Sacred, Pregnant Waiting

Originally published on the Emerging Voices blog, 12/8/2014. 

Advent. This time of year has always been somewhat sacred to me.

Despite the fact that I live in Minnesota, and I hate winter.

Despite the fact that Christmas in the United States is pretty much just a celebration of consumerism.

Despite the fact that I haven’t identified with Christianity for quite some time.

I think it’s the mystery of it all. The unknown, the waiting for something that hasn’t yet happened but is so palpable you can nearly taste it. This year, it is especially palpable for me as I have my own bundle of heartburn and kidney punches joy on his or her way.

It’s also especially palpable because there is so much unknown to hope for.

Even though I am no longer Christian, I still have a deep respect for the liturgical calendar. I get so frustrated when people celebrate Christmas early, especially when pastors preach Christmas messages before Christmas. This is a time of sacred waiting, and we could all learn a little something from that.

In the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner–and the countless others who have been murdered simply for daring to go out in public with dark skin–we have a lot to hope for.

We also have no promise that what we hope for will come to fruition.

Prior to becoming pregnant, I always thought of pregnancy, especially the last few weeks before delivery (the stage at which Jesus would, in theory, be during Advent), as a time of great excitement, hope, and joy. Now that I am pregnant, though only 19 weeks, I have found that there’s a lot less joy and a lot more paralyzing fear about all the things that could go wrong. There are no promises in pregnancy. Doctors can test for a million different abnormalities, and while normal results are reassuring, even waiting for those results is terrifying–let alone the fear one might experience with an abnormal result. Assuming the baby makes it to full term, and even though the likelihood of something going seriously, irreparably wrong during birth is very low in the Western world, there are still no guarantees about that child’s health or life in general.

And this is in 2014. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, carrying what she believed to be some especially precious cargo.

As I sit and hope for a healthy baby, I can’t help but apply the same thought to our society’s construction of race. We have so much to hope for, but there are no guarantees. These tragedies, while absolutely awful in a way that I could never understand, could be the spark that starts a whole new revolution on how we approach race in the United States. And yes, there is a lot we can do as a whole, but individually, it feels like there’s a whole lot of waiting for something to happen, something we can almost taste, but have no certainty of. I’ve asked the question, “What the hell am I supposed to do?” so many times in the last few weeks. I know I need to be working towards change but there is little direction.

We can still hope. We can hope that change is coming, and we can do all we can to prepare for it, to usher it into existence. But will it happen? Will my child find him- or herself asking these same questions in twenty or thirty years? Will this be the revolution we’ve been waiting for throughout all of history?

I guess we’ll just wait and see.

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A Day in the Life.

***Trigger warning for anxiety, panic, health anxiety, OCD***

Somewhere, in the recesses of my brain, there are neurons that do not function properly. They reabsorb serotonin and norepinephrine instead of passing them on to the next neuron.

It seems like such a tiny thing. Yet, this has made my life an awful, wonderful mess.

I have generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, several phobias (including agoraphobia), and other mental health challenges.

I am in the healing process, but like the best and worst of stories, I am eternally unfinished.

I have become pretty vocal about my mental health challenges as of late, and I have found some incredible people, some of whom were already in my life, who have shared their stories of their own challenges with me and have woven themselves together to form an amazing network of support.

But still, a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like. I get a lot of “just calm down”s, “stop worrying”s, “talk to God about it”s, and more completely baffling phrases that, while they may be well-intentioned, do much more harm than good.

If I could calm down or stop worrying, I would have by now. If the Divine could fix this, I think She would have by now.

I also get a lot of similarly well-intentioned people who have made the critical first step of realizing it’s not that simple, but still think they have the solution. These are not, usually, people who have similar challenges. So, I get unsolicited advice like “take some deep breaths,” “maybe you just need a break,” “try out this tea, it’s really soothing,” et cetera.

Again, thanks, but if it were that simple, I’d be better.

My challenges are likely to be with me for the rest of my life. There will be seasons of intense struggling and there will be seasons where the burden is lighter. I’m slowly but surely building my skills and tools and learning how to manage.

