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Play Your Tambourine

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When I was little, I played the tambourine for Jesus.

This probably wasn’t as strange as it sounds. I’d spent the night at my grandmother’s house and I had a dream that Jesus was hanging out there, chilling in the back room with the musical members of our congregation while they played and sang for him. I wanted to play my tambourine and sing the way I did in church, but I felt too shy and the tambourine seemed like a stupid instrument compared to the piano or guitar. After a couple of songs had been played, Jesus gestured for me to come over to him. In my little girl dream, he looked the same way he did in pictures—sweet eyes, white robes, brown hair—and he asked why I wasn’t singing with them. When I told him that I couldn’t really play anything, he handed me my tambourine. I can’t remember exactly what he said now, but it was something along these lines:

“Don’t worry about what they’re doing. You do what you can do. Play your tambourine. I like to hear you play.”

When I told my grandmother about the dream later, she said that it meant I should do something with music. That explanation worked until I got a little older and could see the more obvious meaning—that I shouldn’t worry about what others could offer God, but give instead what I was able to give. Of course, even this was in the context of Christianity. Now that I’m no longer associated with the religion, it, too, seems confining.

Still, I’ve been hesitant to toss the dream aside. It’s one of the few from my childhood that I remember, and I’ve always been a strong believer in the idea that these things happen for a reason. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, though, that I realized what this dream means to me now.

I may not subscribe to any particular doctrine, but I do know that faith has made amazing things happen. God and spirituality are not my enemies; discrimination, hate, and fear-mongering take that unfortunate role. I am not a Christian. It’s been years since I’ve tried to tell anyone about how it feels to be born again. I’m unable to so much as attend a Unitarian Universalist church regularly because there aren’t any close to where I’m living. I still can’t play the piano or guitar well. There are probably a lot of people in this world who would write me straight on into Hell.

But you know what?

I can play my tambourine.

There are Christians out there who are doing marvelous things, just as there are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Wiccans, atheists, Muslims, and people in every other category you can think of who are doing marvelous things. They all have their part to play. Each of those parts is important.

There will be lost souls who are looking for the love of Jesus Christ, and there will be troubled minds longing for the peace of Buddhism. There will be those who need to let go and flow with the Tao. I probably won’t be able to give any of them what they’re longing for spiritually, but there are people I can help. Besides, the fact that someone is of another religion doesn’t mean I can’t fill his hungry belly or help her recover after some monster has abused her. It doesn’t mean that we can’t learn things from each other or that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with our relationship.

Being an atheist doesn’t mean that you’re unable to look at the world with wonder.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that you’re irrational.

Being a Unitarian Universalist doesn’t mean that I can’t fulfill the obligations presented to me in a dream I had of Jesus Christ.

Jesus told me to play my tambourine and not to worry about measuring up to other people’s standards, so I won’t. I am performing in the only way I know how, and even if no one else thinks it’s worthy, I know that it is just as important as anyone else’s effort. I can be nothing other than the best version of what I am. I’ve given up trying.

Play your heart out.

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Valentine’s Day

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At some point I stopped referring to Valentine’s Day as Single’s Awareness Day. It didn’t happen because I was in the joyful throes of a relationship. It happened because, eventually, I stopped caring that I wasn’t.

During the holidays, opinions are bounced around a lot. Is Christmas about Christ, family, or presents? Is Easter about Jesus or a bunny rabbit? Is Halloween about candy, about witchcraft, about Satan, about spirits, or about something different altogether? There is no right answer. What’s historically correct doesn’t mean much. The world is constantly changing. What a holiday means to someone has to do with how that particular person decides to celebrate it, not what anyone else dictates.

So is Valentine’s Day about sex and roses? Sure. Just not to me.

For me, Valentine’s Day is about having fun and feeling love. I’m not only talking about romantic love, either. It can be love for your partner, your friends, your family, or yourself. This year, I wore pink and yellow eyeshadow, stockpiled candy for friends, wrote a card for my roommate, got an “I love you!” text from my mom, was treated to Logan’s with my family by my grandpa, treated my stepdad to dinner at Panera, ate cookies with heart-shaped sprinkles, and felt pretty much delightful. Before the clock hits midnight, there will be no kisses, no surprise dates, no bouquets. Still, my heart is full.

Life is the big romance. -Francesca Lia Block

I have an awesome family, and for all our disagreements, I know they love me.

I’m blessed with friends who are witty and kind and who know how to cook a lot better than I do.

I get to go to work three days a week to watch cartoons, draw pictures of princesses and baby seals, and see adorable little faces beaming up at me.

I know that, if I try, I can find a place in the world where I will feel happy, appreciated, and useful, and that if the place isn’t where I thought it would be, it’s probably because there was a better place somewhere else.

