A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – No. 33 “Empathy”

Dear daughter,

Yesterday you won an award at school for empathy, and I am not surprised at all. You are so considerate of others and you absorb everything around you. Even before you went to school, your empathy was noticed at daycare. When another kid was struggling, you drew them pictures to cheer them up. Everyone at the daycare thought it was the sweetest thing.

You even pick me flowers when I’m sad.

Being able to show compassion and understanding is a skill not everyone possesses that will serve you well throughout your life.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed about your upbringing that really differs from mine years ago. As a child, my focus was achievement. Good grades. Winning competitions. Excelling in extracurriculars, etc. It was always a huge blow when I didn’t measure up. As an adult, I now see there are more important things and I’m still trying to work past my “achievement” mindset.

But you’re different. You focus on character. Daddy and I try not to push you too hard into activities. We want you to get good grades but we’re not going to be angry if you don’t. As far as I’m concerned, the award you received for empathy is a huge honor – bigger than test scores or a ribbon on field day – and I couldn’t be prouder.

I don’t think there was an award for empathy when I was growing up, but there should have been.

You have a talent for connecting with others and I want to support and encourage you as much as possible but my biggest fear is that the world will harden you and turn you cold. I see you feel other’s pain and that’s a heavy weight to carry.

Hopefully, that’s way down the road yet. Continue being that sweet and caring first grader for as long as possible.

Daughter, don’t ever forget you have a beautiful heart and mind. You learn so much from the people you meet and they will learn from you as well. You have so much to offer the world.

A Couple of New Poems about Death and Family

Even with everything going on this week I was still able to crank out a couple of poems — and I’m pretty proud of them. Sorry, they’re a bit depressing.


The Conclusion

It’s unforgiving and final –
the conclusion of your story.
You hope to slip into the darkness
unscathed and ready
but our end is unpredictable.

Each day brings you closer to your goodbyes –
if a goodbye can even be said at all.
Your memory lingers at first
but time passes and everyone must move on
without you.

Savor every connection a little more
because your demise is always just around the corner.
Not every finale is grand
but we all end up the same –
crumbling into nothingness.

Say what you need to say
before the silence
and don’t look back
because your countdown
has already begun.



I’m little
in your eyes –
forever beneath you.

Control me,
silence me
as you always have.

My little voice
is unwelcome –
my words mean nothing.

My little existence means nothing
if it doesn’t make you
look good.

When I stand up
you assume
I want to fight.

I just want to be heard,

Sitting at your table
takes more than blood.
Stay complacent.

Tolerate stinging judgment.
Keep the peace
no matter the cost.

But the cost was
my presence
and now I’m no longer little.

A Funeral and Religious Service – A Day of Firsts for My Daughter

My husband’s grandfather died last weekend. He was in his 90s and he was aware that he was dying. He lay in hospice for several days before finally passing. It was unbearable to watch. I hope that when I die – especially if I know I’m dying – it goes a little quicker than that. 

At first, we weren’t going to take our six-year-old daughter to visit him in hospice, but one night he specifically asked for her so we brought her the next day. She was a little freaked out but she sat on the floor and drew him a picture. She showed it to him and it was very sweet.

The funeral is tomorrow and my husband and I both agree she should be there with the rest of the family. This really isn’t her first funeral, but it will probably be the first one she actually remembers. She was still a baby when my stepmother and grandmother died. 

This will also be her first religious service. My husband’s family is Lutheran – the conservative kind. (Eek!)

Part of me hopes our daughter will be curious and ask us lots of questions, but the other part of me knows she’s going to be bored and ask to play with my phone.

Any advice on making this a meaningful/educational experience for my daughter? Or is six still too young to understand?

Am I letting myself go? Or does age set you free?

Is there a certain age when you just stop caring? I turned forty back in November, so I’m not old but not exactly young either. It just feels like I’ve changed a lot – and rather recently.

Am I letting myself go?

I roll out of bed at the very last minute and sometimes I even drop off my daughter at school with wet hair. I wear jeans and hoodies almost every day and I really hate putting on make-up. Even if I start the day with my hair down, it usually ends up in a ponytail. Maybe I should try to look nicer but I don’t care enough to do anything about it.

Why am I even concerned? Actually, this is probably more of an observation than a concern.

It wasn’t too long ago that I wouldn’t dare leave the house without a full face of make-up and styled hair. My morning routine took well over an hour. Cute outfits were a must for every occasion – I’m talking even going to Wal-Mart here. A relative once told me it’s good to look polished and I really took that to heart. Maybe I looked nice but at the time I always felt ugly. I was in competition with every other woman in the room.

