Thoughts on a Plane

I need Christ. I need more of Christ. I need more of His regenerative power. I need to trust Jesus and His plan for me. I need the Holy Spirit to change me more and conform me to the image of my Lord. I am tormented by my sinful nature. Like Paul said, “I want to do the right thing, but I can’t. I always do the wrong thing.” And yet, I don’t feel that God is angry with me. I feel that His heart breaks for my brokenness.

If only I would offer up my heart and mind to Him for divine healing…If only. It’s so hard to come to the cross of Christ and offer up my life to Him. I must do it every day. It’s much easier to hold onto my past traumas and current pains. Releasing it all into Christ’s hands would be so liberating…but it requires much faith.

And who would I be if I couldn’t identify by my pain anymore? What kind of identity does Christ have for me? I sense Him pulling up these traumas and pains and separating my identity from their twisted roots. They’ve mangled their way around my little heart, squeezing and hurting me.

The Lord’s operation hurts as well, but I know that it’s best for me. Others can call this rotten growth up and smooth a salve over it, but none can extract it, thereby healing it. I’ll gladly repurchase the salve, increasing the thickness each time I apply it, satisfied for the moment. But, a complete removal is too costly, too painful, too risky. It’s an investment.

Lord, help me to make that investment and take that risk. I know who my Doctor is. He is the One who formed my body and fashioned me in my uniqueness. I can trust Him with my body. I can trust Him to honor and respect my body even more than I can. My body is His home. My sinful self houses my Lord, yet He does not point out each dirty corner and piece of old furniture. He simply changes it all. He tears it down to build a mansion of little old Gabrielle G.

 

 

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Relating to Latinos as an Afro-Latina (My Blackness Doesn’t Fit In?)

Readers, can we just take a moment to appreciate Angela Davis’ aesthetic in this picture? The afro, the glasses, the pins…I love it.

ANYWAY

The more I grow in understanding my blackness, the more I feel a disconnect from other Latinos. The only Latinos I feel a connection with are other Afro-Latinos. If a Latino resembles our Spaniard ancestors, I find it hard to relate. What do we talk about? Will they understand my experience in this country as an Afro-Latina? Do they even know abut our black ancestors? I admit that I make immediate assumptions that they aren’t as “woke” as I am or that they aren’t interested in my struggles as an Afro-Latina. This is something I have to work through.

So since I feel that I don’t fit in with typical Latino culture, where does that leave me? Well, the group of people who are more understanding and accepting of my blackness are African-Americans. All of my non-Latino black friends easily understand that as an Afro-Latina, I am black and have my own distinct experience in this country. I’ve had dark-skinned black friends tell me I am “just as black” as they are. That’s something I hesitate to claim because I know that as a light-skinned Afro-Latina, I have it much easier than a dark-skinned black American. I’m well aware of that. But, I appreciate the validation.

As a writer and reader, I devour books as soon as I get my little brown hands on them. While thinking about the books I can most relate to, I realized that I can’t really relate to Sandra Cisneros or writers in the same vein because I am a Caribbean woman. My specific experiences are so vastly different. I don’t have immigrant parents. Citizenship has never been an issue for me, because I’m Puerto Rican. While I can sympathize with Central and South American immigrants’ stories, I cannot really empathize. Our experiences are just so distinct.

Therefore, the books I read that speak to my soul aren’t written by Latino authors, save for one: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago. That book touched a deep part of my existence. Except for her book, I find myself reading books about the black woman’s experience in America and intensely resonating with the words I see on the page. I feel understood and accepted when I read those books. The book I’m currently reading is Women, Race, and Class by Angela Y. Davis. Davis documents and dissects multiple aspects of the black female experience from slavery to when she wrote the book, the 1980s, in a way that puts the reader in the shoes of each woman she talks about, whether that’s Sojourner Truth or Ida B. Wells. Davis also mentions the various ways that Puerto Rican women have been abused by the U.S. government, which is something I wrote about a few weeks ago. I’ll include a link to that performance below. Davis acknowledges Puerto Rican women’s blackness more than many Latinos do. 

As I learn more history and deepen my understanding of what “black” is and how I live move, and have my being as a black Spanish-speaking woman in this country, the texts that teach me the most are texts written by and about black American women. Are there texts written by Afro-Latinas about the Afro-Latina experience? Honestly, I’m not so sure. I haven’t heard of any. Maybe that’s because we are just now openly talking about black Latinos and our various experiences. If such literature exists, please direct me that way! I’d love to read them.

