Monday, November 11, 2013

You Made Me Brave

Dear Friend,

We met in kindergarten. Not when we were five but when we were scared parents letting our kids go to big kid school for the first time. You had one in Mrs. N's class and the twin in the other afternoon class. I don't remember a lot of those early months, since I was dealing with a toddler and a preschooler who were not the best behaved when dropping their big brother off at school. I often had to rush off to take said preschooler to his own school and then back to the house to put the baby down for a much needed nap, much needed by me.

But I remember clearly those afternoons we would all spend on the big kid playground after kindergarten pick up. When a few and then more parents and kids would run to the back of the school, hand out snacks and then let the kids run wild while we got to know one another. There is something special about those kindergarten friends you make. I remember being in awe of the snacks you had packed and that you even brought washcloths to clean hands instead of the disposable wipes I always had with me. I remember the joy you always brought with you. I remember your openness, your willingness to share - your snacks, your time, your stories.

You and I were often the last ones there. We had nothing to rush off to since both our husbands worked at start ups. Or more accurately lived their start ups. We would gather up our crew and walk down the sidewalk towards our homes together, until we had to split at the corner - me turning right, you left. Some of our best conversations happened on that corner.

And then I moved away, back to Oregon. But you stayed in touch. Facebook made it feel like you were still right down the street. Except you weren't and I missed you. And then my family moved back to California again and I no longer had to miss how friendly you were, how open and inviting to everyone. I no longer had to miss how great you were with my kids, and every kid you have ever met.

You showed my kids wonder. You were excited about life and engaged them in learning and seeking and exploring. You volunteered your time, HAPPILY. You are a safe adult to a whole school of kids, always ready to listen and help and guide. You are one of the best stay at home parents I know. You often make Pinterest look weak.

I am not those things. I mean yes, I volunteer... but often begrudgingly. I hate craft projects and science projects and pretty much any kind of project. I am not good with little kids. I like order and rules and reason. And while I wish I had learned to be better with kids from you, I did not.

What I did learn from you is actually something I am embarrassed to admit.

I think I have told you this story but I am not sure if I told you the whole thing because there are parts of it that horrifies me.

It began when I was living on Capitol Hill in a house full of young Christian staffers. Some to congress, some at nonprofits. We were newly graduated, first time adults and our worlds were being exposed to new ideas, new beliefs, points and counter points. It was in that house's living room that I first ever heard the liberal Christian understanding of homosexuality. Where I first heard someone explain that the verses I had always believed said one thing may have in fact been addressing a fully different type of same sex activity that was prominent in Roman times. Of married adult men engaging in sexual encounters with young boys. Of orgies and sexual debauchery that looks nothing like the same sex couples I know today. It was the first time I was told it was okay to question the church's traditional teaching about homosexuality.

I didn't think much of the conversation, until I met my husband and one of his best friends from college (also a Christian university) came out to him. But now I had a face for the issue. This was not some theological debate. This was a friend. A follower of Jesus. A gay man. We loved him and only wanted the best for him... whatever that may be. Having a face certainly makes it harder to hold onto dogma that your heart wasn't comfortable with to begin with. Sadly though we did feel a need to keep his homosexuality a secret from my inlaws. I don't know if that was out of fear of judgment for him or fear of having an honest conversation with them.

For the most part, I felt like people should be able to do what they felt was right, for themselves and before God. Your sex life is not my business.

Until it became my business.

It was 2004. I was living in Oregon with my husband and our two sons. We had just moved to a new home, the last move we planned. We had friends and were invested in our community. We were involved in our church, even being so bold as hosting a small group Bible study in that new home. Life was good. And then Ballot Measure 36, a constitutional amendment defining the marriage of a man and a woman as the only one recognized by the state, was put on the ballot.

Now I have always known that my marriage was not in danger because of homosexual couples. I actually didn't care who got married if they loved one another and were committed to one another for the long haul. I was ready to vote no on Prop 36.

Then my pastor stood before the church and said that we needed as Christians to vote yes. We needed to affirm our conviction that marriage is between a man and a woman. We needed to stand up in our faith and speak the truth with our votes.

And I did.

I was never comfortable voting yes. I hoped it did not pass. I didn't even really agree with what my pastor said, and yet...

