I am not a hoodlum.

{We are not Hoodlums by Cory Copeland – a book in review}

I hate devotionals. Like, I really hate them. I can’t remember ever finishing one, because the whole idea just seemed unpleasant. Usually I find them to be dry, overly serious, and overloaded with Scripture references and rules and how-to become a better believer in 23 easy steps! And I always felt like I was being yelled at in devotionals. I walked away from them feeling guilty and inadequate and ashamed, because the only thing I could see was how far away from being a good Christian I really was. Surely I’m not the only person who’s felt that way, right?

When it comes to dealing with the problems we struggle with, the hardships we face nowadays, hope is found when we meet other people battling through those same issues. Knowing you aren’t alone brings with it a sense of peace, because that means we can find hope and strength in the each other’s stories. We can listen and be heard.

Because that’s what I need most these days – to talk about what I’m going through with someone who gets it.

So why not read a devotional that talks to me, not at me? A devotional that meets me where I am and lets me know that I can make it through. A devotional that takes me on a journey to better know myself. A devotional that speaks of the redemption, hope, and love to be found in our Father no matter how far we believe we’ve fallen. A devotional for those of us who feel a bit lost and a little worn.

A devotional for the rest of us.

And that is what Cory Copeland has left between the pages of We are not Hoodlums. He has carefully and wonderfully selected topics that young people these days will encounter around every corner. Things like depression, loneliness, sex, addiction, relationships, etc. are examined from a place of equality, because Copeland wants the reader to know first and foremost that while he may not have all the answers, he has been through it all. And he has come out the other side. He has survived, and you have the power to survive as well.

We are not Hoodlums

Weaving together Scripture and personal stories and pop culture references, Copeland takes the reader on a 31 day journey towards realizing that you are not a hoodlum. You are not beyond redemption or grace or God’s love and forgiveness. He speaks with honesty and a spirit of camaraderie on the struggles that come with being a Christian these days. He leads the reader through the sometimes difficult subjects (but not without a sense of humor), letting them know every step of the way they are not alone, they are loved, and they can find peace in a gracious God.

It’s a beautiful thing.

And it is for everyone. It is for your sister, your brother, your best friend, your boyfriend or girlfriend, the girl that lives in the dorm next to you, the guy you play basketball with a couple times a week, new Christians and those who have grown up in the Church, the person who enjoys a good Jack Kerouac or Newsies reference. There is something for everyone inside the pages of We are not Hoodlums, a message that anyone can draw from and find encouragement. It meets you where you are and dares you to go farther, to become stronger. It’s real and it’s for you.

So as a person who hates devotionals, this is one I love. The writing is engaging and beautiful; Copeland’s own style – prose with poetic tendencies. The words wrapped around me and left me smiling every time. It spoke to me and gave me a renewed feeling of belonging in God’s Church. It spoke a message I needed to hear, words of grace and forgiveness. I was challenged after each entry, challenged to go out a live the life of a crazy saint.

Because I am not a hoodlum. I am a child of God.

Read this devotional and believe that you are, too.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter >> @cassiclerget.
I’m pretty entertaining.

Confessions of a Skeptical Believer

There is a streak of curiosity in me that runs deep. I believe it’s always been a part of me. It’s why I love to read, adore school, enjoy observing random strangers as they go about their day. And I remember everything – historiographies I read years ago, my favorite childhood moments, that conversation we had months ago. Everything is locked away in a mind that probably is full to bursting, because one day it might matter. It could mean something. It could be the answer to some important question, so I have to keep it.

But apparently with my desire to know everything came the inability to trust anything. I’m a skeptic, and I come by it honestly. It is simultaneously my favorite and most annoying trait. I’m suspicious. I don’t take anything at face value. I am full of doubt, questions, and uncertainty. My mind is a deep dark place, tainted by cynicism. I see the darker side of things, the not-so-pretty, and I assume the worst. Always the worst. It has become difficult, or rather impossible for me to simply accept that something is true.

