Traveling to Bethlehem

Have you ever stopped to think about how awful Mary and Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem must have been. In the story of Christmas, the whole trip is summarized in just one verse. Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the town of David. One verse about one long journey. How long exactly? Well let’s take a look. Google tells me that traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem via the Yitzhak Rabin Highway would take around 2 hours and 11 minutes. To me, a two hour drive is long. Since there were no cars back then, we can easily assume they traveled on foot, maybe with an animal. Google tells us that the walk would take roughly 32 hours. Now assuming they would need to stop to sleep and eat, let’s say the trip took roughly two full days.

Imagine traveling, on foot, very pregnant, for two whole days. Two days of walking nonstop. Swollen feet, sore back, full bladder, and every other side effect of pregnancy would be in full effect. That journey certainly couldn’t of been easy. Yet, they did it. They did it because they had too.

How often does life throw us out on our own “journey”. It often feels like life gives us the worst circumstances and expects us to carry on and travel through. For me, my recent journey has been with losing so much and learning to graciously accept help when offered. It has been hard and I have been kicked when I’m down but I keep going because I have too. Like Mary and Joseph, not only did they have to go to Bethlehem because Caesar told them to, but they also had to go because the prophet from long ago said the Savior of the World would come from the town of Bethlehem. Can you imagine the ramifications of they would have just quit halfway?

I’m really great at giving up. I think about giving up a lot, in fact. I often wish I could quit my job, move away, hide my face, even end my life. Problem is, I can’t quit. I need to keep going. Not because there is a prophecy about me or because the president told me too. I need to keep going because my life and my journey is meaningful to those around me.

Everyone walks there own path and has there own journey. No matter how long and hard the road may seem don’t give up on the hope that every thing you do has the potential to be meaningful to someone else. Once your life holds purpose and meaning, you’ll find giving up becomes less of an option. This doesn’t mean the road will get any easier. In fact, it could always potentially be worse. What’s important to remember is that once you walk through a really, terribly hard spot, you’ll come out on the other side stronger. Your journey will also cross paths with a multitude of other people walking their own road. You hold the power to maybe help make their journey not so hard. Let them know that they aren’t walking alone.

Keep that in mind this holiday season and into the new year. Carry on and help others to carry on. Make life worth living.

Merry Christmas friends

.

Shalom

Advertisements

Am I a Christian?

I’m going to share something I often keep to myself. I don’t share this for many reasons, but I feel sharing it now may help me uncover some unanswered questions I have rattling around in my brain. I’m currently reading the book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. I was hoping reading through some of the the book might encourage what little faith I do have buried inside me. Those who have known me for some time may think I have always been a fairly devout Christian. However there is a lot of “junk” I think about that often makes me squirm in my seat. It makes me question what I believe. I even often think I’m better off not knowing. I think that being a good person is all that matters. Yet, the religious upbringing I had sits in the back of my mind nagging me to figure it out.. or else.

So, here is my story. Like I said, maybe putting pen on paper so to speak is just what I need to help answer some questions.

I grew up in a Christian home and attended a Christian School through the eight grade. I was naive and innocent entering high school. I quickly learned innocence was not an option in the real world. I learned it was time for me to decide who I wanted to become. I decided I was not going to be a church girl. I did everything in my efforts to make myself cool, to make myself popular. I lied and cheated my way into what I thought was the “it crowed”. Though, I did realize even though they accepted me, something about me didn’t quit fit in. It was at this point I decided to abandon all my religious upbringing. I decided to take on a new role. I loved all things that I knew my parents would disapprove of. I smoked, I drank, I swore, and I hung around people who were like minded in those things. My senior year was in my mind my best year because I felt like I finally had it all. I lived for staying out late and getting high in my friends garage. I loved watching raunchy movies. I loved making out and doing more than just making out. I thrived on it. I couldn’t allow myself to be caught at home on a weekend. It was such a rush. Tons of bad things happened during this time but to me, belonging to this group of people meant far more to me than occasional getting hurt. It was the best.

Now enters my freshman year of college. I was so excited to be moving out of my parents house and to be independent of them. I had ideas in my head of party’s and drugs and how much fun I was going to have. As it turned out, my first couple weeks of college sucked. I felt so alone. The “cool kids” in my dorm didn’t like me. They never invited me to hang out or to go to the dinning hall. I didn’t fit in anymore. I was back to square one. In this new place I needed a place to fit in again. That’s when I found His House, a Christian fellowship group on campus. The people were kind and genuine. They accepted me when others didn’t. I had found my people. So much like I did in high school, I assimilated myself to these people and there beliefs. I took on a role of college girl that loves Jesus. It felt comfortable for me as I had grown up in a Christian home. Yet here I was able to make it my own. I spend the better of three years in this group with these people. I’d like to think a lot of my faith during this time was sincere. Perhaps it was. A lot of what I see looking back at it though is how I was different behind closed doors. How I lied to fit in. How almost every move I made was to help me become more popular in our own group. When the depression took me, it was so easy to let go of the faith I loosely held.

