A note from b&b – We’re so honored that Isabel, a friend of ours from City Church of Long Beach, was willing to share her story with us today, of growing up as a pastor’s kid into her full self, including her sexual identity. As Isabel remarked to us during the writing process, it’s a very unfinished story – but whose isn’t?
I grew up in a majority Mexican immigrant church, and by grew up there I mean quite literally. Sunday service, Monday night prayer, Wednesday night Bible study, Friday night worship practice and congregant visits in between—ring a bell for any fellow pastor’s kids? I went to a small private Christian school up until 5th grade, then I transferred to a public school where the only person I was introduced to turned away from me as I waved to her on the first day of school. Rude awakening to the “secular world.” Church had become a safe haven where I found home, community, clear beliefs and rules that I knew how to follow. I was happy to do so; it was my happy place. Then came high school and the basketball team.
This cool older junior was someone I found myself nervous and excited to be around. Often jumbled thoughts would fall out of my mouth and I would wonder why I had just said what I said. Finally, with dismay, I connected that I wanted to be more than friends with her. My head spun as I realized what that meant, and then my heart sunk when I thought about what my church and family would say. Through soggy tears I pled for God to change me as I saw my life starting to unravel.
Ministry & Relationships
By the end of college, after several relationships with men and women, I decided I would no longer date women. There was just too much emotional and spiritual turmoil that went into feeling like I had to live a double life, hiding from my family and church community. I felt like a disappointment, the golden child holding onto my façade by a thread. So I worked all the harder, becoming a youth leader, a pastoral intern and eventually a seminary student working on an MDiv – but guilt-ridden all the while and feeling I could never fully speak of what I really wanted or who I really was.
About this time I met a woman at church who was my age, energetic, tattooed and adventurous. Later that week I ran into her at a coffee shop, and she invited me to her birthday hike. Blindsided again with feelings that I refused to recognize or label, we got to talking, and on a late-night phone call we eventually shared about our dating histories. She asked me out right after me saying that I wasn’t going to date any more women. Two minutes of silence filled with butterflies and overwhelming wonder later, I said yes. That wasn’t going to be the last time for those butterflies to show up with her, either.
LGBTQ+ Inclusion: Ideas & Embodied Grace
At my conservative seminary I was surprised to find people who saw this “issue” from different perspectives. I started to collect answers to armor myself against my own internalized self-hatred, but it all felt like dead weight to me, dragging me down. Both pretending and defending left me lifeless.
One Sunday my girlfriend and I were invited to check out a church in Long Beach that was supposed to be ‘radically welcoming.’ I was curious to see if that idea could actually be embodied in real life, and if I would be welcomed as my full self. As it turned out, what I had needed all along was a grace filled community that was willing to walk into hard questions and stand in the midst of doubt and tension. And that’s what I found.
Still on the Journey
Three years later, there’s still so much internal work to be done, but I am finding more freedom to love all the parts of myself and to make space for all kinds of others, too. I’ve paused seminary, gotten proposed to by my girlfriend (and said yes with those familiar butterflies), and am doing a lot of therapy to unpack the unhealthy ideas and self-talk that I’ve inherited along the way. My church in Long Beach invited me to come on staff with them, but I couldn’t accept it yet. I am in a season of rest and recovery where direct leading in ministry needs to wait while I heal and sort out things with my family and self. I remain grateful to be in a community that creates space and makes time to intentionally walk with me on this life-journey.