of flowers and bullshit

“But wait, oh  wait. See how the morning breaks! It’s the simplest of love songs but it’s all our hearts can take. And though we lose our stake, heaven is where we make it. Even in the smallest places can a garden grow.” ~ Garden, Noah Gundersen

“come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.” ~ lucille clifton, won’t you celebrate with me

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It was the day after Mother’s Day when I had lunch with my mom and my sister. I am still recovering from that interaction, and I didn’t sleep much the night before. I had forgotten what it was like to have an entire day or even a week consumed by one interaction with my parents. This time, my mom needed me to know how much she and my dad were “grieving” and specifically how much my dad was hurting. I haven’t spoken to my dad since Thanksgiving.

When a parent decides to abuse their child, they don’t get to dictate how to make the child feel anymore. I am also tired of realizing the life I lived up until a couple years ago was so fucked up. I am glad I realize it and that I’m in a different place. It’s just a lot.

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I received a message this past Saturday from a former “friend” from my old church who’s been talking to my father apparently. The body count of the Evangelical church is so damn high, it’s like they used the bodies to build their own Tower of Babel of ignoring how deadly their theology is to LGBTQ people. But sure, we’re the ones rebelling against God.

I am happy. For perhaps the first time ever, and let me tell you, if ever there was a time for homophobic bastards to come out of the woodwork, I guess it’s now. Reaching the point not of reconciling queerness with my own faith but figuring out how to explain and reconcile it with those who share my faith seems absolutely ridiculous now. I just don’t care anymore for the feelings of The Straights. My love for my wife is not a perversion–oh yeah, by the way, I have a wife. Because it’s two thousand fucking eighteen and you can love whoever the hell you want.

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The walls of the house I grew up in used to scream with memories of what happened to me. Now that I’ve truly found a home that’s safe and have learned to love myself and others well, the walls aren’t screaming any more. I am not a perversion. I am a subversion of the systems that tried to destroy me. Not only is it time to bloom where I’m planted but it’s time to start flourishing.

And so the healing continues…

coming up for air

“Just keep fighting. Just keep fighting.  That’s what I’m supposed to do. If I just keep fighting, just keep fighting, maybe I’ll believe it too.” ~ Prophecy Girl, Jenny Owen Youngs

“There is some goodness in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” ~ Samwise Gamgee, from the film adaption of Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Little things, all the stereotypes
They’re gonna help you get through this one night
And there will be a day
When you can say you’re okay and mean it.” ~ Dodie, Secret for the Mad

My dear friends,

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written, so I have LOTS of life updates for you. The first of which I’ll focus on the most because I GOT MARRIED. Tomorrow it’ll be three weeks and I’m still having moments where it dawns on me that I’m married.

Just an excerpt from the morning of my wedding when I sat down to write in the few moments of quiet I had:

My stomach is all in knots–not because something bad is happening, but because something good is. Something very good. I get to marry the best person I know. She is kind and loving, she is hilarious and smart, she is beautiful and she is strong. She is not perfect but she is perfect for me. And soon I get to call her my wife.

It was the perfect day surrounded by our chosen family and I couldn’t have asked for a better day. How does one describe the most beautiful, perfect day of one’s life so far? It was like watching a sunset with all my favorite people and getting to share my happiness with them. Many of whom my wife and I wouldn’t be here without.

 

It was a tiny bit of what I imagine heaven to be like. The kingdom of heaven is here–in all the conversations, the laughter, the music, the good food, flowing alcohol, and hugs. In seeing my wife in her wedding dress for the first time and not being able to breathe or stop smiling.

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There are not enough words. It was the perfect day filled to the brim with happiness. I had no idea I’d ever experience this much happiness. It’s great to be free at least to just be myself and enjoy being alive.

So, yeah, I got married, got a tattoo, and applied to seminary all in a few weeks time because I LOVE doing lots at once and then getting too overwhelming to write about it for a bit. I keep looking at pictures and grinning like an idiot or crying all over again because I’m so damn happy, y’all.

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When my wife tells me that I’m safe, that I’m loved, that I am good…I finally believe that’s true. And when she tells me to breathe now I have that permanently written on my arm using her handwriting.

