Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Teenage Identity Crisis

Every kid reaches that age where they struggle to discover who they really are. It is natural to the process of growing up. We stop defining ourselves by our family, and start defining ourselves by our friends. We naturally want to push the limits, push our bodies, and push the rules. During this time, our dreams and feelings are larger than life, and Oh-so-real. Parents often make the mistake of shrugging off the teenage years as a “faze” in which their kids are overcome by hormones. They often chuckle behind closed doors about the latest “teenage moment” and make their kids feel patronized and misunderstood. Parents long for the day that their teen’s hormone levels will normalize and they will have an adult on their hands instead of a large, moody child. Talking and listening to your teenager is the best thing you can do for them. As young adults, all we want is to be taken seriously, and to be heard. The teenage years are a beautiful, fragile time in which children become adults.

In a Fundamentalist Christian household, the teenage years can be a very different story. My parents didn’t want their daughters to grow up. Ever. We were trained to serve and submit from an early age. Pushing the limits was NEVER tolerated. Emotions were either irrelevant, or labeled as rebellion. As early as age 11, I remember having those “teenage moments” of huge emotion. Like every kid, I felt misunderstood and unjustly suppressed. Instead of being asked how I felt, or what was wrong, I was taught that my emotions were the manifestation of my sinful nature.

Tired and sore in all the wrong places? Laziness, Sloth.
Sad, depressed? = Bad Attitude, Selfishness.
Anger? = Rebellion.

Whenever I showed emotion, my mother would be disappointed. “this is isn’t the Sarah I know!” she would say. “who are you trying to imitate?” She wouldn’t let me see my friends anymore. Not even my cousins. Because I was “copying” them and not acting like the sweet happy daughter she knew. Instead of asking me what was wrong, or how I felt, she questioned my identity. As a teenager, I was already struggling to discover myself. She told me that she knew me better than anyone else. I tried so hard to be who she wanted me to be. How could she love someone who wasn’t her daughter anymore? I second guessed every word I said. I was paranoid that my motives were impure, that I was a copy cat, that I had no personality. I am still struggling to trust myself, all these years later.
 I remember at around age 13 I rolled my eyes at my dad. This was a BIG no-no. Sighing, stomping, folding my arms, and rolling my eyes were all deserving of a spanking. He grew angry and ordered me to come to him for a spanking. The injustice of it all welled up in my chest and I suddenly shouted out “No!” He was shocked. I was terrified. My legs took over and I took off running down the hall. I had never run from him before. He caught me, in what turned out to be one of my worst memories of my dad. He grabbed me by the arm and threw me into the bathroom. I tried to apologize, but he mashed my face into the corner. I screamed and I cried and I begged, and I hated myself for every “I’m sorry” and every “please stop.” I had hand prints on my arms and bruising on my face. The wooden spoon left bruises all over my newly developing body. And I hated myself. My mouth had betrayed me. If I hadn’t shouted that word this would never have happened. My body had betrayed me as well. If I hadn’t ran away, my punishment would not have been so severe.

 I hated myself for not having total control over my sin nature. I started cutting myself. I picked apart shavers with a pair of tweezers and saved the individual razor blades. It was freeing to exercise this type of control. It was like bleeding out all my emotions so they could not cause me problems throughout the day. It was freeing, it was addicting, it was frightening. My body learned to crave punishment, and I learned to oblige. When growth spurts made me so hungry it hurt, I agonize over every bite I ate. I would stare for hours in the mirror, begging for the courage to deny myself these gluttonous urges. I cut myself again and again. For every extra bite, for every surge of anger, for every misplaced tear.

My parents were happy with me. I was showing self control. I was being their sweet compliant daughter again. My mother was happy to have me back. She thought she knew me so well. Thought she had encouraged me right back into the girl I used to be. But every conversation was tailored to please. I had no idea who I was anymore. I was a bloody, torn mess, buried under a hard shell called Self Control.

