Sunday, August 28, 2011

In Vino Veritas

This morning sucked.

After less than 3 hours of sleep, I showed up to church over-dressed.  After swapping out my dress and heels for shorts and a t-shirt, I promptly sat in spilled soup.  So, back I changed into the dress.  Ugh.  Church in the park is supposed to be fun!  It was not shaping up to be a happy event.

To make matters worse, I was reading the Epistle.  Romans 12:9-21.  I scarcely got through it.  I began to tear up as I read the first two verses:  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.

I was exhausted and emotional and emotionally spent and in thinking about "outdo[ing] one another in showing honor," I thought about how honored I had felt the night before in a conversation I had with a friend.  And my voice caught as I tried to read the words, my vision blurring from the tears I was holding back.

After church, there was a fabulous potluck.  There were all sorts of really wonderful looking foods.  Most of which I, as a celiac, could not eat.  Tired, weary, and with a headache of epic proportions, I changed back into my now soup-stained shorts and t-shirt, and curled up in the back of Jaguar with my dog to take a nap while my younger brother, who'd gotten a ride to church with us this morning, fished.  This is neither an easy nor a comfortable feat for someone who is 5' 10" tall.

Things started to look up, however, later in the afternoon.

After we got home from church, I took a nap.  In my bed!  It was freakin' amazing!

Then, we headed out to the next church activity of the day.

There is a couple in my church who own a small vineyard.  Just a few acres.  They grow one variety of white grapes--La Crosse--and one variety of red--GR7.

A year ago, our church decided to begin offering wine as an option at communion.  We began to serve wine for communion this past Easter.

Last year was our first year in what is to become an annual tradition.  This time last year, I was in Colorado and missed the first annual stomping of the grapes.  Today, I stomped for the first time.  It was ROCK AWESOME!

After we harvested grapes from 5 vines, pulling in about 3-4 5-gallon buckets full of grapes, the stomping began.  (This produced approximately 6 gallons of grape juice which will leave approximately 5 gallons wine at the end of the process).  The first step is to stand in a tub of vinegar.  This sanitizes the feet.

The second step is to stand in a tub of warm water.  This washes away the vinegar.

Finally, into the grapes.  A big, squishy tub of purple GR7 grapes.  You can feel the grapes crush beneath your feet, the skin splitting, the meat popping forth and the sticky sweet juice running between your toes.  It was the most disgusting fun I think I've ever had.

There seemed to be several techniques for stomping grapes.  Some used stepped into the tub and twisted their way to the bottom, using their feet like a food mill, applying downward pressure and a corkscrew motion to extract the juice.  Some simply stomped, marching place or stepping from side to side and back again.

I used my toes, grabbing the grapes and squeezing until they burst.  I rolled large bunches over the top of my foot and used the instep of my other to crush them.  I danced and laughed and delighted in the stomping of the grapes.

After this, our host and hostess--the vineyard owner and his wife--fed us an excellent meal of roast pork loin, potatoes, cole slaw, and a few varietals of wine.  Lemonade and water were available as well.  It was fun and church family and joy.  It was the perfect ending to any day.  More than anything, though, it felt like a gift from a God, a blessing, a bit of redemption and resurrection for a day which had started out so difficult.

I fully intend to this again next year!

*And did I mention?  Our church's wine label reads "Ripley Redemption Red".

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Greetings from The Shire

I'm a senior technical adviser and product specialist for a window and door company.  It can be a pretty entertaining job, let me tell you.  I spend most of my day bending over backwards to assist people, and I do everything I can to bend the rules or work around the rules or occasionally throw the rules out the window to make sure the homeowner with whom I am speaking is satisfied.

Some homeowners don't get this.  Twice in my tenure I ended a call and cried.  The first time, it was my second day on the job and the person I spoke with was hostile and resistant to giving me any information from the get go.

Homeowner:  I need to order some replacement parts.

Me:  Great.  Can I get your address, please?

Homeowner:  Why do you need that?

Me:  So we know where to ship the parts once you've ordered.

Homeowner:  Fine.

Me:  What kind of window are you calling about?

Homeowner:  Why do you need to know that?

Me:  So I know which parts catalog to open, so I can find you the correct line and vintage.

