Just Because He Breathes

Just Because He Breathes

June 1, 2009 – 2nd Day of 17 Days in Harborview

On the night of November 20, 2001, a conversation held over Instant Messenger changed our lives forever. Our twelve year old son messaged me in my office from the computer in his bedroom.

Ryan says: can i tell u something
Mom says: Yes I am listening
Ryan says: well i don’t know how to say this really but, well……, i can’t keep lying to you about myself. I have been hiding this for too long and i sorta have to tell u now. By now u probably have an idea of what i am about to say.
Ryan says: I am gay
Ryan says: i can’t believe i just told you
Mom says: Are you joking?
Ryan says: no
Ryan says: i thought you would understand because of uncle don
Mom says: of course I would
Mom says: but what makes you think you are?
Ryan says: i know i am
Ryan says: i don’t like hannah
Ryan says: it’s just a cover-up
Mom says: but that doesn’t make you gay…
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: but u don’t understand
Ryan says: i am gay
Mom says: tell me more
Ryan says: it’s just the way i am and it’s something i know
Ryan says: u r not a lesbian and u know that. it is the same thing
Mom says: what do you mean?
Ryan says: i am just gay
Ryan says: i am that
Mom says: I love you no matter what
Ryan says: i am white not black
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: i am a boy not a girl
Ryan says: i am attracted to boys not girls
Ryan says: u know that about yourself and i know this
Mom says: what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?
Ryan says: i know
Mom says: thank you for telling me
Ryan says: and i am very confused about that right now
Mom says: I love you more for being honest
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: thanx

We were completely shocked. Not that we didn’t know and love gay people – my only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails, and ALL boy. We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all of our reactions over the next six years, was FEAR.

We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible – the Word of God – should say:

We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. And this is hard. REALLY hard. But we know what God says about this, and so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices.

We love you. We couldn’t love you more. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books…you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.

We love you. We are so glad you are our son. But you are young, and your sexual orientation is still developing. The feelings you’ve had for other guys don’t make you gay. So please don’t tell anyone that you ARE gay. You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay – it is that you are a child of God.

We love you. Nothing will change that. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is NOT an option.

We thought we understood the magnitude of the sacrifice that we – and God – were asking for. And this sacrifice, we knew, would lead to the abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards. Ryan had always felt intensely drawn to spiritual things; He desired to please God above all else. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies and got baptized. He read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into counseling to further discover the “why’s” of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and I, and built strong friendships with other guys – straight guys – just like the reparative therapy experts advised. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing – by memory – verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Himself.

But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer – or ours – though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe – the God for whom NOTHING is impossible – could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.

Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what HE believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly OWN their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.

Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime condemned to being alone. He would never have the chance to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy and companionship or experience romance.

And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted – peace – another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.

We had – unintentionally – taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him.

Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death, especially in light of his recent rejection of Christianity, and his mounting anger at God.

Ryan started with weed and beer…but in six short months was using cocaine, crack and heroin. He was hooked from the beginning, and his self-loathing and rage at God only fueled his addiction. Shortly after, we lost contact with him. For the next year and a half we didn’t know where he was, or even if he was dead or alive. And during that horrific time, God had our full attention. We stopped praying for Ryan to become straight. We started praying for him to know that God loved him. We stopped praying for him never to have a boyfriend. We started praying that someday we might actually get to know his boyfriend. We even stopped praying for him to come home to us; we only wanted him to come home to God.

By the time our son called us, after 18 long months of silence, God had completely changed our perspective. Because Ryan had done some pretty terrible things while using drugs, the first thing he asked me was this:

Do you think you can ever forgive me? (I told him of course, he was already forgiven. He had ALWAYS been forgiven.)

Do you think you could ever love me again? (I told him that we had never stopped loving him, not for one second. We loved him then more than we had ever loved him.)

Do you think you could ever love me with a boyfriend? (Crying, I told him that we could love him with fifteen boyfriends. We just wanted him back in our lives. We just wanted to have a relationship with him again…AND with his boyfriend.)

And a new journey was begun. One of healing, restoration, open communication and grace. LOTS of grace. And God was present every step of the way, leading and guiding us, gently reminding us simply to love our son, and leave the rest up to Him.

