Love makes it work

People sometimes ask how Jon and I handle our lives since I began dating women (if this is news to you, please read THIS.) How do we make it work? How do we get along?
Last night, Jon said one of the most beautiful things to me, which I think perfectly sums up not only our relationship but who he is as a person and how we’ve somehow managed to make all this work. I told him something about causing pain and he responded:

“You would never do that. That’s not the kind of person you are.”
I sat, stunned. How could he say this to me? I’m not the kind of person who would cause someone pain? He, whose life got turned upside down two years ago when I fell in love with a woman? He, whose dream of a future—a future he’d been working toward for almost 20 years—had been completely destroyed? How could he—of all people—say I’m not the kind of person who would cause another pain?

I am, of course. The kind of person who causes pain. We all are. It goes with the territory of being fallible human beings. But somehow, this man still believes the best of me. He encourages me and supports me and talks me off ledges and he fought just as hard for my recently ended relationship as I did. And I know he will embrace and love anyone else I bring into our lives and fight just as hard for them. He’ll fight for me. And I will strive to do the same for him. We support each other and love each other and even though ours is no longer a marriage in the conventional (ie. sexual) sense, we are still very much a family. We are still the best of friends (more so, in fact, than we have ever been.) I am so thankful for this man who always sees the best in me and always helps me see the best in others. I am so thankful for this man who chose, two years ago, to lay down his ideas of what a relationship ought to be and somehow found the strength and courage to create a new one.

Do we still fight? Of course. Do we still get on each other’s every last nerve? Absolutely. Are there still times when I can’t stand him, and he can’t stand me? At least once a week. But each day we wake up and start again. We have been through fire and are working every day to forge a new, and in many ways better, relationship. I am grateful.

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“Don’t be consistent, but be simply true.” –Oliver Wendell Holmes

This is a map of the Mississippi River, created in 1944 by a cartographer named Harold Fisk. It’s called a “meander map”. It demonstrates all the different paths the river has taken over the millennia. Each color represents a moment in history when the river dramatically changed course, until the 1940’s when the Army Corps of Engineers built walls and levees to lock the river into a certain course. Liz Gilbert, speaking of this map, writes:

“I’ve been thinking lately about the ways that I keep trying to control my own nature. I see the rules and boundaries that I have set for myself over the years, and how often they have failed. I think about the vows I’ve made to myself and others… Endless, expensive, stress-inducing efforts to civilize the river of my being. But if you were to look at the history of my life, it looks a lot like this map right here. This map could be a portrait of my heart’s own journey.
Maybe yours, too.
I often say that, after a certain age, everyone in the world could write a memoir called: NOT WHAT I PLANNED. We change. Life changes. We often feel shame, confusion and anger about about those shifts and pivots. But what if we just trusted the river? She seems to know where she wants to go.”

One of the questions I am asked most often when it comes to the recent changes in my life is “what about the kids?” It’s an understandable question. Having given them a mostly fundamentalist, largely conservative, slightly patriarchal Christian upbringing, one can imagine why the news that their mother is now romantically involved with a woman might turn their world upside down (if this is coming as a shock, please read my post on the subject HERE.)

But one of the the best gifts we ever gave our children was inconsistency regarding our beliefs. From the beginning, we have never been concerned about change, only remaining true to where we felt God was leading at any given time. Many years ago, when we were going through one major shift in our religious practices, a friend asked if I were afraid of raising my children with an inconsistent set of beliefs. She expressed concern that she needed to have it all figured out before her own children were old enough to understand. But will any of us ever “have it all figured out?” And isn’t change the defining characteristic of growth? I’ve always believed that if I hold the same beliefs today that I held five years ago something is wrong. If I’m not changing, I’m also not growing. I want my children to know that it’s okay to have their beliefs challenged, and it’s okay to change their minds. So rather than consistency, we’ve held honesty and transparency as a goal. We’ve never tried to act as if we had all the answers, and as our beliefs went through changes we explained them as best we could and were open about the fact that we could be wrong. And sometimes we were. And once we gained that understanding, we admitted our failures and redirected our course.

So when it was time to sit them down and tell them about this, that’s exactly how we did it. And I was nervous about how they’d take it. But they shrugged their shoulders and answered, literally, “okay.” One of my kids did eventually ask “isn’t it a sin for you to be with a woman?” and I answered what was honest for me at the time: “I don’t know.”

