On Doubt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To The Tired Souls

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

   It’s been a week, hasn’t it?

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

   Aren’t we all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   When will we be able to breathe?

   My friends, It’s okay.

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

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

   Give yourself a break.

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

Tomorrow

   I used to be infatuated with the idea that you never know when the best day of your life will be. And it’s not because I heard that one New Girl quote once. Although my heart melted when I watched that episode because I was so happy someone shared my philosophy. I had also heard once that the day before your life changes forever is just like any other day. A couple years ago I was in love with that idea. I was drunk on the excitement and spontaneity of the prospect of tomorrow being the day that changes everything. I think it was because I was happy. I was a girl who was wide eyed, optimistic, and well, frankly, incredibly naive.

   Naive. Isn’t that what they call someone who is blindly unaware? Happy to the point of foolishness?

   See, the problem with my hopeful philosophy was that I had never considered that much like tomorrow could change my life for the better, it also held the potential to change my life for the worse.

   And so once upon a time, I was waiting for some magical day to come. I had this idea that the best day of my life hadn’t happened yet and so I was hoping for it. On one particular day in 2016 I was on the bus, daydreaming of all the potential the day held and wondering what life had in store for me that day and well…even though I knew anything could happen, I guess it didn’t sink in that really, anything, good or terribly bad, could happen. But somehow I could feel it in my bones; it was like there was this electricity in the air that let me know it was today. The day that changes your whole life. And it did. That day changed my life, just like I thought it might. That was the day I began talking to someone I would almost immediately fall in love with. That day was followed by weeks and months of euphoria that I couldn’t explain. It was like I really believed I could be happy. I had thought that I had done my time. I had spent 19 years of my life anxious, wanting to kill myself, starving myself, self-harming, and self-isolating. Shit, I thought I deserved to be happy for once. It was almost like God owed me. He put me through years of hell, and most of it was His followers fault; the least He could do was give me this.

   For a while, He did. Things were good. For months they were good. And they were really, really good until they were really, really bad.

   The short explanation is that heartbreak can kill you. It can become a catalyst; the thing that finally kicks your depression back into gears after months of remission. And if you’ve ever had a depressive relapse, you know they’re even worse than falling into depression for the first time. It was a snowball that got pushed down a mountain and became an avalanche. Everything got worse and I couldn’t stop myself from spiraling. There isn’t a way to articulate how bad 2017 got for me. I started to become someone I didn’t like. I did my best to keep it under wraps, but I think people noticed how broken I was. But not a lot of people knew why.

   Suddenly that wide-eyed girl with blind faith was gone. She was replaced with a bitter, pessimistic, cynic. What could I say? I was hurt and angry. My perfect fairy tale was destroyed. That day was supposed to be the best day of my life. It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. And so the memory of this supposed “best day of my life” became tainted with the reality that it didn’t work out. I looked back on that day and now could only see the inevitable future ahead of myself. It was ruined. But hell, it wasn’t even about the day or the boy. I couldn’t bring myself to pretend to be okay in church and having to learn the hard lesson of lament. It was how all that opened my eyes to the suffering of other people that made my empathetic heart collapse. There was all this stuff about my mental health and my family and all these huge doubts about God that made the whole year just suck. Basically I threw out whoever it was I used to be and threw out God. I couldn’t deal.

   After that, it took me two years to sort of, almost, piece myself back together. But I stopped believing in kairos; in perfect timing. And I basically stopped believing in God.

   And things were fine. Not every day was euphoric, but I had stopped wanting to kill myself for the most part. I had finished therapy, which helped tremendously might I add. I finished junior year. I moved out of my old house and into a place with some friends. I was, as they say, “getting by.”

   I don’t know when things changed back to how they were. It was slow, really. There was never one moment like it had been the time before. I’ll admit, the relapse I had this year came out of nowhere, because I couldn’t isolate it to a single thing. It was because I had taken on too many responsibilities for the summer, it was because I chose a research project way over my head, it was because I was having to be the rock of way too many of my relationships, it was because I now needed to learn to budget money so I could pay rent, it was because imposter syndrome at my program at school, it was because I was still in love with someone who didn’t want to commit to me, it was because I had all these doubts about my faith, it was about how I was uncomfortable with the answers I was finding when my therapist told me to explore my own sexuality, it was because I was stressed over the politics in my country, it was because my lupus starting acting up again, it was because my family was having a hard time; it was just everything. All at once.

