It is 2008, and my then boyfriend (now husband) and I are discussing Proposition 8, which is a big deal right now in California. I tell him that if I was old enough to vote, I would vote yes and eliminate the basic human right to marry from others because I believe it is my responsibility to save others.
He catches me off guard with a question I have only half-considered before: “But what if one of our children is gay?”
He’s hurt, and I’m thoughtless — insensitive with my response.
I tell him I wouldn’t attend the wedding or welcome that part of them in my home, but my love for them would be “unchanged.”
I don’t think he has ever been ashamed of something about me…until now. I rub my forehead roughly trying to work the knots of frustration out of my brow. Who does he think he is? This non-Christian boy making me feel like the bad guy.
“Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Isn’t that the right answer?
Now fast forward a few years to my healthy pregnancy and a relatively easy 15 hours of labor. There is searing pain, fire, and then a dewy, plum-colored baby dangling in front of me. Through my tear soaked eyes, I smile naively. But something is wrong…
My daughter is not wailing on my chest against my bare skin right after her birth like I dreamed. She is ripped from my body and now on a plastic table encircled by strangers who rush into the room in an instant. Code Blue. I have watched enough Grey’s Anatomy to know what that means. It is their job to save her, but their world will not end if she dies.
She isn’t breathing. I am not breathing. I lay bleeding on a bed with a wall of desperation between us. The room is loud with voices, bright with yellow fluorescent lights and a rising sun that is overconfident, but she is silent and struggling. The only sound I need to hear is absent. Moments ago, she was safe inside my womb. How can things plummet so quickly? Her heart, the size of a golf ball, is being pumped by two fingers and her beet red face is buried by a sterile mask. The love I feel for her is begging her to stay.
But her breaths are not punctuating my pleas and prayers: “Please stay. Please stay. Please stay. Save. Her.”
I am Mary’s day one agony, watching my innocent firstborn die right in front of me. Then, I am Mary’s day three thanksgiving, when my baby took breaths with her own lungs for the first time five minutes after her birth.
This love is primal — to the depth of my core and beyond. Did she know then how much I loved her? Did I know then how unequivocal my love for her would be? No. I didn’t understand. I didn’t know. I think that day was the first time I realized this love was going to be different than I had imagined.
Until someone else was saving my child’s life in that hospital room, I was not compelled by compassion like the Good Samaritan in the Bible.
In this ancient story about love, a Jewish man is walking down a rocky road from Jerusalem to Jericho. Men come out from behind a hill and strip the man of all his belongings. They leave him bloodied and beaten on the side of the road to die.
Minutes later, a priest walks past and pretends he does not see the wounded man. We all know the Levite comes next; curious, he walks over to the man, who is now barely breathing, but does nothing to help him.
The Samaritan comes next. The one hated by the Jews and taught to hate the Jews by his religious leaders. The one known for the rest of time for instinctively treating the dying stranger as a brother and a neighbor. He is the one whose compassion compelled him to bind up the wounds, pour oil and wine over sores, and pay to shelter the man until he was healed.
Would the Samaritan have decided to keep walking if the dying man loved another man? Would he choose not to save him if he identified as a woman? Those details were left out for a reason. I think those details don’t matter here.
What matters is the Samaritan didn’t just talk about love or recite what the law said about it on the Sabbath. He actively chose to love and help and serve impulsively, despite the cost. Despite what he’d been taught. He may have even been a little reckless, and yet he is the one whom Jesus holds up as an example of how to love.
Before my daughter’s agonizing and awe-full birth, my love lived within walls, saved for well-curated opportunities. My love was withheld from those I didn’t feel deserved it. I gave to those that were easy to serve. I loved only the pieces of others that were easy to digest.
I was not compassionate, empathetic, or recklessly charitable, I did not have the heart of a Samaritan inhabited with Christ-like love, but I checked boxes that made me believe I was a “Good Christian.”
I think about that conversation I had with my husband all the time. I don’t recognize that girl.
That was before she knew a whole lot about unconditional love and how deep that ocean runs. It saddens me to think of a world where I would have banished a part of my children from the walls of my home, where I would have blacked out an entire piece of them in the name of God to satisfy my comfort and ideas of who they should be. I shudder to imagine them feeling unwanted and choosing to leave this Earth at their own hands, like the alarming percentage of LGBTQ individuals in our country.
I don’t know if either of my daughters are gay or straight or will want to be in relationships at all. That isn’t the point. What worries me the most is what role they will play in a parable about love.
I don’t want my daughters to preach of love and not offer it. I don’t care who they marry, but I do care if they clothe the naked and feed the hungry and tend to the poor and sick. I care that they love their neighbor, are impulsively compassionate, and are boundlessly kind. No matter who it is they see hurting, I hope they will have an instinctive desire to help. I hope they will always have a seat at their table for the suffering and the rejected.
And I can only hope they learn a little bit of who Christ is by watching me.
My first daughter’s birth was my resurrection, and my love for her is my repentance. Motherhood is me at the feet of Jesus pleading for forgiveness every day for my boxed up love that had its limits and for the ways I fall short constantly.
If we look close enough, doesn’t God’s heart look a whole lot like the heart of the Samaritan? A love that cannot be contained. It is reckless, impulsive, and primal.
When I gave birth to my child, every human around me became a child, a person worthy of love from the deepest part of my soul. I think that’s how God looks at us too.
Love is all Jesus asks of me. And it is not my responsibility to save anyone, because He has already overcome the world.