Category Archives: Parenting Gay Kids

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.

While Your Child is Still Alive: A Letter to Parents Who Aren’t Ready to March in the Pride Parade

Lately I have become newly aware of how many parents, particularly (but not exclusively) Christian ones, are extremely uncomfortable with the fact that one of their children happens to be gay. I used to be one of those parents, but am no longer; instead I find myself in the very odd and ironic position of being jealous of them.

I have come to the conclusion that it is a luxury to have things to complain about. It is a gift to have something to give away or to even reject. If you chat with someone who has been unemployed for months, you won’t find them complaining about the bad dental benefits at their last employer.

When I talk with parents who have recently buried their infant daughter, I never hear them complain about sleepless nights up with their crying toddler. A friend of ours who spent years living on the streets of Seattle knows that he is more than fortunate to have found affordable housing. He wouldn’t dream of noticing the features in his apartment that aren’t exactly to his liking. It seems to me that it is those of us who have much who also have the extravagance of trivial grievances.

I think parents with gay kids are richly blessed. They have the luxury of being able to choose whether or not to love their gay child, because they have a gay child. But for those of us whose gay children have died, most frequently from the scourge of AIDS, the horrors of addiction or the tragedy of suicide, we no longer have that luxury.

When we hear of parents who have told their lesbian daughter that she is no longer welcome to come for Thanksgiving, of the transgender son whose mother refuses to acknowledge him as part of the family or the gay teen whose parents repeatedly remind him that he is headed for hell, we experience a plethora of acute emotions: shock, astonishment, envy, confusion and anger. Sometimes, even rage.

I have to be honest and say that if I had come across these words – my words – six or seven years ago, I would probably have felt defensive and upset. I might have stopped reading. But it would have been to my peril. Back then, I needed someone with perspective and wisdom to say the hard but true things. I needed someone who had compassion for my fear and grief to help me figure out why I was so scared, sad and deeply bothered by the thought of our son having a boyfriend.

Sadly, I let my fear keep me from understanding, cherishing and embracing my son. Instead of protecting Ryan, as I intended, my fear and reluctance backfired, causing a far greater danger and crisis than any I had ever imagined. This is not just our story; I have heard from hundreds of men and women whose experiences of rejection and alienation from family members have sparked downward spirals of depression, addiction and despair.

I wish someone would have told me what I did not know: that having a living, breathing gay child who challenged me, caused me to be uncomfortable and uneasy and whose desires caused me to lose sleep at night because of fear and worry was vastly, immeasurably, infinitely better than having a gay child who is dead.

No more challenges. No more discomfort. No more worries. At least not the kind we used to have. Instead, all of those relatively insignificant emotions were replaced by overwhelming sorrow, paralyzing grief and crushing regrets.

While your child (whether 14 or 49) is still alive, please treasure the fact that you have the luxury of having an LGBTQ child to enjoy, to love and to learn from. Please don’t take that gift for granted. It is a privilege far too many of us will never have again.

While your child is still alive, join a support group for parents of LGBTQ kids. Read books written by gay “children.” Make friends with people who are gay and ask them lots of questions. Let them teach you.
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While your child is still alive, take advantage of every single chance you get to tell him that you love him just the way he is.

While your child is still alive, call her and invite her over for dinner and ask her to please bring her girlfriend.

While your child is still alive, ask them if you’ve done anything that has been hurtful, so that you have the chance to say, “I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”

While your child is still alive, reassure her that God adores her, and wants a relationship with her. God doesn’t only love straight and cisgender* people. He loves every one of His children, all of whom are fearfully and wonderfully made.

While your child is still alive, don’t worry about what your friends will think. Twenty years from now, your friends’ opinions won’t keep you up at night. But your remorse about not loving your child while you still had the chance will. Trust me on this.

While your child is still alive, pray and ask God to show you how to be a reflection of His love for him or her, so that your child can see God’s love shining through everything you say and do.

While your child is still alive, don’t miss an opportunity – not even one – to get to know each of the people your child loves, her world, her passions and her dreams. Adore your child, just like you did when he was small. Take lots of pictures. Make more memories than your heart can hold. Soak up every single moment you get with her.

While your child is still alive, make sure that they aren’t living in shame because of who they are. Shame causes us to keep secrets, to hide and run from God and others. God calls us with kindness. God delights in us. God is not ashamed to call any of his children His own. He loves us unconditionally because He is God, and God is love.

While your child is still alive, please do all these things and more. We who visit the gravestones of our gay children would give everything that we have to do just one of them.

Once you have lost a child, you get to know lots of other parents who have lost children. Many of our friends had a healthy, thriving child one minute, and the next minute, they were gone. In an instant, without warning or a chance to say goodbye. We never know how long we will have our children; today could be your last chance to love your child while he or she is still alive.

I have heard a lot of Christian parents say, “I love my kid, but I don’t have to like what he is doing. Don’t expect me to go marching in any of those darn Pride parades.” I get that; there were many years when that would have been far too difficult for me, in spite of my fierce love for my son. But don’t give up trying to get to know your child, learning to love him/her fully, and allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable for the sake of communicating unconditional love.

Learning to love is a task for a lifetime. We get to spend our whole lives learning to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and learning to love our neighbors as ourselves. There is so much more still to know about His love for all of us. I don’t ever want to stop discovering the depths of it; He has given me so many good gifts as He keeps teaching me how to love as He first loved me. I am so thankful He doesn’t give up on me, even when I am so slow to grasp His lessons.

I am regularly reminded, as I read my Bible, that when Jesus walked the earth, He was continually doing stuff that made the religious people say he was a heretic and a blasphemer. He was continually hanging out and loving the people that the religious people condemned. He was continually causing scandals.

So what would Jesus do? Jesus would make those religious people mad, by heading right down to the part of town where all the gay people live and causing an enormous scandal by marching in their parade, sharing a meal with them and making sure that they knew that they were loved.

So while your child is still alive, reconsider marching with them in that parade. It might just save their life – and yours, too.

* A cisgender person is someone who identifies as they gender/sex they were assigned at birth. For example, your birth certificate says female, and you identify as a female woman.