High School Stories We Still Tell

Here, for remembrance sake, are the stories that my friends and I still tell when we get together.

Alberto’s parents are out of town. He invites us over to watch movies, but says I can’t come because his mom doesn’t want girls in the house and his parents have spies watching the house (you can say that shit in Sugar Land and it might be true). The time comes for James, Michael, Alberto, and David to leave for Alberto’s. Michael says “I got a carpet pad roll in the back of my truck. Let’s go scare the shit out of him.” So the boys ROLL ME UP IN THE CARPET PAD and show up at Alberto’s door with them standing at the door like contractors. They bring in the carpet pad and set it down. When they unrolled me, Alberto’s eyes almost turned inside out. He said, and I quote, “WHAT THE FUCK, you guys!”

James, Michael, Alberto, and I used to go out on the golf course at the country club and play in the sand. I’m sure we wrote some unprintable things. We were leaving the golf course after raking it over, and Alberto said that he had night vision. Just then, he stepped into a puddle up to his knee and we all rolled on the ground.

James is a famous prankster, so he got on one phone line in the house and got his mother on the other. Allison, his sister, is listening in. In this memory, James is recounting the story, and I am asphyxiating with laughter. It didn’t matter that I didn’t see it firsthand.

James (talking like a deaf person): Hi! I’m calling from the American Society of Deaf Individuals. Are you, or anyone you know, a deaf individual?

Mom: N-

James: THAT’S GREAT!

This goes on for another few minutes, including a donation ask, before Mom hangs up the phone.

Allison, FTW, walks past her mom and says, absolutely deadpan, “Geez, Mom. I can’t believe you hung up on a deaf guy.”

I hated Mr. Skomski, my senior chemistry teacher. To this day, I think it was because he was Asperger’s and I didn’t recognize the signs… because he could do complicated algebraic equations in his head without notes, and at the same time, told a bunch of high school seniors that he was a bouncer at a club in New Orleans for a time. We thought he was weird and uncool, and I’m sad to say I took advantage of him. But I tried to exasperate him in the most clever of ways, because when he told us that he had been a bouncer, for me it was like, “you know we can see you, right?”

The first day of the class, we were in the lab. I think we were doing an experiment with water or playing cards or something like that. Completely non-toxic and extremely un-dangerous. Mr. Skomski is getting up in my face about putting on my safety glasses. He has come over to my table three times to politely ask me to put on my safety glasses. He is getting so pissed that his eyebrows are coming over his forehead, and I’m thinking, “it’s water and playing cards… LET. IT. GO.

But he won’t leave me alone, so I put them on my arm. Defeated, he turned on his heel and walked off. It’s children like me what cause unrest; I regret it, but come on. You have to admit. It’s funny.

Like when I decided I had a crush on Meagan Atkinson. She had office work every day during my chemistry class (bringin’ it back around), and would come to pick up the attendance every morning. Every damn morning of my senior year, I interrupted his class by, no matter what he was doing, yelling out “hiiii Meagan!” when she arrived. Skomski gave up after about three weeks, and I got the girl. Funny how life works out like that.

Here is the story of how Meag decided she had a crush on me.

We only had one class together, and that was English with Hudel Steed. Steed and I had a healthy relationship in that I had a healthy fear of her. She was a lawyer and proved to be incredibly clever (and evil). For instance, on the first day of class, she said, “You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a few minutes late every day. In their infinite wisdom, the administration has decided that teachers with the most seniority are the ones that have to watch the bathrooms and check for cigarettes. If this is what the administration thinks of seniority, they can shove it.”

Hudel Steed also has my undying respect for two things- a) making me a writer b) introducing me to my first girlfriend (remember that?). Let’s take one thing at a time. We’ll do the girlfriend first since that’s more interesting.

The first day of class, Dr. Steed said that her class was so fucking hard (and I’m paraphrasing) that we could not leave without getting someone’s phone number. CHECKMATE. Meag sat kitty-korner to me and I lunged for her desk.

I walk in the door to my mother’s apartment and the phone is ringing. I had given her every phone number I owned, like you do.

I pick up the phone, and without even saying hello, she said “I’m just curious. Why do you wear those rainbow rings to school every day?”

I said, “because I’m a lesbian. Do you have a problem with that?”

She said, “Noooo! I’m a Melissa Etheridge fan.

“I’m not, but thank you for giving money to my people,” I replied.

From then on, we were inseparable, and all it took was English.

