as I walk

the journey to becoming me

in the burning

smudges
from dust
blown by the wind
refinement
mortality
upheaval

Ash Wednesday though come and gone, has stayed with me. Lent begins with the recognition of mortality, that we came from dust and will return to dust. Ash and dust get blown by the wind from one place to another. Ash becomes ash from fire. It is in the burning that refinement happens to gold, it is in the burning that metal is softened enough to be molded into something useful. What feels like tumultuous upheaval, is a process of betterment.
I feel that I have been in that process for a few months now.
But I’m letting go.
I’m willing to be blown by the wind.
I’m willing to be softened and formed.
I’m willing to let the slag go.
I’m willing to rest in my fragile mortality.
I’m willing to sit in the burning.

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beauty of home

I never knew quite how powerful the feeling of home would be. I’ve had little breakthroughs here and there about what home is, where it is, and even who it is, but I hadn’t really put much thought into it other than feeling that I finally had a home.
Last night I think I finally was able to take all of my past feelings and attitudes on home and bring them in to one cohesive feeling.

Last Monday night, I was in such excruciating pain that I couldn’t even stand up to go to the bathroom. My left leg had started to lose strength and sensation other than agony. I had no choice left but to call an ambulance to take me to a hospital. The first 24 hours there were super painful as they were just trying to find a way to manage my pain. The next was what felt like the fight of my life to convince them that I needed surgery then and not 2 weeks from then. Then, there was the actual surgery and recovery including taking steps that are scary because I can’t really feel the ground still with my left foot.

There is something terrifying and exhilarating about taking steps without feeling where you are actually positioned. I know there is some major spiritual significance to that statement, but I still have some morphine in my system from the surgery, so that will have to wait for another post. Home is what I want to focus on here. The biggest thing standing in the way of my discharge post op was having to climb up 3 flights of stairs to our home. I could have been discharged on Friday, but I couldn’t get my head past the 3 full flights, so, I delayed it until Saturday.

Getting in our car again for the first time in a week felt scary at first – like what if it hurt too much to get out of it – but then I realized I was focusing on fear, not on recovery, or joy, or home. Pulled up to our building and there was a parking spot right in front, waiting for us. Kelly helped me out of the car without any problems and slowly we walked to our home. We got in the front doors and took off my left shoe so I could have some idea of where the steps are and began our ascent home.

Each slow step brought me closer to a feeling that I had forgotten about in my 5 or 6 days at the hospital. Self care, autonomy, peace, freedom, love, comfort, and hope. I am home now, I have joy bursting inside that I’m home and am able to manage pain, but more importantly, can be myself again. I also had a moment last night of once I decided to lay down for bed that I just cried. I held it together so tightly when I was in the hospital so I could make sure I got the care that I needed, and once I really felt I was home, I just let loose. I didn’t even know why I was crying, but I couldn’t stop.

That’s the beauty of home. There aren’t judgments. You can cry, you can be a goof, you can be who you are without fear of repercussions. That’s why I’m so grateful that I have more than one home. I have the home I’ve made with Kelly – where ever she is, that’s my home. But, I have a church home as well. My church showed up literally for me while I was going through hell. Visitors, facebook messages, texts, and a general outpouring of love.

UVC is also a place of self care, autonomy, peace, freedom, love, comfort, and hope. I can’t be there today, but next week, I fully intend to be back at church home.

scared

Everything is simultaneously great and awful. A year from now, I should be done at Northeastern, prepping for grad school. I’ve narrowed my choices down to three different schools. I fall deeper in love with my wife on an hourly basis. I’m entering into friendships at school. I feel supported by people at church. I’m learning to say “no”. Those are the things that fall under great. The awful though really is awful.

On Monday I went to the doctor for a sick visit and told him I felt like I was falling apart. He looked at the past month of my chart and agreed. Friday I went to my spine doctor and he said he has done all he can for me and I need to have a consult with a surgeon. He marked it as urgent.

I’ve been down this road before. October of 2008 I had back surgery. It was a lengthy and brutal recovery not to mention costly. Just 6 and a half years ago, surgeons removed a portion of a disc that had compressed a nerve so badly it paralyzed my leg. At least then, I was working full time and was able to get short term disability during the recovery. I stayed at my sister’s for about a month after the surgery so I wouldn’t have to deal with stairs. I had a walker – spray painted with flame stickers, a horn, and tassels, because that is the type of friends I have back in Connecticut.