 Parents, your children are going to change. Please let them. Don’t pretend to know them. Ask them questions, listen to them talk, and understand that their reality is just as important as your own. Don’t use the teenage identity crisis as an excuse to avoid meaningful conversation. You’re children will grow and change whether you want them to or not.

If you want to have any influence on the rest of their lives, embrace them for who they are.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Anonymous Letters From Myself

I am my own worst enemy.

Since I set out on this journey of self discovery, i have uncovered massive amounts of self-doubt. It permeates almost every part of my life. Honestly, I'm amazed I had the courage to fall in love last year with so much subconscious struggle going on. I have discovered that i constantly doubt my own intelligence. I dislike my writing, i HATE my body, and I don't trust my decisions. Believe it or not, I am not a quiet, introverted girl with no confidence. I am very active and outgoing. But on the inside, I am always reminding myself that I'm not actually interesting, pretty, or talented. Every compliment is a lie.

Sometimes my inner demons keep me from doing things I love, like writing. I throw away a hundred pages because i tell myself it's not good enough. I could be standing on the edge of something great, and i will refuse to jump, for fear of failure.

Sometimes, my inner demons drag me down. I spend days, weeks, stuck in depression, because my mind wont stop reminding me of that extra pound, that unwanted hair, that belt that doesn't fit anymore.
Where does my mind find the words to say the things that hurt me? I battle with myself every single day just to stay "Okay," just to keep my head above the water.

I have come to see my "inner demons" as a daily anonymous letter. You know, the kind that's been pieced together with glue from a million different magazines by an unknown perpetrator in black gloves. After a year of scrutinizing these "letters," I have begun to see a pattern. Every word of every line is something i have heard before. I am not smart enough to do well in math? My Dad said that once. I'm clumsy and unattractive? Thanks Mom. They probably didn't know that i was subconsciously recording every word they said, and didn't say. As a kid, everything i did was either to please them or spite them. I thought i was over by now. I don't need their approval anymore, even my dad saying he loves me has little to no effect now. So why are their voices still playing on a loop in my head? Why is every day a struggle against careless words from years passed?
Today I learned that the mean voice in my head is not my own. I am not fighting myself, I am fighting my past and all the lies it holds. My inner demons are just the echoing voices of everyone who ever doubted me. My self hatred is not based on facts or reality. I am not fat, or stupid, or worthless.
I'm sure my mind will keep sending me hate mail. Carefully constructed pages full of words and memories that bring me pain and shame. But now I understand that they are not worth reading.

I hope i will be strong enough to just throw them all out.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


After the falling-out with my mother, she emailed me and asked me to "agree to disagree." Told me in no uncertain terms that she was not going to change her mind. I began to have nightmares. For three nights in a row i woke up crying. My dreams were filled with terrible, unspeakably graphic horrors. I will spare you the details that still make me shudder, but the underlying theme is important. In every dream, someone i loved was being hurt, and i was powerless to stop it. I screamed and no-one listened. My parents looked away and said it was under control. I woke up every morning overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness.

Last weekend a dear friend of mine was murdered in the crossfire of a gang war. At the funeral on Wednesday, there was more than just grief. There was palpable anger, and hopelessness. A child in a casket, so wrong, so senseless. A group of noisy young men stalked past the funeral home towards the end of the day with visible markings on their clothes. Gang members. Loose clothes easily concealing the guns they most likely carried. I wanted to scream, shake them, force them to see the damage they had caused. Don't they know there is more to life than these few city blocks? How many people need to die for them to get the point? I left that night, overwhelmed with a feeling of hopelessness.

We all yearn for a better future. Humans constantly seek to better themselves, to make a difference, to right what is wrong. But for every step forward, we fall 2 steps back. As humans we are capable of feeding someone who is hungry, but tomorrow, another person will die of starvation. I could devote my life to helping humanity, but in the end, I will die, and my dreams will die with me.The truth is, that my love is not enough. I am not big enough to hold every broken person in my arms. I am not strong enough to carry every burden and dry every tear. I cannot promise every grieving mother she will see her baby again someday. I cannot stop that boy from pulling the trigger. I cannot heal 6 billion broken hearts.

