hard to say: I am not alone

I sat in a horrified fury as the pastor spoke some of my greatest questions and deepest beliefs in a mocking tone in order to stress his point. Everybody laughed.

In one hour, the environment I had grown to love, where I felt spiritual freedom to think and believe and love exactly as I was made to, was demolished. In one hour, the kind, intelligent, and supportive people I had grown to respect transformed into enthusiastic bobble heads, shouting out their agreements and Amens before a point was even made.

My heart was broken, my spirit crushed. I cried hot tears of grief and mourning as I drove home from the young adult’s group that Monday evening. Once again, I do not belong.

In the days that followed, I felt achingly lonely. I tried to talk about it with the people I trusted most, who had previously been so open to growing together in our differences. But anytime I started to bring it up, the subject was immediately changed. It was clear they didn’t want to hear it.

I asked God to please help me understand what everyone else was in agreement with. What is wrong with me that I cannot find truth in this? The deafening silence that responded emptied my soul; I felt completely alone.

This is the exact spiritual abuse I was brought up in. The practice of: “if you are not with us, you are against us.” It is the reason I do not trust the church, the reason my spirit is uniquely sensitive. I did not belong then and I certainly do not belong now. But as much as I long for belonging, perhaps I was not made to belongPerhaps I was made to stand out. 

As I meditated on this thought, I began to feel a loving presence wrap its arms around my soul, filling me with peace and healing my heart. There is nothing wrong with me.

The subtle attempt to control God, or “the theology of more” as my therapist calls it, is simply not something I can ever come into any kind of agreement with. The command to always do more – pray more, worship more, give more, sacrifice more – in order to get closer to God. The idea that we must live a certain way and follow a set of laws in order to please God and receive His blessings – I choose to live outside of this idea, to turn away.

If God created each of us with different purposes and unique gifts, why would he want us to live exactly the same way? Can we not just trust God to tell each of us individually what he wants for us, without becoming so fearful of the unknown we must create laws in an attempt to control the outcome?

My turning away from the church feels strongly like turning every ounce of my being directly towards God. It is lonely and painful, losing the comforting sense of community I thought I’d acquired. But in letting go of this, I am stepping out of God’s way and allowing Him to love me and to do with me what He wants. Whatever that may be, I am on board. I trust His plan and His timing. I may be lonely, but I am certainly not alone.


hard to say: God loves me… apparently

I’ve been trying to write this story for weeks. In those weeks, I’ve learned two things. One: much as I’ve tried, there is no way to tell this story without sounding fucking crazy. And two: I experience it all over again anytime I so much as think about it.

Despite my distaste for religion and distrust of the church – the very organization that’s so wronged my family – I’ve been attending a Monday evening young adult’s service for months. I originally agreed to go with a friend so she wouldn’t have to go alone (heaven forbid) but when she bailed, I still went. This service is held at the church my sister attends – a church I think very little of – and she and her husband often lead worship.

I thought I knew my sister well up until that first night; but as I finally saw her in all her glory, I realized I’d been a fool.

This was not typical worship, where wannabe musicians fuel their egos and a congregation competes for the best Christian performance, no. This was something else. To witness my sister worshiping is to know, with absolute certainty, that something good and real is happening within her. She is generous enough to let it pour out of her mouth and into our desperately hungry hearts. And so I kept returning by myself.

One day, after spending Christmas with a good friend and engaging in a surprisingly honest conversation about God, our struggles and hope, I found myself praying. What I’d been doing before then can hardly be called prayer; I’d been yelling (and cursing) at God. But this time, armed with my friend’s encouragement, I asked God for a message. Nothing vague or confusing, but rather something undeniable to show me He was real and He loved me. Then, as was advised, I gave Him a deadline. I asked for His reply no later than the following evening, which was (conveniently) Monday night.

I went into service that Monday believing this was going to be it; I was going to get a message from God. Instead, I received a big, giant, God-sized middle finger in the face.

