My Quarter Life Crisis

It always starts like this for me: the new year rises up on the horizon and tells me it’s time to Get Serious. It’s time to start worrying about the future of my life, that blank page stretching endlessly before me, all that white space that should be filled with five-year plans, with narrowed down career choices and grad school applications, with all the things that I should’ve begun by now… because by now, I should be an adult.

 

My initial efforts to stop the downward spiral, my self-care regimen of deep breaths and I’m thankful for lists, were quickly thwarted by the daily reminders of Success Elsewhere: An email from LinkedIn telling me who now I needed to congratulate. A Facebook feed full of engagements and new houses and babies on the way. An instagrammed Paris. A tweet of a Book Deal. A claim on happiness. A life that is better.

 

I’d drive to Caribou and settle into the corner to make a “Life Plan” (Fix-My-Life Plan) only to close my MacBook five minutes later because the Future is too overwhelming. It is an anything-is-possible place, and for me, that’s terrifying. My anxious mind graffitis over it with all my worst fears. My biggest doubts.

 

This worrying is so ridiculous. My life is very good: I have a job that pays well and good friends to spend weekends with. I have a warm family, the best people, and they know me inside and out. I pay my own rent, do my own laundry, buy my own groceries and set my own bedtime. All things considered, you might call me an adult.

 

But there are these things that can work their way through the seams of your life. Inadequacy and Expectations. Wildest dreams, still unfulfilled. Altogether, they make up what the scientists are calling the Quarter Life Crisis.

 

I turned twenty-five this past month. A quarter of a century old. It was the first time I wanted to lie about my age.

 

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In 2015, time suddenly became rare and valuable, and so I started scratching all the things that appeared extravagant like reading and exercise, blogging and writing, making even the smallest amount of time for others. Then I took that surplus time and spent most of it at Caribou, where I stared for many minutes at Grad School applications I never finished, skimming blogs about climbing out of the Quarter Life Crisis and Ten Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a Teacher and trying to figure out a great pitch for a big magazine somewhere. I was thinking hard and dwelling deep and worrying myself to the bone.

 

I began to seriously question my own worth and abilities, and that’s when I knew something had gone terribly wrong.

 

I knew where I had to turn- but I really didn’t want to do that. It felt like failure. Like a confirmation of my collapse. To turn there, to go back there, would mean I had forgotten. And I hadn’t… had I?

 

With a desperate voice, I just said it anyway:

 

I am accepted.

I am loved.

I am enough.

 

And I stopped shaking.

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In a way, I was forced into these words. A friend had asked if I would speak at his church (which I have never done before) and I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. My story: from self-loathing to self-love, my journey into the heart of the God That Sees Me.

 

In my circle here in Minnesota, I told only a few about this church thing. I was terrified about it. I am not a public speaker. That is not how I am built. So I told them I needed them their for moral support, and perhaps some kind reassuring words after I botched the whole thing.

 

They all came.

I sat on the stool beneath stage lights in front of a handful of people, and I saw every one of their grinning faces. For a half an hour, I got to watch my people show up for me.

 

Near the end of my talk, I said this:

I am accepted.

I am accepted.

I am accepted.

 

And it’s just three words, but they are my holy words. They are my song. The tied knot at the end of my story, the first words that started my ascent from the darkness, the words that found me.

I am accepted is such an easy thing to say, to yourself or to others… but believing it? That’s another conversation. That takes work. That takes a lifetime of learning and practicing and prayer. And if you’re here, in the Minnesota Winter of your Quarter Life Crisis, it can be impossible to hear it at all.

But in that moment, on that stage, my desperately hopeful theology was met with the proven witness gathered before me. The warm faces reminding me of the Success Here. The success in me. The success through me. The success to come. My words and my people, both pouring into one in my heart. I am accepted.

God is here, in the midst of my circle walking. In the coffee cups and the slouched sitting. In the panic and the fear and the rage, in the twenty-fifth year of my striving. He is here. And He is working something new in me. Something that cannot be rushed or scheduled or detailed down in a plan. God is saying to me, once again, for the millionth time: You Are Accepted. You are Loved. You are Enough.

It all adds up, even when it doesn’t appear to.

This is a weird winter and a weird season of life. I feel completely unprepared for it. But maybe it’s going to just be about those three words for now. That still small voice in my mind. That love, always there to catch me.

Grace for the Addict

Deeper Story is closing and to be honest, I’m torn up about it. Before I joined as a Storyteller, I was a regular reader, taken captive-as many were- by the blunt and beautiful truths that tumble out when you choose to tell your story authentically. When you stop editing it down into something palatable, something safe. When you just say it- out loud- the big questions and hurts and joys, just as they are on your heart.

That’s what Deeper Story has been.

When I was invited to join, I felt like I had been asked to the prom. In the email from Sarah, she offered me a significant amount of time to pray and think and consider if I really wanted to do this, and in an effort to appear nonchalant about it, I waited awhile- give or take an hour- before I couldn’t help myself and responded with: YUP. I’M IN. THANK YOU. :) (or some variation of that.)

I was only there for a short time, but it was a wonderful time. I’ve learned from some truly greater writers about things completely unrelated to writing. I’ve made new friendships that will continue into the future. I was challenged and forced to work harder on my writing than I ever have before (because how do you not stress over your words and your story when you have to stand there next to folks like John Blasé or Sarah Bessey or Addie Zierman or anyone else there.)

If I had to pick a favorite of my ten pieces, I would say the one below is it. It was my first piece. It was a post where I talked about something that I rarely do, a post in which I wanted to get raw and honest about my own fallen humanity and the beauty of God’s grace. My struggle with quitting smoking. (UPDATE: Not fully quit yet, but I have cut down significantly, to about two cigs a day, all of it due to a friendly modern invention called the E-Cigarette.)

Anyhow. Here’s my piece. Be sure, while it’s still open, to go check out all the different essays at the DS page!

Also- if you’re on the email list… I apologize in advance for the coming barrage. As I back up my essays onto this site, I don’t know how to do it without automatically sending out emails. I’m not techy enough.


Grace for the Addict

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In the seventh grade, I won the Ramsey County Police Department Poetry Contest after I penned a poem telling anyone addicted to nicotine to juststop it. It was a district wide contest; a winner would be selected from every school. And a couple weeks after I submitted, my Language Arts teacher burst through the door of my history class. She walked straight up to my teacher and whispered in his ear. They both turned to me, smiling. I beamed back.

