That One Time

It was a bright day and sunlight streamed through the windows in warm rays. I wished I could see the trees outside, but the only thing visible was the blue sky streaked with high wisps of cloud. The windows were elevated beyond reach and the only chairs, found primarily in the common room, were extremely heavy and padded.

I didn’t mind the windows and chairs as much as the aversion of the place towards anything with a point or edge. Everything was dull. This made eating three squares a day difficult, especially when they included things like pork chops. It’s hard to eat a pork chop with a spoon.

Life was a boring drum punctuated by frequent outbursts by those patients with a propensity for aggression. I couldn’t blame them. It’s hard to be held in a place against your will with no certainty about when you will get out.

It’s not all bad though. There’s television, coloring, classes, and rest. Plus snacks, meds, family visiting hour, and chit chat with the endlessly patient staff.

When you arrive at a psych hospital under a 5150, you strip and hand over everything. Everything.

I was given a pair of underwear, which I was extremely grateful for, and a too-tight gown. I was mercifully given an extra gown and some socks. These tided me over until my parents brought me some pants, a tee shirt, and some pajamas–nothing with straps was allowed.

I was lucky and got released from the psychiatric hospital after about two and a half days of being held. I’ve never been so grateful for my freedom.

A Clear Path

It was my doing. I had gone to the emergency room and it was there that “the hold” started. But the reason began a little while before that. I can’t remember exactly when I started feeling suicidal, but the night before that ER visit was rock bottom.

I am and will always be grateful to the three women who held and loved me that night.

Bipolar can suck, sometimes making life difficult. I had been feeling desperate and unwell for a while and was low on healthy coping skills. I wasn’t about to use unhealthy ones, and the desperation grew. I was also barely holding onto God, though He was holding onto me the whole time.

When I left the hospital I felt free but not well. Something deep inside of me was not okay. My soul was broken.

I was not thriving. Yet, I knew what I had to do. Broken and empty inside, I began to praise God. This trickle of praise led to more and more. Soon it was streaming out of me like the hot tears burning my eyes. I felt God’s presence in those moments in a very real way.

I didn’t know what I was going to as I was on the verge of losing everything. All I knew is that God wasn’t going to leave me. So, I clung to Him and started going to church again.

Roots

Soon after starting church again I began to hear about a new program–Rooted. I figured it was just another Bible study, but folks who had been through it had trouble describing it as such…they had trouble describing it at all. After a while I started to feel like it might be a good idea to join a group. I resisted for some reason though, and I didn’t sign up until the last minute.

I met my group on a Sunday night, and I remember thinking “Is this going to be another women’s group?” My ladies turned out to be amazing and we formed a bond like no other.

Through the study I learned more about who God really is and how much He loves me. I learned the importance of being a participant versus a consumer and about the heart of worship. It’s been as life changing as Celebrate Recovery, and I have an extremely high regard for that program and the people who are now part of my family as a result.

Rooted is an experience…an experiment in faith like no other. I went from being desperate and suicidal to truly LIVING with Christ. I am grateful for my parents, family, and all of the friends who have helped pull me through this tough season. You have no idea how much God has used you in my life. Most of all, I’m grateful to the Living God for His redeeming love and transformation in my life.

Here’s to the next chapter…

 

 

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It’s an overcast day in the sleepy town near the South Oregon coast where I am staying with a friend. Her home is cozy and warms my heart. I cannot be more grateful for this time and place and hostess.

Earlier this morning I worshipped and prayed, claiming victory over the strongholds in my life. I do not know what battles lie ahead, but I know who wins. Being here now, in this place so close to nature, reminds me of Him who goes before me, and it is he who makes me brave for the fight.

I’ve decided to pray for Mr. Trump more often than I have for presidents I’ve liked. It’s no secret, I don’t like that our president is our president. BUT he’s the president, and I should be praying for him.

Why?

Because our nation needs it and because he is the person, as his predecessors were, who God has placed in authority over our great nation (read Romans 13).

