BE, HERE, NOW

I wish I could say that I remember living in Queens, but I don’t. I know that I did certain things like skip home from the public library with a stack of books around the age of 3 and play in snow that nearly came up to my tiny little shoulder around the age of 2. But remember, I do not.

I don’t remember moving from Queens to Suffolk County, Long Island with my family around the age of 3-and-a-half! nor do I remember painting my new, all-to-myself room a shade of purply-pink. But what I do remember is a constant, pervasive feeling of Not Quite Liking Where I Was.

I’m one of those people who is always reaching for what’s beyond me; always seeking something better or grander and always thinking it can’t be found where I am. I don’t know why but I’ve never really liked Long Island. Well, that’s not true. I like the geography, and some of the towns, but the people—sorry to say it—embarrass me a bit. The rough and tumbled accents; the crassness and propensity for strong language; the general lack of grace and gentility; the culture of god only knows what that’s always felt very much Their’s and not at all Mine—even though a peek through a few of my family’s photo albums would tell a different story. But let’s just say that’s because I was an eccentric teenager trying, for a minute, to fit in to a place where I never fully could.

That’s the problem I guess, Long Island never felt like mine. It wasn’t a place that I could lay claim to, so when a dear friend recently said to me that there was something “so Long Island about you,” I felt my blood boil because to me, there isn’t. Worth noting: she isn’t from here.

You see, my closest friends growing up weren’t in my school district, one wasn’t even in the same state as me. My earliest boyfriends were also from different school districts, most weren’t in my grade either. My own family is mostly from the city, if not different states all together. For college, I shirked convention and hightailed it to a private school in North Carolina, much to the surprise of what felt like everyone and their mother’s who attended in-state public universities or ones within a few hours’ drive of home.

So when I came back to Long Island after college, I did so with my tail between my legs with all intentions of at least working in the city. But that was a thing that very much didn’t happen as I worked for the town I grew up in for 2 years—literally, I was in Town Hall. All the while scratching that itch of mine to leave (again). So I dated someone who lived in Brooklyn. When I finally moved to Brooklyn myself for school, it was largely a disaster and I found myself back in Long Island sooner than I ever wished to return (which at that time was never, mostly never, with the exception of birthdays and holidays and the occasional trip to the Hamptons).

So I was back here. Living in Long Island, at least working in New Jersey (words I never thought I’d say). But when that commute just got to be way. too. much., I was fully here once more—goodbye Brooklyn Boy—dating here, working here, living here. All the while scratching that itch of mine to leave (again). So I dated someone else who lived in Brooklyn; and then someone who lived further east in Long Island but had an apartment in the city; and then that one who lived in Harlem that was so good until it wasn’t good at all. And then I was fully here once again.

But not quite! Because I was still hoping for something better/different/farther away to come my way somehow. Until, quite literally last night, when a very important person in my life—mind you, this is a person I never thought I’d see again (life, you’re funny)—stopped me in the middle of yet another one of my “Why am I here? I can’t stand it here,” diatribes and looked directly at me as he said, “There’s nothing wrong with being here.”

Here.

It has literally cost me so much trying to not be here. I’ve chased down every possible avenue to have an excuse to not be here—religion, education, romance, work—and all of them have ended with an exasperated, financially-strapped, heartbroken me looking up at the sky saying, “Really? Here? Again?”

But yes. Here: apparently where I’m supposed to be now (thanks for nothing Ram Dass). My parents moved my siblings and I here, as in Long Island, for a “better life” and my stubbornness has left me trying to leave this “idyllic suburb” every chance I’ve gotten. Yet my Parent—capitalization necessary as I’m talking about God y’all—has kept bringing me back, saying all the while, “Child, will you just be Here.”

So I shall be here; and not reluctantly this time. Because maybe there’s nothing wrong with being in a place that doesn’t quite feel like Mine. Because maybe it’s not supposed to, and maybe it can’t feel like Mine yet if I am to truly make my mark on it. And maybe, just maybe, this is the biggest test of all: being fully here, in this place and in this moment, even though it’s a here I never really wanted, and finding its light and all the ways I can love it.

Aha.

P.S. Necessary listening…

 

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THE WANDERING, WAYWARD DAUGHTER: A MEMOIR, OF SORTS

I keep talking about and focusing on how long it had been since I sat proper and did a bible study in my trusty Life Application Study Bible (New Living Translation). Perhaps I am trying to level myself lest my head get too big (which is ridiculous). Or perhaps I am attempting to differentiate myself from others that I deem more godly than I (which is also ridiculous). Either way and for whatever reason, it is something that I do.

