Remembering the Family Members of Those with Mental Illness

In light of Robin Williams’s recent suicide, I found myself avoiding all news reports about it because my heart just could not take it anymore. Not necessarily because I am a fan and he was an amazing comedian, but also because of the nature of my job in the hospital, in inpatient psychiatry where I deal with suicidal patients with severe mental illness every single day. I had no emotional capacity to process his death, especially since he was an example of someone who could live successfully with mental illness. He was a symbol of hope to many of our patients who also have depression and/or bipolar, or anything really.

But this is not about Robin Williams; if anything, this is about family members of those with mental illness. After the news of Williams’s death, all I could think about was Zelda and the rest of their family. For as long as I have been working in inpatient psychiatry, the moments that really stick with me have not been my one-on-one moments with the patients; it has been the family meetings.

Family members are often the forgotten pieces of how mental illness affects a person. We often forget that there are parents, siblings and spouses that are incredibly affected by one’s mental illness. There is something so much more difficult about helping a single dad process his son’s first psychiatric hospitalization, sitting there next to the psychiatrist as she tells him that his son is having a late onset of schizophrenia. It has been much more difficult to watch a mother in tears as she asks what she could have done differently to prevent her grown adult child from hearing homicidal auditory hallucinations. Talking to patients about how their doing feels like a piece of cake compared to trying to talk to a young daughter about her mother’s suicide attempt. I don’t know why that is, but those are the moments where I want to hide in the chart room and cry. It’s so hard to watch someone feel helpless about someone they love.

We sympathize and empathize with our patients as they learn to journey through life with mental illness, giving them resources and counseling and medication…but once they leave our hospital doors, they aren’t on our watch anymore. Now it is up to the daughters, husbands, wives, partners, siblings and cousins of our patients to support them and help them in their healing process. And it’s not easy.

I do think that a huge part of it has to do with the stigma behind mental health. The language we use is horrible, saying “my son has gone crazy” or “he’s bipolar” is not strengths-based, nor is it empowering. People are not their diagnoses; they are individuals with a diagnosis. He has bipolar, he is not bipolar. People are more than just their mental illness; they are artists, mathematicians, comedians, parents, teachers, friends.

I think the more we take steps to get rid of the stigma of mental health, we can talk much more openly about how we as a community can support those with mental illness and supporting family members of those with mental illness. More importantly, we need to instill hope in family members and the individuals with mental illness, reminding them all that it is not a death sentence, but merely an explanation for what they are going through in this time in their life. If anything, my hope is that mental health diagnoses are really a starting point for people and their families to know what the next steps are, knowing there are next steps towards living a life healthily with a mental illness.

Lastly, to even have a supportive family involved is a huge sign of a great prognosis. I see too many patients who come through our doors who have no family or have burned all their bridges with family, often getting re-admitted over and over again. So, to those of us with family members who have a mental illness, the best step towards their recovery is actually having a loving family, walking alongside them in this journey.

 

How To Be an Awesome Friend to a Newly Engaged Couple

So I recently got engaged. Actually, about a week ago.

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Within this past week alone, I’ve felt a plethora of emotions and it has only been 7 days. Emotions such as joy, anxiety, frustration, excitement, happiness, annoyance, etc. On top of those emotions, I’ve also had a ton of people congratulate me, hug me, ask to see my hand, and ask me a ton of questions. A ton of questions that drive me nuts.

