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}

Deck Your Heart

Right now? I’ve got nothing else to offer this space full of Deeper readers then my Advent heart. I am completely consumed by “coming” and would you sit where you are long enough to watch me pour myself all over an ancient manger? Pour myself out even though the thought of giving you my heart feels at least 6 million kinds of vulnerable, as if I were the one spreading my legs for all the world to see while pushing the crown of God’s head into the hay. But, if ever there is time and space for vulnerability it’s the Christmas season; the very act of incarnation, of Christ coming to us bloody and naked invokes all the worshippers to come as bare and forked as possible before the flesh-born King.

I’ve had 31 revolutions around this one stable and at least 10 of them I have beseeched to the Baby therein, “How much deeper can we go this year?” And this is how I begin to deck my heart, with curiosity and fervor and a longing for the provocative nature of this story to mix with my claret-red cells and run rampant all over my veins like some sort of Divine drug. Every moment of Advent-to-Christmas tastes like an aphrodisiac and I am drinking the moments like ambrosia-laced elixir. With my tongue rolling around all the flavors of a Newborn, no wonder I burst with more merry and leak more tears then every other orbiting day.

I want more . . .

Follow me to Deeper Story for the rest of this smattering of my most vulnerable heart-words? Click HERE.

 

What I’m Hungry For

Will you hear what I am hungry for? How I can eat moments like my first and last and only meal?

Moments.

Moments of stillness and quiet, with just enough length to take an extra breath, speak a gentle “I’m here, Abba” and be mindful that behind the air I inhale is another galaxy of meaning and mystery – it’s heaven waiting in the wings for the sprinkling of God-children spread all over the earth to bring a piece of the celestial into earth-time. (Try it and see . . . With just one beautiful, purposeful and God-rich thought in your head, drag in some atmosphere through your nose and I believe you’ve brought the Kingdom here and now.)

I was born with a mystic heart and I could feast on solitude for days, but God gave me a family and made me a homeschool mama and also dug such a deep well of love in my heart for all the people who walk around and straight into my world . . . You see? Moments are all I get and that’s okay, but I’ve got to cultivate them to be good ones otherwise my soul would shrink to a shrivel.

So, I’m praying every morning for a cleansed palette with which to taste all of God in every little beat of space ticking down eternity’s clock. Even more so and especially now that my eyes have gone soft from gazing towards the dawn of Advent this Sunday. We’ll wait the whole day to light the Candle of Hope at night and I know with that tiny flame flickering to life on our Advent wreath my breath will beg to be pulled inside my lungs slow and deep and all the way down to my belly like the way I had to when I was 9 months pregnant; when my body was so full of flesh that short gasps could never fill me up .

That’s how to breathe the Advent air. All the way down to your gut. Because if any air in the world is pregnant, it’s the Advent air – 9 months, pre-labor large with the memory of expecting Someone so big He could only come in the package-size of an infant.

Again this year the moments in our home will glow gentle with hundreds and more tiny twinkle lights on a Charlie Brown evergreen tree and all the spirit-atoms within go hush-hush for the sweet Bethlehem Baby. A Baby that I’ve never wanted to hold so bad and we all wrap Him in our arms with each sacrament and remembrance. We’ll take Him in our arms and clutch Him close to our chests once more, tis the season for new-skin smell and Baby-breath fanning and for swaying around the living room humming lullabies, caressing our flesh-palms over and across a soft, downy, Divine-head. The thermometer around us will shift to temperature still as we supplicate for the deep hope of softening and bending our souls towards the heart of Christmas.

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If any of you are looking for a couple of Spirit-whispers to supplement your holiday season, below are a few resources that nurtured and strengthened our own tribe-traditions.

This is our second year to travel through Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree Family Advent Devotional – we all love the way she stitched and crafted The Story from start to finish. If you’re interested, you can download it for FREE right HERE.

John Blase wrote a beautiful little triumph of a book called Touching Wonder. This, too, can be download for FREE over HERE or at Amazon.

For younger kids, this Advent Storybook is our favorite and we are still reading it every year – so sweet and reverent.

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Can I tell you how blessed and joy-full I wish and pray for your Advent and Christmas to be? I’m wrapping my big heart around each and every y’all, okay? I LOVE you!

 

{Image Source}

Not Your Average Will

Do you remember the movie Bruce Almighty? (This film about a narcissistic, ego-centric, ungrateful, pessimistic, money-hungry guy who has an encounter with God that changes his life.) Our three boys were watching it a few weeks ago in the backseat of the car while we travelled Rt. 80 through the pastoral hues of western PA toward our family holiday destination. And even though I couldn’t see the screen from the front passenger seat and only listened to the scenes with half an ear while reading a book, in the peripherals of my mind I was following the storyline of a movie that I hadn’t seen in more then five years. But for some reason I was pulled out of my peripheral-listening and became sharply focused right as this particular point near the end of the movie: Bruce has reached the absolute end of himself and is wandering the city streets like a person gone mental; his stagger is that of a man who’s been stripped of all his walls and has nothing left but the bare and wretched truth of his human condition. If that isn’t enough, the sky suddenly opens over his realized condition and lets-down this skin-soaking storm as if to seal his situation as dire – just in case he was mistaken about it before. He finally gives in to the inevitable and plummets to his knees on the asphalt, stretches his arms all the way east-to-west, throws his head up to heaven and shouts into the downpour, “OKAY!!! I SURRENDER TO YOUR WILL!!!” And no sooner are the words dredged from the pit of his dying narcissistic heart then he is hit square in the body by a horn-blasting semi-truck . . .

Would you follow me over to Deeper Story today to hear the rest of this narrative?

{Also: Hi!!! I’m back!!! I have updates and stories and post-sabbatical notes to share with y’all! I’m not sure how much of it I will be able to write out here, but I’m gonna do my best to clear my chest in the coming weeks. :)}

{Also, also: Hi!!! I LOOOOOOOOOVE you!!!!}

Love,

Erika

Photo Credit: Amy Ballinger via Flickr

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.