Today, I am sitting in a coffee shop that I used to frequent nearly 5 years ago, back in my lonely days of tears and fears and deep sorrow. My only company, in that dreadful season, was cheap coffee and the rich pages of Brene Brown – the wise spiritual mentor who helped me keep living and daring, even when I didn’t want to.
Today, I find myself on the other side of my deepest grief and pain, to date. However, as I sit here, the tears fill my eyes with ease – remembering my heartbreak. Remembering the throbbing pulse of loss, the ache of seeming abandonment, the recurring thought that perhaps I wouldn’t live through the deep, guttural agony that overtook my being. The thought that perhaps I didn’t want to live through.
It’s June now. Colorado is reminding me more and more of Tennessee – green has overtaken the landscape I call home and I am reminded that every winter has its end. Beauty does rise out of the ashes. Life overcomes death with its waking.
June is Pride month. And while others will share the history of Pride and why the LGBTQ community celebrates this month, I want to share with you what Pride means to me.
First, I know that I have many friends that read my writing and see my life updates and probably silently pray that something will “happen” to change my theology and worldview back to one resembling their own. If that is you…if you, friend, are reading this now and measuring the years long passed by the silences between us, I want you to know I still love you. I still love the God that crossed our paths. And I would love for you to keep reading and hear my heart.
When I was 5, I had my first real “crush” on a girl I met in Hawaii as my family vacationed. She was gorgeous. And sure, I was a kid. But every kid has had a crush on a teacher or someone years beyond them in life. That is the first time I remember experiencing jealousy – when she would leave the pool area to go play with those her own age.
When I was in second grade, I had a crush on our substitute teacher but I didn’t have words for it. I just knew she made me really nervous and I would forget how to talk around her.
Middle school and high school were fun. I started to crush on girls more my age. Silently, shamefully. Afraid that I would be found out, I turned towards church involvement and busyness to keep me from feeling so painfully different from those I did life with. I was so afraid my friends and family would find out and be repulsed by me. That they would tell me I was “broken” or filled with “sin.” That they would say I didn’t love or know God.
When I was 11, I started writing songs. It was my way to process my crushes on girls without anyone finding out. Looking back, I could read lyrics from over a decade ago and identify exactly which girl the song was written about. But one lyric stands out the most –
“Damn me. Damn these lies. My heart is in my stomach, my world is compromised.”
A 12 year old kid wrote that. And that kid was me.
I share this because I think it is a lot harder to hate a kid than to hate an adult with a different life experience than your own. Looking back, I feel a great deal of compassion for my child self. I wish she had someone to talk to. I wish she didn’t internalize every fleeting comment by Christians and churches that condemned the gay community and painted LGBT persons as monsters.
My parents never told me they were repulsed by me. They never told me, as a child, that I was broken or that something was wrong with me. And yet, I kept my secret in silence and tried to repress and fight that part of myself as much as I could. And I nearly worked myself to death in the process.
In college, I said “yes” to every church activity possible. I lived with my pastor and wife and adored their precious kids and poured myself into the families in my church community. (Sidenote: I am still so thankful for that season. Kids help us to take ourselves less seriously and they never judge us. The kids knew I would rather strap on rollerblades and play hockey with them for 3 hours than play dolls/have a makeup party, even if only for 10 minutes. They used to fight over whether I would do the “boy” activities or the “girl” activities. I have to laugh, looking back on it all.)
I was the 20-something “it” girl in a small, contemporary Southern Baptist church in Tennessee. Everyone loved and adored me, perhaps for who I was. But after I came out in 2014, I started to wonder if perhaps they loved me for what I did and how I supported their beliefs rather than for me. And thus, after a painful coming out, I found myself in coffee shops reading Brene Brown just to find the will to live and the hope of belonging after feeling so misunderstood by those I loved so much.
I was drowning in my own desire to be loved. I thought to be loved, I had to cut out parts of myself and fit into a mold I wasn’t made for. I thought to belong, I had to conform to the ideas and beliefs of those around me, even if I didn’t fully agree. I thought to be accepted, I had to withhold my fullness from those I loved. And the fear that kept me silent is the same fear that ate me alive and forced me to eventually confront the harm my silence was inflicting on my being and the relationships with those around me.
And so, that brings me to Pride.
If you have never experienced Pride and/or if you don’t know any LGBTQ persons, you are most likely of the assumption that Pride is all about drinking, sex, dirty dancing, and “pushing the homosexual agenda.”*
*We don’t have an agenda, ps. I know that’s disappointing to a lot of people who hang their hats on this catch phrase.
However, what Pride is really about is restoring human dignity, celebrating belonging, and championing honesty and authenticity over closeted darkness.
While everyone’s specific story is different, one commonality that most of us who identify as L(esbian)G(ay)B(isexual)T(ransgender)Q(ueer) (aka not straight) share is that we all feel a bit misplaced and have felt the loneliness of not belonging to our respective families/faith communities/hometowns/friend groups/etc.
Pride creates a space for our own diversity and stories to be reflected back in the faces around us. Pride symbolizes moving past our shared pain and into the triumph of living authentically, wholly, and worthy of love and belonging. Pride says, “We are worthy of being seen, loved, celebrated, and known,” in response to all the years of silencing parts of our hearts and being and in response to rhetoric which insists that we disappear.
Yes, we dance and we toast and we parade through the streets because the joy of being alive, of being able to love who we love, of being seen and known and loved and celebrated is worth throwing confetti and shutting down the city for a damn fine parade.
Pride is not about trying to make other people gay or saying that we matter most of all. It is merely a way of celebrating that WE MATTER.
Pride is a reclaiming; a declaration that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that no one can refute or diminish that Divine and blessed truth.
So if you have never been to Pride and you live in my area, I invite you to join in the festivities this year. Come see for yourself why this beautiful group of people is worthy of being seen and celebrated. Come march in the parade with us, come brunch with us, come dance with us, come experience the joy of being alive with us. It is unlike anything you’ve probably ever experienced.
To my conservative friends who have taken the time to read this, I thank you, and I hope that your hearts and eyes will be opened to seeing and loving the uniquely beautiful individuals who identify as part of the LGBT community. We have so much love to give.
To my LGBT brothers, sisters, and genderqueer folks – I am so damn proud of you and am so very happy we get to reign in another year of Pride together.
We belong to each other. We belong.
Happy Pride, ya’ll.
Throwing all the rainbow confetti in your direction!
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”
One of the great wonders of the birth of Jesus is how it signaled the inclusion of those who did not fit into society’s view of an audience fit for a king. Throughout Jesus’ life and ministry, he sought to draw near and lift up those who were depicted as outcasts, vagrants, and inferior. This legacy began with his birth.
Besides Mary, the shepherds were the only ones who were directly told of Jesus’ birth. Herod and Joseph were visited in dreams. But Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel and the shepherds were visited by a multitude of angels – singing and glorifying God amidst their birth announcement.
Today, we memorialize these shepherds in countless [white-washed] versions of the nativity. We picture the fields lighting up as this respectable bunch of sleepless sheep-herders descended from their fields in order to make good on their personal invitation to the bedside of Christ Jesus.
However, we too often forget that this profession was not one of great honor or recognition. Shepherds were nomadic people, who often traveled with their flock and would not frequently be found in the company of others from differing professions. They spent most of their time with animals and were probably not very well-dressed or clean or “presentable” for a king. And yet, they were the chosen audience to gather around the manger which held the Savior of the world.
The setting of Jesus’ birth would have made the shepherds feel right at home. Their own scents – the smoke of a fire, the stench of manure, the must of dirt-stained garments – masked within the smells of a stable. The animals, familiar. The baby, out of place.
Descending into the physical limitations of earth, bound up in the soft flesh of humanity, Yahweh became a helpless child and placed himself at the feet of those he came to love and lead and serve. Not only did he invite the shepherds to bear witness to his unceremonious birth, he also entered the world in a space that was familiar and known to those with whom he shared his first breaths. And he went on, throughout his ministry, to allude to shepherds in terms of honor and respect in several parables.
As clearly as Jesus entered the world without pomp and circumstance but rather, humbly and meekly, so he also entered the world with a determination to lift up the lowly and exalt the humble and meek into places of great honor.