But, until I find them, I feel most understood by black American texts, not typical Latino texts. My black American friends are more accepting of my Afro-Latina identity. This is not the ideal. I’d love to be united with my white Latinos and indigenous Latinos, but it’s difficult to actually find them where I live, and even harder to build a rapport. For one, they’re told they can’t be Latino because they’re so white. Afro-Latinos are told they can’t be Latino because they’re so dark. We really can’t win, it seems. I think it’s time we changed the rules to this game because it seems like we’re not supposed to win.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

Performance about Puerto Rican history:

New Yorkers and Homelessness

How to be a typical New Yorker when a homeless person comes on the train:

1. Look away
2. Scoff at their personal story as they’re sharing it
3. Roll your eyes
4. Move away completely and act like they don’t exist
5. If you give something, give out of pity and give a dollar or your leftover food

I’ve seen this behavior from followers of Christ and non-believers alike. Followers of Christ, do not think you couldn’t be in their position in a MOMENT. Do not become so secure in your earthly possessions that you look down upon those who lack possessions. Do NOT forget that Christ had nowhere to lay His head and He repeatedly told us to give away our possessions and care for those in need. If you typically do any of the above things when you see a homeless person, check yourself.

 

I think this behavior is so rampant and so identified as a New York thing because we, as New Yorkers, have become so cynical. We see homelessness every day as we commute to our jobs or schools. I probably encounter 10-15 homeless people each day, whether that’s on the train or on the street. As I took an early bus yesterday to the LGA airport in NYC, a homeless woman came on the bus and asked for money. That was my first time seeing a homeless person on a NYC bus; I think it’s easier to get onto the trains.

New Yorkers have witnessed so much evil in human hearts: the 9/11 terror attack, the ways Wall Street has flaunted its wealth and taken advantage of people, and the segregation of people of color in our neighborhoods and schools. We’ve witnessed too much evil. Almost every day we hear about some type of terror attack or stabbing or shooting or rape or mugging or embezzlement and it just becomes exhausting.

So we disengage. We look away. We keep our money in our wallets, because we don’t believe the homeless person’s story. We are on high alert at all times, knowing that at any moment a person, homeless or not, could pull out a weapon and end our lives. A bomb could explode in the train station. So much could happen. Therefore we ignore each other, distrusting every person we see, especially the homeless.

Lord, redeem this. Ignite our hearts for the homeless. Help us take risks in the way we extend love to others. Even if we get duped while giving a dollar to someone who invents a false personal history, does it really matter? I believe the Lord looks at the heart of the giver. No matter, what we give, whether that’s money, food, a sympathizing glance, or encouraging words, we must give it all with joy and love.

“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. ‘For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.'”  – II Corinthians 9:7

Find some practical ways that you can love your neighbor. Because that homeless person on the train or street is your neighbor. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. Behold, He is coming soon. Let’s be ready to meet our Lord and regale Him with tales of our devotion and action. Jesus is calling.

 

Blessings,
Gabrielle G.

Typical “Women’s Ministry” Fails Women

Readers,

I am absolutely fed up with typical women’s ministry as it’s practiced in church settings. Typical women’s ministry is best understood as groups of women who gather together to discuss their difficulties as mothers and wives. Or, we’re subjected to Scripture study of very specific books like “Ruth” and “Esther” and the primary idea to be grasped is that we have to be Godly women, wait on the right man, and our Boaz will come along eventually. 

Too often, women’s ministry encompasses the following topics:

  1. How to best support your husband as he leads you and the family
  2. How to be a Godly mother
  3. How to balance your time and your duties in the home
  4. How to serve at the church (typically behind the scenes and with children, if there’s a children’s ministry)

In case people don’t know, not all women are wives and mothers. Some of us don’t even want to be wives and mothers. That does not diminish our womanhood or femininity. We’re not incomplete as women because we’re single and childless. We are able to offer just as much to the kingdom of God as any man, no matter our marital status or the state of our wombs. It is not the end goal of a woman’s life to be married and have children. That is a patriarchal way of thinking. Tear it down.

Let’s consider the multiple ways that the Lord Jesus Christ and His apostles treated women. First and foremost, Jesus Christ is the best feminist ever. He fully supports equality between the sexes. A man is not greater than a woman. A woman is not greater than a man. Both equally reflect the image of God. Both have value and purpose in this life. We see how Jesus responds to women multiple times throughout Scripture, whether that’s saving the woman caught in adultery,  gently forgiving the woman with several husbands, showing kindness toward the Gentile woman with great faith, and healing Mary Magdalene of all of her demons and accepting her as one of His followers. By follower, I mean that she quite literally followed Jesus, right alongside Peter and John. She left everything she knew to serve Jesus and followed Him. Luke 8 tells of the several women who financially supported Jesus’ ministry. Clearly, the Lord loves women!

Now, as far as His apostles go, there is often talk of the Apostle Paul being misogynistic and backward in his way of thinking about women. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything that the Apostle Paul had to say about women must be understood in the proper cultural context. For example, when Paul said that women should “remain silent” in the church, he did not mean that women should literally never speak. He was pointing out a problem that happened during church services. Women would hear Paul preach and, during the service, ask their husbands what he meant. Paul says that this should be reserved for the home, because they were simply interrupting the service and distracting everyone.

