What Did I Say? I Heard Me.

Yesterday, I did a really stupid thing. I got into someone’s car without looking, and she had wood piled up that stuck out between the driver and passenger seats. It banged into the space just under my occipital bone, and after four or five hours of all the symptoms of brain injury, I decided that to fall asleep before having a CT scan would have been the second stupid thing… and as Florence Capp said, “the next best thing to doing something smart is not doing something stupid.” However, I didn’t do the smartest thing- I drove myself to the ER. I made it both there and home by being extraordinarily careful, but I’m going to say for the record that I should have gotten someone to drive me. That’s because as my brain started to swell larger, I thought, “this is bad on so many levels.” I could have called said friend, but she lives in Fairfax, VA- not exactly conducive to getting to me and I didn’t want to put her out. On second thought, I should’ve.

When I Googled “Silver Spring ER,” the closest was 25 minutes away. I didn’t go to Urgent Care because I wasn’t sure they’d have a CT scanner and I’d have to be transferred, anyway, and I WAS intelligent enough to realize THAT.

It was not without certain… problems. They wanted to do a urine screen to make sure I wasn’t pregnant before they did the scan, and they seriously made me carry the locked container around until the sample was about to spoil. Then, three hours later, I realized that my semi-permanent earrings were a bitch to remove, and I got all of them out eventually save one, which my attendant taped. Why I didn’t just let him tape all of them, I do not know. What can I say? Not the sharpest knife in the drawer with my condition and the time of morning. Probably because the attendant was Muslim and I wanted to be respectful and not make him touch me more than he had to. Perhaps liberal Muslim men do not have a restriction on touching women they don’t know, but I didn’t think of that, either.

Speaking of my earrings, I gushed inside when a gaggle of teenage girls said they were cool at Chipotle, unprovoked. They specifically sought me out to compliment me. Being thought of as cool by teenagers is not a life goal, but traditionally them thinking any adults have something good going on seems rare. I mean, I passed 30 long ago, which generally renders me worthy of an eyeroll, or at the very least, invisibility.

I definitely felt uncool carrying around a cup of piss at three in the morning.

The only good part of the experience was finding a ton of change in my backpack, enough for all the Diet Cokes I could drink, which ended up being two, but I should have bought more, because they were cheaper than going to the store.😛

When I finally got the results, the doctor assured me that I did not have a bleed, but the headache and muscle stiffness was going to get a lot worse before it got better, which I have found to be true. She then handed me three prescriptions; one was for percocet, one was for robaxin, and one was for Motrin 600. I didn’t fill the Motrin because I had a thousand ibuprofen at home and I can count.

Even with all that, my head and neck still ache, the first time that even lying down hurts, because I’m putting pressure on my head. I should check whether the percocet naturally is a 12-hour dose, or whether it’s an extended release, because if it isn’t, I can at least cut them in half and get a fresh injection of relief every six.

It doesn’t specifically say “XR,” but the last thing I want is to accidentally kill myself, which would be a third stupid thing in less than that many days.

It feels like a cruel world when I have so much other emotional shit to deal with, but at least the medication makes it where I don’t care about anything, much less something specific.
With my mother falling and dying, I didn’t want to think that I was overreacting, so I waited about four hours to see if it was a thing before I went in. Perhaps that was a mistake, or perhaps it was common sense. I Googled brain injury first and took some Tylenol, but I made sure to tell the triage nurse I’d taken it. The acetaminophen wore off about the time I actually got the CT, but the sponge pillow on the table helped.

I also learned that I’ve gained weight, but not in a bad way. The last time I had it checked, I was 118. Now I’m a buck twenty and some change. I don’t want to go much higher than that because I’m so short, but at least I am getting to a healthy size instead of feeling scrawny. For people who are anxious and depressed, it is often just as hard to gain weight as it is to lose it. Where I really struggle is muscle mass, because I don’t have enough motivation to work out… therefore, I am constantly winded and feel like weak sauce.

There’s a great podcast called “Podrunner” that I want to start again because it’s cooler- a superior introduction to working out because it starts at “couch to 5k.” I have been a casual runner since I was 18, which I remember with clarity because I started to bulk up for skiing and nearly jumped out of my skin with pain the first time I locked in my boots because I didn’t know I had shin splints. If there’s anything that would get me motivated into running, it would be the promise of a ski trip at the end. I love to ski, mostly because I’m such a klutz that I was surprised at how good I am at it. The first time, I went from greens to blues in less than a week.

