Suffering for a Decade with an Undiagnosed Chronic Disease

Readers,

I have painful periods. No, really, they’re awful. I know there’s this new movement of trying to love your period and embrace it in all its glory, but I simply can’t do that. Why?

I have endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a chronic, treatable but not curable, debilitating disease. Tissue that is meant to grow in the uterus grows outside of the uterus, on the ovaries, even throughout the pelvis and up toward the lungs. Doctors are unsure why this disease exists.

Endometriosis is mysterious disease. The average time for diagnosis of the disease is 7-10 years.

For me, it took 10 years.

For years I would visit my pediatrician, then my primary care physician, and then three gynecologists complaining of the same symptoms. In fact, by the time I saw my third gynecologist, I brought with me three full pages of symptoms. After reading the symptoms, she immediately diagnosed me with endometriosis.

My symptoms?

 

Heavy periods

Blood clots while menstruating

Intense pelvic pain

Fatigue

Dizziness

Missing work or school the first day of my period

Heart palpitations

Anemia caused by menstruation

 

My gynecologist doesn’t think it’s necessary to do the surgical procedure needed to officially diagnose endometriosis; she thinks I have enough symptoms to feel confident in her diagnosis.

I’m on birth control now to stop my periods.

I aim to see an endometriosis specialist hopefully sometime during the next couple of months and I want the surgery to confirm the diagnosis.

I hope they can remove the excess tissue, easing my pain and helping me become more able to have a baby and have sex with no pain.

 

Endometriosis can cause painful sex and infertility. That breaks my heart.

Women readers, if you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHT FOR A DIAGNOSIS!

Gabrielle G.

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I Don’t Know What I Believe Anymore (& It Scares Me)

Readers,

This is probably the hardest thing I have had to admit to myself lately. The simple truth of it is that I don’t know what I believe anymore in terms of religion and faith. On one hand, there are some things I do believe to be true. Do I believe in God? Yes. Do I believe in Jesus? Yes. Do I believe in the Holy Spirit? Yes. 

What about the Bible? Well, I believe the Bible is true and relevant for our lives today. Has the Bible been altered and some things lost in translation or changed for political reasons? I believe this has probably happened. I intend to learn Hebrew and Greek so I can read the Bible for myself.

But that’s where everything seems to take a pause for me. I think I’m in this spiritually confused place because of countless reasons, but most of them involve the 2016 presidential election and growing up in the church. My story is not rare; so many people my age have been feeling this way lately. Yet my story is my own and I’m going to share it in hopes that someone will be able to relate to it and also give me some encouragement. 

I was raised in a semi-Christian home. My mother was Christian and, at the time, my father was not Christian. My brother was not Christian. I wasn’t sure what my sister believed when I was younger, but now I know she’s a Christian. My mother made sure to bring us to church almost every Sunday. We were involved in children’s church and eventually, I wanted to sit in on the sermon and hear what the pastor who kept saying “oh shondo shondo shondo” was saying on that stage. It seemed almost like an entertaining show and I wanted to watch it. I have hardly any memories of any sermons I heard as a child, then as a teenager. I only remember the emotions. Women would shout in church “Thus sayeth the Lord, (something admonishing us or encouraging us)” and I remember asking why she was interrupting the pastor. My mother told me that God was speaking through her. Countless people would start murmuring or uttering strange noises. I later learned that this is what some people think speaking in tongues is like. I now believe that speaking in tongues is when you’re given the supernatural ability to speak a language you had no prior knowledge of. Read “Acts” again. 

Around the age of 8, after seeing an Easter play that showed various death scenes of naughty party girls and boys culminating in a lot of teenagers going to hell, I asked my Mom how I could avoid hell. She told me to pray a prayer and invite Jesus into my heart. I did and instantly felt this joy rush through me. While I thought little of God between the ages of 8 and 15, I saw my personality begin to be shaped by Him. So many kids my age were liars, part of cliques, cheaters, and bullies. Inwardly I knew that I should not behave that way. I never told a lie, even a small one. I didn’t like bullying people because I knew how it was to be bullied. I didn’t know why I had this moral compass. It felt like I was underneath this grand, supernaturally powerful being and had to conduct myself accordingly. 

At 15, I became depressed. At 16, I became anxious. At 17, I was depressed, anxious, and suffering from suicidal thoughts. Those years were awful and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. I grew up being abused by my father and being highly restricted by my mother. When my father didn’t show me love, my mother showed me excessive amounts of it. My dad didn’t seem to know what I was up to as a teen and usually didn’t care, but my mother controlled what I wore and who my friends were. If she didn’t like one of my friends, I’d end the friendship. As a 10-year old I couldn’t wear shorts that went above the kneecap. I couldn’t wear red lipstick. I couldn’t wear tight shirts which would only be tight because I developed D-cup breasts at age 14. Boys were a no-no. This anti-dating policy was taught to me by my mother but also by American Christianity. When I asked my mother why I had to be a virgin until marriage, she told me that my virginity was a special gift for my husband. I immediately asked to get a purity ring at age 14 and I wore it for ten years before removing it just a few months ago. I wanted to be a good girl. My mother raised me to be a good girl. So I didn’t want to date and I mocked the kids who did. Throughout this time, I began to explore my Christianity. Because my depression sucked my breath out of my lungs, I tried to find my breath in prayer. I’d walk around with headphones in, constantly listening to Christian music. I read the Bible throughout the day, underlining and highlighting paragraph upon paragraph. I stayed away from the bad things and prided myself on that. I was good. I was pure. “I know God,” I thought to myself. “This is God. This is Christianity. This is it.”

In college, I found a group of Christian friends who were excellent to me in the beginning yet turned into shaming hypocrites when I expressed desires or beliefs that were contrary to their conservative ones. Whether that was telling a girl about a crush I had on a boy, to which she replied, “No, that’s bad” to wanting to wear form-fitting clothes, “You shouldn’t show that. You have to cover up more because your body is curvy.” One girl who considered herself my mentor because she was three years older, sat me down and shamed me for having crushes on lots of boys. No one in high school was interesting to me, so all of the boy crazy energy I had seemed to be stored up for college. Now I was surrounded by so many cute Christian guys. Aren’t crushes okay? Not to her, or to most women in that Christian circle. I was told that I liked too many guys and I should focus on God. So I did. Women shouldn’t be sexual beings. We should focus only on the fact that we are God’s princesses, and delight in that. We don’t have to worry about evangelism, missions, ministry, or preaching. Leave that to the men. Just learn to be Proverbs 31 and God will give you your Boaz.

I stopped checking guys out in the Christian college clubspace and decided never to have a crush until I was ready to marry. Because dating is all about marriage, right? If you date someone, you must marry them or at least both have marriage as the end goal. Dating isn’t really the best term for it. I suppose we should call it “courting.” Oh, and he should ask your father for permission first. My father was abusive and not Christian. I felt shame and loss when I realized that a man wouldn’t be able to ask my dad for permission to date me. 

During my junior year of college, I took a two-month trip to Thailand and India with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. The Global Urban Trek introduced me to Christian students with various denominational backgrounds and it forced me to accept that I had closed God in a little box and had expected Him to behave the way I’d been taught. God opened my eyes that summer. I saw destitution like I haven’t seen since. My heart was ripped apart and IVCF did a terrible job with re-entry, so I still have to deal with the harsh memories from that time. My body was groped three times by Indian men. I was told it was because I was busty and beautiful.

After leaving my Christian club for various reasons, I found myself utterly alone and without any Christian community. I am still without Christian community other than a handful of close friends. I finished up college, took a great job in NYC, and found it difficult to maintain my college friendships. Eventually I lost so many friends, that I’ve lost count of them.

While in college and as I finished my degree, I began to explore different schools of Christian thought. I knew Pentecostalism was NOT for me, yet I didn’t know what the other denominations believed. I was always told that non-denominational was the best way to be, and so I was. I attended The Brooklyn Tabernacle and prided myself on just being a follower of Jesus with no labels attached. I dove into apologetics. I explored Messianic Judaism and still have a strong passion for that way of relating to Jesus, yet could not find other people my age who felt the same way and so I put that interest aside in order to cultivate as many Christian friendships as possible. The least controversial you are in church, the better. Just be friendly, smile, say you’re doing great, and you’ll have Christian friends. 

I was baptized in 2014 and felt the Lord’s face smile upon me as I emerged from the warm waters.

Eventually I found my way to a church in NYC called Uptown Community Church. I reflect on my time there with so much emotion. That place literally fed me and housed me when I struggled financially. I prayed with amazing prayer warriors and learned so much about God from the straightforward, Bible-based sermons my pastor gave each week. The church service was traditional and modern: we sang hymns, songs in Spanish, and added a bit of liturgy in the mix. I loved it. I loved that church almost because it felt like school. A pastor taught me in-depth Christian theological concepts and I furiously took notes, nodding along and being enlightened the whole time.

Trump was elected in 2016 by a majority of white people, even women, and by a majority of Evangelicals, a term I no longer consider myself to be. I was stunned. How could a Christian justify this man’s ascension to power? He’s a racist. He’s a sexist. He’s a homophobe. He’s an Islamophobe. He’s a pig.

I left New York and came to Georgia, where I have yet to find a church that suits me. Before settling in Georgia, I took another two-month trip to India because I absolutely believed that God wanted me to be a missionary in India. I was ready to go. I was committed to the idea of suffering and studied the lives of Amy Carmichael and Elisabeth Elliot in preparation. I wanted to leave this racist country forever, leave my money problems and family problems, and just start over as a new Gabrielle. There, I met and fell in love with a wonderful man from Israel who does not believe in Jesus. How could I have such a strong connection with a man who did not share my faith? I was confused. Every Christian guy I had been on dates with had been immature, not a feminist, and ignorant of all things social justice. They seemed like boys and with me in India was a man. I loved and left him in Goa, India and then traveled to Gujarat where I taught in a village school for two weeks. Because the school had lost their English teacher due to a lack of funds, I eagerly committed myself to be their English teacher for a year, or forever. I wanted to stay. I wanted to keep myself from going back to the U.S. and this was a perfect way to do it. But, I also felt that God was bringing me here, to this small village, and that this was where He wanted me to stay and suffer. My missionary friend, Patty, smacked me over the head with truth and I thank her for it. I quit and went back to the U.S.

Throughout all of this upheaval, one thing has remained a constant: I don’t know who God is. When I think He calls me to something, it never works out and seems beyond my control. He seems to want me in the places I don’t want to be, like Georgia. My heart longs to go back to New York, yet I can’t find a feasible way to do that yet. I don’t want to meet any other men because I am so anti-romance, or at least I was until I met that Israeli man. He’s the only man who has silently convinced me that romance was a good thing. The church told me that dating was wrong. Holding hands was a sin. Kissing was for the wedding day. Sex was not even to be discussed with someone until the wedding day. So I stayed away from all of that and am now an almost 25-year old who has never kissed, had a boyfriend, and doesn’t know how to because I believed it was all a sin. 

I am now in a place where I don’t attend church. I don’t read the Bible. I don’t pray. I don’t feel much of the presence of God anymore. I am a skeptical Christian. I believe in Jesus and believe that He is God/the only way to God, but I don’t know what that means or what it looks like in my life. I feel like everything that the church taught me was a lie. I’m not wealthy, so am I being cursed? I haven’t been cured of my anxiety, so do I just not believe enough? I have a gay man in my family. Is he going to hell because of who he loves? Sex before marriage isn’t explicitly stated as a sin in the Bible. Am I a bad Christian for considering it? Am I a slut for wanting to show my body on special occasions? I wonder this as I look at leather pants and bustiers for my 25th birthday party. Is it okay to say that I’m pro-choice? I’d rather a child be with Jesus than suffer or be unloved on earth. Am I evil for saying that?

I’m tired of praying for my friends’ colds. You’re not a child or an 85-year old man. You’re going to be fine. I don’t want to pray for your test. You either studied or your didn’t. Does meditation really open us up to demons? Sometimes I do need to empty my brain of thoughts and worrying about remembering Bible verses just causes me more stress. Is yoga really all that evil? It’s just exercise. Is it wrong that my main focus isn’t to convert my Muslim friends? I just want to love them and show them that contrary to all of history, Christians don’t have to be as heinous as we once were…or as we are. Is it heretical to believe that Jesus Himself saves and that whether or not I preach doesn’t determine whether or not someone believes? He came down and grabbed me…doesn’t He do that for everyone? Sometimes God doesn’t heal us. Sometimes He doesn’t deliver us. And wait…is it wrong for wanting to call God my Mother? God is Spirit and has no gender, so can I call God, “she”? Or am I a heretic?

How do I connect with God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, the Divine, without falling into the legalistic beliefs of the American Evangelical church? I feel like I’m at the beginning, not knowing fully what my theology is or where I stand on certain things. Yet I do know where I stand on many topics and I hope that doesn’t mean I’m a bad or fake Christian. This is a somewhat exciting place because I’m not throwing up my hands and saying I don’t give a shit about Christianity anymore, or about God anymore. I’m saying I give lots of shits about this faith thing and I want to know the TRUTH. Maybe this is the birth of my genuine faith. I don’t want it to be the death of my faith.

This is where I end up, lost and confused. Wanting to connect with God again yet refusing to subscribe to the American Evangelical church ever again. 

What do I do? Does anyone else relate to this?

Gabrielle and Tom

Buying a one-way ticket to India at the start of what would undoubtedly be a scorching Indian summer probably wasn’t the most informed decision I could’ve made. I had initially planned to go to India in late June, when monsoon would begin. Monsoon typically isn’t the season when tourists visit India, as the torrential rain is more than just a mild annoyance. During my last two trips to India, both during monsoon season, I’d more than once been trapped in knee-length high water, trying to ignore that I was walking in mixtures of dirt, manure, and Lord knew what else. No, it wasn’t an ideal time to be in India. Sweaty bodies, millions and millions of sweaty bodies all clumped together, pushing and maneuvering around each other as people commuted to work, went to the market, and brought their kids to school. They say that New York City is the city that never sleeps, and that’s true, but India is the country that never sleeps. Someone is always running around doing something, usually inventing something that one would never see here in the U.S. As a New Yorker, New York City still has deep roots in my heart, although I haven’t lived there for several months. New York birthed me and raised me to be the woman that I am, and the woman I am slowly becoming. I am still unknown to myself in my fullness but I sometimes catch glimpses of my true self in the mirror as I apply my concealer and fluff my afro. She’s in there somewhere, but she has yet to make a full-time appearance. I wonder if my true self is scared. She must be, although she’s an incredible actress: first impressions would tell you that she’s a bit anxious, loves the Lord in a broken way, and has a heart to help women and girls around the world.

 

This desire to change the world seems innate to who I am and whichever jobs I work, I choose because of the ways I can benefit others with my work. Studying the life of Jesus has taught me that while preaching and teaching is valuable, getting in the dirt alongside others is often more helpful than any powerful and emotional sermon could be, and I love sermons. Whether through teaching English to adult immigrants in New York City or planning bilingual reading events for lower-income children of color, my passion for educational equity, literacy, and people of color’s advancement has always been at the forefront. Unfortunately, jobs where one gives of their heart to the world usually don’t pay well enough to sustain a full life. I managed to pay my exorbitant rent in Washington Heights for a few years, as long as I had at least one roommate, but I never had the funds to buy things I had wanted for myself or for others. Any special events happening in town were inaccessible to me, because who pays thirty dollars just to get into an event? That was groceries for a week, at least in my Dominican neighborhood. After a while, with job instability and high roommate turnover, I could not afford my life in New York City. My gracious church helped with one month’s rent, grocery money, and a MetroCard, but they could not help with much more. In truth, I felt guilty for receiving their help. In my mind, I had no excuse for my terrible financial situation. Too proud to work jobs I deemed beneath me, I would only apply to jobs that I deserved, as I had a Cum Laude BA in English. As a personal rule, I’d never work as a receptionist. To me, a Latina receptionist in New York City was too much of a stereotype. Several months passed in this way until merely the thought of continuing a life in New York City seemed completely impossible for me. I fully intended to pack my bags when my lease expired at the end of June and head to India to figure out my life’s direction, as so many young women before me had done. I wanted to finally understand God’s call on my life and discern why India had had a constant tug on my heart for several years.

 

Things didn’t pan out as well as I had planned. Through a series of health scares and urgent medical appointments in quick succession, I was fired from my part-time, after-school teacher job for missing too many days of work. My boss, also a Christian, had no mercy for me. While she knew in advance that I had had various appointments and tests, she could not give me grace. Without the little money I earned from that position, I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay rent for the following month. I had two weeks to earn a ton of cash or move down to Georgia to live in my father’s house. I begrudgingly chose the latter. Heartbroken and soul-withered, I packed and shipped my humble boxes, donated most of my belongings and mementos, and boarded a plane that would take me to Georgia where I’d wait a couple of undoubtedly painful weeks before flying out to Goa, India.

 

I’d told all my friends in New York City the year before that I would never go back to Georgia, no matter the situation. The only way I would return is if some terrible family tragedy happened again. For me, Georgia had been such a traumatizing place when I lived there before. Without a driver’s license, I was confined to my father’s house, limited to walking around the neighborhood by myself, watching the days tick by. Weeks passed and I couldn’t find a job. Months came and went with no job leads. Sickness after sickness affected my family. Car accidents interrupted my normal and threatened to take my mother, the one whom I love most. Cancer appeared on my dad’s annual scan and a blood clot threatened to seize his life. A serious infection randomly infested my brother’s leg. With each new loss came a fresh feeling of abandonment by God. Where was He in all of this? How could I be inwardly suffering to this extent from my own mental anguish, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression while simultaneously having my entire world threatened with destruction? I knew that God was good, all the time, but was He good even in this? This wasn’t what I had been promised by the American Evangelical church. They taught me, and the rest of the world, that if you are a “good person”, if you give to the poor, and if you spend enough time reading your Bible and attending church, everything in life will work out in your favor. No one had ever told me to prepare for suffering. In fact, they said that God hated suffering and never let His beloved ones suffer for long. Suffering didn’t even exist anymore because Jesus came to make us champions and to give us everything the devil tried to take from us, right? No one instructed me on how to fight for my faith when everything in the natural world seemed to say that there was no grand plan, at least not for my life, and I would have to find my feet on my own.

