Today is my birthday. I am choosing to spend this part of my day alone and writing. It is good for me.
People might be surprised to know I was excommunicated from my church for marrying my husband, over 29 years ago. I have denied my pain, making light of it whenever it came up in conversation. I made it about my husband’s woundedness, rather than my own.
Oh, I knew what would happen. I grew up in a fundamentalist church, and knew their stand on being “unequally yoked.” When the elders contacted me about my engagement to a Catholic, I agreed to meet with them. No big deal, really. A formal letter was read to the church announcing my “outside place.” Friends and family I had grown up with, shunned us. My finance never understood why the church would turn against us, rather than rally around us. But I always knew why. I chose him. I still do.
Years later I began to see the pain in my poetry, but it remained mostly hidden.
On the morning you pushed out of
her warm constricting comfort
did you know
snow white pure desired
did you sense
knowledge in your belly
of things outside commonplace
revelations of rebellion
did you guess
as you kicked up heels
and ran joyful on newly dry legs
in stubble not yet promising summer sweet grasses
the darkness that set you apart
might be your
Lesley-Anne Evans, September 2011
Fast forward to 2015, and a contemplative retreat where God moved and my spirit was laid bare. Have you ever been a stranger? The question hung in the air of the little room. Then I remembered.
I began to tell the same old story about my excommunication, apologetically, rationally, in the way I always had. But then, I began to tremble and shake and weep until I could no longer speak. My fellow cohorts paused with me there, held my exposed pain in silence, then in prayer. Someone gently asked if I might allow him to stand in place of the church, for me? I nodded. He then said how deeply sorry he was, and asked me if I might be able to forgive him. I breathed a deep yes. Yes. I forgive you. We stayed there together for a long time. More conversations followed later. More processing. Still more to come.
I recognize now how being excommunicated has haunted me for most of my adult life. I have longed to be accepted, to fit in, to be enough. I have discounted my own desires for those of others, so they would like me, or to prove my usefulness. I have not spoken up, I have apologized falsely, I have taken the lesser place. Even today I check my FB page for birthday messages and proof, why? I have been, and still am, a stranger.
And yet, God…in his mercy…tells me that in him I am not a stranger, but Beloved. So I am leaning in to him with all of my longings. I wonder what comes next?
My path since then has brought me to where I am often present to strangers who search for belonging. I sit and listen. I cry. Sometimes I pray.
Story by Lesley-Anne, photograph by Claire Evans.