It was about a year ago that my husband, Andrew, and I decided to start hosting Sunday dinner parties at our house. Just writing this right now makes me laugh because we are such unlikely dinner party hosts. I’m a total introvert who avoids most social situations like the plague, we have three small, very loud children and we live in a house that’s about 1,600 square feet. Sounds like a really awesome place to have a nice dinner, right? I should also mention that my husband’s only day off is Sunday and it’s not unusual for him to work 10-12 hour days. He’s absolutely exhausted by Saturday evening.
In spite of all this, we knew opening up our home was something we were supposed to be doing so we started inviting people to dinner and they just kept coming. We’ve hosted a neighborhood block party, cooked meals for multiple friends and coworkers, had barbecues and held a running men’s AA book study/dinner. This is our Sunday evening normal now and surprisingly, it has been so incredibly fruitful for our family.
Our children have witnessed men both cuss and cry at our dining room table. They’ve learned to listen intently to adults and ask thoughtful questions. They’ve heard stories of addiction and faith, of sorrow and of hope. They’ve seen how sharing a simple meal with someone can break down walls and build beautiful, unlikely friendships. Our home is filled with new and old friends almost every Sunday evening now. Instead of draining us, these dinners somehow restore us. And what an incredible opportunity it has been to get glimpses into the lives of unlikely friends. Sometimes the conversation is casual, sometimes funny and a little inappropriate (I’m pretty sure my husband missed his calling as a comedian) and sometimes conversations lead to unexpected places. About a month ago we had once such dinner. Andrew’s coworker (who actually was a comedian once upon a time) and his family came over along with another couple they were friends with. We had only met the other couple briefly a few weeks before but they seemed awesome and they lived in our neighborhood so I was excited to get to know them better. Dinner conversation was hilarious as you can imagine and we enjoyed a simple meal on our patio in unseasonably cool weather for Texas in June.
After dinner, Anna (one of our new friends) helped me clear the table. Our conversation turned to children and she told me of her desire to adopt. She spoke passionately about the number of older children in the Texas foster care system who are at a high risk of aging out and having no family to ever call their own. She shared with me their dream to open their home to foster teens with the hopes of adoption. We must have stood in my kitchen for half an hour talking about the broken system and how she longed to do something and then suddenly the light went out of her eyes. She stated quite plainly that none of this would happen for them here. I looked at her in disbelief as she began to tell me about a bill that had been approved and was expected to pass in the Texas Senate later in June. The bill, HB3859, would allow publicly funded foster care and adoption agencies in Texas to discriminate against applying foster families for a number of reasons that would conflict with their religious beliefs. See, our friends Anna and Joy are gay and this bill’s supporters are completely against placing children in the homes of same-sex couples. I was appalled and quite literally embarrassed for not even being aware of the legislation but Anna didn’t even blink at my ignorance. She told me they were planning on moving to the northeast in the next few years so they could start their family in a more welcoming state and how she was thankful they had the means to do this. “But,” she asked, “What about those who don’t?”
It was getting late so we said our goodbyes and the last thing Anna said to me was, “Thank you guys for being so awesome.” I’m not sure why she said this. I certainly didn’t feel awesome. If I was awesome, I would have known about this completely unconstitutional bill. If I was awesome, I would have called my representative and told him what I thought about the blatant discrimination the bill would allow. If I was awesome I would have done something, anything. But I did nothing. And a few weeks later, the bill passed in the Senate and went on to be signed into law by Governor Abbott.
This bill that not only allows state funded agencies to discriminate against families like Anna and Joy’s but also allows them to deny services to foster kids they disapprove of based on religious grounds (i.e. transgender, gay, atheist or non-Christian children) passed. Let me say that again. State funded agencies can now discriminate and refuse services to children based on religious grounds.
And my heart breaks for them.
So now what? In case you were wondering, my family and I are Christians but we don’t see anything Christ-like in protecting agencies over children or denying rights to others because they don’t share our beliefs. I tell Anna and Joy’s story because they are our friends, real people who are affected by this legislation. There’s nothing just in denying them the opportunity to be parents on the grounds that it would “violate the religious beliefs” of a group in power. I may have missed my opportunity to change a representative’s mind in June but my hope is that by sharing Anna and Joy’s story, we might at least gain a greater understanding of one another. And maybe, just maybe, we might even become advocates for each other.
So I encourage you to share a meal and your story with those around you, especially those you think are different from you, and listen and be heard. You may just learn something about another and about yourself.
You can view House Bill 3859 here.
To learn more about the disproportionately higher number of LBGTQ children in the foster care system, visit hrc.org.