What a Woman Is Worth

by Tamara

womanisworth

It began with a question even before I was born.

Just a swell in my mother’s belly, I was punched by a hand that was meant to hold me. I was not even here yet, and already my worth was in doubt. As I grew, so would the question, and it would gnaw at me—unarticulated, insidious, and damning.

My world told me stories of my worth, and I believed them. So I lived into what I believed, which is to say, I did not live fully well.

Still, story was what I knew; how, in rare moments, I lived; how I could still, in some small way, be the truest me. So I let out a bit of my story into the online pages of A Deeper Story. I knew I was searching for a story deeper than the one my world had been telling me, and so I broke and I bared and I finally asked out loud the hardest question of my life in a blog post entitled, What’s a Girl Worth?

I was 13– Excited to be out late at Denny’s with my friends, talking and laughing, effervescent, carefree. He was much older, at least in his 30s, but he zeroed in on me. He leered, scruffy face so close, stinking drunk, and he loud-whispered words I’d never heard about what he wanted to do to me. He said he would make me quiver, and he did. Just not the way he meant.

I sought comfort from two women I thought would understand, but they could only see the moment through their own dark-tinted lenses. My experience wasn’t as bad as theirs had been, and they brushed it off. I was alone with fear and shame.

What’s a girl worth?

I was 15– Too young and too scared, desperate to keep my older boyfriend, reluctantly willing. He gave me a magazine as a guide, full of bodies and skin, excitement and impossibility. He wanted me to learn what to do for him. So I did. And when he used me all up, he left me to guilt and self-loathing. And I dared not seek comfort where it had not met me before.

What’s a girl worth?

I was 17– Feeling like a woman behind the wheel of my red convertible, waiting for the light to let me get to my hostess job, mature, nearly grown. He honked his horn and filled the space between his car and mine with shouts and dirty laughter: He liked how I ate my banana. I drove away stupid and small.

What’s a girl worth?

I was 31– Creating a place of laughter and heart-baring, writing good words, typing out truth. I opened up so others could too, and I invited conversation. He was anonymous and cowardly. He sent a message to describe how he’d defile me if he had his way. I was shaken and suspicious.

When I turned to my communities, two scoffers stood out among the supporters. Women who suggested it was my fault, expected, deserved.

What’s a girl worth?

I know the statement of my worth comes from the lips of the One who made me, but yet– but yet. When the shouts of men say, You’re just a thing to fuck, when the sneers of women say, Oh well, the voice of truth is hard to make out through the din.

And I need the strong voices of my brothers and the sweet singing of my sisters to raise loud the truth of our Father’s words, to remind me what a girl’s worth.

Have you ever struggled to believe what you’re worth when God and the world disagree?

I clicked “publish” and stared at my own story on the screen, now in full view. I was bare and frightened, bold and free. Right away, responses flooded in, but the one that was clearest was this: I was not alone. The question of worth was universal, and people were aching to find it answered.

So I began to gather their stories, and I read over and over that, different as they seemed, our stories were the same. We were all wounded and wanting, longing for acceptance, most of all from ourselves. And as I handled each woman’s story closely and with care, I saw my own wounds I had ignored for so long; I saw that I needed the same close care.

And so I offer this book not as a reflection of an editor who is herself a neatly tied-up work, but as a person who is still very much a work in progress. I offer you stories of hurt and of healing so that you might begin to listen to and claim your own. I offer you hope that the story of redemption is one able to be woven into all others. I offer you invitation to discover alongside me what a woman is worth.

Pick up your copy of What a Woman Is Worth here.

Cheese Ball Rosary

by Tamara

ours shared

I learned two things the other day: We belong to each other, and cheese balls make great rosaries. (Well, the first one I already knew, but I’m good at forgetting it. The second was a real surprise and delight, though.)

The fact is we’re all dying. We know this, but most of us don’t deal with it on a daily basis because we’re too busy living or else we’re just too busy.

But take this one week: My great-aunt was a Rockette and now she’s dead from cancer, and two of my friends’ parents are dying hard– but not fast enough to free their minds from ferociously failing bodies– and within days they’re both dead, and my friends are relieved and heartbroken and in their 30s with just one parent each, and there was a baby boy who didn’t make it. Fuck.

