Hearts in Your Eyes

I’ve never quite been able to figure out if the fact that the acronym for Singles Awareness Day would be SAD is purposeful or sad happenstance, but I’m sitting in my office writing cover letters on February 14, so I’m definitely leaning towards purposeful.

Valentine’s Day has never bothered me before. In high school, I bought cards and presents for my female friends. In college and grad school, I mostly buried my head in my books and pretended nothing was happening. I joked about celebrating Half Price Chocolate Day on February 15 and assumed that I would eventually have someone to celebrate with.

It’s not that singleness is bothering me this year. I’m perfectly happy being single. The girlfriend dumped me back in October, and it was as awful as I’m assuming most first heartbreaks are, but I’m mostly over it. I know that there will be other loves and other relationships in the right time. It’s not the singleness.

It’s the aloneness.

When you become estranged from your family, you don’t just lose contact with a few people. You lose a community, a sense of history, and a sense that someone has your back. You lose the knowledge that there are people who are tied to you through blood and tears and however many years of hard work it took to make you the person you are today. Even if there isn’t a lot of love there, or even if the relationships are dysfunctional, there is something about having a family that means having a safety net. I didn’t want to move home, but I always knew that if something happened, it was an option. Now, there is no option. There is no safety net. There is no sense of history or community. There is no one I have regular contact with who knew me before the age of 14.

I’ve been job hunting for months, and I’m not getting anything back. I’ve had interviews, but no one calls to let me know I’ve been rejected. My friends have mostly moved away, and I’m the only one who stayed here who isn’t working yet.

I’m starting to feel a little invisible.

There’s supposed to be a happy, hopeful end to this. I’m supposed to make a Princess Diaries reference and then talk about how God always sees us. And God does always see us. And it’s important to remember that. But right now, I don’t want to be happy or hopeful. Right now, I want to eat my weight in chocolate. I want to scream and cry and throw things. I want to go to sleep and not have to wake up. Because life is hard, and I’m doing everything right, and it’s not getting less hard. I’m still always broke and usually alone. I still feel unseen and unheard most of the time. I still feel like most of the people in my life forget about me if I’m not directly in front of them, and that’s not a fun feeling.

Right now, I want more than anything to be seen.

I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day. I hope you felt loved and cherished and special. I hope someone hugged you. I hope someone was happy to see you. I hope that you go to sleep tonight with the knowledge that you matter to someone.

Tomorrow, try to see someone. Whether it’s the homeless man begging for change at the intersection or the person who hands you a bulletin at church or the person you sit across the breakfast table from, try to acknowledge someone you usually wouldn’t in a really meaningful way. Maybe that means listening to them. Maybe it means sharing a meal or a cup of coffee. Maybe it just means making eye contact.

Go forth and see.

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On Cakes and Inclusion

Alternatively, The Easter Post I’ve Been Trying To Write for Two Months.

On the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake.

Lent was a hard season this year. I set myself impossible tasks (as I always do), and I failed miserably at them (as I always have). I finally started dating the woman I’d been falling in love with for months, only to have a friend I thought was supportive tell me I’d “lost [my] moral compass.” World Vision set a queer-friendly HR policy, resulting in the loss of several thousand child sponsorships over two days. My friends threw me a fabulous birthday party, and my parents sent me the most perfunctory birthday card ever.

I felt over and over again through those 40 days as though lines were constantly being drawn, placing me outside of groups that once welcomed me with open arms.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake.

On Easter morning, I got up at 5am. I put the casserole I had assembled the night before in the oven and dressed in layers. The girlfriend and I headed out into the unseasonable pre-dawn chill to my church’s sunrise service. We met in a park and watched the sun rise over the trees. We sang hymns and baptized a baby and listened to the story of the women at the empty tomb. Afterwards, we walked to the pastor’s house for a potluck drunk brunch.

My church’s motto is “Everyone, everyone, everyone.” They mean it. We’re smack dab in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood in the queerest city in the South. We’ve got a little bit of everything: academics, queers, feminists, homeless folks, and homeschoolers. I’m always astounded by how openly we’re all made welcome. It’s an extravagant sort of love, a transgressive kind of grace.

