Tag Archives: LGBT

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.

Speaking to Seattle’s Future Nurses? Yup. 100%.

Last May, about a month before our lives would change drastically due to a mostly forgotten essay that went viral (before I even had a blog site), I wrote the following and posted it on FaceBook. It is almost six months later, and we are in Eastern Washington, preparing to speak again for another group of nursing students.
bursting with excitement at the prospect of getting to spend the morning tomorrow with a large classroom full of individuals who want to learn how to not only care for the body of a patient, but for their mind, heart and soul…especially when those patients may be homeless, struggling with addiction or unable to speak English. Perhaps their religious faith or sexual orientation are very different from what is deemed “normal” in the hospital’s local community; do they not still deserve the same excellent care that is boasted about in all the hospital’s advertising materials? So, if you’d like to know what Rob and I are up to, feel free to read on. Thanks for taking the time!

I have to be up in four hours, in order to get to Seattle University on time for a 7:30 am class. Rob and I have been invited to speak, this week and next, to two groups of first year nursing students, on the topic of respect and dignity for every patient.

Part of our intro goes something like this…

You have chosen a career that has incredible meaning and huge potential to impact the lives of not just your patients, but the families of your patients, as well.

We tell them, through our story, how that impact can be for harm or for healing, depending on how they wield it. We share a bit about the painful scorn, glaring neglect and blatant discrimination Ryan experienced at two different hospitals where we were with Ryan in the ICU. But our focus is on the GOOD stuff – the endless acts and words of kindness, respect and genuine compassion that we received from the medical team at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle during our 17 day stay there.

Each time we prepare to speak to a group of nursing students, I have trouble sleeping the night before. Typically something goes wrong to cause us to be unable to get into bed, or, like last time and again tonight, I received a “random” extremely disturbing phone call or message from one of Ryan’s old friends – friends that are still, tragically, using drugs. For those of my friends who believe in God – and Satan – it seems obvious where these come from. But for those of my friends who don’t believe in a personal God, much less the devil, I’m okay with you saying it is just bad luck. Even bad karma. I respect your beliefs; I have amazing friends, and I am grateful that you respect mine! But whatever the case, for the 24 hours before we go do this presentation, it always seems like all hell breaks loose in an effort to keep us from speaking.

Perhaps that is because our story illustrates exactly what Jesus taught when He told us to love the least of these…when He modeled treating those society despised with the utmost respect…when He broke commandments by healing those who were suffering on the Sabbath. As one of our doctors at Harborview said, “Didn’t Jesus hang out with prostitutes and sinners??” Yup. 100%. And who did He spend the most time calling out?? You got it. The “good people” of the day…those super religious folks that were always – ARE always – harping about who is doing what wrong. And sadly it typically doesn’t involve much self-reflection.
Rob and Ryan - Day 4 at Harborview

Perhaps it is because our story challenges our listeners to put aside their fears, judgments, prejudices and biases to see the SOUL of their patients. We encourage them to do what our team of nurses did – they looked beyond the outward condition to Ryan’s story. They didn’t judge him by his addiction, the number of times he had already overdosed, the horrific condition he was in, his sexual orientation or the fact that he no longer owned anything of value other than a few items of clothing, a lot of well-read books and memorabilia from childhood. The Bible has a LOT to say about our human tendency to judge others by their outward appearance, and God’s constancy in looking only at our hearts. And He sees – and loves – EVERYONE. No exceptions. Not even those religious folks He was so often calling out.

Or maybe it is because we can’t tell the story of our 17 days in Harborview without recounting at least a few of the many wonders we witnessed there. Our story wouldn’t make sense without telling about the day Ryan was being transferred to the hospice to die and then…he wasn’t. The next six days, and the way that the hospital lovingly cared for Ryan, and for our family, while we experienced things nobody could explain was…well, as one of Ryan’s doctors said, “Even the most staunch atheists around here are using the word MIRACLE.”

As many times as we’ve presented this story…as many times as we’ve read it through and vividly remembered each moment as it is retold, Rob and I never stop marveling. It always brings us to tears, and leaves us in awe of our good God who proved His love for Ryan by giving us all unexpected time to spend together, and an invaluable chance to say good-bye.

If you’ve never heard the story, you ought to come sometime and sit in the back, behind all those super smart nursing students, and listen. I am, and have always been, prone to doubt. But when we tell our story, even my doubts go out the window (and that is really saying something, especially these days!).

