Huge Grace…Really?

O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. (Psalm 71:17)

I have been challenged more than once in the last couple of weeks to define what “my message” is. Why do I write? What drives me to love church ministry work and to fight for social justice? If I had only one message to give to the world, what would it be? The answer is grace. I’m not famous. People don’t create hashtags about things I do, but I have the platform the Lord has given me. I want the people who I encounter to know they are loved and accepted by the Lord, that they are precious in God’s sight and that no one has to do anything to earn that. This isn’t something I’ve always believed for myself, but when I came to accept that, it was the biggest game changer in my life. I know there are people who don’t feel comfortable in church settings. I know there are people who have heard terrible insults and verbal attacks directed at them that no one should ever experience. I know there are people who were raised and perhaps remain in surroundings that reinforced the idea “I’ll never be enough.” I can’t fix any of those things and I can’t erase those memories for people. I can’t repair the damage that the wrecking ball of hate and criticism has caused people. I wish I could. The Lord can, though, that I know. God is rebuilding me and making me into a new creation. I see “mile markers” along the way that remind me that I’m still on a healing journey, but I’m not where I was earlier in my life. So, grace is the message most dear to my heart. I love feeling comfortable in my own skin. I love my healthy relationships. I love that I’m finding my voice, and that I don’t always have to filter my ideas a thousand times before speaking them for fear of not receiving the approval of my listener. Grace is doing a total makeover of my brokenness.

I grew up with a love for the church and I recognize the value added from the pursuit of the spiritual life and the stability that a church family gives to people of all ages. The best thing I gained from being raised in the church was that I was challenged and equipped to develop a personal relationship with God. I understand how to navigate the Bible. I can grasp the richness of hymns and centuries old traditions. While no congregation or denomination is perfect, I felt like I was provided with many opportunities to develop a strong spiritual foundation. I’m thankful for the many people who invested part of their lives into my life. Grace has been at work for me from my first breath.

One of my biggest struggles, which for decades was a silent struggle, was reconciling my homosexuality with my faith. As many people understand, the Christian church culture, in most settings, isn’t friendly to people who are different. Churches often tout that everyone is welcome but people’s different-ness is quickly recognized and verbal and nonverbal messaging begins to assimilate the person to fall in line, and to act and believe like the rest. When it comes to those who don’t fill the typical church mold, the more they adapt to the church setting and begin to act and speak like the crowd, the more they are applauded and praised. They’re told, “I can really see that the Lord is working in you.” What that actually means is, “You’re behaving in a way that keeps me more comfortable. I’m glad God’s fixing you.” It’s easy to see why so many people keep so many of their different feelings or opposing viewpoints silent. Everyone longs for community; God has wired us to be at our best when we are living life with others. I really had planned to keep my “gayness” quiet. If no one knew there was “a problem” with me, then maybe there wasn’t a problem at all. When you’re gay, blending in is the way you “straighten up” and act like people who are accepted as “normal.”

I didn’t admit to being gay until I was in my late 30s. I really thought, based on the messaging I grew up with, that my attraction to females was just “weird feelings” (that’s what I called those feelings since childhood). I thought for some reason my mind was sick and that if I just got healthy and spiritual enough, I would become like everyone else. (It’s odd to think that God designed so much diversity into creation and yet many of us work ridiculously hard to all be the same.) My young journey that I was navigating to be healthier and holier, so I could be like everyone else, had just the opposite effect. I was chronically depressed and growing to like myself less and less. I’ve struggled with depression to the point of being suicidal since I was 13 years old. So, my best attempt to walk the straight and narrow led me into a lonely pit. I didn’t feel like I could risk telling any of my secrets because being accepted gave me the security I longed for. I noticed that many of us church people had an air about us (for a variety of reasons). We were all commitment and no joy. We kept things going, tried to avoid rocking the boat, and we had an exquisite ability to define the indisputable line between right and wrong. In retrospect, it all seems crazy to me now that I feel at home in my own skin, at home in my spiritual life and at home in a church community. Now I see my journey as lots of commitment, peace and joy. (There are occasions of pain, tears and frustrations, but living in community makes those tough things easier to bear.)

