The Time I Didn’t Go to Church on Easter

Easter is my favorite holiday. New Year’s Eve is a close second, but Easter wins because of Jesus. Christmas is nice, but there’s the stress of present-buying and the knowledge of all that little baby Jesus is going to have to suffer. Easter is the celebration. It is finished. He’s alive! Rejoice!

I haven’t voluntarily missed church on Easter since I started attending 20 years ago. My husband and daughter still attend our church, but I’ve decided that it’s not the right place for me. It’s Easter, April 16th, and it’s raining, and I’m at home blogging and watching people on Twitter criticize 45 for not going to church. My reason for not going to a service today is very different than his (he said he doesn’t need forgiveness, so I’m guessing that’s why he doesn’t bother) but it still feels strange and like something I have to rationalize.

Talk about awkward, my daughter was helping in children’s church, and since my husband was rehearsing with the worship team, I dropped her off. Everyone in their Easter best, and I hadn’t showered yet. Good to see you! Good to see you!

People in church leadership know that their church isn’t going to be a permanent home for every Christian who walks through the door, so why do I feel so awkward? I’m not uncomfortable with my reasons for leaving, so why am I uncomfortable with the thought that not everyone will agree with my reasons? Obviously they don’t agree, or they wouldn’t still be there.

I imagine they think I’m judgemental. I even imagine some of them think I’m a bit crazy. The truth is, most of them probably aren’t spending much time thinking about my reasoning at all.

Obviously, there’s no perfect church. I never thought I’d be the church hopper or the one who doesn’t go at all because there’s no perfect place. Don’t forsake the gathering together, I believe the Bible says. But here I am, home by myself on Easter and feeling utterly, well, okay with it. I believe in God with all my heart. I rejoice in the fact that Jesus came back from the dead and proved his resurrection to his followers so convincingly that they risked their lives to preach “We SAW him” for the rest of their lives. I am thankful that accepting his sacrifice is my ticket to eternal life in heaven.

I know many have been here before me. Some people will say, “You need to find a church family,” and some will say, “Do what’s right for you.” I guess the point of this blog is that we are all at various points along the “do what’s right for you” storyline. I recently realized that no matter what I’m doing, I have a vague feeling of “I’m not doing the absolute best thing I could be doing right now.” And I don’t even mean big things like career. I mean doing the dishes or choosing an outfit or teaching a concept. What a burden that I didn’t even realize I was carrying!

And so I’m probably making WAY too big a thing about not going to church for a while. I need a lot of alone time, and I take a long time to process things. I’m not a joiner. The thought of finding a new group of people who ask me to be a part of anything besides the music sounds exhausting right now. The thought of either grilling the leadership before joining or hanging around for six months to see how things run sounds exhausting, and frankly, futile. (Search for my previous blog about starting my own ideal church.)

I try not to write blogs that just meander through self-involved drama, and this is definitely a violation, but I know that someone can probably relate. Thank you for reading 600 words of me weaving my way to telling myself, “It’s okay. Stay home this Easter. God loves you just the same.”

 

Vacuuming Saves America

I’m getting resistance fatigue. After Trump spent our Meals on Wheels money on a purposely ineffective bombing in Syria, I remembered my blog series about what is saving America for me. First it was a hug from a stranger, then it was a stranger in a Starfleet Academy shirt paying for my groceries, and last it was young musicians putting on a beautiful concert.

So today I thought, “What’s saving America for me today? What is making the place I live still a place of hope and kindness?” Is it my recent trips to the beach and the redwoods? Maybe, but they also bring up somber thoughts about the current administration’s attack on the environment. Is it the baseball season starting? Almost, but Buster Posey, the best player in baseball, left the game today after taking a fastball to the head.

The thought that came to me made me feel a little silly. My bedroom really needed vacuuming, and gosh darnit, I was going to get that done. Clean up my little space. I felt silly about vacuuming saving America for me today, but there’s good news hidden in that thought.

It was something I could do for myself.

If you suffer from depression, you know that all the things people tell you to do to make yourself feel better don’t necessarily work. “Help someone!” Either you feel incapable, or you do it and don’t feel better. “Take a vacation!” You might not have the opportunity, or your spirits crash as soon as you get back.

I have never been able to lift myself out of depression. I have always looked for the kindness of others or the promises of God to keep me afloat. But today, I wanted to have a vacuumed room, and I got out my vacuum cleaner. Will the floor be covered with dog hair and nail clippings (come on, family, find the freaking garbage can!) in two days? Probably, but for today it’s clean.

This is the part of America where I spend most of my time, and for now, it’s all I have control over. And for now, it’s vacuumed.

Now, about that closet.

