When I was sixteen, I knew who I was.
I had been baptized as an infant into the Christian Reformed Church, a sign of God saying “you are mine,” to which I responded with “I am yours” in my profession of faith 16 years later. I had run around the building with a pack of kids during coffee time, attended Sunday school, joined the girls’ club and then youth group, volunteered for every task I could, learned all of the kids’ bible songs, participated in Christmas plays, memorized tons of scripture and catechism and the apostles’ creed, and attended CRC elementary and high schools. It was home, family, and basically my entire social life, and I loved it. I knew Jesus loved me just like my church family loved me and I loved him back.
So, at 16, I was a good Christian. A good church girl. A pleaser and perfectionist. I knew that God was a white man with a beard sitting on a cloud, who fit nicely into a square box, and I knew the answers to all matters of faith as written in the catechism.
I, like the Magi, saw a star in the east.
So with much clarity, I built a five-year plan: finish high school, go to Calvin college for a BA and Calvin Seminary for an M.Div. The next five years would of course involve good employment, a husband, 2.5 kids, a house, and a pension. Like a respectable adult.
I wonder if those magi knew how long their journey would be, or what they would find at the end?
It turns out that I never went to Calvin, I did get a BA but no M.Div. Instead of that good job, I had precarious employment, lived with my parents to save on rent, and there was definitely no pension. The spouse and kids things was on hold because of something I’d noticed but had hoped would go away: while my high school friends all had crushes on Mr. Cook, I just respected his good pedagogy, and when they discussed their first childhood crushes I laughed along, even though, shamefully, my first crush had been on a woman named Holly from the kids’ show “under the umbrella tree.”
But I couldn’t be gay, right? I just “hadn’t met the right guy yet.”
Then one day, God showed up in a terrifyingly true and holy way that pushed me to explore my own truth. My sister, who had left in the usual boring grey men’s clothes, came home looking amazing. Buskerfest had been good to her. Hair done, wild makeup, a cute little skirt and a fancy top. She sat the family down and let us know that she is transgender and that we’d been misgendering her since she was born. And suddenly the neat square boxes that I’d grown up in were squashed flat.
That is her story.
But where it fits into mine is that it pushed me into community with a lot of 2SLGBTQ+ people of faith who don’t live in square boxes. These wonderful beings know a living God, one that can handle big feelings, and doubt, and creativity — one who certainly doesn’t fit into a box. They told their stories of coming out, of familial rejection, of church rejection, of new life. They learned some Greek and Hebrew and dug through scripture as a theology of survival.
It was beautiful. And it was terrible. Because as hard as I was trying to be straight, I felt their stories resonate deep within me. “Me too. Me too. ME TOO!” my guts said until I couldn’t hold the charade any longer. Bit by bit I told safe people of my queerness, and with each telling it felt more true and right.
Through this personal crisis, I found myself in need of a safe and affirming place to fall… and the CRC church wasn’t and wouldn’t be and couldn’t be it. In fact, it became exhausting and dangerous. So I left. It was excruciating. This community that I thought was – that was supposed to be — my home, my family, my safety net just wasn’t. In the midst of crisis, I felt like I had nobody. For a year I couldn’t bear to enter a church building. The Bible felt like a weapon. The sound of worship music was unbearable noise. Devotionals made me nauseous. God was an abstract concept.
Then, in November of 2015, I was invited to a new church by a friend, and I found a home there. It’s an inclusive place where I can be myself: doubting and queer and curious. A gentle community where I feel seen and valued and safe.
At this point, faith no longer feels nice and fluffy — it feels more like a constant cycle of death and resurrection, of certainty and doubt, of safety and danger. It feels essential and unreasonable.
And that star that had pointed my teenage self toward seminary? I guess I miscalculated the angles or something, because it’s taken me on a much more beautiful and complicated path than I expected.
Now at the age of 32, I’ll be starting a Master’s of Theological Studies after all, with three questions to guide my learning goals: Who am I? Who is God? What work is mine to do? It’s the theology of survival.
I have no five-year plan. I don’t know what I’ll do, vocationally, when I’m done. I don’t know if I’ll even be employable — churches are kind of tricky for us non-heterosexual folks. But I do know that this is a right step.
So, like the Magi, I’ll keep following that star.