All posts by ehjae

photographer of life and love~ ehjaephotography.com

A Beautiful Spring Day

 

Women have to be on high alert at all times. “Is this person socially-awkward, friendly and harmless or should I be calculating an escape to stay alive and safe?”

It was a Beautiful Spring Day.

I was watching my step,

Carefree.

Careful with my camera.

Don’t fall. Don’t fall.

Suddenly I hear it,

That shrill sound. That whistle.

Call of the predator. 

Unwelcome.

Uninvited intrusion

into my Beautiful Spring Day.

Now I’m alert.

No longer focused on my steps.

Which escape route should I take?

Is this man harmless or unsafe?

Are his friend accomplices or amused witnesses?

I could fight him,

but could I fight three?

Why is this street so quiet?

Where is my phone?

Where did all of the pedestrians go?

Ignore his words while you calculate your escape.

Could my dog jump out to help if I needed?

Would I be heard if I screamed and–

I know that I’m pretty.

I don’t need your compliments.

I didn’t dress for your pleasure.

Finally at my car.

Lock the doors.

Drive away.

I just wanted to enjoy a Beautiful Spring Day.

 


 

I was outside at 4 PM this afternoon. It was a decently busy street. Several cars and pedestrians had passed by and I was just finishing up taking some photos for a real estate listing. I had just put my things into my car so that I didn’t have to worry about them while I took the last few photos that I needed. I walked about two car lengths away from my vehicle to get the right angle and as I was taking the shot, I heard someone whistle at me and the hairs went up on the back of my neck. There is an innate survival instinct that lives inside of women. We have learned to quiet it, “Don’t be such a crazy person, he’s just being nice.” But it should be allowed to roar.

This man stood between me and my car. He stood too close. He looked at me too eagerly. He asked questions that were none of his business. When I stepped back to reclaim my personal space, I saw two men standing in the area from which he had come. They were just observing.  I looked around. Suddenly, I was I was keenly aware of several details. My phone was in the car with my other belongings. The once busy street was eerily silent. I had opened the windows as wide as they would go for my dogs. I calculated best, worse, and the worst scenarios and started to envision my plan of attack. Would I throw my camera in his face, race around him and jump in my car? Should I tell him to shut up and risk angering him into violence? Was he just an awkward and harmless old man, brought up with the misguided belief that the way he was talking somehow pleased women?

Dear people who think that the world is “too sensitive” and that “you can’t even say hi to a pretty girl these days”,

Get over it.

We’re learning to listen to the lioness inside who roars to protect us, and she will not be silenced.

 

Advertisements

Dear Church

Before you read this, I want to make it clear that I am not addressing a specific church but rather a specific group of people that exist within all churches. 

It’s been a while since I entered the doors of your building; any of your buildings. Your houses of worship have slowly but surely morphed into a treacherous place. Every day I grieve the safety of your spaces and being with your people.

I used to fit in so well. I sang your songs. I prayed your prayers. I hung out with your people. I memorized your scriptures. I loved your songs. I loved your prayers. I loved your people. And I LOVED God’s word.

Many of your members have probably written me off as having abandoned my faith or turning my back on Jesus. The truth is that it seems like many have turned their backs on love, faith and kindness, and usually these members are the loudest among you. I have slowly watched as the belief systems I clung to and admittedly ascribed to with adamance and self-righteousness have fallen beside me. Slowly, all the theology has stripped down to a simple and desperate plea to God that His two greatest commands were still true. “Love God and love your neighbour”, while watching your members consistently choose to prioritize beliefs and principles over other people.

I can relate. I get it. I grew up within your doors. I know these scriptures on which this theology is built. I understand the vehement march for TRUTH.

I know part of it is my own fault. I’ll admit that. It’s impossible to become close with others without vulnerability and I’m no longer comfortable being vulnerable. What causes my vulnerability doesn’t fit into the category of “acceptable things to struggle with as a Christian”. I didn’t know this category existed until I found myself in this dark space and I had to wade through the thoughts and structures that had formulated through years of youth group, Bible School, Bible studies and like-minded peer groups. No one told me there was such a category, not outright. But we were taught these ideas from a young age.

The thing is that while I still know these things, I have changed. I’m hurt. I now personally understand the nuances and complexity of being human.  I’ve felt really uncomfortable walking through your front doors, but still I persisted. I was desperate to find that same sense of belonging.

As the change occurred within me, I began to be quiet. I listened. I watched. I systematically categorized people as “safe” or “unsafe”. I began to mourn the friendships that I once believed to be supportive. I could see that when I no longer checked off all of the “Christian” boxes, I was no longer worth pursuing, nor did my heart/thoughts/values matter anymore. I had too many things to sort through and not enough answers. Jesus felt far away and I had never experienced such a silent time in my spiritual life. Some of your members tried.  But it was often people I wasn’t close with so it made me grateful yet simultaneously anxious. The ones closest to me that I could bring myself to reach out to would eventually slip into silence, or the occasional “ We should get together” when they uncomfortably found themselves face to face with me.

