Finally

I called my grandmother tonight on the phone just to see how her brother was doing.  Of course I have other things I want to tell her and I also want to see how she is doing.  I call her a few times a week now.  I never used to do that.  As my grandfather became ill, about 6 months ago, I began to call her once a week.  As he worsened my calls increased.  Now that she is a widow, I try to call 3 times a week.  
 
The calls are short.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  I know that so many people call her all day and, in being such a classic and lovely woman, she will put her best smile on even for a phone conversation.  Recently I did call her because I needed her.  I felt really hesitant to do that, especially because the call had to do with my own marriage troubles.  I didn’t want her to hear about my marriage (even in its state of disrepair) and then consequently long for her marriage.  But, I have to realize that she will do that anyway.  And then something incredible and surprising happened, but also not so incredible and amazing, I suppose.  I poured my junk out for her to see.  I knew she would understand and she did.  She empathized with me about how hard marriage is.  And then she was able to tell me how hard it is for her that my grampa is gone.  Then we both cried on the phone.  
 
Back in December we threw this huge party at our house for a family member.  It was too much for me.  I can plan these things, but the execution makes me itchy.  I played the perfect hostess and tried my best.  The next day I called my grandmother and I told her that I don’t know how she did that for years with my grandfather.  And for some strange reason it cracked her up.  She just laughed and laughed on the other side of the phone.  It was hearty, belly, tear-producing laughter.  It was contagious and we both just laughed.  I called to tell her about it because as I was in the midst of serving appetizers, I thought of my grandmother entertaining in the 1950’s.  Her and I are so much alike.  We are best suited in the work place and out of the home.  I am a much better cook than her, but we are wild women.  We need to be free range.  We will do things that we have to do, but it will kill us.  We will serve our nicest food to the biggest bull-shitters and roll our eyes fiercely as we stroll back to the kitchen for more.    
I told her about my experience out of exhaustion, and we connected in this funny little way.  And then she just couldn’t stop laughing about how ridiculous it was.  I know exactly what she looked like on the other side of the phone.  Her breath got wheezy.  She laughed so hard.  
 
This evening, during our phone call, I shared with her another thought that I knew she could relate to.  Again she laughed and laughed.  My mother and aunt were with her and they didn’t know what was going on.  I laughed with her.  I laughed because she was laughing, and because life is ridiculous, and because I knew that her laughter was genuine.  I didn’t intend to make her laugh, I never do.  But I am so glad I did.  She told me that she will probably wake up in the night and remember and laugh some more.  I believe her.  I have seen and heard her do this.  It’s like she stores little bits of funny jokes in her pocket for a late night snack that she can enjoy on her way to the bathroom to sustain her for the long night of darkness and loneliness.  
 
In the moments after laughing where you sigh, and giggle remnants pop up, my heart felt full and glad and satisfied.  You see, it is not just that my mother and I have a strained relationship, it is that out relationship is non-traditional.  My mother is biologically my mother and she carried me in her womb and she has the cesarian scars to show for it.  But she was not able to be the mother I needed when I needed it.  We do not have a traditional relationship.  I am her peer.  She is my peer.  She did not mother me.  So our relationship exists because we have a similar family circle.   
 
I have always wanted a traditional mother, though.  Everyone does.  When we don’t have one we have a huge hole in our souls.  I am lacking in the parental unit department.  It has been a long and lonely road.  Yet my grandmother has been my constant.  She has been my sun.  I can safely orbit her and know where I am and where my home is.   When we share these moments and they make me feel whole, I have these tastes of pure happiness and completion I have been looking for.  It doesn’t make up for the times that I have felt like I have been hurled toward a black hole, or a concrete wall, but it helps.  Those moments where we are so strongly attached over the phone, draw me out from the event horizon.
 
In my college anatomy and physiology course I remember the day we learned about gametes.  Males produce sperm constantly.  Their bodies are on a clock where they constantly make new, fresh, sperm.  This is why Larry King has tons of babies and he is an old, wrinkly, man.  Females produce a fixed number of eggs and these are always with us.  We are born with these eggs.  All of our ovum that we are ever gonna have are in our little baby bodies before we are born.  This means that the egg that made me was once in my mother’s ovaries whilst she was in her mother’s womb.  My grandmother once carried me in her own womb.  That shit is profound.  When I heard that in class I thought, well at least the woman I love the most carried me in her womb.
 
