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Yours in Voice & Verse,
"Those who tell the stories rule the world."
- Hopi American Indian proverb
Suandria Hall works as a Mental Health Counselor in the Denver metro area. Her focus is on life transitions, women's issues, and religious trauma.
I was raised to have faith and to be faithful. To believe in a god greater than me and worthy of blind trust, servitude, and allegiance. To follow teachings, fables, that, regardless of its clear requirement to think less of myself, my gender, my ethnicity. I was commanded to surrender all. I did. And then I stopped.
I became curious. I made space for curiosity and free thought. I paid attention to the automatic responses that came to answer my questions. I saw that I wasn't thinking at all. I was a well rehearsed recording set on replay.
I realized I was limited in my ability to think critically and independently. I had been crippled and stunted in growth. I was afraid to trust myself and others. I was afraid to try. I was afraid to walk away.
What I thought was faith was actually fear. A deep fear passed down from generations. A fear that said "this is what we do, this is who we are, and anything different is wrong".
I shifted my entire foundation from an outward source to an inward well I didn't know existed. There I found courage, resilience, hope, love, patience, and peace. Because this endless flow of life resides within me, I can always draw upon it as needed and share with others liberally. And I see that this source alive in others. I drink from those fountains. My tribe, my community, my family is no longer based on blood or religion. But on love, connection, curiosity, and truth.
I am a woman of faith. Only now my faithfulness is to myself; a truth I've fought long and hard for the courage to believe and say aloud.
I am a believer. Only now I believe in humanity and our ability to change, heal, grow, and become better together.
Jeed Jitprasert served as the Operations Director for the Public Children Services Association of Ohio for more than 15 years. Rogers is an accomplished writer, photographer and public servant. She is currently harvesting mangos with her mother and sister on their family farm in Thailand.
Sacrifice: 500 Hard-boiled Eggs
With my friends in the USA, I often shared a story of my family making a 500 hard-boiled eggs sacrifice to the big Buddha statue on the mountain at our village when their wishes are fulfilled.
It might sound some sorts of superstitious beliefs.
A few months ago, my sister did pray to the Buddha. This time was for the power of the Buddha that helping her complete the construction of the new house intended for our father.
Tomorrow morning the sacrifice will begin, the belief and believer.
พี่หมูเขาบนกับหลวงพ่อขาวด้วยไข่ต้ม 500 ฟอง
Anjelica N. Ruiz is the Director of Libraries and Archives at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, TX. She earned an M.S. in library science from the University of North Texas, M.S. in criminal justice from Texas State University, and a B.A in criminology from St. Edward’s University. You can follow her personal blog at www.anjelicaruiz.com.
My mom was four days shy of her 40th birthday when I was born. My biological father bowed out of the picture early on. My grandma looked after me when my mom was at work, spoiling me with forbidden sips of Big Red, her favorite soda.
My mom entrusted my religious education to my aunts. I grew up going to Baptist churches, fidgeting my way through Sunday School and dreading the long service that followed. I believed and loved God, but at church He was made out to seem like an omnipotent force who would banish you to hell if you dared to cross Him.
When I was 8 or 9, I overheard my aunt talking to someone about abortion rights. I didn’t really understand the concept, but I knew where my mom stood on the issue, so I spoke up.
My aunt turned to me, wide-eyed and said, “Anjelica, you really need to rethink that answer or you just might be going to hell.”
I hadn’t seen my grandma for a couple of weeks when my mom got the phone call.
It wasn’t until we were in the car that she told me what happened.
“Anjelica, Grandma is in the hospital. She had a stroke.”
“What?! Is she going to be okay?”
“I don’t know.”
My grandma was found on the floor, with broken glass and a pool of red soda next to her. She never regained consciousness and died a week later.
I was despondent. I couldn’t understand why God had to take her. I sat in my room, angrily writing a letter to God in my journal.
“Why did you have to take her? I hate you for this and I will never forgive you.”
I was confused when my “religious” aunts and uncles began fighting over the house Grandma left behind. The once seemingly tight knit family I had grown up with shattered. My mother chose to disconnect from them, emphasizing that I could visit them. But I made the decision to stop going to church with my aunts, effectively choosing my mom over the rest of my family.