There is no single narrative when it comes to knowing and being known by the Lord. We all practice presence in our own ways. But this is clear: those whom Jesus called – and continues to call – often confound the expectations of those who claim to know God best.
During our current season of such religious and political strife, when marginalized people groups are vulnerable and exposed to extreme judgement, hatred, and oppression, it is important to note that the news of Jesus’ birth was declared to be good news “for all people.” All are welcome. All are invited to join in the celebration. There is room for everyone at the table.
He lifts up the lowly. He humbles those who are already exalted and exalts those who are humble. The shepherds did not expect an invitation or place at the table. But their invitation was sealed and their seats of honor were waiting. How they identified, from then on, was changed – because they had an encounter with Jesus unlike any other.
If you are among the marginalized…
If you feel like the black sheep of your family…
If you have ever been hated or misunderstood or alienated…
If you can identify with a longing to be included in the mystery and goodness of Jesus’ love and affection when others have attempted to disqualify you…
This good news is for you.
Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. No one can revoke your invitation, because Jesus has already reserved a seat at the table for you.
On this Christmas day, perhaps you don’t feel like there is a place for you at your family table or in a church pew or singing along to a familiar Christmas song. Maybe you feel completely unseen and alone. Perhaps it all feels hard and heavy and wearisome.
But in spite of that feeling, know that you are loved and seen and that there is a special place of belonging and familiarity reserved only for you in which you can see and feel and know that Emmanuel is here – with and for you – and that goodness is yours, too.
You are written into the story in a way unlike any other. Your encounter with the Divine is precious and valid and does not need to be witnessed by someone else who is more religious, or prosperous, or devout in order to be valid and beautiful and holy.
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people.”
May the goodness find you today.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
As with any great story, the story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is surrounded and supported by a hundred other narratives from a variety of perspectives. There are so many players on the timeless stage of the nativity scene. There are so many storylines that intersect when a star casts its light on an unassuming stable below.
Mary, the bold and courageous mother of the promised Messiah. Who, great with child, endured a long journey – not intending to labor amongst straw and cattle – to register in the town of her husband’s lineage.
Joseph, the carpenter: betrothed to Mary, visited in dreams by an angel of the Lord, who travels to the city of David for a census, along with his very pregnant wife.
The shepherds. The wise men. The angels.
[Perhaps even a little drummer boy.]
And a tyrant king.
And thus, another storyline begins.
Scene: Southern Palestine, 73 BCE
A child is born to Antipater, a man of Arab descent, known for his wealth and influence and his close dealings with Rome. In fact, Antipater so ingratiated himself with Julius Caesar and his family, that Antipater and his son were granted Roman citizenship.
The name of his son?
Herod. Later to be known as Herod the Great, or King Herod.
Herod was thrust into political influence and rule by his father’s appointment. He was favored by others in power and nominated as the King of Judea in 37 BCE, after finding refuge in Rome in the aftermath of Palestine’s civil war.
This king was known for the palaces and fortresses he built, as well as the prestigious company he kept, such as Mark Antony, Cleopatra, and Agrippa, to name a few.
Perhaps his most fascinating and elaborate achievement was rebuilding the Temple of Jerusalem. The same Temple in which the Ark of the Covenant would later reside.
But at the intersection of Jesus’ birth, we know him as the tyrant king who ordered the genocide of all male children in and around Bethlehem. His paranoia and mental instability had gotten the better of him and in his fear of being second-best – of being relegated to a lesser title and a less formidable rule – he sought to end the lives of all would-be competitors for the throne.
In his attempt to eliminate the possibility of a rumored “king of the Jews,” Herod sent out the Magi as spies to seek out Jesus’ location and report back their findings. When the Magi never returned to Herod, he took matters into his own hands by ordering the slaughter of all male children under two years old.
What history tells us, that is left out from the Biblical narrative, is that Herod was in deteriorating physical and mental health. He even murdered one of his wives, in a fit of jealousy, along with her entire family and her two sons. He later murdered his oldest son.
