I Have Questions

I am a Christian, raised by two Christian parents in a (mostly white) protestant church. I attended a Christian school from kindergarten until ninth grade, and I heard all the rumors that public education was a cesspool of sex, drugs, f-words, alcohol and demonic rituals. Fine, I embellished on the last one—but you get the idea.

Now let the record show that I have both gratitude and respect for the faith that my parents instilled in me. It continues to hold true all these years later, in fact.

I believe and identify with Jesus the Messiah as both my personal savior and model for existence. His life on earth was a master class in how to treat humans with compassion, justice, honesty, acceptance, kindness, inclusion, grace, equity and unconditional love.

His passion for the outcast, broken, powerless and marginalized has no rival in history. His sacrifice on a hill outside of Jerusalem transformed the world forever, and His transformation inside my own soul has been nothing short of miraculous.

I love Jesus—as the author Glennon Doyle remarks, “I worship the guy.” But I do have  questions for the American church that proclaims to represent Him. Yeah, I know—it’s an institution maintained by humans and, therefore, messy and flawed. That’s cool because I too am messy and flawed, so it’s a community where I belong.

But I also believe this is part of the fundamental issue. I belong in the church since people like me tend to belong everywhere. I am white, heterosexual, middle class and raised in a first-world nation.

Sure, I’m a female which does present some challenges, but as a member of the dominant culture, my life comes with privilege—which I did not ask for, did not realize and did not earn. This privilege just is, and that’s not how Jesus operates.

He is the most zealous advocate this world has ever known. Before there was Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta, there was Jesus of Nazareth healing the disabled, befriending the prostitutes, making time for the children, and seeking out the oppressed.

As a man of color, born into an overthrown society, with no permanent residence or source of income, and hated by the religious elite, Jesus understands injustice. He surrounds Himself with anyone that culture has marked “the least of these.” He is not a colonizer. He is not a western citizen. He is not even white.

So how did the teachings of Jesus come to be associated with the status quo of mainstream Caucasian America?

When did it become Christian dogma to remain silent toward racism and complicit toward the patriarchy?

Who determined that some groups of sinners are welcome in the church, but others are irredeemable and toxic to the establishment?

If Jesus spent His whole ministry on the frontlines of activism, then why does the church often turn a blind eye to this work of justice He started 2,000 years ago?

What if—instead of weaponizing scripture like the Pharisees who enforced the law in Jesus’ time—Christians saw each interaction and encounter as a chance to lead with the same grace our Messiah has offered us? It should not be a revelation. It should be as instinctual as breathing.

In a cynical, dark and fallen universe, the church was built to send a message of radical, supernatural, countercultural hope. It was never meant to shame or exclude.

So I have questions for today’s evangelical institution. And not because I’m here to judge or condemn it.

Rather, because I love the church and want each human on this planet—from the Guatemalan refugee to the homeless teen on Skid Row—to realize they belong in the family of Jesus…

  • Why are sins measured on a legalist and arbitrary spectrum? I sin in the areas of addiction, deception, retaliation and self-absorption, just to name a few of the countless ways I fall short on the daily. But none of my sins have stigmatized me from acceptance in the church—so how am I above a person who’s transgender or someone who has thoughts of suicide on the moral hierarchy? Spoiler alert: I’m not. My issues are just easier to dismiss and hide.
  • What is so threatening about a woman on the platform? Some of the most influential teachers, leaders, mentors and pastors in my life are women. They have discipled me, held me accountable, spoke truth over me and showed me that freedom in Christ is real. Many of these women are just as qualified to preach as their male counterparts—sometimes more so—but too often, gender conventions subdue the calling and purpose on their lives.
  • Where is the racial diversity in church leadership? I am a firm believer that cultures of inclusion start from the top-down—the most effective way to create safety for people of diverse racial backgrounds is to ensure they are represented in the church leadership. Who is on the board of trustees? Who is at the table making decisions? Who is onstage to lead worship, deliver announcements or even preach on Sunday? Jesus exists for all creeds and colors, so it stands to reason, His church should reflect this.
  • Why are foreign missions prioritized over local communities? I would jump at the chance to visit countries like Nepal, Ecuador and Uganda, but as a traveler on my own dime—not as a short-term missions worker. The more research I unearth on this topic, the more I learn how mission trips (regardless of positive intentions) can harm a nation’s infrastructure. For example, if you construct a well in a Kenyan village but don’t teach the residents how to maintain it, what happens if a pipe bursts or water leaks? Instead of empowering the community, this forces a dependence on westerners. So before sending a team to another continent, how can the local church serve the disenfranchised right in its own backyard?
  • When did comfort supersede both justice and mercy? I look at some of the modern church services that I either attend or catch a snapshot of on Instagram, and I wonder, Is this a production to entertain the audience or an invitation to connect with Jesus? In a society where mega-church pastors turn into celebrities and worship music is “enhanced” by strobe lights, Christians must actively resist the urge to form insider clubs or echo chambers that keep them sheltered from—and naive to—the abuse of power around them.

Give Me Them All

Give me the wanderers, artists and vagabond souls.

The beatniks and dreamers yearning to breathe free.

The gypsies, misfits and children of earth.

The believers in truth, the lovers of hope.

The feelers and teachers, the visionaries and prophets.

The nature dwellers and story tellers.

The flower crowned hippies who dance in the moonlight.

The makers of poetry, music and wild ideas.

The ones called different with their bent, crooked lines.

Give me the humans who notice beauty in madness.

And imagine a world full of kindness.

Give me them all, for they are welcome in my heart.

Blessed (and Cursed) with Being Loyal

loyalty

I’m not a huge fan of rappers, but Kendrick Lamar and I can relate in one intrinsic area: We both have loyalty inside our DNA. I don’t make this claim out of self-righteous pride or superiority—it’s not even an attribute I would have chosen for myself. It’s just a simple fact of my existence.

I’m like a wolf in that regard, crouched and ready to strike if a member of my pack needs vindication or protection. I will not hesitate to bleed in the defense of those I love because once they storm the barriers to earn my trust and secure my heart, I am on their side for a lifetime.

So if I decide you are worth my effort and investment, you don’t need to question whether I mean business. I am loyal to the core—sometimes to a fault. There are parts of this I’m grateful for because when I bond with other humans, it’s fierce and deep and real. I can’t do halfway.

But at times, I have to wrestle against the instinct to be loyal because there is such a condition as loving too hard. And never has that been more achingly transparent than here in the season I find myself now.

I left my wolfpack. Two weeks ago. Crammed my life into cardboard boxes, then followed the highway more than 2,000 miles West on dreams and fear and excitement and loss. As a result, I live in Arizona, or that is what my new address keeps telling me. This Florida girl swapped out her beach towels for hiking boots and the ocean for the desert.

And truly, it’s exhilarating. With mountains on all sides and cacti on each corner, my adventurer’s soul can breathe out here. But that loyal DNA—it remains in Bradenton, and therein lies my pain.

The younger version of me was cynical toward relationships and didn’t believe honest connections were possible. That stone-cold skeptic would be astonished to see me years later, in this moment, reeling over the distance from people who continue to hold my intense, relentless, obstinate loyalty. It’s a blessing and a curse, this zealous kind of love. It has no concept of release.

Can you imagine how much that pierces the heart and wears on the spirit? Maybe you can—I am not the first person to move across the country and feel the reverberations of a drastic, unfamiliar transition. I am not the only human being ever to romanticize the life she left behind, in all its chaos, imperfection and beauty.

This experience is not unique, but it’s mine nonetheless. So I will mourn those far-away friendships and grieve the miles between us. I will miss how they understand me. How they know the depths I have sunk to and the peaks I have climbed. How they can read my emotions with nothing but a look. I hope they sensed it when I tried to return the favor.

So I will be loyal to those memories and connections—for me, there is just no other option. But I will also choose to trust that loyalty is not in vain, and perhaps it can flourish in a brand new chapter too.

Undress.

dirty clothes

He said, “undress.” And then I did. He looked me over. And I went stiff.

He reached out a hand. And I glanced away. Eyes to the ceiling. Body frozen in space.

He touched me once. Discreetly at first. Then urgent, emphatic. With all my senses inert.

My brain was absent. My nerves aflame. I had no response. And I made no escape.

His fingers trailed. I watched their descent. This could not be real. Yet still my gut clenched.

He found just the place. That biological switch. Where my insides caught fire. And guilt came unhinged.

He finished his conquest. And I snatched my clothes. But his touch left its mark. Sharp and exposed.

Now I was tarnished. And no longer the same. Now I was weakened. And no longer safe.

If I could rewind the clock. Before all these regrets. I would yell, “no.” When he said, “undress.”

Blessed.

Who am I? But like………really?

It’s a question everyone wrestles through—in some junctures of life more than others—and it’s a question I’ve found myself asking a ton lately. Well, more than usual. I’m introspective by nature, so existential questions are kinda the norm for me.

But if you didn’t know me, and I tried to rattle off a quick “who I am” elevator pitch, these are the words I might be tempted to use. Weird. Abrasive. Intense. Eccentric. Outsider.

On the surface, I’m a person who knows the rules, looks the part, wears the mask, says the right answer, maintains the control. But deep inside, it’s like I never quite belong.

When I was younger, it became a source of frustration and confusion that my sharp, awkward edges just couldn’t seem to fuse with other people’s smoother, glossier, more acceptable fronts.

I was too clunky and barb-wired for anyone to experience at close range. And that was by design. It created an illusion, both of safety and rugged independence, but it came at a price—lost connection to myself. Decades thrust inside a linear prism of conformity when I was made to be less straight, more spiral, oblong, uncontained.

For awhile though, I’ve sensed this boxed-in life is not the “abundance” I hear God talk about on more than a few occasions in his book. So I posed my question to him one afternoon, not sure what I expected in return—maybe silence, maybe static, maybe a cliche sermon. What I didn’t bargain for was a question of his own.

