shame, group therapy, and Tokyo Ghoul

*Content warning: vivid descriptions of finger/skin picking in first paragraph, death described later, along with small spoilers for the manga, Tokyo Ghoul:re*

            Over the past six months or so, I’ve developed a bad habit of picking the skin around my fingernails. I didn’t really notice it at first. People had to point out that I was zoning out and just scratching at my fingers. At first it was seconds, now its more like hours; just endless scratching at my skin until my fingers are raw and bleeding. I swear it happens in the blink of an eye. I see a part of my nail that isn’t right and then I blink and I’m crying trying to get my fingers to stop pulsing. There is a wave of something within me that keeps me trapped there; some all coming void inside of me, threatening to engulf me. When I finally come to, I feel shallow and numb. I don’t have a word for this feeling or this experience. I can’t say why I do it. I just know that it is nearly impossible to stop.

            My brother has been making me read the manga, Tokyo Ghoul, about a boy who, by mere misfortune alone, becomes half man, half man-eating monster. Half ghoul. The protagonist, Ken Kaneki, finds himself unable to eat anything besides human flesh; he is unable to stomach anything he attempts to eat, not even his favorite foods. In one scene, he tries desperately to stomach any of the contents of his fridge until he finds himself lying on the floor, half-chewed food sprawled out around him.

*manga panels are read right to left*

I haven’t been able to describe how I feel for the past couple of years, but that shot of Kaneki lying on the kitchen floor sat with me. I have not been able to eat consistently for a while now. It’s hard to explain; its not a body image thing; physically, I have become content with my body and have become more focused on how I feel rather than how I look. I have simply become…disinterested in food. My stomach is always in knots. Sometimes the thought of food gives me a physical adverse reaction. Somedays I’ll be starving, willing my body to eat, and she simply revolts against me. My list of safe foods has dwindled away to a mere handful. I feel like no one understands how painful it is to try desperately to take care of your body, only for her to reject every gesture of love you extend. It is excruciating. I want to scream what the fuck is wrong with you? Why are you so fucked up?! My stomach aches and my body is falling apart and I can’t even manage to give them the basic nutrients they need to survive, let alone fight against my plethora of chronic illness. The pit in my stomach grows deeper and deeper. I feel like Kaneki, attempting to force his body to be normal.

This past semester I had to take a course on group therapy. During that class, I got to observe, participate in, and lead a process group; a group about practicing focusing on the here-and-now. Alongside that, some of us elected to read a book called Group: How One Therapist and a Room Full of Strangers Saved My Life, a memoir by author, Christie Tate, about her own experiences in group therapy. At first, the entire thing made no sense to me. I had no idea what we were supposed to be talking about or focusing on in my own group, and the book didn’t seem to clarify much. I had no idea what “here and now” meant when it was just me and a bunch of my classmates sitting around in a circle staring at each other; each of us lost in our own heads trying to figure out what we were supposed to be talking about. But then I read a part in Group that stuck with me and continued rattling around in my brain for months after I read it.

Christie tells a story to her group about her childhood and a traumatic event that occurred while she was on vacation with her best friend and her family; she and her friend were getting ready to swim and had run out to meet her friend’s father on the beachfront, however, when they arrived, they found him unconscious in the water, and less than an hour later, they watched him die alone while they waited for her brother to get help. Despite how shocking and traumatic that story was, Christie had never considered it impactful, since it was her best friend’s dad that had died, not her own. She got to go back home to a normal life; she assured herself she couldn’t have been traumatized; she didn’t have the right to be.

Yet after telling the story in group many different times and opening up about the experience, the group draws attention to one detail.

“The sign” they say. “You always mention the sign.”

In every rendition of her story, no matter how short or long she tells it, she always mentions the detail that there was a “no trespassing sign” on the beach. That was where it all came from; the lies about her worth, the ruined relationships, the self-harm, the eating disorder, the fear of intimacy; all of it.

The sign says, “No Trespassing.”

Her middle school brain latched onto that detail in her mental rehashing of the story; her brain struggled to make meaning out of the extreme situation and it came upon this story; this was your fault. You read the sign that said you were not supposed to be on that beach. You knew better. You could have stopped it. He is dead because of you. Sometimes the stories our brains make up to survive are untrue.

She has a moment where she collapses in on herself; completely overwhelmed with this feeling of all-consuming void. Bad feelings. Just grime and filth. It just feels like mold growing in the pit of your stomach. A black hole opening in your chest. An explosion waiting to happen.

Her therapist called it shame.

Researcher, Brene Brown famously said that “the difference between guilt and shame is that guilt says, ‘I did something bad,’ and shame says, “I am bad.”

I was 16 years old when my mom came up to me while I was on the computer and whispered in my ear. She said, “Dad just left. He packed his bags and snuck out the backdoor. He said he can’t face you guys.” I didn’t understand it then, but I do now, maybe a little too well. My father has always been a man consumed by shame; I’m sure it started in his childhood, before I was ever around, but it went on past my birth and continues to this day. I don’t think he ever stopped blaming himself for the time my family got evicted from our apartment when I was in middle school, despite his layoff being out of his control. Or for the affair and the divorce. For my family’s trauma. For all the pain and abuse he perpetuated over the years. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he somehow blamed himself for his older brother’s tragic death, despite not being there or having had the power to prevent it at all.

Sometimes when our brain can’t find any meaning, it makes one up. That meaning becomes part of how we see ourselves and the world. It dominates the narrative we tell ourselves. My dad adopted the belief that he was the bad guy from a very young age; as he grew older, every decision was made based on the script he believed he was given; I’m the bad guy. He acted out that narrative every single day. Every mistake just proved to validate that story, sinking him deeper and deeper into the sea of shame until the only way to survive was to shackle it to someone else. Release the burden so it stops weighing you down; but shame is a bitch. She demands to be carried.

Every time I search for the root of my pain, I dig up shame. An endless supply of shame, buried deep inside of me, living and spreading while I remain completely unaware. Shame is difficult to look at; we don’t like to see it and we sure as hell don’t like showing it to others. We hide in a dark place where we think no one can see it, but we have no idea that it comes out whether we want it to or not. Every time I bite my nails or pick my skin, I uncover shame. I should not be doing this. I’m a bad person. I’m a failure. I told myself I wouldn’t do this again but here we are. Normal people don’t do this. This is your fault. Just stop. I look at Ken Kaneki from Tokyo Ghoul and I recognize the exhaustion and hatred on his face, the look of complete failure; the kind that makes you push away everyone you know and put on a mask because when you can no longer hide your shame, you cannot be seen. Being seen becomes too vulnerable. Too painful. You can’t sit in silence with a group of people and be in the moment when you are too afraid that if someone looks into your eyes, they will see the fear. Shame causes us to dissociate from ourselves because we can no longer stand to see the person we have become. But the thing about shame is that it cannot be thrown out or forgotten; it must be processed, or else it comes out of the cracks, like a small but menacing weed, and if you do not acknowledge it, it will latch on to someone else instead. If you do not own your shame, someone else will.

