Tag Archives: unconditional love

A Letter to the “Just Because He Breathes” Haters

This week I’ve been deluged with messages and comments by people who are incensed and infuriated by our story. By us. I didn’t see it coming this time, since I haven’t blogged or knowingly posted our story anywhere lately.

You have called us f-king murderers, child abusers, people who should never have been parents, and self-obsessed narcissists, who demanded apologies from our son, without ever realizing that we were the ones who had wronged him. You’ve told us that we might as well have shot our son, point blank, before he came out, because that would have been more merciful than what we did do. We’ve read how idiotic and stupid we were to not learn basic parenting truths until our son was on the streets, killing himself with narcotics. You’ve called us some pretty horrible names, some that have been posted online, some not. I’ve only read a small fraction of these kind of comments, but from those I have read, I hear your message loud and clear.

And these are just from those of you who hate us from the “left” side of the conversation. There is a whole separate contingent of people who condemn us from the other side…but thankfully, they’ve been quiet lately. Nope…the religious folks don’t like us much, either.

I have cried a lot this week. I have sobbed at the threads of truth contained in these hate-filled messages. Which might be gratifying to hear, for some of you.

I have to wonder, though, about you, the people who hate us. Do you really think that we are bragging about how we parented? Do you suppose that we told our story, at the request of a small group of underground LGBTQ students, with the intent of getting attention or garnering pity? Or even worse, with the purpose of accumulating accolades?

If so, you would be wrong. Dead wrong.

Admittedly, there have been countless LGBTQ people who have written to tell us of their similar experiences, and to thank us for sharing Ryan’s. There have been parents of gay children, both young and old, who have written to tell us that our story has prevented them from doing the same thing – following the prevalent, still widely preached belief that Christian parents with gay kids must do everything possible, if they love their children, to protect them from this allegedly soul-endangering immorality.

And many of those people have been exceedingly loving and gracious toward us. We are so thankful for each one who has written to tell us that our story has changed their story.
But please, don’t for a second think that those affirming words let us off the hook.

Please don’t imagine that we revel in some newfound “fame” or that we find solace in the number of times that the Huffington Post article was shared, or the view count of the video of our testimony at Exodus’ final conference.

None of this makes the pain any less.

For those of you who want to be sure that we know how wretched we are, be comforted. We know all too well and feel the pain of that knowledge every day.

I wish you could sit down and ask our close friends, our surviving kids, our therapist and our pastors whether or not we are really aware of the severity of our mistakes, the complete wrongness of our actions. They would tell you what I tell you now:

We don’t live for a single moment without regret.

Our much loved eldest son and dear friend Ryan is dead – a fact that I daily try to get my brain wrapped around – and if you have ever had a child and lost them, you know that the pain of losing a child NEVER leaves you. NEVER. We will live with intense sorrow over his death until our own deaths, and right now that sounds like a very, very long time.

When we weep and mourn we don’t question God or wonder why He allowed our son to die. We don’t have questions for God that complicate our grief…we only have questions and accusations of ourselves. The tapestry of our grief is woven through with threads of remorse, regret and self-reproach.

Each time our Affirming Hope LifeGroup packs our living room, we die inside a little as we ask ourselves if THIS was what we were so afraid of. These amazing, loving, responsible, honest, generous children of God. Really?? We didn’t want Ryan to grow up and be like them? These people who have become some of our closest friends?

Each time we read a heartbreaking coming out letter, we hear Ryan’s voice echoing from the pages, revealing new depths of the pain he felt as a very young child, knowing that something was different…that he didn’t fit into the expected mold of our family.

Each time I sit down to work on writing a longer version of our journey through Ryan’s coming out and our responses, and in preparation, I read the things we wrote to him along with his replies and journal entries from those years, I fight utter despair at the deep, deep level of our misunderstanding. Once he wrote to me, in very large, all caps, “YOU JUST DON’T GET IT!!!” Oh, how right he was. How completely right he was, and how tragically wrong we were. WE JUST DIDN’T GET IT.

