The Church Is Not A Safe Space

The last time I was in church was for the installation service of a close friend. I attended because she invited me to preach and that was a huge honor. The last time I attended church before that was the Sunday after election in the USA. Having been raised in the Church, I often relied on this community to be the safe space where I could bring my fears into with the hopes of being healed.

When Republican Party enthusiasts, emboldened by the rhetoric of President Trump and Republican leaders in the USA Congress, led a group of white supremacists, Nazis, and Ku Klux Klan sympathizers to march on the streets of a public university in Virginia, I felt the need to return to Church. I woke up on Sunday with the idea of finding a nearby congregation to attend. Somehow, I had equated church with healing and community and restoration. But then, I started to doubt it. I stopped to think about what Church had really been for me. All throughout my life, Church had not been a welcoming, healing, restoring community. On the contrary: Church was the people marching on the campus of the University of Virginia with torches, threatening many of my communities with violence and death.1374087_10152239912835620_459114692_n

Since my childhood time in Church, I had only heard hatred and violence against “sinners.” The goal was to rid the World from the sinful; to establish God’s kingdom, where the violent will reign with Christ and the Earth would be transformed into their playground. The images of fire and destruction were the ones used to exemplify this future. The King will stand to divide the crown and send some – the goats – to the pits of hell to rot for eternity, with pain and punishment unimaginable. Others – the sheep – will be lifted up to heaven to be with their Ruler.

I have been in several churches throughout my life, both as a parishioner and as a pastor. Every church has been different: my rural Baptist church in Puerto Rico, the underground Metropolitan Community Church also in Puerto Rico which I led for a few months before going to seminary, the urban, large Baptist church that sent me off to seminary, the suburban, white, moderate Baptist church that ordained me, the small, urban Hispanic Baptist church in New York City that welcomed me as their pastor, the multicultural, urban Methodist church also in NYC that provided refuge and welcomed me as a leader, the urban, liberal, white church in Seattle that made me question my call to ministry and which proved me that liberal churches are no safer than conservative ones, and the little suburban Episcopal church in Wisconsin with a worship service in Spanish that offered a few months of refuge while I served other ministries.

Here is what Church has done to me:

Church was the place where my first conversion therapy sessions happened. It was the place where I was made ashamed of my sexuality. It was the place where I learned to be secretive and embarrassed about liking men. It was the place where people gossiped about their neighbors throughout the week while coming to pray together on Sunday.

Church was the place where I had to hide my sexuality even as I was both on the ordination process and as I served as a pastor. It was the place where I was asked not to be creative with liturgy as this was not welcomed. Such experience was once again relived as I was invited to write for a white denomination’s worship resources and my work was deemed too “intimidating” because it didn’t fall within the liturgical styles of the white church. Both homophobia and white supremacy were present this weekend in Virginia. Both homophobia and white supremacy were present in this church experience for me.

Church was also the place where the white visitor who saw me walking down from my office responded to my greeting by saying “Are you the janitor?” No, I was not. I was the preacher that day, and perhaps that’s why you didn’t come back?

Church was the place where, behind closed doors and without ever telling me, the congregation had the excellent idea of paying for speech classes for me to become a better speaker of English… instead of learning how to accommodate their ears to a different accent. But that’s OK for them, because they are “liberal” and they “get it.” They too were present at the demonstrations in Virginia.

Church was the place where the fragility of the person who bullied me was most important than my safety. It was the place where I approached with caution because each time I pulled over to the parking lot, my hands started to shake and my heart started to race as the bully’s car was parked there too. It was the place where her dismissal of my leadership was encouraged; the place where they welcomed meetings with her behind my back to talk about the supposedly weak pastoral care I was providing the congregation, without ever knowing that I was often visiting, listening, calling, and praying with the elders who had asked me point blank to please keep this woman away from our household because they were afraid of her too… But I could not tell her that without facing the doubtful stares of cheering crowd. Church was the place that didn’t allow me to fall asleep from Friday night to Sunday night just because of the fear I had of coming to worship on Sundays. Even after trying different prescriptions – yes, prescriptions from my doctor – and relaxation methods, I could not do it. The bullying was that strong, and the lack of support was too much. This white fragility that didn’t allow this bully to recognize the leadership of a Latino man in church also marched in Virginia this weekend.

