Posted in Poetry & Mere Musings, Stuff No One Talks About

The Pastor’s Daughter

The wooden figurine of Christ nailed to the cross hangs right behind my dad’s pulpit and always gives me the creeps. Maybe because it’s a constant reminder of my sin and worthlessness apart from Christ, which on other days would give me hope, but not today. Today, the cross mocks me. Maybe it’s the condemnation that I can’t escape from or the four honey-covered waffles I had for breakfast this morning, or a sickly combination of both, but whatever it is, it’s making me feel queasy. My stomach is in knots and I can feel my breaths getting gradually shorter and quicker. I feel like everyone in the congregation is staring at me, even though I know their eyes are on Dad as he bellows out a passage from the first chapter of Romans, specifically verses twenty-three through twenty-five. I know this chapter well, because I read it when I first started questioning my sexuality.

“…Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God for a lie…”

I know what’s coming next. I wish he’d just stop at verse twenty-five, but I know he won’t. He never does. I squeeze my legs together, like when I was young and tried to prevent myself from going potty in my clothes, in an effort to mentally prepare myself for that verse, the verse that does nothing but alienate and ostracize me from everyone in this old, rundown Baptist church.

Dad continues, “…for this cause, God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” I hate the King James Version of the Bible. Nobody talks like that anymore, so why use it? Even though I looked up the verse months ago, for my own peace of mind and to give me something to do, I ask to borrow Sarah’s Bible to look up the verse. I like hers because she has a version that is ten times easier to understand than the archaic one Dad uses.

When she gives me her Bible, though, her hand brushes against mine and I swear every part of my body starts tingling. She smirks. She did that on purpose. Does she like me? Does she know that I might be crushing on her? I smile to myself and a few seconds later, fear takes over. What if someone from church finds out? What if Dad finds out? Oh, I would be so dead if he knew! No, I can’t have a crush on her. What would God think? I occupy myself with looking up the verse, which I find quickly. I start to tune everything out, until I feel my best friend’s hand around my right shoulder. I blush and my body tingles again.

I kinda want him to kiss me. Wait, what? Focus on the sermon, Becca. Dad says something about laying all our burdens and dark desires at the feet of Jesus, but James’ smooth hand on my recently tanned skin distracts me from the rest of his words.

Pushing a loose strand of my hazelnut colored hair behind my ear, he whispers, “Are you okay? You look nervous, Becca.”

“Yea, I’m fine. Just thinking about…someone,” I say, doing everything in my power not to glance over at Sarah. “You don’t know her,” I quickly add. This is technically true. James and Sarah have met, since we’re all in the same youth group, but they have never talked to each other. Not by choice, though; it just hasn’t happened.

“Well, okay. I mean, as long as you’re okay—”

“I’m fine. Promise.”  

For a moment, I don’t realize that he’s gotten even closer to me because I’m so lost in my thoughts. He’s closer to me, which is a surprising feat since his leg was touching my knee prior to this. Now, he’s practically in my lap. Only millimeters away from me now, the scent of my strawberry shampoo must have wafted into his nostrils because I can feel and hear him inhaling deeply, breathing it in as if it were oxygen. He doesn’t know that I know he likes me. I know he likes me because we’ve been friends since third grade and every year since—it never fails—he’s asked me to be his valentine. He often makes excuses to hang out with me, in front of his football friends, which is sweet, but can be annoying sometimes. I secretly like him too, but I can never let him know. At least, not until I figure out whatever this is between Sarah and me, or if it’s even a thing at all. For now, I think it’s best if we just stay friends.

I turn my attention back toward the pulpit, but I can still see James in my peripheral vision. He’s staring at me instead of my Dad, who’s scowling at him while continuing to preach. Well, this is awkward. I’m quickly growing uncomfortable and squirm in a desperate attempt to put some distance between us. Unfortunately, I’m not as graceful as I’d like to be, as the sweat from my body sticks to my dress, which sticks to the pew, making it creak and difficult for me to move. This is so embarrassing! I wish I could get away from James, and this church, and just be alone with the world and my thoughts.

