Healing

Image by Thomas B. from Pixabay

I wanted to know where God was when I had already been awake for three days straight and had to follow an ambulance three hours north to a bigger hospital.

I wanted to know where God was when my child was attacking me in a hours long violent rage, day after day.

I wanted to know where God was when my son had strings of seizures which landed him in the ICU for three days, while I begged God to let him wake up.

I wanted to know where God was when I was on my hands and knees for the fourth time that day scrubbing shit off of the walls and floor.

I often wondered if my faith just wasn’t good enough, if I had done something to piss God off. I wondered if God was just too busy answering trite prayer requests for things like nice weather for someone’s party. I questioned the very concept of prayer.

I begged, I pleaded, I cried, I cursed God out.

And then, one day, things began to fall into place. I didn’t see it at first, as life was crashing down around me from the sheer magnitude of his needs, of my health deteriorating, and struggles my other children were facing.  

There have been many situations where I have been overwhelmed and I have begged, pleaded, cried, and cursed God out, and in all those times, God has shown up in dramatic ways, possibly because I would be too hard-headed to see it otherwise.

I threw fits at God and I questioned the concept of suffering and why things happened and came up with no satisfactory answer or theories (and I still haven’t). I even questioned atonement theories, although again I’ve not come up with any epiphanies on that one either.

But today, as I was driving up to the facility where my son lives now to visit him, God spoke to me. Not audibly, for I would wonder if I had schizophrenia too if that happened, but with God’s presence and my own thoughts.

When I placed my son in that facility, I grieved hard, although I felt that I did not have the right to because my son was still alive, he just had to live in an institution. I still grieve, it still hurts. I see things in the store that are some of his favorite things, and they make me cry. Sometimes I even pick the things up and hug them as if my son is present in them. He isn’t, but I wonder now if maybe God is. Is God present in the dinosaur pillow I picked up off the shelf at Walmart and hugged while I cried.

I have been visiting my son at least once a month since he left. He is flourishing and living his best life in the facility he lives in. He’s thriving on being in a heavily structured environment. My son is a different person. He’s happy, he’s secure, and he loves his mommy. Just like that, on my drive up there this morning, I realized: through all the grief, and all the pain, in the past, the present and the future, this is my son’s healing.

The healing didn’t happen the way I wanted it to, where God just waved some kind of magic wand and everything was different. Instead, God allowed for circumstances and the right people at the right time to get him a safe and secure place to live where he could thrive.

Healing is a process, not a one-time event.

My son is experiencing his healing.

Thanks be to God.

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Just Like Poe

As I was strolling through the library noncommittally, I saw a book that was, being new, on display. The cover spoke to me, and as much as they say not to judge books by their covers, I do so when the covers speak to me. The book is a delight to the senses. The cover art is gorgeous, it’s a hardback, and it’s the perfect size, and best of all, it smells amazing. Although I am not sure why, it took me a while to actually read The Raven’s Tale after I checked it out and brought it home. I think maybe I wanted to admire the cover a little more before I cracked the book open.

The Raven’s Tale is a fictional account of the life of Edgar Allan Poe as a youth. Cat Winters has obviously done her research on Poe’s life, and she has knit together a delightful treat. When I read books, I do not read them merely for entertainment, I read them for learning also. I can’t help it, that just happens to be the way that my brain works. I picked this up at just the right time, as I am trying to follow my passion and find my purpose.

I have started accepting that I am a creative person, even when I don’t necessarily feel creative. My brain never shuts down, thinking deep thoughts and making connections. Although I, like Poe in The Raven’s Tale, have often despised that part of me, it’s something I am learning to embrace. Just like Poe realized the importance of his muse, which he named Lenore, I have realized the importance of mine. Poe quickly found out that without his muse, he was not a whole person. As I walk my journey towards wholeness, I need to embrace who I am.

Part of who I am is a deeply emotional thinker. I make connections that other’s don’t make. My mind is always on going a million miles an hour. Writing is how I process my life and make sense of things. Writing and creativity are a huge part of who I am. I have often despised being called a “deep thinker” as many people have used it in a mocking way. The more I allow myself to be who I was created to be, the more my passion comes out and the more alive I feel.

In The Raven’s Tale, there came a point at which Poe thought he would die without his muse, and I understand that feeling. While I am not in danger of physical death if I don’t pursue my creativity, a part of who I am dies inside of me. Seeing as this story is based on Poe’s life story, I feel deeply connected to Poe. Poe’s heartbreak lead to some beautiful literature, and although The Raven’s Tale is a fictional account, it’s all based on facts. The book is exquisite, and important reading for creatives.

As beauty emerged from darkness in the life of Edgar Allan Poe, I notice the beauty also emerging from darkness in my own life as I continue to write and continue to learn. One day I will make a meaningful contribution both in my writing and in academia. I know I will, the muse is here to stay. Just as Poe eventually embraced his muse, so I embrace mine. It’s part of who I was meant to be all along.

Creative Academic

Today I had a very good conversation with my academic advisor. I love academia, I want to pursue my academic interests and make contributions in my field. I also happen to be a creative rather than practical person. I’m learning that it takes both types to make the world go round but that often, practical people are better understood than creative people.