And let’s face it–he needs it. There are lots of things to pray for with regard to Mr. Trump: Protection for him and his family, wisdom, tact, wisdom, salvation, wisdom, compassion, wisdom…

Okay, mild tongue-in-cheek aside, we, the Church, should be praying for our leaders. We should be praying for their salvation and that God’s purposes would be fulfilled through their governance and, most of all, that God would be glorified as they execute their duties as leaders.

For those who might find it a challenge to pray for Mr. Trump: While it’s important to pray for POTUS, it’s also important to remember that praying does not mean you have to agree with the person you are praying for. Know and live your convictions. It’s okay to pray for POTUS and over policies that you feel strongly about, which may or may  not be in line with what the President would have. It’s also okay to hold the President accountable–rest assured, praying for POTUS does not excuse him from being accountable nor does it make him, or any leader, above the law and consequences. Finally, it really is true that if the president fails, no one “wins.” Think about that in your heart for a minute.

Okay, that was a tough one. Be well, My Lovelies.

 

The sojourner pulls himself along by his arms, dragging his dessicated body behind him. He leaves a trail in the parched Earth as he inches painfully along. Everything is dry and dying, even his heart is shrivelling inside his chest.

He reaches a spigot in the middle of the desert. The bones of those who came before lie scattered on the ground. The spigot, you see, has no handle.

But the Man. The Man knows.

He drags himself to the spigot, to the place where his head is just under the opening. He lies there, barely breathing. There is nothing left.

Holy, he wispers in the faintest voice. Holy. The breath is barely audible.

A single drop of water falls from the spigot and onto the Man’s cracked lips.

Holy, holy, holy. Water trickles from the spigot and enters the Man’s body as he swallows. It enters his heart and his heartbeat quickens.

Holy, holy, holy! In a loud voice he cries out and the water streams out and into the Man!

He cries louder and louder and the water spills into the Man and onto the ground and the world sees Him. Not the Man, but Him.

I am away from God. I’ve been prodigal with His riches and blessings in my life.  I am in that place, perhaps familiar to some believers, in which one wakes up one day and asks of the atmosphere “Where am I? How did I get this far away?” I’m on the far side of grace.

It starts innocently, doesn’t it? I go off to pursue some dream or idea or decision, never consulting God about them or sacrificing them to Him. But it’s a great idea or a grand dream. “Of course He would want me to pursue them. They are good dreams and good ideas.” Of course, even good things might not be okay or right for a person.

So, it begins. Something small here, something bigger there. Then I start to feel like I can run my life on my own. I stop looking to Him for my everything. In reality this lack of submission is tantamount to rejecting God and His very best for my life. It doesn’t feel that way at first. It’s a tiny but insidious decision. A mini rebellion. Motion in the wrong direction.

What I’m really saying with this mini rebellion is that I don’t trust God. I believe he’s holding something back from me. I doubt His goodness and love. It’s an age-old condition. Eve listens to the serpent who plants seeds of doubt about God in her mind. The simple act of taking a bite of fruit sends shockwaves through all of human history. Shame enters the scene…”Who told you you were naked?”

Over time a small drip of water can erode huge amounts of rocks and minerals. Over time I make less and less time for my relationship with Him. Prayers become random mutterings. Attending church and Bible studies becomes optional. Time spent in relationship becomes time wasted on petty things. I need a miracle and complete overhaul but what I ask for is cosmic duct tape instead.

The narrow road opens to a wide one and it’s easy to follow. Innocence gives way to a kind of drunkenness of the soul. Lust, envy, pride, and self-serving become my code and my way. Despite all this:”Behold I stand at the door and knock.” But the lust and envy and pride and self-serving…they are alluring. I choose them. I want them. They are my nature.

And so I lie on the floor of a cell with a door that love opened long ago. Lie in my own stink and filth here, on the far side of grace, where a loving Father still holds out His hands and opens His arms. The choice is mine, but what choice will it be…

 

My bag is packed. Dishes are put away. I have a small stash of healthy-ish treats ready to go and my big, floppy hat is perched on the chair so I won’t forget it.

I have been waiting for this vacation for months.I NEED this vacation.