I think the biggest problem in how others relate to those of us with mental health challenges is that those who do not have these challenges don’t always understand how pervasive these challenges are in the life of one who is faced with them.

For that reason, I’ve decided to give you a glimpse into what an average day might look like for me, and specifically, how my challenges affect my daily life.

***DISCLAIMER: This is by no means universal. I am neither assuming that the day-to-day life of every person who deals with similar challenges will look like this, nor am I trying to advise anyone on what he or she should or should not be doing. This is one person’s story. If you want to know what others’ lives are like, you’ll have to ask them.***

8:00-8:30 a.m.: An alarm specifically designed to monitor my sleep and wake me up at the end of a sleep cycle sounds. I (hopefully) wake up and manage to stay awake for more than 30 seconds. I record my mood upon waking and log my heart rate, as well as any traumatic or anxiety-inducing dreams I may have had.

8:45 a.m.: My husband brings me a breakfast of high-protein, refined sugar-free, all-natural Greek yogurt and gluten-free granola and a cup of decaf coffee. I have to avoid sugar, caffeine, and gluten because they can negatively affect my body chemistry and make my anxiety worse. I also often have intense nausea as a side effect of my medication, so I have to be careful to pack in the protein when I can manage to eat it. I eat my breakfast in bed because I usually am too anxious to get up right away, and I need time to prepare myself.

9:00 a.m.: I take my morning medications for the day:

  • 10 mg Prozac–I’m in the process of tapering off of this and on to a new medication. Doctors have no way of knowing which medications will be effective and which will not for individual patients, so it is usually trial and error.
  • 150 mg Wellbutrin–This is the medication I’m tapering onto. It seems to be working okay thus far, but SSRIs and SNRIs have a long incubation period before they reach their maximum efficacy, so we won’t know for a few more weeks.
  • 10 mg Zyrtec–This is unrelated. I have allergies. 
  • 5000 IU vitamin D–My vit D levels are low. I don’t go outside much because I am terrified of leaving the safe confines of my apartment. I also have a lot of medical anxiety, so I try not to spend too much time in the sun much because I am terrified of getting skin cancer. Also, vit D helps in improving mood. 
  • B-complex vitamin–I’m sure this is good for me somehow. I’ve been told to take so many things that I don’t really remember why I’m taking this. I think it helps regulate metabolism and mood?
  • Vitamin A–I get really bad stress acne, and when one has an anxiety disorder, there is a lot of stress that goes with it. Vit A helps to keep my skin in check.
  • Calcium–My chiropractor started me on this as it will help to keep my muscles relaxed, thus helping keep a physical calm. 
  • Magnesium–I take this for the same reason as calcium. 
  • Women’s Daily Multivitamin–I take this because I am an adult who cares about her body. This is not directly related to my anxiety, though likely has some connection with my medical anxiety. 

9:05 a.m.: If I can manage it, I get out of bed and start to get ready for the day. I spend about half an hour putting on my mask for the day, perhaps trying to hide my social anxiety with makeup and hair dye. Or maybe I’m just vain.

9:35 a.m.: I sit down to check my mail (panic), Facebook (panic), the weather (panic), and whatever else needs checking. 

9:50 a.m.: I leave for work. I work on campus, so I walk up the hill, and I try to walk slowly so as to keep my heart rate down. Anxiety/panic attack #1 has usually occurred by this point.

10:00 a.m.: I begin working at job #1 in the Marketing and Communications Office. This is a great job for me as there are only four other people in the department, and while my projects are assigned by my boss, I work largely independently and can usually communicate with most people via email or gchat. 

12:00 p.m.: My shift for job #1 is done. By this point, I have likely consumed 1.5 L/6 cups of water. I have to keep hydrated in order to both keep my body chemistry relatively constant and because I am terrified of having to go into the hospital for dehydration. I did this once already, and while I had probably the best nurse ever, it was still traumatic and I’d rather not relive it.

12:05 p.m.: I walk across to the other side of the building and begin working at job #2. I manage Luther’s short-term housing. This involves making reservations, communicating with guests, assigning room turnovers to the custodial team, managing my hospitality team, processing payments, and preparing packets for guests. This is also a good job for me because it allows me to stay active and also work at my own pace. I can usually put my headphones in and listen to music, which means I largely do not have to speak with anyone.

