The Cloth I’m Cut From (Part 4)

 

Last Friday & yesterday there has been a homeless man posted on the corner with a limp cardboard sign. He panhandles early in the morning, in the burgeoning Arkansas heat. I encounter homeless folks multiple times every day because of the neighborhood I live in, & because it is nearly impossible not to in Little Rock. According to this site there are 9 homeless folks for every 10,000 members of our general population.

When I passed that man the first time, his hair slightly dreadlocked, I tried to make eye contact but saw that his eyes were unfocused. He was grunting & talking to himself, making jerky movements with his hands & neck. Signs of internal suffering were there as clearly as the dirt under his fingernails.

I won’t say that folks who are not Cut from the Same Cloth as I (any number not 4 on the Enneagram ) would not see this man with compassion. I do, however, know that an innate part of me makes it impossible to not identify a part of myself in that homeless man.

A couple of weeks ago I sat at my parents’ long dinner table with Christian conservative friends of theirs. The opinionated woman of the couple said, “I felt bad coming out of this fancy sushi restaurant while homeless people stood outside.” She laughed, the flab on her arms waving. “A lot of them are crazy, you know.”

That’s a perspective that I have never seen people from, a distanced other-ing. It is clear to me that circumstances beyond our control are what make or break us. Imagining myself in those oversized lace-less shoes on the street corner (pictured above) is easy.

Part of who I am is an active imagination, the compulsive tendency to identify with the suffering of others.

I missed that man when I drove by & he wasn’t there this morning. His suffering (although vastly different from my own suffering) feels familiar; it reminds me of my vulnerability. The Cloth I’m Cut From ensures that I tire of guarded, shallow interaction. The honesty of homelessness breaks open my heart in a way that grounds me. I want every person to have a home, but as long as they don’t, I want to see it on my way to work. 

 The sky was clear this morning, heavenly.

Until Earth becomes Heaven I want to bear witness to what makes it Hell. Probably because of the Cloth I’m Cut From.

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The Body Binary

“We are made, the scriptures of all religions assure us, in the image of God. Nothing can change that original goodness.” ~ Eknath Easwaran (via Center for Action and Contemplation )

Three 8th graders sit at the only rectangular table in my classroom, a sort of nook against the wall across from my desk. There is a lamp with a shade that has half of the globe printed on it, and a glass cup that I use as a pencil holder, whuch my mom gave me (“You got this” it reads). The three boys are all on the football team at their school. They work out every week day & I imagine that they play backyard sports on the weekends. Each one is thin, one boy with a thicker build than the other two, but still, his would be  considered a slender body.

“I’m fat,” that boy says, candidly contributing to the conversation. The other boys say no, not really. He doesn’t react but I can tell, from my covert post behind my laptop, that he really believes it. He’s not slight like his friends so he must be the only alternative: fat. The implication is, to be fat is a bad thing.

As a girl, body image insecurity was an every day reality for me. There seemed to be two kinds of women at church: those chronically overweight who spoke with shame about their inability to lose weight, or those thin & nearly without-fail, riddled with anxiety, always carrying diet sodas in hand. My body, being stocky in comparison to most white women, didn’t fall in the second category. Yet from a young age I rejected accepting the other category. I wobbled between each extreme, moving at one time in an anorexic direction, then bouncing towards disordered binge eating. The journey with my body & what I eat is still in process, now at the age of 25.

Why would I be surprised that today’s children, inundated with media images of other people’s bodies, are struggling with the same issues? Human problems are inherited & shared, after all. We’re a web of hands reaching out to one another; finding flesh equals a bit of comfort.

I notice that boys are less hesitant to verbalize how they see themselves while girls keep image struggles under wraps, quick to console any of their friends who admits to feeling or looking “fat”.

An eight & a six year old that I regularly care for have small brown bodies. The younger boy is built: in the summer he sports a V shaped back & a chiseled six pack–complete with popping obliques! I imagine a coach seeing his body, seeing potential there, even dollar signs for college scholarships. When I asked the boys if they think they are fat, the beanpole shaped eight year old said, “no”, while the younger brother said, “yes”.

I’m not sure what would have been the most helpful thing for me to say in that moment. Had I let him know I too felt “fat” sometimes, I may have led him to think he was right about it, or, even worse, I may have confirmed the fatphobic lie that there is something inherently wrong with being “overweight”. Or if I immediately told him he wasn’t fat, I could lose that window into his mind, as he might recieve it as a rebuke or correction of the honest feeling he had shared with me. In an attempt to avoid complicating their already complex experience, I said nothing.

The inability to connect in a loving & accepting way with our bodies perhaps leads us to alienation from our inner voice as well. The body is our island on this sprawling planet. It’s the home of the mind: opinions, doubts, mirages, thoughts, the spirit: fear, hope, energies of the past & the future, & the heart: love, peace, rejection, grief. We operate out of these four-limbed (for most of us), 10-toed, hairy meat sacks. They are inseparable from our identity as humans.

Yet the body isn’t all that we are. “Fat” or “skinny” are reductive terms, used as static labels. What you are, what you aren’t. Unfortunately often they answer the question of who you are, who you aren’t.

I wonder if the boys at the table ever think about their dynamic characteristics, the ones that have more power to shape the nature of their lived experience. Compassionate, loving, forgiving, hopeful, strong, enduring, wise. Certainly they would feel more empowered if they were encouraged to cultivate those traits rather than find themselves in the elusive & reductive binary of “fat” & “skinny”. They could find the mark of their place in the human story written over every inch of their bodies.

