Doing Good

Today is Maggie Lee For Good day. If you’re not sure what that is you can go here http://www.maggieleeforgood.org or here https://m.facebook.com/MaggieLeeforGood/

Until about 6 months ago I didn’t know about Maggie Lee or the work that was being done to honor her memory. People all over the nation work throughout the year doing good in her name, but Oct. 29th is Maggie Lee For Good day. The premise is simple, do good for someone. The impact is incredible.

The reason I found out about MLFG day is because I started attending the church that Maggie Lee’s parents attend. I started going there almost a year ago now. That little church has been a huge part of my life since then, in ways that some of the people there probably don’t even know. But I have to honestly say I have been hesitant to invest emotionally in the actual church. Let me explain.

Until about 7 years ago I was very active in my small, rural, conservative, Southern Baptist church. I did everything from Sunday School to Children’s Choir, VBS to Music Directing. I had people pressuring me to become a deacon. I had others telling me they were sure I would be called to preach. So, no pressure, right? I’m not trying to brag at all here, I just want to illustrate how active I was in this church. It was all real for me. I was doing the Lord’s work and I loved the people I was doing it with.

Little did they know I was struggling the entire time with my sexuality. About 7 years ago I sank to a horrible place. I experienced some of the worst emotional pain in my life. Usually, I was very good at compartmentalizing or bottling up that pain. That wasn’t possible anymore. And I knew that this pain I could not take to my little country church.

So I stopped going to church.

I stopped going to the church I had attended since I was born. The church where most of my family and many lifelong friends attended. And I stopped doing the work that had made up so much of my identity. I cut myself off from these people to protect myself. Then I sank deeper.

It’s extremely hard to care for yourself without a community.

Part of my coming out journey last year included the search for that community again. I longed to be part of the Body of Christ again, but I knew I couldn’t do it in a place that wouldn’t accept all of me. I was gay, but I also loved Jesus. My new family would need to be one that could love all of that.

To make a long story short, I saw proof yesterday that I had found that. At the end of our church service they showed the pictures of our Halloween Carnival we held this last week. I could see myself in the background of many of the pictures.

 

I was there.

I was working with my church family.

They knew who I was, and they loved me.

We were doing good together.

 

I called my mother when I got home and wept about the fact that I actually had a church family again. I have felt like I belonged at Church for the Highlands (my new church home) since the first day I attended, and I became a member a few months ago, but yesterday was the first time I really realized I was part of the family.

I have been hesitant to bring all of myself to the church. My attendance is sporadic and I’m not as involved as I would like to be. I’m still working through a lot of pain surrounding “church” that keeps me from diving in with both feet. But I’m continuing to work on it. I have a family around me that I believe will allow me to do just that.

I thought it was so profound that God would send me this revelation just the day before Maggie Lee For Good day. To see evidence of working together with my church family to do good in our community. For it to have such an emotional impact on me now so close to this special day. I want to continue doing good with my family. And that means so much more to me now than it used to.

Please go to the links above. Learn about Maggie Lee For Good day and do good today in Maggie Lee’s memory. Continue to do good throughout the year.

#maggieleeforgood

 

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Doing Good

Facets of Faith

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This is something I’ve been thinking on for a while now. This post will be two-fold. Primarily it’s about the different ways we connect with Christianity, even through our fractured religions and traditions. It will also be about the different facets of my personal faith, but I’m still figuring those out, so less on that. Maybe that will be a separate post. You’ll know in a few minutes.

I’ve had this thought rolling around in my head since I came out last year. Faith or spiritual practice, I’m probably just going to say faith for simplicity’s sake during this post, is a complicated beast. And I’m talking about the acting out of your faith, your personal spirituality.

Previously, when I was comfortably warming a pew at a Southern Baptist church in the middle of nowhere, I didn’t concern myself a lot with the faith of other people. If it looked similar to mine, congratulations, you were doing it right. If it looked too much different, I’m sorry, are you aware you have a first class ticket to hell??

My understanding of different spiritual practices was elementary and narrow minded.

I have always had this nagging feeling that my view was too narrow minded. I remember having these thoughts from a very young age, but my upbringing didn’t leave a lot of room for questions. I couldn’t understand how people who were born in different regions and into other religions were just written off. They don’t have a lot of control over those factors. Also, some of those other religions are older than Christianity many times over. How could a God that loves people, as much as ours is supposed to, send those people to hell? (There’s also some wrong thinking in that statement, but that’s for a different time.)

