Crying Like a Woman, Crying Clubs+ "Weaker Sex" No More

                I did something unexpected this morning. I cried. For awhile. My morning was pretty much shot. I am still annoyed. I had a plan for the day, a sacred list of "all-that-must-be-done today," and crying was on the other list:

The daily news is enough to make the most stoic among us weep. And I often pray, cry, seethe, worry and some combination of all of them upon hearing it. But today, it is not that. Nor is it the storms that knocked us over this week.


Nor the fact that I lost a tooth a few days ago. Broken clean off at the gum.  Or that I'm trying to cut out my dear friend, Lovely White Sugar (which is depressing.)

This is the worst part: I'm not even sure of the source of the spillage. I have my suspicions (hormones?)
 It's tempting to be frustrated and angry at my body, my female-ness. When I was a girl, I wanted to be a boy. I was a good boy: I was tough, strong, I made fun of girly-girls (who made fun of me) and I seldom cried. 

But I'm smarter now. I do know that some amount of tears bring a purging, a catharsis. Researchers tell us that emotional tears contain a natural painkiller that's released when the body's under stress. Numerous studies have shown that crying really does relieve stress. Which led me to this thought: Perhaps I should start a Crying Club. 

Japan already has them. They're called "Rui- Katsu" (tear-seeking). Takashi Saga started them in 2011. “Crying does not have a good image in Japan,” says Saga. “People believe you should not cry in front of people, that it is weak.” But he cites Japanese research that concluded that stress relief from crying can last as long as a week. Why waste good science? So people gather, hankies in hand, to watch sad movies, read sad poetry and cry together. Most of the criers are men. (Women don't usually need classes in this.) 

I find this a bit sad. (But not pathetic enough for tears.). That some people have to learn how to cry again. That it must be contained and confined to certain hours and places. That a professional must run it. All of this makes it more appealing to men, I suppose, who cry far less than women. (Boys and girls cry equally until age 12. By age 18, women cry four times as much as men. Here are the Top Ten Things that Make Women Cry.)

And this is when I ponder that age-old belief that women are weaker than men---because they cry. When Hilary Clinton teared up at a campaign event in 2008, it made international news, leading many to publicly wonder if she had the stuff to lead a nation. One minute tears, the next---who knows! Nuclear warfare during a menopausal hot flash? 

But we are not weak because we weep. Even if we cannot always name what melts us. Even when besieged by hormones that unseat us. Still, we are strong enough to dare to feel. And If we stagger at times, we stagger under the weights we are given. We carry the beautiful weight of our children in our own bodies, then in our arms. Then we shoulder their growings, their grievings and then  finally their leavings. We lift the weight of parents still with us or fading or lost or long gone but never gone . . . . We feel the blessed weight of spouses, sometimes limping through unequal courses. We carry siblings whom we love stumbling under their own breaking loads. We carry friends in prison, cancer-ridden, refugees . . . And through all of this, we carry  monthly tides that course through our own rivers, rising and falling.

Yes, we bleed, we weep, we melt, we leak, we feel. 

And so we are alive.

None of this is faulty biology, female or otherwise. Our bodies take us somewhere. In all of it: menstruation, pregnancy, adoption, nursing, nurturing, menopause, we ride saltwater waves that are meant to sweep us near to God, who too, bore children, who wept and bled. Who births and bears us still. 

I am at peace with  my tears, however they come. I only ask this:

Dearest men, When you see us tearing, 

don't call us weak. 

Call us instead fully alive. 

Call us Courageous enough to feel,

Call us Brave----and happy 

to laugh and weep with you,

just as you need.

But most of all, 

        call us Women.

And let all of us be glad.

Heavy Ash Falls on Kodiak: How Do We Survive The (Family) Eruption Again?


On Sunday, in the middle of a blue-sky day in Kodiak the mountains almost disappeared.  

It was Ash. Volcanic ash.
The sun still worked to light the sky, but it was weary in all that ash.

Planes could not fly for fear of damaging the engines. No one in Alaska can forget the Alaska jet in 1989 that plunged 10,000 feet after sucking up particulates. By God's grace alone, the engines were restarted just  before All was Lost, and all survived. The plane sustained 80 million in damage.

And here is why this is about marriage. And other family eruptions that fill our own skies with ash---This ash is not fresh. This ash is 100 years old.

There are more than 130 volcanoes in Alaska, but less than 20 are active. (Which is plenty. They cause more-than-enough havoc!)  This ash came from Novarupta, a volcano that erupted in 1912. It was a massive eruption, the largest by volume in the 20th century, 10 times more powerful than Mt. St. Helens, spewing ash 100,000 feet into the air, drifting as far away as North Africa. The ash swallowed Kodiak Island, burying it in deep drifts, snuffing out the sun for three entire days. And afterwards . . . 

