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.
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.
Where all sing together
and cry for their
The number of people
who fought to be free
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
Since undergrad, I’ve prided myself on being a rather inclusive person. You know? I’ve liked to think that I was a good ally. I listen when others that are unlike me talk, I engage with the discourse, I’m an activist for causes that do not benefit me, and I erase words from my vocabulary when someone from a minority group says its offensive; no questions asked. But I can pinpoint the exact moment that it hit me just how privileged I was. It hit me all at once. I was like a giant flashback to every time I had ever heard a black person say that white people have no idea what its like. Every time I ever heard a queer person talk about their coming out. Every time I had ever sat with an immigrant. All of those memories came flooding back to me.
I wish I could say that moment was long ago, maybe at the beginning of my undergraduate career. I wish I could say I figured it out early, before #BlackLivesMatter or before Trump or before the wall or detention centers or the legalization of gay marriage. But no.
I figured it out this summer. After I had considered myself “progressive” for years. I had already thought I was well read and educated. I thought I was empathetic to POC and minority groups. I thought I understood privilege and intersectionality. I’m apart of some oppressed groups and some privileged groups; I thought I knew what it meant. But apparently not.
This summer, I was going on one of my library trips, as I do. I always have a book in my hand, especially this year. I’ve been devouring books like crazy. I can’t seem to get enough of them. But on this particularly day, I was just dropping one off. I hadn’t finished it and didn’t feel like I was going to, which is an anomaly for me. But I wasn’t into it. It didn’t get to me. I already had my next book, so I just dropped this one off. That was it. The moment.
I dropped the book into the slot outside of the library and I could feel time slow down. I felt the spine of the book slip through my fingers, the smooth plastic that was placed over it. I felt the cold of the air around me and the cold of the metal door I held open. Then the sounds; the cars around me, the trains, and the thud of the book hitting the bottom of the box. That was it.
I was privileged.
As I walked away, it finally fucking hit me. I’ve missed the whole point of being an ally. It just hit me like a pile of bricks. I have always tried to to advocate for equality and social justice but I missed a crucial aspect of it: listening.
The book I was returning was Bipolar Faith by Dr. Monica Coleman. I had picked it up because it was a book that talked about the intersection of mental illness and faith, an issue I’m very passionate about and have experience with. I was looking for a book that would resonate with me and maybe give me some insight to my own past with the issue. However, that wasn’t what I got. What I got was even better, I just couldn’t appreciate it at the time. See, what I didn’t account for was the fact that Dr. Monica Coleman is black. It wasn’t a book about faith and mental illness, but rather, about how faith and mental illness were shaped by her culture and upbringing. It was a book about having faith and mental illness while being black. When I read about Dr. Coleman and her experiences, I was looking for someone like me. But she wasn’t like me. One of the worst realizations I have had was in tossing her book back into the return bin, unfinished, because she wasn’t like me.
All the things I had thought about her book came to mind as I walked away. Boring. Not inspiring. Not useful. Not interesting. Not relevant. Just not into it. I don’t get the hype. I just don’t care. All of these words made sense now. I didn’t think the book was relevant because it wasn’t speaking to me. I didn’t think it was useful because I had never had a use for it. I didn’t think it was interesting because I am not a black woman sitting at the intersection of faith and mental illness. And I think if I hadn’t been so ignorant, I might have learned something.
I remember thinking how stupid it was of me to toss out a book and deem it “unfinishable” because it wasn’t speaking to my experiences. Must everything be about me? I have grown so accustomed to having everything be about the white experience that when it isn’t, I don’t have the brain space to listen. I tune it out. Isn’t that what we do?
The painful truth is that I’ve always done that. As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve rolled my eyes when people talk about diversity in the media and gotten uncomfortable when people discuss race. I’ve hated that everything has to be about inclusion but hell, I’ve always been included. I finally fucking get it. We need to start listening to the voices we have tuned out all this time. We need to listen to people who share different experiences than us. Not everyone sees from the same perspective. Not everyone has the place in society. Not everyone has the same privilege.
I’ve always believed I was well-read and educated on issues regarding minorities. But after this incident, I went back to look at my reading list and realized that I have almost exclusively read books by white people. And I have read hundreds of books. The amount of white authors I read is more than what could be randomly assigned by chance. Like, if you put an equal amount of books in a random generator and randomly assigned 20 books, there would be more books by POC than I have on my Good Reads list. If you don’t see the problem with that, you might want to think about why.
The number of POC that white people learn from is horrifyingly low. The danger of this is that you come to learn about the world in a specific way and you think its fact; that this is the way everyone sees the world, because all of your media plays into that confirmation bias. Because white people produce the TV shows, the books, the podcasts, the art, and the films you engage with. Because the second a black or Latinx or Native person does it, we call it a “black film” or a “Latina book.” Because even if there are POC in it, more likely than not, they didn’t get to be in the room where the character was made. Take the Netflix show, Atypical, for example. They did an amazing thing by making a show about a teenager on the spectrum, but they failed by not letting a teenager on the spectrum write for the damn show.
The point made was made for me when I discussed my realization with a pastor who shared a beautiful, and painfully real-life scenario, of what happens when we let one kind of individual make the decisions. He said that the church bathrooms had recently been redone. They were beautiful and well done and they got many compliments. But the women had an issue; there weren’t any places to dispose of tampons or pads in the stalls. It was only when that issue was raised that the church staff realized they hadn’t had any women on the construction or planning team for the bathrooms, and never even consulted a woman to discuss the bathrooms that the women would be the ones using.
Just because you have some kind of knowledge about a group other than your own does not mean its comparable to lived experience. And make sure your knowledge isn’t coming from a white person, cis-gendered, straight man. We aren’t all looking at life the same way, so if you’re only hearing one side of the story, your view will always be a little lopsided. There is a whole other world of individuals who aren’t seeing life the same way, and they have beautiful things to say. It’s time we listened to them.
Now, I’m not one to make New Year’s Resolutions, but I needed to do this one. I needed to be held accountable to this one. For 2020, its my goal that for every book by a white author that I read, I also read one by a POC or queer person and maybe even, by the end of the year, have my reading list filled more with minority groups than straight, cis, white people. And hell, I should start with Dr. Monica Coleman and Bipolar Faith. And maybe you should too.
I 10/10 recommend doing this with me. I’ll try to blog my way through the year. It’s my goal to highlight the amazing queer and POC that are making amazing content. But to start you off, here is a list of books and such that I’ve read by POC/queer/Native people this year that I recommend.
Books I’ve Read Bad Feminist and Hunger – Roxane Gay (stereotypical answer, I know. But Roxane Gay is a legend.) This Is Just My Face, Try Not To Stare – Gabourey Sidibe (A memoir of the actress from Empire, Gabourey talks about her poor upbringing in New York, her stumbling into stardom, and being a fat actress in the world today.) Things That Make White People Uncomfortable – Michael Bennet (This half autobiography book highlights the issue of racism in the NFL. It was amazing.) The Pretty One – Keah Brown (This was a great book on pop culture, blackness, and disability. There aren’t many good books out there on disability and even less on the intersection of disability and blackness.) This Will Be My Undoing – Morgan Jerkins (Another great book on intersectionality; this one talked about feminism and blackness. I really enjoyed being able to read about a subject I’m very passionate about but from a different perspective. It really helped me to look at feminism in a new light and honestly take in the criticism from black women.) Glory Happening – Kaitlin Curtice (I’ve been following her work on Indigenous rights for a while and its been really eye opening. Indigenous rights were not something I ever even considered before reading her work. 100% recommend her books and following her on Twitter.)
