Category Archives: personal

Grieving

I lost my pet hedgehog on November 5th to a sudden heart attack. It still feels surreal, to think about it. He was the first pet I’ve had in my life that died of natural causes, while I held him. For the first few days, I just felt sad, like a piece of me was missing. Going upstairs at night was the worst, because I would always go check on him, change his water, etc. My schedule was thrown off.

The later part of the week, I started feeling guilty. People had thrown out various ideas about what could have caused his death, and a hibernation attempt kept coming up. Hedgehogs hibernate in the wild, but if they try to hibernate while they’re indoors and domesticated, it can kill them because they haven’t been prepping all autumn long. I kept watching the last video I took of him over and over again, trying to figure out why he was wobbling. I looked at his pictures, comparing them, to see if he had lost weight and I hadn’t noticed.

It didn’t help that I didn’t have much to work last week, since I was ahead of a project and waiting for another one. To keep busy, I paid more attention to the dog. We went walking. I took him upstairs to nap with me, since that was usually what Baxter and I did every day. I cleaned more. Still, every night, I had to pass his door, knowing he wasn’t there.

I still haven’t cleaned up his room. I’ve decided to get a cage for my next hedgehog, whenever that will be, so I’ll be throwing away all of Baxter’s old house, which I made with cardboard boxes. I have two bags of cat food I don’t know what to do with. I don’t want to wash his snuggle sack, because then I’ll lose his scent forever.

Grieving a pet is weird, especially since I was the only one who spent time with him, because it’s so personal. At the same time, it isn’t, because Baxter had over 9,000 followers on Instagram, and people who saw him on Facebook and loved him. That’s made me feel better. I’m not totally alone in this.

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what I’ve been into

TV that I’m into: “Playing House” on USA with Jessica St. Claire and Lennon Parham. I’ve been binge-watching this show, and I LOVE it. It’s exactly my sense of humor. It also has the added bonus of having Keegan-Michael Key in it.

TV that I’m looking forward to: “I’m Sorry” with Andrea Savage on TruTV

Books I’ve been reading: I’ve been reading A LOT lately, which is good. Just finished a historical novel called The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. It’s based on a real incident, and pulls a lot from history including the Spiritualism craze, Arthur Conan Doyle, and more. I just started my second Erik Larson book, In The Garden of Beasts. It’s about the American consulate in Germany during WWII and his family.

Work stuff: Just finished a book on Ethereum, which is Bitcoin’s competition. It’s unique in that you can create applications on its blockchain, it’s not just for currency. If that makes no sense to you, look it up, I’m not going to summarize the book again. I usually just get blank stares. Still working on the book for my Gildshire articles, too, just finished up editing and writing the intros.

What I’ve cooked/baked lately: Made no-bake brownies with black beans and dates. It’s more like fudge than brownies, but it’s delicious. Getting out a slice is kind of like digging for fossils, because they have to be frozen, but it’s worth it. I also made homemade tomato sauce the other day. It was a bit runny, but I can thicken it up by just reducing it some more. I didn’t make this, but we tried Ben and Jerry’s “One Love” ice cream flavor, which is banana ice cream, graham cracker, caramel, and chocolate peace signs. Chris says it might be his new favorite.

Fitness stuff: Still using the good ol’ mini trampoline and rowing machine most nights. I take just one day off a week. Also got myself a resistance band, which is very convenient. Looking forward to having the toned arms of my dreams. It’s been gross and hot lately, so haven’t been exercising outdoors as much as I (or Yoshi) would like, but what can ya do. I know weight isn’t the goal here, but I am happy that I’ve successfully went down to about 155 after plateauing at 160 for so long. Paying attention to macros and sugar has made the difference. It doesn’t matter if I’m eating just 1200 calories if way too many of them are coming from sugar.

Novel stuff: Still steadily working on my Harley Gray novel. I filled out one notebook, so I’m on to a new one. That feels like an accomplishment. Been focusing a lot on trying to actually picture my characters moving around in the world I’ve created, so I can convey that to the reader. That means writing a lot of stuff that won’t actually end up in the book. I’m still figuring out how to get that in the story without actually putting it in the story (like a character’s whole marriage, basically), but I enjoy the challenge.

So that’s pretty much it, that’s what I’ve been doing. Small group meets again soon. Chris’ parents will be visiting, which means beach day!

 

 

what to do when old memories resurface

At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.

The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.

Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.

It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.

Screenshot 2017-06-14 at 1.36.12 PM
My corner of the NWC dorm. That big squared blanket is now primarily Chris’.

That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.

During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.

I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.

rainy day prayer

I write my prayers; I have trouble articulating them otherwise. I don’t share them. This one, though, I wanted to share. It summarizes what I’ve been feeling spiritually for quite a few years now.

