Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Letting My Freak Flag Fly

Thanks to a friend of mine, I scored a temp job doing data entry at Giant Impact. Among other things, this is the company that organizes Catalyst. When she texted me asking if I was interested in the job I didn't ask where it was located, what we were doing, etc...

All I knew is I hadn't gotten out of my pajamas until four o'clock the day before and the pink fuzzy pants really needed a rest! I'd actually prayed the night before, "Dear God, something"

So, I drove up to the Giant Impact office. Filled out my paperwork. Took my seat in front of a computer. And started entering the data from thousands of contact cards.

Sometime around lunch I sent my friend the following text: "OMG! I waited until later to take my lunch break because I was trying to avoid people and small talk and stuff! But there is constant traffic in the breakroom and since I am the only person in here and everyone is so nice...they are ALL talking to me!"

And my wonderful, understanding, fellow quirky friend texted back "Eat outside on the patio. It's what I do"

A little later, I sent another text to my friend (who has worked with me, knows me well, and would understand) "YES! I haven't burst into song ALL day!!!" And she texted me back and simply asked "Why?" To which I replied "Because it's SO quiet in a library! And everyone would hear me...and that would be bad."

It's horrible isn't it? Walking into a room, wanting to fit in, wanting people to like you, wanting to avoid the looks that say "you are strange"...So I acted normal as long as I could.

Three days. It took three days.

It was inevitable I suppose. Made more inevitable by the fact that when I bragged to my kids on the night of the second day that I'd managed to be normal for two days my daughter immediately lectured me on the fact that I was amazing, that all my quirks made me that way, and that she was taking away my "freak flag" because I was unworthy of it. (I wasn't aware of the fact that I had a freak flag. Or that it existed. I now want a pride flag, a freak flag, and a pole standing in my front yard so both of them can fly proudly)

At first it was only a crack...I didn't actually sing out loud but I did mouth the words and dance a little. I freaked out a little more than I should when I thought I'd messed something up so people heard that weird tone in my voice I get when stressed and then my obsessive need to know everything. Because of that I made a couple of theatre references that no one got. And then, when we finished a major assignment I asked our leader if we could celebrate with a song and dance number. My first clue that this group of people could handle my quirks was when, without missing a beat, he looked at his watch and replied "maybe at lunch".

The next day, our supervisor had bought us lunch and it was our first chance to really get to know each other. I was aware that I hadn't completely thrown the door open wide revealing how truly weird and socially awkward I was so I thought maybe I could it cool. Then one girl noticed the other girl's burger and said "Oh my word, what happened to your bun?" And the other girl said "Oh...I have this weird thing with bread. Along with all my other weird things..." And I gleefully confessed how hard I'd been trying to appear normal and how truly odd and socially awkward I was. No one seemed that surprised. But that led to everyone sort of flying their own freak flag and the sharing of stories and after that we all felt much more comfortable just being ourselves. Well...I still haven't sang out loud. It really is quiet like a library.

Be yourself, guys. Chances are...everyone is just waiting for the chance to be themselves too.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Mom Scale

I started forming this blog yesterday. This morning I woke to find this post on Momastery: Friendly Fire. Great minds think alike! Be sure to check it out. Today's message seems to be "Be kind. To yourself and others."

Yesterday one of the neighborhood kids was hanging out at my house. She was lamenting the fact her Mom couldn't afford to buy her a costume for Halloween. Before I knew it, my daughter had taken charge and with some brain storming, makeup, and things we had around the house the little girl was transformed into a kitty cat! She came up to me excitedly showing off her costume. I made some comment about how awesome and creative Embree is and Embree immediately replied that she got it from me. I started to argue when Trey reminded me of the time that I made costumes for some friends of theirs whose parents couldn't afford costumes. I had totally forgotten about it. I don't remember what we did for the girl, but I took a bunch of brown curtains out of a bag of household items someone had given me and along with a hiking stick, made what the boy swore was the coolest Gandalf costume ever. (He was also seriously impressed by the fact I knew who Gandalf was.)

