I’m thrilled to introduce you all to Mariko and Rachel Tinaya with their beautiful children, Eli and Sparrow. I first met Mariko when I began my grad work in the Urban Studies program at Eastern University. She was an intelligent, insightful, cheerful person already a year advanced in the program. I was deeply unsure of my place in the MAUS community (Master of Arts in Urban Studies), but Mariko welcome me warmly as she seemed to be able to do with everyone.
When she shared her relationship with Rachel, their subsequent marriage, and then the announcement of their pregnancy together, I was whooping with delight from Canada. The following post contains thoughts both Rachel and Mariko shared with me in their own words about their journey together. Mariko’s courage and love for all people was a driving force in my own coming out, for which I will always be grateful.
I hope, one day, that I’ll have the chance not only to meet the entire family, but to teach Eli and Sparrow how to properly pack a well-rounded Canadian snowball.
Names & Pronouns:
Rachel Tinaya (identifies as female; she/hers); Mariko Tinaya (identifies as female; she/hers)
(Rachel): I have a background in social work through hospice, geriatric, and home/community/family settings. Recently, I’ve shifted roles and have become the Director of Marketing for a Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).
(Mariko): I have a background in Community Development, although now I’m the Program Coordinator for St. Alexius Outreach Ministries. The mission of the organization is to come alongside vulnerable older adults experiencing isolation and loneliness.
A Little Bit About Ourselves:
We both grew up in evangelical Christian homes and met 17 years ago at a conservative liberal arts college. A precious kinship quickly blossomed, and we would often talk and pray all night, then watch the sun rise from the beach. The roots of our friendship grew deeply and spanned multiple moves, time zones, and years.
After a decade of unawareness, compartmentalization, and suppression, we finally acknowledged that what we shared was far richer than friendship alone. While strolling through the streets of Philadelphia in 2010, I (Mariko) risked naming to Rachel the extent of my process, my ‘becoming’, and shared that my love for humanity and desire for a mate was deeper than gender.
After receiving this truth, I (Rachel) echoed a “me too” (followed by a bit of a panic attack right there in the middle of downtown Philly as I essentially came out to Mariko before even coming out to myself).
After a season of soul searching and seeking wisdom and courage, we said yes to becoming an us in late 2010. We celebrated the covenant of marriage in October 2015, and welcomed our beautiful twins into the world in February 2017.
On Faith Shifts, Journeys, & Beliefs:
An essential precursor for me (Mariko) was my time in Chicago. My six years there began with Mission Year, an experience I describe as: “the best year I never want to repeat.” My views of justice, ‘who is my neighbor?’, systems and institutions, and all their interrelated complexities quite literally changed my life. As is my nature, I walked slowly through this shift, and it awakened an intentionality not before present. I now hold space for compassion and kindness toward all I encounter with a mindfulness that everyone carries their own heavy load.
After several years of being a companion to the dying in hospice, I (Rachel) became acquainted with grief and loss and felt the compassion fatigue of bearing witness to suffering day in and day out. Especially serving in the “buckle of the Bible Belt,” the anger at easy answers and half-truths burned me about how:
‘God works all for the good’ or ‘rejoice that he’s been taken home to be with the Lord.” When my personal and professional worlds collided, as I cared for a sweet friend during her final weeks of living and dying of cancer, the tapestry of my faith began to unravel.
This was a painful valley to muddle through, but eventually I reached out to seek community through the church we now belong. After connecting with the pastor, I wrote of “precious sustenance for my soul. The vibrant authenticity and hospitality of the people and the compassion in your words were like a soothing balm over my wounded heart.” We both treasure how part of the mission of this church is to allow folks to question, doubt, explore, and discover. We have experienced incredible love and belonging there.
Meaningful Spiritual Practices:
Umm, pre-twins or post-twins? Ha!
To be sure, spiritual practices look vastly different now with toddling twins. But whenever we do practice, it’s so much more significant. We keep a corner of our guest room as a meditation nook. It has a plethora of fluffy pillows, meaningful quotes, candles to light, and rocks of remembrance to hold. We have an ancient singing bowl we use to chime in the opening or closing of shared silence, to breathe in peace and breathe out anxiety. Sometimes, even in the chaos of twin toddler life, we will gong the singing bowl one time and as the vibrations ring through the room, the twins will suddenly be still and listen to the quiet.
While we have our own lists of writers we adore, two authors that have impacted us both are Anne Lamott and Henri J.M. Nouwen. Specifically, Lamott’s “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith” was Mariko’s bible for several years. Her irreverent storytelling, raw honesty, and “kitchen sink” spirituality opened both of our inner eyes to the expansiveness of Jesus and the simple approaches we can take – however we are in that moment.
On the other side of that same coin, Nouwen’s “Life of the Beloved” and “Inner Voices of Love” provided a different form of spirituality and discipline. We could offer a quote (or six or seven) but, really, just read the books for yourself. We’re pretty sure you won’t be disappointed.
On Being LBGTQ2S+ & a WOC:
When it comes to race/ethnicity, I (Mariko) have always identified more closely with my Filipino roots, although I always check the “Other” box with pride! Where I notice race is not so much as a couple but as parents. We tried to find a Filipino donor but the only one we found made it too easy to trace his real identity, and that felt weird to us, so we didn’t choose him. There is an element of finality knowing our family lineage won’t be passed on through me. So, I want to do what I can to tell the twins stories, to expose them to [my] brown people, and to inform them of familial experiences and cultural practices.
Despite having been friends for a decade and knowing the other’s families, the majority of both sides of our families did not respond well. For years, there was some combination of “come to Jesus” interventions, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance, outright avoidance, and stern “our way or the highway” kind of ‘conversations’.
So, all that to say, we needed supportive community in a huge way!! For a long time, most of our support was in the form of allies at our church, Northminster Presbyterian Church along with an amazing peer/support group in Nashville. Now, we’ve added more LGBTQ+ folks to our roster of “family”, and that’s helped immensely! Our families have come a long way in the process of reconciliation and unifying around the fact that we all love one another too much to give up on the other. Especially after those initial heavyhearted years, I can say with certainty that had it not been for the folks at NPC, we wouldn’t be where we are today. They buoyed us in some of are darkest moments of despair
My deepest gratitude to both Mariko and Rachel for sharing their stories. And thanks to Eli and Sparrow for sharing their lovely family! I hope their words have inspired you all to continue seeking community, seeking God, and seeking love. I leave you today with words from Anne Lamott: