Tag Archives: inspiration

Who is God?

To believe or not to believe… is that really the question?

In college, I was a devout Catholic, a weekly church attendee and band member, president of a campus Catholic community, and leader of a group of teens in youth ministry. I didn’t often ask questions and so I didn’t often feel lost and I often felt fulfilled.

But prior to the collegiate life, my faith had never before been challenged. For four years, I attended a university surrounded by peers whose views ranged from the same to vastly different from mine. I initiated discussion with far right individuals who I didn’t see eye to eye with. I also engaged in honest, open conversations with atheists about the role and existence of a divine being that oversees the universe. In these tête-à-têtes, my faith was never shaken but rather strengthened.

Then one day I was handed a white rose as I walked past organizations tabling on the campus’s main walkway. The white rose symbolized the pro-life stance. I was 19, a virgin who hadn’t put much thought into the abortion debate. I was an active member of a denomination that was outspoken about it’s pro-life viewpoint, but I realized in that moment that my instincts were on the other side of the fence. I could feel the rose’s thorns in my hands creating a pit in my stomach, nausea threatening to surface, and I very swiftly but discreetly discarded the rose.

I felt uncomfortable never having examined where I stood on this important and hugely personal but politicized issue. I felt like a liar practicing Catholicism yet now unsure if I believed everything the Church preached. However, I continued on with my devout Catholic life.

Soon, I realized how many strangers and close friends on the college campus surrounded me from the LGBTQ community. As the fight for equal marriage rights gained steam, I posed zero opposition, and in my head, this was nothing that should ever have been a political matter anyway. I shared my views openly, despite the Catholic Church’s stance and my continued involvement with the religion, but I’m ashamed to say I didn’t fully embrace my viewpoint. I could have been and should have been a stronger, more outspoken ally.

My junior and senior years, I helped launched the Inter-Faith House, one of various themed campus housing options. We promoted religious tolerance. I read the Tao, celebrated Passover Seder, and continued to be a devout Catholic. My campus housing projects included a silent awareness initiative of religious stereotypes and a faith unity quilt patched together from students and staff expressing their religious beliefs.

In my last years at university, I had one-on-one conversations with priests about the concepts of free will, fate, and destiny as well as good and evil. I am grateful to these priests, some of whom are still dear friends, for offering me perspective. I wanted to believe in God, but God was no longer the same man with a face in the clouds in the sky that I pictured in second grade Catholic school.

The summer of my graduation, I backpacked solo around Europe. At the East Side Gallery in Berlin, someone had painted on a preserved part of the Berlin Wall, “How’s God? She’s black.” It was empowering, and I’ve thought about it a lot since that day nearly 8 years ago.

After college, I dove head first into the animal and science world, embarking upon a career in wildlife conservation. While sitting on the couch in my apartment one day, I asked my then boyfriend what he wanted to get out of life. He told me he wanted to be happy. I asked him if he believed in God–a conversation I’m surprised we’d never had before despite this being the start of our relationship. He told me he didn’t think so.

I thought about his response a lot, namely that he simply sought happiness in life. It was such a simple yet solidified answer, one that boggled my mind at the time but has since come to be a beacon in my own muddled travels through life.

As my scientific career began to suffocate me, I started to wonder how faith and science can co-exist. I reached out to religious scientist friends, poured over atheist philosophy, and analyzed the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas. I struggled with the concepts of time, beginning and end, and forever. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to believe in a Higher Power, that I would refer to this power as God, and that, while much of my definition of God was inspired by Catholic teachings, God as I saw him had changed.

Upon moving to Seattle, I stumbled upon a Buddhist temple. I began attending group meditation, discovered I am terrible at meditating, sought to improve my meditation, and still attempt to meditate today. Meditation and writing became my main forms of prayer, and nature replaced a physical church building.

When I shared publicly the story of my sexual assault, I received a wave of support from friends and strangers. However, some of that support wasn’t the best form of support for me.

