The Strange and Familiar

Isn’t it funny how something that was once so familiar can eventually feel so foreign that it is just…strange?

I’m writing this piece from a public computer in our town’s public library — a place that still feels quite foreign to me. It shouldn’t, but it does.  I practically grew up in my hometown library, quite literally measuring my growth against how high I could reach up into the book stacks. It was my second home — a place I visited every day. The librarians were like family to me; weird old aunties who would give me wonderful things to read and ideas to think about. And yet, now, the library is a strange, slightly scary place that I haven’t frequented in many years.

Why? I didn’t just fall out of love with books or information. On the contrary, I’ve only grown more interested in learning and growing as a person. Sometimes, things just happen. In the case of the library, it was a series of things. First, a sexual assault in a library in Cincinnati kept me from visiting for nearly a decade. They were just too scary and brought back too many painful memories – they were places I didn’t want to be. Then, just as I was beginning to move past that, I was banned from the Carlisle library [long story. Let’s just say that it wasn’t at all my fault, and once the new library director heard the facts, the ban was immediately lifted] and it was another 5 years before I would find myself back in the book stacks.

So here I sit, in a place that is both strange and familiar, comfortable and foreign, because, hey, a girl needs to blog, and a girl needs a place to print her feminist coloring pages.

It’s been a weekend full of the strange and familiar.

When I came out back in 2015, a LOT of people dropped me like I was a hot rock. I got hate mail, disappointment letters, death threats, and even people who just decided to never talk to me again. And that hurt. But nothing hurt more than one person who decided that they didn’t want me any more. It HURT. Broke my heart.

For two years, I didn’t hear from them. Until this past week.

I was stunned.

So on Friday night, I found myself in an unfamiliar Panera, halfway between our cities, sitting across from someone whose face was one I’d seen every day for almost a decade, but somehow, it was different. The conversation was halting at first, then emotional, and finally, easy. It was strangely familiar….strange AND familiar.

And then there was Sunday.

On Sunday morning at 9:30, I found myself standing at the foot of the chancel in my beloved UUCV, trying to will myself to step up onto the platform. It was my first Sunday as worship associate, helping Aija lead the service, and I was TERRIFIED. Not just nervous, but nauseous-prickly skin-tingling hands-starting to totally disassociate anxious. At one point, Aija commented that my eyes were so wide, I reminded her of an anime character. I did not find this amusing in the moment.

Logically, that should not have been the response.

I mean, in the course of the 12 years I was an officer, I led worship approximately 624 times [give or take a few for vacations, etc]. It should have been familiar.

It WAS familiar.

That was part of what made it so strange.

But everything was different too.

I wasn’t wearing a uniform, for one thing. And I had on FABULOUS shoes.

There I stood, though, literally shaking in those fabulous shoes, willing myself to take the first step up toward the pulpit.

“Everything is different now,” I tried to reassure myself. “This isn’t the Army. You can do this.”

I was desperately fighting the tape in my head, trying to drown out the voices of those who had used worship as a weapon against me, who had berated me and sliced into my soul with hateful barbs designed to break my spirit and make me retreat.

“Your preaching is a joke. You have no right to be in the pulpit. It’s only by the Lord’s grace that anything you say has mattered. Sunday morning is the most sacred hour of the week, and you’ve ruined it. You are responsible for people’s souls, and you’re going to be held accountable if your words lead them to the cross or to hell. You have no business leading worship.”

That’s what was in my head Sunday morning. All the nonsense, all the nastiness, it was all there, in a way I hadn’t entirely anticipated. And I was about to melt down. Or run. I was trying to drown it out, and I just couldn’t.

And then, in her uniquely effective way, Aija gave me calm reassurance. “You can do this. You don’t have to be perfect – you just have to be yourself. It’s okay. You’re going to be fine.” Hearing those words out loud — that it didn’t have to be perfect, that it was okay to just be ME — it was like….permission. Permission to be free – to be Christin in the pulpit as well as in the pews. And it drowned out the bullshit.

She’s been telling me for a good long while now that everything, coming out, becoming a UU, joining the worship associate team, everything would be worth it…and I as we walked into the chapel side by side, ready to celebrate the service together…

I finally believed her.

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