Chapter 20: On Justice (and Jesus)

 

Here’s the thing about a Good life with a capital ‘g’— our thankfulness is not enough.  Acknowledging our blessings is only half of the call, and our praise without our action is just blue-balling God.

I’ve purposely left Jesus out of much of the story up until now because mostly, Jesus was a hero who didn’t belong to me; He belonged to the church.  Worship songs about those pierced hands and feet tasted stale after a couple of decades.

It never made sense that God would reject gay people but not liars, since they’re both mentioned in the Bible.  I lie all the time.  Wouldn’t it have been great if we witnessed His outrageous embrace growing up in the evangelical tradition?

We memorized Scripture so we had little bullets stored in our brains, ready to spew out in college and adulthood whenever we felt our theology threatened.  But what about the Bible as a love letter?  We missed the metaphors and allegories and poetry because we feared God’s love would run out when we questioned or doubted or…changed.

Jesus was a pencil drawing whose defining characteristics had been erased by Systematic Theology textbooks and fearful imperatives about abortion, premarital sex, homosexuality, debt, wealth, race, etc.

The jesus many Millennials (and recovering evangelicals) know is one who cares more about the less significant theological trees than about the forest of grace, mercy, faith, and justice open to the public twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

When I stopped using substances to dull the brightness of a Goodhardgood life, my eagerness to thrive and heal blinded me to the hundreds of millions of others who don’t have the same access to healing as I do.  Many of the posts here on this site focus of my healing, on my experiences, and on my story.

And that is fine, that was a part of the process—lots to extract.  Owning my own story here finally helped me believe in the collective stories we all have to tell.  Before, I didn’t know that part of my purpose was to help others hug their own Goodhardgood stories, too.  I just thought I was making peace with my own.

Sometimes we decide to stop dissolving pills under out tongues, and in that moment a brand new story starts to write itself on our hearts.  My new story felt so safe and right until the itchy, burdensome cloak of anxiety and discontent found me.

One day Jesus asked me to step deeper into the story of Kingdom Come.  Would you hand me that cloak, sweetie?  Would you go out and wreck the world like only a love hulk can?

I bet He’s asking you, too.  Can you feel it in the air?  Old stories are falling off of us like snake skin that’s grown too tight.  You and I?  We are the lovers God commanded to live justly, with compassion and humility.

Thanks God isn’t enough, though it’s the perfect place to start.

Things start to get really fun and terrifying when you ask, How can I help?

Justice is like asking permission to strap God’s glasses onto every human you meet, after you’ve put them on yourself.  Once we’ve all seen through heaven’s eyes in our own sockets, we put our hands and feet and prayers and pocketbooks to use.

Behind the big gray sofa in my living room a giant window keeps me smiling.

All the glories and horrors of our life get ushered back and forth by the breeze.  When a kid chops off a finger, I hear the screams and run out to attend.  When a kid belts out Trolls on the front porch the melodies dance through the opening and I smile.  Spring lilacs tip toe into the house using the same soft gusts that escort the yellow, peppery roses later in the season.

My days are better because of this window.  I’ve written about it before; how this little eden wrecks me with it’s perfection; how David’s help severs my bonds to the dishwasher and stove and laundry baskets, I’m a free woman!  And don’t get me started on the divinity of nap times and negative PET scans.

C.S. Lewis describes the weight of glory, and here—in front of this window—it rests heavy.

Now I know:  if I want the big open window and loving spouse, educated children, and good harvests for me then that means I need to fight for everyone’s access to those glories.  If something feels good and right for me, I need to step beyond thankfulness and plunge headfirst into social justice.  Just like Jesus and Buddha and Mama T did.

What if we trusted that each member of humanity was on our team?  That we all played for the same coach, suited up in the same dressing room, sprinted on the same field, and won identical prizes no matter what?

Jesus tried so hard to get us to see this.  That’s why He washed out feet and broke our bread, no matter what.  We’re all on the same team, you guys.  He rolls his eyes and sips His wine.

Ellen used to say “Hi, I’m Ellen.  Do you know Jesus?” to everyone she met, because she knew that Jesus had their name tattooed on His bicep.  She wanted to make sure the feeling was mutual.

Once, toward the end, a hospice chaplain stopped by for some reason.  He walked into her room and she asked him, “Do you know Jesus?”

