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This story was written by Luanna Hedler from BRAZIL.

Respect is key, especially when it comes to religion.

My parents are not extremely religious, but God has always been a very important part of our family since I was little. We go to the church every time we can. I consider that being educated by the Protestant Church is a good thing for me.

When I was a teenager I entered a church group with people my age 12 – 14. It was awesome to gather with young people like me; people who had the same beliefs

and doubts about how to live among non-religious people, or people who make fun of God. That was my issue during school and high school. I always felt like when I was in church or in my church group I was free of every judgment, jokes and bullying and I could be myself. When I was at school, I needed to act like the others to be part of the group and be cool. I even got a little distant from the church because I was afraid my school friends would find out I had a band that sang praise songs and that I pray to God and Jesus Christ. This was a long period – about almost 10 years of my life – because in graduation it was no easier for me either.

It seems as if everybody is atheist – not believing in anything and thinking that people who do are weird. So I thought I needed to accept and be ok with it, without expressing my opinion about religion. Because God and Jesus were not well accepted by the others, even though I always respected everyone else’s beliefs and religions.

Fear and shame are not cool feelings, not at all. They make you feel small, afraid of being yourself, afraid of not being accepted by society and especially by your friends or the people you like. But in the end, when you realise you are lying to yourself, you feel even worse because you don’t need anyone’s approval but your own.

I feel like sharing this with you because this turning point in my life, this acceptance and freedom came by empowerment stories. Empowered friends made me strong enough to go over it after understanding what was going on with me, and that I had a way out. I needed to comprehend that from now on, what I have hidden for so long would be exposed. I promised to myself I would never hide it again.

It is hard to deal with others and with your mind every day, but I always replay this in my mind: I don’t have to be ashamed of the religious part of my personality and true self. When you have the courage to live for yourself, for your happiness, for your beliefs and not pay attention to haters or people who dislike you, that’s when you grow and become a great person for yourself and for the world.

This story was part of Safety First for Girls (SAFIGIs) #SharingNotShaming campaign.

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