Photo by NASA on Unsplash

I spend a lot of time thinking about the years I spent all-in with evangelical Christianity, mostly because I spend a lot of time writing about them. Often, my focus is on my personal history and how the messages I received shaped me, both then and now. There are a lot of emotions that come along with this kind of autobiographical excavation, including anger at what was ingrained in me before I even had a chance to decide whether I personally believed it, and shame at having stuck with such ludicrous and harmful tenets for so long.

Every once in…

A need to scoop out every square inch
of fat and softness from inside my skin
floods me, like how you can’t help scraping
the last fingertip of peanut butter out of the jar.

My hands, detached and ghostly, wrap
relieved around my own tautening body
as it narrows and wanes. My firm grip folds me
into a packed wad, scrunched up like a spitball,

small as not-even-physically possible,
squeezing hard, engaging my core. I get high
off of every millimeter by which I can reduce myself
in space. The pressure on my palms from holding

my own mass compacted, evolution undone,
telling me how well I’ve smashed my substance
down is orgasmic. This is how to deal with anger.
This is how I make it work.

Two parents,
only in their twenties
at first, before everyone
believed in therapy.

A church.

The television
(but I turned out alright.)

Family friends
who fed us Kix and carob and
on whose swing set I sliced open
the gentle pad of my pinky finger.
We washed the ruby blood away with
icy water from the grass-green hose.

Back to that church:
slick stone floors, broad dark-stained
beams overhead, an empty cross, unforgiving
pews. My mother let me rest my head on her lap
during sermons. We stopped for donuts on the way home
every week.

A mid-sized, ocean-front town,

If my life is a ship
I’m too often below deck.
Can’t see what’s rocking,
can’t measure the waves

by any gauge set. I think
I’m gonna be sick
in the heart,
in the guts is where

I was taught truth is. But
seeing is believing (I also heard
someone say) so I clamber
to the crow’s nest. Look

how small the waves are,
how far away from land
you really are.

God showed up in my kitchen last night
while I was chopping Brussels sprouts.

At first I thought it was my husband, but he
usually says hello.

Then I worried I’d cut my finger,
but it was only a flash of red nail polish

dark enough in the kitchen light to look
like something coming from a vein. Thankfully

everything that was supposed to stay inside me
stayed inside me, especially since God was there.

That would have been embarrassing. To be so exposed
in front of God. Can you imagine?

According the story I grew up with, the world started in a garden. It was a perfect place, full of lush vegetation, inhabited by two innocent people and every kind of animal.

Well, it was almost perfect. One of the animals — the snake — had a plan to trick the people, to rob them of their innocence. He found the woman alone, and convinced her to break the one rule she and her companion had been given by their creator: not to eat from a particular tree in the garden. …

I light a candle every morning
before I begin to write.

An offering

to someone, maybe me,

just in case there’s magic in the
flick of the match, the catch of the wick,
the silent smoldering I don’t even notice
once I step into my mind.

I have a collection of scents,
just waiting to burn.

Dainty containers of perfumed wax
placed semi-thoughtlessly
on various shelves around the house.

These days I’m melting through
the insides of a mason jar called Christmas Thyme, its
parchment-paper label held snug with a piece
of twice-wrapped twine.

In the far corner of my desk
is a postcard
I once liked enough to frame.

It says, “Get Shit Done”

with a very serious black font.

“I know,” is what I say
every morning as I begin to write.

Is it good to have five
Pieces going at once?
Three essays and two
Poems (including this
One). The books tell me
To follow inspiration and
Also to avoid distraction.
They tell me to write
Every day and also for
A certain amount of time
Every day and also a
Certain amount of words
Every day. They tell me
To take breaks and never
Break my habits. I tell
Myself that someone
Will want to read these
Words in this particular
Order and also that I am
Amateur, un-curated, un-
Known. Screw the gate
Keepers, but oh I want
The approval of the gate
Keepers. Will I post this
On social media or wait
To see whether a small
Group of similarly un-
Known people decide it

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Four years ago I started my blog Weird Name by writing a bunch of essays about losing my religion. Literally, I used R.E.M.’s famous lyric as the title for a 12-part series detailing how and why I had come to a place where I was ready to say goodbye to Christianity for good.

It was the obvious option, I suppose, that title. Low hanging fruit. But it was apt, too. What I’d experienced in walking away from Christianity did feel like a kind of loss. I was happier, freer, but I was also grieving what the faith had cost me…

Learning I Need to be Nice to Myself (Despite All Messages to the Contrary)

Looking down through the aquamarine waters surrounding the Cyclades.

If you were to create a bar graph comparing the frequencies of the different types of compliments I’ve received over the course of my life, the column for “polite” and all its synonyms would tower over the other affirmations like the Burj Khalifa soars over Dubai.

When my mother took me and my sister (7 and 4 years old, respectively) to visit my great-grandmother in Germany, she received numerous comments about how polite we were from fellow passengers on the long transatlantic flight. …

Grete Howland

Grete is a writer and educator living in Portland, OR. She writes about growing up in Evangelical Christianity and finding freedom on the other side of belief.

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