I’m in the middle of a semester that is really challenging me. This is the first time I’ve felt stupid in a classroom, ever. Even when I got a D in geometry, I still understood it, I just didn’t do well. In one of my classes I actually have no idea what is even being discussed. Compound that with a large amount of Norco 10s that I have to take just to be able to make it through the day, I can’t do any amount of analysis on the subject matter.

On Monday, the doctor could very well say that I need surgery, and it could very well be something that I can’t put off until the end of the semester. As it is, I don’t even know how I will be able to walk from the parking garage to class on Tuesday. I am scared. I am scared of the pain. I am scared that it won’t fix the pain. I am scared of the financial toll it will take. I am scared that it will put me behind for grad school. I’m scared that all of this medication is slowly going to kill my liver. I’m scared that I won’t even be able to be home after the surgery because we live at the top of an elevator-less 3 flat. I’m scared that I won’t be able to get in and out of our 2 door civic. I’m scared that I won’t be able to get up out of bed in the morning. Mostly, I’m scared that it will be too much of a burden for my wife to have to deal with. I’m scared that I will find myself in the same position in another 6 or so years.

The closer I get to the appointment, the more intense the pain is becoming. I wake up in the middle of the night to take more Norco and Aleve so that it won’t be excruciating when I have to actually get up in the morning. This pain is deeply affecting my life. I had to quit an amazing job with amazing people that had an amazing starting wage. I can’t concentrate on homework. I haven’t been able to leave the apartment for church in weeks. This is overtaking my life.

I found myself on all fours yesterday morning screaming in pain because I had to get up to go to the bathroom. Tears and snot poured from my face as I tried to stand. I can’t live like this. I can’t put Kelly through that again. I’m willing to do the surgery if that’s what will stop this. I just don’t know how to make it through that though.

I’m scared financially, academically, and logistically.

the good guys

Growing up, I always knew who the good guys were. The good guys were the cops. They protected me and others. Little by little, I would see on t.v. shows that cops would take some… liberties but it was okay, because they were on the good side. It was okay, because the end justified the mean. It was okay because they were right all along. Has life begun to imitate art? Is it now acceptable to take away someone’s liberties- their life- simply because the cop is supposed to be the good guy?

I’m not saying there aren’t good officers out there, who do the right thing day in and day out, who put their lives on the line. What I am saying though, is I believe that police culture has shifted.

I am not only sickened by what has been happening, but also sickened by what has not been happening. I doubt I need to regale you with the details surrounding Michael Brown, or Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice, or…
So we know what has been happening.
What hasn’t been happening is accountability. What hasn’t been happening is protection. What hasn’t been happening is justice.

The system isn’t failing. The system is working just as it was designed to – to oppress. Race, gender, class, age, religion, sexual orientation, ability… just some cogs in the oppression gears.

It isn’t just police forces. It isn’t just grand juries. It’s us. We are… I am… a part of it. I have decided to switch sides. I’m tired of sitting on my privilege. It’s time to make a change, a personal change, an institutional change, a systemic change. I hope you join me.

Survey

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ethics

The day was hard. The work was harder. Being present in those moments was hardest. I did a project on the dilemma of disclosing past sexual abuse. My past sexual abuse. I understood that I would have to explain a bit about what happened, but then transition to the mechanical ethical theories. I planned to discuss it in a manner that would cause me to distance myself from it, as if I had not been the victim (oddly, that is the first time I’ve ever referred to myself as the victim). What I failed to calculate was the toll having to then lead a discussion with my classmates and professor would have on me.

I got through the presentation portion. The facts were laid out. I had ethical egoism in the bag. I knew it, I used it. I was proud of my project. I then was tasked with asking questions and engaging my peers in a discussion. I had to invite them in to this series of violations. I had to then listen to their responses and answer them. I had to be present. There were a few moments I had to pause, but I controlled it and continued on like the A student I need to be.
Then I found myself hunched over the podium sobbing. Glasses off. People attempting to comfort me with hugs and fearful looks. Snot was everywhere. I left and found the bathroom and let myself sob. The cold water from the cracked sink soothed my reddened hot skin. I took off my tie, breathed deeply, and headed back into the room.

The room met my return with applause. My professor asked I wanted to end class or if we should go on. She gave me back control, which is one of the many things my abusers took from me.

There is still an uneasiness that hurts my chest, a lack of peace that won’t allow my brain to relax.