It’s shitty, it’s the goddamn worst, it’s all the bad words. Death. I just hate it.

I explained my anti-death stance to my 11-year-old last night while I boiled pasta for our dinner: “The problem with death is it takes away all hope for life.” I talked about the possibility for redemption and healing while a person was still living; I talked about God being God and us, definitely not. I talked, impassioned and impotent, and the spaghetti turned limp from the boil.

And when I got the news, mid-workday, that my friend’s dad was finally gone, I cried and got the barrel of cheese balls from the highest shelf of the pantry, where I keep bad things away from the kids, and I ate them and ate them and ate them because it was really all I could do.

I wiped greasy orange flakes off my fingers and went online to our small group of friends to share the news. I asked them to pray for our friend, and that was my word, “Our.” And it hit me. He was ours in that moment, and soon so was she, and I’ve been theirs when I needed them most– and always, we belong to each other.

We share our lives, the hope, the redemption, the healing.

And we share our deaths, the despair, the relief, the heartache.

Life and death. Ours. Shared.

And so I went back to my ridiculous barrel, but this time I prayed as I took just one cheese ball. One cheese ball, rolled around in my mouth that had no good words at all. One cheese ball, and I just held it there– air sucked out, melting. One cheese ball, one prayer. Slow, deliberate, feeling the rough edges, tasting the saltiness.

I ate a small handful this way. And then I tucked the barrel back up on the highest shelf with all the junk, I washed my hands, and I went back to life.

Twenty-Four Inches to Choose Truth

by Tamara

'fit for a Princess' photo (c) 2006, liz west - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It came on out of nowhere, a small thing turned big, a feeling– normally dismissed– now wielding supernatural strength. It claimed hold; it held tight.

First the anger, then the sadness, tired beyond tired, done.

Submerged, suffocated.

Me.

***

My depression sprung up on Saturday, and it didn’t care that the next day I had to sing. And not just sing– lead.

Lead worship.

Sunday’s alarm jolted at 6 a.m., and I took eleven minutes. Not to snooze, but to consider sending a text: Sorry. Sick. Can’t make it. The message would’ve been true.

But in those moments, in that bed, where I lay captive to depression the long night before, I saw for the first time in three-quarters of a day that I finally had a choice. And if you do not know depression, I have to impress upon you this: the choice to fight depression is a rare and precious gift.

I laid there, and I thought of the pastor who prefaced his lesson with a confession that he was spiritually dry and then stepped out in faith to speak vibrant truth to 2000 of my fellow worship leaders and me. And I realized that between the top of my bed and the floor was the space my feet would have to swing through to take my own faith step: twenty-four inches to choose truth.

***

I walked up to the quiet sanctuary and fell in line beside my friends. He carried her guitar, and his “How are you?” was sincere. I chanced that maybe they could carry my luggage, too.

“I almost didn’t make it here today.”

And I told them about the battle that this morning I was fighting. They didn’t shrink back.

They picked up my burden, and a little of me too, and we walked in to lead worship, broken, together.

***

I first published this post at my personal blog, Tamára Out Loud, in September 2011. It has resonated with people who fight with depression, so I’m sharing it here for those who might be struggling this winter. Believe in hope, friends–  it’s true.

 

On a Bus Ride of Redemption

by Tamara

lonelygirl

I’m already in my school bus seat when you get on board, so you’re headed right toward me, but I would’ve noticed you anyway. I can always tell my kind.

I’m across the aisle from my daughter. She wanted me to chaperone for the theater but not actually sit with her—that honor is reserved for her newest best friend. They’re the girls who talk nonstop but never once to you, and I bet you think I’m in the club, but don’t let my cute shoes fool you. The only difference between you and me is that I’ve had 22 more years to learn to dress a part.

***

I am on a mission of redemption,” Jacob Marley proclaims. His English accent is passable and his costume is quite good. Do you notice how heavy he makes the plastic chains look? He widens his stance and hunches his back, and I know this feeling. Too much to carry.

