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SHE Lives in ME

21 February 2023:

My entire life I have identified as a Christian. I have attended church since I was in my mother's womb. She told me how when she was pregnant with me she would listen to gospel music. As a kid I told her she needed to listen to classical music as studies revealed this would influence children’s ability to perform well in school. She would shake her head with jest and carry on. I did many of the of the ceremonial and ritual things those who grow up in a Baptist church do like christening as a baby, baptized by the time I was 10 years old, paying your tithes, saying grace before dinner and the Lord’s prayer daily before I went to bed each night. I remember very clearly the day I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It was on 6 June in 1998. I was 8 years old, and it was during children's church. I had been attending First Baptist church for months at this point and loved it. There were many variations of ethnic diversity, the Pastor was amazing, the people were REALLY friendly and I fell in love with the life lessons I learned in the Sunday school sessions and sermons during the services. At the end of every children's church service the teacher, an older white woman with short pixie cut styled hair, would have us bow our head in prayer, close our eyes, then ask, "If anyone would like to accept Jesus Christ into their heart as their Lord and Savior please look up." After months at the church learning about the Gospel, who God is according to old and New Testament teachings in the bible and being treated with so much care by those who called themselves Christians, I made the very conscious and deliberate decision to look up.

After children’s church that day, the teacher provided me with a bible and study materials to help me get started on my journey. When my dad came to pick me up the teacher said to him, "Kristin made a very important decision today." I shared with my dad what I had chosen to do, on my own, without any coercion or pressure and we returned home.

While I was only 8 years old, I took my responsibilities and my identity as a Christian seriously. I started off reading my children's bible nightly (the one with pictures in it) before I went to bed and would even read to my sister the stories. I participated in groups like AWANA (Acknowledge We are Not Afraid-similar to girl scouts but designed to make participants well versed in biblical scriptures) and vacation bible school which allowed me to meet other Christian kids around my age and study the bible scriptures. As I got older, I moved on to reading passages in the actual bible and would try to apply this to my life. The book of Proverbs was one of my favorites as the messages were easier for me to understand. I also enjoyed the book of Mark as he explained things plainly which helped me visualize the life of Jesus as a human being and is as the son of God. My lessons at church inspired a sense of urgency in me to share the gospel of others. Some of my teachers would explain, "you never know how much time you have. Every moment you have needs to be for God's Glory." "As Christians it is our responsibility to share that message of the good news of Jesus Christ to some else. You show them the love of God in how you treat them. You show them what God can do for them, in the way you carry yourself and through your own relationship with God....As Christians we are in the world but not of the world... our identity is in Christ."

I worked hard to understand what live my life in accordance with this way. I studied the word and tried my best to ask myself, "What would Jesus do" when confronting daily life experiences. One area that really struck a chord with me was the calling to evangelism. I just couldn't bare the idea of the people I called a friend, to potentially burn in hell for eternity because they didn’t know Jesus. That I spent time with them, even if it was a brief period of time, and I had the very good news that could save their soul and didn't share that information with them. Or did not represent Jesus Christ in a way that would inspire them to want to know and follow them. By the end of elementary school and beginning of middle school, I decided to answer the call. I would go out into the world spread the word of God and be a light to help others come to know Jesus Christ. THIS was my purpose and I took it serious for myself and with anyone who crossed my path.

My first attempt to spread the gospel was to my closest friend at the time who was also my neighbor. Her family was from Laos. I remember telling my friend about Jesus, her brother and I vaguely remember telling her dad. I remember them sharing with me that they were Buddhist and me leaving with some confusion. "Is Buddha an Idol?" I thought as I reflected on what I had learned of the religions of the world. I don't remember my attempts to inspire them to accept Jesus Christ into their heart, going very far.