The Apostle Paul is the one who famously said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Galatians 3:28. Here, Paul is not saying that the differences between men and women don’t matter, or that we have no differences, but he is saying that the old way of thinking, the patriarchal way of thinking, has been abolished by Christ’s sacrifice. In heaven, we are all equal and because we are citizens of heaven living on Earth, we must be equal here as well.

Let’s consider then how we should approach women’s ministry. What can and should women contribute to the King’s work on Earth? Well, pretty much everything. Although I agree with Scripture’s prohibition regarding women serving as senior pastors, women can serve in virtually any context. Worship leader? Yup. Small group leader? Definitely. Missionary? Yes, please! We need more of you on the mission field. Outreach and evangelism? Absolutely. Prayer coordinator? No doubt.

You get the idea.

I want to be a part of a women’s ministry that is focused on training women to be better image bearers of Christ. I want to be taught evangelism. I want someone to show me the best ways to do outreach. I want to be trained as a missionary! Let’s gather together and talk about theology, doctrine, and apologetics. Let’s discuss how we can serve the world with our incredible gifts as women of God. Let’s talk about our own struggles with pornography. Can we get into how hard it is for WOMEN to be sexually pure?

Ladies, we are not defined by a ring on our finger or a baby on our hip! We are defined by Christ Jesus alone and we have as much responsibility to bring more of God’s kingdom on earth as any man. We will be held accountable for our actions on earth and I’m not just talking about sin. When we behold the face of Jesus, the last thing we want is to ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I do more for Him?” You are a Kingdom-chaser and a warrior for Christ. Let’s start acting like that, husband or no husband.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

 

Observing Systemic Poverty (An Outsider’s PoV)

Both of my parents were raised in poverty. My mother’s type of poverty was systemic: she is a Puerto Rican who first learned Spanish and was raised in Brooklyn’s projects. By God’s grace, my mother was able to leave the projects and she raised my brother and I in Upstate New York, in a beautiful house with a lush green yard and a puppy. Because I grew up in the suburbs, I attended fantastic schools and received a first-rate education. There was never a question of my attending college, although no one else in my family had done so before me. I could attend college and live at home. I wasn’t forced to work at all because my parents were able to provide for my financial needs throughout my college career.

 

Post-undergrad, I’ve had some bouts of poverty in my life. Jobs seem to come and go, or are part-time and can’t provide for all the financial needs I have as a young woman living in New York City. I’ve had seasons of surviving on canned tuna fish and bread and moments of being able to purchase steak and wine regularly. This experience is not singular; most people around my age are in similar circumstances. I see myself as an odd type of poor: I have an apartment (granted I can’t afford the rent), I have an iPhone and a MacBook Air (both gifts from my parents), and I eat three square meals a day (and tons of snacks, let’s be honest). These things typically signify a person’s wealth, or at least economic stability. But, I am not economically stable at all. I cannot afford most things, and by most things I mean rent and my bills, and there’s nothing in my savings account. I’m that odd type of poor where I can sit in this Upper West Side Barnes and Noble, sipping on Starbucks green tea, typing on my laptop, and yet have absolutely no financial stability whatsoever. I recognize that my type of poverty is not systemic. This poverty I experience is due to a few factors, the greatest of them being that I live in the most expensive city in the world, and full-time jobs in my field (education) are extremely hard to come by. I fully understand that my poverty could be eradicated if/when I get that great full-time job and move into a cheaper apartment. My money problems could then be easily fixed by using the budgeting tools I was taught in school and if I have any issues, I have a father I can turn to for advice, guidance, and pocket money. I have immense privilege in this regard.

 

Unlike me, there are those of my same ethnic background who do not share my type of poverty. Their poverty is systemic and it’s extremely painful to observe. I have several family members who live like this and most of my neighbors do as well (I live in the Inwood/Washington Heights area). Regarding my family, I will refrain from revealing exactly who they are in the event that they read this post, so I’ll just refer to them as “my family member.” I have two family members who are a type of patriarch and matriarch of a large part of my Puerto Rican family. Both growing up in poverty themselves, in New York City, they deeply understand the mental pain that arises from feeling trapped in a life from which no one wants you to escape. Yet escape they did, in some regard, by moving their nuclear family further upstate. This is how I perceived their move, as an escape from New York City poverty. During a recent visit, the realization that my previous perception was completely false washed over me and I found it difficult to process. They may live in Upstate New York now, a typical beacon of middle-class life, but they have certainly not escaped from the poverty they were raised in. Looking into their fridge, I found little fresh food and hardly any vegetables at all. Their cupboards were all but bare. The largest and most expensive material good in their house was their television, which was watched most of the day. Both of these wonderful people are disabled and unable to work, so they receive government assistance. As they have no job to occupy their time throughout the day, the television is of utmost importance and it’s how they connect with visitors and each other. In fact, there are several televisions in the home and at least one is always on. Perhaps the sound drowns out the stifling and suffocating silence they endure every day. During a previous visit, this wonderful matriarch was playing games on her iPad when she suddenly stopped, looked into my eyes, and said, “These things are a distraction from real life.” My heart sank. She confirmed my long-held suspicion that she recognizes her lonely state as unhealthy and not the ideal and therefore escapes into games and television to protect her mind from falling into dark, hopeless thoughts about the future.

