Monday, March 3, 2014

How Summer Camp Saved My Life

When I was in middle school life was rough. On top of the bullying and figuring out who you really are, that most middle schoolers go through, I had some extenuating circumstances making my life particularly difficult. Growing up, my home life was never great. Most of the time it wasn’t very good. There is not a time I can remember that does not contain yelling or fighting. I learned early on how to play bartender. Im there was always an odor of what my brother told me were old cigarettes but what I soon discovered to be marijuana. these behaviors day after day takes a toll on a kid. In the seventh grade, I reached the climax that sent me hurtling downward. It was at this time that my mother left. There wasn’t a big scene or at least not that I can remember. Instead, she just didn’t come home from work. In fact she had been gone for a few days before I actually noticed. It was not out of the ordinary for her to not come home after work. After a while, I noticed that she had not come home for quite some time. That’s when my father told me that she had left us. Specifically, she had left him, but by default she had left me as well. At this point in my life, 13 years later I have reached a place where I can forgive her. But I spent many years being very angry.In just a few weeks my world was tossed upside down. Suddenly we were moving out of our apartment, but leaving all of our things behind. I was moving in with my grandmother for a few weeks, and then once school was over I was off to Ohio to live with my dad’s sister. Dad was living in his car for a while, and then spent time staying on couches. I finally started paying attention to the world around me, the whispers, the signs, and realized that my mother had abandoned me. Maybe she only intended to leave my father but I had been abandoned in the process. I don’t know if she woke up one day and decided that she no longer wanted to be a mother and chose drugs instead, but that is exactly how it appeared to me.
I spent two months living in Ohio with my aunt and her family. In that time, my father attempted to sign guardianship over to my aunt. This was something I was torn over. On the one hand, it would be great to live with my cousins full time but at the same time, did no one want me? My mother had abandoned me, and now my father did not want me any longer. In the end, things did not go through and the day before classes were to start I flew back to Massachusetts. I spent the eighth grade depressed. To this day, I do not think that anyone knew what was going on inside of me. I spent the year staying with different people from my church. A couch here, a spare bed there, not really having anywhere of my own.  It was at this time that I started cutting myself. Not anywhere people would see. My legs could be covered by pants. And never very deep. Just enough to feel the burn. To feel external pain to go with the internal pain I felt every day.  Sometimes I would mess up and cut where I could get caught, and yet no one thought twice of the sweatshirt I wore on hot summer days. 11 years later you cannot see the marks on my skin anymore. I was always so careful. Though I was depressed and fighting internal monsters, I never wanted to have to explain myself. You can achieve a lot of pain without much visible damage.
By the end of eighth grade, my depression as at its worst. And to this day, I wonder if anyone knew just how depressed I was. I was depressed enough that I wanted to kill myself. I had a plan. I was going to jump in front of a red line train. Throughout my life, the one seemingly stable thing was camp. Every summer I went to camp and every summer the same friends were there. My plan was to wait until after camp to go through with my plan.  At the end of camp, when I said good-bye, I would be saying goodbye for the last time.
However, that week of camp is why I am still here. That week of camp is what kept me alive. That week of camp saved my life. That week was unlike any other week of camp. It was not just a week spent swimming in the lake, doing arts & crafts, canoeing, and archery. Instead, for some reason, this year had an entirely different look. We were told that we were going on a river trip. Something we had done in the past. However this year, we would not be canoeing. Instead we would be making our own rafts. We were presented with 2x4s, plywood, duct tape, rope, and large Pepsi barrels and told that we had 3 days to design and build rafts that would carry us and all of our gear down the Merrimack River. It seemed like a silly idea but I worked on it with my friends. Once they were finished, we were driven to the Merrimack River and push off the bank. Three days later we would be picked up many miles south in another state. The ensuing 3 days on the river are what would change my life. It started out like any other river trip we had gone on. We had fun, we splashed each other with water, and we attempted to figure out how the rudder we made for our raft might actually work. At night we would set up camp on the shore of the river. Because we were a Christian camp we would sing praise songs and hymns around the fire and had time for worship. And I would sit there amongst my friends and stare at the stars that I never saw in the city and think of how much I never wanted to leave this place. How much better life would be if camp just went on forever? And I would then be faced with reality and remember that in just a few days, it would be back to Boston, back to reality, and back to the darkness that weighed on me day after day.
But then, then we talked about Jonah. It’s fitting to have a bible story that takes place on the sea when rafting down a river. In some ways I felt a lot like Jonah. We were both fleeing from things. Jonah was fleeing from God. I was trying to flee from what I saw as the misery of my life. But we were very different. Jonah was only in the darkness of the whale’s belly for three days. My entire life felt like it was being lived in the whale’s belly. There was not light anymore. But then the fish spit Jonah out. God had a plan for Jonah. The time in the darkness had a limit. And I realized that maybe my time in the darkness had a limit. Maybe I would be spit out of the metaphorical whale’s belly sometime soon. Maybe this week of camp, this week of feeling loved and wanted, this week of light was a taste of what life would be like once I was spit out. And then, one of the counselors reminded us that God does have a plan for us. We probably won’t be called to go talk to a nation on behalf of God like Jonah was, but God has a plan for each and every one of us that God is just waiting to reveal.
God had a plan for me. I could not return to the city at the end of camp only to take my own life. God had a plan for me. Even if my parents did not love me, my friends did. Even though I felt like I didn’t have a place to call my own, where I could lay my head at night, camp would always be my home. At the end of camp I promised my friends that I would see them at our winter weekend in February, I promised them that I would see them on Instant Messenger, and I promised that I would see them next summer. I made promises to them, but they were promises to me more than anything. Promises that I would not take my own life, promises that I would stop hurting myself.  Because in that one week at camp, camp had saved my life and I needed to live in order to get spit out and see the plan that God had for my life.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Beginning of My Summer