 

A consistent theme began to show up: Non-Christians were the people who surrounded me without preaching, without spouting off scriptures.  They didn’t need me to fit into a mold, they didn’t need some kind of elaborate change to take place in my journey, and they sat with me in my pain without forcing anything. Non-Christians seem to be more comfortable with angry truths without immediate resolution and letting people work things out in silence. I was guilty of this before everything happened. I talked too much, didn’t listen enough, and wasn’t comfortable sitting with someone in their pain. I now understand how divisive and isolating that is.

For self-preservation, I began to observe. For the most part, I listened to the words people spoke or shared. I listened as your members words spoke to me while they were actually writing to someone else on the internet. Their words slapped me with the blunt self-righteousness that I also once had. I don’t think your members know how easily they slam your doors shut with the words that they speak.

Systematically, your members showed me which of your doors I could never enter. I don’t know which place is safe, but I do know which ones aren’t. It’s not God’s fault. It’s your people, those loud ones I mentioned. Arrogant. Proud. Unwilling to listen to those willing to be vulnerable enough to share. Fighting for “TRUTH” at all costs even if it costs the commandment to “Love your neighbour”. As I’ve been observing, arrogance and pride masquerade in many different ways. Condescension and an unwillingness to apologize is one of the most common ways I’ve seen it. Many of your members treat others as if they are “illogical”, “unknowledgeable”, and “too emotional” without being willing to listen to any other schools of thought. Don’t get me wrong, I have studied and understand the concept of absolute truth, so I won’t need your members to explain that logic to me. I get it. But I also think that we oversimplify and miss the point. All I wish for is a bit more patience, or kindness, or just a plain acknowledgement that some of the topics your members address can be really painful and personally relevant subjects. Meanwhile, for your members, it’s just a non-truth that needs to be debunked for the sake of politics or in the pursuit of truth.

I know some of your members might be upset by this “attack”, claiming that I’m too sensitive, or I haven’t put in the work to get right with God etc.  I suppose that is their prerogative to feel that way. I just had to say this because it’s been so long since I have walked into one of your buildings, and even longer since I felt like I belonged there.

Writing that sentence broke my heart. I didn’t leave because I hated you, I left because I couldn’t stay.

It saddens me to say this, but the most love, kindness, patience and acceptance that I’ve found have been with people outside of your doors and outside of your organizations. So for now, I guess that’s where I’ll stay. I’ll drive past your doors each Sunday and wonder if the day will come again when I will ever feel safe enough to enter.

.

 

How Aziz Ansari has changed my life for the better and hopefully yours too.

This whole Aziz Ansari situation has opened up a door for me to say some things I have been holding in for years.  I didn’t necessarily want to, but the narrative has deafened all other thoughts while the words gathered and churned loudly in my mind.

To start, there are some people who will read this and learn about something deeply embedded inside of my soul and wonder why I didn’t tell them.  While I am not sorry for doing what I needed to do in order to find healing and protect myself, I am sorry if it upsets you to be reading this instead of hearing it directly from me.  I don’t want people to act differently around me. I’ve also held it in because I worry that speaking out will somehow negate my opinion on certain topics. It’s almost like I can hear some people’s thoughts, “Oh. That’s why she’s fighting for women’s rights. She hates men because of what happened to her.” Please hear me. I do not hate men.  I do hate how society is structured for situations like what happened with Aziz Ansari to be normalized. That’s what I want to change.

(Also, true feminism is not at the expense of men’s rights, in case we need to clarify that. If you want to chat more about feminism, let me know.)

Years ago, I was hanging out with a friend. Well, he was more than a friend. We were definitely interested in each other, so I had a conversation with him. I told him that I was a virgin and that I planned to keep it that way until I was married.  He assured me that it didn’t matter and that we could continue as we were. Later that week he went back on his word, forced what he wanted without asking and changed the course of my life. I hadn’t consented. I hadn’t been given the opportunity to consent. Naively, I thought that what I had told him before was enough.  Afterwards I cried and he held me tenderly. It was weird. As he was leaving, I made a joke about not being a virgin anymore and laughed (bitterly), because humour is my defence mechanism and what I resort to in awkward moments.  We spent a lot of time together in the weeks following. I was confused. I was hurt. I hadn’t said no in the moments leading up to what happened.  I hadn’t had a chance, it had progressed so quickly. But I also hadn’t expressed to him that I had changed my mind. Because I hadn’t. The thoughts and questions were numerous and flooded my brain more quickly than I could process them.

