Where Fear Has No Home

I thought I knew how to come and go as I pleased.

To load up the car, drive the tree-lined drive to two lane roads toward the behemoth interstates. I don’t. Or at least didn’ until I forced myself to do so this Memorial Day weekend. In March, I bought my ticket to a writing retreat in which I knew only the other attendees by their avatars on Twitter, years of blog posts, and that awkward moment when I friended a few of them on Facebook and hoped that they accepted. They did. IMG_0134

For three months, I scrolled through the #RRforWriters tweets and mapped out travel plans from the safety of my desk surrounded by all of crazy but comforting knick-knacks(doesn’t every writer have a Jane Austen action figure with a mini-poseable Shakespeare kneeling at her feet?).

But then the day before I was to fly out of RDU toward Michigan, I felt the old panic rising upward, fear tingling away whispering this was a bad idea. I’m an introvert. I’m fairly certain if Dante wrote about the circles of Hell for introverts meeting new people that one has only known through the internet would be in there somewhere. My mind grasped for excuses to stay where I was comfortable. Where I could be safely at home.

Home on five acres surrounded by pine trees, towering dead oaks, and blackberry vines. Where I can click the red circle on my browser to get rid of unnecessary blogger drama, to escape to my porch where I notoriously overwater my petunias, to tend my herbs–sage, thyme, lavender, rosemary. Where I feel both trapped and secure, where I have the power to keep all who’ve hurt me away.

Sometimes, we confuse what is supposedly stable, safe, and secure with what lurks beneath in the shadows. Our fear. 

Perhaps, fear doesn’t always look like the bogeyman under our beds. For me, fear wears Sunday dress clothes and carries a Bible, sits in the pew next to me, and waits until I offend to unleash its fury. These emotional scars came from those who claim to love the same Jesus I do, and yet, there are such deep hurts that I’m not sure will ever fully heal. Being around other believers causes me to panic, but the only I way I know to deal with this terror is to silence myself, push others far away. I’ve spent years bouncing from church to church, stayed seated when the old panic bubbled up, kept other believers far away so I could lick my wounds. Now, emotional callouses, hard and numb.

Fear took away my ability to be in community with other believers because I let it.

But I signed up for a Christian writing retreat anyway. Out of sheer bravery, doubtful.  Over-confidence in my own abilities, more likely. How hard could it be to sip some wine, talk about writing, meander about during free time writing poetry, endure the spirituality portion? Again, I tried to keep other believers at distance, walls built up from years of brick laying, plaster the everything’s okay smile on, no one would know the difference. Except for the Holy Spirit. And probably, everyone there.

During Vespers, we sat in silence. Sometimes, we stared at the flicking of the candle flame. In the silence, I felt these simple words–love, peace, and seen. While I had never been to Michigan before or this retreat center, this place became a new kind of home. Where I was loved, where I was seen, where I could break down the emotional walls for a much needed period of rest.

 

 

When I Say I’m a Feminist

When I say I’m a feminist…

I see the blank, awkward looks. Toes scuffing the dirt; you shuffle your weight and stare at your shoes. Perhaps, you sip your latte/soda/water and wish the awkward pause away. But the F-word hangs in the air like smoke from a Pall Mall cigarette. Neither you nor I can escape it, and I don’t want to. It’s who I have become, who I was, who I’m constructing myself to be. Feminisms Fest Badge

Every time, I label myself with the F-word; I see the gap between us open wide like a moon crater. Maybe, you will change the subject. Something comfortable like the weather or politics or faith. Something to move away from this label because we’ve weighed it down with images of bra burners, men haters, radicals. And I don’t fit that description.

So when I call myself a feminist, you’re never sure what to say or do. The word carries such a burden, but what great “isms” don’t? Somehow, we have this metaphorical dance of awkward pauses and gaps, but what we really need is to sit down and listen to what I mean when I say I’m a feminist.

