Comics I Love: Ms Marvel

Last year for Christmas, LKH got me a pretty amazing gift, a year-long subscription to Marvel Unlimited, Marvel Comics' online reading service that gives users access to all of Marvels digital comics up to about six months ago. It is an amazing service for comic fans like me who haven't collected in a long time and want to catch up with all their old favourites.

Aside from the joy of catching up with X-Men and Spider-Man, I was able to read the first arc in one of Marvel's recently launched titles, Ms. Marvel. I am a little late to the Kamala Khan love-fest, but this book is too good not to add my praises.

If you are a comics fan, you have surely heard of Kamala Khan by this point. She is one of the most high profile characters Marvel has introduced in years, and critics have lauded the book. For any of you uninitiated to its marvels (see what I did there), Kamala is a Pakistani-American teen growing up in her hometown of Jersey City. She is exposed to Terrigen Mists (a common source for superpowers in the Marvel Universe), and she gains the ability to alter her size and shape. This is a dream come true for Kamala who is a total superhero fangirl and takes on the recently abandoned codename of her idol, Carol Danvers (now known as Captain Marvel - another book you should check out). She protects her hometown from superhuman threats while trying to live a normal teenage life.

Her comic has the most parallels to early Spider-Man, but what makes it particularly interesting is that it adds an element that is often lacking from superhero comics, religious faith. Kamala is Muslim, and her faith and Pakistani heritage play large roles in her identity as much as she wrestles with both. It is refreshing to see a comic deal with religion in such a respectful and thoughtful way. Given that the editor, Sana Amanat, used inspiration from her own life in the creation of the character, and that she hired another Muslim woman, G. Willow Wilson, to write the book, it should be no surprise that the character's personal life feels so particularly well developed. (I should also take a quick moment to mention how much I love Adrian Alphona's art in this book as well.)

What I love most about the book is how normal her adolescent struggles are, starting with her relationships. Her parents are loving, but she finds them overprotective. Her brother is very devout, and she thinks this is a bit weird. Her female best friend is rebellious, which she admires though she tends to be a bit more of a rule follower. Her male best friend annoys her most of the time though he also helps her quite a bit and harbours a secret crush.
After hearing all the accolades about this new hero, I was intrigued, but I was probably most surprised by how much I could relate my own life to hers. She is a good kid who is a complete nerd and makes good grades. (Sounds familiar.) She is devoted to her faith though some aspects of it really drive her crazy. (Yeah, been there.) She wants to make a positive difference in her community, and she abhors violence. (This is starting to be a little too familiar.)

I worried Marvel might tokenise her a little, particularly with all they did to promote the book, but the artists working on this have far too much respect for the character and what she represents to allow that. Instead they have created a character who normalises the experiences of adolescents from minority backgrounds. It is hard to imagine anyone reading this book and not being able to relate to it in some way, and it is almost as hard to imagine them not loving Kamala almost immediately. We need more positive portrayals of Muslims in popular culture, and Ms. Marvel sets the standard.

Minor spoilers ahead: My favourite part of the first arc is early on when Kamala first gains her powers. She cannot control them consciously and has accidentally transformed into the likeness of Carol Danvers, her idol. Her response is surprising, even to herself. She always assumed that being white, blonde, beautiful, and powerful would solve all her problems. She idealised whiteness and heroism. When she finds herself in Ms Marvel's body, she is actually disturbed. She isn't Kamala anymore, and the tight fitting clothes are embarrassing. She feels like an imposter and wants to go back to normal. In just a few masterful panels, this book captures so poignantly the coming of age and assimilation issues that many minority teens face. From that point on, I was hooked. Her team up with Wolverine later on in the arc is another highlight as it forces her to consider whether it is possible to be a superhero without resorting to violence to protect people.

I also love the dorky humour in this book. It deals with serious issues, but the humour prevents it from becoming too heavy-handed. It also just makes it really fun to read. When the latest issue appears in my library, I am always very excited to jump in. That says quite a bit about the quality of the book because I am clearly not the target audience.

When Dash is old enough for comics, this is the first one I want to introduce her to. There are few other superheroes I would more want her to emulate.

