Learning to Love Myself -An Experience at the Gay Christian Network Conference

I came to the Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference exhausted, wondering if I had the capacity to handle the mental, physical, and emotional roller coaster I knew would result, and it didn’t disappoint. I left feeling even more drained than when I arrived. I felt like I was leaving behind my support system. I missed working with GCN over the summer for my internship; I missed the conversations and being a part of something that meant so much to me. Being back in this space with these people was a surreal experience and I didn’t want it to end. I hated that I was going back to Missouri, back to graduate school where I doubt every decision I make and it brings out the worst in me. I was going back to feeling alone even though I was going to be surrounded by a plethora of people who support me and love me. The conference leaving me with the question, “WHY do I feel so tired?”

If you know me you know I connect with God the most through service and activism. I enjoy doing small things like parking in the back of the parking lot so people who are less able have better access to where they need to be. I buy the fruit that looks imperfect in hopes that less food will be wasted in the long run. A kind of silly example was at the GCN conference After Party when I was placed in charge of the wristbands. I was meticulously placing each wristband on people trying to make sure it wasn’t too tight and I didn’t get any of their arm hair. I was able to keep up with the person checking people in (for the most part) so I thought my system was pretty efficient. I can’t tell you the number of people who thanked me for taking the time to do that. And that’s exactly what I wanted to happen; I wanted them to know they were worth those few extra seconds.

I care deeply for people and I strongly believe story matters. When someone expresses emotions, I experience that emotion. When they express pain, I feel physical pain. I feel privileged to be a part of those moments no matter who it is.

However, when I was asked at the conference to interview for a video sharing more about 12472674_10153835361139732_6794971693057565261_nmy story with GCN, I felt this resistance. Even after the people who would be interviewing me lovingly shared what they would be asking and tried to put me at ease, I couldn’t do it. I began to cry, not understanding why I was feeling this way, feeling immense guilt. After reflecting, I can now identify why I felt resistant to sharing. I didn’t actually believe my story matters. Kind of ironic considering while I was at the 2015 conference my biggest revelation was that my story did matter.

 The thing is, this isn’t anything new. This is something I have battled with a majority of my life. It’s frustrating that yet again; I’m back in the same place. And if I’m going to be honest, I feel like people are frustrated with me having this pattern in my life. I mean, really, how many times does someone have to tell me that I matter before I finally get it? The question I keep asking, why does this keep happening to me?

While at the conference a friend said two words to me that stuck, “Be good.” TWICE! Which left me thinking, “What the hell does that mean?” When I asked for clarification they responded with this: “Be good to yourself. You work so hard for others. Give the same to yourself. You need it and are worth it.” I don’t know if they know this, but I had an ugly cry in that moment (although I was crying all of the time at that point). It was then I realized I didn’t believe I was worthy of love nor that I was worth being taken care of, and this was why I was so exhausted leaving the conference.

I returned home from working with GCN for 3 months last summer to a campus full of tension after graduate students had been informed we would have to figure out a way to pay for our own health insurance. Rallies and protests became the norm. I poured my heart and soul into my work and I barely had time to process the cultural and community shift I experienced moving from Raleigh back to Columbia. I didn’t have time to process any of the pain I endured since I had come back. Seeing people I knew in public spaces, preparing to greet them, only to be ignored after making eye contact. People gossiping about me without actually asking to hear my story. People I thought cared about me ended communication with me altogether. The overwhelming message being “You are not worthy of my time.”

As the daughter of a gay parent it is rare for me to meet anyone like myself, especially within the Christian community. Much of my time is spent wondering where I belong. Do I belong in the LGBTQ community? Am I an ally? I don’t feel like an ally… What am I, really? There are times when I seriously wonder; do people even want to hear my story? Do other adult kids of the LGBTQ community, or even LGBTQ parents, really want to have this conversation? Am I the only the one, along with the few people I know who are the children of LGBTQ parents, who feels this strong desire to meet other people of faith like me?

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Says: “In appreciation for her outstanding dedication and service above and beyond to the call of duty for the members of The Gay Christian Network”

When I received the The Brian Eckstein Faithful Servant Award, it meant a lot to me. Even though it was an honor to be recognized in that way, what meant more to me was that I felt I belonged somewhere. That I matter. I wish I could say that I feel differently now after such a heartfelt gift, and there are some days I do. But more often than not, I feel this doubt plaguing me like a dark cloud. I keep that plaque next to my coffee pot, a little ray of hope, so that way every morning when I get my required cup of coffee I am reminded of the community I do have and to keep going despite my doubts.

