The OR Principle

I discovered the OR Principle last year while standing in a fitting room, and it changed my life.

My wardrobe includes what is essentially a dozen variations on the same loose, soft material, you-can-breathe-in-it Loft blouse. One can never have too many of these blouses, and I was trying on a new one for summer. I looked in the mirror at my bare arms and thought, “I really HAVE to work on toning my arms.”

The words floated in my brain, and each letter was tipped with the same stones that line a flagellant’s whip. This is always how such thoughts appear to me. A whip that was handed to me in a fitting room many, many years ago when I was just a child, when someone pointed to my stomach and told me I needed to “lose that belly.” The whip was given to me as if it were my birthright as a woman. I was to carry it with me for life. It was to be used as necessary to force both body and soul to submit.

As women, whenever something doesn’t fit – whether it’s a blouse or a job or a relationship – our first instinct is to think of how we can change our selves. That is the default solution. That is the norm. Our realities and our bodies are the aberrations to be controlled. Squished, contorted, fit into the appropriate space.

But this time, as soon as I began to calculate how many gym classes I needed to take and how many calories I need to not take in order to get my arms in shape, a new thought formed and even escaped through my mouth: “OR.”

That’s exactly how I said it. It was a bold, 20-point font OR.

“OR, designers could start making shirts with some damn sleeves on them,” I said.

And everything changed.

In the year since, every time the whip appears above my head, there is an OR right behind it, gently placing its hand over the one holding the whip.

When I am feeling trapped by a problem at work or home, OR opens a door: “This situation is hopeless. I’ll never get it right. I’ll never be good enough. OR…… there may be a different way that I just haven’t thought of yet.”

OR is an invitation to a bigger life. OR opens up space.

OR has a great sense of humor. OR is the wise woman I’ve always wanted to be. The one who has seen it all. Who knows that the energy of her wild spirit should not be used up in keeping a running mental log of calories. OR knows that the way to get a bikini body is to put a bikini on her body. OR knows that it is also perfectly fine to want sleeves on her shirt. OR’s body is soft and strong and sturdy. It exists outside the purview of others to judge. She is soft and strong and sturdy. She exists outside the purview of others to judge.

I am soft and strong and sturdy. I exist outside the purview of others to judge.

You do, too.


* * * * *

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Praise report

Some days are hard. You feel a little directionless and like you’re falling behind on EVERYTHING. Some days you come down with a stomach bug and will yourself to pull it together for your kid’s talent show at school. You don’t even have the energy to wash your hair, even though you realize {whisper} you haven’t washed it in several days.

And some days are great. Some days you wake up having had enough sleep and the sun is shining and you work all day uninterrupted and you GET SO DANG MUCH ACCOMPLISHED. #praisereport

A prayer for Lent

Witnessing the dis-eases of our bodies and minds,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing that which prevents us from hearing and being heard, from seeing and being seen, from knowing and being known,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our lack, the times when we do not have enough, the needs that go unmet,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing the dis-connection between us, we who are made for connection,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our grief, and our grief too great even for tears,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our powerlessness,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing how we use our power in ways that create and perpetuate inequality and injustice,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our ignorances,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing the choice we make when there is no good choice,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our words and actions and attitudes that cause brokenness,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our brokenness,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.

Witnessing our pain,
Spirit of Life, have mercy on us.


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Yoga breath

Yoga classes are like church services for me in that they are a time when I am open and honest and vulnerable with my self. Last summer, I was dealing with some challenges, and being with the heaviness of those challenges in the rawness of yoga was too much. It had moved from discomfort to pain, and it stung. I had to stop attending classes for awhile.

And that’s ok.

In yoga, the whole point is your breath. In vinyasa flow yoga, teachers will tell you that if your breathing becomes too labored during practice, if you can’t maintain that steady, long inhale & exhale, come back to child’s pose, where you lay your forehead on the mat, chest draped over your knees. All tucked into a safe cocoon, resting your weight on the earth, sinking back into a rhythmic breath. Because yoga isn’t how far you can lift your leg in the air or behind your head. It’s breathing.

Not going to yoga class for awhile was my returning to child’s pose.

It was easing up for as long as it took for me to catch my breath. As long as it took for things to become lighter again.

