15/ Searching for Safe Spaces

It’s my one-year blogiversary, and as the predictably sentimental creature that I am, I’ve spent some time this week reflecting on the past dozen months — things I have shared in my posts, ways our story has unfolded in real life and where the path leads from here. One thing I committed to in the very beginning was vulnerability. Sharing my personal discomfort about LGBT+ issues was difficult and was a sure way to disappoint that community. But then, sharing my journey to not only accept but love and celebrate the LGBT+ community was a sure way to disappoint so many other people dear to me. Nearly every post has been published with a trembling hand and met with radio silence from some people I love and whom I know love us. I’ve been nursing a vulnerability hangover lately, probably experiencing some amount of clinical depression, but have absolutely experienced the most remarkable joy in connecting with other families like mine, and especially with beautiful LGBT+ people who pray every day and night for their parents to accept them (some aren’t even greedy enough to pray that they would be celebrated, and would be thankful for mere tolerance). If remaining in this space can help to build a bridge that leads to understanding and answered prayers for the most vulnerable, you can lock the door behind me now.

 

Going back through my early posts, the theme that jumps out to me is “FEAR.” When I saw some non-gender-conforming qualities in my daughter at a young age, I was afraid for her being different, and feared that she might someday identify as LGBT+. When she did come out as gay, at just 13 years old, I was afraid of what everyone would think — our family, our church, God, whether she could still spend time with female friends or attend sleepovers and whether I needed to disclose this new information to parents beforehand, whether she would ever feel safe with us while knowing that we were not affirming and what she would do about her faith.

 

I spent a lot of time caught in a terrible tension between long-held beliefs and a deep heart longing to respond to my child with unhindered love and support.

 

Today, those are not my fears. Thankfully, my head and my heart are aligned in favor of Love; and as I have heard echoed from so many others on this journey, I was compelled to affirmation because of my faith, not in spite of it. I am not on the fence about this one. I am convinced.

 

That said, the old fear and tension has been traded in for a different kind of fear and tension, one that I feel even less control over and therefore more vulnerable to, and this goes right to the heart of my God-given mama bear instincts: how can I keep my child safe in this world?

 

The bereaved family of Matthew Shepard laid his ashes to rest in the Washington National Cathedral this week, 20 years after this young gay man was tortured and killed by men who were disgusted by his sexual orientation, who saw his existence as a threat to theirs, who ultimately saw him as an “other.”

 

The Shepard family explained that they never felt comfortable leaving their deceased son’s remains near their home in Wyoming due to the threat of desecration or the possible nuisance that pilgrimages could cause for other other families sharing the same cemetery. For 20 years following his gruesome death, there was still no place safe for their son.

 

Where does the propensity for such brutality come from? What leads a person to deliberately cause harm to another person or group? I really think Pastor Brit Barron summed it up well at the Reformation Project 2018 Conference last week:

 

“The minute that you other someone, the last domino that falls is violence.

That’s the only place it can go.”

 

We see it in the news every day. Hate crimes against people of a particular race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity take place everywhere — and have all through history — and the thing they all have in common is a fundamental belief that we are different. That there’s normal (me) and different, or other (them). 

 

There are people and communities who wouldn’t bat an eye at a teenager communicating their true love feelings and living authentically, and I’m really grateful for them (and have learned a lot from them). But this isn’t the space I was born into and have inhabited for 4 decades. Here, there’s normal/acceptable, and then there’s LGBT+. When my daughter came out, she became an other. And simply put, that placed her at risk.

 

I recently realized that I have two running lists in my head: people who are safe and people who are unsafe. I’m pretty sure this is normal human brain function that serves to protect us from pain (Fire, bad), so it makes sense. I think it started when I first shared what was going on in our family and received two very different types of responses from family, friends, church folk and colleagues:

 

  • Oh no, that’s terrible! Warning Warning Warning
  • That’s great! How brave for her to come out so young and get to live free. She’s so lucky to have supportive parents!

 

(Knowing that last remark wasn’t fully true in the early days, I felt obligated to explain that, though I loved my daughter very much, it was something I was working through.)

 

I was processing so much already and felt surprised by the devastating effect that some of the negative responses left on me, even when they came from the same theological view that I espoused at the time. Loved ones (self-proclaimed followers of Jesus) who expressed nothing but disdain for LGBT+ people even while smiling sweetly, those who said she was loved but–, she was welcome but–, who made hurtful remarks about my daughter when they thought we were out of earshot, those who sent unsolicited messages to me — and to my parents! — to discourage my and their acceptance of my child/their grandchild, categorically shifted my experience from a confused-and-lost kind of fear to a horror movie kind of fear. Suddenly, I was feeling fearful of people who were supposed to be safe, and comforted by people I wasn’t supposed to trust. It was the classic plot twist: the call is coming from inside the house.

 

UNSAFE.

 

By contrast, the neighbor who came to my door to tell me that this didn’t change a thing for her, that my daughter was exactly the same awesome kid she always was and would still be their go-to babysitter WAS AN OASIS. It was the thing I didn’t know I needed to hear during a time of turmoil and it was everything.

 

SAFE.

 

Recognizing not just the terrible way that disparaging comments could cause hurt feelings, but learning from many LGBT+ people who grew up in the church how non-affirming theology had led them to self-loathing, despair, self-harm and for many others, suicide, I began to see the message itself as harmful, not just the posture with which it was delivered. No matter how welcoming, how lovely the packaging, I instinctively understood that as long as my daughter was an other, she would be at risk and she would not be defended in those spaces.

 

Parents of kids with food allergies get this. They are always on alert, and I started feeling like one of them. Any space my daughter attended where she could potentially be an other, I made sure to check the ingredients first. Sometimes safe/unsafe is easy to spot but too often, the ingredients are hidden deep on a website, in PDFs that you have to download and read through in order to find language confirming the hidden rules for who is and who is out. Who can serve or be on staff and who can not. Who can be married there and who can not. (FYI: Churchclarity.org exists to take the guesswork out for people looking for a safe place to worship.)

 

I had some calls to make as well. One was to a non-profit which my husband and I had financially supported for many years. It exists as a Christian organization, serving families whose children have been sent to them for full-time intervention and care due to behavioral problems. It occurred to me that families like mine could be sending their LGBT+ kids there to be “fixed” and I did not want to support any effort like that. I spoke with the director of the organization, who assured me this was not the function of their facility. In fact, he said, same-sex-attracted boys weren’t really part of their community because they didn’t want the other boys to “worry about someone trying to climb into bed with them.”

 

😱

 

Ignorance and othering abounds.

 

UNSAFE.

 

Sometimes there are clear symbols.

 

safe_space

 

This rainbow “SAFE SPACE” symbol is affixed to many classroom doors in my daughter’s high school. I noticed this last month at Open House and was grateful for all the teachers who understood why this message was important to clarify and posted it out of support and solidarity for vulnerable LGBT+ students, and perhaps also as a warning to those who might dare to cause them harm. Here, if push came to shove, we expect she would be defended. Here, she isn’t other.

 

SAFE.

 

Around this same time, I saw this bumper sticker in the parking lot of a church (ironically, on our way inside to a monthly support group for families of LGBT+ people).

 

It really bothered me.

 

taking_back_the_rainbow copy

“TAKING BACK THE RAINBOW. Gen. 9:13”

 

This is not a fringe, personal opinion-type sticker. This is souvenir merchandise from Ark Encounter, the mammoth Bible-based theme park in Kentucky.

 

Let’s review that verse listed on the sticker.

 

Genesis 9:13 reads, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

 

The covenant between God and the earth. The covenant between God and humanity. In context of the flood story and the promise from God that He would never destroy the world like this again, what does this bumper sticker represent? The antagonistic message to the LGBT+ community is not subtle. Is this organization really being bold enough to reimagine God’s promise to the world as, “Humanity is safe now. … Except the gays. … God called and He wants his rainbow back.”

 

Does the aggression in this message come through as loudly and clearly to you as it does to me? It it true and is it loving and does it represent God? Do you think would my daughter feel safe in this theme park? Would my daughter feel safe walking into this church past a car that reminds her she is other here?

 

Remember: the last domino to fall is violence.

 

UNSAFE.

 

Of course, these symbols aren’t always accurate in determining safe zones, and nobody can guarantee what any person will say or do, good or bad.

 

Here’s an example from just this week. One of my daughter’s teachers asked the students what they wanted to be when they grew up, and one young man said, “a conversion therapist. I think it would be fun.” And the teacher responded, “….well, if that’s what you want to be.”  My daughter and SEVEN other kids (THANK YOU, DEAR SEVEN, WHOEVER YOU ARE) went to the teacher after class to express their concern with his comment and the fact that it seemed acceptable in class. If you aren’t familiar with conversion therapy, it’s a practice that has caused suffering and death for many LGBT+ people who were falsely told that their orientation could change and endured severe mental, emotional and sometimes physical abuse as a result. It was marketed as a Bible-based practice which is now illegal in many states (not enough states, but let’s keep working on that), with many of its leaders now publicly repentant for the tragic harm these practices caused for so many.

 

So the kid who sits across from my daughter in class wants her to die? This is the message that was sent. For her, it was no different than hearing him say he wanted to be a member of the KKK when he grew up. Yes, it may have been a joke. Sure, he might not really want to kill her. But there are people who do, and these are real threats to LGBT+ people in America. It is not a laughing matter. And yet, I hope it was just a joke.

