Come As You Are

For us, the believers, the Jesus-people, the bible is not a book of history and rules. Our God is not a God of hate.

I am a Christian.

It’s hard for me to say that in a public forum, just those four words. Usually, if it comes up in conversation, I push out a dozen or more words in a rush: I’m a Christian, but I’m a peace and justice Christian, a love everyone Christian, and if you want to know about my faith I’d love to tell you, but if you don’t want to to talk about it, that’s cool too.

Here is the one of the saddest things I have ever heard after I reveal that I follow Jesus: Wow, I never would have guessed you were a Christian. You seem so nice.

How’s that for a punch in the guts?

I’m not actually that nice. I have a terrible temper, a tendency toward resentment, and a penchant for blue language that’s well documented here on my blog. I’ve done drugs, drunk alcohol to excess, stolen, gossiped, hurt people, taken more than my share, cheated, lied, and been, in general, a deeply flawed human being.

Flawed like Paul, who wrote in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Broken, screwed up, sinful. Human.

What’s “nice” about me is, I know I’m not better than anyone. (Actually, sometimes I think I’m better than someone, and sometimes I feel inferior. This humility thing is a challenge.) That’s what people experience as niceness from Christians: if we don’t start beating them over the head with our big, leather-bound, gold-embossed bibles and telling them how utterly screwed they are, how messed up, evil, and doomed, they experience us as nice.

Folks, something’s wrong when people hear the word Christian and their first instinct is to duck.

Some Christians are dominating the media with the message that our faith is all about following a moral script, and that most of the items on that script have to do with what we do with our genitals, and when, and with whom. How sad, to reduce our collective story to one of penises and pregnancies. Our story began when Abraham went on a journey and continues now, a story of extravagant love, the tale of a God who pursues us, in all our brokenness, throughout history. God is not waiting for us to get better, or to get perfect. God is not waiting for anything.

For us, the believers, the Jesus-people, the bible is not a book of history and rules. Our God is not a God of hate. We’re living in a story that began with the people in the bible and continues now. The bible is alive, our faith is alive, and we are privileged to participate, not as servants but as the sons and daughters of God. We are Deborah, David, Abraham, Mary, Paul, James, Rebekah, Abigail. Flawed, and beloved of the divine.

We don’t have all the answers. We don’t even know most of the questions. That’s OK, because Jesus never said, Go forth and be perfect in every way, and then force all the other people to be perfect in the ways that you deem right, making certain nobody ever does anything with their genitals that seems icky to you!

Not in my bible. Jesus said, First, love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and next, love each other. (I paraphrased that from Matthew 22.)

Love. A big party, a festival of love, and everyone is invited. Everyone. Pull up a chair and sit down. This is the ultimate come-as-you-are.

Doing Church in the New Millennium

Church exists in culture and is populated by fallible humans and God is not up in heaven, expecting us to know stuff we haven’t yet learned. Just like you wouldn’t give your hungry child a stone, you wouldn’t expect your kindergartner to do calculus.

They’re not narcissists.

They’re not shallow.

They’re not fundamentally broken.

They’re not different from us, the Xers and Boomers who fill most of the leadership positions in Christian churches.

The Millennials are the vanguard of our new, digitally-driven culture.

As an Xer who has embraced digital culture more readily and more fully than most people my age, I inhabit a front row seat from which I view the present cultural shift, and I understand why some Christians are afraid. Sometimes, the life of millennials seems weird, incompatible with our traditions of togetherness, with the investments we have made in buildings, property, tables, and chairs: spaces and tools with which we gather, face-to-face, in a tradition broadly similar to that of the people of the early church. Culture is changing and that is never not scary.

On the other hand, on some Sunday mornings, church doesn’t seem as relevant to me as Meet the Press or Melissa Harris-Perry. Church-world doesn’t always feel like it touches my everyday world, in spite of the fact that I am now a 40-something in leadership. I wonder, how will we keep doing church if we don’t feel connected the way we used to, or the way we hope to?

But consider that the church has survived;

  • Communism
  • The Enlightenment
  • Literacy
  • The rise of cities
  • The Middle Ages
  • Cars
  • Suburbia
  • Westward expansion
  • Feminism
  • Capitalism
  • The Protestant Reformation
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • Television

…and so much more. Christianity has survived all the things that have happened in the past 2,000ish years, and Christianity will survive digital culture and the Millennials. Someone, somewhere is always declaring the death of Christianity, and every generation wails about the incapacity of the next.

