I don’t know where to begin with the struggles I have recently faced and the miracles that have blossomed out of them. I know God has blessed me with a gift for writing, but I ironically believe that words can never suffice.
I kind of feel the need to fill you in about my journeys over the past 6 months. November 20th of 2011, I entered residential treatment for bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, an eating disorder, and substance abuse. Over the past few years, I have struggled with intense depression. I experienced depression most of my life, but it had intensified over the past 3 years, and I was being hospitalized pretty regularly. That was the main reason, I decided to look into residential treatment. That is how things seemed from my perspective anyway. Looking back on it now, I see so clearly how God had His hand in everything. He chose where I was going to go, and the moment I would arrive and leave. He carefully chose my treatment team, and my fellow survivors that I would meet along the way.
The work that I did from November 20-May 1 was the most intense work of my life. It was incredibly difficult to face the most trying moments of my past head on, and conquer them. We worked from 7 am to 10 pm daily, on dissecting and addressing our traumas. In that process, we were strengthened and equipped to move forward.
I worked with some incredible therapists while at Timberline Knolls. My primary therapist was a Christian therapist. At first I was uncertain as to whether or not I could share the ugliest parts of my past with her, but we built the trust and she constantly reminded me that I needed to push forward. She helped me to stay focused on the tasks at hand, my purpose of a life spent serving the God who had saved me. He pulled me through before, she promised, He won’t desert me now. Sometimes she was the only person who I could listen to, the only person who knew just what to say.
My family therapist sacrificed so much time to care for me directly, and was moved when she witnessed me evolve. I worked with specialists, art therapists, expressive therapists, and DBT therapists. We took every single angle in addressing every single issue. I was blessed with a team that I felt truly cared for me and believed that I was capable of overcoming.
Aside from my team, I met so many other residents who proved to me that survival was possible. They proved to me that some of the most beautiful people in this world, are the people who have been through the most. And you would never even know it. We would spend our brief bouts of free time, laughing, coloring, knitting, or in fellowship. You would never look at these women and know the horrors that they had lived through. Getting to know them on a personal level made me realize why I am so passionate about working against the issue of sexual violence. It helped me face the need in this world to build women up, to help them know that they are valuable, lovable, worthy, beautiful, and strong.
I cannot say enough about the impact that these women had on me. Through high school, college, and even in church, I feel like my strongest friendships were built with the women who were there to witness me break and rebuild.
May 1st, I left to go to “transitional living” in the Los Angeles area. After a week, I left.
The weeks since have been incredible, difficult, reinvigorating, transformative, and inspiring. It hasn’t all been fun. I have had moments of incredible stress. Two weekends ago, I started to fold. I wasn’t finding a job. I wasn’t finding a home. I was starting to believe I wasn’t capable of accomplishing everything I had dreamed of doing. I quickly felt as though the presence of God was draining out from around me. I started to lose faith. I started to lose hope.
Last Sunday morning, I went to a church that I had been looking into since I arrive in San Diego. I was certain that I simply needed to find a spiritual community. Initially, I found myself trapped in one of those, “Seriously?! Really?!” moments. You know, like the Saturday Night Live skit. Almost as soon as church started, I was worried. The sermon was on TRUTH, and I started to consider what my pastors would say on the issue. I imagined them saying that the enemy will lie to you, tell you that you are weak, or try to convince you that you are the person you used to be. I imagined them reminding me not to listen to the lies, that the voice that told me I was capable and worthy and loved was the voice of truth. That voice was the voice of God. This sermon didn’t go anything like that. If you can consider for a moment every single controversial political issue that has ever arisen in which churches felt moved to comment, that was in the sermon. Abortion. Homosexuality. Other religions. Evolution. The pastor even fit the justification for rape into his angry rant, explaining that men have and natural reaction to scantily clad women… “they’re just wired that way.” That was the point when I started frantically looking toward the doors. Just so you know, if you ever start to question whether or not doors will be barricaded if you try to make a run for it… you should probably make a run for it. I calmly headed to the doors, as if I was heading to the bathroom, but I just kept walking.