They make wedding planning books for the newly engaged. They make questionnaires and worksheets and Pinterest boards. They make professional people that help newly engaged people know what to do next.But what they don’t do is make books and tips and advice for the friends of these newly engaged people. And this is what I wish they would say:

1. Number one thing not to say to a newly engaged couple: “I better be invited!”

My mom raised me to never invite yourself to something. I would want to hang out with a friend down the street and would ask if I could come over and play. My mom scolded me and said it is rude to ask to invite yourself over. I think most kids learn that it’s rude and you have wait to be invited. The same thing applies to weddings but for some reason, people forget this. Forgive me if I have ever done this to you, but I swear this has got to be the most tactless and rude thing to do. It puts the engaged couple in an awkward position: they don’t know their guest list yet, let alone when they’re going to get married. What if they can’t afford to have a certain number of people at their wedding? What if they want an intimate small wedding? What if you just haven’t been involved in their life that much recently and inviting you just doesn’t make sense? My sister who actually works in the wedding industry brought up a great point: social media makes people feel closer to people than they really are. But the fact of the matter is, just because I overshare and you know what I ate for dinner, doesn’t mean I know you well enough to want you to be there on my wedding day. And it’s not personal. Sometimes it’s all about what is practical: can we afford to pay for every single person to be at our wedding or would we rather save our money for the actual marriage, the buying of a house and the raising of children?

2. Keep your suggestions to yourself about wedding details: don’t approach a newly engaged couple with “you guys should…”

There are no “should’s.” The only true real “should” is that the newly engaged couple should marry each other. That’s the only should. “By golly, you guys are engaged?! I knew you guys should get married!” That is it. Telling a newly engaged couple that they “should” do anything adds way too much pressure and puts your expectations on them. It’s hard because everybody is so excited for the engaged couple, you just want to tell them all these great ideas. Whether it’s because you’re not married yet and you have these glorious fantasies about what a wedding is like or maybe you are married and you want to tell them exactly how you did it, remember that the engaged couple is NOT YOU. I ought to put a quarter in a jar for every sentence that starts with “you guys should” or “you should totally” because then maybe I can actually afford a crazy wedding with all the quarters I saved. People have been telling me I should have this at the reception, I should wear this, I should get these flowers and I just want to scream “ENOUGH! I’ve been engaged for a WEEK.” Give the engaged couple time to not have to think about “should’s” and just think about being engaged.

3. Don’t put your wedding expectations on the newly engaged couple.

The engaged couple did not get engaged for your entertainment. They did not get engaged so they could throw a party that you get to be a part of or that you can get to help throw. They got engaged because they love each other so much that they know they are ready to start a marriage. This means the engaged couple does not need to meet your expectations of what their wedding is like. This means it might not be the bridal party you expected, it might not be the venue you expected, it might not be the style, timing, etc. Things like expecting that you’ll be a groomsman or expecting that your child will be a ring-bearer is not fair for the newly engaged couple. They haven’t even figured out if they can afford so many people in a bridal party or if they want to follow traditional roles of people in a wedding. It’s not about you. Let them decide their own expectations for themselves.

4. Don’t focus so much of your conversation with them on the wedding. Engagement isn’t the start of a wedding; engagement is the start of a marriage.

The engaged couple just made a huge decision to commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. This is a time for them to think about what that’ll look like. Spend time with them as a couple and congratulate BOTH of them. My fiancé is not one to enjoy lots of attention, but he constantly points out that everybody is much more happy for ME than they are for him. I made a point to make sure I said “we’re engaged!” when I announced the engagement to friends because so many people think it’s about me, the one with the ring, the one who will wear the white dress. Getting engaged doesn’t mean that I get to plan a wedding; getting engaged means my fiancé and I get to be husband and wife for the rest of our lives together. Be equally excited about the marriage and not necessarily the wedding. Ask them questions about their first date, how they knew, give them those moments to reminisce how much they love each other. Don’t attack them with questions about menial details about their wedding. I never remember what anybody’s centerpieces looked like at their weddings nor do I remember what I ate. What I remember from my friends’ weddings is how in love they look. So focus on their love for each other, not what type of cake they’re going to get at their wedding.

5. Celebrate with them now.

You don’t need to wait until their wedding to celebrate their love with them. Celebrate with them now by hanging out with them, go out to dinner, have some drinks with them, spend time with them that has nothing to do with wedding planning. Be excited for them now and not for what’s to come. Be excited that they’ve made this decision and do something fun with them now. It starts now, not when the Save The Dates come out, not when you get an invitation (or not) in the mail. Do what you can to help them enjoy engagement. Give them your blessings. Celebrate them.

