No longer employing Ms. Pious

I am different. I have been tempted to doubt this new change since, being internal, it is hard to qualify or quantify. Luckily, I received unequivocal confirmation on my walk through downtown Toronto this past Saturday. While pondering this vague sense that I have really come into my own in the last few months, my gaze drifted upward. An enormous brick building stood before me, proud and unapologetic. Giant white lettering covered its western facade with the message, “YOU ARE CHANGED”.  I looked around for confirmation that other people actually saw this lettering – just in case my imagination was working in overdrive. But, people walking the streets of Toronto seldom look up from their cell phone screens. So, I am trusting the words were there – even if no one else managed to appreciate them.

 

I am changed. I have discovered … ME. Not just that, but I also discovered I actually like me. Not just that, but I also discovered God actually likes me. Not just that, but I also discovered how to be me with people – whether they like me or not. And for the first time IN MY LIFE (and I mean that with the utmost sincerity despite my propensity to exaggerate) I do not feel lonely.

 

While many of you have already known parts of me that were true, my task in the last year has been learning how to embrace these qualities myself. For instance, we all have probably figured out by now that I have a rather… (uncomfortable pause while I search for a word with positive, or at least ambiguous, connotations) large personality. Seasoned by my profuse use of hyperbole and stewed in my colourful wardrobe, it is hard to miss me in a room. This aspect of my character has been a source of embarrassment for me the first 36 years of my life. I felt it must be a childish part of my character that needs to be surgically removed before I can fully enter into the world of the mature and respected.

 

But no matter how hard I tried to shove this part of me into a dusty trunk meant for containing someone’s past, it kept sneaking out and sidling up to me in unexpected moments. The company of my loud self would, briefly, induce a feeling of joyful abandon (see my post: Karaoke and hot pink Nikes). But a horrible embarrassment would immediately follow and escort my loud self back to the trunk.

 

Also sequestered to this trunk (and equally prone to escape without my permission) were my playful imagination, insatiable curiosity, intense physicality and desperate need for time to ponder. While these parts of me whined and moped in their dark and musty home, I took up noble qualities honed and perfected in Jane Austen’s imagination. I wanted to be perceived as virtuous – quietly cautious. Someone who listens before she speaks and thinks before she acts. Someone who works behind the scenes to humbly affect change. Someone who’s words are trustworthy because they make sense and don’t contradict the previous day’s statements. Someone who never does anything you can’t measure with standards of productivity. Someone who helps the people of the world achieve their best through her sacrificial diligence.

 

These are great qualities and I put forth a valiant effort to reflect them. But I couldn’t shake this strange feeling that no one really knew me even though I have never suffered a lack of great friendships.  Not feeling truly known, even by my closest friends, indicated to me something was terribly wrong.

 

During my 12 months of therapy I carefully removed and examined these precious parts of me contained in that dusty old chest. I asked questions like, “Why is this in here?” and “Why am I embarrassed by this?” and “What does God think about this?” Over time I stopped shoving them back in the chest and these true parts of me took up permanent residence in me. But I became very crowded -awkwardly carrying the real me (let’s call her “Rebekah the Colourful”) along with the false me (“Rebekah the Pious”).

 

Rebekah the Colourful would cry out, “Let’s spend the entire Saturday sipping coffee and staring out the window in deep thought!”  Rebekah the Pious, however, would respond, “How self indulgent! We should really invest our Saturday helping So & So move… or at least we should spend our time with someone we could encourage or cheer.”

 

There is nothing wrong with helping a friend move or hanging with someone who needs a little cheer. The problem is I felt ashamed of Rebekah the Colourful. The things that truly bring me joy don’t fit into the category, “Great Ways to Contribute to Society”. So, I didn’t give them priority.  This didn’t work for very long. I had allowed Rebekah the Colourful out of the box and she was constantly reminding me of how the activities Ms. Pious desired were sucking the life and joy right out of me.

 

So, one fine day I sat down and gently took Ms. Pious by the hand. I thanked her for all the years she spent with me and the many positive experiences I have had because of her choices. And then I let her go. She was not the real me and I could no longer bare being someone else.

 

I am Rebekah the Colourful. I am also Rebekah the Silly and sometimes Rebekah the Thoughtful. I am Rebekah the Intense and sometimes Rebekah the Playful. I am Rebekah the Inquisitive and Rebekah the Wistful. These days I am just incredibly thankful I am actually Rebekah.

