Jesus Talk

how I finally learned what love is

The air was cool for Minnesota summer, and a fire crackled and snapped over wet logs in the fire pit in front of me. I was about to tell a story I had only told once before, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that the words still felt almost fake as they churned inside of me, bringing a new sensation of reality to the term word vomit. It just didn’t feel right. In a way, it felt selfish, what I was about to do. At a cursory glance, everything about my life seemed to be just as it should, if not better, but I was about to confess that for the majority of my life I had felt like I had to earn love and wasn’t quite sure what it actually meant to be loved.  

I mean, honestly, I’m 19 years old, have a college diploma hanging on my bedroom wall, my family is great to me and always has been, my friends are some of the best you could ask for, and I have everything I need, among other things, but I couldn’t escape the voice of God trying to convince me, for the umpteenth time in however many years, that there was no possible way for anyone to ever earn someone else’s love. But along with that, He also seemed to whisper that the reason was that you didn’t have to. His love, as well as anyone else’s authentic love, doesn’t need to be earned. That seems like such a simple, basic concept, but it’s one I’m honestly still processing and learning to be true.

 

I don’t know exactly when it started to why, but what I do know is that for most of my life, I’ve harbored this nagging voice constantly telling me I have to be smart enough, nice enough, Christian enough, musical enough, x enough, y enough, or z enough in order for people to like me, and by extension, love me. For most of grade school, and I suppose parts of college as well, I partially satisfied that voice by assuring myself I would be the smartest, and I guess that’s why I have a college diploma framed on my bedroom wall before my twenties. Beyond that, I fed that voice’s hunger by also telling myself I would have the most friends and be the best Christian person I could be, but all of those things have come under attack in the last few years as God has started breaking down those walls to show me what He’s really about, and what He’s about is unconditional love.

 

For about as long as I can remember, I believed it was my job to keep my friends around and stay in their good graces as well as God’s. In grade school and to this day, I was always the person wondering and freaking out about why someone hadn’t texted or messaged me back yet. Depending how long it had been, I would start thinking back to anything I had done recently, or even further in the past, to make them not want to talk to me anymore. Or if someone canceled plans with me, I would wonder if it was perhaps my fault that they didn’t want to get together anymore. With every little thing I was questioning myself, trying to find something I had done or maybe even just something about myself that had caused it, and this vicious cycle continued to perpetuate itself, only exacerbated by the fact that a handful of my former friends did just up and disappear off the face of the earth one day.

 

But the fact of the matter was that I was trying to earn and maintain the love of everyone around me, and it was eating away at me inside. By junior year of high school, I was having anxiety attacks on the regular, paralyzed by this gripping fear and panic that trapped me in my own mind, going through all the different reasons someone might’ve decided they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore or didn’t like me anymore, until the fated person or people messaged me back or rescheduled our plans or whatever it might have been. Then, everything would be fine, until it happened again. It created a constant fear and terror that the people I cared about and loved would all of a sudden decide one day that they didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore, even if I had just seen them a few days before, and it was a mentally and emotionally draining.

 

At the same time, I was coming to grips with a lot of other things going on in life, and it was about the same time most mainstream churches were really cracking down and getting brutally honest with what they thought about LGBTQ topics. All the while another tempest was brewing inside of me, I was also sitting in church listening to pastors essentially telling me I was deformed by the Fall, doomed to a constant state of constant lust, and that the only way for me to be right with God was to relegate myself to being alone forever, and that’s if they were being kind about it. On social media, other evangelical Christian leaders were telling me I was an abomination, an insult to men, a spawn of the devil, just another step away from a pedophile, and a myriad of other things I could choose to repeat but won’t. It wasn’t much help that my youth pastors talked about people like me and treated me directly like I was spiritually sick, as if who I was could somehow be cured if I just prayed enough and had enough accountability, whatever that was supposed to mean (in my head, it sounded like weekly updates on what it was like to be gay that week, which I didn’t really understand the purpose of).

