Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Justin’s story


I Still Live In His Shadow: Living With Someone With Mental Illness

I have so many questions…


Did he love me? Was his abuse part of his mental illness? Was it because there, was darkness in him? I’ll never really know the answer to these questions because you see…my father is dead.

April 8, 2003 my father killed himself. In that short span of time that we knew my father was bipolar before he killed himself, I had only just begun to reorient myself and my understanding of his past actions with the new knowledge of his mental illness. And now, 11 years later I’m still more full of questions than answers. Every day I’ll remember the hurt I felt and the times I hated my father, but I’ll also remember those moments when he said “I love you,” and I know he meant it, when he hugged me, and when we laughed together.

To live with someone with mental illness can be a constant question mark. You’re never sure the person you’re going to get. My father had two faces, the father I know loved me, and the father who was always angry with me, was verbally and sometimes physically abusive.

To blame all that on bipolar disorder though is to dehumanize many good people who struggle with bipolar disorder but show no signs of abusiveness or hurtfulness. I think if anything, and realize I say this uncertainly, that my father was on the more manic spectrum of it. He had it very strongly. He also had faced many losses in his life, from a wife and daughter killed in a car crash, to a girlfriend he’d proposed to killing herself, and a struggling marriage with my stepmom.

I don’t know enough about bipolar disorder to really pick up the pieces of these experiences and make any sense of them. I don’t know what was him, and what was his illness. All I know is that these experiences happened, and I still carry the wounds, the pain, the hurt, and the fear that comes from living as a child in such an uncertain family environment.

There’s a saying, a french proverb, “to understand all is to forgive all.” yet I’m not sure if it’s as easy as all that. Many times we’re not given all the pieces with which to understand enough to forgive, and often understanding makes it harder to forgive. I’ve forgiven my father hundreds of times, sometimes feeling more understanding than others, and sometimes just knowing it was what I needed to feel at peace that day, to let go and step outside of the shadow of so much broken past.

Yet sometimes that shadow is so hard to get away from. I want to remember my dad, I want to still love him, to have memories, and it’s hard to remember the good things without slipping into some of the bad as well. To remember my father, to admit how deeply his existence molded my own is to admit that there is very little room between the good and bad, and the mold is so deeply intertwined of both of them that if I was to try to pry apart I’d end up losing him altogether.

And I won’t do that.

For some they have to, for some even a family member needs to be completely let go of…for some love of the enemy is to just simply forget they ever existed, and not desire their eternal torture. For me forgiveness and love of my father means knowing the darkness and the light…letting it sit there, with all its questions and uncertainties, and just be. He was my father and I will always love him, even the jagged edges which cut me.

Most of all, when looking back on that suicide, I see the hope for healing. I’d seen my father descend deeper and deeper into sadness. He was less angry and more just deeply depressed, like all he’d loved was slipping through his fingers, even me. Even as I sat there with him, not knowing what words to say, I knew he felt he’d lost me too. And I hope whatever came the other side of death is healing all that pain.

I don’t pretend to understand it all, and I never will. It just is. Living with someone with mental illness doesn’t come with a manual. It is a daily uncertainty, and more questions than answers. But there is hope too, even if it’s a dim hope. Many people find a sense of peace, and healing, even this side of death, and I think that the medical field is making great strides in helping people cope.

For me I’ll probably never get those answers or resolution many others find. I have far too many pieces of a past that was cut off far too soon to do so. I can’t talk to dad now, or hear his voice, and mostly what I have is a jumbled mess of feelings…but to be honest, I’d rather have that than to have never known him at all. His shadow will always be over my life, a presence always there, in good and bad ways, and I am glad to have known him.

579886_716572302406_1763017609_nJustin is a writer who lives in Washington State, and is studying to be a librarian. He blogs at in his free time.

This concludes the series Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness. Thanks so much for reading and witnessing the brave writers share their stories!

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Aaron’s story


It’s more than grumpy.

