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Sunday, September 17, 2017

God Would Kneel Down




GOD WOULD KNEEL DOWN

I think God might be a little prejudiced.

For once He asked me to join Him on a walk
through this world,

and we gazed into every heart on this earth,
and I noticed He lingered a bit longer
before any face that was 
weeping,

and before any eyes that were
laughing.

And sometimes when we passed
a soul in worship

God too would kneel
down.

I have come to learn: God
adores His 
creation.

From ‘Love Poems From God‘ by Daniel Ladinsky


May you be gazed upon today with so much love.


raga-d

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Christ Still Sends Me Roses



When I wrote Wounded: A Love Story, a novel that I wrote in two hypomanic weeks, I was trying to make sense of my own suffering. I had read Ron Hansen's masterful novel, Mariette in Ecstasy, and was fascinated with the idea that one can share in Christ's suffering. 

Uh... Let me just say that when I was Protestant, that was not how we rolled. Christ died for us, and tribulation, cray cray suffering, etc., had been taken care of. Tribulation was what happened after the rapture, if you had the misfortune of being left behind once the last trumpet sounded. We didn't do suffering with Christ.

Catholics, however, were on some other stuff. If you were a somewhat histrionic, deeply devout woman in Italy, stigmata was a real thing. You could be chosen to share in Christ's suffering, and people would be all, yeah, OK. You're blessed. 

I mean you could be a dude and get it, but this happened mostly to the ladies. In Hanson's novel it happened to a young nun. She wasn't Italian. How she loved Jesus though, crazy love, like, literally. I wanted to love like her. But I was never going to be a young nun. 

I was a poor,  black woman in the 'hood, with fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. I was stigmatized for the those reasons! What if someone like me loved Jesus enough to share in his suffering. What would a black stigmatic, given the literal wounds of Christ look like? 

And we were off! I wrote that. I structured the book in a form much like a documentary. People told the story from their own points of view. I populated the novel with other people who endured some form of stigma. There was a heroin addict, a zealot, a transvestite, and also people as normal as a Vineyard pastor and his wife.  They all grappled with this weird phenomenon, stigmata, a woman with the shame of several stigmas, receiving the five crucifiction wounds of Christ.

I was so sick back then, my body seared by pain, my brain cycling wildly between depression and hypomania. Could I, too, pray, "Share with me Jesus?" Would Christ give me a portion of his cross to bear, while I have him my crosses?

Indeed.

It's hard to be in pain all the time, and to have a brain that stutters between walking on the ceiling and laid out on the floor.

I just wanted to understand my suffering, make sense of it. Redeem it.  So I wrote my most misunderstood book. And you know what? It still all baffles me.

It's a hard day. I have been very fibromyalgia sick for months, but I realized today that my filters are gone, and thoughts are clamoring over other thoughts, my mind wild. It took me a while to recognize my old companion, hypomania, but I see now. 

These are some of the wounds I bear, and Christ still sends me these roses, these figurative bloody wounds. He shares in my suffering. I share in his. The words, "Christ still sends me roses," are tattooed on my arm to remind me to accept that I am not healed, but I am not alone. Share with me, Jesus. Take my suffering. I'll share in your cross. We're in it together.

You may not understand what I'm saying here. It's all good. I'm just wrestling with mysteries. 

Say a prayer for me.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Enough Dreaming Already!




I know what my name, Claudia, means. I found out when I was about 9 while perusing a dictionary at home. Claudia is Latin, and means "Lame, but intelligent." Thanks a lot, Mom! Could you have consulted a baby name book on that? 

Mama said she wanted us all to have "regular" names. I was also named after a good friend of my grandmother's. Trust me, I tried hard to ditch Claudia. I actually legally changed my name to Love and Mair. That's another blog post, as is why I ultimately kept Claudia. So, here I am, saddled with "Lame" and no, intelligent did not make it better.

I really have been lame, if that means kinda broken. Needing assistance walking on the path of life. It's true. In one episode of my changing name game I told a friend of mine, poet Rabia Rayford, God rest her, what Claudia means. She was all, "Oh no! Your name needs to mean Lioness that Kicks Everybody's Ass." I liked it, but it didn't stick.

