Working my way from fundamentalism to freedom (without losing my mind)


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Last Valentine’s Day…

Last Valentine’s Day was hard.

I had had plans, of course. I was going to continue the tradition that my boyfriend and I had started two years earlier where we give each other President’s Day cards instead of Valentine’s Day cards. The card was still sitting in my desk drawer. It said, “You baRACK! You’re da oBAMa!”

But now the plans were cancelled because there was no one to give the stupid card to anymore and the student union was rubbing it in my face with all the hearts on the walls that said things like “URA ZERO,” and I couldn’t decide whether to put the obligatory Christian Valentine’s Day facebook status about how God loves everyone or to make some bitter comment about how this day was meant to remember a priest who was beheaded anyway and…

oh…

I had an email.

But wait. It was just another notification from that stupid Christian dating website. Ugh. Christian Cafe? Really, Sarah? Why would you sign up for that? What possessed you (besides crippling loneliness and desperation and four days with no sleep) to join Christian Cafe?  It was some guy with the screen name Gnomad something or other, and he thought I was cool because I had a picture holding a toy stuffed Link from The Legend of Zelda. He seemed like a nice guy and he was really cute which obviously meant he was probably really a 60 year old creepy man using a fake photo (because everyone on the internet is, or so I’d been taught). Or maybe he was just a fake account set up in order to lure me in so I’d buy the Mocha Grande Payment Package (seriously, folks) after my free trial was up ’cause no one that attractive would be on Christian Cafe (and then I thought, “Wait! I’m on Christian Cafe! Lovely. Just lovely).

And with THAT, I closed my computer and resumed the break-up routine that had been going on for a few weeks now: listen to Relient K’s Forget and Not Slow Down all the way through,  cry, eat about a million beefy crunch burritos from Taco Bell, try to sleep, fail, repeat. That was last Valentine’s Day.

Then I woke up. Valentine’s Day was over, and I think it was Tuesday because I didn’t have to work and I’m pretty sure I skipped all of my classes and I decided “Hey. It is the day after Valentine’s day and I am going to love myself today.”

And so I walked to my car, because I was going to go to Walmart and buy clearance candy and eat it, damn it!

And then I was going to cut off all my hair, damn it!

And then I was going to dye it red….damn it!

And my car’s tires ended up being frozen to the ground, but I didn’t even care.

I would walk two miles to Walmart in the cold if I had to. And I did.

As I walked, instead of listening to Relient K’s depressing breakup album, I listened to sunshiny 60s pop music (’cause the magic’s in the music and the music is in meeeee!) and I fell in love with me again.

The red hair, and the cheap chocolate, and the fresh air after months of sulking in my dorm room, and the Lovin’ Spoonful? That was the turning point. The point where I untied the chains of that three year long failed relationship. That was freedom.

This Valentine’s Day, I celebrate a personal victory.

I celebrate the seemingly ordinary factors that combined in a magical way to give me the strength to move on.

I celebrate the message in my email inbox that was waiting for me when I got back from Walmart saying, “I forgot yesterday was Valentine’s Day! You seem pretty awesome so this is for you: <3″ and I celebrate the fact that I decided, “Oh, fine, I’ll talk to this Gnomad guy. He seems alright.” (he was)

But mostly, I celebrate love and the fact that no matter how broken your heart is, you can still find it–in the clearance section at Walmart or in a box of hair-dye or in a song from the 60s or even on Christian Cafe.

Happy Valentine’s Day, friends.

Let’s celebrate love.


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Stop giving a damn!

This morning, I counted how many days it’s been since I last wrote something.

Six days.

Six long days where I was unable to write.

At first, I wondered if I’ve had writer’s block. But, no. I’ve had so many ideas for blog posts lately that my brain can hardly juggle them all. No, writer’s block isn’t the problem.

The problem is that I started giving a damn.

Like most people, I spent the majority of my life giving a damn what people thought about me. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to be accepted. I wanted people to believe that I had social skills (however untrue that may be).

Then, right before my senior year of high school, I broke off an abusive relationship and sunk into a deep depression. I made stupid mistakes during this time in my life and that got people talking about me. My ex told his friends and family lies and secrets about me, which earned me a few enemies. Rumors spread that I was “loose,” which meant dirty looks from some folks, awkward personal questions from concerned others, and even blatant requests for sex from one person.

My reputation (which was mostly undeserved–I’m not really as badass as people thought I was) and my depression  knocked me down to rock bottom and when I got there, I figured I had two options: grab a shovel and start diggin’, or stop giving a damn.

I chose the latter.