I am reminded of how personal, powerful and passionate God was toward us in those 17 days.

Or if you know a group of nursing students or people in other caring professions who could use a real-life example of how they can change the lives of a family forever (even if their loved one doesn’t survive), by the dignity, respect, compassion and kindness they show in their words and their actions, let us know. For us, getting to share both about the painful things we went through, and the gloriously precious days provided for us by Harborview (with a bit of help from God) is all about healing and redemption. It binds our wounds, and makes our grief a little easier to bear, knowing that maybe even a few other families will receive the kind of extraordinary treatment we did when they experience the worst trauma of their lives.

At the very least, you’ll learn why, in our opinion, there is NO WHERE else to go but Harborview if you have a serious medical emergency in the Pacific Northwest. But no, we don’t get referral bonuses, nor do they even know we tell all sorts of people about how amazing they are!

But most of all, we tell Ryan’s story because Ryan matters to us. Because we will never stop honoring him and all that he taught us in both life and in death, as long as we have the voices to do so. Because we adore our beautiful boy…just because he breathes…and even when he does not.

Yup. 100%.*

*To know the enormous significance of those two words…you’ll have to listen to our story. We’ll be sharing it on January 10th at the Gay Christian Network Conference in Chicago – Join us there!

Fighting for the Right to Live in the Light

Today my heart feels burdened to share with you something that comes from a family whose courage and love have changed our lives. I am crying as I write this, because words cannot begin to express the magnitude of the gratitude I feel for this family or the urgency of the need for which they are fighting.

If it wasn’t for this family we wouldn’t be the leaders of an HIV/AIDS Local Outreach Team that partners with RoseHedge MultiFaith in Seattle to serve those suffering with HIV and the often associated challenges that can come with it (isolation, homelessness, stigma, addiction).

If it wasn’t for this family we would never have agreed to write our story for the website of Biola Queer Underground – the story that became “Just Because He Breathes,” and which went viral several times in June of this year.

If it wasn’t for this family we would not have traveled to Irvine, California to speak in front of hundreds of people to tell them what God has taught us through the life and death of our son. The video of that presentation, which was our first time speaking in public, has over 80,000 views on YouTube.

If it wasn’t for this family we would not be starting an LGBTQ small group at our church this fall.

If it wasn’t for this family there would not be a rapidly expanding online FaceBook group of parents who love Jesus and who also love their gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans/queer child; this group is the ONLY place that most of the parents feel safe to share how fiercely they love their child without fear of being judged and condemned by their churches.

If it wasn’t for this family we wouldn’t have befriended other parents in our church community whose teenagers have come out to them….we wouldn’t have known them.

If it wasn’t for this family, I wouldn’t have the courage to continue this work. When I have been at my lowest point, feeling beat up by both the right and the left, wishing that I could just go back to my “normal” life, these are the people who remind me to keep listening to God’s voice and trusting HIM with the consequences.

I could go on and on. Without the support and encouragement of this family, who have loved us unconditionally and who have been behind us every step of the way in our journey, we wouldn’t be speaking out on behalf of the LGBTQ community today, especially not in conservative Christian circles, which is where our message needs to be heard, but is often unwelcome.

Please take a few minutes to watch this family’s video, and to read the words of my dear friend, Jodie Howerton, who is doing something that MUST be done in order for all of our kids to have accurate information about how to prevent AIDS. The only way we can stop this disease from killing more of our children is through EDUCATION.

I’m prepared to fight for my son’s right to live in the light.

Several years ago, when my oldest was in 5th grade, I previewed the HIV/AIDS video that our local public school uses to fulfill state educational mandates. The video was produced in the 1980’s (might have had an update in the early 90’s), was incredibly fear based, and contained very outdated information about the virus.

I was stunned. In most other ways, I’ve been very impressed with the curriculum our school district utilizes. The video featured newspaper headlines that read, “Thousands Die of AIDS” and even spliced in a shot of the grim reaper at one point. To illustrate how HIV attacks the immune system, the video used abstract concepts related to baseball that even I, as an adult, was confused by. Then there was the personification of HIV as a red monster.

My 8-year old son, Duzi, is HIV positive.