   So that’s my confession. I relapsed this year. Amidst all my encouraging blogs and social media posts. I relapsed. Towards the beginning and middle of summer I would sit behind my counter at work, trying to focus on my job but mostly thinking of if I could technically define this as “relapsing.” If only thinking “I want to die” but not having an articulated plan actually counted. And I started not eating because I was too busy and too stressed, but once I started losing weight I realized how good it made me feel to actually be able to control something. It sucks having to say that after 3 years clean, I decided to keep making choices to go to bed hungry. Because everything in my life was spiraling out of control, I kept myself busy by hyper-focusing on food.

   After weeks of panic attacks, I landed myself in an emergency room.

   It took everything in me to find the courage to go. It took all my courage to tell my mom and my friends and the nurses, “I’m at this hospital because I’m having a panic attack and I’m thinking that I want to die again.” It took more courage to tell my doctor, yes; I did want to go on antidepressants/anti-anxiety medication. It took even more courage to admit to myself that I had relapsed and I wasn’t okay.

   After that, a funny thing happened.

   I starting getting better again.

   First of all, medication for depression is amazing. (However, the side effect of terrible insomnia is less than amazing.) Having a loving support system with your friends and family and actually being open with them about your struggles as they are happening is amazing. And so is deciding you are going to make yourself a priority. After the hospital, I dropped the research project that was stressing me out in order to pick up one that was more manageable. I quit my second job. I stopped responding to texts I didn’t need to. I started talking positively to myself. I began going on Pinterest more to look at those stupid, cheesy inspirational photos. I gave myself a break and took things one day at a time. And I had to learn to stop fucking apologizing to people for being who I was.

   And just like that, it happened again.

   A day that changed the trajectory of my life.

   My life went from being this chaotic mess to being the life I had always dreamed I would have at 21. And I realized it didn’t happen because of a good day. It happened because of one of the shittiest days I’ve ever had. It was actually the accumulation of months of shitty days all piling up until they broke me. But they also made me. See, being in the hospital made me realize I couldn’t keep at that pace. I needed to cut things out. I remember sitting in that hospital bed, dazed out of my mind on sedatives and anti-anxiety medication and realizing how lucky I was that this was the worst it got. That was enough to make me realize if I didn’t change something, I was going to be at a hospital full time. And that night at the hospital, someone let me crash at their house so I wouldn’t have to be alone and so I could be taken care of. And they showed me such an immense amount of love and kindness and showed me I deserved better. That was the day I realized I needed to not be in a relationship that was hurting me. It was also the day I got to spend time alone getting to know my now-boyfriend. If I had never gone to the hospital, I never would have admitted to myself that I liked him. We wouldn’t be celebrating like, a month and a half together.

   I don’t mean to sound like the person who says that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, because I’m a big believer in pain not always needing a profound lesson. Sometimes pain just hurts. But I think eventually it can set you on a specific path that you wouldn’t have taken otherwise. Sometimes it’s not a good path. I wasn’t on a good path for a while there, but somehow I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

   It makes me think about all the job interviews I failed last year that hurt me, but am now glad fell through because I’m happy at the workplace I now have. There were all the bad lessons I was taught about God that ruined religion for me, that I’m now more grateful to have thrown out. There were so many days that hurt me and almost broke me, that I now look back on as being pivotal days that changed my life forever.

   I’m not sure I’ve made sense. I’m sharing this because I want you to know that it gets better. I want you to know that every stupid cliche you’ve ever heard is true and it is golden. I fall more in love with cliches every day. I’m writing this because I need to be reminded that it gets better. That life is not all or nothing. You will get better only to get worse again, to get right back up. Recovery is never a one time deal. It’s something you need to choose every day. I want you to know that there is so much in this life that you cannot control but there is still so much you can do. We do not get a say in the cards we are dealt, but we do get a say in how we choose to play them. I’m saying that you never know when things could get better. I’m saying that the day after I wanted to kill myself, I was at a Dunkin Donutes and my favorite band broke their year long hiatus and it made me cry because if I had killed myself, I never would have heard Nico And The Niners. I had no idea what beautiful things were in store for me.