Allie Brosh sums up this point in my life fairly well. You should read this, now: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2011/10/adventures-in-depression.html

Uninhabited by my fear of what others would think about me, I was able to share my stories. I was able to ask difficult questions. I was able to be honest about myself and who I was because I no longer had anything to lose.

And you know what happened?

My not-giving-a-damn about my reputation started helping people.

And my not-giving-a-damn about my reputation helped me find healing.

Eventually, in the spirit of not-giving-a-damn, I started this blog.

Lately, however, I’ve been taking steps to cure my depression and I’m on medicine that diminishes the symptoms. That’s a good thing, but now it’s tempting to start giving a damn again.

It’s tempting to worry more about my reputation than about helping others.

It’s tempting to think twice (or three times, or four…) before asking a controversial question.

It’s tempting to avoid my the publish button on my blog.

I’m thrilled to be getting the upper hand of my depression. I hate depression. I hate it so much that if it were a vegetable, I would hide it in my napkin and feed it to the dog when my parents weren’t looking.

But depression taught me something.

But I hope I never forget what it taught me–that sometimes, if you want to make a difference, you have to stop giving a damn about what people are going to think of you.

As one commenter has already pointed out, giving a damn isn’t always bad! So, tomorrow, I’m going to talk about how you should start giving a damn. Until then, what stories would you tell and what questions would you ask if you didn’t give a damn about your bad reputation?


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Sarah vs. Evil Overlord Depression

I don’t remember exactly when I first started suffering from depression. It was probably around junior high.

Back then, depression would waltz in and out of my life. It would stick around for a few days or weeks, then it would leave, and it would forget to call, and good riddance!

When I started dating my abusive ex-boyfriend at age 16, depression decided to crash on the futon for a few weeks. Those weeks turned into months…

…and years.

The first two years involved many a prayer to “vending machine Jesus.” You know–insert prayer, receive blessings. But it seemed like either my prayers were too wrinkled to be accepted, or my blessings were getting stuck in the dispenser.

Eventually, my Baptist school girl logic came to the conclusion that, “God must freaking hate me.” That type of thinking drove me straight into the open arms of self-injury. 

In college, I stopped believing in”vending machine Jesus” when I met real Jesus. When I prayed to real Jesus, he answered my prayers by sticking Bible passages like 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 in my head. That really annoyed me. Sometimes real Jesus seemed like a real jerk to me.

But he loved me more than any vending machine ever could, and so I followed him.

Still, depression lingered, playing World of Warcraft in the basement of my mind.

So I switched my focus. My philosophy became, “Since Jesus isn’t a vending machine, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to fix this problem, I just need to get over it.”

Image via counter-force.com

At this point, I imagine depression letting out one of those super-villain laughs and saying (in an Invader ZiM voice for some reason), “Puny human! You really think you can defeat ME?”

But I had a case of good ol’ under-dog syndrome, and was certain that I was some kind of unlikely hero that, armed only with courage and maybe some wise advice from a friendly Muppet, could beat the evil over-lord, Depression

I did better than one might expect. I put up a good fight. I even got the upper hand now and then. But about a year ago, depression dealt dealt me a pretty tough blow and left me for dead.

Broken and utterly defeated.

The past eight years of my life, since depression first showed up on my doorstep, have been a struggle. But I can’t say the past year has been a struggle because I barely have the energy to get out of bed, let alone fight off an evil overlord.

But yesterday, I finally admitted that I wasn’t an unlikely hero in a sci-fi movie. I finally admitted that I am a human. A human with an illness that needs treatment. A human that cannot defeat depression through will-power anymore than a cancer patient can remove tumors using positive thinking.

I finally realized, as Allie Brosh said in a fantastic post that she wrote yesterday, “Trying to use will-power to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back…”

So, I went to the doctor.  I asked for help, and I didn’t get pity or judgment in return.

I got solutions.

I’m sure my fight with depression is far from over. But for the first time in years, I remember what hope feels like.

It feels good.


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“Unwilling Desperado:” A guest post!

Today’s guest post is from my good friend, Abe Kobylanski. I hope you’ll enjoy his thoughts about singleness and the church’s view of marriage! And be sure to check out his blog at Images and Words. 

So, being a 27-year-old Christian male is pretty weird. The average marriage age for an American male is 28, so I still have a few months to go before I break that social norm.
But if I had to guess, I would guess the average age for a first marriage for Christians would be around 22. In other words, halfway through your senior year of college, you buy a ring you can’t afford, propose and start preparing for a wedding and marriage you won’t be able to afford.