 

The next day, the teacher, seemingly having taken some time to process the event and consider the comments from those who approached her after class, spent the hour conducting exercises to help the students understand privilege and how words matter. She gave my daughter the floor, and my daughter proceeded to tell the class what it is like to be in her shoes. The misgendering and micro aggressions she experiences on a regular basis. Why she doesn’t always feel safe using a public women’s restroom. How she was verbally assaulted by a man quoting Bible verses at her while she was holding her girlfriend’s hand at the mall over the summer. The way she has been othered by many who used to feel safe to her. 

 

When she got home and told me about this, I was SO PROUD OF HER. This child is soft and tender, and calm and collected, and I love that — despite any stones thrown in her direction — she was able to express herself with dignity and help her entire class grow in understanding and hopefully empathy, and also provide language for them to stand up for others or even themselves in the future. Whatever grades she gets on her report card do not measure up to the caliber of human that she is.

 

The next day was parent-teacher conferences and I was eager to hear the teacher’s thoughts on this whole ordeal. The teacher immediately told me that she was impressed by my daughter and I thanked her — I was, too. And then she told me how the boy who made this comment was really a great kid, and I nodded, he probably is, but then she spent the next several minutes continuing to gush about him. The initial smile on my face drooped and the neurons that assign people to the safe or unsafe lists in my brain flared up. Sooo — was it okay or not okay that he said this thing? What will he feel empowered to say or do next time? Are you impressed by my daughter for giving an impromptu Ted Talk to your class about inclusion, or by a young man “dripping with potential” who just doesn’t understand why he can’t always talk like he’s in the locker room? Are we here to defend the weak or the strong? The abused or the abuser? The vulnerable or the powerful? 

 

Sometime a person can be safe individually, but sympathizes with people who are not safe, and this sends unsettling mixed messages.

 

SAFE OR UNSAFE? UNCLEAR (but leans unsafe).

 

My daughter told me she was glad to have the opportunity to share with her class, but that she is really just exhausted. It shouldn’t be so hard to exist.

 

I agree.

 

And I think God does, too. A Biblical worldview says that there is no other. According to Paul:

 

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

 

All ONE in Christ Jesus. All “us,” no “them.”

 

I sometimes wonder what Paul’s letter to the Americans would say… For the sake of ‘reimagining Scripture’ like the Ark people did with that bumper sticker, do you think we could view the division in the modern church over LGBT+ inclusion to be similar to the deep division within the New Testament-era church? Paul preached a radical message of inclusion that salvation was no longer found in obedience to the Torah, exclusive to faithful Jews, but was extended generously to the unchurched, non-law-abiding Gentiles. This seemed to defy everything the Jewish church had always been taught and I can imagine their cognitive dissonance was great as they decided whether Paul was really one who could be trusted. After all, this inclusion message went against their long-held beliefs. It sounded pretty liberal.

 

With circumcision holding great importance as a symbol of true obedience for Jewish men, it caused interfaith strife as Paul compelled them to accept the uncircumcised Gentiles as just as beloved and included. In fact, he went as far as to say that the circumcised-or-uncircumcised debate was the wrong one to be having because the good news for all of them was, it didn’t matter in the new creation!

 

How might we reimagine Galatians 6:11-18 in view of today’s church division on sexual orientation? Let’s see, for fun:

 

galatians_6_11-13.png

 

****

 

I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t like subconsciously categorizing the people around me as safe or unsafe. I don’t like worrying about the bogeyman showing up at a holiday gathering, but my priority is my child and protecting her from undue harm. I also don’t want to other someone else because of their long-held beliefs. This is hard. I’ll admit, though, it would really be fantastic if any friends or family members who want to be on the safe list but aren’t sure if they are reached out to let me know, like my sweet neighbor did, that my child is not an other and that they will love and defend her in any space in this world. I don’t want to be too greedy, but the holidays are coming up and that would make an awesome gift.

 

🎁

 

If you’re a person who is safe individually, would you consider making yourself known in the world, and especially in spaces that may otherwise be considered unsafe for LGBT+ people? Can you be a lighthouse in the scary places? Do you think closeted (or out) LGBT+ people in your church know that you are safe? Do you show your support publicly on social media or in regular conversation? Are you raising kids who would have been one of the seven to go to my daughter’s teacher about that offensive comment? Would you use your vote to defend their civil rights? Would you be a clear and present “SAFE SPACE” for kids like mine?

 

Will you teach the next generation that we are all one and there is no other? That the things which threaten to divide us don’t matter in the new creation?

 

Until then, the last domino to fall will always be violence.

 

#RIP, Matthew Shephard

#RIP, LGBT+ lives gone too soon due to the trauma inflicted by conversion therapy. Friends, please plan to go see Boy Erased in theaters this month to learn more about this dangerous practice.

#RIP, Tree of Life Synogogue mass shooting victims, killed just this weekend:

Joyce Fienberg (75), Richard Gottfried (65), Rose Mallinger (97), Jerry Rabinowitz (66), Cecil Rosenthal (59), David Rosenthal (54), Bernice Simon (84), Sylvan Simon (86), Daniel Stein (71), Melvin Wax (88), Irving Younger (69)

#RIP, Countless victims of violence against the Black community. What my family is dealing with — anything I have posted in this blog or experienced in real life — is mild compared to what you have experienced for generations. How maddening it must have been when we didn’t believe you or show up for you. As for me and my house, we will do better. We will listen and we will be safe people and we will follow your lead in healing this country.

 

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14/ I Like You As You Are

“I don’t think anybody can grow

unless they are accepted exactly as they are.”

– Fred Rogers, Won’t You Be My Neighbor, 2018 film

 

I could probably stop here for now because Mister Rogers is a genius and a champion for compassion and human dignity and he said it all perfectly.

 

Have you seen his new documentary yet? If not – and you are able to head out right now and immediately go see it, that would be a good life choice and I will gladly wait here. I saw it last night and am still nursing a crying hangover today.

 

*

*

*

If you did see it —

IT WAS SO GOOD, RIGHT?!!

 

You may recognize the photo above from the film.

 

1 4 3

 

A secret code with an underlying message:

 

1 4 3

I Love You

 

An ordained minister and ardent believer in the importance of building others up, Fred’s entire career – and, presumably, his life – can be summed up with those words:

I love you.

 

*

*

*

June is over now, which means “Pride Month” is pretty well wrapped up. The month offered parades, “Free Mom Hug” gatherings and other events to recognize LGBTQ history and celebrate the community. And that word, “celebrate,” is where some might feel I have crossed the line.

 

I’ve gotten the sense from some that it was easier to support our situation when we were struggling with it. When every day was marked by the painful tension between our long-held beliefs and the unshakable feeling that something was off, that enforcing those ideas would absolutely crush our daughter. We were devastated, and they were happy to pray for us.

 

But the further we’ve moved out of that tension, away from the excruciating pain, the harder it has become for some to remain supportive.

 

“We can understand you not kicking your daughter out, and possibly tolerating her, but what we don’t understand is – why the rainbow flags now?? Why does it seem like you’re celebrating it?”

 

I realize I haven’t yet fully shared how we went from “non-affirming” to “affirming.” I started a story in a previous post, which I will wrap up before long, and hopefully it will provide more insight for anyone curious.

 

But think for a minute what it would be like to constantly remain in that terrible tension:

 

“Honey, we will tolerate you, but we cannot accept you.”

“You might have been born this way, but you are inherently disordered.”

“You will fall in love, but you may never be loved in return.”

 

That almost sounds like a Disney curse.

 

What would it be like for our dear 13-yr-old daughter to go from being the apple of our eye to our dirty little secret? Losing our pride and becoming our shame. I know it felt like that for her, at least at first.

 

So, what if God hadn’t changed our understanding? What if we continued to believe that her love was her sin? Because she remembers asking me a long time ago, if I had a gay child, would I attend their wedding? And I said, No, because it was a sin, and that would be like … going to a party for a murderer. [CAN YOU BELIEVE I SAID THAT?! UGHHHH]

 

We talk about the outrageously high rate of suicide among LGBTQ youth from highly rejecting homes, and it is no surprise at all why so many Christian kids can’t imagine a future where they can experience love and not cause their families pain.

 

I recently wrote about my middle daughter’s award-worthy support for her older sister from the very beginning. She’s been both a cheerleader and a bodyguard ever since. My eldest told me just this week that if it weren’t for her sister’s support, she probably wouldn’t be here today.

 

 

Think about that for a minute.

 

 

 

Because I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

 

 

 

If it wasn’t for her SISTER’S SUPPORT, she probably

 

 

 

WOULDN’T

 

 

 

BE

 

 

 

HERE

 

 

 

TODAY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If we still believed being gay was wrong, then I suppose we would have had to crack down and thwart her sister’s support, as well. As good parents, we would have needed to pull our middle and youngest daughters aside, as some Christian authors had advised, to tell them the unfortunate news:

 

Your sister has made a terrible choice and we must not support her. We will pray for her to come back to God, but until then, she will no longer be one of us.

 

I wonder if this was, consciously or subconsciously, what some were praying for when they said they’d pray for us? That we would be bold enough to ostracize our daughter from her family? That we would not only shame her but also ensure her sisters were scared and uneasy around her as well, so that she would have nobody? That we would stand firm in our shallow, unexamined beliefs and look at her every day with disappointment and disgust until she withered away?

 

Because that’s not what I was praying. I was praying that our daughter would know she was loved, even when we didn’t understand, and that she would not turn away from God over this. I prayed that He would lead us as her parents, and would, as the cliché goes, “break our hearts for what breaks His.”

