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. 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 written on December 5th, 2012
Posted on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday

NOTE: If you’d like to read an example of the beautiful, gracious and loving soul our son Ryan was, read the letter he wrote to Rob on Father’s Day, only 9 days before his accidental overdose.

63 thoughts on “Just Because He Breathes…

    1. Millie Laughlin

      Thank you for sharing your story. My son, Alex, came out last year. We live in a very small, conservative community, and I was truly afraid for him. Your message “Just because they breathe” is simple and powerful and I will use that if I’m ever confronted by someone who doesn’t understand. To see Alex’s story you can look for “Sexuality in Small Town America” on You Tube by Tim Laughlin.

      Reply
    2. Amanda

      The journey that you have walked with your son resonated with me and still is, months after I first came upon your story. For me, your story is not so much about the issue of homosexuality as it is about faith, God, mercy and truth and how all these things relate to where we find ourselves in life and all that it can throw at us. I was raised in an Evangelical church all of my life and had what I felt was an unshakeable faith. That all changed about 7 years ago when our daughter, who is now 17, began to show signs of symptoms that something was going seriously wrong. Unresolved issues led to mental health deterioration and drug abuse which has been the road we have had to walk with her, everyday is a challenge. We did EVERYTHING we felt compelled to do, and everything we were advised to do. We prayed, my husband fasted for days on end, we engaged in warfare and everything that comes along with that…….we got no where and what actually ended up happening is that we began to lose more and more of her.
      We had to seriously question who God is, what it is He has actually said, as well as where and on who is our source. Once these questions were settled in our hearts we were able to take these last few years and show our daughter grace and mercy beyond what we ever thought possible. Is it easy to watch the road she walks? NO. But we love her beyond measure and she knows that, there is a God in heaven who loves her and created her and she knows that too. We are committed, through His sustaining grace to walk this road with her, however long it takes. Thank you for sharing your story. It gives me grace and it gives me strength.

      Reply
      1. Linda Robertson Post author

        Oh, Amanda…my heart aches with you. The loneliness of dealing with mental illness and addiction…and trying to figure out where God is as we watch our children suffer…it is SO painful. I wish we could have coffee and I could simply listen and cry with you. Praying for your family today, my friend.

        Reply
  1. Chris Becker

    You are both amazing parents, thank you for sharing your story and your candidness, humor and honesty and most of all your love for Ryan with the world. I wish you and your family well. I admire your strength and ongoing efforts in helping others.

    Reply
  2. Kalley

    Wow!!! I need you guys to quit making me cry ;-)
    As always, with me being a heroin addict in recovery, your story touches my heart. I love you both and am blessed with you in my life. Thank you

    Reply
  3. Connie

    Thank you so much for sharing this most amazing, personal, and painful story with the world! I made this journey with my son as well. All the things you felt and said, I felt and said. I did not however lose my son, and I’m so very sorry for your loss. In sharing your story I am confident that you will help so many families! Blessings and Peace to you!

    Reply
  4. jsharbour

    I’m very sorry for your loss, but I want to share something with Ryan’s parents. If you believe in the God of the Bible, then you must believe in the eternal soul. That doesn’t mean Eternal from Birth onward, but eternal past and future. Ryan chose you to be his parents. He intended for this to happen in his life, as a lesson he wanted to learn about tolerance. He knew that by choosing you as his parents, he would be loved, and would be able to work out this lesson the hard way–the only way you can truly learn, by going through hardship. He also chose the leave after having gone through that great challenge and having learned how it feels to be rejected. It was not his intention to grow old, but to accomplish a very specific, important goal. You will see him again and understand the role you played in his life and why it had to happen this way, and what that means in the long term. God bless you.

    Reply
    1. Penny Foster Carey

      Unfortunately, those things are NOT in the Bible. While it may sound all good and comforting, I hope Ryan’s parents realize this is NOT from the Bible and should not be believed as a means of “feeling better”.

      Reply
  5. Pingback: What is Religion Doing to Your Children? | I Hope You're Taking Notes

  6. Ashley

    Fist of all I want to thank you for sharing your story. Reading your honest words is so refreshing. My heart is broken for you that you lost your beautiful son and I pray that God continue to give you peace and heal your hearts. I’m sure you take so much comfort in knowing that your son knew in the end how much he was loved by you and by God. I was raised to think that gay was one of the worst sins. My thoughts on it all changed though when my step-son revealed to me at the age of 16 that he was gay. It was hard at first to accept but our love for him was able to help us get past the initial shock. It’s still a struggle at times to get used to the idea of him having a boyfriend but we are getting better. Again, thank you for sharing your candid thoughts and emotions. <3
    ~Ashley

    Reply
  7. lisainbc

    Linda (and Rob), thank you for sharing your story of how God is using Ryan life to help you grow in your love and experience new dimensions of His love for you.

