“I do not understand abstract act. Only art born of love, passion, pain.”
“I do not understand abstract act. Only art born of love, passion, pain.”
Usually, I think it’s meant as a compliment–a recognition that I have leadership qualities and am not afraid to step into roles of authority.
I try to receive the compliment for its intention. But really, as a woman who has invested so much time reconnecting with her innate feminine energy and living within it, the broader meaning of the term bothers me.
Like, a lot.
As I understand it, the term “alpha female” connotes a woman who recognizes and cultivates her power and leadership potential. When it comes to their femininity, alpha woman make all of their choices of how to present their femininity (consciously or subconsciously) based on which self-presentation will extend their power.
In one sense, this is true of me, and I do appreciate the recognition. I believe that femininity is a tremendous form of power God intended women to have, and these days, I like to flaunt my femininity.
But if we’re being honest, I don’t think that’s what many of the women I know mean by “alpha female.”
‘Alpha Female’ is often used as a rationale to excuse competitive, hard-driving, deadline-driven behavior that encourages us as women to stuff down emotions, employ “commanding” male behaviors and even dress like men in the workplace. It may not always be used this way, but in my experience it often is. And when ‘alpha female’ is code for “being feminine is no way to gain respect” …. then no, I’m not on board with it at all.
Especially when it is used as an excuse for a woman to take on the masculine role in the home, for a husband she perceives as “too weak” to do his job … then I’m most definitely, most inexorably not on board. Because as I learned through my own marriage mistakes and my divorce, no wounded marriage will ever heal while one spouse is trying to do the other’s job.
Do I sound like a throw-back from a 1950s edition of Good Housekeeping, or some Victorian magazine like Harper’s Bazaar, with flowery language and sentimental sketches?
The “me” of ten years ago would have definitely thought so.
Back then, I was an alpha woman according to both definitions above, although perhaps never brazen enough to let her full inner hard-driving “man” come out. I kept an exhausting schedule, did 1000% more than necessary at work, wore cuff links and pantsuits and most definitely made every decision from my analytic mind.
Ten years later, I still believe in women’s achievement. I still believe in attaining high positions and making a huge public impact on the world. And I still believe that women are great strategists. But I don’t believe in doing any of this at the expense of my primal, innate feminine self. Because that’s exactly the place I was operating from back then.
Today, I’ve come to understand that no one can cage you or subjugate you in your own soul … except you. Slavery begins in the mind. It is an accepted state that is perpetuated in the body when people believe they can’t have anything else.
My femininity will not be subjugated to the slavery of women’s subconscious belief that they cannot have what they want, on their terms, and receive it in a deeply FLOWing, natural, connective and feminine way.
But I could only come to this conclusion once I recognized how my femininity had been wounded–both by un-conscious men acting out their ancestors’ behavior and perpetuating generations of pain toward women, and by women who had decided that the way God intended us to be (nurturing, natural, loving, soft, beautiful, tender, community-oriented, sensual, kind, gentle) was the reason for men’s bad behavior, not the solution.
For years, I didn’t “feel like a woman.” I didn’t “do makeup” or get dressed up in feminine clothes. And whenever I went to a gathering of women at my church or in the community, I felt like an awkward interloper to all that feminine energy I could feel in the room. And didn’t quite know why.
I wore newsboy caps and corduroy jackets. I bought lace-up shoes. If you had looked at me on the street, you might have categorized me as a “lesbian” by some cultural stereotype–which might be someone else’s choice of identity, yes, but certainly wasn’t mine.
Really, deep inside, I was just a very wounded woman at odds with everything that womanhood represents traditionally … because I felt that womanhood itself was the reason my mother and many other women in my life had struggled at the hands of men.
I still love to achieve. I still desire to hold positions of power and influence. I still have goals, and I know how to reach them. This is part of the reason people might casually (and accidentally) label me an “alpha female.”
But the difference is: today, I am much closer (more often, at least l!) to relaxing joyfully into the woman God made me to be, and trusting Him to naturally open doors so I can receive my advancement … without the fundamental orientation toward sweat, striving and struggle that defines a masculine (not feminine) way of being.
Since I let go of struggle, and let go of my need to strategize for power, things have been so much different. And better. I still have struggle days, but the struggle is not so much within me.
I’ve been free to embrace long dresses, big earrings and makeup–whether or not they “command respect” in my workplace. I dance when I feel like, love small animals and small babies, and freely indulge my enjoyment of pampering and self-care. I’ve become more connected and community-oriented, even in how I support my coworkers. I revel in being beautiful and sharing that beauty with others, both men and women.
I still have power and am called to leadership–but I see them as a compliment to, not a competition for, my role and identity as a feminine woman.
Ten years ago, I would have never believed I could be that woman. Mostly because I believe that it wasn’t safe to be her.
An orientation toward power may feel like strength–but is it possible that the people most obsessed with power might be the ones who secretly believe they can’t really have it?
It’s easier sometimes to identify with the struggle than to simply think, speak and behave as if you deserve what you want, exactly as you are.
I am a woman. God imbued me with unique powers in my feminine essence and energy. Any power or influence I require in the world, He will handle. Doors open now without me pushing them. People hand me what I need or desire without sweat or striving … because God does it for me.
Though I may stand on the fundamental right of the “alpha woman”–the right to power–I do so in a feminine way. And I’m committed to doing so in a way that allows men to lead, as well, in the ways God has destined them to.
Please don’t call me an alpha. Call me a woman. Honor my femininity.
