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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

36 Questions

An old friend and I got together for dinner and a movie earlier this week. We met towards East Colfax, a bustling, growing part of Denver. I parked my car (admittedly, it was a bit stressful as I have only recently become competent at parallel parking) and made my way towards the restaurant.

As we ate our food and caught up on the small details of life (work, summer activities, and dating) she mentioned that on several dates she had gone through the now famous 36 questions that are thought to lead to intimacy between two people with recent suitors.

The study, led by Arthur Aron and a group of psychologists, found that “reciprocal and escalated self-disclosure” can be associated with the development of closeness. The research and findings became famous because they were featured in the Modern Love column in the New York Times. I first heard about the study while listening to an episode called “To Fall in Love, Do This” and was fascinated at the idea that interpersonal vulnerability could create such a strong bond.

My friend told me more – she shared that the last activity after asking these series of questions (there are three sets, designed to build in depth) was to stare into the other person’s eyes for four minutes. FOUR MINUTESImmediately, I thought to myself, I definitely need to do this with Chelsea.

We haven’t tried it yet – but I want to. In the mean time, I have read a bit more about the questions and the study.

Some of the questions in the exchange include items like:

For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time?

Why haven’t you done it?

When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?

Tell your partner something that you like about them already.

Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items.

If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?

What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

Better yet, I stumbled across this charming, touching, tender video of three different couples going through the process of asking the questions. I literally wept. There is something about watching love manifest between two people, especially in their interactions. It is both inspiring and soothing.

Check out the video below – you won’t be sorry. And, if you get a chance to start exploring these questions with someone you love (it doesn’t even have to be a partner!) who knows where the conversation might lead.

God just is.

I have often found that the presence of the Divine is surprisingly subtle.

Experiencing, feeling, noticing, observing, communing (or really, whatever you want to call it) with God, for me, is typically an occurrence in the quieter, more reflective spaces of my life.

This is counterintuitive to many of the religious spaces I have found myself in over the years. Places where God is equal to loud praises, loud shouts, and loud songs. And sure, God can be found here too, in fact, I think that God is accessible anywhere and everywhere.

Yet, for me I feel God when my environment errs on the side of discreet and still.

So, it was completely “on brand” that when riding my bicycle this afternoon I felt the noticeable, pressing experience of God. Gliding along the paths near Crestmoor Park I was sorting through what felt like a million feelings. I had just returned from Rwanda. Even after two weeks, I was literally gleeful to be with Chelsea again. I was considering upcoming transitions. I was thinking about weddings, fall plans, and the end of summer. I was also recalling conversations with my parents, wanting to make sure that they were both doing well after not speaking with them during my travels.

A lot was on my mind. At one point during these thoughts, I turned the corner, touching on my brakes ever so slightly when –

Silence.

I felt a need for all things to be quiet – mostly the noise in my head. And so, with resistance, I silenced my questions, to-do lists, and contemplations. I existed in the moment, amidst the vibrant, green trees and slightly rocky bike paths. Suddenly, a mantra –

You are loved. You are enough. You do not have to explain yourself.

These phrases came to mind – on repeat – like a song that you just cannot get enough of. I wondered to myself: how do you know when you are skimming the line of God versus when you’re giving yourself positive self-talk?

Real question.

And, the real answer is that I don’t know. I literally have no idea. However, I do have a hunch.

When I am with God, everything is in balance. Everything is with perspective. And, any thoughts I have (positive or otherwise) feel exquisitely simple and yet equally profound. It is as though my spirituality is full of reminders of love, yearnings for compassion, and fierce dedication to hope. All of this, without any of my own internal baggage. It is quite nice.

Prayers, revelations, and messages come together – time with God is never so clearly sparred out and divided like we do with our church programming. God just is.

I kept riding my bike, sifting through this nugget of faith that I was greatly welcoming. You see, connecting with God in this way has been more difficult lately. There has been so much moving around, so much change, so much distraction, to be frank. Because of that, I have missed these still moments that allow me to push further, beyond myself, so that I can access God, the Divine, and explore life from a fresher perspective – even if it is just for a moment.

