Category Archives: Advice

My First Hate Mail: LGBTQ+ and Christianity Part 2

I wasn’t intending to write a follow up entry to the lovely post about my mom, but less than twenty four hours after I praise her for being unconditionally loving and supportive of me–someone professing to be a follower of Christ said some very rude, hurtful and shameful things. Rather than repeat those things, I would like to take this moment to turn it around for praise.

Thank you for being concerned enough about my salvation to publicly humiliate me. I forgive you. This is not sarcastic or tongue and cheek–I mean it. Rather than turn me away from the Christian faith, those hurtful words highlighted the importance of love and grace when delivering truths to one another.

Paul said, 

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (NIV, Biblegateway.org )

If I or my brothers and sisters in Christ cut one another down in effort to stand for truth or righteousness–we are missing the point. Jesus said :

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.
35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High,because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:27-36. (NIV Biblegateway.org)
In my understanding, regardless of which side of the great debate you find yourself on, you’d do well in the sight of the Lord to be merciful, to love those who mistreat you and treat others the way you want to be treated. If you can say with all integrity you wish believers to slander you publicly and treat you with wrathful disdain if they believe you to be sinning–I will certainly pray for your view of God and of justice. 
Jesus was moved by compassion, the only harsh words he spoke were to legalistic religious leaders. Look at the woman caught in adultery, the conversation with Pilate, the tax collector, the leper who told everyone Jesus healed him when instructed not to, look how he treated Peter after his denial of Christ…compassion is the rule of the day. 
 
They will know we are his disciples by our love for one another–not by how loudly we oppose one another.
~Cheryl

What Is Wrong With Me?

A 24 year old man once asked me if I was as discontent about being single as he was. He asked if there was something wrong with him. I paused, reflected on where I was 4.5 years ago and found myself being more wise than I actually am. Three things are true of people who see ‘all their friends’ getting engaged, married and starting families– 1)there’s nothing wrong with you, 2) you are blessed–not cursed and 3) you will find someone to share your journey.

1) There’s nothing wrong with you.
As 20 somethings (and any age really) we compare ourselves way too much. Really, how can we help it. Everything is a contest. We vote constantly on what’s hot and what’s not. We keep up with the latest trends, games, what’s making headlines on social media. We retake our selfies dozens of times, apply several filters and touch ups and add hashtags so people will give us a tonne of likes and validate our projected self image.
 The self image that we carefully crafted and borrowed from our favourite celebs and/or Pinterest pages. Add to that the pressure of watching most of your friends hitting milestones in their lives. They are purchasing homes, getting married, having babies and posting hundreds of photos a week about it all. All of your photos are selfies.
This is for a few reasons–firstly, you’re single. You do things on your own. Secondly, as a result of being single, you don’t get invited to the family friendly fun things. Your friends think that you’re out having adventures, when really, you’re watching Youtube videos at Starbucks wishing that you weren’t single.
It is not a deficit towards your character that you are single. In fact, take it as an opportunity to discover yourself without feeling the need to compromise (also known as faking) the things you enjoy in order to win favour with the object of your affection. What motivates you? What fills you up? What do you really enjoy? Do that. I mean, watch Netflix too, but DO something. Live YOUR life. Stop trying to live someone else’s life by looking at what they have and thinking you’re missing out because you don’t have it right now.
2) You are blessed–not cursed 

The best revelation of my 20’s as a single woman has been the freedom. Not that I don’t want to share my life with someone, nor do I hate children, but the freedom of a single person is vastly different to the freedom of a family. If I wake up tomorrow and want to go to Hawaii (just pretend I have money for that right now), I don’t have to discuss it with anyone other than work.  And even with that, though it would be REALLY irresponsible, I could call in sick (or quit) and pack a bag for three days, and just go swimming in Mexico or Australia. I could spend New Years in Paris if I wanted to without having to worry about paying a mortgage or saving for my kid’s college.
I have time to stay up too late at rock shows and eat terrible left overs for breakfast. I can choose to have wine instead of supper and eat french fries on the side. If I want to throw a dinner party that is a little risqué in theme (but not too risky , as I love Jesus), I don’t have to worry about what my significant other or their parents might think of me. I sink or sail my own ship for now.
On a slightly less introspective note, think of all the opportunities you have for impacting other people’s lives that you wouldn’t have if you were in a long term committed relationship. Commitments take time and investment. They are worth while. Yet, if you are both working full-time, and you have kids, you will have little time for anything else until you get over the baby/toddler stage.
Right now you can stop on the street and talk to homeless people for hours–maybe even take them for a hot meal because you alone dictate your schedule. You can choose to eat beans and rice for a month and donate the money you would’ve spent on fancy groceries to charity. You can chaperone youth trips, and go on short term missions trips instead of vacation–all of which are more trying for those in families. Let’s face it, we miss the people we love deeply when we are away from them for long periods of time…get some solo adventuring in while you’re free to do it!
 3) You will find someone to share your journey.