By end of elementary school (it may have been middle school, I don't quite remember), I made a new best friend. She was a mixture of Hawaiian and white, was well read and extremely intelligent. I admired her a lot and during a time that I struggled to make friends, she became my best friend. We got on the subject of Jesus one day on the way home from school and she told me she didn’t believe in God. She didn't believe in what the bible said and found faults with it. She questioned the legitimacy of people being made from the "dust of the earth" yet stayed intact when water hit us. Or all of creation being formed in 7 days. In her eyes, the science wasn’t lining up. I tried to explain to her how God's power was inconceivable and we kept going back in forth. She shared how she was atheist and I told her, "if you don't believe in God and that Jesus Christ died for our sins you are going to go to hell." I said it very matter of fact with the hope that if she knew that truth, she would be motivated to believe so that she didn't go to hell. In my eyes, I was helping her. In her eyes, I was EXTREMELY offensive and she didn’t talk to me for close to 48 hours.

Devastated, I attempted to reconcile and she told me that in order for us to talk and be friends again I must apologize for my words and say that she is not going hell. I felt conflicted because I still believed her choice to not believe was going to land her in hell, but I complied as I truly valued her and our friendship and our friendship was restored.

By high school I was very motivated to go to college and saw my ticket to do this by being well rounded. I kept myself busy with honors and AP classes, professional clubs, JROTC, and playing competitively on my school's tennis team. I was determined. The increase in my school commitments made it more difficult for me to keep up with the extracurricular bible studies and church activities so I reduced my involvement to Sunday school and the Sunday service and continuing to pray and read my bible on my own time. As I continue to grow up and meet new people I would be introduced to different things. While I never participated in drugs, sneaking out, or any kind of romantic relationships, I did start to steal. I downloaded LimeWire and then FrostWire to get free music. I didn’t even know it was wrong until my youth pastor mentioned in one of his sermons that, that was stealing. It was REALLY REALLY hard but through my guilt, I decided to let it go. Another time I stole a lip gloss from a grocery store with some friends. I felt so guilty for my actions that I decided to buy one lip gloss as a form of reprieve from my stolen one. My friends called me a square and gave me a hard time about it but I learned, stealing just isn’t going to work for me.

By the end of High school and early college the conversation of homosexuality became a popular topic in CA. Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriage was on the ballot in 2008 and was passed meaning same-sex couples could not marry. My reaction was one of support for prop 8 as my argument was that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. When my friends and I would have these discussions, each of us having different stances on it, I stood firm in my position that same sex marriage was a part of sexual immorality. I was 100% confident that I was right and I was speaking truth.

Not too long after that, one of my close friends confided in me that they were gay and that they wanted to be in a relationship with someone in their same sex. "Aren't you catholic?" I told them. "God said this is a sin." What they wanted was support from me as a friend. I told them that I still love them as my friend but that I could not support their sin. And as a follower of God, they should be doing the work to turn away from sin. In my mind, their "choice" to be gay, and follow God was not computing.

The older I became and began to be exposed to different kinds of people the more my faith was challenged. Because I was so devoted to my relationship to God through my Christian faith, I had a hard time being around the other kids in my school. For me, just hearing about the sins of my classmates broke my heart. I believed it broke Jesus' heart too. At the same time, I felt INCREDIBLY lonely. The other kids who were not Christians or did not interpret the faith in the same way that I did, picked up on my unconscious judgement of their sins, or did not feel that they could be their true self around me as they knew I was a Christian and a "square" they would say, so they began censoring themselves around me. I wanted to connect with other people but not compromise my believes. I wanted to be in the world but not of the world but didn’t know how. I wanted to connect with people, show people who Jesus is through love not judgement. But judgement is all people see when they see me and I cannot connect. How do I connect?

Throughout college and my Air Force career I have continued to hold firm in my faith in God and find a Christian community wherever I could however my friendships and interests changed. I decided to surround myself with people who were authentically themselves, rather than preserving holiness. My friends were people of different ethnicities, spiritual faith, socio-economic background, LGBTQ, strippers, Wickins, you name it I made an effort to be friends with, "the others".