Church was the place where the priest addressed the violent rhetoric of the election season and the overwhelming support of white supremacists for President-elect Trump by calling the small group of Latino and Latina people by asking us… us… to come together with our oppressors and to find unity.

This was the last drop. I had tried long enough to make the Church a place of respite and community. The Church has not been such a thing for me. I need to break from this abusive relationship for good. Church, you are not safe for me as long as you march with torches and hatred.

Perhaps Church has been different for you, and for that, I am glad. Perhaps you will send a few words of “encouragement” and some apology on behalf of the Church. Don’t. I do not need them, nor do I need to explain more than I had already expressed here. Theology as a discipline and a field of study will continue to be a passion for me. The Church as a place for community, on the other hand, will not.

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I March For My Niece

My niece, Emely, is nine years old. She is bright, and funny, and loves to read, and loves math, and wants to become a singer and actress. A couple of years ago she had a list of books she wanted me to buy for her. Of course, as a bibliophile, I complied and bought all the books she asked me for and more. When I visited her again, she told me about one of the books I had given her.img_7249

I still remember when Emely started school. Since Emely grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, when she started school she didn’t speak English. She learned the language from her teachers and her classmates. On one occasion, when I asked her to speak Spanish with us and use English for other conversations in order to help her stay bilingual, she said something that shook me to my core. “Spanish is UUUUGLY!” she said. With a heavy heart, I asked her why she said that. She said that everyone in school said it. Spanish is ugly. English is beautiful.

I have talked with Emely about the importance of learning as many languages as she can. I have told her about the importance of using both English and Spanish to communicate, and to take any opportunity she might have in the future at school to learn other languages. I have told her how proud we are of her. I have continued to make sure that she is proud of her Mexican heritage and that she understands what it means to be a USAmerican too. I have shared with her my own Puerto Rican culture and heritage and have encouraged her to adopt what she might want to adopt from it. I have shared with her how wonderful it is to have a non-traditional family, and what a blessing it is that she has a wonderful, supportive, caring mother, and two dads, and so many uncles and aunts, and siblings who live in different homes, and a madrina and a padrino who care deeply for her.

img_7149Today, as a white supremacist, xenophobe, and sexual predator took the oath of office as President, I worry about Emely and her future as a Latina woman growing up in the USA. I know I cannot protect Emely or her brother all the time. I also know that her parents’ immigration status prevents them from providing all the protections that she – both of them, my niece and my nephew – deserve. But there are some things I can do. I can join the RESISTANCE and stand up for my niece.

And so, Emely, I will march tomorrow, Saturday, January 21st. Emely, I will answer the invitation from other women around the USA and the world to stand up to injustices against women. Even though you might be too young to understand, I will march because I love you, because I respect you, and because I believe in you as a woman.

There are also other reasons why I march in solidarity with my niece tomorrow. These are not the only ones, but here are some reasons to march:

I march because I believe that my niece Emely’s brown body is hers and only hers. No one, no matter what position of authority they might have, even if it’s the Presidency of the USA, has the right to touch your brown body, let alone grab it violently and without permission.

I march because I believe that you have the right to education, and that you have the right to make choices as to how far you want to take your education and what profession to pursue or not pursue. You have the right to access a job that is suitable to your abilities and your passions, and to be paid fairly and at the same rate than any male who will do the same job.img_9337

I march because, when the time comes for you to make choices about your body, it should be you, and only you, who make those decisions. Because your brown body is yours and deserves to be respected and honored. Because your brown skin is beautiful, and normal, and is neither “exotic” nor a stereotype to be paraded at the whim of those with power.

I march because I know that your parents can’t be exposed to deportation and because I want to continue being your uncle, not having to be your foster parent should something were to happen to my brother- and sister-in-law.

I march because I believe that, although you have been raised Roman Catholic, you should have the right to make the decision that makes YOU comfortable. I march because, if in the future you want to wear a hijab, you should be able to do it without fear of intimidation. I march because if in the future you choose not to believe in anything, you should not be punished for having no religion.

I march because I believe that you should feel safe in wearing whatever the hell you want to wear in public. I march because I believe that you should feel safe walking down the street and that no one should be cat-calling you, or intimidating you, or threatening your life and safety.