I still haven’t tried a black diamond, and it is not a goal, because I enjoy skiing without being afraid of it and I’d like to continue that trend. Coming down the mountain with speed is thrill enough. I don’t want to take the lift up to a black diamond and be utterly afraid to come down, like climbing the ladder to the highest diving board and looking down at the water before you jump. I always end up diving, though, because I am not good with ladders and coming up is less scary than trying to climb back down. It would probably be the same with skiing, because I’ve never noticed a lift that carries people downward. There is no going back, only through.

If that isn’t a metaphor for life, I’m really not sure what would be. My grief is acute because even though my mom couldn’t help with the medical part, she would be a superstar in terms of listening or coming up and driving me around. I can’t believe she just retired last school year and she didn’t even get a chance to really settle in and enjoy it. On the flip side, the last time we talked, she was extraordinarily bored… not that the solution to ennui is death (N is for Neville, who died of ennui), but it must be fascinating to “watch me on TV.” I am nothing if not a constant source of amusement. Last night, I forgot she was dead and told the doctor and the triage nurse that if I was pregnant, I’d have to call my mom with an “I’ve had an immaculate conception” speech, because I promise you, that is the only logical conclusion one could make from my monk-like existence.

You would think that I’d miss that kind of intimacy by now, and you would be wrong. Between the medication that I’m taking and my utter lack of drive to put myself out there as available, I have no need. I put myself out there to meet people in the area and have had good success in finding friends, but there’s been no one that has lit up my insides. The memory of it is enough. I simply have a fear of flying… but when I get over it, I want Diana Gabaldon hot, which is scorching in temperature even on the page, much less watching it on screen.

Because I take it back. Wanting sex, for me, has never come from the drive itself, but from the drive to know someone. There’s no one I want to know THAT WELL.

But there will be, eventually. It wouldn’t be fair to any potential anything to drag them into my freak show of a life right now. You’ll just have to wait for the blog entry. I know I  do.

Sermon for Proper 25, Year C: Caught Off Guard is a Good Thing

Matt (my own pastor) started off today with a paragraph from Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, about the sudden death of her husband. Tears started to fall as he described the circumstances of the husband’s death, and I lost my snot when he got to “I couldn’t give away his shoes, because I couldn’t shake the feeling that he might need them.” I howled inside at “grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.” He was reflecting on the psalm, which now I forget, but basically it talked about railing at God, and grief didn’t have to be about death… It could be about divorce, or a friend saying they didn’t want to be your friend anymore… I just kept crying, harder and harder, words gutting me like an ax, deeper with each blow. He was dissecting my world, and holding the diseased organs in front of me. I couldn’t just grit my teeth and keep it together. I was sitting in the back, alone, and my head hit my knees as I crouched in pain.

There was a reason I was crouched over. I did not want anyone to see me. I did not want to be touched, I did not want to be consoled, I wanted to be invisible.

We do not get everything that we want. The anxiety of being seen grieving in public was so great that I would have walked out if I hadn’t had an obligation to stay. It was not the grieving itself that undid me. Had it just been a couple of tears running down my face, I doubt I would have taken much notice. It was being seen at this level, where I couldn’t breathe, I had gone into the Oprah “ugly cry,” and there was no Kleenex. I didn’t want to be him:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

I did not want to draw attention to myself, as if grief were a show I needed to put on to tell everyone just how hurt I was… that no one was hurting as much as me… that there was indeed a notion of competitive suffering, and I looked to the outside world like I was truly “winning.”

I wanted to be him:

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Because Jesus’ whole point in the parable is this:

‘I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

Bridget, one of my fellow sopranos, saw me crumpled into myself and came over just to hold me, rock me back and forth until I could get air into my lungs. I had to remind myself that it gave her something to see hurt and respond, and in order to live in community, I would have done the exact same thing had it been someone else’s mother and not mine. Otherwise, I would have buried myself with shame that I let myself emote.

That being said, what I know to be true is that sometimes people need to be left alone to self-soothe, to be able to draw on their own strength.

It came to me later that I’d already been doing that for weeks, without letting anyone in… the exception being Thursday at choir practice, but I knew that I’d be emotional ahead of time and I didn’t have any fucks to give. Those that didn’t know my mother just died could think I was mentally unstable because I was. I don’t know of any person in deep grief who isn’t; particularly those who have lost someone suddenly and are struck dumb by the ordinary circumstances under which it happened. As Didion points out, Sept. 11th dawned bright and sunny, and even though I only saw a patch of blue sky through my blinds that morning, I knew she was right.

