Stories get me excited. Especially ones that are true, honest, cutting to the quick of an emotion, a moment. This is why short stories are my favorite — there’s not enough space for a saga, just enough to cast for the reader quick character studies and a moment or two that let the reader in on their deepest emotional realities. In essence, the short story form provides case studies on being human.

Today’s first offering comes to us from Samantha Fields. Be sure to leave her some feedback in the comments and let her know what you think!

Song Without Words (by Samantha Field)


This is for all of those who are writing for tomorrow or wrote for yesterday’s Spiritual Abuse Awareness synchroblog, who are fighting through the old hurts and lies to tell their stories.

Take some time tonight to read Caleigh’s wonderful post here on how she practices self-care, and make sure you’re being gentle with yourself tonight. Thanks, Caleigh!

***

My hands have been quiet since writing my post for Elora’s Rebel Diaries yesterday. I didn’t expect to be so emotionally and mentally wiped out since writing it, but I should have expected it due to the very nature of what I revealed. I have recognized a pattern with my writing, and I know I am not alone in this pattern. It’s this pattern of being mentally numb after writing something big, something that you have never shared before, something that shows everyone the tears you have cried.I haven’t been able to write anything since writing that post, and it’s been like a piece of me has been broken and I have yet to put it back together.

When it comes to writing difficult stories, there is almost always a crash of emotional and mental stability upon finishing the story. It’s like you were holding your breath, tiptoeing around a fragile pyramid of champagne glasses, and as soon as you write that last paragraph, sentence, word, you let your breath out and the whole pile comes crashing down. It’s this sometimes overwhelming feeling of “I did good” and with a quickly following sense of “my emotions and heart are bleeding.” It’s this release of an unstoppable flood, and the only thing to do is to let the waters run their course. Writing about your story is difficult for anyone, but it is especially difficult for those of us who have faced hell. This written retelling is not the same as speaking a story. It is a permanent, almost etched in stone, kind of deal, and that’s scary to a lot of us. We can’t take back what we write, and in the age of internet, once something is out there, it is very difficult for it to be taken back.

There is this fear of being laughed at, not being taken seriously, scorned, and being told you are just being bitter and aren’t forgiving your oppressor. It is a fear of being vulnerable, letting the world see the cracks and brokenness in your heart of hearts. It’s giving the world the keys to hurt you deeply by sharing what has already hurt you. There is an openness and willingness to be hurt in the sharing of your life’s story and the tears it often accompanies.

I am still learning to feel the pain of my past. I subconsciously tell myself that I don’t feel anything over this, it’s just the facts, it’s just my story. But it isn’t. It has never been JUST the facts, my story, or anything. It is horrific, it is painful, it is heart wrenching. It makes others cry, and it makes me cry, when I am honest with myself and am willing to feel the heart wrenching, breath taking pain all over again. I have beaten myself up in the past for needing to break away from people because I felt overwhelmed, or needing to sleep in because I had had a bad night, or for losing myself in a favorite book because reality was too much for me. I felt like I was being weak, I wasn’t strong enough and that no one would be proud of me. I felt like I was despicable and disgusting for needing space from my family, my siblings, my friends, and I felt like I wasn’t being a good daughter. I have felt severely guilty for calling in sick to work when I know that I can’t physically function that day, or when I had to call off a social get together because I didn’t have the mental energy to interact with anyone.

Self care is still something I am not always good at, and I still push myself too far. I remember feeling confused the first time a friend told me it was okay to need space, that that was healthy, and recommended. How was it okay to let people see how broken and weary I was and still am? I had taught myself how to be rigid emotionally, and to guard very closely the beatings my heart took. Learning to let that control go and admitting that spending the day catching up on an almost entire season of Psych, or Bones, is okay is still very hard for me. Letting myself sleep in till 10 because of still feeling the emotional withdrawal of a hard post is okay, but I still kick myself over it. Letting go and being the broken vessel I am is important because through that letting go, I am healing. Through eating pretzels dipped in Nutella, through the watching of episodes of favorite TV shows, through the reading of favorite books, self care gives a gentle place where healing can start.

