DISPATCHES FROM MY DINING ROOM (NO 7): Re-Entering the World – Maybe? (Day 743)

I didn’t think, when we started staying home to try to keep ourselves from getting COVID-19, that we would be just now, over 2 years later, beginning to contemplate a re-entry into society. Of course, for many others, the timing and the choices have been different. We have made the best decisions we could for our family, given our unique medical risks. On our doctors’ advice, we are just now starting to figure out what it looks like for us to interact with more people socially and consider having our kids participate in various activities. It has been two years since my kids have interacted with other kids in person. They were 9, 9, 6, and 5 years old when we started staying home. I expect that their re-entry into society is going to include a significant learning curve.

Of course, the same is true for me. This week, I took FangFang to physical therapy for the first time in over 2 years. I realized that morning that I would have to leave my house two times that day. I don’t remember the last time I did that.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. I like staying home. Between homeschooling, parenting, grad school, work, and household management, I already feel like my life is pretty full – all from my house! I am an introvert. I love curling up with my heated blanket and a cup of tea and a good book. I’m not sure what my vision for our post-isolation life looks like.

Add to that the reality that my world has shifted significantly in the past few years. I am still me, the same person as always. But I have come out publicly – which has had a significant effect on how I am viewed by many people who were once in my closest social circles. I am over halfway through a graduate career that I had not started before the pandemic began, and I am beginning to investigate what it could look like for me to work in that field. My kids are older, and I am loving the people they are at these ages, but I feel the pressure of continuing to guide them and offer them opportunities to enrich their lives as they grow and the uncertainty of not knowing exactly how to do that.

It’s funny – I am comfortable in the blacks and whites, the definitive answers. So much of my growth as an adult has been learning to negotiate the grays, the ambiguities of which life actually consists. Pandemic life is often very black and white. Stay home. Get vaccinated. Wear masks. Now we’re stepping into another gray area – figuring out how to go back to living a more complex, more full but also more complicated, life. I’m not sure what that looks like or how to do it, but I hope to move forward into it well.

In Which I Share with You That I Am Not Straight

I have written this post hundreds of times in my mind, shared a hundred different quotes that resonated with me, and told a hundred different versions of the story – all true but spoken from different angles and at different times.

This is my story for today, at this time, and in this place. It will be different from the stories I might have told in the past or might tell in the future. The commonality among all of the stories is this: as Dan Levy’s character in Happiest Season says, about different people’s coming out stories, “Everybody’s story is different…But the one thing that all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words when your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next. That moment’s really terrifying. And then once you say those words, you can’t unsay them. A chapter has ended and a new one’s begun, and you have to be ready for that.”

I am sitting in that place, feeling the racing of my heart but also thinking that I’m ready for the new chapter, whatever it brings. So – here goes.

I am not straight. I have a hard time with labels, but I think I’m probably gay.

I have lived most of my life (including the parts where I got married to Matt and gave birth to and adopted four babies) believing I was straight. And even after realizing that I wasn’t, I still desperately wanted to be and hoped and prayed I could make it so. I couldn’t. It doesn’t work that way.

Having to face that reality has probably been the most agonizing experience of my life. I didn’t want to be gay. On top of that, it was shocking to realize that there was something this huge about myself that I didn’t know for so, so long. It’s incredibly disconcerting. I began to wonder – what else do I not know? Who am I really?

Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her book, Shameless: A Case for not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good, tells the story of a man who “shut down a part of himself in order to please God. He disconnected from his body and his desires, and it backfired. Eventually [he] found it difficult to connect with even his own feelings, express them, and be heard by those closest to him” (p. 139).

That description reminds me of the experience of having an eating disorder – the recovery from which was a defining feature of my twenties. When I became so focused on living up to my image of goodness and perfection (in which thinness obviously played a central role), I disconnected from my body – I literally did not feel hunger.

The experience of suppressing my own sexuality was less conscious but just as unhelpful and unhealthy, and unpacking that has been a defining feature of this stage of my life.

My awareness of my sexuality was slow in coming, but it was necessary. Acknowledging it felt like the optometrist holding the lens with the correct prescription in front of my eyes. So many disparate details about my life story began to make so much sense.

