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When we live stories we should hate

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One of the most memorable stories in the Bible for me comes from 2 Samuel 12, when Nathan, a prophet, goes to David to tell him an important story about an unjust man.

David, appalled by this man’s wickedness, swears he will punish him. That’s when Nathan finally clues him in:

“You are the man!”

The story about the evil man is about him, and what David perceived as a report of an impersonal crime committed somewhere in his kingdom reflected reality in his home, and sins in his heart.

We can read all day about racism and white supremacy and think it distant, but if we never ask how it would be possible that God might also send us prophets to reveal that we, too, are guilty, then we miss something. We are destroying ourselves.

Continue reading “When we live stories we should hate”

Not my own

Not my own

Illustration courtesy of Seth T. Hahne. Check out Seth’s graphic novel and comic review site, Good Ok Bad.

I wrote an essay for Christ and Pop Culture about how a lifelong struggle with body image and worth would never get better unless I could begin to grasp that I’m not my own.

This is out there because I thought someone might need it, and because no matter what I do, some part of this story will make it into most of my personal writings, whether or not it’s explicit.

Here is an excerpt:

“An abandoned aluminum foil container next to my sandbox provided me with my first razor when I was 4 years old. The box had been left outside after a cookout. At first, I was intrigued by its teeth. Then, after I pricked my finger, I couldn’t believe it. I was bleeding, and it didn’t hurt badly. Running my fingers across the sharp row again, I discovered I could cause and contain my own hurt. I didn’t need to cry, and no one saw me.

That incident taught me a lie that has haunted me ever since: My sadness is singular, and my body worthless.”

 

 

Dead Birds

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Over the period of one year, it seemed like I could never get away from dead birds. They were everywhere.

On the ground, two wings lay flattened in the sun, black and two feet apart—no body between. The body had been smashed, rolled over by a pitiless tire and obliterated; but the wings were left behind to create a great space separating the disembodied extremities on the hot pavement.

Continue reading “Dead Birds”

The Issue of the Blood

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I wrote the first version of this a year ago before I was keeping this blog. Not much has changed, but I wanted to share it with a new audience.

I can’t remember who said it or where I heard it first, but it was probably coming from the mouth of some macho guy who had been bested by female cunning:

“Never trust anything that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.”

And then he probably loaded his gun or peered around the corner to take a shot at somebody. I’ve looked it up and found that variations of the saying have appeared all over—even in South Park, and it has infuriated people because it proliferates misogyny.

I’ve always thought of the menstrual cycle as a sense of female strength because it means we can have this outwardly seeming injury and still survive, which is maybe what scares so many men: we can do something that they can’t. When I’ve discussed menstrual cycles with men, when they are comfortable enough, they ask, “But does it hurt?” And these are men who like slashers and some who have even gone to war and seen plenty of bloodshed that definitely hurt. Yet, they are still disgusted and at best, a bit mystified. Yet it’s a wonder that people can find female bleeding so shocking when it’s one of the most normal and necessary processes on the planet.

Perhaps it is that it is more common for female genitalia to be considered useful for providing sexual gratification, and rarely a passageway to the womb, where all life begins. Continue reading “The Issue of the Blood”

At the Snack Machine, II

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Explaining to my husband how I had seen God wasn’t too difficult.  He’s open-minded and at that time, he was already used to my frequent, fleeting intimacies with strangers.

“She told me I needed to spend more time with God,” I added.

“Well, she’s probably right.”

And of course she was right, even though she didn’t know all the grief I carried with me or that I had been spending most of my long drives to work and class crying and screaming when I was sure the closest car was out of sight.

After she had left and the front desk paged me to tell me that I owed $700 that I didn’t have, I laughed and rolled my eyes, telling God that if He wanted to send me a check along with that half-crazy Pentecostal Christian, I’d really appreciate it. Better yet, God, why don’t you just let the murderer pay for my new timing belt, and then I’ll have something to write home about—something readymade for the inspirational aisle of Wal-Mart.

When I walked up to the sliding glass window, I was somewhat surprised that my balance wasn’t paid and even more surprised when their credit card machine rejected my check card. I had to call my husband to dictate our nearly maxed-out credit card number over the phone.

God, I imagine, has a low tolerance for sarcasm—particularly my brand of dry cynicism. Although I’ve always imagined the great I Am as having a rather outrageous sense of humor, I still don’t see smart aleck one-offs as a favored form of levity in the celestial realm.

In sending my last fairy godmother, He was being rather direct with me. The two other strangers had affirmed the value of my body and my style when I doubted myself, but Christ, through this woman, had publicly declared the worth of my soul when I had come to doubt its maker.

During our conversation, she quoted the King James Version of 1 Peter 2:9 to me, and the word peculiar struck me. Most other versions reference our belonging to Him, and though they may be more authoritative translations, peculiar suits those moments when the knowledge of the Spirit passes from one body into another so that we may pass from darkness into light once, and then, again.

My Last Fairy Godmother, At the Snack Machine

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Holy things and folk tales favor threes, but I can’t be so tidy by writing about having three fairy godmothers. The third candidate transcends the title, because for me, she acted as neither fairy nor mother: she was more like God, and I met her in the lobby of a car repair shop in Waco, Texas.

A year had passed since I had met the woman in the grocery store. Since then, I’d gotten married and moved an hour away from the school I was attending in order to split the traveling distance with my husband, who was also in graduate school at a university an hour north of where we lived. I told myself that we were decadently poor because we were electing to pursue post-baccalaureate degrees when we were certainly qualified for jobs that would earn us as much money as we make now. We were choosing this. Even though I knew this, that didn’t comfort me when I was cursing and grinding newly hatched roaches that climbed up through the cracks of our kitchen table leaves with my bare fist. If I hadn’t been staying late nights on campus to tutor Japanese businessmen in English just so I’d have enough gas money to make it home, I might not have been able to drop into bed too tired to care about whether or not that something tickling my leg was merely my husband’s long leg hair, or if it were one of the thousands of cucarachas that overran our apartment.

Between us, my husband and I were driving almost a thousand miles a week. To cut costs, we couch surfed in the homes of gracious friends several nights a week through our first year of marriage. We’d pack a couple days’ worth of food, our backpacks for school, and our duffel bags, kiss (or not kiss, depending on how things were going), and say our goodbyes. Despite our efforts to save money, our cars suffered and required more maintenance than we could afford. Only a couple weeks into this schedule, my car broke down while I was at school and I had to stay a couple extra days until I could pick it up from the shop and drive home for the weekend.

As I was thumbing through some women’s magazine in the waiting room of the repair shop, a petite woman walked in with an already-open snack-size bag of Cheetos and a Big Texas Cinnamon Roll in one hand, and a perspiring can of Hawaiian Punch in the other. She selected a seat catty-corner to mine. She set down the punch and Cheetos and tore into the cinnamon roll.

I eyed the snacks, covetous and judgmental, wishing I could taste the sweet, sticky plastic gum of that obnoxious honey bun, or the salty Styrofoam taste of Cheetos—neither item I would ever allow myself to buy.

She caught me.

Seeing more skinny-girl censure than hungerlust in my stares, she said, “You’ve got a cute little figure. I let mine go a long time ago.”

Although I knew I had been judging her junk food, I was truly hungry that day.

“Actually, I was just looking at your food. It looks really good.”

I told her that I commuted a lot and always ran out of food before I could get home because I ate everything I packed and I didn’t want to buy anything. That day, I’d had a brick of ramen, a handful of nuts, and some wrinkled fruit.

“Do you want something?”

Feeling embarrassed, I told her no, and we moved on to talk about Texas heat in July, her concerns for her young daughter, school, and my being a newlywed.

Suddenly, she left the room without excusing herself.

While she was gone, I thought about how her eyes shone a strange celeste, beyond the usual borders of the iris. I couldn’t think of it long, because she returned with another Big Texas bun in her hand.

She held it out to me:

“Take it. Get it away from me.”

If I could have laughed, I would have; but I cried. When I couldn’t stop sobbing, the quiet elderly woman who had been impassively glancing through a stack of Woman’s Day magazines exited the room.

At last I could talk between hiccups and gasps, and I asked her if she’d ever had one of those days that are just so bad that you can’t explain them.

She nodded.

“Well, you just made my day so good that I can’t explain that either.”

“Honey, we all need those days. There’s someone watching out for you.”

She pointed up.

I kept crying and shaking my head in that car care center lobby as I unwrapped the gift and began to eat.

We continued to talk, and she wanted to know if I knew Christ, and if it were personal. I was glad to tell her that I did.

When she believed me, she told me that one day when she was taking a walk, God showed her that His creation was beautiful. She noticed this little purple flower along the sidewalk that was so intricate. She said she’d never thought about how we unknowingly trample ones just like this, never realizing how complex and delicate they are.

“It’s strange, though,” I said. “It’s so much easier to realize when we do that to nature than when we do that to people—and that’s really messed up. It’s much, much harder to forgive.”

Her face changed and she quit talking. I swallowed the last bit of the bun and waited.

After a significant pause, she shared with me that she’d been to prison for 18 years for being an accessory to murder in a gang-related setup.

I didn’t know what to say, and she didn’t wait for me to figure it out, either.

She looked at me directly and told me that I was the daughter of the Living God, and that I might need to spend some more time with Him.

“You,” she said, “are a part of a very peculiar people. Don’t forget that.”

I’m sure I told her I knew that. She told me her name and just when she was giving me her number, the mechanic paged her to let her know that her truck was ready.

We parted, and when I was driving home, I called my husband.

“I saw God today.”
“What?”

“I said, I saw God.”

“You mean you saw someone who reminded you of God?”

“No. I said I saw God. And she said she’d murdered somebody.”

“Okay. You’re going to have to explain this.”

To Be Continued…

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