change & bowls of oatmeal

It is morning.

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My fingers perch on top of the counter as the sluggish hum of the microwave swirls through the kitchen. The low, faint sounds of humans beginning their day start to flow as night ebbs away. Soon, and not a moment faster, my coffee will be ready.

The clock on the microwave counts down from 1:30, 1:29, 1:28… the perfect amount of time needed to cook the most divine bowl of oatmeal.

I have been eating oatmeal for breakfast for the last six years of my life. It is so habitual to eat oatmeal that when I don’t, I feel out of whack.

Indeed, it’s an art:

1 banana, a dollop of peanut butter, and a sliver of granola (for crunch) and you are on your way to breakfast heaven.

Today, as I groggily mixed my ingredients together, I had a flashback of when over a year ago, I began staying at Chelsea’s apartment and would prepare the same morning breakfast in her mod-sleek kitchen.

Things were different then: I would spend the night, bringing a packed bag (or three) and in the morning, we would wake up, share breakfast (as we read The Skimm aloud), and head into work. I was so giddy with love that I would beam with delight on my commute, almost like someone plastered a smile on my face.

That wasn’t the oatmeal (or the coffee) – I was falling in love.

Now, I still have the same oatmeal for breakfast, but I eat it in our home – usually before early morning calls to Rwanda. In our shared kitchen, I know where everything is, like a sweet song memorized, so I can do it with my eyes half-closed (and sometimes they literally are).

Chelsea and I, at the beginning of our relationship, were so routine about eating breakfast together. It was “our thing.” As I chewed my food this morning, it dawned on me: so much about us and about the rhythm of our life has changed.

These days, Chelsea starts work before the crack of dawn at Starbucks and so the start times to our days are stacked and unsynchronized. And, when she is able to sleep in, I am usually up, on a call, riding the train, or headed to class. I’m working and studying and so when it comes to mornings, there is not a minute to lose. When I look back, of course, I miss those early days.

But, you know what?

Though the newness of our love is fading ever so slightly, the trust, deep knowing, reliability, authenticity, and commitment are coming to bloom. The relationship, I think, is maturing.

For so long, I hated to spend hours (god forbid, days) away from my beloved. And still, I miss her, but now I know what I did not know before: she knows me, she sees me, she loves me – and she isn’t going anywhere. It sounds simple, but the fruit of building a strong foundation is literally just that – a strong foundation. That means that whether or not we are sharing breakfast, I know I get to come home to this spectacularly delightful human each and every day.

This is the woman who:

has taken me to the doctor when I’ve been sick, has run me hot baths on tough days, has stocked my favorite bottle of red wine, has edited my writing pieces, has encouraged me to follow my dreams, has purchased roller blades to accompany me on my adventures, has taken me to the airport at twilight hours, has driven in the snow when I was too frightful, has modeled incredible self-care, has shared her reading list, has sewed my clothing, has dared to be boldly vulnerable and brave, and more than anything, has shown up and loved.

She has filled the spaces of my life and it’s like glue in all the cracks, bringing it all together in a beautiful mosaic. Irrevocably, our lives are intermingled and that is the change I see the most.

We are not like we used to be.

Certainly, that is a common realization upon the process of personal self-reflection, however, it is particularly poignant in the context of a relationship. The relationship has changed, because we – both of us – have.

Our love has been strengthened, too, often by very difficult, challenging circumstances. I never knew that about love – that love doesn’t only grow and beautify because of good things. It grows because even in the murkiest of waters, you know (and choose) the person you want to walk through it with.

Where did the time go?

I think about the swiftness of the year, the months, and the days, as I eat my oatmeal, alone, on the couch before the business of the day arrives. I cannot pinpoint the moment we began to change because we are always in motion, always in progress, always, always learning.

That is enough to know, because I love where we are – whether we share oatmeal, or not.

 

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I Choose You

Like any refined, distilled whiskey, it takes time to process the really good, sweet stuff. That slow, aged flow is not unlike how we, as humans, process big changes in our lives, including milestones like graduation, sports victories, loss of loved ones, marriage, and new jobs. After all, I have often heard that in life we are guaranteed two things: change and taxes. Things will always change, and in turn, we will have to always adapt, pivot, and grow.

For the last week, I have been an engaged woman. Though this season is just a few days old, I can feel its importance and significance permeating all around me. I am preparing to commit my life to someone else, someone that I love deeply. That’s a huge deal.

