5 reasons why I’m glad I left fundamentalist Christiandom behind

“Crick in the Neck”, mixed media 8.5″ x 11″. Breaking free of old chains!

“Crick in the Neck”, mixed media 8.5″ x 11″. Breaking free of old chains!

Before I get into my list, first I want to state that not all people considered fundamentalists or conservatives are like the fundamentalist Christianity I am most familiar with. I’ve known some evangelical Christians who are extremely kind, loving people. However, I grew up and struggled with a very strict religious tradition (where women weren’t allowed to wear pants, makeup or cut their hair, tv was considered evil and everyone who thought the slightest bit different than us was going straight to hell). After I grew up and married I went to a denomination that was somewhat less strict, but still as a whole was definitely conservative. I try hard not to judge those who believe differently than myself, although it is hard when I see people who let their religious beliefs overcome their human compassion. Having come from such a strict background and choosing to walk away from it has made me a little sensitive to criticism and rejection from those who believe like I once did, but I still try to see the good inside of them, because almost all of us have good shining through if you look for it. As you read this post, please keep in mind that these are the things I struggled with and am glad to have changed, but they are not meant to be stereotypes of all conservatives.

Anyhow, with all that said, here are 5 of the biggest reasons I am thankful to have left behind fundamentalism:

#1 – I no longer live in fear of going to hell or of those I love suffering eternal torture in hell. This does not mean that I don’t believe in justice and that if you live a horrible life you may not face some karma or discipline or whatever you choose to call it. However, I do not believe in a cruel God who would eternally torture or punish those who happened to live a short lifetime with some mistakes or with the “wrong” beliefs. Personally, I tend to believe that our greatest judge of our misdeeds after our death may be our own soul, not a higher being. It always interested me that in most near death experiences, when people went through their life review, they didn’t feel any judgement from God or Jesus for the wrongs they did, but they felt all the pain they had caused others through their actions and this truly changed their outlook and heart.

#2 – I don’t have to exclude anyone. I don’t have to believe that anyone is worth less than anyone else or that some of us are “better” than others. I don’t have to turn away gays, liberals, infidels or anyone else. I can be around people who drink or smoke or are openly sexual without fearing they will somehow “contaminate” me. I can focus more on my own spiritual growth rather than focusing on any perceived lack of spirituality in others. I can love and befriend anyone without trying convert them.

#3 – I don’t have to read the cringe-worthy bits of the Bible and try to find some kind of reasoning for why it is ok. I can look at the Bible and see that it was written by humans who were trying to understand and please God, but who were still just plain old humans after all. I can see that in the context of certain cultural beliefs and time periods that things may have once seemed much different. I can see that just like all ancient cultures, the Jewish people tended to see anything good happening as God acting on their behalf and anything bad happening as God punishing them. They didn’t completely understand the idea of chance or even some of our most basic scientific laws. I also understand that much of the Bible (particularly the old testament) was written down long after the events happened and just like with any society, centuries of oral tradition passed down can greatly change or exaggerate a story.

#4 – I can be a woman and not believe I am inferior or subservient to men. I can be married and have an actual partnership with a husband who respects me just as much as I respect him. I don’t have to feel bad about my gender because “Eve messed it all up”. I don’t have to believe that a woman’s body is something to be ashamed or afraid of. I can choose to be modest because that is what I desire, without judging every woman who dresses differently than myself. I can see how ridiculous the belief that women invite rape by dressing sexy really is. All of us have a responsibility to control our own actions and it is never right to blame our wrong actions on another. I can believe that all of us are born innocent and that it is our experiences, choices and actions that determine if we grow up to have a positive or negative influence on this world, not some curse put upon us all because of the bad choices of two humans eons ago.

#5 – Lastly, I am so relieved to leave the fear behind. The fear of never being good enough. The fear of always being evil at the core. The fear of trying to live a good life but still being thrust into hell for any unintentional mistake. I can look at life and people with the view that we are all different and will never see everything the same way, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be compassionate to one another and work together to solve problems that affect us all. Without fearing so much about everyone’s eternal destination, I can instead focus on the here and now – on learning to love others unconditionally, healing the pain of the past so I can forgive & move on, growing spiritually and trying to give back to the world in positive ways whenever I can.

Therapy that works

"Perfection is a Myth", abstract acrylic on art board 8" x 10"

“Perfection is a Myth”, abstract acrylic on art board 8″ x 10″

To be honest, I’m not big on conventional therapy. Now, that does not mean that I don’t think some people benefit from it or even need it, but I don’t believe it works for everyone. For myself, perhaps it doesn’t work as well because I have already read so many psychology and self help books that I know what is likely to be said anyhow. When I was a foster parent, therapy never seemed to do much for any of the kids who were forced to go. In their cases, I think it didn’t work that well because they didn’t want to be there so they didn’t cooperate or act on the advice given them. If you do go the traditional therapy route, I think it is important to find a therapist who will give you tangible strategies to apply to real life situations and (even more importantly) you have to be willing to put in the work and do those things.

