youthful wonder

If you’ve ever gone through boxes (and boxes) of old items (including everything from old papers, report cards, medals, trophies, essays, certificates, and photographs) you’ll know very well that you never know what, exactly, you are going to find.

Over this last weekend, Chelsea and I visited my mom’s house to clear out stuff that I had kept over the years (largely untouched). It was delightful to see old yearbooks, to find shirts I had been looking for (namely, my Mia Hamm jersey), and to see old, whimsical items that I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

However, my favorite FAVORITE part was finding my old 1st/2nd grade journals. You know, the ones that you are required to keep to practice your composition and handwriting skills. Laughing with tears in my eyes, I found some of the gems below that touch on my thoughts related to family, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and helping people. Seeing these old writings brought such joy to me. Sorting through my writings and drawings again felt like getting to know the little me; ever sunny, ever positive, and ever obsessed with animals. It was good for the soul.

I suppose getting to see artifacts from the past remind us that we are still that person, we are still young at heart. Seeing these old writings reminded me of a couple things. One, I always have, and always still, love to write. And two, I don’t want to lose my wonder. I don’t want to lose that part of my heart that loves reflecting on the world and continually unearthing what life experiences mean to me. I did this a lot when I was young and I have continued to do this even now.

Wonder – youthful wonder – it’s a beautiful thing.

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the longest lesson

There are few things I appreciate more than a really good question.

You know, that moment when someone inquires or speaks in such a way that the entire conversation shifts to something that touches the experience of being human. I often lean in closer, unable to contain my interest in where the answer might go. I live for those moments.

I suppose it is a good (and necessary) thing that I enjoy the act of questions and dialogue – this is much of what goes into becoming a therapist in the first place.

Oprah has this fantastic question that she has used when filming her Super Soul Sunday series. During interviews, she will skillfully ask, “So, tell me, in your life what has been the lesson that has taken the longest to learn?

Uh, BRILLIANT.

This question is striking because it is asking so much more than what appears on the surface. Essentially, this question is asking about what life has taught you. When you boil it all down, what have you had to endure to learn (usually again, and again, and again)?

When interviewing Julia Roberts last fall, the actress responded in such a profound way that I could barely contain myself. She shared that the life lesson for her was, “…that I think, we as people or as women, or me as myself, who I am in this world, that I had to make myself less for someone else to feel more of whatever that thing was.”

I think the dynamic quality of this question is that it reminds us that we are more similar than different. I would guess that most of us have actually had to learn similar sorts of things – sure, we might use different language or words to describe the actual experience, but if you’re talking about identity, love, feeling worthy or enough, or whatever it might be, chances are someone else has had to journey through that as well.

I wonder, too, if what we learn changes. Is what I have had to learn over and over again now going to be the same as when I am, say, seventy? I suppose I don’t really know.

The lesson I have had to learn repeatedly so far, across multiple domains of my life is this:

I am loved just as I am. I don’t have to do anything to earn it. I don’t have to be someone I am not. And, most importantly, I don’t have to give parts of myself away to find love.

This has been my life lesson – one that I have been learning a long time.

In elementary school I was afraid to share with friends that I liked country music – I thought that if I was honest, they wouldn’t like me. Though I found my niche as an athlete in high school, I feared that if I dressed to much “like a boy” then I wouldn’t be able to keep the friends I had. Later in life, I felt that I had to serve and give to be valuable. In this context, love was no longer love – it was transactional. And of course, for a long time I hid my own sexual identity, fearful that if I was honest about who I was, then I would be rejected and no longer worthy of love – whether it be from family, friends, acquaintances, or broader society.

Breaking through these barriers has been a big, big deal. Today, I am continuing to find the power of being honest, speaking my truth, and not molding myself to what I think others might want of me. When I do acts of service it is because I want to, not because I have to. While the difference is subtle, it is incredibly important. This work is extraordinarily challenging, however, when I actually do it, I feel like the most powerful woman in the world. When I am honest, genuine, authentic and still know that I am loved (and that I am enough), there is a small spark that fills my body.