Books I Want To Read Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali (I don’t know much about this book other than its a memoir of sorts about an Islamic political figure who is, apparently, a badass. It was mentioned in the book I’m currently reading and got intrigued.) Black Feminist Thought – Patricia Hill Collins (I’ve wanted to read this book since undergrad. Its a classic sociology book on feminism from a black perspective.) The Cross And The Lynching Tree – James Cone (An amazing theologian that its a damn shame I’ve never read because his books on Christianity and black liberation are, so I hear, groundbreaking.) The Color Of Compromise: The Truth About The American Church’s Complicity in Racism – Jemar Tisby (Its in the title: its about how the church has been complacent when it comes to racism. I absolutely cannot wait to read this.) I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made For Whiteness – Austin Channing Brown (Again: just read the title. Amazing.) White Fragility: Why Its So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism – Robin DiAngelo (This one has been blowing up since it came out and its been on my list for a while. I feel like this one is going to be really convicting and I’m sure it’ll be a tough pill to swallow at points. I can’t wait.) So You Want To Talk About Race – Ijeoma Oluo (Another popular one, but it seems relevant and intriguing. I know I need to do better about listening to non-white people when they critique me, my work, my politics, etc. I’m hoping it’ll expand my horizons.) All You Can Ever Know – Nicole Chung (A memoir about a Korean woman who was raised by a White family and her reckoning with her culture and upbringing. I love memoirs and this one touches on the issues of ethnicity and culture and on adoption, which is another issue I’ve been reading a lot about lately.) Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity – Michah Rajunov, et al. (Feeling disconnected to the gender I was assigned at birth is something that I personally can’t relate to or understand, but I’m trying to be a better advocate and ally to my trans/non-binary friends. This book is a collection of multiple essays by various people so it offers a wide array of perspectives which should make for a really informative read.) We Have Always Been Here: A Queer, Muslim Memoir – Samra Habib (I don’t even have words other than Samra sounds like a badass and I can’t wait to hear her story.)
And many more to come! If you want to follow along my book journey, follow me on GoodReads or Instagram where I share more play-by-play updates on the books I’m reading. This year I want to do my best to intentionally read more books by people different than myself and to use my platforms to signal boost POC/queer/Native/marginalized voices so they can be heard. The world doesn’t need another White blogger. But these stories need to be told. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to send them my way! I read a million books and am always searching for more.
I’ve never really understood Advent. They say its about waiting and longing. Waiting for Jesus now just like they did in the days before he was born. It’s about waiting for the second coming. My oldest brother loves Advent, but I’ve never quite got it. I have a dark history with eschatology, the second coming, and end times theology. I have a hard time with all of the end of the world talk because I was always told that I needed to look forward to Jesus’ return but I was always too afraid of what came with it. Now my theology has changed and gotten rather jumbled; I’m not so sure about anything anymore. I think I know what I don’t believe, but I’m not so sure of what I do believe is true. It all makes Advent a difficult season for me because I just don’t understand.
But every November, I seem to get my heart broken. It happens almost every year. Something happens in November or December that hurts me. Every year around this time I find myself grieving. Today, on the first day of Advent, I’m realizing how ironic that is. Every year around Advent, I find myself waiting. I’m waiting for the pain to go away. Waiting for the world to get better. Waiting for this season to pass. Waiting to be okay. Waiting for my situation to ease. Waiting for good things. Waiting for the news to stop being so dreary. I’ve just been waiting.
I guess it just never hit me that I was in the right season for that. Advent is all about waiting. I guess I always just assumed it was about joyfully waiting the way kids wait for Christmas; with glee and excitement. I never thought about the waiting we do as adults, like waiting at the DMV. The kind of waiting that is painful and exhausting and not at all joyful. I never considered the validity of both kinds of waiting. I never thought Advent could be about the painful wait. Leaning into the discomfort. Sitting in it. Longing. Feeling the hurt and the pain. Desiring. Feeling. Not rushing the time, but still looking forward.
I’ve never been good at waiting, but who is? I’m impatient. I want what I want and I want it immediately. If my bus is longer than ten minutes, I walk. If the line for Portillo’s is too long, I just don’t eat. I don’t like waiting because I feel helpless. I feel the need to be constantly doing something productive. A part of that is my personality and another part of it is the culture I grew up in. We feel the need to constantly be doing and going and being productive. We rarely give ourselves rest. We feel like if there is something we can be doing for ourselves, we should do it. We rarely let time have its natural way. But time is everything. I find myself learning that more and more. It’s difficult. I hate it.
I’m in a season of waiting right now. I’m waiting for something I’m not sure will ever come. I’m hurt. I’m confused. I’m waiting for my pain to go away or to let up. I’m trying not to rush through my pain because I know I need to experience it and process it, but I am so sick of crying. My family is so sick of me crying. Waiting as a concept sounds so nice and peaceful; like we light a candle and sit in the quiet serenity and be mindful. But really, for me it has meant I need to take frequent breaks at work because I burst into tears at random. It means watching Netflix to ease myself to sleep or else I will be kept awake by my thoughts. It’s not glorious or peaceful. It’s constantly reminding myself to breathe and process my grief while I wait. It’s painful. Advent isn’t about rushing to Christmas and rushing to the good parts; it’s about the slow anticipation and the gruesome and tiring act of waiting for things to get better. It’s about acknowledging that things are fucked up but maybe they won’t always be.
Advent has been especially difficult since my faith deconstruction. How can I anticipate something that I’m unsure of? How do I long for something I fear? How do I remain hopeful for something that I don’t understand? And maybe that’s why Advent is hitting me differently this time around. I’m finding it’s about sitting in the unknown and waiting and being okay with not having all the answers and not letting our need for omniscience rob us of our hope. It’s about having hope even when we have no idea what it will look like. It reminds me that the Christmas story is so special to me because of how anti-climactic the whole thing must have been to live through. There were people expecting this great king to come and rescue them and then this baby is born that takes them all by surprise. It must have felt like a letdown. I’m sure that wasn’t what they thought they were hoping for. I’m sure they hoped for something they thought was better. But still, they had hope. They had hope even when they weren’t sure what form their hope would come in. I think it’s okay for me to have hope even though I don’t know how it will come. Even though we don’t understand, we can hold hands with both pain and hope at the same time. Just wait. Hold on. It gets better. It gets better. It gets better.
Sit with those around you that are in pain. Hope is born in community. Grieve with those who grieve. Don’t get swept away into celebration and brush aside your pain. Let it be. Sit with it. Invite others into it. Walk into the void with someone and dare to be hopeful together. Rest. Anticipate. Let waiting mean whatever it means for you. Maybe it means finally releasing your tears or maybe it means meditating or being still for a moment. Maybe it means letting yourself take a nap and physically process. But waiting isn’t always this silent practice. It certainly isn’t always romantic, at least it rarely is for me. But Advent, I suppose, is about acknowledging the world of hurt around us and in us and waiting for hope and acting as people of hope. Active waiting. Being hope for others. Showing up for the sad, messy parts of life. Letting others know that while we still have yet to see the world become a better place, we can wait with one another so the journey is less painful.
There are days I feel like the waiting will kill me. I’m waiting for someone I love to be okay, waiting for a friend to reach out, waiting on the world to be less scary, waiting for a better job, waiting to be in a better financial place, waiting to get into a doctorate program, waiting to start off my career. Sometimes its too much. My heart never seems to get a break. I’m sensitive and the weight of the journey is excruciating for my fragile bones. So I call friends and ask them to talk me down from despair. I stay awake with my brothers who let me sob into their shoulders and tell them how much it hurts. Some days I haven’t been able to leave my bed so I just binge watch The Good Place and cry about how cruel the world is. But I keep trying to tell myself to feel all that hurt and keep going anyway. This is what Advent is all about. Have hope. Keep waiting. It gets better. It gets better. It gets better.
It’s a phrase that is echoed in church a lot. The Table. We talk a lot about this Table. It means the Space. Fellowship. Relationship. Having a spot at the Table means having a voice and being fully accepted in. This Table is where decisions are made, where we can eat and be satisfied, where we can learn and grow and be at peace. The Table is the Church. It is taking communion. Being invited to lunch after service. Being welcomed to the Table and being affirmed at the Table, I have found, are two different things. Some people may sit at the Table but not speak at it. Some may sit at the Table and not eat from it. Historically, these people have been minorities; they are not the same skin color, they are of different sexual orientation, they have different beliefs; they have been Othered in some way and the Church has said they cannot have a seat. They cannot eat.
