Coming Out with Regrets – Counting on Redemption

During the past few months, while I have NOT been blogging, I have been spending a lot of time with our gay friends, parents of gay kids and reading and replying to emails and messages both from LGBTQ “children” and their parents. I’ve read so many heartbreaking stories; stories that God has used to remind me why He has asked us – and keeps giving us opportunities – to tell our story.

But I am also hearing the stories of previously conservative, Christian parents who have learned what not to do, and how they are loving their children so very, very well. They are communicating real, unconditional love to their kids, and being willing to question and challenge their previous convictions in order to really hear what their children are saying. These parents are coming alongside their kids in beautiful ways….helping their young gay teenagers figure out how to date (very much like young straight teenagers), defending and protecting them from bullying, unsafe relatives and anyone who dares to attack them for telling the truth about who they are, and not simply tolerating their kids, but CELEBRATING them.

At the Gay Christian Network Conference in Chicago, I heard the story of a pastor and his wife whose 16 year old had very recently come out to them. I was deeply moved by their story, not only because they live in the same community where our kids went to college, but because of the very clear way that God had changed and prepared their hearts for what their youngest son had to say to them.

Today that young man, Drew, came out publicly on YouTube, and he did so with such vulnerability, honesty and candor that I am in awe of his courage, his humility and his wisdom.

His 15 minute video is poignant and moving (don’t miss the last five minutes), but I bawled through it, and am crying again as I think about it. For me, the mother who did not respond as Drew’s parents did, it triggered a great deal of sorrow for all the mistakes I made…mistakes that I cannot now undo. It really doesn’t matter much when you make a mistake in balancing your bank statement…or when you vacuum up a broken light bulb to clean the floor, but then break the vacuum…or when your car slips on the ice and hits a curb, thus keeping you home on a weekend when you had planned to go away. But when you make a mistake like giving your own son the message that he IS a problem, that who God made him was somehow flawed and that although it will be difficult, he doesn’t have the option of following God AND having the chance to fall in love…well, that mistake carries with it some pretty hefty consequences. We had no idea, at the time, that the stakes of getting that wrong were so incredibly high.

People tell me all the time that I need to forgive myself, that they are sure Ryan has forgiven me and that I shouldn’t spend one more minute thinking about what I did wrong. But I disagree that I shouldn’t think about my mistakes. It has been this introspection that has allowed us to share our story in the first place, and that has continually kept us learning as we listen to the stories of our LGBTQ friends. It has been this vulnerability that has allowed us to truly look at our errors and explain to other families why doing the things that their pastors tell them (with confidence undergirded by Scripture) actually does not lead to life, but to death.

Everything we told Ryan was communicated in love…love interwoven with an awful lot of fear. But it was, honestly, love. We believed with all of our hearts that his very soul was in danger, and so we were doing everything we could to protect him. But our pleas for him to reject his sexuality in favor of seeking obedience to Christ only led to DEATH. Relational death, spiritual death, emotional death and PHYSICAL death. Not one OUNCE of good fruit came from trying to live those ideas out. Seriously, not one. When I look back, I can’t think of anything positive that came from our efforts to convince our son that he could – and should – be straight. Or if not straight, then completely celibate for the rest of his life on this earth.

Lately Rob and I have been reading a lot of the letters that Ryan wrote us during those early years, along with the journals he kept. We are also planning to read the letters that we wrote to him, which I expect will be excruciatingly painful. But we both feel God telling us to not to fear reading those letters, and not to pretend we never wrote them. It is only by fully accepting what we said to our son, and by grieving our words, that we will ever truly heal. Looking hard at our regrets has changed, and will continue to change, the way we interact with our surviving children. And, God willing, we will be able to better help other families who are responding just as we did, as we share the things we tried, and the results that came from those efforts.