Today, I laid down on a grassy hill in the middle of campus. I let the sun warm me and feed me. I let the earth hold and support me. I let God whisper to me. My chest is beginning to unclench its fist. My brain isn’t there just yet. My heart wants to be done, but I don’t know if I ever will be. Until then, I know I have cracked sinks, the sun, the earth, and my God.

Confession

I don’t really know how to go about saying this. I’ve dropped some fairly big things in the past, but this one is different. This is more about choices and actions, so with those come some guilt and shame.

I’m the type that is compelled to give background and context around this sort of thing. Maybe, the more I type, it just feels a little buried in words and letters and not so jarring. Maybe, because after all of this build-up, it won’t seem like such a big deal. Or, maybe it’s just that I want to be understood since we are removed from tone and facial expression.

As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I grew up in a fairly strict Christian conservative home. Talk of the end times was frequent and normal. I was taught that Armageddon was around the corner, and if it wasn’t in my lifetime, it would be in the next generation. I was taught that Heaven was in another dimension and that there was no need to conserve the planet. In fact, that those who were conservationists were actually worshiping the earth rather than God, and were thus going to hell unable to enjoy their planet that they worked so hard to “save”. I remember thinking that if I actually made Earth worse, that it would speed the second coming of Christ, so if I littered and didn’t recycle, wasted water, etc., then I was actually doing good.
Those lessons were deeply ingrained into my soul. I would see Green Peace or the Sierra Club or just people “obsessed” with recycling and think that they were foolish, wasting their time, and that they were “lost”.
When I moved to Chicago, I found that the Christian community I fell into was actually liberal and was amazed to find that made far more sense than the conservative ideology I had grown up with. I remember being at a friend’s house who directed me to the recycling bin which got me thinking why was I resistant to this? Then the more I studied the Bible, the more I realized that I should be taking care of the earth. We were called to be stewards, and then there’s that whole bit of Jesus reigning on earth for 1000 years. Now, I will say that there is a chance that is not literal, but on the chance it is, maybe it would be a good idea to conserve our resources and to not make the planet a landfill.

My confession is that I was a bad person to Earth. But, I’m working on becoming a better person. I love filling up our recycling bin. I like finding ways to save water. I find myself picking up trash when I’m outside. Whether it makes an impact on the planet or not, at least there will be beauty.

 

pawing

Maybe it is just us, but, our cat is obsessed with the television. He’s constantly meowing and batting at it. We have a modest flat screen that we got this past Black Friday, I had a feeling that I should leave the protective film on the screen when I set it up. Jonah just loves to bat and paw at it. At first I thought maybe it was unusual and new for him and that he’d eventually acclimate. Then I wondered if maybe the volume bothered him (even though I keep it on a low volume and use closed captions when possible which is something I picked up from my sister’s viewing habits), but even on mute it bugs him. If the television is covered with a towel, he leaves it alone. Even when off he’ll go after it. I just don’t get it. I’ve actually questioned his cognitive abilities because of his actions.
I love my cat. I love him way more than television. It would just be nice to be able to turn it on once in a while without wondering if he’ll break it.

I wonder if that’s how God feels about us. God’s up there “I love that kid. This one I made is totally rad. Wait, what’s she doing? Why is she so flipping obsessed with that? It’s just the way someone was wired to love another person. Just stop! Stop it!  Don’t you see that it’s okay? Why are you still fighting this?”

Just a thought as I get up from the futon to chase him away from the television once again.

 

Even now, I feel her

The bulk of my adult faith has been spent as a member of a Pentecostal church.
Speaking in tongues wasn’t just common, it was expected. The evidence of being baptized in the Holy Spirit was speaking in tongues. If you didn’t… well… maybe you weren’t ready… but more than likely, you weren’t really a Christian. At least, that’s the vibe that comes across. At best, you were a “second class” Christian. You were going to make it in to Heaven, but don’t even consider getting a front row seat – you’d get the balcony behind a pole between two large men who take up your arm rests.

I moved to Chicago four years ago. I had no idea I was disillusioned with my faith until I was given the freedom to question things. At first, I didn’t even know what to question. I had accepted everything I was given, and those things that I didn’t like, I just refused to contemplate them. Slowly but surely, I came to realize that the God I was serving had looked and acted identical to my former pastor. Even God’s voice was the same.
There isn’t anything wrong with connecting to God that way as a starting point, but there needs to be more. Otherwise, you’re really worshiping man, not God.

