Believe

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Hello Lovelies. I haven't blogged since November 16. And I'm not going to start tonight. It is my husband's 46th birthday after all. So why am I on FB, thinking I am going to update you? Well, it's multi-layered. But the bottom line is, he is at soccer with the 13yo and I just told the 16yo to go to the movies with his friend. Because I need a mulligan tonight. And actually, I told my husband that last night, too, so I'm not sure tonight's counts. But here's the reality. This week has been pretty brutal...

I probably shouldn't write this on the Internet. And someone once accused me of writing for therapy instead of publishing, which I still feel the sting of, because it must mean I'm not a real writer. But the truth is, blogging is so much better than all the other ways to get. it. out. What's his name said, "Write drunk, edit sober." But the reality is, bloggers don't have time to edit. It's part of the reason I haven't posted in almost a month. So this one is pretty real, off-the-cuff. Cuz I need the therapy and don't have time for editing. But here it is, none-the-less. 

I did something really stupid. 

I lost my doctor about six months ago. And my new doctor's (assistant) recommended I change medications. For whatever reason, the new meds sat in my detail box for months and months. But last weekend I decided, maybe now's the time.

Several days in, I am thinking, "WTF??" WHY would I do this in my most stressful month of the year and stressful week of the month? WHY?

Well, because that's how things tend to work for Jenny. She rarely does things half-way.

Withdrawal is difficult. It affects sleep, concentration, appetite, and verbal skills. I have gone through it since puberty. You would think I know better. But here's the reality. Life just moves along. Any time is lousy. There are always stresses. I am a mother of three teens. Oy vey! 

Oh, and my husband has been out of work for more than a month. Yes, there is that, too. 

It is times like this that I feel like it is a miracle I am not 300 pounds. Where I am is just fine, considering.

But, I digress. It has been a difficult week. I work for a supervisor now. With a team. My withdrawal has to be a little more hidden than staying in my pajamas and binge-watching, "Friends". (Hey! I was in the circle of hell reserved for "better-than-you-are" evangelicals in the 90s. I have much pop culture to catch up on.) So I have gotten up before light and prepared myself for relational-and detail-oriented work for four mornings this week. Yes, this would also be the week after the weekend where my husband cooked for 300+ people. P.S. Working mothers, may I again kiss your feet?

AND, things happened to people I care about. I can't say specifics here on the blog because of their need for confidentiality. But their things? They matter to me. I can barely help it. I'm a two. ;)

But this week has included: multiple family birthdays. It has also included co-workers exceptional needs, my son coming home for Christmas from college for the first time, my husband needing to make a difficult decision about his career (not over yet), and again, me showing up for work each day. Even though I could have called in sick with great support and understanding, I'm not quite ready. I am the newbie still.

But I am in withdrawal.

And it is Advent. We are not supposed to be burnt out by Christmas music and champagne (for lack of a better analogy) by Christmas. We are meant to wait in the dark for the arrival of the light of Christmas. For me, it's a baby born in the manger. (American Christians are terrible wait-ers, but that's another post.). It is not the magic of Christmas' fault that my life-partner and first-born were both conceived in March. 

What do you need extra belief for this season? It's the question I've been asking as people enter my office and smell the pine cones. Their wishes are tucked amongst the cinnamon fragrance. I am taking "prayer requests" without taking prayer requests (G-d forbid). 

I need extra belief that my husband will land the right job. I need extra belief that a Christmas morning with three teens can still be magical. I need extra belief that I can celebrate December birthdays imperfectly. And I need extra belief that my health will be okay.

Advent: The season for wait-ers. I am with you in your need for extra belief. 

'Tis the season for withdrawal.

Some Thoughts on Feelings, Cognitive Dissonance, and Complicated Friends

There is so much I want to try and find words for today to explain some of my thoughts of late on the role of feelings in our lives/my life. I am not an expert or an academic, but I have had to intimately wrestle with my own. My emotional make-up has been described as a piano, full of keys and octaves, with the bass and treble both in play for the richest, fullest expression. My mother used to tell me I was no Chevrolet. This was in the 80s and I think she compared me to a Maserati at the time. I guess they're still around. I had to Google them.

These feelings come from a place of accusation and affirmation. I have once again felt accused, felt that who I am in all its octaves is wrong and flawed, instead of something that is just part of my reality. And then, someone I respect, someone older and wiser shared his surprise with me on reading my recent writing and using the term "mental illness". "What's your mental illness?" he asked. "Anxiety and depression," I responded. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "That's just comes with being a smart and sensitive woman in our culture."