 

I was as surprised as anybody to one day find myself on the other side of this contentious issue. Many blame “the culture” for pressuring people into LGBTQ acceptance, but for me, it was the opposite: it seemed my entire faith community was compelling me NOT to support LGBTQ people (which included my own child). Nobody in “the world” was cheering for me to “Red Rover” into their camp; I did not get a Free Gift for signing up. In fact, there were scarecrows all over the place, warning me about what happened to Christians who changed their minds on the issue. Moving away from what I’d always believed, and away from the people I believed it with, was disorienting and lonely, and it was not a pleasant journey.

 

But we landed here. Fully affirming of the LGBTQ community.

 

And it did not take long in this new space to notice devastation everywhere. An answer to my prayers, I suppose, I quickly found out what broke His heart. (I wrote a little about this in 5/ First Responders.) Things the church had never taught me included the fact that many LGBTQ Christians had been “praying the gay away” for much of their lives, to no avail, creating severe self-loathing and depression … how devastating and deadly “conversion therapy” and its harmful messaging was … and how many of them are now saying that when they finally accepted that God loves them, right now, as they are, whatever their orientation, they started to feel whole and healthy for the very first time.

 

So – when confronted with beautiful humans who are suffering, bleeding out from wounds filled with shame and fear and lies, one must treat those wounds like any other: with direct counter pressure.

 

It’s what Jesus did, right? Applied counter pressure to death with life?

The sin of Adam which condemned the world …. The blood of Jesus which saved the world.

 

Here’s what a little counter pressure may look like within LGBTQ spaces:

 

They said you weren’t wanted? …. I want you!*

They said you were a mistake? …. You were made on purpose, with purpose!

They said you were broken? …. You are beloved!

They said they would rather bury you than accept you as their trans child? …. Your life matters and we need you here!

They rejected and excluded you? …. Please, won’t you be my neighbor?

They said they were ashamed of you? …. We are so PROUD of you!!!

 

There’s that word again, Proud. Pride. It’s the opposite of shame, you know, and when you start speaking it loudly, at the volume necessary to counteract the overwhelming messages of shame that have been embedded within an entire community, I suppose it can sound an awful lot like a celebration.

 

 

I can’t help but think maybe it is difficult for some folks to sincerely accept LGBTQ people – as they are – viewing them as worthy and beloved children of God whom He does not just tolerate but DELIGHTS in! … because they cannot see themselves this way.

 

Many of us grew up hearing mixed messages:

 

“God loves you; He has a picture of you on His refrigerator!”

…but also…

“You are bad, and dirty, and Jesus saw your face while He was dying.”

 

Maybe the road to acceptance for All needs to begin with acceptance for ourselves. So many of us have internalized messages of shame that prevent us from being fully known and fully loved, by ourselves and others. It’s the reason anybody ever has a secret, right? We are afraid of being rejected, of being unlovable.

 

 

But if we are God’s children, let’s imagine how He must delight in watching us live and play and grow, with our own unique qualities. Do we think He admires the beauty and diversity of the mountains and seas more than the people He created? Maybe we can, as beloved children, relax a little bit about needing to be “right” all the time, being dutiful little robots, so scared of disappointing Him, and just lean into the singular message that Mister Rogers seemed to feel was paramount for every person to know: that we are accepted as we are, and we will never grow until we believe that.

 

You see,

 

Ashamed people shame people.

Accepted people accept people.

 

Love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Let’s first accept that Jesus actually loves US, wholeheartedly, exactly as we are, not because of what we could possibly become. We were knit together in our mother’s wombs. We were intentionally made for His delight. He loves us. And He likes us!

 

Let’s internalize this … let it marinate for a bit … and see what happens.

 

(It’s okay to love yourself. It’s in the Bible.)

 

🙂

 

Imagine how well

we could love others

as they are

if we first understood

how loved we are

as we are.

 

*

*

 

Now, if you want to be fully surprised by Won’t You Be My Neighbor, then let this be your SPOILER ALERT, because I want to bring attention to one thing in particular that affected me when I saw it last night.

 

 

 

 

 

Fred Rogers was an ally to the LGBTQ community. (Did you know that?!) He employed an actor and singer who was openly gay to him, though not yet to the world at large because, in the 60s, it was not safe to be out. We know this man as Officer Clemmons, or Francois Clemmons in real life.

 

In the film, Francois recalls a song from the show:

 

“I Like You As You Are.”

 

Moved by the song’s powerful message, he asked Fred if he was singing it to him. And Fred responded,

 

“I’ve been singing this song to you for two years.

You just finally heard me.”

 

 

Now who does that remind you of?

 

 

I do not believe Jesus uses shame as a device to draw us into relationship with Him, convincing us that we are bad, bad, bad. That is what abusers do. No, we are drawn into a life-giving relationship with Him because He accepted us. GOOD NEWS – He loves us! As we are!

 

Maybe He’s been singing this song to us for years and years, and we just haven’t heard Him.

 

It may be a still, small voice, so listen closely.

 

 

1 4 3.

 

 

This past month, it was my great JOY to celebrate LIFE!, especially considering the alternative. And if my acceptance for the LGBTQ community looks like an endorsement, then you have understood me correctly. I love them. And I accept them, exactly as they are.

 

AND

 

I accept you, as you are, as well.

 

Because I’ve spent a lot of time with God lately and I definitely noticed your picture on His refrigerator.

 

 

I Like You As You Are

Lyrics by Josie Carey | Music by Fred Rogers

I like you as you are
Exactly and precisely
I think you turned out nicely
And I like you as you are

I like you as you are
Without a doubt or question
Or even a suggestion
Cause I like you as you are

I like your disposition
Your facial composition
And with your kind permission
I’ll shout it to a star

I like you as you are
I wouldn’t want to change you
Or even rearrange you
Not by far

I like you
I-L-I-K-E-Y-O-U
I like you, yes I do
I like you, Y-O-U
I like you, like you as you are

 

* Paraphrase: Julie Rodgers – The Reformation Project, 2016 

 

BONUS TRACK/SPOILER ALERT/TEAR JERKER:

Check out this duet between Lady Aberlin and Daniel Striped Tiger that was featured in the film. I will be over here, chopping onions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6XAP_VThhk

13/ Our First Rainbow Flag

“Of course BEING STRAIGHT isn’t a CHOICE …

It’s awful!

Nobody writes a blog about you!

Nobody sends you presents in the mail!

Seriously — WHO WOULD CHOOSE THIS LIFESTYLE??!!”

My middle daughter, Sam, is pretty funny, but she was half serious, too, when she said this to my husband and me a few months ago. If you’ve been following along here, you probably know that the Great Disruption of our family’s comfortable Christian life started last year with finding out that our oldest daughter was gay, and our lives became consumed by a period of sonic boom-level disorientation, followed by a season of desperate prayer and research, followed by wildly unexpected reconciliation!, followed by inexpressible loss … followed by a feverish passion to love, support and protect the LGBTQ community. And for some reason, I decided to write about it publicly. (I guess if you have not been following along, now you’re all caught up. That’s basically what happened.)

But I feel you, kid. It’s hard to compete with that.

“I’m sorry you’re straight.” ☹️

Despite her semi-serious hetero indignation about where the rainbow spotlight chose to shine, what this kid might not realize is how instrumental she was in our journey toward acceptance. Sam was her sister’s first confidant and remains her fiercest ally. Just 11 ½ years old when she first received the news, she got it, and poured out the purest unconditional love and support for her big sis. Back when all I could offer my vulnerable child who had just confessed her most terrifying secret was a gentler version of, “I love you, but I don’t support you,” SHE had her back. 100%. And I remember being grateful for it even back on that first night. We couldn’t fully embrace her the way she so desperately needed to be embraced, couldn’t “wave the rainbow flag” for her, and that hurt…but I remember confessing to my husband, “I’m really glad she has Sam.”

Today, June 28th, is Sam’s 13th birthday. It’s fitting that she shares this day with the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the beginning of the LGBTQ civil rights movement in America and the birth of “Pride.” It’s hard for her to comprehend this, but back then, there were laws against homosexuality, and police brutality against the LGBTQ community had been progressively building to a point of active resistance, when those who had been beaten down over and over somehow found the strength to fight back.

Had she been born decades earlier, Sam would have been right in there with them. I believe this is true because when it comes to bullying and homophobic speech or behavior, she, uh, “came here to chew bubblegum and kick butt, and she’s all out of bubblegum,” if you know what I mean. One more person, call her sister a “faggot,” I dare you.

I think overall things have improved, but even today, there are still many states in which LGBTQ people can be denied housing, lose their jobs, etc just for being gay. Our state (Michigan) only just added LGBTQ people as a protected group last month. In the city where we live, an anti-discrimination and harassment policy was passed a few weeks ago to support LGBTQ folks, which is awesome, but this was only won by a narrow margin, 4-3. What that says to me is that 4 of my local government representatives believe that LGBTQ people should NOT be discriminated against based on their orientation or gender identities, and 3 of them believe that it’s be okay for them to be discriminated against. And, as always, I must substitute “them” for “my daughter.” She part of the LGBTQ community, and every threat to them is a threat to her. I take her equality very personally.

And of course, there are schools and colleges that would not admit, or would kick my daughter out of school, for being gay. As great of a kid as she is, and has never been in any trouble at school, this characteristic could get her expelled. It’s called out in all of the Student Handbooks. Title IX exists federally to protect students from harassment and discrimination based on sex, which includes protections for LGBTQ youth, but many Christian colleges (who receive federal funding) have declared an exemption to Title IX, which not only allows the schools to forbid attendance of transgender students and same-sex dating/relationships but also forbid affirming/supportive speech from allies.

