Happily Ever Affirmed (Guest Post by Lakin Saucedo)

“I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere

I want it more than I can tell

And for once it might be grand

To have someone understand

I want so much more than they’ve got planned…”

– “Belle (Reprise)” from Disney’s Beauty And The Beast

I have always loved this line from Beauty And The Beast. Perhaps it is because I have always felt a strong connection with the character, Belle: Strong-willed, independent, more of an introvert, into ideas, born into creativity, yet always somehow feeling like an outsider. Like Belle, since I was a child, I’ve had this slightly inexplicable sense of loneliness—a thirst for people to understand who I am, as I have constantly felt that I have been misunderstood in my depths.

I had a very happy childhood. I don’t recall too many instances of real internal family trouble growing up. I had lots of friends, both male and female. I was my own person—very unique, and very stubborn. I had no regard for what anyone else thought about me.

I marched to the beat of my own drum, something that I am certain my parents discovered not long after birth. One fruit of that trait was that I dressed how I wanted to dress. When I was in elementary school, I was a tomboy to the core. I hated wearing dresses and saw no purpose for fashionable frills and lace.

I loved sports and I wanted to play with the boys.  At that time, at least in my community, there weren’t very many outlets for girls-only sports endeavors. Not that I minded, I loved that boys were recognized for being competitive & I wanted to partake in the competitive glory. Dresses got in the way.

Even though I had a lack of traditionally feminine traits, I was more or less accepted as “one of the girls.” I was also never teased by the boys, perhaps because I beat most of them at whatever challenges they presented me. Even so, I always felt like I only ever had one foot in any certain group; I never quite felt like I belonged anywhere.

I still carry many of those traits with me now. Although I don’t mind getting dressed up occasionally and have seemed to find my own style, I’m still a tomboy at heart. I’m still stubborn. I still have a voice that won’t be silenced just because I am a woman.

Yet, somewhere in my journey to adulthood, I started to care what others thought of me. As a young adult, being a part of the church silently mandated a specific notion of what womanhood was supposed to look like for me. Looking back on it now, I realize that the idea of traditional gender roles that the church embodied left me with a great deal of insecurity. Evangelical social normatives ranged from smaller things, like “ladylike” attire & “girly” hobbies to the ideology of bigger topics, like submission and sexuality. The church made it crystal clear what its expectations of my spirituality should look like, and I didn’t meet them. While I couldn’t describe that then, it suddenly made perfect sense once I met my wife years later.

I’m sure that when some people found out that I began to date my wife a few years ago, they must have thought that my “coming out” was a long time coming because of my unconventional femininity and the fact that I was so picky with the men that I chose, or more likely, didn’t choose to date. But my story into a same-sex relationship had nothing to do with those ideas at all and was much more complex than falling into a stereotype.

I met my wife at a time in my life when I was on my own for the first time, deeply into finding out what a real relationship with God was like, but also still very much influenced by the teachings and culture of the churches in which I grew up.  Further, feelings of rejection and abandonment from friends and love interests led me to an overwhelming sense of being misunderstood—hard to love (at best) and unlovable (at worst). Surprisingly, I drew closer to God, feeling that he was the only one who understood me and the only one (outside of family) who loved me in spite of me. The juxtaposition of my wife entering my life at that time could not have been more jarring.

I remember thinking one time, earlier that year before we met, that if the devil wanted to take me down, he was going to do it through the vulnerability of relationship: I was going to want something that I should not want, and I would fall.  Ironically, she ended up leading me closer to God, as eventually our relationship would bring me into a whole new understanding of what it means to follow Jesus.

She & I had an expedient connection; a connection I had so rarely found in friends and never found in love interests. I’ve never been the type to swoon over physical appearances; even though my wife is very beautiful, I was drawn to the emotional connection I felt with her. Especially at that time, this connection was of utmost importance, because for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel alone.

Our friendship started out strong, but I quickly realized that I had a depth of feelings for her that I had never felt for any other person, let alone another woman. I knew it was something more than friendship evolving.

So, I resolved to myself (and made it known to her) that I could not go down that road; God forbade it. A bitterness began to grow within me, which I can only describe now as mourning.

I so desperately loved her with a pure love, and yet with the same desire, I wanted to please God. I didn’t know how to reconcile such a cruelty in my soul. How could this “loving God” who was with me through those other years of pain be the same God to deny my love for this woman and consequently, consign me back into pain? So, I resigned myself to get over it by any means possible, hoping to overcome these feelings with religious devotion.

We stayed in touch over the next pursuing years. But it wasn’t like it was at the beginning. We hid from each other our deepest feelings toward one another: she hid to protect herself from potential heartbreak of never being together; I hid because I thought that if I was faithful enough to the Lord, he would help my inner-turmoil. I joined a new church shortly after and it helped me feel like I could start anew. It was great to be around people who took studying the Bible seriously & valued community with each other. I felt welcomed there right away.

Over the next few years, she dated others, and I dated men. I thought I was moving on the “right” way.

And then my relationship with the man I was dating at the time ended; and I was left with unprecedented anger toward the Lord. I had tried to convince myself that I’d been happy; that I was faithful because I read my Bible, was involved in ministry, was deeply committed to my body of believers, and prayed fervently and unrelentingly for God to help my unbelief.

But I found myself alone again, feeling the same demons crawling back to the forefront of my soul. I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t at peace. I was deeply depressed. And my belief in the good God I once knew slowly began to diminish.

Up until that point, I had talked to maybe two people in my entire church about my conflict between my faith and same-sex attractions. I never felt comfortable talking about it there, feeling that people would not only misunderstand me, but that they would tell me everything that I already knew:

It’s sexual immorality.

