Hearts in Your Eyes

I’ve never quite been able to figure out if the fact that the acronym for Singles Awareness Day would be SAD is purposeful or sad happenstance, but I’m sitting in my office writing cover letters on February 14, so I’m definitely leaning towards purposeful.

Valentine’s Day has never bothered me before. In high school, I bought cards and presents for my female friends. In college and grad school, I mostly buried my head in my books and pretended nothing was happening. I joked about celebrating Half Price Chocolate Day on February 15 and assumed that I would eventually have someone to celebrate with.

It’s not that singleness is bothering me this year. I’m perfectly happy being single. The girlfriend dumped me back in October, and it was as awful as I’m assuming most first heartbreaks are, but I’m mostly over it. I know that there will be other loves and other relationships in the right time. It’s not the singleness.

It’s the aloneness.

When you become estranged from your family, you don’t just lose contact with a few people. You lose a community, a sense of history, and a sense that someone has your back. You lose the knowledge that there are people who are tied to you through blood and tears and however many years of hard work it took to make you the person you are today. Even if there isn’t a lot of love there, or even if the relationships are dysfunctional, there is something about having a family that means having a safety net. I didn’t want to move home, but I always knew that if something happened, it was an option. Now, there is no option. There is no safety net. There is no sense of history or community. There is no one I have regular contact with who knew me before the age of 14.

I’ve been job hunting for months, and I’m not getting anything back. I’ve had interviews, but no one calls to let me know I’ve been rejected. My friends have mostly moved away, and I’m the only one who stayed here who isn’t working yet.

I’m starting to feel a little invisible.

There’s supposed to be a happy, hopeful end to this. I’m supposed to make a Princess Diaries reference and then talk about how God always sees us. And God does always see us. And it’s important to remember that. But right now, I don’t want to be happy or hopeful. Right now, I want to eat my weight in chocolate. I want to scream and cry and throw things. I want to go to sleep and not have to wake up. Because life is hard, and I’m doing everything right, and it’s not getting less hard. I’m still always broke and usually alone. I still feel unseen and unheard most of the time. I still feel like most of the people in my life forget about me if I’m not directly in front of them, and that’s not a fun feeling.

Right now, I want more than anything to be seen.

I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I hope you felt loved and cherished and special. I hope someone hugged you. I hope someone was happy to see you. I hope that you go to sleep tonight with the knowledge that you matter to someone.

Tomorrow, try to see someone. Whether it’s the homeless man begging for change at the intersection or the person who hands you a bulletin at church or the person you sit across the breakfast table from, try to acknowledge someone you usually wouldn’t in a really meaningful way. Maybe that means listening to them. Maybe it means sharing a meal or a cup of coffee. Maybe it just means making eye contact.

Go forth and see.

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Sometimes I Feel Like Job (and Cry a Lot)

Last week one of my best (and most conservative) friends from college came to visit.  She’s married now, and she and her husband moved to another state in the same region where I moved for grad school.  I visited her at spring break, and now she’s visiting me.

We had a lot of fun.  We talked about life and faith and memories.  We visited museums and browsed through stores and ate delicious food and played board games.  One night, we went for fro yo, and we talked about the whole me-being-gay thing.  I had sort-of-kind-of come out to her in March, but at that point I was still so shell-shocked and terrified about the whole thing that it was mostly just “I think I like girls, and I’ve discovered that might actually not mean I’m demon possessed.  Discuss.”  I had told two other friends and had poked my nose into the progressive church I now attend a couple of times (and feared The Wrath of God (TM) both times).  Now, things are different.  Now, I have been attending my church for months.  I help out at the twice-monthly soup kitchen.  I go to young adult outings and small group meetings, and the pastor even asked me to help out as a liturgist during a service last month.  I saw a therapist for two months this summer, and we talked through a lot of things.  I can say “I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian” without having to take a fortifying breath first.

I could tell that my friend was not comfortable with the changes, but she listened anyway.  She asked good questions and apologized several times, concerned that she might have said or asked something offensive.  I was incredibly, painfully honest with her about things including how I had come to realize I was gay and how conflicted I’m feeling these days about whether or not being in a relationship with a woman would be okay with God.  She promised to pray for me and with me, and I walked away from our time together feeling like the conversation had gone well.

Then, yesterday happened.  Yesterday, when I was sleep-deprived from a work function that ran much later than it should have and had to be at an early meeting downtown, I checked my facebook only to discover . . . The Letter.