This last one is not a cliche. Though I know not everyone gets married, that is not the point. You WILL find someone to share your journey with, you just have to realize that sometimes they are NOT a love interest. I know, at the peak of loneliness that is not what a single person wants to hear. But, my best adventures were the ones that I took on my own to go and see a good friend. I was able to encourage them and feel the richness of love that they have for me. See, people who are in long term committed relationships have a lot more worries than the average single person.

Their life is united to another body, mind and soul–and that is a heavy and wonderful burden to carry. Often they feel that your love for them is extravagant when you take the time to adventure with them. Whether that adventure is taking them and their new baby to the swimming pool, or going on a ladies (or men’s) only camping trip. The person you share your journey with is likely to change between now and when you find your one true love. Don’t wait to enjoy the ride. Go make some memories.

** I’d like to add, if you would like to join my support network and help me in this journey of radical obedience http://www.gofundme.com/cherylfollandGCN follow this link to donate and share. Every little bit helps. **

5 Things I Learned from Discussing Sexuality with a Pastor

Recently, I did something that I was afraid to do. I talked with a local pastor about LGBTQ people and their relationship with the church. I was scared before I went, even though I know this person and knew the content of the conversation, that it was going to be about trying to convince one another of opposing views. Here’s what I learned:

1) Bridging is bumpy.

One of the most helpful things we did for one another at the start of the discussion is define our terms and our lack of exhaustive knowledge on the material we were about to discuss. We laughed a bunch and admitted that it felt weird to talk this openly about being “not straight” (as I put it) and loving Jesus.

2) Something’s got to change.

The reason for today’s conversation was the recognition that when people come out as LGBTQ they feel, for one reason or another, they need to leave the church. LGBTQ Christians feel like they have to choose between fellowship with people who love Jesus and worshipping/serving together and their sexual orientation. We both recognize that conversations need to be had at an open table. This table needs to have listening ears on both sides–not to convince each other about theological ideologies but to listen to one another with empathy and understanding. There will be an “us” and “them” as long as we talk past one another.

3) People are hungry.

Pastors and lay workers within the church (read many churches, not one specific church) are meeting outside of Sunday services with LGBTQ community members to learn how to engage with people and begin ministering out of a place of love. What’s being discovered is the amount of people who were raised in church, attended youth group, and even went to Bible College who identify as other than straight and left the church. They desire greatly to worship alongside other believers without being seen solely for whom they love. They want to be seen as God’s children walking out faith.

4) We don’t agree on every sin.

In the course of our conversation, we discussed whether or not conservative and mainstream Christian churches would be able to understand that LGBTQ Christians do not believe that their orientation is sin. We talked about how wide the spectrum is within the LGBTQ community–where some hold to traditional male/female marriage teachings opting for celibacy as the way to honour God with a same gender orientation and others hold to same-gender long term committed marriage. Similarly, Christians don’t all agree on alcohol consumption, secular movies and entertainment, swearing and modesty.

5) One important question remained.

How can we remove the stigma, isolation and fear for those who come out in faith communities?

There’s a few ways to do this. All of them take a long time.

First, sexuality regardless of straight or LGBTQ needs to be discussed in the context of church teaching. How can we expect a conversation round sexual orientation and inclusion if we can’t even discuss sex in the context of marriage? It is astounding the amount of young adult Christians who didn’t know how their body worked…or why it worked that way when I was at Bible College–because it was dirty and taboo.

Second, we need to create a culture where someone disclosing sexual orientation, sexual confusion or gender related questions is met with compassion and not solutions. Thank them for sharing with you. Admit that it must have been scary and difficult to talk about. Let them know that your love for them has not and will not change. Maybe consider waiting until later to discuss they why and how they know or are questioning. First just hold them and tell them it will be okay.

Third, how can the church make space for LGBTQ people and families to participate in church? We discussed the various reformations in church culture: women in ministry, divorced leaders, children outside of marriage–and how the church has embraced and including those once marginalized groups (some better than others). In light of those revelations of grace, how can the same attitudes be applied to the LGBTQ people in our communities.

What about you? Did you feel at one time or another like you had to choose between living authentically and being accepted? How can we walk with you?

