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}

Roger And Our Dirty Skin

{Taken right outside Froyo World.}

I would love to show you a photo of old Roger so you could see what I see: that he’s just the most beautiful. His leather-like face is thickly etched with time-lines, his hair is unhygienic, lousy . . . his skin wears pockmarks and blackheads like some woman wear pearls and polka dots. He doesn’t have any top teeth that I can see beyond his overgrown mustache and whew! if he doesn’t smell like an unwashed decade. He wears baggy velour track pants, three jackets, scars across his heart and no less then a globe’s worth of guilt on his back. Maybe he’s 65. Or 90. Who can tell under all the layers of filth and fault he bears?

Our family was getting concerned about Roger and started asking around town because we hadn’t seen him in two months, when we usually intersect stories weekly. We asked and asked and all five pairs of eyes would go left and right and all in circles scanning crowds and alleys looking specifically for the tall, homeless man with that distinct gait and bushy beard of his.

He loves Froyo World more then anything so we always brought him there. For a while, EVERY time we took to town to treat ourselves—out of all the places he could be in New Haven—Roger would magically walk right across our path like we were telepathically connected and destined for friendship and Froyo. We would take him inside and all the curious watchers would wonder at our ease of relationship, love and laughter with this bum-looking character. The kids would get their small allotted portions, but Roger? I always told him to FILL. IT. UP!!! And he would pour $8 worth of vanilla yogurt into his container. That’s it, no toppings. Just plain vanilla. Maybe he likes to keep it simple because life has been so complicated?

Roger talks of the crazy wife he wanted to kill, his time in jail, his two children—a boy and a girl. He gave them up for adoption because he was so strung-down on drugs and too busy suffocating the life out of himself that he couldn’t meet their most basic needs, let alone offer any kind of nurturing. He says that he constantly checks on them, (maybe to assuage his heart?) to make sure they’re not “turning out the way he did”. But to hear him talk of it will sure-as-anything-sharp, slice-your-soul-right-up because when he says it, his eyes are full of fathomless sadness, sadness so strong that a person could be sucked right into the vortex of his pain and drown inside if they weren’t careful.

He once told me he was “an undesireable” and with all my heart I told him that was a lie.

Last night we were driving to Froyo World to meet our friends, Justin and Chrisy, when we pulled up to a red light and Jude yelled from the back seat: “THERE”S ROGER!!!! I FOUND HIM!!!!”. And I rolled down my window so fast to call his name so loud and with all the thrill of a Christmas morning, “ROGER!!! HI!!! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?!?!? WE’VE BEEN LOOKING EVERYWHERE FOR YOU!!! WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET ICE CREAM WITH US?!

Because, you see? I’ve missed my friend and I wanted to make sure he knew it.

Roger tells me right back that he’s missed us, that he’s been looking for us too!!! “I thought maybe you moved to Texas!!!” I laughed so big and just like that we fell into our camaraderie and moved as a unit to get dessert together, but before our friends even showed up or we could get our frozen yogurt, Roger said he had a present for the boys and took off at a trot towards the stash of stuff that he keeps somewhere. 20 minutes later he came back holding out a big, colorful hardcover “Birds of Prey” coffee table book and he gifted it to Gabe, Seth and Jude. And, can I tell you? It was one of the sweetest moments in my personal history, to witness a homeless man giving something to us when he, essentially, has nothing. Oh, it was like being transported to ancient times and witnessing the widow give her mite. What a sensation, to feel (in little) what it must’ve felt like for Jesus to watch her give from her poverty, everything she had.

Mercy. The whole event moved mountains in me and the rest of our time together was filled with the Spirit while we ate and shared questions and stories and near the end Roger asked me to read some Psalms over him and our friend Justin had a prophetic word for Roger regarding the guilt he carries and how God actually sees him like a beloved son in spite of the lies he hears. Then we bowed our heads and Justin prayed for him and I held his hand, dirty skin to dirty skin – Roger’s and mine.

 

{Austin Morrison – my Mr., my Him, my Love . . . I was SO wishing you weren’t out of town for this. Miss you.}

my heart wasn’t made for this.

{ source :: pinterest }

There are times when I feel like all the seeing and knowing and hearing and reading . . . all the immediate access we have to everything in the world at the same time can’t be good for our wee God-woven hearts? And to top it off we have a veritable highway of opinion and commentary for the entirety of it. And this million-lane-wide-opinion-highway is without speed limits or traffic violations or ticket-writing-police and there are engines burning at 8000 rpm’s and can someone please let me off at the next exit?