First of all, some other people lead worship that night and it sucked; I felt nothing. Then, after the speaker gave a few prophetic words, which were most definitely not meant for me, she went on to speak about walking in faith through disappointment. HA! I left that night in a dark cloud. “Fine! Fuck you, too!” I shouted on my drive home.

The following week I did not want to go. I felt tired and irritated and it seemed pointless. My friend (the same one who originally bailed on me) once again convinced me to accompany her. There was a brief moment, sitting in my car, where I took a breath and thought aloud, I still choose you… you dick.

Worship began and in all my irritation, I could not focus. It didn’t help that my friend was putting on the most perfect performance I’d ever seen. But instead of writing her off as a total phony (because I really have no way to know one way or the other) I decided to sit my ass down and try to ignore her. I took off my boots and sat cross-legged in my seat. I closed my eyes, controlled my breathing, put all other people out of my mind, and just listened. And in my meditative state, weird shit started to happen.

It started with a very strong tingling traveling up my spine, causing me to gasp upon reaching my neck. Then I was bombarded with thoughts of my niece. I had not naturally reached for these thoughts; they were put there quite forcefully.

I saw her running toward me, smiling, arms open wide. I saw her laughing and jumping on the couch. I saw us dancing together with Taylor Swift’s Shake it off on repeat. I remembered dancing with her in my arms when she became tired but insisted on continuing. I saw her throwing a tantrum, scrunching up her face and stomping around. I remembered the effort it took not to laugh.

Then I began to feel it – a love I didn’t know existed, let alone that I was capable of. I thought of how when my niece misbehaves or rebels, I somehow love her even more. And in that moment, as I became completely overwhelmed by love, I felt an undeniable THIS IS HOW I LOVE YOU. Then my sister started to sing Taylor Swift’s Shake it off and I dissolved into tears.

My tears quickly turned to laughter as I realized I was crying to a Taylor Swift song. Then I opened my eyes, remembered where I was and wiped away the evidence. All around me people were flailing about, completely unaware I’d just had a breakthrough.

Since then, I’ve been walking around on shaky legs, trying to adapt to a reality that obliterates much of what I thought to be true. I’ve only been able to tell portions of this story to two people: my sister and my therapist. Both times I kept it short because I started crying all over again. Hell, I’m crying again right now. Apparently God loves me. Holy shit.


hard to say: maybe I’m the problem

Angry young woman stuck in a traffic jam

It’s that time of the year again. Summer’s over and the kiddies are back to school. Parents regain some freedom while the rest of us pay the ultimate price: traffic. The arteries of the city are once again clogged with school buses and soccer moms.

Typically I am a calm and courteous driver. I maintain a safe speed and I respect the space of other cars. Not this morning, nope! Stuck in the jam of cars slowly shuffling in and out of a secondary school lot, my middle fingers began to itch.

Outta my way! my brain was screaming as I contemplated upgrading my vehicle… to a snowplow. The precious seconds ticked away and my rage built. Eventually I was able to get around the chaos and speed away seething, “idiots!”

Later in the day, working away happily and far removed from the morning’s frustration, I felt the annoying twinge of guilt that happens when I’m wrong about something. I reluctantly reconsidered the scenario.

What exactly had me so furious? People taking their kids to school? No, that can’t be right. Idiot drivers compromising all the space on the road? Well, they weren’t exactly being idiotic, were they. They were just patiently awaiting their turn. Damn kids ruining my morning routine!

Hang on a second. I’ve driven with kids in the car before – my niece and nephew – and I remember feeling hyper aware of all the “idiot” drivers on the road. People sped around me as I called out, “your time is not more valuable than mine!”

So let’s be real. I was made to wait all of four minutes this morning. Then, not wanting to be late, I drove like an asshole the rest of the way to work. The possibility of being four minutes late for work… THAT’S what I was so angry about?! My time is not more valuable than theirs.

This simple annoyance, which was created by me, can be solved by leaving my house four minutes earlier. I am my own problem; I am also my solution. Goddammit. I hate when that happens.


hard to say: I believe


I am angry. A response I recognize as my immediate protective reaction when I encounter something scary, difficult, painful, or disturbingly true. This case may involve all four.