This is what it feels like to take up space and to not apologize for it.

So, what is that thing for you? What is the lesson that has taken the longest to learn?

In all likelihood, you (we) are still learning it. That is the beautiful journey of life: always learning, always growing.

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Lez Plan a Wedding – Part 3

2018 snuck away and suddenly, like clockwork, it was 2019. 2019.

As in WE ARE GETTING MARRIED THIS YEAR.

For so long, namely because we’ve had a long engagement, we’ve been talking about our wedding as this idea and major life event that is happening sometime in the distant future. Yet, as the new year fell upon us, Chelsea and I both had a very real moment of reality: our wedding is happening soon – I mean, now it’s only 6 months away!

Truly, it shouldn’t surprise us. Chelsea and I have been taking time a couple times a month to spend hours planning everything from schedules, hotel blocks, flowers, and guest lists. Yet, as with many things in life, when you find yourself thick in the process, you barely recognize how fast everything is moving.

We have kept approximately sixteen sheets in our Master Excel document to track everything. Several months ago, Chelsea suggested we keep a sheet to track the things that we have accomplished throughout the planning process so that we could feel encouraged in what we have completed. Seeing that list grow has been delightful; to-dos are getting done and we’re getting closer to capturing the vision we have for this day in our lives.

However, even at this juncture, it has been necessary to recognize that planning a wedding is more than a list of things to do. Wedding planning is inherently stressful because getting married is a HUGE deal. Sure, it’s positive stress, but it’s still stress. Not only are we working together to plan this celebration, but we’re also wrestling with what it means for us to be a married couple – particularly when we already live together, are working to combine finances, and very much have a shared life. What, then, does marriage mean for us?

Contemplation of this change is something newer we are bringing to the conversation of wedding planning. What will change after we become legally married? What might stay the same? What expectations are we both carrying into the relationship (unconsciously or otherwise)? 

I suppose this is the gift of a long engagement. We’ve had the time to enjoy the newness of our commitment, to hash out important details for our ceremony and reception, and to allow the process to remind us that a very big change is coming. Marriage has been a conduit for us to discuss even larger, looming questions about our future: where we will live, our careers, our dreams, and of course, children.

These conversations are timely as we turn to more intricately plan the ceremony. The ceremony, for us, is the sacred, intimate representation of us joining our lives. We want the format to speak to who we are as a couple and to set the stage for this very serious commitment we are making. We’re planning for instrumental music, meaningful readings, and a space filled with support, love, laughter, and ease. When I envision marrying Chelsea in the Washington Park Garden (one of my absolute favorite spots in Denver) I anticipate how right it will feel, and how beautiful it will be.

These are the joys of wedding planning. To be honest, it can be hard to hold on to these joys when so much of the process requires diligence about money and details. Yet, as we continue to make more decisions and have more clarity on this experience, we find a deep knowing that this will be the next step into the rest of our lives. Our process is reflecting this, too. The choices of our locations, vendors, and logistics show a shift to have the kind of day that we want, not a day that the wedding world and/or society says we should have.

6 months to go – I can hardly believe it.

There is still much to be done, yet, I feel so joyful at all that we have created and all that will come together this August.

My heart is full.

 

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writing & me

As we move into a new year, I cannot help but recognize my place in a season of massive change. It as though the change has been set into motion – but I have not yet arrived. I am engaged – but not married. I am studying to be a therapist – but not yet graduated (and certainly not yet licensed). I have started a new job – but have not yet mastered the many skills and learnings required.

Upon this kind of reflection, I have found myself asking: What is consistent in the midst of this deeply transformative time of life? What is it that I can come back to that is wholly and completely grounding?

Writing.

That was the first and most salient answer. Writing – of course!