If I had a word to explain my vision of God, it would be Love…because even if you can’t always see it or feel it, it’s there. It’s mysterious and sometimes hard to find and even harder to define. It’s scary and it’s infinite and it’s wonderful. It might come easily or with difficulty, but if you call it long enough, it will always come.

I am drenched in, filled with, awed by love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

(Bonus: You can read Francesca Lia Block’s short story, Safe Love, here. It’s where the above FLB quote is taken from, and there are some things in it that I think are important to keep in mind during times like Valentine’s Day.)

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Happy Holidays!

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TWLOHA Day

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Ask Yourself: What Did Life Teach You Yesterday?

I thought I’d implement something new into my blog posts. No, I don’t mean the Facebook “Like” button and the Twitter button, though those are pretty cool and I urge you to use them with reckless abandon. Wink wink. Nudge nudge.

But all joking aside (for now), I decided it was time to try out a theme apart from TiLT.

Welcome to the first of Breadcrumbs’ Ask Yourself entries!

from here

I’m the sort who is constantly brooding over some nonsense or another, so it only makes sense that I would eventually entice my readers into doing the same. Hopefully, though, the questions that I ask will have meaning. Here’s the game plan:

  1. Post an entry every week or so asking a world-shaking, life-altering, brain-challenging…or, okay, maybe just interesting question.
  2. Post my response to that question. This may be part of the entry or simply a comment.
  3. Invite readers to do the same.

As for where these questions will come from, well…that will vary. Sometimes I’ll get them directly from other sources, sometimes I may draw inspiration from a favorite blogger, and sometimes they’ll come straight from my own ponderings.

Sound good? I hope so.

Today’s question is from Thought Questions, a site which asks a question a day with the help of a beautiful image. I intended to flip through the site to try and glean some inspiration, but found the very first question to be quite pertinent to my own life.


What did life teach you yesterday?

Yesterday wasn’t the best day for me. I was feeling the lowest of my lows—that is, mostly, lost.

I can’t know and won’t claim to know the way most people operate, but I can tell you that, for me to get through my life successfully, I need to have a sense of purpose. I don’t always keep this goal in the forefront of my mind, but it’s there for me to refer back to when I need it. For me, everything has a raison d’être. We may not be able to see it immediately, but it’s there. Thus, I think it’s very, very important for an individual to find his or her reasona purpose, a passion, the thing that makes you come alive, the thing you can offer the world, the area in which you absolutely shine—and chase after it.

Well, for the past couple of days, I haven’t been feeling that purpose. Instead, I’ve been feeling sad, trapped, mediocre, useless, lonely, and more than a little on the hopeless side. It seemed like I’d lost my raison d’être. There isn’t one particular thing I can blame for this; it was a culmination of all the stuff that had or hadn’t been going on in my life.

I’m not going to say that I did some Blue’s Clues steps, came to a magical epiphany, and will now be focused and positive for the rest of my life. I’m inclined to believe things don’t really work that way. What I did realize is that, no matter what I achieve, I am always going to have my moments of doubt, my moments of feeling helpless and confused. It has happened before and it will happen again. But the great thing about those moments is that, when you finally do zone back into focus, you return with a renewed vigor.

“Ah,” you’ll say, peering through the undergrowth and gnarled trees of self-pity, “There’s the path! Now, I’ve been thinking about the best way to get over these roots…”

And so yesterday’s downward spiral gave way to this morning’s relative calm of sitting down and figuring out where to go from here. One thing about plans is that they have a tendency to change. The life purpose you carved for yourself in fifth grade is probably not the same one you’re chasing now, and in any case, there is more than one way to get somewhere. You have to find the way that works best for you, and sometimes, that means watching in fear and awe as the old way breaks down.

When I was little, I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. Then an English teacher. Then an author. Then a writer with a day job as a graphic designer. Then a writer with a day job as a psychologist. Then a psychologist who maybe wrote on the side. Now I’m not sure what I want to do—I love to write, I think psychology is one of the most varied and interesting subjects of study on the planet, I’m an activist at heart, and, hey, I still sing all the time.

But it doesn’t really matter what I end up doing. See, under the rich chocolate coating of all of the things I love is one thing I love even more: people. I want to give my contribution to making the world a better place for us to be. Whether that happens through my writing, through counseling practice, or through some questionable singing ability is much less important than that it happens at all.

I’ll leave you with this song that’s been tugging at my heartstrings today.

Don’t forget to leave your answer to today’s question in a comment! (You don’t need a WordPress account to leave one.) Also, please tell me what you think about the idea of having these Ask Yourself entries. I’d love to hear feedback! (:

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Let It Go

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I’ve never considered myself an angry person.

