My name is Jazz. I went to a Christian school, a Christian seminary - graduated from one, dropped out of the other. I came out as gay, was fired for it, and hated myself for a long time. The self-hate led me to the door of a mental health facility in 2016. The story below is from that time in that place. I wrote this blog 8 months after leaving that place. I learned that I could love myself in that place. So I wanted to share it with others. I called it You Are Welcome Here. This post is what started all of this. I hope it helps you all to get to know me and You Are Welcome Here a little better. So here it is: the words that marked our beginning.
In preparation for my discharge, I began gathering my things: a plastic tub full of toiletries and a folder filled with a dozen photocopied coloring book pages. In between meeting with therapists, doctors, and psychiatrists, I had a lot of time on my hands. I spent hours coloring – filling in the intricate designs with an array of different colors. I often sat next to at least two or three other women, swapping stories and colored pencils until our next meal or group therapy session. We sat together at a long family-style table, which provided moments of safety and solace – though fleeting.
One moment we would be full with laughter as we shared guesses as to what questionable food lay on our plates, while the next moment would call our attention to the open door, entering another woman on a stretcher. In an instant we were beckoned back to reality.
We were that woman.
We are that woman.
She is in pain.
We are in pain.
She is broken.
We are broken.
The rhythm of welcoming was the same each time the door opened. This occasion proved to be no different. Once the woman was settled, she joined us at the table. Without a gaze of judgment or a word of condemnation, the woman sitting next to me slid the folder full of coloring book pages toward our new friend, while another offered a bouquet of colored pencils. I can’t remember how the woman reacted to the welcome, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter if she smiled or frowned or offered no expression at all. She was going to receive her welcome.
On my first day there I, too, had the chance to partake in this welcoming. After living through the darkest night of my life, I was welcomed to the table. They did not care that I arrived on a stretcher, because they did too. They did not bat an eye when I told them I tried to die, because they tried too. They gave no mind to how young I was or how little I had accomplished in my life. I did not have to explain who I was before being invited to the table. Ushered in with colored pencils, I received my welcome.
I find it ironic that believing I was not welcome in this world is what led me to this hospital. For years I tried to be the person that I believed everyone else desired me to be. I gave my time to fighting and proving and explaining my humanity to people who could not hear me. I poured out my heart in love and service to those who I knew were never going to be able to accept all of me. I fought hard for my welcome, but that welcome denied me. I soon came to believe that if some Christians could not welcome me because I was gay, then maybe Jesus felt the same. Maybe his welcome was not for me.
Many who have known me might pushback and assert that I was welcomed, wholeheartedly. Indeed, pieces of me were welcomed – versions of me. Yet pieces and versions are not the whole of a person. At best they are representations; at worst, they are lies. The welcome I received at the hospital ought to have been the one I received in my Christian community. Full stop.
Because it was in that welcome – with those women, at that table, holding colored pencils -- where I experienced Jesus: the all-encompassing, inclusive embrace of Jesus. An embrace that welcomes you, pulls out your chair, and passes you the colored pencils. The kind of welcome that says:
Your sorrow is welcomed,
your joy, too.
Welcome, your humanity,
Yes, your rage – bring that, too.
Welcome, you who have been formed in my image and likeness.
Welcome to you.
I saved a seat for you.
Here are some colored pencils, too.