Send Help

I saw a picture on Facebook that resonated with me. Something like, my diet ranges between supermodel and unsupervised child in a convenience store. I haven’t eaten very much this week, overwhelmed with writing to the point I couldn’t even finish a rough draft, like I said I would. This is not because I didn’t work hard on it. It just, in my opinion, wasn’t good enough. I needed more time to think before I put it in front of an extraordinary mind who would see through paragraphs of bullshit in a New York minute. This is because the book I’m reviewing is terrible. The story is solid, but there are so many grammatical errors and therefore, punctuation missteps that the entire novel was just a slog. All of the mistakes took me away from the story and I had to reread pages just to figure out what the sentences actually said. It’s never a good thing when I stop concentrating on what I’m reading and get lost in my own head, trying to figure out how I would have phrased something instead (as if I’m the authority on such matters….. geesh).

And then my anxiety went to 11 because I had to e-mail my editor and say, it’s not ready. When is the next best day I could send it? It’s the first time I’ve ever had to do it, which is probably the only reason I was anxious, because I wasn’t sure of her reaction. I told her that the book didn’t even have to be marked as “read” until Monday, and the review didn’t need to be turned in until the next one. I gave myself padding in case something like this happened, because I knew when I started reading it that it was going to be an uphill climb. I was afraid of turning my lack of preparedness into a kink in her day.

So, my appetite went haywire. Most of the week I ate a large bowl of oatmeal for one meal a day. Last night I made up for it by eating (almost an entire) pizza, wings, and a very large chocolate chip cookie. According to bumper sticker wisdom, every pizza is a personal pizza if you believe in yourself. I also drank a two liter of Diet Pepsi, something for which my mother would have chastised me greatly- not because of the amount, but because I was drinking that Pepsi mess, as she called it. I didn’t feel bad about it because most people drink that much wine on a Friday night… and besides, diet soda is my favorite form of caffeine because it’s not extreme highs and lows, it just keeps the bus from going under 50 (wow, that reference ages me).

The shame of it is that it wasn’t even Monterey’s or Red Rocks, just plain delivery…. but it was free. Free covers up a lot of pizza sins.

Now the only question remains is how do I not do this? I can’t decide whether it’s okay or not. Some nutrition experts would say it’s fine as long as I’m getting the calories I need over the course of the week instead of every day. Some nutritionists would beat me like a red-headed stepchild. It’s not about weight control. I am extremely healthy in that department. It’s more the binge and crash of it all, as opposed to an even keel.

Being so small is sometimes as equally body-shaming as being overweight. I know this because I have been both at different points in my life. The worst story in recent memory is that I bought six different kinds of chips at 7-Eleven, joking with the cashier that they weren’t all for that night. He said, well, your skinny ass sure needs ’em. I was definitely thinking about responding with physical violence, but, alas, I am too much of a peacenik for that sort of thing.

Setting body issues aside, the reason I took off so much weight is that I’m short. When I am heavy, I bear a strong resemblance to a teapot…. which reminds me of a great story. I met one of my readers a few years ago, and one of the first things she said to me was, I thought you’d be taller. My then-wife and I got mileage out of that one for months (years?). One of the reasons I thought it was funny is that I wanted to impress her so bad…. which reminds me of another funny story. Dana and I both love eye candy, so we both fell on the floor laughing after a few moments of talking with her when I ran into a door and clocked my nose, I thought she was so cute.

The fact that both of these things happened within a few minutes of each other is something that could only happen to me…. as well as overdoing it in the flirting department to the point where she didn’t want to talk to me anymore…. a moment when I truly wanted the earth to swallow me up, I was so embarrassed. Since we were both old and married, it didn’t occur to me that I was over the line, Smokey….. a dumbass attack of gigantic proportions. I’m sure I am not alone in having moments I’d give a limb to take back, and the entire reason I rarely (if ever) have a second cocktail as to avoid my lips being too loose, creating more of them. On the positive side, I make a cheap date. 😛

However, I am absolutely 100% certain I am not the first or last woman to lament what a shame it was she didn’t bat for our team…. just one in a long line of broken hearts all over the world. I so want to tell you what it was that flipped my shit, but I would be even more embarrassed if I somehow outed her real name by a description. Enough people know that story already, including those who didn’t think it was as funny as Dana and I did. By the grace of God, the one person I didn’t manage to offend was my real-life wife, who just laughed through my stupidity. Note to self– wear sunglasses.

