On a Mission……. from GOD

My admission essay to Howard University:

You have asked me, “what makes you, you?”

What makes me myself is writing about it. I have a blog called “Stories That Are All True… and some of them actually happened.” The point is that I am interested in the life lessons of a story, and not the facts behind it. I don’t care if I remember dates and times, but I do care if I lose the essence of how an experience made me feel. It is the essence of Leslie, the yin and yang inside me that struggles to walk in light and can’t help but walk in the dark, because it’s more comfortable. I love my sins, just like we all do. However, I’ve been invited to walk in the light permanently with Christ, because when he asked, I listened. When I struggle, I have someone to ask for help in finding the right path for me. Today it was talking to my pastor, Matt Braddock, about the divinity schools in the area. He said that Howard was affiliated with the United Church of Christ, which is the denomination I’m currently looking to for ordination. In order to achieve that, though, I have to work backwards from the darkness of leaving school when I was younger.

Truly, I am an Episcopalian at heart, but what I realized is that with the UCC, I have the capability to write liturgy instead of just turning to page 355. Writing and preaching is where my heart sings, because it leads people in their own invitation to Christ, which is what he asked me to do in the first place.

I make enough money doing computer support work that getting a degree isn’t necessary for me to survive. I am safety-netted that way. But at the same time, doing that work does not feed me. Darkness was choosing money over spirit, and it is a decision I’ve regretted for years. Howard University has the ability to help me right that wrong, to choose the direction I know I am called to walk.

I am applying for an undergraduate degree because money is want, and soul is need. My major is Political Science, and my minor is Psychology. Those two things are inextricably interrelated into my ministry, because I will be doing everything from weddings to funerals to voting for policy that helps the less fortunate. In order to lead, I have to know how the system works. In order to break rules, you have to know them all.

It is an exciting time to be me. Breaking rules is not meant in disrespect, only to promote political change for the homeless, the mentally ill, and those for which the safety net has crumbled. Please, will you join me in my vision and let me complete the work I have already started? I have put one foot down on holy ground by saying “enough is enough. Stop playing with darkness and accept what God has been trying to tell you.”

Amen.

Sermon for Trinity Sunday Year B 2015: Put Down Your iPhone

Put. It. Down.

I know you’re reading this on some kind of electronic device, but when you’re finished, maybe take a walk. Play Scrabble with your kids. Walk on The Mall or go to the Smithsonian. Whatever you do, unplug in a major way. Because when you are paying attention to your screen, what kind of information are you missing? What kind of dreams would you have if they weren’t interrupted by pictures of falling candy? What kind of knowledge would you pick up that you couldn’t get from Google?

A lot, actually.

Google and your electronics will definitely give you world news, but what about how your family is doing emotionally?

Our passage from Isaiah focuses on that point exclusively. Isaiah has just been through one of the worst times in his life. The king of Judah that he loved, Uzziah, was pushed out of his throne and into a life of solitude, even unto death. He’d committed a major sin according to the High Priest by burning incense as a gift to God, but to the High Priest, it came across as a major power play. Burning incense as a gift to God was an authority given only to the descendants of Aaron, so HOW DARE HE? Uzziah contracted leprosy soon afterward, and the High Priest declared it punishment for Uzziah’s sins. He wasn’t even buried with the other kings- set apart because of his mistake.

The king that took over, Jotham, conspired with Pekah, the King of Israel, to form an alliance with the Assyrians. Isaiah felt that the Jews were turning their backs on a God that had delivered them from their distress, all the way back to Moses leading them out of the slavery they’d suffered in Egypt.

He went into the temple to pray, and had a vision. This scripture is very important to the life of both Judaism and Christianity, because it is the moment Isaiah steps up and says, “here I am.” It doesn’t come easily, though. At first, the vision is of his pain. He knows that he and his people are unclean in the way that they are ignoring the same God that’s been there for them all along. He deems himself unworthy, and then an angel steps forward. Hear it in his own words:

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Isaiah is not anointed by oil; he is anointed by fire… and yet, he doesn’t speak of it burning him. He speaks of it as doing what fire does. It tempers him. He takes the fire and lets it burn away the old version of himself, the one that feels unworthy to serve. When God says, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah STANDS UP. He says plainly, “HERE AM I; SEND ME!” The old Isaiah is no more. He takes his power of vision and is considered one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. His predictions turned out to be accurate. As I have said before, Isaiah’s prose on Jesus is like looking at his baby pictures from hundreds of years before he was born. Fire on his lips in his visions became fire in the belly in his daily life and he USED IT.

