Until We Rest on Thee

I have felt very lost this summer.

The summer began in the wake of a shooting that left my friends and school family lost in time and space, floating in a nightmare. The sudden realization of what a bullet can do to a person, family, and community has made watching the news (read: going on Facebook or Twitter) all the more jarring. With the horrors of Israel and Palestine, Iraq, and Ferguson, two feelings have left me paralyzed: the (1) outrage of knowing that while the hurt I’ve had since June 5th is indeed painful and the result of a needless and senseless act of violence, it is what many around the world are experiencing as day-to-day life due to their religion or skin color, and the (2) utter disbelief that such things can and do happen so frequently.

The violation of the shooting and the frustration of not being able to find a summer job in Seattle sent me flying home to Caledonia for the summer. Everything seemed impossible in Seattle. Bussing an hour both ways to Capitol Hill for Latin lessons (with an admittedly wonderful woman), being so close to campus, taking the short bus ride to the church I love, buying groceries, and cooking alone for a second summer—all of these things felt like islands that my body had the impossible task of bridging, connecting into one life. The constancy and familiarity of suburban Western Michigan beckoned mercifully, and I came running.

In Michigan I began a summer job and Latin lessons with a man who can speak the dead language nearly fluently. These two things fell into place before I even left Seattle, for which I am very grateful. I am also grateful for my parents. Earning a paycheck will make you appreciate the generosity of the people who raised you.

My parents went to Austria for a week and a half early in the summer. My dad had a conference to attend there, so he and my mom took some days afterwards to travel around Vienna, where my mother once lived. It was a well-deserved and long-overdue vacation for them. Being twenty-one, I was hoping that I would be fine home alone, but I went to bed every night for the first few days convinced that someone was hiding in my house, waiting for the perfect moment to shoot me.

I was hoping that I could return to my hometown without increased depression, paranoia, and anxiety about my sexuality, but the conversation about homosexuality is just starting in the Christian circles here. While I am grateful that that discussion is being had, it comes with a cost to those involved. When my sexuality and my future are daily being debated around me it is hard to think of anything else. I am so frustrated that I am stuck in ruts I thought I had long since left behind. I left my summer job early when I became incapable of focusing on my work due to such thoughts.

I have felt very lost this summer, which makes me wonder what it would mean for me to feel found—to be found.

When the shooting and murder of a student left my school lost we were found in prayer. “We were found” means three things here: that (1) were you to walk through campus during those days you would have seen SPUers in prayer circles on Tiffany Loop, in First Free Methodist Church worshiping and lamenting, and outside Otto Miller Hall, stopping to offer prayers and flowers, that (2) we were unified by the act of praying together—we were found by each other, which means we were not alone—and that (3) we were found in Christ. Because we came together not only as a family but as a worshiping community we were, I believe, members of a community of believers that transcends time and space—a community that ultimately cannot be separated by death because it is a community that shares in eternal life with Christ.

Although people say Seattle is the most Godless city in the country, it is where I have known most fully what it means to be Christian, to pray with others, and to walk amidst the company of saints. Separated from those people I have had a difficult time keeping my prayer practices and discerning the presence of God. With two weeks left before I return to England, I’m going to renew my effort to observe Morning and Evening Prayer. I have been lost enough times to know that I am found in Christ—a consummation of seeking and being sought.

Lord, may we rest on Thee.

 

Asperges Me

Sometimes as I walk home through Queen Anne streets after a day of school and the air is particularly damp and the sky is dark it smells like the time my father and I climbed Mt. Humbug in Oregon, a mountain I bet no one climbs except people like us, passersby who stop on a whim (because sometimes it sounds nice to climb a mountain) and work their zig-zag way upwards to find the elevation where spring dampness becomes frost and snow that clings to the trees and everything shimmers. I pause and think of that day and of the other blessed few days I’ve spent hiking the Pacific Northwest and imagine what Queen Anne was like a few hundred years ago, before urbanization, just another tree-canopied hill cut from the continent’s cloth. I look up and want to go higher, to reach the moment of transposition where time and water freeze.