Our beliefs are still very complicated. We eat pork now, but continue to keep the Sabbath. We don’t celebrate Christmas, but the kids dressed up for Halloween for the first time this year. I date a woman, but continue to censor songs with explicitly sexual lyrics. We’re just doing the best we can, taking the next right step, one step at a time. There’s a faithfulness and, I hope, humility in that.

“To grow is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” —John O’Donnohue

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Full of beauty

Today I watched a group of high school drummers perform using nothing but their sticks, their feet, and the chairs they were sitting in. After the performance, the audience erupted into cheers and I thought about those cheering kids. How many of them didn’t know those drummers before the performance or avoided them as “band geeks?” But judging from the applause, those boys will enjoy at least a few days of popularity after today. I saw this happen many times during my own school years. The kid everyone avoided or overlooked would perform an incredible dance and suddenly gain celebrity status. Girls were suddenly competing for the attention of a boy they’d previously ignored after hearing him sing. Boys were suddenly tripping over themselves to compliment a girl they’d previously made fun of after seeing her perform in a school play. Most everyone has had the experience of seeing someone we previously considered unattractive become attractive by virtue of their personality. Most everyone has fallen for someone so far outside their “type” their friends can’t understand what they see in them (sometimes they themselves can hardly explain it.) Why is this?

I think this is because we recognize beauty—real beauty—when we see it. I recently read Glennon Doyle’s book, Love Warrior, and came across her definition:

“Beautiful means ‘full of beauty.’ Beautiful is not about how you look on the outside. Beautiful is about what you’re made of. Beautiful people spend their time discovering what their idea of beauty on earth is. They know themselves well enough to know what they love, and they love themselves enough to fill up with a little of their particular kind of beauty each day.”

The drummers, the dancer, the singer, the actress, all spent their time filling up with what they loved. Then they shared it with the world. And we could see their beauty.


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“To be great is to be misunderstood”

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I stare at the screen. My heart is pounding so hard I can almost hear it, and I clench my fists as answers to this hateful email spring, rapid-fire, to my mind. In less than five minutes, I have a rebuttal I’m certain will destroy this man, thirty years my senior, who has, essentially, just called me a liar. I storm to my husband and use him as a proxy to deliver the tirade I’m certain will put this man in his place and fall, breathless, to the couch.

Jon stares at me for so long I finally snap, “What?”
Another pause. “Rina, what do you hope to accomplish by saying all that to him?”
“What do you mean?”
“What’s your goal?”
“Did you hear what I said? He didn’t understand anything I wrote! He’s basically calling me a liar!”
“Right. And it sounds like he’s already made up his mind. Do you think your response will make him change it?”
“No, but—”
“Then why write it?”

I’m too stunned to respond. The idea of letting this grave injustice go hadn’t occurred to me. Why would it occur to me? It’s absurd! I hate being misunderstood. I hate the idea of not defending myself. I could tear this man to shreds, if I wanted to—force him to see his stupidity. But just as no one has ever crawled out from under the weight of shame to become a better person, I have yet to see anyone cut by sarcasm move into greater humility and open-mindedness. Jon is right, and I can see clearly that the only loving response is none at all. And so, for the first time in my life, I choose not to respond. I choose to be misunderstood.

Years later, I can still feel the heat in my body when I think of that moment. Years later, I still think of how it would have felt to flay him, slowly—to peel back the flesh of his logic with the blade of my words and expose the soft underbelly of his slimy stupidity. (I’m really good at forgiveness.) It was a watershed moment for me. The first of hundreds, if not thousands, of times I have since allowed myself to be mistaken, misrepresented, and misunderstood. I still hate it. It still stings every time someone attributes incorrect motives to something I’ve said or done, and I often want to take up the sword of sarcasm and charge into battle. Sometimes I still do. But more and more often, I don’t. And sometimes, every now and then, on really good days, I even find ways to respond in love.

I am learning.

I am learning the value of allowing people to misunderstand. I am learning the value of being who I am, without asking permission or offering explanation. I am learning that the less concerned I am with the opinions of others the freer I am to be myself and the more peace and joy I have in my life. I am learning that the pain of judgment cannot begin to compare to the pain of not telling the truth or following my own heart. In the words of Liz Gilbert:

“People judge each other. It’s a favorite hobby of humans. Let people have their hobbies. Go in peace.”


(I was inspired to write this in response to a friend who asked [in a soon-to-be blog post of her own] “why would I subject myself to open vulnerability of my thoughts and feelings to the masses?” Because, my friend, as you are learning: truth is the path to freedom, and can only be navigated through vulnerability and the willingness to be misunderstood.
…And it’s SO worth it.)


