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

Anatomy of a Panic Attack

It starts one of two ways:

In the mind…
Doubts, fears, responsibilities mounting against your perceived ability to control it all.

In the physical…
Something happens. That feeling in the pit of your stomach. It drops.

Your heart starts racing. You feel like you just ran a marathon, but you’re completely still. Paralyzed.
I can’t do this.

Your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow. You can’t catch your breath as you feel a tightness in your chest.
I’m going to have a heart attack. I’m going to die. I can’t do this.

You try to calm yourself down…try to escape to that happy place…try to picture yourself in better circumstances.
It’s not working. I need this to work now. I can’t do this.

Your skin becomes clammy as you continue to hyperventilate, not realizing that one symptom begets another.
Oh my goodness, I’m going to pass out. I can’t do this.

You start getting lightheaded.
Yep, definitely going to pass out.

You can’t sit still – you want to keep moving. And much to your distress, you’re in a place where constant movement would be out of the ordinary – sitting at a desk, sitting in class, in a enclosed place with a group of people.
They have no idea what’s going on. I’ve got to get it together. More importantly, I’ve got to get out of here. Before I embarrass myself.

You’re fighting against yourself.
Calm down. Slow down. Breathe. There are some things that are naturally out of your control. You’re not going to die.
I’m losing it. I can’t do this. I’m not worth anything. Why me? Why do I have to be the one dealing with this?

Eventually, one wins out…for now.

__________________________

This is not how everyone experiences a panic attack – these things are indicative of my worst panic attacks. I share this because I want those of you who deal with this to know that you’re not alone. Approximately six million Americans have panic disorder (Source) (which is different from experiencing panic attacks here and there.)

Finding out that there are others out there who know exactly what you’re going through helps out a lot. In the past couple of years, I’ve found out that some of my friends deal with some sort of anxiety on this life-altering level. There’s comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

How have I kept my panic attacks at bay? By praying in the moment and focusing on breathing control. There are many different methods to combat and prevent panic attacks.

I’m here if anyone wants to share their experiences with panic attacks / panic disorder. Remember, you’re not alone. And you can overcome it.

- j

Someone Stop Me

Preface: I am ridiculous.

I’ve been on the line for a few months now. I’m still getting used to some things, but I know what to expect for the most part.

Now that I’m starting to get settled into my new career and lifestyle, where does my brain take me in moments of daydreaming?

Achievement. Great, Jade. You made it through training. You love your job. So…what’s next?

Seriously, self? I am so driven by achievement that I’m never going to stop. I’m never going to say, “Finally. I’ve reached it. The pinnacle of my being and doing.”

I’ve been entertaining the idea of going back to school for the umpteenth time. For what? No idea. Languages? Writing? Directing? Organizational Leadership? Just the idea of going back to school is attractive to me. #nerd4lyfe

I have an insane amount of goals, so here are a few that have been bouncing around in my brain (in no particular order):

1. Master German (In progress)
2. Master Italian
3. Master Spanish
4. Go back to school for something.
5. Finish at least one of the scripts that I have on my hard drive. (Working on it – set a hard deadline for myself.)
6. Get that script produced. (It could actually happen. I got connections, yo!)
7. Practice playing more guitar and piano.
8. Get stronger, physically speaking.

I know that I probably won’t be able to hit all of my goals, but I’m definitely going to try.

Here’s to being too ambitious for my own good,

- j

NaBloPoMo: Influencing People

This prompt comes from NaBloPoMo January 2014 and the question is:

Are you good at influencing other people?

Truth be told, I haven’t the slightest idea.

I’ve been in a number of leadership roles throughout my life thus far, and I’d like to think that as a leader, I influenced people to do the right things.

I try to live a life that reflects Jesus Christ – I am by no means perfect, but I serve a perfect God who is constantly leading me, challenging me, and shaping me into the woman He created me to be.

*shrug*

I feel like if I went on with this subject, it would sound super preachy and self-absorbed – “Yeah, I influence people all the time, man. I got an army of followers…blah blah blah…look at how awesome I am.”

So I’ll just end it here. I hope that I have influenced people in a positive manner.

- j