In my haste to get things posted, I realized that I forgot a story from HSPVA… my 15th birthday. For starters, I wasn’t always the kind of kid that wanted to go to school when she was sick. I didn’t just have the sniffles, either. I was full-on miserable. However, it was my birthday, and I wanted to go. So my parents let me, against their better judgment.

Some time before, my friend the Judge had gotten our entire family into the Republican National Convention. I KNOW!, RIGHT?! While I was there, I bought a shirt made of an American flag. It was a button-down, and it was made of real flag canvas. I was so proud of it until…

I walked into Honors Band, which was first period. Everyone in the entire band was getting ready for warm-up. Those assholes stood up, saluted me, and then sang The Star-Spangled Banner in four-part harmony. With a cymbal crash at the end.

I was mortified. And psyched. For one solid moment, I felt cool.

Myths About Gay People

  • We can change our orientations at will.
    • If you believe the traditional evangelical line of thought, we gays are just not working hard enough at trying to be straight. If we really wanted to, we could change. We’re just rebellious and obnoxious. The truth is way more complicated than that. People have sex with each other for all sorts of reasons, including straight people just wondering what it’s like and vice versa. However, that does not translate into what kind of person you’re going to be attracted to and want to communicate with when you find a serious relationship. Relationships are so much more complicated than sex, because sex is so superficial to who you really are. Orientation is not decided by great sex with either gender. I’ve had more than one man say to me that I could cure being a lesbian with one good fuck (almost always from him). Good luck with that.
  • We have an agenda for the United States.
    • Why do you say that like you aren’t doing the same thing? Everyone has an agenda for the country, especially the evangelicals that harp on this point. If there is anything that gays want, it’s freedom from your hypocrisy. You’re wagging the dog, and we hate you for it. Gay rights are all about expanding the tax benefits you get when you get married in this country, because marriage is not tied to religion. God is. You and your kin will have the same opportunity to make us feel unwelcome in your churches all on your own.
  • We make bad parents because a child doesn’t get both a Mom and a Dad.
    • This is just cruel, and you know it. You’re scoring cheap political votes by stepping on the heads of others. Targeting gays like this isn’t the real issue, but it’s a great way to take the focus off N. Korea and to the moral bankruptcy of America. If you really had a problem with gay parents because they don’t give the kid both a mom and a dad, then you are also damning every family that doesn’t have a mom and a dad. Good luck getting the single parent vote, you egocentric bastards. Never mind that there are studies that gay people make better parents all around, because there are so fucking few unwanted pregnancies. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it. I will say it out loud that there is a special place in hell for those closeted bastards in Congress that by day, support laws that hurt them, and by night, suck cock like it’s going out of style.
  • Gay Marriage Isn’t Real Marriage
    • This is another myth that drives me completely batshit crazy. Look at my life. I am a computer nerd to the highest degree, and I always will be. Dana is as big a nerd as me, just in different areas of her life. Do we really seem like our marriage would be so damn different than yours? We take out the trash, we do our laundry, we fight over sex, money, Jeopardy!, and what’s going to happen on Doctor Who. If we had kids, we would both become a taxi service. If we had grandkids, we’re the grandparents that would think it’s funny to give them a drum set. We think our in-laws would like each other, but we can’t think of a place for them to meet. Does that sound all that different from you? Talk me through your day and tell me where you think our marriages might be different. I dare you. And if you say one thing about it being different when we go to bed, because we’re doing unspeakable things to each other, first of all, you’re right. Second of all, your straight friends don’t want to think about you having sex, either, Stud.
  • You can instantly tell someone is gay by their mannerisms.
    • The truth is that, yeah, sometimes you can. But I guarantee that for every gay person you know that’s “fabulous” or “wears comfortable shoes,” there are even more where you’d never know unless they told you. That’s what’s intrinsically wrong with offensive jokes about gay people. Say one in the wrong place at the wrong time, and you’re likely to find out that your boss is gay and you don’t have a job.
    • A corollary…
      • We can tell you’re straight. Especially those of you that shop at Sears for clothes.

What I Think About at Lunch

Originally posted Mar. 7th

For some reason, I start out with the premise that I can learn Arabic just by hanging out with the Saudi boys on campus. It’s not that hard- they say everything with their hands and their eyebrows. Or at least, it’s not that hard until I realize that several minutes have gone by and I haven’t understood anything. Ali can switch between Arabic and English pretty handily. Yossef cannot. I often say things slower and louder, as if I am visiting Saudi Arabia as a tourist.

