My post last week was kind of, I don’t know…not sad, exactly, but definitely notes of melancholy. I find myself full of questions most of the time, and a lot of times it feels like I’m the only one asking those questions. I know that’s not true, but there are definitely times when it feels like I have this view of the world, of God, whatever, that isn’t shared by many of the people in my life. After I wrote that post, I read another blog that was so full of positivity and life is great and God is great that I just wanted to crawl into a hole. What is wrong with me?? I thought. I felt alone and sad, and I even felt mad at those people for whom life is seemingly full of joy on a regular basis. Who seem to be able to easily ignore some of the things that for me are blaringly obvious. I get self-righteous about it, like I’m somehow a better person because I get all worked up about things like injustice and violence and cruelty in the world (because surely I’m never unjust or cruel myself, right???) and think “Well, insulating yourself from the bigger issues in the world doesn’t make them go away, it doesn’t solve anything!” As if my over-wraught musings do something to solve anything.
It got me thinking about personality types then, I remembered studying them in psychology way back when, and so I looked them up. I almost fell out of my chair when I read the Wikipedia definition of Melancholy Personality:
-…fundamentally introverted and thoughtful…overly pondering and considerate…preoccupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world…often perfectionists…self-reliant and independent…so involved in what they are doing that they forget to think of others.
I mean, that describes me so well, its crazy. And it was such a relief you know, because it was like, oh that’s just me, that’s just how I was made. Of course, it doesn’t excuse poor behavior. I have definitely done things “wrong” in my relationships with others because of the way this brain of mine works. But it felt good to realize that some of how I am, some of the struggles I have are just part of the way I’m wired.
I realized too that, interestingly enough, I tend to surround myself with people who are kind of the opposite of me. I don’t know what that says about me, but in one way it’s good because it pulls my head out of my butt for a little bit, but it also makes me quite frustrated when I feel like no one understands me, no one gets where I’m coming from. It can feel pretty alone. And yet I can imagine if all my friends were melancholy like me we’d be a hot mess.
“If one is to deal with people on a large scale and say what one thinks, how can one avoid melancholy?…as the current answers don’t do, one has to grope for a new one, and the process of discarding the old, when one is by no means certain what to put in their place, is a sad one.” Virginia Woolf
I just pulled up this quote tonight while I was thinking about this. I think it says a lot, especially in my current state of spiritual struggle and questioning. The “current answers” in my life just aren’t cutting it, and that’s exactly what I’m doing, I’m discarding those old answers, those old beliefs, and I really have no idea what to put in their place. No. Idea. And it makes me sad.
And this makes me sad…I really enjoy reading Rachel Held Evans…I follow her blog and I read her book “Evolving in Monkey Town” and it resonated with me so much. So many of her questions are things that are roaming around my own head and heart. A lot of mainstream Christians (men in particular) have not so very nice things to say about her. Not nice at all. She has a new book coming out, and I saw this quote about it tonight, and it is negative and it made my heart sad, because it felt like an indictment of me and my own struggles. This is what it said:
“Rachel Held Evans: how to mock biblical principles with a smile. Godly women should be truly repulsed by her behavior and example.” – Dr. James White
Now, I have no idea who Dr. James White is. But I’d wager he hasn’t really read anything Rachel has written, really read it with an open heart. Anyone who reads her has to see that there is no mocking going on there, just an honest searching. And you know what? Dr. James White has no idea who I am. I think if he read my blog or read my mind he’d be repulsed, he’d think “Godly Women” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean) should be repulsed by what goes around in there.
That thought didn’t make me mad (though they often do).
It made me sad.
Because in saying that he is saying, essentially, that God is repulsed. God is repulsed by questioning and searching. God is repulsed by not just accepting what religious institutions lay down as the law.
God is repulsed by me.
Now, there are certainly times when I believe that, when I fear that. But most of the time, I don’t think that…I think God understands the way my brain works (even if I don’t entirely) because it’s just the way he made it to be. Melancholy. Uncertain. Afraid. Terribly, terribly afraid.
I don’t want to be repulsive to God. Or to anyone else.
But I don’t know how, I don’t think I can, I don’t know that I’d even want to change the way I look at the world.
I want to be pissed off that my Cambodian goddaughter was sold into sex slavery.
I want to be outraged that there are people around the world who are tortured because they don’t follow the party line, don’t vote a certain way, are part of a certain tribe or clan or religion.
