No Regrets?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote at the end of my last entry that I “have no regrets” about moving away from Christianity, and I realize that that isn’t totally true. I don’t actually feel like I’ve made the wrong choice, but there are some unfortunate things that have come into my life from making this choice.

#1: Isolation

I’ll be the first to say that the sense of alienation is probably mainly caused by me. My family and Christians in my life who know about my situation haven’t tried to push me away, but I’ve found myself feeling somewhat distant from them. The most typical reactions from my Christian friends who’ve found out about my doubts, is to offer to pray for me or just to imply that this is simply something that I’m “going through” and I will come out on the other side with renewed faith and a better relationship with God. There is no denying that there is a certain dismissiveness- and in some cases condescension- in these statements, but I understand that they do not at all come from a place of malice or judgement.

Anyway, despite everyone being relatively welcoming- and as supportive as they can be- I’ve chosen not to attend any more Christian groups and to limit my attendance at Sunday service. This has been really hard, because church has always been a safe, comfortable environment for me to socialize with people. I’ve tried looking into other groups but I haven’t been able to make a lot of progress with my search so far. Trying to find a new social circle to be involved with is really hard, especially for me as a relatively introverted person who has a lot of anxiety about driving to new places.

#2: Self-doubt/anxiety

Even as a I grow more comfortable in my “state of disbelief”, there are still moments when I wonder if I’m really wrong. I wonder if there’s a loving, all-powerful Creator-God of heaven whose kind embrace I am withholding myself from, or if alternatively, there is an omnipotent tyrant in the sky whose wrath I am inciting by my actions. Often the benevolent and fearful God are described as being one and the same, and at any rate, I feel that I must be displeasing Him. In doing so, I am also displeasing his followers- and that includes close members of my family.

At best I feel like a disappointment- at worst I feel that I may be in peril of “gaining the whole world and losing my soul” as Jesus was said to have said. I have to often remind myself that the idea of being cast into a burning lake of fire for eternity on the basis of mere belief or disbelief, is frankly absurd. If there is an afterlife, surely, our lives would be judged on the basis of our actions, and even if our actions were truly reprehensible they could not merit eternal punishment.

In some religions, being a truly horrible person just means that at some point your soul would be destroyed and you would no longer be reincarnated. Even though this is also a permanent punishment, the one punished does not in effect suffer for all eternity- they simply cease to be. That may be frightening as well, but, in the end, it’s all speculation. No one really knows what happens to us after this life- and that means that any number of things could be true, or none of them. Basing my entire life on any one assumption by itself sounds a lot like putting my eggs into one basket.

That being said, even though I’ve reasoned this all out quite neatly, hearing sermons about “losing this life” or even just offhand comments from Christians about hell and eternity can trigger all sorts of low-key nervous feelings in me. Sometimes, even without hearing these statements, the feelings can be triggered indirectly by random flashbacks to messages that have been drilled into my head for years. Even after separating oneself from the religion, one can still feel lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or “wrongness” that don’t seem to have any specific point of origin.

#3: Feeling lost

I used to pray a lot for strength and guidance, and sometimes, I still do. Now, though, I don’t have a very specific idea of who I’m praying to, and what it all means. In the past, praying to God for help with something also meant “putting it in His hands” which meant willfully choosing not to worry or be concerned with it. It meant quoting scriptures that detailed his “promises”, “meditating on the word” and choosing to praise, worship, and trust Him for the desired result. There was a certain element of “spiritual warfare” which included praying together with other people, and speaking out against any thoughts of doubt that might enter my mind.

If that sounds like a lot of work, in some cases it was. The draw of it all was that I felt that someone was listening- I felt that a Higher power was going to intervene on my behalf. Sometimes I felt literally refreshed and felt a sense of inner peace when praying. Even though I would still experience indecision, I used to believe that God was going to “work everything together for good.”

Now, I still believe in a higher power, but I believe that his/her/its role in human life is somewhat limited. I feel that I can seek guidance from this Force, but in the end a lot of the forward motion in my life is left up to me. This is both empowering and sobering. I now believe that I can’t just pray for things to be better, but I have to be the change that I want to see in the world. I believe that the Divine works through frail human lives to bring about good on this earth. I don’t believe that God has any sort of physical form, but rather is the life-giving force that exists in all of us. So in that sense, he/she/it isn’t really a “person” that we can implore to do this or that.

Another thing I now believe is in my own insignificance. I am not better or more deserving than anyone in this world, and being extremely devout isn’t going to stop bad things from happening to me. I also don’t believe that good or bad events are being orchestrated by some Divine Being. God was silent during the massacres in Sudan and Rwanda, the Holocaust, and havoc that occurred from the “Holy Wars” of the medieval times. There were- and are- times when peoples’ faith/religious convictions implored them to help others. Many Christians helped to hide Jews, but on the other hand, after it was over, the Catholic church was hiding Nazis and aiding in their escape. Religion is neither good nor bad, but good or bad people alike use it to justify their actions. What does that really say about it all?

It’s easy to get lost in this world. It’s easy for me to wonder if anything I do in life really matters. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibility that this life really is the only one that we have- that there’s no do-overs, that there’s no heaven for the righteous, no hell for the sinners, that we all simply get put in the ground and then we’re either remembered or forgotten. When I think about it like that, I have to ask myself if I’m really living the life that I want to live. It’s easy to wonder- “what are they going to say about me after I’ve died?” What legacy am I going to leave?

Not having any idea about any of it, or any romantic paradigm in which to frame things, is really hard. This is my reality, though, and I have to face it. So yes, there have been some regrets- but there’s no turning back now. I feel like I’ve seen a glimpse at the truth, and I don’t want fairy tales anymore. I’ve had some incredible good fortune in my life, and as great as it would be to think that that was due to my personally assigned guardian angel, I don’t know if I can tell myself that I’m that special.

I’m not special. I’m just me.

