Harder Better Faster Stronger

I love exercise. Like I really do. It may be hard for me to get out of bed early and go to the gym. Or go to the gym right after I finish a long day of flying. But once I’m in the gym, I’m in the zone.

My love of exercise with my ENFP nature requires me to change things up. And for the longest time, I stuck with workout plans that had me doing all sorts of isolation exercises 5 times a week. I stayed stagnant for a while because I never found a program that truly piqued my interest.

Until recently. (dun dun dunnnnnnn)

Because I joined a new gym, I was given one of those free mini personal training sessions and body analysis meetings. Ya know, the ones where they take your measurements, talk to you about your goals, do a 15 minute personal training session with you to get your endorphins up, then try to sell you a PT package that costs WAY too much. Thankfully, I saw past all of the sales mumbo jumbo and took the meeting for what it was worth.

First off, I balked at my actual weight and body fat percentage, but they actually put me in the “ideal” range, one step from being super lean beasticon lady. Now, I don’t feel ideal and my goal is two-fold: lean up and get stronger. Through recalling what I learned as a scrawny freshman in a weight training class and scouring r/fitness and r/xxfitness, I knew that strength training would be ideal to reach my goals. Compound exercises – exercises that require the use of multiple muscle groups – are the way to go.

I’ve started the 5/3/1 strength training program. With this program, I am lifting weights 3-4 times a week with different assistance exercises added. This program focuses on four core lifts: the squat, deadlift, overhead press, and bench press. Your sets are based off of your 1RM (one rep maximum – the most weight you can do one rep of.) The program that I found is twelve weeks long, with new 1RMs taken every four weeks. I’m two weeks into the program and I love it for a few reasons:

  1. Cardio is not required. I get so bored doing cardio…unless it’s something outdoors.
  2. I’ve discovered a new love and respect for weight lifting.
  3. I feel like a beast when I’m lifting.

Historically, I’ve been one to quit a new program after two weeks, but I love this one. I love the challenge of beating my current 1RM on these lifts and seeing how much I can get to. I love wearing my Chuck Taylors and knee-high socks on squat and deadlift days. :)

For any of you interested in Wendler’s 5/3/1 program, I suggest you check out this article on Muscleforlife.com. Samantha Menzies published a blog post about 5/3/1 from a woman’s perspective – fyi, the workout is still the same…it’s just nice to get a different perspective :)

Here’s to lifting weights and kickin’ ass!

- j

One Year in the Air

I’ve been a flight attendant for a year! I can’t believe it – time has flown by! I’ve learned quite a lot, which I will attempt to synthesize here:

  1. Flight attendants are safety professionals who also serve food and drinks. Things can go pear-shaped quickly and we must respond just as quickly.
  2. Flight attendants are the best MacGyvers. Somehow, we can make the most creative and useful things from our galleys.
  3. The weather will not deter me from exploring a new city. It rained in Munich and Zurich when I visited and I still managed a good 3 hours out in the city before coming back to the hotel.
  4. Sometimes, it’s okay to be a slam-clicker. But generally, if the crew is down to hang, then so am I. #TeamNoSleep
  5. A healthy and positive mentality is everything. Once, the last day of a three day trip was already scheduled to the maximum number of hours. I was dreading this part of the trip, however my flight leader said, “You know what? Today’s going to be a great day!” Even with the unexpected aircraft swap, we ended the day with a lot of laughter and a good letter from a passenger.
  6. Unexpected rough air is a thing. I would’ve been injured had I not been strapped into my jumpseat during the times I’ve experienced it. I am astonished that passengers get up and open bins or use the lavatory when the entire cabin crew is seated and strapped in.
  7. Hotel life is lonely. I’m finding that I love being home more and more. I live for hours-long coffee dates with good friends. And eating a home-cooked meal at home with my husband.
  8. Celebrities are regular people. I’ve met and served a handful already and they’ve all been chill.
  9. Finally, I’ve learned how to pack lightly. Before this career, I couldn’t imagine going on a week-long trip without checking a bag. Now, I’m going on holiday next month and I don’t plan on checking anything.
  10. I need to stop being afraid of it and get French Speaker qualified soon.
  11. I love seeing European influence in American cities. While walking around DC, there were times when I felt like I was in Paris or London.
  12. Nothing compares to the thrill of taking off and landing. I get excited every time.