They gave me one hundred and fifty dollars. More money than I had ever held in my hands. And two weeks later, with my parents standing proud at the back wall and the local paper’s intern snapping shots next to them, I stood in front of my class and read the poem aloud.

 

“I know the chains of addiction may be holding you down, but think of your family! They still want you around!” I roared like FDR and the class went wild.

 

I am no poet. But my life has been riddled with irony. Here’s some: only a few years after speaking my plea into class, I was twirling the feathery white stick between my own two fingers. I was sparking the cherry at the end, inhaling it deep into my lungs. Over a lake, I lay down on a dock with friends, blowing filmy rings into the stars. Watching them rise and rise and wash away in the wind. Dizzied by the buzz that was breaking over me, I felt euphoric, badass, and truly alive. I did not feel the chain clinking around my ankle.

With all the statistics and health facts we have today, the ads of women reduced to robotic voices and amputees and phantom old men trying to hug their grandchildren, with all this information and truth out there, only the insane could still be smoking. And maybe I am, because I still do.

 

I still smoke. I had a cigarette ten minutes ago.

 

And I don’t know how to write about it and turn it into something sympathetic, or deep, or on some level, okay. I worry that I am disqualifying myself as a disciple or a serious person. It is a problem, yes, I know that; it is an addiction.

“It is idolatry,” one Christian friend told me in college, in our very first vulnerable conversation.

“You won’t feel God’s love until you quit,” said another girl who claimed the power of prophecy, who added that that this was a directive from the Lord she received in just that moment.

And I suppose, some elements of truth can be found there. Much of this is about choice. I turn to an addiction instead of the Answer to handle my anxiety. A lot of this comes down to temptation, self-control, sin.

But it’s also an addiction. A bind. A battle I have waged with every weapon. Once, I promised a friend I’d quit cold turkey and she promised to hold me accountable. By the third night, I snapped. “I can’t do it!” I cried over the phone as I sat rocking on the dock, huffing and puffing like a little engine. Like the little addict I was.

But why? You still ask. Why did you start?

Because I wanted a redemption story. A before and an after. A transformation. Because I couldn’t quit being gay and at sixteen, I stopped believing God cared about changing me at all. And I became obsessed about change.

So, in high school, I started dragging my soul down to the swamp of Bad Things, soaking it in deep. One day, I thought, I could wring it out and scrub it clean. One day, I believed, after all that scrubbing, purging, cleaning, just maybe, I’d become enough.

It took years to knock this illusion out of my head. I tasted real redemption when I finally accepted that I am accepted and washed myself in the waters of grace, in the river of his love, when I found my healing in this sacred Truth: I am loved deeply, and always.

There is no good excuse for the smoking, but there is some context here. And I think that’s why story matters so much. Because in one quick glance, you might just see another sad addict, but when you watch the journey leading to this place, it’s clear that I was a kid, just desperately looking for a way out. Lost just like everyone else in the complicated reality of growing up. And grace covers all of that. Covers me still.

It is National Poetry Month and in this month, Easter, and I’m thinking about how fitting that is. We’re celebrating the single greatest triumph of the world, Jesus defeating death, and we’re celebrating the ancient craft that has breathed space into a world divided by black and white, good and bad, the sacred and the secular, and the possible and the impossible. We’re rejoicing in the grace that is filling every chasm. Filling every single one of us.

Another 2014 Round Up

I know. 2014 is dead and gone and good riddance, too. Stay there.

But I did want to share some of the incredible things I read, listened to and watched this year and I already said I was going to post it, so, yes, late or not, here they are:

 

Top Two Favorite Books:

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

Cover of Gilead

This book. This book, this book, this book...

 

I downloaded this book early last year and announced I had done so on twitter. A friend who saw my tweet quickly texted me, saying: Stick with it. Forget that it has no chapters and the slow pacing… Just Stick with it.

 

I now know what he means.

 

Shortly after finishing it, I fell into what Slate has called “a missionary fervor”, telling everyone I knew, siblings, friends, my parents, that they simply must read this book. It is that good.

 

Not only is Marilynne Robinson one of the best writers today, she penned a story that caught me off guard and gave me a newfound reverence for not only life, but the faith. The everyday moments of wholeness. The story of the very old John Ames, written in letters to his very young son, will give you life, will make you question your theology, and it will bring the old Biblical narratives into flesh and blood through real life choices and their consequences. And the way she makes water holy…. Good Lawd.

 

I could go on about this book (planning on re-reading it this coming year) but I have some favorite quotes to share.

 

“Love is holy because it is like grace—the worthiness of its’ object is never really what matters.”

 

“I don’t exactly know what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else’s virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.”

 

“I’m not saying never to doubt or question. The Lord gave you a mind so that you would make use of it. I’m saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own, not, so to speak, the mustache and walking stick that happen to be the fashion of any particular moment.”

 

My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman

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This book was sent to me by a dear friend on twitter who said I simply had to read this book. It was during a time when I was having my annual freak-out over death, a fear I still have yet to figure out, and the author in question, Christian Wiman, is no stranger to death. He has faced death in the calm face of one relative to the petrified mute look of another. During the writing of this book, his own cells have turned bad, turned cancerous, and he now faces his own demise.

 

Christian is also a Christian, and a poet, and just straight up brilliant. His thoughts on faith will be a balm to all of us growing up in the Modern World, trying to reconcile our faith with what we know, trying to see how it can and should evolve and advance into the present. His work stilled me when I was frantic with anxiety. It comes in close with Gilead, at least for me.

 

Other books that stood out to me this year (it was an eclectic year of reading):

 

  • The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
  • Speak, by Nish Weiseth (read my review here)
  • Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright
  • The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
  • THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, by Joan Didion (this book, this book, this book)
  • Sober Mercies, Heather Kopp
  • A Better Atonement, by Tony Jones
    • This deserves a little follow up. This book both challenged my faith and gave me great comfort. Tony is a brilliant theologian who tackles the question of the atonement, a question that has always haunted me, and sheds light on different interpretations of what exactly happened on the cross. It’s a slim, snap read, but will definitely give hope to those searching for another interpretation of the cross, other than an angry God torturing his “one and only” son. More needs to be said about the previous sentence, but I’ll leave it to you to read the book.
  • Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee (I still can’t believe I never read this in high school)
  • Benefit of the Doubt, by Greg Boyd
  • Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes (there will be tears.)
  • Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

 

Currently reading!

 

And yes, I tend to read that many books at once, which is a terrible habit, but I can’t help myself. I’m impulsive by nature and Amazon’s new “one click” button…

 

Online Writing.