I don’t know when I picked up my father’s shame and took it on myself. It probably happened slowly over time. Every time I was demeaned or invalidated or silenced or hurt, he handed me a small piece of his shame until eventually, it was all mine to carry. The guilt from the divorce, the shame of being homeless, the fear of being seen; he doesn’t hold it any of it anymore, instead it lives in me; it is his voice in my head telling me I will never be good enough; that everything is my fault.

I know that if shame isn’t felt, it will simply be passed on.

I’m done being stuck in the cycle of shame; of the self-hatred and the isolation. I refuse to let anyone else carry my shame. I will kill it where it stands because I refuse to pass it on to my siblings, my family, and the people I love. My shame runs so deep it can be traced back several generations in my family tree. We have passed down shame like a family jewel. I am ending the tradition.

*manga panels are read right to left*

This isn’t the story I want to live. This isn’t the story I want my siblings to live. I already see the ways they carry shame in themselves; shame from my father, from friends, from exes; people that have lied to them about their worth and value as people; I see the shame they have picked up from me that I unknowingly forced them to carry.

I am trying to own my shame; my fuck ups, my fear, my insecurities, all of it. It is scary because, like Brene Brown says, the opposite of shame is vulnerability. Shame hides, and vulnerability brings to light. Of course, light can seem painful if you’ve been in the dark for too long. It hurts to be fully seen and showing the parts of me that I am ashamed of; I want people to like me and think highly of me; I don’t want people to see me make mistakes. God, I don’t want my siblings to see me make mistakes; but being seen when we make mistakes and are hurting and caught in a shame storm is what not only brings us closer to other people, but also helps us process shame without giving it away. I know that it is the only way my family will ever break the cycle of shame that we have been living in.

I’m slowly cultivating a practice of forgiving myself for all the things I did not realize I had blamed myself for; the divorce, having to move from one family to the next while we were homeless, for my health issues, my mental illness, my failed relationships; all of it. I am learning to own up to my mistakes and forgive myself. I remember that little Faith was doing the best she could with what she had. I’m still simply trying my best, and that is enough.

I am writing myself a new story, one that is no longer defined by the narrative I let other people create. One not based on lies other people have told me about my worth; every partner, friend, family member coworker; everyone who told me I was a bad person, a sinner, a failure; I’m throwing it out. This will not be how I continue my narrative. I’m doing it for me and I’m doing it for my family.

We’re writing ourselves a new story.

i can never be what i ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

            I remember that she told me that after six years, she did not want to be my best friend anymore. She told me that her relationship with God mattered more than her relationship with me. She calculated her moves with her theology, beliefs, and goals and she determined it would be better to cut out someone she loved than to learn why I was in pain and changing.

            I cried. She told me I needed to be independent. She said “why do you care so much what I think? God is the only one that matters.”

            For her, it did not matter who she hurt, as long as she thought she would go to heaven when she died. She made it clear: I was not as important.  

              Adam Toledo was 13 years old when he was killed by a Chicago Police Officer thirty minutes from my house. The report said he had a gun. They assumed he was in a gang. They claimed he looked older. He was taller. He was Hispanic.

            The officer chased Adam for mere minutes and decided he was fit to make a judgement call: he chose himself over Adam. In less than a song’s length of time, he deemed this child unimportant. Disposable.

            Adam was killed at 13 years old because a police officer decided he had more rights to live than a child.

            The murder was thirty minutes from my house. Not a single neighbor even put up a sign. The line that determined if you mattered was where the street signs changed from letters to numbers.   

            There are photos of my old church friends getting married all over my social media feeds. I block some of them. I am not unhappy; I am disappointed. I was almost excommunicated for having sex outside of marriage because my actions supposedly poisoned the church. I was a danger to others because I could make new believers ask questions or be critical. But comments flood these posts, congratulating them on their day. Their day that will, regardless if they know it or not, spread illness and disease that could kill.

            My gay friends and I will not be allowed to get married in the church they grow up in because they are deemed sinners. They refused to acknowledge gay and queer relationships. They say they are wrong. They are harmful. Yet my Christian friends are not called a danger when they travel the country on missions’ trips despite the highly transmissible, fatal disease that is still killing thousands a day. Despite the numbers of chronic covid symptoms. They are not called a danger because the people are dying are not important: they are old. They are disabled. They were dying already. The people that matter survive covid, so its okay.

            They won’t let me marry a woman, but they’ll encourage young couples to get married during a pandemic, lest they fall into temptation. They value marital sex so highly that they would risk their lives for it. Worse; they would risk other’s lives for it. They want to be seen as good people more than they want disabled people to live.

            In my city of Chicago, our mayor has been trying to evict homeless people from their encampments. People get harassed, arrested, their encampments raided, and items stolen. I did not know you could evict people from an entire city. From the state. From Earth. I do not know where she expects them to go. But I do know that the areas they police homeless people the most are the areas where the median household income is six figures or more.

            Rich people do not like to be reminded of their selfishness. They don’t like to ruin their brunches by being shown evidence of the lives that had to be crushed in order for their family to enjoy the luxuries of the elite. It is every man for himself. Exploit or be exploited. The world is cutthroat and violent and covered up cries of family values or public safety or supposed “community.” Community, of course, only refers to people they like and find socially acceptable. Whatever reason they give, the message is clear: you do not deserve to be in this neighborhood. I deserve it because I worked/suffered enough/have kids/am a man/am White/God blessed me with it/(insert whatever reason here). You don’t matter because you made bad decisions/are a drug addict/are mentally ill/are Black/because you are Indigenous/because you are weird/(insert literally any reason here, none will justify the way the homeless are treated.)

            Every day, there is a group of people that sit outside of the Cook County Jail to welcome people back into the world that has intentionally forgotten about them. When prisoners are released, they only have what they came in with. They are expected to have their own transportation. When men step outside of a prison for the first time in 20 years, they are expected to somehow have what they need to live in a world where they will receive no rights or recognition. They have been branded a criminal. Damaged goods.

            Volunteers from the Chicago Community Jail Support mutual aid group have a tent where they give out supplies, offer their personal cell phones, and give rides to people being released from prison. No one gets turned away.

            When a volunteer got shot in a gang retaliation attempt at the prison, they release a statement that they were okay; they have no animosity. The tent is out again the next morning. They are undeterred because they know that the gunman is not less valuable than the victim. The work of being present must continue.

            Throwing a man in prison will not heal the bullet wounds.

            Violence doesn’t stop violence.

            It has been 4 years since I should have left the church. It has been over a year since I have officially come out as a lesbian stepped away from religious spaces. Over a year since I’ve been contacted for prayer. Over a year since I have had community with people with of faith.

            I have cried for 4 years.

            People tell me to find a new church. There are affirming spaces. There are good Christians. Find a new community.

            The thing is; I can’t. I refuse to.

            I can’t keep pretending that I do not need other people. I won’t let people tell me that I am less important than them. I will not let them blasphemy Jesus by using his words as a policing tool to determine who gets to matter and who does not. The church can pretend that they do not need me. I will not.