Anything less is a denial of my true strength–and yours, as well
I got the impression she didn’t think too much of idea. Especially when many of those women put their bras back ON again in the 80s and 90s to become die-hard career girls. I didn’t really have a big opinion myself, but I did secretly admire those women for saying “no” to yet another social custom designed to constrict them.
Thirty years later, I followed in their footsteps.
Having always presented with a rather “normal” exterior, I had no idea my hippie tendencies were incongruous with my appearance. But the more I considered his feedback, the more I realized he was absolutely right.
Right after this breakup, I got an invitation to spend five weeks in Colorado (AKA: Hippie Paradise!). I also did a 30-day fast from meat, dairy and eggs (ie: a Daniel fast) as part of a prayer challenge with a friend. And in the middle of that fast, God wanted me to release these foods from my diet, at least for awhile, by going vegan. I also decided to buzz my hair and … you guessed it … take off my bra for good.
One morning I just didn’t put one on after my shower. By noon, as per Holy Spirit instructions, both of the bras I owned were in the trash.
I did not put a bra back on again for almost seven months. The closest I get is the built-in support of my workout shirts. And I couldn’t have been happier.
My appearance and my choices are not defined by others. God gave me these two awesome mammary glands to—hopefully someday—provide nourishment for my children.
They are part of who I am as a woman. And that’s just … that.
Please understand, I didn’t go around flaunting my figure or intentionally trying to make it obvious that I was not wearing a bra. I simply didn’t wear one. It was a point of omission that many people couldn’t seem to help noticing, however. Which is a cultural commentary in itself. Were my breasts the problem, or the society who had somehow cast them as “sinful” and “gasp-worthy” to be present in the room?
I don’t suggest that this practice is for everyone; however, I was amazed by the number of women—friends and complete strangers alike—who would come up to me and whisper in my ear that they’d like to do the same, but just didn’t *quite* have the gumption yet!
But I’m here to say: simply not wearing a bra is easy. Just like I simply avoided meat, dairy, eggs, honey or any other animal product (for the most part) during this time.
You just decide you want to do it more than you care what people think.
It’s the releasing your concerns over other people’s expectations that is the tricky (and involved) part.
All I can tell you is: my life became considerably more blessed when I took “off” all my concern over other people’s expectations. Even in my faith community my choices are considered a bit eccentric. But that’s totally okay.
I think we often believe that if we let go of social expectations, we’ll be ostracized. However, I have found the opposite to be true. In my case, people actually show me more respect—and there’s lots more to talk about.
Not to mention that most people don’t forget the woman who has a buzzed head and doesn’t wear a bra.
But hey, at least now, they remember my name.*
*NOTE: As the prompting of Holy Spirit, I have since begun wearing a bra again because of the season of life I’m stepping into here in the Middle East. However, I can feel the difference–I no longer need that garment to make me sexier or more desirable–and I trust I’ll never put “on” the old cultural baggage again when I put on that garment!
Nobody can really prepare you for life in the Arabian desert. Oh sure, they can tell you to bring your sunscreen and prepare to scuttle in and out of the air conditioning like a beetle between patches of shade.
But my God, that sun.
I’ve read that solar power will be the new oil fields in the Middle East—and if that’s even remotely true, I can believe it. From the moment I wake the sun is there, by turns bleaching the color from this muted landscape and touching its more brilliant elements with fire.
You want a rainy day? Forget it. Clouds? Maybe for an hour or two. Storms? Be prepared for a beach of sand on your balcony.
And let’s not talk about air conditioning …
Since the day I’ve arrived I’ve practically been a prisoner indoors: jumping from my air conditioned guesthouse, to the air conditioned bus, to the air conditioned metro, to the air conditioned shopping complexes, each accessible via air conditioned skywalks over the streets, so no one has to set foot outside.
Of course, not every part of town is so well endowed. The place where I sleep, the Dubai side of Al Nahda, on the border with the neighboring emirate, Sharjah, has no skywalks to be found. A trip to the grocery store or the nearby Sahara shopping center will cost you the sun’s standard fare: a dripping-wet body, an empty water bottle and a trip to the washroom to refresh your deodorant upon arrival.
I try to understand how people lived here for thousands of years before air conditioning. All I can think is that they knew how to hydrate. And how to value the shade. And those lightweight, white and black garments that everyone wears? Well, there’s probably a ventilation secret to that, too.
In the U.S. I never spent much time in air conditioning. In fact, I used to carry a sweater with me everywhere even in the middle of summer, because I hated the air so much.
But here, I crave it like everyone else. I run. I dodge. I scuttle toward the next door, craving the first blast of A/C that gives me goosebumps as I cross the threshold.
Or if I am out, walking in Al Nahda for example, I find myself dodging across the street again and again to walk in the small patches of shade I can find.
It would seem that the beetle and I, we are more one than ever. I am less likely to squash him on the sidewalk—because we are both under the same sun. And we are both slaves to it.
Back at home, the concept of “the sun” really meant so little to me. Sure, it was beautiful and I loved it. But here the sun is so much more than an enhancement to my day. Here, it is the fiery ruler of the sky, the overbearing taskmaster whom no one could forget even if she tried.
I am reminded of the verse in Matthew 13:43:
Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father.
Once I would have considered this a beautiful, poetic sentiment. Now I realize it is also a declaration of power, of force and strength that demand to be reckoned with.
Anything that shines like the sun—if it’s the UAE sun, at least—must be full of blinding glory.