That’s OK. Good, even, except that it too often reflects an attitude that is closed-minded due to fear. What I want to shout from the (virtual) rooftops is, no matter how wild this gets, God is doing God’s thing. We’re going to struggle and argue. Some of us might throw chairs and get very, very upset, and we’re going to say things we regret, and we’re also going to be brilliant and ultimately (probably often, if we are paying attention), we will see the face of God.

Is this going to hurt? Yes. It’s going to hurt because as God is baptizing individual people, God is also baptizing our communities, our families, and our very traditions.

People, baptism hurts. This is the refiner’s fire. We have volunteered to be transformed, and God does not take that lightly. The old has passed away.

We are often confused about what it means to be transformed because we humans can’t do it. We understand reformation because we are (in some limited way) capable of reformation, but transformation is not even tangentially related to reformation.

Let’s say I have a table. It’s a broken down, sad, ugly old thing. It wobbles, and one of the legs has come off. The top has a crack in it, the apron is all gouged up, and the whole thing has water damage. I decide to fix up my table so I can bring it into my house. I go out to my garage and I glue the crack and clamp it. I add new hardware to secure all the legs, replace the apron, and get busy sanding it until it’s smooth. Finally, I stain that table until it’s so shiny is nearly glows in the dark. I take my table to the dining room and my whole family stands around and admires it. It is gorgeous. I have reformed my table, and it is the handsomest specimen of table you could ever hope to see.

But it’s still a table.

God has a table, too, and it’s just as ugly and sad as my table was, and maybe God wants it to be a beautiful, gleaming table, but God is not limited to the perceivable possibilities the way I am. Perhaps God will turn the table into a bird, or a droplet of water, or a universe.

Ouch, right? We think we’re tables, and mighty fine ones, at that! Who are these youngsters, these twenty-something millennials, to question our table-ness?

Knock knock, maybe they are the voice of God? And maybe not. I don’t claim to know. God doesn’t deal in certainty (much as we yearn for God to do just that). God deals in mystery, faith, and what C.S. Lewis called the Deep Magic. God shows up in the desert, where there are no landmarks and we have no idea where we might find our next water.

The incredible wringing of hands that has happened in the blogosphere (launched by Rachel Held Evans at CNN’s Belief Blog) is exactly what we must do, though some people may wish to take a breath and two steps back (If your God can’t withstand a culture shift, get a bigger God).

Church exists in culture and is populated by fallible humans and God is not up in heaven, expecting us to know stuff we haven’t yet learned. Just like you wouldn’t give your hungry child a stone, you wouldn’t expect your kindergartner to do calculus.

God knows we are bound by the traditions of our faith. We need them because they provide us with a sense of belonging and continuity, but they are for us. God doesn’t need to see us all line up in the sanctuary to share bread and juice. God knows God’s place in the universe and our reminders don’t make God more secure or more content. God is not in the ritual, nor does participating in such ceremonies give us special access to the presence of the divine. God is God, God is love, and God is everywhere. The rituals of worship, communion, foot washing, baptism, and all the rest exist because we have wild monkey minds. We need gestures of the body and practices of the mind to help us show up for our relationships with God and each other.

God is not the rituals. God is God, and God won’t change.

But everything else might change. God might make into us something entirely new. God does not need our protection and God is not afraid. God is doing what God has always done: pursuing us. How do we keep Millennials (and others) in the church? Simple. We follow Jesus. We do not attract new people; Jesus does that. We are not transforming ourselves; Jesus is doing that. We are not creating church; we are the church that Jesus built and is continually rebuilding.

So we follow. We pray. We practice togetherness (talk, argue, shout, share, cry, lament, laugh, sing, teach, learn, and kiss the wee babes) in ways old and new. We experiment. We unclench our fists (my church, my traditions, my faith) and look around. We invite and we include, and when we screw up we say so. When church disappoints us we speak out, and when we see the church disappoint others we sit up and take notice, and we go to that place and search for Jesus and share the love that God has lavished upon us. We revisit Micah 6:8 until it is engraved upon us.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

So simple, but we resist. I will be the shiniest table! Make of me a beautiful table, Oh God! Hush and follow, says God. I will make of you. I will do with you. I promise.