Connection with God, I am learning requires connection to self. One must take the space. One must understand their identity. One must be willing to find what is available to them in any moment. God does not require a church, God does not require a certain verse or saying, God does not require a performance.

God just desires you – me – us.

Realizing this is changing my prayers, too. Today, I prayed a simple set of questions, a kind of prayer of humility:

God.

Thank you for today.

Thank you for bringing me home.

Thank you for the love I have in my life.

My hope is to steward this love well.

Where can I grow?

Where can I learn?

Where can I forgive?

Where can I hope?

Where can I give?

Where can I receive?

Where can I support?

Teach me how to explore these spaces – whatever my resistance, whatever my disposition. May I live well. May I love well.

God, help me to not forget the richness of this life. God, be with the hungry. God, be with the lonely. Be with all of us – regardless of belief, regardless of circumstance, regardless of anything. May your presence and experience be known. May your love reign.

I love you.

 Faith is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily complex.

I will forever fall short of describing my faith. I mean, how does one describe that which can only be felt?

Here’s to finding God in all kinds of places, in the most unexpected of ways.

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welcoming summer

This year is moving at blazing speeds and I have felt myself running, hustling, jumping – simply to catch up. Somehow, when I awoke the other morning it was June and the sun was shining through at a cool 84 degrees. Summer has arrived.

Summer is my favorite time of year: shorts, sunglasses, and ubiquitous green oak trees, along with an ease to the air that has been absent all year long. And it’s easily the best time of year to snap on rollerblades and roll along with views of the city.

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Mostly, summer reminds me to breathe, relax, and just enjoy the existence of, well, life.

Summer is also easily planned; booked with trips and adventures and any other outdoor activity you could think of. This summer is a bit different, too. Fresh off a week-long jaunt to Mexico, I’m squeezing in extra classes at school while also dreaming and planning a wedding with Chelsea for next summer (in 2019). Summer, then, feels like a bridge over water, a transition that we have all been anxiously awaiting (at least I have).

Summer is usually when I am most happy. Life feels a little more open, a little more spontaneous, like a meandering walk with no agenda, or a flower blooming without a care in the world.

When this year started, I choose the word “breathe” to be my mantra. My hope was that I could remind me to stop and simply be in the crevices of moments when things got crazy.

Easier said than done, right?

Yet, when I have honored those short, still moments it feels like I can tap into something deeper, as if for an instant I can absorb all that is sweet about life. Awareness does this: it opens our eyes, minds, and hearts – suddenly we can observe and bear witness to occurrences that we wouldn’t otherwise see.

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Case and point. I paused to breathe the other day while walking from the bus. I sat at a bench and looked around. It was as though everything and nothing was miraculous at once. I saw people hurrying to work. I saw, in the same blocks, people begging for money. Students were in the thick of exams, double-fisting with coffee and study guides. And, I saw a sweet old woman mightily propelling her walker up the hill, presumably to enjoy a mid-morning stroll. She was tenacious; never once stopping in her aims to proceed with her journey. It was surprisingly beautiful to see – all of us, simply living our lives on another day, at the edge of a new season.

Breathing lends itself to seeing and seeing keeps the wonder alive. Even in the craze of summer, that is my goal – to stay wonderous, adventurous, and of course, to breathe deeply every chance I get. It’s easier for those moment to slip by as life changes course and more adulting and responsibility comes our way. However, they do not have to.

When we breathe and find awareness to our world, we are present to life. And, I do believe our presence is the greatest gift we can bring, not only to others, but also to ourselves. Happy summer, friends.

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Body, Trauma, & Connection

Over the last month, I have had a book recommended to me, mentioned to me, and shared with me at least four times. The book, The Body Keeps the Score, is a well-known read in the psychology world as the author, Bessel Can der Kolk, is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Massachusetts.

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Blending neuroscience, medicine, psychiatry, and healing, Kolk breaks down what we understand trauma to be and how it shows up and manifests in our bodies. Powerfully, he uses case studies, interviews, and research to push the fact that because trauma is a fact of life, it is also an inherent public health issue.

