Doing the scary things

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Sometimes I wonder how people hear God. I wonder what it must be like for the people that say they hear God so clearly and have no doubt in their mind about what they’re supposed to do.

I’m not one of those people. To me, God is often muddled and seems far away and I’m still learning how I want to pray and how God speaks to me. Mostly, it’s meant restructuring everything I thought I knew about how exactly to listen to God.

I’ve recently been contemplating the question “what would it be like to live life not being scared?” This is something that’s been gnawing at me for months and months and I wasn’t sure how to respond at first. What does that mean, not being scared? And then I realized that it meant letting my fears of the future get the best of me – what if this happens? What if this doesn’t happen? What if I ultimately fail? And so on. These are fears that have stuck with me for a long time, and they’re not gone, not at all.

Instead, I’m learning to say “screw it” and come back to myself and do things that I consider scary:

I recently applied to the Episcopal Service Corps’ Service year program for the fall. I chose programs in NYC, Seattle, and Boston and as I’m going through the interview process, I’m realizing that my prayer for discernment and for the future was “if I have to do another admin job I’m going to scream”. I’m learning that God has been there all along, within me and without and that when I respond to the feelings I have, the impulses to “just do it”, that’s God working through me.

I re-pierced my nose, and I’m planning on getting a tattoo once I can get a consultation set up.

After writing about how angry I was at realizing that some interactions I had had in the past were assault, the person who assaulted me texted me asking if I was mad at them. After at least a month of ignoring his snapchats and other forms of communication, I was torn because I didn’t know what to do.

I decided to do the scary thing and confront him about what he did – not expecting him to change, but giving younger me the opportunity to express the words she wishes she had when she was 12, and was assaulted then by someone four years older than her. I then blocked him, and I haven’t felt so good in ages.

It pays off to do the scary things, the constructive things, the empowering things. I believe God wants us to challenge ourselves and to take risks that we didn’t think were possible. I now know I’m capable of so much, and I can’t wait to keep finding myself.

Does Satan exist?

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For a long time, I wasn’t sure what to think about the Christian idea of Satan. I definitely didn’t believe in a horned red dude with cloven feet who prowled around stealing babies or whatever, although the classic “image” of Satan is terrifying and enough to traumatize small children for a long time. I was obsessed with paranormal things when I was younger and while I never thought that it was demonic in and of itself I did believe in demons and evil things that could posses people but I was never totally sure in what way they manifested.

When I became Wiccan, I no longer believed in Satan. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I would sit in my bed and say “Ok Satan, if you’re real then come get me” (or something like that – I honestly can’t remember the exact words as it was a while ago now!). For someone who had grown up with the traditional Christian idea of Satan, this is a little embarrassing to recall but it was an essential step for me in the reclaiming of my own personal theology.

Wicca doesn’t believe in a devil or in a satanic figure, despite what some conservative or fundamentalist sources will have you believe. Wicca believes mostly in the balance between light and dark, good and evil, and that what you put out will come back to you three times. Believing this way helped me so much because I learned that it’s not an external force that causes bad things to happen – it’s us. There is good and bad in the world and there always will be, but we need to work to reconcile it in the world and also within ourselves. This idea shaped me a lot: it helped me make sense of the world, and it also helped me come to terms with my anxiety and make peace with some parts of myself that I didn’t want to think about.

When I started going to church again, I took this idea with me and realized that you don’t have to, nor necessarily should you, believe in an actual flesh-and-blood baby stealing Satan (because it probably doesn’t exist). What does exist, though, is poverty, and sex trafficking, and the ACA repeal, and deportation, and mass incarceration, and police brutality.

Guess who didn’t cause those things? A red baby-stealing dude. Guess who did cause those things? We did.

The people who voted for them caused them, and the people who remained apathetic caused them. The people who are so steeped in their own privilege caused them, and I know that Satan exists not as a myth from the Bible, but in the people who vote to defund Planned Parenthood, who exploit workers, those who want to kill gay people in Chechnya, and in those who define rape as a preexisting condition and who will let people die because of their own greed.

Am I being to harsh? Nah, I don’t think so. We have to recognize the evil that exists, right in front of our faces. Demonic activity isn’t so much possession or hauntings as it is people being consumed by greed and power and hatred and warfare.

I believe in the power of good to win. I believe that life is a balance, but not that bad things have to happen so that there’s good (that would be some bullshit right there). And, at the end of the day, I do believe in Satan, but that Satan exists within the forces of the capitalist, patriarchal, fundamentalist system. It exists when we choose to be priests and judges instead of Samaritans. It exists when we refuse to question the world around us and accept things because “that’s the way they are”.

