Thoughts at 1 AM

It’s almost 1 AM here in NYC and I can’t sleep. The ill-fitting night guard I wear on my teeth to prevent grinding feels painful and I can’t find a comfortable position. Just when I do, my back begins to hurt or I develop a headache. I toss and turn, side to side, trying to get comfortable. I look at my surroundings and living situation: a mattress on the floor, a small corner of the room for my belongings, no privacy whatsoever. My living quarters defy comfort. Then I think that perhaps He is preparing me for a life of discomfort and has chosen to use this time to prepare me for what’s to come.

But what’s going to come, Abba? These past few weeks have been a flurry of hospital visits, medical tests, and uncertainty. Why now, Abba? Why is my body behaving so poorly now? Why does it feel like my body is attacking itself? Why can’t the doctors find any medical reason for why I’m experiencing these symptoms?

Then I think, “Hmm maybe it’s like what my friend said. This could be Satan trying to keep me from my calling, from my life’s work.” Each day brings a new loss whether that’s a loss of consciousness in the car on the way to the hospital or the loss of a four-year friendship on a park bench in freezing wind. The sudden loss of a job or the loss of all certainty about health. Each day brings a new loss.

Why should I be spared great sorrow and loss simply because I’m an American? My brothers and sisters around the world suffer each day and the only respite for them is Abba. I am no better. His promises are the same for all of us and He promised that we would suffer.

Abba, how do I go and serve you when I feel so terribly alone? I’ve always felt like a lone wolf, and have craved community, but it has escaped me. I fit in nowhere except one place, and that’s the place I yearn to go. But, that’s also the place I fear the most. I don’t speak any of the languages. I will be leaving my family, at least for some time. I will be on my own, with only Abba to rely upon. That’s faith. That faith moves mountains and brings people to their knees before an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-loving God who desires to set them free. Use me, oh God, to set the captives free. I am Yours.

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Our Souls Reek (The Solution)

Readers,

On the train yesterday, consumed with thoughts about my health and my future, a homeless man came on the train. He looked absolutely disheveled. His hair was a mess, one pant leg was raised to his knee, his clothes had holes, and he acted like he was high, drunk, or both. Immediately I looked upon him with pity and felt helpless. I had no food to give him. Others on the train offered change and dollar bills, averting eyes the whole time. 

As I watched him walk through the train, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “How he looks is how your souls are.” Without Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Father, our souls are dirty, homeless, high/drunk people. We reek without Christ. Although we attempt to put our dirtiness aside and present a clean image to the world, God sees our hearts and souls. Both are wicked. Both are dirty, without Him. 

So don’t you look down upon a homeless person and judge them for what they look like they do (drugs, sex, alcohol), when you know your soul looks just like that. Although you put on a clean mask for the general public, Christ sees the truth. But, with Christ as your Savior, God looks upon you as clean. He sees you through the lens of Christ. You are spotless in His eyes.

Last night I saw a documentary called “Liberated” about the new “sexual revolution.” It was made by a Christian filmmaker and it poses various questions about the way our youth culture relates to sexuality, relationships, masculinity, and femininity. After I watched that documentary, I was left feeling disgusted with our culture, this “hookup” culture. It’s so damaging and disruptive to the holy way that God fashioned us to express our sexuality.

I must admit: I am not perfect regarding my sexuality. No one is. We are all sexually broken people, looking for something to give us that fix, make us feel alive, and temporarily satisfy us. Some of us find it in casual sex with random people and others find it in porn and masturbation. I fall into the latter camp. Although I’ve gotten a good hold on this temptation for the most part, there are moments where the temptation is strong and I give in to it, always feeling like it’s someone else. It’s not really me. My true self is the one typing this blog post. My sinful self is a whole other person. I always hate myself afterward, but there’s grace for me. God has grace. God understands. Jesus was tempted in every way, which means sexually, yet He never sinned. He understands the temptation.

