Corral

There is a knee-high fence surrounding my life.

When I was a child, I was encouraged to leap over that fence, to tear it down and build something beautiful and new with the wood. When I became a teenager, and I embarked on the process of building the tools to do just that, somehow, the encouragement switched to strict, fear-based training. It said I not only couldn’t climb over the fence, but if I even touched it, it would destroy me.

Not kill, destroy.

So I live there, inside the fence, pacing back and forth like a caged animal as the area within grows smaller and smaller, filling with weeds and thorns I believe without evidence that I planted myself. The tools I had eagerly cultivated, excited to get to work on the fence, lay forgotten, overgrown.  

A man stands at one edge of the fence, where a small gate resides, and he tells me I can leave only if I get it right, play by the rules, surrender my life to him.

I tell him to leave. I would rather die among the rising thorns than embrace just another flavor of destruction. Better to be isolated than forfeit my spirit to a fake life.

Your existence is punishment, he tells me. Body and soul. You are not human.

Acceptance of this is the toll to leave the corral. But I won’t. My body buckles under the weight of these narratives, the unspoken rules, the attitudes that have burned me my whole life, stunting my growth and disconnecting me from the rest of the world.

But I won’t pay that toll.

I look for my tools among the brambles, the ones I so lovingly prepared before my heart was broken and buried. It’s painstaking and slow, and the thorns pierce my skin, but I keep digging.

And finally, one day, ax in hand, I approach the fence. Every step hums louder and louder with pressure. The man at the gate just watches at first, but then when he realizes I’m getting too close to the barrier, he tries to use gentle words to guide me away, which soon turn to warning. He’s screaming at me, now, threatening me, as I raise my ax and bring it down onto the fence for the first time.

It hurts. Rage and shame and agony rip up my arms and set my organs on fire. I can’t breathe, and my vision dims in the pressure, but I drive the ax down again and again, the crack and groan of the damaged wood drowning out the voice of the man at the gate. I don’t care what he has to say anymore. I don’t care that I’ve disappointed and scared him.

I don’t care.

I suppose I could just step over the fence. I’m tall enough, after all, but it feels better to walk through the hole that I’ve made. My badge of honor. Anyone who encounters me, they’ll know I didn’t just step over, shoving my feelings down, opting out, but instead I breached it completely. I unleashed my fury, my power, my will on that false, poisonous wall and everything that kept me inside it.

I realize I’ve been a fully-fledged adult for a long, long time, but I still feel like a small, scared teenager. The forest beyond beckons me, and I break into a run toward it, lit up with sheer joyous desperation. 

It will take a long time to heal from my years inside the fence. To believe that I am human, that my existence is not a punishment. That I am a force to be reckoned with and it is my birthright to embrace the fullness of it. 

Even so, the fence with all its thorns and conditions, the shape of my old life, is behind me, burning.

I am free.

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A/N: Reflecting on womanhood and deconstruction today. I’m in the process of confronting some of the more tangible corners of my life left stunted and out of control by misogynistic Christian fundamentalism. In adolescence, I never got to feel excited or proud of coming of age, because womanhood was such a warped, oppressive thing in that culture. You’re expected to either lock down into a quiet, submissive, child-bearing spouse, or womanhood is an evil, disastrous, toxic thing to be neutralized and frozen. In that culture, there was no in-between, and no way out.

My recent project of balancing my work life with emerging habits of rest and health, as well as reorganizing and growing my household out of “vaguely dorm-like” status (in other words, initiating full control and acceptance of my body and my adult life) has been touching so many wounded nerves from my adolescence that I’ve been surprised by a deluge of dysphoria and self-hatred the last few weeks.

I’m encouraged by the progress, though. Things are looking up!

Deconstruction Journals i

The kid’s not alright.

She pushed herself down and cut off all the living pieces. She convinced herself that if she were minimal, she would be perfect and likable, and people would stick around.

But they left anyway, and it’s hard for a robot to make friends.

