5 Things I Learned In Therapy

   At the beginning of September, I started going to therapy.

   It was something that I knew I needed for a long time. (Like…I’ve known for years.) When I finally started going to university this semester, I made the long, scary trek to the edges of the fourth floor, where my school’s counselling center was kept. I was sleep deprived, had large bags under my eyes, and kept my hood up to cover how greasy my hair was. I was a mess. I had spent the last week crying and lowkey wanting to die.

   Why? I should have been fine. This semester all my dreams started to come true. I moved into the middle of the city, I’m at my dream school, I got to be at the Cubs NLCS games again, I’ve seen my favorite band live twice this year, I’ve made new friends, I’m getting ready to look into grad school…I’m finally living my life.

   Unfortunately, I found out, that even though I left home, my depression followed me. I think The Flash said it best; “turns out, you can’t outrun pain.”

   So here I was. I thought I would be happy by now since life is going great. I thought I would feel better now, considering it’s been a year since my depression came back. But that wasn’t the case. I still needed help, and I was finally able to get it. Truthfully, I was skeptical. I didn’t get how it was supposed to help and I didn’t get the point. Even as a psych major, someone who literally wants to be a mental health counselor, I kinda thought I was above it. I’m glad I swallowed my pride enough to go. Because I found that I actually love therapy. I love getting to talk and be listened to. Honestly, my counselor is so wise and I love getting advice and insight from her.

   So in honor of that, here are some of the coolest things I have learned in therapy thus far. They sound so cheesy, but since having heard them, I’ve been bringing them to mind more often, and I have found that reminding myself of these things help change my perspective on life.

   1. No one can be happy 100% of the time
   My therapist has to tell me this all the time. Because I tend to swing between extremes very quickly. For me, if it rains, it pours. When I get happy, I feel like its the best day of my life, but if I’m sad…well I never want to get up again. And I think being sad means I’m “getting bad again.” And that’s not true. People get sad. People have bad days. People have bad weeks. That’s life. If your goal is to be happy all the time, you will fail. Because that’s not realistic. I’m trying to learn to be okay with bad days.

   2. You can start over. Every day.
   One problem I realized I had was that I’m obsessed with “happiness streaks.” Like, I feel the need to be happy today just because I was happy yesterday. Again, I’m afraid that one bad day will mean I’m going to be stuck in a spiral. But my therapist began talking to me about not carrying yesterday’s baggage into today. Because life has variation, I should plan for variation to occur. Each time you wake up, it’s a new start. A new chance to be better. Sometimes though, a new day brings new pains. And that’s okay. Because if you’re angry or depressed or overwhelmed today, remember that you can start fresh tomorrow. There’s always that hope. And it also allows for grace. Sometimes you have to let yourself have terrible days. That’s okay.
   Tyler Joseph once said, “Just remember, you can start over, every morning.” I try and keep that mindset now.

   3. Enjoy the little things
   This used to be my motto. I would swear by it. But overtime, I sort of lost that mentality. Depression does that to you; it distracts you from seeing the beautiful things in everyday life. There was one week in therapy where I talked about how amazing my week was. I named all these incredible things I got to do; like go to a gala with one of my best friends. She told me that realistically, I won’t get those grand experiences every week. So she had me list all these things I love that were a part of my everyday routine, and to think about how happy they made me. Some of the things on my list were talking to friends, writing, putting on my pajamas, and listening to music. She told me to focus on those little things throughout every day life; and take note of when things make you happy. Appreciate them.

   4. You’re allowed to be angry
   This one was hard. Because I thought I was done being angry. But something she said to me stuck in my head for weeks. She told me, “you’ve taken all your anger, and you put it in this little box inside of yourself. And you keep it locked away because it’s easier for other people for you to just swallow your anger.” She told me to get angry. For weeks I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t. I could remember times where I was really angry, but I didn’t feel that way anymore. I thought I had let it go. But one day it came out. I found myself on my bathroom floor, sobbing, and hugging my knees. All I could think of was “God, I’m so angry.” I let that happen for over an hour. I just let all the pain hit me. I let myself lament and scream about how angry I was. And then once I stopped crying, I felt relieved. After properly feeling those emotions I had kept locked up, then I was able to let them go. Then I was truly able to forgive.

   I think oftentimes people think anger is a negative emotion. It’s scary. But we’re allowed to be angry and upset. Pushing those feelings away will only result in them leaking out in other, more subtle ways.

    5. They didn’t change you. You changed you.
   I always seem to attribute my own successes to other people. I think that I got my strength from my mother, my boldness from my sister, my intellect from my brother, my kindness from my best friend; the list goes on and on. I think meeting these people impacted me and shaped me. Don’t get me wrong; they did. But it leaves me in a weird place of thinking that without them, I’m worth nothing. That I wouldn’t have figured it out without them. But when my therapist said “They didn’t change you. You changed you.” I started to cry. I knew she was right. I was the one who made the decision to become the person that I am. Those people in my life greatly influenced me, but at the end of the day, I made me.

   You made yourself.

   You were the one who decided to get better. You were the one who put yourself back together. You were the one who changed. It was all you. That’s comforting to know because it also means that you have a say on what happens next. You can still choose who you want to be.

   And those are the five things I learned in therapy. As cheesy as this post was, I wanted to really be open about my issues and share how being in therapy is helping me in a very practical sense. I wanted you guys to know that it’s okay to get counseling. People say that its okay to not be okay and I want you to know I really mean it when I say that.

   For a long time I was in a bad place. My writing has been pretty reflective of that. A lot of days are still hard. I still freak out over finances and I have no idea how I’m going to pay for school next semester and I worry I don’t have it in me to finish grad school. I worry about my siblings and my family and I worry about my friends and the world. I worry because I know any day my health could give out. Any day my mental health could give out. I worry about theology still. I get lonely being at a school where no one knows me, and being far from my friends who miss me. Those are all real fears and feelings, but slowly I’m learning how to not live in extremes. I’m learning how to be sad without thinking my sadness will kill me.

   Seriously, if you’re going through a hard time, reach out. I know it’s so much easier to isolate yourself, but I promise, you’re feel better this way.

   I remember a while ago I questioned whether or not it gets better. And I’m not sure still, but I’m starting to think it just might.

I Don’t Look Like A Christian Anymore

   A week or so ago I woke up in my dorm room. I sat up and saw my beautiful view of the city from my window. And a thought came into my head.

   “What if I’m not a Christian anymore?”

   I have no idea where it came from. But it stuck with me the rest of the day. I couldn’t get the sentence out of my head. I began to wonder what that would even mean, what I would do with myself, and more importantly, if it was true.