As I continue my short walk home, a song flits into my mouth.

Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,
Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

Miserere mei, Deus,
Secundum magnum misericordiam tuam.

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto
Sicut erat en principio, et nunc, et semper, et en saecula saeculorum, Amen.

Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo et mundabor,
Lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

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in a year

There is a chain of ice cream shops in Seattle called Molly Moon’s, famous at least locally for flavors like Earl Grey, Vegan Coconut Chunk, Maple Bacon, Lavender, and Theo’s Chocolate, among others. The closest one to the campus of SPU is up on Queen Anne, next to another Seattle chain, Top Pot Doughnuts—making that little stretch of W. Galer a two shop pit stop of sweet food and regret. It was a favorite for my hall council sophomore year and for various late night restless stomach grumbles. I don’t visit nearly enough.

A year ago today I sat in that Molly Moon’s with a new friend, a nursing student at my campus. She cooked dinner; I bought ice cream. I was probably eating the Vegan Coconut Chunk because I don’t care who you are or what your views on veganism are—I’m not one—but that is the best damned ice cream you can put in a waffle cone and charge me five bucks for. And because it’s vegan, you can eat more of it and still feel relatively good about your life.

I don’t remember what she ordered. We sat at the window.

I wanted to get ice cream because ice cream is good and to have an excuse to talk longer. But I was also craving ice cream because I was very pregnant, not with a human being but with a story that had been years in gestation. By the night of that Molly Moon’s trip I had been sitting on ‘the end of a silence‘ for several weeks, wondering when to put it online. Feedback about it from friends and professors had been good. My family was as ready as possible for the daunting unknown, and I was itching for it.

Over our ice cream, Claire and I talked about life. I brought up the blog post and told her my anxieties about it. She preached for a solid twenty minutes about there being no room for fear in Christ and reminded me that God had been good to me thus far. The story of my sexuality is intricately intertwined with what some would call my testimony—the way I understand God to be working in my life, and I knew she was right. “You’re going to post it tonight.” “I am?” “You are.” “Wait, no I’m not.” “Yyyyeah, you’re doing it. You want to.” “I’d better call my parents…”

I was jittery on my way back to Hill Hall 306. Upon getting there I took out my laptop and sat down on low drawers my roommate and I used as a seat. My Freedom Playlist was on, the first song of which is “Shake it Out” by Florence + the Machine. I danced and typed. On the ride home I’d sent out a mass prayer text, something I did before first talking with my parents about my sexuality and depression on the last day of Christmas break freshman year. As I reviewed and nit-picked the already carefully preened essay, notes of encouragement from friends lit up the screen of my phone. A few of them, like Brian, dropped in to hang around. “What’s taking you so long? Are you uploading before and after pictures or what?” I laughed, imagining what those would look like. Then, some time later: “Have you posted it yet?” “No, Brian, I’m working on the headers.” “Oh, are you making them rainbow colors?” “Thank you, Brian,” I said, laughing more.

If you were on the ground floor of Hill Hall that evening, you would have heard someone yelling loudly—around 10:00 pm, I think . I pressed the Publish button, slammed the laptop shut, stepped out of my room, and roared. I startled someone walking past my room.

—–

My counselor told me that, for many people, coming out is like stretching a limb that has never been used before. It is true. At 19 I started a process of puberty that most people endured in middle school. It has been both frustrating and beautiful. [While I still feel no need to elaborate here what I believe about gay marriage, suffice it to say that I am not 100% certain. The times of lesser certainty have also been the times I’ve been most depressed and prone to despair. They are the times when I have felt most detached from myself, when I have difficulty showering because I cannot stand being alone with my body, when I have wanted to stop eating. They are the times when I cannot look at a child without worrying that people will think I am a pedophile because I’m gay. They have not been times of flourishing.] As it stands, I know that God looked at the man he created and said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” I’m trying to believe that I will not be, regardless of that question.