If You Want to Help End Homelessness, Start Donating Real Donations

One of the biggest struggles about running a homeless shelter isn’t the clients we deal with; it’s actually the gargantuan amount of junk we get donated to us every single day that my staff have to sift through for hours on ends just to make sure we can separate quality donations from clearly-this-person-just-needs-a-garbage-can-donations.

I will be honest: when I first started my job, even though I had worked with the homeless population for 3 years by then, I strangely had the attitude of “beggars can’t be choosers.” I might’ve even said that to my staff once. But as I got to know the people we work with on a deeper level, I really could not see them as “beggars” anymore. As you begin to learn their individual stories, it becomes hauntingly real that there isn’t much that separates you — the graduate level employed person with an income — and the people who need homeless shelters.

But, this isn’t going to be a blog post about the homeless families I work with. I want to focus on the people who can either help us the most or hurt us the most.

We get donations every day at the shelter. Sometimes they are things like bags of old clothes or sometimes they are full cribs and children’s furniture. But for every really quality item we get, we also get maybe three times as much broken toys, dirty ripped clothes, outdated or broken electronics, and even worse, expired food. I sometimes see the people who are bringing these items, and they try their best to sneak into our doors, gingerly drop off their donations and sneak right back out. Some even have the audacity to fill out a donation receipt for themselves, claiming their donation had an in-kind value of thousands of dollars.

But don’t get me wrong: we have some fabulous donors who are committed to giving really useful and quality items to the people we work with. I just wish everybody had that same kind of value for human dignity as they do.

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We get so many donations, my staff bags it up and stores it behind my office to donate to another organization.

You see, those fabulous donors have the same understanding about our clients that we do: people deserve quality things no matter how much money they make or no matter what their history is. This doesn’t mean that every single person needs to have brand-name products or that there isn’t value in secondhand goods. What this means is that if you and your family don’t want to eat expired food, what makes you think that the homeless families that we work with do? If you don’t want to give your toddler a broken toy, what makes you think a homeless single mother of four wants to give her three-year-old that broken toy? If you have no use for that Apple computer monitor with a giant crack down the screen, what do you think any of the clients in our shelter can do with it? The point is: our fabulous donors see that we treat the people we work with as if they were our own. 

Yes, maybe there are some homeless people out there who don’t really care how old and ripped up their clothing is, and maybe there are some homeless people who will eat expired food, but at the end of the day for those of us who work with these people on a daily basis, we strive to see them be the best they can be. If we want our clients to move on to permanent housing, they need to be able to get jobs. If we want to see them get jobs, they need to be able to dress amazingly for their interviews. If they need to be able to dress professionally for interviews, they need to get real quality items from donations.

Do you see the equation here? Quality donations from well-meaning donors lead to ending homelessness. It’s as simple as that. So if you want to help end homelessness, I suggest you start by giving really good donations to your local shelter. Don’t use homeless people as a dumping ground for your spring cleaning. Gift people with the gift of future success.

The Fine Line Between Modesty and Misogyny

I am dressing modestly and uncomfortable by wrapping this infinity scarf around me...

I am dressing modestly and uncomfortably by wrapping this infinity scarf around me…

When I talk about modesty, I am not referring to the opposite of vanity or conceit, but modesty in the way that this one Christian group on Facebook describes as necessary for “protecting brothers in Christ.” This is the idea that women should dress modestly lest their brothers in Christ stumble.

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this group, but it caught my eye because it encouraged Christian women to delete “un-modest photos” from Facebook or untag themselves in photos where they might be in swimsuits or other photos so that women can help “protect brothers in Christ.” It caused an eyebrow raise because the idea that women have control over whether or not a man lusts is quite similar to the idea that a woman has control over whether or not they become a victim of sexual violence.