I’m tempted to think that Sarah and I have some sort of connection because as soon as I finished my thought, she grabs my hand, pulls me up from the pew, and we make our way to the restroom, which is all the way in the foyer. This means that we have to walk there from the front of the church. I’d rather take my chances with the sticky, sweaty pew. It could just be my guilty conscience, but when we pass James, I think I see a heartbroken “lost puppy” look on his face. His eyes seem to say, “I see you’ve made your choice. Why don’t you love me?” but he gives my free hand a quick squeeze while mouthing, “Be back soon.” I smile back, silently admonishing myself for being paranoid.  I’m so confused! A part of me wants to refuse to feel guilty—almost—because I know who I want to be with (at least, I think I do) and I’m not going to let anyone get in the way of that, not even my best friend, even if I do like him. I admire James because he’s a stronger Christian than most kids in our youth group, even though we’re both 16. He takes his relationship with God seriously. He’s more committed to God than some of the adults. Homosexuality is wrong, even if it’s never acted on, according to James. If he ever finds out who my crush is, our friendship is so over.

As Sarah and I walk towards the middle of the church, my heels click on the hardwood floor. I wish I could disappear. The sunlight pierces through the stained-glass window, with the image of Jesus’ crucifixion, and slams itself right in my face. Had Sarah not been holding my hand, I would’ve fallen right there. My eyes travel up the length of the wall to where the glass is and I suppress a sigh. Okay, God, I get it! I’m a terrible sinner for having a crush on a girl and I’m gonna burn in Hell if I don’t accept Your offer of love and grace. I’m kinda stuck here, though. Can’t You see that? I don’t wanna have these feelings. Please take them from me!

We make our way to the foyer without interrupting the service, though a Mother of the church in her late 60s shook her head at me in what appeared to be shame, or maybe disgust, by my shorter-than-knee-length dark spring green dress. Being a pastor’s kid is tough. Her eyes lowered as I walked past her. I almost felt judgment and condemnation shooting out of her eyes like lasers targeted at my soul.

“You wanna stay in the restroom for the rest of service or walk home?” Sarah asks when we reach the foyer.

I pause, trying to choose between my options. The clock above the sanctuary entrance reads 11:30A.M. We have a while before the benediction. My decision is a no-brainer. “We can walk to my house, chill for a bit, and get back here before service ends.”

Sarah leads the way. She’s got her iPod headphones in her ears and is walking to the beat of whatever song she’s listening to. Thank you, music, for distracting her. Now I can think. As we walk the half mile to my house, I engage in a civil war with my thoughts. They jump from God, to Sarah and James, and back again.

Sarah Johnson and I have known each other for only about four months, but during that time, we’ve gotten close, even though she’s two years older than me. We first met at youth group and became fast friends. We often sleep over at each other’s houses and hang out on the weekends. The thing I love about her is that she’s friendly, outspoken, and bold, which is the exact opposite of me. I’m shy, reserved, and a tad bit anti-social, but she doesn’t mind. We connected on our love of music and literature. I introduced her to Harry Potter and she got me hooked on Twilight. She has a great body with an athletic build and a beautiful accent; her family is from the Philippines. I keep my feelings for her a secret, out of fear that others, especially God and Dad, would hate me.  

I slow my steps when a gust of wind feathers down out of nowhere. It’s warm and makes the evergreen and palm trees dance with glee. The wind whisks my hazelnut hair in every direction, giving me the appearance of someone recently electrocuted with 40 watts of pure electricity. I smile, enjoying the moment, and land on the grass, beside the sidewalk, with a thud. Sarah turns around and joins me in the grass after dislodging her headphones.

“We’re not gonna go all the way to your house, are we?” she asks, also enjoying the sun’s warmth.

“No, not if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t. I like it right here,” she says in a voice that makes my skin crawl with goose bumps.  

She faces me and runs her finger over my jawline. I stop breathing for what seems like an eternity, but is only a few seconds in reality. Even though I feel that my feelings for Sarah are somewhat natural, especially since my mom died when I was ten, I struggle with my relationship with God because of it. I know how God feels about living a pure life and abstaining from homosexual relationships. Dad made sure to engrain that in my head when I was 13. It’s crystal clear where my stance should be, for in the black-and-white pages of my Bible stands stark commands of purity standards, which every Christian is expected to keep no matter what, but my dark desires cloud my better judgment.

