Wearing the Word Brave: a guest post on Mudroom Blog

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It’s dark in here, I told him, but all the lights in the room are on. It’s the first thing I can think of to explain my knees bouncing and my teeth chattering, even though I’m not cold.

I am out of control.

I am helpless, at the mercy of my brain.

I am utterly terrified.

I used to run from the fear. But it followed me from church to church, friendship to friendship, argument to argument. I would fall asleep gripped with terror, clinging to anything in reach until I learned to cling to myself, to cling to the hope that joy comes in the morning.

I used to fight the fear. I would bare my teeth and roar, but the cold would still seep into my bones and I’d still find myself shivering. Fear was the great archenemy of my soul, and so I took on every battle and sought everything I could to eradicate the terror like it was a cancer.

I used to outlearn the fear. If I just knew enough, if I read enough books and conducted enough research and found words to explain the panic, it would go away like breaking a magic spell. So I studied history, psychology, sociology, poetry, art, whatever I could to understand the mystery of the human condition. Knowledge is power, I would say, tattooing the word brave on my neck and going on coffee dates with strangers and giving speeches.

You are fearless, they would say in awe. I wish I were as strong as you. And I used to let them say it and not correct them, because it felt nice and I craved their admiration. But if I could go back, I would have stopped them. I would have said, Thank you very much, but I’m afraid you’re wrong.

Read the rest over here.

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When our opinions no longer matter: LGBT and loving others well

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The internet has pretty much been in an uproar for the last few days over the news about Caitlyn Jenner, previously known as the famous Olympian Bruce Jenner, and her transformation and introduction into the public eye as a woman. I have seen opinions ranging from “YOU GO GIRL! Werk it!” to “Bruce will never be a woman. He is sick and needs serious psychological attention” and everything in between.

We sure like our opinions, don’t we? And more than that, we like to voice our opinions loud and clear for the rest of the world to hear them.

I used to have opinions about people who identified as LGBT. It was actually a topic I felt pretty strongly about. But then I had a friend come out to me for the first time. And I read the story of a young man who was raised an Evangelical Christian and was thrown out of his home when he came out to his parents as gay. And I read from my friend Ben Moberg about what it’s like to be a gay Christian. I learned that 1 out of every 4 kids who identify as transgender will attempt suicide at some point during their lifetime. Although LGBT youth make up only 10% of minors in the U.S., they represent 20% of homeless youth.

LGB youth are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide if they come from highly rejecting families.

And when I put faces to those numbers, my sweet friends being thrown out into the streets when they needed love and loyalty the most, changed me.

Those statistics are not okay.

The fact that we choose our opinions over saving livesis not okay.

What are we doing? What the hell are we thinking, that being right matters more than being kind. We are majorly missing the point, friends. If we haven’t figured it out by now, it doesn’t actually matter whether we think it’s right or wrong, because kids are coming out anyway and gender changes are still happening and they’re still going to, regardless of our personal convictions.

Because, while the Bible is gray about sexuality, the Bible has never been gray about love.

Love is not a gray area. There are no exceptions. No one off-limits. And we don’t have to agree with the life choices of someone in order to be their friend. (If you are only friends with people who agree with you, you are missing out on a much richer life.)

I don’t know what you believe, friend. But I hope you can set them aside sometimes to recognize that the world is much bigger than the lens you see it through.

Your opinions will not save you. Only God can do that.

Caitlyn Jenner is brave because she, of all people—a previous Olympian—knows that we don’t know how to accept people who operate outside of the norm. She knew there would be hate and there would be judgment, even from her own family. She chose to make a space for herself anyway. And I deeply respect that.

It’s time to stop the witch hunt, and it’s time to stop whining that we’re so persecuted that we’re actually expected to treat everyone fairly. It’s time to acknowledge that we have not loved others well. It’s time to acknowledge that we are beginners, not experts on this topic, and to start from ground zero and go up from there.

It’s time to listen, and it’s time to humanize those we don’t agree with. Otherwise we are no better.

IFWC, Lena Dunham, and the epidemic of oversharing

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I had the privilege of attending the Indiana Faith and Writing Conference last weekend. I’ll be honest – I went into the conference expecting to get very little out of it, since I assumed the conference was for writers of fiction. It actually turned out to be a great conference and well worth my time (thank goodness!).

The very first session I went to was with Nate Pyle, a fellow blogger and thinker, and with him I found a kindred spirit. He had my attention with some of his earliest words: authenticity is the new Christian buzzword. AMEN AND AMEN. I think vulnerability and authenticity are not just Christianity’s new buzzwords, but our entire culture. Just look at Lena Dunham.

I know everyone has something to say about the chaos surrounding Lena and her story. Several bloggers have written great articles on why oversharing is so dangerous, and I don’t want to regurgitate their words to you. But I think this is a conversation we need to be having. Why is there such a pull to tell too much online?

Another thing Nate said was protect the stories of others, and I think that should be in some kind of blogger manifesto. It is our responsibility as storytellers to only tell the stories that are ours. Even if Lena got her sister’s permission, the story isn’t really Lena’s to tell. It was her sister’s. And that story should have been gently cared for and protected, not laid out under a microscope for people to analyze and evaluate.