There are a handful of states that contain school districts where educators are legally prohibited from speaking in a positive light, if at all, about LGB and Transgender issues. These are referred to as “No Promo Homo” laws — here’s a map showing the states where students like my daughter could be stigmatized in the classroom by their own teachers:

no_promo_homo.png

Oh, but the public schools! Everybody’s afraid of the public schools where they might allow a lesbian teacher to talk about her kids and wife in front of her students. Or, what if the LGBTQ civil rights movement (Stonewall Riots!) is taught in history class? I have seen enough scary media on this subject, and I know their message is, “pull your kids out of public schools!” and never expose them to “people like my daughter.”

💔

The trouble is, there are many other people like my daughter in our schools, and in our/your families, (and, gasp, even in church and homeschool groups!) and when we understand the difference a supportive environment can make for them (and it is significant) vs an environment where the only time when the word “gay” can be uttered is in context of the AIDS crisis or on a list of “things that will send you to hell,” we need to be willing to accept some possible initial discomfort for the greater welfare of at-risk youth. Check out the findings of the Human Rights Campaign’s largest LGBTQ Youth Survey to understand more about how LGBTQ kids are describing their own experiences in and out of school, how safe or unsafe they feel, and what we as society/family/friends can do to better support them. (Again, I will substitute in “my daughter” here. Check out the survey to find out how you can better understand and support my daughter. ❤️) 

Wherever you fall in your theological understanding, please don’t think for a second that the world is a wonderful place for LGBTQ people today. You might be someone who feels offended by the recent rise of LGB storylines and Transgender people on TV, or believe the fearful rhetoric coming from many “trusted” voices in media, but this is a group that has been continuously beaten down in large and small ways from every direction for much of their lives. They want nothing more than to NOT be attacked, not be othered and not be discriminated against. They are normal people who desire to live a normal life, just like you do. I know this is all my daughter wants, and what we, her parents, want for her. It does not seem like an unreasonable request. And yet…

This stuff 👇 makes it hard for them to live in peace, and frankly, hard for many people to stand by them and treat them with dignity and respect.

gag_reflex.png

This is an exhausting time for people who care. It is difficult for those who are weary and scarred to dig deep, especially those who are directly impacted by discriminatory laws, policies and hate speech/behavior, and those who are vulnerable to what feels like constant activism against them these days, whether in their ability to serve in the military, serve in their churches or adopt a child. So the rest of us, who are not carrying this burden of mere existence (cis hetero privilege!), need to resist for them and with them. And guess what: it should not violate our religious liberties at all to “not” actively attempt to limit someone else’s liberties. I think a person can hold a completely traditional, non-affirming view and still be a kind, loving neighbor by affording others the same dignities that you desire. The secret is in “not” doing things, saying things, or voting on things that cause LGBTQ people “lesser rights” or undue harm. Easy peasy. Equal treatment, that is what the resistance is about. Not as scary as you may have thought!

🌈

Back in our hardcore research phase, I found myself troubled by what one author suggested parents should do after their young child tells them they are gay. The chapter was called, “How To Love Your Gay Teen,” and yet it did not once mention telling your teen that you love them. The focus was on expressing your disappointment and setting boundaries. I was ranting a bit to my husband about how off-putting it was to have a whole chapter dedicated to parents of kids this age, presumably from Christian homes, and be so tone-deaf to the vulnerability of these kids who have almost universally dealt with self-loathing and shame — kids who foremost NEED TO HEAR THAT THEY ARE STILL LOVED when having the scariest conversation of their lives with the people whose love they need the most.

Sam was in the room at the time and she let out a laugh.

“What’s so funny?,” I asked her.

She responded, “Why do you need a book to tell you how to love your own child?”

From the mouths of babes. She was right. I was tone-deaf, too. The instructions for “How to love my gay teen” were already written on my heart, the last place I thought I could trust. I have learned, and continue to learn, a lot from my sweet middle child. For so many reasons, I admire and cherish her.

Sam was our family’s first rainbow flag. She was the thing we all needed.

#

12/ Blind Spots

Big days always seem to bring the big feels for me. Recently, my eldest daughter, a high school freshman, attended her first prom. She went with some of her best pals who are juniors and seniors, one of whom had invited her to be her date. (They are, for the record, “just friends.”)

Standing on the back patio of her friend’s home that afternoon, taking pictures with a handful of other doting mothers and fathers and siblings and grandparents and one adorable dog under a perfect Michigan sky, I inhaled and held my breath: this was a milestone. A rite of passage. It wasn’t just the fact that someone decided my baby was apparently now old enough to be dressing up and going off in cars (!!!) with other kids (!!!) that, for some, marked the end of their entire high school career. It was that she looked happier and more confident and more beautiful than I’d ever seen her before.

And I immediately wondered whom I could share these pictures with…who would be sincerely happy that she was sincerely happy, without getting stuck on the gay thing. I texted my husband and middle daughter and, without missing a beat, they oooh’d and ahhh’d over how gorgeous she looked, decked out in her black dress shirt and pants with suspenders and a blue bow tie that matched her beautiful bright blue eyes. A fresh haircut from the barber shop that morning gave her a clean, stylish look that would come to earn her numerous “fleek” points.

After years of square pegging it, she was finding her people, finding her style and finding her groove. A row of cameras flashed like sparklers.

We’d come a long way from the not-so-distant past when “special occasion” automatically meant “dress,” and we would inevitably argue over clothing until possibly one or both of us was in tears.

We can photographically trace “crying in dresses” back to her second Easter, when what would become a classic family photo reveals the fervor with which she tried to remove her new threads, a timeless pink collared dress that I paid a little more for than I wanted to at Gymboree. But, she was a toddler and they cry about things. Maybe the tag was itchy. She was so stinking cute, even with a tear-stained face. Awwww.

Her deep disdain for dresses and anything “girly” continued for several Easters, Christmases and JC Penney photo sessions but it got less cute and more frustrating, for both of us, as time went by.

As I may have shared previously, I was raised in the evangelical church, and while we didn’t know very much about the homosexuals back then, we knew enough to be afraid of them and disgusted by them. They were definitely on the outside, rather than the inside, where we were. And we knew that they liked to flaunt their perverse lifestyles by dressing a certain way. So even though a little girl’s inclination toward more masculine or gender-neutral clothing is certainly not sinful (right?), and does not necessarily mean anything, our daughter’s passionate preferences and aversions sometimes caused my husband and I to meet eyes across a room and mind-whisper, “oh no, I hope she’s not gay.” She was just 3 or 4 when we each first acknowledged our concerns about where her strong preferences might lead. So much so that when she was in upper elementary, my husband once sent an email to a popular Christian question/answer website to ask for advice.

 

Should we let her wear “boy clothes?”

Should we be concerned?

 

I wish we had a copy of that exchange, but we recall that the person who responded to us said NOT TO WORRY about it; that they also had a daughter whom they considered a tomboy as a child, but now that she was in junior high, she loved wearing spaghetti strap tank tops and had achieved appropriate girliness levels, and it would happen for our daughter, too. (Or something to that effect.) We felt relieved.

 

I cringe even as I write this. If only I could go back and kick my own butt. I would care so much less about what she wore and so much more about how loved and valued she felt, no matter which section she wanted to shop from at Target. But I digress.

 

I think some of the pressure in church culture comes from its multi-generational membership, where certain traditional appearances are expected and rewarded by esteemed elders. MATCHING DRESSES?? YOU’RE CLEARLY A GREAT FAMILY! GOOD JOB RAISING THE NEXT GENERATION OF GODLY CHILDREN! It can be very mompetitive, too, especially where social media is concerned: let’s see those perfectly poised girls, let’s see those frilly frocks and handmade bows! I had two daughters close in age, and then a third a few years later, and the expectation was that they would follow the program and look darling, at least on special occasions. Was that so much to ask?

I once brought home two understated, only slightly sparkly dresses for an upcoming Daddy Daughter Dance, even though my fancy-from-the-womb second daughter is the only one who had expressed any interest in attending this event with my husband. My youngest was too little and my eldest wanted no part of it.

 

“Are you sure you don’t want to go, too?”

“No, thanks.”

“Will you at least try this dress on so I can take your picture?”

“No, thanks.”

“What if I gave you $20?”

“Ok.”

 

I got the pic I wanted and she was $20 richer.

But at what cost? This was the least comfortable item of clothing I could have asked her to wear, and I knew it. But … the image. The pictures. The elders. Social media.

The photo got a ton of LIKEs and 2 shares.

 

And she couldn’t wait to rip off that dress.

 

#MomOfTheYear

 

👎

 

I wish we recognized our blind spot sooner, that we had been focusing on the wrong things all along and missing what was important. That our fears were superficial and displaced, and inadvertently causing our daughter pain. That there was more the Lord was going to teach us about loving our children, and “fitting in” was not part of the program.

 

* * * * * *

 

There’s another reason this was a big day loaded with big feels.

Exactly one year ago to the day from this beautiful prom evening, my heart was in a million pieces and my husband and I were carrying those pieces to the pastor of our church to see if he could help mend them. It had been about three months since our daughter came out, and we were crushed. Though all along we expected the experience of having a gay child would be the thing that broke our hearts, it wasn’t; instead it was the reactions we received from some close friends, family and ministry leaders when we first started seeking support. It was the careless words that pierced. The ‘kick ‘em to the curb’ attitude. It became clear to us very quickly that some of them could not see past the “issue” to embrace a vulnerable girl, nor her vulnerable family. They were certain, but they were not seeing. And this was surely not the message they intended to send. I know they loved us, but their words (and underlying assumptions and attitudes) caused us tremendous pain. The church had a blind spot, too, and we felt compelled to point it out, an act that was completely outside of our comfort zone.