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Do you ever wonder if your heart wasn’t made for it? The internet, I’m speaking of now and the other night a popular justice-fighter made a very public mistake and every web-avenue was bursting with this “delicious” and “titillating” news before anyone could say “Bob’s your uncle”. Jason Russell of Invisible Children was hit hard by God only knows what kind of invisible force and I only read 5 minutes worth of responses from people sitting on their self-righteous couches before I was screaming, screaming inside. And weeping over my tea kettle and telling Jesus that “my heart wasn’t made for this”, this expansive knowing of what is being said and done to just one man {let alone the world} and with the breadth of meanness and judgement coming off my computer screen? I hurt so bad—everywhere—for the unconscionable abuse being kicked against him while he was already down. And I was burning-in-my-lungs mad. Any madder and maybe someone would’ve found me running naked in the streets doing strange things, scandalizing polite society.

Join me today at Deeper Story for the rest of this post? Click HERE or HERE or HERE. :)

Love,

Erika

the :: c :: word

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“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin.”  ~ Frederick Buechner

Is that why we suffer from “compassion fatigue”? My own damn skin is hard enough to live inside of {thank-you very much} without crawling inside yours as well. And I’m not even—necessarily—talking about the overseas, bloated-bellies-burning-under-the-heat-of-an-African-desert-sun kind of compassion. Although, the description fits. I’ve heard there in a great famine in the land. I think I read about it somewhere while I was eating ice-cream.

No, I had my own collision with Compassion the other day and it was one of those moments. You know . . . ? The kind when the veil is gossamer-thin at the same time, by Someone’s intimate orchestration, the heart is clay-soft. And you might as well be a pile of broken flesh on the floor for as undone as you are when the two sensations slam together. The most elemental meaning to life—that a mortal can see—is revealed just then and maybe you won’t feel the same way come morning, but if an altar can be built or a memory committed during that moment, it might be enough to hold your turn-the-other-way-feet to the fire-of-what-you-ought-to-do, even if—and especially when—you don’t feel like it.

Christ knows how many things I don’t feel like doing. But this year we chose to be a New Kingdom family and a big decision like that cannot be made without sky-scraping ripples and repercussions. {That sounds like a lot of movement to me—the scraping and the ripples and the repercussions. Oh my. I wonder if this body can handle it?}

The sun was falling low and my heart was racing fast when my eyes took it all in—an orphan website displaying hundreds of little-Jesus faces, each one has the “waiting” look and a big smile—like they were told by some caregiver to stretch it as far as their cheeks could go because it might make the difference of a family for them or not. A life hung by the thread of an upturned mouth. And I would swear to you that the internet is an inanimate object, but sometimes the Spirit jumps from the screen like a nighttime wolverine, teeth bared and all and He does not always need to be gentle, does He? This time, the connection between us was visceral and I could feel that He wasn’t going to let go. After all, I have told Him time and again that I don’t want to be anything less then everything for His kingdom and I mean it with every fragile ounce of my humanity. And He’s just holding me to my own professed yearnings and savage promises. I’m sure if I wanted to renege, I could.

Girl meets Wolverine on a Sunday evening and it later brought me to the kitchen table with my husband, him holding me in his Guardian-arms and me with the tears and a barely there whisper—choked-up on my own twisting aorta, the words fall out: “There are orphans in this world honey. Do you know what orphans are . . .? They’re children without homes and mommies and daddies and I cannot carry this dark burden anymore without doing something. And I know we don’t have to bear the whole world’s parent-less little-people, but could we hold one? Or two?”

The husband {with the heart bigger then the state of texas where he came from} prompted us and together we joined our quivering lips and prayed into the indigo sky—he prayed his prayers of surrender and I prayed mine: “Thy will be done”, I said, but only through the clenching and unclenching of my heart.

Because I’m still scared. You know . . . ? What if I indulge so far into compassion that I don’t have anything left? No time to read or write or dither around the bookstore-with-the-coffee-shop? What if I indulge so far I don’t have the energy to sit in the sleeping-house-silence? Will my introverted soul be sustained?

These earth-skin questions come real quick-like while I’m calling the local adoption agency, asking about their open houses, but I remember the Wolverine and His bared teeth and how He lived so far inside the skin of the world, for Him, compassion was a “fatal capacity”. This image bolsters me and I drink it like a gimlet of ambrosiac elixir while pulling the thief-gripped puppet strings one by one from my flesh because all the free time in my world isn’t going to wrap an orphan in love; my own desire to convalesce in comfort won’t hold a mother-less child.

I will live inside my skin, painful though it is. And I will live inside your skin too and together . . . if we’re all living inside each other’s skin? God. It feels like a scourging, but it looks like Christ to me.

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside someone else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ”  ~ Frederick Buechner

Teach us how to love, Abba::Amma. The world is wide open.

{Please leave comments to this post at Deeper Story.}