sense of God when I’m in nature.”

“Me too,” I said. “I feel like God is everywhere, in everything. Not like a he or a she that exists separately on some cloud in heaven, but as a real pulse through everything. Undefinable, mysterious, wind-like.”

“Yes, a sort of energy perhaps. I’m not sure I believe in an afterlife like many Christians do, at least not heaven and hell. My sister always says energy can’t die it just gets displaced. And so I see us taking other forms. With any luck I’ll be a mosquito. I’m not scared of dying. I’d make a perfectly happy mosquito.”

I laughed, mesmerized by his wit, intrigued by his imagination, comforted by his dry, dark humor. My eyes filled with tears of appreciation. There was a spaciousness in his answers. A malleableness to his faith.

“How do you have this scope?” I asked him. Him who has lived in this small conservative midwestern town his whole life. Him who has lived in the same exact home his whole life. How is he open-minded, imaginative, explorative? How is he able to see outside his bubble, step outside his box, investigate the edges?

“Travel. I’ve always had the luxury of travel. Travel and books. When I was a young boy I read a copy of Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels. It ignited adventure in me, and I was forever changed. Seeing things that call into question or far exceed what you always assumed to be true is very invigorating.”

I thought to myself, a book with that marvelous name has to be added to my personal library. I delighted in another rabbit trail to explore. Then I continued the conversation.

“But how does one find a support system?” I asked, with tears in my eyes. “I’ve lost some friends over this business of living the questions, exploring the edges, doubting my faith, believing in the mystery. Are wanderers destined to wander alone?”

“You don’t need a lot of support. Just enough. Just enough to keep doing what you’re doing and not feel crazy. You have your kids.

“Yes, my kids, who I’m probably ruining for life because they aren’t in church right now,” I interjected, feeling entirely swallowed up by this woe-is-me moment. My insecurity believed I was harming my children by not offering them a firm foundation like I'd been given. I was voicing this insecurity, throwing it at him to test what he'd think of me if I really was screwing up my life, like I assumed other Christians would think. But I must add that there was another part of me that knew my decisions about church were precisely what I and my family needed. 

He rolled his eyes. “Your kids, who you are most certainly not screwing up by teaching them to think for themselves and think with an open mind. You can still teach them about matters of faith no matter where you are.”

I nodded, his words resonating with my spirit. I concurred strongly in my gut even if I felt pressured by convention to have my babies and myself in a church.

“You also have your husband, whom I don’t know, but from the way you speak of him, it sounds like he has a brain and he’s actually okay that you have one too. That’s a great support.”

I smiled. If I had learned anything about my Love Interest in this process it was that he wasn’t afraid of my voice, my independence, my wandering and my thrashing. He was okay that my internal home was on wheels.

Through the course of my conversation with Sauer, I voiced that what I was really asking was not, who is my support, but rather who will leave me next? Who will be the next to bail ship if I push too far or ask too probing a spiritual question? Can I continue in this business of exploration if it means knowing I will push some people away? Can I be content if “my people” make up a very small number? Can I be satisfied with the people who do love me already instead of chasing after the people I feel I need to win over and convince?

“Mandy, you don’t have to convince anyone to think like you. You are not after converts. You’re just asking good questions. It can turn another’s world upside down when you ask good questions. Remember, Jesus taught with parables that brought up good questions. The way I see it, if there is a God, which I tend to believe there is, in some capacity, then the reason we get to be here is to be loved. And when you remember that you are loved fully and wholly as you are, it becomes easier to be yourself and less necessary to convince others to like you or to be like you.”

I sat with that thought for a minute. That I am here to be loved. What a stunning thought.

He continued. “If your first book was about being tired of of being a Christian maybe your next book is about being tired of not being a Christian. Reclaiming that title Christian for yourself. If Jesus meant anything, he meant love. And it seems to me that there are a lot of people claiming that title of Christian that have lost touch with what it means to love. Why let them have the name? You can use the name, and it can look nothing like anything you’ve ever seen. We could both be Christians. Now that would be a real marvel.”

That was the real meat of our discussion that day and it felt like our own intimate collection of marvels, just as meaningful as I had hoped. When we had finished eating we both snuck out the back door together, and I watched him limp to his car as I got into my own. I started my car, put it into drive and pulled up beside him. I rolled down the window and hollered at him, “You’re a wonder, you know it? People should be beating down your door to have a conversation.”

“I’m an old man. I might be getting 17 teeth pulled. They don’t want to talk to me.”

“Oh, that’s just your shell. Inside, why inside you are an oracle.”