After church was over, Bridget and I were walking up the stairs to the choir room to put our music away and get our stuff. I said, “I sometimes preach from my web site, and what jumped out at me today is that grieving people are both the Pharisee and the tax collector at the same time… because what do grieving people do in public? Try to act like they’re fine.” Grieving people, in order to hide how much they hurt, laugh a little too loudly or make the jokes themselves to cover up the wounded animal that lurks within. Often this is for the same reasoning I had- that grieving in public is calling attention to themselves for the wrong reasons.

What saved me today was knowing I was emoting for the right ones. My grief was genuine, deep and pure to the point of exhaustion. It was an ordinary Sunday, and I was caught off-guard, not knowing that I was going to hear such a message directed at my own heart, unprepared to have my heart sliced to that degree and have every feeling I’d tried to keep inside pour onto my shirt and pants.

Gloria mentioned that my mother had died during her pastoral prayer, and all of the people around me had the light bulb go on as to why I was crying all the way through that particular sermon. It’s possible it was just for me. I mean, I know Matt. We’ve met. It’s possible he’s a “Fanagan.” But it’s not likely. Occam’s Razor is that it was what I needed to hear in the place I needed to hear it, without regard for my own time.

I was the tax collector who didn’t want to be a Pharisee, and yet, sometimes we all need to throw caution to the wind and be open with our prayers, because otherwise, we can only guess if God is listening. To be vulnerable in a place where people can hear it is to be sure.

When Joan Didion was open in her grief with her sister-in-law, the response was strong and immediate- that we cannot catch the light by chasing it into the sunset, only by walking back through the darkness to find the dawn.


Four Weeks

It has officially been four weeks since my mother died, and three weeks since her funeral. I count it like a personal Lectionary, like the way today is 23 weeks after Pentecost. Because her death occurred on a Sunday, I always will. Sundays are about rest and reflection, and I cannot believe that there will ever be a Sunday again in which part of the reflection doesn’t include how beautiful church was and how I wish she’d been with me to see it… whether I am just going to church, or whether I was responsible for creating the experience.

There are so many firsts when your mother dies. This week it’s been the first period of my whole life that I didn’t have a mother to complain to, or when I lived in Texas, to bring me chocolate stashed in her purse. It seems like a small thing, but trust me when I say that small things are writ large. Besides, isn’t a period the most universal mother/daughter experience of which you can think? Are You There God? It’s Me, Leslie.

I have never done anything normally, and my period is no different. I got my first one when I was in the hospital for identifiable symptoms and no clear diagnosis… and I thought I was bleeding out the other end as a result. I was ten, maybe 11, so of course that’s how medicine worked. My mother had taught me about the birds and the bees long ago, but that information did not occur to me in the middle of being hospitalized for something else. I thought it was all connected. To my mother’s credit, she did not laugh. She just bought me my first package of Always and taught me how to use it.

It was a hallmark for me- the first problem in which I did not immediately run to my dad, the fixer of all things. This is because he wasn’t there, and she was. My dad, even then, was interested in medicine and had she not been with me, I probably would have told him first… because this wasn’t a woman thing to me. It was a symptom… of what, I did not know… but surely it wasn’t universal.

It was.

However, I’d just had a battery of tests, so if it hadn’t been for my mother, I would probably think to this day that meningismus and menarche were related. I mean, obviously everyone bleeds out of their hooha after a spinal tap, right? Right? #crickets

I am picturing Dr. Anthony spitting her coffee onto her keyboard at this point.

That image made me laugh, and anything that makes me laugh right now is invaluable. It is my reflex to laugh in the face of enormous pain.

Now I just have to buy my own Mr. Goodbars.


I wish I had more to say today, but I just don’t. I’m going to try and pull out feelings, but mostly today I’ve been asleep. I am not ignoring the fact that I don’t have a job, but I am also not ignoring that it’s nice not to have one in the midst of recovering from the worst thing that has ever happened in my world… and my world was broken before. My mother dying is just the latest thing that’s happened. In fact, my landlady and my adopted family speak of it, and not in hushed tones (blessedly), but straight to my face. They believe I have endured so much, and this is just the shitty icing on the burnt cake.