I had been clear in our conversation about how I felt about sex, hadn’t I?

What had I done for him to interpret that I had magically and silently changed my mind?

I liked him. So, I must have wanted it, right?

Who takes someone’s virginity violently, aggressively and without checking in with them, without even asking if they were ready?

He’s a nice guy. He wouldn’t do that unless he liked me, so I’m probably just being sensitive because my plans for my life have changed.

It goes on and on.

So, I spent a lot more time with him. I tried to “redeem” the situation. Maybe we would date. Maybe I was so into him subconsciously that I really had wanted that to happen. Maybe it was his intense feelings for me that led to that situation. Every time I came to that conclusion, I immediately knew that it wasn’t true. Because men are more than just wild animals with no control over their actions. I felt anxious and trapped by the thought of being with this person, yet I couldn’t understand why I kept spending time with him. I felt like he owned me.  I felt cheap, dirty, and used- but I figured that was all I could get, now that I was a “slut”.

I also was determined to not let what had happened affect me or my life. I decided that I would take this secret with me to the grave. No one needed to know. Obviously, this doesn’t work.

As time went on, the right people came into my life at the right time. The healing process began. One night, I told a brand new friend what had happened in a weird moment of desperation and trust. That was the first moment I acknowledged what had happened and was even able to accept the word “rape” in my vocabulary.
Another new friend gave me a book, “Dear Sister“. I cannot fully express the freedom I experienced from reading words written by strangers that seemed to come from my own soul.

Sometimes it is easier to share your darkest moments with complete strangers. It won’t change their perception of you. You can walk away from having shared that secret and never have to talk about it again.

I could tell very easily from social media who would be supportive and who would not be. (It’s interesting what your Facebook comments say about you.) So I either built up walls to protect myself from hurtful words unknowingly directed at me as a victim, or cut out interactions with those people altogether.

Time went on. Later, I was hanging out with a different guy; another friend- someone I trusted- someone I liked.  I was trying to be honest and have a clear conversation, once again; this time about how sex was traumatic for me. After I had finished sharing what had happened to me, he tried to initiate sex with me multiple times. I had to tell him no more than once. I had to push him away more than once.  It triggered an anxiety attack. His surprise at my staggered breathing and tears was what finally made him stop.

Right now, my impulse is to clarify that when someone shares their story of sexual abuse, they do not want to be comforted by sex with you. The fact that I even feel the need to clarify this weighs heavily on my spirit. Part of what is so upsetting about assault is the violation of trust.  The fact that someone’s desire for sex can supersede their ability to acknowledge another person’s pain and vulnerability is extremely distressing. In fact, I considered that experience to be a more profound and piercing violation than the first.

If you are in a position where someone has placed their trust in you, respect that, and listen to them. If you are not sure what they want from you, then ask them. Respect that they know what they need, and ask them to tell you. If you are too distracted by wanting to have sex with that person to listen to what they are saying, then it’s probably a good time to remove yourself from the situation.

Now, both of the men in these stories would be considered “nice guys”. They are well-known and well-liked. They are kind, funny, talented, and people enjoy being around them. I don’t think either of them meant to be inherently selfish or destructive in either of these situations, in the same way that Aziz says this wasn’t his intention.  However, lacking the intentionality to confirm comfort and reciprocation from both parties indicates that they are clearly products of a society that hasn’t been properly trained in the language and culture of consent.

Consent is not the absence of a “No”. Consent is the confident and eager articulation of  a “Yes”.

The reason I shared this post is because I’ve sadly grown to understand that my stories are more relatable than I wish they were. I know that there are some of you who have experienced a moment that sounds similar to mine. I also think that there are some of you out there who are lucky enough to not have experienced something similar and therefore don’t believe it happens as much as it does.  Maybe my story will somehow show you the truth.

“Consent should never be assumed, and it is something that can never be negotiated or induced.”

Needless to say, the Aziz Ansari situation shines a light on the problem: Consent should never be assumed, and is something that can never be negotiated or induced. I would venture so far as to say that the only assumption we should ever make about consent is that we do not have it until we definitely have it. How do we know that we definitely have it? Because someone says yes, and then says yes again, and then again. As adults having sex, I think it’s totally sexy to actually check in to A) See if your partner is still in it to win it and B) Actually enjoying whatever you’re doing together.

How to know if someone wants to have sex with you:
1) If you are attracted to someone and want to have sex with them, it should be assumed that they don’t want to have sex with you unless they explicitly say that they do.

2) If someone has told you that they don’t want to have sex, it should be assumed that they don’t want to have sex unless they explicitly say that they do.

source3) If someone has said no to your request  for oral sex, or anal sex, or any other kind of sex, you don’t have to repeat your request. They know that you want it, and you should assume that they still don’t want it unless they explicitly say that they do.