There is nothing wrong with wanting sex. Most of us want sex, unless there’s some severe brokenness that prevents us from that natural desire. We yearn to be united with another. That is holy, in a marriage between a man and wife. Outside of that frame, the picture is distorted. But no matter what sexual sin and brokenness you’ve fallen into or have been victim to, you are a victim no longer. You are no longer a slave to sin. You are not ruined. Never! Christ can and will redeem you. Call on His name and let Him heal you in a way specifically designed for you.

Beloved, if you find yourself sexually broken, I recommend checking out Mo Isom’s new book: Sex, Jesus, and the Conversations the Church Forgot. It hasn’t hit stores yet, but you can pre-order it on Amazon.com. Be encouraged. We’re all sexually broken. Some of us have same-sex attraction. Some of us have other sinful attractions, things that we don’t even want to speak about, like attraction to children or incestuous feelings. Be strengthened. God’s grace covers you and His love covers your sins. Yet He does not wish for your sin to remain where it is. He yearns to repair and revive what you thought was long dead. 

If you find yourself watching porn, masturbating, texting sexually explicit things to another person, having casual sex, having unnatural sex, there is hope for you. There is always hope. That hope is in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. He is the Messiah, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lords. Through relationship with Him, you will be restored. Beloved, it is a process, so be patient with yourself and God.

I’m always here if you need a chat. ❤

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Living with Hypochondria as a Christian

Readers,

This is something I don’t really talk about that often. It’s really painful for me because I still live in this, to a certain extent. Today I’m going to be honest and write about my hypochondria.

But, first, let’s take a look at how the dictionary defines “hypochondria”:

abnormal anxiety about one’s health, especially with an unwarranted fear that one has a serious disease.

Last July, I began experiencing hypochondria. I remember the exact day it all began. My father had woken me up at 4 AM and told me that he thought he was having a heart attack. I sprang into action and waited with him, calming him while the ambulance came. At the hospital, we learned that it was simply a panic attack. This event happened two or three days after my brother was rushed into surgery for a life-threatening bone infection. Later that day, after waking up from a long nap, I began having back pain and I felt this overwhelming fear. Something whispered to me, “You’re having a heart attack.” I tried to shake it off so I went back to sleep. Immediately I felt panic rush over me. I could hardly breathe or think straight. I called my mom and told her that I wanted to go to the hospital. 

En route to the hospital, the panic increased and I literally thought I was dying. I began hyperventilating and I repeated “Jesus, please don’t take me!” Mom prayed and she sped to the hospital. After getting checked out, I was told that it was just a panic attack. “Just” a panic attack. Clearly these doctors have never experienced a panic attack. It feels bigger than you. It feels all-consuming. It becomes your reality. Your mind and body begin freaking out and no one around you can tell that there’s something wrong with you.

For the next few months, I suffered constant fear that I was dying. Some days I feared a heart attack, then I feared that God would supernaturally stop my heart, then I feared I would have a blood clot like my Dad, then I feared a stroke, then I feared internal bleeding, then I feared a brain tumor, and the list goes on and on.

These days it takes all of me and help from my parents to convince me that I will never get a blood clot, that I’m a healthy 24-year old who cannot have a heart attack, and that all of the other things I fear are just irrational. But, when you’re so far gone in your fear, that fear becomes your reality. To my brain, it is completely logical that I would die of some disease that older people typically have. I could look around at people my age or older that are obese and obviously very unhealthy, yet I can make excuses for why it would happen to me and not them.

I think that the entirety of last year truly affected the way I view health and wellness. I know it’s not a promise from God and therefore I began to fear losing my health. It got to the point that I told God, “Okay, God, if I get sick, I get sick. But please give me a long illness. I don’t want to have a sudden death because I live alone and no one would know.” That is what my brain thought about all the time. It’s still hard for me to stop my brain from thinking these things.

After going to the hospital so many times with my Dad last year, I think some type of anxious spirit latched onto me and I let it feed on my soul. Going to the hospital was normal for me. Growing up, my mother had hypochondria as well and she used to go to the doctor all the time. I had once dealt with this issue before, but when I was 16-17. It had been YEARS since I gave a second thought to my health. When I did, it became all-consuming.

I would stay inside because I didn’t want to die on the street, alone and helpless. That’s how bad it got. I would constantly jiggle my legs to keep my blood flowing, so I wouldn’t get a blood clot. I still do this. I look at my legs all the time, making sure they’re not swollen and I’d lay in bed at night, obsessively checking my pulse to make sure it wasn’t too fast, both of which would indicate a clot. The Internet told me that people over 50 usually get them, but that hasn’t stopped me from freaking out about it. It feels bigger than me. I used to go to the hospital once every couple of months, convinced I was dying. My doctor saw me almost every week for a new “ailment.”

I’m not writing to you from a “I’ve made it through to the other side and now I’m all better” position. I still fight for my sanity regarding health issues every. single. day. It’s a daily battle. Despite hearing God tell me that I won’t die, that He holds my life, that I’m not sick, my brain immediately goes to fear. 

One day, while just walking around, God said to me, “You’re so afraid of dying. You’re so consumed by the thought of dying that you’re not truly living. You’re really just afraid to live. When you were depressed, Satan tried to get you to kill yourself. Now he’s trying to make you think you’re dying.”

He’s so right, obviously. I was so obsessed with death that I didn’t give much thought to my life. I didn’t fight hard for things in life because I felt like I was going to die at any moment. What was the point of it all?

Readers, I ask for prayer in this area. I want to be fearless. I used to be completely fearless before 2015. I used to be confident, loud, bold, and fearless with everything in life. I KNEW that God had my back. I want to get to a place where I completely trust Him again.

It’s hard being a Christian and reading verses from the Bible that tell us not to worry, but then to suffer from hypochondria and panic attacks. It feels out of our control. We are commanded not to worry. But, how do we obey when our brain seems to be taking over?

Have you guys every suffered from hypochondria or other anxiety issues? Let’s have an open space to discuss, pray, and heal.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

When God Brings Back Best Friends

Readers,

I have experienced so many instances lately of God’s sovereign timing. I’ve received apologies three years after I wanted them, yet right at the moment when it mattered. I’ve run into people I hadn’t seen in years, but at exactly the right time when I knew it was from God.

God has also brought back one of my best friends. This friend and I were best friends and sisters for about two years before graduating from college and losing touch, something we never thought would happen. I remember the day we met: I was late for my first day of an English class my sophomore year of college and saw that there were only two seats left in the crowded classroom. Both empty seats were next to a Muslim girl in a hijab. I looked at each girl and decided to sit next to one of them. I’m not sure why I chose this girl, but I think it was God’s influence. We sat next to each other, introduced ourselves, and from that moment, we were friends. From the beginning I knew she was a Muslim and she knew I was a Christian. She was my first Muslim friend and I was her first Christian friend. I felt like our friendship was so beautiful and so powerful. In a world where people from both of our respective faiths hated each other, we chose to love each other.

She taught me some Urdu words and explained how Muslims view Jesus, or Isa. I taught her how Christians view Jesus and how we see God as our Father. I’ll never forget one of the most beautiful moments in our friendship. While living at the dorms, I so desperately wanted to have a sleepover with her, but I knew that her mother wouldn’t consent. Her mother didn’t know me at all. Surprisingly, when she asked her mom, she said yes! That night, after feeding her a meal of mushy rice and beans (I’ve perfected my rice-making abilities since then), which she claimed to love, we sat on my dorm bed and talked about life. She confided in me that she witnessed her father’s death and felt guilt from that experience. I sat there, nodding, listening, praying for her. All of a sudden, she burst into tears and I hugged her, rubbing her back and telling her that God is her Father and He wants to take this pain away from her. She sobbed and said, “I don’t even know why I’m crying. I’ve never even told anyone about this before.” We had only known each other for a few months at that time, but I was convinced that the Holy Spirit was using me to touch her heart and soul. 

