Thursday, November 27, 2008

Grateful

Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday for a long time. What's not to love? Family, football, and food. Well, a few years ago the "food" part started causing problems in my life.

Thanksgiving 2006 I spent in Branson, Missouri feeling like an understandable freak, pretending I didn't have an eating disorder.

Thanksgiving 2007 I spent in Cambodia teaching all day, throwing up all night. My family called my cell phone after wards and I cried. I went to bed not wanting to get up the next day.

So, needless to say, Thanksgiving was replaced by the Fourth of July as my new favorite holiday. Thanksgiving and I parted ways. I only saw pain in the holiday and wanted nothing to do with an entire day dedicated to food and the consumption of it, as if each day isn't hard enough.

Exactly a year ago today, things were a little different.

Thanksgiving 2008 finds me in Bristol, Tennessee. My family drove out here to be with Mom's side of the family. I don't love traveling. I don't love constantly being surrounded by people. I don't love Thanksgiving, but the holiday sort of redeemed itself today. Or maybe, I redeemed Thanksgiving today. Or maybe Spirit redeemed Thanksgiving for me.

I slept in and went for a run. I watched the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade and played Skip-bo with Nana. I sang "Baby, it's cold outside" with my Dad, even though he doesn't really know the words very well, he tries. I emailed my kids in Cambodia and we went on an adventure to the grocery store. Oh yeah, and some where in there we had Thanksgiving dinner. Fine by me.

I don't hate Thanksgiving anymore. The curse is lifted.

Today I am thankful for all the cliche things you might expect me to say, but might not fully understand unless you've been without them.

I am more grateful for safety than any other time in my life. I have not been violated, stared at, harassed in public, or forced into less than safe situations lately.

I have freedoms in the United States that most of the world has never experienced. I have taken full advantage of my freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to an education, and equal rights quite frequently since I've been home. Frequently, like every single day.

The attrocities, murders, and bribes that go on overseas left me feeling helpless and scared. Here I know that if my car gets stolen or a friend is abused, someone will care, someone will do something. Justice may not always be served flawlessly in the States, but at least it is an option. I will never again take that for granted.

Safety, freedom, and justice. Food, warmth, education, family, friends, Spirit, money, oxygen, health, talents, abilities, I could go on.

It's just more of those every day ordinary things I am more conscious of than any other time in my life, and am so grateful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Because it was that important

I'm still meandering through Anne Lamott's book Traveling Mercies. It is on my top 10 of most important books I've ever read. I don't have an official list, but if I did, it would include: The Case for Christ, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and Mouse Soup (a book I read and loved as a kid).

I read two chapters from Lamott's book yesterday, Thirst in which she describes her battle with alcoholism and then Hunger where she details bulimia. It felt like I was reading words right out of my journal, but since we've done that already, I'll just share a few of her quotes that struck me like a baseball bat to the head. Yeah, pretty powerful, but not too painful I promise. I read in Starbucks yesterday and outloud exclaimed, "Yes!"

Thirst
"Let me put it this way: I didn't love sobriety at first. I thought maybe I could find a few loopholes in the basic premise of abstinence...It turned out there were not going to be any loopholes. The people who seemed to find loopholes were showing signs of failure; for instance, they were shooting themselves in the head. Over time, two of my best sober friends, thinking they'd found loopholes, shot themselves in the head and died. This got my attention...Early on I heard a sober person say, "Religion is for people who are afraid of hell; spirituality is for people who have been there," and all I could hear was an attack on my religion. I couldn't hear that the person was saying that I had already gone to the most terrifying place, to the land of obsessive self-loathing, egomania, and decay, but that now like a battled explorer, I was bravely trying to find my way home."

Hunger
"One week after my father was diagnosed with brain cancer, I discovered bulimia. I felt like I had discovered the secret to life, becuase you could eat yourself into a state of numbness but not gain weight...we are as sick as our secrets...I felt that when I got sober, God had saved me from drowning, but now I was going to get kicked to death on the beach...Awareness is about learning to keep yourself company...But when I feel the fattest and flabbiest and most repulsive, I try to remember that gravity speaks; also, that no one needs that plastic-body perfection from women of age and substance. Also, that I do not live in my thighs of my droopy butt. I live in joy and motion and cover-ups. I live in the nourishment of food and the sun and the warmth of people who love me.
It is finally so wonderful to have learned to eat, to tasted and love what slips down my throat, padding me, filling me up, that I'm not uncomfortable calling it a small miracle. A friend who does not believe in God says, "Maybe not a miracle, but a little improvement," but to that I say, Listen! You must not have heard me right: I couldn't feed myself! So thanks for your input, but I know where I was, and I know where I am now, and you just can't get here from there...So it was either a miracle--or maybe it was more of a gift, one that required assembly. But whatever it was, learning to eat was about learning to live and deciding to live; and is one of the most radical things I've ever done."