Homeowner:  Fine.  They are X.

Me:  What year were your windows manufactured?

Homeowner:  Why should I tell you that?  You said the information I gave you previously would help, and ca-LEAR-ly it didn't.

This, is a greatly abridged transcript.  The actual conversation went on for over 40 minutes with this guy refusing to give me any additional information without explanation and talking to me like I was wasting his time.

Then, there was the guy who purchased a new screen.  He purchased it from his local home improvement big box store.  The box had some damage to it, and when he got home, the screen was bent.  He wanted me to send him a new one, and get it to him the next day.

For starters, door screens have a 6 day lead time.  This means they don't actually leave our factory until 6 day after the order has been processed.  Secondly, because the company needs to know, for insurance and other business purposes, at what point in the production/packing/shipping process the damage occurred, if a product arrives broken, homeowners need to go back to their place of purchase for the replacement.  We are more than happy to replace the screen.  At no cost.  But it has to be done through the proper channels.

I explained this to the homeowner.  This was his response:  Fuck you, bitch.  Fuck you, bitch, you fucking cunt.

I spent 10 minutes crying in the ladies room after that.

So, finally, I decided rather than taking it personally, I'm going to assume that the homeowner has the problem.  And I'm going to be amused by them.

So, I get this guy a few week ago who insisted we had sent him the wrong product and wanted to be connected to someone who could rectify this.  He didn't want to give me any information about who he was or what the product was or what was wrong with it.  I persisted and cajoled and finally got him to allow me to open his file so that I could send him to my supervisor for correction.

Except, when I opened his file, it turned out we didn't the send the wrong part after all.

As I tried to explain this to the man, he just kept interrupting and yelling at me, and telling me I was wrong.  And every time he would interrupt, I would stop, let him rant and continue when he had finished.  And I honestly had a difficult time not laughing out loud at him.  He calls me, asking for assistance, and then refuses to allow me to help him.  This is ridiculous and bordering on crazy, in my opinion.

I had a new trainee sitting with me that day.  When the homeowner ended the call, we bust into a fit of giggles.  When the trainee asked me for my number one piece of advice, I told her, "Don't let homeowners get to you.  Just find their antics amusing instead.  Never take it personally.  If you're trying to help, and they're being rude, that's their problem."

Occasionally, however, I come across situations that are just plain funny.  Or, at least they're funny to me.

I am one of the few agents who has been trained to participate in online chats with homeowners.

The chat tool was billed to me as "A way to interact with homeowners who cannot find the part they are looking for on our online parts store.  It'll be pretty simple.  Just direct them to the part they need."

Oh, how foolish to think this is what I would actually end up doing.

I spend more time explaining to homeowners that for warranty issues, they need to call in; that for diagnostic issues, they need to call in; that if the part isn't in the online part store, they need to call in; that giving me all of their window information isn't going to help because I can't order a new window for them through chat, and we don't sell new sashes for most window in our online parts store, so they need to call in.

Of the chats I work, about 10% of them actually have to do with the online parts store.  Some days I spend an hour or two with one homeowner who wants to know all of the part numbers for the parts he needs because he doesn't want to call in and he's planning to take his information to the box store.  This is not what the chat tool was envisioned to be, but it's what it is, nonetheless.

Well, I thought, this homeowner must have made a mistake.  So I tried to verify the information she had provided:  I just want to verify what you've told me.  You have a door that is 64 inches tall, and you want to know if a lock mechanism that is 68 inches long will work.  Is that correct?

Homeowner:  Yes.

Me:  Is the door itself 64 inches tall or is that just the glass you can see and touch.

Homeowner:  It's just the door.  The glass itself is several inches shorter.

Me:  Well, I'm sorry ma'am, but we do not manufacture products for hobbit houses.  And shipping parts to Middle Earth is a logistics nightmare.

I'm kidding.  I didn't respond with hobbit jokes.  In the chat.  I did read the chat to my desk mates and told them how I wanted to respond.  Everyone laughed.  A lot.

What I actually wrote was:  So, just to be clear, your door is 5 feet 4 inches tall.  Is that correct?

Homeowner:  No.  My door is 6 feet 4 inches tall.

