Mental Health Monday: First Quarter Checkup—Mindful Eating Revisited


Today is the last day of the first quarter of 2014. How did that happen? March Madness is almost over. Taxes are due in two weeks. Easter is less than three weeks away. And it’s been almost nine months since my car wreck and initial surgeries. Most of us have already forgotten our New Year’s resolutions (if we made them) and many of us have probably fallen back into old, predictable patterns of unhealthy living in one way or another. For me, it’s been about food. Again.

It’s easy to find “reasons” for my slippery slide back into gluttony—chronic physical pain being the number one culprit. And then there’s the stress of house-hunting, house-buying, preparations for moving, and this week, our move to the new house. Looking for comfort in cartons of ice cream while watching television and mindless carbohydrate snacking has not numbed my pain. But it often numbs my alertness to life—to people and events that are right in front of me.


All this to say that I decided to do a first quarter checkup today. And after a close observance of my mental and physical state, I quickly realized that the problem is I’ve forgotten about my OneWord 365 for 2014: MINDFULNESS. This morning I woke up thinking that I needed a plan for bringing mindfulness into the arena of food. Gotta love the internet when you need to research something quickly.

Susan Albers, writing in Psychology Today this past December, addresses my problem with clarity in her Mindful Eating Pledge. Rather than quoting from her piece, which is short, I’ll just give you the link:

5 Ways to Eat More Mindfully in 2014

I’m going to print this off and put it in my kitchen. And I’m going to begin the second quarter of 2014 without wallowing in guilt and self-pity. We’ve got 274 days left to make it a great year, right?

Faith on Friday: Shadowing Jesus

SKR_4-1A few days ago I received my copy of the latest issue of the Saint Katherine Review in the mail. This literary journal always contains a wonderful mix of poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and I love the cover art. I was drawn to the journal from its inception because of my friendship with two of the editors—Scott Cairns (Editor) and Caroline Langston (Fiction Editor)—and my admiration for Kathleen Norris (Nonfiction Editor). So I was thrilled when they published my essay, “Watching,” in Volume 1, Number 2. I look forward to every issue.


Anne Strachan

Anne Strachan

In the current issue I was immediately drawn to a nonfiction essay, “Seeking God,” by Anne Strachan from British Columbia, Canada. Anne isn’t on Facebook and doesn’t have a blog, but we’re exchanging emails and are fast becoming soul mates. She writes a monthly column for the Prairie Messenger called “Liturgy and Life,” and she also has published essays in Spirituality, a Dominican journal based in Ireland.



I asked Anne if I could reprint her essay from the SKR on my blog, and she agreed. In the bottom, right-hand corner of the front cover of the journal are these words: Inquiry Seeking Wisdom. I think you’ll see why the editors were anxious to publish Anne’s essay.

Seeking God

By Anne Strachan                                                                       

I drive from British Columbia to Saskatchewan toward a Benedictine monastery on the Canadian prairie. On arrival, I take a deep breath, emerge from the car, and push open the wooden door of St. Peter’s Abbey. As I enter my room, unaware that this will be the first of many visits, my heart wonders: “Why am I here?” A moaning wind buffets trees outside the window. In unfamiliar solitude, with no prospect of immediate distraction, I feel lonely and in exile.

What am I seeking? Whom do I seek? At the moment, I’m the only guest. Piles of used bedding in the hall attest to a group of retreat participants recently dispersed. A tour of the abbey grounds with Father Martin, wheat fields permeated with sunlight, is still in the future; the same goes for tea with Father James in his hermitage surrounded by chickadees. Brother Basil is as yet only a voice underneath my window dealing with flood waters in the basement. On this first day, monks seem surreal, like characters in a Brother Cadfael mystery novel.

I cherish the biblical story of the woman who, after enduring years of hemorrhage and exclusion, seeks to be healed by touching the hem of Christ’s clothes. Gradually, as the days unfold, I attend Lauds, Noon Prayer, Vespers, and Vigils. I encounter monks wearing black habits. And I’m reminded of that woman. It would be a shock to Abbot Peter if he turned to find me surreptitiously touching the hem of his robe as he bowed before the altar and filed out of Vespers! But in a profound way this image captures an essence of my journey. Metaphorically, I touch the robes of contemporary monks in an attempt to reach the Christ I once believed in and who was as dear and familiar to me as my mother and father.

Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene

Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene

As a little child, after a day in Catholic school, I tiptoed into church to pray. I prayed to Jesus with happy confidence right into middle age. A presence in all aspects of my life, Jesus was my friend and mentor, whether as a baby in a manger at Christmas, a tortured man on the cross on Good Friday, or risen from the dead and appearing to Mary Magdalene at Easter.

Somehow, navigating life’s tumultuous journey, I lost my compass. I no longer connected with the Son of God. To spend my entire life trusting Jesus, only to lose him, was excruciating. It was as though all photographs were removed from the album; all signposts on the roadside erased from once-familiar territory. Those were challenging years raising a family in a materialistic, competitive, and complex culture. I taught my children catechism and attended church liturgies and potlucks, but as they grew and left home, I began to question my faith.

Now, I wish to recapture a sense of joyful certainty. I long to experience again the passion for Christ I knew as a young girl: the certain belief in every aspect of the story of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. And yet: Is this kind of certainty necessary or even desirable?


Daniel Bonnell, The Road to Emmaus, oil on canvas

Daniel Bonnell, The Road to Emmaus, oil on canvas

Much evil is performed in the name of religious certainty. Perhaps, I seek God even as I also seek permission to question. Maybe my doubts and fears will lead me deeper into exploration of faith and hope in a transcendent and loving God as I gather with other disciples in the upper room and beyond. It’s possible that I’ve been shadowing Jesus on that road to Emmaus all through this time of uncertainty. Maybe, he’s so transformed, I no longer recognize him. And I’ve changed too: I must gaze with new eyes and a broken heart if I’m ever to find this Jesus I seek.

A certain degree of doubt can be healthy when it causes one to question and search. Now, I view the Roman Catholic Church with a discerning and critical eye; it is a deeply wounded and sinful entity. And yet, within all the uncertainty and inevitable human faults and failings, still this pilgrim seeks to recognize Jesus, God’s child on earth, from within this flawed human structure. With the help of grounded, compassionate Benedictine spirituality, I seek to fall in love all over again – and again – with an ever-deepening Mystery.

It turns out that the question “Why am I here?” reveals as many layers as there are cloud formations in a prairie sky. To begin, I’m here to discover the amazing gift of silence, and for a time to be still within that silence. I’m here to touch the hem of Christ’s robe. To be the woman who persists in her demand for Christ’s attention, even as she is rejected and bleeding. 

Easter 2013 041When my own children were small, Easter Sunday dawned with splendid expectation. Amidst Easter bunnies and hidden chocolate eggs, I proclaimed to my family: “Christ is risen!” Caught up in the motion and emotion of the Gospel story, I imagined running alongside Mary Magdalene to the empty tomb, stopping in my tracks to speak to the gardener. Only it was Jesus, raised and transformed. And I recognized him!

A holy, transcendent Mystery flourishes in monks, chickadees, and wheat fields at an abbey on the prairie. This is a place resonant with listening hearts and warm hospitality. It provides direction, hope, and joy – even within loneliness and exile – for this pilgrim’s faith journey.

Writing on Wednesday: Hybrid Publishing—A New Alternative for Indie Authors



Yesterday I read this column in Publishers Weekly by Nashville author, Paige Crutcher: “My Self-Publishing Journey: On Becoming an Indie Author.” I had met Paige a few years ago at a Christmas party for writers in Nashville. If I remember correctly, she had just gotten an agent for her novel, and I was both excited for her and a bit jealous. But traditional publishing didn’t work out for Paige.

Unfortunately Paige’s story is similar to many talented writers looking for a way to reach their readers in today’s stormy publishing world. Follow Paige’s columns to learn more:

I am still determining what it means to be an indie businesswoman, and talking with authors who have accomplished what I’m setting out to do. My hope is that by sharing each step I take—the mistakes, the victories, the tomfoolery, and shenanigans—it will illuminate what works and doesn’t. It will serve others seeking to travel this path and be a reminder that if I can do it, anyone can.

hybrid-bookOn a similar note, my friend Neil White (award-winning author of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts) just started a new arm of his company, Nautilus Publishing, in Oxford, Mississippi. Triton Press is a “hybrid”—a fourth option for writers seeking publication:

  1. The Big 5
  2. University, Small and Regional
  3. Self publishing
  4. Hybrid

This article in Forbes in January, “How Hybrid Publishers Innovate to Succeed,” calls hybrid “the Silicon Valley answer to publishing.”