We don’t get this kind of vision in our daily lives unless we sit as still as Isaiah did. Unless we unplug our electronics and sit in our own unworthiness and decide what kind of fire we need to create the kind of passion that Isaiah exhibits.

Last week, I preached a confessional sermon on how my Holy Spirit moment occurred, also through fire that tempered me. What is your moment? Have you found it yet?

Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit moment in a different element. Hear his words:

The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

The context is that he is talking to Nicodemus, who is confused by the concept of being “born again.” Of course you cannot reenter your mother’s womb, but every life gets fresh starts. We do it all the time. I just moved from Texas to Maryland. What have you done? Perhaps it is seeing a bad relationship and either departing from it or refreshing it anew. Maybe it is a job you hate that you’ve finally decided you’ve had enough.

Or perhaps you have unplugged enough that you can say, “here I am; send me” to the other people in your world. Perhaps there’s a sick person that needs your attention and you just haven’t had the fortitude to visit, but today is the day. Perhaps you’ve let church relationships fade because of one conflict or another and you’ve had enough of your own passive aggression and show up, anyway.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ve had enough of you. Maybe the person you are is not the person you’d like to be. What kind of coal should go on your lips so that you can be born of the spirit instead of watching it happen to others? To you, is self actualization just for other people? Are you hiding in your own darkness because it’s comfortable?

On this Trinity Sunday, I ask that you ask yourself these burning questions, because if you sit with them long enough, they won’t burn anymore. You won’t have seen fire, you’ll have walked through it.

Where is your Holy Spirit moment? What do you need to ask God to heal? Are you calling out for Jesus, the Mediator and Advocate?

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

Amen.

Get Real

My friend Sash gave me a huge compliment when I was going for a job interview in Portland. She said, “just be Leslie, and let the world fall in love.” Of course I cried. Are you kidding me? Now I’m just in the process of finding out what that means to me. I’ve been such a tool lately that it’s trying to find balance in the middle of the storm I created, so that it fades back into Portland spitting. There’s never going to be a time in my life where there’s no rain, but there’s a way to handle it and a way to let it handle you. I want to cross over. I have given my power away so many times that I don’t even know where it is. I see inklings, especially now that people are starting to recognize me as a writer.

It’s an interesting gig, being a writer. There are no rules except complete isolation, and I mean that in the best way possible. You become an observer in the quiet, because the interruption in the silence ruins sentences that cannot be reconstructed in the same way. It’s another excellent reason to be single, because I know that isolation is necessary and that bothers girlfriends. A lot. I have said many times that the perfect girlfriend for me lives at least ten miles away, and I mean it. I don’t think that Dana and I will ever reconnect as a married couple, but I do know this for sure. We would have been so much more successful when she moved out, because I got a taste of it when I moved into my own bedroom. It allowed me to feel autonomous and married at the same time. So, future significant other, please have a big house. I’m thinking at least four bedrooms with a maid, because bitch please. I know myself. If we have five bedrooms, I want her to live with us and follow me around with a dust buster and a trash bag. I am a Virgo, and I want things perfect and precise. I am ADHD, which means that I cannot live up to my own standards. What do you do in that case? What all people do in these cases. Hire an undocumented worker.

I want to be a person that offers sanctuary to those less fortunate, whether it has two legs or four. Undocumented workers need jobs. Children need love because, for whatever reason, they’ve been given up by their biological parents. Abandoned pets need homes. There is never going to be a shortage of need, and there seems to be a shortage in kindness. I am not judging, I am just reflecting on the fact that there are people waiting for white babies and letting minority children starve. There are people who have no problem with the homeless because they don’t see them, anyway. There are dogs and cats that stay in shelters because their personalities are great, but they just don’t have “the look.”

