The List and The Name

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Tucked away in the corner of my favorite coffee shop, I sit in my chair and I mull over a Name. Pressed atop my thigh is the sketchbook that I sometimes use to make lists. Daily responsibilities, wandering thoughts captured, and some very big dreams.

In no certain order is a set of names. I squint at it and think about adding more. Pen taps the page as my mind moves elsewhere. What makes one trustworthy? Would I make it on that list?

I glance back at the page and there’s a tear at the top. And I too am torn. I’m torn because I don’t know if this is a list of-to-dos or a power grab. I wonder if He somehow had mapped out my meddling and weaved it into his own idea.

I’ve made marks by those that know– Some have a check and others are crossed off, but none of them share the same color ink- a reminder of how long this hike has been.

I’m in the in-between. The place where I’m free to walk out with certain company, but go back inside around others. It’s wearing and tearing, but necessary, I think.

My list isn’t arbitrary. The names are faces and they all take up ink on my social skin. With each one comes new sets of loaded lists. One of scenarios, one of bubble wrapped words, and most importantly, one about trust. Trust that they’ll keep this. Trust that they will wait until I can check or cross every other name off.

And it’s not easy for them. My those that know mingle with my those that don’t and they find themselves gagged. Held back from friends they have never had to before. All of them are loved by me, but some are not trusted. Can you say you love someone if you don’t trust them? I should start a list of questions.

Left to right I read each name and I know what I am suppose to do. Pray and pray harder.

And for whatever reason, there is one name I cannot stop seeing. It’s like the ink is moving and trying to steal my attention. Every time I open to this page, that name wakes up and I cannot stop seeing it.

So like a heat-seeking missile, my eyes zero in on the target until everything around it blurs and dims darker. Prayers whispered whirl down like a tornado to its touchdown. All I’m hoping for is a nudge. A chance meeting. Trying so hard to be courageous.

I leave the coffee shop and go home.

The next morning I look at the list and then at my phone. The name on the list called my phone. He’s just saying hey wondering what I’ve been up to. I look back at the list and give a nod- but I need more to go on than that.

But something was so different about today. Didn’t matter whether I wanted to or not, it was just going to happen. And I’m suddenly surprised by my lack of control. It was just a different kind of morning.

So I called one of the first names crossed off on the list and told her what was to happen today. I explained that it was unexplainable, just a feeling, a nudge, an inevitability. She told me she’d pray for the both of us.

I texted the Name and said we should hang out tonight

But as the day wore on and courage filtered through doubt, I decided against tonight. I felt the reins returning to my hands and I loved that I could choose again. I was aware that this red light-green light game started to resemble the pattern of a slow dieter. I’ll enjoy my distance today, but tomorrow, that’s when I’ll start being honest.

I called the Name and cancelled. Too much was going on, I said. I’m staying in.

But I didn’t stay in. The only place I wanted to be, that place I felt peace, was tucked in that chair in that corner of my favorite coffee shop. The baristas all know me here and when I walk through the door they say hello. Usually I walk on by waving, set my things down in my chair and then go back for my cup.

Turning the corner to the other side of the fireplace, a realization dawns on me and I am stopped dead in my tracks. I crossed a line. I ignored that voice in my head for far too long telling me to tell this person and that person, and to finish the damn list already. Fate would find me, it always does. Sitting in my chair is the name on my list and my mind.

He was sitting in my Naming chair. The place I would pick and choose who to bring in and who to leave out. All he thinks is going on is that I am caught in that earlier lie. He thought I was staying in. The Name looked more surprised than I did, but definitely didn’t feel it as much.

In a move of pure passive aggressiveness, I settle in somewhere else, telling him I have some “business” to attend to. I found a different chair. It was unfamiliar and had a big lump in the cushion and the whole time I saw and seethed over the boundaries fate had betrayed. Into my corner and into my chair. It had taken me out of my safe space and I kept my lips locked. You don’t get to choose, I boiled.

Closing time came fast and the Name meandered over to my makeshift study. Unsure of how to keep my cards close, so he wouldn’t know something was up, I agreed that I had nothing else to do and that we should go hang with some friends.

I drove behind him and I felt the wind at my back moving me faster. Any further, any more distance, any more silence and I would self-destruct. I had to let go. I had to exhale. I had to give in to where the wind was taking me. I had to have faith in fate. I had to, even if I didn’t want to. Gritting my teeth, I took out my phone and told the Name to pull over.

We sat in my the car and I told him my story. Beginning to end. All those times something seemed wrong and he knew there was, but I never told him. Why me and some others would sneak off to talk. What we were talking about and why he wasn’t invited. I told him that his name was written on my list and on my mind and my heart. It had been written so long ago. I always trusted him, but I always battled doubt.

And he listened and let me talk. His face didn’t fall out of place, it was calm and his eyes kept contact. Throughout my ramble he nodded and smiled and showed sympathy through the lines on his brow. Then he spoke and he called me courageous. He thanked me, THANKED me, for trusting in his confidence. Nothing would ever change because our relationship is built on a rock that can’t be shaken. Not by something like this.

