Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chapter 39, part 1: Testimony

That night at Soulfire, as I stood to speak, I prayed silently for God to give me courage and the right words to say.

“I’m a leader in CSF. Some of you might look up to me. But I’m here tonight to tell you that I’m the most wretched of sinners. I struggle with lustful thoughts and actions. Last semester, I got involved in a sexual relationship. Over Christmas break, I thought I was pregnant. I was scared but also felt so much love toward the possible little person inside me. But I didn’t know for sure, and was too ashamed to find out. I hadn’t told the father yet when I started bleeding. I thought I lost the baby or maybe there never had been a baby. That day my relationship fell apart too. I was devastated. I had lost my boyfriend, my baby and I felt sure I had lost my relationship with God too. I felt abandoned and condemned. I wanted to repent but didn’t know how could God ever forgive me when I knew better.”

Every eye in the room was glued to me. I could see the surprise written on their faces. Sylvie and Kirsten smiled encouragingly.

“God sent a friend to call me back to himself.” I smiled back at Sylvie. “This friend let me know I wasn’t alone in my struggles. We’re created to be sexual beings, and getting the balance right at our age is difficult for all of us.” I saw nods of agreement around the room.

I paused for a moment, searching carefully for the least controversial way to say what I had to say next.

“But God also showed me that sin is sin. Sexual sins aren’t in a different category. They aren’t any less forgivable. God can forgive any sex outside of marriage, whether hetero, homo or … well, solo,” I said. I waited for the giggles to die down. “Yes, those are all sins. The good news though is that His forgiveness is available to all who ask for it. What are we waiting for?”

I continued sharing the lessons of grace and love. The child who scrapes their knee and runs to daddy. The Father who wants to whirl us up into a big bear hug.

“God showed me so much grace that I can’t help but want to tell everybody about it. But my story doesn’t end there. This weekend I found out that I am still pregnant. That precious little life is still with me.” There was some scattered applause.

Becky and the other leaders gathered in the back of the room, conferring together as I led the group in a closing prayer. I thought about joining them, but a wave of exhaustion hit. When Kirsten asked me to walk back with her, I jumped at the chance to get out of there. I could sort things out with my former co-leaders later.

When we reached the East Hill, Kirsten and I lingered in the lobby of Warner, saying our goodbyes. “You were so brave tonight. I want you to know that God used your testimony in at least one way. It encouraged me that God does want to hear from me. For the first time I told Him everything that had been worrying me. And, as soon as I prayed about it, I experienced such peace. I still don’t know if that kiss meant anything. But now I am absolutely sure God loves me no matter what.”

Ian came by my room the next day. “Gigi, do you have a minute to come downstairs and talk?”

I followed him down to the living room, where the other ten CSF leaders lay in wait along with Reverend Reynolds.

“Giselle, have a seat,” Rev. Reynolds said, gesturing to a chair set across the room from the long sofas where the group sat. “I assume you know what this is about.”

“My testimony?”

“You’ve got it. A few of the leaders told me they wanted to have this discussion last night, but you disappeared.”

“My sister needed to talk.”

“Becky, Giselle, some of the other leaders came to me with concerns about what happened last night. I wasn’t there, but Becky, I understand you were supposed to lead.” Reverend Reynolds said. “Were you in on this?”

“No. Giselle asked me if she could give a testimony and I approved. I guess I should have asked her more about it. Had I known the topic and what she planned to say, I never would have agreed to let her lead.”

“And why didn’t any of you interrupt the talk or stop her once it was clear what she was going to share?” Rev. Reynolds asked the others. “Like I said, I wasn’t there and don’t fully understand the concern. Did it get explicit? Was it inappropriate for mixed audiences?”

“Honestly, it wasn’t that bad until the closing,” Rhys said.

“Yeah, confessing her sin and admitting to struggle like that was right on, and I think it’s something our group needs more of,” Ewan added. “She was tasteful, saying just enough to let us know what had happened.”

“So what’s the problem? Why did some of you think we needed to confront Giselle today?” Rev. Reynolds asked.

Dwayne answered. “I for one was uncomfortable during the entire talk. But I could get over that, if she had stepped down as a leader at the end. But I just couldn’t let it go when she all but said that God tolerates homosexual behavior.”

“Did you miss the part where I’m pregnant? Since I’m probably dropping out of school, I figured resigning from CSF leadership was a given,” I said. “But I think you misheard what I said about homosexuality. I said all kinds of sexual relationships outside of marriage are a sin like any other sin, forgivable like any other sin. Isn’t that true?”

“It’s technically true, but it doesn’t go far enough. The way you said it implies that gay marriage would be acceptable. And in context with your whole feel-good, God loves us talk, I’m afraid some people will get the impression that any kind of sexual sin is no big deal,” he said, then mocked, “‘Go ahead, sleep around, be gay, everyone is doing it and God doesn’t care as long as you ask for forgiveness. You don’t have to stop sinning to come join us at CSF.’”

“I’m fairly certain I was clear that God does care. I called sin what I am sure is sin.”

“So you admit you don’t think gay marriage is wrong?”

I couldn’t answer. The truth was I still didn’t know.

“Giselle’s beliefs aren’t on trial here,” Ian said. 

I looked at him, grateful for the support. 

Ian continued, “But if the orthodoxy of our beliefs is up for examination, Dwayne, did I just hear you say people have to stop sinning to join CSF? In that case, I think I might have to step down as a leader too.” He gestured to his girth. “My struggles with gluttony are no secret. And perhaps we should all resign as leaders for breaking Biblical injunctions to refrain from anger, strife and dissension. We’ve had more than our fair share of that this semester.”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” Dwayne protested.

Ewan jumped in, “Or is it only this one category of sinner? Would we kick out someone who struggled with regularly losing their temper? Someone with an eating disorder? An alcoholic?”

The same old arguments about worldliness versus isolation began again. After a few minutes of back and forth, I interrupted.

“Well, God’s blessings on you as you figure it out. Since I’ll be stepping down as Dwayne suggested, I don’t have much to add.”

Rev. Reynolds took me aside as I prepared to leave. “Ms. Gottlieb, I think you may have a greater problem than you realize. Are you aware of the college’s new hate speech policy?”

“Vaguely. Why?”

“I know the president is very sensitive to any hint of talk against homosexuality, especially from religious circles. We need to pray that she hasn’t heard about this.”