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“Almighty”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote a post called “So you believe that God is all powerful, do you?” where I go into reasons why I don’t believe in an all-powerful God. I was presented with an opportunity to express my theories to my parents, and I took it. I told them that I believed that the story of Adam and Eve was a parable, and that if God really rained manna down from heaven then certainly he would be doing it in the modern time. My mom replied by saying,

“That’s like saying that just because God doesn’t do things the way I think are right, that I won’t believe in Him.” She might have a real point there, but that makes the assumption that I’m withholding my belief from God because I am trying to punish Him for not behaving as I wish, and that isn’t true. I just don’t believe in that kind of a God. It’s making the assumption that God’s omnipotence is an “absolute truth” that I am simply trying to deny rather than approaching it from the angle that what we know as “absolute truth” is from a book that was assembled piece by piece over a period of thousands of years by nearly a hundred different authors. It could be clear that some of these authors misheard God’s message- as Islam today asserts- or even that the books that were assembled do not represent the whole “truth”. There are many books that were either removed or left out of “the Bible” that present contradictory accounts, and even the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life differ from one to the other.

“But God” they say. But God worked on King James and made sure he put everything in there that was supposed to be there. But God was most definitely inspiring the men to write the Holy Scriptures. But God can do anything, so accounts of talking animals and partings of seas or bread raining from heaven or turning water into wine are not beyond the realm of possibility.

My question is simple- How do you know? When people are asked if God is real, they’ll cite some answered prayer or another, some “testimony” or “miracle.” Yet these same people often cite the lack of answered prayer as another reason. They talk about how “God’s ways are higher than our ways” and “who is the clay to argue with the potter?” My parents often talk about believing in God even if they never see any evidence. Of waiting for Christ’s return even though it’s been 2000 years, and the Second Coming has been incorrectly predicted literally hundreds of times.

My mom basically stated Pascal’s Wager- the idea that if God isn’t real, and she devotes her life to serving Him, she’s lost nothing; if however the Biblical account is correct and God is real, if she didn’t serve Him she’s lost everything. I didn’t really respond to that comment from her, but inside my head I was thinking, it can be exactly the opposite. If I followed my dad’s brand of Christianity, I would be without medical care for my mental illness, and I wouldn’t have a life outside of my parents’ farm. If I suffered ill effects because of that, and there’s no God, I’ve wasted my life- the only life that I may possibly have in service to a lie. So really, you can look at it two ways- losing your life and gaining eternity, or losing your life and in effect still losing eternity if there is no hope for you after this one.

I’ll take my chances in living how I want to.

That’s not the only argument that I have for living as I choose to. The second argument is that if my parents are right- that God is in control of everything, and everything that we say or do is already predetermined- then I am not responsible for my own salvation. My dad literally always quotes the scripture “No one can come to Me unless my Father draws Him” when he no longer wants to debate or discuss scripture with me. He’ll say “I can’t convince you even if I tried” and he even goes so far as to say “You’re already saved, because the Bible says that God will save me and my household” so in the end what does it matter what I do? If this is not the path that I’m not meant to be on, God will surely bring me into line. If not, then I will be lost and there is nothing that I can do about. According to predestination doctrine, I cannot decide to believe and save myself. I cannot even keep myself from committing sin without the “power of the Holy Spirit”.

My mom recommended that I pray to God to help me believe. I do sometimes, but a lot less frequently than I used to, and with a different goal in mind. I mostly just pray to be true to myself- whoever the person is that I really am. I don’t want to pretend to be an adherent to Christianity if in my heart I am done with it. I don’t want anyone to convince me to believe in something that my mind really doesn’t agree with. I can’t just throw away all of my objections and be all like, “God is great, we don’t know why He does what He does, but let’s just worship Him so He won’t throw us in hell” somehow my spirit won’t allow me to do that anymore.

My dad used the argument, “You’re not in control. You might say that you won’t grab another plate of food but you do anyway- that’s how much control you have” and I’m not really arguing for control. We’re all more or less victims of time and chance. I’m arguing for choice– that we can actually decide whether or not we will set our life on a certain trajectory. We may start going one way and end up somewhere else, but I don’t believe that that’s because some supernatural, omnipotent God is pulling the strings. I think that “that’s just life.”

My dad argued that without God then life has no purpose or meaning, but I feel that life has no purpose or meaning if you believe that everything is pre-decided and predetermined. I definitely believe in free will, and I know that many Christians believe in that as well (I hope I didn’t give the impression that Predestination was the only Christian doctrine). They’ll say “God gave us free will” but if He’s omniscient He already knows what we’re going to do with it, so how free are we really?

I’ve divorced myself from notions of God being omniscient, omnipotent and to some extent omnipresent. I consider God to be the life-giving force in the universe, so in that sense God is pretty much in everything; but, I don’t think that God has the power to do whatever he/she/it wants to. I believe that there is so much more in the realm of human responsibility than we realize. We choose how we’re going to present ourselves in this world. Like I said, we might not get to do everything that we set out to do, but at least we have the option to try, and there is hope of improvement from those efforts.

So no, I haven’t changed my mind. I still don’t believe in “The Almighty” or that God is literally in control of every step that we take. Yes, Jesus did say, “Not even a sparrow can fall to the ground apart from your Father’s will” and that is a very romantic notion on the surface. It feels good to think that your actions are being guided and protected by an omnipresent being who has your welfare in mind. If you do believe these things about God, though, then you’re willing to believe that people who suffer greatly in this life are also living the lives that God wanted them to live. You have to believe that the lives of aborted babies, children who starve to death in infancy, people born with rare deformities- all of these are orchestrated by the same Creator that “helps you find your car keys when you need to go to work.”

I just can’t accept these things. That’s fine, because we really won’t know who’s right until the end- if that end ever comes. Either when I’m dead I won’t know anything anymore, or I’ll be transported to some afterlife- which may nor may not be the Christian one. I’ll take my chances, because for the first time in my life, I’m actually able to be happy. I’m finally discovering my true self, apart from the religion of my childhood, and so far I don’t have any regrets.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

My last tumblr post was a kind of collection of my thoughts Anton LaVey’s “Satanic Bible”. At the time of writing the post I was a little less than half way through the book- but now I’ve read everything, except the very end of the book which was dedicated to detailed descriptions of Satanic rituals and spell casting. Earlier in the book, LaVey states that the spells fall into three main categories- “compassionate”, “seductive” and “destructive”. A compassion ritual might be conducted in order to bring good fortune to yourself or someone else or ease suffering in some way. A seduction ritual may be used to try to attract some favorable sexual partner or encounter to yourself. A destruction ritual is reserved for your enemies upon which you want to inflict harm.

