Sometimes We Can Walk Through the Mystery and Not Even Know It’s There: Thoughts on the Cluster That Is 2017

December 17, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

I have been moving at a frenetic pace, friends. Every minute of every day it seems, and I hardly have words to put to the whirlwind of desperate activity in my mind.

Two thousand seventeen has been a series of flash floods; powerful, destructive, and pulling everything off its foundation. I feel like I’ve spent December trying to distract myself from the devastation — QUICK, BETH! DO ALL THE THINGS! COOK! CLEAN! TRAVEL! MAKE CINNAMON BREAD, STAT! — and simultaneously picking through the rubble to see what’s left.

Refugee crisis = FLASH FLOOD.

Brexit = FLASH FLOOD. 

America elected the Lyingest President of All Time = FLASH FLOOD.

Trump, who brags about sexually assaulting women and bans immigrants during the largest displacement of vulnerable populations the world has ever known is mainly supported by Christian Evangelicals. FLASH FLOOD. 

Our umbrella group of churches has removed us from membership. FLASH FLOOD.

The camp our kids have always attended — the one at which Greg and I met and volunteered for 24 years — has notified those of our ilk (who are affirming and inclusive of our gender and sexual minority (GSM) neighbors) that we are no longer allowed to be in leadership roles. FLASH FLOOD.

And, of course, the knock-down, gut-punch, breathless realization that our GSM friends were systematically wounded by our churches and our camp all along, while we remained silent and were complicit in maintaining the power structure that caused such pain. FLASH FLOOD. And ugh. 

Flash floods, friends — calamity after calamity — are running down the hills of 2017 and crashing together at the bottom, the confluence too tumultuous to separate into streams that can can be crafted into concise explanations. Words become hard to shape from the madness, and my pace in trying to outrun the landslides keeps increasing. It’s like being manic, I suspect, this relentless frenzy I find so appealing lately. Like being on uppers, rushing from cooking to baking to cleaning to shopping to wrapping to cooking again. Running to events. Running up the stairs because I forgot my wallet. Running out the door to the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing, and the next. No time to rest or else 2017 will catch me, and I’ll be swept away. 

My right butt cheek hurts — it has for days, so if anyone can explain why and what to do about a butt injury other than, you know, rest, please do tell — and also my left bicep, the space between my shoulders, and the back of my skull. I should sit down. I should go to sleep at a reasonable time. I should stop watching zit popping videos until midnight. Instead, I pop ibuprofen like it’s candy and keep going as fast as my internal monologue which never stops. “THOSE 6 LOAVES OF CINNAMON BREAD ARE NOT GOING TO MAKE THEMSELVES, BETH. DO MORE.”

Do you get it, friends? Do you know what I’m saying? 

I mean, I realize I could blame “the Season.” There’s so much to do for Christmas, after all, but if I’m honest it’s not Christmas. Sadly, no. The pressure comes from me in my haste to busy myself out of feeling all that 2017 has had to offer. 

But I went to church this morning — our church that kept us when the other churches had no room for us in the inn — and I sat with the cool college humans, and I sang the Christmas songs, and I discovered I have something important to tell those of us who are the Frenzied Folks right now. I remembered something critical. 

We are in the middle of the mess. 
Which also means we need to be on the lookout for the magic.

I FORGOT for a while. I forgot that there is ALWAYS magic in the mess. Even though we talk about it ALL THE TIME here, I forgot until Pastor Kim talked about the Mystery. 

Pastor Kim is our children’s pastor. She wore her grey dreads up in a yellow wrap this morning, and she was very beautiful and very brave as she taught her lesson to the kids on the big brown rug, with us, the host of larger humans, looking on. 

“Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there,” she said. “And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Jesus to be born, but Jesus is also already here.”

Now, remember, friends, that you can substitute “Love” for “Jesus” anytime we get too Jesusy up in here, and the point is the same. Love made flesh and dwelling among us. Love that challenges everything we thought we knew. Love that champions the lonely and distressed. Love that is fierce. Love that makes the weak strong. Love that never fails. 