   I grew up being a Christian. It was the only identity that I was always sure of. Because no matter what aspects of my personality changed, my faith always stayed the same. I was the goodie-two-shoes. The sheltered homeschooler. In church, I was the girl who sang too loud for worship and danced too much. I took notes during sermons. I evangelized to strangers at subway stations, taking every opportunity to invite people to church. I made everything in my life about God. I read my bible every night. Prayed without ceasing. Memorized scripture at youth group. People looked up to me. I craved church and fellowship. I was one of those people who was so on fire for God and it inspired others. I cried listening to worship music and smiled when I mentioned my Savior. I had spiritual zeal.

   Sure, I had doubts. But I knew I believed in God. I had experienced too much to deny that. There were too many coincidences in my life to be just chance.

   That’s not me anymore.

   Actually, I have no idea who that girl is. I don’t recognize her. In a lot of ways, its hard for me to see that person as someone I once was. We are so different from each other now.

   I go to church as more of a skeptic with a religious past. Recently, I changed churches in order to accommodate this change in me. I wasn’t sure how the people I grew up with would take to seeing me like this. At school, I met up with a woman from the school Christian club in order to ask questions about theology. I wanted to see if they could handle a critic. If they could handle me. I don’t feel like an insider among believers. When I say “Christians” I feel like I’m talking to some group of people I have no connection to.

   A lot of people hate me now. My friends were angry at me. Some got over it, and some didn’t. I lost people I love in my doubts. They decided they couldn’t love me during my struggle or pain. I can’t say I blame them either. They looked at my actions and concluded I must be a false prophet or a heretic or a poser.

   I don’t look like a Christian anymore.

   I was at a bar for my 21st birthday last week, drinking more than I should have. I don’t look like a Christian with the amount of times I say “fuck” on a daily basis. I don’t fit the Christian stereotype with my crop tops and short shorts, nor with my tongue ring or nose ring or belly button ring. I don’t lift up my hands during worship songs. I sit down and stare blankly at the words on the screen. I don’t sing at all anymore. I don’t look like a believer when the music I have on shuffle is Kendrick Lamar; every track labeled “explicit.” My bible has not been touched since I moved into college; and actually, even before that, it was unread. To be quite frank, I have not prayed in months. I don’t know how to do that anymore. The whole process makes no sense to me. I am appalled by Christian views on politics. I attend a very secular, liberal school that feels like home to me. I am so glad I never got a purity ring because the whole idea makes me sick to my stomach. I wrestle with theology and doubt. I scream at God right now in this time where we are surrounded by suffering. I scream because prayer seems to do nothing to alleviate pain. I have learned to be self sufficient because I’m not sure I can rely on anyone to fix me. I’m not sure I believe any of the teachings of my past at church because those ideas have not helped me in the real world.

   And so, I stopped looking like a Christian.

   There were people who did not like this change in me. Sometimes I don’t even like this change in me. I look at myself and wonder how I got here. So hurt and confused. So far from who I used to be. So sinful. I have made more mistakes than I could confess in a lifetime. Sometimes I wanted to self destruct because I hated who I was. People think I am unaware of my wrongs; but trust me, I am well aware. Those things keep me up at night. .

   And today, as I stared out the window at a cotton candy sky, another thought came to me.

   “I don’t look like a Christian. But I pray to God that I look like Christ.”

   And I do.

   Jesus of Nazareth, a man I have read about but sometimes feel like I have never know. He was a man who knew what it was to suffer. He came from a family who had nothing and were no one. He was a guy who hung out with whores and thieves. He flipped tables in church. He called religious leaders vipers. He was controversial and wasn’t afraid to rock the boat. He knew the politics of the world He lived in. People hated Him for it. Religious people wanted Him to be this hero; this king who was going to destroy all their enemies and fix things for them. An then He came and was this normal guy. But He was a man who knew how to love. He paid attention to kids and women who were treated as nothing by everyone else. He was a homeless guy who probably smelled like fish from all the fisherman He hung with. He wasn’t educated. He wasn’t a scholar. He was a carpenter.

   Call me crazy, but I think that man was the Son of God. And I don’t even know how that works. I know my voice drips with lunacy when I say that. I know that makes no logical sense. I am still trying to figure it out.

   But in any sense, I want to look like Him. If I shove away all the complex theology and doubts and fears; if I just forget everything else, I know I believe what that man taught. I hope I look like Him.

   I do not look like Christians. I have not uttered a real prayer in months but I scream the lyrics to FEEL. straight to heaven because I feel like God listens to me when I am vulnerable. I am unafraid to rip my previously held beliefs to shreds because I know I could be wrong. I am comfortable with doubt. I long for something more. Christians have created a subculture that I am not associated with. Their weird lingo and unspoken, unbiblical views. Their politics. Their art. I can’t say I stand with that. But I love people. I love people no matter who they are or what they believe and when I offer my hand to help you I am not expecting you to owe me a conversion. I just want to love you the way you deserve to be loved. I advocate for social justice and social change because that’s what Jesus would do. I’m a feminist because women matter so much to me, and I see Jesus’ heart for those women who were abused, those women who were sex workers, those women who were nothing. I write stories because Jesus didn’t get caught up in spiritual dogma or discourse; He talked in ways people understood.

   I know who Jesus was not because of some great spiritual awakening or vision. But I have had encounters with God. On the train when I couldn’t stop ugly crying, and a random woman came up to me and held my hand and told me I would get through it. In my best friend who cries at the suffering of the world as if that pain were her own. In my best friend who does not even believe in the existence of God but who has shown me more about faith than I ever saw in a sanctuary. In my mother, who has shown me that prayer can be screaming with tears down your face about how much you hurt. In my favorite band, whose secular music gives me a glimpse of what heaven must be like. In my little sister whose fierce passion melts me to my core. In Ronda Rousey who taught me how to stand after being knocked out. In the way the lake looks from my window and the sky at sundown. I see God in the way my professors teach. In those people who protest for human rights. In environmentalist. In the people who give money to the homeless. In those who choose to believe the best about humans. Those who volunteer their time and effort for those in need. In all the ways the world has come together to fight back against the tragedies and the pain. These are real examples of God. This is what Jesus meant when He prayed “Your kingdom come.”

   I’m not trying to be that church bashing person who rejects Christianity to needlessly rebel. I am saying that God can be hard to find in a church where all people care about is rules and how many regular attendees they have. I know it can feel like Christians just want something for you, like a profession of faith. I know what it feels like to be an outsider. But I want you to know that my God is not about fake smiles and hypocrisy. My God does not support a political agenda. He does not play favorites among ethnicities or sexual orientation. My God is not for hate or holy wars.

   I know He wants a better life for me than the one I’m living now. I think He has ways that are better than mine. I know I’m not the person He wants me to be yet. But then I think about all those messed up people in the bible and all the horrible things they did. All the mistakes and pain they caused. All the ways they fell short. All the misunderstanding and so many doubts and questions. All the times they didn’t know who God was or what He was doing. Those people in that book weren’t heroes. They were walking disasters. They were liars and cheaters and thieves and prostitutes. But they knew God when they saw Him.

   I look at those people and I fit right in. It makes me think they maybe God has a place for me, even at my worst, in His narrative.

From Your White Friend

   I see your skin.

   I cannot deny that.

   I see the color of your skin. That it is different than mine. I can hear the way you speak, that it is not the same as me. I see the way you get side eyed while I remain unseen. I know that some of you are not from here; America is not your home. I hear about your holidays that are not held up with the same weight as mine are. I understand that here we do not honor you the way I am honored. I see that we are different. This is an indisputable fact. We were not raised the same way. The conditions we are living in are not the same.

   We are different.

   I see the way you talk and how your cheeks go red when you cannot think of the English equivalent to the word in your head. How your language gets rejected and is reduced to nothing more than a nuisance when it is included on some menus at fast food joints. When white people complain that they’re catering to people who just need to learn the damn language. Like in order to earn the right to be here you need to change who you are and the very words you speak, just in order to fit in. Like now your Facebook posts are written in a language that isn’t your native tongue. How you’re expected to reject your past life. Like that means nothing now that you’re here. As if this country was not built on immigrants. As if we were not a melting pot of cultures. But still you wonder if you should change your name in order to accommodate some of the people here because you are sick of them mispronouncing it. As if you have an obligation to them. As if you were a burden.

   I see your culture. I see that you listen to more American pop now because that’s what you have to do. How you dance like we do. How your clothes adapt to the latest trends of those you see around you. I see the way you are trying to fit in. I see the bleaching creams. The hair dye. The makeup styles that you never used to try back home. I see that sometimes you can be self conscious of the way you are because there is this idolization of beauty we have here and light skin is the epitome and you’re not there. You’re out of place in a world that is set up for one set of individuals.

   I see the pride in you. There might not be shame, but I see the way you are treated these days. How people like me look down on people like you who have no problem with showing their hometown pride. Who wave their country’s flags on the streets of mine. But I see the hate and the glares as you live your life. I see the way you are expected celebrate with us on the Fourth Of July. Despite this ever present gleam in your eye, I can tell there are others who want it to die.

   I see the lack of diversity in the media here. I notice the despair when another movie comes out focusing on someone like me and having someone like you be nothing more than a footnote in the story. How you are a stereotype instead of an individual. That those who dare to write characters that represent you do a poor job, because its people like me, light skinned people, who write these characters. They don’t know what it’s really like to be in your shoes so its not true. You get generalizations about what your life is like and I see how that angers you. And it should. That no one knows what you’re been through.

   I see the stereotypes. I see how you break them. How making statements about your people group do not mean a thing. I see that when you step out, when you are in the spotlight, when you make a mistake, you do more than stand for yourself; you stand in for your entire group. If you make a mistake, its not because you are human it is because your people are flawed. I see how characteristics are made based on your actions on one occasion. I see that people make assumptions about you based on the color of your skin. You are assumed to hold the views of everyone like you. As if you cannot disagree with someone who looks like you.

   I see your identity. That when people describe you, they don’t use adjectives centered around intelligence or beauty; it is about color. You are not the smart friend or the friend who likes rock music or the friend with the degree; you are the colored friend. The friend who is not white. You are the minority and somehow that defines you as a person. Apparently color comes before your being a human being. As if that were more important. I see the division that is made because of this fact. That you become the one colored friend in a group of all white and people start to appropriate your culture and steal it from you as if it were a trend.

   I see your protests and your rallies and your causes. I see your personal issues that get turned into politics. I see how when you talk about these thing you are told to stop being so political but it’s beyond political when people are dying and getting beaten and profiled for crimes they did not commit. When people are thrown into categories unfairly. When people like you are treated as less than by people like me. It becomes more than politics but you can’t speak because you are here in this country by grace. Like you owe it to people like me to stop asking for more. Because at least you aren’t slaves anymore so you should be content. But I see the fear in your eyes because you are not sure what might happen to you now that your skin color has become a political issue instead of a gene issue.

   I see the racism. Can we call it what it is? Racism. You being less than me because of something as arbitrary as skin color or culture. I see that you are being killed. That you are tired of being killed. I see the pain in your eyes and the aching in your chest. I see that your hashtags are more than trends but battle cries to stop the violence. I see that people misunderstand you. They silence you. They tell you to get over it. They tell you it’s fine that everyone in our history was white so everyone in our movies should be. They tell you it’s fine that our history was one sided. How we worship and idolize racists and sexists and slave owners. That it doesn’t matter. I see your fear. Fear of those in power. Fear of authority. Fear because we have created a system where you mean nothing. Abuse is ignored because it is expected. Because you are not like us.

   I see my privilege. You don’t think I can but I do. I see how the best assumptions are made of me and the worst of you. I see how people try so hard to be something I am naturally. I see the way everyone in my country looks like me and acts like me and I don’t have to try to be pretty because models are light skinned with blonde hair like me. How guys would rather date dumb white girls than smart colored girls. I see the way police don’t think anything of me but they do of you and how unfair that is. I hate that when I want to help I look like I have a savior complex. But I don’t want to be the white savior. I don’t look down on you because of your skin color. That was never what this was about. It was about this system we have made. It is about how my heart breaks when I see you and your pain and I feel empathetic and powerless.

   I see, but sometimes I do not understand. But you have to understand that I am trying. So tell me when I’m wrong. Explain to me the things I don’t get. Inform me. Talk to me. Let’s stop this us vs. them. Lets’s engage.

   Because I see that though we are different, we are the same. We are human beings. We are created by God and loved by the Most High. We are not skin color. We are more than bone. We are souls that extend far beyond our human bodies. We are all beings with ambition and hopes and dreams. We have different backgrounds but we all know what it is like to be afraid and to love. We share things in common and why can’t we focus on that instead of hyperfocusing on these things that will tear us away from each other? It sounds so simple but I know its not. Let’s talk. Let’s stop ignorance and stop making assumptions. I’m sorry if I make assumptions. I know there are a million and one things I do not know but help me to understand.

   I see your pain. And I am on your team. I am your ally. I am fighting for you and rooting for you. I hope you see you succeed. I am here to do what Christ did for me. (My Savior, who was not the same skin tone as me might I add.) I am here to serve. Because this life isn’t about me or what I want. That is why I will fight racial injustice and stand up against those doing wrong.