    Reply
  8. Ed Mitchell

    After being left in tears reading your story about Ryan, let me first say ditto to the comments of lisainbc.
    I’m a 75 year old gay male with a partner of 43 years. And like Ryan I grew up believing that being a queer was the lowest of low. In my early youth I thought, hoped it was just a phase I was going thru. But by my late 20s I knew this wasn’t the case. So I began to pray twice a day to God to be free of this desire. But after six months of praying I fell on the bed all alone one night and said, “Well, God, I give up. If there are going to be any changes You will have to make them.” Imagine my shock when I felt a hand pat me on the head and heard a Voice say “That’s better.” I was so shocked I was immediately was on my knees saying, “Thy Will be done, Thy will be done.” I had no idea what might happen next. But then I thought, “What IS the Will of God?” And immediately this wonderful energy came up my spine into my forehead and the Voice said, “JOY, JOY, JOY.” After this and many subsequent experiences I learned to accept the fact that it was OK to be gay. Three years later I met my life partner.
    I pray that you often feel Ryan’s presence as you go about spreading the word of God’s love for all of us. Ed

    Reply
  9. Gloria Champion

    I was at work finishing up for the day and your story and journey popped up on the internet. It was compelling and I had to keep reading. I am so deeply touched, and want to say something cherishing, valuable, and tender, something that might bring further comfort and yet words fail me. I live in a community where there are many challenges about and regarding gayness, gay people, culture and religion, and it always hurts me and saddens me. Your story and journey is so powerful, so healing, so humbling. Thank you for sharing with me, with the world. I believe in the healing of people so that we will become better and better human beings. “And the greatest of these is love…” Thank you both every so much for your powerful example of love, strength and courage. I appreciate you all , your family, the light you are shining, with all my heart. Gloria Champion

    Reply
  10. Luca

    For me it’s too much ! I am ONLY sorry for Ryan not being understood by those who were supposed to love him first. No one should try to push someone in one direction or another one.

    Reply
  11. Mike

    Wow! I am a sixty-two year-old gay male who read with great wonder, tons of tears and a very, very warm heart the story – actually I read it twice! I parallel Ryan’s life in many ways. I had lost a father before I was born and then adopted by an older aunt and uncle at the age of four months. This is just the background. I had a tough time doing battle with the “gay issue” in my life. It consumed me! I knew that I was the “proud recipient” of the gay gene at a very early age. I was part of a deeply religious Catholic family and man the mind battles were amazing. I think of all the things I could have accomplished with my life had I been able to accept my sexuality and move forward. I mean, I went into the seminary to study for the priesthood – no surprise, I found the place totally dysfunctional for the purpose of Catholic lifestyle. Then after college, started working as a Catholic Music Director and realized quickly, I needed a cover – I can fix my condition with getting married. That was the product of a truly “informed” mind. I was married within the year after graduating and starting the new job. I was good for three years, but the gay issue reared its ugly head again. To complicate matters a little further, we had two children. I got divorced after about 15 years and the first guy that I romanced was a drug addict. The rest of that chapter doesn’t need to be written. So, when I came out of recovery, I realized a lot about myself. The biggest complication was God’s love for me and being gay. Things have really come together for me.- about to get married to a wonderful guy and working in a different Church.
    Your story has given me some help in expressing my story to others in a ministerial way. I am sorry that your son Ryan wasn’t around to experience the joy last week with the two Supreme Court decisions. We live about 100 miles from San Francisco and it was such a joyful Gay Pride and really very calm. After reading your story and subsequent blogs, how I wish I and my husband-to-be could have met Ryan and his husband. He’s no doubt very happy and looking down on you good people and all of us down here thinking of him and his difficult journey!
    Thanks for sharing those tender moments!

    Reply
  12. Sandra Curtis

    Thank you so much for your compassionate and heartfelt story of Ryan. I too have a gay son we have prayed for many years that God would bring him out of this but to no avail. For some reason God has left a very godly man in this possition. He went to seminary to be a missionary to Israel but that did not happem. He did graduate with his masters and was pursuing a Doctorate. He accomplished all of this even though he was a non-partisapating gay man.. he continually struggled with this problem and his relationship with God. At 47 years he finally gave up and is now in a relationship with another Christian man. We think ‘what is God doing to us and in us?’ Knowing all the time this is going against our strong belief in God and His Holy Word.
    I know that all things are directed by God, but why this? I do believe that God is no respector of persons and that one sin is no greater than another. This is man’s choice to put degrees on sin, not God’s. Remember in the scripture He told of a harlot caught in the act and by law she was to be stoned to death? Then Christ said “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. There were no stones cast. This reinforces my belief that no sin is greater than another. Doctors claim that they now have ways of knowing in-veteroe if you are about to produce a gay baby. I don’t think it would have mattered to me. I love my son just as God has created him. No one understands or knows the will of God our Father. I just praise His Name for my two precious children we (my deceased husband and I ) have raised the best we knew how with God’s help. Whatever happens now, we have no control over. It is all in God’s hand with my unconditional LOVE! God Bless you in your loss with no guilt at all. You can be assured God ALWAYS knows what He is doing. PRAISSE HIS NAME> Much love and prayer for you and your family.
    A loving mother who knows. Sandra