For those of you who seem determined that we know how completely and totally wrong we were, WE GET IT NOW.

We have not insulted ourselves from the hundreds of stories from LGBTQ teens and adults, both written and told to us, stories that recount the intense pain, agony, self-loathing and suicidal thoughts caused by the same teachings that we communicated to Ryan. We have not stopped reading Ryan’s own journals that record that very same suffering.

But we also know that we’ll be continuing to “get it” at a deeper level the longer that we live in community with those who have been oppressed, listening to their pain and through them, learning about our own child.

For those of you are seem determined that we suffer and are held accountable for our mistakes, we can only say that the pain of knowing how deeply we wronged Ryan and not being able to sit down across from him and ask his forgiveness (as we did during the last ten months of his life, and as we do now with our surviving kids when we wrong them) is agony beyond all attempt to describe.

We tell our story to anyone who will listen for ONE REASON ONLY. We are trying, in our own small way, to do something right. By exposing our own disastrous errors, we pray that others will learn from us, and treat their own children differently. We pray that it won’t take them six long years and losing their child to drugs and the streets in order to wake them up to the truth that every parent MUST love their children without any condition. Our children learn to love themselves through the love that we have for them. And a child who is told, “I love YOU, but I do not love your sin” does NOT hear love. He does not learn to love himself or that God loves him. Ryan did not. None of the thousands of gay children who have written to me have heard love through those words. None.

So, to those of you who have written to tell us of our utter depravity, we couldn’t agree more.

Many of you have rejected the God whose “words” were used to reject you, and we can see why. But for us, we know that we are utterly, completely broken and without hope. Our hope comes in the form of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, the One who can take our deplorable actions and use them, somehow, to give hope to others…to speak His love to those who have been told they are unworthy of it…to give parents who have told their children they are no longer welcome at home the humility to ask their kids for forgiveness…to kneel before them and weep for their own sin. In the words of a band that Ryan loved, here is what our Hope looks like, in the face of our utter depravity:

I know one day, all our scars will disappear, like the stars at dawn
and all of our pain, will fade away when morning comes
and on that day when we look backwards we will see, that everything is changed
and all of our trials, will be as milestones on the way

and as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart
and there’s no greater love, than that one shed his blood for his friends

on that day all of the scales will swing to set all the wrongs to right
all of our tears, and all of our fears will take to flight
but until then all of our scars will still remain, but we’ve learned that if we’ll
open the wounds and share them then soon they start to heal

as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone’s broken heart
and there’s no greater love, than that one shed his blood for his friends

we must see that every scar is a bridge, and as long as we live
we must open up these wounds

when someone stands in your shoes and will shed his own blood
there’s no greater love. we must open up our wounds
From Thrice’s album Vheissu, released on October 17, 2005.
Listen here

And as long as God keeps using our story in to build bridges for others, we will continue to open up our wounds and share each time He prompts us to.

We don’t expect you to agree with, or even respect our faith (especially since many of you have been gravely harmed in the name of Jesus) and you don’t have to believe that our motives are good, but I hope you will see that we choose to speak out about our story ONLY because we believe that we were wrong.

There are many, many leaders and pastors out there still teaching that parents should treat their gay children just as we did, and for that reason, we cannot stay silent. This is not about us. This is about the children, the pre-teens, the teens, the young adults and adults who are still living in self-condemnation, not believing that they are worthy of God’s love, because that is what they are hearing from their church communities and from their parents. And that has to stop.

Lives are at stake.

So even if you hate us, can we please agree on this one thing? If we each do our part to stop the oppression and start saving the lives of LGBTQ kids, maybe we can actually be a world with fewer haters and a lot more lovers.


Note: To those who feel compelled to write and tell us to forgive ourselves…thank you for caring about us, and wanting to ease our pain by encouraging us to be merciful to ourselves. But if you’d simply pray for us instead, we’d greatly appreciate it.