Me:  Fantastic!  Would you mind measuring the height of the visible glass in your door?

Homeowner:  Sure.  Just one minute.

8 minutes later:  It's 63 inches tall.

Me:  Excellent.  That tells my your door unit is 6 feet 8 inches tall and unit size 68 lock mechanism the correct part for your door.  This part can be found in our online parts catalog at....

Still, for a moment there, one glorious moment, I really thought I might be having a chat with a hobbit, from Middle Earth, who just really loves our products.

Maybe next week.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Because I'm Amazing!

Last week, I was interviewed for a promotion.  They were promoting two applicants.  They had received three applications for the position.

The interview was about what I had expected:

"Tell me about a time when you had to... and how you resolved it."

"Tell me about a time when you couldn't find an answer in your standard resources, and you didn't... and how you resolved it."

"Tell me about a time when you had a homeowner... and how you resolved it."

"Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at this job... and how you resolved it."

The last thing the pair interviewing me demanding of me was:

"Why should we hire you over the other applicants for this position?"

To which I immediately replied, "Because I'm amazing!" in a tone of voice that indicated this was a self-evident truth they ought to have picked up on by this point, seeing as I've been at this job for 4 1/2 months now.  I followed up with, "And because I do genuinely enjoy my job.  And I'm good at it.  And because I enjoy helping others learn how to do their jobs better."

That was it.  I got an email 90 minutes later with the offer.  I accepted immediately.  I began training the next day.  I start my new duties tomorrow.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Road Trip Re-Cap

So, Friday, I made a day-trip to Omaha, Nebraska to celebrate 9 years without self-mutilation.  I took my younger brother and my 9 year old niece with me.  It was fantastic!

I got up at 4:00am.  I would normally have gotten up closer to 4:30, but I have dogs. 

I showered, and dressed, and packed roadtrip snacks--fruit, oats, cheesesticks--and made my niece get out of bed far earlier than she's ever gotten out of bed before.  By 5:45 we were out the door and headed down the road.  When I realized that in swapping my usual bag for my shoulder bag, I'd fogotten the directions.

So, we turned around and headed back to the house, and I decided that instead of grabbing the map, I'd just take both bags, because you never know whent the urge to exegete a text is going to strike or when you might like to read a good book and ignore the people who are celebrating with you.  And a 3 hour 43 minute car ride can leave lots of time for reading and exegeting.

By 6:00, we'd picked up my brother and were on our way.

Mapquest told me it was going to take approximately 3 hours 43 minutes.  I figured if we factored in one rest stop, we were looking at closer to 4 hours.  That way, I'd be in Omaha looking at the sites by 10:00 am.

Well, my factoring in one rest stop did not take into account whining powers and indecisive nature of a 9 year old.  So, five hours later, we made it to our destination.  Sort of.  Because the website lied to me.  It said that the Mount Vernon Gardens were at 1001 Farnum Street.  Nope!  That's the office, if you want to reserve the gardens for a wedding or something.  But, luckily, there was a really pretty mall (think Washinton, DC mall, not your local shopping mall) with a fountain and swans.

We took some pictures, wandered around, found a library just across the street, and discovered upon a bit more research that the Gardens are actually at 6011 S. 13th Street.  So, an 8 minute car ride later, we were exploring the gardens, and the trail through the woods, where that genius 9 year old niece of mine spied two fawns!  She was calm, quiet, and very steady when she pointed them out.

She also managed to find hundreds of snails.  It was AWESOME!

Back in the Gardens, we happened upon strange vegetation, wilting but still lovely flowers, and some gorgeous Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.

Then, we headed to this amazing Indian restaurant.  I did not know they had a lunch buffet.  Exquisite happiness ensued.  The buffet did not have the same items that their menu offered.  Though I had intended to get a specific dish, which was not on the buffet, I was just as happy to have the variety.  My niece ate naan.  And nothing else.  Which was okay, because I ate everything but.

From there, we headed to the Old Market District to explore the shops.  It was fun.  There were a number of interesting shops with lots of overpriced but beautiful stuff.  Getting a bottle of water was highway robbery--$2.50 + state tax + mayor's tax for a bottle of water that would cost $.99 in any gas station or convenience store on the freeway.