 

You simply cannot say enough about Sarah Bessey and her work. But this year, her work truly gave me life. During the World Vision debacle, which I mentioned yesterday, she wrote a letter to me, to all of us, to anyone who was deciding that it was time to leave evangelicalism. That week, I read the post over and over and over. It helped me so much.

 

“Sometimes we have to cut away the old for the new to grow. We are a resurrection people, darling. God can take our death and ugliness and bitterness, our hurt and our wounds, and make something beautiful and redemptive. For you. In you. With you.

 

Let something new be born in you. There is never a new life, a new birth, without labour and struggle and patience, but then comes the release.”

 

Sarah Moon put a voice to my feelings when NT Wright, someone I look up to, gave a brutal interview about LGBTQ people to First Things Mag (a conservative magazine I will restrain from commenting on the content of except to say… nothing- RESTRAINT!) This post, “NT Wrong, Amirite?: How N.T. Wright’s Bigotry Causes Him to Contradict His Own Theology”:

“Was not the entire point of Surprised By Hope that heaven and earth are not actually a dichotomy? Can you point out the exact place where the heavens begin? Was Christ, as incarnated in Jesus, human or divine? Do not the Psalms that Wright so fervently praises in his recent book, A Case for the Psalms, bring us to a place where the heavens and the earth are indistinguishable? Does not Wright himself argue in this book that God’s concept of space is not dichotomized like ours?”

 

For a year, everyone watched nervously Brittany Maynard after she publicly decided to end her life through Oregon’s death with dignity law. Maynard was suffering from inoperable, incurable cancer that almost always lead to a dark and excruciating ending. Maynard decided to opt out of unnecessary pain and instead end in her bedroom beside her parents, her new husband. I, for one, support this on the simple grounds of compassion. Someone else, though, with better insight than I ever could have, wrote about it in a compelling piece that stayed with me long after I read it. Jessica Kelley’s piece: “Can Christians Support Brittany Maynard’s Decision?” should leave a mark on anyone wanting in on the conversation about End of Life Care.

 

“As a Christian, I am concerned with the assertion that God wants to micro-control our death experience.  Doesn’t this assume that whatever happens naturally is God’s best intention for us?  Yet if Christians truly believed this, then shouldn’t we abandon all forms of birth control, vaccines, vitamins, antibiotics, antivirals, chemotherapy, surgeries, life support, and even pain medications?  Are we so certain where to draw the line?  We seem to intuit that God leaves room for our own discretion in other areas of the living and dying process.”

 

Other favorites:

 

What I Miss About Being A Born Again Christian, by Jessica Misener at Buzzfeed

 

“This was something the evangelical students in my program at Yale talked about often: the behemoth of doubt that sets in as your airtight hermeneutic of scripture is drained from the bottom. Christians from other traditions didn’t have it so bad. Catholics, for example, could fall in the same academic dunk tank and emerge with the same doubts about scripture, but they could still lean on other things their denomination held sacred and used to interpret the text, like the Catechism, papal infallibility, and the sacraments. We evangelicals, with our infallible view of scripture ripped from our hands, were left gasping for air. If you crumple and toss out a literal reading of the Bible, then what does it mean to talk about Jesus literally dying for your sins?”

 

The False Gospel of Gender Binaries, by Rachel Held Evans

But what sort of gospel is only good news for the majority? What sort of gospel leaves people behind just because they are different? 

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not so fragile as to be unpinned by the reality that variations in gender and sexuality exist, nor is it so narrow as to only be good news for people who look and live like Ward and June Cleaver. This glorification of gender binaries has become a dangerous idol in the Christian community, for it conflates cultural norms with Christian morality and elevates an ideal over actual people.

 

Heart of Whiteness, by Tobias Wolff

 

“I took a public bus to and from school. I was on my way home one afternoon, sitting on one of the inward-facing benches by the door, when a pregnant black woman got on. She had two big bags of groceries, and the bus was so crowded that she couldn’t make her way past the white people standing in the aisles; she was stuck in the front with everyone staring at her, fighting for balance whenever the bus lurched to a stop or made a turn. Mama-raised little gentleman that I was, I gestured to her and was rising to offer my seat when the woman beside me seized my arm and slammed me back down. She fixed me with a hot, furious stare, then turned it on the black woman, who affected not to have noticed any of this. But I burned with embarrassment and felt I’d done something wrong. I was never tempted to repeat the offense.”

 

I Don’t Have My Shit Together, by Micah J. Murray

 

“I don’t want to be a Christian writer, if it means writing from the heart and then hitting backspace until it feels safe again.

 

I don’t want to be a Christian writer, if it means pretending that faith is something other than what it is – brutal, clumsy, fragile, ugly.

 

I don’t want to be a Christian writer if it means that we need to act like we have all our shit together.

 

Because the truth is, we don’t.”

 

When This Is Why I Tell My Stories, by Preston Yancey

 

“I need the stories of the faith because Jesus told stories. I need the stories because the rabbis took the point that God may give law but God gives a lot of history around and through and in it, that that history is one big textile pattern of being that we have to slow down long enough to learn to read or we’ll miss the crazy abundance of possibility: that what faithfulness to God can really look like is diverse and unified in the love of Christ, not the mirroring of specific practices.”

 

Favorite Album

1989, Taylor Swift

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Here’s what I love about Taylor Swift: She’s a memoirist. At the core of her work are her own stories, which are written by the might of her own pen. Recently in an interview with Babs Walters, she said: “If I didn’t write, then I wouldn’t sing.” Beyond the singing and the musical brilliance of this last album, her writing is stronger than it has ever been. There’s the poignant line from Clean: “You’re still all over me like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore.” And the straightforward writing style from This Love: “This love is good, this love is bad, this love is alive, back from the dead.” She’s matured greatly in her work in an industry where even best (apart from Beyonce) are coasting. It doesn’t hurt that each song is an invasive earworm that require a power-drill to extricate it out your head. In the weird year that was 2014, 1989 wins everything.

 

Favorite Show

 

Parenthood.

Always, Parenthood.

 

Favorite Movie

 

Gone Girl

 

Maybe it’s because I never read the book, but I was enraptured by this movie. The twists and turns and straight up insanity had me clawing the fabric right out of my armrest.

 

Honorable mention: Snowpiercer

 

Best podcast:

 

Serial.