Over the next ten months, we learned to truly love our son. Period. No buts. No conditions. Just because he breathes. We learned to love whoever our son loved. And it was easy. What I had been so afraid of became a blessing. The journey wasn’t without mistakes, but we had grace for each other, and the language of apology and forgiveness became a natural part of our relationship. As our son pursued recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we pursued him. God taught us how to love him, to rejoice over him, to be proud of the man he was becoming. We were all healing…and most importantly, Ryan began to think that if WE could forgive him and love him, then maybe God could, too.

And then Ryan made the classic mistake of a recovering addict…he got back together with his old friends…his using friends. And one evening that was supposed to simply be a night at the movies turned out to be the first time he had shot up in ten months…and the last time. We got a phone call from a social worker at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle asking us to come identify our son – that he had arrived there in a coma, in critical condition. We spent 17 days at Harborview, during which time our whole family was able to surround and love on Ryan. We experienced miracle after miracle during that time, things that no doctor had any medical explanation for. God’s presence was TANGIBLE in Ryan’s room. But that is a long, sacred story that I’ll have to tell another time.

Though Ryan had suffered such severe brain damage that he had almost complete paralysis, the doctors told us that he could very well outlive us. But, unexpectedly, Ryan died on July 16, 2009. And we lost the ability to love our gay son…because we no longer had a gay son. What we had wished for…prayed for…hoped for…that we would NOT have a gay son, came true. But not at all in the way we used to envision.

Now, when I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, who I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by FAITH instead of by FEAR. Now, whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner. But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone. We celebrate anniversaries: the would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange – his color. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy…for that is all we have left, and there will be no new memories.  We rejoice in our adult children, and in our growing family as they marry…but ache for the one of our “gang of four” who is missing. We mark life by the days BC (before coma) and AD (after death), because we are different people now; our life was irrevocably changed – in a million ways – by his death. We treasure friendships with others who “get it”…because they, too, have lost a child.

We weep. We seek Heaven for grace and mercy and redemption as we try – not to get better but to be better. And we pray that God can somehow use our story to help other parents learn to truly love their children. Just because they breathe.

Linda Diane Robertson
Originally posted on FaceBook on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday
An expanded, live version of this story, presented at the June 2013 Exodus International Conference can be seen here.

Note: If you’d like to see an example of the beautiful, gracious, loving soul who was the person of Ryan David Robertson, read the letter that he wrote to my husband, Ryan’s dad, on Father’s Day 2009, just 9 days before his accidental overdose. We’ve included a picture of the original letter, blown up into poster-size, which hangs in our bathroom to remind us of GRACE.

1,029 thoughts on “Just Because He Breathes

  1. me

    do you mind me ask you something, when you first found out your son was gay, did you and your family have to deal with negative reactions from Christians around you?

    either overtly hostile, basically people who thinks homosexuals = perverts

    or people who are well intentioned but still hold prejudice and maybe chose to be ignorant on this matter, such as believing your son had a choice, and you and your family need to send him into therapy to cure him?

    and if so, how did you guys handle the situation?

    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      At that time, we didn’t really tell anyone at church, and we ourselves believed that God would change him if we had enough faith. Now, we do have friends and family who feel that we have walked away from our faith because of our confidence that Christians can be gay and please God…and that God blesses monogamous gay marriages just as He does heterosexual ones. Some of them choose to disagree with us but they still respect us, while others have been much more judgmental and hurtful. We try to focus on the friends who love us and support us no matter what, but sometimes the pain of those who have wrongly judged us and who have disengaged with us is really hard. However, it is only a tiny fraction of what any LGBT person, growing up in the conservative church, experiences…and we try to allow it to give us a small glimpse into what our friends have gone through day after day after day.

      Those who are hostile…well, we try our best to remember that only God can change their hearts…and if God can change US as He clearly did, He can move ANYONE to become more humble and loving!

  2. A.N.L

    Could someone here please pray for me? I am so so lost and I could really use some Christian help.

    Im 19 and dating a girl I care for deeply but I am in turmoil feeling like God and Jesus do not hear me or my prayers. Can someone please pray to him and just send up a prayer for his guidance for me? I am so helpless and need him badly.

    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      A.N.L….what makes you feel like God doesn’t hear you?? You clearly desire to know Him and to please Him, and I KNOW that He loves you and hears your every thought, worry and prayer. I WILL pray for you…but please know that He is there for you!