Many of us who have been marginalized have been told repeatedly we do not matter, our experiences aren’t real, our stories do not matter.

Many of us who work in social justice give so much into the things we are passionate about that we often forget to take time for ourselves and feed our soul with love and care in the midst of the endless opposition we face.
The end result often being us in a discouraged state, wondering why we are even here in the first place.

During his keynote at the conference, Justin Lee brought up a quote that makes frequent appearances throughout the Bible while talking about how important it is for Christians in the Church to be empathetic toward those who have experiences different from their own:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

However, there is an important aspect to this quote I think we often overlook, a couple of questions we need to ponder. How do we love our neighbor fully if we do not think we, ourselves, are worthy of love? How do we love our neighbor as our self if we do not think we are worthy of being taken care of?

I think it is extremely important for us to love and empathize with those who have different experiences than us. But if I don’t have the energy to do so because I’m not taking care of myself how will I be able to serve others when they need the support?

I think many of us could power through, but as we can see from what happened to me it takes a toll on our souls in the long run and ultimately our ability to love is impacted. I know for me, the small things I enjoy doing for others happen less frequently and I am less aware of the people around me when I am not loving myself. As a result, I’m not able to connect with God in the ways that give me life.

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Pretty sure this is the only pic I took with humans. So there you go.

At the GCN After Party, I was in a place where I felt loved, where I felt wanted, my cup was full. So I was able to do things like putting wristbands on people, even though being an introvert it kind of sucks the energy out of me. I was able to enjoy the people I was surrounded by in that moment.
Conclusion? We all are worth being treated with tender and loving care. We need to give ourselves that gift. I know for many of us it is hard to believe, but in order for us to even begin to be empathetic toward others we need to be actively loving ourselves.

How might loving yourself look? I can’t really say, I think it’s unique to each individual person.

I think, “What’s Next” for me is the following:

  1. Giving myself permission to feel the emotions that may make others and myself uncomfortable. I know for me, even acknowledging that I feel this way about myself is hard. To admit it to other people is even harder. Recently, I contacted a friend when I was at a pretty low point. What I found myself doing was downplaying the whole situation, not because I didn’t trust them but because I didn’t want them to worry and I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable. As a result, they had a false idea of what was really going on with me and were not able to help me in that moment in the ways I needed.
    I have a strong belief that emotions are God-given alarm systems; none of the things we feel are bad or negative. When we experience anger it is an indicator we are protecting something we care deeply about. When we experience sadness there is something deep within us that needs to be acknowledged. When we experience happiness it shows us we are in a temporary space that brings us some amount of joy. Some of these emotions are uncomfortable for us to experience. But in order for others to love us, in order for God to love us in the way we need we have to be honest about how we are really feeling.
    To acknowledge how we feel, to be vulnerable with those we trust isn’t weak. It is brave and courageous.
  2. Recognizing peace is not about eliminating the discomfort I experience but about embracing discomfort as a part of my everyday life.
  1. Collect in the moment all of the things people say that reflect my true nature, and who I am. And go back and read those things when I am at a low point. 
  1. Remind myself of how the Lord sees me and allow that piece of truth in. 
  2. Listen to these songs when I’m feeling crappy.
    “Every Heart” Sara Haze 
    “Read All About It, Part III” Emeli Sandé
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My 2015

As I turned in my last essay, signifying the end of the semester, I felt the relief wash over me. “It’s over.” I thought. I now had five weeks of eternal bliss, reading books I wanted to read and crocheting while watching Netflix. I would not use my brain in any way other than creativity. The next morning I found myself waking up in a panic thinking of all the things I had to do before the end of break; a conference, research, job searching, applications, cleaning the mess that was my apartment. I finally settled on cleaning a little bit of my apartment, the weight of the unaccomplished pulling me down as I went.

I have tried to process a year that has passed me by in a blur, words failing me as I attempt to write it out. I debated whether I would write something in the New Year, thinking it wasn’t wise of me. However, here I am, writing. If anything, I have determined I am doing this for myself. If this helps others understand me a little better or even helps them in some way, then that’s a bonus.

It may not come as a surprise to you, but this year has sucked the life out of me. I left a place I called home for many years, not planning to return. I listened to and cared for many people in my life who were/are hurting. And I placed myself in environments where I was challenged to the core. I don’t regret a moment of it. I have made discoveries about myself that I would not otherwise. However, I was so busy trying to learn and challenge myself that I forgot to stop. I forgot to stop and listen, not only God but to the crying of my own soul.