You know what? I am smart. And I am sensitive. I'm not smart about all of it, like systems and details. But I am really smart when it comes to people and ideas. And I am sensitive. I feel things. As I vacuum, I'm praying/worrying over my children. I write for release. I need to cry and laugh and feel impassioned that sometimes comes out in anger. Otherwise, I'm not being Jenny. I believe in decorum, etiquette, and proper time and places, too. But I also need to stop trying to squeeze into the wrong mold.

A Jenny that is not expressive gets depressed. A Jenny that doesn't get to process gets anxious. And some of you might wonder, "Well, then why don't you just express and process? Why do you have to take the pills?" That is a great question, but not the point of my writing today. I would be glad to talk with you offline about the many facets and layers that come with me having to surrender over the last 15 years that I may be on medicine my entire life. I have heard, when we know better, we do better, and the adults in my life, including myself haven't always known how to help me take care of a Maserati nervous system. And so I have to spend a little more time than others in the garage getting serviced. The medicine, counseling, and extra care I need to take care of myself is just part of that. I know I need restoration because you can't treat a Maserati like a Chevrolet.

But my point today is that the older I get the more I can see how hard I've tried to get all the people to like me despite the reality of the way I am made. When I see similar angst in some of my young friends, I long for them to know the freedom that can be theirs. I have struggled for this freedom. Sometimes I have to repeat it to myself over and over, "The love will not run out. The love will not run out. The love will not run out. Not everyone is going to like me. Not everyone is going to like me. Not everyone is going to like me." But I also want you to know something. Everytime it happens, it is heart-wrenching to me. The rejections I have felt over my life are still the places of my deepest pain.

Maybe you can relate to that.

I wrote my last two entries with this dichotomy in mind. I feel cognitive dissonance about a lot of things in my and others' life and faith. My priest/pastor gave me these words to help me describe the way my faith has evolved over the last five years. If I am going to bring all of me and not live a life of duality, (which, by the way, while we're on the subject, isn't Biblical either), I will live with cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time. 

I think, as a Christian, I have always had cognitive dissonance about certain aspects of my faith and the living out of it. But only in the last five years have I began to realize I need to be honest about this reality. A faith without cognitive dissonance, is it really a faith?  What can my faith look like if I'm honest that I have conflicting thoughts and uncomfortable tension? And, the more painful question has often become, "How will my faith look to others and will I be able to live with their judgment?" Ah, there's the rub. Sometimes I just can't hold it in. I have to jump in the deep end (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) and sometimes, lamely, try to patch it up later (A Letter to my Conservative Christian Friends). This is just one example.

In the meantime, my heart breaks. I long to be understood, dramatic, and loved, deeply loved by the tangible grace I can never drink enough of, all at the same time.

This is why I need complicated friends (I borrow this from my pastor/priest/friend, too). This is why I lose friends. This is why the loneliness can feel so potentially terrifying, I want to just forget for a while. And it's why it's not as simple for me to just go the churches of my youth. I'm sure complicated people are there, but as a culture, the cognitive dissonance is just not talked about. Wrestle with me, challenge me, don't be afraid of me, but please, please don't judge the intense, the ardent, the impassioned me with your lack of cognitive dissonance. That part of me needs so much more acceptance than I've given it over the years. And I like to think that the Holy Spirit hovers near me as I can feel towards my young friends. "Be free, taste and see that the LORD is good. And YOU are good. In your humanity, your broken places, and your glory, for you are wonderfully made."

Complicated friends, let us love one another, in our cognitive dissonance, for love comes from God. And the world, including myself, aches for it.

 

A Letter To My Conservative-Christian Friends and Family

Dear Friends and Family,

My last post caused a bit of a stir. Some of you are saying, "I knew it!". Some of you now know that if I believe this, all is suspect and my faith is no longer something you recognize.

I get that.

You are my brothers and sisters. I was raised with you and returned to you. I longed for you. I wanted to be like you. I have been to your weddings, baptisms, potlucks, and services where you have preached. And you have been to mine.

The American Evangelical church is and will always be my mother tongue.

I wish we could sit down and talk, really talk. I would listen and you would listen. We might cry. I understand calling the sacred profane and the profane sacred causing a whole mess of problems. You've seen the mighty fall and believe in the humble. My last post could be construed as the perfect example of messing all that up...the sacred, profane, mighty, and humble.

