When A Cross-Dresser Meets An Off-Key Kumbayah

Screen shot 2013-02-17 at 12.02.08 AMI quit all service-related activities this past summer when I burned out.

And I haven’t been back at them since.

But the thing is, when you go too long with your heart-values being unrequited, something different—but equally damaging—happens: your heart starts to choke on your own values because they just keep sitting there, stacking up inside you.

Until they come so high you can nearly taste them crawling inch by inch up the back of your throat, suffocating you for their need to be released.

So it was no surprise to walk into Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry at butt-early o’clock on Saturday and feel like I could breathe again. I had come home. Home, I tell you. A place so familiar I can smell it in my sleep, with sounds and sights cascading dreamily through me like a favorite childhood memory – maybe the one where I sit on the counter in our growing-up kitchen, sneaking dough and keeping my mama company while she makes my favorite cookies. Comfort, contentment, intimacy, warmth down to my little white feet, that’s what flooded over my body when I travelled across the threshold of that church-basement pantry.

I’ve said it before and I’ll I say it again: there is never a greater sense of belonging then in this space, where my soul is catapulted to the center of an unwashed, undignified sea of quirky people. I love the loud-mouths, the misfits, the skin colors and wrinkle patterns. I love the offending scents, bad language and indecent behavior. I love the spectrum and volume of energy buzzing and pinging from wall to wall, the graceless chaos of pushing and shoving. I love the reluctant acceptance and show of community. I love the joy that still comes when someone starts yelling at me because I can’t understand the name he mumbles at the registration table. All this—even much more—and I feel like I’m the opportunist who found herself in heaven because she already chose to die.

Jay-Z and Kanye were wrong, you know. There IS church in the wild and I find it every time I’m there in that jungle of battered humanity, where I am chief of all the rabble-ish creatures. But, for absolutely dead damn certain the finest part of the whole [rethink] church service that morning was the moment when a lively cross-dressed man (complete with giant gold hoop earrings) flaunted in and started serenading the crowd at the very height of his off-key lungs. Round and around and around he would weave himself slowly through all the food-seeking bodies with an open hymn book in hand, singing song after song. He was so LOUD y’all, but in my estimation this man seemed like he represented The Glue that stuck all us kids together that day . . . not only did his off-color character invite you to come just as you are with all the strangeness and skeletons you stand up under, but because the first song he belted forth was none other then Kumbayah – the tune “originally associated with human and spiritual unity, closeness and compassion”. The whole eccentric event made me want to whoop and dance and grin as wide as the lousy limitations of my face would allow. And my spirit was so stretched with colliding and ricocheting sensations, the feeling you might have when something shamelessly pure and indescribably right and incandescently beautiful rises from an unseen place and expands your chest with all the good things. Bursting, I have heard it called before.

I am bursting. And all the craziness and Kumbayah singing doesn’t stop me from pausing within the bedlam just to inhale him, my Jesus. Pausing and breathing and shutting my eyes for only a moment and I can see his figure moving around the earthbound bodies in that fluid way – touching shoulders, bathing feet, bending close for every hug, delivering that celestial-sized smile he’s famous for . . . You see? The reason I go is selfish, really. I just want to be close to Jesus and remember who he is [especially] during this Lent season. Not only is he all over every person I smell and touch and serve, but his Spirit is also whorling between every piece of food and flesh. I mean, you literally and certainly CAN’T miss him. Of all the reasons for dragging my arse out of bed on a Saturday morning, that one is the absolute best.

{Image: SOURCE}

12 Years and Why Are We Married Again?

There once was this man who bent himself over our married-feet and prophesied that thousands and thousands would gather around our married-love, but we didn’t have much time to reflect on his seer-like vision because shorter then a month later our love shattered into a million little shard-sharp pieces. Oh. Well . . . we didn’t see that coming. And our married-eyes still look back and marvel that we decided—in spite of ourselves and our choices and our circumstances—that neither of us was “going” anywhere. Man, this girl could re-write the definition of “miracle” off the broken back of our story and here we are 12 years later, 6 years since we began to “fix” ourselves and the best part? I don’t rightly know. Because there truly are too many “best parts” to itemize or rank, but I will offer you the best visual I can to describe our “right-now” married-souls: Just like the river we live on and where we feast our gazes day after night . . . Austin and I? We just flow. We flow back. And forth. In and out. Up and down. The moon rises and wanes and we go low and we go high – moving with the rhythm of the life-tides and season-cycles. We’ve got it down and we know what to do when the water is thin and when it is thick, when it is calm and when it’s a torrent. Also like our river—and equally so—we know how subject we are to pollution. We’ll sit on our dock and watch the litter float by and this I see: We are “bound” together in the most vulnerable and fragile constitution under the sun. We have to be so careful with our eggshell-state and we try real good to clean ourselves in Christ every night before we sleep and additionally practicing every practice we can think of to protect our crackability.