Because it deserves repeating, "I know where I was, and I know where I am not, and you just can't get here from there."

When the wheels of my plane touched ground in the United States, I was overwhelmed by the realization that, I could not take credit for my survival through last year, "you just can't get here from there". Still stretching and living with eyes wide open. I'm seeing that, I did not get through last year on my own. I had a lot of help, from friends, from family, and from the 'something' in the universe that wakes me up every morning.

It's not a little improvement, it's a miracle.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I mean it

Straight from my journal, because that's how I like it.

"I feel liberated. I feel good. I feel happy, peaceful, inspired, and a bit, vulnerable, let's be honest.

I just spilled my guts, exposed my dirt, opened that can of worms, whatever it can be called, I did it. I told my story as best as I could in 20 minutes. I told 1,000 people, mostly strangers, those deep, dark parts that can remain hidden if I let them. But no, I'm more than this. I told the truth: eating disorder, spiritual doubt, sexual assault, SM experience, everything. I hope those who heard will do the same, will keep talking.

I've been changed. The V2 talk I gave at Union college called, "Cellulite" is the best summary of the last two years of my short life I could offer and I'm so glad I did.

People can now do what they want with it. Honesty continues to save me. Maybe it's going to be ok.

I am what I am. Slowly, I am learning that maybe that's enough. And maybe, just maybe, someone up there thinks so too.

Spirit. The something I cannot deny. I'm here, sometimes more fully than others, but I'm here. I feel something, a sense of ok-ness. The sense that I'm being protected, nurtured, and that I'm enough. This feels like home. This feels safe. This feels more right than anything I've ever experienced.

I'm afraid to lose this. I want to hold on to this with all my might. But I'm just going to keep living, keep breathing, and take this as it comes. It will come fast and slow, powerfully and violently, or soft and subtle. I'm putting down my armor and opening my eyes.

Let it be. Let it go. Let things happen.

Tomorrow may take me for a ride and next month may just threaten my very existance, but instead of fighting the change, I'm going to breathe. I'm going to dwell in this moment, this time when things feel right and remember it, learn from it, and be changed by it.

And so, to Spirit, God, Jesus, Brahma, Buddha, Sam, G-d, she, mother, or Lord: Thank you.

To whomever or whatever fills my body with life: Thank you.

I'm humbled. I'm in this. I need your help, your guidance, love and so much more than I've realized before. Spirit, do what you will, because I'm willing.

I've made this too hard. I've made you out to be something you're not. I've been angry and bitter. I've been hurt and frustrated. I've been placing the blame in all the wrong places, and now, finally, I see it. Now.

I'm sorry. I was wrong and I might be again. But I pray, and yes, I pray, that you'll not give up on me, keep taking me back each time, cause I'll keep coming.

Please take me and use me. I mean it."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Staying Informed

While I was in Cambodia I wrote a blog to keep family and friends updated. Now, on this side of the globe, I spend a lot of time answering emails to keep my students updated.

This week, I was able to call Kagna and Leeta on Skype. I was so excited to hear their voices and see their beautiful faces on my computer screen. These are my girls. I miss them a lot.

Between Skype calls and emails, here's the latest from Cambodia:
-Polly swears the second year is SO much easier than the first. School is great, the people are getting used to her white skin, she's doing well. Through gritted teeth and a jealous tone I say, "I'm so happy for you."

-Fay got her bumper knocked off by a wreckless tuk-tuk driver. Wait, nevermind, they are ALL wreckless. He kept driving and so did she. She'd lose more money by sticking around. She's so tough. She moves on. Fay and Tim are plugging along, as usual. They are the bravest people I know.

-Cambodia Adventist school is now in operation in the new building that I only got to look at. There 3 levels, regular electiricity, tile floors, it's clean, ahhhhh....Yeah, NOW they are in. Still, I'm glad.

-My students apparently hate their new English teacher, but I know they are just saying that because they don't want me to feel like they don't miss me. I tell them it's ok to like their new teachers. They aren't budging.

