Tuesday, November 18, 2014

When Loss is Gain

The thing about pastors is, we're human, too. We're actually no different from the people who sit in the pews of churches. We just have a different view on Sunday mornings.

Any pastor who tells you they've never doubted God is either lying or has a faith not worth trusting, in my humble opinion.

Any pastor who pretends they never have evil thoughts is full of shit.

I am not a nice person, but I like to believe I am incredibly kind.

Today, I may not even be all that kind; in reality, as a child in early elementary school, I was not all that kind. I was angry and violent a lot of the time.

Things changed when I was ten. There are reasons for the change, but I'll not go into those now. Suffice it to say the rage and violence remained, but I chose to direct them inward rather than outward. It took a very long time for the violence to end and the rage to dissipate and healing and joy to take their place again.

Two years before the change, however, there was one boy in my third grade class. His name was Andrew. This is the only time in this blog I will ever use a real name.

I do not remember Andrew's last name, but I was mean and hateful and cruel to him. For many years now I've wished I could look him up, find him, and apologize for the way I treated him. I carry the shame of my childhood sins with me.

But that is not what this post is about. This post is about this morning.

The thing about being a pastor is you end up on everybody's email list. Every church you've ever served, every church you've ever attended, every church you've ever preached at. They all get you on the roster, and the roster never gets cleaned out.

I received an email this morning from the church I grew up in. A young man passed away this weekend. He was thirty-four years old.

And I thought to myself that the world had become a kinder and gentler place with his passing.

This man was a year ahead of me in school. He was cruel to me. Not in the same ways I was cruel to Andrew, but in other ways. Constant torment and verbal abuse that was ignored by the adults in every setting.

He largely ignored me at church, but during the summers, he and his step-siblings would dunk me in the pool and hold me under water, they would taunt me about being an overweight kid from a dysfunctional and incredibly impoverished family. The lifeguards did nothing but tell me that if I didn't want to be picked on, I should go on a diet and not be so fat. The pool management said the same thing.

During the school year I only had interactions with him on the playground because he was a year ahead of me. That is until we were both transferred to a different school district some 20 miles away.

I tried to think kindly of him. He had a physical disability and came from a family not much different than my own, though perhaps slightly more well off. I didn't like the way he treated me, but I couldn't bring myself to be cruel to him. I couldn't bring myself to be cruel about him. Mostly, I just felt sorry for him, because I knew what had caused me to become an angry, bitter, violent five year old.

This all changed one day on the way home from school. There were three of us being bused from our district to the district up north. We rode in a white minivan with "SCHOOL BUS" magnets on the panels of the van.

This particular day, this boy had ridden to school, but he was nowhere to be seen in the bus on the way home from school. I asked about his very noticeable absence, and was told by the driver that he'd gotten sick at school and gone home early.

I genuinely hoped he was okay.

Then, the 25 minute ride home. I was grilled relentlessly about how I felt about this boy. I was goaded and picked at and pressured to say terrible, mean, hateful, hurtful things about him. Repeatedly I was asked, "But you really hate him, don't you? You think he's terrible, don't you?" These questions were asked by the third student and the bus driver, a woman in her late 40s.

I had never thought such things about him and I said so.

The onslaught of questions continued, but I heard a scuttling on the floor and looked under the seats. There he was, this boy of eleven, who had conspired to get me to say terrible things about him; there was the bus driver, a grown woman with adult children of her own, colluding to make a fool of me.

"It was just a joke," they said, trying to pass off their horrendous behavior as something we could all laugh about.

But it wasn't a joke when I was pressed into saying thing I hadn't thought - until that moment; when it was demanded that I admit to feelings that I did not have - until that moment.

I wasn't so angry with this boy or our fellow student for their stupid and childish prank as I was with the bus driver, a grown adult who sought to humiliate me, who intentionally created circumstances and participated in behaviors designed to trap me into saying something they could use against me later, an adult who was supposed to be a safe person, who had insisted this bus was a safe space, and who violated that safety with trickery and abuse.

I exploded when I got home and screamed at her about what a vile and disgusting human being she was.

