Category Archives: Step 12


Are. Hard.

I have experienced things in the past 16 years of life that I never anticipated growing up in my very protected Midwestern home. Those aspects of my life, who I am, what I have endured, I have accepted. Little me would not recognize old me’s identity and liberty.

But what the heck does that have to do with boundaries? Well, on the surface not much. But I only began changing my perception of myself 11 or so years ago. So, 25 solid years established really deep brain paths, but 11 years is a good start on new ones.

I used to think that to be a good Christian was to give people what ever they needed emotionally. No matter the cost to myself. Do you need to talk? Do you need a hug? Someone to just sit with you? Do you need me to do the talking? Do you need me to open up about something? And those are not bad things. I do not regret giving of myself like that and will continue to for whoever needs it, whenever they need it.

But that original understanding wasn’t complete. Because I too am a person deserving of a safe space. Or we could write that truth as this: Because I too am a person. You are a person.

Now, I don’t really strive to be a “good Christian,” I love Jesus… but that label and all it misrepresents more often than not leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t care if your are white or black, straight or part of the beautiful LGTBQIA community. In a committed relationship with one or you are more fluid and are with many. I see your color, your community, your situation, I see your joy, pain, grief, and I hold it close to my heart. Or maybe that is what it means to be a “good Christian.”

What I have realized this month is that my boundaries come into play when I ask for space in turn, for someone to care for me and that request is denied or belittled over and over again. It is usually like a giant red flag is thrown and I see it for the first time along with seven others flags already in the field. My boundaries help me to communicate, usually to myself, that I need to step back no matter if it is because of myself, someone else, or the situation requires it. This gives me the space to evaluate and reevaluate (probably multiple times) what is going on inside of me.

So here is my philosophy on empathy, compassion and the practice of holding space for people. We as people create an area for ourselves in our thoughts and the deepest parts of our soul where we ponder… cherish… protect those things that effect us the most whether positive or negative. We guard them, place boundaries around them. When we are overflowing with the bubbly feel goods, we naturally bring people into the joy to celebrate with us. When our being is crumbling because of trauma or sorrow or mental desperation, we ask people into the space to hold the line for us. Usually, I think, we are both scenarios at the same time to some extent. In that place we are simply ourselves and it is holy. Authentic. Unmasked.

Simplified down, my understanding of compassion is that at its core, it is genuine, about you, concern; empathy is compassion in gentle action. Now add that to the concept of the sacred self in you and that of the sacred in others. And here, what we have now created, is the space we hold for each other. It is hard because it requires vulnerability and openness. It is hard because it isn’t always accepted. It is hard to be the one asking if people want to come in and it is hard to be willing to come.

What is the point of humanity if not to find those people with whom we can simply be? What is the point if we can’t be that person for others? Nothing quite hurts like a expressing a need for someone to catch you in your brokenness and you hit concert. But there is also no place that is more reassuring than to be caught when you need it most. We can examine the reverse of that as well. There is nothing like trying to support someone and miss the mark, having them walk away from you and know they are more hurt than before. But there is no greater assurance of purpose than to be that safe shoulder for another.

During the last month specifically, I have come to realize that my space is as sacred as others. But I have also realized that I do not voice my boundaries very well, mainly because I have ignored all the other red flags on the field until I am overwhelmed. I now understand that I rarely use boundaries to keep people out, rather I use them to give myself the time to figure out what isn’t working in me and why. Once I understand though, I attempt to open the gates again.

Is it a perfect? Psssh. Please. Heck no, but damn it, I am proud of the trying.

A quick note. The concept of boundaries and safety need to be clearly understood. At no time, while working through my understanding of my boundaries was I physically in danger or emotionally beyond carelessness and unintentional neglect. If you or someone is experiencing physical abuse or emotional manipulation/abuse of any kind, you need to find professional help in maintaining your boundaries. Because you are a person.

Step 12 A challenge

Step 12. My name is Katie, I am a recovering evangelical and this one is for you. Yeah, and your friends.

One year and one month ago, I started this journey knowing I needed to understand who I believed God to be, how did that God see me or what did said God expect of me, and what in me needed to change. Did I check all those boxes? Nope. Did the last year change my life regardless? Yep. Do I think you should take a year to examine your faith and spiritual foundation? Hell yes and here is why: I firmly believe that a faith that cannot be examined or questioned or doubted, is not a faith worth having. No matter what religion or denomination within said religion you proscribe to.

But this is scary. Because being raised as an evangelical Christian I felt like I had to have all the answers or at least act like it, and when I didn’t, use the sanctimonious “Sometimes God says yes, no, or wait” or “You just have to have faith that God….” or if you were really daring, “I don’t know,” while really actually having a fool proof belief. And aren’t those really signs?? Consider Jesus who spent so much time asking questions, trying to teach his own disciples to ask questions. And when they did ask questions, Jesus gave super clear and not at all murky answers. Sarcasm… that was… you get it. I don’t have all the answers, but I am asking all the questions.

This is dangerous. As Richard Rohr wrote in his book about Francis of Assisi, Eager to Love, “Perhaps that is why so many religious, formally moral people, do not seem to be attractive or happy to us. To do a moral or virtuous thing however, with the right energy, is what I would call beautiful morality. Yet, it will often be judged by the same kind of people who accused Jesus. This is precisely the vulnerability of the faith position and why it takes the darkness of faith to be faithful. In other words, you must be open to the possibility that you are wrong.” I could be wrong!!! I probably am in practice if not in thought— just ask my husband, kids, siblings, in laws. My theology is shaky at best and a quivering mess at worst. But to put down all the laws and the rituals, that haven’t brought me one stitch of life or actual joy, and to pick up the single plan of loving people as they need it where they are, and by doing so love God, I have begun to feel as though I am actually standing on a firm foundation.

This is challenging. Because it means you sit yourself down and actually begin to ask the questions. The big ones. “If God is love, is there really a hell?” “What about people who have never heard the gospel?” “Why is there pain?” “What the heck are those genocides in the OT about??” “Is God even real?” So much of the Christian life is about escaping pain and the hard things (ex: Come to Jesus, for his burden is light, he gives life, removes death, etc.), but that is counter intuitive because Jesus went toward the hurt. He moved towards pain, towards the broken, towards the really uncomfortable, smelly, scary, dark, difficult, heart breaking stuff of humanity of which he was a part.

But the sincerest reason I recommend examining what you actually believe in the deepest parts of your soul is this: because it changes how you see yourself and the people around you. It moves a person from us/them to we. It changes the immediate response of “Either/or” to “Yes! And…” It removes the focus from saving someone else to working on your own stuff. It changes how we approach people. It changes how we see other religions. It will change how you see yourself. I grew up with a mentality that I have to become so small so that Christ can increase. That I can do nothing apart from God. That everything I do is because of God. But these mentalities really do two things: make God extremely egotistical and the human worthless. But as I have spent time actively working against those thought processes in my brain, I have come to appreciate how far removed they are from the design of life set forth in narrative story in Genesis.

I want to leave this first year long journey with one final point, partially to justify my journey but also to encourage you to join me on it. In Matthew 15 Jesus tells us that he came to save the lost sheep of Israel. This tells me one thing: Those of us that grew up in organized religions, we are probably getting/doing it wrong. And you only have to look at every Reformation or revival to see it happening again and again. Thich Naht Hanh wrote, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.” Examining what you actually believe, what you are mindfully practicing brings us out of the clouds and plants our feet into rich soil.

Music that brought me comfort or joy this month: