I Love to Tell the Story

Today I went to the memorial service for a man I’ve never met. He was the friend of a very close friend from San Francisco and I went to support my friend, if that makes sense. The man who passed away, or transitioned from death to life as I like to say, is gone too soon, too young, and under difficult circumstances. He was imperfect, which is to say, he was human. As are we all.

The overarching theme of everything  that was said throughout the service and by everyone who knew him was about how much he loved Jesus and knew how much Jesus loved him. It was a beautifully well done service that respected his wishes and the wishes of his family and still communicated the essence of this man’s life to those like me who may not have known him well.

I held it together for the most part, until we got to the end of the service when the closing hymn was “I Love To Tell The Story”. I grew up on hymns and I didn’t need any word sheets for any of the songs, but I paid attention to this one because it seemed new to me today. It was the most beautiful wrap-up to a service honoring the life of an imperfect person who loved Jesus and did his best to follow Him. That’s when the tears came. It was a mix of overwhelming sadness for this loss and  joy for the legacy this man left for his friends, family and daughter.

I love to tell the story of unseen things above
Of Jesus and his glory, of Jesus and his love
I love to tell the story, because I know it’s true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.

I love to tell the story, how pleasant to repeat
what seems, each time I tell it, more wonderfully sweet!
I love to tell the story, for some have never heart
the message of salvation from God’s own holy word

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
I’ll sing the old, old story that I have loved so long.

I love to tell the story, ’twill be my theme in glory
to tell the old, old, story of Jesus and his love.

This hymn was written by  Katherine Hankey, the daughter of a wealthy British banker. She was a passionate bible study teacher and gave every dime from the proceeds of her publishing to international missions. She wrote this and other hymn texts during an illness during which she was bed-ridden for almost a year. The man whose memorial I attended battled various illnesses and yet was able to communicate the love of Christ for the world in everything he did.

The verse that really stood out to me today was the third. Often we think of this hymn as encouraging us to tell the story to those who’ve never heard it. But the third verse reminds us that those of us who know it best still hunger and thirst to hear it again. We can hear it again in the lives of people like this man who brought it with him everywhere.

I thought a lot about my life and what my legacy will be when I transition. If it’s even a fraction as positive as this man’s story, I will be perfectly happy. I’ve already informed my family that this song will be played at my memorial. It’s how I want to be remembered as I hope my life tells the old, old story.

Back to the Bay

Since Thursday I’ve been in San Francisco visiting friends and doing the SF AIDS Walk with my company’s team. This is my first time back since I moved back to Phoenix last August. I have had the most fabulous time. The timing of this trip was about doing the AIDS Walk but also about some personal stuff that I’m needing to move past and I needed a change of scenery to do it. I think it’s working out. I’ve had a chance to see a lot of friends and to just enjoy their company and catch up. On some level it feels like I never left and I’m just hanging out with friends. However, it does feel different because when I did live here I was stressed and tired and broke and didn’t go out much. It’s FANTASTIC to have your friends live where you take your vacations. I totally see why people visit here now.

Unfortunately, housing prices here are taking another dramatic upturn and from what I understand you can’t get into a studio for under $1,700 a month and that’s a shithole with no kitchen. If you want something livable, it’s more like $1,900. For a studio. I can’t wrap my head around that any more. I have kind of mapped out what I want my next job to be with my company and if it does entail a move back to the Bay Area, there will be no more city dwelling for me. I’d prefer to stay where I am and I hope the job allows it, but if not, I’ll be a suburban girl. And even then, they’re going to have to pay me a LOT more money.

I thought my return to SF would have a much more emotional impact but really, it was just a great vacation. It was so much fun to see my friends and be part of the AIDS walk event. Here’s a picture of me at the event with my friend Bill. My boobs look like they’re poised to take over the planet.

AIDS Walk

Best. Weekend. Ever.

I kinda just had the best weekend ever. It was pretty low key, really fun, and very relaxing. I decided to drive to LA for the 4th weekend and see some friends, toodle around the area and just be away, and I gotta tell you – I made the right choice. I needed to be around good friends with whom I can be totally comfortable, it doesn’t feel like work and I can just have fun and love them and be loved by them. That super happened and it was great.

Brian was my original gay boyfriend. I have quite a gaggle of them now, but he’s the OG. He and I met at church (of course) about 15ish years ago and we used to go out on Monday nights and do happy hour and a movie. At the time he was trying to pray away the gay but he’s thankfully moved out of that phase and he has an AMAZING partner, Tom, with whom he has been for 10 years. They haven’t decided about getting married, now that they can, but if they do I REALLY want to at least sing but maybe even officiate. I’d BETTER be asked to do something major, boys!

I also got to spend some time with the Lilster. Lilyan and I have been friends since we were in middle school. She knows my crap, I know her crap, it’s all good. We went to a HILARIOUS follies show that was patriotically themed, starring a local drag queen celebrity and some former Disney cast members. Then we had a fabulous Mexican dinner at the restaurant that houses the theater, along with some of Lil’s co-workers and friends. Lovely evening.

