Making room for the Present

The first Christmas after my parents separated they got me exactly what I wanted – a gameboy. I held the gray brick in my hand and felt invincible. I thanked them a millions times. That Christmas we all sat in the house together and opened gifts. No one speaking of the fact that none of my mom’s personal things were in the house any longer nor that half of our things had been taken away to spread them between two homes.

I knew, most specifically, that my mother was devastated that Christmas was such a complicated holiday now. At least with my baby sister she really was still just a baby. For her I can imagine it was just another Christmas with us all together. For me, however, that memory is quite complicated. Yes we were all together but I knew we shouldn’t be and I knew it would never happen again. I didn’t relish in it rather I pretended to be overly preoccupied with my gameboy and allowed my parents to focus on the younger one. Maybe they too could just get lost for a little while.

I was completely fine with everything until my mom said she needed go. The pinch inside my little heart felt unbearable. Knowing something and being immune to the ramifications of it are two wildly different things. But for me, as a young kid, I didn’t understand that. I thought the adult thing to do was be silent – I thought that was bravery. Adulthood has taught me silence is often more damaging than words.

I have many memories like this one… our last Christmas as a family. These are what I call “the day before everything changed” memories.

The conversation before my sister died…
The day before I lied to my friends in college…
The week before my friend hurt herself…

I wonder if you have days like this too?

I think we become acutely aware of the details – most specifically the details we missed while living in them and the details we cannot change. I’ve even found myself wishing I could take what I know now and relive that moment – get a mulligan in life. Maybe I could have made things better or could have at least helped.

The thing is while it’s not the do-over we ask for I really do believe we get second chances in life. Scattered moments where life presents us with a better path or a great joy or a stronger love than what we’ve known. It’s not a replacement of a memory gone by, but the hope of a new one. Nothing replaces people we lose – loss is not a cookie cutter hole in our hearts that can be easily replaced with a similar shape. Mistakes are the same. The ones we replay over and over in our minds are never simple. Instead they are the complicated, messy ones that leave bruises and often infectious wounds.

Second chances are often misunderstood. People either believe in them and expect a replica of what once was or they don’t believe in them at all. And yet more often than not, when either side of that coin tells me where they were and where they are, it is often a beautiful reality check that they have already begun living in that second chance.

When those that have been burned are able to trust in another person again – that’s a second chance.

When a liar is able to change their ways and find someone who believes they are worth trusting – that’s a second chance.

When wounds begin to heal without infection – that’s a second chance.

Second chances are healing, growing, sometimes insanely simple moments that remind us we are not defined by our past but by our response to it. They are opportunities to use our past as a map to guide us instead of being stuck in our past as if it’s the destination itself.

What I have learned in life is that it is not time that heals us but acceptance. Acceptance of what happened, what we did, and or who we were. You don’t have to agree – you don’t have to say, ‘yes I’m glad this happened or that that person is now gone’. It’s not you tying a pretty bow around a gushing wound. It’s you accepting that it happened. Embracing it in a way that allows you to feel the full force of it and then to be able to walk through it. Acceptance is understanding the difference between this happened and this is happening.

What I’ve learned is… when we continue to live and relive the past we make no room for the present. We miss the now because we can’t get past the then. This can often be a big task but it’s a needed one. Step by step, day by day, we must have the courage and often humility to move into the present.

No matter who you are or what you’ve done or where you were going you deserve a present and a future. Make room for the present by no longer giving your past so much real estate in your heart.

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Words from an ex-cynic: A letter to a friend

Dear Friend,

I’ve been meaning to write you. I’ve come to realize you’ve been self-medicating with mediocrity and lies that say you are anything other than extraordinary. I must tell you that you are far more than you have snuggled down inside of and called comfort. You attach yourself to someone momentarily to kill the urge of closeness and then you stumble on without connection. You give yourself away little by little but never refill. The very thing you are afraid of is what I know to be one of your biggest strengths. And like many unsung heroes it is you standing on your own cape.

You believe you are incapable of love. Yet your life’s poetry bleeds with the words of affection that only someone truly capable of love could ever write. You wrap criticism around your heart like wet mud and then set it out to dry against the neon lights you keep chasing. Instead of letting the wound heal you pick at it with demeaning words. You tell yourself it was your fault. You’ve become so convinced of it you’ve glued their nametag onto your chest and claim yourself broken.

But you aren’t broken.