As she wiped her eyes, she laughed a little, out of relief. I could see that so much was lifted off of her shoulders. That night, as she slept on my air mattress on the floor, I looked down at her and prayed, “Jesus, give her a dream. I know how You use dreams to speak to many Muslim people. Lord, give her a dream.”

I woke up the next morning waiting to hear all about this dream. She didn’t say anything. “Well, maybe she had a dream and just didn’t tell me,” I thought. A week later, I “randomly” ran into her at school and she said, “Gabby, I had a dream! Last night I had a dream that I was walking with my boyfriend and looked away for a second. When I looked back, you were in his place and all of a sudden this peace and warmth washed over me. It was so incredibly peaceful.”

Now any other person would say, “Woah, looks like she’s in love with you.” Nah. I know that I was merely a representation of Jesus in her dream. She saw the Jesus in me and felt peace. She went to class and I walked away rejoicing and praising God for what He had done! She had a dream about Him!

After graduating, we completely lost touch. We didn’t really talk for almost two years. Much of that was because we simply didn’t see each other anymore. She lived far away and had a full-time job. I was in the same position. Over time we just became used to not talking, although I never forgot about her and she apparently never forgot about me. While texting about seeing the new Hindi film “Padmaavat”, we became reconnected. I remember thinking, “Who would see this film with me?” She was the only person I could think of who would want to join me.

Since that day, we began texting more often and picked up our friendship right where we left off. It was like nothing had changed. One night, I sent her the e-mail/blog post I shared here a few days ago about my decision to move to India. She called me crying and said, “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m so sorry I didn’t put effort into maintaining our friendship. I’m so sorry.” 

This was a shock to me! I didn’t find her guilty of anything at all! But we both cried a little over the phone and talked for an hour. She confided in me about her mom’s health struggles and how she’s has become the primary breadwinner now. We talked about my potential future shaadi in India and how we’re going to sneak her into the country (she’s Pakistani.) It was like nothing had changed but time and our level of cynicism. Working and being an actual adult had already taken its toll on us.

If she had come back into my life at any other time, I don’t think it would have been as powerful as it is now. She came back at a time when I am planning to move to India to serve Jesus and others. I truly believe that Jesus brought us back together now to grow us in our friendship and sisterhood. I believe that He will use me again to shine more truth about Him to her. I want my life to be a living testimony that I serve a living God.

Pray for that, please.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

My Big Decision (It’s A Long Read!)