I see memes on Facebook saying how college is useless and that trade school is where it’s at, which is false. Trades are very important, trade school is very important, but not all of us were made to excel in trades. The same goes for college. College is important because we need academics as well. Trades are physical labor and academics are emotional labor.

When I finished my M.A in English and Creative Writing, I wasn’t sure what to do next, and although I wanted and still want a Ph.D. so bad, now is not the right time to pursue that. So I went into a M.A in Communications, because I wanted to learn how to market my work. People were telling me how good they thought my work was and how the themes and ideas I explored were very important, and yet like many other writers I’m having difficulty getting published. I figured maybe I needed better branding and marketing, so I thought that communications might be the right fit.

It turns out that I was wrong. The entire culture is different in communications, and it’s far more business focused than it was when I took communications electives in my undergrad. I found that in my communications classes, none of the other students would talk to me, even in discussions, but they all talk regularly with each other. Maybe they knew right away that I did not fit in. The odd thing is that I have gotten excellent grades but the culture isn’t working for me and I need to be able to be excited about my ideas and talk about my ideas with others which is impossible if they won’t talk to me.

In the conversation with my advisor, I shared with her how I didn’t like the culture and I didn’t fit in, but that the communications classes I had taken made me aware of where my passions were. I have literary contributions I want to make as well as working on my writing. My advisor said she wasn’t really surprised because creative people like me often did not do well in more business focused programs and careers even if, like me, they get good grades. She said that those kinds of things often aren’t right for creatives and sometimes they are even stifling.

She went on to tell me that creatives are as important to academia as the practical people, and that we all make important contributions. For me, academics are important for some because of the need to keep learning, keep making connections, etc. This was so affirming to me to realize. I’m not a lesser person because I want to pursue academics, it’s part of who I am, who God created me to be. I have this need to continue learning new things, to continue to think deeply and make connections that other people might not make. It is my passion, it makes me come alive.

God is the one who instilled this passion in me. God wants me to pursue my passion. God wants me to be the person God created me to be.

(And for the curious, I’m going into English Literature).

My Navel Ring Does Not Define Me

Navel Ring

Why yes, this is a picture of my navel ring. Just be glad it was not still in my bellybutton when I took the picture. It’s not in my navel anymore because, after years of gripping so tightly to it as part of a carefully constructed identity, I have found that I no longer have any use for it. I unwisely kept it in when I got a huge staph infection in the piercing. I did that because I felt like it was an important part of who I was, or at least, who I wanted people to see.

Of course, navel rings aren’t wrong, and neither are any of the other piercings I have sported such as my septum, tongue, industrial and others. I still wear my nose ring and industrial bar. But the navel ring was something I wanted to keep, because I felt like it was part of who I wanted to be. I was trying to create and maintain a particular image, to keep people at arm’s length. I wanted to be unapproachable and keep people out, because I felt safer that way.

I have always valued honesty and authenticity, but I have not always lived honestly or authentically. A carefully constructed identity was a coping skill that I have utilized since I was a little girl, and it kept me alive during my teens and 20’s. If I did not adhere to what the cult taught me, I would risk being locked up in my room or at least confined to the house unable to speak to anybody except my immediate family. If I did not present myself in an acceptable manner, I would pay for it. With as suicidal as I was in those years, if I had been confined to the house and only allowed to speak to my family, I would be dead by now. I would not have been able to cope. I barely survived as it was.

My teenage journals are filled with badly thought out plans to run away or to end it all. They are full of me trying to construct my life in a manner I was told was acceptable to God. There are so many entries where I berate and condemn myself, blaming myself for the abuse inflicted upon me, telling myself I deserved it because I was rebellious.

So when I started to try to heal from the hurt, I constructed another identity, and portrayed myself as weird, unapproachable and tough. I thought if I built my walls carefully, that the light could not get in. If I looked tough with my piercings and gauges and tattoos and brightly colored hair, then people would leave me the hell alone and I would never be hurt again.

Apparently there are some people out there who could see through the bullshit to see that I was not who I portrayed myself to be. In the last year, I have been growing and changing, and while I still think brightly colored hair is cool, and I love my tattoos, I’m learning that those things do not define me. I do not need these things to represent who I am, I need to let my personality shine. Pulling out my navel ring was huge, it was a resignation to the fact that I am fine just the way I am, and that I don’t need to try to push people away.

On Being Affirming

csd-2735009_1280There is a lot of discussion surrounding people being affirming of LGBT people, especially for Pride month. It’s an important concept to discuss, and yet I think that I may have a different take on what affirming means than a lot of LGBT people do. I know some LGBT people who, when a person asks them a question for their own knowledge, responds that the person needs to educate themselves instead of asking the LGBT person to do it for them. I fundamentally disagree with this, as I believe that our personal stories play the biggest part in people’s journey to becoming affirming. Stories change lives, and if someone has genuine questions for us, it’s a great way to tell our stories. If people are trying to learn for their own knowledge as a way to become more affirming, we should help them in any way that we can.