I would love to say that we’ll live in a world where no evil would exist, but I don’t think that’s possible. So for the time being, I’ll keep on radically loving. I’ll keep on fighting and being an activist. I’ll keep resisting.

 

 

Finding my worth #reLENTless

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Last Friday, I had a realization, and it wasn’t a good one: I realized that an interaction that had occurred several months ago between a male friend and I was actually a physical assault on me, and when I thought back on it, this wasn’t even the first time he had disrespected my consent and my boundaries.

I had been talking to a friend on the night before and she was telling me about how a guy had physically assaulted her after she refused to bring him up to her room after a date. I realized by her definition, what had transpired between my (now former) friend and I was assault. My stomach dropped as I processed this information. On Friday, I had a breakdown on the bus home.

I was (and still am) so angry. I’m angry that I thought it was normal at the time and that it took months for me to realize otherwise. I’m angry that society conditions women to view men crossing physical boundaries as something that’s “flirty” or “natural”. I’m angry that it happened. And I’m especially PISSED that my boundaries and me saying no isn’t enough to stop someone from physically assaulting me.

I can’t believe, honestly, that I thought it was normal at the time. It’s especially traumatic for me because it mirrors another assault that happened to me at age 12, which left me very fearful for a long time.

When I reached out to female friends of mine, almost all of them had stories of their own assaults (physical and sexual) and how they didn’t realize that it was assault at the time. I guarantee that every woman you know has a story of some kind of assault, be it verbal, physical, sexual, or emotional, and how we’re gaslighted to see it as something that just happens because *throws hands in the air* that’s just how men are.

So. I immediately cut off contact with my “friend”. I deleted my dating apps, because I realized that I don’t want to date at the moment anyway. I decided to start to learn how to belong to myself and me only and not depend on the validation of others.

This realization was a long time coming and when I thought back in my interactions between myself and this person, I saw a pattern not just between him and I but also throughout my life. What I’m not saying is that if I had a better sense of worth or self-esteem that this wouldn’t have happened – that’s not how assault works. What I am saying is that now that I’ve realized a pattern of harmful and wrong male behavior, I can start focusing on myself and caring only about how I live my life. I can finally work to find my own value, rather than waiting for someone else to give it to me.

I’m angry, but I’m ok with that. I’m going to stay angry for now, and I’m going to carry the stories of the women I know with me.

 

The quiet revolution of loving myself #reLENTless

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Self-love is something I struggle with, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Society has told me for years and years through images, media, and even my own family that my body is wrong and therefore that I am wrong. Period.

It takes years and tremendous effort to undo these feelings and although I really started several years ago I’m still working on undoing the harm that has been done with misguided words and internalized hatred.

The Bible passage about loving your neighbor as yourself has always seemed easy to me; at least…I thought it was. I always found it so easy to love my neighbor; it’s the loving myself part that’s hard. I kind of disregarded the second half and just went right into loving my neighbor and just not thinking about myself. Or at least, not thinking about myself in a positive and loving way.

What really strikes me about the passage is the end, where it concludes “And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” I wonder why? It’s a very visceral reaction – that what Jesus said was so revolutionary that people were stunned into silence. Or maybe it was the most obvious thing ever, like “oh…of course I need to love my neighbor as myself.” Who knows?

What I do know, is that it is just as much a commandment to love myself as it is to love my neighbor. It’s also a commandment to love God, something which I think I do, but maybe don’t fulfill as much as I could because I’m still working on loving myself. I believe that God is within me as much as God is also an external force, so to love myself is also to love God.

Long story short, crunchy granola aside, tl;dr – I need to work on loving myself and recognizing God within me, as much as I see it within others.

But first things first – I need to work on being gentle with myself. To find my part in that quiet revolution that says that yes, I am good enough. I am loved. I am deserving. I am revolutionary.

 

Who lives, who dies, who tells my story? – #reLENTless

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Y’all. This Lent has been rough. But did I expect it to go any other way? To be honest, I’m not totally sure. I started Lent by doing several reflection exercises each day but that soon got to be overwhelming for me, so I cut back. I wanted to dig deep but I soon learned that the best expectation for my Lenten journey this year was to not have any expectations, and to also not expect anything to get fully resolved during Lent.

It doesn’t take only 40 days for problems to go away, so I’m working on being patient with myself.

One thing that has kept coming up has been the importance of telling my story, hence the (sneaky) Hamilton reference. I’m going on a retreat with the 20s/30s group at my church soon and we’ll be delving into this very topic, which is scary and exciting.

Here’s a part of my story that I’ve been wrestling with:

I am the child of an alcoholic.

I’ve been writing a teeny tiny, little bit more about it, but I want to emphasize that it’s only during Lent and really the past couple of months that I’m actually grasping that this is something that has impacted me far more than I would like.