-Kagna has been busy with school and keeping a very persistant 30-year-old guy at arms reach. He calls her and texts her and wants to spend time with her. She emailed me last month, "Ms. Bo I need a boyfriend, not an uncle!" Then she told me that Leeta has been sending him mean text messages so, maybe he'll get the hint. She said, "Don't worry, I gave him your cell phone number instead. Maybe you'll like him!"

-Leeta is a senior, anxious, and ready to get out of CAS and change the world, which I'm positive, she will.
"HI MIsS Bo happy birthday!!! i sent you 1 big hug.i miss you alot.HEy if you want a gift from me please come in my dream.if you come in my dream i'll show you a wonderful place that full of grammar and beautiful things...
i wish you will have alot of boyfriends and the most beautiful girl in wherever you go...
That's all that she asks me to write to you..
BYe y dearest.
MAY GOD BE WITH YOU ALWAYS."

-Sear writes me long, wonderful emails about the love of his life, whom I promised to never say her name out loud. He writes, "Ms.Bo, how can I tell her I want to hold her hand? I don't like it when she talks to other boys. I like her a lot." He's coming along.

-Ratana is now in 9th grade and working hard at school, then hard at her job after school. She wrote me an entire email about watching the butterflies in her classroom and how happy she is to feel like she goes to a 'real' school now. Most of the kids have a new found pride in school now that they are put in an environment that tells them they are worth it.

-Dinah is pregnant and moving with Chheangley to Malaysia. Angie and Sockha are getting married next month. JC has a girlfriend that is, "too fat".

-Vandeth got kicked out of school for doing drugs the kids call "ice". He was living in the dorm. He has no family. I have no idea where he is now.

-The boys tell me about a fight at the Cambodia/Thai border. They have been figthing over the Preah Vihear temple, both sides claiming ownership and no one about to back down. Cambodia doesn't need another war. They are just starting to rebuild from the last one. Two Cambodian soldiers have been killed and Thailand says, "We are ready for war". My boys are scared they'll be told to go fight.

-Ross and Kamrong are pregnant with their second child and ready to make the move to Australia.

And here I sit, listening, writing, thinking, and feeling so far from them, for obvious reasons. A large part of me will always remain there.



Saturday, November 8, 2008

Let it Be

This week I cried out to God or whomever else was listening, "I can't do this anymore. You're going to have to stop me from going and throwing up, because I can't. This is no way to live. This isn't what I want. I'm so much more than this. I need some help. Please."

A knock at the door. It was two friends of mine, coming to talk about nothing particularly important. They didn't notice my red eyes and wet face. I'm a good faker when I want to be. They left.

As I laid in bed still debating what to do next, I realized, 6 months ago I was challenging the idea that Spirit uses people and sunsets and smiles to reach me. I figured if the whole idea of a God was some huge conspiracy, then saying that God works in everyday occurances, was a great way to create him. Now I'm not so sure. I sprawled out on my bed thinking, What if Spirit does use people and I'm missing the signs? What if the signs I so desperately seek are right in front of me?

A few months ago, Ben asked me, "If God is in the small and daily things, is that good enough for you?"

I said, "I'm not sure".

I'm still deciding. But Tuesday night brought me one step closer to the idea that Spirit just might be using the day-in and day-out stuff I've been overlooking for a long, long time. Maybe I'm looking at this backwards, too hard, too deeply and I'm missing the point. Maybe Spirit is right under my nose, and I'm pretending not to smell it.

Anne Lamott says, "And I didn't understand why as usual God wouldn't give me a loud or obvious answer, through a megaphone or thunder, skywriting or stigmata. Why does God always use dreams, intuition, memory, phone calls, vogue stirrings in my heart? I would say that this really doesn't work for me at all. Except that it does."

It can't be proven indefinately, but I'm choosing to believe that Spirit used a knock on my door and a little intuition to save me from my self-defeating behaviors.

I don't want to miss out. Are my very thoughts, Spirit? Are my actions, Spirit? Are my feelings of sadness, joy, confusion, and reflection being used by Spirit to reach me?

I can't deny the "something" that I feel some days surrounding me.
I can't deny that I believe in evil, awful things at work in ther world and there must be its opposite out there somewhere, whatever it's actually called.
I can't deny that I am not willing the blood to pump through my veins or the air to flow so effortlessly through my body.
I can't deny that days, seasons, births, and deaths happen so flawlessly around me without any work on my part.

I am less in control of life now more than ever and I think it's working out well. "Let it Be" has been my latest mantra. It's a powerful song and powerful words for me.

