Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My Heart

For 24 years, my relationships have been poisoned. They have suffered under bitterness and hatred and a pressing need to keep my distance from people - or keep them distant from me. It's been about protection. A wounded heart in a wounding world does not bode well; it was best to hide. For awhile, I thought I found a place - it was a place where I felt the love of others, but kept separate from it, feeling like I was just some 'project' for everyone. I worked hard to prove my worth by faithfully showing up to everything, hanging around places I never felt worthy or welcome, just to remind you that I wasn't going away. I served where there was need, even when it meant more burden and less fuel for my own spirit. In some way, I wanted to show you you could love me, to show you I was worthy, to earn your love.

Then came illness. As I wrestled between life and death, I pushed you further away. I couldn't bear you to see me like this, so weak after so many years of trying to prove my strength. And you obediently gave me my space - more than my heart truly wanted. You decided not to trust me any more, to wonder day-by-day what my status would be. You tried to protect me from myself, to not push too hard lest I push back violently against you.

But the truth is - these events had nothing to do with physical illness. They were matters of the heart. They were issues of my own fear and self-hatred. My knowledge plain and clear of the fact that I never belonged with you. Without knowing the depths of my story, the power of my darkness, you welcomed me in. But I kept my distance. I did not deserve you; I did not deserve God; I did not deserve to breathe another breath.

Yet you still took me in. At times, it was difficult as you struggled against what you could not see. Or perhaps you did see but were kind enough not to mention it. You resented my distance, my bitterness, my shortcomings of potential when all you could see was the brilliant gift of God buried in the muck. But you let me wallow, you gave me my space. And you never knew that when I looked in the mirror, I knew only one truth -

I was looking at a whore.

Your faithful love whittled away at me. God's whisper kept calling. For a long while, I rejected, wanting to stand strong on my own two feet. Wouldn't God be a handout? Wouldn't He make me feel even more unworthy? Wouldn't His goodness highlight my filth? No, I could do this on my own. Just as I always had; just as I always would.

But His whisper continued and in the darkness, I found Him. He simply sat with no expectations, no demands for my freedom. Just one simple offer.

"Come here...I want to tell you something."

After much evasion, I finally went. What would God want to tell me that I didn't already know? That I was impure, unholy, and condemned to Hell? That even His Son would not save me? Thanks, but no thanks.

But He wouldn't tell me right away. Instead, He answered the millions of questions I never dared ask. The questions of the heart and of the darkness, of evil and unworthiness, and thousands upon thousands of questions of whoredom. How does a young woman whose body and heart have been so violated ever come to feel whole again, ever come to embrace purity, ever find a way to live with a Father so different than her own, so Holy?

He answered. He answered before I could ask. He answered the rumblings and the small tingling in my heart, and He answered. Finally, I sensed what He wanted to tell me all along, what He was dying for me to hear. And I was ready - so I pled with Him.

"Lord, tell me I'm beautiful!"

"Child, you are more than that. You are beloved, blessed, and wholly beautiful. The world has made you its whore, but I have made you my daughter. This you are above all else, above all other things. You are my precious daughter. And you are pure."

From that moment, tears will not stop falling. They fall even as I write this, as my body trembles in the brokenness of releasing trauma and in the awe of God. Healing comes rapidly into my life - every day, a small step forward. The darkness sometimes takes it grip back, but I shake it off, knowing the Light and the Truth.

Yet, I am more lost now than when I lived in darkness. I find myself in a world I cannot relate to. Those who knew me well before are long gone, moving on in their lives to new adventures and maybe staying in touch, but not able to sit and talk and know my heart. Those who have known me only on the surface continue to do so. Many love me deeply, and I can feel their love, but it's a difficult concept for me. How does a whore learn God's love? not just the love FOR God, but the love OF God, the ability to love other people...and most importantly, the ability to BE loved by other people. And how do I find a place to serve when I am only coming to know myself? My heart longs to reach out, to be surrounded by you and your love. To serve you wholly in whatever capacity I can...but not in the same old ways I used to use to earn your approval. I want something different.

I long to be something different in my world. Someone walking in freedom, truth, faith, and peace instead of the bitterness, hatred, and self-loathing of so many years. It's a hard adjustment, learning to live in this place I never knew existed. Bear with me. And hold me in strength and love. Free my heart to be less lonely but never rushed, never pushed or pressured. In freedom, I will be something better in God's world.

Something more than just a whore.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

How I Fell in Love

This morning, I woke and headed out the door in less than 10 minutes. The plan was a quick stop by the post office, then grocery shopping at Wal-Mart before the crowds hit.

As I stood in line at the post office, waiting on the ridiculously inept people in front of me to figure out how to send insured packages, I glanced around. I looked at the boxes for sale, the gift wrap, the change of address cards. Out in the hall, I watched people check their PO boxes. There, behind a stout woman, his face smiled at me.

He just stood there, staring, with that smile on his face. Flattered and a little coy, I let a small smile sneak out before looking away. A few minutes later when I started looking around again, there he was - behind the stout woman and smiling straight at me. He was too far away to see if I had something in my teeth, and I knew my hair was a little frizzed but not distracting. Was he really interested in me?

I looked forward to completing my business before he left just so I could walk out through the lobby and flash him my best smile, maybe even a quick 'hello.' But when I looked up once more, impatiently tapping my foot because now, the people in front of me forgot to put something in their package (which had already been taken to the back and thus, had to be searched for and found and a million other things), the stout woman moved toward the door.

Yes! I thought. I will finally get to see him without her hind end blocking my view. Could his body be as wonderful as his face? And that smile that was still plastered across it?

