We get so caught up in political posturing and theological debates that we have bulldozed the hearts of LGBTQ+ people over and over again… So many hearts that deserved a listening ear and a compassionate response, not a soapbox about the “gay agenda” or a frenzied exegetical regurgitation.
Hi friends! So it’s been awhile. Thanks for being patient with me as I took a break this summer from posting on here. I told you in my last post that I started EMDR this summer, a specific type of intense therapy that helps you reprocess trauma. I knew a year ago when I decided to finally commit to being a writer that I was going to have to go back to counseling and work through certain parts of my story. Well, I’ve been doing that and it’s been just as difficult as I would have thought and then some. Doing the hardest emotional work I’ve ever done while also simultaneously pursuing being a writer have been really difficult, but somehow it’s happening. I have some updates in that part of my world that I will be ready to share with you all soon, especially because I just got back from the Brave On conference this weekend (the same conference I went to last year as the first event where I claimed myself as a writer), so look forward to content from that in the upcoming weeks!
For tonight, however, I wanted to share something with you that I’ve had on my heart for the last two months. And that is……………..
I got another tattoo!!!!!!!!!!!
Yep it’s true
I will say though, in some ways, I’ve put off sharing with you all about this tattoo. With my other tattoos, I’ve been eager to share them with you pretty quickly but I’ve felt protective about this one. It feels incredibly personal, not just about my own story but the story of someone I love more dearly than I can tell you. The story that gave birth to the meaning of this tattoo happened 6 ½ years ago, but the relationship that gave birth to the story came to life 26 years ago in the form of my younger brother. I can’t really remember the 2 ½ years of life I did without him before he was born, and my world became infinitely better when he became part of it. God knew how much I would need him and how much I would learn through this sibling of mine. There is an incredibly solid chance that if you feel connected to me because I’ve responded in a compassionate and empathetic way to you about something messy in your life, it’s because he taught me how. He was the one who lived with me during the years I wasn’t nearly as compassionate or empathetic, when I was more concerned about being right and arguing my point than being kind and making others feel safe, valued, and loved. I wouldn’t be who I am today without his wisdom, love, and influence.
So here it is!
The writing says “I’m going with you.”
Most of you who know me in real life know that I’m passionate about LGBTQ+ awareness, education, being an ally, etc. You’ve probably heard me get on my soapbox about how poorly the Christian church has responded to this community, how we have burned so many bridges due our attempts to “love the sinner, hate the sin” (I now hate even typing that because I know the damage that it has done), and how much work we have to do in changing how the church loves LGBTQ+ people. While I have been immensely blessed by having a handful of people who identify in the LGBTQ+ community come into my life, I have to say that this sweet brother of mine is the one that changed everything.
It would take quite a long time to tell the entire story in detail, but to condense things for the purpose of this blog, the reality is that there were actually 2 coming out processes for our family with my sibling. The first happened almost 10 years ago in January, the second happened 7 years ago. Within my family, my brother came to me first (both times) and that is an honor I don’t take lightly. If I’m honest, I don’t remember everything about those conversations in detail but my hope is that I communicated my unconditional love. I think about now how differently I respond when someone comes out to me, and I wish my response could have been fuller and deeper back then. Regardless, whatever I did say, our relationship stayed strong enough that six months after the 2ndcoming out, he invited me out to where he was living at the time in Nashville to experience his world.
I must say, in my ignorance, some of that trip I was really overwhelmed and not sure how to process everything. Thankfully, due to my husband’s best friend Kevin, I was introduced to an awesome book called “Love Is An Orientation” by Andrew Marin a few years prior. I realized that I was being offered a vulnerable gift from my sibling to enter into his world and that I needed to humble my heart, shut my mouth, and do some listening. There were two really courageous things that my brother did on that trip to invite me into his world. The first was allowing me to attend one of his counseling sessions with him so I could meet his therapist and hear what he was processing with her. The second was that he invited me to his Bridge Builders meeting, the LGBTQ+/ally club on campus. Both safe spaces for him, sacred spaces in some ways, and he invited me into those. It still makes me cry now, thinking about how brave it was for him to invite me in back then. There were no guarantees for him on how I would respond; I was much less educated in that time. He counted our love as deep enough to take the risk to walk into this uncharted territory. And it changed my life forever, for the better.
