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.

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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.

Being a Young Afro-Latina (Thank You, Gina Torres!)

For many of us who claim “Afro-Latina/o”, finally finding a label that suits our identity is refreshing. More than that, it affirms who we’ve always known ourselves to be. Not everyone agrees with assigning labels to people, but to quote one of my favorite TV shows, “Dear White People”, “Without labels, people in Florida would drink Windex.” Our brains are programmed to categorize and label things in an effort to understand what’s safe, what’s unsafe, what’s new, what’s familiar, etc. So, I like labels. I love labels. I identify with labels. It helps me process and understand this perplexing world and my identity.

As a little girl, I didn’t really know that I was much different from everyone else. I knew I didn’t look lily white like many of my schoolmates, but I also didn’t have very dark skin like my black schoolmates. I definitely didn’t look like my Asian schoolmates. Mom spoke a little Spanish at home and we ate a lot of rice and beans. Well, I ate the rice with the sauce from the beans. I thought that beans were disgusting until I was in my 20s. I had heard that we were Puerto Rican and that Dad was white, but it didn’t lodge in my mind as anything of true significance, or as anything that might cause me problems later in life.

When I entered middle school, I began to become more acquainted with my ethnic identity. This was around the time when I started to see that I was quite singular: no one looked like me. In fact, no one who looked anything like me shared any similar hobbies or tastes. The other Latin kids at school were odd to me, because they were so unlike me. They were loud, didn’t pay attention in class, dressed in an urban style, and only associated with each other and with the black kids. I suppose I wasn’t considered either because they didn’t want to associate with me. I didn’t like the music they listened to. I didn’t like their clothes. I didn’t like their accents. I didn’t like how LOUD they were in class. I’m sure that some of this stemmed from growing up in a whitewashed educational system that taught me that “white is right” and anything that differed from that standard was incorrect or inappropriate, but of course I didn’t realize that until I entered college.

Some of the Latinas had curly hair, but it didn’t look quite like mine. Their curls were loose and they fell in long layers down their backs. They could sweep it up into a ponytail and their hair would swing from side to side. My hair only swung like that when it was wet. Any other time, if it were in a ponytail, it became a curly puff at the nape of my neck. I hated it. By God’s grace, I love my afro hair now. But, that’s the thing. At the time, and for many years after, I didn’t recognize my hair texture as afro hair. I was taught that Latinos and Black people were two different groups. Yet, we had so many similarities. We looked similar. We were often grouped together, usually called the “urban” and “ghetto” kids. How could we be strongly distinct groups if we had so many similarities?

So why did I have hair like that? Why did the other Latina girls have different hair? Many of them had straight hair. The Colombian and Venezuelan girls had long, straight, black hair. Their lips were smaller than mine. Their features sharp. They looked like a blend of indigenous and European heritage (I didn’t know this at the time.) The Puerto Rican girls had hair that was similar to mine, but not quite as textured.

I grew into a young Puerto Rican/German woman with no understanding of my true ethnic identity, as I saw it. I knew I was Latina, but I didn’t see myself in the Latinas at school and definitely not in any of the famous Latinas at the time. The early-mid 2000s was not a good time for Latinas in Hollywood. Well, Hollywood still isn’t welcoming to Latinas and if they are, you wouldn’t find an Afro-Latina in a starring role. I’ve yet to see one of us in a strong, lead role, where no one is a maid, a temptress, a teenage mom, or a thug girl. I knew about Jennifer Lopez, but she didn’t look like me. She had light-colored, straight, long hair. Her lips weren’t as large as mine. I remember seeing Rosario Dawson star in “RENT”, and I learned that she was also Puerto Rican. But, I felt like she looked black. That confused me so much. How could she be Puerto Rican if she looked black? Puerto Ricans aren’t black. They’re Puerto Rican. Right?

Until I was in my early 20s, I was left in this binary and felt absolutely unsure about where my place was. I never identified with any Latina that I ever knew, either because of the difference in our respective phenotype or a difference in tastes or behavior. The latter is another story. Then I heard about Gina Torres. As a nerdy girl, I loved the TV show “Firefly” and the movie “Serenity.” I loved Gina Torres’ character. She was a black badass woman with an adorable white husband who loved her strength and brought out her soft femininity. I loved their dynamic. I LOVED her hair! It was curly and looked like mine, although it was a bit longer than mine. Her lips were large like mine. The main difference in how we looked was the drastic difference in skin color. Her skin is much richer and darker than mine. In fact, I had cousins who looked like her. Hmmm. Maybe…

A simple Google search told me that she was Cuban and my mouth hit the floor. My heart jumped! I knew that Puerto Ricans and Cubans, besides being neighbors, were closely related people groups. What does all of this mean?? I explored the Internet some more and discovered the term “Afro-Latina.” A Latin person with African roots. A black Latin person. Equally black and Latin. All at the same time. Latina magazine interviewed Torres five years ago and she’s quoted as saying, “My view of myself doesn’t change. I know who I am. I’m Cuban American, both my parents are Cuban–one was a little browner than the other one. That’s who I am. I feel sorry that it’s taken so long for the film industry to figure it out and to catch up.” This incredible discovery prompted me to research Puerto Rico’s history through two courses on Puerto Rico at my alma mater, Hunter College in New York City.

