the gift

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Recently, I’ve found myself forgetting things. To pick up that item mom asked for, that I need to pay my library fines, what day of the week it actually is. But more specifically, I’ve been forgetting that Jesus was born and walked the earth with us. I’ll space out and assume he just descended on us one day. Then I’ll remind myself that he made it to his 30’s, that he grew, that he washed his hair and read books. That he lived. Is it that hard to think of Jesus walking around like us?

Threats and Weaknesses

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I took a workshop yesterday, or it took me. I felt anxious just getting there, a sheltered control freak at the mercy of public transportation and a map app. I’m sure I look as though I’ve never been to San Francisco the second I step out of the BART, eyes wide, adrenaline pumping. And then I was there, but I wasn’t, 732, but all I saw was 734 A. I walk up and back, searching for a number and nothing, then a voice.

I ease in, sit at the plastic table, feel at peace among the creatives. My whole body lights up as I talk with them about writing. It’s a good feeling. A strong bond. A sense of calm. I feel like another person around writers, artists, photographers; like my most authentic, strongest self. So different from the girl who has a hard time smiling or the girl who feel incapable of approaching people. I speak with the familiar faces, recognize many of them from the slam I attended on Valentine’s day. Their poems about love and Jesus and positivity and consistent determination. The freckles and coiled hair and calm eyes, the way they said, “love” with affirmation, white dresses and flowers, the consistent greeting of, “happy valentimes day ya’ll.” The way the room felt warm.

After speaking with Juanita about her inclination to write after 25 years of nothing and her hesitancy and the revisions she is making, we begin. We make introductions, I state my name, tell them I’ve been frustrated lately with lengthy non-fiction and despite the love, stifled by ideas, I add, “looking forward to writing poetry and learning how to lay down some bars,” they snap their fingers in wide motions and laugh at my enthusiasm and use of their words. Again, I feel pulled in by the group and their transparency. My stomach growls and we start with an ice breaker. A poem about breakfast, but, “brainstorm with those around you”. I speak with Gina, her flat hair and black shirt, taunt, reads, “warning: educated black woman.” She gives me ideas about my favorite breakfast, a basic cereal, she throws in synonyms, descriptors; I feel excited and begin to write.

Square box

Red bowl

Rich chocolate milk soy

The flax cereal tumbles down

Crashes into the bowl

Settles

Kind of like life

Crash, crunch, sweet, flat

And then it’s gone

But still was life

Put the red in the sink

Wash it clean

You’re alive

Later we transition. Wider questions I have trouble keeping my patience for. My mind goes blank at the thought of my dreams, what I would do with endless resources, and why. All I can think is be a mama, and a wife, and travel. Later in the evening I’ll feel haunted by the brain block and ideas that flow out: follow Grace Potter around the country, visit Prince Edward Island, buy my mom the kitchen of her dreams, get baptized in the Jordan River, sponsor someone with a spinal cord injury, build a library. Yet in the moment, I feel small, unworthy among their selflessness, “I would make a warehouse space for youth,” the leader says, another girl talks of homelessness, another of education. Tied up in my own battle of self, I write down, “I think I dreamed better when I was younger”, and, “Am I inherently selfish?” No soapbox dreams. I feel so far away from them. Should I want to change the world?

We ease into watching a motivational speech, impromptu and made by Steve Harvey.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSSMsTaJiZ0

His words pool over me and I feel myself tearing up. The base of my ears burn and I want to be so much more. I forget where I am.

Afterwards, we look again at our dreams and write out our threats and weaknesses to examine what holds us back. I consider why I haven’t written a book yet, why I haven’t started, the ideas I have stacked in my brain, the possible audience. I scrawl:

THREATS

Lack of self-esteem

Challenging

Half going on ideas

Fear of success

Don’t think I deserve it

Fear of the unknown

WEAKNESSES

hasn’t tried

focus

self-discipline could be stronger

do you really want it or do you just want to want it?

We begin to share in an effort to brainstorm, help. Behind her glasses mid-story, Brittney says with so much certainty amidst her conversation on her weakness of responsibility, “it is irresponsible to not be who you were created to be,” I gaze at nothing in particular, blindsided in the best way; stirred by her assertiveness.

More voices begin to speak up. A man across the room who goes by TT talks about God and beginnings and his own struggles, he slowly states, “do not under-estimate or minimize small beginnings.” I feel moved, and again as though I could breakdown in sobs. I decide to share my biggest threat, desperate for help. “Fear of success,” “What do you mean?” the leader asks, “well like fear of the unknown, like what if I do it? What next? What will that feel like?” I reply. They gasp a little, I feel some of them just as stumped as I am. And then to my left, Gina chimes in, “What if you research the end?” she states, “how did they get there?” she uses the example of meeting a man, asking married friends for advice, building trust, moving forward despite your past; I feel wide awake at the crisp applicability. Another girl across the room encourages me to keep going when you reach a goal, see things as a journey. I then add, meek but determined to share the underlying threat, “It’s interesting,” I say slowing, “all of my threats and weakness, I think they directly relate to my own relationship to God, needing to be in control, what’s holding me back,” I feel them listening, and I just look to the leader, unsure where to go, I feel the air pull out of the room. I glance to the man who mentioned small beginnings and back at the leader, finished with my confession, complete.