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Toddler Traveler Challenges

Travel has always been an important part of our lives and we have been determined to keep it up since we brought a child into our world. Living in London, frequent work breaks, budgeting, travel experience and a child with an adventurous/adaptable temperament have all made this possible.

That's not to say it comes without challenges. Here are some things our 2-year-old did on our latest holiday to Edinburgh:

* We began our drive at 4 - she fell asleep immediately for 2 hours. By the time we stopped for dinner and got back in the car, she was wide awake and impossible to entertain for the dark hours (enter cartoons on the iPad - she probably had it planned that way).

* The Edinburgh Zoo has two pandas (there are only 6 in Europe). You have to book tickets ahead of time in 15-minute increments to see them. It's a huge deal and the pandas are so cute. As we listened to the keeper talk in the panda exhibit, Dash laid down on the floor and shouted, "no pandas! want see monkeys!"

* Laying down in protest is apparently her new thing - which was inconvenient because she did it just about everywhere. On busy Princes Street, at the coast, in abbey ruins, at the park (because it wasn't a playground), on multiple sidewalks, etc. The best incident occurred in the throne room of Hollyrood Palace. It's almost like she was saying, "I'm the queen!"

* We rarely stay in hotels anymore because it's cheaper to rent an apartment, nice to have more than one room and (perhaps most importantly) we don't have to tidy up before we leave in the mornings. Dash left this place relatively intact - apart from drawing on the door, flooding the bathroom (by pouring cups of water from the bath tap on the floor) and getting her fingers stuck in the closet.

* Her preferred mode of transportation is for us to carry her - but not in a proper carrier because that's too restrictive. The stroller is fine for a bit, walking is ok for a while. But she wants to be carried on our hip or maybe Daddy's shoulders. To entice her to walk, we made up games. Like, we picked up a handful of leaves and promised to throw them if she walked to the lamppost. Or, we hid behind stone pillars at the palace so she would chase us there. It got a little ridiculous.

Really, all of these things would have occurred at home. Insert "supermarket" for "throne room" or "local sidewalk" for "Princes Street," etc., you get the idea. Why not be somewhere different and interesting for these antics?

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Dear George Ezra: Your Biggest Fan is a Two-year-old Girl

My two-year-old daughter, Daphne, is truly your biggest fan.

As an infant, Daphne hated the car. Driving was the worst kind of torture for all of us. In an attempt to soothe everyone, I put on Wanted on Voyage. For some reason or another, she decided she liked you. So your CD stayed in the car, on repeat.

By the time she turned one, my husband and I made sure we had your album on our phones at the ready. It calmed her down, made her smile and helped everyone breathe. When my parents came to visit, they frantically asked, "What's the name of the artist she likes so we can download?"

It's a kind of magic. I wish we had video of how, mid-meltdown, we'd turn on one of your songs and she'd stop crying. Or how she'd wiggle her shoulders to your music before she could stand.

By the time she could talk, she began to request you. "Ezwa?"

I'm not a fan of "kid" music, so I'm ever so grateful that she latched onto you. No "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" here - just "Blame it on Me." Songs 1-6 are her favourite. Sometimes we get to 7 and she fusses for us to start over. "Cassio" is perhaps the best, as we change it to "Daphne-o." Each time we try to introduce a new artist, she protests.

She is much too impatient to wait between songs. "More! More!" she exclaims during the five-second break.

It's fitting that she decided to love a travel-themed album. We've taken her to six countries and even been to Budapest so far - taking you with us everywhere.

So, thank you. Thank you for making my daughter so happy. Thank you for not making us listen to kid songs over and over. Thank you for creating music that delights a very special little girl and inspires her parents.

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Breastfeeding: the Ending

I heard very few weaning stories before it was time for Dash and I to finish our nursing relationship. More would have been helpful, so here's mine.

I hoped to breastfeed for two years (or longer), given the research I had done about the health and psychological benefits for both of us. I also said I would breastfeed for as long as it was good for both of us, even if that didn't meet my timeframe.