“Alright, God. Who am I?” my voice, brash with skepticism, demanded of the heavens. And then I started to walk as if daring his answer to follow and pursue me. Which it did.

What’s your name?

I scoffed. “Umm…pointless detour in the conversation, God. You know my name. Weren’t you there when I received it?”

Daughter, what is your name?

Cue the melodramatic eye roll. “Fine, but this is just because I’m humoring you. Mary-Beth.”

Nope. Your real name…

“Mary-Elizabeth?”

Right. And why did your parents name you that?

I immediately flashed back to a discussion with my mom from several years earlier when I had pressed her on the same topic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated being called Mary-Elizabeth, and I insisted on some context as to why she cursed me with the fate of a double name which took forever to break down for other people.

No. It’s not just Mary, and Elizabeth isn’t my middle name. Mary-Elizabeth is my first name. My whole first name. Two words hyphenated. I don’t have a middle name. And I’m not Irish Catholic either. My parents just figured they would make me sound like a 60-year-old nun. 

Welcome to my childhood.

Even though I was known as Mary-Beth for convenience sake, I decided as a precocious fourth-grader that my mom owed me an explanation for the headache that was my name. Why did it have to be so complicated? Why didn’t she choose Mary or Elizabeth? Why had I been doomed to both? So I asked her—and she told me a story.

More than 2000 years ago, there were two women living in the Middle East. They were cousins, and their names were Mary and Elizabeth. The girl Mary was just a teen, but God already had a radical purpose set in motion for her life, and Elizabeth knew it. So when Mary—pregnant with a son who would (casually) be Jesus the Messiah—visited her cousin, Elizabeth splayed her hands across the teenager’s stomach and announced, “Blessed are you among women!” 

That story comes from the Bible, and those powerhouse females are my namesake. But how is any of this relevant to the original question of “who am I?” Yeah, I wasn’t sure either.

Blessed among women. This is who you are. Your name says it all.

I stopped walking. My feet planted themselves on the concrete, and I glanced around in a daze. Did someone else hear that, or was it audible only to me? I mouthed the phase a couple times. Blessed. Among. Women. Testing it on my lips, tasting it in the back of my throat.

I shuffled home, absorbed in thought, and made a beeline for Google. I typed “blessed” into the searchbar and skimmed through the billion or so results. Sacred. Adored. Redeemed. Exalted. Beautified. Saved. In each result, this was the recurring pattern of words—could that be the definition of blessed among women?

Could that be, well………me?

This new question has sparked within me a voracious appetite for inner reflection. And I don’t mean in the navel-gazer sense. I mean, like I want to understand this human God created.

This desire for impact, connection, purpose and nonconformity that surges in her veins. This soul that craves acceptance but will not be hemmed into constructs of the world. This iconoclastic spirit with the hair of a lion, the eyes of a warrior, the heart of a nomad and the dreams of a hippie. This girl who is less of a Barbie Doll and more of just herself, who is required to earn nothing—not beauty, not dignity, not even identity.

Because I am blessed among women.

That’s the answer to who I am. The one responsible for making me declares it. Which is all the assurance I need.

(And I will most likely turn this into a tattoo somewhere down the line. Because my priorities are so intact.)

blessed

dear body…

in all our years together—two decades plus eight

i never said “thank you” for being constant and safe.

for this miraculous tangle of blood, skin and bone

this shelter for my heart, this home for my soul.

this flesh that can rupture, bruise and then heal

this lattice of imprints and imperfections revealed.

this face streaked with laughter and tears unabated

this frame that’s been tough yet frail and berated.

sometimes unsteady but always strong to endure

a bittersweet mural of both stories and scars.

body—you were resilient in spite of all my disdain

when i branded you a traitor, the root of my shame.

you are the warrior who fought to keep me alive

chest breathing, pulse beating and a will to survive.

i wanted to tame you and i ferociously tried

i ached just to separate, to denounce you as mine.

but you were a force, relentless, stormy and wild

you would not be conquered, outcast or exiled.

i made you the villain but no—you protect and defend

so for the first time: “thank you, my friend.”

 

 

An Elemental Manifesto

i am a seed anchored by the earth

i am a feather skimming the breeze

i am a vessel who dances on water

i am a spark awash in amber flames

my body is of the soil, my heart belongs to the sky

my vagabond spirit calls out to the rivers and seas

my russet brown eyes crackle with stardust and fire

my voice is tuned in to the rhythm of the wind

i am a creature of the elements

both above and below

outside the reaches of space

unclasped by the hands of time

fully human, shred of mystic

a piece of my soul in each world

but this terra which roots me

this ground that nourishes me

is not mine to call home

i was planted on earth, baptized in water

refined in fire, then unleashed on the cosmos

but my inheritance lies beyond the clouds

it’s there i am bound

there i am summoned

and there,

an elemental manifesto of heaven and nature combined,

i am destined to fly