I was scared of breaking ranks. I was scared of being wrong.

It was one thing to be a Christian who struggled with how homosexuality fit in God's plan. I have always had a liberal bent, a grace bias, a rebellious spirit toward absolutes. But what if I was wrong. Was I willing to stake my Christianity on it?

I have been ashamed of that vote ever since.

Because while it didn't affect my marriage, that vote told thousands of loving couples in my state that they were wrong, that their love did not matter, that they did not matter - not as they were. I am horrified that I was too scared to stand by my growing convictions that the evangelical church's stance on homosexuality is wrong. That my fear of being wrong, caused me to trade grace and love for moral absolutes and peer pressure.

And then I moved to California. And I met you. And we became friends. And I heard the story of how you met your husband and how your rabbi married you with all your religious traditions, of how two young gay men were married within the Jewish community and supported and accepted and loved all the same. I saw your marriage, the one that looked so similar to mine as we griped about our men working late and never being home. As we talked of needing date nights but having trouble finding the time. As we parented our kids side by side, teaching them to love their neighbor and make good choices.

I was lucky to get a second chance. California had Proposition 8 on the ballot, another marriage is only between a man and a woman state constitutional amendment. This time I freely and vocally voted No.

We lost that vote. But in the eyes of God, you were still married because the state of California cannot invalidate your Ketubah.

Because of you, because you were my friend, I was now brave enough to stand up to those around me that pushed me to vote against my conscience, against you.

Because you were my friend. Not my gay friend. My friend.

And your marriage, your family are important to me. Very important to me.

Because you are my friend, I stand with you in praying for marriage equality. In voting for marriage equality. In speaking up when someone around me assumes I agree with them that homosexuality is a sin.

Instead I tell them your story.

I tell them about my friend who cares more for others than he does for himself. My friend who lets me invite myself over and makes me cookies and let's my kids swim in his pool. My friend who meets me for long coffees and listens and shares and laughs and sits in sadness with me. My friend who loves his husband, who loves their kids, who has created an amazing family that adds so much to my world and the community around them.

You were my friend. And it was no longer okay for me to sit silently by.

You are my friend and you helped me to be brave.

It is easy to be brave when you have people who love you and will catch you when you fall.

You make it easy for me to be brave. (Though I hope soon it is no longer brave to believe in equality and love. It just is.)

I love you!! (Even though you are a man who is not my husband. :) Remember the time we saw my friends at Peet's and it was just the two of us. Me alone having coffee with a man.)

Thank you for being my friend. Even when I wasn't worthy of your friendship.



  1. Jen, you make me cry. This is stunning and heroic and beautiful. What an amazing gift you are. These letters . . .wow.

    1. Thanks Jennifer. Moving this time made me ever more aware of all the amazing people I have gotten to know and love, you included.

  2. Wow, Jen! What an amazing letter. I read it a couple of times as I was so drawn in by your words. Your letters remind me that we need to let those we love in our lives know how we feel. This one is so touching....well said and done. Proud of you and miss you and your heart! XOXO

    1. Thanks friend! These letters help me feel close when I am so far away.

  3. This is awesome. It takes a lot of courage to own up to those times when we cave to peer pressure instead of standing for our beliefs. We've all done it, but most of us continue to hide and pretend that we have always been perfectly strong and courageous and have never let the opinions of other influence us. Kudos to you for acknowledging this!

    1. I hate admitting I caved to peer pressure, mostly because I know that I exchanged my comfort and safety of place for someone else's. Or maybe that is why I am able to admit it, because I now know personally people hurt by me.

  4. I love this, I love this, I love this, I love this, I love this.

    I identified so strongly with "Would I stake my Christianity on this?"... the fear that drove my theology for a long time. (I'm sure still does in some ways.)

    My best friend is a gay man and I can't wait to welcome the lucky babies he and his husband will raise together.

  5. One of my favorite Finding Fruit post! Miss you! XOXO

  6. Jen, every time I read this I cry...tears of joy. Your writing never ceases to inspire, amaze, and move me. Thank you. I am so blessed to call you friend! And thankful for FB, texts, and the Internet to keep in touch... :-) xoxo