“Well, yes.  Look, I’m wearing a cross and carrying a Bible.”

“No.  Do you know Jesus?”

Ellen didn’t care about the trees, the theologies, or the doctrine.  Ellen focused on the forest of Love in which Jesus let us loose.  “Knock yourselves out! Holler when you need me!”

When you start to see God’s love for all humanity, you start to care a little bit more about the healthcare, safety, and sleeping conditions for all humanity.  It hurts to look at the bloated babies who wash onto the Grecian shores.  Watching an unarmed black person getting choked to death by police officers isn’t how I planned on spending my evening.

But that’s where you’ll find Jesus.  Excusing injustice becomes awfully hard when you’re standing so close to Him that you notice the tears streaming down His face.

Yes I want the wind sweeping through my window.  I want the money for massages and the right to love my partner till the day those mossy green eyes close forever.  I just want it for all people now.  And I will resist any theology that tells me I am more deserving of it than anyone else.

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Chapter 19: On Pain (and healing)

Most of us know that pain is gorilla-glued to the human condition.  I even think that most of us can summon some sort of peace in that knowledge—a nod, an honoring, I see you.

Trying to ignore the redemptive power of pain and healing in our world takes a lot of energy.  Because proof is sprouting from every inch of charcoaled land, bouncing off the bald heads in infusion rooms, and radiating from the walls of AA meetings, therapy sessions, and homeless shelters.

Wherever humanity finds a home, pain will unpack also.

But did you know that healing is stuck in that sticky, gorilla ooze, too?  That restoration is as human as tears, or pores?

There’s this patch of skin on the outside of my left heel that I just can’t stop picking at.  Little flecks of skin mostly, and every once in a while I larger piece that I rip away when the kids insult my cooking or David works late or another hurricane rolls by.

In middle and high school I tore away the entire bottom of my heel pads so that each step I took could remind me of my shit-stain status; so that I never forgot about the pain inside.  The pain proved I was alive, I could bleed, I was human & not a robot.  My wounds allowed me to fix something in my world of chaos and uncontrollable grief.

A bandaid might not be able to keep Ellen alive but it can help with the blood pooling in my shoe.

I’ve detailed the physical pain my bone marrow transplant & cancer treatment caused.  What I never had a chance, or the words, to describe, was my physical healing.  The one that gave me my life back.

You see, therapy worked really well for the first fifteen months, until it didn’t.  The pace slowed after the first year or so and I felt stuck.

But I’m still picking at my heel and my cuticle.

The aches aren’t easing.

I don’t want bandaids anymore, God.  Where is my wholeness?  I want to be fucking healed!

…like the bleeding woman…and every Bible character…and all humans ever…

We just want healing.  We want to feel unafraid and electric.  We want power, not too much that God would expel us from Eden, but enough that we don’t feel an overwhelming need to consume every croissant within reach.

I feel like that deserves an amen.

Did you know that showing up for our healing, our purpose, our life is literally the most courageous choice one can make?

In the middle of my six-week stint at outpatient rehab, a brawny paper towel man lookalike—who was graduating and forced to sprinkle a little inspiration on the newbies—stood in front of the group and drenched us.

“As a fireman, my buddies and me, we’re considered heroes.  But you know what?”  He says with tears pooling.  “You all are the bravest people I’ve ever met.”

I want to be fucking healed!

Say it with me.

So for the first time in my life the patch of skin is starting to heal.  It’s heel-ing.  Yes, I’ve gone months without abusing it before, but then I could fall back on butter and coffee—that is not the case anymore.

There’s nothing to fall back onto except Grace, and a Goodhardgood God.  Thanks God, for adoring me even when I black out and yell at my kid so loud she pees in fear.  Thanks for holding that so I don’t have to ingest it, or pick at it, or cut it, or drink it, or anything else with it.

Inhale.

Exhale.

How could I stop showing up for the free kingdom compost that God so gladly shovels out?  Ellen showed me how to do that, too.  She never stopped planning her “healed party” at Charlie Sheen’s house because pain and healing are a part of the glue that hold us together, something my sister understood well.

What if I told you that sometimes I go talk to Jesus in my bedroom?  And while laying on my white cloud bed in the dark I allow Him to massage me with these healing flashlights that He keeps in a burlap man purse.  A warm red glow softens up my body and melts away the fear.  And then the pain is gone.  Do you want to go?  I’ll take you to Him.