 

As Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” She certainly spoke the truth with that statement and I have seen this poverty play out in many family members’ lives. There’s a young woman in my family who is a single mother of a child with special needs. That alone is a difficult burden to bear, but to add onto it poverty and mental illness is unimaginable. I don’t think I could bear such a life and my heart breaks for her. This young woman is my lovely matriarch’s daughter and, like her mother, was born and raised in New York City poverty. She had the chance to attend college, but found herself unable to keep up with her peers and dropped out. This is most likely due to the condition of New York City’s public schools and the fact that among the poor, encouragement toward an educational goal is hard to come by. Parents can’t help with the homework because of language barriers or ignorance of difficult material. Parents don’t see getting an education as a priority, because money needs to constantly flow into the home. Food must be purchased every week. Bills have to be paid on time. Why waste time with a book when you can be working and supporting your family? That is the type of work that is valued when human survival is at risk.

 

I am certainly not saying that this was my family member’s parents’ reaction to her decision to attend college. I don’t know anything about that. What I do know is that this type of thinking exists and it’s a thought pattern that is extraordinarily difficult to break. If an individual believes what I’ve written above, that person is not incorrect or mean-natured. They are actually correct. Eating today matters much more than studying. But studying and earning degrees will ensure that the need to eat need not be so desperate. Working in an office or owning a company pays much better than working as a cashier does.

 

This young family member confided in me during my last visit. At the kitchen table, over cups of coffee and hot chocolate, she revealed some of her financial struggles. “Gabby, I only had enough for a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk, and a dozen eggs. How am I supposed to feed my son on that?” She ended up having to feed her son an entire loaf of bread in a day to ensure that his belly was full. Thankfully her welfare check came in a few days after that experience. When she shared this information with me, her eyes were full of shame. Here was a twenty-nine-year-old single mother with a child with special needs and no one to help her other than the government that was never for her in the first place. This family member revealed that she has been unemployed for quite some time and as each potential workplace rejects her applications, she becomes more and more dejected. She said that she could not even get hired as a cashier, although she does indeed have a high school diploma, which is the requirement for that type of job.

 

Now, as I reflected on the type of poverty I observed during my visit, I began to feel more hopeful about my own financial situation. Yes, I may be struggling and, at times, desperate, but I have infinitely more resources than my family members do. I have people I can turn to in times of crises. I have my own personal knowledge about options I have for my life. I have a Cum Laude Bachelor’s Degree that no person may take from me. I always present myself in a way that fits in with the majority culture, as I was educated in institutions founded by the majority culture. I know how to speak like them, work like them, and even make small talk like them. These are tools all people of color have had to learn if they want to advance in this country, as it is quite clear that this country will never bend its traditional ways of doing business and behaving in the workplace. This is something I’m sure my family members will most likely not be able to do. Now, I’m not saying that people of color should intentionally alter their way of speaking or behavior to fit in with the majority culture in the workplace. I’m saying that we all do this and it works. Take from that what you will.

 

Although my poverty can easily end with a great job, the type of poverty that my family experiences will not be so easily eradicated. It is a mental and spiritual condition that will take the Holy Spirit’s power to break free from. I do not have all the answers; I have not studied this enough to be considered a credible person to glean wisdom from in this area. However, I do believe that with more social programs, free access to mental health care, knowledge of healthy food choices, and so many more things, those who are stuck in systemic poverty can break free. Granted all of the systems are set in place to prevent this from happening. But, dammit, we must have a fighting spirit if we want to be emancipated from the shackles that the oppressor has so systematically fashioned around our ankles.

The Truth about Puerto Rico (Told to a White Audience)

Puerto Rico

Isla del encanto

Land of arroz con habichuelas y mofongo

Exporter of Marc Anthony and Rita Moreno

We’re well-known for what we give, aren’t we?

 

But, what about what has been taken from us?

 

The Spaniards, our first colonizers, murdered the Tainos, and through violent indigenous rape, eradicated them from our present reality.

They forced their foreign tongues down our throats and balked when we didn’t like the taste.

 

Spain did the same to my African ancestors, denying their humanity, refusing to set them free.

They claimed ownership of the black body, through slavery and forced intimacy.

 

Thus, a Puerto Rican came to be.

 

Puerto Rico. Tiny island, somewhere in the Caribbean

Not sure what their government’s like

Not sure if they can vote in our elections

Wait, aren’t they Americans? Why?

 

Why. This question turns in my head often

Why Puerto Rico has never been free.

Black bodies passed from Spanish hands to American hands

Different linguistically but still pale and cold hands.

 

Autonomy has never been known to the Puerto Rican.

