Baptized

IMG_0410

i’ve been baptized

in the pure love

of dog’s tongue.

wetness sticks to skin,

slobbering pants

stinking of the corn

or rotting deer carcass

you buried behind

blackberry briars and johnson grass

now, resurrected.

In just–

time splits open

and the holy beyond fuses

together in fur and paws and tongue

and licks away

my fears.

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.

 

 

On Dreams and Effed Up Theology

For the past four months, I’ve begged God for a dreamless sleep.

Sometimes, I crawl between the chocolate sheets, and sleep crashes into me. Darkness, rest, morning. But some nights, sleep isn’t so kind. Perhaps, it was the Valentine’s Day energy still buzzing from dinner and wine and an the horrific assault of too many perfumes and colognes all in one place. Or too much television, electric stories blinking on and off the screen, my mind worn down to its barest, rawest place. Sleep should have been easy–slip off into that good night. Morning and dog walks and routine. It wasn’t.

Dreams have a way of fettering out all the mess locked away during conscious moments.

Maybe, it’s just mine. But between night and morning, I remember standing on my front porch. Thankfully, fully clothed. Sitting next to me, my Ginger dog, the first birthday present my husband ever gave me, lay on her giant green dog bed, tail wagging and alive. And then, she bolts. Head bounding, legs springing like Tigger, but she runs farther and farther away. For moment, she turns her head back toward me, still standing on the porch calling for her, and  she disappears into the blackberry thicket and pine trees. Gone. IMG_0396

In my dream, she’s alive and vibrant. In the waking world, she’s been dead for four months. The day before my 31st birthday to be exact.

I wake up sobbing into my pillow, a guilt ridden mess. I can hear my other two dogs squirming in their crate ready to go outside, but I’m not ready to face the empty space where Ginger should be. But isn’t. Through the curtains, sunlight streams down on the kitchen floor, and the skies cold and clear blue. But I see only darkness, everything tightly closed up. I feel the bitter hand of self-abuse grasp my heart, and I allow it to whisper guilty lies–“if you hadn’t been selfish, Ginger would still be here.” Or another variation, “if you were normal and asked for stuff, Ginger would still be here.” The guilt and self-shaming kept telling me, “your fault, your fault, your fault” like drums banging out Taps.

Even now, I can’t write about Ginger without sobbing and feeling the searing hot guilt all over.

Days like these that I drop f-bombs into my prayers and desperately whisper apologies because my version of God looks more like a vindictive chain smoking whore than loving being. Growing up, God  took things away from us if we loved something besides Him. And I don’t want him to take away my other two dogs because for a long time I felt certain that he stole Ginger from me like a pissed off toddler who can’t play with his favorite toy.

I lived with this view of God for most of my life, and it plunges me back into the black hole of shame and guilt. There is no lightness or love  or kindness in this vindictive deity. Just shame and fear and despair. I imagine I hear God saying, “well, it’s your fault, bitch, deal with it.”

That’s some fucked up theology to live with everyday.

But then I pray for a miracle, and it snows in the South after sunny and 60’s. Maybe, you think I’m crazy for seeing a few pure white snowflakes and miraculous, but they were. Slowly, the light is coming back, and God doesn’t look so angry or bitter or vengeful. I can sort through all the self-imposed shame and be free. Truly free.

We’re Not Cliche

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We had never been out together on Valentine’s Day. 

Until this year. But that’s part of the price(not really much of a price), we pay for a ready-made family and two smallish kids back at the beginning. Our first Valentine’s Day, a late dinner after the kids were tucked in bed, steaks and flowers and maybe an episode of LOST(you know back when the show was good). Small and so far removed from the hearts and pinks and diamond jewelry, and everything I grew up believing Valentine’s Day would be. It isn’t. All the girl talk in the dorm was bullshit compared to reality.

Of course, we went out later in the week when we had a babysitter. We were the couple who white-people danced at a Brad Paisley concert dodging beer spills and the other dancers just as off beat as we were. Eighteen rows from the stage, I sang along to the songs I knew, made up words, or just swayed to the steel guitar. He never sang a word just smiled and enjoyed the show. We laughed at the Sonic drive-thru waiting for slushes because we were both too cheap to pay the highway robbery prices at the concert. And we returned to the quietness, the normality of our relationship. We’re not the going out on the town types. Never have been, doubtful, it will change.

We defy romantic cliche by necessity. 

