Jenn’s story

 

I grew up fairly middle class. I wouldn’t say I was poor, but we also didn’t have lots of money to spare. My parents divorced before I could remember, and I grew up with a single Mom, visiting my Dad every other weekend. My parents really loved me, this was a true gift of my childhood, but they were also both alcoholic and in their 20s and 30s just trying to manage their own problems. My Dad spent many weekends hung over on the couch watching sports and my Mom would spend many weeks working hard to make ends meet, or then partying on the weekend or going on dates trying to find some happiness in this difficult world. As an only child I spent a lot of time alone, and it was quite lonely, but I was gifted with a curious mind and a genuine love for others, so I tried not to be a bother and just kept myself busy with whatever my mind could involve itself with for that day.

 

When I was 3 years old I suffered through terribly traumatic events when I was sexually abused by my babysitter Grant Patterson on multiple occasions. I name him here because I don’t believe that I need to keep secrets any more. Grant has had to, and will have to, live with the consequences of his choices. And although part of me feels this is tragic, I’ve also learned I can’t rescue people from the natural consequences of their behaviors. That part is their journey, not mine. Mine is about just being honest about my own experiences in the most real way that I can. This is what I need for my own recovery and healing.

 

From this childhood trauma, and my family situation that was outside of the ‘norm’, I felt different, like there was something wrong with me. I tried to make up for this feeling of  shame and inferiority with constant perfectionism. I would be as pretty as possible, as likeable as possible, only show positive emotions, help everyone that asked and deny that I had needs. I would use my intelligence to excel in school and professionally so that I could prove I wasn’t as bad as I felt. Or if I was, at least I could hide it from others with a well designed image.

 

In spite of this perpetual self centeredness, I found that I also had a deep sense of compassion for other’s suffering. I could feel their pain, and learned ways to be helpful. So this led me to a Psychology degree and then a Masters in Counselling. It felt so good to be appreciated and valued by others for what I could do to help. That said, in spite of feeling better about myself I still really clung to the persona idea even more. Therapist seemed a very safe place to hide. I still held on to a lot of crap inside as was evidenced around me in my relationships and other areas that continued to unravel. And I was still scared people would find out that I wasn’t as “together” as I seemed.

 

I began to have panic attacks, along with many nights of insomnia, lying awake for hours on end when it seemed the rest of the world was asleep.  I lost the one natural break from reality that we all need in order to function well. I found a therapist and started attending sessions weekly, finding a great deal of freedom from shame because of a therapist who knew what they were doing. I discovered that panic attacks weren’t really about panic attacks. She was able to get to the root causes and I learned the value of processing past pain, having corrective emotional experiences and finding security grounded in a real sense of self. That gave me a leg up, for sure.  Unfortunately I wasn’t completely cured. I still had other demons to deal with. Alcoholism, with well worn paths throughout my family tree, seemed to be accelerating in me in spite of my psychological growth. My marriage was also falling apart.  Due to my own shortcomings coupled with my partner’s neuroses and unresolved traumas, my children and I were experiencing verbal and emotional abuse daily. I tried everything that I could think of, for many years, and sought the best help money could buy. But even with a great deal of professional help, both on our own and together, nothing worked and things got much worse. I couldn’t find the courage to walk away, much less ease up on the self medicating I used to cope with this and the rest of my emotional issues. My daughter slumped into a depression at only 9 years old. I began to dread facing one more day.

 

Then, I hit my bottom, spending January 1st, the one day to try to live well, drunk. January 2nd I woke up with a hangover and went to my first AA meeting. The honesty in that room hit me like a deep breath of much needed fresh air. FINALLY! A B.S. free zone! I then proceeded to B.S. my way through sharing (I wasn’t really alcoholic, just drank a little too much and wanted a few tips) and they smiled and loved me anyway. The love was almost more overwhelming than the honesty. And – not a codependent love either – just genuine care, with non-judgment, coming to me as “we can help if you need us, but if not, that’s ok, we’ll just keep doing what each of us needs to in order to keep ourselves well”.  In that meeting I remember thinking – if church was like THIS, everyone would come.