He waved me off, yelling, “It’s really good to see you.”

As I drove away, I wondered what it would look like to sneak in the back door of Christianity the way Mr. Sauer snuck into the backdoor of the restaurant. Is that what I wanted? To call myself a Christian, but only covertly and privately? Did I want to somehow redeem the name for myself? For others? Refuse to budge from it, even if my lifestyle didn’t look like the Christians I knew. For some reason, that didn't resonate at all. 

I thought of all the times, more than I could count, where I sat on my back porch in the moonlight whispering to the dark heavens or scribbling in my art journal:

"I am done with Christianity. I cannot be a Christian anymore. I am walking away. I am renouncing. I quit. I give."

It was equal parts excruciating and thrilling. My deepest desire (freedom) was also going to crucify me (for being a Christian was all I knew). My heart felt ripped in two. I wanted so badly to be faithful, but the faith was actually requiring the one thing I swore I'd never do. Walk away. As many times as I said yes to Jesus through the years, these were my dark night counter-balance whisperings of "no more." I didn't tell a soul. It was private. As days drew on, with each uttering I felt closer to something that mattered, but not quite there. I wanted closure. To just cut all ties and run, but for some reason my renouncing never felt like it stuck. I wasn't convincing mySelf. I felt like a child playing dress-up in non-Christian clothing. I was experimenting with what it would feel like. When Sauer offered Christianity back to me in a fresh light, it was terrifying to me, that even then, I didn't want it. It didn't satisfy the deep call to deep. So I didn't want it, but I couldn't leave it. What madness!

I had a third thought. Maybe that back door was a backstage entrance to my own heart. A coming home to me and my own unique way of living out my spirituality. Maybe the precise dialed in classification of my religious coordinates wasn’t necessary. When people asked me if I was a Christian, maybe I would simply say, “I don’t know, but I AM home.”

When my Thrashing book came out in 2013 I was sure to send Sauer a copy. One because he had been my English teacher, and two because of our talk that day in the small-town cafe.

Six months later I received an email from Jonathan Sauer that began like this:

Dear  Mandy,

I returned last night from a week on the Mayan Riviera, where the sun and surf gave me exactly the ambiance I wanted finally to savor "Thrashing About with God.”

He went on in the letter to compare me to Nicodemus, who came to Jesus in the dark of night to ask questions. 

When Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again," he didn't spell out what he meant, and we aren't told how Nicodemus responded immediately or in the long term.  I suspect he meant that Nicodemus needed to throw out all the old assumptions about what makes for a successful, meaningful, sacred life.  It certainly called for deep introspection on spiritual, emotional and cognitive levels…And in that sense you are Nicodemus, a Nicodemus who has not only asked Jesus the question, but have taken his response to heart and have been thrashing with it ever since.  I think he would be delighted with this----not with your inner torment, but with your refusal to give up the search for truth, to find your place and your relationship with yourself, with others, and with all of Creation, through which the creative energy of God runs. 

I read his words by myself on my phone in the parking lot of a school in Arkansas, while my husband was warming up for a cycling road race. I can still remember how my countenance lifted, knowing this man whom I respected so much had, through the written word, both savored and witnessed my thrashing with great fondness. Again, it was his ability to translate the Bible into such fresh language that had my heart. To Sauer I was Nicodemus. To Sauer I was seeing to my necessary rebirth.

The parallels to Nicodemus were perfect and they began with the dark. The darkness in which I thrashed symbolized my loss of answers and certainty. It also symbolized my own cocooning and protective boundaries I placed around me at a time that I needed to see to my own heart. I needed to address the ghost and demons that haunted me - which ended up being different facets of the heavy looming and dreaded question: Am I walking away from Christianity? 

I went to see about my God questions under the cover of darkness because I was scared others in my Christian community wouldn’t understand. I feared they would see it as rebellion when it felt to me more like obedience. My friend Hillary Rain and I created a website called The Wild Mystics and an entire Into the Dark Night eCourse because we both desired a place to honor what felt like a very holy process of losing faith in the things we’d always took for Truth. I faced all of my scariest questions head on as they arose. The darkness was a place to scoop out, mourn and part ways with all that I deemed unnecessary. It was to honor that which was asking to die and to make space for the new. Like Jesus told Nicodemus, it was a sacred womb in which to be born again. But it was so different than what that culturally Christian phrase “born again” had ever been for me. Previously I had felt like being born again meant losing myself, trading me in for something better. Upgrade! This process felt like coming home to myself. I will have me just as I am. I matter. I must see to this, I kept saying.