The other reason I’m sharing this is because sadly, I think that some people believe that girls are just “making stories up” to get guys into trouble.* For every girl who has the courage to come forward, there are sixteen** holding tightly and silently onto their truths and reading your comments. I don’t share this to incite anger towards perpetrators, because there’s obviously a bigger issue at play here. To say that every “perpetrator” is evil or intentionally harming people is not hitting the mark. We have to be dissatisfied with the rate in which these things are happening. (1 in 4 women, 1 in 4!) I actually care about creating a better, safer society for everyone.

One of my amazing friends summed this up on her social media recently,

“I care about this person thinking consent is “blurry” when it is absolutely clear that anything short of “hell yes!” is no. I care about this person caring more about having sex than asking if their partner wants to have sex, and “risking” them saying no. Because why the hell else wouldn’t you ask? Would you not want to know, for sure, that the person you want to have sex with is actually into having sex with you? I care about this person thinking that “no” means “keep trying” or “convince me.” Because it absolutely doesn’t. I care about this person thinking that because the victim flirted, she consented to something other than more flirting. Or that because she didn’t leave, she consented. She didn’t. I care about this person hearing you questioning the victim and, in their next sexual interaction, thinking “who knows what she wants! She should be more clear,” instead of “who knows what she wants! I should probably ASK HER and make it clear that i’m Ok with whatever answer.” And then actually being ok with the answer.”

So, while this post is partially about me finally being able to relay part of the narrative that has been missing from my story over the past few years, I desperately hope that it’s more about initiating change. Let’s shift our views about sex and consent.

 

To my dear ones out there who are listening to the deafening sound of your heartbeat racing to match mine because my story sounds too familiar:  You are not alone. It’s not your fault. You ARE worthy of love and greatness. You are NOT defined by your pain or by your anger. How you feel is valid and you do not have to convince me about your truth. I believe you. And #metoo.
There is purpose in the pain, join me in the journey.

 

On average, there are 321,500 victims (age 12 or older) of rape and sexual assault each year in the United States. https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence
*Only 2 – 4% of all sexual assaults reported are false reports
**Of every 100 incidents of sexual assault, only 6 are reported to the police
1 – 2% of “date rape” sexual assaults are reported to the police
**1 in 4 North American women will be sexually assaulted during their lifetime
11% of women have physical injury resulting from sexual assault
https://www.sexassault.ca/statistics.htm

Dear Danielle

A few hours ago, a post was shared in one of our Women’s Football Facebook pages.

‘Yesterday I received a message from a lady named Jamie. She has an 8-year old daughter named Danielle who loves football and is getting ready to play her first season of tackle football. Yesterday was her first football camp. She was the only girl at the camp and the only girl registered to play tackle this year and first for their league. She had a boy tell her yesterday “girls don’t play football, what are you trying to prove’ “

I wrote this post for Danielle, but I also wrote it for all of the girls out there. You are all warriors, heroes and ground breakers. Keep chasing after your dreams, no matter what they are.

Dear Danielle,

I know how you feel. Maybe not exactly the same, but I have an idea. I was just like you, I just wanted to play my favourite sport. I just wanted to be the football player I knew I was inside. Unfortunately, unlike you, I lacked the bravado to step out and actually play organized football until I was older. In fact, I allowed society to tell me it wasn’t even an option. You didn’t let that stop you, and for that, you are my hero.

You are inspiring. You are showing other girls that they too can play whatever sport, be whomever they want to be, and chase any dreams they dream, regardless of what is considered “normal”.

I used to skateboard too. But I let insecurities surface when I was asked over and over again, “What are you doing here?” None of the guys I skated with were asked that question, and quitting because I let their fears seep into my consciousness is one of my greatest regrets still to this day.

“What do you have to prove?” Nothing. Not to yourself, not to anyone. The better question is for those who questioned you, and it is “why are you so threatened?”

They’re insecure and feel like they are going to have to prove themselves beside you.

You do belong out there. You belong because you want to play football and it is a football field. You have no one to answer to besides yourself. It is my prayer for you that you push yourself into greatness in whatever you choose in life for your sake and your sake alone.

I actually wrote about some other amazing girls who were just like you in my previous post,  “Girls Games” . Their names are  Mo’ Ne Davis and Maria Pepe. Both faced adversity while playing baseball, especially Maria. The boys were so scared of her as a pitcher that they fought to have her thrown out of the league because she was too good! But she didn’t let it stop her. Her inner warrior came out, and she changed the rules for girls who came to play after her. When Mo’Ne Davis came to play, she became one of the best in the league!  Whenever it gets frustrating, just remember that you are doing amazing things. Don’t let anyone take that from you.

We’re rooting for you.

