By Cathy Tamsberg
When I wrote my spiritual autobiography as I discerned a call to seminary twenty-five years ago, I began with this verse from Psalm 22: …since my mother bore me you have been my God. I grew up in a deeply committed Southern Baptist family and cannot recall a time when I didn’t have some level of awareness of God’s presence in my life. The Creator of the Universe and Lover of All has been my lifelong companion, although sometimes that Presence has felt very close and at other times “out there” somewhere. I loved church as a child and the people there who nurtured me.
It was in this church-filled space that I was attracted to women at a pretty young age. I didn’t have a clue what it meant nor would I ever have used those words. But looking back, I see all the signs in the older girls, teachers, and other women I admired as a young person. Looking back, I also remember my awkwardness with several “boyfriends” and my lack of interest in the conversations about boys that were the fixation of my friends. Generally, I had a growing, uneasy awareness that somehow I didn’t fit. This became more and more real when I was a teenager until I finally fell deeply in love with a woman. As a serious, trying-to-be-faithful young Christian, I was confused. I had never heard my parents or my minister talk about homosexuality—hard to believe with the nature of today’s Southern Baptist churches. Yet I was clear that society considered it very wrong. As that first relationship unfolded, however, my uneasiness grew, not from believing what I was doing was a terrible sin, but rather that it was not what God wanted for me. It’s amazing how we can play games in our heads.
Through the last years of high school and college, a “this-is-what-feels-right-and-yet-it’s-wrong” feeling was a constant presence in my mind and heart. Lying in bed at night, I would agonize silently with myself and God about what I should do. This was the late 1960s and early ‘70s. In those days one did not come out to one’s parents nor see other LGBTQ folks on the landscape. It was a lonely time. Then one day in my first year of teaching after an especially hard night of angst, I found myself in my bedroom. Motivated by a powerful sense I cannot explain, I looked in the mirror and said to myself, “Being gay is OK with me, and it’s OK with God.” At that moment the burden I had been carrying lifted, never to return again.
Today I live in deep gratitude and with an acute awareness that those years of discovering who I was were very easy compared to what happened to many LGBTQ people my age. I was spared the many things that could have gone wrong and altered my life and my family’s life forever. The potential for public scandal was always around the corner in my small town. I am very grateful the first woman I loved taught me not only about real love, but also opened my eyes to injustices in the world that I didn’t see or understand.
I still cherish the gifts I received from the church of my childhood all those years ago. But I give thanks that I was somehow able to discover in my early twenties that the voices of society and the church do not always echo the voice of God.