I dream of that day. And in the meantime, I’ll keep chasing the A/C …
Sometimes, on the healing journey, it can feel impossible to believe that you will ever be free of what happened to you. You’re a goal-oriented woman, and you love to have a target to aim your arrows toward, or a finish line to run for. But when it comes to your emotions and healing from your past, that target, that line, always seems to move.
Some days are okay. Some days are terrible. You’ve been told it will “get better,” but what does that even look like? How will you KNOW when you’ve reached a place of freedom?
At one level, freedom is a lifelong event, and it’s entirely personal. Each day, we can make choices that take us closer to God and closer to total surrender and joy in Him, which will naturally break off the bonds that have held us back. That exact path may look different for each woman, of course. But the process is the same.
However at another level, I can testify from my own experience: you WILL know, that you know, that you know, when you become emotionally free. You WILL start waking up each day with the significant conviction that you are no longer moved by what happened to you: that your life is blank slate now, not a museum to the past.
Believe me, it’s the best feeling in the world.
“But wait,” you say. “I feel like a one-woman triage unit every day of the week, and that still doesn’t give me a lot of help.”
I totally understand. I did too, when I first started this process. Here are seven (concrete) things that you can also expect to happen when you break away from the pain of the past and allow yourself to be totally renewed. If you haven’t experienced these, don’t feel bad. Rejoice that this is what you can look forward to, and keep walking forward on your healing process.
The biggest hallmark of emotional bondage is the fact that your pain will always come spilling out of your mouth—not matter how hard you try “not to talk about it.” Ask your girlfriends; if they are honest women, they will tell you if every coffee or wine date devolves into your personal trauma session. When I was in the worst of my pain, I instinctively looked anywhere I could to get relief. (Anywhere, that is, except to God!)
Stopping yourself from speaking when you are dying inside is not what I’m talking about. When you are in the midst of your pain, you must speak about it long and freely to whomever will listen. But the MARK of having received full healing is when your past wounds no longer define your present reality.
When you get to the place where you are truly no longer moved by what happened to you, and you rest in total peace that God has transformed your pain for good, you won’t even remember to talk about it. People will bring it up, and you’ll be thinking, “Wait, what? Oh right, that thing …” You might even be startled when people bring it up, because your former pain no holds you in a vice-grip deep in your soul.
Please note: I am not referring to activism on behalf of abuse victims, giving your personal testimony, or other types of important “speaking out;” I am referring to the obsessive need to share your pain with others in order to somehow get healing “from” their attention. The attention can’t heal you; only God can!
Yes, what happened to you was terrible. Perhaps it was a collection of “somethings” that happened and there’s a parade of perpetrators a mile long: at home, at church, at school, in the community, etc. You may struggle to believe it will ever be possible not to feel the rage and grief that rise up every time their name or face flashes before your mind. But believe me, beautiful woman, it is.
You will know God has healed you emotionally when you can remember these people in your life or walk past something that triggers their memory and yet feel nothing but compassion for them—because you recognize that their own tremendous pain drove them to what they inflicted on you.
Please keep in mind I am not a doctor and cannot give you medical advice. However, I can offer the laywoman’s observations: in my own life, and those of other women I watch heal emotionally from the darkest, most painful events you can think of, I have witnessed physical symptoms completely break off of those women as they reach healing.
In my own life, when I was in the worst of my emotional pain and disempowerment, I struggled with stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, digestive issues and unstoppable anxiety. As I submitted to the healing process by opening up to God’s love, taking control of my thought patterns, shifting my diet, incorporating gentle yoga, praying daily, etc. I began to notice a drastic reduction in symptoms. Ultimately, this resulted in several miraculous healing experiences. Today, I am symptom-free … without the aid of doctors, surgery or expensive drugs.
Many women tell me they admire my choice to eat meat-light and wish they could do the same—but they say they can’t keep themselves from “cheating” with junk food. If staying consistent with healthier eating choices, managing your spending, limiting your TV and social media time is hard … then you can mark it down, you are still in emotional bondage.
Each of these “indulgences” is perfectly okay and enjoyable in moderation but can quickly become an excuse to get our good feelings from somewhere other than God and ourselves. Needing anything outside of ourselves, exactly who God made us to be, to feel good is by definition a form of bondage.
When you are emotionally free, you won’t “need” these things any more and/or can enjoy them in moderation. Or choose to give them up altogether and not feel deprived at all.
How did I know I had fully healed from the pain of my divorce? When I sat for two hours in the very same coffee shop where I had my last private conversation with my ex-husband … and didn’t even remember that event for about two hours of sitting there. I was SO in the moment, enjoying my work, the coffee and the space, that I did not even recall that my marriage had essentially dissolved in that space. This was not an act of disrespect to my marriage or that conversation; it was a marker that I had finally move on to create new memories in that space.
That is what it truly means to reclaim a space for your own after trauma has marked it. When I came back to my hometown, Milwaukee, after nine months of traveling, I felt that my emotional “set point” had been reset, because I could walk into places that preciously were emotionally loaded from my marriage and divorce, and feel totally free to “own” them again and make new memories that aren’t mixed up with what happened before.
This is a fairly simple one, but wow is it powerful! When you become emotionally free, you reach a place where you realize that YOU are the only person you are responsible for. Yes, you can pray for others. You can seek to be a positive influence. You can give of yourself. But at the end of the day, you are the ONLY person you can truly change.