———

I’m at the point where I don’t know if I would recognize Your voice if I heard it. No, that’s not true. Your voice is this quiet, in this room, as cars go by in the rain like steady white noise, like waves. What does the voice say?

Peace, peace.

I can feel myself become calm. My heartbeat slows.

I guess I’m just not sure if that’s “good enough.” Most of my conversations about You now are like seeping wounds, barely just scabbing over. I feel like all I have to tell people is how the church let me down, how Christians let me down, how the different denominations (Lutheran, Episcopal, Evangelical, charismatic) let me down. I don’t really have a silver lining. Is that because something is wrong with me?

I guess the one good thing from all that I can tell someone everything You are not. You’re not loneliness in a crowd of girls at a Christian retreat, or an angry argument over Facebook, or the agonizing fear of demons in every corner. You’re not silence from friends after a church collapsed. You’re not shame. Rage. Hate.

But…what are You, then? Am I starting from scratch? I feel like my insides are scraped clean, ready to be filled with…what?

Easter season is about rebirth, right? I guess that’s what I ready for.

In Weakness

I had a short conversation with a friend the other day about giving God credit for stuff, and using that as an explanation for His existence. I’ve heard that argument a lot, where a person is able to forgive someone after years of resentment, and says it wouldn’t be possible without God. They overcome some challenge and point to heaven.

My friend is skeptical, saying that it could just be that someone matures and grows, and that they could just as easily give themselves credit for that change. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because a huge reason why I believe in God is because when something seems impossible, it still happens. I really can’t give myself credit for certain things that I’ve come through. For me, “progress” and “maturity” are not linear. One week I’m doing really well and being productive, and the next, I’m afraid to go to the grocery store again. Old habits die hard, and the brain has a real hold on certain habits. There’s only so much it can change, and in certain situations, it reverts backwards. It’s like emotional time travel. 

Basically, in my experience, growth doesn’t really build up, at least in the darkest moments. When it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I’m waking up from a nap, a stress dream brought on by an onslaught of recent deaths still burning in my mind, I might as well be 16 again. There isn’t anything in my body to help me, it’s low in protein, low in vitamin D, and there aren’t any reserves.

That place has always been where I feel God the strongest. My own brain and body aren’t a distraction because they’re so drained and shriveled up, like raisins. And this isn’t a dig on my abilities or self-esteem; if will power was enough, I would be a lawyer/best-selling author. I have will power in spades, but when your body is chemically-designed to fight you every step of the way, it just isn’t enough. I wouldn’t trade in that weakness, though, that fragility. Like I said, it’s where I see God the most. When the darkness gets dark enough, it becomes light.

So, that’s how I know God exists. It’s more convincing to me than any amount of apologetics or intelligent design arguments or whatever else someone can dredge up. Proof is carved in my bones and melted into my blood. It’s tied into the messy neurons of my brain. His strength – not mine – what keeps my lungs inhaling and exhaling when even the most primal animal instinct of survival is fading. 

—-

Psalm 139: 12
Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

processing thoughts on girls

screenshot-2017-01-13-at-12-03-20-pm

My sexuality goes through phases. Since acknowledging that I was bisexual about five years ago or so, I’ve noticed that I go through times when I feel more into women than men. That usually happens when I don’t feel as close emotionally to Chris, so I don’t explore it at all or look at it as anything more than just a passing thing. My interest is also always on a celebrity or other person who I don’t actually know, so there’s never any temptation to act on anything.

Lately though, the “gay phase” has lasted longer than usual. I’ve been confused by it. Chris and I have been very emotionally close lately, we’ve been through pretty intense counseling, worked very intentionally on communication, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything in the romantic area of my life. What’s the deal?

Yesterday, as I was watching interviews with my latest celebrity obsession, I realized that none of my thoughts were sexual. I was honestly just daydreaming about hanging out, having tea with this person, being gal pals. Okay…so this really doesn’t have anything to do with being bisexual. This is something else.

Studies have shown women are “hard-wired” for friendship. When women become stressed, their instinct is to seek out other women because of biological factors like hormones and oxytocin. They don’t seek out men because men’s brains handle stress differently. Harvard Medical School even showed that women with a close group of female friends develop less physical impairments as they get older. Not having friends is bad for your health, and can have a similar effect on the body as smoking.

*None of this is to say that men don’t need friendships. The studies are also obviously pretty black-and-white in terms of gender, which gender is not, but I think the point is true: humans need friendships. I’m just especially interested in the girl-girl dynamic, because I’m cis, and that’s what I know and experience.*

None of this is surprising to me. When I was in counseling and struggling with my sexuality, one of my counselors suggested it was just because I didn’t have girl friends, so I had started seeing them like I did boys, as unfamiliar, and that triggered my brain to believe it was a sexual thing. I know that wasn’t what it was, but I’m sure it was part of it. I’ve always been more interested in girls than boys; most of my crushes have been girls. I’m sure some of it was sexual, and some of it was just wanting that close friendship.