I think that’s about enough reminiscence for today. I need to get back to work…. just know that I really, really don’t want to.

Send help.

Sermon for Proper 10, Year A: Seeds and Stems

Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!”

“Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Sperm is often called “seed,” especially in the Bible. Therefore, every single one of us starts out as a seed, and when, joined with an egg, takes root in the womb and stems outward. A lot of our personality is created when seeds become stems  and stems become branches and branches become the mature tree… a new person, ready to take on the world.

But have you ever stopped to wonder how the DNA handed down to you affects the type of roots you create? What kind of seed you might be? Do you consistently seek out people who you deem “in the same garden?”

The types of seeds that Jesus is talking about directly relate to personalities in people, and he says so directly when he’s explaining what he just said. This is because often, when Jesus uses an analogy while preaching, and even in just talking to his disciples, what he receives is a series of dumb looks.

This is not unusual even today, because without repetitive explanation, people get lost in their own minds and now have no idea what you’re saying. The best preaching advice I’ve ever gotten is, “first, you tell them. Next, you tell them again. Then you tell them again.” Of course, you use different illustrations, but they’re all the same point.

When people are firmly planted in their pews, completely tracking with you, they may not get the idea of repetition. People who are not often need it. As a preacher, I am competing with the personal stories that come up for the people listening, what to have for lunch, and, especially in Portland, a sunny day.

It’s the difference between how the seeds are planted, and what kind of personalities they create.

We can even expand past the personal to the local church. Are you invested with deep roots, or did your mother make you come? It’s at this point that we have to ask ourselves “are we the 30, the 60, or the 100-fold kind of church?”

What kind of church ARE we?

Are we so shallow in our commitment that a bird could swallow us up? That it would take so little to make us disband? We have nourished the bird, but have failed ourselves in a “give a man a fish” kind of way. We’ve sustained, for a moment, one being… and walked away. The gospel competes with the world, and loses… badly.

Have we planted ourselves on rocky soil, reaching for the sun? The best analogy I can think for this kind of church are those that initially are so gung ho that they over-commit, and six or 12 months later, leave, never to return… because it’s just so much work. Few can let go and listen because the running tab of things to do is so long, particularly for “the Marthas…” who place very little importance on the phrase don’t just do something, sit there.

Initial excitement in its exuberance is a wonderful thing, but it has to be watered carefully, as not to burn or drown. There is generally little room to add new crops, because people are already so mired between committees and choirs and teaching Sunday School and laying out vestments and ALL THE THINGS that new shoots spring up, and there’s no one with enough sunlight left to tend to them. The gospel just gets in the way of the running to-do list with no respite.

Churches with deep roots are not only self-sustaining, but have the ability to minister to others… and it’s a difference you can both see and feel. Deep roots mean there’s a group of people for each single thing, so that no one group has to do everything. The same 30 or 60 people are not the entire church, but just the choir or just a couple of committees. If you’ve ever been to a really small church, you know that there are at least ten people who are on every committee and in the choir, and have to say “no more.” Not out of malice, out of exhaustion. There are churches with deep roots who have the ability to create a committee just to shake new people’s hands as they come in the door, and that is their only function. There is enough room between rows, enough nutrients for everyone, that the seeds become stems and the stems become branches and the branches become the mature tree. The gospel is not working at us, but through us. We are able to welcome the stranger, give to the poor, fight racial inequality and GLBTQI rights… we have the ability to widen the net, teaching others to fish as we go.

Which invariably leads to the question of what kind of world we want to be.

