Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Day After and The Day After That

Yesterday, the first day after chemo, I woke up feeling fine, except that my mouth tasted funny.
It felt like I had burned all my tastebuds, except that I knew I hadn't.
Oh, boy, I thought, here's the first side effect kicking in.
Otherwise I felt fine yesterday. I thought, "Oh, yea. I can do this."

At 8:50 am, my dear friends, Heather and Graeme, took me to get a shot that will help rebuild my white blood cell count. The nurse warned me that I might feel achy "36 - 48 hours from now." She recommended tylenol or advil, but if I need something stronger, I should call them. No problem, I thought. I gave birth to my two children without any pain meds at all. I can handle bone pain.

This morning, I jumped out of bed, went downstairs, and made cornbread for my family. I talked to Steve and the kids while he made me an awesome fresh fruit and veggie juice, into which I stirred my various supplements. I happily and heartily gulped down a quart of fresh juice. Thirty minutes later, I had a small slice of cornbread fresh from the oven. Yum!

I ironed some clothes.
Did a load of laundry.
Dust mopped the floor.
Unloaded the dishwasher.
Did some yoga.

(Can you see where this is headed???)

Face plant. Into bed. Wiped out by 1 pm.
What was I thinking?
I was thinking: I'll do everything I can until I can't do anything else.
I was thinking: I can't make my family do everything I've always done.
I've got to let go of that stinking thinking!

And now, the achy joints are talking to me. Not loud enough for me to answer with drugs, but I'm feeling bones I have never paid much attention to before.
Hello, right collar bone.
Nice to hear from you, bones at the base of my neck.
I'm glad you are being awakened and called up to new blood cell creation duty.

On May 10, 1990, I began the journey of growing and maintaining my dreadlocs. My children have never known me without dreadlocs. When they were babies, I would lay them on my bed or on the floor and run my locks over their faces, all the while saying, "You're going thru the car wash. Isn't it fun in the car wash?" They would laugh and grab at my hair. Kristiana loves to play with my hair at night; actually, I'm not sure if she loves to do it or if she does it only because I trap her by putting my head in her lap.

In any case, my hair is a huge part of the woman I am. I love my hair. I will miss it.

Tomorrow I am getting these faithful, beautiful, colorful, storied locs shaved off. I don't want to wait until I began to find them lying around the house, in the car, or in my bed.  That would be too difficult to deal with. So tomorrow I'm gonna get my hair cut short to give us a few days to get used to me with very short hair before we have to get used to me with no hair. My beautiful, brave, heroic daughter will be with me, capturing it all in photos.

India Arie wrote it and sang it perfectly ages ago.

I am not my hair 
I am not this skin 
I am not your expectations, no
I am not my hair 
I am not this skin 
I am a soul that lives within 

Good hair means curls and waves 
Bad hair means you look like a slave 
At the turn of the century 
It's time for us to redefine who we be 
You can shave it off like a South African beauty 
Or get in on lock like Bob Marley 
You can rock it straight like Oprah Winfrey 
Its not what's on your head 
It's what's underneath and say 
Hey.... I am not my hair 
I am not this skin 
I am not your expectations, no 
I am not my hair 
I am not this skin 
I am a soul that lives within 
Does the way I wear my hair make me a better person? 
Does the way I wear my hair make me a better friend? nooo... 
Does the way I wear my hair determine my integrity? 
I am expressing my creativity... 

Breast cancer and chemotherapy 
Took away her crown and glory 
She promised God if she was to survive 
She would enjoy everyday of her life ooh... 
On national television 
Her diamond eyes are sparkling 
Bald headed like a full moon shining 
Singing out to the whole wide world like 
Hey... I am not my hair 

I am not this skin 
I am not your expectations, no 
I am not my hair 
I am not this skin 
I am a soul that lives within 

Hug somebody you love tonight. Tell them something that you love about them, 
something physical. And then tell them what you love about their spirit, their essence, 
their smile, their soul. Cuz you never know. You never know. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

One down, five to go!

This morning, I stepped outside on the porch and took this photo.
Despite all that lies ahead, my shirt tells the truth: life is good.
Please don't ever take your life, your breath, or your friends for granted.

I'm gonna keep it short tonight.
I did it - the first healing therapy session is behind me.
I did well. No reactions. No complications.