I have eluded before in my writing that I lost everything in the dark, but I realize it might be helpful to know some of the specifics of what that looked like. I will talk about some of these things more in-depth throughout this book, but will offer a general list here:

I no longer believe in things like a literal physical location of heaven and hell, that I am a sinful creature in need of saving from mySelf, that prayer and Bible reading and church are my dutiful call to worship and proof of a legitimate spiritual life, that I have to do check-ins with myself and others to make sure I am living in the way that an external God would approve of, that I need to morph myself into a Jesus clone, that I need to pray for forgiveness every time I blow it, (I don’t even believe in blowing it anymore), that I could step in and out of God’s favor and blessing based on my actions, that some Father God would protect me and my family from harm and hardship, that life has one purpose and I better figure mine out, that I need to back up my decisions with scripture to prove I am right, that the Bible is the one True source for all spiritual enlightenment or that there is one correct way for it to be interpreted. 

There was a grand, and at times terrifying, wildness to the Divine, and over the course of about 4 years assessing and sitting with and allowing my dark, I learned to trust my own personal connection to that Source. I came to think of my times in the dark as what Andrew Harvey refers to as shadow work, and I still return to it as part of my holy spiritual practice of constant rebirth. 

I realized through reconnecting with Sauer that it was largely in English class, and only partly in church, that I got a taste of the magic of reading between the lines for secret messages and hidden meaning. I was learning to see and listen with the eyes of my heart.

Call me a mystic or an artist, all I know is that I am wildly talented and creative at assessing great meaning out of anything and everything. This served me well in Christianity when I would read the Bible and glean all sorts of insight. However, when I started to glean the same sort of profound insight from books like Frankenstein or from a conversation with a stranger on the street, I wondered what was wrong with me. The Bible had been sanctioned and approved as THE source for Truth, and suddenly I could find Truth everywhere. And since I had been studying the Bible for 30+ years of my life, I was actually very ready for something fresh. Truth was expanding.

I think of Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the cover of darkness saying, “There has to be more to life than what I am living. Look at what you are doing with your life. You are obviously connected to something greater. How can I be?” And Jesus talking about a Kingdom of God that is already accessible if a person can just be born again. 

I too was coming to this man Jesus in the dark, the man who, due to my upbringing, had ultimate authority over my life, and I was asking in a whisper if it was possible to still connect to the wonder of the magical kingdom if the prescribed Christian way in which I had once found it wasn’t working for me anymore. It felt embarrassing and entitled and presumptuous, like Oliver Twist asking for “more please.”  It felt like an eighteen year old being apologetic because she didn’t want to hurt her parents' feelings, but she did very much need to tell them she had a desire to move out into the big wide world on her own. 

Much like the way Jesus answered Nicodemus, I felt inside me a resounding answer, “Yes. Just let the old things die. One by one, as you are able, for as long as it takes, let the old things die, so you can be born again.” I was being asked to own my own beliefs, both the dying of old ones and the rising up of new ones. Not because Jesus said so, but because I said so. It felt as if this holy man was attempting to pass the authority onto me. He was suggesting he wasn't willing to be my bottleneck anymore. The sky was the limit to what my faith could become. It made me sick to my stomace. No one will understand this, I thought. I wasn't ready for the immensity of it. 

I could say my thrashing was about me going on an intense search for the kingdom of God, but I could also say, using the language I am especially akin to, I had set out on a quest for home.

Secret Message Society - Pisces Centerfold

SECRET AND RARE INCOGNITO PHOTO OF THE MAD WANDERER

SECRET AND RARE INCOGNITO PHOTO OF THE MAD WANDERER

THE LUCKY 13!

my sun sign is… 

Aquarius/Pisces - I’m on the cusp… in more ways than one.

i think astrology is

A.) A HOAX

B.) A FUN DISTRACTION

C.) ABSOLUTE DEAD-ON TRUTH

D.) A BRAND NEW ADVENTURE

E.) ANOTHER REASON TO FALL IN LOVE WITH THE STARS

F.) {MAKE UP YOUR OWN ANSWER}

Sorta kinda I dunno maybe real? I’ll call myself agnostic. Too much makes me think it’s bunk, but too much also makes me think there’s something to it. I keep finding the personality aspects really spot-on.

when i think everything i believe in is all crap, i… 

I pour over my journals and reconnect with my Self.

here is something completely ordinary about me (and why i think that is magical):

I stay up pretty late - there’s something about the deep night that brings out the contemplative, quiet listener in me. Plus, kid’s asleep (!).

a favorite children’s book of mine is:

Where the Wild Things Are (natch.)

the sort of environment i like to create in is…

wherever my tools are. But ideally, I want sea, mountain & plenty of space to spread out (I have a place in mind somewhere in Greece…)

my personal style in three words:

eclectic, searching, soulful

you wouldn’t believe where i am finding art lately:

my son’s scribbles and choice of colors.

my still, soft voice tells me in a whisper…

you are enough, just as you are.