As for this boy and the third student, I cried a bit. I couldn't understand their betrayal. Weren't we all in this together? Hadn't we all been kicked out of one school to be bused to another, one with more resources for "problem children" like us? Why was I the one singled out as the object of torment and insult? Weren't we all struggling with similar things?

The next day we had a new driver, the adult son of original driver who gave me an earful about how disrespectful my behavior toward his mother had been. I laughed in his face. Defending myself was not disrespectful. What she had done was disrespectful.

I read on the bus from then on and refused to speak to either this boy, the other student, or the new driver who continued to pick us up and drop us off for the remainder of the year.

But I never forgot that experience.

Some years later, while I was in seminary, the new pastor at my church mentioned that this boy, now a grown man, was in a facility, got precious few visitors, and since I was in the area often, it would probably be appreciated if I stopped by.

I never did. I didn't owe him anything.

This morning, I wanted to feel compassion. He's someone's son. He's someone's brother. He's someone's uncle. I thought briefly of sending my condolences to his family, telling them I'm sorry for their loss. But I'm not sorry.

And I do not feel compassion.

I feel relief, because my world feels a little safer and a little kinder without him in it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Precision of Language and the Power of Voice

I am self-conscious about a number of my traits: physical attributes, personality quirks, and things that are uniquely me. The one thing I am most self-conscious about is my voice.

There are a lot of reasons I'm so self-conscious about my voice. My voice, for what it's worth, is not only uniquely me, and not only a significant expression of my personality quirks, but my voice is what it is precisely because of the unseen physical attributes of my vocal folds and diaphragm.

My voice tells people more than I want it to. Others hear my anxiety when I am trying to keep it together; others feel my excitement when I'm trying to express something important without overwhelming; others hear the irritation and impatience when I'm trying to be polite and respectful while explaining for the fortieth time in this conversation that I do know what I'm doing and I do not have to justify my knowledge to anyone; others hear and know and sometimes they even understand when my voice goes silent.

My voice has gotten me into trouble in nearly every place I've ever been. My voice has been a source of immense pain in every relationship I've ever had.

I was repeatedly silenced and made invisible as a child when I used my voice to speak out again abuse and injustice in my home.

I remember clearly one moment when I was about eight years old: though I did not want to, I was forced to give voice to sacred hymns that felt like lies and tasted bitter in my mouth or risk public humiliation and chastisement from my grandmother in the middle of a church service.

Once, in my teen years, I stopped speaking entirely for two weeks because I was in so much pain all words were lost to me. I received praise from those closest for the fact that I had begun to whither and fade.

In college I was told to stop asking so many clarifying questions when a professor would make two completely contradictory statements in the course of a lecture, leaving me to wonder how we ought to weight the information he was providing us.

I used to like some forms of music in some contexts and I used to love singing. Until I was told, every single time I sang for the pure pleasure of engaging the music, that I was flat and could sound so much better if I'd do a little work. This was told to me by a vocal coach who even offered to give me a few lessons. When I sought to accept this gracious offer, I was turned away. The criticism, however, continued, until I stopped singing entirely.

I do not sing now. And I rarely listen to music.

At work, my boss greeted me early one more as he came into the office. I greeted him back quite cheerfully and within two minutes received an email that if I continues to be disruptive in the work environment corrective action up to and including termination would be issued.

I've never greeted my boss again.

A few months later, I received a call from a very angry individual. Rather than get caught up in the anger and anxiety, I chose to modulate my voice, speak soothingly, and try to maintain control of the call so as to find a satisfactory resolution that met both the caller's and the company's needs. In the middle of the call I received a message from my boss telling me I wasn't being loud enough and he expected me to be more myself immediately or HR would be involved.

Those two incidents occurred in the same work place; the remarks were made by the same boss.

I hate my voice in almost every context in which I use or refrain from using it.

I am careful and intentional in how I use it in almost all situations.

It is not just the tone and volume that I seek and so miserably fail to modulate. I am also incredibly intentional in the words I choose when I give voice to my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and needs. Perhaps because the tone of my voice is often misinterpreted by so many I have become more careful and intentional in how I use my words.

I had been uninterested in reading Lois Lowry's The Giver because the synopsis read like a teen-ified, watered down version of George Lucas's THX 1138.