When you relax into that space where you are no longer responsible for everyone else’s well-being, you can truly release your emotional bondage and your attachment to the idea that other people need to change … which is nothing more than a distraction from how YOU need to change.
I know, dear heart. I know it’s hard to imagine this when you are in so much pain right now. But the day will come when all those “weights” on your heart will come lifting off, and you will float down the street, truly in love with you life, no matter what is going on in your material, lived experience.
This will be possible because you will know, that you know, that you know, that your Redeemer lives, and that you are being held by the Everlasting Arms, in the grip of the Everlasting God who never faints or grows weary. The ancient yogis spoke of BLISS, and I believe this is it: the ability to dance your way through life, amid sunshine and rain, because what is happening inside you is no longer contingent upon what is happening outside.
Reading this list and feeling like you could never scale this impossible mountain of emotional healing? Wondering how to let go of the weights that are holding you back — so you can enjoy these seven signs of emotional freedom?
More on that another day.
I dressed like one. I tried to act like one. I checked the “female” gender box on forms. But deep inside I felt like all the other girls had that special something, and it had passed me by.
It wasn’t until after my divorce, as I was healing my sexual dysfunction, finding my way to emotional freedom rediscovering my creativity, that I began to wonder if this sense of alienation from my feminine self might be part of the whole problem. As I traced each challenge or “heart ache” I felt to its root, I kept coming up against that same thing:
I wanted to be joyful, open, receptive, free, magnetic and relaxed … like the women I knew who seemed most “women” to me. Yet I found myself more unhappy, shut down, closed off, chained up, stressed out and unseen. Was there a way I could “turn on” that energy flow inside me and access my womanhood, too?
I am grateful to God that He took me a long journey finding my way to my real, authentic feminine self (who, it turns out, was inside me all along). On the way to meeting her, I learned there are many ways to start tapping into that energy. Do this long enough, and It will begin to feel like the default flow in your body.
Eventually, operating in your feminine energy will feel completely normal—and you will realize you truly do feel “like a woman” now, deeply and fully within.
Here are a few of my favorite practical ways to tap into the feminine life flow that makes you uniquely you:
This is the number one go-to secret I teach all my clients: when you’re stuck up in your head and trying so hard to figure … it … out, switch on your favorite tunes and rock to the beat. You don’t have to be a great dancer, just feel the rhythm and let it move your body and soul. Nothing lifts your mood and makes you feel sensual (and sensuous) like your own private dance party.
Tempted to race through your day on your latest mission? Stop. Wind all that anxiety and striving energy back in. Tell yourself, “It can wait a little while.” And seriously … if you like roses, go smell some. Or have a cup of tea. Or read a chapter in a novel. Whatever feels like a little relaxing luxury … start indulging in that daily. It’s like a mini miracle cure. Seriously.
One of the biggest struggles for me as I began working with feminine energy was to stop always trying to save myself. Yes, you might not want to be a damsel in distress. But if no one can ever help you or see you in need of help, no one can get close to you. And emotional connection is the true gift of feminine energy. So when your friend offers to watch your kids, or your boyfriend wants to fix your car? Say yes. A thousand times yes. And then bless them with your joyful spirit.
Along with Number 3 … you know when you are shutting down possibilities and saying “no” out of fear. You’re scared to go to that class with a friend because you’re afraid of what she’ll think. You don’t want to get up and say anything at the PTA conference—even though you’re a great speaker—because what if they laugh at you? Any time you feel yourself coiling up due to pride or fear, relax a bit. Unwind. And say “yes.” Whole worlds expand for me every time I do this.
My life changed the day I quit wearing what I thought I should wear and started wearing what actually felt good. Look at your wardrobe and ask yourself, “What do I really feel beautiful in?” Wear those things. And only those things. Find reasons to put on your favorite jewelry or lipstick “just because.” When you start treating yourself as special, beautiful and worthy of adornment … you’ll start feeling exactly that way, too.
A grateful spirit makes for a radiant woman. No, really. Is your daily conversation—both with others and with yourself internally—full of gratitude? Or full of complaining? If you’re more in the latter camp, don’t fear. You can shift that narrative now by taking time every day to SAY aloud what you are thankful for or thank people or God audibly when something good happens. Honestly, you may not be able to afford fancy makeup … but a thankful, happy heart will make your face shine like no cosmetic ever could.
It’s really okay to have that bath, or take the night out for yourself while a sitter watches the kids. It’s okay to have the more expensive dish you’d rather have, and carry a purse you really like. When you give yourself these small gifts, instead of saying “I have to wait until I achieve this or that impossible goal,” you are saying I am worthy right where I am, as I am. And that alone with one of the most relaxing, freeing states to be in.
Not sure how to pamper yourself, because you’ve been living in Stress Land so long? Then take it in bits and pieces. Try a new latte today. Walk a new street tomorrow. Try on a dress you never would have considered before. As you do these things, you will begin to find new things that bring you pleasure and joy. And over time, you’ll have a whole new set of strategies for raising your mood and helping yourself feel happy.
Things didn’t work out with him? The presentation wasn’t perfect? You blew it this time? Okay. Well, that happens. One of the ways we as women keep ourselves trapped in unhappiness is with our incessant need to batter ourselves for everything that didn’t “go perfectly.” Perfection is not your birthright; transformation is. You learned something. Now let it go. I have literally seen women shed years off their bodies by letting go of this emotional weight.