So, it wasn’t until college that I tried to find a spiritual home of my own. I went to a Catholic university and, on a whim, made an appointment with a priest. Between our opposite political views and his disbelief that I had been raised as anything but Catholic, I decided that wasn’t the answer.
I had read about Quakers in an American history course and it sounded fascinating. I recharge by spending time alone, but their service was way too quiet.
Finally, while I was in graduate school, I decided to visit the Baptist student center on campus. I expected to feel at home, but I just couldn’t reconcile the person I was becoming with the narrow views espoused from the pulpit.
After graduation, I moved back home. I took a job that paid little and was mind-numbingly boring, which only exacerbated my post-grad blues. This depressive episode made me realize that while psychotherapy and a good psychiatrist are essential to managing my mental health, I desperately needed spiritual guidance.
Following my gut I searched online for the nearest synagogue. As I looked at a map, I was surprised to find that Temple Emanu-El was located next to the cemetery where my beloved grandma was laid to rest. I took it as a sign. After an encouraging email from a Temple staff member, I began the conversion process.
My mom had a “reverse-reaction” to the news. She started supportive, but as my journey progressed, she grew more concerned.
“Wait, so what do Jews think about Jesus?” she asked.
“Um, well, Jesus was a Jew and he was a good person and teacher, but they don’t believe he’s the messiah. What, are you trying to decide whether or not to pray for my eternal soul?”
“Yes.” I thought she was joking, but the expression on her face told me she was not.
When Rabbi Kim declared that I was ready to go to the mikvah, the only thing I could think was that my rabbi was going to see me naked in a glorified kiddie pool.
When the day finally came, my mom drove me.
“Why can’t you just come in? I asked you about it last night and you said you would!”
“I don’t want to come in.”
“I WANT YOU THERE, THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT-“
“WHY DO YOU WANT ME THERE? THIS ISN’T MY PLACE, YOU CAN’T EXPECT ME TO ACCEPT THIS.”
My heart broke with every word she said. But it was anger that drove me out of the car and into the synagogue.
“I don’t want you there anyway!” I slammed the door and stomped off to the entrance.
When Rabbi Kim arrived, I burst into tears, relaying in between heaving sobs the parking lot incident.
“Do you want to reschedule? I know how important it is that your mother be a part of this.”
Before I knew it, something clicked inside my head and the words came tumbling out of my mouth, surprising even me.
“I can’t always do what she wants.”
With that, my feet carried me to the turquoise bathroom, where I stripped and took a quick shower, wrapping myself in a towel. With no makeup, no eyeglasses, no clothes, I entered the mikvah as I had first entered the world.
I stepped down into the water, which was startlingly warm and suddenly soothing. Without a cue, I immersed.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha olam asher kidishanu bmitzvotav vtzivanu al ha tevilah.
Blessed are you Adonai, Ruler of the universe who has sanctified us with the mitzvot and commanded us concerning immersion.
I took a deep breath and let the water overtake me again, lifting my feet off the bottom of the pool.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha olam shehecheyanu vekiymanu vihigianu la-z’man ha-zeh.
Blessed are you Adonai, Ruler of the universe, who has kept us alive and sustained us and enabled us to reach this day.
I kept my eyes closed as I immersed one last time.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha olam asher kidishanu bmitzvotav vtzivanu al tevilat gerim.
Blessed are you Adonai, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with the mitzvot and commanded us concerning immersion for conversion.
As I emerged from the water, I saw Rabbi Kim smile. The witnesses who stood outside yelled their mazel tovs. This small pool of water had just changed my life.
“Do you want to take one more dip?” asked Rabbi Kim
I sank back into the warm water, which wrapped around me like a mother’s embrace.
After the rabbi and witnesses signed my conversion certificate, I walked outside and found that my mom was still there. We drove home in silence.
The formal conversion ceremony was later that day. I assumed she wasn’t going to come, so I was surprised to find her ready to go when I came down the stairs.
I walked into that inconspicuous space as Anjelica Nicole Ruiz, born Thursday, May 7, 1987 to Elizabeth. Coming out of the water, I was now Miriam Ora Tikvah, born on the 17th of Nissan in the year 5773 in the Jewish calendar to a community of Jewish mothers and fathers.
For me, those two names and identities are not independent of each other. I’m still my mother’s daughter, the little girl who loves warm flour tortillas fresh from the skillet. Now, as an adult, I pair them with matzah ball soup.
