Kaep and America 

Before this weekend when I thought of Colin Kaepernick, I thought of the guy who took the NFL by storm in his early seasons. I imagined the NFC West becoming a yearly battle between Russell Wilson and Kaep, two young, dark skinned quarterbacks with incredible athletic gifts and instant superstar status. In recent years, the Stars seemed to be on opposite trajectories. Wilson is a perennial pro bowler and uncontested leader of the Seahawks offense while Kaep came into the season competing for a position with Blaine Gabbert. Yep… Blaine Gabbet. That’s bad. 

So, I come to this story which has surprisingly taken over the news cycle. Kaep refuses to stand for the national anthem and then gives what was, in my mind, an elegant defense of why he didn’t and will not stand. He spoke of the injustice with which many Americans have to live. He spoke of wanting to see the nation live up to its ideals. Of course he was criticized and called horrible names by fans and the media. The outrage machine was in full effect! 

As this story broke, I was in the process of thinking through my yearly apologia for my NFL fandom. This year’s tact: just own the fact that I’m a pretty awful person sometimes. Then this story and the fact that people who don’t give a crap about football suddenly had really strong opinions about what this athlete was doing. It felt (feels) a little hypocritical to see people who don’t approve of the sport Kaep plays suddenly coming around to his defense and I wonder if those people, many whom are my friends are missing the point. 

I’ll make it simple: if you’ve ever referred to football as “sportsball” then what Kaep did was not for you. 

The NFL is the crown jewel of the American empire. It’s a multi-billion dollar corporation built around an inherently violent game. We are the only nation in the world that plays this quintessentially American game. Football, we can call it that because screw you soccer, has long surpassed baseball as America’s pastime. All of the scandals, all of the concussion studies, all of the hand wringing about the promotion of violence have done virtually nothing to decrease the sport’s popularity. Or profitability. Football is about as American as things get. 

The NFL has often been compared to modern gladiatorial fights. Using that analogy, Kaepernick is the gladiator who, in the midst of the arena said “I will not bow to Caesar”. This is a big deal for all Americans but particularly for those of us who regularly consume the NFL’s product. In the midst of our nation’s biggest spectacle, the circus in the bread and circuses equation, Kaep stood up… Sat down…to say Rome is evil and we are complicit. We were shaken out of the illusion, even if just for a moment, to be awakened to realities that many of our country live with each day. We’re reminded that we’re watching a product where the ownership is 100% white and the players are 67% black and that for many of those players, football was an escape route. It’s a reminder that many of these men came from communities where interactions with law enforcement could be deadly. It’s a reminder that these men are more than the stats they produce. Kaep called America itself, its values and its morals into question in the midst of America celebrating its own grandeur. This is bold, prophetic action.

What Colin Kaepernick did is already having a ripple effect. Current and former players are being asked for their opinions. Some are saying that they will stand (sit) with Kaep. Others are calling out his method but not his message. The NFL and its employees are being forced to use their spotlight and copious influence to take sides in issues of justice. That is no small thing. More importantly, those of us who watch the NFL are being forced to consider issues of justice, even those surrounding the very product we consume. It’s a moment of conscience, a moment of reflection in a sport that is often resistant to such things. Imagine if it was the collective will of those of us who love the game that began to move public policy in the direction of justice. Imagine if the considerable economic impact of the NFL fan base was mobilized to promote change. Imagine if that 67% of players became ambassadors for under served communities across the country. 

I’m not naive enough to believe that this will be some huge watershed moment for equality in our nation, but I do know that the climate we’re in right now is unique and maybe the collective will is moving in the direction of progress. Like it or not, the core of America is watching the NFL every Sunday and on Monday nights. It is we, the audience of the largest game in town, that needed to see what Kaep did and take notice. The time may becoming when we cannot be both a fan and neutral on issues of justice. May it be so. 

#therapyishard

If you have engaged with me at all through social media, then you have seen the hashtag #therapyishard. It’s usually an indicator that I just got out of a session where I put in work on myself. I hope it doesn’t come across as boastful, like “therapy is hard and I’m awesome for doing it!”. Nor do I hope it comes across as discouraging like “therapy is hard… Stay away!”. I usually just say it as an exhale. Imagine, next time you see it on my social media as (sigh)”Therapy is hard… But what’s the alternative”. 