Our hearts pounded and mouths dried as we walked hand-in-hand through the church parking lot for our Friday afternoon meeting with the Wizard. It was one part yellow brick road, and one part walking the plank. Would this be the beginning or the end? A launch party or an exit interview? We walked past the spot where we had gotten married — the only outdoor wedding our church had ever held, we’ve been told — almost 18 years earlier. The people I grew up with were here. The people we loved and served with were here. We bought into the church vision and we were invested. And until this point, we had asked for nothing in return. Now we were asking for our church to become a safe place for our family to not be so certain, acknowledge the blind spot that existed, and commit to leaning in and learning together so that other families like ours might be met with more grace and understanding in the future. We did not want to lose our church family, but we were no longer willing to make our daughter pretend to be something that she wasn’t.

 

As we stepped through the door, we inhaled and held the breath.

 

#

11/ Love Him For Me: Why the World Needs Free Mom Hugs

If you know me at all, then it should come as no surprise that I freaked right out when I heard that my friend Sara Cunningham had been selected to be a guest on Jen Hatmaker’s “For the Love Podcast,” specifically on a crowd-sourced episode for which I, the crowd, had sourced (nominated) her. Sara messaged me while I was at work: “OMG CALL ME,” and I knew. I dialed her number as I ran into an empty conference room and pumped my arms in the air like Tom Cruise on Oprah’s couch while Sara excitedly announced that she was going to be the featured guest on this final episode of the “Women Who Built It” series.

 

This was a beautiful moment.

 

Now, one might surmise that my enthusiasm stemmed from my well-documented JH superfan status, however, the true source of this exuberant joy was the idea that Sara’s mission, “Free Mom Hugs,” was going to be shared with a wide and generous audience.

 

“I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! I’M SOOO EXCITED!!!”

“I KNOWWW!!! ME TOO!!!”

 

We exchanged these sentiments with mild variations for at least 30 seconds. If two people a thousand miles apart can dance and high five and hug over the phone, we did.

 

The purpose of Free Mom Hugs is, quite simply, to spread love to members of the LGBTQ community – many of whom have been rejected by their families and desperately long to be embraced. Giving a Free Mom Hug is the easiest way in the world to say:

 

I see you and you are loved. Period.

 

**Check out the podcast to hear how Sara, a Christian mother from Oklahoma City who learned that her son was gay on his 21st birthday, went “from the church to the pride parade,” as she refused to let her love sit still.**

 

  • I was excited because this interview had the potential to be a big fat love letter to LGBTQ people. Do they know that there are Christian parents who fully embrace their children? Do they know they are loved and worthy of embrace exactly as they are? Do they know that someone right around the corner could be coming to give them a hug right now?

(I don’t, of course, mean that in a stalkery way. Trust me, no Free Mom Hugs are given without consent and are 100% Not-Creepy Certified.)

 

  • I was excited that this show would raise awareness around the Free Mom Hugs movement and that caring people who had never heard of this before might be inspired to make their own signs and buttons and get out there and provide more hugs to more LGBTQ people during Pride season and beyond. It is so easy and meaningful and wonderful.

 

  • And I was excited because Sara was about to deliver a message of hope to many other Christian families with LGBTQ children who may feel scared and alone. Through this episode, and subsequent social media sharing, moms like us would have the ability to wave new friends over and hold the door open for any who wanted to come and join the Mama Bear community in a private online Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. If nothing else, we are good at reminding each other that we are not alone and that our children are blessings.

 

 

After my call ended with Sara, I realized that it had been exactly one year and a day since we had spoken on the phone for the first time, having just been introduced by a friend-of-a-friend. It was a time when my own comfy Christian life had been – to borrow a line from the Fresh Prince – “flip turned upside down” after finding out my young teenage daughter was gay, and I struggled with how to reconcile this revelation with my faith. This is not a simple issue to reconcile for someone who was raised in a faith environment where we knew all the answers, but did not necessarily know how we arrived at them. Sara welcomed me into the “Mama Bears” group, and it has truly been a lifeline.

(You may recall hearing me talk about this wonderful group last fall.)

 

But what I kept hearing over and over when I first joined the group, and as I listened to more LGBTQ people of faith in real life, were difficult stories of rejection and loss. This was especially true in families who seemed to believe that pleasing God in this situation meant withholding love from their children. This in itself reminded me of the cross — Father, why have you forsaken me? Being separated from love is hell.

 

Some faith-based literature I was reading at the time told me that finding out your child is gay is like a death, implying that the child you once thought you knew was gone, and we as parents would naturally go through a grieving process. That might be true for some people, but in my case, the only death I saw was in families who were broken because of theological position and self-imposed boundaries, when parents believed that there truly was a stranger now occupying the space where their beloved child once was. Moms who withheld resources and support, Dads who told their kids they would rather them be dead than queer or trans, and, not surprisingly, tragically high suicide rates.

 

“Dear Child, now that you chosen to be gay, we must treat you as an outsider,” says much of the advice given from faith-based websites and books.

 

It took my breath away.

 

I was engaged in dialogue with some Christian leaders back then, and I remember reporting back about what I saw: extreme devastation. I described my experience as like having visited a third world country on a missions trip, a place where people were bleeding and starving and dying, and nobody was there to support them. I felt as if I were witnessing a crime and was powerless to help except to pass the news on to people who were in a position to possibly do something about it.

 

I was largely met with silence and shrugs.

 

“Well, the Bible is very clear…”

 

Not only did that make me feel more alone, but it made me question whom I could trust, and whether I too had been complicit in other people’s suffering by misjudging the causes of their pain or by ignoring it altogether. I knew then that staying silent was not an option.

 

My husband and I ‘came out’ as parents of an LGBTQ child to our Facebook friends last October with this post:

 

“For every LGBTQ person, there are two parents of LGBTQ persons, and we need safe places to share our experiences. It’s National Parents Coming Out Day, so it’s okay to be open about this today, right? This can be a very isolating experience, especially within the faith community. If anyone else here has an LGBTQ child, or just needs someone safe to talk to, I’d love to connect, so feel free to message me.”

 

The following week, I started this blog with the aim of depositing content into the world that I would have related to way back then, when I first arrived in the Upside Down. My middle daughter is convinced that this blog is all about her sister: The Thing She Needed, and I said, NO! This blog is for ME! I’m SHE! I’d never had a blog before, nor any real interest in writing as a hobby, but I was having these pains, like emotional contractions, and felt that this baby needed to be born. Maybe I just needed to put language to my feelings to help make sense of things for myself. Maybe I knew people would be talking, and rather than having a thousand painful conversations or being misrepresented in gossip, friends could read our story here. Maybe it will reach someone else who needs to hear it, and she is also SHE.

 

I won’t lie, it can be very lonely out here, especially in the church. We do need to know who’s with us. In the podcast, Sara talks about losing her church family and many dear friends, some of whom meant well but just didn’t know how to engage. Which makes sense: if a person’s understanding of doctrine says that your child is an abomination, it can be difficult to continue a relationship in a sincere and mutually respectful way. I can relate to this. Raise your hand if you don’t think that would be a problem for you personally.

 

I can sort of handle the silence and shrugs if it means people just don’t agree on everything, and are abiding by the old adage, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But sometimes I just want to scream:

 

KIDS ARE KILLING THEMSELVES!!

 

DON’T YOU CARE?!!!

 

WHAT IF THIS WAS MY KID?? WHAT IF IT IS YOURS AND YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW IT??

 

WE DON’T GET TO TURN OUR HEADS ANYMORE!!

 

After the national school walkout to honor the Parkland victims and address gun violence last month, the #WalkUpNotOut philosophy started trending, suggesting that, “maybe if high schoolers would just be nicer to each other, a troubled kid might not murder his classmates.” I have frequently shared the alarming rates of self-harm and suicide among LGBTQ youth, especially those from highly rejecting homes, and wonder if anyone has considered applying the same sentiment: “maybe we should be nicer to LGBTQ kids so they don’t kill themselves.”

 

My LGBTQ child will be heading off to college or a career in just three years, and I worry about whether she will be safe in this world. Who might not hire her or provide her with housing because of her orientation? Who might make cruel remarks when she’s walking down the street? Who might threaten to hurt her physically? Who might refuse her service? Who will not joyfully attend her wedding? Who will try to make her doubt God’s unconditional love for her?

 

But also, hopefully, who will approach her at a parade and extend two loving arms for a free mom hug and remind her that she is loved as she is, when I’m not there to tell her myself?

 

Stan Mitchell, a publicly affirming pastor at Gracepointe Church in Nashville, shared a story on his Facebook page last summer about an encounter he had at the Southern Baptist Convention:

 

“Just spent a very stealth & quiet 5 minutes with a Southern Baptist pastor’s wife whose husband happens to pastor a large church a few hundred miles from Nashville. Their son who is gay, now lives in our beloved City of Music and, lately, has been visiting Gracepointe. She wept as she explained that of their four children, he was the most beautiful of spirit, the kindest, the most loving (she was obviously troubled by the reality that she simply could not capture his beauty with her hurried and pained words) and yet, and yet, they “destroyed him” with their faith. Destroyed him.

I will never forget and forever will be inspired by her request: “Love him for us. Love him the way he deserves. Love him the way we should have. Tell him what I wanted to and couldn’t.” My heart broke. I couldn’t tell for whom it broke more – mom or son. I told her there was still time and opportunity for her to do this. She looked dubiously around the foyer of the hotel, teeming with her husband’s ministerial peers, and said with the saddest of eyes, “Please love him.” And she walked away. I have scarcely met a sadder human. Trapped. My chest physically hurt.”