The ash covered the floor of Katmai Valley to a record depth of 700 feet. Much of it is still there.

(Rivers through canyons of pure ash.)

Whenever it blows hard NW, as it was still doing the next day  (gusting to 50 mph out there), we are breathing tiny shards of silica, tiny pieces of glass. And the beauty around us is swallowed up.

This feels personal to me. The volcano is in our neighborhood, just 60 miles from our fish camp island. And I cannot help but think of marriage, of our children, of our parents. We've all survived "eruptions" of volcanic proportions. We've seen the lava burning a path to our feet. We've seen the ash fall bury our house, the neighborhood. . .  Then time passes, and we think we're okay. The burns are healed, the glass in our lungs dissolves. We think we've swept the rest away, all that ash around our feet . .. buried it in the garden, in our journal, in the attic with our outdated coats. 
Then a sharp wind from just the right direction rises, and the ash we thought gone whips into the air, and we're choking again. . .  We look for the volcano, but it's not there. Nothing has happened but a little wind. Then we remember---oh yes, that ash. Again? 
How do we stop this? How do we end the bitter choking on distant memories? We feel SO powerless against these forces: earthquake, volcano, whirling winds.

But we're not. We're really not. Listen to what's been given to you. 
"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened 
so you may know the hope to which he has called you, 
the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 

and his incomparably great power for us who believe." 

What IS this incomparably great POWER for us who believe?

"That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead  . . . "

In a few weeks, my husband and I will celebrate 37 years together. One thing I know: the power God used to raise Christ from the dead---is given to us. Now.  And it's real. I know how weak we feel. I know how powerless I have felt so many times in my life. But I am not. You are not. 
The power we're given is mightier than any volcano. It can blow the ash away for good. It can tamp the acid dust with the rain of  compassion and forgiveness. It's the kind of power that births a baby, that keeps living "I do" even when you feel like "you don't," that keeps giving when others keep taking, that stays "until death do you part" . . .  I mean the kind of power that reaches a hand across a table, across the bed, across a burnt-up field to say, "I love you, still. And always" 

 We are not always good at this, but we cannot forget what God has spent for us so that we can. 

Today the wind died.  I went down to the harbor again. 

The mountains were back. The colors bright. The air clean.
This is the power we've been given, all of us:
"I love you still. And always."

I pray you KNOW the power of God in your life this week, in all the hard ashy places!! 

The Strong Alaskan Woman + How NOT to Hate the "Virtuous Woman"


       I’m just back from leading a retreat in my own beautiful state. I love speaking to Strong Alaskan Women! (And I met some truly amazing women. Beyond words. Shout-Out to Baxter Road Ladies!) We can endure the rigors of the wilderness, but I admit, when it comes to the duties of the house, I'm done for. After just 4 days away, laundry is piled everywhere. The dirty dishes I accidentally left in the dishwasher grew a gruesome mold. The counters are lost in stacks of mail. And there's other work to do. By Friday, I have to bake 15 dozen cookies, read and endorse a book, design a label and write three articles, as starters. 
          This is my everyday life, and likely yours as well.  But doesn't our exhaustion make us virtuous, biblical? You know, a Proverbs 31 woman? I hear some of you choking. Does anyone like this over-lauded woman who never sleeps, who is forever doing crafty earthy things like sewing clothes, planting a vineyard, spinning wool by lamplight? Didn't she ever go for long walks  in the desert, looking for beauty, writing poetry? Why don't we hear about that?
        We love to hate her---and still we laud her. Women on both sides of the Mommy Wars (which still exist, though I would downgrade it to "The Mommy Skirmishes") claim her because look! She does it all! She's a domestic diva and she sells her own merchandise and deals in real estate. 
            But too many women are goaded into a frantic busyness thanks to an overemphasis on this one chapter of the Scriptures. I say this as not as an urban woman who disdains the earthy home arts. I wrote part of this out at my fish camp in Alaska where I cook massive meals for 8 – 12 people, make all our own bread, smoke salmon, work out on the fishing nets with my family when I can, write essays and books,  mother my two younger sons and four young adult children.  The writer of Proverbs would be proud of my schedule.  
                                                 And I’m tired. So are many other women I know. Even Strong Alaskan Women. And honestly I  don’t think we should be called godly or virtuous because of it. Most women I know who do everything---including homeschool their children---are sure they are still not doing enough. I remember the words of a woman who ran her house, homeschooled her many children and who one day guiltily lamented that God was calling her to give up her one respite in the day, her thirty minute nap. (Really? Yes.)
              Surely a man conjured this woman up. Who else would turn the gospel of grace into a gospel of domestic works-righteousness? Ummmmm, another woman, actually: King Lemuel's mother. Before we hunt her down and stone her (or, as an Alaskan woman, shoot her)------ she’s not real.  She’s not even meant to be real. Hear this!
Dear Women Who Are Trying to Do It All: (me. And you?):   The noble woman is not intended to whip us into domestic goddess works-righteousness. She’s an ideal. We don’t have to spin wool and stay up to midnight making matching denim jumpers for our daughters to impress God with our love for our family. Or for Him.               Look what we've done. We have focused so much on her activities, failing to see that her activities are illustrations of her love and values. The heart of the message is who she is, her character, not what she does, her performance. All that she does springs from a bountiful, wise heart that “fears God”—the whole theme of Proverbs.

