The Love That Brought Us Here

14 years ago my husband’s mother had to be put in a nursing home due to the diminished mental capacities brought on by Alzheimer’s. There she suffered mightily until one Friday in November when she took a turn for the worse. We all hurried to her bedside. When a cart of food and beverages was wheeled in for us we got the message loud and clear: she was in her final hours.

I called our church office and told the story to the woman who picked up the phone. I did this automatically, even though our mother was not a member of our church but only an occasional visitor. Chokingly I described what her breathing was like and the way, from time to time, her eyes would open and she would look at us so pleadingly. “I know it’s Skip’s day off but I was hoping someone could help us…” I started to say.

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” the kind woman interrupted me. “Let me call him right now!”

Skip, this senior pastor of ours, was at the lumber yard at the time, elbow-deep in a construction project. Still, less than 30 minute later he walked through the door in workshirt and jeans. He saw right away how frightened we all looked.

He asked if there was anything we would like to say to this small suffering woman so dear to us all but somehow none of us could speak, paralyzed as we were by sorrow and dread.

“Well why don’t we take hands and circle her bed,” he said quietly, and so we did that.

Then he called her by her name and said something about how the love that had brought her here was the love to which she was now returning.  I can’t give you the exact words – I still have around those moments a strange sort of amnesia – but in some few hours more she did in fact return to the love that brought her here if that is indeed what we do at life’s end.

So that’s what this church of ours is like that later married our daughter and our brother to their two beloved partners, a full year before same-sex marriage became legal in our state. This church says God is still speaking and so we must not place a period where God has placed a comma. Maybe you’ll take a minute to watch this photo montage and ponder for yourself all the hope contained in a humble punctuation mark.

A Family’s a Family

A heavy news week, from the earthquake in New Zealand to that crazy despot with the bad perm firing on his own people in Libya, but then came word  that the government will no longer pursue the fight to ban same-sex marriage. I have to say that made my day.

A full year before equality in marriage became the law in my home state, the church I belong to declared that same-sex couples were more than welcome to their have nuptial ceremonies  in our sanctuary. This vote, to be what the United Church of Christ calls “Open and Affirming,” was unanimous and heartfelt, a milestone that had special meaning for David and me especially since not one but two members of our family were to be the first to take our church up on its offer. The place was packed as these four took their vows, two brides exchanging rings with each other and two grooms doing the same.

When, in time, I wrote a column about the day I received almost 100 letters, a good 97%  of which were positive. One person wrote, “When people of good will stand up for love and family, oppression will subside and love will flourish.” Another confessed that there were times when he still “found it hard to conquer [his] prejudice.  As the discussion on gay marriage went on I was in support of civil unions only. I did not want to ‘demean’ my own traditional marriage. But the more I thought about the gay people I know, including friends and family, I knew that I was not being fair.”  I still have the transcription I made of all these letters, pages and pages of them.

The photo above is from the little jewel of a documentary  A Family is a Family is a Family. I challenge you to watch this 47-second clip from it and remain unmoved. Talk about “A little child shall lead them”!

To Full Equality

This is My Independence Day Story: To Full equality, in marriage and everywhere else !

How would it be for you as a parent, if you gradually came to understand that your just-emerging-from-college daughter had fallen in love with another young woman, and six years passed and she loved her still?

How would you feel if you belonged to a church that around this time chose to examine the possibility of going on record as a place welcoming to any woman who loved a woman, to any man who loved a man, the same as it is to any person who entered there to worship?

And if one day during this 18-month-long period of study, prayer and reflection designed to let people really examine this possibility, a woman stood and expressed her concern about how “these people” might fit in, I wonder if it would surprise you to hear the man in the neighboring pew whisper to his wife, “She doesn’t realize: she’s talking about our son.” Or if it would surprise you to learn that a half-dozen other parents present that morning were likely thinking the same: “You speak of our children, onetime singers in the Junior Choir and assistants in the Sunday School; our children, whom you have known since their infancy.”

I wonder how you might then feel if, after that lengthy consideration, your church voted “Yes. Let the word go forth that we in this 150-year old community of the United Church of Christ unanimously choose to be known as an Open and Affirming congregation.”

And if you were yourself one of these parents and if your above-mentioned daughter and her beloved sought to undergo a Liturgy of Commitment here, I wonder how you would feel to have the Deacons say “Yes. By all means yes, and we are delighted. For you are our own daughter, and this one that you love is our daughter now too.”

I wonder how you might feel if, during this ceremony, your husband of 33 years with his hair now white but his manner still so gentle stood to recite a fatherly poem to the two; if he prefaced it by saying he knew he spoke too for the much-missed dad of your daughter’s beloved, gone now into death’s quiet corridor; if he then paused and looked over at this young woman where she sat beside your girl and said aloud to the very large assembly there gathered that he couldn’t be happier that his daughter had chosen her for a life partner.

I wonder: Would it not lift your heart to hear the verses he then read by poet Gail Mazur?“What you want for it you’d want for a child, “it goes. “That she take hold; that her roots find home in stony winter soil; that she take seasons in stride… “That she know, in her branchings, to seek balance. That change not frighten her, rather that change meet her embrace… that she find her place in an orchard.”

And if, in the year following, a baby should come to their house, would you not rejoice and be glad? As we rejoiced last month when we first saw this newborn with his grave and curious look, with his chest no wider than a lady’s hand, held so tenderly in their slender young arms?

I think you might, if it became personal for you in this way.

I think the realization might dawn within you that this is what is chiefly asked of us here: That we make a family. That over the long years we spend ourselves in many deeds of care and kindness, and make a place where such children as we are sent can shelter. And take root. And one day find their own place in the orchard.