Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rule Breaking as an Act of Obedience

I am a lover of rules.

I don't always follow the rules, particularly if I believe they are foolish, ridiculous, or designed to make my life more inconvenient. This, however, is rarely the case. Most of the time, I ask for more rules. Or perhaps not more rules, per se.

Rather, I have a habit of wanting clarifications to the rules. Leave nothing to chance. Make sure everything is crystal clear. Even if it seems completely obvious to everybody else in the room, if there exists any possibility whatsoever for misinterpretation, I clarify. Obsessively. To the point of driving others to distraction.

I do not do this for the sake of frustrating other, regardless of what they may believe. For me, knowing where the boundaries lie is a matter of knowing what is expected. If one knows the expectations are, one can either meet them or they cannot. But they are prepared for the reward or the punishment if they know.

In my life outside of the church, I work as a technical writer. I began this job 9 months ago. I really, really, really love some aspects of it.

What is surprising about this is that the thing I love most about this job is the thing I initially believed I would dread. The thing I initially found most intimidating is the thing that I now find comfort in.

HTML coding.

HTML is the back-end coding of the computer world. Say you send an email to a friend. You open up a new message and begin to type. You highlight some words and bold them, others you might italicize, some you may change the size and color. You do all of this with the click of a button.

What those of you who are not familiar with code do not know is that your email is writing in a completing different language. Every time you change some aspect your font, there are a whole string of things going on in the code that make it look the way you want it to.

Now, knowing HTML is not necessary for my job. In fact, of the ten or twelve people who work as technical writers for this company, I think I'm the only one who prefers to write exclusively in HTML rather than the layout format you would see on a typical webpage.

And it's totally possible to do the job of a technical writer with little to no HTML knowledge. It's really only necessary on occasion, when things don't show up quite right on the page, and you have to go into the code to figure out why. When that happens, there are a ton of online sites that will either give you a tutorial, or (if all else fails), my co-workers and I have the option of forwarding the code on to someone trained in HTML to "clean up" the code and make the layout look the way we want it to.

Never one to shy away from learning a new technical skill, when it came to cleaning up HTML codes, I dived in full force. I would stare at the code, going through it line by line, character by character, doing what I could to figure out why something didn't work quite the way I had anticipated when I wrote a document in the layout format.

After six weeks of this, I moved to writing in HTML code all the time.

And this is the reason: HTML coding is language that is dominated by rules, perfectly logical, and totally consistent. There is no derivation from the rule. Whenever you open a characteristic, you eventually have to close that characteristic. Everything between the opening and the closing will be defined by the specified characteristic. And the rationale behind defining those characteristics makes total sense.

You want something italicized, you open the < em(phasis) > tag and close the < /em(phasis) > tag when you've reached the end of what you're italicizing. You want something bolded, you open the < strong >  tag and close the < /strong > tag when you've reached the end of what you're bolding.

Want to build a table?  We can do that! We'll open a < table > tag.  We'll define the border, the spacing, the size of the cells, the orientation of the contents. When we're done, we'll close the < /table > tag.

We have perfectly logical, totally consistent rules which we use to define the parameters of our document's content in the language of HTML.

HTML might be the single most beautiful language in the world.

At least in the very humble opinion of this woman who really, really, really loves rules.

And who really wants all rules to be defined to the point that there is no room, whatsoever, for misinterpretation.

This leads me to believe that I would have been a truly awesome and extremely successful first century Palestinian Jewish boy.

If ever there was a group of people portrayed as loving rules and loving to define the exact parameters of every rule, accounting for all possible contingencies, that group would be the religious leaders as portrayed in our gospels.

You see, in the Jewish religious context, there are certain rules that one is to follow: Have no other gods before God, do not make any graven images, do not take the Lord's name in vain, remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy....  On the list goes. To a count of 10.

Ten commandments. Ten rules to govern Jewish religious life. There are other laws, 613 in fact, that deal with daily life.

However, when it comes to the big ones, there are ten.

But what do those rules really mean?

And so, beginning early in Jewish history and continuing throughout, an oral tradition has been a part of Jewish religious life.

