Recovery/Relapse

Addicts talk all the time about their recovery and how easy it is to relapse. I have extrapolated that to believe I recover and relapse all the time, too. Except my drug isn’t alcohol, cocaine, etc. It’s dopamine created by my own brain when I interact with other people. It’s an addiction closer to Overeaters Anonymous, because there is nothing I can do to get out of my own head, just like salt/sugar/fat addicts cannot stop eating completely. It is just a dissonance that I’m learning to live with…. a Charles Ives chord that drowns my humility, grace, gratitude…. you name it. I slide down into my basest self and withdraw because I do not have the ability to function in relationships all that well. I am solid with Dana. I am solid with Aaron. These are the two people that live with me and see me all day, every day. These are the two people that have seen my enormous boatload of crazy and decided that I’m worth loving, anyway.

Well, technically, Aaron does not live here. He has his own room and uses it when he needs to get away for a while…. like a vacation home in the middle of Houston. We sit on the couch and watch Regular Show, or just chat until Dana wakes up. Aaron and I are morning people. Dana is, to put it mildly, not. So on the days that Aaron is here, we meet in the living room about 6:30 or 7:00 and just bullshit until one of us has to do something else.

Aaron and I are best friends because the content of our relationship is based on nothing. We are both each Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer with the same ridiculous plots. It is hilarious when we run “Aarons,” as I call them. Going to the electronics store. Going to the makerspace. Going on a wild goose chase for some car/truck part. It doesn’t matter. One of my favorite things in the world is going nowhere with him.

My high school girlfriend and I had the same relationship once we broke up and decided that even though we weren’t right for each other in a partner type way, we were perfect as beer and Xbox buddies. She even gave me a soundtrack for our relationship at that time in our lives, and because it is so precious to me, I want to give it to Aaron, too. The resurrection I need to happen in myself more than anything else is letting go of the people who don’t want my love and affection and continuing to celebrate those who do.

I was once told that my capacity to love was enormous, and so was my ability to give in to my anger. It’s just true. But that doesn’t mean my focus has to stay glued to the dark. I cannot right every wrong, but I can relish every right I’m able to achieve.

My relationship with Aaron is one of them. He is in Austin this weekend, so here it is…. about 6:30. What am I doing? Talking about Aaron like he’s right there in his chair, trying not to peek before I hit “post.” I love that guy.

R,M

At Bridgeport UCC, Susan Leo wrote a beautiful affirmation that I didn’t even realize I BREATHED until today. Both in and out. In long, gulping breaths of fresh air exhaling fear, regret, shame. Without even knowing it, she tattooed my palm.

When Susan asked me to start preaching at Bridgeport, I walked around for five weeks with R,M written on my palm in Sharpie. Every time I looked down, I said the words again, because I had to get them right in front of the congregation.

We are God’s children, wonderfully made…
And as fallible as we are, we are no mistake.

Be RESPONSIBLE, but let go of guilt.
Be MINDFUL, but carry no shame.

Believe the Good News of the Gospel.
You are loved unconditionally by God.

Yesterday I had a moment of realization. I was so wrapped up in my own head and my own pain that it was stopping me from seeing other people. I do not have any resolution for this, because while I recognize the obstacle, I am not healthy enough to move it all at once.

So I trip. Hard. Fall on my face because I’m not putting my hands out for shield. There were areas of my life begging for my responsibility with their hearts and I could not see it for the log was in my own eye. Everything is breaking apart. Simply everything. I have to hope, though, that the divine will win. That feelings of goodness and light will eventually overtake the darkness I’ve put into the world just by existing. It is the meaning of God. It is the meaning of faith. Atheists get all tied up about the Grandfather in the Sky That Watches Every Move, but they fail to see that religion ALSO provides a place to go when you’re inflicting damage on other people and you’re trying your best to STOP PERPETUATING THE CYCLE.