 

Combined, the world started to look like a really dark, bleak place to be. Already struggling with the idea that the people I loved and cared about most might just one day cast me aside, the message that I was either inherently bad by nature of existing or destined to be alone forever really supercharged my drive to prove that I was okay and that I could be good, and my need to earn the love of others only skyrocketed. I became convinced that if I was just good enough, if I was Christian enough, and if I could make a relationship work that I’d be able to prove to myself, to God, and to everyone else that I actually was good and that the way I was could be good and that the way I loved could be good, that I wasn’t all of those bad and awful things the church had told me that I was. And if I did all of those things, I’d also be able to convince God and everyone else to love me.

 

But all of those things crumbled to the ground as soon as this most recent season of life started, with college ending, me not going to church because it still stings too much, and me still being very much single. Suddenly, everything holding me together had disappeared and I was starting to feel it. But the thing is that God always seems to make the biggest breakthroughs when you don’t have anything left to give, which oddly enough, also happens to be the point right after He’s already taken away all the false hopes and defenses we’ve built up for ourselves.

 

Having stripped away everything else I thought I was hanging onto, what He taught me and is continuing to teach me is that you can never ever make anyone love you, at least if you’re talking about real love that is. And unlike normally, the same rules apply to God. You can’t make Him love you, and even though that sounds scary and out of your control (because it is), it’s actually the best thing He ever could’ve said, because the truth is that you don’t need to make Him love you. He already does, and He always will.

 

Maybe part of the truth is that my learning of this profound, but also incredibly basic idea was hindered due to the fact that 97% of the boys and men I encountered made fun of me and directly, straight up, no punches pulled told me I wasn’t good enough up or I was too different until my junior year of high school (when I finally met some real ones, mind you) or the fact that the church told me I was worse, dirtier, inherently flawed, and more sinful for so long, but I think another part of the truth is that God needs each of us to learn the insanely beautiful truth that we are loved by others and loved beyond compare by Him, without any restrictions, loopholes, conditions, or exceptions, on our own, in our own way, before we can really believe it for ourselves.

 

So, if you took the time to read this, just know that you are loved. You are so loved. Full stop.

when wisdom means saying "i don't know"

Note: This post is the first in an ongoing series of posts entitled “Lessons from CWC” in which I reflect on some ideas taken out of Christianity & Western Culture, a gen ed class at Bethel that I TA’ed for during my time there. I think that there’s a lot to be learned from history and other thinkers before us, and I loved the class and being able to TA for it. These posts will have their own individual titles, but they’ll be organized under the category “Lessons from CWC” which can be accessed from the ‘Menu’ tab at the top right corner of any page of the blog. Happy reading. As a blogger and a writer, you could say that the way words flow together and the juxtaposition of their meanings really strikes a chord with me. Maybe that’s why I’m quick to remember quotes or phrases that I like or that are especially meaningful to me. Today, I was reminded of something that one of my professors said in class last semester that has stuck with me ever since. (In reality, I feel like maybe I had heard this saying before, but I’m going to attribute it to Dan Rotach anyway.)

While I was reflecting on a little back and forth that some of my friends and I had gotten into on Facebook, stemming from my last blog post, I thought back to this saying: The wisest people are also the quickest to say, “I don’t know.”

The wisest people are also the quickest to say, "I don't know."

At first, that statement seems to be counterintuitive. How can you be wise if you’re also going to be the first person to say that you don’t know or that you aren’t sure? Won’t people think that you don’t really know what you’re talking about or that you must be ill informed if you don’t always have an answer ready for them? Perhaps, but I think that being wise also involves an understanding that there’s always going to be more to learn and that the only person who has an answer for everything is God. And even then, we’re not always privy to those answers.

This is something that Socrates, an ancient Athenian philosopher, understood that I think a lot of us, myself included, often forget. Though he lived before the time of Christ and thus couldn’t be considered a Christian by most traditional benchmarks, I think that there’s still a lot that we can learn from his reflections on life. He was famous for saying things like this:

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” - Socrates

Maybe that sounds radical, but I think that it’s true. After all, in almost every field that humans have studied, we have eventually reached a point where we must ask ourselves more questions, and sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” for a long time or even longer. Think about it. Some of the smartest people in the world are still trying to figure out how it so happened that life is sustainable on earth, how people and other living things can be made up of millions of cells but function as an entire unit, how emotions make sense from chemical processes in the brain, and so many other things. True, sometimes we can come up with baseline answers for these questions, but a lot of the time, we end up back at “I don’t know.”