The kid had convinced herself she was better now, but now she’s just filled with cold, bitter rage. Angry adults destroy their lives, but she still wants hers to work out.

As she dons a brave face for the world, the angry child inside her tells her all this has been pointless. All this striving, minimizing, playing along. She broke her heart for their ideals, became inhuman for their so-called divinity. And now it’s still her who’s in the wrong.

I’ll just keep up this charade for the rest of my life, she tells herself. It’s not like I’ll ever get what I truly need. 

It’s not like I’ll ever know what that is.

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A/N: Some journaling.

Most of my fiction writing these days is attached to a long form project I can’t put up on the internet, while most of my current nonfiction writing deals with this: post-evangelical deconstruction. It’s messy and always changing, which makes it so hard to talk about publicly, or to be honest about in any meaningful capacity. But I know I’m not the only one out there dealing with this.

I used to think I knew what the end goal to all this was supposed to be, but now I think just “healing” would be good. Identifying the unmet needs and figuring out how to meet them. Seeing what I find on the journey.

12. 1. 2019: A reflection

A/N: Found a bit of old writing from a few months ago, decided to add to it. I definitely meant to write more publicly this year, but this year has been a lot of reclaiming, of writing simply because I love it, of journaling and life-living. Blogging used to be easy, but now it’s not, so much.

I figure that’s okay.

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This is the first year after moving away for college that I haven’t lived in a dorm or an apartment. I have been at a full-time job that I enjoy for the longest I’ve ever worked full-time anywhere. I am reasonably financially stable, making steady progress in my creative career on the side.

Five years ago, this journey was only just beginning.

When I was in college, I gave myself permission to study my environment more critically, and I found myself swallowed up by an envy of other people.

I would observe people from afar, wanting, bitterly, to ask them what it felt like to fit. What was it like, to be pretty and popular and outgoing? To not be questioning their faith, feeling betrayed by the very institution that taught them everything they knew about how to exist in the world? What was it like to not hate and fear their bodies? To feel comfortable presenting exactly the way people expected of them, according to their respective genders? To not be confused and frequently let down by their sexuality? To seem to be on a path that made sense, that everyone else was on and hit the milestones at the average times?

First I distanced myself from the church to gain some perspective.

Then I tried, slowly, carefully, to become comfortable in my body, to explore my sexuality. To decide that I wanted to change the perception of my gender by continuing to identify as it.

I took a long trip away from home, honing my craft, developing my stories, craving the frequent coffee date faith talks of my early twenties. For a time, I felt like maybe no one ever opened up, or that it was too dangerous to do that, now that I had graduated from the small private religious institution that had fostered those faith talks.

It was only later that I realized that while there were many ways that I didn’t fit with the perceived pattern and struggled with things that seemed to come so naturally to my peers, it is easy to connect with people through writing and art because, deep down, we all feel a lot of the same things.

We all crave connection. We are all trying to either ignore or disentangle the lies we picked up along the way. We’re all trying to find where we fit, and loneliness comes for all of us, much more frequently than we’d like to admit.

What we present to the world, in public, at work, in our professional spaces on the internet, is the safe, put-together versions of ourselves. The brave faces, the patient smiles. Commuting to work at 6:30 in the morning, it doesn’t matter so much that I’m still struggling to put my body into the equation of my life, to reach out into new social avenues and that I don’t want to stay in the same headspace I’ve occupied for too long, but that I’m scared of the ways trying to grow out of it will change me and complicate my life.

When I’m running errands, a distant observer couldn’t possibly glean from my presentation how much internalized misogyny affected me for how long, for how it still affects me, and the fears that I hold that it still holds sway over my writing.

But moving forward is in the day-to-day, isn’t it? Of making small steps forward, of outlining small, buildable goals, of holding space to break them and start again. Of holding the door open of my carefully closed heart.

This is one of the most sacred truths I have learned this year, that the places in me that I thought had reached their final form, even if I wasn’t happy with them, are still changing.

Seasons come and go, and joy really can bloom from ashes.

Burnout

A little girl is staring up at me. Her eyes are big and blue. She has heavy brown bangs and buckteeth.

