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.

touch

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.

lent: reflection

For the last forty four days I have remained off of all major social medias. Namely; twitter, instagram, and facebook. I allowed myself Pinterest, because of the wholesome content, and Snapchat; mostly to talk to elizabeth and julia. (Admittedly, I joined tiktok during lent which wasn’t part of the plan but, as they say, “it is what it is.”) Before this, I had never committed to doing a single thing that for many consecutive days. I was determined but terrified. I wrote once during lent and published it here, but I didn’t let anyone know. I put it out there without hyping it up on all my pages. It was freeing to just write something and release it, not caring where it ended up or who saw it.

Over the season of lent I tried to fill the time I would have been using on social media and put it towards acts of self-care like reading more books, journaling, making more art, writing more, watching films that you want to watch and taking up mindfulness. I bought myself a small stash of books once the libraries closed due to the pandemic that abruptly interrupted how I was experiencing lent. But for once, I was grateful to have been away during this time. Normally when things this scary happen, my body has the self-destructive instinct to read the moments about them on twitter and binge on tragedy porn. This time I couldn’t do it. My mental health has been so much better as a result of it.

I was more free to look inward and focus on myself while I was away from social media. For once, I felt truly free to form opinions as news came out that weren’t highly influenced by what others have said. I got to experience grief without feeling to urge to hold the pain of everyone I see on social media. I’m an enneagram four; so I am very sensitive and empathetic, and I tend to feel people’s pain when I read about it. But without social media, I got to focus on my own reactions. Now that lent is over, I feel full enough to help. I am full and now I can hold space for others without breaking. It felt good to establish healthy boundaries in my life and practice them.

Lent wasn’t all easy. Obviously COVID-19 has dramatically changed the way the world functions, and for a long time, my fear was winning. It was hard to get out of bed. It was hard to smile. Some days felt like they would never end. I felt exhausted. One time I even fell asleep in the middle of a therapy zoom call. Trying to learn how to do online school in a house filled with 9 other people (many of them small children) has been an adventure in of itself. Some days my anxiety got the best of me. It was terribly lonely at times; to be quarantined in my house and not able to go on social media felt like a nightmare. I had no distractions. I had so much time and I almost panicked; I’m not used to being able to rest. Learning was a good thing, but it was hard.

During those times where my anxiety is bad, I am thankful for the little things; movie nights and marathons with Miguel. Lord of the Rings trivia with my mom and the minis. Watching Community with Gordon. Sharing tiktoks with mom and Dayle. Playing Smash with Noah. Art with Lois and Anakin. I love the life I have been privileged to get to live right now. I can afford to be home and safe with the people I love and there is not a day that has gone by where I haven’t thought about that. I got to learn to be present in the moment and enjoy them as they were happening. That’s not to say I didn’t take pictures (come on. of course I did.) but I didn’t need other people to validate the beauty of those moments. They are my memories and no one else’s. It’s taught me the peace of knowing that I have a right to my privacy. It is special.

Writing and reading have been particularly special. Through these things I have able to learn more about myself. I’ve been able to ask myself; who are the person you want to be? I didn’t worry about who others wanted me to be, but who I could choose to become. It was empowering. It has not been perfect, but this time of reflection has taught me to be softer with myself. I am trying my best; that is enough. I loved making the art that I wanted to without being influenced by what is popular or what is “in.” I became more attuned to my own voice and the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper.

Lent has given me the rest I needed for the longer journey ahead. There is more of me yet to discover. More truths to see. More writing to be done. More puzzle pieces of God to find in the world. More things to see. This is not the end. But I feel ready now. Shaky and terrified; but ready. I know I will fuck up, fall down, spiral, fight, but I also know I’ll keep going. I keep going because Jesus said, “it is finished.” I have freedom to live in the now. To live life as full as I am able. There is so much life out there to see; you won’t be able to pay attention if you’re too weary. You don’t want to miss it.

Lent

A couple weeks ago I made a commitment to give up social media for 44 days beginning on February 26th and ending on April 9th. For those of you with a religious background, you know that those dates line up with the liturgical calendar as the season of lent. This season is a time where many believers choose to fast or give up something to make room in their lives for Jesus and look forward to Easter Sunday. I didn’t grow up in a kind of church that celebrates lent, but many people I admire have found that following the liturgical calendar has brought some sanctity to their wounded relationship with the church and God. I wasn’t sold on it, but I was excited to see how this season without social media would change me.

As many of you know, two weeks into lent was when coronavirus broke into the United States and began ruining lives in my country as well as in hundreds of other places outside of my home. It was detrimental. It continues to be one anxiety attack after another as this disease runs its course. I was out of town when there began to be talk of school cancellations and travel bans and social distancing. It was one of the most anxiety inducing vacations I’ve ever had. Meanwhile, I had no real idea what was happening because I was only hearing second hand accounts. I had no idea what people thought of this virus or how bad it was expected to be. I had to Google news sources and look through articles to figure it out. As someone who is used to getting her news from Twitter, it was a real change.

Thankfully, I didn’t get stuck out of the state and was able to return to my family without drama. But I’m still recovering from going on emergency leave so suddenly, my siblings being out of school, all my classes getting transferred to online, and my mom’s store getting shut down for the time being. It’s weird to think that its not just me having these complications. I’ve had to attend virtual seminars on how to cope with all this change, everyone seems to have nothing better to talk about, and this virus is the only thing happening in meme culture too. I’ve wanted a break.

