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.