But God can.

His love is big enough to heal the hurt in every heart. We should never stop striving to make this world a better place. I am not suggesting that we sit back and hope God will feed hungry people. But don't you think a satisfied heart will last much longer than a satisfied stomach? Maybe we should do what Jesus did and share God along with our bread and fish.

"Find rest, oh my soul, in God alone. my hope comes from him. Trust in him at all times, Oh people, pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. One thing God has spoken, two things have i heard: that you oh God are strong, and that you, Oh Lord, are loving." - Psalms 62.

Do you think that God is enough to heal 6 billion hearts? Do you think that you are enough?

Monday, July 11, 2011


On Friday night, a dear friend of mine was murdered in the crossfire of a gang fight. He was only 18 years old. A world Champion kick boxer, coach, friend, and to me: a brother. We trained together for almost 4 years. He was family to me. His loss is devestating to all of us who knew and loved him. This is a note a put on facebook. There isn't much more i can say. I miss you Anthony.

I remember the two of us sitting on the curb outside the gym, waiting for our rides. We were both too young to drive. He was always singing. When i hear that song i remember when it was stuck in my head for days. His big dumb grin, so contagious, keeps playing in my head like a slideshow. Why did he have to go? Because someone never learned the value of a life? At 18, he was already on his way to great things. He was an athlete, a coach, and a World Champion Kick-Boxer. Is it all over now? Is he really gone forever? That bullet left an irreplaceable hole in our lives, but nobody can take away the  beautiful mark that Anthony left on our hearts. He is more than just a memory to me, to all of us he is still a son, a friend, and a brother. He will always be the inspiration, in our corner of the ring. We will always love him, always miss him, always remember him. Rest in Peace Anthony Fearn. 7.9.2011.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Why am I not enough?

I don't remember how it came up. But somehow i got the courage to mention the research I'd done on spanking. Maybe i mis-judged her voice through the phone, but I thought my mom sounded receptive, almost interested.
I talked about the bible. And she even agreed that God never mandated spanking. I felt affirmed, hopeful that just maybe she would listen. Maybe i could save my baby sisters and brothers. Maybe they would just stop.
I shared my research in detail. Science suggests that ALL spanking is dangerous. There is no "right way" to spank. Even the bible is against it.
I told her about the sexual effects of spanking. About how even the gentlest of spankings can lead to permanent sexual damage and confusion. Children can  Subconsciously link sexual feelings with violence and degradation.

"That's not accurate. Children can link those things even if they're not spanked"
"Because of our culture! The media!"

I pressed on. I risked it. I told her about me. About how even normal everyday spankings, the ones that never left a bruise, were terrible for me. My feelings of self hatred were birthed on the floor in the bathroom, waiting for mom to come with the spanking spoon. How my earliest experiences with my sexuality revolved around pain, around violence, around shame. It was hard for me to say, SO hard, but i just kept thinking of my sister: So much like me. Too much like me....

"The bible teaches us gentleness. And respect. It is a basic human right to NOT be hit."

She became immediately defensive.

"Oh so you think I'm a violent parent? You're saying i don't respect my kids?"

"I know you only did what you thought was right, but now I'm giving you new information. Every person in America has the right to not be hit except children. If children are people too, i think they should have the same rights"

She told me this was just a knee jerk reaction.

"Just because your dad messed up a few times your freaking out and going in the exact opposite direction. Everybody does this. You'll understand someday when you're a parent"

"Mom, I've done the research. That just doesn't make sense"

"Well you've obviously been brainwashed"


My heart was sinking. Fast.
She rambled on, using all the old HSLDA rhetoric I've heard so many times. I know that argument backwards. I've changed my mind because now I've finally seen the rest of the facts. I've seen how i am affected. I only said something because i cant stand the thought of my siblings having to feel the way that i feel.

"You're obviously having issues, Sarah. I think you need to take this to God"

I was crying now. Desperate for her to hear me, begging her to not shut down on me.