   And I want you to know that I am hopelessly optimistic again. Because my philosophy has had to change. Now, I really do believe that each day could be the best day of my life. The bad days and good days alike are all leading up to something beautiful. Your heart ache could be the thing that changes you. Or it could be your chronic illness. Or the day you found out your family member passed away. Or it could be the day you locked yourself in your bedroom because of your depression. Those days have the power to change everything. I think it’s pretty cool that each day we grow and change and you are not obligated to stay the same. Each day is it’s own. And you know, this will be a reminder to myself the next time I fall apart. Nothing lasts forever. Not happiness but also not pain. I’m learning to be okay with that. Every day is new.

   So stay alive. Tomorrow could be the best day of your life

All Your Heroes Are Frauds, Just Like You

   The title comes from a song called “Clarity” by Andy Mineo. I’ve had it on repeat since it dropped, and while that’s not even close to the best, most thought provoking line in the song, it’s something that’s been on my mind.

   All my heroes are frauds, just like me. 

   I haven’t been writing lately because I’ve had too much on my plate. My head has been a jumbled wreck on nonsense and doubts and insecurities. I thought I had silenced that voice inside of me that tells me I’m not good enough. But lately it’s been telling me that I’m a fake. A poser. A fraud.

   In psychology, we call this “imposter syndrome.” That feeling that you’re a fake in whatever you do. The fear that someone will expose you and reveal just how little you know. It’s the worry that you don’t deserve to be where you are. So much of it comes from looking around you at people who all seem to know exactly what they’re doing. Lately, I haven’t been able to feel like I belong anywhere.

   I’m in a scholars program at my school for students from low income and under-represented families who want to go to grad school. I’m currently doing research on Latinos with mental illness in the prison system. I’m looking into grad schools and preparing to take the GRE. There is so much I need to do. I’m constantly playing email tag with prisons. I have a million and a half IRB proposals to do, consent forms to write, ID’s to photocopy, and approval letters to get. My vocabulary needs to improve for the exam and I need to brush up on my math and statistical knowledge. My faculty mentor tells me we’re going to use SPSS to do a logistical regression to map out the data. I barely know what this means. Last week I had my first panic attack in over a year and a half and almost quit the whole thing. Everyone else in the program knows what they’re doing. The directors tell me that’s not true. “No one knows what they’re doing.” They tell me. But I’m the only one on the verge of tears after walking out of class.

   I feel like a fake.

   At work, I’m a bike technician. I build and sell bikes. However, I learned this skill a month ago. Customers come in and they tell me they need their bike fixed. Sure, I can assemble a bike but I have no idea how to spot what’s wrong with one or how to check one in or how long it’s going to take to fix it. People call and want to know what the difference is between a road bike and a hybrid. I think the wheel is just smaller but I can’t explain that in fancy terms. I want to tell them that Google knows more than me. Customers are upset because I give them blank stares and can’t answer their questions. I need help. My coworkers all understand things about bikes that I cannot comprehend. I just started at this position but I feel like I’m expected to know everything.

   I’m a fake.

   At church, I sit in the pews and listen to the sermon. The people around me are engaged; taking notes, and flipping around in their seat back Bibles to the different passages. They sing along during worship. They all know something about God that I don’t. This makes sense to them. Somehow. This ancient scripture filled with artistic language and bizarre concepts; this makes sense. The idea of God is real for them even though it sounds crazy to talk about. These people are real Christians. But I haven’t read a Bible verse in months. Every time I open that book I find myself screaming at it. Why does everything have to be so hard? Everyone around me has Christmas Gift Faith; perfectly wrapped and tied together with a bow on the top. Nothing is out of sorts. Why can’t I have that? I go to church every Sunday but mostly have no idea what the hell is going on. From the outside I look like I know but I don’t. I’m a fake Christian.

   I’m such a fake.