You see, I am reluctantly reading Brian D. McLaren’s profoundly infuriating book: Finding Faith. Not because I am actually searching for faith or spirituality or God, but simply because my Christian therapist told me I may find it interesting; he has earned my trust.

That’s how they get you! Shut up, anger, I’ve got this covered.

Closed mindedness irritates me. When one must consciously filter the information they are exposed to in order to maintain the walls of their fragile belief system, refusing to consider or even listen to an opposing opinion (a voluntary tunnel-vision manner of existing) my hackles rise.

In an attempt to uphold my ideal of open mindedness, I agreed to read this book. At the most this is going to help me understand my family better, I reassured myself as I began to turn the pages. Within these pages, my entire belief system (the belief in nothing) quickly began to crumble.

Atheism has offered me many things. The comfort of not being alone in my opposition of religion. The satisfaction of transferring the hurt I felt back onto those who had hurt me. An identity to latch on to when I was filled with uncertainty and confusion. But it appears now as an obstacle. One I can no longer deny and one I must abandon if I wish to move forward.

I can’t honestly call myself an atheist because I can’t confidently say I do not believe in God. (It only took Part 1 to strip me of my cozy label by the way.) If I am honest with myself, there is no possible way I could be made so increasingly angry by something I have no belief in.

So with apprehensive faith in… I don’t know what, and the uneasy feeling of walking around with an open wound on my face, I will continue reading this goddamn book.

Perhaps all of this time it hasn’t been that I don’t believed in God, it’s been that I fucking hate Him. I suppose that’s a start.


hard to say: I’m not sorry


I’ve been on both sides of a customer service call. I’ve had to make many a phone call to address both technical and billing issues for phone, internet, or television. I think most of us have. And after explaining my problem to the stranger on the other end of every call, without fail, I would get an apology.

Gosh, that’s just terrible. I can imagine how frustrating that must be. I’m so sorry!

When I worked in this position (ages ago) taking calls from frustrated customers, I was taught this tactic. Listen patiently, apologize and show empathy, etc. The more specifically you were able to repeat back the customer’s problem, the more effectively you could diffuse them. If they felt their concerns were heard and validated, they could relax. It was very effective!

Imagine my shock when I moved on to an outbound calling position for fundraising purposes – I am honestly shocked how much I enjoyed that job – only to find that apologizing was not a part of their process.

But we were literally calling people and interrupting their day to bother them about giving us money! Yes, that is all true, money for honorable causes. Even though 99 percent of the time it was a no, and we were often hung up on, we were taught to never feel an ounce of guilt about it. “Because there is nothing wrong with what we are doing.”

I’ve done a lot of genuine apologizing for some seriously shitty things I’ve done. I’m sure I’ll do more in the future when I fuck up again. But for now, I’d like to take this opportunity to take back some sorries.

You see, for the purpose of making strangers around me feel more comfortable, and to prevent potential conflicts, I had adapted the apologizing tactic into my life. When anything happened, regardless of how small or insignificant, I took full and immediate acceptance of blame and apologized. Sorry became like a knee jerk reaction.

I was overseas when I was first made aware of how often I was apologizing. I shrugged it off and responded: “Oh, whatever. Canadians are polite.” But this did not satisfy my critic. “Politeness is one thing, but you are beating me over the head with your manners. Cut it out.”

Since then, I am much more conscious of it – and it is pretty excessive.

I am most definitely not sorry. I’m not sorry I was in your way when you walked backwards into me. I’m not sorry I accidentally nudged you when I walked by. I’m not sorry I started speaking at the same time as you. I’m not sorry for taking ten seconds to put my coins and receipt into my purse. I’m not sorry I beat you to this parking spot. I’m not sorry I interrupted the silence by dropping my pen on the floor. I’m not sorry for cracking my knuckles. I’m not sorry for sneezing. I’m not sorry for choking on my water and having a coughing fit. And I’m not sorry when I laugh so hard that milk shoots out of my nose.