We have a very close circle of friends and family who speak into our lives and have permission to talk with us about this, as well as a distinguished psychologist and spiritual director who we meet with regularly. And most of all, we talk to the Lord about this all the time, and He is walking this journey with us. We don’t know if He will lead us away from our journey of learning more about the pain that we caused; He might or might not. But we do know that He is faithful and good, that He has never failed to provide for us and that we can trust Him. Thank you for respecting this request.

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!

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.

So what do you REALLY believe??

Warning to readers: The blog below is written for people who respect, if not believe, the Bible as God’s Word, and God as our Creator. If you do not, as many of you have strongly expressed, don’t feel compelled to read this. There might be better uses of your time. It will just make you angry and then you may feel tempted to send me more hate mail.


Ever since the piece I wrote, Just Because He Breathes somehow got picked up and shared and reshared all over the place, I’ve had people – mostly conservative Christians, but not all – emailing, messaging and commenting with a similar question. It usually goes like this: So, how do you deal with the verses in Romans about homosexuality being an abomination? Do you and your husband even believe in sin anymore? Are you just doing the thing of saying “we love you” over and over again, but really, secretly, you think your gay friends are doing something immoral? How do you get past the “love the sinners, hate the sin” concept that the Bible teaches? I want to love my gay friends, but I just don’t know how to reconcile that love with what I’ve been taught from the Bible. So, instead of answering each of you separately, I am going to try to give you our answer right here. I do need to say a couple of other things before starting:

  1. The Bible does not teach that any human being created by God (and we all were) is an abomination. Wow…I have come to LOATHE that word because of how it has been used to destroy people.

  2. The Bible does NOT include a verse that says, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” Someone who wasn’t thinking very carefully came up with that, and unfortunately, it caught on. After the abomination accusation and the threat of hell hurled at blameless individuals who have done nothing but be born, this is one of the phrases that has been most damaging – not only to the individuals who are hurt by it, but to the cause of Christ.Granted, if I am using this cliché to refer to the fact that I love my dog, but I hate it when she poops in the house, it might be fitting. Or maybe if I said to my husband, “I love you, Rob, but I really hate it when you put the aluminum recyclable soda cans in the kitchen trash,” it could pass as tolerable.However, when used to say, “I love my friend John who is gay, but I hate his homosexuality,” it is a complete oxymoron. It is like someone saying to me, “I love you, Linda, but I really hate that you are heterosexual.” How am I supposed to respond? “Oh! Thanks for loving me…..I guess? I will just…um…stop being so attracted to Rob’s body so that you won’t hate my sexuality! And, btw, thanks for loving just PART of me, not all of me. THAT feels so reassuring.” Pardon my sarcasm, but this one really gets to me.Parents of LGBTQ kids: Please, please do not tell your children this. I promise you, they will not feel, hear or believe that you love them, even though you do. In fact, they will probably want to scream that your love is a load of crap before you tell them that if they don’t stop being disrespectful they can just leave the room RIGHT NOW! (Trust me. I have made similar mistakes myself.)

  3. Before delving into this, please search your heart for what is really at stake. My friend Jodie’s quote bears repeating, “I wonder if it has become easier to oppose ideologies than to actually love people.” It is WAY easier for us as selfish humans to get into an academic debate – especially online – than to get out of our comfort zones and just go spend time with people who are different from us, hearing their stories and learning from them. And really, if you never have a perfect answer to the questions surrounding what Paul meant in the New Testament mentions of homosexuality, will it cause anyone to NOT know the love of Christ? I doubt it. But if we neglect the hundreds of mentions in the Scriptures about loving and caring for the poor, the stakes go WAY up. Not only for us, but for the millions of people who will go unfed, uncared for, unhoused and UNLOVED.