    Reply
  13. The Messenger

    I’m so sorry it took this lesson from god to get you to let go of your bigotry. But at least by this God had guided you to be better people. Love people unconditionally, especially family. Like the bible says. I myself was a bigot until after high school because I couldn’t get myself to understand gay people, but after meeting some I discovered they really are not so different after all.

    Please spread your message of love to other Christians, God has given you this duty in your newfound enlightenment to teach OTHER Christians to reject hate and fear. Let’s remove the devils hold he has on Christians in their thoughts towards gay people.

    Reply
  14. Patrick

    Your post moved me so much. From my perspective as a gay son: don’t be too hard on yourself and spend too much time in the “what ifs”. Part of my work, when coming out, what not only accepting myself but also accepting my parents for who they are, with sometimes divergent opinions, and together walk towards a place where we are all at peace with ourselves and our believes. I had to help them get there, it was part of my work, my responsibilities as a son. And I met much more resistance from my parents (did not talk for a long time) than your son did from you. You are so full of love…

    Reply
  15. Scott

    I had very conflicted feelings reading your story. I completely appreciated you coming forth and telling the story. It must have been very difficult to write.

    Then there is the side of me that sees the atrocities committed on you by your church. The belief in god and the adherence to the ancient writings of people from the Stone Age have led you to a place that ultimately caused your son’s death. It is a grave and barbaric disgrace that you would take a very few passages of the bible – most notably Leviticus, which has so many obnoxious rules in it that we ignore daily – and let it dictate a course of action that would lead to your sons death. Religion is the cause of so much suffering, guilt, and death. I hope you can one day come to realize that the reason God didn’t answer your prayers, is because he does not exist. It is obvious you did for Ryan what you felt was best, in your heart, but I wish you had used your head a little more.

    But I’m not just posting to rant at you about that. When I am being honest with myself about it, some of your reasons are reasons I would possibly use with my own child if that situation revealed itself: Child, your sexual orientation IS still developing. It IS a hard life to be Gay, so maybe you are just confused right now. There are many ways in which, even without the affect of religion, I may have acted in a similar manner.

    So my initial reaction is tamed a bit. My understanding that what this really is about, is a parent just wanting the very best for their child – wanting their child to be happy and healthy and a normal, well adjusted person. It is a parental mistake. One that any parent could make. One that I could make, even while politically supporting gay rights, and gay marriage, even while not using Jesus as a reason for trying to change my child. I could still make this horrible choice that you have made. So, despite our differences in philosophy, I still sympathize with your plight. I hope you find peace.

    Reply
    1. Penny Foster Carey

      My only comment is that I wish you would remove the comment posted by Scott. It is horrible, rude, and totally has no place here on this page. Ryan’s parents are Christians and for this person to degrade their religion/church/beliefs says that Scott has no respect for people … PERIOD!

      Reply
      1. Scott

        @Penny . . I was as respectful and reasonable as a person could possibly be, given the extremely different outlooks on life we have. I showed as much understanding and respect as it is possible to show a person who believes such ridiculous notions. I even tried to identify with their plight, and wished them well. In fact, your post is more rude than mine, and shows a decidedly unchristian attitude.

        I also would like to say to Linda how impressed I was that you were approving posts that were disparaging towards you. It takes a lot of confidence and/or bravery to allow them through when you have moderation abilities. I was sad to see you changed your tune on that a bit, though from your comment, maybe there is some room for those who disagree politely. But I do understand, a few of the comments I saw were quite harsh.

        Reply
  16. cartographer1973

    I am very saddened to read this story. I really am. :(

    But it reminds me so very much of my own experience, one that in the end profoundly changed my life for the better. And over the years I’ve learned some things, and I would like to share them because I just know that someone who needs to hear my story will read it here. And so I hope you don’t mind my imposing on your blog in this way. Also, I tend to be longwinded, so I apologize to anyone with a short attention span.

    I was raised in the Southern Baptist church in a very small, isolated community in the desert. My father was a deacon in the church, and insisted that we get at least a solid spiritual foundation. But he was a good father, and fair, and as my sisters and I grew older he allowed us to make our own decisions about church and to come to our own conclusions. But that didn’t negate the fact that I started out on a dangerous path.