Lately, I’ve been trying to find my seat at the Table. But it feels to me that I got the invite but when I show up, there is no place mat for me. It looks like all the seats are full. Full to the brim. When I try to ask where my seat is, no one will make eye contact. Somehow, this almost feels worse than not having been invited. It’s like they invited me just to show me who else got to be here. Everyone sitting down is the Good Christian. The Woman With The Quiet And Gentle Spirit. There are the White Men With Theology Degrees. There are the Women With Children. The Women in Relationships. The Godly Men. The People With The Servants Heart. And at the edge of the Table peering in, is Me.
I think that maybe I read my invitation wrong. Maybe I was never welcome here at all. Maybe it was meant for someone else. I think they sent it to me too early; it was for me, but for the version of Me that I used to be. Like, “We put you on the guest list before you started talking about your problems with traditional eschatology. Before you opened your mouth about affirming gay people. Before you started talking about sex so much. Before you started cussing.” It’s like they wanted the Nice Faith; the one without So Many Opinions. The one who was Gentle. The one who Cried Quietly. I feel like people liked me more when I hid my depression and my anxiety and before I reposted so many political articles. Before I showed how angry I was. I feel like people liked me when I was Lying, but not so much now that I refuse to dilute myself.
I’m trying to sit at the Adult Table with the Men With Theology Degrees and tell them I know a thing or two. They talk over me because I am a Woman and I should Be Quiet. They have opinions with big words and egos. They tell me to Go Home. But I don’t want to go home, I want to be here at the Table with everyone else. I want to share my story and my perspective. Sometimes I’m even foolish enough to believe I have something of value to add. Sometimes I think maybe the Table would be better if one of the voices wasn’t a Man With A Theology Degree. But they take one look at me and realize I’m an Emotional Woman and think I cry too much to think critically about God. As hurt as I am by their rejection, I can’t silence the voice inside me that wants to speak whether they hear me or not.
So I walk over to the other side of the Table and find the People In Relationships. I’m one of them! Maybe I can speak wisdom here. At this part of the Table they are holding hands but with just enough distance in between them to not make anyone else uncomfortable. I want to see if my boyfriend and I will be welcome here. But they look away. They don’t want to hear about how I’m going to be the breadwinner in my future; that I have asked my boyfriend if he would be okay with being a Stay At Home Dad so I can have a Career. They don’t like that he doesn’t go to Church. They don’t like that I spend the night at his house. When I look around I realize that we do not look like the other couples at the Table. The ones there Read the Bible and Pray Together while my boyfriend and I will get into heated discussions about religion. They go to date nights to the movies and my boyfriend and I have a favorite bar where we have fallen in love. I want to say “Look what I have learned by being in love!” They don’t want to hear Me. My Love doesn’t look the same as Their Love. They think that means the Bible does’t honor My love.
In a last ditch effort, I walk over to the Children’s Ministry People and hope I can be of assistance here. I am the second oldest of nine; I love kids. I like to think I’m a good aunt to my niece. I love the small children at my new church and think they love me back. I think I have valuable experience. But there are Rules. So Many Rules. I can’t tell them that I have Doubts. I can’t tell them I affirm gay relationships. Don’t let the high schoolers cuss in small group. Be civil. Don’t share your Political Views. Don’t post pictures with Alcohol on social media and be a Bad Influence. Don’t bring up Controversy because Parents Won’t Like It. I can’t keep up.
I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want a seat the the Table if I have to fight for it or demand it. I don’t want to talk unless my voice is truly valued or listen to. I don’t want to be here anymore! I am Tired and Angry. I’m Drained. I don’t want to constantly feel the need to defend my existence here. Like I always need to show my invitation to say “I was on the guest list! Check!” I feel like I’m constantly combing the Bible and policies and using logic and reason and trying to find more innovative ways to make people accept me and I don’t want to do it anymore. If I need to pull out one more bible verse that proves I have the right to speak, I will throw up. If I need to reference one more popular theologian in order to justify a belief I have, I will faint. I just want to scream JESUS INVITED ME HERE FOR FUCK’S SAKE CAN YOU JUST PULL UP A DAMN CHAIR.
As exhausting as it is, I’m not quite ready to give up yet either. Because for once, I have stopped to look around me. There are a lot of other people attempting to find a Chair at the Table. A lot of people who have been here a lot longer than I have. They are worn out and exhausted. They just want a drink. They just want to rest. We are all tired of the gatekeeping and the rules. We just want a place to sit and eat and be with one another. We won’t stop until we get our seat.
So here I am. I’m bringing my Whole Self to the Table and I brought my own damn Chair. I’m inserting it right in between the White Men With Theology Degrees and by the People In Relationships and the People In Ministry and I’m not shutting up or being kicked out because I have every right to be here. Same as everyone else. Call me unworthy. Call me annoying. Call me a heretic. Selfish. Stupid. Call me whatever names you can think of but Jesus did not say “it is finished” just for people to make it seem like I still needed to Clean Up before coming to the Table. My mess was good enough for Jesus; if it isn’t enough for you, well, take it up with him.
I am trying to bring myself and others to the Table. Sometimes its exhausting and I want to give up and go home. But I’ve always been stubborn. I have things to say and I’m not leaving until they are said and listened to. I am sitting at the Table and I am not going to water myself down for it either. I’m coming here and putting my elbows on the Table. I refuse to listen to lies that tell me I don’t belong or that I’m unworthy. That I’m too messy. Too sinful. I will not be quiet. I am done trying to earn a space at the Table that I was already invited to. Not everyone sitting around me has to like me; I understand, I am not everyone’s cup of tea. But they do have to respect my existence. They do have to honor all those I bring to the Table with me. They are not leaving either.
I am finally okay with who I am and I can finally accept that all of me is affirmed by God. Hell, maybe I was invited to the Table because who I am in necessary at the Table. Maybe they could use a bit less Male Theology and a little bit more Emotional Woman Theory. Either way, I’m pulling up my seat and getting comfortable. I’m staying here and I am speaking. If you don’t want to be around me, then maybe you’re the one who should go home.
“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” – creation account, as retold in Genesis 1:26-31 I tend to keep quiet about being an environmentalist. Mostly because speaking to it would mean admitting to the fact that I am deathly afraid and it would mean being vulnerable around people and letting a conversation get to a place that triggers me beyond belief. Because the truth, in its bleakest and most honest, is nothing makes me want to put a bullet to my skull more than thinking about what is going on with our environment right now. What we have done to it, what we have allowed to happen to it, and what generations before us had a hand in. I know I have always been the kind of person to encourage facing your fears and naming them to make them less scary. But today, I don’t want to name them because if you are anything like me, you know what things I’m talking about and the naming is the worst part. You are tired of hearing the names of the millions of things I’m talking about. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably anxious too. So I’ll be the first to say that today, I’m not going to write about being brave or naming our triggers. Today, I’m going to be afraid a little bit more. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be braver. But not today. And that’s okay.
But today I’ve also been thinking about this fear. I know that today I won’t overcome it, but I refuse to be overcome as well. So it requires some amount of strength and for me, that strength has always come in writing. I have always found that writing gives me courage and gives me a sense of control when everything is spiraling. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like enough. Sometimes it seems like all I have the power to do is write and writing isn’t solving problems just making me feel better about them. But I hope that this inspires you to act. (I hope to share more about the ways that I’ve been incorporating action into my life lately just to show I’m not being a hypocrite, but that’s another post for another day.) Today, I just want to silence to voice of fear inside of all of us and focus on the next 24 hours and the things we can do. As I’ve written before, my boyfriend once told me that we have to pick our battles, so we should pick the ones we can win. I hope this helps you find those battles.
When it comes to talking about the environment, I think we’ve done it all wrong and have made the mistake we as humans oftentimes make. We attempt to make fear the motivation that causes action. Yet I think historically, fear as a motivator rarely works. More times than not, when presented with fear, instead of combating the things that we fear and eliminating it, we would rather hide from those things or shut them out of our minds. I think this is one of the biggest reasons for the apathetic attitude we have had towards caring for our environment. To ignore the problem is way easier than talking about it or taking action against it. Talking about it means we need to confront the oftentimes frightening reality in front of us and that takes more courage than we think we have in us. But, as Jessica Jones says, “knowing its real means you gotta make a decision. One, keep denying it, or two, do something about it.” For too long we have denied the harm we have done our earth, and I think we need to do something about it.