I have been writing since I could actually write. I have been writing throughout my life and it is the type of thing that has both defined me as I have also defined it. That is to say that I have always been a writer – but throughout the varying seasons of life, I have decided the kind of writer I want to be. When I was young, I wrote a lot of stories. In my travels, I wrote a lot about the people I met and the awkward encounters I often managed to find myself within (I still do this, by the way). When I was an angsty teenager, I wrote about my friends, my perceived social life, and how high school was everything. Several years ago, I spent most of my time writing about social justice: the things that have broken my heart, the things in the world that seemed so wrong, so utterly out of place. Now, I write a bit of everything – I write poems from time to time, I write about my insights from unexplored parts in my past, and I write about my partner, and wedding stuff, and balancing all the newness in my life.

However, actually getting myself to pick up a pen and write something has been harder than at any other time in my life. Sure, it is somewhat hard to find the time, but actually, it’s more difficult to bring my presence to the space of writing. Good writing requires a mind ready for wandering and exploring, and lately, I have found myself hinged up by the waves of practical, modern-day stresses.

Yet, I come back to it because writing is the constant in my life, right? I am a writer – and so when it’s hard to do, I allow myself to trust the process and carry it me where it needs to go. This never fails. Honestly. Even with writer’s block, there’s always something I can bring forth in my heart, soul, and mind and express it on paper. Writing is magical like that.

Thinking about this today, I wrote the piece below. It’s simply a call back to what I love in writing and why it matters so much to me.

                                               

The only thing between me and writing is me.

I mumble, “what really do I have to say?”

I ask this question only to find a swell of energy that reminds me –

A lot.

I have a lot to say. I have a lot to write.

I can write about the world and my place in it.

I can write about the people, places, and relationships I experience.

I can write about spirituality and God – what I know to be true and everything that I don’t (which, let’s be honest, is a lot).

I can write about love. Love – the way I know it, hold it, and bear witness to it. Love – the way it can be extraordinarily miraculous and complicated at once.

I can write about change; how we propel forward and let go of the past while still knowing where we come from.

I can write about learnings. Mistakes. Vulnerabilities.

And, if I dare, I can write about unspoken truths.

The power of writing is in the ability to make that utterances inside of us real. Writing brings forth and identity and pieces of ourselves we may not always speak into the world.

When I give writing a chance, I come back to one of the strongest parts of myself – authenticity.

When I write, it is like my real voice, unfiltered and unwavering, is alive.

The world creates barriers and boundaries (as do we) to what we share.

We are silenced, muted, and asked to be quiet.

Writing radically creates and provides the space for considerations, musings, and ideas that are transferred beautifully (sometimes messily) from mind to paper.

Writing is a process, a practice, a discipline, a craft.

Writing is where I find myself.

Writing is the soul moving into a deeper existence.

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becoming 30

Nearing the end of my twenties is beginning to feel infused with equal parts nostalgia, pride, reflection, and gratitude. I spent this morning sifting through old photographs and recalling old memories leading me to wonder, once again, who am I? Where am I going? What is this crazy life?

It’s funny – isn’t it – how the questions really never change. When I first turned 20, I was asking the very same things. I had no idea who I was, and I certainly could never have anticipated where life took me for the last 10 years. I suppose now things are different – I do actually know much more of who I am, however, in knowing how growth and change work, I also know there will be even more to be discovered in the years to come.

My twenties were vibrant, challenging, illuminating, joyful, heartbreaking, and full of travel to new places. I believe it has been my experiences away from home that have taught me to appreciate what home means and how much the world has to offer. Learning new places, new languages, new modes of transport, and new foods has shown me the delicate beauty of humanity. I learned how to love in my twenties (or at least, how to love better), and I know now this is the greatest gift we can learn. I have learned to love God, the world, others, and importantly, myself.

The best part of my twenties was exploring cultures, places, and my identity. I knew, already, when I was twenty that I was gay. However, I had convinced myself to repress this, to live a different life because the one that I wanted was impossible. I’m pleased – and blessed – to see that as I close this chapter of my life, I am exactly where I had hoped and dreamed to be.

