Know who you really are.

I have a theory.  You’ll never find happiness and fulfillment if you don’t know who you really are.  You may be married to an amazing person, raising good kids, working a decent job, able to have time to relax and pursue other interests…  but if you don’t really know yourself, you’ll always hunger.

Our physical bodies have this amazing capacity to know what they lack.  That’s why we have an appetite. You may suddenly crave fresh fruit, or fish, or a cheeseburger.  And you may think, “ah, I’m hungry” and eat potato chips or a handful of vegetables or a couple of chocolates from your snack drawer.  Yet, you will continue to crave, even when your tummy is full.  Why?  Because you don’t really understand what your body is hungry for.  It may be telling you “more vitamins!” or “more fibre!” or “more iron!” and you are filling it up with the wrong things.  So even when it has an excess of calories, it still has a lack of the things it needs to be healthy.

Our daily lives are the same.  Our soul aches, and from that ache comes greed and jealousy and depression, or exhaustion.  We think that the answer is to work harder, to have more, to divorce the spouse that doesn’t content us, to sink money into hobbies that waste time but don’t fulfill.  We search and we ache and we feed our days with all of these things, but still go to bed feeling like something is missing.

Why?

We don’t really know who we are.  Like with our appetite, we lack the ability to listen to our soul and give ourselves the right priorities.  If you want to paint a painting that reflects your spirit and you settle for “practical” scrapbooking, you could spend a fortune in money and time and still feel unfulfilled.  If you’re working at a firm because you chose a profession that offers you stability and all your heart wants is to stand on the stage saying “that this too too sullied flesh would melt” (while rocking awesome tights), you’re going to go home every day feeling like a failure no matter how successful your career is.  You may be married to an incredible person, with wonderful kids- but if every day you carry wounds you are ignoring and never healing, your relationships will suffer.  The answer isn’t finding someone else who abrades you less- it’s dealing with why the abrasions are there.  And here’s the secret: your hurts, while perhaps incurred in the process of dealing with one person or another, may not be their fault.

The problem may be a kink in your own spirit which you simply ignore.

So what is the answer to better interpersonal relationships?  It’s not know other people better, or to choose better people to know.  It’s to know yourself, to heal yourself, to feed yourself the right foods.  Once you are strong and happy, you’ll be able to have a great relationship with even the most abrasive of people.  Why?  Because when you come from a place of strength, your strong heart bleeds happiness into everything you touch- even other people.  A weak heart saps energy and turns everything into dust.

So know your heart.  Feed it what it needs to be fed.  Once that happens, you will be indomitable.

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Being honest about sex (without bringing God into it)

I’m a Christian.  (Shocking, I know.)  I waited a long time to have sex, in fact I waited for my husband.  I realize that in some circles this makes me seem uptight and prudish and irrelevant.  Understand:  I didn’t wait to have sex because I was scared,  I didn’t save my sexuality as a precious gift, I didn’t sign a promise card when I was a teen and hold myself to it as if breaking my promise would mean immediately burning in the pits of hell.  I’m a practical person, and thus I had practical reasons.  Today I will share those with you instead of my regularly scheduled programming.

It’s a big issue- it’s important- and it deserves more frank conversing than just saying “save yourself.  Because.  Or else.”

