EMPTY SHELF BOOK #10: Bread & Wine.

photo 6.43.55 PM

The Empty Shelf Challenge is a dare from Jon Acuff this year to read as much as you can in 2014. After clearing a bookshelf on January 1st, you add books that you finish.

Above is the tenth book I read for the #EmptyShelf Challenge.

Below is the format I have done for each book I read.

Title: Bread & Wine

Author: Shauna Niequist

What’s it about: Gathering around the table to share more than just dinner — but rather to share life.

Favorite quote: This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner’s at six…The table is where time stops. It’s where we look people in the eye, where we tell the truth about how hard it is, where we make space to listen to the whole story, not the textable sound bite…If you can satiate a person’s hunger, you can get a glimpse of their heart. There’s an intimacy in it, in the meeting of needs and the filling of one’s stomach, that is, necessarily, tied to the heart.

Why did I read it: Shauna Niequist fills my soul. She writes with such a deep honesty that I find myself longing with her, hoping with her, loving with her. She is the reason I continue to blog.

Favorite idea: I’m so hungry for something more and I need more than food. I need friends and real conversations. I need love and meeting others where they are at. I need intimacy.

Where can you buy it?: Right here.

Living Life in Ellipses (or 299.4)

Mextures

It was my idea and I almost stopped it. I almost cancelled this wonderful three-course dinner. It was mesmerizing, joyous, deep, full, gregarious, and all things good. We talked about our jobs and our loves and our futures.

And I almost cancelled it.

When you are 27 and single, dinner often means that many of your friends aren’t. They might be with the love of their life or the love of this chapter. Either way, it means that you are not in the same space that they are relationally and if you let it, it will tear you up inside.

Sitting in the typical Seattle traffic leaving my new job, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to confront my feelings. I would’ve been so much easier for me to eat Burger King on my couch for the umpteenth time and alone. I have been in so much pain being single, gay, and Black and without a ‘home team’ that I didn’t know how to even properly have a conversation about the depths of my heartache. After the gay small group exile of people my same age, my heart dreads knowing people deeply – but craves it as well.

My heart’s lifeblood is its poison as well.

That extra time on I-5 emboldened me. I would go to my friend Cory’s and I would eat and talk and learn and grow. I would be the only gay guy. I would be the only Black guy. And I would be the only single guy – and as I get older, I start wondering if the things that make me unique are the same things that also make me a liability for a potential relationship. They are risks. In a world where everyone is craving safety and stability, I possess neither of those. I’m a minority in many ways and being different is unsafe and chancy.

“My best friend would never be sitting where you are,” a new friend said to me over a delicious duck, herb, and sauce combination and I was surprised by both eating my first slices of duck and being commended for my own courage. It’s easy to live life alone. I love sitting on my couch in my pajamas watching Karen and Jack poke fun at Will and Grace for the 547th time and it never gets old. I love writing about my story not because I think my story matters, but because I tell my students to do that and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I love curling up with a pepperoni pizza like it’s my only friend in the world because some days, it is.

But that night.

That night was different – almost magical. It was a thin space – a space where I saw heaven and earth appear as closely as one could get. That night, I made the choice sit among friends new and old to talk about real things – Ferguson, our favorite comfort foods, the Church’s response to homosexuality, and why Karen speaks often in ellipses, rather than periods.

The ellipsis tells me that something else is coming. It’s a punctuational turn that makes what I say next matter. It keeps me on the edge of my seat and tells me that there is a package on my proverbial doorstep. And yet, it implores me to wait because I’m not ready for the next part. 

Because it might change me.

Because it might move me.

Because it might transform who I am.

Evin+: My Embattled Plea to be More

Less-is-More2

If you walked to my house and saw my bookshelves, you would think that a therapist lived here, but there’s no therapist. It’s just me.

Just me.

Self-help book after self-help book grace my crowded shelves. How to be a better classroom manager. How to be more content. How to have more time. How to be more financially stable. How to get a date. How to keep a date. How to have more friends. How to keep the friends you have.

More.

I just want to be more and better. Better looking. More in shape. Better relationships. More time. If I just had that thing, I’d be fine. I’d be happy. I would have arrived.

But I’m not more. Actually, I’ve been feeling more less.

During a Hulu Plus marathon on my Chromecast (more invades my financial life as well), a surprising tear rolled down my cheek. And then, two. And three. Trying to escape on Instagram was no help. There they were. My former friends. Betrayed and hurt, I thought that I had forgiven them. I thought that I was fine. But I wasn’t. Where did I put that book? I had loaned it to someone. Frustrated with my own thought, I sat and hugged myself. This wasn’t supposed to happen. If only I was more.

I remember one day talking to my boss, she said anecdotally that I had seemed unhappy. I was unhappy, but I didn’t know that people could see my soul – my inside, the parts of myself that weren’t my job, my car, my clothes, my lifestyle.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“I just want to be in a relationship,” I replied unprofessionally. I knew this wasn’t a conversation that was appropriate considering it was my yearly evaluation meeting, but I didn’t care. I spilled everything – that everyone was dating except for me, that I was tired of not making enough money to live comfortably as I saw on TV, that I wanted to be happy.

