Prescott Road Trip
Years ago I got eyelash extensions and hated every inch of the experience. The lashes were heavy and I never stopped being able to feel them - it was like wearing lash strips 24/7 until they fell off and took my natural lashes with them. But even though I hated the experience, I love the idea of how convenient they are. My natural lashes are pretty unimpressive and I have to wear mascara to even look like I HAVE lashes. So yesterday I spent 2 hours at Deka Lash in North Scottsdale with the raddest lash technician and I’m still in awe of how light and natural these extensions are!
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If you want to try them out you can get 10% off a full set by booking through this link.
I am so sorry, friend. It breaks my heart that you're here, reading this post, looking for a sign that you aren't crazy. I remember reading articles on narcissistic abuse and crying. I remember the relief of knowing I didn't create the crazymaking. In Al Anon they say "You didn't create it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it." So hear me, you are not crazy. You didn't create their sickness. You can't control their sickness. You can't cure their sickness. The only way to free yourself from narcissistic abuse is to go no contact, to completely cut them off, and to do the deep work of healing yourself so you don't end up in the same cycle with someone else.
I'm not a therapist and I only have what I've learned from my own experience with multiple narcissists, so this isn't an article that will give you psychological insight. But I wish someone had known how to help me identify what was happening and how to get out before I was so damaged. I wish I had read a list of these red flags decades ago. I wish I had started healing myself long before I accumulated so much damage from the relationships I had to work to remove myself from. The most important thing I want you to know is that you can't love someone out of narcissism. The cycle will continue, it always does. They aren't going to change and you aren't going to be the one to rescue them. You will continue to be the punching bag, to bear the full weight of their abuse and anger, to be manipulated and lied to. Narcissism runs deep and, from what I've read and heard, it isn't curable. If the experts are wrong and it somehow CAN be cured, it for sure can't be cured by you staying in the relationship. The only way to get out is to make sure you don't leave a single crack in the door. Even a negative interaction will give a narcissist a reason to keep trying to play you and, if you think you're "managing" them, you are without a doubt being played.
Being the audience of a narcissist is so confusing. Truthfully, I don't know anyone who is able to recognize the narcissist's behavior until they have removed themselves and are no longer the audience. Someone once said that it's just like how you can see that your friend's boyfriend is an asshole but she can't see it. It's because she's his audience and you aren't. Her boyfriend doesn't care what you think because you are completely irrelevant to him and when the lights come on for her it will be so disorienting. I remember an old friend once adamantly insisting that someone who had left a long line of bodies in their wake WASN'T a narcissist. It's hard to see clearly when you're being groomed and manipulated and there's no shame in that. There's just forward movement from the moment you choose to free yourself. How do we make sure we don't end up in the same cycle with another abuser? I'm giving you this list because I wish I had known how to identify what was really happening when I was being manipulated, lied to, abused, coerced, shamed, and used like a drug.
If you’ve been there you know that you truly believe everything they are telling you, despite some nagging gut feelings that something is off. But the moment you are no longer their audience they have to demonize you in order to make sure no one ever believes you. It’s sick. And it’s painful. And it leaves you feeling disembodied.
So, babes. Here are some red flags:
He tells you his ex is crazy.
Nope. Run from that. Run your motherfucking ass off. If his ex is “crazy” it won’t be long until YOU are “crazy”. Narcissists play long running mind games by gaslighting to keep their audience confused and attached. They know exactly what to say or do to cause a reaction from their victim that they can later use to justify their “crazy” label. If you’re hearing a narrative that focuses on the crazy ex, you’re being groomed. I once dated a narcissist who told me his ex was crazy, his friend was crazy (she turned out to actually be the other girlfriend), and then later I saw text messages where he said I was crazy. The stories he spun were masterful and believable, but now it's so easy to see the red flags.
He NEEDS you. No one else has ever made him feel this way. You are the best thing that has ever happened to him.
This is a tactic that hooks you hard and fast. Especially for people who have been wounded in previous relationships or who haven’t even started trying to heal yet. The appeal of being so wanted is a fairytale, one we want so desperately to believe in. Any codependent relationship is unsustainable and, as my friend JoJo reminds me often, an "us against the world" kind of attachment is doomed to fail.
The relationship moves quickly.
A healthy relationship takes time to grow. If he tells you he loves you a few weeks in, wants to move in with you right away, or wants to marry you immediately - GET. OUT. The narcissist is establishing a permanent situation where they can be in control and use you to feed their need to be worshipped.
This is a term that I've become all too familiar with. A narcissist will say or do something to cause a reaction from you and then question what you are reacting to. They'll say things like, "I'm just talking really calmly, I don't know why you're yelling", or "I can't believe you would accuse me of that", or "Why do we keep having to talk about this?". They create situations and then act like you are crazy for responding to the situation. It's a mindfuck and can be really hard to sift through.
They create a harem.
Some narcissists will have multiple relationships going that you know nothing about. Having people need them, want them, and love them makes them feel powerful. If you think your person is cheating on you, chances are you’re not wrong. In one relationship with a narcissist I actually couldn't tell if I was being cheated on or if he was using me to cheat. Once I found out about one other girlfriend, the revealed list of women just kept growing. And hear me, he's still doing it. I hear from women on a consistent basis - he's still preying on strong, vulnerable women and telling them the same story he spun with me.
She can spin a story so masterfully that it’s hard to catch the lies.
Narcissists need the world to see them in a particular way. This is why a lot of narcissists choose roles as religious leaders. They give the illusion of being almost worshipped while maintaining spiritual control over a lot of people. If you try to leave a narcissist or ask for help, it’s likely that people will think you are “crazy” (red flag number one), a bitch, controlling, ungodly - the list is endless. They are being fed a visual of what this narcissist wants them to see and you’re suggesting something completely outside of the public perception. Unfortunately, if you live with the narcissist, you’re the only one who is fully aware that they are not who they say they are.
In order to diminish you, to make you feel crazy, and to continue to manipulate you a narcissist will project their own behavior onto you. They might even call you a narcissist or accuse you of doing things that they have been doing to you. It’s part of the crazymaking and gaslighting. Deflecting can go hand in hand with projecting. Rather than answering a question outright, they'll gaslight you, push the conversation in another direction, or provoke you into anger or frustration so they can avoid having to be held accountable. If you aren't getting straight, clear answers, chances are this is a red flag you need to pay attention to.
A narcissist will make everything about them. Every conversation, situation, life crises, and interaction will ultimately be about them. They typically lack empathy, but their interest in your life might be confused for empathy. At the end of the day, it will have just served their need for inflating themselves.
It's incredibly hard to do, but the ONLY way to be free of narcissistic abuse is to go no contact. Do not respond to their attempts to talk to you. Block them. Refuse to be baited into a conversation. If they can get you defending yourself, they’ve pulled you back into their web. You owe them nothing. They will never show up to a clear or reasonable conversation. They aren’t even capable of it.
If you can’t go no contact because of uncontrollable circumstances, hold a hard line of limited contact and don’t be dragged into their crazymaking. Get a counselor who can help you identify the behavior and how to keep yourself away from it. It’s hard. They know you now and they know how to push your buttons, but they do not own you.
The sad thing is narcissism can’t be cured. So if you’re thinking you’ll wait it out and love them into wholeness, you're wasting your energy and good heart on a situation that statistically will NEVER get better.
Regardless of what the narcissist does with their life YOU do not have to continue to cycle. And if you’ve already gotten away from a narcissist it is such a good idea to work with someone who is qualified to help you unravel your own patterns. If you don’t heal yourself, you’ll end up in the same situation with someone else.
I know it feels overwhelming, heartbreaking, and like a complete destruction of your ability to trust again, but it will get better. Please please do your own heart work with a counselor or a life transition coach. Let someone come alongside you as you heal yourself.
The night I tried to kill myself was the first time I had a mystical experience. In the numbness, in the fading, in the still pulsing shame and grief, in the silence of an empty apartment I felt a hand on my head and a hand on my chest. I felt the presence of something warm, and steady, and unashamed. I knew, if I could open my eyes, I would see them. I knew The Divine were moving all around me like a flow of energy. I knew I was being held somehow and I can still, to this day, feel the weight of that relief. My heartbreak was held here. My deep loneliness was soothed here. Shame faded, but so did I.
It’s important to know why I was at the end of myself, why I wanted to die. I had been raised in the christian church, in Sunday school, in youth groups, in ministries, in youth conferences, in christian internships, in prayer meetings, in bible studies, in obsessive quiet times, in the laying on of hands, in highly emotional worship experiences, in the gift of tongues, in the rejection of anything considered secular, in prophecies, in purity culture.
I had been raised in purity culture.
I had been sexually assaulted twice before I was 10 years old, once when I was 16, and multiple times after that. Purity culture preaches virginity - the mythical “gift” that can be given or taken, but once it’s gone it’s gone. You sit in blue padded chairs in the fellowship hall while youth leaders give you visuals that represent sexual purity. The crushed flower that can never regain it’s shape and beauty. The torn paper that can never return to it’s wholeness and integrity. Too many people carry the trauma of those teachings, too many people have to heal themselves from the bullshit of purity culture. The first time I heard that message I knew I didn’t stand a chance at being pure, I had already had that stripped from me. But I didn’t talk about it, didn’t confess it, didn’t think about it. I had survived it when it happened and I thought I could survive the growing shame of my deeply broken self. I was the equivalent of a dry drunk; nothing had been healed or processed. I was just barely hanging on by modifying my behavior to match the expectation of a good christian girl. I was slowly dying, consumed by loneliness, anxiety, depression, and shame. I was fading away long before I took half a bottle of Tylenol PM.
When I was 17 I met Kenny. He told me later that it took him awhile but at some point he said, "That girl. I'm into that girl." We started dating the summer we were at PrayerStorm in Colorado Springs and there we were, completely immersed in purity culture together - terrified of breaking the rules that we definitely wanted to break. We were good kids, you guys. We truly loved each other and from day one we had some kind of psychic, energetic connection. I thought I wanted to marry him (because that's what you do in the church - you get married as fast as you fucking can). He was present with me in a way that no one else had really been before. If we were in a room full of people I always knew I was seen and that tapped into a hunger I didn't know I had. I needed to be seen and known and Kenny did that for me.
Not long into our relationship I found out that someone who had a lot of power over Kenny was abusing him. It was hard to see and I didn't know what to do other than try to heal him. I remember closing his bedroom door while he sat tense, angry, and scared. I would curl up with him and try to absorb the pain from his body, feeling every spark of it. We were so young and he didn't know what to do with the abuse, because who the hell does? So the pattern started to develop: he would get fucked up, I would try to heal him, he would go cold or get angry, we would fight, and I learned what gaslighting was. We went on like this for months, swinging between loving each other and angry fights. At the same time, purity culture was a motherfucker. He was desperate for someone to tell him HOW to do this and he was met with "You're not touching her, are you?" around almost every turn. He needed someone to father him and I needed someone to take me away from all of it. Of course patriarchy assumes that boys are sexually deviant and girls have to be convinced to be sexual, so he was confronted and shamed much more than I was. But no one knew that I was the one constantly asking him if we were gonna do this or what. He had spent far too long being bullied by the church and that boy kept us from doing the damn thing, which often felt like a rejection for me. I wanted to heal him. I wanted to heal me. For the first time in my life I WANTED to have sex. I wanted to be able to give consent for once. But we were already unraveling and there was too much shame already filling the air between us. I started to feel like I couldn't get out of bed in the morning, like I couldn't figure out how to keep showing up with him. I was running dry, but I didn't know that leaving was really an option until he told me it was. In one of our fights I remember telling him that I wanted to be with him, but not like this. And, in his hurt and anger, he told me that I had a big decision to make. So I did. We broke up and the dam of pain opened up and swallowed us whole. It was hard to see him without touching him, hard to talk to him without wavering. I couldn't get my footing so I packed up my car and moved to the PNW to live with my family.