I feel very fortunate and am extremely grateful for this career. I’m looking forward to many years on the line, discovering new places, making new friends, and creating new memories.

- j

I Almost Quit.

This morning, I was ready to shut this blog down for good. Or at least erase all previous posts and start anew.

Why?

Because I was, and kind of still am feeling less than confident about my writing skills.

I love writing with all of my heart, but to me, my passion seemed to go unnoticed. Not that I should do things with the intention of being applauded or validated by others. But I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t part of it.

I don’t know where this came from. All of a sudden, I just felt like a below average writer…that my passion for writing would lead me nowhere and that I should just quit.

Honestly, I was ready to delete it all and never look back.

What stopped me was the realization that I really shouldn’t look to others to validate myself. I shouldn’t put my fabricated feelings of inadequacy on the shoulders of others. I should take ownership, pull myself up, and keep going.

I quietly started a 30 day writing challenge. Today is day 20. I’ve written something in a small journal that I keep with me every day. There were times when I fell behind because, ya know, life or laziness, but I always caught up. I say I did this quietly because I didn’t announce it on any social media or tell anyone. Mostly because I didn’t want anyone to see me fail because I know I have a history of not seeing new projects completely through. With this 30 day challenge, it’s done something simple: kept me writing. Before, I’d write maybe once a month. For something that is this important to me, I need to dedicate more than a few minutes a month to it. There’s no theme to this challenge – no daily word or phrase that triggers whatever I write for that day. The task is simple: WRITE. So far, I’m just happy that I’ve been able to stick to it. The most it’s done so far has been to allow me to flesh out how I felt when I visited Dachau. I wrote for that day right after I got back to my hotel. It’s a unique picture of me mentally and emotionally working through what I saw and learned that day.

So, I’m keeping the blog. And the previous entries. Because I need to start somewhere. And there’s no point in starting over if I don’t have to.

- j

Brussels

A few days ago, I mentally spun the globe and decided on where I was going next.

Brussels.

It tends to be a very senior trip, but I got lucky and picked up the trip. I had no idea what I was going to do once I got to Brussels, a city I’d never visited. Thankfully, a few crewmembers also wanted to hit the city. After arriving in the city and getting a few hours of sleep, we hit the ground running. Much to my surprise, this weekend was the Belgian Beer Weekend. What a time to visit Brussels! The city was buzzing….literally. Tents filled the Grande Place with various Belgian brewers. We didn’t actually enter the festival because it was packed, but it was fun to walk around and see the city out in full regalia for this event.

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“Proud of our beers.” As you should be, Brussels. Belgian beer is delicious!

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One of the many beer shops off the main square. So. Many. Great. Beers. I’m partial to Belgian Abbey Ales. And Leffe is a favourite of mine. So many varieties of Leffe.

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It wouldn’t be a visit to Brussels without seeing Manneken Pis. It’s much smaller than I thought it would be – so true of many popular historic landmarks. Apparently, the Manneken gets dressed up every now and then.

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The Belgians are serious about their chocolate. There are numerous chocolatiers in the city. Too many to count. We stopped in this one because they had these giant meringues, which are significant to Brussels. I didn’t get any meringues, but I did grab a few macarons and sampled chocolate in about five different stores. #ChocolateWasted

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Had to have some Belgian beer on the Grande Place! This was one of the moments where I thought to myself, “I cannot believe I’m getting paid right now!” This was my first time having Leffe Radieuse and it was good. Later on, we had dinner at a little local place away from the beer festival madness. We all had Carbonade Flamande – a traditional Belgian beef stew made with beer (of course). I ate it too fast to instagram it (so you know it was hella tasty)!

I’ve fallen in love with a new city. A city where so many languages are spoken (I’m glad I got to parle français). A city that has convinced me that I should probably learn Dutch. Once I get German down, of course.

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Till next time, Brussels…

À bientôt, Bruxelles…

- j

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My Visit to Dachau

When I picked up a trip to Munich, I had no idea what I was going to do in the 24 hours that I had in the city. While waiting for my trip briefing, I googled “things to do in Munich.” As I scrolled down one of the websites, I came across a link for the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. I had no idea that Dachau was so close to Munich, so I set it in my mind that I was going to visit Dachau.