This week my therapist and I talked about ADD. She has mentioned that I demonstrate ADD tendencies for at least a year, but with everything else going on, I left it to the side. This week I decided to follow up. What she said made sense. I experience obstacles in “executive functions”… Focus, organization, time management, etc… I feel like everyone does to an extent, but maybe not in as crippling a way as I do. I think about how this has affected my work life in the last few years and it makes sense. 

What I’m feeling about all of this is… “are you kidding me? Another fucking thing?!” In the last few years I’ve been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, and now this. We also talked this week about how stress triggers asthma, which I’ve been fighting the last couple of weeks. So… Yay! 

At some point, you just get tired of feeling like you and your own brain aren’t on the same team. In my brain’s defense, it kept me pretty high functioning through some pretty awful stuff. I guess it was owed this time. Still… It’s exhausting. 

I’m a big believer in therapy. I think everybody needs a therapist. It’s only ego that keeps people from being able to unpack their shit with a professional. It has to be the right relationship. I’ve been blessed to have had some excellent therapists, which leads me to believe that there are more good ones out there than bad. My current therapist took me awhile to warm up to. At first she seemed dismissive… I think she even said at one point “I’ve seen your type before”. I realize now that she needed me to get through the layers of bullshit I had used in the past to protect my ego so she could get to the real stuff. I get it now. She doesn’t let me off the hook. She’s very real with me. She can also be very encouraging when the moment calls for it. Finding a therapeutic relationship that works for you is key. I’m glad I’ve found one, even if some days I leave her office feeling far crazier than when I came in. 

It’s hard to take an honest look at yourself. You will inevitably see things you don’t like. Tendencies, habits, survival skills, defense mechanisms… quirks. It usually requires the willingness to look at some of the formative traumas in your life and to sit with the pain. No one likes to do that. The hope is that you gain self awareness. You see yourself in a new light and maybe that new light helps you break some of those bad habits. Or at least recover more quickly when you fall. And you will fall. Therapy isn’t about fixing you. Usually it’s about acceptance of the broken you because really only love can fix us and that love almost always needs to be self love. 

I can’t imagine a time when I won’t be in therapy. Sometimes I just need a tune up. Sometimes it’s an overhaul. Lately I’ve felt like we’re rebuilding an engine. So be it, I suppose. As long as I have to live this life, I want to navigate it the best that I can. I’m grateful that we have professionals who are as skilled with the mind as some are with what’s under a car’s hood. Tonight, I’m exhausted. The work has been hard lately. But I guess if therapy has taught me nothing else, it is that I’m worth the work.

Most of the time…

Victim.

In 2010, I had the opportunity to be apart of the Chautauqua Institute’s New Clergy Program. It was a great experience in which I learned a great deal, met some fantastic people, and got to enjoy the beauty of the institute during the summer months. I also got to hear some amazing speakers. Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III from Trinity United Church of Christ spoke as did Islamic Scholar Daisy Khan and Jewish scholar Rabbi Irwin Kula. It was a full program. The experience was topped off with daily sermons from Rev. Dr. James Forbes, one of the best preachers I have had the pleasure of hearing.

Early in the week, Dr. Forbes spoke about the idea of being a victim. He said that everyone in the country was playing the victimization card. “White folks, victims! Black folks, victims! Christian, victim! Muslim, victim!” He wasn’t making light of the true and very real oppression in the world. He was drawing attention to the fact that our desire to claim the mantle of victim often keeps us from being a part of the healing work that is going on in the world. He used the story of the paralytic in the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel to spell this out, the one who Jesus asks if he wants to be made well and who replies with his story of being overlooked and passed by.

We can all claim victimhood in one way or another. It is the rarest of people who has had no disadvantages in life. We claim victimhood, I believe, from a deep desire to have our story be heard. I think that is actually a pure and holy desire. We want to be known and in that being known, we want to be loved and accepted. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Where we get in trouble is when our victimization comes into contact with that of others. Then we try to “outvictim” each other. We compete in the Olympics of suffering. We talk about how poor we were growing up or abuses suffered or tragic circumstances. All that talking leads to talking over other people. It tends to lead to feeling ignored and undervalued, maybe even insulted or offended.