So at this Bridge Builders meeting, we started off sitting in a circle and going around the room to introduce ourselves with our names and the gender pronouns we preferred. I had never had to clarify that for anyone before, but with people in the room who were transitioning or identified outside of the traditional male/female binary, that was part of what helped people feel safe. From then on, I just figured I would be quiet and observe, like at an open 12-step meeting where you just respectfully listen unless you have a qualifier to participate (ex: If I were to visit an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, I wouldn’t participate because I don’t have the qualifier of being an alcoholic; if I were to visit an Eating Disorders Anonymous meeting, I could participate because I had an eating disorder in college).
Anyway, the leader of the group then announced the theme of discussion for the week:
Coming Out To Your Family
She then looked at me and said “We are so lucky that we have a family member with us; I can’t wait to hear your perspective Nicole!”
People. You know I’m a talker and fairly (okay, really) opinionated. Normally if someone asks for my opinion, I’m like “Yes please, I will tell you everything I think about this, and probably what I think about some other stuff too.” This time though? I was petrified. Like deer-in-the-headlights, I-think-I-might-puke, petrified. THE ONE FREAKING TIME I DECIDE NOT TO TALK AND KEEP MY THOUGHTS TO MYSELF, I’M BEING ASKED TO SHARE?!?!?!?! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!? I didn’t know these people. I didn’t know their stories. I didn’t know what their experiences had been like with their families or where those relationships stood now. I didn’t know if something I said would trigger anger, grief, or shame for them. I am never at a loss for words, but I was now, and I was definitely panicked.
Thankfully, they got to my brother before they got to me and he shared a bit. He said that his best family relationship was with me because I was here, then explained where he was at with my dad, and then with my mom. Then…… my turn. I sent up a prayer in my heart that just said “God, help. Help me to say what you want me to say.”
So I took a deep breath and said “So yeah this has definitely been a something I’ve been processing a lot and honestly still am. There’s been a lot of times where I haven’t known what to do or what to say. I wasn’t the sibling who was jumping up and down with joy, ready to make signs for the pride parade. But…. [took a breath, turned to look at my brother, and grabbed his hand] I do know that I love you more than anything, and if this is the road you’re walking, I’m going with you.”
While my brother did squeeze my hand back and we looked at each other with tears in our eyes, and he said “I love you too, so much,” something else very unexpected happened. From across the circle, a man named Patrick stood up, walked directly to me, and gave me a huge hug. I started to cry and we just stood there, hugging and crying, for a moment. He went to sit back down, but a little bit later when we split up into small groups, he walked straight back over to me, grabbed my hand, and said “I want you in my group.”
Christians: this part is for you in particular. We get so caught up in political posturing and theological debates that we have bulldozed the hearts of LGBTQ+ people over and over again. Our dogmatic doctrine has obliterated SO MANY. So many hearts that deserved a listening ear and a compassionate response, not a soapbox about the “gay agenda” (another phrase I now deeply hate) or a frenzied exegetical regurgitation.
In this moment, I didn’t have to get into any arguments about what I believe about legalizing gay marriage or whether or not I thought it was a sin. All I had to say was “If this is the road you’re walking, I’m going with you.” Meaning: “I am committed to doing life with you. Instead of walking away from you because now I know you’re gay and that’s all I need to know about you, I still pick you. I see you as a whole person with a story to tell that’s just as important as mine. I know I have things to learn from you. I’m going with you.”
That made the all the difference. And it still does. For my brother and I, that experience was pivotal. At the end of the day, he knows that I am committed to doing life with him and will always be in his corner; I know he feels the same about me. His hugs are like coming home. I know God more deeply than I have ever before, and I wouldn’t have without the road I’ve walked with my brother. If that doesn’t make sense to you and you want to understand why, then seek me out individually and I would be more than happy to share it with you in a more in-depth capacity.
This conversation is messy, it’s true. I may not have been able to say this a decade ago, but I can now say with all the conviction that I have that it is now one of the things I am most grateful for in my story. I am a better Christian, sister, friend, daughter, wife, leader, mentor, employee, boss, etc. because of this reality in my life. My brother is a world-changer, just because he exists and lives authentically and tells the truth. So I will wear his handwriting and our story proudly on my arm and continue to be an ambassador of reconciliation in this world, yes even between the LGBTQ+ community and Christians. The world tells us we don’t belong together, that you must pick either/or. The good news is that it’s a false dichotomy and I pick Both/And. Both my Jesus and my brother.
I’ll leave you with this:
“You cannot imagine all the places you’ll see Jesus, but you’ll find Him everywhere you thought He wasn’t supposed to go…..
Dear me, you did not learn this in a day or two or three, so ask a lot of questions/ But Jesus loves us, this I know, and there are no exceptions.” -Nicole Nordeman, “Dear Me”