Completely uneventful. Well, except for when I faked a reaction to one of the drugs.
Then I said, "Only kidding." The nurses and a few other people in the room laughed.
I've been put on their "bad list," but the laughter and smiles were worth the label.

Here's my healing therapy bartender. Not very talkative, but he mixes up a fine swill.
And delivers it rather efficiently. Notice how cozy and open and bright the room is.

The man whose feet you see on the right side of the photo drank a can of Coke during his healing therapy. He was there when I arrived and was still there when I left 4+ hours later. I was surprised and disappointed that the oncology office serves regular and diet soda to its healing therapy clients. Seriously?

My dear friend, Gibbs, was by my side the entire time. I love this woman! We watched, "Crazy, Sexy, Cancer" together. Great documentary/movie. I nodded off at times - thanks to the Benadryl in the IV.

And dear, dear Karen sent me an Edible arrangement.
Right after taking this photo, I attacked it. Yum, yum!

Now I'm gonna go stretch, sit and meditate for a few minutes, and then get some much-needed rest.

The healing has begun!
Thanks be to God.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A new phrase for you to learn...

I began by rewriting the c-word as "kanser."
I quickly began to misspell it and write, "kanswer." I wondered why I kept doing that...

Right around the time that I noticed how often I misspelled my new spelling, a dear, dear, dearly beloved friend wrote to me and told that she was writing it that way as well. (What a cool thing for us both to be doing it, eight hours away from each other! What a super-dee-duper connection, I think!) Because she believes that this kanswer is gonna pose and then answer some big questions in my life. She's already right about that.

So I'm gonna use both spellings, "kanser" and "kanswer."

This week, I made another terminology change.
It's not "chemotherapy."
It's "healing therapy."

I welcome this healing therapy. I welcome the healing it will bring.
I welcome anything and everything that will rid my body of this most unwelcome invader.
It's time to let the healing begin.
Let the healing begin.

The healing therapy begins tomorrow morning, Monday, November 26th, at 11:30 am, EST.
Four hours of infusion.
Four hours of healing.
Then three weeks later, I will go back for three more hours of healing therapy.
The first session is the longest.

Every Monday for the next 18 weeks of healing therapy, I go in for a separate drug therapy that fights the specific kind of kanswer I have, but it's not truly chemo. I will continue with that drug for an entire year.

Once all six healing therapy sessions are behind me, then the other drug therapy will move to once every three weeks.
Does that make sense???

Don't worry if it's confusing.
This entire thing is blowing my mind too!

But here we go: Let the healing begin, my dear reader.
Let the healing begin.


I need to say it again: thank you, thank you, thank you.
Dozens of times every day, those two words roll through my mind.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I read your emails, your private messages, your text messages.
I am absorbed by your "distractions," and love every single one.
Your stories, your encouragement, your comments sustain me.
I know that I will not be able to respond to them all.
But somehow I suspect that you will understand and forgive my silent days.
Thank you in advance for your patience and compassion towards me.

Over these past couple of days, I've been pulling the gates closed,
checking the doors and windows, and preparing to ride out Superstorm Kanswer.
I wish I could pack a bag or two, winterize the house, head to the airport,
evacuate the premises for a year or so, and avoid the whole thing altogether,
but alas and alack, I cannot.

Therefore, it's time to let the healing begin.
Let the healing begin.

So again - thank you, thank you, thank you.
I'll be back soon with a report on My First Healing Therapy Session.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

"How are you doing?"

It's a simple question. And for most of my life, it has elicited an equally simple answer:
"I'm fine." Or, "I'm doing great."

Life is a bit more complicated these days.
That simple question often moves me to tears.
Because I feel perfectly fine. I feel as strong as ever. I am as busy and active as ever.
But the busyness these days is focused on gathering supplies, buying hats and sweaters,
cleaning my house more thoroughly than usual,
stacking books and journals near my bed, and
perusing the shelves of health food stores for teas and supplements I never knew existed before.

How am I doing?

I'm an emotional wreck AND I feel emotionally stronger than ever in my life.

I'm spiritually strong AND wondering what more I need to learn in order to be ready for what is about to begin.

I feel surrounded by, buoyed by, lifted by, and filled with the love and support of so many people AND utterly alone, preparing to enter a space shuttle and blast off on a mission that no one can take along with me.