But what constitutes being affirming? Again, I disagree with many LGBT people on what affirming truly is. Some LGBT people conclude that affirming means the straight, cisgender person be totally on board with their sexuality and gender, that they believe the science surrounding diversity. It’s always awesome when this happens, but the thing is that societal change takes time. Many people genuinely believe, whether they are right or not, that being LGBT is a sin. Many people genuinely believe that a person is not born LGBT, that they become LGBT through things that have happened to them in life. I do not believe either of those things, but I know good and beautiful people that do.

The thing about the good people I know who are not thrilled or completely on board about the fact that I’m a lesbian, treat me with love, and dignity, and respect, and to me, that right there is affirmation. Out of the people I am closest too, I don’t think any of them are thrilled, but they love me for who I am. I respect that we do not see eye to eye on issues surrounding my sexuality, but I am loved and to me, that is affirmation enough. To all the amazing people in my life: thank-you for loving me for who I am and showing Christ to me.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help. (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305).

 

The Very First Chapter

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The first thing I remember ever learning and retaining was the fact that I was worthless. God had apparently created me, but had declared me to be a “dirty, rotten, filthy, little sinner” in the words of my dad. Those were words I internalized before I was old enough to even say them. Although I read the Bible through cover to cover many times during my life, because that was what was expected, I somehow never truly noticed those words in the opening chapter of the whole thing, where God creates humans and not only creates humans but proclaims them as “very good.” In the same chapter, God blesses the humans God created, and the most beautiful part of it all is that God creates these humans in God’s own image. It’s in the very first chapter. A chapter that’s very important to the fundamentalists as they loudly insist that this proves that God created the earth from nothing in six literal days about 6,000 years ago. That belief was shoved down my throat from the time I was born. But somehow, I missed the created in God’s image, very good, and the being blessed part of the whole deal.

My first tangible memory I have is from being beaten as a very young child because I did not want to eat my porridge. I have never disliked porridge, but I have disliked the times it had weevils in it. Whether the porridge had weevils in that day I do not know, but I remember my father’s anger about the fact that I did not want to eat it. He said I was rebellious. He said I was a “dirty, rotten, filthy, little sinner” and that therefore he had to administer this punishment because God instructs parents to punish their rebellious children so that they will grow to love God and respect their parents. This whole business about beating me so that I would learn to love and trust God totally fucked me up for a very long time, and even as an adult made me think that violence was an inextricable part of love. That people hurt me because they loved me, and that if I was a better person, they would not have to hurt me.

Probably not surprisingly, I never placed a great amount of value on my own life. I mean, after all, I was a dirty, rotten, filthy, little sinner. In other words, I was a worthless piece of shit. “Katy-Anne engages in risky, impulsive behaviors” is what the mental health professionals called it. My teenage journals are full of desires and plans to run away, my battle with self-injury which took the form of purposely trying to break my own bones as a child to cutting as a teenager. They’re full of suicidal ideation. It wasn’t that I didn’t love God. I loved God the best way that I knew how. I desired to please God. I believed my parents and the cult that if I was miserable it was God punishing me for something that I had done wrong, and that God was doing this because God loved me.

As if this wasn’t enough of a hint that I was worthless, when I hit puberty, I realized that I was interested in the girls and not the boys. I didn’t know the correct terminology for this phenomenon, but I knew it was sin because my parents and the church offered dire warnings against “faggots” and “queers” and “dykes” and homosexuality. It was an abomination and those who commit such abominations were beyond God’s love and were going to hell. I was not longer just a dirty, rotten, filthy, little sinner. I was an abomination. I was not worth a damn thing to God and the only thing I had to look forward to at the end of my miserable little life was an eternal firey inferno that I apparently deserved. I often wondered if I should do God a favor and just kill myself so that God could cackle in glee as God personally threw me into that pit. My parents said that God created everyone with the express purpose of sending them to either heaven or hell, that this was already put in place when each human being was created. I said this made God fucking sadistic but my parents said it made God righteous and holy, and that God had a right to chose who went to heaven and who went to hell and that God’s plan is perfect and that we need to trust God. I never stood a chance in that world.

When I became an adult, the doctor told me I had fibromyalgia, which I figured I obviously deserved since I was, you know, a dirty, rotten, filthy, big sinner. The only difference was now I was big and before I had been little. My mental health issues began to present themselves in ways that I could not ignore but I deserved those too. I never took care of myself because I didn’t matter. It was all punishment anyway. God was angry with me. I often wondered why God had wasted their time in even bothering to make me if I was just a big cosmic disappointment. I never really figured out what the hell I had actually done to God to make God so mad at me, but I daren’t ask in case God retaliated with more punishment. After all, questioning God was out of the picture. And hey if God let Satan do horrible things to Job who God claimed was perfect in the name of teaching him…something…then I didn’t stand a chance. If God wanted Job to suffer when Job was a good man, then I deserved everything that ever came my way. In fact I got told that I needed to be thankful for all the bullshit that I went through because I was a dirty, rotten, filthy, sinner and that therefore, anything that I got in life better than an eternal placement in hell was better than I deserved.