I know, this sounds cheesy. But really … your hips (sacral chakra area, if we’re getting technical) are the locus of your feminine, creative, reproductive energy that is your life essence. When you hold them rigid, it’s as if you’re trying to hold in the energy that is moving and alive. And how well does that work? I remember when I first discovered the freedom of letting my womb energetic center sway naturally as I walked. It gave me a whole different connection to the energy in that space. And somehow, yes, it made me finally “feel like a woman.”
So much of the battle for our feminine essence is in our heads. For years, I didn’t believe I was beautiful … and looking back on it, my dress, hair and makeup followed my assessment. Then I changed my thinking. I got serious about seeing myself as God sees me and speaking words of life over myself. When I began to believe I was beautiful, things really changed outwardly. Most people looking at pictures of me from five or eight years ago versus now see the marked shift. I can see it too—and I know it goes back to my decision to be beautiful. Decide what you are, and it will be so.
Maybe all you need is just a good old fashioned “Ladies’ Night Out.” Get a sitter. Send your husband out with the boys. Call your best girlfriends who encourage and build you up (not those who tear you down or discourage you). No money to spare? Then just eat in at home, sharing something fun from everyone’s fridge. Got a little to invest? Go out for dinner, or just for the glass of wine and chocolate. Laugh. Get dressed up, if that’s your thing. Let all the cares go and have fun.
In my old life, before Nothing, the suitcase and cross-continental moves, I used to do a lot of coaching for women. Telling your story was something I preached and taught. And to a certain extent, I lived it.
But I did not understand then what I have come to see since: that telling the story you have lived is so much easier than telling the story you are living.
I personally found it revolutionary to speak of the night God spoke to me in Tuscany, of my healing journey with sexual dysfunction and many other aspects of my story. Receiving love from others and knowing that they still cared for me despite what I had been through was revolutionary for me, given where I had come from.
Yes, vulnerability comes in layers. And telling the story of the past is one layer. If we are not willing to start there, we will never find any other form of intimacy in our lives.
There’s a leap that must be taken, and the leap from the past is perhaps the most accessible.
Intimacy with others—the healthy kind, where we feel truly seen and known and loved in spite of what has happened in our lives, and also because of it—is a such a rare gift. And it prepares us to get braver, say more and let others see more of us, too.
Though sharing the story of our past is indeed one powerful form of intimacy, it still allows us to stay hidden. We can craft a narrative of transformation and change which may be genuinely true … but enables us somehow to still avoid speaking about the mess we are currently facing.
The story of our past transformation, if we are not careful, can become a beautiful image that unlocks for us admiration, not connection.
Admiration is an external quality. People stand beside or around us and gaze at us, loving the qualities which we have carefully put in front of them for their review. It’s a good healthy start to something more in a relationship … but it’s also just that. Only the start.
If our relationships never get past admiration—and that’s very easy, by the way, for those of us “good girls” who know how to placate everyone by doing what they want and need—they will perpetually leave us unsatisfied. Because admiration does not require true understanding, or a sense of empathy. It only requires awe.
Connection, on the other hand, is a much messier proposition. It requires a great deal more courage, because to speak of the mess that absorbed today, is a heck of a lot more challenging than to speak of the mess tha absorbed the last decade. Or even the last week.
As a writer, it’s easy for me to write about last week’s or last year’s or last decade’s mess. But to write about the tears I shed last night (yes, I actually did) over the love of my life I lost fifteen years ago? And the aching realization that I never …. really never …. got over that relationship?
And that at age 35, I have somehow only just realized I still desperately need the healing of Jesus for a huge mistake (which I could be so bold as to call it a “massive fuck-up”) that happened at age 20?
Dear God, save me from having to admit that to anyone.
And yet … I need to. And I did.
So maybe it’s time we stopped. Trying to win them alone, I mean.
Maybe it’s time that the story we lived becomes a platform for telling the story we are living. And that we recognize that all the wounds we drag ourselves back home with, and all the wounds that have never healed properly, whether from the actions of others or from all those “massive fuck-ups” of our own, are the very stuff of which real relationships are made.
When we refuse to share the story we are living, we cut ourselves off from having a warm hand in ours, and feeling the safety of a human hug, and the sweet relief of a voice that says, “Me too. I’m there also.”
The stories we choose to tell will determine how connected we feel. But perhaps the biggest mistake of all is not to realize that you can tell your story, and still stay completely hidden.
Maybe it’s time we came out from hiding behind our stories of triumph.
The unfinished, unedited next chapter is so much more powerful.
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In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
The earth was without form and void, and darkness
was over the face of the deep.
Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
Walking up Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, you wouldn’t immediately call it a great place for meditation. Especially not at 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Friday—when suit-clad office workers come streaming out of the buildings, scrambling for the car keys that will whisk them off into another lazy weekend.
The tallest buildings in this small-big Midwest city line that street. One end of Wisconsin Avenue stretches all the way past Marquette University and out to the suburbs. The other, which was the direction I happened to be heading, dead-ends in the white wings of the Milwaukee Art Museum, spread against ribbons of Lake Michigan blue.
No, Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee is not at all a good place to meditate on a gorgeous day. But it’s where I happened to find myself, pairing my even footsteps with my uneven heartbeat that Friday afternoon. My headphones were in. The worship music was blaring. I had just come from a routine trip to the local bank and now, on my seemingly routine trip home, I found all sorts of reasons to “meditate.” Which was, at that time, really just my shorthand for asking of God how long, exactly, until He sent me everything I wanted.
At that point in life, I felt I had some decent reasons to demand something good.