Liberty to choose an identity was never for us.

So, yes, we are Americans. By force.

We became one of you in 1917, right when WWI was heating up.

How convenient.

 

The U.S. military has used Puerto Rican bodies for their wars

And yet has consistently denied us our freedom.

Freedom to think, to protest, to fly our flag.

Freedom to have babies when we want to, or even at all.

 

During the 1950s, “la operacion” became a household word

Amongst the tragically ignorant housewives in Puerto Rico.

A promise was made: better family size; more money.

And women were cut: they were sterilized against their will

By the U.S. government.

 

Scratching and clawing at this situation,

Like a tourist’s bad sunburn,

We wanted to resist, to peel it,

And let our natural, sun-kissed skin grow.

 

Pedro Albizu Campos led this resistance.

A Harvard-educated man, he was a polyglot

And his linguistic capital gave him the ability

To feverishly speak to anyone who could help Puerto Rico become free.

 

This fiery passion would become his downfall.
Much like MLK or Malcolm X, Campos became a threat.

Independence. Our own flag. Women’s rights to their own bodies.

The U.S. wasn’t ready to talk about that during the 1950’s.

 

Pedro Albizu Campos was murdered, through medical experiments and torture.

The U.S. channeled the Nazis they had just vehemently fought against

In order to subdue this “angry Puerto Rican man.”

The independence movement flickered out, with embers still aching to be noticed.

 

During this movement, my grandmother was one of the many women who fled Puerto Rico

To avoid sterilization, and she found herself in the projects of downtown Brooklyn.

Here she raised almost ten children on her own, without any man.

Nueva York seemed to be the land of opportunity for so many like her.

 

But that opportunity came with terms and conditions,

That my grandmother couldn’t read, let alone sign.

If you don’t speak English, your future in this country is dim.

Citizen or not, Spanish, at that time, did not get you far.

 

And so she remained in downtown Brooklyn,

Feeding her children using food stamps,

Hoping that one of them would leave this place

And fulfill the dream she had had, as a twenty-something coming to the mainland.

 

Puerto Rico was and is unable to promise the growth that New York does.

Much of that is because the U.S. created Puerto Rico to be what it is.

It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?
And one feels shame, begging the oppressor for better opportunities, knowing that their hand has always been closed to you.

 

But, this country was not for my grandmother. No one rooted for her. She learned little English, despite her best efforts.

Literacy was completely unknown to her. She could not advance in life, so one of her children did.

My mother, from her childhood, knew that she wanted more than this life

Of simply eating government cheese, playing on the needle-ridden streets, going to dilapidated schools, and waiting to die, in Brooklyn, the borough that has become so hip lately.

 

Through her tenacity and fierce commitment to her education,

My mother was able to leave the projects

And when the time came for her to choose to have children,

She had two and raised them in Upstate New York’s quiet suburbs.

 

I stand here as a creation of God and a reflection of my island’s past.

The U.S. has hurt Puerto Rico immensely and continues to do so

With its disgusting response to the island’s cries, post-Maria.

Lares esta gritando and this isn’t the first time.

 

I must openly speak what is true, while I have this platform.

 

Americans love to dance to “Despacito” and swoon over our women,

Yet most of you do not know that Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S. and that we have been citizens for a century.

You love to eat our food, move into our neighborhoods, and visit our island’s resorts,

Yet you know next to nothing about our history, our pain and how it affects us today.

 

Puerto Rican history is American history.

If you neglect this part of your ancestors’ past,

You are bound to repeat it.

My people will suffer from your lack of knowledge.

 

The U.S. government and its citizens have deeply wounded Puerto Rico.

In all honesty, I’m not sure we can totally recover.

But what has to happen, is an attitude change, a heart shift.

Begin to see the Puerto Rican as your fellow citizen, your fellow human,

And you will become righteously indignant.

Speak up for us, because when we speak, Washington, D.C. chooses not to hear us,

Even though we speak the language they forced on us.

 

Gabrielle G.

 

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” – I John 3:18

 

How to Help Puerto Rico:

https://www.unidosporpuertorico.com/en/

https://secure.savethechildren.org/site/c.8rKLIXMGIpI4E/b.9535647/k.A2B9/Hurricane_Maria_Childrens_Relief_Fund/apps/ka/sd/donor.asp?msource=wexgphca0917&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIjum-0tyK2AIViI-zCh3qHgP1EAAYAiAAEgIMwPD_BwE