I’m still hoping to work with an agent and be fortunate enough to land with the Big 5 or a small press one day, but it’s always good to have options in this ever-changing world. If you think hybrid publishing might be a good fit for you, call Triton Press at (662) 513-0159.

Mental Health Monday: “Weird But True” Revisited

flagJust over two years ago, I did a blog post about the strange noises coming from the framed flag that our son, Jonathan, brought us from one of his helicopter missions in Afghanistan. It’s a short post, with a video of the frame making the noises:

“Weird But True”

I had just unpacked from moving into the house we leased here in Harbor Town when I took the video. Shortly thereafter it quit making the noise, and I just forgot about it. It sat on the very top shelf of the built-ins in my office, where I could see it, but not up close.

damaged frameSo… fast forward two years and this weekend I was packing up the books and other items on those shelves for our upcoming move on April 5 (to a house we have bought near our current home) and when I got on a step ladder to get the flag and frame down, here’s what I found—piles of very fine dust (like sawdust) all over the shelf and frame, and half of the frame looked like it had been eaten.

In my “Weird But True” post from January of 2012, two friends left comments that I probably should have paid more attention to:

Emma Connelly said, “a very fat termite?”

And Bill Stanek said, “Maybe it’s a bug that got embedded in the wood. I think you should call National EnquirerJ”

This article at says that termites don’t leave sawdust in their path, but wood-boring beetles do. As they eat the wood, they leave “frass,” a fine, dust-like powder in little piles outside the wood. Just like I found on the shelf by the frame.

piles of "mystery dust" left behind by... wood-boring beetles?

piles of “mystery dust” left behind by… wood-boring beetles?

I’m totally creeped out! I put the framed flag into a plastic garbage bag and took it out to the garage to get it out of the house. Then I cleaned the shelves where the dust was. There is no damage to the shelves, and I didn’t see any bugs, but I’m too queasy to open the frame. We’re waiting for our son to get back in town. Maybe he will be brave enough to open the frame up and see what’s inside. After all, he did three deployments to the Middle East when he was in the Army!

11 days ‘til moving day, so my posts might be short for a couple of weeks, but please stay tuned!


Faith on Friday: Hump Sunday (We’re half-way there!)

god-for-us-rediscovering-the-meaning-of-lent-and-easter-7Today I’m continuing my Lenten reflections from the book, God For Us. You can catch up from previous posts here:

“Facing the Desert Inside” (March 14)

“Cleansing the Palate” (March 7)

My friend Scott Cairns wrote the main sections I’ll be quoting from today. He also wrote the wonderful new collection of poems, Idiot Psalms, which I’m also reading during Lent. (Here’s a nice interview Cairns gave with Angela Doll Carlson about Idiot Psalms.)

crossThis coming Sunday is called The Veneration of the Holy Cross in the Orthodox calendar. It marks the half-way point of Great Lent, the “hump day” of our journey. This day will have great meaning and power to those pilgrims who are taking the journey seriously—making efforts to fast, pray and give alms—and is meant as a point of refreshment along the way. As Cairns says in God For Us:

If we have been paying due attention to our journey along the way, we will have confronted the so-far chronic illness of our personal sin—our missing or the mark—will have examined the untoward effects of that illness on our persons and in our relationships with others, through prayer and fasting we will have experienced some measure of what I think of as the ache of repentance, which is the beginning of our healing.

The ache of repentance, which is the beginning of our healing. I love the way Cairns says this (he is, after all, a poet) and it was just the reminder I needed personally this week. I am, at this point, a weary pilgrim. Although my personal weariness isn’t so much from the self-inflicted ascetics of fasting and increased attendance at church, but more from the other-inflicted struggles of illness (day three of a pretty bad cold/sinus infection/cough) and on-going recovery from my wreck and surgeries. I think either method of delivery works on our souls, if we let it. And if we don’t get negative about it. As Cairns continues:

Don’t beat yourself up. This sense of having already met—and so quickly—the limits of our strength is actually a very good thing. Like the children of Israel, we already have traveled a significant distance, have tasted the waters of the desert, and have found them to be bitter. This is where the cross comes to our assistance.

