Super Duper Deluxe

My Column for the Elgin Review 11.20.19

We were in the furniture store on the square after buying our first home. The salesman was showing us the washers and dryers. Wanting to be sure we could wash the fluffy comforter for our bed we were deciding between the super-duper sized drum and the super-duper-deluxe when I started laughing. My husband and the salesman, not sure what I found so funny, looked confused. Stifling my giggles, I said, “six months ago we were washing our clothes on a rock in the Zaire river and now we’re being so serious about making the right decision between super-duper and super-duper deluxe. It’s crazy!”

Being in Zaire in my mid-twenties changed me forever. Things I grew up taking for granted, like washing machines and dryers, I no longer take for granted.

The past couple warm spells I spent hours washing the windows of the parsonage. The windows are as old as I am, and the storm windows were hard to figure out, but they’re very well made, and do their job and I’m thankful for them. In Zaire, we had crank out windows, missing their cranks and there were no hardware stores to go buy more so the only way to open or close them was from the outside.  Before Zaire, I took windows for granted. I don’t anymore.

We’ve invited Mike’s girls and my brother to join us for a pre-Thanksgiving/Mike’s birthday dinner next Tuesday at our apartment in Lincoln before we head to Minneapolis to celebrate Thanksgiving with two of our sons and my cousin’s family. Glenna, our youngest, laughed thinking about me cooking a Thanksgiving meal in our little-bitty kitchen in the apartment. I remember Zaire, where we had a little-bitty electric stove with dubious wiring and nothing else and I’m thankful for the apartment kitchen.

Other experiences have given me reason not to take things for granted. A hard marriage and difficult divorce make my marriage to Mike that much sweeter. A cancer diagnosis two years after we married, makes my clean bill of health now that much sweeter. And so on.

As we close in on Thanksgiving, it’s not things like appliances and windows and functioning kitchens for which I’m most thankful, but I am thankful for them.  I’m most thankful for all the people around me, for all the love and joy and laughter that are mine.

There’s an old hymn with which I have a love-hate relationship. The melody is singsongy and becomes an ear-worm playing on a continuous loop in my head after I’ve sung it. The words and sentiment are simple:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God has done,

Count your Blessings, name them one by one,

Count your many blessings see what God has done.

(Johnson Oatman, 1897).

This Thanksgiving I’ll be counting appliances and windows and itty-bitty kitchens and a happy marriage and good health and family and friends and you, my new neighbors, among my many blessings. What and who will you not take for granted this season? What and who will you count as blessings this Thanksgiving?

You are always welcome to join us at Park Congregational United Church of Christ at 9:15 every Sunday morning to give God thanks for all the blessings of life. We’re 10 miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south.

I love hearing from you. beckyzmcneil@gmail.com

 

I’d like to get to know you

My Column for the Elgin Review June 5, 2019

“Cross Man” was a novelty to my sons. We moved back to Nebraska fifteen years ago and the boys were the perfect “drop them off at the movie theater and pick them up when the show’s over” age. Often, I’d hear more laughter and conversation in the minivan after the movie about “Cross Man” than I did about whatever movie they’d seen. “Cross Man” stationed himself on a downtown corner near the theater most weekend evenings. He held a heavy, large wooden cross, and intrusively asked passersby if they’d repented of their sins and if they knew where they would spend eternity.

I cringe a little remembering “Cross Man.” His intentions were probably pure. He must have believed he was doing God’s work. But I think he was missing the point, and caused others to miss the point, too.

Missing the point when it comes to our relationship with God is, in its essence, the very definition of “sin.” The word we translate as “sin” means “to miss the mark” like shooting an arrow and missing the target.

When Jesus was asked about the most important thing to live by, he said “there are two things, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus didn’t accost people and issue dire warnings to them about the ways they were sinning. Jesus met people where they were, just as they were and established relationships with them. Jesus spent his days loving people into relationships with God. When people were loved, they learned love, and as a result, they turned their lives around so they could live in the same kind of love they’d experienced through Jesus.