Do not let Yossef fool you, though. He knows more English than he lets on. Apparently, English words make a lot more sense when there’s a lot of Arabic around it. For instance, Yossef does not know the words “dog” or “sandwich.” But get him on the phone and all of the sudden, he knows things like “double major.”

I kidded him today that we should just switch to Arabic. I said, “salaam alaikum.” He said “Akbar.” I said, “you have now reached the end of my Arabic.” Everyone laughed except Yossef, who looked on quizzically. When it was translated for him, he nearly fell off a park bench.

These boys are one of the best parts of my day. The fact that they accept me for who I am and just let me hang out with them is a miracle. I don’t know that they realize I am a gay person (hell, I’m not even sure if they know I’m female), and I’m not going to tell them. It might ruin what we have… and what we have is a dorky white female trying to learn about their culture because I’ve watched “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”

Yossef and I have more in common than the rest of the boys, which is sad because I don’t know how to talk to him. In Saudi, he works in the king’s palace as tech support, which Ali told me because Yossef wanted to know where I worked as well. These friendships are easy and unencumbered, because I’m not really part of the crew. I’m the lady that knows English. Yossef says that it’s fun to practice. It will be more fun for me when I don’t have to have Ali translate because Yossef’s verb agreement is upside down and backwards.

I call them “boys” even though they are married or betrothed. This is because there is a school on campus called “Pacific International Academy,” which is a preparatory school before college to give them a leg up on language. They’re young, almost painfully so to be so encumbered with life- the balance between their lives in Saudi and their lives in Portland is difficult. Salim’s mother doesn’t drive, and he takes her everywhere. More than once I have heard Salim talking her off the ceiling because she is losing her mind over her baby being so far away and unable to take her to the market. I told him to watch the video “Why Saudi Women Shouldn’t Drive” to make him feel better. He responded by pulling out his phone, looking up the video, and snorting Mountain Dew through his nose and across the room.

They are also mischievous in their own right. The first time I met Yossef, I told him that I liked his shoes. Ali translated that into “she likes the way your wife dresses you.” Then it was my turn for soda to come out of my nose.

Being with them is a mind worm. I wonder what will happen to them when they leave PIA. I wonder if they will stay here long enough to finish a degree. I wonder if Salim’s mother will chill out long enough to let her baby fly, because he is so attached to her that there is no way he won’t go back *eventually.* I worry that they’re getting enough out of school to really make a difference in their English… not because *I* want them to learn it, but because it’s so important to them.

So that’s what goes through my mind as the lunch sun beats down on us and Yossef is leaning in the grass, singing ancient Arabic tunes to a drum beat no one else hears.

 

Platform

Yesterday was red letter for “Stories,” and I couldn’t have done it without help from my friends. Kristie Berthelotte shared my piece on marriage, and within one day, 47 people had read it. For someone who just started a blog, that’s incredible. It’s more attention than I deserve, and I am grateful.

But part of the reason I’m grateful is that those 47 people gave me a platform to say what I wanted to say, and took it all in.

In her last episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah said something poignant that I will share here:

When I started, not even I imagined that this show would have the depth and the reach that you all have given it. It has been a privilege for me to speak to you here in this studio, in this country and in 150 countries around the world on this platform that is The Oprah Winfrey Show. You let me into your homes to talk to you every day. This is what you allowed me to do, and I thank you for that. But what I want you to know as this show ends: Each one of you has your own platform. Do not let the trappings here fool you. Mine is a stage in a studio, yours is wherever you are with your own reach, however small or however large that reach is. Maybe it’s 20 people, maybe it’s 30 people, 40 people, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your classmates, your classroom, your co-workers. Wherever you are, that is your platform, your stage, your circle of influence. That is your talk show, and that is where your power lies.

That one paragraph encompasses everything I want to do with this web site. I want to use my platform to share goofy stories and bad jokes and awful colloquialisms in the hopes that I can change minds and hearts. I never forget that I have the chance to change someone’s opinion about something, and to do it in the absolutely best way I know how- writing for people to read.

Why would I say that?

Because I am just presenting my side of the story. You’ll take it away, mull it over, and decide whether I’m right or not. There’s no being put “on the spot,” no need for a reply. It’s just a way to put things out there.

You decide what you’re going to do with it.

The very beauty of a blog. If you get offended, you can click somewhere else. If you don’t, maybe something will resonate and you’ll pass it on. Either way, I am grateful for the chance to be heard.

Welcome to my platform.

