Today, Rachel speaks to us about a fascinating dream she had, overcoming mental oppression and unlearning and relearning Christianity and Jesus.
Tell us a bit about how you grew up and your childhood: While it feels impossible to sum up the intricacy of growing up, I do look back at childhood with deep affection. I grew up the middle child of three girls. We were all homeschooled for a varying amount of years, and I’m honestly grateful for that. Homeschooling came with a variety of opportunities, and my parents worked tirelessly to make sure each of us were given endless learning and social outlets. My parents raised all of us to be leaders and pursuers of our dreams, and they have been the most intense prayer warriors on behalf of their daughters. While we do not always understand each other and every family comes with joys and wounds, my household loves each other, as well as laughter and conversation.
I’ve always had a vivid imagination, written, created artwork for hours on end, and had a deep connection to the spiritual. I was always a deep thinker and yet loved to skip and dance from room to room. But early on in childhood, I experienced an overwhelming bout of darkness. I was consumed for many years by a mixture of demonic attack, anxiety, depression, not understanding I’m an Enneagram 4, actual forms of OCD (which I would not call myself OCD anymore), and more.
My mom played a vital role in drawing me out of myself and giving me an unconditional safe space to share what was going on in my mind. She played a vital role in making me into a person who values and promotes vulnerable healing. I have learned so much about myself each year and grown immensely because of the struggles I faced from a young age. The last 5 years in particular have been marked by a “returning” to my childhood self. The one who both thought deeply and yet joyously skipped from room to room and giggled any chance she got
“She played a vital role in making me into a person who values and promotes vulnerable healing.”
Inspiring biblical passage of the moment: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” John 17:3 has been ringing through my head on and off, in addition to the section of Genesis where it mentions God “walking and talking” with Eve and Adam in the Garden.
Spiritual growth focus at the moment: Unlearning and relearning Jesus and Christianity. To be honest, I have put off answering these interview questions because of where I’m at in my life. So much undoing and redoing. I’ve always been an intense question asker, but lately those questions have taken new form. I’m dismantling and reevaluating my faith with authenticity and continuing to learn how to “be.” I’ve had a lot of caution and anger towards scripture for the last year or so (even though I have had a MILLION intimate, personal experiences with the Trinity), so the undoing is slow, but happening.
The anger has come from feeling under and poorly represented in Scripture as a woman, sexual frustration, and really paying attention to the legitimate spiritual and life experiences of friends who aren’t Christians. Yet, I have found God’s favor in honest distress. He still walks with me, but it certainly doesn’t look like the simple answers of Westernized Christianity. Walking with Jesus is far more complex and simultaneously simpler than white Christian culture likes to tell you. Over the last year or so, in particular, the Holy Spirit has been unraveling a lot of the twisted interpretations and lies around who God is and what Scripture is. So as I return, I do it cautiously, so as not to bring in falsehood. That’s not to say that my understanding will ever be perfect, but a slow rebuilding is required for my soul right now.
Profession: Freelance graphic designer and photographer, and Starbucks barista. I also create and sell Surreal Photography paired with writing about emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and faith.
When did you first encounter God and how did you encounter Him? Since I grew up in a Christian home, all my memories involve an understanding of God. Yet my encounters with Him have been my own, not just projections of what my family taught me. When I was only 2 years old, my childhood home endured a nasty wind storm during which my family had to hide in the basement. While down there, my little voice said “Don’t worry. Jesus calms the storm!”
As a small child, I would draw pictures of me telling people not to worship trees but instead worship Jesus, and I always had a craving for spiritual encounter and security. I felt a true conversion at the age of 11 and was baptized soon after. I don’t know why something changed that night, but it did. I had believed in God the whole time, but hadn’t felt an assurance that I was safe in His hands before that night. Prior I had felt this sense that no matter how hard I tried, God the Father didn’t love me and I wasn’t saved. But this moment at 11-years-old certainly set a tone for my life moving forward. I think God gave me this clear moment because He knew I would need it to look back on.
However, as I’ve mentioned before, there were still years of mental oppression ahead. My brain often got on loops, and I was attacked with thought patterns and dreams that made me feel pathetically unusual and freaky. But God walked me through it all.
How has your relationship with Him changed you? This question feels so huge and yet so simple. While there have been countless days and nights where I have screamed at God, He is the one who keeps walking me through restoration. He gives me purpose. HE has taught me about forgiveness, freedom from self, how to lean into my artistic style and so much more. So, I think with each passing year, another layer of “religion” is stripped away, and Jesus teaches me how to just “be.”
“So, I think with each passing year, another layer of ‘religion’ is stripped away, and Jesus teaches me how to just ‘be.'”