Monterey calls with it’s beauty, intrigue, and even a little kitsch and I am SO ready to answer that call. Some of my most favorite things to do and see are waiting for me there: The Bay with it’s sea otters and pelicans, Asilomar, the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History, the Stanton Center Maritime and History Museum, the amazing Monterey Bay Aquarium, and even the slightly  creepy Steinbeck’s Spirit of Monterey  Wax Museum.

These amazing things are on the horizon, and I’m excited about them, but there’s this little tingle in the back of my mind that is apprehensive about the trip. Am I lonely? Not really. Afraid to travel on my own? Nah. Waiting for something bad to happen? Nope.

I’ve traveled alone plenty of times, including solo ramblings around developing countries. So, what gives? The answer is that I’ll be vacationing with a stranger…me. I’m still a kind of foreigner to myself and I don’t really know what to do with myself when I’m alone. I’ve scheduled some time in this trip to deal with that and that makes me apprehensive.

I’m not comfortable in my own skin. It’s the time alone in my hotel room that worries me. The ADHD and my mind would normally go wild, trying to find some distractor so I won’t have to talk with the stranger that is me. Not this time though. No addiction,no “others” to distract me from myself. Just me and Monterey and a fire and and pages of blank journal paper. Sure, I’ll be out and about a lot, but I’ve also reserved some one-on-one time with myself so that I can get acquainted with the person I’ve become. Let’s hope I learn to like her…

I love the crunching sound my footsteps make as my psychedelic trail shoes hit the decomposed granite of a nice trail. Sometimes the sound is deafened by leaf litter or pine litter–the deep, rich humus on a forest floor. Outcroppings of small rocks and “ankle-breakers” (gnarled roots sticking out of the trail) ensure my eyes continuously sweep back and forth between what lies ahead and what is directly in front of me. Sometimes soil fills in along one side of a would be “ankle breaker” and forms a nice, natural step.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. It’s days like this, when the sound of my footsteps mingles with birdsong and the whisper of wind through the trees or the trickle of a nearby stream, that bring healing to a place deep within my soul. It’s a medicine found nowhere else but in nature.

Sometimes I want to shout like a mad woman (and I am) about the wonders of nature and being in it. On those occasions I want everyone in the world to experience the bliss I feel when I’m hiking. I want to show and tell and help make it visceral for people. Then there are those days when I want to hide in nature, away from people and the manufactured world. Those are the days I need nature most. Those are the days I need to tell my secrets to the trees and birds and water and wild grasses. I need to feel the wind dry the tears running down my cheeks and let my large body come to terms with the exertion the mountain demands–the “good hurt.”

Thwap! On one occasion wet bunches of grass whipped against my legs while the rain pelted my jacket. My face was red and cold and my fingertips were numb and icy. I pressed on along the mushy trail at a good clip as large raindrops continued to fall. It was a perfect day for hiking, not because of the weather but because of the pain and fear that had crippled me since days before.

I needed it. My soul demanded it. So, I walked on and on until I felt the fear and loneliness well up inside me. It made my chest hurt and each breath became shorter and faster.I stopped, panting. A harbor seal was bobbing in the water while watching me, sandpipers scuttled  along the muddy shoreline on the opposite bank and egrets soared above me.The fear and loneliness lifted and I could breathe again.

Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time… I knew then that I would get up the next morning and try again. A deep breath filled my lungs and I was off again…amen.

Funny puff of sea foam rolling in from the Sea.

Big puffs, small puffs, rolling all around me.

Rush, rush, run as the waves set you free.

Turning ’round the beach, fluttering with glee.

Racing down the shoreline “Come and catch me!”

Fleeing from mother Sea as fast as can be.

Now the Wind will take you shuffling down the beach.

Getting smaller as you go, your existence dwindling.

“Oh, no! Mother Wave, come take us back to thee!”

But only the Sand answers,

“Now you belong to me.”

Listening to a combination of new country radio and Superchic[k] tonight has done fascinating things in my mind. It’s time for some more (hopefully) enlightening discourse from the Jessss-ter. Onvarts!