We meditate upon Galations 5:1, which says, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” We have not been set free in Christ to build institutions or to “win souls for Christ” or to do anything. We have not been set free to follow rules, and we most certainly have not been set free so that we might hit people in the head with our bibles in the name of Christ.

Simple freedom.

Glorious, wild, extravagant freedom, a gift, given freely. God does not seek our slavish devotion to rules, but our exuberant devotion to the person of God and the way of Jesus. We walk together, with God, and with one another, and the walking is the thing we are doing, and God is unrolling history as we walk.

God does not need our protection and God is not afraid. God is doing what God has always done: pursuing us, God’s own, God’s beloved.

Let’s let God catch us.

 

All Bible verses are from the New Revised Standard Version.

Do you know you’re a bitch?

The Bible is the ancient holy book of my tradition. It’s not a simple book of history and rules. It isn’t dead words on a page. It is a living book, an ongoing story, and as a believer, who am I to limit it? As God said to Job, “Who do you think you are, puny human? I set the universe spinning, and you want to tell me what’s what? Pfffffft.”

During the summer of 1992, when my boyfriend (the one I later married, had two children with, and then divorced) and I had our annual I-hate-you-we’re-breaking-up-forever fight, I started going to a Bible study. I had a very rough relationship with faith in my late teens and early twenties. I grew up in an Evangelical Protestant church and while I believed in God, I struggled with the dogma in that religion, but I couldn’t walk away from it. I wanted faith, but I didn’t know where to find people who wouldn’t hit me in the head with a Bible.

So I dabbled here and there, and I went to a Bible study for young adults that was hosted by a large, non-denominational church, and it seemed OK and I got a little bit comfortable, and as so often happens in these circumstances, someone brought up the topic of abortion, and someone said that women should practice self-control, and someone said it’s baby murder, and you know how it goes. Even if you were never at a Bible study with a group of people between the ages of 18 and 25 who think they know everything and believe they have an ancient, divinely-inspired text that backs them up, you know how it goes, and everyone was oh-so-right and oh-so-indignantly-angry at the loose women with their unwanted fetuses and I didn’t get up and go to my little silver Toyota and drive home like I should have done.

When there was a pause in the self-righteousness, I said, “It’s not so simple.”

Every head swiveled on its stalk of neck, every pair of eyes stared at me, slow up, slow down (Is she a slut? How did we not notice?), and then a female voice rose, a voice trained for a lifetime for exactly this moment, “It is simple. It’s a baby. You can’t kill a baby.”

“I don’t agree,” I said, wading in a little further, still not turning the key on the door of the Toyota, still not entering that safe womb of stale cigarette smoke and discarded diet Coke cans. “Women have abortions for complex reasons, and you can’t just let them die from unsafe abortions. It’s not like…”

The female voice again, this time louder, shouting me down, and joined by others, “Legal abortion just makes murder easy for women!”

More voices, a confusion of anger, and I found my way to my legs, my left hand wrapped around the handle of my purse, and I worked toward the door. Amid the choruses of, “We’ll pray for you!” and “Read Jeremiah 1:5!” and “You’re no Christian!” I heard that female voice above the others.

She asked, “Do you know you’re a bitch?”

I didn’t answer her, not even a raised middle-finger as I finally managed to slip through the door, partly because I couldn’t wait to enter the warm dark of my car, and partly because I was stunned to hear the word bitch in that context. If ever there were people who wouldn’t say shit if they had a mouthful, it was the Evangelical Protestants of my youth. Maybe these were a different breed, or maybe I was a spectacularly terrible specimen of sin: the abortion apologist in the Bible study. Whatever the reason, it’s an interesting question.

On every topic, someone, somewhere, is bound to believe that I have taken the bitch stance. I have taken the part of the bitches. I am a bitch.

Misogynist implications of the word bitch aside, I can live with it because worse would be if someone could describe me as milquetoast, boring, or (shudder) sweet. I care about things. I stand for something. I hope I am open to learning, to hearing new perspectives, and to engaging in civil debate.

I don’t ever want to be a person who knows what’s right. I want to be a person who wrestles with the truth. I hold rightness loosely, prepared for new information and new experiences that might shift my understanding.

