Live Free

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When I was in the thick of realizing I might be gay I was still under the impression that I had a choice in it. I was looking at my current life, comparing it to the life that might be out there if I were to choose to be gay. I remember being in Target, the bubbly red cart steady forward, smiling at the other mother’s I passed, trying to recall if we had milk left, wondering if I could be gay there. Could I be gay in the grocery store? In front of people? I suspected there might be some really intense joy if I were to choose a gay lifestyle, but that felt like a selfish move considering my marriage and three kids. So I chose to ignore that part of me. There was enough other goodness in my life outside of my sexuality that was fulfilling–so I leaned into that. But the more I ignored it, the more it doubled and quadrupled in size. Maybe you’ve experienced this as well, shoving down feelings that were uncomfortable and inconvenient. Come to find out feelings don’t like to be stuffed. It didn’t take long before I was lying in bed, my family living loudly outside my bedroom door, my head pounding in migraine agony. I could barely swallow water.

I’d gotten the idea that being gay was choice from about a thousand different voices and experiences. So I was fairly shocked when my body confirmed it wasn’t. Now that I have some distance on those hard days of realization my warrior self is a little angry for all the lies that filled my head my whole life. I’m not sure why it is that gay people have to come out and fess up to their sexuality while straight people get to carry on with their lives, families and careers without ever having to mention their preferences for who they want to wake up next to everyday.

Here’s the thing: the only choice I had in realizing I was gay was whether to be honest about it or hide it the rest of my life. I could’ve potentially lied to myself, my husband, my kids, my family and friends for the rest of my life. I may have died prematurely from stress related illness; I may have learned to cope in a slightly jaded, emotionally unavailable way. I can only project those outcomes. I chose to be honest. And I made that choice for my own health, my own well-being.

I went out to dinner with a friend recently and in the course of our conversation the phrase, “when you chose to be gay and get divorced.” slid out from her lips. I knew she meant no harm, but it landed in my chest like a dagger. I can’t really fault others for thinking my sexuality is comparable to what shirt I wear or what hobbies I like because I thought that for too long too. But now when I think of my life, who I am, I don’t see any choices I made other than to live honestly. In general we all lack the ability or desire to put ourselves in other people’s perspectives. I would never think that a straight person was choosing her lifestyle to be confrontational to me, or even to go with the flow of pop culture. If sexuality is a choice then it’s a choice for all of us. If it’s not a choice, then it’s not for any of us. Truth is truth is truth.

Even a year and half after admitting I was gay I found myself wondering if I’d made the JMW_7471right choice. The thing is I wasn’t trusting myself. Life had gotten exhausting in the long, gray winter days. Everything was breaking down at once. Writing about my awakening has illuminated so much for me though, and through the reflection of it and some great friends, I realized I was only ever choosing to be honest with myself. I want my kids to see me living my truth, no matter how hard it is. I’m not sure what I’m doing here on this planet if it’s not living truthfully with who I am.

Perhaps you’re someone who still believes gay people go against the natural order of the universe. Maybe you think we’re off center, irregular, abnormal—maybe you even have worse things to say about all that. Maybe you’re afraid of your own truth too. Grace and peace to you friend. I wish you bravery to let the world and yourself in it spin the way it was meant to. I hope you’ll feel released from the responsibility of worrying about who I hold hands with. I hope instead you’ll just hug the people you love and embrace them with all your own truth.

And if you’re the one hiding your truth, please come out. It’s worth it, I promise. Nothing JMW_7477feels better than letting go of a lie. Lies are so impossibly heavy and suffocating, and I don’t want that for you. A friend of mine has adopted a motto for the intention of her life: Live Free.

 

We all have the choice to live free in our own honesty. Find your bravery. Find your truth.

