The Christian Closet

“It isn’t really an option if it is never a choice…

That’s one of my main mantras.

I couldn’t even consider it.” 

With intrigue, I asked a new friend about the moment that words like “lesbian” or “gay” began to filter her reality around who she might be. She was clear; she couldn’t enter a frame of mind of being gay when the spectrum of choices doesn’t present that kind of option. Plus, with a heavy dose of wit, she commented, “oh, and I had already prayed about that. I was covered. You know, ‘God please, don’t make me a homosexual.”

We laughed and chuckled audibly at her facetiousness. We understood – and we knew what she was talking about. “Growing up in a church” often conjures memories of praying for purity, holiness, and everything in between.

We understood, because my new friend had an audience of six women; all of us, having had met at a church small group for LGBT people and allies, were gay – and together. We each were in a partnership with another woman, and thought it might be a good idea for us to hit the town, grab a drink, and share stories. All twenty-something millennial women, our conversation came easy. I mean, it was a triple date, so there was plenty of talking to do.

This happened not because of our relative age, but actually, because we shared two important identities together: gay, and Christian. I have had lengthy conversations about my sexuality with gay friends. You know, the stories of support, the stories of rejection, and the stories of hoping, wishing, that perhaps this didn’t have to be so hard. I’ve also carried my faith into all aspects of my life; integrating this reality into my worldview and friendships. I’ve shared about God, and how I understand and experience God to be, with countless of friends.

But, when, if ever, have I shared both?

It’s happened in a handful of times. My partner and I, most frequently. Loving God and loving each other happen at the same time, so we exist much like bedfellows in this way. But otherwise, the intersectionality of these experiences has been limited to the moments I came out to my community and gatherings of gay Christians in friends’ homes in Denver.

On the triple date, I drank an abbreviated version of a Moscow mule and laughed so hard that only minuscules of oxygen seemed to reach my brain. I was immersed and engaged; I was hearing stories that spoke to me, stories that made my heart feel full. These women – they knew. They knew what it had meant to risk everything. Because that’s the thing: if you come from a religiously conservative background, veering from anything normative is dangerous, risky, and highly questionable. We all had done that. At some point, each of us had to say “enough” and just do it. I was inspired.

Accepting our identities, across the board, had been a struggle for us. It pushed us all to consider: is it possible that the gay, Christian closet is a bit different from the nonreligious variety? How does coming out look different for those of different religious backgrounds, or perhaps more broadly, for those who don’t hold fast to any religion at all?

The Pew Research Center conducted a 2013 survey of 1,197 LGBT adults. Arguably, this was one of the largest surveys of its kind; LGBT data is still relatively new, especially since wider acceptance has gained traction only within the last decade. The survey asked questions related to income, lifestyle, demographics, and discrimination. Four in ten of the respondents (39%) indicated that at some point in their life, they had been rejected by a close friend or family member because of their sexuality or orientation. No wonder the closet, though daunting, is a desirable place to stay. The closet keeps us safe from rejection, from risk, and honestly, from hate.

The closet hasn’t always been a thing.

According to an article from Mental Floss, this kind of terminology to express the experience of a gay person revealing themselves to the larger community, has only been used since the 1960’s. It was pulled from the expression of debutante balls, incidentally, not necessarily with a closet involved. Yet, over the years, as gay people undergo this experience of honesty, authenticity, and saying, “hey guys, I’m gay,” we use the “closet” to understand what that feels like to break free.

My closet was a Christian closet.

This wasn’t because of a forced upon religion in my background or because of rigid demands of my family. Far from that, actually. God, my faith, this Christianity we are talking about, has been something nurtured and growing inside of me for years. My closet is inherently Christian because everything in my life has fingertips of my faith; I see the world as a beautiful creation, as something I get the opportunity to take part in, and as a life with a deep calling for love as a way to bring humanity together.

Still, I carried with me old assumptions about God, and old beliefs about what and who I needed to be. I tried coming out of the closet when I was 23. But my god, I was terrified, and went back as quickly as I came out. Certainly, like all gay people, I struggled with the fear of who would accept me – or not. But there was another element; I had to understand, and know, if God would accept me. This, I think, is an area that makes the Christian closet so different from the closeted realities my LGBT family has to overcome.

This doesn’t mean that LGBT Christians have a tougher time, rather, there is an added reality to break through. The fear of shame comes in a different dose when you fear that God, the most universal reality for many, might think of us as horrible people for who we are attracted to. It’s ominous, oppressive, and a weapon used too often against the LGBT community. That’s why I think it’s critical, as a Christian community, to do everything we can to lift this layer of shame.

 God loves us. God loves you. God loves me.

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1 Corinthians 13

This is what I wish we would tell individuals who are afraid to be who they are. Closets are dark, isolating, and frankly, scary. At my deepest point, I assumed that I would have to live every day of my life in a state of persuasion, telling myself that I would have to be straight in order for me to be in good relationship with God. Even out of the closet, so to speak, I have moments where I am scared, ashamed, or overwhelmed. At a wedding, recently, I realized my partner and I were the only same-sex couple on the dance floor. What did people think? Did they think we were somehow less than someone else? Why can’t I just relax and rest in this moment?

