The argument I hear a lot from people who get offended by my spiritual beliefs is, “What kind of God lets . . . happen?”
Now, let me start by saying this, I don’t argue about my spiritual beliefs, though I often find that people want to argue with me. I don’t have a problem with people believing or not believing whatever they please. I’m not here to change anyone’s mind.
I do however, argue with myself. I pose these questions to myself, and to God, and give them serious thought. I’ve thought about the question a lot. Since I’ve been reading The Shack, I’ve had an opportunity to really think about the answer to that question.
This is a bit of a SPOILER ALERT, but the book takes an opportunity to teach us that, due to free will, bad things often happen because people make bad choices. After a year spent in treatment, healing, and acceptance, I finally do accept that as an answer for some of the bad stuff. Certainly, life would be meaninglessly dull were it not for free will. We would all be the same, doing exactly the right things, the same things. We’d be drones. The relationship between us and God would be more of a dictatorship.
The truth is that people only come into a relationship with God through a choice, often made in a moment of desperation. When I chose to know God, I was in a place where I had nothing else to lose. Well, maybe one thing could’ve been lost; my life. I knew that I had had glimpses of life, or happiness, and I wanted those more than I wanted to die. And even though I had NO IDEA what a relationship with God would mean, I walked into the uncertainty knowing it was my only hope. For the first time in my life, I made a commitment.
We come into this relationship, because we make a choice between what was and what could be.
I don’t want to be a puppet. My relationship with God means so much more, since it was I who wanted in. It was never forced on me. We all, at some point, have that moment, that way in. We all make this decision.
That being said, free will is both a blessing and a curse. Because we are not forced into goodness, or perfection, we also have opportunities to choose darkness. Because of that choice, people can be hurt or lost, for seemingly no reason at all. Someone chose to hurt me as a child, and I was left to clean up the wreckage because of their choice. This is common.
I kn0w that in the midst of pain, it is hard to accept this answer, but after a long examination of my beliefs, I do agree.
In my head, I’m still left to make sense of the things that aren’t caused by a bad person or a bad choice: An illness. A miscarriage. A natural disaster. The list could go on; a list of all the things that cannot be explained away by free will, and the nagging question: why?
What repeatedly arises is the difference, for me, between a life without God and a life with God.
I used to blame God for everything. Why I even believed in God is still baffling to me, because I was angry at him, and blamed him for everything that went wrong. Oh the moments I spent actually cursing at God with a grimace on my face and an angry finger pointed to the sky! I do not understand why I believed in a God that was so horrible to me. Why not just NOT believe in him at all?
But I did, and I gladly took every chance that arose to hate him.
At this time in my life, I looked at every bad thing as a punishment, or simply an act of a spiteful God. Because I’ve had a chance to work through healing, I see things differently now.
I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I used to start cursing at God if I dropped my books. No big deal, but there I was having words with this hateful God of mine. Those things don’t get to me anymore. A pause. A deep breath. And there I am, picking those books back up. No. Big. Whoop. That changes a lot.
I see the value in free will, and I understand that there are people who use that to accomplish negative, and even evil acts.
Most importantly, I see the error of my own ways. Working the twelve steps certainly gives me some perspective on the destruction I have left in the wake of my bad decisions. I see now that I can’t control what others have done to me. Wounds are left behind by sick people. I was sick once too. I hurt people too. My job now isn’t to dwell on fixing what others have done to me, it is make amends for the things that I have done to others. They call it “keeping your side of the street clean.” I do my part in making the world a better place, making up for the hurts that I have caused, and doing things differently now.
Yes, I see things very differently now. And when I think about the things that cannot be explained away by free will, I know that these are life’s experiences that make us who we are. We have to struggle. We have to face hard stuff. Who would we be without these hardships? These tragedies? Just as we would be without free will: drones. We would have nothing to bring us together, or make us unique. We would be weakly little things, incapable of facing anything.
When I think about how strong I am because what I have faced, I know I wouldn’t trade a single experience. I have the ability to say that I am a survivor. I have a faced adversity, and come out on the other side of things; stronger because of it. I also know, because of my past, that you can’t put anything before me that I won’t be able to conquer.
