Posts filed under the {true} and the questions

vulnerability and blogging.

I miss you writing from what's going on in your heart, the email said. I know how it is to need to sell a product so you can eat but don't neglect that part of your heart. It's endearing. 

I stared at the screen for a few minutes and then shut my laptop, the anxiety rising in my gut. 

It's a romantic notion. Noble, even. Writing your heart for others to read is probably the highest of virtues in the literary world. But how do you capture the violent ways our souls bend and crack? How do you carry well the anticipation of others without folding from the weight of their expectations? 

It used to be easy. 

Before the rent check, before the heartbreak, before the betrayals, before the lynch mobs at the ready. I didn't need to worry about upsetting anyone because my story intersected with a very small radius of people and they rarely visited this space. I could share my heart without telling you specifics and no one would ever know. 

But not now. Now there are ramifications. Now there are risks. I've seen what happens to those who are vilified. 

And so I swallow my words.

I swallow the story of hearing my voice echo across a Texas canyon, coyotes yipping back at me. I swallow the story of friendships that weren't what I thought. I swallow the weight of words thrown carelessly toward another, and the way Failure draped himself over me. I swallow the fire, the anger, the jealousy and the fear. I swallow the emails filled with hatred. I swallow the good things, too. I swallow the flash-mob dance parties and laughing until I cry. I swallow nights filled with wine and art journaling and feeling the way my soul can be known by another. I swallow clarity and purpose and the return of confidence. I swallow the loss of faith and the rush of new birth, sweaty and bloody and wobbly limbed like a day-old colt.

I swallow it all until the belly of my voice is so swollen from lethargy that I can't even whisper the most archaic thought.

Yet while I feast on the words I cannot say, I'm telling you to speak your own.

I recognize the hypocrisy here. I'm working on it. These past few years have been tumultuous at best and there were moments I wondered if I would ever return to this space. But I'm here now, with hundreds of stories waiting their moment. 

And with shaking fingers, I begin.

prostituting the sacred.

A few months ago, I received this question from a reader: What would you tell a writer who wants to write and create and be artistic but doesn't exactly know how to figure out what her specific bent is? Suppose that one is a spiritual writer, then how does one come to terms with the desire to create good content, original art (even if not artistically inclined), and be true to not just their spirituality but to her God without feeling as though one might be prostituting the gift, the call, the talent, or the sacred? 
This is my response. 

I'm thinking of Flannery O'Connor. I'm thinking of the way she captured the Southern gothic without flinching and wrote of the difficulty of finding good men, the impaired view of racism, the all-too quick way we trust others and lose our leg.

In her prayer journals, O'Connor is noted to having lived in "a deeply human world." Her fiction echoed this belief and yet, in her private pages, she begs for deeper meaning — for more stories — to get down under things and find where You are (4). It was a circle: her writing influenced her prayers, and her prayers influenced her writing. 

You ask how to be true — not only to your spirituality but also to your God. I ask, do they have to be separate? 

When I was writing Come Alive, the original draft of Every Shattered Thing, I ended it much like the books of my childhood: clean, pretty, spiritual. That particular scene was very much where I was at personally in my own working through of memories and hurts.

But it wasn't the answer for a deeply human world. I knew almost immediately I'd done wrong to the character, and when I got my rights back from the original publisher, the ending was the first thing I changed. Stephanie's reaction to Kevin is very much born out of her need for deep trust. The more I thought about it, the more I realized: even the first ending, created out of my own psyche and processing, would not hold true to how I would react had I been in Stephanie's exact position. In fact, regardless of my beliefs, I very much would turn and run. 

This is my calling: stay true to my beliefs in word and deed and show the realism of a deeply human world that longs for an even deeper hope.

I prostitute the sacred when I overstep my bounds and spell it out for my reader. I prostitute the sacred when I don't write, don't read, don't enjoy the artistry around me even though it pulses in my veins. Painting is my worship. Art journaling is my prayer. Writing is my witness.

There will be different levels of conviction for different people. For me, spirituality and God are interwoven into this mystical fabric of being. I cannot separate my thoughts from the Spirit — I cannot move away from His presence — I cannot forget about how I'm held in the darkest of nights. To cut that away from me would be to maim me irreparably. I may not write explicitly spiritual pieces of literature, but every word is irrevocably spiritual.

What I'm saying is this: you don't have to write about faith in order for your faith to be seen. 

But what is most important is that you answer this question for yourself. When do you feel as if you're prostituting the gift you've been given? When do you know you've crossed a line in which you feel uncomfortable? We all have different stories, each of them wild and begging for attention. Listen to yours. Keep your eyes on your page. 

Your Spirit will know what to say.

clenched fists and haunted faces.

I don't know how to tell you this story.

I don't know how to explain the haunted look in our surrogate son's eyes as he walked down the stairs in our two story house on the east side three years ago. 

My eyes caught the look—the hunched shoulders, the darting eyes, the clenched fists. 

"What's wrong?" I hadn't even gotten two steps in the door. Russ guided me further, his hand on my lower back. 

"They handcuffed me, moms." 