I also go to go to Disneyland! I haven’t been since my 30th birthday, so for those of you keeping score at home, that’s only a couple of years, and by couple I mean ELEVEN. How does that happen? Anyway, Disney with Jaci the Irish dancer. Lovely girl, dancer, retail goddess and smart cookie. We had a blast being horrified by people’s outfits and behavior, eating corn dogs & ice cream and being jostled about by the rides.

Today I’ll head to San Diego to see some friends from SF who are there for a vacation and then I’ll head back to Phoenix. I’m feeling refreshed and relaxed and ready to back to work. Until my next trip, which is to San Francisco in about 10 days 🙂

Pray for Egypt

We’re roughly eight hours from the deadline the military has given President Morsi to make changes or step down. The rhetoric is heating up and words like “war” and “martyr” and “bloodshed” have become part of the conversation. If you’ve not been paying attention, the people of Egypt began demonstrating against their “democratically elected” president on Sunday, the one year anniversary of his inauguration. He has failed in every way. The economy is spiraling downward as the Egyptian pound loses value, tourism is non-existent, and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government is slowly imposing Islamic law on a people who have lived with many religions peacefully for many years.

The country is predominantly moderate to liberal Muslims, secularists and about 10% Christian. Many of the protests have been Muslims protesting the increasing persecution of Christians. There has always been harmony between the faiths. The Brotherhood wants to label anyone whose faith is not their own as “infidels”.

On Monday, the leader of the military issued an ultimatum to the President. Respond to the demands of the people to hold early elections or we will take over. This creates some tricky diplomatic geometry for the US and Europe.  The death toll is rising and hundreds have been injured. There have been 46 women, including a Danish journalist, be sexually assaulted during the protests.

This is a big, important global, historic event, but it’s more personal for me since I was there a couple of months ago. More importantly, I made friends there, people with whom I am still in touch and about whom I care deeply. I am constantly refreshing my news pages, checking facebook, and I am STILL trying to find a decent Arabic translator. Google is bad but Bing is absolutely useless. I’ve looked at a few others but given up after a while. It’s a complicated language, I get it. But don’t claim your site can translate it if you CAN’T FREAKING TRANSLATE IT.

I’m feeling the burden of this situation acutely. I have a hard time reading people’s posts about The Bachelorette when I know this is going on in  the world. In fairness to, well, me, I would’ve had a hard time with Bachelorette posts any time because I hate that crap, but it’s even worse now. I’m going to Disneyland this weekend and I feel like such an a-hole. I know, I know. There’s nothing I can do, so I might as well go on vacation, but still, I feel a bit like this:

THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT IS IMPLODING AND THE COUNTRY IS ON THE VERGE OF CIVIL WAR! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

Ummmm….I’m going to Disneyland?

See? I’m an a-hole.

I know I’m not. I’m going to go and have fun. I need the break. But Egypt will be on my mind and in my heart the whole time.

Forgive and Forget….and Connect on LinkedIn?

Today I received a request to connect on LinkedIn from someone with whom I’ve not been associated in about 5 years. This is someone who I worked with at a church in a worship leadership capacity at a church in SF that is now disbanded  because it was a toxic cesspool of dysfunction. I’m not really sure why he chose this moment to re-connect, nor do I really care, to be honest. I was trying to remember today what the catalyst was for our ultimate falling out and I can’t quite recall the specifics, although I’m pretty sure it had something to do with him treating me like shit and me being over it.

It doesn’t really matter why there was a falling out, but it was the best thing for me and maybe for him. I have this thing in all types of relationships where I put up with WAY too much crap and don’t use my words until I finally get too pissed off to hold it in anymore and I go ape shit and take you DOWN. Super healthy, no? I promised myself that that particular situation was the last time that would happen and so far that’s been true. It was that straw that broke the back of that unhealthy pattern and so far, it’s working really well. Conversations I used to see as “confrontation” I now see as “negotiation” and it’s made a huge difference.

Forgiveness is the other part of this equation. Have I truly forgiven the one to whom I used to refer as Rev. Evilspawn? Most likely. I don’t wish him ill, mainly because he’s so self-destructive he does it for me and I don’t have to waste the energy. Here’s how I feel about all experiences, negative and positive: They’re part of what has made me who I am, and I like who I am. I learned, I’m a better person, I’ve moved on. Does forgiveness mean we need to be connected on LinkedIn? Not at all. Forgiveness is for me, not for him. I don’t need to continue to be connected to this person that is not good for me. He’s not a bad person, it’s just that the combination of our psychoses is exceptionally noxious. The important thing is that I’ve let go of it and moved on and I don’t need to revisit it.

Forgiveness  is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed  it.
Mark  Twain

Encouraging Words

Yesterday I got the sweetest message rather out of the blue from a very dear friend who used to be my boss. Basically, the message was about him being proud of me for going after what I want in my career and being willing to take risks and not waiting for it to be handed to me. We ended up having a really sweet, supportive conversation and it was a great moment.