Let’s review, shall we?

Dana and I broke up in Feb. 2015, after having broken up in 2013 for approximately an hour and a half… not knowing why I couldn’t make it stick, but I couldn’t, so that the denouement was painful and slow until it was traumatic. It seems cruel to have asked her to pick up her life and move with me to Houston and then break up with her, but she had enough of her own money that she could have done whatever she wanted. I did not feel like I was making her stay anywhere, or that I would have left her out in the cold had she had none of her own resources. In fact, if I’d been the one with the large sum of money, I would have given it to her, because my heart was broken but my brain wasn’t… Just because I couldn’t continue to be married to her didn’t mean that all my friendship neurons disappeared. To me, being friends and being married were just different commitments, and I did not want to break both… at first.

I broke up with her because she had once again, broken my confidentiality with something I specifically told her to keep quiet… a repeating pattern in my own life with Argo, because Argo thought I couldn’t keep my trap shut and simultaneously said to make sure Dana read everything so she’d know that Argo wasn’t at fault for anything… that those “in love with her mind” feelings were mine to deal with and were not reciprocated, which was how I felt about the matter. I was never deluded into thinking that they were until Dana called my attention to it (repeatedly), and because she was someone I trusted implicitly, I later thought she might be right (she was, in fact, not). Those “in love with her mind” feelings WERE my shit to deal with and I did, quite successfully, once I was out of the tug-of-war Dana thought they were having (and were, in fact, not).

The fact that Argo told me to tell Dana everything didn’t stick in my mind. The notion that I’d hurt Argo on purpose because she told me I did stuck like glue. The fact that she did not put any constraints on “tell her everything” was lost on me, and if I’d put more thought into it than I did, I would have realized that saying “tell her everything” did not render past confirmation of confidentiality null and void… nor did I realize that when she said “this goes no further than here,” that meant Dana, too. Because, as I have learned since, it’s ok to have friends apart from your partner, to share secrets that deserve honesty, but always respect. I didn’t know that then, because I’d never had a friend like that before.

It wasn’t about isolating me from Dana, it was about our relationship being separate from my marriage, and that wasn’t a bad thing. Dana and I didn’t always have to come as a package deal, and the fact that I thought we did was in itself inherently in my worst interest… not with Argo… with all my friends.

It stripped me of my ability to see myself as a complete entity unto myself, lost without my other half. That’s probably the biggest reason I haven’t dated anyone since. I don’t want to give up my independence, and want to make sure that I have healthy coping mechanisms for continuing to be self-sufficient in a relationship as well as I do without one. Because there are no more package deals. The two-for-one special isn’t always going…

So it was a nasty breakup and World War Me with Argo as we’ve gone through so many extreme highs and lows, both willing to forgive an enormous amount of shit right up until we couldn’t anymore. Neither of us should be willing to stay no matter how bad it gets, hoping against hope that it will get better when we’ve seen no evidence of it. The things she’s said to me run through my mind constantly in a good way, memories as opposed to creating a future, because the future does not render past laughs invalid.

I keep a small flame of hope alive that one day there will be this great redemption story, because to not is to think contrary to who I am. There is always redemption, even in the middle of disaster. I don’t think that way because of how she feels, but because I am a Christian, and I would be really bad at my faith if I didn’t see resurrection in all things, and I refuse to walk around in Good Friday. I want to be one of the Easter people in what is seemingly a Good Friday world.

In my own mind, it is Holy Saturday, a constant vigil for everything I’ve lost because I don’t know that the resurrection is even a thing, as the Disciples didn’t, either. I have one advantage over them knowing that resurrections do indeed happen all the time, but in this case, I cannot search for what it might be because I am not through crying and tearing my clothes over the many Good Fridays that have happened in a relatively short amount of time.

I just have to remember that they didn’t happen to me. I participated in the end of my relationships with both Dana and Argo, and my mother didn’t die because I didn’t love her enough. It happened of its own accord. In this case, it isn’t about me, and to think so is to encourage ego to get in the way. I am not the center of the universe.

However, I am responsible for my tiny part.

