I did go out to eat by myself again, though, and each time it gets easier and more natural. I enjoy it, actually. I think I’ll keep doing it after I’m coupled as well. I did manage to tick at least one thing off my list: I went to church.
I want to preface this blog entry by saying this: I have been procrastinating on putting this up. I have been purposely avoiding it for 3 days. Embarking on it is a little nerve wracking for me and as I prepare to put the words on the page, my palms are sweating. Wish me luck, will you?
That having been said, onward.
I was raised Lutheran by my grandparents, who were active in my life. I don’t know how “Lutheran” is different from any other brand of Christian, but it is, evidently. They were devout Christians, and I went to church with them every time I spent the night at their house, which was every few weeks. I read the Bible enough to have favorite scriptures that I could recite. I don’t know that I ever fell in love with God, but I fell in love with religion. I fell in love with the power of faith and prayed earnestly with confidence that if I was a good person the Lord would protect me. I was a sheep and he was my Sheppard. I was raised this way from when my grandmother was “reborn”, when I was three.
When I was twelve I was raped. Rather brutally, I’m afraid. After this happened, I never again returned to service.
“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” Matthew 10:16
Add to this the violent upbringing, the years of homelessness, and the ensuing depression and degrading relationships that resulted in one suicide attempt after another, and I’m sure you can imagine why perhaps I was not keen to be on speaking terms with God. He stayed on his side of the room, and I stayed on the other. We eyed one another awkwardly, but we never let on to anyone that we had known each other at one point. Most people had no idea that I knew he existed, and most people would assume from the life I was living that perhaps he had forgotten that I did as well. The death of my boyfriend, the miscarriages, the divorce. No, we were obviously mutually exclusive.
When I set upon the Project and decided to go with the “church step”, I hadn’t thought much of it. It would be a beautiful place, I intended to go to St. Mark’s in Seattle, which is huge, gorgeous, and overlooks the city. It also allows gay and lesbian ministries, of which I am a big fan. I thought I would sneak into mass on Sunday, listen to the choir, bow my head when it was time to pray as I have politely done at so many Christmas dinners, and be on my way. However, as the day got nearer, I got more antsy about it. I got more nervous. I lashed out at the idea of dressing up just to show up at God’s house – who does this guy think he is? I shouldn’t have to show up on schedule wearing literally my “Sunday best”. You’re God. Part of the burden of being you is that you have to take me as I come, right? You get to bear down on my life with no mercy, an Esau to the world’s many Jacobs, and you have to take whatever I have become as a result of that. This mind set should have foreshadowed what was to come. It did not. I decided not to go to Mass. I went after last Mass, when the pews were emptier. I had no idea the emotional deluge that was to unfold.
When I arrived at the church, my stomach churned. You’d think I was a witch or a Satanist the way I felt when I pulled up to park. I hesitated briefly before walking through the doors. A slight sigh of relief was uttered when I did not burst into flames upon entry. After some confusion, guilty shuffling, and uncertainty about whether this was “allowed”, I took the lead of some others seated among the pews, and I found a spot in a far back corner.
The church was vast and beautiful. I had never been in a place like this before. The Lutheran churches to which I was accustomed were small, contemporary things. Stepping into the expansive hall, you could hear the sounds of prayers still lingering in the air. The walls absolutely vibrated from the hymns sung so soon before I had arrived. Any venom I held before I swallowed into my belly and felt a great weight of religion sink upon me. Here I was. He saw me, I could tell. He was watching. He was waiting for me to make the first move.
I stared at the floor for a long time waiting for the words to come. I was sitting with my feet planted solidly about shoulder width apart. My elbows rested on my knees and I sat hunched with my hands hanging limply toward the ground. I must have looked exhausted. I carefully considered all the things I had lived through, the ways they had strengthened me and the ways they had made me scarred, jaded, self destructive and afraid. God was patient. When I finally raised my face toward the cross, tears were in my eyes and all I could muster was, “So… what happened there?”
I thought at first I must seem insane to the other people in the pews, and there were several. Even speaking as quietly as I was, I was speaking out loud. I wanted to make sure he could hear me though, I didn’t intend to repeat myself. My self-consciousness was but a flickered hesitation. Where else are you expected to mumble things across desperate lips than at church?
I’m guessing my conversation with God lasted about an hour. It may have been more, I doubt it was less. We talked about all of it, all the hardship, all the joy. Tears spilling over my war-torn face I thanked him for the grace of my children, I begged him to see how grateful I was for my blessings. I also begged him to explain the rest of it to me.
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15
For so many years I drown. What life did I live, in what ways did I stumble so young, that warranted that I should know no mercy? The ugliest joke of all seems to be that so bruised am I now that at even the kindest touch I wince. When happiness or comfort descends, I have no knowledge of how to approach it, or nourish it. I have only ever learned how to cope with pain. To even the best of people, the chain is always on the door to my heart.
Which brings us full circle to the Project. I manage somehow to, with one arm, push away the idea of being alone, while with the other arm drawing in one destructive relationship after another. I feel such a need to be in relationships, but I am so fractured that I am only comfortable in those that tear me down. So afraid have I been to be alone with myself, that I have settled for the hardship and emotional ruin of a heartbreaking relationship over the idea of not being in one at all. I fear abandonment at the same time that I fear being loved. This, to me, seems like a fucking joke. And that’s what I told God, out loud, among the creaking pews, chandeliers and boney rafters. Yes, I said “fucking” in church. If he didn’t like the word, he wouldn’t have made it.
I was thrown headfirst into stormy waters when I was just a baby. Every time the sea would calm and I’d begin to tread water, he’d bring another storm until I was at last too tired to swim. Sometimes I would just want to sink. Too many times I tried to drown, but couldn’t even manage to do that right. I’d surface, the waves would break upon me, I’d choke and flail blindly with no site of land. My whole life was the fucking storm. I’d cling to a man like he was a branch floating on the water. Never enough to keep me afloat. A big enough storm would break and he’d be swept away or snap. You don’t let me die, you don’t let me live. So, what? I’m sick of sinking, and floating aimlessly, or waiting for the next wave. Tears streamed down my face now, my pain and anger falling like rain at my feet. If anyone was at this church now, I didn’t know it. My chest ached, my mind flew. All the parts of me that still had faith in religion and the soul rose up from me and shone like a star. 20 years of hurt and confusion alight there, brilliant in its power and purity. Sobs begged to wrench free but I held them tenuously. I would not let a fracture be driven in what I was doing here. Toe to toe I looked God in the eye and I spoke from that deepest place in my heart, that box within a box held far within my keep. That scared child, covered in blood and fear was there, and I gave her courage and a voice.
With this Project I’m doing, I said to God in closing, I build a ship. It is not tall, or wide, or beautiful, but it is strong. It will carry me. It will not break upon the rocks. In this ship, even alone, I will not be cold or afraid, I will not be broken upon by the storm, but I will weather it there. If someone comes with me into my ship some day, then they can weather the waves with me as well, but if they leave, my ship will still be whole. It is not their ship. It is my ship, and I am building it myself. Give or take your mercy as you see fit, but if life is an ocean then I will cross it as a captain and not a castaway.
I am no one’s castaway.