I was planning to write a post about what all has changed since a year ago today. Reflecting on the past year, I’ve realized that my sexuality is rather low on that list. In chronological order, the year transpired thusly: I came out; I finished my work as Hill Hall President; I worked 2.5 jobs over the summer; I started attending St. Paul’s Episcopal Church; I studied at Oxford; my depression returned (and resurfaces occasionally); I gained clarity in vocation, deciding to go to divinity school; I pub-crawled the UK with my parents;  I Christmas-ed at home and was reminded of the amazing friends I have in Michigan; I resumed life at SPU; I became more introverted; I walked shoeless across the Ballard bridge in the rain, got soaking wet, and smiled like an idiot; I exchanged books with my favorite professor. Over the year, my desire for intimacy has been teaching me what it means that God yearns to be with us. I’ve learned a lot about love, freedom, and devotion. I learned a lot about how to be myself, and I learned that my belief in God is tenacious, even when I don’t know why.

—–

Last summer Mother Melissa, the former rector of St. Paul’s, gave a sermon called “Let Go,” which began,

I am in my seat with my seat belt buckled and the tray top in front of me upright and locked.  All my belongings are stowed: my suitcase in the overhead bin and my backpack under the seat in front of me.  We have finally been cleared for take off. I hear the engines rev up and in a moment we are off.  Faster and faster we go until I feel the front wheels lift off the ground. And at once two things happen: I think to myself: “Here I go dangling myself up in the clouds again!”, and I do something I have come to do on every flight: I take my hands that have been sitting in my lap and I turn them palms up toward the sky.

I admit it—I’m afraid of flying.  And so right at the moment when the plane leaves the ground, my instinct is both to open my hands in a kind of personal surrender and, for a moment, to pray for all of us on the plane as we put ourselves in the vulnerable position of having nothing underneath us to catch us should we fall.

—–

I woke up the next morning and walked out of the dorm. I’ve never felt so naked. But I was caught in a web of love—wrapped in it and clothed. Thank you all for your kindness.

If you need me in the next two hours, I’ll be at the Molly Moon’s on Queen Anne, eating ice cream with Claire.

Please keep in your prayers those for whom sexuality has been a wound. Pray for the teenagers who contemplate suicide because they are bullied for their sexuality, and for the gay people being abused in Russia and beaten in Nigeria. Peace to you.

quiet Pentecost

I had been sitting in the basement, in the dining room, when a woman entered the room. I’ll call her Elaine. Prior to that night I’d spoken with Elaine only once or twice, once in passing, once in uncomfortable and rooted presence at that same table under a similar circumstance. 10:30 pm or so; dinner alone.

Elaine is a doctoral student at Oxford who is about as young as my mother. Her dissertation is on widows in Africa—the details escape me. She stayed at the hall for a week or so to meet with advisors before flying to central Africa to interview women. The night of this story was the final night of her stay at Oxford.

Dinner alone, probably bow tie pasta or lentils and rice with the usual vegetable or two (green onion, tomato) and yogurt somehow included in it all. I finish eating, wash my dishes, and sit back down for a while. For the first time in a year or so—for the first time since I sat across a different table from a good friend in a city thousands of miles away and listened to him tell me that for God to use me where I am I need to first admit to myself where I am and the place where I was at that time and where I am still today is that I’m attracted to men; I’m gay—for the first time since accepting that about myself I am experiencing depression. I’m far from my family and my dog and I’m far from my friends. I’m far from my amazing university with all of the supportive people there who love on me. And while I do have new friends here, and wonderful ones at that, I am not at home. I am abroad, living in a building that is one of the world’s centers for Evangelicalism. While I am absolutely grateful for the opportunity to study here and get to know the interesting and good people here, I have been uncomfortable being myself. I have been uncomfortable wearing the clothes that remind me of the place I last considered home because when I wear them people stare at me and I assume that they are staring because they know that I am gay and dislike me for it. At this point in my stay I was beginning to experience paranoia. With that comes depression and the fear that I will live alone forever, boiling my pasta or lentils and rice with the usual vegetables and yogurt, washing my dishes, and sitting back down in the company of an immaterial family and a silent God, life as void. My fear of you God / it is the fear of silence / I speak and you say… What? What do you say? Elaine enters the room, returns the dishes she came to return, and sits down to look at me.