She’s clutching 40 pages of a story she wrote and typed out herself.

That girl looks back at me when I catch my reflection in the mirror. I feel her waiting. The depths of that naive, full-throttle eagerness, throbbing in my head.

Somewhere deep, now.

As I sit at my desk, terrified, trying to convince myself I’m all right and on track, I feel the tug at my sleeve.

“Why are you stopping?” she asks. “Are you going to give up? Is that what happens to our story, in the end?”

She thought she’d grow up to be tough and brave. Hoping for something like a downright prodigy, a blazing success story.

But right now, she just has me. Trying. Choking on an intoxicating mix of burnout and intimidation.

It’s windy on the cliff’s edge, even if it’s somewhere I desperately want to be.

I’ve curled up into a ball. It’s not time to jump yet, with every possibility of turning back. And 8-year-old me is not understanding.

She’s angry and scared that I’ve even thought of turning back.

How dare you be finite, she screams. How dare you be weak and fragile.

Why are you like this? Why are you weaker than I was before? Why are you so old and tired within so few years? Why does your breath stick in your throat and your hands tremble when faced with everything you’ve ever wanted? It’s so close now. It’s yours to reach out and take hold of. So why do you sit there, useless and blank?

I thought you wanted this.

Could I have been wrong?

Could we have been wrong…

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A/N: I’m leaving for San Francisco in a few days. Burnout is still in full swing. I’m as overwhelmed by the prospect of picking back up as I was weeks ago, but now I must be busy and keep my appointments.

 

 

2017 in Review

2017 was a year of story pitches and new beginnings, and a lot of work winding up to launch my career, which I’ll be completing in the first half of 2018. On a personal level, it’s been a year of recovery, of waiting, of wondering. With so much change flickering on a new and untapped horizon, I’ve found sleep and rest in general difficult these last few weeks.

After the end of 2017, when I think about reviewing the year, I find I want more to stitch it together with the previous two, as part of a season that was filled with struggle and mistakes, guilt and disorientation, and attempts to figure out what to do with the messiness of attempted but impossible irreconcilability, in both relationship and worldview.

I got to sit down with one of my closest friends on New Years’ Eve and catch up, which ended up with me spilling my guts about the last few years and trying to make sense of it all. I’ve been trying to figure out how to unpack it ever sense.

When I decided to go to art school, I had no idea what I was in for. In fact, the rigorous academic schedule has been the easiest part. A preface before I continue: I’m going to start talking a lot about church. I grew up in a conservative American Christian tradition, and the sum of body shaming, cognitive dissonance, and gated-community politics led to a massive falling out between us, from which I wasn’t sure my spiritual life would ever recover.

On the surface, my 2.5-year stint in California was a lot of art school, a lot of anxiety and loneliness and frantic efforts to adjust, along with a couple less-than-ideal roommate relationships that left me dysfunctional and out-of-sorts. Despite a lot of struggle and heartache in the midst of all this, I’ve never felt I wasn’t supposed to continue on this trajectory of art school. A lot of good has come as far as career preparation and maturation as a person, though it’s been an onerous deal every step of the way.

I have six months left of my program. I am at once more excited than ever to see what’s next, but also a little unsure of who I am.

I guess that means somewhere in the last few years, I lost myself and found it again.

Talking with my friend on New Year’s Eve, I ended up bringing up a lot about my sophomore year in undergrad, which I suppose is where all this began. That year, I developed a passion for illustration, wrote the novel I plan to launch my career on. (The Bioroboticist), and had the most spiritually gratifying year to date. God was sitting me down and getting me to start uncovering deeply ingrained lies I’d believed about myself; we were in frequent communication, and He saw me through a flurry of academically-induced meltdowns. I was deciding to let go of what I considered a safe, predictable route, and instead planning to take my longstanding love of storytelling to full professional priority.

One would think, after all that, my faith would be stronger than ever.