If I hadn’t grown up in a Christian household, I’m not sure I would have found my way to Christianity on my own. Why would I? It asks me to do the one thing that I often feel is beyond me; the one things that literally undoes me. It asks me to have faith. To trust a God I cannot see. It gives me a book and says “this is Truth,” and the first thing that comes to mind is “but how can you be sure?” Because I need to be sure. I need to know without a doubt that what is said to be true is actually true before I can trust. But I’ve chosen a faith that says trust first and the truth will be revealed. It will come. Just take the leap of faith.

(It’s darkly ironic that I also have a slightly irrational fear of heights. Of falling off tall buildings or cliffs.)

Because I don’t do that. I don’t blindly follow for no reason. The idea of faith is at once completely familiar and totally foreign to me. I don’t feel as if I was made for it. It doesn’t come naturally. It is never easy. And most days it drains me. It takes all that I have and all that I am not to turn my back and walk away, to call it quits. Some days, I wake up and wonder if my faith is something I’ve outgrown. Maybe I’m only holding onto it out of habit.

Or maybe deep deep down in a part of my heart that I rarely bring to light, I know my faith is the truest thing in this world. God is real. His love is infinite. His grace is unending, and His Spirit dwells within us. Someday, we’ll see heaven and be told the mysteries of this universe and all the others. And that is worth more than anything.

I think that thought is more terrifying than all the rest. The idea that you can be certain. That you can trust. That you can have faith in something real – it’s too much. Most of the time, I don’t think I can do it. Maybe I’m not intended for it.

Earlier today I watched Safety Not Guaranteed. It’s the story of a man looking for a companion to go back in time with him, and a woman who answers the ad with the intention of writing a story on him and the ridiculousness of it all. But the longer the woman plays the part of companion, the more she starts to believe this might be the real thing. Maybe this guy is right. Maybe time travel is possible. The idea was so lovely and wonderful, and slowly she began to fall in love with it. Slowly, it became real. And as she watched the man and heard his absolute certainty, his complete faith in the plan, she believed. She had no reason not to.

Until someone else gave her a reason to doubt. Someone else came in with their cynicism and skepticism and made her question what her heart had convinced her was true. And for awhile, she gives into the doubt. She succumbs. She lives in the world where the man is crazy, time travel is absurd, and the whole idea is too fantastical.

I won’t give away the end. (That goes against everything I am.) But I will say that I was moved beyond anything to watch the story and see the idea of faith and trust played out in such a way. Even I found myself wishing with everything I was that time travel was real, because the man believed it with his entire being. Because even though the concept was fantastical, it was beautiful. His faith was beautiful. Her trust was beautiful.

And I wanted that. With everything I am, I craved that. The ability to take the leap, to reach out and take what was offered. To accept with a smile that maybe the things we don’t understand are the only things worth knowing and believing in.

My faith, I believe, will always be something I have to work at. I’m not sure it will ever be easy. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful or wonderful. It is completely my own. And I don’t believe that any two people have the same faith. We’re all different. But seeing the faith of others, that amazing strong faith gives me hope. It gives me something to work for. It lets me know I’m not the only person out there who believes as I do, and that is a lovely feeling. It makes my heart lighter and my soul happy. And it gives me the strength to keep going.

Maybe my belief, my faith despite the doubt, makes it even more beautiful.

Thank you for reading! And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter. I’m pretty entertaining.

My blank slate.

My mother once said I was a doormat. It was about five years ago, during an especially difficult year at college, and I was incensed. My mother, the woman who should be building me up and encouraging me as my friendships were falling apart, stood across the counter from me, looked me in the face, and said I was a doormat. I let people walk all over me. I didn’t do anything for myself. I wasn’t the girl she had raised, the woman she knew I had become. I wasn’t me anymore. (She’s pretty no nonsense, my mother.)

