Whole.

From Mel: Gail and I became friends online eight or nine years ago...or ten. I can't remember. A mutual friend introduced us to each others blogs and our reading provided comments, encouragement and later turned into a few emails and phone calls. I have since released that project but have continued to feel grateful for the writing Gail offers us. She is an adventurer, nurturer, traveler, survivor, advocate and truly, a beautiful human. In September she journeyed out here, to my desert for a few days and I will forever treasure that time, her words and this session. 

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From Gail:

What draws you to this project?
You draw me to this project, Mel, your soulfulness, your eye for beauty, your invitation to look at myself more deeply and more intentionally. Also I am drawn because it is far too easy to not look at myself - in a physical sense. I am an avid journaler and have been for decades, so I’m used to looking inside myself, but I don’t look at my outside as much, not with kind and loving eyes anyway. I can be pretty critical of my physical appearance sometimes. But photographs have often helped me look at myself with more kindness. This project is an opportunity for me to put my words, which tend to come relatively easily to me and for me, together with images of my face and body, which I tend to turn away from. This project is an opportunity for me to see and experience myself as a whole being, mind and body, word and flesh, soul and sinew. That’s what draws me to this project.

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I remember growing up in churches that didn’t believe in the leadership skills and qualities of women. Women couldn’t be elders or deacons or preachers or pastors. They could “give their testimony” or talk about their experiences on the mission field, but they, we were mostly relegated to taking care of children and vacation Bible school, and the like. That led me to feel like I was being silenced in the church, that my voice and my stories were fine to share with other women, but men needed to learn from and be taught by other men. I was well into my adult years before I acknowledged fully how hurtful that was to me and then felt comfortable in challenging that hierarchy in conversation with other people I knew. To ask questions about why things were the way that they were was tantamount to questioning the authority of the Bible. I remember asking, “Does the Bible really say that we shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage? I was promptly shown a Scripture passage, and then asked, “Why? Do you have a problem with that?” End of conversation.

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I am enormously grateful to be part of a faith community that welcomes questions, that encourages deeper questions, and doesn’t attempt to make all those present tow the same party line. We are free to study and think and explore and express our doubts all along the journey. Men and women serve and pray and work and wrestle with our questions together. We don’t always get it right, but we don’t expect that we will either. We don’t always know what the right answers are our many questions, but we don’t expect that we will. What a blessed relief after so many years of feeling silenced and dismissed and diminished - simply for being born female. Their welcoming spirit, their encouragement to me to grow more deeply and fully into my true and full self has spilled over into other areas of my life.

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I am a more compassionate woman and friend because of their love. I am more tender toward myself, my broken places, my scarred places because of their love. I am more courageous in asking hard questions and wrestling with hard truths because of the love of this community.

I am being healed through the love of this community. I am grateful.

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If I could change one thing about the way I see myself, I would see myself as beautiful. But even as I wrote those words, I asked myself, “Whose definition of beautiful? Whose approval do I seek? Why don’t I see myself as beautiful now? What would it take for me to see myself as beautiful?” And then another batch of questions floated up, “What happened to me that made me think I wasn’t beautiful, that I’m not beautiful? Whose standard or standards am I applying to myself?When will I stop caring what other people think of my appearance, of my life choices, of me? When will all the overlaid and inlaid messages of inadequacy be erased, deleted, discarded? What am I waiting for?”

I am enormously grateful for every step of the journey that has been my life. I have watched with dearly loved ones have suffered with mental illness, and with debilitating fear and loneliness. I was at my father’s side when he died of lung kanswer. I have I am scarred both inside and outside.
But I was also privileged to attend the births of three children, to bear witness to the miracle of new life. I have crossed oceans and continents, exploring towns and interacting with people that I never could have imagined. I have seen, lived, experienced grief, sorrow, love, passion, hope and despair. Despite all of that, after all of that, because of all of that the overarching attitude of my life is one of gratitude. I have survived 100% of what I have faced; I am grateful. I have wept and I have laughed, sometimes in the same moment; I am grateful. I have been held close and I have been rejected; I am grateful. I gave birth to two healthy, strong, plump and juicy babies; I am grateful.

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Following a breast kanswer diagnosis, I endured chemotherapy, a double mastectomy without reconstruction and a hysterectomy; I am grateful. This November, I will celebrate five years since that kanswer diagnosis; I am grateful.

I am determined to live all the days that are mine to live with joy and hope and peace, in spite of all the odds this miraculous, busted, beautiful, aching world and nation have stacked against me. I hope and pray that my life journey will continue to lead me into deeper growth and transformation and joy - even in the midst of the messiness and difficulties of life, perhaps most especially in the hard times.