1:30 p.m.: During an average week, I’m usually done with job #2 at this point. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. Once every two weeks, I head down to my therapist’s office for a 2:00 appointment.

1:40 p.m.: I get into my car and brace myself for driving at highway speeds around other cars. I am terrified of this. Especially the 35W-94 interchange. It is hell. Anxiety/panic attack #2 occurs.

1:55 p.m.: I arrive at my therapist’s office. I listen to some supposedly-calming-but-too-contrived plunky harp music mixed with whale sounds that’s always playing in the waiting area as I wait for my appointment.

2:00 p.m.: My therapist, Rachel, comes to collect me. Depending on the day and my current struggles, we might do talk therapy, EMDR, sandplay therapy, relaxation exercises, or any number of other things. I am lucky to have a therapist who is very attentive to my needs, works cooperatively with me, and is generally flexible and open-minded. I would highly recommend her. 

3:00 p.m.: I leave my therapist’s office, usually feeling more relaxed and positive. I fill my water bottle for the third time today and brave the traffic headed back home.

3:30 p.m.: I arrive at home and change into workout clothes so I can head up to the gym. I am blessed with a gym on-campus that has a whopping one-time rate of $10 for life. I spend 30 minutes on the elliptical, and often do a set of strength-training exercises as well. Exercise is one of the best anxiety-reducing measures in existence, not to mention it’s good for everyone and it’s completely natural. I complete my workout with a brief yoga session to relax and bring my mind and body into harmony. I have worked with Shelley at the Yoga Sanctuary to incorporate some poses and breathing exercises that are particularly helpful for those of us with anxiety. 

4:30 p.m.: I walk back home, shower, and eat a long-overdue lunch. I am terrified of cooking, so this is often a collection of snacks like veggies or chips and hummus, chips and salsa, olives, fruit, and/or cheese. I have low blood pressure to start, and one of my as-needed medications (Tenormin) lowers my blood pressure when I have panic attacks. I also drink a LOT of water. Thus, I often have to replenish my sodium levels post-workout.

4:45 p.m.: I settle into bed and rest. I often put on British panel shows or stand-up/sketch comedy shows because they help me to laugh and relax. I often fall asleep while watching these.

5:45 p.m.: My husband returns home from work. He snuggles in bed with me for a little while, both of us trying to connect and relax from the day. 

6:30-7:00 p.m.: We finally get around to making dinner. This is largely dependent upon what my body can stand to eat for that given day. Essentially, we eat a lot of things with quinoa in them.

8:00-10:00 p.m.: Because I am terrified of being out in public on my own, and of driving, and of dealing with money, this is when we usually run our errands. It’s much more peaceful at this time, though a lot of places are closed and we have to find ways around this. Anxiety/panic attack #3 occurs.

10:15 p.m.: We arrive back home. I wash my hands, feet, and face to remove the germs and bacteria I inevitably picked up while we were out. By this point, I have washed my hands over 20 times today, and my face and feet (on average) around five. 

10:30 p.m.: We settle in for the night. This is when I usually write, process, and try to unwind from the day. Sometimes, especially during the school year, this is when I get around to doing my homework.

11:30 p.m.: I take my nightly medication:

  • Two Benadryl tablets–My anxiety medication (and my anxiety in general) makes me quite an insomniac. My doctor thinks it would be unwise to add a prescription sleep aid into the cocktail of drugs I’m already ingesting, so I take the max dose of OTC medication. It doesn’t really work all that well.
  • .5 mg Klonopin (occasionally)–If my anxiety is really, really bad, I will take my “attack pills” (anxiolytic muscle-relaxers) to help ease me into sleep. Sometimes, these make me high. Occasionally, I have to take them during the day, and then things get really fun when I have to be a grown-up but I’m quite loopy. 