“How long can you wait to. breathe. deep. How long can you stay underneath? It’s hard to believe but I know you’re heart still beats. Rise on up, baby. Don’t need eyes to see…

It ain’t over, love. This I swear. It ain’t over yet. The light’s right here. And we’re coming up for air.

End of the line. There’s. Still. Time. Listen to me, child. You’re. Alive.” ~ Coming up for Air, Signals in Smoke

Oh Dysphoria

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“Here we meet again. It hasn’t been too long ago. My worst enemy seems to become my closest friend. Oh Dysphoria! Please don’t come again…” ~ Dysphoria, Leif De Leeuw Band

When I was in middle school, I remember having to memorize a list of pronouns.

I, you, he, she, it, we, they, me, you, him, her, us, them, his, hers, theirs, ours…

Pronouns are similar to nouns but slightly more specific. We use pronouns all the time to describe ourselves as singular, collective, gendered, specific, subjective, objective, neutral.

Pronouns define us. All of us. And often they put us into categories of whether we are singular, with someone else, what our gender is, etc. But you didn’t come here for a grammar lesson (I hope…if you did, great!)…

Many folks who identify as trans/genderqueer will often change their pronouns from the ones they’ve always used as a way of transitioning and helping themselves align more with their genders. I am one of those folks who identifies as (read: I am) non binary. What that means is I was assigned female at birth but my gender is somewhere outside the gender binary of male and female. And for a while I was comfortable using she/her pronouns and being referred to as a woman but mostly out of convenience.

It is no longer convenient for me to do so because for as long as I can remember, folks automatically assumed that I was a woman either by using she/her pronouns, or calling me ma’am, etc. And it was UNCOMFORTABLE. It’s not that I am simply discontent with my body (which I am). I am distressed by parts of my body that are gendered female and pronouns assigned to me that are gendered female. This is what is known as dysphoria.

It’s like if someone constantly called you the wrong name (whether intentionally or unintentionally) or told you that you liked apples when you HATE apples and much prefer oranges. But much much worse. This feeling grates on you constantly and finally you get to a point where you have to say something or self-destruct (please don’t; don’t worry I’m no where near that point).

SO. This is me saying that to the rest of the world I guess outside of a few close friends and my partner. Binding my chest occasionally, cutting my hair short, and using they/them pronouns feels more me and aligns with the fact that I feel like my gender exists somewhere outside of and yet also between female and male. It’s ok to get it wrong as long as you acknowledge that and correct it. I know gender is complicated and it’s hard to think outside of the gender binary. But please know: it means a lot to me when the effort is made. I use they/them pronouns now. This is a part of who I am. And I am not an inconvenience that you can ignore. I don’t care of people think I’m a god damn unicorn. I am non-binary and deserving of the respect that is using the correct pronouns. That is all.

there is a balm in gilead

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“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”

“Well, let that lonely feeling wash away. Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay ’cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand, you can reach, reach out your hand. And oh, someone will come running. And I know they’ll take you home.” – You Will Be Found, from the musical Dear Evan Hansen

The following is my attempt to process the Why Christian Conference my partner and I attended this past weekend at Duke Divinity School:

The music has faded now, all the break-out sessions are finished, the speakers have left us with their stories still echoing in our hearts. I imagine that many of us who attended the conference returned home to our jobs, our families, our pets, etc. And now we’re trying to figure out what to do with all these testimonies we heard–all these stories centered around the question “Why Christian?” I also got to meet many theologians and writers and friends I only knew on twitter in real life.

(Pictured left to right: Laura Jean Truman an amazing human being whose blog you should check out [https://laurajeantruman.com/], myself, and Austen Hartke, author of Transforming: The Bible & the Lives of Transgender Christians. Also, me talking to Rachel Held Evans who wrote Searching for Sunday, a book that helped me come back to the Christian faith and not give up on Christianity completely)

I’m still trying to process with a full heart what it means to still be Christian while also acknowledging that Christians, the Church, and how they’ve used the Bible against me have caused so much harm. Harm that I’m still healing and recovering from. Harm that is still being caused by Christians, the Church, and how they’re using the Bible.