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Serial had me hooked from the moment I heard Sarah Koenig’s easy voice articulate a horrible crime that happened fifteen years ago, and the man that’s been sitting in a Maximum Security prison, a man who may not have even done it. One thing that I loved about this podcast (or just podcasts in general) is that I could listen to it as I cleaned the house, or ran out on errands, or on the ride to work. I didn’t need to set time aside for it, as it basically filled the background of my day to day in the three days that I binged on it.

 

My round up- as promised.

 

I hope everyone had a fantastic, incredible, safe NYE. I’m currently sitting beside a big mug of coffee, writing in my journal about all the resolutions for this upcoming year (I’m a sucker for this stuff) and it just now occurred to me that no matter how this all turns out, for you, for me, in this upcoming year- we are still accepted, still enough. There is no tipping the scales one way or another in the great story we are living inside.

 

So, a meditation for 2015:

Do we know what it means to be struck by grace?… It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

– Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations

My Top (and Favorite) Posts of 2014

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All the End of the Year lists are up and though I am on winter break and have had virtually all the time in the world, I am only now stringing together this list.

 

It’s been a wild, confusing year. That seems to be the common refrain I am hearing from people all over. Some people are calling 2014 a wash, and I get that. I have post coming up on Deeper Story next month where I talk about how, for me, it was kind of a rebuilding year (like you hear from all the Sports Nuts in your life about their beloved team’s somewhat disappointing season.)

 

Faith-wise, I sometimes found myself absolutely apathetic about my faith, it blurred into the backdrop of my day to day. Other times, I found myself wide-eyed and energized, ready to run to the ends of the earth for God and love and justice. I have also questioned God’s existence, explored different theologies for the atonement, come to new, startling conclusions, all of  which I learned from Greg Boyd’s book, Benefit of the Doubt, is not something novel for the Christian and it’s certainly not bad. It’s actually quite necessary if you seek an authentic faith. An alive faith. I have also, and often, made God in my own image, smiting people I don’t like through posts and tweets and in whispered words behind their back. Faith-wise, it’s been a very imperfect year.

 

Faith-Community-Wise, same thing. 2014 kicked off with Phil Robertson and his remarks in Rolling Stone about gays and lesbians and racial minorities. This prompted A&E to suspend him from the show, which prompted Evangelical Christians to rise up and say no more! Because the day you can no longer say hateful things about minorities without your employer stepping in and saying they no longer want you representing their brand, is the day Religious Freedom DIES.

 

And I won’t ever forget about World Vision. I can’t. And apparently, I am not alone. In the months that followed that event, I have heard from Christians across the board that said their faith has forever been changed because of it. Many have unpinned the tag of Evangelical, heading off into the uncertain wilderness, knowing that while being without a tribe is scary and disorienting, it is better than being a part of a hateful tribe.

 

There have been some beautiful moments in church too, at least for me personally. The one I keep circling back around to is the night I was asked to serve the elements. The way it changed my perspective of church, of faith and of myself all at once. My broken hands lifting up and out the cup, saying: “This is the Blood of Christ shed for you.” Their broken hands, dipping in the bread, whispering thank you, and how in our collective brokenness, we were blessed. We were sanctified.

 

I’ve decided for this end of the year post to list some of my very most popular posts, mixed with some of my favorites that, I think, show the trajectory of my life for this past year. I like doing this, because more and more, people from my real life are finding out about my writing (that I, for a long time, tried to keep secret from them) and this is a sort of round up for them to peruse through of my past year. Hope you enjoy reading them and thanks for all the time you allowed me in 2014!

 

World Vision

When Evangelicals Turn Against Children To Spite Me

I don’t know how to explain how crushing and infuriating this is. Could words describe this night of speaking the truth over myself: God is love, Jesus is love, This I know is true. Can I even express what it feels like to know that my existence is the reason children are losing their livelihoods? Possibly dying? Falling from protection and into the hands of trafficking?

 

LGBTQ

A Closet Comes Undone

It started with a crumpled up note passed across a room, to a crawl into my parents bed, to pulling over the car and saying it straight out to a friend, and what I am learning about bravery is that you have to grow it. You have to face this unpredictable world and know that you are strong enough to not look away. Alive enough to run right into it.

 

Faith

Insomniac Christians

For a long time I thought surrender meant simply surrendering to a code of conduct, to behavioral expectations and thought policing. As a kid I had a habit of, whenever I swore just in my head, immediately whispering out pleas for forgiveness. I grew up in youth group that laid down the principles of self-control, of staying pure, of finding favor of God by evangelizing, or being charitable, or not listening to secular music. We did skits on how to say No to friends who wanted to see a morally questionable movie. We structured religions within religions, narrowed the roads even further, and declared this way the only way to live in the love and joy of God.

 

(All my posts over at Deeper Story)

Grace for the Addict

I am no poet. But my life has been riddled with irony. Here’s some: only a few years after speaking my plea into class, I was twirling the feathery white stick between my own two fingers. I was sparking the cherry at the end, inhaling it deep into my lungs. Over a lake, I lay down on a dock with friends, blowing filmy rings into the stars. Watching them rise and rise and wash away in the wind. Dizzied by the buzz that was breaking over me, I felt euphoric, badass, and truly alive. I did not feel the chain clinking around my ankle.

 

Again. Thank you for reading. Thank you for engaging. Thank you for making this small corner of the internet fun and inspiring and so life-giving for me. I am so glad to have you here, always. 

 

Happy New Years!

 

Also- tomorrow I hope to have up some of my favorite work that is NOT by me, but by other bloggers and authors, movies and musicians and Ted Talks and youtubers etc.

 

Also- I always, always forget to share this, but I DO have a Facebook page for this blog. Since I mainly hang out on Twitter, I sometimes forget that for plenty of people, Facebook is more convenient. 

Here’s the link to my Facebook Page

Here’s the link to my Twitter

And if you like what you read here, consider donating to the site? I have big renewal for the page coming up and would love your support. The link for that is here. 

From One Degree of Glory to the Next

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World Magazine published a piece that seemed to promote Reparative Therapy and when Rachel Held Evans began tweeting about it, in reaction to it, in her anger over it (and over the follow up posts from Owen Strachan and others) she received a billion responses that said she was wrong. That a gay sexual orientation is evil. That it ought to be Corrected. She tweeted: Christians, teaching that Same-Sex Orientation is “inherently evil” no doubt contributes to high rate of suicide among gay and lesbian youth.

 

And this led to some disgusting responses that I won’t reprint. Honestly, I could barely read the screen, shaking as it was in my hand.