I focus on the time I spent separated from the bible version of God’s word and the pursuit of Him in a Christian sense. Which means I ignore all the other ways I’ve found God these past two and a half years in the pursuit of a meditation practice, yoga, healing herbs and teas, the energy in a beautiful crystal, good food and wine, hiking in nature, and the study of the religiously-neutral, spiritual, indescribable yet palpable energy that connects every and any thing.

In those two and a half years, I became a member of the People’s Church of Necessity, a phrase I use to represent God’s uncanny way of placing you in situations that seem so. wrong. amongst people that are too. different. (read: hedonists and nihilists and heathens) in order to heal you. Through the healing, God is dismantling your ego* brick by brick until all you see around you is rubble. Then slowly but surely, God shines Its light upon one brick at a time and you find yourself elbows deep in the dirt building and building. And one day, the rubble is gone and around you is a beautiful Home to dance, sing, play, and rejoice in.

* It is the ego that keeps us separate from God and others. Because it is the ego that drives our desire to be a Special Snowflake and the ego that drives our fear that we are Too Much/Alone/Different/Weird/Needy/etc.

I also came to understand how insignificant our human concept of time is to God. In Psalm 90:4 we read, “For a thousand years in Your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” A thousand years is a day. Can you imagine? I sure can’t. And that’s exactly why I take upon my heart the largely inaccurate persona of the Wandering, Wayward Daughter.

When I read or hear the Word—in any text or conversation which was inspired by Divinity— and it rings as Truth, I see my thoughts for what they are: a (needless, unnecessary, ungodly) shame cycle meant to feed my ego and keep me separate from God.

But when I read Psalm 107:2, “Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!,” I am reminded of all my conversations with the heathens and nihilists and hedonists in which I would start clapping like a giddy child while pouring out Truth after Truth after Truth of our Grand and Loving Creator of the Universe.

And when I read Jeremiah 31:12, “They will be radiant because of the Lord’s good gifts,” I am reminded of all the times I left yoga, glowing in said radiance, with a desire to only eat foods that would nourish me, and have conversations that uplifted others, and be kind and gracious to my neighbors.

And even when I read, “Happiness is the lost paradise. Humans have worked so hard to reach this point, and this is part of the evolution of the mind. […] Moses called it the Promised Land, Buddha called it Nirvana, Jesus called it Heaven, and the Toltecs call it a New Dream,” in Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, I smile knowingly because I know that the God of Everything is, and has always been, in everything that truthfully brings us closer to Joy. No matter what you call it.

And just like that, the shame cycle is finished.

YOU’RE A SEEKER, HARRY

Maybe it was when I sat in my mother’s lap after losing both my great aunts within a month of each other, at the age of 10, and consoled her from a Place deep inside me on the permanence of Life and the illusion of death…

Or maybe it was when I truly understood the gravity of knowing exactly what your God voice does and does not sound like, at the age of 26, during those numerous vulnerable and mindless moments in the car, and in the shower, and in the kitchen washing dishes when I felt so overloaded at times that I could barely breathe…

Or maybe it was when I threw myself onto the floor in a puddle of tears, at the age of 21, in a desperate search of something and Everything and hysterically asked for a surefootedness I then believed could only be rooted in the Way, the Truth, and the Life…

Or maybe it was when I walked bravely into school, at the age of 12, with a face riddled in tiny red bumps—a telltale mark of the Fifth’s Disease my body was fighting—unfazed by the questions and sneers sure to come within the mean hallways of middle school…

Or maybe it was when I was cozied up with my not yet deceased great aunt at our kitchen table, at the age of 7, asking her question upon question about the mind and heart hidden under her habit while dipping a seemingly endless tray of strawberries into melted dark chocolate the night before my First Holy Communion…

Or maybe it was when my friend and I stumbled upon the silliest of marvels in the middle of a somewhat backwoods North Carolina town, at the age(s) of 19, in a massive Jesus statue and sought solace for our confused souls in that parking lot overwhelming night after overwhelming night…

Or maybe it was when I watched with wide-eyes and listened with an open heart, at the age of 13, to the rites and rituals my friends were diligently completing for their bat mitzvahs…