Peace,

Juliane

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Let’s talk

Some of you have been following my journey here for a couple of years, and I thank you for that. The rest of you are just tuning in to my story, which like many other’s, is full ofIMG_0933 pockets of memories and experiences, which never made sense to me. And like countless others I put those unexplainable occurrences into a little cupboard, closed the door and drew a question mark on the outside. About five years ago I found the courage to peek inside the cupboard of confusion and try to at least organize it’s contents. Once I got into that self-discovery process I found myself sitting in a heap of uncomfortable truths about myself. I was thirty-five, had been married to a minister for fourteen years, and was looking at some pretty hard evidence that I was attracted to women.

 

Like many other women who’d spent their formative years in a conservative Christian world, I’d always told myself my feelings for women were stemming out of a place of Godly love and appreciation. I happily professed my love for women and cared for them in all the ways I could under the titles of pastor’s wife, women’s ministry leader, Bible study partner, fellow mother and friend. But I always found myself wanting more from even my closest relationships with women. Oddly, it was in these same relationships that I began to understand that the love I had for women was not the same as the love most of them had for me.

 

Growing up it was normal for girls to talk about other girl’s bodies, their shapes and sizes, their sexiness and allure, and so I thought everyone wanted to touch and feel women. I didn’t realize until into my thirties that wasn’t the case. Growing up girls talked about boy’s bodies, their muscles, the size of their parts and depth of their voices. I didn’t think those boys were attractive. I liked boys who were thin, quiet geniuses–feminine with odd humors. And so I thought I was a part of a small crowd of girls who were meant to marry these kinds of less popular boys, for the good of the whole–for procreation of intellect, creativity and empathy. I never considered, never, that I might be meant to marry a girl.

 

It was just not in my scope of understanding. So the events of my childhood that all make more sense in retrospect, were telling–but there was no one there to translate their dialect to me. I put them in the cupboard for safekeeping and looked for a man to marry and have babies with. That’s what I wanted because that’s all I knew I could want.

 
Joan Didion once said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.” I’ve decided to write a book simply because it’s how I understand myself and the world around me. I’m still sorting through the cupboard, taking inventory of stock and organizing stories so they line up and make sense. There’s things I want to process here while I write the book. Themes and ideas, voices that I need clarity on. There are more of us out there than we think who have similar stories—who were told condemning and even abusive things about they’re sexuality as children. I want us to talk about it so we can all heal.

 

IMG_0865I’ve abandoned religion for spirituality. I’ve let the stories of men laying with their daughters and tales of bestiality that got lumped into the case for the abomination of homosexuality, shame me for too long. I’m forty now, and I know better. I’m letting go of the structure that closed me into a cupboard with confusion and self-hatred. I want to talk about how all that residual dogma lingers in our bodies even after we know it was all a lie to begin with.

 

Maybe you’re not someone who struggled with sexual identity or gender discrimination–maybe you’re someone who just felt shitty every time you made out with your boyfriend or girlfriend because you were told sex was only meant to be enjoyed within the confines of marriage (between a man and a woman). I want to talk about why the church feels the need to take one of the most beautiful, intimate, pleasurable experiences a human being can encounter and put it into such suffocating prisons, setting guards around it with spears of shame and guilt. Can we not, as evolved, intelligent, emotionally healthy adults find a way to have a conversation about sex with our children that doesn’t involve scaring them and shaming them into not getting pregnant, diseased or hurt? Can we not do that for ourselves?

 

I hope you’ll follow this discussion, and join in if you like, as some of my friends and I work and write to find out what we’re thinking about all of this. What does it all mean?

 

Peace and love,

 

Juliane

I celebrate myself

A few years ago I wandered into a book store in Seattle and found a small copy of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” As I sat overlooking the Sound, I began to flip through the pages. It begins like this:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I’ve skimmed through more of it, but really if I’m being honest, I’ve been stuck on these three lines for a solid two and a half years.

IMG_8306“I celebrate myself.” I am the me I am meant to be, the only one who is or can be me. I have been purposefully created with beauty and love. I’m everything to myself and my world, and also a tiny glint of a particle in the scope of the universe. I am part of a great mystery.

