Since I was a teenager, I’ve always felt compelled to write. I can’t explain why nor do I have much inkling to try. I am usually an artist of the more visually expressive formats such as painting, drawing or even sculpting. This latest inspirational moment to put words to paper sparked when I was in church last Sunday. It wasn’t an immediate feeling but it only took a matter of moments. I was listening to Pastor Jeff’s message and he said “…we all have a story…” – that’s when a gear in my mind started to engage. Within a matter of seconds I was thinking, “Yes, we all have a story and we never know how similar or different our own story may be to any other individual.”
From that initial thought and still my mind has been craving some self expression in written form so I thought I’d give it a try. Now I don’t want to get your hopes up, I haven’t written anything of significance for over 15 years. The last piece of writing I’ve done had to have been for an assignment of some sort. I haven’t decided what thought, experience or point of view I’d like to share specifically so I think I’ll just take what I am naming the babbling approach. Here we go…
I live in a small town in Oklahoma named Sallisaw. I call it a small town because even though technically it’s a city. The population is only between 8,000 – 12,000. Now in this area that is considered a legitimate city. I’ve moved around and visited cities ranging in population from 100k to over 2 million, thus my inclination to label Sallisaw a town. Since I’m babbling I’ll just give some of my personal history that has taken place here in Sallisaw, Ok. I believe I was third grade when my family moved into our home here. I remember helping do some work on our home while it was being built. I can’t recall exactly where I lived prior to that (reasons for my lack of recollection are their own separate story). My family received our home through a joint agreement/contract with the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma Housing Authority. As I remember, part of the agreement was that we assist in the building stage of our home by putting in a set number of hours. Being in third grade, I obviously wasn’t too well skilled in carpentry skills so I remember doing things like sanding and painting some wooden trims and window sills once they were fixed into place. So back in third grade was when Sallisaw, OK officially became my hometown. I lived in Sallisaw until after I’d completed high school in 1991. I always did well in school and I think that’s in large part to a few sources. My parents always put a strong emphasis on my education. Separately, my dad was an avid reader and not only supported but encouraged my interest in reading pretty much anything. I would read magazines, library books and I had a pretty good collection of children and young adults books. I’ve always found a great sense of peace in reading. I haven’t ever really tried to pinpoint where that serenity comes from but I think I’d have to say it’s from the relaxation, imagination and learning experiences available inside any and every story.
During my senior year in high school, I applied for and received a scholarship to study fine arts at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, OK. I don’t remember any of my friend’s reactions to receiving art scholarship. I have to think that the primary reaction was surprise since I didn’t take a single art class in high school. I’ve always been sort of a nerd and I’m perfectly content with my nerdness. I didn’t take any art classes because from what I saw other students doing and heard discussed – the art classes didn’t seem like a legitimate art program. I remember as a kid thinking the stuff people did and said about the art classes was a fairly weak attempt to legitimize a blow off class. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t object to blow off classes, I had a few myself but I felt serious about my desire to study art in a variety of aspects. That’s the high points of my educational history in Sallisaw. Thinking over what I’ve written so far, I don’t suppose I’ve really told you anything about me, the person. I’m not sure how accurate my observations will be since they are all going to be from the inside looking out and in my own almost always skewed perceptions but I’ll give it a try.
Hmm, I’m not exactly sure where or how to begin. I am so many things and I don’t know which will give a clearer picture of the person writing this story. I guess I’ll just introduce myself as if we’re meeting for the first time since most of us will be doing just that. Hello reader, my name is Angela – most people call me Ang. It’s nice to meet you. I was born and raised here in Oklahoma, USA. I’m a very proud member of the Cherokee Nation. There are other aspects of my cultural background but I identify primarily as Cherokee. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m an artist. I think I’ve always been drawn to art, reading and writing is because I prefer to express myself via a means of communication other than verbal. I’ve always been quiet, it’s one of my favorite personality traits. While I enjoy my quietness, I’ve encountered a variety of mixed reactions from those that haven’t had to opportunity to know me. Some folks assume some less than desirable traits based on my lack of talking even though I’m never disrespectful or rude. I’ve learned to accept a variety of judgments from folks based on things like physical appearance, body piercing, tattoos, speaking or lack thereof. I can have a sarcastic sense of humor to my friends and people that know me. One of my other favorite character traits is my Christianity. I saved it for the end of the list because in the story of my life, it’s the most recent development. I have multiple new thoughts about my relationship with God on a daily basis.
Let me start by telling you that I moved back to Sallisaw, Oklahoma from Spring Hill, Florida shortly after my father died. My mother has called me on a regular basis since I moved away from home to attend university. For a few months I’d been receiving regular updates on my dad’s health status. I was attempting to organize some time off work to visit home and see him before he got too sick. I can’t remember exactly where I was when I received the call that informed me that he’d taken a dramatic turn for the worse. I accelerated my preparations to make my trip home but to no avail. Before I could complete the necessary arrangements, my dad died. I was left with a huge emptiness because I never got home to tell him that I love him or get closure from the intake of the reality of the situation. Anyone that has lost a parent knows that the only adjective for the feeling immediately following the notification is devastation. I put everything into full swing to make certain I would be with my family for my dad’s funeral. Part of me hurts everyday from missing my dad. I was able to stay home for a few days then I had to return to my life in Florida.
Upon return to my daily routines and realities in Florida, I was constantly worried about my mom. My mom and I have an intense history that includes friendship as part of our mother/daughter relationship. One of the things I’d known for quite a while was that my dad was “ the one” for my mom. In adulthood I became aware that when I started preparing for my life with as a spouse I wanted the love, bond, friendship and devotion that my mom and dad had shared for as long as I could remember. Don’t mistake my words and think they had a perfect marriage. I’m certain no such thing exists. I do know that I could see how much they loved each other even when they weren’t in the same area. It was that obvious. They knew each other in a way that very few people have the opportunity to know anyone. My family home was a haven of love and support. I could tell my mom was feeling lost, devastated, heartbroken and. . .well, in a way defeated. I would and will always do anything to protect or help my mom. I felt the best thing for both of us at that time was for me to move home.
Arrangements were made and back to Oklahoma I came with my entire household in tow. Mom opened her home up to us as I hadn’t had time to plan or setup much of anything here in Oklahoma before making the move back. Once I had gotten settled back into home, my mom would always invite me to come with her to church. When the invitations first started it was when she was singing in the choir or the church was putting on a special production. I would attend although very rarely was I pleased about any day requiring me to attend church or be surrounded by “Christians.” There are a few reasons for those feelings.
When I was a kid, I have memories being sent to church every Sunday. I was the only family member that went. I think I remember getting ribbons or little prizes for bible memorizations. At the time I thought it was cool because what kid doesn’t like getting rewards. I was curious why I was the only person going to church because I thought it was pretty cool. I don’t remember why but my trips to church stopped. I may have asked to quit going or someone just decided that phase was over for me. I honestly can’t recall. My next brush with church was around the time I was in middle school. By this time, I was more interested in sleeping late than rising early and going to church. I don’t really have any specific memories of this church experience so it must not have been either great or terrible. The following encounter with a religious place and people was when I left for college. One of my first room mates was a very nice Christian oriented girl. I finally accepted an invitation to go across the street from campus and hangout at the Baptist Student Union. I was shocked by how comfortable I felt and how much fun I had. There were students there of varying ages and the adults were very nice also.
Now in all fairness, who wouldn’t feel comfortable shooting pool and drinking sodas with a television going over in the corner. At least that’s what I attributed my comfort level to back at the time. When I think back now, I know it had much more to do with the genuine kindness, acceptance and interest in me as a person. As time progressed I attended more and more B.S.U. functions and meetings. They had a weekly free lunch that we all looked forward to because it wasn’t boring old cafeteria food or even the “good stuff” you had to buy from the campus grill. I wouldn’t say that I participated in the “prayer” portion of the functions but I did always bow my head and close my eyes because I have always respected individual’s right to believe and practice however they choose. It didn’t take long for me to become comfortable enough that I signed up to be part of a mission trip. The mission trip was one of the biggest events in my young life. When I look back at it now, I realize that was the first time I ever actually felt a blessing from God.
We went to St. Louis to assist with relief efforts caused by the “Great Flood of 1993.” We went for a week to help those who had their homes devoured by the vicious overflow of water. We were assigned to help demolish a family that had been ravaged by the flood waters. We were equipped with all necessary equipment, directions and sent forward on our task. From arrival to the home to this very day, my heart breaks when I remember the state of that poor family’s house. As painful as the loss of their home was for the family, upon our completion, they came to the site and thanked each one of us and we all said a prayer of gratitude.
It’s now 5:45 am and I feel like I’ve gone off the rails a bit. I’m going to attempt to reign it back in to my original point now. From my encounters with church and “christians” from middle school into adulthood I was repeatedly disappointed by people that were actually the opposite of what I’d learned Christianity to really represent. I encountered an amount of hypocrites, liars and just randomly mean or judgmental people that I considered simply unacceptable. Finding my solace in education and facts, I decided that since the theory of Christianity obviously didn’t work then why waste any more of my time. I decided then that I’d place my faith in more logical and scientific forms of study.
For at least the next 15+ years I was a self proclaimed agnostic. Once I’d moved back home and started accepting my mom’s invitations to church, I had mixed feelings. Oh wait! I have neglected to mention an important factor to you. My spouse’s name is Mari. We’ve been together for over 8 years now. At this point I’d like to ask you to take just a moment and consider how responded to the fact I just shared with you. Are you disappointed, happy, intrigued or maybe unchanged? Whatever your answer happens to be, it will tell you much more about yourself then it tells you about me because I’m the exact same as when I started typing my story.
Now back to my feelings of discontent with the experiences I’d experienced with “christians” up until this point. As some of you can imagine or even remember in certain situations, the people loudly proclaiming Christianity can be the most harshly judgmental, hurtful and mean people to encounter. I’d had several encounters with people that had unacceptable responses to me based solely on the knowledge of my sexual orientation. Some reactions have been rude, others physically threatening, condemning or just mean. All of my experiences in church or at the B.S.U. functions had always taught that Christianity was living in a way that exemplified God’s presence in you and your life. I always understood that to mean as humans we were to be loving and kind to each other. That should give you a better opportunity or at least more insight into understanding my point of view regarding Christianity.
I honestly can’t say that I recall my mother’s reaction to my coming out to her. To the best of my recollection, I got tongue-tied and she actually helped me say it to her. I keep meaning to ask her about it while I have a way to record her responses. Maybe this sharing this story will prompt me to actually do that this time.
Every time I would enter a church I always felt a touch of fear and a big side dose of judgment. Now how much of that was all just lingering in the back of mind because of previous experiences versus how much was actually being aimed at me, I guess I’ll never know for sure now. I do know that the sun is starting to peek out a bit and I am getting sleepy so I will call it a night and pick up my story writing again tomorrow night. So for now, good night reader. We’ll talk again soon.