Or maybe it was when I began collecting crystals again as I used to as a child, at the age of 25, and marveled at the incomprehensible calm one could have when meditating with a cool stone in hand a thankful and proverbial 2 minutes before the worst heartbreak of my life would barge in, knock me clear to the ground, and leave me grasping at dust in search of a solid rock…

Or maybe it was when I finally sat down to write this post right here, a good 3 days after it began brewing in my mind, at the age of 27, with at once lightening fast and molasses slow fingers across a keyboard in a sweet reverie on my inner Wild Child, and all of her passionate undertakings—misguided or otherwise—and her unwavering ability to always stand back up—worse for wear or otherwise—ready to sing praises to a Great Grandness…

That I first realized I was a Seeker.

Wander and waiver though I do, as I believe most humans do and should, my heart was devoted to the pursuit, the passionate seeking, of the Love, Truth, and Understanding wrapped up in the Great Unknown long before I took my first breath in this body, for this life.

And because I find myself in this body, and in this life, I am endlessly thankful that there is an endless well of Patience for my many stops and starts. And that there is an endless well of Answers for my hundreds and thousands of Questions. And that there too is an endless well of Paths to the Divine for my Wild and Curious Heart to Explore.

Tomorrow said path may be a spark of inspiration found in the bottom of a cup of dandelion tea. Or in a breathtaking moment of beauty found in the way a curtain gets lost in the breeze. Or in an understanding of the innate Trust within all of us upon watching a child play some 50 feet away from its parent.

But tonight it is the simple deliciousness of a bowl of pasta made lovingly by my father, and the decidedly jumbled words of J.K. Rowling echoing in my head, and the soulful crooning of Josh Garrels flowing into my ears that makes me exclaim, ever so softly, “It is time to begin again.” 

And begin again I shall.

CAPITAL L

We are connected more than ever, but what exactly is it that we are connected to?

If you say that it is to each other, I dare say you’re mistaken.

Yes, we might know more people in a numerical sense, but do we really know them?

To know someone is to feel the heft of their soul in your hands as they articulate feelings and thoughts without words.

To know someone is to reciprocally share humanity and divinity in such a palpable way that you walk away from your interaction with your heart having grown in size.

To know someone is to feel the trueness of Love in your soul and to feel compelled to give that Love away to someone else because you are so full that you are spilling out.

So you pause your music, take out your ear buds, and walk across the kitchen to give the most present hug you’ve ever given to your mother.

And because you are so connected to Love, you gently tell her to ease out of the urge to pull away from the sudden confrontation of Love and Oneness with another person, and when you feel her melt into the hug, knowing you’ve delivered the right dose of Love, you give her a squeeze and head into the den to where your father is.

And you do the same for him.

And because your heart is a writer and you heal with your words, you open your laptop back up and pour some more Love out through your fingers to the rest of the world.

And then, because you’ve been so pried open, you cry the sweetest of tears where the bitterness of salt has no place.

A COMPASSIONARY TALE

This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:12-13 (NLT)

A heavily studied belief in and understanding of Christianity, or the brazen lack thereof, is intrinsically woven through the fabric that is my belief in the Great Unknown. The bible is familiar to me, in the way a ring is still on your finger even after you’ve taken it off. So when Big Things happen in my life, oftentimes I remember a verse or two and smile at the return of my oddest and oldest spiritual friend.

One day, a few years ago whilst in the throes of religious fervor, I read an article with a new phrase—Golden Nuggets of Wisdom (GNW)—to describe the moment in which someone speaks something to you and the impact and power of what they have said resonates deeply in your soul, but barely means much of anything to them.

I had a GNW moment today (but contrary to my norm, I was on the receiving end). A friend who recently experienced the sharp pain that is heartbreak said this, “Because of you guys, I feel like my hurting divided into 4. Like I only had to deal with a quarter of the pain.” Immediately that verse from the Book of John flew into my mind and took on a gloriously rich new meaning.

Another day, a few years ago whilst still in the throes of religious fervor, I read yet another article that expanded my understanding of compassion. I had used the word often enough to that point knowing, but not knowing, what the word meant. I appreciate it more now and use it a lot less. Compassion isn’t about feeling bad for someone being in pain, compassion is suffering with them.