Living there was all healing and it was all heartbreak. I would have panic attacks in the middle of the night, dreaming that I hadn't really ended the cycle. I would spend most of my mornings staring out the window at the water and crying. I was so fucking alone and I didn't know if I could survive it. The awakening came for me in a Glamour magazine article on emotional abuse. I read those words detailing what it was and felt my heart drop into my stomach. I felt sick for a long time, but I also felt alive. I got it. I had a name for what had happened and that meant I could start healing. I started practicing yoga there, I stopped having panic dreams every night, I stopped feeling so afraid of stepping foot off the island.
So I went home and I asked Kenny to meet me. We sat at a table at Wendy's with all of our friends at another table so we weren't alone. I told him about the article and I asked him if he thought he had been abusive. He didn't even blink. He made eye contact with me and said, "Yes. I see that and I'm so sorry." I for sure didn't expect that response, but it gave me a little sliver of peace. We left that Wendy's and only saw each other again once before the week I tried to kill myself.
He came back into town to make amends. Someone told me he was here and he wanted to see me, but I was bleeding out. I was so dark, so lost, so broken. I was barely hanging on and I was SO MAD at my friends for hanging out with him again like nothing had happened. But I let him come over one night. He walked past my boyfriend, the guys hanging out in my apartment, the beer bottles on every surface, and sat at the foot of my bed. He wasn't mad or disgusted, he just looked into my face and said, "What are you doing? This isn't you." I wanted to hurt him then. I wanted to hurt anyone other than my own already barely beating heart. I told him I was sleeping with my boyfriend and asked him how he felt about it. He just kind of shrugged and said, "I don't love it. At all. It's not great, but where are you?".
He left that night and I didn't know how I felt about our conversation, but I knew I was completely out of control. I had no sense of myself left in my body. I didn't know what I was holding onto anymore and it was only a few days later when I locked the deadbolts on my door, swallowed those pills, and waited for everything to just stop. I wanted life and pain and ache to just leave me alone.
I asked him recently why he came to my apartment that night and he told me that he remembers exactly where he was standing and what he was talking to joe about when that psychic connection we have kicked in. His heart started to ache and he knew it was me. So he just left and drove to my house. There will never be an explanation for why the deadbolts were unlocked and the door was wide open, but he came in and knew right away what was happening. He didn't panic. He just started making me drink gallons of water and then pulling me to the bathroom to pee it all out again. I couldn't even feel my legs at that point and everything is so foggy for me, but it went on all night. He flushed it all out of my system and the next day at the hospital they told me that Kenny had saved my life and my kidneys.
He slept on my couch that night, checked on me every 15 minutes. I remember waking up with sunlight slicing through the window into the world's worst headache. I laid there for awhile watching him sleep on the couch through my bedroom door. I felt this thing shift in me and I knew that I had to get out. Out of all of it. I had to either wake up and stop trying to be something I wasn't or I was going to die. He took me to church that morning and I just sat in the pew and cried. There was nothing for me there. There was no comfort, or answer, or hope. There was just the empty familiarity of a pew I had been sitting on for half my life.
Kenny stuck around for awhile after that. I was on suicide watch so he would take turns with Joe and Nicole, driving me to and from work. Once he and Joe took me to a BBQ and I just couldn't do anything other than sit on a porch swing outside so he sat with me. He let me feel. That was when I stopped being angry with him. I felt like he had come back and healed something for me, he had redeemed the pain of our past relationship.
But when Joe and I started dating, Kenny left again. He said it would be too hard to watch the girl he loved and his best friend date - and that was super fair. That was it. For the next 15 years I didn't hear from him, didn't seek him out. We moved forward in our own ways and created lives that existed outside of one another.
But then about 5 months ago I got a notification from Facebook telling me that Kenny had accepted my friend request. I didn't remember even sending him one and he hadn't logged into Facebook in years. He messaged me right away and I went into that first conversation so hesitantly, I had no idea who he was now. We stayed on the phone until the middle of the night, we talked about everything. Legit everything.
And, babes, here's the thing: I fucking needed this friendship at this exact time. The first time we saw each other in person again we drove out to the desert until there was nothing but stars, and saguaros, and coyotes. That night was mystical for me. I felt something unlock in me that I had been trying to get at for SO LONG. I came home at 5am and knew that I could be alone now. Something about his exact energy, our exact story, and the way he still sees me wherever I am in the room, temple priestessed me into doing something I have needed to do for an epically long time.
He told me that night that, over the years, he's had that same heart feeling happen like the night I tried to kill myself, but he thought I was happy so he ignored it. I'm never going to forget him telling me that it makes him so sad to know now that it WAS me he was feeling. I was so alone for most of my marriage, knowing someone in the world psychicly felt the pain with me is so valuable. Gina says that this is what needed to happen for both me and Kenny to heal the past relationship and to move into the friendship we were always meant to have. All of the good of who we are still meets each other so naturally. We are clearer, older, stronger, and we've both done so much work to heal the shit that left us so broken. We've had a hundred conversations about what it was like to live through purity culture while we were dating each other, how fucked up that made us, and how free we are from it now. It's helped me heal some of those wounds to hear his perspective now, knowing that we were constantly shamed for sitting too close to each other on the couch or ever being alone.
We've made amends and built a new friendship. We've aligned ourself with this commitment to be FOR each other for the rest of our lives. We've worked out what we needed to because it took a minute for us to decide if we were going to be friends or more than friends. We read through old letters I had written him and felt those old aches again. We chose each other in a new way, in an unconventional way, just grateful to have healed something that was so monumental for both of us.
He's one of my very best friends. I love him. I talk to him every day. He holds ground with me when I feel like I can't breathe. He encourages me to stay true to who I am. He reminds me of how he sees me, which is probably always going to be better than how I see me. He honors the hard road of my divorce and he constantly tells my kids how awesome their dad is.
Yesterday my brother was telling a story and he said to Kenny, "Really, no offense, but when things went down with you and my sister I had to cut you out of my heart. I had to choose her." My heart jumped a little, not knowing what he would say to that. And true to who I know him to be now, he said, "Of course you did, man. That was the right thing." I almost don't even know how to fully tell this entire story because I only know one other person who deliberately chose a path out of abusive behavior and into being a healer. He truly is a healer. It gives me hope for all of us, for the people I so desperately want to have peace with. He's showing me even more that healing and wholeness are choices we make for ourselves if we're really willing to do the work. Kenny does the work and that makes him a constantly evolving powerful force of positivity.
So there it is, the first layer of this story. The bits and pieces that all lead to a healing we would both need much later in life. I can't help but see a cosmic arc to all of it. It all led here, where we can hold sacred ground for each other, root for each other, see ourselves in the mirror of one another, grow even more, and heal something I never thought to try to heal. There are a few people I could not get through this part of my life without. Kenny is right there at the top of the list. Shit, guys. I hope everyone has a story like this somewhere along their road. The way it feels in my chest, reconciled and at peace, I want that for you.
I've been wanting to share Anthony with you for a long time. I am so proud of this man, of the things he's accomplished, of the spiritual growth he's created for himself, and for the hard things he's survived. Anthony is one of my best friends and we have talked about an interview like this for quite some time. Ready to meet him?
Thank you for sharing yourself with us, Anthony. Will you tell us about where you've come from and what sparked your own personal awakening or deconstruction?
Well for starters, I grew up in a really difficult home. My dad moved us away from my mom when I was younger. I grew up with my dad and his abusive ex-girlfriend. There was so much abuse in my home. The abuse I faced early in my childhood consisted of sexual, verbal, emotional, and mental. Amidst some of the good times I had as a child, I also remember growing up and not knowing where to run to anymore. I remember going to church. It felt safe for awhile. For a while, it all felt right. I had one big secret that no one knew. I was fifteen and walked into church knowing that I was gay. I remember hearing the guys in the youth group saying things and making fun of gay boys. I remember on one occasion, someone even made fun of me because I wasn't "manly".
I was a part of the christian church for a long time, I even worked for a church too. Not all things were negative, but I started to feel abused again. This time I felt abused differently. It was more of a spiritual abuse, because I was told I was loved by a god who also hated parts of me. I always felt unworthy and ashamed. Leaders within the church bullied me and spread lies behind my back. I wasn't nice either and I take responsibility for that. At some point, I couldn't do it anymore. I left the abuse in my home on Wednesdays and Sundays to get spiritually abused at church. I want to make it clear that they hurt me in a deep deep way, but in the beginning it was beautiful. I felt so welcomed. It was a sign of hope. I'm glad I was introduced to God, but I later realized that my God(dess) is not like theirs, and that's okay and enough for me.
I'm so sorry for the pain you've experienced at the hands of religion, friend. What kind of obstacles did you face that brought deeper awareness?
I left one church to go to another where I faced oppression in a whole new way. I was the only Latino. They made jokes they thought were okay. I was still in the closet and I died everyday. I remember waking up one day and saying, "I can't hate myself anymore, I can't keep trying to be loved by others if I don't love myself". I had to choose myself. I knew that who I surrounded myself with was like drinking poison. I left church completely. I left to be my true self. In March 2017, I met up with my friend. He and I sat together and I told him that I needed to tell him something. He said, "Whats up?" I said, "I like guys." and he said, "I have something to tell you too...I'm gay". That night changed my life. Since then I have lost friendships, family support, my best friend, and more. Has it been worth it? Is it still worth it? Absolutely. Yes. Yes. Yes. I would do it again. I am so thankful for my counselor Fatima. Wherever she may be in the world, I'm sure she is killing it.
Your evolution is so powerful How has your self view and world view changed?
I have truly begun to love myself. I realized that if I had to lose everyone to love myself, I would, and I did. I also have come to the conclusion that I still Love Jesus and God(dess). I believe that Jesus has transformed my life in the most spiritual, and physically profound ways. I believe that because he did die on the cross I am free to live as my true, authentic self. I also believe that Jesus was there in the hardest times of abuse for me and not in the form of church or his people, but in a way where He (Jesus) demolished all of the toxicity that was my home life as a kid. I also now believe God(dess) is neither female nor male. I love that new belief of mine. It rings a new bell to "We are made in God's Image" because my gender expression is fluid. I wear makeup, paint my nails, and live freely. I also believe that Love Wins. One of my favorite new things about my world view is the idea that in our healing from trauma or hurt, we get to take credit for it too. We owe it to ourselves.
I love that. We owe it to ourselves. What do you believe everyone in the world deserves to have and how does that shape the way you live your life?
I believe everyone in the world deserves to have Love. I also believe that everyone deserves to have worth and to live life without shame. Because of those two statements, I am living free. I have lots of haters, but that isn't stopping me. I wear makeup. I break the "norms". I am a lover of humans.
