Judgment

What You Believe About Homosexuality Doesn’t Matter

This is a powerful post about the things that really matter!

And a video to put things into perspective!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ROXTFfkcfo

 

Staring Down the Pink Elephant

“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.

Go figure.

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.

That’s all.

“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.”  

–Paulo Coelho 

North Carolina: A Moment of Defeat in the Eternal Struggle for Righteousness

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.

The Awakening: August 2nd and the Days Since

(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:


“King of the Hill: Born Again on the Fourth of July (#13.14)” (2009)
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.

To Those We’ve Lost To The Current That Swept Them Away In The Silence Of The Night

One of my sister’s best friends from childhood was lost to suicide this past week.  You can find this story at this link.  I was going to post this comment on her blog, but I do understand that suicide is a more taboo subject than I sometimes realize.  (As Sinead O’connor recently pointed out on twitter.)  I’ve been meaning to post for sometime, about my own experience over the past couple of months, since I nearly lost my own life, but I’ve had a hard time forcing myself to do it.  Hopefully, I can muster up the strength to do it soon.

Her most recent post was titled “Will She Remember?” and contained a poem she wrote about her daughter, posing the question of whether she would remember these days of her youth.  The post is prefaced by this quotation: “In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy, too.” ~Robert Brault …and a photo of her daughter.

This was my response:

This is a very haunting question to have as a final post.  Amanda, my dear, I wish that I had words for these moments, but there simply aren’t any.  I have had many friends of friends who have been lost to this battle, but I felt pretty distant from each of those instances.  You were one of my sister’s best friends in middle school, and I remember that.  I also recall seeing you on the park and ride at UNCG, and pretending not to notice, because I’m sure you understand how awkward it can be to talk to people from your past whom you were somehow distantly connected to.  Now, I feel a slight twinge for not saying a simple “hello.”  It makes me wonder if we could’ve hit it off.  I almost died this past July 30th from a similar incident.  I was grateful and humbled by surviving, but now I’m left recognizing that some don’t survive, which makes me wonder why.  I know you are already missed terribly, I can see that from the memorial page they made for you on Facebook.  I also know that few will really understand.  I wish I could offer you that understanding, but I suppose it’d be of little value now.  My heart breaks for your daughter.  I want her to have the understanding of how much you loved her, and the understanding of why things happen as they do, without the pain of personal struggle.  I’ll pray for her.  My heart breaks for you too.  I know what it is like in those final moments, when the world becomes a dream, and you decide to slip away.  Sometimes you feel a stirring beneath your feet, as if the ground is about to open up.  Sometimes you feel nothing at all.  Every time I learn that someone has taken their own life, I pray for them.  I pray for them, just as I did for myself in the moments when the fear set in, the final seconds before you hear the door shut behind you.  I pray for their souls, though I can’t honestly justify the idea that a loving God could punish people so desperate, so consumed by the darkness… for caving under the pressure.  I pray they find peace, love, protection… and strength.  I prayed for you today, Amanda.  I heard the news at lunch, though my parents were afraid to say the words in front of me, my own past being so fresh behind me.  I had a moment alone to go to PetSmart for rabbit food, and I prayed as I walked into the store.  I almost felt as if I was floating, and I could almost feel your presence there.  I understand the loneliness.  I understand being overwhelmed.  I’m one of the few who can comprehend a moment of crisis, when you are certain you have no other options.  I don’t know why I’m here, and you aren’t.  I am torn between feeling blessed and feeling guilty.  I’m also left with a nagging fear that I could still lose the battle one day too.  I pray you are lifted gently to God without judgment or bitterness.  Most people don’t understand the desperation, mainly because they’ve never felt it.  I wish they could understand it without having to feel it.  I know a lot of people make promises to themselves, though, a promise that they would never do such a thing, but who is to say where life will take us?  How can any of us rest assured in what our future holds?  I wish I could stop it.  I wish, for everyone out there at this moment with a gun in their hand, a bottle of pills, a razorblade, on a bridge, or with something wrapped around their necks… I wish it would stop.  And for their sakes, as for my own, I wish it would stay stopped.  The truth is, it ebbs and flows, and we never know when the current may take us under, even when our feet seem planted, and steady.   I wish, when people heard of suicide, they didn’t place judgment.  I wish it allowed them an opportunity to stop and consider with gratitude, how blessed it is to live a life so distant from dismay that you can’t even comprehend such actions.  My heart goes out to you, that you are safe now, wherever you are… I pray you are finding respite.  My heart goes out to your family, friends, and students; that your life and their loss fills them with gratitude and allows them to realize the responsibility of support that is placed upon the stable who dwell amongst the troubled.  I know I never said hello, but I hope my prayers find you now, and you are warmed by my understanding and reassured by the numbers of hearts going out to you and yours tonight.