From a professional standpoint, in my eyes, the work I did in serving and being able to lead and inspire others was my ministry. While I no longer actively sought out to convert people, if members I led or friends, I had asked me about my faith, source of resilience or elements of my personality and values, I would share. Not impose on others but more about being honest with who I was. I also wasn't ashamed of sharing openly what I believed or what I thought as I it related to me, not necessarily everyone else. While at the same time, I adopted an attitude that I must EARN the right to talk about God with someome else, meaning the RELATIONSHIP must be built first, and not just come at them with it like I use to do in my early childhood. With each assignment I made it a priority to find a church, join a small group for bible study, and continue to pray or read the scriptures when I could. Even when Michael and I were dating I made it a priority for us to do bible studies together (through the bible app) and discuss our interpretations of things. It was important to me to better understand where our values lied in God with me being Christian and him be Catholic, and see where we could grow in our relationship with God together.

One thing that I have never been able to shake was this lingering feeling of never being enough. I consistently felt a shame that I should be praying more or reading the scriptures more. I often would feel in duality with myself if I sinned, feel guilty but then do it again. In my interpretation of the scripture, actions and even thoughts were sins. So I couldn't stop. Then felt more guilt that I kept sinning. While I understood that as a Christian, Jesus paid the price for our sins and that it is his grace that saves us, I still strived to be like Christ and by falling short every day, I kept feeling like I was not enough.

I NEEDED God to bring myself a sense of peace, yet in order to feel closer to God, I felt that I needed to be obedient to him. Follow the commands that he laid out. While I was willing to commit to this, what about the people who perceived their very identity or "lifestyle" existence as a sin? Internally, I continued to struggle with how people who are gay live a life of obedience to God? I read a book, "Messy Grace" by Caleb Kaltenbach, that is the story of a young man that was raised by two lesbian mothers but went on to go to seminary school and became a Pastor. His story was very reminiscent of how gay children who come out to their families who are very religious, and they are critiqued and dehumanized for it. His perspective was really interesting. His solution for how gay people live their lives while still being obedient to God was by either living a life as a singleton or marrying someone of the opposite sex and allowing that love to grow. I shared the book with someone close to me who is gay for their perspective and it devastated them so much that they couldn’t complete it. I felt ashamed for sharing it with them. How could I still be so tone deaf after all of these years? There was still this underlying desire to convert other people or change them and in that moment, I learned, that is NOT my place.

As someone who experiences love with a partner every day and FEELS what it’s like to be fully loved, fully seen, and fully known, I could not continue to deny another this experience. Especially not while I enjoy it for myself.

The ultimate challenge of my faith was last year. After the events that happened with my family in August of 2021 along with a series of stressors in my environment, I decided I no longer believed in God. I felt I was seeing more and more how some of the messages in the bible contributing to how women are treated as second class citizens all over the world. I thought, "where did this idea come from that men are just superior to women and can not treat us as the equal human beings as we are?" I started with Genesis and revisited the story with Eve eating the forbidden fruit and God cursing her and her daughters for all of time with making child bearing painful. How men will "rule over her". Adam made his own choice, and while he is cursed to having to do hard work on the land, I felt that Eve unjustly got the short end of the stick. Also, a lot of men today seem to have been able to outsource some of that hard work over to women as well. Adam made his own choice to eat the fruit. Why is SHE the one to blame? Take will Smith slapping Chris Rock, or Justin Timberlake snatching off Janet Jacksons outfit revealing or breast; or Prince Harry making his OWN CHOICE to leave the palace. Somehow, some way, Jada, Janet, and Megan-The WOMEN are the ones to blame. What’s up with that?

And no where else in the history of mankind has an anatomical woman come from a anatomical man but this one instance, Eve came from Adam? I In my attempts to read the biblical scripture to get answers from God as I usually would I couldn’t connect as I usually would. I couldn’t get past the BARRAGE of "HE, HIM, HIS" "FATHER God." "SON of Man" MAN MAN MAN MAN. Even the 66 books in the bible. With the exception of two books (Ruth and Esther), every perspective on who Jesus Christ was is told by a man. Who God is, is from a Man. I was DROWNING in masculinity. I thought to myself, "I use to find comfort and safety when I turned to the word. Now all I feel is an attack, exclusion. Why do I have to WORK SO HARD to find myself in the context of what I have known and trusted to be the living word of God?!?!"

