Making My Own Space At The Table

   “All are welcome to come to the table.”

   It’s a phrase that is echoed in church a lot. The Table. We talk a lot about this Table. It means the Space. Fellowship. Relationship. Having a spot at the Table means having a voice and being fully accepted in. This Table is where decisions are made, where we can eat and be satisfied, where we can learn and grow and be at peace. The Table is the Church. It is taking communion. Being invited to lunch after service. Being welcomed to the Table and being affirmed at the Table, I have found, are two different things. Some people may sit at the Table but not speak at it. Some may sit at the Table and not eat from it. Historically, these people have been minorities; they are not the same skin color, they are of different sexual orientation, they have different beliefs; they have been Othered in some way and the Church has said they cannot have a seat. They cannot eat.

   Lately, I’ve been trying to find my seat at the Table. But it feels to me that I got the invite but when I show up, there is no place mat for me. It looks like all the seats are full. Full to the brim. When I try to ask where my seat is, no one will make eye contact. Somehow, this almost feels worse than not having been invited. It’s like they invited me just to show me who else got to be here. Everyone sitting down is the Good Christian. The Woman With The Quiet And Gentle Spirit. There are the White Men With Theology Degrees. There are the Women With Children. The Women in Relationships. The Godly Men. The People With The Servants Heart. And at the edge of the Table peering in, is Me.

   I think that maybe I read my invitation wrong. Maybe I was never welcome here at all. Maybe it was meant for someone else. I think they sent it to me too early; it was for me, but for the version of Me that I used to be. Like, “We put you on the guest list before you started talking about your problems with traditional eschatology. Before you opened your mouth about affirming gay people. Before you started talking about sex so much. Before you started cussing.” It’s like they wanted the Nice Faith; the one without So Many Opinions. The one who was Gentle. The one who Cried Quietly. I feel like people liked me more when I hid my depression and my anxiety and before I reposted so many political articles. Before I showed how angry I was. I feel like people liked me when I was Lying, but not so much now that I refuse to dilute myself.

   I’m trying to sit at the Adult Table with the Men With Theology Degrees and tell them I know a thing or two. They talk over me because I am a Woman and I should Be Quiet. They have opinions with big words and egos. They tell me to Go Home. But I don’t want to go home, I want to be here at the Table with everyone else. I want to share my story and my perspective. Sometimes I’m even foolish enough to believe I have something of value to add. Sometimes I think maybe the Table would be better if one of the voices wasn’t a Man With A Theology Degree. But they take one look at me and realize I’m an Emotional Woman and think I cry too much to think critically about God. As hurt as I am by their rejection, I can’t silence the voice inside me that wants to speak whether they hear me or not.

   So I walk over to the other side of the Table and find the People In Relationships. I’m one of them! Maybe I can speak wisdom here. At this part of the Table they are holding hands but with just enough distance in between them to not make anyone else uncomfortable. I want to see if my boyfriend and I will be welcome here. But they look away. They don’t want to hear about how I’m going to be the breadwinner in my future; that I have asked my boyfriend if he would be okay with being a Stay At Home Dad so I can have a Career. They don’t like that he doesn’t go to Church. They don’t like that I spend the night at his house. When I look around I realize that we do not look like the other couples at the Table. The ones there Read the Bible and Pray Together while my boyfriend and I will get into heated discussions about religion. They go to date nights to the movies and my boyfriend and I have a favorite bar where we have fallen in love. I want to say “Look what I have learned by being in love!” They don’t want to hear Me. My Love doesn’t look the same as Their Love. They think that means the Bible does’t honor My love.

   In a last ditch effort, I walk over to the Children’s Ministry People and hope I can be of assistance here. I am the second oldest of nine; I love kids. I like to think I’m a good aunt to my niece. I love the small children at my new church and think they love me back. I think I have valuable experience. But there are Rules. So Many Rules. I can’t tell them that I have Doubts. I can’t tell them I affirm gay relationships. Don’t let the high schoolers cuss in small group. Be civil. Don’t share your Political Views. Don’t post pictures with Alcohol on social media and be a Bad Influence. Don’t bring up Controversy because Parents Won’t Like It. I can’t keep up.

   I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want a seat the the Table if I have to fight for it or demand it. I don’t want to talk unless my voice is truly valued or listen to. I don’t want to be here anymore! I am Tired and Angry. I’m Drained. I don’t want to constantly feel the need to defend my existence here. Like I always need to show my invitation to say “I was on the guest list! Check!” I feel like I’m constantly combing the Bible and policies and using logic and reason and trying to find more innovative ways to make people accept me and I don’t want to do it anymore. If I need to pull out one more bible verse that proves I have the right to speak, I will throw up. If I need to reference one more popular theologian in order to justify a belief I have, I will faint. I just want to scream JESUS INVITED ME HERE FOR FUCK’S SAKE CAN YOU JUST PULL UP A DAMN CHAIR.

   As exhausting as it is, I’m not quite ready to give up yet either. Because for once, I have stopped to look around me. There are a lot of other people attempting to find a Chair at the Table. A lot of people who have been here a lot longer than I have. They are worn out and exhausted. They just want a drink. They just want to rest. We are all tired of the gatekeeping and the rules. We just want a place to sit and eat and be with one another. We won’t stop until we get our seat.

   So here I am. I’m bringing my Whole Self to the Table and I brought my own damn Chair. I’m inserting it right in between the White Men With Theology Degrees and by the People In Relationships and the People In Ministry and I’m not shutting up or being kicked out because I have every right to be here. Same as everyone else. Call me unworthy. Call me annoying. Call me a heretic. Selfish. Stupid. Call me whatever names you can think of but Jesus did not say “it is finished” just for people to make it seem like I still needed to Clean Up before coming to the Table. My mess was good enough for Jesus; if it isn’t enough for you, well, take it up with him.

   I am trying to bring myself and others to the Table. Sometimes its exhausting and I want to give up and go home. But I’ve always been stubborn. I have things to say and I’m not leaving until they are said and listened to. I am sitting at the Table and I am not going to water myself down for it either. I’m coming here and putting my elbows on the Table. I refuse to listen to lies that tell me I don’t belong or that I’m unworthy. That I’m too messy. Too sinful. I will  not be quiet. I am done trying to earn a space at the Table that I was already invited to. Not everyone sitting around me has to like me; I understand, I am not everyone’s cup of tea. But they do have to respect my existence. They do have to honor all those I bring to the Table with me. They are not leaving either.

   I am finally okay with who I am and I can finally accept that all of me is affirmed by God. Hell, maybe I was invited to the Table because who I am in necessary at the Table. Maybe they could use a bit less Male Theology and a little bit more Emotional Woman Theory. Either way, I’m pulling up my seat and getting comfortable. I’m staying here and I am speaking. If you don’t want to be around me, then maybe you’re the one who should go home.

A Christian Call for Support of Mother Earth

   “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” – creation account, as retold in Genesis 1:26-31

   I tend to keep quiet about being an environmentalist. Mostly because speaking to it would mean admitting to the fact that I am deathly afraid and it would mean being vulnerable around people and letting a conversation get to a place that triggers me beyond belief. Because the truth, in its bleakest and most honest, is nothing makes me want to put a bullet to my skull more than thinking about what is going on with our environment right now. What we have done to it, what we have allowed to happen to it, and what generations before us had a hand in. I know I have always been the kind of person to encourage facing your fears and naming them to make them less scary. But today, I don’t want to name them because if you are anything like me, you know what things I’m talking about and the naming is the worst part. You are tired of hearing the names of the millions of things I’m talking about. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably anxious too. So I’ll be the first to say that today, I’m not going to write about being brave or naming our triggers. Today, I’m going to be afraid a little bit more. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be braver. But not today. And that’s okay.

   But today I’ve also been thinking about this fear. I know that today I won’t overcome it, but I refuse to be overcome as well. So it requires some amount of strength and for me, that strength has always come in writing. I have always found that writing gives me courage and gives me a sense of control when everything is spiraling. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough. Sometimes it seems like all I have the power to do is write and writing isn’t solving problems just making me feel better about them. But I hope that this inspires you to act. (I hope to share more about the ways that I’ve been incorporating action into my life lately just to show I’m not being a hypocrite, but that’s another post for another day.) Today, I just want to silence to voice of fear inside of all of us and focus on the next 24 hours and the things we can do. As I’ve written before, my boyfriend once told me that we have to pick our battles, so we should pick the ones we can win. I hope this helps you find those battles.

   When it comes to talking about the environment, I think we’ve done it all wrong and have made the mistake we as humans oftentimes make. We attempt to make fear the motivation that causes action. Yet I think historically, fear as a motivator rarely works. More times than not, when presented with fear, instead of combating the things that we fear and eliminating it, we would rather hide from those things or shut them out of our minds. I think this is one of the biggest reasons for the apathetic attitude we have had towards caring for our environment. To ignore the problem is way easier than talking about it or taking action against it. Talking about it means we need to confront the oftentimes frightening reality in front of us and that takes more courage than we think we have in us. But, as Jessica Jones says, “knowing its real means you gotta make a decision. One, keep denying it, or two, do something about it.” For too long we have denied the harm we have done our earth, and I think we need to do something about it.

