Become as little children

To have a child's attention is a special thing. They only give you their attention if you deserve it. They are intuitive, direct, and hilarious to us hemmed-in adults. This refreshing behavior can get them into trouble in the wrong settings, but I think they are divine little poets most of the time.

In the same way, to write something people want to read, you have to think like a child, unburdened by ego. You have to tune your antenna just right so you can find the heart of things.


I talked to two old friends this week who made interesting comments about the blog. It reminded me how far I have come in my understanding of the writing process.

One friend (a literature-lover and a person who is impeccable with her word) said she hoped to get to a place where she felt like she could write as openly as she wanted. I know there is a masterful novel in her. I will patiently wait until her thoughts "compost" as Natalie Goldberg would say. It is absolutely true that you have to write through several layers of ego and pain and victimhood before you can allow the good stuff to channel through you.

Another friend hadn't talked to me in years and stumbled across my blog. He admitted that he was startled by the openness. I said, "Oh, right!" and I laughed at the thought that I was making people a little uncomfortable. Sometimes I forget that I have shared deeply personal pieces of my story and worked through big life questions right on this blog. 

To be honest, I still sweat and second-guess myself a little each time I hit "Publish". Sometimes I will reread a story later and feel incredibly happy that it was mine. Other posts are really just compost, but they are just as valuable. They are part of the process and...

I am a real person to whom writing is as important as breathing.

Writing is how I tell people I love them. It is also how I remind myself that I am worthy of love.

"I feel good because I don't care that she sees how I really am. I'm glad. I want someone to know me. We walk through so many myths of each other and ourselves; we are so thankful when someone sees us for who we are and accepts us." 

                               -Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg

Pa's Little Queen

Memaw and Pa lived in an old house at the end of Honey Lane. Pa’s old Cadillac was always parked in the grass near the shed. Their dog King was the first to greet visitors. He'd run up to the car so fast, you'd worry he'd be dead when you opened your car door.

Every old country house in Coffee County, Tennessee had that kind of dog - the kind of dog that lived outside, killed animals, and bayed for 15 minutes before anyone else could hear the tires coming down the gravel road. This also gave Pa time to put down his Bible, get out of his recliner, put on his hat, and walk out to meet you.

Holidays meant that we all gathered at their house. After hours of being trapped in the car, I would tear up the path to hug him. He would say nothing. He would put his hand in the pocket of his Wranglers and pull out a bunch of change. He’d look at me in the eyes to see what I’d do. After considering which coin was the shiniest and prettiest, I’d reach into his over-sized hand with both of my little hands and scoop up all the money.

He would hoot with laughter and say, “That’s Pa’s Little Queen!”

He loved this role play as much as he enjoyed the fact that I had won the title of Beauty Queen at age 4, 6 years before that when we lived in Tyler, Texas. I sang "Jesus Loves Me" for my talent. Apparently, it was the clincher.

Their large covered porch looked out over their crops, the watermelon patch, more hills, and large sweeping trees. Since my dad and many of his siblings drove in from other states, we would all sleep there and wake up to biscuits, gravy, sausage and eggs. You could eat in the steamy, cozy kitchen with Memaw in her dressing gown, her stove, and her boisterous laugh. This meant you would get first pick of the food. 

Or you could eat on the back porch and watch the mist disappear over the hills. I think I hovered over the threshold between the warm kitchen and the back porch because they were both so inviting. After breakfast the kids would find mud to stomp in, dig around in the basement for dusty board games, or try and convince Pa to take them fishing.

When I’d normally be doing homework in my room back in the Chicago suburbs, riding my bike to the 7-11, or be on my way to and from gymnastics practice, in Tennessee I touched worms, went barefoot, ate constantly, and laughed until my guts hurt.

There was always so much pie. I’m sure there were other kinds of wonderful food, but I loved all the pie. Unrestrained, giggling, and breathing heavily I would sneak under the bar where all the desserts lived just asking to be eaten. I’d slowly work up an innocent smile and ask for a piece of this or that. My Aunt Sherry who was always nearby would look at me like I was the hungriest saddest child on Earth and declare that I must have some pie. This was the same aunt who saw my little brother eat one bite out of every donut in a fresh box and loved every second of it.

After a day of talking and cleaning up from one meal and starting another, we would all gravitate to the back porch. With full bellies, the adults would sit and tell stories. The older kids, who weren’t on their mommas’ laps would scramble for seats near the door. After a while of hearing the regular stories, there would come a rare silence. I would hold my breath and wait.