I then went down the YouTube rabbit hole. "Why do men [inject a series of different grievances I had with men due to my trauma]." At some point I landed on a video of a polygamist family. A man with five wives. The man would rotate bedrooms each night to be with a different woman then had his own room to spend some alone time one night a week for himself. One of the wives made a pillow of her husband that she slept with during the nights her husband was with the other wives. This same wife shared, "I would rather have a good man 20% of the time, than no good man at all." I thought to myself, "20%? Is that all this woman believes she can get or even worst what she deserves?"

All men stuff triggered me. Despite my love of Venus and Serena, I refused to watch King Richard because the father not only cheated on his wives, but abandoned his first family and created another. During the Game of Thrones spin off show, "House of Dragon" I was getting triggered again. "Rhaenys was the rightful heir to the throne. She is far more of a capable ruler than Viserys. Yet HE is chosen to rule strictly to keep a man in power. A woman could potentially bring the realm to civil war.... what kind of mess is that?!" Or, "Why is nobody listening to Rhaenyra? She's making the smartest decisions!" All these thoughts I shared with my therapist. My growing awareness of the Patriarchy was coming in HOT and I needed some help with not only processing but coping with all of this.

The most significant thing that came from all of this was the impact it had on my faith and in turn my resilience. My belief in a higher power and relationship with that higher power had been at the very core of my identity. When I had nothing I ALWAYS had my faith and this faith was my key ingredient in my ability to persevere. My ability to preserve hope. My ability to be resilient. But the series of stressors from work and within my family resurrected every experience I had where a man had done me wrong or another woman wrong. Each time I attempted to pray as I said the words, "our father" my mind and body SCREAMED, "OH HELL NO! Danger, Danger, DANGER!!!"

So that was that. I couldn't pray anymore.

My family became very concerned with my mental health as I was taking the grievance we all experienced very hard. I remember my dad trying to encourage me to trust God and I told him, "I'd rather go to hell."

Michael became saddened that I refused to pray before we ate anymore as that was something we shared together. He also held on to the hope that I still believed in God but was just hurting right now and trying to find my way. I told him i know what I believe and God wasnt it.

Michael also was mad that I would share with him how I would communicate to my therapist that I was having trouble trusting men after what happened to me with some of the men at work and in my personal life. Michael said to me, "you keep saying that you don't trust men. Do you not trust me?" I told him "no. I don't you or anybody." While he felt really hurt he said to me, "Kristin, I don't even think you trust yourself."

I did feel tremendous sadness over the loss of my faith. My entire life I saw my identity in my relationship with Jesus Christ and with this new realization, I felt absolutely lost. I use to like the person I once was. I was insecure but I had hope. I had faith. I had a sense of self with vision and direction, none of which I had now. I mourned the old me.

By April/May timeframe I decided to finally read the book "Untamed" by Glennon Doyle which was recommended to me two years prior by a good friend of mine. Glennon shares her experience with finding out her husband of 15 years had multiple affairs and after three years of attempting to reconcile she divorces him and marries a woman. But not just any woman, multiple Olympic soccer champion, Abby Wambach.

In the opener of the book Glennon describes taking her daughter to the zoo and they watch a show starring a cheetah named Tabitha. Tabitha chases bunnies alongside a much smaller domestic dog. One of the kids asked, "won't Tabitha hurt the dog?" The zookeeper explains, "Oh no. Tabitha has lived her entire life in captivity. She's NEVER been wild". As the zookeeper continues on with the show, Tabitha fades into the background but begins to take on a stalking-like-prey-pose. Glennon describes how it was like her instincts kicked in and for a moment she was REMEMBERING and RETURNING to her true self. The moment soon passed and she returned to chasing bunnies. Glennon felt heartbroken for Tabitha as she had been reduced to chasing bunnies for the entertainment of people, a species outside of her own. She did this alongside some basic dog, never knowing who or what she TRULY was. That Tabitha was a Goddamn CHEETAH!