What has helped you grow spiritually in this season? As I mentioned, my spiritual growth has been slow and apprehensive during this time, but I think that has allowed for a new kind of growth. I’ve been doing a lot of unlearning, question asking, and relearning. Unconditional friendship has changed me in ways I’ve needed for so long. God has brought me women (both Christian and non-Christian) who defend me to myself and give me space to be messy while also giving me the benefit of the doubt. They genuinely walk through life by my side, speaking truth in love when they need to. I don’t think I have ever felt so truly and deeply known in friendship before these women came into my life.
I also took a seminary class last semester that has helped propel me into new growth.
Just read/currently reading (and what has it taught you?):
I’ve started several books in the last year, but many are left unfinished. I’ve read about race, read for seminary, and read some fiction and it’s all taught me a lot. The Fire Next Time
by James Baldwin allows you, for just a moment, to imagine stepping into the shoes of a Black man in the USA. It’s leading me on a path of beginning to listen to a world I have been largely ignorant of, and lament the white privilege America was built on.
In Exploring the Bible
by Eric D. Barreto and Michael J. Chan, I have felt seen (even though I am only a third of the way through). This book discusses how to study the Bible and highlights the importance of studying in mixed company. They elevate those who approach scripture from a posture of suspicion (many Women and Minorities), as these groups will draw from scripture in ways those outside of them never could. To study outside of diversity is to close ourselves off to many mysteries and much understanding of God. Upon closing ourselves off, we will most likely adopt some harmful lies.
Prior to COVID, my heart was being stirred to understand and pursue diversity with greater intention. I have a fire for female empowerment/leadership and I have friends from a variety of backgrounds and lifestyles who have taught me so much. All of this set me on a path to explore the importance of diversity. Seminary, and now the Revolution going on in the USA, have furthered me on this journey. But I still have a great deal to learn! I feel like such a brand new baby in this pursuit, but at least I’ve started! So many of my priorities and understandings have shifted and God has brought me material to aid in this shift. And might I add, even though this isn’t a book, The Protagonistas is an EXCELLENT podcast full of diverse, Christian, female leaders.
How did God speak to you recently? Throughout my life, God has spoken to me daily. I don’t hear him audibly, but he impresses on my thoughts and soul in a way that is very much outside of myself. We chat. But as I’ve mentioned before, right now I’m in a different season, so communication has changed. I’m sure God is still speaking in the same way, but I haven’t been listening or talking to Him as much. Yet He HAS spoken to me through community, moments of provision, and dreams.
Towards the beginning of COVID, I was dealing with crippling anxiety that turned into insomnia. I’m someone who is always doing internal work and if an agitation (like anxiety) is recurring, I search for the root within. But for the life of me, I couldn’t find the root for over a month. Eventually, I realized I was holding some unforgiveness towards myself and journaling it out, amongst other self-care efforts, began to heal me. But in the midst, God used words from my community and visitations in my dreams to communicate with me.
In the dream I had, I was lying on my back and a dense, dark cloud was hovering over the lower half of my bed. It felt like anxiety. I rose to my hands and knees and tried to push against the cloud, but as soon as I made contact, it held onto me, and I could barely move. I managed to slowly slide off my bed onto the floor so that I was sitting up with my back against my bed. The cloud had pinned me and was suffocating me (as anxiety does). In my dream, there was a young family living in the attic where one of my roommates lives. My bedroom door was open (although I never keep it open at night), and I could see the children leaving the attic and walking downstairs. In a quiet, suffocated, raspy whisper I tried to call for help, and the most petite little girl in the group stopped and noticed me. Without hesitation, she calmly walked into my room and took my hand. As soon as she touched my hand, the darkness released me. Quickly another child joined us and took my other hand, leading me out. Neither child was phased by the darkness.
After thinking about the dream and speaking to a mentor, we concluded that it may have been a mixture of several things. The little girls could have been angels, but also a message to myself about myself. As I mentioned earlier, the last 5 years have felt like a return to my childlike self. I think the dream may have been a confirmation that God is still working on that within me. That I get so anxious trying to be other things, but He is still saving me through simplicity, childlike joy, and learning how to “be.” Perhaps some of it has to do with childlike faith as well, but it seems to be more so an affirmation that I am being led and restored through simplicity and gentleness.
Hobby: Swing Dancing is a HUGE part of my life. The community has become like family in so many ways, and I have absolutely no idea what my life would be without it. Because of this community: I live in the house I’m in, I have travelled and competed, I have millions of fond memories, and I have learned endless things from the friendships and the dance. Swing Dancing was a life-long dream, and it’s one of many dreams that God has brought to fruition as only He can. The story of how I landed in the community is a fun one, but I won’t get into it here. Feel free to ask if you want to know more!