Sometimes we can walk through a Mystery and not even know it’s there. And this is a time of Mystery, because we are waiting for Love to be born, but Love is also already here. 

THE WORLD IS SUCH A MESS RIGHT NOW. But there is magic in the mess, friends. There is magic here, too, for those of us on the lookout. There is magic, called Love, and even as we’re longing for it, not sure we can wait for it to be made REAL, to be BORN already and dwell among us, it’s also already here. And we get to make more.

The flash floods of 2017 took out some of our foundations, sure, but only the faulty ones. False worship of America. False adherence to Silence and Compliance. The false idol of Maintaining the Status Quo. But I’m digging through the rubble now, and I’m starting to hit bedrock; a firmer foundations than the former could ever be. Two thousand seventeen has given me the gift of sight. The cards are on the table. We know where folks stand. We know who’s in. We know who’s out. And we get to pick where and with whom we stand. We get to pick what we stand for. 

As for me and my people, we serve Love. That’s it. That’s the foundation. So we stand with the vulnerable. We make camp in the wreckage with the outcasts. We share whatever little we have as refugees of another life, even if all we have is our words. We are the Magic-Bringers, after all. The Agents of Love. The Justice Mongers. The Voice Amplifiers. We are the Hope-ers who sit in the darkness and believe the dawn is coming. We are the ones grasp the hands of our neighbors and whisper, “You don’t wait alone.”

This year has asked a lot of us. A LOT, a lot. And next year looks to bring its own share of the mess, so we must be very brave. But remember how the Christmas story started, with an angel saying, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. We have every reason to be, but we can defy fear anyway. We can embrace the promise of dawn after darkness. We can search for the magic in the mess. And we can stand together on Love…

…which I’m sending you now,

This I Believe: On Self Acceptance by Eleanor Gustavel

December 7, 2017 in But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

Eleanor Gustavel is one of my heroes. She spins words like magic, she’s not afraid of the mess, and I hope to be like her when I grow up. Eleanor is also 16, and I’ve never met her in person — not that in person matters when we’ve met by heart.

Eleanor’s mama, Wendy, introduced us a while back. Two years ago, maybe? I remember it was Christmas time, and I remember Eleanor wasn’t OK. She wasn’t well. She was mired in the mud and the muck of which I’m far too familiar as her brain sucked her under, into the mental darkness. Her mama was wasn’t OK, either, as mamas never are when their children suffer and don’t know their way out of the dark. And so Wendy and Eleanor and I spent that Christmas texting and emailing, sitting figuratively together and waving in the dark, hoping dawn would come swiftly, but whispering to each other that we weren’t alone while we waited. 

And dawn came, like it always does. And then day. And then dusk. And then dark. And then dawn again. Eleanor lived. Then Eleanor thrived. Then Eleanor found her voice, which is brilliant. And her brain still betrays her. And she is still the Phoenix, rising from the ashes, again and again. 

I love Eleanor to the moon. And it’s with a tender heart, I share her words below with you, knowing you’ll love her like I do.




On Self Acceptance
by Eleanor Gustavel

I believe in self acceptance.

Self love is simply a stupid, fabricated, superficial idea. We never love ourselves 100 percent of the time, but we can learn to accept ourselves. We can learn to look at ourselves and accept what we see, even if we don’t love it.

As a child I loved who I was as a person, but as time passed ideas seeped into my brain like slow, black, cruel molasses saying I wasn’t good enough.

I started to notice how my hair doesn’t fall like a perfect silk curtain, and I grow out of my child sized jeans and suddenly I start to pay a lot more attention to those little embroidered numbers on the tags.

I start to measure my worth in the calories in an apple, slip smoke out of my nostrils and eat the ashes of who I used to be because they’re calorie free, and I’m not pretty unless I can fit in a size zero.



I am nothing.

I drink my tears to drown my sorrows.

I start to notice my nose and how ugly and hook shaped it is. And I hate my cheekbones because Angelina Jolie wears them better.