~

Here’s what happens when you tell a young gay person that their sexual orientation is inherently evil: They Die.

 

When I was young and heard that boys who like boys are destined for damnation, I died inside. I died because I couldn’t simply like girls. It didn’t work like that, no matter how badly I wanted it to. I died because in my mind, I was a living, breathing sin. This in comparison to the rest of the Christian world that sinned and was then, by the grace of God, forgiven and able to change their ways. I understood that since I never stopped feeling how I was feeling, forgiveness was impossible for me. I was sin incarnate. I was living breathing sin. That’s what I heard and so that’s what I knew.

 

Over the years this theology led me on to the conclusion that I was one of those not chosen by God for salvation. I read up on Calvinism, predestination, all that, and it suddenly made so much sense to me. God didn’t love me. He didn’t choose me. He didn’t want me from the start so he made or allowed me to be gay. It matched the Truth in my head: I am sin incarnate. God didn’t love me. Should I expect anyone else to?

 

That question led me to a slow dive into depression. Into drinking so hard I couldn’t function for days. If I was already a living breathing sin, what did it matter if I drank myself stupid and played around with drugs? What did it matter? It didn’t matter because I didn’t matter. I was sin incarnate, after all. I was already headed for hell. God could care less about what I did, because for him, I was just white noise babbling. I was just something he made to crush.

 

These feelings wrapped around like wet blankets over a deep desire in my heart: to be known and loved. It’s a desire that never died. It followed me from childhood to my teenage years to college. To be known and loved was the single desire of my heart. To be known, by family and friends, and to be loved anyway. To be loved by God, just as I am.

 

It was an unbearable desire. Something I wanted so badly, but I couldn’t get. So, one night, I almost actually died. I almost willfully died. Because to live with that kind of impossible desire was too much to take. Because I could never be known, and so I would never be loved.

 

And that’s what happens when you tell a young gay Christian that they are “inherently evil.” In a million little ways, They Die.

~ ~ ~

Often when I think about my trajectory from the closet to where I am today, I think in degrees of glory. The Apostle Paul used this phrase in his letter to the Corinthians:

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 3:18

 

I remember sitting on my mom’s bed, reading this passage to her on the night this guy was to come over, a man who said he could help me become straight. I read it because for me, that’s how I envisioned this whole thing working out. One degree of glory to the next. Degrees, I believed, marked the road between being me being gay and me being straight.

 

I had the road all wrong. It was a bad road.

But I had the right verse.

 

I moved from degrees of self-loathing to degrees of self-tolerance into degrees of better understanding, to serious study, to deep soul searching, to finally, at long last, self-love, feeling at home in my own skin. I moved with God. From fear to careful curiosity. From unbelief to belief. Then, to wide-eyed wonder at the fact that he- what?- accepts me without a thought. Loves me insanely. He pulls me in close, feeling the same way I do when I hold baby Wyatt. Speechlessly in love. Lost in the moment. Rooted to the spot.

 

I can only see it now, but sometime after I started scrubbing away at the muddy mirror before me, did I begin to see who I truly am: Loved. Known. I clutched at that truth and the skies cleared. I felt the warmth of God fall upon me, all around me, like it was the very first time.

 

To those who are young, who are already being beaten to a pulp by God’s people: You are not evil. Your sexual identity, formed completely beyond your control, is not evil. You are not damned for. You are privileged because of it.

 

In a Christian culture that is so insistent on (unbiblical) assimilation, you are a signpost to a better reality. One that shows the bigness of our God. You are- to borrow Brennan Manning’s phrase- “a banana peel to the orthodox foot,” because- to borrow Sarah Bessey’s phrase- in the kingdom of God “there is more room! There is more room! There is more room for all of us!” It’s a faith worth losing yourself in, Christianity. The body might be resisting to the change that is coming, but change is, in fact, happening. And God needs you here to be a part of it. To be the Banana Peel. To wedge your way into that table. To bring about this wave of healing washing through his church.

 

You are always moving from one degree of glory to the next, but not from one sexual orientation to another. You are moving out of the dark corner of this religion and in closer to those huddling beneath the lights, those so marked by the gospel that they don’t know any other way to be than to love others, to lift others, to praise God for drawing all of us into His light, giving us shoulders to hang onto when the world takes our legs.

 

Those in the darkness behind you will continue to mimic the voice of Authority, twist it to fit their own prejudices and discomforts, lie after lie will be shot at your back.  Be slow to get angry. Clench your fists around a balm of grace. Remember the road you walked. Don’t forget who you used to be. Remember, we are all walking, we are dragging ourselves, from one degree of glory to the next, into the warmth of God’s love. Hearts take time to change.

 

Just remember you are loved. You are good. You are held.

You are always beneath the light of God’s love, even when the darkness tries to block it out. Even when the World says its not for you. It is always there. There is nothing that can take it away. So step into it.

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Advent is for Ferguson

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During the Dirty War, the children of Argentina went missing.

In homes, parents awoke to find empty beds; in market squares, they felt small hands slip swiftly out of theirs, out of sight, gone.

 

The military had been snatching children of political dissidents. They dropped them into the disappearing holes of adoption agencies or tortured and killed them, leaving them in the nearest ditch, all in an effort to intimidate those that opposed the powers that be. All in an effort to silence.

 

But the grieving mothers of these boys and girls would not be silenced.

 

They took to the streets, marching straight to heart of the state: the Presidential Palace. As they moved, swift like a storm, they sang a song that reflected both their broken hearts and their righteous rage, their demands for justice, for fairness, for a world where their children were still in it. They sang Mary’s song. The Magnificat.

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

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    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

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for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

    For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

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for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

    and holy is his name.

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And his mercy is for those who fear him

    from generation to generation.

51 

He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

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he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

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he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 

He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 

as he spoke to our fathers,

    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 (ESV)

 

Mary’s words, drawn from the depths of her defiant soul towards the hard road before her, have long been an ominous threat to those in power.

 

In India, the song was banned from being sung, even in church, because the Brits saw it as an act of aggression. The same happened in impoverished Guatemala the government of which feared the idea of a lower class with hope. Mary was seen a symbol of insurrection. A threat.

~

I, along with everyone else with a TV or internet connection, have watched as the national camera has moved from the injustice done to Michael Brown and his family to the violent anger of it’s inhabitants. It has become the story that has dominated the headlines, giving ammunition to all of our conservative facebook friends who have posted things about the “savagery” and “recklessness” of these “militants.”

