I Don’t Have Answers, But I Have Clean Feet

When I was a teenager, I visited a church that (with good intentions) was trying to find a way to encourage young, questioning teenagers like myself to come experience Jesus. They saw that more and more kids were being raised without religion, more and more teenagers were finding their way away from church, fewer and fewer parents were forcing their kids to sit through another boring Sunday morning service that they didn’t understand. They knew that kids, just like me, were curious and cynical. Their answer to this problem was to encourage discussion in church about God and Jesus. At youth group, the young associate pastor would speak to us about some Scripture, and then we would sit at our round tables and discuss what we were taught. At each table, one designated person (usually a member of the pastor’s family, or a long-time friend of the church family) would have a sheet in front of them with the questions, and as I saw when I leaned over their shoulder, the answer to each question.

I never went back.

I knew, as clear as day, I didn’t want to go to a church that advertised “open-table discussion” but carried all the right answers around on a cliff note. I knew immediately that I didn’t fit in. I felt totally alone at the table, because when the time came for me to give my not-familiar-with-church-stuff two cents, I could only respond, “Oh. I’m not actually sure what the Bible means.”

And that was not the correct answer in red on the paper.

I still open my Bible, almost ten years later, and have to slam it shut. This book is the tool that was used to create those answer sheets that left me alone, afraid and very much out. I can still see in my little green pocket Bible a barrier as big as the Great Wall of China keeping me on the outside. I still can’t find all of the answers within it, and so I feel unworthy to pick it up. I still feel like I’m being asked to leave the table.

Jesus … got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” [John 13: 2-9 NLT]

This Advent, as I personally wait in hopeful anticipation for Jesus to show Himself to me in new and surprising ways, I’ve felt led to read John’s Gospel. And let me tell you, I’ve been as surprised as the shepherd’s must’ve been to meet the King of Israel as a tiny, dirty, poor baby in a manger. The thing that surprises me the most about John’s Gospel is the many times he shows confusion surrounding Jesus and his teachings. I’m tempted to cite here every time in John’s retelling of Jesus’s time with us on earth when the people around him sit at a table or on a mountain or at the temple and say, “Uh, Jesus? We don’t really get what you’re trying to say or do here…” [emphasis and sarcasm obviously added]. They argue, they disagree, and again and again Jesus answers them almost less clearly than he does the time before. He talks to them in parables, stories, and poems that they can’t seem to grasp. He is accused and misunderstood by members of his own religion, he is questioned by his own disciples, and John says even his own brothers didn’t understand what he was up to.

As John retells the story of The Last Supper, we see that the minute Simon Peter thought he had Jesus all figured out, Jesus surprises him, telling him he’s getting his feet washed. Saint Peter has been walking around in sandals for days without bathing. He knows that Jesus is blameless, totally clean. Since Peter is a Jew, he reverts back to his old was and remembers that God can only appear in the midst of the temple, a place that has been ceremoniously cleaned and prepared to be entered by the High Priest. Peter was a fisherman, unworthy and unchosen by the Rabbis in his youth, and here God Himself is telling him he’s going to get naked and was his disgusting feet. Obviously Peter rejects him with a sentiment we can all understand: “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.”

Jesus tells him that if he can’t allow himself to be cleaned, he won’t understand who God really is.

Jesus isn’t concerned that Peter has all the right answers. He even excuses it: “I know you don’t get it, Peter, but you will. What I’m doing is more important than understanding what’s right and what’s wrong. Let go of your misconceptions about how God works.” He quickly changes the subject and insists, “Just let me wash your feet. You will experience something profound.” And Peter responds, “Oh, I see it. I feel it. And I want more of what you’re offering me. Don’t stop with my feet!”

I wish I was introduced to this Jesus when I was fifteen and really looking for him. I wanted more, but I was taught I couldn’t get it because I didn’t know the right answers. I was isolated from the table because I didn’t feel like I really understood what was going on. And you know, I think we have solid proof that if Jesus were sitting at that table with me, he would’ve taken me and simply washed my feet. I think that would’ve made me feel even more included than I would’ve had I actually known all the answers on the paper. I would’ve been cleaned, I would’ve been convinced that I wasn’t bad or wrong or isolated. Most importantly, I would’ve been invited into a deeply intimate relationship with Jesus.

I’ll make my point plainly:

The Church is doing an excellent job at creating answer sheets.
The Church is doing a terrible job at washing peoples’ feet.
The Church is doing an excellent job at telling us to follow commandments.
The Church is doing a terrible job at helping us follow Jesus.
The Church is doing an excellent job at telling us we’re wrong.
The Church is doing a terrible job at showing us we’re loved.

When 87% of non-Christian young adults (between 16 and 29) say they’re not interested in Christianity because they perceive Christians as judgmental, something is wrong.

When our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community are told they are bad the second they walk into church (IF they are ever brave enough to walk into a church), and the rest of us gluttons, drunkards, and gossipers are getting off scot-free, there is something seriously wrong. When so many people just like me have been made to feel ashamed, wrong, embarrassed and isolated in a place that claims to be sharing The Gospel, something is really really wrong.

Jesus washed the feet of a man who didn’t yet understand the full promise that Jesus was making him.
Jesus ate dinner that night with his betrayer, Judas. He gave him communion. He washed his feet, too.

We took Jesus’s prayers for us to be one in Him and one in the Father and created 41,000 different denominations of Christianity. Why? Because we can’t bear to sit at the table with those we believe to see things differently than us.

If we continue to call ourselves followers of Jesus, we need to learn to stop asking our friends who are sitting around our dinner table to agree with everything we believe. If we want to follow Jesus, we must wash the feet of those who we don’t understand. We have to wash the feet of those who hurt, misunderstand and betray us. Jesus is washing their feet – and ours – every single day.

I sincerely believe we need to let go of the fact that we don’t understand each other and, you know, sometimes we probably don’t really understand Jesus. His disciples were sitting right next to him and couldn’t grasp what he was getting at, but we expect ourselves to?

It doesn’t matter anyway. Let’s agree to disagree, and have dinner together. Welcome each and every person to this glorious table, beautifully decorated and abundantly stocked with all the wine and bread you could wish for. And when things get a little hairy, how about we let it go and I can wash your feet. I can’t understand your opinions, but I love you like God does. And let me tell you, He loves you in a way that is irrelevant to your interpretations, your background and your beliefs.

