December 31, 2013

First Hodge-Podge

Original photo courtesy of Caron,
then heavily edited by yours truly
Welcome to Hodge-Podge Day here on The Beauty of Eclecticism, another semi-regular feature I am introducing for when you need updates on numerous of the disparate threads and interests that hold my life together--or sometimes try to strangle me--in one post. There really is no better metaphor for this variegated aspect of my life than the crocheted crazy quilt, a device which I learned to make at my mother's knee when she finished several projects and had numerous scraps of various yarns left over. Hence, the newly-established badge for Hodge-Podge Day. If anyone else feels the need to do some hodge-podging, you are welcome to lift the badge and use it; a simple link back would be good. (Let me know if enough of you ever want to turn this into a weekly meme, and I'll set it up here.)

Item the First: Volunteering

When you're suffering from multiple emotional health issues, and have been out of circulation from the human race for a while, finding a volunteer position can be a great way to begin to ease yourself back into the world. A couple of hours, one or two days a week at most, is a stress level most people can handle, especially when they're not being paid and can walk away any time if they feel it necessary. For me, libraries are definitely the way to go. I avidly use libraries as a patron, so what could be more natural than giving some of my time back, learning to have a very small schedule of hours when someone expects something of me again, and getting my toe back into an academic world. It's a completely symbiotic relationship, and one that I hope even may lead to a paying job eventually, once I'm ready for that again. I got my first paying job at 16 by volunteering at my hometown library; maybe, in a few months, lightning may strike again for me. In the meantime, I had my grand tour behind the locked doors of Lakewood Library today. I am the newest official volunteer of the Jefferson County Public Library system, and I start next Tuesday. I think even I can handle two hours, one day a week, for the time being.

Item the Second: The Poor

Photo courtesy of Barnes and Noble

I'm beginning to realize just how many of us desperate and destitute there are in the Denver Metro area. Yesterday, Brigid the SuperPreschooler and I had our day together, and even though I had not one dollar in my pocket, I took her to Barnes and Noble to play with their lego station and train table, two activities she dearly loves. As I sat watching my little girl play, the second person in the past three weeks walked up to me and asked if I could help her out to buy a little food. Until recently, I'd never actually considered standing in the Wal-Mart parking lot holding up a homemade cardboard sign asking for food and gas money, so I've never fully appreciated until now how much it genuinely hurts me to have to say no to these people. This woman had two little ones with her; if I'd had that dollar in my wallet, I swear I would have given it to her, considering how many, many people are fighting to help me. Poverty is the painful gift that keeps up a vicious spiral of giving.

Item the Third: Good News?!

Let's not mince words--and I rarely do!--a lot of my life sucks right now, and I tend to share that with you in jagged detail, don't I? I thought it might be healthy to give a short recap of what went RIGHT in 2013, for all our sakes.

I started this year with a mystery illness that left me in horrible abdominal pain and nausea, having to take prescription pain killers and nausea meds every six hours and visit the ER at least once or twice a month. 2014 begins with the mystery solved, my surgeries just a memory now, and the scars nicely healed. They're big and very visible, but they are a reminder that I survived, and I wear them as badges of honor.

Brigid and I safely made it to Denver, where we have found friends--and in her case, family--waiting to help us. We have not gone hungry, and we managed to make it all the way through 2013 with roofs over our heads, a state of affairs that seemed in imminent threat of changing a few times. Thank God, and thank you, all of our wonderful friends.

My applications for food stamps and Medicaid have been successful, thanks to the good people of the state of Colorado, my newly-adopted home. I can buy food, I can get medical care, and though that's not enough, it's two of the major stressers of my life removed at a stroke.

Finally, 2013 saw the end of the specter that has haunted my waking and sleeping hours for 18 years. My student loans were forgiven. All that I went through to see that miracle occur was a hellish experience, but at least it was not in vain. I start 2014 penniless, but debt-free, and there are worse places to start by far than Square One.

December 27, 2013

Homeless 2

For this story to make sense, you need a bit of background information (a la Dickens' "Marley was dead, to begin with"). Item 1: Maronite Christians. For those who don't know or are unsure, the Maronites are Middle Eastern Christians who more closely follow the Eastern liturgical forms and traditions than those of Western Christianity, but unlike the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, they accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of the pope as the earthly head of the church. They are quite conservative on topics like homosexuality. Item 2: my bumper stickers. I have the following combination on the back bumper of my car.

