Tag Archives: Loving like Jesus

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.

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!

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

Everyone Has a Story…

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

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

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

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

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

Several important things I like to remember about stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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