Regardless, we drank and saw and delighted.

We headed home a bit earlier than we had planned.  But that was okay.  Because on the way home, I kept seeing signs for a Dutch Windmill in Elk Horn, Iowa.  Detour!

The windmill was closed, but we played around and took pictures anyway.

Next road trip.  It'll be closer to home and just as exciting.  And when that day comes, I'll be eating Thai food in Des Moines.

Maybe the best part of the whole trip was when my brother asked me, while were walking around the gardens, if I had an ability to appreciate the glory of God's creation in a way that I couldn't when I was cutting.  That was his experience, he said, in regards to getting clean.  In that one moment, I felt truly, deeply known.  Because that's exactly what I had been thinking in that moment.  That's what I think at least 3 times a week.  How in awe of the beauty of God's creation I am.  How grateful I am that I can fell such awe, because I couldn't nine years ago.  I am so grateful.

The only thing that could have made the day better was if I could have found a showing of Secretary on the big screen in Omaha.  But that's okay.  I'll go home and pull out my copy and find a couple hours sometime this week.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Jesus is Most Interested in Purity of Heart

Matthew 15:10-28

Today’s gospel lesson is, once again, concerned with ritual purity. The issue of ritual purity at stake here, specifically, is what one is allowed to eat, when one is allowed, with what one is allowed to eat. Jesus’s disciples have just been busted by the Pharisees—those religious authorities who are so concerned with maintaining the letter of the Law that they totally disregard the intent of the Law—for not washing their hands before dinner. Horror of horrors, right? Eating a meal with dirty fingers.

The really amazing thing about this, though, is that really is no prescribed Law (in the Torah, that is) for washing your hands before you eat. The problem, though, is that Pharisees are so concerned with maintaining the Law, they’ve decided to add heaps and heaps to the Law so that no one can even come close to breaking the Law. It’s akin to setting to cruise control to 45 mph when your on the freeway so that you could not possibly break the speed limit, which the state has declared to be 65 mph.

So, here are the Pharisees saying, “Look, ritual purity is so important, that you have to wash your hands before you do eat. And you have to wash all your bowls and cups, too. And the reason you have to do this is because, just maybe, you accidentally touched something unclean today. Or, just maybe, somebody unclean touched your bowl. And if you eat out of that bowl, or with those hands that might be unclean, then you might be unclean, and that would be the end of the world as we know it. So, even though you might be certain that you haven’t touched anything unclean—because if you’d touched a leper or a dead body, you’d probably remember—and even though you might be certain that no one unclean has touched your cups—because you’d probably remember if someone with oozing sores had stopped by—just in case, you have to wash your hands and all of your dishes before you eat.

And because Jesus is more concerned with honoring God by loving people, and holding to the spirit of the Law rather than the heaps and heaps of rules that have been tacked onto the Law, he has this to say, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what come out of the mouth that defiles.” In other words, who cares what kind of dirt might go into your mouth? That is not what the Law is truly concerned with. The Law is concerned with what comes out of your mouth.

In a pattern that has become quite familiar, Jesus’s disciples take him aside and Peter says to him, “Explain this parable to us,” because, you know, the disciples just don’t get it. So Jesus, being the patient guy that he is, explains what he means. He gives them a lesson in digestion: what you eat, goes into your mouth, through your stomach, and out of your body as waste. What you eat cannot make you unclean. What you eat, the physical food that you put into your body, does not affect your spiritual purity.

Rather, Jesus tells them, it is what comes out of your mouth that makes you unclean. Because what comes out of a person’s mouth is determined by their heart, by their spirit. What comes out of a person’s mouth is what identifies a person as being clean or unclean. This hearkens back to the prophet Isaiah who, when called by the Lord to prophesy, replied, “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

What comes out of the heart, Jesus tells us, is “evil intention, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” These are the things that demonstrate whether or not we have a purity of heart—not the food that we eat, or whether or not we wash our hands before dinner. We will be judged by the words that we speak.

And then, Jesus moves on.

Jesus goes to a place called Tyre.

Now, Tyre is located in on the coast, outside of Jerusalem. It’s gentile country. Which means it full of things and people that the Pharisees would consider unclean. And a woman, a Canaanite, comes to Jesus, and she started shouting at him, begging him, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” And Jesus ignores her.