I finished the book within a few days. Everything she talked about was like she was talking to me. Feeling crazy. Feeling depressed. Feeling trapped. Harboring self-doubt. Seen as over sensitive by others and put down. Overworked. So many themes. But the biggest theme was learning how to discover and stay true to your authentic self. I was hooked. Glennon talked about sitting in one's knowing. Being still and listening to one’s inner voice. She described how people may call it different things but she called hers God. And SHE guided her path. SHE. "Could God be female?" I thought. If God was a woman, maybe I could talk to her. Maybe she would care about me and not see me as less than men. Less than human. Maybe she would really SEE me.

By mid-November, Michael and I were back in the states visiting family and friends in San Antonio. I had just completed the Intensive Outpatient Therapy (IOP) and was taking a few weeks of leave to reconcile relationships in my personal life. During IOP one of the therapist explained to me that a part of my healing will come from learning who I am and knowing myself. Getting better connected with my African roots and learning about African Spirituality was a way to do this. Prior to my life seemingly falling apart, my suicide attempt, and my loss of faith in who I traditionally knew to be God, I would have instantly turned down this recommendation for several reasons. First, the old me would have felt some offense with the claim that I don't know myself. I would have seen myself more as "black" than African, and would not have seen the value of digging deep into something I did not feel connected to, nor have any idea of where to start. Christ was my identity. I was taught this, and trusted this, and saw the miracles He performed daily in my life. Secondly, I would have considered "African Spirituality "to be something not of my Christian faith (which I trusted) and would not have been interested in exploring it. But it this point, I figured I didn't have a DAMN thing to lose so I figured I'd check it out.

Michael and I swung by a Barnes and Noble bookstore in San Antonio to find a book on African Spirituality. I didn't really know what I was looking for but I figured if I saw something I would know. Michael and I traveled to the second floor of the bookstore (it was pretty large) to the religious sections. About a quarter of the books on the floor were on religion. Of the books in this section there were about 6 to 8 rows of bibles and protestant Christian novels. Within this were some catholic reading material. Separately, half a row was reading material on Judaism and one stack of Quran books. Nothing on anything African. I found an African-American history section under "history" but nothing Spiritually related. I was feeling at a loss when Michael and I wound up in the "self-transformation" section in the far right corner of the second floor of the book store. On the bottom shelf was a book titled: "African Goddess Initiation: Sacred Rituals for self-love, prosperity, and joy" by Abiola Abrams. The entire book was purple with an animation of a Black woman with locs on the cover. Her hair her facial features, even her attire was very reminiscent of me. I scanned through the book and it was not a book on a singular religion (like the bible) but a book that provided a history of different goddesses and ancestors that have been celebrated throughout Africa as well as the African Diaspora. It was focused on learning different African rituals to help one become more aware of their African heritage through studying the various women of the diaspora and practice self-love rituals with intention for healing. My initial review of this sounded like something that could be really good for me. There was only one problem. I found the book under a section called, "Pagan." As I read this, I instantly felt fear rapidly travel through my body. "I have been taught to avoid anything Pagan," I thought. Its viewed as demonic; witchcraft. UNSAFE. Then I thought of the sources I got this from and remembered where my old way of thinking got me. I remembered my "Ellis Island" assignment experience and other lies I had been told or limited perspectives on the truth. I needed a shift. I didn’t know what that would look like for me but I thought, "I've already accepted that I may go to hell. What do I have to lose."

When I returned back to Korea, I still was scared so I took the book to my new therapist at Osan, who also happened to be very familiar with African spirituality and sought her opinion on it. She explained some of the basics of an African Centric mindset vs. a European one. She described how America operates off of a European mindset which is very regimented on time and results. She then explained how Africans are very spiritual people and how the spirit leads their actions not necessarily an external being. She then skimmed through the book and told me she saw nothing wrong with it and thought it would be good for me. She told me to just do some research on the author (evaluate the source) and go from there.