“Becca, I like you. And I think you like me too…”  

All the black scenes of my teenage years could not prepare me for this moment. All around me are choices and I’m stuck in the biggest one of my life. “Breathe, Becca, breathe,” I silently coach myself as Sarah starts to close the distance between us. I take a chance and glance up into those oval, almond eyes of hers. I brush a strand of loose hair behind her ear, stuck in the middle of “sinner or saint” status. Please help me, God. “I could kiss you,” I think to myself and I want to—do I?—but right before I make my move, God answers my silent prayer by giving me strength in the form of conviction. I pull away from her and she looks almost disappointed. Her eyes are misty and I want to comfort her, hold her maybe, but I don’t. I swallow back the saliva gathering in my mouth, the saliva that could be on her lips right now, and maybe her neck, if I was daring enough, but I’m not, so I sit up instead. Bile forms in my throat at the thought of what almost happened. I swallow, forcing it to the back of my throat and down, down, down into the cavern of my stomach. It burns but I feel nothing but relief.

I pick up her iPod with one hand, and offer her my other to help her stand. According to her iPod, it’s noon. “Come on, let’s get back,” I say with an authoritative voice that I don’t recognize as mine, even though it is.

She doesn’t say anything. She snatches her iPod out of my hand and starts walking back to the church. In the silence, I contemplate our lives. She would have no problem being with me; her dad made sure of that when she was eight. Raped her and then left her with her mom, so of course girls are safer. In the time it takes us to walk back, I make a decision that will change everything between us: I’m recommitting my life to Christ. When we get back inside the church foyer, I turn to Sarah, with the intention of apologizing, but her eyes are still misty from holding in her tears and she refuses to look at me.

“Sarah, I—”

She holds her hand up to stop me from talking any further. “Don’t bother apologizing,” she says angrily in between sniffles. “I don’t want to see or talk to you ever again!” She storms in the bathroom without another word to me. I feel my stomach become an anvil in that moment. I want to go after her, but I’ve already done enough damage.

“I’m sorry,” I whisper to her back. “This is hard for me, too.”

Back in the church, I can hear the choir finishing “We Fall Down” by Donnie McClurkin. Perfect timing, God. I say a silent prayer for Sarah before entering into the sanctuary. Dad is making the altar call now, inviting those who are willing to come and receive salvation or prayer if needed. Even though I can feel the eyes of everyone in the congregation on me, I no longer care. I reach the front of the altar and fall on my knees before both my earthly Dad and Heavenly Father, feeling nothing but peace. As Dad prays over me, I raise my eyes to view the wooden figurine of Christ. Unlike before, when I felt condemnation, I now feel His grace and love wash over me.  For now, I’m safe.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Your Support System isn’t Your Therapist, Your Therapist isn’t Superman

Dear Lovelies,

It’s time for some tough love and hard truth pills. Here’s the reality of the situation: Your support system isn’t your therapist; your therapist isn’t Superman.

We all know recovery isn’t linear and there are ups and downs, twists and turns, and even resting places on this journey. There will be days when we are not only our own worst enemy, but are a fire-breathing dragon to our friends and support system who may never tell us we are because they love us and want to protect us.

This week has been difficult for a variety of reasons. I’ve struggled with the temptation to self-harm. I’m having to force myself to attempt to process my hard-to-identify emotions, while dealing with my spiked symptoms and destructive behavior, along with depression and anxiety. This is not an easy task. Part of the reason why this is so hard is because of stress. It is also partly due to the fact that my “dark night of the soul” times happen at night when none of my support system is available because they’re sleeping or busy. So, I’m on my own here, which could either be scary or motivating, but that depends on me.

Take Responsibility for Your Mental Health

I don’t mean to sound invalidating but truth of the matter is that your recovery process is your process and your responsibility, no one else’s. I think that’s a pillar missing in the mental health community. Everyone emphasizes having a support system and reaching out to a friend or therapist when you’re in need—and yes, having community and a safe place to take your mask off is important—but what happens when your go-to friend isn’t available to talk you down off the ledge and/or your therapist leaves the office to go home and decompress from his clients? What then? Are you going to let anxiety and depression whisper sweet lies in your ear as you struggle to sleep?

Your friends don’t really care about you; they only tolerate you to be nice. You need to be stronger. You don’t want to be the ‘suicidal friend’ forever, do you? If you tell anyone what you’re thinking/feeling, they’ll hospitalize you and it’ll be all your fault. You’re a burden. Stop whining, you’re making everyone around you uncomfortable. You’re so selfish.

