Sunday, July 25, 2010
The Gospel was from Luke, "And so I say unto you, ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." I'm fairly sure I've heard this gospel a hundred times in my life in the church, and yet the primary emotion for me today was one of doubt.
You see, I've known a lot of people in my life who aren't ever going to ask. They've been too wounded. It hurts too much. Maybe it's because they've been burnt by the church. Or because they've suffered wounds too deep to be able to believe that if they ask they might get what they want or need. The hope of it all has been beat out of them. Or maybe it's just because they aren't really the seeking kind. What about those people? What happens to them? If they never find their voice to ask, how will it work out for them?
Or perhaps it's not even that they don't know to ask, but they're not sure what it is they're asking for. I'm familiar with that scenario. "Um, God, I don't know where the hell (oops sorry God) you want me or how you want me or what you would like from me. But I'm here. And I want to understand. And I hope you want to understand me too." I'm not sure what my question is there, but surely it's not clear to me. I hope God can translate "confused and disoriented in Missouri" well enough that those well-meaning prayers count as "seeking."
There are even others who are lost. They have wandered in the woods so long, that they can't make it back out. What happens if they never get to the door in time? If their whole lives is an exercise in trying to survive and they never get to the point of seeking. In my opinion, it's hard to be a seeker if you're hungry and homeless or an addict or a mother of 4 and not sure where you're going to get your kids' next meal. Seeking in those situations seems an existential luxury that many never have.
I have to believe that God didn't mean the passage in Luke the way it sounds. That it never begins or ends with what we can muster up on any given day or time. That if we are weary and hopeless and confused and preoccupied, that She will seek us out. That if we cannot find the strength to lift our hands and knock... that if our voice has been stolen and disregarded by this world...that if we cannot seek, because we cannot bear the thought of another loss...that God in her wisdom and abounding love gets that and is able to meet us wherever we may be in ...this ...very ...moment. That She knows our hearts, our intentions, our capacity to love; and that rather than condemning our efforts, however small and insignificant, that She cherishes each of those moments when we are able to seek Her out. That She is delighted when we stumble over our words and hide our faces in doubt...but still offer what there is offer of ourselves. When we stand before Her and say that I don't know and I'm unsure and I'm fearful of how it will all work out...but still I have faith that God is good.
Even when I'm afraid to seek or ask or knock...I know that God still hears, responds and loves me. For all of my Lutheran upbringing, I have to think Luther stopped just short of getting it. While I agree that salvation is not something that can be earned...I would take it step a further and say I'm not sure Jesus cares much about how sorry we are or whether we have repented sufficiently. I have to believe that God loved us from the start. That anything good comes from God. And that we are enough on our own. Even when we don't know it or can't accept it or can't come to it on our own.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
The interesting thing about this new boy is that I've finally (admittedly, it's taken me a minute) realized that relationships can be all different shapes and sizes. That not every relationship has to end up at an altar. And in fact, most aren't meant to ever reach that point.
My relationship with the boy...well it's not likely to be a marriage sort of thing. In fact, I can say 100% that it won't end there. We are more different than we are the same. We are different religions, have a pretty serious age difference and are at very different places in our lives. Still, he makes me laugh. A lot. And I enjoy spending time with him. And I make him laugh. A lot. Both of us have very clear priorities. He has two children (older than mine) and I have two children. They are the clear priority. So there's no real pressure. If one of us has our children, then we aren't going anywhere together that day. And there's no angst over being torn between a boy and my kids. It's just the way things are. And I'm not complaining about that. It's nice to have a part-time relationship. One that is there when I want it, but not when I don't. I would typically rather spend time with my kids than a boy. They are only small for such a short time...I'm not inclined to miss out on seeing them grow up to chase men. It doesn't make sense to me. They are the coolest people I know.
When we do spend time together, we're not talking about world politics or who the historical Jesus really was or how to solve the current recession. We don't talk shop much either, despite the fact we do much the same sort of work. We talk about our lives, how we got here, what we were like as kids, what we think about divorce and we joke even more. It's a fun distraction. A flirty thing. Sweet and somewhat innocent in nature.