The cross. It’s what turned Saint Mary of Egypt from her life of prostitution to one of a miracle-working dessert hermit in the fourth century. It’s what calls each of us today to turn from whatever is holding us back from the lives we are meant to live.

As Beth Bevis says (also writing in God For Us):

Orthodox Christians see their mid Lent Sunday as a time of refreshment and encouragement. When turning to the cross halfway through Lent, the faithful are reminded that, while Lenten efforts may have brought fatigue, ultimate deliverance does not depend on human strength: through the cross and Resurrection, Christ has already conquered sin and death.

idiot-psalms-new-poemsI am so ready to turn my focus from my own individual preparation to Christ and His sacrifice on the cross. I am pretty much spent with my own inadequate efforts. And so I look forward to leaning on Christ’s strength for the rest of the journey. With a little help from my friends, like Scott Cairns and this wonderful poem, which appears in Idiot Psalms:

Lenten Complaint

The breakfast was adequate, the fast

itself sub-par. We gluttons, having

modified our habits only somewhat

within the looming Lenten dark, failed

quite to shake our thick despair, an air

that clamped the heart, made moot the prayer.

As dim disciples having seen the light

we supplied to it an unrelenting gloom.


Wipe your chin. I’m dying here

in Omaha, amid the flat, surrounded

by the beefy, land-locked generations,

the river, and the river’s rancid shore.


O what I wouldn’t give for a lifting,

cool salt breeze, a beach, a Labrador.

[reprinted by permission from Scott Cairns]

Writing on Wednesday: Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South & Women Behaving Badly

Southern-Sin_FrontCoverI love anthologies. Two of my dozen or so published essays appear in anthologies—“Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow,” in Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, and “Eat, Drink, Repeat,” in The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul. And I love it that both of these books have the word, “Southern,” in them. So, when I was asked to contribute an essay to a third Southern anthology, Southern Sin: True Stories of the Sultry South & Women Behaving Badly, (InFact Books, March, 2014) I was tempted. But I wasn’t ready to go public with my most colorful sins, so I passed on the offer. Turns out the editors received almost 600 entries for the anthology, so mine obviously wasn’t needed! Except for the fact that, as Dorothy Allison says in the Introduction,

I have to say, for a Southern anthology, this one is a little light on Gluttony.

I had already covered gluttony (and drunkenness) in spades in my essay for The Shoe Burnin’ anthology. And despite my husband’s protests that my blog posts are much too personal and confessional, I’m sure he’s grateful that I resisted the pull to submit a piece for this book.

Since I know both of the editors, three of the twenty-three contributors, and have met Allison, I’m going to share from these six introductions, notes, and essays, leaving twenty more entries untouched and waiting for you to explore on your own.

Dorothy Allison’s Introduction addresses the question many folks might be asking about the title of this book:

So what is specifically Southern about sin? Do we do it better, with greater abandon?

Beth Ann Fennelly makes a similar observation in her Editor’s Note:

Perhaps Southerners write about sinners for the same reason Flannery O’Connor said Southerners write about freaks: ‘because we are still able to recognize one.’ We recognize sinners here because there’s so much emphasis on not becoming one.

And Lee Gutkind (aka the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction) offers a few other considerations in his Editor’s Note:

But something about the South inspires a spontaneity that is contagious. Maybe it’s the heat and humidity, or the lilt with which Southerners speak or the alluring grit of Memphis and the moaning trombones of New Orleans, or the mist that rises at night above the Mississippi River Delta, or the sweet intoxication of Kentucky bourbon, or the topless beaches of Miami—or maybe it is all of these and much more that make the South so sultry.

Sonja Livingston

Sonja Livingston

Memphian Sonja Livingston puts her own personal spin on the historic tale of Alice Mitchell and Frederica Ward—two students at the Higbee School for Young Ladies in Memphis back in the 1800s. Their elicit relationship, attempt at marriage, and eventual murder (the suicide part was botched) of Fred by Alice was the talk of the town in 1890s Memphis. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so be sure and read Livingston’s essay, “Mad Love: The Ballad of Fred & Allie,” to learn what happened at Alice’s trial!