I am not one of those people who’s interested in adopting 15 children and 73 dogs. I’m just one of those people that will love the ones I am capable of saving. I know there’s a dog in my future, because I love my adopted ones now. Daisy belongs to Samantha, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t glued to me when I’m around. We love to walk and talk, and I tell her all my problems, because like God, she doesn’t talk back in words. It’s helpful. I’ve told her the story of my life so far, and she still walks with me. That’s grace and mercy all rolled into one. She just listens without judging and licks my face when tears well up.

I seem to cry a lot. That’s because my emotions run so deep that I cannot help but show them. It’s the blessing and the curse of being in touch with your feelings. The blessing part is feeling everything deeply and knowing what you think about it. The curse is wearing your heart on your sleeve in public. When my dad brought me a Springboks jersey from South Africa, he told the story of getting to meet Desmond Tutu, and I fell apart at the seams. My heart just swelled, which came out in tears and lots of snot.

Sometimes I hate it when I………… emote. It’s embarrassing, really. But at the same time, I have been so closed off for so long that I think it’s natural to overdo it until you find a balance. It will come with time, but it’s not like a manic swing. It’s just that I don’t hide myself anymore. I don’t try to keep myself from feeling things. I don’t stuff and deny anymore, which is more than I can say for my past.

It helps me when I am on the street. Really, it does. You would think it would be a barrier between homeless people and me, because you’d think every story drives the tears and the snot and the whatnots and whathaveyous. But no. Actually, it helps me meet them where they are. It helps me to listen without judgment as to how they got where they are and why they’re having trouble pulling themselves back to safety. Mostly, I believe it is mental illness. With mental illness, it’s hard to hold down a job. I know because it’s happened to me. If I didn’t have loving parents and friends, I would have ended up homeless long ago, because they pull me back into my body, back into my godspace so that I can center myself enough to face another day. People with social anxiety do not do well at work. They just don’t. They cover their fear and anxiety to the point that no one can figure out what’s wrong, but something is. They do know that much.

I had no idea how much my childhood trauma played into the adult that I am until I went to the hospital for psych issues. That’s because what I thought was just anxiety was every symptom on the trauma checklist. My reactions were finely tuned over time, so that no one could guess how much pain I was really feeling. It was stuffed down deep into my core, and I could not handle it anymore. I had to come clean, and when I did, the best thing happened. People LISTENED. They understood me in a way that they’d never had the chance before, because I wouldn’t talk.

Argo was so sweet when she said to keep talking, because I could save the next girl if I did. I hope that’s true, because I would like nothing more. It took me so long to realize who I actually was instead of who I thought I needed to be in the world to survive. Survival led me to dark places in my mind that I never want to revisit. Instead, I talk to my ghosts as they slowly fly back into the ether.

I should really write an age-appropriate version of “The Cost of Shame,” because emotional abuse is so hard to find that young girls might not even realize it’s happening. Whenever I doubt the fact that I was emotionally abused, I turn back to my eighth grade history teacher, who saw it happening. It was so clear to her, and so defiantly murky to me. I never would have given her up, even if there had been massive destruction to me, because I thought our relationship was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me.

I didn’t know it wasn’t until I got real with myself and others. It was then I realized THAT was the best thing that ever happened to me instead.

Blogging for Jesus

I have so much to write about that nothing is really sticking in one place. I am about as stoned as one can get on OTC medication- real Sudafed and Zyrtec together was a bad idea. All morning I’ve felt like I am walking through wall-to-wall Jell-o. I can’t pick a flavor. What seems right for a Friday? Leave it in the comments. Oh, wait. It’s peach. Friday peach (inside joke just for Meg [holla!]).

I should have bought the Sudafed PE instead, but in the past I have always told people it says, “does not work” right on the box. It is the deodorant crystal of sinus meds. But at the same time, I think it works better than the credit I’ve given it in the past. For instance, it does not suppress my appetite, and in my case, that’s a bad thing. I’m trying. I really am. For breakfast I had two pieces of rye toast smothered in margarine made of coconut oil because we don’t have any coffee. If you don’t get the reference, I thought it might be a good compromise for Bulletproof Coffee. If it doesn’t taste right, I’ll get the Kerrygold and a jar of real coconut oil. Everyone I know who drinks it is an evangelist (sometimes literally [shout-out to Casey, a real evangelical pastor]).

