Coffee With A Stranger Cup 105 Lindsey Leaverton

Cup 105: Lindsey Leaverton – Texas girl, gifted musician and mother of twins.

The Place: Russell’s Bakery

The Cup: Soy latte for Lindsey, and I, already amply hopped up on coffee, opted for a lovely, refreshing glass of hibiscus iced tea.

The Background: Cup 101 Tammy Shaklee sent an email introduction and described Lindsey as “a dynamic woman with THE most inspiring path and story in Austin”. I went to work setting the coffee up immediately and have to say, Tammy was spot on!

We’ll get into this dynamo’s fascinating story shortly, but first, some:

Common Grounds:

  1. What’s your guilty pleasure? Red wine.
  2. How did you make your first buck? As a Camp Counselor.
  3. What is the best place to eat in Austin? Hula Hut. The Pipeline Chicken Enchilada – looking over the lake. Good stuff!
  4. What is the best way to unwind? Walking by myself and focusing on my breathing. Or a Netflix binge.
  5. What is the last thing you fixed? My bracelet, this morning. {I ask Lindsay if she’s handy and she laughs and tells me, “No! If Jenny wasn’t in my life, I would have no working lightbulbs. I would live in complete darkness.”}
  6. What is a book you consider to have been life-changing? The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. The book turned my concept of God completely on its head. It was healing for me.
  7. What’s a food you can’t live without? Chips and queso.
  8. Who is your celebrity doppelgänger? Reese Witherspoon. {Well…clearly!}
  9. What’s the best gift you ever got? How much time do you have? Lindsey asks, before telling me the wildest story I’ve heard in a long, long time! I’ll share that story in moment, but before that, we need a little back story.

Boom and Bust

A West Texas oil girl is how Lindsey describes her young self. She tells me she grew up in the Midland, Texas – the land of boom and bust. In the late 90’s, during a bust, her family moved to Austin where she finished up high school.

Austin is also where Lindsey first began singing. She says, “I taught myself to play the guitar and within a week wrote my first song. I was 17 and didn’t know I wanted to do that, but it came very naturally.” Lindsey began performing locally during high school and recorded her first CD at age 18.

Lindsey stayed close to home for college — attending Texas A&M, where she studied teaching and history with a special focus on civil rights. She went to class all week and played gigs on the weekend.  She released a couple more CD’s in college and soon her regional performances became national.

By the time she graduated from college, Lindsey was booked one-and-a-half years out with gigs. She explains, “I wanted to follow my dream and I didn’t want to have any regrets. So I didn’t go into teaching and instead took a leap of faith after college to focus on performing. I moved back to Austin in 2004, although I wasn’t there much. I was averaging 200 dates a year as an independent artist in Christian music.”

Living the Dream

In 2005-2006 Lindsey released her 6th album and she says, “I was living the dream — touring, making a living, writing and recording. I fell in love with sharing a message of hope, love and peace through music and stories. I was never a performer, or a rock star. I was never going to wear the trendy clothes and be really cool. I was just myself and told stories in between the music and through song. I did a lot of worship leading and women’s conferences, and focused on women’s prisons and mission work. I began traveling internationally and got to go to places like Egypt, the Dominican Republic, South Africa and Zambia.”

At this point Lindsey pauses, looks at me and says, “How personal do you like to get with these things?” Hmm…never actually been asked that. I tell her as personal as she’s comfortable getting.

The Truth

She continues, “It was 2008. My career was taking off.  I wasn’t famous, but the Christian music world is small, and I had found success. And it was at this time I started reconciling my faith with my sexuality. I’d been in the closet for 25 years. I grew up in a Christian home — where you went to hell if you were gay. In college I did ex-gay therapy. I got engaged to a wonderful Christian man — thankfully that got broken off. I thought if I could just get close enough to God, or if I could be famous, then it would go away. I would fast every Thursday and pray that God would take it away. Because I loved Him more than anything; since I was a little girl I wanted to please Him. And I wanted to make Him so happy and I wanted Him to be happy with me.”