Seventeen Cents

On Dec. 20, 1990, I was the only one home when our house started burning. These are my recollections, originally written for my web site in 2005.

———–

My hair was in curlers. I was wearing black pumps, black pantyhose, and a Snoopy nightgown. I was watching The New Mickey Mouse Club on television because it was keeping my mind off of the dance I was preparing for later in the evening. My mother and sister had left the house to go shopping. My dad was delivering communion to little old ladies who couldn’t make it to church. It was a typical Friday afternoon… everyone was busy, including me, even though I didn’t look like it on the outside.

There was so much to think about! Who would I dance with? I wanted it to be Topper Caraway, even though I mostly hated him. It just seemed to me that of all the sixth grade boys in the world, Topper was the least repulsive. There was always the possibility that I would meet someone from another church. What would he look like? Would he be taller than me? Wear glasses? Know all the words to a Poison song? Like Guns and Roses as much as I did?

I was jarred from my thoughts by a strong smell that I couldn’t quite place. It was sort of like something was cooking, but I knew my mom wouldn’t leave something in the oven for me to take care of without telling me first. I decided to investigate. I opened the door that separated the living room from the hallway and shrunk back in horror. Black smoke was pouring into the hallway from the ceiling.

The television was still blaring (…”cause Fred and Mowava and the Mousketeers say, ‘We gonna rock right here!’”). Time seemed to speed up so fast it was as if it was tangible, heading for a brick wall where it would shatter and define everything from that moment on. I thought about what to do next. I was only twelve. I didn’t have much life experience to draw on.

I decided to leave everything as it was. There was no mad dash to save one last thing, a question so popular in games of Scruples. Because those things are very easy to think about when you are sitting around your dining room table in pursuit of academic discussion. When the moment hits you, the moment you truly realize that your house is burning down and there is not one damn thing you can do to stop it, waves of utter and complete helplessness wash over you. There is no time to save anything. If you are lucky, you will be dressed at the time, and physically able to get out.

I ran next door to the Brabhams, hoping that someone would be home. If they thought it was unusual that I was on their doorstep in my pajamas and curlers, they didn’t say so. I asked if I could call the Fire Department. I dialed the numbers with shaking hands and gave the dispatcher my address.

It seemed like ages before a fire truck pulled up in front of the house. Perhaps it was, or perhaps it would have seemed like ages no matter what. It was all so surreal. Here I was, in my nightgown and hair curlers, watching every possession that I had ever owned disappear in clumps. I worried about my computer. I worried about the pair of British Knights that my mom had gotten for me the Christmas before. My teeth clenched. The dress that I had bought to wear that night was hanging on a curtain rod in my bedroom. I’d never get it out in time. That’s when it hit me.

I didn’t have any clothes.

It was just about then that my mom and sister drove up, terrified to see a fire truck in front of the house. My mom would recount for many years to come how she drove up into the cacophonic scene, wondering if I’d been able to escape and wailing on the inside for she could not immediately find me.

There was palpable relief in my mother’s face when she went to the neighbors’ and saw me sitting on the couch. I was glad to see them for I was tired of being alone, feeling like this fire was my responsibility to take care of, aching for a grown-up to come along and take the weight off my shoulders. The firemen were doing the real work. But I wanted to be saved of being the only person in the family with the knowing- the stomach churning, bile inducing knot of fear that says, “everything is gone.”

I could rest now. My mother was here. My mother could be the one in charge. I gave myself over to the shock, in such a trance that I don’t remember my father coming home, discussion of what we would do next, or in fact, what actually did happen next. I “woke up” a few hours later at my maternal grandparents’ house. The only thing I remember about those missing few hours was going to a store in Daingerfield called Gibson’s and buying enough clothes for the next few days… and the only reason I remember that is because I hated the clothes at Gibson’s. Wearing clothes like that, with no designer label, would get me murdered in sixth grade. I was uncool enough. In retrospect, I know that it was wonderful to have clothes at all. But that was no use to me then.

Over the next few days, once the fire had subsided, we were able to go back into the house and grab anything that didn’t look totally and completely ruined. What we didn’t know was that once something has been through a fire, even if it hasn’t actually been touched by flame, is ruined.

There is nothing that I have left from that period in my life that doesn’t still reek of smoke… a different kind of smoke. Not the comforting kind. Not Paw-paw’s pipe smoke. Not hickory flavored meat cooking smoke. It’s a dense, acrid kind of smell. One that conjurs images of pain- forest fires in which animals are overtaken… crematoriums… hell.

