I talk honestly and openly about my experiences with mental illness, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue syndrome through the lens of feminism, fat acceptance and process theology. I also do recipe and book reviews. My mission is to spread the message that hope is always real for a better life, despite living in a world that is often very harsh.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It Will Not Be As It Was! A Theology of Hope

It’s been too long since I’ve shared one of my quotes from my inspirational quote book!  This one is from Ezekiel:
It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted shall be brought low.  Ezekiel 21:26

Sometimes I feel really lowly, like I should be ashamed of myself, even when I have done nothing wrong.   In fact, after my meltdown last week I struggled with some feelings of shame for several days.  Some fundamentalist, conservative religious people would say that that is a logical, natural feeling for human beings to have because of original sin.  We should all feel ashamed, because we, as humans, inherited a depraved nature when Adam and Eve first sinned.   These people would say that women especially are depraved, since it was Eve who first sinned. 

This is bullsh*t.

I believe we feel ashamed when we are afraid to own our own goodness.  As Marianne Williamson says, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”  It’s easy to say that we don’t matter, are inadequate, and are unimportant-to say that we are fabulous, wonderful, or fascinating just as we are goes against what society teaches us, especially if we are disabled, poor, fat, queer, of color, elderly, or trans just to name a few labels.  That is why scriptures like this are so important: they remind me that the qualities that society values are not ultimately important.  I am disabled.  I am fat.  I am queer.  These are not inherently bad qualities, but our society deems that they are.  It is all too easy for me to feel sorry for myself and to think that my life will never improve.  The first thing I need to remind myself when I start to feel that way is that my life really is not that bad; in fact, it’s really pretty good.  Even though I did have a meltdown last Friday, as my therapist reminded me today, I actually handled it really well.  I decided to cancel most of my plans for the weekend, so that I could give my body the rest that it obviously needed.   If I had not given myself that rest, then I might have resorted to acting out in some way, so even though I may feel “lowly,” my actions after my meltdown proved that I am still doing well.  My therapist also noticed that I was coming from a place of judgment and shame and encouraged me to give myself more praise.  Besides my continued emotional and mental growth, I also have a roof over my head, loving parents, friends and pets, food, books to read, a job, etc.   Just because society may think that there is something amiss in my life does not mean that it is actually so.  But even if there was, the hope that this scripture gives to me is that it says that the lowly will not be lowly forever-one day “the lowly will be exalted and the exalted shall be brought low.”  Now some people think this means this transformation will take place in heaven or on earth after some Armageddon and that we should just wait until the day when it happens.  But I am a person of action and do not like such a passive theology!  I believe that all of us believers, that is, those of us who believe in our own inherent goodness and who trust that Godde is always on our side, must continually work in a partnership with The Holy One to bring about this radical change.  This scripture reminds me that one day those of us who are marginalized-the disabled, poor, fat, queer, of color, elderly, trans, and more-will be lifted up to a position of honor and those who are honored now-the young, straight, cis-gendered, white people-will be lowered.  We will know when this has happened when our society values the histories and stories of today’s marginalized people.  When making places accessible to those with disabilities is not seen as an inconvenience, but as a necessary way to acknowledge that people with disabilities are whole people too.  It is not that I wish that the honored people of today become the marginalized or oppressed people of tomorrow, but rather that they agree to step aside and share their privilege with others.  I dream of a day when the people of power are willing to give up their power and stop thinking of others in a conquering or possessive mindset.  This alternative vision of society will not happen overnight, but we can start working on it at any time.  We begin building this new enterprise whenever those in power examine and acknowledge their own privilege and work to give it away.  We also begin building it whenever any of us, both those in power, but especially those who are not, recognize our own goodness and choose to act on that acknowledgement, instead of on our own fear.  “It will not be as it was,” says Godde.  This can be hard to believe, but if I am to believe in something I would rather believe that I am a product of Love and that together Love and I can change the world for the better than the self-deprecating, abusive theology that is often showcased in the media and in Church.  Hope is real, because “it will not be as it was: the lowly will be exalted and the exalted shall be brought low.”  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fair Trade Awareness - Help Stop Slavery