Speaking of which, on Sunday I am singing “ballsetto,” because we’re doing an anthem that requires tenors we don’t have. I think I’m going to go up to the church and work on the part, because I was doing ok with a strong tenor next to me at choir and when he wasn’t singing with me, I couldn’t immediately find where I was supposed to be (we do have tenors, they’re just not going to be there on Sunday). When you’re used to reading the top line, reading the third one down gets tricky at page turns, and in this particular piece, the accompaniment is no help. I’m hoping that by doing the work on Saturday, I might even be able to look up at the conductor once in a while.

I just wish I had a horrible cold, because it makes my low Fs come out so nicely.

Maybe I should go to a cigar bar tomorrow night. Nothing turns a soprano into a tenor faster than a Macanudo.

It’s also casual Sunday, which means we’re not wearing robes. I wish I still had my WTFWJD? T-shirt.

Because at this point, that’s really all I have to say.

How Can I Keep from Singing?

I went to choir tonight because I needed music and friends, in that order. Ingrid and Leslie #1 are closest to me, and we cracked each other up the entire time…. Well, not the entire time. I made it all the way to 8:50 before I cried so hard that I was shaking uncontrollably, and Leslie (who lost her mother when her mother was only 52) and Ingrid just wrapped their arms around me and held me close until the piece was over.

Everything just collapsed inside me, because I’d sung that piece before at Epiphany with Joseph Painter, and between losing him as a voice teacher and losing my mother as my accompanist (a truly special relationship in addition to just being my mom), I was a total mess. There were about ten full seconds that I thought I was going to go into a full-blown panic attack and I didn’t have any Klonopin in my backpack and I hadn’t taken it earlier… but at the same time, I do not regret it in the slightest. If I had, it would not have been the same choir practice, one in which I needed to sob uncontrollably at God working through music, #prayingontherests (See what I did there? I thought it was clever, too). Sam, the interim choir director now that Nae has left, just lost her mother last year, and we talked for about 30 minutes afterward. I told her about the intense feelings I had about my grief not being for the past, but for the lost future. We all think we have more time, but again, “here today, gone tomorrow” is a thing- in Toby Ziegler’s voice every time.

Sam and Leslie #1 were both Leo McGarry- “I’ve been in this hole before, and I know the way out.”

I needed to go to choir because I found this blog entry from 2003:

I know I am not alone when I say that at 13, I mentally, physically, and spiritually lost touch with my mother. Though I would like to say that it was all due to normal teenage angst, it was actually a mutual blessing and releasing process. She had made it clear through thought, word, and deed that she did not want to raise a lesbian daughter. I made it clear that should she treat me as if lesbian were my only adjective, I was going to need more than she could give.

It was not without incident. I could see the pain behind my mother’s eyes as she watched my clean, pure mother-love transfer away to the woman who would guide me through adolescence. I could sense that she felt powerless to stop it- and at times, wanted to reach across the divide. It was in those moments that I felt equally impotent, unable in my 13-year-old mind to divide loyalties and regain ground that had been lost.

It was a time of deep, impenetrable fog, and the piano was our only lighthouse. Hearing her fingers fly over the keys would rescue me, if only for a moment, from the dark weather moving across my mind. Occasionally, I would sit next to her, turning the pages in her music when she was involved in a difficult passage. It was the closest that we could come to being in communion with each other.

Last year, after living in Washington, DC for several months, I went back to Houston and visited with my mother. Though the conversation was light and easy, it was as if we were two friends… simply “ladies who lunch.” Then she suggested she show me the music she had planned for her church choir on Sunday. I sat down next to her, intent on doing “my job.”

As she started to play, I could feel a lump starting to invade my throat, and my eyes welled in a familiar stinging sensation. The connection that we had felt all those years ago had returned, bringing with it a different kind of peace, one that transcended both of our past transgressions.

No, our relationship would not, could not be the same as it was… but new emotions were starting to wash over me. We were now free to make a new covenant, mindful of the road on which we had walked… but diverging sharply into unfamiliar territory.

From 2003 to 2016, we had a very different relationship than the one we had when I was a teen, because as a teen, you just don’t get the concept that your mother is irreplaceable and to try as hard as you can to love her despite your differences. I also have a different perspective on what I have done, what I have left undone, and what wasn’t my fault. The only thing that’s left is regretting that our relationship didn’t continue to move past my teenage years and all the processing power it took out of me, because I allowed myself to spend so much more time thinking about her, because as a kid I didn’t want to be close to anyone who didn’t want to be close to me. I am probably wrong that she didn’t want to be close to me, and it is more accurate that she didn’t know how. When you are so conflicted about the ideas of sin and nature, how is it possible to bridge that gap?