Now, a little bit of history about Canaan might help to understand some of the tensions we see in this text. Way back, a long time before, God commanded Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. And God led the Israelites to Canaan. And God gave Canaan to the Israelites. And, the story goes, God commanded the Israelites to kill all of the inhabitants of Canaan to take the land that God had given them.

And the Israelites did. They settle Canaan, and the land flowed with milk and honey. The Israelites were prosperous and living it up in the land of Canaan. And because they had it so good, the Israelites forgot that God was the one who had provided it all. They began to disobey God and to worship false idols. So, God had the Babylonians overthrow them. They were carried, once again, into captivity and they lost everything.

So, here we are, some 500 years later, and Jesus and his disciples waltz into Canaan one day, and a Canaanite woman begins pleading for mercy.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but the response of the disciples seems to point to some continued tensions from that time 580+ years ago when their ancestors were forcibly removed from Canaan, because they starting urging Jesus, “Send her away, because she keeps yelling out to you.” “Get rid of this woman! Her begging you for the life of her child is getting on our nerves.”

And in this moment, the disciples prove beyond any doubt that they just do not get it. What’s more, they actually think they do. After all, when Jesus spoke in parables, they knew they didn’t get! So, they asked him, “Will you kindly explain to us the meaning of these riddles?” And Jesus did.

But here we are, the very next day, and the disciples have a chance to put what they’ve learned from Jesus into action. They get a chance to demonstrate, clearly, for all to see, what is in their hearts. And they do. They demonstrate that they still do not understand who Jesus is, or what Jesus is doing, or what Jesus means when he tells them that what comes out of a person’s mouth is what makes them unclean. “Send her away. Her daughter’s life is no concern of ours. She’s just a Canaanite, anyway. One less enemy to worry about, right?”

And Jesus response, seems to agree with them. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Except, I think something else is going on here. Jesus has this habit in the gospels of knowing what’s in people’s hearts. And more often than not, he calls them out on it. “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’” (Matthew 9:4). “Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, ‘Why are you thinking these things?’” (Mark 2.8). “They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.” “Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them, ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?’” (Mark .16-18)

I think this is the pattern Jesus is following when he says to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He isn’t saying to her, but rather he is saying it because he knows that this is what his disciples are thinking, and he’s bringing their thoughts to light.  He is showing the disciples they still do not understand.

And the woman, undeterred, begs, “Lord, help me.” This woman, this Canaanite woman, someone who has never met Jesus, someone who is considered unclean by the Jews, someone who is treated with contempt by Jesus’s disciple, and who has just been dismissed by Jesus himself, she gets it. She understands. She has seen who Jesus is, and she knows that he alone can save her daughter.

But Jesus, pushing things further, says to her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” “You bitch.  You worthless, mangy dog. How dare you ask anything of the Son of God. You’re not even Jewish.” This, I believe, is what the disciples are all thinking. “This woman isn’t even Jewish, and she’s asking Jesus to save her child?! Ridiculous.” And I can just imagine the disciples smug expressions as Jesus says to this woman what each of them wishes they had said. Because they still do not understand. This moment is not about this Canaanite woman. It’s about them, and the hatred and bigotry that they harbor in their own hearts.

And this woman, whom Jesus has just called a dog, responds with a clever retort, turning Jesus’s own remark to her favor. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She isn’t asking Jesus to give her the best, choicest foods. She just wants a crumb, discarded and unwanted. She just wants the leftovers that nobody else is interested in touching.

And Jesus answers here, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And he heals her child.

In this woman, we see an example of true purity of heart—a woman who seeks Jesus, undeterred by what others might think, undeterred by the rejection and humiliation she first experiences. This woman seeks, boldly, to save the life of her daughter by seeking out Jesus, because she knows that he is the only one who can save her.

This is the image of purity of heart: not responded with defensiveness and anger, nor with spite and bitterness; not with self-righteous contempt or disgust for those who differ; rather it is the earnest seeking of that which is greater, with patience and grace, and a willingness to engage in a difficult conversation because she knows the rewards are great.