Engagement has been an idea that Chelsea and I have been discussing for months. We have been together for over a year yet, in total transparency, I knew I wanted to marry her early into our relationship. There was something about her spirit, about her soul, that connected with mine. Early on, this was an intimate truth that I kept to myself until after we openly shared what was happening between us. While I do not believe in soul mates (at least in the traditional sense), our story unfolded in such a way that it felt like we were given a gift that we just kept saying “yes” to – again and again and again. I could not ignore the magnetism of our hearts – this was more than puppy love, fueled by amorous hormones. This was a deep knowing.

She was the woman I wanted and had dreamed for. Goofy, intelligent, driven, nerdy, patient, thoughtful, motivated, compassionate, faithful, self-aware, and also, just so beautiful in every way. Better yet, she has the best laugh of anyone I know. I genuinely believe that successful relationships hinge upon the presence of playfulness and laughter. She also holds a strong appreciation and love for books (especially from the library), God, nature, and creativity – much like I do. Confession: after a few weeks of dating, I checked my “list” of desirable qualities I wanted in a partner. She met every piece of criteria.

Much later, this past summer, we had a surprising but open conversation about where we were headed. Mutually, together, we decided that we wanted to share and do life together – always. Engagement was on the docket.

One of the (many) lovely things about being in a same sex relationship is that inherently, we are able to rethink tradition. This is not to say there is not a place for tradition, but instead, we are able to forge a path that does not follow one particular model. We can bring a newness to what commitment looks like, while still acknowledging that tradition can always be a part of the story. Originally, we discussed doing two proposals within a short time frame. We both felt it was important to ask and accept. However, by putting them close together, the mystery of when is lost. So, we decided instead I would ask first (in 2017), Chelsea would ask second (in 2018), and then we could begin planning for a summer 2019 wedding.

Never one to hold back, I initiated the planning process for a proposal for Chelsea quickly after this conversation, including the purchase of the ring. We had already gone together, with her mother, to pick out our designs, and because Chelsea’s ring was a custom make, it would need extra time to be created.

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As I began to plan for what proposing to Chelsea would look like, there were several priority areas that I wanted to honor throughout the process:

  1. Pray fervently and often. For so long, the idea of commitment (marriage or otherwise) felt out of reach. Now, a close, tangible reality, I wanted to prepare my heart in every way that I could to make sure that I was as ready as I could be to take the next step. I do not think you can ever be perfectly ready, but I do think you can prepare and reflect on what these big changes mean for your life and who you are.
  2. Include Chelseas family and friends. Asking for Chelsea’s parents’ blessing was never a choice in my plan. I recognized that being with Chelsea is an honor and I wanted her parents to know that I took that seriously. Moreover, a major part of Chelsea’s journey has been the unyielding love and support from her friends. I wanted all of that love in her life to be present when I asked her to marry me.
  3. Create a space for authenticity, intentionality, and thoughtfulness. I did not want to ask Chelsea to be my wife in a showy, over-the-top manner. I wanted every piece of it to mean something special and to show her how much she means to me.

Taking these into account, I aimed to pop the question around our 1-year anniversary (October 30th). As I brainstormed, San Francisco came to my mind repeatedly. This was a destination we both had expressed a lot of interest in visiting – so why not go all out for such a momentous celebration in our lives? Certainly, more questions followed: Should I propose there? When would we go? What would she want to do while we were there? How could I keep this a secret?

I knew if we went to San Francisco, she would anticipate a proposal during the trip. Let’s be real, it would be pretty obvious. Thus, it had to happen before. I booked plane tickets for our anniversary and planned to ask on the day prior to our getaway: Friday, October 27th. I found out later that this was also the same day of my graduate school interview (naturally). It would be (and was) one of the most intense days of my life.

As summer turned into fall, I had a date for the big day, and I had a celebration, too. However, I still needed to fine-tune exactly how the proposal would happen. I mused over countless possibilities. As the plan came to life, I knew unswervingly that I wanted to write something to Chelsea. Writing is an important part of who I am, and how I express myself. I began to draft versions of what I wanted to say. There were so many drafts that I was filling pages and pages of thoughts in my notebook. In that process, I fathomed how hard it was to find the words for something so potent, powerful, and moving.