It’s the panic attacks we have lived through. It’s the darkness of the depression. It’s the cutting. It’s the days I have missed work to be home with her because I was scared to leave her alone. It’s the irrational arguments. It’s the stress and anxiety. It’s more than just grumpy.

My wife is diagnosed with general Anxiety disorder, PTSD, agoraphobia, OCD, and depression.

It is hard sharing a house with these illnesses. It’s hard sharing my wife with these illnesses. But that is the reality of living with my wife who has a mental illness. I have to share her with her disease.  It’s hard sharing my wife with such an invisible illness.

I forget that her anger is not always at me, and sometimes is just there and irrational. I forget that she lives in a more heightened state of anxiety than I do. I forget that she has trauma to work through. I don’t mean to forget, but I do.

I love my wife. Even with the hard stuff, I am determined to be a better husband. See, I have to share her with her mental illness, and she has to share me with mine. We are both living with someone with a mental illness.

Sometimes our moods clash and we fight. Sometimes my apathy feeds her self-worth issues. Sometimes I don’t know what to do when she is having a panic attack. Sometimes my mood swings drive her up the wall. It’s all part of navigating living with mental illness.

There are always good times. My wife is an amazing mom, and I love seeing her play, teach and love on our boys. There are dance parties, Lego building, and coloring. It’s not always this hard, oppressive thing to live with my wife and her mental illness.

Understanding mental illness has meant that I know there is no quick fix to make my wife “better”.  There is treatment, therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyles that contribute to her health and fight the hard stuff. It’s a long term thing though, and that means that we live through the hard stuff knowing that it isn’t forever, no matter how much it feels that way.

The hard stuff will come and go, and it has gotten easier over time, both with us learning how to navigate her mental illness and because of the ongoing treatment and therapy she is involved in.

No matter how hard it is in the moment, it gets easier.  I don’t want to paint a bleak picture of living with someone with mental illness, but the reality for me is that it is hard. Not impossible or too much, just hard.

I need the support of family and friends, just as Sarah does, as we live through this illness.If you know someone who is living with a mental illness or living with someone with a mental illness, please be there for them.

It’s a tricky, rough road to walk, and the love and support you can give is important. Don’t cut them off. Instead, be there as Christ would be. I love my wife and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the world. Even with her mental illness, she is one of the best people I have ever known. Her mental illness can’t change that, no matter how hard it can be to live with.

13135602724_81a94d47fc_zAaron is a husband, father, believer, writer, nerd, coffee chugger. Just a typical Jesus obsessed, question everything, bipolar, poet-punk. You can find his blog here and he’s on twitter @culturalsavage

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Caris’ Story


I Have to Try


It’s the dreams that remind me how much I’ve been affected. The frequent dreams where I am yelling, but it’s hoarse. Where I’m trying to explain, but no sound comes out.

I rage and yell and cry, but I stammer and the worlds barely squeak out, and it’s so frustrating. It’s like the dreams I have where I put my contacts in but still can’t see. I can talk but I have no voice.

I wake up shaken, feeling as though I’ve been through battle, but of course I haven’t. Nothing has changed. I’m still affected by my past, my present, and she has no idea.

The daily habits I grew up with, the events that make my memories aren’t even blips on her radar because they didn’t matter to her like they mattered to me.

She is the center of her own universe and I orbited her, pulled in by a force I couldn’t seem to resist.

Coming to realize that I grew up in the shadow of someone else’s mental illness made me realize that my normal isn’t everyone’s normal, that my normal wasn’t normal or healthy or safe.

My dreams – even nightmares – remind me that the panic and fear I grew up with are still in me, and maybe they won’t ever be rooted out.

They are a reminder of how hard it is to claim my voice, of how hard it is to fight the fear and the darkness.

But if having a parent with an undiagnosed mental illness has taught me anything, it’s that I know I have to try.