You’re scared and I won’t fault you for that. Why I am writing you today is not to break you down but to build you up – to remind you who you really are. The mirror you’ve been using and metrics you’ve been calculating to determine your worth are inaccurate. You keep getting the wrong answer because you’ve set yourself up with the wrong tools.

Love isn’t a quick fix or a fast break on the court. It’s the long game. Love is being willing to understand the defense in order to play the offense. It’s about learning to be a team and growing a devotion to try your hardest until the season is over. And that’s the key word – season not game. Too many people believe it’s only about one game but it takes quite a series of them to get to the championship. And you, my friend, are a champion.

Don’t let a loss break you, but motivate you. Don’t get caught up in the ups and the downs, but keep your eyes on the trophy. Keep your focus on that love that matters. Every single loss becomes worth it when you finally see your reflection in the eyes of that person. Every almost, every loss at the buzzer, every ankle twist and elbow to the face becomes your greatest victories when you finally understand that you had to overcome them to get to the championship game.

Many people will sing the praises of your criticism. They will endorse it and encourage you to keep breaking yourself down. Don’t listen to them. Every one night stand and digital crush allows you to numb yourself for a little while longer. Numbness is not a cure but a virus. It rushes through you, confusing your body, but only temporarily. And then the backlash begins, where everything you’ve tried to hold down comes back to life.

Let it.

You deserve to feel. Until you feel you cannot heal and until you heal what you are looking for will continue to be aloof to you. You cannot see something you do not believe in. Pull off the disguise and remove the mask from your eyes. You deserve to see and be seen. Because you really are beautiful. You deserve to know what it’s like to wake up to someone who wants to go to breakfast with you. You don’t have to clip your wings in order to be held in the arms of another. The right person will allow you to be more than you ever thought possible.

See the thing is if we are capable of overcoming great pain we then must be capable of great love. When we understand the valleys the view from the mountain top is so much more breath taking. Would I have wished this or any other valley on you? Never. But we are here, in the trenches of life, and it’s time for you to stop settling.  I can’t pull you up. I can’t give you all the answers. I can’t even tell you tomorrow will be ok. But I can sit here, with you, and tell you it will be worth it. I’m not painting over reality with sweet whispers. I am handing you reality and asking you to claim it. These words come from an ex-cynic– I was once you.

The weakness you view so harshly, the one where you ache because of a love come and gone, is not a weakness at all.  It is the very thing that can strengthen you if you let it. Once healed it can be the compass that leads you to stand up.  It can be the compass that leads you to true north where you only settle when you are settling down with a person who loves you completely.

Stop telling yourself you are incapable of love.
Stop hurting yourself because someone convinced you that the pain they felt was your fault.
Throw down the label maker that claims you are not enough.
Lace up those shoes, stretch out those muscles, and get back to training for a season of love.

You are more lovely than you give yourself credit for.

Sincerely,
Rae (MSH)

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Wounds are like shadows on our spirits

“You know, your hands can tell people if you are gay or straight”

It was a conversation started at the lunch table. I tucked my hands tightly under my legs pretending I was a bit chilled. I had no idea what she was going to say next, but I did not want my hands to be on display while she said it. Some of the girls didn’t believe her, some asked what she was going to say, and as a person always desiring to be the center of attention, she continued with or without the interest of the whole table.

“Let me show you,” she said.

She asked one of our friends to simply look at her own nails. Apparently, it was decided based on how you look at your nails; whether you turned your hand inward and curled your fingers OR you turned your hand outward and flat, determined your sexuality. The logic of fourteen year olds…

Regardless of how painfully silly such a comment and thought could be, it was just another reason I felt myself confused in an environment unwilling to be anything but small town, conservative USA. I was so grateful I wasn’t asked because I would have failed. I never cared about nails and furthermore, I shamefully chew them (even now) when I am nervous or thinking. So had I been asked, I would have curled my fingers toward me and looked at them.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe my sexuality was determined by this irrational “logic” of how I looked at my nails as a fourteen year old. But it walked with me. I actually went home and began practicing looking at my nails the so-called “correct” way. I’d never do it wrong again in public. Despite how irrational it was, it was my reality. It was my world. It was my new wound.

I think a lot of us look at thoughts or emotions and believe they don’t matter because they are as irrational as my fear of looking at my nails incorrectly. But if they are how you feel, regardless if it’s rational or not, they do matter. You can be utterly understanding of the irrationality you are feeling and still be fully loved inside that irrationality. Having feelings to process is never the problem. Never. Do you hear me? Your emotions are never a problem. The problem is when we take that irrationality out on those that care for us, or project them onto someone like they are guilty of a crime they never committed. That’s when it gets out of hand.