Do you remember the Bible story of the despicable little tax collector named Zacchaeus? Jesus saw him in a tree where he’d climbed to be able to see and Jesus hollered up at him. He didn’t say, “Short man, do you know where you’re spending eternity?” He didn’t demand to know if he would repent of his sins. Jesus said, “I’d like to get to know you better. How about I come to your house for dinner tonight?” It was a life-changing thing for Zacchaeus having someone of note paying attention to him. He was used to bullying and being bullied. Being seen, accepted and loved was like flipping a switch for him. By the end of his evening with Jesus, Zacchaeus was a changed man–not because Jesus convinced him of the error of his ways, but because Jesus loved him. And, because Jesus loved him, Zacchaeus was moved to love others. Which was, exactly the point of Jesus’ ministry.

Love is the power through which God draws us close to each other and close to God. Love is the way–not judgement, not dire warnings, not shame.

At Park Center United Church of Christ, it’s not that we are unaware of the ways we have “missed the mark” but, our aim, our focus, is on loving all of our neighbors and loving God.

You are always welcome at Park UCC ten miles west of Elgin and 1/2 mile south.

Maybe it’s Time to Give Church A(nother) Try

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, NE 10.23.19

Erin was three years old with a mess of loose blonde curls and a button nose sprinkled with freckles and eyes as blue as the Kentucky sky. She was the youngest worshipper at the Sulphur Christian Church when I was their pastor as a seminary student years ago. Most Sundays there were twenty of us. One morning as we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together Erin’s little voice was louder than all of ours. “Our Faaaaaatherrrr, which art in Heaaaaaaaaaaven” she said with as much sass and vinegar as any little girl could muster. Stifling giggles, the rest of us continued praying. By the time we got to “Thy kingdom come” Erin’s voice, quite loud, insistent and still sassy as all-get-out piped-up again in her thick Kentucky accent, “No Daddy, I will not behave!”

Miss Ida and Miss Gladys were Erin’s Sunday School teachers at Sulphur Christian Church until she went off to college. Her Grannie and Grandidaddy sat with her in the pew when her mother helped lead worship. Her auntie and great aunts sat a couple pews up and one sat over, across the aisle. When her aunt was married in the church, Erin was the flower girl. When Erin played in the cemetery on the hill while Grandidaddy mowed, she stood behind a tombstone carved like an open Bible on the top and preached to the cows in the pasture across the fence.

There were two little boys in the congregation, eight or nine years old to Erin’s three years. Once, when they collected the offering as they often did, they brought it forward while the congregation sang, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” When the doxology was over and the congregation bowed their heads for me to bless the offerings, these two stinkers, giggling, scooped all the money out of the plates in one swoop and pocketed it right under my nose and open eyes. “Gentlemen,” I said when the prayer was over as I held the empty plates and gave them my best young-preacher raised eyebrow look. With twinkles in every eye in that little sanctuary those goof-balls put the money back in the plates, and oh, so proud of themselves, walked down the center aisle to sit with their mothers.

Children who grow up in small, rural churches are some of the most fortunate children on the planet. They may not have big Sunday School classes or youth groups with lots of peers, but they have this beautifully woven web of people of all ages who know them, love them, pray for them and help them grow up secure knowing they truly belong somewhere.

Studies tell us children are lonely today. Statistics tell us teenagers feel more disconnected now than ever. If you have children in your life who don’t have a church they can call their own; if you don’t have a church to call your own, where you know you are welcome even on the days when you don’t want to behave, maybe it’s time to give church a(nother) try.

You’re always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ, ten miles west of Elgin on HWY 70 and ½ mile south. We worship at 9:15 every Sunday morning.  I love hearing from you. My email is beckyzmcneil@gmail.com.

I Say There is Hope

My Column for The Elgin Review, Elgin, Ne May 8, 2019

A member of a congregation I once served reached out to me. “If you get a minute, I could use some guidance. In a discussion with my sisters this weekend, all of them said the current political environment continues to push them further from church. They believe they see both Democrats and Republicans using Christianity to tear others apart. And if that’s true, then the church is complicit and is an underlying cause. They feel attending church is now more like belonging to a club, instead of a foundation. This breaks my heart. I know they aren’t alone in this thinking, and I have no idea how to respond. Do you have any thoughts to share? Is there any hope?”