When you see posts from affirming leaders like Stan Mitchell, or Jen Hatmaker, or even a nobody like me, please resist the urge to turn your head and dismiss the issue as somebody else’s problem, somebody who probably deserves it. Because not only are hurting LGBTQ people hidden among the most wonderful people groups in our churches today, but they may have two hurting parents who are equally and tragically hidden as well.

 

They might be your friends. They might even be you.

 

I am so happy that Free Mom Hugs exists, but honestly, I wish it didn’t have to.

 

Let’s make all our places safe for LGBTQ people and the families who love them, whether we know who they are or not. Let’s create sustainable environments where mom hugs are not a scarcity.

 

For those of us who have been blessed with arms for hugging, let’s lean into the mission of embrace, and remember the words of that struggling mama who could not bear to do it herself:

 

“Love him for us. Love him the way he deserves. Love him the way we should have. Tell him what I wanted to and couldn’t.”

 

 

CLICK HERE to learn more about and support the Free Mom Hugs Tour 2018

CLICK HERE to learn more about and support the Mama Bears Documentary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/ Brunch With Jesus

Little known fact: the first Easter brunch was celebrated a few days after the resurrection, and Jesus was the host.

According to the gospel of John, chapter 21, the risen Lord went out one morning to the shore near where his friends were fishing in a boat. He brought bread, started a fire of burning coals and hollered to the guys to drop their net into the water on the opposite side of the boat, where they were surprised to find nearly more fish than their net could hold, and urged them to bring some back to cook so they could share a hot meal together. John notes that this was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples after the resurrection.

Where else have we heard about Jesus and thirds recently? He rose on the third day, yes, but also Peter, his disciple, denied him three times before Jesus was at last sold out and taken, as an innocent man, to be murdered on a cross. But now here is Jesus, with his friend-slash-denier, Peter, serving him breakfast on the beach.

Read what happened next, from John 21:15-17:

15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.

Interestingly, Jesus asked Peter — three times — to confirm his love for him, and each time, Jesus responded in no uncertain terms what Peter ought to do with that love:

Feed his sheep.

Imagine how serious Jesus must have been about this important directive on what may have been his last conversation with Peter before ascending into Heaven. We don’t see a speech here about Peter denying Jesus…no, “I told you so,” … no, “look what you did!” Peter had failed Jesus, and now face to face with Christ just days after witnessing the brutal crucifixion for which he must have felt at least partly responsible, he is on the receiving end of enormous grace. And what does Jesus want to drive home to Peter?

 

If you love me, feed my sheep. Take care of my sheep.

 

Grace is simple.

 

Jesus didn’t stutter.

 

 

So now, our boy Peter has just had this poignant close-up scene with Jesus on the beach. Just DAYS after the most unjust violence and loss in human history, Peter did not get rebuked for his denial; he was served a hot meal instead.

All the guilt Peter must have been carrying…all the grace Jesus just poured out on him, still engaging him, still nourishing him, still entrusting him with this new Kingdom, urging him to take this meal and give it to someone else… This sounds so much like my Jesus…I can almost hear the waves crashing against the shore and feel the warmth of grace on salty skin as I picture this scene.

 

What do you think happened next? Read on…

John 21:18-23

18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”

19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.

Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)

21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die.

But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

 

Oh Peter, I feel you, brother. Always looking over your shoulder, worrying about what grace someone else is receiving.

Jesus just gave the simplest of instructions for how Peter (all of us) should respond out of love for him: Feed my sheep. And immediately after, Peter questions Jesus, the believers misunderstand Jesus and a rumor starts spreading! among them about what Jesus actually said.

 

So, wait, believers can misunderstand Jesus and still be believers?

 

Phew, that is a relief.

 

Anyway, Jesus is great at breaking it down into simple terms for us simple people:

 

Do we love him?

 

Feed his sheep.

 

Do we love him?

 

Take care of his sheep.

 

Do we love him?

 

FEED 👏 HIS 👏 SHEEP!

 

Let’s think about this over brunch today. Our bellies are full. Now what?

 

Do we love him?

 

9/ My Friend Sophia

I really, really wanna tell you about my dear friend, Sophia. I met her last fall over Chicago deep dish pizza in between conference breakout sessions and evening worship at The Reformation Project’s annual event. In the months that followed, we have become close friends, talking and sharing funny gifs nearly every day. Sophia works on staff with the youth at her church, and has been a constant encouragement to me and my family as we have been on this new and at-times-uncertain journey this past year.

Sophia is my first transgender friend. But she is invisible to most.

I am one of the few lucky people on this planet who knows her, for she is not ‘out’ to her family, friends or church community yet. You would probably recognize her as a “him” out in the world. She calls this “boy mode,” and, while this has been her outward-facing gender for 30-some years, it causes her great emotional distress because she knows in her heart of hearts that she is actually a female. And when she eventually shares this with her people, she runs the risk of rejection, isolation and even unemployment. This weighs heavily on her constantly.

“But God doesn’t make mistakes!”

Of course He doesn’t. Who is saying that? All lives matter, all have value, no one is a mistake. But we also recognize that human development involves many complex systems, and we often see deviations from what is “normal,” or typical, across many spectrums. This is hardly a spiritual issue, but rather a biological one, and one that we are fortunate to have burgeoning language, understanding and treatment for in our generation.

There is a lot I don’t understand, but I am trying to learn so that I can be a better friend and citizen. So far, I’ve got:

  • Gender dysphoria is a miserable affliction; dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria
  • This is not an issue of morality of character
  • In utero, the sex biology of the brain develops at a different time than reproductive organs, and there are multiple opportunities for those to be out of sync
  • It’s a real thing affecting real, regular people; contrary to some theories, it is not a fad or something kids are pressured into
  • There are many trans people living among us and we would never know it; they already serve in our military, live in our neighborhoods and, occasionally, use the restroom in public. They should be able to do all of these things freely, as anybody else does.
  • They are not a burden. They are not dangerous.
  • There is a lot of misinformation promoted in some circles, so just a word of advice — as you read or hear things about transgender people, ask yourself: Does this cause me to grow in fear or contempt for transgender people, or does this lead me toward compassion and kindness?
  • Names and pronouns make a big difference and show respect. When people graduate from medical school, we defer to their new prefix: “Dr.” When I got married, I changed my whole last name and nobody was a jerk about it.
  • I heard a great quote once: “God created day and night, but nobody ever looked at a sunset and called it an abomination.”

One thing I know for sure, Sophia is absolutely not a mistake! She is amazingly wise, kind, thoughtful and generous. I wish you could know her! She loves God’s Word and has worked hard to earn a Master’s of Divinity from seminary. She loves her kids at church and does not want to abandon them. But they do not really know her. Her family does not really know her. Her friends do not really know her. Her deepest self is invisible to them. She is in disguise. She is a superhero putting on a costume every day to make lives better and easier for others, without regard for herself.

The world can be a dangerous place for transgender people. They are hunted and murdered year-round by ‘hateful people.’ They are unprotected, dehumanized and marginalized by ‘powerful people.’ They are misunderstood and made jokes of by ‘loving people.’

Today is National Trans Day of Visibility. And as such, I wanted to shine a spotlight on my friend. But she is still in the shadows. You cannot know her like I do, but I pray someday you will.

***

I encourage you to join me in taking steps to learn more. A more expansive worldview and understanding of others leads to compassion, and there is room for much more of this in 2018.

Watch Katie Couric’s documentary (available on Netflix now) on the “Gender Revolution.” Articles & clips here as well:

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/gender-revolution-a-…/

And hear from Pastor Asher O’Callaghan about how his gender journey influenced his faith:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsUM7ydXTDI&t=8003s

8/ The Monster At The End Of This Blog!

Of all the unexpected individuals who’ve made an impression in my life this past year, there’s one whom I can’t seem to get out of my head these days: a cute, furry little monster named Grover. He narrated one of my favorite childhood books, and his zeal is contagious:

 

“THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK!!!!”

 

As a kid, it was exciting to watch Grover’s anxiety grow as he urged the reader NOT TO TURN THE PAGE because, he believed, there was doom waiting at the end of the book. If we would just CLOSE. THE. STINKING. BOOK. and put it away, we would be safe!

ch8_youturnedanotherpage

The Monster At The End Of This Book, Written By Jon Stone, Illustrated by Mike Smollin

Instead, out of childhood curiosity and skepticism about whether an excitable puppet like Grover was really a reliable source, we continued to turn each page until we finally reached the dreaded end and found that Grover was RIGHT after all: there WAS a monster at the end of the book!!! Only … the monster was …  Grover himself.

 

😳

 

National Geographic made a statement last week acknowledging its part in American racism due to the way people of color had been unfairly portrayed throughout many of the publication’s last 100+ years.

 For Decades, Our Coverage Was Racist. To Rise Above Our Past, We Must Acknowledge It” – National Geographic, The Race Issue, April 2018

ch8_national_geographic

Note the language in the photo caption above as Australia’s indigenous people were described as “savages” who “rank lowest in intelligence of all human beings.”

 

My mom once told me that the first time she ever saw a person with brown skin was in a National Geographic magazine. Images of near-nude tribespeople with teeth filed down into sharp fangs were unsettling to her as a young girl. Marking her first real-life encounter with an African-American — her mother, in a panic, told the children to hide when an unknown black man knocked on the door of their childhood home and asked for a drink of water. Her family’s exposure to people of color in the early 1950s was extremely limited, and, like many, their ideas were shaped by the dominant cultural images and narratives of the day.

