For a long time, I have been wrestling with deep wounds. Deep wounds from a departure that felt unfinished, work that felt unnoticed, and wounds that came from a painful and heartbreaking set of circumstances in the first church I served as a Pastor. These wounds left me questioning so much about faith, God, my sense of call, and my fitness to lead. I questioned myself, and I wondered if I would ever trust myself again.
In the midst of this heartbreak, I felt vulnerable and, for the first time I wondered if God was still walking with me. I felt distant in my faith, and had to really work to understand and accept that while God and church are intertwined, God is bigger than the church- and God’s call on my life, and love for me, didn’t diminish just because of God’s imperfect people.
For almost 2 years I have held these wounds, feeling their pain less and less, or maybe burying them deeper and deeper… but somewhere in the back of my mind, and the depths of my heart, I have been carrying them as reminders, markers, and cautionary tales to myself. I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, and in my current job, I kept waiting for signs of previous patterns. They never came. At every turn, the something I thought would be “the thing” that would lead me to experience the same devastating heartbreak turned into an chance to learn, and I have been met with celebration and joy.
This past weekend I went to a retreat on Spiritual Practices- and we talked a lot about grief and processes. And there, in the piney woods of East Texas, amidst friends, colleagues and strangers, I felt God calling me to let it go. To let go of the shame, pain, heartache and grief that had been keeping me cautious, and burdened in my ministry. And I could hear God saying “you don’t need to carry these anymore…let me love you.”
I was asked to lead parts of worship, and as I called people to communion, I got to invite the fellowship of broken hearts and spirits to come to table and experience Grace…and I got to be reminded that the Grace is offered to me, too. This weekend was transformational for me in so many ways, and for so many reasons- but most of all, it gave me space to begin to heal.
Where I am serving now is a wonderful place- full of people who celebrate the fullness of me, and my gifts. But this call doesn’t look like how I thought it should, so for a lot of reasons, I couldn’t see the ways that it is exactly where I am supposed to be. But this weekend, my perspective shifted, and God’s vision for me became clear. God has been with me each step- and has brought me to this incredible church with purpose, intention and hope. This church has given me space, for almost 2 years, to wrestle with God, and my own faith, and to rediscover my confidence as a leader and pastor. This church has been a safe place for me to heal, and to journey back to health- spiritually, emotionally and physically. This church has blessed me with an amazing colleague who supports, encourages, and advocates for me, one who has my back and who I love working with.
And as I have walked the journey to discovering the wild and wide love of God as a wife to an amazing woman, and as a true, authentic version of myself- I have come to realize that this church has mirrored God’s radical inclusion to both of us, and in doing so, has reminded us that God rejoices in us.
I look at it now and have to laugh, because in the midst of my heartache and pain, God looks to have been waiting for just the right moment to call me back to joy- and goodness was God’s timing perfect.
As the retreat weekend wrapped up, I had to leave early to head back for a Session meeting (think board of directors…)- a meeting where we would be discussing what to put on the church sign. Normally, I am not part of the discussion for the sign- because it is largely dictated by what is being preached that week. But this week, the church wanted to discuss utilizing the sign to make their inclusion known more publicly. Yes, they have welcomed Kelli and I, and have embraced me as an LBGT+ pastor, but they wanted to take it a step further this week….this week that Dallas is celebrating PRIDE.
We decided on lovely wording, and God was there, as I pulled up to the office on Monday morning, as if to say “Pepa, look… there is your sign…you can rest now. Trust me, you are beloved, accepted, and safe.” I give thanks that God is more persistent than my stubborness, and that God has brought me here, to St. Andrews, to heal, grow and thrive- and to experience again the joy that comes from the people of God living the call to love others without condition or exception.
My hope is that this sign will be a reminder to others who have experienced deep pain, especially from the church, and that this church would be a place where they could find healing and hope. And my prayer is that as I continue my ministry, that God would use me to share the Good News that God loves and rejoices in all people.
To those of you that will read this, know you are loved, and accepted- just as you are, just as you were created to be.