Love, Ehjae

I’ve posted other responses below too! (many have been shortened but not altered in any other way.)

“I play semi-pro Female Football in SC in the USA. It isn’t very popular here for women to play unless they are wearing little to no clothing. Danielle you are doing what you love and need to prove that boy and all the boys that say a girl can’t play wrong! Practice and play your heart out! The most important thing is to have fun! Danielle you are my hero for taking this step at such a young age! Go get em!”- Amanda

“Never let anyone say you can’t do anything.”
Love from the Oklahoma Lady Force.

“I have been playing for three years. At this time, I am the only girl on a men’s semi pro tackle football team. I have to practice with guys, and have to play against men that are two or three times my size, weight, stregnth and are faster than me.
When I first started playing, no one believed I could do it. Some of the men were rude, some of their wives and girlfriends were rude.
There were alot of days that I came home from practice frustrated, sad, or angry. I cried so very many tears… but NEVER in front of the men on the team. What I learned was that girls are stronger than anyone expects them to be, girls can both be beautiful and strong, girls can do absolutely anything they dream of.
My advice to you, young lady… is to go to practice every day and be the best that you can be..
Its absolutely ok to be scared, to be sad…
Do not give up on what you want, because someone doesnt believe in you.
Above all else, love yourself, and your family, do good in school and believe that you can do anything. BECAUSE YOU CAN!!”- Dani

” Don’t let them break you down just use that to help you get better and stronger, hit them like no one has hit them before keep your head up and no matter what we all have your back , and never stop your love for the game”- Patti

“Go Danielle! Always remember that you’re not alone when you have this entire international football family to support you. Keep it up girl you’re awesome! Much love from the Budapest Wolves Ladies all the way in Hungary” – Anna

The amazing comments go on and on. You are not alone. Please feel free to comment below if you have a message for the Danielles of the world.

All photos courtesy of Louis Christ, lchrist.com

Oh Canada, National Humiliation Day

July 1st is a date that brings mixed emotions for me. I am incredibly proud to be Canadian. My father is from Hong Kong and my mother descended from Norwegian settlers. I am a literal manifestation of the cultural mosaic we claim to love and celebrate in Canada, I have no other land to claim as my home. However, claiming Canadian soil as my “own” doesn’t sit well either. Every time I see signs for 150 celebrations, I cringe a little. Can I still be proud? How do I live tethered to a horrible past while living in respectful remembrance? 
How do we rectify the truth that our success and flourishing economy has been built upon lies, oppression, and even slavery?
Not everything about the past 150 years on this soil should be celebrated. In our honest history books, you would read that we have broken treaties, corruption is at almost every turn, and death and terrorism and cultural genocide are strong narrative themes.  And if you think that our contemptible, racist history is limited to treaties being broken, you are sadly mistaken.
July 1st holds a significantly racist tinge to it for Indigenous peoples, but it also holds a significant pang for the Chinese community in Canada. Not being part of an Indigenous group, I can’t speak for their oppression. However, I can add more to the discussion about our nation’s corrupt and racist past.
“The progeny of Chinese and whites cannot procreate, or their offspring would be so imperfect that perhaps in the majority of offsprings it would be no better than a mule… they are a fungus, a foreign substance, and unhealt(h)y substance; they are not freemen.” – Report of the Royal Commission on Chinese Immigration: Report and Evidence pg. 303 (Printed in Ottawa, 1885)
(My nieces are a pretty perfect example of how wrong this conclusion was, if you ask me.)
On July 1st, 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act was enacted, prohibiting Chinese immigration to Canada. At the time, thousands of Chinese workers had been working and dying on the treacherous CN railroad (For which we stole land and killed Indigenous people to build our nations economic success, yay. Go us.) and hoped to bring family members to join them. Until July 1st, 1923, a Chinese Head Tax had been instituted to discourage Chinese immigration once Chinese workers were no longer required for construction of the railway.  The government had found the Head Tax “in parts, defective”, and decided to prohibit entry altogether.  This act separated families indefinitely and it wasn’t repealed until 1947. Then, Chinese-Canadians were finally granted rights to VOTE. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until 1967 that Chinese immigrants were actually able enter Canada under the same criteria as others.
Did you know that only 11 years ago, on June 22nd, 2006, our Prime Minister at the time finally issued an official apology?
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/pm-offers-apology-symbolic-payments-for-chinese-head-tax/article711245/
What’s the Chinese Head tax?:

There has been a video circulating on the internet these days. It raises the concerns many Indigenous Peoples are justified in having about the Canada 150 celebrations that are planned across the nation this summer. While this video raises awareness and relays some hard truths, what it doesn’t do is offer any practical solutions. If we are to boycott these celebrations, what should we do on July 1st instead of joining in? How are we supposed to act, what should we be doing in order to bring about positive change? Conversations are compelling, but conversations only become powerful when paired with action. So, here is the constant question on my brain, now that we’ve raised the concerns: What now?