I cover up my feelings with foundation and put glitter on my eyelids because I just want to shine like a crystal slipper, but I look more like a crystal pipe.

I live in a funhouse, full of carnival mirrors. Bending me, breaking me. I shatter.

Acceptance came when I decided to breathe in and out without the smoke, without the tears, without the calculator in my head.

Acceptance came when I decided to fight those monsters that snuck into my head.

Acceptance isn’t easy.

Acceptance is a tear streaked face. Acceptance is red puffy eyes. Acceptance is many hours of self hatred turned into determination.

Acceptance is messy, and beautiful, and scary, and necessary.

This I believe.

Beth told me to write a bio about myself. I was going to write it last night, but I’m a procrastinator. Oops. My name is Eleanor Gustavel. I am 16 years old and from Rhode Island. I enjoy dying my hair unnatural colors and playing as many instruments as I can teach myself. I’m a trapeze artist, an animal lover, and a free spirit. Oh, and I’m clinically depressed, suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and have Anorexia Nervosa. I have self harmed, attempted suicide, been in an abusive relationship, and been bullied. That is my icebreaker. I‘m laying it all out for you because my writing is my therapy, and those who read it are people I could be helping out of a dark place. I lay it all out because I want people to know they’re not alone and it’s okay to be not okay. My writing has helped me through my darkest moments. From being hospitalized, to being bullied in the halls at school, when I take pen to paper I feel a little bit better. I don’t write for sympathy, but for empathy. I hope for my writing to make people more empathetic, not towards me, but towards the rest of the world and the struggles people may be going through.

Quick Reminder, You Glamorous, Glamorous Moms: You’re Not Alone

November 25, 2017 in Beth, Family, Funny by Beth Woolsey


So you know how you’re sitting quietly on the couch, minding your own business, next to the Christmas tree with the soft lights all around, and you think to yourself, what a wonderful world?

And you know how you’ve stayed in your short, cotton nightie all day because you have that sniffling, sneezing, stuffy head cold going around, but it doesn’t matter because no one’s going to see you anyway? You’re comfy and the ibuprofen’s working, so who even cares that your legs are prickly, your bra is God knows where, and your make-up is left over from yesterday so you’re sporting that whole strung-out raccoon look? 

And you know how you have a quilt on top of you and a pillow behind your back, and nothing pressing, and the children, praise Jesus, are all busy elsewhere and quiet so they’re probably setting the house on fire but who cares because you have, like, ten whole minutes entirely to yourself?

You’re with me, right?


You know how you got yourself a cup of French pressed coffee with just the right amount of cream, and it’s warm and perfect, and you set it down on the little table next to you, and you’re actually, for once in your life, drinking it before it gets cold?

And then you know how one of those children, bless his heart, decides to get the games down from the very top shelf of the bookcase behind the Christmas tree? And so said child must step over you and onto the arm of the couch and lean over the coffee and hang onto the tree for balance?

And then you know how the child overbalances and the tree tips and the games fall and the coffee crashes to ground and so does the child and most of the ornaments and there’s coffee and game pieces and shards of glass everywhere?

And you’re fine with all of that because the child is OK and you don’t have to go to the emergency room, so you pull the child from the mess and send him to get a towel and a broom and tell him it’s OK and everyone makes messes and I’ll clean this one up because, in our family, we help each other?

And you know how you feel rather kind and very heroic and like you rocked the poop out of motherhood, reacting with grace and compassion even though you’re sick and you could have been a total ass to your kid?

And then, you know how, in an effort to step in neither coffee nor glass, you drape yourself decorously over the couch to clean the mess? With grace and elegance? Pretty much exactly like a 1950s housewife who wears heels and pearls to polish her already pristine home?

And you know how your kid, that little turd, grabs your camera and takes a pic so you get to find it on your phone later and reminisce?

You know?

You know, right?

Well, me, too. And I just want you to know when that happens… you’re not alone, friend.