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:

CarisProfilezoomCaris Adel is a recent transplant to the Tidewater region of Virginia. She homeschools her 5 kids, and is on a constant search to disrupt her status quo. She writes at and tweets @carisadel

My 816 square feet


I’ve been meaning to write about our little “house” for a while now and when the opportunity to write a (de)tales post for my friend Cara’s blog came up I took it.

Here’s a teaser:

My cool architect brother-in-law would call our home a ‘two flat’ – we call it a really small upstairs. When we first moved in, people would often ask how we could live in such a small space. “Wow, good for you,” they would say.  Or a friend would allude to “what’s next?” because this could never be a long term housing solution for four people.  It played on my insecurity of raising a family in a small (and poorly laid out), rented, half-a-house. I knew it would be a while before we could afford anything bigger to rent, let alone buy, especially because the average price of a barely livable home in Vancouver is nearing 1 million dollars.

To read the rest and check out Cara’s great blog click here.

Living with Someone Else’s Mental Illness – Esther’s Story


When Jane invited me to write for this series I shot back a long list of things that I couldn’t possibly write about. Whole sections of my childhood are marked out in red pen. I thought I might post anonymously, but then I found it hard to disguise my voice. I thought about writing theoretically, in broad and general terms, but that didn’t seem to do justice to Jane’s vulnerable post last week.


In the end, I decided to tell the truth, as best I can, about my mother.

Many people know that my mother was a writer. She was a public figure. She was funny on TV. She had amazing gifts. Her vulnerable and courageous writing still touches people’s hearts today, even ten years after her death.

Not as many people know my mother’s struggles. She was a person for whom the boundaries of reality and fantasy were permeable. She lived with fear, and her fears were often things no other adult could understand to be true. I later came to call them by the name delusions.

As a child I was intensely close to my mother. I knew how to spot her moods coming. I comforted her. I used what skills I had to keep our family in safe situations, to cover for her when I could, and to prevent the knowledge or intervention of CPS.

As a teenager I broke free. I was fully independent at age 16 and didn’t speak to my mother for years. It was a deep struggle for me, to make sense of it all. It took years of personal work, including professional help, to throw off my mother’s version of the world and see instead with my own eyes, which are not clouded (or gifted) in the same way as hers.

I have walked through anger and confusion. I expected mental illness in myself, and when it didn’t come, I felt relief but also a confusing sense of wrongdoing on my own part, even betrayal. I have not expected others to understand these things. I have kept my secrets well, and felt lonely in them.

I don’t believe there are easy answers, in the question of privacy and someone else’s mental illness. Confidentiality is no joke in the realm of mental competency. These assertions can lose people jobs, right to self-determination, mutual respect. They can bring on criticism, public shaming and disdain that could trigger dangerous episodes of depression, rage, and violence.

But what I most want to share is none of that. It is not the story of loneliness or even confusion. I think loneliness and confusion are nearly universal in the human journey, don’t you? What I want to share is the gifts I have received, being the child of a guardian with mental illness.

These are complicated gifts, but also precious ones. They are tolerance, patience, and compassion. They are the ability to see deep, through the brokenness of the day to day into the beauty of the heart within. They are a nuanced understanding of able-ness, the wisdom that an intelligence that doesn’t fit inside the box of “normalcy” is an intelligence that brings alternate, challenging and possibly much needed perspective.

My mother’s readers were touched and blessed by the very same vulnerability that made it hard for her to sustain relationships, intermittently impossible for her to put a meal on the table or keep a job.

Today my own readers are touched and blessed by the very same depth and compassion I learned from her, being her child, her dependent, her human companion.

My mother came with lots of jagged edges. She wasn’t always a safe place for me. In fact, often she wasn’t. I grieved what mental illness took from her (and by extension, from me) long before she died.

But it never took her humanity. And humanity is a bottomless and never ending gift.

These days I hear often that I look like my mother. Except, actually, not so much after I cut my hair. Still, I hear that I write like my mother. I am radical like my mother. I love words and dirt and animals like my mother.

