Another powerful workshop I participated in at the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference was “After the Dust Settles: Healing Your Wounded Heart,” led by Marg Herder, Susan Cottrell, and Kirsti Reeve. Here is their description of this workshop:
Many LGBT Christians and their allies have been deeply wounded. In many cases, we’ve suffered as our connections with church communities, family members, and friends have been abruptly severed. We invite everyone to a conversation about what comes next, after your heart has been broken and you have lost much of what you always thought your life would be.
Marg Herder, Director of Public Information for Christian Feminism Today and one of the organizers of the GCN pre-conference weconnect Women’s Retreat, began by telling her moving story.
Growing up in a Presbyterian church, Marg was groomed to be a church musician, like her mother and grandmother. Marg loved her church. It was a “safe” place for her, unlike her difficult home life and her school where she didn’t think she fit the “girl” mold.
In her teens Marg fell in love with a friend from church. Marg felt that God was in this relationship, and so did her friend. But her friend wanted to be a minister and knew that she couldn’t if she came out. Her friend finally broke off the relationship.
Even more painful for Marg was her minister’s reaction to her coming out to him. He told her that he would no longer allow her to work with the children in the church. “Now the church no longer felt safe,” Marg said. “No loss has ever been so painful. I had everything and then I had nothing. I stayed high about 20 years so I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have anything to do with Christians because they had taken my home away. When the church says ‘no more,’ it’s like family kicks you out. It’s like an assault, like being raped. What happened to me was a trauma.”
Later, Christian Feminism Today (CFT) brought Marg back to Christianity. In CFT she heard, “You look like a child of God to us; come be with us.” Marg said that with this acceptance she began to heal.
Following Marg’s story, Susan Cottrell, founder of FreedHearts and mother of two queer daughters, talked about her experiences as an advocate and ally of LGBTQ persons.
“The LBGTQ community is bringing much-needed change to the church,” Susan said. “The church is having to face that they don’t have it all together.”
Susan encouraged participants to recognize “microaggressions,” defined as “insults and dismissals directed at any socially marginalized group.” For example, “calling someone a ‘faggot’ is a microaggression,” Susan said. “It’s an assault. When you object to this assault, you’re not just ‘being too sensitive’ as some people might say. When you’re misunderstood, it’s not your fault. You know what’s true for you. You know what feels like microaggression. Be authentic with yourself and your relationships. You heart knows what you need and what’s important for you.”
Kirsti Reeve, a professional counselor, expanded on the subject of microaggressions. “Having scripture used against you, being called ‘abomination’ is a microaggression,” she said. ”It is a trauma. You get to name what’s been traumatic for you. Don’t let people say, ‘It’s not a big deal. Just move on. Just forgive.’ This minimization can make the trauma worse. Slurs and being misidentified are microaggressions. They take a toll over time; they wear you down, causing depression and anxiety.”
Some of the emotional symptoms of trauma that Kirsti mentioned are denial, anger, confusion, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, panic attacks, disassociation, flashbacks. Physical symptoms may include insomnia, nightmares, headaches, other pain, fatigue, nausea, muscle tension, heart racing.
After giving their brief presentations, Marg, Susan, and Kirsti divided us into circles to share our stories of healing our wounded hearts. They invited everyone, LGBTQ and straight people, into these circles, knowing that we all have wounds that need healing. Here I felt totally included and accepted. It’s tragic that many LGBTQ people still don’t find this kind of inclusion and acceptance in some Christian settings.
In addition to telling our stories, we reflected on questions about our concepts of God. The questions, distributed on a handout, included: How do I think God feels about my orientation/identity? What is one thing I’m confident that God is? When I really need help, how do I experience God? I especially appreciated the statement preceding the questions, connecting our images of the Divine and our images of ourselves: “How we see God is the most important thing about us, because it reflects how worthy, lovable, or acceptable we think we are.”
In this workshop I experienced anew the power of hearing and telling our stories— stories of our wounds, stories of healing our wounded hearts, and stories of our connection with the Divine Healer and our experience of Her healing power.