You are definitely not alone in this glamorous, glamorous life.

With love,

Me, too. But I didn’t realize it for 25 years.

October 16, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

Have you seen #MeToo rolling around social media? It goes like this,

Me too.

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Copy and paste.


So first I want to say, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you’re not alone. Me, too.

Second, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you should ONLY copy and paste this as your status if YOU ARE READY TO DO SO. Because not only need we not feel shame for being harassed and assaulted, we also need not feel shame about when we’re ready to talk about it. Some of us are ready. We have processed enough of our stories and/or trauma that we can say it out loud, even to the world wide webs. Some of us haven’t. Some of us aren’t ready. Some of us, by sharing now, would be retraumatizing ourselves and making it worse, not better. Pretty please, dearest friend, share when YOU are ready, not when the world decides you should be. OK? OK. Glad we had this chat.

And third, this is my story.

[Trigger/Content Warning: Sexual Assault]

I didn’t let my teenage daughter have a job in high school. Instead, I paid for dance tuition — usually hundreds of dollars per month we had to scrimp and save — so she could dance 20 hours each week and participate in conventions and competitions that cost hundreds more.

I was alternately embarrassed and relieved by this decision. Embarrassed because we were choosing to live a rather elitist lifestyle, pouring money into our child and not requiring her to earn it. Relieved because she wouldn’t be dry-humped and felt up by her McDonald’s manager in the drive-thru like I was at age 16. 

Oh, sure; dance taught Abby a hard work ethic, physical fitness, goal setting, and time management. It was a fantastic part of her education, and she was grateful, but still; LOTS OF MONEY and rhinestones and my kid graduated high school without ever working a job beyond the occasional babysitting gig. This was not at all how I was raised, nor is it how my husband was, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we were setting her up for a lifetime of entitlement. After all, we hear all the time about today’s teenagers who are “too good” for honest, hard work at less glamorous places like fast food restaurants. But every time I thought she could at least work a fryer during the summer and pursue dance, every time I tried to convince myself that just because it happened to me didn’t mean it was going to happen to her — every time I thought of her alone, closing the restaurant at midnight with a man bigger and older than her, my hands got sweaty, and my heart pumped faster, and I knew I was never going to ask her to apply to grill burgers. Not ever. I couldn’t do it.

Which is how, at age 40ish, I finally realized I was sexually assaulted. 

It wasn’t that I’d dismissed what happened to me working swing shifts at McDonald’s. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten. It was simply — and this has come to be even more terrifying to me than assault amnesia — that I believed my experience was wholly unremarkable. As normal as tripping over a curb or missing my seat in 6th grade math class and crashing to the ground. Which is to say, an experience that is memorable and uncomfortable but not anything out of the ordinary or worth commenting on.

THAT is how ingrained sexual assault is in our culture. THAT is how embedded. THAT is how common and mundane. That 16-year-old me thought having a man push me into a corner and rub his erection on me while trying to grab my boobs was just another, normal, unfortunate work condition. A bummer of a surprise like seeing how much of my paycheck went to taxes. A meh, whatever, shrug-it-off situation. Something we girls bitched about in the work room while we ate our $3.49 of free food per shift. But also something none of us even considered reporting. Not because it wouldn’t do any good, but because clothed sexual assault didn’t seem to rise to the “Must Report” level. Any ejaculate was contained in his pants, after all, and, if we said no and pushed him off enough, if we smiled at him so he wouldn’t be mad, he left us alone for the rest of the shift.

I read that now, and I go, DEAR GOD. I mean, DEAR LORD JESUS IN HEAVEN, WHAT THE HELL? It seems impossible to me now that I didn’t see it then. But it’s still true.