God isn’t waiting at the table with an answer sheet.
He is waiting beside the table, on his knees, half-naked, with a basin of fresh water.

Bill Cosby Broke My Heart

If you’ve known me for more than a year, you’re probably aware of my deep, weird love for Bill Cosby. I’ve been the proud recipient, on more than one occasion, of various pieces of Cosby paraphernalia. Once, my friend gave me a vinyl of a lesser-known 36-minute stand-up bit from the beginning of his career called 200 MPH where he talks about how much he loves his money and his motorcycle. Another time, my dad got me a DVD set of the short-lived Bill Cosby Show, which predates The Cosby Show we all know and love. Part of why I married my husband is due to the birthday gift my he gave me last year: the entire box set of The Cosby Show. I listened to Himself on cassette when I was in kindergarten to put myself to sleep. I can do the “push ‘em out, shove ‘em out, wayyyyyy out!” bit verbatim, with the crazy Lamaze breathing and everything. I read his tattered books that were put carefully away in the middle of the bookshelf at Grandmamum and Grandad’s house, and the one that was occasionally put beside the toilet. His books, another of which I was given last Christmas that I placed and used on the toilet, are about being a dad, a grandad, a guy who came from the projects of Philadelphia and had amusing and charming memories of his own parents and grandparents.

At dinner parties, my Grandad recited Cosby’s “I want you to build an arc!!!” routine so well, some of his friends dubbed him Noah.

I haven’t read any of the articles until today. I knew, or had heard at some point, that there were sexual allegations made a long time ago against Bill Cosby, but I knew they never could have been true. I put them out of my mind and when I sat on the couch in college watching another TV Land marathon, someone’s boyfriend (who clearly didn’t know me or the depths of my obsession) would snarkily say, “You know he’s a rapist, right?” and I’d immediately decide I didn’t like that new boyfriend because he was a know-it-all cynic type and my roommate could do better. As this beloved character’s face flicked in and out of every newsfeed on every site I regularly visit over the last few weeks, I vowed not to read anything until it was all settled. They’ll learn the truth, I told myself, none of it is true. It’s just women making crazy accusations to try and get money.

I’m all too aware there is an epidemic of victim-shaming in this country, and I want no part in it. Those kids in Stuebenville were excused by members of their community because they were athletes, young kids whose lives were now going to fall apart, an unjust consequence for rape. (Note: I’m being sarcastic here. In case you were worried.) Girls are told they need to watch what they wear, be careful, don’t get raped, it’ll be your fault. As a country, we are finally seeing how women are unheard and untrusted when they claim to have been sexually assaulted. Robert R. Jennings, president of Lincoln University, is completely and utterly unjustified in undermining those claims made by the very students who he has been hired and entrusted to protect. I’ll never, ever change my mind on this matter. It is never okay to blame the victims of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. Never.

And yet, I haven’t read a single article about Bill Cosby this month. I’ve read an article about Hayden Panetierre’s baby bump. I’ve clicked on a link showing Miley Cyrus making out with someone at a club, and I’ve seen an Instagram photo of the Kardashian sisters’ kids. (I’m proud to report, I never looked at the bare-butt “Break the Internet” photo. Ha-ha!!!). But I have refused to “believe the speculation” around Bill Cosby’s rape allegations. I have pitted his accusers as vicious women out to destroy the integrity of a man I’ve viewed with a great amount of reverence. What kind of feminist can stand in solidarity with girls carrying their mattresses around campus, but tell a friend asking what’s going on with Bill Cosby, “Oh, this happens all the time with celebrities. Women just lie about rape because they want money”?

I’m part of the problem here.

Fine. Nothing’s been proven yet. But it’s incredibly difficult to ignore that now more than a dozen women have come out and claimed separately they all were victims of the exact same crime. Many of them have described identical scenarios of which they were taken advantage of by a man they believed to be their mentor. It’s difficult to ignore that Cosby won’t comment, and that many of his shows and appearances have been cancelled. It’s difficult to ignore the obvious emotion coming through these womens’ eerily similar and horrifying stories, and it’s equally hard to ignore the fact that Bill Cosby’s lawyers, who are brushing off the claims as ridiculous, are probably very well-payed. While no allegations have been proven in court, some have been settled out-of-court, making the truth even more muddled and hard to stomach.

I ignored it for a while, but I don’t think I can anymore. Whether or not Cosby is guilty is irrelevant. All of these women feel they have been silenced for years, some for decades, and that is not only hard to ignore, but wrong to ignore. I have victim-ignored, victim-blamed, and I don’t think I can stand firmly against that kind of damaging behavior and continue to write off the women accusing him of these crimes.

When I was 16, my Grandad was diagnosed and dead in the matter of four months, and they were the funniest, hardest, deepest, most faith-filled and discouraging months I have to write about. One day, I’ll give that time the pages it really deserves. In those months while our family was experiencing a strong sense of closeness, some of Grandad’s past resurfaced. He had been married before he met my Grandmum, and for reasons that were never really explained to me, his daughter from that marriage was unwilling to come visit him as he died. While it was only a blip in the story of Grandad’s great escape into his next life, I guess it stuck with me. I wonder why she didn’t come. What version of this remarkable man had she known? Or rather, didn’t know, because they had no relationship? The hundreds of stories flooding in from around the world about Grandad’s great life and how deeply he impacted those he met drowned out the disappointing reality that he must’ve let this woman down greatly in her life. We forgot about it as we watched him die, and we memorialized the amazing, kind, gentle, and funny Grandad we knew and loved, as he completely deserved.

I think it was more of a subconscious adoption, but Bill Cosby gave me a great sense of comfort after he was gone, and he became a bit of a surrogate Grandad. I could hear Grandad’s dry sense of humor all over again when I showed Eric Himself on YouTube. I knew we, his kids and grandkids, drove him lovingly crazy the way those bits described. I could feel myself bouncing on Grandad’s knee as I watched Rudy go flying around Dr. Huxtable’s. I’ve always said I know I’ll sob when Bill Cosby dies, and watching him age has been harder than it probably should be for me. And now, I’m losing my adopted Grandad faster than he or I intended. He’s dying much quicker than the natural process would allow. This image of him as the loving, gentle and honest Grandad are slowly being devoured by a darker version of the human who is Bill Cosby; with the same swiftness of the brain tumor that made our six-foot-one South Carolinian disappear from view.