The rainbow has become a standard symbol for the homosexual community, and the red background with lighter bars stands for marriage equality, i.e. gay marriage rights. I didn't put them on my car to rub people's noses in the fact that I'm a lesbian; rather, they are there to remind me that I can say this about myself out loud and God will still love me. After a lifetime of denying my homosexuality to myself for fear that God would hate me or doom me to hell, that constant reminder is important.

Now, on to our story. Today, I used the last pittance of gas in my car's tank to drive to the local office of the Social Security Administration, where I went through a lengthy and extensive interview, applying for benefits until I can complete some therapy, get my head screwed back on straight, and hopefully get a job. In order to get "low-income housing," one is required to have at least SOME income, and my SuperPreschooler and I cannot be reunited permanently until I have someplace for us to live. SSI would at least be an income.

After that rather humiliating experience, I pulled into the parking lots of several churches, looking for one where some member of the clergy hadn't yet left for the day. As a child, I watched my parents help countless people in myriad small ways, people who needed gas money, or food, or even a place to stay, even though we were often on food stamps ourselves and were more familiar than we ever wanted to be with government-issue cheese, powdered milk, and tinned fruit juice. I found myself reminding God of how often my family had given to others even when we had so little ourselves, and that I needed gas money urgently, and would be lucky to even make it home. The first two churches I visited were deserted for the day, and I finally pulled into the parking lot of a Maronite church. With two flaming gay bumper stickers on my car. Prominently visible.

Clergymen and women are often put in a difficult position when someone asks for financial help; they have to consider whether the person might use the money for alcohol, drugs, or some other vice they have no wish to support. As a "preacher's kid," I am familiar with the problem. The parish priest was just leaving the rectory--the house provided for him by the parish and sitting on the same property as the church--when I pulled in. I couldn't help it; I began to cry as I told him that I simply needed some gas, and assured him that I wasn't even asking for cash. Could someone please just drive with me to a gas station and pay to put a bit of gas in the tank? I pointed to my car, the bumper of which was facing directly toward us.

And that Eastern Catholic priest put enough gas in my car for me to go visit the SuperPreschooler on Monday, our usual day together, gave me some food, and blessed me with the sign of the Cross upon my forehead. I thanked him profusely, I asked him to remember my little girl in his prayers, as well, and I silently thanked God for honoring the good gifts my parents laid up in heaven for me by their ministry. As members of the Body of Christ, we don't have to agree with each other to love one another, but sometimes we forget that, or we fear that others will. I bless the shepherd's heart of a priest who did not forget it, and repent of suspecting that he might do so.

December 23, 2013

I Actually Review a Book!

Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt
by John Ray

Okay, I really enjoyed reading this book--as long-time followers will not be surprised to hear--so let me enumerate its weaknesses before I dive into any immoderate praise. The author attempted to tell the story of the history of ancient Egypt by making each new chapter a brief biography of an individual Egyptian--king, priest, or peasant--about whom we know something unusual, or the knowledge of whose existence has survived to modern times because an extraordinary document was discovered. As a result, the entire book feels somewhat disjointed, and the eponymous attempt to use Osiris (Egyptian god of the dead/underworld) as the common link for all those highlighted is weak, almost an afterthought in practice, though it works in principle if you already know a bit about the Egyptian theology of the afterlife.

(image by Jeff Dahl)

Now for the fun stuff. The scholarly author has an enjoyably readable style, and most importantly by far, I learned about a HOST of things of which I was previously unaware, and got much more detail about some things with which I was already familiar. So much so, in fact, that I lost a whole day researching Neith, patron goddess of the city of Sais, because of one passing reference in Ray's book that piqued my curiosity beyond endurance. Now that's MY kind of Egyptology read, especially since I've read enough on the subject by now that not just every book sparks a real quest for further detail like that anymore.

It's a lovely book, a quick read, and I can recommend it to those interested in the subject, from novices to armchair Egyptologists like me.

December 21, 2013

Homeless, A Series

This is going to be a semi-regular feature on my blog until my current issues of homelessness and being separated from the SuperPreschooler are resolved, frankly because I need to write about my situation from time to time in order to process the things that are happening right now.

Most of Friday was not a good day. Remember when I said in my last post that none of this is easy? That doesn't negate the truth that I am glad to be starting a new life, but to quote a new hero of mine, "Hard is hard." And this shit is hard sometimes.