I had an email exchange with an author whose book I read in hopes of having her on the my podcast. She tells a harrowing story of an assault that she suffered. It is an excellent book, but I was bothered by some of the language she used in talking about the race of her attackers. The result was an exchange in which I’m sure she felt like I wasn’t fully understanding the gravity of her trauma and in which I felt like she wasn’t feeling the impact of her words. We reached a very uncomfortable impasse. I stand by impressions I had of her language, but I questioned my motives. Was I looking to steal the spotlight of victimization away from this woman who had endured the unthinkable? Did I also need to be the victim?

I have to check my motives. In a world where “men’s rights activists” want to celebrate “white history month” and have “straight pride parades”, the victim real estate seems to be going fast and everyone wants to get in on the land grab. The victimization conversation is so often the companion piece to the privilege conversation. No one wants to claim privilege. Everyone wants to be a victim of something. There are a myriad of dangers in this line of thinking but two in particular stick out. First, false pleas of victimhood distract from the areas where injustice is really happening. They distract in terms of attention and resources. Secondly, those who feel victimized also often feel entitled to recompense for their injuries. And we’ve seen time and time again how those who feel victimized have taken the matter of justice into their own hands.

The messy world created by imperialism means that we are often forced to choose which person’s victimhood we will honor at any given point. I have been incredibly disturbed in the last few days to read the stories about filmmaker Nate Parker. Parker’s film “Birth of a Nation” has been greatly anticipated after its premiere at the Sundance film festival. It tells the story of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion, a story of myth and legend for many African Americans. The buzz about the film has been building momentum for months as it seems that the film is telling a story that is so important to our times. How better to understand the unrest in places like Milwaukee than to understand the historical precedent of those who rebel against oppression. I was very excited for this film!

Then the story came to light that Parker and the film’s co-writer Jean Celestin were accused of sexually assaulting a woman while they were all students at Penn State. Parker was acquitted, it seems, because he had a prior consensual relationship with the woman, while Celestin was convicted and but then had his conviction overturned when the victim refused to testify. The victim committed suicide years later and it is the belief of her brother that it was the trauma she experienced, both in terms of the assault but also the threats from the two men afterwards and her inability to receive justice from the legal system, that lead her to ultimately take her life.

I’ve been torn in thinking about this film. On one hand, you have a cinematic depiction of one of America’s great original sins being played out at a time when we definitely need to learn the lessons that history has to teach us. On the other hand, should we support the work of two men who assaulted and tortured a woman to a point where she allegedly could not go on living? Whose victimhood is to be honored in this situation? While I cannot say with any moral authority what the “right” thing is to do, I am leaning toward not supporting the film. I know the story of Nat Turner’s rebellion. I don’t know the story of the woman who is no longer around to tell her own.

For all of us, I believe, there comes a time when we have to hold in tension those times when we need to honor our own stories of hurt and abuse and when we need to start being a part of the healing of others. It is a dicey proposition. Pride and ego can get in the way. Fear that no one will take our side can overwhelm us. We all desire to have our stories heard, known, and understood. But I worry that we run the risk of drowning each other out by insisting that our stories be heard over all others. I have no answers. But I do have a prayer, accredited to a wise saint, that I believe can guide my thoughts and actions:

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life” – St. Francis (allegedly)

Amen.

 

 

 

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The Things We Ignore…

Today is the last full day of vacation. Shannon, the kids, and I have been at her uncle’s cabin outside of Boone, North Carolina. As much as I love the beach, it has been nice to escape to the mountains this year, to enjoy the cooler air and the beautiful views.¬†IMG_0504

It’s been relaxing for the most part. Four kids always stretch the limits of “relaxing” but overall, but overall it has been enjoyable.

A couple of days ago we went out on a pontoon on a lake in Tennessee. Again, it was beautiful. The weather was perfect. The kids loved jumping into the water from the boat and swimming in the lake. They named the ducks that came after the vote, ducks who have clearly been conditioned to expect bread from humans. I love the water, and I’ve always found it healing to be near and/or in a large body. It reconnects me with the awe and mystery of the Divine. It also connects me with my fear (both dread and reverence) of the Divine and I got an unpleasant reminder of that fear.