12:00 a.m.: My husband is fading quickly into sleep. I am jealous of his ease at this seemingly impossible task. Intense paranoia kicks in as the apartment is dark, weird noises are happening (as they do when you live in an apartment complex), and my primary defender is unconscious. I put on another panel/comedy show to distract myself and ease my mind.

1:00-2:00 a.m.: I finally get to sleep. For now.

4:30 a.m.: I wake up, drenched in sweat, heart pounding. I have nightmares most nights. I drink some water, cool myself off, and curl up on my husband’s chest to help me relax and feel safe. I maybe get back to sleep within an hour.

 

And the cycle continues.

Nearly every moment of my day is in some way shaped or affected by anxiety. It isn’t just occasional bouts of intense worry–it is my whole life. I have a lot of ways to go about managing it, but just like a garden, it needs constant attention or it will grow wild and take over. 

For those of you who don’t deal with these challenges, I hope this has helped provide some insight. Please try to be respectful and mindful of those who do face this every day. May you find understanding.

For those of you who have similar struggles, be encouraged. We can do this together. Even if we have to do it in the safe confines of our own homes, we can support one another. May you find peace.

For all of us, may we learn to see each other not as our triumphs and struggles, but as humans. We are better together.

 

Dispossessed Peoples’ Day

Today, in the U.S., it’s Thanksgiving.

Though I’ve been celebrating it every year, I’m not this year.

I have finally reached a place in my life where I am comfortable saying, “No. I cannot celebrate the conquest of a land by people who had no right to it, and the destruction of the people who already lived and thrived there.”

The traditional story goes something like this: Pilgrims came over to North America, and were welcomed by friendly Indigenous Peoples, who taught them how to live off of the land and survive the winters. They celebrated by sharing a meal together.

Aww, isn’t that sweet? Too bad it’s 100% bullshit.

Though all the stories surrounding Thanksgiving are debated, it’s more likely that this feast celebrated one of two things: 1. the harvest (which, fine, sure, whatever) or 2. the massacre of over 700 Pequot people (I’m sorry, what?).

But the truth of that story does not change the fact that the colonists did dispossess waves upon waves of Indigenous Peoples, and most of us can locate ourselves on one side or the other–conqueror or conquered. I, personally, as a white person (though my particular heritage is asynchronous with the colonization of North America) bear some of the guilt for the ways in which I’ve benefited from this dispossession.

And I am not grateful for that. I do not celebrate my privilege. I do not celebrate others’ lack thereof.

“Okay, yes, the origins of this holiday are shady, but can’t you use it to be grateful for the good things in your life?”

No. For the same reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t only love my husband one day out of the year, so I don’t need a pointless holiday to commemorate that. I don’t need a holiday to be grateful–I’m learning to live a life of gratitude. If that’s all this holiday is about now, then I see no reason to celebrate it.

So, today, I’m mourning. I’m angry. I’m disheartened. I am hopeful that one day, things might be different. Maybe I’ll be able to teach my children about the terrible history that is the bedrock of the U.S., yet be able to say, “But it’s different now.” Maybe someday justice will happen and equality will be the norm. But since we’ve been screwing things up for over 500 years, I’m not counting the seconds.

A Fire That Won’t Be Put Out

I recently had a classmate email me to say that the anger often present in my posts (for an online class) is inappropriate and destructive.

To which I had a number of reactions, involving some rather salty language and several cups of coffee.

(Coffee fixes everything.)

But, after I stopped imagining how satisfying it would be to scream at this classmate, it got me thinking. What is it about anger that Christians don’t like? Why is it so unwelcome in the church?

“Authentic” is one of those words that gets thrown around in Christian circles like it’s a volleyball. Frequently flying left and right, but no one is really in contact with it for long enough to actually pin down a definition and a practical application. We claim to want to be authentic, but then, when someone in our community doesn’t fit the Shiny Happy People Who Are Satisfied With Whatever Happens And Never Get Mad At God, we (at the very least) shy away from them, and often encourage them to be happier.

Jesus Wept, I don’t know how many times someone has told me to “Delight in the Lord” or “Talk to Jesus about it.” And the next person who does is getting thrown out a window.

I don’t know about you, but all this has ever done is made me angrier.

