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 my 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?
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.
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:
- 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.
- Recognizing peace is not about eliminating the discomfort I experience but about embracing discomfort as a part of my everyday life.
- 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.