So, in churches, I’m a bit of an anomaly. I am single. I never really dated anyone until I was 26, and didn’t get into my first serious relationship (the one I’m currently in, with the author of this blog), until this year. It’s kind of strange that I’m still a young adult by most people’s standards, but by Christian standards, I am an oddity. So strange, there should be a new entry in the Guinness Book of World Records just for me.

I’ve spent most of my experience as an adult in two churches, both of which seemed to treat marriage as if it was a foregone conclusion. When I was 20, my closest friend got engaged, and there was at least one other young adult marriage while I was at that church.

Many of the sermons were focused on marriage. With the divorce rate being so high in America now, I could see why they might emphasize actually trying to make the marriage work. But for me, it was about as helpful as drinking milk on a 100-degree day in San Diego (“It’s so damn hot, milk was a bad choice”). Maybe not that bad, but the best I could take out of it is, “oh I suppose it could help my future marriage.”

In both churches, the second of which was a non-denominational church, which of course means Southern Baptist and trying to get away from the stigma of that denomination (let’s be honest, just call it what it is, unless you’re actually going to change your doctrine), people would always joke with me about getting married. They would do things like pray for me to find a “smokin’ wife” or ask if there’s a lady in my life and when I’m getting married, to which my response was, “it’s not exactly a solo activity, you kinda need a partner for that.”

There’s nothing wrong with doing those things, as it shows people cared about me. But it is frustrating because it shows how much emphasis the church places on marriage. But (I can say this, because I’m actually in a relationship now) it also shows the underlying attitude that marriage is not just important, it’s a rite of passage, which simply isn’t true.

It’s not as if I didn’t want to get married then. The importance of marriage had been drilled into me by both the church and pop culture. It was a necessary step to becoming a normal adult and living a fulfilled life, like a Chinese male who has to climb to the top of the Great Wall to become a man, though I’m personally still working on that one. But if I’m honest, I probably wasn’t ready for marriage yet anyway (having the wisdom of God generally means an understanding that I have no idea what I’m doing).

Other church people may have and probably did judge me for being a single man. It wasn’t exactly something normal to them. I did notice a new barrier growing between myself and some of my newly married friends, like we suddenly had no understanding of each other anymore. I was probably seen as either immature or a playboy, neither of which seems to describe me very well.

But one day, living by myself in a town where I knew nobody, I decided to go see a movie by myself (by embarrassing admission, that movie was “Walk Hard”). And suddenly, I felt free. Lonely maybe, but free. I was my own person, and I didn’t have to wait until marriage to live my life, like churches and college ministry seemed to make life out to be.

I didn’t exactly just not want to be married anymore. On the contrary, I was still lonely and sick of being alone, but I at least became aware of the fact that it’s ok to be alone. It might be difficult sometimes, but it’s not the end of the world. I was able to do so many things married people can’t do. I could do things like spending a summer going to all the concerts I wanted to, going on a mission trip to Peru and planning a vacation to Ireland. Like I said, not exactly the end of the world.

I have another single friend who is 38 now, and he’s told me he went through all the same struggles I did when he was younger, but he eventually got to the point where he didn’t put marriage on a pedestal anymore. I wish I could get to that point

It’s not easy being a single adult in church. You really do feel like you’re totally alone sometimes. I’m not sure I have a pick-me-up ending to this, but if you’re one of the few single Christians out there who’s having a rough go of it, I would recommend “Singles at the Crossroads” by Albert Tsu. It helped put things in perspective for me. It’s difficult living in a culture that thinks you should be one way, but you don’t quite fit into that mold. This book made life a bit more bearable and offered me some freedom.

Are there any other 27-year-old single Christians out there? If not, I’d be interested to hear others’ experiences being single in church. Or for those who are married, maybe remembering the push by culture and church to get married. Or if you’re also secretly a fan of “Walk Hard,” it’d be nice to know I’m not alone.


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When the desire to marry becomes a god

A few days ago I talked about the “god of marriage” that lurks in the dorm halls of Christian colleges (you can read that post here). I talked about how marriage became an idol for me when I attended a Christian school, and I spoke of how I almost got married to a man that wasn’t right for me just to appease my new god.

If I would have married my last boyfriend, I probably would have been miserable. Please note that I don’t say that because I believe in “soul mates” or in finding “The One.” Marriage is ultimately about being the right person, and I believe that whoever you married becomes The One once you marry him/her. And I definitely don’t say that to knock my last boyfriend. He’s one of the nicest guys I know and he has a good heart.

But I had dreams and plans before the god of marriage came along, and because my last boyfriend and I were so different, I would have had to give up those dreams to be with him. I was ready to sacrifice those dreams to the god of marriage, and if I had done so, I believe I would have been miserable.