“Lose not yourself in a far off time, seize the moment that is thine.” ~Friedrich Schiller
I heard a song recently that brought up a lot of new emotions for me. Some of you may remember it “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C. Don’t judge. I don’t know why I download this crap, but I do. It started playing, and at first I wanted to turn it to the next song, but I didn’t. As I listened, it wasn’t far into the song that I burst into tears. I don’t know, blame it on hormones. It is a pretty awful song, but as I listened to it, it suddenly hit me how old the song was, and how old I am. I started thinking about how life was when I was in high school, and how it felt like every single day was going to last forever. Days go by so quickly now, that years are over before a blink or a breath have the opportunity to complete themselves.
“The clock talked loud. I threw it away, it scared me what it talked.” ~Tillie Olsen
I have been struggling a lot lately with this, as I do twelve step work. I suddenly feel like all the time I spent “living it up” was time wasted. All the years that actually last for a minute, are gone, and I barely remember them. Now time flies so quickly that I see people around me getting married, having kids, having second and third kids, doctorates being earned, marriages ending in divorce, and/or lives ending, period; and I’m left with my head spinning, still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life.
There’s this sinking feeling in my gut, like everyone who was ahead of me by a small head start has now nearly completed their lives, and my proverbial clock is ticking. Not even my reproduction clock! I can’t even support myself at this point. It is my death clock. My death clock is now ticking, people. This is serious.
“Men talk of killing time, while time quietly kills them.” ~Dion Boucicault
I get that my life hasn’t been a waste. It took a lot of ups and downs to land me in the spot where I am now standing, and I couldn’t be more grateful to have the growth, perspective, and relationship with God that I now have. My relationships with everyone around me have improved. How could they not? We’re maturing.
I know myself well enough to know that this is what it took to get me here, and nothing short of it would have sufficed. I am stubborn and hard-headed and feverishly determined. It is just that this is the first time I have started to put those qualities to use toward something productive.
“The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.” ~Abraham Lincoln
Look, I matured an unnatural amount with in an incredibly short period of time. In the time between last August and now, I have learned so much, and evolved so much. I love who I am, and the opportunities I have had are such an incredible blessing that nothing I could ever do would be enough to thank God and my loved ones for the support it took to have them. I also realize what a privilege it is to have had the kind of treatment it takes to overcome the things I have struggled with. I never forgot that while I was in treatment. I was pained to see what a small portion of the population has access to that kind of healing, and I had to keep pushing forward because I knew if I wanted to be a part of any positive change in this world, I had to start with a positive change in me. It took a lot to accept such a huge gift.
So now, in the interest of candor, I will tell you what I face.
As soon as Vitmain C’s song ended, Eminem came on. “Lose Yourself.” I know this was a God wink. 😉
It is like God was saying: you used to have your whole life ahead of you, but time has passed, and before you even know it, your whole life will be behind you. Time to jump in with both feet. This is not the time to hold back or freeze up.
I gave you this life, LIVE IT! This is your chance, USE IT!
“Let him who would enjoy a good future waste none of his present.” ~Roger Babson
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” –Mother Theresa
On March 27, 2011, my life officially changed in an incredibly dramatic way. I stayed for hours after church, hesitant to go home, and hesitant to make a commitment. I stared back and forth at the pulpit and the exit, long after the service had ended and everyone, except for 2 friends and myself, had gone home. Every time I looked at the doors, as much as I didn’t want to admit it, face it, or act because of it, I knew if I walked out those doors without God, I would die. The pain was like a wrench in my gut, twisting with the thought of making that decision. I didn’t want to lose myself, and as much as I felt like I wanted to die in that moment, I knew the truth was that I wanted to live.
I had stayed after service, hurling questions and arguments at the pastor, who mostly left it up to me, to look inside myself for the answers. He knew that nothing he could say was going to be easily accepted by me. And this had been the truth since the moment I had first stepped into this crowd of people who would become my family.
When the moment finally came, it was almost midnight. In the following weeks, I would buy a little plaque that said “Even miracles take a little time” from the disney film Cinderella. Without knowing what I was diving into, I dove, because I realized that if I wanted to live, I didn’t have a choice.
