“You either [move] inside your story and own it or you [stay] outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.”
― Brene Brown
Hello, beloved –
First, thank you so much for all the messages of support and love I have received over the last three weeks when I have begun the process of moving into this beautiful new-to-me sanctuary I can call my home. Your words have been most welcome, and they have been part of what has helped get me through the stress of the move into Rosewood House.
Second, I’ve been thinking about Reflections and the other writing I do at The Way of the River. The Beloved Selfie threads in which you so generously participate, bringing yourselves to the images, bringing your be-ing to the pixels on the “page.” I think about how we work gently to create a non-oppressive space. How much more of that anti-oppression, pro-love work I want to do.
And I think of why people have come to The Way of the River.
For many of us, even for me in the very beginnings of this ministry, we have come because we need a place we can tell our stories, be inside them, move inside them, learn the truth and the value of them. We need a place to affirm and confirm the values of our weird truths, our bananapants qualities (thank you, Morgan Davis, for that most excellent term), and the histories that make up what I learned in seminary to call “testimony.”
Now I didn’t learn about this word, “testimony,” from a teacher. I didn’t learn about it in a lecture or a presentation. I learned about it from my classmate, Asha, a Black, Pentecostal, exuberant, straight, cisgender woman. We were talking after a meeting we had for our pastoral care class. We had been drawn to one another from the first day of classes. She found my own exuberance refreshing, “even when we were singing those terrible white people hymns.” And I found her positively magnetic. We became friends almost instantly.
Did I mention she was Pentecostal? Yes, indeed, you might think that our theologies would separate us, but instead, because we were so drawn together in friendship, we came to one another in a spirit of curiosity and honestly. It was the beginning of some of the experiences that epitomized my time at Wesley Theological Seminary. Loving alike, not believing alike. Truly.
At any rate, Asha and I were talking about some of the deep topics we were working with in a pastoral care class we had together. And I spoke about some things in my past about which I felt ashamed.
And Asha say, “Girl, you stop right there! You just stop right there! You don’t have one reason to be ashamed. Every single thing you’ve just told me is part of your testimony, and part of how God has brought you to this moment, this school, and your ministry. It is your testimony.”
As I think of how Asha went on to speak about testimony—and she gave some wonderful examples from her own life—I realize that testimony is a lot of what The Way of the River has been, when it’s been at its best. When I’ve been my most generous and authentic self.
And I also think of the preaching admonition: Preach from scars, not wounds. And it’s wise, to a point – you are not here to take care of me all the time. We are together in this work, this ministry, this magic. And yet sometimes it’s hard to tell what is truly healed to a scar and what has a ways to go.
That said, I’d like to leap into a piece of testimony I don’t think I’ve written about a lot with you: money.
For years and years – from my late teens into my late twenties, I’d say of my relationship to money, “I am missing a chip. I just don’t understand how it works.” I didn’t even know how right I was.
So first, in this edition of Reflections, I am going to tell you some of the things, many of the things that happened to teach me that I had a “missing chip,” and furthermore, that I was characterologically inferior, immoral, irresponsible, and unreliable. Maybe some of you share these experiences and haven’t been able to speak about them.
And some of you will find them shocking. Shocking, even, in ways that learning I have bipolar type one or that I heard voices for years hasn’t been shocking.
Some of you will find them alien. You just won’t be able to imagine how I lived my life in such a way, and then arrived where I am now. But I will tell you the testimony. Not the whole story, the whole testimony, not today. But we can begin.
Let me show you some of what happened to me, relative to money, over the course of my late teens and well into my twenties:
I had a $500 credit line closed on me.
I lost a calligraph, a precious one, of my father’s that he had made just for me. I couldn’t pay my second payment to the frame shop that had it and was framing it as it deserved, and then then the shop closed and I lost it forever. (Ach, still such a loss, such grief.)
I bought things, jewelry mostly, impulsively, without any consideration of other bills, needs…without any concept of a larger context.
And then other things started to happen.
The heat got turned off.
The electricity got turned off.
My dearest friend moved out of our shared apartment because she couldn’t handle the chaos I was living in or was creating.
I defaulted on my student loans.
I was evicted.
There was a bench warrant for my arrest, and I was taken by the State College constable (who also happened to be one of my high school science teachers—how MORTIFYING IS THAT?!) to see the District Justice regarding my having bounced several checks. I didn’t even know that I was writing bad checks.
Later, when I was holding down a job that made what seemed like the vast sum of $34,000 a year, things were still hard. Better than when I was broke all the time, but better.
Except I got a speeding ticket. On the order of your classic bipolar disorder speeding ticket: A 75-in-a-50 mph zone. I was in a county bordering on the county where I lived.
I forgot all about that one. Even when notices were put on my door, I just took them down, put them someplace, and forgot all about them.
Until uniformed police officers came to my workplace. Then I remembered the notices.
They came to my workplace where I was the branch manage for a total of some fifty people.
Uniformed police officers came and put me in the back of their vehicle and took me to the District Justice in Alexandria, near Huntingdon, where I was called to account for my unpaid speeding ticket. I did the only thing I could think to do and called my boss, a dear friend, who did indeed get me out of this jam, pay the ticket and the fees (I did manage to pay him back, thank goodness), and take me to my car.
Chaos. Chaos. Chaos.
Just writing all these words, recalling and recording all these events, I feel my stomach clench. Are these scars, or is there still woundedness there? Does it matter? Is it helpful for me to be authentic for you in this way? I have intimations that it does, and that is why I offer these words to you.
I was always on the edge of everything. Staying up until 4 in the morning. Drinking heavily six nights a week. Spending lots of money on said drinks. Sleeping with various friends in some awkward situations. (That piece is something I regret much less than you might think. It all worked out in the end.)
Why? Why was all this happening? Why was there so much chaos in my life, and particularly around money?
More to come in my next missive. More to come about learning my own backstory and beginning my own healing. More to come about learning testimony and how powerful it is in writing a new story.
Because there was a new story to write. A new story indeed.
With joyful anticipation and love—