The year of 2016 had been brutal but transformative for me: an unforeseen divorce, business highs and lows, the carving of a new life from the rubble of the old. I had faced each challenge head on. Brave (with a few lip quivers) Uncomplaining (well, mostly). My body was bruised from repeated falls from grace, and my fingers bled from clawing my way back. But claw I did, fighting every day through that crazy year to create a different future for myself.
By early 2017 I had moved into a brand new apartment I actually liked with a sliver of a Lake Michigan view. I had built my freelance marketing business up to a bona fide small agency with twelve contractors. I had new clothes to hang on a body I actually felt good in, had just bought my first-ever designer purse and driven home a new-to-me Fiat that represented the first car I had not relied on a man to buy on my behalf. I had even just gotten my dream couch: one of those delicate antique settees with scrolling mahogany woodwork. (I considered this my personal down payment to myself on settling in to an altered existence where I had finally achieved some semblance of peace and prosperity.)
Yet something was missing. Well, actually somethings, to be precise.
Money was flowing in, but thanks to all the contractors it took to actually do the jobs I got, my bank accounts always looked anemic. The business had grown, yes, but I was now chained to a desk twelve hours a day selling projects and managing what I had sold. I had finally begun to rediscover the artistry that went into hiding after my ex-husband broke my heart.
Yet even there my progress was fitful at best: the one-off pieces of art that sputtered from pen and paintbrush were a shadow of the complex projects I had once finished regularly. I had even gotten a new handle on body love, health and exercise—things that had plagued me from childhood—but the stress from the divorce and its fallout had taken a toll on my health. Chronic digestive issues and fatigue seemed to eat up every little physical gain I made.
And then there was the matter of my love life. I had done a ton of work on myself post-divorce: really delving in to where I was blocking love from my life, not just romantically but from friends and family too. I had made a lot of changes. I had learned to be really present with the people I love. And yet, I found myself burning from the heels of two broken dating relationships, both of which had started out with great potential.
Oh yes—that sultry, blue-skied Friday in July might not have been the most opportune moment to tell God all of my troubles. But while I dodged the suit-clad on their rush for the suburbs, tell Him I did.
The strange thing was, in my heart of hearts this time, I knew He would answer.
Leaving the bank, I wound my way up Wisconsin Avenue, past the twelve-story, rust-red Railway Exchange Building, Victorian architecture at its ornate finest. On the tenth floor, less than a year prior, my ex-husband and I had sat in separate rooms while his lawyer gave mine an ultimatum: accept the paltry settlement he was offering—far beneath the amount stipulated by Wisconsin law—or face an ugly divorce trial that would wipe out what little I had left. The memory still burned in my conscious as I stepped quickly past the door. Less painful for the resources in question than for the agony of realizing my tender college sweetheart had become my stone-faced enemy.
Beyond that was Amalinda, a red-and-gold painted lintel the only announcement that the city’s finest Spanish and Portuguese food might be found within. Here, in the midst of my divorce, I had sat the previous July with a dear friend. We had talked until midnight over the dessert of the day. Dating soon followed. Being seen and heard for the first time in my life, I fell for him. And I fell hard. But by September, we were parting ways in deep anger and disappointment. Just the thought of eating another dessert there still left a bitter taste in my mouth.
The memories flew by me with each passing buildings, each of them more painful than the last. There was the Pfister Hotel, where I had spent the day roaming with my most recent boyfriend, a gifted professional photographer. We had broken up just one month prior. And then there was a cramped little Starbucks, where one of my best business mentors had encouraged me to up-level my freelance business into an agency. In my heart, I blamed him for the overwork and constant stress that had been mine since adopting his recommendation.
Further beyond that soared the tallest building in Milwaukee, the U.S. Bank Building, though soon not to be the tallest anymore, its rigid white bones were knit together with glass. I ignored the twirl of the revolving doors as I passed them, trying to ignore, as well, all the times I had tried to get inside the upper eschelons of that building, seeking any toe-hold for my business in the endless climb for entrepreneurial success. All I had gotten was after fall. More blood. And more bruises.
“When is it all going to show up, God?” By now I was asking the question out loud, not caring in the least which fleeing office worker chanced to overhear. “I’ve been asking You for so long. Doing all the things You have told me too, as far as know. But did I miss something? Am I not obeying you in some way?” The tears came now, unbidden. “What am I missing here, on the path to everything?”
At the moment I let these words escape, I was still traversing the U.S Bank Plaza. Just then, I happened to glance up to the left. I was startled to see a series of limos, lined up bumper to bumper at the curb. The nearest one’s license plate read THINK 1.
Seriously? Did I just really see that?
“Okay, God.” I took a deep breath. “I’ll think.”
So I thought.
Nothing came to mind.
I glanced at the next limo’s license plate. It read THINK 2.
“No really, God. I’m thinking. I promise. Okay?”
Still, nothing came to mind.
“Seriously, God. This isn’t funny. I’m thinking, okay? Thinking thinking thinking! Do you see me over here thinking? You can hear my thoughts. I know You can!”
God was mercifully silent in that moment, relegating Himself to satisfaction of a visual joke. No matter how hard I thought, I came up with Nothing. And yet, though I kept walking, I could guess by now where this was going. Limo after limo, each had the same license plate with the same minor adjustment:
THINK 4. THINK 5. THINK 6. THINK 7.
Seven limos, altogether. Seven calls to think.