I am going to try something radical. I am removing the words “I’m sorry” from my daily language repertoire and I will save them for when I truly mean it. Until then they will be replaced with things like “excuse me” or “oops.”

In doing so, I hope to cultivate the mindset that I am just as worthy to take up this space as anybody else. After all we are equals and we may all move freely and make noise and drop things and express ourselves. Indeed, there is nothing wrong with anything I am doing, so I am not sorry.


hard to say: I don’t know


I get to speak to a variety of people in my new job. My training consisted not only of an intensive product/company orientation but was also heavily focused on appropriate interaction under many potential circumstances. Truthfully, I was overwhelmed at first. Then my manager explained something that simultaneously eased my nerves and convinced me I would be successful.

We have absolutely no control over the actions or decisions of the people we are dealing with. We will never know (and shouldn’t assume we know) what that action or decision will be until we actually get to the moment of truth. All we can do, all that could ever be expected of us, is our absolute best with what we’ve been taught, consistently. The rest is out of our hands.

Consistency was the underlying theme of the whole training program. This idea of always presenting yourself the same way, regardless of how people react to it, is quite beautiful in its simplicity. Despite the outcome, if you are able to maintain calm and consistent control over yourself in a highly uncertain situation, you win. How very transferable.

I was recently ghosted. For those of you who haven’t yet heard of the term ghosting, you are doing far better at life than I. Ghosting is when one participant in a normal human interaction disappears with no warning or explanation. Poof! Were they ever really there to begin with?

I hung out with this attractive human male a couple of times. Not nearly long enough to render any conclusions about someone, so I won’t say anything bad about him. But I was definitely interested in investing more time; so when he ghosted, I was confused. I spent a day or two licking the wounds of my bruised ego.

I bet my awkwardness weirded him out. Or I was too shy and bored him to death. He probably thought I was stupid. My initial train of thought revolved around one question: what did I do wrong?

Here’s the thing: in the little time he and I spent together, I was completely authentic. I am shy and awkward at first – heck yes – and I’m definitely slow to warm. To try behaving any other way would have been insincere. I’m also an occasional idiot. I was raised in a Christian household where I was heavily sheltered from “secular” culture. As much as I’ve tried to catch up, there will always be a lot I don’t know about, a big giant gap in my frame of reference. That’s just me. Did I do anything wrong? Of course not. For whatever reason, he simply decided he did not want to speak to or see me anymore.

But what happened? I don’t know. I don’t know and I will never know. I was left with nothing to speculate on. To assume I did something wrong or that his actions had anything to do with me is pointless.

Furthermore, I can’t ever say that I know what someone else is thinking. But when I start to project negative assumptions about myself onto them, it becomes pretty obvious what I am thinking.

All I can do, all that could ever be expected of me, is to be my best authentic self. The rest is out of my hands. Fuck the outcome; I win!


hard to say: I’ll go first


I am currently living and interacting peacefully with my Christian parents. I spend quality time with my Christian siblings and their Christian spouses; my Christian sister is my best friend. When I put my niece to bed, I say a prayer with her because she is being raised Christian. I go to my weekly appointment with my Christian chiropractor and then I hang around the office to chat with my lovely Christian friends who work there. I go to my new job, where I happily work on behalf of a Christian organization. And to top it off, I pop in to see my Christian therapist to discuss all of my atheist troubles.

How the fuck did this happen?

I remember a time, not too long ago, when I could not be in the presence of a Christian for long without saying something intentionally offensive and rude. A time where I picked fights with Christianity for sport. Now many of my favourite people are Christian. Hilarious!

Growing up in a family and community whose fundamental beliefs did not match mine was not easy. It feels as if I have been fighting for personal acceptance my whole life. All I ever wanted, all I ever asked for, was to be accepted for exactly all that I was. I didn’t want people trying to change me or praying for me to be different. I just wanted to be allowed to be me – whatever the fuck that meant.