There is this horrible day when we realize our Dads and Grandads are just people, like us. There is that day when we see our superheroes are just human. There comes that day when we just have to read the articles, we just have to face the lost daughters from the past. We have to understand these women were hurt in the wake of a hurting man who did his best and really did touch the lives of many. They can’t be silenced or ignored or blamed for their hurt. And we have to take the good with the bad in our Dads, our Grandads, Bill Cosby, and everyone around us. Just because they’ve made mistakes, or even done truly horrible things, doesn’t change that they’ve done amazing things as well. And just because they’ve done amazing things doesn’t mean we can ignore the hurt they’ve caused. If we deny one or the other, we are denying the reality of the world we live in. The reality that we are broken and we are evil, but we are healed and we are loved. There is a Dad, a Grandad, a Comedian, a Creator, an Arc-Commissioner who won’t betray, hurt or abandon us (or Bill Cosby), and in Him lies our hope.

As for today, I am grieving the loss of a man who could make a room erupt with laughter, who winked at me through a fog of radiation and intense memory-loss. I miss him all the time, and I wish he and my quiet husband could have sat together and loved each other the way I love both of them so. I am sad for his daughter and for the man she didn’t get to know. I am deeply grieving for the women who have claimed such a horrifying crime has been committed to them by America’s Surrogate Dad or Grandad. I am deeply saddened to have to face the sins of a man who I viewed as blameless. But that is life, and that is sin. It has to be unveiled in order to be dealt with. It has to be grieved, accepted and brought to light in order for life to move forward. I’m immensely grateful for the time I’ve spent with two great men who made me laugh time after time, whose stories live on through our TVs and through my own family’s stories. But I know, as well as anyone, that it can’t always be laughter, us humans can’t always be all good. We all have a darker side, even our heroes who we wish didn’t. Even myself, who I certainly wish didn’t. But I do, you do, they do. Nobody’s a hero, nobody’s a saint, nobody’s a perfect Grandad.

Divorce on Earth, as it is in Heaven

I come from a family of “second chances”. My parents are divorced and are both remarried to people who have been divorced. 3 out of 4 of my grandparents are divorced from other people and remarried to each other. I’ve learned throughout the years spent at Christmases full of step-cousins, step-grandparents and step-nephews that the second go-around isn’t always so bad. Our melting pot family today is seemingly healthy and functional. Well, I’d say we aren’t any more dysfunctional than the “typical” family units I’ve come across. Things are working out A-OK. Nobody fights anymore, and nobody was all that awkward at my wedding rehearsal dinner when we sat all together for one of those rare life-occasion moments.

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I met and knew Eric first as a married man. I’ll never deny the truth that I knew his wife very well. In fact, we were friends. We went to the bar together, we had breakfasts at the diner on my campus once in a while, I came to their apartment and watched Friends with both of them. It’s not easy to explain the journey from Point A to Point B (that’s probably another post… or a memoir) but a few years later, I became Eric’s second wife.

I felt well-equipped to be a second wife, based on my lineage. Despite the statistics, I knew that second chances can actually work out pretty well. I think the growth and the pain and the feelings of intense failure and fear that stem from experiencing divorce can actually determine a person to make it work the next time, or else they’ll never risk it again. In my case, Eric was ready and eager to instate open-communication, honesty, and healthy habits into a new relationship right from the start. And after seeing many family members live through the pain of splits, I was too. We both felt, as we started dating, we had what it took to build a solid foundation that our marriage could stand upon.

Maybe I was well-equipped or knowledgeable, but not necessarily prepared for what was to come.

As much as I thought I knew about divorce, I don’t think I had the whole story. In my life before Eric, everyone I knew who had been divorced and/or remarried had gotten through the brunt of it without involving me. I was a child through most of it, and everyone protected me from the smack-talking and tension and awkwardness pretty effectively. I felt pretty sure that divorce just happens, and then life moves on.

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But this time I was in the center of all of it. Neither one of us had kids to have to counsel through the process (thank God, really, I don’t know how people do it), but we did have family and friends that were reeling from the brokenness of Eric’s divorce and we all lived in a world of tension. My friendship with Eric’s ex-wife obviously ended when we started dating, and it seemed like others began drawing their battle lines. This was bad in ways, good in others, and confusing and painful on all accounts, for everyone involved.

Friends and family who chose “my side” of the issue were rarely helpful. Nine times out of ten the person who would come to me and smacktalk “the ex” were a. misinformed, b. unsympathetic, and c. very awkward and confused when she and I and they would all end up at the same party.  Its an ugly part of me that has to admit I enjoyed when these people appeared to be “taking my side”, but I didn’t actually appreciate it. My ego tried to convince me it felt really good to have someone validate me and my relationship, but my heart couldn’t trust the opinion of someone who, somehow, so easily talked so badly about someone they were once really close to.

The most enriching and helpful experiences I had were with those around me who were the ones that went through the confusing process with us very honestly. Today I am still close friends with a woman who said, “You know what? I’m friends with her, I know her story. I’m friends with you, I know your story. I’m friends with Eric, too. And I’m not taking sides.” It made for a few uncomfortable barbeques, but ultimately, I appreciated and felt very loved by the way she chose to live in that awkwardness for all of us. I also had people say straightforwardly, “I’m really mad at you right now, and I’m really confused about all that’s happened.” The honesty behind that statement was, at the time, so hard to take, but it was the beginning of a (long) journey towards understanding and healing, and a deeper trust was born between myself and those who expressed themselves so transparently that way.

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For anyone who has been broken by this issue directly or indirectly, or whose family or community has been torn apart because of divorce, I’m deeply sorry. I understand your pain. I truly believe, though, that a heart bent toward reconciliation will help in the journey out of bitterness. One day, whether it is on Earth or in Heaven I don’t know, I pray the separate bits and pieces of my family will be One. I pray the friendship I had with Eric’s ex-wife will be restored. I pray we, our siblings, our parents, and our step-cousins can hang out and all watch Friends together.