I'm nice. Sometimes ridiculously, dangerously nice. And though some may not believe it, often I'm timid, reluctant to boldly go where the Lioness that Kicks Everybody's Ass would without hesitation. I was so reluctant to write, that although I knew I wanted to write since I was ten, I didn't do it until I was 40. Do you know how many writing books you can amass in that many years? I had thousands of dollars worth of books about craft that went largely unread because I was only dreaming about being a writer.

And art. I knew I wanted to make art, too. I amassed crafts books the same way I did the writing resources. Did I paint or draw? I did not! Because I dreamed of being an artist. I didn't make art.

Like I did with the stolen magazine I prayed with, which kickstarted my writing life again, I decided one day that I would paint. Ken and I had separated, and I needed to build a life without him. "What do you want to do?" I asked myself, then realized I could do anything. 

I wanted art. I wanted paint splattered cowgirl boots, and multi-colored finger prints smeared across my apron. my chakras. So, I went to California and only did I paint,  I learned to teach other people to paint! Before my graduation from my Master Intuitive Painting and Expressive Arts Facilitator Teacher Training (Wild Heart Painting) I opened a home studio.







I graduated mid February, and weeks later Kamau had his first psychotic break. Two months later he jumped, two years later I moved from the house with the studio, and became a dreamer again.
 
I can dream a long time. 

That's lame.

I've got a library full of mixed media painting books and online classes I've barely touched. Listen, I know life can be hard. Making time to write and paint isn't easy. I can keep dreaming, or I can knock it off already, and do the work.

My mentors invested in me. I put a lot of money that I really didn't have into trying to learn how to write and paint. I still owe one mentor money! You betcha! Don't get me started on my student loan debt for my MFA.

I just finished a book. I'm waiting on dev edits. You will be able to buy it early next year. Writing? I'm doing it. I'm writing at this moment. But painting? Baby, my brushes have been dry for a long time. No more dreaming. 

So, to be an artist, I realized I can't be lame. To make a living at it? Not lame. Or I need to be the busiest, most intelligent lame person I can be. I have a chronic illness, and I'm a legal guardian to a disabled person. That means if I want to have an art-full life, I also have to be the Lioness that Kicks Everybody's Ass. By everybody I mean time constraints, stress, illness, inner critics, and paralyzingly fear.

I'm not changing my name anymore. Dude! I'm Claudia for life! But I refuse to be lame, or at least not lay on the side of the road, begging for alms and dreaming lame. I refuse to be an idle dreamer. My books didn't write themselves. I've got all the training I need and more.

Time to kick ass.

P.S. I think every time I said "ass" I heard the baby Jesus cry. Sorry, baby Jesus. I'll work on that.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Christian. Writer. Christian Writer?




I've been called a lot of things. I've answered to a few. I'll spare you the more colorful labels, though, to be fair, I've answered to some of those, as well. 

Once upon a time I dreamed of being called a Writer. I kept dreaming, for about thirty years, with a few bylines here and there. Then one desperate night, after I'd stolen a magazine from a hospital's surgical waiting room, I promised God that I'd tell hot messes like me that he loved them if he let me write. For. Him. I've made a lot of promises to God. I failed to most, but I kept that one.

So people started calling me Christian blogger, but I wasn't like many I knew. On my original ragamuffin diva blog I told the truth about how my life was. Mostly. I never disclosed exactly how bad things were, but I let my tribe know a whole lot of it. Practically all of it. There was my love affair with Jesus, and my struggle with depression. I talked about suicide attempts, abuse, and crawling on bloody knees, slowly, toward faith. People liked it. They said it was refreshing. Then things got weird. I started writing books, and that changed everything.

Now I was a Christian Writer. I wasn't good at that. I mean, my books were well received, but they started calling me things like gritty, and edgy. Pfft! If they thought I was edgy, they hadn't spent a day in the 'hood! In high school I heard gunshots from the projects across the street when I lay down to sleep at night. My own brother was murdered in those projects. I spent a lot of lonely nights being a crack widow to a person that was still alive, but kinda wasn't alive, too. And I only told most of the story. I kept some things to myself.

You're only going to be so edgy when you're a Christian Writer. Because folks don't want to read about women who God did not deliver from depression. I guess he's playing his long game with me. It's okay, as long as he's with me.

