Nashville, Three Weeks In.

“Oh Lord, I wasn’t ready to go / I’m never ready to go
Let it ride / Let it ride easy down the road
Let it ride / Let it take away all of the darkness
Let it ride / Let it rock me in the arms of stranger’s angels until it brings me home / Let it ride, let it roll, let it go …”

- Let It Ride, Ryan Adams

It was the first song that came drifting through my car stereo on our way out of town. The Chicago skyline loomed in my rearview mirror as I followed the UHaul trailer hitched to my husband’s Mountaineer.

We were leaving home, we were headed home.

It wasn’t until I had listened to the song several times on repeat that I realized Adams was singing about Nashville, our new city. And for a brief minute, I felt the strain of those lyrics like a knot in my throat, “Oh Lord, I wasn’t ready to go / I’m never ready to go.”

We’ve lived in Nashville for three weeks now. It doesn’t quite feel like home yet, since we live in a temporary housing situation and half of our stuff still sits in storage. But I do feel a sense of certainty and groundedness in this new city and new routine. I spend my time and earn my keep by cleaning houses and doing freelance work for a handful of clients. I’ve left the 9-to-5 office job behind, and in its place I have a freedom and flexibility that makes me feel alive again, adventurous, willing to take risks for my own happiness and fulfillment.

Moving our whole life to a new city was not an easy transition, though. For months before we moved, I was a tightly wound tangle of nerves, constantly tallying up our funds, checking the calendar over and over again, trying to make sure that all the logistics were aligned. I was exhausted. So many nights became long, dark corridors of sleeplessness; my mind wandered through every what-if and worst case scenario.

I worried about what I was leaving behind.

I worried about whether I was actually going toward anything at all.

What if we moved and then didn’t find the jobs, the community, or the creative opportunities we’d hoped for? What if the move turned out to be a waste of time? An empty dream?

I think sometimes we talk about “chasing our dreams” in a way that idealizes the experience, and totally ignores the stress of that process. Selling all your stuff, quitting a job you don’t love, moving to a new city and starting over. The clean slate scenario sounds so romantic. We do ourselves no favors with this, because once we’re knee-deep in it, too far in to turn back, we think to ourselves that something must be wrong. We didn’t know it would be this hard.

So, here’s my #realtalk for you, three weeks in : It is hard. Really hard.

A lot of things can – and do – go wrong, disasters large and small that ruin all your best laid plans to do this “the right way.” A lot gets left behind. The ironing board and the lily plant, because they couldn’t fit in the Uhaul. The sense of security you had, even if it made you bored. The feeling of knowing how to navigate your life, literally and figuratively. The feeling of being known.

And just like that song goes, you’re never ready to go.

But you go anyway.

We live here now. And I may yet live to regret this decision, but I have a feeling I won’t. In any case, the lovely Tennessee breeze that cools me off after a long afternoon of cleaning houses reminds me that today I am just proud of myself for trying. And that is its own happiness.

#FaithFeminisms : A Calling Out

This week I’m excited and deeply honored to participate in #FaithFeminisms, a flashmob online discussion on the intersections of faith and feminism led by some wise women who have taught me SO MUCH about both – Mihee Kim-Kort, Suzannah Paul, Jes Kas-Keat, Austin Channing Brown, Abi Betchel, Becca Rose, and others. The introductory post, “#FaithFeminisms: A Calling Out,” went live this morning. Join us and add your voice to the conversation here. Here is our hope for this conversation, in a nutshell:

“We seek to acknowledge the gap between our value systems and our actions and actual relationships, recognizing that this chasm indicates communal brokenness, persistent inequalities, and human fallibility. We desire to create more room for vulnerability, honesty, growth, and a willingness to be undone by each other – our assumptions and long-held notions, our ideologies and blind spots, and the ways we speak, work, and name God.”

This conversation is born out of our hope and longing for authentic reconciliation; not mere equality, but true liberation from oppression for all of our fellow image-bearers. My hope and prayer for this discussion is that all of us who choose to participate will adopt postures of listening and grace toward one another.