        1. Linda Robertson Post author

          A.N.L…Are you a reader? If so, I’d highly recommend that you check out Justin Lee’s book, “Torn” or Matthew Vine’s book, “God and the Gay Christian.” I think both would be hugely encouraging…They are both gay Christians who love God passionately, and want nothing more than to please them with their lives. I know both of them, and they are wonderful men.
          And one other thought…what loving parent could EVER hate their child, or send her to hell? Those aren’t things that loving parents are even capable of doing…and how much MORE loving is God, right??
          Praying that you will deeply know how much He loves you!

        2. Jeanne

          I just want to send you a big hug! It is impossible for God to hate you; in fact He loves you unconditionally! I have a gay son and it makes me sad to think that he may feel this way also. I try to tell him, and I am telling you; GOD LOVES YOU!! It makes me sad that you feel this way, please accept my hug and know that God is hugging you too!

        3. Edward

          Both authors are excellent. You might also want to watch a movie titled A Fish Out of Water.
          It will help give you a new perspective on being gay.

  3. Shad

    I appreciate and love you guys so much. Thank you for your tenderness and vulnerability. It’s such a hard thing, and I rarely know how to handle this struggle, but your story makes me want to keep trying. Ryan would be so proud of you. Huge hug. Thanks for being a safe harbor for people like me.

  4. Catherine Smith

    Linda, I wanted to thank you for this beautiful post. It honestly changed my life and came to me at a critical time. I can’t express in words how it impacted me. Thank you and thanks to your wonderful son for helping those that follow. I will always remember this story and Ryan. When I see him again someday, I will hug him and thank him.

    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Bless you, Catherine…I needed to hear this today! If you’d ever like to join our FaceBook group of Christian moms with LGBT kids, please find and friend me on FaceBook…I am Linda Mueller Robertson there. Again, thank you. God knew I needed this encouragement today.



    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      If you wrote that comment with the intent to hurt me, I can assure you that you succeeded. Though I don’t agree that there is no God, I do agree that we have a great deal of responsibility in Ryan’s death. That is the whole point of sharing…to encourage other parents not to make the same mistakes.
      I am sorry that reading our story made you so very angry…I hope that life brings you joy and blessings.

      1. Edward

        I just read the hateful letter you recieved. It was totally uncalled for. I know your mistakes hurt and still do but you have taken tragedy and tried to improve the world. I admire you and know you are truly a good person.
        Please don’t let attacks like this hurt you.
        I know God holds you very dear.
        Thank you for all you do,

      2. carolb12

        Linda and Rob–just BREATHE, and please ignore this type of behavior. Ryan would despise knowing you give this one ounce of credibility or time. Keep putting one step in front of the other, and changing this world for the better—Ryan would want you to keep looking forward and into the future. I am praying for you right this minute, and I am also going to pray for the person who sent this awful response. They are obviously in so much pain, and for that, I know you would be as sorry as I am becaue I know yor heart as Ryan did—I love you L and R <3

      3. embracinglife42910

        {{{{Linda and family}}}} What was ‘written’ by the ONE person is nothing but a “reaction” and not a “response.” Those whom have been hurt do tend to lash out the hardest. While the persons ‘response’ might have still been painful to read, it would not have been near as harsh. Keep staying your course and comments like those will hurt less and less. You are making the good out of the bad and ugly. Next time you get a comment that leaves you judging yourself, take a step back. Not everything deserves an immediate response. Just “kill ‘em with kindness.”

        1. Linda Robertson Post author

          Ahhh…The difference between a reaction and a response…that gives me something to chew on. I know that these comments cut especially deep because I fear that there is truth in them….well, there is some truth in them. And that is where it gets tricky. Thank you for reminding me that the reaction comes from pain, and that we WILL get stronger in responding to them. I am going to hang on to that…thank you for believing that for us and with us!

    2. Alex Amonett

      I do not believe in engaging in online arguements or to fan fuel to the flames of individuals who lack respect, compassion and forgiveness.

      Instead- I write directly to you Linda to send you encouragement and love. I have posted on your blog before, and as a gay son of a Christian family who has disowned him, and speaking on behalf of many like me- keeping doing what you are doing. The tragedies and mistakes in our lives do not break us…they make us. And you have used your experience to do God’s work…to extend your love…your compassion…your faith…to serve as a role model for so many. We can only pray for more hearts like you and your family’s in this life. Huge virtual hugs. I know your son would be proud.