 

There is still so much to address regarding race in 2018, and I appreciate National Geographic’s humility in this situation, but I share it just to say, it is no surprise that people are afraid of that which they do not know. That which has been depicted only in a foreign, dehumanizing way. And when we are taught to be afraid of those monsters!! at the end of the book, we can’t help but excitedly warn others NOT TO TURN THE PAGE!!!

 

This is why representation matters.

 

For those who are sincerely interested in having conversations about how to love LGBTQ people better, it is important that we acknowledge the images and narratives that have shaped many of our own views, and especially, fears. These are some of the things — which are not found in the Bible — that I frequently hear within the Christian subculture. How many of these messages sound familiar to you?

 

  • The Gay Agenda (the ultimate bogeyman)
  • They’re out to destroy our families
  • They want to take away our religious rights
  • They’re obviously a health risk to themselves and others
  • They want to recruit our kids
  • They prey upon children in bathrooms

 

No wonder so many of us are homophobic!

I used to think homophobia was a silly word. I thought of it in the same way that a person with arachnophobia might become paralyzed around spiders; I wasn’t “scared” of gay people. But if I’m being honest, once upon a time, I had plenty of fears: all of the aforementioned dangers of homosexuality, fear that my kid might be recruited into the lifestyle or whatever, and even a fear of liking certain Facebook photos of friends with their same-sex partners. What a burden to want to love LGBTQ people, but not be too accepting, because how else will they know they are bad and turn from their wicked ways. Plus: what if someone from church saw that I “liked” it?

 

Last year at this time, my head was still spinning after learning that our then-13-yr-old daughter was — I didn’t even like to say this word out loudgay, and we were trying to understand how we, as parents, should respond. A string of hurtful conversations with trusted advisors I’d sought out left me feeling like I’d been kicked in the gut. And I couldn’t understand why. Something wasn’t lining up, despite our seemingly shared understanding that homosexuality was a monster at the end of the book. We had likely been influenced by the same images and the same narratives, so it was understandable that they would respond out of the same fears that I already embodied; but when spoken aloud back to me, about my child whom I knew was not a monster, it all felt so wrong.

 

On Palm Sunday last year, our family decided to take a break from our usual routine and check out a local church that we’d heard was LGBTQ-friendly, or, “affirming.” Going in, I had reservations about its credibility as a true Bible-believing organization…I really didn’t know what to expect at all…but I was under a lot of stress and wanted to take a breather and see where openly gay people went to church. What might that look like? Would it be like church at all? Would my daughter be encouraged by seeing people who looked like her in church? Would we be struck by lightning as we entered the doors?

 

What happened between 11:00am and 12:00pm on that Palm Sunday morning is almost too precious to talk about. For me, it was holy and sacred and was the first time something felt right in months.

 

We were greeted by a gentleman wearing a University of Michigan Football shirt, which immediately put my fanboy husband at ease. We introduced ourselves, and with a warm smile, the man lightheartedly referred to himself and this church as “the island of misfit toys.” As I glanced around the room, I immediately felt comfortable among a diverse group of people who, like us, were square pegs looking for an inclusive place to worship and belong, looking for church.

 

No lightning yet.

 

I was cautious as the service started because — you know, the Grover in my head — but was pleased to know the words to the worship songs as the music started; it was the same music we sang at our church and allowed me to participate and feel less awkward as a visitor. The rest of the service was familiar, Biblical and encouraging. But what really caught my attention were a few presumably LGBTQ people in the congregation who wholeheartedly sang, lifted their hands, closed their eyes, bowed their heads, took communion, and even got up and (gasp) gave the sermon. Lord have mercy, they were just like us!

 

This is the part of the story where I have to call a *time-out* and acknowledge that LGBTQ people do not need my validation on matters of their spiritual fitness or anything else. To testify, “they are just like us!” when practicing their faith might seem to put me, as an observer and writer, in a position in which my ‘approval’ determines their value, and it does not. I hope it is clear that my own fear, ignorance and bias is what led me to feeling surprised by seeing — much as a white person might have been surprised to recognize among black people at one time — that they were indeed not the monsters that they had been so dreadfully depicted to be.

 

As I got to know the lovely people in this congregation and in the broader LGBTQ faith community, I realized how my former fears had kept me from recognizing some precious parts of the body of Christ. To see people who had every reason to reject God and the church altogether, assembling anyway to worship, teach, learn and give sacrificially was an expression of grace and hope more beautiful than anything I’d seen before. I hold their stories tenderly in my heart and am grateful for their willingness to share them with me.

 

Over and over, I heard stories from LGBTQ Christians who had grown up in the faith…involved in youth group, Bible quiz champions, worship leaders, etc…who, unbeknownst to anyone else, were secretly begging God to change them, for years, consequently suffering from hopelessness, many becoming suicidal, and eventually, (thankfully) finding acceptance within themselves and with Jesus at the same time, as they came to accept that their identity was as much Imago Dei as that of their straight, cisgender peers. I heard how many had been rejected by family and friends, and denied full participation in the church — forbidden from partaking in sacraments, baptism, volunteering with children, playing piano during service, keeping their staff positions, etc. Many lost so much when they came out.

 

And yet, their eyes are fixed on Jesus. They love Him, they care well for others and they give generously. But the church rarely talks about that.

 

Why doesn’t the church talk about that?

 

Why, when the subject of homosexuality is discussed, are they frequently painted as broken and Godless? I understand that a surface reading of Scripture has provided the basis for many to teach that same-sex sex is wrong*, but even so, it does not seem intellectually honest or loving to ignore the experiences of many faithful LGBTQ Christians when we are trying to engage in meaningful dialogue.

 

(*Note: many who have engaged in deeper study of Scripture and historical context believe that the Biblical condemnation for same-sex behavior was specific to the lustful and abusive activity that was commonly practiced in those times.)

 

Listen, I love the church, but we are very good at warning people about the monster at the end of the book while not necessarily knowing what the monster is and why someone should be afraid. If we say the church is trying to protect LGBTQ people, out of sincere love and concern for their well-being, shouldn’t we also have a clear understanding of what it is that might hurt them if they ‘choose this lifestyle?’

 

Please don’t say an eternity in hell if you believe that salvation is not based on works, lest any man should boast. God’s grace is sufficient to cover you and me and them, is it not?

 

So, what is it?

 

It’s hard to imagine there is a ‘victim,’ like with murder, abuse, or theft. They’re not hurting someone else.

 

So is it more like making unhealthy choices such as overeating or being sedentary? Those things can lead to diseases and shorten a person’s lifespan, so if a person wants to be healthy and live long, they might prioritize healthy choices. And if they do not, they will suffer the consequences.

 

But the church doesn’t pick on them, even though it’s not hard to see who may be ‘struggling’ in this area. If, similarly, we think that the risk to LGBTQ people is that they may somehow get spiritually out-of-shape, then why doesn’t the church just give them the dignity to let them make their own choices and potentially learn the hard way?

 

I’ve heard the risks to the LGBTQ community described as potential pain, brokenness and missing out on God’s best.

 

Well, what if they said that they were experiencing pain, brokenness, isolation, and hopelessness only when they were fighting against love? What if they say they’ve found healing, hope and freedom when they stopped fighting? What if, despite the weather forecast about the horrible darkness and storms out there, instead they found a beautiful, sunshiny day? Imagine how troubling it must be for someone to be breathing fresh air, feeling the warmth of the sun on their face, seeing new life growing where there once had been death, and perpetually being told they are wrong, that there’s no sunshine, only storms.

 

Last year, when I shared my experience of visiting the affirming church with a trusted Christian mentor, this person smiled and said, “I would love to be a part of a church like that…

 

I smiled too and felt happy that they understood how beautiful and holy this moment was for me…until they added a sarcastic sucker punch, “…a church where there’s ‘no sin’ and anything goes.

 

🤦

 

This is a group I was told did not, or could not, or should not, exist.

 

This is a group that is underrepresented in popular discussions about homosexuality within the church today.

 

This is a group we need to embrace right this minute. 

 

 

7/ How To Not Have a Gay Child

I probably wouldn’t have believed you a year ago if you told me that tonight I’d be preparing signage for a “peaceful protest against LGBTQIA conversion therapy” taking place outside of a local non-denominational church not unlike the one I joyfully belonged to for the past 25+ years. It wasn’t that I had strong feelings about conversion therapy back then – I don’t think I’d even heard of it yet – but in general, if there was a showdown between “the church” and what we perceived as “the world,” I’d surely be siding with the church. And like many who grew up in the church, I felt the Bible was pretty clear about homosexuality as a sin.

I first learned of this protest a couple of days ago when my social media feed started blowing up with posts and videos about a church that was promoting a 6-week workshop for 12- to 16-year-old girls who are “struggling with their sexual identities….thoughts of being gay, bi or trans.” Plans for a peaceful protest – and many peaceful, and not-so-peaceful responses from LGBT+ advocates on social media – quickly garnered attention from the media and around the world.

Below is the original description of the workshop from the church’s website:

“Does your child or grandchild struggle with sexual identity? Do you see the pain and hurt of their struggle but you’re uncertain how to help?

UNASHAMED IDENTITY WORKSHOP might be the answer you are looking for. [Name Withheld] Church, in partnership with [Name Withheld] Ministries, is hosting a GIRLS ONLY (by birth), 12-16 years old, [workshop] for those struggling with the thoughts that they are Trans – Bi – Gay or other.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With God’s help there can be healing, wholeness and hope. Through thoughtful, relevant and biblical counsel, we will help your girl be unashamed of her true sexual identity given to her by God at birth.