Never believe your emotions aren’t ok.

Never let someone say your value is less because your vision is unclear.

Part of finding ourselves and coming into our own is going through all emotions – the good, the bad, and yes, maybe even the crazy. I truly believe part of the reason my journey has been emotionally hard is because I felt like I was not allowed to feel. I felt like I had to be perfectly put together and empty of emotions. When I experienced jealously over my friends so easily falling for guys or when it was physically taxing for me to pretend, I had convinced myself I wasn’t allowed to hurt. I told myself I was being irrational. I believed feeling those things was acknowledging I was weak and that I was incapable of taking care of myself.  I punished myself by creating a void inside me. I called myself strong, but really I was just barren.

There are a hundred different ways people do this to themselves (and others) every day. Some people carry a wound so deeply everywhere they go, it affects every word that comes from inside their mouth. I believe, more than I can express in words, that we often carry wounds far longer than we should because we never allowed ourselves to actually feel them. We say the hurt, or the mistake, or the break up, or the abuse, or the cruelty, or the bad joke, or the shitty comment towards us was our fault, our bad karma, or something we had coming to us.

That is so not the case.

And even if there was a small chance you helped create the hurt that took a swing at your heart, it never ever means you aren’t allowed to feel it.  In fact, in many ways, you are feeding that evil or hurt by allowing it to fester. Wounds are like shadows on our spirits. If you don’t pour light on them, if you don’t expose them, and feel them, and allow them to heal they will remain…lurking… always threatening to invade beautiful moments.

Today’s confession is:I used to be a walking example of festering wounds and broken promises. I used to believe I could fix myself by voiding myself of real emotion and dodging the ability to get hurt. In many ways, this is a participant in what created the commit-a-phobia that lurks around the outskirts of my heart. I used to believe the absence of feelings was rational, but I realize it is arrogant. I was arrogant to believe I was bigger and better than that. Eventually it caught up to me. I broke. And that break was the best thing that could have happened to me. That break saved me.

You don’t have to walk through this alone; you don’t have to pretend you don’t feel. Write poetry, find a journal, grab a friend, or seek a counselor. Do whatever you need to do, but please don’t create a void that will take years to heal. I promise it’s not worth it.

 

Book Post Confession #17 – Order your copy today! http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/DesiraeSchneider

“How can you justify being a lesbian to God?”

Book Confession #5

 

When I realized I was attracted to another female for the first time, I was scared out of my mind. I was also young enough to be intrigued and somehow even gutsy enough to make a move, but in the light of day and in the movements of my daily existence, the “natural” response I had was to lie; to put on a mask and pretend that intense feeling in the gut of my stomach didn’t exist.

And this “natural” response grew and matured as life aged me. My ability to play make believe only excelled as I grew older. While others grew out of it and grew into the life they were meant to live, my fantasy world was “real” life. My expressions and emotions became as plastic as they were practiced. I was numb on the outside because I told myself I wasn’t allowed to feel on the inside.

I have this question plaguing my thoughts,

“Why was it easier to lie?”

It was easier to lie because the family consequences were great. It was easier to lie because frankly that’s how I was going to survive. Even in the mid-90’s when I hit puberty and found myself to be another casualty of the middle-school awkward phase, I knew that the secret planted deep inside me could not take root and flourish. I had to continue to keep it in check by trimming away feelings and expression in order to remain as barren as possible. It would be the only way I would blend in and survive.

This is the message of my childhood and adolescence years that I’ve carried into adulthood… that life is about surviving. No wonder I’ve gone through deep waves of depression in adulthood. No wonder I have times where I have no idea who I am, or what I’m doing, or where I’m going. I’ve been living as a shell of a human being, depriving myself of real emotion and connection.

I got a DM on twitter the other day wondering (very kindly I might add) how I could justify being a lesbian to God. And I’d love to answer that here today. There are hundreds of misconceptions about Christians – some created outside the faith, but most created inside. There is this blind assumption that once we are Christians struggle and hardship deplete – that’s just not the case. But what is the case for me and hundreds out there like me, is that in the midst of my struggle I had a rock to hold onto.