 

I have experienced incredibly rich joy in the last couple months and I have no doubt that will continue. Occasionally Ms. Pious sneaks up behind me and tries to shame me into taking her back. I spend a lot of time asking God to remind me that he made me who I am, in all my colour and complexity. I am happy to say that God has quickly and consistently found ways to remind me he loves me and didn’t just accidentally drop a little too much paint on the canvass of my being.

 

 

 

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Writers’ Group Assignment: The Bus

I have about five seconds to choose where I sit on a night bus before I draw unwanted attention. Tonight, blocking the way to the sentinel seats is a crazy eyed man with hair standing up like it’s begging for rescue from several years of water deprivation.

Avoid.

 

In the conversation seats sits an older woman, empty handed and eager for eye contact.

Avoid.

 

In the front doubles with perfect posture sits a young man looking straight ahead. I suspect he’s waiting to give the bus driver directions should he make a wrong turn.

Avoid.

 

In the singles to the right is a young woman, eyes closed and IPOD firmly attached.

 

I choose the singles. No danger of being interrupted while I scarf my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Bonus: extra elbow and leg room.

 

Pulling my sandwich out of my pack, I stare at it for a brief moment. Not only am I warm, but I am also holding a meal in my hand and a chauffer is safely carting me to my next destination. My teeth sink in while my tongue works it way through the sticky peanuts to the tangy grape. I am so enthralled I don’t notice the first time the older women calls out,

 

” Seizure! She’s having a seizure!”

 

By the third time I actually look at my elder, now standing up from her seat with one arm waving exhaustively at the bus driver while the other jabs in the direction of the seat behind me.

 

“Stop the bus!  She’s having a seizure!”

 

The bus stops in the middle of the road at the same time I turn in my seat. And the one woman I thought would be the least likely to disturb is thrashing in HER seat. Eyes terrified and white and IPOD swinging helplessly at her side.

 

In less than five seconds her body forms a rigid board while some kind of electric shock sends frequent tremors down her tight braids, past her baggy jacket, through her roomy sweat pants and into her muddy boots.

 

She is slipping now out of her seat and Crazy Eyes flies out of his seat, stumbles down the steps and takes hold of her like a child cradles fresh picked peaches. He lowers her awkwardly and shelters her head with his big hands as she jerks about on the slimy floor.

 

The only thing that shines on this man is a small silver band around his finger. All else is ragged and grey. Except for his eyes. His dirty wrinkles part and big shiny balls, pointed right at me, plead as he cries,

 

“What do I do!  I don’t know what to do!  How can I help her!”

 

A bright red stream, thick and troubling, passes down her dark chin and mixes with the puddles sloshing beneath her vibrations.

 

The young man in the doubles launches from his seat with the urgency of a student who just completed his first CPR/ First aid training. He kneels beside her in Calvin Klein jeans with a tight fitting plaid shirt struggling for freedom from his waistband. Tenderly taking her wrist, he counts the unsteady beats knocking in her veins.

 

“She has a pulse. Her vitals are normal!” He calls loudly through the bus – his perfect diction framed by his thin caramel lips.

 

She’s limp now – stiffness leaving her like a spirit who’s bored with his play. And her caregivers call to her softly. “Miss, can you hear us?” Her white eyes shift to brown like a slow-motion slot machine and she stares through the fluorescent lights in the ceiling.

 

“She’s still breathing!  I can feel her swallow!” The ragged man exclaims as his hands shift from her head to her throat. I hope he is not squeezing too hard as his big hands shadow her neck.

 

The young student untangles the IPOD from her limp body and searches for a place to leave it. I reach out to take the IPOD while cautiously eyeing the blood puddle on the floor. Grasping the electronic between my thumb and pointer I quickly place it in the woman’s abandoned bag – lifting the whole package to her seat. I feel ashamed as I covertly wipe off my two fingers while these men care for the stranger like nervous mothers.

 

The flashing light appears in the windows and the bus opens wide its doors. The medics come with the cold and the young student rises in attention and efficiently reports,

 

“This young woman had a seizure and is still conscious. She is breathing normally and has a pulse.” For a moment he stood excitedly shifting his weight between the medics and the helpless woman.

 

A firm arm brushes him aside and the medics move in to relieve the man still pillowing her head. As he rises stiffly from the floor I see his pale palms, the gracious hosts of the drying stains of her blood.