That night, I made a commitment to follow God, to be His faithful servant, to become the person He wanted me to be, and live the life He wanted me to live. It wasn’t an instantaneous transformation. It took time, and I fought. I fought everyone around me, and I fought with God himself. Quite violently, I might add.
The fact of the matter is, though, that I don’t take commitments lightly. If I say that I am going to do something, I do it.
In the months that have followed, the transformation has taken over, and my life doesn’t even resemble what it looked like a year ago. I am living in a different home, city, and state, with different friends, a different church, a different perspective, and a different way of living.
When I opened my mind to a church that truly conveyed a life modeled after that of Christ, it was a battle. I always had this concept “well, if they really followed Christ, it would look like this…” The difference was, this church actually embodied that. Did I cut them any slack because of it? Ohhhhhh no, definitely not. I gave them hell for dragging me there. I sat on my seat, arms crossed, scowl painted firmly on my face. When they sang, I didn’t move. When they greeted each other, I didn’t move. Did that make a difference? No. They treated me, from the very first moment, like I was family, and that never wavered, even when they learned of our differences.
I wish I could say that churches like that are common, but they are the minority.
I came in with all of my doubts and anger. I was drowning in resentments of what churches had done to me and my loved ones for years and years. I hurled this resentment toward these innocent people with my laser beam death stare, and they never once treated me differently.
Eventually, I had a realization. I expected these people not to judge me. That is what real Christians would do. But what about me? Shouldn’t I be willing to do the same for them? Why was I taking out all of this resentment on people who had never harmed me. I judged them before I had a chance to walk through the door, accusing them of judging me. That was my hypocrisy wake up call. I had to give them a chance, if I expected that of them.
So, I did.
“Do not condemn the judgement of another because it differs from your own. You may both be wrong.” –Dandemis
That is when I realized that they were actually everything I had always thought churches should be.
I wish I could say that the judgments stopped from that moment, but as I have grown in my faith, I have noticed the other side of my friend pool shift. They don’t directly tell me they hate me, but they definitely are weirded out and leery of this change in me. As though the fact that my newfound relationship with God gives me a reason to live, just isn’t a good enough excuse. I have, as of late, felt incredibly judged by a lot of my friends who are atheist or agnostic. They are immediately on the defense with me, as though I am going to show up on their doorstep with a pamphlet. As much as I understand that feeling, I don’t understand it coming at me. I am not suddenly a horrible person because I believe differently. I have started to realize that I feel far more judged now than I ever did when I was spiritually ambiguous. The funny part is that, though I do have some strong specific beliefs, I am still spiritually ambiguous in a lot of ways. And as for the current religious/political blur, none of my political beliefs have changed. In fact, I would say I stand stronger in my political beliefs than I did before, because I believe that, although they are not the norm in my spiritual community, they have been distinctly placed on my heart for a reason.
I guess that, although so much of my life has changed, the only parts of me that have changed were the parts no one wanted here in the first place. I am not destructive anymore. I am not as selfish. I am working hard to live a productive life. I stay focused on ensuring that I am being kind to myself and to others. I am learning balance. I am implementing self-care. I am capable of so much more. I am grateful for each day, and I genuinely want to live it.
So yeah, something HUGE changed, but it didn’t change my heart. My heart is in the same place, I am just learning how to put it into action. I am learning to act upon the passions that have driven me all this time, and to grow and heal so that I am capable of doing that work.
So this is for those of you out there who think I have been brainwashed or suddenly became incredibly stupid. This is not the case. I heard that your IQ starts declining at 25 anyway, so maybe that part is true. I’m just not the asshole I used to be. And the truth is, that I am thankful for all of my friends. For those who do not need a God to give their lives meaning, I do not judge. I have learned in AA that living a life without a higher power is just a prerogative that some of us do not have the luxury of indulging in. I need God to take a step further in this life, to march on. The passions I have for change to come about in this world, are not efforts that I can make alone. I will surely need God behind the work I want to do for our world in order to make it a safer, more beautiful place for each and every one of us to thrive.
I don’t plan on apologizing to my spiritual community for my political beliefs, and I don’t plan on apologizing to my political community for my spiritual beliefs. I am going to march forward living in the way that I feel God guide me. And you two groups can sort that crap out amongst yourselves.