This oral tradition was essentially discussions, carried on by the religious authorities, defining, clarifying, and establishing the parameters around the Law. Arguing, refining, and making sense of any law that left room for interpretation. Codified to the point that there could be no question as to whether or not specific actions violated the rules.

And this is where we meet Jesus in the text today. At the point of conflict with the religious leaders who see his act of healing a crippled woman as "work" on the Sabbath. After all, the commandments are clear: remember the Sabbath day; keep it holy; do no work; be imitators of God who spent six days creating and rested the seventh, blessing it and setting it aside.

What does that mean? Remember the Sabbath; set it aside; do no work.

What is work?

There are many schools of thought within Judaism about what constitutes work. The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday. In current times, among Orthodox Jews (the most conservative branch), anything that requires physical effort is considered work.

When I was a chaplain at a hospital in New York City, we had an elevator that was assigned Sabbath duty from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday every week.

This elevator was keyed to automatically stop at every single floor, beginning at the ground and finishing on the 12th floor. "Do not take elevator #6 on Friday nights or Saturdays!" my boss warned us during our orientation.

Why? Because the physical effort of pushing an elevator button is considered work. Orthodox Jews visiting loved ones in the hospital could not push the elevator button and remain faithful to the tenants of their religion. So, the hospital coded the elevators to stop automatically at every floor in order to honor their faith.

Now this might seem extreme to some, but I think there is something comforting about knowing exactly where the lines are drawn, knowing exactly what is expecting, knowing exactly what I can and cannot get away with. ;)

In first century Palestine, then, a time and place in which elevators did not exist, but physicians certainly did, healing was considered work. It was the work of a physician.

So Jesus shows up on the scene, on the Sabbath, is teaching in the synagogue, in front of the religious authorities, sees a woman who has been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years; he calls her forward and says to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." Then, he puts his hands on her, and immediately, she straightens up and praises God.

Jesus healed her, with a word or a touch. The text is not clear if the healing came with his declaration or with his placing his hands upon her. What is clear, however, is that Jesus healed. On the Sabbath. He did the work of a physician. On the day when one is not to do any work.

Jesus broke the rules. He broke the clearly defined rules that the religious authorities had debated for centuries and decided that work included healing.

Rather than attack Jesus, however, the synagogue ruler instead chastises the people, telling them to come and be healed on any of the other six days of the week.

This does not sit well with Jesus. Here he challenges the synagogues leader's definition of work: you untie your ox or donkey and lead it to water on the Sabbath, he declares. If it is not work for you to unbind an animal in an act of basic care and stewardship, then how can it possibly considered work for Jesus to unbind a woman in an act of mercy and love?

This response, of course, shamed Jesus's opponents, while the people were delighted by the wonderful acts Jesus was doing.

But why were the religious authorities so concerned with the rules, with doing everything right, with so rigidly structuring every aspect of life they left no room for the possibility of breaking the rules?

Because the Torah (the Jewish scripture or what we call the Old Testament) is very, very clear about this: obey the laws of God and you will be rewarded; break the laws of God and bad things will happen.

And in first century Palestine, the life of the Jewish people does not communicate reward.

This is the era of Roman oppression. A foreign government has come in and declared themselves the ruler. They have set up their own government, commerce, and rules. They have set up their own worship, which does not honor God. They have created a peaceful system of government and civil life that remains peaceful so long as you follow their rules.  And their rules are not God's rules.

And this follows years of being captured, ruled over, made slaves to other foreign nations. At this point in their history, the Jewish people are likely wondering, "What have we done wrong and how can we avoid any further mistakes? How can we return to following the rules so that we might, once again, enjoy God's favor?"

And so we have rules to govern the rules that were created to explain the rules that defined the rules that God first established.  Because in following rules to govern the rules created to explain the rules that defined the rules that God first established, you will eliminate any chance, whatsoever, that you might even accidentally break God's commands. And if you can eliminate any chance of breaking God's rules, then in keeping the rules, you will find favor with God.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on [God's] holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord's holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and [God] will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob. 

Keep the Sabbath and you will ride in triumph.

