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Often I have moments when something will cause me to remember a choice or action I’ve made in the past that I feel embarrassed about or regret. Sometimes these things just pop into my head without any apparent reason. And I often start to feel really bad, embarrassed, worthless, stupid. I imagine that everyone who knows me only remembers this terrible stuff too.

Sometimes it’s just embarrassing stuff but sometimes it’s stuff where I’ve hurt someone, especially Kathryn, and I feel so much worse – rotten to my core. It might be from yesterday, it might be from a long time ago. When I was a kid there was a time I was mean to a good friend and made her cry, I remember that so clearly and still feel bad.

What I’ve been trying to consider in these moments is the difference between shame and regret. I definitely regret those moments that cause pain, but I think that’s different than defining my whole life by them. My whole relationship with that childhood friend was not defined by that one mean moment, and yet it’s the clearest memory I have of her. And when embarrassing or hurtful things happened in university – that’s not what people remember me for (or at least not the only thing they remember me for).

Today at work this came up. I felt so bad all of a sudden for a conflict that happened with my coworker a few months ago. I apologized afterward and things have been good since, but the memory of the conflict just sort of consumed me and in that moment became the definition of my relationship with this person.

As I walked to the bus stop, I reminded myself that this was a moment of regret, but not one that has continued to define my relationship with her and not one that defines who I am. This eased the shame quite a bit, which surprised me because I’m not used to finding a way to help shame settle down – usually it just overwhelms me until I sleep or do something impulsive/negative.

Obviously the more painful the memory, the harder this is, but I’m hopeful that this little learning moment will help me remember all the positive things when I feel consumed by only the negatives, especially in my relationship with Kathryn.

It’s okay to feel regret – it’s healthy. I don’t have to pretend like every decision I make is good or that my actions and words don’t have weight. But getting overwhelmed in a shame spiral has never once helped me make a decision that I’ve been proud of, I usually just act in ways to confirm the shame, which only makes things worse.

Remembering that those memories cause feelings of regret but don’t have to cause shame can actually help me focus on what I want to do differently, to think about how I can act more consistently with my values going forward. This is what I am working toward.

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Here is the question:

“If you really knew your own worth, if you knew you would not fail or be judged, what risks would you take?”

The following is my response:

Be bold. Speak life and light into our personal and collective brokenness.

Admit. Own and apologize for when I’ve been mean, hurtful, racist or selfish. For when I’ve judged another person, and assumed less about them than who they truly are.

Reconcile. Seek and offer forgiveness. Seek and offer grace. Seek and offer peace.

Race

Last weekend I was at a retreat. A spoken-word poet named Jenna Tenn-Yuk shared a piece entitled “Everyone loves a Jamasian girl” about her experience having Jamaican cultural roots but a predominately asian appearance. Later, the leader of the retreat was introducing a keynote speaker, who was also Jamaican, and said “Jenna may be a Jamasian girl but he’s the real mccoy.”

The next day, Wendy stood before the 100+ attendees and acknowledged the root of racism in her remark. By attempting to make a clever segue into the keynote presentation, she had diminished Jenna’s experience, mere moments after Jenna shared about the way these different aspects of her identity have made her a minority in both Jamaican and asian circles.

With humility and regret Wendy acknowledged her mistake and sought reconciliation with Jenna. As Jenna shared how she experiences these subtle forms of racism all the time, I realized just how blind I am to all the ways our words and our systems oppress people of colour. I left understanding the deep need for us to listen closely to the ways we talk to and about one another.

Mental Illness

At this same retreat, I was a participant in a group workshop on shame. The facilitator, Steven, shared some stories from his own experience. Among many others, one of the things he mentioned was not knowing how to respond when he meets someone who has had a suicide in their family.

I felt myself cringe as I heard this phrase. When we refer to someone as ‘a suicide,’ we are boiling that person’s entire life story down to their death, as if nothing else about them ever existed. I knew this was not Steven’s intention in the comment he made, and yet it represented a lack of awareness in our society about how to talk about mental illness.

Overcoming my own hesitation, I approached Steven after the workshop and shared my thoughts. I told him I was not being judgmental or critical of his presentation, only that I sought to share some of my own understanding around mental illness and how we speak about those who have died because of it. Steven was receptive and even grateful that I initiated the conversation, and I left feeling empowered for speaking up.

Sexuality

One of my family members is in the hospital and I’ve been spending as much time as I can visiting. She has very limited movement currently, and when I offered to adjust her gown for her, my mom jokingly said “be careful, she’s gay,” implying that I might try to somehow take advantage of her vulnerable state.