I’ll be sharing my contribution on Wednesday, so stay tuned. (You can read more about my how my faith and feminism inform one another here.)

[Image source.]

SheLoves Mag : “It Starts with a Seed.”

Today I’m over at SheLoves Magazine, sharing my first post with them. Starting next month I will be their Thursday editor (which I announced over on my Facebook page last month and I forgot to share here, oops.)

Those of you that frequent this space regularly (or at least when I manage to post!) know that this year I chose Thrive as my One Word for 2014, and that last month I announced that hubs and I are moving to Nashville (in 5 DAYS. But I’m not panicking or anything…!!!) My post for SheLoves today is a reflection on that decision to thrive in a new place. I hope you’ll read and leave a few thoughts of your own in the comments!

It started with a seed. A question: what if we moved?

It fell on hard ground the first time my husband asked it. It was winter, I was grieving the death of my mother. I felt frozen, numb, empty, barren. I couldn’t look around at my life and see anything for what it really was. I couldn’t know for sure whether the bare branches were hibernating or lifeless. So we waited, the possibility of what could be suspended somewhere in time.

Still, it was a small seed of hope, a tiny kernel of faith, that question. (Read more here.)



No Really, #TakeDownThatPost : An Open Letter to Christianity Today & Leadership Journal

[TRIGGER WARNING: Intense abuse and rage apologia.]

People are always asking me why I engage social media the way that I do – posting links to articles and posts about issues of feminism, rape and purity culture, especially as they relate to faith. I’ve been accused of being combative and argumentative, of being ungracious and unloving. I’ve been told that publicly criticizing spiritual leaders and Christian organizations could prevent me from making the kinds of professional connections that will help me find work as a writer. But you know what?

I believe that each of us are called to critically engage our culture and community, especially when we see harmful narratives being perpetuated.

I believe that we are responsible for seeking and sharing truth in our own spheres of influence.

I believe that we are called to advocate for the abused and the oppressed with our education and our gifts.

I am a Christian and a writer; to stay silent on these issues is itself a clear message that I only care about my own voice and my own privilege. I am not okay with that. And I am done being quiet. After the conversation I had today, I am so beyond disgusted and upset that I have to post about this, though I can barely type without shaking.

This week Leadership Journal, an imprint of Christianity Today, published an article written by a convicted and imprisoned rapist in which he recounted his choice to groom and sexually abuse a minor. He was a youth pastor who developed a relationship with one of his students and then pursued her sexually for years before his wife discovered it and promptly outed and left him. The article, as it was originally written, never once uses the terms “groom,” “molest,” “abuse,” “rape,” or even “crime” to account for his actions, but instead uses “extramarital affair” and “relationship” and “friendship” and pronouns like “we” to describe his “fall into sin.” He lists the consequences of his actions only as they relate to him:

And yet he never once accounts for how his actions affected his victim, his wife, his ministry, his church, or his community. In fact, he doesn’t even acknowledge that she was a minor until page five of the article. It is a stark, horrifying display of abuse and rape apology, and it very clearly centers the voice of the abuser over that of the victim.

It begs the questions :

How can a rapist be repentant for his crimes if he cannot even call his sin what it is?

How can a rapist be repentant for his crimes if  he cannot even acknowledge the pain he caused others?

Answers: HE CAN’T.

This post was not repentance; this was justification for his actions, and some critics have even gone so far as to say that this rapist is grooming readers for his return to the pulpit. I agree with them.

There has been an enormous backlash on social media this week, begging Leadership Journal and its parent company Christianity Today to #TakeDownThatPost. Until this afternoon, these pleas were met with flippant response from multiple LJ and CT editors, and blatant radio silence from the organizations’ official twitter accounts. This afternoon they posted an editor’s note “due to the backlash.” To put it bluntly, their action was way too little, way too late. It not only keeps the rapist’s voice centered, but their minor edits to the language he used makes the story in passive voice as Dianna Anderson explains, and totally ignores the harm already done.