I knew Michael Wood (my first art mentor) believed in my art when…

she wouldn’t let me quit.

three of my favorite stops along the way on my creative journey:

  1. painting with my son

  2. having art published in 2 books

  3. doing this month’s centerfold

one corner i would like to create my way out of is…

my perpetual dissatisfaction with the way my life is going no matter what’s happening.

the definition of secretmessage is…

a whisper, exactly when you need it.


BIO

Right now, I am the mad wanderer. Most of me stays the same, but I am change, which is why I said “right now.” I’m Always searching for meaning, or making my own. Most of my wandering takes place in the psyche, although I dream of becoming a true vagabond in the physical sense. The wanderlust is very real. I wander in art, visual journaling, reading, writing, spirit, and self-examination.

You can find me mostly on instagram @themadwanderer, or on my not-oft-updated website http://alexiapetrakos.com.


Fine Print

We are exploring Zines of the Zodiac in our Secret Message Society this year and taking our own spin on the horoscope signs. Each month on my bog I will feature an artist who has created the centerfold of the current Zine. Additionally, we are sitting with Robert Henri's book The Art Spirit and centering on this quote: 

“I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.”
— Robert Henri

More and more this is becoming the collective yet independent voice that I had a vision this Zine could be. We'd love to have your voice too. Details on joining the Secret Message Society HERE. The Pisces issue of the Zine will be available until March 14.

But I Am Home - Intro

This book is dedicated to those “sort of people who know that there’s always something. Something to invent, something to read, something to bite, and something to do, to make a sanctuary, no matter how small.
— Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

The Price of Home

You don’t set out looking for home. At least I didn’t. I set out looking for an answer to give anyone when they asked me, “So, where have you landed spiritually?” That question has reared its head in a variety of ways, and even if I claim to be a person who is okay with the existence of the answerless, I want to know what to do with myself after someone has popped the question. I still reel with the question marks even the ones that aren’t thrown as darts, but rather passed across the table in the form of a nice soft latte art. “Let’s get together for coffee. Let’s catch up. I wanna hear where you are now in life. “

“I don’t know,” is my go to phrase, that coupled with a gentle sacred shrug and sometimes even a grin that I can’t seem to wipe off my face. Because on my good days it’s comical to me that I have nothing black and white to show for all this soul work I’ve been doing.

Sometimes you’ve got to runaway from home before you know what you want to come home to. Sometimes a bird has to unravel things before it can build its nest. I had run and unraveled. This was documented in my first book Thrashing About With God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything. In that book I wrote about closing up my Bible, leaving my small group and taking a break from church because all of it was angering me.  I wanted to do faith my way, not the way I was being told to do it, and I felt like God was okay with that.  

But a lot has changed since the last page of that book was written. My husband was a pastor and he left church staff because he no longer felt he and his skill set were needed there. He joined two partners in opening up a bicycle shop and continued developing as a competitive cyclist. We stopped going to church altogether because neither of us wanted to be there, though in those early days, we rarely discussed the whys. We were gentle with each other, extending lots of space. We stopped homeschooling due to our kids' immense interest in public school and our willingness to explore their curiosity. And so life took on a whole new rhythm and appearance. It confused a lot of people who thought they knew us.  

Now I found myself again at the keyboard writing and looking for a way to tell everyone who was concerned about me that I really was okay.

A couple months into throwing these words onto paper, I realized what I was desiring for myself was a place to call home. Every time I had another hard conversation with a person who was worried about me, I left feeling unfinished, like my story, and the way it was unfolding, wasn’t enough because I wasn’t back in church or because I wasn’t reading my Bible or because I wasn’t in fellowship with like believers. They weren’t able to hear me. They would stare at me with worried or confused eyes. I felt like I had to have some three-digit address to show for myself. Like I had to have a street name and a cul-de-sac of neighbors and a brick-and-mortar structure that could vouch for me. Even if they never clearly voiced their disappointment in me I felt the distance growing wider, like I was drifting out to sea.

