a new kind of church

Edith Windsor, 88, passed away last week and honestly, my heart broke a little.

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Edith Windsor.

Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, amidst the tumbleweeds, dirt, and turbulence of the Great Depression, she entered her young teenage years in the midst of World War II, and then “came of age” in the 1950’s and 60’s when the United States was thick in the Civil Rights Movement.

From the very beginning, her existence lived and breathed history. She was whip smart, too, having earned a Master’s Degree from NYU in Mathematics and worked at IBM, eventually becoming a computer programmer.

Edith Windsor was (and is) an icon in the LGBT+ community; she was the lead plaintiff in the landmark case United States vs. Windsor that ultimately overturned section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (defining the term “spouse” as only applied for marriages between a man and a woman), a landmark victory for the same-sex marriage movement in the United States.

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Edith, following the ruling in United States vs. Windsor

Windsor’s journey started in 2009 when her spouse, Thea Spyer, died of complications from multiple sclerosis. Because they had married in Canada, the marriage was not recognized in the United States because of DOMA. Ultimately, she was forced to pay an excruciating amount of estate taxes, and knowing this was unfair and inequitable, she filed suit. Because of this case, beginning in 2015, the highest court in the land granted gays and lesbians the right to marry the people they love. Rainbow flags flooded the streets everywhere across our nation; again, our Constitution found a way to deliver on the promise that we set forth so long ago: all (men) are created equal.

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Photo Courtesy of John Pavlovitz Blog.

Edith’s legacy is etched in stone and it will not soon be forgotten. At her eulogy, the Rabbi Amy B. Ehrilch noted, “…Her legacy is one of love, and the right we now have to marry the people we love…to have love as your legacy in life, and in law, is an everlasting blessing.”

Not knowing the nature of her last days, I cannot be sure if she knew of The Nashville Statement or any of the subsequent releases of mass statements for (or against) members of the LGBT+ community. If she had, I am sure it left her saddened and confused.

When The Nashville Statement was initially released, concurrent with Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas, the first thought I had was: why now? What’s the point? I mean, hello, we have a city nearly underwater and instead of using our energies to support them by whatever means possible, we think it is necessary to draw the line between us and them? Really?

That was even before I read the statement.

In a week of fragility, I avoided reading what I was told was a document of ignorance, judgement, and division. Curiosity won me over, as it usually does, and I found myself reading this particular Evangelical Christian Statement of Faith or “manifesto” sponsored by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Word after word, in the 14 statements put forth (with each statement including both an affirmation and denial), it was as though a large line was drawn between “right” and “wrong” and unquestionably, I was left to think I was wrong simply because of who I am.

Article 7, for example declares, “We DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”

 

Article 8, continues, “We AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful lie pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life. We DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”

 These statements, peppered with fancy language might sound kind to some, but let me tell you, these words aren’t “kind.” These words are telling me – and others – that our understanding of self (and identity) is not supported by God. That’s heartbreaking. Plain and simple. Additionally, I have major issues with the signers of this document choosing sexual orientation and sexual identity, above many other things (think: war, death, violence, hate) as the main markers of “ruin.” Of all the things.

Woefully, what I think is forgotten when mass paragraphs of rhetoric are released is the fact that when we are talking about this, we are talking about people. You know, human beings. The Nashville Statement defaces the humanity of the “issue” and, at least in me, pressed and prodded a trigger of doubt of who I was and the wondering if God could really love me. Revisiting this shadow of doubt every so often is tremendously painful. I spent years in this space, and when it lurks and creeps back into my life, it takes every ounce of faith to scream and shout, “No!”

Which is why I was immensely relieved, in light of The Nashville Statement, that there were a handful of other statements – largely from church leaders from around the country – that stood in defense and in love for LGBT+ people. As I read through the Christians United Statement, I saw my pastor’s name at the bottom of the document with hundreds of others.

Michael Hidalgo, Denver Community Church.

Exhaling more deeply than I had all day, I let the tears of relief come to my eyes.

We’re not alone, I thought.