    When I was 9 years old, I became consciously aware that I am gay. It was something I always just “knew”, but it wasn’t until I developed a terrible, burning crush on a classmate that I was aware of it. I didn’t really know what it meant at that age. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that I learned there was even a word for it. But all along I felt very, very afraid, because I knew I was different and that society hated it. I certainly felt all alone, like I was the only person this way. As I grew older, life did not improve for me. I began to experience depression, a very deep and dark depression that lasted many years. I tried to tell my parents about it, but they didn’t understand. It wasn’t talked about back then, so I didn’t even know what to call it.

    I stopped going to church. I didn’t understand why I was going to hell, because I didn’t know what I did wrong. It’s not like I was gay on purpose, right? When I was 13, at the nadir of my depression, I tried to kill myself. The details of this are not important anymore. I remember falling into a dark, bottomless void, like falling through outer space, but there were no stars or planets. There was nothing. And then suddenly there was the hand of God, holding me up, stopping my fall. I remember pleading repeatedly “Let me go! Let me go!” and a voice telling me “NO!” each time.

    When I regained consciousness, I remember sitting up and feeling lost, and imprisoned… forced to live a life I didn’t want. I cannot imagine any worse punishment on someone, because you have to BE it constantly. I couldn’t understand why God would do this to me.

    The next few years are mostly blank in my memories. I was bullied at school every day, I spent all my free time holed up in my bedroom. I did nothing but draw maps, which is the one great passion in my life. I began to create a whole world in my mind, and on paper. I think this is the only thing that got me through. In high school, we got a new Sunday school teacher, who was not really a Baptist, and we liked her because she wasn’t a religious zombie like the others. And this is how I started going back to church again, and how I began to earnestly try to pray my gay away.

    One night in the 10th grade, I remember turning out my light to go to bed and I looked at the clock. It was 10:32 PM. I fell asleep and remember seeing a flash or tunnel of light, and I was again in an endless void, only this was a void of light and not dark. God was there, and someone else… Jesus perhaps. I felt a strange sense of calm and peace I’d never felt before. The only words I can remember are “I’m going to tell you everything you need to know, but you won’t remember them.” And I don’t (but now I think I know what they were). We walked, and talked, and this went on for what seemed like hours, even though there was no sense of time. Eventually we came to the end of our walk, and everything faded away and I fell with a thud into my body, and it woke me up. I was fully expecting it to be 3:00 or 4:00 AM, and I looked at the clock and it was 10:32 PM. I was completely bewildered about what happened, but after that I felt a sense that things would get better. But I still struggled to understand, and to pray, and I wondered why God never answered my prayers. And I was still afraid to talk about my experiences, and I lived in mortal fear that anyone would find out my secret.

    About that same age I was “born again” and baptized. And it was a really big deal, especially for my parents. And the next day I remember sitting in my room thinking “Well, nothing has changed. Why hasn’t it changed?”

    I survived high school. I got out of that nowhere town, and I went far away to college. But my struggles were worse than ever! Anyone who’s been away to university knows the kinds of things that go on. And there I was, deeply closeted, filled with all kinds of very negative religious ideas, and still trying to understand myself and find the way to keep going every day. On the back side of campus were the woods and there were hiking trails through there, and I would take long walks in the snow in the middle of the night when no one was around so I could talk to God… fight with God… about my sexuality. I kept asking “I don’t understand! What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with this?” I got no response.

    When I was not quite 20, I had my first sexual experience, and this sent me into an existential crisis. The guilt and shame I felt brought back all the baggage I’d been carrying around all along, and I went back to that very dark place for a while. I was fortunate that I had friends who noticed something was wrong, but didn’t ask what, and just helped me come out of it.

    After I graduated college, I was lost again. I didn’t have a job, any money, and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I’d been praying the gay away for 13 years, talked and argued and cried to God about it, read everything there was to read, and I concluded there was no theologian who was more knowledgeable on the subject than I was, and I still didn’t have an answer. But I had this very uneasy feeling about everything.

    In March 1996, with nothing else to do, I got in my car and drove to Washington, DC to visit my aunt who lives there. I felt like I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. Driving through Maryland I stopped at a scenic rest area on the side of a mountain because I just couldn’t go on. And I said to God “If you have a problem with this, then YOU deal with it. I can’t do it anymore.”