Diane’s actions rewired my ability to function. It is my responsibility to undo it. Faith is a way for me to let God have it so my friends and family don’t have to. I lost that place in me, like we all do, and showed my basest self to someone I love in the sacred circle of inner companions that you collect over a lifetime. As it turns out, we were soulmates in the Elizabeth Gilbert definition… someone that shakes you into reality but was never designed to be permanent.

My responsibility is to stop the “clicking off safe” from happening again, whether it is in this relationship or not. My mindfulness is that in the moment, hatred won. It is a terrible mistake that will take time to let go. I have been destroyed at my own hand, because sometimes feelings of regret just aren’t enough.

And sometimes, resurrection happens in the middle of the mess. I don’t hope for much, but I for damn sure hope for that.

That We All May Be One

Pretty sure the Presbyterians own that title, but I don’t mean to steal. I mean to say that we’re all in this together. All fighting the same struggle. All trying to keep our defenses up so that no one can penetrate, and we all try to get through as best we can. We hit, we miss, we fumble along… because that is the way of life. Beauty and pain all mixed together in inextricable strands. You cannot take one from the other. Darkness feeds light, and light feeds darkness, because it is the same DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU’RE STANDING.

If you choose to find darkness, you will. If you choose to find hatred, you will. If you choose to find any number of sins, you will find them all in the glory of life…. as well as the celebrations. The sadness encourages the sweet and vice versa.

It is the dance of intimacy that we all crave, the one we’ll do anything for, because being let in says “I belong.” When that doesn’t happen, we retreat into our own iniquities for the post mortem and at some point, decide for ourselves whether light or dark perpetuates itself.

I choose light. I choose freedom. I am just about the biggest bastard on earth, and sometimes I am so full of rage that I can’t even see straight. But that doesn’t mean I fall short of the glory of God. In so many ways, it blesses me more.

Who wants a priest who’s never screwed up? If you’re Catholic, do you wonder how your pastor can actually speak to marriage? I called my church “St. James and All Sinners” to highlight the fact that I am imperfect and so is everyone who follows me…. but that we are together in the struggle, because we will all fall short and need each other to resurrect what was lost.

The glory of the resurrection is even more intense when I think about all the pain Jesus endured to make it happen. It doesn’t make me feel like a martyr, though. Just that if Jesus can make it through a weekend like that, there’s nothing on earth I can’t accomplish.

Who cares if it factually happened when I can feel it happening inside me? Isn’t that what’s important?

God doesn’t need to learn jack shit from a gutter sniper like me. It’s just lucky that God doesn’t click off safe.

Yellow Card Territory

Part of recovery from abuse in all its forms is that you’ve been told all your life through thought, word, and deed that your mind doesn’t matter…. so that when you finally do start having opinions, it’s awfully hard to tell which ones are for company and which ones aren’t. I say shocking things because I don’t have the ability to not. There’s no filter in my head that says, “this might upset someone” because I’ve stopped ruminating on every possible way that I could hurt someone so that I could tailor the entire conversation around it. For instance, say you’re sensitive about your haircut. Before I go up to you, I will have things rehearsed in my head that do NOT include what a freak show of a haircut you have.

I don’t pre-record canned responses anymore, and I think that’s what people are noticing about me right now, but they can’t put their fingers on what’s different and/or why.

It took 24 years to realize that it wasn’t normal to plan out conversations beforehand (to a certain degree? OK. FOR HOURS? No.) in order to avoid any possible hurt on either end of the interaction. When I stopped spending processing time to ensure that everything that came out of my mouth was pre-approved, I changed the tape in my head that says, “your words don’t matter.” I have strength and hope for the future because I was finally willing to say “i can’t live like this any more” and mean it.

I was so emotionally abused for so long that now I never think my words are going to mean anything to anyone but me. So when I say things like, “I walked into a wall I thought she was so cute,” it would never occur to me that anyone would take those words seriously, ever. because what do I know? I’m just a writer. No one listens to me, anyway. My words don’t matter.