Sarah Einstein

Sarah Einstein

Sarah Einstein (Managing Editor at Brevity journal)’s essay, “Fat,” does a good job of addressing the sin of gluttony, describing an early relationship like this:

We began a love affair that was more passionate in the city’s best restaurants than in our bedrooms…. When food is sex, and you’re in love, it’s impossible to eat moderately. Our weekends were protracted gastronomic orgies; we often had lunch and dinner at five-star restaurants on both Friday and Saturday, each a many-coursed affair.

River Jordan

River Jordan

My friend, River Jordan, writes about four episodes of nakedness in her life, beginning with her first experience of skinny-dipping with her cousin in seventh grade and ending with a solo drive from Panama City to Taos, where she brazenly strips to her waist to feel the cool night air on the long, lonely journey. “Nude Study” is River’s nod to her Southern girl mores:

Taught from an early age to believe in Jesus, to take care of family, and to keep my clothes on. It was simple. There were two types of girls: good ones and whores. They were easy to distinguish because whores took their clothes off.

But it’s also her ode to innocence and shared humanity:

I swim, dive, flip, backstroke, and feel the sun on my chest, thinking, surely a feeling this good just can’t be bad…. Much to my surprise, I do not become a whore…. Being bad with a relative seems like less of a sin, as if we have taken naked and  divided it by two…. We become naturally human.

48_Cover_smallI can’t wait to read the other twenty essays. Such a great book to have by “my chair” in my office to pick up when I need a good story.

(For a few more stories, check out Issue #48, Spring, 2013, of Creative Nonfiction Journal.)

Mental Health Monday: Unraveling with Help From COURAGE, COMPASSION and CONNECTION

The_Gifts_of_Imperfection_Book_-_Brene_Brown_-_Front_Cover__28813_zoomLast Monday I did a post about Brené Brown’s appearance on Super Soul Sunday. I mentioned Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and ordered it immediately. Today I’m going to share a few reflections as I begin reading what Brown calls “Your Guide to a Wholehearted Life.”

The book has 10 chapters that she calls “Guideposts,” and I haven’t even gotten to those chapters yet, so this is just a few thoughts I’ve gleaned from her introductory chapters. Each one is packed with information and insight, so I don’t want to hurry my reading of this book or its impact on my life.

I turned 63 last week, so I’m past what most people would call “midlife.” I already had my midlife “crisis” about twenty years ago. And yet, I seem to circle my wagon back around the same issues that almost derailed me at forty—mostly having to do with the disparity between my dreams and my life as I was living it at the time. I feel that same distance today. Brown explains why:

People may call what happens at midlife ‘a crisis,’ but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live not the one you’re ‘supposed’ to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.

As I read those words, I feel that I have been unraveling for much of my life. Brown explains that it’s not just midlife when one can experience this, but also at any significant life changes, such as “marriage, divorce, becoming a parent, recovery, moving, an empty nest, retiring, experiencing loss or trauma, or working in a soul-sucking job.” I have experienced most of the changes on that list, and you probably have, too. So how do we get through these situations in what she calls a “wholehearted” way? She defines three tools that we need—and these three will be expounded on more throughout the book—to let go of the things that are holding us back as we work our way through this journey. Here’s a peak at the tools—courage, compassion and connection.


The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’… Today courage is more synonymous with being heroic…. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.

e-e-cummings_quotes_courageWhat she’s talking about here is the courage to reach out to another person and share our shame stories—to tell them what we did that’s making us feel crappy. I talked a little bit about this in last Monday’s post. Especially about why it’s important WHO we choose to share with. It needs to be a person we can trust to hear us with compassion, without judgment or the need to “fix” us. Someone who has proven to also have the courage to say, “Oh, I’ve done that, too.” Or as Brown says, it must be someone who is willing to go into the darkness with us in order to help us find the light.


The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, meaning ‘to suffer with.’

compassionThat person we choose to share our stories with should be able to suffer with us. Brown was impressed with the American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s writing on compassion and relationships:

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

This is powerful stuff. I believe this compassion has to start with a love and acceptance of ourselves. Combine that with courage, and we can reach out to others. This reaching out is the third tool Brown talks about.


Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into ‘those who offer help’ and ‘those who need help.’ The truth is that we are both.

goodbye-to-you-my-trusted-friend-300x267I love this. My journey has brought me through times when I was almost exclusively one of “those who offer help.” I was a woman’s retreat speaker, chairman of many committees, a busy volunteer. There were some years when a number of people would call me for advice (a few still do) or a shoulder to cry on in a crisis. During those years I found myself only willing to ask for help from someone “above” me—like a spiritual father (pastor) and mother (nun) with whom I had developed a relationship. Or someone with professional training in psychology. There’s nothing wrong with these relationships, as long as they are healthy ones. But most of us live ordinary lives among ordinary people, and we need to develop a healthy connection with those around us—especially with a chosen friend or two who have earned the right to hear our stories.

Stay tuned for future posts from this powerful book. And of course I’d love to hear from my readers who are on this journey with me.

Faith on Friday: Facing the Desert Inside

god-for-us-rediscovering-the-meaning-of-lent-and-easter-7This is my second post in a series of reflections on the Lenten season, mostly gleaned from the book God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter. If you missed my first post, you can read it here:

“Cleansing the Palate”

Today’s reflections are from Ronald Rolheiser’s introduction to the book, and from Beth Bevis’ section, “The Feasts and Fasts of Lent.” (Here’s a nice interview with Bevis on Image Journal’s Good Letters.)

Although I always fight against the difficult ascetical struggle that Lent offers those who chose to enter the fray, on some level I do believe that participating in the rhythms of the season can help my soul. Rolheiser explains why:

Seasons of play are sweeter when they follow seasons of work, seasons of consummation are heightened by seasons of longing, and seasons of intimacy grow out of seasons of solitude…. To taste specialness, we must first have a sense of what is ordinary.

I love play, consummation and intimacy, so it’s hard for me to give those things up, even for a brief period of time. I can’t imagine living the life chosen by monastics, where this rhythm seems tipped in favor of the seasons of work, longing and solitude. Bevis reminds us of how the church calendar helps us with our spiritual struggle:

The liturgical calendar, with its cycle of festivals and fasts alternating with seasons of ‘Ordinary Time,’ helps us to remember not only the breadth of Christian teaching but also what it means to be human, both fallen and redeemed by God.

I get that. It’s just that I’m stubbornly attached to pleasures, and I have to be coaxed into this cycle in order to benefit from it. I have to be reminded why it is good for me, and why the sacrifice is worth the effort. Bevis says,

One of the goals of this season is to reveal habits or mindsets that may be preventing us from experiencing true freedom and wholeness.

The second week of Lent was a time of warring with some of those habits for me—especially with food. Several days of fighting against the fast and one day of binging and purging left me in a messy battle with forgiveness. Those of us with eating disorders aren’t “excused” from participating in spiritual disciplines such as fasting, but we bring our own baggage to the table. We are always hungry and thirsty for something that seems to be just beyond our reach. Bevis reminded me that Lent isn’t a time of spiritual dryness:

There can be as much meaning in a strategically instituted silence as there is in a resounding ‘alleluia,’ as much to glean from a spare Lenten meal as from an Easter feast.

But it’s Rolheiser who explains how we use food (and other pleasures) to keep from dealing with the issues that plague our souls, which he calls “the chaos inside of us”:

Our paranoia, our anger, our jealousies, our distance from others, our fantasies, our grandiosity, our addictions, our unresolved hurts, our sexual complexity, our incapacity to really pray, our faith doubts, and our dark secrets. The normal ‘food’ that we eat (distractions, busyness, entertainment, ordinary life) works to shield us from the deeper chaos that lurks beneath the surface of our lives. Lent invites us to stop eating, so to speak, whatever protects us from having to face the desert that is inside of us. It invites us to feel our smallness, to feel our vulnerability to feel our fears, and to open ourselves to the chaos of the desert so that we and finally give the angels a chance to feed us.

icon of Jesus' temptation in the desert

icon of Jesus’ temptation in the desert

He’s referring to the way the angels fed Jesus during his forty days of fasting in the desert. I think we can only experience the presence of angels in our lives if we leave room for them in our longing. In our hunger and thirst.

But how can we make it for forty days without feeding that hunger and thirst? The Church provides “mini-feasts” for us every Sunday, as Bevis says:

hungryIn the liturgical calendar, the church sees Sunday as a weekly microcosm of Easter—a day for celebrating the Resurrection…. But in addition to the theological reasons for the Sunday reprieve, the church recognizes the practical human need for sustenance and encouragement in the midst of Lent. Sundays keep us from falling into a rut of fasting simply for the sake of self-denial; they remind us that the purpose of Lent is to prepare us to receive reconciliation and new life. The Lenten fast is always directed toward that promise of fulfillment, the promise that our hunger will be satisfied.