About a year ago, a priest looked at me and told me that God loved me. I didn’t believe her, and she knew I didn’t believe her. I told her that I had many issues with the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, and she said she would be happy to work with me on some of these things but that none of it really even mattered until I could believe that God loved me because that was the basic fundamental of Christianity and if I didn’t know and understand that, I didn’t even have the basics down. She was convinced that it was imperative to my faith and to my views of myself to believe this fundamental truth. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to believe her, it was that the idea that God loved me was completely and utterly ridiculous.

I also met some great people who for some reason took a liking to me even though I never could figure that one out. These good Christian people never once told me that I was a dirty, rotten, filthy, sinner. They just loved me. They taught me that I was worth something to someone. That I was worthwhile. That I was important all on my own. They built me up and affirmed me but also told me when I was being an idiot. But they always reinforced that just because I was acting like an idiot in any given circumstance did not make me bad. They told me I was a good person. For the last year I have been processing this, unsure about whether I could believe it or not, and knowing that if I did, it would have the potential to completely and utterly change my life in ways I could not imagine. The concept of God loving me, the concept that I was of value to God was a revolutionary idea. It was something that I had never really considered before.

Last month, I turned 34. I have decided that it is time to walk in a different direction and to take some risks. These old beliefs are not serving me and do not make me a better human being, and because these beliefs don’t work it’s time to chuck them out into the garbage and start again. My father used to work at the rubbish dump, where all the rubbish from all the garbage bins was dumped by a truck and they incinerated that stuff. I don’t want to just throw it in the trash, I want to totally incinerate that bullshit. I’m going to leave it where I left the whole “God created the world out of nothing in six literal days” mess and instead focus on other things from the very first chapter, the affirming things where God said God’s creation of humanity was very good, where God blessed humanity, where God created humanity in God’s image. It’s in the very first chapter, and for 34 years of reading the Bible, it’s been right there, in the opening lines of this story we share with God, and I never really noticed it before.

For my 34th year, I’m forging ahead with this crazy notion that God loves me.

Thanks be to God.

7th Heaven, the Savior of my Teenage Years

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Does anybody know how I feel?

Sometimes I’m numb, sometimes I’m overcome

Does anybody care what’s going on?

Do I have to wear my scars, like a badge on my arm?

For you to see me? I need release.

~ ZOEgirl, “Scream”

 

One day, when I was thirteen, I was at the apartment of some fundamentalist family friends after church, friends that were like grandparents to me. Their apartment was one of those ones that was specifically for old people, or, if you wanted to be nice, you’d say “seniors”. It had accommodations built in for people with disabilities. We called these friends Pop and Nanna. We were all sitting together on Pop and Nanna’s couch watching TV with them, and they introduced us to a “good family show” called 7th Heaven. My mom and dad called it a soap opera and they didn’t like soap operas, but because it was Pop and Nanna’s house, they respected them enough to let us watch the show. My family and I were watching an episode of 7th Heaven in which one of Lucy’s friends cut herself. I don’t think anyone else was really paying the show much attention, but I for one loved 7th Heaven, it was a world I wanted to live in.

I was completely and utterly mesmerized. I sat through church that evening and made all the motions of singing the hymns and listening to the sermon, but my mind wandered to Lucy’s friend who had the razor blade hidden in the bathroom and who could cut herself any time she felt like it. I never remembered the name of Lucy’s friend, which was unfortunate to me, because she seemed like a savior.

 

***

 

When I got home that night, I immediately went to the bathroom, but could not find an appropriate utensil with which to cut myself. Eventually I settled on a large safety pin, merely because it was the only thing I could find that was small enough for me to smuggle into the bathroom undetected. I ran a bath, because that was the only way I could excuse being in the bathroom for a while. I was careful to lock the door. While I lay, relaxing, in the deep, warm, water, I pulled out the safety pin.

Hesitating, I psyched myself up, wondering if I had the guts to do this thing that seemed so amazing. Laying naked in the lovely warm water, I brought the pin up to my left wrist, and made a small scratch. It hurt, just a little, but nothing that I couldn’t handle. So far, so good. I made a second scratch. And the more scratches I made, the more excited and exhilarated I became. Watching them bleed was an amazing relief. I had found my drug.

Drying off from the bath, I realized that I would have to cut myself in a different place than my wrist if I wanted to keep it a secret, and the secrecy was part of what it made so amazing. So, after I was done drying off, and while still naked, I cut into my shoulders, but much deeper than I had cut into my wrists.

 

***

 

My church proselytized on the street outside the shopping mall and in front of Hungry Jack’s, the Australian version of Burger King. In fact, all the Hungry Jack’s cups, wrappers and paper bags had “Burger King Corporation” stamped on them, and the logo was exactly the same it’s just that the large hamburger said “Hungry Jack’s” instead of “Burger King”. We used to go to a Hungry Jack’s on the other side of town after church every Sunday night to eat dinner. But this Hungry Jack’s was in the city, right across from the mall. In Australia the stores are not open 24/7, or indeed not even till 9:00 most nights. Stores in those days tended to close at 5:00 PM, except on Thursday nights. Thursday nights was “late night shopping” when the stores in the mall and the grocery stores would stay open till 9:00 PM. They chose Thursday’s because those were the days that the seniors got their pensions and those on welfare got their checks. Every second Thursday, like clockwork.