We’ve spent Valentine’s Day sick with the flu or cooking pasta or grilling more steaks, always at home because we had kids and babysitters  are expensive. He has sent flowers–always knowing to avoid red roses. Somehow, we worked out how to make the day special. We’ve climbed up mountains and bought truffles. Or simply ordered Chinese food and sat on the couch together.

But this year, we went out on the actual day. 

I dressed up my jeans with red lipstick and a bright scarf. He made reservations early that morning and brought home yellow roses with red tips. We laughed at the special menu(who buys champagne at $140 a bottle? not us!). I love the surprise of the whole evening, and I had no idea that he planned so far in advance. For him, 7am that morning IS advanced planning.  Our evening didn’t have the romantic comedy ending nor did I expect it to.

I’ve given up my idealized, wonderland Valentine’s. A utopia of sorts.

Even on our first Valentine’s Day out, we giggled at the couple to our right. First couple dates into a relationship, still young with awkward pauses, favorite food/movie/job questions. We’ve left that stage far behind in these years that we have worn together. He can tell you all my favorites, and I can tell you his.

But we aren’t as far long in life as the couple seated to our left. Retired, but not old and senile. Every so often, we heard the whispers about grandchildren and obligations and errands. But we heard their dreamings too.  I long for the slowness of life when we can focus on dreaming of our. Right now, busy has been the order of days. We’re worn out by 8pm from work and lessons plans and grades. This is our life, a quiet life. It suits us better than anything else ever could.

For the quiet life is no cliche, it is who we are.

 

Under Sky, Under Moon

under sky, under moon

silk sand breezes

up the shoreline, past the dunes, the sea oats,

we sit on army green canvas chairs

that fold up neatly,

drink deep the ocean weary sighs.

pinkpurplebluegreen

lanterns bobble to the breezes cut time

and we–

under lights, under stars–

lumber out of rhythm

(no amount of liquor

erases our white dance mama skills)

you pulse to the beat of the disco ball

finger pointed straight up, whole arm swings down, back up and again.

i hear the humming of hip movements, imagine my flip-flops to heels

in the night, i dream of long red skirts twirling out

a sultry voice repeating:

samba, samba, samba.

then–

we laugh and collapse into our chairs

and our familiar song.

 

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for these six years

Yesterday, my Redneck Romeo and I celebrated 6 years of marriage, of faithfulness.

He encouraged me to go graduate school, to writing classes, to keep writing. Today’s poetry is for him.

for these six years

 

walk into the office

i sit at my corner space to write

behind me, i know there is another wood desk

facing east, looking out the window

and a pile of white socks next to it.

for these six years,

there has been the same pile

that my dogs play tug-o-war for

that i rescue more than i wash.

i cuss over this pile when i have washed

the whites and fretted over the holey-ness of it.

but–

i don’t want it to go away

because when this pile

of sweaty socks stops showing up,

he won’t be with me

walking around in his boots,

mucking up those white socks.

 

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Together

junia

I. 

Today, yesterday, years ago…

I had a voice, a strong female, estrogen filled to the brim,

Overflowing voice–

But a leather-bound 1611 KJV slapped hard till

I couldn’t speak above a whisper then

Silence. Voiceless and adrift

In testosterone oceans

Of those who tried speaking for me

But couldn’t.

Then, a man in a black suit, teary eyed

Stood waiting for me down the narrow aisle

Between pews and stained glass

With eyes watching, hearts joined.

He awoke my voice, my strong female,

Estrogen filled to the brim voice,

From its Silence

So we two could talk

Together.

_______________________

II.

Together,

Our lives fold up like a Swiss Army knife.

Together,

We cut and twist and open

Working side by side

Different and same

In one plastic red case.

Apart–

We’re just a bunch of tools.

Together,

We’re one.

_____________________

III.

Together,

We slip into the night

Day weary, work slogged

Bodies grasping for rest.

There below the picture windows,

Dishes piled high from supper,

Shut the door, ignore the unwashed sock tower

Dangerously close to toppling over.

Slip off towards living room and sofa

To weave our mundaneness

Into stories and dreams and lives.

Half sunk into cushions,

We mingle parts of ourselves into every word

Until we can’t recognize our separate tales–

Our story so intertwined into a unified plot

Pushing us toward forever.

But isn’t this how marriage works–

Two become one, equals and friends,

Spinning our stories from

You and me into us and we?

 

Today’s post is in celebration of Mutuality Week 2012 hosted by blogger and friend Rachel Held Evans. We are writing about how we egalitarians do this marriage thing, this equality thing, this mutuality thing. As a poet-writer, I bring my offering as poetry. Go and read several of the amazing posts, link up with the syncroblog, and follow the hashtag #Mutuality2012.