Whereas the disciples would see this woman turned away, brushed aside, humiliated, and likely enjoying in what they have witnessed, this woman recognizes Jesus for who he is, and she continues to seek him.

This story starts with Jesus giving a very public teaching on purity. And he continues that teaching in private with his disciples, explaining patiently to them what he means. And we find, in the end that the disciples reveal their own hardness of heart—a heart, potentially, of evil intentions, slander, perhaps murder—at the very least complete indifference to the needs of others; and Jesus juxtaposes this with this Canaanite woman’s heart—a heart of great faith, a pure heart, one who seeks the well-being of others even if it requires that she face ridicule and humiliation herself.

What comes out of our hearts and mouths day to day? Do we speak words of kindness, graciousness, generosity and love? Or do we speak words of hatred, slander, or anger? Do our words seek to invite others to know the transformative power of the love of God through Jesus? Or do they serve to separate others from knowing who Jesus is? Are we more concerned with what people put into their bodies than we are with the condition of their hearts? Do we spend more time emphasizing physical purity at the expense of spiritual purity?

No body is perfect all of the time. There are days when I miss it. When I find myself short-tempered, frustrated, or impatient. There are days when I forget that I, too, am human, in need of a bit of patience, compassion, and grace; days when I’m focused on myself, on my comfort, on my wants. But I also know, that when my focus is on Jesus and what he offers not only me, but everyone, I have an easier time extending that patience, compassion and grace to others. I hope the same is true for you.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Opportunity Cost, Part 2

Yesterday, I discussed the opportunity cost of shaving my legs.  Today, I explore why that cost is so high.

When I was five, I began beating myself with bricks.  At six, suicide ideation became a daily reality.  At fourteen, I began to cut.

Initially, I dismantled safety razors, carefully prying apart the plastic jacket with a butter knife to get at the blades beneath.  I would remove the wires and pop the blades out of the back of the cartridge.

By sixteen, I was buying packages of replacement blades.

I can tell you all sorts of things about cutting.  These are facts which are completely irrelevant to my daily life now, but which were oh, so important discoveries then.

Single-edged razor blades pull at your skin.  They snag and your skin piles up, like water behind a dam.  They cut, but not cleanly, not smoothly.

Double-edged blades were my favorite.  They slip through skin effortlessly.

Knives are wholly ineffective.

Broken glass is a waste.  It's difficult to get an effective grip.  What more, it tears at the skin.  Somehow, glass cuts most effectively when you're picking up pieces of a broken jar--clean, smooth, neat cuts that happen accidentally.  Intention?  Ruins the effect.

Third degree burns are a waste of time.  Skin melts, nerve endings are destroyed.  Nothing is felt.  Hair doesn't grown back through third degree burn scars.  The follicles have been destroyed along with the nerve endings in that soupy-charred mess of melted skin.

Anger leads to fast, frantic, thoughtless slicing.  You feel nothing as you watch the skin separate from skin, a widening chasm of white beneath white until petals of red begin to bloom.  Running together, they form pools, rivers, a flood.

Anger leads to deep cuts as carelessness sets in along with the need for relief.  That is what leads to stitches.  The scar across the back of my hand is anger.  Perhaps I ought to write "scars."  The one I gave myself and the ones given me by the emergency room staff.

Tiny white dots that run the length of the more prominent scar.  Eight on either side.  From the needle that sewed me shut.  Two scars for each stitch.  But these scars are ridicule and disgust.

Pain is slow and deliberate.  It is a carefulness in the use of instruments.  The gentle sound a blade makes as it unzips tightly knit skin.  Pain is me and mine.  Thoughtful and deliberate.  For year, everyone had been telling me I do not have a right to feel hurt.  I'd begun to believe it myself.

But no one could deny the injuries that marred my forearm.  No one could pretend I had not been hurt.  But still they would not listen.  So, I wore long sleeves and winter coats.  In the summer.  When the thermometer broke 100.  These are me.  It was the only way I knew to affirm my own pain.

Fear is mere scratches.  Just enough to draw blood.  To settle the panic attacks.  To overcome the insomnia and sleep for two hours straight.  Two hours.  Uninterrupted.  Blessed relief.