I march because I believe that you should be free to choose to love whomever you want to love, just as I love your uncle who gave me the blessing of being welcomed by this wonderful family that now both you and I, as outsiders, call “nuestra familia.” I march because I believe that you should love as many people as you wish to love and not being condemn for it.

I march because, if I march today, I know… I know… that by the time your Quinceañera comes, this will be a safer place for you and all your loved ones.

I could continue listing reasons to march, Emely, but I can’t. My eyes are filled with tears – you know how much I cry – and I can’t write anymore. But be sure, sobrina, I will march for you. I march for you, mi querida sobrina. I march because I know that staying home is not an option.

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La iglesia que sueño

Es indiscutible que la iglesia perfecta no existe. De hecho, creo que es indiscutible que nunca podremos encontrar una iglesia que llene todas nuestras expectativas. Habiendo sido pastor de varias congregaciones – hispanas, anglo-americanas y étnicamente diversas – puedo dar fe de que es imposible el crear congregaciones que logren complacer a toda persona al mismo tiempo. Siempre es posible encontrar congregaciones que llenen las expectativas sobre uno o varios aspectos de lo que consideramos una iglesia perfecta. Pero en definitiva, no podremos crear una congregación que llene todas las expectativas, todo el tiempo y de toda la gente.teologia-de-la-liberacion

Ahora, habiendo dicho esto, también es importante escuchar cuales son las características que las personas creen importantes para una congregación que sea la más apropiada para ellas. Esto no quiere decir que lograremos crear tal congregación. Es solo un ejercicio de soñar con nuestra congregación ideal.

Cuando me mudé a la ciudad donde vivo actualmente y ya que tenía la oportunidad de pasar del púlpito a los bancos, era el momento ideal para buscar una congregación hispana, que llenara mi necesidad de adoración en español, con una comunidad de gente con la que me pudiera identificar mejor. Visité varias comunidades y elegí una. Como he dicho, ninguna es perfecta, pero encontré una comunidad que me aceptó, que me gustó y en la que me he sentido cómodo. De todos modos, sueño con una comunidad de fe que sea más progresista, que realmente refleje mis valores y teología. No sé si sea posible encontrarla, en especial sabiendo la cantidad limitada de congregaciones hispanas en donde vivo, pero sigo soñando con una iglesia que sea más adecuada para mis necesidades.