   I see you. I stand by you if you will stand by me.

I Don’t Believe In The End Of The World Anymore

   Christians, I am writing this to you.

   See, my whole life Christians have been pointing to a sign that the world is going to end. Most of them come from having seen or read Left Behind too many times. Every couple months there’s a new one. We’re obsessed with pointing them out too. Each tragedy, each new advance in technology, each political move; end times. I used to believe them. But I don’t anymore. I can’t anymore. Because these beliefs made me hit my rock bottom. I found that rock bottom was the clean, carpeted floor of my church’s sanctuary, where I was supposed to accept the God who drove me to depression.

   Because “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18.)

   Let me explain.

   I became a Christian because I was afraid. This was a good story to tell until I really thought about it. I was 8 years old, having a panic attack over the end of the world and demons and I prayed with my mom to take away my fear.. It sounds cute. Like a little girl running to God to help her. That’s how I always told it. The reality was, a little girl was so afraid of God’s wrath, that she begged Him to love and forgive her and protect her. She didn’t love Him. She just didn’t want the alternative. That isn’t love. It’s manipulation.

   That’s how it started, and that was the narrative of my relationship with Christ. I was never driven by love; always fear. I have found that many people are. I didn’t want to be punished, on earth or in eternal damnation (where all my friends were going if I didn’t tell them about Jesus.), I didn’t want to be left on earth during “the tribulation,” and I didn’t want God to stop loving me. So I lived my life as a believer would. But it wasn’t love.

   I continued having anxiety about the end of the world. But it took me a long time to realize why. Growing up, I talked about it a lot. At my church, in bible studies, and with my family. But the theology was all wrong.

   In the theology I believed, God was angry. God had to punish sin. I was supposed to be (anxiously.) waiting for the day Jesus came back and wiped out the rest of mankind who didn’t believe. I believed that God’s love is conditional, because its all about whether or not I believe in Him. (If I reject Him, He cannot love me back.) And this message of hope turned into a message of fear. Yet somehow people expected me to be okay with all of this. But I wasn’t. I’m not. I’m not okay with God destroying creation and using His characteristic of “justice” as a good enough reason. I’m not okay with people going to hell. I’m not okay with God being okay with that. I’m not okay with God being angry and vindictive and calling it love.

    To be honest, I didn’t know if I was okay with God.

   I didn’t know how much I had to believe in order to “make it” to heaven. My faith is small. Is it enough? Do I believe in Jesus enough to be saved from hell? The bible says you’ll know you’re saved by actions, but most days, I don’t behave like a Christian. I swear; does that cut me out of the group? My theology isn’t perfect, am I still saved? I lust, does God still want me? Because the truth is, I don’t know.

   And if I believe that faith will get me out of hell, then…I don’t know if I’ll have enough.

   That’s a terrifying thought.

   If you don’t know what’s going to happen in the afterlife, hearing the world is ending is the worst possible thing.

   As I studied the bible and went to church and did discussions on these things, I broke. I was so afraid. But I told myself that real Christians wouldn’t be afraid. So I forced myself to read more and learn more. I told myself that if I only had enough faith, I wouldn’t be afraid. But I was.

   It was because of this anxiety that I stopped keeping up with school. I didn’t get to plan my wedding on Pinterest in high school. I didn’t think about turning 21. A lot of days I didn’t even care about what boys did or didn’t like me. I never worried about getting invited to prom. I didn’t think about college or what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t worry about having the newest IPhone or friends.

   I actually spent all of high school thinking about the different ways I could kill myself. I didn’t plan my birthday parties because I could only plan my funeral.

   Why? Because if I added up the theology and the facts about the world around me, I would rather kill myself. That was the only logical conclusion. Church gave me panic attacks. Thinking about church gave me panic attacks. The word “revelation” in any context triggered me. I stopped reading my bible because it did more harm than good. Anything at all made me suicidal.

   At one point I realized I had to give up God in order to salvage my mental health.

   After that I realized just how, excuse my language, just how absolutely fucked up that is. If that was God, I didn’t want anything to do with it. I should not have to pick between my faith and my sanity. And that is why I had to give God up.

   These beliefs about God were making me unable to get out of bed. They were making me wish I was dead. They were making me afraid. Giving me panic attacks. These ideas about God were hurting me.

   Well, that god  anyway.

   By the grace of Jesus, I got help. I talked to someone older than me, and I re-learned who God was. I got rid of what I used to believe in order to see my Savior as who He really is. God is not angry. God is so much more loving than we realize. God knows our fears and our needs. He knows what we are capable of. There is no fear in love. That fear based theology that I was learning was not of my God. My God is heartbroken over what happened to me. I realize that now. The book of Revelation is not a book of fear but of redemption. It it the story of poetic literature, not specific events. It is history and poetry and possible futures. I do not believe the future is set in stone for the same reason I do not believe God is damning the entire world. Because I serve a bigger God than that. Yes, God is justice, but His justice never negates His love. I do not believe in a God who supports using fear to get a desired outcome, even if that outcome is salvation. Perfect love casts out fear. 

   Christians, we cannot teach this anymore. We cannot scare people into evangelism or into salvation. I can’t believe I have to even say that. What kind of God do we serve? Surely not a God of fear.

   God is love. And perfect love casts out fear. His story is of redemption and breathing new life into the world. Breathing new life. Revelation is not about death. It is about life. It is about renewal. It is a call to to love and to see the world from a heavenly perspective. It is about courage and love. Revelation is a book that was written to a certain group of people to encourage them to stand strong in their trials. It’s written the way it is because apocalyptic literature was really popular at the time. The entire book is God literally destroying fear.  He promises to remove fear and it’s hold over us.

   I do not think the afterlife is the way we assume it will be. I don’t think the end of the world is the end of the world at all. I think it’s less like the end and more like the beginning. I think God will come and breathe life into our decay and we will be redeemed. God is not coming to destroy or tear down. He is coming to bring life.

   God did not intend for the bible to be used as way to coerce people into loving Him. God didn’t intend for His words to reek such havoc in my life. He didn’t want people to twist His words and force a theology onto us that would make me want to die.

   Once I realized this, it changed my life. It made me angry that I wasted so many years of my life being afraid. It made me angry that I still get afraid sometimes. But it made me want to do something about it.

   I know I’m not the only one who has suffered like this. I wasn’t the first, but I’m hoping to be one of the last. I still don’t know a lot of thing. I don’t know how much I need to know about God in order to be okay, but I don’t know if it matters. Because God is bigger than the box I put Him in. God is more loving than I can feel He is. He is more powerful than I can imagine He is. If He wasn’t, than He wouldn’t be a God.

