This weekend, my friend Rachel Hollis gave a keynote talk about the power of NO. She talked about how sometimes in life, people tell us NO, they reject us, they tell us that we can’t and we have a choice; we can let that NO define us in a negative or a positive way. She shared her story about how publishers wouldn’t publish her first book so she self published, she talked about tragedy in her life and how she has let that light a fire under her ass to be as present in everyday as she can. It was an incredible talk and it left me thinking about some of the most difficult “No’s” that Sami and I have ever received.
Now that we are about a month into marriage (yay us!) it has been fun looking back on the season leading up to the wedding, there was our engagement party and bridal showers and registries and so many pictures and family and reasons to celebrate. But this was also the season when we heard some painful no’s, three to be exact. Sami and I had three people that we asked to be in our wedding that said no. The three of them each had their own story, their own circumstances and own way of telling us but one thing was the same, all of these no’s, by some way or another came from the church. Either the church they go to, or the church their parents go to or the church that they grew up in that told them marriage is meant for a man and a woman. Each one of these no’s came from the church and we were devastated. When we came out, we expected to hear a lot of people tell us no, we expected people would refuse to do a lot of things with us because we are gay but the no feels different when it comes from people you love. The no feels odd when it's wrapped in language that suggest they are telling us no because of a direct order from God.
That's hard to hear.
But we knew better.
We know better.
When we realized that people we love dearly and have had a big part in our life would not be standing with us on our wedding day, we took about a week off of wedding planning (which in wedding planning time is a lot) and we grieved. We grieved the pain of each one of those no’s. We grieved the hard conversations that were had leading up to this point and we grieved the shifting of friendships we felt were going to change. We grieved and grieved until that grief turned into something else. We started to feel the same fire under our ass that our friend Rachel had after she was told no and we decided that we can either spend our energy trying to legitimize our marriage and our relationship to people who believe that God does not want us to love each other or we could spend our time saying yes to people on the outside where the church has said no. There is no doubt for me or Sami that God loves us and is with us and is moving in the world and that world is not exclusive to the evangelical church. So we are on a mission to tell people that a no from church is not the same thing as a no from God. That there is a seat at the table for anyone willing to join and that who you are does not disqualify you from community.
Honestly, as I write this, I can already hear the comments and see the private messages in my inbox from people who will send me scripture out of context or tell me they are praying for my revival or “kindly remind me” that my whole life is outside of the will of God... thank you. Thank you for the need you feel to send me these messages. Deep down I think I can understand how you feel like it's what you are called to do but please do not be shocked or disappointed when I don't respond. I'm not writing for you. I'm not writing this for people in an ivory tower having weekend long conferences and debating in offices whether or not people like me should be accepted in your church. I am not writing this for people who want to shout one single bible verse at people like me and then feel entitled to have me understand your discrimination. This is not for you. This is for people like me. This is for people whose lives are changed by those meetings you insist on having. This is for every person that the church has told God is just a little bit farther away because of who they are. No, this is not for the self proclaimed righteous, this is for every single person hanging on by a thread who deep down knows that God is far too loving and far to gracious and far too kind to leave them behind but are faced with the realities of what happened a year ago in Orlando and they are faced with the reality that they can't sing in the choir or be in the small group or go to the summer camp. Faced with the reality that we are celebrating ONLY 50yrs since this country made it legal for interracial couples to get married and yes, church was saying no to that too. Now, just to be fair, I do want to acknowledge that there have been christians and churches in every time period that have stood on the side of the minority, stood for justice and love and peace. Those churches were revolutionary then and they are still revolutionary now.
Here's what we know, there will always be someone on the outside, there will always be someone who is hearing a no and we want to be people that say yes. Yes to love, yes to equality and yes to God. Interestingly enough, the fire under our ass to spread love came from feeling the opposite. We all know that pain is required to truly experience joy and darkness for light and that is the way it works. So let me just offer you this; if you are someone who has experienced darkness or heard a "no" that was painful then I pray you are able to turn that into something beautiful and share it. Share it with everyone who needs to hear a "me too".
There will always be haters, there will always be people who do not agree with you but oh, it is worth it to keep sharing anyways. It is so worth it! Do not let the voices of NO keep you from sharing your light with the world, the no's will ALWAYS be there but someone out there desperately needs to hear your yes. So do it. Spread love spread peace and let's stop leaving people behind.
Ps, if you want to have a deeper conversation about some of these things, check out ANYTHING BUT BLACK &WHITE this is why we exist.