I didn’t tell my parents. The same parents who were always so good about telling me no one has the right to touch me in the bathing suit area and that I could talk to them anytime about anything which was true. I didn’t tell them because it didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t tell them until they, too, wondered why Abby wasn’t doing time at a local burger joint. My dad pumped gas as a teen. My husband washed cars at his dad’s used car dealership. I flipped burgers and worked a cash register. Shouldn’t Abby learn the same way? I didn’t tell them until we were having the conversation in my kitchen, and I answered casually, “I just don’t think I want my kid to be dry-humped by her manager.” I said it casually because I still felt casual about it. But as soon as it fell from my mouth, I did a mental double take. And ever since, I’ve been realizing how very ingrained assault is in our culture, our communities, and our lives as women navigating an unfriendly world.

My story is unbelievably common. Unbelievably normal. Obvious assault and harassment experiences we didn’t see as obvious or as assault because we are subconsciously, insidiously trained not to recognize it. One of my girlfriends posted this yesterday, “I was just about to post how extraordinarily lucky I feel to have never been a victim of assault as a woman. Then I remembered the time I was drugged in a bar and (thank goodness) passed out while still in the bar, spending the night in the hospital. I guess that’s another “me too.””

We are trained not to see it, and we are trained to belittle it when it happens to us.Well, sure; I’ve felt unsafe hundreds of times around men, but it’s not as bad as what happened to ____.” Or “He only felt on top of my clothes so I wouldn’t say it was assault, exactly.” Or “It wasn’t technically rape, so… Or I knew better than to go to his room alone.” We have unlimited excuses and dismissals, really. I know I did. Until I had to decide what was OK for my daughter. It turns out what happened to me is definitely Not OK if it happens to her. Which means it’s Not OK that it happened to me. This particular assault was Not OK, and neither are the other times I was grabbed and groped; neither are the dozens of times I was sexually harassed with words and actions. Who knew? 

I’m telling you this story, friends, for specific reasons, which are these:

1. I refuse to be ashamed or embarrassed about this, and I will absolutely do my part to name the things that are Not OK — the things that Must Change — so our world has to face it and do better.

2. Not everyone can share her story. Not yet. Maybe not ever. And I want you to know, whether or not you are able to declare your “me, too,” I still see you. And so do countless others. We know you’re there. We know that for every person who can share, there are myriad more who can’t. We see you. We’re waving in the dark. You’re not alone.

3. You’re also not alone if you, like me, have suddenly become aware. You’re not alone if you realized belatedly you were assaulted. You’re not alone as you reluctantly claim membership in this club. You’re not alone as you realize how widespread this problem is and how brainwashed you were not to see it earlier. You’re not alone as you grieve your discovery of both your own experiences and of our culture as it actually is, rather than as you thought it was. And you’re not alone as you wonder what in the world we might actually do to change it.

Me, too, friends. Me, too.

With love, always,





I have poop-water on my floor. Wanna hang out?

October 10, 2017 in Uncategorized by Beth Woolsey

We spent the weekend with our toilet in the backyard because a visiting child tried to flush it. This, of course, caused water to overflow the bowl, gush from the floor, and flood the bathroom. I don’t know how the water gushed from the floor, exactly. Greg told me, but all I caught was plumbing, something something, seal, poop-water, and locking the bathroom door forever. So a kid broke our toilet, and it’s Situation Normal around here; an ongoing bio-hazard and Greg is gagging in the corner. To be clear, I don’t blame the child. I blame the child’s parents for a) teaching the child to flush, a mistake we certainly haven’t made, and b) failing to teach the child that Nothing Works at the Woolsey House, Ever.

Also, our fence gate latch and garage door are broken, our car has a flat tire, the fridge water dispenser won’t stop dispensing so we fixed it with masking tape, one kid is having a (series of) meltdown(s), two kids are recovering from feeling barfy, and, while we had a lovely time on our trip, we’re also glad to be home again. Truly glad. This is us, and I like us, even with poop-water on our floor and really poor plumbing skills.


We are who we are, friends.

I started writing this post to let you know about retreats I have coming up next month and throughout 2018, and to invite you to join me, but it’s suddenly occurred to me that I just wrote about living in poop-water, and now I’m going to see if you want to hang out. I’d rewrite this whole thing, except I feel like our relationship is past the point of pretending, so I’ll just say…

I have poop-water on my floor. Wanna hang out?