 

Unfortunately the churches I had experienced – and there were several – weren’t like this. As a Christian for many years, I watched churches become increasingly more irrelevant, many to the point of extinction. The ones that were ‘growing’ seemed to be luring existing Christians over to their cooler team, but very few were convincing regular people with open hearts and minds that the Way of Jesus had any real value. The people I really liked in my life, and wanted to be around, had mostly left church or couldn’t bring themselves to ever consider going. In a culture that longs for authenticity – hence the rise in popularity of Reality TV – it seems our generation just can’t live with the masks perpetuated by common Christianity anymore. So instead the place where I encountered the most honesty from others, apart from those who’d found 12 Step, was in my office as a therapist. Its seemed the only safe place people could think of to share their truths. Paying a professional. Eventually in my work with them, as the presenting issue resolved (anxiety, depression, relational concerns etc.), conversations would often turn to deeper questions around meaning, and purpose, and God and so forth.  Outside of my practice, I was finding such great people to journey with in 12 Step myself, I didn’t think it was right or good that my clients had to continue on their spiritual journeys alone, or having to pay me that much per hour to do so. At this same time there were also many progressive thinkers and teachers that were living out the teachings of Jesus in new ways, that resonated with me so much more. They were embracing of the LGBTQ community like it was the most obvious and natural way to be, and were speaking out for justice in this area and other areas of human rights. They had Grace filled responses to questions about the afterlife, were taking off their masks and becoming more real, and were honoring uncertainty, like it was okay to have doubts and yet still try to follow.

 

These precipitating events all led to December 23, 2011, when I felt a strong call to start an LGBTQ friendly church in my city. It hit me like very few things in life had. I knew it couldn’t be traditional, with the music, and pews and me mostly talking and them mostly listening. It had to be authentic and discussion based, embracing of questions and varied opinions, addressing real life and not just focusing on a ticket into heaven (or out of hell).  It had to be honest, and that had to start with me being as honest as possible, modeling that I was just a fellow seeker like everyone else. There was no Expert to pretend to be, and not just for their sake, but for my own wellness. I really couldn’t find a new persona to try to hide behind this time. And it had to be practical, so we could really DO something to make a difference instead of just sitting around talking about it, or worse, just talking about ourselves. Finally, of course, it had to address who Jesus really was, and what he actually said, if this was about trying to find the the narrow Way together. Speculation wouldn’t do.

 

I felt led to call it Q, which made sense to me because of the nod to my gay brothers and sisters, in being Queer friendly. and then when I understood the Q in LGBTQ normally stood for “Questioning” I thought – well all of us can fit into that. And it was to be called a “faith community” because my gay friend Trevor said if I called it a church, no one would come.

 

Q Faith Community opened June 3, 2012 to all that were interested, regardless of beliefs. We came up with a basic set of values and we honored where the others were at, avoiding codependent agenda as much as possible, and trying to remember why each of us were there ourselves.

 

It started with 4 of us, and it stayed that way for a while. It grew, slowly but surely, and evolved into a 12 Step-modeled gathering, with a Preamble, Value Statement, and various forms of meetings aimed at helping people to share honestly, and helping us all to learn to listen well. We were eventually led to share our resources, including our time, love, listening ears, possessions, practical service and some financial contributions as well.  This allowed us to rent space, pay bills, have a designated service role like Pastor, and do exciting things for those around us in need. We helped people move furniture, gave our phone numbers for those needing to talk, helped families pay rent, supported non-profit workers in food distribution causes, gave massage gift certificates to those that suffered with pain and volunteered to help with disabled kids when their single mom was tapped out. We spent Good Friday in the gay bar instead of in a church building, opened spaces for book studies and an additional Q gathering for those that needed more. There are so many other good deeds that were done, the list is too long to cover, but the truth of the fact that we accomplished far more to make the world a better place is an important result of us coming together. One of the hardest parts in the journey has been for all of us to give up anything we deemed ‘ours’. There is something internally that protests against this. But as we grew in generosity, we also gained a lot more too. The principle that you can’t keep what you don’t give away certainly has been our experience.

