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.

Caviar Dreams…My Ass!

“Entrepreneur”-one who owns, launches, manages, and assumes the risks of an economic venture.

I have been very excited since taking the plunge into the world of the self-employed, thus becoming a tad liberal with my time and money. Seriously, someone needs to put a potato sack over my head, drive me to an unknown bridge, then dangle me over the edge and very forcefully explain that I’m not making the big bucks just yet! Yes, I am unfortunately known for diving head-first into anything that excites me, and lately I’ve been simply fascinated with new business ventures (whatever they may be). Case in point: This past weekend I took a 3-day real estate investment course. Now, let me just start by telling you this wasn’t some flim-flam bogus bullshit that you go to and decide to give up your firstborn child and sell your soul to the devil just to be a part of. This advertised as a legitimate educational course with a planned curriculum. It was taught by a real professor, who also happened to have made it big time in the real estate biz. It cost a total of 500 bucks, but I’m a sucker for success stories…plus the housing market has me intrigued right now, so I signed up for the course and got ready for a long weekend of learning and inspiration. Yeah, right.

First of all, I will say that the course was slightly educational. I did learn a few techniques about wholesale real estate, pre-foreclosures, and mortgage options. I also met a few people who, like myself, were hungry for a great investment opportunity but not sure where to start. With that being said, let me explain how this ingenious plot works to have you saying “Here’s my American Express…” before your coffee gets cold.

Day 1: They prep your emotions by filling your heart with some great motivational stories. I love that shit. Then they tease you with a tiny bit of informative and educational material, just enough to have you taking notes and sitting on the edge of your cold, hard seat. Then they tell you how important it is to have great credit. Once they have everyone in agreement, they tell you that during lunch, you need to pull out your plastic and call to increase the limits as much as you can. This theory, (or so they say), is to give you a higher credit score. This makes sense because the less you owe compared to your limits, the higher your score. This is the part where my red flag went flying, especially since they just finished explaining how you should use “other people’s money” to buy property, and never put anything in your name. Hmmm. This “assignment” was to be done by everyone and then we all had to report back after lunch and say how much we got our credit limits raised. I’m sitting at my table, totally dumbfounded and wondering if anyone else in the room had figured out what the hell was going on. As I watched them race to their cars with their cellphones, I realized they didn’t.

Day 2: I contemplated not going back for round two, but curious to see how quickly my opinion would be validated, I simply couldn’t resist it. I walked in the class a few minutes late only to suffer glares from the professor. She quickly explained how she had been to boot-camp courses taught by (insert real estate tycoon here), and HE would have charged her $50 for being late. I slowly removed my oversized sunglasses and sipped my coffee through a smile. Bitch.

The first hour was another tease-o-rama for real information. Just as I started thinking I may actually start to learn something here, alas, get my money’s worth, the Bitch starts telling us that in order to ever make wise real estate investments, we must enroll in “Advanced Training.” Advanced training? Then what the hell had I paid for, a hand job without a happy ending? Apparently so. She then proceeded to list the various courses needed in order to become a millionaire. I was flabbergasted when she wrote down the final figure for how much this “Advanced Training” would cost us. $48,000. Yes, I said $48,000. For a 6-week online course and a fucking mentor. Once I realized no one was going to come out and start talking about timeshares, I looked for Ashton Kutcher’s hot ass since I was absolutely sure we were all being Punked. He never showed up.

Day 3: Remember those lovely credit cards you increased the limits on the first day? Well, now is the time to whip those babies out! Don’t even think about saying you don’t have the money for “Advanced Training”, since the instructors vividly remember each one of the poor suckers who felt compelled to share their stories with the class after lunch that first day. I specifically remember the sweet little guy at the table next to mine. He was an ambitious young man who worked overtime at two different jobs just to afford THIS class. What he lacked in brains, he made up for in spirit.
”I called at lunch and they raised my Visa limit to $2500!” he excitedly proclaimed.
”Good! Now you need to fill out a few more applications so you have more available credit on your report. This way, you can get approved for more houses and become a millionaire quicker! Now here’s the phone number for Citibank…I have it memorized for some insane reason…hahahaha!” the Bitch said.
Heaven forbid there be any naysayers, since she would make them feel like Tom Thumb in front of the room and tell them they were destined to a life of poverty since they were too pussified to take the “Advanced Training.” Who knew the Anti-Christ was a short, pudgy white lady? 
I didn’t participate in the assignments, but she never gave me a hard time. I think it’s because once I removed my sunglasses on that second day, she saw the question of authenticity in my eyes. I locked her in a stare-battle and refused to look away. That was when the Bitch realized I wasn’t intimidated by her browbeating, and she avoided me at all costs. 

Before lunch on the third day, I packed up my shit and left early. I still had some of my weekend left to do something productive, and maybe even a little partying…after all, this entrepreneur was ready to get off her butt and start hanging out with some real motivators…her friends!