It was 2008 when Katy Perry launched her hit song, “I Kissed a Girl [and I liked it].” I worked in a conservative ministry at the time and watched as “church-people” gasped and shook their heads as if the world had reached a new depth of wickedness.
All the while, I personally held the shame and disgust of their reactions in my body, knowing I not only kissed a girl and liked it, but it was my preference – a preference I’d only begun to acknowledge in mid-life after decades of hidden anguish, heartbreak, and disgrace.
This shame was a skin I’d worn since I was a child. Something must be wrong with me,I thought at a very young age. As I grew, I carefully observed others and their reactions to those who were gay (something I vowed to never do!). Each glance, comment of disgust, or shaking head only confirmed my suspicion. I must be repulsive in God’s eyes. If only they knew.
My shame became pronounced the summer after my sixth grade year. My little band of friends and I would normally tool our bikes around the neighborhood making up games, listening to music or playing in someone’s backyard. This summer, however, we became aware of a new arcade that opened within riding distance of our houses. This was now the coolest place to be, mostly because of the older boys, who also hung out there. Walking in the door of the arcade on a warm sunny day was blinding. The place was pitch black, lit only by video games and pinball machines lining the walls. Here the wonder of being a kid seemed to end, and the curiosity of adolescent awakening began. Except mine felt extremely off-kilter. Nothing here aroused me and I again wondered what was wrong with me.
Years later, in high school, I had a similar experience at the neighborhood roller rink. Teenage girls would line the curved walls longing for a chance to skate hand-in-hand with someone around the flickering mirrored ball that made the rink look like a romance movie. I joined them, pretending to anticipate something magical, yet secretly waiting for music with a quick beat in which I could lose myself in the adrenaline of navigating around the silhouetted bodies. Perhaps I have always navigated around them; perhaps I always had to.
I recently turned 50 and now fully comprehend I am not the “damaged goods” I’ve believed I was most of my life. Love will do this.
God’s pursuit eventually convinced me of the unconditional love and freedom I’d lost sight of along the journey.
My partner and I—now together almost 12 years—are solid in the grey, understanding that grace is most discovered in the intricate complexities of life, not in one-dimensional either/or thinking. We pray together constantly, both because we know we’re fragile and we know our world desperately needs kindness in these areas, particularly in these turbulent times.
We’ve also, however, grown exhausted of hiding in the Christian culture where we so carefully tiptoed for years, knowing both saints and Pharisees are found in unexpected places. We will not cave to a “performance plan” disguised as the gospel, nor will we minimize a relationship that is respectful, honoring and full of goodness into an “issue” – political, biblical or otherwise, void of the heart of God’s grace deeply rooted and established in us.
It’s a sad truth that I’ve spent more of my life on the “performance plan,” supposedly in Jesus’ name, fighting, raging, and wrestling over that which seemed despicable in my own eyes. Channeling that regret into kindness has been a daily battle. I am grateful for the courage of others before me that has helped me to step into an unusual light that few welcome.
Natalie Sum comes alive and sees the face of Jesus when able to sit with the stories of others. While seeking to become all she was created to be, she finds herself setting the table for groups, designing online courses or advocating for children. Natalie has a Masters in Education, Bachelors in Social Work and received a Training Certificate in Trauma Care through the Allender Center (School of Theology and Psychology) where she will begin Certificate Level II this fall. She loves cruising on her bike and relishing in God’s creation. Natalie resides with her partner in Schaumburg, a suburb of Chicago.
Thank you for sharing your story, Natalie, and for giving words to the kindness and grace that is so often missing from the either/or. May you continue to channel kindness as you step further into your own story in order to help others navigate theirs. Every blessings to you on the journey!
Thank you, Julie – for your blessing! It means a lot.
Thank you for sharing, Natalie. It seems to me that so much of life is a continuum and that holding everything in balance is essential to finding peace and joy. I hope and trust that more people than you imagine welcome the light–it is just that those who don’t seem to have louder voices. I try to turn away from those who don’t welcome so that I can remain open to those who do.