This extremely long blog post is to inform you all of an important decision I’ve made. I won’t make you wait until the end of the post to know what it is: I’m permanently moving out of New York City at the end of June. This wasn’t an easy decision to make. In fact, I did everything in my human power to stay in New York City. I’ve tried my hardest to make it work here in this city, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any stability. That wouldn’t necessarily be an issue for me if I felt that I was doing His work here. I’m not dissatisfied with my lack of material possessions, I’m dissatisfied with where I am in life, literally and metaphorically. I don’t think I am doing His work here, at least not in the fullest capacity. Allow me to explain, but I’ll have to go back to 2015.
In 2015, as most of you know, I spent a month living in India and absolutely loved it. I loved every single thing about it. I loved walking in monsoon floods and sleeping on the floor and talking to shop owners and making friends with the Indians I met. I never grew tired of it even though it was certainly a struggle to get used to my new way of living. I never wanted to go back to the US. When I came back that fall and finished up my last semester of college, I was terribly unhappy. I missed India. I lost so many friends because none could understand what I had experienced in India. I apparently changed too much for them. They didn’t understand why I would cry when people would throw out food. They didn’t comprehend why I became so strict about limiting myself when it came to material goods.
After graduating from college in January 2016, I took a wonderful job at an amazing non-profit for children’s literacy. I love children. I love literacy. It was a great fit! Yet as the months passed, I noticed that my soul was still not satisfied. I could not get India off of my mind. Every day during my lunch break, I’d walk fifteen minutes to closest Indian neighborhood and reminisce about my time in India while getting to know the shop owners. That was the best part of my day.
Later that year, I took another trip to India. Sadly this trip was only two weeks, but I went because I wanted to discern if He wanted me to live there more long-term. I’m passionate about anti-trafficking work and raising awareness about child marriage and spent a lot of time in prayer while I was there. I’d often sit up at night and cry/pray while having visions. The most tangible and reoccurring vision I had during that time is something I can still clearly picture to this day: while praying I had a vision of myself in Indian clothes, holding a child’s hand in each of my hands, and walking through a dark slum. With each step I took, more light invaded that part of the slum. I was enveloped in light. When I first had that vision, I sobbed. I knew that I was meant to do exactly what I was doing in my vision. When I left India that year, I also sobbed but for another reason. I didn’t see a way this could work out. I didn’t know how any of it would come to fruition. I sobbed because I felt like my dream was completely unreachable for me.
So I came back and invested myself in my life in New York City. I got two jobs, one of them I actually loved. While I was an English teacher, I felt like I was finally doing something I was good at. My adult students loved me. To them, I was not just an English teacher. I was their friend, their advocate, their counselor. I loved that role. But in January 2017, that position ended because it was a contract position. That loss ushered in an entire year of loss. I tend to refer to 2017 as my Job year. If you’re not familiar with Job from the Bible, please read about him. It’s powerful. Anyway, 2017 brought me many pains and losses. After losing my job, I heard that my parents were separating. Although not entirely surprised, I was still upset. In April, I began experiencing panic attacks while attending graduate school. I had this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be in graduate school. I felt like I had made a mistake. The panic attacks were so bad that I couldn’t even finish the semester and I dropped out of graduate school without telling anyone in the school.
Not too long after, I received word that my father was in the hospital. It was actually the weekend of my brother’s 25th birthday so we were together when we received the call. That was so gracious of Him because the phone call shook me to my core. My father had a blood clot. We didn’t know if he was going to live. I vividly recall sitting on my brother’s couch, talking to my dad on the phone, crying and telling him how much I loved him. I remember feeling cheated. “This isn’t fair! God, You can’t take my dad! We’re just now getting to know each other. Please, Abba. I’m not ready to say goodbye to my dad.” For the first time in a long time, my brother joined me in prayer for my dad. We prayed that his life would be spared. He was. Not only was he spared, but he became a believer due to this incredible supernatural experience he had in the hospital bed. Now he’s incredibly healthy and growing in his faith. I’m so proud of him and so grateful that He gave me more time with my dad.