 

I too grieve for the owners and employees who watched their livelihoods literally burn to the ground. I grieve for the Public Library, all those books, now in a heap of ash. Looting should make us grieve. Pain is pain.

 

But I am careful to watch how the anger moves from loss of life to loss of property and how the general public gives greater weight to the latter.

 

I am careful to remember the way the camera zooms in on the burning buildings and away from the candle lit vigils and the crowd chanting for reform and those doing the difficult work of drafting petitions, defiantly seeking out avenues of change in a system that is dead set against them.

 

The God Mary sings to is one who wishes to bring down the powers that accept the deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, the imprisonment of Marissa Alexander, so they might bolster the system that will do it again and again. It’s the God you will find in the Ferguson masses, chanting along in their weariness and their frustration. Shouting something that shouldn’t have to be said: Black Lives Matter. Standing through tear gas and intimidation, refusing to go down. Holding out hope for a country where they don’t have to defend their right to exist.

 

Advent is for Ferguson, for the Magnificat, for the mother’s of Michael and Trayvon and countless others, for the oppressed longing for Kingdom come. It’s for all of us to stand in solidarity, to be silent no more.

The Blood of Christ Shed for You

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This past year, church hasn’t been easy for me. It’s been a lot of seeking, not a lot of finding, and never being able to put my finger on what, precisely, I was looking for. You could call me “picky”, a real “Cafeteria Christian”, but that is only half the truth. I still go because I want to find God there. Yet 99.9% of the time, I just find myself vexed- hot and bothered by all the little things.

 

I wish I could better articulate what it is that throws me off in church. Most of it is mixed up in my past experiences. Some of it is their failure to meet my sky high expectations. But in the moment, right or wrong, I feel justified in my cynicism and that righteous feeling becomes the steel grid through which every song and rhetorical flourish is harshly filtered through.

 

I can tell you what makes me feel okay in Church. Trust.

 

Thank God my brother is a pastor.

 

Even though it’s a little ways away, I drive out to his church most Sunday nights and listen to him preach. I still come with my cynical stick, my instinctive edginess towards praise and worship, but I can really hear his words when he says them, because I know his heart. I trust him more than anyone else with a sermon.

 

I’ve gotten to know some of his coworkers, too, who are all incredibly gifted and kind. I’ve watched them move with tact, making sure all the newcomers feel welcomed and safe without feeling pressured to participate.

 

Apparently, though, I am no longer a newcomer.

 

I was just quietly sneaking my way, five minutes late, into the sanctuary when she called my name.

 

“Hey Ben- Hey Ben- could you serve communion tonight?”

 

I actually laughed, to which she responded,

 

Well, could you?”

 

Shoulders tensed up to my ears, I responded slowly:

 

Yeah, sure…

 

I have never served communion and to be honest, I thought to do so required some kind of certificate or training or in the least, a reputation for putting in hours in ministry. It’s supposed to be a privilege, right? Privileges like these are earned. I have not earned this. I deserve detention for all those early departures. For the zero cents I’ve put into the plate.

 

The series Matt (my brother) was preaching on was on grace, that indefinable element to Christianity that sets it apart somehow. God came down. Matt said. He came to dwell amongst us. And He is for us.

 

He went on to talk about Luke 7, the story of Jesus going to the home of Simon the Pharisee for dinner and not being welcomed as they would anyone else. They put the chill on, ignoring him when he walked in, not greeting him or taking his cloak or washing his feet, to in effect let him know the length of their arms keeping him at a safe distance. To let him know they didn’t buy into Jesus craze.

 

Then the (likely) prostitute shows up, who (likely) met Jesus before. She rounds the room, uninvited but unconcerned about it, and falls to his feet, washing them with her tears, drying them with her hair, pouring them in the perfume she (likely) saved for her tricks.

 

In what became a defining mark of Jesus’ ministry, he defends the woman from Simon the accuser. Simon calls her sinner, Jesus calls her saved. He looks at her with (likely) the most proud and grateful eyes. Go in peace, he says.

 

My cue.

 

I waited for the signal of the start of communion. The moment the co-pastor held up the broken bread, I saw five others rise out of their pews, make their way around to the corner table where plates and goblets awaited us.

 

I walked, uneasily, down to the front, carrying the cup trembling with grape juice, and stood at the spot next to my partner, who, I gathered, was quite comfortable- possibly excited.

 

Then the people of God came down.

 

I knew the words to say without instruction.

 

The blood of Christ shed for you.

 

And I knew to look into their eyes, even though eye contact takes courage for me.

 

The blood of Christ shed for you.

 

And it’s here where the moment stops and sharpens into an impression.

 

Me. A gay sarcastic skeptic suspicious of the institution, worried sick that God is actually more menacing than he lets on. Me. Standing front and center.  Holding the cup. Lifting it up and out. Me.

 

Me, often speechless in prayer. Often unable to provide a simple answer to those who are seeking and wondering about the faith I say I belong to- now speaking a simple statement of incomprehensible significance. Words I felt I could almost follow out of myself and into the lives of the community, of the church. Words I suddenly said with more seriousness than I have been able to convey authentically since I don’t know when. Me.

 

The blood of Christ shed for you.

 

And you.

And you.

And you.

And you.

And you too.

 

And it’s not like I went back to the pew and found my cynical stick turned into a plowshare, I was still imperfect me. But, and here’s the thing, I found my faith embodied in a way I didn’t know it could be. These broken hands holding the gift of life. This sarcastic mouth speaking the holy words to a hundred thirsty people. And it does something to you, this Sacrament, moves you to the point of held back tears. To unsteady hands. A feeling you can’t quite pin down.

 

It’s the grocery bought bread and juice, just plain grains and sugar, offered up like diamonds. It’s the imperfect people shuffling down the aisle with their pride and their fear, their capacity to do harm and to give life, their uncertain feet leading them to me, the most unlikely of them all. It’s the magic, moving into and through this very moment and somehow, changing everything.

 

It’s as if your unsuitable soul is stunned into silence, for just a second, shoulders still heavy with their chips when the voice of compassion breaks through:

 

This is my blood shed for you.

Yes, I mean you.

Always, always, always, for you.

A Few Posts Recently

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Over the past few weeks I have posted at few sites that are not this blog, and I’ve forgotten to link there. SO since today I have a post over at Deeper Story on what it means to be seen, what it meant for me, what the implications are for my conception of God, I thought I’d also list the post I wrote about my car, and the post about my parents’ dog Lexi. Because of course.