***

If you, or someone you know is struggling with mental illness & contemplating suicide, there are options:

If you NEED HELP NOW… Call the NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you are a survivor or have survived an attempt, you can find resources from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

To take a stand against the stigma associated with mental illness, you can find out more from BRING CHANGE 2 MIND.

***

You can find out about suicide prevention from the AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION.

Please don’t wait until suicide affects you personally, find out how you can help.  The AFSP does a walk to raise funds for suicide prevention research called: OUT OF THE DARKNESS.  It is an 18 mile walk that ends at sunrise.  In 2012, the walk will be in San Francisco.  Sign up, raise money, train, and do something to not only save lives, but improve them as well.  I’m hoping to start a team, and do the walk in 2012.

***

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Ask questions.

Share your story.

Do what you can to start the conversation, and take the first steps on the road toward healing.

***

(this video was made to raise funds for the overnight walk that happened in NYC this past June)

My VERDICT is IN on Lady Gaga

Look, as an artist, I respect Lady Gaga (her voice, the music, the lyrics), and I get what she trying to do… but the whole concept of being “born this way” is kind of ironic to me coming from her, because I want to be like “No… honey, no you weren’t. You were not born from an egg that was being carried by an entourage, from which you emerged with a flashy-ever changing wardrobe and a totally smokin’ bod.”

Over the top? Maybe. I think I was born resistant and rebellious. I mean, I refused to come out for quite some time before they cut my mom open and drug me out.

I think it is great to encourage people to be themselves, but these artists need to be a little more honest with the mirror when they claim they’re being themselves. Jessie J’s song “Who You Are” is AMAZING, it says “its ok not to be ok.” Which is a line I really appreciate, and it really helps me when I’m dealing with raw emotions. But there is one line where she says, “Brushing my hair, do i look perfect? I forgot what to do to fit the mold,” which kind of irks me. For those of you who have seen Jessie J, her hair IS perfect. She may be a little unique, but she fits the mold quite well: tall, skinny, pretty. That is why I appreciate the YouTube cover of the song by Meghan Tonjes. She’s a big girl, with an amazing voice, and she’s gorgeous… but everything about her is just more REAL. (And her voice is better than Jessie J’s anyway) And when SHE sings “its ok not to be ok” I believe it so much more

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Why can’t we have artists like that? Artists who are real, and natural, and embracing it??? When I look at Lady Gaga, I always think that. It is easy to say that you’re different, and you want people to be themselves, but they can’t really look to you to as a role model of how to do that… when you are very typically beautiful, but you throw on a mask, some wigs, and a WILDLY OUTRAGEOUS garb to simultaneously negotiate and highlight the ways you fit into heteronormative beauty standards. You want to REALLY challenge us? Go get fat, or something.

This also applies to Beyoncé, who has put out songs like “If I Were a Boy,” and “Run the World.” I feel like those songs are so manipulative, because they reinforce pretty horrible things while trying to play it off as though they are are challenging them. Also, Beyoncé… I saw you recently. You were blond. Please, stop sending the message that young black girls would be prettier if their hair was blonder and straighter. If you want to blow our minds for a minute… go all Erykah Badu with that shiz. I’m not saying all black women should go  “au naturel,” but there are far more famous black women out there who look whiter and whiter every time I see them, and that’s not fair.

Here is a great analysis of the Beyoncé phenomenon:

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Gaga, your voice is pretty incredible… but I often feel like your music and your entire performance really play down your talent, when you should be embracing it. That’s why I always appreciate your performances on SNL more. You tend to start songs with a piano and just you, in a flashy costume, REALLY SINGING. Once you move on to the PERFORMANCE of it, though… YOU get lost, and all I hear is “blah blah blah.”

I don’t even want to buy your CD, even though I think I’d enjoy it. I feel like I’d be buying into this whole market of people who DO know how to “fit into the mold” while claiming they don’t; or telling me to be myself, when I have no way of knowing the difference between who they really are, and what they portray.

I miss more genuine representations of rawness and humility in music… the ones that don’t just claim things without the substance to back it up. That’s what I like about India Arie, Janis Joplin, Lauryn Hill, and Ani DiFranco… (sometimes p!nk, although she gets caught up in the marketing of it all too).

I get that marketing plays that game of “Buy this, because you’re not good enough, and this will make you better,” but can’t we reserve that technique for make up, diet products, and plastic surgery? Can’t we let the voices and the music speak for themselves when selling MUSIC?!?! I don’t care what you look like, the only thing I want from music is inspiration.