We won’t be hanging out in poop-water. The retreats are in a pristine and lovely house that’s sort of Anti-Poop-Water. Or not anti-poop-water necessarily — like, I don’t think the house has some sort of doctrinal position that’s specifically opposed to poop-water, because, let’s be honest, poop-water happens — but rather absent poop-water. Like, it’s a whole retreat to get away from poop-water, both literal and figurative. A Poop-Water Respite Retreat, if you will. Which suddenly makes me feel like I wasn’t nearly creative enough — or accurate enough — in naming these retreats, because, while I suspect there are a whole lot of parents like me who would like to attend a Writing Retreat, or a Food and Wine Retreat, or a Book Retreat, or a Mindfulness Retreat, there are probably many, many more who would love to attend a retreat that lets us rest from All the Poop-Water, you know?

You know.

I know you know.

That’s why you’re my people.

Do come hang out with me if you can. Details below.

With love, as always,





I’m getting ready to release our 2018 Retreat dates. Mostly, the retreats are how I get to hang out with you, introduce you to other friends of mine who are experts in their fields and all-around rad people, while doing things I think are, well, fun. This year, in addition to the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat where we give shape to the messy and beautiful stores in each of us, and the Mindfulness Retreat where we learn to be kind to ourselves and to breathe, we’re adding a Food and Wine Retreat — self-explanatory — and a Book-Lovers’ Retreat, with three books, one memoir, one fantasy, and one TBD to read ahead of time and discuss together. I could not be more happy about these options, and I hope you’re excited, too! Here are the dates:

  • Book-Lovers’ Retreat — January 25-29, 2018
  • Food and Wine Retreat — March 8-12, 2018
  • Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat — May 3-6, 2018
  • Mindfulness Retreat — November 8-12, 2018

These four, small group retreats will be located at our previous retreat venue — a stunning, 8-bedroom home with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean in Seal Rock, Oregon — and will continue our tradition of rest, respite, supportive community, incredible food and wine, and new friends all around.

Registration for the 2018 retreat will begin soon. We’ll be releasing all the details shortly. However, if you want to get a jump on registration and hold your spot first in line, please contact Maggie Peterson, retreat registrar, at to let her know which retreat you’d like to attend. This does not obligate you to attend, but does ensure you’ll be contacted via email as soon as registration opens.

Why I Write Anyway

September 11, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

My kids went back to school this week, hooray and praise the Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and School. The college student is colleging, the high schoolers are rocking the hell out of their special ed classes, and the tinies, who aren’t tiny at all at 10 years old, but who I insist on thinking of as my sweet babies, are busy making me alternatively grateful we’re taking a year to travel and homeschool, and also making me question my sanity.

Our house is full of joy and laughter and yelling about whose turn it is to do the dishes. (NOT MINE, FYI.) We’ve been running the usual ragged race and then stopping everything — refusing to budge from the couch because we are EXHAUSTED and we CANNOT DO IT ALL and DAMN IT, NO ONE CAN MAKE US ADHERE TO THESE UNREASONABLE CULTURAL NORMS — back and forth in rapid succession. RUN. Collapse. RUN. Collapse. RUN.

Our family is very Both/And this way. Both high achieving and total quitters. Both kind and utter assholes. Both content and uneasy. Both sure we are living life to its fullest and failing at All the Things.

And threaded through this mundane, magical life this week — my dog will not quit barking at the fence — I’ve been reading the responses to my last blog post, How I Became a Heretic.

It’s always a strange thing when a piece of writing gains wide traction and that’s the snippet of life where people enter the story. Always a strange thing to welcome people to my online living room mid-conversation. But that’s how this space works, like an open house where people come and go, leaving grace and grime in their wake, because they’re human like me, and we humans are nothing if not muddled and magnificent.

And there has been grace. SO MUCH GRACE and solidarity and gentleness and “me, too’s.” But there’s also the grime that comes hand-in-hand with saying what we really think out loud…

“You won’t change anyone’s mind.”

