I'll tell you what, when your brain learns and your heart believes that you are loved and accepted by God just as you are, it's a game changer.
Many years ago I found myself in a place where a decision was made that would change my life forever. I knew I was committed to the path I was choosing, but just as many people find themselves before marriage or before the birth of a child, I had no idea what I was signing on for. I remember the evening like it was yesterday, I can take you to the exact spot where this conversation happened. I was putting gas into my car and there was a gentleman at the pumps beside me who was clearly distraught. Somehow our eyes met and I inquired about what was upsetting him so. I figured he was going to ask me for money or something. I have learned to expect that at gas stations or parking lots. He began just pouring his heart out to me. Yes, he also needed money for gas. His life was a wreck. He lost someone very dear to him. He was desperate. I think I put $10 worth of gas in his car, by the way. He was elated about the few gallons of gas he received but he still kept pouring his heart out to me. I am very skeptical of people, all people, strangers or not, especially those asking for help. This guys struck me very differently than other situations I’d been in. He was a mess, he was broken and he knew he needed help. As has been my practice for years, I wanted to direct him to a church because “there are people there who will love you and help you.” I believe that. I know from experience the healing power a church family can have on broken people. I’ve been on both sides of it. As I began speaking to him and trying to offer him comfort, I realized that I couldn’t invite him to the church I was attending. He was very honest about being a gay man. This is the same time when I was not quite sure how to let my loved ones know that I was a gay woman. I was trying to come to grips with how to tell that to the people in my life. I looked at him and thought, “I can’t invite you to my church because you will always be treated like you have something wrong with you. You will be loved but never accepted, tolerated but never affirmed.” It sounds like I’m pronouncing judgment on churches but I’m just being real. I grew up in the Evangelical church all my life. I know what is said about gay people by church people who are speaking freely because they don’t think any gay people are around. I’ve heard the, “We’ve got to do something to help those gay people,” conversations by very sincerely concerned but short sighted congregants. So, back to the gay guy at the gas station, I told him about another church in town that I knew he could find help in. It was an open and affirming fellowship and would help him with his difficulties and give him a place to get connected to God’s love.
That night driving home I knew I had to leave that church, my church. It broke my heart. I had committed to live in a Christ like integrity, and that meant that I couldn’t continue to hide this very essential part of me. I don’t think I would have been treated horribly had I stayed, but I knew as I grew in Christian maturity and emotional wellness, that I had to surround myself with people who accepted all parts of me. I’ve got to tell you, I went from being a church “insider” to being a church visitor very quickly and it rocked my world in lots of different ways.
Fast forward many years, many church visits, many days of feeling angry and rejected, many harsh comments from people who thought I was possessed by some evil spirit or had just lost my mind, lots and lots and lots of moments, prayerful and otherwise. It’s Advent 2018 and we’re just days away from Christmas. I was sitting in my current church, a very different congregation from my earlier years. There were instruments and songs, carols and prayers. I just closed my eyes and let it soak into my soul. On Sunday mornings in that sanctuary, there is a gathering of very different people. What I mean is, not only are we very different from each other, our congregation is very different from most congregations. For Example: Earlier in the fall our Pastor invited the transgender people from the congregation to come up front and she prayed a prayer of blessing over them. After that the congregation clapped for them to show them support. My heart was about to explode. I thought to myself as I was driving home, “I can’t believe I get to be a part of a church where a group of people who would be labeled as misfits by other churches, get prayed over, loved and applauded for living out their lives and not hiding who they are.” On Sundays I get glimpses of what the kingdom of God is like. So thanks Pastor Beth and everyone who role models the love and acceptance God has for all of us. I’ll tell you what, when your brain learns and your heart believes that you are loved and accepted by God just as you are, it’s a game changer.