I heard for the fist time in my life from pastors who are like me–queer Christians who affirmed my calling into ministry but also acknowledged the pain that comes along with that calling in predominantly straight, white, cisgender and usually male spaces. This weekend showed me and reminded me there is a place for me in this beautiful family of God where I can be my full self–that my queerness is not something to hide but to be embraced. All of the pain, fear, rejection, and hiding is not the whole of my story and my story is not over yet. There is a place for us. There is a place for all of us–women (not just white straight women), people of color, queer people, disabled people–in this family.

Many of us hearing the words fo the speakers this weekend have had to fight to prove ourselves in religious spaces. We didn’t have to fight for that in this space. I did something this weekend I’ve never been able to do in a church service. I brought my full self in to worship. I sang hymns with tears in my eyes at a few points because I could sing freely as a queer Christian that “the Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.” And I could do that while wearing a rainbow fedora and while standing next to my fiancee. And no one stared. Or told us to leave. We held hands and walked around during the conference without fear. Our pain was voiced and seen by speakers who not only supported LGBTQ+ people but many of whom were queer themselves.

I had to wonder–is this what heaven is like? Where we can all be our full selves and accept one another as we are? Maybe heaven truly is a place on earth. But just as heaven can be a place on earth so is hell.

I came back home and my partner and I have both voiced our frustrations to each other about the church we attend which is currently in conversation about whether to be affirming of queer people. Mind you, there are many queer people in our church but several in the church who want to debate about whether we can serve in the church, need to repent of “sin,” or whether being non-affirming can also mean being loving. There is a place for us but we’re still having to fight for it. I know we’re not the only ones.

Jeff Chu was asked during his break-out session on Saturday “Why Christian?” and for him his answer was “Because I’m still alive.” Honestly, that’s my answer too. I’m still alive and I know Jesus is for me whether other Christians or society is or not. Lord, how long until we do not have to do this fighting for survival anymore? 

The Church has often said I do not belong. And this is where that practice of self-empathy Jeff spoke of in his break-out session and telling our own stories comes in. Emmy Kegler, one of our main speakers reminded us that we are beloved children of God. The Church may not always tell us that. But my practice of self-empathy is this: When I need to be affirmed that I am loved, safe, and not alone. That I am good, that I belong, and that I am enough…I have others around me and myself to remind me that I am all of those things. I have Jesus to remind me that I am all of those things. And you are all of those things.

“We will take our shit and we will make beautiful things.” ~ Jeff Chu, Why Christian Conference 2018

“I want a vigilante Savior–but I need a Savior with swift and terrible mercy. I need a Savior who is merciful because it is I who need mercy.” ~ Nadia Bolz-Weber, Why Christian Conference 2018

 

Shadowboxing

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“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it.” ~ Isaiah 58:1-3 (NLT)

“I know that you don’t understand ’cause you don’t believe what you don’t see. When you watch me throwing punches at the devil, it just looks like I’m fighting with me…

But there’s comfort in failure. 

Singing too loud in church

Screaming my fears into speakers

Till I collapse or burst

Whichever comes first…”

Julien Baker, Shadowboxers

Let’s talk about prayer and fasting. Or better yet, let’s talk about fasting, thoughts and prayers in a nation that is all about thoughts and prayers. And fasting but only when it makes us look good.

First, there’s the fasting.

Fasting. I tried that once. Or a thousand times. All I got were headaches, a grumbling stomach, and told that I was either too skinny or too chubby.

Chubby. Fat. Overweight. Heavy. Words that have never been a compliment when I was in times of my life that wouldn’t be described as times I was physically skinny. I remember turning not eating into a ritual. Or controlling my eating so that I’d weight exactly how much I wanted to weigh. This started in middle school when someone told me I was chubby. Ok. My father told me I was chubby. And honestly, fuck that noise. But anyway. Sometimes I would weigh myself multiple times a day. It was mostly because my weight was a thing I could control while others in my life controlled most everything else. I would eat less. Read my Bible more. Try praying more. And somehow that was never enough. It was never enough for me to be enough for my parents, or my church, or myself.

I am finally learning to love myself and my body. Only because others have reminded me that I am enough. And because my partner affirmed me first. I didn’t believe I was beautiful until she told me so. She knew something about me to be true not because I was skinny, or because I was trying to lose weight. But because she really saw me.