How would you respond?  Are you with my friend? Do you see church as a foundation upon which to build your life? Or, are you more inclined toward her sisters’ view?

In my experience, and in reading church history and the news, church is as it has been throughout millennia, a mix, a collection of human beings joined together for a myriad of reasons, some holy and some wholly unholy. Political parties use Christianity to tear people apart, to sow seeds of dissension and to establish who’s in and who’s out. In far too many cases, Christians bow to the idols of power, influence and wealth and are complicit in the divisiveness of our day.

I’ve had moments when I’ve thought I would just walk away. “Please, don’t associate me with those kinds of Christians.”

I am, however, compelled by a vision of love cast by Jesus who healed and helped and welcomed and lifted up every kind of person toward wholeness and fuller lives. I am compelled by Jesus who empowered all his followers to go and do as he did. In the earliest days the church grew by leaps and bounds because people saw the ways Christians loved others.

I am compelled to cast my lot with the motley crew of the church because I saw a little boy named Calvin, snot nosed, dirty red face streaked by tears, embraced in a big hug by a man who’d never had kids when Calvin burst into a church meeting one evening, “My Daddy’s left and says he’s never coming back. What am I going to do?” Calvin’s dad never came back, but that congregation surrounded Calvin with so much love and so much support that he found his way.

I cast my lot with the church because there is a little congregation in the middle of corn fields where three pajama clad kids wandered in one Sunday morning and asked if anyone had anything to eat. Mom and Dad were still asleep (after a night of partying) and there wasn’t any food in the house. Ever since, the church serves Sunday breakfast to anyone, and now serves breakfast every school day, too, for the kids who wait for the school bus on the corner across the street.

The DNA of the Christian faith is caring for all our neighbors. Out of that DNA has sprung most of the hospitals around the world, most of the orphanages, most of the colleges, universities, and the public school movement, too, the Civil Rights movement here and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. From the church Habitat for Humanity was born, and Alcoholics Anonymous, too.

It seems to me that attending church is something fairly easy to opt in or out of when culture and politics make us all cranky, but being church is more challenging and far more compelling.

I say there is hope.

You are always welcome at Park Congregational United Church of Christ.

Freedom and Sore Testing

In a building made of thick stone blocks, a building that stood for centuries in the center of the mountain village hymns of praise echoed in lyrical French. Early in my stay in Le Chambon sur-Lignon, thirty three years ago when I was a beginner in the language school the only parts of the worship service that I understood were the Lord’s Prayer and the Words of Institution before Communion. As the months passed and my French improved and I became acquainted with those who had worshipped in Le Temple their whole lives long, I came to understand not only the service of worship, but the service of the worshippers.

Forty years earlier the members of that congregation, led by their pastor Andre Trocme, defied their nation’s laws and opposition in their community by secretly, quietly welcoming into their homes, into hiding and safety thousands of Jewish children fleeing in terror from the Nazi occupiers. The first child came in the night with a knock on the parsonage door, and a fleeing, frightened Jewish mother pleading, “protect my child.”

Each week in worship we prayed together, “Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation, mais délivere-nous du Mal” In English we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Some translations of the Lord’s prayer make the translation, “and lead us not into times of sore testing but deliver us from evil.”

The Nazi era was a time of sore testing for Christians in Germany and occupied countries like France. Would the Christians acquiesce to the civil and national authorities in order to keep themselves from harm, or would they take seriously the call of the Gospel to welcome the stranger, treat everyone as their neighbor, share bread and wine and hope in memory of Jesus? Would they be willing to risk their own lives in order to care for the “least of these” God’s children?  In Le Chambon, among the protestant congregation of Le Temple, their answer was bravely, faithfully to follow Jesus.

Though I have prayed all my life those familiar words that I would not have to live through a season of sore testing, I believe that season is upon us. This week even while we celebrate our freedoms and our liberty from tyranny as a nation, as a nation we are separating children from their families and locking them in camps–keeping them from the freedom they, and their parents have risked everything to gain.