How does one find favor with God in first century Palestine? Follow the rules.

How does one make sure they're following the rules? Put more rules around the rules so that you cannot risk breaking the rules established by God.

Does this work? As one who likes to clarify and define things to a point that is often frustrating to others, I'd like to say yes. This is a beautiful example of how to follow the rules. It's simple, clear, direct, logical, makes rational sense, and it's easy to follow. Just don't do work from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

If you're unclear on what work is, let's define it! Let's come up with a definition so specific and so clear that no one is left in any doubt as to what is meant.

Let's create hard and fast rules that are always consistent, always clear, always logical, perfectly rational. Let's create a religion, more than that, a complete life that functions like HTML coding....

Open the < Sabbath > tag Friday evening and close the < /Sabbath > tag on Saturday night.

Do no work between these tags!

Not sure what qualifies as work? Play it safe!

Untying a yoke? Might be work. Best leave people bound.

Feeding someone who cannot feed him or herself? You're lifting a spoon. Might be work. Best leave people hungry.

See someone who is being oppressed? Fighting injustice is work. Best leave the oppressed in dire situations.

Why? Because it might be work, and we cannot do work on the Sabbath, because if we do work on the Sabbath, we may never regain the Lord's favor.


Except that whole part where God defines what is expected of us.

Not the rules around the rules that are designed to keep us from breaking the rules.

This is what God has to say:

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, if you do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. Then the Lord will guide you always; then he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. Then you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. 

Is healing work? Is removing the yoke of oppression work? Is caring for people work? Is loving one another work?

Oftentimes it can feel like it.

Loving people, caring for them, seeking justice, seeking healing is not always easy. But it is always worth it.

Sometimes it means breaking the man-made rules that surround us and order our lives -- rules which be the laws established by local, state or federal governments; social mores; family or cultural expectations. But it also means a deeper obedience to the laws of God.

Sometimes it means sacrificing ourselves and it may seem as though there is no reward. But it comes with the promise that God will guide us, satisfy our deepest needs, and strengthen us -- particularly when we our own human weakness and frailty would leave us defeated, empty, and lost.

Sometimes breaking the rules is an act of obedience. One which requires discernment and wisdom.

Do we find excuses, religious or otherwise, not to do the will and work of God? Or are we willing to break the rules in obedience to God's laws?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Breaking Through Barriers

Very few marketing campaigns are particularly memorable to me.  I wrote previously about Heinz ketchup and Timex watches, but those are rare exceptions.

Today, I am happy.  I am full of positive anticipation.  I am excited.  I am filled to the brim, overflowing, with joy!

And all of this anticipation, excitement, and joy remind me of...NBC.

Back in the late '80s and early '90s (when we had never had cable, and NBC was the only channel that came in half-way decent most days, and then there were the days when we didn't have electricity at all), NBC ran a Public Service Announcement campaign.  (Apparently these continue today, but I haven't watched TV on a regular basis in years).

I do not remember the specifics of any of the PSAs shown.  What I do remember is the Francis Bacon quote (Knowledge is power), the image of the shooting star, the jingle, and "The more you know...." followed by the peacock.

Francis Bacon stuck.  "The more you know" stuck.  There is nothing in this world that frustrates me so much as knowledge hoarding.  It drives me crazy.

And there is nothing that delights me so much as figuring things out, knowing and understanding, gaining knowledge so that I am empowered.

That is how I feel now.  Empowered.  And empowerment fills me with positive anticipation, excitement, and joy!

This past Monday, I wrote a blog about body memory and the struggle I've been having lately.  Now, many of my blog posts lately have been about body memory--PTSD and the issues triggered by weight loss, particularly proportionate body size differences, and how uncomfortable, fearful, and frustrated I feel when I'm in close proximity to men who are much larger than I am.

None of this, however, explained the underlying frustration, need for comfort, and absolute rage I was carrying with me all the time.  Until I figured it out on Sunday.  And I blogged about it on Monday morning.

Monday afternoon, I spent some time hanging with my bestie--an absolute rock star, a paragon of human kindness and love.  I shared with her this experience I had had with realizing the connection between my emotional experience and my current body size and Tim.