One person repeatedly reached out to me to offer a shoulder but only from a deeply religious standpoint. I received texts saying how often I was being prayed for, which wasn’t what I wanted to hear but it wasn’t a terrible thing to hear. But when I read the words “God saved you,” I realized these texts were not helping. I responded saying I knew the texts came from a good place, but I needed them to stop. I said, “It’s alright if you want to believe that God saved me, and I know you need to heal from this news in your own way, but I do not believe God saved me. I believe I am a strong, capable woman and I fought my way out on my own.”

I am incredibly grateful for my Catholic upbringing. It gave me guidelines, morals, and values to live by. For a very long time, Catholicism was fulfillment enough in my life, and I never labored over what I believed. I thought this was enough to be happy and whole.

Ash Wednesday is still one of my favorite days of the year. I still feel very much at home on the occasion that I do I step into a Catholic church, especially when I’m alone in a foreign land. I still want to and choose to believe in God, but I’m still figuring out what God means to me.

My definition of who God is has changed dramatically over the years. I’m still perfecting that definition, and I don’t think I’ll ever have it perfect. Faith is a journey I don’t think should ever end. I think it should be challenged daily, and I firmly believe we should come to an understanding of the universe on our own.

In the beginning of my adult life, I was blindly trying to fit into a mold I was handed from birth with which I wasn’t sure if I wholly or partly agreed. Maybe that mold is right for me, maybe it isn’t.

Who is God? He is whatever you believe him to be.


One of the Hardest Things I’d Ever Do Was Keep from Falling in Love with You

The thermometer read 90 degrees, but my bed felt cold that night.

I hugged the box of tissues closer to my chest, the only confidante in an otherwise empty apartment. I let my eyes shed the memories, let the paper blankets listen to my throat’s disenchanting song. I lay there as my tired brain confused impossibilities with could-be’s, would-be’s, should-be’s.

My gaze followed the length of the ceiling, traveled down the wall. I stared at unread books on my nightstand, unlit candles on the window ledge, an unframed stack of pictures on the shelf. You put love right alongside those photographs, nestled it sloppily between snapshots of the past, of hopes and dreams for the future. You piled it high above fate, lorded it over destiny, scoffed at new beginnings.

But see here’s the thing: love doesn’t belong on a shelf.

It shouldn’t be collecting dust with trophies and vases. It shouldn’t be scattered across the countertop with unfinished to-do lists. It shouldn’t be given up on when it never got a chance.

The saddest love story isn’t the one that didn’t work out. It’s the one that was never told.

You chose to give up not give in but not before we bared our scars to each other. We rolled up our sleeves, cuffed our slacks, and compared blemishes twice a week. We didn’t see these marks as damaged goods. We saw them as magnets that brought us closer, electric sparks when placed side my side.

We cut open our chests and placed our beating, pulverized hearts on the table. Their rhythms ticked toward synchronicity. I kept mine guarded. You kept yours sealed.

Who knew that one of the hardest things I’d ever do would be to keep from falling in love with you.

Each time the buttons loosened over my feelings, I fumbled to button them up. I tried to protect a broken heart from more brokenness only to find that love isn’t the only reason we feel pain.

Is it you or I or both who views us now merely as two motes of flesh distantly floating through a cosmic universe? You’re gone but we’re still the same souls craving honesty and integrity and eternally searching for truths, once united in vulnerability, now left yearning in a dying wind.





The Doney Clinic: A Free Vet Clinic for Homeless People & Their Pets

homeless street dog

This is Angel. She lives on the streets of Seattle with her dad. When I met Angel, I told her dad he named her perfectly because she was a real sweetheart. He looked at me without a beat and said, “She is my best friend.”

Last Saturday was my first day volunteering with the Doney Clinic, a free vet clinic for homeless and low-income people to bring their pets. Every other Saturday, two dozen volunteers set up mobile veterinary services and a pet supply donation center in the basement of the Union Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter. Angel and her dad were the first pet-parent couple I met. They were near the front of the line that stretched all the way down and around the block. They had been waiting in the cold for six hours so that Angel could get free winter clothes, food, toys, a harness, and a check-up.