Our emotions are real. As sentient beings, we have the ability to experience a wide range of feelings. If we really want to be authentic, we would embrace and encourage these emotions, not stifle all the darker, bolder, or greyer ones.

And, frankly, yes. I am angry. About a lot of things. I am angry about terrible theology that persists despite thousands and thousands of years of theological evolution. I am angry at the way the church continues to say it cares about the whole of creation, but is not on the forefront of change. I am angry that I feel so unwelcome in most churches. I am angry that my history and most Christian theology are asynchronous. I am angry that people still use “God’s ways are not our ways” as an excuse for incoherent, illogical, or unrealistic theology. I am angry that the church is den of irresponsibility and privilege. I am angry that there are so many people who put the Bible on a higher plane than living, breathing humans.

I. Am. Angry.

And I love it.

Because, for the first time in my life, I’m free. I’m not shackled by the need to make square pegs fit in round holes. I’m free to point out the flaws in the church and the whole of creation and do something about it. I’m free to scream and shout and curse the heavens and mourn the perpetual “who gives a fuck, it’s all temporary anyway” attitude of most Christians. I am free to be genuinely, truly authentic to myself and my spirituality.

And I know I’m not the only one.

I know there are countless wearied souls cringing on Sunday mornings. They are terrified by the contents of the Bible. They are enraged by the conduct of Christian leaders. They grieve those pushed to the outside. They are furious about the way people cling to centuries- or even millennia-old beliefs that have never really worked within reality.

And they are silenced.

But, the first time we are finally bold enough to feel those emotions, to make them known, that’s when we become free.

And I, for one, would rather be angry and free than happy and in a cage.

The Words I Never Wanted To Hear.

I can’t remember the first time I heard someone tell me I was worthless. Though it was said in many different ways, sometimes without words at all, I heard it a lot growing up.

I can, however, remember the first time I said it to myself–the first time I believed it.

It seems so silly, now, to retell the story. It was a couple weeks into my freshman year of high school. There was a boy (there’s always a boy) who I had a crush on, who, for a while, at least, felt the same way. We never dated, nothing serious ever became of it. It was the awkward transition from middle school to high school, when most relationships lasted a month, at best, and no one could even make eye contact with the person they were supposedly “dating” during school dances.

He told me I wasn’t skinny enough to be with him.

And, while, today, I embrace the healthy curves, strong muscles, and 140 pounds of awesome I possess (well, most of the time, at least), I, at fourteen years old, was not so secure.

I remember, through sobs and tears, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror and saying, “You’re worthless.”

My whole life up to that point, and for far too long after, I had been led to believe that my worth was based on others’ approval  of me. Whether it was my grades, my friends, my chores, my scores in gymnastics, my career goals, anything, really, I had to do well in order to be loved.

The thing is, when you’re taught to believe this, it doesn’t matter how well you do, it will never be enough to really “earn” love.

That moment led to a downward spiral of self-hatred, constant anxiety, an eating disorder that always nagged me, perfectionism, and believing a whole host of lies others told me (and many I told myself).

I made it to a point where I wasn’t willing to accept praise of any kind, to acknowledge anything good about myself, because I didn’t want to (or perhaps couldn’t) believe that there was anything in me worth praising.

I also remember the first time someone told me, “You are good enough.”

It was my freshman/sophomore year of college (things get messed up when you don’t do four full years). I had just gotten in a massive fight with my father, about what, I don’t recall, and (again) there was a boy who, while much kinder than the previous boy, did not reciprocate the feelings I had towards him. I felt so alone and so unloved.

At the time, I was also a part of a prayer ministry on campus. We had an intercessory station outside of a vespers service, where I was pretending to have a handle on things. A dear friend of mine, who I had only known for a few weeks at that point, noticed that something was off and asked if she could pray for me.

Pray for me? No one had ever really prayed for me before. Though all I really wanted to do was keep everything bottled up inside, festering like the gallon of milk you forgot was in the back of the fridge, though I didn’t want to hear what she was about to say, something inside of me wouldn’t let me say no.

She didn’t know what was going on. She just prayed.