I am like her, and yet I never could or had to go the places that she went. Now I carry her in my body, like all daughters carry their mothers: sometimes an encouragement and sometimes a devastating weight.

This was the woman that was my mother: human, flawed, extraordinary, vulnerable and loved.

A new post will come out every Monday. Never miss one by signing up here:


estheremerywriterEsther Emery used to be a freelance theatre director in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life on her blog. Connect on Twitter @EstherEmery.

Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage – The Series (Jeremy Cushman)


Welcome Jeremy Cushman to my blog today. He is the last weekly blogger in my series. I’m still keeping the series open but will have people on a less regular (probably monthly) basis.  I’ve enjoyed Jeremy’s seminary tweets, especially because went to seminary before twitter and often wonder what it would have been like to tweet the experience.  I love Jeremy’s take on the essentials vs. non-essentials and the slippery slope. Enjoy!

“It is the glory of God to conceal things,

but the glory of kings is to search things out.” – Proverbs 25:2

  In 2009, I had made the choice to continue attending a church whose pastor did not believe a really important doctrine, an “essential,” as another pastor of another church described it to me. When talking with a friend, I had confessed that I agreed with my pastor – that this “essential” doctrine wasn’t so essential. My friend told me, “What if you don’t go to heaven because of this?”

Doctrines are funny little things. They can bring communities together and reaffirm what is most important in the world. Or they can split apart families, leaving one or both sides saying about the other, “They’ve gone astray.” When I had made up my mind to stick with this pastor who didn’t believe in the “essential” doctrine (which, by the way, said absolutely nothing about Jesus), I was acting on what I believe to be most valuable to God: searching things out. “You’re walking on a slippery slope,” this other pastor told me, as if pushing people out of a church when Jesus welcomes everyone in wasn’t a slippery slope.

Instead of being encouraged to pursue the questions and doubts that I had – things that are actually much closer to faith than they are unbelief – I was cast out. No, no one ever told me I wasn’t welcome to their essentials-believing church, but they certainly expected me to agree with their doctrinal statements by the time I left. I knew that as long as I was reading books from “heretics” and being guided by my non-“essentials”-believing pastor, I would never be a true Christian in their eyes.

I’d be someone who lost their way.

Funny thing is, ever since I made up my mind in 2009, I have never, not even for a moment, felt lost. Sitting through religious studies classes at a liberal arts university was something I relished especially when we studied texts that seemed to undermine my faith in Jesus. I enjoyed those moments because no matter how unsettling they may have been, I always felt God’s presence.

I was always reminded that faith isn’t placed in doctrines and belief statements made up by a few pastors in a church with high walls. Faith is placed in God. And if there is any one place where God is, it is the place that society has deemed “dangerous.” This means, of course, that God is on the slippery slopes.

It is not as though I haven’t made mistakes; I’ve made plenty. But those mistakes had nothing to do with walking onto the “slippery slope.” They had everything to do with me making a choices driven by selfishness – choices that placed my needs and wants above anybody else’s. My mistakes were a matter of behavior, not belief. As far as beliefs are concerned, there was never a slippery slope. In fact, if anything, the path got a little straighter. What once was mud became dry ground – cool and refreshing to the touch, but firm and supportive for the walk.

The bags I had carried – bags filled with all the beliefs and ideas and books that I thought were “right,” “true,” and “doctrinally sound” – were left behind, opened and emptied in the mud. All I had with me was a bag of snacks and a walking stick, like a Hobbit returning to The Shire. The journey has still been difficult, but it has also been much easier. Now having completed my first year of seminary, I no longer resent all that had happened with that “essential” belief. Although it caused a lot of chaos at the time and, in a way, led to the closure of my church, I am glad that I chose the slippery slope.

I am glad because my journey would have been so different. I would have kept walking around in circles, coming across the same piles of mud again and again. I might have had the approval of the church with the high walls, but I wouldn’t have much of a faith. And I definitely would not have gone on to seminary. Beliefs are incredibly important, do not get me wrong. Yet when these beliefs cause us to act in the opposite way that God wants us to act, although we may feel like we’re defending the faith, we are, in actuality, becoming the kinds of people Jesus preached against most: hypocrites.

