Tag Archives: coming out

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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So I’ve Come Out to My Christian Parents…Now what?

Ever since Just Because He Breathes was printed on Huff Post, I’ve been getting emails. LOTS of emails. And so many of them have been from gay “children” who want to have a healthy, good relationship with their Christian parents. I’ve noticed that a lot of you, like me, are people pleasers…and almost all of you want to have open, honest, respectful relationships with your parents, whatever your age. I’ve answered a lot of the questions, but I’m realizing that I’ve been saying a lot of the same things over and over again, so I am going to try to put them together here, for use by any gay “child” who has a Christian parent – or even any parent – with whom they want to be in relationship.

Things to Remember About Parents

Parents, particularly Christian/Catholic/conservative parents, are probably going to need some time…maybe a lot of time…to figure out how they feeling after finding out that their son or daughter is gay/trans/queer.

The list below is not a list of excuses for bad behavior on the part of parents…but it is my attempt to help you have some understanding of where they might be coming from. Families require a lot of grace…hopefully given by all parties. But sometimes you might have to be the one who gets the grace going.

I think this is for a lot of reasons, but here are some of the biggest ones:

1. No parent wants his/her child to have a harder life.
Inarguably, the life of an LGBTQ teen/adult is more difficult than the life of a straight person in America – and immeasurably more difficult in many other countries. This is something any parent is going to feel, even if they don’t have ANY concern about your sexuality otherwise.

2. Most parents have the “dream” that their child will someday grow up, marry and produce grandchildren.
When I found out that my future wasn’t going to necessarily include four heterosexual children and four spouses, all happily married with their own children (obviously, this is ludicrous, in hindsight), I had to surrender that dream to God…to give that up for the better dream that He had for us. But that took some time. Allow your parents some time to grieve the loss of that dream, if you can.

3. We parents can put WAY too much importance in how our family and friends see our children, and, consequently, us.
It is true that “good parents” are often deemed worthy of that title by the spiritual, moral and academic success of their children. This is a complete fallacy, but it is a very real pressure that parents face. It takes time, and a lot of strength (for us, that came from God), to be able to let go of what our friends and family think, and to ONLY listen to what God is saying to us. Most likely, you won’t be able to convince them that what their friends at church think doesn’t matter. You might be able to tell them that you need to know that YOU are more important than their friends, though.

4. Christian parents have been taught that being gay means this: You will reject God. You will live a dangerous, life-threatening “lifestyle.”
You will never be truly happy. You will abuse drugs and alcohol. You will have repeated, random hook-ups with complete strangers. A lot of them. And again, you will reject God…which means, to many Christian parents, that you will spend an eternity in hell.

None of the above is true, but it was EXACTLY what I was taught. And what I believe is still being taught by many churches and Christian organizations (see “The Story of Gay” on Julie Rodger’s blog). This lie – what I like to call propaganda – is largely what caused my SEVERE reaction of fear when Ryan came out to us. I believed all the Christian pastors and leaders who had told me that these were the facts. Again, it took time for us to realize that this was not true…not true at all.

5. Parents can sometimes be incredibly hurtful and cause you unspeakable pain.
We can do this, all the while thinking that we are doing what is “best” for you, because we are “speaking truth.” Too many of you have told me of horribly painful things your parents have said, done or posted on FaceBook. Although it is easy for me to think, “At least we never kicked Ryan out, or told him he was going to hell, or said he was abomination…at least we weren’t THAT mean”….the truth is we did do things that, unintentionally, broke Ryan’s heart. I could make you a list (not without crying). But we never did stop loving Ryan…we just hadn’t learned, yet, what the kind of unconditional love God was calling us to looked like.

6. Christian parents may need the support of other Christian parents with LGBTQ kids.
A friend of mine said this:

“I found out our son was gay over two years ago, accidentally. I sat on the info for over a month and cried every day. I searched the net for a forum like this, a Christian group. I found PFLAG and a very kind lady emailed me and we spoke on the phone. She has three gay children. When I mentioned being a Christian, well, I might as well have said I have the plague, in her eyes. She said that Christian kids have a much harder time because their parents and churches usually turn their back on them. I was discouraged and alone.”

In the past month, we have started a small network of Christian parents who love Jesus and who also love their LGBTQ child. Right now, the parents are literally and figuratively all over the map – where they live and where they are in their process of learning to fully love and relate to their child. But since we’re all on the journey, we are able to be there for each other, providing support, prayer and understanding that we can’t find in our local churches. We are praying for the resources needed to allow this network to grow and include more parents; please pray with us for this!

My good friend, Susan Cottrell, also has a great blog with lots of resources for Christian parents of LGBTQ kids:  FreedHearts.com

7. You are going to need a lot of patience and a lot of faith.
We parents are slow to learn things sometimes, but just as God doesn’t give up on you, He doesn’t give up on us. It was GOD who did the “heavy lifting” in what Rob and I needed to learn; He was the one who really hammered the hard lessons home. He never abandoned us, even when we were way off track, following the trail of our own fears rather than following His voice.

Things to Remember About Yourself as an Adult Child

I’d like to share with you what I am learning, as a 49 year old woman, in my own life with our adult children, and through a lot of therapy sessions with an incredibly gifted Psychologist/Spiritual Director.

1. It is not your job to avoid hurting your parents’ feelings.
Though our kids (I will call them kids, but they are all adults now) do their best to be respectful, as they would in any relationship, often they have hard things they need to say to me. They need to tell me how I have hurt them, annoyed them, neglected them in some way, or made them feel unimportant. Sometimes they express these feelings beautifully, and sometimes it comes out in a rush, and it is very messy. Either way is okay. I am their mom, and it is my job to hear them, however they communicate. If my feelings are hurt, that is between me and God. If they have truly said something that was mean or spiteful, I can bring that up, but my first priority is to truly listen, mirror them and ask forgiveness, if necessary (it usually is). If I don’t respond well, it is NOT their fault nor their responsibility.

2. It is not your job to avoid causing your parents’ pain.
Actually, pain is a good thing for us as parents. It causes us to look inside, to examine our own hearts, and to depend on God, who is our ultimate source of comfort and security. When Ryan came out to us, it was an enormous gift. At the time, my walk with Jesus had grown rather stale. But after he came out, it was ANYTHING but. Through the next 8 years, my walk with Jesus grew and grew and grew. All thanks to Ryan’s honesty…my pain…and my resulting need for God’s help.

3. It is not your responsibility to protect your parents from trauma or illness.
Many of you are afraid, or have been told, that your sexuality will cause your parents a serious health crisis. But the truth is this: When Ryan came out to us, I threw up for days. I lost over 20 lbs, and I was already thin. I didn’t sleep. THAT WAS NOT RYAN’S FAULT. It was MINE. It was about MY fear. MY lack of faith. MY inability to trust Jesus to love Ryan more than I do.

4. It is not your job to make your parents happy by being a “good” daughter or son.
Nobody can make anyone else happy, but you can almost kill yourself trying, as I know all too well. If my happiness depends on the choices one of our children make, I am in BIG trouble. Not only will that not work (they’ll never keep me happy), but it will push our kids away from us faster than I can say the word happiness. Our kids have to know that they are free to make ANY choices, follow ANY dream, disagree completely with us as parents, and even disconnect from us completely…and we will STILL love them just because they breathe. Our happiness cannot be based on them…it MUST be based on our own lives – our own walks with God, our own marriage, our own friendships.

5. It is okay to tell your parents what you wish your relationship could look like.
If you express to your parents your desire that they really know you, and love you, that is what our family calls “leaning in” to the relationship – moving toward them because you love and value them. As you know, they aren’t mind readers. If you’d like them to ask about who you are dating, let them know that you’d love that, when they are ready. If you’d like them to treat you just like they treat your straight siblings, tell them that. It always works great to start these kind of statements with phrases like, “It would mean a great deal to me if….” or  “One thing that would speak love to me is….” or  “You are very important to me. I want to be close to you. It would help me to be closer to you if…..”

Just remember, what you desire cannot be an expectation. It can’t be something you demand, because you don’t control your parents (as you know). But do tell them what you need! This has been one of the greatest gifts our adult children have given to us.

6. The best thing you can do for your parents – and yourself – is to separate from them.
Become your own person, not dependent on their approval or their favor. In the end, this will result in a better, more real relationship with them, if they desire. Let me give you a few examples.

When Ryan returned to our lives, he was an adult, gay man who had walked away from his faith. He had made choices that were very different from ours, but they were his. He was completely honest about those choices, both the good ones and the bad ones. Our new relationship was built upon mutual respect, complete honesty and joint willingness to admit wrongs and to ask forgiveness. There was a clear acknowledgement that he wasn’t asking us to dig him out of the legal, financial and moral holes he found himself in, any more than we were asking him to help us feel “good about ourselves” as parents. This new relationship was PURE GIFT. It was authentic and open and DELIGHTFUL. There were no assumed expectations and Rob, Ryan and I each had complete freedom to be ourselves, and love flourished.