 

So You Married an External Processor

I am not a psychologist. I’m merely an internal processor married to an external processor. But I think I might have some insight that can help you with your marriage if you’re a different kind of processor than your spouse.

It took me nearly twenty years to see how my husband’s being an external processor affected our marriage. First of all, I didn’t hear the terms internal processor/external processor until a few years into our marriage, and then I didn’t really think about which one I was and which one my husband was for years after that.

When I finally labelled my husband as an external processor, I realized that I had wasted much time trying to please him in ways that he didn’t really want to be pleased. Example: Once, my husband said that we should have dinner every night at 5:30. Together. At the dinner table. As an internal processor, I don’t say these kinds of things out loud unless I’ve thought them through and decided that they are important and achievable. And so my husband cleared the crap off the table and I did what food prep I needed to do to make sure dinner was ready at 5:30. I don’t know how long I did this. A month? Two months?

Music teacher schedules being what they are, many times one or the other of us wasn’t ready for dinner at 5:30. Eventually, after much internal thought, I told my husband that I just couldn’t keep up the schedule.

HE DIDN’T REMEMBER MAKING THE REQUEST.

After a few things like this happened, I realized that though it made me feel like a bad wife, I needed to wait until my husband had brought things up a couple times and we’d really talked it through before I bent over backwards to make a change.

Conversely, I’m sure my husband assumed that I was like him. Whenever I’d say something was important to me and he didn’t seem to take it seriously, I would be really hurt. But what seemed like a lack of respect was simply his taking my request for a change in our schedule or lifestyle as a passing thought—the first part of the decision-making process. Because that’s how he is. He doesn’t expect me to take his every word as a fully processed thought.

It has taken him as many years to understand that I don’t bring something up unless I’ve thought it through and it’s REALLY important to me. You can imagine the frustration we could have avoided if we’d realized this difference in communication style earlier on.

I know there are many, many discussions for new couples to have, but this is one more to tack on. Are you an internal processor? An external processor? Do you even know? Let me know in the comments how communication styles and internal/external processing have affected your relationships.

When I Grow Up (a poem for children)

WHEN I GROW UP

By M.L. Millard

 

When I grow up, I just might be a space-exploring astronaut

But if I can’t, I’ll still have fun exploring all that THIS world’s got

I might become a teacher and be just as cool as Mrs. M

But if I don’t, when I see children I will still be kind to them

I could become a bodybuilder, sculpting rock-hard abs and thighs

And maybe not, but I’ll be sure to get a LITTLE exercise

Construction workers seem to have a most exciting job, oh boy!

In any job I’ll use my talents to create and not destroy

I’d love to be a rock star watch my hit songs rise to number one

If I don’t have the talent, I will sometimes rock out just for fun

We all know how a nurse or doctor helps each woman, child, and man

I might not be one, but if someone’s hurt I’ll help the best I can

I might collect your garbage and I might conduct a symphony

When I grow up, I don’t know WHAT I’ll do, but I know who I’ll BE.

 

(See my Books page to order this book for your kids to illustrate themselves!)

 

 

Jesus Was on the Cutting Edge of Feminism, So Why Did the Church Fall Behind?

I was in the grocery store today, and I heard a man behind me jokingly telling his friend, “So manly.” He was clearly making fun of his friend for a “nonmanly” purchase or something, and the friend was in on the joke, too. It was all in good fun, and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the exchange, but I wasn’t surprised to hear the rest of the exchange, in which I found out that they were church friends who had run into each other.

The man who had said “so manly” looked very, well, manly-man. Tall, bearded, with a short, pretty wife and a few kids. In fact, I recognized his wife from a multi-church event. I knew how much time and effort she put into parenting and volunteer work. I knew some very personal, heartbreaking struggles she’d had. She either didn’t recognize me or didn’t see me.

While I was checking out, a grocery cart tipped over and crashed to the ground, and everyone turned to make sure that a kid hadn’t fallen. “She’s okay,” we heard and all breathed a sigh of relief. It was only a child-sized cart that the young shopper had lost control of. Another man said, “Shopper in training!”

“Unfortunately she’ll become an expert,” I heard from behind me. Turns out Manly Church Man was checking out at the register next to mine. “Probably more of an expert than even my wife.”

Here’s what I wish I would have said. DON’T YOU SHAME YOUR WIFE! SHE PROBABLY DOES A SHITLOAD MORE FOR YOUR FAMILY THAN YOU DO! AND DON’T YOU TELL A STRANGER’S LITTLE GIRL THAT SHE’S GOING TO GROW UP TO BE A FRIVOLOUS SPENDER! But I only looked my cashier in the eye and wondered if she’d heard the same thing.

Why are so many church men stuck in this picture of manliness? Millions of dollars are spent every year on nonfiction Christian books aimed specifically at men. Just look at their titles and covers. Old school masculinity being sold like it’s not being sold to any other group of men.