I wouldn’t hear it. I refused. She didn’t know me. I spent most of my time down in Portland for college. I only saw my family about one weekend a month, and I talked to them on the phone even less. I’m not usually the sort to wallow in self pity, but what my mom said kept going through my mind. I heard it in my sleep, while I was reading, as I watched a movie. The words kept pestering me, insisting I hear them and remember them. They demanded my attention.

My mother, as mothers usually are, was quite right in her rather determined diagnosis. After some reflection and a healthy dose of brutal honesty, I agreed. I was a doormat. No, I had become a doormat, which wasn’t the same at all. Because that means at one point, I wasn’t a doormat. I wasn’t someone who lost her sense of purpose, her goals, her own personality. I wasn’t what everyone made me into. I was solely and completely myself. I was my own driving force. But at some point, between high school and college, I receded. I dimmed. I faded into what my friends wanted me to be, what I thought guys wanted me to be, what I thought society wanted me to be. I forgot myself.

When I remember my first year of college, I remember myself as a blank slate; tabula rasa. I walked onto campus and was ready to become. I could shed everything I was and start fresh. I didn’t have to worry about pleasing my parents, my church, my friends, or if I’m completely honest, God. I could make myself into the best version of Cassi. It was all up to me.

But it wasn’t. I gave it up and handed it over to everyone else. I let other people determine me, create me. I passed them the pen and let them write on me, on my blank slate. I let them cover me in what they wanted, in what they needed. I let them leave their mark on me.

I’ve let men write on me, on my body, on my mind, on my heart. I’ve let them write their taste in music on me, their taste in “film.” I’ve let them write their opinions and beliefs on me. I’ve let them write their sexual type on me, their idea of pretty, hot, or beautiful. I’ve let them write their dominance on me, convincing me of my inferiority. I’ve let them write their fantasies on me, setting me up to fall short. I’ve let them write their expectations and needs on me. I’ve let them write their insecurities and physical desires on me. I’ve let men write their “ideal” on me, tattooing it on my heart and soul.

I’ve let women write on me. I’ve let them write their personality on me. I’ve them write their taste in clothes on me. I’ve let them write their paranoia on me. I’ve let them write their gossip on me. I’ve let them write their self esteem issues on me. I’ve let them write their negativity on me. I’ve let them write their flare for the dramatic on me, their addiction to the spotlight. I’ve let them write their pettiness on me. I’ve let them write their need for attention on me. I’ve let them write their idea of femininity and sexuality on me. I’ve let them write their history with men on me. I’ve let them write their depression, ignorance, and immaturity on me.

Everyone I met left their own tattoo on my skin, marking me whether I allowed it or not. I couldn’t erase them. They overwhelmed me, swallowed me whole. I tried to write over them, using word after word to cover up the ones I didn’t like. The words on my skin clashed, becoming run-on sentences and incomplete thoughts. I became a mess of everything, and the sum of nothing. I would stand in front of the mirror, look at myself, and see only a stranger. I would see what everyone else wanted or demanded of me. I saw what they needed, but not what I needed. As I tried to cover the words, they only dug deeper, leaving scars on my soul. And then, I stopped caring. I let the words be, letting them define me. I became them.

It is difficult to un-become something. It shouldn’t be, not when you didn’t want it to begin with. But you become used to it, comfortable with it. You look in the mirror and you start to recognize it. Even when you don’t want it, you cling to it, because somewhere along the way it started to make sense. You began to understand each other.

But we never, I believe, completely fade away. We never give up everything, because there is always a little part of us we strive to protect; that one thing we treasure, the one part of ourselves we are proud of. Perhaps it lies dormant, waiting until we are ready to accept it, to unleash it as we shed the words others have given us.

All the men I’ve met can’t erase their marks from my skin. Neither can the women undo their scarring tattoos. They can’t fix me or renew me. Some of the wounds go too deep. Some of them hurt worse than others. I can’t erase the marks from my skin. I don’t have the strength, it seems, to look in the mirror and say, “I need to start over. I need a new blank slate.” I don’t have the patience or the will. But truthfully, I don’t have the heart. It was too much responsibility that first time, having a blank slate. And I ruined it; I let others ruin it. And I don’t think I can put myself through that again.