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No, Good

“I used to try to be Good. I thought no one wanted me as I was, so Good was my go-to. But Good got me nowhere. Not like Truth. Truth, she tore me to shreds, devoured me whole and spit me out shaking and new. Truth keeps a box of matches in my pocket. While Good made me afraid of transformative fire, Truth keeps me real, even if it makes everyone in the room uncomfortable. And Truth, unlike Good, doesn’t let me bow down to bullshit or undeserving soapboxes. Truth doesn’t let me give in to bullies, misguided and fear-based criticism or cowards. Truth is a queen and a humanitarian, while Good, she’s a silent, scared little sheep. Good showed me how to hide my wings, my words and angel vision. Truth taught me to be brave. Truth taught me now to respect myself. Truth allows me to hold impenetrable space for any story, but first and foremost, for my own. And Truth, well, she changes everything, and friend, she’s coming for you, too.”
— Tanya Markul

After reading the above quote, a friend commented on facebook: “I needed this, today. I’m tired of being good and doing what is expected.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, since then. There are times when I look at people like Alecia Moore and Glennon Doyle and Liz Gilbert and I have such an intense longing to be doing something in the world. Something great and meaningful and earth-shattering and life-changing, only I don’t know what and can’t quite figure out how to get there. But recently it occurred to me:

What if “there” is here? What if the thing I’m supposed to be doing is bringing my whole self into the room, wherever I go? What if what I’m supposed to be doing is loving myself fiercely and allowing others to see me as I truly am? What if THAT is my work on earth? What if, by doing so, I touch and help and better love and serve the world around me—not by becoming a celebrity like P!nk or writing a bestseller like Glennon or Liz, but just by bringing my own light into the darkness, every single day?

One of my favorite songs is White Owl, by Josh Garrels. In it, he sings:

“Like a wolf at midnight howls, you use your voice in darkest hours
To break the silence and the power, holding back the others from their glory.”

What if truth telling, bringing my whole, honest, uncensored, unfiltered, unhidden self to work, to the grocery, to the playground, to my blog… what if that is how I use my voice? What if doing the “next right thing” that the deepest part of me says I ought to do, rather than doing what is expected of me by others, is how I break the silence?

John Steinbeck once said: “once you’re done being perfect, you can be good.” But what if we take that one step further? What if, once we’re done being good, we can be FREE?

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Reaching Roots

“We act out because, ironically, we think it will bring us some relief. We equate it with happiness. Often there is some relief, in the moment. When you have an addiction and you fulfill that addiction, there is a moment in which you feel some relief. Then the nightmare gets worse. So it is with aggression. When you get to tell someone off, you might feel pretty good for a while, but somehow the sense of righteous indignation and hatred grows, and it hurts you.
It’s as if you pick up hot coals with your bare hands and throw them at your enemy. If the coals happen to hit him, he will be hurt. But in the meantime, you are guaranteed to be burned. On the other hand, if we begin to surrender to ourselves—begin to drop the story line and experience what all this messy stuff behind the story line feels like—we begin to find bodhichitta, the tenderness that’s under all that harshness. By being kind to ourselves, we become kind to others. By being kind to others, we benefit as well.
What you do to others, you do to yourself.”
–Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are

What I do to others, I do to myself.
The more I kind I am toward others, the more kind I am capable of being toward myself.

I learned pieces of this lesson a long time ago, when I realized that the more I judged others for their outward appearance, the more paranoid I became about being judged in a similar manner. I spent a long time working on this tendency in me, and as I became less willing to judge others this way, I also became much less fearful about what others thought of me. But when it comes to morality, I find myself becoming very judgmental and sometimes angry when people fall short of my standards.

This is a problem, because the more unkind I am toward the flaws of others, the more unkind I am about my own. Truth is, I’m just as prejudiced and dishonest and selfish and hateful as they are, only regarding different things—things I’ve justified. I make decisions that are just as poor, and have ideas about how the world ought to be that are just as bad. And it’s not that these these things don’t need to change in me, they DO. But the more judgmental I am toward the failings of others, the more judgmental I am toward my own and the less clearly I’m capable of seeing those failings. It’s only through compassion that I can bear to look–really look–honestly and sincerely at my own shortcomings. Without that compassion, it’s just too painful, too shameful to see how horrible I can really be. If, however, I can foster a culture of compassion within myself, I will become more and more capable of looking at my own failings with the love and tenderness that must be present if I am to grow.