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Shannon and I decided to race each other across the lake. The distance was maybe a football field’s length. I knew it was far for me, having never been a very strong swimmer and having not been swimming for years. Still, pride, ego… oh, and I thought it would be fun. And, hey, the Olympics fill everyone’s minds with delusions of grandeur, right? As the race started, I got a good head start on Shannon. I saw her as I looked behind me then looked ahead to the other side of the lake. So far, so good. Then, for the life of me, I couldn’t catch my breath. I started to fall behind. I floated on my back for a bit, trying to get my wind back, then I slowly made it to the other side. My heart was pounding and began to hyperventilate. After a minute or so, I told Shannon that I was fine and she began to make her way back across the lake to the boat. I was not fine. I was sitting on a log on the shore with my legs dangling in the water and catching my breath seemed impossible. Then something, a fish I suppose, started nibbling on my dangling legs. It didn’t hurt but I was startled and I panicked. I jumped back into the water and started swimming back to the boat. I swam out a bit then realized that I had nothing left in the tank. I couldn’t get any air into my lungs. Several things dawned on me at once: 1) holy shit, I’m having an asthma attack! 2) holy shit, I might not make it back to the boat. By this point, Shannon was most of the way back to the boat and I began screaming for her to come get me. I alternated between treading water and floating on my back as she got back to the boat, settled the kids, and then drove back out to scoop me out of the water. I was scared. I was embarrassed. My whole body hurt. I couldn’t catch my breath for the remainder of the day.

So, a couple of fun facts about me and asthma: in middle school, around the time I started playing sports, I was diagnosed with exercise-induced asthma. I’ve done zero research on this, but I assume that this is asthma’s most pervasive form. I had inhalers to use before practices and all was well. As I got older, and my exercise was mostly limited to work outs at the college athletic center, I stopped doing much to maintain the asthma. I got back to using a regular maintenance inhaler when I started running in 2011. I’ve not been running much, so I haven’t really used my maintenance inhaler. I’ve never really carried a rescue inhaler. For the most part, asthma has been something that I have ignored. Funny thing about the stuff you ignore; your lack of acknowledgement doesn’t make it go away. A lesson hard learned this week.

I have a bad habit of ignoring things, especially when it comes to my health. I like to pretend that I’m not asthmatic, or lactose intolerant, or clinically depressed. I’d rather not take drugs for things. I believe myself strong enough to work through things. Not only do I lose sight of how that can affect me, I forget how it can affect other people. By the way, a sincere apology to anyone who has had to be around me when I have not taken my medicine for my lactose intolerance. It’s ego and I know it. I want to be stronger in mind and body than I am and oftentimes feel ashamed for needing so much to live. Yes, this goes along with the theme of not wanting to acknowledge that I have needs.

Before coming down on vacation, I spent a few days in Rochester, visiting with a friend and going on a spiritual retreat. During the retreat time, I took the opportunity to reread some of my old spiritual favorites. in particular, I fingered through Henri Nouwen’s classic “The Wounded Healer”. Nouwen describes our places of woundedness, suffering, and need as those things that connect us with the whole of humanity. I realized as I reread those words that I have wanted to be outside of humanity… no… that I have considered myself outside of humanity whether I’ve wanted to be or not and that part of why I reject having need is my rejection of being just like everyone else. I reject it in part out of pride, but mostly because I don’t feel like I am like everyone else. I feel separate, outcast, and alone.

In that moment, I also became aware of another place of ignored need: my spiritual life. While i have been meditating regularly, that almost feels more medicinal than spiritual. I connect to God in my garden for sure, but it’s not been enough to fill the need. I used to spend hours in study and prayer. I used to journal frequently. Even in more professional life, my sermon preparation was something of a spiritual discipline. I always felt like I got more out of my sermons than anyone else, because the time of preparation was so rich. I miss that. I feel my spirit gasping for air just as my lungs were in the middle of the lake. I’m running on empty.