All through Lent, I struggled to make peace with what’s going on between me and my parents. I keep worrying that this is something I’m doing to myself. I don’t have to be alone like this. They would pick up the phone if I called. They even reached out a couple of times at the beginning of the semester, asking for updates or expecting me to get over my snit and start speaking to them again. But at the same time, they are the ones drawing the lines that leave me out. In coming out, I attempted to include them. In telling me I was going to hell, being influenced by demons, defying God and them, they are drawing a line between us and then asking why I’m on the other side. Every time they made loud commentary in my direction about LGBTQ news stories, excluded me from a meal or conversation, or refused to acknowledge my identity, they were reaffirming that division.

On my parents’ 25th anniversary, my mother did the math and announced that she and my father had moved 12 times during their marriage. That averages to around every other year. Needless to say, we rarely lived around extended family, so we almost always travelled for holidays. Easter was the only exception, since it always falls on Sunday, so Easter became our holiday. My mother has made the same meal every year since I can remember: roast pork loin, hashbrown casserole, asparagus, spinach salad, deviled eggs, yeast rolls, and . . . The Easter Cake.

The Easter Cake was the centerpiece of the meal. It’s a two-layer dark chocolate cake, ridiculously moist, with a creamy, whipped frosting. Mom always made it the night before so it could sit in the fridge and soak up part of the frosting over night. She served it cold with pastel sprinkles in the shape of rabbits and ducks.

I have never been homesick in my life, but last year I almost got in my car and drove home during Holy Week. Since that wasn’t really practical, I asked my mother to email me her recipes and cooked the traditional Easter dinner for my friends, complete with The Easter Cake. Mom was ecstatic. Apparently your daughter’s first holiday meal is a big deal because she made me take pictures of everything so she could show her friends at work. Even thousands of miles away, I knew I was part of something special. I was making the same recipes that my mother and grandmother had made. I was carrying on a tradition of friendship and hospitality that I learned at my mother’s knee.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake. The Easter Cake. And on Sunday afternoon, I welcomed my friends into my apartment where they demolished most of a 9 pound ham, a double recipe of hashbrown casserole, two pounds of asparagus, a giant spinach salad, 36 deviled eggs, two dozen yeast rolls, and about two-thirds of The Easter Cake. (My friends are grad students. HUNGRY grad students who were all writing their theses and had not a home-cooked meal in weeks.)

There were no pictures this year, and I’m fairly certain my mother did no bragging the next day at work. But on some level, I am keeping the faith that I am still a part of that family, still a part of the family of faith, still a PART, because the blood of Christ, the love of Christ, the death-conquering power of Christ washes away all the lines. After all, they’re only drawn in sand.

So on the Saturday before Easter, I baked a cake, knowing that many miles away, my mother was doing the same thing. It tasted like hope.

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We’re All A Little Fucked Up (But It Gets Better)

I haven’t spoken to my parents in two weeks.  My mother called twice and left one message.  She sounded off.  Not quite angry, but definitely a little curt.  Maybe uncertain?  I can’t imagine she knows what to do now anymore than I do.

Part of me wants to end the stalemate.  I could call and pretend like everything is alright, but everything isn’t alright and bullshitting my way through a conversation won’t actually help.  Things were said that can’t be unsaid, and behind every bit of pleasant small-talk, I’m going to hear “abandoning your soul to eternal damnation” and “that church is a cult” and “this is rebellion.”  It makes me wonder whether they’re constantly hearing “I’m gay.”

Part of me wishes she would keep calling.  For years, I’ve been the “black sheep” of the family, the one who didn’t quite fit.  I’ve always been half-afraid that my parents wouldn’t miss their squeaky wheel all that much.  Seeing her number show up makes me feel sad and uncomfortable, but also a little more loved.

Being part of a family is complicated.  It comes with so many rules and expectations, so much baggage, that it’s a wonder any of us become sane adults.  And everyone’s family is a little fucked up.  It’s just how the world is.  No one survives the passing on of however many thousands of years of accumulated history and war and politics and life and evolution without a few dents and dings.  Nobody comes out of a family without a few quirks.  No one’s childhood was actually like Leave it to Beaver.

But there’s “everyone’s family is a little fucked up” and then there’s “my parents might be living in an alternate reality that only exists inside their heads.”  There’s quirky and then there’s I-can’t-talk-to-you-regularly-and-also-function-like-a-real-human-being.  We’re officially on the bad end of that spectrum in a lot of ways.

Baggage isn’t the only thing I left home with, though.  In many ways, I’m quite proud of my family.  I come from a long line of amazing women, strong individuals who made it work for their families despite difficult circumstances.  I come from people of incredible faith, and the fruits of that faith can be seen in churches planted, lives changed, and ministries grown.  Both of my parents were raised by blue collar workers but went on to finish college.  My father even has a master’s degree, and my mother is considering going back to school to get an MBA.  These are the stories I grew up on and the shoulders I stand on to accomplish anything in my life.