The Bible is the ancient holy book of my tradition. It’s not a simple book of history and rules. It isn’t dead words on a page. It is a living book, an ongoing story, and as a believer, who am I to limit such a book? As God said to Job, “Who do you think you are, puny human? I set the universe spinning, and you want to tell me what’s what? Pfffffft.”

Rightness is tempting. A good/bad, either/or universe is easier to live in than one that requires careful thought, big mistakes, and the uneasy state of I don’t know. I’m sure it feels great, being in with the in-crowd, knowing all the right answers, and being so very very right about all the things. Imagine the scene in that Bible study after I left: they probably joined hands and spoke prayers out for awhile, in the Christian key of just, as in, “Lord, just protect Adrienne, and Lord, we just ask that you guide her and show her the error of her ways. Father, we just ask that you help us to love her in spite of her sin.” Then, perhaps a few praise hymns to get the world back into its straight lines: bad is bad, right is right, the ground below and heavens above.

What didn’t happen is, none of us listened. None of us learned. We didn’t struggle or connect. How sad, to lose such an opportunity. How much sadder, that we are missing those opportunities everyday.

Sadder still, many Christians seem to have missed the central message of our holy book: Love. Love God, love people, be loved. When love gets hard, love more. When love feels impossible, keep loving. When love is tiring, God will give you more energy for love. Love until someone hates you for it, and then keep loving.

Love on, bitches.

Happy In the Meantime

Real happiness is nothing like what we see on TV. That happiness comes from big houses and children who go to Ivy League colleges and beautiful dresses that drape gracefully over slender hips. For me, it is some mysterious combination of praying, serving, loving people, and creativity.

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when I was 18, and even at that early age the diagnosis had been a long time coming. Near as I can remember (and depression + many years have done their work on my memory), I had my first serious episode of depression when I was 8 or 9 and by the time I started middle school I was dysthymic (mildly depressed) most of the time with 2-3 episodes of major depression every year.

After I was diagnosed I saw a psychiatrist, Dr A, for about a year. This was back in the olden days when psychiatrists did therapy, so in addition to handing me a monthly slip of paper that I exchanged at the pharmacy for a tiny bottle of green and white pills (Prozac was the only SSRI on the market at that time), Dr A and I therapized together.

Most of our therapy hours were a total wash because Dr A was a big fan of sports metaphors and I am allergic to games played in groups. He constantly exhorted me to “do an end run around” whatever problem I was experiencing, the meaning of which was a mystery to me until the invention of Google many years later.

Our time together was not entirely neutral, though. Once, when I wailed about my desire to just be happy, Dr A informed me that no one is really happy, and the best most people can hope for is occasional contentment. True happiness, he said, is mostly a myth, except for special occasions like one’s wedding day or winning a game, which left me out of the running for happiness entirely since I had no boyfriend and played no games.

Dr A wasn’t a bad guy, but he definitely missed his calling. I’m sure he would have been an excellent orthopedist or podiatrist, but as a person whose job was to help people find a way to be their best selves, he pretty much sucked.

Well, except for those green and white pills. They kept me hobbling along in a state something short of suicidal until Zoloft (which worked much better for me and which I took for over 15 years) came onto the market, so for that, I am grateful.

What Dr A didn’t know was that, while I suffered from many wrong-headed thoughts and ideas, over-high expectations were not among them. In fact, the most destructive belief I have been carrying around during my time here on planet earth is the one that says I’m no good, not worthy, incapable (yes, that’s all one idea, but there’s no word that grabs it all at once). My parents both came to parenthood with the belief that self-confidence was ugly and to believe oneself to be special was a sin (ideas they learned from their own parents), so instead of appropriate humility (I am special, and you are special, and each of us has something extraordinary to offer and receive from the other.), I learned to hide. I learned to hate myself, and I learned to believe that I deserved no better than whatever came my way by chance or accident.

Dr A didn’t do a thing to disabuse me of those beliefs, which seems to me now a tragic lost opportunity, but shit happens, and Dr A was just a guy who went to medical school and then did his residency in psychiatry. He didn’t know that when I said “happy,” I didn’t mean I wanted a life of nonstop orgasms. I just wanted to feel like I belonged in my own life. I wanted to feel needed and wanted by the people I loved. Most of all, I wanted the inside of my head to be a less dangerous place.

I haven’t seen Dr A in something like 23 years now, but if I remembered his name I would write him a letter and tell him he was wrong, and I hope he has discovered the truth: happiness is a real thing, and ordinary people can experience it.

