Smoking causes death. In fact, it causes more deaths every year than HIV, illegal drug use, automobile accidents, suicides and murders combined. For pregnant women, smoking can cause preterm birth, stillbirth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome. Not only does this affect the smoker, but it also has an impact on those around him. 3,000 non smokers will die this year as a result of illness from secondhand smoke. Children around adults who smoke are more likely to wheeze and cough and have middle ear problems.
Smoking also harms the environment. Cigarettes have over 4,000 chemicals in them that are breathed into our atmosphere everyday by 30% of the country. To produce 300 cigarettes, an entire tree is wasted.
I am a smoker.
(pretty gross right?)
It’s an addiction and it is one that I hope to quit eventually (like, probably within the year). I started smoking years ago because I struggled with severe anxiety (still do to an extent) and depression. My friends in high school smoked, so at first it helped me fit in, and then, it became something of a comfort food to aid in my most anxious hyperventilating moments. It is a bad fix, but a fix nonetheless. A counselor I was seeing for some time actually suggested I continue to smoke until I get a better handle on my anxiety.
For those of us that have lived in the closet, those that were led to believe that God didn’t want us anyway, a smoking addiction was hardly anything to fuss over.
~ ~ ~
The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I traveled to Colorado for Young Life camp. These trips are absolutely insane. They are not your Outhouse in the woods, old dirty cabin and mystery meat cooking kind of place. You have water parks, horses, rock climbing walls, zip lines and unbelievable rec rooms. This particular one rested alongside a mountain ridge overlooking the wild western land of Colorado. The best sunsets I’ve ever seen.
After getting settled in, a buddy and I decided to explore the grounds. One of the first things we noticed was that they had a Smoker’s Rock. A plot of land set aside for kids that wanted to smoke (obviously). The loungey hang out was stationed not thirty yards away from the Sanctuary. Its existence held a come as you are invitation. Maybe it was to tell those reluctant rebel attendees, the ones dispatched by desperate parents, that hey, we’re not sOoO uptight, look! you can smoke! Cool, right?…
We played frisbee with our counselors on the road next to the rock and I watched as little smokers giggled and climbed up to it. Typically, the counselors would silently laugh and shake their heads, remembering when they were that age… This was a relief to me. It wasn’t all about how you came, but that you were here anyway, flaws and addictions and all. This worked.
A few minutes later, two girls came walking around the corner. Catching the eye of my counselors, I watched as the blood drained from their sweaty faces. The game was put on pause as the two started to whisper to one another. The ladies’ hands were interlocked. Their walk… was a sway, back and forth, playful, sometimes one would whisper something into another’s ear and the other would return eyes and smile back. They stole kisses all the way past us. I don’t even think they noticed all the jaws that had fallen to the gravel.
This young lesbian couple became the water cooler conversation that every youth group leader was gobbling about. What do we tell the children?? How do we show “truth in love”? What do we do? What do we do?!
One night, a kid in our cabin approached a counselor laying in his bunk, reading the Bible.
“What do you think about those two girls? Because I know that you think its wrong, but I think they look really happy and also, really brave. As a Christian, why do you think its wrong?”
The Cabin leader sighed because he knew this question was bound to come. Folding up his Bible, he turned to the teenager, smiling as he said:
“Well, the way I see it, it is a choice they made, and an understandable one. The girls had probably been through many relationships with men and been hurt. Maybe after too many heartbreaks from guys, each had decided that they couldn’t find love with men, but maybe, they could find love in another woman. I understand why, but its still completely sinful.”
When condoning and encouraging the illegal use (we were all under 18) of a harmful substance is okay, but two girls holding hands is a conflict of faith, you know there is something wrong with evangelicalism. That trip, the hypocrisy of it all, struck me so deeply. Even within an organization that seeks the kids on the margins, social stigmas still override the most basic understanding on what it means to lead with love. This wasn’t the fifties. This was 2006 and all of us knew what smoking did and how addiction in and of itself is a form of idolatry. And we all were well aware of how gay kids had been picked on by Christian culture.
Maybe this was all my fault. Instead of reading the Bible for myself, I allowed leaders pass in and out of my life, telling me what made God uncomfortable and what made him really freaking pissed off.
Yet… God still showed up there. Sassy, but certainly there.
It was in something that was said. Something that instilled a little miniscule sliver of hope that there were others out there. Other believers beyond this place. Others that would stand up for me and love me and want me to be in their cabin.
That teenage kid nodded and smiled back at my counselor, slowly saying.
“My brother’s best friend is gay. What you just said is bull shit.”