I felt a lot of things, but the most important one was gratitude. Beyond any doubt, I am grateful that I am a part of an inclusive, welcoming, and loving community. I am grateful that the faith community I choose to take part in prioritizes unity over uniformity. Denver Community Church (DCC), though an inclusive church, does not maintain a church body where everyone thinks the same thing on LGBT+ related issues. However, as church body, they stand in defense of us, believing that everyone has a right to be loved – namely, a right to take part in the aged tradition of pursuing a God that created us, loves us, and chooses us (all of us). In my wildest dreams, I could not have imagined a faith community quite like this. Loving Jesus in this way, in this lens, allows me to know him better, to know myself better, and to know others better, too.

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Denver Community Church, Uptown.

I came out (officially) in 2016, one year after DOMA “was dead” and same-sex marriage became legal. This is important because “coming out” is different than it was 20 years ago; hell, it’s different than it was 200 years ago. Culturally, we’ve come a long way, and it is common to find many who acknowledge the level of safety and acceptance that exists in the fabric of our society.

I am a beneficiary of this. I inherited this. I got damn lucky.

With these ever-pressing cultural shifts, there is an opportunity for a new narrative for the church, and for LGBT+ people. This is not a case of the church adopting the mainstream culture, instead, I think it is actually a chance for the church to pursue love – whatever the cost. When Jesus tells us to follow him, to really follow him – and leave everything behind – I think that is what he’s talking about. It’s not just about our things – it’s about our assumptions, our preconceived notions, even our own ideologies. When we surrender these for a chance to love (and learn more about the people around us) crazy, crazy (good) things can happen.

Traditionally and historically, church communities have stood as pillars of “righteousness” and have rejected the idea that people could (and would) be gay.

That’s putting it lightly; gay people have been pushed to conversion therapies; gay people have been embarrassed and abused, and perhaps most frequently, their attendance has not been welcomed. The church, if anything, should be home to those who are rejected. Why on earth, have we tolerated, allowed, and permitted (implicitly or not) the church to be the rejecter?

What if churches – and perhaps, all faith communities for that matter – recognized that humanity is most beautiful because of its diversity. Because of its colors, ethnicities, genders, and orientations.

At DCC recently, Pastor Hidalgo pointed out a perspective on Genesis that he had studied from a Jewish Rabbi. This Rabbi presented a unique lens to view what God was creating in Genesis and at the time of creation; in verses 11-25, the first chapter of the Bible details the type or kinds of vegetation, light, and creatures that were being made. But, when it came to humans, in verses 26-28, there was not the same, parallel language of categories. Simply, there was, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…” This is about humanity and the vastness by which God has created us.

Now, more than ever, churches have a chance to re-write oppression and judgements of the past; we can be reconciling communities; we can open our doors; we can change.

Changing the narrative from rejection to welcoming requires commitment, time, and resilience. There are a lot of stakes; money, leadership, opinions, and ideologies. People will disagree. People might even leave. However, the formation of the church was just like this: progressive, radical, and hinged upon what? Love. Tell me Jesus wouldn’t say the same thing.

What if the church reclaimed the story?

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There is so much room for reconciliation that I can hardly wait to see what the rest of my years bring. Maybe it will be at DCC, or maybe it will be elsewhere, but I intend the rest of my life to seek these sacred spaces: the ones where both Christianity and inclusivity can thrive. It’s here, I think, where we’ll know a deeper part of Jesus.

We can move the needle toward love and it is this pursuit that is what life is really about.

What Our Bumper Stickers Say About Us

Since the Spring of 2016, I have driven my Subaru Legacy around with a royal blue and yellow Human Rights Campaign (HRC) sticker on the right-hand side of the trunk, just above the bumper.

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The HRC logo, depicting equality for all, was released in 1995 by the HRC, designed by Stone Yamashita.

I got the decal during Denver Pridefest and knew, immediately, that I wanted to put it on the back of my car. For some reason, it felt easier to put the sticker on the rear of my car first, and then, subsequently, tell my family and friends that not only did I support marriage equality, but that I too was gay. When I decided that this was the marker I wanted to put on my car – for all to see – I thought it would be best to do so with a handful of other stickers, too: the Rwandan flag, a Peace Corps logo, and a simple cross.