Why I Reject Santeria as an Afro-Latina

As more Latinos claim their African ancestry as a point of pride and call themselves “Afro-Latinos”, I have begun to see a resurfacing of acceptance of Santeria and other types of Brujeria (witchcraft). This spirituality is typically practiced amongst women who call themselves “Santeras”, although men, “Santeros”, practice it as well. In their opinion, they are bringing healing and prosperity to themselves and others, by tapping into the strength of their ancestors and the gods of their people. For many Afro-Latinos, to claim Afrolatinidad means to embrace the religious and spiritual practices of our African ancestors. I am here to boldly claim that I do not accept any part of Santeria or any other religious/spiritual practice other than the way of Jesus Christ. I am not less Afro-Latina because I reject Santeria. Santeria is a dangerous practice that injures its followers’ minds, bodies, and most importantly, their souls.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Santeria, I’ll briefly explain what it is and what it means to its followers. You may use the beautiful resource that is Google to learn more if you’d like. Santeria, per Wikipedia, “is an Afro-American religion of Caribbean origin that developed in the Spanish Empire among West African descendants. Santería is a Spanish word that means the “worship of saints”. Santería is influenced by and syncretized with Roman Catholicism. Its sacred language, a variety of Yoruba, is the Lucumí language”. 

Essentially, when Africans were brought to the Caribbean islands as slaves, they were forced to become Roman Catholics, as the Spaniards were Catholic. These Africans absolutely did not want to give up their religious practices, as religion is a massively important part of any culture. Therefore, they worshipped their African gods in secret, masquerading them as Roman Catholic saints. As the Catholics prayed to the saints, and still do, the Africans managed to maintain their religious practices while pretending to be Catholic.

Santeria has deep roots in my Puerto Rican family. My mother told me this summer that her mother used to force her to pray to little statues and photos of gods and to give them sacrifices and offerings, like food, money, and perfume. Also, because my grandmother often saw my mother as “bad”, which meant precocious and opinionated, my mother experienced a cleansing of sorts. An ancient ritual, intending to rid her of evil spirits, was performed on her in the bathtub and it disturbed her. As a child, my mother questioned these practices and saw them as fruitless. To her, these statues and photos were just pictures of dead or fictional people who held no power over her life. This tradition of Santeria was passed down to my mother much like the Spanish language or the practice of eating rice and beans. It was and is simply in our culture to worship the gods.

Thankfully the Lord has had His hand intensely upon my mother throughout her entire life and as a young girl, she developed a deep faith in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. Through her knowledge of Scripture and the Holy Spirit’s power, my mother became instrumental in leading her own mother to faith in Jesus Christ. My grandmother renounced all ties to Santeria. Since then, no one on my mother’s side has been connected to Santeria, to the best of my knowledge.

There is another person in my family who has practiced Santeria and has confessed to me that she saw spirits sometimes and that her daughter reported seeing spirits as well.  These spirits included an old woman and a young girl, who apparently pressed her face immediately against my family member’s when she appeared. Whenever she discussed these apparitions, she claimed that seeing spirits was “a gift.” I learned these things through her stories.

These are all personal anecdotes of how Santeria has harmed my family. You may be thinking, “Well, they just didn’t practice Santeria correctly. This doesn’t mean you have to reject it. Others can freely practice it without experiences like these.” You’re absolutely right. Every human being has a choice in what they believe and practice. God will not force Himself upon any individual; He is a gentleman. But, I hold the Bible to be the only true religious text and therefore must completely reject Santeria as a viable spiritual practice for myself and for anyone who is seeking to know the One True God.

Let’s take a look at the person of Jesus Christ. Historians agree that such a man named Jesus certainly existed. Whether or not He is the Lord, the Messiah, and the Son of God is the question. Many religious texts and practices agree that Jesus was a good teacher and some even go so far as to claim that He was a great prophet, but nothing more. What’s perplexing and should bring pause is that these religions feel they need to answer the Jesus question. Jesus is so singular that they cannot ignore His existence and ministry on Earth. His teachings are radical and confusing. Readers, you can reject Jesus as God, you can believe in Him as just a prophet, you can merely enjoy His teachings about helping the poor, but there is one thing you cannot do. You cannot ignore Jesus Christ as a person. If major world religions, such as Islam, have an answer for Jesus while still denying His deity, you must form an opinion about Him. Many people have said that Jesus is either Lord or an absolute nut/fraud.

Jesus Christ made some authoritative claims about Himself that have never been made by another person in history. Here’s one of them: “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'” – John 14:6

Wait, what? Jesus claimed to be the only way to know God, and also was God Himself. Who else has made such an outrageous claim? Mohammed claimed to be a prophet but certainly did not claim to be the Messiah or God Himself. All religions claim to point to the way, such as through a specific diet or abstaining from things like music and sex, but no one else has claimed to be God. This is a claim that we must investigate and take seriously because if He is correct, then all human life hinges upon this claim.

So let’s say that Jesus is just crazy and/or a fraud. What do we do with His other teachings and behavior? Jesus was a 1st century Jewish Rabbi. In His culture, associating with women was forbidden and a Gentile woman was like a dog. Jesus made it a part of His ministry to specifically reach out to women, even Gentile women. Two examples of Jesus showing love to Gentile women are found in John 4 and Matthew 15. To Jewish women, Jesus saved one of them from being stoned in John 8 and allowed a sinful woman to anoint Him in Luke 7, much to the shock of all of the religious leaders around Him at the time. As far as His teachings about the poor go, one simply has to read Matthew 5 in its entirety to see a man committed to societal equity and loving those who are vulnerable.