As she moved toward the door, she slowly revealed more of his body. A bag was slung over one shoulder. 'How sexy!' I thought. The more I saw, I saw him finely dressed and standing casually, yet with respect and dignity. Finally, the door slammed shut behind the stout woman and I daringly looked down the hallway with the gentlest, flirtiest smile I could muster...

And saw a cardboard cut-out of a postal carrier standing next to the automatic stamp machine, staring straight at me and smiling that beautiful smile.

(It's just been that kind of day.)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

As Grandpa Lay Dying...

My grandpa, Charlie Rogers, is not expected to live for Christmas this year. In these moments, I cannot help but think back on this man.We went to Grandpa's every Christmas Eve, when he and his wife, Nancy (not my grandmother), gifted everyone one outfit, usually from L.S. Ayres. I dreaded the clothing, for what kid doesn't, and I dreaded my time there. Nancy was a stern woman, sharply cut with a sharper tongue. It was plain to everyone that she didn't like kids, not even grandkids. Each trip, I was lectured beforehand about being on my best behavior so as not to upset her. Grandpa, for as much as he could, treated me with kindness. He always gave me pennies to feed his gumball machine - fully stocked before each visit. With a chuckle, he'd hand over as many lincolns as I wanted until mom and dad told me not to take so much gum. A little later, he added a super nintendo in a quiet room. It had only one game - Jeopardy - but I liked it anyway. Still, I was comfortable to sit in the living room with him and watch golf.Other than that, we only saw him once every 2-3 years. Dad talked like he lived in Siberia, like it would take a day and a half's journey to make it there, like it was some major inconvenience to visit Grandpa; he was less than an hour's drive away. On the rare occasions we stopped by mid-year, Grandpa was just as hospitable as always. Nancy labored to set out deli meats and cheeses on a fancy platter, insisting that we helped ourselves. I played quietly with a basket full of Pound Puppies with their Cocker Spaniel while the adults talked. Once or twice, Grandpa invited me to sit down with them and play a few games of euchre. Oh, how included I felt!I always regretted that we didn't spend as much time with him as we did with the rest of dad's family - the other side of the divorced couple. I never understood that, really. All of dad's brothers and sisters gripe as much as he always did about visiting Grandpa. Like he's an inconvenience, unpleasant, someone to be patronized but nothing more. The one year dad took me to a Rogers family reunion on Grandpa's side, I was shocked at the number of relatives I had never met (and have not talked to since). Dozens of people, none of whom I knew.They were right, sort of. Grandpa was an old-fashioned man. He'd sit in that recliner or on one end of the sofa and watch television day and night. Only a few times, he would pull himself up against a walker and make his way out through the garage to smoke in the driveway. That was only after he stopped smoking in the house. Whenever a Black person came on his television, he cursed "all of those damned niggers" and was not shy about letting us know who he hated, why, and what they were doing to poison the planet. It was tough to listen to, but with a guy like that - I knew he would never change, and I knew, without details, that he grew up in a different time and place than I did. So I wasn't fond of his language all the time, but I was still fond of Grandpa.He was pretty fond of me, too. The family didn't call him "the slug" for nothing. Aside from a routine morning excursion to Hardee's for breakfast with his friends, he didn't move much. He wasn't the kind of grandpa who showed up at his children's or grandchildren's events. They said he didn't travel well. But in seventh grade, he pulled himself out of that recliner, and he and Nancy came to watch me at a tennis meet. It meant the world. And he shared a special smile for me always when I visited, and always joked about blowing up my portrait to hang on the large wall in his dining room. He joked and smiled and I knew he had something special in his heart for me.After dad died, I only saw Grandpa a couple of more times. My uncles took me with them on one visit, and Grandpa and Nancy took us all to a local pub for lunch - grandpa's treat. Even though I was too young to be in there, Grandpa talked with the guys he knew (he'd had a smoke or two in that pub before) and they let me sit at a table. We ordered, and the meals came. But mine came first. Then Nancy's. Then none. I sat and did not eat, knowing the etiquette of waiting for everyone to be served. Grandpa frowned and said, "Don't you like your food?" I nodded and said, "It smells delicious." With a spark of recognition, Nancy smiled and said, "It's ok. We don't have to wait on them. Go ahead and eat before it gets cold." I did, but I could tell she appreciated the manners. I think she came to like me. Christmas 2002, it snowed so bad that my car slid on the ice and my brother made me turn back before reaching Grandpa's. I never saw him again.Now, Grandpa lay dying. Probably in that same old spot on the end of the sofa that he's loved so well over the years. Nobody told me. They've know for months that his condition was deteriorating. I found out through my brother, who had known for awhile, as well, but just assumed someone told me, too. They never did. They still haven't. Dad's family doesn't keep in much contact with me. They blame me for his death and say I never loved him enough. It is a tough strain. Once I found out about Grandpa's condition, I wanted to contact him, to write him a letter or call him or drive up and visit him. He's still less than an hour away.But I've been told that I can't just go up there. Can't just bother him like that. If I'm interested in seeing him, then "arrangements can be made" if I fall into favor with the right aunt and jump through 30 hoops and bend over backwards. It is not a fight I can win.So as Grandpa lay dying, here I sit - reflecting on my short experience with a man that everyone else calls a "slug." Reflecting on a man who surely has a story to tell if only someone would listen. I'd listen, if they'd let me. But I can't get close to him. And now, there is no time. The doctors say he will die before Christmas, probably within the next week or two. Cancer, spreading from his bladder, is riddling his body, and he will not win.We both lose.