For the record, BOTH are untrue.

I say that because both these ideas seem to accept the fact that men cannot control their sexual urges, that they are wild animals, that being sexually aggressive or lust-driven is just who they are. I know there seems to be some truth in it and yet there isn’t. There really isn’t.

There isn’t because every time we accept that as true, that women are somehow responsible for how they are looked at by another man or responsible for any sexual advance from a man, we take away the responsibility of those men. Men are just as responsible, if not more so.

It’s time we teach men about self-control, delayed gratification, and respecting a woman’s body. Ancient Greek statues of naked bodies weren’t sexual; they were considered beautiful works of art. Nothing about Venus de Milo was considered pornographic or sinful. But, somehow as time went on, we became ashamed of the naked body, found it to be perverted and lustful. We’ve lost sight of what Creation is.

The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Granted, I myself don’t necessarily feel comfortable with clearly pornographic looking Facebook profile pictures, ass cheeks hanging out of skinny jeans, or selfie Instagram shots that are down angle of major cleavage. But to make it seem like women are solely responsible for protecting the precious eyes of men who are afraid of lusting drives me nuts. It is just shy of asking me to wear a burqa. Remember the days when showing a woman’s ankle was risqué? Who defines what is too sexually provocative and what isn’t?

Besides, women are fighting the battle of being objectified on the daily. To add to that pressure of having to think “is what I am wearing too provocative? am I causing someone to sin?” frustrates the hell out of me. When it is hot out and I am sweating my ass off, I want to be able to wear a spaghetti strap tank top and for it to be okay. And it is okay. But groups like this will claim that I am showing too much skin and causing my brother in Christ to sin. How about if my brother in Christ just learns not to associate my shoulders with sex? My shoulder is a shoulder. I carry purses on it.

Does this cause you to stumble? She’s not inviting you to fantasize sexing her up. So don’t blame her for where your damn mind goes.

I cringe because asking women to cover up more or delete un-modest pictures to “protect brothers in Christ” feels uncomfortably close to a form of control over women. It is such a pussy way for men to deal with lust. If a man is struggling with lust and sexual addiction or whatever the hell is wrong with these men, then the solution is not in asking the women to hide every part of their body that may cause a dude to stumble; the solution is in men teaching other men how to be strong, how to not objectify women, how to respect them and not see their bodies as purely sexual objects. Asking a woman to be responsible for that is like saying, “Well, it’s YOUR fault I’m lusting because you’re showing that much skin.”

I know that I’m not a guy (specifically a Christian guy; I’ve noticed that non-Christian men don’t beat themselves up over lustful thoughts) and so I don’t know how hard it is to look at a scantily clad woman and not feel sexually frustrated or something. We also live in an overly sexualized culture. It’s really everybody’s fault at this point. But the point is the same: women are not responsible for men’s sexual behavior.

Men, you are responsible for where your mind goes. You are responsible for where your hands go. You are responsible for where your dick goes. Not women. My skinny jeans are not an invitation for an ass grope. My v-neck is not a request to be howled at. Even tanning at the beach is not my way of asking you to hit on me. Women are not asking for anything.

So, Group Promoting Dressing Modestly in Christian Women Profile Pictures, this is what I have to say to you. If you want to stop Christian men from lusting, then start with Christian men. Don’t you dare blame how a woman is dressed for what a man’s mind is doing.

Who Invented The Unspoken Christian Rules?

I have a friend who writes great blog posts like this one on the irony of Christians against marriage equality or this one on Christians becoming just like Ned Flanders and we often bond over the fact that we love Jesus but just aren’t feeling this pop Christianity bubble that many of our Christian peers are a part of.

I cannot find the wonderful entry he wrote on Christians and Christian music, but today it got me thinking: who created these strange unspoken rules of what it means to be a Christian? Some of them aren’t biblical, some of them aren’t bad if you want to follow them (let’s say you only listen to Christian music), but what peeves me the most is when Christians assume that I am less of a Christian for not following them.