My heart sank. Personal care for other people is something I do everyday in my job. While it’s true that I am attracted to females, my heart belongs solely to my wife, and I make every effort to avert my eyes in places where other women are temporarily exposed (hockey changing rooms, for example).

My mom knows this about me, and when I expressed my feelings about her joke, she quickly recognized my pain and apologized. She could have been defensive, offered an excuse, or told me to “lighten up,” but instead she took my concern seriously and made a commitment to consider the impact of these types of jokes in the future.

Gender

My dear friend Maxx, who is trans, recently posted about wanting to be able to grow facial hair. In response, I jokingly commented, “I could draw it on with a marker for you, if that helps.” I thought I was being funny.

He messaged me shortly after to say that he had been hurt by my comment. He knew I meant it as a joke, but it only reminded him that unlike so many cisgender people he knows, he is not yet able to fully express his masculinity in his body the way he desires. I instantly felt deep regret. Hurting my friend with my ignorance was furthest from my mind in that moment.

I offered an apology, immediately removed my comment, and wished I could do more to show Maxx that I want to be a fierce ally for the trans community. He told me he had hoped I would be receptive to his feelings, and that he is learning to stand up for himself when someone diminishes him for his gender identity.

Ubuntu

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, “my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” In other words, “if I diminish you, I diminish myself.” To all the people mentioned in these stories, thank you for showing me that we can acknowledge our mistakes, hope for reconciliation and forgive one another with love. You have reminded me to consider the weight of my words carefully, and to listen before I speak, especially when the conversation involves those whose experiences of minority differ from my own. We are better for having had these moments together.

A friend of mine recently got involved in the kind of conversation that one sometimes stumbles across on the internet. The original post might be about anything, but at one point or another, the topic of religion is introduced and there are some commenters who are off to the races.

In this particular conversation, a few individuals wanted to claim that a definition of ‘christian’ is basically boiled down to one’s stance on homosexuality. My friend was frustrated with this narrow version of christianity and made a few statements, such as “for the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: love your neighbour as yourself,” and “if that makes me less of a Christian in some eyes, so be it – I’ll risk where my love of Jesus leads me,” before excusing himself from the conversation to “lament and have lunch.”

At times, it’s hard for me to avoid getting sucked in to reading these arguments, back and forth. I know they aren’t really good for my spirit, they wear me down and make me feel defeated. And while there are voices like my friend’s, calling for a more loving dialogue, they seem few and far between. And often rather ineffective.

Sometimes, if I’m not careful, these arguments can start to eat into me a little, and I start wondering who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong.’ The reality is that I still struggle sometimes wondering if I’m the one who is deluded. Would God reject me on the basis of my orientation?

I know that thought is based in fear. And when I think about my love for Kathryn, how we shape each other’s lives, it feels whole and hopeful. It is the same feeling I get standing in a rainstorm, or hugging my beautiful nieces, or having a chickadee land on my hand when we’re bird feeding, or celebrating life with friends by dancing and laughing and feeling belonging.

Those are the moments God is most with me, or I am most with God, or something. And they include laying in Kathryn’s arms at night, or laughing at her ridiculous sense of humour, or comforting her after a long day at work. Her gender (or mine) in those moments means nothing.

That is what I need to remember when a stranger’s comments on the internet start eating at my self-worth and security in God’s love.

I have a picture of my dad, one of the happiest and proudest moments ever captured of him. It hangs on my wall near my entrance, and shows him and I walking down an aisle towards the woman I am about to marry. My dad will forever be an example to me of the way relationship and love can heal division and fear. In a little less than two years, he went from having an opinion very similar to those commenters to the moment pictured, joy washing over his face and tears budding in his eyes. He and Kathryn sat side by side at my hockey games through a whole season, even though he was certain of his position on homosexuality, and through that slow building of relationship he discovered the love that was possible between two women, equal to the love my brothers share with their wives. (It really could be a Tim Horton’s commercial.)

Anne Lamott recently said, “the mystery of grace is that God loves Dick Cheney and me exactly as much as He or She loves your grandchild.” Which also means that God loves the gay couple down the street as much as God loves those commenters. I don’t have kids, or grandkids, but I love my two nieces with such intensity, a love very different than the emotions I feel for those commenters. It’s hard not to be emotionally effected when you come across opinions that question the goodness of your most intimate relationship.

But I’m learning that it’s also really okay to be emotionally effected. Hurt and anger are natural, and we do need to lament for the LGBTQ* individuals that aren’t being shown God’s love by those claiming to represent Christianity. God’s heart is probably breaking and might be getting angry too. God just somehow manages to also love those guys just like I love my nieces, and that’s the confounding part. To be broken and angry and also really, really loving. How challenging.