“And sing myself.” I am the voice that comes out of me and envelopes me. It fills my own ears and the space around me. I am my own harmony and song.

“And what I assume you shall assume.” What I experience is so connected to the whole IMG_4215that I become a part of all that is becoming a part of me. What is in the light is connected by the light.

“For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” I can not possess the components of this world anymore or any less than any other.

This poem has been on my mind again lately as my fortieth birthday approaches. It’s unnerving to hit decade mile-markers. We can’t feel time passing most days, but once and a while events and dates pin us back down to some linear timeline, and remind us of our mortality. But I’m not feeling dread for the future or a sense of wasted, regretted years behind me—it feels more like coming to a lookout point after a long climb. The view is spectacular, made sweeter by the persistence it took to get here. I’ve decided to take a minute at this lookout spot to celebrate myself in true Walt Whitman style. I’m taking time to appreciate the things that make me me—to be grateful for the work of accepting and loving all my imperfections and variations as if I were a rock, with lines and colors IMG_8304 (1)streaking through me, with smooth patches and patches that are not smooth. I am like one of those pink stones that sparkle in the sunlight. I discovered on the way here that my life is reflective to light when I’m open and turned towards it. I take no credit for it, but I celebrate the Love that designed me this way.

“And what I assume, you shall assume.” I celebrate myself to give you the possibility of celebrating yourself too. I’m no better, no worse, no more or less important, than you are. And what I give to myself, I give to you. You are like a rock, with lines and scrapes, who reflects the light and love of the world, and who sings a song of belonging into the space around you.

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I wish you all grace and peace on my fortieth birthday. Thank you for being here with me.

Juliane

Becoming {{me}}

I can’t believe how much has changed in one year. Sometimes it feels like I slipped down a worm hole of a time tunnel into a different dimension where everything feels familiar because it’s a version of some reality I know, but I look around and nothing is what I thought it was.

IMG_3295I haven’t written here much in this last year. It was a year of solitude for me and a year of writing letters to myself, to God: love poems and ones about dying, prayers of absolute pleading and begging. I’ve mentioned before this thing called liminal space. It’s the waiting place, the static, the unknown. I fell into that antigravity vortex a year ago and lost all ties to any recognizable reality or social structure. Everything that seemed to form the walls of my existence crashed in at once. My life was cast into an emotional ground clearing, and when all was still and bare, I heard my own voice clearly for the first time. And it was coming out of my body saying such beautifully terrifying things. It was saying I wanted to marry a woman someday.

I’ve been married to my best friend, one of the most empathetic men I’ve ever met, for 19 years. Together we’ve made beautiful children and art and lived out some wild and crazy adventures. He’s a minister and has spent much of his life listening and caring for those who are lost, confused, afflicted, sick and cast out. I’ve heard him talk about sexual orientation and spirituality for so many years that it eventually started to unlock all the lies in my own understanding. Slowly, a breath of freedom seeped into my heart. And then, a few years ago I began to open up to him about my attraction to women, and we had such deeply healing conversations. I don’t think I would’ve ever trusted anyone other than him to tell me, “love is love” no matter what. He will be sainted someday, even though he doesn’t believe me yet, for all the selfless, sacrificial ways he’s allowed love to win in his life.

IMG_7468Waking up to the idea that I’m gay was mostly slow and gentle, happening in peeling layers of self discovery—until last summer when life was at its darkest hour for us. Hard truths always seem to shake out at the most inconvenient times—in the times when we have no strength left to pretend. These are the times when we ask ourselves: “What do I really want?” In this space, I did a lot of self-reflecting and asking God for help. The Universe delivered a truly amazing friend into my life, who I will always be grateful for, and who helped bring all these far away ideas into reality for me. The freedom I found in that friendship and the conversations we had, allowed me to see myself more clearly. For the first time, I was able to envision a marriage with a woman—and it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever imagined for myself. It was also the scariest, most emotionally expensive, impossible dream I had ever dared dream. It paralyzed me. Everything in me wanted it, but for months I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t ask for it. I tried not to say it, I tried to say everything around it, I tried to shut my eyes very tightly and hide in my bed, praying for the idea to forget about me and leave. After a while though, I saw that it wouldn’t leave. And then somehow, I didn’t want it to. A little light cracked into whatever black hole I was in. And I even began to hope that if I said what I wanted, everything would be okay: the sun would still go on rising and setting; the world would keep turning. And maybe my people would even still love me. Maybe I would even be healthier for it. (Happier even.)