In my journey on the “slippery slope,” I have been befriended by people who love first and ask for belief statements never. Instead of condemning me to hell, they’re too busy removing all the hoops that others created to “weed out the weak.” And instead of warning me of dangerous ideas, they’re grabbing my hand saying, “Hold on tight.” In this community of “wayward” travelers, of “slippery slope” dwellers, I have found a home. As the above Proverb points out, God has hidden things and, like one giant Easter-egg hunt, wants us to find them.

God wants us to search things out.

God bless.


Wedding Toaster 2

Jeremy lives in Tigard, Oregon, where he attends George Fox Evangelical Seminary earning his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. When not watching Doctor Who or Sherlock, he writes about theology, faith, and biblical studies over at And practically at any point of the day, he’ll be on Twitter as @JeremyCushman

Blowing up Evangelical Baggage – The Series (Carly Gelsinger)


I am thankful that I found Carly Gelsinger on Twitter this year (I know, you are sick of hearing about how much I love the twitter). She was eager to share her story in this series and as you read you will see why.  You can read more from Carly on her beautiful blog. You will find other tales of baggage being blown up, mothering triumphs and woes and essentials like references to Tina Fey.

In my Christian circle, I knew there was one thing I was never, ever supposed to do. I heard sermons on it. I read books on it. I went on entire retreats and conferences entirely dedicated to it.

You guys know that I’m talking about S-E-X.

There were a lot of don’ts and dos for a young woman in my church. Don’t drink. Do read your bible everyday. Don’t swear. Do witness to your friends. Don’t play cards. Do go on missions trips.  Don’t dress immodestly. Do hold your hand to your chest when you bend over so men won’t see your cleavage. Don’t drink. Do go to church at least twice a week.

But above all else, there was One Big Don’t:

Don’t have sex.

And One Big Do:

Do stay pure.

I remember the first time I saw the “paper heart” object lesson, in which a youth speaker glued two construction paper hearts together and then ripped them apart. Both pieces of paper were torn and broken with remnants of fibers from the other piece, symbolizing what happens when we give ourselves away. Broken, damaged, worthless. I took this lesson to heart.

A diehard disciple, I not only read I Kissed Dating Goodbye, but Joshua Harris’ follow-up book, Not Even a Hint: Guarding Your Heart Against Lust, which told me that a True Virgin does a lot more than just not have sex. A True Virgin guards their heart against lust in all forms.

I tried really hard to attain the True Virgin status, which wasn’t easy. It required a lot of prayer, a lot of guilt, a lot of fabric covering my body, and a lot of memorizing Scripture. It is one of the reasons I clung to God so fiercely those years. I needed God on the narrow road of staying a True Virgin.

I was told it would all be worth it, that I was protecting my future marriage.

And then at 22, I walked down the aisle in a white dress. All of a sudden, I was not only allowed, but also supposed to have sex all the time. This was nice and all.

But the problem was I didn’t know how to be a Christian anymore.

My spiritual identity had been all wrapped up in the Don’t Have Sex rule. It was a tool I used to test true teenage orthodoxy – the purer you were, the more serious you were about God. How can I prove I’m serious about God if I’m not a True Virgin anymore? This question set my faith crisis was in motion. If my purity defined my faith, how now do I relate to God?

The baggage I did carry into my marriage was not from my “slip-ups,” such as the boyfriends I had before my husband or the suggestive poster of Johnny Depp I taped to my dorm room wall. As backwards as this sounds to anyone with my background, my real baggage was my purity.

But God is all about starting over. As I rebuild my faith from the ground up, my focus is wholeness. I want to know God when I think, when I write, when I change diapers, when I feel lost, and when I make love. My sexuality is important, but my faith doesn’t begin and end with it as I thought for so long. I am throwing my skewed and lopsided faith before God, saying “here, take all of this and please make something beautiful from it.” And God is doing just that – blowing up my baggage one piece at a time, and replacing it with something good.

