Is Your Religion Hold You Back?

It was a hot summer, one of those Texas summers where it feels like the sun is literally reaching out to set you on fire. Dry brittle heat scorching the earth, a foreshadowing of hell if I’d ever seen one.  I was only five years old and I remember standing outside under a tree at a Baptist church. We were at Vacation Bible School and my two older sisters and I recited the sinners prayer that day. An older teen girl told us what to say and we said it, why wouldn’t we? It was the promise of salvation and eternal life – and, it was a “get out of hell free” card. For some reason, in that moment, even at that young age, I knew that this would be the beginning of an incredible journey…

My whole life I have spent hundreds of hours in church, sitting in long-winded Bible studies, small groups, and doing vast amounts of charity work. Christianity, faith, religion… all of it in my experience was centered around being Christ-like, and I can think of nothing better than to be like Christ. However, along the way of being like Christ, the unintended, and sometimes the very direct message that I was received was “material success in this world is a negative and the real glory is storing up treasures in heaven.” While this on the surface may not seem harmful, for me, it was limiting. It made me feel like there was no point in saving up money, getting an education, or having nice things. And I wanted all of those things, but I felt bad for wanting them.

Fast forward to my thirties and I was in a community group at The Village Church in Denton, TX. I was doing all the church things that you do as a good Christian and one of those was definitely the near-mandatory requirement that you be actively involved in a “community group”. I’m not kidding, it was like the hottest thing going, everyone was talking about them. “Are you in community group?” “Whose community group are you in?” There were literally “cool” community groups and others that were just “normal/good” community groups. One of the groups even had a famous rapper in it… that was definitely one of the “cool” groups that everyone wanted to be in. Unfortunately, you didn’t always get to choose. Sometimes you were sorted into a group, kind of like Harry Potter with the Sorting Hat, only not quite as magical or fun. Our groups definitely did not have awesome names like Hufflepuff or Slytherin.

Every Sunday night I met with the same group of people for five years. These people were supposed to be like family. They were, after all, my “church” family. In that community group we would rehash the Sunday sermon, lean on each other for support, and for the most part act like good Christians who struggled with little more than the occasional outburst of anger or missing a quiet time. I look back on that time as a sad obligation where as much as I tried, it seemed like nothing more than going through the motions. A performer playing a part because this group of people could not handle the truth of who I really was. And believe me, I tried to show them and their responses let me know immediately that this was not a safe space to confess my “struggles”.

In this community group of 15-20 people, there was one gal who said that growing up she believed that being a missionary was the tip-top of Christianity. What could be more Christ-like than leaving the comfort of home and going to another country to share Jesus? She told the story of how she tried again and again to make that life fit for her, but it just wasn’t meant to be. That story resonated with me. I wanted to be the best Christian that I could be, but I also wanted a nice house and a nice car… was it possible and okay to have both?

In 2016 I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Masters in Theology. I went to DTS because I thought a full-time career in church ministry was the path to happiness. I spent thousands of dollars for them to teach me a lot of stuff that I had already been learning for many years – and a lot of it was stuff that I don’t think that the average person even cares about on the day-to-day – or really impacts their lives. I don’t know if it was a good investment because I only worked for a church for 18 months before I realized that working for a church was a not a good fit for me. High expectation and low pay seemed to be the culture of that church, and from what I hear, this is pretty common. I’m not sure why this is the case when I see a lot of mega church pastors driving expensive cars and flying around the world in jets. Why doesn’t that money trickle down to the rest of the staff? Why did working for church feel like working for Amazon where the pastor was just another Jeff Bezos who was reaping all the rewards of my hard work?

I am glad that I went to seminary if for no other reason that it, hopefully, lends some credibility to my journey and how I have come to realize that of all the best and worst things that have happened to me in my life, religion has been at the core.

In my late thirties I finally started focusing on my retirement, my business, and myself. All the religious hoops that I had been jumping through all my life were not bringing me the blessings and rewards that I was looking for – and I wasn’t asking for much. I wanted the basics, a family, a nice home, a couple of cars and a dog. Was that really too much to ask? It felt like it at times. When I lamented my lack of “things” to my church peers, I was often met with responses like, “Count your blessings” and “You have so much.” But having a lot of stuff that I didn’t want was like having piles of junk that cluttered up my life and got in the way of the things that I really wanted.

