On April 1, 1989, I lay on a solitary mattress in an unfurnished room, accompanied only by the one suitcase of belongings I had. It was 4 am. Many people had, that day, pleaded with me to stay visible. They had, as as church leaders, forcibly broken my girlfriend and me up. We were all members of the same church, and for right or for wrong, they saw our relationship as unhealthy. It wasn’t a large church. I saw her sitting there, across the room. Torture. She stared down at her feet, puffy-eyed, unable to look at me. Torture for her, too, it seemed.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, we ran into each other after the service in the hallway outside the bathroom. She looked hard at me, and told me to meet her across the expressway that ran beside the church’s building. I snuck away.
That last day with her was the most dysfunctional and desperate good bye I think anyone could ever conjure, even in the most melodramatic of bad movies. Our relationship was complicated. Manipulative is an ugly, but correct word to describe much of it. Though we both deeply loved each other, neither of us was very adept at selflessness. On top of our own problems, it was the 80s, and gay was not good. In fact, K and I struggled with calling ourselves gay. Whatever was going on wasn’t that horrible thing. It wasn’t evil, not like that. We found creative descriptions.
The relationship prior to this one was characterized by my aloofness, so I purposed to be open and giving of myself. Unfortunately, for me the choice at that time was only either feast or famine. I’d give everything or nothing. Like I said, I wasn’t exactly functional. So for K, I quit music. I quit writing. I quit journaling. I quit dreaming. I quit me. Everything I did was her. It was, to say the very least, unhealthy. It was, to be quite blunt, idolatry.
So when the church broke us up, it was actually a good thing. By this time, I knew we weren’t good for each other. We were eating each other up. We loved each other, but we weren’t so circumspect then about the distinctions between love and emotion. Passion overtook love.
When we were broken up, I had to find somewhere to live. An “ex gay” woman from the church somewhat reluctantly took me in. She and her husband supplied their spare room, and all it had in it was a mattress. When I snuck in late that night, they knew where I had been. I later learned they stayed up, unseen behind their bedroom door, listening for my key in the lock.
As I sat on the mattress, leaning against the wall, I ruminated on the day. There was no way for me any longer to rationalize telling myself that I wasn’t gay. But then, if I was gay, and if being gay was an abomination before God, then I was an abomination before God. But I couldn’t be straight; I wasn’t straight. That much was abundantly clear and irrefutable.
So I sat there on that mattress and wept. I told God I was tired. I had been a Christian too long. I told God how I’d been raised in the church, and how all the joy of Christianity must be for those who had lived ‘in the world’ and then experienced some transformation. This ‘joy of the Lord’ was certainly not anything I had. And I knew nothing of “victory in Jesus” that we sang of. I gave my life to Jesus at 4 years old, and truly lived for him, but I guess I had been a Christian too long; I knew too much to be happy without Christ, but I could never truly be happy as a Christian, not the way I was supposed to be. I had seen too much of the ugliness of church politics, as a minister’s kid. I’d seen too many church splits. Too much hypocrisy. And what I read in the Bible just never seemed to be real now. This one church I was currently attending was the closest, but even then I didn’t have the all-important ‘peace that passes understanding.’ The songs we sang were hollow to me—I didn’t feel what I said I felt when singing their lyrics, despite everything I wanted to feel. I was singing lies to God. And I couldn’t reconcile myself to focus on the keeping up of appearances necessary for Christianity. If this was real, then it must be only for those who came to Christ later in life than I did. I’d been a Christian too long. I couldn’t be happy in sin, I couldn’t be happy in the church. With or without God, I was doomed to be unhappy. I was stuck in misery. And now, to top it all off, here I am the worst of the worst—a lesbian.
I asked God to leave me alone. Go away. Just kill me now and get it over with. And I lay down and cried.
That lasted about an hour. I stared out the curtainless window, cold and miserable. I have never felt so alone in my life. I had never felt so alone. God was, in a backwards sort of way, giving me a powerful experience. My Christian experience was evangelical, constantly emphasizing God’s presence. Feeling God’s presence. This early morning, alone in the naked room, I felt something alien. I felt an absence. And through the exhausted salt of dry tears, I realized that if this was what it was like without God, it was worse than anything I felt before, even if there wasn’t that all-important sensing of God’s presence all the time. Maybe, I thought, I do always sense God’s presence—only, I’m so used to it, I don’t always notice. But here—here was an absence I’d never encountered before. And it was like someone had amputated my lungs.
I begged God to come back to me.
I know I don’t deserve it, I said. I know I’m the worst of the worst. I know I’m an abomination. I know. But please, forgive me. Please take me back. I need you.