“You’re just shouting in the dark.”

“You’re so bitter.”

“I feel sorry for you.”

“Satan has deceived you.”

‘Well, at least when I disagree, I have the courtesy to keep my mouth shut. I don’t go spreading it around on the internet.”

“I just wish there was ONE place on the internet I could count on seeing no political posts and no religious posts. ONE PLACE. I guess your blog isn’t it. Unfollowing.”

And, my personal favorite, because I think it’s supposed to scare me, but I find it the most comforting of all, “God will judge you,” because God’s other name is Love, and I’m 100% good with Love as my judge. 100%.

I’ve heard all those comments and more this week. And lots of you dear friends have rushed to my defense. I love you for that; I do, but I need you to hear this: It’s OK. Those comments are fine when they’re directed at me. They’re inevitable when I post about faith and doubt and learning to breathe free. People who adhere to the rules and behavior guides tend to feel very threatened when others challenge and break them. I think that’s understandable. I think it’s a sympathetic position. I think we can nod and feel sad and move on. And I think we can direct our attention where it needs to go, which is not into arguing a theological position, but into loving our neighbors as ourselves and figuring out who our neighbors really are.

I grew up in a conservative culture in which silence is revered. Even if we disagree, we would never be so impolite or impolitic to say such a thing out loud. That would create conflict. Unnecessary arguments. Division when the church should breed unity. Besides, ours was a patriarchal culture where men were the heads of households and women were submissive. Surely, as a woman, I wouldn’t challenge what a man told me.

And so, in order to be an upstanding member of the community, I was quiet. And even if I didn’t understand why a rule was the way it was, or thought perhaps we were going about reading the rule all wrong, I knew not to question it. Or, rather, I was allowed to question all I wanted, for a very brief time, as long I was also willing to accept, immediately and wholeheartedly, the authoritative answer and explanation. Doubt was absolutely allowed as long as it was shortly followed by Belief and Adherence.

I didn’t want to lose my people. I didn’t want to lose my community. I didn’t want to lose my childhood friends or my college friends or my young adult friends and camp friends. I didn’t want to lose my fellow parent-friends. I didn’t want to lose my family. And, since those groups were all anchored in the church, I was quiet. I didn’t want to be cast out. I didn’t want to be unwelcome. I didn’t want to be shunned or “released” from the only body of people I knew.

Interestingly, I was never worried about losing Jesus. Never. Not once. I was always confident in that guy, although I get why many of my fellow heretics can’t buy the whole Jesus/God thing. #YouDoYou

So I was taught to shush. To accept the parameters as defined for me, not by a higher power, but by those who assumed authority over me, complete with their iron interpretations of the Bible. I was taught to fly under the radar. I was taught to swallow my discomfort. And I lived that way for years and years and years and years.

Until I realized all of that was about me. All of my worries about “I.” All of my fears about my own loneliness. All of my dread focused on what I might lose. And none of it — none — about those Jesus asked us to love.

During my years of silence, I never worried for my ostracized neighbor. I never worried for those the church had already lost. I never worried for the people of color who were largely absent from our midst or considered why the church was so very segregated. I never worried for gender and sexual minorities. All they had to do, after all, to be part of our community was to enter the church and do what I did — be silent and accept the truth as it was defined for me.

It took me years, though, to see. Years to listen well and hear. Years for comprehension to dawn that the church was keeping me from loving my neighbor as myself. Years to recognize my silence was complicit in their suffering. Years to turn away from trying to keep a false peace in favor of championing the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the hurting, and the lonely. Years to reroute my concern for myself to asking my neighbors how I can love them better. Years to believe what my vulnerable neighbors told me.

That’s why I’m no longer quiet. That’s why I write anyway. That’s why the criticism doesn’t matter, and neither do the efforts to shame or shun or muzzle me back to silence. Because it’s not about me at all. It’s not about worrying about making the in-crowd uncomfortable. It’s not about worrying about being labeled a Trouble Maker or a Deceiver or a Loud Mouth or Talking Out of Turn. Not anymore.