Within the past decade, I made so many new friendships, got to vote in my first election (right before I turned 20), played NCAA field hockey, became an aunt, fell in love, lived in new places, ran a half marathon, helped start a business, gained new family members (via in-laws and families in East Africa), attended a Sooners football game in Norma, and published my writing. More recently, I became engaged and am planning a wedding with the love of my life. Truly – I never thought that would happen. So much of me did not believe in the institution of marriage. However, I will be the first to say, I am grateful to have changed my mind. I have learned the art of doing so; it is perfectly acceptable and even preferable to reconsider what you think about people, ideas, and things. When I was younger, I thought changing your mind was a bad thing. Yet, it is in challenging our own assumptions where we find the biggest growth opportunities.

The most arduous part of my twenties was loss. I lost my grandmother, who in many ways, was the light of my life. I lost my dog, Buddy, too, and this was also inexpressibly difficult. I lost – for a while – a part of myself when I moved permanently back from Rwanda. Moving back to the United States was literally, painful, lonely, and isolating. Easily, this was one of the more grueling times in my life (not just my twenties).

In addition to loss, my twenties were demanding because of the amount of change that occurred. I had to let go of my first love because of distance – that hurt every part of me. I had to learn about building long-distance friendships when I graduated college, knowing that all of my dearest friends would live in different parts of the United States. My brother also went through a great deal of hardship, and as a sister, this was agonizing to bear witness to. Loss and change, I now understand, come with life. As we hold onto love and joy, inevitably, we will also meet suffering, too. It all goes hand in hand.

As I look to 30 and the next season of life, I see hope. I am actively working towards new dreams – dreams rooted in helping others as I work to become a licensed therapist – and dreams of starting a family. I yearn for more ways to make a difference in the world and to always seek personal growth and become the woman I am supposed to be. I want to continue to write, to continue to seek adventures, and to continue to promote love in a world that desperately needs it. I hope to do this with boldness and humility, knowing that my journey now could not be without the journey that has come before.

I am proud of who I am. I am proud of the life I have made so far. I am just proud. Yet, in this pride, I know I would not be where I am without my family, without my friends, without my partner, Chelsea, and without God. I am truly fortunate to have this life, and my hope is that I can give back to the world what has been graciously bestowed to me. I am motivated to live in a world that values humanity, kindness, and community and I aim to push forward this kind of world for my kids, their kids, and the people who will come after me. I am absolutely pumped to be thirty years young and I genuinely look forward to what the next 10 years – and beyond. Bring on the art of living.

Here we go.

As I look forward to the future, it has been deeply rewarding to look back on where I have been. Here’s my favorite photos (and memories) from the last 10 years.

Cheers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lez Plan a Wedding – Part 2

I am in my third semester of my Counseling Program and am currently enrolled in a Group Counseling class that provides an overview of how to run a therapeutic group. I have learned a great deal in the class – everything from the stages of a group, the skills required, and the basic process of facilitation. Our culminating project has been to develop a Group Proposal on a kind of group that we would like to lead in the future. I chose to research, design, and present a group called “Gay & Lesbian Premarital Counseling” to provide a space for gay and lesbian couples preparing for marriage.

In my research, I was reminded that marriage is not wholly welcomed in the gay and lesbian community. Certainly, gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies and other rituals to celebrate relational milestones have existed for great lengths of time. However, because marriage has not been accessible for the community, it is received with sometimes mixed reviews, often referencing the idea that marriage is a product of a heteronormative society.

My group, then, postures an opportunity for gay and lesbian couples who DO want to express commitment and to do so through marriage, to reclaim this rite of passage. The reclamation process – among many other reasons – is a guiding force behind Chelsea and I’s wedding planning; not only do we want to signify our love, but we want to showcase the relatively new reality that gay and lesbians can (and should) participate equally in society.