So many other people are going through this same awakening. What advice or encouragement would you give to someone else who is going through their own deconstruction?
Remember that you deserve to be yourself. Give yourself permission to live free and radically. Don't hold back. You will find true fulfillment in that.
Now for the Oprah question: what is one thing you know for certain?
I know that I am loved, enough and worthy. I also know that I love a good highlighter.
How can people find you and/or your work?
I'm supposed to keep all of my stuff anonymous because of my profession, but people are free to follow me on Instagram at @anthonythebrownie where I will accept their requests.
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Have you felt trapped in religion, confined to a particular way of things, and hungry for space to stretch yourself out in? Are you tired of rules that justify spiritual abuse, texts that have lost their intention along the way, and the oppressive way patriarchy breathes down your neck? Have you felt this stirring in your gut, like something else is billowing up out there? Have you smelled it in the air, like rain moving through the desert? Have you tried to be tame, to submit, to align yourself with a culture that makes less sense the further out you get from it?
Little by little you're going wild. Small death by small death you are entering the wilderness. Breath by breath you're reclaiming your soul.
Wild spirituality is the vast universe of encounter, the space where we wander in search of deeper wells and clearer voices. It's where toxic religious tradition burns off and we're left with bare bones, free spirits, and a divine expectation of more. Feminine energy thrives here, breathes herself into broader spaces here. The wide open space of the wild woman who lives in all of us, regardless of gender, knows that this is her ground. We do the terrifying, liberating work of untethering ourselves from traditions and expectations that have kept her buried and kept all of us in the dark. The more we reconcile to the fluidity of spirituality and sexuality, the more we encounter the limitless, inclusive, always expanding love of God. We find less need for language and tradition that keep us fighting each other over glorious differences. We stop caring who loves who - we just care that Love is alive and breathing into us. We stop caring about the gender of God - we just care that we are given the gift of seeing the divine spark in all of us. We stop caring about political lines - we just commit ourselves to fighting for each other. We stop caring about antiquated rules that were created to serve empire - we know now that we're going to have to level all of our walls in order to discover what is waiting in the divine flow.
In the beginning, when we first step into the wilderness, we're unsure of what's going to happen. This is all new, all unknown territory. We've never lived this life, breathed this air, traveled this road. We don't know who or what is out here, what is going to surface in us when we're alone, or if the desert ever turns into an oasis. We just know that going backwards is never an option and that moving forward means facing the wilderness. We start out with heavy bags, certain that we need these perspectives, theologies, and certainties in order to survive. We carry them like boulders strapped to our backs, but it isn't long before we begin to taste the wild air. We dismantle our survival instincts, our filters, our labels, and our attempts to be in control. Eventually, usually when we're alone in the dark, we realize we aren't carrying anything anymore. Our souls are breathing. Our minds are expanding. Our hearts are healing. Our bodies are releasing. We're going wild.
Whatever scared us about awakening the wild in us seems childlike now. We were afraid because we didn't have context for who we could be out here. We were afraid because we were told to be afraid. But here we are, thriving.
The beauty of wild spirituality is that it grows where it wants to, flourishes as it wants to, uncovers wells when it wants to. It isn't a knowing, it's an unknowing. It's a willingness to discover that we were always wrong about where God must live. It's a brave resilience and the fierce way we face storms when they come. It's the empowering uncovering of how capable we are, how strong we are, how worthy we are. The wilderness is open to everyone who seeks it, but few choose it.
I don't need to give you a list of ways to know if you are going wild. You know if you are. You feel the way it cracks open in you, slowly at first and then like a burst of stars in the deep desert. You taste the change in you when you're talking to people who are walking different paths, the way your words feel unfamiliar and true on your tongue. You know when you're stepping into the wild because you're even asking the question now. Are you dismantling? Are you facing the pain? Are you telling the truth with your whole life? Are you exploring the vastness of creation and the creatress? Are you finding divine beauty in places you were certain only held empty philosophies? Are you waking up to the sacred feminine in you? Are you soft but fierce, loud but clear, bright but dark, wild but safe? Then here you are. Thriving in wild spirituality. This is the waking up, the realization that this ground has always been holy, the reconciling of who you've been to who you're becoming. Welcome to the next right thing, love.
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I met Andrew online awhile back and I'm so grateful to have witnessed the way he advocates so fearlessly and lovingly for marginalized people. I believe that the most important thing people with privilege can do is use it on behalf of people who don't have it. I would call Andrew a love activist, a man who walks the Jesus path. Ready to meet Andrew?
Hey Andrew! Will you tell us about where you've come from and what sparked your own personal awakening or deconstruction?
I was a drug addict and gang member as a teenager. Arrested for two felonies at 18, went to a program at 19 to avoid prison. Became a pretty conservative "rah rah USA" Christian in that program. Finished the program, had my charges dismissed, went to a Master's Commission school, came back to work at the boys home. I became kind of the Golden child for the program. I shared my testimony at many fund raisers and worked there for three years.
It's hard to say what specifically sparked my deconstruction because it came in so many different stages but I guess the first thing was reading Shane Claiborne's The Irresistible Revolution. My friend Kristie sent it to me and I read a few chapters then dismissed it saying "this guy's a communist". A few months later I picked it up again and finished it. My perspective on America and the world were forever altered. I preached on nonviolence in our house church after that and never got to preach there again. That is what started my journey towards exiting that community.
What kind of obstacles did you face that brought deeper awareness?
Wow so many. I guess the one that sticks out is that we tried to start a church in Alabama and we're shunned by lots of people we had considered family. We nearly became homeless trying to keep that going and it was super hard but I think my wife and I grew closer because it felt a little like us against the world. We gained a level of freedom in having no obligation to tone down what I say anymore for the benefit of various mentors and friends.
How has your self view and world view changed through this process?
I was very patriotic and believed all the typical right wing talking points, (Muslims are bad, death penalty is good, being gay is a sin, non believers go to hell etc). Now I'm the opposite.
What do you believe everyone in the world deserves to have and how does that shape the way you live your life?
That's a tough one. I guess I would say everyone deserves the right to thrive. Everyone should have the right to grow up, be educated, and live their lives. It shapes my activism because I fight for that right for others here in America. It shapes my career because I became a teacher (starting this Fall! I graduate in May from UTD) so that I could be a part of educating young people and helping them gain the confidence to obtain their dreams.
What advice or encouragement would you give to someone else who is going through their own awakening or deconstruction?
Keep reading! I would say that there will be tons of people who will try to shut you up and shut you down, but you just keep pursuing truth and know that the freedom that comes in that process is greater than what any church can offer you.
What is one thing you know for certain?
Another tough one. I know I care. I care deeply about people and I want to see everyone have equality. I don't think I can be absolutely certain about anything outside of myself. To know myself is the greatest knowledge I think I can attain.
How can people find you and/or your work?
Mostly through my Facebook account
But I'm also on Twitter @BamaRobinson and I have written some blogs at The Peaceful Warriors Blog.
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The poetic, ancient text says that in the beginning there was nothing. No light, no dark, no substance, no universe, no planets, no wildflowers, no untamed horses, no waterfalls, no fields, no oceans, no clouds, no coral reefs, no tropical birds, no forests, no deserts, no people. Nothing. And then there was everything. How we got there doesn't really matter, but I tend to think that every theory is true. God spoke, an explosion of being happened, everything evolved and continues to evolve. There's room in my thought process for all of it to be true and for none of it to be the full story. One of the biggest exhales in my life is the freedom to say these three words: I don't know.
The ancient tradition I was first handed says that when everything began there was a presence that was both with The Divine and was The Divine (and to affirm the presence of the Divine Feminine, the word for God in this text includes the translation of "Goddess"). The text calls this presence the Word and says that everything in existence came from it and that it was the lifelight of creation. The kind of light that is both daylight and firelight, the kind that both exposes everything and illuminates just the space we're in.
The lifelight of creation.
The source that holds the memory of something beautiful that came from nothing.
The Word that remembers the way things sparked into life, the burst of smells, and sights, and sounds, and the sensation of being.
The firelight that burns in the night and confuses the dark. The ungraspable, unknowable, indefinable presence of something so outside of ourselves.
"Eternal Man also knelt upon the ground, and with His hands, like a child in a sandbox, began to gather into one place a pile of reddish-brown dust. He was playing, but His demeanor was intensely focused and brimming with unbridled joy. Then He sat down and gathered the dust in between His legs. A gentle breeze arose, toyed with His hair and then helped Him collect His treasure. Lilly craned to see. Man and wind were careful and seemed to make certain that not a single mote was lost but all included and essential.
Lilly heard two voices laugh. One came from Eternal Man, another from the Wind. It was a clean laugh, like the giggles of children. Tears too came easily to Eternal Man, joyful tears spilled from His eyes onto the dust piled bewteen His thighs by His strong hands.
He began to sing. It was a new song, distinct from the melodies Lilly had heard so far. The song washed over her and dropped her to her knees, filling her with something greater than excitement. For the first time in all of her limited memory, Lilly felt hope.
From inside out, this mound of dirt now bubbled up blood red water, gushing from an unseen aquifer. Adonai sang into it and then with tears and laughter plunged His hands into the holy mess with a shout that brought Lilly to her feet. The labor was nearly finished. Then, with a piercing, wrenching scream, Adonai raised above His head a newborn baby.
The crystal clear and gentle voice of Eternal Man now sang above the cacophony: 'This is my heart's delight, the crowning of all creation. I present to you My beloved son, in whom My soul delights. They shall be named Adam.'
The attending Wind and the Energy that tumbled through the wall gathered round the Man. The three formed a single face that leaned to kiss the child, but it was more than the touch of the lips on lips. It was the breathing in of life, and with that breath, the fragile infant became a living soul."
| Wm Paul Young, Eve |
The yogic tradition teaches that there is a Divine spark in all of us. The same way the Judeo Christian tradition teaches us that The Divine carefully formed humanity and breathed Their own breath directly into the first pair of lungs. We honor the human existence because we believe that it is sacred, that its origins are in something beyond us. All enlightenment brings us back to one another, to the realization that we belong to one another. The Divine spark in our souls connects us, like spiritual bloodlines.
The breathed and sung sound of om brings us back to a vibrational reminder of the Word that was with God and that was God. It is believed to be the sound that hums at the base of creation, the sacred sound of the Word that still actively creates new life in the world. The Word that holds light in the dark, that stands steady with us when we grieve, that buries dead seeds and calls something new to the surface. We don't always hear the sound of om because we are insulated by sound, and sensory overload, and distractions. We are vibrating at a lower frequency and don't often practice the kind of stillness and quiet needed to listen in to the sacred current moving through the world. But when we do, it's there. They are still singing, still breathing, still here.
When we have peeled away enough layers of ego, and religion, and the driving need to be right instead of kind - we can hear it in one another too. We place our palms together, an offering to God. We bow deep and low, foreheads touching the earth we came from, and we breathe the word that connects us all: namaste. I see the Divine light in you, the firelight in the dark. I see the existence of sacred breath in your lungs and I don't need to define how God manifests in your life.