My counselor in Colorado tells me that, if I imagine life as a stream, I tend to stand knee deep in it trying to collect, analyze, label, and figure out every single leaf that comes my way. I can hardly enjoy life at all, when I seek so strenuously to figure it out, have reasons, and make sense of it all. I'm slowly learning to just, let it be.

Let it be as the day comes headed my way like a train full of many things.
Let it be when I'm hurting.
Let it be in my joy.
Let it be when the demons threaten the very breath in my body.
Let it be on cloudy days with rain like bullets pelting me on all sides.
Let it be because Spirit leads.

In reading for a class I "stumbled" upon the following passage that continues to challenge me:
"Doubt reveals a mind that asks questions, a humble mind, one that does not presume it's own ideas to be certainties, one that checks its presumptions against the data of God's creation. Indeed, the intellectually honest words belief, faith, and hope acknowledge uncertainty. We do not believe that 3 times 3 = 9, or have faith that what we throw upward will come down, or hope that day will follow night; we know these things with psychological, if not logical certainty. To take the leap of faith is to bet one's life on a presumed truth that makes sense of the universe, that gives meaning to life, that provides hope in the face of adversity and death.

One need not await 100% certainty before risking a thoughtful leap across the chasm of uncertainty. One can choose to marry in the hope of a happy life. One can elect a career believing it will prove satisfying. One can fly across the ocean, having faith in the pilot and plane.

To know that we are prone to error does not negate our capacity to glimpse truth, nor does it rationalize living as a fence straddler. "Sometimes", said novelist Albert Camus, "life calls us to make a 100% commitment to something about which we are 51% sure."

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Birthdays and the Blues

The other day, I said, "Mic, have a good day!"
His reply? "Don't tell me what to do!"
He was kidding of course. But I think we forget, that is an imperative sentence, it gives a command. Maybe that's why I feel awkward saying it and hearing it.

"Happy birthday". What does that mean anyway? Is it like "Merry Christmas" that it just means, "Hey it's Christmas, I just want to say that outloud"? How are we supposed to respond to "Merry Christmas" anyway? It's just kinda an awkward phrase. Is "Happy Birthday" supposed to be a greeting or the shortened version of, "I hope you have a good birthday"?

Hopes are different than commands.

Every year I seem to forget, I don't really care for my birthday. It's not the day. It's not the reality of getting another year older. It's a lot of things that I'm about to list and you may read and end up feeling slightly depressed about. I'm warning you.

First of all there seems to be this hanging expectation in the air that my birthday is supposed to be the best day of the year. Actually, it's usually one of the lowest. Why would all of my pre-existing struggles cease to exist just because of the date on the calendar? It's another day.

Today I happen to feel tired, my stomach hurts, class was uninteresting, work is lonely, and people are grumpy and complaining about the elections. I'm not saying I'm doomed to be depressed because of circumstances. But I am saying, my birthday is not destined to be wonderful just becuase I happened to be born at this exact time 21 years earlier.

Random people I don't know say, "Happy Birthday" to me on the sidewalk. We've never spoken before. It feels little less than genuine.

Friends might forget and then feel bad, they didn't say the magic words to me at some point during the day. Remembering or forgetting a date on the calendar does not make me feel more or less loved.

My rant about my birthday is similar to my rant about Valentines day. Getting flowers on Valentine's day isn't half as great as getting flowers on say, June 23rd. Because on Valentines day about a billion other women are getting flowers on V-day, so of course, you might get flowers. It's not quite as special.

I suppose each year on my birthday when I get to spend time with good friends and family, I am reminded, we should make people feel special every day, not just their birthdays. It's like we store up all the good things to say to people for that one day.

I say, "Spread the love."

I'm a bit melancholy on my birthday. It's another day. Usually on my birthday I am reminded of all the things I am not, still.

I see change and growth. But I was tempted this morning to just lay in bed all day and hide. All the attention drawn on birthdays is a bit uncomfortable. Birthdays are not custom fit to every type of person. I don't like random people suddenly noticing me one day of the year and blushing, uncomfortably while they sing that dang song.

Wow, this has turned into quite a rant.

Now for some optimism in case you are now reconsidering that Hallmark e-card you were about to send: I am grateful for the wonderful people in my life. I am glad to be appreciated. I am not anti-birthday, anti-valentine's day, or anti-....anything. I am pro-'daily reminding people they matter'. I am pro-'helping people feel comfortable'. I am pro-'using words carefully'. I am pro-'love', whatever that looks like.