The event in the lake was a wake up call. I can’t continue to neglect myself. I can’t neglect my body. I can’t neglect my mind. I can’t neglect my spirit. It is time to refuel. It is time to handle some long deferred maintenance. It is time to care for the needs that only I can tend to. What this means, I don’t yet know, but I do know that it needs to happen and that it needs to happen soon…

 

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I, Trump.

Yesterday I saw what might be my new favorite hashtag of all time: #trumpsterfire. Basically, this was used as a description of Republican nominee’s campaign after of week of giant gaffes and mistakes. From silencing babies to cheapening a purple heart to feuding with the family of a fallen soldier, the train wreck that is the Trump campaign seems to be running itself into the ground.

The campaign is such a mess right now, that the media has had to prioritize which of of missteps to cover. Lower on the list has been the blatant lies that Trump has told about those who are supporting him. He claimed, for instance, to have received a letter from the NFL agreeing with him that scheduling the presidential debates during primetime games was “ridiculous”. The NFL quickly shot back with a response that they had sent no such letter. This isn’t the first time that he has claimed endorsements from people who quickly distanced themselves from him. Remember the cavalcade of sports stars and entertainers who were supposed to be appearing at the Republican National Convention? Instead the campaign brought out Scott Baio and Anthony Sabato Jr. I still can’t believe that actually happened. Two washed up reality TV stars came out to support a washed up reality TV star for the highest office in the country.

But why? Why claim the endorsements of public figures who have their own spokespeople and media people who will refute you? Why lie so publicly, knowing that you will surely be found out? What is happening here?

Unfortunately, I know the answer. I know it because I live it. It’s ego. I know it all too well. As much as I am against Trump and all that he stands for, I totally get him. I am him.

Early this week, I told a “little white lie” (don’t get me started on the racial implications of that particularly lovely phrase). I did it to save face. I immediately confessed to the person I had lied to who was understandably angry with me. I could feel defensiveness in me building, though I was clearly in the wrong. I apologized and tried to put the whole thing behind me. Later that night, a more egregious lie of mine was exposed. Another attempt to “control” my life. Another attempt to prop up my image. Another attempt to protect a version of me that I want people to believe is real. I’ve been dealing with the fallout all week. My life has become a #trumspterfire.

One of the books that has been most helpful for me in the last couple of years has been Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward”. Rohr describes the two halves of life, less chronological constructs than emotional ones. The first “half” of life is spent building the container of life. Identity, skills, beliefs… all of things that build us up as individuals and make us separate from others. This is the “egoic” self, a construct that we project to the rest of the world, a construct that we work hard to defend. It can be beliefs about skill set, our nationality or race, or of our role in society. Throughout my life, I have worked to project my intelligence, my goodness, and my insightfulness. I have protected the role of self as pastor.

Rohr argues that it is crisis, hitting rock bottom, that ushers us into the second half of life. That process began for me (at least I hope) with my divorce and the exposure of my affair. The image I had created for myself was shattered. The second half of life is the half where you wrestle with your shadow side, the dark and natural consequences of building a personality that is over and against other people. We have to wrestle with pride, ego, narcissism, fear, insecurities, and doubts. The goal in the second half of life is to lose our egoic self in discovery of a Divine, universal self that unites us with humanity instead of separating us.

This week hasn’t been a re-hitting of rock bottom for me… I hope and pray that there is nothing lower for me than what I experienced as my marriage ended… but it was a reminder of one of the second half of life. We can actually just rebuild the first half container and return to a way of living that is driven by protecting our ego. That is what I have fallen back into unconsciously. I’ve been striving to rebuild a “me” that is special and unique. A “me” that has purpose and value over against other people. The hardest part for me is that the containers I have built for myself are “good” things: pastor, spiritual director, intellect, leader…things the world needs and that offer help. Things I can feel good about doing… until I am dishonest to protect those identities. Then my ego re-exposes itself and I see myself for who I am, an insecure narcissist trying to prove to the world how great I am. I become Trump.