   On the internet I’m a mental health advocate. Self-care! Go to therapy! I like all those inspirational quotes. But maybe I don’t talk about it as much as I should. Other people have better insight and they do a better job at being an advocate. I didn’t mention Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain on Twitter. I didn’t even know who he was until he died. Everyone is talking about mental health now. Where is my opinion? I tell my friends to slow down; quit that job if you need to, take some time out for yourself, say no to things. This all coming from the woman who works two jobs, is taking a summer class, and participating in rigorous research. I have eaten two meals in the past three days. I only drink coffee when I know my body needs water. I cried at work out of pure exhaustion. I’m so burnt out. Why can I only tell other people how to take care of themselves but can’t seem to do it myself? I’m not a real mental health advocate.

   I’m a fake.

   I talk feminism up all the time. I encourage girls to be their own selves and be who they want to be. It breaks my heart when women think that they are defined by men. Women spend so much time chasing after people who don’t even care enough to give them the time of day. The feminists I see around me are so strong; they don’t care what guys have to say about them. They are strong. Courageous. They are unafraid of backlash. They are unapologetically themselves. But then there are people who don’t like my views; and I’m so afraid they’re going to find out the truth about me. They’re going to find out that I cried over a boy the other day. They’re going to rat me out as someone who wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want that back. They’re going to tell me what I tell myself a million times a day. “That’s not very feminist of you.” I want attention from men just for kicks and to maybe to feel better about myself. I need validation. I need romantic love. Most days I go against everything I claim to believe about feminism. I’m not even a real feminist.

   I’m a fake.

   But today I met with a woman about research and she told me something that I needed to hear. She said, “Own that you don’t know. Say that you don’t know and say it proudly. Maybe you might give other people the courage to say they don’t know either. And don’t make yourself small. Make yourself big.”

   People keep telling me that it’s okay to not know. People keep telling me that everyone is faking it just like me, but I never see it. I feel like I’m the only one crying myself to sleep at night over stress. I think I’m the only one who can’t figure out research proposals. I feel like I’m the only one just going through the motions and not really understanding what’s going on.

   But I’m not. I bet you probably are too. Right? You’re probably lost and confused about something. You’ve probably felt like a fake at some point. And all those people you look up to and admire for having it all together? They probably don’t. I’m not even saying anything new. I hear that all the time but somehow it never really sank in. It still hasn’t. I’ve never felt so out of place before. But I can’t be the only transfer student who feels like a freshman trying to assimilate all over again. I’m not the only first generation student, or first person to attempt grad school in a family. I know all my heroes are faking it too. My brother looks like he’s figured out how to be the perfect husband; I’m sure he feels like a fake. My best friend can work SPSS like a pro but she couldn’t always. I know Sarah Bessey, my favorite author, struggles to write. I’m sure my pastor doubts his ability to lead a church. My favorite dancers don’t know how to get certain moves. The list goes on forever.

   So yeah. I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. And the longer I live, the more I realize that’s okay. As much as my perfectionist attitude tries to convince me otherwise, it really is okay. I’m trying my hardest to live in a very complicated world. Sometimes my actions and beliefs don’t line up. Sometimes I have to throw out beliefs I thought were true and try again. Sometime I will mess up and make mistakes. Sometimes I will be wrong. But I cannot be expected to be the expert on everything. The only person who expects me to be, is me. Basically, I’m outting myself as a fake writer, fake photographer, fake feminist, fake baseball fan, fake student, fake employee, fake theologian, fake poet; just overall, an imposter. And that’s perfectly fine.

   I don’t want to be afraid to say I don’t know. So if I look like I’ve got it all figured out, I can assure you, I’m screaming internally always. And I’m pretty sure you are too.