People often tell me that Ryan wouldn’t want us to be sad and that Ryan would want us to forgive ourselves, as he has already forgiven us. Those sentiments don’t resonate with me, because Ryan, being someone who was incredibly sensitive and who carried enormous guilt for every wrong he had committed against others, would “get me.” He would know why I needed to come to him and ask his forgiveness, even though he had already forgiven me. And he would have listened and cried with me as I apologized for so profoundly disappointing him after he chose to come out to me, trusting that because I loved my gay brother and our gay neighbors, that I would stand by him, as well.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, in his brilliant book “Lament for a Son” says this about regrets:

I believe that God forgives me. I do not doubt that. The matter between God and me is closed. But what about the matter between Eric and me? For my regrets remain. What do I do with my God-forgiven regrets? Maybe some of what I regret doesn’t even need forgiving; maybe sometimes I did as well as I could….Still, I regret.

I shall live with them. I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them. I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that Great Day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other’s arms and say, “I’m sorry.”

The God of love will surely grant us such a day. Love needs that.

Rob and I believe we need to grieve our regrets, and, as Wolterstorff said so eloquently, that they have become a part of who we are. They urge us on to share our story, to encourage other parents to put aside their fear and embrace their children fully, trusting Jesus with the outcome. Our regrets give us the courage to get up in front of hundreds of people and tell them of what we’ve learned, without ever thinking that now we’ve got it all figured out. Our regrets keep us humbled and they keep us desperately needing our Savior.

Yes, our regrets have become part of our lives. Just as our countless joys, sacred memories, soul-wrenching grief, and profound gratitude have become part of us. And as I feel God calling me to dig deeper, to look, without fear, at the things I communicated to Ryan in the years after he came out to us, I am trusting, with complete faith, that God will go with me to those painful places, and that somehow, out of the mess I made, my Redeemer will make beautiful things.

43 responses to “Coming Out with Regrets – Counting on Redemption”

  1. Linda and Rob,
    You have and still are helping countless people through your pain and your love for Ryan and Christ. I just want you to know “You are loved just as you are.”

    Thank you for your courage to help us all.

    Many Blessings,

  2. Thank you for sharing your story. I didn’t come from a religious home, but found Jesus on my own when I was 16. When I figured out I was gay, I fought it with prayer, therapy and anti-depressants – but I grew so depressed that it seemed my only option was suicide or coming out. Your son was and is lucky to have you both as parents. I don’t have this and likely never will. But I can say that those who rejected me back then are forgiven. And those who accept me now are loved more deeply because of their courage.

    Blessings to you both,

  3. Linda, that’s so beautiful and wise and real. Thank you for honoring us with your words and heart. “God blessed those who mourn….” and I think you are tapping into a special part of God’s heart. I think He is grieving with you. I’m praying for you and Rob… for all that God is doing in you all… and for all that He had planned. Love you.,,

  4. Incredible

    Sent from my IPhone

    On Feb 8, 2014, at 12:34 AM, Just Because He Breathes wrote: Linda Robertson posted: “During the past few months, while I have NOT been blogging, I have been spending a lot of time with our gay friends, parents of gay kids and reading and replying to emails and messages both from LGBTQ “children” and their parents. I’ve read so many heartb”

  5. Your humility, transparency, and loving heart cause me to stop in my tracks and stand in awe of you both. Yes you are forgiven by Ryan and by God … Yes you now have knowledge you did not have before … But gaining that knowledge cost you dearly and your sheer courage to say, even while loving Ryan, we got it wrong, with the best of intentions … But wrong nonetheless … Is a sign of spiritual maturity I hope one day to achieve.

    Y’all are remarkable people who by following God are not only saving lives, but saving souls,

    Thank you and know you are loved deeply!

  6. I love you so much for your raw honesty. Reading your blog helps me think differently and respond differently. You put into words what I have been thinking and feeling for so many years! Thank you! Please don’t stop sharing your story, it is helping so many Christian families.

