The other night I had a dream. In it, my family was all living in only a segment of our house. We were cramped into a couple of bedrooms and a kitchen, but the house had another wing. Another long row of great big bedrooms with good light and a great view of the mountains, which we could access from a little walkway from a side door. In the dream, I found the door, and realized we had more room than I thought, and our lives would be harder if we didn’t use it. I was excited about the possibilities, and went out (with toddlers in tow, naturally) to check it out.
But there was a catch. Two, really.
First, someone had once lived and died in these rooms. If we were going to use them, I would have to clean them out. They weren’t gory or unsanitary, but they were full of stuff – blankets, papers, clothes, pictures. Reminders of someone I loved who was now gone.
Second, the walkway ran between the row of rooms and a swimming pool. The pool had no fence or rail. My kids could easily fall in at any time.
In the dream, I had to make a choice. Was I willing to walk with my kids past that pool every single day to make better use of our house? Would I gather the belongings of deceased loved ones to make room for a sunlit, spacious future?
I woke up to a day I’d dreaded for weeks. My priest had asked me to speak in front of my church’s leadership team about my marriage. He had a good reason for the request, and he was quick to say (over and over) I was not on trial, I did not need to defend any decisions I’d made, and I was already a valued and respected part of our community. But our leadership team needed to make a decision that could affect my family, and they wanted to be sure they were genuinely honoring us. In order to know if they were doing the right thing, they needed to hear more of our story.
I was scared to death, friends.
Because I spent a long, long time feeling as though I was “on trial” in front of church leadership teams. For over a decade my husband and I sat on folding chairs in front of strangers – always white middle-aged men – and answered questions like, “Tell us about your relationship with Jesus,” and “Tell us how you got to where you are.” Later, it became, “Tell us why you wrote that blog post,” and “Tell us why you attended that wedding.” They always meant well, of course. It was always in the name of being above reproach and shepherding the flock well. But what I heard and experienced was, “Come bare your soul to us, and we’ll decide if we accept you – if your experience of God is valid, if your decisions will let your husband continue to do what he loves most in the world, if you will ever be fully embraced by our community, or if we’ll always keep you at arm’s length – or not.”
By now, the idea of speaking in front of church leadership leaves my mouth dry. Quick.
So I woke up that morning, and I knew exactly what the dream meant. Was I willing to open that door? I’d recovered from past hurts by holing up, by rebuilding in a small, safe space. I left everything I knew, moved across the country, and found a new faith tradition with a different approach to God altogether. Back then, I know without a doubt I did the right thing. I absolutely needed to close those doors and find a new place to heal from harsh, painful experiences. But now I’m better, stronger. Am I willing to go back? Am I willing to open old doors and trust it’s possible to have a new experience? Am I willing to fully live again?
I spent the whole morning considering the question. Could I really walk right beside the danger (it doesn’t take a psychologist to know water = danger in my world) without panic? Could I clean out those rooms? Could I let go of even the good, sweet memories of a life that is over if it meant leaving space for the future?
I couldn’t deny that what I’d be cleaning out was mixed with good. It’s so tempting to leave an entire experience behind us. But relationships are never categorically good or bad. Life isn’t that simple. The same church leaders who hurt my family also once welcomed us into their homes, hugged my children, ate cupcakes in our backyard, shared their garden with us, prayed with and encouraged us. The same group that separated me from who I was and my relationship with God also genuinely cared about me and had no intentions of bringing harm. Could I look at all of it honestly? Could I hold on to the good from the past, and still trust my future would be different?
Sitting in my car that morning, I decided. Yes. I will open those doors.
I took a deep breath and sat in my folding chair across from the leadership team. This time around, there were men and women of different ages and backgrounds. I watched the few white middle aged men who asked questions squirm with discomfort. I watched them go out of their way to communicate respect and value and acceptance as they asked for the answers they needed. And I thanked God for their willingness to be uncomfortable for my benefit. Not one of them walked into the room with a preconceived idea of what I would say, or what they would say next. Across the table I saw my priest, and I knew in my gut he had my back. If it all went south, I knew without a doubt he would speak up for me.
I felt a rush of relief and comfort. I was trusting the right people. I may be walking past a pool, but not one of them was going to let us fall in.
Thanks be to God.