I found it very interesting that LaVey, who espouses no belief in gods or demons would have such a strong belief in magic. He says that the laws of magic are basically the laws of nature, and thus tries to detract from the superstitious quality of magic. He actually sort of mocks so-called “intellectuals” who have divorced themselves from a belief in magic, saying that they are therefore making themselves prime victims for its workings. Here is an excerpt, where he discusses how doubt on the part of the victim makes curses more effective;

“The emphatic conscious denial of the potential of the curse is the very ingredient which will create its success, through setting up of accident prone situations. In many instances, the victim will deny any magical significance to his fate, even unto his dying gasp- although the magician is perfectly satisfied, so long as his desired results occur. It must be remembered that it matters not whether anyone attaches any significance to your working, so long as the results of the working are in accordance with your will.”

In this same chapter, “The Three Types of Satanic Ritual”, LaVey uses the example of Christian stigmata (that is the wounds of Christ appearing in a believer) to explain how powerful beliefs can take on a physical manifestation. This makes the assumption that reported cases of stigmata can actually be believed to be true, but we can deal with that at another time.

In the next chapter of the book, LaVey goes on to outline the ingredients to successful spell-casting- desire, timing, imagery, and direction. Desire deals with the setting of one’s will towards the particular purpose that they want to execute. Timing involves the casting of a spell when the target is weakest, such as at certain points in the sleep cycle. Imagery involves the use of objects, pictures, words, and the imagination to “see” what it is that you want to accomplish. Direction is a little less specific, but it seems to deal more with not “dwelling upon” or “complaining” about the possible outcome of the spell. My interpretation is that the parallel would be “not doubting” or “having faith” from the Christian perspective. It requires a certain confidence and assurance in the effect of your ritual.

Of course, the idea that performing certain rituals or reciting certain words can bring about a particular outcome isn’t unique to Satanism- it exists in most of the world’s belief systems. Evangelical Christians believe that by plastering scriptures everywhere, and reciting Bible verses related to healing constantly, “having enough faith”, and invoking the name of Jesus, they can bring about recovery from illness. Many of them have performed these rituals with favorable results, but at the same time there are people whose prayers seem to go unanswered.

In Satanism, if the ritual is said to have failed then blame is ultimately put on the “caster” (or in Christianity, the “prayer warrior” or “believer”) The failure is said to sometimes be the result of someone not being aware of the “balance factor” which basically states that you shouldn’t try to perform a ritual that is beyond your ability. This includes but is not limited to trying to attract great sums of money to yourself when you’re only willing or able to put in a low effort, or having below average looks and trying to attract a gorgeous movie star. Magic, it’s said, won’t solve the problem of mediocrity. “Word of Faith” Christianity similarly states that saying all the right words won’t solve the problem of doubt or “God having a better plan.”

What about the assertion from LaVey that the laws of magic were basically the laws of nature? Many religious/spiritual people espouse a belief in something known as “the law of attraction” and many other similar “spiritual laws”. Apparently, if you doubt yourself, you are likely to fail- but is it some supernatural nature of your doubt that “attracts disaster”, or more the fact that if you don’t believe something will succeed you are less likely to put in your best effort, and therefore are less likely to actually succeed? Or what about the people that didn’t have much confidence that they would be able to overcome adversity, but still did? Or the confident people that were blindsided by pain and misfortune?

The more I study religion, the more I believe that we might give ourselves far too much credit, and maybe place ourselves as being more important in the universe than we are. True, there are things we can actively do to improve our lot in life, and having a positive outlook, utilizing “purpose and intent” (or “direction” as LaVey puts it) are very important. I think, however, that we delude ourselves if we think that we can “deserve” more than anybody else in this world. So many things in life are completely outside of our control. We didn’t decide where we would be born, or how we would be raised. We can’t protect ourselves fully from being affected by wars, food shortages, and natural disasters. Often we are “at the right place at the right time” or at “the wrong place at the wrong time” and want to attribute some cosmic significance to these events.

What I’m saying is, maybe there’s no such thing as “magic” to give us a leg-up over other people. (It’s especially hard to take LaVey’s brand of magic seriously when he talks about the “amount of energy need to levitate a teacup”.) For the practitioners of “white light” religions as LaVey called them, maybe there’s no “script.” Maybe you weren’t “chosen from the foundation of the world”, maybe you weren’t “a king in another life”, maybe there’s nothing waiting for us in the afterlife. Maybe this is the one chance we get. The truth is, we don’t have the answers.

The ancient Jews would say their prayers facing the direction of their temple, because that’s where they believed that God was. Jesus was said to have raised his hands to the heavens when he prayed. Other religious people focus inward, inclining themselves to the “god within.” To me, God isn’t in a particular place or location. I’m not even sure what kind of form or quality that “God” possesses. It would be all too easy for me, to along with rejecting a belief in “magic” reject a belief in all hidden agency. I’m not quite ready to take that step. Science has more or less ruled out the existence of a “God of the heavens”- we’ve been to the heavens and found them silent, and remarkably devoid of anything that could be considered similar to a god figure.

Another thing to notice, is that even though I don’t really believe in the effectiveness of a particular kind of prayer or ritual, I still felt disquieted when reading through the last part of the Satanic Bible. Being raised as an Evangelical Christian has made me wary of anything that could be considered “satanic” or of any “witchcraft” or “false religion.” I keep having this unshakeable feeling that “dabbling in the dark arts” is going to get my house “haunted” even though I know that such “hauntings” have never been scientifically proven. Furthermore, many “devils” of Christian demonology were the benevolent gods and goddesses of ancient religion. It could be that the true “pure” religion was actually the pagan religions of the past, especially considering that they pre-dated Christianity by thousands of years. It’s all about perspective. I’m sure to the Native Americans the God of the murderous white Europeans was considered a devil if there ever was one.

My theory is actually this- polytheistic religions were eventually more-or-less supplanted by monotheism. Atheism has existed somewhat quietly alongside all of the main theistic religions since almost the very beginning, but it has never really taken precedence and so I don’t expect atheism to become the “new” theism. Instead, I think that monotheism in the traditional sense is being replaced by something else- maybe a more undefined spirituality, or a belief in a nebulous “something” that undergirds and upholds the Universe. I believe that as we gain more scientific knowledge of our world, that we may find scientific reasoning behind many of the things that we consider “mysteries” or “miracles” today. That being said, I don’t think we’ll outgrow our widespread “need” for a god- of some sort- very soon.