Of course, it was also a sign. When things are heavy, it can mean an opportunity for us to grow stronger. It can also indicate that something needs to change. Sometimes, as it was in this case, it is both.

Last week, I gave myself a present of a month-pass to yoga. I’ve been to several classes since then, and it feels so, so good to be in that room again, breathing, expanding, being strong.

Breathe with me, wherever you are. Let your breath carry comfort to the hidden places where pain is stuck. Let it open you up to possibilities, those you can dream of and those you can’t, for joy and wellbeing.

Breathe with me.

PS I call this image Tree Pose with Trees. The best kind of tree pose. Obviously.


Nature therapy

nature-therapy-trees-picOn Monday, I engaged in nature therapy down at the creek near our house. Nature therapy is a very sophisticated form of self care, involving mud and sunshine.


One of the benefits of being married to a neuroscientist has been a clearer understanding – and, subsequently, acceptance – of the anxiety that has accompanied me from a young age. I better understand anxiety to be a physiological activity of my body (some people say brain, but you know our brains are part of our bodies, right?). The activity is a result of my genetic make-up and its response to circumstances. It is something I experience. I used to think it meant something about who I was, but, while my sense of self and anxiety have some interplay, they are not the same.

In the past couple of years, I have begun talking more candidly about anxiety, which has helped take some of its sting away. I have told friends that I had to change plans because I was feeling anxious and needed to give my self a time out, in the same way I might have said, “I’ve broken my leg and can’t make our hiking trip.”


On Monday, I was feeling anxious. I put one foot in front of the other as we traipsed through the woods down to the creek. I breathed in and out. I paid attention to how the ground felt bumpy beneath my feet and to the temperature of the air on my skin.


For years, when I’ve talked with close friends and my husband and my therapist about depression and anxiety, I’ve said that I’ve dealt with them since I was 13. On Monday, I realized that I’ve actually dealt with anxiety since I was 9.

This thought crystallized in my mind as I sat on a rock, using a long stick to stir the creek water soup that my toddler and I were making together.


In addition to my toddler, I have Emma, an eight year old who turns nine in April. I wonder what nine will be like for her.


Maggie and I stomped around in the mud to feel it squish up between our toes. We knelt and built mud castles. Being Mama means to be making constantly. Making dinner, making doctor appointments, making children’s hearts and my own heart.

It is not in isolation that I walk with anxiety, that I breathe through it, that I learn how to recognize when it is rising and step away from control. Let it flow away. Like the creek over our feet.

I am doing it while holding the hands of my baby girls, which makes it easier and harder, but – for me – it is also the only way. In cupping their hearts with gentle hands, I hold my own. I put broken pieces back together, the crevices filled in with mud and spit and love. In other words, with grace.



The tears that just wouldn’t stop last Wednesday began to scare me when they still weren’t drying up by the time I put our girls to bed around 8pm. I realized that I was reacting as if someone close to me had died.

That seemed preposterous, but it was how I felt. I am old enough and finally wise enough to know that the only way through feelings is… through them, so I sat with how I felt. And I invited a friend over, because Mike was at a work dinner, and it was too much to sit with alone. As we talked and I cried some more, I realized that what died was a hope that I had, an expectation that I was going to wake up and there would be a woman president-elect. A hope that millions of women were going to be vindicated by seeing our selves in one of the highest places of power that exists. That I was going to be vindicated.

In the days since, I’ve begun to name other things that died, or that it feels like died.

Stephen Bannon has been named Trump’s chief strategist. Before joining the Trump campaign, he was best known for being the executive chairman of alt-right Breitbart News. Headlines for his stories on the Breitbart website are stomach churning. One of many examples: “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?”

I grew up in an environment where feminists were often jeered.

It took everything I had to pull my self out of there.


Two days after my fifteenth birthday, yet another boy at church made yet another comment about my weight. I was too chubby. The next day, I stopped eating. Within months, I dropped from 145 pounds down to 70.

The boy’s comment was the tipping point, but it wasn’t the whole reason for the anorexia. I had been too big for a long time. I took up too much space. I had way too many opinions, and I insisted on defending them. Obviously, I ate too much, when other women were able to contort their selves and their bodies to whatever thoughts and size were acceptable. To not take up so much damn room.

I couldn’t be a real woman until I could do that, too. So I did it.