It's 2:00am.  Monday, August 12, 2002.  I work third shift.  I am sitting in my car on my lunch break.  It is a desperation to break the cycle of sexual abuse, present since that summer when I was five.  It is pain.  And fear that I will never escape.

And I hear an audible voice, whispering into my right ear.

"This is not who I created you to be.  This is not the life I have for you.  I want so much more for you than this. Your identity is in me.  This is not who I created you to be, and you will never do this again."

And I never cut again.  I figured out how to affirm my pain in healthy ways.  I figured out that is okay to say, "I'm angry."  I found people who were willing to be witnesses, who affirmed my experiences, who wanted to know me, and who allowed me to know them.

But no one really gets this part of my history.  No one really gets why the celebration is so important.  A family full of addicts and none of them legitimates my experience as having anything in common with their abuse of alcohol, or crack cocaine, or methamphetamine.  None of them legitimates my experience of healing as having any similarities with their continued efforts at recovery.

And unlike some who have AA or others who have NA, cutting, unlike drinking or drug use, is an utterly solitary experience.  Stopping cutting did not require a community of support.  After I stopped, there was no risk of relapse.

Support groups do not exist.  No one wants to admit they do it.  Some have tried to create communities of support.  I have never seen it thrive.  Too much is hidden.

So, I celebrate alone.  Even when I can convince others to join me in the revelry, I celebrate alone.  Nine years and I celebrate alone.  Because those who haven't been there do not understand.  Those who have been there will not admit it.

I celebrate alone.

But I celebrate, because it is infinitely worth celebrating.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Opportunity Cost, Part 1

A seriously crappy morning.

I mean, seriously.

For a couple of weeks now, I've been struggling with the notion of shaving. I'm sure if this topic were discussed any other time of the year, I'd be fine.

But for the last week, I've been waking up every morning with anxiety about shaving. Not just shaving, but about having shaved. I shaved my legs, and that freaked me out. In a serious way.

For the last week, I've been planning a trip and doing homework. Planning a trip to Omaha to celebrate a pretty significant anniversary on the 12th. Doing homework for my internship--Reading James F. White's Introduction to Christian Worship, Chapter 9, The Eucharist.

And while normally, anniversary celebrations are cause for excitement, somehow, the occasion I'm celebrating, coupled with readings about breaking bodies, shedding blood, and celebrating the good works of God, all neatly tied together with a great big ribbon of fear that I'm going to be celebrating alone, was nothing short of anxiety inducing.

I shaved my legs. I shaved my legs at the behest of someone I'm sure loves me and who is afraid that my having hairy legs is going to scare off potential mates. And while I don't much care one way or the other if that's fact or simple fear on her part, this isn't the first time this person has insisted that I change some part of myself to become more acceptable to those with whom I may interact.

I'm sure this is reading really badly to those who bother to pay attention to my blog, and perhaps it is. Maybe it is that bad, because writing it makes it seem really bad. But somehow, in the moment, in the midst of the discussion, it's more just annoying and frustrating, as it becomes clear, yet again, that this person really just doesn't get it.

So, I shaved my legs. I shaved my legs because I just didn't want to hear about it. Thinking that I just might be celebrating this grand occasion on August 12th with this other person, I sat down one evening, and I cut off a part of my body to mollify her. I cut off part of my body to smooth the road. I cut off part of my body because someone else simply wasn't willing to listen when I said, "This is really important to me," when it comes to having the autonomy to do with my body what I choose, for the reasons I choose, regardless of societal expectation.

And I'm pretty sure my friend has no idea what it cost me to shave my legs. And to make matters worse, it turns out my friend won't be celebrating this anniversary with me, as I discovered just a short time ago. So, I cut off a part of my body for nothing. Go. Fukin'. Figure.

So, I asked a family member to celebrate with me instead. So, bright and early Friday, I'm getting in the car and driving to Omaha. I'm going to eat Indian food. I'm going to walk around the town and discover something new. I'm going to explore a place I haven't been. I'm going to celebrate with someone who doesn't often understand me, but who just may understand this need to celebrate something hugely important.

Maybe later in the week, when I'm not in such a crappy mood, I'll let you know what I'm celebrating. Maybe come Friday, I'll actually feel like celebrating. Because it's good to celebrate the good works of God. And God has certainly been good to me.