 

So, I fled. I fled from my situation in life and from God. Never once a quitter during my childhood or during my college years, I began to quit anything that had appeared to threaten my peace and safety. Whether that was a graduate school program that wasn’t what I expected or guys who waved red flags high, I didn’t stick around to find out if the graduate program would improve or to see if I had prejudged these guys. I also ran right out of Georgia, vowing to never return, come what may. Although during the darkest year of my life when I endured so much loss I did feel closer to God and could tangibly sense His presence, that didn’t visibly translate into my life.

I’d daily have these intense prayer sessions with God, pour over the open Bible that lay on my lap, highlighting practically every verse, and I’d surround my ears with Christian music. I educated myself on the plight of the world’s persecuted Christians, making a point to pray for a different country every day. I generally prayed for others all of the time. I gave whatever little money I had to those who needed it. But, my position in life remained the same. Unchanged. Ultimately, I was performing all of these actions and rituals partly because I wanted to, but mostly because deep down I believed that if I did these “good things”, then I’d be rewarded in the natural world. When that didn’t happen, I began to lose that fervor and fire I’d always been known for. My hopes were dashed to the pit of the sea. Had God forgotten about me yet again? I began to tell myself that things weren’t predestined for me. I’d have to fight for what I wanted in life and not rely on any supernatural power to move things into position for me. While I saw Him do that for others, it wouldn’t happen for me. I wasn’t one of the chosen ones. This is something I am continually working through one year later. What does it truly mean to worship and love God? What should our lives look like? How do we find genuine fellowship with others, especially in such politically and socially-tense times? I’m not sure I know, but I’m looking for the answers in the life of my Lord and I accept that I’ll never fully know while on Earth.

 

When I arrived back in New York City after fleeing from Georgia, with no job and nowhere to live, I was strangely hopeful. I had my friends, my degree, my work experience, and some trust in God. A woman from my church had offered to allow me to stay on her couch until I found a place. Things seemed to be alright yet I felt that trust in God diminish as each day brought no change to my circumstances. As employers weren’t calling me offering an interview and as apartments seemed to become more and more expensive, I began to doubt that things would come to fruition for me. The people that I had trusted revealed themselves to be anything but trustworthy. My former roommate had taken over our two-bedroom apartment, which was leased in only my name, and my room was occupied by another girl. The fight for that apartment culminated in cutting ties with one of my best friends.

 

Through borrowing money from my mother and father, I was able to feed myself. Well, that and only eating tuna, Vienna sausages, and bread tremendously helped. I find it odd when transplants to New York City glamorize living in poverty. It’s not cool or desirable to live off of tinned foods, climb under the subway turnstile, or have a sugar daddy because you can’t make your rent. It’s not a life that anyone truly wants to live. Many of those who come to New York City and live like that are doing it because they can choose to do so; they often have parents back in Ohio or Indiana who can financially support them should things truly fall apart. Those of us who were born and bred in New York do not enjoy this life. None of us want to live like this, yet this type of poverty is handed down to each generation, like Puerto Rican mothers spoon feed rice to their babies. Poverty is not a trend. It’s an unseen shackle that bites at the ankles of people of color every day. We know it’s lurking, trying to ensnare us. We fight against it. We don’t romanticize it.

 

It was several months before I found a job, and it was only a part-time, after-school position at a Manhattan middle school filled with rambunctious Dominican and Puerto Rican children who bragged about giving oral sex and kissing all the boys. Each day was a struggle and those 12-year olds certainly knew how to break down a teacher’s spirit. They mocked me for not fluently speaking Spanish. They spoke over me every time I opened my mouth. They fought with each other, made a mess of each classroom, and cursed at the other teachers. At this point, I was so exhausted from trying to make my life function in New York City. I didn’t care much about those kids, but a small part of me wanted to. Yet the mere thought of trying to make a difference in their lives and at the school turned my stomach and brought anxiety upon me like a fire heating me from within. I couldn’t bring myself to put any real effort into teaching those lost and insecure little girls and boys because I had mentally and emotionally given up hope.

 

During those few months before once again leaving New York City for Georgia, I began to see a therapist, a delightfully calm older Jewish woman. We met twice a week, per her recommendation, and I spoke candidly with her on every topic. We discussed my childhood, the abuse that I suffered from, work, friends, and men. Talking about my problems with men interestingly felt like the most complex subject although at that point I’d never been with a man in any capacity. I’d confessed to her that because of pressure from my mother and my church, I wore a purity ring and vowed to not have sex until marriage. I wanted to give my body to only one special someone. As a result of growing up in the church’s modesty culture, which is in bed with rape culture, I’d believed that dating, kissing, and holding hands was wrong. Only in the most serious of relationships could one show affection in any way. Therefore, I’d never kissed a boy, never dated, and remained “pure”, although mentally I was not pure at all. All my long-held zealous convictions almost vanished because of one man who’d behaved like an oversized teenage boy.

 

I was his ESL teacher for a few months and he was one of my many older, male students. Alex came from Venezuela and was 38 years old, 15 years my senior. We texted for a while and he asked me out countless times, yet I never went through with it because inwardly I sensed that it was not right. Yet, I was still so deeply tempted to fool around with him. My therapist had her own suspicions about why I was so tempted by this old man, this viejo verde. She believed that I had been taught for so long to “guard my flower”, to close my legs, and to preserve my first sexual experience for marriage, that being a virgin became a huge part of my identity. I was always commended for being a virgin; for never having kissed anyone. They told me I was pure, untouched, and holy in God’s sight. How could anyone want to deviate from that? By that logic, kissing and fooling around, or having a sexual experience with someone causes you to immediately become impure. If you have been touched, you have been damaged. Your flower was destroyed. You not only have a flower, but you are the flower. Thus, you have been destroyed. And who would want someone who has been tarnished? As they say, people only buy new, shiny objects. But, why are women in the church considered objects? Why does our worth center itself around our vaginas and what we do with them? Point that out to me in the Bible, because I do not see it there. Ultimately, I’m eternally grateful that I never had sex with Alex. I would’ve given up something that I had always wanted to reserve for someone special, someone who had to earn that part of me with his love and loyalty.

A year after I fled the South, I had unwillingly returned to Georgia before flying to India. I could tolerate this, I told myself, because it was only three weeks before my big trip that would undoubtedly provide my life’s calling and clarity on every question I had ever had about faith, love, and purpose. So, I focused on prepping my trip: packing lists, establishing a prayer team, making connections in India, and tying up loose ends with my somewhat estranged family members. At this point, my parents were freshly divorced after 25 years of marriage, 21 of those years supposedly being void of love or affection. I had always known that my parents had had problems and fought often, but doesn’t every family have problems? I hadn’t known the breadth of my family’s destructive behavior and way of life until I was a preteen. One night, Heather, my best friend from up the street, had invited me for a sleepover. I had been friends with Heather since kindergarten and had often played at her house, but my mind had always been shielded from the truly broken nature of my family and the seemingly much healthier status of Heather’s family. That night, as I lay on the couch watching a movie with Heather, Heather’s father came home from work, took off his work boots, kissed his daughter’s forehead, and asked about her day. They hugged and Heather seemed so happy to see her father come home. I lay on the couch listening to this sweet exchange between a father and daughter and immediately knew that I lacked something profound. Something I deserved. I didn’t even have a piece of this with my own father. With my father, I only had fear, abuse, and anger. I lay there silently crying and turned over, faced the couch, and feigned sleep.

 

While in Georgia for those three weeks, I reflected on what I almost did with a man I did not respect. I processed what I had experienced in New York City the second time around. I had lost friends, gained new ones, almost lost my virginity, and learned that I could survive off of canned foods pretty well. I had also felt incredibly lonely. I vowed to take that experience of being lonely and use it for my benefit on the ground in India. Naturally there would be times that I would feel alone and then I could draw on my experiences being alone in New York City and feel comforted. I’d figured that since I’d been lonely from birth, loneliness was always going to be a part of my life. I just had to learn to tolerate it. I didn’t understand that there could be levels of loneliness. There’s a type of lonely when your friend is only a text or subway stop away and then there’s the loneliness when you are nine and a half hours ahead, can only get in touch when you have Wi-Fi, and can’t see their face at all. Linguistically and culturally, I was alone for almost all of the two months that I lived in India, save for my one week in Goa. Goa was my first and greatest stop in India and it proved to be a haven for me to sort through my feelings, explore new ones, and become reacquainted with India. Goa is the place I reflect upon with equal parts joy and regret. The first few days in Goa were a test in adjusting to a new climate and time zone. I stayed in a bamboo hut with one ceiling fan, a hard, thin mattress high on a bamboo bed, and a mosquito net because those little blood-suckers wove themselves into the fabric of my little hut.

 

When my plane touched down in Goa, I instantly became cognizant of the severe lack of tourists. As I walked about the sandy Goan streets, I noticed few open shops and restaurants. Tarps covered many beach restaurants. The only people on the streets were Indian hotel workers, thin, deeply tanned women with tiny bikinis, and Russian men with beer bellies who’d definitely gotten way too much sun. Suffice to say, I stuck out. On my first morning, I woke up sweating, covered in bug-bites, and already felt the climate begin to strip my afro hair of any moisture. Tummy-rumbling and thirsty, I set out in search of breakfast. Five minutes later, sweating, hungrier, and not close to finding food, I thought about going back to my bamboo hut. I could just wait and ask the lady who ran my Airbnb where to find breakfast. Or, I could walk alone on unfamiliar roads for a short while longer, maybe ask a passerby for help, and fill my attention-demanding belly. I decided to press onward, disregarding comfort, because I needed to prove to myself that I could. After a few more minutes, I came across a restaurant called “Sunshine.” It was almost empty save for a Russian couple. I sat myself at an empty table and waited. A young Indian man approached me and smiled, handing me a menu. After a fantastic breakfast there complete with fruit flowers, I knew I’d found my spot.

 

During my first couple of days in Goa, I developed a little routine. I’d arise early and eat breakfast at Sunshine. Vijay, the owner, was a relatively kind, albeit too flirtatious, Northeast Indian man with a penchant for the Russian language. His menu was in English and Russian. He told me he’d picked up the language through talking with the scores of Russian tourists that visit Goa each year. Incredible. He’d take me around Goa on his scooter, showing me the sights I could not see by only using my two legs. On our second day of sightseeing, he took me to another restaurant that he owned, which was in the busier town area of our part of Goa, Arambol. We sat on the second floor, overlooking the light Goan traffic of motor bikes and trucks. A young Russian couple sat at the table next to us, giving their skin a break from the beaming sun’s rays. Vijay got up to turn on the fan. We sat together with two cups of scorching hot chai on the table before us. I tapped my nails on the side of the glass, then the table, then the arm of my chair, and kept my eyes fixed on the floral pattern on the plastic tablecloth. Vijay asked me for my life’s story and I gave it to him in a succinct, almost unfeeling way.

 

“My father almost died last year because of a blood clot in his lung. Then my mother began seeing another man. Then my brother had a bone infection in his leg. Then my parents got divorced. While all of this was happening, I had to leave my home in New York City because I had no job and no money. I was studying for a Master’s degree, too. I had to quit that because I had a lot of anxiety and couldn’t go to class without having a panic attack. So, yeah, that’s what happened.”

 

Vijay nodded, looked down at the floral tablecloth that had captured my attention a few minutes prior, and shook his head in sadness.

 

“That’s very sad. This is very sad, Gabby.” He locked eyes with me. “That’s why you can’t have a good time in Goa, because you’re so focused on what happened back home and you’re thinking too much about it. You have to stop thinking about it. Think about yourself. Have fun while you’re here. You should have fun.”

 

He nodded with more energy, squinting his eyes, fully convinced that his advice was sound. It was. He shared what I hadn’t realized before he’d vocalized it for me. Some of the deepest struggles I was experiencing in Goa were better understood and expressed by a complete stranger who had known nothing about me before I’d explained what had recently happened to me and my family.

 

Suddenly the last two days flashed in my mind. I had spent my time alone, walking on the beach, playing with Indian street dogs, and actively avoiding any other tourists. I reasoned my behavior by thinking about how the other tourists didn’t speak English, so I would have to become adjusted to being alone. But, when Vijay told me about the inner darkness of my soul without truly knowing me, I then understood that my suffering was expressing itself through my face, my tone of voice, and my actions. It seemed almost beyond my control; it pushed itself through the façade of the disinterested, cool, intellectual, and pensive Gabrielle that I had expertly crafted as each trauma had knocked into my life. I could no longer engage in that deception, that self-deception, and I went back to my little bamboo hut, sat on the uncomfortable bed, and cried to God. “God, I don’t even know who I am anymore! Who am I? I don’t even know who You are! How do I come to terms with what You have allowed in my life? How is any of this fair? I just don’t understand anything anymore.” I cried myself exhausted and fitfully slept, swatting at bugs and wiping sweat off of my face throughout the night.

 

The next day, Vijay took me across state lines into Maharashtra, just so he could show me an ancient fort. As I walked about that fort, climbing on top of rocks, pushing back branches, and finding small hideouts all throughout, I wondered about the lives of those Indians who had fought and died there thousands of years before. Vijay snapped pictures of me as I explored the fort, although I was an unwilling subject for his photography. I began to suspect that he had romantic feelings for me, much to my dismay, because I knew that I’d have to stop riding around India with him. I wanted to see all of India that I could and he was the only one who could take me. We then left the fort, sat on a beach, and he bought me a watermelon juice and Chinese noodles. Purveying the women around us, he asked me if I wore bikinis and wanted to swim with him. I then knew for certain that he liked me and it was an incredible disappointment. I thought that I could ignore it and keep enjoying our outings until the ride home, when I was trapped on the back of his scooter, arms on his shoulders, and he began to ask me various questions about sex. He wanted to know how I liked to have sex and when I explained that I was a virgin, he asked me if anyone had ever kissed me or touched my breasts. I said no and he told me that I should do sexual things because it’s good for you. Alright, well that friendship ended as quickly as it had begun. Ever the opportunist, I didn’t regret the friendship because I had gotten an Indian SIM card, a few meals, and tons of sightseeing done on his dime. That was his punishment for how he spoke to me.

 

Deciding that I was thoroughly finished with Vijay’s friendship forced me to eat somewhere else for breakfast and I found myself at a hippy-dippy-trippy restaurant/guesthouse/massage and yoga school called Wellness Inn in Ashvem Beach. My best friend street dog, Esperanza, and I had previously eaten breakfast there together. I had ordered Nutella pancakes and I bought her two hardboiled eggs. I’d cut them up and put them on a napkin for her to eat on the ground. Disregarding the fact that she belonged to someone else and was not actually a street dog, as I had learned from Vijay, we went everywhere together anyway. She accompanied me to the beach where we read the Bible together and she defended me from dogs who barked at us. We went into the ocean together, swimming around, and I massaged her head, careful to avoid a large open sore on her ear. According to Vijay, someone had hurt my precious Esperanza. While walking back into town from the beach one morning, I noticed that Esperanza looked thirsty so I screwed the cap off of my water bottle, cupped my hand, and slowly poured the water into my palm for her to drink. She was parched. A group of sweet-looking smiley Indian teenage boys watched me from their scooter and laughed. They were amazed that this foreigner would give her water to an Indian dog on the street, from her own hand. But, Esperanza was no street dog. She was my friend and before I had met anyone in Goa, she was the only one I could talk to.

 

Then I met Tom.

 

How we met would be considered a coincidence to most people, but I know that nothing is a coincidence. I suppose I should preface this three-day love story by saying that I’ve always been passionate about the Jewish people and Judaism. The Jewish roots of Christianity fascinate me and when I think about Jesus, Yeshua, in all His Jewishness, I feel that the faith is much richer. Without Judaism, there is no Jesus as we know Him. Understanding Jesus from a Jewish perspective gives me the ability to see a fuller portrait of my King, my Messiah, and my God. I wear a Christian cross and a Jewish Star of David together around my neck, a piece of jewelry which has always begun interesting conversations.

 

So, Tom.

 

We met at the Wellness Inn where I had just finished breakfast and was about to head out to the beach or to town. I hadn’t yet decided. Suddenly a thin, tan, blonde man with the tiniest swim trunks ever sat down across from me at my table. I was startled and intent on leaving before he plopped himself in front of me.

 

“Can I sit here?” He asked, already sitting there.

 

“Sure, you can sit here.”

 

He pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered me one. I declined.

 

We began talking and I learned that his name was Eran, he was from Israel and he had come to Goa to learn Ayurvedic massage from some of the best teachers. As we talked, another man arrived. This man was bearded, tall, slender, and had long dark, curly hair pulled back into a little ponytail. As he slipped off his shoes before entering the restaurant, I acknowledged him with a polite smile. He smiled back and glanced up at me twice before sitting away from me and my new breakfast companion. We asked him to come join us and we learned that his name was Tom, he was also from Israel, and he was in Goa simply to volunteer and travel. Like Eran, he also knew how to give massage therapy.