Which, can I just tell you? This is not something I ever expected to say. Ever. To be clear: major depressive episodes aside, I have not generally been a miserable person, and I have heard the tempting call of bitterness and resisted. I’ve been content for decent stretches of time. What I haven’t been until this past year (and definitely not the whole year; it seems to me that this is something that actually takes practice) is happy.

I meet none of the qualifications that I would expect a happy person to meet. I’m not rich (in fact, paying the bills is often a challenge) nor do I have a successful career. I’m not thin, my house is a mess, my sister and I don’t speak, and one of the dogs chewed a hole in the couch. Life isn’t easy. Carter is stable but he remains (will always remain) seriously ill. My trichotillomania hasn’t improved, I continue to grieve for the years I lost with my two eldest children, and I still miss Jacob with a breathtaking intensity that leads me to drag his baby blanket out of the cupboard in the middle of the night and hold it under my chin while I cry.

And yet, in the midst of it all, this happiness. When I started to feel happy a year ago, I was sure it was nothing but a product of Abbie’s return and that it would dissipate like thunderclouds when the excitement of her return passed, but no. It has remained.

How cliché, to say that when I wake in the morning I am eager for the day, but it’s true. All of it, everything, is more vivid. The books I read are better, time with Brian is more joyful, hours at a table with friends absorb me completely. The music and the sky and the feel of a freshly made bed are all much muchier. They have regained their muchness. At church, in groups, and during meetings, I am more present. When people I care about suffer, I experience their pain with them (which is apparently a part of happiness; who knew?) and feel deep sympathy. The love I feel for my kids is more open. The concerns I have for them cripple me a little less and when I pray for them I open my hands both figuratively and literally. God is God of all, my kids included.

What I know now is this: happiness is not an accident, but neither is it a goal toward which I may work because I am so confused about what will make me happy. It is nothing like the happiness we see on TV that comes from big houses and children who go to Ivy League colleges and beautiful dresses that drape gracefully over slender hips. For me, it is some mysterious combination of praying, serving, loving people, and creativity. Oh, and the right drugs; don’t forget about those, though don’t overestimate them, either. It’s a rearranging of priorities and the release of some expectations that prevented me from laughing as long and as often as I need to. Happiness is somewhere inside the act of showing up and to hell with doing it with style or finesse (no points for those, anyhow).

It is not, as I had long expected, the product of ignoring injustice in the world, or becoming immune to it. Happiness does not preclude advocacy. It doesn’t come from being very, very good (clean! on time! frugal! organized! efficient!), or from external success or approval. I think maybe happiness has a great deal to do with letting my freak flag fly. God made me this person, the girl I was and the woman I am. If God wanted me to be some other person, God would have made me another person. So simple, and so very difficult. 

There is so much more, a thousand more fears to surrender, relationships to heal, and anger to repent. There is a mountain of shame to…what? I have no idea yet what one does with that toxic stuff, though I am sometimes able to see it for what it is, rather than simply accepting its definition of me.

But now I know this: I get to be happy in the meantime. I don’t have to wait for all the anger, shame, fear, and heartache to go away to be happy because I can be happy today. Not nonstop-orgasm happy, not nothing-ever-hurts happy, not everything-is-perfect-forever happy, but I-belong-in-my-life happy.

I’ll take it.

Hey, did you hear? I’m going to be on The Ricki Lake Show. For real! The Ricki Lake Show: Inside Childhood Mental Illness (if you click on that link, you can watch the promo) will air on Wednesday, February 6, 2013. Check your local listings or use the “where to watch” link at The Ricki Lake Show page to find out what time and channel it’s on in your area.

Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin: Historically

If you truly love someone, do you deny them the best that life has to offer?

I don’t hate Native Americans; I just think things will work out better for everyone if we move them to their own special areas.

I don’t hate people with cognitive disabilities; I just think they shouldn’t be allowed to have babies.

I don’t hate Jews; I just think they should wear a star on their clothes.

I don’t hate the Japanese; I just think we’ll all be safer if we put them in camps until the war is over.

I don’t hate women; I just think they belong in the kitchen and not the voting booth.

I don’t hate black people; I just think they should sit at the back of the bus.

I don’t hate Muslims; I just think they should dress like regular Americans if they want to live here.