I blinked. "Who?"

"The police." 

This is where the story gets tricky. This is where our son paced up and down the stairs—in his under shirt, gym shorts and crew socks—telling us about the police who came to our door and handcuffed our son and pulled him outside. 

"Why?" It was the only question I could come up with — "why?" 

His hands ran over his face and found each other behind his head. I knew this look too. The one of lost words—of previous trauma—of discouragement. 

"I don't know. There's some robberies in the area? I guess? And they saw me here—I don't know. They thought it was me. They thought it was me and wouldn't listen. They didn't believe me that this was my house."

He shook his head and looked at me. "It didn't even matter that I had a key, moms." 

He sat down on the stairs and clenched and unclenched his fists. 

"I don't know, man. I just don't know. It was messed up. I had to show them pictures. Of us. That's the only way they believed me." 

Maybe you've had those moments where your sense of justice gets a little hazy. I used to teach To Kill a Mockingbird. I know the history. I saw the appreciative glances from students when I refused to use the n-word in our readings.

But this? This was new. 

When I called the precinct the next day, they had no record of an incident at our address. 

I could feel myself getting angry. 

"What do you mean there's no record. Police officers came into my home and handcuffed my son and wouldn't let him back in until he proved he lived here!"

"Ma'am, I understand. Sometimes foster kids have a way with stories, you know?" 

Bullshit. 

I laughed. "And so does this precinct. You can write this down: this is the second time an incident has occurred at this address and nothing has been filed." 

I thought of the week we first moved in—when the pounding of our door startled us awake at 2am. Russ grabbed the gun in his nightstand and tucked it in his sweatpants. I made my way to the door of our room and watched.

"It's just the police," he whispered as he looked through the peephole. 

They didn't flash a badge. They didn't let him know who they were. They just started asking questions. 

"Do you know...." 

"...she doesn't live here anymore."

The only way he knew they were legit was because he saw the flashing lights of their squad car in the distance. They had parked down the street rather than in front of our house. You know. Like in our driveway.

And so again, I was on the phone with someone trying to explain a way the very real situation of my son being handcuffed. 

"Ma'am, now that I'm looking, we do have something mentioned here about a dog?" 

I shook my head out of disbelief. Only then do I remember the squad car creeping by our house later that night when our dog, chasing a cat, raced out into the street and was hit by a speeding car. The tears are threatening now. 

"You have it written down about our dog being hit by a car but not our son being handcuffed?" 

"Ma'am, are you sure your son is telling the truth?"

"Am I..." I pulled the phone away from my ear and glanced at it as if it would change anything. Taking a deep breath I keep talking. "Am I sure he's telling the truth?! Why would he lie about this? Why would he make up a story about police handcuffing him? Why would he when he's scared shitless of doing something that will disappoint us?" 

I close my eyes, images of our son on the stairs, hands shaking and eyes darting every which way in vigilance. The only other time I saw him this upset was when his best friend's father was gunned down in his front yard and all of his memories of his own father's death came rushing back to haunt him.

Just no. 

"I need to go. Please do better. This is not okay." 

I hang up with the precinct, too frustrated and lit up from the inside to talk to them anymore. My words were staccato beats, and I'm not making any sense to them. I could hear their disbelief in the tone of voice.

That familiar weight started building in my chest and I collapsed on our bed, eyes looking out of the blinds on our window to a street wrought with drug abuse, neglect and the stigma of location.

How do you fight the imbalances of power?

How do you live when everything you were told is washed clean and found false?

How do you look your son in the eye and tell him everything will be okay when you don't even know if that's a lie? 

Before he was our son, before he took up residence in our hearts and home and co-opted a spare bedroom for dance crew practice, I heard his story. It broke my heart even then, and I noticed a resilience in this man-boy that wouldn't take nothing off nobody. 

He has anger. Everyone knows it. There were multiple times where he left our presence needing to blow off steam by walking or running or labbing — getting together with other dancers. In one of our first conversations at the house we watched youtube videos as he spoke with animation about krumping and how the creator of the dance-style did it out of recognition of anger. 

"It's about getting our anger out, moms. Punchin' the air instead of punchin' faces, you know?"

I close my eyes and see the clenched fists by his sides that night he was handcuffed. 

Posted on August 18, 2014 and filed under the {true} and the questions.

the itching of wings.

When we were younger, I remember climbing the couch all the way to the top and waiting for the itch in our hands to appear before leaping toward the floor. 

We liked to see how far we could fly.

We followed that itch every where. Monkey bars. Swing sets. Backyard pools and tumbling gyms. The higher, the faster, the further? The better. 

We wanted to be a ballerina for a minute. Do you remember that? We loved the way they jumped and twirled and defied gravity in so many ways. We walked into the studio clad in gym shorts and a t-shirt, saw the tights and leotards, and went running the other direction.

I felt you, though. Despite the it's okay, I didn't want to do it anyways, the pinch was there. And when we had a best friend in elementary and middle school leave for ballet class and talk about finally reaching point, we'd smile and wonder. Remember? Instead, we took to cheerleading and became the base. The spotter. We couldn't fly, but we helped every one else get there.

