Excitedly, my kids told me that there were visitors standing at the front door.
I was caught off guard. The three littles and I had just returned home from an early morning of swimming lessons and I was still standing in the kitchen in my bathing suit and bare feet. The littles had just sat down for a snack and I was scrambling to unpack, start laundry, and recover from our whirlwind morning.
That’s when visitors arrived.
Normally I enjoy visitors, surprise or otherwise. But today was different.
Today I was caught off guard.
It was never meant to be this way, a secret that took on a life of its own.
It started years ago with an awareness of how many people felt about my secret, an awareness that had been present my entire life and was experienced in conversations, sideways looks, and comments. I was aware that many people, including those closest and most important to me, had strong feelings about it. Many of them not positive, some clearly condemning.
I also knew that I felt differently. Motivated by deep love and respect for those close to me, I poured over the Bible to discern how it presented the issue, and to determine how that knowledge might impact me as a follower of Jesus. I had spent years considering the significance and meaning. Even with this, I found myself in a different place of understanding.
It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction, or something I took lightly.
I was keenly aware that this secret was one to guard carefully. Though safe to share with some people and in some places, I understood it was best to hold close. Revealing this about me might cause people to think differently or less of me, and could damage relationships I hold dear. I wanted to honor those I loved and not to be perceived as flaunting this, risking my reputation and spoiling my witness.
Carefully and methodically, I guarded this part of me. I deliberately planned ways to avoid drawing attention to myself or offend those who felt differently. This was especially true at some church and family gatherings. For eight months, I’d been largely successful.
Standing at my door, with my blissfully oblivious children loudly alerting them that we were home and completely aware of their presence, these visitors unknowingly forced my hand. I felt naked and exposed. The illusion of control and privacy that I had so carefully cultivated was shattered, and I was left standing in fear.
How would the tattoo over the surgical scar on my foot, the secret I had guarded for so many months, change things now that it had been exposed?
I still don’t know the answer or how everything will ultimately shake out, though I’ve chosen a much different journey in how I handle this now. Instead of fear and guarded secrecy, I’m working to choose vulnerability and openness, living openly and in the the Light as best as I am able. I am constantly striving to rely on God’s rich grace that is bigger than my failures when I completely get things wrong, tattoo or otherwise.
This experience was powerful. Though grossly over simplistic, it allowed me to consider in small part the burden those who feel that they must guard their sexual identity carry all the time. The constant awareness of trying to carefully protect what is revealed, the stress of being ‘outed’, the fear of damage to relationships, and the exhaustion of keeping hidden an important part of self was draining. Unlike sexuality, though, my experience was entirely by choice: to get and where to place a tattoo, to reveal or conceal as desired, even to reverse my decision if things got too unpleasant. These choices are luxuries, luxuries not afforded with sexual identity.
I’m struck by how full transparency with the Church far too often has caused fear and pain. We who love Jesus need to do better. How can we shift from reinforcing that people stay in the dark to extending invitation into freedom and Light? Can we create space for people to bring themselves, ALL of themselves, and hold that gently? Will we trust Jesus to lead, setting aside our ideas of how that must look?