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Dog

Dear God,

Sometimes,

I think

You slip quietly

Into my dog’s skin.

Cold nose, soft paws,

Fur that clings to my jeans.

Maybe,

You choose a dog form

During bleak times,

Dark sunny days

When no comfort

Exists–save for Your

Tear-licking snout.

Perhaps,

When You Dress up

In Dog’s clothing,

The nose-nuzzles,

The warm heart beat closeness,

So I can best

Feel Your Love.

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Hide and Seek

Do you remember playing hide and seek?

Perhaps, the warm, summer sun filtered through the trees as you ran hid underneath bushes, behind fences. Maybe, the piles of Autumn leaves served as a blanket to cover up as the seeker ran by chasing someone else. A silly game, hide and seek, but our childhood games train us to be adults.

Overwhelmed by the amount of hiding choices, I usually was found first. My feet stuck out from under the bed, or my bright purple shirt gave me away crouching in the deep green bush next to the house. Some games, I sat on the red plastic swing in the backyard just so I would be found first. Hiding felt pointless. I didn’t want to shield, cover up, or camouflage myself—I simply wanted to stay found.

But soon I realized that hide/seek translated into my adult life too.

Adult hide/ seek doesn’t involve crouching behind couches or under bushes. To play adult hide/seek, I stay out in the open room, fully visible yet utterly hidden. I hide behind the walls of agreeableness, the walls of self-silencing, the walls of political correctness. The right words tumble out of my mouth depending on the people around me. Sometimes, we discuss social justice, and I can let my ire show for the devastation the Western world has caused. Many times, I sit silently listening to the anti-woman rhetoric of the church or a poorly laid out argument against equality. I seethe inside but say nothing. Even here, I check every post, hoping I don’t offend. Not out of grace, but out of fear. I don’t want an inbox full hate emails.

I am a social chameleon.

But hiding never empowers me, nor will it ever empower you. Hiding fuels my fears, doubts, my interior dialogue of “I can’t.” Fear expands into every crevice of my soul. Pushing out any room for grace, but worst of all, fear disposes of love. I refuse to hide anymore. Instead, I choose to love to show grace—the only way to replace fear. Rather than pandering to those around me, I choose to speak the truth with love despite the possibility of rejection.

 

How are you playing hide and seek?

Why I’m Obsessed With Valentine’s Day

I have a love/ hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. Valentine's Day Teddiesphoto © 2008 Sean | more info (via: Wylio)

For 24 years, I loathed this holiday on the outside, but secretly wishing I would receive more than the generic “I gave this card to everyone” Valentine. Flowers, chocolates, even the over-sized stuffed animals entice my romantic sensibilities. Mentally, I noted every way that future husband would celebrate Valentine’s Day with me—cause that wasn’t a truckload of expectations to live up to…I still get annoyed when my Redneck doesn’t get the point of buying me an over-sized gorilla in heart print boxers, or the over-priced flowers(Side note: I hate red roses, so cliché which doesn’t fit the I love Valentine’s Day because it is SOOOOOO cliché. I’m okay with this and have moved on).

In my best psychoanalysis therapist voice, I believe it began during my four years at Tennessee Temple. Sitting in Highland Park Baptist Church, I prayed for weeks before V-Day for someone to send me a large bouquet of balloons during chapel. Yes, the bookstore sold balloons so Dr. Stiles could hand the balloons out during chapel and screw everyone’s name up…I think it took him three years to figure out my last name. While my friends were praying for more important issues, I was praying I would get a Valentine’s balloon. Seriously, sad I know.

But, getting a balloon in chapel symbolized, I was accepted, liked, needed. I fit in with everyone else.

I wish that my high school/college me wouldn’t have cared so much about fitting in or worrying about Valentine’s Day, but when Christian schools and colleges preach conformity, fitting in, my naïve self bought into all the jumbled mess. To fit in, I had to have a Christian guy dating me. To be liked, I needed to share the “right” political opinions, wear the “right” labels. Sometimes, I think Christian college did more damage to my psyche than I can ever imagine.

When I FINALLY had my very own Redneck Valentine, I had raised my expectations to the point no one, not even myself, could meet them. For what? An over-stuffed teddy bear that next year will be stuffed in the attic along with old baby toys and Christmas décor. Slowly, I’m letting go of what I think I need to celebrate Valentine’s Day. When what I really need, I already have.

Of course, my Redneck would be the first to say I should have let go a lot sooner and saved him some money. Oh, well, I’m not perfect.