In summary, my friend has been praying for me and feels like she is obligated to explain some things.  God still loves me, and she doesn’t know why he made me gay, but scripture is clear that God does not bless relationships between members of the same gender.  Also, my church is a bad influence on me, and the peace I feel about attending there is a lie from Satan. She believes God has awesome things planned for me and that this is Satan’s way of keeping me from those things.

*facepalm*

The note was written as lovingly as possible, given its contents.  I have always had enormous amounts of respect for this friend and for her walk with God, and if I was going to trust all of this from anyone, it would be her.  I know that she cares for me and wants the best for me, but . . .

If she hadn’t brought my church into it, I probably wouldn’t feel quite so defensive, but it’s hard to hear someone tell you that the place you’ve finally found a home isn’t good for you.  Yes, there are some flaky people there who believe weird things, but I come from a Pentecostal background, so I’m not sure I would recognize a church without a few flaky members who believe weird things.  Yes, it’s very different from what I’m used to.  Sometimes I worry that it’s a little Jesus-lite.  Sometimes I worry that they’re too touchy-feely about sin and grace.  Sometimes I still wonder if I’m going to get struck by lightning when I walk through the doors or choke on the communion bread or something equally dramatic as a sign of God’s displeasure with my attendance there.

But it’s also the most honest church I’ve ever been too.  It’s also involved in the community in a way that I think would make Jesus smile.  Yesterday, after early morning midweek worship, the pastor and everyone else who could stay took colorful “Welcome Back” signs over to the local elementary school to cheer on parents and students doing drop-off for the first day of school and then to deliver the backpacks and school supplies they’ve been collecting for a month.  Someone hugs me every time I walk through the door, and the pastor constantly wants to know how I’m doing and what she can pray with me about.

So, crazy church aside, what about the rest of the message?

I acknowledge that the traditional interpretation of scripture does not allow for same sex relationships.  I’ve read the more progressive arguments, and I’m honestly not convinced.  (Yet???)  I feel like they offer reasonable doubt, but not a definite answer.  So, I’ve spent months waffling about the issue.  Waffling and reading and praying angrily while I wash dishes, because God won’t give me the green light.

I told my friend last week that I’m not ready to hear a “no,” and I’m really not.  Because “no” means I’ll never get married.  It means that in ten years when my friends are starting to celebrate significant anniversaries and worry about how their kids will handle the transition from elementary school to junior high, I’ll still be alone.  It means always coming home to an empty apartment.  It means never having someone else to make dinner or vacuum or return the Red Box movie.  It means doing things alone or being the third wheel, because already many of my friends are in long-term relationships.  It means never being a mother or facing single-parenthood.

Maybe if I were close to my parents, this would be easier, but my family is highly conservative and fairly dysfunctional.  I haven’t come out to my parents yet, but my father once refused to speak to me for two weeks because I changed my e-mail and facebook passwords and refused to give him the new ones.  (This was when I was 19, by the way, and lived most of the year at college, two and a half hours away from their home.)  There’s a real chance that we won’t speak for a long time after I tell them that I’m a) gay and b) attending a church with a partnered lesbian pastor.  So giving up on the idea of a relationship means giving up my long-held secret hope that someday I would have awesome in-laws who would be the kind of family my own parents were unable to provide.  It means being the tag-along friend at Christmas and Thanksgiving or eating Chinese take-out and watching movies by myself on those days.  It means never having a safety-net when I’m sick or something goes wrong with my car or I lose my job.

And I just can’t help but be angry about all of that.  I’ve cried so much in the last two days that it’s starting to feel ridiculous.  I read Sarah Bessey’s post today and got mad about it all over again.  Her “in which love looks like” posts always make me cry, but this one . . .

“I couldn’t have imagined all those years ago, at the Village Inn with a day-old bagel and terrible coffee at dawn, how he would have loved me so beautifully and fully, so crazily and completely, so ordinarily extraordinary. Look at us, living our lives together. Everything has changed, everything will continue to change, but we will still be here, in a car, kissing like teenagers over a lifetime of stories shared. Look at us, in the middle of our marriage.”

How could I read that today and not cry?  And I mean awkward, loud, sobbing, ugly crying.

I have loved God since my sixth birthday, when I prayed the sinner’s prayer for the last time, and I know that he is always with me.  But sometimes, God is not enough.  God can’t take out the trash.  He can’t cuddle with me during the sad parts of a movie.  He can’t hold my hand when we walk together.  He can’t laugh at me when I cheer at the tv screen when Eowyn kills the Nazgul.  He can’t cheer along with me.  God will never look at me the way my father looks at my mother.  He will never surprise me with flowers or empty the dishwasher or plan a birthday part for me.  He won’t come get me when my car breaks down or help me make a grocery list.

