Category Archives: Listening & Learning

A Letter to the “Just Because He Breathes” Haters

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 kind 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 insulted 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 (as we did during the last ten months of his life, and as we do now with our surviving kids when we wrong them) 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.
Listen here

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.

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.

Two Questions and an Invitation…

First, the Questions
I have been thinking a lot about what I would do differently if I knew, back when Ryan was 12, what I know now. I have been asked that question quite often, and it is a good one. But I’d really like to hear your thoughts…if you are an LGBTQ “child,” here are a couple of questions for you:

1. What was the most painful thing that you remember hearing after you came out to your parents?

2. What would you have most wanted them to say? What did you need to hear?

I’d be honored to hear your answers, and I think they’ll be helpful for all the parents who read this blog, as well.

Next, the Invitation
Rob and I are honored and excited to let you know that we’ve been asked to speak at the GCN (Gay Christian Network) Conference that will be held in Chicago, from January 9 – January 12, 2014. We would LOVE to have you join us there!

The GCN Conference is for anyone in the LGBTQ community who loves Jesus as well as for parents/allies who want to learn how to better come alongside their LGBTQ family and friends. It will be a great time to worship, learn, make new friends and to hear each other’s stories. If you’d like more details or want to register, go to GCNconf.com – It is all there!

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Everyone Has a Story…

“Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” 
 — James M. Barrie

When our four kids were growing up, I used to always remind them that everyone has a story. I would tell them that no matter how grumpy someone may have been, how annoying their behaviors or how unkempt they were, there was ALWAYS a story behind it. I reminded them to give people the benefit of the doubt, because we had no idea what their “stories” were. Perhaps they had just been given a diagnosis of cancer, or maybe the love of their life just broke up with them or maybe nobody in their world ever saw them as valuable or worth listening to.

When Ryan was living on the streets of Seattle, using drugs and doing all kinds of awful things to afford them, I prayed that the people he ran into would remember that he had a story. I prayed that the police officers, the nurses, the pedestrians he bumped into and the people he stole from might have the insight to know that he never chose to become an addict. He never wanted to be miserable. He never dreamed, when he was a little boy, of growing up to become imprisoned by addiction. I begged God to bring people into his life who would trust that Ryan had a story; who would see the image of God in Ryan, and who would reflect that image right back to him.

Now, I pray each day that God will allow me to see His image in every person I meet, whether it is the homeless guy on the corner, the man in the truck who flipped me off for forgetting to signal before my lane change or the angry, entitled woman screaming at the checkout guy in the Costco line. I want to remember that I don’t know their stories and to extend to them the same mercy and grace I wanted people to give my son.

I have come to believe the importance of this even more deeply the older I get. We all have long backstories: journeys that explain why we react harshly to some situations and break out in sobs in others. There are reasons why I have a hard time being patient with people complaining about their children being late or choosing the wrong college, just as there are reasons why I cry when people use scripture to accuse me of doing damage to the cause of Christ.

Several important things I like to remember about stories:

1.  Jesus used stories for a reason. They are a powerful tool for teaching and reaching our hearts and souls.

2.  God has used the stories of others to teach me, to change me and to make me more like Him. NOTHING has affected me more powerfully than people’s genuine, vulnerable stories.

3.  When I know, or admit that I don’t know, someone’s story, it becomes nearly impossible to judge or dismiss them. In other words, it is very hard to “hate up close.”

4.  Often the kindest, most loving thing I can do for someone else (as well as the most edifying thing I can do for myself) is simply to ask questions and to sit back and listen to their story.

5.  Lastly, as several very wise men in my life have reminded me lately, nobody can argue with your story. It is just yours. True simply because it is YOUR STORY.

The past few weeks Rob and I have been truly humbled and privileged to read hundreds and hundreds of stories – all true, many heart-breaking and some victorious. Many of them have been from parents with gay “children,” parents who want desperately to love their children more fully. More of them have been from gay “children” with parents, children who want desperately to be loved more fully by their parents, whatever their age. They are all sacred, holy stories. I have been overwhelmed by the weight of them, but also completely astounded by the enormous grace that leaks out all over them. Grace and love that have the power to break down any walls that divide us. Grace and love that our world sorely needs. Grace and love from people who have every reason not to be graceful or loving.