I recently described an incident to my therapist and she said “Karen, that’s a textbook trauma response.” It took be aback because I never thought that I could have trauma – I’m so normal! I can deal with things! I manage my anxiety!

But yet here I am…learning how to cope with not only the fact that I have trauma, but also the trauma itself.

I’ve never told my full story to anyone before, but that is going to change and I’m going to share, first with the 20s/30s group on our aforementioned retreat. Why? Because I deserve to tell my own story.

I deserve to be defined by myself and reclaim my narrative.

In today’s #reLENTless scripture reading, we read about Jesus casting out a demon that’s mute.

I really think that most of the most vicious “demons” are mute; and they are the ones that we are silent about:

Addiction. Racism. Rape. Police brutality. Mass Incarceration. The demons that are so easy to overlook because we choose not to see them and how they affect us and those around us.

So, I’m ready to cast out my demons and share my story because I am relentless. I am deserving. And I get to choose how my story is told, always.

What would Esther do? #reLENTless

Queen Esther Revealing her Identity by Lilian Borca

Growing up, I had this beautiful children’s bible with gold page edges, and colorful illustrations of bible stories ranging from Jonah and the whale to the parable of the Good Samaritan. One of my absolute favorite stories though, was of Esther.

First of all, I loved the way her story was illustrated. Secondly, even at age 7 I could see that she was beautiful, smart, and committed to the survival of her people. She put herself in danger – under the penalty of death – and went against the king/her husband to do something that was right. She was brave and I loved that.

Today, we read Esther 14 and I see that yes, Esther was strong, but she also had anxiety. Explicit, outright anxiety, and I’ve now found yet another way to relate to her because I also have anxiety. Maybe Esther didn’t have an anxiety disorder like I do, but that’s okay.

She was seized with “deadly anxiety” and changed her clothes to ones of “distress and mourning” and “humbled her body”, and these all sound like utterly human reactions to anxiety to me. When I’m anxious, it often feels like I’m never going to get out of the spiral of thoughts that is consuming me. I generally want to do nothing and just lay in my bed and draw into myself and hope that the anxiety passes. I don’t want to get dressed in my normal clothes and go about my day, but I have to. And it sure as hell feels like my body is humbled, because holy fuck is it ever a reality check to realize that my brain doesn’t often do what I want it to do.

And yet, Esther does something different than my normal course of action; she goes to the Lord. She humbles herself before Them. I don’t know if I can express how explicitly hard it is to do this, especially if you are like me and have an anxiety disorder. I often feel reluctant to give up control because I know that even God can’t control my brain – my brain is the way it is because of a chemical imbalance (and I was created that way). I like to work as hard as I can to make sure I stay within the “normal” ranges of thought, but sometimes I get tired. Sometimes my brain gets tired.

I like how Esther gets right to the point and asks God explicitly for what she wants. She knows that God sees what’s on her heart and her mind and asks anyway, because maybe it feels better for her to get it all out in the open. Maybe asking God for help isn’t so much for God’s benefit and satisfaction, but for hers, so that all of her demons are brought into the light and not hidden.

I think I’m going to try to be more like Esther. I can be strong and funny and kind and hardworking and committed to justice, but I’m human. I might break down. I might get anxiety and feel like quitting, but I won’t. Instead I’ll face my demons: I’ll bring them out from the shadows and see that maybe, just maybe, they aren’t so scary after all.

Who gets to deliver me? #reLENTless

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I’ve been thinking a lot about alcoholism lately. This isn’t really anything new for me -I think about if often, because I live with an alcoholic who currently isn’t in recovery. But recently, I’ve been ruminating on the way I’ve been thinking about alcoholism. Even more specifically, how I can reclaim  my own narrative to be one of empowerment or maybe even deliverance.

If I’m being honest, I don’t think about the idea of deliverance a lot. It brings to mind epic action movie scenes and it’s not really a topic that I’ve thought that much about. Today in Psalm 34, we hear the psalmist say that the Lord has promised deliverance.

Sometimes I have a hard time believing that.

I want to, I guess, but if so often feels like I’m slogging through not only my own emotions but those of the alcoholic in my life. So much of what I do is oriented towards them and it’s been that way for my entire life. How do I participate in deliverance when I feel like I’m the one doing the delivering of another person?

I don’t want an answer right now; I’m sure it has something to do with giving up control and not taking responsibility for other people’s emotions, and so on. I know all of this, and I’m working really hard on it. It’s just…sometimes it seems like some of the perspectives on God’s promises fall a little flat.

It feels kind of scary to criticize what God promises to deliver to us, but I firmly believe God can handle it.

So, when will I be delivered? I don’t know, but it’s about the journey. Maybe, just maybe, finding God’s deliverance is about me delivering myself as well because God is in me and I am in God.