What about the fact that my brain never fully believed my cancer was gone, and that’s why radiating pain plagued my limbs for years, even after the scans came back clean?  Because in my mind and body the cancer was still killing me.

Or that it wasn’t until I realized I was finally, and truly, safe from my mom’s belts that my back pain started to disappear?  Because when my roots felt safe, my core muscles could finally relax and contract, strengthen, move.

Did you know that dread causes pain?  Do not be afraid.  No wonder!  God doesn’t want us to hurt, God wants us to heal.

If pain is a part of our world, then healing is, too.

The Brawny Man is correct.  Showing up for all of your life and trusting a Healer is harder than cancer treatment, the death of a loved one, abuse, infertility, parenthood, divorce, infidelity, trying to explain to foreigners how Trump got elected, and running into burning buildings.

Hold and honor your pain, yes.  It is an awfully beautiful part of your story.  And then, when it starts to feel too itchy & the circles under your eyes become darker than you remember, you have my permission to step toward the redemption that Love offers us all every moment of every day.

To craft and claim a New Story.

It will be the hardest work you do.  It will cost you more than you thought it would.  But I can see that you’re tired of bandaids.  Me too.

Say it with me…

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Chapter 18: On Forgiveness

Once Rae said, “you’re touching my yuckiness,” as I massaged her preschool feet.  Forgiveness has something to do with this, I am 99% certain.

***

After typical summer mornings here at home the old fir floors require some quick sweeping, and the pillows need straightening before I’m permitted to I sit on the big gray sofa, in front of the big open window to breathe.

Nap time is a little taste of Kingdom Come.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exha—

What was that?  The front gate rattles open.  Nooooo, I just tidied up!  These are my moments.

When I peek out the big window I see my mom approaching.  Oh hell no.  We haven’t really spoken since I sobered up, when the freedom finally felt safer than the codependence and yelling.

She climbs the front steps and stands in my entryway, staring straight ahead into the living room like a Buckingham Palace guard.

_ _ _ follows her moments later and stands to her left, shoulders almost touching, but not, because—divorce.  I haven’t seen him since he left for a third time after shoving my mom across the living room a few years ago.  Sometimes the girls ask where Grandpa went, I tell them I don’t know, which is the truth.

In a strange turn of events a 15-year-old Claire shows up next and stands beside _ _ _.

After that, a little baby Lucy crawls through the threshold and plops down at my younger self’s ankles.

What the hell is happening here?   If only I had closed that door…

My viper tongue & dictator rage combined with years of muzzling creates a volatile chemistry inside, and I lunge forward toward the four of them.

“You’re the meanest bitch I know!”  I hiss at mom.

Moving down the line, “You’re such a fat fuck!”  I yell at the missing man.

The spewing continues and “You piece of shit!” lands onto my younger self.

Finally, arriving at baby Lucy, “I have no clue how to love you.”

Whoa.  That must be why therapists always explained the harm in bottling my emotions.

Now they’re all crying the kind of tears a sad little kid cries after the balloon slips from between her fingers, while getting verbally abused.

Stop crying, I need you to stop right now.  I just swept the floors, and the dishes are done, and I wanted to read my book and snuggle into a blanket.  You were not a part of this plan!

They cry louder.  GET OUT!  Nobody moves.

So I turn around and take ten steps back to the big gray sofa.  Fine, cry.  You all deserve to feel the pain, anyway.

After a minute or two my insides feel afraid & gray and I want to ask for help but David’s at work.  An angel, big and golden, steps through the side door that leads to the Garden out back.

What’re you doing here?  Scorn clings to the words falling out of my mouth, and the itchy wool cloak of anxiety covers me.  When my angelic intruder refuses to acknowledge the question I huff and I puff and I finish blasting shame lasers at my kin in the entryway.

They need beds, they want to go to sleep, I realize.  Or maybe the angel messages me.  But I don’t have enough quilts and pillows.

Looking to the angel I say, “You’re the bed maker aren’t you?”

Yes.

Okay.

We get to work.  Mama likes her beds goosey, so we dig out a hole in my floor and fill the dusty cavern with linen glory.  I lead her to the bed, tuck her in, and begin on bed number two.