***

You’re searching for a spot, and at first it’s not so bad—there might still be an empty seat. But I watch as hope fades out of your face. Taken. Full. No room. And I’m sure a chaperone’s seat isn’t the coolest place in sixth grade, but I can’t let you wander a moment longer. You have to know that there’s a place for you.

You duck your head and move through the space I’ve opened all the way across the bench until you can lean on the window. You tuck a greasy strand of worn-out pink hair behind your ear, and you hide beneath a hoodie. I know this move; I still do it. Except I don’t often have a hoodie on when I need to get away, so I hide in bed sheets and Facebook and busyness.

You’ve wedged yourself between the seat corner and the window so you could not possibly take up less room, but I see you in detail. Your fingernails are jagged and the chipping black polish has rubbed off one finger entirely. You’ve forgone foundation, but your pores are still clogged in rebellion. You wear blue eyeliner and it’s meant to bring out your eyes, but you cast them down and close them. I get it— the trying, the futility, the exhaustion of it all. And, tucked away, you retreat to sleep. It’s okay, go ahead—no one will mess with you. I’m right beside you.

***

“Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business,” Marley booms. I wonder if you know these words; I wonder if I know them.

***

We’ve arrived at the school and the kids file out in silently agreed-upon order: the rowdy group from the back of the bus, the jokester boys, the popular girls, and now last it should be you. But the bus’ final exhalation hasn’t woken you, and so I touch your shoulder, “Sweetie, we’re here.”

As you rise to head back into a middle school hall, I pray: I am on a mission of redemption. Mankind is my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence are, all, my business. And I just hope you really heard me when I said that we were here.

[photo]

“Did Jesus Get Diarrhea?” and Other Burning Questions

by Tamara

'Mmm...pita bread' photo (c) 2010, jeffreyw - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I feel like shit, and I mean that about as literally as one can. I’m also probably going to puke any minute now. My kids have had a tummy bug, and of course now they decide to be great students of my “please share” philosophy. Where was this aptitude when I wanted a fun-size Butterfinger on Halloween? Ugh, forget it. Candy’s the last thing I want now.

Also I probably should have refrained from chili for dinner tonight. That’s gonna burn twice. Damn.

And I’m not trying to gross you out– I promise– but I’m just sitting here wondering, as my insides threaten to bust out: Did Jesus get diarrhea? Do you think he ever puked? I’m sure he didn’t make passive-aggressive mention of denied fun-size candy bars to his eye-rolling disciples, but, I mean, if we’re going to buy that he was fully human, then didn’t he surely get the shits?

My brilliant nurse practitioner friend says that, given the water quality and sanitation of the time, he probably had frequent diarrhea as a child. Then, as an adult, he would have had enough antibodies that he didn’t have to worry about it. So, okay, fine. (Also, I’m not sure I’d take that deal. Or any of his subsequent ones, come to think of it.)

But then I’m thinking, He broke so much bread! Yeah, there were like 153 fish that one time, but, you guys, all the bread. And let me tell you– because I can carb load like nobody’s business– you go around multiplying your pitas, and you are gonna be stopped the hell up.

And if he spent his childhood on the runs and his adulthood shitting bricks, then my curiosity really gets a little bent out of shape when I think about his adolescence. You know a young dude’s gonna wake up to morning wood– totally natural. But then what does he do?! Here’s all I’ll say about that: Jesus’ life is noticeably undocumented from about ages 12 to 30.

And speaking of his sexuality (which I totally just did!!!!!<–what!!! aslkdflsjkdfskd!!!!!!), what was Jesus’ orientation? Did he have romantic attractions that he just shut down on account of also sort of being Our Father? Or was he maybe asexual? That actually makes a ton of sense. I can totally see him friend-zoning us all.

I know maybe you think it’s weird that I think about this stuff, but here’s the thing: I have to really know this man. I have to know he was just like me, but also not like me at all. I have to know he dealt with real shit because how else could he deal with mine? I have to know he felt the whole range of human feelings because how else could he feel me?