   But here’s the thing; I’m not going to try to scare you into action. I’m not going to show you statistics or graphs or gut wrenching photos because I don’t think that changes anything. I think that makes people hide away and continue to ignore the problem. For years it made me blacklist certain trigger words associated with those images and facts on twitter and enabled me to ignore these problems further. Plus, you’ve seen enough of those things on social media lately. If you’re like me, you might even have gone out of your way to search through the shithole of tragedy porn to find them just to torment yourself. (Yeah, 10/10 don’t recommend.) So enough of that nonsense. But I will tell you why you should give a shit about the environment and what you can realistically do to help.

   I opened this post with the creation account as written in the Christian bible, because that creation story is personally what compels me to care and since the vast majority of my readers are of a Christian faith, I wanted to make this correlation. In my whole life, I have never heard a sermon on environmentalism. And it’s a damn shame. Because the bible is brimming with things to say about how we treat the world around us and I had no idea. I grew up thinking that this creation account, God giving us dominion over the Earth to be rulers of it, gave me a license to not care. I actually grew up my whole life hating animals and not caring about animal cruelty and used those verses to justify it. (Big yikes.) However, after much maturation I’ve realized its because of those verses that I need to care what happens to animals and the world around me. I know that I’m called to be a good steward of my resources and a good caretaker, and to think that doesn’t apply to plants and animals is just really poor biblical exegesis. I always think about Jesus stepping foot on Earth after everything she’s been through and looking at me and asking how I let this happen to her.

   It physically pains me that Christians aren’t the ones on the forefront of the conservation and saving the planet campaigns because of what we profess to stand for. The fact that churches aren’t leading the way in showing communities and institutions how to promote ecological change is heartbreaking and needs to be dealt with. Amidst all the ways the church has failed our society, I think this is one of the biggest ways.  (But if you’re not convinced by me, read “The Bible and Ecology” by the incredible Richard Bauckham.)

   But to the non-religious readers I have, here’s why you should care. It’s simple. We all live here. We all want to thrive and be happy and do well. We can’t do that if we let large corporations shit all over Mother Earth and if we think its okay to not take care of the world around us. But again, not here to guilt trip anyone. Fear gets us nowhere. I think we need to learn to love our world and become motivated by that love. Our world is awesome. I mean, if you don’t think so, just Google image the Northern Lights or pictures of Ireland. Have you ever seen the ocean? A sunflower? A huge field of grass that seems to stretch on forever? A sunset? I fucking love the Earth. She makes me so soft and happy. I used to pretend I didn’t care because I thought that made me cool or interesting but turns out it just makes you boring. I want to take care of the Earth because I am such a softy for her. I love puppies and dolphins and the ocean and I love looking at the stars from the middle of nowhere and trying to find constellations and I love roses and bees and squirrels. I love plants! Lately I’ve been dreaming of a future home where I have a greenhouse and plants just covering everything inside my house and I think of starting a garden next summer with my siblings and growing herbs on my windowsill. It makes me so happy and I feel so full. If you don’t want that feeling, you’re missing out. Caring for the world around me makes me feel like I live here and belong here. I want to see my world thrive.

   I know, everything is overwhelming and scary and it seems like the bad guys are winning. It always does. But what I have always tried to do when I start to feel overwhelmed with the weight of it all is to do what I can. I think that’s where we need to start. We need everyone to pitch in where they are in the physical space they take up. I hate that I’m never in the room where anything happens. Last week I was curled up in a ball thinking, “hey maybe I should drop out of school and fly to the Amazon with nothing but a suitcase of water bottles and my own spit and take out that fire myself!” (Obviously a plan with some minor flaws.) But no. I wasn’t born in the Amazon. I am here and there is work to be done here. There is work already being done by brilliant Indigenous people there, and I need to support that work and get plugged into the work that is already being done here too. Pick battles you can realistically join. Pick ones you can win.

   I feel like this post was really short (for me at least.) but that’s because if I can’t convince you to care about the planet you live on then I really don’t know what to do. I feel like it’s pretty self explanatory stuff. So I mostly wanted to make a compilation of things you can do to help at the place you are right now. I’ve been researching for a while now and have a nice comprehensive list and wanted to share. Additionally, I want to make sure I’m held accountable and are walking the walk, so feel free to call me out and check up on me to ask what I’ve been doing lately for the causes I care about.

   So without further ado, here is Faith Marie’s Saving The Planet Masterlist

   Places to connect to
   – Patagonia Action Works (Patagonia has a dating app style site where you can punch in your zip code and it’ll bring up grassroot organizations near you that are doing conservation work as well as events by you to attend! This is probably the most helpful and coolest tool I’ve found.)
   – VolunteerMatch  (Same idea as the one above, but you can also use it for a variety of other causes.)
   – Charity Navigator (I love this website! They rate charities and organizations and have stats about where their money goes and how effective they are. They’re a good resource to use if you want to donate but are skeptical and want to make sure you’re using your money wisely.)

   Things you can do
   – Recycle (duh.)
   – Donate to the Amazon Watch (This organization is fighting to protect the Amazon and the Indigenous people in the Amazon Basin as well as working to hold large corporations accountable for their impact on the environment.)
   – Join the march for the Amazon on September 5th (Find a march near you here.)
   – Buy a reusable coffee cup and/or waterbottle (Especially the stainless steal ones. And places like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks will fill your coffee cup from home so you don’t contribute to waste. So you can still get your coffee fix.)
   – Thrift shop. (Reduce! Consumerism is one of the biggest problems we have right now, so you can help by shopping secondhand and donating your old clothes for someone else to wear. Plus, it saves tons of money. It’s a win/win.)
   – Donate your super old stuff to the H&M Garmet Collection. (H&M collects old textiles of any kind and recycles them into resold goods, new clothes, cleaning cloths, and a variety of other uses. I had no idea this was a thing until I stopped into the store recently and thought that was amazing.)
   – Eat less meat (So many trees are lost and land lost to the meat industry. Plus they treat animals terribly. Take baby steps; try only eating meat on the weekends or see how long you can go without meat. For the really ambitious and the able; go vegetarian! Or hell, go big or go home; go vegan.)
   – Use canvas bags instead of plastic bags
   – Bike or use public transportation or walk
   – Compost. (For more on how to do that, check out the United States Environmental Protection Agency site.)
   – Type up your school notes instead of using paper. (I’m trying this for the first time this semester so lets see how this goes.)
   – Join the Climate Strike from September 20-27th. (To find a walkout near you and get more information, check out the website here.)
   – Make more things at home. (You’d be surprised how many things you can make at home honestly. Again, it saves money.)
   – If you need to buy things, go for the green brands. (I like to use Seventh Generation for household stuff like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. I’ve been recently trying out Love Beauty + Planet and Dr. Bronner’s stuff for hygiene, and Imperfect Produce for, well, produce. There are also tons of others, but be conscious and try to go out of your way to support brands doing good, green work. Here is another list from the World Pursuit blog.)
   – Join a community garden!
   – Women, use a menstrual cup
   – Get involved in local politics (This one might seem like a less direct impact, but many of the problems we face come from big corporations doing massive damage because a lack of accountability and not enough governmental regulations. We allow this to happen at every level of government, so start small and work your way up. Yeah, call your congressman and support green initiatives there, but also get involved in the work your city and town are doing.)
   – Once your lightbulbs die out, switch to the environmental friendly ones
   – Support your local farmers! Go to a farmers market (And come on, those are so cute.)
   – Check out this amazing resource list from environmentalist, Katt Andryskova from My Vegan Experiment for more.
 
   Things churches can do
   – Stop handing out paper bulletins and switch to keeping info online (the old people can learn the Internet, okay?)
   – Have recycling bins inside (the amount of churches I’ve attended without recycling bins is truly disturbing.)
   – Stop using paper coffee cups (have members donate coffee mugs or use a small percentage of funds and go out and buy mugs from the local thrift store.)
   – Start talking about caring for the environment from the pulpit (It’s not a political agenda, it’s an issue that is physical and spiritual and shouldn’t be avoided for fear of controversy.)
   – Go out and do actual work as a congregation or small group. (When big groups of people come together, we can cover more ground. So go volunteer with a grassroots campaign as a small group, take the youth group out on a nature hike, do a neighborhood missions trip and clean up a local park, or start a green group that regularly meets to promote eco friendly change in the church.)
   – Check out the Church of Englands amazing resource about how to be a greener church
   – Make a church garden (plant things on the church property. The goods can also be used to help people in the congregation. Double win.)
   – Make the switch to greener products
   – Turn off the lights and unplug electronics when they aren’t in use
   – Get involved in the local conservation and sustainability efforts and encourage church members to do the same

   People and places to follow who are promoting + doing great work 
   – Kaitlin Curtice (Promoting great environmental work with a focus on Indigenous people’s activism.)
   – Good News Network (To brighten your feed when you’re feeling down, this organization highlights all the great things happening in the world that oftentimes gets overshadowed.)
   – Alexis Claire Fit and Fit Nika  (Two health influencers I like who share a lot of tips about veganisn and environmentalism. Good for informational things, although they mostly talk about fitness.)
   – Kat Armas (A lovely human I follow on the Internet who is full of wisdom about theology and our relationship to the Earth.)
   – Leonardo DiCaprio (Keep up with all the work he’s doing in the media; he’s been on the frontlines of the fight for environmental justice and it’s pretty cool.)

