Allowing Yourself to Be

This past February, I started seeing my first couple of clients for spiritual direction. Sitting with people for accompaniment has really been a point of joy for me, even on days when I have a lot going on and it feels like a client session is just one more meeting on my daily schedule. It is a real honor to sit with my clients, to hold their stories with care, to be present to both their joy and pain, and to lift them up in prayer. I love this work.

I do struggle with imposter syndrome, though. I sometimes feel as though I have to be a certain kind of spiritual director, I have to say deep, profound things, or that I have to dress a certain way (I do joke about needing to expand my collection of chunky jewelry). Occasionally I feel as if I’m “not good enough” because I have off days, where I’m stressed or tired and I know that I am not being fully present, which can already be a struggle with my ADHD.

I had one such session recently. I’m in the process of preparing for a big cross country move to Denver, to finally close the gap between my partner and I, as we’ve been dating long distance for about a year. During this recent session, I went into the time occupied with lots of thoughts about the move and all the things I had to take care of. I felt incredibly self-conscious because it took me a little bit longer than usual to form questions and be fully present, and afterwards I felt crummy about it. My inner anxious voice was *certain* that my client was probably so offended by this lack of spiritual profundity that they were going to fire me.

Then, I had another session with the same client that was a complete 180. I made time beforehand to simply pray that I could be present and in so doing, be the person that my client needed that day. I tried not to be hard on myself when I noticed my mind wandering and just gently brought myself back to what my client was sharing. I could tell that my client and I both left this session feeling renewed and centered, and that was an amazing feeling.

This experience reminded me that the work of accompaniment does not demand perfection. The work requires integrity, deep listening, and loving, attentive presence, skills that develop with time and practice. I am not asked to be a sage, ready with a profound answer or insight to every problem, but to just show up as myself, ready to listen and pray, and let God do the rest. My job is not to fix, but simply to witness. So yes, there will be some days where my imposter syndrome is loud and I have a lot on my mind, but that’s okay. In my sessions, I am there to be there, to bring my full self and in so doing, create a space to hold my client’s full self.

All of this connects to the ongoing human struggle of just being. So many of the world’s spiritual traditions speak of the need for mindfulness in our daily lives, the letting go of distractions, worries, and judgments and being attentive to what the Divine is doing in the here and now. Allowing our thoughts, feelings, our whole selves to just be present. I think of how Jesus told his followers that God takes care of every living thing, from the little birds to the lilies of the field, and that includes us. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34). God’s got you, so why worry about what’s coming tomorrow, what you’re going to eat, or the 12 things on your to-do list? Just focus on right now.

Easier said than done, Lord.

Every day we receive countless messages from our families, peers, faith communities, jobs, and society at large as to who we should be, what we should think, how we should feel or what we should be doing. All of these things take us out of ourselves and don’t allow us to sit in the present moment.

As I’ve mentioned, in a few weeks I’ll be moving to Denver to be with my partner, Chad. The moving prep is just about complete and now I’m just waiting for the day to arrive. I’m making lists of new restaurants and cafés to try. I’m thinking about all the dates that my partner and I will be able to go on. I’m ecstatic! I’m happy! I’m ready!

And at the same time, there is this nagging sense that I should be sadder than I am. Why am I not torn up about leaving so many friends? Why am I not grieving the end of my time in this place?

The reality is, I am ready to leave Philly. To be clear, I have spent most of my life here, except for a brief stint in Boston, so I have already said goodbye once, which I suppose makes things easier. My roots are here, I have developed a beautiful community of friends and confidantes here, and my church home here has been so nourishing and healing. And at the same time, I am ready to see new places and meet new people, I have hurt and trauma in Philadelphia that I would like to put behind me, and most of all, I want to begin building a future with the love of my life.

When I brought all of this up in a recent session with my spiritual director, she asked me, simply, “What would it feel like to just allow yourself to be excited? To just let the grief come when it comes, if it comes at all?”