¿Cuál es la iglesia que sueño? Pues una iglesia que sea así…

  • Una iglesia que no tengo miedo en tomar posiciones teológicas progresistas; que no se amilane de decir las cosas como son y de condenar el pecado de la soberbia, de la corrupción, de la intolerancia, del racismo, de la xenofobia, de la homofobia, de la violencia, de la transfobia, de la misoginia, del sexismo, de la opresión. En fin, una iglesia que tenga una voz profética.
  • Una iglesia que no le tema a la innovación litúrgica; donde se pueda ser flexible y expansivo con la liturgia. Una iglesia donde la rigidez se deje atrás y se de paso a la innovación, a una liturgia dinámica, a una liturgia apasionada, a una liturgia contagiosa y atractiva.
  • Una iglesia que haga uso del lenguaje inclusivo, donde “Dios” no sea solo presentado en forma masculina, sino que se utilicen todas las imágenes bíblicas para la Divinidad; una iglesia donde se hable del Dios que es como una Madre, como una Doncella, como una Mujer Parturienta, como una Viuda que busca una moneda… En fin, una iglesia que reconozca la naturaleza expansiva de Dios.
  • Una iglesia que no tenga miedo de confrontar la injusticia donde la vea; que se muestre solidaria con las personas marginadas, que se muestre solidaria con quienes sufren, con las personas en necesidad, con la niñez, con los inmigrantes, con las minorías étnicas, etc. Una iglesia que se enfrente a la supremacía blanca con valentía y que la denuncia como lo que es: pecado.
  • Una iglesia que esté bien fundamentada en sus principios cristianos pero que también participe y se nutra de las muchas tradiciones religiosas que existen. Al mismo tiempo, que sea una iglesia de vanguardia con respecto a la ciencia y la educación, que estas sean utilizadas para enseñar la grandeza de la Divinidad y no que se deje llevar por la falsa dicotomía de “ciencia contra religión”.
  • Una iglesia que se atreva a ser política – en el sentido de denunciar políticas públicas que afecten a los grupos más oprimidos mientras también deje bien clara su posición con respecto a políticas públicas de beneficio para toda la sociedad.
  • Una iglesia que atesore la tradición musical de los himnos antiguos mientras también incluya, celebre y cree nuevas formas musicales.
  • Una iglesia que atesore la tradición teológica mientras a la vez acepte la naturaleza siempre expansiva del conocimiento que ofrece el Espíritu de Dios.
  • Una iglesia que utilice más de una versión de la Biblia en español; que entienda que cada traducción es una interpretación y que no todas las interpretaciones son iguales ni apropiadas para todas las veces.
  • Una iglesia donde se proclame la Palabra de Dios en los sermones y no que se ofrezca un mensaje para sentirse bien; una iglesia que confronte, que enseñe, que rete, que desafíe a la feligresía a vivir su fe y no solamente a creer.
  • Una iglesia que celebre; que celebre la diversidad, que celebre la vida, que celebre a Dios, que celebre las culturas, que celebre la música, que celebre la Creación, ¡que celebre todo el tiempo!
  • Una iglesia que sea también bálsamo y refugio para quien busca dirección en su vida.
  • Una iglesia donde la niñez que llegue sea tratada como parte integrante de la misma; que se escuchen niñas y niños jugar y llorar en el santuario, que las madres y los padres se sienten en la libertad de correr tras sus hijas e hijos, donde la voz de la niñez es celebrada, escuchada y empoderada.
  • Una iglesia donde la mesa esté abierta; donde el pan y el vino nunca se acaben ni estén restringidos solo para un grupo; donde regularmente se invite a la gente a participar de la mesa de gratitud – eucharistía – y donde el llamado a compartir esta mesa sea contextualizado para el momento en que se vive; donde los elementos reflejen las comunidades donde se celebra, o sea, que no sea solo pan y vino, pero tortillas y tostones y pan dulce y casabe y jugo de naranja y de jamaica y de coco y café y mate y…
  • Una iglesia donde se sienta el Espíritu vivo de Jesús.

En fin, no sé si esta iglesia llegue a existir, pero espero que alguien por ahí escuche y, si es posible, que acepte el llamado de comenzar a hacer realidad la iglesia que sueño.

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Trying to Argue With Circular Logic

When I was in college I was introduced to the concept of circular logic or circular reasoning. This is a form of logical fallacy in which the reasoner starts with the argument they want to use as their conclusion. To some extent, the argument can be made that this type of logic is the bedrock of religious reasoning. In fact, it was through religion that I was introduced to use circular logic as my modus operandi for reasoning: the Bible is the Word of God because the Bible says it is the Word of God, therefore, it must be true that the Bible is the Word of God. There is no way of going away from this reasoning… you just have to either accept it altogether or reject it altogether. But if you are a religious person who has never been exposed to any other way of reasoning, leaving this type of logic is not an option.400px-bible_cycle

It has been a while since the last time I had a conversation with anyone who used circular logic. For the most part, I try to stay away from trying to engage in philosophical conversations with people who use this type of reasoning. Sure, I could have wonderful conversations about the weather, aspects of life, work, ourselves, etc., but it is impossible to have real conversations regarding faith with people who only use circular logic for their religious arguments. There are some people who might realize that they use this type of reasoning and, not wanting to step away from it, just accept that other people have other ways of looking at things and move on. But there are others for whom circular logic is so ingrained in their lives and way of thinking that they cannot comprehend why someone would step away from this way of thinking in order to find answers somewhere else. For some of them, trying to convince you to go back to using circular logic is not only their mission: it is their duty in life as the lives of those around them depend on it!

Unfortunately, I fell for this not long ago. When I noticed that I was engaging in a one-way conversation with someone who could only use circular logic, it was too late for me to step away. I tried, but failed miserably, to point out the invalidity of the arguments. Of course, this was to be expected! How can an argument be invalid if the only way to validate it is by going back to the premise that made the argument valid in the first place! Ha!