 

Aha, I thought.

Now people would be really confused, wondering, who is this person driving around with progressive Christian flag-focused stickers? Exactly. Like a declaration of identity, I wanted to spread the word that we could be all kinds of different things, all at once.

But, again, what was so compelling about presenting my identity through the medium of a vehicle? Couldn’t I have been happy enough with having conversations about these sorts of things? Why did I feel it necessary to stick adhesive on my trunk in order to say, “Hey! Look at me! This is what I stand for!”

I suppose a great deal of this drive is to identify or stand with something. Perhaps, subconsciously we can feel “in” when someone else sees the stickers and acknowledges that we are a certain kind of person. We feel validated, like our stickers subscribe us to a larger set of values or pillars. Unspoken, of course, as most of the time cars that are around us, speed down roads and highways, interchanging lanes, paying no attention to us anyway.

Bumper stickers aren’t all that old in the broader view of things; bumper stickers weren’t really a “thing” until after World War II. In an upgrade from “bumper signs” that were made from paper and string, Forest Gill was able to invent a new kind of adhesive combination that made for an actual bumper sticker. In the years following, these became incredibly popular for campaigning. By 1968, 20 million stickers were printed from the presidential campaign for Alabama Governor George Wallace, the famous segregationist. They were a big deal. Now, many historians and manufacturers alike believe they are on the decline, with political campaigns focusing more on the televised process, rather than the rally-like “hurrah” days.

More screen time equals less bumper stickers.

In some ways, however, they’re still booming around the city, especially Denver, with political affiliations (be it Obama or Trump), and also, things that are declarative like, “University of Colorado Mom”, “Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student” or wishful thinking like “Coexist” or “Peace Not War.” There’s some a bit more on the defensive side, like, “9/11 was in Inside Job” or “Fear the Government that Fears your Guns” or “Put the Cellphone Down and Concentrate on Being a Shitty Driver.”

Really. I’ve seen it all.

Then, I know many people who claim that they would never and I mean, never, put a bumper sticker on their car. Maybe their water bottle. Maybe. Millennials certainly enjoy putting them on the back of their computer, so that’s always an option as well.

But for the resistant, what’s the hold up? Perhaps, in ways, it feels crass to declare our ideas or belonging simply with a paper stuck on our car. Isn’t that the function of social media these days? Isn’t Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest enough?

Also, it takes a long time to get bumper stickers off cars. I should know. Just this last week I removed two of my bumper stickers out of the feeling of wanting a clean slate. I was tired of having a trunk-full of stickers, and so, I decided to leave only two. But that is the thing: it took at least 45 minutes to remove them both. Is it really worth it? It’s kind of a funny store, too: driving through rural Kansas, Chelsea and I stopped for gas at a Shell station. As the gas poured into my tank, I took a ice pick and furiously began scraping the stickers off my car. Of course, in this moment, I was removing the cross, which I am sure, looked just fabulous in the middle of nowhere. I’m sure bystanders were wondering about what kind of heathen I was. Oops.

Moreover, bumper stickers, at least from my travels, are curiously a phenomenon in the United States. We love being a place of free speech, so hey, why not use one of the many canvasses we have. Additionally, we likely spend more time in our cars than anyone else, so why not decorate as we wish. There’s one problem that I’m noticing, though, and it’s one of the reasons I don’t want the back of my car loaded with stickers, especially of the political kind.

Bumper stickers – more commonly the political ones – create visceral reactions in the people around us. Okay, so maybe it’s just me, but if I see a sticker that rubs me the wrong way, immediately, I build up improper, incorrect, uninformed, and rude ideologies about the person behind the wheel. Let’s be clear: I don’t even know this person. So, perhaps, less of a problem than the bumper sticker itself is our reaction to it. As an already dangerously divided nation, we keep marking territories of “us” vs “them” faster than we can do anything else. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone, and yet, if I have to be honest, I would say that I’m really tired of everything being so divisive. I’m tired of hate. I’m tired of disunity. I’m tired of rancor. I’m ready for something a little deeper, and a lot more sustainable.