By happy accident, my niece and I were at a book store and upon seeing the book, she passionately urged me to buy and read it. She had enjoyed it immensely and thought I would love it as well.

So, I picked it up and when I was done with two books on my "Next to be Read" list, I started it.

I loved the book and perhaps if I were younger or less well read or completely unfamiliar with Utopian fiction, I would not have known what was going on from page one. As it was, I enjoyed it despite the fact that I could see the big reveal coming from the start.

Though I knew what was going on, I was actually quite drawn to the community Lowry had created. After all, release seemed a small price to pay for a community that operated so smoothly and in which precision of language was such an extraordinarily high value.

I began to feel drawn in and even found myself desiring such a community in my own life, where people say what they mean and mean what they say; where words are chosen carefully, intentionally, and precisely; where tone and feeling are less important than sentence structure and diction.

Until I read Asher's review at the ceremony for Twelves:
"When the committee began to consider Asher's Assignment," she went on, "there were some possibilities that were immediately discarded. Some that would clearly not have been right for Asher.
"For example," she said, smiling, "we did not consider for an instant designating Asher the Instructor of Threes."
The audience howled with laughter. Asher laughed too, looking sheepish but pleased with the special attention. The Instructor of Threes was in charge of the acquisition of language....
The punishment used for small children was a regulated system of smacks with the discipline wand: a thin, flexible weapon that stung painfully when it was wielded. The Childcare specialists were trained very carefully in the discipline methods: a quick smack across the hands for a bit of minor misbehavior; three sharper smacks on the bare legs for a second offense.1 
Honestly, even at this point, I was still enamored of the community Lowry had created. Though the discipline seemed harsh for one so young, the payoff for precision seemed well worth it.

I continued to read:
Poor Asher, who always talked too fast and mixed up words, even as a toddler. As a Three, eager for his juice and crackers at snacktime, he one day said "smack" instead of "snack" as he stood waiting in line for the morning treat.
Jonas remembered it clearly. He could still see little Asher, wiggling with impatience in the line. He remembered the cheerful voice calling out, "I want my smack!"
The other Threes, including Jonas, had laughed nervously. "Snack!" they corrected. "You meant snack, Asher!" But the mistake had been made. And precision of language was one of the most important tasks of small children. Asher had asked for a smack.
The discipline wand, in the hand of the Childcare worker, whistled as it came down across Asher's hands. Asher whimpered, cringed, and corrected himself instantly. "Snack," he whispered.
But the next morning he had done it again. And again the following week. He couldn't seem to stop, though for each lapse the discipline wand came again, escalating to a series of painful lashes that left marks on Asher's legs. Eventually, for a period of time, Asher stopped talking altogether, when was a Three.2 
I cried. I cried for Asher. I cried for myself. I cried for all those whose voices have been silenced through the years and whose voices continue to be silenced today. I cried for all of the words that are used in place of discipline wands and which leave scars much deeper on the soul.

I sought out my partner and a hug of comfort.

The next morning, I went to church, a place where my voice is not only accepted and encouraged but sought out for the purpose of reading scripture.

I feel at home in this community that sees my greatest weakness as a strength and a gift. I feel grateful to have found this place.

*****

1. Lois Lowry, The Giver (New York: Laurel-Leaf, 1993), 54.
2. ibid., 55.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Therapy Session that Wasn't

I am confident that I have a self-confidence problem.

I am also confident that my former therapist would COMPLETELY agree with me on this point. Though she considered it her job to challenge distorted thought patterns in our sessions, I considered it her job to assure me that I was doing it "correctly" when I challenged my own distorted thought patterns. Our sessions often looked something like this:

Me: So.... This is the thing that happened, and this is how I felt, and I realized this is what I was thinking, and I realized that wasn't accurate, so I changed my thinking to this instead, and then I felt better.

Therapist: That's exactly how healthy people confront their thoughts. Therapy is for people who need someone else to challenge their thoughts. WHY ARE YOU PAYING ME WHEN YOU'RE DOING MY JOB FOR ME?

Me: Because it's worth it to me to have the assurance of a trained professional that I'm doing it right?

Therapist: And it's worth the cost to you?

Me: Absolutely.