But what followed was a feeling that I should take a break from my constant attempts at unrealistic regimens and spiritual self-guilt. Included with this was easing up the pressure to conduct a daily Bible study time, and when I asked God if it was really ok, He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.” (We were in closer communication those days.)

The following year was blissful. Free of guilt and obligation. I filled my electives with art classes instead of athletic training ones for my original plan of physical therapy. I finished The Bioroboticist and started on another book, and practiced drawing with obsessive focus.

As the distance between me and the way I had always done faith grew, I began to tease apart sources of shame and fear that had been explained away and buried deep. I began to see where the church culture I grew up in was toxic, and where I had sustained burns by it. Where it ran contrary to the compassion it preached and clung to fear and resentment over organic, human empathy.

By my senior year of undergrad, I was burnt out, betrayed, confused, and up to my ears in physical dysphoria (the latter from sexism and purity culture, as you might have guessed). Everything stung. Everything felt fake and at once too bitter and too saccharine.

I wasn’t angry with God. I’ve never been angry with Him. After years of trying to understand and justify the broken areas of American Evangelicalism, I started seeing and calling those parts for what they were.

“Don’t go outside the walls,” it had said. “It’s dangerous and destructive and evil out there. Stay in here, where it’s safe. Where we love you.”

But I saw it wasn’t safe inside either. Inside was teaching me to fear and demonize others, to fear and hate myself. It had given me a foundation to pursue compassion and grace, to heal, to live. And the more those latter qualities drove me to push into civil justice issues to try to understand, the more I saw the dissonance.

I couldn’t breathe inside those walls. So I left.

I learned early on I’m not good at pretending to be what I’m not. I’ve always struggled with belonging. And I’ve long wondered why, if my core use is to evangelize, why God suffused me with this compulsive need to create stories that were not overtly Christian.

I saw it as indulgent at best, idolatrous at worst. A side hobby to something more proper.

As I moved straight to California after undergrad to start my education in illustration, a part of me felt I’d finally succumbed to making my work my religion. And the cultural institution which had burned me so much, was also where I had learned to connect with God. When my faith in American Christianity crumbled, I no longer knew how to connect with Him. Everything felt wrong and indulgent, so I sought to just be, to keep waiting. To try to honor Him by working hard to hone my gifts. To find what this demanding need to create had to say.

The years I spent in California have been some of the darkest of my life. I felt trapped, and that first year, especially, I was the most anxious and depressed and angry I’ve ever been. I had my first run-in with mental illness in my roommate, with whom I had been friends for a few years prior. We tried to fix what was wrong, but they couldn’t meet me halfway. For lack of experience, I had no idea how to handle communication failure, and I had no immunity against the fallout. We waited until the school year ended and got out of each other’s lives. It took me a very long time to process that first year.

My political views changed drastically. From the outside, I watched the culture I grew up in clutch a victim complex close to its chest, idolize power and control and safety in a system that benefitted them most, declare the world black and white and demonize the rest, demonize me for trying to account for its complexity.

I saw the end of all my ropes. I saw what I become when I am severely off balance and hopelessly empty. That understanding branded itself in the back of my mind, and I always saw its afterimage. A steady, constant fear, a looming ultimatum. I tend to be a stubbornly self-assured person, but that year, 2016 part 2, and far into 2017 saw me feeling more like a liability than an asset.

My next roommate situation was cramped and I put up with more than I should have in the name of not causing trouble. (Which caused trouble.) A lot of good things were happening at school, but I had stopped fully recognizing myself as a person.

I had previously enjoyed a healthy sense of community in undergrad, but it was extremely difficult to make friends in art school. I spent a lot of time alone, too much even for me. (I am very introverted.) I started caving in on myself even while trying to climb back out of a pit of anxiety, depression, and exhaustion I’d been digging, and learning to overwork myself to make deadlines and keep my sense of self afloat.

In many ways, my work was a lifeline. I still considered myself a person of faith, but old me would have likely considered my work to be in full blown idolatry territory.

Yet my efforts continued to be fruitful. I was pushing to be as true to myself as I could, and my work was well received.