After that, I knew that I had to leave New York City, at least for the time being. My dad, no longer with my mom, was alone and needed someone to be with him. I jumped on a flight down to Georgia and took care of my Dad for a few weeks. When I came back from that trip, I knew I had to leave New York City for a while and take care of him. I moved to Georgia with the intention of starting my life over again. During this time I was suffering from a deep depression because of all the rapid loss I experienced. Almost everything was taken from me. Me, Gabrielle, the woman who never quits or takes no for an answer lost her job teaching, quit grad school, and left her entire New York world. I lived in Georgia for a few months and found no work. My depression and anxiety hit its peak during that time. I felt like a complete failure. I have a Cum Laude college degree! I shouldn’t be struggling like this, right?
While living in Georgia, my brother came to live there as well to start his life over. So the four of us were all together again. Not long after arriving, my brother was rushed into surgery for a life-threatening bone infection in his leg. He almost died as well. At this point, I thought, “Ok Abba, You almost took two of my family members within a couple months. What’s going on?” My mind was surrounded by darkness. I had no friends around me to sit with me in my pain. My mother became my only human solace. I never told my dad, brother, or sister just how bad my depression got. I didn’t think I would make it. My mind became clouded with hopelessness and suicidal thoughts. I saw no future for myself. I had failed too much. Thankfully Abba in His great mercy didn’t leave my side and while I dealt with those issues, I also had a deep awareness that all of this was a massive test from Abba and that the enemy was trying to use this test to destroy me. The enemy wanted me dead. That was his goal. I realized that if the enemy was trying this hard to kill me, I must have some amazing future ahead of me! I clung to life although every ounce of me couldn’t see how I would ever escape this dark pit of despair.
Through therapy and medication, I did escape from that pit. Through His love, I escaped. Although I have moments of anxiety and moments of sadness, nothing really sticks to me anymore. I know that all things that happen have been allowed by Him. So I must endure them. I must learn from them. I must push through. All the greats of the faith suffered in unspeakable ways and yet did amazing things for the Kingdom.
I moved back to New York City in August 2017 and was sleeping on a woman’s couch because my roommate refused to let me move back into my own apartment, with my own name on the lease. Through a fierce battle for that apartment, I lost one of my best friends. I began passionately searching for work and found nothing. I’d get a few interviews and maybe even a couple of job offers, but for some odd reason, the employer would change their mind before I started.
I didn’t find work until January 2018. I’m currently working two jobs, both contract positions yet again. This means that my jobs will both end in May/June and I have no guarantee of work in the fall. As far as my housing situation goes, I’m currently living in an apartment in the Bronx. I have three roommates and the rent is somewhat doable for me. I was recently told that none of the roommates would renew the lease which expires at the end of June. I was initially under the impression that at least one would, but they’re not. So this means that both of my jobs end in June and my housing is gone in June. 
I don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t believe that things “just happen.” I truly believe that my time in New York is over, hopefully for eternity. I hate living in this city. I absolutely hate it. It is a city without warmth, compassion, or humility. It’s a competitive place and unless you know everyone in the corporate world or have a lot of money, you will struggle or suffer here. Thankfully my church has been so good to me that they’ve helped me with rent, food, and MetroCard money when I’ve literally had no money to my name.
Knowing that my life as I know it will end at the end of June, I’ve been asking Him, “What’s next?” While reflecting over the past three years, I believe the answer is clear: India. Wherever I’ve gone in this country, I’ve met people from Kolkata (the city I lived in), whether that’s my English professor my last semester of college, or my neighbor in Georgia. I’ve randomly run into people who serve in India while walking around NYC. There are too many “coincidences” for it to be nothing.
My plans are these (they are subject to change as He sees fit): I’m leaving everything I own here and I’m going to travel around India for a couple of months at least, beginning in July. I’ll be trying to volunteer with different organizations and getting a feel for various cities, cultures, and people. Abba knows my heart is for that country. That is where I want to be. I have family there. I want to be with them. I never stop thinking about the children I met when I was there and I yearn to go back and see how they are.
I’m not asking for money, although if you want to help me get to India this summer, I’d appreciate it. What I’m asking for is simply prayer. Prayer that I’m receptive to His voice; that I hear Him correctly. Prayer that all fear and anxiety around this trip leave me. Prayer that doors will be opened and connections will be made. Prayer that His plan will come to pass. Prayer that if this isn’t His plan for me, that I accept His plan, as He reveals it.
If you have any questions about anything that I’ve written, please ask me! Clearly I’m a very open person and I’d love to talk about this more in detail with you.
Blessings,
Gabrielle G.

