I Will Stand Beside You- Steph Spencer [Love Letter Series]

medium_3002607644Stephanie Spencer is my friend IN REAL LIFE- and she’s also incredible. She has been a strong and steady source of support for me in my journey and I’m indebted to her for it. The psalm posts that I have done are with her link up “Journey through the Psalms” (join us tomorrow!). I am always grateful for her writing, the encouraging message she shares and her insight into scripture which always reveals something new and inspiring to me.

 

If you know what’s good for you, you’ll head to her site, Everyday Awe, and subscribe!. 

~

Empty Boxing Ring

I almost didn’t write this letter. Writing an open love letter to the LGBT community is outside my comfort zone.

 

I usually shy away from controversial topics when I write. I leave them to the people I deem better equipped than myself to handle criticism. I thought about the contentious nature of these discussions, about how a letter like this could blow up in my face or get people angry with me, and I wondered if it would be worth it.

 

And then, I thought again. Love should not be controversial.

 

So, I want to start with an apology. On behalf of myself and anyone else who has ever placed you in a category. You are not an issue; you are a person. You are a person who is loved and worthy of love. I am sorry that I almost said no to writing to you.

 

But, still, I’m scared. I am anxious about what I’m going to say next. Will you bear with me please? If I stumble over my words as I attempt to express my thoughts, will you read along until I get to the end?

 

I want to write to you about wrestling.

 

If you are gay, follow Christ, and believe that the Bible is the Word of God, there will likely be wrestling for you. There are verses in the Bible that talk about homosexuality, and those verses are difficult. They may already be triggers for you because of the many times these verses have been misused and abused to make you feel unworthy or unloved.

 

I am so, so sorry for that.

 

But, we can’t pretend those verses aren’t there. They are imbedded in culture and language and history. They are difficult to interpret and frustrating to read. But they are there, in the Bible. (They are along side many other challenging verses, by the way.)

 

In a deep way no one else can understand, you will have to decide what to do about these verses that talk about homosexuality. They are words that will push you to think, not about what you believe about an issue, but about what you believe about your life and your God, about your choices and your doctrine. As you decide where you fall on the spectrum of interpretation of not only these verses, but the Bible as a whole, you will end up agreeing with some and disagreeing with others.

 

The wrestling match between you and God will likely be unavoidable for you.

 

What is frustrating is how many Christians have put themselves in the ring. They have positioned themselves between you and God, and forced you to wrestle with them. Some have done this by making you think you have to have it all figured out before you approach the Lord. Others have stood as gatekeepers, acting as if you have to agree with them before you can pass through to God’s kingdom.

 

But it is not the role of Christians to stand-between. It is our role to stand-beside.  

 

We are called to bear each other’s burdens. If you are wrestling with God, then it is my job to be there with you, offering you strength. To be a listening ear as you sort things through. To voice concerns, and share encouragements, and be there with you no matter what you decide, now or in the future.

 

In the midst of this stand-between culture, there has also been another barrier built. It has been built upon the idea that there is something wrong with wrestling.

 

As we struggle to interpret the Bible, we should remember the characters it displays. There is Jacob, who, after an all-night wrestling match, is renamed “Israel” which means “he struggles with God.” There is David, who fights with God over and over again in the Psalms, asking why he has been abandoned, wondering why God isn’t acting differently. And then there are the disciples, who over and over again told Jesus that what He was saying was difficult and confusing.

 

If you wrestle with God, you are in good company. Wrestling does not show a weak faith, but a strong one. Wrestling moves towards instead of walking away.

 

Whatever you decide to do about these particular verses, there is a much bigger narrative that happens in the Scriptures. It is the narrative of a God who loves us. Who pursues us. Who pours his grace upon us. Who shares His presence with us through His Son and His Spirit.

 

The Bible is the story of a God who lets nothing come between He and His people.

 

So please, don’t let anyone position themselves between you and God. If you get frustrated, please don’t walk away. Chose to get into the ring. That is what gets you into close proximity to the God who loves you.

 

And please, find Christians who will stand-beside instead of stand-between. I will be there among them, outside the ring, ready with water when you need it.

