Thursday, April 11, 2013

Children of Suicide Club

Taken at Seattle "Out of the Darkness" Suicide Prevention Walk for AFSP
The secret blog entry in the link below was a tentative step toward the chasm. Writing publicly about it felt reckless, wrong and necessary.

"Busty Sphinx" or "The Unique Gift of a Secret Blog"

Writing an anonymous blog during the years that I did unlocked me in ways I hadn't expected. When you write as an occupation, you must concern yourself with markets and audiences, trends and tropes. It's possible to wake up one morning and realize you can't remember why you wanted to write in the first place.

There is magic in writing for an audience, yet not writing for an audience. It can bring you to a level of raw honesty if you let it. And such honesty can bring you back to the well--the source of what you long to say.

In the entry I'll share today, I was clearly having second thoughts about the project:

Like this only legless. And gold. And a Christmas ornament. Okay, not like this.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Releasing my Secret Blog

Inspired perhaps by Brené Brown's TED talk on vulnerability, and perhaps by the reflective space in which I find myself in the wake of my stepfather's death, I've decided to post from my "secret blog." This is a blog I started in 2004 after asking myself, "What would I write if I was planning to post it publicly, but knew that I wouldn't be identified?" The blog covers a journey from depression to hope, working through long-buried fears about my father's mental illness, jousting with my identity as a person of faith and, eventually, coming to terms with having a transgender child.

It seems like the right time to release it, and perhaps it will be of help to someone. And it does contain some of the most vulnerable things I've ever said on any public forum--even anonymously. The one I'm posting this morning is about being in the grip of despair, as I was for many years. It offers no solutions; it simply acknowledges. If you are there now, I want to tell you that it does get better.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Few Words About Being a Recipient of Stolen Goods

When we lost my husband's income in 2011, we never thought we'd still be in this situation two years later.

He spent his first summer of "unemployment" taking a small business course. He had been helping me with my sole proprietorship for years, but the time he took to turn it into an LLC and smooth out some of our operations allowed our revenues to take a leap. Unfortunately, it was not a high enough leap to support us entirely.

Because he still had the unemployment compensation last spring, we decided to take another kind of leap and enroll him in a teaching certification program. For years he'd wanted to do a more service-oriented profession and leave the corporate world, where he felt less and less sense of purpose. We were assured that his unemployment compensation would last through his job retraining, but in the fall, right before he embarked on the (unpaid) internship part of the process, the Legislature decided he'd received unemployment long enough--that he and all the other lazy n'er-do-wells should quit milking the public. We were pretty unprepared for this and as he was in the middle of his program and already committed to the internship, we just dove into the darkness and prayed for the best.

Since then, we have continued to work hard at our business, I've taken on additional teaching hours, get speaking gigs as often as possible and pray that my upcoming royalty statement will actually have a check in it. And since September, we have received food stamps, help from our church, friends and families, grants from the electric company, and charity medical care.

I had a "friend" refer to any kind of tax-supported social program as government theft, chastising me for receiving "stolen goods," which was not only immoral, but "bad for the soul."

Yet I am not repentant about being a "welfare mom." I believe that this passage is here to teach me something, not only about humility and gratitude, but about what many folks endure for a lifetime. Though I have no doubt that our situation will turn around, not everyone is able to break out of poverty. Those who are in it longterm often simply give up, beaten down by a culture that blames them for their situation. 

I know this from sitting in waiting rooms for hours, queuing for my turn to get help from overwhelmed social workers. I know it from filling out forms that assume I am out to cheat the system. It's hard not to succumb to shame as one answers those questions--as if maybe I should just go home and figure out something else (like, say, homelessness.) But this is my time to endure short-term humiliation for longterm good.

I can't tell you how grateful I am that there is a safety net. Our church has gone above and beyond in helping us, but there are so many in need. That's why we as a caring society must continue to make it a priority value to help the poor, just as we make it a priority to provide roads, schools and police officers to our community.  When we had a corporate salary income I did not feel robbed supporting such things with my taxes.

Even if we had NO compassion, and believed that the poor were all drug-abusing parasites who should simply go away, the fact is "the poor will be with us always." And that fact is a challenge to us as human beings. What are we going to do about that? It's not only the job of the church (though it is the job of the church); it is the job of any civilized society to make a safety net available. Without the safety net, the community itself is weighted down by poverty which begins its insidious crawl through every infrastructure.

Because of the safety net, our family will make it to the other side of this relatively intact. Without it, we would be moving into the home of a friend, sending two of our kids (who are living with and helping us) to find their own friends to live with. We'd be so behind on our bills right now that we may never be able to crawl out. Our car would have been repossessed long since. We'd be choosing between electricity and food. 