I feel so glad for my snippets of joy that I get to have with my gramma.  I appreciate all of the memories and I cling to them.  I am so happy that I get to go through the relationship evolution and maturation with her that most children go through with their parents.   
Thank you, more please.
I hope and pray so desperately for all the motherless children out there to find someone that can bring them this feeling, too.  I hope for you, I really do.  I pray for you, I really do.  
 
 
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Thank you. More, please.

i want to be the type of happy and content where i am not bitter and resentful when good things happen to other people. i guess i have always felt like there isn’t enough. it must be the consequences of being a poor kid. i hoard goodness. i believe in scarcity because it seems to haunt me and follow me wherever i go. i cannot watch others enjoy the sweetness in life because somehow i think if they get the good stuff that somehow means i don’t get to have any. it is like there is a large steamy bowl of fresh, hot, happiness at the dinner table. and if everyone before me takes a big scoop, then i am screwed and i don’t even get to lick the spoon.

for years i have avoided choir concerts and music performances because singing makes me so happy and it is painful to watch other people have that joy. i resent everyone who ever had a honeymoon. we paid for our own wedding so we never got to observe that highly popular tradition. every vacation our friends take, every plane ride, trip, facebook photo on the beach- makes me so bitter.

when i see someone with their best friend it makes me so sad that mine lives too far away to share the mundane things of life with. and when someone has a job that they love, i think i look at them as if it is their fault i am unhappy at mine. it is as if i believe there has to be some universal balance of misery. so if someone else is happy, that means that i have to be served a heaping plate of shit to eat. a very sane, small, part of my brain knows that this is simply not the way the world works; and that all this nonsense is actually contrary to what my faith says. but it is simply how i feel and how i perceive things. i wish i didn’t think this way. but i do and it is absolutely miserable.

i watched this movie about a year ago and it made me weep. WEEP. it is called “Happythankyoumoreplease.” i hate telling people the things that i like. it feels to vulnerable and i fear being judged for my taste. like how i watched the Tim Burton version of “Alice in Wonderland” and i thought it was the best thing ever. it spoke to me really deeply- i am not even kidding. i keep it a secret because that is really intimate information. i don’t usually like Tim Burton movies, as his style is too dark for my taste. but this one got me. adult Alice makes her way back to Wonderland but never remembers being there. everyone else remembers her and so she spends the rest of the film trying to figure out if she believes she is the same Alice everyone else remembers. more weeping.

“Happythankyoumoreplease” is another movie that poked a little too hard at my gaping, festering, wounds. the female protagonist struggles with self esteem and worth and she doesn’t think she is beautiful or worth loving. i am giving away a lot of info here. but her character says some stuff that resonated deeply. her name is Annie.

Annie: So, I’m trying to let go of the whole idea that we have to pay for our joy with sorrow or tragedy; that there has to be some sort of karmic balance, but it sure feels that way. You know what I mean?  I do this thing…I can’t believe I’m telling you this…about a year ago, I was in this cab and this cab driver- this indian guy- started telling me all sorts of stuff. He was just looking at me in the rearview mirror and he said, “Bliss. Bliss is your birthright.” And I was like, “Uh…? 45th and Madison?” He said, “You have great potential in this lifetime. The key to your life is gratitude. You do not give enough thanks.” I said, “Well- how do I do that?” And he said, “Simple. Say, ‘thank you.’” I said, “Well…when?” He said, “All the time- right now.” And he said when I say thank you I should say ‘more please.’
Tony: “Wait. Thank you, more please?”
Annie: “Yeah. That with gratitude the universe is eternally abundant. So I’ve been giving gratitude a shot. Thank you, more please. Thank you, more please. Thank you, more please. How crazy am I sounding here?

*later in the film*

Annie to her best friend via voicemail: “So here’s what I have to say to you before the damn beep cuts me off: Sadness be gone. Let’s be people who deserve to be loved…who are worthy. Cuz we are worthy. You’ve told me that for years, and now I get to spit it back at you. Yeah, I know. I’m totally gonna get nominated for the Sincerity Award. Fuck it, I don’t care, I want to win it. You’re a good man. Go get yourself loved. That’s all I got.”

i am right there with Annie.

happythankyoumoreplease.

Haters Anonymous- Trigger Warning

Hi, My name is _________, and I am a Hater.
I wrote this when I was still in college *ahem* over three years ago. But it reminds me of the recent political unrest that has lead to the murder of 6 people in Arizona, including a child.

May God have mercy on us.
I was doing research for a project that I was involved with. The project had to do with society’s interaction with the LGBT community (queer folk for most of us that do not know what all the letters stand for); especially the Christian church. As I was looking for articles on the internet I came across a report about hate crimes. This report had been compiled and contained hate crimes in chronological order from 1998 until 2002. The report was 51 pages long and appeared in relatively small print.