We know how attached we are to ego and to dualism when we read words like these and offense flares in our chests. We lose our connection to the Divine light in our own bodies when we feel the need to correct each other's courses, to establish a right/wrong, to push back on spaces where Love is flourishing. I hope, instead, we will learn to ask better questions of ourselves. I hope we'll take the time to devote ourselves to a quiet practice of self awareness, of Divine connection, of an intentionally cultivated love for all of humanity. Because what if all of these stories can exist in the same place? What if The Divine has always been big enough, present enough, overflowing enough to travel every road to get to us? What if the answer to all of our questions is so simply: I don't know? And what if that is exactly what the Word has been illuminating all along?
Once, when I was younger, I told my best friend that I saw Jesus as existing outside of time. I felt the thickness of the kind of Love that would surrender it's life for the sake of humanity and I felt it in my bones - this is an ongoing experience. As if God Themselves could stretch that moment out over time and space to reach into the dark places of our lives at any moment and RIGHT THEN AND THERE pull the pain from our souls to absorb it Themselves. I'll never forget the way she looked at me, long and hard, before she said, "You should never say that publically. That sounds like heresy."
That's when I learned to not ask questions out loud, to not suggest that God is anything other than dead words on printed pages. In the decades long exploration of a mystical God who looks nothing like the tradition I was raised in I have had a million thoughts like that one. But I have rarely said them publicly. I'm not concerned with theology, I'm interested in the visual poetry of Divine Love and how it moves through me and around me. I want to know what serves Love to all of us on a table that has room for all of us. I don't worry about heresy anymore - I already know most of the church would consider me a heretic and I'm okay with that. I just know that it's only me on the other side of this screen. It's my own heart and mind forming these words. It's my own anxiety disorder responding to negativity. It's my own humanity colliding with my own encounters with The Divine and it's been easier to not always say the really wild things. But I get asked about how I see the Divine story by fellow deconstructionists all the time and, truthfully, this is for them. If you aren't in a part of your life where you are questioning your tradition or are open to having ever been wrong about who/what you think God is - this just isn't the post for you. I'm not offended by that, but I'm also not breathing my own vulnerability out into the world in order to make someone else feel justified in a response that would dehumanize anyone else. So, before you comment (here or on Facebook) I would ask you to consider your own path, your own heart, your own devotion to a life that serves Love. This is a safe place for people who are deconstructing, which means I am committed to clearing away comments that would trigger or hurt them. I can't make everyone happy, but I can absolutely hold sacred ground for those of you who are finding yourselves for the first time.
Okay, I'm just going to say it out loud right now: I love this woman. We met at the CAST event on Holy Saturday last month - we were both presenting and she performed this KICK ASS spoken word. There is something about Erica that exudes life, like SO MUCH LIFE. She is a well of light and I was so moved by this interview with her. I hope her words - her truth telling - speaks to you in the same deep way it spoke to me. Ready? Meet Erica, babes....
Hi Erica! Will you tell us about where you've come from and what sparked your own personal awakening or deconstruction?
Back in November, I was out of town for work and ended up salsa dancing with guy. I came home from the trip feeling all sorts of things-frustrated that I didn’t feel that wanted by my husband, ashamed that I let some brief dance mess with my head so much. A couple days later, my husband crossed a boundary that I had clearly created. It was from this point that my life started spiraling.
Context: my husband and I both slept with other people while married to one another. Through this, I endured a lot of verbal abuse and neglect from my spouse while he was angry. I had slept with more people so his mistakes weren’t as bad. We did not progress towards healing but I did however set up some boundaries that were non-negotiable.
Once he crossed the boundary, with all of my frustrations from the paragraph above still in tact, I asked him for a 6 month separation. The attachment with my husband had been severed so I began responding in a flight manner. I checked out, stopped feeling, started looking for ways to numb. It was in the numbing that I found anger and distrust with God. I began isolating. I began self-sabotaging.
I’ve been on a journey ever since to get back the feeling of my body and emotions. I’ve been on a journey ever since to consider trusting God again.
What kind of obstacles did you face that brought deeper awareness?
My need to be attractive to men really started bubbling up in this process. My need to be touched sensually was beginning to be overwhelming and began consuming my thoughts. Which of course, bred more shame because, “what the actual fuck Erica? We’ve been down this road before and here you are again”.
As I mentioned before the shame caused some isolation. My mind gets really dark and twisty when I’m all alone without anyone to help unwind my obsessions. One day when I was super stoned, God gave me this vision that fucking floored me.
While I was berating myself about being in the same spot as before, learning the same lesson, I got this picture of me laying in a hole in the ground. I was also the person standing over myself, shoveling dirt over the top. I was burying the girl that I used to be. The girl that did all the cheating, the girl that kept fucking up.
This was a very mainstream Christian metaphor playing out in my mind. Then I got sick to my stomach. I felt so violent burying myself.
Then, for the first time in a long fucking time, I considered that Jesus absorbed all the violence for me so I didn’t need to self sabotage or punish myself.
Holy shit. What? I’m aware that I felt the need to punish the old me instead of heal her. It turns out, I’m not learning a new lesson. I buried that girl and pretended she never existed, like she never tried to sabotage her world. She’s back from the dead and home girl wants some love.
How has your self view and world view changed?
I began using the enneagram to help see myself for who I am in health and in unhealth. A lot of how I view the world is so intense and I needed to be reminded that just because it’s a reality in my head, doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a reality in real life. I’m learning that my personality type is actually rare so I can affirm my feelings of not fitting in all the way. I can learn to see myself as a gift to this world.
This process of undoing has showed me too that it’s people who are frightened by vulnerability and darkness, not the Divine. In that epiphany, I've felt like I can let go of what I think others might think, ignore what people have so ignorantly heaped on top of me and just be me. I mean that in the sense that I don’t fully know myself but that I don’t have to be anything that I’m not or believe what I don’t.
What do you believe everyone in the world deserves to have and how does that shape the way you live your life?
Really good fucking community. Like, deep in your bones, sits at the back of your eyes at all times, love from a community. It wasn’t until Isat across the table from my friends, alcohol buzz sponsoring my words, telling them, “This is me. Will you love me anyway?”
I think all of heaven fell apart when I articulated what I think most people feel but may not have the courage to ask: Will you promise to love me if I show you me? I say that heaven fell apart because my friends did too. I looked into water welled eyes as they reassured their love for me-no matter what.
Big exhale and maybe a little chuckle for thinking I might be less than perfect in their eyes or God’s for that matter. Fuck man. The lies that shame gets us to believe.
What advice or encouragement would you give to someone else who is going through their own awakening or deconstruction?
There are thousands of people who will never garner enough courage to look deep within themselves or pursue doubt. Don’t think it’s going to be some easy shit. It’s so damn hard.
It’s back and forth. It’s push, pull, drag, kick, scream, cuss, cry, laugh, flip out and sometimes all in a week's worth of work. But you’re worth it. Understanding who you are and being fully aware of your shit is worth it. Knowing the ways you can see God and the ways you doubt it is the only way you CAN grow.
What is one thing you know for certain?
Love. I know that it heals and emboldens. I know that it soothes and empowers.
That’s it. Life feels super harsh and acute to me so I know and want love. The transcendant kind, not the appeasing kind.
How can people find you?
There's another story in the Judeo Christian tradition about Israel's first and second kings. The first was a man named Saul who was chosen through ritual and was so resistant that when they went to find him he was hiding in the baggage. The thing about Saul is that he was tall, and attractive, and he seemed like a good fit. These people had spent generations building a new empire and shaking the narrow place out of their way of life, but we know that memories live in our bodies. Some feelings will run through grandmothers to mothers to daughters before someone is ready to release it. So here they were being ruled by prophets and judges, which makes me think that a people who come from a long line of slavery have no interest in a single leader. I see that happening now as the exodus from church grows and deconstruction becomes a broader conversation. It's an appropriate response for people who are in the thick of reclaiming themselves.
But things fade, stories grow less impactful as they travel from lived experience to records of where they've come from. Now they wanted a more traditional kind of leadership, so they did what we do and they rushed ahead to name Saul their king. Things went the way you would expect: Saul accumulated power, and wealth, and family. There were a few red flags, moments they should have seen that he was manipulative, fear driven, and self serving - but the people really believed that God had chosen him so they followed him anyway.
Let's stop there for a moment.
I look back and wish I had acknowledged past signs that a person or a situation was dangerous or toxic. I ask myself why I didn't say anything then, but I know why. It was always because the person was a master manipulator and I felt crazy for not believing them. When all of your people are on board, when the narcissist is playing to their audience, pulling the plug is a risky move. We want to hope that we're misreading the situation or that the person will change, but this is why churches, and ministries, and organizations far too often leave a trail of bodies. We are instinctively drawn to tribalism - it's what makes us feel safe and known - and no one calls for loyalty to the tribe more than the church. Even if it means that human beings are confined to a narrow place. I want you to know that there is no shame in having stayed too long or in having believed someone whose intention was to use and deceive you. Now that we know better, we do better. But shame is not a part of this story.
Back to the story. Something strange happened. A prophet named Samuel broke rank - as true prophets always do. He knew that Saul wasn't a healthy leader so he sought out a particular family and anointed their youngest son - a shepherd who wrote songs and poetry. A boy who was at home in the wilderness.
Which is where we know Divine Love actively creates healing and freedom.
Which is where this whole story started in the first place.
Imagine the intensity of that moment, of the knowing David's family carried with them from then on. This is the part of the narrative when everything starts to swell, when our vision gets broader, and we know that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE. Remember the exodus that told us we are worth rescuing, that even the undercurrent of oppression is a system God always rejects? Now is the time. It all has to shift right now.
But when the ritual was over Samuel went home and David went back to his sheep. That was it. Nothing changed.
The deep disappointment of the wrong person maintaining a position of power deflates us. And like the Hebrews at the water of Marah we scream into the wilderness, what now?
The story unfolds the way we expect it to, Israel goes to war and David volunteers to go face to face with Goliath. He goes into battle without armor and with only a slingshot as a weapon. David's shot is clear and precise, he wins and all of Israel falls in love with the shepherd boy. It seems like things are picking up but this is actually where things start to get sticky. We already know that something has been brewing under the surface with Saul all along. Whether it was mental illness, narcissism, or a massive amount of insecurity coupled with power - Saul starts to slip. He hears the songs being sung about David, he sees the love his own son and people have for him, and he knows his position of power is being threatened. Because in reality being good looking and quick with excuses that justify the misuse of power is not enough to keep someone in control.
The story says that Saul began to have violent, unstable episodes so David offered to play and sing for him - the man who knew he was the rightful King of Israel sat at the feet of the mad king and attempted to soothe him. As is always the case with inflamed ego it wasn't long before Saul's rage increased and he tried to kill David and my favorite part of this story happens right here. David didn't pick up the spears that were thrown at him and throw them back. Instead he ducked and he kept playing. Not because he was weak, but because he was more. He was already trained in wilderness, already at home with himself, already confident that The Divine was for him. David already knew oasis.
He had to leave though. He had to get up and leave Saul and it cost him. David lost his best friend, his wife, his status, his reputation, and his tribe. He knew where to go and he knew how to survive - his life as a shepherd had prepared him for the wilderness. He was used to the cold, and the wild, and the wide open sky full of Universe. This is the life he had already lived and he didn't hesitate to live it again. I've always wondered if he ever considered going back to Israel and taking what had been promised to him or if he questioned why Samuel had ever given him the hope of something more. Whatever was happening for David out in the desert, one thing we know for sure: he wrote. His pain, and loneliness, and uncertainty poured out into poetry and songs. I know the potency of that experience and I am one million percent certain that that open conduit of creativity and vulnerability is part of what made David a man worth following. He wasn't emotionally blocked, he was wide open energy. He lived his life by ripping open his rib cage and letting his heart breathe - and that's what Rob Bell says prayer is.