I’m a little astounded that I could be struggling so much personally and spiritually, yet have something that was totally competing with any other sense of balance in my life to be so—blessed.

New Year’s Eve 2017, I sat on the end of my friend’s bed, recounting this one time sophomore year of undergrad—roughly 5 years ago now—when I was so paranoid my work was competing with my faith and that God was going to ask me to give it up. He asked me, then, “What if I did ask you to give it up? What would you do?” I took a week to answer, but my reply was ultimately. “I would.”

God didn’t make me give it up. He never asked me about it again.

At that, my friend paused.

“Sara,” she said, astounded, earnest, “that’s what saved you.”

I sat there staring at her for a while, trying to figure out if I was going to cry or laugh or try to deny it all.

This thing that’s been with me my whole life, pushing, competing, propelling me forward; simultaneously something through which I reach out for connection, and something notorious for being socially alienating (I spend a ton of time working), has all along been a connection point to the divine.

Little by little, I’ve been identifying the broken supports the last few years have uncovered, and repairing them with trembling hands. Little by little, I’m learning to forgive as well as fight. I am intimidated to find out what their repair may mean.

I’m starting to see what all this desert season was for. What God had in mind when He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.”

On the edge of sending my work out into the world, realizing a deep, consuming childhood dream, all these disjointed, confusing pieces have been starting to orient into a readable chapter.

Even when I was most estranged, most confused and unsure if I would ever end up talking to God again the way I used to, I believed that if God puts a desire in your heart, He will honor it. I see now there’s more to it. You must honor it too. You must be willing to surrender it, so that the desire becomes a tool of clarity, and not a mad, toxic scramble for meaning and worth.

Because deep down, the Creator of the world made us human. As a creative human, I’m frequently guilty of putting my work first and my personhood second. Over the last few years, I’ve hardly wanted to deal with my own weak, needy, frightened, exhausted self. I have tried to improve and heal her, but I also attempted to drown her out along the way. The work was somehow positive, but the person was wounded and scared and I didn’t understand what she had to say for herself.

I felt I was somehow weathering punishment, or at least consequences, for walking away. I felt California was my sort of reckoning, a fieldtrip to see how not-nice the world was so I could come crawling back. But I see now that all this struggle actually had a bigger point, a point very closely tied both to my work, and my personhood, and I feel I’ll start to see that purpose soon.

I am unspeakably humbled and awestruck by it all.

As I move forward into another year, a single verse from my childhood keeps coming up in my mind.

Taste and see that the Lord is good,

blessed are those who take refuge in Him

Psalm 34:11

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A/N: I’d love to revive this blog. It’s on my 2018 Goals list. My year will be consumed with a bunch of comics and life things as I graduate art school and move back up to Oregon, so we’ll see. I think I put too much pressure on this space. Need to go with the flow!

Favorite Books 2017

Fiction:

This One Summer, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Not Drunk Enough, Tess Stone

The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

Nemesis, Isaac Asimov

City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

On Writing, Stephen King

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

 

Nonfiction:

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans

My Name is Hope: Anxiety, Depression, and Life After Melancholy, John Mark Comer

 

Favorite Songs 2017

The entire Worlds album by Porter Robinson

“Shelter,” Porter Robinson and Madeon

“Waving through a Window,” Ben Platt (from “Dear Evan Hansen”)

“Event Horizon,” I Am Waiting For You Last Summer

“Formed by Glaciers,” Kubbi

“Alienation,” Morning Parade

“Because,” Yoko Kanno

“Liar,” The Arcadian Wild

“Your Heart is a Weapon,” POP ETC

“Car Radio,” Twenty One Pilots

All the windows are open

in our bedroom on the fifth floor. The sharp steeple of a church peeks out between stepping stone roofs of apartment buildings. I can see the upper terrace of a restaurant, twinkle lights strung in the rafters. Most things are closed at this hour, but there are lights in windows, low and yellow in the hushed and misty air.

In the dull, punctuated dark of a bedroom shared with three other people, I lie on top of the covers and look out on the crowded, cooperative landscape.

