i have adventures (sometimes)

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Guest Post: Emmie's Story

It's my second ever guest post! After I posted my untestimony, one of the things that struck me was how willing people were to share their own stories. It prompted me to invite a few people to tell them publicly.If you would like to tell your story of transition out of or into faith, nonymously or anonymously, I'd love to post it. Let me know.

Emmie sent me this one a shamefully long time ago. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and then panic and ignore all my emails and messages until it would be more awkward for me to reply than not. And that was what I did here. But this is a story that deserves to be told, and not just because the writer is so talented (her debut novel is being published later this year!), but because this is a beautiful, thoughtful and very personal story. So I owe her a big apology for waiting this long.

I became a Christian when I was fifteen years old.

My sister had converted when she married a Christian, and that summer she invited me to a Bible study with her where the pastor stuck me on the hot seat and started reciting my life verbatim.

You see, I didn't realize at the time, but my sister had told Pastor Matt everything about our family, from my drug-addicted father to our gay moms to my self-esteem issues -- and he hit on every single point. It wasn't hard to convince me after that skillful playing of my unwitting heartstrings that Jesus would help me deal with my pubescent angst.

What I wanted most was a father and acceptance, and he offered both of those things. At least that's what I thought.

For years later, people would come up and congratulate me on finding Christ in spite of such a background.

My parents divorced when I was two. I grew up in abject poverty with a bisexual mother who was mostly involved with women for about 12 years of my early life, including the woman who brought my sister and brothers to our little family.

Growing up we had next to nothing, and I estimate that I have spent at least seven years of my life without having access to a real toilet or shower at home. We were also forced to move many times -- in my twenty-seven years, I have lived in over thirty-five homes, fifteen cities, eight states, and three countries.

In spite of the financial hardship, I had a loving and joyful childhood surrounded by the GLBTQ community. I had heaps of aunties running around rural Alaska who adored me, and later in Portland my favorite neighbors were a gay couple I loved. They had a Mexican hairless dog and a pot-bellied pig called Veronica, and they always welcomed me when I’d ride by on my bike.

When we left Alaska for Oregon, my mom sang in the Portland Lesbian Choir and took me to Pride each year. And Nee-Nee (as I called her) was another mother to me, often more emotionally stable than my own mom. On my wedding day this year I made sure to call Neeshonee. She was instrumental in my upbringing and taught me to respect the earth, to honor myself, and to create things with my hands. She is a beautiful woman, and I am a better person for her having been a part of my life.

But of course, my new church considered most of my upbringing sinful.

While I found the acceptance I had sought, it came at a price. I took the preaching home and got my mother and my new stepfather (Mom and Neeshonee had split a year or so before) to accept Christ as well. I highlighted the shit out of the Bible my sister gave me, and then traded that NLT version for the more lauded NKJV that my new friends used. If you could look at either, you would see the worn pages, the gold and silver leaf flaking off the edges. For three years I sang in church, memorized entire chapters of the Bible, and read it probably four times end to end.

I went to small groups and led prayer groups, and tried to evangelize my classmates. I got outraged about abortion and evolution and banning school prayer and the separation of church and state. I prayed and read my Bible and had long conversations about what the Lord was doing in my life. I learned the lingo, the songs, how to behave. I went to conventions and mini-missions and read book after book about letting God direct my romantic life. I let people tell me that homosexuality was a sin and that my sister was right to cut her mother (my Nee-Nee) out of the life of her newborn son.

Then senior year started, and I started making friends amongst my classmates. Non-Christian friends.

And some of my Christian friends got upset. For whatever reason, I wasn't allowed to hang out with both. Senior year, I "backslid," as they would call it. I went to a few parties, went mud driving at midnight, caused minor trouble with my friends, and got drunk for the first time. In spite of that, I still applied for a Christian university and got accepted on scholarship. I still went to church and held up my hands, but my "friends" looked at me like I'd grown black wool all over.

When I went to uni, the first semester or two I tried really hard to fit back into the Christian lifestyle. I went to small group and really intense, hardcore Pentecostal prayer groups. I said the right thing, did the right thing, and told people about my "wild year of shame” and even commiserated with an "ex-gay" speaker from Exodus, International when she visited the university.

The summer after my first year at uni, I went to Scotland. And somehow, that summer changed almost everything I thought about anything. I met people from all over the world. I was truly outside the bubble for the first time in four years in a country where the far-right version of Christianity plum doesn't exist. I volunteered with a tiny Pentecostal church in Inverness only to find that the pastor's wife was surprised they segregated housing (male and female) at my university. She said she'd had male flatmates when she was studying, and neither she nor her husband really cared if people were gay or not.