It's been a while since  have last blogged. Since then, the school year has ended, a number of my closest friends have graduated, two have married, I have moved into a new apartment (for the summer) and I have started a summer CPE placement. The apartment is great. I am able to have a fully functioning kitchen, unlike when I was living in the dorms. I also have air conditioning which s phenomenal most days, but when I have had a bad day at work coming home to an air conditioned apartment just makes it all so much better. My roommate is the same person I will be living with, in a different apartment, during my senior year. It is working out great thus far.

My home presbytery requires everyone under care to complete a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education. The majority of people complete this in your average medical hospital. On average you end up having t pay about $750 for the CPE credit and then have to figure out how to live for the summer without an income. This was not a feasible endeavor for me. There are too many bills to be paid and a matter of eating during the summer. So I found one of the very few placements that pay you. I was one I had a little bit of experience with, and one that one of my roommates from last summer had done. So this summer, instead of serving as a chaplain intern at a medical hospital I am interning at a state psychiatric hospital.

Yesterday I finished up my second week at the hospital. My supervisors are amazing and my group of fellow interns are amazing. I drive a carpool of 4 interns and most afternoons our ride home is very quite because we are processing everything we have seen and heard and experienced that day.I particularly love learning about the clinical side of psychiatric care. I am able to read patient's charts and learn about their diagnoses and their past. I am becoming very familiar with the different forms of Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder. I work on the treatment mall where I am able to interact with a variety of different patients. Some a scary, and it is important not to show fear, some seem completely harmless, and some you would think are staff instead of a patient.

In the past two weeks I have lots of interesting conversations with patients about religious things, like purgatory and reincarnation, as well as about their life in the hospital, and a vast array of other topics I would not think we would talk about. I have helped a patient pray to Saint Michael and recited the Hail Mary. I have discussed Hindu practices with another patient. I have been hit on by patients and solicited for sex. And that was all just this week. Interesting things happen when you're a chaplain intern at a psychiatric hospital, but I am loving every minute of it.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

So I Got a Tattoo...