Self care for each person can, and should, look very different. Each person has a very unique way of healing, and that is the beauty of all of our stories. We are all so individual, that it makes so much sense that self care is individual as well. I often look for the thing that makes me feel most safe, the thing that I can rely on and I know it is not going to surprise me. That is the thing that I will look to for when I need self care. For me, as I have listed a little bit already, self care looks like drawing back from people except for my husband and one or two of my closest friends. It looks like watching my favorite TV shows on Netflix, and in case no one has figured it out yet, I love crime shows. Crime shows make me think in the way that is very natural for me; logically and factually. I don’t have to deal with emotions, and that helps alot. Self care also looks like giving my brain a break. Whether that looks like a romance novel that is cheesy, happy, and short, reading through Ender’s Game in a day, or taking a week to fly through Harry Potter, losing myself in those books, it’s something that I know I can count on and that it will always be the same no matter how many times I read it. I don’t have to wait to find out the outcome, I can go straight to the last page, and it will never be something I have to rethink, or be surprised over.

What self care looks like for you will probably be different than what it looks like for me. Guess what though, that is very much okay.  I have been wanting to write for this week’s synchroblogs, but through these guest posts, this is my way of contributing when I can’t find words for anything else. Take care of yourself, run that bubble bath, light those candles, crack the cover of your favorite book, pull out those paint brushes. Self care is very important for everyone, especially for those who have been hurt.

Breathe, relax, cry, and heal.

 ***

 

Caleigh blogs over at The Profligate Truth.


I have this theory, influenced by my senior seminar spent immersed in Derrida and my personal observations of trends in the conservative Christian bubble, that I think I’d like to pursue for graduate work.

The problem is that I haven’t the first clue about what field this would fall into or where I could go to find a department supportive of me pursuing this idea academically. Care to help?

Earlier this week I mentioned that I think having the vocabulary to name your problem is the first step to being able to confront it. The reason I think this is closely connected to what I’ve observed…

In “cult”-like churches (here loosely defined as churches with isolated/insulated and somewhat controlling internal social culture, using fear and shame to manipulate members into continued acquiescence and support of the leader, group, or “movement.there’s usually a distinct vocabulary that is used within the “cult” (I’m going to use that from here on out, but don’t get upset. That’s just me using the term broadly because it’s handy.) which the members understand instinctually, but the loaded connotations of these terms don’t make sense to outsiders OR don’t register with outsiders as loaded terms.

Let me give an example. In Sovereign Grace Ministries, longtime members are humorously self-aware that their lingo doesn’t make a ton of sense to outsiders (CLC’s 25th anniversary celebration pageant included a sketch where two members were talking with a non-member and hilarious confusion ensued due to the terminology). The unchurched have a certain confused reaction to phrases like “I just want to purpose to” and “don’t want to cause anyone to stumble” and “I just want to be a blessing here,” etc.

But, within the evangelical world, these terms tend to translate all right. Where it gets weird is that the “reformed big dogs” (a term used to loosely refer to the celebrity pastors/leaders of the new reformed movement in America, such as John Piper, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, etc., and those at the Gospel Coalition and Together For The Gospel.) hear someone like CJ Mahaney saying something like “I’m going to purpose to humble myself and make myself transparent and accountable to xyz men in my church/church leaders elsewhere” and they think “Oh! He’s going to listen and ask for advice and is willing to change and receive feedback and fix the problems in SGM. We should assume the best.” But what CJ [functionally, maybe not deliberately] means by saying that is more like: “I’m going to meet with likeminded people who will tell me I’m okay and we’ll talk these issues through and when we come out on the same page we can continue business as usual because I’ve been open to talking about it [humble] and gotten outside input [accountable].”