I’ve stopped trying to cover myself in the words I want. Humans are nothing if not fickle creatures, and I have the tendency to change my mind between one breath and the next. So I don’t write on myself, but rather on paper. I write for myself, for the God who made it so, for the God who protected that part of me. Every so often I catch the glimpse of my fading tattoos, and ask God to take them from me. I give them to Him, one at a time, and He erases them from my heart and soul. He is patient with me, not demanding I give everything up at once, not hating when I stubbornly cling to some of them. He loves me through my healing, gives me grace when I may not deserve it.

He writes on me now. He wrote a new purpose on me, a new goal. He gave me permission to be something I never thought I could be. He wrote hope and love on me. He wrote potential on me. He wrote imagination on me, and a bit of creativity. He wrote forgiveness on me. He wrote desire and dreams on me. He wrote all the words I didn’t think I could have, didn’t think I deserved. But He gave them to me, one by one, when He knew I was ready for them. Some mornings I wake up and look in the mirror and see that God left a new mark on me, a new word He meant only for me. And I smile at them and work to become them.

Thank you for reading! Follow me on Twitter.

Modesty, lust, and the clothes in between.

{Disclaimer: Many of you who read this are probably going to be offended or disagree. That’s quite alright. But I believe that the important issues are sometimes the most difficult to discuss, and I think the Church has a tendency to avoid controversial topics. I have no such problem. So read on, disagree, and feel free to let me know why. But please be respectful.}

Modesty. I’ll be honest and say that if the Church never used that word again, I wouldn’t be upset. Not because I don’t see the value in modesty, but because no one knows what that word means anymore. Or rather, we’ve made it to mean too many different things. It’s ambiguous, confusing, and argument-inducing. Just looking at it has the power to make my eyes roll. Modesty…ugh.

But I’m a Christian woman. I’ve grown up knowing about modesty and about the importance of being modest. I’ve been told the rules, the do’s and don’t’s that change with each year and new fashion trend. I’ve been shown examples of immodesty and warned against tempting men with my feminine physique. I’ve heard, seen, and read it all. And I am always left with the same questions and frustrations.

What is modest? What is immodest? Who decides? And why should anyone get to decide? What makes one person more qualified than another to determine if my clothes are “unacceptable”? And why can’t I decide for myself? And where do men fit into this mess? (Because let’s be honest, it IS a mess.)

Probably my biggest issue with modesty is that it’s become a woman’s burden; a method of dealing with or curbing a man’s lust and improper thoughts. I am supposed to be modest in order to avoid leading my fellow brothers in Christ down the path of temptation. And to some extent, I agree. I don’t want to dress with the intention of making a guy uncomfortable. I don’t want to wear something I know will lead a guy astray. I honestly don’t want to be that girl. But at the same time, I can’t be responsible for the thoughts of every guy I pass in the street. I can’t take on the burden of every man’s lustful wanderings. I can’t please every guy’s version of modesty in my attempt to not be a temptation.

A man’s struggle with lust is separate from my clothing. A man’s struggle with sexual addiction and objectifying women is separate from my intention to look my best. A man’s overactive libido is separate from my sexuality and femininity. Me covering up my body and wearing the “right clothes” isn’t going to help a man come to grips with his personal issues about sex, lust, and desire. It’s the equivalent of putting a bandaid on a bleeding artery. It’s a quick and ineffective fix.

The moment I have to sacrifice my individuality to please a man, we have a problem.
The moment I have to dress to please a man, we have a problem.
The moment I have to be ashamed or uncomfortable about my body in order to reduce the guilt of a man, we have a problem.
The moment my worth and value as a Christian woman becomes inextricably linked to the clothes I put on, we have a problem.