She understood the extraordinary response I was having to the changes in my body.  She asked how I thought I would respond when I reached a weight lighter than I've ever been in my adult life -- just 20 lbs away.  I honestly told her I did not know.  Trepidation was certainly on the menu, but other than that....

Then, I woke up on Tuesday.  And I smiled all the way to work.

At first, I couldn't quite figure out why.

Then, I realized, it's because I knew.  I knew why I was freaking out about my body.  Even though the reason I'm freaking out sucks and nothing will ever change it, just knowing why was enough to resolve the freak out.

Suddenly, I was HAPPY with my body.  I was THRILLED with the changes I was seeing.  I was DELIGHTED by the fact that even my STFG clothes from 6 years ago are getting to be a bit baggy on me.

More than knowing why I was freaking out, I realized that I know a few other things:
  • It's okay to be angry with God
  • I already survived Tim's death
  • It's okay to still be sad
  • It's okay to miss Tim
  • I am loved
When I got home from work on Tuesday, I put on the Brooks I'd purchased Monday morning and I went for a run.

I realized a few more things on my run:
  • I do not care that I cannot yet run for a particularly long distance
  • I do not care that my stride is relatively short
  • I do not care that I cannot yet run particularly fast
Because I've already survived the loss, and because it's okay to be angry with God, and because it's okay to still miss Tim, I also came to the realization that best way I can possibly honor Tim and honor my relationship with Tim is to become the woman God created me to be.

Tim and I were working on "clearing the roadblocks" in my path to success.  I remember after he died, when he visited me in a dream one night, as the dream was ending and he was leaving me, the last thing he said to me was this:  Do not let my death become another roadblock.

Becoming the woman God created me to be means becoming the woman I am called to be in all aspects of my life: emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical.

Running makes me happy.  I love it.  I have missed it.  I am happy to be back to it, even if I'm slow, and short-strided, and cannot go far.

What I'm most grateful for in this journey, though, is that while my body has always served me well (certainly much better than I have served my body) -- my body has always done what I have needed my body to do -- each day, my body does a little bit more of what I want it to do.

I'm breaking through all of those barriers.  It may not be fast.  It may not be easy.  I may not do it in a refined or pretty fashion.  But I know that I am not alone in this journey.

So, when I do lose another 20 lbs and my body is thinner, stronger, healthier than it has ever been, what I will be feeling is anticipation, empowerment, excitement, and JOY!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Body Memory from a Slightly Thinner Fat Girl

I am sitting in a coffee shop with my sister wanting a hug.  A hug from just about anyone in the world but her.

Do not misunderstand.  I love my sister.  I love when she hugs me.  But she's tiny. Six inches shorter than I am, with arms to match.

And I am anxious.  Filled to the brim with so much anxiety I can scarcely see straight, or breathe, or feel anything but anger and fear.

What I need in this moment is a tight, powerful, full-body, compressive hug.  Something that I feel through the whole of my body and which reminds me of where my newer, smaller body ends and the rest of the world begins.  Anything light will serve only to make me feel worse, not better.

TB has moved to Texas.  N has not just ended our dates, but despite his insistence that he would like to remain friends has not answered my call and has unfriended me on facebook.  Which is confusing in itself, but another story.

I reach out to K, but she does not get the message in time.

After my sister heads out, I finish up the work I have sitting before me, and I pack up to go home.

On the drive, my key fob brushes my knee and I feel as though flies are crawling over my entire body, their feather-light touch irritating and enraging me.

The circle-swirl paperclip I'm using to replace the lost screw in my sunglasses turns and brushes my temple, and I want to rip them off and throw them out the window.

I get home and try to take a few deep breaths, thinking perhaps if I can relax and read a good book, maybe I'll be okay.  But someone is making noise in the kitchen, and I want nothing more than charge downstairs and punch whoever it is in the face, because the sounds are driving me fucking insane!

I change into shorts, a t-shirt, my athletic shoes and I head out for a walk.  Someone lets the dog out five minutes after I leave and she shortly catches up with me.