            I will not be apologizing when I cry over the loss of my old home, I will not be quiet about abolition, I will not stop yelling at people to wear their masks until not a single fucking person is dying because no one’s life is worth than mine. I will not feel sorry for the nights I long to be held by a woman because I am alone; I am allowed to need. I will not stop trying to get my neighbors to break out of their normalcy and give a shit.

            I was not meant to be an island. I am not weak for admitting that I need people. I am honest. But it is painful.

            It is easier to lock people away, excommunicate them from our communities, or evict them than it is to learn how to be in conflict. Than it is to admit we were wrong. To change. Christians would rather be right with God than right with others. They don’t acknowledge they are the same thing.

            Communities would rather blame Black people for crime than admit to their oppression that has led to crime rates. People would rather make a scapegoat than expose abuse.

            People would rather peddle the thought that we are independent, that success is measured by how good we are, by how rich we are, by how holy we are, than struggle with one another. We will continue to build the walls higher, brick by brick, protecting our hearts above all else. Protecting our communities. Our homes. Our stuff.

But, personally, I refuse to burn any more people on an alter and claim it is for Christ or the greater good.

“All this is simply to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than twenty or thirty years, no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” – Martin Luther King Junior

i can never be what i ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

i’m all grown up (i haven’t really grown up)

When I was a kid, I used to hide under my covers and force my eyes shut, trying with all my might to go to sleep. I was a scared little kid; afraid of the dark, of nightmares, of the end of the world. I was too small and too terrified, so I would hide under my blankets and imagine I was someone else. Someone who was braver. Stronger. Tougher. I always imagined myself as my favorite Star Wars characters; Princess Leia, Mara Jade, hell, I even saw myself in Luke Skywalker at times. I ran to stories to teach me how to be brave.

            I cried at the end of the Lord of the Rings because I knew what it felt like to carry heavy burdens that tore you apart. I sobbed reading Looking for Alaska in high school while sitting in a hospital bed after having experienced so much physical suffering. Percy Jackson meant so much to me as a child who always felt out of place. I remember seeing each new Marvel film with my best friend because she was the only one who understood that when I cried about Tony Stark, there was always a part of me that was crying for me too. I couldn’t help it. Maybe I was too empathetic or maybe I was looking for someone to give me hope; a reason to keep going.

            I read stories to see myself in them and to be shaped by them. I wanted to be brave like Anabeth, Mara Jade, and Frodo. But I had panic attacks at the slightest of triggers. I cried myself to sleep. I tried to be brave, but I could never tell anyone what was going on. I was a coward. Because of it, I spent most of my childhood being locked in on myself. Stories were my escape.

            I’ve grown up a lot since then.

            I’d like to think I’m a little bit braver, a little bit stronger. I take medication and go to therapy for help because I realized a long time ago that I couldn’t deal with it all alone, nor should I. When there are storms, I am the one to comfort my siblings. When there are fights, I am the one to raise my voice. I’ve become more of the woman I always wanted to be.

            I’m 24 years old now. I pay bills. I work two jobs. I put gas in the car. I help put food on the table. I’m all grown up now.

            I would like to think that, at least.

            But I have learned that there is always going to be a younger version of myself locked inside of this one. She exists. That younger version of myself comes out when I’m afraid, when I’m stressed out. It is like I am ten years old again and I am scared of the dark.

            I’ve been learning to take care of her. It has made me realize I haven’t really grown up at all.

            Lately, I’ve been watching anime. It is all I can watch. I find myself aching with the 2D drawings on the screen the same way I did when I was younger. It is like I am a small girl looking for hope. I’ve been watching Attack On Titan like I need Armin to live because maybe it will mean that I can too. Gon from HunterXHunter has brought tears to my eyes; I see him and want to imitate his kindness. I find comfort in Fullmetal Alchemist; seeing how Ed and Al kept pushing on despite their pain.

            I watch anime and I feel the ten-year-old girl in me flutter. She wants to be brave too.

            I never stopped searching for hope in stories. I am a natural born writer; this is all I know. Life has shaken me up these past few years. Especially lately, I know I am not the only one returning to my roots. In the midst of such trauma as we have seen during this pandemic, others have gone back to heal their inner child. I am no different.

            My inner child woke up at the beginning of the pandemic. I have had to learn to take care of her. I have learned to give myself the things I needed as a child. I’m learning there is no statute of limitations on experiencing childhood. I am 24 and becoming a kid for the first time.

            I have decided to let myself be lost in stories again. I allow myself to cry watching cartoons because I can see myself in them. Sometimes I eat Lucky Charms for breakfast and put sprinkles on my pancakes. Outside, I run around with my siblings and let myself do stupid things. My little brother teaches me tiktok dances. He has gotten me into cosplay and anime conventions because life is too short to be worried about looking foolish. Every day, my siblings teach me more about seeing life through the eyes of a child.

            In truth, I never really grew up at all.

            Lately, I’ve been petrified. I won’t pretend that I have overcome my fears. Some days, they consume me. It brings me right back to being a child; powerless and alone. But on these days, I have found myself watching anime and searching for a reason to keep going. I’m an adult now, but sometimes I still curl up under the covers and pray for God to give me a sign. Sometimes God answers. She speaks in mysterious ways.

            Armin, from Attack on Titan once said, “maybe the reason I was born was so that the three of us could be racing there…that these trivial moments might actually be precious. Who knows, but to my eyes, even if there’s no need for something like this in order to multiply, it’s still something incredibly precious.”

            Sometimes anime quotes can be benedictions.

            I will continue to find hope in random places. I will keep finding inspiration from stories. I will search for God in the TV screen because she has always known that is where to reach me. I am big enough to admit that I am oftentimes moved by 2D characters. I refuse to take life that seriously; its too short to not be goofy once in a while. Watch the damn anime. Wear the cosplay. Eat the sugar cereal. Play on the playground. Blow bubbles. Play videogames. Talk to your inner child. Ask her what she needs.

            Maybe she just needs a little anime.

            “We’ll offer up, we’ll offer up, we’ll sacrifice until our hearts have stopped. With our own hands, we’ll take a stand and carve a path into our future. We’ll offer up, we’ll offer up, We’ll sacrifice until our hearts have stopped. With our own hands we’ll take a stand and live to see another day.” – Shinzou Wo Sasageyo (Attack on Titan Opening 3)

“Do you really have to be special? Do you really need people’s recognition? I don’t think so. He doesn’t need to become great. Just look at him, don’t you see how cute he is? He’s already great because he was born into this world.” – Carla Jaeger, Attack on Titan

to my homophobic father, from your lesbian daughter

when I was in middle school, you coached me in softball. I was young, bad at sports, and suffering from terrible social anxiety. I was so introverted and shy. But you always wanted me to have friends. Be supported. Have confidence. That’s why you drove me to every softball practice, every game, every tournament. That’s why you stood by my side and facilitated a conversation between our catcher and myself in some attempt to help me make friends. I remember you said,

            “Faith, ask her what bands she listens to.”

            “Faith, ask her if she has any hobbies.”

            “Faith, ask her what her favorite food is.”