I’ll cut to the chase. Ladies, don’t let a man put or attempt to put his penis inside of you unless you ask yourself this question first: “Is this the kind of man and situation that I would want my own little girl to encounter someday?” You might even try “Would he want his daughter to encounter him–someone with the same sexual values–in the future?” If the answer is no, say “No” and move on. In the mean time, be the kind of woman you would want your son to be involved with someday.

Men, don’t put it into a woman’s vagina unless you ask yourself “Would I want my son to be involved with someone like this woman in the future?” If the answer is no, say “No” and move on. More importantly, if the answer is “Yes” then protect that woman and that relationship. Be the kind of man you want your daughter to be involved with some day.

If you cannot say the words “penis” and “vagina” without shame, guilt, or lust or you don’t use them in appropriate contexts (like having a mature and real conversation with friends versus screaming these words for kicks at a grocery store) then you may not be mature enough for sex. These words are not vulgar, they are biology and part of what was ultimately and originally created to be a good thing that God made. God is pleased when you have sex in appropriate contexts that He created it for. If the the thought of God being happy with you having sex just made you spasm, rock in place, or place your hands over your ears and sputter “La la la!” then you may need counseling. I am not jesting with that one.

Of course there are other parameters, like marriage and making sure this is someone you can respect and whom you love and a million other things. Those things have all been said before. I am not trying to make light of the topic or not take these things seriously, I am just trying to make a very real point. The rest will probably fall into place if you think about it. For example, looking at a man mid lust-cuddle and thinking “This dude would never want his own daughter to be in this situation or be with anyone like him” just does something to the moment. Still, it needs to be said: Be intentional about sex and when, where, with whom and in what context you have it. Sort that out now and make the decisions now. It definitely isn’t foolproof but at least you’ll have some goals in place and that makes it a lot harder to stray off the path you want for your life.

For those of us who have made mistakes, it’s time to move on. More importantly, it is never to late to start asking those questions about people we are in romantic relationship with. It’s also never too late to start being the kind of man or woman you would want your son or daughter to be with. You cannot, I repeat, cannot, do this alone. Get connected to a good accountability network, formal or not. Wherever you’re at, it’s a good starting place.

Made It! 040

On Being a (Kind-of) Girl

“So, has she blown the house up yet?” My Uncle Rey’s usual way of asking my mom how I was doing. He wasn’t asking if some baking lesson had gone wrong, he was referring to my frequent experiments with household chemistry. My mom still reminds me of these hair-greying episodes today, but with much more nostalgia and humor than in years past—she did have to start coloring her hair fairly young.

I often hear blanket statements regarding the nature of women or a “woman’s heart.” Sometimes more egalitarian authors or speakers insert the word “most” before their statements: “Most women want…” or “most women think…” or “most women feel…” Some even include statistics like “ninety percent of women…” In any case, after reading or hearing these statements I am often left wondering “but what about the rest of us?” Those whose child-hearts are more interested in explosives or nature or archaeology than dolls and dress-up or at least as much. In all fairness, I am not saying that generalized statements about women don’t apply to me nor am I necessarily making negative judgment against my gender. What I am saying is that I often feel like I’m standing on the outside of the cultural party—sometimes looking in longingly and sometimes wanting to sprint as far away from it as possible– and at this point I have no doubts about my freakish nature. I’m not saying I am manly or want to be a man or that being a man is better than being a woman. I’m not speaking to what I think men want or “how they are” either because I am not a man and I have no idea. The only thing I can speak to is my experience as a girl-freak growing up in 1980’s America. I’ll share a bit about in the hopes that some other freaks will find a kindred or perhaps a little inspiration.

The thing that makes me thing that I am different from “most” women by nature that I believe I have been so from the very start. It’s evident even in my baby pictures! Take my favorite photograph of me as a child. It isn’t one of the numerous images of me wearing a little lacey or velvet dress (often a little disheveled due to wriggling through the “jungle” of some playground or backyard). Instead it is an image of me wearing naught else but a diaper and one of my dad’s trucker-style snap backs backwards while wielding one of his hammers, the handle of which extends the length of my then barely-able-to-stand body and the corners of my dimpled grin hanging from each ear. I don’t think I was quite a year old.