And I saw how honest words can restore what regret took.

~~~

Trust is more ruthless and risky than all other exchanges. It asks us to be human and be liberal with this life. Let those that you care about in and never measure their love by the yardstick you use for yourself.

I think a lot about how fate and trust share the same sheets. I am Jonah, and I believe I have a safehouse. But fate always finds me. He finds me and throws me in front of my peas and says, “eat,”why?“Because it’s good for you.” And I cross my arms and scrunch up my mouth, and He sighs and replies , “got all day bud.”

Maybe my list and maybe my steps are all predestined anyway. Perhaps Papa God really held the pen to the page. Maybe its a partnership; another facet of faith. Another foot down the dim stairway. It could be true that my relationship with the list and the faces behind them are reflective of my trust in the Father.

Something else to think about as I sit back in my chair and stare again at the list. There are only checks and crosses. Not a single is scribbled or burnt off the page. Not a single face has fled me.

And this hike doesn’t feel so wearisome anymore.

It is a picture of how far I have come.

And all the country I have left to cross.

RR

Flaunting Sexuality

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I remember the date I attended that service, because it was 3 months before I came out. The message was a continuation of a series on sex and gender roles and what each means for the committed Christian. It actually wasn’t that conservative of a conversation. Open minds were presented and the words submission and purity weren’t drawn on like arrows to a bow.

But during the Q & A, a certain question came up; one that everyone was thinking because this was CHURCH and we were talking about SEX.

What about homosexuality?

“Well… um. hmmmmmm… ha.

The Christian Sex Expert conceded the floor to our pastor who had a not-so-thorough but nonetheless, gracious and nuanced response.

“Exactly” chimed in the Expert, “exactly and, like, I don’t walk up to strangers saying, ‘Hey, my name is Jane and I’m a heterosexual.’ That’s just not how we introduce ourselves!” She stepped back, folded her arms and beamed around as if she had just steered us somewhere satisfactory. And all I thought was, wait… where exactly?

It’s an age old tradition for the Church crowd to level complaints against others that are…. ill-fitting.

Like when they’d say, Women are just so shrill and simple and emotional”

Or, Black folk are always out take what is mine”

More recently, “Them illegal’s are trying to take away English from our country”

Right now, “Those gays are so in-your-face about their sexuality”

Its safe to say this Expert was operating under the old assumption that gay people put way too much of an emphasis on their sexual orientation. That somehow our sexual identity supersedes the spiritual one. And in a perfectly uncomplicated world, I could sympathize with her. That being said, her answer reflects a common misunderstanding about who LGBT people are… something I would hope a Sex Expert would have some knowledge of.

First and foremost, women, racial minorities and religious identities are never asked to silence their stories of struggle or to cover up the marks that make them different. We tried being colorblind, but that almost erased the progress we made towards healing old crimes. We tried to not see gender, but then things got complicated because women wanted equality not worship. We tried to not see religion but with that came a compromise of conscience for those of us that hold our relationships with a higher power to be the most significant aspect of our lives.

At some point down the road we realized that it would be wrong to become blind to the beautiful blemishes that make us rare to the regular. To do so would be a betrayal to the “come as you are” culture we have sought to emulate.

We should also consider who the typical talkers are when it comes to this. Not necessarily at the pulpit, but in faith culture and the public for sure.

After all, it is typically conservative Christians who insert LGBT issues into constitutional ballots and it is usually conservative Christians who show up to protest the Pride parade. When Christians go to vote, abortion and gay marriage tend to be the two issues that their decision hangs upon. Now that I think of it… Christians may chat about this more than we do. And it’s okay.

But when my gay brethren bring up their love life it’s suddenly in your face?

Spare me.

Maybe the reason this kind of thinking exists is because perception from a distance makes misconceptions feel like observations. Basically, you havent sat in our stories.

And if you did that, with ears and hearts wide open, you might get a morsel of understanding. When you grow up in a hetero-normative culture that calls you a contradiction and an abomination, this important piece of who you are becomes magnified over endless years of closet living. It’s all we thought about and hated about and finally accepted and appreciated about ourselves.

And then when you’re out… (snap) just like that, everybody talks about it, and soon, you become someone’s “gay” friend to pull out at parties (like an accessory).

But when we, the experts of our own unique experiences, talk openly about them, we are crassly throwing it in your face.

We are making too much of ourselves.

Just because we’re not cut from the same Wonder Bread doesn’t mean we are without sustenance.

So give us our dues and let us share our stories. We aren’t pushing an “agenda” any more than the Sisters giving sermons are propagating feminism. We aren’t crashing a party any more than the black folks in the pews are disrupting white homogeneity. We are not obsessed with our sexuality, but we get that we’re different. A significant and inseparable part of a body built on diversity.

RR

Context is not a Paper Trail

This story has been on my mind a lot lately. I can’t wait to see the students when I get back.

Registered Runaway

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The work day begins and I’m already exhausted. A good night’s sleep just doesn’t cut it anymore. They file in, take their seats, trade complaints over the homework they never did, and I just sit and stare in amazement. Maybe it has something to do with being removed from the identity of a student or perhaps this is a view of life post-coming of age. But from my vantage point, it is hard to watch young men and women throw their lives away on a daily basis.

