hard to say: I am not alone

I sat in a horrified fury as the pastor spoke some of my greatest questions and deepest beliefs in a mocking tone in order to stress his point. Everybody laughed.

In one hour, the environment I had grown to love, where I felt spiritual freedom to think and believe and love exactly as I was made to, was demolished. In one hour, the kind, intelligent, and supportive people I had grown to respect transformed into enthusiastic bobble heads, shouting out their agreements and Amens before a point was even made.

My heart was broken, my spirit crushed. I cried hot tears of grief and mourning as I drove home from the young adult’s group that Monday evening. Once again, I do not belong.

In the days that followed, I felt achingly lonely. I tried to talk about it with the people I trusted most, who had previously been so open to growing together in our differences. But anytime I started to bring it up, the subject was immediately changed. It was clear they didn’t want to hear it.

I asked God to please help me understand what everyone else was in agreement with. What is wrong with me that I cannot find truth in this? The deafening silence that responded emptied my soul; I felt completely alone.

This is the exact spiritual abuse I was brought up in. The practice of: “if you are not with us, you are against us.” It is the reason I do not trust the church, the reason my spirit is uniquely sensitive. I did not belong then and I certainly do not belong now. But as much as I long for belonging, perhaps I was not made to belongPerhaps I was made to stand out. 

As I meditated on this thought, I began to feel a loving presence wrap its arms around my soul, filling me with peace and healing my heart. There is nothing wrong with me.

The subtle attempt to control God, or “the theology of more” as my therapist calls it, is simply not something I can ever come into any kind of agreement with. The command to always do more – pray more, worship more, give more, sacrifice more – in order to get closer to God. The idea that we must live a certain way and follow a set of laws in order to please God and receive His blessings – I choose to live outside of this idea, to turn away.

If God created each of us with different purposes and unique gifts, why would he want us to live exactly the same way? Can we not just trust God to tell each of us individually what he wants for us, without becoming so fearful of the unknown we must create laws in an attempt to control the outcome?

My turning away from the church feels strongly like turning every ounce of my being directly towards God. It is lonely and painful, losing the comforting sense of community I thought I’d acquired. But in letting go of this, I am stepping out of God’s way and allowing Him to love me and to do with me what He wants. Whatever that may be, I am on board. I trust His plan and His timing. I may be lonely, but I am certainly not alone.

-EC

hard to say: God loves me… apparently

I’ve been trying to write this story for weeks. In those weeks, I’ve learned two things. One: much as I’ve tried, there is no way to tell this story without sounding fucking crazy. And two: I experience it all over again anytime I so much as think about it.

Despite my distaste for religion and distrust of the church – the very organization that’s so wronged my family – I’ve been attending a Monday evening young adult’s service for months. I originally agreed to go with a friend so she wouldn’t have to go alone (heaven forbid) but when she bailed, I still went. This service is held at the church my sister attends – a church I think very little of – and she and her husband often lead worship.

I thought I knew my sister well up until that first night; but as I finally saw her in all her glory, I realized I’d been a fool.

This was not typical worship, where wannabe musicians fuel their egos and a congregation competes for the best Christian performance, no. This was something else. To witness my sister worshiping is to know, with absolute certainty, that something good and real is happening within her. She is generous enough to let it pour out of her mouth and into our desperately hungry hearts. And so I kept returning by myself.

One day, after spending Christmas with a good friend and engaging in a surprisingly honest conversation about God, our struggles and hope, I found myself praying. What I’d been doing before then can hardly be called prayer; I’d been yelling (and cursing) at God. But this time, armed with my friend’s encouragement, I asked God for a message. Nothing vague or confusing, but rather something undeniable to show me He was real and He loved me. Then, as was advised, I gave Him a deadline. I asked for His reply no later than the following evening, which was (conveniently) Monday night.

I went into service that Monday believing this was going to be it; I was going to get a message from God. Instead, I received a big, giant, God-sized middle finger in the face.

First of all, some other people lead worship that night and it sucked; I felt nothing. Then, after the speaker gave a few prophetic words, which were most definitely not meant for me, she went on to speak about walking in faith through disappointment. HA! I left that night in a dark cloud. “Fine! Fuck you, too!” I shouted on my drive home.

The following week I did not want to go. I felt tired and irritated and it seemed pointless. My friend (the same one who originally bailed on me) once again convinced me to accompany her. There was a brief moment, sitting in my car, where I took a breath and thought aloud, I still choose you… you dick.

Worship began and in all my irritation, I could not focus. It didn’t help that my friend was putting on the most perfect performance I’d ever seen. But instead of writing her off as a total phony (because I really have no way to know one way or the other) I decided to sit my ass down and try to ignore her. I took off my boots and sat cross-legged in my seat. I closed my eyes, controlled my breathing, put all other people out of my mind, and just listened. And in my meditative state, weird shit started to happen.

