She came from a long line of preachers and it wasn't long before she wanted to be one herself.

Linda Ray Miller grew up in a Southern Baptist home in Texas where her family and friends instilled in her a strong commitment to her faith.

“My father was a preacher, my uncle was a preacher, and so was my granddaddy,” Miller said. “When I was eight years old, I went to my granddaddy and told him, 'Granddaddy, I am going to be a preacher just like you when I grow up.'”

He then looked at her, and with all the love and care a grandfather can have, said, “Honey, you can’t be a preacher because you’re a girl. But you’re going to be a great preacher’s wife someday.” So at that point, Miller began her search.

Throughout most of her high school and college years, she was determined to find her future preacher husband. However, it was also during those high school years that she began to feel somewhat uncomfortable with her Southern Baptist heritage.

“I particularly didn’t feel comfortable with their attitudes regarding anyone who had somehow fallen short of their artificially constructed ideal of a Christian life," Miller said. "During my senior year in high school, one of my close friends became pregnant. She wasn’t married. So the youth group was told to have no more to do with her. That seemed just plain wrong to me.”

Even though Miller wasn’t officially in the ministry at that point, she was developing the heart of a minister.

In college, Miller met her future preacher husband. They married and had two children and Miller gladly joined the United Methodist Church of which her husband was a minister.

“While I enjoyed many aspects of being a preacher’s wife, I kept feeling like I wasn’t doing enough. I was restless and unfulfilled,” Miller said. "Her discomfort would lead her to attend Perkins School of Theology, a seminary in Dallas.

“I finally figured out that I needed to become a minister myself - not just be married to one,” Miller said.  “Once I started down this path, I knew I was home.”

While she was finding her way down the path shad had long yearned for, her marriage was slowly falling apart.

“It had little to do with our not loving one another," Miller said. "To this day, we still have a strong love for one another. But somehow, we never learned to communicate. So by the time I finished seminary, the relationship had ended. It took a few more years for me to actually get out, but I eventually did, ending my marriage of 20 years.”

During her seminary years, Miller discovered she was emotionally and physically attracted to women. While she did nothing about this attraction while married, she began to read about it whenever she could.

After her divorce, she moved to Nashville in 1995 to work for a Christian publishing house. And it was at this time, at the age of forty-two, she began to search for her first girlfriend.

“I didn’t like going to bars, but I couldn’t find anywhere that lesbians hung out," Miller said. "I was petrified of being outed. Though I wasn’t working in a church, I was working for a denominational publishing house, and had no idea what would happen to me if I came out of the closet.”

Despite her attempts to have a relationship, her calling into ministry never left her. When she moved to Nashville she eventually began working at West End United Methodist as a minister of youth and children. This was a job she had dreamed of most of her life.

Six weeks after joining the staff, Miller met the woman she thought would be her lifetime partner. The relationship also forced an issue to the forefront of her mind.

“I was quite sure if it came out that I was a lesbian, the church would find a way to let me go," Miller said. "The church was fairly accepting of gays and lesbians, but not of gays and lesbians on staff. I had heard numerous stories of a former minister who had been outed and quickly fired.”

Two years after joining the staff of West End United Methodist, Miller resigned.

"I had decided to leave the church completely since the church would not accept me as I am,” she said.

The struggle she felt between reconciling her faith and her sexuality left her nowhere to turn.

One year later, in 1999, Miller met her partner of nine years who was a member at Glendale Baptist in Nashville. Miller feared she would never like Glendale, much less get involved.

Eventually, Glendale hired April Baker, an openly gay woman, as one of their associate ministers. Upon this action, Miller knew she had to support this church.

She is now a co-minister of music with Don Schlosser, one of her best friends and the director of Nashville in Harmony, a chorus comprised of GLBT singers and their allies.

"I am out. I am a Christian. And I am happy," Miller said. "Glendale Baptist is the best church for me to be exactly who I am. They love me and accept me the same way God loves and accepts me.

“I like to say that I figured out I was a lesbian long after God knew it and didn’t have a problem with it. My struggles with the church were just that, struggles with the church, not God. God is not a judgmental being up in the sky. God is love. Pure and simple love.”

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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