He is not scary and he is not contagious. He takes a regimen of anti-retroviral medication every day and has an undetectable viral load. He is not a threat to anyone.

The information in the video was scary. Those without additional information would be afraid of my son after watching it. Afraid of my son – a “normal” (whatever that means!) kiddo who plays soccer, basketball, and baseball, does karate, and is a talented hip-hop dancer. Afraid of my son who is a human being that defies stereotype. He is a survivor and simultaneously, a student that loves and reads the Magic Treehouse series. Just like your kids.

The video I previewed perpetuated stigma, the terrible stigma that still criminalizes HIV positive individuals, even when they adhere to their medication and have an undetectable viral load. The chances of transmission are seriously almost moot (if you consider 1 in a million via sexual intercourse moot, even less if blood outside of the body is involved- I TOTALLY do) when HIV viral loads get to undetectable – meaning HIV can’t be detected in the blood.

Back to my preview of the public school video resources:

When the video ended, my head was spinning, blood rushed to my face, and my hand shot up. Why, I demanded, was this video being shown at all? Wasn’t there something else produced in this century that we could show instead? The poor teacher showing the video was simply utilizing a resource that had been approved by our district, and by our state. I then complained to the principal and to the school nurse, who put me in contact with the Health Coordinator at the school district.

The Health Coordinator was incredibly kind and helpful. She admitted that the video was outdated and together, we searched for replacement videos – for an entire year. We found nothing appropriate for the public school setting. And I really mean nothing.

Don’t just criticize. Create.

So, I decided to make some new videos. With the collaboration of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington State, physicians from Seattle Children’s Hospital, and fundraising help from Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation, I’m creating a series of four brand new video resources for 5th grade, 6th grade, middle school and high school students.

These videos will be available FREE OF CHARGE to any school district in the nation that wants them.

Utilizing a documentary format that features a “day in the life” of an HIV positive person, the videos will contain medically and scientifically accurate information and will focus on reducing the devastating social stigma still associated with the disease. Students will understand the truth about prevention and transmission, and will feel compassionate, not fearful.

Of course, given the nature of education budgets in states across our nation, there is not any funding available for these videos. We need to raise $150,000 to create all four videos. We’ve launched a fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to help us create the first video.

A collective family decision to share.

Before you go to Indiegogo, I need you to know how much thought, discussion, and prayer went in to my family’s decision to disclose Duzi’s status so openly. Up until now, we have only disclosed his positive status on an individual basis. We have never believed that HIV is something to be ashamed of. We have never communicated to Duzi that he has something to hide or be embarrassed of. Never. We have so normalized HIV in our home, that we actually rarely discuss it any more. Every morning, Duzi takes his HIV meds, I take my thyroid meds, Caleb takes his acid reflux meds, and Alex takes her iron supplement. It’s no big deal.

We started to realize sometime in the middle of last school year that more people knew about Duzi’s HIV status than we thought. Unfortunately, even though HIV status is protected under federal privacy laws, moms at the bus stop, parents at athletic events, and well-meaning people in our church like to chat about “secret” things. We realized that we were not in charge of the information people were communicating to one another about our son’s health. People that knew about Duzi’s status didn’t know that we knew that they knew and so were not coming to us directly to ask questions. We had no idea what myths were being perpetuated.

We’ve decided, with Duzi’s input, with my other kids’ input, with perspective from our community of positive families, and with counsel from friends who know us well, to disclose openly.

Secrets have much more power than truth. We desperately want Duzi to live free of the burden of secrecy and shame; I have no doubt that open disclosure will have some consequences. I have no doubt that we will encounter ignorance and prejudice But, at least we will know about it.

And, I’m prepared to fight for my son’s right to live in the light.

We have 30 days to raise money for our “Redefine Positive” campaign on Indiegogo. Would you consider contributing?

Indiegogo Campaign // Facebook Page // Twitter // Pinterest

No Shame About Being HIV Positive

We Cannot Be Silent

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sometimes I forget why I am writing. When the days are too short and too full of undone tasks and too little money to pay to have them done for me, I can forget. When I get one message informing me that my selfish insistence on faith in the Gospel of Christ was the cause of my son’s death, while another declares that my wishful thinking and rewriting of Scripture is the reason my child and many others will spend an eternity in hell – those are the days I want out. Out of this “arena” (as Dr. Brene Brown puts it), where I find myself, bruised and bloody and wondering how in the heck I ended up here.