Let me tell you something that I genuinely believe. I believe there are people who are directly being used by the enemy (satan, evil, etc) through the church. The media has highlighted several of these recently in North Carolina. I believe that this can be the devil’s strongest tool against God. They are puppets for evil who hide behind the guise of Godliness. On a daily basis, they are driving more and more people away from the love of God. They are IN THE CHURCH, but working for the devil. It is a perfect set up. I am probably going to pay for this, but I am calling them out right now. They do not work for God.
I have been in churches whose motives are genuine and true. I have experienced churches where miracles are started, and hearts and minds are opened. It is true that they are rare, but they are out there, I promise. I didn’t not know, until recently that they even existed. I did not know that church could be a spiritual experience. I thought church was a punishment, a bore, and a waste of time.
When last Sunday morning unfolded, I was pretty pissed. I didn’t resign myself to the disappearance of God, like I might’ve in the past. I let the experience infuriate and motivate me. That was NOT going to be my first experience of church in San Diego. I was NOT going to let go that easily. I set out for the rest of the day, focused on my recovery, and on turning things around. I had a healthy, balanced lunch, and came home to find another option. I recalled that I had looked at a church with a Sunday evening service, and I decided to try that one out instead.
I have missed my church back home dearly. I was almost certain I wouldn’t find a comparable church anywhere else. That being said, I was wrong. My church in NC is awesome. They are loving, welcoming, and intentional representatives of Christ. Their hearts are moved from truth. Their lives were saved by the purpose they found in God. One of my church’s focuses has been children with special needs. The Pastor’s sister is a special education teacher, and one of the most devoted families in the congregation is a beautiful family whose son has autism. The issue is close to their hearts.
Being that my passion has long been the issue of sexual violence, I have dreamed of finding a church who was committed to working on the issue.
See, it was my work in Women’s and Gender studies that led me to God. I was driven into the area of study by personal experience and a motivation to change the world. The passion to do this work has been powerful and unyielding. It is the very reason I titled this blog “Incurable Hope.” Because the issue of sexual violence feels hopeless, but the glimmer of a hope that things can be changed is the only thing that has kept me going all along, even when I wanted to give up. I could have easily given up on myself, but I couldn’t give up on the masses of people across the world whose lives are devastated by such violence. There were times when I felt like one of the only people who cared about it. I grew overwhelmed, daunted, and weary. I was in a perpetual tug-of-war between letting go, letting go of this purpose, of this life, and of this fight; and holding on. Just before midnight on March 27, 2011, I gave it all over to God. I had come to the point where I wanted to quit, and I knew that faith would be the only thing that would pull me through. It was quite a stretch. I believed in God, but I was cynical, jaded, and bitter. I was irritated by all this “He” talk, and I thought “God” was the hateful dude who was hatin’ on the gay folk. I surrendered anyway, and hoped for the best.
What I have found on the other side of that commitment has been incredible. It has not been easy, but behind all of it, I have found purpose. I have seen grueling struggles give birth to huge life changes. These are changes I have been craving for years, growth that I have yearned to experience. I had been stagnant, and God had been waiting.
I had considered residential treatment, but God made it happen, with nearly 100% coverage from my insurance company, something that is incredible, and sadly, very rare. I made plans in the months before treatment and in the weeks since, but God constantly reminds me that he has more in mind for me. I have met people who have blessed my life. I have heard stories that have fueled my drive and reinforced my compassion. I have pushed through and overcome trials that can often cripple or kill people. In short, the blessings have been numerous.
Last Sunday night, I found a home church here. It is a different kind of church, a church focused on changing the world in a positive way… “not by making a point, but by making a difference.” By being living examples of Christ’s love in a world that doesn’t know it. Keep in mind that this world is not unfamiliar with that love due to a lack of churches. Oh no, I come from a town where there are almost more churches than people. They have had a KKK rally and a cross burning in the past couple of weeks. Lack of churches is not the problem. The truth is that church is completely useless if it is not conceived from the genuine nature of Christ’s love and compassion. And how many churches do you know that are like that?