I’d been a Christian since I was five and at 43 years old I still wasn’t happy. I was single. A virgin. And while I had a decent job and a nice apartment, I really had no money or any tangible things that a responsible adult should have at my age. I looked around at many of my friends who were married with families and I couldn’t piece together why God loved them more than me. That’s silly I know. But in my small human brain I couldn’t help but have my own personal pity party. Life for me wasn’t so bad, I had my health, I had a lot of things, but I felt so empty and incomplete. I craved connection and a relationship that would satisfy. I wanted more than this life had to offer and since I couldn’t have it because of my faith… I started to want out.

The problem that I had, that at the time I was unaware of, was the deep loneliness that I had on the inside. Surrounded by friends and family, I didn’t feel seen by any of them. They only saw what I was willing to show them, and I knew on some deep level that many of them would not love the real me.

It took me until I was 43 years old to stop living a lie. To stop allowing religion to keep me from being who God created me to be. I finally came out of the closet, started leading an openly gay life, found my soulmate, got an amazing job, got involved in the community and started actually LIVING.

My religion, my faith – they were holding me down. I don’t believe God would ever do that. I do believe in God, but I don’t know if I believe in the God of the western church. I’m still in the process of reconstructing my faith and exploring what it means to truly be a child of God. I don’t think an all-loving God would be so limiting and small. I believe he has the best intentions and wants us to live our lives to the fullest embracing each other and lifting each other up.

The faith I grew up with, it taught me to focus on sin and sin management. It told that a lot of my desires and longings were wrong, destructive, and sinful. I don’t believe that anymore and my experience, which I believe should inform our beliefs, has definitely proven to me that what I have been taught about homosexuality and sin in general is incorrect.

But this is my belief and my story and it is still unfinished. I hope to continue to tell more of it here.

In closing, don’t let your faith or your religion hold you back from reaching your full God-given potential. Never be ashamed of your gold. And always be true to yourself and kind and loving to others – even the haters. Most of the people who hate are only that way because they don’t truly love themselves. They are dealing with their own demons. Be patient with them. And best of luck as you continue on your own journey to authenticity in this life.


Find Joy in the Moment

Instead of complaining at his lot, a contented man is thankful that his condition and circumstances are no worse than they are. Instead of greedily desiring something more than the supply of his present need, he rejoices that God still cares for him. Such an one is “content” with such as he has.A. W. Pink

Suspended. On Pause. That’s how I feel sometimes. I’m inside of a snow globe and watching the world move about all around me as I sit still. I sometimes search for drama just to shake things up, to get my world going, but then everything settles around me and once again, I’m in the exact same place.

It’s hard to find joy in the moment when it seems that everyone else around me is moving at lightning speed. I’ve got friends who are my age with teenage children. Some have been divorced and remarried. They are buying houses, getting dogs, dedicating babies, and settling into life with all the boxes checked – and all the while I’m feeling incomplete. Or rather, I used to feel incomplete. The sum of my value is not measured by material possessions or accomplishments. My full value is found in Christ and his love for me. My true friends do not love me any more or less because of the things that I have accomplished or what I have attained, they love me because I love them. They love me for me.

Life in my little globe is simple. It’s cozy in here and one day the glass may shatter and I might be thrust into a new world with lots of challenges and new experiences, but for now, I get to enjoy the myriad of blessings God has given me. I get to share in the lives of my friends and have time for so much living without much responsibility or restraint. That does not mean that I shy away from either of those things, I just instead trust in God to direct my steps and to live in the moment. I find joy in every moment, even in that hard times because I know that what I am going through is exactly what God has planned for me.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. – Romans 5:1-5

And with that, I’ll leave you with this great video from OneRepublic that makes you appreciate life, especially if you have your health.

God Relationships

Better Not Pout

I’d been slaving away in the kitchen for hours. The holidays had been weighing on me heavily and to top it all off, my mother had been in the hospital for five days with cellulitis on her face. Finally, Christmas day had arrived and I had three events to attend. I was looking forward to all three, especially having my family cram into my medium-sized apartment for dinner.

Everyone arrived at my house promptly at 5:30 and I was still in the throes of preparing dinner: Pioneer Woman Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes with Grated Gruyere, and Bacon Wrapped Asparagus. As soon as my nephew walked in he asked, “Where are my presents Uncle Eddo?” I’d been so busy I hadn’t even had time to wrap them. I quickly asked my mom, who is a wizard when it comes to wrapping, to wrap the gifts in my room while I continued to cook. Dinner was almost ready and my mom came out with the wrapped presents. We decided to pause for a moment and unwrap the gifts. It was a quick exchange since we only buy for the kids under 18 in our family. Aiden unwrapped his gift and exclaimed with delight, “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!” He was so delighted with his gift which was a toy that allowed you to melt crayons into different shapes. After he calmed down he asked me, “Can I open it and play with it?” His mom immediately cut in and said, “You can open it, but we can’t melt the crayons here at Uncle Eddo’s house.” I confirmed this response and expected my nephew to just accept this decision with delight, instead he started to pout. At first I thought it would just be a mini pout session, but I was wrong.