      1. Linda Robertson Post author

        Alex…Can’t thank you enough. Rob and I live with such remorse and sorrow for our mistakes, that reading these kinds of comments can just lay me out, especially at the end of a tough day. Thank you for understanding our hearts, and believing the best in us. HUGE hugs to you tonight, Alex…your parents sure are missing out on an amazing man. XOXOXOXOXOX

      2. Jim

        Her son wouldn’t be proud, because her son is dead. I know that other dude’s words are harsh, but they really needed to be said. Religion is the cause of so much hate and evil and sadness in this world. It’s divisive and exclusive. It teaches that there is a “normal” and that there is an “other.” Homosexuality is not unnatural. A mother who needs to “learn” to love her child is completely unnatural. Love is the word of god. And real unconditional love wouldn’t result in this kind of tragedy.

        1. Linda Robertson Post author

          Ouch. I’ve heard a lot of things, but you calling me completely unnatural is a first. That hurts, but I know that if Ryan were alive, he’d be the first to argue with you. I am my harshest critic, but nobody can change the fact that Ryan told me EVERY SINGLE DAY of the last year of his life that he wanted me to know how much he loved me, and how thankful he was that I was his mom. And really, I only answer to my husband, my four kids, and, for me, my God.
          Jim, may I ask, are you a parent? If so, were you a perfect parent right from the time your child entered the world, or have you learned along the way? Perhaps parenting has come much more easily to you than it did for us, the parents of four amazing kids…if so, I am truly glad for you. That just wasn’t my experience. I’ve learned a lot over the past 28 years of parenting.
          I agree that religion is often divisive and exclusive, but Jesus was never either of those things. And His harshest words were for the religious people of His time, those who did teach a we-them perspective on life.
          Thanks for chiming in here, even if your words were hurtful. I know that there are many people out there who agree with you…they all commented on the original Huff Post article. ;)

        2. Edward

          Right, Linda, Jesus wasn’t exclusive and any church claiming to follow him shouldn’t be.
          We are seeing more and more people and churches moving to be more inclusive.
          This is dogma that has been taught a long long time and is going to take time to rid religion of it.
          What ever you said or did, you certainly correct it. And your son knew he was loved by his parents.
          Criticism of you is counter productive and rude.
          This site is here to help people today or so I thought. No one is helped by uglyness or being rude.
          As I said before I respect and admire you. And I know I am not alone.
          Ugly words here will only drive away people who need help.
          God bless you and your husband.

        3. Linda Robertson Post author

          Wow, Edward…you are wise. Yes, it is going to take time…but I am determined to focus on the change I see happening in our world, and to let that give me hope for even greater future change. And thank you so much for reminding me that these two critical voices do not speak for everyone. I needed to hear that. Much love to you, friend!

        4. Butch

          Hi Linda. I haven’t written in a while, even though I do follow your post ( and, the responses) regularly. Please let me be the first to say you and your husband did everything you possibly could for your son. While I’m not religious myself, it pained me deeply when I read the horrible, hate filled rant posted earlier. Please don’t let it get to you…even though I know it had to hurt. He is obviously in a lot of pain himself to have spewed out such hateful nonsense. Please know that for every jerk like him, there are hundreds more who love and support what you are doing. Sending hugs, love and all the positive energy I have your way.

        5. Linda Robertson Post author

          Butch, I just read your message out loud to Rob, and we both cried…but this time with gratitude. This “blog” is actually our very, very personal story, and we don’t ever, not for a minute, forget that this journey has been ours, and that it has been full of pain for not only Ryan, but for our other kids as well. And much of that pain was caused because of our misguided and harmful response to Ryan’s sexuality. Thank you so much for reminding me to give myself grace, and to be kind to myself…I know I really did think I was doing what was best for Ryan, and I think most parents who respond as we did are well-meaning, as we were. And those are the parents we are trying to reach….parents who don’t realize that what their churches, pastors and leaders are telling them to do is, many many times (in the case of conservative evangelical churches, at least) incredibly harmful to their child. Bless you for your powerfully encouraging words, Butch!

