The tile was cold against my cheek. There were certainly more comfortable places in the house to lie down. Yet, I lay right where I had fallen to my knees and dissolved into tears, in the middle of the kitchen floor in my parents’ house. Well actually, I had shifted at one point until I sat leaning against the cabinet with the handle of the door to the trash compacter digging into my back and had a long gut-wrenching cry, giving into it until the heaving sobs had wound down to shuddering gasps for air. Then, when it was almost over, I had seen it. A tube of my mother’s lipstick, escaped somehow from her purse when she was unaware, had dropped and rolled under the kitchen table. I retrieved it, pulled the cap off, and saw the stick itself, reshaped to the curve of her lip. I clutched that tube as if it were the last remaining relic of her existence and let it all go again until, completely spent, I had come back to myself, stretched out on the kitchen floor.
You are so melodramatic, I told myself, it’s not like she’s dead. They’re just away for the weekend. Get a grip. I got up then, looked down at my jeans to see if I needed to brush them off and of course found nary a trace of dust or crumbs. This was my mother’s house after all. I got a glass from the cabinet, drank some water from the tap, then washed the glass by hand and replaced it exactly where I found it. I was on a kind of covert mission; no trace of my presence was to be left behind.
The past 9 months of the year 1980 had been agonizingly long. My coming out as a lesbian and subsequent departure from home, which to my great annoyance people kept referring to as “running away”, had left a gulf of silence between me and my parents and little sister. But in my 17 year old mind, I was not running away. I was running “to”. To a place where I felt I could belong; a place with my own people, people like me who understood me and accepted me just as I was. But I had yet to find that place. And so I had come here, knowing my family would be away because I had heard it from a friend. I had let myself into the house and roamed through it like an innocuous burglar, in search of things that had no street value: the scent of Daddy’s pipe tobacco, the familiar sight of Mother’s shoes lined up in her closet, a moment spent in my sister’s room, surrounded by her stuffed animals and posters of horses.
My undoing had come when I saw Mother’s bible there on the kitchen table. Tucked inside, a folded piece of paper that I knew would be her prayer list. And there, the words that broke through the wall I had built around my heart.
You know what Lisa’s needs are. I don’t understand her right now, but you do because you gave her to me. I love her so much. Please help her find her way back home to us. Help her to find her way back to you.”
But how? How could I do that? I could not even remember a time in my life when I did not know that Jesus loved me. Mother and Daddy had whispered that truth into my ear in my infancy, my grandmother had sung it as a lullaby into my soul:
“Into my heart, into my heart, come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Come in today, come in to stay, come into my heart, Lord Jesus”.
And Jesus had accepted that invitation as I sang with her, had held my hand and shaped my heart as my parents had at first led me as a child and then walked beside me as a young adult, shepherding me into discipleship and my subsequent baptism in the Body of Christ. They had described that moment as their proudest and most fulfilling moment as my parents. This, they had told me, was who I was meant to be. And I knew this was true, in the very core of myself, the depth of my soul, I believed it. I was His, and He was mine. He was not a part of my life; I was a part of His life. And then there came into my awareness the second truth.
When I realized that I was gay, I was terrified. What would my family say? “Home” was so much more than this house. It was a state of being, the one safe harbor, the place where I was defined and where I belonged. But home was definitely not a place for the “others”, those strange, perverted beings who turned their back on what “God had ordained as ‘normal’”. No definitely, not for “them”. And once I realized that I was one of “them”, there was no escape. Because I knew, without question, this “otherness” was unchangeable. It simply was what it was. And for the first time, I knew the terrible truth. I would become homeless. I was terrified of losing their love. It never occurred to me that I could lose God’s love too, until they said,
“We raised you as a Christian. How can you ‘do’ this? You know better. Please change. Change and come home again.”
But it was never a matter of ‘doing’, but of ‘being’. Sometimes a person can ‘undo’, but how could I ever ‘un-be’? And so I left. I left them, tearing my very heart apart, trying to unravel it from theirs. And I left Him. I left Him in a sealed off place in my soul with sound proof walls so high that I could not see over them. I left home.
Home. The loving acceptance of someone who had actually “made” me; the yearning for it with every fiber of my being had knocked me to my knees on the kitchen floor. I had literally wallowed in the searing, insatiable need to be fully known and understood just as I was, and I felt more alone than I had ever felt in my short life. And then it hit me. My key still worked. They had not changed the locks. No matter how hazardous and daunting the journey, there was still a way.
There was a lamp that had been left burning in the den. Looking at it, I heard God’s voice within me. “Come home to Me. I left the light on for you.” And there in that moment, I knew. Through all those months of turning my face away from Him, Jesus had never turned away from me. And even when I wasn’t listening to Him, He was hearing me. I had been the one to lock the door, not God. God was there, still within me as I was within God. All that time. And if God had left the light on for me, God could lead me, and my family to a place and a path where we could find common ground. That broken, sharp edged human love that we still had for each other would be enough; God could polish it and bind it together with divine love to make stepping stones for us to walk on until we could navigate the rocky path on our own. But a journey like that requires strength and endurance. And so I did what I knew to do, the only thing I could do. I turned my heart toward Jesus, and I headed home.
(How was the experience for Franziska growing up bi and Christian in Germany? Read more!)