Jesus spoke to women with as much respect as he spoke to men. Angels spoke to women just like they spoke to men. I still struggle with Paul’s words about women not speaking and wonder if God would really want them in the Bible. (Here’s a site that explores the misunderstanding about Paul’s words: https://www.gotquestions.org/women-silent-church.html )

Not only does the church’s view of masculinity hurt women, it hurts men. Young men who do not fit the typical picture of a church man don’t feel like they belong at church. What if they want to wear makeup? What if they don’t like sports or camping? Did Jesus die for them? Yes! Can they be powerful for the kingdom? Yes! Let’s not hinder them.

And if the manly church man culture hurts women and young men, it hurts Jesus. It hurts Jesus because Jesus feels the hurts that we feel, and it hurts Jesus because when nonchristian people don’t want any part of Christianity because it offends them (for nonlegitimate reasons—I’m not saying that we should deny Biblical truths to go along with society) Jesus loses many opportunities to save.

Ouch.

So, Manly Church Man, when you’re at the grocery store, people are listening to the way you talk about your wife. In a society that’s reeling from the misogyny of the current White House administration, they are listening more closely than ever.

Don’t limit Jesus.

And for goodness sake, tell your wife today how much you appreciate her.

Writing the Denouement

The first few novellas I attempted to write had abrupt endings. Apparently I thought that a reader who was left with a moment of high drama or a new concept to chew on would close my book (or turn off their Kindle) and spend the next 24 hours mulling over the new and amazing ideas I’d sparked with my magnificent story.

Then I realized one of the reasons for the denouement. For the purposes of this blog, we’ll define denouement as everything that happens after the climax. At least for modern readers, life moves too fast for them to close a book, close their eyes, and let their thoughts roam. They are called to their text messages or chauffeuring their kid to karate class. After a reader finds out what happened, and the story is all wrapped up, they need time to digest the story. And they will take the time if there are more words for them to look at.

My thought, and this may change with more experience of course, is that it hardly matters what happens during the denouement. In fact, I think as little as possible should be introduced to the reader at this time. Vocabulary should be chosen purposefully to foster a general feeling, but mostly you are providing time for your readers to have their own thoughts about your characters, and indeed, their own lives.

I’m trying to teach myself, here. Everything I write is too short. So let’s do an assignment together. Find three of your favorite novels. Find the moment when the climactic action is over, and count how many pages are left. How does this number compare to the total page count of the book? What does the author say during the denouement? Tell me your findings in the comments.

On Writer’s Block

One of the questions that comes up most often from writers is “How do you get over writer’s block?” I’ve heard many answers to this, but here’s mine:

Writer’s block does not exist.

I’m talking here to fiction writers especially. When I worked for an SEO company and had to find a 25th thing to say about house painting or asbestos removal on a tight deadline, yes I hit a wall. There’s really only so much to say about asbestos and its natural state and its uses and its dangers and its removal.

But when it comes to writing fiction, I truly believe that there is no such thing as writer’s block. So let’s talk about two situations in which you might think “I have writer’s block.”

When You’re Starting a New Project

Two issues you might have before starting a project are too many ideas and not enough ideas. With too many ideas, you might be afraid you won’t start “the right one.” It’s not like deciding to have a baby, friends. If you get more excited about another one in a few days, you can switch. Flip a coin. You don’t have writer’s block.

If you have no ideas, what works for me is watching a super creative movie at night (some suggestions are Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the 2014 version of The Little Prince) and then letting my mind wander as I’m lying in bed. Your creativity is not gone, you are stifling it. Don’t think “what will work for a plot” (unless that’s what works for you), let your mind wander. What is the most fantastic thing that your subconscious mind wants to take you to?

By the way, it’s okay to be in this stage where you let the thoughts swirl around in your brain. That’s not writer’s block, that’s part of writing.

In the Middle of a Book

Maybe your “writer’s block” happened in mid book. You just don’t know what to write next. Again I say, this is not writer’s block. This is part of writing. You are figuring out what to write next. What you write next will affect countless parts of your storyline later in the book, and your brain is doing an amazing job sorting all that out. It’s probably figuring out plot and character points that you aren’t even consciously aware of. You are not blocked, you are thinking.

Sometimes this part of writing might involve getting a fellow writer’s input. Sometimes it might involve more researching online about something your character is interested in—be it astronomy or feng shui—than actual writing time.

If you’ve gone a month or so with no perceptible progress, it might be time to either work on something else for a while or, as I do, force yourself to write something even if it’s bad. I have almost never had to delete what I’ve forced myself to write. It usually gets me going again and I’m back on track.

Say it with me. Writer’s block does not exist.

Happy writing!

M.L. Millard