After pleasantries, we resume the conversation we had begun a few days earlier under similar circumstances. Life, vocation, passion. But then, “How are you?” The thumb in the dike, the culvert at the Battle of Hornburg, she found it. I do not believe in coincidence under such circumstances, so I hesitantly describe to her a bit of the aloneness I am experiencing and the reason for it. After some commiseration, she tells me of a conference she once attended that was focused on the Holy Spirit.

“This really isn’t my area,” she says slowly, “but one of the speakers spoke about the life he had been living—the gay lifestyle—and how he was waiting in a hospital bed for the results of an HIV test when Jesus appeared at the foot of his bed and said, ‘I’m not just going to heal your sexuality, I’m going to heal all of you.’ Then he… he left the gay lifestyle behind and married a woman and now he has a family. I’m not sure whether that is a helpful thing for you to hear or not…”

I told her that if God wants to make me straight, that’s great, and if God doesn’t want to make me straight, that’s great, too. I also told her that I don’t believe that so-called reparative therapy is a healthy or valid option for the vast majority of people. She raised me one and said that she doesn’t believe any therapy is valid unless the Spirit is involved.

“What would a full life look like for you?”

She asks good questions.

I responded saying that it would be knowing what God wants me to be doing and doing it. And although I think I’m headed in the right direction—grad school for English or an MDiv then teaching, or, if the recurrent itch becomes a call, preaching. Somehow.

“What else would living a full life mean for you?”

Embarrassed at the mundane nature of my next answer, I said, “Having a dog.”

After some talk about dogs, she asked again, “What else would be a part of living a full life for you?”

My next response came to me easily: living near my family and friends.

“Anything else?”

“Maybe it’s just because my parents have been great parents, but my idea of a full life includes having kids. I really want to have a family.”

I don’t remember her response to this. I do remember her praying for me at the end of our long talk. A long prayer, partly in tongues. She washed the glass she had filled with water for me to drink while we spoke.

“When do you leave?” she asked me.

“My program ends December 14,” I said.

She thought for a while.

“December 14. That is fifty days from now. This will be your Pentecost.”

—–

Please note that while much of this is written in the present tense, the language refers to the described night specifically and the weeks surrounding it generally. Things have been a bit better for me as I’ve become more comfortable and as the processes that drive my depression, whatever the hell they are, have been less persistent. It is important for me to write this because although things have been so much better this past year, it would be false to say that hard times won’t come again no more. In writing about it, I can see it as a part of a narrative—part of a good story that has its difficult moments.

new life

Six months ago yesterday, thanks largely to the vigorous encouragement of a friend, I posted the end of a silence on this blog. Nota bene: read that before continuing. After clicking “Publish” (and after sharing the link on Facebook and Twitter) I ran out of my dorm room and screamed loudly. The scream didn’t really mean “I feel free” or “I’m scared shitless” so much as it meant “A lot of life is happening in this moment and screaming is the only way I know how to acknowledge that.” A girl walking down the hallway paused for a brief look in my direction and then kept walking, unfazed. Extreme expressions of emotion aren’t exactly out of character for me.

That moment was the culmination of a lot of anxiety, fear, hope, and prayer.