   Christians. something needs to change. I say let’s give the bible a new reading and instead of using a lens of fear, lets use one of love.

   “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him shall not parish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16

   “I don’t pay attention to the world ending, because for me it has ended many times, and began again in the morning.” -Nayyirah Waheed

5 Books That Shaped My Faith

   It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? I know. I’m sorry. I’m still figuring stuff out. My life is a bit of a mess at the moment. So much is going on and I’ve been trying to stay on top of it all as well as take care of myself. I don’t have the words to explain it yet, but when I figure it out, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, however, I wanted to share some books with you guys that have shaped my faith and, in many ways, changed my life. I’ve been having a hard time with my personal beliefs lately because they’ve been changing so much, but sometimes you just need to take a step back to remember where you started.

   My faith in Jesus Christ has changed over the last couple years, which is an amazing thing. But change is always hard. I’ve had enormous doubts and had to wrestle through some issues. So if you have doubts, if you’re not on the whole “Jesus” bandwagon and have no idea what its about, if you’re seeking to grow in your faith, or if you’re just philosophically curious, I recommend these books.

   5. No More Faking Fine – Esther Fleece
   This one I actually read because one of my blog followers recommended it after reading one of my posts. It was beautifully honest and I couldn’t have agreed more. The book explores the meaning of the word “lament.” (a word that, even before reading this, held tremendous meaning for me.) She discusses the issue Christians tend to have of pretending things are fine and challenges the belief that you’re suffering negates God’s goodness or belittles your faith. It was refreshing to read a book that told me it was okay to be in pain, because I spent years of my life learning that lesson the hard way. I wish someone had told me earlier that I was allowed to hurt and I didn’t have to pretend to be fine. I learned that I don’t always have to sing the happy-go-lucky worship songs because sometimes it hurts too much. And that’s okay.

   4. Troubled Minds – Amy Simpson
   This book blew my mind. It talks about how the church needs to respond to issues of mental health versus how it’s actually treated by people in the congregation. It gave a lot of really solid, practical ways we as a body can be involved in helping individuals who are struggling with mental illnesses. For once, someone wrote that faith wasn’t going to cure depression. Simpson uses her own personal life as an example frequently, since her mother has schizophrenia. It was eye opening and inspiring. This is a must read, but especially for anyone who works in the church.

   3. The Inescapable Love Of God – Thomas Talbott
   Now, this is where my books get more theological and less practical. I just finished this book last night and it took my breath away. There were several points I physically screamed because I was so blown away. In this book, Talbott makes the strong case for universal reconciliation. (Essentially, eternal damnation isn’t real.) This was a topic I never thought much about, but a friend lent me the book and I read it on a whim. By the 30th page I was in tears because I had never heard someone speak so accurately about the problems in the theology our Western culture holds to. Talbott exposed the abuse in the church and showed how God’s love is greater than it all. It’s a bit of a hard read. I had to read it in complete silence, and do so reallllll slow. But its worth every page. Even if you don’t agree, there is a ton of truth in what he says, and its worth looking into. I haven’t found any other theological argument that would account for the plot holes I see in scripture like this one does.

   2. Silence – Shusaku Endo
   This book is actually a work of fiction written by a Japanese Roman Catholic that was published in 1966. It chronicles the lives of 2 Jesuit priests who go on a dangerous journey to Japan when they receive word that their mentor has apostatized. Let me tell you, I have never cried so hard reading any work of literature more than when I read Silence. It’s a slow read, but intriguing and beyond worth it at the end. The implications made in this book cemented a brand new understanding of God that I had been seeing for a while prior. Endo asks questions about sin, doubt, and the vastness of God’s love. He does an incredible job of answering the biggest question of why God is silent in the midst of suffering. Read this book. Or, if you’re not into that kind of thing, it was just adapted into a movie directed by Martin Scorses and starring Adam Driver, Andrew Garfield, and Liam Neeson.

   1. The Theology Of The Book Of Revelation – Richard Bauckham 
   Surprised to see this one as number one? Me too. As many of you know, I struggled with severe anxiety all my life. 99% of it was because of false teachings about the end times. (Another story for another time.) Last summer my brother handed me this book and told me if I read it, I would never be afraid again. Of course, I was skeptical. I didn’t think one book could undo 19 years worth of psychological damage. And you know what? By God’s grace, it freaking did. Bauckham takes apart the most feared book in the biblical canon and reveals the truth. He shows Revelation as a book of redemption and love and ultimate victory. He doesn’t neglect its place historically either, which gave me a new perspective on the book; I am now able to see it as a beautiful piece of Jewish apocalyptic literature. He doesn’t use fear tactics to explain parts of it away either. Again, its a bit of a tough read because its more theological and scholarly, but worth it. No book has changed my life more significantly than this one has. It opened my eyes to the actual intention of that book and gave me courage and actual hope. Not a hope based on fear. Real hope. It was the best gift anyone had ever given me.

   So there you have it.

   My list of best books to inspire faith and philosophical and theological thinking. Let me know if you read any of them and what you thought. (Especially if you read one of the last two. Hit me up real fast.)

   What about you? What books have significantly changed your life? Books that taught you to be more open minded? Books about religion, theology, philosophy, or any of those things. Fiction or not. Let me know. I’m always down for recommendations.

I’m A Feminist (And Here’s Why)

   A year or so ago I started calling myself a feminist ironically.

   It was a joke, I swear.

   My sister started it because there were so many times I would go on long rants out of the blue about, well, about feminist issues. I would say “I’m not a feminist, but…” and then proceed to say some very feminist statements. I sounded like a long SJW tumblr rant. So it became our running joke that I was a super liberal, angry feminist. (And coming from a conservative, Christian, pretty right wing household, this was quite the joke.) We’d laugh about it and make fun of me for it, but then I started to think about it. If I agreed with what feminists stood for, why wasn’t I seriously calling myself one?

   So I did my research. I studied up. I read stuff. Listened to opinions. I learned what the cause was really all about. And I discovered that I was a hardcore feminist. I had shied away from the label for the same reason that most people do: the stigma around it, the lack of understanding, and the fear of being associated with certain people or viewpoints that we don’t hold to. But I realized that was a completely illegitimate reason. After all, I call myself a Christian. (Most people who follow the biblical teachings of Jesus do as well.) Yet I don’t agree with everything in popular Christian culture, and I sure as heck don’t like being stereotyped as hypocritical or two-faced or a know it all. But I still hold to that label. My point is, there are always going to be things you don’t agree with in any group you’re a part of, but that doesn’t mean you ditch the group.

   So yeah. I’m a feminist.