A year or so later, I overheard adults at church talking about feminism, how shrill those feminists were, how wrong. I went home and wrote a poem that included,


“I am beautiful
Though I do not believe it myself.
But I must be,
for God made the stars
and they shine, and I know
His hand made me.”

Along with the crystal-clear message that I was taking up too much space as a woman, I had also internalized the message that God loved me and made me. We humans are so messy, capable of holding contradictory beliefs.

Thankfully, as I was perilously close to permanently damaging my health, the latter message won out. When the choice was most acute, I had just enough faith that God’s love made me worthy of being alive that I started eating again.

It was even harder coming to a place where I owned my own thoughts and beliefs, without apology. It wasn’t until I was 25, living in another country and working on a master’s, that I would say I owned my self. All my choices, all my mistakes, all my responsibilities.

To do that, I had to let go of religious beliefs about women’s places, which I had been told were essential to the salvation of my soul. Women being pretty and pure and deferential were a big part of that salvation, reinforced by cultural mores.

I threw off the patriarchal mantle under which I had been born. I married a life partner with whom I am an equal. I made my own choices about my body and life. I gave my little girls my own last name.

What has died this past week is my belief in how much of the mantle’s reach I had been able to throw off in my own life. There is more of it, and I cannot stand it. I remember it. It makes me feel like my throat is choking. It is that against which I would expend every cell of my body to fight off from overtaking my children. It will not cover them. It will not. I will work against it until my dying day.

“Fat Shaming Works”
“Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive & Crazy”
“Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer”
“There’s No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews”

These are just some of the headlines of Breitbart News, and just examples of the sexist ones. There are also the racist, anti-Semitic, and nationalist headlines. And now the man behind Breitbart is chief strategist for the President of the United States. His power to shape policy and thus the every-day lives of Americans is real and potent.

Thus, I grieve.

(Don’t worry, I’m going to get to work, too, but first, grief and self care.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ~Andre Lorde)


For a friend who comes over at the end of a long day to sit with me while I cry and talk and cry some more, I give thanks.

For friends and family who don’t even vote the same way but still care for and hold my heart and grief with gentleness, I give thanks.

For a pastor and community of faith that is far away in geography but close in spirit, that is right now lighting candles for ALL the people in our country who are hurting, I give thanks.

For little girls who ask, “Why you eyes wed (red)?”, then put their small hand on my cheek and draw me in for butterfly kisses, I give thanks.

My heart feels wrapped in love

election-day-2016Just voted. As I walk away from the polling place, I can feel my heart in my chest. It feels like it is wrapped in love.

There is an old, deep wound that I carry, that I’ve carried for almost as long as I’ve known my name. It is a girl child in a church pew, in a church where there could never be a woman pastor. The church believed in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, so I didn’t understand why the Holy Spirit in me wasn’t as qualified to lead as the Holy Spirit in boys, but apparently it wasn’t. I wasn’t.

I grew up, read and traveled and lived both in and beyond the church, and there were more, similar woundings.

I’ve largely made my peace, mostly by saying, in actions & words, “That’s bullshit.” Today I said it with my vote.

My heart feels wrapped in love.


Tuesday night

I light a candle,candle
As I putter about the kitchen,
Preparing dinner.
A candle for the mothers
Who are tired
Who want to live freely
But that path was not cut for them,
So they – so I –
Am cutting it now.
In the kitchen
In the office
Through our home so our children may follow

I am preparing dinner
But my soul is kneeled
With my hand on the soft, green
moss covering a rock
And the other on my heart.


“Should I be ashamed of my self?”

From the time I was a preteen until I was about 24, I was ashamed that I was not the effortlessly shiny, attractive person that other girls seemed to be. When I moved to London to get my master’s, I began coming into my own and stopped being embarrassed. I remember the moment this new reality crystallized for me. I had made a mistake at work, and I thought, “Hmm, I am not embarrassed of my self. I want to do it differently next time, sure. But I’m an alright person regardless.” There are still moments when I hear the internal question, “Should I be ashamed of my self for this?” And from deep within, the answer comes, always, “No. A thousand times, no.”

In that vein, I offer Brene Brown’s Manifesto: “Showing up is our power. We are the brave and brokenhearted.” Oh the beauty in brokenness that is brave enough to show up.