In the end, because she had to work late on that Friday, I asked her at our home – which led me to transform our space into something romantic, calming, and intimate. On the night of the proposal, while she worked, I prepared everything. I lit the candles, I bought the flowers, and finalized a playlist that would play when she arrived home, beginning with our song, I Choose You” by Sara Bareilles. On the door, I left a sign that said, “read the card before entering” which had directions for her to leave all of her items near the front and to take deep breaths as she entered our home.

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When she opened the door, she saw hundreds of tea light candles (because, literally, there were 200). On our dining room table, she saw printed photographs and all of the wine corks we have saved in the first year of our relationship (yes, we love red wine). All over the table I spread colorful confetti, because if you know Chelsea, you know she loves colors.

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On the floor, I made a path of petals for her to follow.

On the second table, in our living room, Dove Dark Chocolates (yum) were placed all over, with more confetti, and a card that said on the front, “I cant wait to marry you.” Also on the table, I left printed tickets for our trip to California. Finally, she would know!

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As she discovered these items late into the evening, I heard her softly cry as she took in all that was unfolding. When I heard her weep, it took everything in me not to also sob loudly. However, I was waiting in the next room, and my heart was beating heavy, wanting to hold onto the moment to come.

The final sign in the living room said, Ready?” and when she was, she would come and find me.

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She turned the corner and there I was, waiting for her with candles, wine, cards from friends and family, and of course, the ring. We embraced and held each other as tears fell from both of our eyes. It was surreal and emotional. I asked gently, “are you ready for this?” and led her to the couch. We sat on our grey futon and I read her the most important letter I have ever written to anyone.

Dear Chelsea, my beloved,  

Its you. When we jumped in this together, a year ago, I could not have imagined where the journey would take us.

Darling, with you, we have celebrated and cried; laughed and wept; rollerbladed and walked throughout Denver. As days, weeks, and months have passed we have slowly, but intentionally carved out our life together.

Life with you is abundant in joy. Life with you is miraculously astounding. Life with you is what I have been hoping and wishing for.

When, a year ago, you told me that you liked me, I panicked.

Am I ready?

Should I really take this risk?

How do I know if I am ready for this? 

I was scared. I was afraid of loving, but also, what it would mean to really, wholly, authentically be myself.

 I took the risk because I trusted you. In turn, with you, I have known the deepest joy I have ever felt.

You see me. You know me. You celebrate me. We are dorks and yet dreamers. We are grounded and yet goofy. When I finish the day, there is no one I would rather hold. Forever, I will hold our walks in Wash Park, our shared meals, our travels, our reading in bed, our long talks, and our mutual affinity for ice cream close.  

This year has been peppered with many memories that build the foundation for who we are and who we will be.

I adore you. Your laugh makes me weak at the knees. Your smile reminds me of safety. With you, I know I am home. With all that I am, I cannot wait to continue our story together.

Today is the day! It is the day where I can in complete, total confidence declare that I choose you. It is you, Chelsea.

Come with me to San Francisco and lets celebrate the most profound, surprising, and special piece of our lives our love. And forever, darling, will you marry me and be my wife?

At the end, I got down on one knee to ask if she would marry me.

She said, “yes!”

We held each other again and confidently, I placed her ring on her finger. We did it.

The ring is stunning; it includes a diamond from her mother, as well as smaller diamonds from her late stepmother, all of which made the moment even sweeter. We took it all in. We sipped celebratory wine. We read beautifully kind cards from loved ones. We packed. It all felt like a dream – and it still does.

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My life with Chelsea will be many things – exciting, fun, empowering, and meaningful. She is the love of my life. I choose her. She chooses me. And we have only just begun.

I am in awe of her, of this, and the pure, deepening act of partnering with another human. Together, we will face the world with boldness, compassion, and love. Together, we can write our own story. Still, Chelsea does not complete me. I am enough all on my own. And yet, in my darkest of times, I doubted everything about myself. I wondered if I could ever love like this. I wondered if I would ever be enough.

Chelsea’s love lets me fully shine. If that isn’t true love, I don’t know what is.

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.

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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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.

the welcoming tradition.

Men hate each other because they fear each other,
and they fear each other because they don’t know each other,
and they don’t know each other
because they are often separated from each other.

Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In times of grief, I often pray with my hands cupped together, as if I’m holding all the pain in my tired fingers and asking for God to see it, hold it, and carry it with (or for) me.