I also started playing the cello a year ago, and I felt more connected to that instrument in the first moment I pulled the bow over the strings than I had to any other instrument I’d learned. It had been on my bucket list to learn in adulthood and one of my dance friends was able to teach me, so I finally decided to do it!
Top three practical tips for staying spiritually strong: 1) Let yourself be human. The recipe to intimate relationship with Jesus is not just prayer, reading your Bible, and listening to worship music. Honestly, most worship music makes me sad, and I’ve never had a consistent devotional time. Would I be healthier if I did have a steady devotional time? Probably. Jesus needed it, so I’m sure I do, too. Yet Holy Spirit still talks to me. Letting yourself be human also means being honest in all your emotions with God. He’s safe. He already sees everything about us, so why would we be anything other than honest with Him and ourselves?
2) Lean into what you naturally love. Dancing, creating, engineering, walking, whatever! In the beginning, God created humans to walk and talk with Him. He also created the world to be enjoyed in diversity. We often think our primary purpose is discipleship, but knowing God and being ourselves should be the place we fill up, pour from, and come back to. If we just enjoy God and enjoy being the humans He created us to be, our “discipleship” pours forth authentically. We invite people into a space of truly living with God because WE are truly living with God.
3) Speak truth to yourself/be in community. I know these are two things, but I’m keeping them anyway. When I don’t draw boundaries with my own mind, I slip into harmful thought patterns. Find scripture to meditate on and write gratitude lists. Train your mind to see beauty everywhere and to see Jesus in all the little details. Surround yourself with friends (believers and non-believers) who know you, speak truth in love, and listen. Lean into the details of living, and you will encounter a sweet, down to earth, challenging friend in God.
“If we just enjoy God and enjoy being the humans He created us to be, our “discipleship” pours forth authentically. We invite people into a space of truly living with God because WE are truly living with God.”
Favorite person in scripture? Recently I was digging Mary Magdalene. She is poorly represented in the modern Church, but she was a badass Christ follower (not to mention the first person to ever share the Gospel!)
What do you want people to learn about God when they look at you? That He is closer to them than they realize, that God does not equal Christian culture, that He is empathetic, that He is outside of the boxes we put Him in, and that their full spectrum of emotions is welcomed and invited in his presence. They are safe to be human around God.
“They are safe to be human around God.”
How do you engage with your community? A huge platform for me is Instagram where I share surreal photography and pair it with writing about emotional intelligence, communication, vulnerability, and faith. My desire is to create spaces where people feel safe to grieve, understand themselves, and ask hard questions. I want to build bridges that help people see that Jesus might not be as far away from their understanding of the world as they think. I also just love people so I do a lot of checking in on my community and they check in on me. My life is largely driven by interpersonal connection.
“My desire is to create spaces where people feel safe to grieve, understand themselves, and ask hard questions.”
A goal you have? To do more public speaking/preaching. My heart does not feel called to be “in ministry” (although I am ALL for female pastors), but I do want to do more public speaking about the things I write about. When I was a high school senior, I was given the opportunity to preach at my childhood church, and the impact was huge. I felt Holy Spirit guiding me, and ever since, I’ve known I will do it again.
A special tradition you and your family engage in or keep: On Christmas Eve, we pass around my parent’s first ornament and share one thing we’re thankful for from the year and one memory.
Question you will ask when you get to heaven? How were the pyramids made and what’s the story behind every unresolved phenomenon in the Ancient Aliens Documentary?
Thing you want to raise awareness about: As a woman who has always felt a strong connection to Holy Spirit and also a calling to leadership, I am super passionate about promoting liberation for female leadership in the Church! If the gospel message is TRULY the best news we can receive, there is absolutely no reason Holy Spirit would put different guidelines on women when it comes to sharing that news. In addition, there’s no reason the women in scripture should primarily be studied in “women’s studies.” I could go on and on. I also want to find a way to promote understanding for females (especially in the Christian community) in regards to their bodies and celebrating their sexuality. There is so much damage, patriarchy, shame, and made up truth in the purity culture. While it’s not all incorrect, there is a lot that needs to be undone and redone that will bring about healthier individuals and marriages. I also want to play a role in spreading awareness of sex trafficking, and honestly, so much more.
What does your morning routine consist of? I’ve never been one to fall into any kind of perfect routine. But usually it looks like getting up and going to work. Each day is pretty varied for me.
What is on your nightstand? A bunch of dishes I should bring down to the dishwasher.
Define Christianity in a sentence: The understanding that we are handcrafted and endlessly sought after by God who revealed himself to us through Jesus.
“We are handcrafted and endlessly sought after by God who revealed himself to us through Jesus.”
For more Rachel:
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Until next time, keep witnessing!