invisible woman

The nervousness of walking in another door was great but if I was to find a church in my community, I needed to take that step. Several people were in the church that day. It seemed to be a big anniversary gathering. Lots of people were talking to each other as I walked in. The only words said to me were by the “greeter” at the door. No handshake or smile, just a “Make sure you sign the guest book” and then turning to someone they knew better than me.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t the best date to visit. Let’s see what happens on another day. Bright smile applied. Shoulders set in a relaxed friendly angle. Do what I can to catch an eye and be open to what comes.

Nope. Nothing before church. Okay, maybe people need to be settled. Watch carefully to find an empty unwanted seat so that I don’t cause the grumbling that happened in another setting. Stand, sit, sing, listen. The service draws to a close.

Move out into the foyer. Bolster myself a bit with the edge of a table but don’t try to hide between my shoulder blades. Not to eager but open for what might come.

Look! a woman walking my way. And another coming from the other direction. Perhaps my openness was what was needed. The woman come to each side of me. I smile.

They don’t even glance toward me. They stand so close having a conversation across my nose that I can’t really go anywhere. The conversation is not one that invites anything I might have to offer so I wait. Perhaps as the conversation goes on they will bring me in.

The conversation ends. The women walk away. Their eyes don’t even dart a look toward me. I am shaken by the invisibility of my presence in that building and especially in that conversation within my close personal space that did not even include me with a glance.

I think it is time to make my exit. Unfortunately, the pastor is blocking the door with hand shakes. Right at the moment I am feeling a little to raw for official greetings. But I steel my shoulders and move toward the door doing my best to disappear.

He sees me and holds out a hand to shake as he looks sideways to the next person but I stop. In stopping his attention turns to me.

“This is my second visit to your church,” I tell him. And you are the first person to greet me. In fact, I just had two people carry on a conversation across my nose. I am not telling you this for me. I won’t be back. I have the strength still to try another church so I will get past the unfriendliness here. This is not my last hope.”

“But for the next person who walks through your door, you may be. If that person who is longing to find a faith community meets what I did today, they may not have it in them to take another chance.”

“I can only tell you what I experienced. You will have to decide what to do with it but I pray for the next stranger that may walk through your door. How you greet or don’t greet them may ma difference.”

Did he thank me for my words? I really don’t remember. I was just numb with a disbelief that people can be so calloused.

I want to remember, not in naming their names or church but in knowing what it felt like to be an invisible woman. May God give us the eyes to see.

 

Opening to the new

There is something I have stopped doing for myself but memory asked me to keep bringing an awareness of the experiences of a new person in a church or other faith based group. I was once an insider, and even then noticed how often it was seen as the task of the stranger to meet everyone. Even then it troubled me, especially in the times bridging that gap meant I heard a story of pain that made it hard for a new person to reach across that distance alone.

Many years later, I was the person seeking entry into a church community. The struggle I had seen from one side became my struggle as I met much of the same resistance to risk the new. I began sharing my stories, hoping that having shared both sides, these experiences would cause others to at least begin to consider the impact of how we act church on those who may be coming through our doors seeking.

Sadly, when the stories of seeking a church home are shared, most inside church people remind me of how fragile the people are in the church and what understanding the newcomer needs to have of the needs of the people included. Today, that may be truth. It is not unusual to talk to people who have gone to the same church for years without knowing others in the congregation.

Oh, there is often a core group who know each other through family relationships or shared activities outside of church. I have even been in churches where a circle was talking about preparations for a women’s activity and how each could be involved. It was a church I had attended for weeks, even helping with some of the music with the music director but hadn’t notice any women’s group in the bulletins.

Wanting to be involved with others. I stepped into the edge of the conversation and listened. As they were talking about how each could be involved, I offered an entry into the conversation by asking what I could do. They looked at me, told me I could buy a ticket and turned back to their conversation with those near me stepping forward into the circle to close me out.

I don’t believe their purpose was to be rude. Often, we are unaware of how our body language is read by those who are longing for the inclusion we have already at least tentatively found in a setting.

