An Inexhaustible Grace

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
– 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

The past few weeks have been difficult, to say the least. So many terrible things have happened around the world, and as hard I try, it’s become more and more exhausting to respond in a gracious and compassionate manner.

I saw many of my LGBT+ friends experience this particularly after the Orlando Pulse Shooting, when we flocked to social media in mourning, but were met with constant misunderstanding. Despite the pain of our community, we found ourselves having to explain why that tragedy mattered to us, and many of us even had to talk down opposition to our sorrow.

Marginalized individuals should never have to defend their existence to majority parties, and the problem is only exacerbated when the majority invalidates those minority experiences. And quite frankly, it’s thoroughly exhausting on our end.

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Pulse

orlandoTo the victims of the Pulse Shooting in Orlando, FL on June 12, 2016.

Yesterday I walked with you down that beaten asphalt path,
my brother-sister-neighbor-father-mother-friend,
because you were brave and you were you, the way God loved you.

You were a warrior — you fought for us, for us who had no voice —
and you were and are and forevermore will be with us
in our hearts, in our minds, in our tears, in our songs,
in our voice-cracking-sobbing-breaking whispers because

sometimes courage is written in bloodstains.
Sometimes fear is written with bullets.

Sometimes prayers feel so weak,
running down saline rivers to a crumpled-up whimper:
“Lord, in Your mercy.”

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Running from Joy

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
— Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

I admit: I’m a glutton for self-punishment. Not in the bodily, masochistic sense, but I’m a prototypical perfectionist who sets impossible standards for myself and then proceeds to beat myself up when I inevitably fail to measure up. I was raised with the concept of total depravity — the idea that there is absolutely nothing good in me apart from God, and that anything good is from God alone (which I have no actual part in).

Growing up, I internalized this entirely unhealthily. The idea that I was nothing but a worthless sinner may have made the concept of grace easier to grasp, but that never sunk in. I latched on to depravity so obstinately that my self-perception erased most of my humanity. I learned to see myself as a monster beyond redemption, every prayer and every good deed a worthless attempt to earn the affection of the Father who would never love me. And who was I to question that?

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To Chase the Light (Coming Out)

Most wardrobes don’t have secret worlds with epic adventures and magic waiting inside, but a few of them still conceal stories of their own. There, the sun never shines, the eternal winter doesn’t thaw, and the lion isn’t your friend.

You spend years upon years fighting the monsters, hiding from lions, and wishing that someone would come to strike down the wicked witch, but no one ever does. You stand by the lamppost for hours at a time, ready to escape your cold shadow of a world, but always stop at the border, thinking it safer to fight the demons you hate than fight the people you love.

Until, one day, you realize that living in darkness is hardly living at all. That if there was even a glimmer of light where the wooden doors have cracked open, it would be better to die in the sunlight than to waste away in the shadows.

So with one final push, the closet door swings open, and you know there’s no going back. The next words will change your life forever:

Dear world,

I’m gay.

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Singled Out

There’s a reason everybody freaks out when someone’s about to get married.

Families get involved, venues are booked, banquets are planned, gifts prepared, invitations sent, dresses tailored, decorations, music, cakes, photos, friends you haven’t seen in three years, and oh my word thank God there’s an open bar.

It’s a freakin’ big deal. But why? Why do we spend so much time, money, and energy on a single day of rituals when couples nowadays can simply get a marriage license and elope? Why do we all care so much?

Contrary to popular belief, a wedding isn’t all about the soon-to-be-married couple.

In a traditional nuptial, after the bride and groom have exchanged their vows, the celebrant asks the wedding attendees this question:

“Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?”

To which the congregation responds,

“We will.”

The presence of this question, or at least the spirit of it, conveys the prime reason that nonaffirming Christians often refuse to attend same-sex weddings — whether or not that’s what they might be consciously thinking. When asked to formally voice their support for a gay union, answering in the obligatory manner would be simply dishonest.

It’s interesting to note that we often don’t think about this passing formality in weddings while it’s happening. We only subconsciously note it when we have something to be opposed to, like a same-sex marriage. In the last wedding I went to, I was too busy keeping myself from crying because my cousin looked so beautiful in her wedding dress to really dwell on the gravity of my affirmation.

But lately, especially in juxtaposition to gay unions, I’ve been beginning to realize that the public commitment of a marriage is one of the most inextricably important elements of a wedding. It is what holds the couple accountable in faithfulness to one another, and holds the community accountable to recognizing and nurturing that relationship.

In a sense, the marriage covenant solidifies the ties between each individual and the community — formal recognition forces the bride and the groom into the public eye, almost as if they have become full-fledged members of the world at large.

Which is great, except that it’s kind of a problem.

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O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained

O why, o love, have thou such darkness strained
in this our earth where hot seeks cold, up down?
Your right seeks right, and thus forsakes its crown,
for left is Right, and right is left as stained.
Yet conflagration bright still burns as white as first of day;
and passion laid to waste, self-spurned, cannot imprisoned stay.

You ask me much, o love, this price to pay,
of crosses borne alone with no respite,
with rusty thorns to add to sorry sight,
and yet expects to steady, come what may.
What good is faith when trials come? when brothers shake their feet
and spit on those to thirst succumbed? How fragile this conceit.

Or hast thou, love, seen brokenness so sweet,
that comfort overcomes your wish to live?
That desperation surely shall forgive
the broken soul so joyful in defeat?
When gentle tethers turn to chains that on the heartstrings fray,
all heaven’s mercy does contain the jury’s cold dismay.

And wilt thou, love, press on and seek to pray
for God to be your only evermore?
Since witnesses betwixt thee wage their war,
what hope is there to down their weapons lay?
If murderers and whores shall find their company with Christ,
then friends among the outcast bind their hearts together thrice.

O love, your conflagration seeks no ice;
it burns to be contained by equal flame.
But Nature’s heralds turn such warmth to shame,
as if for every fire shall snow suffice.
The blaze alone, they say, shall raze the paradigm set forth
in Eden, when in Adam’s gaze good eros showed its worth.

How tragic is your face, o love, to Earth,
whose soil feels the wretched sting of sin,
and groans to be redeemed as once had been;
and loveless love, you mourn your day of birth.
How different should your hope appear had ice been your desire?
Would grace still quell your fearless fear, still tame your fireless fire?

For years to come, o love, shall you yet tire;
how long to still believe in rest at last?
If barely crawling through the race, surpassed
by all, then love, will you so soon expire?
If goodness comes to those who seek the will of God divine,
then let me hear the ones who speak out life from Christ the vine.

And as the deer who pants for streams and longs for fall of rain,
my pining soul cries out; it screams for balm to ease the pain.
O thou, o love, in darkness will you shine?
Will doubtless doubt be yours to still contend?
Will unto hope you hang until the end?
So long as Jesus’ righteousness be mine.