We cannot believe that Jesus is crazy while also accepting His teachings and praising His kind and forgiving behavior. The two are absolutely mutually exclusive. So if Jesus is not crazy, then who is He? He must be Lord, because He claimed no other title.

I could write for hours about why I believe the Bible to be true and why Jesus is God, but that would turn into a book. Note to self: write a book before you die.

Jesus claimed to be the only way to God and I accept that claim as the truth. If I accept Jesus, then I also accept the Hebrew Scriptures He preached from and referenced. The Bible is full of warnings against witchcraft or spiritual practices that don’t center around Christ. God warns us that we are not safe with mediums (psychics) or witches. He tells us this quite forcefully in Leviticus: “Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God.” (Lev. 19:31) and “I will set my face against anyone who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute themselves by following them, and I will cut them off from their people” (Lev. 20:6). Scripture clearly states that if a person is to know the One True God, the God of the Bible, they cannot have anything to do with witchcraft. It results in loss of relationship with God, which is what He wants with us. We cannot serve two masters. How can we claim to worship Jesus, who professed to be the only way to God, while also worshipping African deities? We must choose. I am not saying this. Jesus says this.

What will your choice be today? If you’ve been living life as a Santera or Santero and you want to talk more about Jesus or if you want to leave that life, please reach out to me! I’d love to talk about this more in depth and pray for you.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

Rosalie Avila’s Suicide (My Story)

A few days ago, a young girl named Rosalie Avila committed suicide. She was 13 years old. According to news sources, she ended her life because of constant bullying from fellow students at her school. She documented each act of verbal violence every day in her journal. Two months before her death, she began cutting herself and was receiving therapy. In her suicide note, she apologized to her mother, knowing that she would find her dead in her room.

A young girl killed herself because other kids bullied her. I have so many questions and feelings.

  1. Why didn’t the school do more?
  2. Could the parents have done more?
  3. Why does this keep happening?

I’m left dumbstruck, gobsmacked, and disturbed. The older I get, the younger the kids are who kill themselves. When I was 13, the thought of suicide never entered my head. I don’t think I had ever thought about it, even as a concept. I had heard of ancient people who committed suicide, but I had never known someone who had committed this act of violence against themselves.

My initial thoughts on Rosalie Avila is that she did not know the ramifications of her final actions. She did not actually know what she was doing. Her mental state was not clear and she was not in control of herself. At 13 years old, her insular academic world was her entire world. She could not picture a world outside of her school. She was not able to imagine a positive future for herself apart from her situation as a bullied child.

Therefore, she took her life. Personally, I believe that she’s rejoicing with the Lord right now. As she was a child, I believe God didn’t hold her to the standard that He holds adults to. Her brain couldn’t comprehend her actions. Now, 13-year olds can definitely have a beautiful, holy, childlike grasp of the Gospel, but that’s another conversation.

Ultimately, my heart breaks for this young Latina. She had an incredible future ahead of her. God created each and every person with a specific purpose and plan. It was NOT God’s will for Rosalie Avila to kill herself at 13 years old. He knew it would happen, but He hoped the whole time that she wouldn’t do this. He created her to serve Him, enjoy the beautiful world that He created, and bring others to a loving knowledge of Himself. I wish this beautiful Latina grew up to become a freedom fighter, fighting alongside me and others as we push forward toward God’s kingdom.

 

 

Personally, I’ve dealt with suicidal thoughts three times in my life. At ages 15, 17, and 23, I was tortured with unwanted suicidal thoughts. These thoughts bombarded my mind and I couldn’t free myself from them. Rosalie’s story could’ve been my story.

It took constant fighting against these thoughts to become somewhat free. But, I quickly realized that I wasn’t fighting against myself. These thoughts weren’t coming from my own brain. If my brain produced these thoughts on its own, I would welcome them. I would not be disgusted or scared of them if they were of my own creation. The human being wants to survive. We have natural survival instincts that automatically kick in whenever our lives are threatened, or are perceived to be at risk.

These suicidal thoughts came from the prince of darkness, Satan. I began fighting Satan, not just the thoughts. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” – Ephesians 6:12 

Clearly the Word tells us that we fight Satan, not others and certainly not ourselves! When a suicidal or negative thought came into my head, I would combat it with the truth. What is the truth? The Bible. I literally forced myself to read an uplifting verse in the Bible or to sing Christian worship songs in my head. This helped immensely. I took every thought into captivity, as the Word tells us to do.

“…casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” – II Corinthians 10:5

Practically, there are several things you can do when you find yourself targeted by Satan with suicidal or negative thoughts. I’m not a mental health counselor, but these are the practices that have helped me and brought me further onto this path of divine healing.