And then there are weeks like this one. This past week began with a text from a pediatrician friend in Tennessee who sent me the link to an article detailing a scandal happening in her hometown. A mother who, after supporting her daughter as she and her partner fought for benefits for same-sex couples, was given an ultimatum by her church family: Repent of your sin (apparently holding the hand of your child in court has become an unholy act) or leave the church. I was shocked and horrified, and am still shocked and horrified, that a parent is being publicly condemned by her church for loving her child.

No wonder many of the parents I have come to know through this journey do not want their LGBTQ kids to come out in their hometowns and desperately fear their church families knowing of their unqualified support of their child. Among many other things, it could mean rejection by the very people who helped to welcome that child into the world. They know that their children will not be enfolded by the body of Christ, but will be quickly written off as being “led astray by the enemy,” without ever taking the time to hear their story, or to learn how fervently they continue to seek God.

No wonder I sat at a Starbucks this month with a friend who told me, after revealing that her 18 year old child had recently come out to her, that she could no longer be a Christian.

Then today I was reminded of a blog I read earlier this week that was so deeply disturbing that I purposely disengaged it, knowing that I would be unable to function normally with my other children if I thought about it while visiting them. It was posted on a mainstream evangelical website and when I stumbled across it again today and took the time to reread it as well as many of the supportive, affirming comments, I couldn’t dismiss the distress I felt.

Reading it, I was reminded of the Christian radio shows I listened to back in the 80’s and 90’s that, unknowingly at the time, greatly influenced me when our own son came out to us in 2001. Their messages – messages I see now as hate-filled, homophobic propaganda – subconsciously but deeply affected me by planting seeds of fear and prejudice against the gay community. These seeds took root and grew rapidly after finding out that Ryan was part of that community.

If this blog was an exception or aberration, it wouldn’t bother me so much. Unfortunately, it is not.

This horrifically offensive blog has already been articulately and intelligently refuted by others, and given that I am neither a theologian, philosopher or social scientist, I won’t attempt to add my own arguments. However, what I want to do is this: encourage others to ask the same questions I have been asking myself all day.

When those of us who call themselves Christians stand by in silence as someone, speaking with the authority and respect granted to those who are pastors entrusted with teaching the Word of God to their congregations, uses the written word to cultivate disgust toward individuals made in the image of God, we tacitly concur with his conclusions. If we do not speak up – loudly and repeatedly – to object to the use of homophobic, demeaning and dehumanizing tactics, just as we would do to racist, hate-filled bigotry, we are silently condoning the actions.

Rob and I have many beloved friends and family who do not agree with us about gay marriage or other gay rights that we view as human rights, but they do so soberly, realizing that they are speaking about a topic that is not an only a current “issue” but a subject that touches the hearts and souls of individuals who were created by God and who are deeply loved by Him.

We do not have to use the language of hate – disgust and contempt – to communicate our opinions. And we dare not.

If we do not speak out, the words of this pastor may reach the ears of vulnerable listeners, unquestioned and unrefuted, causing them to think that this is the conclusion of those who follow Christ, and much worse, that this twisted perspective represents the opinion of God Himself.

I have not been able to stop asking myself:

How many teenagers, fervent in their desire to please God, will read this and conclude that it is a virtually impossibility to please God, given that their orientation that just won’t change, no matter how hard they pray?

How many young adults, hiding their true sexuality from their families and church communities because of stigma and condemnation, will read this, allowing these words to add another thick layer to the already suffocating shame and contempt they attempt to breathe through so that they can live another day?

How many LGBTQ people will read this, and conclude that this is one more piece of solid evidence that people who love Jesus are also people who hate them?

How many young adults will read this, never thinking that someday they might be parents who give birth to a child who realizes that he or she has, as a result of no choice of their own, a sexual orientation described by this writer as abominable?

How many parents of teenagers will read this, not realizing that one of the adolescents in their own home is struggling to reconcile his or her faith with the realization that they are attracted to the same sex?

How many parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and siblings will read this, and be influenced by these words, so that when their family member finally gathers the courage to share with them the secret they’ve been hiding, they respond with even a little of the “gag reflex” that this pastor encourages us to attend to and nurture?