The pregnant pause was followed by Pa’s thunderous voice. It boomed and crackled. It was rich and powerful. When Pa launched into a sermon you couldn’t take your eyes off of him. He had been an evangelist for most of his life.  He had traveled far and wide with his children singing behind him. Like any good Southern preacher he would sweat and wipe his brow with a handkerchief. That’s when you knew it was about to get really good.

His Bible was a part of him. He stood on it. (He loved to talk about standing on the Word of God and the congregation nearly exploded with Hallelujahs when he did this.) He pumped it up over his head toward God and waved it around in the air. His presence filled any space no matter the size. So one can imagine that the old house at the end of Honey Lane would brim over with the Holy Ghost pretty quickly.  He shouted and cried. He was magnificent.

One of my favorite sermons is mostly lost in my memory. On this particular evening, my cousins and I had stolen away down the gravel road while the adults started their prayer meeting. When we wandered back to the house, we could hear the speaking in tongues and feel the vibration of all the voices shouting “Amen!” to Brother Glen’s sermon before we could even see the glow from all the lights on the back porch.

As we crept into the house, it was strangely quiet. I slipped in behind a recliner and listened. Something Pa said stuck with me. He talked about having a dream of an eagle soaring over a mountaintop. He called it Monteagle. At this point in my life, I was already pretty sure that Pa talked to Jesus. When he started telling the story, it sounded like a beautiful poetry reading more than a pro-wrestler shouting down his opponent.

Pa’s voice was hushed and his eyes filled with tears. His face was turned up to the ceiling as if he was seeing the eagle above him as he told the story. I wish I could remember the words, but perhaps they were not as important as the truth I felt. Pa lived in his own beautiful world ruled and protected by a terrifying and redeeming God. The only thing he could have possibly done with his life was share that vision with anyone who would listen.

When monotony or lack of passion threaten to put out my light now as an adult, I think of the eagle flying overhead. I am immediately drawn up into it – able to see the entire landscape of my life as a beautiful story unfolding. I feel infinite peace and remember that I am Pa’s Little Queen.

Glensel Edmon Siler, a.k.a "Pa"

What does it mean to "Expect Joy"?

After talking with a reader recently, I realized that the definition of "happiness" differs from person to person.  As a seeker of joy and how to live in it, I wanted to explore that more.

To me, joy means being able to flow with what daily life brings you with relative evenness.

Living in Joy does not mean:
  • You will never face challenges.
  • You will always be smiling and zen.
  • You will handle every situation gracefully.

In my life, Joy is:
  • Understanding that when bad things happen, it isn't personal.
  • Not holding grudges against myself when I mess up.
  • Not holding grudges against other people when they mess up.
  • Digging underneath ugly emotions to figure out why I have them.
  • Always growing in lightness, and if I can't quite get there, as my Kundalini Yoga mentor puts it, "Leaning in the direction" is good enough.

  • Finally, joy is not always about fun. Sometimes joy is the result of something incredibly challenging.

You may have noticed that "Execting Joy" is the most repeated tag phrase throughout this blog. That is purposeful. Everything I share is born out my expectation that it will somehow grow joy.

"Expecting Joy" is a mindset.  It is a matter of trusting yourself to act from the centered truth.

The Flow, the Spirit, and the Teacher's Mantle

I got the call that every family tree keeper dreams about:

"Aunt Rachel, will you tell us about our family tree?"

I dropped everything and started shaping their particular branch of the family tree into a visual that would help my nieces understand their family through the last few hundred years.

It is no secret that I adore old photos, old stories, and the connections they reveal. I have learned that I am mostly German/English with the tiniest sliver of Cherokee (1/512 to be exact). It's even more illuminating to see how the patterns of world history related to my ancestors' immigration.

As I sifted through timelines and details, I pulled out a few individuals to highlight in our discussion.

I also put together a very "school-teachery" packet of all the printouts so they could have something to take home.

In trying to summarize the stories, I pulled out a common theme: people seeking religious freedom.

When I sat down with the girls, I showed them a zoomed out picture of all the people that came together at just the right time to lead to them.  With an arrow inserted at the time of the Civil War and the American Revolution to place their relatives in our country's history.

We talked about the Mennonites that stood against the Catholic Church and were expelled from country after country when they wouldn't agree to fight in wars. We tried to imagine together something that was so oppressive and important to them that they would pick up and move to a different land.

I also mentioned that when they were talking to their own nieces in 30 years they could mention all the sacrifices our ancestors made for their freedom.