I scanned the article, thinking that the hate crimes would only be a few pages and then the rest of the article would be a discussion of some sort. I was surprised to see that all 51 pages were accounts of hate crimes motivated by race, ethnicity, gender (toward women), religion, and sexual orientation.

I printed it out so that I could read thru the accounts at my leisure on my commute to and from school and not have to rely upon the computer (I would also use it as a source for a paper that would accompany the project).

I soon realized that the task of going through 51 pages of hate crimes was not as easy as I had anticipated. I stopped frequently and would find myself starring into space as I tried to imagine the things I read about actually taking place. The words were so disturbing that at one point a member of the group I was in, placed their hand on the article, and told me to quit reading it. But I was compelled to read of the ugliness of the world. Someone had to. Someone had to know how all those people died from the hate that someone had nurtured for so long.

The stories were of beatings, burnings, sexual abuse, gunfire, and murders. Of persons, men, women, and children of all shapes, sizes, religions, and sexual orientations. I thought to myself, is this what God wanted? I mean, even if he did find people’s lifestyles deplorable, are we to kill and beat these people to death? Obviously not. God doesn’t hate people. He doesn’t even hate the haters. I can never let myself hate so much that I would destroy human life- never ever, ever.

I know a girl whose father sexually abuses her. This is not the thing of the past, but of the present. He is a coward and not worthy of the title “father” or “man.” He is sick and despicable. I promised myself that if I ever met him in person that he would have the indentation of my fist and teeth in his face and limbs. I promised myself that he would know me and that he would know that I know what he does. I know that God wants me to forgive him and to not feel this way about him. I know that God’s graces are extended to him, though I do not want them to be. But they are. God’s love is big enough to forgive a molester and a rapist and pedophile. And honestly- sometimes I really dislike this about God. I really want God to hate the people I hate. And some people go out of their way to form their god into a being that acts and thinks exactly like themselves. But I am a douchebag, and an evolved douchebag at that, who knows that God is so much different than me. And this is a really good thing. God’s ways are better than whatever I imagine. And I longed for the day that I would want to change how I felt about this despicable person. And it came.

I realized that my hate for this man was the same hate that motivated crimes that took so many lives. Now mind you, I am not just picking some random man to beat or kill; I wanted to harm just my friend’s abuser. I saw the bruises she tried to hide, I saw the scabs she tried to hide. And I knew there were wounds he gave her that I could not even begin to imagine. And I wanted him to taste his own blood, maybe swallow a tooth or two. I felt rage and hate, justifiably. But it is the same hate in God’s eyes. I hated, and I already murdered him in my heart. Yes, he still lives and breathes (which I regret that he has the privilege) but I cannot live my life with that hate. I cannot allow myself to have that hate that killed a 6 year old girl with a machine gun, the hate that ran a car over a group of black kids, the hate that hung a black man in his front yard, the hate that tied a homosexual to a fence to die, or the hate that carved epithets in the skin of a college student. I cannot let that same hate have a place inside of me to nurture.

God said, “Love. Love everyone. Love everyone through your actions. These actions should look ridiculous and largely generous. Give your love outrageously to everyone, especially the poor. And while you’re at it, love your enemy, too.”

I think God did that so we could peer into how tremendous she is at loving and forgiving and giving grace.

So hate has made me flinch. I cannot hear the word without having those stories flash like lightning in my stomach and the nausea rise a little. The night after I finished reading the entire compilation, I turned off the light at 1am, and I was petrified. I was petrified of the hate pool that I so willingly contributed to, to the hate that we participate in, and of how God must be so sad that we have it so wrong. I had nightmares that night that I kind of remember, and that I appreciate not remembering. My husband told me the next morning that I was talking so much in my sleep that I woke him up. I might have been calling for him or help or something. I don’t know, but it wasn’t good. I never talk in my sleep; that’s just how disturbed I was by all that I had read.

In hating, I too committed a hate crime. May God forgive me, as she is willing to forgive them, too. I don’t want to participate in that anymore. No more.