First, our background: As I’ve said before, Rob and I are not trained Bible scholars, theologians, philosophers or even impressively diligent Bible students. We are: Christ-followers, a straight, married couple who are CRAZY about each other after almost 30 years, parents of four adult children (one who is gay), siblings and dear friends to our gay brother and the honored friends of countless LGBTQ individuals who have shared their journeys with us. So as we often reminded our kids when they were growing up, please consider the source as you read and decide whether or not we have anything valid to say. Rob and I were both raised hearing condemning messages about homosexuality (for me, from the Bible, for Rob, from more of a general “American moral code”). As young parents, we heard horror stories from conservative “family” radio speakers about the dangerous practices of “those” homosexuals, complete with graphic details about their perverse practices and number of daily conquests. These came from sources we thought were trustworthy, and though I did doubt their veracity and was suspicious of the agenda behind the tales, I can see now that the power of propaganda to incite fear is, indeed, real and potent. It was after my brother Don courageously came out to us that I began reading books – from varying perspectives – about what the Bible had to say about homosexuality. At the end of the day, I came away a bit confused, but sure of one thing: The Bible did NOT support hate. That, at least, was clear.

It was after our own son came out to us, ten years later, that the fear that had been planted in our minds years before began to grow and make us feel that our son was in very real danger. Hence, our many mistakes and our choice to be ruled by fear rather than to live by faith in the One who made Ryan. Over the past 7-8 years, we have come to care less and less about the academic, Biblical debate. We have read lots of material from both sides, and we know people we love and respect that hold completely opposing views on what the Bible really teaches about homosexuality. However, each time we’ve read the different debates, we’re left a bit cold, because they tend to leave out the human element and they tend to discount the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, to lead and guide us. We’ve learned far more by listening to the stories of people we love, ex-gays, celibate gays, monogamous gays and out and proud gays. To be honest, their stories hold a lot more weight for us about THIS issue than the stories of straight people, Christian or otherwise.

For those of us who are straight, we have other questions to ask. But for these individuals, this “issue”…this unchanging characteristic about themselves is often a matter of life or death. Literally. So what is our “position” on whether or not it is okay with God to be in a gay relationship? First, our position is one of staying on our knees, in prayer, seeking God continually – eyes on Jesus – for His love and wisdom for our lives. Key words: our lives. Secondly, our position is that God has called us to unconditionally love ALL of our friends, family and neighbors, without any exclusions. My friend from high school, Jill Rennick, says that “the gospel has no asterisks.” For those who still really want to know what we think about the Biblical passages, here is our take: After much prayer, study and a lot of listening to God and others, we’ve come to believe that this is one of those issues mentioned – infrequently – in the New Testament, like eating meat previously sacrificed to idols. For some, it may be sin. For others, it is not.

We realize that most of our conservative Christian friends, and many of our closest friends, disagree with us. Our senior pastor, who is one of our dearest friends, has a different perspective. One of my closest girlfriends, and the amazing mother of my son’s beautiful wife, doesn’t agree with me. Thankfully, that has not stopped them from loving and respecting us or us from loving and respecting them. Rob and I know many Christian gay couples who are thriving in both their walks with God AND in their relationships. We see the fruit of the spirit ALL OVER their lives! Really, it is between God and them….not our business. We DON’T secretly think they are in sin.

At the same time, for some other dear friends of ours, God has clearly called them to celibacy, and for them it WOULD be sin to be in a gay relationship. God has given them clear direction, and they are obeying and finding the same level of flourishing in their obedience to His call. This may only serve to frustrate those of you who are looking for THE answer…because it isn’t a black and white answer. But truly, most things aren’t. And, our conclusions might be wrong. We are certainly not above that… Rob and I continually seek our Lord for Truth. Thankfully, God hasn’t given up on us because we’ve been on a journey, and we’re still learning.