            I was in middle school. I didn’t know there was a portion of my anxiety I was missing. You didn’t either. I was never taught how to differentiate anxiety from butterflies. You told me boys would make me nervous, but I think they always made me uncomfortable and I labeled it butterflies. But after softball practice that day, I was mistaking anxiety for butterflies.

            You stood next to me and taught me how to listen to women, to respect them, how to talk to them.

            I’m 24 now. You just found out I’m gay. you tell me that you’re not coming to my “wedding” should I ever have one. I have expected this response for a long time, but somehow it still hurts? My greatest fears are finally coming to life.

I’m disappointing my father.

The realization is crippling at first, but then freeing.

I have disappointed my father and I’m fine. No; I’m better for it.

If disappointing you means finally realizing something about myself that I have kept hidden for a long time, then so be it. I no longer fear your judgement or your criticism. I know once upon a time your words held so much weight. I revered you so much because that was what church told me; I wish church would have warned me about emotionally abusive fathers. Sometimes there are fathers that don’t deserve your respect.

I remember every time you made fun of me and called it sarcasm. And the ways you joked about me and laughed at me. I remember that you made me feel stupid and worthless. And for a long time I fucking believed it. But now? Now you can say whatever the hell you want because I know something now that I didn’t know then.

Your opinion doesn’t mean shit.

My mom is proud of me. My siblings are proud of me. My friends are proud of me. I’m crazy enough to believe God is proud of me. And you know what? I’m fucking proud of me.

I am a lesbian. It took me forever to be able to say that without fear. Without stigma. Without worrying about people’s judgement. But I am no longer taking to heart the opinions of people who don’t hold any stock in my life. I will no longer cater my life around people who continuously leave me feeling empty. I will gladly take constructive criticism, but I prefer to do so from the people who know me and support me.

Sometimes I stop and reflect on who I used to be. Her and I are very different. At least on the outside. Its funny that I get that comment a lot. “you’ve changed.” Because I feel like I never stopped being the short girl on the softball team who was too nervous to talk to the cute catcher. I still feel like the little girl who cried when her dad made fun of her. Because of course it still hurts. Being rejected by you, the church, and countless other friends who thought I was too much; that all still hurts. The only difference now is that I know pain won’t kill me.

When I was little I used to sit with you and make you tell the story of how you met and fell in love with Mom. You told me you started talking because a mutual friend; you were 23 and you biked from Chicago to Wheaton to meet her after your car broke down because when you know, you just know. you met her outside the Popcorn Shop where she worked. You were married just over a year later. Shane and I came along shortly after. Then the rest of us.

And people say its fucking cursed because of how your story ended, but when I meet my wife, I will take her to the Popcorn Shop and show her the place my parents fell in love because it is where my story begins and because it is the story that taught me how to fall in love.

I have done crazy, stupid things for women I have feelings for. I know I will do more because you set the bar at biking almost 30 fucking miles to meet a woman. What did you expect?

So no, maybe I’m not the daughter you wanted, but I’m the daughter you raised. I have your nose. Your stubborn attitude. Your perseverance. Your last name. Your love for movies. And one day I will treat a woman better than you ever did. Don’t feel the need to come to the wedding with your “straight pride” tattoo. But I will take your advice; when I propose I will plan the most romantic shit you’ve ever seen; just like in the movies. I will take her on proper dates. And I will love the shit out of her. I will never make her feel small the way you made me feel small.

I’ve never been sure about anything; but I’m damn sure about this.

Thank you, Dad. Your words didn’t always make me stronger, but they made me softer. And sometimes I think that’s almost better.

I’m a lesbian. You can call me a faggot or a dyke or whatever slur you want. You can call me a sinner or a heretic. A disappointment or a failure.

But you are one person.

And some day my wife is going to adore me.

(Happy birthday)

in which i try to stop being angry

I keep trying to stop being so angry. I close my eyes and will myself to let it go, the way I was always taught to let things go. but lately there have been some things that don’t go away. I find myself unable to stop being bitter over some things. I know I’m worse off for carrying all that weight, but somehow I still can’t let it go.

how can I? it all just adds up.

I am so angry at this fucking pandemic. I’m angry at the way my government has handled it. I’m embarrassed the way the church has handled it. I’m ashamed of the way my friends have handled it. I’m angry at the way this pandemic has taken so much from me; my job, my ability to eat, and my sense of security. I think of how much more it has taken from other people. There are so many high-risk individuals who go to work every day because the government hasn’t given them any other option. There are nurses who work insane hours in packed ICU’s only to come home to family members who deny covid’s severity and downplay its impact. Its being fed the rhetoric every day that “its okay because only those with pre-existing conditions die!!” Its all so infuriating. I miss my friends and my community and crying on the El just as much as anyone else, but to risk others lives for that community is so insanely selfish, and yet I routinely see this endangering behavior.

I’m so angry at church and the way I dropped off the email lists and phone call rounds as soon as I came out. I’m sure no one knows what to say. I’m ashamed that I ever thought they would have a different response. It was silly to think the communities that raised me would stick by me after I followed Jesus into a life they deemed sinful because I didn’t look like an American Christian anymore. Because of course, there is no other way to be a christian, is there? I wish I could stop being angry at them and their arrogance, but sometimes I find myself weeping while I wash the dishes because it hits me that I miss church so fucking deeply and yet only certain parts of me would ever be welcomed there. I’m so fucking pissed off not because I hate the church or because I’m bitter but because I miss her and know she’s better than this. I dream of the day where Christianity is no longer synonymous with hatred and homophobia. I pray for the day I see a pride flag in the windows of my home church, displayed proudly for all to see. One day, the church will be the voice on the forefront of social justice, a place that amplifies the voices of people of color, feeds the homeless, and houses the immigrant and the refugee. I know that day is possible, but right now…right now I wish I had eloquent words but the truth is, I am just so fucking disappointed.

I’m angry that no matter how much time passes, I still ache over losing my best friend. People have told me to get over it and focus on the friends I have, but no one seems to understand the pain of having someone you love so deeply cut you out of their life in such a harsh way. I don’t think I understand it fully myself. When I lost my best friend, I lost a community of people along with her. I’m supposed to be okay with the idea that the narrative that will be told about me is that I am sinner, one that would rather enjoy sinful sex than be a holy christian like everyone else. People will say that its a shame that I’m politically corrupt, sexually deviant, and say they are praying for my soul. I don’t have the heart to tell people like this that I pray for the American Church the same way they pray about me being gay. I pray they will change their ways and repent.

I have sat by and said nothing while people and places that professed to care about me have routinely endangered my life and the lives of others by continuing to meet in person and to encourage meeting in person. People who spent nights in the ER crying with me are the same ones I’ve seen posting maskless wedding photos because their selfish faith have made it okay to endanger lives rather than “burn with passion.” and I’m sorry, but fuck that. I’m angry and I have a right to be. This year I have seen nothing but the absolute worst in people. This year challenged the belief I fight for; the belief that people are inherently good. People are on my last fucking straw.