  7. I love you so much for your raw honesty. You are helping me and so many others think and act differently! You put into words so many things I have felt and thought over the years and I thank you and your husband for sharing your story. I feel so blessed that God led me to you!

  8. Linda, I apologize if I have ever tried to speak of what Ryan might feel now. Having lost my first partner to a sudden death, I know how trite (for lack of a better word) it is when others think they know what your loved one would say after their death. Only those closest to them in the last days really have an idea of what might be said or felt; and even that is suspect.

    As painful as reading the old letters might be, I believe there will also be some healing to be had by doing that. You obviously kept them for a reason. Hopefully you will be able to see how much you have grown since then.

    Peace and hugs to you and Rob!

  9. Linda, you continually touch my heart with your wide open honesty and transparency. It is an honour to call you friend. You are much loved and prayed for.

  10. All I can say is “wow!” Thank you for being such an inspiration, so raw and real, and unafraid. Although we don’t really “know” each other — yet — I think of you everyday and proud to call you a sister in Christ! Love, Rhonda

  11. Such heartfelt beautiful words placed here. Healing words to all parents in the imperfections we all at one time or another. I have read that those whom embrace grief fully. Even if it is a process that has to be repeated again and again. Truly do become those who are the healthiest and can offer love to others. Bless you for such honesty.

  12. Linda, I wish that – previous to your son’s death – I could wave a magic wand and show you that loving your gay son is no different than loving your left-handed son, or your son with an endomorphic body as opposed to an ectomorph. I wish I could show you that the brown-eyed’s are just as equal as the blue. I wish I could show you that all of God’s creation (no matter how minutely different we may be) is GOOD in God’s eyes.

    Nevertheless, God has been showing you the truth …..little by little. And for that I am grateful.

    The soul of those who are gay are no more in danger of the pits of hell than are the left-handed, the endomorphs, the brown-eyed.

    Physical attributes are of no consequence to the God of unconditional love. What matters to God is the condition of the HEART. That is the only culture in which God has ever been interested.

  13. I too have a past filled with regret. I struggle with the fact I failed as a mother at the time when it mattered most. Yes it was fear that guided all my responses to my son in pain. Thank you for sharing your journey.

  14. I have missed your words. You live in truth with so much courage and humility. Your idea that the things you did were did in love and they still led to death–that one is going to stay with me for a while. Peace to you.

      • It is funny, part of that is the parable of the sower … Somehow I think the individual responding was being negative. I surmise this from the anonymous entry and the scripture verse being left to “stand alone”. But I see the parable of the sower as a perfect fit for you and Rob.

        I think part of your calling is to cast seeds of love in the hearts (soil) of people. The funny thing about soil is it does not care what is planted in it … It will bring forth and produce from whatever is planted PROVIDED the SOIL is good.

        So you and Rob cast out seeds of love … But some soil is NOT good, full of rocks making it non-fertile … So regardless of what you sow … Nothing will grow …

        Let those seeds die and NOT produce … If someone wants to maintain rocky soil … LET THEM! Your job is to cast the seed … Not ensure its growth … That is up to God …

        Always remember the fruitful soil will produce enough good to outweigh the useless soil … ALWAYS.

        So in answer to the Matthew 13:13-30 response I would say thank you for the compliment and kind words.

        • Darla, YOU are our message from the Lord today!! Bless you for re-framing scripture that was used to attack (as it often was in my church growing up) and for reminding me that God’s words are word of LOVE. And I love YOU.

  15. The audio of his address to the congregation before the Elders had me sobbing as I drove to work yesterday. Needless to say I wish I had had this wisdom ten years ago. Lots would have been different; Regardless of their decision he can look at himself in the mirror and embrace his beautiful boy with the loving knowledge that he’s done what his heart and his conscience told him was right.