And I feel lucky to have this view, even if it’s just for a little while.

I’m good at pursing goals, not people.

I thought I could find them by pursuing my dreams–tangible, logical. And if I was smart enough, kind enough, safe enough, they would want to stay.

Every week I work until I break down. Every week I have to step back and accept I am not invincible.

Every week I face the fear of how fragile my measure of worth is. How often I fall short.

I’ve seen how cold, how jagged and empty I can be.

I am an automaton bolted to a desk, trying to fashion a human heart of paper and ink.

I watch my peers find each other, stay for each other, connect and commit in ways I have never known. Ways I have always tried to earn, but which always push me further away from that picture.

Half of me is married to my work, while the other half asks, “Aren’t I good enough yet?”

Not yet is forever the answer.

Not yet not yet not yet.

Which is just a nice way of saying no.

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A/N: Some angst and uncertainty from a little bit ago, before a recent academic turning point which I’ll have to write about soon!

I swing left but I’m not going to bite your head off…

I wish I could speak for everyone, but we’re human and humans are stupid and like to fight. We each like to think our sides are the vision of the future and in reality we do some good but we’re also both really lame.

A few weeks ago, I looked up a bunch of recent political cartoons on a whim, to see what passive aggression each side was flinging at the other. What I gathered:

Liberals are stupid, limp-wristed crybabies.

Conservatives are bigoted, narrow-minded hypocrites.

By this point, I’ve weeded my Facebook feed of the political zinger memes that just hurt their targets and negatively rile up those that agree with the sting. I’m not interested in alienating people like that.

As a young person, I inevitably don’t have a lot of chill. Yet as a storyteller, I am constantly looking for ways to connect and harmonize, to soothe and encourage, to assure people they deserve to exist peacefully on this earth.

Growing up, I watched how people who wanted exactly what I wanted—to live in peace and be a force for good—were shunned because they didn’t fit the mold that was prescribed for them. A mold that didn’t really fit me, either.

I am terrified of hurting people by trying to hand someone such a mold. Elitism disguised as piety.

Instead, I want to help people find the courage to learn what their own shape is. How they can be flawed and have room to grow, but can be worthy and good, too. How they best personally fit in the spiritual-physical scheme of things and let them grow at their own pace.

The world needs all types. All types of people, all types of viewpoints. I appreciate the conservative lean toward a strong moral foundation and personal responsibility. This is the environment I grew up in. It had it’s drawbacks, but my religious upbringing ultimately brought me to the things I hold closest to my heart, such as the conviction of compassion and courage I always strive for in my work and in my life as a human being. However, I swing more liberal politically because of that desire to help people find their own unique paths to wellness, since the world is a neverending explosion of hues and shades and I’ve found the conservative end of the spectrum a little too prescribed black and white for me to move as freely as I need to.

A guiding quote for me, in the midst of reaching adulthood and coming to terms with the full intensity of a broken world, navigating concepts of race, privilege, economics, propaganda and bias, trying to repair a faith with singed edges while the group I used to hail from accuses me and everyone like me (good ole’ stereotypes) of being stupid precious snowflakes, is this:

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. (Louis C. K.)

And I feel like, the least I can do, is listen to those I don’t understand. Set aside my own ego and amplify the voices of the silenced instead of demonizing them for being problematic to my own convenience. Personal accountability and an open ear, that’s what I strive for when I turn my face to the biting winds of politics.

The two zones, if you will, are complementary. “Liberal” is impassioned and energetic and pushing forward a mile a minute—which runs the risk of spiraling out of control. “Conservative” is sturdy and quiet (generally)—which runs the risk of planting too deep and refusing to move. Push and pull, movement and stability. We need both to check the other. Not assign “evil” to one and applaud yourself for being the epitome of good sense.

Fear disguises itself as common sense, as safety, as dignity. It plays into self-preservation and easy justification. It attaches itself to your pride, draws out your wrath and envy as claws to protect its root and increase its hold. It is noisy and insistent, and highly infectious. It tells you you look stupid or naive or problematic for standing up to it. It will coax you into anger, into closed doors and isolation and inactivity. It will try to exhaust you.