 

He and I began chatting like one does when one first meets a person. We covered all the basics of our respective countries and what we think about them, our respective ages (he is 31 and I’m 24), and what I think about his English.

 

“I’m American but I really hate America right now. I hate Donald Trump. We have so many problems in our country. The way they treat black people and immigrants is disgusting. America is only the land of the free for rich, straight, white men.”

 

Tom’s eyes widened a little. No doubt the Americans he had met before, if he had met any, were highly patriotic. I could not be more the opposite. Tom smiled and nodded. “This is very good. I feel the same way about Israel. There are so many hypocrites there.” He shuddered and shook his head.

 

“Our countries are best friends, you know.”

 

“Oh yes, they are. Israel wants to be a little America. They want to do everything that the U.S. does.” He shook his head and cast down his eyes, fidgeting with his hands.

 

As he sat right next to me, I had ample opportunity to study his face while he spoke. This was one of the first few people I had been able to converse with in Goa. I was thrilled to make tourist friends, so I did my best to appear interesting and intelligent, which is honestly not hard for me, but I had this intensely odd need to impress these two men. I suppose it’s because Americans have a reputation for being idiots, as evidenced by the one that white America elected to the office of President. After chatting for a bit, both Eran and Tom asked me what I thought about the way they each spoke English. It’s a question I’m incredibly accustomed to receiving. I always give the same answer: everyone has different English. There is no one way to speak English. We’re all different and it’s good. If we can understand each other, then that English is good English. Language exists so we can communicate. So, if we communicate well, then that’s all that matters. The standard English that we teach in schools was created by rich, white men and forced upon every cultural group in the world by these same men. It’s just one way of speaking English. Eran and Tom sat back against the colorful cushions and pondered. I noticed that Tom began giving me a few looks every now and then and I knew that what I had said intrigued him.

 

As we spoke, I played with my Star of David necklace around my neck. Eran noticed and asked me about my necklace. He asked why I wore it and I felt a bit nervous as I explained my reasoning. I hoped that they wouldn’t take offense and think I was appropriating their culture or religion. I feared that they would see my action as making their heritage into a mere novelty. So, I fumbled with the star in my hand, touching the points with my fingertips, and rushed a hurried response, but a response that I had planned in my head for this specific question.

 

“Well, I’m Christian, but I wear the Star of David because Jesus was Jewish. Not many Christians understand the Jewish roots of our faith or appreciate the Hebrew Scriptures as they do the New Testament. I think it’s important for Christians to know where our faith started, and it started as a new movement within Judaism.”

 

Silence.

 

Eran gave me a gentle nod, seeming satisfied with that response, but not interested in exploring it further. Tom, on the other hand, added his thoughts, which I was strangely hungry for.

 

“Yes, this makes sense. Jesus was very Jewish. He was from Israel. Wow, I’ve never met a Christian who thinks the way you do.” He leaned back a little and looked at me.

 

I felt comfortable, accepted, and sure that I didn’t cause any offense. The conversation turned toward deeper religious matters. Before Eran and Tom had sat down with me, I was reading a book about Jesus’ parables. I had left it on the table and Tom asked me about it. He asked if I carried that book around with me and I told him I had just found it at the restaurant, in the little bookcase that lay behind us. I pulled out a volume with a Hebrew title and asked him what it was. He translated it for me and I thought he was fascinating for reading Hebrew, a language which captivates my ear when I hear it. When Tom saw the title of my book, he asked me how to pronounce the word “parable.” I demonstrated it for him and then he asked me what they were, because he had heard of that word but no one had ever explained to him what a parable was. So, I told the parable of the prodigal son. As I told it, I thought, “Wow, I’m telling a Jewish parable by an Israeli man to two Jewish Israeli men in India. This is incredible!” Tom intently listened and Eran looked intensely perplexed. After finishing the parable, Eran confessed that he didn’t understand all of it so Tom translated it in Hebrew for him. Without having me repeat even a miniscule part of the story, he translated it perfectly. Double wow for me. “A Jewish Israeli man is telling the story of the prodigal son in Hebrew to another Jewish Israeli man!” This affected me so deeply because Christians have a terrible history of forcing their faith onto others and demonizing those who do not believe. The Bible’s been called a book of lies and deceit by people of all religions. To many Jewish people, Jesus was, at best, a good teacher with positive morals. Or, He was a good Jewish man who was led astray from the faith. At worst, He’s a madman and a liar who perverted the Jewish faith. As a result, few Jewish people have ever touched a New Testament. I can assume that not many have heard the parables of Jesus and then told others about them in Hebrew. This fascinated me. I’d finally heard Jesus’ words in Hebrew, a language He spoke. It felt complete.

 

As Tom shared this parable in Hebrew, I looked into his eyes and felt something bubble up inside of me that I hadn’t expected to feel on this trip. To speak truth, I hadn’t felt that inside of me in years. I felt passionate and alive again. I felt immediate attraction to a man. I believe I was firmly interested in Tom from this moment. Gazing into his blue-green eyes, enjoying the way Hebrew sounded on his tongue, inwardly rejoicing that he was inadvertently sharing the Gospel with another Jewish Israeli person, I felt my heart begin to form an attachment. That’s Jane Austen speak for, I started crushing on this guy. Although he and I come from different religious backgrounds, meeting and being drawn to Tom actually seemed to push me closer to God in a way. I wanted him to know Abba God and love Him. Being loved by God has brought so much healing into my life and He is still healing me. Everyone should experience that in life. I felt a strong pull toward Tom and wanted to give him a chance even if it didn’t seem to make sense. Besides, I had been itching to have spiritual conversations with non-Christians for a while, as it had been a few years since my last one, and I became satisfied with this justification of our continuing flirtation.

 

Eran invited us to come to the beach with him, but the sun had just begun sitting high overhead and I had no intention of suffering from heat stroke. Instead, while Eran went to pay his bill, Tom asked for my number and we made plans to walk to this market about twenty minutes away, which was absolutely my idea. I was sick of the beach and wanted some more human interaction. While devising this plan, I felt deeply comfortable with Tom and I could see that he felt the same with me. We sat quite closely and leaned into each other as we spoke at the restaurant. At last we got up and left the restaurant and Eran behind without any notice. That’s when I knew that he was interested in me. Since he was in India volunteering, he had to check with his boss that it was acceptable for him to leave for the afternoon. He invited me to come with him for that so we made a quick stop at his volunteering location/the hotel where he was staying. While walking through the entrance to his hotel, I remarked that our hotels, well his hotel and my bamboo hut, were separated by only one building. We were neighbors! That struck me as somewhat of a sign; of what I didn’t yet know. He and I sat at a table under a gazebo-type contraption while we waited for his boss to return from running an errand. While waiting, he told me that he had studied music in Israel and he makes music now. I thought that was fascinating! He was a fellow artist. He pulled out his phone and said,

 

“Hmm…what should I play for you? Maybe…”

 

“Anything.”

 

He played one of his songs that sounded like electronica and dubstep fusion, not something that I’m normally interested in, but because he was handsome and I felt a connection, I was interested. Besides, he seemed so excited to play his music for me. Me, a woman he had just met two hours prior. It was sweet. He was almost like a little boy, eager to share something he had made and anxious for my thoughts.

 

“So, did you hear that line?”

 

“Which line?”

 

“Push the trigger?”

 

“Oh, yes.”

 

“Well, that’s not correct, is it? I mean, in English, don’t you say ‘pull the trigger’”?

 

My little ESL teacher heart swelled and I answered, “Yes, that’s technically not correct, but it’s okay! It’s art! And you’re not a native speaker, so it’s totally okay.”

 

He smiled a little and put away his phone. I shared with him that I was an artist as well; I was a writer. He learned about my blog and the various pieces I’ve written and performed in New York City. He asked for some specifics on my writing.

 

“Oh, I write about everything. I write a lot about faith, spirituality, race and social issues, and about how the U.S. abuses Puerto Rico, which is where my mother’s family is from.”

 

His boss arrived then, we got our approval, and we set out for town. We trekked the long, sweaty, twenty minutes through the dusty Goan streets, stopping for a sugarcane juice along the way. We shared that cup and I learned about Tom’s quirks. Tom was highly sensitive to loud noises. He plugged his ears each time a truck came by. For those unfamiliar with India, the trucks are true works of art. They’re painted various distinct colors and often have different patriotic phrases written on their sides. Their most famous, or infamous, aspect is by far their strictly Indian sound. When the truck driver blows the horn, out comes a musical concoction of sounds one couldn’t imagine ever going together. Yet, in India, they do. Tom had to plug his ears about once every five minutes, as there were loads of trucks on the way to town, and each time he’d look down at me apologetically. I never asked why his ears were so sensitive but I wish I had heard that part of his story. Tom asked me more about my family and I mentally paused for a moment. How do I share the story of my family? We’re known for a few things: anger, grudges, abuse, and stubbornness. Every time someone asks me about my family, I have to decide whether or not to share the truth about them. With Tom, I felt that I had nothing to lose by revealing my painful childhood. If he never wanted to see me again, it wouldn’t affect me because we wouldn’t see each other after a few days anyway. After years of stumbling over my words when explaining my father’s abuse, I’d recently decided that I would just tell the truth, my truth. How people perceived it was their decision.

 

Although we had just met, I felt safe enough to share that part of my story. I nonchalantly told Tom about my dad’s abuse; how I grew up in a home where I couldn’t make a single move without being scrutinized or criticized. How I would come home and find my dad screaming about one thing or another, whether that was the fact that I didn’t clean the kitchen on time or because we were running out of money. When my dad was laid off in 2009, it worsened. He was home every single day, with me, throughout the entire summer. I couldn’t do anything right. If I sat for too long on the couch, he’d yell at me. If I didn’t clean something the way he liked, he’d yell at me. If I finished a box of cereal or a bag of chips, he’d yell at me. My father used to call me words like “bitch”, “evil”, and “burden”. Tom looked at me with concern and pain in his eyes when I shared this part of my story. I confided in Tom that this constant trauma and abuse led me to become a woman prone to anxiety and depression. I was raised from birth to fear my father and it was a traumatic lifestyle that I had been consistently trying to move past, through therapy and with God’s help. Tom lamented that far too many men are abusers. They don’t know how to love women because they’re consumed by society’s expectation of being a hard man. In their eyes, that is the only way to be a man. Tom dissented. He deeply loved women and didn’t hesitate sharing that with me. He declared himself a feminist and even admitted that he’d rather be a woman, but that he found male anatomy far easier.

 

I laughed and shook my head. Tom was silly, but he was right and strong in his encouragement of me. In fact, Tom was far more appreciative of women than many Christian men I’ve known. Although Jesus Christ is the truest feminist in history, most Christian men are stuck in abusive and archaic ideas of how women should behave and what our role is in life, the family, and the church. As a progressive Christian, I protest. Tom showed me the way feminism looks when a man embraces it and I loved how he shamelessly lived out genuine feminism. Tom surprised me. He didn’t blink for a moment when I shared with him what had happened during my childhood. The last boy I had been on a few dates with froze when I told him about this part of my past. He soon ended all communication with me and deleted me from his social media platforms, a distinctly millennial way of removing someone from your life. But, that’s the thing. He was a boy. Tom, this person intensely listening to my pain, furrowing his brow each time I shared a particularly disturbing detail, was a man. After I finished speaking, Tom was silent for a minute and then looked at me, “This just shows me how incredibly emotionally strong you are.”

 

My eyes flushed with tears, which I quickly blinked back. I was struck by his kindness and for seeing something inside of me that I thought had died: strength and stability.

 

“I don’t really feel that strong, but that’s nice of you to say. Thank you.” I looked at my feet.

 

He went further, “No, you’re strong! To suffer that much and to experience something like that but to still have hope and continue with life,” he shook his head and smiled, “that makes you strong.”

 

I smiled and looked away, averting his direct, transfixing, warming gaze. Tom’s response to my pain was distinct and respectful. He didn’t ask prying questions, instead he simply received whatever information I gave him, knowing that I’d reveal what I wanted him to know. He also didn’t pity me with words, rather his soft eyes expressed all the empathy he felt for my painful childhood.

 

Further on the way to town, we passed a small chapel set on a little hill by the side of the road. A delicate yet sturdy cross adorned the chapel’s roof and for a moment, after glimpsing it, I was refreshingly reminded that I was in a heavily Christian-influenced area. Other than the southern state of Kerala, Goa is the only other Indian state that has been this deeply influenced by Christianity. I began to reflect on why I went to India in the first place. I left my life in the U.S. for countless reasons, mostly to run away from my problems, but also because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of Indian girls, all of whom face sexism and discrimination. Many of them suffer insatiable gender-based acts of violence that stunt their growth as women or entirely end their lives, whether by the hands of their abuser or by their own desperately wounded hands. That sight of the lone cross brought to mind just how distant from God I had been feeling, and how desperate I was to get back into a healthy rhythm in my relationship with Him. I looked at the ground for a few seconds, watching my feet traverse the earth underneath, and glanced up at Tom, saying, “Look at that chapel. Doesn’t it look so…” I couldn’t place the word that accurately described my thoughts. How could I sum up this cocktail of feelings that seemed so distinctly me?

 

“Like a prison?” He offered, smiling a little. I immediately knew that it was a joke, but my reaction was visceral and his comment hurt.
“No! Don’t say that! I mean it looks so peaceful and ancient. Just really solid and firm.”

 

“Oh, yes it does look like that. It’s beautiful, the architecture. I think this is a Christian area, right?”

 

I nodded, we kept walking, and I realized that this was only the beginning of what might be an uncomfortable conversation should we ever again veer into the topic of spirituality and religion. Faith is the most important part of my life. Mutual faith is something I’ve always wanted to share with a partner, ever since I was a teenage girl. Yet the desire to know Tom on a deeper level overshadowed that, allowing me the opportunity to know a man that I wouldn’t normally allow myself to be drawn to.

 

At the beach near the town, we skipped across the hot sand, trying our best to avoid rocks and shells as we headed toward the ocean. I looked around and observed that the Indian women at the beach didn’t show any skin at all. Tom was surprised, but I wasn’t, because this was my third time in India. Most Indian women wear their salwar suits or sarees at the beach. Rarely do they show their legs. There I was in denim shorts, jumping into the Indian ocean with abandon and with a gorgeous Israeli man at my side. On any other Indian beach, we would have been a sight. But because we were in Goa, anything went. Goa is the one place in India where one can literally do anything. Drinking, drugs, sex, and clubbing are wildly popular there. I knew this when I decided to visit Goa, but I also knew that I had no intention of doing any of that. I flew to Goa to just enjoy the beach, the sun, and quiet time before heading to nearby Gujarat to begin teaching at a village school. The thought of teaching in a village felt daunting to me. I’d never been in a village before. If I hated it, if this trip didn’t work the way that I was hoping it would, what would I have left? I’d abandoned the United States with hardly any money in my pocket and nothing in my savings or checking accounts. With my parents recently divorced, I had no real home to go back to. I’d set all my hopes and dreams to rest upon the weak shoulders of this country, India. India is flawed, profoundly and tragically flawed. If I stayed, the possibility that I’d be sexually assaulted would drastically increase. I wouldn’t ever earn as much money as I’d earn in the U.S. I would need consistent male protection, especially at night. Was I ready to give up all my freedom and comfort in order to make a difference here? Would I even be able to make a difference when everything I left behind kept resurfacing to my mind each day? I began to feel so unprepared as I contemplated the task that was set before me: mission work. In preparation, I’d studied my favorite women missionaries like Amy Carmichael and Elisabeth Elliot, but I had no support from the U.S. and I wasn’t partnering with any church in India. I was decidedly on my own. Yet, I’d felt that this was the best way to go about mission work: alone. In my mind, I was super spiritual to flee to India and trust God to take care of the rest. To me, missions work was the highest calling a Christian could have and I had been trying to force it in my life for three years. I came to Goa first to have time away to think and prepare. That’s exactly what I did. But, after a few days of solitude, I was aching for human interaction, for someone I could talk with on an intimate level.

 

Knowing Indian culture as well as I do, I didn’t openly speak with any Indian man I met in such depth because in their culture, if a woman speaks to a man, she is expressing interest in him, as evidenced by what had happened earlier with Vijay. While planning my Goa trip I’d felt a bit of fear surrounding my stay there. I’d worried that the parties would be wild and that someone would try to rob or rape me on my way home. Cancelling the trip felt like a necessity to avoid this, but my tiny ounce of faith told me to push on and go to Goa. So, I did. Running through the water with Tom, I felt proud of myself for taking a risk and for allowing myself to become acquainted with a man I would ignorantly write off as unsuitable for me if we had met in the U.S. I was raised to have enormously high expectations of men. If they were less than what the church demanded, they weren’t “kings” and were therefore worthless. They needed to be attractive, debt-free, college-educated, wealthy, a virgin, and Christian. I had countless times before brushed by men who didn’t fit that description, but although Tom only matched a few of those qualifications, I still wanted to know him. I was certain that a type of grand cosmic event had taken place. As tired as that sounds, and as anti-romance as I had been leading up to this moment, I suppose everyone really was right. When you meet someone who is right for you, all of your preconceived notions and feelings will change. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. Our meeting was unlike anything that had ever happened to me before. I didn’t hope to meet anyone romantically while on this trip. After all my life experiences, especially those during the past year, I consistently expected the worst of everything. As surprising as this encounter was, I was hesitant to hope that anything lasting would come of it. Yet, at the same time, I felt like I was already pulled too far inward to escape without a bruise.

 

“I see you’re thinking.”

 

Tom smiled a little, his eyes soft toward me, interested in my thoughts. I didn’t want to share them with him. I didn’t want to kill with overthinking whatever this was before it had a chance to truly breathe.