So, do I believe in magic? Not really, but I don’t fully disbelieve either. I’m still a little superstitious; I would definitely feel creeped out if it was said that someone had placed a curse on me. When I’m in distress, I still find an impulse to pray. I still have a sense of things being either “holy” or “unholy” even with the aforementioned admission that I know that it’s all a matter of who’s talking. I’m confronting my personal biases every day. This isn’t easy work, and I’m very grateful to those of you who’ve decided to take this journey with me.

When Gods Become Demons

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I was using YouTube one morning, when I stumbled upon something interesting in my suggestions. It was an interview conducted by self-proclaimed Christian exorcist, Bob Larson, of Nicholas and Zeena Schreck, who, at the time were higher-ups in the Church of Satan. The interview was more than an hour long, but I sat there spellbound as I watched through the entire thing. Zeena and Nicholas remained incredibly calm and composed in the face of sometimes scathing sarcasm and frequent interruptions from host, Larson.

As the interview progressed, they answered various questions and revealed a number of interesting facts. For one, Nicholas revealed that members of the Church of Satan did not believe in the literal existence of God or Satan. Rather, Satan was a symbolic representation of man’s so-called “carnal nature.” Satanists advocate allowing your natural human instincts to guide you.

The couple also expressed a belief in moral relativism- that there is no such thing as “good” or “evil” but rather these are qualities ascribed to various people and events by people who were in positions of power. Larson was aghast when both Zeena and Nicholas refused to call Hitler “evil” when he asked them about what they thought of him. Nicholas said that his actions weren’t necessarily “evil”- they were actions of a human being performing a human act. Zeena also argued that “there’s always more to the story” at which Larson scoffed.

Anyway, after watching the interview I decided to read The Satanic Bible for myself. It was written by Zeena’s father, Anton LaVey. It begins with the 9 statements of Satanism, which include statements like “Satan represents indulgence, instead of abstinence” or “Satan represents kindness to those who deserve it, instead of love wasted on ingrates”. It moves on into the “Books of Satan” which are some poetic expressions that were reminiscent of maybe Psalms, Proverbs, and the Minor prophets in the Bible- if they had a vastly different message.

“The most dangerous of all enthroned lies is the holy, the sanctified, the privileged lie- the lie everyone believes to be a model of the truth. It is the fruitful mother of all other popular errors and delusions. It is a hydra-headed tree of unreason with a thousand roots. It is a social cancer!” -Book of Satan 2:13

In addition to laying down principles and making various exhortations, there’s also history in the Satanic Bible. There’s a chapter entitled “Hell, the Devil, and How to Sell Your Soul”. Fun fact: it’s not really about how to sell your soul to Satan, because LaVey didn’t believe in that. He even says so- here’s another quote;

“To the Satanist, it is unnecessary to sell your soul to the Devil or make a pact with Satan. This threat was devised by Christianity to terrorize people so they would not stray from the fold…”

The main purpose of the chapter is to reveal how deities of various religions somehow became a part of Christian demonic folklore. LaVey points out that the actual word for devil is actually derived from the Indian word devi which meant “God.” This is not an isolated case. He goes on to say that the “goblin”, “bogey”, and “bugaboo” that were developed to frighten children had their roots in the Slavonic word Bog which also meant “God” (Bhagha from Hindu for “God” is also related).

In fact, according to LaVey even the Greek word “demon” was a word to describe a helpful “spirit guide.” Even the name most often associated with Satan himself, Lucifer was from Latin and meant “bringer of light.” The Greek God Pan who was a part-goat deity of lust and fertility, was eventually adopted into Christian demonology as a demon.

This revelation on how conquering nations often demonized the deities of their subjects revealed how subjective religion really could be. Actually, in the interview, Nicholas Schreck asked why Bob Larson, who was “of European descent” could reject the “beautiful pagan tradition” of his ancestors. Larson responded that “All pagan religions are a deception from Satan to distract people from the truth”. Schreck responded that if that was the truth, why didn’t they know it. Larson quoted Romans 1, which says “the things of creation are clearly seen from the foundation of the world”. It was almost as saddening as it was cringe-worthy, and yet I once avowed these kinds of beliefs.

There’s even more to the Satanic Bible than history, exhortations, and “statements”- there’s relationship advice! There is a long chapter on “Love and Hatred” talking about the importance of sexual freedom. It’s interesting to note that the book was written in 1969, and yet here was LaVey advocating for freedom for “homosexuals, bisexuals, and asexuals”. He was also aware that Satanism was often associated with orgies, but he pointed out that just because you participate in group sex does not mean that you are not sexually repressed. Here are some of his words;

“Satanism does advocate sexual freedom, but only in the true sense of the word. Free love, in the Satanic concept, means exactly that- freedom to either be faithful to one person, or to indulge your sexual desires with as many others as you feel is necessary to satisfy your particular needs.”

He also laid down a foundation that sex should be between consenting adults;

“Aside from the foregoing exceptions (he was talking about BDSM in the earlier paragraph), the Satanist would not intentionally hurt others by violating their sexual rights. If you attempt to impose your sexual desires upon others who do not welcome your advances, you are infringing upon their sexual freedom. Therefore, Satanism does not advocate rape, child molesting, sexual defilement of animals, or any other form of sexual activity which entails the participation of those who are unwilling or whose innocence or naivete would allow them to be intimidated or misguided into doing something against their wishes…”

He also made a lot of other really cool statements about the difference between “spiritual love” and “sexual compatibility” and needing to strike a favorable balance between the two of them. Sometimes, though, he said this isn’t always practical. He even might’ve made a statement in favor of what we now call polyamory when he said this;

“As a matter of fact, often one member of a couple will resort to outside sexual activities because he deeply loves his mate, and wishes to avoid hurting or imposing upon his loved one.”

He was definitely somebody that was way ahead of his time. Also, even though Satanism was widely regarded as a proponent of reckless, hedonistic violence, animal sacrifice, unrestricted self-indulgence, and hatred, if you actually read the Satanic Bible you can see that this is not what LaVey propagated. I’m about a third through my reading of it, but I strongly doubt that he would suddenly turn everything in his initial chapters on its head.