My new faith is shaky, but it is real and encompasses the whole of me. It’s rooted in something deep, something untameable, and something bigger than purity and all the Dos and Don’ts and all other things I tried to make it before.





 Carly lives in California with her husband and toddler girl. She  loves breathing deep under the eucalyptus tree groves on the  Central Coast, laughing at lowbrow comedy, and watching her  daughter grow up. She unpacks the stuff of faith, doubt and  motherhood at, and also hangs out a lot on  Twitter under @carlygelsinger.

Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage – The Series (Rachel Haas)


Please welcome Rachel Lee Haas to my blog today.  I know you will enjoy her beautiful and creative contribution to the Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage Series.  Be sure to check out her bold (and sometimes raw) blog too. Rachel’s honesty is one of the things that drew me to her.



do you hear that sound? 

someone lifted the lid.

I was seventeen years old. I saw something wrong, something confusing. they were the leaders, they were the teachers. they were the Christian leaders, the ones I had been aspiring to be like since I was old enough to talk.

and then I asked a question that they didn’t like. that they weren’t ready for, that maybe they didn’t know how to answer. they said modesty was important, that purity was essential. but the video had girls in bikinis, over and over again, and there were guys on my right and my left. so I asked, because I didn’t understand.

they told me to be quiet.


do you hear that sound? 

the wires are connected. the countdown has begun.

I figured out quickly that the Church was good at telling people to be quiet unless you belonged behind a pulpit. I learned in Sunday School that we were all supposed to know the answers. but not too many answers. nobody likes a know-it-all. there were verses to memorize, chapter and verse. but not all of them, not right away. wait for the others to catch up.

to be a good Christian, you had to know all the answers. but you had to be quiet. don’t give it all away. mystery was a sign of faltering faith. but knowing all the answers wasn’t right either.


do you hear that sound? 

the last thirty seconds are counting down.

I’ve found myself in the boat more than once while the ocean tosses and writhes angry with frothy waves. I clung to the edges because I didn’t know what to do. the Church was emphatic that safety was key, silence was golden. but I could hear Him calling.

so I stepped onto the ocean. the waves calmed and the wind was still.

and that’s when the bomb went off.


10270168_10152779650563642_928630080_nRachel Haas is a Story-writing, caffeine-consuming, paint-flinging, wild-at-heart Jesus craver. She is married to Jonathon, as she has been for the past four years, momma to Marian, and wrangler of an oversized Great Dane and two cats who are relatively bonkers. She dwells in between Midwestern cornfields where she pours her heart out in lowercase abandon.





Blowing up Evangelical Baggage – The Series (Suzanne)


Please welcome Suzanne Terry to my blog today!  She is the second guest blogger in my “Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage” Series.  If you are new to the series, start here. I met Suzanne through Story Sessions  and have a special affinity for this post due to my love of 80’s music. Please welcome her here!

I love it in your room at night 
You’re the only one who gets through to me. 

My sister and I grew up with a family friend (we’ll call her G).  She was a few years older than I, and we both looked up to her.  She taught us how to put on makeup the cool way (glitter shadow, shiny lip gloss – basically everything sparkly).  She kept us informed on who the hottest heartthrobs were.

She introduced us to The Bangles.

We loved The Bangles. We dressed our dolls up to look like them.  We videotaped ourselves lip synching the songs and played it for our parents. And our parents didn’t seem to mind when we sang their songs. Their lyrics were a lot tamer than some of the other stuff we listened to.  I mean, compared to overhearing their twelve-year-old daughter belt out, “I’m hot, sticky sweet from my head to my feet, yeah!” over Def Leppard and having to have THAT conversation, Mom and Dad probably considered “Feels so good when we kiss,” to be pretty acceptable.