Eventually discontent people started leaving Israel to seek out David. And I want you to know how important it is to know that these people were discontent. Remember that the Hebrew people had another word for Egypt that translates to "the narrow place"? And remember that when they left that life of oppression and slavery they came to the waters of Marah? Remember that the bitterness of that water would have healed them, but they didn't know yet that God was for them, so they asked for something sweet? I love that The Divine always meets us where we we're at, knowing that we're not always ready for the deepest healing. So they drank the water sweet but the invitation to deeper wells had never been retracted.
Generations later in the recorded story of David's life, these discontent people found their way to him and devoted themselves to his wilderness life. The translated word for "discontent" means bitter. Years after their ancestors had rejected the bitter water, David welcomed it into his camp. Even though his ancestors weren't ready for it, the need for healing had never stopped moving through their blood and Divine Love had kept the flow open for the one who was ready to feel it. He who had already reconciled to the hard work of being alone, of not knowing that the promise would ever come, of losing everything that had made his life safe and comfortable, of running from a mad king - he knew that The Divine was for him and that even the bitter water was for him. And let me tell you, people who have left a Saul will always be angry or bitter for awhile. It's an appropriate response to having served a manipulator who has no empathy for the people they are leading. You GET to be angry when you leave the narrow place, your heart is catching up to your body and it takes a whole lot of internal processing to feel whole again.
David had left Saul's house, but he wasn't free from Saul's abuse. Saul came for him, he raged against him, he brought armies of soldiers to try to hunt David and wipe him out. There were a few times that David had the opportunity to kill Saul and no one would have blamed him, but he refused. Because David already knew who he was and because he trusted that The Divine would either deliver the promise or not. He was open handed with his own path and the bitter water had done its work of purging the old way from David.
Those discontent people were called David's Mighty Men. They left Saul for the wilderness too - and that kind of experience creates something stronger than tribalism. It creates family. There is a knowing that some of us carry in our bodies and will always recognize in one another, a deep feeling of having lost everything in order to live free. The deconstruction of faith often happens because we have spent far too long building someone else's empire, soothing someone else's madness. We haven't taken a real breath in years and we suddenly know we just can't live this false life anymore. So we enter the wilderness, not to get lost but to be found. We don't start a war to lay claim to everything we think we are owed. We go deep into the desert and we drink the bitter water. We reconcile to ourselves there, we experience the mystical creation of love and freedom in the dark silence of wilderness. We encounter. We wake up. We let go.
There is no new life without the death of an old one. There is no promised land without leaving the narrow place. There is no cleansing without first drinking the bitter water. There is no freedom without leaving Saul.
What is meant for you will come to you and what is not meant for you will leave you, but the practice of an open hand and an open heart is the only way to finally heal what has been stirring in you since you first stepped foot outside of Egypt. It's okay if you don't trust the bitterness yet, if you don't trust The Divine yet, if you don't trust the promise of more yet. It's okay if you are grieving the loss of the life you once had - even if it was a life of oppression and pain. It's okay if you are only just beginning to shake your arms free in this new wide open space. It's okay, friend. Because this is where you are right now and The Divine/The Universe/Source/God always meets us where we're at.
The invitation to deeper wells has never been retracted.
First there is a story about slaves who had been liberated from centuries of dying from a life that was never their own. There are poetic miracles that make us want to believe in a God who wants freedom for human beings so badly that They will defy what we know to be true in order to rescue us. We align ourselves with those free people who were forging more than a path through the desert - they were conjuring up a new way of life out of dust, and heat, and fire, and a hovering cloud. We feel their breath in our bodies, the hum of human connection at the base of our own existence. We remember Ubuntu: I am you and you are me. We once left Egypt.
Alexander Shaia once said that there is a word the Hebrews used for Egypt that, when translated, means “the narrow place”. Can you see that? The way the narrow place, the smallness, the oppression, the abuse faded away behind them as they stepped into a wide wilderness? The openness of the sky and the cold night air, no more walls and doors to lock them in with the heat? The strength and exhaustion of bodies that had built someone else’s empire before standing open hearted in the sweet air of uncontained desert? The loss they carried with them, the grief of children murdered and families desperate to survive? The scars on their bodies and the cracks in their hearts? It wasn’t supposed to be that way. It was never supposed to be that way. Don’t you know you were never meant to live that way?
Something happens when we leave the old thing, when the narrow way closes behind us, when we liberate ourselves from abuse of any kind. Once we’re no longer surviving the pain, our subtle bodies catch up to us and we find out just how angry we are. The church won’t tell you this, but it’s just to be angry, it’s fair to be bitter, it’s valid to flinch when a trigger happens. You’ve been crushed, beaten down, manipulated, mistreated, used, lied about, lied to, dishonored, violated, ignored… you’ve been building an empire that doesn’t serve love and the weight of that is too much. So scream into the fucking wind and let the truth of what has happened to you exist everywhere else, but don’t let it get trapped under spiritual abuse or silencing.
At some point in the story those wilderness wanderers had been walking for three days without water. They were exhausted, depleted, and already emotionally thin - you know that feeling of being so soul dry you almost can’t get out of bed in the morning? Imagine that coupled with sheer physical despair.
But then it’s right there: water. Water enough for everyone to drink and maybe, maybe The Divine is watching out after all. Until they drink it…
The water is bitter. As bitter as their now free hearts. So bitter it burns in their mouths, stings the cracks on their lips, and drops their lingering hope onto dry desert floor. The wholehearted despair is as thick as the cloud that reminds them they were worth saving. But now the story feels dark, feels cruel, feels like God Themselves have forgotten about them. As if they were forgettable. As if humanity weren’t always the point of the entire story. As if we had left Egypt for nothing.
They do what we have all done: they go dark. They slip into the shadows of their pain and they angrily ask Moses what now? Weirdly Moses finds a stick and he throws it in the water, turning it sweet, and they’re saved by a miracle. But not really. The sweet water wasn’t the miracle, the bitter water was. The ritual with the stick wasn’t the healing, the desert pool was. We know now why the water at Marah was bitter and we know now why Divine Love offered it. The high levels of calcium and magnesium in the water would have done two necessary things for them, for us. The magnesium would have worked as a laxative, purging any parasite or disease they had carried out of the narrow place with them. They would have moved into their new life with a fresh start, cleansed. A short distance away was an oasis called Elim and they would have rested there, healed there, prepared themselves for the kind of wandering that leads us all away from the old thing and into the new.
There’s something else. Endurance athletes use something called dolomite to survive in harsh conditions and for long periods of time. Dolomite contains calcium and magnesium. The bitter water was for them. The Divine was for them. All that time in the narrow place had taught them survival, but not trust. It’s hard to believe that the universe is working for our good, that Divine Love has one goal in mind: to lead us to a good, free life. We aren’t handed this version of God, we aren’t given a picture of a god who has always been creating in deep wilderness to bring people home to themselves.
When we reframe who we think God is we do something miraculous: we face bitter water and we find that we’re willing to drink it. Not because we’re martyrs and not because “God won’t give us more than we can handle”, but because - at the core of our existence - we know that The Divine is for us. We know that the universe is propelling us forward and that surrendering to that flow is the act that sets us free. If everyone and everything is our teacher, then nothing about our experience can be used against us. Nothing can diminish the soul deep knowing of how good we are, how worthy we are, how loved we are. It is the practice of that belief that makes us a student of the wilderness and not a slave to the narrow place.
I know the exact way bitter water slides down my throat, fills my soul, and asks me to fall back into an unseen oasis. I know the bitterness of an anxiety disorder that is as present as my skin most days. I know the bitterness of being an adult long before I was done being a child. I know the bitterness of multiple sexual assaults. I know the bitterness of both men and women in churches and ministries minimizing me and suffocating the life out of my soul. I know the toxic bitterness of purity culture. I know the bitterness of a depression so deep I tried to die. I know the bitterness of a marriage that was a product of trauma and intensely painful for almost the entire 14 years we were in it. I know the bitterness of holding my convulsing, vomiting baby while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. I know the bitterness of two hours spent in an ER thinking she had died without me. I know the bitterness of pouring my life, my creativity, my heart, and my values into a ministry that I now know abuses people. I know the bitterness of leaving my own narrow place and spending years dodging assaults from the people still camped out there. I know the bitterness of losing friends I trusted. I know the bitterness of divorce. I know the bitterness of being manipulated into a relationship with a man who I painfully learned was a narcissist and a liar - but all in the name of Jesus.
The point about all of this bitterness is that it has a purpose, but it has to move through us. We can taste it, talk about it, feel it, breathe it - but we can’t live in it forever. Bitter water is meant to purge us, to cleanse us, to heal us. It’s what the wild forces of love and freedom create for the sake of bringing us closer to our deepest healing. And we only find it in the wilderness, tucked between plants that thrive off of almost nothing and mountains that give us a view of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go - because The Divine has always used the wilderness to meet with us.
There’s more though. The story stretches all the way past finding a home, planting roots, and establishing a new kingdom - one they built for themselves this time. The threads of this particular human experience make the story of David in the wilderness even more important.
And that's the part I can't wait to tell you.
*Come back tomorrow for part two of Leaving Saul
Forward movement is rough sometimes. It's not always easy and it FOR SURE helps to have inspiration and motivation coming at you from all directions. So, here's what is sparking life in me this week (and go get you some spark, babes):
| THE DIVINE DANCE |
Richard Rohr is a guru, a distributor of sacred truth, and an epic human being. I don't know, guys. I just can't get enough of what he has to say about the world and The Divine. I'm re-reading The Divine Dance and we need it. We all need it. If you haven't read it yet go get you a copy and start flowing.
| THE ETHICS OF F*CKING |
These two podcast episodes from The Liturgists are SO FUCKING GOOD. They talk about the culture of sex, the science of sexuality, and the perspectives that have left so many people feeling disconnected and ashamed. If you're a refugee of purity culture, this is a must listen.
| THEN AND NOW PLAYLIST |
If you're on Apple Music you can follow me (@stephaniemmoors) and press shuffle on this playlist. It's basically on repeat in my house and car right now.
| KACHAVA SHAKES |
I've been obsessed with this vegan shake for about a year now and it serves me SO WELL on days when my anxiety is high. It's hard for me to eat when I'm anxious, so I've been trying to supplement a meal with this chocolate shake when I'm having a hard time eating.
And P.S. I'm suuuuuper picky about shakes and supplements so I looked long and hard for one that tasted amazing AND actually served up real nutrients without extra weird shit.
| BINGE WORTHY |
I'm requiring a lot of self care and introvert space right now. It's just part of the emotional exhaustion of a divorce and working my ass off all day long with three businesses and three kids. The end of my night is either spent FaceTiming with one of my inner-inner-inner-inner circle friends or pulling up Netflix or Hulu. Since Good Girls started I've been obsessed. It's seriously so good and so binge worthy.
| RELEASE |
I've been pouring on the Release blend like it's a lifeline. Some days, maybe it honestly is. I love this blend, you guys. I have loved it since my sweet love affair with Young Living began and I'm never giving it up. Diffusing it or applying it daily is helping me move through some stuck, painful emotions.
| YOGA |
I live in Phoenix and yoga is everywhere. There are so many amazing instructors you can take from and I legit love checking out new classes when I can. BUT I'm so committed to these two instructors because of how rad they are and how much they unknowingly held space for me while I worked some shit out a few years ago.
