Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Love Comes First

I was 16 years old, barely on the job a year, when I walked into the back room of the drug store I worked at and stumbled upon a scene that was new for me.  There, my kind and helpful older co-worker, a young man in his mid-twenties, was kissing his boyfriend good bye.  The look of sheer terror on his face when he realized he had been "caught in the act" was to shape my understanding of what it meant to be a homosexual for years to come.  This was in 1983, a mere year after AIDS had been labeled in the media as the "gay disease", and the societal condemnation of anyone suspected of being gay was palpable.  Mike's fear of being "outed" was well founded, and the fact that it was a very young co-worker who had observed a benign kiss had him trembling before me.  Fumbling to find the words to explain what I had just witnessed, he blanched and fell silent.

Standing there in the dimly lit stock room, we both recognized the seriousness of the moment.  This wasn't just about Mike losing his job, it was about the ostracization that would occur should word get out.  It was about the death threats he could no doubt imagine and the epithets that would surely be thrown his way.  His life as he knew it would be over, all because a young girl walked in on a casual kiss goodbye with his longtime committed boyfriend.  Had it been between a man and woman, it wouldn't have even registered on the radar, but this was different, this was "gay on display" during an era when living outwardly as a gay couple was foolhardy and could lead to bodily harm as others attempted to show their own "manhood" by assaulting those who were different and considered a threat.

His partner silent and holding his breath beside him, I reached out and touched Mike's arm as I quietly said, "Don't worry, Mike, it's really OK.  I promise.  There's nothing wrong here." and I slipped back out the door.

We never spoke of it again.  His panic-stricken look was to be etched in my mind forever.

A handful of years later, I was a twenty-something married woman when my mom and I joined a women's bowling league.  The first couple of weeks passed, and teams had yet to be finalized.  Soon we discovered why.  Two women were suspected of being a lesbian couple, and no one wanted to partner with them on a four person team.  Though not living as an out couple, the assumption was made, and therefore they were deemed unworthy of sitting next to on a bench, or standing side by side with on a lane.  Without hesitation, my mom and I offered to partner with them, but for the first
few weeks there was an awful awkward silence as it took these two bright, funny ladies time to feel safe.  Four years later, we were still partnered and though there was the occasional muttered nasty comment from members of other teams, wordlessly all four of us would ignore the maliciousness and balance it with humor, enjoying ourselves thoroughly and letting it roll off our backs.  Over time, our friends opened up more and we learned about their lives and their history together.  Unsurprisingly, there was very little that was different about their lives from our own.

It is much easier to live into your true, authentic self when you feel accepted and understood.  Hiding in plain sight is a soul crushing way to live.

There were others brought into our lives whose sexuality differed from ours, but in every other way they were very much the same.  However, there was always an inequality that Dominick and I would never experience.  We watched helplessly as one friend had his commitment ceremony turned into fodder for our entire community, and whose family reacted with venom and spitefulness, yet we were so impressed with his graciousness and forgiving attitude later on.  I listened as another opened up after a lifetime of living as a straight man as he explained that he had indeed been running from his true self his entire life, and couldn't do it anymore.  I have watched as others have denied themselves an authentic life and have ached with loneliness for years and years, never quite being able to bring themselves to admit openly to loving someone that many say they shouldn't.

My dearest friend is gay, and I love her very much.  She has been deeply wounded through the years as she has attempted to live her life honestly and openly, never trying to garner attention, but simply attempting to live with integrity.  A woman of great depth and substance, she and her partner of twenty years have been through more than most due to their open commitment to one another, and it has honed her faith and strengthened her resolve to always, always be kind.  Yet, there is a steel backbone that was forged through trials I can't imagine.  I did, however, catch a glimpse of her vulnerability when, as we tentatively began to move our friendship beyond the casual to a richer and deeper place, I was gently cautioned by her that others would likely make accusations about me due to her being gay, and I was asked quietly if I was ready for that.  I knew by the uncharacteristic timidity I could hear in her voice that I was really being asked a subtly different, unspoken question.  "Will you, too, turn on me should the going get rough?  Am I worth risk?" and perhaps the biggest one, "Do I dare allow this to be all it can be, or will my heart be broken again?"