“I thought, ‘I’ve got to make a hard decision – I’ve got to start living with integrity.’ So in 2009 I started the coming out process. I thought the wrong person found out, and outed me on a fairly significant level — but it was actually the right person. It was exactly what needed to happen because I was too obsessed with my career to walk away. It needed to be ripped from me.”

“Within three weeks I had called and cancelled a years’ worth of gigs. It got pretty nasty. I was pulled from the radio, my CDs were pulled from stores, and by March of 2009 I was unemployed. I had been putting the money from my tours into a non-profit I had founded. The non-profit had money, but it wasn’t mine.  I lost a lot of friends and family, but thankfully, my partner was there the whole way.”

Choices

Lindsey shared that people often asked her how she could choose her sexuality over her faith and she says, “I chose me. I did not have to choose between God and my sexuality. God never turned His back on me.”

I ask Lindsey if falling in love was part of the impetus of coming out and she tells me it was something that had been building for a long time. She tells me about her partner, Jenny. “She was my drummer and tour manager. I didn’t expect it. I just thought I’d be single my whole life.” Lindsey laughs and adds, “I mean, where do you meet a nice Christian lesbian? Let’s be honest.”

Jenny and Lindsey’s relationship flourished and remained a bright spot in a time of difficulty and loss. Lindsey took a job teaching — but the school ended up closing, and again, she was out of work. She knew she needed to do something, so, she says, “I just took a step, and a door opened — waiting tables. I went from singing in front of thousands of people to cleaning up bread crumbs from the carpet. And it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Purpose

Lindsey felt in her heart she wasn’t meant to wait tables forever. She says, “I love to bring people hope and love. I believe my purpose is to make people feel loved. On New Year’s Eve of 2009, I prayed and asked God, ‘What is the next thing?’ The next day a woman was sitting in my section and she ended up recruiting me into the financial industry. That woman is still my mentor to this day. I started as a banker, then became a branch manager. Eventually BB&T started recruiting me. I hadn’t even heard of  them, but as I started researching, I learned they shared a similar set of values, mission and vision. I truly felt it was an organization that I was aligned with. Over the next six months we talked — and I interviewed people. What I found was that BB&T is a relationship-based, values-driven organization with a commitment to diversity and inclusion.” Lindsey has now been there since 2012.

Jenny and Lindsey said their vows in December of 2011 in New York.  Then two-and-a-half years ago, their family doubled! Lindsey told me, “I never wanted kids. But then I had dreams two nights in a row that totally changed my life. In the first one I was placing a little baby girl wrapped in a pink blanket on a bed. I looked at her and was just so incredibly in love with her. The very next night I had a similar dream. I was placing a little baby girl in her pink blanket in her car seat. I woke up weeping and told Jenny I was ready and excited to be a mom. Jenny was born ready to be a mother! So we threw our names in the hat with an adoption agency in Austin and 6 months later we got the call — ‘A birth mom has chosen you, and they are due in September.’ They? What? I told the social worker to call Jenny and in my excitement, accidentally hung up on her. Jenny and I slept on it — but of course it was a yes! We were in the delivery room when they were born. The birth mom is our hero — she’s everything to us. And the girls are the loves of our lives.”

Open Doors

Lindsey and I talk about the friends and family she’s lost and the change in her life she tells me, “I never thought my life would look like this.  I never thought I’d be a wealth advisor, married to a woman and the mother of twins. I’m so happy! I have peace. Before coming out, I lived every day, for 25 years, in turmoil.”

How about her parents? Lindsey says, “My parents are incredible. It’s an agree-to-disagree sort of thing. They are the best grandparents in the world and they love Jenny like their very own. They have chosen the higher path. We each have our own beliefs about translations of the scripture, but at the end of the day, it’s not about the issues. I am their daughter and they are choosing to love as Christ loved. And they give me hope.”