I do not want her with me, walking in the middle of the road with cars whizzing by at 65mph, or walking closely enough to me that she brushes up against me, or strikes me with her tail.  I do not want her stopping in front of me for a bit of affection and tripping me up as I move purposefully up the hill.

I yell at her to go home, but she stays faithfully with me, rolling in mud puddles when she gets the chance, chasing the bird, frolicking in the corn fields when she isn't pacing the blacktop.

After two miles, I turn and head home.  I'm halfway there when I stop and begin to cry.  Great heaving sobs and tears stream down my face.  I just need a fucking tight compressive hug so that I can breathe freely.

Gasping for air, I pull up the hem of my shirt and sob into it, trying to stem the flood of tears.  Slowly, they subside and I wipe my face dry.

All I can feel is incredible fucking rage.  And I have no idea why that makes me cry in this moment.

As I continue on my way I remember very powerfully the feeling of my mother's arms around me, her whispering, "I'm sorry you're so sad," of feeling as though I might be okay again if I just let go, and her hasty retreat before I can even begin to appreciate her touch as she exits the van and heads into the house.  That was five and a half years ago, but suddenly I feel exactly the same.

"I haven't felt this way since Tim died," I say out loud.

I look down at my body.  The body I had when I met him.  A body that was 19 lbs lighter than it is now when he died.


I see it now.  What my body has remembered all along.  Five years of consuming sugar and highly processed foods and gaining 115 lbs of fat silenced it, but could not make it forget.  It remembers.  Losing 96 lbs in the last 10 months has forced me to remember, too.

Yes, it lives in the body.

I miss his hugs.  I miss his smile.  I miss his laugh.  I miss the music he made, always with a song or a hum or a whistle.  I miss his touch, his hand on my arm as he made a point.  I miss knowing that I am safe and secure and deeply loved by this man.  I miss knowing that I have an advocate who will fight tooth and nail for me.  I miss knowing that there was a person in this world who could fix anything.

I remember that first morning, walking silently behind Michael and Kym, thinking to myself, "Whatever it is, Tim can fix it."

Sitting on the couch, both of them standing before me, as Kym said, "Tim Fauvell died last night."

"Tim can't fix that," was the only thought I had.

Today I am angry.  I am so incredibly fucking angry with God for taking him away from me.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Greeting the Stranger in My Skin

My father is giant. He must be at least ten feet tall. Even now that I am grown and am at least an inch taller than he is.

This is what I remember: hugging him when I was only tall enough to wrap my arms around his knees; sitting on his foot and wrapping my arms around his mid-calf, clinging desperately to him as he gave me a "ride" around the house; sitting on his shoulders and stretching up, up, up in an intense effort to touch the lintel of the doorway between the kitchen and dining room.

Today I can stretch up on my toes and touch the ceiling of my bedroom, another person's shoulders unnecessary.

My father worked construction and the shoulders on which I sat were ten feet wide and strong, built of solid ropes of muscle.

An abusive alcoholic, my father used his tall and broad muscular body as a weapon against those much smaller and weaker than himself. I do not remember when the physical abuse of my family members began. Perhaps it was always a part of our family culture.

Because of this, I have come to subconsciously equate size with power. It does not matter whether that size is height or width. It does not matter whether someone is larger than me because they are more overweight or because they have more muscle mass. The simple fact is, at some point, the difference between my own size and another's is intimidating at best and terrifying at worst.

Even with those I know and trust and love. Even with those with whom I am totally secure, totally confident, with whom I feel totally safe. My diminished size has left me feeling weak and vulnerable and those who were previously the same size or smaller than me, now being larger than me, evoke feelings of discomfort and anxiety.

My own body leaves me steeped in feelings of discomfort and anxiety.

Trauma lives in the body. It's like muscle memory: train a muscle to respond to stimuli in a particular way, and it will become second nature. 20,000 hours of practice is what it takes to master a skill. 20,000 hours of muscle training.

Trauma beats out training. It is kind of instantaneous. Traumatize the body and that trauma lives in the body and continues to function as part of that body. The body remembers that trauma.