 

Realizing that I had been ignoring Tom to privately reflect upon the meaning of my life, future, and our connection, I snapped back into the moment. I tried to be more present, more reckless, more open, and more free. So, I told Tom I was just thinking about life and I gave my backpack to him so he could hold it while I went deeper into the ocean. My shirt was white and I feared that dunking my head under the waves would reveal my black bra underneath. Instead, I let the water caress me up to my bra line and waded back to Tom, content in my small display of spontaneity. He laughed and smiled at me like I was this bright thing that had just fallen into his lap, most unexpectedly, but welcomed with joy. He gave me back my backpack and we walked home, attempting to brush off the sand that had stuck itself to our drenched legs, turning into a mud-like consistency.

 

As a woman with thick thighs, I’m unfortunately acquainted with the traumatizing experience of chafing. I find that little can prevent it and once it comes, it arrives with a vengeance. Walking home, Tom shared stories with me about his work as a massage therapist while my thighs passionately kissed each other. I mentioned to him that I had back problems and he asked me for specifics.

 

“Well, I have arthritis all throughout my back, I have a bulging disc in my lower back, and I have slight scoliosis. My back always hurts the most in the morning.”

 

“Of course it does.”

 

“You know, I had all of these problems for months before actually getting a diagnosis. The doctors didn’t believe me.”

 

His eyes widened. “They didn’t?!”

 

“Nope! All of my doctors were white men and they all simply said that my large boobs caused my back pain and nothing more.”

 

“That’s not true!’ He interjected, shaking his head.

 

“Yes, and I had to see a black woman doctor to actually get any imaging done on my back. That’s how I learned all about my back problems. Now I only see women doctors. I just don’t trust these men to take me seriously. They don’t take me seriously because I’m young and a woman.”

 

“Wow. That is ridiculous that they would say that to you. Those back problems can’t be caused by big boobs.”

 

“Well, that’s what they said. And my doctor said I need massage therapy or physical therapy but I can’t afford either. I’m hoping to get a massage here in India because it’s so inexpensive and they’re famous for them.”

 

“They are famous for them. But, you know, I could give you a massage. I would love to help you with your back.”

 

The brakes screeched in my mind. I declined, fearful of what would happen after the massage, but I insisted that I appreciated the offer. Throughout this entire conversation, my thighs kept greeting each other with fervor. I tried to hide this from Tom and I succeeded. If my demeanor changed on the way home, he couldn’t have known why and probably didn’t notice. Each motor bike or scooter I saw, I suggested that we rent it. Every. Single. One. My reasoning? Oh, I’m just tired. It’s been a long day. For some reason, Tom didn’t jump at my suggestion that we spend money on a private ride back to our respective hotels. So instead I just waddled my way back, pulling down my shorts, trying to ease the pain. As we turned a corner and headed down the last long road before our hotels appeared, several Indian men on scooters drove by. The sun was setting. The nightlife was awakening. Keeping my eyes fixed on the road before me, I didn’t pay any mind to those men. Visiting India multiple times before had taught me the art of ignoring men on the street and I was adept at it. Tom, on the other hand, couldn’t stop noticing the other men’s stares.

 

“Gabrielle, you know, usually when I’m out with my sisters or friends and men stare at them, I feel really protective and upset. I see all of these men looking at you and I just met you today but for some reason, I feel the same way I would with them. Why are they staring at you?”

 

We both knew the answer to that question but instead of openly saying, “Because I’m beautiful.” I said, “Well, it’s because I’m wearing shorts. Indian women don’t usually wear shorts so that’s why they’re staring.”

 

Tom snuck a glance at my thighs and said, “You’re right, it’s because of your shorts.”

 

I detected the flirtatious undertone of his remarks, but was scared to freely flirt back and couldn’t think about anything other than the pain in between my thighs. This chafing would wreck my legs and I was worried about the next few days, considering how I wanted to enjoy Goa and Tom without this pain. We passed a broken-down bicycle with no seat and the thought of stealing it to ride home genuinely seemed like a possible scheme for us, at least to me.

 

“Okay, Tom, this is what we’re going to do. You go over and distract that guy near the bike and I’ll steal it so I can ride it home.”

 

Tom looked down at me, laughing, eyes alight, and said that I was funny. I was being entirely serious, but that’s alright.

 

“Can I see you tomorrow?” He asked with a warm, boyish grin.

 

“Yes,” I replied, giving a shy smile. Religious differences and age difference aside, I decided then to give myself to whatever this connection became. I knew it most likely wouldn’t last beyond Goa, but it impressed upon me this sense of urgency, purpose, and destiny. That was something I couldn’t ignore, regardless of what separated us in age, belief, and practice. Once home, I took a shower, cleaned the chafing area, and broke open my extensive first aid kit, hoping this injury would promptly heal. I had a feeling that I would see Tom a lot more on this trip and this chafing was not invited to tag along.

 

The next day, I awoke with eager expectation, something that felt so foreign to me. I wondered if Tom would remember that he had asked me to spend time with him again. I hoped he would, so I made sure to beautify myself to the best of my ability in my minimalistic environment. I popped in my contacts and began rimming my eyes with Indian kajal when he texted me: “Hey, I have to volunteer today but I’m free at night. Would you like to have dinner tonight?”

 

Like a piglet, I squealed and texted back that I would love to have dinner with him, but when and where? Back to my beauty routine. Knowing that there was a possibility that we might kiss that night, I went to town on my teeth to ensure that everything was ready. I applied concealer to my dark circles and any little redness, hoping to give the illusion of flawless skin. Hesitating about the lipstick I should use, I decided to use none. If I swiped on a red lipstick, although it’s my signature color, it might deter him from kissing me. At least, this is what Seventeen magazine had taught me and that was the only guidance and experience I had to look to. Instead, I opted for a lip balm that made my lips look juicy. While getting ready undoubtedly too many hours beforehand, I felt the excitement that one usually feels before a first date with someone. But, this was no typical date. This wasn’t my first date with a guy, but it was my first date with a man. The boys I had once dated were timid, immature, and without direction. They carried themselves like boys, afraid to be direct and make their feelings known. After a few years of only encountering boys like this, I had almost given up hope that I would find anyone suitable for me. I had the feeling that I would need to date someone in his 30s for him to be mature enough in my eyes and Tom had just crossed that 30 mark the year prior.

 

Seeing that all my clothes were dirty and sweat-drenched, I decided to spend that day washing them. A rookie mistake. When in India, it’s rare to find a place with a washing machine. My bamboo hut certainly didn’t have that amenity so I asked my host for a bucket, visited a local store to buy some powder detergent, and washed my clothes. There is an art to handwashing clothes and although I’d done it many times before, I still felt like I didn’t quite fully grasp the execution. I soaked my clothes in the detergent-water and then plunged them into the water, moving my arms in a furious up and down motion, as I had seen so many Indian women do before. The next part is something I’m unsure about: rolling them up and smacking them on the wall. Whether or not that action actually helps clean the clothes is unknown to me, but it felt so good to smack something. Throughout my entire life, I’ve been angry, although that anger has lived deep below the surface and has manifested in shyness, sensitivity, and pride. I’ve lived with the knowledge that I was abused, that I had been hurt by my father, then by Indian men on the street, and then by friends. I had so much indignant rage pent up inside of me but had always been taught that giving into that anger is always a sin. We should take everything in stride, turn the other cheek, and be like Jesus. It’s interesting to see how many people forget about the countless insults that Jesus hurled at the Pharisees and how He literally flipped tables and chased people with a whip outside of the synagogue for cheating people out of their money. I digress. Smacking my clothes against the wall felt great and I gave myself to it until I heard a little jingle outside of my door. The blue dress I wore was soaked with water and sweat pooled around my hairline and my upper lip. I pushed back my hair and opened the door expecting to find my host asking me to keep the smacking noises down. Instead, it was Tom. He stood sheepishly to the side, fidgeting with whatever little thing he could find. He chose a straw-like piece of bamboo from my hut and pulled at it.

 

“Hi.” I said.

 

He said nothing for a second, and I smiled, enjoying how nervous he was.

 

“Wow, you look like that when you’re just relaxing at home?”

 

“Well, I’m washing clothes and this is all I had that was clean.” Take the compliment, Gabrielle.

 

“Oh, okay. Well, you know I’m only almost right next door so I thought I’d just come over and answer your text in person.”

 

I laughed at the unabashed innocence and enthusiasm of that. “Okay! So, tell me.”

 

“Alright, well here’s what I’m thinking. I can pick you up later tonight, maybe around 8:00 or 8:30 and then maybe we can see what’s there on the beach?”

 

This man always wanted to go to the beach. “Okay! Sounds good.”

 

“Okay, so I’ll see you tonight.”

 

“Okay, bye.”

 

He waved and walked back to his hotel. I shut the door and giggled to myself. Tonight was going to be special.

 

While waiting for Tom to pick me up, the hours uneventfully ticked away. Each passing hour left me unsure if he remembered our date or if he had changed his mind about me. Hopeful, I slipped on a dress I had just purchased from a lady from Karnataka who operated a shop in Goa during tourist season. It had black lace around the hem and little green flowers all over. I swept up one side of my curls and pinned them back with a small white flower clip. As the clock almost struck 9, I told myself that I’d give him fifteen more minutes. If he didn’t come for me by then, I’d go to sleep. Jetlag kept announcing itself every day and I’d done my best to push through it, but by day five, I was exhausted. My mother had always told me to never run after a man so if he had forgotten about our date, I wouldn’t remind him or text him again. Just as I thought through all of the reasons to cancel or ignore him, I heard that familiar jingle of the bell outside my door. I darted to the door after adjusting my bra, checking my makeup, and making sure my mints were in my bag. I opened the door. Tom stood there, a little to the side, once again looking nervous. I was nervous, too. While the day before had just been a chance meeting and we had gotten along well, tonight was a planned encounter. We had liked each other enough to want to see the other again, at night, for dinner, in a very typical date-like way. As I was sleepy and my contacts were drying out, I rubbed my eye a little, hoping not to smudge my kajal. Tom smiled, put his hands on his hips, took a deep breath in that thick, warm air, and declared, “You look like this when you just wake up? How is this possible?” I smirked and replied, “It’s magic.”

 

He gave me that look that men reserve for women they’re interested in. They lean back a little, smirk, and look at you. I felt naked.

 

“Ready to go?” He asked. I nodded.

 

Finding a restaurant that suited us proved to be difficult, but I appreciated how willing he was to compromise and explore different options. We first went to the beach, his idea, and quickly realized that beach restaurants were ridiculously overpriced. While walking back to the street, we were greeted by Indian stray dogs. I mentioned to him that I had made friends with one of these dogs and I’d hoped to see her again. I called her “Esperanza”, “hope” in Spanish. He thought that was sweet. He told me that he loved dogs and in order to earn their trust, he gave them free massages. I observed him loving on these stray pups and felt my glowing heart soften even more toward him. Instead of fearing them or finding them a nuisance, he saw them as canine massage clients and that was endearing. Eventually we found a restaurant that wasn’t too expensive or pretentious. But, he wasn’t hungry. I thought that odd and then remembered that he had his meals taken care of at his hotel, all a part of his volunteering service, and as he would be in Goa for a month, he probably wanted to conserve his money. I, however, intended to eat. So, I ordered an iced tea, something I had never tried in India because of the fear of dirty water, and a chorizo sandwich with fries. The iced tea tasted off, almost fermented, and I had Tom take a sip of it. He agreed. It was weird. Interestingly, we shared a straw, essentially swapping spit, and it didn’t feel disgusting or too soon to do that. As we waited for my food to come out, two small cats leapt up to the bench I sat on. I entertained their presence and fed them tiny pieces of chorizo and french fries. They stayed with me the entire night after that. Loathing the fact that Tom wasn’t eating, I shared my plate with him, giving him half of my sandwich and my fries. In Puerto Rican culture, sharing food is a way that you show your care and love for someone and I would learn the next day that the same belief exists in Israeli culture as well.

 

Tom asked for more details about where my ancestors are from and I shared the story to the question I’m regularly asked in the U.S. “Well, you know I’m Puerto Rican on my mom’s side. Puerto Rico is a small island in the Caribbean. They speak Spanish there and they can look like me or have any skin tone and hair texture. We just had a hurricane there last September and the U.S. government didn’t do anything to help us, although Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony. Anyway, so my dad is German-American but he doesn’t know anything about German culture. When I was a little girl, my father told me that it was a curse to be German because of the Holocaust.”

 

His eyes widened. “Really?”

 

“Yeah. I wish I knew something about German culture other than Mozart, beer, sausage, and pretzels.”

 

“Yes, Germany is full of beautiful culture! My sister actually lives there. They are more than the Holocaust, of course. It’s not a curse to be German, Gabrielle.” His words dripped with forgiveness of the Germans for what they had done only a lifetime ago.

 

“Right, so I want to learn about it. You know, when I was in college, people used to call me a Nazi. But they didn’t understand that I would’ve been killed by the Nazis, too. I’m not their idea of the perfect race either.”

 

“Exactly, you would’ve been killed as well. They’re idiots for calling you that. You’re not a Nazi!”

 

While talking together, Tom and I dove into touchy subjects for most people, but it didn’t seem like anything was out of line or inappropriate for us. We talked about everything. I loved hearing his stories and he was enraptured by my stories. We enjoyed throwing shade at our respective countries. He was fed up with the hypocrisy of Israel, the military, and its highly Orthodox people. Personally, I was done with America’s love of guns and hatred of people of color and women. I opined that the U.S. loves to exploit people of color and our countries but when the time comes to return the favor and help us, they’re not there. A prime example of this was how the U.S. responded to Hurricane Maria’s aftermath in Puerto Rico and the tragically unnecessary loss of life that followed.

 

When in the U.S., speaking about these issues is always so daunting unless you speak with a socially-conscious white person or another person of color. The rest of the time, people call you a “crazy liberal” or “race-baiter”, disregarding the valid and factual points you have made because they don’t like your skin color. But with Tom, because he was not American, it was so easy to share my opinions without fear. I told him what really happens behind that shiny façade America loves to wear. He learned about the mass shootings, the police shootings of unarmed black people, mass incarceration, and the Latin immigration crisis. I argued that because only rich, old, white, straight men had all the power in the U.S., we were all suffering. I shared the history of my country, pointing out that it was, again, the rich, white, straight, men’s abuse of people of color that led to so many issues in lower-income communities of color with ramifications still affecting us today. With little experience in these highly esoteric American problems, Tom nodded, asked, “Really?” every so often and eventually joined me a little in berating “the white man”.

 

We mentally shook hands with each other.

 

“So, Gabrielle, you talk about white men. I’m white, too, right?” He gently asked the question, challenging me but not intending to offend.

 

I hadn’t thought of him like this. He, as an Israeli man, had no part in any of the egregious acts of violence my ancestors endured, but he wore the same skin as those who did. He could be considered white, but I suppose that when I think about white people, my mind reverts to slavery and oppressive acts. He was not culpable for that. Besides, he was Israeli. He was Middle Eastern.

 

“Well, you’re from Israel, so I guess I don’t really think of you as white.”

 

“You know, my family actually came from Ukraine and Russia.”

 

“Really! Did they…uh…come after the Holocaust?”

 

“Yes, they did.”

 

“And the rest of your family back in Ukraine and Russia. Did they…?”

 

“Oh, they all died. All of them.”

 

He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as if this were commonplace. My ancestors were murdered by racist white men centuries ago. His were murdered by racist and anti-Semitic white men just a lifetime ago. You can’t quantify suffering, but this thought gave me pause. His great-grandparents or grandparents must have fled to Israel right after the Holocaust, just when Israel became a country. As hard as it is for me to live with the ramifications of slavery, segregation, and the continuing colonization of Puerto Rico, I can’t imagine how difficult it is to cope with the knowledge that just a few generations ago, you would have been exterminated for being Jewish, for being who you are. He thought I was strong, but that kind of history produces profound strength. I could see that he had it in droves. But, I could also see that his heart was soft. He didn’t serve in the Israeli military, which is generally required, so I wondered what had happened to him to prevent him from serving. Was it religious beliefs? Heavy emotional stress? Tom was funny. He made me laugh each time I saw him, but his quick jokes were often dark. He claimed this was an Israeli thing, and it probably was a part of that culture, but something in his eyes told me that he was tired. He was tired of living in a country where war is constantly threatened. Where it’s common to see soldiers with guns walking around every day. Where you could lose more than one best friend in war. Where you have no choice in whether or not you want to risk your life for your country. Growing up in that type of environment undoubtedly produces stress and his artist’s spirit was heavy. His shoulders had taken multiple beatings, but he threw them back and carried on. An artist’s heart and spirit are malleable. This is not to say that we are weak. We are strong, but our strength lies in our ability to express our emotions, to feel pain, and to transform that pain into art. The courage it takes to create a piece and share it with the world is striking. Not everyone can do that, because it’s not simply something you make, but it’s a part of your soul. If someone criticizes your work, what are they saying about who you are as a person?

 

Tom’s eyes hovered above my head and around my face. “Your hair type is very common in Israel, Gabrielle. A few years ago, everyone straightened their hair. No one had it curly. But, now everyone lets their hair be curly.”

 

He glanced over my skin and added, “There are people in Israel with your color. You know, my sister’s skin is even darker than yours.” He sounded excited to find these two comparisons between me and his people. He was not only enjoying looking at me, but he was taking note of my distinctive features and relating them to what was familiar to him. Tom made me feel so warm and beautiful. Everything he said about me, from my hair texture to my skin color was a compliment. He thought I was beautiful and had no fear expressing that, although he did so subtly. Every day he’d glance down at my neck and comment that he loved seeing the cross and the Star of David together like that. He’d remark how nice my necklace rested on my neck. His eyes seemed drawn to it. He had never met anyone who was like me in that regard, a Gentile who was so knowledgeable about Judaism.