 

Thanks for reading!

 

El Roi

Then the sudden presence. The air changes all around her. Feet materialize. A body. A voice. And before she can even see his face, she feels His eyes stilled on her soul. On her. Hagar. An invisible slave girl from Egypt. A girl in the final moments of her life. A nobody.

 

In a voice weak with compassion, He promises her protection and whispers better days to come–He has heard all her tears.

 

Hagar raises her eyes to the face of God and cries with disbelief:

 

“You are the God who sees… me!”

 

It’s the first time in history a person called God by a new name. A name spoken from the very depths of her heart, summoned out by the truest moment of her life.

 

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 My buddies and I started calling her “The Blueberry” for her deep blue exterior, and over time, I grew to love her. I didn’t expect to suddenly love a car as much as I did, but something in me understood what this car represented in my life. What it meant to have the absolute, no bounds means for movement.

Because, at my core, I am a wanderer.

 

(God) Must Love Dogs

 My parents’ Labrador, Lexi, has been moving through her Final Act for some time. She’s old, thirteen-years exactly. And her once honey kissed face has paled to a bone white. When she stands, it takes effort, her legs wobble under her weight, but she still wags her tail and tries to jump to please you, to let you know that she’s so happy you’ve stopped by. And so I try to soothe her back down to rest. I try to let her know it’s my job to make her happy now.

El Roi

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Originally published at Deeper Story

There is no story in the Bible I relate to more than that of pregnant Hagar and her downfall in the desert.

I picture her heaving, on hands and knees, her swollen belly grazing against the hot sand. Considering her chances, she stops and surrenders: If I die, then I die. So be it. The weight of Ishmael is so much and she is so thirsty and there is so much further to go. She thinks again: But I could turn back- but to what? To Sarah. Her abuser. Her master turned monster who kidnapped her from her home, forced her into pregnancy, and then chased her off the land in a blind jealous rage.

Then I picture the water. A small trickle springs up out of the sand, wetting a line in the sand right across her path and before she can blink, it is a small stream and she is drinking great gulps from it. She is resting now, in the wilderness, and wondering how far the nearest town is.

Then the sudden presence. The air changes all around her. Feet materialize. A body. A voice. And before she can even see his face, she feels His eyes stilled on her soul. On her. Hagar. An invisible slave girl from Egypt. A girl in the final moments of her life. A nobody.

In a voice weak with compassion, He promises her protection and whispers better days to come–He has heard all her tears.

Hagar raises her eyes to the face of God and cries with disbelief:

“You are the God who sees… me!”

It’s the first time in history a person called God by a new name. A name spoken from the very depths of her heart, summoned out by the truest moment of her life.

El Roi!:

The God Who Sees Me.

~

I was in church a couple weeks ago when I heard the pastor talk about how our mission, as disciples, is to restore dignity to God’s beloved. Many of us in the room who had grown up evangelical are programmed towards understanding evangelism as informing others that God loves them, that he forgives them, and if only they’d turn to him and repent, they would be whole. But the pastor put a full stop on this. He asked us to see them, to tell them we love them, that we value them. He argued that our task included canceling condemnation and stripping away shame and telling the God-honest truth: you matter; you are beautiful; because you are an image-bearer of God.

It’s a message I might’ve heard years before and it would’ve ricocheted right off me, because I would’ve known that the pastor wasn’t actually talking about me. He couldn’t see me. No one could see me, not the real me, not really. And if I learned anything growing up evangelical, it was that my particular kind of different was the worst kind. Loving me without condemning me would be considered “getting carried away” with grace, or “twisting” the scriptures to better fit our feelings. Should I stand naked in the light of truth, they would surely avert their eyes. I knew this was true.

I took this weight with me to a Christian college where, for some strange reason, I thought things might be different. I thought the change in life might propel me along my own goal of “change”, but I was wrong. I now lived, 24/7, with God’s young men, with young conservative men, many of whom happened to be homophobic. In the long walk from the stairwell to my dorm at the end of the hallway, I heard kids calling each other faggots, or having serious political conversations about the gay-lover Obama, or snickering in gossip about a fellow student that was a dancer, and another who seemed to the type, but they weren’t sure, they were just happy they weren’t living with them. And in that first week, I knew I couldn’t stay.

By the end of that first week, I had started several applications to schools out-of-state, places that were categorically not Christian, places far enough from all these people, from this whole evangelical world. On the final night of that week, we had a dorm meeting. It was one of those Welcome Week things where all the RA’s do skits and we sing praise and worship before the Resident Director stepped beneath the spotlight to give a small speech and highlight the expectations for living beneath her roof. I sat on the carpeted floor near the back, knees tucked beneath my chin, occasionally glancing at my phone to check the time. I listened, barely, as she listed off rules about visiting hours and taking care of the bathrooms and how drinking, drugs, and tobacco were expressly forbidden, and before she wrapped up, she made a point to see me. The words thundered out and they might’ve bounced off most, but not me. They reached my deepest corners. I still hear them today.

“Lastly, I want to talk about something else,” she said, shifting her weight to an exhausted posture, “not sure if you all know this, so I’ll fill you in. Gay does not actually mean stupid. It does not mean bad or ugly or anything negative. And I won’t be hearing anymore of what I’ve been hearing. Hope that’s clear. That’s a rule.”

It was small. It definitely didn’t fix all the hard and complicated things that came with going to a Baptist Christian college, but it was the portion of hope I needed to stay in this faith. To keep walking on. To believe that there might be more like her out there, others who would really see me, who would affirm me, who would tell me that I am just as worthy, matter just as much, and am just as beloved by God. And maybe-maybe!, one day, I would walk straight into the light of day, unafraid.

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Three Things I’d Tell Ben Three Years Ago, After He Came Out

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 ~

Tomorrow, October 3rd, will mark three years since I came out. And tonight I’m feeling wistful.

///

People will surprise you.

 

If you give them the chance, they will. I know that sounds like crap. I know that every time you think about this, you see your heart laid out on the cutting board of another person’s reaction and response. And yes there is good reason for caution. This is a dangerous game to play with the wrong kind of people. But there’s something you need to know. Something you need to get through your thick head: You have the right kind of people.

 

Contrary to what you might think, there are many good people out there. Empathetic and thoughtful and loving people. Even in the Church.

 

One night, not too long from now, you’ll be sitting in the basement of a church building in Chicago, surrounded by a dozen other lgbtq Christians. You made the six hour drive because in the great expanse of wildly liberal Minnesota, there was not one space in existence for people like you, lonely Christian people struggling with so many faith questions. And though you’ll arrive excited and nervous, you’ll hardly say a word in the hour and a half conversation.