I was discussing this with my teenage neighbor one day when he said, “Oh, so they were wanting closure.” And yes, that is what it felt like. A lot of the people in my life who knew me pre-thrashing wanted post-thrashing closure.

My friend Sam Duregger lived in a tent for a few months in an experiment he called Tent Life. He said that the entire time he lived there he had next to no visitors and this wasn’t for lack of extending an invitation. People would say, “Oh it’s too hot.” Or, “Oh it’s too cold.” Or, “Oh, it’s so muddy.” Or, “Why don’t you just come over to our place so you can take a break from the tent?” No one realized he wasn’t looking for breaks from the tent. No one took into account that what they considered temporary, he considered permanent, as permanent as a wanderer can ever be. Everyone just assumed he’d be embarrassed having guests over to such a transient home. Everyone just assumed he was looking for a way out of his discomfort. No one heard him vulnerably saying, “Why, this IS my home for now, and I’d love to have you visit it.”

Truth be known I want to feel like I have some place to belong when none of my roundness fits into all the squareness that surrounds me. I want some space where I can wrap acceptance around me like a warm afghan. Those that don’t understand what I’m up to call that space Neverland because “Surely there could ‘never’ be a ‘land’ there. Their nonverbals say, “You’re making me uncomfortable with your imagination and your unwillingness to come back down to solid ground. Your conditions are too hot or too cold or too muddy to sustain life. Why don't you take a break and come over to our land?” 

I call it Neverland because I know this heart can ‘never land’ and yet within this transient-ness is a sort of turtle shell existence that I am quite fond of. My faith gleans pixie dust moment by moment so I have just enough to fly on. I have come to call this home whether they ever want to come over for a visit or not and whether I want to invite anyone in or not. 

So this book is about making a home for yourself right where you’re at and recognizing that’ll come at a cost. Maybe we all really are on our way to some eternal home, but that doesn’t mean we have to feel so stagnant or so unsettled in our travels. This home I speak of us is an in-between home. A world between worlds. It’s not your past and it’s not your future. It’s now. A home that holds us, like a womb, until our next re-birthing. This home feels an awful lot like providing space for yourself to feel loved, valued, accepted. This home is less about clinging to a beautiful community name scripted in metal and bolted to a brick structure at the entrance of your heart and more about an over-arching truth that says even if you don’t know your affiliation, your label, your tribe, your classification, you still have a place to lay your head. In all your lostness, this home makes a place for foundness, without requiring you to buy all new lawn furniture, repave your driveway or hang fresh wallpaper. Home is not based on aesthetics. Home is based on belonging. And you and I belong. Completely. Wholly. Eternally. Welcome home.

But I AM Home - The Entire Manuscript Unveiled, and Me Along With It

I've been working on a book called But I AM Home. I wrote it in the Fall of 2012 as a sequel to Thrashing About With God. For clarification that meant I wrote it after Thrashing About With God was signed with a publisher, but an entire year before Thrashing About With God was even published. The strange thing about living on a publishing timeline is that according to these huge writing projects that have consumed my life, I have been living in the past for the past three years. This is a horrible place for an artist to reside. I realized through recent conversations with some close friends that this merry-go-round is never going to stop, and I have to get off. I, as a person, have become bottlenecked and it is hugely taking its toll on me emotionally and spiritually and physically. I'm a clogged sink, and no one wants to see me explode old food bits of stunted growth everywhere. I'm Augustus Gloop trapped in Willy Wonka's Chocolate Pipe. I'm stuck like Mahoney in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, playing the same old pieces externally when internally I am someone else.  

After completing the But I AM Home manuscript and book proposal and getting some very helpful feedback from my agent, I realized more clearly who I wanted my audience to be, and it is an intimate audience indeed. I do not believe this necessitated a change in my manuscript because I always write first and foremost for me. I did however feel as if there were a few holes that I needed to fill in to be more vulnerable and clear to my readers. So I sent an email to an online friend, one whom I’d had private conversations with about Thrashing About With God. Here is what the email said:

Dear *******,

I am working on a second book. My agent says I only have one good shot at it because my last book didn't sell well. I have to be clear and concise about my message and hold nothing back. The first draft of what I wrote is way too safe and distant. I am still scared to say some of what you and I have spoken of here in private. I have been really deliberating whether I am strong enough to do this. But I keep thinking about you. I keep thinking if I could write it like I was just talking to you then I wouldn't have to worry about pleasing everyone. So I am wondering if you could give me all the questions that you want me to answer. What have I left out of my story since Thrashing? What am I holding back? The book is about home. Help me show you how to get home...to your soul self. What is it that you need from me? I am scared and I need your help if you are willing. 