After moving through the book I learned about ancient goddesses and ancestors from ancient civilizations. The back story as to who they are, a chosen ritual to honor them and an associated affirmation to correspond to that goddess/ancestress or oneself. An example of some of the affirmations are, "I am limitless," or "I am firmly planted and deeply rooted" or "I forgive and free myself. I forgive and free others." I learned how to set up different African altars for prayer. Creating an altar kind of reminded me of my friend who was Laotian and had an altar for Buddha. I felt like I was restoring some piece of culture to myself. I learned how making a floor wash and using it to clean your floor with the intention of creating a safe space full of joy and prosperity and safety- is a ritual. One of 1000's. And how a ritual is meaningless without intention. Speaking into this action a clear intention is where the power resides.

Learning the back stories of so many African women- ancestresses and those identified as deities within the ancient countries brought a healing in me I didn't even know was possible. In African culture, ancestors play a significant role in a person’s Spirituality and identity. Many believe that when family pass, they are never gone but are a part of the ancestors that will also be with you. I learned the stories of ancestresses all over the continent of Africa and those separated around the world from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. There were stories of woman from the creation of the human race all the way to the 1900s. These women were incredible. From healers, mothers, queens, goddesses, overcomers, creators, warriors, performer, entrepreneurs, inventors, and so much more. From displaced slaves to powerful rulers. They were truly limitless in every way. They were woman who LIVED. Fully and unapologetically. The more I read, the more I learned. The more I learned the more I saw myself.... Wait, that was it. I was seeing myself. For the first time ever I was SEEING MYSELF in my relationship with God. I was represented.

Back in Oct-November when I was visiting with family back in the states, my Uncle (former Vietnam Veteran and retiree from working in corporate America), and I had a conversation about God. I told him I was over the idea of God being a man. God being anything. He said to me, "God is energy." I instantly thought of Moses and the burning bush. When Moses asks, and God replies, "I AM, WHO I AM". Energy. No gender yet all genders. I like that.

When I decided to embark on this spiritual journey back in October, I had a lot of fear. One of the initial rituals was to create a "womb ball." The task was to take a bowl, 28 pieces of paper and on each paper write down the issues you desire to release to God/Goddess. I had to grab extra papers to write all my issues down and while I was not optimistic, I remembered the ritual intention: "release your issues to the womb spirit." So I wrote them down and enclosed them into the vase. Throughout the course of this spiritual healing journey, I would periodically pull out a paper and if the item had been fulfilled, discard it and give thanks to God/Goddess.

Today, as Michael and I left for our trip I pulled out the following issue:

"Trusting and talking to God."

When I read the issue, I felt a warmth come over me as I knew this issue has become fulfilled. This will be a lifelong journey and I may not feel this way everyday and am certain I am likely to evolve again. But what I can say with confidence, that in this day, yes, I have fulfilled this. That former feeling of living in duality with myself, the constantly needing validation from other people (particularly men), the shame from feeling like I'm not enough, the gap in connection and community but most of all, the inability to hear my OWN voice or the immense fear I had in trusting it, is no longer residing in me. I set myself free.

I never realized that the power of representation would extend to the spiritual realm but it did for me. As I look at some of the religions in the world its interesting how the religion's native to that region, have the physical representation of that higher power or messengers of that higher power, resemble their own features. To this day there is still debate of what Jesus looks like and even with hair being described as wholly in texture (which sounds a lot like my hair texture) and being of Palestinian Jewish origin, many western depictions of him have him shown as a pale skinned man with wavy or straight blond/brown with blue eyes which does not align with biblical text or features of people from that area. So even in the modification of the image of Jesus Christ, someone knew that there is a great power in being seen and represented.

It’s really scary to acknowledge the truth within yourself especially when it can feel like you are stepping away from everything you've ever known. Everything that’s familiar, acceptable and safe. But at what cost does one remain in the comfort of accommodating others all while slowly dying to oneself each day. It's unfortunate that the very things that are bringing me the most peace and healing for my spirit, are through discovery of my African heritage, which has been hidden, outlawed and brutally demonized for centuries. I am seeing the truth now and am growing more and more comfortable each day in trusting the knowing, the Spirit, MY voice that lies within.

While Glennon Doyle was able to unleash her cheetah, I am thankful to FINALLY see the Goddess living in me and no longer resist or be afraid of her.


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