Do we hold a trial and convict John A. McDonald and his colleagues posthumously for racism, murder, fraud, and other crimes? How can we learn from our past without becoming anchored to it? How do we move forward without dismissing just recourse? What are some realistic conclusions that we could honestly follow through on to bring reconciliation and harmony?
How do we work towards an inclusive land where we are working together for a better future for every person? (even-no, especially- if that means being willing to work a little harder)
We’ve also accomplished some incredible things as a nation: On July 20, 2005, Canada became the first country outside Europe and the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide after the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act.
You can read about many other steps forward we have taken here:
What I wonder is, “How can we celebrate our achievements while reflecting on and acknowledging the dark spots in our past?”
I’m guilty of having a lot to say, but lacking some kind of applicable thought in conclusion.
Racism and prejudice are still alive and well in this country and I wish I could say that I am immune. None of us are immune. If you think you are incapable of subversive racism and prejudice, you are sorely mistaken. Unless you are consciously working towards understanding those around you who look, live, and believe differently from you, you will slip into that treacherously comfortable place among those who agree with you all of the time.
I’ve got nothing.
But here are the practical things I’m trying to do in order to be a better citizen on earth, period:
1) Get over Myself
 Stop being so defensive. The end.
2) Listen
It is so hard to listen to people who differ from me if I’m caught up in my own defensiveness. I’m trying to become better at listening and understanding that not everything in disagreement with me is an attack on me
3) Trying to change myself first before trying to change the world
At the end of the day, I can only truly, 100% effect change through my own actions. I can’t control others, and I can’t control what happens. I can control my own words. I can control my own attitude, and I can be a force for change by listening and being present
4) Show Up
Be present for people and for the things that matter to them.
I am ashamed to say that I have only partially participated in some of our local Indigenous celebrations. I feel so strange being so uninformed about traditions that are as Canadian as the earth that I walk upon each day. I want to participate, but I want to do so respectfully and without somehow becoming ignorantly guilty of cultural appropriation. I could really use some guidance in this area, so please, HELP!
At the end of the day, I am thankful for the land that I call home. I am thankful for those who cared for it before me, and I am thankful for the privileges I now reap as a result. I don’t want to lose sight of what was taken so that I could thrive here today.
Maybe this year’s celebration is in asking the question:  “What now?” and being willing to just listen.
PS. If you are someone who is getting frustrated by all the conversation regarding the 150 Celebrations, instead of thinking, “Why don’t they all just get over it?” Or “Stop being so sensitive”, I encourage you to take a second, take a breath, and instead of asking, “Why are we even talking about this?” ask, “Why am I so upset by all of this?” I too, shared some of your sentiments once. But when I took a moment to ask myself some hard questions, I found myself in a more compassionate position and maybe you will too!

Dimmed but not Extinguished

It has been months since I touched my journal, and even longer since I could bear to open my bible. These two staples of my life that once brought healing, peace, and comfort have been collecting dust as my heart seemingly turns to ash.

It’s not for lack of desire, but an overwhelming sense of fear. It’s not for lack of content, but the presence of unanswered questions upon questions and a pervasive loathing and contempt for the person reflected in my own writing.

I am not who I once was and I am not who I want to be. The words of Paul echo in my mind “I do not do what I want to do, but the very things I do not want to do, I do.” Yes, Paul. I feel you. I am often selfish, impatient, cold, and hard-hearted. I have never seen the direct result of disregarding God’s presence reflected so strongly in my own life.

It’s been a bit more than a month since I started medication for my depression and anxiety. I’ve spent a lot of time hiding from the “darkest” emotions in my soul, which has (in my uneducated opinion) led me to this place where I struggle to see the light. It’s funny how something so tiny can represent hope.

Why do I even write? I’m not sure. Some people call it courageous (it doesn’t feel courageous). Others say I need the attention.  I think this is my way of reminding myself that I’m not alone in this darkness, and I suppose I hope to God that there is someone out there who resonates with my words and it brings them a glimmer of light in their darkness.  I once lived as a person who could simply “choose” to see the beauty, optimism, and good in every person and every situation. I’m realizing that I was incredibly blessed to have had that ability, and I’m thankful for this new understanding that I now grasp.  Life happens, things change. We learn through life, and we grow and are ever-changing. My greatest fear is that I will burn every bridge in this journey. Will God really still love me after my desertion? Is He really patient, faithful, and kind? Will my family still love me after I continually let them down in my selfishness? Will my friends?

I’m learning that I can believe something to be true despite how I feel. I still believe that the same beauty, optimism and good exists in the world, but that my sight has been clouded by a dark veil. The light has been dimmed in my soul, but it is not extinguished.