A warmth flooded me. And as clear as if Abba spoke with a human voice, but certainly not in a voice, Abba said to me, “Of course I forgive you, my child.”
It was overwhelming. I had never in my memory experienced such a thing. I was a black speck in the brilliance of the burning white universe. Yet the God who outshines the universe, Absolute Purity, spoke to me, and said that forgiveness was obvious. I didn’t understand. I knew all the rules—I’d memorized them. I knew how Christianity worked, for I’d lived my whole life in it. You do something wrong, you get punished. You dare to backtalk, you get smacked. You sin, you pay retribution. You reject God, you go to hell. But here was God, gently telling me the opposite, talking to me with a patient love, carefully restating the obvious. Of course I was forgiven.
I didn’t understand.
Again, as clear as if spoken in a human voice. “Because I love you.”
Even writing that this moment undoes me. At that moment, I was awash in grace. For the first time in my life, for the first time in a lifetime of being a Christian, I understood something of love. I caught a glimmer of grace. Alone in a naked room, accompanied by only a blanketless mattress and a blue suitcase, I was crowded in the hugeness of all that crammed into my little room. God forgave me because he loves me. God forgives because God loves. God forgives because God is love.
That night, I became the April Fool. I have marked this night yearly, as my spiritual birthday. As the moment I began to live in grace, the moment repentance (resolving to go beyond the mind I’d been given) began.
But then came April second.
On that day began the foolishness of well-intended misunderstanding. Alongside the grace came rules. God saved me, they told me, from myself. God loved me, yes, but loved me so much as to not have me stay gay. Homosexuality is the worst of all things. I deserve to be hauled out to the edge of town and have people throw heavy rocks at me until I am crushed to death. But Jesus died a tortuous death for me, instead of me. Because he loves me. And I should live in gratitude on account of this. I should strive to change as a response to this immense sacrifice.
The next five years were a time of powerful emotion. I was intensely aware of grace, but still indoctrinated in the understanding that grace and rules work together, that in fact, grace worked within the rules. Indoctrinated in that notion of loving sinners, hating sin. What I did with K was abominable. I was an abomination. But God had given me a new nature. I was no longer gay. Every temptation was that Romans 7 battle within, between my old gay nature, and my new spiritual nature. And before I fully realized it, I lost the love, exchanging its untamed mystery for the familiarity of the stifling rules.
Here it is, 2008. April Fool’s day. My day. What does it mean? What happened that bleak and glorious morning? Somewhere in the past decade, I’d left my habit of stopping and meditating on the experience each year, of marking the day with a prayer of gratitude and a determination to continue in the new mindset. Somewhere, I had again abandoned myself. I’d abandoned the broken lesbian God loved and replaced her with the obedient “ex gay” the church loved. And I had, as a consequence, misplaced the significance of the day.
April first isn’t when God delivered me from homosexuality. That’s how my churchy friends interpreted my experience. That’s not how I originally interpreted it, but it’s how I came to think of it in my mistaken attempts to be acceptable “before the Lord.” No. April first is when God showed me, his child bound by dogma, that I could be free. It isn’t when God saved the “ex gay” manikin I carved to hide behind. April first is when God showed me that he loved me, his little lesbian daughter.
I had asked forgiveness for replacing God with K. Our relationship was idolatrous. But it was this that was wrong, this idolatry, not that I am gay or even that our relationship was lesbian. I had lived for K. I sacrificed myself for her instead of offering my life to God. I had separated myself from Abba by giving my everything to K. I had separated myself from me by giving my everything to K. God forgave this, God saved me by offering me a way out of that bondage, by empowering me to take back those parts of myself I gave away and needed in order to function as a whole, as a complete person. What God did that night was show me that there was another way for my life to go, and that God wasn’t the one condemning me. God was showing me the way of love.
And like the Hebrew children, I’ve made some painfully wrong turns in this, my wilderness. I’ve made a golden calf of doctrine, worshipping it that has no capacity to love instead of the God who loves me. Just like I once sacrificed me to K, I this time sacrificed me to the dogmas of my church. Idolatry, again. And so I’ve wandered in circles for 20 years.
But it’s April Fool’s day. It’s the day I first tasted grace, tasted it as a lesbian, not as an “ex gay.” It’s the day I resolved to follow God, to exchange my old mind for a new one. And today is the day I resolve again and again to go beyond the “ex gay” mind I was given, to step humbly and gratefully into the wilderness of untamed grace and love. The day I once again pray I will see, just over the next horizon, a place where I can settle in peace.