I was in law school, living with the married couple, when the phone rang.
â€śHello?â€ť I answered.
â€śMichelle? Michelle Smith?â€ť
â€śYes.â€ť I recognized the voice and my heart dropped into my stomach.
â€śThis is Pastor Mike Angell, from Emporia.â€ť
I hadnâ€™t spoken to anyone in my family five years at this point. I figured he was calling to tell me my dad had died.
â€śHow did you find me?â€ť
He laughed, and said, â€śWell, it wasnâ€™t easy, but I did it for your brother. You know, your folks and your brother, theyâ€™d really like to talk to you again. Your dadâ€™s not doing too well.â€ť
It was a shocking conversation, but I agreed to call my folks when I got off the phone with him and I did. I was fearful and the conversations were tentative and sporadic. It took me a couple of years before I could work up the courage to go back home for a visit. I wouldnâ€™t go alone and took my girlfriend, Ann, and her daughter, with me. My mom was very warm and welcoming, even loving towards all three of us. I thought perhaps things had changed.
She pulled me aside and said, â€śMichelle, I love you, and you are all welcome to stay here tonight, but youâ€™ll have to sleep in separate rooms.â€ť
I was mad, but I understood and appreciated the forewarning. We went to a hotel.
Mom continued to love on us by sending cards and money on birthdays and holidays. I joked it wasnâ€™t fair Ann got the same amount of money on her birthday as I did from my parents.
Eventually I returned to Kansas for a position as an assistant prosecutor in Wichita. It was painful leaving the boy who was still part of my heart, as well as Ann and her daughter. I was certain Ann would join me in Kansas after a few months. That never happened and I lost touch with her within the first year of moving.
I became immersed in the black and white law enforcement atmosphere and my search began for normalcy. I was exhausted from my years of frenzied questing for fulfillment. I thought perhaps if I looked in the same places everyone around me looked, then I could find it. Whatever â€śitâ€ť was.
I was beginning to calm down, to live a more stable life, one which wouldnâ€™t cause the neighbors to blush. Normal. I thought perhaps I should also pursue a more normal religious identity. I was still seeking God. I knew I couldnâ€™t return to mainstream Christianity, just the thought of it still gave me the heebie-jeebies, but I had a deep longing I couldnâ€™t satisfy. I was still writing, reading, and viewing porn. Shortly after moving to Kansas, I entered a relationship with another female attorney, which would last for eight years. It was my longest relationship.
I began studying Kabbalah and the Zohar (both Jewish mysticism) and I decided I needed to talk to a rabbi, to learn as much about the foundational aspects of Judaism as possible before I could truly attain proficiency in Jewish mysticism. At the time, this seemed to fall within the realm of â€śnormalâ€ť for me. I met with a rabbi in the Reformed tradition, one who assured me it was okay to continue my life as a practicing lesbian. (I hardly needed the practice. I was quite proficient). Reformed Judaism, he informed me, was open-minded about such things. I began to study Judaism with him, eager to proceed along this path of conversion.
As with everything in my life, I began to read voraciously in this new area of study. This reading led me, rather obviously, to the Bible. Although the thought of entering a Christian church or speaking to any of my former mentors and friends who were Christians almost sickened me, I could read the Bible if I was doing it to pursue Jewish knowledge. I stuck to the Old Testament, which kept me safe from the pesky and disturbing writings of Paul. I couldnâ€™t deal with Jesus either, but that was okay for now. He seemed safely ensconced in the New Testament.
What I didnâ€™t intend during my course of study was to have feelings about God emerge. I began to sense an awareness of Him again. My previous experiences into other forms of spirituality (or non-spirituality) had always been to soothe an ache, but had always been unsuccessful. They were fun, scary, encouraging, or wishful, but never fulfilling. I began to pray the serenity prayer and the 23rd Psalm. These seemed safe and they were without emotional baggage.
More than a year passed as I met with the rabbi once a week, alone and in a small group. I rarely went to synagogue. I am an introvert by nature, and couldnâ€™t seem to break into this Jewish family in any meaningful way. Finally, Rabbi M. told me it was time to pick a date for my official conversion ceremony. He said I was ready.
Within days of the announcement, I received devastating news. Aunt Jan, dearly beloved and only 11 years older than me, had died unexpectedly. My entire family felt this loss deeply. I drove with my girlfriend to Oklahoma to the funeral.
As I sat in the funeral home chapel, listening to a sermon by a very inexperienced friend of my uncleâ€™s, I heard a voice say to me, â€śYou canâ€™t give up Jesus.â€ť
I turned my head to the left and to the right, but no one was looking at me.
â€śYou canâ€™t give up Jesus.â€ť
Again, I looked around and no one was paying any attention to me. It repeated again, and perhaps one more time.
I found myself saying, â€śI canâ€™t give up Jesus. I canâ€™t give up Jesus.â€ť
The voice of the minister had faded. I wasnâ€™t aware of anything except that thought. I knew to convert to Judaism . . .