And I remember, she looked straight into my eyes, squinted a little bit, and said, “I need you to listen to me. I need you to trust me and believe me, because you’ve been lied to for far too long. You. Are. Good enough.”

I lost it. I just started sobbing. I had never been told that before. And, in that moment, I believed it.

I’ve clung to that since then. In the moments when I feel like all I ever do is screw things up, I repeat that over and over and over, like a worry stone in my mouth.

You. Are. Good enough.

We have this liturgy we say at the beginning of every gathering at my faith community. In it, we say the words, “We tell the story of promises made to those who were too old and too young, too broken and too far outside.” It always resonates with me. We are, without a doubt, the island of misfit toys. Most of us have been through a lot of things that often make us feel worthless.

But we are not.

And you, yes you, you are not worthless.

You, the weary, the depressed, the heavily medicated, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the adulterer, the thief, the single parent, the gay man or lesbian woman, the prostitute, the sex addict, the welfare recipient, the heavily indebted, the lonely, the hungry, the homeless, the heretic, the divorcee, the pregnant teen, the murderer, the whatever-you-are, are good enough.

If you’ve ever believed the lie that you are worthless, listen up.

YOU.

ARE.

GOOD ENOUGH.

Especially you.

On Misconceptions.

Hello, dear friends.

I’m in the midst of summer intensives. Which means my brain, body, and all my free time are consumed by compacted classes that are, well…intense. So this isn’t a real post. And I’m also sorry I’ve been gone for, oh, a month now? Sheesh.

But anyway. I’ve decided to address some of the common misconceptions or misunderstandings about certain aspects of my theology, or my life in general. I get asked these questions a lot, and it would be a lot easier to just point people to a post than to have to explain them over and over again.

So, when I say that I am a pluralist, what I mean is that I think no one religion has a monopoly on truth. Furthermore, I also mean that I don’t think religion or faith in a supreme being is necessary for “salvation.” (I don’t like this word, but it’s the best one for this explanation). I still do my faith and spirituality in a generally Christ-oriented environment–I go to a Lutheran seminary, I go to church, I have a degree in Bible and Theology, et cetera.

When I say that I don’t identify as Christian, what I mean is that I don’t ascribe to the “branded” or, if you want to use fancy words, systematized Christianity that currently exists. Additionally, Christianity has some core dogmas that I disagree with, and thus I do not align with that title or group in order to promote harmony. I’ve found people are less offended by what I say when they know I am not trying to say it as a member of their religious tribe.

I am not “lucky” because I got married at 18. My husband and I chose to get married young because we love each other and we saw no point in putting it off until we were older. It may not have been the wisest decision, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. But, and please, please hear me, being married does not make your life better or easier, and it is not some box to check off on your list of life accomplishments. Our two years of marriage together have been really, really hard, but it’s been far more than worth it. We’ve both grown so much, both individually and together. So, when you find out that I’m 20 and have been married for two years, don’t say I’m “lucky” or I’m “ahead of the game.” I made a choice, which I am thankful for every day, but it didn’t flip some magical switch that suddenly fixed all my problems.

When I tell you I have Asperger’s (or what is now known as high-functioning Autism), don’t tell me that I seem so “normal.” I’ve had 20 years to learn how to cope, and a lot of what I do is not instinctual, but is learned behavior. For instance, I apologize when I say something that someone might find offensive (theologically speaking), because I’ve learned that grace and humility build harmony. Or, I look people in the eye when I speak with them because I’ve learned that conveys respect and attention. I’ve learned how my husband acts when he’s mad, or moody, or antsy, or amorous, not because I can sense it, but because I’ve studied him intensely. If I commit a social faux pas, please know that I’m not a massive jerk–I simply haven’t yet learned what to do in this particular situation. Calmly explain what offended or upset you, and I will make amends and learn from that event.

When I say that I believe in works righteousness, I am not saying that I think I can buy or work my way into Heaven, or that I am capable of saving myself. What I am saying is that I don’t believe faith has anything to do with salvation. Living a life in pursuit of letting love abound and continually choosing selflessness over selfishness with care and respect for all of creation is what “saves” a person, not whether or not they happen to believe in the “right” God. Do I succeed at this? HELL. NO. But if God is real, and God is love, and God knows our character, then God will know what I tried (and failed) to do with my life, and count that as righteousness.

