A Revelation in Spirituality

The reason no one wants to ever talk about religion or politics is because they know they will be fighting a losing battle if the opposite person doesn’t share their particular viewpoint. People are passionate about their various beliefs, and no matter how much sense the other argument makes, they will almost never budge.

I have lost some of my family due to certain religious beliefs. I have spent the last 8 years trying to convince myself that someday they would come around and see past their judgement and accept me into their hearts again, but I have finally realized that will never happen. This is a sobering revelation, and has cut me to the core, but in the end they are the ones who are suffering the greatest. I guess this is what hurts me the most, since I do still love them very much.

I was raised in a strict religious environment and I am thankful for it. It taught me to overcome adversity and remain strong throughout various trials and tribulations. It taught me to be bold and courageous. It taught me to love with my whole heart, soul, and mind. Nevertheless, it also taught me to feel as if I were somewhat exhaulted above others because of my beliefs. In no way did that ever come out literally, but every teaching had a thick undertone of self-righteousness and stern judgement. I worshipped out of fear. Fear of death. Fear of loss. Fear of abandonment.

I made a mistake, like all humans do, and was condemned from the church. In turn, part of my family condemned me as well. At first I thought I understood why and I made excuses for them. I explained verbosely how they had excommunicated me out of love and sincerity, not malice or judgement.

I was told by the church I could lift my “disfellowshipped” cloak by repenting.

“I have repented. I married the man I love and I am now living a clean life. I pray every day and I know in my heart that God has forgiven me,” I would explain.

“No, no. You must come to the church regularly and then write a letter to the elders of the church. When they feel as if you have repented, they will pray and lift your scorn.” This would be their repetitive answer, and I didn’t agree with it. I started to feel heavy with guilt for questioning this process. You see, when you are taught something your entire life, from the time you were born, it makes it virtually impossible to undo that belief. If you no longer believe something to be true which was always considered gospel, then what else can you depend on? What is reliable? What is the truth?

I didn’t want a group of imperfect men to be responsible for my standing with God and the condition of my heart. I didn’t feel as if I needed them to make that decision for me. I wasn’t being stubborn or independent, I was simply being realistic. Isn’t man imperfect? Why should my family and loved ones wait until a group of men say it’s okay for them to talk to me? Didn’t they see I was living an upstanding and steadfast lifestyle? So many of whom they chose to hang around were leading adulterous, sinful lives themselves but they didn’t have that “cloak” over them, so that was okay? I was muddled with confusion.

I have recently realized that I will never again be close to certain family members that I once was. This isn’t by my choice, but theirs. I understand now that just because I have grown past certain teachings and chose to let them go, not everyone is ready to accept that, and that’s okay. Not everyone can swallow the bitter pill of admitting certain lifelong beliefs may be unhealthy and unloving. I am blessed that I now have a full heart, one of love and forgiveness and non-judgement. Am I perfect? Absolutely not, and that is why I don’t expect anyone else to be.

I was reading my favorite scripture the other day that speaks of unconditional love. You know, the one that states the fact that love is not jealous, it doesn’t brag, it endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things? The one that says “love never fails”? God is love. We are undeserving of His graciousness and ability to forgive, yet He showers us with it anyway, out of pure, unconditional love.

If my estranged family members surprise me one day and want to be in my life again, I will welcome them with open arms and most importantly, an open heart.

Take A Plunge

I grew up spending my summers in California, and every August my family would pack up the RV’s and travel to Yosemite National Park for a week-long adventure. I was the youngest of the brood, and therefore suffered serious small-kid persecution on a daily basis. This attributed to the desperate need to “keep up” with all my older cousins.

If you’ve ever been to Yosemite National Park you know that there is a ghastly tradition of climbing to the top of “The Bridge” and jumping down to the freezing cold river below. All the water is basically melted snow that runs down from the tops of the mountains so it really, literally, is ice cold. When I was only 11 years old, my cousins decided it was time I sucked it up and took a jump.

“Come on, Julie…don’t you want to be able to hang with us now?” they would chime in together. I bit my lip and swallowed hard. I knew if I said no I would be the laughing stock around the campfire later, but if I said yes, and happened to barely survive, my parents would go ahead and finish the job by beating me to a pulp.

I decided my life would be over if I didn’t jump, so I climbed my way up to the top of that bridge. I stepped atop the tall, stone wall and looked down to the icy waters below. I froze. Suddenly everyone was laughing and pointing, including complete strangers as they called me a coward (newsflash: kids can be mean). I gulped and held my breath, but still couldn’t move.

I glanced over to see my cousin Shanel glaring at the crowd as they laughed and pointed. I saw a fierce rage in her eyes, one I had never seen before.  Apparently she could poke fun at me all day, but how dare someone else? She nonchalantly walked over to me and whispered through the side of her mouth, “Just do it. I will jump right after you and swim you to shore…”

“But I can’t…” I responded in a frightful tone.

“Just trust me!” she whispered loudly.

I continued to hear the snickering banter behind me.

“Hurry up! There’s people waiting who are actually gonna jump!” a random voice shouted from behind me.

I despairingly looked down in shame.                                                          

“Look at me,” I heard Shanel’s loud whisper once again and glanced over my left shoulder at her stern face.

“Trust me…” she said and winked.

Before I had a chance to say, “huh?”, I felt her hand position itself in the arch of my back and shove.

Just like that, my body was forced forward and I realized it was too late to turn back. I held my breath as I soared through the air and eventually splashed into the icy cold waters below. As I struggled to swim to the surface, I suddenly felt an arm wrap itself around my waist and gently pull me up to safety.

“You okay?” it was Shanel.

All of a sudden I heard a booming sound of cheers and applause coming from the bridge above. I looked up to see my naysayers clapping and holding their thumbs up. I flashed a smile of relief and paddled to the shore.

“Sorry about that, but you were ready to jump. You just needed a push,” Shanel said.

“It’s okay, I’m glad you did,” I said through chattering teeth.

“Wanna do it again?” she asked.

I grinned.