Since becoming a Mom almost nineteen years ago, I step on the Mom Scale at least once (usually more) per day. I'm not sure if I do it to myself or the culture does it to me...or a combination of both. But what I do know is, when I look down at the scale, I rarely if ever see what I want to see. I never quite "measure up". But here is what I realize, when I look down at the scale, I see one thing...when my children peek over my shoulder at the scale, they see another.

The reason is that while I spend so much time focusing on where I fell short, what I got wrong, my mistakes and kids spend the majority of time focusing on what I did right.

They don't talk about all the nights I was too tired to read to them. But they will tell you about how we read the entire Chronicles of Narnia series and I did all the voices. (Bree will tell you to this day that the voice of Reepicheep in the movie is not right...because it isn't the voice I gave him.)

They might tell you about the years where Christmas was slim because I was so broke...but they are more likely to tell you about our tree cutting adventures, hot cocoa deluxe, and the years they got exactly what they wanted (and the fact that I often had help is seen more as the fact they are so loved by so many than the fact I didn't do what I needed to).

Ask them about my temper and the first story that comes to their mind is the time I lost it and let a bully coach have it while they sat in the car exclaiming "She put her hand on her hip!" and "OH, she's got BOTH hands on her hip!"

They may acknowledge that they knew about things like trafficking and poverty way before they actually wanted to but they will also tell you how they learned to really see a person because of me. To not just see a "prostitute" but the woman, life, and possibilities beneath the clothes, heels and makeup.

They will tell you about how they have come to me with questions and problems and we've dealt with them together. They will tell you I didn't chastise them when they struggled with their faith but stayed up to the wee hours of the morning talking through it. They will tell you about hugs, playing "hookie" and going to the park, growing up doing theatre together, games where I yelled louder than any other parent (okay...he might not actually enjoy that one! ha!).

If those are the  memories and the stories my kids hold on to, why do I hold onto the stories where my daughter fell asleep in class because I was working two jobs and couldn't get them home from the sitter until after one in the morning, or how I lost my temper at Trey so many times, how I struggled to get my mind right after their dad left, or the times of financial difficulty?

Why am I so insistent on being unkind to myself?

I don't know. I don't know if it's my fault or society's fault or the television's fault. I don't know if it's the PTA Mom's fault when she looked at my packets of instant cocoa at the 3rd grade class party and remarked "Oh, I thought you were making home made cocoa" without caring how I'd used my lunch break and broken every speed limit to even be at the party. But here is what I do know, if I continue to step on the Mom Scale and see myself as a failure, it's my own choice. No one is forcing me to do so. As a matter of fact, if I choose to step on the scale and see myself as a failure, I am making my children, my friends, and members of my family out to be liars. I am telling them that all the kind things they say to me and about me are untrue. That the only thing that matters is what I see on the scale. And who in the world am I to say that? Who am I to look at my two amazing, beautiful, and loving children and not believe I didn't get it right-at list a good percentage of the time? What am I teaching them if I continue to judge myself so harshly?

So today, tomorrow, next week...and beyond, I am going to be kind to myself. I accept that I will fail, falter, and mess up. But I will also succeed, get it right and try again. It's going to be a challenge. But I will take it. And I challenge you too. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle when you step on whatever scale you find yourself stepping on...give yourself permission to love you, to be good enough.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

This Is The Church

Today I walked into church and took my seat.
Third row back.
Middle section.
Aisle seat to the left.

It's my spot.

A creature of habit, I sit there unless someone else is sitting there and if someone else is sitting there, I sit as close to there as possible. However, before you decide I am some hyper spiritual, goody two shoes, super Christian, you should know something.

I don't sit in the front row because I'd get whip lash looking up at the pastor. I don't sit in the second row because there are these two big speakers that my knees would knock up against. So the third row is perfect.

