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.