I held onto my faith the next couple of years because even though I was out of school, many of my friends were still those I had met at His House. It was also still a good way to get friends. Church is a great place to meet people. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t tell people I’m Christian in the hospital because I didn’t want that to be a part of my treatment. It was easier to just be without the burden of faith. I did struggle with ideas with my pastors regarding my depression, but answered were not comfortable in such a horrible crisis. I sought after even more fellowship as my yearning became stronger to be a part of something. I started attending Bridge Street Mission School.

If there is anything good I can say about this time in my life, it’s that it taught me so many valuable lessons. I had a family where I was loved. I learned humility and I learned to serve others. I learned discipline and the value of hard work and dedication. I learned how blessed we are to live in the United States. It gave me a heart for the nations. It also totally and completely ruined me. Let me back up first.

At the schools we lived together, ate together, and did everything together. It was the greatest. I never felt like I belonged so well in my entire life. It is during this time that I think I had a really genuine faith in God. With all the outside distractions stripped away, I felt like I was completely surrendered to God. I was alive… that is until I wanted to die.

You see, they didn’t understand depression. They didn’t get that it was a physical disease that I couldn’t control. They more or less thought it was a demon. They more or less thought God would heal me… but funny thing is… he didn’t. This one thing had always made me uncomfortable, despite all the good things the school brought me.

Before we went abroad, they basically gave me guideline as to what would constitute me coming home. I agreed to them. One was if I attempted suicide. I did. They sent me home, here is the thing about that… I attempted my very last week there. They sent me home the next day and charged me for the plane ticket. I attempted suicide because I was in a very dark spot after seeing some very traumatic things. I also felt alone there because no one understood my darkness. I understand why. But I don’t understand the aftermath. I was told I could no longer be a part of the school. My home, my friends, my family, and o could no longer be a part of it because I have an illness. They didn’t welcome me back with open arms. Instead they shunned me like I was a dirty person. I hated them. I hated the God they believed in of this is their version of compassion.

I took my rage and anger, and turned it into destruction. I cut myself, I Drank, I swore off God, and I desperately tried to fill the hole those people had left in my life. I started sleeping around to fill the void. It got so bad that I almost got myself killed in a shady motel room. I gave up. I gave up on God and everything else in my life. This is my rock bottom.

Three years later and I’m still recovering from the hurt that the leaders in the school caused me. Three years later and they are still my number one objection to Christians and Christ. Healing is a slow process but I’m finally getting to a point where I want to know truth. I want to know if this life is it or if there is a God. And if there is a God, I want to be a Christian that shows compassion. I want to be one that has doubted, and struggled, and hated, and fought.

So, no, I’m really not a good Christian. I’m just a person trying to find the truth. I’m just working to make sure others know they belong.

Where is The Hope?

Why does it feel like there is nobody there when you need them the most. People always say they are there to listen, but bail out the second hard stuff is mentioned. Sometimes I just want someone that is unbiased to hear me out when I’m in pain, but therapy isn’t just one phone call away. Unfortunately, a reality of life if we are always alone. At the end of the day it just me. I will be the only one buried in my grave.

Prayers these days feel more like whispers of rage and hope seems like a fleeting wish. I wrestle too much with my mind that I can’t seem to grasp even an idea that maybe there is a better tomorrow or maybe that there is more to this horrible life. I’m like Daniel in the Lions den but I’m being devoured. Or the three courageous men in the furnace except I’m being consumed by the fire. Oxygen refuses to remain in my lungs as the throat that is life slowly shuts and I’m struggling to find my next breath.

I often feel like death is the better option as opposed to struggling to stay alive. My world is getting increasingly smaller with every faithful step forward. Like I am swimming against the current, I’m so close to being whisked off to sea.

Where is the hope?

Evangelizing to the American Athiest 

Shortly after my return from Guatemala, my life spiraled out of control.  In my last blog post, I spoke in depth about a short period of the hell that has been the past few years.  Another defining factor in this period of my life was an intense struggle of faith.  During this struggle I came to a point of all or nothing and made the decision to forgo my faith that I had one held so dear.  I told myself and others I was agnostic and I got a variety of responses from some of the Christians that had been in my life.  Many comments were not at all helpful and some even turned me further from the truth.