I was talking with a friend recently about him, and questioning whether it makes sense to be involved with this boy. My friend laughed and said, "why the hell not? Don't you deserve to have fun and be loved with no strings attached?" I tend to agree, although it still seems foreign to me. To enter into a relationship realizing that it won't be the be all, end all of my life.
Sometimes I realize just how limited my experience has been with men. My relationship with my ex-husband started when I was barely 22. And didn't end until I was 34. I had very little history prior to him, and no history since meeting him.
I'm inclined to go with what my friend said, "why the hell not?"
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Today at church, a woman I know slightly asked me, "So was that a spiritual thing or what?" I don't know that I would have called it spiritual...but then I thought about the word and realized that in fact, that was likely the best word to describe the experience.
The past few weeks have felt very much like an awakening for me. An awakening to what I have been denying and running from for years. My last post was the angry part...but there is a sad part of me, too. And there is an overwhelming feeling of change approaching. I feel it coming on, and part of me wants to abandon myself to it.
The image that has occurred to me and drove me to the nose piercing was of a woman (most of the time me, but increasingly my daughter) on her knees. It seems I've spent a good part of my life there, figuratively speaking. When I was a little girl, I was told regularly there were things I couldn't do or achieve. These messages came from both men and women ... my father, my church, my pastor, the older folks in my life as a child. I'm sure that no one meant much harm by what they told me...but harmful it was. Like a deep wound that is hard to even talk about...much less heal from.
Later on, during the month I turned 13 I was victimized by a man, and very literally pushed to my knees by him. What he did was horrible and I carry that scar on my spirit. 22 years later and that experience of being pushed down is still painful.
I went away to college at 18, and yet again I was greeted by young men and older ones alike who knew very clearly what a woman's role should be. That age though for me, brought my first real crisis of faith. Suddenly what I *knew* came into conflict with what I was being taught, told and preached. I wasn't sure how to reconcile the two worlds, and so I burrowed into the ground and went to law school.
Surely I had arived... there I was bucking all the gender stereotypes...a tough woman in a man's world. Still, a part of me felt lost in that world. I still do.
My marriage turned out to be one long exercise in kneeling...making my husband primary. He didn't even have to ask, I just did it. After all that's what women do, isn't it?
And so now I find myself on a very spiritual journey. One that is at least partially defined by the fact that I am a woman. Spiritual journey is really about becoming more of a comprehensive self, isn't it? One that can incorporate the parts of life that have been difficult and trying with the parts that are pure joy and light. Certainly there has been joy and light in my life...and the nose ring is about that. While I knew that the men in my life...my father, my ex-husband, many of the male attorneys I come into contact with...would disapprove of my choice...for me it was about rising from my knees and standing.
The thought I had immediately before the piercing was, "It's about time to stand up." And so I have. And I will. And I'm pleased that I've found the strength to again take the first steps on yet another spiritual journey. It feels authentic. And good. And full of promise.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
I've been reading a lot of feminist writings lately. I'm not sure why. I just know I've been drawn into it, and I haven't resisted as strongly as I might have years ago. Part of me has considered myself a feminist for years - hell I was labeled a "feminazi" in college by some of the more conservative white boys. But I don't know that I think I ever really got it. I think part of it has to do with the realizations of the past year concerning the role I played in my marriage and its destruction. Part of it comes from a wellspring deep in my soul that I've been struggling to hold down for years...perhaps my whole life. The problem of course is that one cannot hold back the water forever. Even with the best constructed levees, dams and fingers stuck in the dike, the water leaks out. And in my case it feels a bit like the levee has given way to a deluge of water.
From the time I was a little girl, I was been conditioned to be less than, subservient, submissive. Whether at home, in church, at school, it was all really the same in the small, subtle ways. Cook and clean for your man, women weren't allowed to be in lay or ordained leadership and girls were to be seen and not heard.