“No tree can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.”
–Carl Jung

There is no possibility for movement upward without a corresponding move down. It’s only by being willing to see, truly see, acknowledge, and treat with compassion the worst—the very, very worst—inside ourselves that we can begin the work of change.

“We rebel against our own totalitarianism, as much as that of others. I cannot merely order myself to action, and neither can you. ‘I will stop procrastinating,’ I say, but I don’t. ‘I will eat properly,’ I say, but I don’t. ‘I will end my drunken misbehavior,’ I say, but I don’t. I cannot merely make myself over in the image constructed by my intellect. I have a nature, and so do you. We must discover that nature and contend with it, before making peace with ourselves. What is it that we could most truly become, knowing who we most truly are?
–Jordan Peterson

I have to know and take a good, honest, compassionate look at the “not good” before I am able to foster the “good.” I have to reach toward and acknowledge the hell that dwells inside of me in order to grow toward heaven. And because what I do to others I do to myself, I must extend compassion toward the hell that dwells in those around me if I am to receive the compassion needed to acknowledge it within myself.

And why not have compassion toward the hell in others? They are, after all, making themselves miserable and that is something that warrants compassion. Furthermore, it’s not as if I can change them. Half the people whose so-called sins I go around condemning are people I don’t even know. As for those I do know, the best I can do is lead by example and give advice when asked. My attempts to control behavior are just that—control of behavior. Through action or conversation or outright manipulation I might be able to get those around me not to do the things I believe (maybe even rightly) are immoral or harmful, but it won’t change the reasons and motivations they have for doing what they’re doing. If someone has a habit of drinking to dull their pain, for instance, abstaining from alcohol won’t change the fear that motivates the action. Without a change of heart, they’ll most likely find new and equally unhealthy methods with which to cope. In fact, if I successfully change the action without changing the intention behind the action, I could possibly make things worse by giving that person a new unhealthy intention (e.g., fear of making me angry.)

Bottom line: I can’t change anyone. I don’t have that power. Or, rather, any power I have to influence change exists not in my ability to change people’s behavior, but in their willingness to change their intentions. Regardless of their outward actions, people will work work within their internally existing intentions until they’re ready for a change. So isn’t it better just to love them?

What if my revulsion toward the so-called wrong actions of others is keeping me from fostering the very compassion I need to create a loving environment within myself? What if my revulsion toward other people’s sin makes me unwilling to face the sin that dwells in me? What if my harsh judgement toward others makes me judge myself so harshly that it prevents me from producing the only change I have any real control over: my own?

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Maybe, just maybe, this passage isn’t talking about God’s judgment. Maybe it’s talking about our own.


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Choose your own story

People instinctively follow what has been imposed on them by institutions, parents, friends, colleagues, culture, clergy, and on and on. Most of us never stop to consider the common path laid out before us: go to college, get a high paying job, buy a house, settle down, get married, have children, etc. These are the stories we are told will lead to a fulfilling life. We follow the pre-determined script without much thought, assuming that since it seems right for so many, it must also be right for us. But people are rarely right, and the stories we tell ourselves are rarely true.

  • For most of human history, it was believed the Earth was flat and located at the center of the universe.
  • For thousands of years, it was believed that life could spontaneously arise from mud when exposed to sunlight.
  • Until the 1800s it was believed that California was an island.
  • 19th century scientists believed there was another planet between Mercury and Venus called Vulcan.
  • Until the 1970s, women weren’t allowed to run in marathons because they were considered too strenuous and believed to cause infertility.
  • Smoking was once considered healthy.
  • Mercury was once used as a treatment for syphilis.
  • Just fifty years ago, people used vibrating belt machines in an attempt to jiggle fat off their bodies.
  • In 1999 computer users and programmers predicted that computers would stop working on December 31.
  • Insane asylums once housed women who were disobedient to their husbands.
  • Child marriage is still common in many societies.
  • Homosexuality is currently punishable by death in several countries.

Everyone is wrong almost all of the time. We’re often happy being wrong. It fulfills a need we have. But we can choose another path. We can venture into the unknown, the unscripted, and do what brings us peace and joy and comfort. We can do “the next right thing.” We can refuse to live according to everyone else’s story.

Each of us is unique. Each of us has our own, individual path. Following this path sometimes means saying no to everyone else’s expectations. It means saying no to the beliefs they hold and the stories they tell.

You have the right to choose your own story.


(Adapted from The Power of No, by James and Claudia Altucher)


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