For a lot of people, it’s starting to feel like being a 100-fold seed in a 30-fold world. But here’s the catch… it’s not a 30-fold seed world. Perception is not reality. There are enough people to do everything, enough people to be able to pick which causes to support, which battles to fight… and which governments need resistance. Resistance is not futile, it’s its own kind of protest.

Hundred-fold people create hundred-fold churches which give the individual a chance to grow into a community. So many people can and will get involved, but are overwhelmed when it comes to how to “jump in.” They are the hope and the future as to how a 30-fold seed can find its way from feeding one being to all of them.

This is where you are issued an invitation, in turn to give one. In my own life, I have never once had success with inviting someone to come with me to church. I have had success with showing them who I am and to whom I belong. For instance, I’ve invited friends to march with me in the Pride parade along with my church group…. or go to a political rally. Wide-eyed, they look at me as if to say, your church does THAT?

Of course. In a church with deep roots, the plants grow toward the sky, because the deeper the support system, the easier it is to say…

Jesus Has Left the Building.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces

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.

Child Support

Dana and I are both getting to that age where we’re starting to think about kids… and every. single. time. we both start yawning uncontrollably and change the subject. The fact that we can’t even talk about it for a half hour is a stunning monument to our indifference on the subject. We think we would be great parents, and we also think that we’re able to love the other children in our lives more when we don’t have kids of our own, so that whichever child is visiting us is our favorite and gets to feel special when mom and dad are gone.

The thing I struggle with the most is whether I’ll regret not having a kid that lives with us full time. The things that I thought I’d be terrible with have been proven wrong in babysitting Wi-Phi, and other things have popped up. For instance, I am more patient and kind with a screaming kid than you can possibly imagine. I go into this Zen-like state that makes me immune to getting rattled, because I know the baby will pick up on the fact that I’m anxious and use it to their advantage later. It’s just one day of your child raising you after another. That part I’m ok with.

I am not ok with writing about my own children, I’m anxious to the point of nausea over the thought of interacting with other parents at the PTA, and most of that has to do with the competitive things that I’ve watched parents do and say to each other over the years, and I hate that culture with a passion. I watch people write things about mothers on web sites that make you wonder who peed in their Wheaties this morning, because obviously something is terribly, terribly wrong.

I’m fighting against old tapes that say I can’t be a mother because I’m gay. I know plenty of lesbian mothers, but it’s funny how the things you grow up with tend to stick until you really explode them, and I haven’t had the time or desire to sit with that one, yet, because it’s one of those knotty problems that will cause me to ruminate ad nauseum (or as my friend Aaron and I call it, “moo all over the place”).

Frankly, I’m also indolent as fuck when I get home in the evenings and I am so glad that our stance on parenthood doesn’t change with a couple of beers between us. Oh, wow. I just hit the nail on the head and I didn’t even realize it was true until this minute. I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to do the work. I’m not talking about the work after the kid is born. I mean I don’t want to have to ask my male friends for sperm, I don’t want to go to a clinic and be poked and prodded until I get pregnant, and I don’t want to have to raise thousands and thousands of dollars for the privilege. If it had happened organically in my 20s, it would have been one thing. But I’m three years away from forty. In some ways, it feels like I’ve missed my window on purpose as a way of self-sabotage.

On the other hand, forty isn’t too old for pregnancy and delivery, and 58 seems just the right age for me to have a wise-cracking high school senior that I will have to drag out of the principal’s office by his ear while wearing my bathrobe.

There are all of these feelings swirling in both Dana and me as we pray for discernment, but at the same time, I think we both already know. We’re doing a great job by being those friends who can come through at a moment’s notice when their kids are sick or they’ve got vacation plans and the sitter cancels.

I have also learned through my abuser that you don’t have to be a kid’s parent to have influence in their lives… that it’s not important to the kid whether I’m related to them by blood. I can still impart all kinds of wisdom from the prophets… Finn, Jake, and Lumpy Space Princess.