Historically, and even present today, marriage includes sub-steps that all work together to create what we know it to be (i.e. engagement parties, bridal parties, rehearsal dinners, etc.). Chelsea and I, of course, are looking at all of these steps, and are careful to decide which ones we would like to incorporate and also, which ones we would like to do-away with.

An important step that we did want to include was engagement photos. Photos, we recognize, are like tangible artifacts that represent a season of life. We wanted to honor this experience, and we wanted a way to remember this exciting season of not yet married, but very much committed.

We decided that because our wedding is going to be outdoors and have a classy but “earthy” vibe, our engagement photographs could showcase the more artsy and urban side of our relationship. Prior to the shoot, we mapped out several stops that highlighted our favorite murals downtown. Most of these were in the RiNo area of Denver and it was energizing to decide which designs and colors would be the backdrop for our shoot.

Our photographer, Steve Tinetti, did an incredible job. He mastered the art of capturing both us and color while still creating perspective in the photographs. In addition to his immense talent, we also had a lot of fun and felt very comfortable in his presence. For nearly three hours, Chelsea and I snuggled, smiled, and ate ice cream (true story) as he snapped away with his camera. We had a blast.

Here’s some of our favorites.

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If you don’t have anything nice to say 

Best not say anything at all. 

Some old idioms do have meaning and wisdom – don’t they?

And hey, I’m all about public discourse, enriching conversations, and working to find spaces for disagreement. However, when it comes to a person’s individual life, I have yet to figure out why it has become culturally “okay” to offer unsolicited commentaries.

I won’t dance around the elephant in the room – I am speaking specifically to my experience as a lesbian. I came out several years ago and even today continue to encounter pushback in the form of texts, Facebook messages, and the like from individuals who are affronted by my “choice” to be gay.

The most recent message just came a few weeks ago; a scathing, loaded message that, quite literally, was “a message from God” from the person who wrote it. Included in this long note was comments about the surprise and shock that came with realizing that I was gay, specifically that I was touting myself as both gay and Christian.

This person wrote, “I was once again surprised and devastated to see on one of your recent posts that you still consider yourself to be a Christian even though you’ve chosen a lifestyle of homosexuality. That is not possible, Heather. Please believe me that it is not my desire to preach to you: my utmost desire is to obey God in reaching out to you in love and truth, and I do so because I care for you as a person.”

Mhmmmm.

You can imagine I had lots of thoughts about this. One, I didn’t choose this identity. What I did choose to be was a Christian. Also, homosexuality is not a lifestyle. IT IS NOT OKAY TO SAY THIS. A lifestyle is how a person chooses to live (i.e. “a lavish lifestyle” would imply lots of vacations and luxury travel). It is problematic to assume that an LGBTQ+ person has a specific kind of lifestyle. LGBTQ+ people are not robots and certainly do not live in one particular kind of way.

And lastly, it is probably best not to make presumptions about my relationship with God OR how God sees me. Nobody can say this definitively. We are humans. I am tired of communities or individuals thinking that they have their market share on who or what God stands for. The entire premise of faith is that of mystery. Faith is expounding on certainty; it is finding solace in the inexplicable. Faith is trusting something bigger than yourself. Faith is vested in hope, love, and humanity. Yet, so many of these kinds of messages reek of self-righteousness, doctrine, and a prescribed kind of religion.

I wanted to share some other comments, words, questions, and conversations I have had to have in the last few years since coming out. Many of these have been so uncomfortable. And so, I write this with the hopes that if you do know someone struggling with their identity or someone who has already come out, please please – don’t ask them these questions. I’ve listed them below for reference.

Whatever you think about LGBTQ+ people, understand that your opinion does not carry more weight than the right for that person to exist. Their story is just as important as yours. It is tempting and often the norm to feel as though you MUST share what you think about a person’s life experience. Here’s the thing: you don’t.

All you need to do is listen. Hold space. Make no assumptions. Be curious (but respectful). Be open. 

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“Why can’t you change?”