After I got through the first three months of feeding, breastfeeding honestly didn't feel like a chore. We had an incredible bond, my husband was incredibly supportive and (bonus) I ate whatever I wanted and lost weight. As I was on maternity leave for a year (thanks, England!), she was with me all the time and bf on demand made her disdain for bottle easier to cope with. I was lucky and had few issues (an early tongue tie, mastitis once) and even though she fed every few hours day and night it was such a part of the rhythm of my life that I didn't mind so much. Of course, I had my moments/days of wanting to stop immediately because I felt she was sucking the life out of me, but those were few and far between.

At ten months, I was over night feeding and we did Jay Gordon's gentle night weaning program which worked well for us. I occasionally fed her during the night (especially during times of teething or travel), but for the most part, continued to nurse D throughout the day whenever she asked.

Around 14 months, I dropped to three feeds per day - morning, afternoon and night. This was good for my part-time teaching schedule and made me feel more freedom. Again, this wasn't a hard and fast rule, but a general pattern. I also stopped feeding from the right side as my milk supply had basically dried up and she always preferred the left anyway.

Around 18 months, she started going to sleep on her own. Although she didn't need me to feed her to sleep since about a year, I did much of the time because it was easy and special. But she suddenly started sleeping better and began to enjoy a little time on her own before sleep at night. She slept longer stretches (which made me feel great because I had heard from soooo many people that breastfed babies don't sleep well and weaning them is what changes that). All of this occurred as the natural progression of her independence.

As she was losing interest in breastfeeding and I was losing patience with it, I dropped the afternoon feed and shortly thereafter dropped the morning. At that point, it was clear that we were both ready to end that part of our relationship, but I went back and forth about it.

At 19 months, I planned for my last feed to be the night before our two-week spring break started and my parents arrived for a long visit. I figured this process was going to be harder on me than it was on Dash, so I wanted the extra support of my family and the distraction of a holiday.

I didn't know how insane the hormonal change would make me feel. I got terrible acne (worse than when I was pregnant) and ugly cried on multiple occasions. Emotionally, the grief was so intense that I felt like someone was dying. I was mourning the end of this relationship (with a hefty dose of hormones). I had shared my body with my baby for nearly 10 months of pregnancy and 20 months of breastfeeding. As we don't plan to have another biological baby, I knew this would be my only experience.

The second to last feed was actually the hardest. I don't know why necessarily. Our last time nursing was a Friday, and we spent the whole day together. We went to lunch and shopping (I bought myself a weaning present) and took a cuddle nap. My partner was working that night so we had a quick, sweet (except that she bit me for the first time in ages) feed in the "milk chair" and that was that.

My parents arrived, E and I spent the night away together, and then we all went on a trip. I was happy, my skin was clearing and I had come to terms with the decision to stop breastfeeding. Because I stopped so gradually, I had no pain or soreness.

Dash's grief hadn't caught up to her until Easter Sunday, nearly 10 days after the last feed. She was rather ill and overstimulated and overtired and she reverted. She asked me for milk, lunged for my breast and sobbed when I said that milk was all done. She wouldn't let me even hold her, so I laid on the bed next to her and we both cried ourselves to sleep. It was awful.

I went to my parent's hotel room and climbed in bed next to my mom. She assured me that I was a good mom, I had had a special nursing relationship and there would be other transitions in our mother/daughter relationship that would be much more challenging than this one (like when your daughter moves away to England - not that she's still upset about that :). Dash woke up happy and played with the grandparents while Eric held me as I watched hours of TV, exhausted.

After Easter, all was well. This transition sounds dramatic because it was for me... I know others for whom it's been more smooth and others for whom it's been more painful because it wasn't their choice. I am SO glad I have pictures of Dash feeding at my breast. I recommend all mamas take photos of their babies feeding (breast, bottle, whatever) because it is such a huge and defining part of your life.

Thankfully, Dash still likes to drink her milk in my lap, cuddled in the nursing position (for a few moments anyway). I treasure my nursling.

