Saturday, June 28, 2014

Confessions of a Closeted Christian

When I was little, my family paid lip service to the Mormon Church. I say it that way because, with the exception of a couple of hazy memories attending services and a few memories of attending primary (like Sunday school) after school, I don’t remember any of my family participating in church activities. We certainly didn’t talk about God. We didn’t say grace before supper. None of that.

I was, I think, seven when my mom, having grown disillusioned with the Mormon faith – one she’d never found particularly comfortable but converted so that her marriage to my father could be sealed in the Temple in Salt Lake City –  returned to the church of her upbringing, the Episcopal Church. Eventually she began to take me with her.

I liked the Episcopal Church. The church itself was quite beautiful and I liked the ritual of mass, the call and response, the peace offering, the communion music, the donuts after. I was baptized one Sunday a few months after I started attending. It wasn’t a full immersion baptism, just a simple dousing of the forehead.

After a while though, I stopped going. I have no recollection why.

These were turbulent years. My parents grew colder toward one another. There was abuse. There was neglect. Our house was a cacophony of noise – my brother’s rock band rehearsing in the basement, my mom practicing the piano in the living room, my sisters’ battling stereos, my father’s TV turned up loud. All of it to keep all of us separated and to drown each other out.

One day, when I was about 12, the Mormon missionaries came to our door. I was alone but I understood who they were. I let them in. And, before I knew it, I had agreed to let them give me lessons. They were nice. I was lonely and sad. I didn’t want to go back to the Mormon Church but I didn’t want to disappoint the Elders. So they gave me the lessons – I don’t actually remember them – and then one of them baptized me…this time fully immersed wearing a white, ill-fitting jumpsuit. After that, my attendance at church was spotty at best. I didn’t last long.

In junior high, I met a really nice family – I went to school with both son and daughter – and they took me under their wing. They were very religious and dutifully attended their Pentecostal church every Sunday and every Wednesday evening for Bible study and youth group. I began to join them. They gave me my own Bible with my name embossed into the imitation leather cover.

By then I knew I was searching for God. I needed help. I needed to understand why things were the way they were. I was becoming bitter, angry, depressed. I had hope that I would find God there. But I didn’t. In fact, it was when I came home from that youth group one night that I received the worst beating of my life. After, I stayed the night across the street at a neighbor’s and cried myself to sleep.

I didn’t go back.

In high school, I returned a few times to the Episcopal Church. I went to youth convention two years in a row even. I sang in the choir some. But the kids I’d known the first time around had formed a tight-knit group and I felt like an outsider. Shortly after my second convention, filled with despair and self-loathing, I tried to commit suicide.

It was a serious attempt. I overdosed on Tylenol and, by the time I was discovered, the medication was already in my bloodstream. I was flown by helicopter to Denver where I was admitted to the ICU. I stayed there four days and then another seven weeks downstairs in the locked psychiatric unit.

I have never felt so alone.

When I emerged, I had no friends. Thankfully, my first day back to school, my new Biology lab partner, Beas, persisted in convincing me she wanted to be my friend until I relented. She introduced me to many more people who became my friends. Things were looking up.

But, after that, I didn’t believe in God anymore.

I didn’t know what to believe so I said I was agnostic but I believed that if God existed, he wasn’t interested in me.

And it’s been like that ever since…

Until now.

The start of 2014 wasn’t so hot. I can’t really get into details because the story largely isn’t mine to tell but the events as they unfolded impacted me deeply. I was a wreck. Even though I’d suffered from anxiety for years, the anxiety was so bad I finally sought help from my doctor. I went back to therapy for a while. I started to feel a bit better.

But I was also feeling really lost.

And then, starting in early April, things began to happen. Synchronicities. Nothing earth shattering. Just…a lot of little things. Mostly people I admire, respect, and love talking about God, about believing in God, about faith and grace.

When a former volunteer stopped in my office at work one day to say hello – I hadn’t seen her in years and almost didn’t recognize her – and told me she’d been volunteering a lot through her church and then looked at me and said, “God is good, Jane. I don’t know why I’m telling you that. There are certainly people in this building I wouldn’t say that to. But I’m saying it to you. God is so good,” I was dumbfounded.

I talked it over with a friend, a Christian. I told him what I wrote above – about how I’d searched for God and he didn’t answer so I gave up. He said, “How do you know he didn’t answer? Tell me, what happened after your suicide attempt? What happened when you came home?”

I met Beas.

That may not mean much to you, Dear Reader, but that one thing – meeting that one 15-year-old girl – changed my life forever. Most of my friends now have never met Jen. But 2/3 of my friend list (roughly 200 people) on Facebook is no more than four degrees of separation from her.

How is that, you ask?