Two years of working out my faith – with fear, trembling, honesty, bravery, alcohol, swear words, tears, and lots of books on theology, I caught a glimpse of God. God looks nothing like any pastor I had ever had. God’s voice isn’t filled with bass and bravado. God isn’t a man. God isn’t a woman. God transcends sex and gender. God is light. God is love. God is truth. God is peace. God is not confusion. God is not hate. God is not intolerance. God is humor. God is comfort and security.

I found myself going to a new church, this one is Methodist. The part of me still holding on to legalism was ashamed that I had to settle for a Methodist church. I might as well have been a secular humanist. As I continued to go to the church, I realized that what I had been told of what Methodism is and isn’t was not only inaccurate, but it didn’t matter. I connected with amazing people, theologians and now friends. This church is my home and family.
The beauty of this place, is I can praise God and be the only one with my arms stretched out, pacing in the back, dancing, or standing in place with my hands in my pocket, and there would not be a single judgment cast about how I worship our God. So often I felt that if I weren’t demonstrative enough at church, that it would appear I was backsliding.

This Sunday was Pentecost Sunday. I remember it being a big deal before, but nothing of substance ever seemed to happen. Yesterday, our pastor mentioned it with little fanfare, and yet, I felt the Holy Spirit move on me in such a powerful way, a way that I missed. It was like seeing a dear friend after years and running into her arms for a hug that melted away the time and the miles. I spoke in tongues, I felt her fire. Even now, I feel her.
I feel grateful for all of the churches I’ve been a part of. The ones that gave me knowledge, the ones that gave me passion, the ones that taught me discipline, the one that gave me freedom, and this one most of all that has taught me to experience God in more ways than I knew existed.

blank page

My Identity.

I stare at this blank page for an assignment thinking about how my identity is also blank. It is full of possibility. It is open. It has the potential for beauty and for mess. It can spark a conversation and shut one down. It can be simultaneously hope and despair. The real reason that my identity is like a blank page though, is I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what to write down.

The seven core identities in sociology are Age, Race, Class, Sexual Orientation, Gender, Religion, and Ability. I know that I’m 34, white, able bodied (for the most part), and I’m part of the dominant Christian religion – though my Christianity might look very different from the mainstream. I’m thankfully no longer stuck in the working class bracket and I think we’re actually middle class now. These categories that I fall into shape not only how I interact with the world, but how the world interacts with me. These give me great amounts of freedom as I find myself mostly in the dominant groups of society. I have taken most of those freedoms and advantages for granted. Possibly because I’ve overlooked them so much as I’ve been too focused on where I don’t fit into society’s preferred slots for me.

I learned a couple years back through the help of someone I trust that finding black and white solutions to a grey problem will cause chaos and lead to further confusion. Too often society as a whole teaches us black and white. Binaries. Wrong or Right. Up or Down. In or Out. Good or Bad. Gay or Straight. Man or Woman. I’ve been trying to use a true and false model when I really should be using an open ended essay form.

The truth is that there is not a binary. The world is not black and white. Even social constructs aren’t. I don’t fit neatly into every category. My physical sex, I can answer that. I am female. Gender on the other hand is tricky. Gender is fiction. Our society has different gender roles than others like Papua New Guinea. I’ve finally come to the place where I can say fairly sure that I am not a man. I don’t set that in stone because I believe there are some things that are very fluid. Gender being one. It can ebb and flow. I can want to bind my chest today while wearing cargo shorts, and on the weekend wear a pushup bra and a skirt. I can ardently argue against having to wear a scarf as part of a work uniform but feel comfortable in a neck tie. I can get frustrated when I’m called sir and get equally irritated when referred to as a girl.

I am not a lady. I am not a man. I’m somewhere in between. In the grand scheme of things, does it matter? For you and the rest of the world it shouldn’t, it does, but it shouldn’t. But to me it does – I want to dig in and really get a hold of it. Not because I need it to be labeled – because I finally realize that doesn’t matter, rather so I can know myself better, so I can become increasingly comfortable with who I am and how I interact with you and with society, so I won’t feel defensive and upset when I’m referred to as a girl or sir.

I still have some ways to go in this journey. I’m sure once I complete it, there will be another one that is just waiting for me to embark on. That’s the process of living and being – filling up a blank page only to find another one waiting to be filled.

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