But here’s the thing; I’m not going to try to scare you into action. I’m not going to show you statistics or graphs or gut wrenching photos because I don’t think that changes anything. I think that makes people hide away and continue to ignore the problem. For years it made me blacklist certain trigger words associated with those images and facts on twitter and enabled me to ignore these problems further. Plus, you’ve seen enough of those things on social media lately. If you’re like me, you might even have gone out of your way to search through the shithole of tragedy porn to find them just to torment yourself. (Yeah, 10/10 don’t recommend.) So enough of that nonsense. But I will tell you why you should give a shit about the environment and what you can realistically do to help.
I opened this post with the creation account as written in the Christian bible, because that creation story is personally what compels me to care and since the vast majority of my readers are of a Christian faith, I wanted to make this correlation. In my whole life, I have never heard a sermon on environmentalism. And it’s a damn shame. Because the bible is brimming with things to say about how we treat the world around us and I had no idea. I grew up thinking that this creation account, God giving us dominion over the Earth to be rulers of it, gave me a license to not care. I actually grew up my whole life hating animals and not caring about animal cruelty and used those verses to justify it. (Big yikes.) However, after much maturation I’ve realized its because of those verses that I need to care what happens to animals and the world around me. I know that I’m called to be a good steward of my resources and a good caretaker, and to think that doesn’t apply to plants and animals is just really poor biblical exegesis. I always think about Jesus stepping foot on Earth after everything she’s been through and looking at me and asking how I let this happen to her. It physically pains me that Christians aren’t the ones on the forefront of the conservation and saving the planet campaigns because of what we profess to stand for. The fact that churches aren’t leading the way in showing communities and institutions how to promote ecological change is heartbreaking and needs to be dealt with. Amidst all the ways the church has failed our society, I think this is one of the biggest ways. (But if you’re not convinced by me, read “The Bible and Ecology” by the incredible Richard Bauckham.)
But to the non-religious readers I have, here’s why you should care. It’s simple. We all live here. We all want to thrive and be happy and do well. We can’t do that if we let large corporations shit all over Mother Earth and if we think its okay to not take care of the world around us. But again, not here to guilt trip anyone. Fear gets us nowhere. I think we need to learn to love our world and become motivated by that love. Our world is awesome. I mean, if you don’t think so, just Google image the Northern Lights or pictures of Ireland. Have you ever seen the ocean? A sunflower? A huge field of grass that seems to stretch on forever? A sunset? I fucking love the Earth. She makes me so soft and happy. I used to pretend I didn’t care because I thought that made me cool or interesting but turns out it just makes you boring. I want to take care of the Earth because I am such a softy for her. I love puppies and dolphins and the ocean and I love looking at the stars from the middle of nowhere and trying to find constellations and I love roses and bees and squirrels. I love plants! Lately I’ve been dreaming of a future home where I have a greenhouse and plants just covering everything inside my house and I think of starting a garden next summer with my siblings and growing herbs on my windowsill. It makes me so happy and I feel so full. If you don’t want that feeling, you’re missing out. Caring for the world around me makes me feel like I live here and belong here. I want to see my world thrive.
I know, everything is overwhelming and scary and it seems like the bad guys are winning. It always does. But what I have always tried to do when I start to feel overwhelmed with the weight of it all is to do what I can. I think that’s where we need to start. We need everyone to pitch in where they are in the physical space they take up. I hate that I’m never in the room where anything happens. Last week I was curled up in a ball thinking, “hey maybe I should drop out of school and fly to the Amazon with nothing but a suitcase of water bottles and my own spit and take out that fire myself!” (Obviously a plan with some minor flaws.) But no. I wasn’t born in the Amazon. I am here and there is work to be done here. There is work already being done by brilliant Indigenous people there, and I need to support that work and get plugged into the work that is already being done here too. Pick battles you can realistically join. Pick ones you can win.
I feel like this post was really short (for me at least.) but that’s because if I can’t convince you to care about the planet you live on then I really don’t know what to do. I feel like it’s pretty self explanatory stuff. So I mostly wanted to make a compilation of things you can do to help at the place you are right now. I’ve been researching for a while now and have a nice comprehensive list and wanted to share. Additionally, I want to make sure I’m held accountable and are walking the walk, so feel free to call me out and check up on me to ask what I’ve been doing lately for the causes I care about.
So without further ado, here is Faith Marie’s Saving The Planet Masterlist Places to connect to – Patagonia Action Works (Patagonia has a dating app style site where you can punch in your zip code and it’ll bring up grassroot organizations near you that are doing conservation work as well as events by you to attend! This is probably the most helpful and coolest tool I’ve found.) – VolunteerMatch (Same idea as the one above, but you can also use it for a variety of other causes.) – Charity Navigator (I love this website! They rate charities and organizations and have stats about where their money goes and how effective they are. They’re a good resource to use if you want to donate but are skeptical and want to make sure you’re using your money wisely.)
Things you can do – Recycle (duh.) – Donate to the Amazon Watch (This organization is fighting to protect the Amazon and the Indigenous people in the Amazon Basin as well as working to hold large corporations accountable for their impact on the environment.) – Join the march for the Amazon on September 5th (Find a march near you here.) – Buy a reusable coffee cup and/or waterbottle (Especially the stainless steal ones. And places like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks will fill your coffee cup from home so you don’t contribute to waste. So you can still get your coffee fix.) – Thrift shop. (Reduce! Consumerism is one of the biggest problems we have right now, so you can help by shopping secondhand and donating your old clothes for someone else to wear. Plus, it saves tons of money. It’s a win/win.) – Donate your super old stuff to the H&M Garmet Collection. (H&M collects old textiles of any kind and recycles them into resold goods, new clothes, cleaning cloths, and a variety of other uses. I had no idea this was a thing until I stopped into the store recently and thought that was amazing.) – Eat less meat (So many trees are lost and land lost to the meat industry. Plus they treat animals terribly. Take baby steps; try only eating meat on the weekends or see how long you can go without meat. For the really ambitious and the able; go vegetarian! Or hell, go big or go home; go vegan.) – Use canvas bags instead of plastic bags – Bike or use public transportation or walk – Compost. (For more on how to do that, check out the United States Environmental Protection Agency site.) – Type up your school notes instead of using paper. (I’m trying this for the first time this semester so lets see how this goes.) – Join the Climate Strike from September 20-27th. (To find a walkout near you and get more information, check out the website here.) – Make more things at home. (You’d be surprised how many things you can make at home honestly. Again, it saves money.) – If you need to buy things, go for the green brands. (I like to use Seventh Generation for household stuff like toilet paper and cleaning supplies. I’ve been recently trying out Love Beauty + Planet and Dr. Bronner’s stuff for hygiene, and Imperfect Produce for, well, produce. There are also tons of others, but be conscious and try to go out of your way to support brands doing good, green work. Here is another list from the World Pursuit blog.) – Join a community garden! – Women, use a menstrual cup – Get involved in local politics (This one might seem like a less direct impact, but many of the problems we face come from big corporations doing massive damage because a lack of accountability and not enough governmental regulations. We allow this to happen at every level of government, so start small and work your way up. Yeah, call your congressman and support green initiatives there, but also get involved in the work your city and town are doing.) – Once your lightbulbs die out, switch to the environmental friendly ones – Support your local farmers! Go to a farmers market (And come on, those are so cute.) – Check out this amazing resource list from environmentalist, Katt Andryskova from My Vegan Experiment for more.