How many children, when confronted with the disgust of the people whose love they need most in all the world, will conclude that the self-reproach they’ve been fighting against is valid and legitimate after all? How many will decide that their families would be better off without them? How many more funerals will be held for LGBTQ children who feel that their lives are without value?

How many more parents will disown their own children, because they’ve been told by a spiritual authority that the love that their child feels is nothing more than a perverse desire for a repugnant act?

These are just some of the questions that have been nagging at me relentlessly all day today. And though just the thought of both the situation in Tennessee and the words of the pastor turned blogger have been enough to kill my appetite today, they also serve as a powerful reminder of why God has kept whispering the same thing to my husband and I, over and over and over, “Tell your story. Tell your story. Just tell your story.”

This week, while on a long, beautiful bike ride, Rob turned to me and said, “Even if I lose every single one of my straight friends, I cannot stop sharing what God has shown us. To do so would be disobedience.”

Today, I have been powerfully reminded of the potential cost of that disobedience. To stop sharing, to stop speaking out or to choose to be silent just might make the difference in whether or not another family gets to attend their child’s wedding, or, like us, can only visit a gravestone.

If I could, I would shout from every mountaintop the truth that I know with more certainty than I know anything else: That our Creator God is a God of love, and that He fiercely loves every single one of His children. Our God is compelled to chase after those who feel that they don’t belong, those who have been cast away and left out. Our God is the God who leaves the ninety-nine to chase after the one…the one who He loves with unfathomable passion, and with whom He is never disgusted.


The article about the mother condemned for supporting her gay child can be found at TimesFreePress.com.

If you feel it is necessary to read the blog in question, or to ask the editors of the website that hosts it to remove it, you can find it here: The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and “Gay Marriage”

One of the many well-written rebuttals of the blog and clarifications of what the Gospel really is was written by Rachel Held Evans, and includes links to other valuable resources, as well: Responding to homophobia in the Christian community

Another fabulous and thought provoking response to the complete irony of the blog in light of the Gospel is this one: What If Jesus Had A Gag Reflex?

My Identity as a Straight Christian

Today I welcome my first guest blogger, our dear friend, Julie Rodgers, who is on her way from Dallas to Seattle to spend the weekend with us right now!

As a straight Christian woman, I “identify” myself as a heterosexual ALL THE TIME. One look at my FaceBook, and my friends know that I am CRAZY about Rob. My desk at work had pictures of Rob and I, and our kids, all over the place. Friends could easily accuse me of “flaunting” my straight-ness, if people were accused of such things, because Rob and I are very public with affection and open with how grateful we are for each other.

Julie-and-Us-June-2013

If Rob and I are getting a bit too friendly at church, our friends just laugh at tell us to get a room, or they stop and tell us that we are a role model for young marriages around us. We don’t get judgment – we get affirmation. Nobody in the church has ever challenged us that we are not putting our identity as Christians first. We’ve never been told that we aren’t making Christ the center of our lives. They assume we are, based on our commitment to loving each other in a Christ-like way.

If I had to stop identifying myself as a straight, married woman when I walked into our church, I would quickly stop going, because it would be IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to really know me. Rob is my best friend, my soulmate…and he has been so for the past 30 years. He is part of me, and has been an enormous part of how I am learning to trust that God loves me unconditionally. If someone wants to know Linda, they are going to have to hear about Rob. That is just HONEST. It isn’t a crime or a sin or anything else negative…and it is about time we start extending the same permission for our gay friends, if we ever want to really know them, and if we ever want them to feel comfortable at our churches.

The Language Wars – by Julie Rodgers, Guest Blogger

There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the term “gay” in evangelical circles, which is understandable since the church has only recently begun asking questions of how to welcome gay people in their congregations. Among conservative Christians, “gay” is often understood as an identity—particularly an identity that communicates one’s desire for gay relationships. Many well-meaning Christians take the assumption further, believing it’s a sin for someone to embrace a gay label because they see it to be an identity rooted in something other than Christ. Among the culture at large, however, “gay” is understood simply as a description of one’s attraction toward the same sex. It’s a way of communicating an important aspect of their lives to the rest of the world through language. So when someone says they’re gay, they’re saying “I’m attracted to the same sex,” but Christians often hear: “Homosexuality is the foundation upon which I’m built and the driving force in every decision I make.”