But all the cracks we already have? Oh, the Light beams through ‘em real bright – so we’ll just keep those and let our married-love shine. Eh? And AMEN.

Two years ago I wrote a story about our 10 year anniversary vow renewal and other reflections on “why marriage?”. I would share it with you again as Austin and I just celebrated our 12th and it always puts me in mind of why we belong to each other.

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It was a holy night when Austin and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony – oh, holy sacrament and our heads bent in holy wonder and the tears, even, were salted with the holy emotion. Holy emotion that we had “made it” this far. And if ever a voice quiver can be holy, it was in this time when vow-words written in black, scrolled on white paper, were strongly spoken into the grey shades of our reality.

That holy night we stood in the middle of an arm-to-arm ring of our 20 dearest friends and spoke our re-pledges to each other and would you know that heaven’s holy hush soaked our air and stretched our senses to inhale Spirit as He whorled around and between all our limbs and over our skin in that sacred, brushing whisper of His? We felt transported to another world; gently placed inside a shielding bubble where no evil things could penetrate – not on this holy night, not on His holy watch.

Our second ceremony was different then the untried joining of our youth. This time, we knew. Oh God, we knew. We knew what cards life could deal and we knew that our own humanity could cheat with the hands we are dealt. We knew that vows are meant to be kept, but instead—and often—get torn a hundred ways to Sunday. We knew all this and beyond and because of our knowing, our vow words meant more and the definition is ten years long and ten years deep and ten years burned through holy fire. We knew, and we still stood on our holy legs of flesh to say “yes” to each other again.

We said “yes” again because we didn’t go through holy fire without being refined, restored, redeemed, resurrected.  And we said “yes” because our intentions for marriage had evolved alongside our purification and went beyond the answers that come skimmed off the top: “I want to wake up every day with my best friend” or “Two are better then one and he/she completes me” or “I’m loved unconditionally by my spouse”. After being affixed to someone for a decade, these reasons cannot stand alone any longer. The rigors of reality demand that you have an exceptional reason for being joined and and an exceptional reason for staying joined.

On the eve of our commitment renewal, with the quiet and Spirit-air for company, I gently asked my question again, “why marriage?” I had hoped to grasp an answer that every other answer could find it’s roots in, longing for something I could hook my entire heart on when the day is done and the deeds are dark. And where my imagination took me, was not where I expected to go, but how would you like to crash a wedding in Cana?

“…The story of the wedding at Cana has a curious luminousness about it, the quality of almost a dream where every gesture, every detail, suggests the presence of meaning beneath meaning, where people move with a kind of ritual stateliness, faces melting into other faces, voices speaking of elusive, but inexhaustible significance.” – Frederick Buechner

I have this vision of a strange and stern guest with his big, drinking eyes. He’s inhaling wine and breathing sacramental symbolism into the air around him. He is at a wedding and how can he not think of why he was born all this way? Contracted and pushed into time to marry himself to the whole world. So while he laughs and feasts and merry-makes with the rest of them, his Spirit is stretching and reaching with fanciful wreaths of invisible God-fingers, touching every which way and throughout, soaking the deeper meaning inside every wedding ritual. His entire purpose as a Groom coming to love his bride is being played out on the micro stage of this Cana wedding. He’s dreaming of the intimate mysteries of vows and rings, clasping of hands and sacrifice, of feasting and ultimate Love. Maybe just a small sigh and his eye-lids fall as he envisions another marriage . . .

His mama breaks into his waking reflection because she just overheard the servants talking about a beverage deficiency and she petitions her son for help because the party planner didn’t order enough wine, of all things. And while he’s telling his mama about time not arriving and don’t put the cart before the donkey, the mother caresses her knowing fingers along the son’s face and tells the servants to do whatever he says. Before he can issue any orders, he hears a familiar whisper, the Father speaks to the Son’s soul, “I’ve arranged a marriage for You. It’s time . . .”