Things churches can do – Stop handing out paper bulletins and switch to keeping info online (the old people can learn the Internet, okay?) – Have recycling bins inside (the amount of churches I’ve attended without recycling bins is truly disturbing.) – Stop using paper coffee cups (have members donate coffee mugs or use a small percentage of funds and go out and buy mugs from the local thrift store.) – Start talking about caring for the environment from the pulpit (It’s not a political agenda, it’s an issue that is physical and spiritual and shouldn’t be avoided for fear of controversy.) – Go out and do actual work as a congregation or small group. (When big groups of people come together, we can cover more ground. So go volunteer with a grassroots campaign as a small group, take the youth group out on a nature hike, do a neighborhood missions trip and clean up a local park, or start a green group that regularly meets to promote eco friendly change in the church.) – Check out the Church of Englands amazing resource about how to be a greener church – Make a church garden (plant things on the church property. The goods can also be used to help people in the congregation. Double win.) – Make the switch to greener products – Turn off the lights and unplug electronics when they aren’t in use – Get involved in the local conservation and sustainability efforts and encourage church members to do the same
People and places to follow who are promoting + doing great work – Kaitlin Curtice (Promoting great environmental work with a focus on Indigenous people’s activism.) – Good News Network (To brighten your feed when you’re feeling down, this organization highlights all the great things happening in the world that oftentimes gets overshadowed.) – Alexis Claire Fit and Fit Nika (Two health influencers I like who share a lot of tips about veganisn and environmentalism. Good for informational things, although they mostly talk about fitness.) – Kat Armas (A lovely human I follow on the Internet who is full of wisdom about theology and our relationship to the Earth.) – Leonardo DiCaprio (Keep up with all the work he’s doing in the media; he’s been on the frontlines of the fight for environmental justice and it’s pretty cool.)
*Takes a giant deep breath in*
And that is my exhaustive list (for now) to get you started. Please let me know of other resources you’ve found so I can edit and add to the list! What ways have you become more environmentally conscious? How are you making a difference in your community? Don’t let fear stop you from taking a stand and taking action. Let love and respect motivate you. Let’s get to work team.
If you’re reading this, that means time travel has been invented. If everything works out, you are 8 years old. It’s sometime in the fall. The leaves have almost completely fallen off the trees, leaving them bare in the way that makes you run out of the van and press your body up against the apartment door until its open and you can run inside to safety. The trees have always scared you. It will be years until you will say this to anybody, but you see demons perched up in those trees. You feel them. You are terrified. You are only 8 years old but you have so much fear pent up inside of your small frame. You fear the dark, you fear talking and looking stupid, you fear the night and the insomnia that comes with it, you fear the night terrors that plague you when you do find the strength to sleep, and you fear the criticism of your father. Faith, I hate to say this, but you will come to fear more things in your life; some new, and then there are some anxieties you have now that you can’t conceptualize quite yet. The fear of never being good enough. The fear of being alone. The fear of gaining weight. The fear of looking ugly. The fear of failure. The fear that you are broken beyond repair. The fear that your cancer will come back. The fear that lupus will not let you live. The fear of death.
But right now, what you fear the most is Armageddon.
What a silly thing for an 8 year old to be preoccupied with, isn’t it? But you can’t help it. You were raised in a culture and by a father and in a time period where fundamentalist dispensationalism was all the rage. (Sorry for the big words, you would know it as the theology of Left Behind.) What’s an 8 year old supposed to do when they’re told they might not get to live to be 22? How are they supposed to cope with talk of politics when you have no idea what the hell is going on but each new political scheme is the fulfillment of a prophecy? You’re 8 years old for fucks sake. (Sorry for the language, Faith. I know you won’t cuss for the first time until you’re 20 but I couldn’t help it.) I know that no one will tell you this now, but what you’re learning isn’t right. Not only is it not factually inaccurate, but its developmentally inappropriate. It’s abusive. You are being exposed to a level of violence that you shouldn’t be. Even worse, you’re being exposed to violence that is called “love” and “mercy” by the Christians in your life. It’s ruining you. Your fear never stops.
You will carry this fear for several years. You carry your burden alone, like Frodo and the Ring to Mordor. I know you relate to that story. You carry your silence. In high school you will begin to talk, but by then it will be too late. You talk because you realize this fear has made you suicidal, and you know you will either defeat the fear or it will defeat you.
I’m writing this letter to spare you the pain. I want you to know what I know now, at 22 years old.
Stop forcing yourself into situations that trigger you. Use your voice. Tell someone what is going on and be brutally honest about it. Get therapy earlier. Talk about the eating issues that will come up in a few short years. Pay attention to the suffering of those around you; you are not alone and make sure they know that they aren’t either. Recognize that your dad has abusive tendencies and its not your fault. Talk to your mom more. Know that your sexuality isn’t what makes you a whole person; know now that your worth is not in that. Eat well but never say no to chocolate. Talk to that person you’ve always wanted to get to know, they don’t think you’re a loser. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember that your dad isn’t always right. You actually are a very talented singer; don’t be afraid to use your talents in front of others. Those people you will have crushes on won’t matter. (But that boy from youth group you think is scary will. You’ll be in love and dating him at 22.) Laugh. Listen to secular music, you’ll like it. Read. Make friends. Live. Enjoy every second of being a kid because you’ll miss it.
Because, guess what? You get through it.
Spoiler alert. You make the decision to kick fear’s ass and you succeed. Not alone, but with the help of the people who listen and begin to share the burden with you. It takes work. But you begin the heavy task of deconstructing your faith and your life, brick by brick. Some of it you will do alone, sometimes with friends or family, but most of it with lots of therapy. Of course, you still find yourself caught in suicidal spells where you are convinced the world is doomed for destruction but then you breathe. You reach out for help. And you take your pen to paper, or fingertips to laptop, and write. You write beautiful words that you hope inspire others to live and to fight. You do this every time you feel fear creeping its way into your life. You fight to say “never again.” You will grow up to be brave in a very terrifying world. One where suicide rates are sky high, school shootings happen almost daily, and environmental problems that are making those suicidal urges almost impossible to combat. All those things that would have pushed you over the edge at the age you are now are currently the things you use to propel you forward. Faith, you become a badass.
If you saw me now, you would be mystified; both parts horrified and in awe. When I describe you to people who only know me at this age, they are shocked. We are nothing alike. But in many ways, we are exactly the same. Those things that haunt you still haunt me. The only real difference is I haunt it right back. There will always be the fear that my voice means nothing, but I combat that fear by writing and shouting at every chance I get. I might always fear not being good enough, but I recognize those thoughts in me and shut them down when I can. Hell, even though learning about dispensationalism makes my jaw clench, there are still times I worry they are right. But its in those times I remember you. I remember the girl I was. I remember your thin blonde hair parted down the middle with cute bangs in the front. How you always wore dresses with pants underneath. I remember that you loved car rides where you stick your head out the window and blast the music from your MP3 player even though your dad made fun of you for it. I remember you cry when people tell you that you are too quiet.
Faith, don’t give up. Don’t you dare give up. You become someone you could only dream of becoming. You become strong and fearless. You find your voice. You finish college and get into a Masters program! I know, right now you can barely read but you become so intelligent when you grow up. It takes 22 years to admit you’re smart, so maybe we could try to figure that one out sooner. And hey, you even become pretty attractive. Plus, you have people that look up to you. Stay strong for them. Be foolishly optimistic despite everything in you that is telling you to give up. Stay strong because there is still a long road ahead. The worst hasn’t even come yet. Brace yourself.
Of course, I know you’ll never read this. It’s the heartbreaking truth that makes me burn with anger. The injustice done to you will never be undone. You will cry many nights because of End Times rumors. You will starve yourself as a teenager because you think your body changing means you are fat. You will become an adult and think you are ruined because a boy has touched you. You will lose the version of God that you have come to know so well and when you meet her again, it will change your life. You will lose friends because of it. You will lose friends for other reasons. You will be hated by people you once loved. Your father will cheat on your mother and he will leave. You will get cancer. You will get lupus. You will suffer severe depression. And none of that will go away. But it will make you strong. That doesn’t mean God planned for it to happen or wanted it to happen. Sometimes your suffering is just suffering. Sometimes it doesn’t have a profound reason. Sometimes it just hurts. I’m sorry I can’t change the course of your life. I wish with everything in me I could correct the harm and abuse that was done to you. But I can’t. But there are other people who experience injustice too.
The refugees. The children locked in concentration camps at the border. The LGBTQ+ community. All of the non-white communities. The homeless. The mentally ill. The pregnant teenagers. The people who have had abortions. The immigrants. The children in the foster care system. The incarcerated men and women who are serving mass amounts of time for non-violent crimes. The Muslim community. Rape and sexual assault victims. So many people face injustice. Seek justice for them.