   *Takes a giant deep breath in*

   And that is my exhaustive list (for now) to get you started. Please let me know of other resources you’ve found so I can edit and add to the list! What ways have you become more environmentally conscious? How are you making a difference in your community? Don’t let fear stop you from taking a stand and taking action. Let love and respect motivate you. Let’s get to work team.

Show This To My 8 Year Old Self In The Event of The Invention of Time Travel

   Faith,

   If you’re reading this, that means time travel has been invented. If everything works out, you are 8 years old. It’s sometime in the fall. The leaves have almost completely fallen off the trees, leaving them bare in the way that makes you run out of the van and press your body up against the apartment door until its open and you can run inside to safety. The trees have always scared you. It will be years until you will say this to anybody, but you see demons perched up in those trees. You feel them. You are terrified. You are only 8 years old but you have so much fear pent up inside of your small frame. You fear the dark, you fear talking and looking stupid, you fear the night and the insomnia that comes with it, you fear the night terrors that plague you when you do find the strength to sleep, and you fear the criticism of your father. Faith, I hate to say this, but you will come to fear more things in your life; some new, and then there are some anxieties you have now that you can’t conceptualize quite yet. The fear of never being good enough. The fear of being alone. The fear of gaining weight. The fear of looking ugly. The fear of failure. The fear that you are broken beyond repair. The fear that your cancer will come back. The fear that lupus will not let you live. The fear of death.

   But right now, what you fear the most is Armageddon.

   What a silly thing for an 8 year old to be preoccupied with, isn’t it? But you can’t help it. You were raised in a culture and by a father and in a time period where fundamentalist dispensationalism was all the rage. (Sorry for the big words, you would know it as the theology of Left Behind.) What’s an 8 year old supposed to do when they’re told they might not get to live to be 22? How are they supposed to cope with talk of politics when you have no idea what the hell is going on but each new political scheme is the fulfillment of a prophecy? You’re 8 years old for fucks sake. (Sorry for the language, Faith. I know you won’t cuss for the first time until you’re 20 but I couldn’t help it.) I know that no one will tell you this now, but what you’re learning isn’t right. Not only is it not factually inaccurate, but its developmentally inappropriate. It’s abusive. You are being exposed to a level of violence that you shouldn’t be. Even worse, you’re being exposed to violence that is called “love” and “mercy” by the Christians in your life. It’s ruining you. Your fear never stops.

   You will carry this fear for several years. You carry your burden alone, like Frodo and the Ring to Mordor. I know you relate to that story. You carry your silence. In high school you will begin to talk, but by then it will be too late. You talk because you realize this fear has made you suicidal, and you know you will either defeat the fear or it will defeat you.

   I’m writing this letter to spare you the pain. I want you to know what I know now, at 22 years old.

    Stop forcing yourself into situations that trigger you. Use your voice. Tell someone what is going on and be brutally honest about it. Get therapy earlier. Talk about the eating issues that will come up in a few short years. Pay attention to the suffering of those around you; you are not alone and make sure they know that they aren’t either. Recognize that your dad has abusive tendencies and its not your fault. Talk to your mom more. Know that your sexuality isn’t what makes you a whole person; know now that your worth is not in that. Eat well but never say no to chocolate. Talk to that person you’ve always wanted to get to know, they don’t think you’re a loser. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember that your dad isn’t always right. You actually are a very talented singer; don’t be afraid to use your talents in front of others. Those people you will have crushes on won’t matter. (But that boy from youth group you think is scary will. You’ll be in love and dating him at 22.) Laugh. Listen to secular music, you’ll like it. Read. Make friends. Live. Enjoy every second of being a kid because you’ll miss it.

   Because, guess what? You get through it.

   Spoiler alert. You make the decision to kick fear’s ass and you succeed. Not alone, but with the help of the people who listen and begin to share the burden with you. It takes work. But you begin the heavy task of deconstructing your faith and your life, brick by brick. Some of it you will do alone, sometimes with friends or family, but most of it with lots of therapy. Of course, you still find yourself caught in suicidal spells where you are convinced the world is doomed for destruction but then you breathe. You reach out for help. And you take your pen to paper, or fingertips to laptop, and write. You write beautiful words that you hope inspire others to live and to fight. You do this every time you feel fear creeping its way into your life. You fight to say “never again.” You will grow up to be brave in a very terrifying world. One where suicide rates are sky high, school shootings happen almost daily, and environmental problems that are making those suicidal urges almost impossible to combat. All those things that would have pushed you over the edge at the age you are now are currently the things you use to propel you forward. Faith, you become a badass.

   If you saw me now, you would be mystified; both parts horrified and in awe. When I describe you to people who only know me at this age, they are shocked. We are nothing alike. But in many ways, we are exactly the same. Those things that haunt you still haunt me. The only real difference is I haunt it right back. There will always be the fear that my voice means nothing, but I combat that fear by writing and shouting at every chance I get. I might always fear not being good enough, but I recognize those thoughts in me and shut them down when I can. Hell, even though learning about dispensationalism makes my jaw clench, there are still times I worry they are right. But its in those times I remember you. I remember the girl I was. I remember your thin blonde hair parted down the middle with cute bangs in the front. How you always wore dresses with pants underneath. I remember that you loved car rides where you stick your head out the window and blast the music from your MP3 player even though your dad made fun of you for it. I remember you cry when people tell you that you are too quiet.

   Faith, don’t give up. Don’t you dare give up. You become someone you could only dream of becoming. You become strong and fearless. You find your voice. You finish college and get into a Masters program! I know, right now you can barely read but you become so intelligent when you grow up. It takes 22 years to admit you’re smart, so maybe we could try to figure that one out sooner. And hey, you even become pretty attractive. Plus, you have people that look up to you. Stay strong for them. Be foolishly optimistic despite everything in you that is telling you to give up. Stay strong because there is still a long road ahead. The worst hasn’t even come yet. Brace yourself.

   Of course, I know you’ll never read this. It’s the heartbreaking truth that makes me burn with anger. The injustice done to you will never be undone. You will cry many nights because of End Times rumors. You will starve yourself as a teenager because you think your body changing means you are fat. You will become an adult and think you are ruined because a boy has touched you. You will lose the version of God that you have come to know so well and when you meet her again, it will change your life. You will lose friends because of it. You will lose friends for other reasons. You will be hated by people you once loved. Your father will cheat on your mother and he will leave. You will get cancer. You will get lupus. You will suffer severe depression. And none of that will go away. But it will make you strong. That doesn’t mean God planned for it to happen or wanted it to happen. Sometimes your suffering is just suffering. Sometimes it doesn’t have a profound reason. Sometimes it just hurts. I’m sorry I can’t change the course of your life. I wish with everything in me I could correct the harm and abuse that was done to you. But I can’t. But there are other people who experience injustice too.

   The refugees. The children locked in concentration camps at the border. The LGBTQ+ community. All of the non-white communities. The homeless. The mentally ill. The pregnant teenagers. The people who have had abortions. The immigrants. The children in the foster care system. The incarcerated men and women who are serving mass amounts of time for non-violent crimes. The Muslim community. Rape and sexual assault victims. So many people face injustice. Seek justice for them.

   I know I can’t change your future. I can’t change my past. But I hope I can redeem it. I think of you often for may different reasons. But the biggest reason is looking into the eyes of my little sister, Lois. She is just like you. Just like us. You will not have a chance to change your future, but we can change hers.

   Lois, I know this letter was never really to my 8 year old self. It was for you all along. I want you to know that someone out there understands your pain and your frustrations. I understand your bleeding heart, (we both got it from Mom.) I know your fear. Your hurt. You need to know that the things that were done to you were wrong. And it is not your fault. I want you to know that just like me, there will come a time when you are brave and strong. I need you to know you don’t need to rush to that part. Feel everything. These are the times that will make you strong. God didn’t give you these burdens, they are a part of being human. Embrace them. Embrace yourself for all of who you are. I promise, it is enough. Every flaw and scar and imperfection. Embrace the happiness and the depression, but reach out for both; let people experience emotions with you. Stand up for the oppressed. Use your voice. Be brave even when your knees shake. Tell the truth. Be honest. Keep going because you never know what kind of person you could become. Never stop fighting.

   Your future self will thank you for it.

Dear Tony Stark

*Warning: General Marvel and Endgame spoilers throughout*

   Dear Tony Stark,

   I’ve never really told anyone this, but I’ve always kinda wanted to be a super hero.

   I grew up in church being taught that it was my destiny to save people from hell by telling them about Jesus. I was always told I had a purpose. I was going to follows God’s plan and save people from condemnation. It was told to me like it would be an adventure. Christians got spiritual gifts too, which I thought of as my super power. People told me I had potential. I knew I needed to save as many people as I could before the Rapture. That was my Endgame. I was working on the clock.

   I also grew up on Marvel. I loved the original Spider-Man movies and the cartoons. I could always be found with an X-Men comic book in my hand. I loved the idea of super heroes. I think I was so enraptured by this idea of saving lives and mattering to the world on a cosmic scale. I wanted people to look up to me and remember my name. I could see myself in a suit, striking a hero pose. I wanted to be a hero for as long as I can remember.

   I watched your movie for the first time in middle school I believe. I didn’t like it. I thought it was boring and couldn’t pay attention. Then the second one came along and I thought it was good but not really my thing. But somehow I got roped into the Avengers because of Thor. I remember having a countdown until that movie came out. That movie was when you got me. You were flawed but strong. You put up a front and tried to make people laugh but deep inside you were hurting and you could never say. You never showed your pain or your doubts to anyone because you were a hero. You stayed strong for everyone around you. But I saw right through you. I saw bits of myself in you.