Oakland 1.0: Tamara and the Patchwork Family

I lived in Oakland, CA once upon a time. I did this christian-y program that had me there for a little under a year. I rarely talk about it for numerous reasons. Mostly I miss it: I miss the friends I made, I miss the job I had. There are few people who I think would care to sit and listen to me as the dam breaks. I am also terrified of re-enforcing negative stereotypes, that I am often silenced; don’t want white people to misunderstand and misconstrue.
But I think it is time to start telling. I will start with a small person I met. She was a 5 year old girl, named Tamara. She lived a few houses down from our duplex. She had an older cousin who lived with her named Dante, in 4th grade, and a younger brother, Calvin who was under 2.

Tamara: a perfect, silly, little girl. I saw her butt crack often. Not that I should talk, but her pants barely stayed up. We tied a brightly colored soft scarf through her belt loops to keep them up. It kinda worked. We had dance parties. She showed up at the door of our duplex and asked for a banana or yogurt, or an apple. She would get pink yogurt on her chin, it would drip on her shirt. Her water glass would end up sticky.
Her eyes were brown and sparkled brightly. She smelled sweet and her hair was spongey-soft. We would rip up cereal boxes and then paint with glitter and glue on the back of them. She asked questions that were so deep they scared me, and she taught me profound spiritual truths about faith and illustrated for me the basics of Jesus.

My roommates and I were very close to her and her cousin and brother. Their parents were young and struggled, and their grandmother was overwhelmed and overworked. We eventually made it a habit to invite them over once a week for dinner and we would eat and pray and talk…with these little people that we loved so much. Sometimes Calvin’s diaper sagged and he played alone all day. We saw him outside playing as we walked to work, and he was still there when we came home. We brought diapers and wipes home and we would change him so his baby soft skin would not get a rash or irritated. We would always walk the kids over to their house to inform their parent or sitter where they were. But sometimes we were met with apathy, sometimes grief, sometimes they had so much weight on their shoulders that the whereabouts of a 2 year old were out of their heads. Sometimes Calvin smelled like pot. Tamara was holding her uncles hand when he had been shot. Dante shyly hid that he could barely read.
But when they were in our homes we loved them and they loved us. And we were the most ridiculous looking family ever known to man. Hands down. A jock that stood at 6”4’, 2 gorgeous blonde women, an indian guy, a tall geek with strawberry blond dread locks, and a mexican (looking) girl, with three black children. And let me tell you- I think we were all in love with it. We ate grilled cheese one night, pancakes another.

One night a week everyone in our home would gather for a bible study, and the kids knew that they could not come over to play while we did that. It was grown-up time. But Tamara would knock on the door; looking cute, and pathetic, and lonely. I am glad I did not have to turn her away. I refused to answer the door and look at her sweet face.
One day we were playing in the driveway of our duplex and Calvin looked up at me, reached his arms up and puckered his lips. I thought, what the hell, and gave him a wet 2 year old kiss. A few times as I was coming home from work, he would see me on the sidewalk and he would break out in to a run, arms out wide, to embrace me. It was delightful and heartbreaking at once. I felt his love and I loved him back, but I knew it would not last. I would go home in a years time and he would play alone on the street again.
The moment that fucked me over the most was when Calvin was playing with one of my male roommates (who adored Calvin deeply) and Calvin looked up at him brightly, like his sister but with longer eyelashes, and said, “Dada!”

My roommate and I made eye contact, laughed, felt embarrassed, and ignored it. We did not talk about this incident; because if we had it would have broken our hearts into a million bits. This young baby’s proclamation had summed up so much; the closeness of all our bonds was genuine and powerful. But we were leaving soon, and this college-aged guy could not be his father. In a few months this baby recognized the love and family he wanted and assumed that this guy must be a dad, his dad.
Our assignment had us in Oakland for a year, and we knew we would leave soon, ripping universe-sized holes in their little tiny hearts (that had already been broken too many times). But we were lucky as hell. They moved out and left the neighborhood before we did. They left us. My heart shattered. I am so glad they were the ones to leave.

My Church Manifesto

Someone recently asked me what my ideal church looked like. For years I have been discussing with a close friend the inadequacy of the Christian Church to meet our needs and the needs of the people we love. I have been scalded by the Big Business that the Church has become. And I hope for a real manifestation of church that I can experience in my lifetime.

Henri Nouwen said it perfectly: “More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”          

Henri Nouwen articulated the basic idea of church perfectly: living together and loving each other. But I think he only scratched the surface. I find that most people need more specific direction because it is so easy to get off track and lose focus. Jesus emphasized ideas that seem unnatural and unwise in popular culture; strip naked to clothe whomever asks you for clothes, give generously until it doesn’t make sense, value the persons in your community who are most invaluable, lose your life to save it, oh yeah- and you will probably be homeless. These notions frighten most people who are willing to admit that this is, indeed, the call of Jesus. So instead of people being taught to live a life that is this passionate and severe, we have people that want to hear the Gospel of Comfort, and they want to reserve their pew in heaven next to the people that look like them and make them feel numb. Well, if the Bible tells us anything, it is that Jesus just doesn’t work that way.