"Cry Quietly" – A Poem

people don’t like me because I never learned to cry quietly
when I cry, I sob
I sniffle
I scream in pain
sometimes I even whisper to myself
when I cry I wear my grief like a badge over my heart
everyone knows when I am sad
because I have never shied away from making it known
I don’t hold back my tears when I’m on the bus
not even when the old man across the aisle is staring at me
with a concerned expression
because his expression tells me he is more concerned about
his peace being disturbed than he is about my wellbeing
I don’t hold back my tears when I’m with friends
and supposed to be having a good time
I don’t care that you’re not supposed to cry over ice cream
I don’t hold back my tears at the movie theater
and I don’t care that I’m getting the popcorn wet
people don’t like me because I refuse to act happy when I am not
my boss hates this about me
my friends are burdened by this
my church pretends to love my authenticity but sometimes I wonder
if it would be better if I took my tears elsewhere
see, my tears are a loaded gun
hurting everyone around me
my tears are all the words that don’t fit nicely into poems
and sometimes they need to be shared without thinking of the casaulties
sometimes I need people who are willing to take the bullet for me
I’ve taken it alone too many times
I will not cry quietly
I will not soften myself because my pain makes you uncomfortable
my tears are the water that will help me to grow
I will not put my pain in a box inside myself
and I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry that I never learned to cry quietly
I have learned that my tears do not make me weak
they don’t always make me stronger
but they always make me softer
every tear shed on public transportation reminds me to lay down my pride
and weep for those who cannot
and every time I see someone cry
my empathetic tears remind me to show them grace
never learning to cry quietly doesn’t always make me the most likeable person
but somehow
it always makes me a better one

Take A Walk

   “Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why do kids, who will soon ask these same questions about their kids, continue to treat each other the same way? Why does this cycle never change, even after the kids themselves resort to bombs and guns and butchering their fellow students to prove a point? Why do we look for an easy answer-a pill to take, a program to shut off-when we know in our hearts that something deep inside us has to change? What are we afraid of?”

   This quote has been with me for a long time. It was in the preface to the script of “columbinus,” a show I appreciate having a role in more and more each day. The play is based off of the shooting at Columbine High School, and the characters were combinations of all the students in the real life event. I remember when I was cast in that show, and I don’t think I knew the weight of it then. Even now, I don’t think I can fully appreciate how it changed my life.

   I have found myself thinking about my time in that show a lot recently. I was a freshman in college, which seems like lifetimes ago. I was young and naive and I thought love could fix anything. I thought I could fix anyone. I really believed that I could stop school shootings with love. By being kind and compassionate and being there for others and listening. These shootings broke my heart because of the victims, and the shooters, who often take their own lives. I thought of all the buildup of rage and pain inside of them that lead them to commit such horrendous acts. I thought of the cycle of abuse that seems to never end.

   During rehearsals one day, our director got a call saying there was a shooting at a school. Right there, in the middle of practicing a play about school shootings. We all stopped what we were doing and turned on the news. We just sat and watched it play out. I thought I was going to have an anxiety attack. The room just felt so heavy. It made the show we were working on that much more real.

   I remember people coming to see the show, and afterwards how everyone told me it brought them to tears. Some friends of mine didn’t even come to hug me after it, because they were left with hearts too heavy. It was such a powerful show. Sometimes the cast members, myself included, had nightmares. Sometimes it took the life out of me to go into that theatre. Being in that production made me think so deeply about all the issues it entailed.

   And now, I’m here. Three years later. 18 years since Columbine later. Some hundred school shootings later. Hundreds of nights-where-I-can’t-sleep-because-of-fear later. Too many anti-gun protests later.

   I’m here.

   A lot of people aren’t. I wish I could permanently remember every life lost in school shootings. I wish they had the recognition they deserve. I wish there was more justice. I wish there was more a single person could do. I wish these horrific events would stop. I wish for justice.

   But mostly, I just wish for answers.

   I wish there was one thing to point the blame to that would make all of this stop. I wish I could retreat back to my old life, when I thought belief in God and love would make violence disappear. I wish I could go back to when I wrote my first post about Columbine, because back then I was living in ignorance, but at least I had hope. I just wish there was one simple solution. I wish it was as easy as “be nice to people.” Hell, I wish church membership did it. I wish therapy did it. I wish gun bans did it. I wish protests or letting a kid sit with you at lunch or better education or anything. I wish it was a switch that I could just turn off. Turn off the violent movies or the music and stop the aggression and the pain.

   But life has never been that easy.

   I don’t think there is one solution. I think there are things we can do to be proactive and minimize the pain, but I don’t think its a quick fix. I want it to be, but it isn’t.