I continued to cook and I noticed that my nephew was laying on the ground by the front door with his toy on his face. This was Pout Phase 1 which included a little bit of moaning. His mom asked him what was wrong and he said he wanted to play with his toy. She told him “No, you have to wait.” As soon as his mom walked away he looked at me and repeatedly said, “Please, Please, Please, Please” to the point of annoyance, this was Pout Phase 2. I told him no and I sort of wished I hadn’t gotten him a gift at all. How could he be such a brat when he had so much? His birthday is the day before mine, December 16, and he turned eight. We had a big part for him at Chuck E. Cheese’s. His grandparents got him an iPhone 5s and he got so many toys that most kids, even rich ones, would have burned with envy.

When we finally got around to eating dinner my nephew wouldn’t eat. This was Pout Phase 3. Finally, his hunger gave in and my mom got him a plate of mashed potatoes, but he wanted to sit on the couch to eat. We don’t eat on the furniture in my house so I told him if he wanted to eat he had to join us at the table. After dinner my nephew continued to pout by laying on the couch – Pout Phase 4. My mom tried to console him, but he wasn’t having any of it.

Two days prior to Christmas day I got to watch my nephew while my sister was at work and I bought him a Jenga game that he wanted. We played and had the best time. I couldn’t believe this was the same kid. How could he be so ungrateful?

When everyone left and the house was quiet I received a word of wisdom from the Holy Spirit. How many times have I been given a gift by God, but he asked me to wait to use it? How many times have I thrown a tantrum when God didn’t give me what I wanted when I wanted it?

I talked to my mom the next day and she said, “Well, he was upset because his sister got to open her toy and play with it right away…” Kapow! I felt another punch of shame and guilt once again because I do the exact same thing. I compare myself to others and say, “Well, look at them, they have ________.” For me this usually comes in the form of a wife. I’d love to be married and at 38 I can’t help but feel a little impatient that I’m having to save myself for marriage while others who are much younger than me are getting married left and right. I want what I want, when I want it. I think it is unfair even though I’ve been given SO MUCH. I pout often when I don’t get my way and in my frustration I rebel. Why is it that submitting to God’s will and his best for us is so hard?

After I burned hotly with shame for my behavior I prayed to God for forgiveness and mercy. In just one instance of bad behavior I wanted to retract my gift to my nephew, but how many times have I acted the same way toward God? Furthermore, my nephew’s pouting did not make me want to give him his gifts faster, but just the opposite, it made me not want to give him any gifts at all. Ouch. I’m surprised God even has anything to do with me. I’d put me on a permanent timeout.

2013 has been a year of painful lessons. I’m thankful God disciplines those he loves, but I’m hopefully learning from my mistakes because my backside is feeling awfully raw and chafed these days!

Hopefully you had a Merry Christmas and during this season God taught you something while you were spending time with your family.

Culture God

See As God Sees

“I asked that God would help me to see that man as He sees him if I pass him again. ” – Sara Barnes, China Missionary

This was a line that caught my attention in a recent journal entry from Sara. While walking down the street she passed a man whose face was badly burned, so badly burned that it was painful to look at. She hurried past him and later felt crushed that she had not done more.

How often have we all done the same thing? In an effort to move past something uncomfortable, we rush past, push it aside, repress it. It’s a normal HUMAN reaction. It is not natural for us to be unselfish. As Christians we are constantly being molded into the image of Christ. We are given trials and opportunities to shed little pieces of our humanity and to become something altogether supernatural. Granted, we will never become anything more than human while we are constrained by our flesh, but while we are here on earth, we get the opportunity to show Christ to others through our actions.

I, like Sara, want to do my best to pause when I have the opportunity to be Christ someone and I want to see that person, no matter how ugly, the way Christ sees them – as his beautiful creation. Let me see them through grace and love, the love that can only come from something that is not human. Love that can only come from God.

Thanks Sara for sharing your story, it touched me and I am sure it will change others too.

