(#45 in a series of people who changed the course of my life)
Menielle Donahoo probably does not view herself as a posterchild for what a good neighbor looks like. But she is.Back in a time in my life—and our family’s life—when everything had fallen apart (twice), Menielle was a stalwart friend and sister. The second time in particular, she was among a handful of friends—three maybe—from my former church who purposefully maintained relationship with not just me but our children. A few would eventually come around, but Menielle never left.
It can’t have been a popular stand or necessarily easy for her to do. Our church had no out-gay members and few of us knew anyone gay, had any experience with gays, or had challenged their theology relating to gays. So when I came out, I know it was devastating for many and at the very least, shocking.
Menielle and I had been close friends for years and had shared many experiences, and a few heartaches, together—VBS’s, the loss of her precious daddy, trips to Mexico, retreats, raising our kids together, and a plethora of inside jokes (a favorite involves a particular Halloween costume…). She had always made me feel loved, valuable to her and her family, and loved no matter what I did or who I was. So, I’m sure my “leaving” grieved her in a way.
But regardless of what Menielle knew at the time about gay people, she didn’t wait for a Bible study, sermon series, seminar, or for a church dogma to change. She simply lived out this principle:
And the second [commandment] is like it:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.
Loving her neighbor meant that, even if she didn’t understand me, she called me to check on him every couple of weeks, reminding me that I was loved. Loving her neighbor meant meeting my partner and inviting him into her home…including me in preparations for her daughter’s wedding—just as I would had I never left…maintaining a relationship with our sons when hardly anyone else did…standing beside me as my mother passed and helping us take care of so many things in the days immediately following her death. It means sending a text on my birthday and on the anniversary of mother’s passing to keep the connection. And she has done the same for our sons.
Along with her sweet mother and kind-hearted husband, Menielle never once made me feel unloved, particularly at a time when precious few did. And I know this experience of her is not at all unique to me; Menielle is this kind of friend to all her neighbors: hundreds of people could extol her goodness and authentic nature.
If I were to provide an illustration of what loving one’s neighbor as one’s self looked like, I would draw their little ranch house and barn. And I’d surround it with lots of different kind of people—old people, people in difficult situations, even people that some churches say people shouldn’t be there. And I’d illustrate it with little “Family Circus-style” dashed lines showing Menielle purposefully going to each one—offering to help mend a fence, repay that borrowed cup of sugar double, care for a sick child, deliver a hot casserole, invite them over for a chat around the fire pit, and so on. You get the idea.
Loving your neighbor isn’t something one does with great fanfare or attention. A good neighbor is just something you are. Every. Single. Day.
I know her daddy and momma are so proud. And so am I—because at a time when I had lost my faith in religion, Menielle not only nurtured what was left, she would not let me let go. That is why I am able to stand here today and commit myself to studying it and to commit my life to making others’ experience of it better. Just like she did for me.
So if Menielle isn’t already your neighbor, I hope you get to meet her some day. And when you meet her, ask her about that Halloween costume.
46. the “bear-able” LIGHTness of being