None of this would be conducive to growing a small business, starting a nonprofit, or any kind of focused job retraining. None of it would be conducive to our continuing to contribute to our community. It's hard to help the swim team when you're drowning.

I will hear that we are the "exception," that we actually do believe in work, but that the majority of social service recipients are criminals. I hear stories of welfare cheats every time I am brave enough to talk about this. Every time. It's as if the person I am talking to doesn't hear me. They breeze right over my experience and tell me about their friend, whose son was told to say he was homeless so he could get benefits he wasn't entitled to. Or about Octomom, or some other media welfare sensation. Or about something they saw in a reality show.

My "honorary daughter" is doing a degree in social work and here is the statistic she shared with me: Yes. People do cheat. There are numbers for that. The numbers are 2%-4%. 2%-4% of welfare recipients are actively cheating the system. The other 96%-98% of us are invisible--the people for whom a temporary hand up makes the difference between a tough but achievable transition and years spent climbing out of a hole. I'm 50. I don't have years to spend climbing when I've worked so hard to get to this point. We had our legs knocked out from under us by a job loss and we have the opportunity to make something good come out of that. Or to let it flatten us.

My two cents.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why I Don't Hate Religion

Here's what I read: It's a montage of articles on evils perpetuated by religious people. It's posted as a justification for hating religion (and religious people) as a whole. And the emotional impact is enough to make any kindhearted soul want to go an an anti-religious rampage. But then, that would be hypocritical.

Here's what I am feeling right now: A palpable heaviness. A sense that people bent on hating religion will continue to hate it regardless what I say. It's so easy to see religion as the root of all social problems. But the thing is, most of the people on this planet have some religion or other, and if not a religion, most have a guiding political philosophy, traditional cultural ethic, or intellectual framework gleaned from the particular way they were educated. We sort ourselves out according to our beliefs, even if we kid ourselves that we are total individuals, completely isolated in our thought processes from any other human. (Generally, that is what is known as a sociopath, BTW.)

The problem, of course, is that we are sinners. All of us. I know that's kind of an old-fashioned word and it's extremely loaded, but there it is. Regardless what lofty ideals we hold, we screw up. We're not our best selves a good deal of the time. We get together with like-minded folks and try to create something good--elect a good candidate, pass good laws, educate children, support the arts, worship the creator of the universe--and our selfish little egos get in the way. We like to think we're not capable of pettiness, judgmentalism, hatred or abuse, but it turns out that stuff is in all of us--in varying degrees, and depending on our choices and circumstances, but it's there. Religion has no corner on hypocrisy. I get weary of people saying that the religious are hypocrites. You ever meet someone who isn't?

So, I've still got this stone sitting on my chest right now and I want to figure out what that's about. I think it has something to do with being accused of hatred, violence and abuse. I suppose that's a little sulky, but the creator of the montage of articles seems to propose that the shoe ought to fit for me because I call myself a Christian.

I didn't always. If you read this blog, you'll know that I left off calling myself a Christian for some time. But I call myself one now--unabashedly, regardless of my own sins and the sins of my brethren (and sistren)--maybe because of those sins. I was just never able to shake the idea of a God who is unknowable and transcendent, who fills all things and is everywhere present, and who is interested enough in humanity to show up here as a human being. I'm a Christian because that's what I believe about Jesus.

If I were not a Christian, I might be Jewish, or Muslim. I might be Hindu or Buddhist. I might be Neo-Pagan. There are things in each of those religions that I love--teachings in each of them that resonate deeply for me.

But I think I would still have a religion, even if it was not Christianity. Why? Because I long for God and that just won't go away. I believe it is because God longs for me. That's hubris, I know. But I think God longs for all of us and God put a longing for God inside of us. That's why we come together as Christians or Jews or Hindus--to exercise a corporate longing, through which great love can come to the world. Because when we are truly longing for God instead of for our own self-fulfilment, we want to feed the hungry and bind up the wounded. We want to care for the earth and create beauty. We want to lift up the abused and bring peace to the warring. We want to, but we can't do it alone. We need each other and we need God.

Many terrible things have been done in the name of religion (and, I might add, in the name of political parties, moral philosophies and business ventures), but look around you: Look at the universities and hospitals, the famine relief organizations, reconciliation initiatives, and social justice groups. Look into their histories and you will find that a very large percentage sprang from religious teaching or were directly founded by religious groups. John Donne said, "No man is an island." It is amazing what people can do when they come together motivated by a love for God.