I think that might have been the beginning of the Great Hiding.

There were other factors too—hands in places they didn't belong and words thrown toward you at volumes you weren't meant for—but eventually, the itching went internal.

And instead of your hands reminding you where your wings should be, your heart scratched your insides and begged you to stay safe. That's when you turned to the pantry. 

You learned early on that a cookie worked better to satiate that scratching than anything else. So you ate. You ate the cookies and the tortillas and the peanut butter and the pies in the freezer. You ate the chips and the turkey and the candy bars and the chocolate milk.

And soon, you didn't even try to fly because of how heavy you felt inside.

A few years ago, someone gave you a rope. Do you remember? It was like a piece of red thread connected between here and sanity. 

The Great Hiding looked dark. Lonely. It looked like you may turn to the wallpaper for friends instead of the world outside and that's just not the way to go, you know? And you wanted the girl back—the one who would jump from things without even looking because of course she could fly. She had wings! There was itching to prove it.

That thread was the first broken belt on the strait jacket of invisibility. Nothing was satiating the scratching inside and now you knew it was because it didn't belong there. It didn't belong there and this whole time you thought your heart was working against you but really, she was just trying to get you to hear her because she was caged. 

She was caged and begging to go free.

She knows we're meant to fly.

I found the key, little one.

It's right here. I'm holding it. Are you ready? We were born to risk—to jump—to celebrate the softness of landing in our dreams. 

And today is the day the itching returns to our wings.

 

This post was part of Story Sessions' The Girls We Once Were linkup. Will you join us? 

witness.

When I was younger, my father used to tell me about listening. 

"You can't spend the entire conversation thinking of what you're going to say next. You have to listen. Really listen. Repeat what they tell you so they know." 

.::. 

I've spent my whole life listening. At some points it was a weakness. I sat in the corner, content to stay quiet despite the words pulsing deep in my veins. I chose to desert those words in fear of judgment or misunderstanding or feeling unworthy.

In September, I sat with women who shake the atmosphere when they enter a room. I listened as one of them said that our generation knows how to share our stories. What we lack? The doing.

"Our generation knows how to get things done to a fault," she said. "Your generation may need to take a page from us in learning how to follow through..."

And while there may be an element of Truth to what she said, I think really what we need to learn is how to witness. And not the evangelical hype of Romans Road. I'm talking about the looking-in-the-eye listening while a sister shares her story.

.::.

We were the first witnesses you know. Our sisters saw Him outside of the tomb and didn't run in fear or find a way to platform their revelation. They listened. They saw. And then they turned and spoke of what they experienced, repeating His words to anyone who would listen.

.::.

On Friday, I entered another room of women. To say I struggled with identity is an understatement. I was running away when a friend caught me by the arm and wrapped me in a hug. 

"I've been watching you." She said. "And I wanted to send an email but decided to just wait and tell you in person..." 

And then she spoke into me—claiming her place as a witness to my life and what God's been building. I felt seen, and took my place at the table with the shaky confidence of one who's unfolding has just been repeated back to her.

And Saturday, when I woke with the hazy memory of my awkward fumbling the day before, a whisper cut through to the core of me. 

"Claim yourself." She said. 

And so I did. 

.::.

In January, Story Sessions held a twitter party. We spoke of women and creativity and how we can build each other up instead of create competition and jealousy between us. 

"Champion. Don't compete." One of the newest members stated. We latched on to her phrase. It was one of the most retweeted comments of the evening. 

Champion. Don't compete.

Witness the unfolding—don't be so quick to find the loophole in which you can catapult yourself onto the stage with them.

.::.

Over the past few months I've been practicing more of lectio divina. And what this teaches me is to sit and wait and listen for the whispers of God. 

What do you have for me here? I ask. 

And He answers. 

In the Spirit language only Him and I know, He whispers things in my heart and it's up to me to follow through—to pay attention. 

But often times I don't like to listen. I fight the Truth or the challenge or the offering of love or the surprise because that's too scary or no one's told me that before or that's totally opposite to where I thought I was going...

But He's gentle, and keeps whispering, witnessing my own struggle and repeating back to me the Story He's created for me.

.::.

When we all try to play the same note, it sounds like a dirge. But if we take to what we know we do best—what sits at the crux of who we are at Spirit and heart—that's when the harmony kicks in, when our dirge turns into a freedom song.

And so I wonder what would happen if we quit comparing. I wonder if we began listening for those whispers—or if we took the chance to ask what's next. I wonder how we can grab the arm of another woman near us and celebrate her for who she is and what He's doing through her instead of comparing how many book sales or blog post shares or babies mama'd or pounds lost or whatever brushes against your deepest wound. 

Maybe we'd be less likely to burn those at the stake who think differently. Maybe we'd take a risk and ask other women—women who maybe even haven't ever known a stage before—to speak. Maybe we'd lift our eyes and see those around us who need community. 

Maybe we'd look them in the eye and speak into them what we see: a gifted woman waiting for someone to witness her unfolding.

Posted on February 11, 2014 and filed under the {true} and the questions.