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Deporting Love: A Married Couple’s Journey to Stay in the United States

On November 28, 2005, Enrique Gonzalez walked across the border to pursue a safe and prosperous life in the U.S. Afraid of gang recruitment in El Salvador and seeking to escape to a safe place with opportunities to work to help himself and his family, after two days of processing and detention, he was taken (by immigration officials) to a Texas bus station where he was left to find his way in what would become his new home, the United States of America. Thirteen years later, with a U.S. Immigration approved marriage to a citizen, Enrique is being deported.

In the January 2017 Executive Order, Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, the Trump administration laid out a much wider dragnet authorizing and empowering ICE in the deportation of undocumented.  Unlike the discretion of the Obama Administration, as evidenced in the 2011 Memo, which exercised a great deal of flexibility the Trump Administration's laser-sharp focus is on the numbers! Every undocumented …

The Current Beneath Our Lives - We Became A Sermon of Hope - Irvington Presbyterian Church

As the clock counts down for the eminent departure of Enrique Gonzalez and I, it is hard to believe we’ve become the targets of the Trump Administration’s unjust and inhumane deportation force. For gay married men living in the conservative midwest, being the subject of Sunday sermon in a local church was inspiring. Who would have thought our story would ever be viewed as a symbol of "Hope" for others? Our friend, Rev. Chelsea Gunther Benham, Associate Pastor at Irvington Presbyterian Church, saw just that.

In May of last year, we had just finished the complete remodel of our new home in the sleepy little neighborhood of Christian Park. Having just sculpted the bricks and sticks of a once foreclosed and lifeless property into a beautifully vibrant new home, we affectionately named it, "Casa De Esperanza" or "House of Hope".

From the start of the project, Enrique and I visualized our new home as a symbol of the hope that would emerge from our passion for the rebirth of the otherwise blighted neighborhood. Who could have known, our intention for “Hope” would find a bigger stage.

After completion of our own home, we decided to offer our home improvement services to the public. We met Rev. Benham and her family nearly a year ago as they were one of our first clients who were seeking to update their kitchen. Me, the innovative marketer that I can sometimes be, decided to try our hand at producing our own HGTV-style mini-series for YouTube as I published almost daily videos that chronicalled our work.

The online series was a dashing success in social media. Recognized as the “Irvington Two Week Kitchen Refresh,” our YouTube series sparked the rapid growth of our home improvement business. More importantly than the success of our homegrown marketing attempts, was the spark of friendship that emerged from the Benham’s project. Little did we know that only months later our lives would be torn apart as we face deportation. Moreover, who could have known that we would one day become the subjects of a sermon of “Hope.”

I’m not a religious man and would identify myself as “Spiritual.” Throughout my life, I've studied topics relating to the Religion and Spirituality. I've enjoyed countless coffee-talks with beloved friends and others to better understand synchronicities, coincidences, and unexplainable occurrences in our lives which I've concluded are all apart of the same energy, vibration, or flow that ensures every sunrise, sunset, spring flower, fish in the sea, or birth of a newborn baby takes off like clockwork. Just think of it, without any human thought or intervention - the rhythm of life is in our very breath, heartbeat, and zillions of neuro/chemical firings that take place within our very body's without any doing of our own. Like our meeting of the Benham’s, I do believe things happen for a reason. I’ve long recognized these chance meetings as fascinating aspect of this energy or flow that seems to twist and turn like a stream throughout our very existence both individually and collectively. To me it's all a part of "life." According to Rev. Benham, this Spirit, energy, or flow, is "...the current underneath our lives." Could it be that this “current” has brought our families together with a purpose beyond the kitchen refresh?

But what about when life’s current seems to take an unexpected twist? What about when bad things happen to good people? These are the times I wrestle with the most as I try to understand why any “Spirit”, “Universe”, “Energy”, “Flow”, “Current”, or "God" would allow such atrocities to happen. 

I'd be rich if I had a penny for every time I've heard someone ask for prayers to help heal the sick, fix what is broken, or for help to right the wrongs, disappointments, or setbacks that life seems to throw at us. In my efforts to understand the bigger meaning of it all, I’ve long pondered, why this source energy allows the calamity, disappointment, tragedy, or pain to happen? Are we being tested by some higher force? Perhaps we're being punished (“karma is a bitch,” they say)? Or, could it be that we're being pushed outside of our comfort zone to stretch our existence and find our strength in our own humanity?

For believers of “Synchronicity,” this could be what I call, "gentle persuasion," that are meant to move our conscious and our life's path onto another track perhaps leading to our discovery of a new job, a new home, or sometimes more drastically an unexpected and forced move to another country (...see where I’m going with that?).  What if (in all our humanness) we fail to understand that these "gentle persuasions" that are sometimes not so “gentle” at all, may actually be our calling to some higher purpose? I suspect we may only know when we surrender (the topic of a future posting is born).

As Enrique and I face an imminent deportation I ponder, could it be that life's “not-so-gentle" shove might actually be that we are to take our skills, knowledge, and passion for building homes and developing communities, to a Central American town where the need for sustainable housing is great. While it may not have been on our radar before, we are currently investigating opportunities to develop housing for families in need in Guatemala, El Salvador, or some other community. Is this unexpected spark of interest the Spirit, Universe, Energy, Flow, or God pointing us to our next chapter or adventure?

If you are looking for answers to life’s tragedies in a blog about our nation’s efforts to deport love, you won’t find it here. A "one-size-fits-all" magical answer to cure the pain and disappointment of life’s challenges simply does not exist. That said, I am confident what you will find in this Irvington Presbyterian sermon is an inspiration for hope.