This love and reconciliation is more than our human brains can comprehend, so we choose instead to take the “easy” way out and pledge “loyalty”. We talk badly about the ex, or about the new girlfriend, or about the step-kids and think that will help us along. We believe that if we could only chose a side, this will all be a lot less messy. But when you know divorce and remarriage, you know well that black is never just black and white is never just white. Our families and our pasts and our futures all bleed into one fascinating gray where our loyalty is muddled and our hearts are utterly torn. But in that gray, and in those open spaces, if we are just willing to sit there, we can really experience something beautiful. If we can open ourselves up enough to the awkward-ness and the yucky-ness and the I-wish-this-wasn’t-happening-ness that is divorce and/or remarriage, and just say, “I’m really mad,” or “I’m really sad,” or “I’m really confused,” instead of “Well, he/she was bad for him/her, and you are good!” I think we’ll find something really great in that. When we don’t draw battle lines so clearly, but address our hurt and confusion directly instead, we give ourselves up to the process of grieving and healing. We allow ourselves to experience great tension, which resolves in great relief, eventually.

Eventually, not just in Heaven, but here on Earth, you’ll be able to sit at your rehearsal dinner with your divorced fiancee, and see your dad commend your step-dad’s role in your life, see your mom holding your brand new step-daughter, and get a glimpse of the Kingdom Come.

God is a Perfect October Morning

It’s one of those unbelievably perfect morning moments. The rain is tapping above our back porch where Eric sits and taps rhythmically between each chord he plays on the old Gibson that never stays in tune. The one whom my soul loves so sweetly, and the three kitties who sometimes decide to let us love them that way too, are enjoying what are the very final breaths of the passing summer air. It’s now late October, and smoke blows through the kitchen window that we keep open for the cats who miss the back porch they had in Eric’s old apartment. It lets in the smell of Nag Champa that’s hot and clammy on my face and hands. My phone buzzes up on the counter, but I look past and beyond it, through the window at the canvas of red brick, city neon, telephone wire, golden leaves and grey sky. Eric’s fingers and voice are finally committing to a tune they like outside, and we wait apprehensively for the alarm to declare we need to get a move on with the day. I finished another book that tore through me as quickly as I tore through its pages this morning, and before I come to write, I search each prologue and acknowledgement for more information, more joy, more of the same reliability in hearing some new words I need to keep hearing. I don’t want to be bothered with baby showers, birthday cards, quotes for car parts or traffic today. If I could stay here forever, surrounded by finished wood, Nag Champa, the breath of the Gibson, and fresh language, I’m positive I would. It’s moments like these that can evaporate everything with the rain. Because it’s these morning moments that show me how loved I am, despite my own decision-making, will-powered self. No level of assurance on any matter could replace the beautiful grey shawl that falls around our home as the rain picks up. No amount of money given to another new mother can gift her with a moment like this. I pray for our cousin and her new baby to know the peace and serenity of these mornings. How can you fight through traffic to all of your appointments, and still feel the calm of a wet fall day, tucked away at home sipping coffee? I hear the honking horns beyond Eric’s new song, the sniffing of his nose, the buzzing of the alarm, and I wonder how to carry these fleeting feelings into what will certainly become a busy day like all the others. I am in the Temple this morning, the Holy of Holies, and I remember Jesus tells us we can stay here through it all. Through the turmoil, through the harshness, through the busy buzzing, He is surely here inviting us into this peace every hour of our day. I wonder how it’s possible – that a God can be so loud – and yet quiet enough – to create serenity in the middle of the city, in the middle of a day filled with chores and obligation. I wonder how I can continue to reach out to a Father who sends rain to our roofs just to help us sleep, while boxes of cardboard sit on the street and crumble into wet mush. I wonder if there’s a way to summon a warm, rainy morning to live inside of my frustration and pain and disagreement and personal traffic jams. I wonder if that’s who God really is, if that’s what He is inviting us into, every morning, afternoon and evening of our lives.

8 Tips for Surviving Engagement

As of yesterday, I’ve been engaged for 6 months. Our wedding is in 19 days. Over the course of this crazy time lapse that somehow is going too fast and lasting too long all at once, I’ve learned a lot about weddings, marriage, and mostly, myself. It’s been stressful, busy, eye-opening, wonderful and surprising. To say the least. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I’d do anything different if I’d known better. The only way to really know better is to just learn. Just to go through it. I feel these lessons in wedding planning I’ve learned too late, the hard way. I’ve learned them in the kind of way you learn not to hold a scolding pan in your hand for more than 2 seconds. The way you learn that if you don’t turn around to watch the sun setting beneath the mountains, you’ve missed more than you wanted to. But the only way out is through, they say. The only way to be molded into a more beautiful version of yourself is to accept the immersion into the Refiner’s fire. I had to go through exactly what I had to go through to learn, and anyone going through anything in life will have to do the same thing. You can’t learn much by reading a blog post, the only way to really get it is through experiencing something yourself.

All that being said, I’d still like to share my experience and share some advice on how to survive an engagement. I guess now I have a tiny bit of expertise and a bigger bit of opinion. Maybe it will help you if you’re planning a wedding, but more likely, this will just be a list of things for you to “Mhmm” at if you’ve already been through the fire, through the molding, through the wonderful part of life that is your Engagement.

Tip #1: Use Pinterest!

The internet is really an awesome tool for gaining insight and inspiration, and I definitely sucked any and all ideas I could get out of Pinterest. People have found some amazingly simple ways to make different things for their weddings. Be encouraged that a lot of these seemingly crazy DIY projects are really going to save you money, and you really can do them without a ton of creative know-how. Don’t think up every idea for every detail on your own. Be of good faith, there is help, there is inspiration, there is a way. Being able to organize your ideas into categories and easy-to-retrieve files is really helpful when the time comes to implement your plans. Plus, you’ll be able to share ideas, websites, or products with your friends, bridesmaids, and partner.

Tip #2: Then, for the love of God, stop using Pinterest

. Social media is a breeding ground for envy, greed, and discouragement. I think I might say this in a few different tones over the course of this post, but let me introduce to you a revolutionary idea that you will be forced to face over and over as if your head has a magnetic draw to a hard, brick wall. Here it is.  You NEED to stop comparing yourself to other people. The information age has bombarded us with images and advertisements and allowed us all to create and view pretend-versions of the imperfect people we all are, and it’s incredibly, undoubtedly unfair. If you want to get married in your sweatpants with just you and 2 witnesses, that is beautiful. If you want to get married in a barn and invite 500 people, that is beautiful. Make your wedding about you, not about outdoing the blogs and the pins and the Facebook posts.