Writing on Wednesday: 7 Major Markets for Personal Essays

Keep Calm Write Essay


I love the personal essay. It’s one of my favorite genres of writing. When I first started writing essays, I did it in order to get some published clips for my resume, something to show agents and editors when I was ready to try to get a book published. Now I have twelve published essays. But along the way, I fell in love with the essay for its own value.
Even as I am working on revisions to my novel, I continue to write essays. On Monday I finished one and sent it in to Writer’s Digest and started another one that I hope will be a good fit for an anthology a friend is putting together. The bottom line? They are just fun to write. Quick and satisfying. Like Ann Lamott said, (paraphrasing here) essays are like a one-night stand whereas the novel is like a long and difficult marriage.

March April WDHowever you feel about that, if you write essays—or if you think you might like to give it a try—here are 7 major markets for personal essays. I found these in an article by Susan Shapiro in the March/April 2014 issue of Writer’s Digest, “Cracking Major Markets With Personal Essays.” Click on the links below to learn more about each market. Good luck!

The New York Times Modern Love (1500-1700 words)

The New York Times Magazine Lives (800 words)

Psychology Today Two-Minute Memoir (here are some examples)


Cosmopolitan (query with idea first)

AARP The Magazine (query with idea first) Lifestyle section (accepts queries and completed articles)

Art of Personal EssayP.S. For a great anthology of essays, check out Phillip Lopate’s The Art of the Personal Essay.  Here’s a nice review.

Mental Health Monday: Changing the Self-Talk

2 7 2013-SSS - Brene BrownYesterday morning a friend texted me to let me know that Brené Brown was on Super Soul Sunday on the OWN channel, being interviewed by Oprah. This friend and I had both read Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, last year, and she knew I’d want to watch.

If you’re not familiar with Brown, you can catch up on my blog posts about her here:

“Cultivating Self-Empathy: the Antidote to Shame” (September 16, 2013)

“Shame on You” (March 4, 2013)

“Surviving the Arena” (February 11, 2013)

“Daring Greatly” (February 4, 2013)

What I was reminded by watching the show yesterday morning is how lethal shame is. As Brown defines it, shame is

the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.

She reminded us that shame can’t survive empathy. That it needs secrecy, silence and judgment in order to grow in our lives. Those are all things that we so easily provide ourselves, or receive from others.

What I heard from Brown that was new was how important it is to choose the right people to share your shame stories with. Otherwise their response can cause more damage. So, who do we share with?

Share with people who have earned the right to hear your story.

shareSometimes this is a trial-and-error thing. Have you ever shared a shame story with someone and their response made you feel worse rather than better? When that happens, I pretty quickly throw up a boundary and won’t go there again. But when that person offers empathy without judgment, the shame can’t undo me. They help me remember the difference between shame and guilt. Yes, I am guilty of doing something stupid, or harmful, something bad and maybe even illegal. But I am not stupid or bad. I am a person who made a mistake.

This past week I had a difficult time with food. One day I got caught in the old cycle of binging and purging, something I hadn’t done in awhile. Of course I felt awful about myself. I felt shame. But when I shared it with someone I could trust, and they responded with empathy rather than judgment, I immediately felt better. The shame lost its power over me.

As Brown said on the show:

Shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, eating disorders, violence, bullying and aggression. People who are able to change the self-talk and believe it have far better outcomes in all of these measures.

The_Gifts_of_Imperfection_Book_-_Brene_Brown_-_Front_Cover__28813_zoomBrown talked about her second book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and I immediately ordered it. She said more about this difference in guilt and shame. Instead of saying to ourselves, “I’m such an idiot!” we should learn to say “I did something stupid.” For those of us who have struggled with this most of our lives, this will take some work.

My friend called after the show was over and we discussed the wonderful things that Brown  shared. We both feel that we benefit from her wisdom, but have a hard time keeping it in our minds as we move forward. We need a way to remember every day to change the self-talk. I’m going to start with a sticky note on my computer. Or maybe I’ll print off this quote and tape it up where I can see it.


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