To my loved ones: I am not lost, I have only been diverted.

To my dear broken souls: We are not alone. You will be OK. We will be OK. Today may not be the day, nor tomorrow, but SOMEDAY WE WILL BE OK.

Your light is only dimmed, it is not extinguished.

It’s Gone

I’ve never been ready. I’m still not ready. I don’t know how to express what’s inside and I’ve never been able to prepare myself for the responses I may receive. I’m still not prepared. This was an immensely difficult post to write and share, and my only request is that any responses could be thought out sensitively and lovingly. I’m battling this out the best way I can, and I fear that in sharing, I may retreat even further. I know that as soon as I share this, I will want to wither up into a ball. I will feel small, judged, useless, and far, far away from where I want to be. However, I also hope that in sharing, I leave some of this darkness behind. With that hope leading the way, here we go.

There are parts of my story that I just can’t talk about yet. This part of my story has been clawing its way out for a while now and I suppose the monster finally got out.   I’m sorry in advance, this is not an uplifting post. I know that this blog has served to bring light and love and hope to some, and that has always been my prayer and my purpose. More than that, I’ve always made it my purpose to be honest and genuine, no matter how raw it may be.  There is a gaping hole in my soul that can’t seem to be filled, and to keep it inside seems to be untrue to you and untrue to my journey.

I don’t know how to start, because the brokenness of my spirit seems so fragmented that I’m not sure I can.

The gaping hole? My faith. It’s gone. It wasn’t a decision. It can’t be forced back in. (Please, I beg of you not to try.) I’ve tried. I’m still trying.  Oh if I could only describe to you the desperation in which I have called out to God, the broken-hearted tears that I have sobbed, the emptiness in scouring the Bible for that glimmer of truth and light that used to always find me in the darkness.

The best way I can describe how I feel is as if someone has died; someone so dear to me that a piece of me died with them. I suppose that is true in a way.

I’ve had dark moments, but in those times- the light always shone in the window to guide me home. Today, I am lost in the woods and the candle has quit burning.

It’s not like I’ve become a drug addict, I’m not sleeping around, and I don’t party so hard that I don’t know what day it is (all things thought to lead to a lack of faith within the church world) My life looks the same.  I just. Don’t. Feel. God’s presence anymore. Surprisingly, life didn’t end there.

But I won’t sugar coat it either and try to tell you that everything is ok. I’m less patient, I’m less kind, and I’m less capable. My depression, which used to hit me hard somedays but always lifted shortly after, has become persistent, overbearing, and debilitating at times. I’m not going to deny that this isn’t a massive battle for my mental health as well as my spiritual life.

I am just a girl who has had some crappy things happen. In the midst of the pain I sought God’s comfort. I sought Biblical counsel. I desperately ran after healing. I busied myself with things that I love doing. I tried to do the right things and often failed, I’ll admit that. I tried to find meaning in the healing, and purpose in the journey. More and more, as the feelings of being lost, hopeless and the overwhelming desperation settled in, I felt myself floundering and often wondering why I was doing what I was doing, but I was just trying to survive. I still am.  I needed a break from feeling completely, and utterly broken. I think the worst part is having grown up in the church. I know all the answers that I could possibly hear:
1. I need to pray more.
2. I need to go to church more.
3. I need to just let God love me more.
4. I need more time in a community (which is effing hard when you are dealing with external and internal demons)
5. I’m probably making sinful choices that block me from sensing God’s love.
6. “Here are the top 10 verses when faith is hard.”
7. ETC…

(I even know that some people will be thinking, “no, you don’t do anything– it’s God who does the work”)

I would be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that I resented every word.  Songs that used to encourage now discourage. Quotes that used to inspire now breed hopelessness. I always wanted to be a better version of myself, because I was never good enough– and now I just wonder why I felt that way? Outside of the church, I have never felt more loved for my brokenness and struggles– loved Just as I am. Seem backwards to anyone else? Please hear me when I say that I don’t think it was the fault of any church body that I attended. I just wasn’t in a place where being at church seemed to help more than hinder. (I attended an amazing church for the past few years, I want to say that right now.) I  don’t understand how being in the midst of those people made me feel terrible, while being with non-christians felt more uplifting/less judgmental/more safe. I think it’s because so many people within the church seek to live honestly with their struggles, and I didn’t want to think about what I was going through, I didn’t want to be asked, I just wanted to hide from the pain.

Oh what I wouldn’t give to just love Jesus and walk with him like I used to. We were so close. He was my best friend. And now, I feel like He’s moved on. Like he was my imaginary friend and has decided to make me grow up from my childhood fantasies. I feel like I’m the desperate one post break-up who just doesn’t get why things had to end.

Right now, there are so many people who think I’m still the girl who loves and leads with a godly heart, and earnest faith. Oh if I could only just BE that person again. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time. There are moments, when I feel so lost. Because now, with all of these questions- if God isn’t real. If Jesus didn’t live and die for me. If my whole relationship with this “living” “loving” God has been a lie, then my whole life’s purpose has been shattered. I still live for love. I still live for people. I still believe every person is created/here with a purpose. I just don’t know what is at the root of that purpose anymore. And I’m not saying that I reject the idea that God exists either, I’m simply admitting that I struggle with it immensely. This is NOT where I wanted to be at 26 years old. This is NOT how I wanted to feel, and this is a faith journey/struggle that I NEVER expected, perhaps that was my problem: believing that this “Blessed Assurance” would never leave me.

I’ll leave you with my last journal entry, I think it really captures the internal battle that wages on. I can’t face the thoughts in my soul, but maybe someone else is struggling with this too. Power to you, my fellow desperate faith-vagabonds, my soul aches for you and with you and our journeys. I hope and pray (to anyOne who will listen and care) is that your souls find rest and peace.

December 14, 2015

I’m back. It’s been another long haul. I wish I could blame my silence on the fact that I can’t find my journal, but the fact of the matter is that I was avoiding the act of journalling. I didn’t want to self-reflect. I didn’t want to think about the things that have been consuming my mind– the questions and fears that I have been relentlessly pushing as far away as possible. There is a dark, ugly, black pit in the midst of my soul and I fear it grows everyday.

Doubt.

I lack faith in all regards. I lack it in a way that I have never known; In a way that terrifies me, yet brings me to a new horizon of true, honest questioning.

For the first time, I’m standing in an understanding of how calloused, insensitive, and ridiculous Christianity can sound to an unbelieving mind. Sadly, that is because I currently possess such a mind.

Although, most days, I still can’t admit it. It hurts too much.  I still possess all of the “Biblical, Apologetic knowlege”  that my hungry mind and eager soul has consumed over the years. My mind, when I allow it, is wrought with an internal struggle; an endless debate.  I desperately long for intimacy with Jesus, yet feel hopelessly lost in the thought that He might exist solely as an imaginary character that I have loved, cherished, and clung to all of these years because a religion enabled it. Simultaneously, my flaws are both embraced and disgraced. I love and hate myself because 1. God is love, yet 2. He “calls me to be Holy and Righteous, which are attributes far from how I would describe myself these days.  I celebrate and despise myself because we should love everyone, including ourselves but I still wonder how that lines up with conservative Christian opinions on many topics.

However, in the midst of this struggle, I have never felt more earnest, genuine, or willing to be unbiased in my questioning.  Is THAT love? Am I ignorant? Who is right? Can love and righteousness co-exist? How can/does love have limits? Can faith and science be reconciled? Where does faith come from?

For the first time in my entire life, no answers bring me peace.  Nothing makes me feel safe, nothing makes me feel sure of anything except that I am sure that I will never be the same. I will never fit in where I once did– and I will never fully understand any of the ideas that I currently question.

I say this out of desperation, not of arrogance– I’m not sure if there are any answers that exist that I haven’t heard, nor speeches that could help me in this journey. I’ve always been one to enjoy the journey of life, but this one can’t help but feel like a massive shackle that I will never shake. It all seems too big.

I still find myself talking to whom I used to call Jesus. I still call Him Jesus. Because I’m not prepared to give up on “It” being Him. He’s all I’ve ever known– But I can’t deny this growing knot inside. “What if I just needed Jesus to exist? What if I just believed that He is there so that I could feel more at peace about the unknowns in life? What if I want to be a Christian so that I can be the person that everyone has thought me to be?” I’m trying so hard. I only hope that if I’m totally wrong, and that the God I’ve loved and served with my whole heart for over 25 years is truly there listening and loving me- that He truly is as patient and kind as I always used to say that He was; As kind, and patient, and loving as I believe that He would be.

God, if you are real, I desperately need you to show me.  I don’t know how I go from believing with every fibre of my being that you love me and hear me and care for me, to this listless sense that I’ve been living a lie and talking to an imaginary being for my whole life.
What is happening? Why can’t I feel you? I know, I know.. it’s not you, it’s me, right? You’ve never left.. I’m the one who “turned away”, right? But why, when I’m turning and turning and turning around, I still don’t see you? I still don’t feel you?
Emotionally, everything inside of me wants you to be true; to be real; to not be a fairy tale.  But I can’t wish you into reality anymore than I could with a dragon. I want to be sure that you are real- that would be easier.  All I know is that my so-called faith as of late is nothing more that this: a desperate hope that you are true.  But for my lack of trust, I can’t help but feel as though I wouldn’t really deserve your love if it is there.

love ehjae