Guys, this is messed up. I’m lucky because I broke through it, but the reality is that many do not.

Ironically, and surprisingly, as it relates to Christianity, as recently as 2016, 48% of LGBT people’s identify as Christian. Why does this matter? It means that a lot of people live with these co-existing tensions: being gay and being Christian. More importantly, it means that these identities do not have to be inherently tension-filled. What if we understand the community of God’s people to be open doors, welcome to anyone? What if Christian communities became leaders in recognizing that LGBT people are humans too, and equally deserving of God’s love?

Who are we to stand in the way of that?

Who are we to construct deeper closets for deeper pain?

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I don’t think that’s what Jesus imagined when he spoke of the Kingdom of God. I also do not think Jesus was talking about a utopia, rather, I think he was talking about the full manifestations of love. Love. It’s hard, messy, and difficult to navigate. However, if we commit ourselves to it, I believe that more people can come out, and come out safely. I believe more people can come out and know God. I believe that we can live in a better world, a safer one, one that chooses humanity over law; freedom over subjugation; community over isolation. The Christian Closet is a real, exasperating, and demanding experience, and I hope (and pray) that it won’t always be. I pray that we can always, always celebrate each other, for whatever and whoever we are.

Now, let’s get to work.

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street signs.

Summer seasons are often full of long, lazy days in the parks, taking in the sun, and the people, with friends. I love these days; they are full, but they are restful. Another part of summer, at least twice in the last two years, has been moving and changing locations.

Last year, I moved from the outer suburbs of Denver into prime real estate: Washington Park. I packed my bags and hunkered down in a 1-bedroom, sharing the house with three other young female professionals. It was exactly what I needed at the time – urban living, a fun neighborhood, and a bit more walkability to the places around me. I was close to Pearl Street and DU, so there were always exciting things happening.

Of course, in the last year, a lot has changed. And with those changes, I took another dive into a big move this summer, moving in with Chelsea. We had discussed it at length, even from the beginning of our relationship, understanding that things were, in fact, serious. We decided that as our leases eased closer to finishing (both ending on the exact same day) we would evaluate if living together was the next best thing.

And, in the end, it was. Living together isn’t a decision to be taken lightly; a lot can change, and more responsibility looms – to the relationship, and for your partner. However, I wouldn’t move in with just anyone; and knowing that Chelsea and I are a forever-kind-of-thing made this decision quite easy.

Let’s do it, we said.

We relocated to East-Central Denver, on the edge Hilltop, in the budding neighborhood of Lowry. Lowry, or Lowry Field as the neighborhood is also called, is on the site of the former Lowry Air Force Base. The Air Force Base trained military members, of all branches, for 57 total years, with a focus being air and space technology in the late 1950s. Interestingly, during this time, Dwight D. Eisenhower kept his summer home in Denver, in Lowry, with frequent stops on his plane, “the Columbine” on the base. The base closed in 1994 after it graduated 1.1 million Armed Forces. Since then, the city has initiated redevelopment efforts for the community, creating a space that is mixed-use, mixed-age, and mixed-race. Better yet, it’s home to over 800 parks and open space – about 20% of all Denver park acreage in Denver!

Our home is spacious and comfortable, with a gym on the first floor of the apartment (lifting weights just got easier). Most mornings, I write or read on our large patio, listening to the humming of the water foundation below. We’ve scoped out the nearby ice cream parlors, Rocket and High Point Creamery, and we’re game for walks at the park nearby, Crestmoor.

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Most of my life in Denver has been spent on the Southside (do people even say that here? Maybe?) so it is nice to mix it up, and enter a new community. Ironic, because now, we’re only blocks away from the first home I ever lived in – my parents’ home on Poplar, not far from Fairmount Cemetery. Life’s wonderfully ironic sometimes.

My favorite part of living together has been sharing meals, coming home to someone, and having easy access to my rollerblading buddy on the weekends. There’s a lot of small reasons why living together is great, but mostly, it’s just nice to share life with someone.

My drive to work from our new place is relatively straightforward; I head north on Monaco and then due west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The drive is both tranquil and picturesque, lined with large, old, overhanging oak trees in the median and outer edges of the traffic lanes. Historic homes are everywhere in this part of town, complete with old bricks and ominous, circular pillars.

However, as I’ve adjusted to my commute, I have started noticing more and more of what’s around me. What I’ve seen, a lot more than what I used to see in the Washington Park community, is the prevalence of homelessness.

As I get closer to Northeast Park Hill (which has a median income of $37,468.06, as opposed to the median income of $88,479 in South Park Hill), I traverse through different socio-economic classes and a variance of make-ups in Denver’s community.

Intentionally, I started reading and keeping note of the some of the signs I would pass on these short drives. Some said:

“Family in need.”

“Veteran & hungry.”

“Anything helps.”

These are street signs of course, but it made me wonder, why do people write what they do on a sign that can fit 10 words – max? More than that, though, I’ve been contemplating what is happening in Denver’s migration (in and out) and how it’s affecting people who have lived here a very long time.