Perhaps this is the same approach we should take to topics that we still aren’t completely versed in or that we might never be as well, such as human sexuality or theology. The former we still don’t entirely understand, and the latter deals with the study of God, an infinite being that we’ll never be able to fully comprehend. Yes, we should absolutely seek to learn as much about God and about theology as we can, but maybe that also means admitting that we don’t know sometimes. There are those outspoken for Calvinism and Arminianism, affirming and non-affirming theology, whether or not women can or cannot be leaders in the church, and many other things, but those things aren’t necessarily salvific. And if that’s the case, are they really worth tearing ourselves apart over?

I’ve heard Calvinists accuse others of not taking the sovereignty of God seriously. I’ve heard non-affirming leaders accuse others of destroying the sanctity of marriage. I’ve heard creationists attack the faith of evolutionists. I’ve seen a lot of strife in the church and between Christians centered around things that shouldn’t be tearing apart the body of Christ.

Yes, I think that it’s absolutely crucial that people figure out what they believe and why they believe it, but are we really so arrogant to believe that our own interpretation, our pastor, our church, our denomination, etc. has gotten it completely, 100% right? That’s an awfully pressure-packed position to stand in.

Every other Christian out there is trying to live out and figure out their faith one day at a time, just like we are.

Of course, I’m not arguing that people abandon those beliefs, but I do think that perhaps we could all use a small enough dose of humility to say that perhaps we’re wrong, not to put doubt into our own beliefs necessarily, but to have enough grace not to attack others or question the validity of their faith because we recognize that every other Christian out there is doing the exact same thing that we are: trying to live out and figure out their faith and what that means for his or her life one day at a time.

In light of that, my posture in almost every situation is to hold to something else that I’ve been told repeatedly in my life. In many difficult life situations, often involving loss, my dad has said something to this effect, “I’m not one to judge someone else’s faith, because you can’t know. That’s between them and God.”

"I'm not one to judge someone else's faith. That's between them and God."

While we might not necessarily agree with what someone else believes, I think that those words are true. We aren’t the bouncers to the Kingdom, so why do we so often insist on policing the beliefs and morality of others? I certainly don’t know for certain whether this or that contested belief on a particular topic is true. Maybe neither of them are. Maybe the reality is something that humans can’t even fathom. With that in mind, I think that I’ll stick to doing the one thing that I do know I’m supposed to do.

I’ll stick to loving and admitting that sometimes I don’t know what the right answer is and that sometimes I’ll get things wrong.

coming out: one year later preview & good friday reflections

img_0662.jpg

Notes: Before I get into this post, I just want to take a moment to thank everyone who’s been reading this blog and keeping up to date on my outward thought process. For many of you, that’s involved sitting with me as I rifle through thoughts and ideas over tea and food on multiple occasions, and I’m especially thankful for that. For others, that’s encompassed your kind and encouraging words that create safe spaces as I continue to write and think out loud in a public space on what it really means to be on this journey and on this path that has all the twists and turns you could imagine. And for yet others, that means challenging me and having open discussions on where we’re coming from, the perspectives that we hold, and why we hold them. So thank you. And for anyone who’s just met me recently or who’s new to the blog, I hope that you find this as a safe place, a safe place as an LGBT Christian, as a Christian in general who has a heart for this, as a Christian who might not know a lot about this sphere, as anyone. I hope that everyone who comes here finds this as a safe place where dialogue is open, where learning is sought after, and where ignorance is not always willful or inherently bad. So, (in a bit of self-promotion here) for you guys (and anyone else who hasn’t yet), feel free to subscribe to the blog so you can get emails that link to new posts when they go up, and also feel free to engage and talk with me about anything that you might be thinking, whether that’s questions about what I’ve written or what I believe on this, curiosities on things in general, or just to talk. I’m open to that and I love it.

All of that being said, I want to talk about two things in this post: a couple things that I’ve seen and realized thinking over everything that’s happened since last year when I started writing this blog and also some of the things that I’ve been reflecting on, specifically regarding LGBT Christians, as it’s Holy Week this week and Good Friday today.

