Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Different Kind of Pride

Settled in my hotel room in Orlando, Florida, where I am staying to work for Nancy Larson Science at a homeschool convention, I finally have a little quiet time to catch up on blogging.

I have been debating how to present this post for the past few days, wondering how best to share what we did all the while knowing there are many you read who will find this A) Offensive, B) Surprising (Though if you have read long enough, you shouldn't be surprised), C) Controversial, D) And you will worry about our children's souls.  I am going to politely ask that you keep your comments to yourself if you feel a need to argue, prove a point, or batter me with a Bible.  It won't make a difference, everyone has already heard all the arguments over and over again, ad infinitum, and we will just have to agree to disagree...and even if I feel the need to not post a comment because of its tone (something I don't normally do),  I still love you! :-)

I was reading a Kindle book on my flight out here today, and as usual, God always nudges us in the specific directions we are to go.  The book was by a famous mom blogger who blogs over at . Glennon Doyle Melton's book, "Carry On, Warrior" was a great read with brief, powerful essays about the life of a woman who isn't perfect, is and has been broken, and finds God in the in-between spaces.  I never follow blogs much, as I don't have time, but had read a post or two of hers before and enjoyed them, so I thought the book would make good plane time reading.  While reading, I found myself nodding my head vigorously, and highlighting quotes I liked.  Some of them were perfectly suited to this blog post, and I will share.

So, to get back to why you might consider what I am about to share so controversial, and soul damaging...

This weekend, the kids and I (the ones who were NOT having a wonderful time rafting!) decided we wanted to participate in something important to us.  We live in a very rural area, one in which many people are targeted for being different in any way.  You all have heard me describe what happens to us on an almost daily basis...the stares, the comments, the disbelief that we actually belong together, and I am not traipsing around town with my foreign exchange group.  (Happened again this week at Walmart, when the clerk asked who all was visiting for summer vacation...::Sigh:::).

Imagine being gay in our community.  Imagine being transgendered in our community.  Imagine that you can never be who you are, and not feel threatened...for real.  That is the life of the LGBTQ folks in our neck of the woods.

When the opportunity arose for our church to walk in the Gay Pride parade in neighboring Grand Junction, many of us decided it was important for our LGBTQ neighbors to know that they too, are beloved children of God, just as we all are.  That they too, are precious.

As the conversation at church first started about this, I came home and spoke directly with the kids.  I wanted them to know that just because mom is passionate about an issue, that is ME...and they were absolutely free to feel differently, and to decline to participate.  In our family, there is never any pressure to conform, and in fact, there is always encouragement to voice your own opinion.  Anyone who knows us in real life could vouch for the fact that our kids are absolutely NOT little "mini me's", nor are they ever pressured to believe in a particular way.  They live with parents who often differ in their political and theological perspectives, and thus are exposed on a daily basis to diversity of opinion.  We want them to own their faith, to own their political beliefs, and to act on them...whatever they may be.  Dominick and I both feel that they can only truly own it, if they work with it, struggle with it, ponder it, and then claim it as their own after doing so.  Mimicking mom and dad's belief systems often leads to having to eventually revisit everything you believe to weigh it and see what is yours, and what really isn't.  We'd prefer it if they do that work now, rather than having to do it at 18, or 25, or 40.  They will surely revise it over time, we know this, but that is not the same as having to throw out everything you thought you knew when you discover that all you have held true is really someone else's idea of truth.

I guess, we just trust God and our kids to work it out themselves, and we respect that process.

Sitting around the table, I explained that some of the adults from our church felt a little uncomfortable with a public demonstration, and would not be participating, and that there might be relatively few of us marching in the parade.  I told them that they might be subject to ridicule, to nastiness, to people "booing", and to the judgment of others.

"This may be something you don't want to do at all, or maybe want to do when you are older.  However, you are all old enough to make this call yourself, and it is not mine or dad's to make.  I'll answer any questions you have, and you know we will always respect your opinions.  Dad is not comfortable doing this, I feel passionately about it and always have, so I am going to march.  I don't want you left out and treated like little kids, but I also don't want to have you feeling any pressure at all about this."  I then sat and waited.

That wait was a total of about .25 seconds.

"I absolutely want to go, Mom.  I don't care if we are the only ones.  How gay people are treated is wrong, and we need to help change that."  Angela, our budding activist said with her usual righteous indignation felt at any slight of others.

Kenny chimed in quickly, "We have too many gay friends who need someone to speak for them.  Like what happened with Martin Luther King, things only changed when people who weren't black decided it wasn't right anymore and started helping the fight.  I'm totally going."

Matthew and Olesya, the quiet ones, nodded in assent.  I asked them how they really felt, that they needed to talk about it openly.

 Olesya said, "Oh, I'm going.  I wish everyone would go.  I'll make some signs!  Gay people need to know they are loved, too."