I really want to be an encouraging person. We all know people who drain our batteries and people who charge our batteries. I’d love to be a person who is a battery charger, not a battery drainer but I’m not sure I’m there yet. I’ve got both types of folks in my world and I’ve found it helpful to categorize the type of relationships I have with people to help me prepare for interacting with them. A couple of caveats:

1. I’m categorizing my interactions with them, not them. Rather than avoid people who drain me, I just need to be prepared to be drained before I interact with them. That means being self-aware and then taking care to make sure I fill the tank in a healthy way.

2. People aren’t eternally stuck in a category. They can move all over the place. A lot of these changes depend much more on my growth than theirs. People become much more tolerable as I grow up, I’ve noticed.

3. This is primarily applicable to someone in a ministry context or helping profession. Yes, I still a little bit use it in my personal relationships, but this is something I came up when I was doing full-time ministry and had to figure out pretty quickly who were the “safe” people and who would suck the life out of me.

Ok, here it is.

Relationships

It’s a little blurry. Sorry about that. I am sad to say that I don’t have better names for the different circles. Let me define them and then maybe better names will come out of that:

1. Deep Friendship – I’m speaking here of a very reciprocal relationship. There is openness, honesty and trust. Support is alternatly given and received without reservation.

2. Counseling Friendship – This is someone you have coffee or lunch with, you can talk to about mid-level stuff, and you might do some counseling in there a bit. Sometimes they’re supportive but there’s a bit of an imbalance.

3. Acquaintance – You don’t know them well, but they may come to you with some needs. This is sort of the “figuring out where they go” phase.

3. Ministry – You may or may not know them well, but basically the relationship is all you giving and they are not in a place to reciprocate.

If you know me personally, please don’t spend any energy trying to figure out which circle you’re in. As I said, I don’t use this nearly as much as when I was in full-time ministry. I found I tend to move people into the friendship circles too quickly and then I would end up getting really drained. Then I would get frustrated with them and with myself for misjudging the situation. Putting them in the right circle is the most gracious and loving thing I can do because then it sets up realistic expectations.

I may get some crap for this, but it really has worked for me. If anyone out there has better thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

Perspective

Political conventions are in full swing and the partisan facebook posts are flying fiercely. We’re a couple of months away from the Presidential election and there are things being spoken about that I get riled up about, almost as riled as Melissa Harris Perry (you have to watch that clip – she lost her SH*T!). There are a lot of important issues facing our country and I have some strong opinions. I’m a pretty staunch Democrat and have a lot to say about what looks to me like an out-of-touch, delusional and dishonest Republican nominee. However, over the last few weeks, I’ve been reminded that life is so much more.

First, a good friend and her partner are splitting after what seems like forever – seriously, it’s almost 20 years. She’s really a mess and having a tough time, and rightly so. Pray for her when it comes to your mind.

Second, one of the pastors from my childhood church is dying of brain cancer. He posted on facebook:

“This specific brain tumor/cancer is TERMINAL. Nothing can be done for it. IT WILL RETURN. We can’t be sure when, but it has made it clear it will be fatal. Therefore I am drawing from God’s strength “God is big and He does big things!!”,deep friendships, a great staff, and a gracious pastor.

I told my precious wife who has been my constant support, “I will now see things in a different way. You know, I am a planner. Things to come will be” is this the last birthday with Bo, my last birthday with Steph, John Mark, my precious family, last thanksgiving, last Christmas, last meeting with the staff I love so much. Don’t want to be morbid….just my new normal. I pray so hard that what my words, actions, teachings, dear relationships have been well-lived and well-said and square up with my life. We WILL take this a day at a time trusting Ina BIG BIG God who does.”

Yeah, I’m fine. No problems here. When I read this, the thought that came to mind was that we all really have the same sentence – we’re all dying. He just has a clearer timeline. Death is much less real to all of us who go about our days without a diagnosis but there are those with that hanging over them that we encounter every day. We need to live like this is our last….whatever.

Finally, Dieter Zander. Dieter was a sort of celebrity pastor and worship leader. He started New Song church in SoCal, then moved to Chicago to start a GenX ministry at Willow Creek in the mid-90s. After that he moved to the bay area and was one of my seminary professors and I sang with him at a number of events and worship services. He was by far the most talented musician I’d ever worked with plus he was very much a genuine guy, into his wife and sons, smart, funny, just awesome. He was friends with people very high in the Christian stratosphere – e.g., when Dallas Willard was in town, he stayed at Dieter’s house. O. M. G.

Then Dieter had a stroke.

It was in the middle of the night of February 4, 2008, a bizarre congenital thing in his carotid artery and bam – right hand crippled and aphasia – lost the ability to speak. It’s been a few years now, and still, his speech is halting and sometimes confused. He’s become a keen photographer as a way to communicate worship and beauty now that he has lost his musical gifts. He’s no longer on stage. No longer a celebrity. He’s got a youtube channel and a book about his post-stroke life coming out that I will probably buy everyone I know. Here’s the latest video he posted. I dare you to not cry during the Trader Joe’s part. Seriously – you’re dead inside.

So this is what I’m thinking about. The real life stuff. Yes, I’m voting for Obama – big shock. Yes, I believe in the Buffet plan. Yes, I am a fan of Healthcare Reform. That’s how I live out my American citizenship. But that’s not what makes me a person. Sometimes it takes these things to remember that. Lord, hear our prayer.