Becoming A Family

My partner and I will celebrate three years together in February.   Three years. When measured by a lifetime, that’s not a lot of time. But we are proud of this time.

This time has gone by so quickly.  We are at the place where we are no longer evaluating if a shared tomorrow is going to come, we believe, and we hope, and we pray that it is. We are committed to writing the joint story of us. We eagerly hope for three years to become 10 years, to become 30 years of a life together. We hope to spend more of our life together than we have previously shared apart–which is to say, we hope to spend the rest of our life together.

It seems like only yesterday our relationship was fueled by a seemingly endless cycle of airline tickets to steal a few days together. I would go to Texas to visit her, and she would fly to Ohio to visit me. In the space between, our relationship was sustained via text messages, e-mail, and Skype.  Thank God for Skype. For real. I’m so grateful for Skype.

For the first year of our relationship, Adrienne and I relied on Skype as a primary means of communication and togetherness. We would have web-dates. We ate meals together on Skype. We watched movies together on Skype. We confessed our hopes, and dreams, and deepest secrets to one another on Skype. Occasionally, we would have arguments on Skype.

And then in February 2016, she moved in with me. After more than a year of being together long distance, we were finally together. In real life. We were together. Every day we were together. I wasn’t scared. I wasn’t anxious. I was overjoyed at the thought that there would be no more trips to airports for drop offs and goodbyes. We quickly settled into our life together. It was comforting. Domestic. I inherited two wild and crazy Chihuahuas.  Here is a secret. Historically, I was not a “dog person.”  In fact, I hated ’em. The little ankle biters were a nuisance.  I was a cat person through and through. Cats are small and quiet and docile in their movements. They sidle up next to you gently and purr. They are not disruptive.

Adrienne’s dogs were small, and extremely hyper, but they fancied themselves the largest dogs in our neighborhood. They had Napoleon syndrome for dogs (is that a thing?) They were disruptive. They disrupted my quiet and neat and orderly world.  They were bold enough to have near death encounters with the biggest dogs in the neighborhood, and over time, something happened to me. I found their rambunctious tendencies charming.  I grew to love them as if they were my own dogs.  And then one day I realized, that these were my dogs too. We were becoming a family. We were a family. And we were happy. So happy.

Proverbs 13:12 tells us

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

From day one of our relationship, Adrienne was a tree in my life. And she brought joy into my life. She was sturdy. Protective. Offering shade and safety from a harsh world. She watched out for me. She is fiercely protective of me. She would whisper in my ear when people were being unkind to me or taking advantage of me. She reminded me who I was. Who I am.  She reminded me that I don’t negotiate my identity.  For anyone. She reminded me that being kind to others starts with being kind and compassionate to myself. If faith communities take advantage of me–that’s not kind and compassionate to myself. If others disrespect me or disrespect my gifts–that’s not kind and compassionate to myself.

And if your gifts/talents/interests/passions and pursuits don’t align with another person or another organization–sometimes it’s a kindness to bless and release people or organizations and wish them well. I am a woman. I am a pastor. I am a bisexual. I am a community leader with specific gifts to offer. I am all of these integrated things in every room that I navigate. I do not wish to negotiate them. More to the point, I refuse to negotiate them. Adrienne helps me live this boundary.  It’s not kind to demand relationships from others. For those that do not think I am a good woman or a good pastor or a good leader or wish to silence or diminish the bisexuality aspect of who I am— my compassionate offer is to bless and release. I may not be the right woman or the right pastor or the right leader for them. If people or organizations want me to be quiet or silent or invisible about my bisexuality, I will have a limited relationship with them.

It’s not kind to me to ask me to negotiate the core of who I am for the sake of preserving a relationship or fitting in with anyone or any organization. Adrienne taught me this. She is my lookout. She is my guard. She is my protector. She encouraged me to set stronger boundaries. And she still does.  She is my tree. She calls me to life—new life. She calls me to love more abundantly than I could have ever imagined.

And I was her tree. Strong. Faithful. Loyal. Protective.

When we were first dating, she confessed to me that as a woman with a disability, her deepest fear in life is that she would be rendered homeless, and helpless, and without family. That she would not just be lonely, but that she would be alone. Alone to contend with a world that is set up for able-bodied people and that doesn’t give much thought or care to those who are differently abled. She had a crippling fear that she would never be able to compete in this world with its particular conventions of beauty, education, success, and able bodied tasks.

To combat this fear, she pushed herself hard to excel in school. She believed that excelling in school would give her the tools and the earning power to stay ahead of this crippling fear. She pushed herself to get a bachelor’s degree and an education from two separate graduate programs in multiple career tracks. One of the programs sidelined her because of her cerebral palsy. But she warriored on and got a masters degree anyway. And with those degrees came a crippling six figure price tag for debt. And with her broadening self-awareness came the realization that being true to herself meant not taking a six figure job, but rather, a job in the helping profession. She was never going to have the earning power to climb what felt like a never-ending mountain of debt, or so she thought.