  6. dogtorbill

    Dearest Linda and Rob, although I haven’t posted for months, please know how much I love and support you. Alex said it well, “The tragedies and mistakes in our lives do not break us…they make us.” Someone who uses nothing but caps in a response, uses a fake name, and this amount of profanity clearly has nothing useful or constructive to contribute in real logic. We can only pray for him, because he certainly has been hurt by someone. I pray daily that nothing I do or say will push someone away from our Lord’s loving light and warmth. Hateful confrontation affirms and justifies that hatred. It’s so hard to love when others spew vitriol, but Christ showed us how, and you do it well. Love and blessings, Bill.

  7. Anonymous

    You are the answer to many nights of tearful prayers. I thank God for your beautiful heart and I hope you will please pray for me. I am a Christian, I was on staff for an evangelical ministry working with teens and I have been in/led a bible study for the last 15 or so years. For the past 8 yrs I have been on a journey with God trying to come to figure out Homosexuality. My brother-in-law is gay, some of the kids I worked with were gay and I loved them very much but thought this was sin. I too, have a son who is 10 and I am pretty sure that he is gay and had been praying for years that God would help me see what He had for me, believing that He would show me through scripture. Thank you, for your beautiful words. They have given my heart a peace I have struggled to find for years. I ordered the two books that you recomended. This year we have been studying Romans and we got to Chap .1 and as it was read my heart just knew I could no longer view this scripture the same way. I prayed and my bible study leader prayed that I would find a Christian woman who had been through what I am going through and that day I found you. I can’t begin to explain the rejection I have felt from my evangelical friends when I have shared with them, I have been in places of depair, imagining what my son might experience from the church. We have left the churches that were once home, I have lost fellowship with dear friends and when I even suggested to my biblestudy that there are bible believing Christians who love and accept gay people I was quieted. My dearest friends tell me about not denying God’s word. Thank you for understanding a mother’s heart. I love my son so much, I love God more and I know God has a plan for my son and that this road is too hard for him to walk alone and so God gave him parents to stand in the gap to pray to be his advocates. God is using you in powerful ways. Thank you for being so brave and strong. Thank you for being Christ-like and forgiving and gracious in all your posts. Thanks to Ryan for showing me how to love my son.
    Thank you, God bless you.

    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Oh my goodness…I am sitting in a Starbucks catching up on email while my husband is at his annual eye exam, and I just found your comment, and now I am crying and thanking God for such a clear and powerful reminder of why He keeps encouraging us to tell our story, even though we seem to collect enemies from both sides for doing so. I am not brave or strong, but it is messages like yours that keep me going.
      If you would like to connect with other Christian moms who have gone through, and are going through, exactly what you describe, please find me on FaceBook! I am Linda Mueller Robertson there, and we have the BEST group of moms…they are truly amazing and the power of their prayers have carried me through many a difficult day. I would love to introduce them to you!

    2. Edward

      If I may suggest you look online for a video titled A Fish Out of Water and then look up Michael Vines. I think you will be impressed by both of these. They will give you another more Christian point of view on gays. I don’t mean yours isn’t but they will strengthen you believes.
      I am Christian and viewing both help me to be able to discuss this issue with others and hopefully change some incorrect views.
      These will help you to inderstand what the Bible really says.
      God bless,

    3. embracinglife42910

      HUGE hugs to you, Mom. If, indeed, your son is gay, you will be such a blessing to him when he comes out. I would also encourage you to visit Freedhearts.org. This will also provide confirmation that your new understandings of the bible are not far fetched! God Bless you!

  8. swray48

    This book has come highly recommended to us: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, by Wesley Hill. I think this young man has gay leanings, and wants to remain faithful to Scripture and to the Lord.
    If this is not helpful, please feel free to delete it.

    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Washed and Waiting is a great book for those who feel called by God to celibacy, but I would caution straight Christians against using it as some kind of “evidence” that since Wesley Hill has remained celibate, all gay Christians can, and must, do the same. I have seen that far too often.

      When I read Washed and Waiting, I was overwhelmed by the difficulty and pain that Wesley Hill so vulnerably describes, and the commitment of his community to walking with him. I felt overwhelmed by the conviction that only GOD can call and require someone to walk the path of celibacy. As a straight Christian who enjoys a thriving intimate relationship with my husband, I don’t feel like I have the right to tell someone else that they can never have what I have. I’ll leave that up to God, if He so desires. He is more than able.
      Thanks for chiming in here!!


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