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

Deconstructing Christianity- The Cost of Saying Yes

~For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, “This man began to build and was not able to finish.” (Luke 14:28-30)~

It would be foolish for one to decide to build a house without the financial means to see the endeavor all the way through. Likewise, it is equally foolish for one to consider being a Christian without considering all of what that means. As someone who has grown up in the church, knows all the Christianese there is to know and can put on a passionate worship display that would rival even the most devout, I find it curious that I never actually considered the cost of Christianity until I became an adult. Maybe because as a child and teenager, the decision was already kind of made for me, being raised in a Christian home and all. That’s just what you do—follow after your parents and don’t question it because they’re wiser, they love you, and have your best interest at heart, right? Following God seemed so much easier when I was 15, as opposed to 25. Maybe because, now, the stakes are higher. Or maybe because I have autonomy and can make decisions on my own. Whatever the reason, I find myself in an interesting place of discovering what saying yes to God actually means.

Prime example: It’s been almost two months since I said yes to God (again) and for the past few days, I have found myself wrestling with this reality: In this life, God owes me absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, I, a finite being, owe him everything. We who have dropped our sinful nature to pick up our crosses (see? church jargon) are not promised easy, comfortable lives, or even good paying, full-time jobs. The only things that are certain are that God’s love is endless, boundless, and powerful and that we will suffer while we live this finite existence.

I am ashamed to admit this but I have wondered if God was worth it or not? Is an invisible Being who is powerful enough to destroy His entire handiwork with water worth being submitted to if He willingly comes down to a tiny speck in a giant galaxy to save His people from themselves and gives them a love that many deemed worthy of their own death? Is it worth it to completely surrender to a God who knows the depth of pain, even if one lives in poverty or experiences life’s worst hardships? Is He worth it if I don’t get the job I want, or if He never, in this lifetime, completely heals me of cerebral palsy or PTSD or anxiety or depression? Is He worth it if I lose everything and everyone I love?

I’d like to say “yes” 100 percent of the time, but I’d be lying if I did that, and I’d rather not do that you, dear Lovelies. I am a fickle being with unstable emotions. Most of the time, and only by His grace, is my answer “yes.” His manuscript instructs us not to waver in faith, but I do sometimes, especially when life gets hard, and life is hard right now. Nonetheless, my heart, deceitful though it may be at times, belongs to Him. I think counting the cost of Christianity is not a one-time event, but a process. When I feel myself wavering, I remind myself of Job, which I’m currently studying, or of past experiences of His kindness and love (like the fire pit experience). The cost of saying yes to God is a great one, but I’m willing to pay the price because the value of what I get in return is much greater than I ever anticipated.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Breaking up with God: The Aftermath

It’s an odd thing, being in a relationship with someone, loving and caring for them, and then separating. One becomes two again. You avoid them as best you can, inwardly cringing and outwardly hiding if your paths happen to cross. The awkward conversations you have when you’re not yet in the “we’re still friends” stage. Every love song reminds you of what you had, the beautiful moments. After some time has passed, you grow comfortable with their absence. Yet, in the still of the night, you find yourself thinking about them. You would never admit this, but sometimes, you miss your ex.

That’s where I am right now. Sometimes, I miss God. I miss the closeness we had, the soft quiet I felt when in His presence. I miss losing myself in worship and giving myself up completely to this entity and being part of something bigger than myself. I wonder, often, if I made a mistake in leaving. I question if I am wrong or not. Others, Christians, who I talk to, who know where I am and give me grace in my confusion and struggle, point me in the direction of God and the Bible- everything I’m familiar with. I wrestle with coming back or staying away because my biggest fear is that I’ll return only because it’s familiar, not because of any conscious decision on my part. I don’t want to be a nominal believer, and that goes for any religion, not just Christianity. I don’t want to be one who just plays the role so perfectly but never allows a belief to have any real, substantial meaning in my life. That kinda defeats the purpose of having personal religious, or nonreligious, beliefs and is what contributed to my exodus of the faith primarily.