I began praying like that on a trip that culminated with time at a progressive Methodist church in Birmingham, Alabama (Highlands United Methodist Church). I was with a group of Hendrix students, learning about the Civil Rights movement while also taking part in service work. This experiential learning program was designed to explore on-going, systemic issues of poverty, race, and historical segregation – especially in the South. On one of the final evenings, I stayed alone in a small, chapel-like room and lifted my hands like in the cup-like stance, praying that God would teach me how to have an open heart. My soul was tired from the stories we had heard. I was at a loss for words – in disbelief of how our country had so violently and rigorously held onto exclusionary policies and attitudes because of a person’s race.

What disturbed me then, as it continues to do so now, (today, in 2017 when we legislate the rejection of people not quite like “us”) is that exclusion was not the kind of tradition I was taught. I, in the tapestry of experiences across state lines, groups, ethnicities, countries, genders, and families have been shown and empowered with a welcoming tradition. I refuse, resolutely, to disembark from this way of loving and honoring the humanity around us.

I took time this week to jot down specific moments or circumstances by which was modeled for me as a way of inclusion.

Inclusion, inherently, comes with risks.

If we embrace “otherness” in our communities (whether that includes a different religion, ethnicity, sexuality, socio-economic background, gender, etc.) we can’t guarantee consensus. If we celebrate diversity, we might have to live in the tension of misalignment. Most profoundly, if we welcome people that are not like the community we live within then we might lose the power we have systemically maintained.

Imagine!

What if the opportunity for inclusion presented a pathway to disassemble privilege so that we could access a more equitable, shared, opportunity-rooted society?

I’ve suggested something like this with close family members before and have been called a “socialist.” In a better light, I’ve been characterized as simply “too idealistic.”

But in fact, welcoming others is a tradition found within the framework of the beginning Christian community, not merely something I only formulated myself.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God…May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15: 5-7; 13

My push, desire, and passion for inclusion stems first from my faith, and then from my upbringing and experiences. Truthfully, it also comes from a deep-seeded belief that each and every human has value. All of us. We’re messy, incomplete, wrong, misguided, mean, selfish, corrupt, and imperfect people. But, that doesn’t change the fact that we are alive and to be image-bearers of Christ. We are not Christ. Rather, we are made in His image, carrying some piece of that reflection with us.

I’m blessed because I’ve seen enough inclusion in my life to know that it is the worthy way. I will commit my life to it. And for that, I have the people in my life to thank for showcasing what it means to see, love, and accept people and to courageously choose the path of integration, not separation. It’s harder, but the right thing usually is.

Inclusion: noun

the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure.

Divorce

Appropriately, my first molding to what relational inclusion can be, came from my parents. I’m forever grateful for that.

My parents divorced in the fall of 2003. I was 14. It was the dismantling of my family as I knew it, though frankly, I had expected it to occur many years prior. I was sad, of course, but I was also hopeful that both of my parents could heal and find the happiness they so deeply longed for, needed, and deserved.

Initially, to cope, I threw myself (literally) into sports. Field hockey became the outlet by which I could channel my spectrum of emotions (despair, gratitude, doubt, expectation, concern, and uncertainty) and still process what was happening. My parents were available to ask questions, and most conspicuously, did their damndest to uphold consistency to our life. I still took the bus to school, I maintained delicious dinners of macaroni and cheese, and for a while, we stayed in the same house, with our parents rotating each week.

Eventually, as the dust began to settle, even over the course of months, years, and other marriages, I witnessed something quite miraculous. My mother and father kept an amiable relationship, and because of that, kept an inclusionary approach to each other in our lives. It would have been easy for my mom or my dad to silo their experiences with us – away from one another. Instead, together, they attended sports’ games and activities and together, built the role of both “mother” and “father” equally, without marginalization or omission. This can be unique in the status-quo for divorced families.

What I learned – from both mom and dad– is that even in time of division, a cohesive community still can be cultivated. Our family could remain intact, just different than before.  Yet, even in our pain, our growth as a family that included myself, my brother, my mom, and my dad remained.

Menifee

I graduated from a public-school system with resources. Lots of them. Cherry Creek Schools are well-known (locally and nationally) for excellent teachers, technologies, and innovative classroom methods. To be honest, I didn’t know how lucky I was until I left.

I’ve always loved volunteerism and as a student just outside of Little Rock, I made it a priority to find the perfect club, activity, or organization where I could get involved. When I joined the team of Menifee, a tutoring and education program for rural Arkansasan youth, I fully, and finally realized how advantaged I had been to receive the kind of education I did.