Case and point. Let’s look at these myths of what it means to be Christian.

They look cool though…

1) Only listen to Christian music.
I can’t. I haven’t listened to Christian music (other than hymnals at church) in a while. This means, no Chris Tomlin or Hillsong United. Why? Because, honestly, as a musician and singer I can’t honestly say that popular Christian music is good. This one time, Mumford and Sons (not a Christian band) came on the mainstream radio and my boyfriend pointed out that it sounded like a Christian song. That says a lot about Christian music that songs can melodically sound “Christian” regardless of what the lyrics were. I can write Christian music. I have. Whipped out my guitar, threw down some G, C, D, Em, C, D, G with a bridge of Am chords and BAM a catchy worship song to lift your hands to.

Don’t even get me started on how poor some of the theology is in many popular Christian songs. That’s a whole different blog entry.

So, if I am going to listen to the radio on my drive home from work or go to a concert of a hipster-y indie band that doesn’t sing about Jesus, how does that make me less Christian? It’s okay, guys, I am not on a road to hell just because I want to listen to jazz every now and then.

Totally stole this picture from InterVarsity’s website for Global Urban Treks. They are really awesome though.

2) Missionaries only go overseas.
This was a big deal for me when I was in college because I never felt called to overseas missions. I felt called to local missions, inner city work, working among the least of these in the United States. I even got Acts 1:8 tattooed to my arm to remind myself that we start in our own Jerusalem (our own cities) and then go outwards from there. Yet, time and time again, my peers were lauding over those in the fellowship who felt called to Peru or India or China. Nobody gave a crap about students who were going to spend a summer doing an urban plunge or participate in an urban project. It wasn’t sexy enough.

Guess what, God cares just as much about American poverty as He does poverty in Africa (which is a continent, you guys, stop saying you feel called to an entire continent which is made up of several very different countries). And it doesn’t always have to be poverty, trust me. Rich people need God too.

This is a good book that talks about some of these things. There’s stuff like prayer circles, worship styles, oddities about Christian culture.

3) Use “Lord Father God” in prayer about a trillion times.
Why? Just….why? Why do we do that? I don’t say your name — let alone your full name or nicknames inside of your name — every so often in conversation with you. Why do we do that with God? And why “Lord Father God” and not “Father God Lord” or “God Lord Father” or…

I once knew a man who started his prayers with “Hey Dad.” It was sweet. Not my cup of tea, but it was original. And personal. And not a result of being a clone of a culture.

*$&!!#$@#*&!!

4) Don’t cuss.
Sam wrote a blog entry on this. Saying “frick” is really ridiculous because we all know you are really dropping the F bomb and trying to lessen the blow by being cute. I am personally not a fan of rampant cussing or dropping the F bomb like it’s nothing, but it’s not the end of the world if I stub my toe and say “shit!”

I know there are tons of verses about your tongue and being wise with what comes out of your mouth, but honestly, the little coverups for cuss words are just as bad and frankly, much more annoying…

Beers I had with friends recently. Beer is yummy.

Beers I had with friends recently. Beer is yummy.

5) Don’t drink.
I like beer. I like wine. I don’t do it to get drunk. If I end my work day with a bottle of beer or go out and meet up with my friends at a bar, it doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned God. I like a good Belgian ale or a sauvignon blanc.

But I do remember when I thought this was an important “rule” to being Christian and abstained entirely from alcohol once upon a time. It did not make me any more spiritual.

6) Facebook PDA determines how spiritual you are.
How many Bible verses have you posted to your Facebook? How many Christian artists have you “liked”? How many articles about godly marriages have you reshared to your newsfeed? Oh, zero? Not good enough!