We would harass the people walking across the street to Hungry Jack’s or those coming from Hungry Jack’s to the mall which was the more likely scenario, and would hand out gospel tracts, while trying to talk to them about Jesus. We were supposed to be constantly converting people to Jesus, in order to maintain our fundamentalist cred. After all, those that were “unsaved” were going to hell, and God would hold us personally responsible for their souls going to hell if he had put that person in our path and we had not shared Jesus with them.

I worked for that Hungry Jack’s for a while. I had gotten permission from management to wear a skirt instead of the uniform pants, but only if it was a long skirt because they were worried about stuff like fryer oil burns. Never mind that the female managers were allowed to wear knee-length business skirts. But my religion didn’t allow knee-length skirts anyway, so long skirts worked for me.

There was this large, twenty-something man that was somehow threatened by LGBT people, and religious people, and he constantly tormented me. I had happened to be unlucky enough, that, since the onset of puberty and beyond, I had large, wire-like, thick black hair growing from my neck. When I could afford it, I got it waxed. But on Hungry Jacks’ wages it wasn’t like I could afford to get it waxed very often. My father had long tormented me about this hair, telling me I would never have a boyfriend because I was ugly. Apparently, Jason agreed.

“Hey Katy, you’re so fucking ugly, and obviously gay.” Jason would say.

“I’m not gay,” I said.

“And why do you have that ugly hair on your chin? Are you a tranny?” Jason asked.

“No, I’m not. I don’t even believe in that.” I said piously.

“Everyone can see you’re a tranny.” Jason replied. “No woman grows hair like that. I bet your tranny self likes you some dick, too. You’re a gay tranny.” Tears began to stream down my face, which was unfortunate as I was the one handing the food out of the drive through window. Jason was the order taker. Customers could see I was visibly upset, but thankfully didn’t mention it. The manager on duty, Dustin, relieved me so that I could take my break.

I sat outside on the footpath, crying. It was hot and sunny, and I looked up to check that nobody was coming across the street and took off my name badge. My name badge happened to be a pin-on name badge, which suited me just fine. I turned my left wrist over, and with my right hand, I opened the pin on the badge and began to dig it into my wrist, making cuts as deep as I could with the tool that I had. If I’d have had access a better sharp object, I’d have done that, but I was already taking a risk by cutting in a public place, so I tried to inconspicuously use what I had.

“Katy!” I heard someone call. They were beside me in a flash, grabbing my wrist. Someone else grabbed my name tag from me. I looked up and saw Kathie holding my wrist. Kathie was a mixed bag. Sometimes she was nice to me, and sometimes she wasn’t. I guess today was a nice day.

“Katy, why are you doing this? Is it because of what Jason said?” I nodded, tears running down my face. The other girl who took my name tag went inside. I guess she went to inform Dustin of what was happening because suddenly, Dustin was beside me. Considering that when I went outside almost ten minutes ago, Dustin had had a drive through headset on, he’d obviously found someone to give the headset to in a matter of seconds and was out the door.

Dustin was one of the managers that I didn’t particularly care for, he was rather impatient, and he had his own posse, I suppose because he was young and handsome, as that posse consisted mostly of teenage girls and I obviously wasn’t one of them. He treated his posse well, but if you weren’t part of his crowd, he could be mean. However, he also was obviously not a terrible guy, because he seemed like he truly cared about me that day.

He and Kathie plopped their butts down on the footpath beside me and talked gently to me. Kathie still held my wrist, and whoever took my name badge hadn’t given it back. The footpath was hot, but nobody seemed to care.

“I can’t believe you would do that.” Dustin said. I looked at the ground, the concrete of the parking lot staring back at me. Tears were streaming from my face.

“I’m sorry, Dustin.” Dustin put his arm around me.

“I’m sorry too.” Dustin said. “I’m sorry that you feel like you have to do this.”

“I have a little problem.” I said.

“I can see that.” Dustin said.

“It’s because of what Jason did to her.” Kathie said.

“Is that true?” Dustin asked.

“Yes.” I said.

“I didn’t know he was harassing you that much.” Dustin said.

“Yeah, it’s every time I work.” I said.

“Are you ok for right now?” Dustin asked.

“I don’t know.” I said honestly. Dustin, being young, wasn’t quite sure what to say or do, and he was the only manager on duty.

“I have to call Jesse,” he finally said. Jesse was our restaurant manager, and was older than all of us, had kids of his own. But he was far from old, I doubt he was even forty. I don’t know exactly what Jesse said to him, but next thing I knew I was being told that I needed to finish my shift and they assured me that Jason would not be finishing his shift that day.

Later on, I heard through the grapevine that Jason had been written up and sent home that day for tormenting me to the point that I hurt myself. After that incident, it seemed like people were more conscious of what went on between Jason and I, and they tended to intervene so that it didn’t get to that point.