I have to really know him because that’s how the whole thing works. If I have any chance of really being saved, I have to really be loved. And if I have any chance of really being loved, I have to really be known. And if I’m really known, then I can really know.

It’s like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Nasty Christian Edition, all coming back around like my stupid chili dinner.

A family friend once joked that maybe we get diarrhea as a product of the Fall. I think it’s pretty unfair that we haven’t managed to build the antibodies for sin in all this damn time since. But I guess maybe that’s where Jesus comes in with all those pita pockets. He’s like:

Listen, I know how much this sucks right now. I’ve totally been there.

But, here, take my bread.

It’ll bind you up.

 

I don’t care where she’s been– now I’ve got her

by Tamara

'Lost Children?' photo (c) 2008, Tomasz Dunn - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

“Where’s Mia?”

I turn around and scan the aisle.

“Mia? Mia? Where did she go? Mia?”

She was just here by my side. How’d she get out of sight so fast and where in the hell did she go?

“Mia?!”

She’s three and precocious and sweet with a kick. And she isn’t here. She’s not here.

“Mia, where are you? Please come back.”

She never wanders so far or so long. The store is expansive and she’s still small enough to be carried. Still young enough to be trusting. I scan the exit.

I’m up and down the aisle and in and out of racks. Her name is all I can say and I’m louder with each call.

“Mia?!”

It’s taking too long and it doesn’t make sense. My heart is jammed with reasons. Tears and terror feel exactly the same.

I’m running. I’m spinning on my feet and in my head and in my heart. Where is my baby? No, no, no.

I’m loud and people are getting alarmed– I don’t care. Look at me wild-eyed. Look at me crazy. Hear me desperate and fierce and fighting. Look and hear and feel what I feel and join me. Help me. Forget all your plans– I don’t care. It’s my baby who’s missing and I’ll tear this store apart. You can get out of my way or help me.

The people are good and they’re kind and they care. They’re crouching and peeking. I reel.

“Mia?!” It’s a chorus and I’m the prima donna. Hear me above, hear me best; hear me, hear me, hear me, Mia.

“Here she is!” They’re the sweetest words. The woman with my child is an angel in khakis with middle-aged Southern gal hair.

I run down the aisle and scoop up the girl with the dark, bouncy curls ’cause she’s mine. And I cannot believe, can’t believe, where she was: hiding in an end cap behind a damn ottoman. She thought it would be fun and for a while it was funny, but her face says she’s back with her mama.

And I hold her, I hug her, I sink her into me. And I don’t care where she’s been– now I’ve got her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Food means, “I want to take care of you.”

by Tamara

My curls were pinned in perfect place when I strode up to that open interview—if I wasn’t qualified to bring a beer to a table, at least I could look like I was. Last time I applied at a restaurant, you just gave them your application and a sweet smile—but that was when gas was on the low end of two dollars a gallon. Now you needed a resume to carry a tray, and you were better off leaving out the parts about editing manuscripts and writing crisp copy. Now your college degree was the height of irrelevance, as your competition was still working on earning theirs, and they had slung coffee just last year, and they were ten years’ hotter than you, and the better to serve your table with, my dear.

So I gave the interviewer my sweetest smile, creased on the sides with 33 years, and I handed him a paper that proved before I wrote books, I rang them up on a register. I could show him I had something that mattered. And then maybe I could pull this off, maybe I could earn a living on less than minimum wage and the liquor-lubed generosity of strangers.

We sat across the folding table from each other, and I offered in enthusiasm what I lacked in any recent, relevant experience whatsoever, and I spun my words as well as I do, and I always remembered my smile. And it must have worked for something because he tried to soft-pitch me questions that I might have a shot at satisfying, but the truth was, I didn’t. We both knew I’d never get the call.

***

“Did you know you can earn a thousand dollars from one video?”

“Tamara, you’re making me nervous.”

“I’m just kidding. I mean, you can, though—isn’t that crazy? You know I’d never do it. But jeez…”

“Tamara.”

“Maybe I should be an escort. You just go on a date, right? That’s not so bad.”

“What, do you think they’re going to pay just to take you out for dinner? You think they won’t expect anything?”

