Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Gay Friend Dumped Me When I Became A Christian

Deb & Liz exchanging rings at
their wedding last year.
You can view more pics here.
Yesterday was a monumental day in history. Marriage was legally granted to ALL human beings thanks to the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling

I cried in my bed when I heard the decision over the radio, cried on the way to work, and bawled when I got to my desk at the cube farm. They were tears of pure unadulterated joy. 

For me the decision represented the result of perseverance in the fight for equal rights. I have heated discussions with my boyfriend about our responsibility to take action, to stand up for a cause we believe in regardless of how high the odds are stacked against us. 

This ruling wouldn't have happened if people remained complacent, or worse, ambivalent. This shift in history wouldn't have rocked solid ground if there was a collective attitude of "Well, what can we do to fight the system?" 

Change happened because people took action and persevered to fight for equal rights. 

Last October I photographed a good friend's wedding to her longtime girlfriend. I didn't call it a "lesbian wedding" it was my "friend's" wedding. It was a day so saturated with love I kept blinking back my tears of happiness behind my camera. Their wedding was one of the most unique weddings I've photographed because they structured it according to the things that made their relationship grow. 

Deb and Liz avoided the traditional wedding elements and created their own. Instead of cake they had pie because man, does Deb love pie. Instead of a DJ and dancing the guests were treated to a night of serenading. I won't go on, you can check out my blog of their wedding, but I drove away from their wedding enveloped in goodness

How could their beautiful love be so wrong? 

Since yesterday's news, thoughts of someone special to me occupied my brain space. When I cried seeing how vibrantly lit in rainbow colors the White House was I sent loving thoughts toward him---wherever he was. You know the question: who was that one person who got away? 

My answer to that question was never an ex-boyfriend. It was my former best friend, Phi, who happened to be gay. Again, he was never my "gay friend" he was simply my best friend whom I loved so much. 

He and I met in 2000 when I worked in an independent pharmacy in a predominantly LGBT community in Long Beach.* We hit it off the moment we met and our friendship formed a deep bond. Besides being my music festival buddy we shared a common love for art and books. When he went through a break-up I listened to his pain. When my then boyfriend lied and cheated on me he was my anchor. 

If anyone questioned our odd friendship no one ever brought it up to my face. But we were an odd couple. He was a young 20-something gay man hanging out with a 30-something single mother of three kids. Our friendship was seamless and it just flowed. 

In 2003 I became a Christian much to my surprise and I'm sure Phi's dismay. He and I had long discussions on spirituality and faith, searching for peace in our hearts. Phi witnessed my agonizing soul-searching journey and knew the last thing I wanted was Jesus. I didn't know the last thing I wanted was actually the one thing I needed. 

It was shortly after my conversion that Phi cut all ties with me without notice or explanation. I understood his reasons because I've seen and heard the ugliness of Christians' stance on homosexuals. 

But it still hurt. 

Since we didn't have a chance to discuss why we couldn't be friends any longer I can only assume that he feared I'd turn into one of those hateful, vitriolic, judgmental Christians. And you know what? I don't blame him. I've seen it with my own eyes and have struggled to love them as I would my neighbor. 

I didn't have the chance to reassure him that I wouldn't change and that my capacity to love grew abundantly since experiencing the unconditional love of Jesus. I never had the chance to explain to him that I, too, have been marginalized by God-fearing Christians. 

I couldn't share with Phi how my "loving" Christian friend sat me down after my second divorce to tell me that I could never marry again or be accepted in any Christian church because I'm forever an adulteress. To back up his truth he pointed out the following bible verses: 

Luke 16:18 Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 
Mark 10:12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

If I had the chance to share this story with Phi I would have told him how I shrugged at this now ex-friend and simply said okay. Phi and I would have laughed (maybe), rolled our eyes (definitely), and then hugged each other (absolutely). 

Had we remained friends today I would explain to Phi that I have no time pointing out other people's sins because I'm focused on my own sinful plate; nor do I have any right to judge others as I've made my share of mistakes which I've learned/repented from. 

I'm sure he'd get a kick out of how a handful of my well-meaning Christian friends spent their precious time trying to change my mind about not getting married again (for the third time), yet, experienced marital issues themselves. (I know because they later confided in me.) 

I've heard all the debates, arguments, opinions, and truths which have caused mad chaos and hatred amongst friends and on the Internet. All I know is that I can only navigate through life knowing that Jesus loved the marginalized and I can do my best to exercise love and forgiveness toward others. 