(This is what I love about spiritual direction. The simplest prompting or question by a director can really unlock so much insight that we may not have allowed ourselves to access, even if in the moment it may feel like you’re being dragged.)

That question was a reminder to return to simply being who I am, and feel whatever I may be feeling, without judgment. I could get on that plane and cry the entire flight, or I won’t. I may not feel the grief until a month or two later, and when it does, I’ll embrace it and work through it. With these few weeks that remain, I’m just allowing myself to be excited when I feel excited, or sad when I feel sad, but not pushing myself to feel one way or another. There’s a deep sense of peace in that for me.

My work with my clients reminds me that what is required of me is integrity, deep listening, and loving attentive presence. In offering spiritual direction to others, I am learning to give the same gifts to myself.

Harden Not Your Hearts

I recently got a new sticker from Art of Marza for my laptop. It’s a depiction of the story of the Good Samaritan, with Jesus in the role of the latter. There is text around it that reads, “REFUSING TO HARDEN YOUR HEART IS A RADICAL ACT”.

This message is a reminder to me that it is so tempting to look away from the suffering all around me instead of doing the right thing. Our society tells us to just ignore our neighbors who suffer under the weight of white supremacy, poverty and discrimination. Or worse, we are encouraged to blame them for their own pain, rather than the systemic abuses that are the root causes of inequality and death. It’s easy to just look away. But Jesus calls us – all of us who consider ourselves his followers – not to. I’m reminded of an antiphon that we used to sing during Lent in the Roman Catholic parish I grew up in, based on Psalm 95: “If today you hear his voice,/ harden not your hearts.”

Good Friday is a day that, despite my best efforts, doesn’t always make sense to me – at least, not in the way I was brought up to understand it, in the penal-substitution-theory-kind-of-way. I do not understand the need for the cruelty, the blood, the agony. I don’t understand why it was all necessary. It makes me uncomfortable and sad and I often do not want to engage with this day, which is why this call to not allow for a hardening of heart feels particularly live for me. It is all the more easy for me these, when there is so much pain around, to keep scrolling past a call for action for a neighbor in need than to stop and think about how I can help. It can be so tempting to simply not make eye contact and keep walking past someone experiencing homelessness than reaching into my pocket and give them some money.

In the Episcopal Church, we often liken the arms of Christ stretched out on the cross as an embrace open to all. I love that image, because it speaks to the heart of who Jesus was and is for me: someone so full of love that death could not snuff out his life for good. Jesus, even in his last, agonizing moments, asks God to forgive the people torturing him and assures a man dying next to him that he too will receive eternal life. Even with hands and feet nailed to wood, even while struggling to breathe, Jesus’ heart did not harden.

Jesus told us that what we do to the least of our kindred, we do to him. We cannot look away from the suffering of our neighbors, for doing so is looking away from Christ himself. This is how I have come to understand Good Friday and enter into it.

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:32

When he was lifted up on the cross, Jesus drew all marginalized, oppressed, dejected people to himself. He took on our pain. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, entered into full solidarity with those who fought and died for liberation from powers and principalities, with those wrongfully accused and sentenced to languish in prison, with those discriminated against for the color of their skin, their gender, who they love, their disabilities or their economic status. Turning away from the suffering of the “least of these” is turning away from Christ himself.

If we are to be an Easter people, we must enter into Good Friday and the silence of Holy Saturday. That requires something difficult from us: we must not allow our hearts to harden. We have to interrogate our own involvement in the systems that abuse and kill our neighbors. We cannot look away from the suffering around us, but must enter into it as Jesus did, and allow our hearts of stone to become hearts of flesh that break and mourn.

Mending Myself

Midway through this year, I had the opportunity to enroll in a spiritual direction practicum course offered by Still Harbor. I’ve been discerning a ministry in spiritual direction for a little while now, but opted not to take this course last year because it involved traveling out of state once a month and I didn’t have the funds. However with COVID-19 and literally everything being made virtual, this year the practicum was offered entirely online and I figured this was the year to do it – and I’m loving it! Being on Zoom for several hours once a month can be a challenge (I make it work with lots of water and snacks), but the material is engaging, the fellowship with my fellow students and instructors is really life giving, and I feel really affirmed in pursuing this ministry.