I am outraged and horrified by Leadership Journal and Christianity Today’s ironic lack of leadership in this circumstance. They seem to be operating under the false impression that the ramifications of this post will be water under the bridge in due time as the angry twittersphere moves on to other outrages.

I beg to differ. Why? Because of conversations like this that I had today via twitter:

Brandon is a self-identified abuse victim and youth leader who himself admits that he does not understand that minors cannot give real, authentic consent when sexually propositioned by an adult authority figure.

He has tweeted with me and several other people today in direct response to the piece published by Leadership Journal, questioning whether the rapist was solely at fault for the abuse, whether the victim wanted it, and whether having sex with an adult authority figure would “really” ruin her life. This is the kind of real, tangible harm perpetuated by LJ’s article: it lets readers (i.e. “leaders” in LJ’s target audience) question what should be concrete concepts like consent and abuse. If they don’t know the difference between an “extramarital affair” and abuse of a minor, are they fit for leadership?

Why else does it matter? Because you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse. And when you remain silent on this issue, or when you let yourself believe that “maybe they wanted it,” you silence victims and make yourself an unsafe person. Silence on these issues actively perpetuates real harm by allowing abusers to think that their actions are justifiable, even normal.

The concept of consent is Healthy Sexual Ethics 101. And if even our leaders in our churches, leading our kids, do not understand this, then no wonder sexual abuse is a rampant problem and no wonder people are leaving the pews. No one feels safe.

Leadership Journal, Christianity Today,

What more proof do you need that this article perpetuates harmful narratives among people who do not understand consent and abuse? What more proof do you need that instead of a self-justifying “cautionary tale” written by the rapist himself, we need to be listening to the victims and teaching people about consent and rape culture? If you care about victims, if you care about Christian Leadership, TAKE DOWN THAT POST.

Readers, please join me and others in imploring Leadership Journal and Christianity Today to take down this post. Samantha Fields offers several ways that you can participate in changing this situation :

Please e-mail the editors of the Leadership Journal and ask them to remove the post ( Ask them to replace it with an article from the victim of a youth pastor, and then another from someone like Boz Tchividjian that offers church leadership an actual education in child sexual assault, clergy abuse, statutory rape, and how it is impossible for a pastor gain consent from a parishioner because of the power he or she has.

If you use twitter, tweet along with #TakeDownThatPost and at @CTmagazine and @Leadership_Jnl.

If you use facebook or other social media, please share one of the following articles :

Because Purity Culture Harbors Rape and Abuse, What Kind of Leadership Blocks Dissent and Privileges Predators, Christianity Today?,  by Suzannah Paul

On How the Church Discusses Abuse: Denying the Endorsement, A Further Update on #TakeDownThatPost, by Dianna Anderson

My Innocence Was Stolen, at Redemption Pictures

Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, and #TakeDownThatPost, by Samantha Field

An Open Letter to Christianity Today, by Elizabeth Esther

Christianity Today Publishes a Rapist’s Story, by Libby Anne

Because it’s Time to Take Down That Post, by Tamara Rice

Why did a Journal for Christian Pastors Give a Platform to a Sexual Predator?, by Hännah Ettinger and Becca Rose

Christianity Today, Church Rape, And Why We Still Don’t Get It #TakeDownThatPost, by Benjamin Corey

If you are like me and you are still trying to learn the basics of feminism, rape and purity culture, and how these issues intersect with the Christian faith, I highly recommend reading Dianna Anderson’s series Back to Basics. She dissects ideas and terms very thoroughly. Educate yourself! 


Guest Post | Love Showed Up

Today I’m over at my friend Leanne Penny’s blog with a contribution to her Love Showed Up series. If you’ve experienced the loss of a loved one(s), then you know that faith and hope are hard to come by, but that Love always shows up right when you need it most. I have loved reading the stories in Leanne’s series, so I’m honored to contribute today with one of my own about the community that carried my family and I through my mother’s illness and death. I hope you’ll read it, and that you’ll read the others listed in the series because they’re incredible.

