the untitled project

My POV. Unmasked. I'm not invisible here.

‘My yoke is easy’

OX-My Yoke by Harper HazenOur friend, Maria, shared this drawing with us, along with her thoughts:

“This is a brand new work by Harper Hazen, my son, with whom I am well pleased. OX-My Yoke 40H”x 27W” with marker on paper. It is a large work for being a drawing done in the very unforgiving media-black marker. What do I mean by the marker being unforgiving? You can’t erase marker or go over it and cover it very well without making a muddy mess. When I taught drawing at the college level and would meet a student who was too scared to draw for fear of making a mistake, I’d have them draw only with black marker and with their non-dominant hand to help them get over that fear. Somehow they just knew they were going to make a mistake and would forget about being so perfect, loosen up and get over that fear.

“In this drawing, Harper boldly sets out to make permanent marks which cannot be hidden and from which he can never retract once he commits to dragging that marker tip over the large white paper. A close-up look honestly shows the viewer exactly how the artist’s hand moved and how every mark was made. This drawing is almost like a polygraph showing exactly how Harper is feeling as he thinks about his theme.

“I wept when I gazed at this work. The words ‘My yoke is easy’ come from Matthew 11:28-30 – ‘Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.’ Is this drawing about Christ? But aren’t yokes usually put on oxen, not lambs? Although Christ is usually symbolized by an innocent lamb, I do see Christ under this yoke and in this ox. I see the Christ that was entangled in the great controversy with Satan. How can that ox pleadingly look at me with that eye and ask me to take its ‘easy, light yoke’ while that python-sized snake appears to overcome it? Here is where I burst out crying, realizing I might not have accepted Christ while on the cross like one of the thieves beside Him did. How is Christ’s yoke easy and light? It is not easy to believe and join someone who appears to be losing.”

Maria’s question struck me as well. I never realized what enormous faith it must have taken for the thief on the cross next to Christ’s to express his belief. “It’s not easy to believe and join someone who appears to be losing.” Would I have looked over at the beaten, bloodied man dying an agonizing criminal’s death on the cross next to me and said “I believe, Lord”?


An introvert primer

One of the most gratifying events in my adult life has been the realization that my needs and preferences have a name. I am an introvert. Few things are more satisfying than learning that not only does your personality type have a name, but there are millions of other people who are just like you.

Late last year, I connected to a couple of introvert groups on social media and since then, I’ve spent more time thinking to myself: “YES! That’s me exactly!” So as a public service, I am providing below a list of classic introvert characteristics that you may find helpful. If you are an introvert yourself, you’ll feel understood. If there’s an introvert in your life, you’ll (hopefully) experience an “Ah ha!” moment and gain a greater understanding of these exquisite creatures. Let’s get started, shall we?

~ Try not to take an introvert’s need for alone time personally. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. An introvert’s need for alone time is truly a NEED, as in crucial to their health and happiness.

~ Don’t try to “fix” an introvert. First of all, there’s nothing wrong with them. Secondly, if you accept an introvert for who they are, they’ll be loyal to you for life. Introverts are fiercely loyal when they love someone… AND they expect the same in return.

~ Know that introverts don’t let very many people in, so if you’re close to one, you must be pretty important to them.

~ Introverts hate confrontation. Give them time to process things instead of pressing for immediate answers.

~ If you want an introvert to open up more, truly LISTEN without interrupting when they do talk. Introverts have heard all their lives, “You’re so quiet!” But more times than not, when they do attempt to contribute to the conversation, they are interrupted, talked over, or simply ignored. Maybe there’s a reason they’re “so quiet!”

~ Because of the above point, introverts tend to be great listeners and observers. Just because they’re not talking does not mean they are not alert and taking everything in. Picking up on non-verbal signals, body language, tone, and expression is much easier when you’re not running your mouth.

~ Consider every introvert you know to be on your DO NOT CALL list. Almost universally, introverts despise talking on the phone. A phone call is intrusive, especially if they have not had adequate time to emotionally prepare for the event. I have often told friends and family: “I will text you screen after screen, or send you a 10-page email. But if you call me, I can watch my phone ring without answering all day long.” And if I text you and you respond with an immediate phone call? You’re a psycho.

Does any of this sound familiar? What would you add?

The sea change continues

Time magazine’s naming of the #MeToo movement as “person of the year,” virtually guarantees that the topic of sexual harassment and abuse will remain on everyone’s mind going into the new year. Even as a survivor myself, I’ve been astounded by the abrupt 180 our society has made in, first, now suddenly believing every woman’s story, and second, assuming guilt based on accusation alone. So much for due process. Overnight, powerful, wealthy men are learning what it feels like for the poor and disenfranchised to be presumed guilty by the mere point of a finger.