 

 

 

Writers’ Group Assignment: Remembrance

It’s strange how often I see you though you’ve been gone fifteen years. I always look at you and think, “Hey, aren’t you dead? Why are you staring at me right now?” With your slight frame and pale green eyes. Your hair in unkempt squiggles resting on your angular shoulder blades. I often try to tell you how important you are. How lovable you are – thinking maybe there’s still time – time to infuse you with a sense of value.

 

The tidal wave visits me almost as frequently as you. I roll over in my bed and moments later I am standing near the shore. People are all around going about their usual. But as I look out over the water an anxious knowing grows in my belly and spreads upward. The ocean is coming.

So, I run. 

And I pass small children building castles and parents holding hands. And I keep running. I pass by elderly holding thick mugs under umbrellas outside cafes and a few folks from my church chatting on the corner. Sometimes I even pass you and your father skipping down the road.

 

Upward, higher, higher and I can hear the screams behind me and I know it’s on my tail. Must run faster. As the ocean reaches for my heals I make one last leap onto the highest peak. And there I stand alone as I watch the waters recede.

 

I thought we were so different. I always wondered why you tried so hard to disguise your beauty. You called forth the Grunge era with your giant flannel shirts and battered jeans. Yet you were slender, tall, large chested and could even boast of Pantene commercial hair. You were as beautiful as Kate Moss to me and I so wished God had given me your body and not my own. 

 

Once I convinced you to wear a perfect 1991 spandex dress with borrowed white pumps to church. The outfit made your beauty ring like that tiny church bell before prayers. I walked out the door leading you like a proud bride’s maid. I looked back to watch your dad take up the tail while rubbing yours. I never asked you to dress up again.

 

I was the strong solid one. You grew more sullen with each passing day. If only we weren’t so different. Even your family told you you should be more like me. I was a brilliant bouquet while your petals sagged as brown claimed their edges.

 

Each day your shoulders angled downward a fraction more until one day they disappeared inside your plaids and ginghams. I tried hard to pump you up. Telling you how beautiful and talented you were. How the world was lucky to have you. How much you contribute. But then we turned 16, your dad died, my parents divorced and I left you in LA.

 

So one day you ran. You took some friends. You really did manage to disappear just like you always wanted. But by some crazy miracle our paths crossed a year later.

 

There you were, head shaven clean with Shinead’s sense of style. A long flowing dress with a few holes and threads exposed. And do I remember correctly – no shoes? Or perhaps you were still wearing the same pair of converse all stars you had since age 12. You walked down the aisle of church like an apparition.

I rushed over and hugged you like I was hugging my long lost stuffed frog. You said, “I have something to tell you and because of it you will hate me.”

I earnestly responded with, “Nothing you could say will ever make me hate you.” 
“I’m gay,” you stated matter of factly to prove my last statement false. 

 

“Nope, don’t hate you. Still love you more than I can express.”

 

Your surprise awakened my shame. But you were so pleased. You said you were going to travel all over the states with your friends and would I like to come. I said no. But please, please, please come stay with me in Berkeley. You can stay as long as you like! You’ll love it there and my aunties will love you!

 

But you wanted to bring your friends and I didn’t trust them. You can stay, but your friends will have to find another place.

 

We turned then and ran. Me to university and you to an alleyway. That’s where they found you and an empty bag where your friends had been.

 

Writers’ Group Assignment: Elevators

Last week I went for a delightfully long walk with my friend Mike. Spotting a speckled and dazzling winged creature, Mike and I morphed into great hunters of the park. With focused determination we dashed to and fro in pursuit of this airy critter. And though I strove with all my heart to hold the elusive creature, I managed to catch nothing more than a pain in my foot.

 

My foot has not spoken to me since. She only nips at the approach of a favourite pair of shoes and growls when she is leashed for a walk.

 

Realizing I probably shouldn’t push my luck with her, I decided to alter my exercise regime by taking a nice weights class instead of my usual Ped-heavy cardio hour. I thought this would be perceived as a gesture of repentance and surely my foot would forgive me. But all through the class she wined incessantly. I hoped the music would overpower her noise but even the trainer noticed. “You should really dig your foot into the floor for better balance.”

 

Oh, that would score points.

