Beach Glass Dating

Beach Glass Dating

Walking along the beach at the Lake today, it occurred to me that learning how to date post-forty has been a bit like looking for beach glass.

When I was little we used to go to North Myrtle Beach on the South Carolina coast twice a year. My mother and I would walk up and down the beach, along the shoreline, and I learned to look for shark’s teeth from her.

For years, I collected shells I liked – buckets of them, while she brought home a few black slivers of shark’s teeth.

Now I walk along the Lakeshore looking for beach glass – those small pieces of broken glass the waves have tumbled into smoothness. They come in brown, a milky white, green, and very rarely, deep blue.

It takes the same kind of effort I learned from my mother – a kind of concentration that gradually trains your eyes to notice a particular difference in the assortment of small stones that blanket the Lakeshore.

Online dating can be overwhelming (particularly when dating has meant years of famine). At first, I said yes to meeting anyone who was not a clear “No!” And that was good. I began to understand what questions I needed to ask, what kinds of things I needed to look for.

But it’s not all about knowing what you want. So often I catch a glimpse of green in the water only for a wave to cover it as quickly as it had revealed it.

It’s hard. So many times the possibilities of a promising date are unexplored because of timing and circumstances. Though of course, it’s also timing and circumstances that have revealed possibilities where I never thought to find them.

The analogy breaks down (they always do). I’m not collecting dates. I’m looking for a unique relationship with a partner.

But I am doing my best to collect the gifts the dates bring me.

I don’t mean literal gifts – the only two first dates I would consider unmitigated disasters included gifts. (Online dating tip: don’t show up to your first meeting with a copy of your self-published self-help book, and don’t spend the whole time talking about the special insight and technique you’ve developed to address every kind of emotional struggle. Book pitches do not work well as dates.)

Everyone I’ve met has given me a gift, though. Always the gift of time and conversation at the least, but most often, also the gift of something of their life and self and story.

There was the man whose long struggle with brain cancer ended in a miraculous cure. (His marriage survived the illness but not the cure, and he still longed for his wife.)

The former Benedictine Monk who decided final vows were not for him, and seemed to be making up for his decades in black with some of the most colorful business clothes I’ve seen on a man.

The black attorney who loved scuba diving and really wanted to go to seminary.

The pastor who’d started his career with the Chicago Police Department so young that his mother had to sign his gun permit, and then quit a few years shy of his retirement eligibility because his church needed him.

They each gave me something – often questions about life and what it means. Sometimes realizations. Sometimes affirmation. I hope I gave them similar gifts in return.

And while I don’t collect dates, I do collect the gifts they’ve brought me – like sparkling beach glass.


Unclobbering and Shared Stories 

Unclobbering and Shared Stories 

A friend of mine, Colby Martin, has written a book that’s about to be released. I’m proud of him, not just because of the enormous work such a project means, and not even because it’s a brave and beautiful book.

I’m proud of him most because of the life he has engaged and shaped in himself – it’s a brave and beautiful journey he has walked to be able to write this book.

Unclobber is part memoir and part exploration of the Bible’s “clobber” passages – those verses that convince believers that God condemns same sex desires and acts. When Colby came to understand those passages differently, he lost friends and the position as pastor he was called to in a conservative evangelical church.

It’s not the book about affirming my LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers that I would write, and I’m glad. While there is strong resonance between our journeys, Colby’s story is uniquely his and uniquely valuable for that.

For me, his story is most powerful in a place where it both deeply connects with and departs from my own.

Colby changed his mind and heart because of his deep commitment to be faithful to Scripture and following Jesus. He had no questions about his own sexuality, no friends or family members who were gay.

Like me, Colby didn’t come to see things differently because he had a stake in the game. I would say that we both began to look deeper because we saw that Jesus has a stake in the game.

It’s not an easy path. While there is, as Colby expresses so well, a deep peace that comes with living in alignment – mind, heart, spirit, and outward behavior all in harmony; that peace can come with deep loss.

I am fortunate that, unlike Colby, my own journey did not jeopardize my calling or the ability to support a family. But there are deep losses nonetheless. When what it looks like to be faithful changes for you, to those for whom it hasn’t changed, you appear to be unfaithful.

Following Jesus can take us down different paths, paths that can seem confusing (and worse) to those who love us. But once seen, the vision cannot be unseen. Once known, new understanding cannot be unknown.

I’m reminded of the parable Jesus told of the Pearl of Great Price. A merchant sells everything in order to gain one thing that matters most to him (a thing that would look absurdly impractical to the parable’s audience – he can’t eat it or shelter under it, and it would be difficult to sell, if he even intends that).

It’s a parable that challenges us to know what it is that we value most. That will not look the same for all of us, even those of us who follow Jesus, and that’s hard sometimes.

I’m grateful for Colby and his journey. I’m grateful for friends who have counted and paid the cost, and continue to follow as faithfully as they know how.

And as we share our stories, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that we can continue to challenge our fears and blindspots, that we can embrace a faith that is ever more just and generous.

That together we can create a world that overflows with the shalom, beauty, and love of God to all.

Blue Woad for Courage

Blue Woad for Courage

A friend of mine said once that courage is doing really scary stuff really scared. It’s the only idea of courage I’ve ever been able to relate to.

It’s not so much about sticking around when the bad stuff hits. Shock usually takes care of that for me. While my emotional brain is still reeling, the hyper-rational me steps in and takes care of things. (From what I’ve been told, I’m the most rational person you’d ever break up with.)