This question assumes that a person a) should change or b) hasn’t already asked this question. I prayed at least a hundred times for God to change my identity. I wanted it so badly. I even tried to be straight. It doesn’t work. At one point, I even considered trying conversion/reparative therapy. The “therapy” works on a premise that having a non-conforming gender identity or same-sex attraction is a mental disorder. Conversion therapies are largely discredited by governing associations the psychological and psychiatric realm. Countless studies show that the therapy is ineffective and harmful.

But to the point – how would you feel if a core piece of your identity existed and someone asked why you couldn’t change that? Could you help that you were born with a particular skin color? Could you help what nationality you have?

It is offensive to postulate that a person must change to be “better” or accepted.

“Have you tried to pray or talk to God about this?”

See above. Yes. A million times.

LGBTQ+ individuals who also hold a faith tradition have likely explored this within a faith lens. It’s no wonder that many LGBTQ+ individuals leave or shift away from the church as an institution – if they are not welcome there, why would they go?

And after all, how do we know God hasn’t already created us as the people we are meant to be?

“But, Heather, it’s not possible to be both Christian and Gay.”

If you believe this, then fine. That’s your prerogative. However, your experience and understanding of faith and Christianity is bigger than you. Leave room for other ideas. Leave room for experiences you can’t necessarily understand. Christianity has not and could not look the same across the world. I am telling you – Christians in Rwanda do not look like Christians in the United States.

It would be important to then ask (to yourself), well, why do I believe this to be true? Why couldn’t a person have a different sexual identity and also be Christian?

Perhaps this will conjure up the six bible verses (known as the clobber passages) that mention this.

Is it possible the text was written for a different context? Is it possible that the writer could have been speaking to something else? It is possible that the text does not hold up today? I am not suggesting the answer to these questions, rather, these are the kinds of exploration a person who would make a statement about someone else’ faith should be asking themselves.

“You have so easily fallen into this lifestyle…carefully consider the choices you are making.”

To say that a person’s exploration and understanding of their sexual identity has been easy is ludicrous. More than anything, it’s also dangerous. According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are 5 times more likely to consider suicide than heterosexual youth. That’s a big number. And, we’re talking about lives. We have to be more delicate than assuming the road for an LGBTQ+ person has been “easy.” It is anything but that. It breaks my heart to think about the isolation, anxiety, depression, fear, shame, and loss that comes with this process.

Stick by your person. It’s scary. They need you simply to love them, regardless of what you think.

“How do you know your gay?”

To that question, I can only ask: how do you know you are straight? Exactly. You just know.

I remember as a young girl thinking I was different because I wasn’t attracted to boys the way others were. I pretended, and of course I can objectively recognize a man’s beauty, but I was not drawn to it the way I felt I was supposed to be. I know I am gay because I am attracted to women. In the same way, I know I am a vegetarian because I don’t eat meat. I know that I have green eyes because I was born with them. Much of what makes us us, isn’t easily extracted with explanations. It just is. 

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy.”

Oh boy. I tried being straight for a number of years. I believed this. I thought that maybe I just hadn’t met the right one. And so, I went on a dating blitz and had dinner with boys from all over the place (Denver, Centennial, Parker, etc.) I dated some more seriously. And trust me when I say, it was not a fit. Even when I met someone who was everything I would want on paper, when it came closer to physical intimacy (or really, any intimacy at all), I balked big time. It felt so, so wrong. This is not about meeting the right man, it is about knowing which gender is the one I am attracted to.

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NOTE:

Full transparency: this was hard to write.

It is hard to revisit these painful wounds that I have experienced. Yet, when they keep happening, I know it’s then time to say something. I still struggle the residual impact of coming out. I wrestle with anxiety and shame. I fear I am doing something wrong, sometimes. But I am happy to say, that BECAUSE of my faith and trust in God (and myself) I know who I am is good. I know I am worthy. I know I am loved. No matter what questions or words come my way, this truth cannot be altered.

Thank you for reading. Keep spreading love.

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