I N T R O D U C T I O N
Lisa Ann and I worked together years ago. At that time, her contemplative spirit was of substantial importance to me. We only worked together for a short time, but stayed in touch periodically over the next couple years. Few people have the capacity and humility to listen with such receptivity that you can almost hear the echo of your own words, you can hear what you sound like while you speak; Lisa Ann has this rare gift. When she and I talk, I hear myself more clearly. Sometimes, I speak with greater confidence and clarity, other times I don’t like what I hear and it helps me refocus, but in either case, she listens with an open and loving heart. It is an amazing example of Christ in my life that provides a Light for me in my journey.
A number of months ago, Lisa Ann came to meet me at where I work. She seemed heavy hearted and discouraged. In a few minutes of conversation, she explained how after years of internal conflict, deep spiritual work, prayer, and counseling, she’d finally come to terms with the reality that she is a lesbian. This was not easy for her, after a lifetime of unquestioned loyalty to her church’s theological understanding and the underpinning fear this created in her life. But as she sincerely sought to love God with all heart heart, all her soul, all her mind, and all her strength, she discovered that there was a part of herself that she believed was to be left out of the equation of “all.”
Today, Lisa Ann is exploring how to love God, her neighbor, and herself with her all; aiming to leave nothing in the dark so that she can love more fully, the way Jesus instructed. I have a hard time imagining a more fitting example of a disciple of Jesus. She is following Christ in way that has cost her friendships and community on both sides of the spectrum, cost her comfort and security, and cost her the life she’s known. She is picking up her cross and following Jesus in a way that I and most Christians may never fully grasp or experience.
We need to be and live honestly, openly, vulnerably, and fearlessly with each other. Lisa Ann is modeling this for me. I am so grateful for her kindness in allowing me and my family to accompany her in this remarkably painful and beautiful journey. She is now a part of A Modern Monastery and I’d like to continue this long article with my interviewing her, so that her gift of honesty, vulnerability, and courage can be better shared and communicated.
I N T E R V I E W
What has been one of the greatest challenges/obstacles to your coming out?
For me, this journey of coming out, has been more about honesty and identity than it has been about anything else. Often, when we reach the place of sincerity with who we really are, we will most likely find ourselves being in what Saint John of the Cross stated so well, ‘A Dark Night of the Soul’ -- a season of darkness, discomfort, and brokenness. Regardless if we are heterosexual, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, or wherever we would find ourselves on that particular spectrum, we’re always facing our human condition, our true and false self. Being willing to be honest with that reality, opens us up to a genuine work of grace, though often in the face of deep pain and vulnerability.
I think for me, my greatest challenge was knowing the impact this admission would have on my immediate family (husband and son who have been extraordinary as we’ve journeyed together in this) as well as my vocation. Adjusting to the shift in relationship and behavior from many whom I adored, who had influenced me greatly, whom I respected and loved over the years that view my sexual orientation as a sin, has been an experience in grief as well.
My coming out after 19 years of marriage and a lifetime of contemporary church ministry, wasn’t because of an affair or any action, it was simply me facing and accepting this aspect of myself that I had always known, yet in the shadows of fear and my own conservative theology, was difficult for me to voice.
Yet, if I were to continue to be honest with this question of what my greatest challenge has been, I think it has been in the last months realizing that I didn’t have to live with the shame that I did for so long, and realizing that so many still do.
How has this unveiling of who you are been a gift to your faith?
This past summer, I sat with some people and told them of what I had been facing the past few years regarding being a lesbian and how I had been holding that to the light and about the efforts I had made to try to fix this part of me via therapy, prayer, and other means. After sharing about my journey in this, and how I had finally come to the place of acceptance to this part of myself, one dear soul, (who is a very lovely and faith-filled man) asked me: “So, you can honestly sit here in front of me and tell me that you’re okay with your relationship with God?” With much emotion, my response was something like, “Oh yes...I’m more okay than I have ever been.”