It’s easy to entertain, but it will drown you if it can. It will smother everything good and giving in you to benign, bitter charcoal; to convenience, apathy, destructive anger, to division, to silence.

So quit demonizing each other. No more pompous hand wavin’ “Just sayin’!” tones and tactics (see also: Facebook politics). It’s cheap negativity. Striking a dog, gluing glitter on a leech and declaring it useful. Who has time or energy for that?

Instead, take up your compassion, your courage, your ability to count to ten and take a breath. Bring your ears and leave your stingers and bear traps at the door. Look to your loved ones as allies, not enemies, even when you don’t agree on everything. Go outside, make new friends, admire a dog, call your parents.

The world can be a bleak, cruel, divisive place, but not absolutely every bit of it is out to get you. Find the good, grab ahold, amplify it.

We each bring something unique to the table and we need each other.

Growing Pains

When I was in high school, I always prayed for empathy, and I thought I understood the world perfectly:

There were us humans, created for good but with destructive tendencies.

And there was God.

The world was black and white. Right or wrong.There was a cut and dry answer to every question ever.

Homosexuality was a choice, and it was a sin.

Evolution was a stupid worldly thing that in no way existed. Like global warming.

All of the Bible was objectively, literally true and did not contradict itself whatsoever because if it did, it would delegitimize itself.

A spirit was for sure imbued at conception, and abortion needed to be illegal at all costs. (Darn that liberal agenda.)

American Christianity was the “right religion.”

I knew all the words. I believed them all.

And then college happened. Little by little, what I thought I understood at the ripe old age of 18 was dismantled. Gently, quietly.

Until it wasn’t so quiet anymore.

Halfway through my fall semester senior year, I was sitting wedged between people in the bustling meeting room of a coffee shop. Even more members were due to arrive. It was a jovial space, a safe space. We were going to talk about gender this meeting. I was still trying to feel comfortable in this group, who I sensed had grappled far more than I had, regarding far more difficult questions I still had my collection of easy answers to—although these answers were considerably more tentative than in previous years.

These people had been eschewed from the system I had previously thrived in, hidden under. I knew I had so much to learn and I was terrified of that.

About this time, the pro-life club on my private Christian university campus had made an innocent, but very negatively received mistake regarding flyers in campus bathrooms, and on this particular evening, the college students around me were freely deriding this mistake as I sat among them. I knew they didn’t mean any harm, but I froze.

What seemed so obviously naive and assumptive to them, I had just realized maybe wasn’t a good idea.

They didn’t know I hadn’t thought in depth about this yet.

And in that safe space, quietly, I didn’t feel so safe, anymore.

It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.

But in that moment, I began to understand what I was doing to myself that semester. Something necessary and terrifying and rife with sharp growing pains.

Earlier that summer I’d realized I was asexual. For those unfamiliar with the term, asexuality describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction, as separate from romantic attraction. I’d always thought I was just a late bloomer, and I faked crushes to fit in. I remained sex repulsed for most of my known life up until that point. And it was nice to find out there was a label that fit me better than the assumed one. It was like, after years of adolescent size changes, finding that one pair of jeans that fits like a miracle.

And after that realization, my point of view shifted. I understood, like a pound of concrete settling into place, that alternate sexuality was not a choice. The question of alternate sexuality vs Christianity was no longer just an intellectual topic. It was me. It was the friends who had just come out to me, as well as friends I intended to meet.

And I understood the world was not as black and white as I had presupposed. I felt it as close as my own skin.

As soon as the fall semester started, I reached out to the LGBTQ club created by students from the school; a club which, despite the invaluable support and solidarity it offered other gay and trans students at the university, hadn’t received official recognition by the university.

The leaders enthusiastically welcomed me into the fold.

Also that semester, I was taking a professional writing class, in which there was an overarching public relations project. My friends were starting up a pro-life club on campus, and they agreed to let me do some PR for them.