When we arrived in Munich, the weather was quite unfavourable – windy, rainy, and cold. Because of this, the two crewmembers who said that they were going to join me to Dachau ended up staying in the hotel. So, there I was. By myself. In an unfamiliar city. With a plan. No big deal. I have no problem traveling solo – sometimes, I prefer it. As I did in this instance.

I took the S-bahn to Dachau, then hopped on a bus to the memorial site. I decided on renting the audio guide (€ 3.50) to enhance my experience through the camp.

I can say without a doubt that no amount of mental preparation was sufficient for what I experienced visiting Dachau.

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This is the Jourhaus – the main gate into Dachau. Prisoners were marched along this road and into the camp through this gate.

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This is the gate at the Jourhaus with the infamous concentration camp welcoming phrase Arbeit macht frei – “work makes you free.” This phrase disguised the camp as a labour camp to prisoners.

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This panorama is looking out onto the roll call square, where prisoners were assembled daily for roll call. This picture doesn’t begin to convey how large this area is. Up to 40,000 people were held in this area.

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This panorama is of the former maintenance building, where prisoners were systematically processed into the camp. Today, it houses the permanent museum exhibits.

 

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Behind the former maintenance building is the Bunker, where prisoners were detained for whatever the SS saw fit. Different abhorrent punishments were carried out in this building. This picture is of the SS commander’s office. No explanation is given for these hash marks.

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The Bunker.

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Hallway in the Bunker.

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The “shunt room,” where new prisoners were registered and processed. All personal possessions, including clothing, was taken from the prisoners in this room. The desk in the background contains actual prisoner registration cards.

 

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The prisoner baths within the former maintenance building. New prisoners were shaved and bathed in this room. They were also subject to “pole hangings,” where an SS official would tie prisoners’ hands behind their backs, attach them to a chain, hook the chain on a hook in a wooden beam, and let the prisoner hang there.

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Rauchen verboten – No Smoking sign revealed as layers of paint have peeled in the shunt room.

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One of the many memorials on the camp grounds. Never Again.

 

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Memorial in front of the former maintenance building. Dachau was the first and longest-running concentration camp during the Nazi regime.

 

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The perimeter fence. There was: a no man’s land, where SS men in guard towers would shoot to kill, a trench, a barbed wire obstruction, an electric fence, and a concrete wall. There was no escaping Dachau.

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Camp Road. All of the 34 prisoner barracks where along both sides of this road. Two of the barracks have been reconstructed. The rest of the barracks are noted by their foundations that are filled with gravel.

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Barrack 1, which was one of the medical barracks used for experimentation. Experiments included: altitude, hypothermia, and malaria.

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Inside one of the reconstructed barracks. This shows what the prisoner bunks looked like from 1933-1934.

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Reconstructed prisoner bunks, 1937-1938.

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Reconstructed prisoner bunks, 1944-1945. Visitors cannot enter this room, presumably because the bunks are so tightly packed in this room.

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Prisoner lockers, which held their uniforms.

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Sign upon entering the crematorium area. It says, “Think about how we died here.” The crematoriums were not accessible from the main camp originally. Today, they are accessible from the main camp, and are located in the back of the camp.

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“Barrack X” – the new crematorium built in 1942.

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One of the four ovens in the new crematorium. Keep in mind that prisoners were the ones operating these ovens.

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Death Chamber 1, where dead bodies were piled up until they were cremated. The door leads to the gas chamber.

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Inside the gas chamber. Unlike Auschwitz, this gas chamber wasn’t used for mass killings, but rather for individuals and small groups. The ceiling is low and lighting is sparse. It felt very oppressive.

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Sign above the gas chamber.

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The two ovens in the original crematorium.

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The Grave of the Thousands Unknown – a mass grave behind Barrack X. There were 32,000 documented deaths at Dachau. Experts estimate the actual number is much more than that, especially when the camp’s population grew to around 30,000 towards 1944.

I spent about 2.5 hours at Dachau. It was enough and not enough at the same time.

I am forever haunted by my visit to Dachau. It was emotionally draining. The rain and overcast weather provided a somber atmosphere to the camp. When I reached the crematoria area, it started raining harder. Many people who were also touring the grounds went into the new crematorium for shelter. The irony of that is not lost on me.

This isn’t just German history or WWII history or European history – it’s human history. It’s my history. It’s your history. Whether you had family members who experience the Holocaust or not, it’s our history because we’re human. Many groups of people were systematically exterminated simply based on their race / religion / sexual preference / intelligence / perceived threat to the Third Reich / etc. I hope and pray that this part of history doesn’t repeat itself. I hope and pray that world leaders learn the harsh lessons learned through WWII and the Holocaust – a government, totalitarian or not, cannot oppress and exterminate a large group of people. It’s not sustainable. And above that, it’s not right.

I can try to convey what this visit taught me, but words fail. My experience was equally intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. When I got back to my hotel room, I reflected on the visit and burst into tears. My heart goes out to the families of those who experienced the atrocities of the Holocaust.

All I can say to wrap up this post is that I urge every single one of you to visit one of the concentration camp memorial sites some time in your life, if possible. You can read this post, watch documentaries, and read history books, but nothing compares to being on the actual grounds of the camps.

NEVER AGAIN.

- j

breaking point

Everyone reaches a breaking point.
I have reached that point.
And I have yet to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Everything was alright.
Then, it all came crashing down within a week.
When it rains, it pours.

My husband and I just bought a new house. I’d love nothing more than to have the time to sort everything out, organize, and throw away the boxes. But, I haven’t had the time to do that.

I’ve been working A LOT lately, which makes being away from home harder than usual. It’s summer time and summer flying is in its own category, comparable to none. My trips haven’t been bad and neither have my crews. I’m just working more trips than usual.

Going through the bitter death of a friendship. I’ve explained the unfortunate situation to a few people and some of them have asked me this: “Why do you care so much? Just let this person go.” I cared because I put my all into my friendships. And it’s hard to see all of that go down the drain. I’ve learned the hard way. Can’t trust everyone. In the end, it comes to this: if I’m looking out for you and you’re looking out for you, then I’m left in a vulnerable position. Guess I know better for next time. *shrug*

It’s times like these that I cling closer to God. Because I know that He will not fail me, disappoint me, or desert me. He’s been there and I take comfort in that. Well, trying to take comfort in that. The handful of panic attacks I’ve had over the past week or so prove that I’m not fully trusting in Him. I’ll get there, though. I know that I can get through all of this with His strength.

I really have no choice but to stare all that I’m facing, put my head down, and power through.

- j

NM: Love

 

[I asked my Facebook friends to give me some writing prompts, as I am feeling the need to write a lot. This is one of those prompts. Enjoy and note that these aren't meant to be complete in themselves, but possibly launching points into bigger, longer works.]

“For love to endure it takes human capital, it takes sweat equity, understanding, and it takes people.”

This is what my mother told me before I left. I knew she didn’t really want me to do this, but I had to. For myself. For my sanity. For the faint hope that, someday, I could believe in love again.

I’d saved up money for three years. Three years. That’s a long friggin’ time.

Josh and I were supposed to get married. We had it all planned out. We’d have a simple ceremony, paid for by the two of us. Then we’d use the rest of the money to travel for a year. Wanderlust had afflicted us both severely. We met on a Caribbean cruise four years ago. We both hate cruises. I guess that’s what brought us together –  our mutual hatred of floating around on a boat for days on end. I was there with some girlfriends and he was on a bachelors’ trip with his best friend and the rest of the groomsmen. In the Bahamas, we almost got left behind when we took off on our own during one of the excursions. We loved it. The thrill of adventure. Of possibly getting left behind. Of exploring new places. We were both crazy. And crazy for each other.

But crazy + crazy =/= healthy relationship.

Long story short, I found out he was cheating on me with several other women. When I confronted him, he told me, “You know how hard it is for me to stay in one place….and be with one person…”

“BUT YOU PROPOSED TO ME!” I yelled back at him as I threw my engagement ring in his face. It poked him in his right eye before tumbling to the ground. I was a little proud of my aim at that moment.

“Yeah…I know…sorry, Cassie. Look, just give me another chance….”

“The hell I will. See ya!” I said as I pointed to my apartment door, directing him to leave.

And that’s the last time I saw him. Sure, I’ve gotten texts and emails. He probably wants to explain himself. I won’t let him have the time of day. I don’t have time for that. I don’t have the patience for that. And I don’t feel like opening the wound all over again.

So, I took my half of the money that was supposed to be for the wedding/trip and decided to take the trip on my own. And here I am, pondering that quote that my mother left me with. She told me that she knew I’d believe in love again. That if it took a trip around the world to do it, then so be it. I brushed it off as mother-wanting-daughter-to-feel-better logic.

But I’d be a liar if I said that she wasn’t right.

I’ve been gone for three months now. Not nearly long enough to be ready for a relationship or any kind of romantic gesture. But what I’ve seen lately has really gotten me thinking about love and its many forms.

Right now, I’m staying in a crowded hostel in Rome. My bed isn’t that comfortable and the showers could use a little updating, but the people I’ve met so far treat me like family. A backpacking couple from Canada – Mark and Ellie – chatted with me for hours about how they backpack through Europe every other year. They stay in new cities every time and “collect memories.” They said they’d be more than happy to host me if I ever came up to Calgary. Another solo traveler, Sarah from the UK, invited me out to dinner, paid for it, and gave me some great advice about places to go while traveling. I couchsurfed in England, staying with friends of friends. One guy, Graham, offered his couch for free if I helped him and his friends serve at a local food bank. I did and it was incredible. I met so many interesting people that day. Yes, the odd coke addict here and there, but mostly just a lot of people who were down and out for various reasons.

One kid, Daniel, was really rough around the edges. Rude, obnoxious, and attention-starved. So, I decided to chat with him for a bit. Come to find out, he bounced around from foster home to foster home before he aged out of the system. He’s been on the streets ever since, with little stints at temp jobs here and there. Once getting through the tough exterior, I saw that Daniel was just a kid that wanted to be wanted. Wanted to be loved.

All I did was feed people that day. But it felt like so much more. I could’ve easily told Graham that I’d just pay him for the stay rather than give up my precious traveling time for needy people. But I’m so glad I did it. Now I have these people in my heart. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again. And that’s okay. Because I met them. And got to know them. And on some human level…I came to love these people.

I’m off to Greece tomorrow. I don’t know what people I’ll meet or what experiences I’ll have. But I’m already exciting about loving them.

- j

JF: “Dawn approaches! Rise city slumber, and sing!”

[I asked my Facebook friends to give me some writing prompts, as I am feeling the need to write a lot. This is one of those prompts. Enjoy and note that these aren't meant to be complete in themselves, but possibly launching points into bigger, longer works.]

Dawn approaches! Rise city slumber, and sing!” I imitate as I hear the all too familiar phrase over the speakers in my living room. President Ruiz has been saying that since she ran for office twelve years ago. I practically grew up with this phrase. I guess it’s meant to be inspirational, but now it’s just another part of my day.

Things have changed a lot since President Ruiz came into power. She’s the first female POTUS, which is cool. But she didn’t stop there with big changes in government. Through different programs and constant legislative struggle, she was able to be the first President to serve more than two terms. Probably due to her big campaign against hunger and homelessness. It started in her hometown of Philadelphia, then spread over the entire country. Now, the US has virtually no homelessness. I’m not even really sure how she did it, but she did. And now the US is under the world’s microscope – everyone wondering how we fixed such a big problem. Dawn approaches! Rise city slumber, and sing!

However, things aren’t all peachy keen here.

The government is a lot more involved in the everyday lives of its citizens and residents. Every home has a government speaker installed, so that everyone can get pertinent information about the state of the Union. And, of course, to hear the President’s encouraging and inspirational phrase. To help curb homelessness, everyone has a job. No matter what. If the government ever knew about your existence in the US, you were found and were given a job. My roommate Celeste, for example, was homeless when both of her parents died in a car accident. With no one to take care of her, she bounced from shelter to shelter until she came across a Ruiz Home here in Atlanta. There, she was fed, clothed, and given a job. Recycling sorter. Not the most glamorous of jobs for a 26-year-old, but it pays the bills and keeps us from having to go to a Ruiz Home. Not that they’re bad or anything. It’s just nice to not have government lackeys see you ALL the time.

I guess I’m kinda lucky in that I was never homeless. I got a Journalism degree two years ago and now I’m a junior reporter at a local news station. But it barely pays the bills. There are months when Celeste makes more than I do. But we get by. And we both have money stashed away for when we want to shop or bar hop.

Another downside to my job is that I learn about more stuff that the government’s imposing on us before the general public. Of course, I’m sworn to secrecy until the news “breaks.” The latest change is that the government is considering putting speed limiters in all civilian vehicles in order to reduce the number of high-speed chases and highway accidents. It’s already caused a big uproar, but the government is just so big right now, it’d take a bona fide revolution to change things.

I don’t doubt that it’ll happen one day. You can’t oppress a large group of people for too long without them eventually fighting back.

One day, Ruiz will say, “Dawn approaches! Rise city slumber, and sing!” and be met with millions of people ready to take over.

I’m just biding my time and waiting for the revolution.

- j

SC: Little Girl with a Big Premonition

[I asked my Facebook friends to give me some writing prompts, as I am feeling the need to write a lot. This is one of those prompts. Enjoy and note that these aren't meant to be complete in themselves, but possibly launching points into bigger, longer works.]

Prompt: “As you are about to make the most important speech in your life a little girls walks up and says she is from the future and you must follow her or risk ending the world.”

I am at the end of my rope. I just don’t know what to do anymore. There I was, about to deliver a commencement address to graduates at my alma mater on the subject of staying true to oneself in this crazy world. Out of nowhere, my dear daughter Maya wrestles out of my husband’s arms, runs onstage, and says that she’s from the future and that I have to follow her or I’ll bring on the destruction of the entire world. She pulls on my robe, grabs my hand, and tries to pull me off the stage. In the least embarrassing way possible, I tell Maya that we’ll deal with that later and instruct her to go back down to her father. Don just gives me this wild look as he steps up to collect Maya. I compose myself and deliver the speech, which is now overshadowed by my daughter’s antics.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up on YouTube or one of Buzzfeed’s Arbitrary Number of Crazy Things that Happened This Week/Month/Year lists.

Don and I have been dealing with this ever since Maya could talk. She’s always been preoccupied with events that haven’t happened yet or that seem/are outlandish. She’s seven now and she’s seen more psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, and counselors than I’d care to admit. Most of the time, Don and I try to brush it off, but it’s hard to when it happens all the time. Maya’s never been interested in things that are appropriate for her age – cartoons, coloring books, playing with other kids. She loves watching the news. I’m not joking. She loves it. She gets upset when we change the channel to something less heavy. We have an agreement with her teachers that she can read Time magazine and the Wall Street Journal during recess and reading time. Don and I have tried to give Maya time with other kids, but she ends up scaring them off with her apocalyptic conversation topics. Doctors have given her a clean mental bill of health, saying that she will grow out of it. But they’re not there when she comes running into our bedroom at night for the fourth time in a week, crying and saying that the government is watching us and they’re going to take our freedom away soon.

I’m scared that she won’t grow out of it.
And I know she won’t.

She’s the sweetest girl. With her mind and heart set on a grand, dismal end to life as we know it. I’ve asked her to explain why she talks about the future in such scary ways, and she said, “Mom, I’ve been given a gift. I know what will happen in the future. The news and papers remind me of that. I knew that all of these things would happen. I’m just trying to help you before things get worse.”

What do you do with that?

- j

My Faith

Today, I read “Why I Miss Being A Born-Again Christian” by Jessica Misener on Buzzfeed. This post set a lot of wheels in motion in my brain. It caused me to look inward and search my faith in Christ – to see why I believe what I believe and why someone would leave the faith.

(Before reading this reaction post, do the author a solid and read the Buzzfeed post.)

At the beginning, Jessica talks about coming to the Christian faith as a teenager from an unchurched family. Hot on her evangelical faith, she describes going on missions trips and scrutinizing her friends who drank at college parties.

I’ve been there. I’ve been the overly judgmental, hyperspiritual, proselytizing Christian teenager, attempting to make friends and strangers aware of their sins and lead them to Jesus. As I grew older, I realized how ridiculous it was for me to keep up that way of life. I’m sure I alienated people during that time of my life. And rightfully so. I wouldn’t want to be around someone shoving religion and gospel tracts down my throat.

Jessica explains that she converted to “a very specific kind of Christianity, the Billy Graham and gay Teletubbies kind that preaches Jesus as the only path to salvation.” Evangelical Christianity. The kind of Christianity that guilts and condemns you into conversion, then greets you with judgmental eyes during Sunday service if you don’t raise your hands during worship.