   Then Iron Man 3 came out. They showed you on screen with a panic attack from the trauma of New York. You. Iron Man. A super hero with panic attacks. I wish there were words to describe what that meant to me as a teenager who suffered horribly with panic attacks and anxiety. You overcame that every scene in that film and that mattered to me. I watched that movie and felt like I could still be a hero even with my panic attacks. Sometimes that gave me the hope I needed to not feel like a failure when I had to leave church because something triggered me. It made me feel less isolated and weak for it.

   I thought I couldn’t love you anymore but then Age of Ultron came out. I know people didn’t like that movie a lot, but Tony Stark, that movie was so important to me. There’s that scene when you’re in the barn talking to Nick Fury and you’re telling him that you have the recurring nightmare that you kill the Avengers. All your friends, and all the world, die because of you. There is this looming fear that its all your fault yet you simultaneously feel so helpless. You made so many bad choices driven by that fear. In that scene, you told Fury that seeing your friends die wasn’t the worst part; the worst part was the fact that you didn’t die. You lived. I wish I didn’t understand that, Tony. But I do. I understand the fear of the burden of being alive. I know what it feels to think you are the one who deserves to die rather than all those around you. And I wish I didn’t feel the overwhelming burden of thinking that you are responsible for the lives of all those around you. But I do. I get it. To see a super hero struggle with that burden was so powerful.

   There were nights where I didn’t want to live anymore where I just put Age of Ultron on my TV and cried. I know that’s childish of me. To be a teenager and look up to super heroes the way I did. But see, I never felt like normal life applied to me. I grew up on End Times theology and thinking every day was it and even if it wasn’t, my friends could get hit by a bus tomorrow and go straight to hell. Even less existentially, I just wanted God to be proud of me, so I was always afraid that I was never doing enough. Simply living wasn’t enough. So these huge, larger than life stories felt closer to me than anything else. I was living with an impossible burden. See, my super power has always been my empathy. I feel everyone’s pain as if it were my own. Oftentimes it feels like a gift, but mostly it feels like a curse. I’m in pain a lot. I can’t escape everyone’s pain. I can’t escape the fear that I’m not doing the most that I can to help alleviate other’s suffering. I feel like a failure. But I would always find myself watching Age of Ultron and realizing its okay to be a super hero in pain. It’s okay that I find myself being choked by my own fear and making bad choices because of it. Sometimes we lose battles and make mistakes.

   Then there was Infinity War. The snap. Endgame. You felt hopeless and I saw it. I saw myself in that despair. I knew what you felt when you ran away from the fight and didn’t want to be involved anymore. I understand that because lately I’ve felt myself pulling away from everything. It’s funny, my theology and sense of hell and God has evolved so much. I don’t believe what I used to. But sometimes I find myself second guessing myself. I am still plagued by the fear that everything is ending or that I’m wrong or my friends are going to hell. I can’t shake the what-ifs or the super hero complex or the empathy. It’s suffocating and sometimes I don’t want to care. I want to live in the middle of nowhere and marry my boyfriend and have a family and ignore the suffering of the world because I can’t handle it. It’s too much. But much like you, I know I’d never be able to rest.

   Today I saw Endgame and I cried. And if you know anything about me, you know that if I’m crying in a movie its because something related to me. This movie was no exception.

   Since high school I have been following you as you’ve made mistakes, hurt people, loved, grown, learned, and created. In a way, you’ve been with me as I’ve done the same thing. Today I watched as you overcame your fear and put aside what you wanted in order to do what was right. You really came full circle today. You died a fucking hero. It was the most tragic and heartbreaking thing to see my favorite hero die on screen but I didn’t feel robbed. It felt right. You faced your biggest fear; seeing everyone you love die, but you couldn’t accept it so you did something about it. You saved the world. You can rest now.

   There was a part of me that needed that reminder that I can do this. I’m no super hero. I’m not out to save the world. But I can’t shut myself off from the world either. I can’t close myself off when I’m feeling too much. Maybe sometimes, but not forever. I needed to remember that I will do whatever it takes. Not to save lives but to love people and to help. I don’t think I owe it to people, but I think its against who I am, who we are, to stay silent. I’ll do whatever it takes. I will choose to live even when I lose the will. I will fight when I feel weak. I will be brave when I feel afraid. I will die when its my time to die, but not before. I will continue to press on because that’s what I have to do. Despite the crippling fear, I will do what it takes.

   Mr. Stark, there is a world of people out there who need a super hero. But you did more than just be a super hero for people. To me, you are the reminder that there is a little bit of super hero in all of us. We live in a world desperate for a sliver of hope and maybe to some people these are just movies, but to other people, to the desperate, those movies are reminders. Even in the darkest of times, we will rise up to the challenge. We will survive and press on and fight another day. We will do whatever it takes to seek mercy and do justice. We will walk tall after panic attacks, fight the mental illness rummaging through our bodies, and we will press on despite our doubts.

   Tony Stark, thank you. I know you’re not real and there are real life people to thank too. But there were a lot of times where I felt like I had nobody. But these movies made me realize that no matter how alone you felt, you always had Steve and Pepper and Natasha and Peter and….well, and I do too. I have my own Avengers. I have never been alone and neither have you.

   Thank you. Thank you for everything.
   I wish there were more words.
   Thank you.
   -Faith

hello friend (I know its been a while)

   hey.

   It’s been like three months since I’ve blogged. It’s been a while since I’ve seen many of my friends. It’s been a long time since I’ve been open and vulnerable. It’s just…it’s just been a while.

   Life has been insane. I barely know where to begin.

   I’ve been having a hard time writing lately. I don’t know. Words don’t come out like they used to. I’m not as inspired as I used to be. I have some ideas (ish?) but can never execute them. It’s incredibly frustrating. I think I’m mostly just burnt out. I graduate in 22 days and I have senioritis so bad that I’m writing this blog post to procrastinate on writing my sociology discussion board post. I’ve mostly just been trying to get by this semester. I’m trying to learn how to have a life outside of school. I’m learning how to be okay with getting B’s. I’m learning the beauty of giving up perfectionism in order to have a life and friends. It’s difficult, but it’s been rewarding. I’ve not really stressed about school at all this semester. I give myself time to do assignments. I remember that I don’t have to ace every exam and every assignment. I can just do well and that’s enough.

   I’ve been getting ready for grad school. I’ve been accepted into a Masters program at my current university and today I made it official and accepted their offer as well as signed up for my classes. Although it wasn’t my first choice (or second or third….) I’m lucky I got in somewhere. It’s so surreal that I’m finally going to do what I’ve had my eyes on since high school. I’m going to be a psychologist. I’m going to be a doctor. I’ve done so much work for my field already; research, presentations, conferences, speaking engagements, meetings, tests, and classes. I’ve traveled all over the United States over the past year getting to visit schools and talk about my research. It’s been so exciting. I’m beginning to not feel like an imposter anymore. I know that’ll change once I step into my first graduate school class, but I’m enjoying the feeling now. I’ve put in so much. It’s rewarding.

   Aside from school, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my boyfriend. We recently hit our 9 month anniversary, which is crazy to me. It hasn’t been an easy 9 months, but its certainly been worth it. I won’t lie, it was hard to adjust to. It still is hard. This is my first relationship so I feel like I’m trying to play catch up. Like, I should know at least some of the basics of being in a relationship by now but I don’t. I’m learning how to live with another person in mind and not just myself. I’m learning how to put us as a unit above myself while simultaneously holding onto my independence and individuality. I’ve been learning how to love someone who’s different than me and how to make things work. I’m learning how to be open and vulnerable with someone and it’s difficult (especially with men.) It’s hard work, but its worth it. I look back on a year ago when I was in a relationship that hurt me and realize how lucky I am. My boyfriend and I fight for sure, but I have never had to second guess how he feels about me and for that I’m thankful. We’re in love and its such a beautiful, beautiful thing. There were times in the past couple years where I really thought love wasn’t for me. This time, I’m glad I was wrong.

   Lately I’ve also been traveling. I’ve been a ton of places in the last six months; California, Florida, Maryland, and Buffalo. I’ve gotten very familiar with airports. Turbulence doesn’t quite scare me so much anymore. I’m seeing parts of the world that I never thought I would get to see. For the first time in my life I’m thinking of international travel. I used to be so much of a homebody. I like my own space. My city. My neighborhood. I never felt the intense need to leave it. I think too many people want so badly to leave and it just turned me off to it. But I think I really would like to now. Not permanently, but I want to experience life outside of where I am. I love seeing the beauty that exists in the world. I love that time doesn’t seem to exist when I travel. I love feeling like I’m finally alive. It’s indescribable.