As I have said before, I feel better when I eat vegan food, so I’m trying to buy it more often. That’s not to say I’m a true vegan. I ate the hell out of some ribs and chicken on Memorial Day. I just pay for it later. Something’s not right with me, and I am going to make an appointment to see an internist to re-do the urine and blood tests for rheumatoid markers since Jacob isn’t my doctor anymore and I need to establish one here. It’s time. I can’t be passive about it. I have been out of fear of finding out what’s wrong with me. It doesn’t make any sense at all except that I’m scared of the reality of being sick. Samantha was brave enough to face her treatment plan head-on. The least I can do is follow her lead.

I watched her get angry, really really angry. Sobs and screaming to such a degree that I thought she’d gotten fired or something. If only she had been, because it would have been better news. Her dad said, “I thought you’d gotten engaged, won the lottery, or gotten pregnant.” Again, if only. I don’t want to share her diagnosis to protect her privacy, but I think she’s starting to write about it herself. If she does, I will link that bitch up. She is almost as funny as I am. 😉

Back to you, Bob. Let’s go to the phones.

Getting over Dana has been so much easier with you guys. I can vent, I can cry, and you’ll still love me afterwards. Of course, you’re not here for the crying part, but I know there are parts of my writing where you know I’m feeling something. My hope in writing about this mess is that it continues to let me bless and release this relationship without being bitter and angry. It has gotten me nothing in the past. I really do go out with joy in terms of Argo and Dana, because I know I was the problem in many cases, not just one. At the same time, though, it is feeding me to feel joy that the relationships happened in the first place, rather than being an angry asshole that they ended. Not every relationship is supposed to be lifelong. Nothing is stopping me from sending good energy so that if they come here and read something that strikes as true, we can pick up later on. I do not have hope, but I do have peace, if that makes any sense at all. I just know that if they show up, they’re not going to be received in anger. That’s the best I can do in a situation like this, because they both mean so much to me that it doesn’t make sense to hold on to the bad feelings. It makes sense to hold on to the good. Not that it will make them any more likely to show up or not, just that I have peace within myself and the direction I am going without them.

I workshop all my feelings to go back and find what is truth and not what is said in the moment. In the moment, I say things that may or may not ring true later… that’s why you see so much difference in the way I feel day to day, and sometimes they’ll give you cognitive dissonance unless you hold on to the fact that it’s just a snapshot and not the whole picture. Timestamps MATTER. It’s kind of like walking the Bible, in a way. That’s why there are opposing views in it, too. You have to know when the books were written and in whose voice to really understand it. The difference between my blog and the Bible is that there’s only one voice, and in the Bible, there are many.

I just had an epiphany. “Stories” is my blog. The Bible is theirs. Moses, Mark, Luke…. Pick a voice. They’re writing what they see in that date and time. Interesting. It may not matter much to you if you’re not a God person, but it struck me as important. Like, the Pentateuch is Moses’ blog. To me that is accurate AND hilarious.

Paul is the biggest blogger of them all. He writes letters to every church you can possibly imagine. Ephesus, Corinth, Caesaria Phillipi, you name it. Paul was ON IT.

Man, that was a shot in the arm of energy. They wrote their books of the Bible. I’m writing mine. What makes us think that our words about the works of Christ in our lives (or Moses, for that matter) are any less sacred? They may not make canon, but neither did Tobit, and yet, his words are accepted by some congregations, anyway. Still meaning to read Elaine Pagels’ seminal work on the gospel of Judas that didn’t make it, but it’s on my to-do list. Also, I am going to read every word that Karen Armstrong has ever written, because I’ve seen her on TV and I think she is one of the best theological minds in the world. She posits that the reaction to the divine is more important than the divine itself, and has been since the beginning of creation. It’s why you can forget about disproving God with science, because science and religion feed different things. I feel sorry for the Biblical literalists that can’t see it, because I think they’re being left behind in this realm, much less the Rapture (still giggling over “Come the Rapture, This Car Will Be Unmanned” and “Come the Rapture, Can I Have Your Car?” Didn’t write ’em. Still funny.).