While studying there, I learned the full history of Puerto Rico, from the time of the peaceful Tainos, the dehumanization of African slaves brought by Spain’s colonizers, the U.S.’s colonization and sterilization of our women, Pedro Albizu Campos and The Young Lords (both Afro-Latinos as well), and the current state of the island. Typing in “Puerto Rico” in your search bar will bring up countless articles about what our island is suffering and what we have survived thus far. I encourage you to do some reading.

I realized that I was an Afro-Latina. This explained my hair texture, my voluptuous body, and my full lips. My skin was lighter than Gina Torres’ skin and other Afro-Latinas because my father is a German-American man. Although my skin is fair, my African blood runs strong through my veins. I had to learn this in school and on the Internet because my mother never told me that we were black. She doesn’t see herself as black. I suppose you could say that she hasn’t been awoken to the truth of her Afro-Latina identity. But for me, finding out that there is a name for what I am and who I am felt so satisfying and validating! Now when people are curious about my ethnic background, I can proudly tell them that I am Afro-Puerto Rican and German. When people ask why my hair is so puffy and curly, I can tell them that it’s because I’m black. When they ask, “How can you be black? You’re Puerto Rican…and your skin is light.” Then I can tell them the story of my isla, Puerto Rico. The only way we’ll achieve a deeper and more widespread understanding of Afro-latinidad is by telling our stories to others. When that story has been shared enough, we must change the story from  simply “Black Latinos exist” to “This is who we are. Write about us. Make movies about us. In fact, let us do it ourselves. Because we have a lot to say.”

 

Bendiciones,

Gabrielle G.

 

Obedience to God is Painful

“When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love Him” – Elisabeth Elliot

 

For those who are not familiar with Elisabeth Elliot, and if you’re not please research her extraordinary life, she is best known as a sacrificial missionary to a small tribe in South America. This tribe murdered her husband along with several other men and left her a young widow with a baby in a foreign land. Elisabeth Elliot had a choice: stay in South America and continue to witness to this tribe or move back to the United States and raise her baby in peace and safety. Shockingly, she chose to stay in South America for some time and continue the work that her husband, Jim Elliot, and she began together. This decision is incredibly surprising to me and when I think about it more in depth, I can’t fathom how a person whose husband was just murdered by those people could stay in a place where she would risk her life, her daughter’s life, and her happiness all just to share the love of Jesus. Had she gone back to the United States, I’m positive that she would’ve remarried in due course, had a lovely home, and brought up her child away from all of that chaos. Yet, she chose not to do this. When examining Elisabeth Elliot’s life, it’s clear that the Holy Spirit Himself did this mighty work through her and she was simply a vessel for His purposes. There is no way that a human being alone could possibly make this decision, which tells us that God did this.

 

I’m sure that there were times on the mission field that Elisabeth Elliot became homesick. There were times that she cried herself to sleep, missing her husband and mourning what could have been. There were times that she had stomachaches from the food, headaches from the heat, and sleeplessness from the bugs. At times, she missed the food, movies, music, and clothes from the United States. She certainly missed her family back home. I know all of this because I too live overseas and work for the Lord. Although I’m just starting out and have been here for about 2 months, these feelings and experiences are already setting in. I miss eating macaroni and cheese. I miss being able to drink tap water. I miss takeout Chinese food and Thai iced tea.  I miss caffeine-free Coke Zero with lime. I miss Panera’s chicken caesar salads and iced chai lattes (although now I have the real thing.) I miss Checkers’ cheeseburgers and fries (beef is banned in Gujarat). I miss bacon. I miss conversing with anyone I saw in my native language, English. I miss quality television (Indian TV shows are so bad, I’m sorry to say). I miss decent music (there’s this weird autotune-heavy music here in Gujarat and I despise it). I miss people knowing that they can’t take your phone and look through your photos (they don’t even know who the people in my photos are!!!!). I miss people not interrupting my private phone calls or video chats because they want to say hello to strangers. I miss people not watching me as I work on my laptop. I miss privacy (I don’t think it exists in this village…) I miss people not touching my things and using them without asking permission (some things, like lip balm and makeup brushes, SHOULD NOT be shared). I miss wearing jeans and leggings without incredibly long shirts over top. I miss feeling comfortable in crowds of people, not fearing that some man would try to touch me or steal from me. I sort of miss toilet paper. I miss reliable Internet connection. I miss sipping cocktails at NYC jazz clubs and swing dancing (alcohol is also banned in Gujarat). I miss being able to go outside and walk to the corner store to buy snacks (stores don’t exist in this village). I miss riding the train to work, earning my own money, and going back home to my own apartment. I miss cooking for myself. I miss seeing ethnic diversity. I miss my family. I miss my dog.

