No Tengo Novio: Grace for a Late Bloomer
When I left church ministry in 2008, it was wonderful to go to church and not be in charge of anything. I tried going back to my Nazarene roots by attending Kansas City First Church. Sometimes I played guitar and sang with their orchestra, open score and everything. Sunday evenings I attended a Spanish-speaking church that I had been a part of for a couple of years. I played piano with the pastor’s extremely talented family. Everything was by ear. I had to google my own lyric sheets.
I spent a lot of time with the Latino church. It felt like home and I considered them like family. When I started dating Biff, who was also a Hispanic immigrant, I brought him to church right away. I told the guys in the band that I needed them to be my brothers and check him out, since I didn’t have family around. I was disappointed when none of them really made an effort to connect. In fact they barely said, “Hola,” to Biff. They told me that they decided I could do better. I was thinking, based on what? The fact that I’m better looking? Well, duh, that’s a high bar. You didn’t even talk to him. I actually haven’t been able to do better. I’m 27. That’s so old. Give me a break!
At the same time, I was working full time at Home Depot. I loved my job. Midtown is the hub of the city. I worked at the Pro Desk and talked with city workers, real estate investors, property managers and many of the city’s most colorful residents. Students from the Art Institute would come in looking for material for their projects, trying to create some crazy thing or another. I sold paint to the Metropolitan theatre for their set designs. My favorite was this group of old guys that spent their retirement years working with Metro Lutheran Ministries to help fix up homes for people in need in the inner city (#goals). I met every kind of person you can imagine.
I thought about relocating on several occasions. I applied to church jobs. I wanted to work in places like Washington, California or Texas. The call backs I got were for places like St Charles, MO and Michigan. Eww, cold. No thank you.
When I started dating Biff in 2009, it felt like I had a reason to stay in Kansas City. The housing crash meant there were a lot of good deals to be had. Every day I put together material orders for remodelers who were buying and fixing up homes. The government was offering a $2000 check for first time home buyers. I did my research. I talked to people who knew things. I looked at my finances and figured out what I could afford. I decided I could do this. I wanted to look for a house to buy.
Biff was not supportive of this idea. We were serious and talking marriage. I figured he had some input, but we certainly weren’t married yet. He kept saying that he didn’t want to see me get messed up financially. “When you buy a house, you could lose it,” he kept saying. This didn’t make any sense to me since you can more easily get kicked out of an apartment for not paying rent.
What I came to realize was that he was actually talking about himself. He was the one messed up financially. He told me a story about having to pay his brother for something stolen out of Biff’s apartment. This put him behind on all his bills. I’m not sure how much of it was true.
Nonetheless, I wanted to help. I offered to help him with a budget, even call his bill collectors. I knew how overwhelming those things can be. He was definitely trying to ignore them and was too proud to accept my help. I did my best to let it go.
I wasn’t going to let his financial situation hold me back. We agreed that I would look for a house and when I found one I wanted to make an offer on, he would come look at it with me.
It took a few weeks, but there were some great deals to be had. My friend, Densel, was a big help to me. He had been laid off, his business a victim of the mortgage crisis, and was working with a property investor. He put me in touch with a great lender. I was ready to make my offer and he coached me on exactly what to do.
I loved my little house from the moment I walked through the door. It just felt like home. I arranged a time to meet with my realtor, my roommate, Densel and Biff to check it out for a second time and sign papers on an initial offer.
I pushed the appointment back an hour so Biff could watch a soccer game. Except, when the time came, he wasn’t there. I called. I sent text messages. No answer.
I was getting ready to buy my first home. This was a big deal. I was in a committed relationship. I wanted Biff to be part of my decision. I was so disappointed when he no-call no-showed.
I heard from him a half an hour later. He had fallen asleep watching the game. I said something like, “I was really disappointed that you weren’t there. I rescheduled so you could make it.”
Biff in turn was very upset with me, the implication being that he couldn’t control the fact that he fell asleep. It had nothing to do with him not being supportive. He was just tired. I should have understood and I shouldn’t make him feel bad about it.
I had basically zero relationship experience, but I knew this: showing up, being supportive—these are the basics. Biff couldn’t even recognize that enough to apologize.
I called my friend, Danilo. When I told him what happened, he decided to tell me how he really felt. I knew he wasn’t impressed, but hadn’t realized that he really didn’t like Biff. Something about tamales.
That’s how it is sometimes. Friends can tell you that a relationship is no good, but you have to be ready to hear it. It was the boost of courage I needed to end things. I remembered my dream of finding someone to compliment and challenge me and realized this relationship was definitely not helping me be better than I could be on my own.