Without any added ado, the Son says to the servants, do this and do that and the miracle was heard around the whole thirsty world – never again would refreshment be lacking and with this, the bride was born and the Groom set out from Cana, anticipating his own wedding after what he knew would be a 3-year-long wild and audacious wooing.

And three years later, with dust in all the cracks of His sturdy, peasant feet, He walked a long and rocky trail to the top of death hill. Because that is where His chapel was and He was going to get married. But His vows of love needed to be written in blood; red ribbons of split-wide sacrifice. Cross-eyed and crossed-out and criss-crossed in pain, six-ways-damned till Sunday, He said, “I take you . . . to have and to hold . . . from this day forward, in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty . . . as long as we both shall live” – which is nothing short of eternity.

Right after Austin were pronounced “man and wife” the first time, these words were spoken over us, “You Austin, and you Erika, together, represent the image of Christ.”

The image of Christ.

You mean the one I just detailed? This was and is the answer my soul was desparate for hearing. “Why marriage?” Because I would give my living and dying breath to reflect an image like that – an image of a marriage declaring an insurmountable love.

When Austin and I re-fastened ourselves one to the other it was with the intention that we, together, are a mirror of the risen Son on His wedding day.

Profile: My Him

Christened: Robert Austin Morrison, but most folks call him “Austin”. I call him whatever’s closest to my heart at the time. I wrote this one post about him and he consistently makes an appearance in other stories here, but I just be having the itch to tell y’all again . . . he’s achingly and strikingly special.

He’s special with a torrent of good adjectives and everyone who knows him, says so. Our dear friend who lives across the pond in London-town (a more unlikely Anglican priest you will never meet) sent these word-kisses to Austin a few weeks back and I couldn’t have said it better:

Have I ever told you what a wonderful man you are? Not only cos you are the hunkiest spunk, (english phrase for “all man”) that side of the pond, but because your spirit is so beautiful. To be handsome on the outside and beautiful on the inside is a rare gift in a man my friend, but you have made it your own with chocolate sprinkles on top!

Be strong when you need to be and gentle when you don’t.
Be the man always broken yet full of wholeness.
Be the one who says yes when others say no,
and no when others say yes.
Stand apart from the crowd and anonymous in the middle.
Be the bridge builder and the destroyer.
Be a father and always live as a son.
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You are such a treasure my friend and I love you for all the joyful, tender, fragility you carry through life, turning it into redemptive art on life’s canvas. It’s better to have stepped out of the boat and discovered you’re sinking than to never realise the boat you stayed in your whole life was full of holes! When we sink in the water we learn to swim, when we sink in a boat, we drown! Love you dearest. Go home and squeeze that precious family of yours for me as if I was in the room.
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And, my Austin? I would tell you this: I see more of the Christ in you then in anyone I know. Hands. Down. Everywhere. And I know you don’t always see it in what you do, you’re not “out there” using Gospel-words, spreading them over the scope of the internet or standing on some mountain-high podium preaching for the masses to hear. No. What you do is much more valuable to me then all that – because the only pontificating you do is in the laying down of your own life, day in and day out. You live the good Message, which is much more important then all the people in the world who are saying a lot of good things without the real-life-living to back their sermons up.
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You are relentless in your love and in your sacrifice and how you bend in every direction for this family, without an atom of resentment – ever.
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You rise from our marriage bed in the wee hours, tuck the covers around my form to keep in the warmth from your body and kiss just so gently my temple-skin before you creep like a seasoned ninja from the room to greet the still-darkened dawn with the open palms of a servant.
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You put in your long, dirty hours and come home to dredge up the fumes of your energy so you can learn how to ripstick with the boys or play soccer in the backyard, even when every ounce of your body doesn’t “feel” like it.
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You hold me in close comfort when I’m having a good cry and lift me towards the sky to champion my gifts and passion, contributions and hair-brained ideas. You give me grace to sort things out when I’m being stupid sometimes, but you also know when it’s not the time to take my shit lying down.
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You taught my prideful-hide some much needed humility with your natural humbleness. And you showed me how to forgive and let-go, the quicker the better – it’s true, just like you’ve always said.
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This list could flow forever on as it pours freely and fully from my heart of love for you, but I will close with saying this: You’re MY him. And that is said with the most resounding “amen”. Again I say, “amen”.
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P.S. COMING SOON and STAYED TUNED!!! Just maybe an IDEA worth spreading!!! (And if you’re wondering why I have all these dumb periods all over my post it’s because every paragraph was clumping together and it hurt my eyes to look at it all aesthetically messed up. (The End))
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Love You and You and YOU,
Erika
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Life As Art