   Lately, I’ve been trying to feel more at home in my new skin. The past couple years have been pretty revolutionary for me. I feel like I’ve had to completely “re-brand” myself. I’m not the same person I used to be. And while that’s amazing and great, it takes some getting used to. Sometimes I wonder if people noticed, if they’re worried, or if they really have no idea what’s been going on with me. For any of those cases, it takes time. It has been scary to think that I need to re-introduce myself to half my friends. It’s scary that I’ve felt the need to be quiet about my changes. I’m trying to find my voice and be okay with the growth I’ve experienced. Internally I’m so thankful; but there is a part of me that is timid and afraid and wants validation from other people despite the fact that I know it won’t help me. But I’m slowly trying to hold onto the idea that not everyone will like me or approve of me and that’s perfectly okay. But then there is the part of me that wonders if I owe people any more pieces of my soul. There are so many things I want to write about and start controversy about and make waves about. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want that anymore. Arguing about feminism is more draining than anything; I’m tired of explaining why I think women should have basic human rights. Debating over theology makes me sick to my stomach now. I can’t bring myself to respond to Facebook comments anymore. I’ve been more interested in protecting my heart and not doing things to my body that put extra stress on her. I’m exhausted from pouring my heart out to the world only to have it trampled and shit on. I don’t owe people that.

   That being said, I am still thinking. I have one post that’s been in my drafts for months that I haven’t found the courage to share yet. I’m waiting for the right time. I’m working with my old photography professor on a project that I’ve had swirling around in my head for a while. Today my thoughts are flowing well; I have the motivation to create and think and the inspiration to set my soul on fire. I want to do more. So no, I’m not giving up. I’m just taking my time. I’m figuring out what I want to do, what people want to read, and what would be beneficial for people to read. I’m trying to figure out how to make art again. Write fiction again. Write poems. Take photos. Write blogs. Sketch. Talk to people. Be vulnerable. Move out. Stop my anxiety. Stop my depression. Cope with lupus. Be myself unapologetically. And just live. I’m learning how to live again. Thanks for joining the ride and reading along.

   (Side note: one of the things I’ve been up to is public speaking. Here is one of the amazing opportunities I got to have recently. I did a talk on pole dancing and disability. I’ll include it here so you can watch it/share it. It was an amazing time and I honestly thought I killed it, so I hope you watch and enjoy it!)

The Unabridged Journals of a Super Woman

   On Thursday I was sent from work after only 3 hours into my shift. My boss saw me lying on my break room floor, curled into the fetal position, and crying my eyes out. I was in so much pain I could barely walk. I was periodically running to the bathroom to cry and sit before wiping my tears and pretending to be okay. I tried my best to keep a stiff upper lip and push through it, but I couldn’t.

   I was on my period. It was stupid, I told myself. This happens once a month. Every other woman I know goes to work on her period. It can’t be that bad. I wanted to keep going to prove something to someone. I need to prove to myself that I’m not weak and can handle pain with grace. Maybe in a  lot of ways I wanted to prove that I’m strong enough to handle my chronic illness that played a role in my pain. And certainly I needed to prove to men that I was invincible. I can tackle a job, an internship, school, cleaning my home, taking care of the cats, being a wonderful girlfriend, being a great big sister, and make great art all the while in unbearable pain. That’s my way of proving myself to men. I don’t like when men think I’m weak. I can hold my own. Not only can I do a good job, but I can do the best job. I can have my cake and eat it too.

   At work they call me Super-Girl. This probably started when I volunteered to work until 3am when my shift had started at 3pm. I did that two nights. In a row. And I had school in the morning. I did it because it was fun. I love working hard. But mostly I did it just to show that I can. I’m unstoppable. Now I’m known for being the craziest employee. I feed off of the comments of people telling me I need to stop working so hard, that I need to sleep more, to take it easy. It only reinforces it in me. I work hard. My boss praises me for it and I live on that.

   Today I almost passed out on the train. I had an insane hot flash that made me lose my vision. I ran off the train and threw up. The paramedics were called. I sat in the ambulance while they checked my vital signs and the only thing going through my head was, “it’s 7:30; I need to leave so I can get to my 8am class.” So I did. I told the paramedics I didn’t want to go to the hospital and I left, got back on my train, stopped for coffee, and made it to class on time. No one there knew what had happened. I didn’t bother telling my professors because it was over.

   Today I think: that isn’t hard work. That is suicide.

   I’m angry at the culture we have created that praises people for risking their health and their lives for things that do not matter. I’m angry that I oftentimes go to work when I am sick or in pain because I only think that I cannot afford to skip work. Not for my health; not for anything. I hate that I am in the position where I need to harm myself in order to make ends meet. I have to get no sleep in order to write papers. I hate that I have to work so many hours just to pay the bills. What’s worse is I hate the culture that tells me that’s okay. I hate that we praise workaholics. We call people lazy when they stay home. We tell people they aren’t dedicated enough. We leave the impression that if you don’t feel like you’re dying than you aren’t giving in all that you have. I despise the wealth inequality that drives those of low socio-economic status to poorer health conditions because they can’t take days off. I grieve for my mother who’s days off only mean she gets to work her second job; and her no work days mean full house-work days. I hate that I feed into all of this. I hate myself for coming to school today.

   Even after everything that happened over the summer; my anxiety sky-rocketed, I worked myself  ragged, I became insanely depressed, I started taking anti-anxiety/anti-depressants, and I lost a ton of weight due to poor health choices, I still continue to do it. I don’t know why it’s so hard to stop. I know I do this but I can’t stop.

   Sunday’s are my Sabbath day. I told my boss I cannot work them, aside from the rare exception. I do this because I need one day of rest. One day that I know I can look forward to where I just rest. Even with my mountain of doubt, I find myself going to church because the familiarity is comforting. On Sunday’s, my brother leads a bible study where the conversations have been so beautiful. It’s one of the few places I feel like I can truly put away my mask of Being Okay. I love being able to be open with others and connect. I love the Sabbath.

   I wish we did that more. Talked about rest days more. And not just in the “today I’m doing a face mask” day but a day where you truly let yourself be. Admittedly, I love doing facemasks on Sunday but I also love drawing and talking to friends and reading and binge watching Brooklyn Nine Nine. I keep telling myself this needs to be a priority but it’s hard to make that a priority. It’s hard when everywhere around us we get opposing messages about what we should be doing. I know, it’s gotten better but I don’t think the message has hit me yet. Oftentimes I need to write it for myself, in my own words, before I begin to feel it.

   I am such a fan of hard work. I enjoy working my ass off and feeling accomplished after I have been productive. But I need rest. In my health psychology class we’ve been talking about the negative impact cortisol (stress) has on the human body. I hear this all the time but I rarely do anything about it. I don’t have the luxury of rest. I need to pay bills. I need to get through college.

   But I need to rest. We need to rest.

   We need to give our bodies a break. Physical health isn’t an isolated status. Our bodies and souls are one and the same; we need to give both rest, give both love. We need to do less of what drains us and more of what fills us. It’s easy to say when you have wealth, I know. But I think we need to do what we can. We may not be able to take off of work, but we can breathe. Be mindful. Don’t hold tension in your shoulders. Drink water. Slow down as much as you are able.

   And just rest.

To My Body (The Last Apology)

   I’m sorry.

   I’m sorry that every time I address you it starts with an apology, as if you’re something I need to feel sorry about. But I’m sorry that I constantly feel the need to tell others I’m sorry on your behalf. Since when did I need permission for my body to exist the way it does? I’m sorry that I keep apologizing for you when I really should be apologizing to you. You were never the one that was wrong. It was always our perceptions and horrible expectations for you. But they will never say they are sorry, so we must learn to accept apologies that never come and let go.

   The first is from me. I’m sorry I never treated you right. You didn’t deserve it. You never deserved all the nights of starvation and hunger or the nights I would pinch flesh to inflict pain. I hurt you, intentionally. You didn’t meet my expectations of how a body should look and so I hurt you in hopes that you would change. It never helped. It only created a toxic relationship between us that dragged us both into depression. You could never be enough, no matter how thin you got, it wasn’t thin enough. It would never end. But you never needed to be any smaller. You’re beautiful just as you are. You do not look like a model’s body or a fitness athlete; you don’t even resemble your fellow pole dancers but you are beautiful. You are unique and special and lovely. I’m sorry I could never see it before. I’m done making you small when you were born to take up space in this world. We need to stop making each other small. Being big is not the opposite of being beautiful. We were not meant to succumb to the expectations of others. I will not be quiet anymore and you should not be small.

   I’m sorry that I’m often angry at you for lashing out at me as if your anger wasn’t justified. But its so hard to love you when you don’t love me in return. I have dreams that feel so far because of your inability to function. All I want is to be able to run with no restraints and to keep up with my friends and to dance; I miss dancing so much it aches. But the pain in my knees have been unbearable. The weakness in my arms and the pinching in my elbows is excruciating. Maybe you’re angry at me and maybe it’s justified. I’m sorry. I’m sorry if you are in need and I ignore your cries. I’m sorry I have never been able to balance my relationship with food in a healthy way and I’m sorry you suffer for it. I’m sorry that it’s so hard to eat sometimes and that its been hard lately. I wish it were easier to eat better without falling into a hole of obsession, but its not. If I limit you, I’m afraid I’ll starve you again, and you deserve to eat.