It’s an abomination.

It’s unnatural.

It’s not God’s plan for you.

If you’re faithful enough, God will help you overcome it.

Genesis, Leviticus, Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy.

On and on and on I replayed the same rhetoric every LGBT+ person in America has likely heard.  I knew this, because I had spoken many of them out of my own mouth. I wish now I had known better.

As someone who had been on “the other side” my whole life, I started to question everything about this “loving” god who was starting to seem more and more sadistic. This god didn’t care how faithful I was. He didn’t care about my feelings. And he certainly didn’t care enough to help me or any other person struggling with this specific “sin.”

I concluded that God had intentionally burdened me with a life of loneliness. The very thing I once felt he had saved me from was now the thing that he had appointed me to. I perceived that God was cruel, yet I still somehow convinced myself that this was his divine “love.”

I began to see a therapist, who was also a Christian woman, over the next two and a half years. To say that she was instrumental in my faith would be an understatement. She helped me realign my mind to see a different God than the one I had created. I had created a legalistic, uncompassionate, vengeful god. She guided me to ultimately see a God full of scandalous grace, empathy & radical love. But it was a slow process, with many ups and downs.

During one of the lowest downs, I came to a point where I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care if I was going against (what I thought was) God’s word, I didn’t care if I was right or wrong, I didn’t care because I felt like no one really cared about me…except for my wife. So we began to date.

I quit leading worship, I tapered off in my engagement with my church community.  I told no one about us for months; not because I was ashamed, but because I knew the storm that was to come and I didn’t have the strength to brave it.

This caused an inner-turmoil because, even as I threw caution to the wind for a time, I knew God was still there. And like children crave the love of their mother or father, I still craved the love and acceptance I once felt from my heavenly father. I did what I felt in my heart was right, but I could not reconcile what I had been taught to be true about the God of the Bible. So I continued to study, and to struggle.

Then came the storm I had feared for months. I was approached by one of the church leaders about my relationship. At that time, only a handful of people at the church knew about my relationship. My small group leader wasn’t one of them, but he was assigned to speak with me. He explained that the church leaders had known what I was involved in and they were giving me an ultimatum: leave my relationship behind and accept their “help,” or stay with her and forfeit my membership, in which case they would be forced to tell the entire church about my failings. They gave me one week to think it over.

At the time, I wasn’t so much caught off guard by what they believed about it—I already knew their theological stance—but I was surprised by how they handled it. I had been a faithful servant in our church for nearly seven years, yet there was little conversation to be had about the whole matter.

I chose to stay in my relationship, and although they didn’t end up making an announcement to the church, the damage was done. It fueled more doubt in me about God’s love. If the church was supposed to be a reflection of a long-suffering God, I wasn’t seeing it. So I left.

The next year, upon the referral of a close friend, I attended the Gay Christian Network Conference. I was leery about going, as I was still in a rather questionable place, spiritually.

Little did I know, GCN would change my life. While at that conference, I realized for the first time in my life, God knows me and loves me as I am.  As I learned that there were other ways of understanding Scripture—ways that were deeply against what I had grown up believing—I discovered that they made more sense to me and were as reverent as anything else I had studied. I felt a sense of belonging as I shared space with people who came from all sides of the inclusion of LGBT+ persons in the church and I experienced more grace than I’d ever known.

I began to feel peace, joy, love, & faithfulness again, almost inexplicably. It was as if Jesus had come to visit me in a very real way. My worldview changed.

I suddenly cared more about imitating Jesus than I did about anything else. I became compelled by the equal parts of justice and empathy that he had for the poor, the broken-hearted, the outcasts, the disenfranchised, and the oppressed. My old religion went out the window, and I began to build a new one—a faith not guided by legalist hermeneutics, but by grace and an extreme love.

I began to see God fulfilling the image I’d seen of him as a youth, a God who did care about everything about me. And I began to see him working in my relationship with my wife.

I proposed to her a few months later. The following couple of years culminated in our marriage this summer and a new way of life together. We have found a new church, one that has helped me rebuild my relationship with God and guided my wife as she furthers her own journey with Jesus. I continue to study diligently, not just about the LGBT+ community within Christianity, but the entirety of Scripture in light of this new God. I’ve felt emboldened to pursue justice and empathy for those who often feel loved the least; to attempt to model for them the same love that Jesus showed me.

Sometimes I grow weary of the battle. It gets hard when I think about the “friends” that I’ve lost, when I encounter people who discount my faith, or when opposition causes loneliness to creep back in. But in these times, I remind myself that God is truly with me and his grace is sufficient for me to cling to.

A few weeks ago, I was on the road and I was listening to some old sermons from our church’s podcasts. I heard something that captures so well what many people like me have battled: “The scandal of Christianity is not that Jesus looks so much like God, but that God looks exactly like Jesus.” In my darkest of times, I thought that God was a vengeful, detached God. But I now see that the Jesus I have come to believe and follow is the only true picture of God. And he is the only Word that counts.

If the God of our lives is one who is guided by anger and vengeance, then our savior is not Jesus, but our own faithfulness and righteousness. But if our savior is the Christ who came to set us free, then the God we love is for us, and indeed, no one and no thing can be against us.

Lakin Saucedo is a singer, songwriter & musician in the Los Angeles area who currently travels around the country touring colleges. Newly married, she lives with her wife, Lindsey & their hound puppy, Memphis Graham. Lakin is passionate about music & sports, and has a heart for the outcasts, the poor, the oppressed & the marginalized of society. Through love, empathy, justice & music, she hopes to make the world a better place. For more about Lakin, you can visit lakinmusic.com.

Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback.

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