Let’s take Acr0nym as an example. Acr0nym has never met Jen, doesn’t know anything about her. But! I was introduced to Acr0nym by Peej who dated Owen who was married to (and divorced from) Dayna who was introduced to me by Beas. She introduced me to some of my most beloved friends I still have today – Brad, Dayna, Spethman, Nykki, and still others. That is an awful lot of a lifetime of love.

Pretty crazy.

So my friend, when I told him about meeting Beas, said, “You don’t have to do it and you certainly don’t have to do it now but maybe, at some point, you might try talking to God?”

So I did. Not that night and not for a few days. But I did.

Turns out, I do believe in God. I do believe in Christ. I do believe Jesus died for our sins. I think I’ve believed all along but didn’t want to admit it.

So I’m confessing it now.

And trust me, I know what some of you are thinking. And it’s because of what I know some of you are thinking that makes this particularly difficult to write. I’m prepared to lose a few Facebook friends over this.

But I also know that people who love me and know me best know this doesn’t turn me into someone you don’t know and can’t stand. I’m still me.

Now I’m just out and proud.

God is good.




Saturday, May 10, 2014

Listening

Have you ever found yourself struggling - angsty, sad, frustrated, uncomfortable - with a situation or someone in your life...over a few days, a few weeks, longer...and, all of a sudden you start to realize you're receiving the answer to resolving that angst from multiple sources without solicitation and without context to your own internal struggle?

Over the last couple of months, I've been wrestling with an old demon. Crying, screaming, pushing at it to go away to make room in my life and in my heart for what I want. 

It wasn't working. It never does. That war's been waging for many years and every battle ends the same. And you'd think I would have learned that lesson by now, learned that resistance is futile, learned that fighting against it would only lead to frustration and tears. Alas, it is a lesson I learn and re-learn and then re-learn again.

About a month ago, the messages started coming to me. Luckily, I was paying attention.

First, it was Anne Lamott who, on the last day of her 50's, posted this, in part, to her Facebook page:

"Mentally, the same old character defects resurface again and again. I thought I'd be all well by now. Maybe I'm 40% better, calmer, less reactive than I used to be, but the victimized self-righteousness remains strong, and my default response to most problems is still to try and figure out who to blame; whose fault it is, and how to correct his or her behavior, so I can be more comfortable."

Then, a week or so later, on the same day, April 16, I received two other zen stick taps.

Glennon Doyle Melton, also known as Momastery, wrote a little blog post called Life is Freaking Brutiful. In it, she said:

"I’m trying not to judge my own life by the world’s standards because my suspicion is that often – our bad is God’s good and our good is God’s bad. The last are first and the first are last. When we start seeing clearly- we learn that it’s always opposite day. In my life- the brutal ALWAYS transforms into the beautiful.  And so after thirty eight years I have learned this about what life is offering me: IF IT’S EASY AND SHINY- BEWARE. IF IT STINGS A LITTLE – SIT TIGHT, GET CURIOUS, AND THEN LEAN IN." 

Later that night, my brother, Franny, posted a link to a video of him speaking as the featured guest on a webcast about the distinction between a gift and a talent. Among many things, he said:

"My talent wasn't my gift at all."
"The talent you have is the means to getting your gift out into the world."
"I didn't think it was anything all that special. It was something that just came so naturally to me I didn't even really pay attention to it."
"My gift is only limited by my creativity."

I knew then, even though I asked him to define it for me and he told me no, that I'd know it and name it myself, what my gift was. Healer

But it needed something more than just that...just Healer.

And then, right after that, I found myself re-watching Brené Brown's TED Talks on Vulnerability and Shame.

Finally, I met up with Vigo last week. During our five-hour long conversation he said something along the lines of "Open your heart, ask the question, then listen." I said I would consider it.

Wednesday night just past, I found myself responding, for the umpteenth time in the last couple of months, to the call to battle - the panicky fear, sadness, angst, discomfort. An old friend talked me down mostly so I could sleep.

But it wasn't until Thursday into last night that I was able to make all the connections and draw the conclusion and understand fully.

It is when I resist The Knowing that I am uncomfortable. No one else's behavior needs to be adjusted. My own thoughts are what drives my discomfort. If I am uncomfortable, I need to get curious, lean in, and remember my gift...that gift that comes naturally. My gift of being a Vulnerable Healer. 

I opened my heart. I asked the question. I listened.

I'm think I'm beginning to understand.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Virtual Friends, Meatspace Strangers

In high school, most of nearly every girl's time is either spent thinking about, talking about, or scheming up ways to best subtly approach boys.

I was no exception.

Well...except that I never could work up the courage to subtly approach anyone resembling a boy and, instead, used the not so successful tactic of pining away silently and hoping the object of my affection would notice.
 