No words can express the emotions I've felt the countless times I’ve listened to Chelsea’s sermon. Over and over I've listened as I'm overwhelmed by the very notion that our simple lives in a small midwestern community would become an example of "Hope" embedded within a Sunday morning sermon. I am touched every time I hear her description of my husband Enrique -- the man I am so fortunate to have by my side as my husband, partner, and friend for life.

Throughout this entire tragedy of deportation, there have been times that I’ve faced fear, pain, confusion, and disappointment. Trust me, you can't imagine the emotions, worry, and confusion of this sudden tragedy of my country turning its back on me. Enrique calms my worried mind. When I finally realized that we were really being deported, I looked at him and asked, "What are we going to do now?" He pulled me close, looked me in the eyes, and in the calm unshaken voice replied, "It's just another one of our adventures." He then reminded me of the other crazy (sometimes courageous) twists and turns our journey together had already brought us through. He was right. (Don’t tell Enrique but, he usually is right.) I’ve taken in this sermon as I wrestle with emotions. Is it Spirit that stirs in my own heart and mind as I see a much deeper meaning that far surpasses our friend, the Reverend’s words intended to tell our story of “Hope”.

For a gay man of nearly fifty who has endured bullying and hate throughout most of my almost half-century of existence on this planet, “Hope” is often elusive. As I listened to this sermon, I couldn’t help but feel the collective pain and suffering of countless others who fought for decades to have the right to come out of the proverbial "closet" to be recognized in society once riddled with hate. Never would I have imagined being talked about in church.

Chelsea’s sermon breaks down the walls of descrimination as she openly talks about the love of two gay and married men fighting the negative forces of a politically charged issue within a society being led by an administration of hate. Chelsea talked about us! Right there, in church, out in the open before God and everyone, Rev. Benham normalized our lives and the lives of millions of others previously outcast by religion, church, and society at large. The words of a sermon that validates our existence (and the existence of millions of others who struggled to have hope -some who lost their lives over it), in a house of worship - in a church! What is more, Enrique and I are the story of “Hope.”

As I listened to Chelsea’s words, I was inspired by those who never lost “Hope” in the countless battles for equality for the LGBTQ community. Only recently has it come to pass that LGBTQ individuals in our society could even (in some areas) be given the right to marry and the equal rights to others.

In El Salvador, our marriage will not be recognized. Moreover, El Salvador, a predominantly traditional Catholic community, does not recognize the rights of the LGBTQ in the court of public opinion. Their leadership, law enforcement, and others have yet to value the lives of humans like me.

Danger awaits us in El Salvador while yet, in an American church on May 20th, 2018, this Reverend stood proudly before her congregation telling the story of two gay and married men - one who is a US citizen - the other who is an undocumented from El Salvador who came to the country because of his “Hope” for a better world and his desire to help others who are still struggling back in El Salvador today.

Rev. Benham concludes, " friend Enrique somehow hasn't lost hope for the world and hasn't given up. I think it's the love that he and Harlon share that keep them going." She got it right in that, Enrique and I are empowered by our love and a fire-in-our-bellies to stand up for what is right for all the other immigrants in America who are the subjects of such hate and who fear deportation and are in hiding.

As we face a pending deportation at the hands of an oppressive government that is committing such targeted human rights violations; tearing families apart, separating children from their parents, and rounding up innocent (non-criminal) human beings whose only crime is their desire (and ‘Hope”) to survive and/or to find a better life, I must admit “Hope” runs thin as darkness rolls in. That being said, this sermon and the outpouring of support from others has given us strength and serves as an inspiration to keep the flame of Hope alive.

Many of our friends and family have asked, "What does Enrique think?' or "How's Enrique doing?" as he (the opposite of me), rarely shows emotion or shares his deepest thoughts. Chelsea's vivid description of our challenge with immigration and her family's experience getting to know Enrique serves as a reminder for why we all must rise up against hate. The injustice that is occuring as families are being torn apart every day is hard to comprehend. Too close to the forest to see the trees, I sometimes find myself falling short on the tenacity and courage it takes to keep up the fight and/or face the pending deportation and yet, somehow together, we simply take it one day at a time as our lives are in limbo on the pages between the chapters.

Whether you are religious, spiritual, or not, Chelsea's sermon reminds us that "Spirit", "the Universe", "God", or whatever you choose to call it, "...Intercedes with sighs too deep for words." She continues, "When our faith flickers, it is the Spirit that is holding us up."

Referring to "sighs" as "the groanings" or pains of challenge, Chelsea continues, "Creation is groaning, we are groaning, but the spirit is groaning with us. We are not alone in our longing and our pain and our desire for a better world...through the spirit God is crying out and moving among us for the birthing of a new world. So that is how we continue to hope even though we cant figure out how or why to hope. God has not abandoned us but has sent us the Holy Spirit." She continues, "...Elsewhere the Spirit is called the 'Paraclete', translated to 'the helper.'" ...The Spirit is our Helper constantly with us as present to us as our own breath. The Spirit helps us in our weakness and thus is the current underneath our lives. ...Just keep carrying on. Just keep going and lean into the Spirit's work. Give up our words and our thinking and rest in those sighs too deep for words. ...The Holy Spirit is not just fire but also the quiet-current of connection and of life that is in all of us and between all of us. Beneath the groaning of creation is "HOPE."

By this time next year, we will have sold or donated almost everything that meant anything to us within our former lives in the United States. But, one thing we will never lose in our battle for justice is our “HOPE” for a future filled with love, compassion, equality, freedom, and prosperity for all! Until then, I will “rest in the sighs too deep for words” and in the evidence of “Hope” of a May 20th sermon wherein our an Indianapolis same-sex married couple's love became the symbol of Hope, the “current (the Spirit) beneath our lives.”

Thank you Rev. Benham for bringing our story into the church! And, for your support, friendship, and inspiration! We appreciate you and your family.