Christianity and Rape Culture (A Glimpse)

Readers,

Do you ever read something or watch something on TV that so disturbs you that you’re filled with anger and you feel the need to tell someone about it? That happened to me yesterday.

I read an online post about the 2018 Golden Globe awards and the writer criticized these stars for wearing black, thereby protesting sexual assault/harassment, while still dressing “immodestly” and “allowing themselves to be objectified.” She went on to say that women of Christ should dress “modestly” because it “respects and loves our brothers in Christ.” Jesus said that whoever looks at a woman with lust has committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28). Essentially, by covering up our bodies, we help our brothers in Christ stay away from sexual sin.

I’m hesitant to dive right in to this topic because there are so many layers and different opinions. I can’t say that my opinion is absolute truth. I’m sure there are areas that need to be illuminated by someone else with a wider view of the issue, but I must share my thoughts on this because this type of rhetoric is incredibly damaging.

 

Growing up in a semi-Christian environment, I was taught that my body needed covering. If I wanted to be a “good Christian girl”, I needed to cover my breasts, thighs, and butt. Why? Because Christian men might become aroused by my tight dress or pants. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts that came above the knee. Because I developed breasts at such an early age, my mother was hyper-aware of how I dressed. There were many shirts that would fit my body normally if it were not for my breasts. Everything I wore was deemed borderline inappropriate. I never put two-and-two together and realized that the clothing wasn’t in the wrong; my body was. If I were thinner and smaller chested, would my clothing choices be such an issue? Absolutely not. So essentially we are saying that curvy women should hide their bodies because men will be attracted to them because of their curves. 

 

I grew up with the mentality that my body was naturally sexually suggestive and would always need careful guarding. I was bustier than every other girl I ever knew and would therefore have to cover up a little more. This way of thinking was further enforced by a staff worker on my India trip. In India, I was thrice sexually assaulted by strange men on the street. My breasts and butt were touched against my will. What was I wearing? Not American clothes, that’s for sure. I was dressed in Indian clothes. I was “modest”, according to Indian social rules. But, I was still touched. In fact, I was touched the most out of my team of ten women. While thinking about and mourning these assaults, I decided to rebel a little. No longer did I want to wear my dupatta over my breasts, after seeing how my female teammates neglected to wear them before leaving the apartment. If they could go without one, why couldn’t I? I asked my staff worker and she grimaced a little. I could see what she was thinking. She said, “Gabby, they don’t really need to wear one. But, you really should…” My eyes probably gave away my initial angry reaction. She followed up with, “Because they work in the city and you’re more in the suburbs, the slums. Things are different there.” Okay, she was right about that. I’ll give her that one. But, I also know that I was initially forbidden to go without a dupatta because of my breasts. But, even when I wore a dupatta, which was every day, I was still looked at and touched. Did the dupatta actually do anything for my protection? Absolutely not.

Let me just say it here once and for all: A WOMAN’S CLOTHING DOES NOT INVITE SEXUAL ASSAULT OR JUSTIFY A MAN OR WOMAN’S ASSAULT ON THAT WOMAN.

It also does not disqualify a woman’s protest of or thoughts on the topic of sexual assault in the workplace. A woman could stand in front of a crowd stark naked, speaking out against sexual assault, and her words would still be valid. Why? Because her worth and contributions to the discussion are not determined by her clothing. She is valid because she is human. 

Let’s go back to what Jesus said about looking at a woman with lust. He said it equates to having sex with her. That’s pretty intense. The Lord knew that men are visual and will easily engage in mental fantasies with an attractive woman. But, let’s be honest, men can sexually assault a woman, a man, a child, an animal…anything. We’ve seen this. We’ve known this. Many of us have personally and painfully experienced this.

Note that Jesus did not mention that women should cover themselves in order to avoid the male gaze. Not once did Jesus talk about anything remotely related to the whole “Modest is Hottest” movement that has been so strong in our churches. In fact, the only mention of women’s dress in the New Testament, which is the new covenant that we are under, is a mention of women dressing modestly in terms of expensive clothes.

“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (I Timothy 2:9).

Clearly Paul is saying that women should not arrive for fellowship time dressed in the finest clothes with the most decadent jewelry and elaborate hairstyles. Oh wait, this actually sounds like most of our churches today. Don’t women try to look their best on Sunday? This means the best clothes, the nicest jewelry, and every hair in place. Have we misunderstood Paul’s words here and actually behave like this during our church services? Many church women who are decked out in designer clothes have looked down on a woman whose skirt was ‘too short” or whose dress was “too tight”, unaware of the fact that she herself is offending Paul’s cry for modesty in dress by how expensive her clothing is. 