It shouldn't surprise you then to learn my first serious boyfriend didn't come along until the year after I left high school.

But this story isn't about that first boyfriend.

There was a boy I liked - let's call him The Honorable Lord Vigo, Scourge of Carpathia and Sorrow of Moldavia1 - Vigo for short. I really only saw him a handful of times. We didn't attend the same school. Hell! By the time I met him, I lived in another town. So it wasn't one of those angsty, heart-wrenching, watching-him-lean-on-his-locker-and-slowly-dying-inside-day-after-day sort of crushes. It was simply one of those crushes where, from the moment I met him, I just really liked being near him. It felt good to be near him. He was adorable and funny. So, whenever I was in his town visiting, I was always super happy when our paths crossed.

Me, of course, being the shy, tongue-tied, type didn't ever hope to make an impression. If I recall correctly, I may have said all of 10 words to him during that time and likely they were monosyllabic. And, as one-by-one my closest friends from that town - Beasley, Brad, Nykki - moved up and out of it, I didn't see Vigo again...Not for nearly 25 years.

Eventually, the crush floated away on the winds of Wyoming as it blew in other boys who would become men.

Still...every once in awhile, I'd wonder what happened to him.

I would, rarely, get updates through the Beasley-Brad-Nykki vine. Eventually, they too lost touch with him. For many years there was nothing.

And then? Facebook happened. I think it was Brad's 40th birthday party invitation when I became aware of Vigo's online existence and knew he was physically present here, in Denver. He had a new last name and only recent pictures but it couldn't possibly be anyone but him. It was him. That was in 2010.

You have to understand...I wanted to send him a friend request back then. I really did! But! There are many people who date back from that time in my life - people I thought quite highly of - who, I fear, wouldn't even remember me. It was a time in my life I spent mostly in the corner, smoking, writing bad poetry, fearing rejection, deflecting attention. I didn't want anyone to see me...except that I really did...unless I knew they would like me. I was convinced no one actually liked me...except Beasley, Brad, Nykki.

Finally, at Beasley's insistence, near my birthday in 2013, I sent Vigo a friend request. It was weird. I felt weird. But he accepted right away.

Turns out? He did remember me.

Turns out? I intimidated him back then.

I blame it on resting bitch face.

Still got it.

And the fact that, since I couldn't actually formulate full sentences in the presence of testosterone then, I likely just grunted and growled and, occasionally, squeaked which probably made me seem a little whacko.

Anyway!

He accepted my friend request. Subsequently, I learned more about him and the man he's become through Facebook than I ever knew about the boy he was then.

But, even though he was here, in Denver, my adopted city, we weren't compelled to hang out until last week. We'd exchanged a few private messages prior to last week. Mostly about my dad, last summer, when I was looking for an elder care facility for him...something Vigo knows a lot about.

But then, last week, I was thinking a lot about being an empath. I stumbled across an article and, in reading the comments, I developed a theory about empaths. A theory that suggested empaths, including me, feel lonely, even in the presence of fellow empaths, because, in social situations, we are so used to feeling the feels of others and giving away our energy that it's all but impossible for us to know how to receive it. I wanted to test my theory - or discuss it with a fellow empath. So I posted something about it. Asked my friends on Facebook if they identified as an empath.Vigo said yes.

That's what started it. The conversation.

I think I started it - the private conversation - after he commented that he was an empath. We talked. A lot. We shared a lot via email. Not just about being empaths. About lots of things. And then he asked me to meet him on Friday for supper.

So...Friday night, we met, for the first time since 1989.

I was nervous. I was shaking as he approached. The high school crush thing wasn't the issue. It felt as though I was meeting him for the very first time. Virtual friends, meatspace strangers. What would he think of me? Would we have anything to say? Would we argue? Would we meet each other's expectations? Would we run out of conversation before we'd reviewed the menu? Would I forget my words and resort to prehistoric grunts and growls and squeaks?
 
I worry too much.

He got to the table, I stood up, and we hugged long and hard and then we both just started laughing.

The moment we sat down, we were on.

Words, his, mine, tumbling over the top of one another. Tell me this story, that story, OMG! That really happened?!

There were tears. There was laughter. There were stories galore!

Five hours we sat there asking, answering - empath to empath - about everything under the sun. We shared secrets. I told him things I haven't shared with anyone. It was a gloriously stimulating energy exchange the likes of which are exceedingly rare in my experience.

By the time I got home, there was an e-mail from him. We talked via e-mail for a couple more hours. I was so energized, I was practically giddy. I stayed up past 3, writing for the first time in months.
 
My theory was thoroughly debunked and in the best way possible. It would also seem that whatever that exchange was cured me of the constipation of the writing kind from which I'd been suffering since January. Pretty cool, huh?
 