Now that we have broken up and moved on, I face a totally different scenario.

I have a different boyfriend now.

Ain't he cute?

It wasn’t too long into our relationship when things clicked in my brain, like when you suddenly understand a difficult math problem. So this is what it’s like to be a healthy relationship, to have a partner, to be going the same direction in life. It all makes sense now.

We both have similar goals in life: we want to do great things, we want to travel the world, and have adventures, and make differences.

But neither of us are too keen on doing it alone.

So there’s tension.

On one hand, we love each other. We want to get married, not because of sex or society or peer pressure. We want to get married because we’re partners.

But…

Sometimes I allow this normal, natural, and healthy desire to marry turn into the god that I used to worship.

I believe that marrying my boyfriend eventually would be a logical move on my part. However, we’re not ready to get married now. There are things that I need to accomplish while I’m single (college, learning to take care of myself like an adult, etc.) so that after marriage, I can continue working toward my goals. Marriage is neither the beginning nor the end of the plans that I have for my life.

Yet, sometimes that sneaky false god tries to convince me that it is. It’s always trying to convince me that marriage is THE goal. The “happy ever after.”

Sometimes I have to knock the idea of marriage off the pedestal and remind myself that there is more to life.

Also, I still have a tendency to believe marriage’s false promise to fix all of my problems. I have problems. You don’t survive sexual abuse and an abusive relationship without some baggage. I’m glad life isn’t an airport and I don’t have to pay fees for every extra bag because I’d be broke.

I’m constantly trying to lessen that load, though. I go to counseling. I work on stress management. I try to control my cognitive processes and I try to find healthy ways to deal with the pain.

But it’s hard. It’s really damn hard.

I want a quick fix. I want something that will make everything better.

And the god of marriage wants me to believe that marriage is that quick fix.

It says,

“When you’re married, sex won’t leave you feeling as confused and afraid.”

“When you’re married, your depression won’t be as crippling.”

“When you’re married, you’ll make good memories that will take the place of all the terrible ones.”

These are lies.

This is marriage trying to elevate itself above the true God. This is marriage saying, “cast your burdens on ME. MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light.”

Marriage worship is dangerous because it makes us feel like we are incomplete. It makes us forget that we are complete in Christ and convinces us that we need more. It makes us promises that it cannot keep.

And yet, marriage itself is still a wonderful thing. A beautiful thing and a picture (though certainly not the only, or even the greatest picture) of the love that Christ has for his church.

So there’s tension.

Have you ever experienced the tension between the natural desire to marry, and the temptation to “cast all your cares” upon the god of marriage? Share your story! 


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Find God’s will for your life…or else!

You know what will drive you absolutely bonkers?

Trying to find God’s will for your life.

Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe your Bible has a built in GPS with a direct line to heaven that tells you, in a creepy robotic voice,”Turn right in 300 feet.” “Go to Grace College in 2 months.” “Marry Dave now.” But I know mine doesn’t.

I grew up hearing sermon after sermon, reading book after book, about finding God’s will for my life. The idea was that God has a list of things that he wants me to do, and I had better figure them out or I might end up miserable and/or in the belly of a whale. Is God going to tell me what’s on that list? Don’t be silly! That’d be too easy.  But God does give us hints if we read our Bibles and pray.

And until we figure that out, we had better wait on God.

But we have to be careful- or Satan will trick us into wanting something that’s not God’s will.

So, basically, the message that I took away from high school was this:

If I can’t find it in the Bible, it’s probably not God’s will. But the Bible obviously isn’t going to tell me point blank. I have to read between the lines. It’s like a spiritual scavenger hunt!

If I don’t hear God tell me something, I better just do nothing because I supposed to wait on him. And if I do hear something, I better make sure it wasn’t just Satan talking. How should I know the difference? Well, I don’t know but if I had to guess, I’d say that God’s voice sounds a little like Morgan Freeman’s. So, just make sure it’s not Morgan himself whispering in your ear and you’re good.

And if I actually want to do something, it’s probably not really God’s will. In fact, I should probably do something that I hate and ask God to change my heart.

And if I get it wrong, my life is going to suck forever.  

Complicated, huh?

In fact, it’s kinda the stuff of nightmares and panic attacks and probably also part of the reason I grind my teeth and like razor blades a little too much

Because I’ve never read my Bible and thought, “Willikers! This verse in II Chronicles seems to strongly suggest that I become a music historian. Jolly good.” (I always feel like I should talk like this in a British accent when I read the King James Bible. Am I the only one?)

When my boyfriend asked me on a date, I didn’t hear either God or Morgan Freeman yell down from heaven, “SAY YES!”