I’m not asking that everyone puts “love” stickers on the back of their cars. I’m also not suggesting that no one should have bumper stickers at all. I’m just noticing that they are there, and so are we, and that we can’t help ourselves to reacting. We think these stickers are saying something about us, but it’s possible, even likely, that the stickers are saying more about the drivers around, and how we’re reacting to all of them. I’m keeping my HRC sticker on my car. I’ll hold on to my Peace Corps one, too. These come from points of pride, honestly, and I like the way they look against the sky-blue color of my car. Sure, I could put the logo of the party that I voted for, or some smart-ass comment about our President, but right now, the most important thing to do is to find the right forum. Create discussion. Encourage conversation.

We don’t have to be defined by the labels – or stickers – we put around us.

We can always be more, always learning, always striving for what’s beyond the boundaries we create. This doesn’t mean agreeing in a kumbaya circle. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of hate to overcome, and a lot of healing to pursue. So, let’s find meaningful action, not assuming that a bumper sticker or a Facebook post or an Instagram picture is going to move the needle.

We need to read, to listen, to move. We need to become informed citizens, ready to articulate what is happening around us. We need to understand our history and what’s come before us. We need a lot of things, but divisiveness is not one.

I love a funny, good bumper sticker. Just next time you put one up, think about what you are putting out into the road, and therefore, the world.

You really just don’t know, until you think about it.

Drive Safe – and enjoy the view.

The 5 Books I Always Come Back To

The reality of what’s happening in our society (racism, hatred, violence, etc.) can cause anyone to be weary, exhausted, and tired. Charlottesville, among other things, evoked all sorts of things: anger, frustration, sadness, disbelief. As we figure out how to act, how to stand for (and seek) justice, it’s also important that we know how to take care of ourselves. We can’t be of any good until we’ve properly grounded ourselves with rest. It’s a tricky balance, but what I do know is that the world doesn’t need another person burned out on doing good.

We need energized, emboldened, committed mobilizers. We need to be healthy.

For me, one way I pursue health, wellness, and re-calibration is through books. Reading – whether books, articles, or any other medium, brings about new worlds, unique world views, and lives different than our own. Reading brings fresh stories. And my god, now, more than ever, we need fresh stories to come to light.

A couple of months ago, my reading life changed dramatically with the introduction of Goodreads. Goodreads is a digital application that is revolutionary for the book-lover’s world: you can track the books you read and keep lists of books you want to read in the future. It’s magic. You can also write reviews, give ratings, and see what friends are reading, too.

By rule, I’m the type of consumer that reads, watches, or does something once. I only repeat if I really love it (in TV we’re talking Parks & Recreation or Friends) and so, in the spirit of reading in these hard times, I wanted to compile a list of books that I would read again, and again, knowing that new knowledge, insights, and inspirations would be gleaned each time.

Here’s the five books I always come back to, whether on a plane, on a beach, or in the comfort of my own home. These are books I’ve read within the last year, so though they may not be “classics” they have had a meaningful, recent, and powerful impact.

Cheers – and happy reading.

 


 

Wouldn’t Take Nothing for the Journey Now

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By: Maya Angelou

Date Read: June 2016

Summary: Maya Angelou shares the wisdom of a remarkable life in this best-selling spiritual classic. This is Maya Angelou talking from the heart, down to earth and real, but also inspiring. This is a book to treasured, a book about being in all ways a woman, about living well, about the power of the word, and about the power to move and shape your life. Passionate, lively, and lyrical, Maya Angelou’s latest unforgettable work offers a gem of truth on every page [1].

Favorite Quote: 

“That knowledge humbles me, melts my bones, closes my ears, and makes my teeth rock loosely in their gums. And it also liberates me. I am a big bird winging over high mountains, down into serene valleys. I am ripples of waves on silver seas. I’m a spring leaf trembling in anticipation.” 

My Reaction:  

If you know anything about me, you know that I love Maya Angelou. I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember, however, only have read a wider array of her works since entering my mid (and late) twenties. What I love about Maya’s work is that she uses words like art – to say something.