The next time I worked where Jesse was the manager on duty, he called me into the party room, a room that was part of the dining room but separated by glass, and with glass doors to get in. The point of the party room was that kid’s birthday parties were held in there, the ones that Hungry Jack’s themselves provided to parents for a rather hefty fee. One of the Hungry Jack’s staff would dress up as a fairy or a pirate, and Hungry Jack’s would provide kids meals and cake, some games, and whatnot. The kids would then run around the playground for the rest of the party. Jesse sat in a booth and motioned for me to sit on the opposite side of the booth to him.

He looked at me in a way that felt like he could see right through me. I saw a little bit of pity, but mostly sternness. I couldn’t look him in the eye for very long. I looked at the table. It hadn’t been cleaned properly. There were small pieces of lettuce on it, and a smearing of mayonnaise. I looked at Jesse’s shirt. As a manager, his shirt was blue when ours were red and yellow. Clown shirts, we called them. I looked at the glass separating us from the rest of the dining room. It had fingerprints all over it.

“Look at me” Jesse said sternly. I looked at him.

“What were you thinking?” He asked. I shrugged.

“I don’t know. I’m really sorry, Jesse.”

“Were you trying to kill yourself?” Jesse asked.

“No, I was just upset.”

“Is that something you usually do when you’re upset?” I looked at the ground. The ground had dirt on it and needed mopping.

“Yeah,” I finally answered, unable to look him the eye. I traced the dirt patterns on the floor with my eyes.

Jesse shifted in his seat uncomfortably. He slid my name badge to me from across the table.

“Don’t let me hear of it happening again.” Jesse said.

“It won’t,” I said. I felt so stupid. I should have waited until I got home, or at the very least, went and sat in the car to cut. He dismissed me with a wave of his hand.

 

***

 

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains

~ “There is a Fountain”

 

I am not sure that theologically I agree with the words of the hymn There is a Fountain anymore, but it was the words to this hymn that totally changed things for me at the time. However, I believe that God meets us where we were at, and I was a fundamentalist who, although seriously misguided, loved God and longed for a deeper relationship with God. With my understanding of atonement at the time, the song made sense. To be honest, I’m not settled on what my theology about atonement even is, but I’m working on figuring it out because the whole substitutionary atonement thing where God killed God’s son as an abusive dad because God was mad about sin just does not make sense to me. But hey, at the time, substitutionary atonement was the only understanding I had ever had and was not aware that there were other atonement theologies out there.

I had just learned that I was pregnant, and the fundamentalist church I was in was quick to reinforce the Christian persecution complex by teaching us that since we were fundamentalists, the “ungodly government” would come and take our kids over anything. One lady claimed that the government had taken her kids because she only had a half-gallon of milk in the fridge instead of a whole gallon, which I now know to be a blatant lie but at the time I bought it. The government was persecuting us because we home birthed, home schooled, didn’t vaccinate and we spanked our kids. They didn’t tell the rest of the story, of course.

I can’t cut myself anymore, despite the fact that I’m crazy and deserve it, because if I do, the state will come and take the baby when it’s born, I told myself. And for a very long time (twelve years, to be exact), I resisted any urges to cut myself because I loved my kids and wanted them. I was unable to do it for me, which is sad, but again I had to work with what I had and that was a good start. Now I am to the point where I do not cut myself because I am worth more than that.

One evening while I was still pregnant with my oldest child, we sang this hymn, and as far as cutting myself was concerned, it totally changed my life. I was wearing a maternity dress that was red and had sunflowers on it and was about thirty years out of fashion. It was my favorite maternity dress because the others were from my mother-in-law from when she was pregnant twenty-five years before, and those were out of fashion when she wore them. I hated all of those dresses with a passion. My hair was doing its whole messy spiral curls and frizz thing, and I was tired. I was focused on my clothes and hair and wasn’t really paying attention. Then they turned to this hymn, and the pianist started playing.

Jesus bled for my sins, so I don’t have to bleed for them, I said to myself. And whether that theology was right or wrong, it was enough.

God met me where I was at. It was something that was a big deal at the time, and still is. Theology aside, twelve years later, I love the first verse of that hymn because it was what reached me at the time when I was down and out. God can and does use things that are wrong or incorrect and flawed, simply because they make sense to us at the time and that’s the mindset we are in at the time. It’s why the twelve steps talk about God as we understood God, because God works within our limited understanding of God to work something beautiful.

 

I’ve Been a Bitch and I’m Sorry

praying w bible-ls_red

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (The Book of Common Prayer, the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent). 

On Sunday I wearily entered the church, doing the usual motions like dipping my fingers in the holy water and making the sign of the cross. I even managed to bow right into the priest’s stomach when I bowed in front of the altar. I was not looking and was still trying to get the hang of the cane I am having to walk with now even though I’m only 34. I was embarrassed about using the damn thing and was worried about being judged for it. I was exhausted because I’d sat in two different emergency rooms for over twelve hours and followed an ambulance with my child in it three hours north in the middle of the night to another hospital over the weekend.

The service had barely begun when the Holy Spirit made her presence known. I was tired and really just wanted her to go away but evidently that wasn’t going to happen. We had barely gotten half-way through the opening prayer, the collect I quoted above, when she brought to my mind a very specific incident which to preserve the privacy of the other parties, I will not go into. It was a situation which had been fully and entirely my fault. I had not been kind and I had not been compassionate, in fact I had been mean. On purpose.