For me, at that stage of the journey, and with the reality that this was not my first effort to find a way to be a part with others, the slump of my shoulders would have spoken to those who might have observed.

This was not a place where I was going to receive a personal welcome. It was a denomination that in theory reaches beyond barriers set for many but in practice, at least in this setting, it was an ingrown group of family and friends who did not have room for those from outside.

What we say with word and body matter. That new person who walks through your door may need your words of welcome, your opening of a circle to allow them inside, your inclusion at a table or the act of moving over so they feel they can sit beside you.

The rest is up to them but it is time to stop asking the newcomer to make the first move in a fabric that has been sewn over time. Rebuffs hurt especially in a church which once had a reputation of welcome.

Wherever we are, may our hearts and eyes be opened to see those among us with the need of inclusion.

The Stranger Among Us

I have been an active part of a church, have stepped away in confusion and in the last years have begun to find my way back. In these past years I have had experiences as I sought to find my place in a church community that may have some benefit to those whose hearts ached for the strangers beyond the walls. It has been on my heart to share these for a long time. Today, my experience was positive. It gives a starting point to looking at church from the outside in. Please know these articles are shared with love and with the humbleness of knowing that many of the areas showing a need for growth are things I have been a party to in my life. May these articles be met with open hearts for those whose longings so often are left unspoken because of our indifference. LJA

I have not experienced this kind of welcome in a long time. Chance took me to a church in my area that I had not tried. After many experiences in churches where I could enter and leave without being able to find my way into any conversation it would have been overwhelming if people hadn’t been careful to ask instead of assume that I wanted the interactions.

Before I sat down in that church, I had more people say good morning to me than I had in weeks of attending some other churches. The women in front of me commented on my singing but also asked me if I was there with anyone. Finding I wasn’t, they visited with me, took me with them to their Sunday school class and even invited me to join them for coffee after the service. Before that coffee was over, they had asked for my phone number and passed out a paper to everyone so the four of us had each other’s phone numbers. All this was done without putting any pressure on me to become a part of their church.

What made me willing to consider this small possible community came in the Sunday school class. A small thing that happened there might be worth hearing even by language based groups when people of the same language come to the church. It was quickly clear that I was the only one in the group with English as a first language. However, it also became clear that the class was held mostly in English though the quiet sound of interpreting could be heard in some corners.

At one point someone started to speak in the first language of everyone else who was in the room. A quite whisper of “Visitor” was said and the person switched back to English. As the newcomer in the group, my understanding was valued. It was only after I let them know that I was okay with it and understood there are some things that can be best expressed in a first language that someone shared a thought in that language I could not understand.

Their actions spoke to me about experiences I have seen in many places – only the language that alienates the newcomer is often churchese. We have developed a culture of terms that are often used as a jargon for ideas without even checking that the terms mean the same things to everyone in the room or are even understood. We expect the newcomer to ask questions or just be quiet until they have some kind of understanding of our terminology. If the proper words aren’t used, the newcomer’s knowledge of scripture or even their experiences of faith can be suspect.

What if we were willing to consider the understanding of the newcomer and their inclusion in the room? I wonder if our own understanding of faith would grow if we pushed ourselves to let go of churchese and translated the terms into meaning that can be understood by a stranger in the room. Perhaps we would make room for the voices at the edges who have much to teach us from a faith that has grown in the dailyness of living in the world and knowing the need of someone greater than ourselves to stand with us in our lives.

To my readers

This was shared with my writing group today. I will be taking a break from doing much posting. I have some things I need to work on in my life out here.

“I have been struggling with whether to write this but here goes. I have decided not to return to making writing a main goal at this time in life. I do plan on dropping in to encourage when I can and perhaps now and then sharing something (kind of like what I have done for much of the summer.) if people are fine with that.

The change is that I am going to stop guilting myself every time someone talks about how they are making their goals.

Right now, I realize that relationships I choose to keep in my life stop the story I could write for now and emphasizing living is a necessary ingredient for any other story that would come my way.

I appreciate the online people I have met through this group and look forward to following your growth as writers. But I made a promise inside myself long ago that I would develop a life out here that would free my kids to live their own lives without worrying about how I was filling mine.