Gentlemen, you dress for yourselves. Every day, you put on what you want, and I‘m sure the idea that what you’re wearing could cause a woman to lust doesn’t even occur to many of you. (It can, by the way.) You don’t agonize over the tightness of the shirt or the pants you wear. You don’t worry that you’re exposing too much skin or displaying your body in a tempting manner. You don’t have breasts to hide or curves to downplay. You wear what you want, and you aren’t made to feel ashamed for dressing to impress.

Shouldn’t women be allowed the same?

When I get dressed in the morning, I shouldn’t have to try on everything in my closet trying to find an outfit that will please the Church or every man I might meet. Whether I put on my v-neck sweater, skinny jeans, and classy boots or my sexy black dress, I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to look my best. I shouldn’t feel ashamed for wanting to be beautiful.

Because wanting to be beautiful is not immodest. Wanting to be beautiful is not a sin. Wanting to be beautiful is not degrading, dirty, or shameful.

Modesty shouldn’t be about all the things we can’t wear. Modesty shouldn’t be a cure for lust. Modesty shouldn’t be sacrificing femininity to masculinity. Modesty shouldn’t be a way to measure my faith, my relationship with God, or my Christianity.

Modesty should be about finding a way to celebrate the body God gave me, rather than hiding it. Modesty should be about glorifying God with the beauty He created me to have, rather being ashamed of it. Modesty should be about trusting me to decide what’s too inappropriate, too suggestive, too tempting. Modesty should be about me being comfortable in my body and in my clothes. Modesty should be about me dressing for myself, not to please anyone else. Modesty should be about the intention with which I wear the clothes, not the clothes themselves.

Modesty should be between me and God. My body is His temple after all. It was created by Him to house His Spirit and my soul. And it was created to be beautiful. My body is wonderfully made. God created woman and saw that she was good. I am good. Modesty should never disregard those things.

But ladies, we shouldn’t let the clothes we wear become more important than they are. We shouldn’t let our desire to be beautiful turn into vanity. We should be thoughtful and considerate when we dress while still realizing that we will never please everyone. Because truthfully, God is the only one who matters. He sees our heart and reads our intention. He knows us. And He loves us unconditionally. We are His daughters. Our value is intrinsic, our worth is innate. It is not determined by what we put on or how it’s received. We shouldn’t let clothes define who we are. We should ask that of God.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to share your thoughts. And maybe (definitely) follow me on Twitter?

Why I’ll wait: On sex, virginity, and my choice.

There is one thing that I have found to be rare in our hyper-sexualized society. There is a type of male or female that seems to be incompatible with a culture that produces such iconic gems as Magic Mike and Fifty Shades of Grey. Most in my generation, after entering into their roaring twenties, have probably forgotten that such a thing exists.

I’m talking about being a virgin.

Now, when I say virgin, I mean virgin. I am probably the absolute least experienced person when it comes to physical intimacy than most twentysomethings you’ve met. My sexual history is a list of things I haven’t done. I’ve never even kissed a man (much to my dismay). I’ve never gone on a real date or been in a relationship, let alone spent a night of passion with a man, trading desperate embraces and soft caresses. I’m inexperienced and innocent, though my sense of humor might indicate otherwise.

There was a time in my life when I was embarrassed by this. A 20+ year old virgin is a travesty this day in age. Something must be wrong with me, right? I mean, how unfortunate that I haven’t had the experience of sex, making love, and all the emotional intimacy that comes with it. How deprived am I that the only knowledge I have about the goings-on in the bedroom is from what I’ve read and the movies I’ve watched. (Not that kind of movie, my goodness.)

The worst part was thinking that being a virgin meant I was lacking. If a guy didn’t want to sleep with me, obviously I wasn’t woman enough. Being a virgin got twisted and tangled up in my self esteem. Being a virgin meant I wasn’t pretty enough, sexy enough, exciting enough. Being a virgin became every insecurity I had rolled into one. Being a virgin, instead of being a virtue, became something I hated, something I was ashamed of, something I resented. Being a virgin meant I was unwanted, unloved, and undesirable.