Because of the confusion over the term, I typically avoid using labels altogether and say “I’m just Julie”. For years I’ve internally thought of myself as “gay” (in the descriptive sense) and used the term among friends who know me well, but I haven’t felt compelled to use it broadly if it’s going to cause problems for those in my community or lead them to make assumptions about me. In other words: I accommodate others by framing my experience in a way that makes them more comfortable. But if we’re asking questions about how to create a safe place for gay people in the church, I think we should consider ways to welcome them without insisting they accommodate us with the terms they use to describe their reality. It can be detrimental for gay people to be constantly challenged by loved ones based on the language they use to describe their sexuality. Imagine this scenario:

Your friend calls you on a Friday evening and invites you out for a night of bowling with the crew. You’re tired after a long week of work, and you respond with: Thanks for the invite, but I think I’m going to stay in for the night. I’m an introvert and I recharge by being alone, so I just need some time to myself. “WHAT?” Your friend replies. “Why would you say you’re an introvert? You’re not an introvert—you’re a child of God!” Well of course I’m a child of God, you say. I’m a child of God, but I also happen to be an introvert—I recharge by being alone. “How can you claim an identity other than what God says about you?” Your friend insists. “Besides, I see you interact with others and you’ve always got TONS of energy! Why would you identify yourself this way and reduce the whole of your life to this one small thing?” Well, I don’t want to argue with you and I’m not claiming this as a defining aspect of my identity, you explain. I’m just sharing an important part of myself with you to give you a better feel for what it’s like to be me so you can know and understand me more fully. “Well, I get that you sometimes feel the draw to be alone,” he replies, “but I think you need to avoid using labels like that when speaking about yourself. There’s a lot more to you than this, and I hate to see you defining yourself by this one aspect of your life.” But I’m not defining myself…..

That sounds absurd, doesn’t it? We communicate who we are through language, and we use descriptive words to share our internal experiences in order to be known by others. While our primary identity is certainly rooted in Christ, we use countless adjectives to describe unique aspects of ourselves to one another: sensitive, intelligent, emotional, artist, brother, actress, writer, old soul, high strung, laid back—all these terms paint a picture of a person’s relationship to the world around them. Most people with a gay orientation desire to communicate that to their loved ones, and most feel the word “gay” is the easiest way to express one’s attraction to the same sex. Just like we don’t make assumptions about a heterosexual’s ethics or habits based on their revelation of being “heterosexual”, we shouldn’t make assumptions about a gay person’s beliefs or relationships based on their revelation of being gay.

This is important to understand because it can be defeating for gay Christians to be challenged every time they share this personal part of their lives with loved ones. It can start to feel like they’re being shoved back into a place of hiding—as if they’re only loved by you if homosexuality is a small part of their lives they communicate in subtle terms that don’t make you uncomfortable. Many gay people feel like “SSA” does not authentically communicate the extent to which their orientation affects their day to day lives: it gives the impression that this is simply a feeling that arises from time to time. But sexual orientation involves more than mere attraction; it affects the way we interact with the world. There’s a different relational dynamic when someone walks into a room as a gay person than when someone walks into a room as a straight person (just like a Latino probably experiences a country dance hall different than a Texan). It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing—just different. But in order for your gay loved ones to be known by you, it’s important to extend them the liberty to communicate their reality through whatever language they feel best describes them.

This might not seem like a big deal, but we honor people by referring to them however they wish to be described. If someone takes the vulnerable step of welcoming you into this aspect of his or her experience, I think it should be cherished. It can be defeating for them to be challenged based on how they communicate their experience simply because you disagree with the language they use to describe it. I understand Christians don’t mean harm by insisting gay people reject the gay label—the rationale makes sense. But I hope you’ll consider what it’s like to be in the gay person’s shoes next time you find yourself uncomfortable with their choice of descriptors. It’s likely they’ve felt tremendous shame for being gay in the first place, and they’ve probably agonized over the fear of expressing that to their Christian community. I hope our churches will be a place where we desire for people to be known and loved enough to get past our discomfort over whatever terms they use to describe themselves. And I hope we won’t make assumptions about the way they choose to live their lives based on our preconceived notions. Ask them questions! They’re probably longing for a safe place to share more about this integral part of their lives.

Julie blogs at JulieRodgers.wordpress.com and has an incredibly important voice in the discussions around being gay AND being a Christian. Lots of great discussions happen on her blog…join in!

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!

carousel-1

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