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Hi, I'm Liz.

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God spoke, "I was never there."

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"Led by a dim intuition, it seems rather to assume that dreams have a meaning, albeit a hidden one; that they are intended as a substitute for some other thought-process, and that we have only to disclose this substitute correctly in order to discover the hidden meaning of the dream."
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams

I enjoy perusing antique stores, particularly the old books. I tend to skim and only pay attention to what my eyes are drawn to rather than reading every title, thumbing ever corner. I never know what I'm looking for until I find it, or rather it finds me.

Somewhere in Texas, I came across a hardback reproduction of Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams, originally published in 1900. It was small, unassuming, and leaning against a much taller obvious stack of books. I knew I had to buy it.

The book has found its place on the dresser in the entryway of our house. I see it every day when I take off my shoes and put my keys in the oblong wooden bowl, or when I grab my purse and put on my jacket.

My Sleep Patterns

For Christmas this year, I asked for and got a Fitbit. I have the Charge HR; I can see my resting heart rate and more accurately track calories burned during my workouts. Sometimes when I'm sitting on the couch reading, I check my heart rate and it's so low I wonder if I'm dead.

One of the more interesting features is the sleep tracker. I wear my Fitbit when I sleep and in the morning I get a graph indicating the pattern of my sleep. I'm a restless sleeper; I move around a lot, sometimes aware of my movements but mostly sleeping through them. On the mornings I wake up tired, feeling as if I had just fallen asleep when my alarm begins flashing a slow, bright light, I find my readings frustrating. Proving how little you've actually slept is defeating.

But one of the things I have discovered is when I have at least five hours of solid sleep, when my body is still and I have reached REM, I dream. And I remember my dreams vividly.

God spoke to me.

I gasp myself awake. I've never exited a dream in quite this manner, hyperventilating to pull myself out of it. My body is warm but I am shaking. My eyes dart around the room, trying to adjust to the darkness.

He's here. I can feel him.

I sigh the deepest sigh and lay on my back, staring at the ceiling. I take deep breaths in and out, in and out and drift back into the most peaceful of sleep.

I always believe God is with me, but hearing his voice for the first time in my life is reassurance I now cling to.

"I must insist that the dream actually does possess a meaning, and that a scientific method of dream-interpretation is possible."
Freud

The Dream

It's present day. I decide I want to visit a UPC church. I desperately need to know the religion I was raised in is good and true. I want to believe the best.

My cousin, Kenny, and my brother, Jason, join me for support.

I don't want to stand out so I wear a hair piece clipped tightly into my short pixie with long flowing locks enveloping my shoulders like a blanket. I've removed my plugs and pull the fake hair around my face to frame it and hide the holes in my ears. My face is pale and naked, sans makeup. I'm wearing a dark, long-sleeved sweater and a black skirt that reaches the floor. When I walk it looks like I'm floating because you can't see my feet.

We are in a large church, sitting on a wooden pew with no cushions. Everything is beige. The platform is less than 100 feet away but it's blurry. I can't make out the people standing before us. I don't see the pastor or hear worship songs or teaching. The church isn't familiar and I don't recognize anyone else around me. In fact, most everyone's faces are blurry and I blink and squint, trying to make out details but fail.

We are faced forward but it is quiet. Nothing is happening.

Suddenly I am standing and a young couple sitting behind me comes into focus.

The wife taps my shoulder, "What do you do to your hair?"

"What do you mean what do I do?"

She pets her own hair and pulls it over her shoulder to show me her split ends. "It's just so healthy. How do you keep it that way?"

I lean forward as if I'm about to tell her a secret. I unclip the hair piece and smile, revealing to her my short hair underneath.

She gasps, "You cut your hair!"

Her husband overhears and pulls her away from me as if I have an infectious disease, "You're a traitor!" He turns to others around him while pointing at me, "What is she doing here?"

My eyes and shoulders fall from the ridicule. I remove my wig, take off my sweater and uncover my tattoos. The growing crowd around me releases an uproar of distaste and judgment.