As you might imagine, PTSD and depression are not improved by the fear of impending homelessness, and it took me a while to get around to doing anything but lying in bed this morning. The first thing of value that started off my day was talking to my SuperPreschooler on FaceTime. I held it together--more or less--until we signed off, then I did a lot of crying. After that, I called a Crisis Hotline. This brings us up to about 4:30 pm, and as you can see, it had been a hella fun day.

I pulled myself together and prepared to finally leave the house, checking the mail on my way out. There, in black ink on white paper, the state of Colorado informed me that my application for medicaid had been...approved! Something else that has gone right in this process. Every flicker of hope is a very good thing.

Photo by Lisa Risager

And I finally arrived at my weekly crochet circle. Technically, it's a knitting circle, but if you've been reading this blog long, you know that I crochet a hell of a lot better and with much more confidence than I knit, so most of the group knits, I continue to work on crocheted Christmas presents, and we all keep each other company. It's a very accepting group, thank God, and often ends up as much a therapy session as a crafting event; we find ourselves telling each other things most people wouldn't discuss in an A.A. testimonial. Tonight was certainly no exception, as we covered the conversational spectrum from the history of Christianity to some truly frightening ways to sneak booze into a nightclub with you. (Fake tampons?! Seriously, this is a thing now? You have GOT to be kidding!)

Overall, it was intelligent conversation, a rare and precious gift from one's fellow human beings at times, and at the end of it, two young women who didn't even know my name yet ended up two of my new best friends. One of them also suffers from PTSD, and the other is a major part of her support network. They spoke to me with compassion and kindness, not pity, told me I was not alone, and generously gave their phone numbers to a near-stranger.

William Cowper wrote,

"God moves in a mysterious way,
     His wonders to perform."

He was absolutely right. Our Heavenly Father usually sends His greatest gifts through other people, the hope generated by the outstretched hand of loving human contact. And tomorrow is another day in which to make things better.

December 19, 2013

New Dawn, New Day, New Life

Photo: The Blue Marble NASA
(with color corrections by Deglr6328)

Nina Simone's
Feeling Good 

Everything in life involves some sort of trade-off.  I got my health back after my year-long, horrific ordeal with pain, nausea, and the meds required to live with both, at a cost of five surgeries performed in the space of about 3 hours and 8 full weeks of recuperation and medical restrictions.

After what my surgeon assured me really was a near-death experience, faced with the fact that both my parents and all my grandparents are now dead and there was no one left whom I could not bear to disappoint, I decided it was time to admit the truth, first to myself, then to the world, and come out as a lesbian. Obviously, the cost was a divorce from the heterosexual marriage in which I had been trying and spectacularly failing to live, but the end of that chapter came as a relief to all parties.

I am in one of the more LGBTQ-friendly states in the Union, hopefully to stay put for a while this time. Hello again, Colorado; I didn't expect to be here again, Denver, but I'm learning to love you very much all the same. However, the cost of this colossal move is that, since my ex-husband is still unemployed and therefore cannot pay either the child support or alimony to which we agreed, I am indigent, homeless (sleeping in a friend's basement--God bless you eternally, faithful friend!), on government aid, may soon have to relocate to a long-term homeless shelter, and am separated from my daughter while I find us a home. She is living with her paternal grandparents in another part of the Denver Metro area, so I get to see her (when I can find the gas money to drive there--thank you so much, helpful and supportive friends!), but the missing her is a very real physical ache at times.

My student loan mess was finally resolved, as my loans were forgiven. Yes, you read that right. Loans have been discharged. I just had to be diagnosed with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and panic disorder, have horrific nightmares for three years, occasional flashbacks, and other delightful symptoms that have made it impossible for me to work for the past six years before the Department of Education would agree that in my case, discharging my loans was an appropriate course of action. 

They are all costs worth paying, in the end--to get my health back, to be my genuine self, to see my daughter fed and cared for until I am back on my feet, to find therapy for my past traumas and begin rebuilding a life. That does not make any of them easy.  If ever I have experienced a baptism by fire, this has been it. But when it is all finally lived through, and the ash clears from the reverberating implosions of a false life and disingenuous identity I had constructed for myself, I am left with this thought.

"It's a new dawn
    It's a new day
      It's a new life
        for me...

And I'm feeling good."

I will read, I will write, I will crochet, and I will tell all of you all about it. It's good to be back. I hope you have stuck with me for the journey.
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