At no time in my life have I been more aware of all the things women endure that men don't seem overly concerned about. From the skinny, childlike girls who give blow jobs in porn movies to the girl children who are prostituted in the streets all over the world to the girls who are raped, mutilated and abused to the women who are beat on by their partners...it angers me. I'm not certain what to do with my anger. It doesn't feel very instructive or able to be utilitarian...all I know is I'm mad as hell. For the parts I was assigned in these sorts of horrors, but much more so for the collective whole of all of us who are women who have had to endure such things. Throughout history we have been oppressed, abused, raped, tortured, killed for nothing more than being born female. Just this past year a woman was kidnapped and murdered 100 yards from my office by her spouse. I have been the guardian of countless girls who have been victimized by men - whether sexually or physically. I continue to be involved in divorce cases as guardian for children whose fathers beat their mothers. I lived in my own "traditional" relationship where I was secondary to his primary. I have survived my own abuse at the hands of a man years ago. I don't get it. Where the hell is the outrage among women, men, the church, society?
I remember arguing with my ex husband years ago about pornography. His view (as is seemingly common) is that ordinary porn is not degrading to women. I remember seething at the time, but not really expressing it. I mean really, these women on their knees performing all manner of humiliating acts on men who hold their heads and occasionally slap or demean them. Really, this is not degrading to women? I'm amazed at how acceptable pornography continues to be in our society. And the same things goes for strip clubs. Hell, I'm not certain I've met a man alive who hasn't ventured into one of these places at some point. But, I've been largely silent about these things. Why? I can't explain it entirely other than to say I blamed women for their participation and I didn't figure it affected me by and large. That's the mistake, really. To assume that the oppression of one woman doesn't impact all of us in some ways.
But back to why I didn't express myself years ago - as is common with even educated, seemingly independent women like me, we are indoctrinated from the day we are born to be nice, speak quietly, not contradict the men in our lives. And I think the thing that has me the most incensed is that my religion preached this shit. Girls were dirty from day one - after all we ate the fruit - we allowed ourselves to be manipulated and then we tricked our man into eating too. I recall vividly my ex husband saying more than once to me, "Well, it was all Eve's fault." REALLY? The downfall of our entire species was a woman's fault. I suppose that's why so many of our churches still relegate us to the backseat, where we are told to keep our mouths shut and our opinions to ourselves. Look pretty, speak softly and above all serve the men in our lives.
What happened to God - our Mother? And why precisely is that so threatening for people to say? I'm not suggesting we upend all of our tradition - well perhaps I am. And what of it? Isn't it about time we let go of the patriarchal, misogynist, sexist theology of the past 2,000 years? Hell, we have so little recorded history of the women who lived in the first 1,000 years of Christianity, one would think men birthed themselves. And even the women in the Bible were rarely central or integral to any story. Why? Surely they existed. But in so many ways we have not advanced much since that time. We still dumb ourselves down. We still struggle to make our appearance acceptable to the standard created ... and perpetuated by...men. We still try to be seductive and "serve" whether it's in sex or in the kitchen or at the workplace.
As I said earlier, I'm not certain where all this anger in me is going. I just sense it there, stronger than I've ever felt it. And for the first time I'm choosing not to push it back down. I am noticing the little nuances and not ignoring them. When my father waits for my mother to clean up after him or a man I know well cannot stop ogling the women around him or the fact that most of the men I know take their position in the courtroom, church, society for granted. I want something different for my daughter than what I've known than what my mother has known, than what her mother knew. I'm not certain how to show her something different. It seems oftentimes that even the stereotypes and ways of conforming are so a part of me, it's difficult to separate my soul from it.