Here’s the Truth of the Matter

Your best friend may be the greatest listener of all time, giving you empathy and compassion galore, but she will, at some point, have to take care of herself and her needs. Likewise, your therapist, despite his caring, gentle nature, may grow calloused of going around the same mountain with you repeatedly. They can’t save you.

Sometimes, you have to walk this journey alone. Learn to sit with your emotions and actually feel them. Color, draw, jam out to music or cook a meal. Avoid your triggers and desensitization. Change your thoughts (I know that’s a hard one). You are going to be okay, with or without a support system.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Humanizing Judas Iscariot

I woke up this morning thinking about Judas Iscariot, you know, the guy history remembers as the “son of hell”? The one who betrayed Jesus to the Pharisees for 30 pieces of silver (roughly $250 in today’s money, but that number varies depending on which scholar you ask). Most of us know the story: Jesus is eating the Last Supper with the disciples, and he and Judas share the last piece of bread dipped in sop. Judas leaves Jesus with the other Eleven to betray him to the religious leaders for thirty pieces of silver, meets up with Jesus later with his round of Pharisees, and sends Jesus to his death with that infamous holy kiss. (Does betrayal get any worse than that?!) Later, somewhere between Jesus being interrogated and him being crowned with thorns, Judas is filled with remorse, tries to return the silver but is unsuccessful, and then goes away to commit suicide. That’s the end of his story.

It is implied by Jesus himself and the Scriptures that Judas, though he felt remorse after his betrayal, was unrepentant. It makes me wonder though, if he could have repented, would he? Maybe he could have received mercy and grace from Jesus too, like Peter did after denying him three times.

I wonder what his last moments were like, if he felt anything other than remorse as he lugged rope to the tree in the potter’s field? I wonder if could he see Calvary from the tree he hung himself on? As he climbed, assuming he’d have to climb a ways before tying the noose that would be his demise, and as his body struggled to die once he stepped off the branch, could he see, in the distance, Jesus dying for the sins of the world, for his sins, both the ones he had committed and the one that was currently taking place? Did memories of the past three years with Jesus and the other disciples go through his head?

According to Scripture, we know that Judas’ last words, at least to the scribes and Pharisees, were “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4a). As the religious leaders abruptly and immediately dismissed him, I could only imagine he felt the fullness of despair and hopelessness. Here was a man broken and distraught by his actions, desperate to make it right again, and those in the church carelessly dismiss him with a wave of their hands. “What is that to us?” they say, picking up the money he threw at them. “See to it yourself!” (Matthew 27:4b)

Would he have accepted the scarred hand of a Saviour? Or, after regret and remorse had all but consumed him, would he think himself too unworthy and leave to die anyway?

I imagine, other than Jesus’ cry of “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”, that Judas’ suicide was one of the loneliest times recorded in Biblical history.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Here’s to “Poor” Decisions

Here’s to poor decisions: to eating 1/2 of a chocolate bar at an old typewriter, mistaking a machine for a friend, or worse yet, a lover. Here’s to “doing the passionate thing” and majoring in Creative Writing when everyone knows—sorry, assumes— that STEMs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics degrees) get the good jobs, fancy houses, and girls.

Here’s to finding my voice again, without the use of pens, pencils, or loose-leaf paper. Here’s to going back to the basics, where I first fell in love with words and sentences, language and prose; back to the place where nothing could hurt me so long as I was hiding, nestling, reverencing between the pages of a book.

Here’s to letting go of a perfectionist mentality and allowing myself to make mistakes, correct my wrongs, repent of sin wholeheartedly, and actually let love and friendship come and sit for a while.

Here’s to poor decisions: to self-care on a weekday that lasts the whole 24-hour span, to noticing the wittiness and laughter which writers use to convey nothing less than brutal jewels of harsh truth and reality, to ending the dark night of my soul, finally, with the Light of truth.

Here’s to not letting a day go by without me reading something of substance. Here’s to being honest with myself, especially when it is hard and when it hurts. Here’s to me giving up the notion of writing “THE NEXT BESTSELLER”. Here’s to me writing for myself. Here’s to poor decisions.