It was some time later that we learned, through a report, that the fire had been caused when a wire that hadn’t been capped started smoldering in the attic.

Total cost of the cap?

Seventeen cents.

Things I’ve Learned About Marriage (Even if You Don’t Want to Call it That)

Originally Posted May 2012

I was married way too young the first time around. I was 23 years old. However, I was too smart and mature to realize that I was being really, really dumb. For instance, I was in the wrong relationship, and trying desperately to make it fit. I’m not even sure that by the time we got married, my partner thought it would last, but I did, and to her credit, she put a lot of faith in my belief. I also needed immediate medical attention for my mental health, because I didn’t have insurance on my own. I think that we both thought that as I improved, so would the relationship. As Soren Kierkegaard once said, “we live life forwards, but we understand it backward.” Ultimately, the relationship did not succeed, but it was a wonderful teaching tool.

But I didn’t learn everything I needed to know, because I was in a second relationship that lived on hope for quite a bit longer than it should have. We announced that we were getting married, we found a minister to marry us, and then the things that were going wrong in our relationship went from bad to so much worse that I realized that I was committing to a lifetime of desperately trying to make it work, rather than it being the right fit. Again, the relationship ended, and again, I learned lessons that couldn’t have been learned any other way.

I didn’t like Dana when I met her. She was so loud and obnoxious that I said to my friend Diane, “WHO. IS. THAT. WOMAN. THAT. ACCENTS. EVERY. WORD?” We saw each other at church now and again, but she really didn’t appear on my radar until Easter of 2004. A few weeks earlier, I had gone through the worst breakup of my entire life, and it was still weighing on me heavily. Dana came up to me and said, “Would you like to come to my house for Easter dinner? We’re having rack of lamb.” She said later that she’d often thought of trying to get to know me, but that Easter was kind of a pity invite because I looked so horribly sad.

We didn’t become best friends overnight, but by July, we were spending almost every waking moment together outside of our jobs. That is because we were both living alone~ me because I was single, and Dana because her partner was a construction worker who left town for weeks at a time. People assumed that we were having an affair~ we weren’t. I was way too broken for that. What did happen, though, is that Dana became the person that knows me better than anyone on earth. We can have entire conversations with our eyes. By the time we kissed, we each had enough blackmail material on the other for two lifetimes, and that’s what made me see stars. She saw me for everything I am- huge flaws and all- and loved me anyway.

This list is a compilation of everything I’ve learned from the time I was 23 until now. It is my best wish that everything I’ve gone through will connect to something in your own life… particularly if you are a conservative/evangelical Christian who does not believe in gay marriage. My only goal is to share some common ground.