“There are family relationships that are still estranged to this day. But I always leave the door open. I’ve never shut the door. And I don’t expect anybody to change or to change their way of thinking. That’s not the goal. It’s just — can we coexist and love each other and live in relationship — even though it’s going to be messy? Not everyone is going to get there. Everyone has their journey. Love is messy. But it’s so worth it.”

Earth Angels

Now what about the amazing story of the best gift Lindsey ever got? Lindsey explains, “In 2009, after coming out and losing everything, I played my final gig in Florida and I thought it was all over. I had flown home and Thursday night I was in bed, thinking about this 10 year career doing what I thought was my calling, and it was over. I was sad. I never pray for signs, but that night I said to God, ‘I need a sign that you love me.'”

“The next day was Good Friday and I was flying to Knoxville to spend Easter with brother and parents. I’m a West Texas girl — you get up, get dressed, fix your hair no matter how you’re feeling. I didn’t look sad. I didn’t look like I’d lost anything. I’m sitting on the place and a man comes and sits next to me. I’m mad because he’s huge and now I’m smashed up against the window. I notice he’s reading The Shack. I’m at a low point and I don’t want to talk to anyone, but out of my mouth comes, “How do you like that book?” Then I want to slap myself because I don’t care – I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just want to be quiet and get on with my life. He begins a conversation that would change my life forever.”

“He starts telling me about how he had a near death experience and ever since then he’s had an acute awareness for sensing people in pain. At this point I’ve said five words to him. He looks at me and says, “You have experienced a great loss recently, haven’t you?” He has these little Harry Potter glasses and he looks at me with these little beady eyes and he says, “I want you to know something. God loves you and He thinks you’re beautiful.” I said, ‘What did you say?’ Then I remembered my prayer. He said it again, ‘God loves you and He thinks you’re beautiful.'”

“We had the most amazing conversation the whole plane ride. I still didn’t tell him my story, but he just knew things. I asked him if he was an angel. He laughed and said, ‘Do you know how big dem wings would have to be to fit me?’ But he’s real — we’re Facebook friends. He’s a big, funny, social media angel.”

“We get off the plane and I’m running to my terminal and he calls after me. I stop and he puts something in my hand and folds my fingers over it. He says, ‘I’ve had something for 10 years, and God just told me to give it to you.’ I had no idea what it was at this point. He says, ‘This went through a great deal of pressure to become as beautiful as it is,’ and then he walked away very fast. He had put a 2 carat diamond engagement ring in my hand. Of course, I start yelling at him and he says, ‘You have to accept it.'”

Signs

“So I’m sitting there – I prayed for a sign that God loves me on a Thursday night and on Friday morning I get an engagement ring. What else is a sign of love but an engagement ring? So that’s the best gift I’ve ever been given. That day changed my life. If God, the Universe, the Source of everything, would orchestrate this intersection between me and this random bar owner from Kentucky, just to tell me I was loved…wow!”

When I later ask Lindsey what she’s most grateful for in her life — this comes up again. She says, “Knowing deep in my heart that I am loved. When you know that, you can endure anything.”

If happiness were the national currency, Lindsey tells me, “I would do exactly what I’m doing right now. The things I do in my life right now make me so happy. Professionally, this job is like an old shoe — it is a perfect fit. It connects my soul with my role.” What a wonderful way to feel!

Perfect Day

Lindsey’s perfect day would look something like this: “Sleeping in — or at least not having to set an alarm and rush. It would start with a relaxing morning. Coffee with Jenny on back porch, watching kids play in the yard. We’d go to Mueller to feed the ducks. While the kids were napping — we’d watch some Netflix. I love movies. Then I’d go be by myself for an hour or two in a Barnes and Noble or a coffee shop to read, journal, do a crossword puzzle, or just read a People magazine. I’d have a really rich conversation with a good friend. Jenny and I would have a date night at a cool, East Austin restaurant. I’d finish my night off with a glass of red wine and a little dancing to 90’s hip hop.” Wow – such balance! Mommy time, me time, Jenny time, friend time and dance time! Perfection, for sure!