She was willing and very helpful, and with her insight I began to fill in some of the holes so that you and I can feel like we are having coffee together in the corner booth of a dimly lit shop. Through the course of interacting with my book I want you to feel seen, heard, and encouraged in your own journey towards home. I believe that those who will find their way to this book and resonate with it are those who truly have their own Self and are fighting desperately to care for it. I greatly respect people who believe in their Self and so it is lovingly and passionately with you in mind that I bare more than I ever have before on this topic of being a Christian and then not being sure if I am one anymore. 

I don’t want to be too poetic, too mystical, too symbolic. I don’t want to hide behind obscure language. I must be true to me and my raw writing flow, but the intention in this text is to show you I did not come home all by myself nor did it happen by mere magic wand tap. I came home (and still come home) in fearful fits and starts with a an intimate group of people cheering me on, and I found those people because I said out loud, “This isn’t working for me. I don’t like this. This isn’t what I want.” And someone (more than one someone actually) said, “Me too.”

I need to release the truth of all this because it frees me up even more to continue being me. 

Here are the pointed questions that I had to (or still have to) feel out answers on for mySelf:

  • Are you going to heaven or hell when you die?
  • Do you still believe in Jesus?
  • What do you do with Jesus?
  • Are you saved?
  • Are you sad? Lonely?
  • Do you still consider yourself a Christian?
  • Are you in church?
  • What does God look like to you?
  • Do you worry you’re doing everything wrong?
  • How do you handle running into people from church?
  • How do your friends and family respond?
  • Do you read the Bible?
  • Do you have peace?

I can say that these questions just don't matter, and in many ways that would be my truth, but I also must own the fact that along the journey I did have to face these questions head-on because they are central to the core of Christianity, and I was defined by that Christianity. Through the course of this book I hope to let you in close and share my answers, since the time I wrote Thrashing About With God up until now.

I am going to show you how I have gotten to this light-hearted place I call home. It is not my intention to give you the right answers because my perception of right and wrong has been obliterated. I only wish to show you the way I have internally felt my way into a place I can return to, a sanctuary, a place of holy ground, a place of calmness and joy and safety when faced with the big pressing questions that feel at times as though they might devour me. 

I need to tell you that I let my agent know that the material of this book is so intimate that I have decided to self-publish it. And here’s the deal, I figured out today that I am feeling all sorts of energy to do some fun and fresh things in my life right now, and so I don’t want to spend anymore time on this project. I want to honor the releasing of it, but not belabor it. It is as ready for you to see as it will ever be, and I trust it will be a resource of breadcrumbs placed lovingly in the darkness, as I step into my own light. All of this to say, I have decided to share the entire manuscript here on my blog.

I will do my best to post 1-2 chapters a week under the tag But I AM Home, which is the title of this book. I will also do my best to be present to the comments and emails. If my language feels too cryptic or I have left a big hole in the story, please let me know. If I feel comfortable addressing it (I have a keen sense of whether the question is for me or if you are actually asking a question for yourSelf) I will do so either through the comments, email or a separate blog post. 

I would sincerely appreciate you sharing this blog series with anyone you believe will truly resonate with and respect it. I think the topic is an elephant in the Christian blog/publishing world (I personally have felt like me and my conversation didn’t fit anywhere - which is where the need for home initially stemmed from) and I know there are people suffering alone as they work through their own faith, attempting to live it out in the day-to-day relationships of life. This is my personal research on the topic and it has been so thrilling and life-giving for me that now I need to see to the next things calling my name.

The intro will post tomorrow. 

Man this feels completely Mad. So be it. i've got some present day living to see to.

It's Time - A Rededication

I used to joke with my husband when he was a youth minister at a church in Ohio that I wanted to go forward every single Sunday for every single altar call. I am the sort who wants a re-dedication every day of my life because the wonder has grown just that big again, again.

I'm sitting on the floor in the sun, invited to this spot by my dog who knows how to warm his body and go soft. As I look on the floor in front of me I see a piece of junk mail that says the words, "It's time," and I smile because I know this is another altar call moment where I lay it all down again and walk away fresh and reborn. I've had so many rebirths it's embarrassing. I love that about mySelf. 

I am attempting to edit a book that I have written about home. My Thrashing book didn't meet selling standards, and so I am told it will be difficult to get another publisher to take me on. That coupled with the fact that I am constructing a book that feels like a loose cannon makes the work of it less than attractive. I dance around it, doing everything else in my life but sitting down to actually work the words. It feels like a monster that wants to walk me into certain death. Why would I give myself over to the monster?