It’s not reality, but it’s my thought process. When my words turn around and mean something to someone, anyone, I am surprised- as if I have discovered some new species of bee. Every time, it’s like it’s never happened before.

I wasn’t watching my mouth, and I got smacked for it (deservedly). In some ways, it’s nice to know someone was watching and cared enough not to let me make a bigger idiot out of myself than I already had. In others, I started to ruminate and couldn’t let go. By the end of the night, not watching my mouth was the most horrible thing I’ve ever done and I punished myself for it by spending far too long on recap.

That’s the other thing about abuse. When you have a conflict with anyone, you automatically assume that there is no meeting of the minds for resolution, because clearly anyone willing to engage with you is right. Why? Because someone told you you were wrong about something so gargantuanly huge that now you can’t trust your opinions on anything.

For me, it was that Diane Syrcle was in love with me. She groomed me, she planted the right kind of evidence at the right time, my mind caught up quickly… and then she left down and our dance was interrupted. There was no clear anything, so it was easy enough to make me believe that she only had my best interests at heart.

This was…. inaccurate.

All of her flirts were seductive to the melting point, and if you’ve ever met her, you know what I mean. She knows that look. She feeds on it. Dopamine hits her brain like crack cocaine.

So, guess what? My flirts get fucked up, too, because I don’t know how to flirt without sounding too serious, when in reality, all I meant is that it was funny because Dana was laughing at me. The modifier was not the cute girl. The modifier was the amused wife who watched me walk into a door jamb and fell on her butt laughing because she was right. Her friend was cute and I hurt my nose trying not to notice and just be cool. It’s the just being cool part where I trip. Where I’ve always tripped.

But that’s as far as it goes. There’s no substance. There’s no there there.

There’s only Dana and me, letting our words matter to each other.

The Little Child That Led Me

He has a such a beautiful, innocent face, Aaron. He has red hair, freckles, and a smile that pierces straight into my heart. He was also the first child to hear about St James and All Sinners, and the first child to tell me that he believed in me and thought it was incredible I was starting a church. This is what middle school does for people. It allows them to become capable of abstract thought, of coming into their own as adults, and just starting to make their own choices. He is soft-spoken, and his belief just unsettled me. I remembered a conversation that I had with Christine, my priest, and I had last Wednesday at Confirmation Prep. She said that the bishop was looking for more women bishops. Christine made me laugh when she said, “well, Bishop…. I don’t know what to tell you…” in her delightfully Southern drawl (just like Virginia molasses). SO, I put on my big glrl panties and marched right back into the sanctuary and said, “Rev, I know the bishop is looking for more women bishops. Is he looking for church plants as well?” She said that Andy’s main thing is that the church would be Episcopal. Oh my God, done as long as we can keep the All Sinners moniker. I got Christine excited about what *I* was doing. I asked her if the Episcopals had resources and scholarships. I stopped being the servant in the ground, and started being the one who made his master millions and millions of dollars. In current tax dollars, a talent was close to $250,000 (Thanks, Presbyter Lisa!). The first servant hit it big because he was willing to join the light. It is the exact same story we find in The Old Testament with Moses lifting up the snake to heal the Israelites like the Son of Man does in the New. We find that story in John 3:17-21:

17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

The parables are all the same story.

Invest in yourself, and you will reap the rewards.

Pax,

Leslie

St. James & All Sinners: The First Stewardship Letter

To All Friends of St. James and All Sinners,

Every congregation in America has to have this talk. It’s uncomfortable, you won’t really want to read it, and some of you will skip it outright. However, it is fundamentally important to the light and life of this church. For instance, if you want the ability to create and paint in our church, you have to be willing to be okay with giving us enough money to keep the lights on while you do it.