 

Then, the courage will come rolling up your throat and the worry that has been twitching all night long in your stomach will speak.

 

“I’m afraid to tell my guy friends.”

 

Well of course you are. Why wouldn’t you be? Straight Christian Men can be utterly barbaric in their rejection of those who are different. Especially gay guys. Statistically speaking, I think, 99.9% of homophobic jokes are born in locker rooms or late nights at the bar or sometimes, randomly, in everyday conversation. You’ve heard it all your life. You’re mostly numb to it. Some of your closest friends partake in the jokes, too. You’ve heard them. You’ve seen the deep discomfort shade over their eyes when it is brought up. So you understand that coming out might mean saying goodbye. And you’re afraid of that.

 

Across the room, a guy slowly lifts a hand in the air and speaks directly to you.

 

“I get it. I had the same worry. I was not worried at all about telling my girl friends, but my buddies, my pals, I was horrified. Then, one day in our dorm, I finally told them- I just said it! And their reaction was to bear hug me to the ground. And then they told me they loved me no matter what. Nothing had changed. I was so excited that I told my girl friends… and they were not so understanding. Go figure!”

 

It’ll be a long year until you tell just one of your guy friends.

 

It’ll be at the spot at the lake, at night, in winter, and you won’t know what it was, exactly, that had taken over your will, but suddenly, you’ll pull out your phone, make an abrupt call to your buddy in the car behind you, following you back to your house to hang out. You’ll tell him to pull over at the lake. There’s something you have to say.

 

He comes into your car and for a moment, you’ll nervously breathe and laugh. Then you’ll stumble over some words about this thing you have to tell him and how it’s kind of a huge deal and you’ve been worried sick over this for forever, but you just feel you have to tell him. You have to tell him right now. You’ll take a long sip of air, and then you’ll say it. You’ll say the thing.

 

And then you’ll feel fragile as glass. You’ll watch and wait for the swing of the hammer as he nods and blinks and says okayokayokay.

 

Things will settle. Less than a minute later, he’ll look you straight in the eye and tell you he loves you. That he is so thankful that you placed your trust him. That he is so damn happy you’re friends.

 

And you’ll still feel like glass, but in a good way. You are fully known and fully loved. You are seen at your core. And this is what you’ve always wanted from a friend.

 

This is just the start of it. There  will be many more moments filled to the brim with surprises. A night of beers and laughing and sincere reflection with one. A tear shedding moment in a busy uptown coffee shop with another. And all of them will be so good, over and over again good. And you’ll remember something a gay friend texted you during this season of telling.

 

“Cherish these moments. You’ll want to hold them later on.”

 

And you will.

 

//

 

People will disappoint you

 

It’ll be the Sunday of Mothers’ day, and though you won’t be expecting it, about five minutes into a sermon you’ll be hoofing it out of there, struggling for breath. For weeks, you won’t be able to shake that feeling of being spotlighted. The announcement about opposition to marriage equality and the measured pause after he delivered the punch line, allowing the people all around you to spring to their feet in the most fiery applause. You won’t be able to forget that quiet moment for your family in the pew. The seconds you reflexively turned to your mom and mouthed: I have to go. Then she and your sister decide to go with you.

 

You won’t be able to hold all this in, so you’ll vent it out in a big angry post. A few days later, you’ll find out that your mom has been making a serious effort to schedule a meeting with her pastor, but he continually refuses. His secretary continues to tell her that he does not meet with congregants (what?). So she just emails him your post. Within a day, he replies to clarify that he was only Speaking the Truth in Love, which he would also do to a married man who cannot stop lusting after other women or an overeater who can’t stop eating or an overspender or a porn addict, an alcoholic. If you cannot practice self-control, he wrote, you will be damaged.

 

This is up there, but not alone, with some of the biggest betrayals you’ll deal with from your faith. It will leave you dejected. It will make you bitter. It will make you ashamed.

 

But you’ll resurrect.

 

//

 

You Will Disappoint and Surprise Yourself

 

It sounds strange, but when you leave the faith, God’s going to shuffle along behind you. Not that you’ll notice Him. You’ll be too busy averting your eyes from all things religious, plugging up your ears in every conversation about the faith.

 

Distance and time, you decide you need both. So you scrub as much of this faith off as you can.

 

And there will be a dark season. An irritable season. A time when you will hold a little notepad and pen, scribbling down every single thing you abhor about Capital C Church. They are a parody, you’ll think, and they don’t even know it! The music is manipulative. The people are naïve. Most who pursue the Church’s version of Christianity are actually naturally stupid people with their hatred towards logic and questions and their allegiance to the policies of discrimination against people who do not meet their white upper class upturned nose criteria.

 

You’ll know yourself as victim. And you’ll become a cynic in the nosebleeds. A fury shouting into the void. You’ll say you LOVE Jesus but you couldn’t care less about his people and you won’t even register the irony of your words.

 

Then things get weird. You’ll miss God. Achingly so. You’ll miss the feeling of a community, however imperfect, surrounding you in song. Once or twice, you’ll have “mystical” moments that to this day, you are skeptical of, but in your heart, you still choose to believe they did indeed happen.

 

One will involve a prayer walk in the spring. You’ve been wanting to paint dragonflies after hearing a gorgeous poem about them, but they haven’t shown up anywhere. Like God, you think. You walk eyes closed and through the acre of tall grass behind your college house, praying for Him to show up. You open your eyes, and there they are. A cloud of blue and magenta and red, all wiry arms and translucent wings revolving around you like you’re the sun. The truth will steal your breath: He is everywhere.

 

And you’ll come and leave church, continuing, even still, in your nomadic ways. That is an ongoing story for you. But it’s also different now. There will be a newfound peace in your walk. An understanding of the God of grace for your imperfect self, for all the imperfect people who treated you beautifully, who treated you horribly, and one day, you’ll unexpectedly trip over the truth that you are Accepted. It’ll take time, but you’ll soon accept this truth. You’ll clutch it like a fistful of diamonds. You’ll know it as your essential identity. The one thing that is strong enough to bear the weight of both your light and dark. The one thing that will never change. You are accepted.

 

Just keep walking, Ben. Keep searching. Never lose a holy curiosity.

This faith is an endless exploration into the fold of the heart of God. And you belong here, too.

 ~

here’s to many more years to come