People didn't want to read about gay Christians, or trans ones, or Catholic ones and they kinda didn't want to hear much about black ones unless you put a lot of white people in the cast of characters. That is unless you only write about black Christians. Then you get to have your books in the African American section at the book store. But not with the Christian books, unless you're like, TD Jakes. And don't think he wrote his own novels, my friends. 

They said I wasn't quite black enough, or I didn't really seem to be writing what black Christian writers were writing. 

Sometimes I said bad words. I couldn't go secular either, because I was too damned religious.

After awhile, I just stopped writing. I was confused. I wasn't sure what to answer to. Writer never failed me though, even when I failed to answer the call to write. I went back to school to be a writer, to deepen my writing, and to stop being a Christian Writer. It kind of embarrassed me because I didn't do it as well as they wanted me too. You really can be extra, always doing the most. So, back to being a Writer. And you know what? I'll be damned if Jesus didn't make his way into my *not* Christian books. He can be so sneaky.

I just watched a movie, in which a man said serving others is his vocation, and practicing medicine was his avocation. It's part of how he lived out his call. 

People told me I was called to preach. I did that, too, and then I had sex and it all kind of fell apart. But I was meant to be a Writer. It's no accident that vowing to tell people God loves them is the only vow to God I kept. Isn't that something?

People ask what's next. They also ask if I'm going to still right Christian books. I don't think so, but faith shows up anyway, beside my doubts, and writing about depression, and chronic pain, and crazy. And the love of God. It's the spaces between the lines, between each letter, and in them, an infusion of grace. It doesn't go away.

I'm not a good Christian, not in the ways people think of good Christians. I'm a doubting, sinful, crazy person who is loved by God, and still amazed by grace. I'm not sure what you'd call us. Ragamuffins? Why not? I guess. I mean, who decides these things anyway?

Not me.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Call to Remembrance by Shiloh Sophia

I needed these words for this season in my life. Perhaps you do, too.

"Let me be the one to tell you:
You are beautiful
You matter to me
You are wanted by all of us
Your gifts are truly needed
We have been waiting for you,
yes, specifically you.

The rest of us here on earth
are working out our stuff
right alongside of you,
remembering who we are too.
This is sacred work and
not everyone gets to do it,
because not everyone knows
this work even exists.
But you do.
Since you are reading this.

Part of our remembering is
to unmix the messages:
You know the ones:
Be unique, yet not too unique.
Yes, you are special,
yet don’t be too special.
look good, but not too good.
Be smart, but don’t let the
others know, just how smart.

Enough of all those,
let’s move beyond them
into integration, as the best
message is just to be you.
You already know this.
I know this isn’t always easy. 

That’s why I am writing.
If you are you, then you
can bring out your 
Great Work. You can’t bring
out a great work being
someone else for any reason.  
Got that? Good.

We have anticipated your arrival
and in that anticipation 
we have prepared a space for you
to happen in, 
a space surrounded by loving.

Go ahead and be special,
Take up space,
Explore your uniqueness.
We aren’t worried about
you getting a big head.
We need more people 
with big ideas and the courage
to put them in place.
We are here to help with that.

If more people felt they really 
had something to contribute 
that was theirs to bring 
to the rest of us,
we might be in a very different place
in our sweet old world.
Don’t confuse being special
with ego, those two get lumped together
too often, and it isn’t necessary.

Some of us have created entire
systems to help others 
remember their value. 
For until you act from your value, 
your gifts won’t likely come into form.
Be interested in you and your imagination
and what wants to come forth from you….
Be as curious as you can possibly be.

I wish this letter could be more lovely
and poetic so as to lure you in with
the beauty of the writing, instead,
I chose plain speak to call you in
with the beauty that really matters
right now, which is, your own.

Let us be the ones to tell you,
We have been waiting for you,
Welcome, welcome, welcome!
The place you have always sought
is indeed, within you, yet
we are here to remind you:
Dive in! It’s worth the risk.
You are worth everything
it takes coming home to yourself."

Shiloh Sophia

Please feel free to share - someone may realllllly need this message today....

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Visitation

I had a dream about an old friend this morning. He died a few years ago. I didn't find out he was gone until months after his demise, and I mourned the loss of him. I asked a classmate of ours what happened, and she told me he'd overdosed on drugs. I didn't even know he used them.