A church is only as good as its budget allows. Right now we are running on a shoestring with two volunteers, but we believe that the mission is bigger than us. We are not advocating wealth for ourselves or for our church… just enough for it to breathe, so that if we want to expand the homeless ministry from being able to serve 50 people to 500, we have enough to do it without wiping our capital account down to zero.

At this point, we need everything from a building to meet to a choir director to hymnals to Bibles to other religious texts that we need in order to study said Bibles in the first place. It is a fledgling dream aching for resources to fight spiritual emptiness in all its forms… that in order to heal, one must be available to take in light…. impossible when you are wandering around in darkness hoping there’s gotta be a switch somewhere…….

I invite you to be a part of the solution. You know as well as I that people may not be aching for God, but they’re definitely aching for something. Give us the ability to realize our dreams, not for ourselves, but for the legacy we want to create.

Not only do James and I want to have money to respond on the fly to need, we would also like to create an endowment to keep the church running in times of economic distress.

But first things first.

I need a living wage to be able to devote myself to making this dream possible. If you are able to help with that, please do. It is my hope that by reading and responding to this worship experience here on Facebook, we will gather enough money to bring it to you live. Music and art entwined with praising God in all God’s forms with glorious music all around and gardens for meditation so that if God to you is being alone, you can have your communion, too. At present, my bills are ridiculously cheap and I would like to keep it that way. If this worked out to be a $14/hr job, I would be ridiculously happy. I want to work under Francis’ model of living humbly and giving money to the less fortunate, because I have already been blessed so many times over that it’s time others had a chance.

Needing money is not out of desperation. It is about creating a church that will live for much longer than I will, because there will never be a chance in hell that people stop being anxious and introspective because their pain tortures them. I cannot help the people who aren’t willing to help themselves, only because emotional healing requires a certain openness to take hold. As a non-credentialed minister, I will not be involved in counseling, but I will be involved in creating the materials that help you examine your own grief… not because I am so super-awesome. I am one of the most broken people I know. Since I let the brokenness be known, though, light has been flooding into my body faster than I can really take it in.

I want to be a message of hope to people who think intelligent Christianity is dead. I want to prove that the risen Christ has relevance in our world as part of the lens we use to see current problems (to paraphrase Marcus Borg).

Aren’t you curious to see what happens when you step out on your own ledge and say, “I’m a part of something greater than myself?”

I promise. It feels excellent.

Pax,
Leslie

Getting Results

In doing so much research on verbal abuse, I know that my reaction to getting well is right on target. I have managed to piss off nearly everyone I know because I don’t act in ways predictable to who I used to be, so they think I’ve gone bonkers while at the same time, I feel like this is the first time I’ve ever made sense. What has been ridiculous is thinking for the last 24 years that I was destined to be a normal person with a normal life who could make it through in the rank and file when my personality indicators in both the Meyers-Briggs and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter have been Idealist/Visionary. I am not telling you that I am a visionary. I will let every personality test I’ve ever taken speak for me. The people in my category type are, for example, Jesus. Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah.

Oprah.

Now there’s a reason for my obsession with her career. I was trying to figure out how growing up in BFE prepared her for the life she has now, and I realized that it hadn’t. Unless I miss my guess, the vision came to her in a dream, snapping into action as opposed to a great buildup. Dana compares me to the 50th Anniversary Special of Doctor Who, that my software has been running the algorithms for St. James since I was born.

She’s indisputably right.

I have a palsy in my brain from being oxygen deprived as a child. It did not delay me mentally, but my coordination is off to a tremendous degree and I have monocular vision so that I always look like I’m staring at two places at once. I also started talking when I was six months old, but I did not walk until I was almost two.

That’s the foundation of my personality, those months being able to think without being able to move. I couldn’t do anything but soak up information and start the tape running. Because I am ADD, I start tapes all the time and they just let me know when they’re done. I can’t feel that they’re going all the time, necessarily, but what I know is that I ruminate on things until they’re done and then once that happens, I am unstoppable.

Amen.