When I say I’m a feminist…

I want you to see the little girl struggling to unify that Jesus loves everyone equally, but only men can preach and teach. The important church things. Women just take turns in the nursery. There’s a “natural” trajectory for a little girl’s life–grow-up, marriage, babies. The same for all little girls, doesn’t matter if they want to do something else or worse still don’t even want babies or marriage. It becomes hard to reconcile such a Creator who gives us all talents and gifts, but expects the same life plan for half the population. I struggled as a teenager to overcome my body and hide it at the same time. Too much knee, too much neckline, I cause others to sin because I have breasts and hips and a body that refuses to look good in ankle length skirts.

I want you to see college girl who learned early to shut up, be quiet, your voice is worthless. For the first time, an English professor with red curls and ice blue eyes tells me that my voice, my agency matter. She takes me under her wing and allows me to spend hours talking about poetry and novels and writing in her office provided I overlook the piles of ungraded papers. She listens and treats me as an equal. When she labels herself a feminist, I do too. A bit of a bandwagon conversion, but if feminism allows me to speak up for myself, for others, then I want in too.

I want you to see the graduate student. Far removed from her childhood faith,  diving into theory and literature, breathing in the intellectual discourse like oxygen.  Christianity and church fade into Derrida, Foucault, then bell hooks, Elizabeth Flynn, and Adrienne Rich. All of my professors treated my words as important and worth listening to. When I wasn’t treated as an equal outside of academia, I could find solace within its graduate seminars.With each course, I began hearing the cries of my feminist foremothers begging for me to speak, to use my agency, to rail against hegemony. In this time, feminism reconstructed my tarnished and battered view of being a woman, how a woman relates to the domestic and public spheres, how woman lives in the tension of place and purpose. Slowly, as feminism taught me my worth as a human, not just as a woman, I found my way back to the faith that I threw off so haphazardly.

When I say I’m a feminist…

(Maybe, I should have begun with this caveat. This is my practical vision of feminism rooted in the theories of bell hooks, Judith Butler, Elizabeth Flynn, and Gaytari Spivak. I understand that feminism is far from a perfect ideology, but if we can accept the messy and brokeness of the church, I think we can accept feminism’s incongruence as well.)

No one definition embraces its full scope. No one woman embodies its full vision. No set of words capture it—no matter how raw, graceful, or elegant. It does not exist in unified form; yet, it serves to unify the silenced, the abused, the First World, the Third World, the lesbian, the housewife, the academic, the high school drop out, the faith-filled, the agnostic. Underneath its wings, women grow stronger, more self-aware. They find voices to speak back to power and hegemonic authority. They find the strength to push against the wall of patriarchy and its abuses. Couched in all of its ideological weight rests Feminism. Loved and shunned. Embraced and rejected—Feminism.

Refusing to be hemmed into a succinct definition, feminism’s history is a piece quilt of the women who embrace it and who shun it. We feminists revel in the glory of suffrage. Our fledging step onto the stage of the public sphere. We take pride in those women who broke through the gender role barrier during the 1960’s. Those women who sought for gender equality give us hope. We celebrate the women who forced academia to consider gender differences in learning, to rewrite the literary canon so women writers could take a seat, to allow more women to showcase their intellectual triumphs.

Yes, these are wonderful depictions of feminism, but they don’t fully show the daily tension that I live within. I’m always already in a place of power and being othered. As a white, heterosexual female, I live with the tension of privilege and power in one hand, but the experience of being silenced in the other. It is not an easy tension to negotiate or to make into some semblance of an ordered theoretical framework. Quite frankly, I feel like my understanding of feminism looks like a patchwork quilt with crazy blue and red and green and purple squares. If you’re hoping that I would definitively explicate the theory of feminism and its truest meaning, then I’m sorry to disappoint you. But this is how I frame my feminism, this is what I want you to hear.

When I say I’m a feminist…

I embrace the experience of being a woman. Not limited to gender roles, but neither excluding those women who choose to stay within society’s prescriptive mandates. A woman has the right to choose her path without fear of scorn for her choice.

