When asked “What are you good at?” the prostitute told the pastor “I’m really good with people…”

Sometimes I’m surprised by the dumb things people say.  Sometimes those things come out of my mouth.

This woman came to see me because she had to do community service for the court system. I asked her what her crime was and she told me “prostitution.”  Because I wanted to figure out what we could have her do around the church, before I could stop myself I found myself asking her “so, what are you good at?”  Her reply: “I’m really good with people.”

We put her to work providing hospitality to people who came to the building.  And she was really good at it!

Mike Mather

I love the way Mike tells stories – particularly when they help drive a point home with listeners. I wish I had 20% of his long-term memory and recall of details. But, I digress…

Mike gets some great questions. And some surprisingly dumb ones. But he generally finds a way to bring the story back around…

I love when he tells this story. Because it’s my story. But more importantly, it demonstrates in action how people I’ve come to call “neighbors” practice seeing people for who they really are – behind the stereotypes, labels and preconceptions we might put on those same people.

“Everybody has gift, yea sure. But what do you do with people who are mentally ill or who are drug addicted?”

Question from a visitor to Broadway

To hear the surprising response, I invite you to listen to Mike’s message. The juicy relevant pieces are in the beginning 4:33 minutes…

I probably would have lost my identity struggle with addiction as well as my identity as a contributing member of society had it not been for the simple acts of compassion I was shown – the friendships, the walks around the neighborhood talking, the new lens through which I’ve started to see myself and the world around me…

For that, I’m humbled and grateful. Thank you Mike, Rachel, Cathy, Karen, Kathy, Mike, Ann, Seana, Fran, Scott, Diane, Amy, MaryAnn, Cindy, Scott, Bill, Sue Ann, Mike, Mark, Chris, Holly, De’Amon, Terri, Greg, John, Sandya and many others…

Getting from “Next Door” to “Front Porch”

I live on a quiet stretch of Ruckle St., just north of downtown Indianapolis.  I moved here several years ago by choice to embrace community.  On our short stretch, there are four older homes – plus two houses with driveways/rear entrances from our quiet two blocks.

Our Front Porch
Our Front Porch

This past year, I’ve discovered a great tool for discovering community…our front porch. We’ve met several neighbors walking by. We’ve carved pumpkins with friends on the porch.  And, we’ve occasionally played with flow props or done acrobatics in the empty lots next to our duplex.

Spinning poi in a vacant lot...
Spinning poi in a vacant lot…

With such a small, quiet stretch, we also do a pretty good job of watching our for one another.  If we notice something “out of the ordinary,” we ask questions – pick up the phone and call one another – or knock on the door and check in.  This has included everything from noticing a near flat tire on our neighbor’s car and letting him know before work the next morning, to getting a call from a neighbor when we parked a 24 foot U-Haul on the street while getting ready for a yard sale.  He thought the latter was a little odd, and wanted to make sure someone wasn’t preparing for a break-in or stealing a motorcycle.  It’s little things like that bring a little peace of mind. We’ve also shared or borrowed bike racks, air compressors, hoses and the proverbial “cup of sugar.”

We occasionally use the online app “NextDoor” to communicate a little more broadly with neighbors. We’ve bought and sold gently used furniture online, advertised our yard sale, and learned about crime or safety issues in the neighborhood. While it doesn’t take the place of the front porch, it has been helpful to have around…

Earlier this month, there were a couple posts about individuals checking out cars for unlocked doors — with the occasional “success” on the burglar’s part, finding a items to steal when someone has left them visible in the car, and forgotten to lock their doors.  It’s sad and a bit scary to hear about such events – though “comforting” to know that it happens everywhere — from Carmel, to downtown, to the outer “burbs” of Indianapolis.  Having lived in several large cities, there are certain “rules of common sense” that…make sense.

Having seen a couple of these notices, I took screen shots and shared them with our neighbors – just to keep us all extra aware of our belongings and vehicles.

Next Door Crime & Safety
Next Door Crime & Safety (click image to join)

Late one evening, we started to wind down for the night.  I headed upstairs to brush my teeth, when I heard Brandon yell from the front room, “there’s a guy poking around outside near Bruce’s car.  I’m calling the police..”

The next couple of hours proved to be a little exciting!  Brandon startled the man who was lurking near our landlord’s car next door – he ran off down the street and around into the alley.  Two IMPD cruisers showed up in no time.  They took a description of the suspect, and told us they would stay on alert in the area.  Our landlord joined us in the street with the officers. We exchanged details – and once the police left, I posted an update to Next Door.  We continued getting ready for bed – with a little extra adrenaline to keep us awake!

Before we could get much further into our routine, we heard shouting from several men outside.  We went to the door, only to discover the man in question on our front steps, and two other men yelling at him – and us – from the street. There were accusations of burglary from the men in the street, who were shortly joined by a woman who added to the yelling and screaming.  Clearly, something had “gone down” between the man and his friends – but we really weren’t up for becoming a part of their drama.