Just the other morning, I passed these same streets and saw a woman with a walker standing on the curb, again, with a sign. How did this happen? What brought her to this place? I felt not pity, but a helplessness that I have not felt for quite some time. I didn’t know what to say, and more obviously, I didn’t know where to look. It hurts, sometimes, to look someone with that kind of pain in the eyes. It’s important, though, I think to regard someone’s humanity in the moment. So, I looked, and the light turned green, and I drove by.

Another morning, another day.

Denver is not what it used to be. Old neighborhoods are gentrified; gangs are becoming pushed to smaller parts of historic neighborhoods and we are left with something of a huge problem. This city can only fit so much.

What will happen with the people on the margins?

I have found a new home, but I can’t help but wonder and ask what will happen with others. I see these street signs popping up and I don’t know what to do. The signs point to something larger, and perhaps, like old prophecy, we are left to decipher and await new meaning for what’s happening to our city, and hence, what’s happening to our people.

We assume people on the side of the road are after drugs or haven’t tried a shelter. That could be true, but I am left with a stronger sense of I don’t know. I don’t know what their stories are. We, if we are to be honest, don’t know as much as we think we do.

Our city is changing, and changing fast. The average rent, for a one-bedroom is $1,413, monthly[1]. There are a lot of reasons to come here, to be sure, but I hope that the swiftly changing demographics of our city doesn’t to continue to harm only certain groups of people.

I’m a beneficiary of these changes, I can afford rent here – at least for now.

However, it’s still difficult to see individuals (and families), stuck in the middle of somewhere in between, unable to make ends meet. Moving has opened my eyes up to this, and I will continue to keep my eyes open, waiting, watching, and looking for a way to find the answer for what we do amid all these tensions.

[1] https://www.rentjungle.com/average-rent-in-denver-rent-trends/

Pride: A Celebration of Love.

As a kid, I was obsessed with Lucky Charms, saving each of those colorfully flamboyant, sugar-filled marshmallow pieces until the very end of my cereal consumption. I would eat the toasted oat pieces first, then slurp the milk, and lastly, like a raving encore at the end of a galvanizing concert, eat the marshmallows into a large, heaping spoonful of delight. I liked Lucky Charms because they were tasty and certainly, “magically delicious.”

When dad dropped me off for day care – and I was maybe 4, 5 years old – we would eat bowls of cereal for breakfast. Most of the other kids would stop after 1 bowl. But you could be certain, if Lucky Charms was the cereal of the day I would be back, once, twice, you never know. Yes, rainbows, from the start of my life were important – and not just because of my breakfast choices.

During my summers, off from school, I spent most of my waking moments outside. When you grow up in Colorado, that’s just how that goes. I would ferociously bike around the neighborhood with my brother, chasing rabbits, catching speed, and pursuing adventure. We would come home right before day became night and encounter the beauty of a sky speckled with hues of blood orange and royal blue. On providential days, there would be a rainbow, too.

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I learned about rainbows when I started going to church. I was a late-bloomer in the Christian world, not having started regular church attendance until I was in high school. When I received my first Bible, I voraciously read parables, stories, and narratives of wisdom to build the budding foundation of my faith. I read about Noah, as new Christians often do, and noticed very specifically the presence of a rainbow. In Genesis 9:17, God tells Noah,

“Yes, this rainbow is the sign of the covenant I am confirming with all the creatures on earth.” (NLV).

 A covenant? With all creatures on earth? Cool. That’s great.

This wasn’t just any covenant either – this promise from God to Noah represented the peace that God brings to, for, and with humanity. I didn’t know it then, but this was a pretty damn big deal.

As it turns out, a rainbow is never just a rainbow.

Every year, when June rolls around, we celebrate “Pride Month” and rainbow flags (also known as the gay pride flag or the LGBT pride flag) pop all over town, and all over the country. June was selected to be LGBT Pride Month because the Stonewall Riots (Manhattan, NY) ended in June of 1969, launching a series of gatherings, parties, and concerts to celebrate the community. It was a tipping point for the growth and visibility of the LGBT movement.

On street corners, in office buildings, and on the front stoops of bungalow homes during Pride Month, you can find these flags. In recent years, big corporate companies re-brand for the celebrations too, integrating these vibrant colors into their existing logos in solidarity. We’re with you. That’s the message and that’s the point.

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Example of LGBT-focused Corporate Branding: Target.

But, what does this, the rainbow flag, actually mean?

The flag and the colors themselves have shifted over the years, especially as the design as undergone revisions and changes; sometimes the changes have been motivated by fabric colors locally available, other times it’s been a larger cultural shift, like this year, with the addition of black and brown to the flag, pointing to the necessary unity for LGBT people and people of color. Most typically, the flag now carries six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

The original flag, designed in 1978 by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker, held eight colors, each with its own symbolism. Baker said as recently as 2015, “…we needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power. And the rainbow did that.”