When I say that I am a socialist, I do not mean that I want the government to control everyone’s paycheck and that we all should get the same amount of money regardless of how much we work. What I do mean is that I think wealth needs to be spread more equally, so that all people have the ability to meet their basic needs and work towards living a full life. This means that higher education and healthcare would be socialized, banks would be more heavily regulated, and individuals would have a right to housing. Also, and I’m sad I even have to say this, being a socialist does not make you a communist. They are two very different things.

When I say I am a feminist, I do not mean that I hate men, or that I want to reverse history and establish matriarchy. What I do mean is that I believe in equality for the sexes, which requires (at this time) measures directed towards women to bring them up to the socioeconomic level of men.

When I say that I am nonviolent, I don’t mean that I hate soldiers. Also, I would like to point out, pacifism is a specific set of beliefs, nonviolence is a practice. I eat meat, I yell at people, I know how to fight. What nonviolence actually means is that I do not believe in the use of violent force against another human being. So, to make this practical, I don’t support the military, but I am comfortable with the National Guard.

I hope this clears some things up. If there are terms you’d like me to clarify, let me know.

God of the Open Door.

January is always a hard month for me.

I’m not sure why. It just always has been. There’s a number of different factors that play in to it, but none of them are enough on their own for me to actually despise the month. Yet, I do.

One day a couple weeks ago, though, instead of being angry for an entire month, I decided to try something different. I decided to pray. For hope, specifically. That’s all I wanted, all I needed to get me through the month. Hope.

The day after I did this, my husband came up to me and said that he’d been doing some math, and had come to the realization that we could save about $1500 over the next five months if we moved closer to where we work and go to school. We currently live in East St. Paul, and work in South Minneapolis, which means we spend about an hour total every day driving between cities–not from one destination to another, just the freeway driving between the two cities–if traffic is good. This equates to an unnecessary 300+ miles per week. Our ’96 Toyota Avalon gets about 20 mpg and we have a 15 gallon tank, so we’re wasting roughly an entire tank of gas every week. If we moved to Minneapolis, we would save essentially that much. Even if we broke our lease early and forfeited our security deposit, we’d still end up with something like $1000 or so saved by the time our lease would expire on its own (5/31). Furthermore, I hate the place we currently live, so I’ve been wanting to move out since day one. So, when he presented this to me, with the suggestion that we move, and quickly, I began to think that, perhaps, this was the answer to my prayer.

We asked our church community that night, both in person and on our community website, if anyone was looking for housemates or had a mother-in-law apartment to rent out, and got an email back the next day from a couple of friends who were looking to rent out their basement in exchange for childcare. We also checked Craigslist and found an amazing apartment that was twice the size of ours for $100 more per month, in the perfect location, and the building is a co-op. We posted our apartment on Craigslist and had a flood of people looking to sublease.

Hope continued to abound.

However, quickly, that hope gave way to anxiety. What if our friends’ basement didn’t work out? What if we didn’t get the apartment? What if none of the potential tenants’ applications were accepted? What if? What if? What if?

Depending on what I’m doing with my life, I have panic attacks somewhere between once or twice a month to nearly every day. This season has been more on the side of the latter.

So I kept praying. There was little else I could do.

But I found myself in a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand, I wanted to pray that God would just make all of this happen–a bit foolish, I know, but to my credit, I wasn’t exactly rational in the moment–that we would find the perfect person to take our apartment, that our friends’ basement would be a great in-between place, that we would get this particular apartment. On the other hand, I couldn’t bring myself to pray this knowing that, should these prayers come to fruition, God would be taking away someone else’s free will in order to serve my desire.

I pondered this for a few days.

Finally, I came to the realization that I had missed a big chunk in the spectrum of prayer. I had created a dichotomy between praying for specific outcomes and not praying at all. That’s how I had been taught to pray, and those outcomes happening was how I was taught to judge a person’s holiness. If what they prayed for came true, God must be on their side.