Although I grew up using circular logic for my religious arguments, I have come to grow in my understanding of religion and faith. I now use all the tools available to me in order to understand the religious premises that I live by. I have also come to understand that other people will have different ways of approaching the same questions I have, and that many times, depending on the approach, the answers will be different. The fact that the answer is different doesn’t make it invalid; it just makes it… well… different! I accept that. Thanks to the wonderful mentoring of Angela Figueroa, who was the sociology of religion professor who introduced me to the world of deductive and inductive logic and how to step away from circular logic, I have come to grow in my understanding of religious arguments and how to use them. I have also come to understand that “feelings”, “hunches”, and “inklings”, are not valid reasons to start arguments and to come to conclusions. That doesn’t mean they do not have a valid place in the human experience of the immaterial (or God, or the Divine), it only means that they cannot and should not be used as the bedrock of argumentation.

When I stepped out of using circular logic to “prove” my religious believes, it was a painful process. For a very long time I felt lost, confused, and completely out of control. There was a time when I even came to accept as my reality that there was no evidence of a Divine being, and therefore, there was no such thing. It took me a long time to understand that I could still be faithful, religious, and connected to a Divine being without the need to base my beliefs in circular logic. But again, this is a long and painful process. In my recent conversation, I failed to understand and accept that the person using this type of logical fallacy could have been deeply hurt by stepping out of their way of thinking. I only hope that our conversation was a small seed planted in them to be able to see the wonderful, fulfilling, and satisfying opportunity to have a faith that continues to grow and not one that is stuck in an empty sphere that takes you nowhere in your relationship with God. I also hope that I do not have to engage in another argument like this, as it was extremely painful to see how little progress you can make in trying to have an actual conversation when the other participant has already decided what the conclusion must be.

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A Few Signs of Hope

I have to say that for most of the US American people, the next four years of a possible fascist-leaning regime are not the safest, nor is there much hope for most of the US American people (no, not even for the white poor who might have voted for the president-elect, as his policies *will not* benefit the larger society but just a few upper higher class individuals and corporations.)

However, I did see some glimpses of hope for the future. Sure, there is no way of knowing how many of us will survive the regime. And certainly, we can’t even say for sure whether the authoritarian democratically elected will actually follow the Constitution and rule for only the allotted time. But, for whatever time we might need to suffer this regime, the signs of a hopeful future are out there. img_0579

As I was talking a walk around the campus of the university near my office, I saw many messages of hope, acceptance, and support for minorities. This gave me some hope that many young people do understand the significance of this historical time. Perhaps the older generation are so fed up with democracy that they did not care about using their democratic rights to bring an authoritarian into power, but the next generations DO care about democracy and pluralism.

img_0586The resistance has continued to grow, and just like in previous authoritarian regimes, this time there will be martyrs and victors. Sure, the democracy of the USA has come to an end for the time being, but out of this coming regime a “more perfect union” will arise… Our youth are leading the way!

#RESISTANCE

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November 14, 2016 · 10:40 am

I Have No More Tears Today

Oh, no! She sits alone, the city that was once full of people.                     Once great among nations, she has become like a widow.                  Once a queen over provinces, she has become a slave.                             She weeps bitterly in the night, her tears on her cheek.                           None of her lovers comfort her. All her friends lied to her;                   they have become her enemies.                                                                          Lamentations 1.1-2

I have no more tears today. I have cried since last night.

I have cried for the future of my family.
I have cried over the prospect of having a Supreme Court that will undo my marriage, and with it, all the protections that my immigrant spouse has.
I have cried for the well-being of my niece and nephew whose parents might be taken away from them.
downloadI have cried for my other relatives who live and work and contribute to the economy of this country while not being able to access proper documentation.
I have cried for the prospect of my own, Congress-imposed US citizenship been revoked with no other alternative to fall back on.

I have cried for my friends.
I have cried for my gay, lesbian and bisexual friends whose rights are now at the hands of vice-president elect Pence, who has done all in his power to strip LGB Indianans of their rights.
I have cried for my transgender siblings whose lives are placed in great danger due to the same vice-president elect and his antics.
I have cried for the many women I know – young and old – whose safety is not guaranteed anymore as a sexual predator takes over the highest elected position in this country, thus giving permission to other predators to “grab”, to touch, to violate their beings.
I have cried for the workers of this country, whose wages are going to be frozen for decades to come and whose jobs are not guaranteed anymore as they are being shipped overseas as the president-elect has done with all the other bankrupt businesses he has run.
I have cried for the poor and sick who could barely access healthcare and had a last fighting chance with the soon-to-be-overthrown Affordable Care Act.

I have cried for humanity.
I have cried for the black community whose safety – which has never been guaranteed – will now face “stop and frisk” experiences with the proposed changes in law and order.
I have cried for the Native American communities whose ancestral lands will be desecrated without impunity.
I have cried with the immigrants and refugees who will no longer find relative safety in this country nor will they be welcomed to access it anymore.
I have cried with those of us who practice some form of faith – whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, or any other – whose religious liberties will be at the whim of the far-right Evangelical Christian camp that will dominate this fascist regime.
I have cried for the environment and all the relentless desecration that will occur.
I have cried for all the people of all the countries that the president-elect has promised to destroy making use of the military forces that are now under his control.
I have cried for all the children who will not be safe any longer for a generation or two as laws protecting them will be revoked.

I have no more tears today. The only thing that I still hold on to is the hope that the fascist government ahead will help this country wake up from its deep slumber and that it will shake it to its core as to make it see how terrifying the near future looks like.

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November 9, 2016 · 10:59 am

Learning to Live With Cancer*

I am standing in front of my kitchen sink. It is early in the morning and I have already cooked breakfast and am ready to clean some dishes before leaving the house. The dirty dishes are piled up, ready to be cleaned and put away. But there’s one word that keeps coming back to me. It’s been a few weeks already, but the word doesn’t leave my mind. It comes back and I slowly repeat it. Sarcoma. Sarcoma. Sarcoma…sarcoma-cancer-awareness-ribbon

It is frightening to think that your life is about to end. Up until now, I knew that I would not live forever. In fact, I’ve had a few close encounters with death already. The first one was just as I was being born. The amniotic fluid invaded my lungs and I had to be resuscitated. My mom didn’t get to hold me in her arms until a few days after my birth. There was another time in elementary school when a car almost hit me. I remember clearly that one experience. I was enjoying a lollipop when I heard my mom’s screams, and I found myself almost touching the red car’s hood. I don’t recall how I got there, but the feeling of having been closed to death is not something that goes away easy. Many years ago, I still remember laying in a hospital bed with an infection and being unable to breath. The last image I remember is that of the doctors screaming something like “he’s back, he’s back!” They had resuscitated me once more. But this time, for whatever reason, it felt different.

Just a few weeks before standing in front of the sink and uttering the word “sarcoma”, I had received the call from the doctor. The biopsy I had a week and a half prior to the call had revealed that I had soft tissue sarcoma. It was impossible for the biopsy to determine how spread the cancer was, or in what stage, or whether the tumors were only located on those visible marks I had gone to the doctor for. All the doctor could tell me was: the biopsy revealed sarcoma and more tests were needed in order to find out other answers. The oncologist’s office will give me a call to set up the next appointment.

The days I spent waiting for the oncologist’s call felt like years. I thought this waiting was going to be the worst. But it wasn’t. After that one call and the setting up of the appointment, came the other period of waiting. Now I had to wait for the actual date of the appointment. Until then, nothing was clear; nothing was finalized. I just had a date for the appointment and a wealth of information – both good and bad – through the magic of the internet. Of course, this is not something that I recommend to anyone! That was, perhaps, the worst of the decisions I made. It brought even more stress to my already stressful waiting period.

Sarcoma. Sarcoma. Sarcoma… Every day since the diagnosis, I repeat those words. Sometimes it is in front of the kitchen sink. Other times it is in front of the mirror. Other times, while I drive to work. I feel like if I keep mentioning it, it will either go away or make me more in charge of it.

It has not been easy since the diagnosis. Even after having met with the oncologist and knowing more about what lays ahead, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the reality that my body has been invaded by this illness. I continue repeating the words, hoping that the repetition will take away the diagnosis. But I also know that this is not going to happen. Right now, I just need to learn how to clean the dishes with sarcoma. I just need to learn how to put the dishes away with sarcoma. I just need to learn how to look myself at the mirror and see both what I like and the marks of sarcoma. I just need to learn how to live with cancer. But that’ll be it: I will learn how to LIVE.

_____

*I wrote this reflection after a few days of being diagnosed with sarcoma. Since the, I have seen the oncologist, gone over the possible treatments, confirmed that the cancer is not spread, and scheduled my first round of radiation. Not super great news, but way better than thinking that my life is over. 🙂

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