This week I’ve been deluged with messages and comments by people who are incensed and infuriated by our story. By us. I didn’t see it coming this time since I haven’t blogged or knowingly posted our story anywhere lately.
You have called us f-king murderers, child abusers, people who should never have been parents, and self-obsessed narcissists who demanded apologies from our son without ever realizing that we were the ones who had wronged him. You’ve told us that we might as well have shot our son, point blank, before he came out, because that would have been more merciful than what we did do. We’ve read how idiotic and stupid we were to not learn basic parenting truths until our son was on the streets, killing himself with narcotics. You’ve called us some pretty horrible names, some that have been posted online, some not. I’ve only read a small fraction of these kinds of comments, but from those I have read, I hear your message loud and clear.
And these are just from those of you who hate us from the “left” side of the conversation. There is a whole separate contingent of people who condemn us from the other side…but thankfully, they’ve been quiet lately. Nope…the religious folks don’t like us much, either.
I have cried a lot this week. I have sobbed at the threads of truth contained in these hate-filled messages. Which might be gratifying to hear, for some of you.
I have to wonder, though, about you, the people who hate us. Do you really think that we are bragging about how we parented? Do you suppose that we told our story, at the request of a small group of underground LGBTQ students, with the intent of getting attention or garnering pity? Or even worse, with the purpose of accumulating accolades?
If so, you would be wrong. Dead wrong.
Admittedly, there have been countless LGBTQ people who have written to tell us of their similar experiences, and to thank us for sharing Ryan’s. There have been parents of gay children, both young and old, who have written to tell us that our story has prevented them from doing the same thing – following the prevalent, still widely preached belief that Christian parents with gay kids must do everything possible, if they love their children, to protect them from this allegedly soul-endangering immorality.
And many of those people have been exceedingly loving and gracious toward us. We are so thankful for each one who has written to tell us that our story has changed their story.
But please, don’t for a second think that those affirming words let us off the hook.
Please don’t imagine that we revel in some newfound “fame” or that we find solace in the number of times that the Huffington Post article was shared, or the view count of the video of our testimony at Exodus’ final conference.
None of this makes the pain any less.
For those of you who want to be sure that we know how wretched we are, be comforted. We know all too well and feel the pain of that knowledge every day.
I wish you could sit down and ask our close friends, our surviving kids, our therapist and our pastors whether or not we are really aware of the severity of our mistakes, the complete wrongness of our actions. They would tell you what I tell you now:
We don’t live for a single moment without regret.
Our much loved eldest son and dear friend Ryan is dead – a fact that I daily try to get my brain wrapped around – and if you have ever had a child and lost them, you know that the pain of losing a child NEVER leaves you. NEVER. We will live with intense sorrow over his death until our own deaths, and right now that sounds like a very, very long time.
When we weep and mourn we don’t question God or wonder why He allowed our son to die. We don’t have questions for God that complicate our grief…we only have questions and accusations of ourselves. The tapestry of our grief is woven through with threads of remorse, regret and self-reproach.
Each time our Affirming Hope LifeGroup packs our living room, we die inside a little as we ask ourselves if THIS was what we were so afraid of. These amazing, loving, responsible, honest, generous children of God. Really?? We didn’t want Ryan to grow up and be like them? These people who have become some of our closest friends?
Each time we read a heartbreaking coming out letter, we hear Ryan’s voice echoing from the pages, revealing new depths of the pain he felt as a very young child, knowing that something was different…that he didn’t fit into the expected mold of our family.
Each time I sit down to work on writing a longer version of our journey through Ryan’s coming out and our responses, and in preparation, I read the things we wrote to him along with his replies and journal entries from those years, I fight utter despair at the deep, deep level of our misunderstanding. Once he wrote to me, in very large, all caps, “YOU JUST DON’T GET IT!!!” Oh, how right he was. How completely right he was, and how tragically wrong we were. WE JUST DIDN’T GET IT.
For those of you who seem determined that we know how completely and totally wrong we were, WE GET IT NOW.
We have not insulated ourselves from the hundreds of stories from LGBTQ teens and adults, both written and told to us, stories that recount the intense pain, agony, self-loathing and suicidal thoughts caused by the same teachings that we communicated to Ryan. We have not stopped reading Ryan’s own journals that record that very same suffering.
But we also know that we’ll be continuing to “get it” at a deeper level the longer that we live in community with those who have been oppressed, listening to their pain and through them, learning about our own child.
For those of you are seem determined that we suffer and are held accountable for our mistakes, we can only say that the pain of knowing how deeply we wronged Ryan and not being able to sit down across from him and ask his forgiveness is agony beyond all attempt to describe.
We tell our story to anyone who will listen for ONE REASON ONLY. We are trying, in our own small way, to do something right. By exposing our own disastrous errors, we pray that others will learn from us, and treat their own children differently. We pray that it won’t take them six long years and losing their child to drugs and the streets in order to wake them up to the truth that every parent MUST love their children without any condition. Our children learn to love themselves through the love that we have for them. And a child who is told, “I love YOU, but I do not love your sin” does NOT hear love. He does not learn to love himself or that God loves him. Ryan did not. None of the thousands of gay children who have written to me have heard love through those words. None.
So, to those of you who have written to tell us of our utter depravity, we couldn’t agree more.
Many of you have rejected the God whose “words” were used to reject you, and we can see why. But for us, we know that we are utterly, completely broken and without hope. Our hope comes in the form of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, the One who can take our deplorable actions and use them, somehow, to give hope to others…to speak His love to those who have been told they are unworthy of it…to give parents who have told their children they are no longer welcome at home the humility to ask their kids for forgiveness…to kneel before them and weep for their own sin. In the words of a band that Ryan loved, here is what our Hope looks like, in the face of our utter depravity:
I know one day, all our scars will disappear, like the stars at dawn
and all of our pain, will fade away when morning comes
and on that day when we look backwards we will see, that everything is changed
and all of our trials, will be as milestones on the way
and as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart
and there’s no greater love, than that one shed his blood for his friends
on that day all of the scales will swing to set all the wrongs to right
all of our tears, and all of our fears will take to flight
but until then all of our scars will still remain, but we’ve learned that if we’ll
open the wounds and share them then soon they start to heal
as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart
and there’s no greater love, than that one shed his blood for his friends
we must see that every scar is a bridge, and as long as we live
we must open up these wounds
when someone stands in your shoes and will shed his own blood
there’s no greater love. we must open up our wounds
From Thrice’s album Vheissu, released on October 17, 2005.
And as long as God keeps using our story in to build bridges for others, we will continue to open up our wounds and share each time He prompts us to.
We don’t expect you to agree with, or even respect our faith (especially since many of you have been gravely harmed in the name of Jesus) and you don’t have to believe that our motives are good, but I hope you will see that we choose to speak out about our story ONLY because we believe that we were wrong.
There are many, many leaders and pastors out there still teaching that parents should treat their gay children just as we did, and for that reason, we cannot stay silent. This is not about us. This is about the children, the pre-teens, the teens, the young adults and adults who are still living in self-condemnation, not believing that they are worthy of God’s love, because that is what they are hearing from their church communities and from their parents. And that has to stop.
Lives are at stake.
So even if you hate us, can we please agree on this one thing? If we each do our part to stop the oppression and start saving the lives of LGBTQ kids, maybe we can actually be a world with fewer haters and a lot more lovers.
Note: To those who feel compelled to write and tell us to forgive ourselves…thank you for caring about us, and wanting to ease our pain by encouraging us to be merciful to ourselves. But if you’d simply pray for us instead, we’d greatly appreciate it.
We have a very close circle of friends and family who speak into our lives and have permission to talk with us about this, as well as a distinguished psychologist and spiritual director who we meet with regularly. And most of all, we talk to the Lord about this all the time, and He is walking this journey with us. We don’t know if He will lead us away from our journey of learning more about the pain that we caused; He might or might not. But we do know that He is faithful and good, that He has never failed to provide for us and that we can trust Him. Thank you for respecting this request.