Without hesitating, we called back to 911 – and within literally seconds, the two IMPD cruisers reappeared and the officers took charge.  We locked up the evening – setting the alarm – and watch from behind the windows for a bit, while the officers took the man into custody and dealt with whatever situation / back story the other three individuals had to share.  There is a time for being aware, vigilant and neighborly – and a time for letting the police do their job.

But the story doesn’t end there…

How did we get from “Next Door” to the “Front Porch” – for real?!

A couple days later, I was on the front porch enjoying the evening sunset with my two dogs.  I saw a gentleman and two young girls walking down Ruckle, and started to put the dogs inside so they wouldn’t keep barking.  The next thing I know, the man approaches our steps.  “Excuse me sir.  I’m sorry to bother you, but I was down here the other night when the police were here.”

He had my attention…

He introduced himself (I’ll call him T. for short…), and his two daughters.  He went on to explain what had happened the other night, leading up to the other man showing on our front porch, trying to get into our house.  “I came down to apologize for the disturbance. I just wanted to introduce myself, and say I’m very sorry this all played out the way it did.  I’m sure you all must have been pretty frightened when our friend tried to get into your house.”

He added some pieces to the puzzle.  I thanked him for reaching out.

I also told him about some of what happened prior to the small group showing up.  That added some pieces to his puzzle.

We then talked a little about where he lived, about his daughters, about his work.  It was not the conversation I had expected after the night with the police. I made doubly sure to thank him for having the courage and consideration to follow-up and explain what was going on.  I also made a note of his name and address…and want to follow-up with them to have more conversations…probably over a meal (something I’ve learned from my community at Broadway…)

And that is how we got from “Next Door” to “Front Porch.”  Where some, including myself, may have expected the worst – I discovered compassion, courage and community…one conversation at a time.

A gay engagement breakfast at Tiffany’s – our ‘aha’ moment at sea!

Part One

I returned this week from an amazing seven-day cruise – relaxing, entertaining and fun. It was also particularly special because I proposed to my boyfriend on Day #2. I joked with another couple on the cruise beforehand that I’d either be the happiest man on the ship…or be looking for a cabin/couch to “crash on” for the rest of a VERY awkward vacation!

Fortunately, “he said YES!”

So, the roses that were waiting for us as part of the ship’s “romance package” didn’t go to waste…  

The dinner at the Italian restaurant was both delicious and romantic; I found the “right moment” to transition on to one knee and ask Brandon to “take our relationship to the next level!” (Yep, I’m a hopeless romantic, and wanted this to be memorable!)

In traditional terms, it was an engagement proposal to marriage – and was very memorable and meaningful for us both!

Just so you don’t get the impression this was a “storybook” unfolding of events, it came with a VERY stressful lead up to the dinner because of a hasty “last minute” read on my part about the detailed arrangements included in our romance package and dinner reservation…

Yes, I messed up – “life happens” as they say,
and I went from “0 to bi&%^” in about 2.3 seconds!

Thankfully, Brandon gently “led me” through my pre-dinner meltdown to  a heartfelt “moment of truth”
(aka ‘come to Jesus’ session) on the ship’s aft stairwell,
helping me to regain some perspective.
(One of the many reasons I love this man…)

What he didn’t fully know at that moment was…
…I had hidden motives for wanting everything to be PERFECT!

Thankfully, I humbly walked through grace
to accept the wisdom of the Serenity prayer…  

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change…
and the courage to bust someone’s ass if they get in my way

Well, something to that effect…

Honestly, this prayer is one of the most powerful tools I learned during my recovery and I’m grateful Brandon helped me “return to center…” because the rest of the evening, thankfully, was PERFECT!

Part Two

Fast forward from “YES” to our aha moment!

We enjoyed the rest of the cruise together, along with a short visit to Miami afterwards. During that time, we found simple “engagement rings” to wear until we figured out the timing and specifics of our wedding. Without thinking much about it, we bought matching rings on one of the islands, and went on about celebrating life, love and our engagement.

I have to admit, it was pretty cool.  I understand the “power of a moment” – shared between us, as well as with others both on and off the ship.

We had people on the ship, who “witnessed the event on bended knee,” who congratulated us on our engagement.

We showed others on the islands and in Miami our rings, proudly announcing that we had gotten engaged aboard NCL’s Getaway and were looking to “get married” sometime in 2016. We even posted a couple of pictures on Facebook about our news during a brief “wired session” at an internet café on St. Thomas, as well as via the ship’s “onboard postcard” iSnap booth. Like any “young couple in love,” we were giddy with excitement and glad to share our news.

Side note: I’m sure I’m not the first guy who ‘jumped the gun’ by sharing his news via Facebook…and upsetting some family members in my haste. We were both so wrapped up in the excitement and – as you’ll see this unchartered territory – that we didn’t even think about “how to share the news” with family.  This was made more complicated by limited phone service / internet access on our cruise.  But, all excuses aside, regrettably and understandably, I ruffled some feathers And it was all my fault – I screwed up.  Argh.  I’m sorry!  I hope to mend those bridges soon, and get things off to a better start with some of his family…  

but for now, let’s get back to the fun part of the story!)