Though only halfway through the book, I have already learned a lot of new concepts, particularly about our brain systems and how information is processed. Moreover, I have learned how this changes for someone with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the difference is huge. Traumatization re-wires processing functions and thus, reactions to stress occur even if the trigger or the stimulus does not present a viable threat. Kolk explains this process when he writes,

“While we all want to move beyond trauma, the part of our brain that is devoted to ensuring survival (deep below our rational brain) is not very good at denial. Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions, intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These posttraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often being to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption.”[1]

Yeah, I know. Our minds (and bodies) are powerful.

Interestingly, a lot of what I am learning from this book connects to topics, therapies, and theories that I am learning in my coursework in the Counseling Program at University of Colorado Denver. In both of my courses, Counseling Theories and Multicultural Counseling, we have discussed trauma in varying capacities. In Multicultural, we have explored the epigenetics of trauma (intergenerational trauma) when it is passed down and through family lineages. In Theories, we have begun conversations in how to use certain techniques with clients who have experienced trauma, techniques like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapies, or stress inoculation training (SIT).

It is all connecting – and usually that is how I know am on to something meaningful and important in my life.

For most of this year (and last), I have been working on reconnecting with my emotions and body. For a long duration of time, it was hard for me to cry and emote for things that would have previously sparked an emotional response (Moana and Coco not included). This left me feeling disconnected and far from the core of my personal self. This is another aspect of trauma that is just as important, but perhaps, less discussed.

Kolk shares in some of the stories about clients he worked with that some “could not feel whole areas of their bodies.” This happened because in some cases, to cope, people shutdown of parts of their brain, particularly the parts that send out feelings and emotions. This doesn’t only affect the negative emotions, the ones that they want to remove, but all emotions, too.

While my experience in desensitization was not as extreme, I still knew that my brain and body has experienced emotional blockage. Through walks, hikes, rollerblading, writing, counseling, and weightlifting, I have come to understand the weightiness of shame and how it blocks us from our true selves. This has been a major part of the emotional blocks that I have felt in the last year and being able to name that has been an important part of re-orientating my self-awareness.

So, what, in this context does healing look like?

For me, it has been about confronting the pain, sitting in silence, recognizing the hurt (non-judgmentally), and taking power back over it. Just trying to identify what I feel in any given moments has been annoyingly slow (to be honest). But also, as I have been able to do this, I can move closer to a radical acceptance of myself.

This begins in the body, mind, and heart and flows outward.

Like I said, it is a long process. But, I have needed to start it, and I am grateful I have. Plus, it’s pretty wonderful to have good books to help, support, and clarify the process along the way.

Kolk proposes the question that guides his work and his book, “how can people gain control over the residues of past trauma and return to being masters of their own ship?

I am still learning and figuring that out. I think in a large sense, we all are.

[1]Van Der Kolk, Bessel. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

from, through, to

Last month, Our Bible App officially launched.

I first learned about the development of Our Bible App after Chelsea attended the Gay Christian Conference in 2017 (now Q Christian Fellowship) and learned about the project. The creator, Crystal Cheatham, was looking for devotional writers.

On a whim, I submitted a devotional and low and behold, it got published.

Our Bible App is a “progressive worship and meditation experience” that offers multiple bible translations and additional podcasts, video, and writings from pro-LGBTQ+ individuals and advocates for interfaith inclusivity. You can download it here, and is available in Android or Apple format.

The mission of Our Bible App is broad; the app “…supports the belief that spirituality is a spectrum and that faith is a journey. At its core, the holy text was written to be inclusive of all of God’s creation especially those on the margins.” The goal of the resource is to “untangle the binds that Christian colonizers have spread across the globe over hundreds of years.”

That’s huge. And, I’m grateful to have some small, teeny, tiny part. I’ve included my devotional below (titled “from, through, to“), but if you are interested in learning more about this work, you can read about it in Sojourners and via PBS.

Cheers.


 

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from   

A closeted woman, I carried the secret of my sexual identity for over 15 years until my aunt bluntly probed during a late, wine-infused Thanksgiving evening, “are you gay?”