I get that. I really, really do.

Here's what I long to tell you because some of you aren't talking to me directly, but I can feel the rumblings. 

I write this BLOG for those who have struggled with oppression and abuse in religious contexts, because I am one of them.

I know in my cells what it means for the Bible and the Church to be places of heaviness, burden, guilt, and abuse because it was believed to be Biblical and my duty.

I write for those who also suffer.

Please understand. I do not write to profane the sacred. I write to offer an olive branch of hope. I write for those who are working so hard to do right and can't seem to make it to remind them of the verse "His yoke is easy and his burden is light."

EVEN if they can't follow the Church's rules.

Well, aren't the church's rules God's rules?

No. Not always. Bloody Mary was wrong. Her father, Henry VIII was most likely wrong, even though so many of us are Protestants now. The KKK, a branch of our culture's church, was wrong and beyond cruel. The current sects in our church that have silenced my voice as a woman with giftings far different from my man, are wrong. All I wanted to say with my last post is that I wonder if with our treatment of those attracted to the same gender is wrong.

Friends and family of the Conservative Church? How can homosexuality be wrong? Homosexuality is the ATTRACTION to the same gender. It's not about the acts. Why do we as the church jump to the action over the heart?

Do I want to belong to a church who cannot hear MY heart-wrenching cries of being attracted to someone else in a 21-year marriage? Have I sinned? Or struggled? It's just a question.

My last post didn't even talk about sexual acts.

Yes, I don't believe it's a "lifestyle". That meant, I don't believe those with same sex attraction or non-culturally accepted gender behavior are sinning. They are struggling. Having to make choices. The same choices we have judged heterosexuals for...the pre-marital, living together, divorced, and adulterers. Who each are writing a different story. Some that have been redeemed (Did anyone ELSE weep at Johnny Cash's story? I sure "as hell" did.)

And yet you judged my words. Jesus did better than that.

I am saddened.

You know why else ? Because I am, and have been since the beginning of puberty, among the judged. I live with the judgment of mental illness defining me. Yes. I have been on medication off and on since puberty and consistently for 15 years. Believe me. I have wept in many doctors' offices asking God to please not allow me to be given over to their methods that might sweep me away from his perfect will.

In the midst, I have found that exercise, nutrition, prayer, church, and sin-free living to the best of my ability has not cured me from needing medicine, though yes, they all help. But it has not been enough. Believe me, I have tried. 

Could it be like my brothers and sisters who have done everything they know to not be attracted to the same gender?

I'm just asking.

MAYBE there is a cause to my struggles. MAYbe it was the oppressive religion and god I knew as a young, impressionable, child.  Or maybe it's just the luck of the draw and my genetics.

The bottom line for me? The church can blame me, or the church can love me. Intensely. Without fault. Sharing with me what I need...words of hope, the sacraments, and grace, oh so much grace. Jesus with skin on. Grace that a traumatized young child needs in every cell of her being even into her 40s.

(I am not saying those who are attracted to the same sex have been abused and that is the cause. In my opinion, it is not the church's job to figure out the CAUSE of mental illness, homosexuality, parenting prodigals, etc.)

There is always wisdom. But in 45 years of church involvement, I have yet to find a formula. For parenting, leadership, money, mental illness, or anything else the seminars might have sold you.

Do not blame others for my words. Know that I write for those who need hope. Because I have needed hope. Yes. At one time, the testimony of others, a place to be on Sunday mornings, and a genuine conversion experience were enough to give me that hope.

BUT, when life got a little less black and white than the church could handle, I had to find my own way. If you have never experienced this, you have never walked in my moccasins. 

I write for those who need to know someone else has walked in their moccasins.

Is this a comment about Jesus, about me, or about the American Church? I say my beef is with the American church. What would you say my last post was about?

If you think it was about me and my falling from grace or a skewed view of Jesus, I have nothing else I can can say to you. Except this:

My heart breaks over our fervor that has broken others hearts. I feel called to not do this anymore.

Hear my cry,

Jenny

 

Don't Ask. Don't Tell.

I need to tell you something. In 2008, I voted yes on Proposition 8. And, I wouldn't vote the same way today.

This is my Election Day Entry.

It's only been six years, but I need you to know, I am coming out of the closet.

I now believe that homosexuality is not a sin, a lifestyle, or a choice. There. I've said it.

Why now? Why am I needing to speak up about this now?

Well, here it is. I just finished reading Jennifer Knapp's memoir, "Facing the Music". And I read it with so much resonance to her story even though I will always be attracted to men, forever and ever, amen. 

Jennifer Knapp tells the story of Jesus redeeming her. She writes of her conversion, a conversion that allowed her to let go of the sins of sleeping around and drinking herself into the dirt. I get that. I, too, was transformed by the redeeming story of Jesus when I was 18 from a life of longing for what was killing me.

And then she tells of her gift for music opening her life to opportunity. Opportunity within the church. I get that, too. I have spoken at retreats, churches, and before crowds. I have had messages that were wanted, accepted, and even revered. And I have had times where the leader of the event has wondered, "What the 'heck' was I thinking inviting her here?" Those have been the times when I've had to be the most honest. But like Jennifer Knapp, my speaking skills, as her music skills, have always received confirmation of their strength and gifting. 

But Jennifer had to disappear. NOT because of her sexuality. She had to disappear because the grind of the ministry machine almost killed her. This, too, I completely understand. 

My husband and I, at about the same time in history, left the church of our meeting, marriage, and dedication of our young sons because it was almost killing us.

We were the first leadership couple to say, "No More." Many followed afterwards and the church no longer exists.

The beliefs were killing us. How we were supposed to discipline our children. How we were supposed to live our lives. How we were supposed to spend our money and time. ALL of it was under scrutiny. Everyone had an opinion about what was sacred and what was not. It still breaks my heart how I let these beliefs rule us and the parenting of our young children.

We, and they, were wrong.

And, I am now saying in black-and-white, I have been wrong about how to think about homosexuality.

When I say homosexuality, I mean that I have been wrong about why others are attracted to the same gender instead of their Adam or Eve. I have thought it was a choice. I have thought it was a lifestyle. I have thought they could be changed.

I don't believe that anymore. Why? This is NOT because I currently align with the Episcopalian church, more known for its acceptance. It is because I love some. Homosexuals, that is. Which isn't even a politically correct term anymore. In fact, I'm kinda done with the word "gay". I am done with the labels, in general. But that is their choice to make, not mine. Because I have not had to fight this battle. As a parent, sexual person, or in society. They have. In my heart now? I say, whatever they need.

To read of Jennifer's struggles was not, to me, about reading of her struggle with her sexuality. It was about her struggle with The Church. NOT a struggle with Jesus. Not a struggle with the HOLY Spirit whispers and guidance, but her struggle with people like me.

People that no longer showed up at her concerts.

People that judged her from afar. (Hello, Amy Grant's divorce.)

People that assumed they knew her because they'd followed her art.

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

Here are a few of her particular poignant quotes:

The irony was that I was living with more integrity outside of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and Christian culture than I had been when I was immersed in it.
Most (Christian) conferences of this sort have a habit of only inviting well-practiced and skilled speakers who are there to help solidify some sort of finite conclusion or ideal for the cause. This is especially true when it comes to Christian meetings, where there is typically a great deal of effort in securing the talents of those who uphold a particular religious teaching and who also have the charisma to inspire those listening to walk out clutching certainty rather than doubt.
“What is amazing is that, to this day, the reactions I get when I tell people I am a lesbian don’t even compare to the reactions of telling people I am a Christian.”

I titled this blog entry, "Don't ask, Don't tell." Because here's the deal. In the most conservative of Christian circles over the years, I have wondered, "Is she or he, gay?" But GOD FORBID I would ever ask the question. 

Currently, in the Christian community, this is still true. Jennifer tells of one story of a pastor whose parishioners told him, "We knew you were gay, but WHY did you have to come out with it?" Oh, how I related to that story. 

In so many areas of ALL Christians lives, except for those capable of the super-spiritual veneer, we choose...Don't ask, Don't tell.

How did she vote? Don't ask.

How's their marriage? Don't ask.

Are they okay? Well, they're in church every Sunday, so they must be okay. Besides, they're good tithers. Don't ask, then they won't tell and all can go on as usual.

Enough. Oh, dear God. Show us the way out of these veneers.

And forgive us for holding up "the homosexuals" as the ones to scrutinize over ourselves.

 

 

 

WHAT Am I DOing?

I have no idea. Do you?

Who of us does? Here's a small moment of honesty. I have to try every day to shake thinking about people and life, especially myself, in black-and-white terms. It's like a knee-jerk reaction. Maybe it's the way I was raised. Maybe it's in my Puritan genes. MAYbe there's a need in this world for it and I haven't figured out where to put this "gift".