Why do I keep trying? That’s the painful truth. People keep letting me down and I keep coming back for seconds. Maybe its my need to be a martyr that I got from growing up evangelical. Maybe its trauma and daddy issues. Or maybe I’m just a communally-focused person living in an individualistic society that has tried to brainwash me into believing that salvation in an individual concept rather than a communal one. I hate believing that healing is a community effort, because that means I need to bring the neighbors I don’t like up to speed before I can make progress. It means lagging behind to educate other people, being willing to learn from other people, and always being humble in the process.

Life would be simpler if I believed in the myth of the American Dream, like D. L Mayfield writes. I wouldn’t feel obligated to fight for LGBTQ rights in church. I wouldn’t need to stay home and quarantine because I wouldn’t care about others wellbeing. I would be able to really stop caring that people think I’m a bad person, because I wouldn’t care how they treated people as long as I have the convenience of being able to opt out of community with them. I would certainly be less angry. Life would be easier. Simpler.

But I’ve spent most of my life avoiding my anger because it made other people uncomfortable. Anger isn’t a welcomed emotion in the church, but God welcomes anger all the time in the bible. I think its time I welcomed it too. Anger tells the story of being hurt, of being in a vulnerable place and being abandoned there. Anger lets people know that I have been hurt and I will not be allowing that hurt back again. My anger is justified. My anger isn’t a burden or a mistake. My anger comes from my desire to give a shit about other people. I have tried to be selfish and make goals that center on my flourishing, but God always knocks away those plans and I find myself consistently in the company of those that the church has kicked out, making its own little church. Its only little community, one that is centered around mutual aid and respect. This is where I’m supposed to be.

I’ve found a lot of other people who give a shit. And we’re all angry, as we should be. I’m done trying to be angry. Being less angry only ever served those who wanted me to be quiet. And honestly, I no longer trust people who aren’t pissed off right now. There is too much at stake, too much going on, for people to choose complacency. If you are silent, you side with the oppressor. If you are not repulsed by the daily influx of injustices we see in our world every day, I don’t think I can trust you. We live in a world where the richest of the rich have made a profit since entering a global pandemic, good people die in ICU’s alone, and church’s have no problem staying silent when Black people are killed by police.

so yeah, I’m angry, and honestly, you should be too.


Once upon a time, in a world completely different than the one we live in now, i wrote this piece about touch. I wrote it in a world that had no idea covid was coming. I was just a sick person in the hospital who was very touch deprived and thinking over concepts of sickness, isolation, and Jesus. i found this in my drafts and i think it might resonate even more now than it did when i wrote it. enjoy.

            At work, someone asks me if I am sick. How the hell am I supposed to answer that? Well, I answer in the only appropriate way, which is to say the short way, which is to say that I just said yes. She covers her face and takes a step back before asking me where my store keeps the Adidas section. After I point her in the right direction, she scurries off before she can catch what I have. But not before I notice that underneath her North Face jacket, she is wearing scrubs. I watch her leave because I can’t believe she of all people has no idea how to treat sick people.

            The short answer was, yes, I am sick. But I’m not sick in the Contagious way or the I’ve Got The Flu sort of way. I’m sick in the I Am Never Going To Get Better kind of way. Like the, My Body Is Attacking Me And It Cannot Be Reversed type of sick. I can’t really explain to her that my lack of an immune system is no threat to her; that she is more likely to get me sick than the other way around. So I let her have her space the way I’m always letting people have their space.

            The same way, how when in middle school, after I had lice no one wanted me sitting next to them anymore. When we all made plans to hang out it was always, “hey Faith, have you gotten a lice check?” or the “Faith, no offense, but my mom said you can’t come over-like I love you! But just my mom said she doesn’t want me to get lice.” Of course, nevermind I hadn’t had lice since last summer and all the kids at church still wanted to act like I had given it all to them. I had no other friends but them; I just wanted to stop feeling like it was all my fault. But somehow, years later, people still asked me if I still had lice. In the 6th grade I found out exactly how it felt to be a pariah; a skill I never wanted to have but needed to have.

            I needed it for the day I was called out on a missions trip for being immodest in high school. Me, working my ass off in this 100 degree Tennessee heat, wearing the exact same thing everyone else was wearing; a tank top, one that had two finger length straps and reached all the way down to my hips. I was showing no cleavage. I was told that the next day, I wasn’t allowed to wear that shirt to work camp. The next day, I watched every girl on my team wearing the same shirt as me. Again. And again. And again. But I knew it wasn’t about the shirt. It was about me. My body. My wrong, sinful body that was distracting the men from working. The parts of my body that caused strong men to stumble. I couldn’t wear a shirt because it hugged me in a way that showed I had two sin traps stuck to my chest.

            They didn’t like they could see the shape of my breasts. Because that was what I thought when I got dressed that morning. “I need to find a way to distract the boys and make them like me. I don’t care about the heat or the practicality of sleeveless shirts or the fact that this shirt actually makes me feel beautiful for once. No. Boys.” And the other girls with Normal Sized Boobs or the Skinny Girls or the Flat Chested Girls? They were fine. No temptation there. So in high school I was taught that my breasts were bad and needed to be hidden away under layers and layers of baggy clothing. Actually, all my life I was under the impression that my body was the problem. My body was sinful. My body was wrong.

            Some days, days like today, when all I can think about is the shit that I have believed in the name of the Gospel, I find myself simultaneously so entranced by Jesus.

 I’m in the hospital being treated as a Sick Person and marinating on the fact that throughout my life, even when I was healthy, I always felt like the Sick Person in the room, and it’s difficult to swallow that pill. When people who claim Jesus go out and say the things they do and preach the things they preach; I get angry. I am angry. I ask myself why I still stick around, and the answer is usually Jesus.  Like, damn. I wish they taught him in the way you read about him in the bible. I wish I paid more attention to the times he has been taught well.

There is this story in the bible about Jesus just being around his best friends on the Sabbath and they’re at the synagogue doing what they do best, telling stories, and this woman is there, this sick woman with back pain, and when he sees her he really sees her! Like, the greek word is “horaō” which is like, to see, but also can be translated as “to see with the mind; to perceive, to know.” And it says this woman has been sick for 18 years. 18 long years. I can just imagine her walking up to Jesus and him just seeing in his minds eye all the doctors she’s seen and the gatherings she’s missed and the nights she has curled up on the outskirts of society and sobbed because she has been so so alone; and I can see Jesus not needing to ask the dreaded question; “Are you unclean?” “Are you sick?” Because he knows what kind of sick she is. The My Back Aches And Sometimes The Pain Is Too Much To Bare kind of sick. And the I Have Been Alone For 18 Years And I Just Want To Be Loved And Sometimes The Social Isolation Is Worse Than The Disease kind of sick. He must have looked at her the way I imagine he looks at me. In the way that says “I know it is 3am in the emergency room and no one is listening to your pain but I am here.” He is with her. She’s standing here, in this place she is forbidden to be at, and Jesus comes to her and he touches her.

            They share this moment together and God, I can’t even imagine being in her shoes. You know, like you’re a social outcast and no one wants to be with you, no one is allowed to be with you, and then this man comes up and dares to lay a hand on you! A man! In a temple! This man touches you and you don’t know how the people around you are reacting-some are horrified, some are worried about him breaking the literal law and some are worried because this is Jesus  and a woman and he is touching her and its risqué and intimate and women should only touch their husbands-but you are not seeing them. You are seeing him and being seen by him.