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These colors are not unfamiliar or foreign to me; I saw heaping amounts of glitter, sparkles, and unicorns at Denver Pride last year – in 2016. I was learning about what the colors and vibrancy meant; however, I still felt distant from the freedom they offered. By the dozens, people danced along Colfax Avenue recklessly and without abandon, cheering as loud as their voices would allow, and waving bandanas unceasingly in a sign of harmony and togetherness. I was marching with the Colorado Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group, and these scenes of joy and love moved me – but again, I felt disconnected from it. Internally, I was battling with what I knew to be true (I am gay) and the outward expression of my life (let’s not tell anyone about this). I could see the life I wanted, but like grasping for something just far enough away, I was not sure I would be able to ever hold on to it.

I signed up to march in the Pride parade because of the June 12, 2016 shooting at Pulse. This was a sacred time for the LGBT community and upon learning of what had happened at the Orlando nightclub, I knew that it was incredibly important to attend, stand with, and be present to this celebration of inclusion. Hate, I felt strongly, would not have the last word. I wanted to be present to a place that says, “Yes! We are here. We are together.”

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Denver Pride, 2016.

I’ve read somewhere that on average, a person who happens to be gay “comes out” seven times. You come out to yourself – again, again, and again, and still, again. Then, when you can accept this, you begin to offer this very vulnerable part of yourself to others.

“Coming out” is both powerfully beautifully and oddly strange.

The beauty of coming out is allowing yourself to be known, and for the other, to affirm the love that pulses within us.

The sad part of coming out is that it often is such a tumultuous process. Never in my life have I had to share something so intimate with other people, hoping earnestly that I would get the stamp of approval. Can you imagine doing this to every single person you know? It’s lovely. But, let it be known, it’s absolutely exhausting.

Have you ever “come out” because you have a large inheritance? Have you ever “come out” because you eat fish, not beef? Have you ever “come out” because you are brown-haired, not blonde?

Why, I often wonder, have we stuck LGBT peoples with the task of having to work so hard to normalize what has been birthed inside of them? It’s complicated, too, because unlike race, or even ethnicity, a person’s sexuality can be relatively hidden. I can’t hide that I am a white woman. But, gay? I could hide that if I desired. And, I have. And, I did.

Pride nullifies this process entirely.

Pride doesn’t say that you are “OK” – Pride says you are loved. Pride puts the excruciating process of judgment on the shelf and says, rest. Laugh. Love. Pride reminds many that they are not alone.

I didn’t “get” Pride until I finally came out (again). All along, I’ve known this truth about me. But, there is a very important distinction between “being gay” and “choosing to be who you are.” People remain stuck in the closet of isolation, trapped by fear and shame, and never (literally, and sadly, never) live openly.

I was more at rest than I have, perhaps, ever, been when I attended Denver Pride this year, in 2017. I was not hiding anymore or trying to change my own mind about who I was. I am living my life, outwardly, driven by the most real pieces of who I am. The energy and vivacity of Pride reminded me that I, like many others, had made it. I chose freedom. I chose life.

Chelsea and I arrived late, dropping glitter from our matching tutu outfits everywhere we walked. I wore my favorite unicorn shirt and clapped, laughed, and shouted as representatives from churches, businesses, groups, organizations, and everyone in between walked by. We ate popsicles and took photographs. We hung out with our friends in the shade. We visited what felt like hundreds of booths, all with rainbow gay echoing the same message: love.

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Denver Pride, 2017.

Pride, at its core, is a celebration of love.

Towards the end, as the music waned and the sun started to burn ever so slightly on my skin, I took a small, private moment with God to say, “thank you.” I was inexpressibly grateful, filled to the top of my cup because finally, Pride was something I could step into and know.

Pride was more than flashy celebrations on blocked black-tar streets around the world. Pride was more than the pomp and circumstance of love is love is love. It’s all those things, of course, but Pride is special because it is a sacred time of the year when all of us in the LGBT community can remember, reflect, and be driven forward with the conscious reality that we matter, we are loved, and we can be ourselves. Pride acts as a marker against hate; freedom for us, liberation for all, it’s bound up in the ability to think differently, and to do things differently, too. I’m certainly not perfect. I have more work to do – for myself and others. Pride tells us to “go” – to not stop – and to push forward even when it feels like systems, world views, or leaders want otherwise.

Pride is a place where God can enter and say, “Yes, YOU! YOU! You are strong enough.”

I accept.

I am home – and that’s why Pride is so special, and that’s what it means to me.

“call ya when i’m pregnant.”

I have loved writing since I can remember – always.

Consistently there has been something enticing to me about putting pen to paper, eagerly seeking (and earnestly hoping) to capture the nuances of life through words, descriptions, and stories of all kinds – amusing, difficult, mysterious, complicated, sweet, painful, hopeful, and joyful, just to name a few. Life is these things, and words can be both not enough and more than enough, and it is fun, frankly, to play with that reality.

From the beginning of my childhood, and still until now, I journal regularly.