It’s unlikely that I will be able to have much influence on the kind of people who want to spread a version of God’s love that excludes some people. But I’m not writing this to try to change the opinions of those who would define Christianity by one’s view on homosexuality. And I’m not writing this to hear agreements from those who accept gay relationships as part of the diversity of God’s creation. I am lucky and so grateful to have family and friends who actively remind me (through words and actions) that God is love unbounded.

I’m writing this for the kid who is growing up in a church that tells him he is not enough, or the woman afraid of being imprisoned simply for falling in love. I’m writing this because there are gay individuals who don’t have a dad that will walk them down the aisle at their wedding, or a family that will accept their partner as an equal.

In the deluge of posts and comments against homosexuality, someone needs to stand up and say “God is love.” I was so grateful for the words my friend did post. It’s not really his ‘battle,’ he is not gay. But in a way, it’s also a battle that belongs to all of us. Because as much as the world has changed, there are still gay people surrounded by those who think along these very hard lines, even gay people themselves who think along these hard lines, and feel the weight of shame and rejection that comes with being told you are less than another.

I just can’t accept a God whose heart is full of wrath and vengeance. I have to believe that God’s love is unbounded.

I want to have grace for people. Sometimes it can be hard. Sometimes it feels like monkeys are running the zoo.  A friend pointed out that since they are not my monkeys, or my zoo, I should be able to stay calm in their midst.  And that’s true. But I still don’t want them throwing their poop at me when I’m around.

Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?  I ran into conflict with the staff today. In several different situations nurses told me I was not allowed to do something I have been doing for months here while hospitalized. I asked why the sudden change in behaviour was expected and the only response I received was “there are too many people breaking the rule so we’re enforcing a crackdown.”

Wait, what? A crackdown? That’s a pretty harsh word. It brings to mind images of police violently confronting peaceful demonstrators. Not a single other word could be found to explain the reason for this sudden re-enforcement of a rule no one knew existed. And I asked five different staff.

I learned the definition of indignant today. I knew it in theory, but now I know it experientially too. “Indignant: feeling or showing anger or annoyance at what is perceived as unfair treatment.” Yes, today I am indignant.

I also don’t understand the reason why the rule exists in the first place. It makes no sense. I want to avoid specifics here, but let’s just say the rule only applies sometimes, and not at other times. There are apparently “various” reasons for the rule, but of the three I was given, none make sense because in other situations that same thing happens time and again without issue. Sometimes even done by the staff. The staff who are trying to enforce the rule actually break it, and just say the two are not the same.

Let me give you an analogy to help you understand what I mean. If the rule was no smiling while chewing gum, this is what the current enforcement of the rule would look like:

1) If you buy the gum its okay. If we give you the gum, its not.

2) If we want to chew gum and smile, its okay, because we have our reasons and know how to do it safely.

3) We don’t want you to do it because we don’t want you to possibly get hurt, but we’re unwilling to explore ways to help you learn how to chew gum and smile in a safe way. Even if you have a suggestion of how you can do it safely, we’ll still say no.

4) We’re only asking you to follow the rule during these specific times, then you can do as you wish (apparently my safety is only a concern during certain hours of the day, at other times I am allowed to make the choice to risk danger).

5) There are no consequences for breaking the rule that we can explain to you. We will just continue to tell you sternly that you are breaking a rule and hope you eventually obey.

6) Learning to obey the rule will help in your recovery from illness.

It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone that for nearly four months I have been doing this and no one has said anything about a rule. I’m told it’s because things on this unit are different than where I was before, but they also state its a hospital wide policy. They like the “we don’t make the rules, we just have to enforce them” argument. It means they don’t have to care whether the rule is fair or not.

I’m trying in the best way possible to explain that I believe I have a right to “chew gum and smile.” Chewing gum and smiling makes it easier to work on the goals I have for while I’m here. Not chewing gum and smiling can make me very vulnerable to losing control of my emotions, in some cases it can even provoke it.

When I asked to speak to the person in charge, he said if they let me do it then everyone will want to.

Hold on, aren’t we all individuals with different needs and goals while we are here? If you are agreeing that it should be my right, why shouldn’t it be theirs? Surely there must be ways to allow people to do what they feel is best for their mental health? After all, it is their mental health. Not yours. Should I (and my family) not set the goals for my stay here, with the help of my doctor, rather than having them dictated to me by a policy that is apparently “universally” enforced?

I want to approach this with respect for the staff with whom I’m engaging. I want to be patient and polite and communicate that I want to listen and understand their perspective. And I want to ask them to listen to mine.