 

“Gabrielle, you might have a little Jewish in you. Do you?”

 

I was surprised that he asked this and so flattered that he speculated that we came from the same background.

 

“I don’t know! I might! My father doesn’t know who his father is, so we probably do have some Jewish ancestry somewhere.”

 

Tom looked into my eyes for a while, let his eyes roam about my face, smiled and said, “I think you do.”

 

When Tom made these comparisons, I thought it was sweet. While I didn’t look at him and try to fit him into what I was familiar with, Puerto Rican culture, he saw the ways I fit into his normal. I’m sure he appreciated my differences as well and was entranced by my entire person. I enjoyed him for being the Ukrainian-Russian Israeli Jewish man that he was. I appreciated all our differences. This might be because he would relatively seamlessly fit into my world, but I wouldn’t so easily slide into his. Not only was I not Israeli, but I was not Jewish. Tom wasn’t a practicing Jewish man, but I could see that the heritage and culture associated with Judaism in Israel were important to him and to his family. Tom loved talking about his Jewishness. His reasoning for his incredibly sharp sense of humor was his Jewish roots. He clearly loved his Jewish identity and his country, although he would be the first to pick out Judaism’s contradictions and Israel’s flaws. I understood the type of dissonance that occurs when you are part of a group that you love but can simultaneously take an outsider’s position and be able to pinpoint each error in the group’s beliefs or practices. I dislike many practices of modern-day Puerto Rican culture, but I allow myself to love the people behind the culture and openly speak about the need for improvement. It’s painful to be able to do this; most people can’t. Instead of blindly supporting our own group, we can choose which aspects of our group we do stand by while also petitioning for positive change.

 

Should Tom and I continue exploring this spark between us, should that spark develop into a full-fledged relationship, my Gentile heritage would possibly be a point of contention. It seemed like he was scrambling to find commonalities between us because he sensed that whatever was happening between us didn’t occur every day and he wanted to savor it.

 

After dinner, Tom invited me to sit with him outside at his hotel. Once there, we reclined on long, black chairs next to the hotel’s pool and we looked at the moon. The air felt cool and clear. Thankfully it wasn’t monsoon season yet, so we had little humidity to deal with. Laying back with him, looking at the trees protect us overhead with their branches, watching the stars glitter and glow, listening to the sound of the rushing pool water, we sat in silence for a while, just enjoying each other’s company. As the minutes passed, the air grew breezy and I curled up a little to keep myself warm, although with Tom I already felt warm. As cold as it became, I didn’t want to end this moment. Inwardly I recognized the temporary status of our unspoken relationship. I was eager to extract each possible minute from each of our days and conserve it for us. The leaves on the trees swayed back and forth. The hotel’s strangely large number of puppies whined in unison, creating an odd cacophony all their own. As I lay there with Tom, I began to reflect on what continued to unfold between us, and realized that it was beginning to cross into deeper territory. I’m not one to typically believe that one can love another so quickly, but it certainly can begin quickly, especially when two people are wrapped in conversation with each other every day with nothing to distract themselves from being together.

 

When I was a teenage girl, I read Jane Austen’s entire repertoire throughout high school and while the social commentary mostly escaped my notice, what truly impacted me was the way she wrote about love. Austen taught me that first impressions are not always correct, that love can grow between two seemingly incompatible people, and that basing our decisions on emotions alone isn’t the sensible thing to do. She taught me that love can happen at any age, to anyone. Love doesn’t always appear the same way across generations and social classes. Dramatic, sweeping love stories aren’t necessarily what keep someone’s soul warm at night. When those overpowering emotions dissipate, what’s left in their wake is the stuff of love: commitment, shared purpose, and soft care for each other. Laying there with Tom next to me, his eyes fixed on the wide expanse above us, thinking about something only he and God were privy to, I began to see that this connection that existed between us was not so much the passionate, can’t-live-without-you type. We had lived without each other before and we would undoubtedly continue on without each other. No, our minds felt deeply intertwined, so much so that we could communicate with just a glance or a facial expression. In him, I’d finally found my intellectual equal, someone who could challenge me without offense. I found someone who could understand me at a level that I thought only I could. Tom was a true man of the world; he had experienced things I’d never even seen. His stories and sense of humor captivated me. In him, I saw beyond his smiles and jokes. My eyes cut through to the source of Tom’s darkness and pain that he so cleverly mixed with wit and humor. I saw a hurting soul, a soul longing for respite after decades of wandering alone, continually reaching out for another to recognize him for who he was. I saw him. He saw me. In each other, we recognized a fellow soul.

 

We began to talk. I shared a bit about my dad’s brush with death the year prior and how his health scare brought the fear of sickness and death into my own life. When I shared with him about my hypochondria, he unexpectedly helped me by laughing with me about it. That surprisingly helped. I began to feel not so unhinged or sad about my struggles. I told him, “You know, sometimes I walk around afraid I’m going to drop dead of a heart attack. If I get a pain in my arm, I think I’m going to die in that moment. I think, ‘Oh no, it’s happening. This is it.’ Isn’t that ridiculous?”

 

He smiled and said, “That’s very funny. That’s great.”

 

I felt free to go on: “Sometimes it’s a heart attack, other times it’s a brain tumor or a stroke. It depends on the day.”

 

We laughed together about it and for the first time since dealing with hypochondria, I didn’t feel alone. The whole thing didn’t seem so overwhelming.

 

He was silent for a moment and chuckled before saying, “Yes, you know, anything can happen anytime. Right now, some bats in the trees could come and attack us.”

 

I burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of the idea and responded with “Mmmm mm!” To me and to everyone I know, that sound means “No way!” To Tom, it was hilarious. As one of the signature sounds I make whenever I see something that looks scary or wrong, Tom had a plethora of opportunities to enjoy and imitate it.

 

His head snapped in my direction and he chuckled a little.

 

“Gabrielle, you’re so interesting. You have a very eclectic sense of humor. Sometimes you have this explosive laughter about silly things and other times you just have a small smile. Very interesting…”

 

“Mmmm mmm mm!” I answered, my voice rising and falling.

 

He stared into the distance for a second and said, “Okay, that was ‘I don’t know.’” I had completely forgotten that Tom’s native tongue was Hebrew and that me making noises with my mouth closed doesn’t actually communicate the words I’m thinking. Yet somehow, Tom knew.

 

We continued laughing, a little high on life and the hour: it was past midnight and everything is always more intense after the clock strikes twelve. He reached his hand in my direction, gesturing as he laughed and spoke, and accidentally brushed my arm. Immediately, he withdrew his arms and said, “Oh no! I hit you! I’m a misogynist! No!” I knew he wasn’t joking about domestic violence. He genuinely felt badly for unintentionally tapping my arm in that small way. It was adorable and I assured him that it was okay and he was most definitely not a misogynist. He smiled, leaned his head back on the pool-side chairs we had overtaken, and turned his face toward me. His blue-green eyes locked with mine and he said, “Do you want to go swimming?”

 

In this moment, two things instantaneously passed through my mind:

 

  1. If we were to get into that pool together, things would become heated. Tom may try to kiss me, and I was nervous.

 

  1. I don’t think that getting chafing thighs wet is beneficial to the healing process.

 

I attempted to appear as if I didn’t want to get in trouble. Because I wasn’t a hotel guest, should anyone hear us, he would get in trouble as well. But, I did want to spend more time with him and physically, I wanted to get closer to him.

 

“I don’t know…do you?” I felt my inexperience surface and I tried to mask it.

 

He stared directly into my eyes and frankly admitted, “Yes, I do!”

 

“Uh I don’t know….I don’t want to get into trouble.”
“That’s okay, we don’t have to.” He smiled reassuringly and gave me a slight head nod.

 

We lay there for a little while longer, listening to the sounds of the night, and resisting the urge to cross that physical boundary that threatened to explode with tension. I wanted him, romantically and physically. I was amazed at how quickly my body wanted to connect with his. I was immediately attracted to him, but I’d been attracted to men before. I’d never wanted to become as physically close to a man as I had with Tom. But, because I was inexperienced, I had hoped that he would take the lead and initiate a handhold, a hug, a kiss, something. But, he didn’t. Tom respected my body to the highest level. Tom wasn’t a normal man in the sense that he wasn’t typical. He was distinct and respected me, which so many men don’t want to do. Tom never wanted me to feel uncomfortable and it was beautiful. As the hours wore on and the conversation slowed, I sensed the tension thickening between us. We were so close to his bedroom. Sensing the same tension, Tom cleared his throat, fidgeted with his hands, and looked at me, saying “I have to volunteer really early tomorrow and it’s late. You probably want to sleep. So, I’ll take you back, okay?”

 

I nodded my assent but sincerely wished that he would’ve grabbed my face and kissed me instead.

 

He walked me the far too short two-minute walk home and watched me as I unlocked the gate and let myself into my bamboo hut. I threw myself on my stiff bed, ignoring the insects and the heat, feeling absolutely electrified by a supernatural power.

 

The next morning, the sun broke through the slits in the bamboo walls and roof. I awoke knowing that this would be my last full day with Tom and that the conversation, the connection, and the empathy that we shared the night before had significantly altered everything. No longer could I pretend that we didn’t have a romantic, mental, and spiritual connection, which I had been trying to trick myself into believing didn’t exist. It would have been much easier to imagine that these vibes were entirely a product of my brain, a piece of fiction I had created to make my Goan days a little less lonely. After the night that we had just spent together, after sharing so much about our innermost fears and our respective pasts, things seemed more intense. The unspoken attraction and connection between us screamed to be acknowledged as this last day and night lay bare before it. I had somewhat been denying what was happening in my own heart and in Tom’s because this had never happened to me before. Any crush I ever had, save for one guy, had been on a guy that I didn’t know that well. Most of my fantasies were simply that: fantasies. There was never any genuine friendship there. With Tom, I could see that a warm friendship was blooming but it wasn’t being overshadowed by extravagant romantic actions. The friendship took precedence and the romance would slowly grow like a flower alongside it, rather than as a weed that would suffocate our foundation of friendship.

 

For our excursions that day, I donned a long black t-shirt and loose wide-leg flowy pants. I felt comfortable enough with Tom to not feel pressured to coordinate the perfect outfit that would highlight my curves, hide my rolls, and exude just the right amount of sexy. Without any real plan in sight, I told Tom that I wanted ice cream. We went to a small store around the corner from my bamboo hut and stocked up on Indian sodas, ice cream, Maggi noodles, and cookies. Next to the cashier, there was a small end-cap display of various Goa souvenirs. I had gone to this store before and perused these souvenirs, but had yet to buy one. I couldn’t decide between a fridge magnet, a shell keychain, or other kitschy shell tchotchkes. Holding one peach-colored shell keychain with “GOA” written on it in black letters up to Tom, I happily announced, “Look, Tom! Isn’t this nice?”

 

“Yes, it is. Do you know that if you put the shell to your ear, you can hear the cries of the child who made it?” He quipped.

 

I was not expecting him to finish that question in that way. I laughed at his joke but grimaced thinking about slave labor and human trafficking.

 

“Oh no, do you really think a child made this?”

 

Tom smiled and said, “Of course!” His nonchalant attitude about it made me wonder what he’d been exposed to. What had he seen that had ignited cynicism inside of him?

 

I put it back and we hit the road with my ice cream and self-respect in tow.

 

Tom had mentioned for the past two days that he really wanted to try an Indian mango. We passed a fruit stand on our walk and I grabbed his arm saying, “Tom, you have to get a mango! It’s our last chance. Let’s get one.”

 

He smiled and we bought a mango. Walking for a bit, awkwardly holding the mango in his hand, he asked me if I knew how to open it. I then remembered that I only knew how to open a mango with a knife, stable surface, and a cutting board. I said I knew how anyway.

 

“All you need is nails! Do you have nails?”

 

“I’m not sure,” he said.

 

“Let me see.” I grabbed his hand and slowly ran my finger over his thumb nail. Everything seemed to stand still for a moment when our hands touched. I was the one who initiated the first physical contact between us. As transparent as we had been with our souls, we still hadn’t touched at all. At this point, it seemed like Tom was not only respecting my body, but that he was afraid to touch me. What would happen after he touched me? Would we know how to stop? Why would we stop? The temptation to play with those boundaries was strong and felt like the most enticing experience of my life. I began to peel the mango, discarding each piece of skin. Because I wasn’t slicing it, there was no real mango on the skin so it seemed worthless in my eyes. After throwing each piece of skin away for a few seconds, Tom said, “Wait!” Taking the skin in his hand, he began to suck on it, trying to get some mango from it. He threw it on the ground and said, “You’re right, there’s nothing on there.” After peeling the mango, we passed it between each other, taking turns sucking the fruit off the pit. He took a few hits of its sweet goodness and gave the rest to me to finish. Tom always let me finish whatever drink or snack we shared. He was in love with the beach, so I agreed to walk on the sand with him as the sun began to set. The beach presented itself as a perpetual hangout hub for Indians, Russians, and one Puerto Rican-German-American-Ukrainian-Russian-Israeli couple. Leaving our shoes on a rock that we would cast a glance at every few minutes, we waded into the water and I pulled up my pants like I was wading through monsoon waters.

 

We played in the water for a bit and I told him that I wanted to go in all the way, but I couldn’t. “Remember last night when you wanted to go swimming in the pool?” He nodded, smiling. “Well, I wanted to but when we walked home Saturday night, my thighs chafed.” He grimaced and pitied me.

 

“Oh no! That’s terrible. That happens a lot in the Israeli military.”

 

“Yes, it’s awful and painful. But, you probably don’t have to deal with it because you’re…” I searched for the best word. “more on the skinny side.” He laughed, pointed at me, and said, “Hey, that’s racist!” I laughed with him and couldn’t believe I had met another person who used that word the way I always did in college. One of my signature catchphrases in college was saying, “That’s racist!” to things that were decidedly not racist.

 

“So, how’s the chafing now?” He made a back-and-forth motion with his hands, and used the Hebrew word for chafing. I told him that it was getting better but I was trying my best to not get it wet.

 

Just then, a lobster-red Russian man with a protruding stomach walked by on the beach and Tom and I exchanged glances.

 

“They stay in the sun all day and they get so burned. Don’t they feel the pain? Why do they do this?” I exclaimed.

 

“I have no idea. They must feel it, but they just stay in the sun.”

 

I shook my head and admitted to Tom that I had been feeling a bit off about Russia ever since news broke that Russia interfered in the 2016 American Presidential election. How were our countries going to relate now?

 

Tom understood. Having grown up in Israel, he was well-acquainted with terror attacks, militarism, and problems in the government. He was starting to come to terms with what it meant to love your country and simultaneously disagree with the way it’s run. I understood. Tom joked about all of it and for the first time in a long time, I laughed about the state of the union. Shaking my head, I looked at Tom and told him that he brought out my dark side. He looked concerned and said, “Oh no.”

 

“Don’t worry about it! It’s okay! Just a joke.”

 

“Aw, okay.” He smiled a little, traces of guilt for corrupting me still in his eyes. He knew his darkness best and it appeared as if the mere thought of his darkness tainting me brought him fear. I changed the subject.

 

“Hey, I’m hungry. Let’s eat.”

 

“Sure.” He smiled and we left to get our shoes.

 

Because Tom received all his meals for free at his hotel, he offered me dinner there. He took me into the kitchen, which we reached by stepping over rocks and the small puppies sleeping on those rocks. The kitchen was a complete mess and Tom knew it. He burst into energetic hosting and began a smooth waltz about the kitchen, knowing where everything was.

 

“Okay, so let’s see what they have!” He lifted two pot lids on the stove.

“Hmmm…they have rice and lentils. Do you want this?” He looked at me hoping that I wasn’t too turned off by the meager meal. To speak truth, I had avoided lentils for years because of the bad memories I have associated with them, namely from my first trip to India three years prior. During that trip, my team and I were forced to eat only rice and lentils for most of our meals for an entire month and I had since become sickened by the thought of eating it by choice.

 

“Sure!” How eager to please we women become when we like a man.

 

He took a plate, washed it, dried it, and loaded it with rice and lentils. He then found a small tomato which he washed with vinegar. He cut it up in such a way that he could open it like a flower. He laid it on my plate and sprinkled it with salt.

 

“Wow! Nice presentation. Do you know how to cook?”

 

“Yes, I do!” He proclaimed, raising an eyebrow and smiling at me.

He then cleaned a glass and filled it with filtered water and a fresh slice of lemon before leading me to the same table where two days prior he had played me some of his music. We sat there in the darkness of the evening, the dull lamps softening our features, and we listened to the bugs around us while I ate and he entertained me with pleasant conversation.

 

As he talked I realized that he sounded like Ralph Fiennes, but Ralph Fiennes in “Schindler’s List.” I had also been trying to pinpoint exactly which actor he physically resembled and realized it then: Liam Neeson. Liam Neeson was also in “Schindler’s List.” I wanted to share with him how he reminded me of these men, but I felt terrible telling him this because Ralph Fiennes’ character in “Schindler’s List” is a monster of a human being. Regardless, I told him how he reminded me of these two men.

 

“’Schindler’s List’? I can’t even watch that movie. I can’t…” He shivered and shook his head.

 

“I’m so sorry, Tom! I shouldn’t have said that.”

 

“That’s okay! So, Gabrielle, so far we’ve talked about depression, anxiety, ‘Schindler’s List’, and the Holocaust. Very light topics.”

