Sisterhood is Becoming

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By Alia Joy Hagenbach | Twitter: @AliaJoyH

A_Alia

There was the day the voices came for me and they carried in their whispers the ancient shame, their tongues curled into my ears, trailing me through my day. They hissed that God couldn’t have said I was good. They implied that maybe, like so many things, I had gotten this wrong, too. And they were always there with reminders of the ways I’m damaged goods.

They start in the whispered murmur that the daughters of Eve are ever left wanting. They remind me of the bitter fruit spoiling on my tongue and filling my cheeks with decay. And I have mouthfuls of shame. I choke it down polite like a good girl instead of spewing it out.

The voices promise me I’ll always feel hollow and empty and wretched. Did God really say YOU were good? they mock. And don’t tell me you haven’t heard it yourself a thousand times since the day you were called girl.

And ever since the day I was called girl, they have understood my tender spots. The day the voices first come for me I am five years old and I learn to keep secrets in the dark. I learn about closed doors and what can happen to nice little girls. I walk bruised in tender parts.

I learn I can be violated again and again with unholy tongues, you are dirty, the voices murmur. I learn this identity and wear it with pigtails over ears scalded with shame. I am ribs and skin and sunken eyes for much of my girlhood. I am long braided hair so thin and wispy, the plastic daisy barrettes slip down no sooner than my mother placed them. I am gangly elbows and knee caps too big for my thighs. I am a jawline cut with sharp edges and the wasting that comes from sickness and hospitals and appetites lost.

I learn a girl’s body will betray me with the hips of a woman and breasts that draw catcalls and lusty eyes and I am to blame. I am dirty, the voices remind me.

And the voices come for me as I grow into womanhood.

When the child crumples in the shopping cart and his face turns mottled and red as his wailing rises up from his sobbing little chest, and the shoppers raise their eyebrows and cluck their tongues because I am not doing this right, the voices rush back.

I can hear the faintest hum of, “Hmmph, she really ought to discipline that child … brat … my child would never …” and it gets louder until I’m frantically removing Goldfish crackers, and milk, and ground beef, and toilet paper onto the conveyor belt and rifling through my purse for coupons and my debit card while shushing my baby with a mix of shame and frustration. I drop the frozen orange juice and the container splits like it’s gutted and the pulpy mess oozes onto the supermarket floor. They call for cleanup on checkout three and the voice on the loudspeaker thunders in my bones. And I stand there in checkout lane three and I feel myself spilling out too. Making a mess everywhere I go. And everyone looks on and they can all see I’m not cut out for this.

The voices come when I gather with other women. These women smile with mouths full of words people want to hear. They toss their heads back when they laugh, deep and throaty, their hands don’t fly up instinctively to cover their mouths when they do. They say the right things and people lean in closer. They don’t mumble and trail off when people turn their heads mid-sentence and I drop my eyes to the floor as the voices come for me. “You could just go, no one even wants you here. You are invisible or worse, an annoyance, a burden, a messy wretched waste. You are drama and chaos and they all pity you if they see you at all. 

The voices come when I sit at the keyboard with the tenacious will to make art and I fight every doubting place that pools between the words. They come when I take the stage and my hand grips the microphone, because when they looked for a place to put the mic pack I was in a dress and they’d have to run wires in awkward places and I realize this stage was never meant for me. They never wanted to hear my voice in the first place.

And then one day, the voices come for me but they’re new and melodic and they sound foreign to my ears. And they do not whisper or hiss, they speak in unwavering tones, there are no shameful secrets here. It’s not your fault.

Their tongues are like swords, slicing lies from my joints, piercing flesh and marrow. They teach me to tell the truth. I roll the words around in my mouth and I’m not strangled, I’m learning a new language. God has made me good.

I am reborn as willowy and lithe as sinew, stretching into belonging. And I hear this ancient echo, the sisterhood of women whose scalding hot tongues are like mouths full of coals, scorching the unclean places and soldering up wounds. They remind me beauty doesn’t just come from ashes but from stretch marks and scar tissue and minds that feel like a thousand trapped and stinging pests.

There are moments carved out on my flesh,  the low scar that droops from hip bone to hip bone that has faded to a shiny slick line where my babies were pulled from my body and placed into my arms. These voices tell me my children are being raised by a tender warrior who fights every day to survive for them. They promise me my kids wouldn’t be better off without me when I fear they have learned far too much about the brokenness of this world from loving me as I am ripped and volleyed between opposite poles. They trace the scars and name them beautiful. They tell me mental illness will not have the last word.

This sisterhood carries the fire of holy things, a burnt offering, a smoky remnant and their words rise like worship, floating like incense filling my senses with the perfume of grace. They bring the reminders and set them like altars, and I remember these sisters carry the gospel in their mouths, spilling good news and unmaking bitter fruit. And everywhere their words fall, hope takes seed, faith roots, becoming.

This is the sisterhood of becoming.

We are the beloved women, the truth tellers. We were at Jesus birth, at his feet, at the cross, at the tomb, at pentecost when tongues became spirit.

We gather the weary ones, the ones who can no longer hear anything but accusation and despair, the ones whose ears ache in agony and ring with the need for good news.

We tear the roof off of glass ceilings and the shards that pierced Jesus pierce us too and we count ourselves among the poor, the oppressed, the weak, the meek, the wandering, the poor in spirit, the hemorrhaging, the unclean, the broken, the thirsty, the outcast, and the other. And the sisterhood of becoming grabs a corner of the mat when we can no longer stand at all, and these sisters lower us to the feet of Jesus.

And the voice that cancels out all the whispers and the hiss of unholy tongues says, “I have made you good.” You are becoming.

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About Alia Joy:

AliaJoyI’m the daughter of both a book lover and a storyteller and in that I was destined to be a writer. I collect words at http://aliajoy.com, dance to the good songs, and believe even the most broken stories have a redeemer. I live in Central Oregon with my husband, my tiny Asian mother, my three kids, a bunny, and a bunch of chickens. Sushi is my love language and I balance my cynical idealism with humor and awkward pauses.

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