In the warm glow of the candlelight
Oh, I wonder what you’re gonna do to me.

My youth group leaders didn’t know what to do with me.  I grew up in church, so I could spout all the Sunday School answers, and I was a goody-goody church girl most of the time.  But then they would hear me singing songs that they knew I did not learn in choir.  They never said anything directly to me, probably because my dad was a deacon and my mom was in choir and was part of every Bible study the church offered. Within a couple of weeks, however, the group lesson would be over the evils of premarital sex, and it would be followed by an invitation (read: strong suggestion)  to come to the front of the room and pledge ourselves to remain pure until our wedding night.

Southern Baptists do love their altar calls.

So I dutifully went forward and said, “I promise.” Then the next day, I went to G’s house, ratted my hair, put on blue eyeshadow and way too much eyeliner, and sang into my hairbrush for the camera.

You won’t regret it if you let me stay
I’ll teach you everything that a boy should know.

The church is great at telling people what not to do. The church gets so busy reducing holy living to a bulleted checklist of thou-shalt-nots that it often forgets to mention that God created sex to be a good thing. The few times I can remember what happens after marriage being addressed at church, it was creepy and weird.  It was a red-faced preacher pointing and spitting as he proclaimed, “It is a sin to withhold sex within the marriage relationship!”  It was a blushing, stammering young adult leader calling sex the husband’s right and the wife’s duty.

Wow.  Sexy.  Nothing gets women hotter than being shamed into doing it because it’s our job.

My friend Michelle once ranted that so many married women she knew didn’t like sex, and their church taught them that they didn’t have to like it – they just had to do it.  That is, they had to do it once they had found the man who loved them as Christ loved the Church (no pressure, guys) and once they had married him (and not a moment before). I can’t recall any church I’ve ever attended announcing a class for husbands on how to make your wife happy in bed.  And really, with the patriarchy demanding that being a man means knowing the answers already, who would have taken it if they had?  If these are the only messages people hear, no wonder there’s so much awkwardness and fear involved with sex, even when it’s church-approved.

I come alive when I’m with you
I’ll do anything you want me to.

Fortunately, while the church was wading through all the disclaimers and conditions, I had Susanna Hoffs singing things like, “I come alive,” and “I feel good.”  And she wasn’t the only one  She had help from Belinda Carlisle, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and many others. Every time the church tried to put another brick in the wall between the sacred and the secular, 80’s pop music knocked it down.  I know I was lucky.  If my youth group leaders had been more adamant or less terrified of my parents, their voices might have drown out the music.  I might have grown up being afraid of sex, or – a more likely scenario – I might have rebelled against the negativity and hurled myself in the opposite direction.

I want to tear down the wall for everyone.

As a species gifted with the ability to reason, we need to hear different – even conflicting  – messages in order to come to a healthy, balanced view. The first thing I teach in my class on persuasion is to know the opposing arguments, because until we know enough to understand why people disagree on a topic, we don’t know enough to make an informed decision, and our arguments will be weak.  We might think the wall between sacred and secular protects us, but really all it does is keep us from seeing all that we could see if it weren’t in the way.

Let’s tear it down.


hairSuzanne Terry is a lover of coffee and a writer of fiction. When she isn’t teaching people to face their fear of public speaking, she can be found reading, dancing, and trying to resist joining an argument on Facebook. She blogs sporadically here.

Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage – The Series (Bethany)


I’m so excited to welcome Bethany Paget to my blog today!  She is the first guest blogger in my “Blowing Up Evangelical Baggage” Series.  I met Bethany through Story Sessions  and have been thankful for her beautiful and honest words ever since. Please welcome her here!


My faith exploded two years ago.  I had what I like to call my pretty little boxed up with a bow faith where I kept everything in compartments and God was a legalistic judge whom I had to perform for.

And then I got really sick and had brain surgery.

And nothing has been the same since.