He said YES!
He said YES!
Our "Sugarmoon" kiss!
Our “Sugarmoon” kiss!
Rings to prove it...
Rings to prove it!  (But…what is “it” exactly?!)

We got some questions along the way, as you might expect…

Fortunately, the response from friends, family (and strangers who’d listen!) has been 110% positive.

One man I spoke with whom I spoke on the ship is a strong Christian. Admittedly, I was a little weary of how he might respond given my bias/prejudice at times towards the more conservative right.  Of course that’s my “shit” – my baggage – my “narrative” based on some events in my past. But more often than not, my fear of rejection and shame is usually unrealized – as it was in this case.  The man spoke of marriage as a “visible celebration of a couple’s love for one another” and could see that as worthy for anyone in love – gay, straight, bi, Thai…  How healing that conversation was for me, given my own lingering shame and internalized homophobia (on which I’ve written here before…)

But the question we probably weren’t ready for was
“Did you guys get married too?”

Huh?  What?  Married?!

It struck us both as a little odd – though given our reality, we could understand how some might think we jumped head on into this and tied the knot right away!

But it still “ate at me” a little – like “really, do you think we’d elope?!” (putting it in traditional terms) right there on the Norwegian Getaway!?!

Of course, that would be ok…but it started to reveal a deeper truth – giving us insight into a “new era” in LGBT relationships that, at least for us, was playing out for the first time.  Like much of my “coming out,” there are few role models for us to look towards.  That’s both exciting and scary at times!  Let me explain…

Gay marriage has been “in the spotlight” for several years, as countries across the world have been evolving into accepting the reality that gay couples deserve to be recognized just like straight couples.  Setting aside any religious or faith-based aspects of a ceremony, there are some very real, practical benefits to being legally married.  (And, some real, practical risks as well!  To death do us part…)

However, what we’ve largely seen (at least what I’ve largely seen…) are “existing couples,” many of whom have been living and loving together for years, formalizing what most of their family and friends already know and accept.  They may have been in a “domestic partnership” (legally) – but marriage is only a recent option for many (at least in parts of the US). So, there’s been, if you will, a “backlog” of marriages, where folks are simply are simply catching up to where they could have, should have been all along.  It’s like playing Monopoly – they were able to pass through “Go!” without collecting $200…they had essentially “already been there, done that” but now had the “marriage T-shirt” to show for it!

Grand Marriage Equality Wedding Event

But, what about the “rest of us!” who are still in the courting, dating phases of our LGBTQ relationships…who are weighing the spiritual, societal, physical, emotional and financial “benefits” of “popping the question” and taking our relationships to the “next level…” – from “dating” to “engagement” – a step that traditionally comes with an engagement ring.

But, our path is far from traditional!

For many of us, myself included – at 46! – we’ve never even thought about the possibility of getting engaged (in the traditional sense), because it was never an option!  Like much of our “coming out stories,” this is new territory…something for which most straight men and women are prepared, and perhaps “take for granted.”

As we thought about this more, we started to realize that the question “did you guys get married, too?” was coming from the “traditional frame of reference,” because we had “shown the world” our two rings!  And this would normally symbolize marriage!  Wow!  Aha!  Now I get it…wow!

Part Three

Now we’re faced with more questions than answers!

After all, what do you do when a man proposes to another man?  Who gets the ring?  Do both get a ring?  How do our “engagement rings” compare to or evolve to our “wedding bands?” Does one wear the ring on the right hand, or the left hand?   Do we start with the right, then switch when we get married to the left?

So many questions…so it was time to Google!

Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time
Tiffany Campaign Features Gay Couple for First Time

And the results only underscored our personal “aha! moment!  And thankfully, we’re not alone!

This is unchartered territory (for us at least) – and for many others.

Our society is “getting used to” gay marriage, and I believe it’s only a question of time before all States in the US recognize it (at least on paper).  We’ve “broken the race” barrier and (finally) elected a Black President.  African-American parents no longer have to raise their kids, telling them “you’re smart, you’re kind, you’re important” – and can be or do anything you want in this life….except become President.

It’s only a question of time before parents will also be able to give their children guidance on engagement and marriage, whether that be gay, straight, or bi!

This was emphasized at the start of our cruise, when I read about the White House’s brief to the US Supreme Court, outlining why the various State bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional.  We even referenced the 36-page brief as we shared our news – not realizing that as that reality “settles in” to our collective conscience, we now have this new pre-cursor as well…

“Gay Engagement!”

As with much of our narrative, there are no rules – no traditions.  For better or worse, it’s up to the couple to create our own traditions, our own reality.  Of course, in doing so, sometimes, we will either have to explain or clarify things to others, who may see things (as they have) through their own filters, their own “traditions.”

But I’m ok with that…as is my fiancé!

Hmmm…I do like the ring of that…pun intended!

I’ll close with a collection of links I found from my Google search on “gay engagement.”

Thanks for walking with us from “YES” to “aha!”

 May we all continue to inspire each other to greater understanding, peace and health.

Gay Engagement