“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s the one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”
I am on your time, God, not my own. I thank you for teaching me patience. I am here to serve you, not myself. I am grateful for steady work and faith in your favor. I trust your promise. I trust that your view reaches lightyears beyond my own, and that your dreams for me go beyond any that I could dream for myself. I will be an honest representation of your life-saving love. I commit to doing your work, to being a shining beacon of light and love to those around me. If ever an opportunity to help my fellow human being arises, I will do so without hesitation. If moments of darkness surround me, I will keep my eyes on you. When circumstances threaten this foundation, I will not let them shake me. When I fall short of these promises, I will make amends to those who are affected. I thank you for teaching me forgiveness, both given and received. I thank you for teaching me unconditional love, that I may live this life fearlessly, and help others to do the same. ❤
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.
April is sexual assault awareness month. I have a group of friends, who are all survivors, who live all across North America. We keep in touch and share our struggles with and fight against the issue of sexual violence. This month, we’ve decided to share each other’s blogs as we post about S.A.A.M. and what it means for us. One of those friends/survivors is Sheena. Here is her Facebook page. Here is her blog. She sent me interview questions, which I answered, and decided to share on my own blog.
Before I get to the questions, I want to share the shirt that I made last night, as a part of a survivors group. It is for the clothesline project. You can find out more about The Clothesline Project here. It was started as a grassroots effort to give survivors the forum to speak about their experiences as an aid in the prevention of and awareness around violence against women. Survivors are encouraged to make t-shirts conveying their “testimony to the problem of violence against women.” As I watched women all around me, I tried to think of what I wanted to say in regards to the issue. I wanted to express my pain and anger, but I also wanted to share my hope that we have the power to turn things around. I drew an image of a bird coming out of a heart, but the words continued to evade me. Then a bible verse popped into my head. It is Genesis 50:20 and it says: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. I think it adequately expresses the fact that we have the power to turn around what has been done to us and stop the cycle, a theme that was common as I answered the interview questions from Sheena. Here is a picture of my shirt:
Ok, and now for the interview!!! Enjoy:
1. Who are you?
Noelle: Freelance Writer, Future Banjo Prodigy, Recovering Addict, Self-Proclaimed Rock Star, Christian Feminist Slam Poet, Survivor
2. Does Sexual Assault Awareness month and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Month hold any significant meaning to you? If so, why?
Yes, because I’ve experienced both and I think they are both completely unacceptable and unacceptably quiet experiences in the lives of far too many people.
3. What is your story?
4. According to some statistics, very few people report abuse & assault crimes. Why do you think that is?
Because our legal and medical systems, as well as our entire society as a larger whole pressures those who experience such violence to stay silent. Often times this pressure is carried out in the form of shaming and further abuse of victims.
5. Do you think abusers, rapist, molesters, pedophiles and the likes can be reformed, healed or changed?
I think anything is possible. Ask me if it is likely, and I will say no.
6. What do you want others to understand about those who have been victimized?
That such violence is completely unacceptable. That victims receive little to no support after such acts are committed. That our culture allows and even endorses sexually violent behavior, and that it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to start examining the way we live and making a genuine and vigorous effort to change. And that such violence is devastating in the lives of victims, but with support and dedication, such violence can be overcome.
7. What’s been the most difficult thing to deal with as it relates to what you’ve experienced?
The most difficult part of my experience to deal with is how I was treated after I was victimized. Again and again, I was either completely ignored or simply not believed. I was belittled, accused, ignored, and silenced, not only by the legal system, but by my loved ones.
8. How have you dealt with your own personal rage at the traumatic things that have happened to you?
Honestly… I haven’t. I’m still working on simply allowing myself to feel the rage, because I spent my entire life trying not to feel any of it. Whenever I do feel rage, I want to sit with it, embrace it, and express it. I feel like I deserve that.
9. What was an unexpected thing that aided in your growth and healing?
God. It was very hard for me to get past the idea of God as a man, or that God had allowed these things to happen. I was angry and full of blame. What I realized was that I was misunderstanding God. I had always listened to what others believed God was, and I didn’t like what they had to say, but I lived with that God for a long time. Now, I realize that God is more personal than that. God isn’t some giant angry white dude in the sky with a long beard. I see God in a way that comforts me. I also had to make the distinction that God and people are two different things. People have free will. People f*ck up, in major ways. God doesn’t hurt us, God is there to comfort us when people have.