The world stood still. I froze. I knew. “Yeah, yeah. I mean, yes, I’m gay.”

In the aftermath of her asking, however, I wasn’t yet ready to fully “come out.” Yet, though my journey ofopenness began here, I was still so far removed from any ounce of a freedom to be me.

I was stuck on one repeated worry, “what would God think?”

Though I could verbalize my gayness, living life openly (and liberated from fear) would take a lot more time – and perhaps a lot more conversation (wine included).

The taste of freedom for my half-opened gayness lasted one week. Then, like a tidal wave absorbing each grain of the sand, I fled from the truth, using the following year to try and “fix myself.” I tried believing that being gay was wrong and in a twisted expression of love, that my faithfulness for God could be conveyed through a path of righteousness – shame and doubt as the main forms of transport.

Denial worked, to a point, until I came upon the intensity and depth of the gospel. Instead of ignoring questions about who I was and how I was created, I began to ask them to God. I slowly sought to remove the voices of my head, the sound of religiosity flowing from my past, and to hear only the voice of the Divine. I could be vulnerable – not necessarily yet for others, but first, for God and for myself.

The gospel is a story of God’s people returning to who they were made to be. Our God does not desire or expect us to hide from Him; that “god” is a man-made, offensive, and manipulated version of who God is. God is wide, vast, loving, and able to exist within tensions and complexities that we can hardly grasp. This God re-writes the narrative that humans are only evil, malicious, and sinful people. God made us in His image[1], and hence, there are fragments of His character everywhere.

A return to God is less about a perfection of righteousness, and more about the righteousness that comes from Him, God. God created us as free, open, and genuine humans. When it comes to our identity this is even more pressing: if we are unable to see that all of us come from God then how can we celebrate the lives we have been called to?

My aunt always assured me that “God makes no mistakes” and until I explored, acknowledged, and celebrated my whole identity, especially being gay, I was unable to proclaim that indeed, I was no mistake. I’m not; my roots and origins are abundantly from God.

What God wanted, was me to be me. For me to live as His daughter, unashamed and copiously open to His love. When we are released of living into the shell of someone else, we are free. We are given grace. Like our identity, this is from Him. My prayer is that we can receive it.

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If all things, including our identity are from Him (God), then all things are also through Him.

Being a Christian who also happens to be lesbian is hard.

“Coming out” was arduous not because of the brave boldness that is required with others, but because an internal transformation of integrated identities is needed in asserting who you are.

Internal transformation shifts attitudes of fear to celebration. This kind of transformation occurs through Christ, the Messiah, that is God who meets us in human form. Repeatedly, I had to remind myself that as a woman, I was enough. I was wonderfully adequate. I did not have to change because an ideology or institution was telling me that I had to. I returned to the question, “what does God want?”

To live authentically with unyielding love for God and others – that’s the answer.

When I finally came out – to myself, most notably – I did not accomplish this through my own abilities. Christ’s love was flowing and alive in me. I could accept myself because I knew I was safe, and wholly loved with God. Christ infused belief and hope through me and brought me on a path I did not expect. I could be Christian. And, also, I could be gay.

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Accepting each part of our identity is our life’s work.

We never stop this process. As we take a broader look at our existence, our lives become testaments and offerings back to God himself. Not religious sacrifice, but of loving, genuine devotion and gratitude.

When I reconfirmed to the world that I loved Christ (and that I was gay) I began to have conversations I never could have anticipated. People reached out to me, thanking me for my sincerity, and in turn, shared the deep corners of themselves that they had previously hid. I met someone new. I healed from a broken heart.

When we allow our identities (all of them) to stitch together and form one, unique, diverse fabric, we are presenting ourselves wholly to Christ. God can admire the work that has been done, the beautiful blending of His fingerprints and our choices, and know that are made to exude, proclaim, and propel love forward.

Let us bring our identities from God, through God, and to God, with hearts full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and all good fruits that remind the world that being gay and being Christian are just one parts of a diverse fabric of God’s people.

[1] Genesis 1:27