 

So I opted for imbalance rather than forcing my foot further down the painful road. And you would think at that point she’d realize I am on her side. But, still clearly angry at me she established a coup to accomplish her stubborn agenda. My back, normally passive and loyal, lunged at the fence with one ferocious bark and broke its leash. Together, my back and my foot, forced me up a tree.

 

OK, so I can’t walk, lift weights or do any kind of cardio. I probably shouldn’t booze up to cope with the loss of my favourite activities as that will only add a muffin top to the coup already holding me at bay. But, I feel antsy. It feels a little like if I turn my head to check behind me I will see the shadow of something sinister approaching. So instead of turning to check, I just keep moving as if there is nothing there. So, in my nervous fidgeting I reach for my phone.

 

Ahhh, my phone. Full of wondrous comforts. Facebook app with feeding tube full of liquid Twinkies. My email’s intermittent ding to notify me of my importance. Always something to check, always something to do. When I feel I am waiting just a little too long for the bus, my phone is there to tell me just how much longer I will wait. Often the bus arrives while I am busying myself to discover its whereabouts. Ahhh, my phone: the first thing I check when I awake each morning and the last thing I look at before I turn out my lights. And in this phase of injury, I have clung to my phone like an old woman clings to her remote control.

 

I really thought I had a great relationship with my phone, until last week. Joining the coup, she does nothing but play dead all day long.  It feels a little like the child who drops a toy just to see you pick it up. My phone goes to sleep every time I swipe the screen for a distraction. And there it lies.

 

So my loyal friends have conspired against me for what? Rest? Quiet? But in the quiet I can hear all the more clearly the creaking floor behind me. In the quiet a strange sadness pushes through a roughly patched scar in my chest. Quiet holds the ax high as I kneel on the block.

 

So, I decided to escape to the noise of my coffee shop. Packed my bag full of my weapons of distraction and aimed for the elevators. But, strangely, they had all ceased their faithful operation. And there, at the doors, Quiet placed his strong hand on my head. And with a pressure too firm to stand against I lowered to me knees – no longer able to move more quickly than the silent thing tracking me. In Quiet’s hand the cold steel gleamed with the reflection of my persistent enemy. There behind me stood a chair, arms lovely and curved, back tall and strong, feet polished and perfect. And in its lavish seat, the settling dust rested, long undisturbed.

Writers’ Group Assignment: Colours

“It hurts.” The words merge with tears as they huddle at the base of my chin. And somehow the weight of words and tears is too much for my chin and it quivers, sending the pearl to the bottom of my bath. In the tub my words look lost, bumping into my knee, then finding an edge but slipping back in. I fold in half hoping to squeeze into the water with my words. But my shoulder and hip refuse the merger. Standing cold and separate they raise past the surface of the water like icebergs and my words climb aboard. “It hurts.”
 
They are loud now. Panting and angry. They climb the peaks of their smooth mountains and scream at the wall, “It hurts!”
 
But the wall reaches out and scoops the defiant words from their precipice, gathering them to her gentle pink till they cease their struggle.

Settling.

Aside

I have been battling an intense desire to settle. By settle I don’t mean the concept of the American dream (spouse, good job, two point five kids – or was that one point five kids and a puppy?). Perhaps “settling” is a little like leaving a trail to set up permanent camp.
 
I feel like I am on a really long backpacking trip. Where am I headed? Uhh… I am not really sure. I am following … a promise… a hope… an intuition. Rumor has it the trail leads to the most excellent camp site. A place abundant in fresh water and food. A place of extravagant beauty. A place where neither weather nor biting insects bully residents. 
 
But, the most compelling rumor I have heard is that I will find God there.
 
I wish to have a frank and uninterrupted conversation with God. I doubt I am the only one with that desire.
 
Some say I am chasing a dream. Why, yes, I am! I have dreamed of this place more nights than I can count. But most of the time my dream doesn’t include the obscenely beautiful view or the raging river. In my dreams I finally get to meet God. And each time I meet God I have a sense that this meeting is what I have desired all my life. Finally there is no more separation between me and the God who formed me and the God who loves me. When I awaken I remember how tired I am of living in a world where I cannot see God face to face. Where I follow him even though the way is dimly lit and distraction turns my head so frequently I often lose the trail.
 
Sometimes dreams are more real than the lives we live.
 