What I do know for sure is this: As a straight, married couple, we HAVE had to grapple with the questions surrounding premarital and extramarital sex. Those apply directly to Rob and me. So we’ve taken those very, very seriously. God called Rob and I to be faithful to each other in marriage and to honor the vows we made before God and hundreds of people almost 30 years ago. He has also called us not simply to stay married but to stay in love – and that keeps us plenty busy (wink). Honestly, we don’t really have time to worry about whether someone else is sinning or making a mistake. We have plenty of our own weaknesses and flaws to work on. So for us…Love wins. Every time. And as our friend Julie Rodgers often says, “God invites EVERYONE to the wedding.” THAT is what we’re about. Making sure that NOBODY feels excluded from the love of Christ…because according to Him, NOBODY IS.


For those of you wanting to do your own study, I have found these resources to be extremely helpful. And if you’d like to comment and add your own links to the list, feel free to do so.

Gay Christian Network has posted a fascinating, thoughtful and respectful debate between two gay Christians with different views, Justin’s view and Ron’s view.

My personal favorite when it comes to books for those who come from an evangelical, catholic, Pentecostal or similar background, is Justin Lee’s Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. Even if you don’t agree with Justin’s personal conclusions, after reading it you will have a MUCH better understanding of the pain, suffering and deeply personal torment that an individual who loves Christ but who is also gay faces.

One that has rocked my world is James V. Brownson’s book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships. I love what Peggy Campolo said about it, “If ever a book spoke the good news of the gospel with biblical authority to those children of God who happen not to be straight, it is this book. Brownson addresses with clarity an issue that is tearing the church of Jesus Christ apart, as he gently insists that all of us allow new facts and insights to illuminate our understanding of what Scripture has to say to gay and lesbian Christians.”

Matthew Vines has also written a great book about what the Bible actually says about homosexuality, and tells his own story, and several others. God and the Gay Christian is an easy but extremely informative read (Matthew is brilliant), and is available both on Amazon and Audible, if you’d rather listen to it, like I did.

For those interested in checking out evangelical Christian ministries who are trying to create space for open, honest wrestling of issues around sexuality in a safe space, check out New Direction Ministries of Canada. Their Executive Director, Wendy Gritter, M. Div., also writes a great blog.

Thad Norvell recently posted a brilliant blog called Gay Marriage and the Posture of the Gospel. Well worth your time!

From Peter Enns: Tim Keller on Homosexuality and Biblical Authority: Different Crisis, Same Problem. Another interesting perspective…perspectives, really. Though Peter Enns differs with Tim Keller’s perspective, we respect them both. We own a lot of Tim Keller’s books, and love them. One of them, Prodigal God, is one of my all-time favorite reads.

From Scot McKnight and Steven Harrell comes Bible Verse Arms Race, which though it doesn’t address homosexuality directly, is extremely applicable.

If you are a Christian parent of an LGBTQ child, Susan Cottrell writes regularly on very practical issues related to the experience of having a gay child on her blogsite Freedhearts.com. She also has a new book out entitled, “Mom, I’m Gay” that you can order there.

For those interested in reading the very personal journey of one Christian who has felt called to celibacy, I highly recommend Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting. After finishing it, my first comment to Rob was, “DANG. The commitment to celibacy is SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT than we in the church make it sound. I don’t think I could tell ANYONE that celibacy is their call – I’ll leave that up to GOD!” (Especially given that Rob and I have the ability to sleep together, pillow talk, bike ride and overall, be soulmates, whenever we want. To tell someone else that they CAN’T have that seems awfully arrogant and hypocritical to me.) That said, I have deep respect for Wesley Hill, and for others like him who feel personally called by Christ to celibacy…Julie Rodgers is a new and quickly beloved friend of ours who has a GREAT blog on her own journey.