This frustrated me. Who am I kidding, this really pissed me off. I became angry and aggressive. I actively expressed my anger toward the Christians to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn’t. I really am a good person, they just don’t accept me! Wherever I went, without being asked, I would explain myself. I was always explaining myself; it was getting repetitive and dull. Nobody wanted to hear my opinion anymore, yet I was persistently and adamantly expressing it.

If everybody had already heard my opinion and had long stopped giving a shit what I had to say, why was I still explaining myself? Who was I really trying to convince?

An annoying truth I have learned after years in therapy is that much of what I say in anger, especially in repetition, is actually the reverse. So all those years of repeating how much I hate the Christians were untrue. I love them very much. So much that I could be deeply hurt and disappointed by them. All that preaching about how they didn’t accept me and I wasn’t good enough for them was inaccurate. In actuality I was the one who didn’t accept me; I didn’t believe myself good enough.

The acceptance I was after – the acceptance I truly needed – had to first come from within. Once I accepted exactly all that I am – whatever the fuck that means – I didn’t need to fight anymore. What point is there in fighting when I am happy and secure in myself. Consequently, once I accepted myself first, I inadvertently began to accept others.

I truly love the Christians in my life. Not despite this or that, but for all of it. I love everything that makes them exactly who they are. Once the cloud of anger lifted I was able to appreciate what wonderful people they are and all the good they have to offer.

Do the Christians accept me now, exactly as I am? A Godless, churchless, premarital-sexed, potty-mouthed, progressive-thinking sinner. I don’t know… maybe. But that’s not the point. The point, after having said all of this, is that it doesn’t matter. Because I do.


hard to say: I don’t get it


Have you ever explained something to someone – something you were passionate about, something that made your life exceedingly better, something that blew your mind and turned your perception on its ass – only to watch the words bounce off their face while they serenely nodded and replied, “yes, yes, I completely understand.”?

No, you don’t, you wanted to reply. Because if they did, their face would have melted as yours did the moment you understood.

At the tail end of my year-long adventure (catastrophe) in Australia, I sat down with psychologist Scott Wright, in Sydney. I’ve met with many a therapist – my current, of course, being the best of them – and much of what’s been said is long forgotten. Not every method is right for every person.

For some reason, I still remember Dr. Wright after only two short meetings. He was the first to introduce me to the concept of mindfulness: the practice of presence and awareness. Something, I immediately realized, I had never done in my life up until then. When I described all that was happening in my life at that point and how I felt about it, he said the most bizarre thing: “make room for it.”

“Yes, yes, I completely understand,” I nodded serenely. No, I didn’t. It sounded wonderful and magical and logically I could imagine it being correct, but I did not get it at all, not by a long shot.

Back In my current therapist’s office, while describing something difficult I experienced, he interrupted me. “Breathe. You’ve stopped breathing.” I shut up and took a deep breath. “Take another one.” I complied. “Good. Now feel it.” After a moment of silent breathing, the doors opened and I let it all in.

I had a good cry that day – it was wonderful – and at the end of the session, when he asked how I felt, I replied honestly: “I feel sad.”

“Good. Feel sad. You are strong enough for your grief; take your time and feel the sadness.” My face melted and I understood.

There is infinite space within me to live openly and honestly and to feel genuinely. Grief will not kill me and I needn’t run from it; I can simply make room for it. I can live and I can breathe and I can feel sad.

I went home that day and had lunch. I went to the gym. I went to my chiropractor appointment. I babysat my niece and nephew. And I felt sad. To my amazement, I was completely fine. It was almost surreal. I was perfectly capable of letting sadness and wonder and curiosity and happiness and fun and exhaustion all coexist within me. I am a complex and magnificent creature; and this week, I feel sad. Finally, I get it!


hard to say: I want more


I look like garbage, on paper. I am a single, unemployed 30-year old occasional blogger, living in her parents’ basement, and driving her parents’ car. Love me! It’s not shocking that online dating didn’t go well. Men with profiles saying “I have a stable job, a nice car and a big house; I really have my life together!” just couldn’t relate to me at all. I deleted my account and vowed to avoid this smorgasbord of fuckery. As most vows I’ve made to myself go, I broke this one too.