In our oldest daughter’s first year of college, Rob and I saw our firstborn make a marked transition from her dependence on us to dependence on God. She stopped, for the most part, asking us for advice, and instead went to God and to the mentors and friends He had supplied. Her life, in the past decade, has looked very different from what mine looked like in the same time period. Had she followed my example, and my natural inclinations for her, she would have been married for some time now, and would probably have a couple of children. But that wasn’t how God led HER. He had a different plan for her and it was a better plan for her (big surprise, right?). Our relationship today is stronger than ever, largely because neither of us are dependent on the other for our happiness, and we are both free to communicate – or not to communicate – as often as we like. She is a separate individual, accountable to God, and she makes her decisions with His help, not with ours (though sometimes she asks for our input). It took me much longer to be okay with the fact that she wasn’t anxious to marry than it took her…and I am so thankful that she didn’t change the course that God had her on just to make me happy.

So if you aren’t responsible to make your parents happy, and to make sure that they are never hurt, what is your responsibility?

As we all know, the Bible clearly tells us to honor our parents. Personally, I have really struggled with what that means. I am still asking God to show me, so this is a work in progress, as I am a work in progress.

Honoring my parents means, for me, that as a child, I am honest with them. I strive to be truly myself in my relationship with them, as I do with my closest friends. I honor them by being truthful about all my feelings, whether those feelings be anger or hurt or disappointment, just as I do with my husband and closest friends (the people I love the most). I do not slander my parents. I do not intentionally cause them harm with malice or bitterness.

I can honor my parents by setting healthy boundaries for both of us. Our youngest son has done a great job of this recently, as he has recently married. He has set some new boundaries for us, since he is leaving us and cleaving to his wife. Those boundaries have been truly honoring, because he is doing what is best for all of us.

I can also honor my parents by making my marriage and my closest friendships a priority in my life, because I am following God’s call for my life. Our children honor us when they make God’s call – in their own lives – their first priority. Even if we aren’t a primary part – or even a small part – of that call!

So, to conclude this not-at-all-exhaustive “guide” for gay children with Christian parents (God willing, we’ll keep learning and will add to this as we continue this journey together), remember this:

You do not have the power, by yourself, to ensure that you have a wonderful relationship with your parents.

They do not have the power, alternatively, to ensure that you will never be hurt by life, or that you will never encounter difficult situations as you wrestle with reconciling your faith with your sexuality and as you strive to listen to God’s voice above all others. They also do not have the power to keep you from having a flourishing, wonderful life full of God’s blessings.

Most importantly, you have the power to listen to God’s voice above all others.

I can remember Ryan singing…I can see him in my mind, crying out to God with these words:

All of You
is more than enough for
all of me
For every thirst and every need
You satisfy me with Your love
And all I have in You
is more than enough.*

So, with or without your parents’ love and approval, I am praying tonight, and trusting, that God, your Heavenly Father, who loves you far more than you could ever begin to fathom, will be more than enough for you.

 

*Lyrics from “Enough” by Chris Tomlin

Just Because He Breathes

June 1, 2009 – 2nd Day of 17 Days in Harborview

On the night of November 20, 2001, a conversation held over Instant Messenger changed our lives forever. Our twelve year old son messaged me in my office from the computer in his bedroom.

Ryan says: can i tell u something
Mom says: Yes I am listening
Ryan says: well i don’t know how to say this really but, well……, i can’t keep lying to you about myself. I have been hiding this for too long and i sorta have to tell u now. By now u probably have an idea of what i am about to say.
Ryan says: I am gay
Ryan says: i can’t believe i just told you
Mom says: Are you joking?
Ryan says: no
Ryan says: i thought you would understand because of uncle don
Mom says: of course I would
Mom says: but what makes you think you are?
Ryan says: i know i am
Ryan says: i don’t like hannah
Ryan says: it’s just a cover-up
Mom says: but that doesn’t make you gay…
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: but u don’t understand
Ryan says: i am gay
Mom says: tell me more
Ryan says: it’s just the way i am and it’s something i know
Ryan says: u r not a lesbian and u know that. it is the same thing
Mom says: what do you mean?
Ryan says: i am just gay
Ryan says: i am that
Mom says: I love you no matter what
Ryan says: i am white not black
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: i am a boy not a girl
Ryan says: i am attracted to boys not girls
Ryan says: u know that about yourself and i know this
Mom says: what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?
Ryan says: i know
Mom says: thank you for telling me
Ryan says: and i am very confused about that right now
Mom says: I love you more for being honest
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: thanx

We were completely shocked. Not that we didn’t know and love gay people – my only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails, and ALL boy. We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all of our reactions over the next six years, was FEAR.