I know I can’t change your future. I can’t change my past. But I hope I can redeem it. I think of you often for may different reasons. But the biggest reason is looking into the eyes of my little sister, Lois. She is just like you. Just like us. You will not have a chance to change your future, but we can change hers.
Lois, I know this letter was never really to my 8 year old self. It was for you all along. I want you to know that someone out there understands your pain and your frustrations. I understand your bleeding heart, (we both got it from Mom.) I know your fear. Your hurt. You need to know that the things that were done to you were wrong. And it is not your fault. I want you to know that just like me, there will come a time when you are brave and strong. I need you to know you don’t need to rush to that part. Feel everything. These are the times that will make you strong. God didn’t give you these burdens, they are a part of being human. Embrace them. Embrace yourself for all of who you are. I promise, it is enough. Every flaw and scar and imperfection. Embrace the happiness and the depression, but reach out for both; let people experience emotions with you. Stand up for the oppressed. Use your voice. Be brave even when your knees shake. Tell the truth. Be honest. Keep going because you never know what kind of person you could become. Never stop fighting.
*Warning: General Marvel and Endgame spoilers throughout* Dear Tony Stark,
I’ve never really told anyone this, but I’ve always kinda wanted to be a super hero.
I grew up in church being taught that it was my destiny to save people from hell by telling them about Jesus. I was always told I had a purpose. I was going to follows God’s plan and save people from condemnation. It was told to me like it would be an adventure. Christians got spiritual gifts too, which I thought of as my super power. People told me I had potential. I knew I needed to save as many people as I could before the Rapture. That was my Endgame. I was working on the clock.
I also grew up on Marvel. I loved the original Spider-Man movies and the cartoons. I could always be found with an X-Men comic book in my hand. I loved the idea of super heroes. I think I was so enraptured by this idea of saving lives and mattering to the world on a cosmic scale. I wanted people to look up to me and remember my name. I could see myself in a suit, striking a hero pose. I wanted to be a hero for as long as I can remember.
I watched your movie for the first time in middle school I believe. I didn’t like it. I thought it was boring and couldn’t pay attention. Then the second one came along and I thought it was good but not really my thing. But somehow I got roped into the Avengers because of Thor. I remember having a countdown until that movie came out. That movie was when you got me. You were flawed but strong. You put up a front and tried to make people laugh but deep inside you were hurting and you could never say. You never showed your pain or your doubts to anyone because you were a hero. You stayed strong for everyone around you. But I saw right through you. I saw bits of myself in you.
Then Iron Man 3 came out. They showed you on screen with a panic attack from the trauma of New York. You. Iron Man. A super hero with panic attacks. I wish there were words to describe what that meant to me as a teenager who suffered horribly with panic attacks and anxiety. You overcame that every scene in that film and that mattered to me. I watched that movie and felt like I could still be a hero even with my panic attacks. Sometimes that gave me the hope I needed to not feel like a failure when I had to leave church because something triggered me. It made me feel less isolated and weak for it.
I thought I couldn’t love you anymore but then Age of Ultron came out. I know people didn’t like that movie a lot, but Tony Stark, that movie was so important to me. There’s that scene when you’re in the barn talking to Nick Fury and you’re telling him that you have the recurring nightmare that you kill the Avengers. All your friends, and all the world, die because of you. There is this looming fear that its all your fault yet you simultaneously feel so helpless. You made so many bad choices driven by that fear. In that scene, you told Fury that seeing your friends die wasn’t the worst part; the worst part was the fact that you didn’t die. You lived. I wish I didn’t understand that, Tony. But I do. I understand the fear of the burden of being alive. I know what it feels to think you are the one who deserves to die rather than all those around you. And I wish I didn’t feel the overwhelming burden of thinking that you are responsible for the lives of all those around you. But I do. I get it. To see a super hero struggle with that burden was so powerful.
There were nights where I didn’t want to live anymore where I just put Age of Ultron on my TV and cried. I know that’s childish of me. To be a teenager and look up to super heroes the way I did. But see, I never felt like normal life applied to me. I grew up on End Times theology and thinking every day was it and even if it wasn’t, my friends could get hit by a bus tomorrow and go straight to hell. Even less existentially, I just wanted God to be proud of me, so I was always afraid that I was never doing enough. Simply living wasn’t enough. So these huge, larger than life stories felt closer to me than anything else. I was living with an impossible burden. See, my super power has always been my empathy. I feel everyone’s pain as if it were my own. Oftentimes it feels like a gift, but mostly it feels like a curse. I’m in pain a lot. I can’t escape everyone’s pain. I can’t escape the fear that I’m not doing the most that I can to help alleviate other’s suffering. I feel like a failure. But I would always find myself watching Age of Ultron and realizing its okay to be a super hero in pain. It’s okay that I find myself being choked by my own fear and making bad choices because of it. Sometimes we lose battles and make mistakes.
Then there was Infinity War. The snap. Endgame. You felt hopeless and I saw it. I saw myself in that despair. I knew what you felt when you ran away from the fight and didn’t want to be involved anymore. I understand that because lately I’ve felt myself pulling away from everything. It’s funny, my theology and sense of hell and God has evolved so much. I don’t believe what I used to. But sometimes I find myself second guessing myself. I am still plagued by the fear that everything is ending or that I’m wrong or my friends are going to hell. I can’t shake the what-ifs or the super hero complex or the empathy. It’s suffocating and sometimes I don’t want to care. I want to live in the middle of nowhere and marry my boyfriend and have a family and ignore the suffering of the world because I can’t handle it. It’s too much. But much like you, I know I’d never be able to rest.
Today I saw Endgame and I cried. And if you know anything about me, you know that if I’m crying in a movie its because something related to me. This movie was no exception.
Since high school I have been following you as you’ve made mistakes, hurt people, loved, grown, learned, and created. In a way, you’ve been with me as I’ve done the same thing. Today I watched as you overcame your fear and put aside what you wanted in order to do what was right. You really came full circle today. You died a fucking hero. It was the most tragic and heartbreaking thing to see my favorite hero die on screen but I didn’t feel robbed. It felt right. You faced your biggest fear; seeing everyone you love die, but you couldn’t accept it so you did something about it. You saved the world. You can rest now.
There was a part of me that needed that reminder that I can do this. I’m no super hero. I’m not out to save the world. But I can’t shut myself off from the world either. I can’t close myself off when I’m feeling too much. Maybe sometimes, but not forever. I needed to remember that I will do whatever it takes. Not to save lives but to love people and to help. I don’t think I owe it to people, but I think its against who I am, who we are, to stay silent. I’ll do whatever it takes. I will choose to live even when I lose the will. I will fight when I feel weak. I will be brave when I feel afraid. I will die when its my time to die, but not before. I will continue to press on because that’s what I have to do. Despite the crippling fear, I will do what it takes.
Mr. Stark, there is a world of people out there who need a super hero. But you did more than just be a super hero for people. To me, you are the reminder that there is a little bit of super hero in all of us. We live in a world desperate for a sliver of hope and maybe to some people these are just movies, but to other people, to the desperate, those movies are reminders. Even in the darkest of times, we will rise up to the challenge. We will survive and press on and fight another day. We will do whatever it takes to seek mercy and do justice. We will walk tall after panic attacks, fight the mental illness rummaging through our bodies, and we will press on despite our doubts.
Tony Stark, thank you. I know you’re not real and there are real life people to thank too. But there were a lot of times where I felt like I had nobody. But these movies made me realize that no matter how alone you felt, you always had Steve and Pepper and Natasha and Peter and….well, and I do too. I have my own Avengers. I have never been alone and neither have you.
Thank you. Thank you for everything. I wish there were more words. Thank you. -Faith
It’s been like three months since I’ve blogged. It’s been a while since I’ve seen many of my friends. It’s been a long time since I’ve been open and vulnerable. It’s just…it’s just been a while.
Life has been insane. I barely know where to begin.