They’re being left behind because they are taking an ancient society and trying to fit their rules into ours. Will it Blend? I think not. The best we can do, and I got this line from Susan Leo, is to take the Bible seriously, but not literally. The Bible is the lens through which those people saw their world, and we can use it as a living document, much like the Constitution. As the UCC so eloquently says, “God is still speaking.” I’m just trying to figure out what God is saying to me. I have a lot of work to do. Knowing the direction you need to go and knowing the concrete steps to get there are two different things. Putting one foot down on holy ground was asking Starbucks to donate coffee….. but where does my other foot go? I am not afraid. I am confused. There’s a difference.

Luckily, I have people who believe in me that I can go to for help. Like you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep listening. Keep praying for me. Keep supporting me. Keep seeing the vision, and if you want, ask me how you can help. I will put you to work, that’s for damn sure. I can’t do this alone, and I’m not. When I put myself out there, people listen. I’m not used to that sort of thing, but I’m getting there. I’m taking back my power from the weakling I’d become due to my own unworthiness.

You have no idea how much you’ve helped to erase that feeling. All your donations, all your love notes, all your prayers and PRESENCE. Presence is the biggest thing. If God works through us, then I see God in your eyes. You matter to me, Fanagans. You gave me self-esteem and confidence at a time in my life when I desperately needed it. You reached into your own godspaces and treated me with everpresentlovingkindness that stemmed from your own willingness to give of yourselves.

As Gracie Allen so famously said, and another slogan adopted by the UCC, “never place a period where God has placed a comma,”

My comma is happening right now, in this very room. Downsizing into staying in someone else’s house so that I could manage less and think more is propelling me into a different Leslie than you’ve ever seen before. I still slip and slide through life what with my cerebral palsy and ADD and running into things, both literally and figuratively. At the same time, though, I am thinking through different things than I ever thought I would. I have a bigger capacity for growth. That only happened when I let myself into my innermost secrets.

I am so glad I decided to invite you along for this glorious ride. We’ve been through the valley together. Let’s go to the mountain top. I’ll bring the champagne. You bring the hugs.

Amen.

Thanks for Coming Over- Have Some Tea

Today I’m dressed to the nines, just because I can. I like the way I feel about myself when I’m the male equivalent of “all dolled up.” It’s not that I’m not female, it’s just that I don’t really look it in black Dockers, a grey t-shirt (complete with blue TARDIS), a Nautica blue and white striped button-down, neon green and TARDIS blue striped socks, and black leather shoes. Samantha saw me and I said, “do I look cute today?” She said, “yes, why? Do you have a date?” I said, “no, but I might want one.” Seems legit. Dress for success, baby. Dress. For. Success.

Then I asked Samantha, “will you take me to a store? Like, right now?” We took off for Giant (grocery store) because I needed three things. The first was an industrial size can of CoffeeMate, because it tastes much better in black tea than it does in coffee (go figure). Running low because of the sheer amount of tea I drink every day would scare most physicians. The second thing was Zyrtec, and the third thing was a Diet Coke so I could take it in the store, immediately, Do Not Pass Go. OMG the allergies. Hayat and Mike love plants, all kinds, and I am *dying.* I cannot go for more than a couple of minutes without having a sneezing attack, and my eyes itch like a mofo. It was on sale- a month’s worth for $10, so I got two. It will take me almost that long to rebuild it in my system. Zyrtec is not like pseudoephedrine, you don’t take it as a spot treatment. In order to really stop the sneezing, itching, etc. you have to take it for about six weeks. Just sayin,’ because a lot of people don’t know that. It will work, sort of, but “histamine blockers” take a while to get up and running. They aren’t built in a day. I only put “histamine blockers” in quotes because my dad and I both thought it was hilarious when that ad campaign came out… not sure if it was Claritin or Benadryl, but we both convulsed in laughter. “You mean, ANTIHISTAMINES?” Ah, buzz words.