Sometimes when I’m cooking dinner or driving home, I really want to call my mom, but it’s not actually MY MOM that I want to talk to.  It’s this hypothetical version of my mom who divorced my dad sometime during my college years and stuck up for me when I was depressed and supported me when I decided to get an MPH instead of an MD and is always willing to listen and talk through things, even if she’s uncomfortable with them.  I think that the woman who is actually my mother would be capable of at least some of that if she weren’t also married to/enmeshed with my father.  It makes me sad.  I’d really like to meet that person, but I’m not sure she’ll ever actually exist.  Instead, I hope that I can become that person.  I hope that I can overcome some of the baggage my mom never got past and become the person that she couldn’t be.  And I hope that the next generation of our family will benefit from that.

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A Year in Review and One Word for 2014

I started this blog because I realized I was gay, and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

(Saying that I realized I was gay is probably putting it too strongly.  It was more like I finally admitted to myself that I had been attracted to women for a long time and that might possibly mean something.  My first attempt at coming out was telling my best friend, “I think I might be not-exactly straight.”)

I made a lot of noise about New Year’s resolutions and discipline and sorting out my head and speaking my mind, but really . . . it was the gay thing.  I didn’t actually start writing about my sexuality until I was well into the process of coming out in real life, but in a way, this blog was a promise.  It was a promise to myself that someday I would be able to tell people.  Someday I would be able to admit to who I am.  Someday I wouldn’t be ashamed of myself.

I didn’t really expect that day to come so soon.

The past year (and a few days – this is a bit late) has been a big one for me.  I’ve discovered a whole queer Christian community where people like me are exploring what it means to live out faith in Christ as a sexual minority.  I’ve finally, really committed to being in therapy and sticking with it.  I’ve become part of a church where I really feel connected and at home for the first time in years.   I’ve found so many people (both old friends and new) that love and support me no matter what.  I’ve survived the first three semesters of my graduate degree program, built a great resume, and started applying for post-graduation opportunities.

I’ve also stopped talking to my parents.

Unfortunately, my Christmas break was a little more dramatic than I expected it to be.  After a long talk about my sexuality and several days of pointed commentary, I decided that while my parents are entitled to their opinions, it was neither necessary nor healthy for me to continue subject myself to their expressions of those opinions.  So I called my best friend and asked her to drive out and pick me up.  When I announced my intention to leave, my parents insisted that they had not created a hostile environment.  Instead, they maintained that I was experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and that by leaving instead of submitting to that conviction (and their spiritual authority) I was “abandoning [my] soul to eternal damnation.”

We haven’t spoken since, and I’m not sure when we’ll speak again.

For years now, my relationship with my parents has been a stitched-together monster made of half-kept secrets and grudging compromises.  I’ve wondered for a long time if the only way to heal it would be to burn it to the ground and start over.  I’ve also wondered more recently if anything will grow in the ashes of all this string and madness.  There’s a lot of dysfunction there, and a part of me thinks it might be wiser to salt the earth and move on.  My parents cling to their right-ness with the terrified fervor of martyrs, and I don’t know if our relationship will prove worth the courage necessary for them to step away from that security and venture into the unknown.  I don’t know if they will ever accept my queerness.  I don’t know if I will ever be truly welcomed there.

Ironically, on the way to the airport to fly back to my home state I decided that my word for 2014 would be Belonging.  This year I hope to live in three different cities on two continents.  That’s a lot of leaving.  But in all of that hoped-for wandering, I also want to explore what it means to belong.  Last year a lot of my learning and growing was about who I am.  This year, I want to spend more time thinking about who we are.  What does it mean to be part of a church?  A family (chosen or blood)?  A group of friends?  A community of similarly identifying folks?  What is it like to belong as a student?  An intern?  An expat?

I have never been good at belonging.  As a fiercely independent introvert, I tend to be a bit of a Lone Ranger.  As a child from a dysfunctional family, I tend to have trust issues.  But I want to get better at it.  I want to be able to welcome people into my life and to be welcomed fully into theirs.  I want to get better at the give and take of relationships.  I want to be able to play well with others.

Twenty-thirteen was a year of growth and change.  It was painful, but it was worth it.  I believe that 2014 can be similarly fruitful.

What are you hoping for this year?

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