The fact that it explained so much made it no less devastating.

I wrote, last June, “In spite of this being Pride Month, I feel no pride. I feel a deep, abiding sense of shame…My entire life can no longer be a living out of the story I dreamed it could and would be – because of me.”

My very self had become the central problem of my life and of my family’s life. My sexuality, something inextricably linked to the core of my being, was a problem. It is a deeply distressing experience, feeling like who you are is a problem.

My realization that I was not straight has been one element of my faith journey in recent times. Two of the major questions I have asked myself have been, “Who am I?” and, “Who is God?”

I don’t have precise answers to those questions. These days, I have fewer certainties than I used to. I sit more quietly, listening, aware that there is so much that I don’t know.

But at the same time, there are a few things that I know – things I know that I know that I know. And one of them is this – if the Gospel is not good news for gay people, it is not good news. Full stop. If your good news is only good news for those who are in the majority, who have the structural power in society, I would invite you to ask yourself a few questions. Does that sound like good news to you? Does that sound like Jesus? The same Jesus who sought out the people on the margins of society to be his intimate companions? I don’t think so.

If the Gospel is good news – and I believe that it is – then it has to be good news for everyone.

Some of you may have a refrain of, “But homosexuality is sin!” on repeat in your mind right now. If that is you, I would invite you to do some further research. I will not be using this space to make a theological defense of an affirming position, but I will say this. Matthew Vines writes in God and the Gay Christian, “Sin is what separates each of us from God. Sin also mars the image of God in our being. But strikingly, those aren’t the consequences of affirming lifelong, monogamous same-sex unions. They are the consequences of rejecting all same-sex relationships…Instead of making gay Christians more like God, as turning from genuine sin would do, embracing a non-affirming position makes them less like God” (p. 159-162). That seems worth considering. Read some books and articles. I’d be happy to recommend some resources if you need help knowing where to get started.

So many books and so much studying, journaling, contemplation, and therapy have informed this process for me. I am beginning to see more of what these Bible verses really mean: “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13-14). These verses are not just about babies. They’re about me, too. God made me – including my sexuality – to be who I am.

My life is about becoming, as fully as possible, this person I have the potential to be. Whether or not I would have chosen this path, there is so much that I appreciate about it. I am learning about myself, who I am and who I can become. There is much that I like about this person that I am. I am learning more about the God of the universe and the way He shows up mysteriously in our lives in ways that we would never expect and do not understand but that are no less good because of our lack of comprehension. I do not know where exactly this journey will lead, but I am learning to hold my head high while I continue on its path.

Some of you may wonder why I am sharing this with you. Does it need to be said? After all, straight people don’t announce their sexual orientations. That’s true. But I’ve lived a straight-presenting life for 38 years, and if I want to live authentically and be known for who I am – and I do – this truth about myself is something that is important for me to share.

You may also be wondering what this means for Matt’s and my marriage. Obviously, this discovery has affected the dynamic of our relationship. It has been incredibly difficult for us both. We don’t know what the future holds for us. We do know we love each other and are committed to raising our kids together and will be in each other’s lives and family forever. We will keep doing our best to work out how to live our lives.

How should you respond in light of my sharing about my sexual orientation with you? That is your choice. If you love me, just as I am, I would be so encouraged by your support. If you want to reach out to Matt and offer support to him, that would be great, too. If you are angry or hurt or upset by this news, I would invite you to sit with that discomfort and examine what it is about this that brings up those feelings in you. If you believe you must, “speak the truth in love” to me, I can understand that – just know that I have grown tremendously in maintaining healthy boundaries, and if I do not respond to your message, it is not because of the infallibility of your arguments but because I no longer subscribe to the belief that anyone else is entitled to my time or to a theological defense of my ideological position.

I am, in so many ways, the same person I have always been. I am the girl who grew up with you, the woman who advocated for children in need of families, led your Bible studies, spoke at your women’s retreats, baby-sat for your children, served as your lay counselor, and answered your questions about parenting. I am the person who has advocated for authenticity and genuine vulnerability and continual growth. As part of living that out, I have come to know myself more fully. And for better or for worse, I know I’m not straight – and now you know, too.