In our coursework last month, we learned about trauma-informed spiritual accompaniment, that is, building a practice that supports and is accountable to folks with various kinds of trauma. Engaging with this training module helped me to become more aware of how my trauma has informed my spirituality, and also how some of the ways I discuss matters of the spirit can be triggering or harmful to other folks. What really hit home for me in the coursework was an interview that we listened to with the Rev. Laura Everett, in which she discussed mending as a spiritual practice. She explained that when she patches up her wife’s favorite jacket, that is both an act of devotion to her and to the person who made the jacket. It resists the idea that objects that are broken must always be discarded. She went on to say that mending, as a “lived theology”, reminds her that no one is disposable, and that mending ourselves, healing from our own pain, is an act of devotion to God. 

2020 has not been kind to anybody, but if I’m being honest, 2019 was not all that better either. I went through a lot last year: I left unhealthy workplaces, I experienced sexual harassment, I faced lots of financial insecurity, and I was in a deep depression that I masked very well. I was able, at the latter end of last year, to begin working with a therapist who helped me address all those things, and things started to feel a little easier. And then 2020 rolled around, the pandemic exploded, I lost my job, and have been living off stipends and freelance work since then. Fun times.

As incredibly traumatic as these last two years have been, there has also been immense growth. Being underemployed and in quarantine this year has been stressful, but it’s also given me the space to put my healing first. Our capitalist culture demonizes taking time for sabbath, healing, or virtually anything that isn’t “productive”. When someone close to you dies, you’re usually only allotted a few days off, if any, to attend the funeral or homegoing service, and then you’re expected to come back to work. If you get sick, like so many folks did this year, and you don’t have enough sick days to cover a period of illness, you lose wages simply for taking care of yourself (and your co-workers, by not getting them sick). I, like everyone else, internalized so much of these beliefs. I felt lazy and selfish just for making time for myself, even more so when I was having a rough mental health day. This year, I gave myself permission to really address my mental and physical health in much deeper ways than I have before. 

Being in therapy has helped immensely with my anxiety and depression. One big thing I’ve worked on with my therapist is changing the way I relate to myself and others. In addition to struggling with making time for myself, I find difficult at times to ask for help when I need it, and then I feel resentful – at friends, because I feel as though they should read my mind (spoiler: they can’t) and know I need help, and at myself for taking too much on. Or I don’t ask because I’m afraid of being told no. I’ve been working on pushing through that discomfort, asking for help in little ways and working my way up to the bigger asks. I also started identifying little bits of negative self-talk that pass through my mind – you’re a burden, you’re lazy and don’t want to do this yourself, no one wants to help you – and countering them with positive messages. 

As I’ve been working from home this year, I began to notice that I had trouble focusing on getting even basic tasks done. I couldn’t motivate myself to do things. I initially thought this was simply pandemic anxiety – so many other folks in my life have expressed similar difficulties – but if I was being honest with myself, it was an issue that I’ve struggled with for a very long time and just never thought much of. Before the pandemic, I had trouble sitting still or relaxing. I would often have lots of ideas for projects, start them with all the enthusiasm in the world, and then I would lose steam and not finish any of them…and promptly feel like a failure. It wasn’t until a friend of mine posted on Facebook about their ADHD symptoms that I realized a lot of what I was experiencing lined up very well with someone who has ADHD. After some tests and doctors’ visits, I was officially diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 29. A very interesting way to end my twenties for sure. 

My doctor and therapist helped me change my antidepressant and added an ADHD medication to my regimen, and I noticed an immediate shift in my mood and focus. It’s been a few months now since I made these changes, and I have energy to actually do things for the first time in a while, I can actually finish things that I start, I have a lot more mental clarity, and I found it easier to work through sadness. Perhaps most notably – I’m not overwhelmed by constant anxiety. It’s liberating. I feel happier and more at ease, and my outlook on life is much more positive.