I want to feel angry that there are Christians, Jesus-following, Bible believing Christians want to label my questions and struggles, want to label Rachel Held Evans words and writings repulsive because they think they have everything all figured out.
I’m sad about it. I’m melancholy. It’s who I am. I hope you’re not repulsed.
I hope God is not repulsed. I really don’t think he is though.
“Can the pot say to the potter ‘You know nothing!”?
“But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who made it “Why did you make me like this”? Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special uses and some for common use?”
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a nice, inspiring post about seeing God in other people, specifically my cousin Sam. Well, this is not that post. Consider this the bipolar shift on my blog.
I’m feeling really angry today about some things. Angry at God. Questioning God. I feel like those 2 verses I posted above are just a couple of the verses Christians use to try and shut up people like me. Shut up the questions. Because these are some ugly questions I’m asking myself. Ugly things I see. Questions that are painful and uncomfortable. And I think a lot of Christians just want us to shut up and be a pot and be happy with our lot in life as a pot. Subject to the whims of the potter. Not complaining if we’re used to hold the finest wine or a pile of shit.
Problem is, I’m not a pot.
And I don’t think God made me to be a pot.
God made me with a brain. And eyes. And a heart. And those things see and hear and feel and look around at some of the things that happen in this world and I am very sorry but there are a lot of things that just don’t jive with this “Loving, all-powerful God” that we profess to believe in. You can sugar coat it with all the Christian platitudes you’d like, but at the end of the day I am still left with questions. BIG, horrible questions. And I know I’m not the only one. I’m not a pot. If God wanted me to be a pot he should’ve made me mute. I don’t think God wants us to be pots.
If you’ve been watching the news at all, there was a 10 year old little girl in Colorado who was kidnapped on her walk to school and then found brutally murdered. It’s all over the news here. Last night on the news they were covering her memorial service, and at one point they used a term like “wonderful” or something to describe the way the community has come together in the wake of this tragedy.
I’m sorry. There is nothing, NOTHING wonderful about this story. I don’t care how you spin it. I don’t care if her mother goes on to rescue millions of children in Jessica’s name. This is not wonderful. This is horrible. That girl lived the last hours of her life in fear and pain. No amount of good things can take that away, can make that better. No beautiful memorial service. no laws passed in her name. Not. Wonderful.
As a parent, especially of a 10 year old girl, hearing stories like this makes me sick because you transfer it to your own kid or a kid in your life. You can’t help it. And I know I’m supposed to say that God can redeem anything, that God can make beauty out of ashes, that “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.” Well, it doesn’t get much uglier than the murder of a child, and I don’t think any amount of grace can make that beautiful.
And then this morning I found out that someone I know has had her cancer return. It totally took the wind out of me. She’s a wife and mom and through her job has impacted many, many people in an amazing way. I know she could have success with her treatment, but still. I feel like some Christians response to this would be that “they can’t wait to see how God works through this!!” That’s such crap to me. I don’t have to have had cancer to know that it has to be awful in every. single. way. Even if you get through it.
So what do we believe here? What do we believe in the face of these two stories, and the millions of others as horrible? What do we say about God? That he allows these tragedies to occur to use for his own purposes? What kind of evil, masochistic God is that? That his heart breaks when these awful things happen, but allows them to happen anyway? What kind of impotent, powerless God is that? What do we say about a world where innocent families are burned alive in their homes because they chose to vote against Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe? Or a world where my god-daughter in Cambodia was sold into sex slavery as a child? (One lovely “christian” woman told me in an online argument about abortion that “At least she is alive!” I swear to Jesus that if we’d been having that conversation in person I would’ve punched her goddamn lights out.) How can we possibly look at these things and NOT question the God who makes? allows? sits back and watches? these things happen??
The answers the church gives aren’t good enough. And the fact is that we don’t ask these questions. We avoid them. We say things like “It’s God’s will” or “They’re in a better place” or “God will bring you through it” because we’re scared shitless about these same types of tragedies happening to us. I know I am. But those things don’t give me answers. Or comfort. They don’t explain anything. We don’t want to ask these questions because they are uncomfortable and WE CAN’T ANSWER THEM.
We say things like “God won’t give you anything more than you can handle” which is utter bullshit. If that were true people wouldn’t commit suicide or become alcoholics and drug addicts and abusers themselves.