Sure, there are things that happened in my past I find hard to let go. There are people who can set me off with a word. And, okay, occasionally, my anger is misplaced. But doesn’t that happen to everyone? I’m willing to bet that most of us have snapped at someone who didn’t deserve it. It’s normal. But normalcy, I’ve found, doesn’t always make right. We’re also conditioned to accept bullying, to accept being mistreated, to accept many forms of discrimination. And so I wonder…how much of this anger is healthy, and how much of it is harming us?

I went through a number of years where I couldn’t have a good relationship with my mother. I don’t mean where I didn’t, I mean where I couldn’t; it seemed like five minutes spent together would inevitably turn to bickering. We didn’t understand each other. My grades were a constant source of friction, then my perceived godlessness, my disrespect. She thought it had to do with my self-confidence, how much time I spent on the computer, the people I hung around, and the fact that I just didn’t seem to care anymore. This was true only in the most surface way. The thing is, most twelve-year-olds don’t have existential meltdowns. People assume you’re supposed to still be talking about your future as a vet, not questioning God and life and purpose, certainly not struggling with depression. Yet there I was.

My family didn’t know how to talk to me, help me, or even discipline me because they had no idea what I was going through. I don’t blame them; no matter how much you love someone, you’ll never completely understand what goes on in that person’s head. But as much as I don’t blame them now, oh, I did blame them then.

It’s hard when the people who are supposed to be closest to you don’t understand you. Hell, it’s hard enough when some of the most insignificant people in your life don’t understand you. We all have very different ways of thinking and different ways of dealing with things. What hurts you may not bother others, and what you laugh off could absolutely kill them.

Here’s my point: life isn’t easy. When people are thrown together in something as crazy as our reality, disagreements are bound to happen. People are going to hurt you, and they are going to make you angry. Sometimes it may be bad enough that you will want to hurt them. Sometimes it may be bad enough that you will want to hurt yourself. Sometimes it will be what haunts your dreams at night. You’ll spend years gnashing your teeth without knowing why. The entirety of your pain may boil down to a moment. The person you love most in the world will, somehow, someway, someday, let you down.

You are going to have to let it go.

No. Listen.

You are going to have to let it go.

from here

I wasted a lot of my time when I was younger being miserable. I came to understand eventually that I needed to be the one who pulled myself out of the pit I was in, but it’s taken me much longer to understand that I had managed, in my time spent there, to make that hole even deeper.

Keeping so much pain and anger inside of you is not healthy. Yes, you can wield your hate against people; you can turn it into a weapon, and you can turn it back on them. But if someone stabs you, stabbing them isn’t going to make your blood stop flowing. You can use your anger to push you forward, which might work until you realize that the person you’re angry with doesn’t care what you’re doing or, moreover, you don’t even like what you’re doing. You’re fulfilled by doing the things you care about because you find joy in them, not because someone else can’t stand them.

It sucks that you’ve been hurt. If you’re thinking you didn’t deserve it, you’re probably right. You probably didn’t. None of us really deserve the hateful things we do to each other. But keeping it with you is not going to help. It’s only going to hurt you more.

Stop hurting yourself.

See, forgiveness is not always for the person you’re forgiving. At least, it doesn’t always start out that way. Maybe someday you can forgive them because they are fatally human, but that’s not what I’m asking you to do right now. I’m asking you to forgive them so that you won’t have to lug those emotions around anymore. It doesn’t mean you have to put yourself in a position to have them hurt you again. It just means you have to try and let go of the pain they’ve wrought before.

It’s saying, “What you did may not be okay, but I will be okay.”

It’s saying, “What you did was not my choice, and I won’t carry it around with me anymore.”

It’s saying, “This is not worth ruining my life over.”

After that, you can figure out whether you want to split ties. You can decide whether that particular person’s company can make you happy in the future, whether it’s a relationship you want to keep, or whether you should go your separate ways. Whatever you choose is okay. You also don’t have to do this all at once. Go ahead and get that anger out. Write down, or say, or scream, exactly what has happened to make you feel the way you feel about a particular person. Often at the end, when you are raw and tired from the release, you’ll find it much easier to let all of that stuff go instead of packing it back inside.

I’m not an angry person. But at some points, I definitely have been. Now, if I am going to be angry, I am going to be angry at the things I can change, not at people. Christians say that we should love the sinner and hate the sin. Well, I am fully prepared to be furious at injustice, at the senseless suffering that surrounds me, at homophobia and racism and a myriad of other terrible things. Funnily enough, though, the only thing that can fix these—that can heal our broken world—is a whole lot of goodness and love. Hate doesn’t fix hate. Love fixes hate.