I turned a corner on this after I sought out help from other people of faith who saw things differently than what I had always accepted to be rock solid truth. Along with professional counseling there was a small group of people who challenged me and pointed out the inconsistencies in my belief system. I spent a lot of time in prayer and reading the Bible and actually talking about my fears of rejection and my doubts. I feel like I had developed a firm spiritual foundation but there were a few things about God that I had to relearn and accept as truth. I had always known that God loves everyone but accepting God’s love for me was a discipline that required more than just head knowledge. That truth had to take root in my heart. The Lord healed me of thinking I would never be good enough and that accepting myself as gay was a blessing and not a curse. Earlier in my life my personal prayer times were tortured conversations where I would start out the prayer by giving all these huge apologies for how I had screwed things up and how I was so imperfect. It was like my disclaimer before each prayer – “God please don’t hate me even though I am so messed up.”  Finally, one day I felt like God said to me, “Will you please quit trying to talk me out of loving you?” When I quit trying to disqualify myself from God’s unconditional love, healing happened.

Admitting that I was gay to many of my lifelong friends and family was difficult. After all, I know how people talk about gay people when they think no gay people are around. I was confident that I would continue to be loved, but I also knew that things would forever change with some. Some of the conversations went really well, others were not pleasant at all. It was a hard time, but nothing nearly as bad as the days when I hated myself so bad that I wouldn’t even look in a mirror. “Coming out” was a matter of integrity for me and I made a commitment to never hide myself for the comfort of others. I will not sacrifice my peace for any person on this earth, because I remember how bad it was living without peace. I ended up leaving the church denomination that I attended all my life. I felt like I had been abandoned by the church, there wasn’t a place there for me anymore. Like I said, I would have continued to be loved, but I couldn’t be associated with a group that would relegate me to spectator status when I had always enjoyed participating in ministry. I wasn’t kicked out, but I knew full well the church’s views on the LGBTQ community. I wasn’t going to be the person who needed to be fixed. I wasn’t going to be kept from full participation in a community because of who God created me to be. All of those things would have just reinforced the negative unhealthy mindset that the Lord was healing me out of.

As I was making those changes people would ask me, “How do you skirt around what the Bible says about being gay?” Well- I don’t, and I would hope that anyone who has ever known me knows that I would never sacrifice my relationship with God for a phase or a newly adopted philosophy. First of all, I don’t believe that the Bible speaks against being gay. There are lots of good resources that take a close look at those scriptures that are often used to attack members of the LGBTQ community. Second of all, if the Bible did openly condemn being gay, which it doesn’t, I would like to point out that writers of the Bible spoke against many things that were not accepted during the time when those authors wrote the Bible. Jesus himself doesn’t mention anything against being gay although it was widely a part of the culture long before his birth. When I was growing up people who were divorced were spoken about in hushed tones and whispers. It was so scandalous!! While no one is happy about a failed marriage, the church culture doesn’t widely seem to worry about divorce today.  I will link to some resources at the end if you are interested in exploring the Biblical views on homosexuality. I’m not arguing this issue with anyone ever again. This is not a problem between the Lord and I, and frankly that truth takes priority over my need for anyone’s approval.

I really don’t want to come across as being snarky. I simply want to point out what grace has shown me. Here’s the thing- many of us were raised in a church were very well meaning and sincere humans were doing their best to teach the truth as they understood it. That is something to be thankful for. In life however, you also encounter God who is with you every second, the Creator that you pray to, the Lord you see lived out in people you know  have an authentic relationship with God. The latter is the God that you meet on your knees. Whenever the God that I was taught about by a church comes into conflict with the God that I’ve met on my knees, I’m going to go with the God that I’ve met on my knees every time.

Why do I write? What message do I want those around me to know? I know there are a lot of people who don’t quite fit into places because there’s something different about them. I remember feeling like I would never find a community to worship with who would accept me. I remember feeling like I was so screwed up that I wasn’t really capable of being happy or having joy. I figured I just wasn’t wired that way (like one of the “happy people”) and that was my lot in life. Huge grace gave me things I never thought were possible and replaced things I thought I had lost forever. God’s huge grace fuels my wonderful life, all I had to do was accept it. Everyone was created to live in God’s love. That can’t be invalidated by the actions or words of others. It also can’t be invalidated by the things you say and do to yourself.

There are people who have been disenfranchised from the faith community for many reasons. Heck, there are lots of people that have been marginalized by our country and most of the world. Don’t let whatever makes you different to be used as an excuse to keep you from God’s love. You know how now, in the age of Corona, when you go to the doctor’s office you have to answer a bunch of COVID screening questions before you can be admitted into the treatment area? (“Have you traveled out of the country?” “Have you had a fever or any respiratory symptoms?” …….) Guess what- there are no screening questions when you take a step toward God. Calling out to God is going to lead you to a loving Creator who is anxious to catch up with you, just like a best friend. You are just as loved by God on your best day as you are on your worst day. That my friend is all because of Huge Grace. Continue reading “Huge Grace…Really?”