I appreciate the encouragement, Madeline!
I love your words “channeling regret into kindness.” Those resonate in my own heart for the goodness of the life I live. Thank you, Blessing to you💗MJ
I’m grateful, Mary Jane, that those words resonated with you. I was inspired last September by your own courage and kindness speaking at the Brave On conference. Thank you!
Natalie, you have always shown great kindness to me. I’m glad you are learning to grace yourself with it also. I love and miss you. ❤️
Thank you, Sue! I’m grateful you’ve experienced a taste of the kindness I have received. Love and miss you too (though VERY excited I’ll get to see you in October!)
Thank you, Paula!
Natalie, I have tears in my eyes (and a full on ugly cry coming on) as I read your stunning words that you so bravely and vulnerably shared. My heart grieves for you and for what you’ve endured by a church culture that is called to love unconditionally yet gasped and shake their heads in judgement of what doesn’t fit into their box of beliefs. I long for the day that our churches and the believers in them grow in faith, hope and love letting the gospel actually change the way in which they see, love and accept others. Your love for God is so apparent in your writing and I for one am overjoyed that you are no longer on the performance plan and that you are channeling regret and shame into blessing and kindness. Please write more about your experiences. I think our world needs to hear and learn and be stretched by your particular and stunning voice. Much love.
Laurie, you have been a pillar of courage for me/us on this journey (from the very first conversation sitting outside at Ciao Baby!) Thank you for countless prayers, reminders and challenges along the journey!
Your courage is strong and your voice is needed within the faith communities and without.
Thank you! I so appreciate the encouragement!
Thank you . . . . for sharing your truth. This will only help others find and accept their truth.
Lillian, thanks for your comment (and is that really your last name?) Clearly you are a blessing!
Natalie, it was so good to read your story while picturing you sitting next to me at the table, like we were last fall. I am sure there are many, many stories…and my heart breaks for how often they have ended with you having to hold the shame and disgust of others, particularly in the church.
“I recently turned 50 and now fully comprehend I am not the “damaged goods” I’ve believed I was most of my life. Love will do this.” Yes, yes, yes! Love will do this, and I suspect your words here will be an important experience of love for many who need to be reminded. Thank you for sharing!❤️
Janet – Your comment means the world to me! It was largely the safety and warmth at the Brave On conference that nudged me towards writing this post. I appreciate your utter sincerity. Your eyes reflect Jesus well. Thank you for seeing me!
Natalie, this post was valiant and winsome…such a winning combination, reminding me very much of Lucy Pevensie from the Chronicles of Narnia. I think what I have always loved about Lucy is her ability to boldly seek out grace, even when it means walking that road alone, then draw other characters into that understanding of God’s love in such a kind way. The same holds true for you. Thanks for sharing with us here in this space.
With love and blessing.
Katy – What a wonderfully inspiring picture of Lucy from Narnia! Thanks for affirming the goodness God’s sent my way!
Natalie: I love your courage to honor your story and the invitation to pray together for tender kindness for our world. As a recovering Pharisee, I have become aware of the harm my judgments inflicted through my beliefs of what it meant to be a “good Christian”. No longer am I offering my judgment in my own frantic need to save myself and others. So grateful for your post. Here’s to walking in new light and hope in Love! Thank you for your courage.
Ellen – Thanks for being a “recovering Pharisee” (aren’t we all in some way or another?) I appreciate your humble response and affirmation. I don’t remember if you recall meeting in the lobby at the Brave On conference but your response here matches the same warmth I saw in your face. Thank you for being the real deal!
Natalie, you are a curageous Warrior💗
Thank you for sharing your story and your beautiful light! As you step deeper and deeper into your truth unapologetically you bring freedom to those cowering in darkness. May the truth of God’s love in and through his people anchor you and help you live fully into the life that is truly life.
Thank you, Jean, for your kindness and for seeing me so well. Yes, you are indeed an anchor!