I want to have grace for people. Sometimes it’s hard. In all things, Immanuel.

J: “Hi Ashley.”

Ashley: “Hi, J.”

J: “Are you going out today, Ashley?”

Ashley: “Not sure, J.”

J: “If you do, can you bring me some stuff? Can you get it for me, Ashley?”

Ashley: “Um, sure, I guess so, J.”

J (to a nurse): “Hi L. Did you ever see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, L?”

L: “Yes, I did J.”

J: “Remember when they get in the boat, L? Remember, Ashley?”

L: “I do remember that J.”

J: “We’re going to do that here, Ashley is going to smuggle in alcohol for me and we’re gonna get a bus because the harbour is too far away and we’re going to break out of here, L.”

Ashley: “J, I don’t think your plan will work too well if you tell the nurses about it.”

J: “Oh, I guess that’s true.  Isn’t it, Ashley?”

Ashley: “Yes, J.”

From the moment he arrived yesterday, until the end of this conversation (which just happened at lunchtime), I have found J to be rather agitating.  My annoyance began yesterday evening as he paced up and down the hallways, circling the unit, passing my room every few minutes.  Through my closed door I could hear his shuffling feet, loose change jangling in his pocket, his quiet mutterings to himself, and his much louder greetings to anyone he happened to pass by.

I was laying on my bed, trying to focus on how miserable I felt.  I was alone, bored and tired, sad and angry, and sick of being here and I wanted to focus on those feelings without annoying interruptions.  I wanted to mope and feel sorry for myself.

Somehow, he learned my name, probably overheard a nurse say it.  He’s pretty good with names, greets everyone by name.  It’s when he said “Hi, Ashley” to me for about the fifteenth time today that I decided I need to get past my annoyance with him and find his humanity, which really just meant looking for my own. Ubuntu: we find our humanity in one another, we are all connected to each other – in this place as in any other, even if we don’t want to be.

Currently, all the residents on this ward are over fifty except for two of us.  Most of the older folks are here while they wait for a placement in a long term care facility.  There are some activities for them to participate in, but usually not enough staff to facilitate much.  Unless they have family visit, they spend most of the day just waiting.

Maybe J’s pacing the halls is his way of working through whatever is going on inside him, his way of waiting out the days till he gets back to his life, or moves on to some place new.  Maybe J paces to keep up with his thoughts, the way I do by writing.  Or maybe he’s just acquainting himself with this temporary home, getting a feel for the place, sending out soundwaves to see what resonates a friendly response.

We move towards grace.

At times the progress is sufferingly slow.  Yet, even in our most painful moments, we stumble forward.

When I came out over two years ago, my world was different than it is today.  The changes in my life (and the lives of those around me) are part of a greater process. We both influence and are influenced by this process.

When I came out, my dad struggled to accept what he called “a life-changing choice.”  He was hurt and angry.  In our first conversation about my orientation, I came to see the root of fear in homophobia.

When my wife came out to her extended family, it sparked conflict that, while the foundations have existed for decades, suddenly centred on her orientation and her choice to share the love she and I had found together with her relatives.

When my dear friend came out, his family believed reparative therapy (or ex-gay ministry) was the only choice he had.

Today, I look at the picture of my father walking me down the aisle to marry my bride, I see the look of sheer joy and pride in his eyes, and I am filled with gratitude for the grace in our lives.

Today, I hopefully anticipate the first family gathering Kathryn and I will attend together, knowing many of her extended relatives feel as broken by the family conflict as we do.

Today, I celebrate as Exodus International, the largest ex-gay ministry in North America, announces its closure and the head of the organization issues a heart-felt apology to those who have been hurt by its existence.

If you don’t already know, being gay is not a choice.  The only choice we have is how we live our lives.  We choose to live towards grace.

I volunteered at the Freeway coffeehouse tonight.

One of my new friends came in to work on one of her many ongoing art/craft projects.  Her art might not be valued by a lot of critics or the general public, but when you see how much joy it gives her, it becomes a deeply meaningful experience, a privilege to share.

When I commented on the beauty of her most recent project she responded by saying “I am very good.  Before I felt so stifled, but now I feel like a butterfly, so free.”

I could have wept, right there on the spot.  I was so moved by her self-awareness, her grace, her recognition of the beautiful and rare gift of being able to express oneself.  This is a true artist.

My own words seem inadequate tonight.

This video, made by members of L’arche Cape Breton, says more about
the people I am learning to love than I could ever express:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYA6OjG_E4k&feature=channel_page

“Whatever their gifts and limitations, all people are bound together
in a common humanity.”

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