The reason I bring this up is because I want to write from my gut about what I am REALLY doing. But I worry about the language; it's need to be softened, to not sound angry. 

I'm not angry, I'm determined. But towards what?

I am determined to lose the weight I added in the last 5 years. My goal is to lose 30 pounds and be at the most 140 18 months later. It's only been one month and I've lost 10. But I've never had to lose weight before, so I have no idea if it will work. All the judgments float around my head...I won't bore you and list them all out, but I hear them. Loudly. The "bottom" line? I am aging. I will never be an athlete. But I can choose to not let appetites rule me. This has been a new norm for me for the first time ever in the last five years. In that, I am determined to change and lose the weight in the meantime.

This is HUGE! No pun intended. I live among rural women. They are one of two things, for the most part. Hard-working, as in the dirt with farm animals and homesteading, or they give up on their appearance after a certain age. We, which is a gift, don't have to compete as older women with city fashion for our day to day lives. But here's the problem. I LIKE to look good. In a non-athletic sort of way. I put on sunscreen every day. I think about the colors I wear. I like to wear makeup if I feel like there's a reason. But as a 45-year old, I have to also think about the weight I'm putting on. I never had to think about it before 40. After 40, I let crises call me to crave. This cannot continue, especially as I...oh, god...enter menopause.

I CAN'T believe I just wrote that word on my blog. My mother's New England sensibilities would have me whisper it. But can I just say that entering that potential time of life with a daughter who hasn't even yet begun womanhood is terrifying?

Did I just write THAT?

Here's the real deal. To watch one's daughter blossom into all the yumminess of young adulthood when my last remnants are fading away is just hard. Her dad can barely take his heart off of her. In all the best ways. She has energy, vitality, youthfulness. It's a part of adolescence that I skipped, that didn't feel noticed or celebrated. 

And the emotions to navigate these years of teens continue towards me like waves. I am a surfer. I catch some and ride well, but more often fear drowning. I can't give up the hope of the potential moment of perfect balance, so I keep trying to surf.

Here's what I'm doing. I have a new job. I make a miniscule amount of money. But since I have miniscule experience, it's not that surprising. I have spent the money long before it shows up in the bank. I have three teens, two dogs, and one husband I (can struggle to) enjoy. We celebrate 21 years tomorrow. He is my rock. But the mystery has been far surpassed by parenthood and a shared bathroom. We are united. And we are the parents children would say about, "They...what??? I can't imagine..." My point is...aging is just hard for me. I want the romance, mystery, unpredictability, and drama. But not at the cost of starting over. Not at the cost of breaking the hearts of the three children or the heart of the man I made them with. Step-by-step.

Step-by-step, I am faithful. Step-by-step, I start back to the workforce. Step-by-step, I watch these children I have nurtured SO diligently come of age and not know what life with them will look like. Step-by-step, I work to be okay with that. Step-by-step I imagine dreams beyond a happy family. Step-by-step, I commit to losing that 30 pounds. Step-by-step I STILL wonder if I will ever make a bigger difference in this world, while being faithful to the "little" opportunities that show up in my daily path. 

Step-by-step, I ask what God I still believe in. 

Is it the God of my children's youth group whose number one goal is purity and discipline? (No.) Is it the God I grew up with who attended church and practiced the sacraments weekly? (Still deciding, but hanging on by a thread.)  Is it the God who never seemed to grab my husband of 21-years heart? (A complete mystery.) I've pretty much decided it's not the god of my fundamentalist/Puritanism/Pentecostal, "He requires all/I surrender all" background. But if I REALLY give up attendance, the liturgy, TITHING...what the "HELL" will happen to those I love, including myself?

WHAT am I DOing? I am working now. I am raising three teens, albeit without formulas after many years of formulaic attempts. I am nurturing friendships, including with my man of 21 years. I am working for a paycheck and the people's whose eyes I look into every day, answering an unpredictable phone and being open to whomever walks into our office. I am committed to caring for and loving my newly beloved co-workers. 

And I continue to ask what my role might be as a writer and creative.

What are YOU doing?

Are you finding it as challenging as me?

I still want an online presence. I still "should" write a book. I still wish I had some incredible idea that would catapult me to something beyond ordinary living in a small town which would mean a strong speaking schedule. But in my culture/church, maybe that I've never gotten that far is because of my gender, not my talent. Lord, have mercy. 

Part of what I'm doing is still deciding: What is true, even though my immediate nature wants to say, I KNOW!

You?