  1. Sex may be “earth shattering”, but that’s not always a good thing. Having sex is about more than just physical pleasure- it’s about boundaries and knowledge.  It’s about revealing yourself wholly to another person, it’s about allowing them complete and uninhibited access to yourself.  The first time you go on this journey is a pulse-racing experience- not because it feels awesome, but because it can be absolutely terrifying.  What if he/she laughs at my birth mark, thinks I’m too fat, is repulsed by my private areas… do I have an odor?  Should I have an odor?  Is everything working the way it ought to?  And it’s not just about the things that are potentially embarrassing, it’s about (hopefully) the first time someone sees you as you are, and embraces you.  This first journey should be taken with someone worthy  of being that first person- because if you’re going to climb Everest you want to have the right guide.  Your memories of those moments will never be able to be altered.  Your first sexual experience could very well color every subsequent one- whether it is with fear, embarrassment, shame, or pleasure.  Set yourself up for success- for a sexual life that is full of grace and hope, pleasure and fulfillment.  It probably goes without saying that giving (or getting) a handjob in the car while terrified of someone you know finding and exposing you is not the best way to go.
  2. Your first  sexual experiences will look nothing like what sex will be like in the future. It seems contradictory, doesn’t it?  In order to illustrate my point, let’s talk about learning how to knit.  When you first start learning how to knit (or any new craft) first you have to take little steps.  You have to learn the broad strokes of terminology and craft.  You have to make something stunningly stupid, like a flat scarf you’ll likely never wear.  And you have to keep making dull and unimpressive things until you get good enough at it to do something really amazing.  Sex is the same way- your first time will be clumsy and awkward.  Your second and third time will be, too.  For some women it takes years of learning their body’s language before sex consistently has a “mind blowing” effect.  It also takes a partner who listens to you, communicates openly, and is willing to set aside their own pleasure in an effort to find yours.  Good sex requires a level of maturity, compassion, and respect for others that isn’t commonly found.
  3. Sex is a privilege, not a responsibility. Overheard at a local mall:  “I’ve been dating him for like a year, I feel like I kind of owe him sex.”  Sorry, sister, but no. You don’t ever *owe* someone else the privilege of seeing you fully, of being given total access to your body and heart, the honor of receiving you completely.  Anyone who pressures you into giving yourself before you are ready doesn’t deserve you.  Sex isn’t something that is earned by buying you dinners, giving you gifts, or sitting through a certain amount of dates or phone conversations.  It’s not a “stage” of a relationship that is reached after climbing steps in the proper order.  It doesn’t go, “proper amount of dates, kissing, meeting each other’s family, sex”, or any other order.  If relationships are built on a “pyramid” model like dietary suggestions, sex doesn’t even appear on the pyramid.  It exists on it’s own plane, separate from every other stage of a relationship.  (<sarcasm> It doesn’t even have to come prior to having kids- you could always adopt! </sarcasm>)  What I’m saying is that sex is not something your partner earns- it is something you choose to offer based off of nothing other than your desire to have complete intimacy.  Any partner worth sleeping with will understand this, and will wait for you.
  4. Sex isn’t just about physical pleasure, it’s about intimacy. You will likely never hear a preacher say this from the pulpit, but:  If what you want is an orgasm, masturbate.  Sex is not just about achieving orgasms.  Sex is about so many other things.  It’s about power and submission, it’s about requests and obedience, it’s about sacrifice and acceptance.  It’s about forging a bond with another human being, about creating a world that exists nowhere other than between two people.  It’s about learning to love, about being loved, about offering and accepting love.  If all you want is to feel good, you can do that on your own.  If what you want is someone else adoring you- let them by you flowers and write you a sonnet.  If what you want is to have them show their commitment to you (or for you to show your commitment to them) get married.  Sex is something far too important, too precious, to waste on a relationship that won’t last.  Trust me on this one- the sex you have with someone who you’ve been married to for seven years, someone you’ve suffered with and rejoiced with and loved and hated, makes all sex that came before seem not worth having had.
  5. Having sex means taking responsibility for your life. The world of sex is a world that has a lot of pitfalls.  I’m not going to exaggerate the failure rate of condoms or other birth control, but let’s be honest.  If you’re not having sex you don’t have to worry about pregnancy.  You don’t have to worry about STDs.  You don’t have to wonder when in a relationship you need to disclose your sexual past or tell the person you’re interested in that you have had genital warts.  Having sex complicates things- and life is already complicated enough.  Waiting to have sex means having one less thing you need to be concerned with.  I know precious few people who did have sex as teenagers who don’t confess that the sex they had as teens wasn’t worth the extra worries.  Before you have sex, you have to ask yourself if you’re ready to deal with the risk of disease.  If you know what you would do should you happen to get pregnant.  If the person you are considering having sex with is the kind of person who will be forthright with you about their own health and sexual past.  If this relationship ends- are you ready to be honest with your next significant other about the sex you’re thinking about having now?  It’s not as if you can have sex, go to your local church, sign a new promise card and pretend you’re still a virgin.  Some people do this, but it’s dishonest and petty and shows just how unprepared for sex they really were.
  6. Having sex means doing your homework. I’m not talking about vocabulary or biology- except inasmuch as learning about birth control and your own biological rhythms is about biology.  Sex may be as simple as stripping naked and inserting A into B, but there’s a whole lot of background information that needs to be absorbed.  Like, what kind of birth control will work for you?  Condoms are an easy first choice, but some men don’t like the way they feel and they can cause discomfort for women (especially those first few times).  A girl can always go on the pill, but it won’t protect you against disease.  That means there are a lot of choices to be made, choices that absolutely should not be made in the heat of the moment.
  7. Sex is like glue. It is.  It’s one thing to look at another person and think, “I like them.”  Or, “they matter to me.” Or, “I want to have them in my life.”  It’s another thing entirely when the night before that person was completing you, was giving you pleasure, was seeing you naked and accepting you fully.  The intimacy sex brings makes it harder to part from your partner.  In a marriage this is a good thing.  It means that you’ll be quicker to try to resolve a fight before nightfall because you want to go to bed happy.  It means that compassion comes easier, belonging is more desirable, intimacy more refreshing.  But outside of marriage?  It can make you want to blind yourself to flaws that you ought to be more concerned with.  Don’t glue yourself to someone unless you’re sure you want to be stuck to them.