I embrace the grand meta-narrative of humanity. Both female and male voices speaking together without clamoring over one another. A beautiful dialogue of harmony, peace, and love.

I embrace the mystery of faith. A faith grounded in love. A faith rooted in the ideology that we speak up for the poor, the widow, the orphan.

I embrace ethical living. My lifestyle should never inflict suffering on others within my immediate community, my home nation, or the world.

Dear Church: Stepmother Isn’t a Dirty Word

Dear Church,

You may not remember me. I haven’t stepped across your threshold since March, and it has been even longer since we met regularly. Quite frankly, we may have never met again if  the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit or guilt or whatever doesn’t stop urging me to return. I feel the need to find a community of believers again. But like so many, I’m painfully broken and scarred and nervous about coming back. 

And you took great pains to push me aside, to leave me out, to let me know I don’t belong. I saw you roll your eyes when I stood up to be recognized as mother, then you had some balls for wanting to me to serve in your nursery. I left when I didn’t fit into your mother club because I haven’t yet shoved a new life out of my uterus. Perhaps, I made you a bit nervous when my kids were gone every other Sunday and claiming them as mine and not acting like a stereotypical stepmother.

For years, I mothered or if you prefer step-mothered my children(I will always and unabashedly refer to them as mine; they are a part of my soul and fiber and being even though we share no biological DNA). They lived and ate and slept and learned in my home, our home. I ignored the sleepy groans, the “I don’t wanna get ups.” We drove to school and slaved over homework and traveled to the beach, the mountains, even Disney World. For those years, I invested full-time in being a stepmother who didn’t resemble Cinderella’s stepmother. I loved as I know how to love because the Bible never really says directly how to be a stepmother.

But now, I’m mothering on the weekends, over the phone, sometimes, through email. I’m closer to the norm than I would like, but it is reality for now.

Maybe, this makes you a bit more comfortable. My new stereotypical stepmothering existence, a parent on the weekends, free and childless during the week. Or not. I understand why you may think I don’t deserve any recognition because parenting on the weekends must be easier. Hell, it’s practically part-time. But you don’t understand this: no parent is ever a part-time parent.  I worry from afar, and I hope the homework gets done  and video games and television kept to a minimum. I see the pain for my husband after phone calls when the kids cared more about the television than talking. Sometimes, they are flat out rude. How is this any easier? We both know it isn’t.

I have watched you my entire life glorify, exalt, and praise mothering as long as it existed neatly inside your idyllic family picture. Not all families do. I wish you could see how you have pushed those of us “non-typical” families and parents to the fringes. Sometimes, we leave and never come back. Perhaps, you will never understand stepmothering until you stop treating it as some dirty word.

Stepmother isn’t a dirty word, but “forgotten” is.

For many of us stepmothers, we feel forgotten and lost in your church circles, your Christian parenting/family blogs. We look for some small in road to the conversation about the struggles we all face as parents–whether we have “step” in front of our parental title or not. Whether you dear church like it or not, we are still a part of you, and we beg for a seat at the table, to be part of conversation about parenting and loving. We want you to hear our stories and understand us.

 

to my next church

sit down three rows

from the back, on the left,’

maybe, i look lost

unfamiliar with your church dialect–

but i know.

i remember all the words

to the doxology, lord’s prayer

amazing grace–they eat a hole

in my cynical heart.

i watch you circle around

like buzzards looking

at this new carcass

sitting in your blueredgreen pews.

this heart beats

to slow rhythm of hope–

here is where:

i can lick my church wounds clean,

i can be healed again,

i can be.

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On Grace and Story Salvation

“Glory be to God for dappled things–For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow…”

Morning rises early. Dogs bark, paw at the crate “wake you sleeper”, be ready for this day. Some mornings, I mush through the tall grass, dogs wagging around me, and I miss all of the world’s messy beauty. But some days, I walk in quietness. Above my head, the red-orange morning filters down, shines upon the dew, sparkles out upon the hay and grapevines, trickles into the crevices of this poet’s heart so the only appropriate response is poetry. I write out the morning’s lines, its images filling my heart.