I think that the most significant thing that I’ve noticed between last year around this time and this year is both the magnitude and also surprising lack of change, which I’ll explain. If you had asked me relatively soon after coming out where I saw myself in a year, I’m not sure I would know how to answer that question. I’ve already written a “one year later” post/letter, and I’m going to put that up later this week, but I think that with everything going on a year ago, I don’t think I ever would have thought that I’d look one year into the future and see that a lot of things were actually pretty similar, pretty normal. And I think that lack of change is beautiful, because it feels so normal. It takes away a lot of that stigma that many people feel surrounding the coming out process. It seems like this thing that’s going to change your life forever and make it so that it’s never the same. While that is true to an extent, I think that when the people around you choose to value relationships over rightness and to see you as the same person you were before you came out, it really creates this beautiful normalcy that I’m starting to return to, and I’ll talk more about that in my “one year later” letter.

At the same time, I think that it’s also encouraging to see all the change that has happened over the past year. The Supreme Court ruling forever changed the way that people in this country will view LGBT people, and I think that’s a good thing. It created the visibility and (though not always productive) kickstarted a lot of conversations that needed to start happening. In addition, even in my smaller sphere I’ve seen change. After appearing in the Clarion (Bethel’s student newspaper) article about what it was like to be LGBT at Bethel, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the aftermath, even more so after studying abroad for a semester. I didn’t know what kind of ripple effect that would have and what my final semester at Bethel would look like, but I think that I’ve been pleasantly surprised to the atmosphere of openness and curiosity that’s been created on campus.

Several weeks ago, I was walking through the halls and noticed this sign outside the Student Life office. It advertised the fact that Student Life, and the message was that by extension Bethel as an institutional whole, was willing to dialogue about controversial topics. One of the little boards stated that “It’s okay to talk about sexuality,” and I think that’s a massive step forward for a Christian university, and one that I like to think I contributed to by being open and willing to take risks last year. However, I think that the vast majority of the credit goes to Bethel and the student body for having an air of openness prior to last year that was just ready for all of this change. So, I’m glad to see that magnitude of change. I’m glad to see campus pastors and Campus Ministries engaging in topics such as race and sexuality that people may try to shy away from, and I’m glad that it’s being presented as a way for everyone to learn from each other, rather than Campus Ministries throwing the Bible at people and saying that they will teach you how you should think about things and how you should react to them. Coming from a very conservative and stringent Christian background in elementary and middle school, I think that this is huge for the Christian community at Bethel, because it reminds everyone that black lives matter, that LGBT lives matter, that students with disabilities’ lives matter, that EVERYONE matters, and I think that is so crucial because it re-humanizes people, which is the first step to getting to a better place in any sort of conflict or tension.

And that openness and culture of respect that I’ve seen develop and am proud to say that I’m a part of ties into my Good Friday reflections: I think that it’s really easy for us to only selectively apply Jesus’ sacrifice, and I think that we give up on people too easily when we feel like the differences between us and them are too great.

In the midst of all the conflicts that exist in the world, I think that we need to remember to re-humanize people continually, and that’s not just something that applies to hot button topics like LGBT issues or Black Lives Matter or things like that. I think that it’s something we need to remember in any situation arising out of conflict, whether that’s conflict with your roommate or your manager at work or anyone else, because I think that in the heat of conflict, the first casualty of that conflict is usually the other person’s humanity. We start thinking of them as just being wrong or being annoying or being hurtful or being whatever might be going through our minds at the time, and all of sudden that’s all that person becomes to us. But what we need to remember is that regardless of the situation, regardless of how confident we are that we’re right, regardless of all those things, the other person is still human, for better or for worse. They’re human, and that means they make mistakes and they’re not perfect and that happens. And they’re human, and that means that they are made in the image of God and deserve our respect even when we’re not in the best of moods and even when we disagree and even when they’re treating us less than human in the same ways. Because, in the end, the blood of Jesus covers us equally and none of us is better or worse in His eyes. His sacrifice was for all of us.