Satanism seems to mostly be about free-thinking, not allowing guilt to rule your life, being selfish to a healthy level, and challenging the so-called “right-hand” or “white light” religions of the world. I would’ve never found any of this out unless I hadn’t been curious and fearless enough to examine the religion for myself.

That being said, I don’t believe that I would join the religion because there are still things that I disagree with. I haven’t gotten to these parts in the book, but Zeena and Nicholas- who by the way, are not a part of the church anymore- stated that they believed in what I’ll term social darwinism– the idea that the strong should take care of themselves and not be overly concerned with the needs of weak people. They seemed to state that the strong were the ones “deserving of love” that were described in the Satanic Bible, and that is isn’t our responsibility to be concerned with refugees or people who are victims of corrupt governments. They also admitted that The Church of Satan was an “elitist organization” open to those who were “worthy” and paid a $100 fee (this was at the time of the 1989 taping of the interview- I have no idea if there’s still a fee to become member of the Church of Satan today). I don’t think I’d make a very “good” Satanist.

Either way, I am so happy and grateful for my newfound freedom to explore different religious concepts, including some “controversial” ones. Expect more posts like this as I continue my religious/spiritual journey.

Achievement Exhaustion

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I’m going to be reviewing some of the ideas that I explored in my blog post entitled “Just Do It” in which I discussed why raw grit and determination alone aren’t always enough to push you to success. I actually started thinking more about this concept after watching some motivational/inspirational videos on Youtube (I’ve been watching these videos on and off for about a month now).

These videos usually encourage you to look deeper within yourself for the inspiration to push yourself forward. They talk about things such as examining your motives, eliminating time wasters and distractions, crafting clear goals, utilizing systems of reward and punishment, and tracking your progress. I can’t deny that all of this is really good advice, but there’s just one little problem- and that is that sometimes despite doing all the “right” things you just can’t seem to stay on the track that you’ve set for yourself.

For me, the problem is that I used to just be tired. I’m not talking about ordinary levels of exhaustion that can be cured by a good meal and a nice nap. I’m talking about bone-tired, skeleton-stiff, brain-clouding migraine levels of fatigue that won’t go away no matter how much rest you seem to get. Like in another post I quoted the lyrics “Wake Up Exhausted” and that’s exactly what happens- you “just woke up like this.”

This can be a sign of a number of things, but the main message is this- you’re probably doing way too much. The threat of burnout is very real in a number of fields and you have to make sure you are setting appropriate priorities, instead of just trying to do everything all at once.

Let’s say, though, that you aren’t experiencing that type of fatigue, but your whole life is sticking to a strict schedule, always making lists, constantly tracking your goals, staying on a particular diet, etc., and maybe you’re just bored. You may be making progress, but there is absolutely no variation or spontaneity in your routine. You have to make room for play in your life. It seems like an oversimplified suggestion, but you have to remember to actually have fun.

I think this actually goes double for people who are working, studying, or just generally doing this thing called life and dealing with a mental illness. Remembering to take time for yourself doesn’t mean that you’re losing sight of your purpose and your intent. Iyanla Vanzant actually pointed out in her book, entitled, “The Value in the Valley” that your purpose is bigger than just the individual goals that you might set for yourself. There is no specific prescribed method for success. There is still work involved, but you should be able to progress naturally- you should allow your passion to lead you. If some of that is fizzling out, you might want to re-examine what’s going on with you.

When I first decided to drop out of my theory class, I felt so torn. I felt like I was taking the “easy way out”. I believed that I owed it to myself to push myself to the absolute limits of my endurance, and I thought that being under constant pressure was somehow beneficial to my growth as a student and musician. It turns out, that the opposite may be true. Of course, I need to work hard, but having some free tme again has unlocked some of the creativity that was quick disappearing from my work. Another bonus is that I don’t feel achy, fatigued, and “cloudy” all the time. I actually feel like I’m an active participator in my life again.

So everything has its place. A relentless pursuit of achievement may seem good on the surface, but it isn’t always helpful to have tunnel vision. Sure, be focused, be mindful, but remember that there’s “more to life than chasing out every temporary high”. If you see life as just a staircase that you are constantly climbing you might not be aware of the bigger picture. Spend time with your friends, participate in hobbies that you enjoy, and know that you’re valuable as a human being- regardless of what achievements you have unlocked.

Talking a Good Game

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I know that when it comes to writing about spiritual growth on here, I “talk a good talk”. “Walking the walk”, however, is actually the bigger component to actual growth and that’s something that I really struggle with.

To this day, when things don’t seem to be going exactly as I’ve planned them, my default reaction is to panic. When things become difficult, my first impulse is to doubt myself and wonder if I’m really qualified to be doing whatever it is that I’m doing. I also tend to have a stronger impression that things in general are going to culminate in the worst possible outcome for me, instead of considering the possibility of them improving or ending favorably.

I think at the root of this behavior, is the false belief that if I picture the worst possible scenarios that it helps me to prepare for these imaginary disasters. I sometimes tell myself that I’m “just being realistic” and that this is actually the best way to approach things. I know that it isn’t true- I’m just giving into pessimistic attitudes that do not serve me. Also, these attitudes do not line up with the evidence that I’ve been presented with. Most of the times, what I’ve feared has never come to pass. So then, what is the point of being afraid?

I still think that the fear gives me power somehow. I believe that if I flinch before receiving the blows that I expect life to rain on me, that I’m somehow able to make them hurt less. When the blows don’t come, I am left with all of the bodily tension and stress of anticipating and preparing for them. This reaction also becomes an ingrained habit that makes it difficult for me to relax even when I am not being threatened.

I told my friend that I think I know what is the root of this desperate need for “control.” My theory is that it comes from living in a very restrictive household as a child. I had little control over my life’s circumstances, so my reaction has been to try to maintain strict control of my life in other ways. Of course, the idea of “control” is an illusion. We are ultimately responsible for how we handle the things that happen to us in life, but there is so much that happens in life that we do not have any influence over. We can choose to be a careful driver, but we don’t have control over a sudden rainstorm that may pass over and causes the truck in front of us to slide out of its lane and hit us. The best thing we can do is just to make sure we are wearing our seatbelts.