I found this book sitting a light blue Little Free Library box near the University of Denver. I was on my daily walk, listening to a podcast, when abruptly, I stopped and knew I should look for a piece of literature that would be a nice read for a rare, free summer evening I was having. I saw this book, noting the mere 130-ish pages and figured I could finish the book in a couple of days. I read the book in three hours.

Devouring the pages about what Angelou has learned in her life as an author, as an African American woman, and as a global citizen, over a glass of Merlot, I hung on every single word. I laughed, I cried, I gasped. She is a brutally frank author, still with a sense of softness that makes the heavy realities easier to absorb. This book functions like a striking list of learnings at the end of one’s life. Full of unaged wisdom, I gifted this book to all of my best friends that year for Christmas.

This was the book that gave me hope that if I came out (I did) that I would be okay. This book told me that I could be brave, be myself, and make it out of any struggle I have and would face. This book spoke to me, reminding me of an inherent strength I hold – just by being. I think it can speak to anyone and everyone – and so, yes, I would return to this book a million times before it would ever get old. It’s a classic, a gem, and y’all should absolutely read it in these uncertain times.

Love Warrior 

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By: Glennon Doyle Melton

Date Read: October 2016

Summary:  The highly anticipated new memoir by bestselling author Glennon Doyle Melton tells the story of her journey of self-discovery after the implosion of her marriage.

Love Warrior is the story of one marriage, but it is also the story of the healing that is possible for any of us when we refuse to settle for good enough and begin to face pain and love head-on. This astonishing memoir reveals how our ideals of masculinity and femininity can make it impossible for a man and a woman to truly know one another – and it captures the beauty that unfolds when one couple commits to unlearning everything they’ve been taught so that they can finally, after thirteen years of marriage, fall in love.

Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life [2].

Favorite Quote:

“So, what is it in a human life that creates bravery, kindness, wisdom, and resilience? What if it’s pain? What if it’s the struggle?… The bravest people I know are those who’ve walked through the fire and come out on the other side. They are those who’ve overcome, not those who’ve had nothing to overcome…people who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People to sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.” 

My Reaction:  

I waited for this book on the circulation list for over two months. This book was in high-demand; I saw it listed on a summer “must-read” list and so, without knowing the contents, I signed up to be on the waiting list. When October of 2016 finally rolled around, voila! It was, finally, my turn.

Turns out, the wait was more than worth it. No big has ever made me cry this much. Scratch that – I sobbed my way through this book. It wasn’t that it was particularly sad, rather, the sentiment and truth that Melton writes about was exactly what I had been feeling – for years. This book challenges, persists, and celebrates vulnerability. Melton writes about the deep, real struggles she has had in her marriage and in intimate relationships. It was refreshing to access the typically hidden aspects of such an important relationship; Melton’s stories reminded me that everyone has a story, and certainly, everyone has their struggles. It’s these struggles, I saw in this book, that make us, form us, shape us – but they aren’t what define us.

I read this book before I began to date Chelsea, and right before I was going to “come out” to most of my family. I had joined a rugby team, had visited a gay club, but wasn’t still sure that I was ready to be public with the real, honest part of myself. Reading this book was cathartic; I wept after finishing, praying to God that I was grateful to read such honesty, such comfort. I needed it. And, since reading this, I’ve continued to follow Melton’s work, always admiring her imperfect yet still honest pursuit of authenticity, love, and community. Without question, this book changed my life.

Small Great Things

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By: Jodi Picoult

Date Read: December 2016

Summary: Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong. With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game [3].

Favorite Quote:

“What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn’t fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven’t been able to change the puzzle instead?”

My Reaction:  

Anyone who has ever read Jodi Picoult knows that she is unafraid to explore difficult, challenging issues. Certainly, a great deal of her works focusses on the centrality of love, however, as time passes, I have noticed that her works incorporate issues like corporal punishment, disabilities, and with this book, race. This book was recommended to me by my partner, and frankly, was not expecting for how much this book impacted my understanding of privilege.

Since I was young, I’ve consumed books and books on the Civil Rights movement, however, there have been few moments where I’ve stopped back and thought, “how have I contributed to this? How have I benefited from the racial structures and systems in place?” This book does this.