We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible – the Word of God – should say:

We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. And this is hard. REALLY hard. But we know what God says about this, and so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices.

We love you. We couldn’t love you more. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books…you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.

We love you. We are so glad you are our son. But you are young, and your sexual orientation is still developing. The feelings you’ve had for other guys don’t make you gay. So please don’t tell anyone that you ARE gay. You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay – it is that you are a child of God.

We love you. Nothing will change that. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is NOT an option.

We thought we understood the magnitude of the sacrifice that we – and God – were asking for. And this sacrifice, we knew, would lead to the abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards. Ryan had always felt intensely drawn to spiritual things; He desired to please God above all else. So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies and got baptized. He read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into counseling to further discover the “why’s” of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and I, and built strong friendships with other guys – straight guys – just like the reparative therapy experts advised. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing – by memory – verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Himself.

But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer – or ours – though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe – the God for whom NOTHING is impossible – could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.

Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what HE believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly OWN their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.

Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime condemned to being alone. He would never have the chance to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy and companionship or experience romance.

And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted – peace – another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.

We had – unintentionally – taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him.

Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death, especially in light of his recent rejection of Christianity, and his mounting anger at God.

Ryan started with weed and beer…but in six short months was using cocaine, crack and heroin. He was hooked from the beginning, and his self-loathing and rage at God only fueled his addiction. Shortly after, we lost contact with him. For the next year and a half we didn’t know where he was, or even if he was dead or alive. And during that horrific time, God had our full attention. We stopped praying for Ryan to become straight. We started praying for him to know that God loved him. We stopped praying for him never to have a boyfriend. We started praying that someday we might actually get to know his boyfriend. We even stopped praying for him to come home to us; we only wanted him to come home to God.

By the time our son called us, after 18 long months of silence, God had completely changed our perspective. Because Ryan had done some pretty terrible things while using drugs, the first thing he asked me was this:

Do you think you can ever forgive me? (I told him of course, he was already forgiven. He had ALWAYS been forgiven.)

Do you think you could ever love me again? (I told him that we had never stopped loving him, not for one second. We loved him then more than we had ever loved him.)

Do you think you could ever love me with a boyfriend? (Crying, I told him that we could love him with fifteen boyfriends. We just wanted him back in our lives. We just wanted to have a relationship with him again…AND with his boyfriend.)

And a new journey was begun. One of healing, restoration, open communication and grace. LOTS of grace. And God was present every step of the way, leading and guiding us, gently reminding us simply to love our son, and leave the rest up to Him.

Over the next ten months, we learned to truly love our son. Period. No buts. No conditions. Just because he breathes. We learned to love whoever our son loved. And it was easy. What I had been so afraid of became a blessing. The journey wasn’t without mistakes, but we had grace for each other, and the language of apology and forgiveness became a natural part of our relationship. As our son pursued recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we pursued him. God taught us how to love him, to rejoice over him, to be proud of the man he was becoming. We were all healing…and most importantly, Ryan began to think that if WE could forgive him and love him, then maybe God could, too.

And then Ryan made the classic mistake of a recovering addict…he got back together with his old friends…his using friends. And one evening that was supposed to simply be a night at the movies turned out to be the first time he had shot up in ten months…and the last time. Ryan died on July 16, 2009. And we lost the ability to love our gay son…because we no longer had a gay son. What we had wished for…prayed for…hoped for…that we would NOT have a gay son, came true. But not at all in the way we used to envision.

Now, when I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, who I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by FAITH instead of by FEAR. Now, whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner. But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone. We celebrate anniversaries: the would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange – his color. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy…for that is all we have left, and there will be no new memories.  We rejoice in our adult children, and in our growing family as they marry…but ache for the one of our “gang of four” who is missing. We mark life by the days BC (before coma) and AD (after death), because we are different people now; our life was irrevocably changed – in a million ways – by his death. We treasure friendships with others who “get it”…because they, too, have lost a child.

We weep. We seek Heaven for grace and mercy and redemption as we try – not to get better but to be better. And we pray that God can somehow use our story to help other parents learn to truly love their children. Just because they breathe.

Linda Diane Robertson
Originally written on December 5th, 2012
Posted on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday

NOTE: If you’d like to read an example of the beautiful, gracious and loving soul our son Ryan was, read the letter he wrote to Rob on Father’s Day, only 9 days before his accidental overdose.