 

I don’t miss the mass shootings; the fear that someone would explode some homemade bomb in the train station or on the street. I don’t miss hearing about a different black man gunned down for simply existing. I don’t miss hearing how the police were called on black people for, again, simply existing. I don’t miss the cutthroat competition in New York City and the lengths people have to go to just to earn their daily bread. I don’t miss how no one talks to each other and how making friends is extremely difficult. I don’t miss how expensive basic items are. I don’t miss hearing about Trump every single damn day from news outlets. I don’t miss the pressure from white American contemporary Christian society to appear to have it all together and to be a nice, quiet, happy, middle-class, does Operation Christmas Child and nothing else for the world, put-together Christian.

 

I find myself here in this village, just three weeks ago joyfully committing for a year to teach here, and intensely doubting my decision. While I was so certain before, I’m so hesitant now. The task set before me is larger than I had expected and it terrifies me. The Lord told me that I would be working in the realms of child marriage, mentorship, education, and suicide prevention. Working here in this village checks off all of those boxes! Countless people here have told me that they want me to stay because so many people come and go. No one stays. I’ve been told that the teenagers here have no guidance whatsoever. They’re on their own when it comes to boyfriends, girlfriends, and their future studies. They don’t have anyone here to invest the necessary time in their lives to make a genuine impact or improvement.

 

This is what I long to do. This is what I’ve been shaped by God for. Now that I’m on the cusp of beginning my teaching year here, I’m frightened. What if I fail? What if their problems are too much for me? I have problems of my own. What if something bad happens to my family back home? What if I get sick? What if I “go crazy”? What if my depression and anxiety come back and I’m in this foreign country, in a village of all places? What if the loneliness is crippling and I feel isolated for an entire year? What if, what if, what if? I have a choice. I can go back to the U.S., get a job, and try to recreate that life I had in NYC. Or I can choose to press on, to push through, and to stay here. I have to give these questions and fears to God. I was absolutely certain that God wanted me here just three weeks ago. Nothing substantial or tangible has altered in my life during that time. So I’m assuming this is all my own fears combined with an attack from the enemy. He thinks he’s clever but I see what he’s attempting in my life. He won’t win. Jesus has already won it all. We’re simply playing out the roles designed for us by God Himself; playing our roles until the author steps back onto the stage and reclaims what is rightfully His. Oh come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly! Set us free from these fleshly chains.

Two Weeks in an Indian Village

When I first arrived in Jagiri, I didn’t expect much. I knew I wouldn’t have any cell phone service or WiFi for two weeks. I knew there were no local shops I could walk to when bored. 99% of the people there don’t speak English. My hosts would only be around for a short while on the weekends. I was essentially on my own, save for one or two people around me who could communicate with me in my language, English. May I just add here that a strong linguistic barrier is the experience for the majority of new immigrants in the U.S.? This was going to be one of the few times I would ever experience this. The old Gabby would’ve been excited by this new challenge! She would’ve delved into studying Dangi and Hindi to be able to communicate with the locals and show that she cared about them and their culture.

 

That was what Gabby in 2015 would’ve done. That’s what I did in Kolkata, with joy! But, I was a different person then. I was more open, less cynical, more trusting of God and of life. 2018 Gabby is much more careful. I’m wary of everyone and every situation, always deciding what my plan is in case something bad happens. Always formulating an escape plan in my head. Constantly aware of what could go wrong. That’s me. So when the truck first arrived in Jagiri, I was already tired of the heat (Gujarat gets HOT HOT HOT) and I was annoyed with the prospect of two weeks with no WiFi. I felt that I would get cabin fever in this village and hate every moment of it. A part of me wanted to hate it, for some reason. I didn’t want to connect. It’s easier that way.