This is not a matter of partisan politics, this is a matter of basic human decency, a matter that all good people of whatever ilk, but especially Christians, followers of Jesus Christ must stand against. We who pray to be delivered from evil, in times of sore testing must do everything in our power to deliver our neighbors from evil, too.

And Was It Cold? A Prayer for the very cold first Sunday after Christmas

And was it cold, Dear God, when Magi made their way across the desert plains?

And was it cold, Oh Lord, when angels sang to shepherds on rocky terrain?

And was it cold, Redeeming One, when first breath was taken by infant lips?

And was it cold, Light of all Light, when Joseph covered Mary quivering after labor long into the night?

Frigid is the cold outside today, but warm are we, in your embrace and each other’s company.

For those who make their way, exposed to weather’s whims,

For those who earn their living under tenuous conditions,

For those whose breaths and lungs and bodies are vulnerable and frail,

For those who can do only so much for ones they love,

We pray today, warmth of heart, the fire of hope, and the light of love

burning brightly,

newborn.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Transformed

It was one of those calls that comes out of the blue. A local therapist introduced herself and explained, “One of your church members, Connie Smith* has been seeing me for some time now. She asked me to call you. Would you be willing to join us for one of her therapy sessions in the near future?” When I asked what it was about, she said, “Let’s just wait until you are here to talk about that.”

The call left me curious and anxious because Connie came to the church at the invitation of a couple who had recently left the church in a huff without being honest about why they were leaving. They managed to sow seeds of dissention as they went. What kind of ugly bomb was about to be dropped at my feet? How was I about to be blamed this time for something out of my control? (I was suffering from PTCSD- post-traumatic-church-syndrome from ugliness at my prior congregation).

I’ll come back to Connie’s story but for now, I’ll let you stew momentarily, as I did, wondering (and worrying) what in the world Connie needed her minister to visit about with her therapist.

The Godsquad, the church youth group I spent my favorite hours of every week of every year I was in Junior and Senior High with, used to belt out these words from scripture with far greater enthusiasm than musicality:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and anyone who loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He who loveth not, (clap, clap, clap) knoweth not God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another first John four seven and eight…” Repeat ad nauseum ad infinitum.

When I left the Godsquad for college, though I was raised in a mainline congregation, I was what anyone would describe as a religious conservative. Heavily influenced by my Grandma Zahller, who, due to Multiple Sclerosis lived in an apartment in our basement, my deep faith, nurtured and nourished at church, included a lot of Grandma’s legalism.

Over time, with serious study of the Bible, nurturing relationships with professors and classmates and eventually colleagues; with travel, the accumulation of life experiences, and ongoing reflection and introspection my mind was changed on many things.  God kept working at prying my heart open wider and wider to see God’s love revealed in folks I previously would have considered outside of God’s grace.

In the midst of the conflict and ugliness in the congregation I served before serving Connie’s congregation, I was overtaken by the question, “What would happen if a church decided to make loving one another and all the ‘others’ beyond it, its highest aim? What would happen if I, as a pastor, made love my mantra?”

When I interviewed with the congregation where Connie became a member, I was exhausted and dispirited from the dysfunction and conflict in my current congregation coupled with my own heartbreak swirling around my recent divorce. Connie’s congregation too, had been through a heartbreaking season of divisiveness. The search committee interviewing me for the job asked, “What about gay people? What about gay marriage? Would you perform one?”

I told the story about my own journey to a broader and more inclusive faith. I told the story of my respected colleague and friend whose faith was palpable and whose pastoral skills and love for God were contagious. I shared how that colleague coming out to me was the beginning of my transformation. I told them about reading Mel White’s memoir, Stranger at the Gate (Penguin Publishing Group, 1995), and how it helped me sort through the Biblical and theological baggage I had carried with me over the years.  I told them I had never officiated a gay marriage or commitment ceremony, but was ready and happily willing to do so. I also told them, “I understand this is still a controversial issue and this congregation has just been through hell. I understand you simply want and need some time to heal. I also understand that God’s love extends to all God’s children and it’s not our place to erect barriers to anyone who wants to share that love of God in full fellowship with us. So here’s what I’ll tell you, I will pray that God does not bring to this congregation anyone whom we are not yet ready to welcome with arms wide open in the inexhaustible love of God. I’ll pray that I will not be asked to officiate any marriage here until this congregation can fully share the couple’s joy.”