 

The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was ask the man that loved me best, who’d helped me unlock my true self, to let me go. In fact, hard is not even close to a strong enough word to describe the ripping and unraveling that happened as a result of me saying what I wanted. There were days I didn’t think we could survive the heartbreak. I’ve felt like a tornado this last year in the lives of everyone I know. I thought, at times, I’d been administered a truth potion and could not help saying the exact things that I wanted and felt, even though it was crumbling apart everyone else’s scaffolding of reality. I’ve always been a big proponent of grace, but I’ve never needed it more in my life than in this last year. But even in this deep sadness, my truth was met with such unexplainable love and acceptance from my husband, my kids, my friends, my brother and my parents. As painful and difficult as it’s all been, I’ve never felt more loved. The way it feels to be unhidden and honest after being so afraid and shielded for so long is the most beautiful, lovely, open, bright, brave feeling in the world. And that it came through the mercy of God, my husband and my family is the sweetest part of it all. It’s all such a gift to me. The grace, the love, the forgiveness, the acceptance—all bestowed upon me through these people who have demonstrated Divine love to me.

I didn’t have to share this publicly, but it would’ve been a balm to me to read something IMG_2495like this last year when I couldn’t stop the spinning-out-of-control sensation. I would’ve liked to hear someone’s story of impossible love. So, I offer this to you. I offer my story with the hope that it inspires you to say what you need to say or give yourself the permission to be who you are. I hope you can find the essence of my story, as the details may not fit. I offer you the possibility that what you want might not bring down the Universe and crash the moon into the sea. There was a distinct moment when I said yes to the idea, the possibility, of being married to a woman someday, and believed in doing so that I was saying yes to a Higher love that would somehow sustain me. I still can’t comprehend it some days when I look at my people, still loving me, even though I’m gay. Even though their lives need to change for me to remain true to who I am. Even though I can’t be the person I thought I was, or they thought I was. Even though I’ve decided to actually be the human being God created. But the truth is: I really am okay—and so are my people. And you will be too.

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “Because think about it: If the only thing IMG_7498an idea wants is to be made manifest, then why would it harm you, when you are the one who might be able to bring it forth? (Nature provides the seed; man provides the garden; each is grateful for each other’s help.)”

Sending grace and peace to all of you who are struggling with saying yes to yourself—who are faced with, what seems like, in your fear, an impossibility. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.

Juliane

 

Still loving O!

Thank you all for so patiently waiting and regularly checking the page for updates on O. It’s been almost three months since we heard that O would be sent back to her mother and would not be open for adoption. We’re still in very close contact with her while she waits at the orphanage for the court’s date for when she will move to her mother’s house, a new town and a new school. IMG_4294

For now she is well looked after, and happy to be with her friends. We’re thankful we get to talk to her every few days but are not sure how much longer that will last. It’s heavy and hard but we’re all trying to be strong in it and hope for a beautiful future.

 

In the meantime we’re still supporting Vova to come into the orphanage and teach all

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Vova and some of the kids he teaches

the kids English. And they’re doing great! O’s English has dramatically improved in the last year. Our gratitude goes out in buckets for Vova!

So, with that gratitude in mind, I’d like to take a minute to talk about the state of Ukraine and what we’re doing to

EasternEuropeMaphelp there. Ukraine is a country about the size of Texas with over 100,000 orphans. They’re a country impoverished by war and extreme scarcity. At one time Ukraine was a flourishing farmland of prosperity, but now most of it’s countrymen and women are despairing and desperate. Without hope. Which results in poor waste management, unemployment, sex trafficking, drug and alcohol abuse and an overall lack of education.