That’s all I have to say.

Note:  I realize that everything written here is rhetorical and based off of only my observations.  I never pretended this blog was about more than just one girl’s opinions.

Overheard in my head

Person A:  What, so all I have to do is focus really hard, and I can stop being gay?

Person B:  If you pray hard enough and trust in God, yes.

Person A:  So if you focused really hard, could you become gay?

Person B:  Why would I want to do that?

Person A:  For the sake of argument let’s imagine you do.

Person B:  But why would anyone want to just be gay, just like that?

Person A:  imagining you do

Person B:  But I wouldn’t ever want to.

Person A:  Okay, so we’ve got a lack of imagination here.

Person B:  You just need to believe that your life could be completely different than it is now.

Person A:  But I wouldn’t ever want to.

(Lindsey scurries to make notes to write this into a novel someday.)

Atheism: God’s gift to Christianity

Every once in a while I peruse atheist sites just to bone up on what’s going on around me.  If people are going to explain to me why I’m an idiot for believing in God, I want to take advantage of that.  (And read that last sentence without an ounce of sarcasm.  I really want to understand- especially when it’s a former Christian making the explanation.)

I am always horrified at the amount of time meant making the philosophical explanation as compared to the amount of time devoted to explaining what major narcissistic assholes Christians are.  There will be long articles about simple concepts such as “if the Bible is true and it’s words are true and as 1 John 4 explains “God is love”, then does it make sense for his worshippers to be such unholy JERKS?”  Often these articles display a fair amount of bitterness, and are generally accompanied by numerous personal stories of being treated like crap by Christians.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I read such diatribes with a fair amount of pain and embarrassment.  Years of listening closely have taught me that many Atheist’s principle argument against Christianity is, well, Christians.  I wish more Christians would look past themselves long enough to read what’s written between the lines.

Atheists aren’t our enemies.

They, and their harsh critique of our religion, are a gift.  While the philosophical critique of our faith is (hopefully) one we’ve all examined and overcome, their sometimes-slightly-venomous critique of our behavior as a people is a necessary one.  They ask questions such as; “If Jesus’ clearest commandment was to love our neighbor, how can Christians justify their political beliefs/offensive evangelism/lack of donations to neighborhood associations”; or “If Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery despite the law than how can Christians justify condemning homosexuals under the law”; or “how can anyone be so self involved as to think that God really cares that they lost their keys or spilled coffee on their shirt?”