No, where the scary stuff comes in is the next day. When my world has shifted or shattered and I have to figure out how to live in a new reality.

That’s when just showing up is courage.

Theater people taught me a lot about showing up. When I was in high school hanging out with college theater majors, it was the costuming department I spent the most time with.

Costumes were important because they revealed the character – to the audience, yes, but first and more importantly, to the actor. And the principle bled over into everyday life. What we wore was about more than self-expression; it was self-revelation.

Showing up with who you really are, even when it gets scary.

Courage is about the willingness to be vulnerable. I almost said “the strength,” and it may be strength, but it never feels like it at the time.

It feels like showing up with all your wounds, your hurt, your vulnerabilities on display. It feels like saying, “I’m here; I’m hurting but I’m not going to hide.”

My seminary boyfriend used to complain that whenever he tried to break up with me (sometimes successfully), if he saw me the next day I would be looking particularly good just to torture him. Some of that was doubtless his penchant for regrets, and some of it was probably that I really did look particularly good.

But not for his sake. I was claiming me in the face of rejection. If he wasn’t going to value me, I certainly was.

There is a tradition that the ancient warriors of Scotland went into battle naked, their bodies painted blue with woad.

They didn’t put on armor that would protect them from assault, cover the softness of skin and muscle that bleeds.

And they didn’t camouflage themselves with colors that would help them blend into their surroundings and hide from their enemies.

No. They took one of the brightest and rarest of colors and they painted themselves with it, all their wounded and scared and vulnerable flesh. And they showed up, with all of who they were and nothing but blue woad for courage.

On my scariest days, the ones when I can either show up or lose something of myself I don’t want to live without, I show up.

I show up trembling, and yes, stubborn. I don’t put on armor – something that covers my softness with cold, hard bravado. And I don’t try to hide, blending in and unnoticeable.

I put on whatever feels most like me, with all my longing vulnerabilities and defiance and aching wounds and love.

And I show up, with nothing but blue woad for courage.

Remembering Wayne

Remembering Wayne

One of the hardest moments in my journey was the day I realized that so many of my most beloved mentors, men and women whose fingerprints are still on my life, would not be comfortable with who I am. It would cause them deep concern or even grief.

And yet it was so many of the gifts they gave me that helped bring me here. The truths they taught me, the love they showed me, the lives of faith they modeled for me.

One of those mentors died unexpectedly this week.

Wayne was my pastor after college, when I first stepped outside the walls of fundamentalism. It wasn’t a step very far in retrospect – to a conservative Southern Baptist church. But Wayne’s preaching was steeped in grace, cool water to my parched soul.

A couple of years after I’d first come to the church, through a random series of events, Wayne and I discovered that my father had been his best friend at the military boarding school they attended together for one year of high school.

Daddy died when I was three, and I had spent years trying to find the men whose names were in his high school yearbooks, longing for someone who could tell me stories and help me know him. But even after visiting the campus, I’d not managed to track any of them down.

The Sunday evening after church when Wayne realized I was my father’s daughter and learned of his death, he must have hugged me a dozen times. We both cried, and I remember him saying, “Oh, Honey! I got your Daddy into more trouble!”

That night he gave me his unlisted phone number to call if I “ever needed anything,” and a relationship began that was one of the sweetest gifts of my life.

As he travelled the country speaking in churches, Wayne would tell his friends about the discovery of “my other adopted daughter.” When they’d come to the conferences we sponsored at the church, I’d barely get myself introduced before they’d exclaim, “Oh, Jennifer! Wayne told us about you!”

Every couple of months he’d take me to lunch, and we’d talk about life and his ministry and Daddy. Wayne was the only person in my life who ever sat across a table from me and exclaimed, “That look is your daddy all over your face! He used to give me that look all the time!”

Those looks, from both Daddy and me, were in response to Wayne’s outrageous stories and antics. I’ve never met someone so irrepressible, and so fond of practical jokes. A part of Wayne never outgrew the ten year old in him, and we loved him for it.

There were stories about Wayne plotting chaos at the full-dress parades where Daddy called the orders, and about Wayne showing up for inspection, standing at attention half naked and covered in fire extinguisher foam. “I could hear that deep base chuckle your daddy couldn’t keep in down the line.”

After Wayne and I had both left Chattanooga, I’d drive down to a church in small town North Carolina for his meetings there every year. We’d sit in the pastor’s study for an hour or two before the service and catch up.

One of the last conversations I remember having with him was an affectionate tussle over the “inerrancy of Scripture.” I’d begun to question the usefulness of the term at the least, and if it really reflected what God gave us in the Bible. Wayne listened and thought with me, and held to inerrancy.

That didn’t surprise me. It also didn’t change the way I heard his message that night, continuing to persuade people that it’s God’s grace that does the work of transforming our lives.

I’ve known for years that following Jesus has taken Wayne and me down different paths – paths that sometimes look to be in conflict, even. I can’t explain that away and I won’t discount the real differences.

But Wayne taught me to trust Jesus, and he showed me a glimpse of the delight God has in us.

The delight God has in me.

I do my best to trust Jesus in both of our journeys. I still hold the gifts Wayne gave me. They’re in me every time I preach or study the Bible. I wish he could be proud of me.

Maybe today he can be.

And I cry, because I miss him.