Monday, October 11, 2010

Barefoot, naked, trapped, and free.

Telling a coming out story is an act of coming out itself; it reveals not only who I am now, but where I've been, and what scars and blessings mark me now.

My story is impossible for me to tell, yet; there is too much still to unpack.  But I can give one snapshot, one hour my life:

I am seventeen years old.  Raised Episcopalian, but now wandering in the wilderness of who G-d is and how to worship.  This wandering has brought me here:  Threshing Floor, the Abundant Life Assembly of God youth group.  Bekah, a close friend from school, brought me.
I've been attending for a year.  Mom says "Don't."  Mom says "When they know who you are, they will not welcome you."  I tell her, with infinite teenage wisdom, that she is wrong.  But I do not tell anyone at church who I am.  Bekah knows, because everyone at school knows; but at church I am silent.

It is October 16th.  Tonight we have a special youth group:  pastors-in-training from a seminary with ties to Abundant Life are coming to preach.  I am excited, because I have felt a call to ministry since I was twelve.  Maybe this is how I can live it.  Maybe they will show me the way.

A young man gets up to preach.  He has a different style than our youth pastor; angrier.  He begins to rail on drug and alcohol abuse among teenagers in America.  I nod, along with the rest of the group.  Yes.  This is evil.  This is sin separating them from God.

He moves on to abortion.  The rest of the group nods.  I hesitate.  I do not know much; I am only seventeen; I am the daughter of liberal parents.  When he moves on, I am grateful.  I am not sure where I stand, and I am glad not to have to worry about it.

He says, "But the greatest threat to our teenagers today..."

I hope that he will say depression, or anxiety, or loneliness.  I am fighting all three.  I think everyone is lonely.  Maybe if we admit it, we can defeat it, together in our loneliness.

"The single most sinful threat to their very lives...

is homosexuality."

My throat closes.

I see Bekah's head turn.  She is looking at me.  I cannot move.  I cannot think.  Everything is slowing down and speeding up.  I hear his words but they have become an angry babble, a hellfire spreading through my heart.

He condemns them, and condemns me.

I close my eyes, praying for something, anything to happen.  Please G-d, please.  But nothing happens.  He continues - his voice louder - his shouts beating down the pulse of my heart.  I am naked before all of them.

Without knowing that I am, I am standing.

He pauses and looks at me, but continues preaching.  I am standing, silent, and then I am turning and walking out.

I have taken off my shoes, as many of us do to start worship; I am barefoot, my sandals left in the sanctuary with my Bible and purse.  I cannot turn back.

I push open the door to the lobby, and stand in the light there.  Finally the vise around my heart releases, and a flood of tears overcomes me.  My bare feet carry me to the girls' bathroom.

I weep.  Oh G-d, oh G-d.  I do not even know what I am crying for; only that I feel so impossibly and irrevocably broken that even G-d will not hear me.

But someone does; there is someone else in the bathroom now.  I hope that it is Bekah, and it is - she calls my name.

But when I come from the stall, there is someone else with her - one of the youth leaders, J.  J has dark hair and bright blue eyes, and I've never talked to her before; tonight, she is full focused on me.

She begins barraging me.  What is in you that made you abandon worship?  I cannot answer. She assumes, and continues.  What kind of wicked temptation is this?  I cannot answer.
She softens a little.  I was tempted too, you know, when I was your age...

And so begins a story I only half-hear, about temptation and sin and damnation.  Her words pound against me.  I am no longer in myself; I am floating above, trying to escape.  Bekah stands, unsure, seventeen years old, powerless.  J leans closer, nailing the words of condemnation against my skin.  I am trapped.  Everything I have ever learned about G-d and Jesus and love falls away.

J wants me to pray the sinner's prayer, to turn to Christ and accept salvation.  I hear the words but I am stone.  She lets my silence hang in the air.

And in the silence, I know what is true.

I feel my heart.  Not pounding; not stopped; not choked -- a steady, sure beat.  Tears fill my eyes again.  J, seeing that the moment is at hand, jumps at my emotional wreckage and says:

"What do you want, Emmy?"

And I say:

"I want to leave."

I walk from the bathroom.  I hear J call my name but I do not turn.  Bekah catches up to me, says she'll get my shoes, says she'll meet me in the car.  I walk outside and sit in her Crown Royal until worship is over and we leave.

I know that J thinks that I turned my back on G-d.  What J does not know is that I have no such option.  I am dead without G-d; I know this, for I nearly died the year before.  Now, my only choice is to submit to the terrifying truth:

I am a beloved child of God.

I am gay.

And in the truth of these, I am called to preach.

This is all my little self knows.  I knew it at seventeen when the preacher-in-me took the scared-and-scarred-girl-in-me by the hand and walked her out of a place that would have killed me.

I knew it at nineteen when I opened my first theology book - Martin Luther's Three Treatises - and felt my heart expand in the joy of coming home.

I knew it at twenty when I was confirmed in Boe Chapel, and later that year when I met Kristi.

I knew it at twenty-four when finally, finally, finally, the scared-and-scarred-little-girl saw a church stand up and say "Yes" to me and my queer brothers and sisters.

And now I see it every day, in the place where I will be taught to live out the promise of preaching in the midst of my absolute brokenness.

I know the truth; and it has set me free.

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