It might be simplistic to some and incredibly wrong to others but haven't we witnessed recently how much #lovewins? I used to be a hateful, bitter person but love, and learning to forgive, have divested my life from the oppressive darkness that plagues a poisonous heart. Sure I struggle with those who are different from me and hold opposing beliefs but acceptance of those differences moves mountains. 

Wherever Phi is I hope he celebrated yesterday's victory as well as he did 12 years ago! How I wish I could have shared the moment with him the way we used to. 
Dear Phi,
Remember this painting? Yes, I still have it! I gave it to
my daughter, Maricelle, (I know she's an adult now) to hang
in her apartment but I took it back last year when she moved
to New York. My boyfriend, Ray, surprised me one day
by hanging it up along with my race medals on our office wall.
I'm not talking out of my a$$ when I say I think of you
every day. This painting is the only part of you I have.
I miss you. I love you. Be well. Be happy. 

*Name of pharmacy and Phi's last name are intentionally omitted for privacy reasons. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Affirmation and Validation

Yup, I was that woman in the quote above. I thought I was a straight up bad a$$ for not requiring validation. When you grow up in a family who's incapable of providing positive affirmation or validating your worth you learn to cope in one of two ways: 1) you seek affirmation with a fierce hunger or 2) you live life on your terms without needing validation from anyone. 

I veered toward the latter. Had I fallen for the former my need for validation would have been debilitating, preventing my photography business from flourishing or squashing the courage to publish my writing when my editor invited me to.

I've grown deaf to anything my family says, negative or positive, and I couldn't care less for their approval. Operating in this way liberates me, allowing space for learning how to take my failures and turn them into positive outcomes. I've watched seekers of validation paralyzed with a lethal dose of self-doubt and fear that they couldn't leap with faith over the chasm toward their dreams. 

Dream killer. That's what I dubbed the need for validation and really, who needs that? Not I, I told myself with a smug pat on the back. 

As I chugged along in life people hopped on board pulling on the brakes to slow my roll. I ignored a few but there was one who grabbed my attention letting me know my way wasn't always the right highway. 

I don't know how many times Ray tried to tell me that I didn't know how to say thank you or show my appreciation. To say I was offended was an understatement. How can he NOT know? 

You didn't even say thank you. A simple thank you would suffice. You don't appreciate what I do. 

WHAT! THE! ....

Many arguments took place before I finally got it. Oh. (Facepalm) 

My lack of requiring validation has handicapped my ability for affirming others. By others I mean loved ones. I assumed my actions, not my words, expressed gratitude and appreciation. But in recent enlightened years I realized a simple thank you really does impact deeply. I owe that enlightenment to the people in my life who are proficient at doling out words of affirmation. They are my teachers. 

Last March the organization I volunteer for, My Refuge House, held their annual benefit fundraiser and I was invited by the former Executive Director, Crystal Sprague, to photograph the event. Crystal is more of a good friend than "someone I work with." Her heart for the marginalized, abused, and exploited resonates with my own so that we've intertwined throughout the years.

When I do the things I love using the gifts God placed in my hands to make this world a better place an unmitigated fervor drives me like a fiery engine. Time isn't wasted with my need for affirmation or validation for my work. A quiet joy rests inside me knowing my work, however small, serves and helps others. 

It would be remiss of me if I didn't tell you I was plagued with self-doubt or torment wondering if my work was good enough. Am I making a difference? Could I be doing more? I wish I didn't have to work at the cube farm so I can do something meaningful. How can I quit my full-time job? Then what? I'm not trained as a social worker. 

But I know these thoughts kill dreams too. I continue to volunteer in the fight against human trafficking because it's what I'm called to do. Period. 

After photographing the My Refuge House benefit fundraiser last March Crystal handed me a gift bag containing the shell and card pictured below. I didn't open it until I got home but as I drove away from the venue I felt the familiar fullness of contentment that comes after I've served others. I felt grateful for being part of something bigger than me. 

Crystal's words penned in the thank-you note made me pause in wonder. For there in the card were sentences strung up with words of affirmation and validation which I didn't know I needed to hear. 

It's such a joy to work with you all these years. You are more gifted than you know or believe, but I've enjoyed seeing you slowly begin believing in yourself. You've given so much time and efforts for our girls and I hope you know, you have truly impacted lives, even if you've never met them. I love you. ---Crystal

Since receiving Crystal's thank-you card the deafening roar of self-doubt is now an inaudible whisper. Tucked into my Filofax I carry the card with me as a daily reminder to give words of affirmation and validate those close to me. I'm grateful for the people (too many to name) in my life who have taught me how to do well in this mode of communication. I'm okay with not hearing words of affirmation or validation for the rest of my life. Crystal's words will last a lifetime.