Then there are thoughts and prayers.

Thoughts. Thoughts like: I have already tried giving up things and parts of myself just to hope I’ll be loved by other people and God. And that maybe once I’ve given up everything and 

Prayed enough. For there to be peace on earth, and for us to love each other and not murder our children. Prayers…the prayers, and the thoughts, and the fasting have all changed to prayers like: Lord, have mercy on a country, a president, and a Congress who are ok with children being massacred for the sake of “freedom.”

Thoughts are now more like: Maybe I just have to be. And to be means to be kind, to seek justice, to be merciful, and to love. And this season of Lent where I’m focusing more on death and suffering has just ripped my heart out and put it on display for you.

I am tired of people dying and suffering. Honestly, I’m tired of any one putting themselves in pain for the sake of others being in control, and having power and freedom.

I am so very tired of fighting with myself to be something for others when I just have to be myself.

Another pre-Lenten practice that I’ve carried over other than learning to love myself and love others better is writing letters to Mary Magdalene and today’s probably reflects more of how I felt growing up in a fundamentalist church and how I feel now in encountering Jesus:

Dear Mary Magdalene,

Did they tell you that you were crazy? that you were unhinged, or that you didn’t believe enough to be healed? Did they tell you that you weren’t worth loving because you were crazy? With all the demons in your head…were people afraid of you?

I have to wonder if that first encounter with Jesus–just meeting him–was what started the healing process for you. Because you were seen and you were loved. And he didn’t tell you you were crazy. He just freed you to be yourself. Maybe I’m projecting…but I hope this is true. I hope this for myself because I know that’s the Jesus I’ve come to know so well.

Love,

me

 

 

God dust

“For until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.” ~ John 20:9-10

Hello! I know it’s been a while. Sometimes I get these grand ideas of what I want to be writing and it doesn’t pan out because I need a break to sort things through. So, it may be ironic that I’m writing today on Ash Wednesday of all days when many people quit social media for 40 days, or quit sugar, or whatever.

Last year prior to Ash Wednesday, I had just preached my first sermon from John 20:19-31. I greatly identified with (and still do in many ways) Thomas. Otherwise known as “doubting” Thomas. I learned so much simply from asking questions and realizing asking those questions about faith and life wouldn’t destroy me like so many pastors growing up told me it would. And in studying about doubt and peace in the resurrection, that gave me hope that in asking all the questions even without answers, I was going to be ok.

Also, last year on Ash Wednesday, for the first time, I met my now partner and we’re getting married in April. What can I say? It’s been one wild ride since Lent last year.

This year I’ve circled back to John 20 but this time to the first part of the chapter. I’m fascinated by Mary Magdalene’s story woven throughout the gospels and her encounter with the Risen Christ. I know…I know. Lent is about suffering and focusing on repentance. We’re not at the Resurrection part of the story yet.

But Lent this year feels different. There’s a hope in the midst of the darkness and doubt I didn’t have last year. As I go through the gospels for Lent and realize Mary Magdalene was there at the crucifixion and burial of Jesus and didn’t lose hope when many of the other disciples did, this has caused me to hope more too. She’s an unlikely heroine in the story where men are highlighted and focused on more. And I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m thankful for unlikely heroines who suffer much but follow Jesus anyway and still have hope.

So, when the ashes are imposed on my forehead again this year, I will be reminded of something my pastor said in small group this week that we’re all God dust–or we’re all a part of God. We’re all a part of God and the story of redemption and restoration–even in the midst of suffering. And I’m sure I’ll tear up a little with a cross of ashes on my head for only the second time in my life. Because while we’re focusing on suffering and repentance, there’s more to life than those things. Death is with us but doesn’t have the final word.

enough

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The unknown has always stressed me out. It has taken me two weeks and three separate attempts to write this blog post. But today I want to address both the voices of my self-doubt and other things that may cause any of us out there to experience low self-esteem and lack of confidence. The voices of self-doubt are loud but settle in…there are a lot of things to unpack here.

These are some of voices in my head:

I can’t do this.

I’m not good enough.