Babes, meet Morgan. We first met years ago through a yoga school and were immediate friends. I told her the other day that when I look back at the paths we have walked I know that we were always walking alongside one another. We do different work, but it overlaps so often and so intentionally. I genuinely CANNOT WAIT for you to get to know her and the work she does with her life. You just aren't going to find another person so devoted to the healing of all women, so grab a tea or a glass of wine and lean in. Morgan's story is raw, beautiful, brutal, and so validating to the human experience.
Hi Morgan! Will you tell us about where you've come from and what sparked your own personal awakening or deconstruction? What kind of obstacles did you face that brought deeper awareness?
When I was 15 I was raped by two boys who had brought me to a christian youth ministry. I didn’t grow up in the church, but I always wanted to know God, and so the invite felt like the beginning of something big. When things ended up the way they did I felt so much shame. I had internalized the message that something about me, an “unsaved” woman, was so bad and dangerous, that something about me must have made them do what they did.
Never did the word “rape” even enter my vocabulary for that experience until much later when I began the journey of feminine wholeness, and I started healing from the sexual and spiritual trauma of my experiences as a woman.
It was someone else (a therapist) that had to say the words out loud for me, because I never could. And because I never could, I never grieved. Life just went on, but it never was the same again. In highschool I was the girl with the Scarlet Letter. I never fought back against the gossip. So deeply did I believe I was the one that caused them to stumble (I drank too much, my shorts were too short, etc) I wrote a letter of apology to their mothers.
A 10 year battle with chronic depression and anxiety began and I never connected the dots. I just withdrew my light from the world and developed a deep fear of expressing who I was.
Alone I felt safe.
Alone I could feel God.
Alone I could dream and believe I was made for great things.
“Out there” (with my peers, at a church, in the job-market, wherever) felt like a place I didn’t belong.
I went inward and pursued happiness within. Instead of following the culturally acceptable path of going to college, getting a good job, getting married, having kids, I followed my desire for wholeness inside.
I studied meditation with an Indian guru in Australia for a year. I traveled around the South Pacific and Europe and lived in Italy alone. I went back to school to get my master’s degree in Eastern Philosophy. I got pregnant on a one-night stand.
I was 26 and a single mom. For 11 years I had tried to travel faster than my shadow, seeking answers to my deepest questions about love, freedom and who I was. Now I was back in the town I lived in where I was raped, living in my parent’s house, wearing the same Scarlet Letter, feeling foolish for ever believing I was more than what my small town thought of me.
In the dark place of shame and despair, I realized I had a choice:
I could continue to relate to myself and the world from a place of unworthiness, or I could learn how to relate to myself and the world from a place of wholeness.
I decided I was going to create a life of true romance and meaningful adventure for my son and I, no matter what.
That meant I would pursue freedom and all the things that light me up.
It took me another 11 years and a lot of exploration, personal/spiritual/sexual development, and master-level training in neuropsychology and trauma healing to become any good at this, but I never gave up. (I’m still not giving up because more freedom is always available!)
Even before I became a “Christian” and did all the right “Christiany” things (reading my bible every morning, attending church every Sunday, leading missional community with my husband) I had the awareness that LOVE was more powerful than fear and that what really matters is the quality of our presence, not the doctrine we espouse with our tongue.
I also knew that my heart was good even though others looked/look at me with disdain or ridicule. I had this awareness because even in my darkest hours I could feel an abiding presence, a presence that did not try to fix me or save me from the suffering of my choices or the cruelty of the world, but simply sat with me through it and gently guided back to love again and again and again.
You have done so much good, deep, healing work for yourself. How has your self view and world view changed in the process?
One of the things I tell my kids is “everyone is everything.” There is no such thing as all good or all bad. The consequence of our choices are real, but nothing can change our original essence which is love. No matter how far we feel from our best life, or God... no matter how many people judge us, misunderstand who we are, or try to dismiss our voices and our power, we are still free and no one can take away the quality of our presence.
Every part of us belongs and we can love the world into wholeness by learning to embrace our own shadow and abide in the dark places with our own courageous, tender presence.
And it’s the quality of our presence that makes Children of God, not the religion we follow. Because of what happened to me, my body knew the truth: It doesn’t matter if someone calls themselves a Christian.
Going to church isn’t it.
Quoting scripture isn’t it.
These can be beautiful things, but at the end of the day all that matters is the quality of your presence. Is it a safe and empowering place for others or not?
When I was younger my worldview depended on being chosen, accepted, loved and honored by the world before I felt worthy of loving or honoring myself. I spent three decades waiting for someone else to give me permission to be myself or to validate my relationship with God.
Now, I know I am free and I work every day to remember that freedom by loving myself and honoring the full range of emotion that comes with being a human being.
My desire is to live in such a way that makes it easier for others to be gentle with themselves and the hard parts of their story, so that they too can hand in old shame for new freedom.
I have always been interested in LOVE, more than church. Evangelism never took hold of me, but the mystical encounters did. I consider myself a mystical, contemplative Christian on the Wisdom path. I meet with Jesus through the door of my heart. I do not worry anymore if he is the path for everybody. He is the path for me because I am in love with him. Eros is important to my devotion. Because I trust that it is desire that ultimately leads us home and shows us back to our true self, you could call my Christian path and tantric Christian path.
Knowing what you know now what do you believe everyone in the world deserves to have and how does that shape the way you live your life?
I believe every single person in the world deserves to be seen through the eyes of love.
I try to see myself this way so that my eyes are well-trained at picking up on all the the light emanating from what appears to be only dark.
Conscious love is my path. Gentleness is my speed.
What advice or encouragement would you give to someone else who is going through their own awakening or deconstruction?
The best advice I have comes from one of my spiritual teachers, Cynthia Bourgeault:
“You are the vessel, the instrument that receives the wisdom. It’s not knowing more, it’s knowing deeper, knowing with more of your being engaged.”
Find the teachers, and the embodiment practices that connect you to yourself and your North Star. Maybe you have a name for your North Star or maybe you don’t. Maybe you once had a name for it, but now you aren’t sure. That’s okay.
What’s more important than the name is the felt-sense that you have for the Presence that has always been with you.
Explore this felt-sense Presence through every area of your life-- including the most taboo areas of your sexuality.
The awakening process is down and in, before it is up and out.
Don’t be afraid to go down and into your shadow, and your sexuality, to find the treasure there of your own always-and-forever wholeness.
Deconstruction and spiritual awakening often leave us with a sense of not having answers - and we're okay with that. What is one thing you know for certain?
My favorite quote of all time sums up what I know for sure:
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”
And, for all the things I don’t KNOW about God, I FEEL for certain that God is love.
Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us. I love getting to share with you with the world from this space. How can people find you and your work?
I work with women who desire to embody love and live in wholeness and freedom 1-on-1 through a very specific process of wisdom embodiment that involves liberating all parts of who you are. You can learn more about that process and jump on a free call with me here:
As you know, I love travel and romance and adventure, and one of my favorite things is “shared presence” with other women on retreats:
Free resource for women who grew up in a church that taught them shame around sex:
Free resource to bring deeper connection to your sacred relationship:
Free resource on my favorite self-care practice for feminine wholeness:
“A riot of softness.”
I remember this one monsoon the summer we first separated. He came over to get something and we were standing in the driveway talking. Monsoons are relentless and wild, and we were anchored there, drenched in warm rain, cold because of the wind. We just stood there though, like something brutal would break in us if I went inside and he got in his car. The things that kept us tethered to each other were so long running - so wrapped up in trauma, and codependency, and loneliness, and need, and emotional hunger, and addiction, and the unraveling sense that maybe we were nothing if we weren't making hurricanes out of love. That summer was so long ago. I shouldn't remember the distinct way the rain smelled, the sharp way my heart kept cracking under the weight of grief - but I do. It's a sense memory that is sometimes stronger when it rains or when I wake up in the middle of the night, still thick in a dream that's probably just my soul trying to process the way love and loss collide.
Someone asked me recently why I went back to him that time, why I spent two years digging myself out of the cycle of addiction and abuse only to go right back to it. And damn, I think we all know why we do that. Sometimes it's because we need the cycle in order to feel normal, sometimes it's the familiarity of the other person, sometimes it's because we don't think we'll be able to make it without them. For me, that time, it was because I was waking up to the part I had played in the dysfunctional system we had created together and he was finally working recovery. I wanted to try to salvage us. I would say it had something to do with the kids (and it did a little), but he had been my best friend since I was 15. I didn't want to lose that. I didn't want to be without him - it wasn't just that I didn't want to be alone, I didn't want to be without HIM.
When we first met he walked into a part of me that had been alone and lonely my entire life. I had been bleeding out, riding waves of anxiety and depression, barricading myself against letting my guard down, and doing whatever it took to survive life. We were both hurting - his parents had just gotten a divorce and his childhood had been traumatic long before that - so we leaned right into friendship. He was the thing that stood between me and the never ending feeling of being alone in the world.
Once, when we were 18, his girlfriend told him he couldn't be friends with me anymore and he cut me off. For almost 2 years our friendship was gone, there was a wall between us that felt like a broken part of me. I hated that feeling, it felt like a breakup that had nothing to do with romance and everything to do with souls. I think that's part of why I married him, I genuinely have never known what to do with the loss of his friendship and I always knew that another woman would ask the same thing of him someday.
The thing is, I have loved him. Because of who we were to each other, I'll always love him. The fucked up shit we've lived through together, the kids we raise together, the immense amount of inner strength it took to finally end the cycle of misery in our marriage - those things will keep threads of love for him alive in me. But everything is different now. Everything has changed and there's no going back, there's no more need to go back.
This time when we separated, we did it knowing that this was it. I remember that day too, another summer that felt like my heart was actually, literally breaking. The way we looked at each other, that brutal thing finally breaking in us both. I said the words and his head dropped before he looked me right in the eyes and said, "I know". We wanted to honor the friendship that had carried us through more than half of our lives, but divorce makes that so hard. Divorce is so hard. There is nothing in the human experience that feels quite like THAT. And for me, in my own unique experience, there is nothing that has compared to the loss of the friendship that kept me from completely bleeding out for 22 years. I survived the way addiction stripped the humanity out of our marriage, the way abuse and gaslighting cycled through our relationship only because I fucking loved him. I didn't want to be without him. For a really, really long time I was willing to be unloved in order to grip something that let me maintain a conjured up sense of being known. I convinced myself that he was safe and that I needed to be safe. I wasn't safe. I was depleted, and hurting, and confused, and becoming less and less myself by the year. I was more like the version of myself I hate - the tired, angry, depressed, defensive parts of me were almost all that was left. And the last time he relapsed he waited 6 months to tell me, dropping it like the last bomb on our anniversary. I felt the very last drop of resiliency dry up in me. I knew that I could never call it back to life in me again. I was done because I had to be done, because neither one of us could keep living this life, because my kids were growing up in a system that was teaching them to normalize all of this. We couldn't do this anymore. I couldn't do this anymore.
I stayed with him because I loved him. I left him because I loved him and I wanted us both to have a chance to be happy. I stay gone because I love me.