Angel was one of a hundred dogs and cats that came through the doors that Saturday. Amidst the chaos, we clipped nails, cleaned ears, drew blood, gave vaccines, and more. I helped a homeless woman bundle her long-haired Dachshund back up in his winter coats. She instructed me that the clothes were put on in a specific order. The pink jacket was the first of the six coats to go on her furry companion. It would drop below freezing that night.

Every single person that came through the clinic was extremely grateful for our services—I mean extremely grateful. But I found myself thanking them for coming in, for being such caring and doting pet parents, and for helping to restore some of my own faith in humanity.

Admittedly, volunteering here for me isn’t a selfless endeavor. I’m trying to fill a void in my heart that’s calling for me to give back more to this wonderful planet and amazing community that has done so much for me. I’m trying to understand the individuals behind the homeless epidemic, trying to find a channel for my compassion that doesn’t compromise my safety.

I will be journaling about my experiences with the Doney Clinic every month in an effort to help the clinic continue its services and to share my own transformative journey looking in the eye  people and animals that too often are passed by.

Under the streets of Pioneer Square in the heart of downtown Seattle in a bustling basement on a cold winter day, I saw hope and a reciprocated love that, between man and his best friend, remains unconditional.

The Silence Breakers: This Is What Happened When I Stood Up for Myself in 2017

When I saw who TIME named Person of the Year and then read the article and watched the video, I cried a puddle of happy tears.

At the turn of the 2017 new year, I vowed that I would start standing up for myself. It has not been easy, but it has been worthwhile.

I have a tendency to let people walk all over me or to turn the other cheek way too many times. I am the first to stand up for others but the last to stand up for myself. This is because I’m a peaceful person who sees the good in everyone, but those traits have also been my downfall. Like every year before it, 2017 has been a year of change and growth.

Standing up for yourself doesn’t have to mean throwing daggers. I started off the year by negotiating the crap out of an unexpected rent increase, presenting a professional and well-informed counter-proposal. In the past, I would have just whined and written bigger checks, but I work damn hard for little money and I’m a good tenant. It was a learning curve for me to acknowledge to myself I that could negotiate, and to realize that the worst I could hear back was no.

This newfound courage carried over into my professional and personal lives, and for once, I was respectfully fighting for myself with dignity and grace. It ruffled some edges, because it’s admittedly a shock to witness me, once someone who would roll over, now engaging in confrontation to protect myself. But those who stuck with me are the ones who value my own self-worth, and they’re the people I want in my life.

And of course, the biggest and most meaningful way I stood up for myself this year was in breaking my silence by not keeping my sexual assault a secret any longer. I’d been working up the healing to share my story for the better part of a year, and, coincidentally, I was ready around the time that the #MeToo movement began taking off.

We live in days filled with so much terror, hate, confusion, and fear. Imagine how much love and prosperity we could generate if we enabled ourselves to nobly stand up for what is right and just?

TIME Magazine did right by naming The Silence Breakers as Person of the Year. We are in the midst of a cultural revolution chasing inherent human dignity, for women, for gays, for blacks, for Muslims, for the handicapped, for the poor, for everyone. The movement starts within you.

Be the spark that starts the fire. Be Bold. Be Brave. Be You.

10 Reasons My College Improv Troupe Was Some of the Best People I’ll Ever Meet

It would have been easy to be the outcast when I joined my college improvisational comedy troupe. I was different and naive in so many ways—a sober, prude, Catholic girl with zero fashion sense tossed into a hodgepodge of intelligent, talented, funny students who made witty political commentary and iconic pop culture references that sailed far above my bouncing ponytail.

I could have been singled out for navigating college in an unorthodox way and not having the common knowledge to understand that Bono is a person, not a thing, but somehow, these people found their way onto my list of favorite humans. And if you ask them, I’d venture to guess that one of their favorite things about me is the fact that I am so different.