 

With love,

Steph

~

~ be sure to check out more over at Everyday Awe~

Does it really get better?- Kevin Shoop (Love Letters Series)

 

images

 

Today I am incredibly excited and proud to kick off the Love Letter Series. This is a big day for my blog. It is the start of something I have wanted to do for such a long time. Provide a place where my LGBT brothers and sisters can find encouragement and affirmation from a variety of voices, big and small. A place where love is the offering and hope is the message. A small push in turning the tide of evangelical vitriol toward the LGBT community. This is reconciliation. This is restoration. This is everything.

 

 The plan is to post one of these letters at the first of every month, creating a tab where they can be accessed easily.

 

For the first post, we have Kevin Shoop. I can’t think of anyone better to start off this series. I’ve read his story and it baffles me that he has had the courage and conviction to pursue Christ. He has wisdom to pour out, please absorb it.

Read more from Kevin here

~~~

Does it really get better?

That’s a question I’m sure most of you have asked. Especially if one or more of the following is true about you today:

  • You identify as a Christian
  • You go to a non-affirming church
  • You are in the closet
  • Most or all of your family believe that being gay is a sin (or at the very least, unnatural)
  • You are trying to change
  • You have chosen a path of lifelong celibacy
  • You don’t know whether you want to be a Christian or not
  • You feel lonely and marginalized by either Christians or the LGBT community (or both)

Let me briefly share my own story with you, with the hope that you will realize the width, depth, and breadth of God’s love for you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

I grew up in the Bible Belt and faithfully attended conservative evangelical churches until my late 20s. My elementary, junior high, high school, and college years were spent in conservative Christian schools. I worked in a Christian bookstore for over three years. I’ve been to a number of Christian counselors, had mentoring relationships with pastors, and attended extensive ex-gay group therapy. My life was permeated with the American Christian subculture in the first 27 years of my life.

I was in the closet to family and friends during this time. Although I was determined to overcome homosexuality, I was equally determined to hide it. There was too much shame associated with being gay. As a result of hiding, my relationships with others became more distant and shallow. I became desperately lonely. My vision of God became a stone figure with a passive smile: yes, He loved me (signified by the smile), but He was powerless to change me and incapable of active love.

So I gave up.

One cold February evening in Northeastern Ohio, I gave up the fight. I had prayed too many times. I had spent too much time confessing my desires and fears with mentors and counsellors. I had tried too long to change. I had spent too many hours ashamed of who I was. I was done.

Aptly, it snowed that night. I woke up to grey skies and everything blanketed in white. I felt my relationship with God had ended, and that my faith had died. I was entering the winter of my spiritual life.

Interestingly, I wasn’t in despair. I was numb. And I also felt relieved. I felt I didn’t have to try to please God anymore, because He had already rejected me.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that evening was not an ending, but a milestone. A turning point. I had finally and unapologetically let go. I had wrestled with the angel, and I was defeated—rendered incapable of fighting anymore.

Since that night, my journey has been interesting and unexpected. I’ve rejected God. I’ve come back to God. I went through a time of sexual promiscuity. I met and am now “married” to my current partner. I stopped going to church, stopped praying, and stopped reading the Bible. I started going to church again (about 6 months ago). The church I go to now is gay-affirming. Every week at the communion table, all are invited to partake wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith.

There is a common theme to my story. No matter what phase of life I find myself, Jesus continues to love me actively and passionately. He didn’t love me more when I was fighting to change. He didn’t love me less when I was hooking up with strangers over the internet for sex. He didn’t love me more when I was praying and reading my Bible and witnessing. He didn’t love me less when I questioned (and still question) his existence and his goodness. There are no qualifiers to his love. There are no “buts” to these statements. Jesus loves me. Jesus loves you. Period.

Your journey is your own, and it is sacred. Whether you are fully embracing your sexuality, attempting to live a life of celibacy, trying to change your sexuality, have rejected the God of your childhood, are currently identifying as a atheist, or whether you are somewhere else on the continuum of faith and life, you are on holy ground. Your path may be different than mine, and in the end we may arrive at different places, but we are both loved without condition.

 

Much love,

Kevin