There is this beautiful scripture, that has had its work in me like those little yeasts, having their work in a big lump of dough:
But everything exposed by the Light becomes visible, for everything that is illuminated becomes light itself.
– Ephesians 5:13
Most of my adult life I worked in the non-profit or ‘missions’ sector that lead me to over 40 countries, never really staying in one place for very long. In 2009 my family and I had moved back to the states and started to settle. What I had discovered after a few years of being settled was that much of my life, I was running from my inner-landscape and from things becoming visible. Though I was being formed, and spiritually growing, this aspect of identity acceptance and allowing the Light to expose, was the real work that I often distanced myself from. Now, I had moments of confession regarding being gay, trying to share this part of me during that time-span, but shame was strong...and shame, is never helpful, regardless if you would deem what you or another is going through as sin, or not: Shame has no place in the presence of Christ and confession. Shame is what He came to heal.
I would be amiss to not express my gratitude for those who have supported, accepted, listened, and loved me on this journey. I don’t know what I would have done without such friendships; though small in number, so extravagantly huge in presence. I remember one day in particular I was texting Shawna and Josh and told them that I was having a hard time getting out of bed....again, and they replied: “So, you’re human?!” It was a faithful reminder that we are pilgrims on a tough journey, much of the time.
In my first year of seminary, I was enrolled in a course named Shame & Grace. For 16 weeks my assignment was to look at my historical shame patterns. Good times! This required and allowed me space to gaze into aspects of myself, that would later lead me to a greater understanding of what is just truly human: We all have things we hide.
We all have parts about ourselves we find difficult to accept. We all have identity-crisis’ that make us question if we are truly loved, loveable, or can ever live free. We have intimate aspects of our nature that we work so hard to keep hidden from those around us, masking the way we present ourselves to the world. Yet in time, if we can stop running there will be illumination; our biggest secrets, our largest fears, insecurities, avoidances, and pain...can then actually become a beacon of hope. “...for everything that is illuminated, becomes light itself.”
How would you describe where you are at in your journey today?
So, there’s this common story...it’s when Moses lead the Israelites out of oppression and slavery by Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Lots of sensational events took place, in order for this deliverance to occur: frogs, death, and stuff. Yet after all of this, after such a radical delivery, after being released from underneath the weight of identity oppression...there they all were, in the wilderness. I am in the wilderness right now.
At times I can intimately relate with the people in this story who requested to go back to the hand of Pharaoh, because they thought that might be easier than what they were experiencing in the unknown insecurity of wilderness. At least there, even though under oppression, there was some predictability, at least there was familiarity, at least there was ____…
At times I can relate with those who said, “screw this ‘God being with us’, thing...I’m just going to make myself a little golden calf so I can have some comfort.”
At times I can relate with the reminiscent who longed for when their bellies had their fill stating, “...you delivered us into the wilderness to kill us with hunger.”
But then, there are these times where I see this cloud by day and I feel the fire at night and I trust He’s guiding me. There are times I gather up what has been provided for me, just enough for that moment, and I gain strength. And there are even times that I’m a wee bit hopeful that I will see green grass on the horizon. But, there is wilderness first before the promised land.
There is cost to being known. Truly nurturing our authenticity can be disorienting and feel like wandering at first, because many of those false parts and shadows we hid in for so long soon dissipate with truth. So today when I look around while stumbling, trying to get my footing, trying to lean on or hide in a little shame here or a bit of falsity there and see there’s nothing to grasp onto anymore...I am reminded that He has made me free.
Thank you, Lisa Ann. Shawna, Ellis, and I are so grateful for you, your ministry, and especially your companionship in our lives.
It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.
– Galatians 5.1
Lisa Ann and I hope that our conversation will prompt more open, honest, vulnerable, and fearless conversations in our friends’ homes, relationships, churches, the Foursquare denomination, culture, and also in hearts and prayers. If you’re interested in engaging with us, we’d love to know: Where are you in your own journey? How do you know God’s embrace today? Please feel free to comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.