With one hand I cup my mug of coffee, with the other I squeeze the stress ball.

Most mornings, these two are all that keep me going.

I work with teenagers cut from the coarsest cloth. They are stubborn, hard-hearted and all around pain in the ass two-year olds. Everyday, it seems, I watch them approach the schoolhouse door, laughing…

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Context is not a Paper Trail

 Image

The work day begins and I’m already exhausted. A good night’s sleep just doesn’t cut it anymore. They file in, take their seats, trade complaints over the homework they never did, and I just sit and stare in amazement. Maybe it has something to do with being removed from the identity of a student or perhaps this is a view of life post-coming of age. But from my vantage point, it is hard to watch young men and women throw their lives away on a daily basis.

With one hand I cup my mug of coffee, with the other I squeeze the stress ball.

Most mornings, these two are all that keep me going.

I work with teenagers cut from the coarsest cloth. They are stubborn, hard-hearted and all around pain in the ass two-year olds. Everyday, it seems, I watch them approach the schoolhouse door, laughing in their little cohorts, innocently roughhousing, only to transform into something sinister as they part from the outside world.

But what they lack in manners they make up for in shields. Through their eyes- teachers are out to get their students and their friends have their best interests at heart. There is more than a poverty of income in today’s low-income kids. There is a poverty of trust.

The other day one of our worst was well, at his worst. He was pulling kids out of class, shouting slurs into his cell phone, and came close to damaging school property. After each incident I would ask him what made him tick, or more specifically, what the hell did the world owe him? He would respond, every time, with a smirk and an, “everyone here knows I’m a pain in the ass, get used it.”

Sip the coffee.

Squeeze the ball.

Try again.

I pursued him, peppering him with questions, but trying not to be interrogatory. That didn’t work so I presented the problem to members of the staff. I wanted to know why he wasn’t in some form of therapy to harness in his bad behavior and why the teachers were letting him act like an animal rather than demand a little discipline. What they went on to tell me made my jaw drop.

A few weeks ago, this kid had gotten arrested, not sure what for exactly, but something happened in the trailer park where he lives to land him in jail for the night. The community expressed their concern in one of the cruelest ways possible. They told his family that they had to choose whether to pick up and leave together or kick their son to the curb. And what should have been an easy answer ended up being the cause of this kid’s spiral into desperation. His own folks threw him out.

It wasn’t easy to digest this. I guess it never should be. But suddenly, this kid was not a pain in the ass, the world was.

The following morning I returned with a resolve to pay more attention to his needs and to what he wasn’t saying. Standing in the hallway, sipping on my coffee, squeezing my stress ball, I waited for the teens to come piling through the door in no more than 5 minutes. These five minutes were mine to muster up motivation. Mine to remember why I was doing what I was doing.

Hearing the handle turn, I looked up, and instead of a storm of students, I saw a little woman shuffling towards me . She was carrying a large number of envelopes.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“I’m ______’s mom, here’s his mail. Um, I was also wondering how he’s doing. Do you know?”

I cringed as I told her how he had been acting up and seemed distracted from his studies. She then asked where he was living. I told her that as far as I knew he was staying in his car. She left. I cried.

What I really wanted to ask her was- how dare you? Who the hell told you that you would be a good parent? By my definition you are negligent and an abuser of one of the finest privileges mankind has- tell me, how do you sleep at night?

This mother intentionally drove to her son’s school to arrive early enough where she wouldn’t have to see him to drop off his mail and make a brief inquiry into what his homeless life looked like. I don’t know if she was more ashamed of herself or her son.

What I have been trying to do on this page is elevate the importance of stories. Of people’s histories. Of life behind the facebook feed, drug habits and criminal records. The experiences of  roofless nights and ruthless days, of heartbreaking betrayals and brutal beat downs. What I call the complex context. The parts that aren’t put down in paper. Those throbbing places in between the lines that we never see until we ask.

Our records, failures, and achievements reflect a fun house image of our real lives. She may have been a mother on paper, but she was no mother. He may have been a criminal and rebel-rouser, but that didn’t mean he lacked a conscience. His story, her story, are both ones of free will, but also cause and effect. I once mistook him for a troll, but now knowing his complex context- I can’t see anything but a kid who got a dealt a shitty hand of cards.

I wonder what I would see if I saw her hand?

More than anything what the past several days have shown me is my continual need for perspective. The outlook of others makes me remember my blessings, and also the tendency of my fists to close at begging hands. Catching a glimpse of life through another’s eyes reminds me of the importance of storytelling. Why we all need it. Why we need the mess and complexity to understand empathy. Why empathy is Kingdom Come. Why when I cried for the kid I felt more human than I have in a long time. Those tears were a way to worship. But after worship comes the word, and after the word comes the work. And the work may be the trickiest task of all.

Here’s to seeing.

Here’s to hearing.

Here’s to trying.

RR

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