Yes, I actually used to think like this, and many people that I love still do. But here’s where things start to change. My understanding of God has broadened considerably. I now see the wisdom in the idea that there are many ways to draw close and worship God.

One of my favorite people I’ve come to know over this past year comes from a charismatic faith background. For those of you who don’t know, this would be those religions that stand and hold their hands up during a worship service. They may take off running down an aisle, or speak in tongues during a service.

Another precious person that I know comes from a Catholic background. While she is United Methodist now, she still loves and sees the value in many Catholic traditions. She tells many stories about how she is so grateful for that background.

I could list so many people here that believe differently than I used to. I could also identify people from completely different religions. Those from Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc. who have worked their entire lives being kind to others and trying to create change for a better world, living out the example of Christ better than most “Christians”. I’m sad to say I  would have previously written them off as wrong. Oh sure, I would have loved them, but I would not have seen the value in their perspective or had any time to listen to their experience. That would have just been the devil trying to tempt me…

I can’t live that way anymore. I don’t know if it’s because I’m finally owning my own identity as a gay man. Dealing with that has taught me a life-changing lesson on honoring and recognizing other people’s life experience as valuable.

To sum this up, these facets of faith may not stem from Christianity. They may not be affiliated with any religion at all. Does that make them any less God? If we see mercy, love, justice, kindness or healing in the world, and we don’t see a fish symbol or cross plastered on it, does that make it any less God? If we are all imperfect, saved or not, can’t any of us act out those Godly characteristics at any moment?

I know this is a rough idea for some, and honestly I still have some work to do on this myself. I’m not sure what I believe right now, but I’m remaining open to the possibility that God is big enough to be found anywhere.

And maybe, just maybe, faith isn’t as complicated a beast as we make it.

 

Facets of Faith

Relationships (Pt. 2)

A couple of months ago I did a post on new relationships. At that point I was very grateful for those relationships. I still am. These relationships continue to develop and I can’t say enough positive things about these people.

On another note, I’ve had a new experience over the past month. I started trying to develop a friendship with someone from one of my church circles. This was another single gay guy around my age. Things went ok for a while, and then went suddenly dark. So I want to dig into this and talk about it here.

When this started I had no expectations or assumptions beyond friendship. That may have been my first problem. The more I do this relationship thing, I realize I do it drastically different from other people. Also much more slowly in certain respects than other people. I was really just extremely excited to have someone in my life who could relate to what I had been through on many levels. This probably caused me to become overly attached very quickly.

In the few relationships I can remember forming throughout school, I have always had this issue of getting too close too soon. It takes me a while to open up to someone or to trust, but when I finally deem someone worthy, the floodgates are opened. The point is, maybe I’m too willing to share my most vulnerable self with people. I would imagine it’s because I couldn’t bring myself to be authentic with anyone until very recently. I still have quite a learning curve ahead of me apparently.

Also, I’ve never been good with hints and signals, which may also present a problem. I need point blank, blunt information. If you want me to do something, I need a direct request. Some vague hint about you wanting to come visit me is probably going to be met with a blank stare… Since I am that way, I often find myself being very direct with people. I understand that could be off putting. Should make dating fun…

But I think the bulk of this issue came from the fact that I don’t know how to navigate relationships with other single gay people. This is not my first experience with it, but it’s certainly the closest one I’ve had. Like I said before, I had no preconceived notions about this relationship. I really just wanted a friend, and if something beyond that happened eventually, great.  The problem lies in the fact that it’s hard to sort out all of your feelings when you don’t know where the relationship’s boundaries are. It’s confusing and it makes you hold important information back which might make you seem closed off or unavailable.

I guess my final point is I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m an awkward individual anyway. It takes very unique, special individuals to stay in relationship with me. This usually means that they have to put up with a lot of emotional bullshit. God’s going to have to work overtime on this one…

Thanks for letting me sort out some of these thoughts here.

Relationships (Pt. 2)

Wisdom

I was fortunate enough to hear two sermons on wisdom yesterday. You might think that’s a lot, but it’s exactly what I needed. I have always had an issue with knowing the right answers. I grew up in church and thought I knew the right answers to everything. I thought wisdom was living according to those right answers. I basically made wisdom a moral dilemma. Until I learned most of my answers were wrong…

I now know wisdom is more about diving into the questions, instead of knowing the answers. The pastor at the first service I attended yesterday quoted someone as saying all of the great questions in life are unanswerable. She went on to say if that was true she wanted to learn to live in that mystery.

To live in mystery…

That’s not something you would hear a lot of Christians say. Most of Christianity is so SO certain about what they know, they are willing to hurt others with it. They are willing to force others to live by those unadopted standards.

That used to be me. I would have burned the world to save it.

Any wisdom I have gained over the past couple of years tells me that is the opposite of the Jesus I know. The literal opposite. When the world needed saving, he didn’t drop a match, he sacrificed himself. Isn’t that crazy?! Thank God I have a savior that radically loves me.

So if we are going to decide to live in mystery, to live according to wisdom, what does that mean? How do we do it?

The answer for me is to focus on internal knowledge. Learn more about how and why I do things. Learn what moves my spirit and what causes me to grow. Seeking those answers can only improve the way I affect the external world.

Learn to love myself, as Jesus loves me, before I ask others to do the same.

Learn to love others, as Jesus loves them. Period.

If one of the greatest gifts we can seek from God is wisdom, and if God is love, the two must go hand in hand. Love should call for wisdom. Wisdom should encourage love.

On a personal note, I’ve had a rough week. Some interpersonal shake ups in new relationships have caused me to have a lot of self-doubt. My full time job has caused me a lot of stress. Things are looking up, but these sermons on wisdom were exactly what I needed yesterday.

Isn’t it awesome having a savior that gives us what we need, when we need it?

 

Wisdom

Gone Too Long

img_20180727_184142452_hdr.jpg(The picture above is where my old house used to be!)

I know it’s been a while. I haven’t been motivated to post and I’m not sure why. I had a good morning routine down for a while that included working on posts, but now things have shifted a little bit. I’m going into work earlier and getting home later. I’ve gotten more involved with different things after work. Basically just living life.

I guess that’s the point of this post. I haven’t been absent due to anything negative. I’ve just been busy building my life and that has been pulling most of my focus. Here’s some details.

So when I moved to Shreveport to start my life over, (I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s still basically what happened… ) I had a house full of stuff that wouldn’t fit in my new place. I had a house to sell after all that stuff was gone. I had a vehicle to sell. I had a dog still living with my parents that I had to get moved over here. All of that has been going on at my old place.

Meanwhile, in Shreveport, I was busy building relationships. I’ve been trying to connect more with my work people. They are awesome and I love them so much. I’ve also been trying to connect more with my 2 church families. Super supportive people on both sides who want the best for me. While doing all of that I’ve ordered furniture and been busy trying to fix up my new place. There are a lot of details in there that I am leaving out, but that is the core of it.

I’ve also been lazy. That’s right, I said I’m being lazy and I don’t feel guilty about it. (That’s a total lie. I feel immense guilt. I’m ashamed of this part of myself.) At least I’m trying not to feel guilty about it.

I honestly have had quite a few days where I have just come home and collapsed. Because guys, I’m exhausted. These last 8 months have been a roller coaster for me. (We hate those by the way, don’t forget.) The ups and downs in my emotional state and all the changes have wreaked havoc on my sleep patterns, my eating habits, my energy levels, etc. I have taken some time to recuperate.

The great thing is, these things are settling down. These changes are coming together to form a picture of a life that I wouldn’t have dared to dream of just a year ago. I’m ok and all signs point to the fact that I will continue to be ok. That’s scary in and of itself, but that’s a topic for another post.

So as of right now, I am wallowing in my new normal. And it feels great.

Except for when I feel the guilt.