Seven is the number of perfection in the Bible, I knew. But I wasn’t perfect; that much, the last year had taught me. Now, as if I any doubt left, my feet hurt and the rising stress in my gut was making short work of my lunch. I could feel another of the endless digestive attacks coming on. Suddenly, all I wanted was to be home, stretched on that antique couch with a blanket pulled over my head.
“I’m not perfect, alright?” I shouted to the Heavens. “You should know this by now! And I cannot figure out what you are saying! If you’re going to answer me, You’re going to have to just say it Yourself, God. Just say it!”
I shouted this last sentence so loud, even the most frazzled commuters paused to stare.
Leaving the limos in the wake of this last plea, I rounded the bend in the street. To my right, the orange arms of the Apostrophe Statue spread over Spaight Plaza, punctuating the wings of the Calatrava-designed Art Museum behind. Just a few nights prior, I had gone to this park in the cool darkness of an early July night. I had kicked off my shoes, rushed the grass and danced with manic ecstasy to the tunes in my earbuds. The same tunes that, now, mocked the warm tears streaming down my face.
Ahead was the corner of Prospect and Mason. This, to me, was the end of Wisconsin Avenue, the place where it turned sharply east into Prospect, while Mason stretched to the east, to the east toward War Memorial Plaza, overlooking the Lake, and to the west toward the jagged glass column that would one day become the Northwestern Mutual Building.
In the shadow of this monstrosity, the soon-to-be tallest building in the city, I stopped to cross the street. The no-walk signal flashed. I held myself at the corner, all the pent-up anger and sadness burning inside. Finally, a walk sign. Relief! I stepped into the street. But as I did, a rattle-trap car pulled up at the intersection in front of me. It was so unremarkable that I hardly noticed it, save for the fact that it was a jalopy in every sense of the word.
I had had enough with license plates for one day, thank you very much. But sometimes God causes us to look where we don’t want to, if for no other reason than to remind us that He is still in control of all things, even the trajectory our gaze.
The car was a broken-down wreck, yes: a peeling blue Buick so beat up, its very presence on the road was clearly an exercise in faith. It grumbled and growled at me as I passed it. I made it a point not to look the driver in the eye; to this day, I still don’t know if it was a man or woman. But there was one thing I could not help noticing: a license plate so unmistakably clear, this time, that I stared in spite of myself.
That was the license plate, yes. Due to letter restrictions, the Latin phrase had been shortened, but my mind immediately filled in the details.
Ex Nihilo. Out of nothing.
I knew that phrase, oh yes.As a good little Bible college girl years ago, with one of those good little theological educations, I knew the phrase Ex Nihilo. Though it never appears in the Bible, it is often used by theologians when debating the origins of life. Some say when God created the world “In the beginning,” as it says in Genesis 1, this means creatio ex materia—creation out of something that already existed. (A few versus in the chapter appear to suggest there was water or some type of matter already present in the world at the creation.) But other theologians say no, it was creatio ex nihilo—an artistic act that called up everything we see around us out of absolute and complete Nothing.
My purpose here is not to convince you of one or the other theological takes on Genesis 1. But if you’re curious, yes, I do come from the lineage of the Ex Nihilo. God knew this when He sent a beat-up Buick with a crazy license plate my way. And when I saw that license plate, I knew that God had decided to answer my prayer.
Before my foot even hit the opposite curb, I heard His still, small voice thunder in my spirit.
Everything you want will come out of Nothing.
I paused on the opposite curb. This was my answer; I knew it even before the voice of God had coiled again into its majestic silence. I glanced back. The light changed; EXNIHLO was rattling its way on up Prospect Avenue, spewing black clouds as it went. I had never seen that car before, and I have never seen it since. Sometimes I wonder if it really existed at all—or whether it might be some sort of joke, a cosmic illusion conjured up by God’s considerable humor and powered by angels for the sheer purpose of putting me on notice.
My prayers had been heard. The season was shifting.
Everything you want will come out of Nothing.
Had I been more perceptive at point in my life, or perhaps more receptive, I would have seen immediately that “nothing” had already been my portion for some time now. From the first day my ex-husband announced his desire for a fast, surgically-precise divorce, everything in my life had been receding like the slow ebb of a tide. But I had fought the tide. This was the supreme lack of perception that, at this point in my life, had kept me from seeing the truth so long that on July 21st, 2017, I actually had to ask for it. For every inch of bare sand in my life that the ebbing wave had exposed, I had scooped that same water into a jar and splashed it back over the sand, trying to keep it all wet. Now, even the jar itself would soon be swept away.
But I was neither that perceptive nor that receptive back then. Instead, I took comfort in the explanation, though I did not really understand it. My stomach settled. My feet softened. I had no idea what this directive meant, but it didn’t really matter. I walked the last four home, utterly content with what I had heard from the Most High
As miraculous as this experience had been, there was an ominous edge to it. What I did not understand on that boiling-hot Friday of July 21, 2017, was that my attempts to grab hold of everything were not just premature to my personal process. They were in direct violation of how God actually enacts transformation. He cannot bring us everything He seeks until He wrests from our grasp everything else that keeps our hands balled into a fist.
The visitations of THINK and EXNIHLO—and His subsequent pronouncement—were the only warning He would give me that the hour of complete Emptying was now at hand.
There would be no art without destruction. No progress without regression. No making of anything without the unmaking all that had come before.
That day, God said to me,“Everything you want will come out of Nothing.” And I am here to testify: He always makes good on His words.
This is the story of how I lost and gained it all.
