The Breaking of Me: A Hand Me Down Tale
We stood at the trunk of my car, neither of us knowing exactly what to say. The summer sun shone bright and I could feel the heat on my skin. “You are so brave,” he finally said. I felt anything but brave. I loaded the last box and tried to smile.
“This will cost me everything,” I said knowingly.
He reached for my hand and then let it fall, tears forming in both our eyes, as he turned and walked back inside the church.
I looked around at the church that was once my safe harbor and the genesis of so many dreams. I stared at the stained glass window of Christ and wondered if he would have kicked me out, too. I didn’t think so, but the thought still bubbled to the surface along with so many other doubts.
The plans for a new church plant were now nothing more than scraps of paper containing ideas that would never see the light of day. As I watched my would-be co-pastor walk into the church, I knew the door was closing on what could have been and our time in ministry together. The teams we had poured into, the presentations given, the hours of prayer, and the months of work all gone in with one simple, yet profound declaration, “I’m gay.”
One moment I was a talented, inspiring, up-and-coming pastor with all the gifts and graces to lead – even lifted up at General Conference as starting a new and profound kind of church focused on missional communities. In the next, I was an abomination, assumed adulteress, and astonishing disappointment. It was a lot to carry and the load was more than I could bear.
What followed was years of sifting through the rubble of my once upon a time life. Hours of therapy to finally accept who God had created me to be – regardless of the faith tradition of my past or the wants and needs of my family. Trying desperately to make sense of it to my soon-to-be ex-husband and our two children all the while not sure any of it really made sense to me. I didn’t feel brave at all. I felt like a farce and a failure.
It’s amazing the things we do for love. The love and need for family is a powerful force, one that can be filled with so much potential, and at the same time, so much pain. Fear of losing love, abandonment, and disappointing those I love held me captive for forty years. I learned to live a lie and lie to myself, to hold onto what I had and what I thought I needed. I relentlessly and intricately built a life that would be pleasing and acceptable to those around me and the God they raised me to believe in. I followed all the rules, pursued every idea, and tried desperately to conform for their comfort. After 40 years, I broke.
It didn’t happen all at once. It wasn’t like one day the plate slipped and crumbled into a thousand pieces on the floor. No, it started with a tiny crack that ever so slightly let light in. Hours in a discipleship group for pastors exploring what it meant to be a beloved child of God, in whom God is well pleased, was a paradigm shift that made me reflect on my life and the unconditional love I had for my own children.
Was it really possible for God to love me with such love?
Could God, the creator of the universe look at my life and call me Beloved?
Was God truly pleased with the thoughts, desires, and wants that coursed through my veins?
Trying to live into the notion that there is nothing I could do or say to make God love me any more or any less left me feeling uncertain about the rules, obedience, and works focus of the faith tradition I had inherited from my family.
Sitting in seminary classes, I learned to read scripture in light of its historical context, literary genre, and different theological lenses. Struggling to learn the original language of the Bible, Hebrew, and Greek, coupled with an extensive exploration of the scriptures left me questioning if the interpretation that had been handed down to me had been the full and rich explanation of the text. I discovered that a “literal translation” is still merely the translation of privileged white men across thousands of years, several different languages, and cultural contexts. I began to search and scrutinize scripture, interpreting, deciphering, and deciding for myself what I believed them to mean.
I prayed. Sweet Jesus, did I pray! I prayed God would show me a way to live an honest and authentic life. I prayed Jesus would give me a pass – I didn’t want to take up my cross anymore and follow him. I pleaded for an easy road, a way out, and even, God help me, for my life to end. How could I stand before a community of faith and declare, “God loves you just as you are,” and “You are a beloved child of God. There is nothing, no-thing you could ever do to make God love you any more or any less,” if I was living a lie. If I could not be authentically me, the person God created me to be, then I had no business in the business I was in.
One by one, little by little, moment by moment, the cracks added up until one day, I broke. I sat on the cool green grass at a local park and realized, I’m either going to become a raging alcoholic or I’m going to kill myself. Since I was well on my way to being an alcoholic, I figured the latter wasn’t far behind. What did this mess of a life I created mean for my kids, my husband, my family…for me? I didn’t like and no longer believed the understanding of God that was given to me. I could no longer accept the notion that was handed down to me – that putting others before self was holy and righteous – when putting others’ feelings and comfort level above who God created me to be led to such guilt, shame, and fear. That was not holy. Surely, that is not of God.
And so began the journey of the one-time hand-me-down girl, who was determined, with God’s help, to build an authentic, honest, resilient woman.