I think that all Christians should both hear and prepare themselves to respond to such questions.  And when those questions bring a pill of conviction, we ought to take it.  I think we OUGHT to be ashamed that more Christian groups don’t donate to neighborhood associations.  (Or refuse to donate if said association doesn’t stock Christian evangelism materials.  Or to demand that associations block young womens access to pro-choice groups as a contingency to donation.)  I think there IS a great deal of confusion about how much time in the New Testament is devoted to our freedom from under the law and the fact that we so desperately seek to keep a set of laws to govern our behavior.  I think that there is a GREAT deal of narcissism in Christianity and not enough focus spent on, well, loving our neighbors.

But, most of all, I think that a Christian who is assured of their salvation need not fear hearing the voices from across the aisle.

Atheists aren’t our enemies.

And the more we treat them like it, the more we fill their forums.

Feminism and the ailing of western society

Can someone please explain to me what is so bad about being a feminist?

I’ve seen a lot of Christian forums wherein feminism is blamed for high abortion rates, single parent households, working mothers, males being “emasculinated”, ADHD, drug use, sex in the media, and so on and so forth.

I just don’t see the connection.  I don’t see how me- a woman- wanting to have equal rights with men means that my neighbor will get an abortion, her husband won’t feel like much of a man, their son will get ADHD and shoot up a school, and her daughter will be “over-sexed”.  I really don’t see how there is anything resembling a connection.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that all of these things are connected.  It may be quite possible that men feeling out of place, mothers working, kids having higher incidences of ADHD and other disorders, and higher abortion rates all share a single source.  But if that were the case, if this laundry list of societal ills is easily blamed on anything, doesn’t it make sense that the blame should be placed not on women but on society as a whole?

Isn’t it more to blame on consumerism, on modernity, on the digital age, on the loss of a connection to nature and work and simplicity?  Isn’t it more about the kind of world we live in these days?  No longer hunters and gatherers are we.  No longer do we live in a world where the man works and earns his place by the sweat of his brow while his little wife stays home and wins her salvation through childrearing.  No longer do we depend on neighborhood and community, no longer are we all well known to each other.  Perhaps all of these things are easily blamed on something.

It’s just not me or my rights.

It’s the world, it’s need and greed, it’s the ailing of souls who have lost their connection to the divine.

Perhaps the Christians who are so quick to point fingers should examine themselves.  They should ask if they’ve bought into a world of consumerism and capitilism.  They should ask if they’ve turned a blind eye to the “sex sells” and “anything for the bottom line” mindset that pays so many of our paychecks;  If they’ve spent more time trying to pad their wallets than care for their hyperactive sons and over-sexed daughters;  If they’ve confused the real message and instead of teaching their children to win favor by compassion and good works, taught them to win by competitiveness and pettiness.  Perhaps there is someone who ought to be blamed.

Perhaps it’s all of us.

It’s easy to fall back on flashy headlines, pointed fingers, fear and disquiet.  It’s easy to bring in the readers through controversy and infighting on your forums.  It’s easy, but it’s not right.  It’s not right to blame a movement that one could easily argue Jesus himself would have supported.  It’s easy to say the common line.  But what is right?  What is right is being honest and real.

Reality is that if anyone is to blame, all of us are.  Christianity perhaps the most of all- because we’re supposed to be the ones bringing life and healing.  And instead, once again, we bring condemnation and blame.

Why do gay people exist?

“So,” he said, “they got together all kinds of experts, from anthropologists to spiritualists, and no one seemed to have a reason for why homosexuality would exist.”

I thought about that for a minute before replying, “so?”

This took him off guard, “what did you say?”

“So.”  I shrugged, “Why do we have to know the reason?  I don’t think we SHOULD be able to take the whole of human experience and boil it down to cause and effect.”

I meant what I said.  I don’t think there has to be a quantifiable reason for anyone’s sexuality to be whatever it is.  And even if you can pinpoint a reason, that doesn’t mean that sexuality, through that knowledge, becomes more malleable or understandable.  It took me numerous years to understand that I withdrew from intimate contact because I was still afraid of making myself vulnerable due to sexual abuse, and even after I understood the reason I still couldn’t make myself desire a relationship with a man.  Later in the above quoted conversation, the man I was talking to pointed out that a great deal of gay people he knew had been sexually abused as children, and he found that interesting.

Interesting, yes, but not necessarily meaningful.  Interest doesn’t always imbue meaning, and meaningful things are often boring as heck.