I don’t understand why this has to be so hard.  I don’t understand why I would be asked to give so much up.  This feels cruel in a way that I don’t want God to be.  I mean, if I was going to be permanently single, why couldn’t I have been an asexual, aromantic?  And honestly, it’s hard to accept “this is God’s will for you” when I know that my friend is going back to her lovely, two bedroom home and her wonderful husband and her kind, supportive parents.

My mom and I had an interesting talk last week about Job.  She insists that the book is basically about the futility of asking God “Why?”  I think that actually makes a lot of sense, probably more than anything else I’ve ever heard about Job.  But I think it’s important that God doesn’t come to Job in chapter 6 and shut down his questioning.  Instead, God allows Job to talk things through.  God allows Job to process his loss and grief and shout all of his angry questions at the sky.  Then, when Job is basically out of things to say, God starts talking.

So for the moment, I am thankful for God’s patience.  I am grateful that he gives us time to process.  I am grateful that he doesn’t give us answers until we are ready.  I am grateful that I have friends who are willing to let me wrestle with this and be angry and sad.  And I hope that we get to chapter 38 in my personal book of Job really, really soon.

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God Who is Still

These days, I am learning to live with I-don’t-know.

I don’t know where I am going to work this summer.  I don’t know who is going to chair my thesis committee.  I don’t know what I want to do after graduation, much less where I will be in five years.

I don’t know if I will ever get married.  I don’t know if I will have children.  I don’t know if I will live in this city or this region or this country long-term.

I don’t know who I am as a Christian.  I don’t know if I am “progressive.”  I don’t know if I can continue to pretend to be “conservative.”  I don’t know if I am a Methodist or a Pentecostal or a Doubting Thomas.

I don’t know what I think about abortion or war or guns.  I don’t know how to talk to my old friends about sexual identity in the context of faith, and I don’t know how to talk to my new friends about my honest doubts about same-sex relationships in the context of scripture.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to tell my mother any of this.

My life feels so chaotic most days.  I stumble through a never-ending whirl of classes and meetings and phone calls and projects and jobs, and I never quite feel like I catch my breath or find my balance.  I’m not sure if the grace of God is keeping it all from crashing down around my ears or if the chaos has simply become a self-sustaining system.

Sometimes, all of these doubts and worries and obligations get so loud inside my head that I can barely think.  The words on the pages in front of me blur together, and all I can think about is how much there is to do and how little time there is in which to do it.  I can’t think, but I can’t do anything but think.  It’s paralyzing.

In these moments when my world threatens to crush me, when chaos threatens to consume me, I find an anchor in the ancient words of long beloved prayers.  Today, it was Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace, which begins the midday prayers in Common Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  

Something about the ritual of this kind of prayer is incredibly soothing to me.  It is steady and stable in a world that threatens to overturn.  It settles me.  It orients me to a fixed point.  It reminds me that there is something larger than me, something that touches every nook and cranny of the universe, something that I can weave my life into and hold fast to when everything else is chaos and disorder.

Growing up in the Pentecostal tradition, God was noisy.  God was weeping and wailing and shouting and groaning and jumping and dancing and screaming and yelling and clapping.  God was busy.  He was healing and preaching and prophesying and working and serving and teaching and doing.  God was not particularly still.  He was not silent.

I am learning to find the God of ancient cathedrals, the God who is deep like tree roots and mountains.  I am learning to find the God who is quiet and still and solid.

When I was a little girl, there was a tree at the edge of the playground where I went to school.  It was ancient and massive to my child’s eyes, and I played beneath it every day, its gnarled, exposed roots forming the outline of imaginary houses or secret tunnels or ancient kingdoms.  It was home base in every game of tag and the safe place where I waited for my father to pick me up.  When he was so late that I feared he had forgotten me forever, I would imagine climbing into the tree and sleeping there, how safe and hidden I would be in its branches.  That tree was my protector, provider, and friend.

Lately, I am learning to love God as I loved that tree.  I am learning to appreciate the constant divine presence in my life.  I am learning to understand that it will always be there, solid and reassuring, no matter how fast or far I think I have run.  I am learning to trust God to provide for me, to keep me safe, to give me room to dream.  I am learning to love a God who is strong and quiet and allows me to be who I am.

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