My good friend once said, “This is not ‘fluffy’ Jesus.” This isn’t the squishy little lamb that we get in our Easter basket with Peeps and Reece’s Peanut Butter Eggs. Those candies serve as good Communion in a pinch, but they would melt into goow in the mere presence of the fire and passion of Jesus. He told his disciples- some who smelled of fish, some who were women (the modern day equivalent of being gay in ministry), some who would have belonged to the NRA, and some who probably wanted to smoke pot and sleep on the beach- that they should take only the clothes on their backs and go out there and get to it.

He said: “Take your butts out there and love people, touch ‘em, heal ‘em. Touch blood, touch lepers, touch skin infections and boils, touch people with debilitating mental illnesses (depression, DID, psychosis), touch women, touch gentiles, touch Samaritans (comparable to modern day Muslims), tell children that I want to see them and hear them, eat with them, go in their homes and tell them I love them and that I came here for them. Tell them and show them that you love them. Tell them that this life sucks, but with me and each other we can live a slice of Heaven on Earth, and it is freakin’ free, and no one can steal it away from us once we own it. Oh and, FYI, I love the least, the last, and the lost. The first will be last. The last will be first. Lose your life if you want to save it. Got it? Go.”

Jesus was unimaginable. I know for a fact that if he showed up today, we would kill him all over again, because he would jack with our notions of faith.  He would send us in to a furious rage. In his day women did not show their hair unless they were prostitutes. And some lady washed his feet with her hair. That is almost Biblical Erotica. Some married women never showed their husbands their hair, and they were proud of that. Some rabbis didn’t even look at women. Jesus let women be his disciples and learn from him so they could be rabbis too. I try to imagine what that would translate to in our society. It is something like Muslims, anyone from the LGBT community, and folks with disabilities all having a BBQ with Jesus and learning to be his ambassadors. Jesus made people uncomfortable. And he reached into the horrid despair of the lost of society and he made them whole, hopeful, and they left their jobs and families to follow him; to get a glimpse of him. I get the idea that Jesus and his ideas should upset me and make me feel uncomfortable, and if they don’t, I’m doing it wrong.

Church:

People living simply. Taking what they need, so that everyone can have some. Everyone is welcome: gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, disabilities, illness, age, race, language- you need not apply. The door is open and you have a place at our really large picnic table. Each person has gifts and values and we help each other find our places and our gifts, kinda like L’Arche. What the world says is important: stuff money, selfishness; we fight against. We advocate for generosity that borders insanity and love that heals wounds.

I once heard people complaining about church: too boring, I don’t want to get up and hug people, too much scripture reading, the music is bad and slow.  Is that what church has become?

Maybe church isn’t about what you get, but about what you can give. Yeah, so maybe sometimes going to church on Sundays sucks a little. But that is missing the point entirely. Going to church on Sunday is a small piece of what Church is. I go to the building to see my friends, hear some good ideas that someone studied over all week, have a snack. But church doesn’t start or end there. It started a long time ago.  I have church in the park reading, while my friend naps in the shade, while on the phone with friend, while listening to music, or at the beach with my dogs. Church is a lifestyle; a purposeful choice to hear and do what Jesus talked about. Getting together with other people to figure it all out and going out there and helping each other do it. Church is looking into the face of people that society discards and inviting them in to your home and life, permanently.

Oh, and it is not easy. You are going to hear things you don’t want to about yourself, about sacrifice, about your lifestyle. This is hard. What part of, “You have to lose your life to save it” didn’t you understand? You may not have a place to lay your head. Sometimes Lazarus dies. You may have to leave your job and your family. Jesus didn’t promise material or physical comfort. He said, “Love your enemy, don’t hate anybody.”

In a Bible Study someone once said to me that they were not sure this Jesus stuff was worth it. All I could think of was Jesus saying that only the sick need physicians. He came for the people that line up outside his door and break through his roof to be with him and see him and be healed by him. If you don’t feel ill, you don’t go to the doctor. If you don’t see the need for Jesus, you don’t need him. Leave him alone then.  Because those of us who know we need it, who know our very real illnesses, need treatment; those of us who have touched despair, death, poverty, loneliness, and rejection find that Jesus is very worth it.