“Wearing your seatbelt” does not amount to living life terrified of accidents or misfortune. It’s more like a mental attitude of choosing to just be prepared for bad things that could happen without constantly dwelling on them. After all, how often do you consciously put on your seatbelt with the thought “I could get thrown out of the car today if I’m hit and I don’t wear this”? Some of us only wears seatbelts because the law says to. Most of us, though, just know that it’s safer, so we put it on out of habit. We’re not ruminating on all the grim possibilities. That’s how I eventually want to feel about preparedness in life; I want to come to a balanced state of mind where I am prepared but I am not afraid.

Obviously it isn’t possible to live a life totally free from fear. As I mentioned in another post, fear can be an important warning sign that something is not right with a certain situation. It is crucial in alerting you to danger. The fear that’s harmful for me personally- and I think for lots of other people as well- is the feeling of suspense or being “on edge” that can easily become a part of daily life. This is also probably a good description of certain clinical anxiety disorders (if you think you might need medicine or therapy to help with your anxiety you should definitely try to find a way to get that help).

In summary, I just want to be able to “practice what I preach” on here a little bit more. I wrote a lot about “The Value in the Valley” and I know that a lot of the principles in the book are at work in my life. Purpose and intent are guiding my actions. I am trying to follow the inward voice of my conscience a little better. I think it’s still the courage that I have trouble with- I have trouble maintaining the belief that everything is going to turn out just the way it’s supposed to, and that even if it isn’t the way that I would’ve chosen, that it’s ultimately for my benefit. My trust in the “process of life” is low.

I want to change that.

The Pathology of Happiness

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

As someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I am well aware of the highs and lows that are associated with it. I have been so low and depressed that I wanted to do nothing but stay in bed all day, yet often found myself unable to sleep. I have been so “high” that I thought it was a good idea to spend rent money from my dad on a camera and later drive all the way to another state to see my friends (I used my credit card to pay for everything).

Bipolar disorder has been described as a “disease of feelings.” The problem with this is, that we cannot escape feelings- experiencing them is an essential part of the human experience. Depression is rarely soul-crushing immediately. It starts with a persistent inability to enjoy the things you are doing, and then magnifies as you slowly begin to leave off doing those things. In the same way, mania doesn’t start off with you being 100% impulsive or delusional. It begins with hypomania- and one of the symptoms of hypomania is “unusually elevated mood”. All of the sudden the world around looks a few shades brighter, you experience increased energy and focus and you feel like you can accomplish almost anything.

Managing my mood disorder means being highly aware of my feelings and whether or not they’re getting out of hand, and watching out for mania is one of the main things I practice.

Unfortunately, this sometimes results in being suspicious if out of the blue I wake up and I’m feeling better about things than usual. It means wondering if my excitement and enthusiasm when I’m talking about something new could be described as “pressured speech” or if my extra energy could lead to irritation or an angry outburst. It means wondering if when I splurged on that one thing I was moving into the impulsivity that is characteristic of mania.

In other words, I begin to study and look for the “pathology of happiness”- all of the negative things that can be associated with what just feels like “being happy.” Just like I don’t want to get “too sad” I don’t want to become “too happy”; I don’t want to become manic. This is because the mania is what leads to the poor decisions, the destructive behavior, and ultimately the hospitalizations (in my case). A sense of grandiosity is capable of persisting that can lead to a complete loss of touch from reality.

I do wonder sometimes, though, if my fear of mania is putting a damper on my ability to express happiness and joy. I’ve been hospital-free for almost five years, but I still look back on that dark time in my life and seek to make sure never to return. Even when I know I’m doing all of the right things- getting sleep at night, taking my medication daily, and sticking to a routine- I still feel afraid that my emotions are going to get “out of control.” If I feel under the weather, immediately my mind goes to the worst possible outcome, of me eventually being unable to get out of bed and go to work and therefore getting evicted. Or if I’m happy and having a good time, I wonder if I’m becoming “too excited” and may launch into regrettable behavior.

It is possible that my concerns are being exacerbated because this is traditionally the time of the year that I’ve been hospitalized, but I know that these concerns are always a low-grade hum in my mind at all times. I am always thinking at some lower level of consciousness, “don’t let your feelings get out of hand.”

The good part of this story is that I am not without support. I have my best friend, who, if I did start to launch into something that was abnormal, would notice immediately. I am still under the observation of case workers, even though it’s been years since I’ve had an episode. This was because the frequency and severity of my episodes- the last of which was a schizophrenic one that got my diagnosis changed to schizoaffective (bipolar type). Also, my last hospital stay was three months, which is a pretty long time.

I’m very grateful and happy that I’ve been episode-free for so long. I think I have relaxed from the level of worry I was at early into my recovery, so it’s possible that this low-level vigilance is something that I’ll have to experience for the rest of my life. I feel like I will never be in a position where I will feel fully comfortable, or fully confident that I will never again experience the devastating effects of mental illness. In my case, I don’t believe I will ever be “cured”. Instead, it will be something that I always manage and live with.

Purpose and Intent

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote a post a few days ago about Iyanla Vanzant’s book, entitled, “The Value in the Valley: A Black Women’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. I gave a few examples about the types of valleys and the underlying principles discussed in the book. I wrote about how Iyanla emphasized introspection, self-examination, and prayer/meditation. She also taught the respect of the so-called “universal laws” like “the law of cause and effect” or “the law of attraction”. I went over the valleys only briefly, but there’s one that I would like to focus on right now- the “valley of purpose and intent”.

In the chapter on this valley, Iyanla says that purpose and intent should guide all that we do. She describes our purpose as being something we are divinely ordained to do and have a natural propensity for and liking to. When our purpose is clear, we are at peace. Intent describes how we intend to fulfill that purpose- it’s the positive energy that we put forth into the universe to show that we are indeed being serious. Our intent- or intention– could be described as our drive and focus to do the things that lead us toward the ultimate goal and meaning of our lives.

Being in alignment with our purpose does not guarantee that our lives will be free of challenges. As Iyanla put it, the world doesn’t stop spinning so that we can go ahead and pursue our dreams. We have to be extremely intentional in everything that we do and make sure that we give priority to the things that are contributing to our purpose and to set aside the petty things that hold us back. She says that setting goals is a good thing, but that we have to be aware that the goals we set are often made from our very limited perspectives. She emphasized being more open- to just focus on our purpose, and have our minds be intent on moving towards it. Slowly opportunities will open up for us- opportunities that we may have missed if we hadn’t been paying attention.