I wonder if anyone ever reads my few poems here. Sometimes, the storm clouds roll in and trample down my thoughts. This act, so futile, pushes me toward giving up and settling for the rat race of hasty words. But poetry eats out my soul, and I must write to save my life. Poetry bleeds me dry of myself. This is grace; this is saving me.

For rose moles all stipple upon trout that swim; Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches wings; Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow,and plough, and all trades, their gear and tackle and trim…”

Five hours east, we drive past dunes and sea oats, watch the wind whip the sand into wraiths billowing across the main artery for these islands. The sky darkens back to the west where we were, but we drive onward. Our destination, the sea. High tide leaps upon the shore, and the wind sprays our faces with salt water to purify us. I fight to keep my sundress down, avoid the Marilyn Monroe moment,  watch the sunlight retreat behind the thunderheads. I breathe deep, and I remember what it is like to be alive, to be myself. I had quite forgotten.

We watched the sun drown itself in the sound, never quite waking up in time for sunrise. I sat in the shade as others climbed up Hatteras lighthouse. I leaned over the ferry’s rail to have the ocean steal a kiss. Running to the breakers, we floated on top of the waves until the sea, now just perfect, let us ride it. I couldn’t resist this siren song. The sand wedged deep everywhere. The undertow pulling out the water, then its sudden rush back. The joy of being on top of the wave, gliding into shore. The desperate prayers that I don’t lose my swimsuit bottoms after riding a wave much too big, much too sloppily. The make-shift ties and adjustments to do it all again. This is grace; this is saving me.

All things counter, original, spare, strange; Whatever is fickle, freckled(who know’s how?) With swift, slow, sweet, sour; adazzle, dim…

In my hands, I hold vine ripe tomatoes, coffee mugs, purple ink pens, books like dear friends.I need to hold on to things for a moment. The world, the one I’ve known, loved, built and mothered changes soon. I hate this change. I cry and lament and beg  God whom may or may not give a damn. I pray for vindication, for peace, for my heart to heal from two years burden carrying. Peace trickles in slowly like a leaky faucet, and I try to loosen it but can’t. I rest in snatches of the gospels and Psalms and poets and novels. I spin worlds on the page, stories for the asking. I drink wine and cuss and laugh. I steal time midday to drink coffee and eat cupcakes and write furiously. Once in awhile, I know I’m not so alone. There, I find my hope and my peace.

This is grace, and this is saving me.

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.”

 (Pied Beauty Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Today, I’m linking up with Sarah Bessey and her syncroblog “What is saving me right now.” Join us here.

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Wearing Our Flesh

Red clay,

Sparse pasture,

Barren land.

Here, to become

Flesh.

Wrapped around

Like an itchy coat

Our flesh hid

Your Glory.

Did our skin shroud–

Human hair and eyes and feet–

Sting against Your Divinity?

Perhaps,

You heard pulsing through you veins–

Endure another day,

Until blood spilled,

Until Heart breaks,

Until You awaken

In new flesh.

 

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Wrong

Dear God, 

You gave me

The wrong genitalia.

The right one:

Stands and preaches.

Mine only:

Aches and bleeds.

 

This hidden

Sorrow courses

Up these veins

To pierce

My already wounded

Heart.

 

Till tears

Become my words.

Silent words,

Since Your mistake

Holds my tongue.

 

But perhaps,

You understand

How to be silent too.

To hold Your tongue,

To choke back Your words,

To drown in tears,

For an over-talking

World.

 

Today,

We sit together

Two bleeding and broken–

You by choice–

Me by nature–

Just simply

To cry.

Today, I’m linking up with Joy in This Journey’s Life Unmasked. Please go read the other submissions and link up one of your own.

