Notice Thy Neighbor
"Linda, don't feed that cat…"
Roger and Linda Decker welcomed a stray into their little, pink house in Hayward a few years ago. It was just another feral nuisance, who happened to be adorable — and pregnant — and Roger wasn't immediately a fan of the idea.
"Too late, I've been feeding her for a week," Linda replied with a grin.
His shoulders slumped.
"But you won't let her in the house, okay?"
"Too late, she's in the kitchen."
So Roger gave in and attempted to show the stray some kindness, but "Miss Kitty" hissed at him.
You might see the Deckers ushering at one of the west-side sanctuary doors during the 11 a.m. service. They offer smiles to anyone and everyone; their clothes always seem to color-coordinate just perfectly; they hold hands in prayer before passing the tithing trays.
“If you touched her (Miss Kitty), she would reach out and claw and bite all at the same time; this cat was really weaponized,” Roger said.
But now she stretches herself out on the Deckers Aztec-pattered couch and closes her eyes in contentment, no longer ‘weaponized’ because the Deckers knew she just needed love.
Girl asks boy
“I asked Roger to a girl-ask-boy dance the second time it came around,” Linda said. “He was expecting me to ask him the first time around and I didn't.”
Roger quickly added to the story.
“She didn't really ask me,” he said chuckling. “My brother was in a play and I was sitting next to my mother and she came running up the aisle, ran across, hands me a note and away she goes. I opened up the note and read it: ‘Will you go with me to the girl-ask-boy dance?’’”
With a nudge and a, 'She's cute!' from his mother, Roger said 'yes.' The Castlemont High School's girl-ask-boy dance of 1959 was the first date of 57 years' worth.
They saved a down payment of $1,500 during their engagement to purchase a house on Inglewood Street, and they were married in 1961. This coral-colored house soon boasted photos of their two children on its walls. Roger commuted to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he was a machinist with a promising career path; Linda volunteered at the children's school and moved into food-service management.
Taking the children to Sunday school was important for Linda so they began attending 3Crosses (which was called Neighborhood Church in the 60's) because of convenience.
"At the time they had a bus that came around and picked up people, so I was the neighborhood adult on the bus and we had about 15 kids from Inglewood Street get on that bus every Sunday," said Linda.
Roger didn't go with them.
"I had other fish to fry," he said. "I was out playing golf, chasing deer, or fishing or something."
Soon family vacations and extracurricular activities took the place of church for Linda and the children as well, but Linda says God never left her.
"He's always been in my heart, but I've not always followed," Linda says.
In 1998, Linda made another suggestion to Roger, this time without a nervously hand-scribbled note.
"I think we ought to go to church," she told him.
So Linda went back to the church with the three, big crosses and Roger was by her side. During the service, Roger said, a woman on stage sang a song he cannot remember, but her worshipful voice facilitated his first encounter with God.
"It was just marvelous," he said. "it was like God was talking to me."
Shortly after, the couple was baptized as a sign to the congregation of their new, and continued, faith in Jesus Christ.
"Neither one of us said much up there we let the pastor do the talking," Roger said about their baptism day.
"I didn't feel like I could keep a straight face and say all that stuff. I'm not really good at talking when I'm crying, some people can do that, I can't, so we let the pastor say it all and we got baptized and we've been really involved in the church since then."
The Deckers still call the house on Inglewood Street their home. Photos of grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been added to the walls.
Linda was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.
"Gee, I just thought when my head started shaking I was just being agreeable," Linda said in response to her diagnosis.
And that's just the response the Deckers have had in life: they both say they've been blessed; they lack nothing. So they give it away freely.
"She laughs easy and so do I," Roger said. "It seems like it (our life) happened in a heartbeat. It really went by fast. Would you agree with that?"
"Yep," Linda agrees with a quiet smile.
"We both accepted Jesus as our Savior," Roger continued. "And we're working to help other people in that regard."
Notice thy neighbor
In the 20 years since they began attending church again, the Deckers have done a lot of people watching.
As a greeter during the first service, Roger said he's noticed generational cycles of the church — the dating, the newly married, the empty-nesters, the baby-boomers.
"It's fun, it's entertaining and just once in a while I have somebody come up there that you can look in their eyes and see they're just so broken," Roger said.
They've started noticing when love is lacking, when they can fill a need, even when all that's needed is a listening ear.
Roger said he once was approached by a woman who had difficulty communicating — she communicated in her own way, really — so for about five minutes Roger stood at his greeting location and let her babel, allowing his morning to be rerouted. Roger didn't entirely know what she was saying, but he intently listened and was eventually able to help her in a small way.
"What am I going to do? I'm not going to chase her off," he said. "The Lord put her there for a reason. When I first started at the church, I don't think I would have done that. I would have found some way to deflect her."
God had strategically placed Roger in those coordinates on that specific morning. Even driving his truck around, Roger prayed for a road-raged driver sitting next to him at a red light.
"That truck that he's beating on isn't feeling nothing," Roger said. "The only thing that's getting hurt is his hand and what's going on In his heart and head I can only imagine."
Decades ago, Linda admits she also 'deflected." She never reached out to those seated next to her in the sanctuary. Likewise, she never gave them the opportunity to reach out to her. But opening one's self up to intimacy is part of walking with Christ and His people, she said.
"Not just knowing them but actually knowing their heart, and having them care about you," said Linda. "You get a greater understanding of where they're coming from."
And this translates directly into her role as an usher. Everyone she meets has a story, has their issues, has their own hurts, so she'll show them love and respect.
"You don't know where they've been, you haven't walked in their shoes, so treat them with respect and if they're going to be ornery they're going to be ornery," she said, laughing.
Because, sure, the Deckers have met a handful of ornery folks throughout the years, but they're all looking for love.
And that includes a certain cat curled up on an Aztec-patterned couch inside a cozy, pink house.
Written for 3Crosses Church