I’m trying to stop that…

Gone Too Long

Grateful for New Relationships

So I’ve been reflecting on new relationships lately and the impact they’ve had on me over the last few months. I was having an emotional day and felt very grateful for a lot of the new people in my life. I wanted to share some of those thoughts and feelings here.
First you need to understand that I’m not used to forming authentic relationships. Mainly, because I’ve lived most of my life until now, in the closet. My social skills are lacking, and that’s being generous. I am used to being fake with people, misleading people to steer conversations away from certain topics, and not associating with people beyond the required amount of time I have to spend with them (work, church, school, etc.) Basically always interacting with people from a place of fear. Seems healthy, right??
Anyway, I’ve actually been able to form some of those elusive authentic relationships recently. It’s a brand new feeling to interact with people from a place of wholeness. Being my complete true self with people. I have to say that overall, it’s been pretty positive. I am still cautious of how soon I share my sexuality and my personal quirks with new people. Remember, your emotional and physical well-being should always be paramount. But for the people that I’ve chosen to share that with, they’ve responded with love and a genuine reciprocation of friendship. These people actually want to be in relationship with the real me. That’s something I never believed could happen before.
I recently changed jobs and moved to a more populated area. I did this for a lot of reasons, but part of it was definitely to connect with more people and hopefully like-minded people. I came out to a few people that I felt an immediate connection with at work. They fully accepted me for who I was and never batted an eye. Actually, I would say that being my authentic self with them has made the relationship deepen even more quickly. When you get the bullshit you try to hide behind out of the way, people can get to know the real you. It makes things move much more quickly on the friendship front.
I have fallen in love with 2 women that I work with. (You know what I mean. These are now my sisters.) They are a couple of the funniest, strongest, most inappropriate people I have ever met, and I mean that in the most positive way! We share a lot of the mess in our lives with each other, but we always keep each other laughing. Laughter is something I desperately needed in my life. They get me in a way that only my sister did previously and they will never know how much their humor has helped me get through the day.
I have also been blessed with another friend at work who is one of the most Spirit filled people I have ever met. She is my sister, and my sister in Christ. In the short amount of time since I’ve met her, i feel like we’ve gotten to know each other on a more soul deep level. Sharing your faith and the most personal things you’ve gone through in life will do that I guess. I go to her first with all of my spiritual and emotional baggage and she listens and helps me with it all. God knew what he was doing when he put her in my life.
My work relationships are the most complete relationships I have right now, but that’s only because of the amount of time I spend with these people. I am also forming new relationships in church and other groups that I have joined around town. Those will take more time to develop simply because of the small amount of time we see each other every month, but some of those people mean so much to me as well.
I have 2 gay couples at my church that kind of took to me when I joined. I usually go out to lunch with them every Sunday. We’ll also get together during the week sometimes. These relationships were important to me because this was the first experience I had with anything that even closely resembled what I thought my life might look like one day. It showed me that same-sex relationships are real and functional in a way that only first-hand experience can teach you.
There is also a young adult bible study I found at a different church here. (Not the one I joined.) I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know some of the most open minded people I’ve ever met, and I love every minute of it.
Last but not least is my actual family. While these relationships aren’t new, they have certainly been tested and changed over the last year. When I came out to my family last year I was prepared for the worst. I was prepared to lose everything I knew to try and be happy and real for the first time in my life. That didn’t happen. We were already extremely close anyway, but my relationship with my mother and sister, has only gotten stronger. Also, to my surprise, my relationship with my non-affirming, non-religious father has gotten better as well. (Still lots of work to do there though.) It’s amazing what honesty can do for a relationship.
I wanted to end this by saying don’t discount the value of new and developing relationships. Also, don’t be scared as changes happen within each relationship. Things have to settle and find their level so to speak, and relationships are no different.
These new and changing relationships are providing the comfort and support I need to make it as I try to live out this more authentic life. And while I am fortunate enough to have a great family already, I can see many of these new relationships becoming a part of my chosen family. And I am so grateful for that. Seek out people you can trust and who want to support you. They will get you through.

P.S. I’ve been super emotional lately. That’s probably going to come up in therapy next time… 🙂

Grateful for New Relationships

Rollercoasters Suck

Old-Roller-Coaster

The rollercoaster fucking sucks.

I said it. It’s ok. I’m past the point where I think the “F” word is going to send me to hell. The main point of this post is not that, but the idea that this emotional, spiritual, mental rollercoaster we live on is tiring and draining.

I said these words to a friend recently who was going through a very tough time, and I felt the need to expand on them. My friend was dealing with some emotional issues that he wasn’t expecting. But that’s how it is most of the time. We’re rocking along, thinking we’ve got a handle on everything, then from nowhere we are left feeling down, alone and confused as to why we ever thought things were going right.

The rollercoaster sucks.

You know, I’ve never liked actual roller coasters. I knew I wouldn’t before I ever rode one the first time. I’ve never been a risk taker, but I’ve always been a worrier. So those moments when you’re climbing that first large hill and everyone else is anticipating that gut wrenching drop, I’m sitting there in a state of complete fear and regret, thinking “What have I done?” People telling you the whole time if you can get through your first one you will see how much fun they are. I did, and the 2 subsequent roller coasters I rode were no better.

The rollercoaster sucks.

So we think things are fine, and then we are blindsided by the drop. Even though we can see it coming. I think for any Christian, but especially LGBTQ Christians, we have a perfect setup for this emotional upheaval. We have to work through many things depending on what tradition we were brought up in. Some of those things could be shame, fear, perception, tradition, purity.