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Remember

Today, I’m linking up with Lisa-Jo and Five Minute Fridays.

The Rules:

  • Write for 5 minutes…no more or less.
  • Don’t worry about editing…simply write.
Today’s theme: Remember
Start:
Wet ground and cool breezes greet me today. How appropriate that today I remember. Why? Today is my last day as a 20 something. Tomorrow, I shall cross that thin line into another decade. While some may joke about being 29 forever, I will be perfectly content to leave my 20’s in memories. Memories, I can pick and choose to relish. Memories, I can pick and choose to forget.
I remember my last decade as being driven by fear. Well, it’s more sinister sister–stability and her twin safety. I chose a Christian college, too fearful to attend a secular one(and not allowed). I would lose my faith.
I remember choosing to be a Christian school teacher, too fearful again to venture out beyond the Christian bubble. Foregoing grad school(only for three years, I did go), I thought I would be safer in a community of Christian teachers. I wasn’t. My faith ripped out at the seams, destroyed. I didn’t want to put it back together. For me, my 20’s were more about living in fear, masking this fear as God’s provision and wisdom.
I remember meeting my Redneck Romeo and called him boring for the majority of our first date. Why, yes, out loud. Yes, social skills were not my strong suit. But I overcame my fears and now I’m blessed. I remember meeting my stepchildren, and their overflowing talkativeness meant I simply had to listen. Another blessed remembrance.
I remember starting this blog as a last ditch effort to tether myself to a faith community. Slowly, I found kindred spirits who had been torn apart my the church, and they helped rebuild me(check my blog roll for these lovely ladies). We call ourselves #coffeeclub. I remember opening my heart to them and they opened their hearts to mine.
Stop.

Clean Jesus: A Repost

Fact: Jesus did not smell like Old Spice. Old Spice / 9photo © 2010 Taylor Burnes | more info (via: Wylio)

Myth: Jesus requires us to be cleaned up, prettied up, and perfect prior to coming to Him.

Problem: Would someone please explain this to the church?

Sunday mornings are the worst day of the week. Trying to find dress shoes, church clothes then forcing kids to change out of one outfit to another usually means I have cursed about a bazillion times before entering church. But as long as kids and adults smell clean, dressed in perfectly ironed(well, fresh from the dryer) clothes, we pass the church inspectors(my church doesn’t really have clothing inspectors, but some of the older ladies certainly feel like this is their ministry).

Hardly, the beginnings of a worshipful experience. Sunday School doesn’t soothe my soul or make up for my wretched start to this day of rest. I’m still upset and seething from two kids whining about breakfast and clothes which hinders me from paying attention to the lesson. A large swarthy hunter green choir robe and an alto who sings off key standing next to me certainly don’t help me feel any more worshipful. At this point, I have my painted on happy-to-be-in-church face displayed for all to see.

That’s when I am confronted with  Jesus.

Not the clean Jesus in white robes who I imagine smells of Old Spice and lilies of the valley, but the Jesus who allowed snotty nosed kids to climb in his lap. Dirty, loud filthy kids had priority over relatively, clean adults. I’m sure that even Jesus couldn’t escape all of the odors and oozing coming from those children. In fact, Jesus probably didn’t smell clean at all. He took on the smells and the dirt  of the children. Intermingling with those who didn’t clean up, pretty up, or dress up to see Him. When He could have just allowed the disciples to shoo the children away, Jesus allowed the children to come just as they were–filthy, loving, and open.

And I wonder if Jesus looks down at my overly clean hands, neat clothes, smelling like butterfly flowers, wondering when I’m going to start smelling more like Him. Mixing up my fresh clean unapproachable smell with the work of loving those who aren’t clean or fresh or easily lovable—learning to smell like Jesus. When am I going to stop handing out Old Spice and perfume to those who need to be loved just as they are?

 

Fact: Jesus did not smell like Old Spice.

 

 

 

Question: What does your Jesus smell like?