Okay, some will argue that maybe that is an example of something nurtured in me, some parental preference or leading. So then let’s use is my experience with that great American retail institution of consumer indoctrination: Toys R Us. I vividly recall walking through towering isles of endless toys. To my right a pink and purple nightmare. Dolls with layered dresses and comatose eyes stared down at me through lashes that rivaled Tammy Faye Baker’s. Mesh bags filled with play fruit and light pink ovens lay about waiting to fill the domestic desires of little girls and those boys with daring parents.  To my left lay a blue, red, grey and black block-city. Sharp angles on Transformers and bulldozers crashed through cardboard packages and Leggo masterpieces lay temptingly behind glass barricades. I would walk, fast then slow then fast again, my attention caught by some noise-making plaything until I remembered my goal, all the way to the sexless section. You know, that genderless place in the store where the art supplies, play dough, “learning toys” and science kits are. Because I was effectively a spoiled only child my parents were pretty much willing to let me have the run of the store and choose whatever toy I wanted—within reason and wandering quietly and respectfully of course.  Without skipping a beat I’d head over to this genderless section of the store and stare at all the wonderful things–tools that would help me explore the world around me. I remember one Christmas in particular, actually it was just before Christmas, my mom had taken me to T-R-U to get some ideas. We were standing in the pink nightmare with me insisting that I wanted a chemistry set and a tool set and some other boyish things. Hesitant and resigned, my mom sighed and we left the store. I was expecting to open a stove set that Christmas, and maybe I did, but much to my delight I got the tool and chemistry sets. It was the best Christmas ever! I begged my dad for a piece of wood try the plane out and later barricaded myself in my room with the chemistry set (remember, it was the ‘80’s and parents used to drive around with their kids in the backs of pickup trucks with no seat belts and no one said anything), leaving my bewildered parents shaking their heads in the living room.

And then there is the comparison between me as a little girl and my female peers. Here are some examples in conversation format (hyperbole included):

Interacting with other humans:

“Most” little girls: Wanna see me dance or hear me sing? Watch me twirl in my dress/tutu!

Me: Did you know that pterodactyls aren’t dinosaurs? Great White Sharks are also called chark…car..carchard…, umm car-car-OH-don!

When an expectant family member or parent’s friend visit:

“Most” little girls: I want to hold the baby! When is the baby going to be here!?! Can I feed the baby?

Me: Seven weeks? You had sex seven weeks ago. The baby is a fetus. It is starting to grow arms and legs. Want to see my slide of a human baby foot? We need a microscope.

On Santa’s lap:

“Most” little girls: I want Fashion Strip Mall Barbie, a stove like mommy’s and a dulucks make-up thing.

Me: Okay, so I NEED a new canteen and a flashlight. Definitely a microscope. Okay, I can settle for a snoopy snow-cone maker and a Pound Puppy.

Lessons:

“Most” little girls: I want to be a ballerina! Can I take dance lessons?!?!?

Me: Mom, can I take fencing lessons? But MOOOM! Okay…archery?

And into adulthood…reassurance and pathology:

“Most” girls: Do you think I’m beautiful?  Am I as pretty, organized or as good a mom as she is?

Me: Do you think I’m competent? Am I as smart as he/she is or did I do as well on my performance evaluation? Do people like me as much?

A nature to nurture

Several times in my life, usually when speaking to another woman about kids (my lack thereof) or family or some pathology, I have been subjected to the phrase that is something to the effect of “You just want to take care of…to nurture because it’s a woman’s nature” and my first thought is usually something like “Yeah, maybe bacterial cultures.” Yet they insist: One of these days I will have children and magically woman-ness will just spring-forth from within.

These “encouragers” are often the one’s who pray that God softens my heart or encourage me that I will come around once I find my prince charming and have children. I get the distinct impression that these folks see me as wayward or damaged or rebellious in some way. Not that I am not those things, certainly I am, but it has nothing to do with my gender, it’s just who I am.