 

As I climbed out of the truck, I just wanted a cold drink, an air-conditioned room, and time alone to stew and complain about my lack of comfort in my circumstances. Instead I was greeted with an orange and yellow flower garland around my neck, tons of small children throwing orange flowers at me (blessing me and welcoming me), and older boys playing Indian drums. I walked between two rows of little Indian children and Indian teenagers. At this point, my heart was still hard toward this place, for reasons unknown to my spirit (which later turned out to be a Satanic attack), so I couldn’t fully embrace the moment. But I felt my heart softening a little bit and I began to feel guilty for feeling a dislike for a place I hadn’t even seen yet. After that, an older woman sat me down and washed my feet. If she and I were alone, I would’ve burst into tears. As she washed my dirty, worn out, scarred, bug-bitten feet, I felt my eyes fill with tears. I felt loved but also immensely guilty at the same time. “Who am I?” I thought. “I don’t deserve this treatment. I’m nobody. They all work so much harder than me. I’m just a complainer. I don’t deserve this. They do.”

 

I walked up the hill to my room, led by the hand by my hosts’ adorable five-year old son and began to feel more connected to this place I had only first seen ten minutes prior. I unpacked my things to a certain extent and came out to the dining room to my first Indian meal in India this year. I was in Goa for a week before this but I couldn’t find any Indian food there. I appreciated this meal. But, my lunch companions enjoyed conversations only in Hindi, stopping once every ten minutes to give me a hint of what they were saying. I felt left out. I didn’t expect everyone to speak English all the time, but my mother taught me that if you’re with someone who doesn’t speak a certain language, you don’t speak it in front of them because it’s rude. My mother always scolded me about speaking Spanish with her in front of my white American friends who didn’t speak the language. I never understood why until I sat at that table, only hearing Hindi around me, distinguishing a few words here and there, but being thoroughly excluded.

 

The next night, they had a graduation ceremony for the 8th graders, the kids I would be giving extra English classes to. They had me on stage, handing out certificates to a few of the kids and I again felt that this was so undeserved. I didn’t do anything to contribute to these kids’ success. I just got there the day before! It was so hard for me to receive any of this honor or hospitality. I felt it was so unwarranted. Before this, I sat with the little girls and watched as all of the schoolchildren performed various tribal dances and sang songs in a few languages. It was all so beautiful. The purity of the culture being celebrated by these children was just too powerful for me to explain. It was something you had to see and feel if you wanted to truly experience it.

 

As the next few days passed, I started teaching English to these 8th graders. In my limited understanding, I assumed I’d be teaching 14- and 15-year olds. Nope. Here in the village, you start school when you start school. One of my students was 24, my exact age. Many of them were 14 or 15, but I had a few in their early 20s. It felt odd to be teaching to girls and guys around my age. We should’ve been peers, but because of my privileged education, I was their teacher. One of my students, we’ll call her J., is a 20-year old woman in 8th grade. She’s wicked smart. She speaks Dangi, Hindi, and Gujarati. She’s currently learning English. She makes the best chai. She has an adorable laugh. She has baby feet compared to my monstrous American feet. Yes, we actually compared our feet because the size difference was so astonishing! But, in the shower one day, I thought about her as I washed my hair and reflected on my time in Jagiri at that point. She is 20 years old and in the 8th grade. When I was 20, I was preparing to finish my junior year of college. I was well on my way to finishing my Cum Laude Bachelor’s degree from a prestigious New York university. Because of where I was born, I was able to achieve this with absolutely no one stopping me and nothing limiting me. It was easy and natural for me to go to college and finish in 4 years. Because of where J. was born, she could not so easily receive an education. I began to feel pity for her, but then God reminded me, “She’s getting an education now. It’s never too late to get an education. Be happy for her.” I am. I’m so happy for J. I hope she goes far in life. What I want for her, for all of my girls, and for my boys, is simply the chance to choose what they want for their respective lives.

 

I was told by a man in Jagiri that it’s common in the village for kids to get married around 15 or 16 years old. This man and I lamented together about how marriage derails their lives, is unnatural for their maturity level, and is harmful to their bodies. Young girls should not be giving birth. I immediately thought of Kajol and I told him about her, tearing up a little. I’m happy that my students aren’t married yet. There’s nothing wrong with them choosing to get married at some point, even if it’s at a young age like 18 or 19, but I want them to be able to choose. I don’t want marriage to be their only option. I want my students to one day tell me, “Ma’am, I got accepted to college!” or “Ma’am, I was offered an incredible job opportuntiy!” I yearn to hear those words and see the joy on their faces.

 

Throughout my two weeks here, I’ve had a few good conversations with these kids. I’ve prayed for some, listened to their stories about their Hindu families pressuring them to become Hindu again, hearing the passion and urgency they have in sharing the Gospel, and seeing how deeply grateful they are to God for revealing Himself to them. I’ve gotten the shyest girls in my class to speak up, even if that’s just whispering the answer to me. But, I definitely shout out that answer and let everyone know who said it! I’ve had fun acting out prepositions with my students (there’s really no other way to do it), creating murder mystery games, reading their stories, watching Tarzan with them, playing Badminton with them, painting their nails, drinking chai with them, and just being with them.