“His mental instability, moreover, was fed by the intrigue and deception that went on within his own family…He was in great pain and in mental and physical disorder. He altered his will three times and finally disinherited and killed his firstborn, Antipater. The slaying, shortly before his death, of the infants of Bethlehem was wholly consistent with the disarray into which he had fallen.” [Source: Brittanica.com]
Herod the Great was, in spite of his title, a tortured and paranoid ruler, perhaps inflicted with a touch of narcissism that fueled his belief that he was the great savior that his nation and the Jewish people so desperately needed.
I cannot help but notice the similarities between the infamous antagonist of the nativity story and the modern day political figure who continues to plague the nation of his rule with paranoia, fear, and violence.
And yet, amidst the reckless and devastating dealings of a tormented and mentally unstable king…
Amidst bloodshed and fear and devastation as an entire generation of men was annihilated in one town….
Amidst injustice and dirty politics and unfathomable wrongs…
The scene we find in that stable in Bethlehem is one of hope and redemption and love and victory. As light dawned in the darkness of that long, not-so-silent night, a Great Light also arose over the Jewish people – and over all humankind – as a prophecy was fulfilled and the King with no throne, and everlasting rule, was born.
It is no small miracle that the story of Jesus’ birth unfolds amidst a political climate of greed and violence and seeming hopelessness. It is no small coincidence that, in slaughtering so many children, Herod was fulfilling Jeremiah’s long foretold prophecy. And it is no small miracle that, steered away from the dangers of Judea, Joseph led his family to settle in Nazareth, thus, fulfilling the prophecies that Jesus would be from the city of David.
For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
Amidst our present political climate, we are witnessing so many, who proclaim to follow Jesus, sell out the poor, the sick, the forgotten, and the marginalized, all for the sake of political gain. In spite of this devastation, it can be easy to lose hope in faith, in religion, in the promise that light will conquer darkness.
However, we must remember that the promised Messiah defied the empire from birth, merely by existing.
And throughout his life, Jesus continued to defy political tyrants and hypocritical religious figures by countering their culture of division and hierarchy with a culture of inclusion and love, in which equity and justice reign.
Just as we remember the narrative of Mary and Joseph –
Just as we remember the shepherds in the fields and the Magi who brought gifts of great worth –
Just as we remember the innkeeper who turned away the Christ child and the animals who witnessed Jesus’ birth –
May we also remember the tyranny into which Jesus was born. The world may have been bleak, but it was not without hope. A tyrant felt threatened by the presence of a small baby, whose legacy of love and hope preceded him. Whose promise of deep and abiding peace upset an entire empire.
May we continue to run into love and hope, this Advent season. And into the fullness of the peace of Christ – that such peace may reign wherever fear threatens to linger.
History has elevated Mary, the mother of Jesus, to a place of honor and reverence. The holy mother who bore the Son of God. However, this is not the same Mary we encounter in the hour of the angel Gabriel’s arrival. Rather, we encounter a young girl, given a holy promise without any proof of the miracle foretold.
We encounter a young woman of great faith who endures scorn and shame from a society that did not believe her account of events. And I wonder if, perhaps, this Mary has something to say to us all.
As Mary’s body began to change – as it stretched and grew with child – her friends and family presumed her to be nothing more than a cheating harlot who brought shame to her family, her town, and the man to whom she was pledged to be married. Everyone expected her betrothed, Joseph, to denounce Mary as his wife, marking her as untouchable and damning her to a life of shame and struggle. In her culture, Mary had no social merit or value without a man to vouch for her.
And yet, Yahweh – the God of Abraham – spoke a new destiny over her with the announcement that she would carry within her the divine made flesh. Even in her own uncertainty of how events would play out, Mary praised the Lord, calling him “blessed” and “exalted” and “merciful.” Mary carried within her a quiet knowing that neither required proof nor the validation of others to make it true.
Not only did the angel Gabriel explain to Mary how it was to be that she would carry a child, though she was a virgin; he also gave her the name of a trusted confidante in whom a miracle was also growing. In her wisdom, Mary left her hometown to seek out her distant cousin – perhaps whom she had never met – so that she could celebrate this miracle with someone who shared her deep and abiding faith: Elizabeth.