I’m finding non-pharmaceutical ways to better my mental health too – making more time for things that bring me joy, drinking more water and eating regular meals, asking for help and talking to folks I trust, and being unapologetic in taking time to rest – if I feel tired, I take a nap. All of these changes have helped me work through moments when I get triggered, sad, or anxious about the state of the world, or my finances (still living off those stipends, you know). I have a lot more tools in my belt to handle those challenges, and I’m developing more kindness for myself. I see the fruits of this work, this mending of myself, in how I interact with those I care about, too. I’m now in a loving, joy-filled relationship with my best friend, my relationships with my family are improving, and I feel like I’m able to be more present to folks when they need support, whereas before, it felt like my well was running dry.

My favorite psalm is Psalm 139, which in the NRSV has the subtitle “The Inescapable God”. It speaks of the intimacy and closeness that we have with God, because God created us: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps 139:13). Knitting suggests so much tenderness. Have you ever paid attention to someone knit? It’s something that, with a lot of practice, becomes almost effortless, and at the same time still requires patience and focus. So when I say that God created us, I don’t mean God simply snapped God’s fingers and willed us into being. God formed us. God knitted each and every one of us together, and as Rev. Laura Everett said in the interview I mentioned, when we choose to take care and heal ourselves, we honor the Creator who so lovingly took time to shape us into being. 

Something folks may not know about me is that I have always hated showing my teeth when I had to smile in pictures. I found it hard sometimes to smile in the mirror, even. I could always think of a litany of reasons why I didn’t like my smile. But a little while ago I saw myself in the mirror, made a silly face and took the picture below to send to my boyfriend. It hit me that I feel so much more comfortable smiling now. Another place where there’s healing happening. 2020 has been immensely difficult, traumatic, and long, there’s no doubt about it. I had so many plans and dreams for this year before shit hit the fan – I wanted to travel more, write a book, get a tattoo. I didn’t get to do any of those things, but instead I was able to do something much more meaningful – to truly make time and space for my healing and well-being. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to work on mending myself, and in so doing, giving thanks to the One who made me. 


This is the second reflection in a devotional series I’ve made for Advent 2020 called No Going Back. You can read more about this devotional and download a PDF copy here.

Read this week’s Scripture here.

It doesn’t take much to imagine that John the Baptist was probably a “controversial” figure. He did, after all, live in the desert, eat bugs, and call the religious authorities of his day a “brood of vipers” (Mt 3:7) to their faces. But it was more so because he told people the Kingdom of God was coming and they needed to change their ways – and it was for this reason that he was ultimately beheaded. We’re told in the Gospel of Luke that crowds of people came to John while he was alive to be baptized – but we can assume that just as many crowds saw John, didn’t like what he had to say or the way he looked, and ignored him. Jesus was treated in much the same way. He was maligned by the religious and political authorities of his day so much that he had nowhere to truly lay his head.

There is this common trope in disaster TV and movies of an anxious scientist trying to warn public officials of an impending catastrophe, such a volcano that’s going to blow or an asteroid hurtling toward earth. Sadly their warnings are ignored until it’s too late. You might see that storyline and think, “Politicians would never​ do that!” Yet in 2020 many elected officials, particularly in the highest levels of the United States government, said that COVID-19 was a hoax or asserted that it wasn’t ​that​ ​much​ of a threat to public health while hundreds of thousands of Americans have died – and continue to die – from the virus. And before the pandemic, they said the same things about climate change despite the fact that scientists have been warning us about it for decades.

The reason why Jesus, or prophets like John, or scientists and doctors in our country are ignored or outright attacked as ‘liars’ is the fact that their warnings challenge people’s worldviews; they threaten to disrupt the way we’ve ​always​ done things. Jesus’ whole adult life was centered on turning the status quo upside down – he healed those considered untouchable and disposable, he told the rich to give away their possessions to the poor, he spoke openly to women and included them in his ministry. Above all, he preached love, forgiveness, and compassion, especially for “the least of these” – the most marginalized. These teachings are still sorely needed, and they still fly in the face of the status quo today.