I can’t quit God. I can’t bring myself to be an atheist. But I sure as hell don’t get him sometimes. Some days I feel and see him clearly. But others, like today, my vision is clouded over by the reality of the harshness of life. Of the things we do to one another (and I don’t think I believe in an actual Satan so I’m not going to go blaming my confusion on him. I take responsibility for my own questions, blasphemous as they may be). Of the fact that it’s impossible to make sense out of tragedy. Maybe we will one day get all the answers in heaven but that tastes very bitter to us left here on earth.
Some people are great pots. They don’t ask a lot of questions. But not me. I don’t think I’m a pot. And if I am I sure am awful at it.
So this is a post about tampons. Now I know you boys get all worked up when we girls start talking about our girly issues, so if you have a problem with that, I’d stop here. Seriously. I know you get all “Ugh! Stop it!” when we get on the topic of our periods so if you choose to continue reading your Gross Out Level is your problem. And girls, if we can’t laugh about our period well then God help us.
So this past weekend I flew to Maryland to look at houses. It was a whirlwind trip and I was flying on cheapo stand by tickets. Stand by is great when you get on your flight. It totally sucks when the flight is full and everyone gets on but you and the other loser stand by fliers. Which is of course what happened on Monday morning. I’d gotten up at 5 am just so I could be Left Behind (maybe this will prepare me for the Apocalypse…) so I was tired and grouchy and felt like the kid with the dolphin stuffed animal who immediately started whining and crying when his dad said “We didn’t get on the flight.” Let’s just say that if I had any delusions about being “grown up” or “mature” then my reaction to missing the flight proved otherwise. At least my internal dialogue, and the fact that I went to the bathroom and spent 10 minutes crying in the stall.
Thanks to my terminally patient husband and his terrific friend at Frontier Joanne, I made it on a flight to Omaha and then to Denver…but it was when I was sitting on the Omaha flight that I began to worry about my tampon. See, I had a mom growing up who was queen of the scare tactics…she was great at trying to scare us with dire predictions about say drug use or teen pregnancy and the like. One of the biggies she like to scare us with was Toxic Shock Syndrome. And how if we left our tampons in too long we would Die of Toxic Shock Syndrome. Because I’m pretty sure someone we knew had an aunt who died from Toxic Shock Syndrome. So God help you if you leave your tampon in for too long because you will be a victim of Toxic Shock Syndrome. I know I could abbreviate it as TSS like all the helpful tampon literature, but it sounds way more Toxic and Shocking when you call it by its given name. Like how your parents don’t call you by your nickname or initials when they’re ticked off at you.
So. Tampon. Toxic Shock. The fear of toxic shock had been bred into me since the early days of my young womanhood. Now, it took me a long time to figure out tampons to begin with. No one ever told me that trying to jam one STRAIGHT UP INTO YOUR VAGINA was not going to work. I remember being like 16 and on vacation in Florida and trying desperately to get one of those baby’s in there so my beach and pool time would not be spoiled only to be frustrated by the fact that my body is not at a 90 degree angle. It wasn’t until my 20’s that I finally figured out that it goes in at an angle. I mean, really, Toxic Shock Syndrome, angled vaginas…could you have made it any harder on us God? Seriously. But anyway, I have always been vigilant about keeping that thing in there for a limited time you know, because I didn’t want to get Toxic Shock Syndrome and die. I realize that nowadays people sleep with those bad boys in there. Do they even put that Toxic Shock Literature into the tampon boxes anymore? Well, I just can’t do it. It’s been drilled in to me. Toxic Shock Syndrome. Death. No thanks.
