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.