Therapist: Okay.... If it's really what you want to do, but you do not need my services.

I haven't been to see my therapist in quite some time. Life was plugging along at a good pace and I had nothing going on in my life that made me think seeing my therapist might be necessary to manage distorted thoughts and resulting negative emotions.

Then, I met the most incredible man. And we talked and talked and talked. And then we decided to go on a date. And then he asked me to go on a second date. And then he asked me to be in a committed, mutually monogamous relationship and see where things go. And I said yes. Because when a kind, gracious, brilliant man who makes your brain light up like a Christmas tree clearly states his intentions and is as attracted to you as your are to him and whose relationship interests and life goals are compatible with your own, and when he wants to pursue a relationship with you and you want the same with him, and he's clear, direct, and honest about all of it and asks you to date him, the only answer one can give is, "YES!"

Add to this the fact that he's perfectly beautiful and an excellent cook, and exceptional communicator and willing to have awkward conversations, and he's so unbelievably respectful, puts up with all of my annoying quirks (I talk to my books when I read, I'm not overly fond of music outside of a car - and then low volume, and I ask really awkward questions on a regular basis) and he loves cheese as much as I do, and it was only a matter of time before the freak out started.

I was on the brink of calling my therapist this week. "I can't do this," I thought, a bit panicked. "I'm not made for it. I have no idea what I'm doing. I've never done it before. And it's not as though this kind of thing has ever been modeled for me in healthy ways. I'm going to fail and it will the most terrible thing ever!"

I pulled out my phone, because I could feel the panic rising.

Then, I stopped to consider just what a conversation with my therapist would look like.

Therapist; What brings you in today?

Me: I've started seeing this guy.

Therapist: How's that going?

Me: Amazing! He's fantastic and we're highly compatible, and I enjoy spending time with him. He's kind and smart and funny! What's more, he's super supportive of me and my life goals and encourages me regularly. He asks good questions and invites me to share myself with him. He doesn't shy away from my questions and he's willing to share himself with me. We're both aware that it's new and we're in the early stages which means everything is wonderful, but we're both committed to being open and honest with one another about our needs and expectations and addressing conflict in an open, honest, healthy and respectful way when conflict does eventually come up.

Therapist: That's fantastic. So, why are you here today?

Me: Because I'm dating this amazing guy.

Therapist: So, you came in to tell me that you're dating an amazing man? I'm happy to celebrate this news with you. What do you want to talk about for the next 45 minutes of your 50 minute session?

Me: Ummmm.... You know, that was it. I'm dating this amazing guy. And.... I don't know. You know, I don't know how to be in a relationship. I'm terrible at these things. I've tried before and it's never worked out and so clearly I can't do this.

Therapist: But you ended your relationship with the butcher because he was disrespectful and violated your boundaries despite you telling him in a clear, direct, honest, open and respectful fashion what your boundaries are.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you ended your relationship with the mustache because he wasn't interested in being in a relationship with you and he was simply avoiding talking about it, so you called him out on his lack of interest and ended things.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And you have other relationships in your life that are deep and committed and emotionally intimate - with your best friend for instance, and your friends from grad school, and some of your co-workers.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, you clearly know how to engage in intimate relationships. You clearly know how to be clear, direct, honest, open and respectful in communicating your needs to your partner. You clearly know how to respectfully end a relationship that isn't healthy.

Me: Yep.

Therapist: And from everything you've said, you're still in the early stages of a relationship, you're cognizant of the realities of the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship, you're committed to engaging in this relationship in a healthy way and your partner is on board. He's demonstrated kindness, respect and clear, direct, honest and open communication with you to date?

Me: Yep.

Therapist: So, why are you here to see me today?

Me: So you can tell me that I'm doing this right?

I closed my phone and put it back in my pocket. I've decided it's time to trust myself and my skills and my abilities. It's time to affirm my reality for myself and stop relying on a professional to tell me I'm healthy. It's time to stop listening to the voice of self-doubt in my head and trust both in myself and in my partner, that even if I haven't had great role models for healthy romantic relationships, we can work together to figure out how we work together.