 

The night of the graduation ceremony, I tried to sleep but felt that God wasn’t letting me. He had things He wanted to address with me! As I prayed, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to pray for something I didn’t want to pray for. I asked God to help me, “If not love this place, then at least appreciate Jagiri for what it is. Help me learn something here. It’s going to be hard, but I want to at least learn one thing. Clearly You don’t want me in India. So just let me learn something here before I leave.” Well, God answered that prayer. In my ignorance and arrogance, I thought that because I wasn’t “feeling it”, then God must not want me in India. My attitude completely shifted the next day. I went from hating this place to absolutely loving it and not wanting to leave. I’ve come to a place where I want my life to be woven into the lives of my students. I want to follow their success and root for them from the sidelines, inserting myself into their personal narratives whenever they need a shoulder to cry on, a person to vent to, or an advocate to fight for them.

 

Today was our second to last class and we sat in a circle sharing our hearts. I encouraged them to ask me any questions about myself or life. I received a few good questions about my educational background and life in New York, but what I wanted more was to answer their questions about life. I wanted to advise them. Before sending them off for lunch, I told them that if anyone wanted to talk with me privately, I’d stay after class and they could talk to me. Three students stayed back, two girls and a boy. The first girl asked me what to do regarding her problems with a friend who was lying to her. I felt honored to give her advice about her situation. She chose me! She trusted me enough to come to me. But, the second girl brought me to tears and left an indelible mark on my heart. She, close to tears herself, said this, “I feel very alone in my house, so can you stay? Can you stay for a few more days?” As she asked this, she looked down at her notebook where she had written my name “Gabi ma’am” and she began tracing it over and over again with her pen. When she first asked me that, I hardly knew what to say. I wanted to hold her, cry with her, and promise her that I’d stay. But, I didn’t know then that my hosts would allow me to stay here and teach. So I asked a few questions, got a bit more information from her about her home life, and gave her advice. I cried with her, telling her that I grew up in a difficult home as well and that I understand one-hundred percent what she is feeling and suffering. Then we prayed together and I held her hand. I told her that I wished I could have my own house and she could live with me, in freedom. I encouraged her to keep studying so she can break free from her oppressive home and live however she wishes! Education is the best way for her to break free. When she asked me to stay and began crying, I knew for certain that God wants me here. I have no doubt that the vacant teacher position is for me. Those teenagers are God’s and He wants me to steward their little hormonal hearts and guide them throughout the next few years. I’m praying and asking God to let me stay in Jagiri and keep working with these teenagers. I know that God has called me to work with teenagers regarding education, child marriage, and depression/anxiety/and suicide. I know that He will use me in all of these ways here in Jagiri. I pray that He lets me stay.

 

God used this time not only to allow me to love on my students, but to receive love and revelation from them and from Himself. The other day, I sat on a couch in my hosts’ home during a particularly hot afternoon and began writing in my journal. Throughout these two weeks, I read three books on marriage, sexuality, and Jesus. After all of this knowledge intake, I felt the words pour out of me onto my paper. I’ll write separately about this in more detail, but God revealed to me that He doesn’t want me to live a vagabond life, especially not out of fear. He wants me to be open to the idea of a husband, of a home, of a family. He showed me that not all men are abusive. Not all homes are stifling and trampling. Many homes and families are encouraging. They are places of peace. What I want is not a sense of false freedom by roaming about here and there under the guise of “Biblical mission work”, but I want a peaceful home where I can become part of whatever community I settle in. I want “Un hogar de paz”, a peaceful home. I praise God for revealing this to me and ask Him to provide me with this blessing.

 

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Feeling Lonely in Goa (Unexpected Encounters)

GOA, INDIA

DAY ONE

Welp. I didn’t expect this. Perhaps it’s the jetlag or the overwhelming sense of solitude/anonymity, but I felt terribly lonely here in Goa.

It was my first day so I suppose I shouldn’t have been too disappointed or too dramatic, but I felt disappointed already. I was itching to leave Goa already. The ants in my room were insane and they wouldn’t leave me alone. It was incredibly hot and the fan I had wasn’t doing much. The only other foreigners here were Russian, or so I thought, and they don’t speak English so we couldn’t communicate. The only people who talked to me were Indians, which I honestly don’t mind. I just wish I could make friends here.

Despite feeling this way, I did have two amazing encounters with Indians here. The first one happened at the restaurant where I ate breakfast. The second one happened at a clothing shop around the corner from my Airbnb.