The church that I found has a ministry that is committed to working against sex trafficking, both here in the U.S. and abroad. The moment I saw that, I knew God had led me to my church. He led me home. Thursday night’s service focused on impacting the world around us, being kind, lending a hand to someone in need. Simple gestures that are huge in a cold and distant world. It helped me realize why I had been guided here. I have been driven to do this work, and what I found in doing it, was that I couldn’t do it alone, in fact, as Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, “No human power could…” It is true. Doing it alone would’ve killed me. The world is largely unconcerned with the issue of sexual violence. It is just too much. I honestly believe that things can change with a sturdy spiritual foundation, with God behind the work being done.
I have been very active in AA, doing step work with a sponsor, and attending meetings regularly. The entire concept mirrors how I came to believe. We couldn’t do it alone. We needed God to help us overcome. And it is true also with other change. I have watched women devote themselves to the work of fighting sexual violence, and drowning in the hopelessness of the issue.
What makes me laugh is that, as I reflect on my old view of this struggle, I see that I wanted to change the world. The task seems far less daunting when I consider that it was already saved.
I don’t presume to know where things will go from here. God’s plans for me are irrelevant until they come to fruition. I move forward in pure faith. I know he will not let me down. I know he has my best interest at heart. I know he has my back. With that knowledge, what more do I need? With God, all things are possible. 🙂
Yesterday was a sad day for many of my loved ones in North Carolina. They went to the polls and stood for what they believed, and many glimpsed at defeat. It is heartbreaking for me to see the words of so many who I hold dear, as I peruse through a flurry of Facebook statuses. And still, for others, who would have remained unaffected by the outcome, no matter what it was, it feels like success.
I guess I am sort of in shock. I have so much going on in my own life right now. I haven’t been in NC for 6 months now. I’ve been in Chicago, and am now hoping to settle down in San Diego. Because of my distance at this moment, I feel helpless to do anything on the matter. I was unable to vote, because I looked into getting an absentee ballot a week too late. I feel immense guilt for that now. Where was I when my brothers and sisters needed me? I am unable to comfort, because I am on the other side of the country. I was so certain that Amendment 1 would not pass. Yesterday’s outcome was a blow to my naivety.
I look at the results of yesterday’s election with a careful eye. Honestly, I have many friends on both sides of the vote. I consider myself a follower of Christ. My goal is to live my life as God’s love leads, and I humbly acknowledge that I am capable of very little without Christ as my foundation. Jesus Christ is the only thing that was capable of turning my life around completely. For that I am grateful, and my heart is for my God who saved my life.
Looking at the election yesterday, from a distance, I felt two distinct things from both sides. From the side that was defeated, I sensed undying hope and the painful twinge of heartache. From the side that won, I felt spite. At the end of the day, I understand why people vote according to religious beliefs, but I do not understand why legislation is proposed from religious beliefs. Suggesting we pass legislation based on the beliefs of some, is to assume that we should all believe the same. I refuse to become a person who points a finger in someone’s direction and insist I know more than they. I am no better and no worse than anyone else. Was Christ the thing that changed my life? Absolutely. Is He the thing that will change yours? Well, as long as He is represented as a hateful, judgmental God, I fear that any change Christians bring to the lives of others will be negative. The point of evangelism, whether some realize it or not, is to bring people closer to Christ, NOT push them away.
How can I look at my loved ones, and tell them that I love this God that supposedly disdains them for loving differently? This God that so many are misrepresenting? Right now, I will stand up for what I believe. When I looked around and saw people representing an hateful God, I refused to know that God. What my final change of heart came down to was finally meeting people who put all judgments aside, and wanted to show me Christ’s love. They welcomed me with open arms and assured me that in God’s embrace, I would be safe and loved UNCONDITIONALLY. They assured me that even when people let me down, God would have my back. That has been my experience of God. That is the God that I have fallen in love with and put all of my faith in.