At this point, I was in tears and she handed me a tissue. “Evin, it’s time to be Evin+.” She told me that she was unmarried at my age as well and that she had tried everything and finally, she decided that she would run a marathon.

And she did. It wasn’t about being fast. It wasn’t about getting healthy. It was about the time it took and this time allowed for her to fully develop into a person that she was ready to be in going into her 30’s.

“It’ll come. But you have to believe it’s coming and don’t rush it.”

I left her office teary-eyed, but hopeful. I know I’m not supposed to want Evin+Health or Evin+Wealth or Evin+More or Evin+Somebody or Evin+Perfection.

But I still do.

I want to be Evin+. That book just hasn’t been written yet.

To Say Goodbye

IMG_1096

It seems that twenty-seven has been the year of saying goodbye. This evening, I drove through the delightfully small town-esque neighborhood of Phinney Ridge. I had gone there to do trivia night at a bar that’s too small with bodies that were too many and questions that were too obscure. All in all, it was a good time. I drove down Greenwood and decided that I would go home that way. The way that I wished I would be going every week to say goodbye to Alec. That way that was mostly Fremont and mostly Phinney Ridge.

Alec was a guy working within a ministry whose goal was to come alongside twenty-somethings and talk about God, mission, work, and community. It was hokey. It is. But Alec meant more than that ministry to me. He was the first guy since my straight-ex that took an interest in who I was becoming and was willing to talk about hard things – and set boundaries.

Being in your late 20s gives you the opportunity to look over your life and, often with an amazing therapist and friends-you-often-hate-because-they-know-you-too-well, find patterns. These patterns become how we become hardwired and they become our autopilot, good or bad. And my pattern was feeling abandoned. Often, I would use men in my life to feed some inner hunger of companionship and that companionship could turn overly dependent. Alec was the first guy who wanted to invest and was willing to say no. I liked him for that. No, I loved him for that.

And so on that fateful crisp night, when he said goodbye and gave me a final hug (because as I told him before, ‘I’m a hugger’) I was able to keep it together.

And then, I began walking back to my car and I lost it. No beautiful tears. Just raw, ugly crying. The kind of crying where you have to catch your breath because it comes from someplace you didn’t know existed.

But the twenty-somethings are also about saying goodbyes that need to be said. Goodbyes to people that are ‘good enough’ because you deserve people who care and cherish and want what’s best for you and are wholly about you. I had to do one of those goodbyes and it was ugly. I had been a part of a small group and it took a turn for the worst when two of the guys played a practical joke that I found less than funny.

Once again, it was men.

And once again, I was forced to say goodbye.

My pastor says often that the act of entering into something means that you must leave something behind. But that doesn’t mean that the leaving or the entering is easy. Every time, I find myself becoming Lot’s wife in looking back. Looking back to pain. Looking back to anger. Looking back to loneliness. And every time, I lose.

I say goodbye in order to say hello. I am forced to believe that everyday when I want to call Alec up because I’m lonely. I have to believe that a hello is around the corner when I harbor bitterness towards guys who hurt my feelings while they were still raw from another goodbye.

Because hello is coming.

And I have to be ready to wave.

COMBATING CARDIOSCLEROSIS: Pride, Community, and Open Hands

There are many things in this world that can harden your heart – that can make you roll your eyes, stiffen your neck, look in the opposite direction, and make you check your cell phone for the text that isn’t there. Last year, our church started a campaign that would force us to look that neighbor in the eye to say hello to that homeless person – to have Eyes 2 See. And one year later, I’m still missing the point.

This week was Pride in Seattle and it was Pride without me. Instead, I went to a worship night put on by my church and met God there. Unfortunately, I have yet to meet God at Pride. I can’t find him in the oversexualized celebration of phallic lollipops. I can’t see him in the jockstrap lad guys riding a float celebrating drunkenness and debauchery. I can’t see him in that.

So at the risk of keeping a tender heart leaned toward Christ, I choose not to participate.

And that’s hard.

“You’re supposed to be proud!” says society about being gay. #betrue my sneakers say. Burger King just came out with the Proud Whopper. I’m supposed to be proud. But what I am supposed to be proud of? The overt racism within the gay community? The blatant marketing to men who are openly choosing not to be safe? These are the things that harden my heart. Not because I’m better than that lifestyle, but because we are better than that lifestyle.

And so I choose to go to a worship night trying to find my place in God’s story, in the midst of keeping these two compartmentalized parts of myself from destroying the other.

It was a cool night for June. Well, every night is a cool night for June in Cascadia and I sat with Ben and his boyfriend who was wondering how to engage with the church from a grassroots level. I wish I could help him. I don’t want to tell him that I’m just as lost as he is. The only difference is that my congregation knows that I’m openly gay and they still talk to me and see me as one of their own. I get prayer like a congregant. I do welcoming team like a congregant.