Good to Know

Lent is over- Easter has come. We’re now a couple weeks into the Easter Season. Most people think of Easter as one great big Sunday. In the Christian church we think of  Easter as just the beginning of the Easter Season. The Easter season lasts for seven Sundays. Just as Lent leads to the Easter season, the Easter season leads to the celebration of Pentecost. I’m not wanting to get “in the weeds” about Christian calendars or religious traditions, I just wanted to explain why I’m still in this Easter mindset. I shared a lot of thoughts about Lent over the last couple of months and I want to wrap that all up. My focus during the Lent season was taking an honest look at the idea of darkness (sin, negativity, pain) and how it infiltrates our lives so thoroughly that we have a hard time recognizing it. You know how life is, you set out on a journey or a time or reflection without ever knowing what’s going to happen along the way, even if you hit your desired destination. There’s always something to learn.

How does Easter change things? Let me start off by saying Easter changes everything. Easter symbolizes new life, new beginnings, new starts. Just as winter, seasons of loss, and all types of endings are necessary and natural, new beginnings sometimes brings relief and renewal. Forced new beginnings don’t always feel good. When I’m forced into a change I didn’t choose to make, I am often resistant and resentful of it. That’s how life rolls. The one thing I try to always be thankful for is the opportunity that comes from new starts. While I don’t always like the changes that life forces me into, I try to be thankful for the opportunity of change, the dynamic nature of life, that fact that opportunities for restarts do exist. I get challenged to think differently, see things from different perspectives, many times getting reacquainted with the maturity and humility required in learning to be a cheerful giver and a thankful receiver. These universal life lessons cycle around over and over.

I want to say just a few things about Easter. It’s not my intention to get into a big theological conversation about why Easter “had to happen,” or “did Jesus have to die.” There are other places where that is discussed and frankly there is plenty of wisdom to be found in all parts of the story. I believe that Jesus was the Son of God, he came to earth to show us what God’s love looked like in the flesh. I believe that Jesus made a lot of people uncomfortable with his teachings and people plotted against him to “shut him up.” Jesus was seen as a threat to the government and the church that he considered himself a part of. Jesus did lots of good things for many people and he taught about God’s love. Jesus was betrayed and denied by people he considered friends and he died from a horribly painful execution. Believers in Jesus hold dear the belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead 3 days after his execution, and that is the bedrock of the Christian faith. It’s the reason why most Christian churches worship on Sundays, because that was the day in which Jesus was raised from the dead.

There are a lot of details to the Easter story. There have been countless retellings, reenactments, songs, poems and stories around this. There are many key lessons that I’m glad that I’ve learned.

  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how I feel when loved ones betray me. It happens to us all.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how it feels when I’m distraught, and despite their best efforts, the members of my support system aren’t always enough.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands how I feel when I’m begging and pouring out my soul in hopes that a heart-breaking situation will just disappear.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands what it feels like when others dislike me because they view me as a threat to how they believe, and they do deliberate things to hurt me.
  • It’s good to know that the Lord understands the agony of when I cry out and feel like I’ve been abandoned by Him.
  • It’s good to know that as I visit with a loved one with an unsure future that the Lord understands the feelings humans have when facing death and can comfort them.
  • It’s good to know that when I’m confronted with my bad deeds, I can look into the face of God and say, “I don’t deserve forgiveness, I’ve done so much wrong, but please have mercy.” Then I hear back from him, “You’re worth it to me, and I’m going to redeem you.”
  • It’s good to know that though my body will be one day committed to a grave, it doesn’t have to be the end of my story. The way I lived and loved will continue to dwell in the hearts of others long after my heart ceases to beat.

A couple weeks ago in church our worship leader sang an old song called “I Don’t Know About Tomorrow.” It made me think about the idea of “tomorrow.” For most of us in the congregation tomorrow was Monday, we had to go back to work. But there was someone in the world who tomorrow would be facing surgery. For others, Monday would be the court date for their divorce. There were some who tomorrow will bury their father. Others will be finalizing the paperwork for their bankruptcy. Someone would undoubtedly lose their best friend that day. Monday would be someone’s best day and someone else’s worst day. Whether your next new beginning/new start/personal Easter is forced on you or chosen by you, it’s good to know that the Lord understands rejection, grief, attack, betrayal, and abandonment. The promise of Easter is no matter how cold and lonely you find yourself as you’re trapped in a tomb, in a little while God is going to open the door and then you will have the option to walk out.

“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’” (Luke 24:36)