  1. First and foremost, tell a trusted person about your thoughts. The number one thing that Satan wants to do during this time is isolate you and make you think you’re crazy. Fight against that desire to isolate yourself. That comes from Satan. It will make your situation worse if you isolate yourself.
  2. Bring these thoughts to God Himself. He is not surprised by these thoughts. He knew you would have them before you were even born! He wants you to ask Him for help. He will send His angels to guard you and protect you from the demons that are attacking your mind. “For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways.” – Psalm 91:11
  3. Do exactly what I described a few paragraphs above. Replace these intrusive thoughts with Scripture and worship lyrics. This will truly help you!
  4. Seek therapy, spiritual counseling, and/or mentoring. There is absolutely nothing wrong with therapy. God loves it! It’s so biblical to seek help from others. It doesn’t mean you are insane or weird if you have a therapist. Honestly, so many issues around the world would be solved if every person received therapy for their problems.
  5. Don’t give up. My number one piece of advice is NEVER give up! Satan wants to make you think your life is over, you have no future, you’re crazy, no one loves you, and you’re worthless. LIES! ALL LIES! This is why we need to know Scripture because Scripture tells us the opposite. God loves us, we have a bright future in Him, and we are worth much because Christ died and rose for us.

If you ever need to talk to someone, I’m great to talk to about these things. These issues are more common than you think, so there’s no shame in coming forth about them.

 

Here’s a lifeline you can call if you feel you need immediate help (or call 911): 1-800-273-8255

They even have an online chat if you can’t talk by phone for whatever reason.

 

Be blessed. Be strengthened in Christ’s love for you. Be well.

 

Love,

 

Gabby G.

Saving Mr. Banks (Adults with Traumatic Childhoods)

Readers,

I just finished watching Saving Mr. Banks, the film about the making of Mary Poppins that was released a few years ago. I know, I’m so late with this movie. After wiping away my tears, I have to talk about this film!

Throughout the film, I was amazed at the portrayal of P.L. Travers, Emma Thompson’s character and the author of Mary Poppins. She was a little girl lost inside the body of a middle-aged woman. Her traumatic childhood affected her every day. Travers experienced repeated flashbacks that left her mentally unstable, to a certain extent. She was often in her own little world, specifically the past, which made it difficult for her to work with the men on Mary Poppins. This was so encouraging because as an adult survivor of a traumatic childhood, I’m well acquainted with those painful moments when flashbacks smack you in the face and you relive difficult experiences. Often they come out of nowhere and you’re powerless to stop it. How encouraging it was to me to see someone else struggle with them, especially an older woman. Readers, there’s no expiration date on dealing with and healing from trauma. Don’t feel pressured to “have it all together.” It will take our whole lives to heal, and that’s okay!! Healing is a process. It ebbs and flows.

Now, when Travers was a little girl, all she knew was trauma. She experienced immense poverty, an alcoholic but loving father, a mentally unstable mother (she attempted suicide), and the responsibility of caring for her little sister. She was often forced into inappropriate circumstances, like witnessing her father’s excessive drinking which led to her giving him his bottle, in order for her beloved Daddy to feel better. She witnessed her mother’s suicide attempt and saved her from completing the act. These are traumatic experiences that no human, let alone a child, can or should experience.

To release her pain, Travers wrote Mary Poppins and poured her love, desires, and sadness into the work. Travers turned her distress into pure art, which thankfully was captured on the big screen in the film of the same name.

As a child, I always loved watching Mary Poppins. The music excited me. I thought that Dick Van Dyke was cute. But, it was Mary Poppins herself who perplexed me so much. She was practically perfect in every way. She knew how to be a good mother figure and a friend, to Bert.

I never understood Mr. Banks. I thought of him as a mean, old dad who didn’t love his children at all. All he cared about was money and work. By watching this film, and reflecting on my own upbringing, I can now see that the pressures of making money and supporting a family can catapult a person into a cage of commitment that can keep them from being the type of parent they long to be.

A child cannot understand this. When I was young, I couldn’t see why my dad chose to work overtime rather than come to my choral concerts at school. Why did he sleep at the office? Why did he go away for weeks on end to foreign countries and bring home trinkets, hoping that would lessen the pain brought by distance? (They did, actually. Dad knew how to pick out gifts!)

As an adult, I can understand that Mr. Banks was in pain just like the children were. He needed Mary Poppins, too.

The first scene in Saving Mr. Banks that brought me to tears was the scene where Emma Thompson begins singing and dancing along to “Let’s Go Fly A Kite.” I can’t quite explain it, but that song always makes me feel sad. Every time I listen to it, I feel this yearning rush over me. Now I understand what that is. Travers, like me, just wants her father to take off work for a day and take us around to fly kites, enjoy each other’s company, and live. Just to simply live and not worry about tomorrow.

 

Readers, go fly a kite! Go dancing! Take a cooking class. Run around the yard barefoot. Tell your loved ones that you LOVE them.

 

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.