 

“Yeah, I’m sorry for asking about the Holocaust.”

 

“No, no! That’s alright. It’s okay to talk about it.” He smiled, reassuring me.

 

Tom took my empty plate into the kitchen to wash it and I followed him inside.

 

“Hey, Tom, how do you say ‘water’ in Hebrew?”

 

“Mayim” he answered, scrubbing the utensils.

 

“And ‘life’”?

 

“Chaim.”

 

“Mayim-chaim!” In my mind, I was thinking about “living water”, a term that has been used to describe Jesus. But, as Tom was as familiar with Christianity, he didn’t know what I was referring to and simply nodded.

 

“Living water, Tom!”

 

He shrugged, smiled at me over his shoulder, and dried the dishes.

 

Feeling like a flirtatious teenager, elevated on the energy between us, I asked, “Hey, Tom want to hear a Hebrew joke?”

 

He was excited and waited with bated breath. “Yes!”

 

“Okay, here we go. How does Moses make his coffee?”

 

“I don’t know, how does he?”

 

“Hebrews it.”

 

“Wow.” Tom rolled his eyes a little and laughed. “That was good. Hey, do you want some dark chocolate? We have some in the fridge.”

 

While I normally hate dark chocolate, I said yes.

 

We went to sit back outside and Tom spotted small white flowers nestled on a little bush. He plucked a flower and as we sat, handed it to me. He then noticed that my water glass was empty and sprang up to go back into the kitchen to fill it.

 

When he returned, we talked more about mental health issues in the U.S. and Israel. We were on the same page. There must be more mental health awareness and accessible treatments for those in need. Therapy shouldn’t be reserved for only the rich and for those who are aware of the available resources. He lamented that Israel was severely lacking in the mental health department. In Tom’s eyes, Israel produces people who lose their sanity after having served in the IDF. He argued that Israel doesn’t particularly care that its military service produces cynical, wounded, and traumatized young Israeli people who then have no clue what to do after their military service. Independent thought wasn’t commended, although it’s the thinkers that alter the world. Actions without thought are hollow and temporary. It’s the thoughts that remain when the actions are forgotten or seen as mere bandages over a deeper wound. The books remain, leaving behind a legacy of free thought, free spirits, and guidelines on how to live a valuable life. It seemed that Israel was no place for dreamers, for peacemakers, for artists, or for lovers, at least in Tom’s mind.

 

“That’s why I hope to never go back there. I’m going to stay with my sister in Berlin after my time in Goa. I want to keep traveling. Like how you never want to go back to the U.S., I never want to go back to Israel. So many of my friends joined the military and came back different. They went crazy. I lost so many people.” He looked away, blinking back tears.

 

Strong, heartbreaking words. Tom wasn’t one to mince words about anything he was passionate about. Neither was I. Although I love Israel, I don’t agree with some of their practices and tactics. While Tom shared his heart on his homeland, I couldn’t help but imagine what he had witnessed as a boy in Israel. What he had seen must have injured his heart and he bore those scars. I wanted to soothe them.

 

“Anyway, I see you have henna on your arms. Can I see?”

 

I had completely forgotten that an Indian lady had applied henna to my arms and hands a few days before. I laid them out for his inspection.

 

“Very nice. I like it. Did you know that in Hebrew we say ‘henna’ the same way, but with the guttural ‘ch’ sound at the beginning?”

 

“Oh really? I didn’t know that. That’s so cool.”

 

“Yeah. Say it! Chhenna.”

 

I said it and he smiled, leaned back in his chair, and said, “Yeah, that’s it.”

 

“I love Hebrew. I want to learn it. I almost went to Israel earlier this year, in January. The trip was called ‘The Holy Land Immersion.’”

 

“Wow, that sounds really Jewish. Why do you want to learn Hebrew?”

 

“Well, I guess that when I think about Hebrew, I think about a beautiful, ancient, Biblical language full of rich history. I just like it.”

 

He chuckled. “Actually, the Hebrew that I speak is about 50 years old and it doesn’t sound so nice.”

 

“Yes, it does!”

 

He furrowed his brow. “How? Even with the strong ‘ch’ sound?”

 

I shrugged my shoulders and smiled at him. “I just like it. I think it’s sexy.”

 

He blushed, put his hand on his chin and nodded, eyes squinting a little.

 

I felt bold. “You know, Tom, I’ve loved a Jewish guy before.”

 

His eyes widened. “Really?”, he stammered.

 

“Yes, in college. I never told him that I loved him, but I did. He loved me, too. I could feel it. But he would never have dated me because he was a Modern Orthodox Jewish man.”

 

In Israel, the Modern Orthodox movement isn’t as well-practiced as it is in the U.S., so I had to explain it to him. He nodded. “Yes, I see.” He was at a loss for words. Asserting my ready willingness to love a Jewish man and my experience loving one probably impressed upon Tom my eagerness to love him. If only he’d let me, I’d love him like no other woman could. I knew his heart had more than any woman had been able to touch before; I could touch him to the depth of his being.

 

The sand was running out on our time together and I wanted to touch him, and for him to hold me. “Tom, I really wish I could get a scalp massage.” I hoped he would pick up on the hint and offer me one.

 

He sat up a little in his chair and I continued, explaining, “Well, it’s just so relaxing and intimate. Man, it’s really hot out here.” I said, fanning myself with my hand.

 

He smiled a little, his eyelashes fluttering a bit, and offered for us to go sit in his hotel room, because it had working A/C. In his room, he nervously asked me if I wanted a scalp massage. I said yes and I sat on his bed while he slipped a pillow underneath my head and sat behind me.

 

“Okay, so my hair is really dry”, I admitted while taking down my ponytail. “So don’t judge me.” I laid back on the bed.

 

He laughed and said it was okay. Tom thought I was beautiful with dry hair and a halo of frizz, the one look I hate because it reminds me of my younger years when I hated my hair and didn’t know how to do it. He began to massage my scalp, disregarding the fact that he had a painfully bruised thumb from a prior kitchen accident. He pushed past the pain to bring me pleasure. I hadn’t been aware that a scalp massage included the face, shoulders, neck, and upper back as well. When I felt his fingers tenderly glide over my forehead, along my jaw, around my lips, and down my neck, I felt so loved and cared for. My mind went to a place of complete relaxation. After I had been groped in India three years prior, my body had become averse to a man touching me in any capacity, even if it was on my shoulder or arm. Yet with Tom, my body opened like a flower to his fingers and palms, allowing him to bring healing to my body with his touch.

 

“You’re very good at receiving massage” he said.

 

He gently turned my head to each side and massaged me with sweetness and soft strokes. I heard him take a little breath and pause before massaging my ear lobes. When he massaged them, I was gone. I felt that tingly relaxation rush from my head to my feet. I licked my lips in pleasure, hoping he’d notice how beautiful and full they were. This was the most intimate I had ever been with a man. No one had ever touched me like this before, physically or mentally. He was the first to become intimately acquainted with my head, my hair, my face, my neck, and my shoulders. We were such dramatic people with such a strong connection that our first touch wasn’t holding hands or hugging. No, the first time we really touched consisted of the most intimate scalp massage ever. He took a breath, tensed up his chest, and scooted closer to my right arm which had an incredibly itchy heat rash.

 

“Okay, I’m going to give you a lymphatic massage now. It’s uh a little boring. Just slow and…”

 

“That’s okay. It’s not boring.”

 

He paused, smiled, inhaled, and began to massage my arm. His hands slowly moved up and down my arm, his eyes fixed on my henna-decorated hands.

 

“Tom, don’t my hands look weird? I feel like they look weird.”

 

He disagreed. “No, I don’t think they’re weird. They’re perfect. You have the perfect hands to sculpt a beautiful life out of clay.”

 

I gave him a small smile and kept my eyes locked with his. As a writer, I couldn’t craft a more beautiful line than what he had just said to me. Tom dripped with poetry. He cleared his throat, quickly looked back at my arms, and kept massaging me.

 

Right after he finished my massage, he sat up, scooted away from me, and said, “So I just got out of a relationship. I’m saying this because you know, we obviously….so yeah I just got out of a relationship. So, if I’ve been a little…how do you say…”

 

“Distant and reserved?” I had noticed that he had been throughout our weekend together. We’d discussed in-depth things, but his lack of romantic expression had hinted at some reservation on his part.

 

“Yes, that’s it. Well, that’s why. And well, when Israeli men want to show their interest in a woman, they usually do something more intentional…like this.”

 

He moved closer and smiled at me. Sitting across from me, taking a quick breath and maintaining strong eye contact, he cupped my face in his hand. His hand felt large and warm on my face. My reaction was so childlike. I giggled. Like a little girl, I giggled.

 

He smiled, sat back, and said, “Well, Israeli women always make the first move.” He looked down and clasped his hands.

 

“Oh, well, in my culture men make the first move.” I didn’t know what to say. Latin machismo wasn’t appealing to me and I wish I had never said that. I wanted to take that as his cue to inch closer and plant a kiss on him. In retrospect, he was waiting for me to show him how that night would go. I dropped the ball.

 

He adamantly shook his head from side to side. “I can’t do that. And you know, we come from very different cultures. Very different cultures.” He smiled sadly and shook his head.

 

I didn’t know what to say at that point because I didn’t expect any of this at all. I didn’t know how to respond. I had not yet learned how to respond to men who approached me with respect and genuinely opened their hearts to me.

 

I simply replied, “Okay.” We laid next to each other on his bed and he grew quiet.

 

“Are you okay?” I asked.

 

“Yes. Mhmm. I’m okay.” He said it, but he didn’t look okay. “So, what do you want to do in the future?”

 

“Well, I’m passionate about a lot of things. I studied English in college, so I have a heart for education and literacy, especially for young people and immigrants. But, mostly, I want to work with teenage girls and guide them as they mature into women. I know how it feels to be unwanted and abused. I don’t want another child to feel like that, if I can prevent it. I want to fight for women’s issues and speak up for what’s right. When my grandmother came to New York from Puerto Rico, she didn’t speak any English. She suffered so much because she didn’t speak English and didn’t have an education. Now I have a degree in the language she couldn’t speak. I don’t want anyone else to endure that type of somewhat helpless existence if I can help it. Whoever has the most need and is cast aside by society, I will be there.”

 

He slowly nodded and looked away from me for a minute. “Gabrielle, I’m excited to see how you will lead your life.” I smiled. “We need good teachers and people who really care. When we first met, and you talked about English and what makes it good, that really got me thinking. You’re right about that. No one thinks like you do. You’re so interesting. You’re a very good person.”

 

“No, no, no, no, I’m not.” I said, adamantly shaking my head.

 

He looked confused. “You don’t want to be a good person?”

 

I said nothing. It had been difficult to see my value and goodness lately because although I have a Cum Laude Bachelor’s degree with departmental honors, I had been jobless, broke, and without any direction in life. I knew my problems with being judgmental, prideful, and being one who is prone to snapping at people and easily taking offense. I knew my flaws well.

 

“What about you, Tom?” I knew that Tom was a musician, but he didn’t seem like he had a clear path set for his life either.

 

“Oh I’ve done so many things. So many different types of jobs. I used to make mezuzah.”

 

I nodded, knowing exactly to what he was referring.

 

“You know mezuzah?” He asked, voice rising a little, clearly incredulous at the fact that a Gentile girl from the U.S. was familiar with this esoteric part of Judaism.

 

“Mhmm.” I nodded. I hoped that he would begin to see that he too quickly judged what was developing between us. I may not be Jewish, but I was highly familiar with Judaism. I wanted him to see that in me. I think he did from the beginning.

 

He paused, looked at me in disbelief and amazement, and continued, “Oh. Well, I used to make them. I remember this Orthodox man told me that the way I had written a particular letter wasn’t Kosher, so I would have to redo the entire thing.” He shook his head. I figured he was thinking about the hypocrisies of some Orthodox Jewish people again, a topic he had mentioned a few times before. “It was good money, though.”

 

I weakly smiled, because money doesn’t interest me, and we laid next to each other in silence for some time. After he’d broke the tension by voicing his reflections on a future relationship with me, whatever else followed felt even fuller with sexual tension. He had voiced that he wanted me but felt that he could not have me. I knew I wanted him as well and I didn’t intend on denying myself happiness. We were on a bed together, late at night, with no one to be accountable to. It was difficult to maintain a conversation while being surrounded by this heat. Eventually I checked the time on my phone and remarked that it was past midnight. I was afraid that my Indian host may have locked the gate to my bamboo hut.

 

“What if it’s locked? What will I do?” I asked, hoping that his answer would be an emphatic, “Stay with me.”

 

It wasn’t emphatic. It was cautious. But, the answer was the same. “Well, if it’s locked, then you can stay here.” His soft eyes searched mine for my response.

 

We shyly smiled at each other and he took me home around 1:30 AM. The gate wasn’t locked, but I wished it was. After checking the gate, I turned around and looked at Tom. Bathed in moonlight and streetlights, I wished that he would make a bold move and kiss me. Tom’s hands had just become acquainted with each part of my face so a kiss seemed natural to follow.

 

“Goodnight.” I said, waiting for him to act.

 

“Goodnight.” He answered, warmly. His eyes locked with mine and I could see that the warmth he felt for me was eagerly searching for a way to break through and translate to his actions.

 

“Can I have a hug?” I tentatively asked, already opening my arms.

 

“Yes, of course!” He quickly bent down, gently hugged me, and watched me enter my hut. I rushed inside, did some deep breathing, and formed a text message conveying everything I had been unable to speak in his presence. I sent him a message saying that I was so quiet when he shared his heart because I didn’t expect it, so I was surprised. I confessed that I liked him a lot as well and I wished I had met him earlier.

 

He returned, “Wow, that’s great! Thank you for sharing that. I wasn’t sure what you were thinking in the moment, but I’m glad you told me. You’re a very special being.” Flower emoji.

 

I texted him the next morning that I wanted to say goodbye to him before leaving Goa. He immediately came over and jingled my bell. Upon opening the door, he saw that I wore a turquoise salwar kameez.

 

“Wow, you’re wearing Indian clothes. You look great!”

 

He never ceased to charm me, showing me how lovely he thought I was, even as we were about to part, uncertain about the future, as we all are. None of us can see the full arc of our respective lives, but there exists something hidden within us that recognizes fellow souls who are destined to guide us on our lifelong sojourn. We somewhat awkwardly parted ways with a hug and a sense that things were incomplete between us. The energy there as we said our goodbyes felt like two souls who wanted more time and were torn between saying everything they felt and being at a loss for words. We were the latter. We didn’t want this connection to end. How could it end when it seemed like knowing each other peeled back the layers of cynicism and sadness that we’d both grown over our hearts? There were countless things I wish I had said to Tom. I should have told him exactly how he made me feel, in great detail, as only a writer can. I wish I had grabbed for his hand, kissed it, and held it to my face again, feeling the heat from his hand against my skin. I would’ve loved for him to pull me close, push a curl behind my ear, and kiss me squarely on the lips, with no fear. We felt as though we needed longer to know each other deeper. We deserved that. It had appeared that forces beyond us had brought us our first significant encounter and now it was all ending so abruptly.

 

Tom has repeatedly told me since then that he’s sure we’ll meet again and I pray that we do. I wish I had realized it then, but, upon reflecting now, I see that Tom didn’t just want a fling in India with a beautiful American woman, as so many people who come to Goa want. No, he felt like our connection was deep and strong enough to be enjoyed and explored further than the physical. He had recognized our kinship as something unexpected and genuine, something that rushes deep inside and touches our very core. He had reflected upon the possibility of us and figured that the stark differences between us would ruin whatever we had as time passed. He undoubtedly had thought this through, albeit without asking for my opinion. He was showing me how connected to me he felt, how interested he was, but how realistic he had to be. True, there was no sense in our connection. All reason and logic were cast aside in favor of letting two souls speak their secret language. Neither of us had wanted to get too attached, but it was far too late. Happiness was in view and we both could not help but desperately grab for it, knowing that it wouldn’t entirely be ours, at least not then. We had ignited a riot in the other’s heart and there was nothing to be done in the face of such an earth-shattering connection. But, we had to be rational. If our love destroyed his family or created tension in our own, then it would slowly destroy itself through a never-ending cycle of guilt and regret. So, we unwillingly let each other go, knowing that when we would reflect on our time together, we would feel equal parts regret and relief. The world does not respond kindly to lovers like us, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe we would’ve been the difference-maker.

 

I do not regret loving Tom for those three days. God brought Tom, this gentle stranger, into my life at such a time as was necessary to help me grow and come to terms with who I am and from what I’ve suffered. His heart spoke to mine, although I had ensconced mine behind a high tower, refusing to reveal it to just anyone. With him, I felt my true self, my essence, finally let go of that breath I’d been holding in throughout my entire life. I hadn’t realized that I’d been holding it in, bracing myself for trauma, until I met the only person who has ever induced sweet exhalation through his words, his looks, and his touch. He felt like I was coming home to someone I didn’t expect to be my home, but upon reflecting, I realize that no one else could house me in his heart. Life doesn’t seem so daunting to me now. Tom reminded me that although I’ve endured vicious abuse at the hands of my father and my country, I have an inner strength that can’t be touched or destroyed. I know that that strength comes from God, my Father, my King. I will aim to follow Him as He guides me along my often-lonely path. While praying for Tom, I felt a strong sense of urgency course throughout my body and in that instant, I had an inkling that my time with Tom would not end on a hot day in Goa. Our story had more to come.