And I'm going to trust that I can do this thing, because I've done millions of things before that no one ever modeled for me, things I had to figure out on my own, and it wasn't always easy, and it wasn't always pretty, and I didn't always manage such things with all of the grace I wish I had, but I did them and I learned and I grew and I love the life I have and nothing can change that. And this time, I'm not doing it alone (not that I ever did any of the other things alone, despite what it felt like at the time). I'm doing it with a kind, brilliant, respectful, incredibly sexy man at my side.

I could not be happier to trust in myself and to trust in someone else.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Key Lime Bars

It was a citrus themed weekend.

Key Lime Bars:


For the Crust:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 1 lb key limes
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking. Immediately pour key lime filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

Passionfruit Bars

In line with the most recent recipes I've been working on, this weekend I stopped by the grocery store to pick up eggs in order to make lemon bars and key lime bars and saw that passionfruit was on sale! So, I bought several with the intentions of making passionfruit bars as well.

I love the tartness of passionfruit, but it's quite a delicately flavored fruit otherwise. As such, these are a very mild bar, which I liked less than the key lime, but which one of my hosts favored a great deal. I also altered the crust and cut back on the total sugar in the recipe. It could still be tweaked, but all in all, it was pretty good.

*****

Crust:
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour

Filling:
Pulp (seeds removed) of 10 passionfruit
1 cup sugar
3 Tbls cornstarch
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350*F.

Combine butter, sugar and flour until it resembled course crumbs. Press into a 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar and cornstarch. Add pulp and eggs. Mix completely.

Pour filling over hot crust and bake an additional 20-25 minutes.

Cool. Cut and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry

Having made lemon bars last week which led to some experimentation including Margarita Bars earlier this week. I also felt inspired between making and delivering the lemon bars to make the lemon bars with some herbaceous goodness in the crust.

As such, I present to you the recipe for Savory Thyme Lemon Bars with Raspberry.



For the Crust;

1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups gf flour blend (I like Domata brand)
Leaves of 15-20 thyme stems

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 2 large or 4 small lemons
4 eggs

10 oz  raspberry cake and pastry filling.


Preheat oven to 350*.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into 9x13 cake pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

While the crust is baking, combine the sugar and cornstarch. Add juice, zest, and eggs. Mix completely.

When the crust is finished baking, remove from oven and dot with raspberry cake and pastry filling. Immediately pour lemon filling mixture over the crust and bake for an additional 20  minutes.

Remove from oven. Cool completely.

*****

I continue to think I may need to bake the crust longer. Maybe 25-30 minutes. I was using a different oven, so it may be a matter of equipment.

I also did not have lemon extract on hand, and this is quite regretful. The extra tsp or two really makes it great.

In the future, I would double the thyme and halve the raspberry filling. More likely, I would double the thyme and fresh raspberries instead of filling. But, as first attempts go, this wasn't terrible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Margarita Bars

Someone I know, who also happens to be quite special to me, loves lemon bars. And because I love to feed people I love, I made a big batch of lemon bars for this individual. While I was in the process of transporting the lemon bars, it occurred to me that there are numerous ways I can alter a basic lemon bar recipe to make it more spectacular.

As a girl who loves lime and tequila and all things margaritas, I decided to adjust the recipe to make margarita bars. And since several people have told me how much they enjoy these bars, I'm including the recipe here for you, my faithful readers.

Margarita Bars

Crust:

1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 cups gf flour (I like Domata brand)
1 tsp kosher salt

Margarita Topping

1 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tbls cornstarch
Juice and zest of 6 limes
4 eggs
1 tsp lemon extract
1 tsp orange extract
3 oz good silver tequila
6 pkgs True Lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 350* F.

Line 9 x 13 cake pan with parchment paper.

Mix crust ingredients until it resembles course crumbs. Press into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes.

While crust is baking, whisk sugar and cornstarch until thoroughly combined. Add the remaineder of th fill ingredients. Mix completely.

Pour over hot crust and return to oven. Bake an additional 20 minutes.

Cool completely. Store in airtight container in refrigerator.

Cut into squares to serve. If you like a saltier margarita, top each individual bar with a sprinkle of kosher salt.



These bars are super tart, the tequila comes through nicely, and the salt on top adds a delightful contrast to the occasional bitterness brought by the lime zest.