Somehow, Mary was not overcome by doubt or disbelief in the face of those who disbelieved her and perhaps shunned her during her pregnancy. Rather, Mary tethered herself to the Lord and to his promise and sought out a friend in whom she could confide and find spiritual shelter amidst her days of expectancy.
How beautiful. How profound.
That the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob would entrust this miracle to two women. That Joseph and other men would only later be let in on the divine secret of Jesus’ prophetic birth. That it would not be up to Mary to prove herself, but rather up to the Lord to intercede on her behalf.
Mary was not the subservient picture of a woman that society had come to expect. She did not keep her head down and she did not apologize for her account of events. Mary clung to what she knew to be true – even in the face of shame and blame and a society that attempted to make her the scapegoat.
Fortunately, the Lord looped Joseph in and gave Mary an advocate in her husband. But the validity of God’s promise and Mary’s innocence never rested in the approval or understanding of Joseph. Joseph became Mary’s help-mate. Her trusted companion. Joseph took the journey alongside Mary, perhaps also becoming entangled in the scandal surrounding Jesus’ birth. He, too, was of great faith. But the nativity story centers on Mary and her unwavering faith and trust in the Lord – with or without the validation of man.
I wonder if perhaps Mary contemplated all that she might lose – all that could be at stake – if she received Gabriel’s news with a trusting and faithful heart. I wonder if she felt the sorrow of being shunned, the anger at being scandalized, the hurt at being scorned, the helplessness at being disbelieved.
Perhaps her trust in the Lord and his faithfulness outweighed every risk, every loss, every ache. Perhaps the Lord’s provision of Elizabeth was the anchor she needed to hold her head high and stand in her truth. Perhaps the faith of her childhood was the hope she needed to sustain her in the loneliness.
Perhaps her quiet and unrelenting courage has always been and always will be too profound, too holy for words.
Four years ago today, I loaded up my shiny new Subaru with all that would fit, and made the long drive from Nashville to Denver.
I was a scared, shell of myself and I felt so alone. But I could taste the sweet freedom that God had waiting for me in the land of the Rockies.
After living in Africa for 6 months, I returned to Tennessee – rocked by reverse culture shock – with a seeming inability to relate to the world I had left before. My faith had been stretched, my theology of doctrine above all else had been eroded by the movement of the Spirit that I had no tidy explanation for. My understanding of Church and my place in it had been shaken and my entire worldview was uprooted.
I came back changed. And resolved to lean into a season of brutal honesty, whatever that might look like.
Four years ago today, I never could have imagined the loneliness, heartbreak, devastation, or agony that awaited me. I never would have imagined that I would barely talk to my family for a year after coming out and living half my life in secret, afraid of being completely cast off.
But I also never would have imagined how much my honesty with myself would completely transform life as I knew it. I never knew how deep friendships could go and how steadfast they would remain, even in the most brutal of storms.
Four years ago today, I didn’t know that I would despair of life completely in 2014. That I almost wouldn’t make it through a year of living in Colorado. That I almost wouldn’t make it at all.
But I also didn’t know that my love for Jesus would grow as my faith in institutionalized religion would fade. And I didn’t know that friends could become so much like family and that family could grow back to a place of love and reconciliation, even if not built on a foundation of agreement.
I didn’t know that I would go to a bunch of faith-based LGBT conferences in 2015, embark on a three week silent retreat in 2016, or launch my coaching business in 2017.
I didn’t know that I would one day feel at home in myself – no longer a stranger to my deepest fears and deepest desires. I didn’t know that one day I would feel free. That my wholeheartedness would sometimes feel devastating, because I was finally allowing myself to feel all my honesty for the first time.
Just as I could not comprehend the agony of my own dying, I could not begin to imagine the beauty and life of my own resurrection.
More and more, I believe there is really something to that radical Jesus. And I’m so grateful that, in my darkest and brightest of days, I never had to walk through it alone.
So here’s to growth. To being brutally honest with yourself. To learning to live in pure authenticity with others. To embracing the hard, the messy, the heartbreaking, the divine, the beautiful.
I hope you find your way out of death and into resurrection.
Those tomb days feel as if they will never end.
But they will. And they do.
Hold onto hoping.