Also, cultures greatly differ on what’s appropriate and inappropriate. When I was in India, I could’ve rocked a sari every day, showing my stomach and back. That was appropriate. In my culture, American and Puerto Rican culture, that is absolutely not modest at all! I remember watching some Indian women work one day and thinking, “My God they’re showing so much skin. But, that’s modest in this culture.” I swear my mind was blown to Mars and back at the thought that stomachs and backs are acceptable but breasts, butts, and legs are not. Indians take great lengths to cover the breasts with a dupatta and their shirts are loose and are as long as knee-length dresses, effectively covering the butt and legs. In American and Puerto Rican culture alike, showing cleavage or wearing a tight skirt is not inappropriate. See how the cultures vary? There is no such thing as a standard way of modest dressing. In fact, in some cultures, women can walk around topless and that’s the norm! What do we do with women of those cultures when we evangelize? Do we tell them to put on a bra and a loose t-shirt after they’re saved? No we don’t. That’s a colonialistic way of thinking. Tear it down.

If we keep this rape culture narrative going, it will spiral. If a woman is assaulted or cat-called, she’s asked:

“What were you wearing?”

“Why did you go out that night? Why did you go alone?”

“You knew men would be attracted to you, didn’t you?”

“Why did you accept the drink he offered if you didn’t want him?”

“Why did you drink so much?”

Readers, a woman’s behavior is no justification for a man’s actions. We firmly plant all of the culpability on a woman’s shoulders by repeating this lie to ourselves and each other. Countless Christian and non-Christian women have had shameful coals heaped on their heads by family members, friends, and church leaders in this way. Stop it. This is evil.

A woman can wear whatever she wants, but a Christian woman should honor God with her clothing. She should honor God in all she does. When I get dressed, I ask myself a few questions that I hope are helpful to other women who want to dress in a God-honoring way:

  1. Why am I wearing this?
  2. Am I wearing this to attract men/use my femininity to get something from them?

If my answer to the latter is “yes”, then I either change my outfit or rewire my thinking. I remind myself that I like how this red dress fits my curves. I like the way this red lipstick makes my lips look. I do it for myself and not for men. 

 

 

I’m going to close out this brief glimpse into Christianity and Rape Culture by including my comment to this person’s blog post:

I think if a woman chooses to wear a dress that’s see-through in certain places or has a slit, that’s her choice. How a man reacts is his choice. Yes he will immediately be drawn to her, but what happens next is on him. Our brothers in Christ can literally be attracted to anything. Some men get turned on by feet, for example.

Also, regarding cultural sensitivity, there are certain cultures where dressing in fewer garments is actually the norm. In India, for example, women show their midriffs and backs every day. Here, that would be considered “slutty.” There, it’s modest. In Korea, wearing miniskirts is totally normal. Here, it’s seen as “slutty.” So if we should dress a certain way to help our brothers in Christ, then how should we dress? Because I don’t think it’s the same all around.

Regarding the women, each woman has an individual story and belief system regarding her femininity and what that means/how to express it. We can NEVER judge people who behave in the way they’ve been taught to behave. This is what women are taught. I can guarantee that 99% of the women on that Red Carpet do not know Christ. Why are we expected to hold them to the standard of a woman who has been walking with the Lord for years? It is unfair to judge them in this way.

The fact is, a woman could be walking around naked and A. be dressed appropriately in some cultures and not asking for it or B. if it’s not appropriate, still not be asking for it.

Asking women to cover up their bodies before talking about sexual assault is giving in to the patriarchal mindset and rape culture narrative that women are indeed asking for it. Why don’t the men cover up? Bulging muscles and tight pants draw attention to their bodies as well. Why are women blamed for being women and having curves? This just plays into the old rhetoric of the female temptress.

Gabrielle G. 
And, yes, I chose that picture of myself very intentionally. 🙂

Thoughts on a Plane

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

New Yorkers and Homelessness

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blessings,
Gabrielle G.

Typical “Women’s Ministry” Fails Women

Readers,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You get the idea.

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

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

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

 

 

Why I Reject Santeria as an Afro-Latina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.