I'd lost contact with him over the years. My last memories of my friend were, to put it delicately, unsavory. One memory involved seeing him downtown in Ann Arbor, Michigan when I lived there. It was wonderful to meet him on a street corner, a lovely surprise. He invited me into his office in some pretty pricey real-estate. I was very proud of him. We laughed, and caught up, and then he did something super weird. I left, puzzled, and had a laugh about it with my husband, but it wasn't really funny. 

A few months later my sister called me, and told me to hurry and turn the television on to the news. There he was using his middle name as an alias, being exposed for some awful, fraudulent behavior. It was not cool what he was doing, and it was connected to the weirdness I'd experienced with him. I didn't doubt things had unfolded just as the investigative reporter said. I felt sorry for him. Oh, how the mighty had fallen. He used to be a star.

I met him when he was a senior, and I was a freshman in high school. He was handsome, funny, and a brilliant musician, the Drum Major! And he was spectacular at it. I don't remember another Drum Major before or after him in our small school. He owned that title, and I can see him now, drummers in formation  behind him, dazzling us all with his high steps spirited conducting, and finishing his salute with a run that ended in a flawless cartwheel. 

He was sweet on me, Super Awkward Girl, back in the day. Nothing ever came of us. We were as star-crossed as two people could be, but I loved him. 

He was never unkind to me. He filled what time we shared with laughter. When he first asked my name, I made him guess it. Claudia is not at the tip of most people's tongue, even for "C" names. When I finally stopped teasing,  I said my name so quietly he thought I'd said "Connie." This elicited a round of giggles from fourteen year old me.

In my dream I was surprised to see him. I told him that I thought he was dead, an idea that amused him. I was so happy to see him. He was the boy I knew in school, charming, hilarious, an incredible, masterful musician that could pick up any instrument he wanted to learn and teach himself to play it.

A voice spoke to me in the dream, and asked me about the unpleasant memories I had of Scott. I said, very simply, "I forgive him." 

As the dream continued, he took me to his house and we enjoyed reminiscing. I asked him if he remembered me not telling him my name, and he laughed and laughed. I told him that my latest book is about St. Francis of Assisi, and that I want to dedicate it to him. He made a collage for me on a big piece of poster board. His artwork was full of things he knew I loved. We had a great visit.  

I didn't wake up feeling sad. I woke up warmed by the reminder that I had far more happy memories with him than unpleasant ones. Somehow, in the magic that is dreams, I forgave him his debts, as I am forgiven mine, and the beautiful boy I once knew, the Drum Major was back, the con man and addict a distant, vague recollection that didn't matter at all.

I had the distinct feeling that I'd had a visitation, and that he was all right, in another plane of existence that is beyond death. It comforted me.

Maybe, in the end, we'll all get to heaven, and the most douchebaggy things about us will pass away. Maybe somehow the unsavory will yield to the everlasting good about us, and we who owe much will finally be forgiven much.

Wouldn't it be nice? I pray it's so.

Monday, September 11, 2017

In a Time of Storms



I've been praying and praying for, not just my friends, but anyone caught in the terrible storms that have been so devastating. I'm thanking God for the helpers who have shown up to provide relief. We all need help sometimes.

I'm not in Irma's path, but I have my own storm of sorts raging. It's a storm of ever increasing pain and the depression that follows being in pain for a long time. There are other storms that people I know are dealing with, too. Addiction is a mighty storm. Wayward children devastate, too. Many of us are in financial storms. So much struggle, and all these storms leave in their wake the same thing: terrible losses.

I'm not trying to minimize the suffering of people who are in Irma's path, or were leveled by Harvey. No, never that. It just occurred to me that there is so much suffering. When Jesus spoke of the storms of life coming I think he meant more than those that are full of rain, wind and hail. Storms that beat us down. Storms we need relief from.

I found this photo on a news site today, and it lifted a bit of the grey in my life right now. The storm is pummeling those trees, but right there is a rainbow, and what is a rainbow but a promise, a symbol of hope that whatever storm we're caught in will pass, and we'll be okay, and we'll feel like us again?

Sometimes it's hard to feel like yourself with so much going on, even though we have helpers providing whatever relief they can, including their sincerest prayers. God, do we ever need help sometimes.

I want to feel like myself again. God, help us all. 

May you be safe.
May you find shelter. 
May your storms pass quickly, and you find peace.

raga-d
 

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