It is enough to lift the heaviness from me. It is enough to make me pray.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Praying to--or with--Mary and the Saints

The other day I had a conversation with someone who was disturbed by the practice, among Catholics and Orthodox, of asking the Saints to intercede for us—or “praying to” them. I told her that we ask the Saints to pray for us in the same way we might ask a Christian friend to pray for us. Because the Saints are still with us. They are the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12: 1-2a)

Asking for prayer from this “cloud of witnesses” reminds us that we do not really die—we don’t “end” when we’re finished with this life. Our ancestors in Christ are praying for us, just as surely as our friends are. It is appropriate to “pray” to them, just as we “pray” to our friends. The word “pray” in this context, does not mean we are putting that Saint (or Christian friend) in God’s place. In this context, it means “to ask or entreat,” as in, “Pray, kind sir, do you have tuppence to buy flowers from a poor flower girl?” So we are “praying for the prayers” of the Saints, so to speak.

I’ve thought of it that way for years. But I’ve always been bothered by the notion I sometimes hear that Jesus will listen better if I go through his mom first—as if He’d turn a deaf ear to me if I go direct.

So this morning I was reading the account of the wedding at Cana—when Jesus turned water into wine.

“And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2: 3-5)

And, of course, Jesus goes ahead and turns the water into wine, even though he just finished saying to his mom, “My hour has not yet come.” (“Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me,” by the way, is not an expression of disrespect on Jesus’ part. Here is the footnote on that passage from the Orthodox Study Bible: “Contrary to certain modern usages, ‘Woman’ is a sacred title in Scripture, an address conveying respect and distinction. ‘What does your concern have to do with me’ is more literally, ‘What is that to Me and to you?’”)

So what occurred to me this morning was that Jesus does not turn a deaf ear to us (ever!), He just loves His mom—because she’s His mom—and he wants for us to love her, too. Why? Because He loves her.  So to the question, “Why ask Mary to intercede?” I imagine Him saying this:

“Because when you do, you acknowledge her—and that means a great deal to Me. It means a great deal when you acknowledge any of My Saints. You’re not in this alone, you know. It means a great deal when you ask friends or mentors to pray for you, because when you do, you acknowledge them, and you acknowledge that you need each other.”
I think this is what the Church means when it says we are “saved corporately.” Salvation is not just a “me ‘n’ God” thing—even though Jesus would have died for me, had I been the only soul on earth. I’m not the only soul on earth—or in the Kingdom of God (which, Jesus says, is “at hand” or “as close as your hand.”) Salvation is a family affair. We each help the other towards a closer and closer relationship with Christ. And those who have a particularly close relationship with Him are our way-showers.

Pray, pray for me, a sinner.  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Letter from my Grandmother

This is a letter from my Nana, sent to my mother after my mother had a miscarriage and was despairing of ever having children. I often think of the generations of praying women from whom I came, and what an impact that had on me--the firstborn who, after four miscarriages (one, my twin), finally arrived.

February 16, 1960

Darling daughter—

Your precious personal letter is here and I appreciate your confidence in me. Right now I feel like I’m more in a position than ever to offer you encouragement drawn from vital experience. Coping with near-tragedy and the incidental problems—plus anxiety over you, Tom, Dave and Dad nearly “got me down.” But once more, and more truly than ever before, having obeyed the Lord (as hard for me) and having “cast my burdens” upon Him—help and restoration has been coming in from every hand.

I was shown, in a most emphatic way (in the night-watches) that there is no substitute for plain, old-fashioned courage and that if we have little of that by nature, we may have all we need by simply asking for it and believing it will be given…..

I read, somewhere, such a good slant on the verse “ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” The writer said that asking is primary, simple, effective only so far; seeking is asking plus effort; knocking is asking plus effort plus persistence. “Pay without ceasing,” St. Paul said. And I like to remember that he, too, had to be literally thrown, prostrated, knocked down before he could say “Lord, what wilt Thou have me do” and later that wonderful “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, to be content”…..

Dear one, do not despair of receiving answers to your problems. The answers are all there, just tune in on them. This is not Pollyanna stuff. It is tried and true. Remember we are not promised “joy without sorrow, peace without pain.” Even our Lord Himself was not given that. Be we are promised comfort, sympathy, courage, and the “peace which passeth understanding”—if we believe and obey.

Never be ashamed of your tears and tensions, dear—only if you hang on to them as I’ve seen many do. Even our Lord was “agitated” (Moffat…) at Gethsemane, and in anguish. But after the cross, the resurrection!

I couldn’t offer a person like you pious platitudes. These are truths—the “word made flesh”…

P.S. Do not worry about the $500. Don’t need it now, anyway. The “way did not open” (Quaker) for the apt…..Glad you are going to get part-time job. You need to get out of house and be active.

PSS I’m so proud of you how you have taken your “low blow” and anxiety. It pears you have already “tuned in” or whatever analogy you like!