Like, I can’t imagine being her.

But if I close my eyes really hard I can. I can see myself in 7th grade having lice and how much I just wanted to be invited inside and to be a part of something. I never would have forced my way into church on the Sunday after I found out; after I was told not to show up. I never would have the courage to make myself known to Jesus and demanding to be tolerated by others the way this woman did. And I can’t imagine being touched in a way that looks so scandalous to others but is the most holy touch to you. But sometimes, sometimes I close my eyes and I can see the way my love touched me for the first time and how, for the first time hand prints didn’t feel like sandpaper against my skin and I didn’t worry about being unclean because I knew it was a holy moment. You know, one of those moments where it just hits you what the hell possessed Soloman to write the erotica he did and what possessed people to call that erotica the holy word of God. Like, God made touch and called it good. And sometimes we have touches like those that remind us that our bodies were never the broken vessels that the Church taught us they are.

And yes, Jesus heals her of her sickness and there’s all this drama about him performing a healing on the Sabbath and all this other cool stuff, but the part that gets me, what always fucking gets me, is the fact that Jesus touches the sick and that he breaks down every law, social code, and church policy in the process. Jesus goes all fuck your rules I’m helping this woman. And I think it’s so badass. I think it’s ironic the way we have created “Christian” eg; Mini Christ to mean “hypocritical, judgemental, all about rules, and purity,” when Jesus was the one who hated all of that. He gave a big “fuck you” to the religious people and did whatever was necessary to make sure hurting people were seen. And every time I’ve wanted to walk away from my faith I find myself thinking about stories like that. I think that no matter how much people may try to bastardize the bible and twist it to fit their ideas, it will always be there existing, and when you read it for yourself after pushing away all the baggage and the mold, you find something that speaks to you. Stories like these have spoken to me.

I don’t know what I was expecting to write when I sat down in a hospital bed to write about my body and Jesus. But sometimes I get these feelings and it moves me a little bit. It’s funny, I always have a hard time listening to Christians talk because they say so much shit I don’t understand and it sounds so bizarre; but then I write pieces like this and I have to reconcile all over again that these people I rub shoulders with and get into arguments with are a part of who I am and who I am becoming. They may not have always accepted my body but I’m glad we both look to a God who does. Sometimes I even get ambitious and start to think that I don’t need everyone in a church to agree with me because shit, I am a mess, but a long time ago another mess of a woman approached Jesus and she seemed to do just fine. I figure I’ll be just fine too.

on learning to love femininity

I used to wear dresses.

All kinds of dresses. Dresses with frills, with lace, with beautiful floral patterns; dresses that were simple or plain. I loved wearing pants under my dresses for some reason; my fashion never made much sense to anyone.

I’m not sure what happened.

By the time I was in middle school I was wearing boys basketball shorts and baseball caps; call it a personality change, and maybe it was healthy, but sometimes I wonder why I really did it. I can’t pinpoint the moment I first realized that the color pink was a “girls color” or that crying during an argument meant that you lost. Maybe I liked the tomboy style, or maybe I just wanted to be liked. Maybe it was a little bit of both.

I remember being a young girl and being afraid to say that I liked high heeled shoes. My mom never wore them because they hurt and my dad, well, he had some strong negative opinions on them and the women who wore them. So I added high heeled shoes to the list of things I would be made fun of for liking; lipstick, high heel shoes, certain TV shows with female leads; the list went on forever.

It wasn’t just my dad; I internalized all of the things boys said to me growing up. It wasn’t that I had crushes on them, I just wanted to be liked by them. I always tried to be one of the guys because these were the kinds of girls they respected; girls who played by the boys rules. Boys liked girls who could play sports and video games, girls who liked the right movies, didn’t post the wrong things, didn’t look a certain way; you couldn’t be too much of a tomboy so that people thought you were a lesbian, but you couldn’t be girly because that was seen as weak. It was a fierce balancing act.

I’m 23 and I hate how much I still want men to like me.

I can tell that they take me less seriously than they take men. I get criticized for being too sensitive or crying too much; men have never been taught how to cry or given the space. They don’t know how to handle my tears because they were never taught how. Its a fucking shame.

I am slowly learning to untie the knots of toxic masculinity and patriarchal lies in my life. It starts with the belief that femininity is weakness; that things that are considered traditionally feminine are also considered lesser. Female trends are not cringey. Female led media isn’t a joke. Female rappers are just as good, if not better, than their male counterparts. And women do not need to sacrifice their femininity to compete in the real world. We can be soft and, in fact, I encourage it. It takes strength to be able to remain soft and optimistic in a world that worships violence and power. It takes courage to feel every emotion rather than to numb them away.

One of my favorite shirts is an XL t-shirt with Ariana Grande’s album cover for “sweetener” on the front. I’m wearing it as I write this actually. I used to be afraid to listen to Ariana Grande because men made fun of her, pop music is considered not real music, and most people judge you for your taste in music. these days I try not to care; her music is fun to dance to and life is too short to spend it worrying about being cool.

Since I’ve tried to become more aware of the patriarchal influences on my life, I’ve realized how many movies I really don’t like; I don’t think Tarantino is a good director, I don’t like the glorification of violence, man are always dicks in movies, women are so often used as plot devices rather than as characters themselves, and I don’t need to pretend to ignore these tropes in movies simply because Hollywood has deemed the films “Good.” I’m tired of justifying violence and gore. I love movies with cheesy plots and happy endings; I love movies that are directed by women and show really strong, platonic female bonds. I love rom-coms and goofy movies. I wish we stopped having a separate genre for female movies as if they were a lesser form of film.

Toxic masculinity has bored me. I’m no longer interested in having fiery debates with men over feminism, I don’t care that men think my taste is inferior, and I won’t be wasting my breath to educate people who are set on upholding ancient patriarchal ideals. I’ve seen toxic masculinity ruin good men by telling them that in order to be a real man, they must shut out their emotions, keep a stiff upper lip, and worship the god of violence. I’m tired of the music in the industry that talks about women like they’re objects to be compared and contrasted; tried out and critiqued. I don’t think being a tough guy makes you interesting anymore.

It is okay to be soft. Dance like an idiot. Make stupid tiktoks. Do the makeup trend. fuck the patriarchy. I promise; it’s okay to be feminine. pink is not a bad color. and yes, you can be a badass in a skirt. you got this.

The Parasite

The water splashes onto the floor; soap bubbling up inside of it. I take my mop and quickly begin to soak the linoleum floors. They’re grimy and stained to the point of no return, but I try anyway. I have been at the homeless shelter for a week already and this is my family’s chore. Each family gets one and we rotate. Outside I watch the moms with their kids on the playground. There were single moms with six kids. There were families of every color, but even at 14 I noticed they were mostly Black, LatinX, or mixed families. Not white families, like mine. I don’t think it crossed my mind at that point. I just watched them curiously. I wondered how they got there. We both came from vastly different walks of life, yet somehow all ended up here, in the same place. We all ate grits in the morning and took turns mopping the dining room floor. We all frequented the nearest Walgreens and bought junk food with our food stamps. We were all looked down on by society because they didn’t understand.