I think Nate said it best when he said this: take where you are one step further. And that doesn’t always mean sharing more – sometimes it means being challenged to share less. We hide behind our strong opinions and make them our mask instead of saying I just don’t know; I don’t have all the answers. I might not be interesting enough for the internet if I don’t tell you about what makes me cry at night or the last date I went on, but I have to be willing to risk being boring if that means I can be a safe person and a good friend to the people I know offscreen. Because if I don’t, my online presence might flourish but my real life friends won’t.

The people you love are worth the risk. Save your stories for them. And by doing so, you invite them to love you better than any Facebook friends or Twitter followers can.

From apathy to empathy: why we must press on

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There is so much to be discouraged by in our world right now. Can I get an amen? Child brides, terrible education systems around the world, racial and sexual oppression, the economy, the Church…we have every reason to feel disheartened.

The Church has not been good to us. And we find ourselves in these same circular conversations, over and over. We are not reaching each other, we are not understood, and so we give up and turn inward. The world has been sitting heavy on our shoulders lately, beckoning us into despair. We are tired. It makes sense to throw in the towel.

It’s hard to keep loving and investing in the people who are making the decisions that hurt us so deeply. But we can. not. stop.

In a culture of apathy, it is our job to care. In a world that has numbed itself to the pain of others and ourselves, we must shoulder the burden of feeling. We must claim ownership of the world and do what we can to make it beautiful. We are designed to bring beauty, and so we will bring it with everything we have until there is no more beauty left to deliver.

We are the deliverers of God’s message of love to all the Peoples of every nation, and we must go on fulfilling our call until we are no longer able. We must speak for the voiceless, give to those who have nothing, love the unloved, speak truth in the faces of liars, and we must never give up. This is what we’re made for. We were designed to be disturbed and hurt by injustice. Our hearts were made to break with the dying, we were meant to feel the hunger of the starving, we were created to share in the pain of the wounded as a motivator towards change. If we bury our compassion, we bury what makes us humans and not monsters.

Oh, it hurts, to care. It hurts when people think you’re too passionate, but what other appropriate response is there when you read about a woman selling her body to feed her family? When you see the faces of thousands of starving children?

There is no appropriate response other than the ache. And so we must lean in and bleed together, because discomfort is always at the root of change.

We must never stop trying to be understood and to understand. We cannot afford to let the conversations die.

 

photo cred: Bill Phan

The one where I apply to give a TED talk

Three weeks ago, the beautiful and talented Sarah Kay sent out a Facebook post with a link to the TED blog, saying something along the lines of, “TED@NYC is looking for poets and artists and creative inspirational people, so you should all go ahead and apply!”. I clicked on the link and went to the blog, read the requirements, and realized Hey! I fulfill all of these! Why not send in a video?

So I did.

It seemed pretty ordinary to me, but my brother thought it was basically the coolest thing ever. I reminded him that the chances of me getting in were pretty slim.

When he asked me if he could tell his friends, I asked why? I will probably never stand on that stage, never deliver my speech, and never make it onto the famed TED Website.

To which he replied, “It’s okay, it’s awesome that you even tried.

 

How often do we try?

How often do we aim for something truly unlikely, just because?

How often do we take the risk of failing just to smile and shrug our shoulders and say, it’s okay, it’s awesome that I tried.

I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what kind of storm you’re facing. But the worst thing you can do is refuse to try. The people who earn respect for themselves are the ones who pick themselves up, dust the crap off their jeans and keep trudging forward. Those are the people who learn to smile when they see themselves in the mirror.

And maybe I’ll risk sounding like a broken record with this one, but champ, keep on keeping on. Don’t stop trying. Don’t throw in the towel. Try something you’re sure to fail at, just so you can smile and say hey, I tried.

That alone makes you awesome.

I join the Word of the Year bandwagon

I don’t know if you’re a New Year’s resolution kind of person, but I have learned that I am not. I struggle to stick to a hands-on concept for growth that works for me all year long. I’m usually trying too hard to do what worked for somebody else, or trying to come up with something that sounds nice and meaningful.

The thing with resolutions is that you must be resolute. You have to be set on your goal, and I am usually not. I’m forgetful and easily unmotivated, or I’ll get overwhelmed. Giving myself more things to do is not usually the best way to set me free.

Right around the time when I officially threw in the towel on New Year’s resolutions, I discovered the Word of the Year – basically, New Year’s resolutions for writers. I’ve seen people doing this for several years now, but I’m always a little reluctant to join something particularly mainstream(haha). I was a little skeptical at how cliché it sounded, but after a little more research (this post really did the trick), I’ve decided to give it a try for 2014.

I chose the word that is more like my life mantra – the weapon I bear in battle. The word that brings tears to my eyes effortlessly.

Brave.

It’s my word. It’s my desire. I don’t remember ever wanting anything more than I want to be brave. So it seemed appropriate, for my very first word, to choose a word that I’ve been carrying into every year since I can remember. My soul-word.

I want to be brave.

Here I come, 2014. In the words of Katy Perry, you’re gonna hear me roar.