That saddens me. Infuriates me. I hate that most people these days equate Christianity with judgment, scandal, and hypocrisy. I have my own issues with the evangelical church and evangelical beliefs. In recent years, I’ve been on a quest to simplify my faith – rid myself of beliefs that aren’t Biblical, but taught in the church. My focus is Jesus – how he lived on Earth and what He taught. Over the years, I feel like my spirit got weighed down by needless beliefs that aren’t Bible-based – like preachers asking for a certain number of people who need to give a specific amount. Or that every Christian needs to speak in tongues and if you don’t, your faith is incomplete. Ugh. I hate that I thought those things at one point or another.

I am very picky about who I choose to be led by, in terms of church. I’ve been burned way too many times in recent years by pastors who were “doing the right thing” or keeping their dirty work under wraps. And we all know what happens in the dark will come to light, if not now then later. And that’s Biblical – “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open” – Luke 8:17 (NIV). Yes, pastors and spiritual leaders are just as capable of making mistakes as I am, but I’m not a fan of subversive and misleading leadership practices.

I can agree with Jessica when she mentions her parents having an “organized religion hangover.” Been there. It’s hard not to be fed up with the Christian church as a whole.

Jessica goes on to say that she made many mistakes during her time as a born-again Christian. Things that include proselytizing during a college party and voting for Dubya. Really though, who doesn’t make mistakes? What I think some people don’t realize is that Christianity is a journey and salvation is a step on that journey. We were never meant to complete everything that God requires of us in a week, month, or year. Am I a perfect Christian? By no means. I curse a lot. Sometimes, I’m selfish. Sometimes, I don’t turn the other cheek because I don’t want to seem weak. I don’t read my Bible nearly as much as I should. But there’s something great about all of my flaws. God loves me anyway. He sees who I am right now and loves me. He sees where I’ve been and who I used to be and loves me. He sees who I’m becoming and who I will be and He loves me. He loves me in spite of myself. That’s hard to grasp at times. But my intermittent inability to fully comprehend God’s unconditional love doesn’t make it any less true or real.

For me, it’s easy to see why many young people are abandoning their evangelical Christian beliefs. No one likes to feel judged or somehow disconnected. As an adult and as a Christian, I do not affiliate myself with any denomination. I used to be Church of God until that got to be too much nonsense for me. In my opinion, denominations are a creation of man throughout the history of the Christian church (church meaning body of believers, not physical buildings) that divide believers down arbitrary theological or spiritual lines.

Jessica describes her graduate school experience in studying religion. She talks about studying the Bible as a “historical work of literature,” comparable to the way one would study Shakespeare. As she dove into her studies of the Bible, she deduced that the Bible is full of errors, contradicting statements, and mistranslated words. She explains that evangelicals like herself found little foundation for their faith, while Catholics had less of a issue because they had traditions “like the Catechism, papal infallibility, and the sacraments” to hold on to. In my opinion, tradition and ritual means nothing if there is no relationship. My faith is a belief and a relationship with God. I do believe that things such as Communion and baptism are important, but they are hollow works that mean nothing if there is no relationship with God. To say that rituals and traditions are a solid foundation for faith makes no sense to me. But, I’m not Catholic and I never have been, so I can’t really speak on the weight of these things to Catholics.

I believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God. I believe that it is through His word that God speaks to His church. Do people have different interpretations of what the Bible teaches? Of course. That’s why there are so many different translations and versions of the Bible. I’ve used many different versions to understand different points that a verse or passage could be teaching. One time, a friend told me that he didn’t like using the Message version (a version that uses today’s language) because “it wasn’t spiritual enough.” I nearly laughed. I don’t need thees and thines for my Bible to “feel spiritual enough.” There is a certain level of faith, “a complete confidence or trust in something or someone” as defined by the New Oxford American Dictionary, that brings one to believe in the Bible as the infallible and complete word of God.

Jessica states that “losing Jesus…felt like losing a friend, even if he was imaginary all along.” That statement makes my spirit hurt. I’ve always known Jesus to be real, even before confessing my sins and professing Him as my Saviour. I don’t know a life not knowing Jesus. I’ve had season when I wasn’t as close to Him as others, but He’s never been any less real. I’ve tried to imagine my life without my faith in God and I see an empty, selfish, and hopeless life. Mind you, I’m talking about myself here. I’m not saying that all of my non-Christian friends are living empty, selfish, and hopeless lives.

