The dreaded bell of my old fashioned alarm clock beckoned me to rise. It was a cold, Fall Tuesday morning, and Dr. Murphy wasn’t about the tardiness game in the least. I learned over to look at my phone and saw ten missed calls from my Dad. Either I was dreaming or somebody was dead, because never in the history of time had Daddy called me that many times. I couldn’t call him back because I was a poor international student, and my quarters went into washing machines, not pay phones. So I flipped open my laptop to see if I could catch him on messenger. The little blue man was flashing on my home screen, and as my mouse hovered over him, I was greeted with this warning: do not leave your room.
You see two planes had hit the Twin Towers and people were dead. So many people were dead. New York was in crisis, and my Dad had his own heart crisis going on, as he worried for his Muslim daughter’s heart in the midst of the quick onset of hatred towards the likes of us. I didn’t understand his peculiar concern right away. Not until I walked through the revolving door at the Kellogg Center to report to my front desk shift, and my boss looked away when I greeted her. Not until I went to The Eat Shop at noon to grab a taco, and lunch time was apparently over when I walked up to the counter. Not until I heard the raspy voice at the other end of my dorm room phone that night, whispering, “I will kill you if I see you on campus you f—king terrorist.”
I had to hide for three days at the college President’s guest house on campus. For three days, I sat isolated in a country themed bedroom, wondering what it was about me that screamed terrorist. I had been raised in a family that condemned murder and grieved when world tragedies happened. My parents had seen so much terror in their own childhoods; traveling like herds on trains as bombs exploded right at the heels of the train pipe. Through their own trauma, they had developed compassion. They taught us the same.
Now fifteen years post-September 11th; I’m no longer a Muslim, and there is much to be said about how violence and hatred in the Quran is real and terrifying; but that is for another post at another time. Today, my heart grieves at the recycled hatred towards Muslims in the aftermath of what happened in Orlando. Today, I recall the pain and anguish I felt in being so grossly misunderstood. Today, I fear the backlash my sister; my brother in law; and my sweet niece and nephews will endure, because they are Muslims living in America.
Today, Je Suis Muslim.
I don’t know exactly when my heart for the LGBT community developed. It just did. While I was still a Muslim, because that is where I received non-judgmental acceptance and safety; and especially after I became a Christian, because the truth that Jesus loves us no matter what has been tragically tainted for them. While I did not grow up in a family that condoned homosexuality; we never talked about it, along with Jihad, and ten virgins for every man in Heaven. Because in reality; my family thought the repercussions of such beliefs were drastic and inhumane; yet no one ever dared to admit it out loud. So we just skipped over the verses, or better yet, we became desensitized through reading them in a language we didn’t understand.
I had many LGBT friends in college. They were some of the most authentic, kind, compassionate people I had ever met. For a woman who had been sexually abused and was mostly seen by straight men as potential prey for a night; I valued being in the non-threatening presence of gay men. When September 11th happened; Americans hated me; the LGBT community loved me. When I was overwhelmed with anxiety after being raped; my straight peers called me tainted; my LGBT friends called me survivor. When I was lost, alone, and confused about all things religion and culture and family; my lesbian adviser and her partner took me in, and cared for me until I was able to care for myself.
Then six years ago when a scared, pregnant me showed up at the doorstep of a potential rental in Lansing, Michigan; I met two of the most kind and compassionate women. They took us in. They loved us. They never treated us strange because we were straight, or Lord have mercy, because we were believers. You and I know that they would have been justified to not take us in for that reason alone given the rampant hatred the church has exhibited towards the LGBT community. And I remember three years later in the bolstering heat, I was sitting on their porch, and after sharing our hearts on all things life, she quietly said to me “You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.” And we both understood the unspoken. That it was the Christian in me that she couldn’t believe was so nice, because no Christian before me had ever dared to love her for who she was, right where she was, no strings attached. It broke my heart then, and it breaks my heart today.
Today, Je Suis gay.
Ten years ago, I gave my life to Christ. It was the most unusually wonderful thing I ever went through. I remember the overwhelming joy I felt and the glowing skin everyone noticed. Following Him has been nothing short of extraordinary. He has overwhelmed me with kindness and grace and mercy that is beyond comprehension. I have suffered much in my life, yet He continues to show up, and sit with me in my pain. He loves so deeply that I best change my name to Cinderella, because true love and heroic endings were only supposed to happen in fairytales. I’m so in love with Jesus that I would shout with joy as I took my last breath because it would mean eternal life with Him.
Yet, my Christ occupied heart is shattered tonight, as I try to imagine the soul wailing depth of pain, Orlandian mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and friends and neighbors have experienced today. Intercessory tears flow from my eyes as I pray for hearts to be comforted tonight. I desperately try to dismantle the lie that God is absent and that He isn’t good; because right now, in this moment, both God’s presence and goodness is hard for me to reconcile with this massacre.
I know so many feel the same. You know an aching body that can’t quite make sense of this, at times unsearchable, God. Still we know we have bits and pieces of Jesus in us; and we so desperately want to be able to love the hurting tonight. We want to embrace and we want to wipe tears and we want to shoulder burdens because God has been clear from the beginning of time: love your [every] neighbor as yourself. We want Christ in me to become Christ for you; yet Christ in others has never been so; and so there are walls and there is suspicion and nobody understands how a little bit of love can hold us together today.