Some people hold onto collections of stamps, coins, or baseball cards like they are the true gold standard in our world. Others have difficulties in letting go of sentimental birthday cards. For me, it has always been those damn journals. Recently, I was packing belongings to move to a new place in Denver and decided that I had to fit all the notebooks, planners, and decorative journals into one (yes, one) box. I did it – but it was not easy. When you have over 30 notepads of thoughts, dreams, and reflections, packing becomes slightly more complicated.

Because of this persistent affinity for writing, I chose to take a journalism course while in my first year of high school. It was a dream; I learned about different types of reporting, writing styles, and ways in which to conduct interviews. Following my time in this class, I was tempted to join the newspaper club, but instead, opted for yearbook. I began the following year as a staffer and bopped around the school, taking photographs, carefully placing them in lay-outs, and writing unique, engaging captions.

Yearbook was full of lively, energetic, and interesting people. As an athlete, I knew a great deal of the football, soccer, and field hockey communities, but when I joined yearbook, I experienced a deep-dive into the circles and groups of people that worked behind the scenes to share what was happening within our high school community at-large. I made new friends, and I liked it.

One of my new friends was Chelsea.

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Chelsea was Editor-in-Chief when I joined the club, meaning that she was overseeing and managing both the staffers and editorial team, ensuring that our content was high-quality and “on-theme.” Most yearbooks have a “theme” (typically chosen at the previous summer’s Yearbook Camp – yes that’s real – for the following year).

I liked Chelsea from the start; she had an infectious laugh, a strong drive to do impeccable work, and an approachable attitude for when I – or others – had questions. By the time I was a junior, and she a senior, I was also on the Editor team, with the role of Copy Editor. This meant we had long nights in the yearbook room when deadlines were looming, and more regular meetings together to ensure the copy of the yearbook matched the photographs and overall story of Grandview, our high school.

A year ahead when I was a junior, Chelsea graduated Grandview High School in 2006 and prepared to leave for college – but not before I could write in her own yearbook, per standard high school tradition.

We found this book recently, amidst old dust and faded boxes, with intrigue about what I might have possibly written inside.

You see, last summer, Chelsea and I re-connected in the most unexpected and surprising of ways, after over eight years without any regular, consistent communication. With yearbook behind us and a lot of life lived, we remained “Facebook friends” but not meaningfully connected, considering we were both roaming around the Denver area.

Our lack of connection changed only because of a happenstance conversation with my roommate. On a breezy, mid-summer evening last year, we headed to the movie theatre to see “Me Before You.” We had each read the book and cried (okay, sobbed) and wanted to see the movie so we could assess the adaptation. On the drive to the theatre, we had what would be a life-changing conversation.

Casually, she probed, “So, Heather, what’s going on with you? You haven’t mentioned anyone special in your life? Are you dating anyone?”

I paused.
My stomach tightened.
Sweat began to trace along the hairs of my neck.
I swallowed hard and hoped that my voice wouldn’t be too shaky.

I knew I was gay. I was ready to be out. But, I was also excruciatingly scared. Still, I knew that I needed “practice” if I was going to start living out my truth and being 100% authentic with the people I knew. My roommate was a safe person, so I decided to take a risk and speak honestly.

I said the quickest of prayers, hoping this wouldn’t wreak havoc.

You know, actually I am not dating anyone right now. The thing is, I want to date a woman…and as you know, I’m a Christian…and I’m just now sure I can find anyone who is both – gay and Christian.”

Oh! You should meet my friend! I mean…not like a set-up or anything…but as a mentor and a person to talk to. She came out late last year and has continued a journey of reconciling and integrating her identity as a gay woman and her faith. You all should meet up. I’ll connect you.

Oh. Well. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

I smiled, taking a deep breath, grateful that I could trust myself – and God – to be open and share. And hey, who knows! A new friend. I could always use one of those.

We saw the movie and went home and everything was fine.

Until, a few days later when everything was not fine.

It was…well, it was insane.

When speaking with my roommate again, I found out that her friend was Chelsea. As in yearbook Chelsea! I was speechless, flabbergasted, and amused. Just in the previous weeks, I had seen a photograph of Chelsea at her brother’s wedding and decided to look at her profile like any respectable Millennial. Immediately, I was impressed with the fact that she was open, out, and public with her sexuality. I admired that, perhaps because that was what I so deeply wanted, too.

We laughed, and I knew then, that yes! I wanted to see Chelsea. An old friend, I wanted to reengage, learn from her experiences, and understand more about how I could simultaneously move closer to God – and to my own authenticity. I was excited; Chelsea and I exchanged a few messages and we planned a coffee meet-up for a few days after at one of my favorite places – Purple Door Coffee.

We did have that coffee date, and then we had another one, and another one after that, and soon, walks in the park with ice cream. Things unfolded both slowly and quickly, and I found myself intrigued, enthused, and terrified by the way that I felt. I was beginning to like her – yes, Chelsea – my yearbook friend. The crazy thing was (and is) that re-learning about a person almost a decade later is like learning about a new person entirely. We aren’t the same people anymore. We changed, experienced more of life, had joys, had pain, and certainly, had a lot to talk about.