There was a tweet that someone sent me that I found hilarious that said, “I wasn’t planning on giving this much up for lent.”

I went from working two and a half jobs plus doing a full time Master’s program to doing school and my internship online. The quick transition feels like it gave me emotional whiplash. One moment I was sprinting and before I knew it, something had knocked me out. God said, “full stop.”

I jokingly told my siblings that coronavirus is God’s way of punishing the world for not honoring the Sabbath, but sometimes I find myself laughing at how true that sounds. We live in a world that is go go go all the time and now that things have stopped, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. Working from home has become a series of beating myself up every time I take a break as if every waking moment of my life has to be about productivity. I feel guilty for watching Netflix because there is always more laundry to be folded and dishes to be done. Even with nothing going on, I feel like I need there to be something going on.

The first few days stuck inside drove me mad. I had such bad anxiety. I realized it was because for the first time in a long time, I am without distractions. There is no social media to numb me, no work to throw myself into, and no friends problems to deal with. There is just me and my pain. It’s uncomfortable, isn’t it?

Suddenly the world goes quiet. What do you see?

The fierce injustice regarding paid sick time? The horror that the chronically ill face when they try to receive care? The way that diseases mainly harm the vulnerable populations like the sick and the elderly? Or how illnesses devastate communities in poverty and are only a mild inconvenience for those in good health and the wealthy? Do you see that we are stuck in a system that will crush those with its heel to remain at the top? Do you see the way the environment has come back to life when humans back off? Do you see the good we can accomplish when we unite?

Don’t close your eyes to the scary things you don’t want to see. Don’t shut your eyes to your anxiety. Feel it. Let it sit with you. Wrestle with it. Avoid the temptation to numb out with social media and movies and distractions. Now is the time; we’re out of work, the world is giving us the time, and we have a choice to make to listen or ignore it. There is a world of suffering out there, aching for your attention.

I’m not saying to avoid self-care. No; self-care is absolutely essential. As my professor often tells me, “Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.” Don’t let the chaos overwhelm you, but don’t you dare pretend it isn’t there. Those of us in vulnerable populations are begging for our lives for you to take care of yourself; wash your hands, avoid physical contact, don’t go out unless you absolutely have to, and clean your surfaces.

On one hand, I’m glad we are waking up and rising to meet the occasion that this virus has brought us too; but I am absolutely devastated that it took this long to get your attention. If only we had paid sick leave before this virus spread to countries all over the world, maybe the woman from the Wuhan market could have afforded to stay home. If only people took their health seriously before this virus; maybe then the sick and the elderly would be healthy enough to fight this off rather than dealing with coronavirus on top of the plethora of other health concerns. If only we had cared when it was just the vulnerable getting sick. If only, if only, if only.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

I don’t know what is going to happen these next couple days or weeks or months. This is not what we had planned. But somehow I have managed to have a sense of peace in me. I am watching a nightmare unfold right in front of me; one that easily would have driven me to suicide had this happened when I was in high school. Yet there is peace. Despite my inability to see through this situation, despite the unhealthy ways I’ve coped since this all began, and even despite nearly going stir crazy locked up in my house with my family…there is peace.

I smile to think of all the people in the world who are stuck at home and have no choice but to sit and enjoy the little things. My family plays a lot of board games. My mom and I drink beers together. I have found a love for VR and videogames with my brothers. My siblings and I stay up too late and watch movies and eat popcorn. My family has been loving the Lord of The Rings right now. I live for FaceTime calls with my baby niece. My mom cooks breakfast every morning. I have time to write and make art and draw. I am basking in this extended Sabbath. Church happens on YouTube Live. Communion is coffee and donuts. We pray over Zoom meetings. And it is not ideal. This life is breaking my heart every day. Every day I wish for a safe place for my siblings to run around in without getting sick. I wish I didn’t have a compromised immune system that would make life less scary right now.

But there is a joy in giving up. I think I’m finally starting to let go of the reigns. I’ve come to accept that I am not God. There are things I can control; how often I wash my hands, how often I go out, taking my medications, reminding my siblings to wash their hands, and how I live my life. And then there are the things I can’t control; tomorrow, today, the future, disease, the government, the opinions, the news, the world.

I look at all the shit in the world and know it is not my job to save it. All I can do is be present in the time that I’m in and use that time wisely. That’s all any of us can do. We’re trying our best. That is enough.

Black Truth (by Daejah)

It’s Black History Month. Well, Black History Month is almost over. But I wanted to continue to highlight the black voices even after the month is over. So I’ve asked some badass, powerful, black women to write for my site. So for the next few weeks, you will be hearing from a variety of women on a variety of topics. Anyway, enough of me. You need to hear from Daejah.

Black.

The color of my skin.

The color of my soul.

What I practice and preach.

The color of the berets worn for me to be free.

The motherland.

Where all sing together

and cry for their

brethren together.

The number of people

who fought to be free

for decades.

The culture I adore.

All things that make me

Who I am.

Daejah was born and raised in Chicago. Being of 2 cultures, she has been able to branch out and embrace both. A music theatre and vocal performance major, she always connected to her culture through song and theatre. So is so grateful to Faith for sharing her piece. She hopes to share her culture with others and spread awareness.

You can follow Daejah (and hear her wonderful singing voice!) on Instagram @dejavu502