I don’t hate Mexicans; I just think we can’t be too careful about making sure they’re here legally.

I don’t hate fat people; I just think a thin person would be better at this job.

I don’t hate gay people; I just think they shouldn’t be allowed to get married.

For Brian on our 12th (!!!) anniversary. My companion, friend, partner, and lover, I can’t imagine my life without you, can’t bear to think of a world in which you are not my spouse. I pray that before the next 12 years of our marriage have passed, love and justice will grow in our nation until every couple who wants to be married, will be married.

Happy anniversary to my beloved. You’re my favorite.

Our Very Flesh

That hate. Does it hold your hand, comfort you, dry your tears? Will it make love to you in the warm dark of a July night when all is anguish and you need to feel life truth hope whispered against the skin of your neck? Has it served you meals when you are hungry and wrapped you in blankets when you are cold?

That hate. Does it hold your hand, comfort you, dry your tears? Will it make love with you in the warm dark of a July night when all is anguish and you need to feel life truth hope whispered against the skin of your neck? Has it served you meals when you are hungry and wrapped you in blankets when you are cold?

We are children of the tribe, bound by the circle of light cast by our campfire, enraptured by the stories we share and nourished by the food we gathered and prepared while we sang. The darkness presses. There are dangers out there in the wilderness but we are here, together, sustained.

We are made of stardust (literally) and sunlight (indirectly) and ocean and rocks and rain. Everything that is, has always been, forming and reforming. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Separateness is a story we tell until we believe it so well we can wear it around ourselves like armor.

Don’t we look foolish, wearing armor around the campfire? We are connected in our very flesh, with each other, with the earth and water and sky.

Tonight, when twilight is coming to a close, take off your shoes and go outside. Feel the ground under your feet and the air on your skin. Turn your face to the blue-dark sky and breathe. We are in the circle of firelight together, breathing the same air and standing on the same ground. Open your arms wide and

just

      let

           go.

There is no other, no them. Welsh, Afghani, American, Moroccan, Mexican, and Indonesian, we breathe the same air. Atheist, Hindi, Scientologist, Buddhist, Christian, and Muslim, we are warmed by the same sun. Shooter’s mother and victim’s mother, we drink the same water. Shooter and victim, someone grieves for us. Fat and thin, we are nourished by the earth. Lesbian, heterosexual, transgender, asexual, and queer, we are human.

Hate will never warm our beds or slake our thirst.

Come closer to the campfire and tell us a story. Share our food and wine. Sing with us.

We will all be healed, together.

On the Beach

I was walking on the beach in the late afternoon. Low clouds and chilly air meant I was alone; the ocean to my left and the beach unrolling before my feet were empty except for tangles of seaweed and tiny, scuttling crabs. The air tasted tangy, heavy with kelp and recent storms.

I walked for a long time — out of the afternoon and into the evening — in hopes that the throbbing of the waves would drown out the voices that are my constant, malevolent companions: I am useless, a failure, hopeless, bad, a loser, incompetent, stupid, unworthy, weak, unlovable, selfish, contemptible, fundamentally and irrevocably broken…

When the light was fading from blue dark to the black of night, I saw a fire on the beach and next to it, a man sitting on a blanket. As I approached, he stood and reached out to me. “Adrienne! Come sit down by the fire,” and, nearly numb with cold, I sat. The man gave me a cup of coffee and gestured to a plate of sandwiches. “Help yourself,” he said. “You must be hungry after such a long walk.”

We sat together and ate sandwiches and soon I was warm enough to unzip my jacket and take off my gloves and scarf. “Better?” the man asked, and I nodded while he refilled my coffee cup. “You have a question. Would you like to ask it now?”

Too disturbed by the ceaseless, poisonous chatter in my head to hold back another moment, I opened my mouth and disgorged everything — all the ugly, hateful feelings that paralyze me like a giant anchor paralyzes a ship. Shame and guilt, regret and rage, fear and depression, and, finally, from the very bottom of the sludgy, stinking heap came the angry question, “Why? Why would God create me if I was meant for nothing but misery and struggle? Why?”

The man didn’t answer right away, allowing me time to catch my breath. Finally, he said,  “For love. I created you because I love you.”

The taste of salt and the sound of the ocean seemed very far away. “Adrienne,” he said softly, “when you know, and I mean really know, deep in your guts, that I created you for love, everything will change.”