On Falling Down and Getting Back Up

Oh, dear blog, how I have missed you! It turns out that attempting to conquer a semester of grad school while also homeschooling four children, working part time, and managing a household creates a situation in which blog writing falls away. I am going to attempt to share more over the next few weeks, though! And today, I have put together a bit of writing.

I ended my summer falling off a horse – my first fall in eighteen months – and I didn’t settle for just one. First, an adorable little pony decided he did not appreciate being the last horse in line to trot sensibly across a pasture, and he expressed his displeasure by taking off at a gallop and bucking and tossing me on the ground. Courtney said I was “yeeted,” and it felt like it, that day and for days afterward. That one hurt physically but not so much emotionally. He had decided he wanted me off, and he was going to get me. There was really nothing I could have done about it.

A few weeks later, I had a lesson on a faster horse than I usually ride in jumping lessons, and I wasn’t riding well after I landed my jumps. My heels weren’t down, and I wasn’t steering well, and I came off as I attempted (or failed to attempt) to steer after landing a jump. That one was more of a blow to my confidence, because it was entirely my fault.

Then, two weeks later, I was on a different faster horse, and I just could not relax and ride. I was thinking about my last fall, I was nervous before I got on, and I could not calm down and put it together. Toward the end of the lesson, I missed my turn, did not make a plan, and came off. It actually felt like the least bad fall physically, but mentally, I was a mess. I got back on my horse and went over a couple jumps, but I cried most of the way home.

Unfortunately, I was also more of a mess physically than I initially realized. The next day I went to urgent care to be evaluated for a concussion. They told me that my symptoms would probably go away in a few days to a few weeks…but they actually persisted for weeks and months, and I still occasionally have symptoms even now. I was out of riding lessons entirely for about a month, and then I gradually eased back into it, starting with flat lessons on horses I felt safe on, eventually a private jumping lesson, and now I’m back to my regular jumping lessons (but still riding only horses I feel totally safe riding).

The mental and emotional recovery has been – and continues to be – a journey I am working through. I had a conversation with Courtney one night about how to tell whether it was even worth it. I’m not a horse trainer like she is. I don’t have to ride horses. I could stop riding fast horses and training horses and just ride the dead broke, slow lesson horses. I could keep riding but not actually work to improve. I wasn’t sure how I would know what to do. I knew I needed to get back up, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted my goals to be anymore.

She told me it wasn’t about the horses for me. It’s about what type of person I am. Am I the type of person who will get back up? Can I conquer something scary? Can I get back to riding fast horses and training horses? Can I ride and feel joy again instead of being consumed by anxiety?

I’m working on it – because that’s the kind of person I want to be.

jumping my first oxer during last night’s lesson

Dispatches from my Dining Room (No 6): Day 99: Activities Outside Our Home?

Obviously, as homeschoolers, the primary structure of our lives was already set up pretty well for staying home before the pandemic hit. However, my kids did lose all of their activities outside of our home – in addition to play dates with friends, we used to be part of a homeschool enrichment group, all four kids swam 2-3 times per week, the big kids and I usually rode horses a few times per month, and we attended other activities (art shows, concerts, museum shows, etc) as we could. We stopped all of that abruptly mid-March. That seemed like the wisest course of action – particularly for our family, with multiple vulnerable members.

It has been a long few months, though, without that social interaction, without the ability to swim (especially now that the summer weather has arrived!), without the ability to move our bodies in ways other than walking, running, and biking. Matt and I have been talking about whether there are ways we could give ourselves and our kids some opportunities to leave the house and have fun without seriously compromising our safety. We’ve been reading articles about how the coronavirus spreads and looking at rankings of activities in terms of their risk levels.

Where we’ve landed is that we need to maintain our separation from most of the activities in which we had previously engaged. It just isn’t safe to go hang around indoors with large numbers of people. It isn’t even safe to have sustained close proximity with others outdoors.

But the one activity that seemed much less risky than others was horseback riding. It’s basically an activity that requires social distancing – if you get closer than one horse-length away from another horse and rider, you’re putting your horse (and yourself!) in danger of getting kicked!