Music is SOOOOOOO POWERFUL. I get that it is a commodity, but can’t we just PLEASE get away from that for a while???

I want to look at musicians as ARTISTS, not just PERFORMERS. And I need to see women turn towards this model so much more, because the male artists out there have way more freedom to do it already.

I want to see female artists who ARE themselves. Where is the market for that? I want someone who looks something other than perfect singing me a song that tells me that she loves herself as is, and wants others to do the same. You can say it all you want, but actions speak louder than words. I get that you want people to see YOU, Gaga… I get that you’re into the flashy thing… but a few minutes of crying about being bullied as a kid in a documentary doesn’t convince me. I’m not saying walk around all the time crying about it… I’m just saying that I need more time of real YOU, not masked, costumed you… just you. And yes, I realize that you naturally fit into a lot of preset beauty standards, and maybe the flashy garb is an attempt to negotiate that… I get that, and I can respect it. But, I KNOW you have days where you aren’t made up and costumed. I WOULD LOVE to see you like… in some effing PJ’s or something!!! Just relax!!!

Russel Brand recently tweeted a pic of wife, Katy Perry without make up. She was horrified, and made him take it down, but I don’t know why. She was obviously caught off guard in the pic, but she was natural… and beautiful. I’m telling you, dear celeb women, you’re celebrities for a reason… you have something naturally already. Don’t feel so hard-pressed to dress it up and make it up like you aren’t good enough as is. How horrible do you think it makes us feel to see that even the most beautiful of women feel the need to hide within costume of what others think we should be?

You know how they have those “DON’T GET GAS DAYS” when gas prices spike, as sort of a protest??? I would LOVE to challenge ALL CELEBRITY WOMEN to go out one day, and walk the streets with the paparazzi entourage following… in nothing but pajamas. No make up. LET US SEE YOU!!! OWN IT. Hiding yourselves doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help other young women out there who look up to you. I know some of you have tried it in a photo shoot here or there, but it is safer to be without clothes and make up when you have lighting and a good photographer. Just saying.

And yes, I realize that looking up to celebrities is stupid as it is.  I GET THAT. Most people DO NOT.

AND CELEBRITIES ARE IN OUR FACES ALL THE TIME… and I guess I’m just as sick of people selling lies as I am by the fact that we actually buy them.

I’m done with my main point. But I’ll add a few perspectives, to open your mind.

Here is a recent vloggity by Philip DeFranco (love of my life). I really appreciate this message, and I totally think more men need to say it just as much as women need to say it (and mean it). I do also realize, though, that it is very valuable coming from women who say it and live it… Mainly because so many of us, too often, look to men to validate our worth.

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Also, I realize that I’m not a musical person, and lyrics always hit me more, but I also appreciate the honesty of slam poetry… it is like music to me. Just a beat, and words. I know honesty isn’t totally marketable, but I wish it could be. I’ve posted my favorite slam poet, Buddy Wakefield here before, so this time, I want to share some slam poetry from an eclectic group of youths who are featured on HBO’s series “BRAVE NEW VOICES” which is presented by Russel Simmons.

“1893” by Jamaica

“That Girl” by Alysia

on the lighter side, but still completely raw:

“Ode to Philip Seymour Hoffman” by Aimée

I’ll end with my recent revamp of the commonly used Marilyn Monroe quotation:

“It is true that you don’t deserve me at my best, if u can’t handle me at my worst, but you should probably know that my worst is intense and my best is brief.”  

~Noelle Aviña 🙂

Cheering On Your Rapist?!

Three Cheer For Rape???
(I don’t know how to link on wordpress from my phone, so copy and paste the link below to understand this blogpost)

http://ephphatha-poetry.blogspot.com/2011/05/three-cheers-for-rape.html

This breaks my heart, because it is exactly what I’ve been struggling with… What do you do when society constantly reinforces your worthlessness? It is so hard to single-handedly fight the majority of people, and the main attitudes of apathy or indifference on the subject. How can we even address self esteem and body image in girls, when we simply say “you’re beautiful”… That’s not enough. It starts with how cases like this are handled!!! It starts with the messages we receive that boys are more powerful, then goes to saying boys are more valuable (misdemeanor charge for rape?!), then as a girl marches past that obstacle, she’s told to suck it up and do what she’s told… Her opinion doesn’t matter, her PAIN doesn’t matter, SHE doesn’t matter… So how about we start there, rather than taking girls who’ve been through trauma, and putting a bandaid over the wound by patting them on the back and believing that saying they’re pretty will be enough, when everything else in the world (our actions) tells them they are WORTHLESS!!!