In late April I attended a fair trade luncheon put on by the organizations, Fair Trade Atlanta and Fair Trade USA.  I felt honored to be invited and the talk was very interesting.  Fair trade is something that I already believed in, but hearing the lecture really impressed me much more as to its importance.  Fair trade is important, because it discourages slavery by giving the artisans fair wages and it makes sure that environmental and social laws are met.  Did you know that there are currently 27 million slaves?  The number is staggering.  Fortunately, by ensuring that you buy fair trade whenever possible, you can help tell the slaveholders that we don’t want to use their slave labor anymore.  One positive that the organizer pointed out is that we (the United States) are the largest consumer, so we can make the most impact in the fight against slavery.  Unfortunately, there is only a 34% awareness of fair trade in America, as opposed to 84% awareness in many European countries.  That’s where bloggers like me hope to help.

Here’s a little more on how fair trade works: fair trade seeks to eliminate slavery by making sure that every aspect of the business supply chain (consumers, business owners, importers, and farmers/artisans) follow environmental, economical, and social guidelines.  As the name implies, fair trade sets a “fair” minimum wage that takes the cost of production and the cost of living into account.  It also tries to be socially conscious by putting some of the money into a cooperative to help out the whole community.

There are several different fair trade organizations with differing levels of safeguards against slavery, but the presentation focused on one called the Fair Trade Federation, which ensures that 100% of the businesses that it represents are fair trade certified.  What I liked about this organization is that it attempts to help keep the traditions and crafts of the area’s culture alive by supporting and teaching their traditional works.  Gloria, a Mayan woman from their Guatemala project talked about how fair trade helps her community.  She talked about how the program helps fosters independence and has enabled some of the women to send their daughters to college.  How the organization targets women is another thing that really impressed me-over and over again it was repeated that helping the women helps the community, because the women will ensure that the fruits of their labor will benefit their children.

Unfortunately, fair trade products can be hard to find.  The lecture said that fair trade coffee and chocolate are probably the easiest to find, which is great, because those are two of the products that have the highest rates of slave labor.  I am very happy to announce that Starbucks serves fair trade coffee, especially since I go there about once a week!  Hershey’s has said that it will be 100% certified by 2020, but unfortunately it is not yet clear exactly what certifications they will be meeting.  Still, the fact that a major company is at least leaning towards being fair trade gives me hope.

 For more information go to Fair Trade USA.  I especially like their website, because it has a listing of all the companies that are fair trade, so it is really handy.   Another great organization is the Fair Trade Federation. Also, sometimes companies use ethical practices, but don't want to pay the fee to be listed as fair trade, so if you don't see a company you like listed, go to their website and do a little more research.  For instance, Lush, my favorite body care store, and Bare Escentuals, my favorite makeup company, appears to be fair trade, even though they are not listed as such.

I am very happy that my makeup, body care, coffee products are already fair trade or ethically produced and I urge you to also buy ethically produced products whenever possible.  Slavery is illegal, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist, but using fair trade products can help send the message that consumers do not want to profit from slave labor. 
Isn't that a beautiful basket?  I love it!  It's a fair trade product from the  organization, Mayan Hands.  They have many lovely baskets, bags, scarves and more at reasonable prices.  Go to their website and use code GLORIA at checkout by May 31, 2013 and you'll get free shipping!

Recommended Link:

You are not worthless. You are not disposable. You are not merely the object of God’s wrath.  You do not deserve to be abused.
Let me say that again: 

You do not deserve to be abused.