I feel a sense of anguish permeating across state lines, and into my own heart. This decision affects me, because it affects so many that love. It affects us in so many ways. When they get angry at the false representation of God, I get defensive. I want them to know that I worship a loving God. When their hearts are breaking from the invalidation of a state of over 9 million people, who assume to know more about love than they, my heart also breaks. I’ve called North Carolina my home for 28 years, and I can no longer defend it.
From my more religiously fervent friends, I sense a war-like pride for the outcome. I know that the matter was important to their beliefs, but I don’t understand how it affects them either way. If their side had lost, their lives would move forward, unaffected.
For the rest of my friends, this matter is deeply personal. It is a blow to everything they were ever taught about this country. I remember the adamant lesson in school, that this was the land of the free. Today, I want to ask, “free for who?” Free for the Christians, but only the Christians? Free for the straight people, but only the straight people? How is freedom free, if it only applies to certain groups? True freedom allows all to be free to enjoy the same rights to loving and living. True freedom makes room for believing differently, and allowing those differences, not making decisions for all based on the beliefs of some. Freedom does not impede on the rights of others. Freedom leaves everyone in victory. No one should lose from freedom. All should gain. If ever freedom is acted on, to the detriment of others, it is not truly freedom. It is masquerade of freedom. It is a facade.
The same can be said of those who hide behind the cross, hurling judgments from behind the name of Christ. Christ did not judge. Christ sat with the outcasts, the people thought most low, and shared meals with them. He got to know them, and loved them. When their hearts ached, His heart ached. It was in His love that they found true freedom. It was through that love that they drew closer to Him. Anything that drives people from Christ’s love is simply a masquerade, a misrepresentation of all that Christ was and still is.
This isn’t an issue of sex, who is sleeping with who. This is an issue of love. You’re not tearing apart humping animals with this decision, NC. You’re trying to force a division between people whose hearts are fragile and full of love. You’re trying to pull apart people who have been lovingly devoted to each other for years. You’re trying to destroy bonds that have lasted longer than most heterosexual marriages ever make it. You’re deciding that someone else’s personal matters do not live up to your expectations. Well, maybe your’s don’t live up to mine, but I don’t try to intervene. I will not propose legislation that says you cannot live your life that way anymore. I simply look at you, smile, pray for you, and offer you my love. I offer you the unconditional love that I now know through Christ. I will not shake my finger at you for judging, but my heart hurts for you. How lonely of a place it must be to think you know Christ without knowing His unconditional love. It must be really empty there. If your God has no room for gay people, what on earth makes you think that same God has room for you?
I am not perfect, but as I am starting to live my life out in recovery and in Christ, I am better able to clearly see my imperfections. I see the parts of my life where I fell short. In faith, I believe that admitting my shortcomings and mistakes is all I that I can do. The rest is in God’s hands. Whether you call it “repenting your sins” or “becoming willing to make amends” I am doing that work constantly. I can look back over my life and know that if God has room in his heart for me, then he has room in his heart for all of us.
From both sides, there is a lesson. If you think that being gay is wrong, you have to keep in mind that we are ALL God’s children even despite our flaws. And keep loving. If you think that being hateful and judgmental is wrong, keep in mind the words of Christ as he was dying, “Forgive them father, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), and keep loving.
For my friends out there, who are aching from yesterday’s decision, press on. In Genesis, when Moses was trying to win a battle against the Amalekites, Aaron and Hur held up his arms, so he could keep going. If all I can do from California, is to offer encouragement, then I hope my words will lift your arms a little higher. When you take to the streets to protest, please know that even in my absence, I am there with you.
In Mark 12:3o-31, Jesus sums up all he had set out to teach with this message: Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second message was: love your neighbor as yourself. He said that there was “NO OTHER COMMANDMENT greater than these.” Just as important as loving your God, is loving your fellow human beings. Ask yourself if you would put the same restrictions on yourself. Remind yourself that there are NO commandments greater than loving God and His people.
I am sending my love to North Carolina today, because I cannot think of a day when they have needed to more. For those suffering and those judging, I offer my prayers and my love. For those who are loving, keep on loving. Maybe eventually, the haters will learn a thing or two from you.