    Now, you know how in Revelations it talks about the sky being peeled away? Well, I experienced that. As soon as I let go of everything, it was like the whole rest of the world blew away in an explosion. I can’t remember seeing much else because I was bawling my eyes out uncontrollable. I remember hearing angels singing in great joy, and God was there and said “I have waited so long for you to say that!” I felt all the bad things I’d ever heard about being gay lifted off. Then God told me “I MADE YOU JUST THE WAY YOU ARE, AND FOR A REASON, AND I DON’T MAKE MISTAKES. ALL I WANT FOR YOU IS TO BE HAPPY AND FILLED WITH JOY.” (I’m putting that in capital letters because it’s the most significant thing of my entire life.) I think I cried a good half-hour, until I had no more tears to cry. And the most amazing feeling stayed with me all the rest of the day and into the next… like I was made of sparkles.

    I came to realize that when I asked God all those questions all those years and there was never an answer, it was because the answer was nothing. There was nothing wrong with me, and there was nothing wrong with being gay. (I suppose now I should have been asking a different question all along.)

    I carried on with my life, returning to the hum-drum existence of going to work and doing my chores, and feeling lonely. But now I knew that there was something good about my life and things would only get better. And they have.

    In my late twenties, I crossed paths with a dangerous person, a person who tried to kill me. And it was all based on my sexuality. The details of these events aren’t important anymore, either. But for the first time in many years I felt a great fear again, but this was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. On my lunch hour at work I went and sat in my car where I could be alone and I turned to God for help because I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know if I was going to end up dead. God answered me (again, in my car) “I have changed the cosmos, just for you, because I have a plan for you.” I knew this meant God had just re-written the space-time continuum and the laws of physics to change the outcome of events. Things have been good since.

    I do believe, myself, that gay people (because of our experiences) have very strong spirits; that we form a formidable spiritual force for good. And, this is why evil attacks us so very much, going so far as to twist God’s own words at the very foundations of our faith and convince us to sin by passing judgement, even to the death. How many of us are dead “in God’s name”, killed, executed, murdered, or committed suicide because we were convinced that gay is evil? But every life terminated is a win for evil. It’s the enemy that comes to kill and destroy. But God does not kill; God gives us life, abundantly and free!

    If God’s plan is nothing more than for me to tell my story, here, then it’s worth it. If I could leave the churches and ministers and worried parents one word of hope it is this: when you don’t know what to do about your gay children, or gay family members, or gay friends… forget what society has told you, forget what people have told you, forget what Biblical dogma has told you, and listen to what God is already telling you, has always been telling you: we are all made a certain way whatever that is, for a reason, because God has loves us and has a plan for us; love is the only thing that matters.

    Thanks for letting me share my story.
    —Mike

    Reply
  17. Kirrie

    I have found your blog on my only child’s fifth birthday. I, also, refer to my son as “my beautiful boy.” Clearly, Ryan grew-up in family brimming over with love for their children and he was just as loving. Having to bury your precious child was truly what was against nature. I don’t know that I would have all my heart or soul, if I had lay my greatest gift to rest. It sounds as if either of you came across a child who was gay, and suffering parental rejection, he/she could find that understanding and affection from you. It’s amazing what hugs and words of acceptance can do for an emotionally struggling child can do. You have grown into unbelievable people. I’m just sorry it came at such a steep price. May your eternal love for Ryan and your other children guide you always in you humanity.

    Reply
  18. Pops

    You know, Linda, if you chose to accept your son for who he is, instead of requiring him to choose his lifestyle versus a deity, you still may be able to love him. But instead you pulled fire and brimstone. Granted, your son made his own choices, but maybe if you would have accepted him, he wouldn’t have gone off and done the things he did. Linda, you should be ashamed of yourself. People like you make me angry and fearful that our world is going to hell because of views like yours. Your son deserved better.

    Reply
  19. Pingback: Just Because He Breathes… | TheBrabbleRabble

  20. Debra leffe

    Please send me any more details on your journey to help others- it seems hate, bigotry and other problems result in drugs being the way out- if we can only make our lives more blissful, happier and full of everything one would not want to lose or escape with drugs.

    Thank you for sharing Ryan and your family struggle.

    Bless all
    Debra

    Reply
    1. Debra leffe

      Please do not post my reply to Facebook or any social network!!!!

      I just wants to support your efforts and express what a touching story you are sharing

      Reply
    2. Linda Robertson Post author

      Debra, I will be, God willing, adding more details to this blog as I can…with the hope to help other parents, families and friends better love those who are different from them in any way. This is only a tiny slice of our story…but if our story can help even one other family, it is worth sharing. Much love to you!

      Reply
  21. Pingback: Just Because He Breathes: Learning to Truly Love Our Gay Son | Huffington Post | PFLAG Atlanta

  22. Regina Tan

    Hi Linda,

    Thank you so very much for sharing this story. I wished everyone will be able to read this and learn something from this. I am from Singapore and sad to say our country is still very conservative. It is such a taboo for us so much that most of our parents will probably throw us out of the house if we ever came out. It’s sad and it’s almost as if we have double identities. When we are at home we are back to the filial (yea somehow this gets involved when coming to our sexual orientation) daughter and son.