This has been a year of complete uncertainty, my soul repeatedly being beaten down, the pain increasing with each blow. I powered through, ignoring it. Telling myself that I was okay with it. Convincing myself this was the price I had to pay.

When I finally allowed myself to stop, I began to write, the words flowing out in a cathartic mess. One night I sat absorbing the worship music I had once enjoyed and found myself crying uncontrollably, praying the words. As I prayed, I slowly felt the weight of the year ease off my shoulders.

For most of 2015 God felt distant. Not distant from me, but me distant from him. I had hurt for so long that I didn’t want to approach the mess I knew was deep inside. I refused to talk about it with anyone, holding onto the secrets with an iron fist. I needed to be strong and I needed to be compassionate. Yet the feelings I had were ugly… and I determined no one would want to experience that.

But… He was there the entire time, waiting… sometimes calling my name, pulling me toward him, only to have me back away, tears in my eyes, ashamed of what I considered to be dark.

He waited… waited for me to come to him, poised and ready to take on the burden that had been plaguing me for so long. Allowing me to continue suffering in the darkness as I stubbornly refused to let Him in. As I refused to look at what was happening deep within my heart.

I am so thankful for those moments when I do let go and let it be with Him. They remind me of a time before these 2 years happened. When my faith was much stronger than it is now. When I allowed the discomfort and mess into my relationships, into my relationship with God. When I had begun to experience peace.

I wish I could say that after all of this I feel better. But I am still tired… and feel the weight of the incessant expectations I place on myself. Perhaps that’s disheartening and you wonder if I’m attention seeking. If you do, I can’t stop you. But I think this quote from a friend could help. It captures how I feel right now, and I hope his words will seep in and help you understand me and where I am.

“This is the tale of my story through, and eventual healing from, a very long, dark night. One reviewer of this book suggested that I offer a light at the end of the tunnel sooner than I do. He wondered why I waited so long to introduce hope. One might ask the same of the biblical book Job. Why so many chapters before a resolution?
Because that is the way the story happened.”

–Matt Rogers, “Losing God”

At this point in time, I’m not at the end of this Part of my story. I’m not ready for the page break.
I wish it could be like the Harry Potter books where at the end of the year we have some sort of resolution or clarity but alas, this is not the case (I smile every time I read this sentence).

I enter into the New Year with a deep desire to be at peace with myself and the path I have chosen. I have been asking God, “What are some things I can do while I wait?”

And I have felt the prompting on a few things:

  1. Engage in Play. My life has always been a serious one. Darkness always seems to snuff out the light. Laughter has become a rarity. I miss that part of myself… I wish to engage with it a little more.
  2. Read fiction. I’m taking a break from the many greats in nonfiction and have given myself permission to read fiction. Armistead Maupin and Jane Austen being two I cannot wait to start. I want to read stories with characters who are real, not flawless. These stories, despite being in a fictional world, can help make our world a better place. There are lessons to be learned everywhere.
  3. Write daily. This was one of my goals last year and I just didn’t do it. Fear held me back. I want to have the courage to write and process my feelings. Even the ones that make me feel uncomfortable.
  4. Find a new church home. It’s time. It is time to move forward.

These are invitations to my friends as well. If you have gotten this far… then you probably have a real interest in my personhood and me. If you would like to provide recommendations or even engage in any of these activities with me… please, don’t hesitate to contact me.

And finally… I will leave you with a quote that has brought me much comfort as I wait:

“Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and let it be there. Until some light returns.”
– Anne Lamott

It wasn’t all bad though. Here are a few of my favorite moments from 2015:

My sister graduating college.

This sweet dog being in my life over the summer.

North Carolina beaches.

My regular Saturday breakfast spot in Raleigh.

The North Carolina Symphony.

Being reunited with this lady.

Just Hope. 

Having the opportunity to work for GCN.

Participating in many rallies throughout the fall. 

Citizen Jane Film Festival.

Visiting Duke gardens.

Playing with this pup.

Meeting Sharon Shattuck Eaves

This moment… This press conference. 

Seeing Nate Ruess, Michael Franti, and Third Eye Blind

Finally getting my nametag.

 

Seeing plays.

PRIDE.

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Visiting this guy in Fargo

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Poor quality picture of GCN Conference.