But I became a music historian anyway because I…gasp…LIKE music history. And I said yes to Abraham (wow…my boyfriend’s name is Abraham. This kind of kills my whole point, doesn’t it?) because I thought he was attractive and because he liked Queen. And I haven’t been struck by lightning yet.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think God’s will works like that. Not at all.

Do I think the Bible and prayer can give us direction in life? Yes! They are great things that God gave us.

But you know what else God gives us?

Brains.

Common sense.

Strengths.

Spiritual gifts.

Desires.

And a way for all of us to live, regardless of who we marry or what college we go to or what career we have.

I don’t think we have to bend the Bible out of shape in order to find God’s will. It’s God’s will for us to love and to forgive and to help others. It’s God’s will for us to live purely and selflessly. We know that.

And I can do that whether I join the Peace Corps or work at Taco Bell.

I cna do that whether I marry Abraham or Isaac or Jacob.

I can do that at Ohio State or at the University of Michigan.

Finding God’s will isn’t so much about what we do with our lives. It’s more about who we live our lives for.

So, wherever you end up in life, serve others.

THAT’S God’s will.

…And if Morgan Freeman is whispering in your ear giving you life advice, well, I really don’t know what to tell you.


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I lost the game of Happiness

Apparently, money CAN buy happiness. It costs $1.91.

My boyfriend and I were perusing through a local thrift store when we came across an old board game called “Happiness.”

Did we buy it? Well, friends, are tribbles trouble? Of course we bought it! What better way to spend the evening than playing a board game called “Happiness?” So, we brought it home and played it.

And I lost.

The object of the game was this: collect the keys to happiness and use them to build a ladder to climb to the rainbow of happiness.

 The keys to happiness? Those are:

Prosperity gospel much?

 
–Faith (atheists would hate this game)
 
–Money (told you money could buy happiness)
 
–Knowledge (ignorance is not as bliss as you thought)
 
–Love (sorry, singles)
 
–Friendship (your happiness IS depedent on others)
 
–Health (and they’re pretty strict on this one. Bad teeth? Sorry, back to start)
 

You also have to be one of the vampires from Twilight

In order to get to your rainbow happiness, you have to gain ALL of these keys. Happiness is pretty elusive. And your journey to gain these keys is not eactly easy. I had to go back to start a few times- once because my faith had doubt. Another time because I got jealous for my true love. So, I lost the game of Happiness. I failed to reach my rainbow. 

Now, obviously, Happiness is just a game. It doesn’t mean anything. It was probably made in the 70s, and the people who made it were probably on hallucinogenic mushrooms. I mean, just look at this game board:

But, losing the game (by the way, I just lost THE game if you know what I’m talking about) made me think. Sometimes, I act like life is a board game (well…it is, but you know what I mean). Sometimes I think that I have to achieve certain things in order to reach a state of happiness.

If I had more money then I would have to worry and I could just be…

Or if I lived closer to all my friends I’d be…

Maybe this relationship will make me…

Or if I could just get over my depression and be healthy then I’d be…

I need to get my doctorate or I’ll never be…

Or if I found the right church, that would really make me…

Happy.

Happiness becomes an unachievable rainbow state of being. There are always rungs missing from the ladder. 

If happiness is a state that we have to climb to, if happiness can only be reached by gaining the right keys, then most of us will never get there.

Most of us will lose.

But I don’t think happiness is that at all. I don’t think happiness is a state of being. I think happiness is all around us. We don’t have to climb to it. We just have to notice it and appreciate it.

For me, happiness is holding a kitty.

Freddie Mercury’s voice.

Sunshine.

And Tim Horton’s iced cappuccinos.

Or listening to a Gershwin piece or a Beach Boys’ song and hearing a chord with harmonies that send chills down my spine.

Solving a puzzle in The Legend of Zelda and hearing that little tune that plays when I do something right.

That moment when you realize two seemingly unrelated things are connected.

Or the worshipful feeling I get when I’m jumping on my couch playing air guitar to a Five Iron Frenzy song.

The smell of an old book.

The feeling of piano keys beneath my fingers.

Or just playing a ridiculous thrift store board game with someone I love.

Happiness is less like a rainbow and more like chocolate chips in the cookie that is life.

It’s there. It’s all around us. Sometimes in moments so little that we miss them because we’re too busy trying to climb to a rainbow of Happiness that we’ll never actually reach.

So, let’s stop looking for the keys to happiness. Let’s stop trying to climb to it. Instead, let’s look around us and realize that it’s everywhere.

Are you missing out on happiness because you’re too busy trying to find the keys to it? What are some of the little things in life that make you happy?

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