I’ve been having a hard time writing lately. I don’t know. Words don’t come out like they used to. I’m not as inspired as I used to be. I have some ideas (ish?) but can never execute them. It’s incredibly frustrating. I think I’m mostly just burnt out. I graduate in 22 days and I have senioritis so bad that I’m writing this blog post to procrastinate on writing my sociology discussion board post. I’ve mostly just been trying to get by this semester. I’m trying to learn how to have a life outside of school. I’m learning how to be okay with getting B’s. I’m learning the beauty of giving up perfectionism in order to have a life and friends. It’s difficult, but it’s been rewarding. I’ve not really stressed about school at all this semester. I give myself time to do assignments. I remember that I don’t have to ace every exam and every assignment. I can just do well and that’s enough.
I’ve been getting ready for grad school. I’ve been accepted into a Masters program at my current university and today I made it official and accepted their offer as well as signed up for my classes. Although it wasn’t my first choice (or second or third….) I’m lucky I got in somewhere. It’s so surreal that I’m finally going to do what I’ve had my eyes on since high school. I’m going to be a psychologist. I’m going to be a doctor. I’ve done so much work for my field already; research, presentations, conferences, speaking engagements, meetings, tests, and classes. I’ve traveled all over the United States over the past year getting to visit schools and talk about my research. It’s been so exciting. I’m beginning to not feel like an imposter anymore. I know that’ll change once I step into my first graduate school class, but I’m enjoying the feeling now. I’ve put in so much. It’s rewarding.
Aside from school, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my boyfriend. We recently hit our 9 month anniversary, which is crazy to me. It hasn’t been an easy 9 months, but its certainly been worth it. I won’t lie, it was hard to adjust to. It still is hard. This is my first relationship so I feel like I’m trying to play catch up. Like, I should know at least some of the basics of being in a relationship by now but I don’t. I’m learning how to live with another person in mind and not just myself. I’m learning how to put us as a unit above myself while simultaneously holding onto my independence and individuality. I’ve been learning how to love someone who’s different than me and how to make things work. I’m learning how to be open and vulnerable with someone and it’s difficult (especially with men.) It’s hard work, but its worth it. I look back on a year ago when I was in a relationship that hurt me and realize how lucky I am. My boyfriend and I fight for sure, but I have never had to second guess how he feels about me and for that I’m thankful. We’re in love and its such a beautiful, beautiful thing. There were times in the past couple years where I really thought love wasn’t for me. This time, I’m glad I was wrong.
Lately I’ve also been traveling. I’ve been a ton of places in the last six months; California, Florida, Maryland, and Buffalo. I’ve gotten very familiar with airports. Turbulence doesn’t quite scare me so much anymore. I’m seeing parts of the world that I never thought I would get to see. For the first time in my life I’m thinking of international travel. I used to be so much of a homebody. I like my own space. My city. My neighborhood. I never felt the intense need to leave it. I think too many people want so badly to leave and it just turned me off to it. But I think I really would like to now. Not permanently, but I want to experience life outside of where I am. I love seeing the beauty that exists in the world. I love that time doesn’t seem to exist when I travel. I love feeling like I’m finally alive. It’s indescribable.
Lately, I’ve been trying to feel more at home in my new skin. The past couple years have been pretty revolutionary for me. I feel like I’ve had to completely “re-brand” myself. I’m not the same person I used to be. And while that’s amazing and great, it takes some getting used to. Sometimes I wonder if people noticed, if they’re worried, or if they really have no idea what’s been going on with me. For any of those cases, it takes time. It has been scary to think that I need to re-introduce myself to half my friends. It’s scary that I’ve felt the need to be quiet about my changes. I’m trying to find my voice and be okay with the growth I’ve experienced. Internally I’m so thankful; but there is a part of me that is timid and afraid and wants validation from other people despite the fact that I know it won’t help me. But I’m slowly trying to hold onto the idea that not everyone will like me or approve of me and that’s perfectly okay. But then there is the part of me that wonders if I owe people any more pieces of my soul. There are so many things I want to write about and start controversy about and make waves about. Yet, at the same time, I don’t want that anymore. Arguing about feminism is more draining than anything; I’m tired of explaining why I think women should have basic human rights. Debating over theology makes me sick to my stomach now. I can’t bring myself to respond to Facebook comments anymore. I’ve been more interested in protecting my heart and not doing things to my body that put extra stress on her. I’m exhausted from pouring my heart out to the world only to have it trampled and shit on. I don’t owe people that.
That being said, I am still thinking. I have one post that’s been in my drafts for months that I haven’t found the courage to share yet. I’m waiting for the right time. I’m working with my old photography professor on a project that I’ve had swirling around in my head for a while. Today my thoughts are flowing well; I have the motivation to create and think and the inspiration to set my soul on fire. I want to do more. So no, I’m not giving up. I’m just taking my time. I’m figuring out what I want to do, what people want to read, and what would be beneficial for people to read. I’m trying to figure out how to make art again. Write fiction again. Write poems. Take photos. Write blogs. Sketch. Talk to people. Be vulnerable. Move out. Stop my anxiety. Stop my depression. Cope with lupus. Be myself unapologetically. And just live. I’m learning how to live again. Thanks for joining the ride and reading along.
(Side note: one of the things I’ve been up to is public speaking. Here is one of the amazing opportunities I got to have recently. I did a talk on pole dancing and disability. I’ll include it here so you can watch it/share it. It was an amazing time and I honestly thought I killed it, so I hope you watch and enjoy it!)
On Thursday I was sent from work after only 3 hours into my shift. My boss saw me lying on my break room floor, curled into the fetal position, and crying my eyes out. I was in so much pain I could barely walk. I was periodically running to the bathroom to cry and sit before wiping my tears and pretending to be okay. I tried my best to keep a stiff upper lip and push through it, but I couldn’t.
I was on my period. It was stupid, I told myself. This happens once a month. Every other woman I know goes to work on her period. It can’t be that bad. I wanted to keep going to prove something to someone. I need to prove to myself that I’m not weak and can handle pain with grace. Maybe in a lot of ways I wanted to prove that I’m strong enough to handle my chronic illness that played a role in my pain. And certainly I needed to prove to men that I was invincible. I can tackle a job, an internship, school, cleaning my home, taking care of the cats, being a wonderful girlfriend, being a great big sister, and make great art all the while in unbearable pain. That’s my way of proving myself to men. I don’t like when men think I’m weak. I can hold my own. Not only can I do a good job, but I can do the best job. I can have my cake and eat it too.
At work they call me Super-Girl. This probably started when I volunteered to work until 3am when my shift had started at 3pm. I did that two nights. In a row. And I had school in the morning. I did it because it was fun. I love working hard. But mostly I did it just to show that I can. I’m unstoppable. Now I’m known for being the craziest employee. I feed off of the comments of people telling me I need to stop working so hard, that I need to sleep more, to take it easy. It only reinforces it in me. I work hard. My boss praises me for it and I live on that.
Today I almost passed out on the train. I had an insane hot flash that made me lose my vision. I ran off the train and threw up. The paramedics were called. I sat in the ambulance while they checked my vital signs and the only thing going through my head was, “it’s 7:30; I need to leave so I can get to my 8am class.” So I did. I told the paramedics I didn’t want to go to the hospital and I left, got back on my train, stopped for coffee, and made it to class on time. No one there knew what had happened. I didn’t bother telling my professors because it was over.
Today I think: that isn’t hard work. That is suicide.
I’m angry at the culture we have created that praises people for risking their health and their lives for things that do not matter. I’m angry that I oftentimes go to work when I am sick or in pain because I only think that I cannot afford to skip work. Not for my health; not for anything. I hate that I am in the position where I need to harm myself in order to make ends meet. I have to get no sleep in order to write papers. I hate that I have to work so many hours just to pay the bills. What’s worse is I hate the culture that tells me that’s okay. I hate that we praise workaholics. We call people lazy when they stay home. We tell people they aren’t dedicated enough. We leave the impression that if you don’t feel like you’re dying than you aren’t giving in all that you have. I despise the wealth inequality that drives those of low socio-economic status to poorer health conditions because they can’t take days off. I grieve for my mother who’s days off only mean she gets to work her second job; and her no work days mean full house-work days. I hate that I feed into all of this. I hate myself for coming to school today.
Even after everything that happened over the summer; my anxiety sky-rocketed, I worked myself ragged, I became insanely depressed, I started taking anti-anxiety/anti-depressants, and I lost a ton of weight due to poor health choices, I still continue to do it. I don’t know why it’s so hard to stop. I know I do this but I can’t stop.
