We sat silently in our parsonage living room – chest tight, stomach churning, heart pounding in my ears. Sue was stoic, but I knew my wife well enough to know she was seething with anger – an anger that was complicated by deep wounds, profound sadness, but thankfully an enduring love for me and what we had built together. Less than 50 yards from us, inside the church next door, sat the church board, discussing my behavior and future as a pastor, which would radically alter the course of our lives.
It didn’t start there, and it would not end there, but I now recognize the events of that day as my life’s epicenter. In an earthquake, the epicenter is defined as the the part of the earth’s surface directly above the focus of the quake itself. It is the above-ground, visible result of unseen, extreme tension being released far beneath the ground. Long before we experience a quake at the surface, shifting, subterranean plates are moving and sliding against each other. At some point, friction causes those plates to stop shifting smoothly and to get “stuck” on each other. The longer the plates remain in tension, the greater the magnitude of the quake when the point of friction gives way. I now view certain aspects and events of my life similarly, and I can point to those tense, silent moments in a church parsonage as the last minutes of quiet before the resulting quake brought everything crashing down.
For as long as I could remember, I had battled the tension between who I had prayed and endeavored to become and who, in fact, I was. Those life “plates” were held in strict tension for many years and for many reasons. There had been tremors, hints at the coming collapse, but until that moment, the plates deep within me had mostly held. Through white-knuckled willpower, I had, for the most part, fashioned a world where the incongruous coexisted and life “worked.”
Until it didn’t.
The truth, of course, is it had never really worked. The only thing that had “worked” with any success was the facade I had carefully constructed to cover the mess, hoping it would forever hide the parts of me I never intended for anyone to see. But reckoning day had come, the plates had shifted, and my world was violently rocked and crumbling around me.
The expected knock on the door finally came. We looked at each other, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. As the pastor and board member sat down with us, I held my breath for what felt like an eternity. “We want you to know this is an extremely difficult decision for us, but…”
A friend asked me later, “What was that like? What did you say? What did Sue say?” I don’t know. I don’t recall much beyond the “but…”. I knew my life was irreversibly changed, that I was facing hours, days, months (years?) of difficult discussions and decisions, but at that moment my mind was busy with only the panicked words that accompanied the unspoken question, “What will become of us?”
What became (or is becoming) of us is a story of tearing down, rebuilding, tearing down, and rebuilding again. Earthquakes are rarely singular events. In addition to the tremors preceding “The Big One,” there are often many aftershocks. The devastation wrought at the epicenter had far-reaching ripple effects. A lot went into that moment of collapse, and much of the rebuilding would be slow and painstaking. It took a while, but I have been able to see God’s hand at work in the years since that day, not just in the way God “brought us through”, but also in the way God “brought me down” that day. The response of the church had been “the worst” for which we had been prepared. In reality, however, it was the best thing that could possibly have happened.
But to look at the “silver lining” at this point would be premature and a vast oversimplification of the entire process. Following the events of that morning, it would be another 8 years before I would gather the courage to say to myself what I had known (if not accepted) many years prior: I am a gay man. And the 8 years that brought me to this realization (and the 5 more that brought me to post this entry) are a fraction of the years I spent burying it, hating it, hating myself, hating God.
Admitting my sexuality – to myself, to others – is not the beginning of the story. This entry is, perhaps, the center of a set of essays telling you about the building of the tension, the aftershocks of the past 13 years. The tension that built over so many years is worth exploring, because it makes the first experiences in my life of true love that much more profound.
But I will tell you this today with certainty: until I could acknowledge my sexuality to myself, to God, and to others and believe that I was “good enough” – I could never give nor receive any “true” love at all, from anyone. And love, as cliché as it may seem, is the key to everything.