Biff was still mad that I wasn’t gracious about his skipping the realtor appointment. He was taking some time for himself in the form of giving me the silent treatment. I went by his apartment while he was at work. I picked up the few things I had left there, dropped the key on the kitchen table and thumbed the lock on my way out the door. I cried on the way in, the way out and all the way home.
I didn’t get the house. Not then, at least. The sellers weren’t budging on the price and Densel said I needed to walk away. Without Biff, I wasn’t sure I still wanted to stay in Kansas City.
I started to heal, as one does after a breakup. Things always look different on the other side, you know? The connection is broken and suddenly you wonder, what the hell was I thinking? Seriously, he picked me up on MySpace. That’s just ridiculous.
Just a few months before, I had been a chaste good girl with hopes of finding God’s match for me. I had always made the right decisions. I was the responsible one with all this potential of being something great—the pastor who taught others how to live.
Who am I now? I thought. I felt like I had ruined everything.
I felt isolated. Who could I confide in about my relationship? There was no one. I was ashamed. But I never stopped seeking God, reaching for grace and asking for wisdom.
I began to think about all the things I’d been taught about sex, that it was sin outside of marriage, and that sin separated me from God.
But none of that felt true. Not even for a moment. God felt closer than ever. And God’s grace was never far away.
Life is always sort of a haze after a breakup, trying to find the new normal. I was going to work and church, just like normal, but I didn’t feel normal.
The Latino band had invited me to play for an out of town church camp. We had traveled together for gigs a couple of times before. I asked the guys what the plan was for practice and they kept putting me off. Eventually I was like, “Hey, no big deal, but do you guys still want me to go?” I had to take off work and I just needed to know what the plans were. They told me I had to talk with the pastor.
Great. That can’t be good.
The pastor put me off a couple of times for whatever reason. I’m guessing he was dreading the conversation and I just wanted to get whatever it was over with. Eventually we connected after service one Sunday night.
“Pastor, what did you want to talk about?” I started.
“Oh, si, Sharon, …my friend he say he saw you with your boyfriend, you have sexo con tu novio?”
I had no idea what someone could have seen. We certainly weren’t having sex in public. Making out in Walmart, possible.
This felt like my worst fear coming to life. I felt my gut clinch.
“No tengo novio,” I said, “We broke up.”
“Oh, I see… no estas teniendo sexo con tu novio?” You’re not having sex with your boyfriend? he said.
It’s hard for me to remember exactly what came next, because I was in something of a stunned panic, plus the language barrier. The gist was that being in the band came with expectations. If I was having sex with my boyfriend, I couldn’t play in the band.
“El fue mi primer novio.” He was my first boyfriend, I told him. “Pero ya no estamos juntos nada mas.” But we’re not together anymore.
“Really,” he said, “Sharon, I’m so sorry…”
I know the pastor loved and cared for me, but the well-intended confrontation only added to the pain I already felt. I wouldn’t be back to Spanish church again.
I had asked the guys in the band to stand in for my brothers. They didn’t know how, and that’s ok. I suspect their involvement wouldn’t have helped my relationship, but this felt like a kick to the gut. I had asked for their protection as if we were family and they had left me on my own. I did the hard work on my own, too. I was in a bad relationship and I got out, but they wouldn’t have known that, because they never thought ask how I was doing.
I want to wrap this up in a tidy little bow with a list of lessons learned, but really it just hurt. Socially, I felt very alone. I could tell people that I broke up, but I couldn’t explain what I was really going through.
The only thing left to do was heal. Even as I write this, I move through old wounds, realizing there are tender places that still need extra care.
What I know now is that I am not alone. Although my story is unique in some ways, I know there are men and women still carrying the wounds of sexual shame that have never had the chance to heal. This isn’t the end of my story, and it’s not the end of yours either.
Since this is the week of Thanksgiving, I’d like to end with gratitude. I could make a list, but I’m going to focus on the one thing I am most grateful for, God’s love.
One of my favorite passages in scripture comes from Romans 8.35-39:
Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...
But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, [not shitty boyfriends or well-meaning misguided pastors, not messed up ideas about sex or shame or fear] or any other thing that is created.
Maybe it seems strange to tell this story about harm from the church and end with gratitude for God’s love. Aren’t these God’s people who have caused the pain that you and I are still healing from? Maybe.
I’m thankful for God’s love because it’s the thing that brought me through. Even though I lived with fear and shame for many years, I have never doubted that God loved me, cared for me, wanted the best for me. It’s God’s love that inspires me to love others, to care for those in need and want the best for people. I believe that the same God who breathed creation into existence is still breathing new life in me, helping me grow and learn and heal.
I hope the same for you, that you would breathe again the life-giving love of our Creator.
Next week I’ll talk about the journey toward healing and share thoughts on what the Bible says about sex. If you want to receive email notifications when I publish new articles, please click the “Subscribe” menu option at the top of the page.