For the last four months at least, I have been claiming that my compassion meter is broken, and have honestly even mocked some of the problems of others, because I’m a bitch and I can be mean. I used the excuse that I had so much going on in my own life, my severely disabled ten year old was placed in an institutional setting and I was grieving for having “lost” him even though he is still alive. He’s three hours away in another city. My oldest son has been severely mentally ill. I am having some medical issues that are still being diagnosed. I’m a single mom raising four kids. So I just used my own problems as an excuse to not give a damn about anyone else’s, because I was grieving, and busy.

The problem with this is that I made promises at my confirmation which so far I have been about as good at keep those as the promises I made on my wedding day but to be fair confirmation isn’t a lesbian marrying a man in an effort to be straight and that’s just the beginning. One of the promises I made at confirmation (I have been baptized three times but never had a baptismal covenant but the covenant still applies to me as a baptized Christian and one who has been confirmed) is: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Which, after being asked that question by the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, I replied: “I will, with God’s help.”

God’s help has been there, but I have not been making use of it. During Lent (which just happens to be my favorite season of the church year probably partly because I’m very introspective) I had decided to work on something in particular, but on Sunday the Holy Spirit threw the fact that I had not been kind or compassionate in my face. It was time to deal with it, there and then.

As I knelt to pray the general confession of sin with my brothers and sisters in Christ, tears came to my eyes when I said: “we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent.” The confession of sin done, I bowed my head, still kneeling, making the sign of the cross as the priest pronounced absolution on behalf of God. The Holy Spirit had shown up, I had listened to her, I had repented, and God had forgiven me. All in just under and hour. As I walked slowly to the altar with my cane to partake of the Eucharist, I quietly thanked God for bringing me to repentance.

This is what Lent is about. It’s not about fasting or giving stuff up necessarily, although those are great spiritual disciplines for Lent. Lent, for me, is about evaluating my relationship with God, what I need to work on. It’s a penitential season and it’s a necessary part of the church year. Lent is supposed to bring us to repentance, although repentance is certainly not limited to Lent. Because during Lent, we repent, and on Easter Sunday, we revel in and celebrate that Jesus is alive, that there was a resurrection, the very foundation of our faith.

I want to end this with an apology. I have had several people make comments to me about how I have been unkind to them or dismissive of their problems. If I have hurt you in any way through my callousness, please contact me so that I can make it right personally as best I can. Please forgive my meanness and my lack of compassion. But if you can’t forgive it, I understand that too.

 

“Shameless: A Sexual Reformation” by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Growing up in a fundamentalist cult in Australia, shame was a part of every day life. If we didn’t get enough people to convert to the cult, we were shamed publicly and asked if we wanted our friends and family to go to hell. Even back then I was embarrassed to “share my faith” as if I knew something was wrong but couldn’t understand what. Women and girls were told that if we were sexually assaulted, it was our fault. We must have been wearing something immodest, or been flirtatious, or even wearing an ankle bracelet on the wrong ankle. If you were a grown, married woman, and your husband cheated on you, it was because you “let yourself go” or because he wasn’t being satisfied sexually because you were a rebellious whore. And if you were not heterosexual, well, that was a sin worthy of burning in a pit of fire for eternity.

I was sexually abused multiple times as a little girl. In fact, I have some repressed memories from before I was old enough to remember, related to some sort of sexual abuse or sexual knowledge that little girls should never have. This played out in my life over and over again which is how I know. I was also a lesbian in a fundamentalist cult. Needless to say, I have a shit ton of shame surrounding sex and sexuality, as well as a whole host of other things.

Shame has been one of those constants in my life. In fact, I’ve been out of the cult for years now and I still have trouble believing that God loves me. I’m constantly trying to be good enough for God to love. I have always loved God in the best way I knew how, except maybe for that brief foray into Paganism last year where I discovered what it was I truly wanted and turned back to God. Even in the cult, I did what I did out of my love and devotion to God, even though I had no idea what God was like. It’s why the twelves steps talk about “God as we understood him.” Our understanding of God changes over time.

Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book “Shameless” which releases today, is an extremely important book. While her focus is shame related to sexuality, I found it to speak life into me over all sorts of shame, and got me thinking about shame and it’s role in my life and how I can ditch shame altogether. This is a life-giving book. For those who have grown up with shame, it’s vitally important. This book breathed life into my soul. I’m still digesting the sheer amount of things that spoke to me.

“Shameless” is a book that I will need to read over and over again, until I am able to live a life free of shame. As far as my relationship with God goes, it’s been one of the most important books I have ever read. It’s one that will remain in my collection for years to come. It’s worth a read for anyone struggling with any kind of shame, not just related to sexuality.

And as a lesbian growing up in a fundamentalist cult, all I can say is the entire book is worth it just for chapter four alone, where we are introduced to a lesbian woman who grew up with shame surrounding her sexuality.

#ShamelessBook releases today. Go get your copy. It is worth every cent!

