26 March 2014

losing my religion, part 1

"What devotionals or books of the bible have you been reading lately?" A dear friend, whom I've seen just in concentrated spurts over the last eight years asked me from across a kitchen counter yesterday afternoon. 

I've cracked my tattered, cover-less, heavily underlined bible just a handful of times since the last time I spent time with this friend; I haven't read a devotional in years. 

My mother took my siblings and I to church every Sunday morning when I was a child for as long as I can remember. When I was seven-years old, I responded to an alter call and accepted Jesus into my heart. I attended a Christian University, and during my sophomore year, at the foot of a cross overlooking the life changing, azure expanse of the Pacific Ocean, I began my adult relationship with Christ. I cried through worship services, which stirred my spirit and rocked my soul, in a grade school auditorium. Religion became a relevant relationship for me during those years, and God spoke volumes to me through a Holy Bible I purchased while studying with Christian classmates overseas. 

Six months after I returned from Germany, I was baptized by a young man with whom I could actually pray and talk about God; he would one day become my spouse. My first two jobs after I graduated from college were each with Christian schools. I got married, I became a mother, I left California, and I plugged right back into a small, contemporary church community, with its communion, candles, teachings, video clips and moving times of worship. I faithfully took my own children to church nearly every Sunday and spent a chunk of the other six days of each week in quiet time and bible studies and community groups. As an introvert, I even suffered through countless all-church potlucks, women's retreats and other social functions. 

When I became a childbirth educator and birth doula, Christ was still at the center of my work, and he was the God of the bulk of my clientele. Of all of my friends too. I was "encouraging women to labor, live and love by design," as my business cards so confidently declared. 

My family and I moved to the Pacific Northwest in August of 2009, and I attempted to plug right back in to do life and faith the same way I had been doing them for over 15 years. 

And I did -- at first.  

My girlfriend's question yesterday was right in line with the life we once lived together. I would have anticipated her question back then, and I would have responded quickly in the Christian language we both understood so well. Then, I would have followed up to find out all about the books she was reading also. I probably would have read them.

But yesterday, like most of the tank tops, shorts and short sleeved shirts, I packed away and gave away when I moved from the dry heat of suburban Denver to a cool coast of the Pacific Northwest, her question wasn't quite right; it no longer fit.

I struggled to find the words to tell my friend -- my sister -- that I'd rather eat sand than to sit through another church service next Sunday morning.


19 March 2014

enough is enough

In the thick of this winter, my new laptop arrived in a plain box with neither directions nor hoopla.

Is that all, I thought, as I removed it from its box. I wasn't sure what else to do, so I pressed the power button -- and it powered on!

No cords, no charging. Just power.

I'm not sure why this surprised and delighted me so, but it did. Incredulously, I stared at this simple Dell computer with it's big bright screen, its full charge, its number pad, its stick-less keys and its endless possibilities. 

Ahhhhhhh -- I breathed it in. With wonder, amazement, and tears in my eyes, I cooed, coddled and smiled at my newborn baby.

Although the battery appeared to be fully charged, I plugged in my laptop because that's what I've always done. I've spent much of the last decade typing on computers that couldn't hold a charge to save my life, so without thinking much about it, I followed my instincts.

To recap, in case you missed it the first time: my brand new laptop arrived at my doorstep fully charged, and I plugged it in anyway.

At the time, this never struck me as funny or odd or unnecessary, but when I think about it now, it strikes me as all three; it strikes me as blogworthy.

The clouds are low, colors are muted and contrast is gone. Cold, misty rain fills the air and falls; everything runs together. It's a legitimately gray day. 

 We park our cars side by side and greet one another with warmth and hugs. "HHHHIIIIIIIiiiii!!" my girlfriend squeals and waves, smiling wide. It's been months.

"I think we should do THEE walk," she says. I know the one of which she speaks. 

We hike and walk and talk through Langley for hours -- up Al Anderson, past the cemetery, past the Fairground -- we pause to potty -- down to Sandy Point and to the water's edge -- way past the no trespassing signs -- back up along the marina and on and on and on...

We share about the last few months, about our lives and our teachers. We talk about our children, about our husbands and about ourselves. 

"I'm not sure what's been going on with me." I explain. "Things have been shifting, and I've been unsettled... the things I needed and wanted so desperately before I no longer need in the same way... I'm not going into town as much... I'm feeling far more drawn to my family and to my home..."

"Perhaps, you are full," my friend says simply. I hadn't considered this before then.
"HIIIIIiii, how are you today?" 

Although I don't know her name and she doesn't know mine, she greets me as a friend and smiles at me with warm chestnut eyes behind dark rimmed glasses. Together, we unload my shopping cart, and she expertly scans my groceries while maintaining relentless eye contact. 

"How are the kids?" she asks, then she tells me about her day, about her children and about the six-week old newborn she has recently begun caring for. 

"I haven't changed diapers in ages!" she exclaims. Neither have I.

"She is tiny, and she smells SO good. All day, I just rock and snuggle her like this." She clutches my broccoli to her chest and sways from side to side.

Oh, yes. I remember newborns.

On average a newborn baby sleeps 16-17 hours each day. If memory serves, she cries, eats and poops the rest of the time. So when a newborn cries, more often than not, someone will either change or feed her. Baby cries; she gets changed and fed. She cries more, she gets changed and fed more -- and more and more. But what happens when she's full?

Today, I feel full -- VERY full -- because I ate too much last night. 

Just after I left the check stand of the-friendliest-checker-on-Whidbey-Island, I passed by and exchanged uncomfortable glances with an acquaintance from my past. I waved hello as she drove by. She held my gaze, but didn't wave back. I felt -- something. And shortly after I arrived to my empty home, I received notice that my family's plans had changed; they wouldn't be joining me for dinner after all. I felt -- something. And as I unloaded my groceries and thought about that checker, about that look, about my family, about my week and about everything coming to my plate in the next seven days, I felt -- something. 