St. Paul tells us, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” (1 Cor 3:19) The ‘wisdom’ of this world suggests that the elderly should sacrifice themselves for the economy, while Jesus says the rich should give away their wealth and take care of the most vulnerable among us. The ‘wisdom’ of this world is that companies should not pay their workers adequately for the sake of preserving their profits – but God says do not steal, give your employees their due. The ‘wisdom’ of this world proclaims, “Time is money!”, but God says, “Honor the Sabbath.”

When I think about who is doing the holy work of disruption today, one person who immediately comes to mind is Tricia Hersey (aka the “Nap Bishop”), creator of The Nap Ministry. Tricia is an activist, artist, and theologian who, through social media, workshops, and “napping experiences” beckons all of us to (re)discover the power of rest. Her posts on social media remind me that taking time for rest is not only sacred and vital, but it also makes room for me, and all of us, to picture the world differently: “If you cannot imagine or envision a way for you to rest for 15 to 30 min a day, how will you be able to imagine or envision a world without police terror and equality for all? Our lack of imagination is intimately tied to our liberation. Our DreamSpace must be cultivated.” This centering of rest and self-care is a rebuke of capitalist “grind culture”, and it also gives me space to think deeply about what life would be like if I didn’t live paycheck to paycheck – what if had more time to spend with my loved ones, more resources to take care of both my and my community’s needs, more energy for leisure and creative pursuits? What if we all had those things, not simply the rich and privileged few?

The ideologies that hold our world up – individualism, productivity at all costs, profit over people, nationalism and fear of our neighbors – are so firmly entrenched in our minds and ways of life. The pandemic has exposed this in very visceral ways: people’s refusal to wear masks, companies not paying workers hazard pay, racist attacks and remarks directed at Chinese folks because of where the virus was first reported. We must listen to, and also share the work of, disruptors – folks who are telling us there is another, much better world to live in if we are willing to dream.

Some questions for you:

What are some of the ways your worldview has changed this year?
Are there internalized, toxic messages in your mind that need to be disrupted?

Feel free to share your reflections with me on Twitter or Instagram.


A prayer for this second week of Advent:

God of mystery, your prophet Elijah found you
not in strong winds, nor earthquakes, nor fires,
but in a still, small voice:
attune us to discern your words
amid the noise of this life.
Help us to be present,
that we may hear the soft cries of your newborn Son
and the choirs of angels announcing his coming.


Seeing Myself for the First Time

“I have chosen to struggle against unnatural boundaries.”

– Gloria E. Anzaldua

I have a distinct memory of being maybe 6 or 7 years old and really wanting to paint my nails.

I don’t remember whether or not I had been explicitly told by that point that nail polish was “not for boys”; I implicitly knew that I would be punished if I was found giving myself a manicure. So rather than taking a risk by putting on pink polish, I reached for my grandmother’s bottle of topcoat. “It’s clear,” I told myself, “So no one will see it.” It would be my little secret, and I would have the satisfaction of having painted my nails despite there being no color. Granted, my mom did find it odd that my nails were a little extra shiny that day, but I don’t remember being scolded or punished for it.

That’s how my gender has been for most of my life – skirting by, flying low, taking the tiniest bit of risk as not to be seen. I have always been drawn to softer, “feminine” things, they have always been innately appealing to me. I loved watching people put on makeup. When I would accompany my mom to the nail salon I would be mesmerized as I watched the nail technician create miniature works of art on people’s nails. I’ve always wanted to wear bright pastels and floral prints and dresses and all kinds of things considered to be “only for women”. And I have tried dipping my toes in the waters here and there but have managed to have those impulses socialized and shamed out of me by my family, my peers, and more recently in my life, hypermasculine gay men in my community.

I have up until now accepted my cisgender-ness as a fact, never questioning, never asking “Well, maybe…?” out of fear and a desire to, again, fly low and out of sight. I have never felt safe to really think about the question. When your body is a site of violence, your trauma and anxiety demands you avoid everything that would jeopardize your safety, even in the smallest way.