I have achieved a form of that balance with my kids. Now I need to fill that balance with the social part of myself that would love to actually go out for coffee or folk dancing or other activities face to face.

Since preparing for my classes and working on new assessment practices to go with ongoing growth in teaching practices is also a big priority to me, I guess you could say I am needing to make my present goals in relation to the world out here.

I read so many articles and interact with people who long for conversation and understanding. It’s time to let my own longings push me out of the internet nest into finding those interactions out here.

One day last summer I stopped to talk to a woman just a few moments and have never forgotten the words she said as I walked away. “The world needs more people like you.” Since all I had done is stop to talk to her, I can only assume that it was that action she valued since the conversation was about the birds she had been feeding.

I live alone and know what it is to feel lonely. When I am not working on encouraging my students I need to honour that reality in my life by honouring that reality in the life of others.

For today, I am sure this post is most if not all of my 500 words. Peace to you all as you write. I won’t be a total stranger. I am just going to be researching life.”

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

 

“Someone asked me how it felt living with bipolar, and this was my answer…”  Jordon

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The photo appeared in a photography group – a personal self portrait of what it was to experience “living with bipolar”. It was the description he had not been able to put into words. Right away others responded favorably. Those who also struggled with a bipolar disorder saw their own experience in the image. Others saw people they knew with a better understanding of what those others felt inside. Jordan’s picture spoke what pages of words could not say to the people who saw it.

When asked if I could share some of his story, Jordon’s agreement was instantaneous:

“Mental illness is such a misunderstood thing, and stigma is everywhere. I’m 24 years old and a year and a half ago bipolar disorder literally ruined my life and long-term relationship. So you can imagine that making sure that doesn’t happen to anyone else Is a priority for me…

I asked two questions:

• What led to your finding out your diagnosis?

• What are some ways you have found this impacts your life?

Here is his response:

What led to me being diagnosed as Bipolar Type I is a long road.

Being born with several defects, I grew up in and out of hospitals, and developed an angry disposition at all of the attention I was getting. At 4 years old I was put into child therapy where they could find nothing wrong with me. They dismissed it by telling my mother “You just don’t know how to handle him”. It would be 15 years before I finally understood just how true that was.

Throughout my childhood I was prone to outbursts, running away for days at a time, instigating fights if I felt offended though I didn’t win them. I was fearless.

By the time I was 12 I was considered a problem child. I would shut myself away for hours and not question it. I could go days without eating. Then I discovered self harm so I didn’t feel numb. I didn’t try to hide this from anyone, but I was also very clear I didn’t do it for attention.

This led to living in a group home for a year under 24 hour watch, where I was medicated with a minor anti-depressant and the diagnosis “Manic depressive”. Over the course of that year there was more outbursts, and many more fights… But I was bigger, stronger, and I had developed a tolerance for pain. I was winning these fights and believed this was how I could make people leave me alone. At the end of that year, I was again greeted with “This is just how he is.” and was released back to my parents.

This started an absolute downward spiral for me into my teenage years. I stopped fighting back the day in public school when I was charged with an aggressive offense against another student. At 15 years old I was “The weird quiet kid”. I was beaten, bullied by teachers and peers. My family had all but given up on me and had even stopped trying to find me if I disappeared for days. I had completely lost touch, let my emotions rampage because “That’s just how I am.”

By 18 years old I had become “The party guy”, binge drinking for days at a time and sleeping around. I had the rock star lifestyle that most young men dream of, and it was because of my no-care attitude.

Then I met Sarah (*name changed for privacy), She could deal with my sudden outbursts. We’d break up, get back together and repeat the cycle until one night when we were partying, and I snapped. To this day I don’t know exactly what made me go off… But in my rage I hurt 5 of my closest friends leading to further aggression charges and ultimately a short stay in a penitentiary where they said “You might be bipolar”…

At 19 years old I had never heard the term bipolar before. But I assumed it was another person saying “That’s just how you are” so I continued my crazy lifestyle.

Later that year after a family incident I made an attempt on my own life. Though my mom had found me barely breathing, I’m told that when the paramedics arrived I promptly punched one of them in the face. I was in a pill induced coma for 4 days. I’m told my mother was there for 3 days, but she was gone by the time I woke up. After staying in a mental health facility for a week I again heard the term “Manic depression”. I was given more medication and shipped on my way.

At this point I got back together with Sarah. One day while reading Cosmo she said “You need to read this”… My entire life changed in minutes.

She pointed me to an article a girl my own age had written about her troubled brother who eventually took his own life. Reading this article was so… Twilight Zone for me. I could have gone through and highlighted habits that were just like me. At the very end of the article there was a small bubble that stated “Up until recently, bipolar disorder was known as Manic Depression”.

They were right. They had all been right, I was wired wrong. It was my brain that had caused my life to turn into what it was… Never successful, always broke, always bored to the point of raging anger. The spiral got worse if possible. More drinking, I left Sarah, going from woman to woman, replacing my emotions with sweat and skin.

And then I met Jessica (*name change). Her mother was bipolar so she wasn’t afraid of me. She wasn’t afraid to get in my face and make me talk about things. Or hold me if I burst into tears for no reason. She understood it. But I was still binge drinking. And broke because of it.

I had stopped my medication because they had made me gain weight and I was tired all of the time. But alcohol had become my antidepressant, my drug, my crutch. I would spend hundreds of dollars in a couple of days’ worth of drinking, which became a perpetual cycle because I developed a gluten intolerance. I would wake up, be sick, start drinking and repeat.

Eventually Jessica had enough of this. She looked at me and said “I’m leaving, nobody should have to put up with this.” and was gone that night.

The next morning I found myself sitting in my favorite chair with a beer in one hand and a rope laid out on the floor. The choice was either tie the rope or get help… I poured my beer down the sink and walked to the hospital.

There I was admitted to a mental health unit again, where I sat with a nice foreign man for hours and told him almost exactly what I’m writing here. He looked at me and said “How has nobody noticed? You’re almost the textbook version of bipolar disorder… This isn’t very common.”

I was released from the unit after having self-detoxed and started a proper diet, as well as being put on a new medication. I started reading as much as I can about my illness, exercising, eating properly. To this day I don’t take my medication, and I probably never will because the side effects do worse things to me mentally than dealing with bipolar disorder. But I’m over 1 year sober, have learned to deal with my angry outbursts, managed to tone down my crying episodes…

I’m okay. I’m not allowed to work (multiple unmentioned health concerns) so money is a problem. But I find myself devoting most of my time and energy to helping people not go through what I went through, I have run anti-bullying programs for teens, and use multiple forms of anonymous social media to reach out to people who need help in these situations.

I have also turned my illness into a muse for photography… If I’m being honest, I don’t think I could be a photographer if it wasn’t for my mental illness. I still don’t talk to my family because we can’t relate to each other, and relationships are almost impossible for me because of how easily I can change my mind about things. But I’m alive, and I’m living with Bipolar Type I, and I’m extremely proud to be able to say that.

If anybody takes anything away from what I’ve just written, please let it be this;

Mental illness can be crippling, it can take things away from you, it can be devastating to your life. But if you take the time to understand it, it can lead to some absolutely amazing opportunities, and if you share those opportunities with other people like I have, you’ll find that having mental illness can give you a reason to keep going.

Thank you for your time – Jordon, 24 years old.

_________________________

My thanks to you, Jordon, for allowing me to share your story to raise awareness and hopefully build more understanding.

You Decide

The author of the article had tried an experiment. For two days he “liked” everything that came on his social network feed. In the first day he already saw radical changes to what was shown there. By the second he had no personal content on his feed, only advertisements and was being inundated with information on topics he didn’t like at all. In the course of reading and working on an iPod that day, the article got lost in the shuffle of catching up on several subjects but the message stayed. We have the power to determine much of what comes our way. There are options to sensor our content.

But our power doesn’t stop with technology. It doesn’t even stop with the manual decision to press that “like” button that sets our preferences or let’s others know we have read what they have written. The words we say in our engagement with others sensors their involvement with us. It says who interacts with us. I know. I have seen it through some who have pulled away because, well, I think they have decided I am one of the negative people because there are things I care about and speak about that they have chosen to censor out of their world. It saddens me but I have to honour that decision because I have made the same choices whether I always feel comfortable with admitting it or not.

What we say matters. If we want to be heard authentically then we need to speak with authenticity. Who hears us, who feels safe speaking to us on social network and in the world around us is set by what we choose to say, how we express ourselves with body and face during our engagements, who we choose to socialize with, even those conversations overheard through association. What we say and do matters. There is a give and take, there is a setting of our social network and expectations based on who we choose to be.

There are no truly positive or negative people. Positive and negative are based on our decisions on what to sanction or not similar to the formulas used to determine our feed via the “like” button. The categories can be based on authentic multidimensional views of people or on the flatter two dimensional wall we choose to erect around what we allow in our world.

In my journey into mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn has been one of the guides through the books I have chosen to read. Presently I am in the midst of his book, Coming to Our Senses. In the introduction he tells of this pivotal interaction at a meditation retreat:

Years ago, a meditation teacher opened an interview with me on a ten-day, almost silent retreat by asking, “How is the world treating you?” I mumbled some response or other to the effect that things were going OK. Then he asked me, “And how are you treating the world?”

I was taken aback. It was the last question I was expecting. It was clear he did not mean it in a general way. He wasn’t making pleasant conversation. He meant right there, that day, in what may have seemed to me at the time like little, even trivial ways. I thought I was more or less leaving “the world” in going on this retreat, but his comments drove home to me that there is no leaving the world, and that how I was relating to it in any and every moment, was important, in fact critical to my ultimate purpose in being there. I realized in that moment that I had a lot to learn about why I was even there in the first place, what meditation was really all about, and underlying it all, what I was really doing with me life.

My blog is not read by many. I don’t choose the topics that create chatter and frequent reposts. I don’t have the network to be go-to posts on any topic. There are times I feel like I should go with the flow of the in topics and attitudes to gain acceptance within some writing groups I have participated in. I have wondered if my voice should just be pulled out of one of the groups if it might be making someone else uncomfortable. But then I stop and think again.

How am I treating the world? If I choose to silence myself on certain issues, I am choosing to be a part of the censorship of some of the very people who need to feel validated within our society. If I do that, I choose to accept the two-dimensional definitions that have become related to the terms positive and negative people in so much social comment today.

If I believe in the wholeness of others, I have to accept the wholeness of myself as one representative of the world. If I believe in the validity of the feelings of others, then I have to accept the validity of my own. If I believe that life matters for others, I have to accept that my life matters, and so does what I write.

If I want to encourage others to use their voices, then like Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans, I need to be willing to address the hard uncomfortable issues that are often silenced or marginalized by much of society. I need to be willing to risk being ostracized by the status quo if I want to be an open door to those who the status quo has ostracized.

We all decide who is on our social feed both on-line and out here in life. It is time that I stop letting others decide what that feed will be. It is time to start living and writing as if this moment matters. Only with authenticity about what that means to me will I find the community in which I belong. The decision will be made by being the kind of person I am meant to be.

I will start with this moment.

* (Thank you to my writing friend who found this link for me.)
I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for 2 Days. Here’s What It Did to Me. by Mat Honan, http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me/

 

 

2014 summer art projects completed in August

“There is a feeling of wonder when you put that last touch on a painting and something deep inside you says it is finished. At that moment it doesn’t matter what anyone else will think of it. You look at what the inner artist has created with your hands and you are filled with awe.” Comment posted when the last brush stroke was added to Smoke in the Air.

Golden fields

This was painted with acrylics on an old terracotta wine cooler. The picture is based on some photos from a recent trip from Alberta to Manitoba.

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Smoke in the Air

Based on sunsets at Rocky Lake. I watched the red globe of the sun roll down over the horizon one night and was told the colours came from smoke in the air caused by northern forest fires. To me that is such an image of finding the beautiful in the midst of the fears in our lives that I had to try to bring that sun into the image.

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