The language is loaded and the mistranslation perpetuates unconscionable defenses of bad behavior on the part of leaders like CJ because it’s easy to assume the best when he’s saying things that in your interpretation mean he’s genuinely repenting and willing to change.

That’s how this works on the leader-on-the-inside talking to leaders-on-the-outside level. But where it’s most troubling is how it works internally, how this affects the cult members who are fish unaware of the linguistic water in which they swim.

On the internal level, once you’ve been in one of these churches for a while, you start to adapt to the vocabulary, and the loaded meanings of the cult’s use of certain common churchy words start replacing the original meanings. The words slip and slide from loaded Christianese to be weighted with new meanings, usually marked by elements of shame and guilt as the impetus for the new meanings.

Example: “unteachability” in the normal world means: “someone who is obnoxiously full of themselves and can’t take criticism or follow rules.” In the mainstream evangelical church, it means that plus “someone who will hurt others with this attitude and probably should work on humility and learn how to listen better because that’s Christ-like.” In Sovereign Grace Ministries, it means “someone who has concerns about how things operate and asked uncomfortable questions/has uncomfortable observations about leadership and their habits and won’t accept the standard answers to their questions at face value and is looking for more honesty than we’re comfortable with.” Whether or not this person has an edge to their attitude or has a vendetta motivating their questions, once you’re labelled as “unteachable,” you’re perpetually on a short leash in SGM and asking why they won’t answer or why they don’t trust you anymore will prove your unteachability further and perpetuate your status as out of favor with the leadership.

The thing is, this is not just SGM that does this. It happens in little Presbyterian churches turning into cults by not reporting honestly to their session. It happens to home churches, to Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches. It happens in Bill Gothard’s program members, it happens in home school groups, it happens in Vision Forum, it happens in Calvary Chapels, it happens in essentially any church or church-like group that isn’t mixing with those different from themselves or are deliberately engaging in self-protective isolation.

This is why the Westboro Baptist Church is so impenetrable with their positions — they don’t need to protect themselves from people trying to persuade them they’re wrong. Their internal cult dialect does that for them. Without a translation, they’re safe from being convinced that they’re wrong.

I call the psychological effect of this loaded language on members a “stop-think trigger” (I need a better term — is there a real term in academic use for this?), where a cult member’s normal reasoning function shortcuts itself when one of these loaded terms is used, and they don’t follow through the process of thinking an idea through from A to Z, and end up in an irrational and emotionally harmful place because they accepted a phrase on the terms set for it by the cult’s use of it, and the phrase surrenders its original meaning or vitality to the new meaning.

And that, this ability of church leaders to use psychological manipulation by defining the dialectic of a church or group to control the social and emotional habits and atmosphere of a church, is what I want to study for grad school. [I think.] Why does it work? How does it work? How is it connected to “brainwashing” or “Stockholm Syndrome”? What does it mean for someone to get out of a cult and how does the language affect that process and what is the psychological fallout and why is it so similar to PTSD?

So, questions.

1) Talk to me about my theory. What do you think?

2) What discipline would best support pursuing this academically? Sociology? Linguistics? Psychology? Philosophy? 

3) Has this been done before? What schools have programs/professors that would support this best? Should I look for a Christian institution or a “secular” one?


I love reading. When I was in third grade, my mom had me make a list of all the books I’d read in the last year. Once we got through the library loan records and my Sonlight reading list, I discovered that I’d read between two and three hundred books that year.

When I was in tenth grade, I fell behind and stopped working on most of my schoolwork for a lot of reasons–my mom had just had twins, I was babysitting for her a lot, I was stressed and probably depressed, I was socially isolated in unhealthy ways, and I coped by reading everything in sight. I read and drew and wrote lots that year, but mostly I read. Sometimes I think that books were my lifeline to sanity while I lived at home.

During college, people would ask me why I chose to be an English major. I’d jokingly tell them that it was so I could get good grades just for reading all the time like I would do anyway.

