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By Jess Cook
1 John 4:11-12: “Beloved, if God has loved us so, we must have the same love for one another. No one has ever seen God. yet, if we love one another, God dwells in us, and God’s love is brought to perfection in us.”
Last March at the NEXT Church conference, I met a parent whose teenager had recently come out as non-binary. When I asked how the family and youth were all doing in the process, the parent said: “Oh, we are doing pretty well with it. She said it’s ok if we keep using she/her pronouns, rather than they/them.”
I nudged back just a bit, telling the parent that while there are a number of non-binary folks who use a whole range of pronouns, it could also be that the youth was nervous about how their parents would respond when asked to use new pronouns. I offered some reassurance that, even by coming out, the youth indicated a certain level of trust in the love of their parent.
“It may be worth asking,” I said, “if your child would prefer you use they/them. It would show you are proactive in your learning while still honoring her autonomy.”
A few months later I got an email from the parent letting me know she’d gone home and asked her child if they would prefer they/them pronouns, rather than she/her. “My child just wept with relief, or joy, or maybe both, and said, ‘I would really love that.’” I later learned from the pastor of the same congregation that, since then, it has been amazing to see the ways in which the congregation has grown and built a deeper love for not only this youth, but for each other.
I don’t think I’ll ever tire of witnessing stories like these: when a parent embodies their love for a child and a change happens not just within their relationship, but it ripples out to the community.
Love happens in relationships. And our love within relationships helps us model Divine love because it becomes the motivation for our actions. As we move closer to Christmas, we remember that Jesus’ ministry was about modeling the kind of love that refuses to bend to destructive norms. Love reminds us to hope, gives us courage, grants us peace, and compels us to act. Love topples empires.
Over the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to witness love in action through relationships. I’ve seen it in the parents who want to do whatever they can to let their kids know they are supported and seen. I’ve seen it through pastors looking for resources on how to learn what they don’t know so they can embody Christ’s love in community. I saw it in the tears of my younger brother, weeping joyfully at my ordination.
I’ve seen love through partnerships, whether with CoInspire, NEXT Church, the Texas Freedom Network, Presbyterian Youth Workers Association, or any number of congregations and presbyteries. It’s funny how even a glimpse of divine love transforms our vision and become the lens we see the world through. Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart.
As you celebrate the end of Advent and we move into Christmas together, may you bear witness to that divine love, and may it be your lens as you see the world, your family (whether given or chosen), your neighbors, your enemies, and especially yourself.
If you would like to contribute to our End of Year fundraiser, please consider doing so today. Your donation helps us continue building relationships that create spaces where all of God’s children know they are loved and seen and affirmed in the fullness of who they are.