Personally, I have been to therapy a couple times in my life. The first time was when I was 12 and my dad died. That was forced therapy that didn’t go very far because I didn’t want to talk about it and no one could make me. The second time I went to therapy was after my sister committed suicide. I do feel that talking through my feelings with a professional helped some in that case, but it wasn’t what healed me. Looking back on the rough patches in my life, I have found that some of the most effective forms of therapy aren’t those you find in a therapist’s office. Here are a few of the “therapeutic” activities I feel have had the greatest impact on my life:

  • Spending time with family and friends, even when I thought I would rather be alone. Sometimes when you don’t feel like seeing anyone is when you need their support the most.
  • Spending time with animals. For me this starts with my pets but extends to living creatures everywhere. Animals speak to my soul on a level I can’t even explain and bring great comfort and joy.
  • Spending time in nature – this kind of goes along with the animal one. Being around bodies of water works best for me personally, but everyone has their own favorite spots, even if it is just your own backyard or a neighborhood park.
  • Music – all types of music can be therapeutic depending on what you are feeling. I have my “sad”, “angry”, “happy”, “relaxing” and “inspirational” songs to help me through whatever I am dealing with.
  • Creating – whether it be writing, painting, drawing, baking, etc., it is a great way to release feelings.
  • Getting lost in fantasy – leaving this real world mentally for a short period of time (through a book, movie, etc.) can be incredibly helpful during awful times.
  • Exercise. The key to this for me is doing things that I enjoy and find relaxing, such as walking, hiking, yoga, etc.
  • Meditation/prayer – connecting to my spiritual self helps me to rise above my earthly troubles and find inner peace even in the midst of chaos.

So what about you? What kinds of “therapy” do you find most healing?

Burning bridges and moving on

"Burning Bridges" acrylic on paper, 9" x 12".

“Burning Bridges” acrylic on paper, 9″ x 12″.

Lately I have been on a “burning bridges” kick. I have decided to let go of some situations and relationships that were unhealthy and quite frankly, were draining the life from me in some ways. For quite a while I debated with myself about whether to give up and move on from these things or not. Part of me didn’t want to give up on people I once cared about and move on. I wanted to hold onto the hope that things would change and magically it would all become better. I don’t think this hope is bad, but sometimes if you cling too tightly to that which isn’t good for you, instead of things becoming better, they actually deteriorate more.

When I realized that even thinking about these people and situations was severely depressing me, I figured it was time to release the attachment and move on the best I can. I wish them all the best, but I realize now that they are not the best thing for me at this time. Perhaps we were only meant to be in each other’s lives for a certain period of time, or maybe we do have a future together but need some time apart to grow and change. I have always prided myself on my loyalty to those I love and care about, but I am now realizing that relationships can’t just be one-sided. I cannot make anyone like or respect me, but I can choose to spend my time with those who do. Hopefully as I move on, I will enter a future full of new experiences and meaningful relationships.

Here are a few quotes about burning bridges I have especially enjoyed lately (sources unknown):

“May the bridges I burn light the way.”

“Sometimes you need to burn bridges to stop yourself from crossing them again.”

“The hardest lesson in life is figuring out which bridges to cross and which to burn.”

“Burning bridges takes too long. I prefer explosives.”

Sexism and intelligence – I am not stupid or inferior just because I am a woman

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This may surprise some people that know me, but I tend to tick people off. Not intentionally of course, but it still happens. I think it may be partly because I am honest and sometimes even blunt. I try to be politically correct and polite, but I am also someone who gets to the heart of the matter quickly and tends to see things with unusual or unpopular views. I try to never stoop down to personal attacks or name-calling, but I won’t hide who I am either. One thing has started bothering me though and that is the fact that sometimes I think the majority of the anger directed at me may be because I am female.

I hate to play the “sexism” card, but there are things that have happened repeatedly that make me wonder. For instance, some folks at our old church and a few extended family members have disagreed with me on different subjects, which is fine. However, they took the disagreements to a personal level that hurt. Some of them said some pretty awful things about me – some of them publicly. However, what made me think that their anger may be due to me being a woman is that my husband said the EXACT same things I said and sometimes even more controversial things but he didn’t get the same hate and anger I got. In fact, the most negative thing they would say to him is that they don’t understand why he doesn’t “control his wife”. Of course, my response to that is what do they expect my husband to do? Beat me until I shut up and agree with them? Sometimes that is how it came off.

Another thing that makes me think that my gender may be a culprit is that when I engage in an intellectual conversation with other people and a disagreement arises, I often start getting called names like “bitch”. Some have claimed that I must think I’m a queen and should quit trying to rule. Again, these are simply over differences of opinion. None of these labels or insults are thrown at my husband or other men having similar conversations (at least not that I’ve witnessed). When I passionately argue a viewpoint I am “too opinionated” and “mouthy”, however, my husband can say the exact same things and he is “smart” and “intellectual”. The kinder people just call me “naïve” or say that I “misunderstand”, but that is still a way of patronizing someone.

