The words came out, and so had I. I had grown up in rural Oklahoma and had a great life, but I knew I was gay in a straight world at six years old...and that complicated things. My next-door-neighbor was also gay, and although we didn't know what that word even meant at the time, we confided in each other and knew this was a burden to bear on our own; after all, it's a sin, right? (Yes, a six-year-old can retain and apply sermons from church.) I never once uttered a word to a single person but him about my feelings, my urges, my interests. I never once shared my true self with anyone but him. Until I became brave.
I was a blubbering mess. A freshman, I broke down in my car one night at Graceland University with a good friend, and I told her the awful truth about me...I was gay. Just saying the word made me immediately want to vomit. They were words I knew I couldn't take back, and the deafening silence that followed left me in uncontrollable tears...the kind of tears that force every muscle in your body to tighten as if your body knows your mouth's betrayal could warrant the need for a quick escape. My friend was brave and said, "That's okay. You did nothing wrong." Sweet affirmation. It's all I'd ever wanted, and yet, in that moment all I could picture was a book of my life until now slamming shut. All those experiences I'd had up until then would be put on the shelf. That was the old me, after all. Or was it? Could I actually have my family, my church community, my life as I knew it AND be gay?
Bethany Dillon's For My Love was playing in my car on the radio as I mustered up the strength. The lyrics helped me to properly identify the core of my pain and struggles.
I was scared I wouldn't be worthy if I said the words. I was scared to be truly known, but I wanted to be truly loved. Loved by God, loved by friends, and loved by my family. I needed it.
A few months later I said the words to my parents with 1,500 miles between us, knowing the implications of such a confession could spell disaster. I was a World Service Corps volunteer working in the Canada West Mission Centre. It wasn't how I'd planned this out, having this conversation over the phone, but my mother had made an inquiry into my sexuality. I could be disowned. I could never see them again. I could never see my extended family again. I could be on my own. I could go to hell. I could lose my church family. I could be sent home from Canada. I could...(the list goes on). I uttered the words to my parents, not because I was selfish and only thinking of myself, but because I realized I was wrong for assuming that my parents wouldn't be able to handle the truth. I assumed they only wanted me a certain way or not at all, and I was missing out on a real relationship with both of them by sneaking. I assumed it was my responsibility to fit that mold in order to make others more comfortable. I was wrong.
My parents responded just as they should have...it was a shock, and they were just as scared as me; the only difference was that I'd had years to digest the implications of my sexuality, and they'd had mere seconds. (Early on, I'd told myself that whatever was said on the phone would be wiped from the record. It wasn't fair, I figured.) We took some time on our own to figure our next steps, and the subsequent months were tough with little communication.
After that difficult conversation, I plodded up the steps from the basement bedroom of my host family's house to find my host mom being brave. A church member, she and I had barely gotten to know one another as I'd only just arrived a few days before. When I crested the top step, she was sitting at the kitchen table with a mug of tea waiting for me across from her. She had overheard the entire thing. She hugged me, reassured me, fed me, and told me I was worthy. I wept as I realized that Community of Christ was not simply an intangible set of beliefs. I entered her kitchen in a foreign country to find Christ at the table that day in physical form. This woman changed my entire perspective on our faith tradition in that single moment by living out Christ's mission.
It wasn't until this experience that I recognized the uniqueness surrounding our faith community. Every single person I encountered throughout my coming out journey was a church member, and every single person was brave. Why? I believe our church has made us brave with its teachings of continuing revelation. It has opened our hearts and minds to recognize the beauty in the unknown as well as the ongoing evolution of our understanding of God.
A few months later I returned to Oklahoma to find that my parents had become brave. We spoke little about my coming out in the beginning, but as time went on we all opened up about it. Today, things couldn't be better between my parents and me. I believe my mother, being raised in the RLDS church, was exposed to these bravery teachings at an early age. My father, a convert to this faith community, although exposed at a later age by the church, had this bravery instilled in him by his mother from the very beginning. She had more empathy and love for all people than anyone I’ve ever met.
If you've ever seen We Built a Zoo, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) has a wonderful quote that truly sums up this entry:
"You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
As we continue to realize our potential as a people, let us also continue to act bravely in a world that primarily acts in fear.
I wanna see you be brave!
We all have a story to share. Mosaic is a collection of our stories.