Brett and I drove to Las Vegas a few weeks ago to meet up with some dear friends and former backyard neighbors from Auburn, Washington, who were in town for a volleyball competition with the team he coaches. We moved away almost two years ago after living back to back for eight years. We shared meals, kids, games, clothes, friends, laughter, tears, and religious beliefs.
I felt excitement as we made the two hour drive to see them, but there was also anxiety. Things had changed. We had changed. Since our previous visit exactly a year ago, Brett had come to the decision that the religious views that we had both grown up with did not resonate with him any longer. He had stepped away from our church. The church attendance of a couple of my kids had stopped almost completely and the others had become part-timers like me. My own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs had been swirling and battling in my head for the past few months and there were potential questions I didn’t know how to answer.
Our early dinner reservations made for a very private and intimate dinner, as most tourists like to go out when the sun has gone down and the lights of Vegas are blaring and flashing. The high backed round leather seat in our booth blocked most of the few other patrons anyways and the dim light, the brown, gold, and black decor, and the mirrored walls instantly made me think of my favorite Broadway show, “Chicago”, and of scenes from “The Sopranos”. When Brett ordered a beer my heart sped up and I held my breath a little as I watched our friends out of the corner of my eye for a reaction that never came.
I don’t remember our dinner conversation turning to religion or beliefs. It takes awhile to catch up on the lives of the eight kids we have between us and the many friends we have shared over the years. I was immediately cognizant of the familiar comfort level that we have shared with them since we first met. The laughter was just as rampant as it has always been, as the men share a similar ridiculous sense of humor and us girls share jokes of a much more dignified and classy nature. (eh hem.)
Later that night my friend and I found a couple of hours to ourselves to chat on a deeper level. It takes time to warm up to some topics and we found our groove as we sat in front of the Monte Carlo at 11pm, eating gelato. We watched couples and groups of friends, more attuned to the night life, make their way into the bustling web of sidewalks and overpasses leading to the hundreds of crowded clubs and bars on the Las Vegas strip. We still loved to people watch. We had moments of tears, laughter, and sappy looks that said, “I get it”, as we talked about some of our struggles over the past year. I found myself sharing thoughts I hadn’t been able to put into words yet, knowing that it might surprise and concern her, but feeling safe in that moment to try to sort through them out loud.
When her husband showed up to take her back to their hotel, I walked up to my room, not feeling like I had let her down with my questions and thoughts, but feeling warm and filled to the brim with acceptance and love.
The four of us met again to have lunch the next day before heading back home. The meal was light hearted and fun and instead of being full of family updates and travel logs, was dripping with dry humor and inside jokes.
He had a volleyball team to get back to and we had kids anxiously waiting at home, but as we walked to our cars the conversation took a sudden and unexpected turn to the sadness and hurt we have felt at times by comments and innuendos made by friends or family about our situation, or our character and values. Some made innocently and some not. I found myself trying to keep the tears back as I explained how it feels to hear people say, or to hear of people say, that they are worried about our kids or that they hurt for our kids. Or that they are worried about our marriage. Or to suggest that Brett must not be living his life the way he should or he would still share their faith. Or to ask questions about where things went wrong….as if things ARE wrong. I felt the anger and hurt I have tried to ignore come back to the surface as we shared some of our experiences, anger, and pain. I could feel my cheeks grow hot and my head start to pound as I relived watching our kids experience hurt, confusion, and exclusion because others weren’t happy with their dad…and possibly me.
They slowed down and then stopped and heard us out, despite being late for a team meeting. They gave us hugs and comfort and left Brett with the words, “We love you because you are you, not because of what you believe.” I saw Brett tear up as we walked away, and again later as he told me how much that meant to him.
It has been two weeks and that phrase has played over and over in my mind. “We love you because you are you, not because of what you believe.” They are not the only ones that have made us feel loved and accepted, we are fortunate to have many good people in our lives. But their words were especially right in that moment.
If this last year has taught me anything, it is that I want to be the person to say words such as those that will make someone feel that they are enough for being just who they are.