I want the entire world to stop spinning so that all six billion (or is it seven billion?) people would acknowledge how terrible it is that I have kanser AND I know that the suffering of more than half the people on this planet makes my bout with kanser seem more like a skinned knee.

How am I doing?

I feel like this is all a terrible nightmare from which I will awaken at any moment.

I feel like every solo trip, every hour of exercise, every journal-writing session, every time I admired black women with super short hair, every day I've looked with compassion on women and children who are obviously going through chemotherapy and prayed a quick prayer for their healing, every one of those incidents has led me towards and prepared me for this moment, this terrible, life-altering, challenging, perfectly-timed, heart-rending moment in my own life.

I sat outside Starbucks with several beautiful, strong, wise, loving, kind, Latina women yesterday afternoon, and we talked. We laughed. We cried. We prayed. We shared stories of the journeys of our lives. I was reminded that it doesn't matter where we are from, what language we speak, whether we are married or divorced, what church we attend or whether we go to church at all, we are ALL fighting terrible battles. We all want the best for our children. We all swallow our pain, our loneliness, our fears, and we walk on. We move forward. We cling to our friends and family members. We hold tight to our faith, to our prayers, to our dreams, to our hopes, and we press on.

Sitting with those women yesterday, I felt good. I felt strong. I felt happy. But as the sun set and the evening chill fell, I thought: I'd better get home and get warm. I cannot afford to begin chemo on Monday with the chills or with a cough. And, even if getting cold won't give me a cold, I don't want to get cold. I cannot afford to take any chances.

How am I doing?

I'm pissed off that I have to think about stuff like that these days.
I'm sad that I will have to cut my hair off this Thursday.
I will miss my breasts.
I am disturbed by the ominous list of possible side effects from all these chemotherapeutic drugs.
I wish this weren't happening to me. I wish this weren't happening to anyone.

I cannot count the number of times that people have said, "You are so strong. Your faith will carry you through this. If anyone can handle this, you can. All the years of studying the Bible and prayer, all those classes you have taught, all of that will sustain you now. You are so young and fit; you will do great thru all of this. I know so many people who have gotten through this and are 5, 10, 15 year kanser survivors. I know you will be fine. This will take you to a higher level in your faith, in your walk with God. You will be able to help and serve and teach so many more people as a result of this. You'll see."

I believe that every single statement in that barrage is true.
And I appreciate hearing all of it. I really do.
But I sooooooooooo wish I could learn all of the invaluable lessons I'm about to learn some other way.

How am I doing?

There is one thing that has been true since the moment that I received my diagnosis. One profound and unshakable truth hovers just above me, rests on the surface of every thought, hasn't leaked out with any of the millions of tears I have shed in the 24 days since my mammogram on October 31st.
One realization that I repeatedly return to is this:

I am not afraid.
I am not afraid.
I am not afraid.

This thing is gonna suck.
This process is going to test everything I've ever believed or thought.
I will be weak.
I will be in pain.
I will be exhausted.
I will be cut and pasted, poked and prodded, burned and sickened to my stomach.

But if these past three and a half weeks are any indication,
and I believe with all of my heart, soul, mind, and body that they are,
I will not be afraid.

For that, I say, "Thanks be to God."


A few early verses from Isaiah 43, made personal.

But now this is what the Lord says,
He who created you, Gail,
She who formed you, beloved one,
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you,
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
You are precious and honored in my sight, and I love you.
Do not be afraid, for I am with you."

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Few Days in My New Life...

What is wrong with this picture?
There are far too many things wrong with this picture to list them all here.
I want to say - the worst part is that I was walking into this building for care for myself.
But the worst of all the bad parts about this picture is the fact that this building even has to exist!
Kanser sucks!

My cousin sent me a lovely card, a booklet of Bible verses, and a $10 with my name on it.
Literally, my name was on it. 
And a day or two later, my name was on a $10 bill in a Starbucks cash register not far from my house. Yum, yum!  

I must confess that my taste is changing. 
The salted caramel white mocha was too sweet for me to finish. Yup - I said it: too sweet! 
Nope, that is not a typo. These taste buds of mine, they are a-changing.

Yours truly in her pre-surgical splendor early this morning. 
The nurse anesthesiologist said it would feel like they were putting margaritas in my IV. 
I should have told him that I prefer lemon drops - 
and it felt like he pumped five or six of those bad boys directly into my vein. 
Within 90 seconds of the injection... I woke up in recovery.

A few hours later, in the comfort of my own cozy bed. Port in place. 
Gathering my strength, doing research on the internet, trying to learn everything I can
about hair loss, chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy... 
and living a kanser-free life on the other side of all this.

On a much lighter note...

This photo caught my eye two weekends ago at my son's tennis tournament.
This sign was tacked onto the post of a pavillion at a local tennis park.
Seriously? A lost parrot? In a park?
We guessed that Blokie was already back in Africa, somewhere in the Caribbean,
or in the belly of a local owl.
How the heck could poor Olga think that someone would find 
and then capture a lost parrot?

Friday, November 16, 2012

In Case You Are Interested...

The love and support that I have received in these past two weeks has been wonderful, thoughtful, caring, tender, and remarkable.

Many friends and other loved ones have asked for specific ways to help us. Finally, I have come to terms with the fact that I will need help, and this afternoon my friend, Heather, and I set up a web page that you can go to in order to sign up to provide meals for our family during the upcoming months of kanser treatments.

Here is THE LINK.

And these are the codes you need in order to log in:

Calendar ID - 131973
Security Code - 7292

It is a pretty easy website to navigate.

I thank you in advance for any and all help that you are able to provide.

PS. Some of you who live far away have asked for things you can do to help.
Here are a few things that come to mind:

Never underestimate the value of a postcard, a note, or a card. I promise to read them over and over.

If you knit or crochet or come across something colorful and warm while out shopping, I will be needing lots of hats, scarves, mittens, and that sort of thing this winter. I have a pretty big head (or so I hear) and the largest hands of any woman I've ever come in contact with (by far), so don't be shy about sending the largest sized items you make or choose.

If none of those things send your heart a-racing, then feel free to surprise me with whatever you desire to send my way. I'm not going anywhere for a while. I'll be right here.

Again, thank you for your love, friendship, and for reading this rambling blog of mine.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thankful Thursday

So much to be thankful for today -

* fresh pineapple

* that newborn baby smell

* access to great medical care

* before administering my flu shot and a pneumonia vaccination, my general practitioner said, "God is your healer and you are already healed. You just have to walk through these steps to get there."

* seeing this image in the conference room of the surgeon's office

* all clear results of the bone scan and ct scan

* a chiropractor who will work with me to rebuild my immune system after all this kanser (intentional misspelling here - I hate this word!) crap is behind me

* a newly acquired wardrobe of fun and funky hats

* decaf peppermint green tea

* teaching myself to drink tea without sugar

* an awesome book I'm reading called Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips

* photos sent via text

* benadryl on nights when I can't sleep well

* whole grain toast with butter, real butter

* fleece slippers and a heavy robe on cool autumn evenings

* dumping the water out of the dehumidifier and knowing that our house is a little less sticky

* feeling no guilt for watching Law and Order, NCIS, and The Real Housewives of Atlanta marathons

* facebook status changes, photos of friends, and funny videos posted online

* how much my little dog likes me to chase her

* homemade soups, especially the kinds I can make in less than an hour

* finishing up the class I was teaching at my church, "Religion and Joy" (Why don't those two words often occur in the same sentence? What steals our joy? How do religion and religious communitues often steal our joy? How can our faith practices restore our joy? How can we be people who are known for our joy? Stuff like that. It was a three class series.)

* recognizing that I couldn't stop teaching because of my diagnosis - after all, what is the point of "religion and joy" or faith and joy if I'm not living them out during the tough times?

* the people who came to the class, asked challenging questions, and participated in dialogue and discussion

* the outpouring of love, emails, texts, cards, letters, and goodies that my friends have lavished on me in the past two weeks

* a daughter who is also a gifted photographer

* being seen - scars, stretch marks, chipped finger nails, kanser and all

* being remembered

* being loved

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"Do you still believe in God?"

* This blog post is gonna have a little salty language. So if you don't want to read any four letter zingers, you might want to skip today's post...

Last week, I sat with a dear friend and told the story of the current leg of the journey I'm on. She listened, asked questions, gave me invaluable information, advice, and suggestions.
Then she asked me, "Do you still believe in God?"

I said something to the effect of: "I can't prove that God exists. I can't. But I can tell you this: through every major crisis in my life, it has been my faith in God that has sustained me and brought me through."

The truth is that my faith has carried me through every circumstance of my life, good and bad. I'm not one of those people who only prays when the shit hits the fan (like right now), but I'm somebody who you might see mouthing words in my car - and I'm most likely praying. Just telling God about my day, my needs, my desires, my anger, my everything. I lay it all out there. I don't hold anything back. Someone recently told me that she thinks of me and God as BFFs. Best friends forever. I laughed. I hadn't thought of it that way.

I do still believe in God. I believe that God loves me and loves all of us.
I believe that there is a path for each of us to follow that leads us back into God's loving arms.

Do I understand why kanser happens? Why superstorms destroy entire neighborhoods?
Why tsunamis wipe out entire villages? Why earthquakes open the ground below us?
Do I know why mental illness ravages so many lives? And then others are left unscathed?
Do I know why children suffer from rare illnesses and never live beyond early childhood?
Do I know or can I explain why there is any suffering in the world at all if God is truly almighty?
Nope, I do not know. I do not know.

Yesterday, I had an MRI, my first one - and hopefully, my last one.
The noises were startling at first. But I settled my rapid heart beat by singing songs to myself.
Before long I fell asleep.
Apparently, not many people fall asleep in that tiny tube, but I did.

When I woke up, I was reminded of a verse I love from Psalm 3 -
I laid me down and slept;
I awaked, for the Lord sustained me.

And yesterday, that was the perfect verse for that awful moment.

Today, as I lay in the bone scan machine, I tried to think of what to sing to myself.
I tried to think of a way to pray, something to say.

"Lord, please don't let me have kanser anywhere else.
But then again, I asked to not have kanser at all.
And that didn't work out like I'd hoped.
I'm not sure what to pray today."

No nap in the machine today. I just lay there wondering. Hoping.
Trying not to move. Trying not to cry.

Today, after drinking something radioactive and having something nuclear injected into my veins,
after being told to wait an hour and a half for the first scan,
then escaping for a quick lunch at Panera
before being subjected to another scan,
a new thought crossed my mind - Shit, shit, shit. I have kanser. And this shit sucks.

That wasn't the first time that thought occurred to me, but it's been rolling around in my head a lot today. A whole lot.

Do I still believe in God? You bet I do.

But the rest of the shit that's swirling around in my brain and in my body,
this body that has carried me, carried two children, and been such a joy to live in,
all of that other crap, I cannot believe it.
Not even one little bit.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Is there ever a good time???

This question is for the ladies in the house - is there ever a good time to get your period?
Is there?

I remember being a junior or senior in high school and going into the girls' room with a good friend. She went into the stall and, as she pulled down her pants, she said, "God, I hope I got my period."

I said, "What? Why would you want to get your period?"
Then I said, "Oh, yea. Now I get it."
Gratefully, several years would pass before I had that thought upon entering a bathroom stall.

Fast forward to this past Tuesday morning.
The morning of what I had dubbed, "The Results Show."
You know, when we had to go get the results from the biopsy.
Steve said, "I hope that's not what they really call it."
I said, "Nope, but that's what I call it."

Anyway, on Tuesday morning, I got my period. "Great," I thought.
Of all the days to get my freaking period, why today?

Why Tuesday? Because God knew that I was gonna get that awful diagnosis.
And God knew that I would need to have an MRI, a bone scan and a CT scan.
And God knew that those tests need to be done within 7 to 10 days of beginning my menstrual cycle.
I will have the MRI next Monday and the bone scan and CT scan next Tuesday.

For those of you who don't believe in God, it's still a pretty awesome and awful coincidence.
A coincidence that now I am enormously grateful for.

Is there ever a good time to get my period? This past Tuesday was the perfect time.
Divine timing, my friends.
Divine, indeed.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Wonder-filled Wednesday

I wish I could cut it and paste it here. But please, please, please, go see THIS and tell Kristin how awesome she is. Tell her how beautiful her art is and how beautiful her heart is.

Tonight I taught the second of a three class series called, "Religion and Joy." I wrote tonight's class on "The things that steal our joy and how our faith, our 'religion' can restore our joy" on Monday afternoon - the day before receiving the diagnosis. Tonight, I told the class what is happening in my life and how I stand confident that my faith (along with medicine, surgery, love, and really good food) will help me sustain my joy and how, even when moss grows on The Rock on which I stand and I slip into the murky, churning rough waters of this messy life, I will climb back onto the rock and cling to it with all I've got, with all I can muster. Joy unspeakable. Wordless, speechless joy. (And a whole lot of "this sucks" thrown in there too.) They listened, they asked questions, they shared their stories, and they promised to pray for me and my family. Together, we can be a community of faith, of love, of wonder, and of joy. What else do we have to live for? What else matters?

Emails. Texts. Phone calls. Facebook messages. Voice mail. Someone brought me dinner tonight, even as she toted her one month old son with her. (I'm supposed to be cooking for you, Heather!) Somebody tied a red heart to my mailbox today. (I don't know who did it - but I love you.) I am bewildered, buoyed, and eternally grateful for the support and love that has been poured out and today is only Day One.

I feel enormously, deeply, life-affirmingly (I think I just made up a word!) loved tonight.

Your love, your prayers, your faith, your presence sustain and support me.

Thank you all.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

My Life's Journey

That's the name of this blog.
It's what I do - live out the life journey that has been laid before me.

Today, my life's journey hit a hairpin turn, a speed bump, a pothole
- and whatever other cliche or metaphor comes to mind
when bad things happen to good people, bad people, and anybody.

I have cancer.
Cancer doesn't have me.
But cancer has come for a brief and unwelcome visit to my left breast and at least one lymph node.

There are a few things I'll be dealing with in the coming weeks and months -
meeting doctors, nurses, and specialists of all kinds
radiation therapy
cutting my hair
drinking all kinds of juices
taking vitamins and supplements
accepting meals from friends, neighbors, and family
trying to respond to emails, texts, phone calls, and everything else that comes
living every moment to the fullest - even more than before.

I'll be writing and telling stories.
I'll be snuggling with my husband and kids.
I'll be buying hats and scarves - but not wigs.
I'll be wearing my big earrings, my boots, my skirts, but nothing pink.
I don't do pink - at least not yet.
I'll be walking in faith, in strength, in love, in courage.
I will also be crying and asking "why?" and then living my way into the answers.

I hope and pray that all of you will walk this journey with me.
As you can.
When you can.
However you can.

Forgive me if things go silent here every now and then.
Forgive me if I don't respond immediately to your emails and comments.
I will read everything you send.
I will gladly accept your prayers, kind thoughts, chanting, incense and candle burning.
Whatever you want to do on our behalf, please do it.
As far as I'm concerned, everything counts.
Everything counts.

Pardon my language here - this shit sucks.
But I'm gonna get through it.

I'm hanging on to a truth that I've written here dozens of times.
Hanging on to it like never before.
All shall be well.
All shall be well.
All manner of thing shall be well.

May God continue to have mercy on me, on my family,
on you, on all of us,
on all people everywhere.
But especially on me...

Sunday, November 04, 2012

On a Far Lighter Note...

Earlier today, after enjoying a wonderful lunch prepared by my wonderful daughter,

I said: I'm gonna go upstairs and take a shower. I must smell like a barn animal.

Kristiana: Well, I like the smell of barn animals, so...

Me: So, you aren't a good gauge of whether or not I need to take a shower, huh?

Kristiana: Nope, I guess not.

I love that animal-loving, mommy-loving child of mine.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Timothy Kurek: Demonstrating Soul Force

Nearly a month ago, I received an e-copy of The Cross in the Closet, written by Timothy Kurek. In the book, Timothy tells the story of spending a year as a gay man. It sounds like a strange thing for a straight man to do, and indeed it is. But Timothy grew up in an extremely conservative religious world where people who were gay, lesbian, transgendered, or bisexual were openly condemned and ostracized. In order to more fully understand what such rejection felt like, Timothy decided to "come out" with his family, friends, and fellow church members and see not only how they would respond, but also how his entire life would change as a result of that declaration.

I grew up in a similar religious atmosphere to Tim's; in my religious community; homosexuality was taboo in all its forms. I was taught that homosexuality is a choice, and "those people" could choose to be straight, but for some reason they preferred their "perversions." I remember walking and driving through Greenwich Village in Manhattan and being told to "look neither to the right nor to the left, but look straight ahead." (In fact, I heard those words of warning often in my growing up time, but that's fodder for other blog posts...) Those words of warning were an open invitation to me to look in every direction, to stare, to wonder, to question, and eventually to be jealous because "those people" always looked like they were having a great time together. When I was offered the opportunity to read and review a book written by someone from a background so similar to my own on a topic that is not often graciously or lovingly spoken of or written about in the Christian community, I gladly accepted the offer.

Early in his year-long adventure, Timothy discovered a "gayborhood" in his home city into which he ventured for work, socialization, friendship, shopping, and eventually discovered a place within himself that welcomed the very same people he condemned earlier in his life. The Pharisee within him fought desperately to keep the hate and condemnation alive, but Timothy fought even harder to keep his heart and mind open to all that he needed to learn and experience during that year. His preconceived notions about the nature of friendship, flirtation, long-term relationships, and love between non-heterosexual people were all shattered. Early on, he shocked himself with his reflexive responses to the men and women around him - his anger, his suspicion, his fear and his hatred arose daily, sometimes hourly. With the passage of time, however, his love grew deep. His heart grew to be more tender. His soul grew in every way, in every dimension.

Soulforce is a gay advocacy group that Timothy encountered on his Christian college campus not long before he decided to carry out the experiment that the book describes. Soul force is what those young men and women displayed when they gently, patiently, lovingly warded off the insults, judgments, and belittling comments that Timothy and his college companions hurled their way.

Soulforce welcomed Timothy with grace and forgiveness when he joined their ranks for marches and demonstrations during his year of being "out." Soul force is what empowered Tim to listen to and be changed by the stories the protestors told about the danger, the fear, and the hidden lives that many gay people in this country and around the world live with and endure on a daily basis.

And once again, soul force was the means by which Timothy told the truth about who he really is, why he did what he did, and how his heart and mind were transformed during that difficult, love-filled, fearful, lonely, life changing year. Timothy found that the cross he thought he needed to defend from the closet was already firmly established in the closet. He learned that its power to heal, redeem, and restore is not diminished, even there.

I applaud Timothy's courage in taking such a radical step to spend an full year walking in the shoes of people he had hated and feared for so much of his life. I applaud his courage in writing this book, especially at a time when so many in the institutional church have again chosen to reject our brothers and sisters because of their sexual orientation. I hope this book arrives in many bookstores, libraries, churches, and eventually into many homes.

This book will challenge those who think they understand the religious right's view of homosexuality. This book will challenge those who think they understand the effect of the religious right's view of homosexuality on the homosexual community. But most of all, this book will challenge those who call ourselves followers of Christ, the One whose love drove him to the cross for all people, to truly follow Christ, even if that path leads us into "the closet."

Thank you, Timothy, for this powerful and challenging book.

PS. My only criticism of the book is that it needs to be re-edited in order to eliminate many, many spelling errors.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Thankful Thursday

Tonight I'm grateful for -

* slippers for my cold feet
* hair color and experienced hands to apply it
* beauty parlor stories
* learning about a drink called "Call a Cab"
* laughing as one woman said it should be called "Call an Ambulance"
* discovering the sweet goodness of Grand Marnier, orange juice, and an ice cube for a "nightcap"
* not needing a cab or an ambulance after drinking it
* homemade skin products
* health insurance
* incense
* the chance to teach a class on Religion and Joy
* helping people recognize that Religion and Joy can exist at the same time in the same place within each of us
* a new tube of lip gloss
* college football on Saturday afternoons
* honey and lemon tea
* homemade apple cobbler
* the chance to volunteer at a food pantry
* hugging those beautiful and grateful people when they get all their food in bags and boxes and head home
* meeting the other folk who gladly, humbly, patiently serve the clients at the food pantry
* sharing stories with a new friend about a mutual friend who passed away
* her courage in reaching out to me (I am enormously grateful for this one.)
* multivitamins from Earth Fare and chewable vitamin C tablets from Trader Joe's
* movies borrowed from the library - for free
* good news of friends getting their electricity back after power outages
* knowing that in only five days all the political ads and phone calls will cease
* Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's humorous take on the election madness