I had intended our coffee connection to re-ignite our friendship. I did not expect to fall in love. But, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened.

This of course, coincided with years of previous work I had been doing to exist in the difficult space of unpacking my identity as gay Christian woman. I have known I was gay for a long time. For much of that, I didn’t have the words to articulate. For some of that, I didn’t have the time to process. Sadly, for a great deal of that, I was hidden, ashamed of who I was, scared of what it might mean. I tried “praying the gay away” – I did that for at least two years of my life. But, in 2016, before I met Chelsea, I finally was giving myself to God, asking who He wanted me to be. I was committed to authenticity and love, largely from what I was seeing in the world around me; the Pulse shooting happened, and suddenly, I knew that my hiding was over. Enough was enough.

Most of all, I didn’t want to live my life holding back, shielding the “real me” for the rest of my life. That is hardly living; in many ways, that’s an active kind of death – and I was not interested.

So, Chelsea and I get together, we date, we talk, and we begin to grow – together.

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Which brings me back to the boxes and of course, that old high school yearbook.

We have been packing for the last two weeks because we are moving into a new apartment – together – in the Lowry area of Denver, just about a half-mile from the first house I ever lived in, right after I was born. That’s kind of beautiful, I think. When we dug through some old items in Chelsea’s boxes, we found the yearbook, and we found what I wrote (which, warning, is slightly embarrassing, largely because of the strange vocabulary that I thought was acceptable in 2006) –

Chelsea!

Where do I begin? You have made YBK everything and more for me! You’re such an amazing leader and a fantastic editor in chief. You always made me smile and your laugh kicks booty.

You’re gonna kick butt in college and wow! You’re gonna work with babies someday! I’ll call you when I’m pregnant! I love you so much!

Have fun in Oklahoma…when I’m visiting my grandpa (he lives in Hooker), I’ll call you so we can hang out. Good luck and we will miss you.

Visit tons! We should hang!

Heather N.

Yes, I loved writing, and reading these few sentences might be my most cringe-worthy pieces I have ever put to paper. I mean, “booty”…really?

But my, how we laughed when we found this.

How wonderfully, ironically, perfect.

Perhaps we do not always know what our words can do or where they will take us, but sometimes, they come back and make us laugh, cry, joyful, and nostalgic. I still can’t believe that my story – our story – has played out like this. I still cannot believe that all of this, this part of my story, is real. I’m happy, honest, and most importantly, truly, authentically alive.

I’m only here because I chose truth over lie. I’m only here because I chose life over death. I’m only here because I, in the core of my being, knew that I could trust God’s love enough to be gay.

I’m here, and my writing is proof of it. Even in small scratches of words in yearbook. It’s all with us, it all reminds us, and it all moves us forward as we exist in the tensions of who we were and who we are, and who we will grow to be.

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The Baptism of Narragansett

Sea crumbs clutch the ankles of my shell-cast feet;

the sand sinks, as i run, run, run,

melting like ice cream in the breezy, cold sun of Narragansett.

 

my voice is no longer silenced but i choose to be quiet –

the Sea has something important to say,

the liberation of others is bound in you.

the liberation of you is bound in others.

 

i am tired of being the oppressed;

i am tired of being the oppressor,

why must i be both?

Sea, won’t you free me?

 

white gay rich woman traveled far

to be here.

 

wildly, i embrace the ocean, the Sea, the wide blue of love

my breathe is cut short,

i am outside of me, finally.

 

do i feel oppressed?

i am oppressed in what we call beautiful –

i am oppressed in what we call love –

i am oppressed in how you look at me –

i am oppressed in how i must justify my choices –

 

my oppression is blind

you will not find it in

poor slums,

poor homes,

the confines of my office,

or the car i drive

 

you will find it in the secret corners of dark hearts.

 

have i oppressed?

i took what was not mine

i received what i did not work for

i benefited from the whiteness that covers me, follows me, lives in me –

 

Baptize me, Sea, in the freedom to know I am loved.

 

I am enough.

I am an active agent here, on earth, on the sweet Sea of Narragansett,

and I will fight for those who stand, sit, and fight in chains –

 

and for myself –

i will open the lungs for breath and use my words for good,

i will write the words of truth,

i will give up power for the sake of the other,

i will ask again, and again, and again that the oppressor in me – will die –

 

I am free, like the Sea crumbs that fill my hair, heart, soul.

Bring me to the salvation of perfect love.

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what we are recovering from

Several weeks ago, upon returning from Rwanda, I arranged to have a chat with a close family relative. I had interviewed her for a book project I started earlier in the year and so we needed a follow-up conversation. The book is a narrative-based work, weaving together the many stories and experiences of women who shaped my life into my own personal narrative.

I’m going to be real: writing a book is a hellishly-slow experience.

I try to write something every few days but when the creative juices aren’t flowing, I feel stuck. When my schedule is full it can be challenging to find time to settle and just write.

Still, I stick with it because what I know to be true about writing is that it is a labor of love and often, you must sit and exist through the progression, knowing that even in the grueling creative process, you are still moving forward.