Nonetheless, this is an unusual, weird place I find myself in. Sometimes, I still pray, to God or whoever is out there, but only in my head, as praying aloud still results in panic attacks. I still listen to some Christian artists, as their songs soothe me when I go into flashback mode. I still talk to Christians about their faith, ask questions, express my doubts, and the like. We have interesting and meaningful conversations. They give me resources that they think will help and I let them pray for me, though I don’t necessarily believe in it despite the fact that I do it. Regardless of whether I pray or they do, I don’t really believe it-it’s more of a force of habit. I feel empty at times, miserable even, but I guess that’s what happens when you start questioning your worldview. Maybe I’ll find solid ground one day.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Empathetizing with My Abuser

Dear Lovelies,

Yes, you read the title right. No, I haven’t lost my mind (not yet anyway). Just, let me explain.

During a conversation I had yesterday with a friend, I realized why my abuser left Christianity. It was because of people who claim to be genuine Christians but are hypocritical, graceless, and so close-minded to anyone who does not believe what they believe, or believes exactly as they do, that they damn them to Hell (his words, not mine). I used to tell him weak arguments like “Not every Christian is like that” and “You can’t blame God for what Christians do in His name.” Now I see the foolishness of those statements. While it may be true that not every Christian is like the ones described, enough of them are so that it turns people like me away from their message.

Here’s how the conversation went yesterday:

Me: How do you deal with nonbelievers?

Her: Pray for belief

Me: Why?

Her: That’s the only way to have hope and meaning in life, through Jesus. Without Jesus, there’s no hope.

Me: …So every atheist and nonbeliever is just slowly dying of depression and has no morals?

Her: Yes, because you can’t have hope without Christ!

Me (internally): I call bullshit

Me externally: Huh, okay.

Thinking about that conversation now, I have to chuckle. It’s funny, not in a hilarious way, but in a “this is the sad reality of many people” way. I didn’t start the conversation to argue with her, I just wanted her to think a little, but blind faith is powerful I noticed. The whole ordeal goes back to my last post. How can Christians expect those outside of their circle to come into the circle, if that be desirable, if they are graceless and close-minded to those who have a different mindset, or background, or methodology from them? In this, they often exclude the ones they’re trying to convert. I can speak with some authority on this because I used to be like that when I was a Christian. Now that I’m on the opposite side, I have to say, it’s quite frustrating. It’s similar to being institutionalized: When you’re in a mental hospital, you’re not a human, you’re a patient in need of controlling; likewise, when you’re a deconvert or nonbeliever, you’re not a person with your own story and ideologies, you’re a potential candidate for conversion.

So, where I could not empathize with my abuser previously, I do now. It’s an interesting realization. One that helps me see him as a whole person instead of “the man who hurt me.”  And ironically, or maybe not, it helps me be gracious and patient with those who are graceless towards me.

Posted in Stuff No One Talks About

Defying Gravity (and Religion)

Dear Lovelies,

The words Elphaba sings in Defying Gravity are a testament to where I am right now: “Something has changed within me, something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. Too late for second guessing, too late to go back to sleep. It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap!” (If you didn’t sing that in your head, you’re a liar. I know you did!)

It’s funny and interesting the things you can learn and discover while taking a walk. Friday afternoon, I walked home from the bus stop, which is a good half-mile distance. Given that my quads and calves were already screaming from standing in one place since early morning (cashier life), I was dreading this walk especially when grey storm clouds loomed overhead like a bad omen. On this walk, there is a steep hill that is horrendous to travel on whether going up or down it. My main concern was that I wouldn’t lose my balance, or if I did, that it wouldn’t cause my kneecaps to dislocate, as they often do (gotta love cerebral palsy; it definitely keeps life interesting!) Anyway, I’m making my way down this hill, my clothes and body sticky from sweat, trying to beat the rain. Finally, my house came into view. I breathed a sigh of relief and said, “Thank you, God, for letting me get home before it rained.” I paused. Considered what I had just said. Repeated it. It shook me. It shook me because I meant it.

Just a minuscule event: getting home before it rained, but something changed. I still don’t know what or why that moment, as opposed to another, like when I’m in church, but it happened. It wasn’t a huge thing. The heavens didn’t open and I heard no chorus of angels singing, just a small shift within. At the time of this writing, I have not yet prayed and I think I have more questions than answers currently. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I should approach God; maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I’m thinking too much. I admit, it feels weird on my part, like getting reacquainted with an ex. It’s awkward and kind of scary, but exciting too. Something has changed within me and I wanna see where it leads. I think I’m ready to come back home now.