Yet there is that nagging thought, “why isn’t sexuality predictable?  Moldable?  Why is it so [censored] DIFFICULT?”

And every time I ask myself that, I still answer, “so?”

The idea that human sexuality needs explanation implies, to me, that it needs defending.  I won’t stoop to that.  God allows our sexuality to manifest itself in so many maddening, entrancing, and exasperating ways because there is a lesson to be learned from it- to be learned from it both done “right” and done “wrong”.

What matters most isn’t WHY gay people exist or WHY abused girls react the way they do or WHY husbands and wives dance the dance of Christ and Church or why ANYTHING works the way it does.  What matters most is that God loves us, passionately, he loves our lives and he loves us when we make good and bad choices and he is heavily invested in humanity in all of it’s beauty and brokenness.   Note that I’m not saying knowledge doesn’t matter, and that through studying the human psyche our compassion and understanding may not grow by leaps and bounds.  Knowledge is invaluable!  We simply can’t afford to wait on that knowledge to make a decision about how we should act today.

What matters most, friend, is not your reason for being gay.

It is you being  a child whom God loves, and the fact that as a Christian I am indebted to model that love.

Novella Excerpt:

If you’re wondering why my dissertation turned into a Novella, read my confessions.  Otherwise, here’s the new work:

John nodded slowly. “Okay. Let’s talk it through.”

“Let’s,” I said. “Starting with you. Why would we excommunicate Kyle and Evan?”

“Because they are unrepentant in sin.”

That sentence held so much depth of meaning, both right and wrong, that I didn’t immediately know how to reply. I breathed in deeply and said, “why would you think that?”

“They are gay, Zoe, it’s not like it’s a secret.” John looked at me in shock, “since when did you not think that homosexuality was sin?”

I breathed in deeply, again trying to think of which of a million things to say first. I was starting to suspect that just one conversation wouldn’t be enough to say everything that needed to be said. “Well… First, I’m not saying that two men having sex is right or what God intends. Okay?”

“But you’re alright with it?”

“Well, I’m not all gung-ho and thinking that everyone should go out and try homosexuality right away, but I’m not offended by their mere existence like Tilly Halliwell.”

John looked confused.

“You saw her face,” I said. “She was angry. She was angry because a gay couple dared to come to her church. You just try to tell me that her anger is justified, and this conversation is over.”

John shook his head. “Well, she was angry the second they walked in, that was clear. I had to talk her down just to keep her in the building.”

“And when Mary washed Jesus’ feet, did he say, ‘get off of me, you whore’?”

John smirked, knowing that I was quoting him. “No, of course not.”

“Sinners are allowed to exist,” I said, “that was God’s idea.”

“You’re right. We’re all given a choice, God designed it that way. But in Corinthians Paul clearly states that we are not to tolerate immorality in our midst.”

“Bull!” I slammed my cup down on the table, sloshing some of my mocha on to my hand. I was so angry I ignored it’s presence. “Paul says, ‘anyone who is an adulterer, a slanderer, sexually immoral, and calls himself a brother.’ It’s clearly about hypocrisy, not immorality itself!”

John cracked open his Bible and read the passage over a few times. I took that opportunity to mop up my spilled drink. “Wow,” John said when he was done, “I knew we hired you for a reason.”

“I preached on it a few months ago, but I don’t think anyone really listened.”

John looked nearly as despairing as I felt.

“Well,” I continued, “it’s about hypocrisy. As far as I know, Kyle and Evan have yet to even declare themselves as Christians. Kyle said that he was raised in the church but left when he was sixteen and got in his first relationship with another boy, and Evan as far as I know is still Agnostic. Hypocrisy isn’t really the issue here, is it?”

“No, but…” John sighed, “you know it’s bigger than that. It’s about homosexuality.”

“Then let’s talk about it.”

“If they have chosen that lifestyle, they did so knowing that it would mean that they wouldn’t be accepted by the church. You said that Kyle left when he was in his teens? To get into a relationship with another boy?”