This has been a wake up call for me. I’ve gotten complacent in my wrestling with my shadow side. To not fall back into the patterns of feeding my ego requires diligence. When I look at Trump and his campaign, the word “undisciplined” flies into my mind. I cannot allow that for myself. I have to be humble. I have to be disciplined. I have to let all of the parts of me that feed into my ego narrative die. Well… not just let them die… I have to actively kill them. There’s too much at stake. Too many people get hurt by living into the egoic self. Our whole world is endangered by a man who, instead of being humbled by his mistakes, insists on doubling down on the wager that his narcissistic self makes. I can’t be that man anymore. I won’t be that man…

 

 

The Need to Need.

I grew up in a house where I was the third of four. My older sister and I could probably each make strong claims to which of us was more the “middle” child, but if she wants to stake her claim, she can write her own damn post! In my mind, I bear all of the classic middle child traits: independent, agreeable, used to disappointment, used to being overlooked, feeling misunderstood. The middle child’s life is one of not getting to do the stuff the older kids get to do and not being able to get away with stuff the younger kid does. It’s a no win. Most middle children adapt to this by keeping their heads down, developing a strong interior life and/or finding a unique niche away from their siblings. That’s me in a nutshell. I spent much of my childhood, lost in imagination. I spent hours pretending to Luke Skywalker or Optimus Prime (or my favorite, Derrick Weston saving the world with the help of Luke Skywalker and Optimus Prime). I read a lot. I was into animals and dinosaurs, so I read very little fiction, but I read a lot of science and nature books. I got up early on Saturday mornings, poured some cereal, and parked myself in front of the TV until someone interrupted me. I walked myself to and from school in elementary school. I was pretty self-reliant.

Part of being an independent and kind of eccentric kid means figuring out how to meet your own needs to the best of your abilities. If someone older wasn’t in the vicinity, I found my own snacks. I picked out my own clothes. I rarely needed to be told to take a bath or brush my teeth. I sometimes got in trouble for not combing my hair, but that natural, uncombed look is in now. I was just being a trendsetter. I learned to take care of me. I walked places by myself. I knew when to be in the house. I knew what I needed to do to stay under the radar. The reasons were two fold: 1) I didn’t want to be a bother. I remember my parents being incredibly busy people and when they were home they were tired. I didn’t want to be another thing to worry about. 2) in a house where abuse took place, I wanted to not be noticed. You don’t make waves and you don’t get hit. It’s a pretty simple survival technique.

One of the things that therapy reveals is that childhood survival techniques tend to outlive their usefulness, that or they morph in some unhealthy ways. For me, this meant never being comfortable with needing things. In those moments where I have needs, I feel weak and burdensome. I feel like I’m inconveniencing everyone around me. I feel like I’ve become more trouble than I’m worth. So in times when I do have needs, I talk myself into believing that my needs aren’t legitimate or that I’m just whining. And when I do finally assert that I have needs, I do so by lashing out, usually in passive aggressive ways but sometimes in ways that are just plain aggressive. This is a real weakness of mine.

Part of the growth that has happened for me in the last couple of years is recognizing that I am allowed to have needs. Having needs doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me a burden. It doesn’t diminish my worth.

(By the way, I don’t fully believe that last paragraph, but I’m working on it. I wrote about this same thing in February and, while I’ve made some progress, I feel I still have much to do.)

This is part of the work of self love, recognizing that having needs doesn’t diminish my worth. The irony is that I fully expect other people to have needs and I consider it the loving thing to meet those needs. I wouldn’t look at a hungry person as having less worth because they need food. I wouldn’t look at a lonely person as having less value because they need to talk. I wouldn’t look at a sad friend as a burden for needing a hug. I do all of those things to me.

My kids aren’t shy about expressing their needs. I suppress a “yeah… and” every time one of them tells me that they are hungry. I do that because at their ages, I had figured that my hunger was my responsibility. And while I do hope to develop a sense of self sufficiency in my babies, I love that they know they can come to me and that I will care about their needs. They know instinctively that they and their needs are important to me and that even when I think they’re a bit of a burden, I delight in knowing that their needs are met. They know that they have worth to me.

My goal for myself is to continue to develop a sense of my own self worth. With that growth, I hope, develops a sense that it is okay for me to express my needs and to work in healthy ways towards those needs being met. So, I continue to remind myself: I am allowed to have needs, I am not a burden, I have worth.

Amen.

 

 

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