A couple of years ago I got a tattoo in remembrance of my father. Since then I have been interested in getting more pieces done. I have been in interested getting a Boston related piece done for quite some time. I was born and raised in Boston, and it remains a huge part of who I am. This week's events essentially moved the timing of this particular tattoo up a bit. Friday I randomly decided that it was time. A friend and I drove to New Hope, PA and soon after my wrist looked very different.
I have many people express concern that I will regret this tattoo or that it will be impossible to cover. I do not think I will ever come to refer it. Boston is my city. Boston is my home. Boston is who I am. Now, wherever I travel I will always have a piece of Boston with me. And unlike many of my classmates and friends I do not anticipate working in a traditional church congregation setting and therefore do not envision having to cover my tattoo. I am very pleased with it and proud if my decision!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

We Will Endure

I do not know if I have ever felt so useless or helpless or I am not even sure if the proper title to put upon the way I feel yesterday and today. I feel like I should be doing something and yet have no idea what I can possibly do. Yesterday explosions went off in downtown Boston. Thus far, three have died (including an eight year old little boy) and over 140 are injured, many of which have lost limbs. I feel like I should be there, helping in some way.

The Boston Marathon is supposed to be a joyous event. For many organizations it is a chance for fundraising. Millions of dollars are raised for diabetes, pediatric cancer, leukemia, and countless other diseases. It is also an event that attracts hundreds of thousands people to our city and some one or some group of people decided to sieze that opportunity. When I first heard the news my thought immediately went to members of my family who were running in and volunteering at the race. Initially, the reports I heard was simply that there was some sort of explosion, but it did not mention any injuries. And as news continued to come in, and as I realized how serious it truly was I felt unable to move. Things like this usually don't hit me that hard. With school shootings and other such violent and cowardice events, I am sadden and I pray for those affected. But as a resident of Massachusetts. As a girl born and raised in and by South Boston, this hit me hard. Boston is and always will be my home. The thought that someone could do this to my home is devastating.

But they forget that Boston is a strong city. We are a people rich in character and endurance. I generally try to avoid expletives in my Facebook and twitter posts but they has not held true in the past 24 hours. For one, the fact that there is a family that has lost their 8 year old son in addition to their daughter and mother being hospitalized and going through different surgeries for their injuries disgusts me. These children are close personal friends of members of the church that raised me. Our children should not be dying. We should not have to worry about losing limbs when we go to watch a footrace. This is not the only expletives I've used on social media in regards to this tragedy. Someone posted an image of the mascots of the 4 Boston based sports teams (Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins) with the subtitle "You Fucked with the Wrong City!" I reposted it. I think it is entirely true. We will endure. You, whoever you are, have hurt us greatly. You have injured many and murdered some. You have also pissed this city, this state, and many others who consider Boston a part of them, off. Remember, we are the city where when Chick-Fil-A came out as anti-gay, or mayor said they would never have a place in our city. We are a city that fights for our own. We are a city that bands together. We are a city that will mourn and overcome. We are called Massholes for a reason. Whoever did this should be scared now.

Cities across the country are praying for us. Athletes with Boston connections are writing "Pray for Boston" on their skates and gloves. Entire arenas are holding a moment of silence for our city. We will endure. The Presbyterian Church (USA) will have the disaster team in Boston in just over an hour. It makes me even prouder to be a Presbyterian. Fourth Presbyterian Church (340 Dorchester St South Boston) is having a prayer service at 7:00 First Pres Waltham has their sanctuary open all day for those who need it. Local law enforcement and the FBI are working together to track down the people who thought it was a good idea to fuck with Boston.

We are Strong. We are Family. We are Bostonians. We will Endure.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Queer is me.