    • My heart was shattering into tiny little pieces hearing the Elders speak. The fact that they chose to speak their opinions immediately after Pastor Danny poured his heart out to the congregation was so tasteless. I felt it would have been more appropriate had they waited until their discussion times for that. Then, on top of that, they said they felt betrayed because Pastor Danny did not take them on the same journey with him. This is not necessarily a ‘group’ type of journey one must take, especially for a Southern Baptist pastor! My prayers go out to the entire Cortez family and the congregation.

  16. Linda, you continue to captivate me and I continue to resonate with you as I read more about you. I absolutely cannot wait to meet you and Rob someday.

    Being a very sensitive soul myself, it make so much sense to me that you would hold onto and continue to think about your mistakes. I do the same with every mistake I’ve ever made. Like the time in my ex-gay ministry when I shunned a friend of mine who was having some questions and doubts. Several months after he left our online ministry, I found some previous writings of his that he shared with other people about me and how much my aggression towards him bothered him during his period of questioning/doubting. It literally crushed my soul to read those letters. He has since forgiven me, and I have since forgiven myself. But I will NEVER forget that I caused damage to another human being because of my fear, and my need to find an illusory safety in “certainty.” And every time I reflect on that, it hurts me. And I fully believe it is my sensitivity to my own wrongs that leads me to such compassion for others today. It motivates me to live better, to live a life – not WITHOUT fear, because that’s impossible – but to live a life that listens to my fear, considers my fear, and says to my fear “I will not choose to respond to this human being in the way you want me to, I will not choose to follow the advice you give me, I will not harm another soul for you.” I wish I could say that I was able to do this every time that fear provided me counsel. I am still imperfect and human after all. But all the mistakes give me further experience in learning how to recognize the voice of fear, and to choose a different way.

    Thank you for who you are, and for all that you do, and for sharing so vulnerably. It’s an inspiration to me.

    • DJ…your words have so blessed me. Thank you so much for graciously giving me the space to follow where I feel God is leading me. In talking with my oldest daughter today, I realized that I cannot fully heal my mistakes until I fully look at them and grieve them. And, as you said, being in touch with the way I used to think has an enormous influence I how I respond to others; remembering my own lack of insight and faith, and my overwhelming fear cause me to have grace for others on their journeys. Much love to you, DJ…and I too hope we get to meet someday SOON!

  17. Dear Linda,

    I just want you to know I am praying for you. I have been for a long time. I don’t usually comment on your blogs, but I have read every one. You touch me. You speak to me.

    I, too, am the mother of a gay son. He lives near you. I am far away. He is a wonderful man. My husband and I did not respond to him with full grace and love when he came out to us many years ago. We, too, thought we were responding the right way, the Godly way; and we, too, had a lot of “yes/but(s)” clouding our response. We are on a road of love and forgiveness now. We fully accept and approve of him. He has made us better people. He has taught us unconditional love. We are rethinking black and white, seeing and living more gray. It is so much better. It is so much easier to love!

    I think it wise to painfully reread all your letters. It will bring so much healing. It will be difficult, and maybe you are even done with all the rereading now, but I want you to know I think of you often and am with you in spirit on your journey.

    I know you are with me in spirit on mine.

    Thank you & Love,

  18. Dear Linda and Rob,
    I would like to thank both of you for taking this tragedy that stemmed from mere ignorance and fear which led towards addiction and death and using it to help educate those who don’t “get it.” Much like the guest blog about HIV/AIDS education, it is only through shedding light on the facts that people will ever truly understand that an all loving God does not condemn His (Her) children for being exactly as he wants them to be.

    I stumbled onto the Huff post letter to the haters which led me to the post/video of you sharing your original story which led me to here. I probably should have been in bed hours ago, but I don’t think He’ll (She’ll) let me sleep until I write this for some reason known only to Him (Her).