When I went back to uni, I took a couple of theology and philosophy classes along with my history courses. And I really started asking myself what I believed beyond what I thought I knew about Jesus. I studied a lot of World War II history, and that course of study takes you into some of the darkest nights of humanity. I also became intrigued with Poland, and if you mention Poland and World War II in one sentence, it pretty much erases any happy thoughts. I started a deep contemplation on the nature of evil, specifically the origin of evil itself. What that ultimately came to, in short, was this:

Most Christian theology disdains any assertion that Satan is equal to God and states that only God can create. It also maintains that before there Was Anything, there was naught but God, and God was the All. If you follow that logic train, that means that everything that exists had to come from God, which includes evil because only God can create. Unless you're willing to equate Satan with God and give him the powers of creation in your theology, allowing him to be the originator of all evil, God had to create evil -- or at the very least create Lucifer with the ability to do so, knowing full well the extent of human suffering it would unleash upon the earth God had made.

I couldn't reconcile that with the all-knowing, all-loving God I had been introduced to. Nor could I believe that it was right or just to make a hierarchy of sins where homosexuality was abhorrent but getting a tattoo was acceptable when it just as clearly states in Leviticus that tattoos are an affront to God. More and more, things like "love the sinner, hate the sin" rang hollow and false.

Moreover, I had come to feel so vastly inadequate about my entire life and being that I was really miserable every day. I thought that meant I was doing something wrong. That I wasn't really giving my life over to Jesus. I stopped wearing makeup for six months because I thought it would help my body image. It didn't. I prayed for hours and reflected, hoping that Jesus would reveal whatever it was I needed to do to be whole, or at least to be more comfortable in my relationship with him.

He didn't.

What it came down to in the end was that I either believed, or I didn't.

And I didn't.

I moved to Poland for a year and a half to finish my degree away from my progressively farther-right university. I found friends there that became family and a life I truly adored. I was happy. Very happy. When I told my sister that, she reacted with this comment: "I think I can see how you managed to fall so far and got trapped by Satan."

She didn't say that publicly, and she didn't shout to the world how sad my newfound joy made her, but it definitely wounded me. I didn't speak to her for months, because I couldn't trust her to listen to what I had to say without judging me. Eventually we reconciled, but that's another story.

The bottom line in all this is that moving away from a long-held faith can be painful. There can be major fallout -- of my closest Christian friends, I speak to maybe two of them. And that only once or twice a year.

There was a woman who led my small group whom I loved and respected like family, and when she passed away from cancer very suddenly, not one of those Christian friends thought to notify me. It's as if they thought I wouldn't care because I had stepped away from my faith. Six years after my cordial parting with the Christian faith, there are still awkward moments and the vague fear that I've disappointed people who said they cared about me. There's also the question of how much they really cared if they're not willing to maintain a relationship with me simply on account of a differing of faith. That's a brutal fact, but it's true.

Never let anyone tell you that it makes you bad, and try not to let expressions of their sadness creep into your own psyche. I think that a lot of the time people really just don't know how much that hurts. I've watched gay and lesbian friends disowned by parents who think they're doing the right thing, and when I left the church, I never thought people would wave the "love the sinner, hate the sin" flag at me -- or how painful that would be when you realize that what they think of as sin is a part of your identity that can't be compartmentalized or extricated.

Faith is a heady thing. Like all heady things, it should be questioned and not taken blindly. Some might journey toward it -- my path led away.

Faith is a personal thing. Like all personal things, it should be respected and not treated lightly. Some might hold it in their hearts -- I keep other things there.

Faith is a subjective thing. Like all subjective things, it should be challenged and not taboo. Some might believe one way -- I might believe another.

Faith is heady, personal, and subjective. That’s what makes a subject volatile.

What has been your experience with faith?

Image by Colleen Barrett
Emmie Mears speaks Polish, enough German to tell you her anteater is sick, about as much Spanish as a native two-year-old, and has a crush on Portuguese and Gaelic. Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She spends most of her time causing problems and ruining worlds.

Emmie is also the editor and Grand Pooh-Bah of Searching for SuperWomen, a geek hub focused on furthering the conversation about the role of women in geekdom and loving awesome things in the process.

Some other stories:
Guest Post: Eugene's Story


  1. Thanks so much for hosting me! :D

  2. An intense, fascinating and heartfelt account, beautifully written. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. It's a different story than mine and yet it sounded so incredibly familiar. I lost my best friend from High school because he was gay and was a fundamentalist Christian. Well I say "lost" but that's a euphemistic way of saying I ended the friendship because of my faith. It still weighs on me to this day, I found him online a couple of years ago and apologized and he was gracious enough to forgive me but friendships don't really recover from stuff like that...

    Glad your story had a happy ending!