And my second thought also ties into this one: I think that we give up on people too easily, whether it’s that friend who can’t seem to text you back to save their life, or that one relative who claims to be a Christian but doesn’t in any way act like it, the entire population of people of color in America, or the LGBT population. I think that American Christians give up on people too easily. They seem too hard to deal with. It seems like too much work to engage in relationships with people rather than judging them by stereotypes. It’s too frustrating. Whatever the reason we come up with, I still find myself saying that I think we give up on people too easily, and that’s a problem, especially for Christians.

Over and over in the Bible, we see that God never did that. He never gave up on us, even though I think we can all agree that He had every reason to. Just look at the Old Testament. Most Christians would agree that Israel had probably four thousand more chances than they really deserved, but God never gave up on them. In fact, he had Hosea marry a prostitute and told him to continue seeking after her when she went back to her old ways to illustrate just how much God doesn’t give up on us.

In relation to Good Friday there’s two more examples I want to point out. The first one is Peter. I think that I would probably give up on someone and cut my losses if someone denied me not once, not twice, but three times in the face of arguably the hardest and most difficult point of my entire life. I would be done and over that faster than Westboro Baptist would be over me. But that’s not what happened. After His resurrection, Jesus reconciled with Peter and told him that he would be the stone upon which the church was built, and from that passage, Roman Catholics consider Peter to be the very first Pope in many traditions.

Secondly, Jesus spoke with the criminal to His side even as He was dying on the cross. I’m pretty sure that any rational person would probably consider someone being crucified beyond hope at that point, but Jesus didn’t. Even as He was hanging there, bleeding out and in agony, He found it in Himself to reach out to someone who was being crucified right next to Him for a crime that he actually did commit. Even at the last possible moment, Jesus didn’t give up on him.

I think that those should all be examples for us as Christians today in the 21st century when we consider other people being able to get legally married as a threat to our faith system and when red Starbucks cups become an attack on Christianity. And this is all when it can take months for pastors to be investigated and dealt with for allegations of sexual abuse while a tenured professor at a Christian university can be fired in four days for even wanting to discuss perspectives on LGBT issues in a class. So, yes, I think that we give too easily on the things that actually matter while blowing insignificant things out of proportion.

So, don’t give up. LGBT Christians, don’t give up on the church. Don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on other Christians. Don’t give up on those that are Side A or Side B or whatever the opposite side is. Don’t give up when it feels like it’s getting hopeless. Don’t give up when it feels lonely. Don’t give up, because Jesus hasn’t given up on you and He’s not going to.

And mainstream Christians, don’t give up. Don’t give up when your church tells you that “homosexuals” are beyond hope and deserve to burn in hell. Don’t give up when other Christians or your church spurns you for showing love. And don’t give up on LGBT Christians or anyone else. Jesus saved the other criminal on the cross just hours or minutes before both of their deaths. Let’s follow that example that says that anything is possible and it’s never too late.

As I said at the beginning of this post, there’s been a lot of change in the past year, in both my life and the world. You don’t know how much of a difference a few months or a year will make or what God can do in that time. So keep loving. Keep persevering, and don’t give up, regardless of what it is.

As we’re in Good Friday and as the Resurrection approaches, may the Lord find you all where you are. May the memory of His sacrifice linger in our hearts past today, and may the glory and hope of His resurrection strengthen us to face whatever it is that we may encounter, reminding us never to give up.

it's okay to be searching

(this post: a reflection from this past weekend) It’s been almost a month since I’ve been back in the US, and I’m completely certain that I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel weird at times. There are days when it’s the lack of chocolate filled pastries, and then there are the days when it’s the saddening realization that the adventure really is over. This morning, it was the revelation that studying abroad and going away for almost 4 months didn’t fix some of the problems that I thought it would, the moment when I realized that instead of dealing with some things while I was gone, I ignored them instead and pushed them down, using the adventure and the limited time in a foreign country to rationalize doing so.

The specific thing on my mind this morning was my still rocky relationship with churchgoing. In the time leading up to my semester abroad, I went on a church fast for about three months that continued into the next three and a half months while I was in Spain. While I fabricated a super spiritual sounding reason for this fast, trying to find out what being a Christian really means and hipster stuff like that, the real reason I stopped going was that it was painful and maddening to go to church.