So I kept shelving the conversation. Kept making excuses. My mind would ask me, “Are you really a cis dude, though?” and I would always answer yes. When people would refer to me as a “man” I would bristle and feel sick, but I would tell myself, “Well, that’s because masculinity and ‘manhood’ is associated with so much toxicity, you just don’t want to be associated with that.” But the more I probed that thought, the more it really didn’t hold up. As I tried pushing away the thoughts, they grew louder. I thought, ‘Well maybe I am more genderfluid or nonbinary, but I don’t necessarily feel safe exploring that,’ as I lived at home with my parents. I became more depressed and frustrated.

A few weeks ago I was in Boston. I lived there for a year and I made a lot of really amazing, beautiful queer friends up there who always see me for me. Even though Boston wasn’t the best place for me – it is a city that is still struggling with classism, racism, and homophobia- it is a city that allowed me, free from the watchful eyes of family and peers, to step completely into myself in ways that Philadelphia has not. While I was up there, I made a spur of the moment decision to buy a lot of makeup – lip gloss, highlighter, some liquid eyeshadow, $5 press on nails that turned my hands into talons. I went over my friend Alice’s house for a birthday party that weekend and wanted to really glam it up. Because of the aforementioned press-on nails- which left me looking fierce but incapable of doing much of anything – my friend Lily did my makeup. I remember looking in the mirror when she was done. Looking at the highlighter, the lips, clothes that made me feel like me, and I said, “Look at yourself, honey. You look like you.”

I wanted that feeling to last forever.

So when I came back home I thought about what that experience meant for me and named it, for the first time: I decided I want to use they/them pronouns because they feel most aligned to who I am.  Nonbinary femme is the best description. Nonbinary because the gender binary cannot hold me. Femme because…

Femme is everything that I am.

Femme encompasses all the words and phrases that describe me: soft, a little fiery, sensual, loud when I want to be, strong, atrevida, extra, glam.

So this is me. Your favorite femme.

I still feel afraid though.

I think about the harassment and violence that queer & trans folks, especially trans women of color, face on a daily basis for being ourselves and living our truths.

I think about the physical, emotional, and spiritual violence I have endured over the course of my life for stepping even just a little bit out of the norm.

I thought about all this when I was in Boston, on the T, going on a Target run. I had painted my nails a bright, neon pink in a shade called “Girls Tell All”. I was a little nervous about showing my nails off and so I kept them either in my pockets or covered up with gloves, since it was cold out. My stop was coming up, and I got up to make my way to the door. I made a conscious decision not to cover up my nails as I reached for the pole to hold on as the train came to a stop. Sometimes even the tiniest actions are great risks that require courage. I was nervous, but in the same moment I felt a calm wash over me. I felt as though maybe a queer ancestor was speaking to me, inhabiting my body for a brief moment, because I began to tell myself:

“Nothing in life is without risk. Just stepping outside the house every day is a risk.”

Some sort of violence or danger could occur at any moment, regardless of how you go out into the world. We are never truly 100% safe, except perhaps in the spaces we construct ourselves and with the people who love us for us, and even then it is never truly guaranteed. But the point is, I don’t want to live my life in constant fear. I don’t want to fly low anymore.

I want to live boldly, as the person God made me and calls me to be.


Seeing Over the Crowd

I delivered this sermon yesterday at the parish I am currently interning at. For the readings appointed, including the Gospel reading, click here.

Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorite stories from the New Testament. The Gospel of Luke tells us that a man named Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, heard Jesus was coming by. He wanted to see Jesus but was unable to do so because he was “short in stature” and couldn’t see over the amount of people surrounding Jesus. I can relate to that a lot because I’m about 5’4” and most people are taller than me. I’m afraid of heights though, so I haven’t tried climbing into a tree to see someone- but  I can relate to the experience of being unable to see Jesus because of a crowd.
Continue reading Seeing Over the Crowd