I was called to be the church’s pastor. Time passed, conversations among the elders and others, Bible studies etc. took place and when Peg and Nora came to worship on the recommendation of a minister in the town from which they recently moved, our congregation welcomed them with arms wide open. It wasn’t long before both held positions of leadership and service. They loved God and God’s people. That they were in love with each other was never an issue, in fact, their love increased our congregation’s love, because love is like that—it multiplies and expands. Love is love is love.

Later on, talking with a friend about how over time my mind had been changed and God had extended my understanding of the breadth and inclusivity of God’s love, I admitted I still struggled with the whole idea of people being transgender. “I just don’t get it.” I said. “I have a hard time seeing it as somehow, ‘normal.’” I told her I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I  knew I needed more understanding so when the time came to be welcoming and loving like God is welcoming and loving I’d be completely ready. I told her a classmate’s handsome husband had transitioned a few years earlier and I had been “weirded-out” by it. My friend said she’d loan a book to me. Jennifer Boylan’s 2003 memoir, She’s Not There: a Life in Two Genders (Broadway/Doubleday/RandomHouse) did for me part of what Mel White’s story did when I was working on coming to a better understanding of homosexuality.

Boylan’s book was on the back seat of my car when I pulled into the parking lot at Connie’s therapist’s office. I’d been driving around with it on my back seat for three or four weeks because I kept forgetting to return it after I finished reading it.

“Connie has something she wants you to know about her but she’s afraid to tell you because when she has told other pastors in other churches she has been ostracized and not allowed to remain in the church.”  I turned to Connie, thinking, pedophile? Murderer? Former felon? I said, “Connie, I don’t know what you’re about to tell me, but I promise you, whatever you tell me will not limit God’s love for you, nor will it limit your welcome in our congregation.” Connie, looking very nervous asked her therapist to tell me.

“Connie is transgender.”

So, maybe you saw this coming. I absolutely, sure as shootin’ at the time did not.

“I will pray that God does not bring to this congregation anyone whom we are not yet ready to welcome with arms wide open in the love of God.” Isn’t that just like God to take such good care of Connie that God prepared me just in time to be able to say, without hesitation, “Oh! Connie, God loves you so much.  You are loved and you are welcome. You are part of our congregation. You are God’s beloved daughter and I am glad to be your pastor.”

What would happen if we were to expend our Christian energy loving others extravagantly like God loves? What would happen if we quit squandering our Christian energy and tarnishing Jesus’ good name by narrowly drawing lines and boxes around who’s in and who’s out of God’s grace? What would happen in this weary, broken and fragmented world if we just let go and let God’s love fill us and flow through us, like it flowed through Jesus who opened his heart, his life, his arms wide for all of us?

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is love is love is of God.

 

 

 

*I change names and some details to protect confidentiality.

Wait

I met a church member for lunch in mid-town today. She waited patiently while the parking meter and I conferred. Relieved as I was not to need change, which I’d forgotten, I got flustered when I couldn’t find the slot for entering my debit card in the new-fangled meter I parked behind. When I finally figured it out, inserted my card and removed it quickly as instructed on the little screen, the screen flashed back at me, “Wait.” “Wait.” “Wait.” “Wait.” “Wait.” “Wait.” “Wait.”

There were way too many waits. Before long my lunch companion and I had the giggles.

Waiting doesn’t always evoke giggles. Waiting can be hard.

Waiting for an eighteen year old who thinks she’s grown up already to grow up already,

Waiting for an addicted sibling to hit bottom,

Waiting for the divorce process to run its’ course,

Waiting for the results from the biopsy,

Waiting to hear back from the interview,

Waiting can be hard.

My birth mother waited 25 years hoping one day she could tell me she loved me and explain why she placed me for adoption. All she could do back then was wait. Adoption laws have changed and the internet has made virtually obsolete old state laws about confidentiality in closed adoptions.  But back then, all she could do was wait. Wait to see if I would contact the adoption agency looking for information.