I’m 23 years old now and I still don’t really understand. My dad was never good with money. My mom isn’t the best with it either. But they both work hard. My dad’s long period of unemployment wasn’t his fault. Sometimes I feel like the people who took us in didn’t really get it. Maybe the church didn’t understand. I think many people blame my parents. They said maybe if they stopped buying so much junk, stopped spending money on cigarettes, stopped just stopped just stopped. It’s easier to think there is a formula for getting out of poverty then to admit that the societal structures we have cultivated are corrupt. It’s easier to blame the homeless for their situation because if we don’t, it means they don’t deserve their suffering. Maybe it means you don’t deserve your wealth.

It makes me think of Parasite, the Korean film directed by the brilliant Bong Joon-ho. When I saw that movie I felt like someone really understood me. There is a scene where Ki-woo looks out at the party happening down below on the lawn where there are happy people, violin players, and an abundance of and he says, “Do I fit in here?” It’s a question I’ve asked myself a million times. As I look around at my classmates who can afford to go to grad school and not work at the same time. For people who get to go on vacations. People with cars. For people who come into my work and spend $600 dollars on Nike apparel “on accident.” Most people have an abundance of wealth that they take for granted because they assume everyone lives like they do; they don’t have wealth. They say they have “enough.” They’re “just comfortable.”

Most of my friends would consider themselves an average American; well off but would never consider themselves to live in excess. But most of my friends never ate bread for dinner at a homeless shelter. Most people I know don’t get overwhelming anxiety when they start to feel a little sick because they can’t afford to take off work. Most people get new IPhones as soon as they come out. Buy themselves new clothes when they like them. Go out to eat as a family. Don’t have to ask for loans or help. Don’t pray asking God where the rent money is going to come from. Haven’t spent the night in a dark house, bundled under layers and layers of blankets to keep the cold out once the electricity got shut off or slept in their vans or had to work two jobs to take care of kids or spent hours waiting in line at the local food pantry. Please, don’t tell me you understand.

Sometimes I get sick to my stomach when I think about it. As I sat in my room staring at the screen watching Parasite for the first time, it made me realize that you can’t make it to the top without exploiting other people. There is no situation in our world where someone isn’t directly suffering as a result of wealth and a life of luxury. As Americans, we are diluted into thinking there are no losers to our self-indulgence. We like to think we are a part of some solution because we haven’t directly inflicted harm on another human being. You can’t see it when you’re on the winning side. Security is a hell of a drug. It blinds us to world of suffering and all the ways it comes from us. We close our eyes. Pretend it isn’t real.

Of course, I type this article from my new laptop. I have name-brand leggings on with the air conditioner blowing to keep me company. I’m in grad school. I used to have to work two jobs but last week I paid for a huge meal for a friend and didn’t think twice about it. I tip well, sometimes it’s enough to make me think that I’m a good person. I’m generous. I love to give but I always need to be comfortable. There is a line. Because I still want what I want. I love people but I would never give money if it meant I couldn’t see a show or a movie or eat out. I love the poor but sometimes not as much as I love myself. I’m so afraid to be poor again. No amount of money hoarding will ever be enough to give me peace of mind. Sometimes, poor people are desperate and desperate people do horrific things. Really, who can blame them?

It’s a sin the way wealth, money, and status operate in our culture and in our churches. God, especially in our churches, because historical Jesus made most of his teachings on our attitude towards those with less. He spent most of his life on earth elevating the poor, the sick, and the widows. But we, as humans and believers, find ways to fit giving into our budget when we really need to start plotting our lives around service. Imagine, if we all gave generously, you would never need to worry because someone was always more generous back. we’d function the way it was supposed to. We could embody a real community and support system; be the images of God on earth we were told to be. We’d live in the Kingdom come; overtaking the god of capitalism and abolishing the lies that tell us security, happiness, and success matters only if it belongs to us; as if those things weren’t a right for all living things; all with imago dei.

When Jesus said, “take up your cross and follow Me,” He meant it. Not in the nice, figurative way. He didn’t mean giving to mean just tithing. Jesus had a radical idea about wealth re-distribution and giving. He didn’t want his disciples to be comfortable; he wanted them to be his hands at feet. Being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world means walking the road alongside your homeless neighbor, holding the idea of “private property” with loose fingers, being more willing to give than receive, and sometimes it means abolishing oppressive systems in our world today. I’m tired of writing and reading pieces on wealth and redistribution; I’m doing more. I have to do more.

Every day I get little flashes of what success would look like for me. One day I want to give TED Talks and be the Brene Brown of my field. I want to have a PhD and do research and maybe even go to seminary. But the longer I live the more I fear success. I fear that I want it too much, that my motives are wrong, and I fear being corrupted by Wealth. She can be so enticing sometimes. She makes promises she cannot keep; she can’t provide security or happiness or belonging, only the false illusions of those things. I think I’m finally understanding the book of Proverbs now. To love money is to become corrupted. And I truly don’t want to gain the world just to give up my soul.

So I pray I never stop shopping at thrift stores or Googling coupons; pray I never go on shopping sprees or buy a brand-new car. I hope I always choose to walk over driving. I hope I never stop tipping more than I need to and I pray that we all learn to live without luxury so that others can live to take a bit bigger of a step out of poverty.

i’m coming out (of my cage and i’ve been doing just fine)

i have never been to an actual confession like the ones they have in church with the priest where you have to confess all of your sins while you stare straight ahead inside of a small box. but i have some things i have wanted to confess for some time now. i hope you will hear me out. hear my confessions and sins, and abolish me from them. give me resolution. forgive me.

a long time ago, i promised myself i would remain a virgin until i was married. some time ago, i broke that promise. i don’t think i ever expected to truly recover from that night; it was traumatizing and frightening, and it has taken me almost 3 years to realize how much of my trauma came from my preconceived ideas about sex and love. church had always taught me that sex determined my worth. i held that very closely even as those teachings tore at my self-image and identity.

forgive me for believing those lies. it has taken my three years to finally see it was not my fault. i am not worthless. i am not less valuable because of my sexual status. i am not less worthy of love and respect. i am not any less loved by God despite what the church would say. i deserve respect.

i have not had a good relationship with Church since then. i feel as if losing my virginity put me in a second class status. i was quickly labeled a sinner and dismissed. people have tried to get me kicked out of small groups as punishment for my actions. i have been the topic of gossip among my peers. in the safe walls of church, my secrets have been discussed without my consent. i lost so many friends who thought i was living in sin by choosing to engage in a healthy sex life, away from the immense trauma of purity culture.

forgive me, but its so fucking hard to forgive those people. forgive the bitterness in me. i am so bitter. i try not to be, but every day i feel the pick at my wounds. the hurt goes deeper and deeper. i have lost all hope of having a future in an evangelical church like i once wanted, because slutty women don’t get church jobs. and i’m angry about it. its easier to silence women sometimes than to acknowledge their criticisms on theology and purity culture. its easier to ignore than to change. sometimes, i feel like the church just isn’t ready; but i think, if they aren’t now, they will never be.