The thing I learn every time I hit a wall, every time grief slams into me like a tidal wave, every time I wake up with my heart aching, every time I hold my 7 year old because she misses him, every time I facetime with my kids when they miss me, every time I feel the weight of truly being alone for the first time in my life, every time I sit with Gina and purge my soul, every time something happens that makes me feel like I'm fucking dying, every time my biggest fear in losing this friendship happens ... the thing I wake up to is that I'm surviving, I'm here, I'm still in this. I wake up in the morning. I make it through the day. I do the work to free myself from so much more than a toxic cycle in my completed marriage. I do the work to free myself from the need for someone else to make me feel known and safe. I do what it takes to go all the way through the pain, let it run through me like a river and leave me softer than I was when I started.
I am learning how to let the ache soften me instead of sharpen me, to be more like water and less than ice. I am learning how to let myself love someone I will not be with, because love is allowed to live in me. I am learning how to love myself enough to stay gone, to keep moving forward, to shake myself free. I am learning how to show up to the hardest parts of single parenting, of healing myself, of working my ass off to provide for my kids, of waking up to who I've been and who I'm becoming.
I didn't navigate my marriage perfectly - actually I made my own mess in my own codependent way. I'm not even navigating my divorce perfectly, but I'm present to it. I'm committed to owning my mistakes, forgiving myself and him, telling the truth with my life, and parenting like a badass. I'm learning that softness is a riot, a revolution, an awakening. It is something that is shaping me into a truer version of myself. I'm here for it. Awake to it. Devoted to it.
There is something this kind of stripping away does to us, something deep that we all know now. Divorce changes everything and we choose how it changes us. We choose the path that takes us towards freedom or the path that takes us towards self protection. We choose ourselves or we choose to numb the pain, but either way life is happening. Either way something brutal is breaking in us. We'll hold that sense memory in our bones, hurting a little every time our hearts remember. We'll wish there had been another path available to us, but we'll know that this is the only way to freedom. We'll reconcile to the love that lingers and we'll let the truth of our loss say what it needs to. We'll get some distance, little by little. We'll wake up and we'll reclaim ourselves - the parts of ourselves we were numbing by staying in that relationship. We'll heal ourselves because we have always been the healers we were needing.
We'll grow softer, and stronger, and free-er in the pain and then we'll finally know how to rise. That's the only way we'll ever learn the art of rising. I swear to you, someday there will be a rising. It might come slowly, but whatever the pain is - it won't have you. Divorce won't have you, deconstruction won't have you, abandonment won't have you, shame won't have you, loss won't have you, abuse won't have you, addiction won't have you. The riot of softness that is stirring in you will teach you how to rise and the hurricane will.not.have.you.
“It is often overwhelming to imagine changing our entire way of life. Where do we begin? How do we take down a wall that took 25 or 50 years to erect? Breath by breath. Little death by little death. Dropping all we carry instant by instant. Trusting that what has done the carrying, if freed, will carry us.”
Not one tiny speck of me believes that Jesus came to start Christianity. I don't believe it anymore, not even a little bit. But I do believe that Divine Love has been meeting us through Christianity, as they have always done and will always do.
I know, babes. That statement is going to cause some offense and that's not actually what I'm trying to do - mostly because I'm not trying to talk to religious people, I'm trying to talk to the rest of us, to the spiritual wanderers, and sacred disruptors, and the people who have lived their lives seeing Divine light in the dark. So, I'll leave it there and we can love it or hate it, but - like all inspiration that comes to us in the dark - it'll keep moving through the world and giving a whole lot of us the exhale we've been holding in for a long, long time.
Here's what I mean.
You know the saying, "we don't see people as they are, we see them as we are"? And you know the tradition that says "God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow"? This is how I see it: The Divine has always been the same entity, holding the Universe in their DNA and creating new things out of the same flow over and over again. They are bigger, broader, fuller, vaster, wider, deeper, and much more expansive than we will ever have the capacity to grasp. I see The Divine as a mystical, energetic entity who are always participating in the divine flow of love. They haven't changed, they have no need to change. They have always, always, always met humanity right where they are because that's where they are. At the risk of exhausting the same analogy used in every church service ever - it's the same kind of tenderness I meet my children with, knowing that what they need at 5 is different than what they need at 13. Who my kids are is always changing, they are evolving and how I meet them depends on what they need in the moment. But I am me - always their mama, always steadily loving them and showing up for them. Divine Love is always Them - always the origin of love and healing, always steadily showing up for us. Even as we evolve. Even as culture shifts and as we change course. They haven't changed, but we have. The evidence of it is in how we look back at ancient writings (the bible) and traditions that have to change in order for us to keep participating in the divine flow.
All this time we have been seeing God as we are, not as They are. We have been writing about God through the filter of how we perceive and what we need. We have been preaching gospels and making rules based on the image of God that makes the most sense to what someone once needed. But if we don't keep growing, keep healing, keep evolving we're going to get stuck. We're going to get lost on a path that was never meant for us to give our lives to. We're going to abandon the divine flow for the comfort of the past - and only because the past is a familiar we know.
We're going to have to risk.
We're going to have to ask the kind of questions that dismantle everything, trusting that if God is as God as we say They are we'll still be standing face to face with Love at the end of it all. And, if not, then we will have still freed ourselves from a system that is suffocating humanity more and more by the minute.
Instead of defending or ignoring a gospel we can't even reconcile to in our deepest selves, we can ask better questions. We don't have to create a dualistic response to the things we can't come to terms with in the history of the Judeo Christian tradition, saying this is in and that's out. We can remember what it's like to be human and let the records of how other people interpreted their experiences with The Divine thousands of years ago be exactly that: their records, their experiences, their filter. We can let both exist. We can abandon the either/or perspective for something bigger: a long time ago some people lived in a tribal world, served a God who they felt chosen by (and don't we all), wrote poetry, and stories, and even boring accounts of what they felt and lived - and this is how they saw God then. This is how God made sense to those people at that time (we could have an entirely bigger conversation about how and why it was all translated into English the way it was, but one topic at a time).
I mean, step back for a minute. Get a wider view. Today we write articles, and books, and blogs, and social media posts, and record podcasts and shows about how we encounter The Divine and I'll be the first to admit that how I see God has drastically evolved over the years. The me of 20 years ago would think the me right now is a heretic. Richard Rohr says that THAT is growth. That is how I know I'm growing, evolving, changing, expanding. I'm not who I was then, which means God looks different to me now.
We don't see God as They are, we see Them as we are. And I would think They're okay with that. I think Divine Love knows exactly how hard it is to be human, how frustrating it is to try to navigate the tension between both being grounded to our human experience and feeling pulled into something bigger than us.
I don't believe that Jesus came to start Christianity and, in fact, I think the modern western church resembles the very thing Jesus pushed back on and was killed for. But I do think Jesus came to teach us how to be human and deconstructing our faith can either separate us from that or can finally open the doors to it. We can either live dualistically on the other side of Christianity or we can open ourselves to the possibility that The Divine have always been meeting us where we are and we have always been trying to define that deep tenderness and presence. None of this is new.
Maybe the next time we find ourselves in a tense conversation about how antiquated and patriaricharical the bible is, the next time someone tosses out a "just read the word" to try to end a conversation they really don't know how to have, the next time we remember something from those scriptures that absolutely, without a doubt contrasts who we know Divine Love to have steadily been throughout human experience we can remember how it feels to be human. Maybe we can stop trying to make the writings of other wandering people into divinely inspired words and we can let them rest. And maybe that will release us from the pain of imagining God as brutal, cold, and disconnected. Maybe it will give us the peace we need to move forward without an either/or - as infuriating as that is to religion. We don't need those absolutes. We need to keep evolving so that we can keep encountering the divine flow of love in new ways. We need to keep writing it down and telling the stories so that we ALL keep growing past this moment. And, with every gloriously earned inch of humility, we need to allow God to be fully, vastly, mystically God. Anne Lamott said that we can know that we have successfully made God in our own image when God hates the same people we do. You know what that means, right? God will never be as we see Them. God will never be made in the image of our fear, and religion, and shame, and anger, and justifications, and intense need to fit somewhere. God has been, is, and always will be outside of how We see them, but not outside of meeting humanity where we are. To serve Love, we'll have to keep forgiving the old thing for the humanness of it and growing into the new thing.
For me, I'm not a Christian. I'm a Jesus follower though. I'm a student of Divine Love. I'm a tragically, beautifully fragmented human being who is constantly being met right where I am. I'm growing, evolving, changing, course correcting, and finding new treatment for old wounds the deeper I move into the divine flow. Hopefully I'll keep moving forward, keep encountering new things that challenge me and heal me so that how I see God is as fluid and free as how They see me.
The first thing your deconstruction will do is give you a deep sense of catching air again, like whatever has been sitting on your chest, crushing your lungs has lifted & you can breathe. The second thing your deconstruction will do is send out a beacon to all the religious defenders to come set you straight. It’s unfortunate, and exhausting, and inevitable. I remember Rob Bell talking about the response to his book Love Wins in a podcast once. He said that when religious people believe they are defending the Almighty there is a unique venom that they spew.
We all know the taste of that venom, the sting of it, the particular way it curls into your gut and tells a story other than freedom and love. We probably know it because it’s a poison we’ve both spewed and consumed. We know it because we’ve lived it, sold it like a lifeline to hungry people. We know it because religion has touched us all in some way and some of us have had to undo everything in order to clear the contaminants from our eyes & choose another path. Like the story of Saul, traveling a road to demolish the followers of the Way - the ones who had deconstructed Jewish faith and chosen the path of a radical love activist. Caught on a road between who he had once been & who he was capable of being, met with merciful blindness and a deep conviction that his defense was not in the name of God, but in the name of religion, and fear, and control, and a kingdom that did not serve love.
In the same podcast Rob said that he knows that the people who set out to demolish him didn’t have a problem with his book, they had a problem with their own tradition. And that’s where the invitation to deconstruct always presents itself. When what you are doing is no longer working, when you are going out of your way to minimize the experience of another person or to shape their path to fit yours - you have lost the path. But. That. Does. Not. Leave. You. Hopeless. You can turn, like Saul did. You can reorient and open your tight fists to the divine flow. You can give it up - the fight to be right, to control how other people encounter god, to be heard or justified. You can expand for something new, and wild, and pure. Be free, friends.
There's a particular way I have survived life from a very early age: I analyzed what people wanted from me and then I became it. I used my power as an empath to discern what was needed and then I gave it. Every last drop.
The church wanted my smallness, my purity, my submission to insecure, narcissistic men. My family wanted my steadiness, my capacity to carry the emotions that ran through our home. My childhood friends wanted my ability to agree to everything, to quietly go along with the way we did things. One friend wanted my affection and when I wouldn't give it he took a twisted version of it anyway. Ministry leaders wanted my invisibility and my learned ability to take the brunt of their own childish reactions to girls who loved Jesus. My ex-husband wanted my codependent attempts to make him feel better about a lifetime of abuse and disappointment. When I couldn't give that anymore, he wanted my submission to a narrative that made me the enemy. My former yoga community wanted my learned capacity to serve a narcissist. And my own dysfunctional self wanted to survive at all costs.