In a moment of loneliness, watching bad Saturday-night TV movies by myself on the couch, I signed back up. Pajama-clad legs bouncing in anticipation, I answered the mandatory questionnaire and began late-night perusing a database of weirdoes. Then morning came and I remembered I am a wonderful person, not a shitty profile. I wiped the residue of shallow, unsatisfying banter from my tired face and deleted my account, again.

“What was it about the loneliness, that night, that made you run away from it?” asked my therapist after my confession. Oh, fuck you, dude. Sometimes I really hate (read: admire) that asshole (read: genius). He is just the worst (read: best ever in the world).

Here’s the thing: being unemployed doesn’t bother me; I know I’ll find a job. Cars do not impress me in the slightest; I can get around without one. I can handle living with my parents; I know it isn’t permanent. But I’m supposed to be in love by now!

For years I pursued the “really having your life together” checklist: job, car, house. I graduated college with honours, I found a good job, I got a nice car, and I had my own place. So why was I so deeply unhappy? Running away to Australia did not fix things. Ooh, maybe I’ll get a better job, a nicer car, a massive house! I came home after a year, more lost than ever.

“I just want to be in love!” I shouted in my therapist’s office one day. Finally, my fundamental truth. I would gladly sacrifice a job, a car, and a house. I want more.

“Good, then do it!” he shouted back. No, don’t do that thing where you say something so simple and obvious it makes complete sense. “I want you to be in love. I want you to fall completely and madly in love, with yourself.” God dammit.

When I returned from Australia, the last place in the world I wanted to be was at my parents’ house. The home where anger lived. Thankfully I had no other option. Uncomfortable as it was, I was exactly where I needed to be. In that discomfort I gained acceptance, I learned forgiveness, and I let go of my anger. Back home is where I finally found myself.

So yes, I fucking hate being single. It is the farthest thing from what I want. It is the last place in the world I want to be. Yet it might just be exactly where I need to be right now. Perhaps in the discomfort of loneliness, I will find love.


hard to say: I do care


They’re idiots. They don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t give a shit what they think; they’re just jealous. I don’t need them; I don’t need anybody. I didn’t even want that. They were just holding me back. I’m better off alone. I’m fine on my own. I’m tough; nothing can break me. I prefer solitude anyway. I don’t even care.

God it was exhausting to be so full of shit. Disappointment, rejection, betrayal, failure: it didn’t matter how tough I acted, it hurt and I cared.

I could get angry and seek revenge, I could deny ever wanting my failed efforts, I could pretend that a breakup or a falling-out was my idea, and I could retreat into my own protective bubble of self-pity, settling for the easy and the safe. But it never soothed the hurt and it couldn’t stop me from caring, a lot. Perhaps never more so than when I was outright saying I didn’t.

Not caring doesn’t look like that. If I genuinely don’t care about something, it doesn’t make me feel happy or angry or sad or passionate. It doesn’t make me feel at all. And I can hardly be compelled to say or do anything about it. When I truly don’t care, I am indifferent.

Sometimes it’s healthy not to care. I am learning not to care about things I have no control over or things that have nothing to do with me.

Example: if somebody thinks ill of me, somebody who hasn’t taken the time to get to know me, there is nothing I can do about it. I suppose I could try to convince them otherwise, but it is likely their feelings have little to do with me. Blind judgment really does say more about the judge than the judged.

But when something hurts me, I do care. I am real and I feel things. I am human and I am breakable.

The difference is I no longer need anger or denial. My ego is not so fragile that I must attack first to save face. I don’t need to lie – to myself or to anybody else – and I don’t need to act tough. I don’t need to push people away or to isolate myself.

Yes, I need people. Kind, compassionate, and trustworthy people. Not to minimize or make light of difficult situations, and not to try fixing things for me, but to simply love and stand beside me while I figure shit out.

I am strong enough to look at myself and my world with honest eyes. However heavy life gets, I can bear it. Yes, I do care, and I can handle it.