Now here’s a story you’re either going to find awesome or disgusting. To me, it’s just an example of how awesome girls are, you know, like how we can whip off our bras without removing our shirt, or completely change clothes in the car without anyone seeing any of our bits and pieces. Girls are awesome in that way. So back in the day I was out with this guy, we were driving out in the middle of nowhere going somewhere I can’t remember but wherever it was it was no where near any sort of bathroom. And at the time I wasn’t confident enough to say “Hey, I really need to hit a bathroom here pronto.” But I realized I was rapidly approaching Toxic Shock Syndrome with no restroom in sight. So what do I do? Well, I somehow–don’t ask how–managed to um, pull that thing out without anyone’s knowledge and yes, well, just leave it hanging around in there. Gross. Yes…..but Better Than Dying From Toxic Shock!!! Right? I mean, you take a little disgustingness to survive, right? Hell, people drink their own PEE. I just left it floating around in there until I got to a bathroom and could properly dispose of it. No one was the wiser, no one died of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
So. Monday. I’m sitting on the plane and I’m exhausted and coming off of an aggravation high, when I realize that I’m approaching the window for Toxic Shock Syndrome. I hate using the bathroom on planes. But you know, you gotta do what you gotta do. But of course there’s people in and out and in and out of the bathroom, and as soon as you start to make a move out of your seat someone else is in there and of course you can’t stand in line by the bathroom any more because that is DANGEROUS because you might be a terrorist who is trying to take over the plane. And frankly, someone might have taken me for a terrorist because it was as cold as a meat locker in there. Not that I’ve been in a meat locker but everyone uses that euphemism for how cold something is because of course you would want to keep your meat really, really cold because rotting meat is gross. So I had my fleece coat zipped up and pulled up over my nose with the hood pulled down low so that I looked like a cross between the UnaBomber and a woman wearing a weird burqa. Which to a Republican screams “TERRORIST!” right? So there must not have been any Republicans on the plane or my UnaBomber Burqa-d self would probably be rotting away in Gitmo right now if there were. So anyway…bathroom. Waiting for my chance. Which never came. Because then we hit turbulence and I have seen Tommy Boy and I do not want to be sitting in the bathroom during turbulence and go flying out ass over teakettle and land in the aisle with my pants down. And my seatmate had her laptop open so it wasn’t like I could quickly hurdle over her to get to the bathroom next. She had some interesting 80’s like clothes on…black corduroy leggings and these funky white boots with black laces that looked VERY 80’s and I was pretty certain she had a DURAN DURAN PIN on her bag which of course I thought was awesome, it looked like the Nagel painting from the Rio album. Which made me think of my old friend Becki Maslanka from high school who was obsessed with Nagels and had a room full of them. She was also obsessed with Royals and was hell bent on marrying one of the princes–Andrew? Edward? The one everyone thought was gay because he wasn’t married yet. I wonder what she’s been up to. I’m pretty sure she didn’t marry Prince Whoever. And anyway it wasn’t Duran Duran it was Siouxsie and the Banshees which is still cool and definitely 80’s. And then we’re beginning our descent so you are not allowed to go to the bathroom then, it doesn’t matter if you’re about to get Toxic Shock Syndrome.
So I’m sitting there thinking I’m on the verge of Toxic Shock Syndrome which made the fact that I missed the first flight seem totally irrelevant because I was going to die from my festering tampon. And I know that when I get off the plane in Omaha I have to bust my butt to get to the podium so that I can hopefully get right back on the same Meat Locker plane and head for Denver in like 15 minutes so I’m not sure I’m going to have time to go to the airport bathroom in Omaha so what am I going to do I’m going to die from Toxic Shock Syndrome so I’m wondering if I’m going to have to use my Awesome Girl Skills to pull off the same neat trick I did all those years ago riding in that guys car.
And I’m looking out the window at the Nebraska landscape that is VERY BROWN and full of crop circle looking patterns. Some of them look like rabbits. It looks like a very ugly brown quilt.
And then we land. And since I am in the last row with my 80’s girl friend I am the last person off the plane. But HALLELUJAH I get a seat on the next flight (which just so happens to be next to the SAME 80’s girl, ironic) and I also manage to get into the bathroom and remove the offending tampon AND hit the snack bar for a granola, fruit and yogurt parfait since all I’d had all day was an oatmeal raisin granola bar. And I made it home and I didn’t have Toxic Shock Syndrome.
As far as I know anyway….
It has been quite a few years since I have seen God in church. Some people would lead you to believe that church is the only place a person can really find God, or really see and experience him, but I beg to differ. Honestly it’s almost harder for me to find God IN a church setting. I’m sure that says something about me, but I also don’t think I’m entirely off-base either. I think God wants us to seek and find him in ALL places and people and things in all of creation. He’s not a God to be boxed in by four walls and a particular set of doctrine. To quote CS Lewis, He’s not a tame lion. So in finding myself missing God in church, I’ve been forced to open my eyes to finding evidence of him in other places. There are many days when agnosticism creeps in and I wonder if he’s even there at all, but then I Spy something, or someone, that makes it blaringly obvious that yes, God exists, and why, look, here he is, all but announcing himself with a flashing neon sign.
I want to write about one such situation today, and in doing so I’m going to do a little bragging on my amazing cousin, Samantha. She’s 23 years old and in talking with her this summer, I was smacked in the face by the presence of God. She probably has no awareness of this…I don’t know a lot about her spirituality but I’m pretty sure she’s not going around thinking she’s evidence of God and God’s love…unlike some people who seem awfully confident about that in spite of evidence to the contrary. Anyway. Sam.