Never before had I felt so distinctly the teacher's mantle come upon me. Ancestry research in general, and sharing my findings with others in particular put me right into the flow*, but this feeling was something greater than both those states of being.

It was the essence of my spirit and The Spirit singing the meaning of life. I envisioned an enormous wedge of family since the beginning of family, all pointing at my beautiful nieces. In the same breath I saw their own descendants stretching out infinitely from them. This meeting of two vast triangles come together at this moment in time.

Just like the lower chakras and the upper chakras can be represented as two triangles touching at their tips right at the heart center, or even as the Star of David (the poetic representation of our connection to God), these sweet children are the heart of our family right now.

Family is Now.

*The Flow - term coined by Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi referring to the state of being where time passes without notice because a person is so engrossed in their task


When I hear: "Everyone has a blog now." I nod my head and say, "Yes!" in an excited way because this is a good thing.

5 Reasons Blogs are Important

1.  Blogs are the democratization of writing. 

2.  They represent an independent spirit.

3.  It means people are brave enough to put themselves out there.  Bloggers either believe in their message enough to craft it into art, or they want to celebrate their families and share their special moments with others.

4.  They can awaken both writer and reader to a better life.

5.  Some blogs are the needed boost to push a writer on to something greater.

For me, writing is essential to every part of my existence. I write to function in basic ways -- to balance out unpredictable mood swings and primal outbursts. It helps me to know my own mind. It is a meditative practice in which each feeling and urge is broken down into its tiniest components. This helps me overcome brutish instincts and feed the more enlightened parts of myself.

        I write to stop time and for the safety of my memories.  I take comfort in the ritual of preserving the agonizing or joyful moments that stand out to me.  Anxiety and paranoia force a mind to repeatedly endure trauma and magnify its pain. Writing helps me look deeper into the scene to perceive it differently. I can bring greater focus to happy milestones that seem to get fuzzier each time I recall them, as well. In this way, recording the tiniest details of an event creates a work of art to be appreciated later in life.  It can also pinpoint precise moments in time that a person’s life shifts.

I write to use my voice. I cannot  and should not try to control other people. Loved ones who shrink from conversations and hide from pain may not ever change, speak, or listen. I will most likely never have the chance to ask them crucial questions and convey my outrage, or compassion, or love for them. Writing these feelings takes them out of my mind’s treadmill and releases them to angels whose job it is to carry away such burdens. I write to be heard and understood on my terms. The act of writing allows me to create my own sense of belonging regardless of how my family may treat me.

        I write to remind myself that my brain is capable of intelligent thought. A well-planned grocery list is a beautiful thing, but it is completed out of necessity. My writing is not for anyone else'e nutrition, cleanliness, or safety, but it feeds the parts of me that keep me both grounded and connected to the divine. It is just for the original me, not the wife, or the Mommy, or the "me" I put on sometimes as a front. It reminds me that even though I have sacrificed a traditional career for my children, I still have all the raw materials to be an inspiring woman outside of my family.

         Most importantly, I write to more purposefully shape the world into a loving place. I  choose to reveal the light that is here instead of shrinking into the darkness. The best way for me to make that light known is with carefully chosen words. Arranged in just the right order, those words can wake people up and wrap them in a loving embrace.

"What is God's Religion?"

This was a question my daughter asked me.  I hugged her tight and said, "Exactly."

She had been watching me hunched over scriptures, watching documentaries, and researching Christianity for quite a while.  We discussed some history, but of course she wanted to know: 

"Who's right?"

My answer to her was, "You are."

I have so many questions about religion, spirituality, and people's picture of God. I'm not troubled by the questions or not having the answers, because I will always seek truth and listen for it. 

These are some of the fascinating tidbits I picked up in my research:

1)     Did you know that some people believe that Yaweh has a wife, Ashera? It is written on ancient scrolls found in the Egyptian desert in the 1940s.  These stories also suggest that the divine masculine and divine feminine together form God.

Scholars guess that this picture of a Heavenly family was commonly accepted in the early days of Christianity, but since it didn't fit with the message the men in power at the time wanted to craft, those scriptures were left out of the canon. It would have been easier to maintain control over the masses by painting a picture of a wrathful God to be feared, and by marginalizing women.  Those sneaky females already bore children and beguiled men.  They must have seemed pretty scary to the men in charge.

Did you know that it has been hard for me to accept that there is one Heavenly Father and that's all? Because who am I then, but an offshoot, or an "other"? In my mind there is definitely a Heavenly Mother.  She is a missing piece from my story.

2)     The Greek translation for Armageddon is "a revealing" or "an unveiling"?