“Don’t you you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that His spirit dwells in your midst?” – 1 Corinthians 3:16
You know deep inside if you don’t love your body. It’s hard to admit aloud, perhaps, but not hard to know in your soul. You hate mirrors. You don’t want to have your picture taken. And nothing you put on your body, clothes-wise, actually feels good.
There was a time in my life where I didn’t just dislike my body. I loathed it. I dreaded taking showers or baths because I’d have to undress in front of the bathroom mirror—and stare at all the lumps and bumps I had that I didn’t think were in the “places they were supposed to be.”
Many of my friends might have been surprised to learn how I felt about myself, because some of them considered me “slender” and “fit.” It took a lot of effort and ingenuity to make my body look different than it was, not to mention a lot of time and money. I bought the best bras I could afford. Shapewear, makeup and expensive haircuts were my best friend.
Yet, despite all this, I didn’t feel good in my own skin. And I certainly didn’t love it or what was inside of it.
It took me years to realize that my feelings weren’t magically going to change overnight. Yes, I did want to feel differently about my body, but spiritually (and neurologically) speaking, there are only two ways to change your feelings about yourself.
You have to change your THINKING and your ACTIONS.
No, your feelings won’t change overnight. But as you start prayerfully 1) doing things that genuinely nourish your body (rather than simply covering it up) and 2) redirecting every self-negative thought into one that honors God’s perspective … you will see change.
One day you will wake up, like I did, realizing that your body is pretty amazing exactly as it is. And that, in fact, you aren’t quite sure why you hated it so much or wanted to change it so badly. I know this might sound like an alternate universe, but it is possible.
Here are 9 ways to start nudging your inner “Negative Nancy” voice in the direction of genuine self-appreciation and praise to God for how you were made:
God says that you are fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). He loves you to the core of your being. Every time you cut yourself down, you are essentially blaspheming Him by speaking against something that He has called good. God knows where you are at; He is ready and willing to extend mercy to you and even help you have a “new heart” in regards to yourself. All you have to do is ask. Sure, the way you FEEL about yourself might not change overnight. But you will receive the transformation if you persist in prayer and in choosing to THINK thoughts that reflect what HE says about you, not what your inner “Negative Nancy” is telling you.
This is a simple but profound shift. If you’ve been buying tight clothes, Spanx or other shapewear that drives your skin insane but molds your silhouette into something you think is “acceptable,” now is the time to change that. By contrast, perhaps you wear “tent dresses” to hide your shape but secretly feel unkempt or slobby in them, what does that say? Either way, it’s time for change. Go to a favorite thrift shop or department store–your choice–and give yourself a whole afternoon to try on all kinds of outfits. Notice which fabrics feel good, which waistbands feel good, which clothes make you relax versus tense up. Once you find what makes you FEEL good, stick with that. And only that. By prioritizing your own good feels, you are de-prioritizing how others perceive you.
At a certain point in my healing journey, I had a choice to make. I could continue spending tons of money on face/body products that promised miracle results, plus cosmetics that over my lifetime, would cost as much as a sports car. Or I could focus on having really great skin, and making sure I took care of its health so that I glowed from the inside out. I chose the latter. And I can say that that choice actually changed everything about loving myself and my body. My secrets for glow-glam skin that doesn’t even need makeup include:
Don’t overwhelm yourself by trying them all at once. Pick one technique and see what it does for you! Then try adding another.
For some women, baths make them feel great. For others it’s lounging in pretty lingerie while they read a book by candlelight. Maybe your jam is a monthly massage or two yoga classes a week. Whatever it is … and you might have to experiment to find it … prioritize that. For many years, because I hated my body so much, I didn’t want to spend time or money nourishing it. Once I began allocating resources to feeling good, guess what? The feelings followed. So find your jam and stick with it. And if you “fall off the bandwagon,” simply get on again. That’s why self-care is a journey and not an destination.
If you’re not familiar, mirror work is a practice in which you choose several affirming statements about your body, tape them up to the mirror where you get ready each day, and say them to yourself directly in the mirror as you dress. It might sound or feel “cheesy” at first, but WOW is this practice powerful! You see, our brains respond to verbal input. If your verbal input toward yourself is always negative, nothing is going to change. The combination of looking into your own eyes in the mirror, plus speaking “words of life” over yourself, can change so much. Some of my favorite mirror work affirmations include:
When I began my healing journey, I was incredibly self-conscious about dancing and had been all my life. But something happened as I began to DO and THINK love toward my body. I would shut my door, turn up the music, and dance just for me. This was new. It felt strange and even silly at first. But then it began to feel REALLY GOOD. There’s a power in great music, and a power in dance. It will life your spirits like nothing else. Even if all you can do is move back and forth, wave your arms and turn in circles … baby girl, crank up those TUNES. The key too is to choose positive music—praise and worship, or at least songs that share a positive, uplifting message about the world and about you. You’ll be amazed at how your posture and your self-confidence begin to change in public as you do this work in private.
Posture is a funny thing. It actually does make a difference in how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. Coming from a conservative church background in the ‘80s, I had those hilarious posture lessons with a hymn book balanced on my head … and it did nothing for me. This is partly because those lessons were focused on me looking “lady-like,” which is ALL about how other people perceive us. That is a lie from the pit of hell. Later, during my healing journey, I learned how to stand tall in yoga because it felt good and it made me feel powerful. Because when you show up and stand tall, people react differently to you, innately. And you also react differently to yourself. If you want to learn more, here is: