Unclean

Because of the invitation of a kindred friend, I spent this past weekend with over a hundred women. They let me join their community and be a part of their stories, and they trusted me to stand in front of them and share pieces of my own.

The night before my flight to Michigan, one of the markers of my womanhood descended on me, like clockwork with a chime on the 28th day. I’ve never complained about being a woman, about my cycle. I felt (and still feel) that being a woman is a gift, in spite of the various vulnerabilities I have come to know over the years. However, traveling in the first few days of my period poses a few inconveniences.

As I sat in the window seat (always my preference), I questioned about midway through the 2.5 hour flight whether or not my Diva Cup was doing its job. Since I discovered this alternative to tampons and pads, I’ve said, “If it is leaking, I’m not really a diva.” Next to me in the middle and aisle seats, a mom and her grown son played a card game on their tray tables. I didn’t wish to disrupt their game, nor did I wish to risk standing up and passing them in such close proximity with my possible snafu. Turned out, as I discovered after de-boarding with my jean jacket tied around my waist just in case, all was well. I visited the nearest bathroom and situated everything for the two-hour car drive to my final destination.

About 45 minutes from my friend’s house, at almost 2 a.m., I knew, without a doubt, that my diva status had been revoked. I pulled into the driveway, got out of the rental car, and put my jean jacket around my waist like a fashion statement that all women make in the wee hours of the dark. Spot cleaning the seat had to wait until the sun came up.

While I rested trying to find some sleep, I thought of walking behind young girls and women whose monthly flow had seeped through their clothing, thought of a time when it had happened to me as a teenager. I thought of the implications for girls and women in developed countries, of the embarrassment and shame those occurrences provoke for a female. I thought of the ways it affects young girls in developing countries, where the lack of education or the presence of taboos creates a stigma that marks females; the onset of menstruation is an indicator–no matter how young–that a female is of marrying or childbearing age, that she is at sexual maturity (after the unclean bleeding has stopped, of course).

Washing out my jeans and sorting through my own small embarrassment, I decided to declare the thing out loud to the women I would meet face to face soon. I wanted to dispel the shame we’ve been taught to carry, the unspoken (in spite of all of the commercials and otherwise openness) ways it still haunts us. I wanted to give dignity to womanhood. I wanted to say things plain, like they are, and stand in our common humanity.

We all bear some manner of “unclean,” segments in the chapters that make up our lives that make us feel visibly stained, that cause us to cover and hide. We are all invited to keep putting one foot in front of the other toward whole and free and “already made clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.” (John 15) Are not our stories and lives worth far more than a leak through our garments?

Standing in front of those women–all of us with hurts, joys, various blotches showing our clear and undeniable human flesh and blood–I breathed in our shared oxygen, our shared carbon dioxide. What a humbling gift to recognize our symbiotic relationship to and need for one another, uncleanness and all.

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What binds us together

After my dad died, some 13 years ago now, I experienced a particular prolonged grief that dove into my physicality. The effects were challenging and compounded, and I learned in a definitive and profound way that my body could not be disconnected from my mind and my spirit. Grief represented just one layer in the stack. Dad’s passing was, however, catalytic to everything that followed–the wounding and the healing.

About three years into the quest for wholeness, I made a phone call to a health and wellness clinic. I had consulted with the physician a couple of times, but for the most part, it was the office staff that gave direction for on-going support.  On a cordless telephone in my office/laundry room, I shared my questions and commentary with a female consultant. She listened until I finished. Then she said in a kind but direct manner, “You know, Shannon, you’re not the only one to have ever experienced this.” I felt blood rush to my face, like the sting of a swift slap. Her words hurt. I said a few more things, then I said thank you and hung up. That phone call changed the direction and the momentum of the healing process. With a new determination, I turned to face my crap and kick it into order or into oblivion, pile by pile. I didn’t dial the clinic again.

That conversation comes back to me from time to time. It doesn’t sting anymore. She said what needed to be said, what I needed to hear whether I wanted to hear it or not. It might not be what I would have said in the same situation. Perhaps her words to me came out of a place of her own pain, a struggle she was facing that day or in that season of her life. Regardless, she said something true, and that truth tells me things about walking through healing.

You can not know my pain and my struggles. I can not know yours. They are our own. The manner in which an arrow comes into your heart, mind, body is not the manner it enters mine, not exactly. In that way, I can not understand completely.

On the other hand, you know the arrows that have struck you. They pierced your skin, sometimes down into the deep and hidden places. Me, too. You are on a road to wellness and soundness. Me, too. You are a human who cries and laughs and longs for shalom. Me, too.

Our troubles and pains and heartaches are unique. Our stories belong to us.  Jesus tends to each of us, with intimate care and individualized attention.

Those same bleeding places are not unique. Some common strands weave through your story and my own. We are connected. At the very least, we share our humanity. We need each other to cry with and laugh with and pray with while we walk the road.

In my healing journey, I relied on people to keep calling to the true elements within me, buried and forgotten things, shattering and glorious things. I surrounded myself with others who gave me words of life and pointed me to the Healer. The wounds of that season manifested in unexpected ways. So did the healing of my body, my mind, and my soul.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post first appeared here two and a half years ago. In light of the ways we seem quick to forget our shared humanity, I sat with this again today–as a prayer and a hope.

My aunt made the quilt for us as a wedding gift. She told me years and years ago that she always includes a small, botched area somewhere in the work that makes a quilt. It’s not meant be be perfect, she told me. And we aren’t either. I pulled it out and stood on the edge, under the sun, with the blooming flowers. Journey enjoyed being in the flowers, too. We are practicing resurrection today.

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Good Friday Reflections

I listened to the lectionary reading for Good Friday, tried to find myself there, tried to imagine the real-time events. I asked God to help me re-member the day.

Mary stood, her gut quaking. On the brink of internal combustion, she stared at Jesus and then looked away. She held no power to undo the torn flesh, the spit upon his beard, the nakedness of her man-son. She bore no arm long enough or wide enough to protect him from the insults and mockery, the rejection and abandonment.

The disciples and the other Mary-women cloistered near. They wept in disbelief, horror, disappointment.

They took in with their senses the events before them. They smelled the crowds and the blood, heard the chaos, felt the pressing throng, tasted the morning meal lingering on their tongues. The watched the torture of their teacher and companion. Perhaps their knees gave way as the spikes hammered through the hands that had healed. Jesus hung on a common wooden structure, an ordinary heinous mode of death for criminals of their time.

It wasn’t normal. Jesus wasn’t normal. They knew it, in part. But only in part. They possessed no biblical commentaries, no church history annals, no doctrinal treatises.

I can’t live it in real-time. I can try and imagine. I pray that I can be there without my preconceived notions, the taught things, the decided and settled matters–like they were, on that day, when they didn’t know what they were supposed to know, but they lived it while Jesus died.

Perfect Love, by Peggy Wells

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Lenten Reflections, Week 6

We moved into our home in the fall of the year. The yard, already browned and burned from a summer without water, held little promise for the spring that would eventually come, after the winter after the fall. We worked into the cooler months, making the insides of what we named Rivendell fresh and alive again. When spring crept in, as it does, without asking us and without us prompting it, a whole bed of tulips popped up. I watched them for blooms, wondering what color or colors waited inside the tubular stems. That cluster of broad leaves reached up to offer us the first signs of vitality from the yard, a hopeful word about neglected and forgotten things coming back to life.

Late in March, the tulips signal the change of seasons, like clockwork every year. Except, since a curious dog now makes her home in all areas of our home, only a small fraction of the bulbs are left to burst forth and preach promise to us. This year, one lone bloom spread its orange petals to cry out against the remnants of winter’s death and cold.

Many forms of plant life tell me that the earth tilts its top to the sun these days; the tulip doesn’t raise its tiny voice alone. But I keep looking at it, quivering in the stout breezes.

It’s a paltry offering against the heavy tumble of news. It doesn’t heal the sick or bring back the dead. It would whither on the spot in the presence of chemical weapons. It won’t make amends between the most vehement enemies. It won’t bridge racial and ethnic divides, solve economic disparities, end epidemics, negotiate cease-fires. The small blades of a tulip can’t do a darn thing.

But I watch it, a singular defiance under the pear tree. I imagine it, with delicate, almost fragile speech, daring to call out, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together.”

A little spring tulip preaches to me, as I head into Holy Week. As I re-member the Gospel, as I re-member myself. I’m listening to words of hope about how all manner of crap and darkness lose, about one day when, by God, the signs of life will announce the truest spring.

 

 

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Lenten Reflections, Week 4

Last week, I found myself experiencing a sense of alienation in a number of ways. I spent a page in my journal acknowledging where and how this was manifesting. And for a long moment, I sat with not-belonging and not-fitting. I wanted to face it and hear what I needed to learn from it.

When we moved to Ohio, before the days of Garmin suctioned to the dash board and Google maps in the palm of your hand, I meandered all over the little town where we lived trying to find my way, learning the best and nearest stores, the roads to our nearby family. Thank God our move didn’t take us to some sprawling city. I suppose I would have survived, but let’s just say that the direction gene passed to any of our children didn’t make its way through me. We lived there only two years. The foreign feeling didn’t last long in Middletown, but new stuff–house, community, church, geography–did feel strange for at least a little while.

Eastern Kentucky taught us about being “brought-ins,” a term that denotes “you ain’t from around here.” We never experienced the possibly negative aspects of such a concept, as no one ever treated us as separate or stranger. Our time in the Appalachian mountains covered us like a patchwork quilt, sheltered us like the hills around a hollow. When it came time to leave, pulling out of that comfort and belonging reminded my body’s cellular memory of a past time of packing up and moving out of settled and secure. It would be some time before I realized how interconnected the mind, body, and spirit are, how disintegrated I was, how moving served as a catalyst for a mending that had begun in Paintsville.

To the next place in Northern Kentucky and then the cross-country pilgrimage to Colorado, the sensation of not-belonging and not-fitting accompanied me, more so than the other moves and big changes. I carried those feelings in a little pouch, like a passport under my garments. 

“May I see your identification, please.”

“Yes,” I say, digging it out, “See, it says here, ‘incomer, floater, visitor.'”

I didn’t consciously use it as a badge. Sometimes, it served as protection for the fractured regions of my heart. Mostly, it just was, and I searched for a place to belong, a people to call my own, friendships that would heal. I didn’t know it then, but I see now how I objectified and “other-ed” folks in the process of looking and looking for home spaces, for safety.

While I scribbled on that acknowledging page in my journal, I thought of those who know and live the term alien in a very literal sense. It’s not a political notion to simply recognize, while I understand a move to a different city or state and all that comes with that, I am not at all familiar with having to or being forced to flee a country I don’t want to leave, entering a land where I do not know the language much less the culture. I thought of friends who have packed up their belongings and their families to take jobs or missions* in other countries.

What I understand from reading narratives and from watching my friends adjust to their environs, some things are universal. A desire to belong, to be seen and known, to be safe. The longing to have a house, to have a home, to foster community. To have basic needs met. To see beauty. To laugh. To dance. To break bread together. To thrive and not just survive. To love and be loved.

I asked the Lord to release me from the need to hold onto the feeling of alienation, to not permit me to use it as an excuse for a wall between myself and others. I told Jesus that I don’t want to live there with the wound, with the barrier. Instead, I prayed, I want to see myself and all people as fully alive, as whole humans who are integrated and not afraid. With Christ in between me and anyone, I have his heart, his eyes, his experience of loving the alien, his experience of being the alien.

 

*this I mean not in the way of “convert and be like us westernized Christians,” but in the sense of living in and among people with the intention of loving like Jesus and being salt and light. 

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