My aunt Cathy gave my mom this bible when I was 11 years old. It had this greenish, imitation leather cover, with my mom’s name inscribed on the cover in gold letters. “Lila Wilkins.”
It was a “Living Bible” translation, and I remember looking at it once or twice and thinking it was odd that it didn’t have all the “thees” and “thous” I was accustomed to hearing when bible verses were mentioned. This one was paraphrased, and in plain, everyday language.
I could understand it, in a sense.
But I didn’t, not really.
I remember my mom reading it from time to time, but as far as I know, she never attended any church, and it wasn’t until shortly before her death that I heard her pray for the first time. That bible sat next to a chair my mom liked for most of my childhood, and would occasionally gather a nice thick coating of dust.
That was the first bible I ever saw in my house growing up, and it did not see much use. Not from any of my siblings, and certainly not from me. And anyway, I didn’t think the bible was something I needed to be concerned with–kids didn’t really need to worry about anything like salvation, or redemption, or really even Grace, for that matter.
I didn’t think so. I did not consider much at all beyond the nose on my face, or my hunger, or need to have fun with my friends.
It seemed OK to just live my life as I wanted to, first as a child, just having fun, going to school, and reading comic books–or even books in general. I wasn’t concerned about anything but being a kid.
And when my mom started to get sick, it seemed like more of an inconvenience than anything else. Of course, I didn’t want her to suffer, or to be in the hospital (which happened quite frequently when I was between 10 and 13). But I didn’t want to do anything to make it easier on her, either.
So I did my own thing.
Whatever I wanted.
And nothing happened, except my mom got sicker for a while. Then she got better, but also only for a while.
And I still did my own thing.
Grace was not a part of my life, nor was Jesus. I knew a couple of my friends went to church, but they didn’t seem any different or better for it. They did what they did as well, and then they went to church. Sometimes we would boost Playboy magazines from this liquor store next to their house, and paper our forts and treehouses with the pictures.
And my mom sat in her chair, missing a big chunk out of her calf muscle, and part of her stomach. Her intestines would bulge against her side, and you could see this huge…pocket of guts.
Her bible gathered dust.
I stole skin magazines with my friends.
The brothers and I struck up this odd friendship with another boy in our class that no one else liked, a kid named David, that had bad eyes, bad clothes, a weird last name, and was a Jehovah’s witness. He caught crap from everyone, almost every day. It was pathetic.
We never would hang out with him at school, but he lived a short distance down Fanita from the Laird brothers, so we would sometimes play football with him in the field next to the brother’s house, or enlist him as a decoy when we needed new “wallpaper.”
David was weird. He didn’t like sports, he didn’t like comics. He didn’t like it when the brothers would occasionally mention God, or their church.
He never mentioned his, except to say how they couldn’t celebrate certain holidays. It seemed like a dumb religion to three boys in the 8th grade.
One night, after replacing the wallpaper in our latest fort with a Suzanne Sommers pictorial, David decided to tell us something that made no sense at all.
He said he liked guys.
Our response was something along the lines of “what the hell are you talking about?”
He repeated it.
Ravi asked him if he was a fag, to which David replied in the affirmative.
We thought he was kidding, of course, but he soon made it abundantly clear he was very serious, repeating his original statement three or four different ways.
We couldn’t believe it.
13. Coming out to people he didn’t know that well. Opening up part of himself to people he probably thought of as his friends, and probably his only friends.
We kicked him out of the fort, hurling sexual epithets at him as he left, and told him he’d better not think about coming anywhere near any of us ever again. I could hear him crying as he crossed the lawn.
The Monday after that happened, we went to school and practically the first thing we did was tell everyone we came across what David had told us.
The three of us went to the vice principal’s office, but did not get in any real trouble. We were made to apologize to David, but nothing of consequence happened to us.
But David was a ghost at that school for the rest of the 8th grade.
13. A ghost.
While I enjoyed the rest of my year before high school, while I walked around Disneyland on the 8th grade trip with my friends, David walked around with one of the chaperones, because no kid wanted to be seen with him.
I didn’t think about my mom’s bible gathering dust, but I knew it was there.
I only spoke to David once more before high school started. I went to his house one day, not really having a clear plan of action. Just feeling like I needed to go there. I had a sense that what we’d done was wrong, very wrong, but I did not really understand why it was wrong.
I just knew it was.
I remember him coming out onto the front porch and kind of standing there. I’d never felt more awkward. “Listen, man.” I said. “About what happened…”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.
I left it at that. I knew I should apologize.
But I didn’t.
We stood on a patch of dirt in front of his house that passed for a lawn, and he gestured behind him. “My sister, my brother, and me live in the house.” He pointed behind me. “My parents live there.”
I turned to look at a smallish, bright silver airstream trailer. Parked to the side of the largish front lawn.
His parents lived in a trailer, and their three children lived in the house. It didn’t make sense.
I left a few minutes after that, with a vague feeling of unease that didn’t leave me for hours. I literally never spoke to David outside of school after that day.
I would think about that evening in the fort for years. How we treated him. I would think about the next day at school, and how we told everyone what he’d trusted us with.
I felt like a bastard.
I still do, sometimes.
I could probably go on for hours about what a rotten person I’d been various times in my life. I’d treated my mother badly when she was sick, and scared, and even crying.
I had not heard a friend’s cry for help, and he’d taken a leap he couldn’t come back from.
I had been a bad brother, and uncle, cousin, and friend.
I’d stolen, and lied, and treated women as objects. I’d helped someone end their marriage, instead of working to save it.
I’d done many things I was ashamed of, that I knew displeased God.
But here’s the thing.
I was a wretch–always had been.
But I was saved, by the blood of Jesus.
By Amazing Grace…
It has only been recently that I’ve begun to see myself even a fraction of the way Jesus sees me, which is not as a wretch.
Rather, he sees me as his son. Made perfect and beautiful by His Son, by the blood of the lamb.
He sees me as a reflection of Himself.
Part of me will regret the way I treated David (and my mom), for the rest of my life. But I have learned now the need to love above all other things.
“by this, all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another…”
I still struggle with Grace for people at times. I probably always will. But I do my best to treat them with respect, and love them the best I can.
The interesting thing is that ever since my encounter with David back in 1982, God has continuously sent a stream of gay men and women into my life, or perhaps more accurately, sent me into theirs.
I see the opportunity to love them where they have only received condemnation before.
I see they need God just as much as anyone else does, and condemning them for who they choose to sleep with does not show them Jesus in any way. And it isn’t mine to do.
I see they are loved as much as me.
They were died for by the same Jesus I was.
I think about that all the time, and I try to let that guide the way I treat them, or anyone, for that matter.
I still have my mom’s bible, by the way. It sits on my bookshelf as I type this, within arm’s reach.
I do not let it gather dust.