Three years ago, circumstances and the powers that be forced me to say good bye to my church family, which also happened to be where I was employed as a pastor. This was not a transition that I willingly chose but in many ways it brought me much needed release. I embraced this forced change in the proverbial fashion: emotionally kicking and screaming – for me that was via the route of a near psychiatric break down. There is so much of that part of my journey that I would like to rewrite, but I know that its impossible work, and that I need to focus my energies on healing and moving forward.
But on this day of remembering my final Sunday with my old congregation and family, I am soberly reminded of what was taken and what I lost in that experience. I lost the remaining pieces of innocence and youth. My thoroughly optimistic worldview has needed constant repair and mending ever since. I lost my connection to my faith community.
Despite personal efforts to repair that bridge, most days community seems so far from my current reality, even though I live amongst the very people who raised me. I lost a piece of my identity. I am no longer referred to as pastor. I am no longer invited to share my gifts in the same ways I had so frequently grown accustomed. I hear nothing from my peers whom I once counted as close friends and confidants. Those who considered themselves to be my mentors have all but vanished. I feel lost. I feel spiritually homeless. I feel confused about so much of my identity. I feel betrayed and let down by the people who I trusted the most.
“You change for two reasons: either you learn enough that you want to, or you’ve been hurt enough that you have to” -unknown
Simply put, this day, March 17th sucks. The waves of anger, hurt, and loss all flood me like a repeatedly crashing wave. Catching my breath seems increasingly more difficult. In the last few weeks, I have spent a considerable amount of time wrestling with how I might reclaim this day in my history. How can I take back a day that was in many ways stolen from me? How can I bring peace, reassurance of self, of God, of community back to this day as a personal reminder that my journey is not bound by the negative markers of pain and loss.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” -Maya Angelou
And it hit me like an unexpected blow to the cheek. Today must be the day that I cleanse myself and shed a fake skin that I have consciously worn for more than six years. Today is the day that I shine a purging light on who I believe myself to be, and that I take ownership for the beautiful form in which I was created. It has taken me many, many years to affirm the following statements and affirmations and it is with a trembling voice I proclaim the following things boldly without fear:
I am gay. I am queer. I question nearly everything. I don’t always fit my assigned gender identity. I am a Christian. I am an Anabaptist-Mennonite. I am called to be a ministering person. I am married. I am a father. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a friend. I am called to share my love. I am called out of the darkness to live without shame and fear.
“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the BRAVEST thing we’ll ever do.” – Brene Brown
This journey towards self-acceptance has been tumultuous and full of many detours, and I fully recognize that I am far from finished with this race. But in the midst of the storm, I know that I am not alone even when it feels like I am. I know that God is near even when I can’t tangibly feel the presence. I know that I have a best friend like no other at my side; a friend who loves me unconditionally for all that I am without clause or hesitation; a friend whom I hardly deserve; a friend who chooses patience and steadfastness despite my emotional highs and lows.
“It’s hard to believe it’ll get better, but having faith that it will is part of the reason that it does.” -unknown
I don’t know where my journey is headed. I don’t know where I’ll land. I don’t know how my story will affect those who don’t already know it. But, I know I am fiercely and beautifully loved by so many. I do not stand alone. I am tired of being bound by the fear and false sense of loneliness that is created by the shadows of my closet. Nobody deserves a less than life, a life full of self-loathing and self-hate, and I am claiming that good news for myself.
Today, from the ashes of rejection and loss, I am choosing to rise and lean into a reality of hope and new life, a life where I no longer have to hide behind a shallow smile. From this day forward, March 17th is a new birthday if you will – a day of celebration and gratitude. Today, I choose hope. I choose life. I choose honesty and truth. Today, I choose…