10. What encouraging words do you have to offer for anyone who has ever been abused or assault?
Keep going. Don’t give up. We have the power to change things. What happened was unacceptable and inexcusable. Allow yourself to feel, and remember that everything you feel is valid. Trust yourself. This doesn’t have to break you.
11. What have you learned considering your experiences?
Too much to write here. So much.
12. What do you think is the most important thing the world needs to hear?
We hold the power to turn things around.
13. What brings you ultimate joy?
My future. My nephew. God. My dog. 😀
14. What’s your favorite quote?
“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” -Dorothy Bernard
15. Who inspires you? Why?
My sister, because she taught me to question authority, and that you can make your own family without recreating the mistakes of your parents.
16. Is there anything else you’d like to share? This is your space to say whatever you want to say unedited, unscripted and without any filters.
To Be Continued… 🙂
God is constantly amazing me. I’m so grateful for everything He does, and I’m in awe of the ways that something as simple as believing can change everything in such a drastic way.
(Finding a Balance Between Jesus Christ and King of the Hill)
I was initially hesitant to post too soon after my last entry, but after really evaluating, I decided to try to catch my audience before they disperse.
I’m not even sure where to begin. My last two posts were about people we lost too soon to tragic circumstances, though my perspective in each instant contrasted starkly. One was written 5 days before my most recent suicide attempt. The last post was written a month and a half after that attempt. My thoughts seem transparently similar, but there’s a mystery smeared between those two posts, like something spilled on the few pages of a book that contain the climax. The pages are stuck together, and everything between “before” and “after” is almost inconsequential; or at least, that’s how it seems.
Let me plead that this is not so. I realize the posts are eerily similar, both addressing people I only knew at a distance, after their lives were lost in tragic circumstances. Both even pose my conflict about why some lost the battle, and others like myself, have a chance at survival.
It seems as though, since my post about Amy Winehouse, her parents have suggested that she lost her life from complications attributed to alcohol withdrawal. In my opinion, these circumstances make the story that much more tragic. She was making an effort, but the addiction consumed her in the end. I was almost astonished at how long it took most media outlets to come out with these details. When I got out of the hospital, I googled the story and found this explanation, and yet it was 2 or 3 weeks later before the media spoke about it.
Friday, my sister and I discussed the multi-faceted nature of mental illness, and the mystery that is our brains. We talked for a moment about how various mental issues seem to have similar characteristics. Though it may stir controversy, I’ll give an example. My dad recently saw the HBO film “Temple Grandin” about a woman born in 1947 with autism. It was very enlightening. I didn’t realize that autism was even acknowledged back then, but it also irked me to realize how much more misunderstood it was. I thought it was bad now, but it was far more misunderstood then. The doctor’s initially blamed Temple’s mother for her condition, but she refused to accept the accusation. With diligent attention from her mother and aunt, Temple excelled in life, and even more so in academics.
My dad was moved by the film, and sent a copy to my sister and myself. As I watched it, I identified things about Temple that I related to myself, and that I had observed in others. For instance, as is an issue with autism, Temple was overwhelmed and anxious in situations that offered an excess of audio, visual, and tactile stimulation. I completely understand this. I was recently started on a medication for ADHD because I had been withdrawing, and increasingly irritable in social situations for the very same reason. I ended my day on Saturday with a grocery store panic attack due to this issue. So many people, noises, products, and the agitation of my shirt shifting, and my purse strap rubbing against my neck.
Similarly, one of my former boyfriends was diagnosed with schizophrenia toward the end of our relationship. The illness didn’t present itself blatantly as hallucinations and paranoia, like most assume. It started progressing in his speech, which was disorganized, and indirect. It got the point where I just couldn’t understand him. Also, he started to become hyperaware of details. If in a room full of people, he would notice the way a dust bunny in the corner of the room was dancing atop the hardwood floor. When sitting with his mom in a diner one day, he started talking about a rabbit, as if his mom should know exactly what he was referring to. It wasn’t until she turned around and saw the painting of a farm with a rabbit in it, that she understood the origin of his thoughts. Temple was similarly observant, noticing and understanding things that no one else really had the awareness to note, or the ability to care about.
