Me Too: A Love Letter by Samantha Bender

155138_10150105334940992_875116_n

Six years ago, I met Sam.

I was living in an apartment in Washington, DC with about eighty other students from Christian colleges around the country, all of us there for a domestic study program. 

These were the days when I wanted to work at a political think tank and develop policies that would promote clean energy. The days when I talked about politics and energy issues until everyone left the room, which I suppose was how I liked it, since these were the days when I was closeted. When I didn’t want people to know me. When I hid myself beneath layers of opinions so no one could see the truth of my soul. 
I don’t remember the exact moment I met Sam, but I feel her in my memory. I hear her voice in the beginnings of things turning well. That semester, I started off in the natural seclusion of an introvert desperately trying to figure out how to make friends, and somewhere in those first few weeks, Sam showed up, and it was like the atmosphere shifted, like I suddenly belonged.

I knew right away I would like her. Her personality was so magnetic, accentuated by a sharp sense of humor and a deep empathy for the world. She was a Christian and so was I. She was a liberal and I was too. And there was something so refreshing in that. Both of us hailed from conservative colleges, places where people often questioned our faith and argued against us with the Bible as if we were had never heard of it before. So, of course, we talked politics nonstop. But we wandered into the other spaces of our lives, too.

Her comedic hero, I learned, was Kristen Wiig (this was big, because at the time, I felt I was the only noticing Wiig.) And her life hero was (is) Sophie Scholl, a German student who fearlessly protested Nazism, fought the darkness that was flooding all around her, and was eventually executed for her courage. And I see that courage in Sam. It makes so much sense that this girl would speak so much to the her heart, because Sam is bold, Sam is strong, Sam speaks up when no one else will.

About me, Sam learned I loved to sketch. Kept a sketchbook in my backpack everywhere I went. And after I showed her some of my favorite work, she asked if I would do her a favor and sketch a picture of Sophie. Of course I said yes.

12227595_10204979344071626_1678598540605305022_n

Then I spent hours carefully putting it together and she cried when I revealed it to her. It was a beautiful moment in our still young friendship.

By the end of the semester, Sam emerged in our friend group as one of the few people I felt I could talk to, and there were even a few times when we were hanging out downtown grabbing lunch or sneaking a prohibited smoke on the roof of our building overlooking the city, that I thought I was going to do it. I thought I was going to come out to her. But then the fear came, as it always did, and folded it back into my heart, and I just smiled, grateful that I could at least be this known with Sam.

A few years ago, Sam messaged me on FB. She had read my blog. I actually figured she had, as I had been receiving messages from other friends from that semester, all well wishes and thank yous, but when I received this message from Sam, I felt a little breathless as I awaited her thoughts, her prayers, her thank yous. Because it was Sam.

 

And then she told me she was gay, too, and I just about fell out my chair.

 

Did God do this? Perhaps yes. When two or more gays gather, surely He is present. That is gospel.

 

162926_10150105335010992_4326749_n-1Never once did I suspect Sam was gay, but I remember the warm presence I felt in her world. I remember the deep current running between us, one that knew of mystery and confusion and pain, one that knew of held back truths. One that prompted us to layer one another in love, because that was what we were desperate for and that was our gift, to give something so precious we weren’t sure we would ever have.  Someone looking deep into your eyes and seeing you. Someone telling you you’re so very loved.

She was a gift to my life then and she continues to be, but being the terrible friend I am, I’ve been sitting on this Love Letter she wrote for a couple months, because if you haven’t noticed, I haven’t had a free minute to write lately (THANKS GRAD SCHOOL) and I wanted to introduce her to you instead of just posting the letter. I wanted you to see our incredible story and feel the rays of God moving through it.

 