But I didn’t tell him that I invited another gay guy who has seemingly forgot all about me, yet has started to attend. I didn’t tell him that I’ve missed the forgiveness prayer retreat two years in a row. I didn’t tell him that I got into an argument with the children’s ministry director. I didn’t tell him the unpleasantries of community. That it’s risky opening yourself up every week, not knowing if you will be fully accepted.

But someone as to be Moses.

And that’s hard.

And I didn’t want to tell him that.

So in order to keep my heart soft and my hands open, I keep showing up believing that God will meet me there. And every week I come, he peels off the Monday through Saturday callouses that life creates and makes it ready-for-use.

The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or Something Like That (or 286.2)

Motorcycle Pic

I’ve never read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I imagine it goes something like this:

Man decides to get away from ‘it all.’

Man travels alone on motorcycle.

Man discovers something about himself and life.

Man returns enlightened.

There is something about ‘the journey’ metaphor that is used very often to describe weight loss. Most recently, (actually, last week to this hour), I was sitting in the emergency room having an asthma attack.

I had had a wonderful time eating with a girlfriend of mine. (In fact, the same colleague that was now at her Weight Watchers healthy weight for about three years now. Needless to say, every time I saw her, I looked at my stomach and said silently, “Why can’t YOU do that?”)

But then…

As I reverse ate my Thai lunch for a second time over the porcelain throne about 5 hours later, I got scared. I was nervous. I was alone. Sweat dripped down my brow. My body was failing me and I was on my own.

Immediately, I knew that God had forced my hand. I HAD to call someone. I couldn’t make the 20 minute drive up to Capitol Hill on my own for urgent care. I needed someone — not in a melodramatic, emotional way, but in a very real, physical way.

Which reminds me of my Weight Watchers leader.

Every Monday night, I practically drag myself to my Weight Watchers meeting — not because it’s bad, but because it’s embarrassing. I lost 80 pounds with the old ‘program’ (also known as eating tons of fiber and just less fat) and now, I have to learn how to live better.

One particular night, I stayed after with my leader and he could sense something was wrong. I told him what was up. “I just feel so alone.” During my first round, I had a girlfriend of mine (the one that I had lunch with) and once she became Lifetime, she left and then, that was it. And so, I began to gradually pack on the pounds. I didn’t understand it. Why was this happening? And then, my leader said it:

This is now

YOUR

journey.

And so, as I sat in my bathroom barfing up my guts , I HAD to get help. I needed help. I called my roommate who, in turn referred me to a mutual friend that took me to the ER.

But I WANT to be independent. I NEED to be independent. In fact, my leader’s words force me to internalize the necessity to be fully into the program without leaning on somebody else completely.

But life demands interdependency. I will need someone else for something else at some time in the future.

And so, this is the journey. Weight loss is my motorcycle and I’m still trying to figure out what it is that I need to discover in order to ‘come home.’ It’s a journey that demands all of me AND demands that I find help.

Musical Scale: “Don’t Let Me Get Me” (Pink)

A song about how Pink can’t stand being around herself, she finds herself metaphorically (and perhaps literally) screaming at her mirror praying to be someone else. How often is that our prayer? Maybe it’s just mine. If only I just blanked, I would be happy. I’d be successful. I’d feel good. Instead, we find ourselves annoyed by our own faults, body image, and personality altogether — and this is the place where Pink writes from: a place of irritation because of our own iniquities, temptations, and humanity. And it’s true: I AM a hazard to myself.

Never win first place,
I don’t support the team,
I can’t take direction,
And my socks are never clean.

Teachers dated me.
My parents hated me.
I was always in a fight
‘Cause I can’t do nothin’ right.

Every day, I fought a war against the mirror,
I can’t take the person starin’ back at me.

I’m a hazard to myself,
don’t let me get me.
I’m my own worst enemy,
it’s bad when you annoy yourself,
So irritating!
Don’t wanna be my friend no more,
I wanna be somebody else,
I wanna be somebody else. Yeah.

L.A. told me,
“You’ll be a pop star.
All you have to change
Is everything you are.”

Tired of being compared
To damn Britney Spears
She’s so pretty,
That just ain’t me.

So doctor, doctor, won’t you please prescribe me somethin’?
A day in the life of someone else.

‘Cause I’m a hazard to myself.
Don’t let me get me.
I’m my own worst enemy,
It’s bad when you annoy yourself.

So irritating!
Don’t wanna be my friend no more,
I wanna be somebody else.

Don’t let me get me.
I’m my own worst enemy,
It’s bad when you annoy yourself.

So irritating.
Don’t wanna be my friend no more,
I wanna be somebody else.

So doctor, doctor won’t you please prescribe me somethin’?
A day in the life of someone else.

Don’t let me get me.

Oh, I’m a hazard to myself, yeah.
Don’t let me get me.
I’m my own worst enemy,
It’s bad when you annoy yourself.

So irritating.
Don’t wanna be my friend no more,
I wanna be somebody else.

Don’t let me get me.
I’m my own worst enemy,
It’s bad when you annoy yourself.