This book pushes us to consider all types of racism: overt, passive, and historical. This book is difficult and painful but completely necessary to read. This book presses and encourages to consider: what does it mean to be an ally? What is really, truly our place? Most importantly, Picoult reminds us of a necessary truth: it’s never too late to change someone’s mind. We have influence, one way or the other, and we can yield our own power within this.

Present Over Perfect 

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By: Shauna Niequist

Date Read: July 2017

Summary: Written in Shauna’s warm and vulnerable style, this collection of essays focuses on the most important transformation in her life, and maybe yours too: leaving behind busyness and frantic living and rediscovering the person you were made to be. Present Over Perfect is a hand reaching out, pulling you free from the constant pressure to perform faster, push harder, and produce more, all while maintaining an exhausting image of perfection.

Shauna offers an honest account of what led her to begin this journey, and a compelling vision for an entirely new way to live: soaked in grace, rest, silence, simplicity, prayer, and connection with the people that matter most to us [4].

Favorite Quote:

“What kills a soul? Exhaustion, secret keeping, image management. And what brings a soul back from the dead? Honesty, connection, grace.” 

My Reaction:  

One of the unnamed diseases that I think women, in particular, suffer from is busy-ness. This isn’t a woman’s only kind of thing, but, I do think there is something more innate in how we exist: we try to be everything and worse, think we have to be. This book offers an intimate look at the consequences of such a life, one where we think we have to do it all to be it all.

Reading about Niequists’ break-down and subsequent learning is validating and mobilizing. Many times in this book I thought, “oh yeah, I know exactly what you are talking about.” Like many of the wonderful books I’ve read, I finished this book in two days. I could not put it down. Slowing down, living present – these things seems desirable but we don’t always know exactly how to live like this. Niequest presents not a “how-to” or self-help book, but instead, a memoir that guides us into the possibility for a more meaningful, present life that honors who we are, just as we are.

The Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give

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By: Ada Calhoun

Date Read: August 2017

Summary: Inspired by her wildly popular New York Times essay The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun provides a funny (but not flip), smart (but not smug) take on the institution of marriage. Weaving intimate moments from her own married life with frank insight from experts, clergy, and friends, she upends expectations of total marital bliss to present a realistic—but ultimately optimistic—portrait of what marriage is really like. There will be fights, there will be existential angst, there may even be affairs; sometimes you’ll look at the person you love and feel nothing but rage. Despite it all, Calhoun contends, staying married is easy: just don’t get divorced.

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give offers bracing straight talk to the newly married and honors those who have weathered the storm. This exploration of modern marriage is at once wise and entertaining, a work of unexpected candor and literary grace [5].

Favorite Quote:

“By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being — what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.”  

My Reaction:

This is an excellent read for everything you could expect: open scrupulousness about the absolute lovely pieces of marriage and still, the completely demanding parts, too. In a series of short essays, Calhoun offers perspectives from her own experiences of marriage to give it a real, fair assessment. I appreciated this book because it did not deny the value of marriage, nor did it present the often “fluffy” versions of what marriage is built to be. She struck a beautiful balance; conveying new conceptions of what marriage can be, and what it is. The “toasts” present what we should be talking about when it comes to the institution, and how we can change the nature of these relationships to meet the reality of commitment.

I kept turning the pages because honestly, now, in my late-twenties, marriage is redeeming itself – slowly, but surely. For so many years, coming from a legacy of divorce, I didn’t believe that marriage was something I could honestly consider. I thought it would be the wrong choice for me, that I didn’t have anything to offer. Since coming out, everything has changed. There’s a place for it – an honest, real place. I want more of that. I don’t want the fairytale. That’s what Calhoun offers in her essays. They are bold, genuine, and sassy. That’s a combination I can really go for.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13210.Wouldn_t_Take_Nothing_for_My_Journey_Now

[2] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31845516-love-warrior?from_search=true

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28587957-small-great-things?from_search=true

[4] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27840585-present-over-perfect?ac=1&from_search=true

[5] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32051305-wedding-toasts-i-ll-never-give?ac=1&from_search=true

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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