This is incomplete and unfocused and largely a product of a lot of reading and insight in a short period of time. But none of what I have to say is untrue and all of it is rather painful in many ways. As I struggle with my anger, I hope that I can learn where to direct it and how best to change my life and affect the lives of the women around me in good and loving ways. Regardless of how I got this far in life without having this awakening sooner, I recognize it for what it is now...an awakening and opening of my spirit. God as Mother, Sister, Woman. It's still difficult for me to imagine, but all the more important for me to imagine. So that one day my daughter can realize it on her own. So that awakenings like mine aren't necessary at some point in our collective history.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Sometimes I think of providence as placing me in the right spot at the right moment to experience something big. Like for instance one of the families I have been involved in at juvenile court. I firmly believe that providence stuck me in the case for a reason. My understanding of the law, my expertise, my drive was needed for these children, and by what would seem to be happenstance I ended up being appointed their guardian. I had just the right knowledge of the law to be able to advocate for them very well. I believe God (however one might define him or her) knew what these children needed, and stuck me in the path for a reason. And the only way I would be as passionate as I am about their situation is because I have suffered some of what they have. I get it. From my own heart, I get it. I think God knows that despite the pain their stories bring me, there is healing for my own wounds there too.
Other times I think of providence as allowing me to meet the right people at the right time. Over a year ago I was sitting in my little church and was struck by the guy preaching on a Sunday. Turns out our lives have many parallels, and I've learned a lot by just talking with him about life, faith, relationships. What trajectory led to our meeting and then my persistence at figuring out how to contact him? I'm typically stand offish when I meet people. Certainly I don't just call them up and insert myself into their lives. Yet, that's precisely what I did in this situation. And I believe there was something bigger than me at work.
In another instance, I have known an attorney for years. But, from a distance, and not close-up. She and I, again seemingly randomly, have gotten to know each other in the past year or so. I've really come to enjoy her and love being around her. She's smart, interesting and a good person. She enhances my life in ways both clear and not always clear to me.
In yet another way, I stumbled upon the church family I now have come to love and appreciate. I was not really looking very hard when I happened upon the church. But something that is bigger and more gracious than I can be led me to the doors and provided an impetus to get me to walk through the door. I can't explain it any other way than providence.
While life seems random at times, and certainly I'm not pollyannaish enough to claim that I believe "everything happens for a reason" - I do have to believe that we receive gifts all the time, some we accept and others we reject. Perhaps the rejection is a deferral, I don't know. I do know when I'm open enough to accept the gifts and avoid trying too hard to discern from where/whom they came, they seem to fall from the sky continually. I know of no other way to describe those gifts as divine providence.
I was listening to a song the other day, and the songwriter said, "What is chance of that?" Really - what is the chance that these things would happen without the intervention of something greater and bigger and more loving than I can be? Whatever I choose to call it - I just pray to be open to the experiences.
Monday, July 5, 2010
I went to the Lake thinking I would have a somewhat relaxing, laid back weekend of sun and boating. I planned some times to take the kids on my own, because I knew I would need the getaway time too. As it turned out, it really wasn't enough.
As the years pass, my parents age more drastically. And with that aging comes a more and more difficult relationship for them. They have fought often over the years, but now they live in a constant state of tension. The cross words and bickering have reached a feverish pitch. And unfortunately any one who gets caught in the crossfire becomes a target. This weekend that extended to my children. Nothing they did was appropriate. And unfortunately for me, they reacted to this constant state of tension by fighting continually and acting out.
As I tried to keep the peace all around, I just grew tired. And perhaps it forced me to face some of my own unresolved stuff from when I lived in the tension more often. In the still of a night, in my bed, my daughter asked me if her grandparents loved her. I answered that of course they do. She then asked me why she couldn't tell that they do? It broke my heart. I recall wondering the same thing as a child. I tried to explain to her that some people have trouble showing their affection. But, when you're 6 that doesn't make a lot of sense to you. So, all I knew to do was to reassure her that I loved her, and that even though it didn't seem so, so do my parents.
The other chief source of conflict this weekend was the contradiction between my parenting of my 2 children and my parents' ideas about what is appropriate parenting. We have had some minor skirmishes in this area since my kids were born, but none so obvious as this weekend. And while I respect my parents, I choose a very different way of raising my own children. It's a way of love and joy. Not of fear and domination. I have to believe that I am doing my best for my kids. And I do believe that, despite my parents' warnings of how my children will end up screwed up because of my permissiveness.