Tip #3: Don’t ask for help at first

The minute you get engaged, everyone and their mothers (literally, all cousins, their moms, and their moms’ moms) will be compelled to help you. It’s super great, and awesome to remember that you have tons of support, but be careful about how open you are to hearing people talk with at you about your wedding. They have their own ideas of what a great wedding looks like, but you have yours, too. Trust your gut, and talk to your partner about both of your ideas. Just like staying away from too much Pinterest, stay away from too much advice. Don’t inundate your already overwhelmed brain with other peoples’ plans for you.

Tip #4: But then, for the love of God, ask for help

. Once you have some clear ideas about what you and your partner want for your wedding, enlist experienced friends. Lots of your friends have expertise. Lots of your friends are so excited about your love story that they will help you for free. But remember – they can’t help you until they know what you’re looking for. Be clear and communicative. That’s why Tip #3 is important. You need to know what you want to be able to communicate it to people who can help you. If you go to your baker cousin and say, “We don’t like cake,” they won’t know how to help you. But if you and your fiance talk beforehand and realize you both really love apple pie, then you can bring that idea to your cousin and let her run with it. With her know-how, she can come up with a great solution for your wedding dessert. (Spoiler alert: This is exactly what we are doing for our wedding.. Thanks, Hannah!)  Help will be very unhelpful if you can’t tell them what you need help with. Like in relationships, communication is key. First, you must be communicating thoroughly with your partner about your wishes, and then you can bring those desires to your amazing friends and family, who will be happy to help you achieve the perfect day. You will be surprised by how smart and helpful people can be, and it will make you feel incredibly blessed that people are more than willing to come to your aid. That will only make the day more special, remembering that the special witnesses to your love were instrumental in making it happen.

Tip #5: Brush off certain advice and opinions

. Like I said earlier, everyone will have something to say about your engagement and your wedding. Be completely prepared for this. Do not for one minute think you’re exempt from this reality. The minute you’re engaged, someone will be really upset that they didn’t get a personal phone call with a long description about the ring. A member of my extended family was angry before the engagement because they thought they deserved their own “father of the bride”-esque talk about Eric’s intentions. Since then, plenty of opinions and unwarranted advice has been expressed on topics that range from centerpieces to a bitter sermon from a divorced great-uncle on “the idiocy of marriage.” Your skin will thicken in the months leading up to your wedding, I promise. Your partner will become a great source of support and encouragement. You’ll look into his or her eyes once a month with a puffy red face and say, “Yes, okay. No, I definitely want to marry you. I just need to forget about bitter old Uncle Whoever.” Opinions and unwelcome advice will come at you in life. It’s not over when you get married. I’ve heard that a mother-in-law has a superhuman sense of knowing the moment your biological clock begins ticking and will routinely drop sentiments of child-rearing opinionated advice into everyday conversation before you’ve even announced that you’re “trying.” It’s an odd part of life, and sometimes I wonder how humans came to the conclusion that spending so much time with others was key for survival, when often I believe I would rather live on the Lost island than hear one more snarky statement about the difference between “white” and “off-white”. You have to learn to brush it off. Smile with grace, say, “Yes, I hadn’t thought about that, thanks!” and whisk yourself out of the conversation to get another piece of pie.

Tip #6: But then humbly realize that some advice is worth listening to

. Your family and friends are, in fact, important to survival. Evolution has actually taught us that if you are a part of a close clan, you have a serious advantage in natural survival. Humans are apparently pretty stupid when we exist by ourselves. We have no protection, no hope. Sometimes the people closest to you know you better than you know yourself. Sometimes they can see things that you can’t see. I’ve had to learn to listen and sift. I’ve had to learn the great act of discernment. Uncle Whoever is obviously bitter from his divorce, but when your Dad tells you you might have a lot to learn before you get married, it’s probably wise to take his words to heart. The fit of rage I found myself caught in when he gave me this loving advice was only proof that he was totally correct. I had been knocked down over and over by peoples’ opinions of me, and he told me, wisely, that I would have to learn to stand my ground against adversity. In so many ways, I told him his opinion of me was wrong, that I was right, smart, and completely mature and he was a big dumb Dad who didn’t know what he was talking about. Case in point. Whenever people smarter and bigger than you have a few years of marriage experience on their belt and are telling you that marriage is hard, you should be open to listening. They may point out things about your relationship that you don’t see – unhealthy behaviors or communication patterns that will make planning a wedding and a life together more difficult. They will, if they are good advice-givers, give you some tools and suggestions to help you along the journey. None of us are perfect, but your friends and family are part of your life because they love you and want the best for you. If someone is giving you advice that doesn’t seem like it is coming from this place of love, respect and trust, then revert back to Tip #5 and brush them off.

Tip #7: Hold on tight

. Hold on to what you know in your heart to be true. That your partner is an excellent, supportive partner. That you really want a small wedding. Or a big wedding. That everything is going to work out (even though you’ll threaten to kill the 100th person to tell you so).

Tip #8. Then, for the love of God, let go

. It won’t all work out. You’ll forget your veil. Your housing situation will fall through in the middle of your engagement. Your plans will be shattered. Family members die, life gets hard, you fight, and you cry a lot. Welcome to being a human. It doesn’t seem like the true hardships of life pause just because there’s a diamond on your hand and you’re trying to get 150 invitations lettered by the end of the night. Learn to laugh. Learn to be grateful for at least one thing every day. Planning a wedding is total chaos, but through it all, I’ve hung tight to the notion that God is good, He is taking care of us, and I can let go of my compulsive need to control and stress and worry about every detail. And I can go to sleep peacefully each night in the midst of logistical disarray remembering that I am loved by a great man and a Great God. No number of undeliverable invitations, hurtful pieces of advice, family feuds, or off-colored table runners can change either of those facts.

A Response to ‘Women Against Feminism.’