So...that's the story. It's better than the first serious boyfriend one anyway. Trust me.
 
Thanks, Vigo. That was rad. Let's do it again soon.
 
 
1. I asked him how he'd like to be known for this entry. That's what he selected.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Story I Would Have Told If We Hadn't Been in Church

Speaking in front of an audience and, especially, at funerals is hard. And, frankly, it never occurred to me, in my frazzled state, that there would be an opportunity to speak at John's memorial today. So, as we sat there waiting, sometimes awkwardly, as people came up to say a few words, I was frantically racking my brain for a favorite story to share and kept drawing a blank. Until just as the minister was drawing to a close and the strains of the bagpiper at the back of the sanctuary began playing the first notes of "Amazing Grace" and I completely lost whatever vestiges of composure I had, I remembered this story...which is probably for the best.

It was Thanksgiving of 2012.

I decided I wasn't up to hosting the 5th annual Grotto Thanksgiving so, instead, a few of us Denhac-ians decided we should throw a Denhac Thanksgiving potluck. Everyone was invited - open to the public - I supplied the pies. Someone else, Sidragon, I think, wiped out his entire personal stash of single malt scotch and brought it over for our delightful consumption.

Acr0nym and TC, after stuffing themselves at the obligatory family get together, packed up TC's twin girls and his and Acr0nym's dad, John, and headed down to Denhac to join in the festivities.

Well. Turns out, John had a particular liking for two things: pie and single malt scotch, to which he helped himself to plenty.

As the evening progressed, normally quiet John became the life of the party. He entertained a number of us with several hilarious stories and jokes, his bright, blue eyes (so much like Acr0nym's) twinkling. He held a captive audience and it was clear we were all enjoying ourselves very much.

Until TC and Acr0nym realized their dad was on the slippery slope toward drunk.

And the consequences sunk in. 

One of them was going to have to return their quite lit father to their feisty mother and have lots of explaining to do.

An argument ensued1.

TC: You take him home.

Acr0: No, YOU take him home. You brought him. He's your responsibility.

TC: But I have the twins and I'll have to go home and I'd rather stay here for awhile longer.

Acr0: Yes, but you're the oldest and she won't be mad at YOU.

TC: Oh she'll be plenty mad no matter who takes him home. You should take him home because you have to come back this way anyway to get home.

Acr0: But if you take him home, you'll be within a mile of your own house.

Back and forth and back and forth they went. Both afraid to take him home and both with valid-ish arguments.

Meanwhile, John headed back to the "bar" for more scotch.

Eventually, TC drew the short straw and poured his hilariously happy father into his car, much to both their chagrin.

I never did learn of the outcome of that fateful trip. If Evelyn was pissed, I never heard about it. Regardless of the consequences, it's my favorite memory of one of the kindest, generous, most gentle men I've ever known. A memory in which he shined so brightly and so happily and held us all enthrall with his tales.

Rest in peace, John. I'm sorry I never got the chance to bake a cherry pie for you, my biggest pie fan. You are already sorely missed by so many.

Love,
Jane, in my infinite wisdom


1: This is, to the best of my recollection, the actual argument. I'm sure I am grossly paraphrasing but, knowing TC and Acr0nym as I do, I can promise you it's about as accurate as an actual transcript would be.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

42

I turn 42 tomorrow.

The age all Douglas Adams fans anticipate with great excitement. The year we become the answer to life, the universe, and everything...whatever that means. We're all still looking for the ultimate question as far as I know.

And I'm celebrating it by attending the memorial service for Acr0nym's father.

He had a heart condition - his first heart attack came 25 years ago - so it's not like this was completely out of the blue. But the timing couldn't be any worse...for Acr0nym, for TC, for their mother...for me.

The last two months, I...well, there isn't much I can say about it publicly. In so many ways it isn't my story to tell. Even though I played, and continue to play, a central character in the story, it still isn't my story to tell and I am so lost for words. I am so lost period.

Lost enough to seek out therapy for the first time in 8 years.

Lost enough to beg my doctor for help in the form of as-needed anti-anxiety medication for the first time ever (which, as it turns out, I'm too damned anxious to take).

Lost enough to be worried about how many hours a day I'm sleeping...something I haven't done since I was 15, since my suicide attempt. Worried and wondering if I'm sleeping because I'm depressed and attempting to escape my reality as I did back then or sleeping because it's my body's way of trying to heal from trauma.

All the time knowing anxiety is driving the question and the answer (TAKE THE PILL ALREADY, JANE!!!).

Still...the jury is still out because anxiety doesn't trust itself.

Anxiety, like all mental illnesses, lies.

And there has been so. much. anxiety.

So much grief.

So much loss and lost.

While trying to be strong and available and proactive and ridiculous. 

I'm going to regret this in the morning.