As a child I understood love. I was the youngest of 6 in a close European family. I was doted on by my older siblings and was my dad’s favorite sidekick. My mother was nicknamed the Hungarian Crusher, not because of any reputation for violence, but due to her slightly overzealous hugs and aggressive cheek pinching. While my childhood was far from perfect, one thing I knew was that I was loved.
I was also taught about God’s love. But this love was harder for me to grasp. I didn’t feel this love deep in my bones like I did the love from my family. We went to a conservative church. One that taught more about the dos and don’ts than about the big picture. So, while I sang “Jesus loves me” proudly every week in Sunday school, the deepest part of me simply couldn’t understand it. I knew I could never do enough to earn this kind of love. I knew I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t follow the rules well enough. I was too selfish, too rebellious, too much of a free thinker to earn a love like that.
So while my teenage years were marked by a back and forth of rebellion and “walking the straight and narrow”, at the ripe old age of 18 I decided my rebellious days were over. I was going to buckle down and become the submissive woman I knew would make me lovable. So I got married. I married a kind, Godly man. One who would accept that I struggled with this free thinking rebellion, but also had the ability to reign me in when my wild heart began to drift toward anything sinful or worldly. Because I just knew, if left to my own devices I would fail at this whole being a good Christian thing.
So I built a life. A life inside a box I was sure Jesus needed me to be in. I worried about making sure everything looked good on the outside so my unlovable inside wouldn’t show through. I combed my kids hair before church, taught Sunday school, and voted a straight Republican ticket every. Single. Time. I hid the ugly parts of myself (and there were some VERY ugly parts of myself) and presented the Monika that not only I wanted the world to see, but the Monika I thought could maybe gain the approval of a far away God that would one day make the decision if I would go to Heaven or Hell. A God I wanted so desperately to love and for Him to love me back.
But there was a problem with that. The real me refused to stay in the damn box. After 15 years of marriage my faith began to fall apart. Not because I lost interest in the love of God, but because I was trying so hard to understand it. It was so confusing to feel like the harder I tried to hang on to God, the further it took me from the faith I knew. The more I tried to understand God’s love, the more it slipped through my fingers.
Fast forward a few years. I was on a journey of self discovery, but my faith had all but completely dissolved. The God questions were too big, but I started to understand myself. I began to embrace honesty in a way I never could before. Since I wasn’t sure anymore what I thought about God, I no longer felt the need to impress Him quite so much. Not knowing if he existed gave me the freedom to take a break in the striving for his love. So I came clean. I confessed things to my friends and family that I had kept hidden for years. I filed for divorce, and let my kids see their far from perfect mother, with all her flaws for the first time.
During all of this, I also was falling in love with my best friend, who was helping me process this self discovery. We’d been friends for years, but all of a sudden there was an attraction there neither of us could ignore. So we pushed aside our internalized homophobia and acknowledged that attraction to each other. At first I was sure this was going to end badly. This was just my rebellion, that old restlessness wanting something new and exciting. I was sure we would damage our friendship and hurt those around us. Even though I struggled to know who God was, I prayed that this attraction, this deep love and comfort I felt with Amber would go away. That he’d show us somehow it was wrong.
But instead, the opposite happened. While she and I were in a weird state of having acknowledged
attraction but never having acted on it, we went to Colorado to an Evolving Faith conference. If you’re not familiar with Evolving Faith, it’s an interfaith conference where everyone is welcome. It was at that conference that the pieces of my faith began to come back together. At the end of one session, the speaker led a moment of meditation in which we were encouraged to let God love us. Just to sit there and let the love of God wash over us. So here I was, this raw, newly honest, maybe gay version of myself. My guard was completely down for the first time. And you know what? I felt that love deep in my bones. Like sun on my face, a warm mug of soup, and my mothers tightest squeeze all at the same time. God loved me. Not the “deny myself” version of me, but the wholly human, free thinking, raw and honest version. I closed my eyes and sobbed as I received it. I was different after that moment. My eyes were opened to a new awareness of love and acceptance from a god who loved me all along.
That evening, as I described this feeling to Amber, she held me. Even though we’d hugged many times as friends, in this embrace as more than friends, I waited to feel condemnation. I waited for a knot in my stomach or fear to creep in. But I only felt that same sun-on-my-face love. In fact, I felt love more deeply and fully than I had ever experienced outside of the love I felt for my children. I was blindsided.
You see, I thought for sure over the last few years that I had been walking a straight line away from God. I thought in embracing every part of myself, I was putting more and more space between myself and my creator. I don’t know if you know this, but sometimes God surprises us. It turns out that in discovering “me”, I was actually on the road to discovering exactly who God created me to be. And in that discovery, He also gave me a taste of genuine love here on earth. A kind of love that gives us a glimpse of what his love is like for us.
So I’ll ask you the same question I asked myself in that embrace with my now wife. How can a love like this be wrong? How, when I tried frantically for so long to earn that love and couldn’t receive it, do I find it in the kind of relationship most of the Christian world condemns?
I don’t have all the theological answers, but I know this. God. Is. Love. And where there is love, there is God. And there is definitely love in my home and in my relationship with my wife. So we will continue to love and to let God in. Hopefully those who choose to hate and condemn can open their eyes to God’s love as well, and their lives will also be changed forever.