“Listen to your life, see it for the fathomless mystery it is.” ~ Frederick Buechner

It’s raining grey drops on the outside, peppering the asphalt and earth-dirt with heaven’s impartial, christening water. It smells like creation’s church and my imagination is pressed close to cold panes of windowed glass and I can almost feel the taste of liquid silver on my tongue and this absurd little human-heart inside a chest-of-flesh flips over and oh dear God, the sound of it on the roof? Makes me school-girl giddy; if my spirit were to rise any higher, it would be away and gone from it’s body-home. There is the fog descending, too, to join nature’s tryst, offering his filmy, floating-fluctuation and dewy-dimension to autumn’s canvas. God-painted leaves dance their colors under the wet in a lover’s waltz with the subliminal brush of a wandering by, hands-in-his-trouser-pockets-with-a-whistle kind of breeze. They know it is their highest praise just to be and I am noticing, my eyes eating elements and landscape like soul-food. It is my own high worship, the watchfulness and mindfulness. The listening . . .

Today, I have the exceptional–and I do mean, exceptional–privilege of guest posting with Emily Wierenga of Canvas Child. Would you please follow me there? I’m sharing my heart for Life As Art . . .

Love,

Erika

{Photo Source: Unknown}

Wherein He {Still} Makes Music

It’s the sweetest sound, really. And I can hear it everyday if I’m sitting in just the right spot at just the right time . . .

When I first laid my 17-year-young-eyes on all 6 foot 3 inches of unbridled male virility, I dove, DOVE I tell you, into love. (Which is just a way more dramatic method of “falling” in love.) All I remember thinking was, “ME WANT. UGG.” I might’ve even beat a fist against my chest once or twice. (I don’t usually exhibit neanderthal qualities . . . I swear.)

To my further delight, I discovered very shortly after meeting said heart-throb that he was a drummer. (Like, EEEEEEK!!!) AND he played Jesus in this dramatic presentation that his YWAM mobile team performed at my church. My little-smitten-heart repeated like a pull-string doll that night, “What could be better then a drum-beating, Jesus-acting, heart-throb? I want one.” Never mind that every other girl in that church auditorium was thinking the same thing. We all know who he ended up with. What Erika wants, Erika gets. Totally kidding! Or am I? If you know me and you’re reading this, I absolutely forbid you from commenting.

I digress.

In the early days of our married life, drummer-husband collaborated with his friends and created the songs of Ten Shekel Shirt, among other gigs. But, shortly after we conceived our third child, Austin and I needed to upgrade our dwelling space to accommodate our rapidly emerging offspring and we found that a musician’s salary didn’t cover our monthly expenses anymore. Overnight, my music-loving, drum-beating spouse went from living his dream to becoming an apprentice to my brother’s carpentry business and swinging a hammer for our bread and butter.

He still hits his drums whenever our schedule-stuffed lives afford him the time, but it’s been 7 years since he’s been a full-time musician. Can I tell you something though? His various mediums of music-making has met my ears for 12+ years and I’ve loved every beat of it, but the sweetest rhythm he composes is not the noise from his musical prowess, it’s simply and profoundly the sound of him coming home everyday. And I can hear it from start to finish if I’m sitting on my favorite couch cushion in the living room.

Through the thin, historic-old glass of our 1856 apartment, the distinct purr of his truck engine bleeds through to my ears and it – sure as the sunrise – puts a smile on my face and lifts my heart higher because I know we’re about to be whole again, our family circle – he completes it. The motor dies, the F-150 driver-door opens and closes, his footsteps up the yard path reach my waiting ears from the second story.

I can’t see him yet, but I know he’s going to be dirty, covered from head to foot with dust – all the cracks in his trade-roughened hands will be filled, his hair concrete-powder-white instead of chestnut brown. His work-weary movement echoes as he crosses the front porch heavy. Pushing through the entrance door I can hear him drop his boots on the mat and reach to unhook his apartment keys from the backside belt-loop of his Work-n-Gear pants. 17 more steps up and a little jangle, the key fits in our door and I’m still smiling and the boys notice their papa’s coming-home-music, they come galloping and hollering from every corner like it’s Christmas morning. It never gets old.

All that to say, he still makes music, always and no matter what he does. Because who he IS, is our harmony, a vital refrain to his family and further relational sphere.

I love my musician.

The End.