As my body has shrunk, the traumas I have experienced have not. They continues to live and thrive within my body. It is like another entity sharing space, except the space is smaller, and because the trauma is not, the trauma has become proportionately larger. It feels huger and more significant. No amount of self-talk seems capable of silencing the voice of trauma.

The best I seem able to hope for is acknowledging its presence and redirecting the anxiety it provokes. The best I can hope for is being able to manage the symptoms, because the trauma will never go away. Like a broken bone, the fracture, though healed, will always be present.

Giants terrify me. Be they people or emotions or traumas. When faced with giants, I respond in the same way every time: terror, anxiety, flight.

In the world of fight or flight responses, I have never been a fighter. I have always been one to flee and hide.

What happens when one cannot run from the giant living in one's own skin? What does it means to live each day with that giant inside of oneself? How does one function in a near constant state of terror and anxiety?

How does one find peace and rest?

Can one learn new responses? Is it possible to re-frame the current experience, giving it new boundaries, new shape? Can one possibly divorce the current from the former and learn to interpret the current experience outside of trauma?

When I feel my body is changing and I do not know what it means, can I choose to rejoice in transformation rather than hide in fear? When I see the changes, can I choose to embrace them rather than mourn them?

When I feel alien in my own skin, can I welcome myself with hospitality, as I would a stranger, and extend an invitation to deeper knowledge? Can I learn to learn myself in the ways I might learn a new friend?

Can I choose to view these things as transformation and rejoice in a sense of renewal?

Will my new body perhaps one day be a body that does not know the trauma of my past?

I am a stranger in my own skin, and I am learning myself all over again. It is discomfiting not to know my own body, to feel such a divorce between my mind and my physical form. But, perhaps as I learn my body, my body will also learn me, and together something new and beautiful can be created.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Showering Slightly Thinner Fat Girl Style

I touch every part of my body in the shower.  I run my hands up my arms and over shoulders, down my breasts and ribcage and belly, my back and buttocks and legs.

I note how each portion of my body feels beneath my fingertips.

I do this because when I look at my whole self in the mirror, I cannot see changes.  It is only when I look at a piece, a part, catch an accidental glimpse that I see clearly how my body is different.  And it's disconcerting to see myself broken into pieces that are so different from their place in the whole.

Perhaps if I can feel the changes first, I will be able to see them in the whole.  Perhaps if I can feel how my body has changed, it won't be so frightening to see the differences in the parts.

As I run my hands over my shoulders, I begin to panic.  It is the first time I have felt the spine of my scapula.  It is distinct and I can feel how the head of my humorous rolls beneath my acromion.  "It's okay.  This is normal," I say out loud to try and calm myself.

I pause in my tactile examination.  I turn my back to the spray and breathe as it pounds against my back in a soothing rhythm.

That isn't quite right.  Normal is not a good term.  It is too subjective.  I take a deep breath and try again.  "It's okay.  This is healthy."

I take another deep breath and continue my shower, noting the increased definition in my arms, how much smaller my breasts are, how much less belly I have to lift to wash beneath as I look forward to a time when I won't have to lift it at all, how my skin now droops through my abdomen and my belly button seems to have almost disappeared beneath the loose and sagging skin, the bow of my ilium, how my thighs are smaller and how distinctly I can feel my greater trochanter, the boniness of my patella; I note the divot between my superior ulnar process and my pisiform as  I soap up and rinse off.

I wrap a towel around me and head upstairs, feeling how my hamstrings move beneath my hands.

Once in my room, I wrap my hair in a second towel.

Pausing in my routine, I head to the bathroom to fill my glass with water; I catch my reflection in the mirror above the sink.  In the early morning, with the eastern sun filling the room from behind me, for the first time in my life, my cheekbones are visible without the aid of fishy kisses.  "It's okay," I say out loud.  "This is healthy."  Then, to reinforce the message, I smile at myself.

The apples of my cheek stand out in stark contrast to the sharp distinction of my cheekbones when I smile.  Immediately, tears spring to my eyes and begin running down my cheeks.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath, no longer smiling.  "It's okay," I say, taking a deep breath, holding it, releasing it.  "This is healthy.  I am safe."

I continue to breathe.