“Well, I doubt he said, ‘hey, I’d like to leave behind everything I’ve ever known to make out with this other kid…’ I mean, I’m sure there’s more to his story than you’re assuming.”

“And that may very well be true,” John said, “but as much as I may hate Tilly’s reasons for her outbursts, she has brought up some really good points.”

I bit the tip of my tongue. I was seething. John’s cautious tone and demeanor, the way he kept stroking his Bible as if for reassurance, as well as the fact that he rarely met my eyes were starting to get under my skin. “Okay,” I said, “what are her good points?”

“First off,” John said, “at what point do we tell them that they have to start changing the way they behave if they want to be accepted? Can we trust them around the kids? If we look the other way, what kind of message does that send people? That we just tolerate sin?”

“Well,” I said, “We do tolerate sin.”

John looked perplexed.

“Tilly,” I said, “just as one example. How long have you looked the other way while she gossips viciously about everyone? When I first came into your church, she assumed that because I was in my mid twenties and unmarried I must be gay. She had women getting together to cast the demon of lesbianism out of me!”

“I understand you have personal issues with Tilly, but-”

“But lies, gossip, and idle chatter are all strictly prohibited. In the New Testament, no less!” I sighed, “I’m not saying that if you feel homosexual acts are sinful that you should change that conviction, but I am saying that you have to be fair. Don’t say this is about ‘sin’, because if all you cared about was eradicating sinfulness you wouldn’t let Tilly gossip and you’d hold brother Mark accountable for his porn addiction. It’s not about ‘sin’, it’s about homosexuality.”

John opened his Bible again, flipping from bookmarked passage to bookmarked passage. He didn’t say anything to me for a while, and I didn’t say anything to him. I drained the dregs of my glass and ordered another. The Mocha sat hard in my stomach and I thought it might make me ill, but I had to do something with my hands other than doodle bloody corpses on my napkins. Drinking seemed like a good alternative.

“I understand what you’re saying,” John said, “and I appreciate how passionate you are about this issue. I just wonder…”

“Wonder?”

“Why?” John said.

I saw red. Then, I saw orange. For a brief second I nearly saw blue. I was so angry I didn’t really know what I was looking at. I was remembering my first few weeks at Living Blood and how at some point John had asked to speak to me alone. “Zoe,” he’d said, “There’s some concern about your… your… your…”

“My?” I had replied, wondering what in the world might be the issue.

“Your sexuality,” he’d replied. “You’re twenty six, you’re not even dating, people wonder.”

“Perhaps I’ve chosen to be celibate,” I’d said.

“Are you gay?” John had asked.

“No,” I’d said, and walked out of the room, hoping that would be the last I ever heard about it. If I had been a man, no one would have questioned me then- and I certainly wouldn’t be getting questioned now.

I took a large gulp from my second mocha, and I stared across the table. “I’m not gay,” I said, “if that’s what you’re asking. I’m not interested in dating or having a family. I want to study the Bible, I want to write, and I want to serve my church. Anything else would be a distraction from that, and distractions aren’t welcome right now.”

“But as you know, there are aspects of God that-”

“We only learn through loving a spouse and raising a family. I get it, John, I just don’t want it right now.”

“If there’s something you aren’t telling me,” John said, and then faltered. I knew John fairly well, and he was way too gentle for threats. This time he was the one who deflected by embracing his cup.

I thought about letting him off the line, but I was too worked up for compassion. “There is something I’m not telling you. There’s a lot about who I am and why I am the way I am that I haven’t discussed with anyone here. In the year that I’ve lived with you and worked with you, I’ve never once felt comfortable enough to let down my guard.”

“It’s really a shame,” John said.

“Well, I’m not getting any more comfortable at the moment,” I said.

John drank more coffee.

I fished through my purse and pulled out my Bible.

“What are you looking up?” John asked.

“Those who say they love God but hate their brothers are liars,” I replied. I read 1st John chapter four every time I felt my head starting to separate from my body. Now was one of those times.

John looked down at the table for a while. I could see his eyes fluttering closed, see his lips moving soundlessly.  He was praying.

“You know,” I said, “we didn’t bless this meeting before it started. Perhaps we jinxed ourselves.”