Reading this chapter helped me to remember the importance of knowing what I really want out of life and consciously pursuing that thing. I know I want to write, and I know I want to compose and perform music, so I’ve prioritized my musical education above everything else. The rewards have been very apparent. Gradually I’ve gotten better grades, faced fears, and increased my knowledge and comfort with the subjects I’ve been studying. I’ve been able to handle a steadily increasing course load and I will soon be able to graduate. I’ve definitely had to make sacrifices- mostly financial ones- but also I’ve had to chase my dreams against the wishes of my father (I think that’s been pretty huge).

My purpose and intent haven’t just worked out with school, either- it’s worked out other aspects of my life, such as changing jobs and moving out on my own. I intended to do those things, but the how and the when I hadn’t figured out yet. It’s funny though, how you do really get the things you want even if you have to be pushed by outside forces to finally make your move. That was Iyanla’s emphasis when she wrote about “the valley of courage”- that life has a way of forcing you to face the very things that you fear the most.

Another valley that I identified with was “the valley of understanding”. You would think that such a valley would be about gaining understanding in an intellectual or academic sense, but it is actually about trusting the “knowing” and intuition that you already have inside. One of Iyanla’s frequently repeated sayings in that chapter was “you know when you know”. We all have a sense when we first meet a person whether they’re trustworthy or not, but we often dismiss those feelings, only to discover later that we should have trusted our first sense. (“Trust your first thought”) We all know when we’re starting a job we’re going to hate, and even after we’ve gritted our teeth through it for a while we know when it’s time to leave. Do we leave? Often times not. We know when a relationship is failing, when we’ve outgrown our city or neighborhood, or when our conscience is afflicting us because we’re biting our tongues when we should really speak. We know these things, but when we don’t act on them, we’re being disobedient.

Even when we do have the understanding, we aren’t going to be able to move until we are ready. That’s something that I’ve observed about myself, too, when I’ve reviewed my life. I have constantly moved through seasons of action and inaction. Sometimes I have been too eager, and made a horrible, destructive mess out of things (while still managing to accomplish nothing as far as personal progress). I’ve hesitated when I should’ve moved forward, but when my time to dawdle was up, life moved me forward whether I was “ready” or not. I could either keep hedging or move with it (I chose to move with it). Other times I’ve been in sync with the flow of life, but I’ve still had periods where things just stayed the same for a long time. That was life’s way of testing me, to see if I could continue to be faithful to what I was doing and have the patience required to fulfill the task at hand.

I’m sure I’ve quoted this before, but there’s a quote from the movie (500) Days of Summer. The narrator says, “Most days do not have any impact on the course of a life.” I have found this to be true. That being said, each day we’re either walking in our purpose or outside of it. Those days add up into weeks, months, and years, and before we know it we’re either looking back at our life in regret or we are looking back with a sense of fulfillment.

So in summary: be courageous, have faith, trust your instincts, and be true to yourself. Don’t let anyone silence your voice. Don’t let anyone undermine your authority or undervalue the gifts you bring into life. Live on purpose and act with intention. Don’t stand down for anyone, and when life seems overwhelming, take a deep breath and keep on going. You have everything you need to face this life and triumph, so don’t turn away.

Run your race to its completion, and claim your crown!

The Value In the Valley

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

This blog post title comes from a book that I recently read by Iyanla Vanzant, titled “The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. Even though she targets black women in the title, I think Iyanla could be speaking to any woman who is feeling burdened down by the problems of this world. After all, women of all races can be afflicted with the guilt that they’ve come to association with their gender, the oppression of “the patriarchy” and a constant craving for outside approval and validation.

Iyanla starts the book out with a solid introduction, and then quickly moved unto outlining the states of being she would be discussing through a chapter she titled “Anatomy of the Valley”. Here she gives a brief overview of each of the valleys. They all have different names like “The Valley of Light”, the “Valley of Courage” or “The Valley of Love”, for examples. She said that it was possible to be in multiple valleys, and that you will intuitively be able to identify which valley you’re in.

In fact, relying on your inward “intuition” is something that Ms. Vanzant emphasizes in her book. She talks about the importance of relying on your Higher self or your God self, which she also describes as a guiding force simply called “spirit.” She will tell you that spirit knows all that you need to know, that the answers are inside- to stop thinking so intellectually and to intuit and know through the feelings in your heart. She warns that if your gut tells you something is off, and you disobey it, you are bound to reap the consequences. If you are confused about which inward feelings you are receiving, then you should stop and pray and ask for guidance.

To whom or to what you’re praying to is a little vague. Before each chapter where she discusses a specific valley in detail, Iyanla has a few paragraphs of what she called “Meditations with the Mother” in which she addresses the reader from the perspective of a divine Mother speaking to her daughters. She gently chastises and admonitions them to return to Her, to trust in Her love, and to know that She and “Father” created them in Love and for a purpose. With Iyanla’s yoruba background, it’s appropriate to assume that by the Father she means the Creator-God of the faith- but she doesn’t mention Him, or any other gods and goddesses by name in the book. I think that she sought to make her religious expression as inclusive as possible.

Another thing that Iyanla discusses, which I have a little bit of trouble with, are certain “spiritual laws.” She quotes the Biblical expression, “What you sow, you reap”. She often suggests that if someone is having trouble in a particular area of her life, that she examine how she might’ve misbehaved in the past. For example, if she has financial trouble, or people borrow from her and don’t repay, then she should look back and see if she borrowed from anyone and neglected to pay back. Or she should see if maybe by negative thoughts and words- like constantly talking about being broke or worrying about how to make ends meet- that she is encouraging the “spirit of lack” to take root in her life.

This ties in pretty strongly to what I’ve talked about with regards to “hidden agency” in previous blog posts. I think that seeing what our part is in a problem or situation is very important, and choosing to stop contributing to something in a way that causes negative results is crucial. I think the problem enters in when we believe that some unseen power- be that “the universe” or “God” or “the law of cause and effect” is arranging things to suit people who are “good” and doling out punishments to those who are “bad”.