It’s hard when you live in a culture that bombards you with sex while maintaining a faith that places value in being chaste. It’s hard when society mixes embracing your sexuality with engaging in casual sex. It’s hard when the lines between being an empowered woman and being an experienced sexual being have been blurred. It’s hard when being a man and an assumed sexual Adonis leaves you feeling like you are missing a vital part of yourself.

Because the truth is that being a Christian isn’t enough to prevent us from having premarital sex anymore. Being a Christian hasn’t stopped me from wanting it or thinking about it. We sit in church on Sundays, nodding when the pastor goes on about sexual purity, trying to forget the hours we spent with lovers on the nights in between. We are told to wait for our spouse. We are told of the beauty of giving ourselves to our husband or wife on our wedding night.

Yet we live in a society that says we don’t need commitment or marriage to experience sexual satisfaction. The Church says that sex outside of marriage isn’t on the same level as sex between you and your spouse. But Hollywood says otherwise. Friends say otherwise. Even our bodies say otherwise. So why wait until our wedding night when we aren’t given a good reason? Actually, that isn’t fair. We are given a reason- the Bible says so. But when that is the reason for a lot of other rules we don’t really understand, we stop hearing it. It stops having meaning.

For an entire year, I threw out the rules. I took off my purity ring, because I thought the whole idea was ridiculous. I was tired of not doing something when I could see everyone else doing it and enjoying it. I was tired of going against the norm.

Nothing happened. And I honestly believe that a part of me didn’t want anything to happen. Emotionally, I couldn’t have handled a one-night stand or a meaningful sexual encounter. Because the truth is I didn’t want sex. I just didn’t want to be a virgin. I was surprised to realize there was a difference.

I didn’t want desperate kisses, multiple orgasms, and lingering touches. I didn’t want a soulful connection or lovemaking. I didn’t want a torrid affair.

What I wanted was reassurance of my femininity and attractiveness. What I wanted was affirmation that I was desired by men. What I wanted was the power to decide whether or not to be a virgin not because of a ring and a few Bible verses, but because it was my decision, only mine. What I wanted was the experience my friends had flaunted in front of me. What I wanted was the ability to say that I had finally done it.

What I wanted was selfish and reckless, which are two things sex should never be.

And I deserve better than to have sex just for the sake of having sex. The man I’d have been with deserves more than to be some meaningless fling, to be used for what I want. My future husband deserves more than for me to treat my virginity as a burden rather than a gift for him. I deserve more than to have sex just to gain the experience that comes with it. The act of sex, of making love, deserves to be treated with respect. It shouldn’t be an afterthought, something to cross off my checklist.

It should be anticipated, savored, enjoyed. Never regretted.

So for now I’ll wait. Not because it’s fun or easy, because it’s neither of those things. But I’ll wait because I’m not ready. I’ll wait because my femininity and sexuality aren’t defined by my sexual experience. I’ll wait because of love, because of my husband, because of my heart. I’ll wait because God has called me to.

I’ll wait because having sex shouldn’t be something we do to get it over with. It shouldn’t be something we engage in because everyone else is doing it. We shouldn’t use sex to makes us feel better about ourselves, because that disregards the person we are having sex with. It is self centered, and sex is always about two people, two hearts and two bodies.

I’m not going to tell you not to have sex before you’re married. That’s a personal choice you make. And I know that many of you may have already had sex in previous relationships, perhaps because you thought they were the one, or because, like me, you were tired of your virgin status. But I will say sex is a big deal. Sex means something. Sex changes you. And it won’t erase your insecurities or eliminate self doubt. Having sex isn’t going to solve the problems in a relationship. Usually it makes things more complicated.

So if you aren’t ready for the physical and emotional ramifications that come along with giving part of yourself to another person, I want you to know it’s okay to wait. You are allowed to wait.
And I choose to wait.

Thank you for reading! Feel free to share your thoughts. And maybe follow me on Twitter?