  1.  Be willing to say you’re wrong even when you don’t think you are, because it is far better to be happy and together than right and alone.
  2. Fighting isn’t a sign of trouble. It’s a sign that you’ve needed to talk way before it got to the fight point. Fighting isn’t a way to end the relationship, it’s a way to both be passionate about your beliefs and both get a resolution in the end. I know my voice gets louder when I think things are unfair, and so does everyone else’s. Seeing anger as a mark of passion and interest instead of feeling threatened goes a long way toward resolving a fight quickly.
  3. You and your partner are both going to have trigger words left over from childhood that make you crazy. Try not to say them. In fact, try not to intentionally push any emotional buttons. Be an adult. Use your words. Triggers are just cheap shots, which can seem like an easy victory… until it’s three days later and the wound you left hasn’t healed.
  4. If you don’t use those cheap shot triggers, and you are fairly emotionally smart about fighting, ignore the traditional advice of not going to bed angry. That’s because if the argument has been handled with care, and neither of you are wounded, it will often look better (or non-existent) after a good night’s sleep. Additionally, if the argument means a lot to you, it might appear in your dreams and work out a solution in your sub-conscience that you can present the next time you talk about the issue. Adding fatigue to fighting is just a red flag that things are about to get much, much worse.
  5. You don’t really care about the brand of toothpaste. You don’t really care whether the toilet paper goes over the top or hangs under the roll. In fact, you don’t really care about anything superficial- the real problem is something deeper, and you don’t know how to get vulnerable enough to bring it up. Quirky things about your partner are just that- quirks. If you’re *really* fighting about toothpaste, it’s time to let it go, because people don’t change. They just don’t. Trying to change someone else’s behavior is an uphill battle, and there will always be something about your partner that you don’t like. Deal. They have a list of things they don’t like about you, too.
  6. Make sure you actually have a friendship with your partner. Romantic love doesn’t seem to be ever-present. It’s a forest fire that comes in waves. Do not lose your connection altogether, because nothing is harder than starting from scratch. Plus, nothing says lovin’ like witty banter that turns into deep conversation that turns into OH MY GOD! We’ve been talking ALL NIGHT! That probably happened when you were dating- make sure it happens more than that.
  7. Before I got married, I never knew there was a right and a wrong way to fold a t-shirt. If your partner feels strongly about something, let them do it. But don’t be a jackass if they’re picky about everything and use it as an excuse not to do anything around the house. Be proactive. Say, “is it more important for you to have it done your way, or for you to release the responsibility of having to do it?”
  8. Talking about money and sex is hard, and there will never be a time when talking about either of these topics isn’t emotionally charged. Do whatever you can to strengthen your connection to each other before talking about either. Take a walk together, sit in the shower, just something that makes you want to open up to each other. If you can’t be vulnerable during a conversation about sex or money, then neither one of you is going to get anywhere, because neither of you wants to say anything that is beyond the protective walls you’ve put up around each subject.
  9. The corollary to #6 is that after you’ve opened up and have been extraordinarily vulnerable with each other, you might intentionally pick a fight. Be as aware of this as you can, because it’s not a signal that your relationship is in trouble. It’s a signal that says, “hey, I’m really emotionally crunchy after all this togetherness and I just need some time to myself.” Being aware of the natural dance of intimacy may cut off a fight at the pass. Know that after a fight, it’s probably better to retreat into separate rooms, or go out with your buddies. If they’re up for it, talk to your friends about the fight and blow off steam.
  10. A FEW WORDS ABOUT ALCOHOL If, after the fight, you want a drink, have one. But wait until the processing/blowing off steam is over. Why? Because having a beer to calm your nerves is one thing. Using alcohol to mask what’s really bothering you is another. P.S. Drinking during a fight is absolutely unacceptable. Alcohol changes your judgment, and often, your compassion. Take away those two things, and you are inevitably going to say something that you can never take back. Your partner may forgive you (or vice versa), but they’re never going to forget you said it, and it will hurt for a long time afterward. You may compound hurt without even knowing it.
  11. Do not keep score, but have a general sense of whether you feel appreciated, or you feel your partner is taking advantage of you. It is important to know these things for yourself, because while I am not an advocate of divorce, I am also not an advocate of constantly feeling like crap because you know you’re giving all you can and still not getting anything in return. When the tables are that imbalanced, seek professional help. If that doesn’t work, get the hell out. Life is too short to be that miserable for that long. Also, if it surprises you how much of the time you don’t like your partner, you’re in the wrong relationship. Why do I say that? Because even though marriage is a lot of work, it shouldn’t be like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole EVERY. DAMN. DAY.
  12. Know the person long enough to know if you’re going to spend years of frustration or not before you get married. In my own case, I threw caution to the wind. I asked Dana to marry me on our first date. BUT I NEVER WOULD HAVE DONE THAT had she not been my best friend in the world for the three and a half years before that. In being best friends, we had each paid our dues at getting to know each other. We each helped each other through some really rough stuff. I advocate that all couples do this before making any sort of official committment- because as Dana and I always say, we’re going to be together forever because there’s no way we didn’t know what contract we were signing.
  13. Know to the very core of your being that logic and emotion are two different things. Your partner may be saying something to you that is “highly illogical,” but he/she isn’t thinking that way. Thinking with your heart vs. your mind lead to different conclusions. The heart is irrational, AND THAT’S OK. Even if the lack of logic makes no damn sense, let him/her make it all the way to the end of what they have to say. All emotions are valid. If you try to put emotions into logical boxes, you’ve lost the entire point of having an argument, which is to really hear what each other needs emotionally.
  14. Don’t get too comfortable. You know you’re settling in for the long haul, so it’s easy to s l o w it down. Take heed: you’re not going to be together forever if you don’t communicate, early and often. You’re not going to stay attracted to each other if you become homebodies without new experiences to share. When those two things go, so does your attention… The end of a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It happens slowly, over a great deal of time. The big bang is when you wake up one day and realize that you don’t really even know your partner anymore.
  15. Pay close attention to the difference between your “public persona” and the way you treat each other behind closed doors. The more closely those two things mirror each other, the more it means that the connection is genuine. NOTICE if when you’re in public, you act like the perfect couple that all your couple friends say they wish they were, and when you’re at home, no one would ever guess how bad it is. NOTICE if you are acting like everything is fine, when inside, it is CLEARLY not.
  16. THIS IS REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT: When you get married, you are saying to the entire world that, forsaking all others, your partner is the most important person in the world to you. That you are changing your ties to your first family to create this new family with your partner. Mean it. Do not ever let your partner get hung out to dry with your family, because you will never endure a more silent car ride home… and this has nothing to do with either one of your families. It’s because “you broke the cardinal rule of marriage, and put someone else before me.”
  17. Give them their moments. There’s such an urge to compete with each other. When you realize you’re doing it, bow out gracefully. Amusingly, this gets easier as I get older. Nurturing my more natural introverted personality is slowly turning me into one of those guys who yell at the damn kids to get off his lawn.

——

I am sure that there are at least fifty more, and feel free to talk about them in the comments. I just thought it was important to show that gay marriage is marriage, because I haven’t said a single thing that you wouldn’t find in a heterosexual marriage self-help book. I don’t think that there is anything unique to gay marriage, because we all struggle with the same day-to-day scheduling haggles and the same left over emotional “stuff” from childhood. We all need to make our marriages stronger, because divorce is so much harder and less rewarding than having a relationship capable enough to survive big storms.

Sermon for Lent 4B

Originally posted on Mar 18, 2012

Syrian rebels ignited a new front Friday outside the capital, Damascus, in the first significant fighting there since regime forces swept over the suburbs weeks ago. The clashes highlight the shifting nature of Syria’s conflict, with rebels lying in wait to rise up when the regime turns its guns elsewhere.

-San Francisco Chronicle, Mar. 16, 2012

West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee today accused the Congress of engineering the ‘revolt’ by Union Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi and asked her party MLAs to go back to their constituencies and tell people that the Trinamool did not endorse the budget presented by the minister.

-The Indian Express, Mar. 16, 2012

With al-Shabab on the retreat in the face of gains by African Union (AU) forces in Somalia, the militant group is looking for new avenues to exert control both in and outside of Somalia.  The group is focused on recruiting Kenyan Muslims to revolt against, what they term, state-sponsored oppression directed against them.

-Voice of America, Mar. 14, 2012

Political revolutions leave chaos in their wake. Republicans cannot shut down their presidential nominating contest because the party is in the midst of an upheaval wrought by the growing dominance of its right wing, its unresolved attitudes toward George W. Bush’s presidency and the terror the GOP rank-and-file has stirred among the more moderately conservative politicians who once ran things.

-E.J. Dionne, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 15, 2012

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”

-Our Numbers passage, written roughly 3500 years ago

Charles Darwin proved that evolution takes place over millions and millions of years, and nowhere in the Bible is it more apparent than in our Old Testament passage today. When people are unhappy, they do their dead-level best to let their leaders know about it. That hasn’t changed in centuries. In a lot of cases, people rise up against leaders with whom they used to be very happy, and such is the case with Moses. Everything was going great- the Israelites had been delivered out of slavery, and they were headed to the Promised Land. As time went on, though, there were certain… problems.

First of all, the desert known in the Bible as Kadesh is the current-day Negev. It is one of the driest, hottest places on earth due to its location east of the Sahara. They were no doubt suffering from sunburn, heat rash, heat stroke… to the point that “survival of the fittest” was taking its toll.

Second, the same people that rejoiced when God sent manna from heaven now thought it tasted terrible, and to top it all off, there was little to no water to wash it down. Whether it was actually terrible is a moot point- they’d been eating it day in and day out for YEARS. In short, their complaints were valid. It was miserable. They may have been slaves in Egypt, but at the end of the day, they could drown their sorrows in the farmer’s market with melons… and olives… perhaps a nice bottle of Claret. They had no idea where they were going or how much longer their current reality was going to be one of hard struggle just to stay alive.

That is when things go from bad to much, much worse. God is angry that the people have lost faith, and the hot, starvation and heat-crazed Israelites are now the hot, starvation and heat-crazed SNAKE BITTEN Israelites.

All of the sudden, Moses doesn’t look quite so bad. The Israelites beg Moses to go and intervene on their behalf with God.

Here is where things get interesting. God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and wrap it around a rod, so that when people were bitten by the snakes, they could look up at this makeshift, portable statue and be healed. My first question when I started researching for this sermon was, “WHY?” Why didn’t God just destroy the snakes? That’s when it hit me. God didn’t change the snake bites. God changed the Israelites. In order to be healed, the Israelites had to look straight at the thing they feared. God didn’t take away the pain of being bitten, God gave them something to take the pain away AFTER THEY ALREADY HAD IT.