 

Year of Two Griefs

2013
2013

2 years ago I tutored a girl named Aaliyah.
1 summer ago I met a woman with 3 daughters trailing behind her.
That summer I realized that I had to have real faith or no faith at all.
I knew that it was not enough to serve people I did not know.
I knew I was cheating God to emotionally clock in and out of “ministry”.
I knew I had to care.

Then I said, ‘behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’~Hebrews 10:7

Back to the girl named Aaliyah.
I started showing up at her apartment, chatting with her mom.
I started bringing strawberries after school.
I felt awkward and unsure of everything except for one thing: God’s plan.

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.~Micah 7:7

He was leading me, Little Old Me, and I was doing my best to walk in the shoes He had for me.
I searched and searched and kept coming back to apartment 119 in the projects.
Then I took three girls to the park.
Then I took three girls to the library.
Suddenly–I can’t remember when exactly–a relationship was born.

Rumor has it that other languages have words for what English speakers call “adopted family” or “fictive kin”. I wish English had a word for it. The three girls are not my sisters, they are not my kids. “Entourage” doesn’t cut it either. They are something more miraculous and unusual. We became blood-kin not by our parents but by our Savior. His love compelled me to their door. His love made sure there was a place for me in their life. God’s whimsy, His creativity, His mission brought us together and made one great year.
There were apologies and snacks by the pool. We ran spontaneously into the sprinklers at Peabody Park and we went to church together on Sunday afternoons. We danced in the talent show and we played tips with the Church’s Chicken basketball. We read books together and we watched Beatles videos until we got bored. We wrestled, we danced, we swam, we clapped, we sang, we prayed. We were humans–little girls–together. Jesus’ loving ability to meet our needs bridged the gaps between us.
There were times when I felt I was banging my head against a wall of sin and rebellion. There were times when dancing in the kitchen with them was therapy for me.
Our love for each other turned heads. I like to think that people felt an inkling of divine involvement when they saw me and three chocolate swirled girls happily packed into my truck.1452329_763019423714930_46172494_n

Now they have relocated and left a gaping hole in my life.
The anvil is on my heart again,
Like wounding a wound.

The English language falls short once more.
Suffice it to say, God’s dreams are the dreams that overwhelm and delight.

As I read Isaiah 30 I can feel God whisper to my tore up soul:

This is the way. Walk you in it.

Sunday Lullaby

Another one of God’s surprising paradoxes: one’s hometown becomes more precious and magical after a visit to a foreign place.
Little Rock is my playground.
There are no places that are better, only places that are different.
Humans are naturally jealous and I must be one because I have wasted innumerous moments wishing I was somewhere else.
People talk trash of my city and my state, forcing me to wonder if they have ever been anywhere else. All these places are exquisite in their own way. No need to trash one in appreciation of another.
I will not be here forever and somehow that knowledge serves to endear more acutely to me the present time.
I take eighteen years of built up, worldly security for granted. There are small struggles here that I will not face anywhere else; the difficulties will be foreign and seem insurmountable when I leave.
There is celebration in the up and down of the yo-yo.
God enables me to love both sides of the pendulum and to rest when I swing in between.

We are not to give up the world, nor retreat from it-just the opposite. We are to reclaim and redeem the world for Christ’s kingdom.~Richard Stearns, The Hole in our Gospel

Childhood obesity is as much of a problem as parasites carried by muddy water.
But to not have the Gospel?
This is the greatest problem. It is a difficulty that leaves the rest behind. One can’t surmount it any more than a Gospel-less person can sense his or her need for a Savior.
I love my story and I love your story.
The parts where our dramas overlap enthrall me.
I find it difficult to walk away.
When his arm is around me I see no need to move forward.
Stagnation is a grand waste of time. My life is long but also short.

Form in me a heart of divine beauty.~Rend Collective Experiment

Waves of injustice, oppression, and opportunity carry us whether we know it or not. I follow the rip tide by choice for it I prefer to hopeless wishing and washing from open sea to sandy shore.
Beauty hides in the sky and in the homeless man behind me. He is frost bitten and senile but his rattling cough is a piece of humanness no physical anthropologist can truly digest.
At times it will seem as though I have wasted my life. The cause for which I sell myself is not one with clear accomplishments. Some people will not respect what I have done. I understand that. In those hard moments, far away from sweet, quaint Little Rock, (the place I once knew intimately,) the Light will shine as He always does.

This park is perfect. This sky is immaculate. Those children are unique and dear.
The warmth in my heart which is the presence of the holy, eternal, faithful God is…
Unspeakably sublime.
Everyday I get happier.
Yet everyday the longing for every person of every nation to hear of Your glory grows more poignant within me.
Will these two always walk hand in hand?
Use me to shelter your little (and big) children here until I am ready to go.
Allow me to be a member of the team who takes the Word to unreached brothers and sisters. May my spiritual offspring be extensive, not that I may be glorified, but that Heaven may be filled.
I submit it all to You.
Enable me in spite of my (sinful) disease.

You are the Father of mercies.
You are the God of all comfort.

Precious Lamb, receive the reward of Your suffering, and my gratitude for a perfect day.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.~St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:58