Letter to Myself: Impossible Possibilities

By: Chelsea Achterberg


Image Description: Photo of hand-writtern letters and ink pen with the words “Letter to Myself” in the center with the ELM logo, right of center. 

The week before this was published I turned 30. A day I didn’t really think would be possible. Not as an ordained pastor. Not married to a wonderful woman. Not serving as an Army Chaplain. Certainly not all of them at once. As I reflect on what I would tell my younger self it is this: the situation now is not how it will always be. You will not always be in a place that feels unsafe to be out. You will not always feel the heartache that your relationship won’t be seen as equal. You will not always wonder if serving in the military or the church openly will ever be possible.

What is impossible is relative. At various points the overturning of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell seemed impossible. The overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act seemed impossible. The overturning of the prohibition on out and partnered clergy seemed impossible. That I would be happy, healthy, and living authentically beyond my wildest dreams seemed impossible. But God shows up in the impossible.

This past Easter I performed my first baptism as a pastor. It was an extraordinary day, not simply because it was my first Easter and baptism as an ordained pastor or because babies in baptismal outfits make my heart giddy. No, it was extraordinary because that nearly two year old boy is a cousin of Matthew Shepard, whom he may well grow up to look rather a lot like. It was extraordinary because I poured water and anointed him with oil while wearing the vestments of Cindy Witt, a proclaimer from the historic roster forced out of ministry because of her sexual orientation and relationship. 

I reflected on the lead up to that Easter morning that we, he, his family, and I, were living into possibilities that simply had not existed a few decades earlier. Possibilities I’m not entirely sure any of us really thought might come to pass. And yet, I, an out and partnered pastor, performed a baptism of a little boy whose relative had been tortured and left to die for being the same as me, wearing the stole and chasuble of a pastor who was forced out of parish ministry long before her prime for being the same as me. And yet. 

And yet on Easter, the impossible is so near, the impossible is so close to the possible, that the impossible may well walk up and greet us in the unexpected place if we are only willing to go looking. 

To my younger queer self: the situation now is not how it will always be. Somedays the impossible may come so near to the possible as to be reality. With God, anything is possible. Thanks be to God.


Chelsea Achterberg (she/her) is a southerner who is enjoying adapting to Colorado life. She currently serves as Pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church in Aurora and as an Army Reserve Chaplain. Chelsea and her wife Mandy enjoy hiking, exploring the west, and the antics of their house rabbit Mosby.

“Letter to Myself”- Bradley E. Schmeling

Oh Brad, I want to tell you everything! But that would ruin the next decades and give us more certainty than is helpful for a white guy. Trust me that there will be ironies and victories that you can’t imagine now. 
What I really want to do is thank you. I still need the memories of that coming-out self; the way you totally embraced the moment, body and spirit. You pierced your ear and wore a rainbow ring necklace to synod assembly. One year, you went to gay bars after the Wednesday evening Lenten service every week. Although it didn’t happen very often, you worried that people might think you were straight.
The holy fire of those days is still being tended deep within me. I’m left with mostly joyful memories and still delight in remembering some of the stories that never need to be outlined at the Monday morning Bible study. The pain, uncertainty, and fear of those days has long complexified. It’s not forgotten but has forged a deeper self.
The cynic might say that it was simply a youthful rush of identity, a burst of liberating energy to “be me.” That’s wrong. It was the power of resurrection that surged from deep within the matrix of God’s creative love in every cell of my body. It was incarnation in time, spirit and erotic flesh; one body, fabulous members.
That power of resurrection came also from letting go of so many expectations and plans for a future in the church. If you remember, in 1992 coming out probably meant not having a second call. In seminary, so many had such hopes for you, and then they said, “You’ve thrown it all away.” However, you very consciously decided that being faithful was more important than remaining on a privileged roster.
I need your integrity still. Without sharing all the details of God’s future liberating work, I’m living in another time when giving up privilege is the requirement for life, this time not just for me but for people of color in this country and for the earth itself. I need you to remind me that resurrection is the promised outcome to letting go, sacrificing, dying. 
You are my teacher. I need to remember that you didn’t really know how to take next steps, but you did. Some of those steps were exactly right; some weren’t. I need to remember now that the wrong steps were often precisely the ones that made us turn a new direction. Remember that you can trust this sometimes painful journey, because the power of God at work in and around us.
You, young Brad (now “Bradley” after a silly attempt to sound more grown up), still love and laugh and dream within “older” Bradley.  You give me hope, and I need you to meet me in this moment. You remind me that the promise of resurrection is more real than confusion, fear, and the uncharted path. You, deep within, are the voice of Spirit. Thank you! 
With love and hope from the future,

Bradley Schmeling (he, him) serves as the senior pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN.  He’s married to Proclaimer Pastor Darin Easler, and they live in Minneapolis.