You do not deserve to be threatened. You do not deserve to suffer. You do not deserve to be hated.
You are profoundly, infinitely, and intimately known and loved. You are valuable. You are precious. You matter.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Time To Slow Down and Post More

Hello!  I’m back!  It seems as soon as the April writer’s challenge ended, my life sped up and I was too busy to write.  I’m not the kind of person who can stay in the fast lane for long before I become too overwhelmed and have a meltdown, which is precisely what I did on Friday.  I recognized that I was beginning to feel overwhelmed several weeks ago, but I felt like everything I had agreed to do was equally important and so I did not amend my schedule.  In fact, I added more to it!  If everything would just happen the way that I planned them to, then I would be able to do everything, or so I thought.  Of course, this did not happen.  Friday I went to my art therapy class where I found out that it was canceled and that's when my body decided that it was time for a meltdown.  I sobbed and sobbed.  I felt like I was a failure-if only I had been  perfect, than the class wouldn't have been canceled.  I cried all the way home and I continued carrying on for several more hours.  In the end I decided to cancel all of my plans for this weekend, because it was obvious to me that I desperately needed a lot of rest. Now that I have had a day to recover, I can see that the class being canceled had nothing to do with me and I feel a bit embarrassed.  My sponsor said that it's good that I noticed the signs of being overwhelmed ahead of time, but that next time I need to actually tell somebody how I'm feeling, so that we can look at my calendar together and figure out what I can do to prevent another meltdown.  I feel so much better now that I've spent the day relaxing. I will certainly remember this lesson for a long time.  Besides, I really don't like spending so much time away from my blog!

Even though I stopped posting here for a while I still kept on writing for the first week of May.  In honor of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome awareness day on May 12, I wrote a three part article called, The Truth is a Powerful Medicine, for the website MyFibro.com.  In it, I address some of the stigma surrounding those illnesses and some of the foolish, hurtful things that people sometimes say.  Eventually I will post my earlier recovery story from Psyweb.com and this story on an easy to find link on the side of my blog, but for now, click here:  The Truth Is A Powerful Medicine Part I, Part II, and Part III.  Most people seem to like the first article the best, although my favorite is the last one.

My next post will be a report on the fair trade luncheon I attended in April.  Hopefully, I'll post it soon!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

April 2013 Book Reviews

 Before I get to my book review, I am happy to announce that psyweb.com has now published the second part of my recovery story.  They liked my story so much that they asked me to write another article about how I deal with my fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome for their sister website, myfibro.com.  How exciting!  I'll let you know when you can read it.  Also, you may have noticed that Hope Is Real! now has its own domain name!  You can now find this blog at the address hopepersists.com  Hopepersists is my twitter handle, so hopefully that will make it fairly easy to remember.  Don't worry though, if you put in my old address, you will automatically rerouted to the right site.  Having my own domain name is more professional and it is the first step in my journey to turning this blog into a book.  I am very excited about my progress!  