I thought differently. I didn’t swoop in to save her or rescue her from her debt, and I would not choose to do that. Because this hero’s journey is hers. Instead I reminded her who she was. I believed in her–in who she is, in what she’s capable of doing in this world. I used my best gifts in this world to help her brush up her resume, acquire some new leadership skills, and find a job that is a good fit for the gifts that she has. I helped her prioritize her debt and devise a plan to get herself completely out of debt. I take care of most of our monthly living expenses to empower her and free up her energy and mental focus toward the singular goal of debt reduction. And she is crushing it. We have mile markers and goal posts along the way. We are always sure to celebrate them.

I assured her that she’s not ever going to be lonely or alone again. She will not ever be homeless. She is not now, nor has she ever been powerless. Is the system unfair? Yes. Is it particularly unfair to her as a woman with a disability? Yes. Has it been unfair to her in the past? Yes. Has she lost jobs because people could not see beyond her cerebral palsy? Yes. But I saw her—that was my gift. I really saw her. And with this candle lit, I will remind her that this means that other people can see her too. I will do battle with her and for her when she is weary. I will never stop seeing her when she needs someone to help her see herself.

I will remind her that we are in the process of writing a new story. And when we beat the system, we are going to change the system and make it more fair for all. She’s going to be debt free in a few years.  Instead of being “indebted,” she will owe nothing. She’s going to save, and she’s going to invest. And then we’re going to invest in other people.

And after she reaches that zero debt goal, we are going to get married. We are going to have the wedding we’ve always wanted. It won’t be an expensive wedding,  but that being said, we’ll spare no expense on what we want for our wedding, and we will not feel the slightest bit of remorse for splurging and celebrating. We are going places. We are going to those places together.

Together we are going to give back. We are going to reach back and give back by investing in others, by offering financial coaching, cheerleading, and encouragement as we watch other people become liberated from banks and payday lenders, and student loans, and car dealers, and credit cards and the endless cycle of products and services that sing their seductive siren songs and ensnare people.

When I sit down with couples who want to get married, I always ask them a provocative question? Why?  Why marriage? Why not some other type of relationship–dating, friendship, partnership.  And I expect them to have thought about this and to have a coherent answer.  What is the thing that is uniquely calling you to this particular social arrangement we call marriage?  Is there a “why” that is bigger than your own individual wants and needs. Is there a specific sense of vocation or calling to each other and with each other? Is there something bigger than love or attraction or romance calling you to this person? Love and attraction and romance are fine–but you don’t need a marriage to have any of these things. Is there some sort of “becoming” that requires you to become together in this unique way we call marriage.

For my partner and I —our answer is that we are becoming a family. We’re writing a joint story. We’re navigating shared dreams. Ultimately we’re sharing the journey of life together.

But we’re not getting married, yet.

There’s a second important question to ask when contemplating marriage. Why now?  My partner and I know we’re headed toward marriage. We don’t question this. But we have some goals to accomplish first. Life has more to teach us about being an “us” first. We have some beloved and immediate family members that currently won’t attend our wedding and while I am not willing to wait on them forever, as a kindness to me (and to them) I’m willing to wait for a little while to see if they’ll come around. Because what I do know (and they might not know yet) is that they will regret it if their pain and their shame keeps them from celebrating my greatest joy. I don’t know if they will realize this in 3-4year time-table that I am offering (but I hope and pray that they do). And if I am right, this will have been a small price to pay on my part to see my family united for a joyous occasion. And if I am wrong, I will not regret the compassion and the generosity I’ve extended to my family. Nor will I regret moving forward with my life and following it into the next right step for Adrienne and I—marriage.

So in conclusion, It’s okay to be where you are. There’s no right age, no right length of relationship, no right time in life for two people to get married.  That’s not a thing. Grow forward from your current spot. Don’t take someone else’s path. Take your unique path. Don’t pursue someone else’s dreams. Be bold enough and courageous enough to pursue your own dreams. Don’t live someone’s else’s ideal version of your life. Claim the life that was meant for you.

When my partner and I marry, we will stand before God and the family who have gathered and we will publicly proclaim our family status. Loudly. Proudly. Joyously. Triumphantly. We will have a big party. But here’s the thing, we will be announcing to the world who we already are. We will be announcing what people have already observed over dinner at our house, and family holidays, and church, and social events with friends and peers. We have become a family—  even as we are still becoming a family. Because the truth is, we will spend the rest of our lifetime becoming a family.

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