That morning, for breakfast, I walked out of my Airbnb, went the wrong way (the longer way), and ended up at a restaurant called Sunshine. While walking there, I passed through a small area with just Indians. The women wore sarees and were sorting through rice and lentils. The kids ran around, chasing each other. It was beautiful. This is the India that I remember so fondly.

At the breakfast place, I had an amazing cheese and mushroom omelette with some of the best masala chai in the world. The owner of the restaurant, Vijay, approached me and asked me what I was thinking about. I lied and said, “Oh, I’m just thinking about WiFi. Do you have it here?” He put in the WiFi information and sat across from me, staring into my soul! He asked me the basic questions, “Where are you from?” “Where are you staying?” “How long are you here?” and he gave me some advice. He said, “Don’t think too much about the painful things you’ve experienced. You won’t enjoy yourself here if you constantly think about the past. Your body is here but your mind is elsewhere. Push past that. Push through that.”

That gave me so much to think about, even though I wasn’t able to see how I could work through my anxiety and regrets about the past.

Later that day, I hid in my Airbnb room, praying for the fan to supernaturally become an air-conditioner, and feeling like I would pass out from the heat. I felt dehydrated and jetlagged.

Endeavoring to explore my neighborhood, Mandrem, a little more, I put on an Indian dress, some sandals, and walked around the corner to a more populated area than before. An adorable little Indian girl called to me from her clothing shop across the street, “Didi!” I walked over and when she realized I wasn’t Indian and didn’t speak Hindi, her mother came over and we had a long chat where she tried to sell me clothing for Rs. 15,000 and I said I’d pay no more than Rs. 3,000. After a back and forth barter which I wasn’t comfortable with, I told her I’d buy three things, get henna on my hands, and get my eyebrows threaded by her for Rs. 4,000 which was still a lot. But, I knew I was in a tourist town so there’s that automatic surcharge.

While sitting on the floor with this woman, Sita, I learned that she was from a neighboring state, Karnataka, and she works here during the tourist season. I felt so happy to be back in communication and communion with Indian people. I began to feel better about my trip to India. There I was, making connections with Indians on the first day! I left with a beautiful henna design on my hands and a slightly more positive outlook on my time in Goa.

 

More on my week in Goa to come. 🙂

 

 

Goodbye, America

Wow. I can’t believe I’m actually at this point. After three years of dreaming, praying, hoping, crying, cursing, screaming, and all of that good stuff, I’m finally leaving the U.S. I have plans that will keep me for 6 months in India, but it’s likely that I’ll be able to stay on longer. I have no intention of coming back to the U.S. for quite some time. Seeing the amount of school shootings, shootings of unarmed people of color, and the disgusting way the U.S. treats immigrants and Puerto Rico, I knew I could no longer live in such a place. The facade of freedom in this country is strong. No country is perfect, but the U.S. loves to pretend that we’ve got it all together, that we’re NUMBER ONE! We’re not even close.

As I reflect on my 24 years of living in the U.S., most of them spent in New York, I think about all of the amazing things that being an American has provided me. I have an incredibly strong passport, one that people trust and respect around the world. I was able to study at college with no problems whatsoever. I was able to live on my own and work, building up a career for myself. When I had my period, I wasn’t shunned or cast aside from the rest of society. No one forced me or pressured me to get married.

I was able to walk around my neighborhood at night and feel safe (except when it came to drug dealers -____- ).  I was able to freely post on social media about my disdain for Donald Trump and how much I dislike this country. When called in to jury dury, I was able to look the judge in the eyes and tell him, “I can’t serve on this jury because I don’t trust cops.” A cop’s testimony was going to be included. He asked me why and I responded with, “Cops systematically assassinate black people.” I was easily dismissed from jury duty and wasn’t silenced or attacked for speaking the truth. After Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico and the U.S. government did nothing, I openly railed against the government and attended protests in NYC with no fear for my safety. 

No one expects me to do less because I am a woman. No one thinks there’s a stopping point to my dreams. I can do whatever I want. I can easily work hard, land a well-paying job, and watch the money flow in. It wouldn’t be a struggle for me to develop that kind of life. Most of the people I know are quite content with that kind of life. Yet, I am not. 

It is insane to most people that I’m choosing to leave behind a life of luxury to pursue something else, something bigger, something of eternal significance. I’m choosing to live a life in a new place where I’ll have to learn a new language (or three), figure out how everything works, and develop a new life there. 

While thinking about how hard this is going to be for me, even though I know people there, even though it’s not my first time there, a realization came to my mind. This is how foreigners feel when they begin new lives in the U.S. They have countless hopes and dreams. Many of them don’t speak English. They live below the radar, cleaning after us, cooking for us, and managing our gardens/yards. They don’t want to be seen too much. They just want a better life.