   Oh, body. I’m sorry for all the times I’ve apologized on your behalf. I’m sorry that I let people cover you up in shame. I’m sorry for the ways in which the Church has silenced you and called you a stumbling block, as if you were the one with the power to turn men into monsters. I’m sorry that the media uses your beautiful sexuality against you; that they ignore your beauty by making you a commodity to sell. These institutions and cultures have done you harm and I’m sorry I believed them when they said you were the problem. I’m sorry for the question of “what was she wearing?” I’m sorry that I was made to feel sorry for you. But I’m not; not anymore. I refuse to fall back into the mindset that has caused me to hurt you. I will not hide you. I will not soften you for others comfort. I will not hold my tongue when speaking of you. Nothing about you is an apology. When the Church says that we are made in the image of God, I will say it louder and with more conviction that we are made in the image of God; that women are made in the image of God. All of you was made in that image. Your curves, the arch of your back, all the scars, and your breasts. All of these are imago dei*. God’s image. All of those parts of you that I have deemed “ugly,” those are image bearers. El shaddai**. The God with breasts. You no longer need to cower or hide those parts of you in hatred. Shame isn’t welcome here anymore. You are more than a stimulus for sexual pleasure for men. You have a beautiful sexuality and that is not a sin. You are not a whore. You are a temple. Each part of you was made beautifully. Each and every curve was fashioned with love and dignity.

   I’m sorry that everything has been so hard lately. You are suffering physically and it’s making me hurt mentally. But I know that I need to surrender. We are one, and when we fight, we both lose. I’m sorry that I spent so much of my time focusing on the new body I wanted by dreaming of heaven that I neglected you. I’m sorry that the theology and doctrine that you’ve been told has made you nothing. You are not nothing. You are not filthy or dirty or wrong. You do not bear the weight of the transgressions done to you. Do you hear me? You are not responsible for the sins done to you. Those have been cleaned; they are not your burden anymore. The shame you have carried is gone. You are not those wounds. You are not your limitations. You are not your sickness.

   My body, I love you. I’m done fighting. I’m done ignoring you. I am done pretending that you do not matter. I’m done feeding into the lies that you are an object. I’m done rallying around doctrines that make you an enemy; I have done that on my own for too long. I’m done hiding you away as if you were a problem. I will no longer apologize for who you are. You are not dirty or wrong. You are lovely. Beautiful. Graceful. Strong. No matter how others treat you and no matter how you treat me in return, I promise to love you and take care of you. No matter what is said to you or about you, I am making a public commitment to you. Not even in death will we part; we are inseparable. I don’t think God created me as just a soul; I think He made me a soul that lives in unity with my body that is a reflection of that very soul. You and I are interconnected. Your pain is my pain. My burdens are your burdens. And the joys we experience, we feel together.

   This next year I want to love you more, respect you more, and nourish you more. I want that in every area of life for you. I want you to be well. I want more tattoos and piercings to be the paint and the decorations of your temple. I want your hair to be your crown; no matter the color, length, or style. I want you to be free in whatever you choose to wear. Let go of the idea that you are what make men sin. You are not sin. Adorn yourself with what makes you feel strong and powerful. Wear what makes you feel happy and free. I promise this year that I will take care of you and feed you. We will drink water and snack on broccoli and enjoy quinoa. I will maintain you; no more workouts that harm you. I will listen when you are in pain. I will revel in rest, but I will commit to making you stronger at your own pace. No longer will you be compared to bodies on Instagram. You will be allowed to be all that you are without apologies. You are allowed to be flawed. But because I love you, I promise to wash you and give you what you need. Every morning when I wash your beautiful face it will be a reminder to nourish you and appreciate you. Every day I wake up with the ability to walk is another day to applaud you. And on those days when the pain keeps us in bed, those are days to listen to you and cry with you.

   Lastly, this year I will remember that we are one. So for just as many days as I will spend taking care of your physical needs, I will spend just as many taking care of our other needs. The soul needs chocolate and hot baths. The soul needs Netflix days and to snooze the alarm. The soul, a part of our body, needs rest and love and attention. We will go to therapy. We will take breaks. We will call off work if we can’t bring ourselves to go. I will listen to music that is uplifting and honoring to you. I will journal and draw and take photographs. I will let my body and soul live in harmony together and neglect neither. I promise to love you in all that I do.

   I promise that there will be no more apologies.


   *”Image of God.” by Shane O’Leary

   **”God As Mother” by Carrie A Miles

In Defense of Gay Christians

   I’ve tried to not write this post a million different ways. I’ve tried to get out of it, ignore it, or give myself reasons to not do it. But it’s been on my mind for too long. For years I’ve felt this growing unease within me. But I’ve shut it down every time. But by now, it’s out there. It’s on my Twitter, if you’ve been brave enough to find me on there, I’m not shy in talking about it in person, but out here, in front of everyone, I’ve not been vocal enough.

   The truth is I’m LGBTQ+ affirming.

   Maybe if you didn’t grow up religious, you don’t get the weight of that statement, but if you have, you get it. That’s a pretty bold statement where I’m from. I’ve pondered over it for years and wrestled with it. I’ve talked to celibate gay people and gay people in marriages and I’ve talked to not affirming pastors of all different kinds. I’ve done my research. Read the bible. Read commentaries. Read the Greek translations. The truth is, I’ve been terrified. I mean, if I was wrong about this, then what else have I been wrong about? Or worse, what if I change my whole life to support someone in what turns out to be sin? How will I be able to justify that when I meet God? The truth is that I am so scared to be wrong. I’m not a bible scholar. I’m not a genius. Some days I feel like I am barely a Christian. How can I possibly know better than people who have spent their entire lives dedicated to the Scriptures? How can I ignore that verse from Romans that talks about homosexuality?

   The truth is I have no idea.

   Seriously. I don’t know how to reconcile all those verses and viewpoints together. But then again, I could say that about a lot of other things too. I believe women can be pastors; Paul doesn’t seem to agree with me, but I feel like God does. I don’t know how that makes sense in light of all the strict gender roles that the bible seems to enforce, but I feel like it has to be true. Don’t misunderstand me here, truth is something far above feelings. Truth can make me uncomfortable. Truth doesn’t need to sit well with me. But what I mean by all of this is that in considering what I know of Jesus, the idea that He could abhor LGBTQ+ individuals doesn’t seems to make much sense to me, much like many things about Jesus don’t seem to make much sense to me. It seems to me that Jesus can’t be who we claim he is if he isn’t allowing gay people the right to serve in ministry or the right to speak openly about their sexuality or be in relationships.

   When I look at Jesus, I see a radical. He was this guy that once told a woman to step out of the kitchen to come learn. He made room at his table for the people that society didn’t want. He loved immigrants and outcasts. He had a heart for the oppressed. He loved people he disagreed with. He loved the poor. He was homeless. He was just so damn loving. I have struggled with so many things in my faith lately, it’s been exhausting. But the only thing that seems to make sense to me is Jesus had a great way of living. It wasn’t conventional, but it was meaningful. He lived in a way that I want to emulate as much as I can. I try to make my life look as radical and loving as his was, and I don’t think I can do that and not be affirming.

   I think we, as a Church, have failed gay people. We have done you so, so wrong. We have failed you. We have failed as a church to listen to what you are saying, we are too quick to judge. We are petrified of being wrong and loving too much, we worry that by loving you we are condoning your “lifestyle” and so we run the other way and don’t even honor your humanity. We have failed a group that desperately needs a sense of belonging. Many gay people don’t get support in their homes or their schools. We like to think it’s becoming normal, but the homophobia still exists very much, and people still suffer it’s impacts and need a place that can offer them unconditional love. And wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a place that they could come to, just as they are, and be welcomed in like a family with open arms and allowed to experience unconditional love? When did the church stop being that place? Since when did my sin become something I could talk about, but not theirs?

   They were supposed to know we were Christians by our love, not our hate. “Christian” has become synonymous with “racist” and “homophobic” and “hypocrite.” We are too quick to drop the topic of sexuality so as to not get into a “political discussion” as if Jesus never spoke about politics. As if the entire bible isn’t political commentary. And since when did individual experiences become nothing more than politics? When did we get so caught up in tearing Scripture apart that we forgot Jesus said the entire thing can be summed up by the phrase “Love God and love others”? What have we done? We should know better. The Church should especially know better. I don’t know how, we, how I have so often missed the point. My strange silence on affirmation does not make me an ally. Too often I’ve been afraid of losing my credibility by speaking up. It’s toxic that not only can gay people rarely serve in church if they are open about their sexuality, but I am scarcely allowed to voice my agreement towards them if I hold positions in the church.

   I don’t know. I can no longer justify abuse based on two vague verses in a very complicated historical text. I don’t think I should have to try to explain why we shouldn’t kick gay people out of ministry positions or why we should be able to engage with others who hold other opinions about sexuality. Why are we so afraid of the questions? Are we afraid to be wrong?

   I think we have missed a giant key to the puzzle of who God is by refusing to listen to the voices of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Christians who identify in this group have a perspective to offer that others just don’t see, and they miss out on this perspective by shutting them out. We are not getting the full picture. Gay Christians need to be allowed a space in the church to talk about their experiences without other Christians telling them how to “become straight.” I wish Christians would be more willing to listen rather than simply waiting for their turn to regurgitate the bible. I don’t understand why this is a controversial opinion to hold in the church. I’m only affirming because when I read the bible or think about the kind of man Jesus was, I cannot hold any other opinions. All I hear is the sound of the LBTQ+ community crying out for a place to belong, even in a world that is growing more progressive, they are still in pain. Gay Christians are especially struggling, trying desperately to hold onto two opposing parts of themselves that should never have been in opposition in the first place. If you take time to listen to their stories, I think it will move you. They are filled with such courage and grace and dignity. You will find that the road they took wasn’t an easy one, but full of pain and sorrow, but ultimately full of triumph and love. They understand God’s love in a way that is beyond refreshing. They have so much to offer. Please, make room for us at the table.