 

Over the next few years my marriage ended, and many other challenges that seemed like they would be insurmountable took place.  But the community carried on, as if carried by a Spirit far greater than ourselves. And it carried me. I thought in leading Q, I was giving. But when I reflect on the experience over the years, it has given me far more than I could have ever given. The results of living in the 12 Steps, and my continued personal therapy have contributed for sure, but the truth is that there is more to Life than feeling well, or staying sober and helping other alcoholics to recover. Even the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous suggests that many who found their way of life were eventually led to join religious communities.

 

The Way of Jesus, as I understand him, has led me to discover richer meaning, and has given me a deep sense of purpose for why I’m living now, today, in this moment here on earth. His wisdom teaches me to slow down, as he originated the theory of ‘one day at a time’. I also value the magnitude of forgiveness, both forgiveness of others and feeling truly forgiven. My generosity has increased, and my greed has decreased. My prayer life has grown, as has my times embracing disciplines like silence and solitude as evidenced by Jesus withdrawing to quieter spaces. And I am able to explore questions about heaven, both what it means to bring heaven here as well as if there is any hope beyond this life. When we are feeling healthy, and our loved ones are well, this concern is often of little interest. But in the human experience this question will always eventually be asked, and deserves a fair hearing in a safe space. I feel content with where I rest in my current understanding of life, both here and after death, including being at peace with residual doubts (which will always be present if we’re honest). This peace is a gift of immeasurable worth.

 

I’ve experienced rich fellowship. Growth is powerful, but close personal relationships are where the rubber hits the road in human transformation, and the essence of Q is community ie. real relationships, and therefore has been a catalyst and safe incubator to foster my growth while also allowing me to practice living it out.

 

I have become much more honest. There is a smaller gap between who I think I am in a professional or leadership sense (aka my image of how I want the world to see me) and who I really am and how I live. I don’t have a fear that you’ll somehow discover what I’m really like and look down upon me. Nor do I have the same pressures that I have to be perfect. I embrace the AA idea of “progress not perfection”. I am secure in myself, and find if I’m open to Good then I have what I need. So the needs I thought had to be met in certain ways or by certain people matters much less. I like being around people, but it isn’t because I think they themselves have something important for me to be able to thrive.  Whether they can give or not, I can still be a vessel for them (which is where the spring of joy really exists) and there are many other places where I will be taken care of, more than I need. When I do find myself slipping into my old ways of thinking and feeling, I remember that I have tools for a way out, and people to help remind me of the Truth. I am also still sober, and have been sober through some very dark years, facing deaths and losses, and have still found joy, play, hope, and a genuine feeling of aliveness. This, I never would have dreamed possible.

 

My experience of Christianity is also different. I love the Jesus I follow, as I always have, but now I’m actually very proud of the people I follow him with too. I don’t feel we’re as much a club of people who share opinions, faking perfectionism in order to hide, but I feel my community is a safe place I can bring anyone, and they will be welcomed and cared for, in genuine and meaningful ways. I believe the LGBTQ concerns of our day are a human rights issue, and I am happy that Q is a place that lives into better equality, and is learning more and more about that along The Way. I believe that the Bible isn’t something I should read, to somehow please God, or be a better person, but instead I view it as a source of wisdom and Truth, that somehow (often) brings me peace when I read it, or when it doesn’t, at least opens the door for discussion and greater clarity among friends trying to figure this stuff out too. I am hopeful about the good that I can do, and that Q can do, because I’ve seen as people turn their will and their lives over to the care of their God, and as they try to follow the teachings of Jesus, they become less selfish, more generous with their time and resources, have greater peace, more authentic friendships and continually come up with ways to participate in being  part of the Good they want to see in the world.

 

If I’m honest, my hope is that Q, like many other 12 Step meetings, can be available in every city that someone wants one. But that kind of vision can only be held onto by a Power greater than myself. My desire today, and every day for many days now, is just to be open to the next right thing that my Higher Power is asking of me. To humbly and openly submit to the process of what is happening in and through me, receiving this Love, and then being who I really am to the best of my ability.  I believe if I do this,  regardless of the outcomes, I will end up taking my last breaths feeling satisfied and without regret. That for me is more than enough to keep going.