I confess I used to be super PDA (public displays of affection) on my Facebook, Twitter, you name it, about Jesus and God and Faith and Church. I’m sure it inspired a shit ton of my Christian friends but honestly, it does nothing for those that don’t believe in Jesus. It isolates you and makes you hard to relate with. What’s it like to be a light to the world if we’re in an annoying bubble that speaks our own little Christianese and feels like a weird exclusive club that only listens to Australian worship bands?

Our relationship with God does not need to be plastered all over our Facebook newsfeed. That is a byproduct of the culture of oversharing and frankly, slightly narcissistic. It almost screams, “Look at me! I’m spiritual! How many likes can I get on this Bible quote?!”

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At the end of the day, these are just a few of the weird unspoken rules in Christian culture (all six of the aforementioned rules I consistently break). I didn’t even begin to mention the rules of wearing Christian brand t-shirts or the weird overemphasis of marrying off the young single women in the church or else they are nothing. The reality is that some of these are good: don’t get me wrong, Christian music is inspirational and uplifting, overseas missionaries are sacrificing a lot to live outside of their comfort zones, there’s no wrong way to pray, cussing can be obnoxious and make you look unintelligent, drinking in excess gets you real messed up, Facebook PDA is a great social media outlet for any type of PR…

But, when we begin to measure people up to these invisible rules and determine someone’s “Christianness” from it, we are no better than the Pharisees who made up their own special spiritual rules, like fasting on certain days or doing absolutely nothing on a Sabbath. Start with the greatest commandment of loving others and loving God and then determine if doing these things (or not doing them) affects our abilities to love.

Remember Shalom, InterVarsity: my open letter to Campus Access Concerns

Dear InterVarsity Christian Fellowship,

I must start by saying thank you: thank you for teaching me about racial reconciliation, about social justice, about seeking shalom, about civil rights, about God’s heart for the marginalized and the oppressed.

Without your amazing urban projects, incarnational ministries, and in depth Scripture studies, I don’t think I would’ve learned that Jesus is a friend of the least of these, that he deeply loved those that society rejected and deemed unworthy. I love Jesus this much more because of it.

But today, I write you this letter, asking you to take everything you have ever taught me about God’s heart for social justice and His passion for the forgotten ones and change your response to my LGBTQ brothers/sisters/individuals. 

On this day in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led a march from Selma, Alabama to the capital in Montgomery, to fight for the right to be treated as an equal. Tonight, a thousand people will march from the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco to City Hall, with a passion in their hearts for marriage equality. Tonight, amazing individuals who are some of our brothers, sisters, parents, coworkers, teachers, ministers will stand up for the universal human right to be treated as an equal.

I received a letter from you, InterVarsity, a couple weeks ago. I assumed it was another alumni letter asking me to donate. I opened it anyway, even though I already donate for some of the most amazing InterVarsity staff workers I know. Instead, it was a letter from you specifically asking for support in the Campus Access Concerns. I wish I hadn’t furiously recycled it after reading it, but I do remember you saying that you were not going to “give in” to these secular university pressures, forcing you to allow anybody to serve as leaders regardless of spiritual background.

That is not the whole story, InterVarsity. They are not asking you to let Wiccan students lead Christian Bible studies; they are not asking you to “give in” to religious pluralism.

Tufts University. SUNY Buffalo. Vanderbilt University. What do these universities and their InterVarsity chapters have in common?

Discrimination against gay students. But why was that nowhere in the letter you sent me?

InterVarsity, you tended to and watered a very empathetic heart in me. You fueled my fire to serve among the least of these, to love those that are outcasted, treated differently, and ignored. You are the reason why I stand beside my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as a straight ally and ask to be heard. In so many ways, this is the Jesus you taught me about, one that would do the exact same.

Where is the transparency? What is with all the theatrics and playing the victim of discrimination from secular universities? Do you not know that hate crimes against LGBTQ currently far outnumber religious hate crimes in the United States? How dare you play the victim in a battle that you have barely started to fight when my friends in the LGBTQ community have struggle far worse discrimination, even to the point of violence and even death?