The reality is that when I sit in church, I sit as close to the front as possible and take notes because...I'm easily distracted. I don't mean to be and as much as I'd like to blame ADD or ADHD, the reality is that if I'm not careful I will find myself noticing the guy on his phone and the cute baby in front of me and the woman's necklace...and then I'm wondering what we are going to have for dinner...

And it is a shame because Ed and Jason are two of the best pastors I've ever heard. And that is no exaggeration. So I have adopted survival techniques. Close to the front. I'm not allowed to use the Bible on my Kindle. Take notes. Oh...and for my children's sake, try not to verbally express my agreement with a "hmmm" when the sermon is especially good. Apparently I sound like I'm eating ice cream and it's louder than I realize. And embarrassing.

Anyway, I took my seat and gave a mental "Okay, I'm here" to God. I felt pretty impressed with myself. Thanks to Twitter the night before and the Christians fighting over MacArthur's "Strange Fire" conference and the "Act Like Men" conference and all the other things Christians tend to publicly sling mud over, I was feeling pretty disgusted with the church as a whole and may or may not have attempted to use that as an excuse to sleep in rather than get up and go to church.

The worship music was really good and I sang along so glad I had gotten my carcass out of bed and here. We sat down for announcements...and they arrived. I assume they sat where they did because it was the emptiest aisle. Maybe they get distracted too. Maybe a quick scan of the sanctuary revealed those were the only three seats together and easily accessible...I don't know. But they sat in front of me. Two girls and a guy. Younger. And they talked during the video. And they didn't stand and sing during the last worship song before communion. And they were whispering during prayer.

And my theatre snob persona took over...for just a minute. "Oh Lord, I hope they don't talk all through service" I inwardly moaned. It wasn't a prayer as much as a thought out eye roll. I actually thought through a quick list of indirect ways I could let them know they were disturbing me.

And God gave me sort of a "you better check yourself" nudge. was more like a shove.

The guy was holding one of the Bibles that we give out at the welcome center. It was brand new, never opened. When communion was served, the guy asked questions and the lady serving patiently answered. I watched as the whispers and the giggles that were obvious signs of discomfort gave way to settling in seats, taking notes, nodding heads, and (I am more than happy to say) a couple of verbal "hmmm"s. The sermon was the latest in CCC's "Really?" series and explored the idea that we could believe in science and the gospel. It was intelligent, well thought out and well presented and all three of them were totally into it. So was I once I'd started taking my own notes. At one point, one of the girls dropped the lid to her water bottle and it rolled behind her seat next to my foot. It took me three times to pick it up because I'm a klutz. I whispered as I handed it back to her something about "trying to be helpful" and she gave me a smile and whispered apology to which I replied "No problem"

After service, I introduced myself. Turns out the one girl had just moved to the area and hadn't been to church since she was ten. She was thinking of maybe going when her neighbor who attends our NA meetings on Tuesday showed her our church bulletin. To give you a clue, the cover to our bulletin looks something like this:

She took one look at the bulletin and thought that this might be a church she could fit into. So she convinced her two friends who had never been to church to come along. And they had sat in front of me. And everyone had been so nice and welcoming...(insert quick, appreciative prayer for attitude readjustments here!)...they were definitely coming back!

I took a look around the lobby of our church. At all the different types of people. Our Sunday crowd definitely gives an apt depiction of our desire to be the "church". They call it "church for the rest of us" because CCC wants to give people who wouldn't normally feel comfortable in church a place to where they feel welcomed. But I think that our lobby full of bikers, parents holding toddlers, those struggling with addictions, those who've never even smoked a cigarette, teenagers with mohawks, older folks with white hair...this is what the church is supposed to look like. And we as individuals make choices to make sure the church is what it is supposed to be. We can get frustrated with the stance of the "church" or the public image of the "church" but we are the ones who have to act to change it. And it happens in little ways. And we as Christians have a responsibility to make those choices. I'm so thankful for those three. They are grateful because I'm "so nice" and I'm grateful because they reminded me what the church is...