Everything about this is yes, yes, yes. We need Feminism. Would you like to argue that God is patriarchal? Well, this is what patriarchy really looks like, and no, my loving God will not stand for it.

iwantedwings

Imagine this:

The year is 2014. You are a white Western woman. You wake up in the morning in a comfortably sized house or flat. You have a full or part-time job that enables you to pay your rent or mortgage. You have been to school and maybe even college or university as well. You can read and write and count. You own a car or have a driver’s licence. You have enough money in your own bank account to feed and clothe yourself. You have access to the Internet. You can vote. You have a boyfriend or girlfriend of your choosing, who you can also marry if you want to, and raise a family with. You walk down the street wearing whatever you feel like wearing. You can go to bars and clubs and sleep with whomever you want.

Your world is full of freedom and possibility.

Then you…

View original post 1,400 more words

Jesus Loves Me, This I Sorta Always Forget

I want to start over. I want to stop, breathe. Be still. And know.
Or stop knowing, actually.
I wish I could burn every Huffington Post article that gets posted to our walls. I wish I could throw out every opinion Buzzfeed list on “24 Reasons Why I’m A Feminist” that prods, urks, annoys, and fires us up. I wish I could scrap all of my own opinions and promise that I’d never have a strong one again.

I wish, above all else, that I had a strong sense that I am loved, am approved of, and accepted. Regardless of my opinions, regardless of where I am right, where I am wrong, that I am totally and completely Beloved.

I wish I could just cry more, and feel the real pain of how it is when my world is upside down. I wish I could accept that I just don’t know all the time, but still, I am so loved. Love is here for me to experience now, no matter how upside down everything else is. I wish I could stop trying to turn everything right-side-up all the time, and just see the sky from this different vantage point, and experience how beautiful and terrifying it is when you can’t tell if you’re swimming up or down. Toward the sky or toward the rocks. It’s still all blue.

What if I could actually know that God loves me? What if that were it?
Could that be the end of justifying, defending, opinionating?

Could that be the end of isolation, fear, and separation?

If I could only know that I was truly loved by He who made me and made everything good, good, good, then would I stop hiding away from those who I don’t feel approve of me? Would I stop fighting so hard in the comment section? Would I stop begging my fellow man to please, just understand me. Love me. Accept me. Approve of me.
Would I be gentler with those who don’t agree?
Would I be closer to those who don’t understand?

Could I understand better that they, too, are loved beyond understanding?

I believe the Good News is that yes, I could and would do all of these things so much better if I could just begin to understand that God loves me, and that’s that.

I’d throw out all of the doctrine I hold out as a shield. I’d climb down off of the hills I’m willing to die on. I’d release myself from the trapeze I’m hanging on, and just experience the great fun in floating in the in-between.

No more anti- this or pro- that. No more, how could you not see it my way?

I’d be left with the truth that is beauty, and pain, and this chaos that is the human existence.

I’d be left with Oneness, and camaraderie, and empathy, and jointness, and the Body. Whole.

Just God. And love. And that’s it.

But instead I build my walls around myself. Unable to believe that anyone, especially not The Perfect One, could possibly accept, understand, and love all of the ugly, wrong, sinful parts of me.

So, I tell myself I’m right. I tell the world I’m right. And I stand in my walled-in isolation of rightness, and let nothing in, nothing out. And when some walk by and start banging the bricks in, they say I should just grow up, rebuild. Build higher, build stronger. Get ahold of yourself and strengthen that which you believe. You shouldn’t be crushed by brick every time someone comes through and tries to knock you over. Grow up.

What if I could grow down? What if I could grow so small that I could fit in the Hands of my Maker? What if He were my defense? What if I could believe that?

Peace. Joy. Purity.

I believe, if my walls were knocked down, if I were shrunk down, the Spirit would come and make His promise true that these are truly His gifts.

Open up your heart. Let down your walls. Let me in.

 

The One Thing Missing From The #LikeAGirl Campaign

The feminine product company, Always, put out a heartwarming commercial in June, explaining why and how to break down the “like a girl” stereotype. We see young women asked to perpetuate and explain the stereotype of running, hitting and throwing “like a girl.” Then some young girls, maybe unaware of the stereotype, show off their version of doing things “like a girl.” We see the discrepancy, and can all agree that putting girls down by categorizing femininity with weakness and physical inability is a disappointing part of growing up. We, of course, should encourage young girls and women to be themselves, run however they want, be strong, and make up their own minds about what it means to embrace femininity for themselves. I don’t disagree with this commercial, and I don’t think it’s bad or wrong in any way. Yes! Let’s empower women! I’m with you, Always!

maxresdefaultAt least on this commercial, I’m with you. (And after some research, I think Always is actually advertising to women quite well. They are selling period starter kits for young girls to get prepared for their cycle and releasing some charming ads to boot.) Always is, as you know, a feminine product company. Companies offering menstrual “clean-up”, not excluding Always, have not always advertised well to women. Always is not exempt from the list of advertisers that tend to misrepresent the monthly cycle; although, they are producing better ads than most other companies. In some of their other ads, like in most feminine product ads, Always is still representing menstrual bleeding with blue liquid. As every woman can attest, uterine lining isn’t blue. It’s bloody, for Pete’s sake! It ranges from bright red to dark brown throughout the 3-8 days of bleeding. It also doesn’t spill smoothly onto a flattened pad from a clear glass. Every single woman has a pair (or a few) of stained undies from the effects of the heavy day that no tampon or pad on the market could defend. Most commercials for feminine products is still telling a big lie that with the right product, periods can be masked and secret. Always goes by the name of Whisper in Southeast Asia. There is still a message sent to women that your period should be a secret.

Harry Finley, the curator of the Museum of Menstruation, claims feminine product advertising started as early as the 1800s. The ads, since then, have sung the same tune. “The companies (usually run by men) take advantage of the secrecy surrounding menstruation. They’ve always been about covering up any sign of menstruation, sight or odor. The worse women feel about menstruation the more vulnerable they are and companies make money from that.” he explains.

The marketing executives of Always are on the right track with their campaigning.They are well aware there is a movement of feminist advertising they can’t ignore. There is a growing market of well-educated women, looking to take care of their bodies and choosing wisely where to spend their money. We are growing less and less ignorant of the subliminal sexism and hyper-sexual material in most advertising, thanks to projects like Miss Representation. Always knows they won’t make money producing advertisements that claim your husband won’t want to spend time with you if you have your period. Other companies aren’t necessarily behind this trend yet, and are unfortunately still banking on the lie that your menstrual bleeding and natural functioning should be something to be ashamed of. There are still commercials for tampons that can be discreetly hidden, ads showing confident women wearing all white and proudly walking up to their man, proud that he’ll never know their big secret. Advertisers are still feeding into the idea that women should be ashamed of their bodies, and selling products with perfume and harmful chemicals that we all know we aren’t supposed to be putting in our vaginas.