So I am on a very long backpacking trip going to a place I have no proof exists. A place many people think of as fantasy. And some say a person would have to be crazy to make the journey. And this is why:
 
1. The trail is dangerous – the terrain is rocky, narrow and treacherously steep at times.
2. There are many fabulous campsites along the way where I could make my home, grow more food and have a family.
3. There is not enough food in my pack to get me very far.
4. There are bears and moose who may maul or eat me along the way.
Don’t laugh at the moose comment – those guys are SCARRRY – seriously don’t make a moose angry. They are the Gangstas of the wilderness.
 
So why take the risk? People can be perfectly happy setting up camp with a lovely view and an awesome bear hang.
 
But, I can’t. I have tried settling before. Once my campsite was destroyed in a terrible storm and overnight I lost almost everything I loved. But the other times I just felt myself disappearing as life progressed around me. 
 
I faded into the daily routines of gathering and storing. Evaporated while I washed dishes in the nearby creek. 
 
It is the nagging question which snags my almost transparent foot and draws me back to the trail each time. 
 
“What’s the point – for tomorrow I might die?” 
 
So, back to the trail I go and as I journey my body becomes more  solid – I become more me.
 
I have witnessed amazing sights on this trail and survived frightful weather. And the farther down the trail I go the more I realize I am being led by a God who is powerful and who loves me.
 
But, here’s my problem. Sometimes on the trail I am tired. Or lonely. Or weary, burdened under a heavy pack filled with items collected along the way. Items that I thought might come in handy – extra food, an extra tent (in case mine rips), an extra outfit (in case I need to impress a handsome man along the way), and a solar powered blow dryer to keep my hair from looking monstrous. And everything in me wants to set up camp and stay in one place. I see a family in a lovely site – three tents and a covering for their sweet outdoor kitchen. They even have a blow-up mattress for sleeping. They have endless supplies of toilet paper and they are growing their own garden. They seem to have everything they need. 
 
And I want what they have – so badly it hurts.
 
So I have two choices:
 
1. Settle. Keep my things and make permanent camp.
2. Drop the extras and continue on the journey.

Writing Assignment #2: Write about your greatest fear.

My siblings moved like mountains around me. I tried to clip in so I could see the world from their heights. But mountains don’t appreciate the company of pests. I moved from base camp to base camp looking for a way to sneak in. If I am really quiet, I’ll just blend into the topography. 

 

The clouds descended on occasion, burying the tips of my mountains in grown-up mystery. Disneyland, movies and things called musicals brought the clouds low. And my mountains would rumble out the door in mass leaving me with an intimate view of the knob. They just didn’t notice. 

 

As I stared at the knob, the house curved over me like an angry wave and I could see the reflection of claws on the brass. I need an ally.

 

I turned around with quick determination hoping to startle the house with my bravery. And, there he was. My mountains now the size of skillful toothpicks. He was buried in a hairy tangle, with each eye the size of the cast iron skillet my dad made grilled cheese sandwiches on – 4 at a time. You can bet he saw me. And behind him, the shadows shifted and blackness swallowed my browns and greys. The house has conceived its geists and they were itchy. I need an ally.

 

I knew my odds. I had already been attacked by gangs of kids. I had better luck when I confronted the biggest and scariest. Then I wouldn’t have to fight them all.

 

So, I looked Scary in his giant iron eyes and screamed, “Hey, you don’t really want to eat me!  I know you want to be good. Deep down you are good and you want to help me not eat me!” 

 

So, intimidation is not my strength.

 

This frightening mass rushed me in that moment and scooped me into the fort of his arms. And with the speed of a slippery pea he turned to face the goblins, popping them like a kid pops the bubbles on seaweed. Then the zombies, the vampires and finally the dragons. And when the house was empty again he set me down and reached deep into his fur. Out he pulled Candy-land and sat down cross legged on the other side of the board. And we played until the mountains shrouded in clouds returned.

 

My furry monster has punched the noses of sharks, shaken his body dry, and sat down to share a cup of tea with me… his long clawed pinky daintily sticking out. I have an ally. Big enough to crush the ghosts, goblins and dragons around me and soft enough to let me win at Shoots and Ladders. He’s my monster and he waits for me in dark and lonely places because I need him. And he scoops me up in the house of his arms when fangs sneak out where teeth should be.

 

The only reason I have ever to fear breath stinking, fire shooting, claw ripping things is if my monster forgets me. Surely a monster like that is in high demand in a world full of fears. Why should he remember me.