Paper writing intimidation, 2008.

Writing has always been part of who I am, as well. I wrote a historical fiction “novel” in high school, various short stories, and lots and lots of essays. In the last few years I have begun to explore poetry, write more fiction, and really focus on honing my craft.

But my favorite thing is still reading, challenging myself to read the greats and develop a good ear for quality language and voice and presence. To push myself to enjoy what I might not find easy in order to learn and stretch my own writing. And to just read for reading’s sake, savoring the presence of an author’s story and losing myself in someone else’s world and words.

Short stories are my very favorite of all. They fit well into a busy life. I love how they can be tight and focused like poetry, but the genre allows them to also be broader and more narrative. However, the form seems to be fading, and fewer authors are writing short stories and fewer schools are studying them. They’re not yet outdated, but there’s a slow fade happening for short stories in the publishing world. And that’s sad, because you’d think there would be a bigger market for them in the world of e-readers and online publishing venues and Twitter and blogs.

Inspired after attending a speaking event by Lorin Stein a few months back (promoting The Paris Review‘s new short story collection, Object Lessons), I decided I wanted to do more here with writing and promoting this great genre.

So here’s the plan:

During the first week of April, I’m going to host a short story week on Wine & Marble. 

And I want you to help.

I’d like to feature a short story every day from March 31st (Easter Sunday) to April 6th. 

That’s seven stories.

You write it, I’ll help you clean it up, and we’ll publish it here. 

I’ll be accepting submissions from now until March 23rd. Send them to me at wineandmarble@gmail.com. 

To kick this off, I’d like to give you a short story I wrote a couple years back. 

Click here to download Wine at Christmas.

 


This new year, I’m trying to be deliberate about self-care. Things that I would have shoved off as unimportant before because they  only meant something to me — I’m taking these up and owning them. I’m fighting the lies in my head: “It’s not a big deal. I’m too busy.” “It’s not important.” “I wouldn’t be good enough/I’m too old to start that now.” “I need the money for other things.”

No more. I don’t mean that in an I’m-obsessed-with-making-myself-happy-with-things way. No more self-denial for its own sake, or because of fear or because of self-consciousness.

So. I am doing new things. I’m taking part in a story coaching group with Elora (a few slots left and only two days more to register, if you want to join us!). I’m going to write the stories in my head and have accountability and community to help me keep going. I really need this.

I’m taking mandolin. It’d been a old dream of mine to pick it up, but I couldn’t afford it/find one/find a teacher, and over Christmas everything fell into place. I have a mandolin. I have a teacher. I have the emotional space to learn it without pressure from anyone who is more musically advanced criticizing or judging me. It’s so healing. I’m making music. It’s mine. No one else’s.

The community of bloggers I’ve found has been incredible. If you ever feel like you’re insane and the only one seeing that maybe your church is legalistic, or your conservative community is prejudiced and hurtful to minorities, or that maybe women shouldn’t be treated they way they are in your church or at your school, or that the relationship standards in conservative Christianity are oppressive, or that your depression might be real and not “lack of faith,” please hear me:

you are not alone.

The latest evolution of this community? Elizabeth Esther and I talk about how expectations for emotional purity are terribly damaging and dehumanizing. An excerpt:

So, how do girls in strict, courtship environments cope? We shut down our emotions.

The bad news is that you can’t shut down one feeling without shutting down them all. I thought that by ignoring, denying, shaming and shunning my romantic feelings for Matt I was preserving my “emotional purity” and “guarding my heart.” Instead, I ended up completely numb.

It got so bad that eventually I believed if something felt good it was probably sinful. If I was happy, I wasn’t suffering enough. Sometimes I wished I were a robot so I could turn off my feelings with a push of a button.

When we finally received courtship approval and it was OK for me to have romantic feelings for Matt, I was a mess. I was depressed, exhausted, confused and literally sick all the time. 

Go join the discussion!