Matthew reminded me, "Mom, we already have practice being boo'd at.  Remember the parade for the Democrat candidate we were working for?  Lots of people yelled bad things at us because everyone here is so conservative and doesn't like Democrats.  Maybe God was just letting us try it on for size, to do something harder.  We already practiced it, and it wasn't a big deal.  Some people just haven't practiced being different, standing out or being unpopular.  We know it isn't that big of a deal, so we totally need to do it."

But Joshua...oh man, is that little guy no longer a little guy.  He has known who he is and what he believes in since he was tiny, and his vehemence was a surprise to all of us around the table that afternoon.  Our usually soft spoken, mild mannered child became someone very different as he spoke last, and he was startlingly direct about it. "What is wrong with people?", he asked indignantly.  "Why does anyone think it is OK to hate someone? What does it matter who they sleep with?  Just because someone else thinks it is wrong, doesn't necessarily make it wrong.  It's just their opinion.  But it is NEVER wrong to hate someone else, especially when it has nothing to do with you in the first place.  People need to just get over it." (Hard not to smile at my Little Libertarian, who declared himself that long ago and continues to prove he really IS Libertarian leaning.  How can a then-9 year old kid know that about himself?).  "I'll be there, for sure, and forget who gets mad at us or hates us.  It's worth it...our friends are worth it."

And I have never, ever been as proud of our children, who are willing to take a stand even if it means being ridiculed.  Even Dominick, who was uncomfortable about it for himself, was proud of the kids.

And you may be uncomfortable with it, my readers.  Sorry, it is too important to brush under the rug.  I will not get into a theological/Scriptural debate about it, that's a "no win" situation and I refuse to engage in that kind of commentary...I care too much about all of you to do that, those who might agree as well as those who would emphatically disagree with me.  I know this is an issue that is dividing our country, and is hotly argued about in Christian circles, with those who feel as I do being called "not a real Christian".  I don't feel a need to defend my outward actions or my inner beliefs.  All I will say, is that God calls each of us to do different things in the world, and creates a burning in our hearts over a wide variety of circumstances and issues.  Each is called to do something different.  Most importantly, God also loves all, and if you are a Christian, you can't deny that statement.

I can not sit by and watch more young people...12, 13, and 14 year old kids... killing themselves because they have been bullied, and feel hated and unaccepted.  I can not see dear friends of mine at risk, as one's life recently was, simply because of who they love.  I can not see kids thrown on the street and being disowned because they don't fit the mold and their parents reject them...assuring most of the time a life of poverty and homelessness for them unless someone steps in and assists them.

Mostly though, I can NOT sit back and witness anyone walking through this world alone and unloved, be they gay or makes no difference...without making an attempt to try and put my arm around them and join them in their pain.  I may not always understand it, but if someone is alone in my presence...Shame.On.Me.

I have personally had too many encounters with the suffering that comes with those who are cast aside as "unworthy", and they ARE worthy.

There was Susie and Linda, the lesbian couple who bowled in the league my mom and I were in when I was in my twenties. Of course they were not "out" then, but everyone suspected and NO ONE would be on their team.  My mom and I looked at one another, and immediately offered to be their teammates.  Loved my mom for that act of courage and inspiration which still leads me today.  We had 4 or 5 wonderful seasons with these women, who were not "that lesbian couple" to us, but were simply our friends.  Ridiculous, as if "Gay" was some sort of viral infection you could catch from touching a bowling ball.  The behavior of others was appalling, and cruel.

When I was 16, there was Mike, who I worked with in the early 80's on my first job, who was terrified the moment I walked in the back storeroom to stumble upon him in the act of a quick goodbye peck on the cheek with his boyfriend.  The kindest, most gentlemanly young man anyone would want to meet stood there in shock and terror...because of a kiss.  I smiled and told his boyfriend, "See ya later!" and whispered to Mike as I passed by, "It's no big deal to me, you don't have to worry."  I later learned his boyfriend died of AIDS, devastating Mike.  No, his boyfriend didn't deserve AIDS, and it was NOT a punishment from God...

There was the friend of Matt's when he was young, whose parents suspected even at 3 years old that he might be gay, and the mother who trembled as she gathered the courage one afternoon and tested the waters with actually saying it out loud for the first time to me.  She was petrified that her family would one day be torn apart, if it were true, because her husband would most assuredly disown his only child.  I know she still lives in fear of that possibility, 11 years later.

There is someone special in our life who recently came out, and it took an enormous amount of courage to do so, as in this case it would surprise many.  This person could only do so because it was safe, and they knew that, from those closest, there would be no rebuff, no scorn...only acceptance and gladness that this person could finally now live authentically being who they are.