    Once again thank you for this story, for “educating” others. Thank you.

    Reply
  23. Nicole

    Thank you for this blog. I have a daughter who declared to us and the world that she loves a woman. I reacted in fear and anger. I was in a personal battle with God and my daughter. I was a child. A whiny, spoiled, ridiculous child. It was ok for people to be gay, just not my child. Every prejudice I did not think I had was relieved.. A mirror into my soul. I hurt my own daughter. I hurt my other 5 children. I hurt my husband. Great Christian , right? My daughter’s grace and forgiveness is something I did not deserve. Yet it was given freely. It was a friend in Christ in all her love that called me out. Let me have it. I am so thankful. Eternally thankful. My relationship with my daughter, my other children, my husband, and my Father is deeper than ever before. I love them all for the first time unconditionally Thank you for your blog and your testimony, I don’t just tolerate my gay child, i embrace her. I trust in God’s love and wisdom. I enjoy my gay child. I am so thankful for the grace she had for me. I will regret how I acted out of fear for the rest of my life. I hurt my own child.If there are parents who have stumbled upon this blog, who are searching for answers and how to cope. Please lift your Child to God and always show love.

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Nicole…I wish I could give you a hug!! Isn’t grace AMAZING? I relate so much to what you’ve shared…and am, like you, ETERNALLY thankful that, in my case, GOD called me out. I am trusting Him to redeem my regrets…and yours, too.

      Reply
      1. nicole

        Thank you Linda. Thank you for your courage.Your raw honesty has helped in my journey. I only hope in a small way I can help others too. Love!

        Reply
  24. Yeshica C.

    Thank you for sharing your story. I am the sister to a gay brother, bisexual sister and lesbian step-sister. I found out about my brother a month ago went home to PR for his college graduation….he came out to me during a road trip. I love him the same….probably even more because he trusted me with this. I worry about them but not because “they live in sin or are an abomination” like many people say but because I know how much hate is out there for the LBGT community. They know I love them unconditionally and always will. God bless you and your family…..

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Yeshica, your siblings are BLESSED to have you in their lives! I believe that God can use the love of one person to do HIS work…and make a WORLD of difference!

      Reply
  25. Valentine Logar

    I am so sorry for your loss, to bury a child is quite simply unnatural. I read this with tears falling. Though not Christian myself, most of my friends and many of my family are; some have had similar struggles as family members come out. Being from the South, many have not found reconciliation with family or the churches of their childhood, I have always found this heartbreaking. Your story is one I will share among my friends and family, it is uplifting and filled with grace even in such terrible tragedy.

    Thank you for sharing this, I know how difficult this must have been to write.

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Bless you, Valentine. Through this blog I am becoming aware of how much fear and shame still alive and well in the South…SO MUCH MORE than I could have ever imagined. It breaks my heart. Bless you for your kinds words, and for being a safe person to your friends who weren’t safe in their own families.

      Reply
  26. takingcandyfromababy

    This was amazing and beautiful and horrifying and brave and more emotion than I was ready to swallow. BUT.
    I am glad I read.
    I am glad I read the whole thing.
    I think EVERYONE should read it. I come from a very liberal family in a very liberal community, where Gay is like brown hair…accepted and respected…and just another thing that makes us unique and different.

    but, what I live isn’t typical.
    And EVERYONE needs to hear this story. Gay isn’t a sin. Gay is an Existence that needs and deserves to have an opportunity to live and breath.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Much love from the Candy Jar

    Reply
  27. Pingback: To: Linda Robertson | Serendipitydodah

  28. Pingback: Just Because He Breathes…. | Spark

  29. Scottie Coleman

    Your words are lovely and well written but not all truth bearing. I am sure that embracing beliefs that are not in God’s Word has soothed your hurting heart but false teaching hurts others …… referring to no consequence for sin If we confess our sin He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”>>>>homosexuality is described as sin according to both the old and new testament. You cannot brush stroke this away. God’s grace is sufficient for all….His love is beyond our understanding. As long as we are alive, there is hope. I will continue to lean on God’s Word for Truth, the Truth that sets us free.
    In case you are wondering…..I am on my own journey as a Christian Mom. I am amazed at how the Holy Spirit has instructed my husband and me and is leading us to be the best parents by teaching us unconditional love…..I would take a bullet for my son, that is how protective I feel about this but I will not stand in the way of Truth. Our daughter died suddenly six years ago, we have already walked in the Valley of the shadow of death and know the pain of it all. We found that our Lord walked right along side us then and I trust him with this issue without hesitation.
    I did read your preface about not posting any negative thoughts in your estimation and of course it is your site and you can do what you wish but I hope that you are open minded and respectful enough if at least read my heartfelt words….we are on a similar journey together. I do thank you for the transparency of writing and posting “Just Because you Breathe”. It spoke to my heart, I wept and I must say it has helped me on my journey.