It started with a very strong tingling traveling up my spine, causing me to gasp upon reaching my neck. Then I was bombarded with thoughts of my niece. I had not naturally reached for these thoughts; they were put there quite forcefully.

I saw her running toward me, smiling, arms open wide. I saw her laughing and jumping on the couch. I saw us dancing together with Taylor Swift’s Shake it off on repeat. I remembered dancing with her in my arms when she became tired but insisted on continuing. I saw her throwing a tantrum, scrunching up her face and stomping around. I remembered the effort it took not to laugh.

Then I began to feel it – a love I didn’t know existed, let alone that I was capable of. I thought of how when my niece misbehaves or rebels, I somehow love her even more. And in that moment, as I became completely overwhelmed by love, I felt an undeniable THIS IS HOW I LOVE YOU. Then my sister started to sing Taylor Swift’s Shake it off and I dissolved into tears.

My tears quickly turned to laughter as I realized I was crying to a Taylor Swift song. Then I opened my eyes, remembered where I was and wiped away the evidence. All around me people were flailing about, completely unaware I’d just had a breakthrough.

Since then, I’ve been walking around on shaky legs, trying to adapt to a reality that obliterates much of what I thought to be true. I’ve only been able to tell portions of this story to two people: my sister and my therapist. Both times I kept it short because I started crying all over again. Hell, I’m crying again right now. Apparently God loves me. Holy shit.

-EC

let’s talk about sex

I grew up in a household that preached, “No sex until marriage.” There was no real discussion or explanation other than, “because I said so,” or “because it’s in the bible,” so I just accepted this as truth for a long time. I didn’t know there was any other way until highschool; or more specifically, until I joined my highschool’s cheerleading team. In the ninth grade I remember overhearing one of the senior girls saying, “Man I can’t wait until I’m done my period so I can fuck my boyfriend.”

WHAT?! I struggled with this. People are having sex? Up until that point, I had considered kissing with tongue “going all the way.” Oh my God, am I going to have to have sex?!

I lost my virginity when I was 17. It happened one afternoon on my rickety futon at my parents’ house; everyone was home. I’d had absolutely no intention on having sex with him. I was not forced into having sex – I made my decision and actively participated in the process – but I knew I was not ready and did not want to. However, he was not a virgin. I knew he expected sex and I didn’t want to disappoint him.
I didn’t want to disappoint him.

That relationship continued off and on for roughly two-and-a-half years, but ultimately ended. From there I began a string of one night stands with good looking friends until one of them wanted to be my boyfriend. That relationship lasted three years and ended because I met someone else I wanted to sleep with. That quickly went to shit and I resumed sleeping around. I kept my sex-life pretty fast and greasy because sex was easy and felt good.

One day I wanted more. I was surprised by this feeling. So I set a target on the next attractive man I found and I gave myself to him: body and mind. I opened my heart to love and all its possibilities. Unfortunately, he shat all over it. Desperately wanting to hold on to that thing I had felt, I clung to him. He, pleased to have ownership of my body and control of my mind, allowed me to stay. Eight months later I retreated, broken.

I took a three-year hiatus from all things romance and anything remotely physical. I put all my effort into healing and personal growth.

A few weeks ago I started dating again. Enough time had passed and I opened back up to the possibility of connecting with someone. I went on a few dates with a kind man with shared interests. We exchanged stories easily and enjoyed each other’s company. He didn’t try to touch me and I felt safe. On the fourth date we had sex. Hmm, that felt like a mistake.

He still wanted to see me except there was a very distinct change. Rather than asking me out for coffee or dinner or a walk, he wanted me to come over. When I got to his house, we immediately started kissing. Hang on, I don’t want this. I put on the brakes and suggested that we go out. We had a lovely meal and great conversation, but then we went back to his house and had sex. Wow, something is wrong.

Unable to ignore the nagging feeling in my gut, I dissected it. The sex was fine so why don’t I feel good? Sex was my primary source of self-esteem – if somebody wanted me, I must be good. But I am different now. I’ve spent time with myself and I know I am good; my self-worth comes from within. So why did I have sex with him? I was horny. I have not been touched in three years, I was clearing out the cobwebs. Then why did I do it a second time? I like him, I want more than one night of passion, I want something real. Plus, I was able to stop when things went too quickly. But why didn’t I just say goodnight after the date? Why did I have sex with him when I still didn’t want to? Because I knew he expected it and I didn’t want to disappoint him.
I didn’t want to disappoint him.

Thirteen years later and I made the same adolescent mistake. Have I learned anything? Yes. I have learned to listen to my gut and analyze my choices. I have become conscious of my thoughts and feelings. I am cultivating the belief that I am worthy of more. I am not beating myself up for making mistakes. And for the first time in my life I am asking myself: on what planet do someone else’s physical desires trump my emotional needs?

To be continued…

-EC