Now, pull up a chair, and listen. Sit still and take in these life-giving words from Sam, to you, the still closeted or the out and outcasted, to anyone questioning their worthiness of love and belonging. Listen. Sam wants to tell you something true.

~~~

medium_3002607644

Dear brave one,

I’ve been wanting to write a “love letter” for a long time, I just couldn’t quite muster the strength, or energy, or afford enough wine to get through it. If I’m actually honest, I didn’t want to write this because I would have preferred to just walk away from the fire and focus on my own scars. I needed to run away clinging to the little I still had left instead of jumping back into the flames to find survivors. But I can’t do that anymore, I don’t want to run anymore. All I want to do is shout from the hilltops the anthem that has always kept me going, the only thing I can give to you…

“me too”

———————–

I came out almost 3 years ago. First to myself, then to a few friends over several glasses (See also: bottles) of red wine. It was summer and to say those words, as terrifying as they were, was like taking off a parka in the 90 degree heat and feeling the cool breeze for the first time.

After that summer I returned to finish my last year of grad school at a Christian college. The same Christian college I had graduated from just a few years before. It was home but now, with one foot out of the closet, it was hostile.

But it was just 9 more months, I could do this.

So I rushed to be okay with my sexuality as I sat in chapels, and lectures, and student conversations about “the sin of homosexuality”, how it was pervasive, how those people were separated from God, that they were inherently less then. I rushed to form tough skin. I kept my secret hidden and chided myself for being wounded by the words of others. I drank cheap gin with my roommate instead of dealing with my wounds from staff meetings where we all discussed how to “love gay people” which were rarely loving and often dehumanizing…a subconscious chorus of “good thing we’re holy and straight you guys!”

I leapt for joy alone when my former employer, World Vision, decided that I was human enough to work for them again and took myself to dinner after triumphantly turning in an application for a job I had had my eye on. 30 hours later I sobbed alone when they reversed their decision, when I saw 10,000 sponsorship’s of children dropped because so many would rather let a child starve than admit I had worth as a gay woman. I kept my head down and counted my days because my job, my degree, and my credibility depended on me keeping my mouth shut.

And all that hiding, lying, silence nearly killed me.

———————–

We’re not meant to be alone. That’s not how this works. I’m not referring to romance or friendship even, but a deep guttural need to share our experiences with others. We were created to thrive by the mutual exchange of “me too”. The thrill of a shared joy or a shared sorrow, even from strangers is, in my humble opinion, what makes us human.

I know what it’s like to lay in your bed at night and somehow feel both suffocated in a small locked box while also feeling like you’ve been left out in a wide field alone, vultures circling above. I know what it’s like to feel as though a simple sentence could destroy everything you’ve come to know. I know what it’s like to cry so hard you literally think your chest may break open. And while I can’t fix it, I can remind you “me too”. I’ve felt that way too. I’ve been there too.

It’s easy when you’re in the valley to look up to the mountain top and feel as though you’re the only one who slipped, the only one in the bottom of a pit while everyone else looks down from above. A reverse Who-Ville and Mount Crumpit situation where the songs of celebration feel like symbols on your ears.

It sucks. Plain and simple…but I can promise you that you are not alone in the valley.

I know you’re tired but do yourself a favor crawl around in the dark, dig and claw until you find others. Because we’re down there and you needs us as much as we need you.

Some people you will not be surprised to find, old friends and close family who are not planning on leaving your side. Their love will continue to be constant. And while you will painfully search for some who have vanished, there will be others who you won’t expect to find. Those you thought for sure would climb up that mountain leaving you in the dust but are instead holding your hand in the dark. People will surprise you, let them.

This is not an easy journey, but it’s an incredible one. Trust me when I say there are people in there with you, who will be there when it gets worse, and when it gets better. In the face of the “getting worse”, remember my dear friend that God does not feel this way. When pastors and priests talk about the incarnation and Jesus walking on earth they speak of its beauty not because the bible tells them so, but because the ability for the God of the universe to stand beside you and say “me too, they persecuted me too” is life changing.

There is no rush or timeline to pull yourself from the valley, to feel better, to proudly wave your rainbow flag beneath a shower of glitter and champagne. You are enough as you are and you are not alone. Let every “me too” wrap around you like a warm blanket. Let the shared sacred space give you peace and rest. And trust that one day you will be able to give back the “me too” to someone else and in that moment know that this journey was all worth it.

For me that day is today, in this letter.

“I think I cry because it strikes me as sacred all those people going by. People who decided to simply live their truth even when doing so wasn’t simple. Each and every one of them had the courage to say, this is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it. Just like Jesus did.” – Cheryl Strayed

All my love,

Sam

photo credit: Avery Milo (another dear, dear friend)

  • Dr. Trista L. Carr

    Wow, Ben, this is wonderful! Thanks for posting this.

    Thank you Sam for sharing your heart!

    Many blessings on you both!

  • Kim Belcher Messick

    Love this, Ben. Give Sam a big thanks for sharing so beautifully and authentically….and so hope filled!

  • Addie

    this was so beautiful!

  • Just so beautiful and painful and real. My heart aches as I read this. Thank you both for being brave and sharing.

  • Sheila Warner

    We who are straight need to push and shout and keep talking until this country fast forwards away from primitive thinking and towards real compassion. Sam is brilliant. I’m glad you have her as a friend, and that you have someone to “me too” with. Beautiful.

  • Many, many thanks to Sam for these words of encouragement, grace and hope. (and thanks to you too, Ben, for sharing them!)

  • This is so lovely. What a gift you have been to each other.

  • habacubu

    This is beautiful. Thank you, I needed to hear this. There’s more support for you guys in the US but not so much for those of us in the rest of the world.

  • Katy

    Sam – I too went to a conservative Christian college and need not go into detail about the despair, shame, and guilt I felt in chapel and in class every day. That I was also “less than” and so I buried my sexuality as deep and as far as I could for a long time. I am recently out of the closet and a couple weeks ago I had the chance to tell a friend from my college who bravely came out as gay a few years ago how deeply his story impacted me without his knowing it. And immediately we shared the beauty of hope and light that comes into our life when we realize that we are loved just as we are. And that there are more of us who are on the same, windy path. Your words are truly inspiring and speak to me deeply today. Thank you.