 

I didn’t know what I needed in a man before Tom, but when our minds met, it was if a veil was lifted and my understanding of myself deepened. Through being with Tom, walking with him, talking with him, and laughing with him, I discovered a part of Gabrielle that I had never known. I found myself feeling liberated, desired, and alive. Being with Tom threw me into undiscovered regenerative romantic feelings and the memories have suspended me in the thickness of them and have sustained me on those lonely nights that sometimes come. Boy, when they come, they come with a vengeance. When I lay in bed at night, feeling utterly alone and longing for what we had together, I remember how his hands felt over my body and I smile to myself, remembering feeling the light spread over me as he touched me. Do you think it’s possible for two people to belong to each other before they’ve ever met? I’m beginning to. Tom got under my skin and he’s stayed there since our first meeting. Tom was thirst-quenching and different than any other man I’d known. He didn’t offer himself as a knight in shining armor or a savior. I already had my Savior. Tom didn’t present himself as someone who could complete me, because I didn’t need that. I was already complete, although scarred. Tom didn’t treat me like a princess, showering me with material things, but he treated me like a queen, someone to whom respect and honor is due. Although he thought I was beautiful, he was interested in, entertained by, and enthralled by the nuances of my personality, never crossing my physical boundaries. He showed me the utmost respect and reverence. It was as if he deemed me some holy thing, and he had to respond accordingly, showing me how sacred I was in his sight. Tom showed himself to me as a man who immediately saw past my sometimes-stoic face, through my scarring life experiences, and into my soul. He recognized my scars as similar to his own. In him, I found those natural sympathies that people speak of. Tom was my equal and my likeness; although our life experiences differed, we shared the same pain, sadness, and hope in the goodness of life and God. His mind immediately understood mine without question. Our respective opinions on practically each topic were intertwined before we’d voiced them. His words, eyes, and hands soothed my scars, uplifting me without hesitation or fear. He could see into my being in a manner that no man has seen before. He was the first to recognize me for who I was and to love what he found hidden there. He loved me like I was a rare and exquisite flower adorned with thorns: beautiful and worth the pain of gently holding in your hand. He loved me like I was moonlight: dark, intense, mysterious, luminous, and someone to be carefully explored inch by inch.

 

Since my time in Goa, I’ve begun to rebuild my life in the U.S. I’m working, I have an apartment, and I’m content with working to improve my resume and pay back my debts. I’ve reflected upon my previous notions about missions work and what following Christ looks like for everyday people. My identity is no longer rooted in the legalistic actions that I do for God, but in who God says that I am. I may not be an Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot, not yet at least, but my Christian walk is not less than theirs because I stay here. I stay here to seek God’s face, to know Him better, and to realistically plan out how He may want me to serve Him and others. That might be in missions, but it might not. I’ve accepted that. Yet, I feel restless. I spend my days writing about my passions; articulating them in ways I couldn’t before. My experience with Tom has opened a new depth inside of my soul; my writing has deepened for knowing him. Tom is mysterious about his life now and our texting conversations since parting have been brief but full of unspoken regret and longing. Tom has said that it’s too painful for him to regularly communicate with me. I initially took offense to that and couldn’t understand it, but now I see. When you care for someone to such a degree that after three days you’ve already fallen for them, but then realize that it would be difficult in the long run, you can’t simply chit chat about the news and TV shows. When my name pops up on his phone it’s a reminder of what he told himself he couldn’t have. He’s told me he still thinks about me and I know I think about him every day. There are times when I wish that he had met me at a different time in his life, when his heart was fully ready to dive into a relationship. But, I’m eternally grateful for the time we did share together. I have no regrets about what I did with him, only about what I didn’t do. Tom opened aspects of my womanhood that only a strong man can. He ignited me and I’ve been alight ever since. I think of Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua para Chocolate and remember how she tells us that inside each of us exists a pack of matches. We need those matches to light or else they’ll become wet and die within us, thus killing our spirits. What lights them is the breath of our lover, music, food, sex, and passion. Tom lit so many of my matches. I want him to light the rest.

 

Addressing the Little Girl Inside (Reflections)

Readers,

It’s not easy to be an adult who has suffered an abusive and traumatic childhood. From our infancy we know what it is to feel true fear, but not fear of some stranger swooping in and stealing us or something of that nature. No, this fear is more personal. This fear exists in the home. It thrives in the home. It was birthed in the home and there it remains. While outside of the home, one feels some bit of freedom of expression and liberty to exist in the way that is truest to who they truly are. But, there’s always that block. That wall that has erected itself around our hearts in an effort to protect our souls, but in reality, if that wall is allowed to continue to stand, it will actually prevent us from being able to bare our souls at all to another human being. This is why so many of us formerly abused kids find it so hard to genuinely connect with other people, especially in a romantic relationship, if we’re able to even get to that part at all. 

The fear that we experience is fear of our own relatives, most often a parent, or both. The home is the one place where we are supposed to feel safe, protected, seen for who we are and accepted as such. Instead we’re met with vitriol when we fail in their eyes. We’re punished in odd ways for not passing their tests or meeting their standards of behavior. We are treated as though our very nature and place of being as their child is the major problem. In the backyard pool, when we swim over to our parent, hoping to play around and splash with them, we’re not even looked in the eye. We’re pushed away, literally, and told to leave them alone. We don’t recognize this as abnormal and abusive until we’re 17 years old, babysitting over the summer, and see how the kids’ father lovingly interacts with them in the pool. We see our parent hide themselves away either at work or in their room, blasting the TV, hoping to drown you out. We’re told not to enter their safe space, to leave them alone, and we find something else with which to occupy our time. We won’t know that this is abnormal and abusive until we’re 12 and sleeping over our best friend’s house. When her father comes home from work, he pulls off his work boots and immediately goes to greet his daughter, kissing her forehead and asking about her day. We immediately recognize for the first time that something is indeed wrong with our relationship with our father. We begin to silently cry and to avoid any questions about what’s wrong, we turn our face to the couch and pretend to fall asleep.

Remember when we pretended to fall asleep on the couch when we were little just so our dad could pick us up and bring us to our bed? We didn’t do that all of the time, but sometimes we just wanted our dad to hold us, to carry us, to guard us. That hardly ever happened. As we grew up, we began to see that our father was a flawed person, prone to outbursts of anger and fond of four-letter words. We learned that in our father’s eyes, we were bitches, evil, burdens, and a waste of money. If our dad had had a second chance, he wouldn’t have had kids. Well, at least that’s what he told us in the church parking lot as we waited for our mom and brother after service. When we became a teenage girl and eventually a young woman in college and beyond, we started to fully understand just how damaging our childhood was. We haven’t had a romantic relationship with any man and we can’t help but wonder if it’s because we have high standards as women of God, or if it’s because we’re incapable of trusting a man enough to let our hearts lay bare before him. When dad tells us that he’s babysitting his new girlfriend’s grandkids or taking some kids camping, we can’t help but feel a pang of jealousy. We never had that with our dad.

Trips were always terrible, always full of fighting and anger. Our memories of holidays are drenched in pain so we say we have no holiday traditions and roll our eyes at the families who wear matching Christmas sweaters and sing carols while decorating the tree. We can’t help but wonder if the powerfully pro-black part of us is really overcompensating for the white part of ourselves that we hate. We don’t consciously know that we hate our white half, but we do. How could we not? When the white man who was supposed to be the exception turned out to be like everyone else? Knowing that our father called our mother a “spic” and a “Latina whore” really breaks us down but we try to remember that that happened in 1995 and things are different with him now. We try to mask how we really feel about our relationship with our dad. We know that if we only tell him good news, or what’s good in his eyes, and if we keep a positive spirit, he’s happy and more apt to talk to us throughout the week. We try to always smile for him, performing, and remember that we used to do that as a little girl. We say that things are good with our dad now because he’s a Christian and we see real evidence of heart transformation in his life. And we’re happy about that. We know that our dad was abused as a child as well, and because he never received divine healing, he in turn imparted that abuse onto our small shoulders. He didn’t know the weight of the load and we didn’t know we were receiving one until it became a hump on our backs, unwilling to really budge, but will do so just enough for us to know that it’s there. It moves around from time to time, stretching itself over the expanse of our back. We feel it there. We remember the feelings from our childhood. We cry. We wonder when this will end, if it will end, and how. We are not alone in feeling this. This is part of my story, yes, but tell me, how many other kids could this story describe? I imagine…countless grown up kids’ faces, masquerading behind the facade of adulthood and independence while in reality yearning on the inside for real love. That yearning often presents itself as frustration, sensitivity, or being “thin-skinned.” My skin is a little thin. I’m easily hurt, because being hurt is more familiar to me than feeling free is. But, I want to be free. Instead of shaming me for my sensitivities, can you show me how to be free?

Dear God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far, far away from here.

Gabrielle G.

Why I Took Off My Purity Ring – True Purity of Heart

Over this past weekend, I made a decision. I won’t wear my purity ring for the time being. I may change my mind, but I can’t say for certain if I’ll go back to wearing it.

I’ve worn this ring for ten years, since I was 14 years old. I currently have a little tan line where the ring used to be. I remember the exact moment my Mom bought me the ring from a local Christian bookshop. I actually asked for the ring. I knew that sex was for marriage and I wanted to wait, because my Mom told me it was the right thing for a Christian girl to do. To me, and to the church, purity simply meant not having sex before marriage.

I faithfully wore that ring for a decade, but I assure you that my heart and my actions throughout that time were anything but pure. Because the purity culture in which I was raised taught me that purity = no sex before marriage, and that’s it, I really thought I was pure. As a person in my late teens, when I discovered pornography and masturbation, I thought, “Well, I’m not having sex. It’s bad, but it’s not THAT bad. It’s not ‘sex before marriage bad.’ What I’m doing isn’t the worst sexual thing to do.” I wore that purity ring while engaging in sexual activity that was absolutely impure. 

I wore that ring when I snapped at my Mom, when I yelled at my brother, when I fought with a friend, when I took little things from hotels or restaurants, when I lied, and when I considered having sex with a 39-year old man I hardly knew. The church taught me that purity could be boiled down to only one thing, and I hadn’t broken that rule, so by their standards, I was pure. When my Christian girlfriends confessed that they would make out with their boyfriends, or dry hump, or have sex, I inwardly praised myself for not doing that. In my mind, they were impure and I was pure. 

When I engaged in deviant sexual behavior, I was aware of my shortcomings and failures. I felt so guilty each time I’d look down at that purity ring, elegantly decorating the ring finger on my left hand. I didn’t know why I felt so guilty, because I was still a virgin. I was pure. I was engaged to Jesus. My virginity was a gift for my husband. I was staying a virgin for my husband. An emphasis on girls’ purity is prevalent in the church because women are tempting. This is what the church taught me. 

Now that I’m 24, almost 25, I’m rethinking everything that the church taught me. And it’s good. I’m not sure I will get married. So how can I say I’m refraining from sex because of some imaginary future husband? I should say I’m denying myself sex because I want to honor Jesus with my body. Although I don’t personally understand why sex in a long-term committed relationship is wrong, and I don’t really see that clearly mentioned in Scripture, I’m going to refrain until I’m 100% sure. I don’t want to give my virginity to someone and then regret it when I figure out the truth.

I removed my purity ring because I know that purity is not confined to what I do with my vagina. I no longer subscribe to purity/modesty culture, which is closely linked to rape culture. A woman’s worth or purity is not defined by her sexual past, present, or future. She is not less pure because she has sex. I am not more pure because I don’t. Purity culture teaches that kissing, touching, and hugging always lead to sex which is why the church produces 25 year olds who haven’t dated or kissed and don’t know how to get married because they don’t understand relationships. Exhibit A is yours truly.

Purity has to be the essence of who I am. I should not be envious of another woman’s looks, bank account, or degrees. I cannot lie to make myself look better or to get out of a bad situation. I will check myself when I see an attractive man and will try not to ogle him. I will not be an angry woman, snapping at people and alienating myself, refusing to listen to differing opinions. I must give of myself and my possessions to those in need. I have to go out of my way to help another soul on this journey back home to God. I will love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

That is purity. That is true purity. No sex before marriage is a mere fraction of what purity truly is. 

Gabrielle G.

Purity Rape Culture and Gender Inequality in the Church #ChurchToo

Trigger Warning: mentions of rape, pedophilia, and sexual assault/abuse

As a purity ring-owning 20-something woman, I’ve had countless opportunities to brag about my purity, feeling a smug sense of pride each time a sister in Christ confided in me about her sexual sin.

“We dated for a few months, and then we gave in to temptation. I wish I had waited.”

Yeah, that was dumb. She should’ve been smarter.

“Gabby, we had sex and I got chlamydia. Then after I stayed away from him for a while, but we had sex again and I got herpes.”

Wow, how pathetic. She got an STI from her boyfriend and went back for some more? Good Lord. She’s weak.

Throughout my entire adolescence and for all of my early 20’s, I prided myself on being the virgin, the pure one. I never considered that no guy had actually asked me to be his girlfriend, to go on a date, or to have sex until I was 23 years old. That external sexual struggle wasn’t an issue for me, so I hadn’t been faced with that difficult decision. “Should I indulge in sex with him or should I wait?” never popped into my head until just two years ago. And when that opportunity presented itself, I toyed with it multiple times. I considered it. I talked about it with the guy, flirting with my first chance at real physical pleasure. I thought about the specifics: what I would and wouldn’t do in the bedroom. I never said yes to the guy, but I definitely almost did. I was extremely close to doing it with someone I hardly knew at all. I think the only thing that held me back was the fact that I was a virgin, and still believed that virginity was special.

Can you imagine the torture it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a guy or girl, love them with all of your heart, and not be able to express that love through sex? I wonder that anyone can resist that. It truly must be the Holy Spirit who keeps them in check.

Why did I consider giving my virginity to a man I didn’t really know? I wish I had a more honorable answer, but I only have this. He complimented me in a way no man had done before. He told me I was beautiful, intelligent, passionate, and incredible. He said that I was a great woman, unlike any other woman he’s known. Looking back, I see that this was a ploy to get inside my panties, but at the time, I slurped it up like an Oreo McFlurry: delicious, sweet, cheap, and oh so bad for you.

In addition, I was at a spiritually rocky place and began questioning everything that the white evangelical church had taught me throughout my entire life. I was tired of blindly following rules and I wanted to have some fun. Besides, was sex before marriage really a sin? Was ____ really a sin? Was ____ actually wrong? Could I do ____? What if I did ___? All of these questions consistently rolled about in my mind, tossing and turning, stealing from me sleep, joy, and peace. After studying the Bible on these various topics, I never came to a real conclusion about any of them and to be honest, I still am unsure about a lot of things. I hope to get those answers as I grow older in age and in faith.

Because I cut my teeth on a purity-drenched Christian rape culture, my understanding of true purity of heart was deeply flawed and created by rich, old, white Christian men. According to most prominent Christian leaders at the time (and even now, let’s be honest), if you have sex before marriage, you’re impure. Masturbation is impure, although for boys it’s more understandable. After all, men have high sex drives and women don’t have that desire nearly as strong as men. If you have homosexual attraction, it’s best to quiet it. Don’t mention it or you’ll give life to it. If you engage in homosexual sex, not only are you impure, but you are perverted as well. There’s something innately wrong with you and your sexuality. It’s an abomination, so you probably are, too. If you’re pregnant, don’t get an abortion. How dare you? It was your choice to have sex. Live with the consequences. In this situation, children are treated as a punishment. That kind of derails the pro-life movement, doesn’t it? If you use children as a means to punish the women who have sex, then you don’t really want to protect children. You want to punish women and shame them. Now if a woman or girl is raped and becomes pregnant, she’s told to keep the child because clearly God wants the child to be born, which is why He allowed her to become pregnant. 

Men in the church who prey on little girls, little boys, and women are protected by other men who dare not subject their church or ministry to the ramifications of public knowledge of this abuse. We hear of affairs that pastors have with members of their congregations almost weekly. Internet porn is a real struggle for many pastors these days. Pastors are divorcing their long-term spouses and marrying younger, more attractive spouses as they become more well-known (I’m looking at you, Israel Houghton). 

While this is happening, countless women in the church are being physically, emotionally, verbally, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and financially abused by their husbands. They’re told not to leave their husbands because their good hearts and faithful walk with Christ will eventually help their husbands. After all, a soft word turns away anger, right? Be soft, ladies, as you’re supposed to be. Like you’re programmed to be. Women are told that they must be silent about abuse and misconduct. If a man does it, especially if that man is in church leadership, don’t tell anyone. His career would be ruined. Would you really want to do that to a man who’s doing God’s will and work? Imagine all of the people that won’t be helped because you decided to make a big deal out of nothing. Every man has urges. He just made a mistake. Let it go. Besides, you’re a very attractive woman. It’s only natural. You must have men throw themselves at you all the time, right? You should expect this. As a matter of fact, you should cover up more and silence yourself so you won’t be such a temptation to these struggling men of God. If only you didn’t wear those tight jeans that night. You know, what you wear determines whether or not your brother in Christ sins. You chose to wear those tight jeans. You knew that your Christian brothers would stare at you. Why don’t you respect and honor them? You should help them as they struggle with their manly sexual urges. See, you just don’t understand how hard it is for men to resist. Men are sexual and visual creatures. Make it easier for them. Cover yourself. Hide yourself.

On the off chance that a pastor who has been caught abusing or assaulting someone comes forward, he is praised for his honesty. Wow, it must have taken a lot of courage to stand up before your congregation, the people who trust you and idolize you, and admit that you forced a teenage girl to perform oral sex on you when you were her youth pastor. (Hey, Andy Savage. I’m talking about you.) When they do admit their mistake, their sin, it’s often veiled under a false narrative of “It was consensual.” or “I couldn’t help myself.” or “It happened 20 years ago.”) For example, Andy Savage initially claimed that what happened between himself and his student was “a sexual incident that happened 20 years ago.” What this does is place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the women who were abused or assaulted. It blames them for their dress, their speech, and their behavior. It belittles them, by emphasizing how old this incident is. How silly is this woman for now bringing up what happened so many years ago? Of course, when the pastor admits these things, he’s clapped for. Who’s clapping for the girl who was assaulted and/or abused? Why isn’t she being praised for her honesty, courage, and commitment to justice? 