Throughout this article and especially at the end when Jessica describes an emptiness and a drawing back to her faith, it’s evident to me that Jessica had a real relationship with Jesus at some point. Otherwise, she wouldn’t feel that emptiness. He was her friend. He can still be her friend. I’ve had times throughout my life so far when all I had to hold onto was my relationship with God. God has seen me through some really rough times – times that could’ve lead me down a very different path had I not decided to stick with God. Throughout prayer and counseling, I’ve been able to overcome the once-pervasive feeling of wanting to completely disappear from the world. I never thought that in a suicidal way…more in like a run away and hide way.

It hurts to read that Jessica sees Christianity as “opiate of the masses.” To me, Christianity is a relationship. Not Sunday service. Not handing out food at a food bank. Not donating to a Christian cause, but a relationship with the Almighty. Everything that comes along with the faith – volunteering, attending church, etc. is meaningless without a relationship. And vice versa, if you have the relationship and do nothing with it, then what does the relationship mean? James 2:14-26 summarizes and explains this well:

“14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless[a]? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,”[b] and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”

This relationship with God that defines my Christian faith is certainly not evangelical brainwashing or mindless following of whatever. That’s no relationship.

Here’s what I believe in the simplest of terms:
I believe that God is the Almighty God. He is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent.
I believe in the triune God – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He was sent to Earth to stand in our place, to take on our sin so that we could be saved.
I believe that Christianity is a journey, not an event.
I believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God.
I believe in unconditional love.
I believe in the importance of Communion, baptism, and dedication.
(I might some things out of that list, but like I said before, I’m trying to live a simple faith.)

I’ve gone through bouts of questioning my faith, which I think is completely normal and quite necessary at times. I went to a Christian college, and that experience really taught me that I cannot lean on my mother’s faith, but develop my own faith. Philippians 2:12-13 states, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (NIV). I believe that questioning is part of working out your salvation. Every time I’ve questioned my faith, I come back to things that God has done in my life that cannot really be explained any other way. I thought I’d never get over my past – I thought I’d always be at odds with my stepdad – I thought I’d never be able to forgive him. By secular standards, I shouldn’t have. But I did. How? God. Through counseling and prayer, He gave me the time and tools necessary to forgive someone who’d hurt me very deeply.

Another way that God has proven Himself faithful is by the tenet of tithing – giving 10% of your earnings to God. In real life, that translates to giving 10% to the church where my husband and I attend. Why do I tithe? Because I believe in it and I’ve seen its benefits. Luke 8:18 states, “Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him” (NIV). I started tithing regularly when I wasn’t getting paid enough to make ends meet. Slowly but surely, I started to make more money at my job. Even when I went from full-time to part-time and had to pick up two other jobs to make ends me, I tithed. Now, I have an incredible job with great pay and I’m tithing more than I ever have. During that time, I learned how to become more financially stable. And tithing was part of that learning.

I’m not a fan of witnessing in terms of sitting someone down and shoving Jesus in their face. I believe and hope that my life is my biggest witness. That someone can see Christ in me and want to know more. The often quoted saying, “Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary” rings true with me. With God’s strength, I try to be the best witness for Him by living out my life. By the way I treat people. By the way I view people who aren’t like me. I try to emulate Christ’s example. He didn’t care about who He hung out with. In fact, if you read through the Gospels, the people He’s most critical of are the religious people of His time. Hardcore fundamentalists tend to forget this.

My faith isn’t something that’s dusty, lying on a bookshelf somewhere. It’s living and breathing. It’s in real time, not just Sunday mornings. My sincere hope is that Jessica and others like her that have left the faith will find their way back and engage in a real relationship with God again. I hope and pray that they realize the emptiness they feel on occasion is the Holy Spirit calling them back. I hope they realize that Christianity isn’t what they’ve intellectualized it to be. I hope they realize that faith can be simple. (I was inspired to live a simple faith by none other than Bear Gryllls. I read his autobiography, Mud, Sweat, and Tears, and I loved the way he described his simple faith in Christ.)

I could keep writing, but I’ll end this here. Thanks for reading. I’m here for any questions.

- j