In college, I was lucky to land myself in an improv troupe that treated me like family. Being a member of Ohio Wesleyan University’s Babbling Bishops might very well be my fondest college experience. This group of humorous souls trickled their way into my heart and became some of the best people I’ve ever known, and here’s why.

improv comedy

They know empathy.

Good actors are empathetic. In order to portray someone else–funny or not–you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes. My improv friends are the type of empathetic people who have embarked upon career paths that actively give back to others and fill a great void in this world, from artists to scientists to mental health professionals and beyond.

They understand patience.

In order to be a successful (read: entertaining) improv troupe, everyone has to practice together. It takes time and effort to reach that level of group mind where you’re so fast on your feet with each other that the audience feels like they’re watching a scripted comedy of errors. The best improv team doesn’t take jabs for cheap laughs but rather slowly builds up a scene until the audience is guffawing and chortling like your weird aunt at Thanksgiving dinner.

improv comedy

They practice inclusivity.

The most challenging, authentic, open-minded conversations I had regarding my Catholic faith occurred with my atheist improv friends. Comedy isn’t determined by your religion, skin color, gender identity, sexuality, or physical appearance. You can be a frizzy-haired, pimpled, handicapped, biracial lesbian or you can be a buff, straight, cisgendered hunk of a man. The one with the skills to be a team player in an improv comedy show makes the troupe.

They engage supportively.

Improv is a team activity, not an individual one. When a member is struggling on or off the stage, the group is there to pick you up. When I was in the hospital with a head injury, my improv troupe piled into cars and drove forty minutes on a school night to visit me. When I couldn’t perform for a month because of subsequent speech problems, they let me introduce the shows and watch from the stage.

improv comedy

They exude compassion.

During an improv show, you don’t want your partner to fail, so you don’t leave them hanging out to dry. Then and now, few people have offered me more compassion in my break-ups, career changes, anxiety struggle, and battle with Lyme disease than these humans that I acted like a fool with in college.

They live honestly.

Comedians are funny people, which means you generally see them as happy people. But those who have the highest of highs can also have the lowest of lows. Many of my improv friends are open publicly or personally about their life struggles. They share the good and the bad on social media, actively encouraging others to live authentically.

improv comedy

They take risks.

Achieving group mind requires being vulnerable with each other. In a show, you put yourself out there regardless of whether or not you get a laugh. The improvisers who surrounded me in college are the ones who hiked the Appalachian Trail, traveled on a cross-country amends road trip, and took a giant leap from the secure present with no idea about the future because they believed in themselves enough to make it to the other side.

They seek self-awareness.

Being an improviser means knowing your strengths and weaknesses. My troupe members have consistently expanded their quest for mindfulness beyond the theatre, searching for who they are and what their place is in this world. If they can’t find their purpose, they make one.

improv comedy

They stand committed.

On stage, you can’t abandon your partner. You ride through the bumps in a rocky scene until you get to the end. Now, post-graduation and full-on adult-living, we’re still friends, no matter the geography or complications that arise. Improvisers don’t run away from difficult conversations and they don’t turn their backs on their choices.

They are carefree.

All of us in the Babbling Bishops have our insecurities, but we’re also the ones you’ll see dancing like escaped zoo animals in the bar, in the kitchen, in the grocery store, or at the bus stop, with absolute and complete reckless abandon, with no care to the eyebrows raised in our direction. We carpe diem, baby, because we know we only have one chance at life on earth, and we’re going to choreograph our way through it however we darn well please.

improv comedy

In no other group of people have I ever been more different but felt more accepted than with the Babbling Bishops. We share a bond that no distance or time can shake.

Improv taught me skills to pave my way through life as an adult. It also granted me lasting friendships with people that I look up to, good people whose accomplishments and existence constantly inspire me to be a better person. Somehow, I was lucky enough to become an unlikely member of a family of hilarious yet compassionate misfits.


improv comedy

Of Love Languages & the Power of Physical Touch

If you’ve not read psychologist Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages yet, make that the first thing you do after reading this post. Yes, it’s kind of a “girly” book, but I’ve gotten a few of my male friends to read it and they’ve admitted that they learned a lot from it.

