When I was little, I loved books. I couldn’t WAIT until I could actually read one. Things back then were different then when my kids were in school. They were reading in kindergarten. I don’t remember reading until the 2nd grade and even then it was SO painful. Those darn Dick and Jane books. So boring to me! I wanted to sink my teeth into something a little more adventurous then “See Spot run. Run Spot run!” (smile)
Well as it turns out, maybe the elementary school that I went to in the city was a bit behind. They wanted me to skip the 3rd grade and go into the 4th because I was ahead of my class. My parents didn’t want to do this so they pulled me out and I started going to a private Catholic school. Good thing! Boy was I behind…especially in math. The kids in my class were reviewing their time tables at the beginning of the school year and I had never learned them! And so began the time in my life that I refer to as flash card hell. Hours upon hours sitting at the kitchen table with my dad going over those darn times tables.
Being behind in my studies was hard, but for the first time in my young life I realized that I was different. At least different then my fellow classmates. As I mentioned, this was a Catholic school…and I wasn’t Catholic. I was the only non-Catholic in my 3rd grade class. It made me feel a bit like an alien.
So now I was in this new school trying to catch up on my math skills and I had this new thing I had to learn….religion. Specifically the Catholic religion. I had to learn it, memorize a lot of it, pass tests about it, but I wasn’t allowed to practice it. After all…I was not Catholic. It made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. From the 3rd grade all the way through 12th, I was left to sit in the pews while my classmates participated in sacraments like communion and confession. At my 8th grade graduation, I was not eligible for the scholarship for high school because…you guessed it…I wasn’t Catholic.
I don’t regret my time in Catholic schools. In fact, I really liked the sacredness of the mass. When I go to a Catholic mass these days, I still remember all the words…when to sit and when to stand. To this day during communion in my non-denominational church I still say these words to myself…”Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but just say the word and I shall be healed.” But I can say that as a young child, I felt out of place. I felt like I was not good enough. And I felt like because I wasn’t part of this special “club”, I was going to hell. After all…that’s what they taught us.
Here’s the kicker though…if I had wanted to…I could have become Catholic. All it would have taken was going to some classes and voila…I would be Catholic. I didn’t think that was necessary though. Even though I didn’t have a lot of knowledge at the time about God other than what I was taught in school, I just didn’t think I needed to change who I was for Him to love me and not send me to hell.
When I think back to those times, it gives me a small inkling as to what my LGBTQ friends must go through everyday. There are many differences, but the big one that stands out to me is the fact that they can’t change who they are like I could change my religious affiliation if I had wanted.
Many people tell me that change is possible because they know someone who was gay and is now no longer gay. There were several stories like that when I did some research when my son came out. I held onto those stories for dear life. And quite frankly I wasted 5 years of my life clinging to those stories while my child was contemplating leaving this world. Each story that I had found years later turned out to be a lie. Maybe that is too strong of a word. I think the people truly wanted change and thought it was possible. Some of them were of the mindset of “Fake it to you make it.” Sadly many hurt people were left in their wake.
I’m not going to say it isn’t impossible. God can do anything after all. But I think taking one person’s story and expecting it to fit thousands of others is just wrong…in fact I think it’s cruel. If a person is given a miracle and cured of cancer because they prayed to be healed, is it fair of us to tell other people who aren’t receiving that miracle that their faith is too weak, or they aren’t trying hard enough? Gay people are told if they just surrender to God or have faith in God, then they can change their sexuality. What many people don’t realize is that many of them already have faith in God, have turned their lives over to God (often times before they even know they are gay), and have surrendered to God. And you know what happens? They are told that they aren’t broken. That they are loved just the way they are.
I have heard so many stories from gay Christians about how their family or their church think it would be easy for them to change. Many of them are heart wrenching. Today I have the privilege of sharing part of my dear friend Elyse’s story. I met Elyse at the Reformation Project conference in DC back in November of 2014. It was my first conference regarding the LGBTQ community. It was amazing and I met a lot of great people…Elyse being one of them. We became friends on Facebook and kept up with each other through the years. I got to see her again this past January at the Gay Christian Network conference. And just recently we went to the Our Shared Humanity conference in Baltimore together and she was able to spend a few days with my family. It was during this time that I learned a little more of her story. I’m happy to be able to share it here as I can only shed so much light on this topic.
Although I would not have actively taken my own life, I was at a place in the mid 1980’s where I was praying to die every day. In the loneliness and despair of an unhappy 10 year marriage, I tried desperately to pray away the gay.
I felt I was a failure as a Christian, and a wife. I believed I was just a broken human being, incapable of being normal after years of unanswered prayer to remove this burden, this thorn in the flesh. I believed it was my cross to bear, but it was too heavy.
In the last year of my marriage, I began to lay down every day, to hold my breath, and try to will my heart to stop beating. Even though I wanted my life to end, I wanted my death to appear to be from natural causes. After years of professing faith in a wonderful, loving God that sent Jesus, I didn’t want to tarnish God’s reputation by taking my life. I wasn’t worried about going to hell, I just didn’t want to tarnish my testimony and make people think God was powerless.
It never occurred to me that perhaps God wasn’t answering my prayers to be cured of these unwanted feelings, because there was nothing wrong with me. I simply believed that the failure was mine. Somehow, I just wasn’t praying the right way, or doing enough to change how I felt inside.
Thankfully, God didn’t answer my prayers to die. I was nearing 40 before I began to allow the Holy Spirit to open my eyes to a new way of understanding the scriptures that I had believed condemned me all my life.
During the first year of my marriage, God spoke to me in a voice that was so loud and clear, it was nearly audible to the ear. God said, “I want to empty you out of all your preconceived ideas about me, and all the things that man has taught you, and I will teach you anew.” That was in 1976.
Ten years later, I am getting a divorce, feeling completely broken and “empty.” While in prayer one day, after reading one of my favorite devotionals about laying all my burdens at God’s feet, I cried out saying, “I just can’t live like this anymore. I don’t know what is going to happen, but I know I just can’t do this anymore.” Once again, a voice came through, loud and clear. God said, “it is about time you recognized that, now I can finally begin a work in you.” I immediately felt a great peace, and that a great weight had been lifted, after years of inner turmoil. I had been “emptied out,” brought to the end of myself, standing at the edge of a cliff with nowhere else to go. Now God could begin fulfilling the second part of teaching me anew.
It still took many years for me to reconcile what I now felt in my heart about God’s love, with my understanding of the scriptures. It has been a long incredible journey. I am going to be 66 years old in less than a month, and I am so grateful for an amazing life that God has blessed me with. I still haven’t found the life companion that I strongly hope for, but there is such freedom in at least believing in the possibility that there might be someone out there for me, as opposed to believing that what I long for could never be because it’s an abomination to God.
I now know what it means to be truly free in Christ. Free to ask hard questions, and to live each day in the confidence that God’s love for me is without end. There is such freedom in knowing that there is nothing I can do to make God love me more than he already does, and that there is absolutely nothing that can ever make God stop loving me.
I hope you can feel the love that Elyse has for God in her story. It’s not something that she took lightly. She didn’t just “believe what she wanted to believe.” She spent years searching the heart of God. There are many stories like hers. I hope you will remember her when you are in conversation with someone from the LGBTQ community or about the LGBTQ community. If you have a question for Elyse, or would like to hear more of her story, let me know. I’m protective of her so I’m not going to put her contact info here. She is open to conversation so if that is something you are interested in I can get you in touch with her.
Thank you Elyse for opening your heart to us. It is sacred space. Love you friend.
And love matters…