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Saying Yes


Last spring, when we started looking for R.V.s for our “get free road trip” (as it would come to be known as), Juliana was armed with months of research on options, and she knew a good deal when she saw one. And we had found a good deal on a rig in Granite Falls, MN. We decided to check it out. There were other people interested in the rig as well, but because we had called first, they said they’d hold it for two days for us if we were serious. “We’re serious,” we said. (Seriously crazy, I thought to myself.) “Yes, we are interested in this home of metal, fiberglass, and yet to be fulfilled dreams. Yes. We’ll be back in two days with an R.V. inspector.” It was the end of April, and in a little under a month and a half, I would be leaving my position at First Universalist Church, ready to drive into an unknown future living full time in an R.V. Yes to all of that!

It turns out I love the “yes” that takes me/us to the edge of what we know, or think we know, or believe we have the capacity for, and then tosses us over that edge into a whole new land. I love the “yes” that demolishes the world I’ve known and hints at a world I can scarcely imagine.

When the R.V. inspector indicated this was a good rig, and I left Granite Falls behind the wheel of our motorhome, I turned to our youngest, buckled in the jackknife couch, and said, stunned at what we’d just done, “We did it. We bought an R.V. What the what?!” Saying yes to this R.V., meant we were saying yes to all that would unfold: yes to taking our kids out of school, yes to renting our our house, yes to a life on the road, yes to all of it, whatever “all of it” was! Yes!

Saying “yes” has animated my life. When I left the ministry, some of the feedback I received from people was how much they valued being around my “Yes,” and my “Ok, let’s try that!” In many ways, my ministry was about faithfully saying “Yes” to where the spirit was leading, to where love was calling us next.

Another “yes” that stands out in my memory started the Sunday after Trump’s election. Over 1500 people, twice as many as usual, were in attendance at worship. The question I spoke to that day, and the question that I believe congregants carried into the sanctuary with them, whether they knew it or not, was, “How are we to faithfully respond to this moment?” That Sunday, I drew upon the rich history of the church, including that in the 1980’s, the congregation become a Sanctuary Church, willing to house undocumented immigrants and refugees. I said we would do this again to support those most impacted by the Trump administration’s policies.

In a few short months, at a congregational meeting in February of 2017, the church unanimously voted “yes” to become a Sanctuary Congregation and a team came together to help lead this effort. Locally, dozens of faith communities began to work together, preparing a network of congregations willing to host, support, and accompanying undocumented people and families, as well as advocate for the larger policy changes needed to create a more just immigration system.

Then the call came from a local organizer: Could we host a family of four, including a small baby? Could we welcome them in 48 hours?. When I met with my co-minister and the President of the Board of Trustees, the only answer we had was “Yes, we can do this.” At the time we said yes, we could scarely imagine the cultural differences we’d encounter, or the ways we’d have to confront our own privilege and sense of knowing what would be best for this family, and let that go, or how difficult this whole process would be, but we said “yes.” We said yes, not knowing that we’d celebrate birthdays and Christmas and baptisms with this family.

And this “yes” meant a call went out to the team of congregants willing to support this ministry. “Can you come to the church right now to help prepare a space for a family?” “Yes,” they responded. And a dozen people showed up to remove the desk, filing cabinets, and hundreds and hundreds of books from my office. In just hours, my corner office, 225 square feet of space, plus a large closet with a sink (the bathroom was through a door and across the hallway), became a home, as we moved a refrigerator, two beds, a pack-and-play, a microwave, and a small table and chairs into the space.

Transformation happens all the time in a faith community, and it was stunning to watch my office – this place of pastoral care meetings, of meetings with grieving families to plan a memorial service, of meetings with a loving couple preparing for their wedding day, of gatherings with staff to plan Sunday morning worship, this place where the hardest and best parts of ministry happened – become a home. The question had been asked of all of us: “Is there room in your building, in your hearts, in your lives, for this family in need?” and we had answered: “Yes,” trusting our collective wisdom, trusting that we would have what we needed as this experience unfolded.

For over two years, we journeyed with this family, as they lived in this tiny space, a space as small or smaller than our R.V. home. And we celebrated with them as the husband got a stable job and permanent residency. With support for a down payment, they were able to purchase a home, and stopped living in the church.

As I write, we are in Yuma, Arizona, with a number of other full time R.V. families, preparing to enter Mexico. I can’t stop thinking about the family the church hosted, and how, many years ago, they worked so hard to cross the border going the other direction, to leave Mexico, in order to give themselves a shot at a better life. In making this journey, they said “yes” to risks I can scarely imagine.

While our experience choosing this life on the road is not comparable to this family, I carry this family’s experience in my heart. Saying “yes” can be dangerous, life changing, and upend the carefully arranged parts of your life. But “yes” is also an expression of love, trust, and faith. “Yes” is an expression of a deep and abiding belief that more is possible in this life than we ever imagined. Often, “yes” isn’t easy, and the way forward isn’t clear; despite that, “yes” can be life giving and soul growing as we make our way through this beautiful and troubled world.

Enjoying homemade chilaquiles for breakfast

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