Looking back now, I can discern why some of those comments that were intended to be helpful, turned into a bitter resentment.  I decided to write this post for my Christian friends and followers.  I want to open up a discussion of how we can best evangelize to the American atheist.  These are the ones who know what Christianity is and who Jesus is and decide it’s not for them.  

Before I state my opinions on what I think is the right way to reach the “American Atheist”, I FIRST what to touch on some things that I think are unhelpful in situations in which you are interacting with someone who is an atheist.  This list I will keep short because I do think that ever interaction you have with someone is different and their is obviously no formula to the perfect way to evangelize.  So with that, I urge discussion and questions! Let’s begin, shall we?

The Westboro

So, it is commenly agreed upon in Christian Circles that the way The Westboro Baptist Church evangelizes is harmful.  Many even say their hateful speech could show that they aren’t even Christian.  So why do so many then do a smaller scale version of what they do? That means, instead of using love in sharing Jesus with others, one will point out others sins in a way the is demeaning to them.  I’ll call this “The Westboro”.  Don’t know exactly what I’m talking about.  I’d suggest looking at any of the heated political news stories.  You are sure to see people hateing other in Jesus name.  So in your own personal interactions, do you ever judge someone who shouldn’t be judged? Or judged when judging isn’t helpful? Evangelizing those who are unrepentant and don’t follow Christ don’t follow the same moral set of rules we as Christians have.  Our moral code is written for us in the Bible and assuming we believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord, we should want to follow those rules as a way of loving our Lord! Since atheist don’t even know or love Jesus, they have no reason to follow our set of rules and laws. And we as humans are not their judge.  We can hold other Christians accountable, but to our unbelieving friends, holding them accountable to something they don’t even believe is rediculous.  So if we have a friend that is watching porn and they are not a Christian, their is really nothing stopping them from indulging in such a thing. Besides maybe some studies that show Porn can be harmful to relationships, they have no reason to stop watching.  In this example, if we were to Westboro them, we could say something like, “It’s so disgusting you watch porn. You shouldn’t watch porn because it’s awful and God hates adultry.”  In this more extreme example, you can almost see why the unbelieving friend would laugh you off and reasonable say “Well f@#% your God then.  I never wanted to follow him anyway. Why would I want to now.”  This is a more obvious one but I so often see this logic used for many other things including lying, sleeping together before marriage, drinking, drugs, abortion and gay marriage.  So what do you think? Have you ever used or have seen “The Westboro”? 

Good News

So with that, how should we evangelize? Well I think the best way in my opinion, is to just befriend them; and not for alterier motives either.  Befriend them and love them unconditionally and see what you can gain from them in return.  Don’t hide your faith from them, but don’t preach to them either.  Realize many adult atheists in America probably went to church at some point in their lives and probably were burned by it.  Don’t add to their judgement of Christianity.  Instead, be like Christ to them.  Love them even if they never choose to follow Jesus in your lifetime. Try your best not sin around them, and when you do, admit it to yourself. Say something like, “I know it may be silly to you, but I really don’t like swearing because of my faith. Could you try to catch me if I swear?”  This indicates to them that you are truly committed to your faith and they may even be envious of the hope they see you have.  When I was agnostic a pastor of mine constantly talked to me and befriended me.  He would be honest about him wanting me to come back to the church but he said he would never force me.  It was his love that made me search.  I don’t think I could have ever just went to a church service believed again.  It was rooted deeper than that.  It was me that had to want to research not just Christianity, but other world religions and make the decision on my own.  It was friend who stayed by me that encouraged me to search for the joy they found in Christ.  It wasn’t those who said “you’re smarter than this.” or “Don’t let the enemy get you.”  It also wasn’t the Westboroers that said “Sex is a sin that will lead you to hell.  Don’t prostitute yourself.”  nor was it “Depression and Mental Illness is simply spiritual warfare.”. Those people were not helpful at all.  So what do you think about this?  Should we pursue the American athiest in a more aggressive light, or do you like the approve of an unconditional and loving friendship?

Let me know your thoughts here in the comments or if you are a personal friend, in my Facebook page.

A work in progress…

It all started with a simple snap of the mind. One single phrase brought to my mind terrible visions and pictures of things I wish I could have long forgotten.  

That is how it started. This week has been a first.  It has been the first time since I have been stable that I truly have started to feel the weight of all that happened during the last 4 years.  It has hit hard by bringing me feelings, memories, visions, and pictures.  It has brought my mood into a place of depression.  It has me fear mania when I feel myself rise again, so I try not to let myself rise. 