I turn and sit down next to my brother. He and my cousin both have looks of concern on their faces but say nothing. Behind their eyes is a hint of sadness and lack of surprise as if to say, "See?"

I begin to cry and fold my body inward, feeling the weight of the crowd behind me. I rest my head on the bible in my lap as tears pool on its cover. Jason puts a firm hand on my left shoulder.

In my turmoil, I become deaf to everyone around me. My focus is on the air I am breathing. There is a sudden void I exist in; an out-of-body feeling. I am no longer in the church, but I am at the same time. I feel someone's breath in my right ear. I don't need to turn to know who it is; I just know. I hear his calming but commanding voice; a whisper sharing a message meant only for me, "I was never there."

The Analysis à la Sigmund Freud

The Interpretation of Dreams has been staring at me from the dresser in the hallway, begging to be opened, for a week now. Over the past two days, I've immersed myself in it, and as I've tried to make sense of my dream, I decided to take a cue from Freud and attempt personal analysis.

"My patients, after I had pledged them to inform me of all the ideas and thoughts which occurred to them in connection with a given theme, related their dreams, and thus taught me that a dream may be interpolated in the psychic concatenation, which may be followed backwards form a pathological idea into a patient's memory. The next step was to treat the dream itself as a symptom, and to apply to it the method of interpretation which had been worked out for such symptoms."
Freud

As I separate what I know and what I believe, I find myself torn in regards to the expressions of the religion I was brought up in. I want to believe there is goodness to be found in adhering to rules and standards; following the book, the "letter of the law" so to speak. I want to believe I was raised with some semblance of truth.

The fact that I didn't know what church I was in, or any of the people, makes me feel it could've been any UPC church on any given day; and not having the distraction of an active service happening around us means it didn't matter where or who or why or what. It was just a random church I chose for my experiment.

It's curious to me, Jason and Kenny's presence in my dream. Though we were raised in the same house with the same parents, my brother and I have forged different paths of discovery in regards to God's existence. Some of our memories align and some are dramatically distinct. My brother's hand on my shoulder signifies our connection to each other. My cousin, who was also raised UPC, has experiences unique to both my brother's and my own and yet has found peace with God in his own way. In any case, I recognize they were likely the only ones in my family able to sit quietly with me, allowing me to search for my own answers without interceding on my behalf.

Even though I have wanted to believe UPC was "right" for a period of my life, the truth is I don't belong there and I never did. I only ever hid myself, trying to fit in and go unnoticed. Ultimately, I wanted to be found out, even though I knew it would hurt. I offered my true self and was rejected. If there is one lesson I've learned from religion, personal approval, or disapproval, of one's outward appearance should not determine acceptance.

Theirs is not a box the God I know lives in.

There is no question in my mind the voice I felt and heard in my ear was God's. The voice was good. There was a strength that conveyed absolution, certainty. It was a cure for doubt; sure and true. The voice startled me out of my dream but stayed with me in my awake state. I looked for the source of the voice in my room and was not frightened; even though I could not see him, I felt him, and I recognized the voice as belonging to him. When I recall his voice, those words, I have instant comfort - even in my continual questioning.

God speaking to me confirms my personal beliefs; at the very basic, there is a God who wants to interact with me. He is reaching out to me just as I am reaching out to him and he will get through to me any way he can, even if I can only hear him clearly when I'm dreaming. God is in those places where all the other voices fall away. We need only be still with our seeking to find him.

"I do not wish to assert that I have entirely revealed the meaning of the dream, or that my interpretation is flawless."
Freud

Not a day has passed since dreaming and hearing God's voice that I have not tried taking myself back. I fall asleep purposely thinking of the church, the blurry faces, Jason's hand on my shoulder and God's voice in my ear because I want it to happen again. I want to feel what I felt and I want to hear him with crystal clarity.

"I was never there."

I'm not sure what God meant, and I'm not sure if knowing is what matters. I can only speculate based on what I am currently experiencing and my past experience. That's all.

And I'm okay with that because apparently, I have a very low need for closure.

The Discovery Project

I cut my hair.