Then, once Samantha and I had some time alone, she told me how her doctor’s appointment went yesterday, and it’s not good. She’s not going to die or anything, but she will have to go through treatment and it is weighing on me, tender heart bear that I am. The best piece of advice she’s gotten so far, and I love it, is “you just do your everyday stuff and let other people worry for you. They’re going to do it anyway, so just let them.” I wish I’d gotten the same advice when I was going through all my mental hell. It might have kept me from isolating quite so much.

Actually, it was my old, old friend Jonathan who got me through the worst of my hospitalization, with one simple Facebook comment. I was so overwhelmed with all the love notes that poured in that I said something to the effect of “thank you so much- I will absolutely jump in for you when the time comes.” He said, “right now, just jump in for yourself.” Those words literally carried me for days. Jonathan, if you’re reading this, I need you to know that and take it in. Your words helped me focus on myself rather than all of the other patients who seemed “so much worse than me.” My dad has this saying that rang true with Jonathan’s words: “definition of major surgery? Yours.” I wasn’t recovering from surgery, but it seemed like it, in a way. I didn’t get better overnight. I went to the hospital, but it was several weeks before I truly felt better. I felt so much guilt over spending time at the hospital at all, especially when Dana said, “it must be nice to be able to just check out like that.” Well, it was better than staying with her and continuing to beat myself up, that’s for damn sure. I dismissed her take as ignorance, but I’m still furious about it. The best thing about getting a divorce is not having to listen to her bitch and moan about my mental health while she continues not to take care of hers.

I just got to this place of survival mode, like I said earlier. Jonathan said “jump,” and I fucking did. Once I got out of “I am going to die if I don’t take care of this” mode, of course I wanted to work it out with Dana. However, I couldn’t get her to see that I needed to be strong before I could be a partner to her, because by then she’d taken it all as selfishness. It was way too late for us to rebuild, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about it constantly for a while.

In our last conversation, she also beat me up emotionally for not helping her more with the move to Portland. That I just sat on the driveway close to Diane’s house and mourned. The problem with that is she didn’t do jack or shit while I was sitting there. We BOTH left everything until the last minute. It was not my fault or hers. It just was. So to blame me for both of our ADHD attitudes is just putting more on me than is rightfully mine. I needed that time to mourn. That relationship predated her by almost 15 years. My parents were married for less time than I was “friends” with her. One of my real friends likened it to “battered women’s syndrome” because of all the emotional weight I’d carried for so many years in silence. To say that I would let go easily was an understatement. Besides, I had an eternal hope that Diane would jump in for herself, that she would agree with me that it was time to pack it up and go the fuck home.

She didn’t, but that’s neither here nor there. All of it was wasted energy. On that, I agree with Dana. I just couldn’t bring myself to that place on my own. I had to have help, lots of it, mostly from her. I have called her my Rock and my Redeemer, and at that time, she was. I’ll never forget it, regardless of whether we reconnect or not. She took care of me better than anyone else, because she knew me inside out, upside down, and backwards. She was the Jordy Nelson to my Aaron Rogers, using a football metaphor because it will please her.

I wish I could bring all that back, so that I could be the Jordy as we continue to stumble through life, like everyone does. I couldn’t at that time in my life, so I’m prepared to be that for someone else if they ever ask me. I can’t go backward, but I can pay it forward. I have so many regrets in the way I’ve behaved over the last two years, but at the same time, I don’t think there’s anything that shouldn’t have happened. I am a better person for it, having had to sit in that much pain.

Because as is my continual anthem, after the flood comes the rainbow. Apt, because I am a Houstonian at heart. I will never move back there unless there are extenuating circumstances, but you can’t erase where you’re from. It just don’t happen. 😛 DC is my lifeblood because of my writing. Nothing will ever change that. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t need a Drank once in a while. That doesn’t mean that just because I live here, Mike Jones is any less burned into my brain. Also doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t beat for Annise Parker, whom I’ve admired since I was a kid. I am so proud of her that I could burst with pride.

I know I’m a bit all over the place today, but I just want this entry to feel like we’re sitting on the front porch, having a conversation………. because that’s exactly what we’re doing.