In my Dostoevsky class last year, discussion often turned to the topic of visibility—truly seeing and truly being seen. It is when we are completely visible to someone (Father Zosima’s “guilty before all and for all”) that we are most human. Being loved by others for our talents and strengths is easy, but when we make visible our imperfections, struggles,  shortcomings, and fears, we become open to the possibility of receiving a taste of unconditional love—the kind of love that casts out our fears and humbles us because we know it is not deserved. This love doesn’t say that you’re perfect the way you are; it knows you are imperfect but allows you to experience wholeness. Although God constantly radiates this love, I’m not able to feel, know, and receive it always, which is why allowing myself to be visible to others, the body of Christ, is so important to me. It helps me understand the power of God’s love.

Although I certainly felt visible when I posted my story online—indeed, almost naked—I didn’t need to post it for that reason. My family, friends, and professors spent so many hours listening to me and loving me before I even thought about sharing my story online. The reason I shared my story online was in the first sentence of the post. The profound loneliness and hurt carried by some gay teenagers drives them to suicide. In my post I mentioned Jadin Bell, the 15-year-old who hanged himself in an elementary school’s playground. Every so often another incident is reported by the news. A young person—typically a guy in his mid teens—commits suicide. The news reports reveal that cause was probably the years of bullying the kid endured for his or her homosexuality. Friends say, “When he walked into a room he always lit it up,” “If you were having a bad day, she would take the time to ask you and listen to you and let you know that you are loved.”

This is for you: You are loved. Stick around because it does get better.

This is for you: Go sit with that person at lunch tomorrow.

This is for you: Love your child even when you don’t understand them.

This is for you: Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Be visible.

This is for you: Stand up for the bullied. It hurts some people more than we know.

This is for you: God loves you.

This is for you: Loving someone else might just mean listening to them. If you think that loving someone like a Christian means first and foremost showing them the error of their ways, realize that it’s possible that the only thing she thinks about is all of the ways she is disgusting. Find out how she’s beautiful. Tell her.

This is for you: You’ve made it through a lot. Maybe it’s time to share your story.

I came to regret the name I chose for that blog post six months ago. It seems a bit dramatic at times. But it isn’t. Silence breeds loneliness can breed death. The end of a silence is the birth of a new life.

the end of a silence

I was wondering when the appropriate time to write this blog would come, and with the recent death of Jadin Bell, I’ve decided it is time enough.

the preface

For several years I have kept a journal, and that practice eventually gave birth to this blog. From the start, it has been my desire to openly discuss the trials and joys of my life, finding beauty in the ashes, strength in the fear, and clarity in the confusion. My purpose in doing so is to encourage you who also live with ashes, fear, and confusion. It has been a process of exposing, healing, and ultimately seeing God redeem the irredeemable. I pray frequently that through sharing my story, others—all one hundred of you who will read this—will also be emboldened to open up and feel the freedom I have experienced and the grace I have been shown by my friends, family, and God.

the kicker

I am gay. I do not “struggle” with homosexuality, but that has not always been the case.

the life story

For a general framework of my life, see this post, written before I went to college my freshman year.

a. childhood

I was born in Manchester, New Hampshire. My mum is a pastor and my dad is an editor of theology books used in higher Christian academics—early Christianity, mainly. I have an older sister, two years and a half my senior. She began ballet dancing at five or six and has never stopped. That same year my parents put a violin in my hands and I have never stopped playing.

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the glory of it all

In several days I will be flying back to Seattle. Christmas break will have ended, a month away from Seattle Pacific University will have passed, and I’ll have left behind another year. As I prepare for the new year, starting with Winter Quarter, I have been reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky, translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky. I began reading it more than a year ago “for fun,” if that expression actually describes the motivation that drove me to buy the book. But school led me away from Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha and into the world of ancient Greece. Before I stopped my attempt to blast through it, I made it approximately a third of the way through.

If you are familiar with The Brothers Karamazov, you might recall when the Elder Zosima relates the story of his life to Alyosha and others as he is reaching his life’s end. He begins with the story of his brother, who, an atheist, became sick and returned to God before dying while still a young man. In the last days of his life, he was consumed with a joy and love that confused his mother, visitors, and doctor, who mistook his fervor for madness. It was this passage that I read on the plane back to Seattle nearly a year ago.