I do not have what it takes to succeed.

I am scared that I will fail so why even try?

Those are all voices that come from my self-doubt. Doubt–specifically self-doubt is pernicious. It’s not like doubting things about my faith–where I’m questioning and wanting to understand more.

It comes from within and without and feeds like a parasite on all my energy to accomplish my goals or even just wake up in the morning to start the day. And let me tell you, lately those voices of self-doubt have been shouting at me.

I desperately want to being seminary again (this time at an affirming one doing mostly online work). I know this is what I want to do and am meant to be doing with my life. But also, I know I feel unworthy. I feel a sense of shame because others in my life have told me I’d never get this far, or that I shouldn’t do this or that, or that I will fail.

I’d like address some more specific voices in my head. First, my ex-boyfriend/rapist. Because we dated for practically three years while I was 19-21 years old, and because they were such formative years of my life, his voice is still in my head, tearing me down on occasion. So, on his  25th birthday last week, I wrote him a letter:

You will be 25 years old this week. Yes, I still remember your birthday. Some years, January 10th passes by and I barely notice. And some years, it’s a mark of how your memory stays etched in my subconscious.

Recently, my parents dared utter your name in an email and hearing your name makes me sick. 

Part of me wants to say, “Happy Birthday, you son of a bitch. I hope you rot in hell.” but another part of me just wants to know that maybe one day you’ll be held accountable for your actions. And that your wife isn’t subject to the same horrors I was.

I am writing this because I had a nightmare a few nights ago that you showed up back in my life. I had to google you to make sure you weren’t living anywhere close to me. Only then did I discover that you are no longer in England studying at Oxford but working on your PhD at Notre Dame. Indiana isn’t close…but still seems too close for comfort. 

I’m just now getting to live my life while you were able to go on living yours like nothing happened. You were able to get married and pursue your academic goals.

I know I shouldn’t even let you take up any more space in my head. But when I write, I get my power back and suffocate the power you had over me. You took my hopes and dreams and crushed them. You told me pursuing my own goals for school would take longer, because you wanted me to marry you first and let you live YOUR dream. You told me I was a slower learner, that I wasn’t a good writer. You told me the plural of pair was pair not pairs so rudely one time. And, god damn it, I wish you’d grow a pair and respect women instead of talking over them.

Here I am standing back up after you knocked me down for years. Here I am standing back up–hoping and dreaming again. Loving again. Or perhaps loving for the first time because I finally understand what love is.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy and is not proud. It is not self-seeking. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 

You were none of these things and you took everything from me. I have somehow believed that you have taken my worth away. But I would like to inform you that you have no power here any longer.

Secondly, another voice, but a positive one that I’d like to respond to. That of my fiance:

My dear,

You have brought breath into my lungs that were gasping for air. No, literally…you remind me to breathe when I forget. 

I did not know what my heart was missing until I met you. 

I know you are not super human–that you possess no super powers or godlike qualities. 

But you hold my hand when I’m scared and hug me when life hurts. You are always kind and you allow me to be myself. You demand nothing more of me than to exist and be completely happy.

You make me feel how a sunrise makes me feel as the sky is just waking up. Or how a sunset over the trees ends a perfect day spent with you. You light up my life like the sun lights up the moon.

You remind me why I’m still here. Because life is worth living when you have love in your life. Love that is patient and kind. Love that does not envy and is not proud. A love that is not self-seeking. Love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Lastly, the voice I would like to address is my own with a meditation I wrote to calm myself down:

Meditation

I am bad at it–because it’s a thing you don’t try to control. The goal is to just be and let the thoughts come. The only problem is that I have so many thoughts.

I’m ok letting them come but not so great at letting them go. And then there’s the breathing.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhale. Exhale.

Chest rising and falling.

Everything will be ok. Everything is not ok. But it will be and it’s better.

You are safe. You are loved. You are not alone.

Lastly, you are enough. It’s a mantra. A prayer that I repeat from God. It is woven into the fabric of creation when God said that everything God made was good. It was good. It is good. It is enough. You are enough. What was taken can be restored.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhale. Exhale.

Chest rising and falling. In rhythm with the wind in the trees and my heart beating…

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