I think that need for female energy and company has become especially strong because I’m pretty isolated here. I work from home. I’m building friendships from scratch. I have one close girl friend here, but one person can’t be everything, and I have a lot of close girl friends who are further away who I miss a lot. The last few attempts I’ve made to make more friends have not been successful. I think I’m discouraged. So I turn to interviews and TV and movies and music to hear female voices that I like, watch interesting women and imagine they’re talking to me. It sounds really pathetic when I write it out, but it hasn’t been a conscious thing, so there’s not much I can do about it.

Eh. This was a really personal post, and maybe no one else feels this way, but I wanted to put it out there, mostly to process. Thanks for reading.

Our Most Recent Church Small Group Endeavor

untitledIt had started snowing by the time we got to the house. It had rained all day, and there were weather warnings for the night and next day. Since Chris and I are both Midwestern, and most importantly, the car was Midwestern, we weren’t super worried. At least, not about that.

We were trying a new small group for the first time. It was connected to Chris’ church, and there were going to be food and games. I was relieved, because it meant I didn’t have to share anything too personal and deep, which it something I have a tendency to do when someone asks me. The last small group we had gone to, I had essentially relayed my whole story with depression, which fascinated the small group leader, like he had never met someone with depression before. He was perfectly nice and appropriate and everything, but I felt really on the spot.

So, I could easily avoid the life history if I wanted to. I started to get really nervous when we went to the door. I could hear children’s voices. When we rang the doorbell, a gaggle of kids opened it. Neither Chris or I really knew what to say. “Hi, we’re here for the small group” didn’t seem quite right, given our audience. The kids screamed, “People are here!” and then proceeded to close the door.

“Just go in,” I told Chris.

“They’re holding the door shut,” he replied.

Oh no.

After an agonizing minute or so, an adult human woman opened it. She had a baby tied to her chest and was extremely pregnant. She had an odd look (at least, I thought it was odd), like she was expecting us to try and sell her something.

“Is this the church small group?” Chris asked.

“Yeah! Come on in!”

We all introduced ourselves and went to the kitchen, where more introductions occurred. I quickly deduced that they were all dads, and it was their brood who had tried to shut us outside. For her sake, I was glad they weren’t all the kids of the woman who opened the door, but that meant that Chris and I were currently the only adults in the room who were not parents. Well, us, and the young guy whose zipper fly was down. I spent the next ten minutes or so trying to make my body as small as possible so kids would stop crashing into me, and sending a telepathic message to Chris to signal to Zipper Fly to zip up. I was not successful in either.

A few more people came, and with them, children. I became more and more uncomfortable. When it was time to eat, everyone stood staring at the food for what felt like an eternity, not wanting to go first.

“This is very Midwestern,” I murmured to Chris.

When we finally ate, Chris and I went first, because we were “the guests.” It was subtle, but then I realized that we were the only ones considered guests. That felt weird. I asked if we were all going to eat at the table in the room next door.

“Sit wherever! Make yourself at home!” the man of the house said.

Okey dokey.

Chris and I went to sit at the table and waited for the others to join us. No one came. I could see them, standing in the kitchen and eating. If I was someone else, I would have gotten up and went back into the kitchen, but I was not confident in my ability to hold a plate and eat. The kitchen was small, and with all the adults and assorted children running around, it was pretty much assured that I would drop my food everywhere.

Eventually, someone did come out. We had a painfully awkward conversation about where we were from, stuff to do in Oregon, and believe it or not, pressure cookers. I became absurdly enthusiastic sharing my knowledge, as if I was a salesperson for the Instant Pot. Another person came out and stood by the table. More painful conversation. All the while, two kids played with their fishing game at the table with us, lightly arguing about who had caught what fish. Eventually, both adults left because their kids needed food/help with the bathroom. I did not expect them to return.

At this point, I had checked out. We had not even reached the “game” portion of the evening, and I was dreading it. But I wasn’t going to say anything. Chris already knew how picky I was about people, so I wasn’t going to be the jerk and make him leave. To my surprise, he said he was going to make an excuse about work, so we could leave. We took our plates to the kitchen and Chris made his announcement. It triggered a few questions about what his career, and I realized that in our two conversations, they had always asked Chris what he did, but never me, even when the opportunity was right in front of them. We had only started talking about pressure cookers because Chris had brought up my freelance writing on my own and my newest project. I chose to not see it as sexism in action, but rather an indication of just how bad people are at talking to each other. The man of the house said we should come back another time.

“Definitely!” Chris said.