Having had a complicated and unpleasant experience toward the end of high school when I tried to come out the first time, I’d built up this wall around that part of myself. After being told that I was broken and needed to be fixed for so long, I constantly harbored this defensiveness whenever I entered a church or the presence of people that I knew to be particularly conservative. Coupled with some other interactions with other Christians I had previously considered to be friends in which I had to defend the veracity and legitimacy of my own faith, I just didn’t feel safe in church. I hated the thought that I’d probably have to explain myself and defend my faith to anyone in the room who knew about me, the thought that at 18 I’d be expected to have my theology, my faith, and my beliefs completely figured out just in order to appease people who wouldn’t even take the time to really get to know me.

So, I decided that I was done, at least for a little while. I relegated myself to worship playlists and long bouts of prayer journaling instead. I allowed myself to be real with people who, while maybe not necessarily agreeing with me one hundred percent, didn’t constantly question what I believed, who let me talk about the guys that I liked sometimes, without needing to ask me for the twelfth time if I was sure that I believed that being in a relationship was okay, people who were just my friends and not trying to be the morality police, people who trusted that I had my relationship with Jesus and that He would help me sort out the important things. And having that, having that safety and that community was something that was freeing.

But somewhere along the way, I ended up fooling myself into thinking that distance would fix everything, that after six months or so of church absence I would just be dying to get back to it. While a cute and highly romanticized idea, that wasn’t the case. I still can’t go to my old church for the same reasons, and it just sounds like a lot of work to try out another church that might leave me in the same situation. I know that’s sort of lazy reasoning, but that’s the place that I’m in, and I think God has affirmed to me that it’s an okay place to be in, because it’s okay to be searching. It’s okay to be in an in between place.

So, instead of going to church this morning, I stayed home, put on some worship music, sang to Jesus, and talked with Him for a long time. What He told me during that time is, I think, a sign that whatever this place is that I’m in right now, it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. This is what He said, through Paul’s letter to Philemon regarding his slave Onesimus who had run away, but was being sent back to His master after having met the Lord.

Formerly he [Onesimus] was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and me…I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not be forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever – no longer as a slave, but…as a dear brother.”

  • Philemon 11, 14-16

I’m not sure how long I’ll be in this intermediary place, but one thing I do know for sure is that God has me here for a reason right now, so that when He is ready for me to go back, I’ll be able to go back forever, without having to return to this place.

Even more importantly, I think it’s a good reminder that God doesn’t punish us for going through periods of searching and definitely doesn’t tell us to just suck it up and it’ll all get better if we just power through. That may be true in some cases, but not all. I think that He knows and even plans for our lives and our spiritual journeys to take detours sometimes so that we can see more of Him in a way that’s untarnished by the fallen nature of other people. Then, when we’re ready and He’s worked on us a little, He sends us back to the crowd when we’ll be able to see His face and His truth and love past the human flaws that sometimes distort the picture of Him we see, making Him that much clearer.

Until then, search on.

here now (survival + renewal)

Today’s post is coming at ya in honor of both Thanksgiving drawing near (stateside anyway) and the fact that we’ve officially passed the 20 day mark in the countdown to our departure from Spain (cue the ugly tears here). This post will probably also be a bit longer than some of the more recent ones, just as a disclaimer. #themoreyouknow For the books, we’ll be departing from Madrid on Friday, December 11, so we really only have 19 days left in Spain, since that last travel day doesn’t really count. It’s really quite soon, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve already spent close to 3 months living in a completely different country, in a different language, with families that were strangers to us not too long ago. So, everyone back home, prepare yourselves. We’ll be back to terrorize you with endless stories, suitcases full of European clothes, and flubbed uses of English in no time.

But anyway, for the majority of this post, I wanted to write about some of the things that I’ve been reflecting on as Thanksgiving approaches, namely: survival + renewal as the title of this post suggests. And what those things mean may surprise some people, because while I like to think of myself as an open book, these aren’t the things that immediately bubble to the surface.