Within the chapters, the author speaks of how teaching people to find their own and their partner’s love language can save a relationship. At the core of any association between two people, communication can make or break their union. We show people we care about them by way of a love language and we also know that people care about us when they speak our love language.

Chapman believes five universal love languages exist, and that we should learn to speak each of them. However, we tend to want and give some more than others. You can take a quick quiz to find out which language you speak. The five languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch


I didn’t need to take the test to know that my dominant love language is words of affirmation. The saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” has never been true for me.

But words of affirmation isn’t my only love language. I’ve spent a lot of time (maybe too much time) analyzing my past relationships, and in many of them, my love language wasn’t spoken (literally). However, more recently, I’ve realized another love language missing in my daily life: physical touch.

Most people automatically assume physical touch equates to sex, and therefore many couples assume that this must be their love language. That is often not the case. However, it’s important to note that physical touch means so much more than sex.

From hand-holding to hugs, from a passionate kiss to a peck on the cheek, physical touch is something we all crave to some degree in life.  In a famous experiment by psychologist Dr. Harry Harlow, baby monkeys were placed with one of two fake mothers that both offered milk, a “mother” made of wire and another covered in soft terry cloth. The babies with terry cloth mothers clung to them after nursing and were well-behaved little monkeys, unlike the others. Harlow’s experiment showed that tactile comfort offers emotional reassurance.


Few can come up with an argument to debate this study’s findings. Physical touch can be both positive and negative–a terry cloth or a cold wire. Most of us have seen or experienced how both a slap and a kiss can be exclamation points that make words superfluous. Physical touch exudes strength and power.

In the past few months, I realized how little physical touch I have in my day-to-day routine. Seattle is the first city I’ve lived in. Everywhere else has been little towns where everyone knows everyone’s business, but where everyone hugs one another after four hours apart like it’s been four years.

Snuggling and head scratching and spazzing on each other happens a lot with my Florida Keys friends and my college and gradeschool friends. My best friend and I have a relationship built upon physical touch. Ten seconds can’t go by without one of us jumping on the other’s back.

friends hugging

But when I’m not around these people, I’m lacking this emotional reassurance, and it’s not just because I’m single. Physical touch isn’t always guaranteed when you’re dating someone, and in fact, I recently wrote about how one of my relationships actually caused me to flinch in response to certain corporeal gestures.

Some people just aren’t huggers, and in city life, it takes longer to build the level of friendships you made in college or small town living. It’s harder to find those people that feel comfortable doling out the kind of bear hugs that knock you off your feet.

After going through some recent hardships, I realized how much I just needed a good hug. When I got that hug–a wave of hugs–my struggles seemed to momentarily melt away. In so many of my trying times, I have felt utterly alone. I have always had wonderful, dear, true friends who will make a routine out of talking to me for hours, on the good days and bad, to get me through. But too often, they’re still on the other end of a phone line. Their words of affirmation can only help me so much.


I wonder if any of my past pain would have been easier to bear if I was also able to lie next to someone I cared about (and who cared about me) while watching a movie on the couch. I’ve realized how many times I have simply needed a friend to hold me while I cried. I’ve realized how electric a handhold can be, how soothing it is to feel a reassuring thumb rub on my forearm.

I’m working on recognizing my needs. As I do, I’ve begun verbalizing them to the people who surround me. I tell them my love language and ask them to tell me theirs, and then we begin to practice speaking each other’s.

Give the Gift of a Personalized Book on Turtles This Holiday Season!

It’s that time of year again when we scour the Internet for the perfect gift idea. I’m gearing up for the holiday season with a big shipment of my book: 254 pages of fun and informative turtle facts in Q&A format–with pictures, of course!

turtle book

I’ve received terrific feedback from kids through adults who love the short and easy-to-read “chapters” as well as learning so much about such an incredible species. Animals really are amazing!

If you’d like to purchase a personalized copy, shoot me an email to smvenzel@gmail.com. Order soon to get yours in time for Christmas!

(If you already have a copy, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! Yippee!)