   There are so many things we are missing by being caught up in this argument. Church, if you have people willing to serve, let them serve. If there are people willing to share, then let them share. Give out the kind of love that casts out fear. Be the kind of servant that Jesus called you to be. If we can get past the petty arguments, we can move on. To be frank, I am so blessed to live in a country where I get the privilege of contemplating my sexuality. Like, that really gets to be a priority, and sometimes it makes me angry. There are so many places in the world where that is just not a priority. Places where survival comes first, and sometimes that’s all that matters. But here, in America, we are privileged to be able to be offended by who kisses who. Don’t you get tired of it? Because I do. I am. We should know better by now. We have a world watching how we show love to those that are different than us, and its no wonder that churches are getting smaller now. We’re failing because we look nothing like Jesus did. I hate that we’ve all become Pharisees. I hate how much I have become one. I hate that I grew up learning Greek and Hebrew words and leaning on apologetics like it was a lifeline. I memorized my To-Die-For’s like a creed and now they mean nothing because I started using the bible like a weapon to determine who was allowed to sit with me. We tried so hard to do the right thing that we ended up doing the wrong thing. I’m tired of it.

   I’m tired of the silence and the pain. We’ve got so much work to do; can we stop the useless arguments and move forward? Let’s learn to listen before we speak. Remember how Jesus told us to love. Check our pride at the door. Look at the log in our own eyes. Remember that we are not the appointed ones to carry truth. Always assume we are wrong. Love endlessly and without fear. Trust that God’s grace follows us when we are wrong. Give love to those who are trying their hardest. Bear one another’s burdens. Give LGBTQ+ individuals a place to speak. Challenge our previously held notions.

   I know we have failed the LGBTQ+ in the past. We cannot fail any longer.

   Resources:
In case you are curious and think I’m the only one who thinks this, or if you’re a gay Christian yourself with some questions; whatever the case, here are some books I’ve read and resources that have assisted me in coming to this conclusion.

   *Pride Flag photo is from this source

On Doubt

   I used to hear a statistic all the time in youth group growing up. They used to tell us that about 70% of kids that grow up in the church lose their faith when they get into college. I remember I would look around the room and imagine my friends not being beside me at church anymore. I would think about what it would be like for them to abandon the faith that we had learned so much about and dedicated so much of our lives to already. I imaged how hurt I would be and how I would try to redeem them. I thought up a lot of scenarios in my head about what would happen if someone I knew stopped calling themselves a Christian. But I never imagined what it would be like if that person was me.

   Maybe that’s melodramatic of me. I still go to church; not as frequently as I used to, but I still go. But I’m not as involved. It doesn’t feel the same. I don’t read my Bible much anymore, but I think of it often, although it’s not quite the same. I’ve been trying to pray again, that’s almost been working lately, but it’s not like it used to be. When Christians talk it sometimes feels very foreign to me. I’ve struggled with my place in the church for a long time now. I struggle with feeling like I won’t be accepted for all that I am. I struggle with feeling like my doubts are a burden to those around me. Sometimes, I worry that my doubts will consume me.

   I used to attribute 2016 to being the year I realized I was falling away; but looking back on it now, I realized that was only when I was able to acknowledge it. Really, it had begun years before. It’s been a long journey. A long, weary, journey. It’s exhausting. Lonesome. Frustrating. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve mumbled that I want to die just because I would rather die than try to find it in me to sift through the years of trauma, pain, confusion, and conflict that’s raging inside of me. I struggle with reconciling my faith that I grew up with alongside what I believe now. I don’t know where my pain fits into my theology, or how others suffering does. More than anything, I’m afraid to be wrong. I’m afraid God isn’t real and I’ve wasted my life talking to myself. I’m so scared to die and that to be it. Sometimes I want to die just so the mystery will be over. I just want to know. Tell me what the truth is. It’s been a long haul. I feel like I’ve been here and gotten out of this same hole a million times. But each day I find myself lost in doubt, it feels like the very first time. It feels utterly suffocating.

   No one in youth group ever prepared me to lose my faith. No one told me what it would be like when suddenly all of these concepts that you learned in Sunday school don’t make sense anymore. They didn’t tell me that the world won’t make sense once you’ve seen enough pain. I was never taught how to deal with prayers that don’t work. It’s earth shattering. It’s devastating. It feels like the foundation you stood on is giving way. I’ve felt like that for years now. I don’t know what to make of the arguments with freewill or predestination or what that looks like in terms of prayer. I don’t know how hell works because while it has to exist for God to give us the chance to love him, he must give us the chance to reject him, but at the same time, if the other option is harmful, we can’t really give a meaningful “yes.” I wrestle with knowing how much faith I need to have in order for it to be enough. I don’t know how to reconcile my progressive beliefs with some biblical passages and what I know of God’s character. I don’t know why God says yes to some of my prayers but says no to other people’s. I don’t know how much of my life is the product of God’s hand and how much of it is the consequences of my own actions.

   Maybe these things are arbitrary to you. But to me, they’ve kept me awake at night. They’ve rocked my life for years now. They’ve changed who I am completely. For a while I stopped calling myself a Christian. I go back and forth with the label. It depends on the day. If people ask me when I “got saved” I ask what they mean by that. It’s a process I’m not sure I could ever define. What am I being saved from? Why? I don’t know. I don’t think of my testimony the way that I used to. I don’t think it was that one day when I was 8 years old and seeing demons in the trees. I think of it as how I wrestle with God on a daily basis. I think about all the years I’ve built up my faith only to tear it down again and start anew.

   I’ll be honest, some days I resent most Christians. I see their faith and how it all seems so together. I envy those who know God exists. But when I stop and think about it, I realize how I feel sorry for them. I feel so sorry for people who never had to deconstruct their faith or had to go through the brutal, messy project of tearing their own faith to shreds under a microscope. I feel sorry for anyone who thinks they really have all the answers. I used to think my story was the day I accepted Jesus, but now I’m starting to think of it as the years I’ve spent pushing away Jesus, and going to find him again. Sometimes it’s a bit like tug-of-war. We go back and forth; I pull away, God pulls me right back. Sometimes I want to let go and watch him fall. But at the end of the day, I’m trying to be more okay with the answers I don’t know and to fall in love with the beautiful, but messy, process. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

   The ocean of doubt is hard to navigate, but I think it’s helped me far more than certainty ever did. Certainty made me stuck up and conceited. It made me think that I had truth and I had power and I was the only who was responsible with giving it to the world. But having doubts made me listen. I didn’t know the answers, so I listened to people when they spoke in hopes of hearing the answers there. I didn’t just listen to people who look like me; but people from all different walks of life. I just learned to listen. I wasn’t always perfect at it, but on the times I did it well, it was rewarding.

   I keep coming to the conclusion that I don’t know. I don’t know all the weird nuances of my faith but it has to be enough. It has to be enough because if it’s all in how much faith you have, I’m sure I’ll never have enough. I don’t know if I’m a Christian anymore, but I’m done letting that thought scare me. I don’t know if hell exists. I don’t know how much God is in control. Sometimes I doubt he even exists at all. But I know he’s there. Somehow. I know I believe in Jesus. I believe in his radical love and how he did the coolest things on earth. I love how he was a crazy feminist and let women tell the world when he rose on the third day. I love that he let women touch his feet with their hair. I love that all his friends were broke fisherman and tax collectors. He taught so much about loving immigrants and the poor and I think that despite our bastardization of church, it was a great concept. I keep going because despite how much harm the church has caused me, it’s been one of the only anchors in my life. Church has been like a really fucked up family to me; we fight, we disagree, we hurt one another, we try again. We love one another. We are there for one another. We support one another. Sometimes I wish it was different; but that wasn’t for me to decide. We should always strive to be better, but I think we’ll always be a bit messy.

   Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense. That’s actually most days. Most day I want to scream “fuck it!” Because no one told me it would be easy, but no one told me it would be this damn hard. Sunday school always made it sound so simplistic. But it’s not. It’s gritty and scary and lonely. But that’s okay. Did you get that? It’s okay to not know what you believe and it’s okay to question everything you were ever taught.

   I’ve come to the conclusion that people who grow up in the church need to have two faith revelations in their lifetimes; the first is when Jesus becomes real to them and they do the prayer and accept it. The second is when they realize they think everything is bullshit, scrap it all, and find out who Jesus is on their own terms. Sometimes that means leaving the church they grew up in. Sometimes in means reading theologians that disagree with what you were taught. Sometimes, and I would even most times, it’s becoming an agnostic for a while. It may takes only months, but sometimes it takes years of wandering before you find a solid ground again. I don’t necessarily believe that doubts stop, but I think you become more okay with their presence. They do become less frightening. Over time you start to realize that doubt has more power to shape you and your beliefs than faith ever could. Doubt is natural and good. I don’t think Christians talk about that enough. You can bring many questions that border on heresy in the common church; that freaks people out. But don’t let it do that to you. Somewhere in the bible it says that you’ll find God when you seek him with all your heart. So go into the deep shadows of doubt. Don’t shy away from the desert of fear. I think when you do, you’ll find out there are other people in there, and many people who went before you as well.