You have every right to be an organization on every campus. You have every freedom to tell the world about this amazing Jesus that you told me about. But, if you do not begin to open your arms and begin conversations of love towards the LGBTQ community, nobody will hear about him. All they will hear is rejection.

It pains me when I hear my LGBTQ friends talk about their experience with the church. It saddens me when I hear them say, “You can’t change something that is part of their religious beliefs” because I don’t believe it is. Rejection, discrimination, being a stumbling block in someone’s journey to know God is not part of our beliefs. And I don’t want the rest of the world to continue thinking it is.

Tonight, Grace Cathedral will be marching alongside our LGBT friends. They will be wearing these t-shirts:

Faith Demands Justice

Faith Demands Justice

This is what I remember learning about in InterVarsity. This is the stance I thought InterVarsity would take. This is the perspective I hold in my heart as a result of the years I spent as a Bible study leader and intern. This is my plea to you: remember shalom.

With Much Love,

The Girl Who Wrote This Blog Entry That Also Ruffled Your Feathers

Being An Ally

After much introspection, I’ve finally been able to name why I am so passionate about equal rights for the LGBTQ community. When I came out as a straight ally (which is a real process, mind you; I checked with PFLAG) by telling everybody to stop getting their panties in a bunch over Chick-Fil-A, it was my first step to truly understanding why I care.

I once wrote a poem about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr when I was 11-years-old. It was along the lines of wanting to go back in time to meet him. I know there’s different opinions to comparing the civil rights movement of the 60s to the LGBTQ movement of today, but bear with me for a second. At the end of the day, the bottom line is that we are fighting for people to be treated equally, for humans to be looked at as human.

I became a Christian in junior high, but I’ve cared about equal rights for way earlier than puberty. And it’s dawned on me why: I grew up as a minority in a small town.

I was treated differently for the color of my skin, the shape of my eyes, and the language I spoke at home to my immigrant parents. Granted, I made friends and didn’t experience violence for being “different” but I knew real well what it felt like to be discriminated against.

We talk about microaggressions during trainings at my field practicum and in my classes about social justice. We don’t realize we do it, but we say ignorantly hurtful and oppressive things every day. Whether it’s other kids asking me if I ate dog or someone making an ignorant comment in my class about how “research says gay men can’t stay loyal in relationships” (that pissed me off so bad that I said that straight men don’t have a great track record either and that is no reason for us to ban them from getting married too and questioned the source of said “research,” but I digress) we are subtly shaping how someone else feels society responds to them.

I am truly thankful to have such an amazing field practicum for my final semesters of my graduate program, working at an LGBTQ counseling agency. I can resonate with President Obama’s process of becoming an ally too; it started with my childhood compassion for civil rights, to my annoyance at people putting so much pressure on a stupid chicken sandwich.

So now I am at a place where I constantly wrestle with what some of my Christian peers say and think and what my heart deeply feels. And I also strongly believe God gave me this heart.

And the tables are turned at my internship but with a huge surprise: while I may be a sexual minority at my practicum (being the only straight cisgender female there), I am accepted, loved, welcomed and treated equally. I only wish our lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, queer, intersex brothers and sisters could have that same comfort in our “straight” workplaces.

Honestly, I often times think that the root of most prejudice is birthed from ignorance. The majority of people who I know that have an anti-gay agenda also know very few gay people, have no knowledge of current research or are not as educated in general. This may sound pretentious of me (and I think I could care less at this point) but I’ve noticed that the more educated someone is, the more culturally competent and understanding they are of diversity.

We forget how similar we all actually are as human beings. An amazing woman and writer, Maya Angelou, once said: While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation. Just because someone doesn’t like what you like, eat what you eat, believe in the same god you do, listen to the same music you do doesn’t make them any less human than you or me.

The moment we stop trying to say that there is only one right way to be and stop trying to make everybody just like ourselves, we will truly find peace. We can start by watching what we say, be aware of the microaggressions, and being willing to learn about something new.