Forgive the people who have hurt you. Most of all, forgive yourself.

Then the healing can begin.

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Gay Rights

Let me tell you a bit about where I come from.

I was raised in a Southern town stereotype. Yes, everyone knew everyone else. Yes, camouflage was a part of the  dress code. My parents and brother are even now living on a road with such treasures as old appliances lying in the yard, meth-addicted neighbors (mostly gone now), and two trailers jammed together to make a pseudo doublewide. My family, especially my grandparents, are the type to implement warm Southern hospitality and serve plenty of taters n’ cornbread. They are warm, kind people, if not exactly progressive, and I love them very much.

That said, living in such a small town environment meant that I had to deal with a lot of things that come along with it. I heard jokes surrounding Obama’s presidency that went along the lines of, “They call it the White House, not the Black House, for a reason!”. I saw friendships break apart because someone had a religious viewpoint that was different from the norm. One of my own family members voted for a particular candidate during one election because his wife seemed nicer than the other candidate’s and he came from a “good Christian background”.

And then, of course, there was homophobia.

After years of worrying about when to be quiet about my viewpoints and when to speak up, years of watching my more flamboyant friends be tormented, I thought college would be different. In college, I was going to be a much more unedited version of myself. In college, I would be allowed to explore my spirituality and sexuality and political ideals to my heart’s content.

So I came, I joined Listen–pretty much our version of a GSA–and I joined the Unitarian Universalist group. Now, I knew that Listen was an unofficial group. Students have been trying to get a damn GSA here since the 1990s. I learned that UUBC was not getting recognized as a Religion in Life group because it did not officially consider Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. There is, it seems, a Jewish group on campus that is recognized, but they don’t go beneath the “not considering Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior” umbrella because Judaism is a more widely-accepted practice.

Pardon?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are amazing students, faculty, and staff here. Most of them do not agree with our president’s choice to not allow Listen and UUBC the things they deserve. There was a small uproar over the fact that the college is not allowing domestic partnership benefits to its employees. And, to be fair, it isn’t just the president, although he isn’t shy in giving his opinion of our heathen ways. There’s also the board of trustees, and the rich old white men who wouldn’t want to donate to a college that hosted a GSA, nevermind the alumni who specifically stated that they would donate if we DID host a GSA.

Anyway, the point is, it’s not a battle against one person (even if that one person wrote a very underhanded article indirectly putting down UUBC and Listen under the assumption that we’re “self-indulgent” and don’t adhere to the correct Christian moral standards). It’s a battle against the homophobia and ignorance that plagues some of the people around here, including the ones in charge. It’s a battle for religious freedom, and LGBTQ rights, and student rights. And it’s not just here. It’s all over America, all over the world.

Why can people not marry who they want to marry, when they live and love and work and pay taxes just like everyone else?

Why do so many LGBTQ people commit suicide? Why is that, even if they aren’t LGBTQ, the mere idea that they are can lead to so much bullying from others that they feel the only way to stop it is to take their own lives?

Why is the name of God, who is supposed to be the root of all kindness and love, used to tell others they are going to burn in hell? Why, when He does not discriminate, does not turn anyone away, and loves us with a force so strong that humans cannot begin to comprehend it, are some church doors closed to letting people in?

Why is it any of your business what anyone else does in their own bedrooms, provided that it’s consensual and no one is getting hurt?

When love is the most precious thing anyone can have, the thing that moves mountains, the things that compels people to be kind to others and rescues those who would have died without it–why is the practice of that love considered illegal, or dirty, or a sin?

It makes no sense to me, and I don’t see how it can make sense to anyone else.

Yesterday, I went to the Summit at Kennesaw State University. I was surrounded by LGBTQ people and allies. I listened to the story of a boy who started a GSA at his high school, helped to give willing faculty there the opportunity to go through Safe Space training, and is even now working to push through a more specific non-bullying standard in his county that means bullying will not be tolerated because of race, ethnicity, religion, physical attributes, orientation, gender, gender expression, and so on. I listened to a man who works as a drag queen and his worries about how his son will feel about him when he realizes that he is not only Brian, but Nicole Paige Brooks, and about how his son will be treated, even raised in an environment that is much more gay-friendly than mine. I learned more about the history of the LGBTQ community than I’d ever known before, and it makes me so sad…and so full of hope that things can get better.

The biggest thing I’ve discovered in all of this, I think, is that we need not resign ourselves to the way things are. This world is not static, but for anything to happen, someone has to be pushing it. Giving up is saying that this inequality is okay when it isn’t okay. I won’t accept it. And you shouldn’t, either.

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