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Rambling poem

Hope is a wellspring.
Love is indeterminant.
Rising above it all because I'm still worthwhile.
Finding new paths.
The best revenge is a life well lived.
Hope is a waterfall.
Love is hard.
Growing up,
Growing older,
Growing together,
Growing apart.
Small unit strengthens and it's enough.
Tragedy is not an event.
Racism is not past.
Terror is not what we think it is.
Just so tired.
Even dreams aren't restful.
Friends are my society.
Stillness can be moving.
Peace can be empowering.
Real justice is not earthly.
Reconsidering spirituality and it's not scary.
Christ is still center but there's no belt on my bible.
Becoming an Ally.
Or trying.
Hope is a rainy day.
The Gospel is peace.
My uncertainty might be strength.
Take a risk.
Suffer judgement.
Seek equality.
Endure scorn.
Few are willing to stand up.
Injustice is overwhelming.
Paralyzed by the fear that I contribute.
But not enough to make all the changes.
How many lives.
Hope is a river.
Blue eyes, curly hair.
So much love.
Moving onwards,
Moving upwards.
Coming to terms and still unsettled.
Clinging to hope.
Holding to love.

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Travel Tip Tuesday: Piqued Interest

A few years ago, I was watching a programme of house hunters searching for a holiday home in Slovenia. I had never heard of Slovenia. I was kind of embarrassed about that because it looked so beautiful. We are finally going to make our way there on an upcoming holiday.

Lake Bled, Slovenia by Mark Gregory via Flickr

When I mentioned to a friend that we would be in France for Christmas, she said she'd be in Aix-en-Provence with her family if we wanted to meet up. I knew not one thing about Aix, but her description got me interested and after a bit or research we decided to spend four days there. What a charming town!

"Budapest is the new Prague" said a friend of a friend. This was kind of a ridiculous thing to say, but it perked my ears to both cities. I looked them both up, we went eventually to both and loved them.

All this to say inspiration for travel can come from a number of places. In my early galavanting across Europe I stuck to the tried and true London, Paris and Italy plan. I thoroughly enjoyed those trips but am glad to have ventured further from the norm.

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Travel Tip Tuesday: Apartment and House Rental

We love hotels. We especially love how comfortable they are and that someone cleans your room for you every day.

But when we added a child to our travel list we started to see the benefit of more than one room, a kitchen and a home base.

It also turns out that it can be quite a bit cheaper.

Then there's the added bonus of staying in a residential area. You get a flavour of local life instead of sequestered holiday life.

We have stayed in a second floor city apartment (with two sets of stairs before you reached the elevator, which was a good workout with a stroller), a fishing cottage, a basement level duplex on a cobblestone street, a historic home in a small town and an efficiency by a bowling alley (that one wasn't great, but it was cheap).

Sites we like:


It's also wise to ask your international friends or peruse house-swapping forums. You might get lucky!

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Travel Tip Tuesday: Packing Inventory

One of the biggest time-savers to packing is to take inventory of your travel items while you are actually on holiday so you can prepare for the next time.

I put a piece of paper in my toiletries kit so I can record what I've run out of. It's usually a pretty boring list like toothpaste, deodorant and q-tips. But it saves me time and also the threat of oversight. I also look through my carry-on for things like gum and chapstick that always seem to disappear.

I also try to do shopping to replace such items pretty soon after we return home. This will not rule out the possibility of a run to the drugstore the night before our next trip but it takes away some of the headache.

Lindsay_NYC via Flickr

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Travel Tip Tuesday: Monthly Budget

I start planning for a trip months in advance. This gives me a concrete holiday to look forward to and allows us to spread out the cost.

"Calendar of Modern Times" by Kristoffersonschach via Flickr

For example, I purchase the plane tickets one month, accommodation the next and items needed for travel the next. You don't quite feel the weight of it that way.

Of course, if you are disciplined you could just save money over a period of months and purchase everything at once. But this is more realistic for me!

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Write Something

When I was writing my dissertation, I often had trouble getting started on any given day. My adviser gave me this advice: "Write something, anything." Sometimes I would write the worst sentence or work on a footnote and edit a passage from the day before, but it got me started.

I have a rather odd case of writer's block these days.

It's not that I don't have things to say - because I always have things to say. I am not devoid of opinions or analyses or conjectures.

It's not that I don't like to write - because I do. It's always been cathartic for me. I love words and putting them together and bringing my thoughts to a page.

It's not even that I'm overwhelmed. It would be easy for me to say that motherhood, work, relationships, expat life and everything else going on in my life is just too much. But it's not.