To her credit, Iyanla did admit that the “universal laws” don’t always seem to be exactly tit for tat. Being a thief doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will rob you- but maybe you’ll lose something important in another area of your life. Also, she “Doing the right thing for the wrong reason” is still wrong and has its own consequences. She also argued that the Universal laws cannot be manipulated. You might try to be positive, try to talk a good talk, but if your heart and spirit don’t believe it the Universe will take note.

So my problem is this idea that all of these forces outside your control are all “holding you accountable” in one way or another. I feel that believing this may lead to paranoia and self-blame. Also, it may just be plain old untruth and superstition.

That being said, I think her emphasis on introspection, getting still and meditating, positive purpose and intent, and even prayer are all very valuable. Also, with regards to prayer, she was the first person I heard that said just saying things out loud to yourself may be a good thing to do as well- and it’s something I practice.

i think though, with the way I discovered this book, you’d think that I’d have a little more faith in unseen forces than I do. When I saw it I was at work, and I knew that I just had to take it home with me. I can’t describe how I knew- I just knew. It’s that kind of intuition that Iyanla praises in her book- but we can’t really prove that it’s a divine or spiritual thing. It may one day be explainable through science. For now though- spiritual or not- what I experienced was valid. I did indeed enjoy the book. I read through the whole thing in three days and excitedly shared insights with my friend. Its message of peace, of having faith in yourself, and in looking inward were invaluable to me at that time.

I’ve been focusing a lot on spiritual things lately in my effort to manage my depression. The current theme that’s I’m discovering is that life is a series of rhythms. I started thinking more deeply about it after watching a Youtuber named Brandon Gilbert. Birth and death, hunger and satisfaction, day and night, the changing seasons- all are a testament to the rhythmic nature of life. Like Solomon said, there is a time to all things- a time to mourn, and a time to laugh, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. Change is the nature of life. Stagnant water is usually not life-supporting- unless you’re breeding mold or mosquitoes.

There is value in the valley, and there are things to be learned from the heights of joy and peace to the depths of despair. There is a  lesson to be learned in every situation- it’s not so much about outward success as it is about inward spiritual growth. It’s not about how much I have, but it’s about how much light, life, and love am I willing to receive. Do I think that I am worthy of these things, or do I doubt my value as a person?

Back to the “change” bit. Accepting the changeability of life releases me from being overly concerned with outward outcomes. This doesn’t mean that I never strive to improve my position in society, my financial status, etc. It just means that if something happens that trips me up, I rise up and dust myself off, because “that’s life.” A favorite saying of a friend of mine is “this too shall pass.” That includes good things as well as bad.

The Apostle Paul wrote,

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” -1 Corinthians 13:12

Everything is revealed in time. For now, all we have to do is wait, be at peace, and do the next right thing until the answers come to us.

The Praying Deist?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I’ve made it pretty clear in the past that I’ve been having a really hard time with things, with my depression creeping up. Also things are going to be a little bit tight for me financially for the next several weeks, so it’s very important that I do certain things to get everything in order.

I’m being forced to take some time off of my job, because I have too many hours for the year. I requested for my boss to concentrate that time around when I’ll be resuming classes (end of August, early September) and she agreed to my request. So thankfully I won’t have to work for the first week of school and that gives me some time to get acclimated to my school schedule. The bad part is that it will make my paycheck take a big hit, but luckily around that time I should be receiving some financial aid.

When I was driving home today, for some reason, I thought about how I used to just sit in my car and pray before work. I felt so overwhelmed, everything seemed so big to me- and it wasn’t because of depression. I truly didn’t feel equal to the task of any job that I was first starting. Those times were so refreshing and so intimate for me, but when I thought of praying for current events, I deliberately quelled the impulse. After all, what use was prayer to a person like me, who believed more or less that God gave life to the world but may have left us on our own? Or even if he/she/it didn’t, that maybe They were concerned with bigger problems- or that maybe They expected me to look inward for the answer to my difficulties- inward to the gift They’d already given me? So I just gripped the steering wheel and said, “I got this”.

Somehow, though, that wasn’t very satisfying. So as I was sitting here, facing what I have to face in the weeks to come, and feeling very insecure about it, I decided to go look up a post that I’d written a long time ago about praying as “an unbeliever.” It was called “I believe…”.

The truth is, that despite my changed beliefs, I still feel the presence of my God when I pray. I can’t explain it- maybe it shows that my relationship with the Divine had nothing to do with religion. Maybe in a way I believe that God transcends religion.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote;

I know, I’ve mentioned before that “recovering from religion” didn’t have to mean a total loss of faith but I think I was just trying to say it just to make myself believe it. Now, it’s real to me. I’m not a Christian anymore. I don’t believe in a seven day creation, partings of the Red Sea, an Israeli Exodus from Egypt, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, the Final Judgment or the Second Coming but I sure as heck do believe in a god. I believe that some Benevolent Force has intervened in my life for the better. I believe that Something gave me strength when I had totally given up. I also believe that this “something” isn’t going to let me down.

So where did I go about forgetting that even though I’m not a Christian anymore, that I’m still “allowed” to pray? (I think that was actually a separate entry, but I can’t find it) Where did I go about forgetting that my faith in “something” can still be firm and unshakeable? Of course, feelings are subjective, but our perception of the world is all that we really have. If I choose to believe that a Benevolent Force is guiding me and giving me strength, then why can’t that be as valid as other peoples’ highly subjective beliefs?

I know I did just write about not being sure if I could trust in the idea of hidden agency anymore, but that’s not a completely exclusive idea. I’m willing to accept that if there is hidden agency, that we have no way of actually verifying it with any of the methods that we now have at our disposal. So the idea of the existence of hidden agency can be viewed skeptically, but not totally ruled out- until we can gain more evidence. With that in mind, it’s important for me to realize that my beliefs will continue to change as I learn more and as I continue to grow as a person. It could be true that I have not reached my final destination as far as faith and religion is concerned.

For now, though, I’m going to keep praying. I’m going to keep “talking to the ceiling” whenever I’m in a crisis. It may be a sign of weakness or denial, and I may just be doing it because I’m used to doing so. I do remember, however, several times when things were horrible and I didn’t pray, because I just wanted to die and for my pain to end that way. Fortunately, I’m not at that point anymore- I still have a lot of hope.

If this is what it takes to keep going, then so be it.