I think a lot of it is medical and thankfully I will be seeing my doctor soon, but as it stands, I have to admit that I hate this.  The thing about depression or bipolar disorder is you constantly feel like you are under attack.  Literally, your mind wants you dead. Mine does anyway.

Part of it is that I don’t think I have even began properly dealing with any of the trauma, because we have been so fearful just for my everyday life until this point.  So now that I’m doing better, the harder stuff is starting to surface.  As much as I wish I could never think about the abuse, the rapes, the addiction, I know I have to in order to heal. I know I have to to move forward.

Honestly,  the hardest thing for me to face is the part a rarely speak of.  I have called myself a harlot or a prostitute in the past but nothing seems to fit what happend.  I was messed up.  I was numb to everything in the world.  This is what I always refer to as my rock bottom because in my life, I don’t think I could have groveled any lower than I did.  I’ve been told I was victim.  I have also been told I’m not what I did, but no matter, it is still something that makes me sick every time I think about it.  I’ve wished the word whore be tattooed on me so people know exactly who I am.

But is that really who I am? During my darkest days, I did some awful things that should define me… but they don’t.  Strangers would never guess that is what once was.  I’m free from it outwardly. I also know in Christ I have a new Identity. One that is in him.  

Freedom from the memories is what’s still holding me.  And it’s not that I want to forget because it’s all a part of my testimony. It drives me to be the best me I can be.  I just don’t want it to haunt me. I don’t want to fear.  

So, I guess I’m still human and still dealing with my demons. We all are. We all have to. 

Not sure what else to say.

Shalom

She Cries in Her Dreams

I’ve heard it said, “If you die in your dreams, you die in real life.”  I have a hard time believing that for several reasons.  The most obvious reason being, how do we know?  It’s not like we can ask the person, “Now, did you die in your dream? You did? Great, you can return to your peaceful afterlife now..”  All joking aside, I do wonder about it.  I don’t really ever remember my dreams.  Do I remember dying in a dream? Well, no, but i don’t even remember what I dreamed last night.

Dreams are a strange phenomenon.  Psychologists say dreams are just our minds trying to makes sense of a bunch of pictures and images running through our minds as we transfer memories from short term to long term.  Though, I guess that could make sense, I sometimes feel my dreams are telling a story based off of real experience.  I also know that after the movie Inception hit the theaters, the amount of people claiming they have tried and experienced lucid dreaming increased.  I have never had a lucid dream, but sometimes, right as I’m nearing the time I wake up, I feel as if I’m in a state of half consciousness with my dream fading out into reality. In those moments, I can control my real thoughts as if I were alive in my dream.  Another thing I wonder about is visions.  In the Bible, we can read how God communicated to people through visions and dreams.  Maybe there is more to understanding dreams than meets the eye.

So if those are dreams, what is a nightmare.  Now, if dreams are just our brains trying to make sense of random thought, then most nightmares make sense.  I think a nightmare would be thoughts put together as our fears are being sorted -even fears we may not be aware of- however, sometimes, when I have nightmares, I relive a memory that happened in real life.  These are called flashbacks.  Though they are scary while awake, when dreaming, a flashback turns my reality back in time to a horrible event.  It feels so real.  It is not until I wake up screaming and crying that I realize that was just a dream.  Flashbacks do something to me, though.  They bring into the present- things I have so hard tried to leave in the past.  They bring to consciousness- memories I have worked so very hard to forget.  And while, it was just a dream, I had to relive my trauma and go on the next day as if nothing happened.  Why? Well, because in reality nothing did happen, I only dreamed it did.  In my head though, I sometimes walk around trying to forget the very trauma people think I have worked through.  It’s hard and it hurts, physically and mentally.

I’m the girl that cries in her dreams.  No, I don’t cry all the time.  Since I started medication to help stop the nightmares and flashbacks it happens so rarely, I don’t have to worry about it at all.  Yet, still, I’m the girl that cries in her dreams.  I’m the girl that has to relive past traumas over and over again and act as if I’m okay.

So if we could speak to the dead and asked if they died in their dreams, I’m not sure what they would say.  That is something we really have no control over.  Something we do have control over?  How we treat survivors, even long after trauma has taken place.  The internal pain trauma can cause stretches far past the incident, the year, the court cases, the medication, the therapy, etc.