Finally, it’s about the people it should have been about all along. It’s about the people who need to know they’re loved. It’s about fighting to make them a safe space. It’s about clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry, and comforting those who grieve. It’s about creating a new community when the old locks its doors.

So, to the critics, it’s fine. Say what you like to me. (Although if you direct it toward others in this space I’ll shut that shit straight down. My house, my rules.) I’m a big girl. I know who I am. I know what I believe. I know why I believe it. And I know who it’s for.

With love,



A Small List of Meant To’s

September 2, 2017 in Beth, But Seriously by Beth Woolsey

I meant to be skinnier than this by now. I meant to stop eating All the Cheetos. I meant to be less snappy at Greg, and to make healthier food for my kids.

I meant to be more Godly. To, like, actually love those who hate me, and to do it with ease after so much practice.

I meant to have my book proposal done, not just close to done. And I meant to have my room picked all the way up, including the nightstand which instead has a tub of buttercream frosting; cinnamon graham crackers, mostly gone; a dusty hair band; 4 green earplugs and one orange, partially chewed by the dog; two empty glasses of water; various Lego shrapnel; and a Special Rock gifted to me by one of the children that looks like Every Other Rock, but apparently isn’t.

I meant to have the front yard manicured. Or, if not manicured, at least not mostly dead with blackberry brambles and wisteria and the occasional baby oak tree wrestling for control. Whenever I see someone having a yard sale, I wonder whether I can sell my yard, too. Surely there’s someone out there who needs an extra front yard.

I meant to have organized my laundry room such that I can find panties and a bra. Also, shirts. Also, pants.

I meant to be a gardener, boxes brimming with late summer bounty. I have the boxes, but I haven’t seen them for years, hidden as they are under one wild yard growth or another.

I meant to be a letter writer and a card sender and a person who keeps personal correspondence alive. I meant to be a checkbook balancer and an excellent money manager and have more than $50.05 in savings.

I meant to read books that make me smarter and make me think and make me cry and feel triumphant, but if anyone needs a somewhat smutty and wholly spectacular vampire or werewolf series, let me know; I’m apparently your girl.

I meant to be cultured and to prefer spending time in museums and art galleries than pubs and tiny coffee shops. I meant to be able to pull off elegant should the situation arise.

I meant to have bathrooms that smell like freshly laundered clothes, or, at the very least, like buckets of bleach, instead of like stale kid urine that went there to die. For that matter, I meant to have clean laundry that smells like freshly laundered clothes instead of old cheese and green olives.

After 23 years, I meant to have marriage figured out, and, after 19 years, to know which parenting manual actually works.

I meant to do all these things and a thousand thousand more. I meant to, but HAHAHAHAHA! Nope.

But I’ll tell you a tiny secret. I also decided to be a better friend to myself. To treat myself like I’d treat a girlfriend, sharing her microfailures over wine, making little confessions of Not Enough, and spilling her small bits of shame, hoping she can be known and still loved. The kind who listens to the admissions, then shrugs and hugs and says, But look at all you ARE. Look at all you are, friend. Look at the way you drink in life. Look at how you love your littles and your bigs. Look at how you love your world. Look at how you TRY. Yes? Look at YOU and see the You I do. The one who is so much more than the Meant To’s. So much more than Could Have Been’s. So much more than the Not Enoughs. You, my friend, are fabulous. You, my friend, are seen. You, my friend, are loved BECAUSE of who you are, not in spite of it. 

So in case you have a list of Meant To’s — one that you rehearse — a list of all your wrongs which is the opposite of Love — look at all you ARE, friend, and trust me here for just one second:

You are worthy of infinite love.

You just are.

That’s as true a truth as I know.

Now read it again and trust it for one more second. And one more. And one more. Until you can hear it echo inside of you for a minute. And then an hour. I hear that’s possible. And then a day.

I’ll practice, too.

With love,