Sunday’s are my Sabbath day. I told my boss I cannot work them, aside from the rare exception. I do this because I need one day of rest. One day that I know I can look forward to where I just rest. Even with my mountain of doubt, I find myself going to church because the familiarity is comforting. On Sunday’s, my brother leads a bible study where the conversations have been so beautiful. It’s one of the few places I feel like I can truly put away my mask of Being Okay. I love being able to be open with others and connect. I love the Sabbath.
I wish we did that more. Talked about rest days more. And not just in the “today I’m doing a face mask” day but a day where you truly let yourself be. Admittedly, I love doing facemasks on Sunday but I also love drawing and talking to friends and reading and binge watching Brooklyn Nine Nine. I keep telling myself this needs to be a priority but it’s hard to make that a priority. It’s hard when everywhere around us we get opposing messages about what we should be doing. I know, it’s gotten better but I don’t think the message has hit me yet. Oftentimes I need to write it for myself, in my own words, before I begin to feel it.
I am such a fan of hard work. I enjoy working my ass off and feeling accomplished after I have been productive. But I need rest. In my health psychology class we’ve been talking about the negative impact cortisol (stress) has on the human body. I hear this all the time but I rarely do anything about it. I don’t have the luxury of rest. I need to pay bills. I need to get through college.
But I need to rest. We need to rest.
We need to give our bodies a break. Physical health isn’t an isolated status. Our bodies and souls are one and the same; we need to give both rest, give both love. We need to do less of what drains us and more of what fills us. It’s easy to say when you have wealth, I know. But I think we need to do what we can. We may not be able to take off of work, but we can breathe. Be mindful. Don’t hold tension in your shoulders. Drink water. Slow down as much as you are able.
I’m sorry that every time I address you it starts with an apology, as if you’re something I need to feel sorry about. But I’m sorry that I constantly feel the need to tell others I’m sorry on your behalf. Since when did I need permission for my body to exist the way it does? I’m sorry that I keep apologizing for you when I really should be apologizing to you. You were never the one that was wrong. It was always our perceptions and horrible expectations for you. But they will never say they are sorry, so we must learn to accept apologies that never come and let go.
The first is from me. I’m sorry I never treated you right. You didn’t deserve it. You never deserved all the nights of starvation and hunger or the nights I would pinch flesh to inflict pain. I hurt you, intentionally. You didn’t meet my expectations of how a body should look and so I hurt you in hopes that you would change. It never helped. It only created a toxic relationship between us that dragged us both into depression. You could never be enough, no matter how thin you got, it wasn’t thin enough. It would never end. But you never needed to be any smaller. You’re beautiful just as you are. You do not look like a model’s body or a fitness athlete; you don’t even resemble your fellow pole dancers but you are beautiful. You are unique and special and lovely. I’m sorry I could never see it before. I’m done making you small when you were born to take up space in this world. We need to stop making each other small. Being big is not the opposite of being beautiful. We were not meant to succumb to the expectations of others. I will not be quiet anymore and you should not be small.
I’m sorry that I’m often angry at you for lashing out at me as if your anger wasn’t justified. But its so hard to love you when you don’t love me in return. I have dreams that feel so far because of your inability to function. All I want is to be able to run with no restraints and to keep up with my friends and to dance; I miss dancing so much it aches. But the pain in my knees have been unbearable. The weakness in my arms and the pinching in my elbows is excruciating. Maybe you’re angry at me and maybe it’s justified. I’m sorry. I’m sorry if you are in need and I ignore your cries. I’m sorry I have never been able to balance my relationship with food in a healthy way and I’m sorry you suffer for it. I’m sorry that it’s so hard to eat sometimes and that its been hard lately. I wish it were easier to eat better without falling into a hole of obsession, but its not. If I limit you, I’m afraid I’ll starve you again, and you deserve to eat.
Oh, body. I’m sorry for all the times I’ve apologized on your behalf. I’m sorry that I let people cover you up in shame. I’m sorry for the ways in which the Church has silenced you and called you a stumbling block, as if you were the one with the power to turn men into monsters. I’m sorry that the media uses your beautiful sexuality against you; that they ignore your beauty by making you a commodity to sell. These institutions and cultures have done you harm and I’m sorry I believed them when they said you were the problem. I’m sorry for the question of “what was she wearing?” I’m sorry that I was made to feel sorry for you. But I’m not; not anymore. I refuse to fall back into the mindset that has caused me to hurt you. I will not hide you. I will not soften you for others comfort. I will not hold my tongue when speaking of you. Nothing about you is an apology. When the Church says that we are made in the image of God, I will say it louder and with more conviction that we are made in the image of God; that women are made in the image of God. All of you was made in that image. Your curves, the arch of your back, all the scars, and your breasts. All of these are imago dei*. God’s image. All of those parts of you that I have deemed “ugly,” those are image bearers. El shaddai**. The God with breasts. You no longer need to cower or hide those parts of you in hatred. Shame isn’t welcome here anymore. You are more than a stimulus for sexual pleasure for men. You have a beautiful sexuality and that is not a sin. You are not a whore. You are a temple. Each part of you was made beautifully. Each and every curve was fashioned with love and dignity.
I’m sorry that everything has been so hard lately. You are suffering physically and it’s making me hurt mentally. But I know that I need to surrender. We are one, and when we fight, we both lose. I’m sorry that I spent so much of my time focusing on the new body I wanted by dreaming of heaven that I neglected you. I’m sorry that the theology and doctrine that you’ve been told has made you nothing. You are not nothing. You are not filthy or dirty or wrong. You do not bear the weight of the transgressions done to you. Do you hear me? You are not responsible for the sins done to you. Those have been cleaned; they are not your burden anymore. The shame you have carried is gone. You are not those wounds. You are not your limitations. You are not your sickness.
My body, I love you. I’m done fighting. I’m done ignoring you. I am done pretending that you do not matter. I’m done feeding into the lies that you are an object. I’m done rallying around doctrines that make you an enemy; I have done that on my own for too long. I’m done hiding you away as if you were a problem. I will no longer apologize for who you are. You are not dirty or wrong. You are lovely. Beautiful. Graceful. Strong. No matter how others treat you and no matter how you treat me in return, I promise to love you and take care of you. No matter what is said to you or about you, I am making a public commitment to you. Not even in death will we part; we are inseparable. I don’t think God created me as just a soul; I think He made me a soul that lives in unity with my body that is a reflection of that very soul. You and I are interconnected. Your pain is my pain. My burdens are your burdens. And the joys we experience, we feel together.
This next year I want to love you more, respect you more, and nourish you more. I want that in every area of life for you. I want you to be well. I want more tattoos and piercings to be the paint and the decorations of your temple. I want your hair to be your crown; no matter the color, length, or style. I want you to be free in whatever you choose to wear. Let go of the idea that you are what make men sin. You are not sin. Adorn yourself with what makes you feel strong and powerful. Wear what makes you feel happy and free. I promise this year that I will take care of you and feed you. We will drink water and snack on broccoli and enjoy quinoa. I will maintain you; no more workouts that harm you. I will listen when you are in pain. I will revel in rest, but I will commit to making you stronger at your own pace. No longer will you be compared to bodies on Instagram. You will be allowed to be all that you are without apologies. You are allowed to be flawed. But because I love you, I promise to wash you and give you what you need. Every morning when I wash your beautiful face it will be a reminder to nourish you and appreciate you. Every day I wake up with the ability to walk is another day to applaud you. And on those days when the pain keeps us in bed, those are days to listen to you and cry with you.
Lastly, this year I will remember that we are one. So for just as many days as I will spend taking care of your physical needs, I will spend just as many taking care of our other needs. The soul needs chocolate and hot baths. The soul needs Netflix days and to snooze the alarm. The soul, a part of our body, needs rest and love and attention. We will go to therapy. We will take breaks. We will call off work if we can’t bring ourselves to go. I will listen to music that is uplifting and honoring to you. I will journal and draw and take photographs. I will let my body and soul live in harmony together and neglect neither. I promise to love you in all that I do.