Coming Out Later in Life - Letting Go of Fear - Ordained to Come Out - Part I
My name is Anne-Marie.
Like all of us, I have many roles or labels in this life. I am a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, ex-wife, partner, in-law, minister, chaplain and yogi.
I am also a lesbian.
If someone told me three years ago I would have written about my identity as a lesbian in an article about my faith I would never have believed it.
I was ordained in May of 2016 and like most things in my life it was a bit of a twisted path to ordination. I have come realize that I never do anything easy, if there is a hard way I will find it. You can call me Tina Turner.
My clergy friends had warned me that when I was ordained something would change. True to my nature I took this all in with a grain of salt and secretly hoping something would happen because I am always open to the working of the Holy Spirit. Actually that might not be exactly true, the Holy Spirit has always worked with me, often dragging me along kicking and screaming. We have that kind of relationship.
The morning after my ordination I took my sister to the airport to return home. My then-husband and I had begun to struggle in our marriage again. We were the poster children for couples counseling. We also owned stock in relationship band aids. We had worked time and time again to figure out why we continuously drifted apart. About two years previously we had gotten to a homeostatic place, but recently it had slid down the hill again and my husband had two emotional relationships with women. He had not physically cheated and I if I was honest, although my ego was bruised, I really didn’t care that much. I was just plain tired of trying to save a relationship that I have now come to realize was never going to be fulfilling to either my husband or me.
I said to my sister, “This ministry work I do is very difficult and I really need a soft place to land. I think I am going to have to go into counseling again.” I had a good ongoing relationship with my therapist. I would see her, and not see her for a period of time, and then we would have another go at it. She also did couples therapy for my husband and I. After one session about three years into my relationship with her, I turned to my husband and said I think June is a lesbian. I was right, score one for my slow gaydar.
June and I spent the first couple of weeks meandering through our usual topics, husband, kids, recent ordination, work. If you have ever participated in therapy you know that although may go there with a purpose you often talk about what has arisen that day. I decided to talk to June about Mary.
I am a hospice chaplain and have worked in hospice for seven years. Some people assume that patients come on service and die quickly. Yes, that does happen sometimes. The likely scenario is a patient comes on to service and stays for several weeks, month or rarely years. Mary was an alert and orientated 90-year-old woman. She enjoyed visits and look forward to seeing hospice staff. She lived for about eight months in our care. I spent a lot of time with her and like most patients, we talked about her life, her family, her griefs and her faith. My job is to help her make sense of everything. She said to me once “why am I still here?” I am often asked this and I tell my patients that I truly believe that our lives are interwoven, more then we can ever imagine. So sometimes we stay around so someone in our circle can learn something about life. Like many people who are in hospice for an extended period of time, Mary began to become restless and impatient. She turned to me one day and said: “I feel like I have been waiting for something my whole life.” I remember falling silent after she had spoke. Those words struck a chord with me and it felt like the deepest note of a vibrating base string. A glass of bracing cold water was thrown into my face.
I knew I had a restless spirit and I knew there was something missing in my life. I could never put my finger on this and I tried so many times. I had everything that was supposed to make a woman satisfied. Marriage - check, smart and beautiful children - check, gorgeous home - check, a wide circle of friends and acquaintances - check, a fulfilling career -check. Happiness always seemed to come briefly and slip through my fingertips just beyond reach, eluding me time and time again.
Mary died about a month later. Ninety-nine percent of deaths in hospice are peaceful. My dear Mary did not have such a death and because of an unexpected complication, she died in my arms, struggling to breathe, as I urged her to go. I was stunned and I kept wondering why would this sweet little old lady die such a difficult death? When I watch war movies on TV now, and the buddy is dying in his/her comrade’s arms, I can have empathy for the soldiers.
June and I began to discuss Mary one day during therapy. I did have PTSD from this death and I trying to make sense of this poor outcome. I told June the story and I told what Lucy had said. June, the consummate therapist, said to me, “What are you waiting for Anne-Marie?” In a nanosecond, the answer popped into my head. “I think I am gay.” I will forever remember the time between when the thought became the spoken as I stared off into space. I thought about the previous ten years when I had made various attempts to come out. I would stick my toe in the waters and quickly withdraw. I sought advice from various therapists and CPE supervisors and gotten no help. I told my husband twice before about my suspicions. I told my two adult daughters I was struggling with my sexuality. All those thoughts were tumbling in my head. But this time it was different, answering this question became a sacred moment in my life, filled with fear and trembling, but also feeling the presence of God. I knew if I spoke those words aloud this time everything, I mean everything, would change. With tears running down my cheeks, I turned to June and I said, “I think I am gay.” I began to cry harder and I said, “This is going to open a pandora’s box.” June, again the consummate therapist, said “No, that doesn’t have to happen.” I am so glad she lied that night.