I talked to our trainer, who has put into place guidelines limiting numbers of people at the barn at any one time, which made us feel safer returning. She also has rules about social distancing – essentially, if you can’t tack up your own horse, you can’t come right now, because that would require having someone outside of your household super close to you as they helped you prepare to ride and take care of your horse after riding.

I returned to lessons a couple weeks ago – obviously taking care of my own horse and riding outdoors and staying distant from everyone else. I love having an activity that challenges me in a different way than my everyday life and that is purely fun.

And this week, I took the girls to ride, and we made sure to schedule their ride for a time when no one else would be in the barn. They aren’t self-sufficient, but having a mom who participates in the same activity as you and can help you catch and care for your horse has its advantages.

It was so nice to give them this opportunity to leave the house and get back to riding! This was only the third time since March that Miranda had even been in a car at all. And this was the only actual activity they have done in months (other drives included exciting missions such as “going to the hospital parking lot to change a flat tire” and “going to throw rocks in the river” and “taking recycling to the drop off sites” and “just going for a drive”). This was significantly more interesting 😉

They didn’t do a lesson or focus on building skills – this was all just about having a chance to ride and have fun.

Miranda was thrilled to be given the opportunity to help a pony who has a pretty low weight limit (and thus can’t be ridden by most of the adult and teenage riders who have been at the barn recently) get back into work.

MeiMei wasn’t sure she remembered horses being this large!

It took a bit of time for them to get used to being back in the saddle, but once they got going, they were back to trotting, weaving, and riding all around!

I’ve certainly enjoyed getting back into riding, and I’m glad the girls were able to go this week, too. In this world in which we almost entirely stay home, it’s nice to have one very low-risk activity we can do!

Back to School – for Me!

I’ve written recently about re-evaluating the stories I’ve told myself about my life and about contemplating these questions, “Am I living the life that God designed me to live? Am I using all of the gifts He has given me? Am I experiencing the resonance that comes with doing what I was born to do?”

I wrote in that post, “I do not feel like I am wildly alive. I debate with myself about whether this matters. Is this just a first world problem? Am I having a mid-life crisis? Do other people feel this way? Am I selfish to want to feel wildly alive? Am I fulfilling my self as I go about my daily life? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I like my life. I like the work I do. I want to keep doing it. And yet, I think there is more to it than being whatever anyone else needs me to be in any given moment.”

I took some flak for that post. Some people seemed to think that I was writing about becoming more selfish and inwardly focused.

That wasn’t it. I am looking at myself, my life, and the ways in which I interact with the world around me – but not just to obtain gains for myself. I am passionate about loving people well. I believe that all of us, when working together, can help one another grow so much more than any of us can on our own. I think I could do more to use my gifts and talents.

I started examining myself, thinking about what those gifts and talents are, contemplating my own interests and passions. I thought about what nourishes my soul and what I could see for my future. I sought counsel from friends. I talked with people who know me well.

And I decided to apply to graduate school.

Because I am a researcher at heart, I spent hours pouring over websites and talking to representatives of various programs. I evaluated what features were most important to me. And then I took the plunge and applied to my top choice program.

I heard back from them quickly, and I am proud to share that I will be starting the program to earn my Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Bradley University this fall!

I am intimidated by the prospect of continuing to be a full-time homeschooling mom, a part-time employee, and now also a part-time grad student. However, I think it is important for me to work toward a career about which I am passionate. I think it is important for me to continue to learn. I think it is important for my kids to see me doing those things. And while I recognize that there is immense privilege in saying this – because we need to stay very isolated while the pandemic continues to rage, I actually have more free time to begin an undertaking of this nature than I have had in years.

I believe those years have prepared me well for this moment, though. I love academics and was an excellent student during my time at Northwestern University. In the years since then, I have maintained a strong commitment to introspection and personal growth. I have spent countless hours doing “lay counseling” and informal mentorship in church contexts. I’ve worked hard to learn how to cultivate relationships with each of my children, with their own unique personalities and their own backgrounds. I’ve had to learn about and practice trauma-informed parenting, and I now help others to do the same. All of those experiences have shaped me into the person I am today and will inform my studies of counseling and ultimately prepare me to become a counselor. I am so excited – I can’t wait!!