Oh, how wrong this is.

Because the beautiful thing about God is that She is not the God of outcomes, but the God of the open door. She does not determine the future for us, but carves out new opportunities. Their fruition still requires certain responses from creation, responses creation has the free will to deny. She is ever the Creator, birthing new possibilities, new opportunities, new realities by the the second. She opens the doors; we, by our own volition, choose to go through certain ones, and to not go through others.

In some ways, my prayers changed. In other ways they were quite the same. I stopped praying for specifics, and instead asked for gracious hearts from my faith communities–for people willing to help, to search, to lend. I asked to be shown the doors that were already open–to have the living communities we want to be a part of put on my radar. I asked to be comforted, to be granted a spirit of patience (something I am truly in great need of).

Let hope abound. And oh, how it has. Because I no longer worry about specific outcomes. I trust that, as creation progresses, God is opening new doors, and leading us to those already in place, as we find our way by Her guidance.

I will leave you with this, a blessing we use at the Porch as a benediction, one we say as a community, to one another:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” -Romans 15:13

On Asperger’s and Sandy Hook.

For the past couple days, I haven’t really known what to say.

What happened on Friday was awful, and horrible, and a very sad tragedy. It is something that should not happen, not ever, not anywhere.

But, to be completely honest, I’m not sad.

Now, before you judge me, and before you explode in the comments, I need to explain. I so desperately want to be sad. I want to be infuriated. I want to mourn. I want to write a fiery post about gun control. I want to scream and shout and cry and feel a million other things.

But I can’t. Because I have Asperger’s. And thus, I lack the ability to empathize.

Friday afternoon, as I learned about the shootings in Newtown, I felt the need to somehow communicate anger or sadness over it. But I honestly could not feel either emotion. I thought about tweeting something about not being able to feel anything, but everything I came up with sounded self-centered. So here I am instead, three days later, finally figuring out the words to say.

I cannot empathize with the parents, friends, teachers, siblings, classmates, or anyone else otherwise related to the children who were murdered on Friday. I have never experienced such a loss before, and thus I cannot understand it, or connect myself to it.

But yesterday, when I learned that the shooter had Asperger’s, I found I could feel grief for him.

Again, let me clarify. I’m not saying I can sympathize. I’m not saying I can condone what he did. It was a horrible, horrible thing, and his Asperger’s does not excuse that.

But I know what it’s like to have to live with AS. I know how difficult daily life can be. I know how easy it is for anxiety to take over, or rage to burn. I know how hard it is to process, manage, and control emotions, and how hard it is to understand chemical changes and how they impact mood. I know what it’s like to feel like an outcast all of the time, to not know how to be a part of a healthy social group, to be mocked, ridiculed, discriminated against, or even hated for being different or not being able to “act normal.”

I know what Adam Lanza had to deal with, unceasingly, every day of his life.

I’m lucky. I grew up with health insurance that covered mental health expenses. I had the ability to be diagnosed and treated. I went to college with a community of loving people who were willing not just to accept me, but to help me, support me, and teach me how to function in society. I have a husband who feels for me and has helped me to learn about emotion and empathy in ways that no one else ever could.

This is not the case for every person living with AS. Many people go untreated, never knowing they have it, thinking they just need to be more “normal” or that they’re just “weird” and need to fix it. They don’t feel safe discussing their difficulties with emotional processing and interpersonal connections with anyone because those difficulties are what makes them abnormal. They don’t have a safe outlet when uncontrolled emotions flare up. They don’t have someone to teach them about empathy.

Instead, they try to push down their abnormalities, until they can’t anymore and they break down or lash out.

We need to address this. We need to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. We need to provide safe, accessible, affordable mental health resources that aim to help those dealing with mental illnesses to function and succeed in society. We need to recognize that mental illnesses are just as much a health issue as physical illnesses, and to treat them in the same way–proactively, quickly, and with concern for the patient’s healing.

We need to stop saying “us” and “them” when it comes to people with mental illnesses. Because we are them. I am one, and I bet there are many others in your life.

We need to make sure these tragedies don’t happen anymore.