The brain certainly is a mysterious thing. Being as such, I am often frightened by what the brain can do.
Alzheimer’s is another example. It has been arising in the news more and more. I told my sister that I couldn’t cope with losing a loved one to Alzheimer’s, because it would be so similar to how I lost my ex to schizophrenia. I cannot stand the feeling of having lost someone who is still physically right in front of you. I do realize that they are making many great strides with Alzheimer’s… I just wish they’d do the same with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
There is so much we have yet to understand about our brains. The brain is simply powerful, and being as such, it can either serve as a powerful motivator or a powerful hinderance.
When I look at my post on July 25th and compare it to my post from September 16th, it would seem as though the same person wrote it. And yes, in literal terms the same body sat at the same computer to bang her fingertips against the keys and make words. Perhaps even the same brain was behind what was thought and said. I suppose you could determine though, that the difference was completely spiritual.
I had gone down to Asheville with my parents for my cousin’s wedding. As I mentioned earlier, social situations are not my forté, though I manage surprisingly well most of the time. July 29th was not one of those days. I went to the rehearsal dinner at a local restaurant, greeting old friends and family members whom I have not seen in a while. The room was hot and crowded, and I had already been stuck in a car for 4 hours with my parents, which is quite a feat. The drinks that night were incredible! Freshly squeezed mojitos, margaritas, and sangria with fruit. I’m not sure how many I had, but I remember the food being equally as satisfying. There was so much commotion, that I don’t recall much else besides that and the heat. After eating, and feeling like was about to die through the sentimental slide show, I grabbed the car keys and split. I went to the car and sat with the air conditioning full blast until my parents left and we headed back to the hotel.
The next evening was my cousin’s wedding. We had been warned about the heat and mosquitos, so I had already decided that I couldn’t do it after my anxiety the night before. The situation seemed pretty simple to me, sometimes, social situations can just be too much. My sister gave me positive feedback for my boundary-setting, and the rest of the day is a blur. The only thing I remember from that day is getting car sick while my dad explored the wealthy neighborhoods of the city. Besides that, I recall that my dad took me out to a Mexican restaurant after they returned from the wedding.
I’m uncertain as to why everything else is a blur, but I remained in that state until Tuesday morning, when I woke up completely back to normal in a women’s psych unit.
Apparently, in the wee hours of July 31st I decided to end my life. I say apparently, because that’s how it appears. I do recall being somewhat melancholy, mainly about my future with regards to relationships and my chances of survival with mental illness. Other than that, it really wasn’t much out of the ordinary. A friend of mine was alarmed by what I had said to my ex, and my sister reflected that she should’ve been alarmed by the things I said to her. When I had a chance, I glanced back at those conversations, and if I had been them, I wouldn’t have been alarmed initially either. I’m typically a dark person, with an even darker sense of humor. Despite my recently blossoming spirituality, I have a significant past of depression and suicidal tendencies. It would appear to be a thin line with me.
The truth is, though, that I haven’t felt that way since March. I made a significant spiritual commitment to God in March, and dangerous depression hadn’t really been an issue since. I’m uncertain as to why, 4 months later, I would decide to end my life without much of a warning. In the past, the spiral downward for me has been lengthy and gradual. This was sudden.
My only medical explanation is that I had started a mood stabilizer a week and a half prior. Many psychiatric medications can have unintended counter-effects; so that is a possibility. I had taken the medication in the past, but only in the context of a complete medication cocktail. I had not been on any psychiatric medications since March.
As for spiritual explanations, I have a few. I’m not sure this is the time or the place to delve into that. If anyone has questions, I’ll be willing to answer them, and I’ll probably stick with basics for now.
So that Sunday around 3 am, without explanation, I overdosed on 100 dramamine and 40 ativan. My dad and several police officers found me the next morning. Everything until Tuesday morning is a blur, and most of what I know now is what has been told to me by people who were with me. I was taken to the ER in an ambulance, and stayed there until midday on Monday, August 1st, when I was transported via ambulance to another local hospital to be admitted into their psychiatric unit.
