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No filter...

I've been addicted to Spotify lately, and yes, I'm one of those who pays just so I can avoid the ads and interruptions. Mostly, I've been listening to radio stations based on some of my favorite songs. This morning, on my way to campus, one of my favorite artists, Audra McDonald, showed up with a song by John Mayer called "My Stupid Mouth." I fell in love with her all over again, not simply because of the amazing tamber in her voice, but also because the song puts perfectly to words how I feel most every day of my life.

My stupid mouth has got me in trouble. I said too much again...

Yup. That's me. I don't care what the situation is — somewhere along the way, my filter died, disintegrated, and was destroyed. I can be in a meeting, a class, heck, even at church, and all of a sudden, out of the blue, something that was in my mind for only a nanosecond finds its way across my vocal cords, over my tongue, and out of my mouth. I get this look on my face that evinces my thoughts far too vulnerably: Oh shit, did I really just say that?!?! Dammit!!!

The impact of this reality has a far reach. I get paranoid. I'm worried that I've offended someone. I feel the glare of someone around me, and I retreat into my own little world, putting a piece of invisible duct tape over my mouth. I glance around, hoping to not catch the eye of someone who heard my unfiltered voice, scared of how they might look at me for being such an idiot.

Most of the time, I never see anyone else looking at me. Once in awhile, I'll catch someone's stare, but it's not an unfriendly one. Instead, it's a smile. It's an affirmation that what I just said really was funny or brilliant or thoughtful. I really didn't have anything to be ashamed of or feel guilty about. I'm not as dumb or thoughtless as I made myself feel or thought myself to be. In fact, I'm not even alone. Others have told me of their similar feelings.

Apparently, feeling as if one's voice isn't significant is not as uncommon as I once thought. We all struggle with communicating in ways that are both authentic to who we really are and sensitive to the perspectives of others. Worse, we don't know how to let others know that, even if we disagree with them, their opinions, feelings, and thoughts are more than valid. They're sacred. They're something to be honored and respected. If our thoughts are part of who we are, and if we as individuals have intrinsic value and worth, then the words we speak share in that worth. It's not easy for us to believe, and therefore, it's not easy for us to convey that reality to others, espeically when we're offended or annoyed by what they have to say. But if we're treat others the way we want to be treated, if we're to love others as ourselves, then we need to honor them as often as possible.

It's good to know that, even in those times when I have no filter, even when I feel that it doesn't, my voice matters...

Perspective...

Over the past few years, I've learned something really intriguing. For many of us, we learn who we are through the eyes and words of others. Some of us are able to develop a sense of self in a mostly independent fashion. The rest of us need a little bit of help. Unfortunately, our own brokenness often keeps us from seeing others as they truly are, especially those part of them that we might envy or feel missing within ourselves. When someone else's wholeness makes us more aware of our own lack of wholeness, we have a tendency to put on blinders.

I strongly believe that every single person suffers from some level of brokenness, but I also strongly believe that every person is capable of wholeness. Even more importantly, I think we all carry a piece of the Divine within us... a God-mark. I've been blessed to have a number of people in my life who could see that God-mark within me and told me so, most often during times where I was really struggling to see it in myself. When I can't see it in myself, it's often harder to see in others. In fact, when I don't feel it myself, I tend to project my lack of self-worth onto those around me. Thankfully, over time, I've learned to become more cognizant of this tendency and become more able to stop it mid-process.

Being in seminary, something about the environment tends to bring the depths of our brokenness out. It takes a lot to endure having your beliefs and presuppositions deconstructed and torn down. Sometimes, it gets the better of you. Now in my third year, I've witnessed a good amount of frustration in myself and in my peers during this journey of deconstruction. Often, it ends up getting directed at others (I do this as well... I'm not placing blame). The stress of being transformed turns us into something other than who we are... something angry, violent, judgmental... something weary, worn-out, burdened...

The biggest danger we face is a lack of self-awareness... a lack of perspective. When in a place that's strange and unfamiliar, we can't see who we are, and by proxy, we can't really see who others are. It's like being in a funhouse, full of mirrors that distort us and make us feel discombobulated. We have to be careful... we have to know that we're all on this journey together, and that we still all have that divine breath inside us. Everyone feels shattered from time to time. We can't take that out on others, especially those who seem more whole to us. When we speak to each other, we need to do so in love. When we make another person aware of a way in which they are manifesting brokenness, we need to do so gently, with compassion and understanding... even when we don't want to. Let's face it... one reality of being human is that we don't always like everyone we meet (for various reasons). But we are called to love them... a call that is not always easy.

Imagine what the world would look like if we engaged with others from a place of love and a presupposition of worth. Imagine if we put our whole selves out on the table, and in kind we respected and valued when others do the same instead of attacking their vulnerability because we're fearful of our own. Imagine being able to trust the ways others perceive us because we trust their love for us. Imagine telling others of the wholeness we see in them... both a wholeness already present, and a wholeness prophetically spoken into existence by the hope we carry within us. Imagine being a part of making someone else whole... of making everyone else whole...

How's that for a change of perspective...

Holiday...

I didn't think Thursday would bother me. I hadn't spent Thanksgiving away from Chicago in a number of years. I'd usually stay here and either spend it alone, with Frankie's family, or with friends. I was wrong... By Wednesday night, it had hit me. I wouldn't be calling Nanny on Thursday. I wouldn't have a chance to talk with her about our plans. I wouldn't be able to ask about recipes, about her plans with Gene, Aunt Pansy, or anyone else.

It's almost been 6 months. Some days, I find myself smiling and laughing. Other days are filled with rage and heartache. Still, more days are filled with numbness, emptiness. I never know what each day will bring, much less each moment.

I don't have a lot to write tonight. I know it's been awhile since I put anything down in writing. Part of that is the busyness of the semester. The rest is simply not knowing what to say. I'm preaching twice in the next month and a half, and I have no idea what my words will be. I'd rather just spend my downtime watching movies and sleeping, but alas, I don't have the option.

I'll write more later. For now, it's time to sleep...

Numb...

I miss her, desperately. It's one of those lazy Saturday mornings where I would make a cup of coffee, lay down on the couch, and just call her. I miss her laughter, hearing the smile in her voice. I regret not calling her one last time that Thursday before the accident - that's the hardest part for me, knowing that I missed that opportunity. I still find myself having moments of denial, of thinking that it didn't happen, that she's not really gone, and then reality hits. I have clear moments of anger, of feeling that life somehow betrayed me. I just want to scream most days - run away to the middle of nowhere and let out some carnal yell from deep within that evinces the level of pain that I feel. I have anger because my mom keeps asking if I'm going to pay my portion of the costs, making me feel insignificant and unwanted, as if, now that Nanny's gone, she can show how she really feels.

As many people as I know love me, none of it compares to the love she had for me. The void that's present from losing her is vast, immeasurable. Even my writing feels less coherent, less organized. Maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe it forces me to let it all out without worrying about how it sounds, how readable it is.

Most days I feel nothing, all my physical and emotional senses numbed. My appetite has decreased, my energy levels are down. I hit depressive lows more frequently, fighting off ideations of taking my own life. I just want to be with her again, to not feel isolated, left out, ignored. She made me feel special, important, like no one else ever did. And now the tears come... Looks like the floodgate is opening...

Buried...

I don't know how to grieve. Right now, numb is mostly all I feel. I have a hard time crying, eating, sleeping without medication, accepting affection. Every touch, every hug simply reminds me that I won't feel my arms wrapped around her again. My relationship with her was more intimate than any grandson could ever hope for. The sacrifices she made for me. The pride she took in the man I've become. The numerous affirmations she gave me, reminding me of her love for me on a regular basis, in a way that no one else could do. I went into therapy on Monday with Blake, and unlike most sessions, I had no idea where to start or what to say. All who know me well know that speechless is a rare face for me. Yet in every encounter in the last week and a half, when asked how I'm doing, I can't help but want to say just how shitty I feel right now. And I'm having to learn to stop assuming that everyone knows or should know what's happened simply because I spill my entire life out on Facebook.

More later...

Internalized...

I feel like I'm becoming not enough, as if I'm no longer adequate to meet his needs. Maybe this is my typical cycle of self-sabotage coming to fruition, as it always does, only later than usual in the circle of things. I want to cry, to scream, to yell, to hit, flailing my arms in protest only to realize I'm encased in a straight-jacket with the keys to my bindings flushed down the toilet. I feel the all too familiar stinging in my wrists wishing for release of the blood flowing within me. I notice the ever-present thought of wondering what I could do to keep him within my grasp, yet this time, I don't feel the desire to actually do anything except walk away. To return to living alone in perpetual solitude, becoming married to my work as so many others have done before me. I want to run off into the woods, hiding under the safety net of the trees, encapsulated by the silence surrounding me. So far away that the only audience to my cries of despair would be the Creator. I feel a heaviness in my chest, not caused by the literal virus within me, but rather the emotional parasite of codependency, wanting me to rely on him for my worth, for the purpose of my existence. I fight against it this time, defending my autonomy. I will not fight for the love of anyone. If I am unwanted by humanity, then I must cling all the more to the desire which the Divine has for me, realizing and accepting that that relationship is the only one which will ever truly be eternal. I'm still scared though. Terrified of the possibility of returning to being on my own. I feel the internal tears well up, begging for release, for catharsis. I sense the heat in my chest and my forehead indicating the emotional eruption that wants to take place. I feel the tremor in my wrists as I put words into reality, giving them life and purpose. I'm wary of sharing this with anyone lest they pity me, in which case I would feel the manipulator rather than the comforted. I want to reach into my psych and wrench it free from any sort of brokenness or inadequacy which seeks to destroy me. For now though, my cracks are gaping, irreparable. I must embrace them and learn to love myself in spite of them, maybe even because of them, rather than trying to staple them close. Some wounds are unhealable by human hands... only the One can seal them shut. I can only hope and pray that She decides to do that soon... my own strength fails me.

Giving voice to the fear...

It's Easter Sunday, probably one of the most joy-filled days in the Christian calendar. After forty days of wandering and a grief-stricken weekend mourning for the loss of the Son, we find ourselves woken up at dawn with the news that even death doesn't have the final word. Christ lived up to His promise and hope is made manifest... Yet today, despite an amazing service at HC, I don't feel it. Instead, I feel the weight of the world (okay, so that might be somewhat melodramatic, but just bear with me) on my shoulders, on my heart. Once I made it home this afternoon, I found myself simply wanting to cry, to mourn, to lament. Seeing an old friend from home struggle with depression hits me hard. Throw in a random stranger from my closest online community who is feeling suicidal and another interaction with a queer person at HC who had questions about possibly pursuing ministry and it's no wonder that my heart feels weighted down.

Trying one song after another to catalyze a catharsis, I'm still left sitting here with knots in my stomach and tears which won't surface. I'm faced with the neverending question of just how deep my courage runs. Just how deep is the well from which I'm called to pour into others' hearts and souls. Simple answer: I don't know. Right now, it seems incredibly deep but pushing on empty. The challenge with needing to be poured into and invested in is that it means making oneself vulnerable and trusting. When you're already feeling the pain of your own brokenness, you can't help but feel like anything that gets poured into you will either ferment and go rancid, or simply leak out of the cracks.

It's difficult for me to interact with and encounter someone else struggling with depression, especially in a suicidal form, and not take on their pain. Boundaries, you see, are not, nore have they ever really been my strong suit. Try as I might to throw up a shield, some level of their suffering still gets soaked into my psyche. Sure it eases their pain, if only slightly, but it means that I must work harder to tend to my own and see it redeemed and mended.

So on this Easter evening, I can only stop to think about the pain of the Savior, wondering if He suffered some post-traumatic stress after His own ordeal. Questioning how He was able to face the reality of his own humanity, albeit entangled in a web of divinity. All I'm left with are a few short books and my own honest prayers. For now, those will have to suffice...

Drip


Drip
Originally uploaded by UndecidedMike

On the first Saturday I'd had free in over a month, I originally planned to stay at home and rest. Seeing how gorgeous the day was, I changed my mind. I wanted to go out and take some more pictures, partially because I anticipated the arrival of my new lens.

I headed down to Millennium park, and went first for the Bean. Moving south, I ended up at the Crown Fountain. Anyone who knows me knows that I adore kids, like no one's business. And seeing kids play in water is almost other-worldly. I might not have kids of my own, but I can still appreciate the joy that parents feel when they see their own having fun and enjoying life.

Well this little guy is runnin around, in and out, back and forth between the promenade and under the waterfall. At one point, he comes out of the stream, and rather than just running his hands through his hair to get the water out, he holds his arms and hands out in a part-frustrated, part-Godfather-esque stance and just starts shaking his head like crazy. It was awesome to see his expression and just his abandon. It definitely made my going out worthwhile.

A story...

It was the summer after my freshman year of college. I had gone back home to stay with my parents and work a job that kept me on the road and took me around the Midwest. During the first week of a three-week break that summer, my home church of 7 years was having Vacation Bible School, probably one of the highlights of my summers. In the semester before returning home, I had started blogging, most often about my struggles with my sexuality, with being gay and how to make it work in the context of my faith. I had been brutally honest, holding nothing back. On the Monday night of VBS, I came into church and immediately made myself available to help out in whatever fashion I was needed, whether it be games, food, teaching, or just running errands. I had no idea that what was about to happen would change the course of my faith life drastically.

About 45 minutes into the night, the youth director at the time, one I hadn’t known too well, asked me into his office. He proceeded to tell me that while they appreciated my willingness to help, my presence was not exactly beneficial. He expressed that in my “current state”, I put the church at risk of allegations and accusations. In doing what I thought was right, in being open and honest and authentic in my struggles, I had been made into an outcast. Since I did not have a car, he then proceeded to take me home.

We pulled into the driveway where my mom was tinkering with our riding mower. My youth pastor made some small talk, and then went on his way. Mom knew something was up, but I wasn’t quite ready to tell her. So I offered to take care of the lawn with the push mower. She followed me out back, where she finally dragged out of me what had just happened. She was livid, and went into the house to call my grandma, while I mowed the yard, tears flowing freely, stinging my eyes.

After I finished, Mom offered to take me out for ice cream, just as a treat, but probably more as a distraction. On our way home, I asked mom to stop at the church. I needed to talk this out, to make sense of everything. For the next hour and a half, two hours, eternity, I sat in a room with my mom, youth pastor, chair of the deacons, his wife, and another of my mom’s female friends, a prominent leader in the church. The group went on to berate me for putting my mom in this position, for hurting her, setting her apart, forcing her into isolation. I had been too honest, too authentic. My faith was weak, and it made me less of a Christian, less of a person. The only resolution that was reached that night was that while I was struggling, I was not to take part in any ministry roles. I was unworthy to represent Jesus to anyone. I left church that night, not to return into a body of believers for nearly 6 years.

Although my parents continue to struggle and do not yet accept my partner, I now have a church family who accepts me fully for whom I am, and for whom I love – a church that has affirmed my call into ministry and who embraces my desire for authenticity. This is hope. And I hope that someday my mother will have a church that fully supports her entire family. This is my hope, and I am thankful to know there are churches that are welcoming to my partner, my parents, and myself. My call is to make sure that all others on this path are granted this hope as well.

Just another day

December 31 2009. Another year gone by. Another time around the bend. It's been a year of progress. A year of growth. A year of change. One relationship ended, another one has begun. It was the first time I've had a grown-up job for a full year. I've quit smoking. I've found a church home, one that loves me and has welcomed me with open arms. I've embraced getting older. I don't quite know what 2010 may have to offer, but I know that I welcome it and all it has to bring. The best part of this year I think is that I started to really love myself, to realize my worth. To acknowledge that one has demons is one thing. To face them head on and tell them to piss off is entirely different. In this year, I took my demons, my faults, and looked them square in the eye. Today, the end of one thing, the beginning of another, is just another day in that process, and I welcome the challenge. I end this year and begin the next with full knowledge that I am not weak, I am not invisible, and I am not alone.