It's more that I'm underwhelmed.

My life is great. My little family is the centre of my world, I enjoy my part-time teaching (for the most part) and I get to travel a lot. Why not write about that?

I have several articles by bloggers and journalists and psychologists. The wealth of information available on every topic is crazy. At times, I feel buried under all this info. But much of the time I shut off from it.

I'm underwhelmed by opinions on every-little-thing. I believe my voice matters and I think my experiences could help other people. But I just feel like I want to shrug my shoulders at all this content.

This is a rambly way to say that I actually appreciate the diversity of published opinions but I also think it's not enough for me.

What does this have to do with my writer's block?

I want to get over it.

I journaled extensively from age 15 and have shelves of bound books filled with hand-writing from my teenage years. I recognize the intrinsic value of writing and even if I feel a bit "meh" about the whole thing, it makes me feel better.

I write on this forum to semi-publicly share my thoughts and pretend like I have an audience. It's good for me to write something, write anything.

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Baby Wearing

I'm asked a lot about baby-wearing - specifically what carriers I recommend.

The benefits of baby-wearing are immense. I loved the bonding, the convenience and the freedom. Wearing a baby helped stave off post-natal depression as it allowed me to get things done, get out of the house and provided closeness with my baby that fostered lots of oxytocin! I have great memories of navigating giant crowds at Christmas markets and 

Here's some info on babywearing:
Why Wear a Baby?

Baby Wearing basics

I have found that it takes practice and it's helpful to try it most days - it gets them more comfortable and helps you build up your muscles. They also might need different wraps for different stages/moods.

I was gifted several carriers so I got to try a number of different ones. If I was going to buy just two, I'd go with a ring sling and a soft-structured carrier.

Ring slings can be put on with one hand, which is convenient because you're often holding a baby. It's small so I throw it in my bag or stroller in case I need to wear her. Be sure to get one with a woven fabric as it's more secure and one with a long tail of fabric. I have a Diva Milano and love it:

We also love our soft-structured carrier. Ergo and Lillebaby are great. They are easy to put on and provide equally distributed weight. We have toured Chicago, hiked in the Alps and spent long days in London with ours. I recommend the "all-seasons" variety that zips open to a mesh back for the summer.  

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Naked Worship

Quaker worship. One hour of silence. No hymns. No sermon. No prayers. No creeds. Just silence.

Occasionally someone shares a vocal ministry, perhaps a reading from Scripture or Advices and Queries, a Quaker devotional book. Quakers are encouraged to keep their vocal ministries brief and personal, no sermonizing. Sometimes we will go for several meetings with the only vocal ministry being my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter giggling or beckoning at something.

We have been attending our local Quaker meeting fairly regularly for the past five months. How has my faith journey led me to this place, seated in silence for one hour, seeking the Light of God’s truth without the aid of a minister, worship leader, or liturgy?

I come from a typical evangelical Christian background. The only thing unusual about it was that I was never really tied to any particular denomination. There probably isn’t a major strand of traditional Christianity that I haven’t had some experience with, one exception being the Religious Society of Friends (aka Quakers). I had been a distant admirer of Quakers, but until five months ago, I wasn’t quite ready for the one hour of silence.

The reasons are complicated and probably not completely relevant to this story, but I had reached a point in my faith where Sunday morning worship services had become somewhat stale. I was mostly bored and annoyed. The sermons were sounding redundant, and the songs were sounding indiscernible, and I just wasn’t encountering God. If this is not your personal experience with traditional Christianity, bear with me; it hadn’t been mine either for the most part in my previous 33 years of attending church.

The problem wasn’t necessarily with the worship services or churches we attended and visited. To put it briefly, God was leading us to Quakerism. For a long time, I have admired Quakers for their tireless work for peace. I admired their love for all people, regardless of religion, gender, or sexuality. I admired their desire for simplicity. But until I was desperate enough for God that I was willing to sit in silence for an hour among strangers, I would remain a distant admirer.

Before I go on, I should point out that there is quite a wide range of Quaker expressions, and I can’t really tell you much about other groups outside the UK. We attend an unprogrammed meeting, meaning it is silent and has no minister. That is not always the case though it seems to be the norm in the UK.