My answer?  "You clearly don't know me well enough yet or you'd never ask that, but eventually, you will."

You see, I believe the Spirit brings us encounters to prepare us for what is to come. Initially, we may see no connection whatsoever, but looking back over our shoulder we find ourselves saying, "Ahhhh...I get it now."  Our hearts are transformed ever-so-gradually, our minds are molded by The Grand Sculptor so that, when the moment arrives, we are ready to bring our best selves to a circumstance.  We are more empathetic, more compassionate, more educated, but perhaps most important of all, we are more loving and kind.  The Sculptor has shaved off the rough edges, smoothed the marble that is our soul, and crafted an entirely different version of ourselves to share with the world.  In lieu of mallet and chisel, The Grand Sculptor uses the power of relationship and the witnessing of the callousness of others, both highly effective tools.

Each and every experience builds on itself, knowledge, insight, and awareness grows within us.  Suddenly, there is the moment when you are faced with a new situation, and you realize you are ready, you can handle it, and somehow God did that sculpting work and there is nothing to fear.

Like when your dear son summons the courage to tell you, in a quavering voice, that after months of reflection and prayer, he is certain he is gay.  He looks up at you expectantly, questioningly, fearfully, aching for what he hopes is still there.

That is the moment when, in a millisecond, your responses will be measured more carefully than they have ever been in your life, and you need to react from the place God has worked on the most.  When you wrap him up in your arms, accepting all of who he is with an unwavering love, that is when you fully understand the reason for the journey you have been on.

Unrehearsed but well prepared, chiseled and shaped, that is the moment when Love Wins.

Our sermon this past Sunday spoke to my heart at a time when I really was open to hearing it, and I recognized that my silence means I am complicit in the lack of acceptance we are seeing and hearing around our LGBTQ friends and loved ones.  I haven't necessarily avoided it, I just haven't elected to speak to it specifically and enter into the contentiousness that always accompanies such conversations.  I know there are many whose faith leads them to quite different conclusions than mine, and I respect that, having never had a need to persuade others that my understanding is the correct one.  But I realized as I listened this morning that my voice needs to be added, and that I can do so without disputing what others feel to be true, but that I might be able to shine a light on the pain I have witnessed of those who are pushed out to the margins, who are excluded and "other-ized", and yet who have the same hopes and dreams we all do, and who, in my opinion, also have God's equal and abiding love.  Thankfully, God doesn't separate and divide us the way we humans seem to have a need to do.

I believe that when I love my LGBTQ friends and child, I am doing exactly as Jesus would have me do, and I am living into my faith as wholeheartedly as I can.  I will not be silent, for Mike, Sue and Carol, Kent, Candi, my anonymous closeted ones, and Kenny need me not to just merely accept them, but to stand side by side with them in a world that often seeks to place them in the "Unlovable" category.  If that is where they belong in your opinion, then place me right alongside them.

Don't worry, I'll be in great company.


Candice Ashenden said...

Oh my! This blog post has moved me to tears...tears of finally feeling truly understood and not alone. Thank you for your compassionate and honest sharing of all of this and for your bold commitment to all people.

Megan Yount said...

Support is the best thing one could ever provide for someone who decides they will be on the outside who they have always been on the inside. To decide that it is time to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences with those they love. Support, love, acceptance. We all have our journeys in this world. This experience is just one aspect of yours. Know that there are a large community of us who support your son and all those others who need it. We are here, and we are moving toward the acceptance that it will one day finally be normal to see all kinds of relationships celebrated for what they are - love. As a person who doesn't quite consider themselves straight, doesn't quite consider themselves gay, your post makes me so hopeful for the future. We are moving toward so much love and acceptance, and it is truly beautiful to see. Best of wishes in your family's journeys through life.

Molly said...

If you need me I'll just be crying in the corner.. ok? Thankful he is yours, thankful he is loved, thankful you get it.

Linda M. said...

Thank you, Cyndi! Such a well written, courageous,
and strong post. We stand with you over here
in Western North Carolina!! Linda

Anonymous said...

I don't normally post comments but I feel it is important to state my support for you, your family and your friends. There are a lot of people in the world who stand with you.

r. said...

Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog, you, and your beautiful family