Right now I don't know who the book is for. I don't know its purpose. I don't know how to compile the years since I wrote Thrashing into an understandable condensed story. Through the manuscript I am seeking to answer the question I am asked so often, "Where are you spiritually now?" But I feel like I am saying it all in secret code when I need to say it plain. I feel like I lost the language of plain, and I long to find a new one. A new one that isn't so serious. Oh gawd am I dreadfully tired of serious.

For whatever reason, this damn book demanded to be written, and now if it is to exist outside of my word-processing program, it is demanding to be edited and fleshed out. It is all grunt work, when I so badly want it to be light work. I want it to heal us. Soften us. Help us feel like pulling a chair back up to our own messy lives, rather than running off after some epic storyline that promises to save us from it all. 

So here I am, returning to this place where everything in the past 10 years has gotten started for me. This blog space that has always held all of me with gentle arms. For some reason, here, this public paradox of a safe diary, I have always found my kickstart into my next re-dedication.

I read the introduction to Jung's Red Book over the weekend. Exploring those underground corridors, loving how it gave me access to hidden parts of mySelf. What I summarized from Jung is that I have to find a way to bring mySelf more and more into the light, and if I require the practice of this to be beautifully put together and well thought out and arguably sane then I will stifle my own expansion. 

Jung was adamant that his self-exploration and self-experiments not be called art, even though he was totally keeping an art journal. I believe his stubbornness was due to his deep desire to want his soul to feel uninhibited to bare all to him. Calling it art is dangerous if you feel yourself leaning towards wanting to clean it all up first and make it pretty. Putting it into an attractive form defeats the purpose when you are just trying to collect the raw, uncontaminated data. 

There are so many pieces to mySelf falling into place now. Pieces from all different ages. It is a relief to know I have actually been headed somewhere, and that somewhere is home. Things like being in grade school and buying a pink diary with a teddy bear on it from the school book-order because I HAD to have a place (a special place) to collect the immensity of my colorful dreams. Things like being a collector of playing cards, and the pleasant sensorial experience I had in opening the decks and sorting through them one at a time. Things like that black bookshelf in my childhood room and the two shelves that were reserved strictly for my science experiments.

In the last 10 years I have fought to use the word artist. I have dismantled the words daughter and  wife and mom. I have thrashed to let the word Christian die. I have found great camaraderie in the word mystic. I have found breakthrough in the word spy. I have found sanity in the word mad. I have found hope in the word magic. I have found holy in the word secretmessage. I have done it all as a faithful follower of Mystery, so I could alter (altar-call) my life once again. Looking back on it I see all of this was leading me to this spacious and softening place of home. And now I am in a place where words are making flesh. Or in other familiar words, I am in a place of walking the talk.

In reading Jung, so much clicked. He was 36 when he began listening to his own Madness (I am 36), and he truly feared at the time that he was going insane. His unconscious was wrestling with him, vying for his heart. Begging to be explored and championed.

Everything culminated in his life to this very moment when there was one major internal shift. From this point on, he became extremely helpful to his patients because he became extremely true to himSelf. He became his own best guinea pig. His motivation wasn't to publish a book or to gain more clients or to prove the worth of his reputable practice. He was after an understanding and acceptance and a wonder of himSelf.

That being said, he felt keenly responsible for those around him, so much it annoyed him. It wasn't enough to enter into awakening and feel lit up from within. He felt tied to humanity at large, and wanted to translate his findings about Self in a language that others could understand and benefit from. He was ever leery of losing the respect of his scientific peers. So it was always two part...his honest recordings as best he could document and his interpretations. A field journal and complimentary conclusive summaries. Two parts of himself collecting the data of new revelation and finding a language to hold it out to others. He was being his own {art} therapist. (He would hate that I said that.) He was then sharing his medicine with others, asking them to test out its healing. 

I am currently in all out experimental mode. I feel like I'm trying a hundred different things right now, and that makes the rational part of me feel crazy. I have to conduct these experiments on mySelf because I am already home and as my roots are stretching towards my deep darkness my bows are reaching towards my great light. We only grow out from here.  

All this sharing leaves me feeling intensely shy and naked. I DON'T LIKE THAT FEELING AT ALL. This is when I want to shut down all the operations and disband all the allegiances and move to a top secret headquarters off the grid because of course no one else will ever get me and their ignorance proves my brilliance and I'll show them by simply disappearing. HA HA HA HA HA. This is the funny stuff I tell mySelf when I am terrified. 