    Reply
  30. Scary Mommy

    Thank you for sharing your story, Ryan’s story. As a mother, I can’t even imagine the pain you have gone and continue to go through. Your blog could help change the lives of many… maybe that is Ryan’s legacy.

    Reply
  31. Jeremy Bruce George Riley

    Dearest Linda and Rob, the courage and obedience you exhibit daily in dealing with the responses from so many hurting people is amazing. God has clearly called you both to provide an avenue for those people affected by homosexuality in one way or the other to express their fears, hurts and anger. Thank you for being such gracious and loving ambassadors of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. God will reward you richly both in this life here on earth as well as when we all get to Glory! What a Day of Rejoicing that will be!

    Reply
  32. Lia

    Thank you for your story…I’m in a same sex relationship. I don’t consider myself gay or bisexual, just open to what my heart wants, but I am also Christian and have been all my life. It was and is hard reconciling my choice with my beliefs but I know God loves me no matter what. Of course, my Christian family/parents do not know and that is the way I think it needs to stay.

    Reply
  33. Pingback: LGBT Rights vs Traditional Family

  34. Leigh

    Thank you for sharing your story. I lost my son, who was gay, a month before his 21st birthday. I went in his room to wake him up one morning and he was gone. The medical examiner said it was diabetes – we did not know. I thought would die right then and there, but I had the physical sensation of someone holding me up by my shirt. I have no doubts about who it was.
    For a long time, I knew my son was gay before he even told me. I had a long time to accept it. He was my son. No one asks for their child to be gay. It is a hard life I would imagine, but he was the bravest person I’ve ever known and he was not afraid to be himself. When people shouted “go home fag” when he walked down the street, he just kept walking, head held high. And he kept right on loving – everyone.
    So yeah, I know what’s in the Bible – and I know what isn’t. I have grieved until I felt like I would die, but I have not suffered for wondering where he is. God is the God of all comfort and he forgives all who ask to be forgiven. So – our sons are up there kickin it. It’s up to us to continue their tradition of love and bravery and courage. We owe it to them. They’ve helped us become who we are today. Merry Christmas and love to you and yours.
    Leigh Rogers

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Leigh…I will remember your son this Christmas as I remember ours. Much love to you, my friend…I wish we didn’t have so very much in common, but I am thankful to have connected with you. Your son was blessed to have such a loving, grace-filled mom.

      Reply
  35. Jack Allen

    Turn a blind eye if you wish. Go ahead and delete this because it does not fit with your narrow worldview. But at the end of the day you will have to accept that your religion taught you to put an anthropomorphic personification of a being that exists outside the traditional monotheistic framework whose sole purpose is to encourage an ethical baseline for human conduct higher up on a pedestal than your own son. And because of the condemnation found in both the Bible and you, your son learned to hate himself to the degree that he destroyed himself, slowly yet surely. And you actually lived such an idyllic life in the first place that you all seemed genuinely surprised when your prayers went unanswered. Was that the first time any of you faced such strife that you had no other recourse but to send words into the sky? How lucky you all were. How peaceful and perfect and happy. Do you have any infinitesimal clue of what so many would do for the privilege to be in your position? A position you threw away? Healthy, with loving family, with a roof over your heads and food in the pantry? And possibly the assurance that it would stay that way? If only a book meant for people who did not know their right from their left hadn’t poisoned your minds. You would still be happy. And what is completely unforgivable in all this is that you have not learned from your failures! Not a thing. Sure, you went ahead and started praying for ephemeral things whose presence could neither be confirmed nor denied instead so you would be able to tell yourself that God was still with you. Just know that every time reality breaks in, your god takes a step back until you will have no more delusions to labor under. And while I wish you no further harm, it would be nice were you to wake the heck up.

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Jack, when I read comments like this, it makes me wonder what, in your own story, is causing you to have such strong feelings about our story. You clearly don’t know or understand our story, and that is okay. I respect your conclusions, though I do disagree with them. If you’d like to share your own story, I’d be interested in hearing it.