Sam was born the summer before my senior year of high school. I remember my sister and I were so pumped because we finally had a girl cousin! I also clearly remember driving down to Connecticut with my mom to visit her and my aunt in the hospital, because it was the first “long” trip (about 3 hours) I’d been allowed to drive on the highway. Over the years we’ve been really close…I have always been particularly close to my Aunt Terry (her mom) and I’ve always made a special effort to spend time with Sam and her 2 brothers whenever I was home in NH. When I first started having kids, Sam was in high school, and she even came down and spent a couple weeks with our family in the summers over a couple of years. My daughters are crazy about her and she’s been a super sweet older cousin and role model for them. It has been a total joy to be a part of her life as she’s gotten older too…it’s great to hang out and relate to her on a “grown up” level now.
All that would be great just as it is, but what really struck me this summer as we visited was listening to her talk about her job. Her senior year of college, Sam took an internship at the New England Center for Children. This led to a job offer after graduation, and she has started her second year of work there this fall. The New England Center for Children is (directly quoted from their webpage): “a private, nonprofit autism research and education center dedicated to our mission: to transform the lives of children with autism worldwide through education, research, and technology. Our vision is to be a global leader in the provision of effective, evidence-based educational services for the millions of underserved children with autism and their families.” They offer a variety of residential and day treatment programs for kids on all areas of the autism spectrum. Sam works with a group of teen boys who are in the residential program. Kids who for a whole host of reasons can’t live with their families anymore. Their families come visit them and they can get off-campus passes sometimes, but these boys live the majority of their lives there at the NECC. Sam works with them on a daily basis helping to teach appropriate behaviors, to try and eliminate undesirable behaviors, to teach basic life skills and care of themselves, with the ultimate goal being one day to live in a group home type setting, where they can perhaps get a job and care for themselves on some level.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “yeah, this is great”, but there are lots of people all over the world who do this type of thing. But I look at my cousin, this girl I’ve known since she was a baby, and not only have I seen her grow up to be a terrific woman, but she has grown up to be someone who is kind and compassionate and is dedicating her days to helping those who most people in the world have forgotten, who most people don’t think about. These kids she works with aren’t Max from “Parenthood”…she has to wear her hair up and under a hat so there’s less to pull. She wears layers of clothing to ward of bites and hitting. She isn’t a big girl, and she’s putting herself out there with teenage boys who are much stronger than she is. She is trained in restraint to keep herself and the kids safe. Some of them can’t speak, some of them are self-injurious. They act out in ways that are, honestly, dangerous to themselves and those around them.
But what really hit me was listening to her talk about them. Each kid, she knows them all by name, knows who they are. She SEES them. You can tell by the way she talks about her job and her “boys” that this isn’t just some job to her, that it matters to her that their lives are valued and improved by the things she and the NECC are doing for them. I was asking her questions and at one point I asked what happened if they age out and they aren’t capable of living in a group home or other independent living type situation. The answer was, well, they likely spend the rest of their days drugged up on a psych ward in a hospital setting. As she explained that, mentioning this or that boy and their struggles, she totally was choking up and could barely talk about it for a minute.
And that, quite honestly, is where I saw God. I saw the tremendous love of God working through my cousin Sam. These are kids who most people don’t give a second thought to. And if we do think about severly autistic kids it’s more in the vein of “Thank God that is not my kid.” Talk about “the least of these.” If you saw them out in public and witnessed an outburst, tell me you wouldn’t judge their parents, or leave as quickly as you could. These are kids that most people do not give a damn about. But Sam, and all the other folks she works with, have made it their mission to make their lives matter. To give them some sort of a life, as best they can. To see them and know them as names, as people, not just as some case to be solved, a problem to fix or ignore or sweep away, to see beyond the diagnosis to the person that is inside. I mean, what could be a better picture of the message I believe Jesus came to earth to share? Of love and acceptance and healing and wholeness.
Now, I’m not trying to make Sam out to be some sort of saint…she’d be the first to say she’s not and I know she’s just a regular girl like anyone else in a lot of ways, with her good days and bad. But again-this is just like God-working through imperfect people, broken people, even people who do not acknowledge him-to bring about peace and acceptance and love and beauty here on earth. For all the bad and evil and horrible stories, there are stories like this, stories of people doing MORE, being more, saying that they don’t just accept that this is the way it has to be.
And to me, that is more proof of God’s existence that any church could possibly provide.