When I looked it was for medical information. Thinking we might try to start our family while serving in Zaire, it seemed prudent to find out whatever I could about my family history. Maybe I had sisters who had already borne children. Maybe there were risks and complications I should be aware of before blithely becoming pregnant at the equator with limited medical care.

The social worker sent a form. “On this page please write about yourself. We have learned that birth parents are more willing to share information when they know something about the adopted adult seeking information.” What was I supposed to write? One page, no identifying information. I wrote my whole life story in three paragraphs and sent it by air-mail from France where we were in language school. Then I waited. Two weeks for the letter to make it to Omaha. At least two weeks to get a return letter from the social worker. When it came, all the medical information was updated. It had not been difficult to find my birth mom and she was happy to provide the requested information.  At the end of the form was a note, “your birth mother would like to make contact with you. Are you willing to exchange letters, through our agency, without sharing any identifying information? If so, we can begin the process even as you file the appropriate forms with the Secretary of State.”

Several weeks later our mailbox at Language School was filled with a fat manila envelope, filled with a long letter and many, many photos of people, “your Aunt Alice,” “your Aunt Ruth” “your Grandma” “your sister” “your sister” (but, none of my aunts were named Alice and my Aunt Ruth looked nothing like the woman in that photo and my beloved grandmothers had both died, and I had brothers, not sisters). I was disoriented by suddenly having a whole other family besides my own whom I had known all my life.

We had to wait a long while to meet each other and then to become more than strangers to each other. I was overwhelmed. I needed time. My birth mother was patient with me. She waited until I was ready to know her better.

Waiting isn’t easy, but, so many times in life we simply have to wait. We can’t control other people. We can’t control all the circumstances and moving pieces of our lives intersecting with the lives of others. Paul, the Apostle wrote to the Romans, “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord.” Sometimes it takes God awhile to get all the pieces lined up for that good to come to pass. Sometimes, when we get in too big a hurry, we throw monkey wrenches into the ways God is working. Getting impatient can backfire on us.

Sometimes I try to fix things, resolve things, and settle things before it’s time. I was working on doing just that about something earlier this summer when, on a Sunday in front of the whole congregation, while singing our closing hymn in church, the heavens opened and I heard the trumpets sound as a bright light shined down on me in the sanctuary. (Ok. It wasn’t like that at all). It was just the third verse of an oldie-moldy hymn spoke to me as if directly from God’s mouth to my ears. We were singing  “Take Time to Be Holy” when these words were God’s words directly to me, “Take time to be holy, let him be thy guide, and run not before him, whatever betide; in joy or in sorrow, still follow they Lord. And, looking to Jesus, still trust in his word.” ( W.D. Longstaff, 1882).

And run not before him… Sometimes the word of the day is “wait.” “Wait,” “Wait.” “Wait.” “Wait.”

Folding up a blanket

Folding up a blanket. She was folding up a blanket. It’s such a normal thing to do I almost didn’t register what she was doing. I’d just done it myself a couple days earlier.

Last week I stayed several nights with my son and his love in their apartment. Adam cleared amplifiers and instruments out of his small music room to make room for an air mattress for me. On his desk, next to a happy red lamp was a “welcome Mom” note and a little painted nativity inside a gourd- a welcome gift for me.  I went to the Twin Cities for a quick, unplanned get-away when a weekend retreat for the church was cancelled at the last minute. The cancellation freed up my week and gave me time to rest my world-weary soul before fall programing begins in earnest at the church.

On Friday morning I folded up the blankets Adam and Elektra gave me to use, and I put them away in their living room. I rolled up my sheets and pillow cases and pillows.  Pulling the plug on the queen-sized air mattress, I was happy. It served me well enough, but it was a lot lower to the ground than I remembered it being when I used it last five years ago. As I put away my temporary bedroom I looked forward to sharing a king-sized bed at the Hampton Inn with Mike that night after he flew in for the weekend. The air mattress and pump, sheets, pillows and pillow cases all fit nicely in one big rectangular bag that I tossed into the trunk of my car before spending the day exploring the city with a cousin, also world-weary, whom I hadn’t seen in too long.