When I woke on Tuesday morning, and as the day wore on, I started to realize everything that I had been through. What started to really dawn on me, was the miracle of my survival. I spent the week that followed, bonding with women in similar situations and in prayer. I also spent a good amount of time reading the bible, and was diligent about attending morning devotions. It was unusual to be in the unit at that time, because when I woke up, I went back to being my “normal” self and otherwise basically “sane.” I recognized within a few days that I was good to go home, but it doesn’t really work like that in psych units. I was patient, and participated a lot. At one point, I started to feel so desperate to get out and do stuff, that I thought being there might make me crazier. This is a big contrast to the times I’ve gone in before. My previous experiences in such a setting left me fearful of returning to life, uncertain if I could handle life’s curveballs after being in such a controlled environment for a week or two. As eager as I was to get back to life, I made an effort to utilize and appreciate my time there. I developed friendships with some really incredible women, and learned some new things about myself.
Spiritually speaking, I will contribute this: prior to this experience, I made a commitment to God, but after doing so, carried on with life as usual. I suppose I expected things to unfold like I’ve heard people promise… “make that commitment, and all the baggage you’ve been carrying will dissolve.” I basically spent about a month and a half on my couch, watching “King of the Hill,” and waiting for my issues to go away.
It didn’t quite work like that.
I had gone to 6 am prayer at my church a few times in the 2 weeks before my suicide attempt, and spent the time praying, but also in meditation, focusing on developing my bond with God. I focused closely on the prayer that the people around me wouldn’t become distractions in my relationship with God.
See… basically, I’m a bit different from the majority at my church. I think outside of the box, and I’m far more liberal than most. No… like FARRRRR more liberal. As for politics, though, I really don’t see how that should affect spirituality and vice versa. My problem was that, I was capable of putting myself in that setting and being open enough to listen to what had to be said about God, but in casual conversation, I allowed minor opinions to affect how I felt about everything that I had grown to love. I also felt like I was often overlooked and invalidated because I am so liberal. The gist of it is: I could open my mind enough to go there, and they could open their minds enough to welcome me, but it stopped there. If they couldn’t otherwise accept my views, then that wasn’t really my problem, and it was just another opportunity for people to get between my relationship with God. I started to feel like the people around me wanted me to change my ways of thinking to look more like theirs. That’s when I bailed, and turn to “King of the Hill.”
I think a lot of people have that sort of reaction. Most of the people I know who cringe at the thought of “Christians,” do so because of people they’ve encountered who use their faith as a weapon of judgment and condemnation. I don’t blame them. Until recently, that had been my main experience of Christians too. I realize now that my experience of “Christians” really has nothing to do with my experience of God, and how I feel about Christ. Nope, those were two TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS.
My experience of survival after my suicide attempt, however, made me realize that my relationship with God was far more important than any judgment I had previously faced from people who claim Him, as well as any judgment I had previously put upon people who claim Him.
I realized a lot, actually. In the days after my literal reawakening, I had an increasing spiritual reawakening.
I had always heard the quotation that said “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” (Eleanor Roosevelt) I came to understand that giving up on people because of the ways they judged me was hypocritical. If I expected them to not give up on me, I had to offer the same. My experience was sort of like God whispering in my ear to add, “people aren’t the point of spirituality anyway.” I do appreciate fellowship, but I also realize that I’m never going to fit into the mold of what people associate with followers of Christ. That’s fine by me. I had previously grasped onto all my bad habits, addictions, and toxic patterns because I assumed they held my identity. I didn’t want to lose my empathy, my creativity, and my quirkiness for the sake of dropping the negative. My experience made me realize that wasn’t an issue anyway. I realized that my past wasn’t haunting me anymore, and yet, I was still unique. I was focused and unmoved by things that used to break me, but just as determined to be an advocate for people with mental health issues and survivors of sexual violence.
I could pretend like it was “just” a suicide attempt, and nothing more, but it was more for me. When I got out of the hospital, I was surprised by people from my past who reached out to me for support. I also had a new outlook on life, and new thoughts on spirituality and mental health.
I used to think that suicide was a conscious and calculated decision. In my past experience, that was the case, but this was different. For whatever reason, I was in an altered state that went beyond not thinking rationally and became more dissociated. I realized that there are times in people’s lives when they will be in that state and take that drastic action without ever having made any decision at all, and without having much, if any, control over their actions.