      Reply
  36. Leigh Lowrie

    Linda: I personally want to THANK YOU and your family for sharing such this powerful, emotional and personal story . I first read it when my daughter who is gay ( I don’t refer to her as my GAY daughter she is just my daughter) posted this article. Whether gay or straight she would have posted it anyway because it is just her nature to love and accept everyone exactly how they are and where they are in their journey of life, it is as she says HOW OUR FATHER MADE ME! Though it is well known among friends and family that Tori is gay and that she and Sue are a couple, I like you scared I guess of all the things my faith and scripture has taught me over the years was privately OK but publicly not ready to shout it from the rooftops. I am not pretending to be an activist or advocate for any cause other than this …LOVE YOUR CHILDREN AND ACCEPT THEM FOR WHO THEY ARE, WHERE THEY ARE! It took your article for me to be able to publicly write my daughter this apology in the form of a love letter on FB.
    I share it with you now and again want to thank you for your courage and strength, Ryan would be SO proud!

    FOR ALL OF YOU OUT THERE THAT JUDGE, THROW STONES, CRITICIZE, CONDEMN, ARE PERFECT IN YOUR OWN EYES NOT GOD’S….I SAY THIS…THIS IS MY LOVE LETTER TO MY DAUGHTER…..

    I am the mother of one of the most beautiful human beings that has ever graced this earth. She is kindhearted, accepting of others, loves to a fault, has a joy for life that can light up a room, embraces the beauty in life . She also HAS ALWAYS hated prejudice, intolerance, judgmental people and HAS always even before she could understand LOVED JESUS CHRIST. AT 4 YEARS OLD this beautiful child of mine would walk around giggling and talking to no one I could see and when asked why she was giggling and who she was talking to she quite frankly told me “Jesus”! “Mom, He was tickling my heart” !Not very long after that she proceeded to ask me why she couldn’t SEE Jesus like she saw other people because she knew he was there , she spoke with him often and felt his presence. I had no answer so like any first time parent I called my mom! She told her something that apparently satisfied her for the moment. Unfortunately over the years as I realized that my beautiful daughter whom I had raised as a faithful Christian was GAY , life became intolerable and she lost her faith in me and in all those condemning people ( a lot of whom were her family and my close friends) who told her she would never get to Heaven, never be accepted because she was a SIN, an abomination in GOD’s eyes. Me, I was just as bad because I told her it was a choice and she chose wrong! She needed to get new friends , go to church ,join the youth group, date boys ( she did many times over the years) and it would all be OK, she would be OK!! What I slowly began to realize was that my judging , my intolerance , my fears, my sadness over losing the white wedding dress, perfect son-in-law, white picket fence dream was KILLING my daughter and ruining the child GOD had given me to protect , love and nurture. It was a harsh realization because I have always been fiercely protective of her , my eldest, the only child I got to carry and give birth to, a GIFT from GOD. I also realized that in the bible the most powerful and greatest gift from GOD is LOVE. Not love with a but or exception or condition just LOVE. SO here is what I have learned….. I LOVE MY DAUGHTER PERIOD…..JUST AS SHE IS. I DO NOT CARE WHAT ANYONE THINKS ABOUT HER OR HER LIFE CHOICES. I AM THE PROUD MOTHER OF A DAUGHTER WHO IS GAY AND IS ENGAGED TO A BEAUTIFUL WONDERFUL LOVING WOMAN. And I look forward to loving her for many years to come and on the day when she passes from this world , I know HE will be there with her as HE always has been and always will be! I LOVE YOU TORI BASS – ATWABA! MOM

    Leigh Lowrie – Mother of 6 uniquely beautiful kids!

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Leigh…this is indescribably moving…so very, very powerful and beautiful!! What a gift you are to your girl! Please friend me on FaceBook (Linda Mueller Robertson) and join our moms group!

      Reply
  37. Kyana Miner

    I must admit, I was extremely judgmental of you when I first started reading this. I thought, “How dare they tell their gay son, ‘Do you know what God thinks about this?’” How arrogant to believe you know everything God thinks. What blasphemy! How do you know being gay isn’t a blessing from God? The bible can only convey to you the level of truth you’re ready and willing to accept.

    But I continued reading. I want to thank you for your honesty and sharing your story. I cried all the way until the end. Bless you for the lesson you learned in the midst of this tragedy. Because even in the midst of my hypocrisy, I realize the danger in judgement.

    It’s funny. Every time I think I know what God wants me to do…it evolves. Who I am evolves. My God given gifts evolve. And my understanding of God evolves. It’s so important when it comes to any issue, especially being gay, that Christians remain humble and allow their understanding to evolve. We can’t know everything God is thinking. We can’t know definitively what is “right” and what is “wrong.” We are limited by our mortal perspectives. We must trust God and submit to God and pray for understanding. Isn’t that what Jesus taught us??? Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it.

    Reply
    1. Linda Robertson Post author

      Kyana, I couldn’t agree more! And thank you SO much for continuing to read..we did make SO many mistakes, but our hope is that we can help other parents (who are, like us, following what they’ve been taught by Christian pastors and leaders), to realize how important it is to support their kids and trust Jesus to do the rest!

      Reply

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