_ _ _ ‘s addicted to sand and palm trees, so the bed angel digs another hole, fills it with sand, plops two palm trees and a hammock down.  Even though I can barely look him in the eye, and I hate the feeling of his hand in mine, I escort him to the hammock and sway him to sleep.

When I was fifteen, demons devoured me in my alone moments.  I was alone a lot.  Looking at little Claire I knew she didn’t want to sleep alone, she wanted to share a space with someone who could give her all the security that parents in hospitals never did.  Here, lie down near me, motioning to the sofa; she plops her greasy head on my lap.

Finally, my baby.  Come here sweet girl.  She crawls up and rests her head on my shoulder.  Within minutes they’re all asleep.

What the hell just happened?  And why are these people literally embedded in my home?  Forever?  The angel steps out with the same abruptness in which s/he entered.

For so long I fought to keep my rage at these beings outside the doors of my mind and heart. Maybe these people have something that will help with the yuckiness I feel inside?  Maybe the frenzy and chaos just needs to find a safe space with straightened pillows and some soft blankets.

Anger is just fear with armor on, and I’m finally ready to trust the most repeated words in the Bible: do not be afraid.

May I remove this armor yet?  Can I get cozy?

Oohh…I exhale.

Those one-liners, the single sentences that summed up my resentments at the four people who now sleep in my living room—they are the four most defining lies I hurl at own self.

But I am not the meanest bitch I know, and neither is my mom.

I am not a fat fuck, neither is _ _ _.

I am not a piece of shit, and I never have been.

And who ever said lovable and feisty can’t coexist?

Oohhhhhhh…

So maybe that quote about resentment and anger being a poison you accidentally ingest yourself is true?  Maybe we get cancer and heart burn and rashes and high blood pressure because we are gluing our own self-hatred, doubt, and fears onto another?  (The cancer part has not been proven, yet.)  Maybe our resentments eat us alive?

Make us drink or shop too much?

Keep us from tapping into our Love Hulk superhero status?

Prevent us from finding down-feathered goodness and sweet slumber?

When we realize that most of the ill will we hold toward others is just a despised or feared version of ourselves forgiveness starts to flow freely.  It’s tricker with abuse, and that’s where wounded not wicked really helps.  But God loves abusers, too, remember?

Once we realize that the people who took advantage of their power and used it to hurt us were just slightly (or severely) more wounded versions of ourselves, the arteries start to unclog, we begin to beat and move to the rhythm of Love.   And the longer we sit in God’s love for us, the more understandable God’s love for those ass hats is, too.

Maybe if we closed our eyes and opened the doors of our hearts instead of rejecting the person or institution or system that upsets us we could see our own humanity in the object we despise.

It feels so good to stay mad though, doesn’t it?  Until you get cancer and heartburn and skin issues and start drinking too much.  The thing you want to hurl at another is the poison you’ve allowed to eat you up.

What if forgiveness means that you’re okay with the yuckiness of others because you’ve become goodhardgood friends with your own grimy parts?

My mom used to hit me, a lot.  And she spoke fear into my life for years.  She is also a beloved child of God who did the best she could.  I know now about the rage she let dictate her discipline, I have found my own self in it.  And if I am not bad, neither is she.

My biological dad is addicted to food, just like I am.  His fat used to disgust me, until my own saggy flesh entered the picture.  Now, to hate him would be hating myself.

Teenage Claire was a sociopath trying to survive each next moment.  I wasn’t bad for hurting people inside and out, for all the marionette-ing and manipulating.  I was a beloved puppeteer of God who forgot about what S/He said in the Garden.

And Lucy, my sweet girl, she is squishy and fun.  The lies I pasted on to her were rooted in my own fear of my own un-loveable-ness.

Who or what do you have a little leaking vile of poison saved for in your heart?  When you close your eyes, and imagine that being before you, what do you want to say?  What would hurt him/her/it the most?

Now how does that sentence relate to you?  Because you are the only human you can change.  I’ll give you a hint, it’s always rooted in our fear and forgetfulness.  What would life look like if all that anxiety and anger had a cozy place to retire at the end of the day?

Don’t be afraid, you were born for this.  Or be afraid, but remember that you received a radioactive injection at creation, one that breaks your heart wide open and lets your Love Hulk burst out, ready to massage the shit out of everyone’s yucky feet.

Just like Jesus did.

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