So when that friend said, to the 3 of us in our group chat, that we divided her pain in quarters, leaving her only a fraction of it to bear as her own, I further understood what it meant to be compassionate. I experienced, with an acute consciousness, what it meant to love one another in the same way that God loves us. Because she made me realize that, even without realizing it, I actively chose to lay down my life for someone—to lay down my disposition, my desires, my moods—and experience their life as my own.

For as long as we could and as long as she needed, the 3 of us suffered with her and transformed her pain into an experience of Grand Love. I dare say, we alchemized it into gold.

THE CREATORS

God is the presence of power inside all people that gives the ability to make the impossible happen.

It is not outside of us, orbiting around in the sky. It is within and around.

We can move mountains and manifest our dreams and heal our bodies. But it is skepticism that keeps us cut off from this power.

You, we, are meant to design our own lives. We are not but spectators or passive participants.

We are creators.

RESCUED, REDEEMED, AND RENEWED: A RELIGIOUS MEMOIR OF SORTS FOR HONESTY’S SAKE

Never once did I ever imagine myself praising human sacrifice but in search of truth, I was baptized and washed in innocent and sacrificial blood. I clung to and praised an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent force that made sense of chaos. I was told I was flawed and broken – a mere sinner who should worship at the feet of the Highest of the High. I did good deeds with a pure heart, turned my life into a vehicle for advancing the Kingdom, and hoped I would gain admittance to paradise upon dying. I sang loud with raised arms and woke up early to pour over prayers and meditations to keep my heart guarded and my mind pure.

As your modern day evangelical bible-believing Christian doing her thang, I was strangely at peace. And it was all perfect until it wasn’t.

I began crying over the beautiful people I knew who weren’t Christian out of fear of their eternal damnation. I started feeling guilty for being “favored” while others were suffering. But then a beautiful thing happened: though I lost myself tumbling in this world of blacks and whites, I woke up once I finally hit the ground.

I saw in the stories what I knew in my heart as a child: this God was terrifying in his absolutism – in love one minute yet flying into murderous rage the next – and I didn’t like him. I wondered how much of “what was written” was open to artistic interpretation but I no longer trusted the Word. I shook off the chains I put on in search for freedom; in love of all things good, I walked away.

In these three years I’ve stayed open, taken many deep breaths, let go (and picked back up over and over), and crafted my own manifesto*. I like to say that, I became me once I dropped belief in the three.

And to that I say, amen.

*: We are here to love each other. To be a source of light. To ease each other’s burdens. To flow in perfect harmony with our truest selves. To understand and accept one another yet also bring forth change. To create new and beautiful things. To ensure that the generations that we birth have a safe place to call home. To free ourselves from the egos that wish to separate us. To see that every thing, from sky to sea and in between, is one and realize that severing even one fragment renders the whole hurt and incomplete. To appreciate those many different pieces for what and who they are. To connect to all that is good. To respond with grace to that which challenges you. To relish the beauty of existing in this world. To have faith in others. To trust that everything has good in it. To shift your mind to see it. 

IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT (REVISITED)

My car was outwardly at rest but inwardly restless, much like its owner. I sat zoned out but contemplative and stared back at my friend, trying to find answers in her face.

I was in the midst of my third meltdown of the month. Just a year out from graduation, I quickly learned that life is hardest on the planners, the dreamers, and the idealists. What we dream and what we do are often ill matched. What our hearts need and what our minds are paid to create are too often worlds apart.

“I just don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore. Who I want to be, what I want to do, how this immense confusion even happened…”

Frustrated by my lack of answers and sensing the exhaustion radiating from my passenger’s seat, I called it a night to put an end to the early morning existentialism. Or so I thought.

On my drive home I hugged each turn and abbreviated each stop sign; reckless enough to feel a rush, responsible enough to feel secure. When I finally calmed my engine after pulling into my parking space, the beauty of the midnight sky overshadowed my desire for a comfortable blanket and a warm bed.

Seven stately oaks line the cul-de-sac I live on and each of them takes quite the beating when autumn starts to show its face. One by one, the leaves drain themselves of their chlorophyll – changing from red to yellow to brown as the season progresses – and start their descent toward the ground. The oaks are bare by the time winter rolls around. Absolutely naked they stand and sway – bending to their limits – seemingly dead. But in their core, life is making its mark. Even in the dead of winter – the climax of their creative depression – they are growing again.

In a way, the oaks feel the manic cycles of birth much like humans do. In this Creation, everything has its season.