My mother remains a source of unending energy from which I draw strength. I simply veered from her path onto my own, a prospect that once felt like jumping off a cliff. This was a critical turn in the road. Judaism has brightened my life by giving me an extended global family. I now have the courage to pursue things I never could have dreamed of before, like traveling the world by myself or being on a first name basis with my Congressman.
Even though my mom was uncomfortable with my Jewish identity, she pushed aside her feelings and watched as I held the Torah in my arms and affirmed my covenant with the Jewish people.
I will always be grateful to her for that.
Laura Soto brings with her poetry 20 years experience working in advocacy for underrepresented groups. Born in Chihuahua, Mexico and raised bicultural in the U.S. Laura has engaged in community activism for social justice and for immigrant rights from a very young age to uplift the disparities found in her local community. Laura is currently Operations Manager for the Philanthropiece Foundation and a fierce advocate for Spanish-speaking communities serving as a translator, interpreter, facilitator, panelist, speaker and spoken word performer through her professional business Bridging Communication, LLC.
Who are you? You are what you have done to me.
Who you really are I shall never know,
Where you came from, how you reached me,
Only in your memory of past lives you shall hold,
Who I hold you to be is not yours but my reality.
What you have moved in the smallest particles of my being
To change me into that which I am today
Will only in my own cell memory remain;
But since the encounter of you I am not the same,
You have struck me down, crumbling my old frame.
Freed from the structure that bound me,
My spirit stretches its aching limbs,
Stretching out to extensions before unknown,
Blossoming fruits previously unformed.
Your unwillingness to play the old games of emotional wounding,
Of sentimental confusing, of feelings consuming,
Set me free from my past confining.
I had tripped one too many times over the same stone,
Took the wrong turn down the same path,
Drank time and again from the same poison,
Over and over fell victim to the same failings, all of my own making.
Now, however, you have come to mind games unyielding,
You’ve pierced through such entrapping webbings,
Slashed through the chains of subconscious restraining,
You’ve liberated me by tearing down my heart’s old walls and ceilings.
Now a new being, one that can dare have new experiences,
I explore the limitlessness of my newly discovered surroundings.
Weightless I walk through forests of beauty and harmony.
Cheerful down playful riverbends my feet trace un-marked pathways.
Now unveiled my eyes rejoice in the sights of new horizons.
Every new day the sun rises, I wake up a free spirit;
A spirit that can love and live curiously.
Always surprised by new experiences, instead of reliving the same sufferings
By the constant mark of fermented old memories.
You did not allow me to repeat the same shadows,
Their darkness you cast-away and light filled the space they had swallowed,
A liberating, emptying, opening, cleansing light which clears clutters.
Now there is nothing, now only clarity, now only extra space is unfolding.
You are what you have moved in me.
You are my growing curiosity, settling serenity, receding ferocity.
You are my tickles, my frowns and wrinkles.
You are in my smile, newly formed creases.
Undiscovered facial landscapes.
You are the music that moves me to sing.
You are the burst of laughter that vibrating make my soul ring.
You are the restful nights that regenerate my energy.
You are the sighs of wonder that I emit to every new thing I encounter,
That which, instead of frightening me, now makes me innocently think and ponder.
You are the new breath that fills, not just my lungs, but my dreams
With every inhale and exhale new possibilities.
You are all these things. You are what you have moved in me.
You are that which by your doing I have become.
You are what to me you have done.
You are my new-found love.
Jonathan Stalls is the Founder of Walk to Connect and Intrinsic Paths. He is currently walking 200 miles through Colorado over the next twelve days. Learn why.
My Orange Urine
Dirt in my nails
Hair that itches
Burning up pretense
I don’t care who you know
Bruises and scabs
My warm, sweaty pits
I don’t care what you ‘do’
I don’t care about your car
All your bedrooms
Ear wax on fingers
My orange urine
Fuck your 401 (k)
All of my skin
Leaking and being
Fragile and alive
Feel my blood
Respect my excrement
Honor my breath
Hold my hand
In the dirt
Guts and truth
Under the sky
I want you to know me
My tears and my rivers
I want you to hear me
My aches and my thunder
I want you to love me
My song and my sunset
Nirvana for you
Nirvana for me
God for you
God for me
Ashes for you
Ashes for me
Love for you
Love for me