   For me, feminism is the idea that woman are people. It sounds simple enough, but you have to acknowledge that there are ways that women are treated as “less than,” and a lot of people don’t see it or don’t want to admit it. Feminism is the idea that we are not things or objects; we are not here to give sexual pleasure to men and we are not here to be the sidekick. Feminism means that women get to be individuals despite their profession, sexual orientation, or marital status. We are not valuable just because of what we can give society or because of the partner we are with. We are valuable because we were made in the image of God just like men.

   Feminism is not the idea that women are better than men. It is not the idea that a woman cannot be gentle or quiet. We do not argue that all females must be in the workforce; we do not put down motherhood. We fight for the idea that women are individuals with preferences and differences and that means some women will be mothers but some will not. Some women love “girly” things and some women like traditionally masculine things. We have differing skills and abilities and personality traits so I argue that womanhood cannot be condensed into a narrow understanding because not all women fit the bill and that’s okay.

   Again, many people agree with the sentiment but refuse to label themselves “a feminist.”

   There are issues that are “feminist issues” that I am not sure how to approach. As a feminist, I do not believe in the idea of “women’s rights” meaning the women have the right to abort their babies simply because they grow in their bodies. Because I stand for the rights of unborn children to be able to live. But I also know if you take away the right to have abortions, you only take away the right to have safe abortions. This has been shown historically, before medical procedures, women would toss themselves off flights of stairs to abort a pregnancy. But I am not so naive to think that women love murdering children. I believe that life is messy and sometimes we are placed into situations that have no good outcomes; such as that with the situation of saving either the mother or the child, or issues of children of rape.

   As a feminist, I believe that women have the right to wear whatever they want. As a feminist, I feel that sexuality is precious and the human body is beautiful and should not be sexualized. I certainly don’t think that women are responsible for the actions of men in that because of the way they choose to dress they are “asking for it.” I don’t think sex work is a good idea because it devalues the incredible thing that sex is, but I also don’t think that women who choose that profession should be looked down upon as “less than.”

   Feminism is not clear cut because life itself is not clear cut. It’s messy. That’s something I learn more everyday. Life is messy. There are contradictions and times when you get stuck because no way out is satisfying. That’s just the world we live in. So I think if we can accept that, the idea that feminism has flaws just like everything else, we can move forward. Feminism is imperfect because we are imperfect. (Bad Feminst, Roxanne Gay.) But still I hold on to these ideas with every last bit of energy I have. I need feminism because I believe that there is a real problem and I need to believe that things will get better.

   So why do I believe all this? Why am I a feminist?

   A part of it started to grow in middle school when my friends and I all discovered that we liked attention from boys. It started when my best friends and I fought for the attention of boys. It started when I was angry at other girls for getting more attention, for being prettier, for being more likable. It started because as girls, we feel that other girls are our competition and that is simply not true. I thought that if a girl was pretty, I was not. I began to think that something was wrong with me because my friends had boys that liked them and I did not. I started to think that my worth was solely based on the affection I got from males. I looked to them for validation and approval because that was what seemed to matter. The girls who got boys were pretty and fun and popular. And I was not. I started to be angry at girls who were my friends because I thought it was a contest and I thought I was losing. Women face enough oppression as it is, but sometimes our number one enemy is ourselves.

   The idea grew in high school when I experienced my first rejection, my first hurt, my first guy friend who never wanted to talk to me again. I saw how that tore me apart because I didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t his friend. I didn’t know how I would live if we weren’t together. He didn’t like me because I was shy and I thought it was my fault for not being more brave. I would beat myself up for not matching up to his standard. I cried myself to sleep every night. I was a complete mess because I put our relationship before everything else and when that fell through, there was nothing of me left. I thought, as a woman, it was my job to be committed and to love without limits and I thought I was supposed to make sacrifices for us. And that guy left with everything. I had nothing. I saw that my friends did the same thing. They gave their all to guys who gave nothing. I saw that guys lead on, used, abused, and fled. My friends and I would cry and wonder why we weren’t good enough. Maybe it was our looks. Our personalities. Our taste in music. Maybe if we could be more submissive, more loving, more outgoing then maybe he wouldn’t have left. I saw that we, women, put all the blame on ourselves when relationships fell through, simply because we thought we were not enough. We thought that in order to be good girlfriends, we had to change and get rid of the parts of ourselves that he didn’t like.

   When I was entering college I realized I was a feminist. See, I have a larger than average chest size. It’s something that isn’t my fault. It’s genetics, body predisposition, and simply part of the way I am. No amount of healthy eating or exercise will cut it. Now to people who just know me in passing and random strangers on the street, I am just a woman with big tits. I am not smart, I am not creative, I am not funny; I am immediately thought of as an object to lust over. I am catcalled. I am the recipient of crude comments even when I am fully and appropriately dressed. I don’t dress provocatively, but still I am reduced to nothing more than my cup size. I can’t walk down the street without thinking that men are undressing me in their minds. I can do nothing to stop it. And it’s not just me. My sister and my friends are catcalled and objectified on the daily. Women everywhere experience this. Because we have enforced this idea then women are to be sexy and women are here to be beautiful and women are here as eye candy. Nothing more.

   That’s the worst part of it all.

   That women are reduced to nothing but things to have sex with. We are nude models. We are loved for the sensation we give others. We are valued because of the size of our jeans and size of our chest. If we cannot be beautiful, we cannot be anything. If we are not beautiful, we are irrelevant. That’s why in high school one of my friends was starving herself. Because she was told she wasn’t pretty enough, and women are not worth anything if they are not pretty. So I watched in horror as she shrunk down her size by starving and binging and purging. Because if she wasn’t pretty, men wouldn’t love her. If she wasn’t pretty, she wouldn’t matter.

   What made me a feminist was the day someone I love very much told me she was gang raped. Several men undressed her and stole her virginity. She wasn’t even in high school yet. I don’t care if that’s graphic, because it was the truth. It happened and I could not ignore that, and people should not ignore that. Because I know more people that have been raped then people who like my favorite TV show. Because according to RAINN, someone is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. Because my friend wouldn’t let me put a hand on her shoulder because it gave her flashbacks. Because its 2017 and people still make jokes about rape. Because hardly anyone in my life considers themselves a feminist because they are too scared to admit that this thing happens every day. Because they won’t stand up for this real abuse because God forbid someone think they hate men.

