The Cycles of Grief

Each year on November 5th, I post a picture of my mom.  Some years, I feel strange about this ritual, especially if I’m in a new place where people don’t know that my mom died.  I do it anyway, though, because I have to find a way to hold space for her.  I think about her on November 5th even if I forget about her the rest of the year, and that feels holy.

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My mom on her wedding day.

For the first 20 years of my life, I didn’t think  much about grief.  Right after my mom’s death in 1995, my dad took me to grief counseling where I did both individual and group therapy.  I’m grateful for that early therapy but it was nearly impossible for a five year old to fully process death.  The loss of my mom because more of a “fun fact” that I could pull out when people made “your mom” jokes in high school or when I had to explain why my dad was getting married when I was in the 4th grade.  I would wear some of her jewelry or her tshirts with cats on them, but that was the extent of it.  I didn’t consider what it meant for me as a daughter or a mother or a person trying to understand herself.

It wasn’t until college that the weight of it fully hit me.  I was on a worship team for my university’s chapter of InterVarsity Christian fellowship, and on one of our annual retreats, we had a particularly poignant sharing time.  Team members shared about breakups, deaths, friendship struggles, and other things we usually kept close to our chests.  I remember suddenly bursting into tears, shocked at my emotional reaction to something I hadn’t cried about for a decade.  It sunk in that she wouldn’t be there when I got married, when I graduated, or when I had my own children.

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I see myself in this picture.

Since then, I’ve tried to get to know her more.  It turns out, getting to know a dead person is difficult, but not impossible.  I talk to her and write to her and talk about her.  This doesn’t make it hurt less.  If anything, it makes it hurt more, but if I feel nothing, the grief will fester inside me.  And unresolved grief can be a real bitch.  My decades of not feeling grief brought about depression and self harm.  So, even if it’s been years, it turns out I can’t just pretend that nothing happened.  When I recognize that my desires to be perfect and control everything around me have a lot to do with my need to live out her legacy and protect myself from an early death, I can learn to let those things go.

I recently joined a community called The Dinner Party (TDP).  There are chapters all over the world, and their mission is:

OURS IS A COMMUNITY OF MOSTLY 20- AND 30-SOMETHINGS WHO’VE EACH EXPERIENCED SIGNIFICANT LOSS & CONNECT AROUND POTLUCK DINNER PARTIES TO TALK ABOUT IT

I’ve only met with this group once, but it was overwhelmingly refreshing to be in a room of people who aren’t afraid to talk about death.  One of my close friends recently lost her dad, and as I watched our other friends respond to her grief, it brought to light my own experiences in which people weren’t sure how to approach death.  At TDP, I could joke about death, cry about things that I “should be over by now”, and talk about the things that don’t seem to make sense.  I didn’t have to put my grief in a box that looked the way others expected it to.  Listening to others describe their experiences clarified my own.

Each year on November 5th, I can’t believe how long it’s been since she died, but I hope that as I grow farther away from her temporally, I grow closer to knowing her.  I see her in myself as I approach the age that she was when she died.  I see the shape of my body when I look at pictures of her.  I think about how much she would love my cats.  None of this makes it easier, but it’s better than pretending none of it happened.

I’m Here and I’m Queer: Coming Out

I’m bisexual.

I first knew this about myself in high school.  I talked to a few close friends about it.  I confided in a queer history teacher at school for advice.  My short lived exploration was met with so much resistance, though, both at school and at church, that I abandoned my questions about my sexuality entirely for the next decade

My high school refused to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance.  Instead, we would meet in secret in the school theater at lunch.  One of the few out lesbians in school came to her car after school one day to find the word “dyke” carved into the driver’s side door.  The only trans person at school was forced to use the bathroom at the nurse’s office because there were no gender neutral bathrooms.  People laughed and talked behind their back.  Things have changed greatly at my high school, which is now much more supportive of LGBTQ students, but when I was there, it was painful.  My youth group was also a place of difficulty.  Whenever we explored LGBTQ+ issues, the teaching was that homosexuality was sinful and against God’s will.  A combination of all of these hardships shoved me decidedly back into the closet for nearly ten years.  I thought I had to choose between being a Christian and being bisexual, so I choose being a Christian.

In many ways, it was easy to pass as straight.  I was not being entirely untrue to myself by dating only men.  I liked cisgender men.  I didn’t like only cisgender men.  But for a long time, it was easy enough to pretend.  I positioned myself as a straight ally.  I was believable.  I’m high-femme (which, if that term is unfamiliar, means I present my gender as very feminine – wearing dresses, having long hair, and wearing make-up) and have had several long-term relationships with men.  Even some of my gay friends assumed I was straight.  I was good at hiding.

It wasn’t until I got to seminary that things began to change.  Suddenly, I was confronted with queer people who were also faithful Christians.  I had never met anyone who was able to live fully into both of these parts of themself.  I didn’t know it was possible.  Christianity and queerness had always been presented to me as mutually exclusive lifestyles.  You could be one, but not the other.  During my time at seminary, though, I realized that I could faithfully be both.  At first, I didn’t think this would mean coming out.  I thought it just meant being honest with myself.  That, in itself, was a big step.  Because of my experiences as a teenager, I thought my bisexuality was silly and childish.  It had always been discussed as something I would grow out of once I became a more insightful adult.

Meeting other queer people who continued to explore their sexualities and gender expressions opened my eyes to the fact that I could be a serious, ambitious adult and faith leader who was also bisexual.  I didn’t have to leave that part of myself behind.   It wasn’t silly or stupid or shameful.  To the contrary, in order to fully mature as a person, I needed to embrace who I really was.  Once I realized that Christianity did not have to be an obstacle to my coming out process,  the reasons for staying in the closet thinned. I now know that it is more faithful for me to be honest with myself and others than to lie about who I am.

Coming out to my family was another significant obstacle in my coming out process. My parents are loving and caring people, but we don’t always see eye to eye politically.  I know that they love me deeply, but I was afraid that they wouldn’t be supportive.  Last month, though, I developed the courage to write them an email.  I spent weeks drafting it and sent it to a friend for feedback.  After weeks of delaying and thinking, I finally took a deep breath and hit send.  It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.  However, it turned out that my anxiety around being honest with them wasn’t warranted.  My parents told me that, of course, they love me no matter what.  They had questions and concerns, but they listened to my answers patiently.  I believe coming out to my parents will be an ongoing process, but I’m grateful for their acceptance and curiosity.

Now that I’ve been honest with myself, my faith, and my family, I am tired of hiding.  I spent most of the month of June desiring to be a full part of the LGBTQ community so I could wear rainbows and wave flags with my fellow queers.  I know that it’s not that simple, and that the queer community has it’s own set of challenges to face, but after ten years of hiding, I want to celebrate who I am.  I’m ready to bravely stand up to those who say I can’t do things and show them that I’m just as worthy.  I’m ready to use my privilege as a white queer person in a straight-passing relationship to teach others about what it means to be queer.  I’m ready to be my full self.  While this will no doubt be an evolving journey for me, I’m glad to have my community in it with me.  I can’t wait to continue to share about who I am and where I’m going.

Happy Belated Pride, queens.  Let’s do this.

For more information:  A few months ago a did an anonymous interview on a friend’s blog about being a queer, closeted Christian.  I answer questions about my sexuality, my faith, and being a queer pastor.  Read it here.