And rather than allowing myself to feel whatever it was I needed to feel, I ate instead. I ate long after I was no longer hungry and even past the point of tasting the food in my mouth. Perhaps you are full, a susurrant something stirred within me. Eventually I stopped. 

In the cold, gray and stillness that followed our move to this Island, I felt empty, exhausted and spent. I felt lost, undone and so, so sad. I've been reconstructing my life and recharging my battery since I finally found my footing on rock-bottom once again. For nearly five years, I've been all about soul-searching and self-care. Filling and feeding and dancing and reading and... 

And perhaps you are full. 

I've been charging my battery and attending to the cries of a wounded spirit, because that's what it took to get out of bed for a while. Changing. Feeding. Changing. Feeding. And I've kept on charging my battery and feeding my spirit because that's what worked when I was empty, and it's what I've always done. But this rainy Wednesday afternoon -- this last day of winter -- I feel uncomfortably full. 

Hara hachi bu, an ancient adage by Confucius (and also an Okinawan secret to longevity and long life) comes to mind. It is that concept of eating to 80%, which today feels apropos. Hara hachi bu is a practice, which requires consciousness, awareness and willingness. It is neither scarcity nor abundance, but rather sufficiency. 

Author Lynne Twist writes, "Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency... It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough and that we are enough." 

This 2500-year old concept is a knowing that rests between two extremes. It is satisfaction that comes from not too much, but just enough. Apropos, indeed.

When I opened my eyes from the comfort of my bed this morning, I noticed the first blossoms blooming on the cherry tree outside my bedroom window. Fully and completely present in that moment, I felt -- something. I knew. Spring. 

I stayed in bed fixated on the view from my window. Simple. Plain. No fanfare, no instructions, no drama -- just perfect pink blossoms. I settled in, soaked in the light from my window and gratefully welcomed the arrival of a brand new day. And it was enough. 

My laptop battery is about to die. I think, I will go plug it in now.

last of winter

To Dennis.

05 March 2014

never throw a black woman into a pool

"Don't you ever miss combing it?" a woman I hardly know asks me with a bite from across the table. "I just need to keep my hair clean," she continues.

Her golden tresses cascade down her shoulder as she tilts her head to one side. Like clockwork, she runs her fingers through her hair, then drops the blonde whispers wrapped around them to the floor. I've seen this move before -- ah yes, nameless shampoo commercial. 

"I've always hated my hair," a friend at the table shares. I can relate.

Our water glasses sweat and sparkle from the late afternoon sun shining through a nearby window. I drop my eyes to my wine glass -- Malbec --  and take a sip to gather my thoughts and to wash down the emotions bubbling up in my throat. I'm not sure how we've arrived on the topic of my hair. 

"I don't like the way cornrows look on the scalp," another friend chimes in, "and even though it's probably easier, I just don't want my daughter to make the statement dreads make."

The statement? Am I making a statement?  I take a swig of wine this time, lean against the back of my chair and cross both arms and legs. I feel myself disengage. 

I remember the day I decided to cut my hair

I stare into my sad reflection on the other side of the mirror with butterflies in my belly and kitchen shears in one hand. I make the first cut just an inch from my hairline at the divide between my past and my present. Years of long, processed hair tumble down my face to the floor. The girl in the mirror smiles. There's no turning back. 

I remember the one time -- the only time -- Paul threw me into a pool. 

I push back from the poolside table -- satisfied -- and stretch out in my seat with bare arms and sticky ankles crossed. My dear friend sits to my right, her husband is across the table, and Paul is to my left. Beads of perspiration run down my back and soak my tank top even though we are shaded beneath a large, backyard umbrella. The guys stand to clear plates as my girlfriend and I continue our conversation between sighs of contentment. Her son splashes in the pool. 

Eventually I stand, just as my blonde-haired, blue-eyed boyfriend playfully approaches me from behind. He lifts me up; I scream and flail. He tosses me into the water. Fully dressed. In the scorching sun of the San Fernando Valley. Two days after a six-hour trip to and from a South Central LA hair salon to get my relaxer retouched. 

I fire rounds of angry expletives, without pausing to think or to breathe. Time stands still as I scream and shout at Paul, while he and our friends (AND their little boy) incredulously watch my crazy tirade. I'm pretty certain they've never heard me raise my voice before. All eyes are locked on me as I emerge from the pool dripping with rage; I go inside.

I remember the tears I shed for weeks following the kitchen-shear-haircut

The water in the open shower is warm, but never quite warm enough. I rub shampoo into my scalp and caress the short, tight curls atop my head. I feel warm inside. I feel joy -- and relief. I am soothed by the sweet smell of lemon verbena shampoo and the healing ointments of olive oil and myrrh. As I gently wash my hair, lather and years of self-loathing and pain run down my shoulders, my arms, my back, my feet and down the drain. Hot tears prick my eyes and spill down my face. I am dripping with gratitude.

I remember the $120 I dropped every six to eight weeks on hair appointments and the subsequent hours spent in traffic on the way home. I remember the welts, the burns and the yellow crust on my scalp from the relaxers that sat on my head just a bit too long. And I remember the day it all ended. I remember when I realized that this hair need not be combed, so I stopped combing it. I witnessed what can happen when I finally stop fucking with it, and let it be. 

I uncross my arms and legs and reach out this time for the cool glass of water beside my glass of wine. I take a long drink before I finally speak up. 

"The thing is -- for the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I love my hair." My friends at the table smile warm knowing smiles and regard me with acceptance and love as our food arrives. 

And then, we move on.