   I wish I was the one to end gun violence by proposing some kind of idea that would prevent people from harming others. I can’t sit by and do nothing. But I do not have an answer. I have been sitting on this post for so long, trying to formulate words in a way that would give people hope and a solution. I wanted to offer some solace or idea. But all I can think about is how much I hurt for those people.

   I keep seeing posts on my Facebook page, half the people participated in the Walkout to end gun violence, and the other half are posting about WalkUp, which is the “alternative.” And all I see are arguing over solutions and I just want to scream “walk.” 

   Walk out in protest. Walk up to hurting teens. Walk to a voting place to have a say in legislation. Walk to your local homeless shelter with open hands. Walk a 5k to raise money for mental illness treatment. Just take a walk.

   Don’t sit by and let nothing change.

   As much as I hurt for the losses that have happened recently, I am overwhelmed by the courage of the MSD students. I am so proud to see the high schoolers on my Snapchat who participated in the walkout. I smile seeing my sister’s Twitter blow up with activism. This gives me hope. This tragedy has begun to bind people together, but it breaks my heart that lately though, I have been seeing more posts nit picking solutions. Creating an “us vs. them” mentality. That will get us nowhere.

   I think we can walk up and walk out at the same time.

   I am not offering a quick fix. I am trying to offer encouragement to not give up in the face of adversity. I don’t want you to hide away in fear. I want you to do everything in your power. There is not one answer, there are many. And I want to find all of them.

   I keep coming back to this idea that life is not as clear cut as I once believed. It is so very messy. And messy problems oftentimes require messy solutions.

   So yes. I participated in the Walkout. I believe gun violence has to end. And likewise, I am committed to loving other people. “Walkup” is not something I do out of protest or fear. It is something I do out of love. It is something I have always tried to incorporate in all I do; not out of fear that a kid who sits alone might be the next mass shooter. But out of compassion. I want to be committed to making the world a better place in all I do; even if it’s just the world around me.

   To those that are fighting every day for this, I applaud you. I admire you. I honor you. Thank you. To every student at MSD and every Florida resident, I stand with you. Thank you for inspiring me and giving me hope for the future.

   Let’s walk together.

365 Days of Lament

   I’ve been trying to figure out how to say all of the things I needed to in the right way. I’ve written this post a million times and I hope this time it makes sense. It’s funny, this wasn’t supposed to be a 2017 recap and yet here we are. Bear with me for one more cheesy post.

   Over a year ago, things started to fall apart. In my own life mostly, but that became a catalyst. My hurt opened my eyes and made me realize that everyone is hurting. Unfortunately for me and my empathy, this made my heart break even more. My only aspiration for 2017 was to feel better. My motto for the year was a line from the song This Year by the Mountain Goats. “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me.”

   I was going into 2017 with baggage and pain and I thought that things had to get better. Starting off my year at what I thought was rock bottom, all it could do was go up. Sadly, I was mistaken. Things got worse. My mental health got worse. My doubts got worse. My mood got worse. My situations got worse.

   But a year ago my brother taught me the word “lament.” It means “a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” I made it my word of the year. It was everything. I think I cried more in 2017 than I ever have in my life. I cried over my hurt, others lives, things I saw on the news, things I read, movies I watched, sunsets I saw; I just cried. And I learned to let myself cry, which was one of the most painful lessons to learn. I knew my one New Years resolution was nothing; I had set the bar so low. I didn’t want to grow from pain. I didn’t want it to make me better or stronger. I wanted it to stop. I wanted all of my grieving friends to stop and find peace and I wanted the global catastrophes to stop and I wanted the shootings to stop and I wanted my families financial problems to just stop. But none of it did.

   At first, it was fine. I prayed more and listened in church more and read my Bible more. I felt so empowered and strong. I had all this faith when it first started. But then time passed and I thought I had learned my lesson, so it would end soon. Then more time passed and I started wondering if God was listening. Then more time passed and I started to get angry. And yet even more time passed without change and I gave up. I can’t explain that last phase of time because it was the darkest it’s been in so long. Because at that point, lamenting becomes sitting and staring at a wall and somehow that’s worse than weeping. I would have given anything to feel emotions again.