So what changed? I really don’t know.

I’m married and a mom so maybe looks aren’t as important now, but it really feels more recent that I let myself go. Is it an age thing?

My priorities have shifted a little. Obviously, my daughter always comes first, but as an individual, I would rather be recognized for my art and writing than my looks. Not to mention my job in the supportive arts program – sometimes there’s just as much paint on me as the canvas…and sometimes I’m proud of that.

None of this stops me from feeling self-conscious. Even so, I just don’t feel like dressing any nicer. Putting in the effort feels a little pointless and quite frankly, I’m tired of it.

I was obsessed with looks. Is forty the age when I finally found some freedom?

I would love to hear from you guys. How do you feel about your looks and your age? Did you let yourself go? Does it even matter? Did it ever matter?

Just for the record – I know my relative meant well but I will never tell my daughter that she has to look polished.

Are atheists more health-conscious than believers?

I recently talked with a religious person who said they wouldn’t take medication. They just “let the body do what it needs to.”

I think my head exploded. I was completely flabbergasted but tried my best not to show it. 

If something’s broken and you can fix it, why wouldn’t you want to fix it? Leaving it in god’s hands just isn’t enough for me.

My life would be completely different if wasn’t for medication. My job, my family, my goals, all the things that I do — none of it would be possible without medication.

They may put their faith in god but I put my faith in science every morning and night as I take a cocktail of psych meds. I have schizoaffective disorder and can’t function without medication. I am very grateful to science and medicine for giving me a good life and a bright future.

I just can’t imagine being against that.

I often credit atheism as a factor in my success in recovery. I rejected faith soon after my diagnosis. I trust science and my doctor which keeps me med-compliant.

Going to the doctor and accepting medical treatment — not just for my mental illness but for my whole body — is how I choose to stay well.

A while back I wrote a post about atheist vegetarians. There just seem to be a lot of them. Does being a vegetarian make you more health-conscious? I don’t know but a lot of people think so.

If you have just this one life and death is final, do you take better care of yourself? I can’t help but think that trusting science and medicine will keep you well longer. If you’re not counting on an afterlife, wouldn’t you want to be living your best life now? 

I’m really not a “people person”. Anyone else?

Last weekend my family went to the local science museum, and it was super crowded. In fact, it’s been packed every single time we’ve been there. We have a family membership and my daughter loves the place. I hate going there because crowds make me incredibly nervous.

But I go. I have a lot of anxiety when we go out in public or in social situations, but I do it for my daughter. I don’t want her to miss out. It’s so hard to be a parent with anxiety because I want my daughter to experience lots of different things. My anxiety hinders me, but I’m doing my best to not let it affect my daughter. 

But honestly, some days I don’t even want to leave the house.

Even the grocery store is difficult. I prefer to go in the middle of the week at night when no one’s there, but unfortunately, we always end up going on Friday when we get paid – just like everyone else. Saying money’s tight in the middle of the week is an understatement. 

I won’t even go near Costco on the weekend.

This isn’t limited to crowds. I always feel awkward in my interactions with others. I have a schizophrenic disorder and my medication makes me shake – I just feel like everyone knows. My mental illness has never been a secret, but I also don’t want it to be the first thing people think of when they see me.

In summary, I am not a people person. I don’t have much of a point to this post other than to find people to commiserate with. Now that I’m done bitching, can anyone relate? People with little ones — how do you ensure your child experiences as much as possible when you’re just a big ball of nerves?

My daughter at the science museum.

I “fired back” to the god talk around the office!

I want to tell you guys something kind of fun…

I have a lot of religious coworkers and they’re pretty vocal about it. I hear lots of comments about god and Jesus around the office – some said directly to me. I don’t really respond but I do smile and nod because I’m scared. Their conversations are incredibly intimidating and I constantly feel ostracized. 

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new hoodie. I absolutely love it. It has a really cool graphic of an astronaut on it and it says “in science we trust”. I decided to be brave and wear it to work. (I’m the “crazy art teacher” and most of the time I have paint on me so I don’t have to dress up – no business casual for me!) I’ve worn it to work twice so far. I was expecting dirty looks and nasty comments but nada! If they’re thinking bad things they have kept it to themselves. Not only that, I have received a couple of compliments – one from a guy in upper management! Can this really be true?

Here’s a thought — are there other atheists at work? Are they as uncomfortable as I am?

I believe this stunt was a little of my rebellious side coming out. I was feeling really pissed about their god talk so I guess I wanted to fire back – but subtly. 

Success! It’s now my favorite hoodie so I’m going to be wearing it a lot more often!