i have another sin to confess to.

i’m bisexual. but that is not my sin. my sin is in thinking that made me defective or wrong or sinful. my mistake was in examining those parts of myself, i deemed them bad when i should have been celebrating it. i’m bisexual. i’ve been attracted to women my whole life; it isn’t news to me. but coming out was not something i had planned on. i figured i could get away with marrying a man and living a life that looked straight on the outside. but I think God wants more for me than that.

people do not belong in closets. i’m done hiding away in one. i have come to the painful conclusion that all of me is needed at the table; not just the nice parts, but the parts i don’t like talking about, the parts i’m ashamed of, the parts i don’t want the church to see. all of who we are is welcome at the table.

in 2016, i started to read more about sexuality from an educational perspective, and forgive me, but i can’t go back. i have seen and personally felt the destruction that purity culture has wreaked on my life; and i stand by the belief that if the fruit is bad, so is the tree. purity culture must be cut off at the root. i have cried with too many friends who questioned if God loved them because of how much of themselves they “gave away” to boys. the church had told us all that touching us made us less valuable. we believed every damn lie. forgive us.

i keep trying to be optimistic about church but how can i be, when they will only allow me to marry in their sanctuary if they approve of my partners gender? how do you feel safe somewhere that calls you an abomination because of something natural, or maybe even God given? so lately, i haven’t been going. its the first time in my life where i am making a conscious decision to skip church. i’m sorry, but i just don’t have the heart.

churches have remained mostly silent on the issue of Black Lives Matter; they are afraid to be too political. too divisive. but they alienate the Black lives in their communities that desperately need to be upheld and supported. its upsetting.

i confess; i am so angry at the Church. i wish she was better. i wish she gave more of a shit. i wish she would support me. i wish i could let her go but i write painful love letters to convince her to change. sometimes, the church is a cruel lover.

it has taken me a long time to come to full grips with my deconstruction. it has taken even longer to build a stronger faith. change requires you tear down everything you once believed, and have the courage to try again.

but i no longer seem to have the energy for debates like i used to. i don’t make these confessions as an invitation to disagree; no. its a statement for you to read and resonate with, and if my words don’t speak to you, keep scrolling. i don’t have the strength in me to explain why gay people deserve rights or why i deserve to be in a position of leadership in a church despite what people might think of me. i don’t want the whispers and secrets and gossip anymore. i’m not ashamed of who i am.

my writing has always been a way for me to speak when i am afraid and to shine light on pain that thrives in the darkness. purity culture has been poisoning my life for too long. im here to call it out and put an end to it in my life and in the lives of others. too many women and young girls carry wounds from careless theology made by men. but there is a life past it and that is what i want to write about. my time in my own exile has been quiet the adventure.

its a damn shame that i have to be so vulnerable in order to be believed and listened to.

i do not know what the future holds. but i’m done watering myself down to make myself more digestible for others. i’m a tough pill to swallow. God didn’t make me quiet, and i’m finally realizing there was a reason for that choice. they say to speak the truth in love, and that is all i’ve tried to do. so with my aching heart, i give you these confessions. i don’t want them anymore. they are not my sins to carry

writing about my garden

A couple months ago, I decided I wanted to plant a garden. I have spent a lot of time researching good plants, soil, timelines, and tips. I’m not sure why exactly, but a lot of writers and theologians that I respect had such beautiful, insightful revelations over gardening. Its a way to connect back to the Earth. It’s both nourishment for the soil but also for the soul. That is what these writers say.

I killed my first plant. It was a succulent. I killed flowers in the fall. All the indoor plants I tried to keep during the winter died. I couldn’t keep them alive. I bought a sun lamp. I watered them. I even tried talking to them to encourage them to grow.

Then the spring came and it was finally time to plant my garden. I’ve been out there every day for sometimes hours a day. My new neighbor gardens too, and in just a few weeks we have managed to redo our shitty backyard into a beautiful garden. I wish I had before and after photos to show just how much of a difference it has made. My neighbor has been able to help me learn faster than I was learning from YouTube videos and Pinterest. She taught me how to make fertilizer and how to get make my plants to thrive.

It’s not easy. My knees and elbows always ache. It’s hard to squat in the dirt and pull weeds. Weeds have almost overtaken my whole yard since it has been years since anyone cared for the land out there. As I sit there and pull weeds every day, I find myself praying or thinking out loud. I think about the Native people that tended to the land my garden now rests on, before it was my garden. Before this place was a city, there were Native people who loved this land. I hope I can love it just as much and take care of it just as well. I pull out all the weeds that threaten my plants. I think; I didn’t have a say in what was planted here before me, but I do have a say in what happens here now.

I’m such a cynic and somehow, gardening has made me so soft. I smile at the spiders in the dirt and be careful of all the worms I come across. I don’t have time for hate or skepticism in my garden. I pull out the weeds of hate and of anger. Lately, it has felt like my heart is tangled up in weeds. I’m trying to pull them all out to make room for better things to grow. Love. Patience. Acceptance. Peace.

Two days ago, I went to a Black Lives Matter protest to demand my city defund our police. I wanted to go to say, hey, Black lives are so important, I’m risking my life to tell you. Despite the pandemic still raging on, my friends and I went. It was powerful. We chanted the names of Black people who have been murdered by police. We shouted that Black lives matter. We listened to Black drag queens speak about their experiences and their demands. We knelt together in solidarity and protest. Thousands of people crowding the streets, kneeling in solidarity.

Every day before and after that protest, I am pulling out weeds of White supremacy in my life and calling it out when I see it. I never got a say in what I was taught about Black people growing up; I saw things in the media, was given subtle messages from adults, and consumed ideas about Black people that I can’t change. But I can change what I do from here. I don’t have to keep believing what some racist family has said. I’m trying to listen to Black people more. Sometimes, I admit, it is hard. I like the sound of my own voice too much sometimes.

But in my garden, I feel more quiet. Its like the beauty of it just shuts me up. I feel more ready to listen and be empathetic. Like flowers who turn their heads towards the sun, I feel more grounded to turn my ear towards others. I have continued in my goal of reading more POC authors, and wow what a year to do it. Sometimes, I sit outside as I read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. I sit and I listen.

Gardening has deepened my appreciation for nature so much more. My backyard is beautiful and teeming with life. My favorite part of every day has been going outside and checking on my plants. They grow so much faster than I was expecting. It seems light just yesterday they were seeds and now they’re all tall. Well, not all. It is my first garden, so many haven’t made it or are barely sprouting. I get sad and still hope they pull through. Each plant is beautiful in its own way; so special to me.

I think once the harvest comes, I will have a whole new swell of emotions as I get to eat the vegetables that we’ve been growing all this time and season my dinner with herbs from my garden.

I have loved being able to get to know my neighbor and being able to strengthen my relationship with my siblings. We all get to learn this together. It’s been an amazing adventure.

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