And it ran out.

To Infinity and Beyond…

In this scene, one of the main characters, Amos, is attending one of his seminary classes after he’s just finished reading Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith. I bought it immediately after reading this scene.

And on around the table it went, one student after another disagreeing with Tillich’s proposition.

[Editor’s Note: The theory that there is only one ultimate, unconditional concern, and that is for the unconditional itself. Tillich called it “our passion for the infinite.” Rob Bell discusses this at length on his podcast, called The RobCast, starting with episode 111, Pete Rollins on God, Part 1, and there are four altogether.]

The professor asked, “what about when the middle managers at IBM look in the mirror first thing in the morning, or last thing at night? What do they see there?”

“They see profit and loss,” Mike answered, “and I don’t mean metaphorically. They see the company they work for.”

Amos said nothing; his tongue seemed to have failed him. But he thought one thing over and over, the way he used to think a single thought in church on Sunday until he nearly choked on it: You are all wrong. You are all completely wrong about this. We live lives that are hopelessly broken, and we know it.

Haven Kimmel, The Solace of Leaving Early

I don’t shave my legs that often when it’s not shorts weather, but today I did. I have this habit of reading my Kindle for 15-20 minutes in the bathtub to let the aloe strip on the razor get soft so that I A) won’t get razor burn and II) won’t cut the shit out of my knees and ankles.

I love this book from beginning to end, having first read it in 2003, picking it up over and over as the years roll by. Every time, it’s a different story dependent upon where I am in my own life, and today was no exception. I’m reading along and I hit that last line in the quote, and I start shaking and crying with grief in the water- rocking myself and saying, “help me.” Of course I was talking to God. As Anne Lamott famously said, and I’m paraphrasing, “there’s really only three prayers… help, thanks, and wow.” “Help me” became my mantra, self-soothing until I could breathe.

My mother didn’t have to die for me to know that my life was hopelessly broken way before that… and yet, it was her death that broke the dam, because if there has been anyone in my life that truly contained “passion for the infinite,” it was her… and even then, it wasn’t for her own infinite possibilities. It was for mine.

She saw greatness in me long before I did, and I’m not sure she ever really grasped how my homosexuality, emotional abuse, and chemical imbalance combined to render me incapable of it in my own mind. I knew I wanted to be a pastor at 16, and back then (mid-90s), who would have ordained a lesbian? When those rules changed, I didn’t necessarily change with them, because the church that raised me still wouldn’t ordain me, even if I was the greatest theological mind in a hundred years (I’m not.).

I have long known that I am my biggest obstacle, and when I graduate with a BA and an MDiv, it will be because I have finally learned to shove myself out of the way. The external rocks have been moved- I jumped denominations, twice. At first, I wanted to be an Episcopal priest, but a stranger on the steps of the Supreme Court changed my mind. He was a UCC pastor, wearing a black shirt and a clerical collar. He told me that the reason he switched from Episcopal Church USA to UCC was that he wanted more out of liturgy than “turn to page 355.” I was literally stunned into silence.

Why did I want someone else controlling every aspect of my service except the sermon? I’m a writer. The UCC has no polity; if I wanted to introduce Anglican elements into my service, I had every “rite” to do so. When Dr. Susan Leo handed her pulpit to me, on every occasion I wrote the entire service, front to back. If I’d been any kind of smart, I would have saved some of those calls to worship……..

I found Christ Congregational Church because it was an eight minute walk from my house, but I had no intention of remaining there. The Episcopal church was an hour bus ride away, and that was all there was to it. My reasoning was that I could probably show up on Sunday mornings, but any kind of community like youth group or choir that required me to show up more than a couple of hours a week was out.

I had no idea until I happened upon the stranger that it was literally God stepping in to say, “ummmmm… I think this is where you really belong.” Let’s just say that I have internalized “retroactive continuity…” as if learning that one of my favorite pastor bloggers was now my pastor in real life wasn’t a big enough (rainbow?) flag. How did I not know? I never read his “About Me” page, and nearly jumped out of my skin when he mentioned his blog in church one day.