It was at that point that everything I thought I believed about God changed and I realized that I had been listening to the voices of those around me and not God Himself.  I was depending on their words that Jesus was going to make everything ok and not listening to the very words of Christ Himself in my time of deep need.

I stopped believing that everything had to be rigid and moral and “good.”  I realized that there is probably way more to God than I will ever be able to understand and that is okay, He is still God and He is still good.

I had to be okay with that.

Let me back up.  I wasn’t raised “in the church” but I grew up going to church.  My parents took us to the local Methodist church because it’s what good people did and my parents were all about having the appearance of being good.  I hated church as a kid because it was boring.  Once I got to the elusive Jr. High Youth Group though something suddenly changed and all of a sudden I wanted to be at church and go to youth group on Sunday nights.  It was as if a fire was lit.

That lasted for a few good years, then life happened, I got angry at God for the shit that was thrown my way and walked away.  I would come back to Him again a 24 year old pregnant drug addict desperate for some semblance of hope.

Hope He gave.

He gave.  I would soon learn though that I had a rigid standard I had to follow if I wanted His hope to keep flowing, if I wanted His love to stay with me and if I wanted to remain pure in His sight.


Yes you heard me.

That is what I was taught for the first six years of my walk with God.  I was taught, and absorbed that it was about living up to His high expectations of us as His children.  In order to continue to be loved by this God who had saved me that I had to follow through with His list of extremely high demands.  It probably saved my life in the beginning but six years in I was tired and rigid.  It was also difficult to live, work and have relationships because everything was characterized by my “need to save you from the fire of hell.”  You know because that’s our JOB as believers is to save souls


I know now that I had a very hurt part of me that soaked up every single bit of what I was first taught about God because I didn’t want to go back to being a drug addict.  I couldn’t afford it, now that I was a mom to lose everything.  God was my salvation in more ways than just my soul.  He was the gatekeeper of it all.

That’s why two years ago I started to see that I didn’t want to be her anymore.  I was so tired of everything being so strict all the time and then feeling like I had let God down if I didn’t live up to His expectations.

I had gone to Africa on a mission’s trip and when I got home the shit hit the fan.  I was forced to resign from my career, I got really sick and my bible study ladies suddenly became unfamiliar and hurtful.  Suddenly I found myself in a place where I was incredibly alone.

That’s when I discovered the world of progressive Christian bloggers.

It was a scary but eventually beautiful and freeing thing.

My eyes were opened in a way they had needed to be for a long time.   I started to see that the way I was taught after giving my life to Christ was an unhealthy representation of faith.  It was a legalistic and fundamental tightly bound way of thinking.  I didn’t want to think that way anymore.  It wasn’t helping me grow; it was only holding me back.

The hard part about expressing my newfound beliefs and ideas is that I lost the majority of my old friends.  Once I started to disagree I was no longer allowed in the “inner circle” I was gossiped about, lied about and called a backslider and told that I was walking away from the Lord.  It was so hurtful to me that the women that had walked through the prior three years of my life with me no longer were accepting of me because I suddenly held differing beliefs.

I didn’t stop believing in God; no actually my beliefs in God have grown deeper and more profound in the last two years.

I didn’t suddenly stop professing my faith in the Christ, God-man who had saved me all those years ago.


I just realized that certain things aren’t as big of a deal as it pertains to faith and I stopped holding onto the rigidly held idea that God would be disappointed in me if I don’t follow through a prescribed daily check list.

My faith now is messy, bold and deeper than it’s ever been.

I don’t know a damn thing about theology and I am okay with that.

God is good and He loves me.

That’s all I need to know.

As Always,



photo  There are various facets to Bethany’s life. She is one part poet and one part punk. She is a dreadlocked, single mom to a beautiful wild girl (who still calls her mommy.) A justice and equality seeker for all, she desires that the love of Christ break beyond walls and barriers that have been set around it. Writing has been this girl’s safety since she first picked up a pencil. In the words, the story and the heart behind her eyes you’ll soon begin to see those various facets. Start with her stories at allthingstruthful.