The day winds down. I try to get out quickly, but stopped by Greg at the door and a side arm hug from Christian, and TT introduces himself shakes my hand, Greg asks for my feedback; I feel seen surprised that I’m being reached for. I walk the streets of San Francisco mentally drained, at peace, “did you get what you needed?” Greg’s voice echoes in my mind. The sun beats down and I’m hungry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I spoke at length with a 17 year old today; we held babies and shared stories. She was amidst her becoming. I tried to tell her what I could without telling her too much. She was wise, mature, scared to let people down, scared to stray. I tried to tell her that despite what she does, God will always love her and that that’s the point. But she was too close, I saw her try to listen to my answer when she stated, “I just worry God will be mad at me.” I was stunned. And for once grateful that I didn’t grow up so close to theology and scripture and right and wrong. And then she danced into another story, and we sat, with the babies, quietly both questioning our own beliefs.

I bought a new book, it’s hitting me hard, you might like it too. “At your core you are a spiritual being of infinite value. To be human is a gift. You are created by God, and you have immeasurable value to him. Jesus once said that the kingdom of God is within us. Yet most of us don’t even bother to explore the possibility that this might be true. It seems that what he is implying is that we have a better chance of finding God in the universe within us than in the one that surrounds us.” (McManus, Erwin Raphael, Soul Cravings)

The importance of war stories

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“Have you heard of EMDR?” he asks from across a table at a noisy bar in Oakland, I tell him I haven’t, he explains the process to me in lame man’s terms. Fascinated with trauma, stress, and stories, I gobble the information up; the innovative therapy to trace and treat the way one’s brain packages trauma. He continues to tell me about it and my mind races back to the paramedic and the lifeless infant; another comment unfolds, and the officer involved shooting in a garage; the overflowing memories of everything he told me, I stare at his glasses and am reminded of a paramedic working well beyond his tenure, crumbling. And then my own crumbling.

It was a sunny morning, all normal, not much traffic. A few days prior I had been in an affluent area, speaking with a war veteran firefighter. White fluffy clouds, and his straightforward lilt; my hands grip the steering wheel and I can still see his deep brown eyes and how he said, “I just didn’t want to be here anymore.” The area below my ears begins to tingle with warmth, I feel helpless hearing about such a happy, loving, successful man, being declared 5150. The way he sat up a little straighter at the end of our conversation and asked in earnest, “What do you advise me to do?” My heart drops, I change lanes, find a quiet outskirt of suburb, pull over and sob. I get out of my car and walk around it, wishing I could shake the stories that people tell me like sweat.

Not long after, in a sitting area, tucked away in a church, a man asks me if I’m a doctor, what’s my role. Again, solid, certain, broken; damaged by stress. The way he said my name, and followed it up with the pressure he felt in his position, but why did you wait so long, but when did you first feel, how much did you drink, what did you do, why. When he tells men about EMDR, I light up, having just heard about it nights prior. I think of glasses and chronic illness and intellect, I ask the hurt man to describe it to me, because I have to know what works, if it worked, how it felt, that something has to work.

Sometimes, I think empathy is a sin or a weakness; an uncontrollable earnest camaraderie I would turn in for something else, if it didn’t make me so human.

We learn the most about ourselves from the stories we are told by others. There’s something in it that holds us all together, the legacy of shared experience; the agony of recovery of any kind. Other people’s pain shows us how deeply we can love and when we wish we could stop. Lessons in masculinity and vulnerability shows what lies beyond a badge, a gun, a flag. What resonates make us better, makes us kinder, numbs to the core because it stings so much.

Jesus, a 10 month old baby, and a truth lasso

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My left arm feels heavy; the weight of the Pastor’s words, they echo in my mind as I cradle the wet mouthed 10 month old. We look out the glass door, “Is your heart changing?” His bare feet press against the glass, “Are you growing into his image?” His hand grasps hold of my hair, “Am I in the faith?” My hand rests on his belly as he leans his head against the cold, clear panel, “Am I really a believer?” We crane our heads to the left and watch the kids play, “set the world on fire with the kingdom of God.” I lean hard to my right hip, “cling to Jesus and as you walk out of that room this morning don’t ever let him go,” his left foot pushes against the glass and we both just continue to stare. So still, so cradled, so obliviously yet obviously loved.

Baby love

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I’ve been on a bit of a baby kick lately and I’ll tell you why. Babies bring you so far from yourself, they drag you out of who you think you are, and pull you further and further away towards a new type of selflessness. With fistfuls of hair and gummy mouths they show you how infinite the world actually is. A forced, understood necessity, they require your attention and settle for nothing. Holding a baby is greater than falling in love, ten minutes feels like ten hours; it’s addicting.

I’m shown my deepest uncertainties, as I cringe at my inability to comfort a three month old. I realize I have no idea how to swaddle and wail with him. Everything I do is to understand them, picking apart the possible discomforts, clamoring to help, attempting to stay graceful. A blue eyed baby girl clings to me, I switch hips and consistently want to be better, no, the best, for this small human being that doesn’t even belong to me. There is a special place inside my memory for these feelings, tiny houses of perfection locked in time, life feels the most simplistic when I am holding other people’s children.

If I could bottle the feeling I would.

Gifts and Godly women

10455655_935967803100984_6692840851788517318_nLately, I have been very inspired by a group of women I spend Wednesday mornings with. They have bright eyes and warm smiles. Babies on the hip; nearing the end of their patience. They’re authentic, from all over. They are the names of their children; they are the hands of Jesus, selfless, ragged, and full of unending love.