Just like any other Christian Conference would, the GCN Conference kicked off with praise and worship.
The band played the most current ballads, ones that stirred up a flutter of feelings, along with the liturgical hymns that took you back in time. The lights from the stage poured over the crowd in that dark ballroom and silhouetted arms rose up in front, some clapping and swaying, some beautifully still.
I closed my eyes for just a moment, because I wanted to hear them. I wanted to feel them. I wanted to capture this night into memory.
Because there was just something about our voices singing in that room. Something so subversive. We were singing loud and passionately up to the father who loves us, in defiance to those that say he never could, with sheer freedom and abandon to put on the banner of faith. To commune as a family under God.
Our voices, they were struggled for, longed for, and at some point, found. Found in the friend that said I love you and I love you and nothing could ever change that, found in the God that said, I am not like them. Found in the scriptures and the stories and the still small voice, murmuring beneath our hearts.
Our voices have spoken three simple words: I am gay, along with four other, far more scandalous ones: And I am Christian, and in a sweeping moment, they shook others to their core, made them look to God, awoke a sudden desire to love and only love. Our voices are powerful and prophetic.
But, of course, we know it’s not always this way. Some of us arrived here from families, friends that warmed us with hugs and affection, but others came from a door slammed shut, a frozen front step, a get the hell out! still ringing in their ears.
I bring this up now because, well, I get a little teary thinking about it, but several parents came to the GCN conference with pins on their shirts that said Free Dad Hugs! and Free Mom Hugs! They stood in a prayer room where they cradled many sons and daughters in their arms, whispering love into their ears.
And their voices matter too- the homeless boy and the mother to many- all of us learning that this world is a place of pain and darkness and fear, but also, rushing rivers of redemption. Big arms ready for the wrapping. Love for the taking.
The speakers were all fantastic. There was Dr. Christine Wiley who called us to speak out the “sound of the genuine” within us, liberate ourselves from our internal oppressor, and walked proud in our mark of creation, but humble too.
There was Linda and Rob Robertson, and if you do know their story, you know there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. (If you haven’t, you can read it here). They are the parents that once had a deeply broken relationship with their gay son, and then miraculously were restored in it. Their son’s birthday, who died years ago, was the week of the conference. Linda at one point read Psalm 139:7-10:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
And then she said:
This is a God who pursues us… Jesus is not ashamed to call you brothers and sisters. He loved you before you could even love him back.
I had the pleasure of meeting Linda later that night. She had gotten to know my mom online and after she heard someone in the lobby call me by name, she turned to me, bewildered and grabbed me by the arms, asked: “Are you Tami’s?!?” And when I nodded, she wrapped me in a hug. There aren’t many hearts out there larger than Linda’s.
The keynote speech was a special one for me, because Rachel Held Evans has been my champion. She’s been a bold and attentive and loving voice to the LGBT community and a personal supporter of my little blog here. And what I want you to know about her is this: She is the real deal. If you are hoping if she’s just as kind and gracious and funny as she is in her writing, she’s all that and more. It was such a gift to meet her.
In her keynote, there was a moment where I daresay she held back tears. It was subtle and moving:
This morning I feel more like I’m in church than I have in a really long time. So thank you.
I think we all felt that way.
Because our dream of Church was so real here, almost too good to be true. We felt it in the late nights in the lounge, talking to one another about struggles we faced, loved ones who left, the faithfulness of Jesus through it all. In the moments of prayer over one another, followed by shared lists of favorite books and movies and who our first crushes were. We drank Mimosas at brunch and sobbed our way through tender conversations. We loved and we loved fiercely. And that, to me, is church.
I could go on about the workshops, about conversations with Matthew Vines and Rachel, about the two girls who stopped me in the lobby and told me my blog was their support system and with just a few words, validated my world forever. I could go into detail of the stories I heard, the depth of vulnerability we reached, the community that knit together so tightly. Maybe another time.
I will say, I got sick at the end with the flu and was so sad as I sat in the Urgent Care, knowing I was missing the final night. I paid a pretty penny for the examination, too, because it was late hours, and I was so worried because I had spent so much already on gas and parking and the hostel I stayed in and I wouldn’t get paid for another week… But as I laid awake that night, drugged up to wazoo on cold and flu meds, I thought to myself:
I would’ve paid more if I had to.
This was so worth it.