From death to life (a look back)

I’m having one of those days that you get near Christmas where the nostalgia takes over and you are drawn back to the beginning of the year, exploring the good and the bad, the happy and the sad.

My year started quite literally in tears.

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After a long New Year’s Eve shift at the hotel, I was laying breakfast tables at 1am and crying real tears over the death of Leelah Alcorn who had killed herself a few days before because of gender related unacceptance in her community. She’d walked in front of a train — something I’d thought about doing myself too many times to count. It hurt deep and hard, because I knew her pain was pain felt by thousands and caused by silence, fear and love not being shown where it could be or should be shown.

I felt responsible, and knew that I couldn’t keep praying, “Lord, free your people…” if I was not prepared to take a stand myself. I counted the cost, and it was high. Even at the beginning of 2015 I knew that I would lose family, respect, and position to stand and stay standing.

But God also promised, “I am with you.”

The first few months of the year were tough. I battled sadness like it was a net, loneliness like a cloud and anger like a disease. My weapons were hope, thankfulness and love.

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I spent January to May doing everything I could to prove my right to be a part of Church. If people were worshipping, I worshiped harder. If we were cleaning, I cleaned longer. If people needed me or just wanted me, I never said no and always showed up. And it still want enough. The weight and exhaustion took a toll on my physical energy. I kept waiting for God’s strength and refreshing to kick in. Looking back, his grace was the thing that kept me going. But I felt like I hadn’t slept in a year.

In Feb, tired and beat down by life, I called my family for advice and help. My grandad told me, “Mankind is designed to be in family and you’re not, so no wonder you’re tired…”, my brother didn’t ask how I was doing but instead told me, “First come the gays, then come the pedophiles…” and added, “I don’t think we believe in the same God.” I have barely spoken to either since.

Many of my close friends also told me, “We’ve not researched it ourselves, but we believe in the traditional view of marriage…” even though this was rarely even the question. The same people later wondered why I felt so alone and unvalued.

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Don’t get me wrong. I had a few incredibles through it all. My workplace was unfalteringly behind me. I had church friends who kept investing in my life no matter what, who brought me laughter and relaxation and life. I began to grow thankful for moments — McDonald’s meals with my best friend, Monday tea with my always patient housemate, coffee with the guys I was mentoring who actually spoke as much life into me as I brought to them, telephone calls with my Buxton friends.

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I saw beauty everywhere in the small things. A green hill, a blade of sunshine. I became thankful for every breath I took, for each glass of water, for coffee and waterproof shoes.

Prayer was connection. Music. Palms open, psalms read, head tilted back, rain pouring against the windows.

Church was hell.

Public appearances became battlegrounds — externally as it was a chance to exist proudly as a gay Christian, and privately as I wrestled anger and pride to the ground and replaced it consciously with love instead. I felt like a lion, like a lamb. Like both. I recognised myself in abusive relationships. I couldn’t live within the church, and couldn’t survive without it.

I amazed myself by making it to summer still in love with the church, still awake, and still sure of my decision to live in a third space where I believe gay marriage is blessed by God.

The summer was a blur. I stopped everything to do with church except showing up, and sunk into sit-coms, work and rest. Long sleeps. Visits to the cathedral to meditate. I hated being alone and it was weird not serving. I had been instructed to spend the summer being a little selfish, and actually it felt good. I remember going to a party and not bringing anything! This was new territory for me, not depending on being the best! I learnt to appreciate my own company (and Jesus presence) and revalued myself, recognised my worth.

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As I came out of hiding at the end of the summer, I re-emerged on the church scene. This time as Myself. No more proving, no more hiding. It was painful, like removing a band-aid, but refreshing, like resting in a gentle stream on a hot day.

I struggled to trust anyone, after being let down by family and friends, so it was with reluctantance that I began to pick up old friendships — and I admit, that’s still true. I’m sorry that I’m more closed than I used to be. I’ll trust again, I’m just not sure when yet. Doesn’t help when people still send me ex-gay articles that make me feel utterly devalued. But, hey, we can all learn to love more and to learn better.

Autumn brought it’s own challenges as I awkwardly tripped into my first time seeing someone, and almost dating. It was exciting and devastating and brilliant and didn’t end well when the church got involved.

The church is very much my home, so when the leaders took the time to lay down the letter of the law on openly gay leaders (in short, “Shut up or get out…”) it ripped me in half again. I felt like one of those slaughtered animals you see in butchers, cleaved open and exposed, drained and left hanging. Devastated.

I lay on the floor in a dark room, aware of sorrow like an open sea.

I saw raw beauty in the skyscrapers of the Sheffield skyline.

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I lost faith in humanity for the first time ever. As the world went to war with ISIS, I waited for the other shoe to drop. Where was hope? Where too, I could ask, was Jesus? The guttural cry of “Come Lord…” had never been so desperate. (But I he’s here. His timing is bonkas, let’s be honest, but he’s here none the less.)

I see moments now, snapshots, not big pictures. I exist in the mess and the beauty.

I’ve always said that people have too pick themselves up. And I’m ready to. And I will do soon.

Part of Advent looking back is to look forward.

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Leelah died. Friendships changed. People let me down. I let people down. I got angry, I got happy, I got sad, I got human. God revealed treasure, and remained shrouded in mystery. That’s what he’s like. I found him, and lost faith, and gained it again. I see life through lenses of rejection, but sometimes I reject that rejection and it’s awesome. I defeated anger with love more times than love got defeated by anger. I got forgiven, and forgiveness for others. I love to forgive, but struggle to forget.

I’m raw.

I’m hungry for more, more life (and life to the full) and to see life in others. I’ve learned to depend on others, and to depend on myself. I’ve worked, and rested, and played, and cried, and bled and healed.

I’m looking back to look forward. I lost trust, but I still have hope.

A little hope goes a long way. That’s what I’m carrying into the new year among lessons learnt. Hope is a light, no matter how small it may seem.

God is good.

I am Drappa.

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The past is passed. The present is a present. I’m gifted and loved. I’ll try not to forget it.

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