These next three posts (this one and the two subsequent) are extremely personal for me. I will be telling a story that really happened to me, but have, until now, told very few people. I will be attempting to take you on a journey I have been walking for the last three years that started with an unexpected encounter with *Thea (whose name has been changed). The wrestling in my own heart that resulted from this encounter has been difficult, but I now have a settled peace concerning my role in this crazy, messy, beautiful world. My aim is to communicate my unique journey and not to create division or incite debate. May the peace and love of Christ be with us all.
Part One: The Encounter
“I need you to ask God a question for me.”
She spoke in a whisper, but her eyes. They were dark, searching, and screaming for peace.
After all the years as a pastor, I never quite broke-in my pastor hat. The one that is comfortable with others looking to you for God answers. And if there was ever a moment I didn’t want to be seen as an intermediary between God and people, it was this moment when I stood face to face with this precious woman.
That Sunday was *Thea’s second time to attend Sunday morning worship. Her first time just a week or so prior. She kept a low profile, sat under the balcony, and observed. I did the proper pastor jig. I introduced myself, learned her name, and did my best to welcome her into worship. I had never seen her before, didn’t know where she lived, didn’t know her story, and she came alone. I walked away doubtful our paths would cross after that Sunday. Guests come and guests go and we all move on.
But Thea? She surprised me. A week or two later, I walked through the side sanctuary door before worship to find she had returned and was again sitting under the balcony. (I wouldn’t realize it until later, but this wouldn’t be the only surprise with which Thea would bless me.) A genuine smile crossed my lips as I approached her. I called her by name, extended my hand, and told her how glad I was to see her again. She smiled.
I moved away and the morning progressed as planned. I had just lowered my hands from speaking the Benediction, when I walked down the platform steps, and returned to my seat where my children were waiting.
It’s not difficult to see when someone is on a mission, and it was clear Thea was on a mission. She wasn’t escaping through a side door, hoping no one would stop her. She was intent on making her way to the front of the sanctuary, and she was making a bee line for me.
Leaning in, with a voice just above a whisper, she said, “I need you to ask God a question for me.”
Inside, the danger warning for Will Robinson was pounding in my head. Me? Ask God a question for you? Who do you think I am - a pastor or someth… Oh yeah, I am a pastor. But I’m an unsure, simpleminded, poser of a pastor. Fortunately, none of this registered on my face. I simply said, “Ok. What’s on your mind?”
“I want to know how God feels about women and women.”
It was her eyes, those deeply troubled eyes, that stopped me. That, and of course, Thea’s statement that seemed to indicate that I should speak to God on her behalf and come back with an answer.
Our minds are incredible neurological masterpieces able to assess a given situation and draft a reasonable response to an identified need. But, in that moment my brain felt sluggish and foggy, still reeling from the red flags that had been thrown up. It was as if everything was happening in slow motion and I was a half-step behind the whole time.
2nd-time guest returning for worship. (Good.)
I remembered her name. (Great.)
She didn’t run out as soon as worship was done. (Cool.)
Instead, she headed straight to me. (Ok.)
Her face says she’s searching and unsure. (Totally fine.)
She’s asking me to speak for God? (Feeling uncomfortable.)
She thinks I can know God better than she can. (I feel like such a fraud.)
She’s looking to me for direction and answers. (Oh crap.)
Her eyes. What’s that I see in her eyes?
She asks her question. (What is it I read behind her words?)
Then a light dawned ever so dim in the recesses of my mind. The details coming together to bring some clarity. Her voice. Her eyes. Her questions. She’s hurting. That’s what I saw. Struggle. Pain. Anguish. About human sexuality. I sense fear in her…or is that my own fear I see reflected? And what’s clear is she cares a great deal about what God thinks.
I gathered myself, and spoke.
“Thea. That’s a good question. Maybe we could grab a coffee, or whatever you like to drink, and we could talk?”
She agreed, gave me her number, and we set up a time for me to call.
Thea walked away, and what neither of us could know then was that I would never be the same.
---- Parts 2 & 3 of "A Scandalous Exchange" will be posted over the course of the next few days. ----