The word queer is a difficult term. For some, it is a painful word. One filled with hatred and homophobia. A pejorative term. For others it is an all-encompassing term to describe anyone in the sexuality alphabet soup. And still for others, it is there self-assigned term of identification. As one who is not a huge fan of labels and yet exists within a world where labels are the norm and are expected, this is the term that I choose to use to identify myself.

I do not believe in the gender binary. I believe that gender is fluid. A person should not be defined by their parts, but rather their hearts. Personally, it is a person’s heart or rather their personality that attracts me and not their genitalia, or the gendered characteristics. Those that are fans of labels might label me as being pansexual or omnisexual. In the past I have dated those that are cis-female and cis-male. I have been attracted to people in transition, people that are androgynous, and people that identify as genderfluid.

I am in a relationship with a cis-man. I will be marrying him next year. So if I am going to be in what looks like your run of the mill heterosexual marriage, why does my sexuality or sexual orientation matter? Sexuality is part of what makes us us. It is an important part of who we are. My sexuality and my involvement with the greater queer community is a huge part of who I am. I am done hiding this part of myself.

When I was fourteen years old I sat my father down and explained to him that I liked boys and girls. This was not taken well. I honestly believe this greatly attributed to the sudden rapid escalation of his alcoholism and thereby his admittance to a detox facility and continuous bouts in rehabs. At the time, the only people aware of my sexuality were myself, the girl I was with, and a friend. Perhaps it was my tomboyish nature or something else that gave it away, but a walked into school one day to find DYKE carved into my locker. Until the end of my time in college I did not tell another person that my interest was in more than just boys.

I am called to ministry. I have no doubts about it. However, my call does not lie within the white walls and stained glass of a church. My call is a bit messier than that. My call is to work with homeless LGBTQ youth. I do not know if my governing body will support my call. But it is a call that I cannot deny for any reason. As one who identifies as a member of the community, one who has dealt in many ways with rejection, as one who was abandoned, as one who was neglected, as one who has dealt with the family courts system, and as one who is now in a place where I can help others, and it a place where God is working in my life to help youth, I must.

Queer is a difficult word. It holds so many meanings for different people. But it is a term that I place upon myself. It is my term. It is the term for the kids I work with and hope to continue working with. Queer is me. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Existential Crisis

Admittedly, the title of this post is a tad dramatic. However, some days I feel that it is entirely accurate. Seminary ahs led me to have regular existential crises.

Seminary has been a great experience thus fat. I have completed a little over a year and a half of a three-year program. I am more than half done. I have had ups and downs. I have failed and I have succeeded. I have had numerous health problems and have made great friends.

But one thing seminary has truly done is to make me question everything. I have never really questioned that there is a God but I have questioned so many other things. When I came to seminary, I thought I would be leaving ordained and ready to lead a small congregation. I know now that this is not the case. I no longer have an interest in pastoring a church or in being ordained.

I have been a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA) since elementary school. I have been ordained as a deacon and as a ruling elder. I am currently an inquirer of the ordination track. But my classes and my experiences make me question whether or not this is the right denomination for me. For one thing, all of my Presbyterian comrades seem to love love love Karl Barth. I have not read much Barth and I have no interest in reading any more of his work. My Presbyterian friends and professors LOVE John Calvin. I cannot stand John Calvin! My hatred for him and his work began when a professor said to me, “If a baby gets a brain tumor and dies, John Calvin says that it is God’s will!” I that that that is messed up and that does NOT sound like the God I believe in! I do not really fall in line with predestination and the total depravity.

I believe in pacifism. I believe in a God who lets us make out own mistakes but is there to save us. I believe in unending grace. I believe that awful things happen but not that those awful things are God’s will. I believe in free will. I believe in a God who acceptance and loving embraces.
II do not know where I belong. Maybe the PUSA is the right lace for me, but maybe it is not. Is it possible to live within a denomination while totally excluding the works of the theologians that they build their beliefs off of?