We got in the car and I declared that I needed hot chocolate. As I sang along to the radio, I noticed Chris had not spoken. He didn’t speak the entire drive, and even forgot where we were going, so we went to a different Dutch Bros than usual. When we got home and changed into our comfy clothes, I asked him if everything was okay.

“I’m just disappointed,” he said.

He didn’t talk much the rest of the night. I realized that the reason I didn’t feel anything about the bust of an evening was that I didn’t really expect anything. I knew what it was like to feel incredibly uncomfortable (and unwelcome) somewhere. I’ve been to my share of youth groups and churches, and had anxiety long enough to know what it feels like when an entire house seems to want to expel you from its walls. Chris isn’t that way. He’s endlessly gracious about people and optimistic about every situation he goes into. I sometimes think I would like for Chris to have a rough time somewhere so he can relate to me more, but seeing him so disappointed and quiet…it kind of broke my heart. I wanted him to be chatty and goofy with the dog. I wanted him to be himself again.

I think we should start our own small group. No kids. Read interesting books. Go do volunteer work. Be intentional about building a spiritual community that questions and builds up. I would sign up.

songs-that-calm-my-soulIt’s been a while since I really blogged. Honestly, I’m still in shock about the election, and the government that’s being built. I’m afraid for people I love. I’m frustrated and confused by others. To cope, I’ve been listening to a lot of calm music. A lot of it isn’t happy music, but it has a soothing quality to it that forces my heartbeat to slow down. Here’s a sampling, for anyone interested:

Eponine – Penny and Sparrow
Low, How A Rose E’er Blooming – Penny and Sparrow
New Ceremony (Acoustic Version) – Dry the River
Husk – Dry the River
When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die – Moby
Comes and Goes (In Waves) – Greg Laswell
Closer – Johnnyswim
Stars – Jay Nash
Light – Jon Bryant
You Speak – Audrey Assad
How To Breathe – Matthew Mayfield
Sarah’s Prayer – Eden’s Bridge
Pull The Stars Down – Lucie Silvas

 

5 Things Church-Goers Should Know About Former Church-Goers

1. We don’t want to be invited to church

The reason we aren’t going to church is not because someone just hasn’t asked us yet. We’ve already been there, we know what it’s like. I have this thing where I go to small groups (I’ve been to, like, two) and see if the people are actually invested in people, or just getting people to the church. The first group was structured around the sermons, so right off the bat, it’s clearly intended for people who already go. For one of their outreach things, they went to a grocery store and handed out gift cards, but also included a church business card. It was a PR move, not a service project. It wasn’t about building relationships or meeting a real need (I’m sure people appreciated it, who knows what their stories are, but if the church really wanted to make the most impact, they would not have chosen a grocery store in one of the wealthier areas of town), it was about drumming up attendance. So, long story short, don’t invite us to church. Invite us into your lives. There’s a difference.

2. We didn’t necessarily stop becoming believers when we stopped going to church

When someone stops going to church, there’s an assumption that they’ve lost their faith. However, that is not necessarily the case. A person’s faith can actually become stronger when they leave church, because they’ve realized their convictions are not hinged upon going to a building every week, and that staying in a place where they don’t belong is harming their faith. I’ve never stopped loving Jesus.

3. Church PTSD is a real thing

Yes, someone’s experiences at church can be so bad, they start to manifest PTSD symptoms. People have been physically assaulted at church by church leaders, they have listened to damning sermons, they have been betrayed and abandoned by trusted mentors, and so on. That is trauma, and trauma has consequences. Going to church feels dangerous. It’s not like I can should just shop around or that I haven’t found the “right one,” it’s that the whole concept of church, the rituals, the decor, the music, the language, reminds of me all the bad things that have happened. Anxiety kicks in. Panic. My body is literally telling me to run.

4. We still want a community

It’s really hard to find a shared-faith community that is not a church. Right now, I’d say it is impossible. While the concept of “church” literally makes me want to throw up, I still want to find the people who love Jesus, but are having a real hard time justifying it. I still want that spiritual “mentor” of sorts, who I feel knows more than me, but still asks the big questions and doesn’t act like they have all their shit together.

5. We want to talk about why we left church

I guess I should really just say “I” want to talk about it. I’m sure there are lots of people who don’t want to talk about it. I just know that it’s kind of a weird moment when people have asked what church I go to, and I say that I don’t go, but Chris does, and they don’t ask why. Sometimes I offer a slew of reasons unprovoked, but they don’t dig deeper. They probably don’t want to be nosy, but at the same time, if you’re a church-goer, you should really be interested in why people are leaving the church in droves. The worst that could happen is the former church-goer saying, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Image source: http://www.sbts.edu/blogs/2016/05/06/should-i-leave-my-church-8-critical-questions/