Mardee Rightmyer

Ruling Elder, Ordained 1976.

Simply defined, grace is the belief that God’s love is freely given.

There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love and there is nothing we can do to lose God’s love.  It is a gift that must simply be accepted or rejected. God’s grace is the hope within me that has sustained my faith journey for my entire life. God’s grace has been more than sufficient. And in the assurance of that grace, I consider it a privilege to share my story with you.

The facts of my birth are rather mundane. I was born in Fairmont, West Virginia on Wednesday, May 14, 1952, about 8:00 in the evening. (Don’t worry; I am not going through all 60 years!) The story of my birth, on the other hand, is unique: my Mother gave birth to me on a gurney in a hospital elevator all by herself. My father, a minister, was at church for the Wednesday night service.  All the rooms were full and the nurse, wanting to give Mother some sense of decorum, had put the gurney in the elevator with the doors propped open. But following the set guidelines of what she had been taught, the nurse left Mother to do other things, saying she would be back in about an hour to check on her.

I share this story because it is symbolic of my life.  I have spent most of my life caught in the tension of the expectations of who I was to be as a “preacher’s kid” and now as a Christian educator against the life I live in my personal relationships. Along with those expectations were the “set guidelines” of the faith tradition, first passed down by my family and then reinforced by the structures of church hierarchy, versus my innate understanding and life experiences of who I am as a lesbian.

In 1986, while working as a church educator at Eastminster Presbyterian in Stone Mountain, I reached the breaking point of this dichotomy. I could not live with the split in my life, so I went as far away from everything and everyone as I possibly could, to try to figure my life out. I had always wanted to go to Africa but I ended up in China as a Volunteer in Mission teaching English. I was assigned to an agricultural university and lived in a dorm with 37 African men!

God does have a sense of humor!

Behind the dorm was a soccer field with a track surrounding it. Every night after supper, I would walk the track, praying, “God, either heal me or give me peace.” It became a mantra that I repeated over and over every night. Then in January of 1987, on a cold crystal clear starry night, I heard God speak to me in a voice as audible as any one speaking,  “Mardee, I love you just the way you are.”  A peace came over me that night that, now 25 years later, has never left.

Outwardly, over the last 25 years, the journey doesn’t look much different – the fighting about sexual orientation has not been resolved and the debates over “right” theology versus innate understanding are as strong as ever. And yet, I’m still in the church.

Inwardly, as I seek to be the person God created me to be, my mantra of hope has become a statement of conviction. As I have responded in the assurance of God’s grace, my split life has converged to make me whole.

And now God has added an AMEN to my story. Just last year I was called back to Eastminster in Stone Mountain – this time as an out lesbian with my wonderful partner!

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