“Oh my dear!”, I thought when I walked into the Church hall to help set up. “The new volunteer looks like he could break me in half like a toothpick!” At my size, not many men intimidate me, but here was this man, tall and husky as a professional wrestler, with tattoos everywhere I could see except for his face, holding the door open for me. ”Holy……. Holy…… Holy…… What in the name of all that is good is our volunteer coordinator thinking…” (Awkward as that wording is, I honestly try very hard not to take God’s Name in vain…)
“Here, let me give you a hand with that. I’m Ryan….” he says as he offers a hand to be shaken while he grabs the box I was carrying with the other arm.
“Thank you…” I hesitate and then add, “I’m Helen.”
“You’re Bob’s wife, right? I see you in Church together. Nice guy….”
Oh good. He knows Bob. Bob won’t let anyone break me in half, even on a bad day….
“Yes. He’s a wonderful husband,” I answer. ”He is so good to me. I’m the luckiest woman I know…”. All true. No lies, though it is also true I feel the need to point that out to imply that he won’t like anyone breaking me in half… ”So how do you know my husband?”
Ah….. So he sees him most every week. Bob never mentioned a scary dude at men’s group, so Ryan must be okay.
I let my guard down, and over the weeks that follow, I get to know a gentle giant with a child-like soul, more likely to throw me over his shoulder and carry me out in an emergency (bad back be hanged) than break me in half. All those “scary” tattoos, upon closer inspection, are bible verses and symbols for the Trinity. Lord help me, if Ryan didn’t know the passwords “I know Bob”, I would have not only judged him by sight, but without even getting a good look!
Lately I hear people giving voice to my earliest thoughts of Ryan, and I get angry. “HOW DARE THEY! How dare they judge such a gentle soul! How dare they…”
Oh. How dare I call people out for having the nerve to say out loud what I had the gall to think? How dare I be angry at others for doing as I have done, and not having the blessing of an “in” to reassure them?
I don’t dare be angry, but I still can’t help being sad. This is Church. We should be better than this.
Lord, I pray, help us to become better than this… Open our hearts to become a welcoming place for all, and not just those who conform to our expectations. Help us to see all your children as our brothers and sisters. Help me especially to allow my heart to break rather than harden in anger. Give me a compassionate heart to all, including those with the same faults as me. I ask these things through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
I actually wrote the above post a year ago, but didn’t share it. I needed to step back and see if I ought to share it, but since then, I haven’t posted much else. I keep coming back to this. So I’m sharing. Ryan’s name has been changed. I hope that is enough to protect the privacy of a dear friend I wouldn’t hurt for the world. One day, at THE wedding banquet, he will be the one at a “good” table, and those of us who prejudged him will be sitting near the kitchen. (That’s okay, I’ll just be glad to be there….). He’s the sort of guy, though, who’d ask the steward if we could sit with him.