I have a hard time believing in miracles. It’s not that I don’t believe in God. It’s not that I don’t believe that Jesus really performed the miracles recorded in the Gospels. It’s just that my own story is marked by the miracle that never came: my mother’s healing. (Read more here.)

We’re Moving.

I have some kind of really big news to share with you today, dear readers…

Hubs and I are moving. To Nashville, Tennessee. In July.

Many of our close friends and family already know this, but at long last we’re finally ready to make it public. We’ve had this goal in mind for a long time, but the plans are finally starting to fall into place. Matt has found a job, I’ve found some freelance writing work. I’m currently looking for a part-time job to fill in the gaps in our income as we make this transition. We think we’ve found a place to live, and hopefully we’ll sign a lease when we go back to visit the second weekend in June. Our tentative moving date is July 3.

Here’s the long and short of it of why we’re moving :

We need to thrive as creative people.

I have lived in Chicago for close to ten years (!), and Matt grew up here. We have loved this place. And though we’ve always lived in the suburbs, it is the city of Chicago that has anchored me in this stage of life as I’ve grown into my adult self. Its culture – the art! the music! the food! the sports! – has enriched my life in a thousand ways. Its sweeping skyline and glimmering lakeshore have welcomed me home as a pair of open arms. Chicago is as much a part of my identity as the rural Michigan farm town where I was raised.

But as much as we’ve loved living here, we’ve slowly recognized that we’re not really thriving. Chicago’s cost of living is one of the highest in the country, and this is a harsh economic environment for artists to succeed in. We’ve found ourselves pouring all of our energy and resources into surviving, with little left to put toward our creative endeavors. We’re finding, at this stage of life, that we need to live in an area that fosters creative community, mostly through a lower cost of living.

We have several friends that have moved to Nashville for these same reasons, and once we visited we fell in love with it too. It’s a beautiful, affordable city with a thriving creative community. (And the warm weather doesn’t hurt either.)

In the coming months I’ll share more posts with you about this move, but for now, I just want to say thank you to everyone that’s supported us through this process.

We have not made this decision lightly. It has been difficult to come to terms with, difficult to explain to our loved ones. Not everyone shares our priorities and dreams, and we respect that, but this decision is the right one for us right now.

Keep us in your thoughts and prayers, friends. We’ll need them as we plant new roots.

Much love,

Bethany & Matthew.

Guest Post | Love Letters Series

Today I’m sharing a few words over at my friend Ben Moberg’s blog, Registered Runaway. I’ve been reading Ben for over a year and I feel a deep debt of gratitude to him for opening my eyes to the LGB experience. Today I’m honored to contribute to his Love Letters series with a message of reconciliation and love for my LGBTQ friends. This post is incredibly important to me, because I wasn’t always affirming of the LGBTQ community, and because I’m sharing a story that has grieved me deeply for more than 10 years. Writing this post was the first time I really allowed myself to confront my regret. I hope you’ll read it, and I hope that you’ll offer kindness and respect in the comments.

“Dear Friend,

A few nights ago I was fiddling around on my phone as I waited for my husband to get home from work when I found a message. It was from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. We don’t know each other well anymore, but we catch glimpses of one another’s lives through links and statuses and photos. I was surprised to see she had contacted me directly, and even more surprised by what she said …” (Read more here.)

What Creativity Really Demands.

My senior year of college I had to hide away in the bedroom of my dorm apartment to study. My three roommates and I had arranged our desks in the living room, right next to our couch and television because it was all the room we had. But as the semester wore on, my desk sat vacant. I found that my best work happened in that little red armchair in the corner of our bedroom with the door shut. I just couldn’t crank out 15-page papers with Flava Flave and roomie chatter as my background noise. I even swore off social media that spring so that I could ace my 40-page capstone research paper. (It worked.)