For this very reason, I realized that I’m only in control of so much. I can take my meds, stay on schedule, respect my boundaries, and still fall short of taking care of what I need to survive. That’s when I realized that God is far more necessary than I had ever admitted. It is also when I realized that people are too insignificant for me to accept them as obstacles between God and myself. And on top of everything, I finally let go of the baggage I had lugged around for so long, because I knew that there are things that I can’t explain, things that are far bigger than myself. I had enough of a glimpse at the bigger picture to understand the purpose of my suffering for personal growth, and yet, the insignificance of it on a universal scale.
I would lie, and tell you that everything has been hunky dory since, if I thought compromising my integrity could serve some greater purpose. It won’t. It has been a struggle. I have faced speed bumps in my day-to-day life. I have argued with fellow church members. I’ve gotten in fights with my parents, and had moments when I felt helpless.
I see those moments as fleeting more than I ever have before, though.
I used to think that upheaval was a constant state of being. I used to feel resigned to my plight. These days, I’m more of a fighter. When conflict or turmoil arise, I reach out. I talk to loved ones and I pray constantly. When I’m being completely honest with myself, I see the obstacles as insignificant, and I’m overwhelmed by gratitude. When the past starts to creep back in to haunt me, I simply acknowledge that allowing it to haunt me will serve no greater purpose in this world, especially if I aspire to help those who have been through the struggles that I have been through.
I’m nowhere near perfect, which is fine. If we were perfect, humility would be difficult. I tried to keep that in mind when I felt the twinge of humiliation when reflecting upon being found naked in a hotel room, incoherent and surrounded by vomit. We all have our moments, and none of them look the same. It isn’t important to dwell, but it is important to acknowledge what we’ve faced and allow it to be an opportunity for learning and growth.
I feel more capable than ever. I don’t feel limited by my circumstances, because I realize that all things really are possible now. I’ve started pursuing new paths that I’ve known were in my future, but have consistently put off due to a nagging fear of failure.
Are there days when I’m fearful? Not really… but moments? Yes. I do sometimes fear that my past will creep up, like a gaining wave, and overpower me. Do I let that cripple me? No. Well, yes, but not for long. I’m human. I make mistakes and bad judgments, but I’m learning, not only about life, but about what I am capable of as a new person. I’m learning about myself in a spiritual context, and considering more and more who I am to God and who God is to me.
It is an odd thing to carry the possibility of hindrance in your brain, while everything else you feel is completely new. I suppose, in the end, it all comes down to being motivated by your newness, and always keeping your brain in check.
In closing, I want to share some important scripture with you. I focused on Psalm 91:11 while in the hospital, for the sake of reminding myself that God is watching over me. The only translation I had in the hospital was the King James Version, which isn’t my favorite. When I got out, I read each translation of it, and I settled on The Message’s version of the passage. It is awesome, and motivating. Whenever I have doubts, these words help me feel safe.
Psalm 91:1-14 (The Message)
You who sit down in the High God’s presence…
Say this: “God, you’re my refuge.
I trust in you and I’m safe!”
That’s right—he rescues you from hidden traps,
shields you from deadly hazards.
His outstretched arms protect you—
under them you’re perfectly safe;
his arms fend off all harm.
Fear nothing—not wild wolves in the night,
not flying arrows in the day,
Not disease that prowls through the darkness,
not disaster that erupts at high noon…
no harm will even graze you.
You’ll stand untouched, watch it all from a distance…
Yes, because God is your refuge,
the High God your very own home,
Evil can’t get close to you,
harm can’t get through the door.
He ordered his angels
to guard you wherever you go.
If you stumble, they’ll catch you;
their job is to keep you from falling.
You’ll walk unharmed among lions and snakes
p.s. I also want to add that my month and a half with the Hill family of Arlen, Texas wasn’t completely useless. I did learn this:
Lucky: You took the wrong message from what that preacher was screaming at you. You can’t go throwing stones at others until you’ve thrown a bunch of stones at yourself.
Bobby Hill: I guess you’re right.
Lucky: Besides, saving souls is not your job. That position is taken, in Heaven by the Big Man, and on screen by Morgan Freeman.