I’m Still Here

I’ve been MIA for over a week from my blog. I would like to provide you with some grand explanation as to why. Perhaps I was on an adventure and did not have access to wi-fi–is that even a thing anymore? Perhaps I was so engrossed in PokemonGo that I failed to engage with reality beyond work, eating and sleeping. Perhaps I was writing my next big masterpiece.

Reality is I am sick. I have always been sick, and unless God sees fit to heal me completely, I will always be some measure of sick. Like so many other great people, I suffer from mental illness. This past week my victories have been getting out of bed, having a bath and eating healthy food. Getting out of bed before 1pm is a triumph. Calling in sick to work, because I am physically sick as a result of my mental health issues, I feel guilty. I feel guilty that I am sitting at home feeling like my life is a huge struggle.

I know I have it better than others. The sickness in my brain tells me that I’m a failure, it tells me that I am a quitter, that I am letting people down, that I should just be able to be happy–because I can’t there’s something fatally wrong with me. IMG_1098
What set it off this time? You think it would be a tragedy. The world’s events certainly do impact my mood. Day after day there is a headline of needless violence and hatred. People are killing one another, they are supporting hateful politicians and care more about where people pee than the poor and the dying. That’s not what did it.

What did it was good news. You see, I received a letter that I made the Dean’s List this past year at University. I had no one to celebrate with because I either pushed people out literally or they ghosted me when I came out publicly as bisexual. I’ve been feeling and grieving the loss of close  relationships for the past four months, but I’ve been keeping busy. It was easier when I was busy.

I do not really have a point with this post. I want to let people into the struggle. If you feel gloomy and dark and all alone, reach out. There is always someone to listen. Getting the thoughts out there prevents them from consuming us and spiralling out of control.

You are loved. You are needed. You will overcome.

~Cheryl

Anxiety, My Old Friend

Recently, though I thought it was relatively conquered, my anxiety has been rather high. As per usual, I have been giving myself a terrible time about it. Thoughts of self-condemnation and ceaseless internal berating only fuel the embers of fear and depression.

Last night, I was awaken with shock like symptoms: cool clammy skin, dizziness, rapid breathing and intense nausea. I do not and did not have the flu or food poisoning. This physical reaction is a direct effect of my anxiety.

When one lives with generalized anxiety disorder day-to-day activities are clouded with worries and agitation. In light of the local and international violence, my anxiety has been on high alert for the last while and it is taking a toll on my sleeping and emotional well-being.

Orlando–this was a huge trigger for me. I recently came out publicly and had been receiving mixed reactions, some compassionate, some hurtful and some hateful. Orlando hit me hard.

Within a week of that shooting, there was a shooting near my home. Shootings in Canada are substantially less common and more remote in small cities like mine. This compounded my fear, and I started to hide away in my home.

Once I had recovered some from those traumas, a body was found in a culvert near where I used to live. I saw the area, next to a church, taped off while riding the bus home from work. My fear of the unknown, it’s still not been released as to what happened with that incident, caused me to further isolate myself. I began to be afraid to walk down the street in the middle of the day. I closed my blinds so strangers couldn’t see if I was home or not if they knocked on the door. All while painting a smile on my face and working everyday at a local daycare.

The daycare I work for is connected with a local church. The people are lovely, this kids are energetic and rambunctious, and it was only a matter of time before local church staff tried to recruit me for their kids program. Unfortunately, I am not out at work. They don’t know that I am not heterosexual. I am not sure I would lose my job, but I am not sure that I would keep it either. When the Pastor asked me if I would be interested in kids or youth ministry, I had to fumble around for reasons (that are true, but flimsy) for not joining. I am terrified as I make new Christian friends in the community that they will find out I am queer.

I am afraid I will lose my job, I am afraid of gossip, I am afraid of losing my credibility as a theologian, I am afraid.

This constant state of fear has worked its way into my other activities. I am afraid to go places alone in the event that I might run into someone who I know disapproves of my sexuality. I am afraid to tell people I am getting to know someone because they will invalidate and pervert that relationship. I am afraid that I will not be able to do what I love–working with God’s people–because I am queer. I am afraid.

Fear is quickly taking over my life, with each tragedy, each conversation between peers condemning LGBTQ people I avoid commenting on, each church event that will actively preach against people like me, each letter from concerned former friends–each of these magnifies the fear.

What’s a person to do? It’s easy to offer glib responses like “who cares what other people think?”, truth is, we all care. We get lonely when we don’t have like-minded people in our corner. We become afraid to try new things because of how events went in the past.

I will strive to be a safe place for LGBTQ people of faith (and people in general). I never want someone to become physically ill because of the fear they have in being themselves.

You are loved. You are precious. Fear not.