Today my writing requires that same level of discipline: a quiet space, no distractions. I have a full-time job and for the last year I’ve been working on my memoir proposal. I sacrifice free evenings and weekends, I wake myself up earlier than I want to. My bedroom is my makeshift office. I shove my phone in my nightstand drawer, perch my laptop on my legs as I sit on my bed, and eventually the words come.

If I want to write, I have to accept the fact that these scraps of space and spare time are all I have to work with.

I thought that was hard enough, but then my laptop display light died last week. You can imagine my horror. The screen went dark and I was absolutely sure that my career as a writer was snuffed out with it. I took it to a techy friend who confirmed that yes, my trusty old 2007 Macbook was finally showing its age, and no, it can’t be repaired. My only option was to buy a $20 adaptor to hook it up to a PC monitor and use it as a desktop. So that’s where I write to you now : not in my cozy, quiet office/bedroom, but in my living room/dining room/kitchen/office (bless the open floor plan). My husband is watching a movie 10 feet away from me and I’m trying to ignore the siren song of that last slice of blackberry pie in my fridge.

Last week a famous author who has been hugely influential in my work wrote a blog post about what writing a book really requires. He told the story of having to spend a week away at a cabin in the woods recently in order to finish his next book. You have to live inside it, he said. You have to go to the cabin; a book will demand your all that way. Think you can’t afford the luxury of time away in a cabin to write your book? That makes me sad, he said, because it probably isn’t true.

Truthfully, his words really stung. Not because I’m opposed to the idea that writing a book takes sacrifice, but because his post implied that the sacrifices I am already making are not enough. I read those words and sat there thinking to myself about my Macbook’s failing health. What I wouldn’t give for a new computer, let alone a cabin in the woods, amiright?! And yet even I enjoy certain privileges that others don’t have : I have a job that pays the bills, I am child-free, I have a spouse that will pick up my slack when I need an extra hour to write, I have a roof over my head; I have a computer that, despite its issues, still works.

I’m not writing this post today to attack that writer for his post, or even the idea that writing a book takes sacrifice. He’s not the first famous author to talk about isolating oneself with their work. He’s not even the first to evoke the cabin in the woods. In fact, this idea isn’t even limited to writing, but applies to nearly every form of creativity. It would be fine, perhaps even challenging, if it were just a metaphor. But when it’s not just a metaphor, when it’s a literal prescription that everyone has to live up to if they want to “make it” as a writer or an artist, then it becomes a classist ideal meant to prop up one’s own elitism. What was meant to challenge and encourage writers to be faithful to their work becomes a discouragement because they can’t afford the cabin.

I’m writing this post today because I want to call this idea what it is : scarcity.

Scarcity says that without the cabin, we’ll never be a published writer.

Scarcity says that our story, our words, our resources, our daily lives are not enough.

Scarcity keeps us from starting where we are, because we can’t afford the perfect writing conditions – total isolation, total freedom, total separation from our daily responsibilities.

Scarcity demands perfection and privilege, and those will kill creativity. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, says Anne Lamott, and she’s right – I can’t write with those voices in my head, telling me that I’m not enough.

So what does creativity really require of us, then? Abundance. Faithfulness.

And that looks different for everyone. For some, it’s a cabin in the woods. For others, it’s late nights and early mornings and spare moments.

A very wise – and I should say published – friend said a few days ago that writing is like the loaves and fishes. What we have to offer seems so meager and inadequate, but we give it anyway, and somehow it multiplies. It becomes more than enough.

So from one artist to another, from one Macbook-turned-makeshift desktop to another, I want to offer you abundance today.

You have permission to write in the imperfect, un-isolated insanity of your life right now. If you’re writing on the margins of your life because it’s all you can afford, if you’re writing in the middle of the night while your kids and partners are sleeping, if you’re writing in the early morning hours before you go to work, if you’re writing in between half-a-dozen part time jobs, if you’re writing from the basement of your parents’ house, if you’re writing in a scrappy little notebook on your lunch hour (or during a boring-as-hell staff meeting), if you’re writing in the bathtub with the doors locked because it’s the only place where you can get some peace and quiet, I want you to know :

Your story still matters. Your words still matter. Your dream is still worthy, still possible, still real. You are no more lazy or less dedicated than me or the New York Times Bestseller hangin’ out in a cabin in the woods.