  I cycled through those phases several times. I’m still cycling through those phases. It’s a constant battle between feeling everything or feeling nothing. Every high was a peak this year, and every low was a new rock bottom.

   But slowly, it started to level out again. The lows are just sad, not devastating. The highs are exciting, but not enough to make me forget my pain.

   And the thing is, there is no way to recap that. I wanted some grand lesson for people. Like, “Here’s how I got better! In 5 easy steps!” But it’s not like that because some days feel like I’m back at day one. I wish I could say it would be easy. I wish I could take your pain. But the truth about suffering is that sometimes you have to bear it. Sometimes you will feel like it will kill you. Sometimes you will make choices in your pain that will make it hurt even more. Sometimes you will hurt people you love because of it. Sometimes you will ask God for death. Sometimes you will search for answers to feel better or seek a reason for your pain because you need it to mean something. But sometimes it doesn’t mean anything.

   If there is one thing I’ve learned during my season of lament, is that sometimes there are more important things that for you to feel better. And that’s really harsh, but that’s the truth. There is no quick way through suffering and that’s okay. You are not obligated to be happy all the time. I want you to know that it is okay to lament. There is a season for everything. If 2018 is going to be your season of pain, let yourself be in pain.

   That’s it. There is no magic. No eye opening moment where I realized my pain was gone. There was only a collection of happy moments that carried me through the dark nights. Life isn’t 100% anything. You can’t be happy forever, but you also can’t be sad forever.

   I honestly thought I had dragged myself through 2017. But I made a list of all the great things that happened and I realized that all those little happy moments were enough. So many beautiful things happened while I wasn’t even aware. I’m not sure if any of that made sense. My point is that life is messy and we can get so caught up in trying to change how we feel or change the things around us that we forget to enjoy the little things.

   So, more for my personal reference than anything else, here are some beautiful things that happened to me this year:

   -I saw twenty one pilots live. (This feels like it was years ago. My sister and I camped out for 14 hours in below freezing weather just to snatch barricade. It was amazing but we both agreed we are never doing that again.)
   -I met one of my Internet friends in real life. (And we actually became best friends. I see her often now. She truly the best thing to happen to me in 2017.)
   -Saw Foster The People (twice!), Bleachers, and NF live
   -Spent another summer at Wrigley Field
   -Shaved half my head of hair
   -Took summer classes online and graduated in July with my Associates in Arts
   -Moved into the city at the dorms of my new university
   -Won NaNoWriMo for the 5th time
   -Spontaneously got matching tattoos with one of my closest friends (also rekindled our friendship after years apart.)
   -performed in my first musical (Coraline. What a show.)
   -watched my adopted sister get married and watched my brother get married
   -photographed my first wedding
   -got my tongue pierced
   -went to a Cubs game with my best friend (as a fan and not to work.)
   -went to my first homecoming dance
   -came clean about my fear issues (which is something I had needed to do since 2015.)
   -started going to a new church
   -had so many adventures with my roommates
   -started taking pole dancing classes
   -got super into poetry and spoken word/poetry slams
   -turned 21
   -went hiking to Starved Rock for the first time (and made new friends there as well.)
   -starting getting counseling
   -got closer to two of my little brothers
 
   And those are just highlights and things that came to me off the top of my head. There were so many great times as well as so many hard times. And that’s okay. I think that’s finally okay with me. I’m so excited for 2018 because I love the sense of renewal and starting over. I love every cheesy resolution and all the long, reflective posts. I’m here for it.

   This year, I hope you hurt and do not swallow your pain. I hope you will love despite the fear. I hope you will cry in public. I hope you will learn to laugh even louder because of it. I hope you will open your eyes to see the world around you. I hope that fear will motivate you rather than hold you back. I hope that when your pain feels overwhelming you will remember to breathe. I hope you will know that sometimes life gets better only to get worse again; so enjoy the good moments. I hope you will stop equating “good” with “perfect.” I hope you will ask those questions you think you cannot ask. I hope you will not be afraid of the answers. I hope you remember that it’s okay to be broken. I hope you remember to give grace to everyone; including yourself. We’re doing the best we can.

   Happy New Year

   (How did your year go? Any lessons learned? Do you have any resolutions for next year?)

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.