I’m not saying that I’m not opinionated (I am) or that I am always right (I like to think I am, but I know I’m not). All I am saying is that the double standard for intelligent thought for men and women is unfair. The personal attacks are hurtful and unnecessary for a simple difference of opinion. I will not “sit down and shut up” or “go to the kitchen where I belong”, but if you address me as an equal, I will listen and consider what you say. I only ask the same in return.  

Why I will not be doing the ALS ice bucket challenge

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I have recently been challenged by a few different people to do the ALS ice bucket challenge. First off, I want to say that ALS is a horrible disease and I am glad that it is currently getting all this attention and the donations. My husband happens to know someone from his old job that has ALS and it has been tragic watching her deteriorate so quickly, not to mention what it has put her family through. So in no way do I want to knock ALS charities or those who donate to them.

However, I do not see the need to dump ice water on my head in order to donate to a charity. I enjoy donating to a variety of charities year round and honestly wish I had more money to do so more often. Fads like the ice bucket challenge can be useful in bringing important causes to our attention and getting those who don’t regularly donate to charity to give it a try, but not everyone is a “fad” person. I am not a fad person. I normally don’t even know about fads until they are close to the end. I will say that the ice bucket challenge has brought some fun moments even to us wallflowers (some of the highlights for me were Cookie Monster and Kermit doing the challenge and seeing Bill Gates, Patrick Stewart and Charlie Sheen add their own personal twist). I will fondly remember this fad, but I am just not big on joining in. I guess you can call me a party pooper, rebel, or wimp if you want to. 

I would also like to say that with all the love and support ALS charities are getting right now, I will probably be making my donations to other charities I am passionate about because I know they are still struggling at the moment. The charities I generally donate to are either related to animal welfare & environmental conservation, helping the poor or taking care of the sick. Some of my favorite charities, which I would highly recommend are Doctors Without Borders, The American Red Cross, Children’s Miracle Network, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The World Wildlife Federation and The Humane Society (I also support local causes whenever possible). I would suggest when you look for charities to donate to that you start with what matters to you personally and then research which charities in those areas have good ratings, that way you make sure your donations actually go for what you want them to be used for (you can find charity ratings and financial information on websites like http://www.charitynavigator.org).   

My new book club and the mysteries of the human mind

homer-and-langley

Recently I joined a book club. I’ve always wanted to belong to a book club, but have just been too lazy and antisocial to do much about it. Finally, I got up the motivation to attend a book club meeting at my local library. I chose this particular group because I like the fact that they read current and classic novels and that they read a wide variety of genres, which will hopefully help keep me from getting too bored.

Today was the second meeting that I have attended. I am probably the youngest member by at least 25 years, but I don’t mind. I’ve always tended to bond better with people older or younger than myself anyhow (a common Aspie trait from what I understand). The book we were discussing today was last month’s read, a novel entitled “Homer & Langley” by E.L. Doctorow. As we debated points about the book, we turned to the subject of the lead character, Homer. Homer happens to be blind and the book discusses how he has a special kind of “spatial awareness” and can tell where furniture and other things are located just by sensing them.

We happen to have a woman in the book club who has been blind from birth, so we asked her about this whole “spatial awareness” idea. She explained that she believes it does happen, because she herself can sense where things are by hearing sounds vibrate or bounce off of objects around her. This idea intrigued me because it sounds a lot like the process of echolocation, which is commonly associated with bats and dolphins. Thinking about this made me wonder what other latent abilities we humans may have that we don’t notice or develop because we don’t need them to survive. The human brain is always amazing, but it is also a mysterious thing.

By the way, one other thing about this lady really caught my attention. She hadn’t been there last week, so this was my first time meeting her. I never guessed that she was completely blind until she herself confirmed it. After she shared this fact, I looked at her and was impressed by how colorful and coordinated she was for someone who had never been able to see. She wore perfectly matching clothes, with matching jewelry and even had matching fingernail & toe polish! She looked more put together than I ever do! I wondered why someone would put so much effort into little visual details that they themselves couldn’t even see. I never really came up with an answer, other than maybe the female desire to look attractive still exists even if we can never see ourselves. I guess that is yet another fascinating mystery of the human mind for me to contemplate.

I don’t know this lady well enough yet to form a complete view of her personality and lifestyle, but I look forward to getting to know her and the rest of the book club. Perhaps I’ll even discover some new things about myself along the way.

Guest Blog: The Lighter Side of Foster Care by author Maranda Russell

marandarussell:

Check out my guest blog post for this great website!

Originally posted on A Woman's Wisdom:

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In the past, I have shared the frustrations, problems and emotional damage that the foster care system can cause in some of my other writings, so when I was given the opportunity to do this guest blog post, I decided to focus on the funnier, more heart-warming moments I experienced during the years I was a foster parent. I use the past tense because I had to give up being a foster parent about a year ago due to some severe autoimmune issues that I am still fighting today. It was a tough decision to give up fostering because I truly love the kids and want to help them. My hope is that now perhaps I can still help foster children through my writing by drawing attention to the issues they face and the joys they bring.

When my husband and I first became foster parents, we had absolutely no…

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