There are two themes that ring out clearly from the hundreds, actually thousands of stories I have read this month.

First, that we all deeply desire to be known and loved by our Creator God.

Second, that we all desperately need to know that the people we are closest to, our families and friends, love us just because we breathe. Pretty simple, right?

And it strikes me now, as I read that back, how those two things…those themes that came through email after email, that resonated from comment after comment, perfectly mirror the words of Jesus Christ when He was asked what the first and greatest commandment was:

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”*

Hmmm…Could it be that Jesus knew exactly what we, as humans, need most in this life? To be connected to the God of the Universe, the One who created us in His image, and to be bonded to and loved by those on earth who walk with us? Perhaps we tend to make everything a lot more complicated than it needs to be. Especially if we take Jesus at His word when He said that ALL of the laws and ALL of the things the prophets said in the Old Testament hang on those two things: Loving God and loving people.

But back to stories. Less than a month ago, I didn’t think anyone needed to hear our unique story; I didn’t think anyone would want to hear about the regrets and sorrows of a mom who had lost her son. I thought that, by 2013, surely most people had learned the lessons we did a long time ago.

But I was wrong. If you doubt me, spend some time reading the comment sections on this little blogsite. You will read story after story of teenagers and adult children who long for God’s love and who yearn for their parents’ love. Some are still bound by the toxic shame that our society (and churches, to be sure) inflict on those who are gay. Others have been able to hear God’s voice of love whispering to them, even though the chorus of hate was louder.

I’ve also received countless messages from parents. So many of them, all wanting to love their children just as they are, be it gay, mentally ill, learning disabled or with some other difference. They have had to watch their child battle against the critical voices of their peers. Some parents want desperately to be able to love their child unconditionally, but live in fear because of the communities who would be quick to judge them and their children if they were found to be straying from what is “acceptable” and “normal.”

We’ve also received some of the most cruel condemnations I could ever imagine – I had no idea that words, written by a stranger, could hurt so badly, even when I know, on a rational level, that the words are not true. I can only remind myself that each of these writers has their own story, though none of them has offered to share them. They must have scars that run so deeply that even reading a few words of our story triggers a torrent of pain and rage.

I wish that those who have judged us, especially all those who left particularly hateful comments on Huffington Post (thank you to my friends who warned me not to read those), would realize they only know a very small slice of our story…that we haven’t shared all the joyful, funny, poignant and unforgettably precious moments we had with Ryan – many during his adolescence. And we certainly didn’t share any of the good things we did as parents, as our three surviving adult children have been quick – and kind – to point out. I wish they would have given me just a little bit of consideration…a pinch of benefit of the doubt…before accusing me of torturing and murdering my own child.

I continually ask God to help me remember that I probably don’t have the whole story before I judge others. Even people who spread hatred in the name of Jesus, which is especially horrifying and offensive to me. But the people who hate in the name of Jesus have stories, too; I just don’t know them, and I can’t begin to imagine what kind of horrendously painful stories would result in such hypocrisy and cruelty. So instead of voting them off the island (even though I would like to), I will pray that the grace and mercy of God will touch their wounded and infected places, so that they will be newly able to give grace and mercy to others.

In coming weeks, I’d like to share excerpts from some of the stories I’ve heard, in order to remind all of us (particularly those of us who are in the straight majority) of the urgent need in this country to make changes – real changes – to protect the emotional, mental, spiritual and physical safety of ALL of our children.

Perhaps we can all spend a little bit more time asking questions and listening, rather than talking and telling. Because if you’re like me, you already know what you think. And what you don’t know actually can hurt you…and others. So let’s keep our ears wide open to the stories that other people have to tell us.

So the next time you are tempted to write somebody off for being an insensitive, clueless jerk, or to thank God that you are not as arrogant or ignorant as that person pontificating endlessly on FaceBook or to just walk right by the disheveled man outside of your favorite, usually really nice grocery store (they are probably just begging for money to buy drugs, right?), remember…EVERYONE HAS A STORY.

Next time…maybe just ask…”What’s your story?” And pull up a chair and start listening.