I sat through the meeting that night, feeling like a complete liar, and bombarded by a confused, panicky sort of shame (self-inflicted, of course). By affiliating myself with the LGBTQ club, was I somehow betraying my conservative Christian friends? And by affiliating myself with the pro-life club at the same time, was I betraying my LGBTQ friends?

I was more afraid of what the latter would think of me if they found out. These people who had endured so much hatred and fear from people like me, finding out that the dictionary illustration of a proper American Christian sat among them. Asexual but still hanging onto ideas she herself hadn’t arrived at on her own.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

But I’d stepped off the dock and there was no denying I’d gotten wet. I couldn’t go back. The mechanism was in motion, and I had no choice but to press forward (or shove my head in the sand but we all know that wasn’t an option).

My attendance of both groups dropped. I was too exhausted and confused to put myself through that anxiety every week, but I grappled long and hard with everything I’d thought I’d known.

I contacted one of the leaders of the LGBTQ club, a friendly political science major named Jen. I admitted my current position regarding the pre-meeting conversation the other day, and said I wanted to know more and hear what her perspective was on the issues of “pro-life vs pro-choice.” Something was off kilter and I really, truly wanted to understand.

We had a long coffee date, and as I walked back to my house on campus through the wet, leafy Oregon autumn, the framework I’d thought was impenetrable–obvious and logical and unquestionable–was breaking.

I talked to my friend who was helping lead the pro-life group, and she, too, was having doubts about how the “pro-life” movement, as it was, currently operated. We sat on a bench one afternoon in the center of campus, which was deserted for the weekend, and talked it over until we didn’t have anything else to say. Neither of us had reached any solutions, but we had at least admitted to ourselves that there were things that needed to change in the way we tackled the issues of maternal health.

I tried to apply more sensitive tactics into my PR material for the pro-life club, most of which weren’t actually used. Which was all right. It was just an assignment, and the club was still young, so it didn’t need much in the way of brochures. I have no idea how it’s doing currently, now that its founders have graduated. I hope maybe it has regrouped.

The LGBTQ club at my alma mater is still going strong, and I am very grateful to everyone who welcomed and supported me. I was asked to say a few words at the club’s graduation ceremony my very last semester, and that was extremely hard for me, since I did not feel the least bit worthy after how absent I had been. Even though I was trying to figure myself out and find some solid ground again.

Then I moved away to the San Francisco Bay Area for graduate school, effectively leaving the white-washed Christian suburban bubble of northwestern Oregon. This led to my current grappling with racism and how to help the violent racial tension in the United States, even though I grew up in a rather benign area. Being out of my home environment has considerably furthered my development into someone that may have shocked my high school self. She’d think I’d have backslid, gone completely off the deep end.

Maybe she’d despair that this version of me looks so different than she envisioned. Maybe she’d be intimidated, but I like to think she would understand, after a while.

I marvel at how much of a difference 6 years make. How a dutiful prayer has turned to genuine desire. When I was a kid, I didn’t fully understand what my pleas meant or why I made them. Only that I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to care. I wanted to think. I didn’t want to be left behind.

I’m pleased that this journey, for me, began on a conservative Christian university campus. The familiar space combined with all the people I had the honor to meet and speak with there was the perfect springboard into my adult life, into the deep end that grows ever deeper.

That evening in the fall semester of 2014, I began to understand what it is to be in the middle ground. What it is to think hard about things with a logical, open mind. To not be afraid of nuance and confusion and lack of answers, but to pursue empathy and compassion over being “right,” and to have the courage to show up when I am needed.

I firmly believe that if you search for truth, you will find it, and this is where my own search has led me.

And lately, I’ve been reflecting on how everything I’ve done in my life has fed very deliberately into where I am now, though I didn’t realize it while it was happening. Looking back, I can see the ties, trace the wires, and I stand amazed.

Be careful what you pray for, kids. God does not confine himself to the neat and predictable, and He may just bust your life wide open.