Going wild comes in waves, in pieces, in layers. It starts somewhere small, with a thin skin that didn't cause too much loss to shed. It starts with pulling back at something that you are desperate to peel off of you and then there you are. A truer part of you surfaces, takes a breath, and is born.
It's beautiful, liberating, breathtaking, and so painful. Babes, it hurts to go wild. You stretch past skin and breath and heart that have acted like boundary lines your entire life. You learn the language of your intuition and realize how often you have ignored her, leaving you in situations that still burn in your mind. You make a million mistakes when you flex new muscles for the first hundred times. You lose elements of who you have been to uncover who you have always been waiting to be. You keep waking up at 3am to grieve what was, what you will never be again. There is no unknowing what you know now and there is no going back to a compressed, lifeless existence. Your heart learns what it's like to live outside of being abused and manipulated. Your soul learns what it feels like to take such a deep inhale that you expand in every direction. You are waking up, slowly and brutally. You are coming back to life, gloriously and in full color.
I've shed purity culture and reconciled to my body and my sexuality. I started making decisions about my relationship with sex and how connected that is to my relationship with myself. I've made mistakes, but they have never felt like shame. Shame only comes when you have denied your truest self, your divine connection, or your intuition. I listened to all three and moved forward as freely as I was capable of - and then I changed course immediately if one of those three voices started to stir in another direction.
I completed my relationship with the church, not angrily or bitterly, but fully and completely. That way of life doesn't fit who I am anymore. I needed to walk through a long process of moving on, but it has only freed me to love deeper and live clearer. Leaving the church liberated me to explore the Jesus path in a new way, to find hidden truth and mercy in passages of scripture that were often interpreted to manipulate me and in new sources, writings, and explorations of where God is. I am reconciling to spirituality and letting it evolve, expand, and grow as it will.
I've released the idea that I need to be married in order to be happy or complete. I don't know that I need it anymore. Without an inch of self deprecation I've recognized that I may not be made for a long term partnership - I'm a whole lot, friends. I'm a 4 with a 5 wing on the enneagram, which means I'm all head and all heart - all the time. I'm always in process, always slowly shifting into something new, always finding new wells to dig, always working on healing or transforming something about myself. I have yet to meet someone who could hold that space with me for a long time and I'm okay with that. I keep myself open to what the universe shifts in my direction, but I've stopped needing it to happen.
I've been painfully extracting the strong desire I have for my divorce to be peaceful, or compassionate, or fair. This is where I practice the law of detachment the most. I know where I am right now, grieving and bleeding out on a weekly basis. I know where I'm going to end up, healed and whole and free from a toxic relationship. But how I get there, what happens to get me there, is not something I want to try to control. It's a daily practice to open my hands and trust that my resiliency and my commitment to peace will attract opportunities to move forward. I mantra through open hands and an open heart as often as I need to.
There's infinitely more to what going wild means for me, but here's what it comes down to: we untether ourselves from expectations, or ill fitting rules, or abuse and manipulation. We set our own hearts free and then we start feeling out the edges and corners of the life we've been living out of habit or force. We learn to really breathe again, to be moved by the force of Love that courses through our veins. We say yes when we want to say yes. We say no when we want to say no. We ask questions and, when we need to, we grieve like wolves alone in the desert. We tap into the primal instincts that make femininity sacred. We listen when our gut is speaking and we shift course when we are no longer being true to ourselves. We accept that our hearts are good and that, if we are really listening, our hearts will direct us onto the divine path over and over again. We speak when we want to speak and we cultivate solitude when we need to be spiritually fed. We let The Divine be more expansive than we were ever taught to believe They could be. We see our interactions with people as opportunities to grow or heal ourselves. We meet each other and ourselves exactly where we are at. We stop apologizing for being who we are, for walking the road to Divine Love in the way that we do. We celebrate our bodies, our hearts, our minds, our powerful personalities. We move forward, whatever that looks like.
Going wild is in us. It's something we have always needed to do and something we are warned against doing. There's a reason patriarchy and religion are so terrified of a wild woman, a reason they work so hard at keeping them in their place by using terms like "Jezebel spirit", or "submission", or "helpmeet". There's a reason the myth of virginity and the toxic percpetion of purity is shoved down young girl's throats. There's a reason the culture in general wants women to stay small and quiet. And, hear me, sometimes it sounds reasonable - especially if you were raised to normalize it. But your soul knows, the wolf in you knows, the wild in you knows. You can't keep breaking yourself to fit inside that box anymore. And, when you're ready, you'll peel away a single skin, shed one small thing, taste the way freedom burns on your tongue. When you're ready to breathe again, you'll feel your way forward and you'll know you aren't the only one. You will remember having read this post and you'll know that your wild is celebrated here, safe here, loved here.
When you're ready, set your heart wild again.
"She's an 'all roads lead' person."
The phrase caught my attention because I'd never heard it before. I mean, I'd obviously heard of the dangers of believing that God could be found in any religion other than Christianity. God is one God, I'd heard it often enough to know that God would never diminish himself (and obviously I was taught that God was a man) by existing in the words, and rituals, and beliefs of something other than the Judeo Christian scriptures. God was fixed, certain, unchanging, unwavering, firm in his decision about what it took to encounter him. And no one truly encountered God on a road that didn't run straight through Christianity. So, that one line stuck in my head and I nodded in agreement even though I didn't know what I was agreeing to. It was obvious that being an 'all roads lead' person meant you had missed the mark and needed Jesus to set you straight. It clearly invalidated whatever it was that the other person had said that sparked this conversation in the first place.
I decided right then that I wanted to know if God COULD be found on every other road.... but that isn't a question you ask out loud in Christian circles. Not unless you want to be the subject of conversation around the snacks in the foyer, or at bible studies, or on facebook threads, or prayers prayed out loud in groups of concerned people.
I had other questions I wanted answers to, or at least I wanted to be allowed to ask them. I wanted to know what God really thought about being gay or transgendered. I wanted to know how women could really be considered a lesser species. I wanted to know what God wanted us to do when corrupt leaders were flourishing. I wanted to know if everything held a basic holiness or if we had to live our lives cut off from sacred, ordinary experiences. I wanted to know if sex and sexuality was really the worst thing you could nurture. I wanted to know if God saw the systematic oppression of POC and had a plan in place to fix it. I had questions that needed to be released from my throat. There were way too many threads in Christianity that seemed counter to the Jesus path and I was getting increasingly tired of trying to fit inside of a bubble that seemed colorless and empty.
I have evolving thoughts on all of the questions that sat in me for decades, new perspectives and a willingness to not need answers. I've learned to speak them, chew on them, process them, and let new ideas present themselves to my spirituality as I go. And here's what I wish I could do now: I wish I could step back in time with what I have now. I wish I could make eye contact with the woman who condescendingly wrote off another person for being an 'all roads lead' kind of person. I wish I could hold compassion in my hands and press it to her chest, let it sink into her own wounds and fears. I wish I could speak gently to the smallness of that spirituality - and maybe not even use words. Because all roads lead, friends. I know it now. I know it like I know my next breath. And knowing it has sparked the exact response from well meaning, fear fueled christians. Their conversations about me bleed over until I hear them, their offense over my path inspires them to leave comments on old social media posts to try to shame-correct me, their reaction to disruption causes them to end our friendships and that's okay. We're all traveling a path in an attempt to find wholeness and freedom. I'm okay with our paths looking wildly different.
In that vein of non dualism, of the expanding universe sized broadness of how uniquely we brush up against Divine Love in our own lives....
All roads lead to the God of the Universe, the Mother Creatress, the origin of Divine Love.
All stories lead to the kind of peace that defies apathy and turns over tables. The kind we fight for, dig for, and wake up for.
All healing leads to the ethereal hands of a mystical God, one who holds us within themselves like we are their DNA.
All of human existence leads to the manifestation of The Voice itself, the one who spoke life into existence, gutturally delivered breath into our lungs, and brought comfort and mercy to the abandoned, forgotten corners of humanity.
There are stories with similar veins almost everywhere we go. There are encounters with The Divine that defy reason or understanding - and they have nothing to do with the white, American Jesus.
Why would God be offended by the names we give them? I'm going to go ahead and suggest that God's name is not "God". Jesus' name isn't even 'Jesus'. He was Yeshua... and we've created yet another version of his story to fit our own cultural norms. Isn't that what we all do? We encounter something Divine, mysterious, powerful, and transforming - and then we name it. We define it. We contain it. We strip it of its mystical nature. And, unfortunately, then we trademark it. THIS road leads. ONLY this road leads.... it's so small, friends. The way we have done this is so so small.
God is one God. YES. God - the source, the universe, the divine, the creator, the goddess, Allah - whatever name works for you (there are countless) - is ONE GOD. There's something interesting wrapped up in the Shema (a prayer prayed both morning and night in the Jewish tradition) that we wouldn't know at first glance. The expression "One God" in ancient Hebrew is a picture and that very specific picture is of a cluster of grapes. The identity of God is seen as ONE CLUSTER on a vine with many different grapes attached. One with many.
The Lord our God is one God.
The Lord our God is one cluster with many names, visuals, experiences, and expressions all at once.
And you know what? It's okay if you think this is all bullshit. It's okay if you are frantically looking up overly interpreted bible verses or commentary to throw out into the great, big internet and prove me wrong. It's okay because I don't care about the old way we were all taught to defend. I didn't start asking questions in order to come to a final conclusion that I could then use to convince other people to believe exactly what I believe. I have less than zero interest in starting another religion. But I'll do this with immense joy: I'll always ask questions out loud, I'll speak new thoughts out loud, I'll put my 'all roads lead' energy out into the world. And I'll do it out loud. Because that's what Love does, it invites us all into better conversations, ones where we all get to have different perspectives on the same sentence - kind of like a cluster of grapes on the same vine, no?
Love makes room for some of us to see God in the ocean, some of us to see God in books, some of us to see God in the desert, some of us to see God in songs, some of us to see God in one another, some of us to see God in ancient rituals, some of us to see God in sex, some of us to see God in solitude, some of us to see God in science, some of us to see God in art - ALL of us to see God in teachings we would LEAST expect to see God.
So go looking.
Start asking, 'what if?'
Wherever you think God could not possibly exist, go looking. See if God is really big enough to be in Buddha's teachings, in the Koran, in mythology, in the spirituality of yoga. If you see peace and love and advocacy for humanity being taught, go looking for your God there. If God is everywhere, in everything, holding us all together - maybe God is even pouring out their presence in places you were taught to despise. Maybe God is lovingly walking every road with every person, meeting them exactly where they are without an inch of condemnation.
If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. You've lost nothing by searching. But if I'm right... you have everything to gain.
I remember Richard Rohr once saying that the problem is that we've made Jesus the exclusive savior of the world when he is really the inclusive savior of the world.
Honestly, does God "so love the world"? I think so. And I think that Love is more expansive, inclusive, wild, sacred, and far reaching than we can even begin to fathom. I think that Love doesn't give a shit what you call Them, or how you envision them, or how you creatively worship them. I think that Love has always been meeting people exactly where they are, even when they are royally fucking up. Because the road - the messy, untethered, broken, genuinely searching road - is LEADING SOMEWHERE.
If all roads lead to God, then YOUR road leads to God. Your failures, your shame, your fear, your pain, your rising, your hope, your starting over, your creative expressions... you are a road that The Divine has been traveling all along. And here we are, just asking better, broader, wilder questions together.