Two concerts, two art exhibits, sight-seeing, a little shopping (I had never been to IKEA before), long walks drinking in early autumn beauty, plenty of good food, time to finish a good book uninterrupted, time to repair some broken jewelry and to patch the elbows of a favorite jacket, sitting Zen meditation with Adam one morning in a beautiful Zen center (a first for me), a blazing fire pit on a beautiful evening, time alone, time with both Minneapolis offspring-sons, time to walk relaxed and hand-in-hand with Mike; it all added up to a wonderfully refreshing week.

Yesterday morning Mike and I didn’t make the bed, we just closed the door behind us and checked out of that Hampton Inn and put our bags in the trunk of my car. Instead of hopping on the freeway we took the longer, but more scenic, route through the city to wend our way to worship and later brunch with Jackson before hitting the highway for home.

Crossing town, we were stopped at a light when to my left I saw the young girl folding up a blanket. She was maybe 13 or 14. She had a long black pony tail. She and a young man were on the cement stoop in front of a business. The porch was small, maybe eight feet long and four feet wide across the front of the building. Another woman, just a little older looking, with a pock-marked face and her own long black ponytail stepped to the stop-light before waiting there for the others to join her.

The young girl was folding up a blanket. Maybe I wouldn’t even have noticed her if I hadn’t just folded up my own temporary bed two mornings earlier. I looked at them for several seconds before it registered with me, they slept on that stoop! Her blanket, folded first into thirds and then neatly rolled into a tight tube, would go with her wherever she was going to spend the day. They had no king-sized bed waiting for them at home, no temporary room for the night, not even an air mattress to soften that hard cement stoop. No cheerful red bedside lamp to read by late into the night. No window shades to draw to keep out lights from passing cars and the stares of strangers.

Our traffic light turned green and we drove away.

The girl folding her blanket went with me to worship. She was there when we prayed and when we communed. She, along with my suitcase and other bags, came home with me, too. She’s here, on my mind and in my heart. She was folding a blanket and it looked like a perfectly normal thing for her to do.

But, how can it be normal for kids to be homeless, sleeping on cement stoops and folding their blankets there the next morning for all the world, for tourists like me, to drive by and to see?

When did I see you homeless and pass you by, Jesus?

When did I see you without a bed and not offer you so much as the air-mattress packed in the trunk of my car as we drove by?

I left home for a few days because I was world-weary and I came home feeling more whole but carrying a kid with a long black ponytail folding a blanket.

We can’t continue to drive by and let that be normal, can we?

At Last

When I climb into bed at night, I giggle. I’ve been giggling as I nestle under the sheets and onto my pillows for the past six and a half years and all indications are, the giggle isn’t going away. Mike noticed it first. “Do you realize you giggle when you crawl into bed next to me?” “Hmm! I guess I do” I agreed.

The giggle is pure delight. Mike is “at last this is flesh of my flesh” to me. Mike is home and my safest place. Mike is my other half. Seeing Mike makes me grin and I can’t help it. Between us, there’s a magnetic field of some sort—drawing us toward each other. We “met” on Match.com. The first time we met for coffee was two months, a whole lot of e-mails and phone calls later. One of my first thoughts when I sat across from him made me blush, Becky! I said, in my head with the inflection my mother might have used when slightly incredulous and to set me straight, what are you thinking? I was thinking, I’d like to run my fingers through his hair right there at his temples.

His eyes are gentle and kind and…they twinkle and the hair at his temples is a gorgeous gray, highlighting his smiling eyes.

We both lived a long time before we found each other.

Mike was married before. His marriage lasted twenty-two years and produced three great kids. He and his ex-wife eventually had different priorities and they were divorced. The failure of his marriage was painful. Mike’s a family man. In fact, he moved out of the family home into an apartment just a block away so he could continue to be a very present father for the two of his children still at home. Sad, angry, lonely he built a new life for himself. When we met he’d been divorced for three years, his marriage had been over except on paper and in living arrangements for several more than that.