196 responses to “A Letter to the “Just Because He Breathes” Haters”
I’m so sorry for all the hate that you’ve received. I think that a lot of those who speak in hate and put the blame on you don’t understand how strongly religious beliefs can shape one’s actions, sometimes for the worse. I’m a gay man from a Christian family, although I’m no longer a believer myself (for reasons other than my sexuality). My parents are very religious and disapprove of homosexuality.
Although I’ve suffered quite a bit and gone through phases of self-loathing, I do remember what it was like believing in God and so I can’t blame you completely for how you acted. It’s so easy to believe that if you’re acting in accordance with God’s will, your actions, however inhumane they may seem, are justified and loving. I wouldn’t be surprised if you treated your son the way you did because you loved him and hoped for him to change for the better.
I can easily imagine my parents acting as you did, and I know that they would be acting from a place of love. I’m sometimes capable of unintentionally hurting others when I act out of love. Anyway, my point is, we sometimes cause harm when we don’t mean to. And we need to learn to forgive ourselves when we slip up. That doesn’t mean telling ourselves we’re free of any wrongdoing, it just means not being so harsh with ourselves.
Keep up what you’re doing, I found your story very uplifting.
Have a good christmas!
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I just want to say your story has touched me beyond words… I am so sorry for the loss of your son.. I know this is a late reply.. But I only recently found this website.. Your story brought me to deep tears as I have struggled with being homosexual myself for years and years.. I truly hated myself for so long and I tried so many different methods to get rid of these feelings. God showed me through so many loving, kind, caring brothers and sisters in the Lord that He loves me as I am, not as I ought to be or think I should be. Jesus accepts me for me, He died for me and everyone. He is the One who changes a persons heart from selfishness to selflessness. I remember the day that I prayed and asked Him if being gay was okay and how much I had cried over it.. He spoke to me so kindly “I love you, your beautiful, your amazing.” I hated this part of myself but now I am learning to accept it. I came from a very bad past.. I was abused horribly growing up.. God brought me out of the darkness and into His amazing light. I just wanted to reach out to you and tell you, do not listen to what the haters say, do not listen to the deceivers, do not listen to the enemy. You guys are doing an amazing job of helping others. You helped me on my journey of radically falling in Love with Jesus more and more. This is my story of how I came to Christ: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9wfesIFkcPY&t=1s
Wow…what an encouragement, John! Your faith inspires me!
Sending you much love and support. I’m gay, but openly rejected gay people as a Christian myself. I believed being gay was the same as being alcoholic – something I was born with, but had a responsibility not to act upon. Sadly, my parents still believe this. I’m grateful for your beautiful heart and thank you for the work you’re doing, modeling to all of us what it means to continually grow in love and in our faith.
Thank God that we can all continue to learn and grow, right?!? So much love to you this Christmas, Cady!
To you too!! ♥️
Please help me get to the place you are regarding scripture. The Bible seems so clear. Marriage is between one man and one woman. What are we to do with that? My husband and I just aren’t there yet. I want to be at your understanding. When our son came out to us in middle school, he asked me if I’d come to his wedding. I said honestly I didn’t know.
I posted on your Facebook account but prefer to keep private.
God bless you both. Thank you for your courage. I’m so sorry for the loss of your precious Ryan.
I’ll email you, Allison!
I’m sorry you received so much hate, that’s just … from both sides (non Christian and unethical, uncaring) Clearly, you are loving parent and did the best what you knew at the time. your pain, unimaginable. Religion, the Bible, makes this so much harder and complicated than it needs to be. .People don’t understand that IF you ask a person to NOT to, that person will be deprived of intimacy, love, sexuality, and or to start a family, its impossible. You described this beautifully, and I’m so so sorry it ended like this and proud how you turned this around and help other people. My grandmother she died 2 years ago, at age 101, Catholic, member of Salvation Army, (who were all there at her funeral and did all the services) and she said always said, God is about love, nothing more beautiful of people who are in love, regardless man-woman or woman-woman or man-man. People deserve to be loved.
I wished people wouldn’t write these horrible messages to you (if you don’t have anything good to say then don’t say anything at all), especially, clearly you are living with this enormous quilt and regret already. God with/through your son, taught you a lesson, love. Your son loved you. I hope your story will help many.