We sipped our black Starbuck coffees leisurely and chuckled nervously about the state of the world. Apparently, in just a couple of months, a lot can happen. I filled her in with some of my Rwandan anecdotes (namely, climbing mountains and learning about the processes for TWB bakeries throughout the country) while she informed me on grassroots work she had started and various family updates.

When we shifted towards the content of her interviews and contributions to my writing, I confided that some of what she shared had genuinely surprised me.

Well, what surprised you the most?”

I paused thoughtfully and replied,

I mean, for one, I just didn’t know all that my grandmother had been through. Previously, I hadn’t fully connected that her parents were also divorced…it’s unbelievable that I really do come from a family of divorce.”

She shifted her head ever so slightly and firmly, but gently spoke,

Alcoholism. You have alcoholism in your family. You must consider why so many of these divorces have happened, you must consider the root cause. You can’t simply blame divorce as a stand-alone entity.”

Mind. Blown.

The divorces (and there have been many) are symptomatic of something much larger. Her point shifted my mind (and attitude) entirely – which, is actually crazy, because I’ve been thinking about divorce and alcoholism for most of my life. However, her perspective was new and fresh. When you have people in your life that can offer that gift to you, the gift of perspective, take it. Always, take it.

I have forgotten that a legacy of divorce doesn’t just happen. The word “legacy” is, in fact, appropriate; my parents divorced, both of my grand-parents divorced, my grandmother’s parents also divorced. Generations upon generations upon generations.

Too often, I have blamed the rampancy of divorce in my family without digging deeper. Divorce is fueled by something, though. In this case, alcohol.

Weeks since that sobering conversation over coffee, I have intentionally sat with the reality of how alcoholism has affected me; just because I don’t have the disease does not mean that I have been left unscathed.

I have lied to myself for much of my life: you are fine. It’s not your problem. Ignore it. Just be happy.

Yet, the truth persists and it will always find a way to break through.

Alcoholism has driven me to the darkest places of myself, where anger flows likes blood through my veins, and I can hardly see anything but seething, writhing pain. The crack of beer cans continues to frustrate me and can swiftly bring me to moments of confusion and avoidance from my childhood. Addiction is carried as a burden for the one addicted, but the wounds never remain internal. They spread like a sprinkler across a yard, and often, I feel like the nature of this disease has hit me, again, again, and still again. Alcohol and addiction dance like shadowy silhouettes on the walls of my life and it is time for it to be revealed and removed.

In a search for healing, Al-Anon, a support group for family members and friends of alcoholics, has been something recommended to me as frequently as I am told about a new ice cream shop around town (a lot). Typically, when someone would mention the organization, I would nod and smile, but know immediately: hell no. I don’t need help. I’m fine.

Interestingly, since coming out fully, proudly, and openly, it has been easier to understand and see myself, as if the blind spots were beginning to fade away. Identity is strangely funny like that: the more open you can be with yourself – resisting the temptation for shame – the more you can learn about yourself, too.

So, with a more transparent lens, I began to see that it was time to address this issue in my life and take responsibility for my own health – both physical and mental. I might not be able to control alcoholism, but I could take responsibility for my reaction to it. Last month, I went to my first Al-Anon meeting.

I was simultaneously nervous and completely at peace at the same time. I have never figured out how you can feel so many things all at once. The human brain and heart are incredible that way.

When I entered the room, I saw Chelsea and was grateful that she had come with me for the first week. Everyone was gathered in a circle, discreet, but kind in their welcoming expressions and invitations. I received literature about Al-Anon, mostly to review the “steps” and the purpose of the meetings and group. It was overwhelming at first – I wanted to run. But, vigilant, I sat in my own uncomfortability for the hour it required and slowly, but surely, softened to the realization that I belonged, and that I could be understood.

This circle of strangers knew what it felt like to be present to a disease that manifested in beer cans and hard liquor bottles. These everyday people likely knew what it felt like to transform into a monster when reacting to bouts of drunkenness. These humans, none of whom I even know, could relate to the heartbreak of wanting someone to be fully, completely, healthy and yet having no control over that kind of healing.

I was heartbroken, I fathomed for the first time, and I had found a place that might be able to give some stitches, of sorts.

There are hundreds of these kinds of groups everywhere, each week. The sheer size of the group amazed me. The circle had at least 20 people, and in doing some reading before-hand, learned that 7% of Americans suffer from alcohol addiction. That is a lot of people, and that is a lot of lives touched.

Part of the meeting involves a theme or message, and the other half invites people to share and reflect on their stories of alcoholism. While individuals bravely spoke, I witnessed a faint but still consistent narrative. Instead of victimizing themselves in their own story, they acknowledged the impact of the disease, and focused more on the role they have in the situation. The focus was not the alcoholic themselves – it was understanding where freedom exists for us (the witnesses to alcoholism) within the arduous situations we all face, releasing any perceived control of the situation.

I don’t typically speak about alcoholism like this; for me, it’s often been framing the conversation about the pain I have experienced and the ridiculousness of words, situations, or traumas that have occurred. This is not inherently toxic, but when we fail to see the alcoholic as a person with a disease, we rob them of their humanity.

