Growth, Change and Belonging

Several months ago I realized I’d stopped hearing God. I’d gotten so deep into the busy work of my calling that I just didn’t notice the absence until the silence became deafening. I began to occasionally pray for some sort of indication that I wasn’t alone and that I was still on the right path, but things were going fairly smoothly, so I wasn’t too concerned. Weeks passed and still, radio silence.

In the meantime, awful things happened. The Pulse massacre. The shootings of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling. The shootings of Dallas Police officers. I was strong for friends until there was nothing left. I felt tapped out, emptied, and still God was nowhere to be found. Occasionally I’d mentally shout in a prayer, “Hey! Where are you? I could use you about now!” but get nothing in return. The songs that helped me feel God weren’t playing on the radio. The tiny coincidental interactions with random people that let me know God was in the details had stopped. Sitting in church, lonely even while surrounded by people, I couldn’t hear God either, but I could look around and see that others were hearing. The music touched them. The message inspired them. “Where are you? Why are you ignoring me? What do you want me to do?! I’m so tired! So hurt! So ANGRY! I’m not sure I can keep doing this without help!

I started feeling very alone in my journey. Without the usual signs that I was not alone, my soul began to ache and I began to spiritually and emotionally trudge.

Finally I realized that maybe the silence meant I needed to seek God in a different way, a different place, through different people. Maybe I needed to take another little journey and find something even if I didn’t know what that something was. I began hearing a whisper… Yes. Perfect! It’s like a scavenger hunt without clues! Just like my original calling when I felt a desperation to do something but didn’t have a clue what! I’m getting good at saying “yes” without having a clue what I’m saying “yes” to, so I decided to just roll with it. I prayed as usual, “Hey, You! Will You at least point me in the right direction?!” and received an answer through a phone call from a friend I hadn’t spoken with in months… That direction. Then a visit from a mentor mom and a couple of small coincidental interactions with random people… Go. So I went.

I hoped that God was just sending me on an errand to pick something up and bring it back to my comfort zone. As if the path on any spiritual journey could be as simple as picking up a gallon of milk and bringing it home. I didn’t want actual change to be involved, because change is scary! And it turns out I’m terrible at taking my own advice… that facing down fear is the only way to not let it be the boss of you.

I pretended my fear of change was just the anticipation and excitement that goes along with a sense of adventure as my family started visiting a couple of different churches. The first time we visited two of them, I felt at home in a way I’d never felt. I still wasn’t convinced that an actual change was necessary, even if my kids begged to go back to one. And then I realized: Wait, my kids are begging to go to church?! God was beginning to show up in the details, clearly. My children beg for iPad time and dessert but had never asked to go to church. Still it took me four more months and a couple more visits to realize (admit?) that God was leading us somewhere different.

Despite a myriad of moments in our first three visits that gave my soul what I didn’t realize it was missing, I fully realized after service on our third visit that we were where we were meant to be for at least a season. We sat down for the monthly church dinner with a table of people old enough to be my grandparents. Through polite chit chat, we discovered that two of the ladies shared names with two of my grandmas, and I shared a name with the granddaughter of one of the ladies. She smiled at me and said, “Oh, good! I don’t get to see my granddaughter so maybe I can see you at church instead!”

I genuinely returned her smile and told her I would love that! Then came the moment of truth. She asked what I did for work. I wanted to be direct, so I skipped the acronym and went straight for the words most people know. “I work with a non-profit to make sure that gay and transgender youth feel safe in K-12 schools.”

Because of a couple of years of experience with this statement turning a conversation south or making it awkward, I mentally prepared for an uncomfortable moment. I braced my heart for the hurt of being rejected despite that lovely moment that we all just shared. Instead, these octogenarians’ faces lit up and the “grandma” sitting closest to me exclaimed, “Oh, isn’t that wonderful!”

I smiled. Tears threatened. They accepted me. I belonged. They were proud of me. “Would my grandma be proud too?” I wondered, “Maybe they misunderstood me?”

Then I heard the other “grandma” telling the gentleman next to her how she graduated high school early (just like my grandma), and that there was a boy in her high school that founded a club for gay students. The man next to her mentioned how unusual that must have been for that time and how brave the young man must have been, and the entire table agreed. They understood.

Walking out of church that day, I saw a GLSEN Safe Space sticker for the first time on the window. With every message we’d heard so far, the minister made it clear that this church is a safe space for EVERYONE, but there was something comforting about seeing this visible symbol and realizing that the people inside really mean to love, accept, and embrace EVERYONE.

I’ve spent so much time and energy over the past several years trying to create spaces where others can belong and feel safe and affirmed. I didn’t realize that I needed the same until I realized that it’s impossible to pour from an empty cup, and in order to continue to radiate Love instead of anger, Hope instead of fear, I need a space or two for my soul to rest and be renewed too.

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”

These words from today’s message validated that I’m where I belong in some areas, and not quite there in others, but now I have one more example of what happens when I don’t let fear be the boss of me. Maybe I’ll learn to take my own advice in the future.

One thought on “Growth, Change and Belonging”

  1. Wow! How beautifully expressed Liz! Thank you for your authenticity in this amazing journey we call life and thank you for the compassion and integrity you shine in life!

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