My cold body shuddered. I shoved my hands into pockets already weighed down with material possessions.

“Everything was created for One by One,” I muttered. “I will learn something out here. I have to.”

I cleared my lenses, opened my ears, expanded my lungs, and planted my feet.

“I am ready. I am listening.”

I looked up to the belly of a tree. My tree. The oak I grew up with, the oak I spent many summers and seasons with. The oak that lent branches to be the arms on my snowmen, the wands to my Hermione, and the mechanisms by which I transplanted squishy garden bugs to new locations. The oak I never much appreciated, until then.

Have you ever noticed that bare tree limbs look a lot like the bronchioles in the human lung? The way they branch from the trunk, to the limbs, to the branches, and finally to the twigs. Tree branches are the bronchioles of the universe. They sway to and fro, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.

In a way, trees breathe the way humans do. In this Creation, everything is connected.

Back to the sky lit up by a three-quarter full moon. Clouds varied in intensity on the gray scale; coming and going, they changed the ambiance like a dimmer switch. As bright as the moon is, it can disappear entirely if the right shade and density of cloud comes along.

In a way, the moon’s luminosity is dependent on external circumstances, much like a human’s is. In this Creation, everything goes through cycles.

The sky cleared to a deep and silky navy. The stars winked flirtatiously. The moon glowed, backlit by the sun. A gust of wind, pure and crisp, rendered me breathless.

One with the expansive, infinite joy that is Creation, I whispered into the night, “Thank you.”

MALNOURISHED

I recently read something that attempted to define what it means to be a “Christian.” In so many words, the author said it boiled down to this: Life is cyclical and even though we may not understand why things happen, Christians need to have faith in God and just trust all that he is doing.

I don’t know about this author’s other readers, but I am not content sitting back watching terrible, incomprehensible things transpire and forcing myself to rely on “faith” so that I can reconcile still loving and trusting God. Moses did not do that. Neither did Abraham or Jacob. They understood that God does not need our defense because He is not vulnerable nor does He suffer as human beings do. He is eternal. But humans are defenseless in the sense that we ache and die. We cannot exist without support and love. And it is for that reason that we are “charged with the pursuit of love and justice, even if it means sparring with the Creator” (The Modern Guide to Judaism, Shmuley Boteach).

Upon witnessing life’s various atrocities, we should not ask God to help us understand why it has happened and how it fits into His plan. Instead, we should respectfully ask Him, “Why are you allowing this to happen? What in the world is going on?! Are you not the God who taught us that life is sacred and must be preserved at all costs? Were they not Your words when You uttered that the good deserve goodness and not pain? Where is that promise now? Considering everything You deem sacred, this needs to cease.”

While “reminding” the Creator of His character may seem to call His divine authority into question, rest assured it does not. Remaining passive in the face of suffering is a sin, a crime against the heart of both your fellow man and your Creator (Boteach). Those that profess love for God should pray out of a place of knowing. His profound goodness and justness offers assurance that it may be possible for His desired end to be actualized through less painful means. His will shall be done, but that does not stop us from seeking a change in means.

As Creator of the universe, it is God’s role to steer the world in the manner He sees fit. But our role as humans, as His creation, is to promote the values He has deemed superior: life, compassion, goodness, and hope (Boteach). We should not kick up our heels and accept this world as it stands. “Such is life” should not be a term thrown around dismissively. Instead, we should pursue a return to Eden: a world of virtue, value, and visions of God’s holy light over every thing.

God is not unjust, unkind or unloving. But there are so many of His children in the world wandering aimlessly because they hear such awful messages of passivity. They hear God’s “believers” insisting that this suffering is deserved and is the result of sin or the more dismissive “everything happens for a reason.” But in the face of despair, those are the last words that a hurting heart needs to hear.

We should instead grab our neighbor’s hand and say, “I am not okay with this. My heart aches with you. And right now in front of you, I am going to protest this.”

SIZING

God is a life force, a movement, an energy that sustains everything, all at the same time.

God is the Mother all creation; every existing thing is born of Its power, creativity, and will.

God is the Father of all creation; every existing thing is called to order under It – evidenced by the innate structure and sovereignty in life.

God is life; the inspiration that leads to creativity and the destruction that leads to rebirth.

But even still, God is far bigger than my mind or heart can know. Even still, as this incarnation is stretching my mind, there is still further to go.