At least advertisers don't claim Lysol is a helpful tool for saving your marriage anymore!
At least advertisers don’t claim Lysol is a helpful tool for saving your marriage anymore!

So, Always, a company dealing with our periods head-on, is asking us to embrace doing life “like a girl.” Then let me finish the ad with my own twist. Hey, Always! I want to get my period “like a girl”!!

Periods are not super fun, but they are just part of doing life like a girl, and I think we should all think a little bit about how we can open up to that fact. “Yes, I kick like a girl, and I swim like a girl, and I walk like a girl, and I wake up in the morning like a girl,” says a young woman toward the end of the commercial. Let me add, I also get my period like a girl. Because I am a girl.

My Introduction to Charting & the Fertility Awareness Method

In the big debacle over the Supreme Court’s recent decision on providing birth control health coverage (which, I’ve discovered I can’t really start talking about without entering a frantic “but I just…. but…. I…. AHHHHH!!!!-hair-pulling-esque hysteria), I was in the process of writing up this post. I’m on my own interesting journey with contraception, so I wanted to chime in.

Quick disclaimer, just by the by. I don’t, personally, have any religious opinion about the Pill, or any birth control for that matter. Everything in this post is altogether personal, it was just semi-relevant timing with the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling happening recently. I’m never really of the stance that we should tell anyone how to live life in the name of God, but I especially have no spiritual stance on this issue. I do, however, have a pretty strong personal stance.

I was on the Pill for years to combat terrible cramps, heavy flows, and an altogether bitterness toward the monthly “joys” of womanhood. For the time I was on the Pill, I really didn’t experience cycles of any sort. The cramps were gone, and pretty much any sign of life inside my womb was gone. Numb, and unknowing. Fine, just fine. Floating through life with 2 day spotting that I’d call a “period.” Life was good.

However, in an ongoing rebellion to many mindless choices that I made in the name of it’s-just-what-you-do-ness, one morning I decided to not take the next pill. And I never went back to the pharmacy for the next pack. And truthfully, I didn’t exactly know why.

It was in part thanks to Netflix. I’d been watching documentaries on natural birth. I’d seen documentaries on the shittiness of advertising, the farming industries, fast food, GMOs, you name it. All that hippie-dippie crap most of us wish we’d just skipped past and kept on bingeing Breaking Bad episodes. Unfortunately, the reality of what chemicals and hormones and it’s-just-what-you-do-ness of our society was all starting to seep into my subconscious. And suddenly, I decided pretty sporadically that I didn’t want to put a dose of hormones into my system every morning.

Another disclaimer: Randomly deciding to stop taking the Pill is not necessarily something I’d recommend to someone who’s sexually active and not looking for an unwanted pregnancy. I happened to not be active at the time, but if I was, I think I would’ve done a lot more research before simply stepping away so quickly from a highly successful form of birth control.

In the nine months to follow, I embraced nine full cycles of mood-swings, terrible cramps, and heavy flows. The joys. All of ‘em. I crumpled up on the bathroom floor, screamed, “I’M GOING BACK ON THE PILL!,” spent full days in bed, tried a menstrual cup, found a good pain-killer regimen, ate more bananas, got more exercise and ultimately, survived womanhood. In fact, I even began to enjoy it. I can’t necessarily explain why, but something about feeling the life of a healthy, working uterus was thrilling.

And then this March, Eric proposed. It was time to start talking about what to do if, in fact, I wanted to prevent pregnancy in September, once I’m sexually active and not at all interested in having a baby anytime remotely soon. [Personal note: We are waiting until marriage to have sex, so we won’t be actively using this method as birth control until then. The topic of “abstinence” is one I’ll write more on later.] My fiancee is a man of high value. Particular, holistic, and not afraid to do things that take a lot of work if it means getting the best possible outcome. And to him, getting to keep his wife all to himself for the first few years of marriage is absolutely the best possible outcome. No babies.

“I hate the idea of your hormones being affected so unnaturally.”
“Yeah. I think that’s why I stopped initially. I don’t want to go back on the Pill.”
We agreed.
So, no Pill, either.

So, where did that leave us? Condoms work. But what about when they don’t? The pull-out method works. But what about when it doesn’t? Latex and self-control seem to be fallible things. I’d heard some rumors that if you simply don’t have sex exactly two weeks after the first day of your period, then you’ll never get pregnant. Seemed good enough for me. But what about the fact that my period never actually seems to come on the same day every month? What’s up with the spotting that happens seemingly at random? What about the day before the two weeks exactly after the first day of my period? What about the day after? What about all this weird stuff that comes out of me kinda heavily 3 weeks after my period? Does that have anything to do with this?

In talking to more au-natural friends, wives, moms, and one Eric, I thought maybe some research would do. I heard about Natural Family Planning and the Fertility Awareness Method through a friend who has used a form of one effectively and happily throughout her marriage. No hormones. No (unplanned) babies. And an added bonus: You get to have unprotected sex sometimes. No pull-out method. No condoms. Au-natural, bay-bay.

The catch? This method actually takes some work.

Kindara is a free app developed by husband & wife team, William Sacks and Katherine Bicknell.
Kindara is a free app developed by husband & wife team, William Sacks and Katherine Bicknell.

The short of it: you observe and record (Every. Single. Day.) your temperature first thing in the morning, and your cervical fluid throughout your cycle. At first, it’s confusing, time-consuming and totally weird. But for those of us who don’t want to get pregnant, and who actually enjoy learning about our bodies and functions in a way we never thought possible, it’s totally 100% worth it. For those of you who do want to get pregnant, it’s also 100% worth it. No ovulation tests, no invasive doctor’s appointments necessary. If you try this method, your knowledge about fertility increases and so do your chances of conception. And if you do have a fertility problem, you’ll notice quickly and will be more informed when you visit a specialist.