Here is a little more of Sara’s story:

As we were leaving the subway station, we passed a man that I remember from when Senator  and I lived in that neighborhood 7 years ago.  His face is so badly burned that it’s hard for me to describe it to you.  Hard to describe firstly because most of it is burned beyond recognition, but secondly because it is just so hard to look him that I can’t recall a complete picture of him mentally.  And today, my maternal hyper-protective instincts kicked in and I hurried the kids past, hoping they wouldn’t notice him.

I’m not sure if I thought I was protecting the kids from an image that might be too much for their young minds or protecting him from what their possible reactions would be, but after we were out of the station, one thing was clear.  Whether I had been with the kids or alone, the urge to hurry past and look away would have been just as strong.

And then I remembered the bottle cap mural, and the song, and my heart felt crushed.  I wondered if I were alone if I could sit down face to face and have what little conversation my current language skills will allow me too. (There is no danger or risk involved, these beggars sit in broad daylight amongst crowds of wealthy foreigners.)  I know that 7 years ago I didn’t.  But I’ve learned a lot about our God in those 7 years, I know better than ever that God doesn’t see as I see.  I asked that God would help me to see that man as He sees him if I pass him again.

Our current language level prohibits us from having in depth, spontaneous conversations the way we’d like to, but I am fully capable of offering someone a snack and a smile.  I even know how to ask them if they believe in Jesus and if they say no, I know how to tell them that whether or not you believe, there certainly is a God who loves you.

But in order to do any of that, we must be willing to resist the urge to hurry past.  Pray that we would have courage and boldness for such moments.  In all reality, the guests at the Renewal Center are typically quite easy to love.  They are clean and well dressed and happy to be there.  But there are still many in our midst just as desperately in need of hope, even if they have no interest in our showers.

I'm Just Sayin Relationships

How to ask for free stuff or discounts

As a business owner I am often hit up for free services. I run a DJ business as well as a graphic and web design business. In my business I DJ weddings mostly, but also the occasional barbecue or school dance, as well as a corporate event or karaoke party. In my graphic and web business I do brochures, business cards, fliers, customized stationery and much more. Because of the broad range of services that I provide I normally get asked at least once a week to do something for free or at a discount. What is important to note is that both of these businesses are ran entirely by one person – me. I run both websites for each business, handle the invoices and the marketing, and all of the other tasks that come along with running a business. So when someone asks me to provide services at a discount or for free I have to consider it carefully.

Often I feel obligated to help out friends, family members or even my existing clientele and I don’t know how to communicate to them how asking for free services impacts my business. Imagine if you were working your regular 40 hour per week job and your boss said, “Hey Bob, do you mind working at a discounted hourly rate this week?” Or even better, “Hey Bob, can you work this week for free?” Now if you are salary you may do that to some extent, but that is something you agreed to when you took the salaried position. As a self-employed individual working for free comes at a higher price.

So how do you ask for free stuff or discounts without hurting a relationship? My suggestion is to be very clear and up front. Let the person you are requesting services or free stuff from that you are on a tight budget and you are willing to pay for services rendered. If possible, say something like, “Hey, Jenni and I are getting married, but, we only have $500 to cover all of the food, what do you normally charge to feed $300 people.” This is a nice way of asking for a price quote, but also letting the person know that you realize their services are valuable.

If you don’t have money, then maybe you can offer to help them in trade. If they provide you with a discount then you can help promote their business through social media or doing some type of work for them.

If you are a non-profit organization and you ask for services, then be sure to let the people in the community who is supporting you by placing their company logo on your website or on the brochure and materials that are part of the event.

In my business I don’t mind helping out individuals who are truly in need, but I don’t appreciate people expecting a “hook up” just because they know me, or, they know someone who knows me. I once gave free hosting to a friend who paid me to do her website. Later I received a call from an acquaintance of hers and she said, “Hey, I hear you do free hosting!” Nope. I don’t.

Also, when you get a free or discounted service, don’t tell other people about it. I DJ’d a wedding for a friend for a very low rate because I knew that they were tight on funds. A few months later I get a call from a lady and when I quoted her my standard rate she said, “Well, you did so and so’s wedding for X number of dollars!” I appreciated the referral from my friend, but I had to let her know that my normal rate was substantially higher than what I had charged her and I thought she was aware of that.

Lastly, when you do get something for free and a people normally tip for that service, then you should still give a tip if the service you received was excellent. If you get a gift card for a free massage you are still expected to tip the masseuse.

There are a number of kind and giving business owners out there. I love to be able to pay it forward and help out when I can, but I don’t like to be used or taken advantage of either. Make sure that you say thanks and give proper credit to anyone that helps you out in life, not just in your business dealings.