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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To the Children of LGBT Parents: Marriage Equality is for Us Too.

I remember it vividly. I was 17, sitting in the computer lab of our business class, and the teacher had left the room when suddenly a student blurted out, “All gays should die.” I sat there feeling the heat begin to rise to my cheeks. Years of listening to people saying such hateful things bubbling to the surface.

What this kid didn’t know was my own mother had came out to me only a couple of months before. The wounds were fresh. My senses heightened to all of the derogatory language that surrounded me in such a small town high school. I couldn’t keep the anger in any longer. So I yelled. I yelled, “YOU have NO idea who you are talking about when you say that! NO idea who you are impacting!”

Tears began building in my eyes and I’m sure a few escaped down my cheeks. There was a stunned silence. Kaitlyn, the quiet girl, the girl who doesn’t challenge, the girl who gets along with everyone… yelled. And not just that, she spoke up for something that a majority of the people in room disagreed with. The kid stared at me. I looked back at him, my eyes daring him to say something, anything. I knew he regretted what he said, I could see it even if he couldn’t identify it. He muttered something about faggots and looked away. I went back to my work and didn’t say another word the rest of the class period.

This…. this is what I’ve had to sort through for most of my life. I have sat through whole sermons of pastors, who I deeply respect, speaking on how a family unit is incomplete without a both a father and a mother. That the children who are raised in an environment different from that are missing something important. And I, once again, am reminded that I am “different”. That my family is “different”.

And you know what? My family IS complex according to our societal norms. My dad gets along great with my mom’s partner. All of us, including both of my parents’ partners, can have dinner together and it isn’t awkward. (Waiters/waitresses often don’t know what to do with our bill) 

We certainly have our flaws (just like ANY other “normal” family), but I do consider myself blessed with the family I have and I do not wish it to be any other way. This, all of this, has shaped me into who I am today. I am me because of what we, as a family, have gone through.

Don’t get me wrong. I have experienced a lot of shame in relation to this part of my life. But slowly, I am beginning to see I am enough. That my story matters. That God loves me unconditionally along with my non-nuclear family in tow.

After the SCOTUS decision, I felt numb. I wanted to be as excited as everyone else. I even posted a facebook status saying I was experiencing “all of the feels”. And to an extent, I think I was. I just didn’t know what they were. It wasn’t until I got on Facebook this morning and saw all of the rainbows that I began to cry. I was overwhelmed by the amount of support flowing through social media out at me. Telling me: “You are loved. Your family is loved.”

Marriage equality is for us too, the kids of the LGBT parents. We get to celebrate with our parents after the pain we as a family have endured. We get to experience the joy of watching our parents marry after that extra-long engagement. We get to experience the Love that has been overflowing throughout the world.

So thank you. Thank you to everyone who has shown support to our families. Thank you to everyone who has celebrated with us.

The Personality of Relationship

Relationships change. This is a statement I feel is common knowledge among many people. But for someone like me, who has a hard time adapting to change it can be a hard process to accept.
The way I have viewed relationships for most of my life is: if I am having regular heart-to-heart conversations with someone then that must mean we are close. Devoting time to relationships is very important to me, but it’s how I devote my time that has changed.
Over the summer I got to know several different people very well, I was hanging out and interacting with them pretty regularly via many social outlets. It was a season full of life for me. Then September hit and we all started to get involved in our respected ministries and organizations. My job became more demanding as my caseload began to grow while others had their own work to do. The people I had been running with were no longer available as things in their lives began to pile up. The friends I was communicating through social media were no longer posting or interacting with me as much. I started to feel insecure in my relationships, wondering if I was doing something wrong. Feeling guilty because I wasn’t able to spend as much time with those I cared about due to my own responsibilities.

As I dug into this in September I discovered a few things I would like to share as we begin to enter into the holiday season, a time when things tend to get busy and loneliness can crop up on us when we least expect it.

Relationships are malleable and adjustable.
Just as fall turns into the frigid winter, winter will turn into the life-producing season of spring.  I see relationships in much the same way. Sometimes our relationships go through a few rough patches due to things like insecurities or our own fears. There are times when we see some people more than others. Sometimes the role a friend once played in our life is something they can no longer do during the particular season they are in. Perhaps someone plays different roles during different seasons in our own lives. Allowing space for the relationship to grow and adapt can be worth the change if we let it.
The beautiful thing about relationships is you share memories together. As you experience each others’ stories throughout the years you receive a glimpse into each others’ lives and as a result the relationship grows and deepens. No amount of change is going to take away these memories.
A perfect example of this is my relationship with a close friend of mine. She is a constant encouragement and joy in my life, but our relationship has had its fair share of winters. These winters allowed us to get to know each other in a way that we never would have during a blissful summer. It’s the memories we shared that kept us together as we sorted through our differences and allowed us to move into the spring we are in now.

With change, there is a grieving process involved.
Even if the change is good, I think there is a grieving process. Usually when something changes, there is a loss in the mix. It is possible to grieve and experience joy in the change while acknowledging it is happening and giving space for the relationship to grow and adapt.
With this in particular I am reminded of a time when a friend of mine set some clear-cut boundaries with me. The boundaries limited the contact I had with them and meant our relationship was going to be changing dramatically within a short amount of time. It didn’t help that it happened during a time when I was transitioning churches and a lot of my current relationships were going through struggles of their own. In my own eyes, I felt I was losing yet another close friend of mine. It took some time for me to adapt to the changes and it took me a bit longer than normal to grieve the relationship that was no longer what it once was.
I wish there were something encouraging I could say about this…. But I think grieving and pain comes along with loving and being in relationship with others. It’s a risk worth taking in order to experience life giving properties that love provides.

Relationships are not black and white.
I have a tendency to live life as if it’s black and white. Either someone loves me or they don’t. If I spend time with someone we’re friends, if I don’t we aren’t. If I don’t have a heart to heart conversation with this person weekly then that means we must not be very close or they don’t trust me.
How draining is that?! I don’t want to live like this. And I don’t want to place these high expectations on my friends, let alone myself. There is no possible way one person can meet every need I have, and I wouldn’t want them to.
Some of my most life giving relationships are those where I can just sit on a couch with a friend and talk about absolutely nothing in particular, laughing together uncontrollably. Or perhaps a friend who shares my love for classical music and can sit with me as we allow the music to fill our souls. Some of these friends are not those who I would share my deepest concerns but that doesn’t mean I care any less for them.
We have many different relationships and they are vibrant and full of color. They serve different purposes in our lives and each are beautiful in their own personal way.  Each friendship has it’s own personality and that personality grows just as our own personalities do as we discover more about ourselves.

A friendship doesn’t need to be figured out, it’s the adventures you take together to do the figuring that make it it’s own.