And survivors, once relegated to carrying the trauma of abuse silently because their words meant nothing, can now openly talk about their experiences, knowing they will be taken seriously and that so many others can relate. It’s a sisterhood nobody wants to join, but a sisterhood nonetheless.

Unfortunately, trauma and sexual assault are not women-only issues. In this country, roughly one in three women report having experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. For men the rate is about one in four. And those are just the reported statistics. Given how many people came out of the woodwork over the last couple of months to break their silence and relate their own experiences of sexual abuse and harassment, we must assume the actual numbers are much higher.

For women who are incarcerated, those figures are even higher. More than a quarter of all incarcerated women were raped prior to entering prison, and 90 percent were victims of sexual or physical violence at some point in their lives. And since prisons in this country are where we send people FOR punishment, instead of AS punishment, for most, there’s no such thing as “rehabilitation,” healing, or even understanding. Instead, there are strip searches, pat-downs, and solitary confinement, which only add to the trauma. Our society is in love with the idea of punishing people continuously. Punishment that never ends, that’s what makes us positively giddy. As long as it’s for them, not us….

I’m not sure anyone can say where this new fad of reporting and accusing of sexual misconduct will take us, or how many people will fall as it mows through our society. But at least for the moment, until some different shiny object grabs our attention, survivors are having their day in the sun and it feels like a little bit of justice.

A mother’s pain

I couldn’t drive him there, like I did on his first day of preschool, and kindergarten, and college.
I stood, breathless and numb, as the marshals led him away in chains and tears. I had none. I couldn’t breathe.

And he was gone. Into the first circle of the hell that would be his next home.
But that was short. He was moved on to one circle of hell after another, until the final stop.
Federal prison. Caged. A pariah. No longer human; a number only.

Then came the next traumas: the anxious calls, the nightmares, shingles, ulcers, pain.
They don’t tell you everything. They want to be men. They love their mothers.
They don’t want you to hurt as they hurt. They lie, cover up, tough it out.
A mother’s heart knows. But they are our men and we let them believe.

We cry at night, in real beds, with them on concrete or metal slabs with thin pads they call mattresses. We pray, sometimes all night, and pray that they can pray too.
We live in our invisible cells. We keep to ourselves, out of fear or shame or I don’t know.
We carry them inside us again, feeling the weight, all day, every day. But they aren’t safely tucked inside.

Instead of growing, they are shrinking. They are back inside, in the dark, but it is a deafening frightening place. Not the warmth of us and love, but the cold of steel and hate.

Days… weeks… months. We visit when we can, if we can afford it. They call, if we can fund their account. They change, we change. There is a heaviness between us. Fear is the common element.
He waits for the mail call. If there is a letter, it has more than his number, it has his name, reminds him he is human, he exists as more than his crime. Good news, bad news. Letters, pictures, anything that is not here. All is welcome.

Days between letters… then weeks… then months. Then there is no one left who remembers. No one writes, no one comes. And only the number on his shirt remains, no other numbers, nothing on the outside for him.
So why? Hope is just another four-letter word now. Like love. Empty, gone.
Humanity is connection. He has become disconnected—untethered. No longer real. One last chance, one ounce of control over his existence. The stained and worn-out sheet. Freedom. Darkness. Power to end it all. The final circle of hell.
And the world is diminished.

Written by Constance Peschang Stannard
(published with author’s permission)


The balcony

“A part of maturity is learning to love some people from a distance. To keep their well-being in your prayers, but take a path away from them.”

When I first saw this quote it reminded me of something I used to tell my clients: “Not everyone deserves a seat in the front row of your life. Some people need to be seated a few rows back. Some people belong up in the balcony. Some need to be booted out of the theater altogether.”

Fortunately, we get to decide who gets a seat in the front row and who doesn’t. If someone is treating you badly, disrespecting you, trying to convince you that you’re unlovable, maybe it’s time they move to the balcony.

Clients would often say, “But not family!” To which I’d say, “Especially family.” Just because someone is a relative doesn’t give them license to treat you with less care and consideration. And being a “nice” person does not mean you are required to cheerfully take everyone’s crap. That’s not being “nice,” that’s being a doormat. Being nice and having a spine and some self-respect are not mutually exclusive.

Who in your life needs to move to the balcony?

Don’t be afraid

Pure evil. Such a simple concept, isn’t it? Good vs. evil. It’s the foundation of every good book, every good movie, any good story. It’s a concept as old as humanity itself. Can everything really be boiled down to good vs. evil? Even our tattered society that every day seems crazier and closer to unraveling completely?

The tear has torn deeper. We divide ourselves in half, us vs. them. We turn away from one another and cocoon ourselves in our own correct perspectives. We don’t listen, we don’t even try to understand. We just write off the “other side” as, at the very least, ill-informed, if not just plain delusional. No compromise, no benefit of the doubt, not even a tiny step toward the middle. Why should I? After all, I’m the one who’s right!