God pours His grace on me hourly every day and calls me loved regardless of anything and everything. It is in that understanding of love and grace (that I have not earned, yet am loved without limit anyway) that has allowed me to be more open with who I am. And that’s how I justify being a lesbian to God…. I simply don’t have to justify it at all. God doesn’t call me to be perfect, straight, plastic, and without free will. God calls me to be me and He calls me His, regardless of my criteria.

I think it was easier for me to lie, and it’s easier for so many of us to lie, because that’s what we believe we have to do to belong. We want to be included. We want to have worth. We want to be seen. And if whatever we say could damage that, could take away our belonging, or value, or whatever it is, it terrifies us. And we protect this “belonging” no matter how broken it may be.

What I’ve come to realize (and my faith has deeply helped me in this) is that I want to belong in a real way. I want to have real worth and real value, and I want to be seen and heard for who I really am. I don’t want to be a half person and I don’t want to belong by the standards of other people. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m growing a voice.

Today’s confession is: my entire life I’ve merely just survived and called it “belonging”. I’ve fought my whole life to be accepted as a half person. I’ve worked myself into depression, exhaustion, and heartache in order to belong to something that rejects most of my secrets. I want my life message to change. I want my worth to come from who I am fully, not what part I can play well. I no longer want to survive a plastic belonging, but I want to find and even help create a belonging that is whole and real. Everyone deserves to belong…

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The Confession that started it all (Repost of Confession #1)

I haven’t done this before.

Not the writing, I’m a writer. What I mean is I haven’t been honest before. I’ve lived in a web of lies, suffocation, and fear.   Fear of exposure and mostly fear of self.

My first crush was when I was twelve years old. I remember feeling overwhelmed and silly yet crazed. Rumors swarmed our school that I was… gay. I remember feeling mad, how could they think that? Now later in life I have come to understand anger is never a first emotion rather one that protects whatever we were really feeling and I was feeling fear.

Fear that I was actually… well… gay. Fear my mom would find out. Fear I would be hated in my random Midwest town. Fear of the church.  So I did everything I could to create the opposite exterior. I talked about boys as if I felt the way my friends did (and I so desperately wanted to) and I acted grossed out by the prospect of girls liking girls. This got me through high school. And though some of the rumors remained lurking in the halls (or at least in the halls of my mind) I was able to convince myself, and those around me, I was straight as an arrow.

College came and I fell for a guy. Excellent. The curse I had inside me was broken -I had prayed it away. The problem was I still wanted to kiss girls. I still felt a deeper connection with my closest friends then with the men I dated. When my serious boyfriend and I broke up I began a series of serial dating that would last for years. Searching for a feeling. Hoping to find a connection. However every relationship would eventually end. There was no sexual connection for me – no craving that so many spoke of. I cringed when I was touched and I cried when I would go to sleep wishing this next nice guy would fix me.

The problem was… it never happened.

And now more than a decade later I’m going to use this blog to process and begin peeling back everything I’ve never said. I’m going to work on becoming a whole person. This is the process I need to begin.

Welcome to my journey –

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(Confessions that are published in the book are no longer available on the blog unless reposted)

Confession #15

I recently started watching The Real L Word… I know, I know some of you are rolling your eyes like I’m way behind.

Anyway at the end of the last episode of Season One Tracy is struggling with her mom understanding and accepting her sexuality and lifestyle. She shares her struggle the entire season and then ends with this note…

It’s not about choosing Stamie or mom.

It’s choosing me.

That was the moment I realized it’s about choosing me.”

That hit me hard, deep inside my soul. This journey forward isn’t just about my relationship or relationships or even about my mom or the public’s reaction or whomever…. It’s about me. It’s about finally choosing myself and saying I need to find my whole self, my voice, and my strength.

You can say that’s what you are doing all you want, but until you wrap your heartbeat around the words you really don’t feel the impact of it. All night last night I was rolling that around in my head… “It’s choosing me. That was the moment I realized it’s about choosing me.” And that doesn’t mean the rest of it doesn’t matter, because it does. There is so much value in all of the wonderful things and people and relationships and the love in my life. But this journey is about me first. Because when I’m whole I can give to those around me fully.

This morning when searching for where I somehow left all my watches (who normally sit in the same place on my dresser) I found a mini eight ball from a party several years back. I kept it believing it was too cute to throw away but this morning it posed a different reality for me. I brought it to work and have been staring at it ever since.

This process, finding my voice and my footing in this new world, is me taking a chance on myself. I’m shaking the eight ball and I won’t stop until I get the right answer. I may hit a few answers that come up “no” along the way and maybe some “ask again when I’m ready” type of answers, but I can’t stop. I have to keep asking, keep shaking, and keep searching.