I am not entirely sure what I expected Quakerism to be like when I first attended meeting. I must admit that I liked the idea of not having to hear a sermon and not having to sing hymns written in keys that only some songbirds can comfortably master. Our local meeting has no real hierarchical structure or formal leadership, and this was also rather attractive to me.

The one sticking point for me was that Quaker beliefs seemed so nebulous. Although rooted in Christianity, many Quakers welcome the teachings of other religions as well. While I have a great deal of respect for other religions, I am often barely comfortable with my own and wasn’t sure I wanted to pile on dozens more. I suppose I imagined a bunch of people sitting around thinking about whatever they wanted for an hour and feeling really good about how tolerant and open-minded they all were.

The reality is quite different. Quakers choose to keep their religious practices and beliefs simple—follow Christ. If a Buddhist proverb teaches about the value of forgiveness, or a verse from the Koran talks about working toward peace, such teachings are welcome. Quakers value simplicity, so their list of beliefs and values is pretty short and clear—love, peace, forgiveness,

I assumed Quakerism would be easy. Because of the lack of noise, there would be nothing to annoy or anger me. Because of the lack of hierarchy, there would be no abuse of power. Because of the lack of creeds, there would be no guilt.

What I found instead is that Quakerism is hard, really hard. The lack of noise leaves me naked before God, all my thoughts and feelings exposed to the Light of truth. The lack of hierarchy leaves me with no one to blame for my frustrations and outrage except myself. The lack of creeds forces me to seek God for truth instead of trying to find a song lyric or Bible verse to make me feel better about my faith.

Quaker daily practice and worship are tied together. The second item in the Advices and Queries states this clearly:
Bring the whole of your life under the ordering of the spirit of Christ. Are you open the healing power of God’s love? Cherish that of God within you, so that this love may grow in you and guide you. Let your worship and daily life enrich each other. Treasure your experience of God, however it comes to you. Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way.
As God strips my faith down to its essentials, seemingly simple advice like this becomes quite challenging.

There is a practical reason for Quakers’ intertwining of daily life and worship: those things that fill my daily life also fill my thoughts during worship. I thought silent worship would mean that I would no longer be annoyed by distractions, but they are still there. Now I only have myself to blame for them; I can’t get upset with a pastor or praise team.

If I sit in meeting for worship for thirty minutes only thinking about work or comic books, it becomes pretty clear what the focus of my life and worship really is. Quakers recognize these distractions are a normal part of worship and warn against allowing them to become sources of guilt and despair, but with my soul laid bare in silence, I cannot hide the fact that my life is not often “under the ordering of the spirit of Christ.”

During these times of distraction, I often turn to the Bible or the Advices for a way to focus. The Advices are particularly tricky because of their simple truth and straightforward questions. A typical item in the Advices will start with questions like, “Are you always honest? Do you cherish your friendships? Do you cultivate peace in all your relationships?” My simplest answer: “No.”

In the past I rarely had to admit such a simple truth. If I wasn’t loving my neighbor, I could compensate by going to church more often. Church activities gave me countless ways to build up my spiritual ego: I could be a star Sunday school student or attend a mission trip to Mexico. After 33 years I had gotten pretty good at being a Christian without really needing to be like Christ.

The simplicity of Quakerism is the most challenging part. It means I have little opportunity for ego building and must focus only on being like Christ in the most basic ways—loving God and my neighbor, serving those in need, forgiving those who wrong me. The problem is that these aren’t really all that basic. They are really hard.

I kind of just wish I could keep being angry at the person who wronged me earlier in the week and feel better about it on Sunday morning by singing “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” really loudly with my eyes closed to show I really mean it. When my faith is stripped of all the nonessentials, it doesn’t really seem like much at all. And when I feel small and naked before God, all I can do is stand in helpless awe, an act of true worship.

Here is the bare truth. I expected that Quakerism would possibly put me on a path towards a spiritual enlightenment that would transcend Christianity, a religion I thought I was beginning to outgrow. Instead it has showed me how much Christ I lack. It has stripped me of my robes and crowns and left me exposed to the light of truth. I hope that light will shine in me and through me with greater intensity now that I have one less place to hide.

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