Even as a child the “instinct” to care for children eluded me. I was always horrified of babysitting. The month before school was out my friends would be setting up their summer gigs watching neighborhood kids and I was busy praying my parents wouldn’t force me to do the same. It isn’t that I didn’t want to do anything, it’s that I was terrified of children. However, my very first job ended up being a babysitting: my neighbors had two prize-winning show dogs that I absolutely loved. I’d spend hours caring for and playing with a Russian Wolfhound and an Afghan hound, often wrapping my arms around the Borzoi’s neck, who was as nearly tall as I was at the time, while she leaned on me until we collapsed. It was our routine. I had two other babysitting gigs after that, both while in college and yes, both watching dogs or other pets.

I think I preferred dogs over kids because, as some have heard me say, I wonder if I ever was a child. I know that’s extreme, but suffice it to say I was a pretty eclectic kid and just didn’t “get” most other children. I still find it hard to relate to kids and just know my limits. I was once part of a church that was in the process of seeking volunteers. Ooooh! I could type things or spackle and paint or help fix things! I went to the pastor and his wife who stated they would love to have my help and felt I would go far in the Children’s ministry. I tried to explain that I didn’t work well with kids but they would have none of it, insisting (without even having to consult God) that it was right for me. A short while later, as part of a member of a new Church, I found a pastor who actually listened to me and placed me in a volunteer position that involved co-organizing a large community event. It was a huge challenge but God used it to bless a ton of people. I honestly believe the children’s ministry at any Church is one of the most important and admire those who serve in this capacity, but I just know it isn’t for me. I felt bad and guilty about refusing to serve in the children’s ministry at the other church, but during that community event I realized that each of us has a responsibility to find out what we are (and aren’t) passionate about and have talents in and invest in those areas, regardless of gender norms.

After my nephew was born I mellowed a bit with the kid thing. I remember seeing him for the first time at the hospital, just born, and knowing I was in love. My immediate second thought was “Oh-mah-gawd. I am going to have to hold it then I’ll dropt it or it will poop!” I still remember sitting nervously on the couch with my sister grinning at me with “nah-nah” delight as she handed me the oversized jelly bean, more blanket than baby. Talk about rigid. I got through it and held him all the time after that point and I did a lot—a lot—of diaper duty. I survived. I still don’t have any more or less talent or desire to work with kids. I just have more confidence in my ability to get one into adulthood relatively unscathed and with a good counseling fund.

Being a Good Woman, Being Me

Sometimes the people who pray or hope I’ll grow into womanhood get scared when I tell them about things I have done. I don’t know if they are scared for me or at the horror that comes with knowing that a woman could “go through” the things I have been through. I’ve been through some painful things, and those I can’t blame them for being frightened by. It’s their fear about the positive things that puzzles me, like travelling alone both in the US and in developing countries, driving long distances by myself, mowing my own lawn or installing a kitchen sink. I’d love to have someone to do things with and those closest to me have certainly heard me say I believe I would conquer the world with a good friend at my side. Certainly I would like some counterpart male freak to come crashing into my life sometime and knock me off my feet, sending us both hurdling out of my comfort zone on some adventure (mark my words, I will regret I said this someday). For now I am learning to simply be content with who I am and who I am yearns for little adventures and seeks them, even on my own.

As I sit here writing this entry, sipping Teccino out of my favorite mug (emblazoned with the image of a Flying Fortress being escorted by two P-51s) I realize that more than anything else I am simply Jessica. A girl, yes, and a sister and daughter and a rabbit-mom and a friend and an animal license checker and an explorer and a scientist and a Follower of Christ who is still trying to figure herself out. I do like “girly” things, really I do! A nice pedicure goes great with explorer’s cargo pant’s. I suppose it’s  just that what I am made for, who I was made to be, goes so far beyond the gender norms of my culture, and in some cases even  flies in the face of their convention. I am learning to be okay with that. I am learning that I was made to serve, to be a follower and the specific way I do that best, at heart is through exploring cultures and creation and telling others about them. My itinerant mind and heart are always calling me to some new adventure, real or imagined, and those adventures are where I hope to find out more about who I am.