APTOPIX Ukraine ProtestUnfortunately, as in O’s case, many orphans are not truly orphaned, they are sent to live in orphanages because they’re parent or parents can not care for them and there is no foster system. So aside from the already low number of adoptions that happen for kids ages 5-18, there is a whole section of kids who can’t be adopted on top of that. So the orphaned numbers are growing daily. There is no end to the supply of hurting children in Ukraine. When a child ages out of an orphanage in Ukraine they have a chance to go to a trade school or take a stipened from the government to move to a city and try to make a life. The trade schools make it almost impossible for a child to succeed there with harsh living environments and zero support. And the stipend alternative is not enough to sustain and when given to a child with no life skills training is spent within the first week of the month on alcohol and clothes and whatever else an orphan who is on her own for the first time in a strange city might find. So most of these kids hit the street at 15 or 16 and are quickly succumbed to drug dealing and prostitution.

 

This is why it’s so important that the kids have the skill of speaking English. Speaking English could make the difference between working in a coffee shop or living in the streets. It could even mean a shot at college or a career. Right now Vova is teaching an English class of 10-15 kids, in one orphanage, but I would like to see him teaching life skills as well at the public school across the street, and also traveling to other orphanages in the region to teach English and life skills to even more kids!

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Lesia, Vova and Max 

IMG_4238I’ve started a handmade upcycled gift business called Paper and Thread, and I will be donating 50% of all my profits to support Vova and his family as they work to educate and care for these orphans. I invite you to shop the things I make to support this cause, or join the few who have pledged a monthly donation.

 

IMG_3707This is the work that I will be doing while I wait and pray for O. I hope you will pray with us that God will bless the efforts and the love that is between us and our Ukrainian friends. We have already experienced such wealth in listening to God together—I can’t imagine the joy that could come from truly making an impact for these children.

For the Love of O recap

 

I’ll quickly recap the journey of loving an orphan that began for us roughly three and a half years ago with a dream I had during one afternoon nap. I woke up with the very real image of an orphan girl about the age of 10 with blonde hair, and had a very strong sense she was in Eastern Europe somewhere. I felt an overwhelming love for this girl—and there were two names I remembered knowing in this dream: “O” and “N”(we can not use full names for security). I looked for a long time on all the adoption pages for various countries and could not find anyone matching this girl from my dream. So I chalked it up to all those unexplainable mysteries that exist in our world and to the great mystery that is our typical dream-life. Two entire years later my friend called me one afternoon in a state of complete meltdown over a girl she saw on the New Horizons For Children orphan hosting website. When she showed me the picture, i realized she was the girl from my dream (and could be our oldest son’s twin!). My heart skipped a beat. That began what has been one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives. Since that day, about 2 1/2 years  ago, our love for her has only grown. And her love for us has as well! We have hosted her now several times and even visited her at her orphanage. After the first summer hosting ended we were given her address to write to her—it was then that we discovered the name of her orphanage was called “N” House. We’ve felt so sure since the beginning that we’re meant to love this girl in whatever capacity we can. Our hope has always been towards adoption, knowing though that with her mother’s rights still in tact that was not really an option. But we’ve tried to help “O” advocate for herself over the years and ask for what she wants.  We have endured many hard lessons on patience, suffering in love, and trusting God when the illusion of control disappears and we feel the weight of being at the mercy of the Eastern Europe social service system.

Mountains and Valleys

Dear friends and followers,

Many of you have been following our story of loving a little orphan girl from Eastern Europe for the last few years. If you’re reading for the first time, here’s a little summary of our journey so far: For the Love of O recap.

So much of this story has had to be kept confidential to protect our host daughter and prevent disqualifying ourselves from a future adoption. In October we got a phone call saying that the court had finally followed through on our host daughter’s paperwork and the judge had decided to remove the mother’s parental rights and add “O” to the orphan registry. It was the best news we could’ve gotten from this hearing, and we knew we were down to roughly one year of waiting for her to move through local, regional and then international availability. It was solid hope for the first time since our knowing her. And we felt thankful we were not in flux in some foreign place, but with our friends for support and celebration as we prepared for possible adoption.