The thing that triggers this effect for me most of the time is companionship. I’m not just talking about romantic companionship, but also friendship and relationship with Christ. At the time of this writing, I am single. One of the things I long for is a meaningful romantic relationship, but for whatever reason that has not happened yet for me. Since coming out publicly last year, God has seen fit to have many things in my life seemingly fall into place. It has been an overall positive experience. But the one thing that still has not happened is even a glimpse of a romantic relationship. This can trigger the rollercoaster for me. If I dwell on this too long and let myself forget that I know God’s will for me is good, and part of that includes a Christ-centered, loving relationship, before I know it I’m climbing that first hill. Scared to death.

The rollercoaster sucks.

The other companionship I seek is real friendship. I’ve been blessed with an awesome group of coworkers due to a recent job change and move. These people have shown me some great friendship. But with my conservative background and what I’ve been through regarding my sexuality, it’s hard for me to form meaningful friendships. You have to be vulnerable to do that and I’ve spent my whole life telling myself that no one can ever see you be vulnerable. Even though I don’t believe that anymore, it’s a learned behavior that I am trying to break. And sometimes if I feel I’ve missed an opportunity to form a connection with someone. Bam. Rollercoaster.

The rollercoaster sucks.

Lastly, but most importantly is my relationship with Jesus. I go up and down with this so much that it’s dizzying. This is more like a rollercoaster with endless loops…

It’s been a real struggle for me to feel a consistent relationship with an affirming Jesus. For so long Jesus had to live in this box that I had created and that didn’t include an acceptance of queer people. Now that I believe differently, it’s very hard sometimes to remember that my Jesus no longer is confined by that box. In fact, he never was in there. So I long for a closer companionship with Jesus, a deeper relationship that’s not bound by what misinformation my mind has learned.

The rollercoaster sucks, but you’re not stuck on this ride.

Ok so maybe you are always going to experience some ups and downs. That’s human. We live our lives every day affected by what people around us do and uncontrollable circumstances. We will always be experiencing some form of those ups and downs. What can change is that rollercoaster that results from all of our internal torment. We can take steps to lessen the effect and, I hope, one day turn it off as quickly as it starts.

There are a few things that have helped me so far and maybe they can help someone else.

Family – Whether it’s chosen family or blood ties, family is the place I find rest  most of the time. If I’m going through those ups and downs, they are also the ones I trust to handle those in the most healthy ways. Your family is usually the most familiar with your neuroses. Trust them to help you survive until you come out of it.

Happy Thoughts – This is going to seem cliche, but replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts is a tool I learned in therapy, and I find myself reaching for it even when I don’t realize it now. Many times I feel down due to what I perceive as a lack of companionship. I have to tell myself, just because I am not currently in a romantic relationship, doesn’t mean I don’t have companionship. I have more people in my life, at this current time, who love me for me, than I have ever had before.  Try replacing thoughts about worthlessness or self-pity with the opposite every time they come up. Pretend like you are trying to build up a friend. See if it doesn’t start to have an effect.

Prayer – Look, I used to roll my eyes every time someone told me to “Pray about it.” too. But prayer doesn’t mean the same thing to me now as it used to. For me, praying now is a process of letting go, and I don’t mean the good ole’ southern “Let go and let God.” Afraid not. What I mean is that I think I’ve finally figured out how to let things go. And surprise, surprise, it’s not a one and done type of deal. When I say I let things go I mean I pray about whatever the situation may be. I ask God to handle it for me. Then I actively have to remember that I asked God to handle it. People make letting go sound easy, but I’ve never found it to be easy. I still stress over things I’ve given to God. The secret I’ve found is not to beat myself up everytime I think about the issue again, but to remind myself I did pray about it and God is actively working on it. It’s not easy because we do want letting go to be so passive, but we have to remember that it’s not. Letting go requires maintenance. Sometimes that means actively letting go of it on a minute by minute basis.

Mental Health – I was ready for medication when I went to my therapist for the first time 2 years ago. I was so stressed and closed off. I was past the point of considering suicide then, but I was still in a very mentally unhealthy place. My mental health was able to be treated by my therapist without medication. Some people don’t have that luxury. Chemical imbalances and mental health problems are real medical conditions. Do not be afraid to contact a professional to get the help you need. And don’t be afraid to take the medicine that could save your life. There are too many stories of people who tried to do it without medication after they were diagnosed.

With enough help, and learning what we respond to, we can get off this ride, or at least transform it into a kiddie coaster… And sometimes, we can light that rollercoaster on fire and watch it burn to the ground.

 

Rollercoasters Suck