And there are so many more, walking through a darkness many of us can not imagine, feeling perpetual shame for how God created them, willing themselves to be different yet knowing ultimately it will be impossible.  If we, as Christians, can not shine God's light in the darkest corners of these precious hearts, walking with them and escorting them into the light that is God's love...then how can we proclaim the Gospel as ours?

More importantly, religion aside, how can we as decent human beings treat anyone, for any reason, as "less than"?  Privilege that comes from being part of the majority, that is how.  As Josh told me in further conversation, "If anyone knows what it is like to be in the minority mom, we do!  We homeschool, we are a family made up of people from different places, we are a bigger family, we are weird in our own way...we are TOTALLY a minority, so we know what it feels like sometimes."

Reading on the plane this afternoon, I loved the quote from Glennon's book:

"The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeteria while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative branches and sitcom one-liners."  She goes on to add, "So how is any of this surprising?  It's quite predictable, actually. It's trickle-down cruelty."

It is important to Dominick and I that we don't teach the kids "tolerance".  That is such a non-Jesus-y word to me. "Tolerance" is not how I understand Jesus' commandment to "Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, everyone will know you are my disciples..."  That sounds a lot stronger than mere tolerance to me.

I think the quote attributed to Mother Theresa best explains my perspective, "When we judge people, we have no time to love them."

I guess that is what we are trying to teach our children, in a community where tolerance is zero, where we actually had a hate crime a few years back where a young gay man was murdered.  Love means LOVE, not tolerance...there is a wide gulf between the two.

So, after all that, here are some photos of the kids, doing what they feel led by God to do...and doing it enthusiastically, I might add, even if Joshie-and-Olesya-less because at the last minute they had a rafting trip date changed.  I was there, too, walking in the parade but also behind the lens.  Kudos to Dominick for also being there on the sidelines to assist and support his family even in our differing perspectives!:

Our Pastor, Karen Winkel, who is a light to many...including us!

Excitedly preparing to march!  

Our denomination's tagline, "God is still speaking...", is one thing that drew me into a United Church of Christ sanctuary.  I don't believe God has ever stopped speaking!

The boys with Pastor Brenda Brown, who was their camp counselor a few years back.

I couldn't help but think that it is these hands...these very hands that already are 
changing the world for others.  
Hands that haul boxes, and stock food at the Food Pantry.  
Hands that serve the homeless at our local shelter every other month.
 Hands that clean up highways.
 Hands that are offered in service to those they know and love.  
Hands that will continue to grow in size and tenderness.

Proudly standing on the side of love!

And the youngest shall lead them...the boys leading our church group, 
moving forward confidently, reflecting their understanding that Love Wins...
but only if they are willing to take a risk.

While we were being all "social justice-y", Joshua and Olesya were on an awesome overnight rafting trip with a family friend.  Todd took Matthew and Angela last year, and this year he wanted to get in a trip for everyone else.  Kenny lost the coin toss, and will have to wait :-)  We are so grateful to Todd for taking the kids on an adventure we could never provide them.  It gives them a chance to challenge themselves, as well as enjoy something very traditionally "Colorado" with someone whose concerns about safety are top notch, so we can feel comfortable with it.  Here are a few photos from their Raft-O-Rama:

Luxury River Rafting...with better food than mom cooks!

The boys...little Lewis and Clarks!
Yes...we do live in the most beautiful area of the United States!!!

Aaaannnddd...Olesya doesn't have her glasses on because she lost them on the trip 
when she fell out of the boat!  All mom's fault because I was supposed to get her one of those bands to hold them on, couldn't find one, and said, "Don't worry, what are the odds?"

I ought to know better, it is 2014, The Year of Living Dangerously for the LaJoys!

Olesya and Joshua paddling in the kayak.  
They all took turns and Josh told me that he and Luca did 11 miles by themselves!

And here are some shots from Angela and Matthew's trip last year, that I forgot to post, but are too cool not to post now that I found them!

Love the red rock!

Isn't this shot awesome??  See why I had to share it, even if it was old?

Such interesting formations.

Time to say goodnight, I have a big weekend ahead!


Jane said...

Fantastic post. Thank you for writing so clearly and so well on such an important subject. Hurrah for your church. God is still speaking, listening is sometimes very hard, but I am trying. Hope Florida is fun as well as work.

Molly said...

Cindy, it's only 7:30 in the morning and you've already made me cry some wonderfully happy tears. Thank you for this post, thank you for what you do, thank you. Love wins!

Anonymous said...

You make the world a kinder, gentler place. Thank you.

Diane in Chicago said...

I love how you express yourself, Cindy. More importantly, I love what you have to say.

schnitzelbank said...

Good work, Mom! You are helping your kids learn firsthand about what civil rights are all about!

Anonymous said...

Perfectly stated - Love, not just tolerance.

Diane said...

New reader. LOVE you already! Perfect post.

Anna said...

Perfect. Beautiful post. ( great photos too!!) my how the children have frown!! Young adults now.