All of this ran headlong into the feminist thinking I have been reading about regularly. I see my job as a mother somewhat like a gatekeeper. I still feel disjointed, but I know that most of this will work itself out in time. I do understand more than ever that I have to protect my children from the influences of people who are toxic to them...even if those people are family members and even if it causes me some conflict. As I have tried to create communities for my children of people who care for them and love them, I have to make sure that those efforts aren't thwarted by the other people they come into contact with on a regular basis.
The bright spot for me this weekend came when my daughter, in the same conversation in the dark, told me by name other people in her life that she knows for sure love her. I knew in that moment, that I am succeeding in my job as her mother by building a community for her. And she fell asleep before she had named all of the people who love her...I thanked God for the people I have found, stumbled upon or who have found me and who love my child. If I have ever doubted divine providence, I believe in it now.
Thursday, July 1, 2010
What made the day good was some time I spent by myself in the middle of the afternoon. For the first time in months, I felt something being restored to me. One of the things I've learned to about myself is that I can generally empathize with anyone. On some level, in some way, albeit small at times, I can usually put myself in someone else's place and feel for them. I've been like this since I was a little kid. While it is part gift - in that I think it makes me more sensitive to the people around me - it is also part curse. At times, my sense of feeling for someone makes me blind to his or her faults. And it clouds my judgment sometimes. Overall I trust people. I believe people mean well, even when perhaps they don't or can't. In essence, I feel things and people deeply. While it means great sorrow sometimes, it also means great joy at others. I can accept the lows, because I get to live the highs too. I have learned to love being the way that I am. And I've learned it's a gift. All in all, I like who I am, who I've become.
Today during a quiet moment, I realized that despite all of my anger lately, I feel some sense of sympathy for the woman my ex-husband cheated on me with. And I don't mean the fake, insincere, "Gee, you're so pathetic I feel sorry for you" kind of sympathy. I mean the genuine thing. The "I don't understand you, but part of me feels sorry for you." This feeling took me by surprise. I've been so pissed off recently, that I've forgotten I am who I am. I feel restored today, redeemed.
While I'm not silly enough to believe my anger has dissipated entirely, I realize now if I had to do it over again, I wouldn't change anything. I went into my marriage believing that my husband could be faithful to me. I trusted him. I didn't question him. I didn't quiz him about his whereabouts or his associations. Perhaps I was naive. Or even unsophisticated. But, all in all, I believed him. I thought he was a good person, who meant well. And despite all of his actions to the contrary, I wanted him to be able to overcome his weaknesses. In the end, he couldn't pull it off. His demons got the best of him. Not to let him off the hook for his actions, but he never learned from his mistakes...never got past being in his past.
Regardless of everything that happened, I wouldn't do things differently. Even if I could I would not go back and be a skeptic. Someone who didn't trust, couldn't overlook mistakes. That's not who I am. Fundamentally, I trust. I love. I care. I believe. These things get me hurt sometimes. And certainly the hurt makes me question why I do things the way I do them. But it doesn't change me fundamentally. And I don't want it to. I'm happy with who I am in this regard. That I can wake up one day and feel sorry for the woman who had sex with my husband and was a part of the demise of my marriage makes me who I am. I love. It is who I am. And I know that God blessed me with the ability to be who I am. Free of bitterness and hardness of heart. I am.
Last year at this time, I knew I had a hard year in front of me. And I would not want to repeat my 34th year if given the option. It was painful, difficult and sad in many ways. But it was also a year of tremendous growth and opportunity for me. And I've emerged from this year into the next one whole and intact. I hold a lot of hope for this coming year. I know that I can take control of my body again and get myself back into physical shape. I can to continue to feed and nurture that which is part of who I've been from the start - someone who trusts people - who believes that most want what is best for others.
Maybe in the end I will be accused of being overly naive. But that wouldn't be the worst thing.