Letter to Myself: Cari States-Codding

Hey, kid.  
If you met me, you wouldn’t recognize me. Right now, a lot of who I am isn’t OK with you. And that’s OK.  
You should feel safe and loved expanding into who you are, instead of squishing  yourself into the box of who you’re allowed to be. You’re the teen who puts on dresses for church, and feels anxious and disgusting instead of beautiful and radiant. You’re the teen with the long hair, who uses it as a cover against the world instead of using it as an expression of yourself. If you cover yourself enough, maybe no one will notice that there’s something wrong with you. Maybe God will notice you trying, and maybe that’ll be enough. Maybe you’ll be strong enough to endure and overcome this trial.  
But guess what? You’ve got it all wrong. God can’t fix you because there isn’t anything wrong with you. You are wonderfully, fearfully, beautifully, intentionally, and lovingly made. Right now, you’re still hoping that you’ll grow out of your queerness and be normal. Normal requires a reference point, but there’s no reference point for someone who is divinely created. It sounds impossible now but, in a few years, you’ll discover a whole new side of God,  and you’ll find yourself unwillingly back on the road to ordained ministry. Except, this time, a pastor won’t be telling you that church leadership of any kind isn’t your place because you are a girl. No, this time a pastor will be telling you that you have a gift, and you are a person who needs to use and share this gift.  
You’ll find a way out of fundamentalism, but it’s not going to be easy. Years later, there will be instances that will trigger you and you’ll once again be that kid without agency, who thought that being themselves and serving God were diametrically opposed, wondering if God’s mercy and love were really meant for you. 
Read the books of Mark and Luke. Look at that Jesus with your own eyes, the Jesus of love, of healing, of compassion, and of sassiness. Look at what God has to say to you. Contrary to what you’ve been told, having an understanding of the Bible that doesn’t align with church views isn’t you choosing how you view God. It’s not a bastardization of who God is; it’s a spiritual connection and revelation of who God is for you. Having a different understanding does not mean you have a wrong understanding. 
Remember those nights when you’d fall asleep, praying that God would make you who he needed you to be? Remember how you felt that those prayers were never answered? That’s because God already had made you who you needed to be, and she already had plenty of plans for you.  
You are loved, you are loved, you are loved. And, my dear, you are more than enough for God and for me.  
You’ve got this, and I’m proud of you. 
With love,  

Cari States-Codding(they/them or she/her) lives in Philadelphia with their husband, cat, and dog, all of whom are very supportive of a third-year seminarian. Cari is in the process of earning an MDiv, seeking ordination into Word and Service in the ELCA. When not reading about queer theology or disability theology, they can be found playing Dungeons and Dragons, watching a variety of Star Trek series, or at a dog park. Cari is on a continual quest to figure out where she fits in this big, hectic world of ours, and they hope that they never delude themself into thinking that they have a complete answer.

Letter to Myself: Cassie Hartnett

Image Description: Photo of hand-written letters and ink pen with the words “Letter to Myself” in the center with the ELM logo, right of center. 

Dear Younger Cassie—
This isn’t going to be one of those letters where I tell you about a bunch of stuff that’s going to happen or warn you not to trust that friend or wear that outfit. First of all, that’s cheating, and second of all, you definitely won’t believe me. You are, as one of our therapists will say, “committed to that narrative.” (There’s a freebie—future you definitely goes to therapy).
But more importantly, if I gave you advice based on the wisdom we’ve gleaned over the past ten to fifteen years (how old are you, anyway?), that would take away your chance to live those years in all their devasting, beautiful, ridiculous glory. If I have any advice to give you without spoilers, it’s that life is heartbreaking and absurd and wonderful and your job is to live every bit of it.
Although it sometimes seems like it, God didn’t form you from a chaotic box of cosmic Legos. Every part of you—even the ones you hate, like the talking too much or having a chubbier stomach than the other girls in ballet—is perfectly made to connect with others. And I know that’s hard to believe. Trust me. It’s something we still struggle with; we go down the rabbit hole of blaming ourselves because we’re not over it yet. Hence, therapy.
But chickadee, I have to tell you it’s so true. You are made of love, for love.
Right now you want what you think love is—the magic, the meet-cute, the cosmic alignment of the stars. Your attitude about fairytales is that “the idea doesn’t just pop into someone’s head if it’s never actually been real.” It’s been ages since we read fantasy novels under the desk during math class, but I’ll tell you a secret—I still believe that. Just not in the same way you do.
All the wildest things you can imagine could be true. I could tell you that there’s a path to a magical land in the back of that weird closet in church and I could tell you that kissing girls is one of the best things you’ll ever do—you have no way to know if I’m lying. We’re not the most patient of humans, so this drives you bananas, but the only way to see what happens next is to mess around and find out.
It will be painful. Loving God and loving the world and loving yourself is so, so hard. But it is also everything. Let yourself be in awe. Let it bring you to your knees. Let it turn you into someone who you genuinely can’t imagine right now. Don’t give up dreaming of what could be beautiful in the world, and go out there to find it. If you can’t find it—well, chickadee, someone has to create it, and why not you?
(Also, wear the red lipstick. It’s not too much and it looks great on you.)
Your pal,
Older Cassie

Cassie Hartnett(she/her) is the 
2019 Joel Workin Scholar and a graduate of Union Theological Seminary. Since finishing a pastoral internship year in Baltimore, she has been further exploring her vocation as a playwright, birth doula, nanny, and most recently, a counselor for adults and adolescents in eating disorder treatment. She is currently based in New Haven, with a full bookshelf, rainbow cooking utensils, and her cats, Ramona and Beezus.