May we be artists that acknowledge our privilege.

May we be artists that honor one another’s creative processes, even when they are vastly different from our own.

May we be artists that start where we are, rather than sacrificing our work at the altar of perfectionism and elitism.

May we be artists that are faithful with our work, faithful to the daily miracle of creativity.

May we be artists that work from a place of abundance.

A Mother’s Day Card for My Internet Sisterhood.

Two years and five months ago, my mom died. I thought then that I was motherless. Some days I still feel that way. And being the only woman in a family of men now without mom, some days I feel sisterless too. A girl alone in the world.

There’s a void for words of wisdom, for nurturing spirits, for safe relationships. I know I can never really fill it. I know she can’t be replaced. But it is because of that deep need that I look carefully for women evoke the kind of life and joy that my mother did. In the face of death, I’ve begun to search for life. And when I notice a loving, nurturing, wise spirit I am drawn to it like a flower lifting its face to a sunbeam. I bask in it. I soak it up.

I have those women in my day-to-day life, my aunts, my grandmother, my best friends. But I also have them in that little digital window of the internet. At the Festival of Faith & Writing a few weeks ago, I connected with so many friends I know online, most of them women. I know from the words they write that they are kindred spirits, but meeting them in person, spending time with them around tables and conference sessions and hotel pools, gave me something more. They were there with a warm hand on my shoulder, they were there with twinkling eyes and howls of laughter, they were there with their tears and looks of understanding. Their presence reminded me in every tangible way that I am not motherless or sisterless.

So this post is a Mother’s Day card for my internet sisterhood, the nurturing women that surround me with their words of hope and kind hearts.

Women like Sarah Joslyn and Kelli Woodford and Cara Strickland, women like Emily Maynard and Danielle Vermeer and Abi Betchel, women like Tammy Perlmutter and Brenna D’Ambrosio and Kristin Tennant, women like Emily Miller and Elora Nicole and Abby Norman and Leanne Penny, women like Grace Sandra and Natalie Trust and Tamara Barrack Rice and Leigh Kramer and Alece Ronzino, women like Idelette McVicker and Tina Francis and Holly Grantham, women like Addie Zierman and Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey.

I want you to know that you have enriched my life in every way – in my faith, in my writing, in my marriage, in my hope and in my grief.

I want you to know that I bask in your wisdom and companionship.

I want you to know that you remind me every day that sisterhood is about encouragement, not competition.

I want you to know that your words and your stories are sacred to me.

I want you to know that I see you, and you are faithful. You are true. You are beautiful. You are brave.

I want you to know that you embody grace for me.

Thank you. Happy Mother’s Day. I love you.

May Flowers.

April showers bring May flowers, they say. A small reminder that the downpours are a natural part of the creative effort that births all good things.

It was a long winter here in the Midwest. But more than that, it was a long winter here in myself, too. Followed by a long season of sadness, followed by a long season of letting go.

As a creative person, I hinge everything on this hope that the seasons are never wasted. The seasons of picking or planting, the layers of grief and death, the sunshine and the storms alike enrich the soil from which beautiful lives and stories grow.

Perhaps that’s why I find myself so ardently trying to capture this spring after the long wait of winter, in iPhone photos and buds plucked from a blooming tree, in long hikes with friends. It is a survival instinct, a heartbeat, a pulse. It is my soul trying in every tactile way to capture hope. A way of saying to myself, your spring will come too.

It’s May now and the April showers are receding. I think I feel a new season coming in on a warmer wind. Seeds buried in the soil long ago are finally peeking through, green shoots of growth rising from dark earth. The effort and wait of years finally coming to fruition.

And I sense that tightness of possibility like a bloom still in its bud : everything in its time.

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