Note to my critics: You will see that I did not include resources that come down clearly on one side or the other, because I do not. There are a LOT of them out there, on both sides. And a lot of them have valid, good things to say. I included the resources that have spoken most deeply to me, and the ones that I feel encourage having grace and understanding for each other, as well as giving each other in the Body of Christ space to disagree about the things that aren’t essential. Matthew 22:37-40 is essential. Matthew 25:31-46 is essential. Micah 6:8 is essential. John 3:16 is essential. These speak to themes that are repeated over and over again, throughout the Bible. If I am going to die on a hill for something, I will die on a hill over loving the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind…and loving my neighbor as myself. I will NOT die on a hill – or even spend two seconds thinking about – whether or not my brother Don was “Biblically justified” to love his partner Fletcher. THAT was between Don, Fletch and Jesus, and the three of them had it sorted out just fine, thank you, without my help. Okay, bring on the hate mail. I know it is coming. But as Ryan at two said, “Please be gentle.”

My Gay Son’s Wedding

A couple of weeks ago, a dear friend from church posed this question to me: “If Ryan were alive today, and he was going to marry his boyfriend, would you and Rob attend the wedding?”

My immediate thought was – to be COMPLETELY honest – “HELL YES!” (For those of you who know me, I don’t use that word often…or ANY swear words…I have too many old tapes in my head that say that certain words actually have the power to determine one’s eternal destiny!) But this is the truth: Wild horses couldn’t keep Rob and I from going to Ryan’s wedding. We’d be there, decked out and sitting in the front row, just as ecstatic and proud as we were last summer when Larissa married Cameron, and this month when we were delighted to watch Riley promise his lifelong faithfulness to Abigail.

I know that for many of our evangelical Christian friends, you probably don’t understand this; you’ll see it as an endorsement of sin, and as a compromise on our part to the truth of scripture. But that isn’t how God speaks to us about it. That isn’t what it is about for us.

A wedding is a major life event – a turning point – a sacred day that is unlike any other day in one’s life. As our oldest daughter would say, “your people” surround you on that day, because they all recognize the monumental importance of the occasion.

True, when I think about my own wedding day, it isn’t October 22, 1983 that is most important, but every day that has come because of that day…it is really about our marriage. But still, October 22, 1983 was when it all began. The day itself was incredibly, indescribably important. And we wanted those whom we loved and who loved us best to be there with us. When we got married, I had a few friends who were not in support of my decision to leave school and to marry a guy I hadn’t really known all that long – for goodness sake – I was only NINETEEN! So not everybody in my world thought it was a great idea. Not everybody thought it was wise or even sane.

And I ask myself, how would I have felt if those people, who supposedly loved me, had told me that they weren’t going to come to our wedding because they couldn’t support such a young woman giving up her education to get married to some man she had only known for a year and a half? Would that have made me change my mind? Would that have spoken love to me? Would that have done ANYTHING but alienate and distance me from the people who took that stance?

When our adult children make big decisions, whether it be who they marry, where (or whether) they go to college, where they choose to live, what worldview they choose to embrace, what faith they live by, or other such choices that they are free to make as adults, Rob and I feel strongly that if we say we love them unconditionally, then we better back up those words with actions. No mixed messages. No passive-aggressive comments. We can’t put conditions on unconditional love – to me, that seems to be the ultimate oxymoron.

And Christians, let’s get honest. If my oldest daughter decided to sleep with a guy before marriage, to live with him and then get married, you wouldn’t ask us if we’d attend the wedding, would you? If our daughter made those decisions, her choices would be a far cry from the ones Rob and I made. But it wouldn’t stop us from adoring her, right? Why is it so different for us as Christians when we’re thinking about our gay kids?

One of the many lessons we learned – the hard way – from Ryan’s life and death, is that if, as an adult parent, we want to be close to our adult children, we will love who they love. We will listen and not give advice (unless asked for, and even then, with gentleness and caution). We will give them the space and freedom to make their own decisions, because they are the ones who are living their lives, not us. If we give them gifts, they will truly be just that – gifts – with no expectations attached. We will not continue to assume the role of authority in their lives, because we are no longer their authority; our adult children have transferred their dependence from us, rightly, to dependence on the God of the Universe, their Creator and their Lord.