I’m going in search of a better life, but not for myself. I’ve already been given so much. I have no expectations of great wealth or health. I want to show women and girls how incredibly special they are. I want them to learn that God made them to do great things with their lives. I trust that He will help me do this.

So as this chapter of my life closes, well it’s really more of a book (24 years!), I look toward the future with thick anticipation, a little fear, and trust in a God who knows what my heart needs. 

Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Struggling with Anxiety and Fear (India)

So, just the other day I realized that I have two weeks before I fly to India. Gee. Just two weeks! I feel like I haven’t done any prepping at all. I guess I felt like it was such a distant date that I didn’t feel the rush to prepare. Well, I’m rushing now.

As I begin preparing more earnestly, I’ve begun to experience something I didn’t really expect: FEAR. When I think about serving with the organization in Gujarat, I feel no fear. Believers will be there with me, to house me, feed me, and keep me safe. In Kolkata, I have no shortage of people I can call and be with. I probably have twenty people on hand in Kolkata. I’m super blessed.

The fear comes when I think about Goa, the first stop on my trip. I’ll be there alone, for a week. Goa is a party town. There will be a lot of drinking and drugs. Now, I’m not going anywhere near that. I’ll be staying away from all of the parties, and I will never go out late at night. I’ve been to India before; this is pretty standard. 

But, for some reason, this wave of fear rushed over me today as I thought about Goa. Although the Indian government has declared Goa the safest state in India for women, I felt afraid. What if something happens to me? What if someone robs me? What if someone in the hostel hurts me? Who do I know in Goa? No one!

Now, I think that if this fear were of God, meaning that God didn’t want me in Goa, He would’ve told me that WAY before. I had a plan to see Goa for months. I was excited when I booked my flight and accommodations, feeling absolutely no fear. You guys probably know I have a bit of a nervousness about me, so it’s natural that I would have feared Goa from the beginning. But I didn’t! I felt no sense of danger whatsoever. I knew I’d be safe because I have God and I know I’ll be staying away from the party scene. 

Yet this fear rushed over me today. A lot of fear about my sustainability in India has come to mind lately. I’ve had moments of “This doesn’t make sense. This isn’t going to work. You’re going to fail. What are you even doing with your life?”

The way I see it, these fears can come from one of four sources:
1. Myself
2. Other people
3. The devil
4. God

I believe that if God didn’t want me in Goa, if it were so terribly unsafe, He would’ve impressed that upon my heart from the beginning! 

I think this fear is of Satan. Please stand with me in prayer against fear, but also pray that I sense when it’s God cautioning me or Satan trying to scare me.

There are moments of questioning that I suffer from simply because I have a history of depression and anxiety. I ask myself, “What will I do if my anxiety is out of control?” “What if my depression comes back while I’m in India?” “What if I fail in India, what will I do after that?”

Now, I know I won’t be alone. I’ll have brothers and sisters around me to support me, love me, and care for me. But India is a hard country. It overwhelms all of your senses and as a woman, I have to be extra careful. 

Countless women have done this before me, women who don’t fit in as well as I do. Because of my tan complexion, dark eyes, and dark hair, I don’t stand out too much. There are women with fair skin, red hair, and blue eyes who have gone before me, paving the path for me. They’ve gone and done it all, by His power and for His glory. They undoubtedly faced seasons of anxiety and depression. It comes with the territory of this work. But, those seasons don’t mean the end is here. Our lives and purpose are FINISHED when Christ Himself takes us up to be with Him. As long as our hearts beat and our lungs fill with air, we have purpose here. I have to let Him bring me through these fears as they arise. I have to let Him hold me in these moments when Satan tries to make me think that I will fail and come to ruin.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” – Luke 4:18

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.

When Your Family Doesn’t Understand

Readers,

I feel like I’m not even sure where to start with this. I have so many thoughts muddled in my brain that to even begin feels so daunting. But, begin I must and therefore here we go.

If you’ve been a reader of mine for a minute, you know that I have a divine calling for overseas, cross-cultural work. It is a calling that is beyond me. Lord knows I could easily work full-time, invest in a career, marry, and have children here in the U.S. I could go on vacation once a year and sit in a church pew every Sunday. I could give to homeless people sometimes and maybe have a brief chat with them. That would be easy for me. That’s the “American Dream” now.

Yet that is not my calling. Since my childhood, I’ve had a strong feeling that I would not live in the United States, that I would not marry young, and that I would adopt children. I can’t quite explain why I felt this way, but it almost feels as if I was born this way.

If you want to know more about this feeling and how my life has played out as a result, please let me know and I’ll write about it in more detail.