For better or for worse, this science project of my life is being asked to come off the safe little black shelves so the research can be shared out loud. I know it has to be seen for it to heal me. For it to heal all of us. I know it has to be seen for it to expand. I know I can't be Love without exposure. 

I want to share this little conversation Anthony Lawlor and I had recently on twitter,

It's time to get out of my head and into my life. All the philosophies and theories and the making of beliefs are begging for testing. "Give us feet. Give us wings. Give us flesh on flesh," they cry. I have to BE what 36 years of my life has delivered me into. I AM the one. The only one. There is no shortcut. No pretty package. No recluse hideout.

Let's get down and dirty.

I am a rededication.

A Day to Ditch the To-Do List

This is how Sunday morning started. With this update on Facebook:

Got intentionally drunk last night on bugles and vanilla coke. Drunk texted a friend and said i had accumulated too much to do in my life and that I should probably run away and quick. Skipped impatiently ahead from season 4 of Gossip Girl to the last episode of season 6 where Gossip Girl's identity is just finally revealed. XOXO. Fell asleep in my clothes with a snoring dog and a 6-year-old in his underwear wondering what it would look like to begin again, again. Woke up this morning with mouth rot and in a mess of knees and elbows and paws, my shirt on sideways and just sick over the immensity of my to-do list, none of which sounded like life. So I am scrapping the to-do list. I cleaned the garage. I made coffee and waffles. I'm driving to the woods with my kids. I believe in the holiness and humor of all of this.Tell me your holiness and humor.

The first thing we found, within minutes from leaving our car. She brought it to me. I took a picture, so taken by these yellow orbs that looked like some sort of Willy Wonka candy. I asked her if she wanted it back. "No, you keep it. I'm afraid if I put it in my pocket those yellow things will be eggs and little bugs will hatch out."

I never go out with a preconceived idea. I let the street speak to me.
— Bill Cunningham

I stood on the step of this gazebo and thought, "I needed to be here like this. I needed the healing of the outdoors." My kids who wanted nothing to do with this adventure on a chilly Sunday morning, came to me throughout the day and said thank you. "You planned the best day for us," my daughter said.

I didn't plan a thing, I thought. I just softened to the first step of the beckoning unknown.  

At first glance, my favorite black and white striped shells weren't present in the Winter. But with some digging Charis found them!

This moment took my breath away. Like I had jumped into a chalk drawing The Wild Mystics created and swooned as it came alive. 

My own moment in a clearing, tucked behind some trees. I felt elfin, mystical, alien, elegant. Elongated shadows are my favorite. 

They crossed rocks to get there to the other side. They got their shoes and socks and pants wet, sandy, muddy. I wish you could have heard the laughter. I wish you could have felt the energy. Excitement. Freedom. Risk. Splash. Getting up. Trying again. Testing the limits. On my insides on occasion I got nervous for their safety. And I kept letting go. We were all hungry for the open space. We were devouring it like cookie monster devours a plate of cookies. Sparks were flying like cookie crumbs. "Can we do this every weekend?" Nehemiah asked me.

Sometimes I'm scared about the fact that we can't. At least not quite like this, together, exploring, with no agenda. Sometimes I want to hold my breath so I don't disturb the magic. Moving an inch could bump time forward, and I don't want to be responsible for the shift away from the perfect imperfect. 

They helped me collect shells to create a swirl. I got tired of crouching and spread out a quilt to sit on. Halfway through the placement of shells I remembered my 6-year-old had kindergarten homework. It is 100's week coming up, and he has to take 100 of something. Oh dear, I thought, we will have to go home and figure something out. What a pain. And then, I realized, at my fingertips were the perfect 100. When he laid down the next shell on our swirl I exclaimed, "The shells Luther! The shells can be your 100 things for school!" And he cheered. I wondered if what I need can always be delivered to me in this way. With ease. Who makes it hard? Can I soften into this sort of receiving in all parts of my life? It's worth experimenting.

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"Mom, look at the girl I drew."

My thoughts I wrote out while resting on a log, watching my kids play make believe:

Nature is the only force that gets to tell me what to do. She is filled with raw Mystery and Magic and Love to those who open up. She leads me to my own MADness and prepares a way where there seems to be no way. The wind. The chill. The rush of brisk water. The warmth of sun. The geese with their feet and heads tucked in. I can't control anything out here, but it all wants to show me how that is okay. It all wants to show me how I belong.