The one who is most satisfied and thrilled by our human angst and anger is the Enemy. The Enemy has been manipulating us, using us, lying to us since the beginning of time. The Enemy feeds lavishly on our negative emotion. Nurtured by our many fears and suspicions, and feeding them back to us, it’s a dark web of disease that eventually destroys us. While the Enemy — fat, happy and laughing at us — only gets stronger. Lately, the Enemy has been dancing around this endless buffet of our rage and contempt toward one another, greedily lapping up every drop. Time to shut down the buffet…

“Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid because I am with you. In this world, you will have dark days, days that suck, days that will make you question everything and wonder if any of it is really worth it. But I have good news: I am bigger and badder than all of it. I’ve overcome all of it. And I’m with you, holding your hand, and I will never let go. Seriously, I mean never. I love you too much. I’ve chosen you. Even when you waver, you are still Mine and I’m not going anywhere. Period. So no matter what the world may throw at you, or how hopeless it all seems, I am still in control. You may not understand any of it. That doesn’t change the fact that you and I both know how this ends…

“In the meantime, I’ll hold you while you cry and mourn. I’ll cry with you. It’s okay. It’s okay that you cannot even imagine how much I love you or the wonderful gifts I have in store for you. But one day, I’ll show you. I’ll make everything new again and you will be beyond amazed! I can’t wait to show you!

“For now, don’t be afraid.

“Don’t be afraid.

“I am closer than your breath.

“Don’t be afraid.”


How do you read it?

“There was a man walking across an open field, when suddenly a tiger appeared and began to give chase. The man began to run, but the tiger was closing in. As he approached a cliff at the edge of the field, the man grabbed a vine and jumped over the cliff. Holding on as tight as he could, he looked up and saw the angry tiger prowling out of range, ten feet above him. He looked down. In the gully below, there were two tigers also angry and prowling. He had to wait it out. He looked up again and saw that two mice, one white, the other black, had come out of the bushes and had begun gnawing on the vine, his lifeline. As they chewed the vine thinner and thinner, he knew that he could break at any time. Then, he saw a single strawberry growing just an arm’s length away. Holding the vine with one hand, he reached out, picked the strawberry, and put it in his mouth. It was delicious.”

There are two possible lessons — one quite opposite from the other — to be gleaned from this well-known Buddhist parable. The first, a common interpretation, is the importance of living in the moment. Despite the terrible danger the man finds himself in, with the two mice (one white, one black, representing day and night) busily gnawing away at the vine (his lifeline), he wisely reaches out and plucks the beautiful red strawberry and pops it in his mouth, savoring its tart, juicy sweetness. He is truly living in the moment.

On the other hand, could the lesson be how foolish the man is to allow himself to be distracted by the hedonistic pleasures in front of him, instead of working to rescue himself from a perilous situation? I’ve seen both viewpoints taught and the latter promotes resistance of frivolous distractions, taking control of the situation by climbing up that vine while you still can and killing that stupid tiger!

How you interpret this parable will likely depend upon your spiritual orientation. Serious religious scholars of all persuasions would balk at this, but I’ve always had a problem with the notion of “absolute truth.” I’m not sure it exists. For me, I choose to espouse the “living in the moment” lesson. How wise would it be to climb up the vine and try to kill an angry, hungry tiger? And by doing that, the man wouldn’t get to enjoy the strawberry. Maybe God called the man’s attention to that strawberry as a sort of “last meal” before he’s mauled to death by the tigers below. Maybe the man’s ability to momentarily ignore the overwhelming negatives in his life and just indulge in the simple pleasure of a delicious strawberry is representative of how we can live our own lives. Sure, the negative stuff is there and we have to deal with it, but the positives are also there and we can choose to focus on and savor those… if we allow ourselves to do so. What’s your take?

[Thanks, Peni, for the great philosophical discussion!]

For the girls

Advice for girls:
Be loud and gross and take up space.
Stop saying “sorry” and start saying “don’t interrupt me.”
Stop saying “Because I have a boyfriend” and start saying “because I said so.”
Say “no” and say “none of your business.”
Take selfies and don’t laugh at jokes that aren’t funny.
Be snide and sarcastic and wear your hair the way you like it.
Help out other girls and be vocal about what makes you mad.
Be masculine and feminine and both and neither and be unapologetic.
Don’t set aside your comfort for boys’ egos.
I saw the above on social media this week and found myself wishing I’d read it when I was 12 years old instead of 56. I’m not one to spend a lot of time second-guessing or agonizing over my life choices beyond learning from mistakes because, really, where does that get you? It’s not just an unproductive punishment, it’s simply a waste of time and energy.