But on to the books:
Both books I finished in April were for my classics book club, although I wasn't able to attend the meetup, because my aunt was in town.  We had fun!
The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James  Joyce – I would give this book about three and a half or maybe four stars.  I am fascinated about stream of consciousness writing and just Modernism in general so I had wanted to read this book for a long time.  To my surprise though, much of the book didn’t really seem to be fully stream of consciousness to me.  It is supposed to be the more mainstream companion to his most major work, Ulysses, which I have also always wanted to read.  I will read it one day!  The story is simply a character study of you guessed it-the artist as a young man, although the main character’s name is Stephen Dedalus.  Even though I was not raised Catholic, I could relate to his fundamentalist upbringing with his worries about going to Hell.  My parents are not fundamentalist, but they couldn’t save me from the influence of the youth minister that came to our church when I was preteen and tasting the first fruits of depression.  She was pretty conservative and I started ruminating and worrying about whether I was good enough and whether I would go to heaven or not.  Unfortunately, I think that is a fairly common experience in the Bible Belt. Nearly everyone I knew at the time belonged to a church’s youth group and while it helped us gain some friends, it also helped us gain a lot of neuroses too.  If I ever have kids, I will do more investigating on the youth minister’s beliefs and practices before letting my children stay in his or hers care.  Back to the book, I really enjoyed and related to it until about three fourths through and then the story just seemed to fizzle out.  It took me a long time to read it, because my interest just fell flat towards the end, which is why I did not give it five stars.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – This book, I enjoyed the whole way through.  It was a fun read and I read it pretty fast.  I wasn’t too excited about reading it, because I already knew the general story, but it turned out to be very enjoyable.  Dorian Gray really turns into a despicable character and it’s interesting to try to figure out what is making him so.  Is it really all because of Lord Henry’s influence?  Or perhaps it is Basil’s fault for praising Gray’s looks so much.  Because Gray is so stunning, no one wants to place the blame on Gray, himself-surely a person’s inner beauty is reflected on the outside, right?  This same mindset reminds me of the privilege bestowed on thin people in today’s society.  A fat person is considered ugly by today’s standards and lazy and unhealthy and unintelligent.  Surely, we say, their looks indicate that there is something wrong with their character...  I really recommend this book-it’s fun, exciting, and still raises questions about the way we are quick to excuse the actions of the people our society deems beautiful and our society’s preoccupation with youth. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

HAWMC Day 29 and 30 - Praising My Strengths

Today is officially the last day of the Wego Health Activist Writer's Monthly Challenge!  What I liked about it was that the daily prompts helped me write more often and to think about topics that I wouldn't normally write about.  (That was my very short recap-day 30's topic.)  But I am going to go back in time by one day and complete yesterday's prompt-talk about three things that I can do well.  What a fun topic, right?! 

Finally, I have a prompt that lends itself easily to food-porn!  I haven't done a post about food in a while and I am glad to do so.  I really do love to cook and I love trying out new recipes.  I am a very harsh critic, which is one of the reasons why I haven't been posting recipes as much as usual-I like to only post recipes that I really like and I tend to be a harsher critic than my parents are.  For instance, while I liked this recipe for stuffed bell peppers, my mom absolutely loved it.  I made it a long time ago and had almost completely forgotten about this recipe until yesterday when I ran across these pictures.  I made it on a day when my dad was out of town, because he doesn't like peppers of any kind.  Fortunately, his being out of town coincided with a package of three green bell peppers that were on manager special.  Some people think it's gross to eat food that is on manager special, but I don't see a problem with it as long as I cook the food right away. 

Stuffed Bell Peppers

I had never made stuffed bell peppers before, but had always wanted to.  I finally got my chance when my dad went out of town!  I thought this recipe had good results and the finished product looked pretty!  (The recipe is actually from weight watchers.  They have some pretty good recipes that are good in their own right, in my opinion.)

  •     3 medium green bell peppers, halved and seeded
  •     1 medium uncooked onion, chopped
  •     2 cloves garlic cloves, minced
  •     1 4 1/2 oz canned diced tomatoes
  •     1 can of corn 
  •     1/2 tsp chili powder
  •     1/2 tsp table salt
  •     1/4 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  •      1 cup cooked brown rice

Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a large pot of boiling water, cook the bell peppers until tender, about 4 minutes, then drain. To prepare the filling, spray a large nonstick skillet with olive oil nonstick spray and set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, corn, chili powder, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are blended, about 10 minutes. Stir in the rice.
 Stuff the filling into each bell-pepper half. Place the stuffed peppers in a shallow 2-quart casserole. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, 20–25 minutes. Yields 2 bell-pepper halves per serving.

Here's a close-up shot:
The result was pretty satisfying-much more filling than I thought they would be.  I would probably add a little mozzarella if I make them again, but my mom thought they were perfect.  To make them spicier, you could use a can of rotel, instead of plain diced tomatoes.  I love the presentation!