I don’t take enough chances. I settle down where I’m comfortable and lock myself there. But the funny thing about walls and locked doors is that you are captive of your own creation. You paralyze yourself from growing, from becoming more. I always settle for less by settling for what’s comfortable. It’s why I’m where I am, slowing chiseling down the walls that are surrounded by bigger walls, that are locked in by concrete. I’ve built a mansion of protection for myself but I’ve let few to no visitors inside. The loneliness echo’s through the emptiness I have created over the years of settling, suppressing, and fearing the outside world.

But I can’t stand being alive only inside my own mansion of fake comfort. It’s a mirage I’ve allowed others to fall for… I’ve let myself fall for. I’m not happy, I’m not satisfied, and frankly I’m not even content. I’m merely surviving. And I can’t call others to be more while I settle to be less.

Today’s confession is: I’m taking a chance on myself and with every confession I feel another wall coming down. It may take time to get through this barren house but I’ll bring a wrecking ball if I have to. I am more than the emptiness I have created. I don’t have to settle with only filling others. I’m choosing me and no matter where I go from here with that heartbeat in mind I cannot fail. Through choosing me my relationships will get stronger, my voice will hold more volume, and my heart will be healthier. I’m choosing me today…  I hope you choose you too.

Confession #14

There’s this moment that happens… these days it happens more and more.

I can be standing in a room full of people, fully focused on something completely different and my hands will start to sweat. I’ll feel this moment creeping into my veins, pressing itself into my thoughts, and will ultimate block out any other moment happening around me. My heart pounds so loud that it echo’s in my ears, often times I look around hoping no one can hear the clamoring.

This moment, the one that happens without warning, is what a lot of people call panic. For me I know it as the moment I feel claustrophobic inside the well-designed closet I’ve found myself accustom to. It happens when people ask me when I’ll settle down which is both because A) I know they are asking me about settling down with a man which sounds like death wrapped up in a migraine served with a side of prison time. And B) because I am terrified of talking about the future. I don’t know why, it’s not my most flattering feature but I think it has to do with the fact I’ve never seen a relationship function properly long term… I’ve seen them blow up, I’ve seen them fake it, and I’ve seen them get by… but I don’t call any of that functioning. Plus I’m a closest romantic stuck with commit-a-phobic tendencies. I’m a ticking bomb waiting to happen. I run and I hide and very rarely play fair.

The claustrophobic head spins happen in less controlled situations as well. Like when I’m in the middle of teaching and while I’m physically saying a sentence with my voice, a different voice inside my head haunts me with a question of, “will they still listen when they know all of me?”  It plagues my very core. Sometimes it takes several moments to know where I am in a message and to get back on track. Every time I’m scared someone notices, but no one has ever said anything to me.

Sometimes I can be in the middle of hearing about my sister’s relationship successes and I’ll start to feel the air leave the room. I’ll chock wondering if anyone else feels the oxygen draining around us but I realize it’s my chest that has tightened not hers. I think this happens because she is brave and I’m a coward. In everything she does, regardless of the responses or repercussions or even feelings of others she plows forward and gives everything she has.  I care too much… I care about the hearts of others, I care about their needs from me, I care about how they will feel, I care if I hurt them. She isn’t vulgar and she isn’t cruel… she’s just brave and I am a much weaker animal.

A shrink would tell me it’s panic; I just call it my daytime nightmare. It’s my inability to be fully me and I’m terrified everyone knows I’m only partially present. I’m not fake I’m just absent of full emotional participation. My compassion, my aspirations, my joys, and my heartbeat for people is real. Vibrantly real. It is the most important part of me; it is my livelihood and my greatest need… to love others… to let them know they are needed and wanted and cared for. But while I ask them to invest fully I keep parts of me back; the part of me that deeply and passionately love women and the one that has known since I was thirteen that the reality of marrying a man wasn’t one… it was a mirage of pretending I could pull it off. I can only partially invest, but I hypocritically ask them to fully engage.

Today’s confession is my wholeness is what I desire more than anything and what I fear even more than that. I’ve lived partially for so long that I keep wondering who am I really as a whole person? If I become whole will that cause people in relationships with me to have to be less… because I have been less in the past? How will my wholeness affect our oneness? I am scared of finding my wholeness, but I am incapable of stopping the search now. Today’s confession is it scares me how little control I have over my need to seek this out….