Writer Wednesdays: Your Voice

Think of the stories that you tell your friends and family. What triggers you to share? I can think of three main reasons I share my experiences with others. Moving forward, I would like to formally invite you to consider a moment or some moments in your life that need to be share with others.

These moments could be tragic. These moments could be hopeful. They could bring laughter or they could bring tears. Most importantly, these moments are truthful.

What are the three reasons I share stories from my life?

  • I share stories to give encouragement

There are times in my life that have been straight out of a Law and Order: SVU episode. I grew up in rough circumstances. My choices as a teen were destructive. My young adult life has been plagued by trials, grief, illness and shame.

Yet, God has brought me through. I am an overcomer by nature and my blood type is resilience. If I can share who I once was in light of who I am now–my voice matters–it gives people hope.

  • I share stories to bring abundant laughter.

I’m hilarious. It’s true. Sometimes, I forget how funny I am. People get used to me. Then, I’ll be out at an event or in public and I’ll say or do something that’s classically Cheryl–and people will choke from laughter.

When life tries to suck the joy out of you, when all the news is bad news, when people seem to be negative for no reason–humour aptly placed can bring life. Just think of how much time we spend (waste) laughing at memes or watching Youtube videos. Laughter is the best medicine for many things.

  • I share stories to create understanding.

“What’s the big deal?” & “Lighten up.” are two phrases you wouldn’t expect are spoken to someone as laid back and hilarious as myself. Fact is, I hear them more often than is comfortable. You see, I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a lot of hurts and I’ve helped a lot of broken people.

We might not know why something is important until someone tells us how it impacted them. Casually mentioned atrocities can cause deeps wounds in those around us and retraumatize them without our knowledge.

This is where you come in. Your voice, your story, your humour, your experiences can make the differences in the lives around you.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself “you have no idea”, here’s your chance to give the world an idea–a new perspective. Who knows, you just might change a life.

~Cheryl

Advertisements

Which One is the Girl?

Recently, someone I greatly respect and am good friends with asked me a question the only way they know how. They were trying to understand my point of view through their own experiences. If you’re LGBTQ or non-binary  and in a same gender relationship, you’ve likely heard this question before. “Which one are you? Like are you the girl?”

If a random stranger asked me this, I would likely be offended, but this came from a friend. It highlights a point of mainstream culture for me that LGBTQ advocates are fighting so hard against. The binary heteronormative worldview (Male and Female with traditional roles) erases the possibility that two women CAN be 100% women in a same gender relationship. Outside of LGBTQ issues, it also paints stay at home dads as effeminate and construction working moms as butch. Why? Because we’ve been so indoctrinated on the A+B=Normal that anything else is uncomfortable and weird.

As a queer Christian (I gave up on labels because I hate them), someone who isn’t straight and doesn’t feel the need to fit in a category, I am me. When I am in a relationship with someone, regardless of gender, I am still 100% me. This 100% me enjoys camping, actions movies, flowers, pants, sports, nail polish, BBQ and hanging with the boys. This 100% me has a short pixie cut that is currently flamingo pink and rarely wears make-up. This 100% me is attracted to people based on who they are and not their gender expression.

IMG_1160To ask who takes on the traditional role of a male or female in an LGBTQ relationship is to totally miss the point. The point is, no one does. We are not traditional. We cannot be something we aren’t, so we don’t even try. I will not deny that co-dependecy is a problem in LGBTQ relationships, but I know many straight couples who have the same struggles. We are all human. Next time you want to know who is the woman in a lesbian relationship, maybe try asking what kind of person someone is attracted to? or what makes them fulfilled in a relationship? De-sexualize the question, learn what makes a person tick, listen for understanding and above all, don’t ask a question you wouldn’t ask your straight friends.

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?