   I’m a feminist for all those girls who hate themselves. All the girls who are catcalled and sexualized. I stand up for those who have been molested and raped. I am here for women who were told to be quiet. I’m a feminist for myself because I need to understand that I am a person who is valuable on her own. I am a feminist for all the female fans at Wrigley who were told that baseball was a boys sport. I’m a feminist for my little sisters who I hope will grow to be strong, and loving women. I’m here to tell girls to lift heavy, speak out, be different. I’m here because people say “Men don’t like it when girls…” I’m a feminist for all those women with shaved heads and all the girls who don’t fit the standard. I’ll fight until girls stop calling each other “bitches” and learn to be supportive. I’m a feminist for women of color and disabled women, who have it even harder than I do. I’m a feminist because Jesus’ best friends were prostitutes. I’m a feminist because women matter too.

   And because feminism is for everyone, I am also here to support men who cry, because it is not a sign of weakness. I’m here to fight for men who are overly sexualized and feel that in order to be a man they need to have muscles. I’m here for men who wear pink. I am a feminist for stay at home dad’s and males with careers that are labeled “women’s work.” I’m here for the men who are raped because their voices matter too. I fight for the guys with eating disorders. I’m a feminist because I don’t think men should feel the need to be aggressive; I fight for their right to show emotions.

   I am a feminist because John 15:12 says to “love each other as I have loved you.”

   Feminism means loving all people regardless of gender.

   I don’t know how you can’t be a feminist.

Lament 3 (How Great Is Our God?)

I’ve been writing poetry lately. Well, it’s more like spoken word, and I wanted to show it to guys. I think I want to do stuff like this more. This is the third “lament” I’ve written, but the first one I’m officially sharing. This has been on my heart a lot, so I hope it resonates with you. If you don’t want to watch the video, the script is on the bottom. 
Let me know what you think.
(Please excuse the bad quality and the stuttering.)

How great is our God?

We say that a lot
we believe He is good 
when He gives us what we want
But how much of that do we believe
when our life gets tough?
our ideas fall to pieces, strangely enough

how great is our God?

In my heartache and hurt I wondered if it was true
why God would send me down the path that lead me to you
the hurt you inflicted caused a serious wound
now my trust is diminished and has become ruined
how great is our God
can I say that with sincerity 
when all He is done is left me without any clarity
He gives and He takes
but lately its been more of the latter
Is He really listening to my prayers?
or is He too busy with other chatter?

how great is our God?

in the Old Testament and the ancient Scriptures 
I see a God who killed and waged wars
and awarded  adulterers 
I see justice by bloodshed and holy wars
I see refugees begging are answered with closed doors
the saints of today are more like the sinners
its hard to tell them apart when they both act so bitter
the world is a mess and looks more like cat litter
in the midst of all that
is our God any better?

how great is our God?

when the world has turned to chaos and violence
and believers cry out and are answered with silence
when good people die and bad people prosper 
and life is unfair 
and things only seem to get harder
how great is our God?

this question keeps me up at night and stops me from sleeping
how great is our God in the midst of my weeping?
is He good, is He loving, is He really omnipotent?
what I compare Him to is His worldly equivalent
my father he left me after years of abuse
so in my mind I see God with this big cup of booze
He’s sipping His Jack with His hand in the air
He says “Faith, now really? Did you have to go there?”

so how great is our God?

the problem I see is my own narrow view
I think if hurt touches me it mustn’t be true
that God could really love me while I’m feeling so blue 
when He doesn’t take away my problems or lead me through
I think God’s greatness is the same as my success 
when He never promised me I would always be blessed

how great is our God?

when we stop feeling like God owes us something
can we stop and see Him as all awe inspiring?
can we give credit where credit is due
when we look at Jesus Christ, the son of a Jew?
His death is important, but I want to show His life
how He lived among us and dealt with our strife
He never expected for us to love Him
He came as a servant what we did was shove Him
we pushed Him aside because we wanted something better
but God, Jesus Christ, is the best good that there ever was

in my pain I created a version of God so small
that He could not save me from my vicious brawls
He was indifferent to my suffering, He neglected my hurt
He didn’t care about the pain on the Earth
the things that I learned and took as a fact 
were that God could end the world with the drop of a hat
years of reinforcement and false learning 
showed me that God’s viscous wrath should be something I’m yearning
I should wait for the day He takes out His rage 
on a world of hurting people who barely make a wage

I believed in a version of the bible that made me suicidal 
because I thought my God was just standing by idle
or on my worse nights, I thought He was angry
I thought today was the day that He would come take me
but that is not my God, the one I created
He was nothing more than a figment of imagination
if I discard all the things I was told
and all of the ideas pain told me to hold
if I look at the Scriptures, pure and untouched,
I see a God who loves me so very much

how great is our God?

I wish someone had told me when I was 16 
that God’s word was not written as all that depressing
He never meant for us to live in pain and misery 
He wanted us to find comfort in the shelter of His wing 
Our God is so great He’s not just up in heaven
He walked here on earth and had human essence
He experienced suffering, not to tell us it gets better
but to show us its possible to live under pressure
His ways are not our ways, and it sounds like a cop out
a fake reason to ask people to throw all their doubts out 
but I believe in a God who was best friends with sorrow
He came to hurt with me to get me through to tomorrow 
so even if He never takes away my hurt
He says He’ll be with me when I’m stuck in the dirt

so I ask again, how great is our God?
I answer it with “He’s the greatest of all.”
He is not up in heaven, counting days til His judgement 
He’s with us on Earth, tending to the wounded
He is loving us, every breath that we take
even though all we do is push Him away 
I cant understand or dare comprehend 
how God continues to love us time and again
I wish I remembered the vastness of His plan
even when it involves my life slipping away like sand
Our God is so great that He allows pain
because at the end of our line is when we can finally say 

how great

how great

is our God

Dear Faith O’Leary

   Today is going to be a great day. And here’s why.

   You’re in this amazing production of Coraline, and you’ve met some of the most fantastic people while doing it. You’re remembering that you’re in love with theatre. Opening day was yesterday and you killed it. You’re really don’t care what people think of you. You’re brave and crazy enough to go on a stage with a fake mustache and sing in a terrible fake Russian accent. You’re having the time of your life.

   You were the happiest you’ve been in months last night, and I don’t want you to forget it.

   Listen Faith, you’ve come too far to only make it this far. There’s so much more for you to do. Yeah life still sucks sometimes but there are so many things to be happy about. I don’t want you to sit around feeling sorry for yourself anymore. There are so many bigger, more important things going on. There are people out there with real hurt and real problems. They need someone to help them. They need to see that it gets better. I need you to believe that for them, even if you don’t believe it for yourself. Because you can’t go around and tell people to push past their hurt and learn to be happy if you can’t even do it yourself. You have to be more than just talk. It’s so much easier to tell people to choose joy but it’s something entirely different to live that out. I think you should though.