 

Thoughts on LGBT and Community

Lately I have had to re-think my views about the “LGBT community.” It started when I was graciously invited to an Episcopal Church here on the coast that is for LGBT people. It sounded like a good idea at first, and then I came to realize that my sexuality was just a part of who I was and that I did not want to go to worship God based on a part of me when I needed to worship God with my whole heart. It’s not that I couldn’t do that there, and it’s not that I think change is bad, it’s not even that I don’t think that at some point, prayer book revision would not be a bad idea.

It’s also hard to see myself, as a “out and proud” lesbian woman, as part of the LGBT community. I posted an article a few weeks ago about a prominent lesbian in Maryland who was basically pushed out of leadership positions within the LGBT community because she didn’t believe in transgender. I thought that was wrong. Her voice as a lesbian woman still matters. The voices of transgender people matter. And here’s where this is going to be upsetting to some.

Community is a great thing. We worship God and grow in our faith both in community and individually. It takes both. However, part of the problem is that transgender and gay are two completely different issues and lumping them together with a bunch of other letters is not helpful. I think it actually erases identities rather than helps.

I know some transgender people whom I respect and affirm as children of God. I have come to the point where I do not “believe in” transgender, however. For me, part of living out my baptismal covenant is respecting people even when I disagree with them, and so I do show my respect for transgender people by using the pronouns they ask to be used by (at least, the generally accepted ones he/she/they) and the name they have chosen to be called by. For me that’s basic respect and part of the baptismal covenant that, while I did not have a baptismal covenant was baptized, I have made the promises contained therein both at confirmation and several times a year in church.

This is a shift from what I used to believe. I was always uncomfortable with the idea of people being transgender, it never sat right with me as something that I could fully affirm. I recognize that I have attacked people over their difference of opinion in this area probably even to the point of bullying, when they refused to acknowledge the idea of transgender people being the gender that they identify with.

As a lesbian woman, I understand the pure hatred that can be thrown in the direction of LGBT people. I can only imagine that it is worse for transgender people. However, it is possible to respect and affirm and even love someone while disagreeing with them, which is a valuable lesson that some awesome friends of mine have quietly taught me these past few months. When I figured out we were becoming friends more than on a surface level, I told my friend about my sexuality knowing she was much more conservative than I was, in case she wanted to quietly back away. She did not. Her words at the time, which I still remember exactly were: “it doesn’t matter what I think, you’re a child of God and I am good with taking communion next to you.” To me, that is what mattered. She didn’t have to agree, she didn’t even necessarily have to affirm me, although I believe that what she said was an affirmation of my humanity.

In fact, many of my closest and dearest friends are not thrilled about my sexuality, several even think it goes against the clear teachings of the Church. Not one of them is rude, condescending, unloving, or disrespectful in any way. They love me for who I am, not who they wished I could be. We might disagree on whether I was born this way or whether things that happened to me made me this way, I don’t think it really matters. What matters is I am loved and respected despite what they think about that one part of my life. I am a lesbian, but my sexuality is not my whole identity, and so I don’t necessarily have all of my energy tied up in that one aspect of who I am. It is part of who I am, and as such it is important, but I’m also a Christian, I’m also a woman, I’m also a mom, I’m also a writer, and many other things. All of these are part of who I am.

This is why, for me, I am not sure I could attend the LGBT church, because I am so much more than my sexuality. My entire identity is not tied up in being LGBT. I think that it would be helpful for the LGBT community to fragment some, as in being lesbian, gay or bisexual are completely different to being transgender. I actually believe it is more affirming to everyone to separate the LGB from the T. It recognizes and respects the differences.

On Christmas Eve, one of my friends was messing with me saying that I wasn’t as liberal as I made out I was, and there is some truth to that. However, I have softened on some of my ultra-liberal thoughts in the last year or so. I have been in a fundamentalist cult where my beliefs were ultra conservative, and then I swung left in a huge way and was ultra-liberal. I don’t think being fundamentalist liberal or fundamentalist conservative is healthy. Being liberal or being conservative, but willing to have dialogue rather than just be right is a good and healthy thing, but nothing is healthy about any kind of fundamentalism. Over the past year I have become more centered, although I am certainly on the liberal side of center, and I don’t see me going over to the conservative side, I think I’m in a little bit healthier place now.

In October, I had started a PhD program in Psychology, specializing in Gender Diversity. Ever since I knew I was going to get my bachelors degree my dream was to go all the way to PhD. However, I soon realized that it wasn’t something I could commit to. It would be way too much of a commitment with taking care of my family, and that was just the beginning. I didn’t feel like I could properly and objectively study Gender Diversity if I couldn’t be on board with people being transgender. I know that to some people, maybe even some special people that I care about, some who happen to be transgender, this will make me an “unsafe” person for them. It will make me a bigot. It may even mean that these special people will no longer wish to communicate with me.

As to the question of what I would do if one of my children said they were transgender, I would love them. It’s a simple as that.

I do think that we need to change how we treat people that we disagree with in general. Things have gotten really ugly the last few years. I have contributed to that ugliness and for that, I am sorry. It’s time for us to all come to the table together, to love and respect those we disagree with, to recognize them as the beloved children of God they are, just as we are. We need to pray together, to kneel at the same altar together to share the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and celebrate the fact that God loves us, and to go and obey God’s call to love one another.