            There is no single way for women to “fear God”---thank goodness! And loving and fearing God does not require relentless performance and exhaustion. (If you see that raccoon-eyed woman giving up her nap, tell her “Don’t do it! God wants you to take a nap!”)                        So. I have laid down most of my sarcasm toward that woman , and sometimes even the bread board and the keyboard to remember that what God wants from me, from us, most of all: our hearts, our love, our attention. 
              And what do we get back from all of that good living? Surely someone as holy as King Lemuel’s mother would say nothing about reward.  Isn’t a wise life its own reward? Ah, but this woman (and her son recording these words) knows what we need! “Praise her!” she says. “Honor her!”  “Let her works bring her praise at the city gate!”                How can you hate this? Pay attention! Tired, Noble Women who Love God, take a break! Go outside. Take your camera, your notepad or nothing but your eyes. Find beauty, love God.   Even in your own house, if you rest a moment, you'll see it.  (This right here in my living room. The only flowers blooming---and I didn't even know it. Until now.) 
Allow others to praise you—and help you! Don’t be afraid of being honored. You deserve it.  You really do. God—and this not-so-Strong Alaskan Woman, and that very wise woman in Proverbs---says so.   

Drinking with the Crows+ Death Be Not Proud

On Sunday, sitting in church, I knew it was fall. During the sermon a raucous chorus began outside the window----ahhh yes,  there they were: the crows squabbling over the mountain ash berries. Soon they would be drunk.  I go to church for worship and joyful company. The crows flock to our church for the alcoholic berries.  We both emerge tipsy and happy, (but my Spirits last longer than theirs!)

     I watch for signs of fall every day, and I watch far differently than I watch for signs of spring. I feel like a child when watching for spring, ready to gambol and run. In Fall, I am practicing death. Soon, the drop of all leaves, the steady loss of light, the hunker beneath winds of howl and ice. We know what this is like.

This year, I am ready. I am not cringing. I am not examining my survival plan for the season. I am not dreading the coming dark.

As I look about me, I am remembering that dying, that winter's lapse into long sleep can bring furious beauty out of some. For these, the shorter days slow and halt the cholorphyll, and the leaves bloom out their truest colors: yellow's (xanthophylls),  oranges (carotinoids) and reds (anthycyanins) emerge. The loss of light ignites the trees, the bushes, even the lichen.

The same is true for us: when the sun goes down, when the light shrinks back, this is when our true colors emerge.

         And you know about the red salmon. How they stop eating as they leave the ocean, returning to the river of their birth, pointing all their strength now against the current to spill their eggs or their milt, and how, in all of this, while dying, they bleed into scarlet, brilliant, dying yet so alive . . .

But not all is beauty. Sometimes death is just dying without beauty or notice. Some salmon turn hideous as they struggle toward their spawning bed, just wraiths, leprous.

The banks of the salmon-blooming rivers are paced by bears, who smash the grass and gobble the salmon, leaving only ghastly pieces behind. 

The mountainsides hold death as well. We drive by, awake to the falling colors, and we do not see it at first. Just beauty, fading . …

and then we see and remember-----

the four who died in the plane crash on that mountain some falls ago . ..   

           It is written into the grain of the universe, this dying, this descent into dark, into cold, the yearly launch of the earth far, farther from the sun. And it is written in our cells as well since the time we all turned away from our Maker, launched off into a wild, cold place, far from the light. But we need not despair. Even in the midst of it, even when we descend into insomnia, depression and immobility, all this is covered, known, provided for-----from the very foundation of the world. From before the very creation of the world, it was done: the wheat kernel would die before shooting to new life, the old would give life to the young, a lamb would die for his people, and death only lights the trees on fire.

Because of this, for all of us, when we die little deaths along the way----a child turns his back and is silent for a decade, a father and a mother cannot love their children, a good friend dies, a father abandons his son, a beloved sister dies, your best friend betrays you . . .. We cry and we die a little, for short or long------but we do not die. We do not die. 

I am reminded of John Donne's famous sonnet, 
Death, be not proud

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

Two and three months ago I thought I was dead.  I go this weekend to lead a retreat. I go alive, full of joy, to speak about forgiveness, about light, about all the ways we're given to live, again.

We will live, all of us. The coming dark will ignite our truest colors. Death is swallowed up and we are all aflame.


Go, burn bright. Do not let death be proud.