Being an atheist in the Midwest is difficult and I spend a lot of time feeling uncomfortable but maybe it’s not as bad as it seems? Can I let my guard down a little?

I want to hear from you – especially if you live in the South, Midwest, or anywhere conservative. Have you had similar experiences? How have you “fired back”? 

Is there a difference between a deity and a higher power?

Please help settle a score – my husband and I were having a debate over dinner at Denny’s.

Is there a difference between a deity and a higher power? My husband says no. I say yes.

When I Googled “meaning of higher power” there were some conflicting definitions. The first definition was pretty straightforward – “a god or divine being”. One point for my husband.

Then there was this definition: 

At its core, a higher power is something that you believe is controlling the universe. It could be nature, the sun or moon, or you can even say the universe, itself. The key is that whatever you choose should be special and mean something personal to you. In the simplest terms, it’s a power greater than yourself.

Is that a point for me?

If there’s a difference between a deity and a higher power, does that mean an atheist can believe in a higher power?

I’m really curious – do any of you believe in a higher power?

My husband doesn’t believe in god but he doesn’t call himself an atheist either. He believes in energy and that all living things are connected. I’m skeptical but in a way it makes sense.

I’m not sure how this deity vs. higher power debate is going to turn out, but it does prove one thing – spirituality can be really messy and confusing. (Probably because most of it is bullshit.)

So tell me what you think – is there a difference between a deity and a higher power, and if there is, can an atheist believe in a higher power?

What’s worth the risk?

I have the best job in the world! I paint and write poetry every day. When my shift ends, I go home and do the same thing. I have envisioned this kind of life for as long as I can remember and now it’s actually real. I am so fortunate to get to do the things I love.

At one of our recent writer’s groups at work, we had the prompt “what’s worth the risk?” I immediately thought of my daughter. She was a high-risk pregnancy due to a medication I take. Here’s the poem I wrote:


The Risk in the Storm

A tear-soaked past
and a broken brain
were met with resilience
and an abundance of love.

The idea of you
was met with resistance –
the biggest risk
in the smallest package.

You came into this world
in lightning and thunder.
It was the longest night –
out of the darkness came your light.

You were once a dream out of reach
but now I lift you up
to taste the stars
grounded in my purpose.

Six years of giggles and tears,
six years to the moon and back.
You can fall down but get back up
because I promise my love is for life.

You’re the littlest girl
with the biggest heart
and brightest smile.
Let your storm change your world.


Now it’s your turn — what’s worth the risk?

Fundamentally an atheist – but is the rest murky?

If you fear something you don’t believe in, does it mean you believe in it at least a little bit?

I’m mostly referring to my interest in the paranormal. 

Let me start by saying I am 100 percent atheist in that I don’t believe in the existence of any deities. But does being an atheist have to dictate other beliefs?

When it comes to my interest in the paranormal there’s a lot to unpack. Due to having schizoaffective disorder, I’ve spent much of my life struggling with psychosis. My psychotic symptoms included auditory and visual hallucinations that I referred to as “ghosts”. They left me frightened and confused. 

It was actually after antipsychotic medication successfully curbed my hallucinations in my 20s that I declared myself an atheist – something I consider a huge personal achievement. It was at that point I knew dead people weren’t haunting me. It had been my only tie to spirituality. 

But what if there’s something else? What if there’s another explanation for ghosts? I don’t mean my hallucinations, but things other people have claimed to have experienced. I know not everyone’s crazy.

Every night I go to bed and lay on my side facing the closet. I look at the dark closet and fear someone or something will be peeking back out at me. The fear is in the back of my mind. It’s not enough to keep me from sleeping but sometimes it’s enough for me to roll onto my other side.

What’s even creepier is that the organization I work for is talking about renting space in a very well-known haunted location here in Toledo. Everyone has a creepy story about this place, and quite frankly, I’m a little scared.

If the fear is there, does that mean I believe in it?

I don’t believe in dead people roaming around, but I do believe there’s something to it – something unexplained. 

Most other areas of my life are pretty cut and dry.

Do you ever feel like there’s an area of your life that’s murky? Like you just don’t know enough about it yet?

How do you guys feel about karma? Oh, how I wish karma was real! It makes sense to me that if you’re negative you will attract negativity, but of course, there’s no evidence for karma either. I could see how that could be a murky area for people as well.

How do you guys feel? If you’re an atheist are there beliefs in your life that feel murky or just unexplained? Do you feel being an atheist has to dictate other beliefs than just the nonexistence of deities? I really want to hear your stories and feedback.