I have learned that I love to cook and that I cook pretty well.  I made an awesome dish of roasted brussel sprouts, ham, and mushrooms the other day that I liked so much that I am going to make them again tomorrow.  I will definitely share the recipe with you sometime soon.

Another thing that I do well is write poetry.  Well, I am good at writing in general, but right now I am thinking about some poetry that I wrote recently.  I usually write my poetry when I am upset.  It really helps me process my complex emotions.  I find that it is much easier to express myself through poetry than in prose when I am really upset-I feel like the short, descriptive phrases are able to reach much further into my psyche than is possible than with prose.  There is a closeness, a vulnerability, that belongs to poetry and poetry alone.  Here is a poem I wrote during Easter to explore my own theology:

Am I A Christian?

I call myself a Christian.
But I don’t believe in a virgin birth.
And I don’t believe that Christ rose from the dead,
Except metaphorically.

I believe we all live eternally
In the memories of the people
Still “alive.”
We all live forever-
Our bodies decompose
And become one with the Earth.
We give life to the trees,
Who in turn give us life
Through the oxygen they provide.
In this way we never
Fully die and we never
Were really born.

Godde is the life that connects us.
I learn about living in the Holy
One’s way through the stories of the Bible.
Christ’s way is the path I choose to follow.

 I call myself Christian,
But I am tired of pretending.
Sometimes I feel like
I don’t belong anywhere.

It is hard to hear
About ghosts moving furniture
And people ascending into heaven
Or descending to Hell
Without rolling my eyes.

 I don’t believe in Hell
And I don’t think I believe in Heaven.
I don’t need to-
I am satisfied with the cycle circle of life.

I am looking for someone like-minded;
For a place where I don’t have to pretend.
I don’t want to hide.

At church, we speak the same language,
But we mean so many different things.
That is the way of the world though.

I am tired of speaking in metaphors.
I want to find someone
Who can match my passion and
Intensity, dedication and logic,
But who is not over sixty or married.
I am afraid I am alone.
I am afraid that there is no one
Who wants to break down the
Walls of the patriarchy with me;
No one who feels the pull of the Sacred so deeply
That I choose to keep on living in my mortal form,
Even though that means a lifetime of longing
For what I cannot have-
A lifetime longing for death
And yet knowing that my peace
Would not please Godde.

 Sometimes it seems like this world
Is a terrible injustice-
A terrible price to pay
For the beauty of being alive.
I really like it.  It expresses some of the spiritual issues that I was inwardly wrestling with at the time.  You can also tell that I was a little depressed and extremely frustrated by the language I use towards the end.  I don't feel depressed or nearly that frustrated anymore, which goes to prove how helpful poetry can be!  This brings me to my third good quality - I have good insight and I enjoy exploring my feelings and ideas.  I used to think that everybody did that, but as I have met more and more people in therapeutic settings, such as outpatient hospital groups and therapy classes, I have learned that many people do not possess such self-awareness, insight, or even a willingness to try to understand themselves.  I am almost always willing to explore my issues!  Being self-aware, I believe, helps me enormously.  When I am sure of my beliefs, my strengths, and even my weaknesses, then I am more self confident.  I know what I can be proud of and what I can improve.  I believe that all human beings are imbued with more power than we can even imagine and the only way that we can begin to realize it is by being willing to look inward and explore and get to know ourselves intimately.  This kind of self exploration involves vulnerability and I think a lot of people are not willing to go that far.  When a person is vulnerable, she risks being hurt, disappointed, and feeling intensely uncomfortable.  All of these things are painful, but the reward at the end is the satisfaction of knowing yourself more intimately.  Getting to know myself is a job that never ends, but it is a job that I really enjoy doing.  Besides, getting to know myself by writing poetry and by creating art is fun to me and incredibly satisfying.  There is a joy that comes from being able to express myself fully and well.

This has been a longer post than usual-I hope you enjoyed it!  What are three of your strengths?