I was married before. I was married for nineteen years and our marriage produced three great kids. My ex-husband struggled with mental health issues. For many years he blamed his depression and struggles on external stresses, circumstances and people. Then, I started to get more of the blame. I was sad and lonely and one of my wisest, dearest friends guessed it. She asked “are you happy?” I told her “no, I’m just figuring it out one day at a time. This is the ‘for worse’ of the ‘for better for worse’ parts of the vows.” She said she couldn’t do it. She said she was crazy about her husband and he was crazy about her. I said “all marriages take work”. She said, “and some simply don’t work.” I told her mine was working just fine (even though it wasn’t).

A few months later a neighbor down the street sat me down to tell me she was concerned about my kids. “I don’t think you know what’s happening when you’re away at the church.” I didn’t know. She described a conversation she overheard putting away laundry in the hall while my son and her son and another neighbor boy were hanging out in her son’s room. The anger that had been turned on me was being turned on my children, too.

The divorce was pretty hellish. I don’t know many people who make it through divorce unscathed, we sure didn’t. So, when all the dust settled, and I eventually had full-custody of the kids, I moved home to Nebraska to be near my aging parents and one of my brothers. They helped me and the boys heal, and my brother and I helped our parents navigate some cruel blows from aging.

For eight years I said I was wearing a hat with three bills. Above one it said, “Mom” above another it said, “Daughter” and above the third it said, “Minister.” I just spun the hat around my head depending on the moment. Nowhere on the hat was there room for anything that said, simply, “Becky.”

A bit of Becky time eventually came. My elder two graduated from high school, my youngest was a high school junior, my mother “graduated” too.  And that’s when Mike and I met.

I didn’t know what was missing in my life until I met Mike. I had no idea what marriage could really be even though I tried my darndest to make a good marriage the first go around. There are other stories to be told about divorcing and dealing with guilt and the fact that all of us “miss the mark” all of us fall short in different ways at different times in life. We can wrestle later with thoughts about divorce and sin and forgiveness and the Bible and making sense out of what ancient, yet still living documents teach us about God’s will.

But, I can say this for sure. Mike is a gift to me from God. Of that I have absolutely no doubt.

Mike and I are wholly married to each other in the holy way God imagined and dreamed for all God’s children. Genesis says God looked on God’s very good creation and realized something not yet perfected, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” said God. And God fashioned another human just perfect for the first. Flesh of each other’s flesh, bone of each other’s bone.

All of this story brings me closer to the point I want to make.

Mike and I have six young adult children. What I want desperately for each of them is that they find someone fashioned just right for them to journey with through life. I want each of them to dance with delight because they are so well loved and to find the embrace of one with whom they know they are “home.” One who, at last, is flesh of their flesh. I want them to shiver with the pleasures of intimacy and break into grins when their special other turns the corner. I want them to have that someone they trust and can count on when cancer strikes, when stress is high. I want them to giggle when they climb into bed next to each other even when they are growing old.

I want that for each of our six children and for you and for your children and our neighbors and for our neighbor’s children. And here’s the kicker–one of our kids is gay and that doesn’t change one bit my hopes and prayers and dreams–they are the same for all six of our kids. I want them to know, if they want to know, I want them to really know love. I want them not to have to live life alone. And not to have to pretend to be who they aren’t because there isn’t anything more lonely than that. I don’t care if the one my kid loves is he, she or they. I want them to find the one for whom they say, “at last.”

Once upon a time and even now, there are those so caught up in religious rules and regulations they would deny the holiness of the love Mike and I share because we were both married before. And right now, this very week when there’s so much hurt and so much heart ache and sorrow out there and each of us needs another to shore us up and help us find home, this very week there are religious zealots who have written a heinous and ugly declaration denying the holiness of love to those who are LGBTQ+.

To them I say, Stop it already! God’s love is bigger than your limited imaginations.

And to God I say, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for second chances. Thank you for the gift of my Mike. Thank you that as soon as I finish writing and click “publish” I will go upstairs and climb into bed and giggle as I nestle under the sheets and onto my pillows and next to my already sleeping sweet husband.

Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you.