Still, I wish I could have read, understood, and internalized the above advice decades ago. I was raised to be a people-pleaser and became an introvert somewhere along the path. Staying out of everyone’s way and learning to be content with my own company has been both blessing and curse over the years. Now, I am certainly closer to being the person described above. When I reached my 50s, a light bulb popped on over the head of my inner adult and I felt like I’d finally earned the right to be who I am. But I still have work to do.

It’s kind of a shame that we often don’t fully develop our true selves until much later in life. The time to make so many enormous and consequential life choices comes at the beginning, when we’re all a little crazy, green, and uninformed. (Who came up with that timeline?) And it’s at that stage, ironically, that we think we are perfectly capable and know everything. But very few people get everything right the first time. Bless those do-overs life sometimes gives you. To make better choices, allowing a chance for real contentment to settle in.

How will you honor your true self today? Today, I may not be “loud and gross,” but I’m definitely planning on taking up more space.


No judgment

John 3:16 is arguably the most widely known book, chapter, and verse of the Bible. You see it on signs in the end zone stands at football games, on billboards, even on t-shirts. The verses that follow John 3:16 are less well-known.

John 3:17-18 read: “God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.

That’s Christ talking and I love that part. But then, it’s easy for me to love that part because I’m not in a leadership position in a church and nobody really cares what I believe. Nobody is coming to me for guidance, or for the “last word” on what they should believe.

I often feel sorry for church leaders, especially nowadays. What a difficult position to be in, trying to navigate our modern-day world while viewing everything through a Biblical lens. Trying not to offend the hard-core Christians (read evangelicals), while still remaining inclusive of all of God’s children.

The organized church has made it easier by always viewing sexual sins as worse than any other type of sin. Nowhere in the Bible will you find sexual sins touted as worse than any other sin, but we humans have categorized them as such. As a Christian, you can be forgiven by fellow Christians for every other sin, except a sin involving sex, i.e. an affair, being sexually attracted to a member of the same gender, stuff like that. And heaven help you if you’re a member of church leadership and commit a sexual sin… wooweeee! You in big trouble now! You might as well pack your bags.

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.

Some sins we humans just cannot forgive. And we feel it’s our duty to point out where we believe others are lacking and going off the rails. There’s plenty of judgment to go around, but very little love and even less forgiveness. I think it’s because we feel that to forgive is to condone, even though we have the example of Christ to go by. It’s really pretty simple: Our job is to love and forgive. Judging falls in God’s job description. We’re off the hook on that one.

But how are we supposed to feel superior to lesser Christians if we can’t judge them? Where’s the fun in that? Well, I’m afraid that’s one wicked indulgence we’ll have to give up if we want to be more Christ-like. Nobody said being a Christian was easy.

The big cover-up

Last fall, I attended a baby shower for a friend of mine. During the event, I noticed a young mother across the room who was sitting with a blanket draped over her body from neck to lap, and a pair of little feet sticking out from beneath the blanket. Despite my lack of experience with kids, I knew exactly what was going on under that blanket and I found myself feeling indignant. Having never given it much thought before, I knew at that moment exactly what my stance was on women breastfeeding their children in public.

They absolutely should feel free to do so.

August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month. As the saying goes, I don’t have a dog in this fight. Even so, I do believe I’ve become pretty good at spotting hypocrisy and stupidity when I see it, and forcing a woman to cover herself and her child under a hot blanket while breastfeeding has got to be on the Top Five List of most ridiculous constraints ever foisted on women.

And I think I may have a theory as to why the practice of public breastfeeding makes some people so uncomfortable. We have all been taught, from a very young age, that the female breast is exclusively a sexual apparatus. Even elementary school kids know “boobies = sex.” So when a mother is brazen enough to bare her breasts in public for any reason, it feels wrong. Scandalous. It feels as though she’s preparing for public sex. Our society has been marinating in sex for so many years, when we see a bare breast in public, it’s difficult to make the leap from sexual purpose to the very utilitarian purpose of feeding a baby.

Picture for a moment your parents naked and having sex. Now, acknowledge that intense feeling of “ick” that you just experienced. It is weapons-grade discomfort, right? That feeling factors in, too. Your mom’s breasts were originally designed to feed you, just as your grandmother’s breasts were designed to feed your mom. It’s a brilliant system, common everywhere in the animal kingdom, providing the best possible nutrition for offspring.

So why should a mother cover herself and her nursing child under a blanket to appease your misguided sense of impropriety? To calm your feeling of “ick” because it forces your mind’s eye to see your mom’s breast, feeding you? You are witnessing nature at its finest. Humans are the only species that gets all twisted over this natural, beautiful process and requires mothers to cover themselves as if they’re doing something they should be ashamed of. They’re not. Please, get a grip and grow up.

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