by Ashley Boyd
As Maya Angelou passed this May, many of my friends and family took to social media to honor her life. One my favorite quotes by Dr. Angelou seemed to be a favorite amongst others: Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. She stated once in an interview:
There’s an African American song that’s 19th century—it’s so great. It says, “When it look like the sun wasn’t’ gon’ shine anymore. God put a rainbow in the clouds. Imagine.” And I’d had so many rainbows in my clouds. I’ve had a lot of clouds, but I have had so many rainbows….And one of the things I do when I step up on the stage… I bring everyone who has ever been kind to me. I say “Come with me I’m going on the stage. Come with me, I need you now.” Long dead, you see. So I never feel like I’ve had no help; I’ve had rainbows in my clouds.
When I heard her words I started thinking of rough chapters in my life when I didn’t know when the sun would shine again. At 16 I found myself there when I started questioning my sexuality. Up until that point I saw myself as a good Christian, and being a good Christian definitely didn’t include being a lesbian. At least that is what I was told by my pastor and my family.
Needless to say when I began to come into myself and contemplated coming out, I struggled. I struggled to find meaning in a world that now seemed incredibly frightening and confusing. I struggled with my church for turning me away when I told the leadership my truth. I also struggled with God for not freeing me from these feelings and for what I thought was abandonment. I was overcome with fear and anger, and I had no place to put it or the tools to work through it.
One day when I was mulling through articles online in search of some source of guidance, I came across a news article about a minister named Beth Stroud from Germantown, Pennsylvania who was defrocked by The UMC. Intrigued, I read her story and was inspired by her bravery. In a flurry of excitement I pulled out my best stationary and wrote Beth Stroud a letter. In it I told her I was a 16 year old high school student from California who knew she was a lesbian, but who was afraid that God didn’t love her anymore because of it. I sent the letter not knowing if she would respond. Luckily for me she did:
I wish I could say that I had overcome al self-doubt, but I haven’t. I still wake up sometimes in the middle of the night and think “What if I’m wrong about God accepting me just the way I am?” But in those times, it’s the supportive community around me that gives me strength. I see all the amazing same-sex couples in my church who are raising beautiful, healthy children. I experience the unconditional love of my family, my partner, and my congregation. And all that helps to keep me feeling strong. Just keep spending time with God and seeking out communities where you experience being accepted just as you are. Those communities will be channels of God’s love for you.
Stroud’s love was a rainbow that burst through my clouds. Her love and kindness saved me from my darkness.
As I moved forward in my life, I have carried this card with me. There are times when we all experience loneliness and doubt, and we need someone to remind us that love still exists and that God is always right there with us.
I use this card as a reminder of why I do this work. I note Beth’s kind hand to me as the origin of my commitment. I only hope that I can be as much of a rainbow in someone’s cloud as she was in mine.
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Ashley Boyd is an advocate for LGBTQ rights and youth/young adult leadership in church structures. Her work stems from the philosophy that faith- based leadership and organizing on social justice causes is imperative to lasting institutional change. She received her B.A. in Political Science and Women's Studies from San Diego State University, and she also received her M.A. in Women's Studies from San Diego State University. Ashley is a member of Second Unitarian Church of Chicago and has roots in The United Methodist Church. In her spare time, she writes science fiction stories and collects faux antique figurines.