Because women are naturally temptresses, of course! This belief has infested the Christian church since the time when men began to take over and dominate the faith. We know that the early church was an imperfect group of people committed to gender equality, ethnic harmony, and social justice. Women had churches in their homes and were called partners of the faith and the mission. Jewish believers were scolded when they wouldn’t eat with Gentile believers. The poor were brothers and sisters with the rich. It wasn’t complete, but it was a beautiful start.

Something shifted. Something altered the path of Christianity forever in an awful way. Justification of the subjugation of women became commonplace. Reasoning for slavery of people of color was generally agreed upon. White, Christian, straight, land-owning, English-speaking men were the chosen ones, the ones to whom Christianity and its development belonged. This has continued for centuries.

We women are just now fully free to reclaim equal right to the Imago Dei. Well, women in the west are. Our sisters around the world do not have such freedom of speech and being. So we speak up for them. We stand and say, in our tight jeans and shirts that women are made in the image of God as well. Men are not the standard of human. Only men and women together image the complexity and fullness of God, although we can never completely attain that, of course. 

Women are not naturally temptresses. Our bodies are appealing because God made them that way and He doesn’t make mistakes. He makes no bad things. Our bodies are good. What we wear is our choice. It’s between us and God. Should a man inappropriately touch us or decide he wants to sexually assault us, our clothing is not a factor in that. It’s entirely his choice to abuse the Imago Dei in us. Because what he decides to do with our bodies, he is actually doing to God as well. He insults our Creator by damaging what He created in love and beauty. 

Women have equal opportunities in the church. We can be pastors, preach, teach, sing, dance, pray, evangelize, and minister just like Jesus did. I’m not going to say, “just like men”, because men are not the standard of a Christian. Not all of us are content being at home as wives and mothers, putting our spiritual gifts aside in order to support our husbands with their spiritual callings. Men are not called to more. Men and women are both equally called to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ from shore to shore, sharing the truth, loving others, and living a mission-minded life of joy in Him. 

 

Gabrielle G.

 

 

Andy Savage eventually resigned as a pastor from his church. Interesting how men are given the choice.

When People Choose to Die

With two well-known people committing suicide this week, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it’s difficult to stop ourselves from asking “Why?”. Society tells us that if we have money, love (or sex), a great career, and a famous name, we should be contented and desire nothing more. Yet we consistently see people end their lives when they do indeed “have it all.” What causes this? I’m not sure I can say for certain, although I also suffered from suicidal thoughts twice in my life. I know what it is to feel trapped in your current life, unable to be set free from the ties that the world and your own actions have tied around your ankles and wrists. I have been to the point where I’ve felt like I might take my life and I sat on the floor, staring at a bottle of pills, and frantically calling my mother because I was afraid of what I might do. Not once did I really desire to end my life, but it felt much bigger than me. It felt like the enemy himself was attempting to end my life.

 

It’s so hard to begin to process what could possibly push a person so loved by the world, so financially secure, so famous, to end their life. I’ve seen and experienced a portion of the suffering around the world and I know that people who live with nothing, who have been abused, very often do not take their own lives. Sometimes they do, but usually you see people push through until the end. So, what causes suicide if it’s not life circumstances? I believe it’s something much more sinister than anyone can imagine. Oftentimes you’ll see people write, “Wow, he/she had a lot of demons.” “Man, they had so much personal suffering.” Don’t we all suffer inside of our minds and souls? Don’t we all have “demons” we must battle each day and night? Of course. I’m not sure what propels one person to take their life while another can battle on in life, but I’m not a psychologist. I can only speak to the spiritual aspect of this terrible thing.

 

I haven’t read all of the Bible, but I know that there are several people in Scripture who want to die when their life circumstances turn sour. Job and King David are two examples. But we never actually see a believer commit suicide. The two times I’ve seen suicide mentioned in Scripture were when Satan attempts to convince Jesus to kill Himself and when Judas Iscariot, filled with the devil at the time, killed himself. The first instance is particular to Jesus but we see forms of it today in spiritual warfare. Satan told Jesus, “If You’re really the Son of God, throw yourself off of this cliff. The angels will save You.” The other instance is when after betraying Jesus, Judas Iscariot hangs himself in his grief and shame. Those two instances were facilitated by Satan himself. Satan is the father of suicide.

 

Suicide is the unnatural death of a person at their own hands. They are choosing to stop their lives and to go into the great unknown. Although we believers have a glimpse of what awaits us, a foretaste of glory divine, we don’t really know what lies beyond this planet. So, to choose to leave what is known and to venture into the unknown, especially not knowing if heaven or hell is real (in the case of so many people), it must take great desperation. That person must be in a mental state so low that the only viable option for them is to depart from this earth and go to another place, even if they don’t know what that other place is. I believe that suicide is the work of Satan himself. It comes from the pit of hell. God is the One who first breathed life into our bodies, the One who fashioned our bodies together in our mother’s womb, the One who consistently allows our hearts to beat and our lungs to breathe. He is also the One who decides when our time on earth has finished and then He takes our lives. If we are believers in Jesus, He sends His angels to bring us to His dwelling place, heaven. If we are not, we are cast down into the fiery depths of hell. That’s what Scripture teaches. To take our own lives is to go against God’s plans for us. If we decide that today will be our last day on earth, but God wants us here another 40 years, we are defying God. We are saying that He is wrong. That we cannot handle life anymore. That life isn’t worth living at all. We aren’t saying these things out of a place of selfishness, as so many people say. Rather this all comes from a place of utter hopelessness. In fact, many people who take their lives believe they are doing their family a service by removing themselves from the picture. They are not selfish. They are desperate.

 

There are believers who take their lives. Although it’s more difficult to find those in the Church who will openly talk about this, it does happen. John Piper tells of when he had to help clean up after the suicide of a friend who struggled for years with depression. This man was a believer. John Piper says that in that moment, a person isn’t in their right mental state. They’re so far entrenched in depression and darkness that they do not fully understand what they are doing. God has mercy for this. God understands. He understands what it is to suffer. His Son, Jesus Christ, suffered on the cross for us and died, giving up His Spirit into His Father’s hands, willingly dying to bridge the wide expanse that existed between us and God. Through His death, we are now united with God forever and nothing and no one can ever take us from the LOVE of God! God is Lover, Father, Friend, Counselor, Protector, Brother, and Savior.

 

Should you find yourself in a place where you are considering suicide, or if you’re being tormented with unwanted suicidal thoughts and aren’t sure what to do, I have some advice.

 

  1. Tell someone you trust.
  2. If you don’t have that person, call a suicide hotline.
  3. If you don’t want to do that, call the police and tell them.
  4. Seek counseling from a licensed mental health professional.
  5. Consider medication as a way to lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  6. Put your faith and trust in God!!! (This is really number one)
  7. Get connected with a local church and share about your suffering.
  8. Keep pressing on.

 

I love you all. I’m always here to talk if needed.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

My Three Days in Goa with an Israeli Man

I know that this title makes this post sound like it’s going to be full of juicy, rambunctious rendezvous with an Israeli man in Goa, but not quite. Sorry to disappoint.

God brought this Israeli man into my life at such a time as was necessary to help me grow and come to terms with who I am and what I’ve suffered from in my life. How we met was what anyone would call “pure chance”, but I know that nothing is a coincidence. I suppose I should preface this by saying that I’ve always been passionate about the Jewish people and the Jewish roots of Christianity fascinate me. I wear a cross and a Star of David together around my neck, a piece of jewelry which has always begun interesting conversations.

 

So, this man. We met at a restaurant/guesthouse called “Wellness Inn” in Goa. I had just finished breakfast and was about to head out to the beach or to town, when a thin, tan, blonde man with the tiniest swim trunks ever sat down across from me.

 

“Can I sit here?”

 

“Sure.”

 

We began talking and I learned that he was from Israel and that he came to Goa to learn Ayurvedic massage from some of the best teachers. Just as we began chitchatting more, another man showed up. (Ha! You thought I was into the borderline naked guy.) This man was tall, slender, with long dark, curly hair pulled back into a little ponytail. As he slipped off his shoes before entering the restaurant, I acknowledged him with a polite smile. He smiled back and glanced up at me twice before sitting away from me and my new breakfast companion. We asked him to come join us and we learned that he was also from Israel and was in Goa simply as a tourist. But, he also knew how to give massage therapy.

 

He and I began chatting like one does when one first meets a person. We covered all the basics of our respective countries and what we think about them, our respective ages (he is 31 and I’m 24), what I think about his English, etc. The other Israeli guy invited us to come to the beach with him, but the sun had just begun sitting high overhead and I had no intention of suffering from heat stroke. Instead, while the blonde Israeli man went to pay his bill, the dark-haired Israeli man and I talked more and made plans to walk to this market about twenty minutes away. I immediately felt comfortable with him and I could see that he felt the same with me as well. We sat quite closely and leaned into each other as we spoke. At last we got up and left the restaurant and our other Israeli friend behind (sorry, dude.)

 

Over the next three days, we went to a market, the beach, a fruit stand, various shops, another beach (it was Goa, after all), and a restaurant for dinner. Every day he picked me up for our little excursions. I’d hear the little jingle of the bell and open the door to see him standing sheepishly to the side, fidgeting with whatever little thing he could find. Each time I’d open the door he’d say things like:

 

“Wow, you look like that when you’re just relaxing at home?”

 

“Wow, you look like this when you just wake up? How is that possible?”

 

“Wow, you’re wearing Indian clothes. You look great!”

 

He made me feel so beautiful. Everything he said about me, from my hair texture to my skin color was a compliment. He thought I was beautiful and had no fear expressing that, although he did so subtlely. Every day he glanced down at my neck and commented about how he loved seeing the cross and the Star of David together like that. He had never met anyone who was like me in that regard.

 

As we walked about the sandy Goan streets, he and I talked about everything. Honestly, we delved into deep topics quite quickly, which has hardly ever happened to me before. We talked about my depression and anxiety, his family history and the Holocaust, my dad’s abuse of my family, and his dislike of Israeli hypocrisy and Orthodox rules. Although I shared pretty heavy topics like that so early, he was still interested in me, which surprised me. When I’d tell him difficult things, he’d respond with something like, “Wow, that just shows me how incredibly emotionally strong you are.” That comment brought me to tears, internally of course, because of how much I needed to hear it. I haven’t thought of myself as emotionally strong for about a year now so to hear someone say that and see that inside of me was shocking. When I shared with him about my hypochondria, he helped me out by laughing with me about it. That actually helped, believe it or not. I said something like, “You know, sometimes I walk around afraid I’m going to drop dead of a heart attack. Isn’t that ridiculous?” He smiled and said, “That’s very funny. That’s great.” I felt free to go on: “Sometimes it’s a heart attack, other times it’s a brain tumor or a stroke. It depends on the day.” We laughed together about it and for the first time since dealing with hypochondria, I didn’t feel so alone. The whole thing didn’t feel so overwhelming.

We parted ways the next afternoon with a sweaty hug and a promise from him to come visit me elsewhere in India as soon as he was free.

He said he’s sure we’ll meet again. Even if we don’t, I’m grateful that my three days with this stranger were so restorative and affirming for me. I hope that my openness about the Jewishness of Christianity and my love for the Jewish people encourages him to investigate the claims of Christ.

 

Gabrielle G.

 

Receiving Holy Hospitality is Hard for Me

Readers and friends,

I’ve been in India for a month now, well exactly a month yesterday, and although my time here has been fun and fulfilling, God has been trying to bring another f-word into my life: freedom. For far too long I’ve been sitting on the sidelines, hesitatingly accepting hospitality from others, feeling afraid to fully immerse myself into the lives of the families that God has placed me in for the time being. I’m too scared to jump right in, allowing others to treat me as part of their own. I’m afraid that one day they’ll suddenly look at me and say, “Who are you? What are you doing here? You don’t belong here! Get out!”

When someone does something nice for me, an act of service, I find it hard to fully embrace it. I often feel like I owe them something. I feel like I’m in debt to them. I feel so incredibly guilty. Even with people I’ve known for years, I find it very hard to accept their open and giving hospitality. Here’s an example:

I have a family in India that I call my own family. I met them three years ago and have hosted them once in New York. They’ve hosted me twice in India. I call the wife “Momma” and the husband “Dad.” Their two sons are my two brothers and they call me their sister. When Momma and Dad introduce me to their friends, they refer to me as their “daughter from the U.S.” When one wants to care for their family members, they do anything, right? With no complaints, right? Why do we care for our family members with all of our hearts? Because we love them. Because they’re family.

Well, my biological family is different. Growing up, my childhood was terrible. I grew up in a home where I was yelled at for every little thing. If I sat for too long on the couch, I was yelled at and called lazy. If I forgot to do the dishes or take out food for dinner, I was yelled at and called lazy. If I left my room a little bit messy for a few days, I was yelled at and called lazy. If I finished a bag of chips or cereal, I was yelled at and called greedy. I became afraid of doing anything. I couldn’t sit, stand, eat, clean, or do anything properly. My entire existence was just me walking on eggshells around my own house. The thing is, I never realized this when I was a kid, because I was just living it and trying to survive. Now that I’m approaching my mid-twenties, flashbacks and memories are coming up every so often and it reduces me to tears and maybe a little panic attack, which is what happened last night.

My Indian momma and dad consistently care for me, through feeding me, giving me the room with the A/C, taking me wherever I have to go, buying things for me, and just generally loving me in spite of my past and flaws. They give me advice, guidance, and unconditional love. Last night, all of this came to a point where I cried a little in the car on the way home from driving twenty minutes to pick up my contact lenses. My Indian dad just drove me there and back with no hesitation. While in the car, I had memories of being a child and teen, having different appointments, and hearing complaints from my father. “Why do you have so many things to do?” “You’re costing me so much gas money.” “Everything you do costs money.” I distinctly remembered feeling like a small child when these memories came back to me. I heard my father’s voice in my head. I was transported back to that time and the panic began. My pulse quickened. My body flushed. I didn’t want my dad and brother to know I was having a panic attack, so I swallowed my feelings and prayed that God would let me get home quickly so I could cry in my room.

I got in my room and called my mother in the U.S. She cried with me and lamented for what happened all those years ago. She encouraged me to share these feelings of guilt with my Indian parents. I really didn’t want to. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to express them well. I was scared that they wouldn’t understand. They saw that my face was sad so they asked me what was wrong and that opened the floodgates of my feelings. They already knew about my childhood so I told them that I was having flashbacks and that I felt guilty for eating their food, taking their nice room, and letting them do nice things for me. Momma immediately started rubbing my back and Dad said countless encouraging things. One of my little brothers came over to me with mango ice cream. He shows love with acts of service. The other brother gave me a little smile from across the room. He’s not the best with emotional things. My Indian parents immediately said, “Gabby, you’re family. You belong here. You belong so much here. This is your home. No need to feel guilty.” Then they reminded me of Christ’s words when He told us that when we leave our biological families, we find parents and siblings everywhere else.

Lord, help me accept these families as gifts from Your hand. 

Gabrielle G.

Being Despised for My Youth (It Sucks)

Readers, I’m pissed. Yeah, I said it. I’m absolutely 100% pissed off.

I don’t typically approve of myself when I become angry, but this time I learned a few things about myself and my life. Here’s the story:

I met one of my cousins today for the first time ever. She’s ten years older than me and is in a different place than me, literally and figuratively. She’s from the South, she has a romantic partner, and a full-time job in an office. It seems like she’s content with that life. 

If anyone talks to me for five minutes, they can figure out that I would never be satisfied with that life at all. It would drive me crazy to be confined to one place, the place where I grew up, and just get a job in an office. Ugh gag me now.

So, of course she knew I was going to India because although we just met today, we have been friends on Facebook for a while. She’s seen my posts about India. Not knowing anything about me, she made a few judgements about my trip to India and that’s where ya girl got a bit upset.

So my cousin begins this line of questioning with a blank face. It felt like an interrogation.

“I don’t understand this trip.”

“You’re not working?”

“So why are you going? You’re going just to go?”

“Don’t be one of those Americans who thinks they can drink that dirty water over there.”

“Are you just going for the experience?”

“You say you hate living here but every country has its problems so I don’t understand why you’re going to India.”

“But where are you going to stay?”

“You’ve only been there for six weeks before? Ok, but that’s different than a few months.”

“I’m just concerned because you seem to have no plans.”

 

Now she said all of this before I even got a CHANCE to explain my trip. Before I had an opportunity to tell her about my plans, my accommodations, and my goals. All I was able to say, before she took over, was “I’m going to India for a couple months.”

 

The way she spoke to me was just how a condescending adult talks to a person they deem an ignorant child. No, my life choices won’t make sense to someone who thinks that working the same office job for ten years is satisfying. I don’t have a permanent home on this earth. I don’t have a lot of money or a lot of material things. I don’t care about any of that. I live a sort of vagabond life, neither here nor there. There’s nothing wrong with that. You think I’m crazy for living that life, but I think you’re crazy for living your life. Maybe we’re both crazy. Maybe neither of us is crazy.

 

Either way, don’t be rude about something you don’t understand. Damn.

 

P.S. I’m starting my period soon so I guess I’m a little sensitive at the moment. But, still!!

 

Gabrielle G.