We’d decided, or felt led, to take a slightly harder road in some ways, by not selling the house and moving, but working whatever jobs we can to keep the transition to a minimal for the next 18 months. Consequently, it’s been a very tight fall financially, but all the while we have not gone without, and we’re so thankful for the small group of friends who helped us raise the money to host “O” for Christmas. After a very hard summer and fall we were all very happy to be together again–and this time with some actual hope of someday not having to send her back.

Unfortunately, a few days after “O” arrived for winter hosting and settled into comfort again here, she began to say, “I have something bad to ask you (tell you) after Christmas. It’s no good for you family.” We tried to get her to tell us right away but she was determined to wait. So there was a seed of knowing that grew in our bellies until we woke up the day after Christmas with its leaves of anxiety choking our throats. I held her on the couch and said, “Tell us what you have to say, we will be okay.” And with Google translate, through a cracked iPhone 4 screen, she wrote to us with tears, that sometime in the last few weeks the judge had reversed the decision to terminate parental rights and she would have to return home with her mother. Which means in the next few months she will be leaving the orphanage and returning to an environment that’s uncertain.  Our hearts sank with the weight of this really unexpected news.

(Pause here for a lot of sobbing and getting in bed, pulling the covers over our heads and wanting to never, ever trust God again loving anyone).

And then we called our best friend who through everything always has our back and can believe things when we can’t. (I highly recommend having a friend like this when trying hard things in life). And we began to decide not to be bitter and angry. Which I think is the first step toward not letting your heart turn to stone when it’s pierced with swords. We used the antidote for scarcity and fear: gratitude. We realized how lucky we were that they did not pull her from the hosting program with this decision; that they let her come and be in our home, in our arms just one more time. That we finally had a Christmas with her, just one, just one time to see her little child face fullsizerender-2holding a candle in the dark, singing silent night, just one morning to be excited about gifts and be together. We decided to be thankful that we know for two weeks with her, and that she gave that to us. Gratitude that she is such a strong person already that she carried this heavy, heavy news that is also breaking her heart and gave us Christmas without the pain, and then also gave us the time to be with her knowing that we will most likely not all have the future we had envisioned and hoped for. She gave us time for peace and time for grieving with her.

And we also decided to breathe hope into this news knowing that we just don’t know what the future holds, and remembering that this journey has already met so many mountains and valleys and miracles.

We know that Divine love is suffering with us, with a mother’s heart, a father’s protection, a child’s innocence–all three in one. The essence of life and the flow of energy that comes from this Divine love source is unending and maneuvers around the bends and curves of life. It passes over and around rocks, and it clears debris from its path. And it holds us all. With the arms of our friends God hugs us and speaks the words that keep us going and believing.

We wanted you to know with us while we’re all together so you could send your hope and strength to us for the days ahead. Days where we try to be present in our sadness, days when we are so happy we have to run to the bathroom to cry again because it doesn’t make any sense, and especially the day we will have to say goodbye, unsure of when we will meet again. We will need wisdom and discernment in the months that will follow as we try to listen and feel what God is asking us to do next with our lives and our love.

fullsizerender-6Please cover our family (including our best friends and their kids) with your prayers and love as we continue to walk this road of loving through impossibilities. And please pray for “O” as she is sad and afraid of what lies ahead for her. Thank you for being a part of our story through all it’s turns and bends. As always we’re so thankful for your donations that have helped our family with hosting fees and the expenses while “O” is here. If anyone would like to give towards making her last 10 days here really fantastic please use this link: For the Love of O

I’ve used this quote before, but it bears repeating…

“When God is doing something wonderful, He or She starts with a hardship; when God is doing something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility.” ~Anne Lamott

Grace and Peace,

Juliane