So let me start here:

When I first left to come to Spain, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had just come off of an incredibly difficult summer of having to face a lot of demons from the past. I was all sorts of bitter, angry, and most of all, exhausted. I was ready for rest, and I kept praying that Spain Term would give me that. After all, I was taking the bare minimum number of classes and was going basically for the heck of it, since my Spanish minor was already done. Little did I know that over the next 90ish days I would not only get the rest that I needed, but also go about tackling each and every skeleton that was left in my closet, some of which were trivial things that just needed to be finished off and some which were a great deal bigger.

The biggest thing I want to focus on and something that a lot of people might not know about me is that I’ve been suicidal twice in my life. The first time was towards the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, largely provoked by one specific person, but also by others, that I won’t name here. And the second time was just earlier this year when I was struggling to reconcile who I was with the various futures before me. That’s vague, but those are long stories for other blog posts. Regardless, I’ve tended to pride myself on the fact that you would never know about this part of my life if I didn’t tell you, but the fact of the matter is that over the course of this semester, I’ve learned that those periods of darkness have weighed more heavily on me than I thought. They’ve caused fights and arguments with people that I love as a result of my inability to fully deal with them, and they’ve affected the way that I see the world and the way that I see other people. I’ve slowly chipped away that the darkness from these events, but I think that being 3,000 miles away from home finally gave me the space that I needed to take a hard look at them and put them to rest for good.

Living in another country, in another language, away from friends and family allowed me to take a step back from things that I had held close for so long. I was in a new place, in a new time, and for the most part, no one knew who I was or the things that I had gone through in the past. And I think that sense of being a blank slate this semester really magnified the extent to which some of these things continued to affect my life. I realized that I was still subconsciously trying to impress someone that had thrown me away a long time ago, and I realized that the defense mechanisms that I created in that space were still active in relationships that no longer called for them. But I think the biggest blatant call out that I received the whole semester was when we had to write our (sort of) final paper for one of our classes. The paper was supposed to consist of a letter written to the one person that, in our opinion, has influenced our life the most. It was then that I realized the magnitude of the impact that some of these things had on me, because as much as I wanted that letter to be written to one of my parents, or one of my siblings, or to my best friend, it couldn’t. And I ended up writing the letter to that guy from high school who pushed me to the brink of suicide the first time, describing everything that happened and the impact that it had. It took me four days to write that letter, a lot of them just staring at my computer screen or my notebook trying to figure out what to write.

And again I realized the kind of mentality that all of those years had left me with. I was constantly questioning what I was going to write, because after so many years of having it diminished or invalidated or not taken seriously, I felt like I had to defend my right to my pain, and if my argument didn’t hold up in that twisted court, my case would be thrown out. I had to force myself out of that mentality and tell myself that at this point, it was okay to say that it was his fault for doing it, my teachers’ fault for implying that I should just toughen up, my friends’ fault for seeing it and not doing anything, that it was anyone’s fault but mine. And something else I learned while writing that letter, something so fundamental, but at the same time something that I had to be told, is that with real pain, no one has the right to tell you that they didn’t hurt you.

After having turned in that paper, I edited the letter a little and actually sent it to the person it was addressed to, for my own healing and my own closure surrounding it. I haven’t gotten any response of substance, but that doesn’t even matter to me at this point. To me at least, I’ve discovered that just putting things out there matters more to me than how people choose to respond a lot of the time. Like, having finally told this guy everything that I wanted to say was more important than how he responded. Or telling this other boy that I liked him was more important than whether or not he felt the same way (he didn’t, in case you were wondering). Or any other example like that.

And, thus, we’ve caught up to the present, where I’m feeling a strange blend of restlessness and peace, peace because after six years, every demon from my past that has haunted me has finally been laid to rest, and restlessness because my mind just doesn’t even know what to do with the blank slate that it’s been given. There aren’t any dark secrets left to hide. There isn’t any more bitterness to swallow. There’s nothing left unsaid. There aren’t any more what ifs. The only thing left is a new chapter of life at a time when the possibilities for what’s ahead are nearly limitless.

And as Thanksgiving rolls around in the US, I’m thankful for this, and continuing to grow more and more thankful for the difficult times that cause us to grow the most. They might not be fun, and they might stretch us to the point of breaking, but those hard times always refine us more than we know at the time.

So, here’s to metaphorical fresh starts, to survival, renewal + being thankful.