This blog post is really just an intro to my journey with the Fertility Awareness Method. So far, it’s been a lovely ride. I’m incredibly aware (amazing, the name actually suggests it does what it says) of my body, my cycle, my health, myself. FAM is called a “cooperative method”. You and your partner have to communicate thoroughly. For birth control, this method is truly for monogamous, long-term, committed relationships. However, as a means of understanding and deepening your relationship with your natural functions, it is wonderful for absolutely everyone.

For resources and ways you can learn more about charting & FAM, click here!

10 Pieces of Life Advice I Definitely Don’t Need

These tidbits are all for you guys. I’m actually immune to them and don’t need them at all. Readers, you really need to get your shit together. And let me tell you how. Follow my advice closely and learn everything I already know. Okay? Okay! Here we go.

1. Get less addicted to Facebook. For the love of all that is Good and Evil, enough is enough. Aren’t you tired of pretending there isn’t a giant void in your soul that gets filled with all this mindless information? Scroll after scroll, all you’re getting from this deal is depression and self-loathing. No number of “likes” will ever make your post feel as cool as that rad feminist mom who is homeschooling like a champ with her perfect cute kids. No number of little red notifications will actually make you less dissatisfied with the lack of real, authentic social interaction in your life. You’re “talking” at a screen (typing into a box) and you’re still sitting there completely alone. And does it actually make you feel better to click through her photos and keep whispering, “I wish I was there… I wish I was doing…” and not making any headway to be or do or see any of what you really want to see? Get off the computer, and go freaking do it.

2. Stop rebounding. Love is fun in the first six months. Soon, he’ll get mad at you for genuinely forgetting to turn off the kitchen lights and you’ll stare at him, stunned, and think, “You’re not the man I thought you were!!!” OF COURSE he’s not. You thought he was everything you needed him to be. Consistently patient, always full of words of affirmation and fun date ideas. To keep you interested, entertained, fulfilled. Well. He’s not. He can’t. No one can actually be your “everything”. If you still think that your addiction to passion can be sustained for longer than 6 months, I think you need to reevaluate your delusions. If you still think love is about another person making you happy, I think you’ll be pretty disappointed with the new guy you date when you find out he’s basically the same as the last: totally imperfect and not able to make you happy all the time. This goes for friends, too. They’ll make you laugh for a year and then they’ll have a different opinion on gay marriage than you and it’ll really grind your gears. Stop trading them in for State of the Art Human Robot machines, programmed to believe everything you say is awesome.

3. Start actually loving your body. Yeah, I know you love spewing off Facebook posts about how destructive advertising is to women’s self-image and posting Instagram #selfieloves, but you still respond “ugh” when he tells you he loves your frame. Spend some time in front of the mirror naked. Exercise more, eat better. Treat your body like it’s a really living human thing and treat it with some respect and real love. It doesn’t help to just talk about it like you love it. What if your boyfriend only told you he loved you on Instagram? You’d be pissed. Your body is pissed.

4. Stop moving. Seriously, if you’re not happy in the part of the country where people will drive 8 hours to just to see colorful leaves, then I have a feeling you probably won’t be happy anywhere. If you’re bitter and angry here, you’ll get bitter and angry there. Just like love, excitement about a new places lasts 6 months to a year at most. Then you have to pay taxes.

5. Stop saying, “I’ll just be happy when {fill in the blank}” When I get married… when I go back to school… when I get a different job… when I have kids. No matter what phase of life you’re in, it’s probably the best one. Can’t you look back on everything and say, “Man, those days were the best.” Now that you’re married, don’t you wish all the time that you could be single and in college again? That’s because the present moment is the best moment. Right now, you have everything you need. You are right where you need to be. Yes, it’s so cliche, but it’s so very true. Every day, you have a decision to be as happy or as unhappy as you want to be. If you choose today to be looking toward tomorrow and promise to be happy when {fill in the blank}… then you will choose tomorrow to look even further down the road and promise to be happy some other time. You will live your whole life this way and only be really, truly happy when you’re dead.

6. On that note, just please. Quit your bitchin’. Stop complaining about everything. Especially the weather. God, I swear if I hear “it’s too hot” one more time this summer, I’m gonna lose my mind. I wish I could slap you into last winter and show you what “too hot” can feel like in the middle of a damn Nor’easter.

7. Get more grateful. You’ve got food, water, and shelter, right? Listen, that’s a whole lot more than a whole lot of people get. But on top of that, you have so much stuff that you were never promised and never needed in the first place. Make a list of 20 things you’re grateful for, and quickly realize how abundant your life is. If you have a car and a computer, you’re actually very wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world.

8. Stop being bored. You’re not actually bored. You’re just tired of the same old crap on the same old screens that keeps numbing your brain and destroying your eyeballs. Put the phone down, read a book, go for a walk, sit still for Pete’s sake!

9. Stop pretending all the advice you’re giving to other people on your Blog isn’t just you talking at yourself.

The real reason you’re willing to spend 3 hours drafting up a rant about how stupid “people” can be? You’re entirely fed up with how stupid you can be. I think you like to pretend your Facebook habit isn’t out of control, so you tell others theirs is. Because you definitely don’t check your Newsfeed every time you grab your phone. You are definitely not looking for more articles, more advice, more screens, more numbness. You are always grateful, all the time, right? It’s not your problem, it’s theirs. Rant, rant, rant… blah, blah, blah.

In the words of Jon Foreman, a mirror is so much harder to hold.

This post is my mirror. My judgment on those around me is certainly the log in my own eye. It is easier and far more satisfying to turn the mirror around on others so that the non-reflective plastic stares back at me, saying, “There’s nothing there.” It’s rare that I realize, while I’m busy throwing stones, the shrapnel is ricocheting off of my friends and little bits of stone are destroying my face. How would I know if I’m never willing to look? I’ve created a two-foot barrier between myself and those around me. The glass reflects a cold, harsh light into the eyes of my loved ones and they back away. I hold the mirror out as a shield, when it could be my great remedy. I mean, I know the log is there. I can feel it digging into my eye. If I could only just get a good look, I bet I could get it right out. If I could sit with myself and read the pieces of “advice” I love dishing out to everyone else, I’d notice I was talking to myself the whole time.

10. So, my last piece of advice is kind of for you. But it’s really for me. Hey, Ash? Turn the mirror back around, pull that dirty log out of your eye, and let yourself get healed.