One beggar telling another beggar where to find food. (D.T. Niles)

PS To hear/watch the sermon series "Really?" Check out CCC's website

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Meaning Of Matthew

Fifteen years ago today, a young man took his bicycle for a ride just outside of Laramie, Wyoming. This was not an unusual occurrence. But today would be different. On his ride, he discovered what he at first thought was a "scarecrow" or a "Halloween trick" but was actually the body of college student Matthew Shepard. Matthew had been beaten and left for dead.

Because he was gay.

Two young men took him to an isolated spot, tied him to a fence, and beat him.

Because he was gay.

Matthew was taken to the hospital where he never regained consciousness and died several days later. His mother, father, and brother by his side. The two young men who plead guilty to his murder received plea bargains with the consent of Matthew's family and will spend the rest of their life in prison. They have since broken portions of that bargain and spoke out in the media, actually changing their story several times. However, their original confessions, attempted use of the "gay panic defense" and original stories of witnesses, etc all claimed that Matthew died for one reason. McKinney and Henderson didn't like gay people.

I'll confess, that October that Matthew died, I didn't pay a ton of attention to the story on the news. I saw pictures of memorials, news reports, speeches, etc. But I was in Georgia. Mother of a two year old and a three year old. I vaguely remember shaking my head at the hate in the world but then went about cooking dinner, taking care of my family, and getting ready for work the next day.

It wasn't until 13 years later, while at Newnan Theatre Company, hanging out with the cast of the Laramie Project, a play that details the murder of Matthew and it's impact on those involved as well as the community of Laramie, Wyoming that the story of Matthew really began to impact me.

I began to research. I read Judy Shepard's book "The Meaning Of Matthew" and cried as she talked about losing her son. I became more familiar with the Matthew Shepard Foundation and the work they do to "Erase Hate". I talked to the kids in the cast and heard their stories of how their families reacted to their coming out or bringing gay friends over, their thoughts on Christians who constantly clobbered the LGBTQ community.

Matthew's life...and death...began to have meaning for them and for me.

And even fifteen years later, with the hate crime bill old news, states approving marriage equality, etc. Matthew's life and death continues to have meaning. Hate crimes are increasing in New York. Last week approximately 20 football players from Ole Miss attended a performance of The Laramie Project and interrupted the play with taunts and homophobic slurs. And people in my neighborhood still unthinkingly use the word "fag" in incredibly derogatory tones.

It is time that we take the Meaning of Matthew and apply it to our world and the world around us. I don't care if the group of people you hate are homosexuals or the Republican Party...hate is never the answer. It is time to understand that all people deserve dignity and respect. It is time for Christians to stand up for the LGTBQ community because regardless of whether you approve or not, you are commanded by the one you call Savior to love them.

This week, as Matthew's family and friends face a tough anniversary. As they mourn the loss of someone they held dear. As the town of Laramie remembers...

Let's do our part to "Erase Hate". To make the meaning of Matthew's life more about the love he knew than the prejudice and anger that took his life.

Here's some ideas:
1) Check out the Matthew Shepard Foundation. Give a donation in Matthew's memory.
2) Make a NALT video.
3) Get involved in an organization that supports LGBTQ youth. For Atlanta people, there's Lost N Found (homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth in Georgia). There's also Forty To None and the Trevor Project.
4) Research: go see a production of The Laramie Project or read the script. Also, read Judy Shepard's book the Meaning Of Matthew.
5) Do a small kindness to someone. Someone you probably wouldn't normally reach out to. Take time to write an email or note and let Judy Shepard know you were thinking of her and Matthew when you did it (send them to the Matthew Shepard Foundation).
6) Examine yourself. If you know you are prejudice against a group of people, start taking steps to change it. You'd be amazed what building relationships would do to your mindset.
7) In the play, The Laramie Project (and therefore in real life), the hospital director reads a statement from Judy Shepard where she tells everyone "Go home and hug your children" So, go home...and hug your children.