"I have mom. I have! Listen to me please. I understand if you don't believe the research. Interpret the bible however you want to, but can you please just ignore all that  for a moment and HEAR me? I am your daughter and spanking HURT me. So why wont you just stop?!"

I was sobbing, shaking, pleading.

"Why is that not enough?"

In the silence that followed, I let my heart believe that she had heard me. That a 25-year-old mistake could not be stronger than my mother's love. I had bared my soul. I had begged her. She had no choice but to listen, right?

Wrong. She spoke again. Bitter. Angry. Sarcastic.

"Well I'm so sorry I ruined your life, Sarah. Obviously we just hate you right? is that what you wanted to hear me say?"

She continued, but i could no longer speak. Choked by tears, I whispered that i had to go and hung up the phone. My heart is still breaking at this fresh memory.

I am your daughter and you hurt me. Even if you never hit me, just making me stand, bent over your knee, would have been too much. Even if i didn't have any evidence, I am LIVING proof that your method didn't work. So why don't you just stop? Why is my word, my pain, my HEART, still not enough for you?

(By the way, this all took place just last night. I am still reeling from the shock. I am so disappointed, I don't even know what to say)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Walking In The Spirit

"Are you walking in the spirit? If you stay close to God, he will show you what he wants you to do."

My mom said this in an email to me last week. As i read it, i was suddenly overcome with anger and guilt. Guilt because i am certainly not "walking in the spirit." I haven't prayed in weeks. Guilt because reading the bible secretly makes me squirm. Guilt because i would rather hear God explain himself to me than beg and plead with him to tell me what HE wants. And Anger. Anger because her admonitions still make me feel small. Anger at God. Because, as usual, He's upset with me. Impatient, threatening to leave me if i don't get back to working on our relationship.

I was raised to believe that only a few were going to heaven. We were disdainful of those who believed they were saved by "works". but we simultaneously judged the state of a persons salvation based on how they lived their lives. We were told that true believers were always full of the spirit. If we were real Christians, all we would ever want to talk about would be God.
I am not exactly displaying the fruits of the spirit these days. I imagine that's why my mother is so concerned. I am not bursting with joy, my heart is often far from peaceful, and talking about God makes me uncomfortable, and sad.

Sometimes i wish i could just toss it all out and forget about religion. But I can't. Somewhere in the midst of the lies my parents told me, I caught a glimpse of God that was strong enough to make me stay. I have been comforted by God. I have seen him change lives, i have felt the joy of trusting him. But most of all, I see my husband.

My husband: The product of a broken family. Tumult and pain color the story of his past. He is analytical, He is a skeptic, and He is a christian. Strong and quietly passionate, He sees the loving God I have always searched for. His God is the calm in the storm. The peace and hope that changed his life. I have brushed shoulders with this God and been blown away by his goodness.

I want to learn about this God. If he's really who i think he is, then He has nothing to hide. I can face my demons, I can rest, and heal, and take my time. And He's not going to threaten me, or leave me, or even disapprove of me. If God is who i think he is, then he knows my heart, he understands my pain, and nothing else matters.

So mom, don't question my salvation. Don't tell me what God wants. Because you don't know and you never have. It's always just been you, attributing your human concerns and emotions to God.

  My husband tells me that God is not a human. He doesn't react like mothers and fathers do: with impatience, disappointment, and threats. I don't have to earn His love. My Husband's God IS love, and He would literally wait forever, just for me.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Mall

                                                I am
Swimming in a sea
   of people
        With a friend
We Are                             Surrounded

By the sights
   and smells of
     the weekend
Must be home                         By

    11:00 Curfew
Point at the photo-booth
       Boy kisses Girl
Classic story of                     Love

    4 new chick flicks in
The Theatre, Lets just
Shop. Please. Another
        Young couple,
On a bench                           But

Not exactly average
    Their fingers meshed
           Together over her
Pregnant belly, both             Completely

    I almost linger
          A whiff of perfume
(a friend?) grabs my
Arm. Wont shop                 Alone.

(I didnt have anything ready to post today so i went looking through my old high school diary. This is a poem i  wrote my senior year.)