Menifee, a small, rural town near my school (we’re talking population 311), is a community that has over 10% of people living below the poverty line. It also has a sizeable population that attend school districts lacking in quality teachers, experiential learning, and enough resources (say, textbooks) to provide high-level classroom engagement.

Once a week, a well-known (and well-liked) Hendrix professor would bring a handful of tutors to practice spelling, mapping, or time tables with Menifee youth. Her compassion for this community was compelling and deep; she worked for years to elevate the educational opportunities for these children, and truthfully, it was inspiring to even just be around. Unrelentingly, she believed that these children had every right to access a fair, equitable education.

Tutoring was just one facet of her efforts; she also advocated for parental engagement, believing that strong families can encourage student proficiency. I learned from her that inclusion of all students is essential to our future. If we neglect students from rural, minority, or poor communities, we inherently advocate for a society that doesn’t push forth opportunities for knowledge – for all.

GLOW & BE

While in the Peace Corps, I wrote extensively about the experience of educating young women, particularly in the realm of personal growth, leadership, relationship-building, and women’s issues. After school, once a week, I would meet with our “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) Club (usually with around 20 students) to discuss issues relevant to their lives (sex education, menstruation, studying habits, and boys). It was a powerful experience, one that still informs the work and passions I have for encouraging safe spaces for women.

Over time, the club became, truly, theirs. I sat on the side, allowing their own leadership to thrive and for them to establish the kind of conversation they desired.

After about a year of meeting regularly, the president of the group approached me with an idea: let’s include the boys. I was confused at first. Boys? We want to empower boys? Wasn’t our club designed to empower our female populations?

Her idea took root. By including males in the conversation of empowerment, we empower both genders – together. If women are to rise in confidence, efficacy, and choice, inherently, men would need to join us. They would need to advocate for us, and us for them. We started a “BE” (Boys Empowered) club the following term – designed to educate boys on how they can be a part of the process to empower themselves – and women.

Even years later, I’m still amazed at this kind of foresight and progressive thinking. Inclusion, is necessary for all genders, across all spaces.

Denver Community Church

Most recently, my church, Denver Community Church (DCC), has publicly announced its decision to be a fully inclusive church – largely in reference to inclusion of the LGBT community.

The 2-year discernment process involved elders of the church praying, analyzing scripture, discussing, and meeting with members of the LGBT community. They have most recently launched a 5-week learning group to explore these issues publicly, and declare, without reservation that LGBT members are welcome to attend, serve, and have as meaningful of a place in the church as anyone else.

I’m gay, and I’ve known that a long time but have not lived outwardly and authentically until more recently.

I never thought I would be brave enough to share this.

I never thought I would live the life I dreamed of.

I never thought I would find a church that would celebrate this.

I never. I began so many sentences with that word. I was ashamed, scared, sad, and resigned to the fact that I would have to hide this for the rest of my life.

Yet, something happened within the last year. I entered a time of deep prayer. I was provided the opportunity to do counseling. I began realizing (and fully accepting) how much God loved me. I began saying my truth aloud (again and again again) – without fear, without shame, and certainly, without going back. I had told family members before about this deep-knowing of who I was, but previously, had been too scared to live out the life I knew I was supposed to lead.

This year, I moved forward more boldly, sharing with my best friend that I knew I was meant to be with a woman. On a crazy (and wonderfully surprising) set of circumstances, I met a woman. We started dating. She became my girlfriend.

fullsizerender-2And then, this church came along, also.

You see, it all happened so fast, like a beautiful unfolding of a story that is meant to be. Even for myself, I can barely keep up.

Freedom does that – it happens fast and you can’t help but just succumb to the reality of real, gritty, kick-your-ass kind of faith.

Freedom for myself, and for others, to love God is the most beautiful kind of inclusion. We can have a place with Jesus. We can bring our most true versions of ourselves and continue to Love God, and Love others. We can live out the gospel actively and fully.

DCC isn’t asking everyone to agree with their stance on LGBT issues. What they are suggesting, instead, is a move towards love. A move towards, “unity not uniformity.” I would hope for the same thing. Because, as I witness this inclusion occur from afar, now in Rwanda for the next few weeks, I am learning how transformative inclusion can be – for anyone. I’m honored to be in a church that models this and lives this out.

Inclusion. Love. Community.

The pursuit of these ideal may be arduous, but I want in. I’m all in. No matter what.