Last week, my girlfriend and I went to pub with my friend M (who is frequently referred to here as “the girl behind the counter”) to share a few beers and swap idea’s about M’s new internship working to bridge the gap between the LGBT community and Christians. Now, if you’d only met us recently, you would no doubt have found this an entirely unremarkable scene. You might even wonder why we seemed to find the whole thing so profound, and why, when we emphatically lifted our nearly empty beer mugs in a loud cheer to redemption, there were tears in my eyes.

But if you’d known us a few years back, I think you might have understood a little better.

It has been, in fact, almost exactly two years since M challenged me to define the word redemption. At the time, it was the biggest challenge either of us could imagine.

We were well into a month we had renamed, with far more resignation than fondness, the month of Fuckly. It was a name with its origins in July, only not just any July… it was a July that had forced both of us face first against the possibility that we were royally, undeniably, from every possible direction, fucked. In ways which we could not even begin to articulate at the time, and which we would only begin to fully understand much later, our faith, or at least our religion as we knew it, had deeply and unequivocally failed us.

We clung together for the first half of the month, as people are apt to do when their world is caving in around them. But it wasn’t long after that that our friendship began to implode as well, as friendships are also apt to do between girls who will later go on to date other girls, but are completely oblivious to this fact at the time.

With the clarity of hindsight, the chaos that ensued was almost certainly tied to our inability to fathom that we might be capable of romantic attraction to someone other than the good Christian men whom we had always been taught to be attracted to, let alone to each other. As products of conservative Christian junior highs, high schools, and colleges, we had absolutely no framework for understanding this. Incapable of even considering these ideas, we were incapable of running from them. And so, instead, we ran from each other. Or rather, she began to run from me, and I began to act very poorly in response, and things rapidly deteriorated from there.

That was about the time she challenged me to define redemption. I couldn’t do it.

I clearly remember pulling my car over into a Starbucks parking lot when I received this challenge and planting myself underneath a palm tree. There, I stubbornly determined that I would not move until I came up with something solid to say about a word that had been thrown carelessly around me in sermons for as long as I could remember.

I must have surrendered eventually though, because I certainly didn’t arrive at any conclusions. When I recently went back to read what I had written that day I attempted to define redeption, all i found was the word’s antonym, copied and pasted from my computers thesaurus: Downfall.

It has been two years since Fuckly, or at least two years since the series of events that led up to that month and its renaming. I haven’t thought of this period for quite some time, but last week at the pub I realized something that has been tugging at the back of my mind a lot lately…that we have become my understanding of redemption, this girl and I. Somewhere in our quest to define redemption and in all the chaos that ensued, we became it. Friendship, broken. Brokenness, redeemed. Redemption, lived.

 

What fell into shambles in the wake of our inability to understand the world around us, each other, our God and ourselves, has both been renewed and taken on new life. A friendship that ended in silence and anger has been restored, and we… we are not who we once were. Forced back into each other’s lives after several months of absence when M moved less than two blocks away from my new apartment without even knowing which town I had moved to, we made a choice… a conscious choice, to choose beauty and healing. Because life, we decided, is painful enough without adding to each other’s pain.

 

And here, we have come full circle to our typical Christian understanding of redemption: God’s gift; our choice to accept it. And also to my own, perhaps less established understanding of it: beauty, from pain.

 

And where once the idea that we might not be completely straight was so unfathomable that we didn’t even know we were refusing to think about it, we are now both dating wonderful girls. Shame and silence about our sexuality have given way to hopeful anticipation about the ways we might contribute to bringing about healing in the communities we have come to love: gays and lesbians, Christians, and those of us who bridge the two.

Back when I was sitting under that palm tree, giving up on ever understanding redemption, I would never have believe you if you had told me that in less than two years I would be sitting across the table from M, waiting for her almost-again-girlfriend to show up while I sat with my arm around my own beautiful girlfriend, tossing back and forth ideas about starting a mentorship program for young gays and lesbian Christians.

But there we were, none the less. And it was beautiful.

And in case the message wasn’t clear enough already, about how we really ought to give up tearing each other apart sooner rather than later, and go ahead and find something constructive to work towards, God made the message even clearer. Just before M’s almost-again-girlfriend arrived, up walked my girlfriend’s ex, who we have not run into one single time in five whole months of dating. Now, if that doesn’t say something about God’s sense of humor, I really don’t know what does. And of all the times this much-dreaded first meeting could have happened in our overcrowded little town, I can’t think of a better time than when I was already tipsy, partly off too many beers, but mostly just off the idea that we might all find some healing in our brokenness after all. So there we were, a table full of ex-girlfriends, and didn’t-realize-we-were-basically-girlfriends, and current-girlfriends and almost-again-girlfriends. And while there was definitely an awkward moment or two when it all could have gone horribly, unfortunately wrong, it did not. In fact, it went splendidly, all things considered. We all laughed plenty, first from nervousness and then from genuine enjoyment of one another’s company, invited my girlfriend’s ex to become a mentor in our newly-birthed project, and then parted ways into the crisp spring night.

Now, I can’t speak for the others, but I will almost certainly think of that night whenever I can’t possibly imagine how something could ever work out for the best. I’d like to think that they will too. Because my God, I am learning, is a God who utterly defies imagination, and who usually has a damn good sense of humor in the process.

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