   For me, this realization came when I got connected to the Exvangelical community on Twitter. It sounds artificial, but I mean this. There is a whole community of people that I get to talk to that have gone before me in this process. They’ve wrestled with my same doubts and fears about God and they’ve come out alive. Many I disagree with still, but our struggles and research have brought us to different conclusions, and I’m learning to not let that worry me. Faith must evolve in order to survive. Your faith can’t be like your parents. It has to be something you choose on your own terms. That often means leaving it.

   I know that was a lot like rambling, but I hope some of it resonated with you. I wish there was a more clear cut conclusion. But there isn’t one. Sometimes you just need to go out and find the answers on your own. Everyone has their own journey, but for those of us on the same path at the moment, I hope you felt less alone. This is my little encouragement to speak up about your doubts. There are always going to be people who get worried and question your salvation and think you’re wrong. People will always panic when you start to question everything. But hold tight. You’re not the first one and you certainly won’t be the last.

To The Tired Souls

   “My father picked me up from school one day and we played and hookey and went to the beach. It was too cold to go in the water so we sat on a blanket and ate pizza. When I got home my sneakers were full of sand and I dumped it on my bedroom floor. I didn’t know the difference, I was six. My mother screamed at me for the mess, but he wasn’t mad. He said that billions of years ago the world’s shifting and ocean moving brought that sand to that spot on the beach and then I took it away. Every day, he said, we change the world. Which is a nice thought until I think about how many days and lifetimes I would need to bring a shoe full of sand home until there is no beach. Until it made a difference to anyone. Every day we change the world. But to change the world in a way that means anything, that takes more time than most people have. It never happens all at once. Its slow. Its methodical. Its exhausting. We don’t all have the stomach for it.”
   -Elliot Alderson, Mr. Robot

   It’s been a week, hasn’t it?

   I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m drained. I’m overwhelmed. I feel like I’m one more heartbreak away from losing faith in humanity. I have always tried to be the person who stayed positive and shared encouraging thoughts and pressed on. But my soul hurts. It grieves for the world that is hurting and in pain. I am constantly struck by the thought that haunts me; the one that tells me I am not doing enough. But I barely have time to keep my head above my own waters. I’m torn between the demands of school and my workplace and my family and friends and the demands of my physical health and my mental health. Yet around me the world goes on; and the world aches. I feel helpless. Even when I try to tell myself “this is why you’re going to grad school!” I feel like a fraud. I like like my pursuits aren’t good enough. I’m terrified I am fighting a losing battle; one that means nothing in the grand scheme of things. I’m afraid that my attention is all off; maybe I’m not looking at the bigger picture. Despite my belief that in order to save the world, each individual must do what they can in their part of the world, I try and bare the weight of the world’s pain on my fragile shoulders. And I am tired.

   Aren’t we all?

   We scream but we aren’t being heard. There seems to be no justice for the oppressed. Abuse rages ever so strongly. Yet our voices are hoarse. We can’t scream any longer. We want water. We want rest. We want to see a shift in our institutions that will learn to accommodate and accept those who have been brushed aside into the margins of the world. We want what Jesus would have wanted. Justice and mercy. For love to win. Freedom, in its truest form. We want the pain, not to let up, but to lessen. Oh, how I want their pain to lessen.

   I’m done pretending I’m not talking about specific things. I’m angry that Brett Kavanaugh has been voted into the Supreme Court despite sexual assault allegations, yet I’m even more horrified that the President has shown so much support for him amidst all of this. Worse even still, those that claim Christ’s name have been on the forefront of those supporters. I’m upset that the title “Christian” has been bastardized and made synonymous with “Conservative” and “racist” and “homophobic.” I hate how many Christians are such things.

   There are not words to express how much my heart breaks for Christine Blasey Ford, who bore her trauma before the entire world only to be called a liar and publicly mocked by the President of the country who is supposed to be for justice for all. Yet even worse, I hurt for those survivors that have watched this all unfold and who have been shown how little their government values women’s voices and experiences. They have been shown which places are safe and which are not. Regardless of whether or not the man is innocent, the way Dr. Ford has been mocked has only showed survivors that they are not safe here. Regardless of whether or not she was telling the truth, the message that was portrayed was that unless you have witnesses or recordings of the event, you are not believed. Those who have voiced their support of Kavanaugh have willingly or unwillingly showed survivors that they do not care and will not listen to their stories. To all those who have suffered in silence, I’m exhausted for you. We are exhausted for you. When you read the Facebook status’ of your fathers and brothers and best friends, I can’t fathom your pain when you read those posts that mean to only speak of politics but are also simultaneously shoving your secrets further inside of you. I know when you read Dr. Ford’s story, you are reminded of your own. You are afraid of their backlash. You remain silent. You are so tired of the silence.

   We are here. Screaming for justice on your behalf. Some of us identify as feminists. We call ourselves this because that is the only language we know for someone who is willing to stand up for women and against sexual violence against others. Of course, we are labeled “man haters.” I’m tired of defending myself against people who only want to argue about technicalities and have no interest in compassion or understanding. Our motives are critiqued and criticised. We are well aware of our faults. We are aware of those who have gone around and harassed men by spilling bleach on the crotches of those manspreading. Their actions are wrong. They claim feminism but act out misandry. Most people claim they cannot tell the difference. To those people I hold my white flag. I am done explaining myself to you. My breath could be better used elsewhere. You cannot have my time anymore. I cannot fight merely for the fact that I am too tired to protest. It has taken my whole life for me to realize I don’t owe you anything. I will never be right in your eyes. Yet still, sometimes it keeps me up at night. It keeps me up knowing how much pain you’ve caused and will continue to cause. I want to change your mind but right now…right now I need to rest. We need to rest. Our souls are so very tired.

   On the days we rest though, how much rest is there? All around us the world spins on and the problems don’t stop. Tell me, how many more of my loved ones will admit to me that they have been raped before it’s enough? How many more times will a young girl cry on my shoulder because they feel like a slut in church for choosing to have sex before marriage? Please, tell me how many more closeted LGBTQ+ individuals will come into my life asking for refuge before I can finally tell them with confidence that I know a place for them? When will we stop questioning the motive of the homeless before we finally give them some money? When will mental health become available for minorities and those of the lower class?

   When will we, activists and survivors, get to rest?

   Or better yet, when will the government share my burden and decide to care? Or when will people? When will the church?

   We are tired of screaming into the void. Our vocal chords are shredded. Our lungs are on the verge of collapse. We want action. Hell, we would be happy with acknowledgement. We need some sliver of hope to remind us that this will get better if we keep fighting. So far, nothing seems to be budging.

   My friend tells me they are gay. They cannot come out because of the backlash. Because they will be ruined. They say they are unsafe and I want to tell them “scream it. Tell the world you are gay.” But I know they’re right. Its fucked up, but its the truth. And I have nothing for them. My church’s love could only go so far. The comments of homophobic, ignorant family members would destroy them. They would be alienated and alone. But they’re tired of hiding. I’m tired for them. There are gay Christians I know that have nowhere in their life for support. I want to stand up for them but my soul is weary. I’m weary from trying to find a biblical angle that justifies homosexuality that will satisfy everyone. I’m weary from denying, to myself and to others, the feelings I refuse to name that I’ve had towards girls in my life. I’m tired of needing to have a 5 point essay in MLA format to simply explain that I think gay people should be allowed to participate in society. I’m tired of having to have this argument, because while we fight over why we can or cannot love someone with the same genitalia as us, homeless veterans die on our city streets. Other countries suffer from war that we support. Black lives are lost due to pure racism. There are bigger battles to be fought. There are so many battles to be fought. But I feel like I oftentimes talk myself into circles; constantly fighting but never winning.

   I’m not the only one. I know. We are exhausted. We are wounded. We are fighting out of a place of personal experience and every argument we have only opens the wound further. We bleed and are accused of being too political. Fuck politics. Fuck being civil. Our soft voices have not earned us credence. Please, forgive us for not being able to speak kindly when we are in pain. Forgive us of our personal experiences that oftentimes cloud our arguments. Forgive the dark circles under our eyes that we can no longer hide. Forgive us that we are angry that our experiences are called lies.

   When will we be able to breathe?

   My friends, It’s okay.

   I wish I had more to offer than to tell you to rest. I wish I had more soundproof advice than that. All I can say is that sometimes you need to close your laptop, turn off your phone, stop responding to those text messages. Turn on a TV show that you enjoy or take a bath. Allow yourself to rest. Step away from your triggers. Put down your fists. Rest your voice. Do all those cliche self care ideas. Changing the world does not happen overnight. There will days that we will get tired and burned out. But all the greatest heroes got tired. But you are never alone in your fatigue. Find someone who can carry your burden with you until you have rested. Take care of each other.

   The world will not change overnight. It is the accumulation of efforts spread out throughout generations. It’s so very slow and so very emotionally taxing. Frankly, it’s discouraging. But there is rest and there is fruit. Maybe you don’t see the world change in a dramatic way, but maybe you can encourage the next generation. Maybe you touch your school or church or maybe just your friend circle. My boyfriend tells me that we need to pick our battles, so we should pick ones we can win. Do what you are able. Maybe it’s not much, but it’s something. Because maybe you start a ripple effect that changes everything. You might never know. But our job isn’t to know. Our job is to persevere for as long as we are able, rest, and then start again in the morning.

   Give yourself a break.

   The world will have plenty of battles to fight again tomorrow.