I am guilty of doing this.

Like I said, this disease has forced me to look in the darker places inside me and try to find what I hope to be possible: liberation.

Initially, this confused me. So many sentences of these stories began with, “my recovery…” and I mused defensively, wondering, “what, exactly, are we recovering from?”

It only took me a week to find out.

Recovery, in this context, means living in freedom, even while alcoholism persists. Recovery means reclaiming myself and releasing the blame I have previously claimed. Recovery means recognizing and overcoming the damage it has done in my life. Recovery means letting go.

Recovery removes my expectations of what should happen.

Most importantly, recovery acknowledges that I cannot save the people I love. Yet, I can still love them – regardless of the choices they make.

This does not insinuate a resignation of hope, or of love, or of the past.

After just a couple of Al-Anon meetings, I grasped that this chapter of healing has been (and will be) demanding and gritty and grueling.

Alcoholism is a terrible, unfair, and horrendous disease.

However, we persist. We must always persist.

Recovery is always an option – for everyone.

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20 questions you should always ask.

20 Questions You Should Always Ask

So, it turns out that I am (proudly) in my late twenties (holler).

A strong marker for reaching this age (somewhere in that fuzzy window between 25 and 35) is that you have likely attended at least a dozen awkward, slightly uncomfortable networking events.

Just gonna be real, here. For the most part, I enjoy going out and meeting new people. However, I must be honest and say that I am so, totally, completely, whole-heartedly over the trite question that permeates networking events everywhere,

“What do you do?”

You know, that dreaded, standardized and bastardized “getting to know you” inquiry that pervades nearly every schmoozing event known to man-kind.

I might be being dramatic, but I think that you know what I am talking about.

It’s not a horrendous question, I admit. However, if we are trying to get to know who people are, it has often confused me that we start with someone’s profession and employment, not insights about the person themselves.

Yes, our work matters.
Yes, our work can tell a lot about our interests, talents, abilities, or preferences.

However, sadly, I think we place too much stock in who a person is based on the job they hold. The employment written on our resume, Linked In, or name-tag has come to equate the value a person has. And that’s not a good thing, in my opinion.

I’m guilty as anyone.

For a good chunk of my life, I committed myself zealously to one thing, and to one thing only: I must change the world. And, obviously, this can only happen through my job or the work I do.

I’m being facetious, but this line of thinking was and has been 100% true.

Lately, instead, I’ve been trying to think “outside the box” and consider that perhaps, maybe our lives (and our jobs) don’t always need to be solution-driven. Our work doesn’t have to exist only in direct opposition to a problem that persists in the world.

Most of the time, our work is much more nuanced and complicated than this. What about researchers? Waitresses? Graphic designers? Bus-drivers?Principals? Ministers? Economists? Manufacturers? Car Salesmen?

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A lot of the time, our work is providing services, skills, projects, or tasks that are value-adds to economies (globally), to education, to business, to communities, to health services, or other kinds of sectors that then might be helping with the world simply by being a part of a collective work. We can change the world because we are a part of it and addressing injustices, gaps, and wholes in all kinds of ways.

Our singular job title will never tell the whole story. It adds to the story, I think. Usually, people are in a line of work for a reason: perhaps they need the paycheck only, but sometimes, they’ve selected that industry or sector because they are passionate, want to help, or are hella smart. Yes, I said hella.

This year, I have started writing a book that is focused on influential women in my life. The concept is still evolving, but the main idea is to capture the power that stories have relationally: who we are inherently affects the people around us. Writing a book that tells the stories of others has meant a lot of interviewing and asking questions – and my, oh my, I love asking questions.

In my handy-archive of questions that I enjoy asking to new friends, old friends, and strangers on the street (that’s not an exaggeration), here are the 20 that I love the most.

If you would like to change the conversation too, then hey, these questions are a great place to start. These questions help brighten those occasionally mundane and stuffy networking events – especially if there is cheese and wine – so have fun, and be bold. They help bring out stories – not resumes – and to me, that’s always a move in the right direction. These are good for those spaces – but also for friends, grandparents, neighbors, and co-workers.

You never know what small questions might lead to.

Good luck, and happy conversations.

What is the earliest memory you have?

 

When you were a kid, what did you want to be? Did it change?

 

Have you been in love? What was it like?

 

Do you believe in soulmates? Why or why not?

 

Who had the greatest impact on you in your life?

 

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life what would it be?

 

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced?

 

What three adjectives would your friends use to describe you?

 

What is the one thing you have always wanted to do in your life but

haven’t?

 

If you could only have one super power what would it be?

 

Describe your biggest fear.

 

Where would you go if you could go anywhere for one day?

 

In your world, what does “balance” mean and look like?

 

What makes you most sad about the world and do you think that issue or problem is solvable?

 

How would you describe “home”?

 

Share a moment from your life when you were completely, totally free and/or happy.

 

What do you like most about yourself?

 

What is your greatest weakness?

 

What do you think the point of life is?

 

What will always make you laugh?