Christmas Day Survival Guide


Christmas is my favorite holiday, but let’s be honest: it can be hard.

It’s a loaded day, heavy with expectations. It may be spent around people who know our oldest stories yet are also part of our deepest wounds. It’s one of the days when I like to say something the journalist Connie Schultz wrote, “For those for whom this holiday is difficult, I hope today lands gently.”

Even when we are happy to be with our loved ones and enjoying good memories, expectations of perfection on this one specific day following weeks of extra busyness can really set us up for a fall. I have a few suggestions to pass on (read: remind myself of) to help one get through Christmas, and if you use them, it is 100% guaranteed* you will have a wonderful day.

1.    *How ridiculous. Maybe about 3% guaranteed. My first suggestion is to accordingly lower expectations. Don’t ask much from the day. My expectations for tomorrow are to have a cup of coffee and go for a walk. Anything else that does or doesn’t happen, I’m going to give it a pass for the day. (If it rains tomorrow, walk may be substituted for a few downward dogs.)

2.    Extend these lower expectations to others. Don’t expect them to be nicer, more like you politically, or changed in any way because it’s Christmas. In fact, if anything, some of us – we know who we are – become less nice versions of our selves during these special days.

3.    Be gentle with your self. Give your self lots of room to breathe. If you find your self berating, criticizing, take a moment to think of you as your own child. Draw your self in with compassion. As with children, it’s likely that you need a nap, something healthy to eat, or a quiet time out.

4.    Go outside at some point. If possible, go for a walk, even if it is just 5 minutes around the block.

5.    Wear comfortable clothes. Really, this is most of the battle.

6.    Breathe with me. Big breath in, big breath out. Big breath in, big breath out. Repeat as necessary. Sometimes I also remind my self of something I once heard an instructor say in the middle of yoga class: “Breathe in. Take as much as you need.” When there is not enough food, enough wine, enough presents, enough anything to make us feel less scared, less sad, less hopeless, we can take just as much air as we need. We will not run out. There will be enough.

7.    Know that I pray for each of you:
May you be well. May you be happy. May you be free from mental suffering and distress. May you be free from physical suffering and pain. May you live with ease.

Merry Christmas!

The beauty of good enough in relationships

On a quest to add a challenge to the same workout routine I’ve been doing for years, I decided that this summer I would learn to swim laps. I already knew how to swim, but the kind of swimming you do to play Marco Polo, not the kind that builds muscle and stamina. I started with the breaststroke. It felt so unnatural that I abandoned it after a couple of attempts at laps. It dawned on me that freestyle would be much easier and why didn’t I try that in the first place. Even in freestyle, though, I had one tiny, little problem: I couldn’t figure out how to breathe.

My husband advised, “Don’t worry so much about the technicalities. You just need to get laps in.”

When we were newly married, I probably wouldn’t have handled Mike’s feedback well, to be honest. I might have been exasperated that he didn’t understand the intricacies of the problem (breathing is very complicated). I might have felt defensive.

But in eight years of partnership, I’ve learned to be more trusting of Mike as one of my people.

I’ve also learned that being one of my people doesn’t mean that he will understand or say the right thing 100% of the time. I won’t, either.

That last point tripped me up for a long time. I didn’t know how to resolve differences. The slightest disagreement made me terrified that we were doomed. It might have been a decade after my own parents’ divorce, but I was still tensed for the moment I needed to cut my losses and run. Maybe it would be over an irreconcilable difference of life values previously undetected. Or maybe it would be because he gave me the wrong advice about swimming.

Somewhere along the way, though, I figured out that good enough is… good enough.

A couple of years ago, I ordered a picture from our wedding printed onto a puzzle. I put the puzzle in a frame, leaving out one piece. It is a chunk of leaves from the tree behind us that is missing, nothing that prevents us from seeing me smiling up at Mike and him beaming down on me.

The framed puzzle sits on our dresser, a reminder that one missing piece – the times we don’t get each other, when we disagree, when we are tired and angry and human – doesn’t have to keep us from seeing the big picture.

And sometimes we do get each other. Sometimes we know exactly what to say.

I jumped back in the pool. I slowed down my pace. I circled my arms in and out of the water. I put in laps. My breath grew rhythmic. I swam for 45 minutes.