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.}

I need you too. Will you believe it?

Our family tribe spent Saturday morning at a local food pantry handing out groceries and smiling real big and playing with kids in the “children’s corner” (did you know that homeless and low-income people have little ones too?). Three hours of mingling with the “bottom dwellers” and the whole experience was messy and undignified and inappropriate. People spilled their coffee and clogged the toilets and made a general atrocity of the church’s basement. It was loud and very un-white-like in the epidermis department (what should that tell us?). There was one guy who I thought was going to get physically aggressive with me because I had to ask for his name three times before I could understand what he was saying. Lastly he hollered, “IT’S PEDRO!!!!!! P-E-D-R-O!!! WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOUR HEARING?!?!” And even though he was practically spitting in my face with his frustration, I had this inexplicable joy bubbling up from my belly-well; there truly was nowhere else in the whole wily world that I wanted to be on a Saturday morning then with this squirrel y group of ragtag people. They remind me of myself. Their exteriors are as poor and dirty as my sin, as all the things that have me real tangled-up inside.

And while my well is bubbling with joy, there is hopelessness spilling out their eyes and shame whorling off their skin. I’m standing close enough at the sign-your-name table to inhale it right out of the air between us like second-hand narcotics. And breathe it deeply I must’ve . . . because suddenly I feel hopelessness and shame too and they aren’t some of my more frequent emotions. But I feel the shame of having too much, of being nicely dressed (even though I wore my “dowdiest” clothes), of being on the OTHER side of the table. I feel the hopelessness of not having solutions or answers or abilities to “fix it”.

As each man, woman and child comes forward with the strain on their metaphorical spines, I would do any thing to cusp my clean palm to the backside of each dirty, stench-y neck and pull their foreheads up to mine. And with the pressing of our foreheads and a fist against my chest, my eyes searching theirs I would whisper so fierce, “I. Need. You. Too. Will you believe it?

(I need them for my own selfish reasons maybe? Because I have chosen not to be a whole person without the marginalized in my life . . .)

With the shame and hopelessness swirling in the room like cloud tendrils riding the wind, for those two hours even the yoke of the weary and heavy laden eases just a bit around the breaking of donut-Bread and the drinking of Living Water in the form cheap coffee.

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One block away, and happening at the exact same time, is New Haven’s finest farmer’s market. All the hippies and hipsters and eco-conscience and wealthy people gather with their re-usable bags and bank-bucks to purchase the richest earth-fruits the soil and local herds have to offer. Everyone is happy and light-skinned and friendly. No one is spitting in anyone’s face or getting all knotted with anger. Civilized is the word and there are bands playing to enhance the big-smile mood and the air has such a hazy filter of beauty, you can’t help but feel as if you’re in a magical place where only good things can happen. It’s like the organic Truman Show and I love it. I value it. We left the food pantry and went straight to buy honey and mesculen greens to show support for our Connecticut farmers.

These people certainly don’t eat canned goods on the edge of expiration, but I know they have their own brand of needs too and reflect back to me more of my own brokenness.

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But I’m home now from this incongruent morning and my mind and heart are having a meeting and together they put something heavy on my chest and it’s making the breath-taking really difficult and stuff.

Because I am dying for us all to be together. 

The dirty and the clean. The doctor-needing and the healthy. The white and the color-full. The life-mindful and the barely surviving. The bed-less and the king-size-mattress sleepers. I am dying for us to not feel lower or higher, more valuable or less depending on where one sits in society’s arena – I wish there were no cheap seats. My only solution is to keep showing up to both segregated tables and hope that with Jesus-Christ inside me I can reach these cross-stretched arms wide enough to pull a few more of us around the same Table.

We. All. Need. Each. Other. Will you believe it?

Love,

Erika

{Linking with EMILY for IMPERFECT PROSE}

{Photo Credit}

Jesus Had Blue Eyes (or, “Plus One”)

{via pinterest}

Listen . . .

Let me tell you a deeper story, lest we forget why we are here in this naked place, where we value hard the speak that comes not from our shallow parts, but from the truth of our trenches.

It came one day out of the hunger in our bellies, an idea – a way for us to weave gladness and love and other fruit-like things into the spiritual fabric of our city. We thought it might be a small idea, something just for our family to do, but who knows? Maybe it can be big and weave bright things into spiritual fabric all over the cities of the earth.

We were having morning meditation, my three young boys and I. It’s how we start life with each new sunrise and this particular day there was a burning in the Spirit and all of us were on our feet, crying and praying big ole’ charismatic-y prayers against the grey walls of our living room – though I doubt that what we prayed was bound by our physical parameters. And when our lips buttoned-up after the heaven-bent supplications, we realized that something had happened behind the veil and the four of us circled together with a thirsty urgency to respond somehow, some way to what God was doing inside our skin. The focus felt clearly like we were supposed to solicit an outward movement, so I asked my guys, “What is one more thing we can do as a family that can help ease the suffering of this city we live in?”

I’ve mentioned a few times that we might have an “an idea worth spreading” . . . Today I’m finishing this post over at Deeper Story and finally explaining what I’ve been talking about. Head on OVER?!

Imperfect Prose: We Are The Same

I went to serve on a Tuesday at the soup kitchen and I imagine when I am there that the marriage supper of the Lamb would look something like this, with the one-armed toothless vagrants and the hobos and misfits and hand-shivering junkies. An array of humanity, broken on all sides and coming with their hungry bellies (never mind their hearts) and their absolute appreciation for crumbs.

They are in search of the bread and water to save them from the pain in their stomachs. They are in search of an hours warmth to relieve the cold in their autumn-bearing-backs.

I’m in search of Magic and this is one place He is always present and maybe I am selfish in my works, but I also know that there are parts of good, genuine hunger from my heart to give . . . just to give. I am only one person and it’s never feels enough, but the smile on my face is big despite and stretches across both cheeks and I look each street-walking, home-searching human straight in the face because I’ll be damned if I don’t see them.

I see the one with holes all through her haggard clothes, but still manages to scrape for the fake eyelashes, blue liner and mascara because she needs to feel beautiful.

I see the embarrassed one who doesn’t want to be seen, who ducks his head and averts his soul-windows and I have to bend my neck to search for his eyes. I must see him. Too.

I see the ones who self-consciously remain until the last minute of open church doors, painstakingly gumming their food because every tooth they were born with rotted right out of their heads.

I see the single mama with the baby riding her hip and how she is fragile and desperate and how is she going to make it come winter?

I see all 200 or so of them: the lines and pock-marks in their face-skin, the color and slant to their eyes . . . I see the homeless-Jesus in all their run-down features. I see each one and register their inherent design, what they were born for and I wonder at the story that brought them right here, right now, to this moment with me.

And then there’s me – the volunteer – standing on the other side of the counter in my American Apparel leggings and progressive TOMS footwear and all the rest of my flesh outfitted ridiculously in Urban, but no less a vagabond for all that. I am hungry too and I don’t want to serve the homeless because it makes me feel separate from them when I know in my heart that I am not. Looking straight at all their exterior-poor, I know my interior is reflected to me. And somehow, here with all the crazies and colorful s, it feels like Home and I know we are all welcome at the Table with our outsides and insides mirroring back and forth.

Linking up with this lovely lady today for Imperfect Prose.