This week, as I read another news article of a young man convicted of raping two girls walking away with only two year perol and no jail time, I have to ask myself, do people understand what traumas like rape does to it’s victims?  The judge in this case said something similar to the Stanford case judge in the fact that he’s a young man and jail time would affect his future.  How naive does one have to be to believe those rape victims future is not affected?  Sure, they can still attend college, but maybe drop because they are too depressed to function.  Maybe one even decides to take her own life because she can’t stand the flashbacks and nightmares any longer.  Yes, jail time will affect this rapists future, but I can almost guarantee it will affect him far less than the amount of what he did to his victim will affect them.  Only 35% of rapes and sexual assaults are reported.  The number of rapes and sexual assaults that make it to court or bring justice for the victims is significantly less.  On top of being told we are liars, rape victims also have to deal with judges who are bias towards the rapist.  We have to deal with the fear he’ll get off scoth free and will come after us for his revenge.  We even have to worry that even if he IS convicted of his crimes, he will walk a free man because his future matters so much more than mine.

I want justice.  I want people to be mad about this.  I want people that know me to remember why I was to afraid to pursue my attackers.  I want this world to be a place where people don’t have to be afraid to report a crime.

So yeah,  I cry in my sleep, and so do MANY others.. So don’t just sit there and keep dreaming your peaceful dreams, because we live in a nightmare.  Stand up and help me change it.

Follow

Over the course of this last week, I have learned a lot.  It’s crazy to think that even great learning can take place in the quiet of my bedroom.  Being sick with Mono has been challenging on me physically and emotionally.  Many of you probably know or have heard of the awfulness that comes with mono.  Having a hard time eating, having the constant urge to vomit, fevers, and being so tired I can hardly go to the bathroom just mark a few of the things that plague me.  I can be greatful that I’m alive, however, and with that, now is a great time to pause and re-evaluate my life.  

Here is where the real learning began.  As I started pondering the what, the who, the how, and the why, I quickly figured out that in order to succeed and be happy in my life, I need to align myself with those who believe and think similar things.  For me, two things stuck out in my mind.  My faith in Jesus is by far the most important thing to me.  If I lost everything, I’d still have him, & that’s who I need to cling onto. The second thing stems from that. When Jesus gave us the great commission at the end of Matthew, I’m sure he didn’t specifically think of me here in 2016. That, however, doesn’t negate the fact that this address was meant for everyone.  He has called his followers to go out and tell people! Here’s where my world got rocked.  I spent time in a third world country doing just that.  I worked and tried my best to share Gods love while I was there.  Now, I’m not saying my two months in Guatemala is my work being done, nor am I saying my time their was meaningless.  To me, I think that if I really want to serve God to the best of MY ability, I need to do that here and now, with the resources and talents God has given me.  This is really nothing new to me, but I feel like in this past season of life I grew comfortable.  I started settling for less.  I became a product of my environment.

I know I can serve the Lord for the rest of my life regardless of where I work, but I think God put passions, dreams, and desires in me for a reason.  So where do I go from here? Well, that is something I also am considering.  Remember I stated I need to align myself with that in which I believe.  As of right now, I quietly follow my passion on the sidelines.  Instead, pursing God with my skills and talents should be the main event.  So, back to the question of where do I go.. Well, I for one believe very strongly that God did not allow me to go through the horrible things I have without wanting to use those things to help others. My passions are helping others, helping those who struggle from mental illness, and bringing light into the community of people who are in such a dark place right now. For a long time I have wanted to be an advocate, a psychologist, a social worker, or something that will put me in the field! How silly was I to believe I NEEDED a degree to do so.  I’m already here.  I’m active in giving those with mental illnesses a chance to relate, to express themselves, and to believe that this is not the end.  

Do I believe I’m going to use my blog to change the world? Well, no, probably not.  But that’s not the point.  I have so many tools and resources that I have used and can use to reach others.  If that’s not exciting, I don’t know what is.  

I have more to say but I will be saving that for another time.  I would like to offer something to you (my readers, friends, family, whoever stumbles upon this blog post). As I have free time but little energy, the only thing I’ve found to do that isn’t electronic is my art.  I love watercolor and drawing.  To fill my spirit and my time I really want to send anyone that wants one a custom painting or drawing.  Nothing special, just on a sheet of paper in an envelope, but just for you. As an encouragement or an I love you. 🙂

If interested, shoot me an email (seriously do it) and give me an idea of somethings you might like examples being favorite animal, location, a quote or song and I will base my painting or drawing off of that. Or, if you want a suprise, I’ll send you something of my own design! 

So here’s what I want you to do: 

  1. Email me at: tori.torreson@gmail.com
  2. Give me some ideas or say “Suprise me”
  3. Add your Name so I know who this is going to
  4. Put your address at the end and I will mail it out as soon as I can

Blessings Friends!