In the years after Ryan came out to us, we often made decisions that caused him to feel distant and alone – alienated from the people that were supposed to know and love him best. Yes, sometimes parents of teenagers have to make those kind of decisions, and some that we made were, indeed, necessary and wise. But others served no purpose other than to control Ryan out of our own fear, and they resulted in painful division and strife between us.

Several years ago my friend Jodie said this, “I wonder if it has become easier to oppose ideologies than to actually love people.” There is a great deal of wisdom in that statement. For many Christian parents of LGBTQ adult children, I think it might be easier to “take a stance for the truth” and avoid attending their weddings, inviting their partners over for dinner, or including the person they are dating to the family Christmas gathering. It is harder, actually, to lean in and be a bit uncomfortable; it is more challenging to make myself vulnerable to being in an unfamiliar situation where I might not know how to act. I might feel out of place or unwanted. And sometimes I have felt out of place and unwanted. But from our experience, each time we take those kind of risks, when we intentionally get out of our comfort zones and follow God into the lives of others, He teaches us – through them – so many, many things we couldn’t have learned otherwise.

It really doesn’t matter what Rob and I think about gay marriage. We haven’t taken a public position on it or shared publicly how we voted last November. We have been doing our best to listen to God, and He hasn’t led us to make that our platform. But He has called us to share the story of how He taught us to truly love Ryan, including all the things we would have done differently. He has called us to weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice. He has called us to speak up for those who are voiceless…the LGBTQ teens and young adults who feel banished from the church and unlovable to God. Most of all, He has been continually granting us a deeper and deeper understanding of what unconditional love really is; He has been revealing how we can trust in His unconditional love for us, and how we can display that love to others.

If we, theoretically, disagreed about a decision one of our adult children was making, would sharing our unsolicited theological position be edifying and helpful? I don’t think so. When friends who disagree with me have tried to convince me of my error by moving away from me instead of walking alongside me, it only causes me pain and damages the relationship. I have been drawn to Jesus by His kindness, grace and mercy. And the people I want most to be around are those who show me that same kindness, grace and mercy. The friends who give me unasked for advice (we have received a lot of this since losing a child) tend, to be frank, the people we don’t meet for coffee at Starbucks. They are still our friends, but when someone who hasn’t lost a child themselves tells us how we should be handling our grief it doesn’t exactly endear them to me. Actually, sometimes it makes me want to say those words that I was taught could endanger my salvation.

And the bottom line is this: I trust that God is big enough to BE GOD in the lives of the people I love. If they are making a decision that is not pleasing to God, HE is powerful enough to communicate to them. He doesn’t need me to be His spokesperson to my adult children. I can remember countless times when, as a parent, I would observe something in one of our teenagers’ lives that concerned me, and God would prompt me not to say something, but to wait on Him. Over and over again, they would – without my help (go figure!), come to the same conclusion that I was praying and hoping for. And often, I would laugh at myself for even thinking that God needed me to do His work for Him! I am not saying that we never talked to our kids about things we felt they needed to hear – just ask them – we did that a lot! But when I rush out before God, and react to something that scares me by pronouncing my judgments on others, I almost always mess things up.

Oops…One more bottom line. We never know how long we will have the gift of the lives of those we love. We can’t take even one day for granted. I am thankful for each time we were able to lean in to Ryan’s life, to love him without conditions, to enter his world and to really love the people he loved. When that meant walking with him – hand in hand – through Capitol Hill on PrideFest weekend, did I feel a bit out of place? (Yes! But probably more because everything about me screams “EASTSIDE MIDDLE-AGE MOM!” than because I was in the middle of a gay pride celebration!) I am so thankful to my Heavenly Father for removing our fear, and for teaching us to soak up every event, every day, every time Ryan invited us into his life. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain we would feel now, had we said “No, we cannot support you in this, because this goes against what the Bible teaches.” Our regret and sorrow would be indescribable.

So if Ryan had survived his struggle with addiction, and had met the man of his dreams, you bet we’d go to his wedding! Not because we are the poster parents for an issue or a cause…but just because he is our son…and we love him…just because he breathes.