   I think you have it in you to choose to be joyful despite everything. Your circumstances are going to change. They’re going to get worse and then they’ll be okay and then they’ll get worse all over again. Maybe at some point they’ll be great. But my point is, if you let your situation dictate how you view life, you are going to be unsteady as long as you live. You’ve been that way for so long. Your emotions have been on a roller coaster because how you feel is purely based on what happened in your day. It’s killing you. It’s exhausting to be so happy one day and so sad the next. You can’t live like that.

   There are a million and one reasons why today is going to be a great day.

   You have a day off of rehearsals and shows. The sun is out. You laughed so hard last night that your stomach hurt. One of your classes was cancelled so now you have some quiet time to relax and clear your head. You saw the best production of Sweeney Todd last night. You have been so blessed to get to know some amazing people at school. Think of all the people you said hi to today. You’re graduating in the summer. You’re going back to work at Wrigley Field. You’re doing some paintings for your church. You’re actually doing okay today.

   And listen, even if all that gets taken away, you’re still going to be okay.

   Do you need me to say it again?

   Even if everything gets taken away, you’re still going to be okay.

   Because life isn’t about your circumstances or how you feel. There will always be reasons to be happy and joyful. I want you to appreciate all the wonderful things in your life that you were too blind to see. Open up your eyes. The world is so big and so beautiful. I’m writing this so that you’ll learn to hold on even when you don’t feel like it. Hold on to joy even when you’re sad or stressed or anxious. Even at 2am when your brain won’t shut off and you feel so overwhelmed. Choose joy. See beyond the moment. Don’t let it trap you.

   Look how far you’ve made it. There were so many times you wanted to give up. There were a million different situations you never thought would get better. And yeah, some of those terrible things still impact your life, but they’ve never stopped you from living. Pain has never stopped you before. It’s just a little hurt. It’s not going to kill you. It’s going to make you thrive.

   I know you’re not where you want to be, but don’t let that scare you. Let it inspire you. let it challenge you. Let it change you.

    You know that you are who you act like when you’re under pressure. Pain reveals character. So who are you going to choose to be? Are you going to be the victim or the victorious? Because no one is going to choose it for you. The hardest part is though, no one would blame you for being the victim either. People will say its okay to be defeated, and maybe it is. But don’t let rock bottom be the place you take up permanent residence at. You’ve been down long enough. It’s time to get up. I know you; I know who you want to be. So go out and be that person.

   You got this.
   (It gets better, remember?)

The Oscars (Part II)

   People love to hate the Oscars. Everyone always has something to say about a nominee or the host. There is always going to be “too much politics” or “not enough people from x group of people.” And of course; the Oscars are the most pointless thing. It’s a bunch of overpaid individuals getting praised for being who they are.

   But I love it. I love it.

   I said this last year when I watched my first Oscars and I’m just here to say it again.

   Art is so important. Whoever thinks otherwise can honestly fight me. Movies are art and they matter because they have power. As much as we like to think it’s stupid to be an actor, they have the power to make change. Sure, it’s kinda shallow that we will listen to actors before we listen to politicians or people of a “real position.” But that’s the position they’re in. Whether or not I agree with every actors political view, I really appreciate how they use their voice to stand up for something they believe in.

   I even love listening to their acceptance speeches that only list a bunch of names because they’re naming real people who have real stories. They all worked hard and got a lucky break at some point in order to be up there, and there are people, their family and friends, that helped them and inspired them to get there. I don’t know who any of those people are who won awards, but I know they were living a dream. I get secondhand joy watching people. I cried because I’m a sympathetic crier. I feel their happiness like it’s my own and I know how much I would be feeling if I was accepting an award for making art.

   Again, I said this last year, but you don’t have a right to be mad when politics are brought up in ceremonies that celebrate art. Art and politics are intertwined. Movies are made as a representation or a response to real issues that are happening today. Movies have the ability to make us think and make us act. Art exists for this reason. Movies are the product of someone’s story, life, and vision. Movies are made because people wanted to say something. They’re not made by robots. They’re thought out and planned by people who have dreams and fears and aspirations. They are made by people who have experienced hurt and joy that have contributed to how the film is created. People see a need, and they rise. They create a movie to inspire people to make a change.

   And don’t you dare tell me that movies can’t create change.

   My sister wouldn’t want to study psychology if Short Term 12 had never been made. Movies have helped me become the person I am today: Mad Max: Fury Road, Silence, The Sandlot, The Breakfast Club, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, Good Will Hunting, We Need To Talk About Kevin, and honestly so many more that I can’t even give credit to. Movies help you feel more empathy. They help you understand. Movies are how I relate to people. I’ve made so many friends just by discussing movies.

   The movie that changed my life would be Hangman’s Curse. A cheesy, terribly done movie about high school and bullying. It has the worst dialogue, corny acting, and a vast array of plot holes. But when I saw it when I was ten years old, I knew I would never be the same. I saw that kids were hurting and there was something bigger than myself. It was the reason why in middle school I always said I wanted to change the world. That movie showed me how to connect to others and really showed me what it was to love.

   A documentary that changed my life was The Woodmans; the story of a young photographer who committed suicide in 1981. If I hadn’t seen that film, I never would have decided to experiment with black and white photography. I never would have realized that art doesn’t have to be pretty. I never would have developed what would eventually become my signature style. I probably would have stuck to pretty portraits and happy themes, which wouldn’t have been able to impact me the way black and white photography has.

   I’m sure it’s not just me. Everyone has that one movie that changed their life, right? Everyone knows how it feels to walk out of a theater and feel like a character in the movie. Sometimes we feel odd for days after because it reached us on such a profound level.

   Movies make people feel like they’re apart of something. It’s a sense of community. I suppose one person could theoretically make a movie on their own, but as a general statement, movies are made with hundreds of people doing hundreds of jobs. Thousands of people experience those films once they’re made. Each person brings in their own baggage and background and mindset and it shapes the film and shapes how the film is seen. And if that doesn’t blown your mind than I don’t know what will.

   Watching the Oscars makes me dream. I’m sure I’ll never win one in my lifetime, but if I can be a part of something in any way, I will have felt I lived. I want to bring in as much passion into the musical I’m doing at my community college as I would if I were making a movie, because it doesn’t matter if I never get anywhere or if not a lot of people will see it; it just matters that some people were impacted. Some people will appreciate it. Not everyone has to see your art, but if you can move one person, you’re that much closer to changing the world. We can’t change the world all at once, but we can do it one person at a time.

   Please keep creating art. Keep appreciating the existence of art. Keep living and dreaming and being inspired. Keep going to the theater. Keep loving.

   Love. Love. Love.

   Love things. Love people. Love the stupid things that don’t matter and will be here today and gone tomorrow. Because all those stupid little things add up to create the human experience. They create life.