Now, most of you know that I’m going to India for at least two months. While there, I’ll be exploring different parts of India that I’ve never seen before. I expect to see amazing things and meet incredible people. I have a good Father and I know He wants me there! He has made that VERY clear.

As I get ready to go, as I raise funds, and tie up loose ends here in NYC, I’ve felt so much confusion from my family members! A few have said, “Why can’t you just get a full-time job here and build up your career? You can serve Him here.” Others have said things like, “It must be nice to not have to work full-time, take care of kids, and just go travel.” 

If they think I’m going on vacation, they’ve clearly missed the point of everything that I’ve ever written or spoken about. 

While reflecting on all of this, I’ve come to a realization: it’s okay if my blood family doesn’t understand why I’m doing this, why I’m going to India. My eternal family understands and supports me. That’s what matters. Our Lord wasn’t understood by His family or disciples while here on earth, so why should I be understood?

The life I’m choosing, or rather, the life that I feel has been chosen for me, doesn’t make any sense to the world. The world says “make money moves, build an empire, build a kingdom, get what you want.” Oh, I want to build a kingdom alright, but it’s not my kingdom at all. It’s His. I’m going to do kingdom work. 

So, no, it won’t make sense to worldly people that I want to leave all of my possessions, go to a country where I don’t speak any of the languages, and serve my Father. It just won’t. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make much sense to brothers and sisters in the faith either. It’s “too extreme”, “too risky”, “too dangerous” to do what my Father has called for me to do.

Yet He has called me out. I must respond. I must go. He has commanded me. He has commanded us. GO!

Blessings,

Gabrielle G.

Receiving Gifts from God (I’m Really Bad At It)

Readers,

I have a huge confession to make. To be quite honest, I’ve just become more aware of this issue in my life, so it’s not like I’ve been keeping it a secret. If you’ve been a reader of mine for a while, you know that honesty and vulnerability are my creed.

Well, here’s the thing: I don’t know how to accept God’s gifts. I initially was going to write, “blessings”, but I’m so often tempted to think that I have a huge hand in what God blesses me with, that I just couldn’t write that word. I felt God telling me to write, “gifts.”

Now I’m not that good at accepting gifts in general, especially as of late. Because of my incredibly difficult financial instability, I’ve had to receive gift after gift from friends, relatives, strangers, and church family. That’s how I’ve been able to eat and survive since August 2017.

I’ve gotten better at receiving gifts from people, but I definitely have this overwhelming sense of “I have nothing to give in return. I’m so emotionally drained that I honestly can’t take on anyone else’s burdens right now. I can’t even give emotionally. I have nothing to give.”

God is showing me that I’m very incapable of receiving His gifts. There are two reasons for that, as far as I know.

  1. I think that if God gives me a gift, He’s going to take it away or give me something bad to balance it out.
  2. I think that my life is meant to be spent in servitude to God, but not in the receiving of any gifts at all.

I’ll speak on the second reason in this blog post. This realization recently hit me as I’ve been thinking about my upcoming trip to India. As I book each flight, research accommodation, and think about what my Father might do while I’m there, I often find myself saying things like, “Well, if I meet a nice guy, I’ll marry him because I want security and protection. I don’t need it to be romantic. I don’t see that happening for me. I don’t mind.”

On Friday, while speaking with my therapist about this, I began to think about it a bit deeper. As I thought about the marriages I’ve seen happen and the marriages I’ve closely observed, one thing is apparent to me: I don’t think God will bring me a good, loving husband. 

Whether it’s because I saw so much pain in my parents’ marriage or because my friends’ loving marriages seem so out of reach, I’m not sure. It’s probably a combination of both. So I resign myself to putting up walls around my heart, distrusting almost every man I encounter, never finding one good enough for me. While thinking about India, I felt the Holy Spirit say to my heart, “Why don’t you think I can bring you a loving, romantic, strong husband? Why do you think you’ll have to settle? Can’t I do anything?”

This is hard for me. It was hard for me to hear that, because I was so satisfied with, “I’m going to be single. I’m going to serve God. I’m going to suffer and serve Him. I don’t need romantic love. I can do it, just me and God.”

Wow that isn’t healthy at all!!! Why DON’T I think God will give me a wonderful husband? Why do I think serving God equates to constant suffering and sacrificing our joy? That’s so anti-Christ! Jesus celebrated things all the time, so much so that the Pharisees called Him a drunkard and glutton. While Jesus suffered, that suffering didn’t consume His entire life. His life on Earth was a beautiful balance of suffering and celebration, while never losing joy.

God, retrain my brain to understand servitude. Teach me Your ways. Let me be willing to accept Your gifts, even when I don’t feel good enough.

 

Blessings,

 

Gabrielle G.