I ask Lindsey about a daily ritual she feels contributes to her overall happiness or well-being and she tells me about RPM – reading, prayer and meditation. She says, “I do some reading from a little devotional or something — just a couple pages and then I take a few moments to center and remind myself I am not a machine. I try to do it in the morning and if not, I try to find moments in my everyday life. The longer I live and the more I get to know God, the shorter my prayers get. Thank you. Help me. I love you. God’s just happy you showed up.”

I See You

If Lindsey had 30 seconds to make a speech to the world, this is her message, “No matter what you’re feeling, no matter what you’ve been through, no matter how significant or insignificant you think you are — you are loved beyond what you will ever be able to imagine. You matter. There is no pain deeper than what love can fill and there is a special reason you are walking around on this earth. It’s not just random. You can spread positivity and love and hope and peace — or you can not. Every day we get up we have an opportunity to use our little lives and whatever we’re doing in the day to show another human being — ‘You are loved and you may feel very alone — but you are not. You are seen and you matter.'”

I left that coffee not really knowing what had just happened. It was a huge dose of emotion and truth and vulnerability smack dab in the middle of a Thursday afternoon. My coffee was nothing like I expected it would be. And of course, it never is.

This is what I know, without a doubt. You never know. You can never, ever look at someone and know what’s going on. You can never know their sorrows, their joys, their victories or their losses. Everyone has stuff. We all have a story — a big, huge, twisty-turny story with happy chapters and hard ones. No one is immune to loss. And something Lindsey said struck such a deep chord with me.

We never know and we always have a choice — in every interaction, to be a ray of light or not.  Know that each person we meet, whether they have a smile on their face, or not, could use a little love. The times we feel we have the least to offer, are the times we need to give the most. Because as cliche as it may sound, what you give comes back to you tenfold.

Lindsey reminds us that life is unpredictable. And though love is messy — it’s always the right choice and it’s always worth it. Let us never forget we always have love to share — even when we’re scared or we feel alone or don’t feel like talking. Keep your heart and your ears open! You never know when the big, goofy, Harry-Potter-glasses-wearing dude cramping your style on an airplane might have the message you’ve been waiting to hear.

If you enjoyed this interview, “Like” the Coffee With A Stranger Project Facebook page or subscribe (up in the top right corner of this page) and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming interviews with new strangers and other fun stuff. If there’s someone in Austin you think I need to have coffee with, let me know and I’ll do my best to sweet talk them into having coffee with a stranger.

6 thoughts on “Cup 105: Lindsey Leaverton – Texas girl, gifted musician and mother of twins.

  1. Wow! Thanks again, Melissa, for doing what you do and serving up these incredible stories one after another. And thank you, Lindsey, for being willing to share your story with a stranger! And what an amazing story it is! Thanks for your bravery and for being such a great example. I don’t think I’ve ever had to do anything that took as much courage as what you did…. And the engagement ring story is just … WOW! God truly does love us all – just as we are! :)

    1. Jeff – Thank you for your comments! I love this project and it brings me joy to meet incredible strangers and share their stories! Lindsey is an exceptional human being – that’s for sure!

  2. Your blogs and HONY are the best parts of my FB news feed. I look forward to CWAS (can I do that?) the most, though, because I love the in-depth aspect. Each person has such an incredible story. Thank you for sharing these perspectives!

    1. Megan – As a HUGE fan of HONY, I have to thank you for that fabulous compliment! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! It means a lot!

  3. I am inspired by this interview. I knew Lindsey many years growing up and going to the same summer camp together. We were close back then and grew up and lost touch but she’s always stuck in my brain. I can see now that she is happy and flourishing. If you have her details, would you mind telling her Courtney Getter says HI and that she’s “like warm deer poop.” She’ll understand. Love you Linds!

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