“I’ve applied at every coffee shop in town and haven’t heard back from a single one. I have to make money.”

“It’s not funny. You’re scaring me.”

“Yeah, well I’m scared too.”

***

My brothers and sisters still queued up to the table, and I’d already had my portion of the Supper, so I did like you sometimes do after a filling meal, and I just rested my body alongside my mind. I wasn’t thinking anything in particular, just drawing close to the Parent who’d fed me, a prayer held lightly open without any words. So when the words came, sure and strong, I knew they didn’t come from me. So I prayed them because what else are you going to do with words so pressed upon you?

Show me—this week—how exactly you would have me feed the hungry.

Food’s a language I love to speak because it means “I want to take care of you,” but I just form those words with banana bread for my babies and lasagna for my friends and fast food burgers for the folks who can’t swing that 49 cents. It’s just a little thing that fills me because it fills them. I’ve never given it much thought; I certainly had no reason that Sunday for it to be my great big prayer.

But it was so sudden and so strangely specific, I kept at it throughout the week, and I tried to do my part to answer my own prayer, which was never actually any such thing. I thought surely there’d be a big community feeding event that week. Clearly a friend would have a crisis any day now. I had no idea why the words came, but they were clear, and not only was I on a blind mission, I was on a tight deadline.

End of the week came and I’d kept up my part of a bargain I’d not asked for but which I felt I was being magnanimously cooperative about. I usually need to know everything in detail and in advance because this way I can operate as though I have some control over things, namely, my own life. But this was God’s deal, so I wasn’t personally invested in the situation; I was just curious when I’d be let in on the joke.

***

Joy called me, so excited to be getting a permanent job. We were freelancers, and that means you can make some respectable money– until the project ends and you make zero with benefits to match. The company she’d been freelancing for wanted to offer her the perfect position, but in order to move her into that role, they’d need to replace her. And they didn’t want any more freelancers—they wanted permanent copywriters. And they wanted to know who she might recommend.

She knew I needed work, so she called to ask what exactly it was that I did. Just like she thought, I did exactly what they needed. I transform others’ writing and create my own so that we can tell the best stories– because stories are how hearts connect.

We were pumped. She would recommend me, and if I got the job, I would use my relevant degree and eleven years’ experience—a resume full of the things I most love to do. We both knew I’d get the call.

It was Friday. And I would work for Feed The Children.

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How to Say Grace

by Tamara

'Praying at the Altar' photo (c) 2013, Charles Clegg - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

When I was growing up, we always said grace at the dinner table. Dad cooked on the nights Mom worked late, and I hated it when we couldn’t all be there together for the meal because it didn’t quite feel like family, but on the nights when we were all gathered together– joy and peace– it felt whole.

When my little brother or I said grace, it was sometimes an original in the style of our parents; sometimes a rote “God is great, God is good, let us thank Him for our food”; and sometimes, when we’d scarfed the gifts in front of us and forgotten grace entirely, we prayed, “God is good, God is great, let us thank Him for what we ate,” and we laughed at our own silliness, which was a way of grace itself. When Dad said grace, it was simple, and it laid bare his vulnerability, and he often bequeathed his turn to Mom. And when Mom said grace, her words were graceful, and from that fullness, her prayer poured out gratefulness, hope, and trust. I heard her grace, and she taught me.

My mom still teaches, and these days she does her work at a high school. She helps her Spanish class students to open up language, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to each other; and she leads them in daily prayer, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to God. But when she brings her students to Holy Communion, not just because it’s required of her job, but because that is where people connect to God and each other, she is not welcome at the table. She loves her school and they love her, but she is one sort of Christian and they are another, and their sort holds closed communion, so her sort sits out.

But Mom says grace. She kneels in the pew while her students receive, and she prays they will get fed with more than wafers and wine. She stays away from the man-made altar, and as she abides the rules that grieve her, she lifts up offerings from the ramshackle altar of her own heart. And while she is asked not to gather at the table with those who ought be and are family, she remains graceful, and from that fullness, her prayer pours out gratefulness, hope, and trust. And I hear her grace, and she teaches me.

 

 

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