I am not naive about the gargantuan amount of work I need to do on myself to be ready for this task. If all I had to do was prepare the bulletin and get up every Sunday to preach, I could start tomorrow. But I have made so many mistakes in not taking care of people that the years I’m in school will be all about learning healthy coping mechanisms, clinical separation, and just generally trying not to fuck people up. Being a preacher is easy. Being a pastor is ridiculously hard… and I hate to say it, but there are thousands of people in pulpits already that have no idea those things are different… simply their ordination renders them capable of counseling people whether they know how or not, often to disastrous results.

I am leaning on the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber in Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People.

Those most qualified to speak the gospel are those who truly know how unqualified they are to speak the gospel.

God, please help me not be an asshole, is about as common a prayer as I pray in my life.

And finally,

The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.

These are the thoughts that stop me from shaking in grief and insecurity. If my mother could believe in my infinite possibilities, I owe it to her to at least try to believe them myself…………….


Apologizing in Person

Apparently, God knew I needed a break from being distraught, because yesterday was one of the greatest days of my life…. the only distraction from it is that I couldn’t tell my mom…. or more accurately, she wouldn’t read it here and exclaim how happy she was for me into my voice mail. The day was beautiful from start to finish, but there’s definitely a high point.

I met Dan and crew at Jumbo’s Pumpkin Patch out in Middletown, MD at about 3:00. It was an excellent road trip, because I was singing the entire way. When I got there, I made tons of pictures and walked through all the arts and crap…. the only thing I saw that really caught my attention was a kitchen towel that said, “Bless This Hot Mess.” I would have used it as a washrag.

I’d forgotten that Dan had lost her mother until it was time for lunch, and Dan asked me about mine…. and remembered seeing the pictures on Facebook of Dan in her Army uniform, standing next to a radiantly beautiful woman, and my voice cracked when I told her that. We stood in the food line, hugging it out, gratitude pouring out of me that not only did I have a good friend, but one who’d been swimming in the same waters I’d just been pushed.

We had all kinds of fair food- I had a hot dog and fries, and even though I normally don’t like hot dogs, this one was excellent- perhaps because of the package that went WITH the hot dog as opposed to the food itself. I was at a full table of friends, people that I’d met at Dan’s house before, so I just felt comfortable in my own skin.

After lunch, we went for a hay ride deep into the pumpkin patch, where, we joked, we learned that pumpkins do not grow on trees. I didn’t buy a pumpkin because I didn’t know where I’d put it, but again, I did take beautiful pictures of the vines and their exceedingly large fruit.

One vine was withered to shit and I thought, “Jesus was here.” Obscure joke. Talk to your parents (if you get both of those references, clearly we need to be best friends).

We got on the last hay ride back to the parking lot, where we we proceeded to a little town called Frederick for dinner. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but we got there an hour early, so we decided to go to a coffee bar called NOLA to wait.

I walked in, and Lindsay leaned over to me, and said, “don’t look now, but that guy over there is David Sedaris.” I immediately knew what I had to say to him, and I waited for my chance. I walked up and said, “David, I owe you an apology.”

He said, “okay.” And just waited.

I said, “years and years ago, I saw you in Portland, where you had a Q&A. I was getting frustrated that you couldn’t see my hand go up and I yelled, ‘DAVID! UP HERE!’ You said, ‘ohhhh, we do not yell….’ and the lights went down. I’m sorry I was such a spazzbasket.”

He said that the only reason he said that is usually the people who yell are drunk and don’t ask good questions, anyway. I agreed with this. They probably are.

But I was just lost in my own need to tell him something, and I got my chance.

“David, I just wanted to tell you how much Jesus Shaves meant to me, particularly the line about how if we had the right words to explain what was going on with religion, would it really have gone any better?” He smiled genuinely, thanked me, and walked into the night.

Not many people get to write about meeting their writing heroes.

But I just did.

The rest of the night, I chatted amicably with all of my friends, my insides bursting with “I JUST MET DAVID SEDARIS” glow.

Who would have thought that by getting out of my comfort zone a little bit, a lotta bit would happen?

I certainly did not, but I need to remember this life lesson. Faith as small as a grain of mustard seed is all it takes to make great things grow. I could have easily stayed in bed, and thought about it. But that small hope of seeing Dan and her friends lifting my spirits turned my world on its ear in a good way.

All writers are introverts, which is why I didn’t dare ask for a photo…. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in one, either. In a way, though, that’s fine. That memory is only for me. You’ll have to live with the description that he is even more handsome in person, and that with keyhole bridge glasses and a tweed coat, he looked like the perfect picture of a writer… whether it was taken or not.