In modern-day Portland, God is doing the same thing for us… even though the snake bites are almost always metaphorical. The economy is sinking businesses left and right. There are millions of homeless people. There is gang violence, addiction, mental illness, physical illness, communities and individuals that are aching for a cure.

But God doesn’t offer that. God offers a refuge to heal pain as it is happening, when we are willing to look straight at what scares us the most.

Because a cure would have been destroying all the snakes that bite us in the first place.

The difference between a cure and being healed is in the details. As we read in the meditation, taking blood pressure medication cures high blood pressure… but it doesn’t relieve stress. Anti-inflammatories ease the pain in my wrists, but they don’t get me to stop typing all the time.

So often we reach for a cure, when what we need is healing, and that is the message that runs through our Gospel lesson, as well. I am sure that for those of you who grew up in the church- no matter what the denomination- I could wake you up in the middle of the night and ask you to recite John 3:16, and you could do it. However, I sincerely believe that when that verse is taken in isolation, it leaves out the most potent part of the story.

In the same way that God asked Moses to make a bronze serpent to heal the physical pain of a snake bite, God sent Jesus to heal the emotional and spiritual snake bites of the whole world. I use the phrase “whole world” intentionally, because Moses creating the bronze snake was specifically to heal God’s own people- Israelites, and specifically, Jews in covenant with God. The crucifixion was not only meant for Jews, but for Gentiles as well. The gift of a place to look for healing was extended to everyone, whether they were currently in covenant with God or not… John writes, “Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’” Whoever. Believes.

That is the good news of the Gospel, but the next verses are the crux of our relationship with God. “Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

THAT IS AN INVITATION.

There are so many people that think Jesus’ message is grace, meaning that there is nothing you can do to get God to love you any more… or any less… and they’re right. However, those people are seeing the light of Christ for a moment, when what God is really offering is the light of Christ for a lifetime. It is a covenant that starts out with the initial promise of forgiveness no matter what… but in order to have a sustaining relationship with God, we have to do the work.

So, if God offers healing for all of the snake bites the world has to offer, why do some people prefer to, as Jesus says, “live in darkness?” Most of the time, it is not a matter of malicious intent, but a lack of understanding how to get there from here.

In preparing for my sermon this week, I called a friend of mine who is a transplant surgeon at the Liver Institute at Methodist Hospital in Dallas. Let’s call her “Dr. Anthony” (mostly because that’s her name). We were talking about the differences between curing and healing, illness and disease. One of the things that really struck me was when Dr. Anthony said, “some patients are overwhelmed with being well.” At BEING WELL??? WHY???

For people that have dealt with long-term illness, they have gotten comfortable with the role of Sick Person.™ Faced with the prospect of getting well, they’re having to cope with things that they haven’t had to deal with for a long time. Bills, housework, kid taxiing, you name it- all of these things are frightening to contemplate when it seems like there is a rushing river of activity AROUND them with no concrete entrance. Trying to jump in with both feet often leads to depression for people who are used to other people managing their lives- their only job has been wrapped up in the cure of their physical disease. The process of healing emotionally and spiritually is daunting.

Dr. Anthony also said that people who receive transplants are often guilty and angry after surgery, and she has to give what everyone on her service calls “The Tiffany Talk.” Intrigued, I asked her to give it to me. Instead, she responded with a story.

“I had this patient who was ordering the nurses around, being unpleasant to everyone around him- to the point that the nurses called me about his behavior. When I got to his room, I said ‘you have been given the ultimate gift of life, and you are being horrible to everyone that has rushed around trying to save you. Your actions are a DISGRACE to your donor’s family.’ By the time I left the room, he was in tears.”

I said, “because they feel guilty that the gift is so huge that they can never repay it.”

Often when we fall short in our covenant with God, there are elements of both these ideas. Doing the hard emotional work to become whole and healthy in the spiritual sense is just that: hard work. So often we rely on the grace of God because it is easier than staring straight at the things that frighten us… and the gift of refuge that God has given us through Christ is so big that we don’t have the first clue of how to repay it.

Dr. Anthony’s response to her patients goes something like this… “you do not realize how big a gift you have given to donors and their families. For the rest of their lives, they will be able to say that they saved someone else’s.” When you do the healing work required in your relationship with God, living in light takes on new meaning. You are more able to let light shine through you to others. God’s gift in sending Christ as healer for the world is God’s gift to us. How you use it is your gift to God.

Amen.