    Like Ryan and so many other men and women who were chosen by God to be gay, I’ve struggled with the issue of having a personal relationship with a loving God and the inability to be attracted to members of the opposite sex. In addition to me (the youngest of four), my next brother in line is also gay. He has shared this with our parents; I have not due mainly to my parent’s reaction to his coming out, especially my mother’s. My dad had a very similar reaction to the two of you, but when he said my brother would be in his prayers I think (now but not then) it might have just been for God to keep him safe. My mom began asking us (the other 3) what she did wrong with him and wondered why we had seen his coming out as no big surprise. So based on actual and perceived responses, my parents have yet to know their youngest son for who I really am.

    Your story has helped me to see their side of things. As parents you (and my parents) do what you think is best based on the information you have and the cards you’ve been dealt. It is hard for us as your children to remember that at times. As gay men and women, it’s also hard to remember that you didn’t ask for this gift (which is what I see it as most if the time) of getting to love someone so fundamentally different from you (a gay son or daughter) that you not only get to understand love better but the great mysteries of God and life better, and because the news of our coming out to you sometimes seemingly comes from left-field, it can take time to get over the initial shock. I also better understand now that, like us, most parents have been given the wrong information about what it means to be gay.

    For most gays and lesbians that I know, we turn to any outlet to escape the pain associated with possibly disappointing the people who love us. I have friends who are not welcome in their homes any more, friends who have rejected any notion of God, and friends who self-medicate because of these pains. I’ve now lived in 4 countries (including the US where I was born), three of which are partly due to the fact that it’s easier for me to be me 5-7 thousand miles away than it is to tell mom and dad who I love. I’ve gone down the liquor route, the drug route, and the sex route to find that the only route that will make me happy is the love route. I know I am lucky to be alive based on my own mistakes. Partly because of your story, you’ve given me the resolve to share my whole life with my parents. Of course, timing will be an issue because I currently live in a country where you cannot legally be gay and in my profession and that will make them worry more about my safety than they already do, but I will find a way to right my wrongs (lies of omission) because of you, Rob and Linda; thank you for that.

    Now for the comments/”thank yous” on the content:
    Thank you for keeping (at least it looks like you do) the comments from the “haters” on both sides. In order for me to be able to battle ignorance, I must know what the opposition thinks. Their comments help me to find better arguments against them.

    Thank you for remembering your son. Your love for all of your children shines through every word you write in either the blog or your responses to content.

    Thank you for replying to people. (Even if you don’t reply to me.) This small act shows how much you care.

    Those that say that the two of you are beating yourselves up constantly appear to be wrong. It seems to me that you are helping keep Ryan’s memory alive by sharing all of his life and not just the happy bits.

    There is only one place I think you’ve provided wrong (misunderstood? misinterpreted?) information. I would say that the odd ghostly messages/calls you get from Ryan’s old friends before you go to share his story is not the work of any sort of Devil but the hand (voice?) of God, reminding you of your new calling to battle homophobia and ignorance and reminding you of the reason you are being sent to wherever it is that you are needed the next day.

    That’s about it from me. Thank you, again. Please don’t stop.

    With Love,

    • Jeff…I am overwhelmed by your message. Overwhelmed with gratitude. Thank you so very much for taking the time to tell me how our story may impact your own; I am praying that your courage will be rewarded with a closer relationship with your parents. At the very least, you are inviting them in, and though you can’t control their response, you are doing everything YOU possibly can to nurture intimacy. I so respect that.

      Your comments on our comments/content were very helpful…and one was such a gift. You GET IT. We aren’t constantly beating ourselves up. This is how we make sense of our mistakes…how we see God’s redemption of our screw-ups…how we have hope…and yes, how we honor the incredible amount of wisdom Ryan imparted to us through both his life and his death.

      Much love right back to you, Jeff…I would love to hear how sharing with your parents goes…if you are on FaceBook, maybe?

  19. That is something profound to chew on. To accept regret as part of your life and simply trust God through it. Wow. That is not easy.

  20. Thank you for speaking out. You helped me which in turn helped save my son. You are saving countless lives….starting with my son. I can’t thank you enough!

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