This is a full six-week workshop that requires a big commitment. Your commitment is absolutely essential to the process! You must commit to have your child at ALL six sessions on the following dates…”  (Price: $200)

The pastor of this church has made several public statements and produced short form YouTube videos in response, and expressed his genuine confusion about the controversy because he believes he and his staff truly have a heart for all people, even LGBT+ people. People must not understand what they are really about, they don’t ‘hate’ anyone. He insists this is not “conversion therapy,” whatever that is. He goes on to say the girls want to be there, nobody is being forced, nobody is being shamed, and he seems confident that at this age, most young girls haven’t yet made the decision to be gay/bi/trans, so the workshop leaders, along with parents, will lovingly teach them what they believe God’s Word says and help be a positive influence toward their true straight, cisgender identities. In one of the videos, he responds to the backlash by saying that it is awfully hypocritical for the gay community to not want to give these girls a choice to go from homosexual to heterosexual, though it is perfectly fine for people to choose to go from heterosexual to homosexual. And if a girl does decide to be gay/bi/trans, he’s not going to kick them out of the church! See, they are nice.

It is likely that the workshop will continue as planned, though peaceful protesters, such as myself, are coming simply to show support for the kids and let them know that no matter what happens inside the church walls, there are many who will accept and honor them as they are.

But whether or not this particular workshop takes place doesn’t solve the real problem. I believe the heart of the issue is this:

Many parents within the Christian community do not want to have a gay, bi, or trans child.

And why would they? For many, a traditional teaching of Scripture concludes that all same-sex relationships are wrong. Without taking the time to go back and study the culture in which those passages were written, and understanding the context (as we try to do with pretty much all other Scripture), it would seem that being gay is on par with murder…which is definitely a scary thought. We hear a narrative that the gay community is out to get us, is a threat to our families. The church often slips in a grim warning about hell, too, when it suggests that salvation might not be based purely on the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, but also on whether they practice or support homosexuality. Mixed messages are given all the time. And when leaders suggest that “it doesn’t have to be this way,” a dangerous foundation is laid because parents are brought to believe that it is truly a choice and therefore their child is to blame if they do not “straighten up,” so to speak.

I can relate to this fear because I also used to be afraid of having a gay child. From the time my oldest daughter was very young, there were things my husband and I observed in her personality and preferences that put a small pit in our stomachs: uh oh, what if she is gay? Or, might choose to be gay someday? How does that even work? We prayed against this and tried to do “all the right things” raising her (church, Bible study, family prayer time, avoided explicit materials and anything that seemed to be supportive of the ‘gay agenda’). We even reached out to a Christian organization once to ask for advice and they told us not to worry, that one of their daughters used to be a tomboy too and now she is happily married to a man. But despite what we assumed, that we had some time before she would possibly be old enough to make these decisions, she was already carrying a heavy burden.

One year ago tonight, tears ran down my face as I held my daughter in my arms; she had just come out to us as gay, and I had no idea how to respond. I just knew that I loved her and didn’t want her to feel scared, even though I myself felt paralyzed. This went against what we believed, against what we had taught her, and yet – my husband and I knew in our hearts that something didn’t add up because there wasn’t one behavior or action that we could point to and say she was doing anything wrong; this was just who she was. What we soon discovered was that this was really about how she was wired to give her love away, not about lust or immoral behavior. She says she had known this about herself since she was very young, and was terrified about what we would do if we found out because, after all, she knew where we stood. What she “struggled” with was severe anxiety about what we would think, what we might do, and whether she could be truly known and loved at the same time. What I promised her was that I could never stop loving her, and that even though I didn’t understand, I would do my best to figure things out. And that’s exactly what happened.

She was just about 13.4 years old then, and I mention this detail because I saw a recent poll result which stated this was the average age for coming out in America nowadays. She smiled when I later showed her this and congratulated her: you are completely average!!!

There hasn’t been a day gone by in the past year that we have not sought the heart of God on this issue, poured over Biblical texts and other resources, and prayed that we would be the parents our daughter needed us to be. The Lord has shown and taught us many surprising things, and it is my heart’s desire that every parent who is fearful about their child’s sexuality find resources to help them find peace, and not put undue pressure on their child to be the one who changes. I started writing about our faith journey as Christian parents of an LGBT+ teenager a few months ago (thethingsheneeded.wordpress.com/2017/10/11/prologue/) so that other families like ours could know they are not alone. We are still a work-in-progress, but then again, aren’t we all? I will share some links to other resources at the bottom of this page as well.

One place this journey has led me is to meet many wonderful LGBT+ Christians who have taken the time to share their stories. I’ve heard from many who’ve endured trauma from their upbringings in non-affirming churches and families. Many, many stories from survivors of conversion therapy, which was based on the idea that everybody could be straight, that it was a choice. I’ve met parents who would stand before you today and express regret for their own lack of understanding, acceptance and support, and those who grieve tragic losses and wish so desperately they had another chance to love their gay child. So much of this tension is driven by ignorance and fear, and as long as the church keeps human sexuality and the vulnerable state of young people – yes, even 12- to 16-yr-olds – in their blind spot, the more that Christian kids are going to internalize that fear…that the thing they know to be true about themselves would break their parents’ hearts.

So perhaps the question on these parents’ minds is, what can we do to not have a gay child? Or a bisexual child, or transgender child, et al? If you understand that a person cannot change these characteristics, I think you really only have 3 options:

  1. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Discredit or don’t believe them if they dare to open up with you about how they feel. Continue in an insincere relationship that does not have room for honesty or understanding.
  2. Set boundaries; put up all walls between you and your child. Your house, your rules. As long as they are under your roof, they will look and behave like a straight/cisgender person. Continue in an estranged manner and live as though the child you once loved is gone.
  3. Lose sight of what is truly important and find that hopelessness and depression have taken your child away. (see LGBT+ suicide statistics)

But what if we WANTED our LGBT+ children instead? What if they could flourish? What if the church realized what they were missing out on by mischaracterizing them and keeping them in the margins? What if we could recognize the beauty of diversity and blessings of freedom? Are we having the right conversation? What if we are the ones who need to change and grow?

I can honestly say that having a gay child has taught me more about God’s love than I’d ever known before. It has been one of my life’s greatest gifts. If you don’t want your gay/bi/trans kids, I’ll take em! My capacity for compassion and service has grown exponentially this year as I’ve developed eyes that see pain and suffering across many people groups, and I believe this is truly the heart of Jesus. This is how we are called to live.

Romans 13:8-10

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”

 

As the church’s workshop advertisement states:

“It doesn’t have to be this way. With God’s help there can be healing, wholeness and hope. Through thoughtful, relevant and biblical counsel, we will help your girl be unashamed of her true sexual identity given to her by God at birth.”

I wholeheartedly agree, it doesn’t have to be this way; we families and communities can do a better job educating ourselves and creating safe spaces where our LGBT+ children are fully included and embraced. And if we are confused as to why people think we might be causing them harm, let’s look closely at our words and underlying message:

It doesn’t have to be this way implies that sexuality is a choice.

Healing implies sickness.

Wholeness implies brokenness.

Hope implies devastation.

Unashamed of her true sexual identity implies that we know better than she does about who God made her to be.

What my husband and I have grown to understand this year is that we had been the source of our daughter’s struggle with her sexual identity. We made her think a person like her was broken. We made her feel ashamed. We made it impossible for her to be free. And we were wrong.

To all the scared mamas, dads and grandparents, your child is beloved, not broken. And today is a gift. If you have the privilege of having a child who is able and willing to share their deepest, terrifying truths with you, thank God. And tell those kids you love them! That God loves them! That He doesn’t make mistakes and though you may not understand, you commit to figuring things out. ❤

Tonight, my family will celebrate the one-year anniversary of my daughter’s coming out. There will be donuts, there will be hugs and there will be sign-making, for tomorrow we peacefully protest.

pride_mom_and_child_pin

Mama Heart LGBTQ Pride Pin, Artist Credit: Elyse McGowan-Kidd // Available on Etsy

 

A few resources:

Just Because He Breathes

Apology letter from Alan Chambers, former President of Exodus International, an ex-gay/conversion therapy organization

Trevor Project

FreedHearts

Torn, by Justin Lee

Family Acceptance Project

bluebabiespink.com

Julie Rodgers 2016 Reformation Project Keynote Speech

God and the Gay Christian

canyonwalkerconnections.com

ruthelliscenter.org

Q Christian Fellowship

The Reformation Project

girl at stream wide shot

6/ A Living Sacrifice

I recently learned something gross about cats. Cats are not my favorite animals (blame my allergies), so maybe I am biased for not finding this adorable, but I’ve heard at least three friends discuss this phenomenon lately: as a gift, sometimes cats will bring a dead thing to a spot where their owners will find it with great delight…or, y’know, horror: A dead bird in the middle of the bed. A wing in a purse. A mouse on the rug. The theory is that the felines are grateful to their owners for giving them food, so they reciprocate by bringing an offering to their owners to demonstrate their thanks and affection.

Um…

As much as I am repulsed by the thought of finding a dead bird in the middle of my bed, the idea of sacrifice-as-offering is one that I am familiar with.

Romans 12:1 reads: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

I was raised on this verse – and still love it today. Out of thankfulness to the Giver of life, we want to show our gratitude. The way many of us who grew up in the evangelical church learned to express our true and proper worship as kids/teenagers was by what we didn’t do: drink, smoke, say bad words, hang out with non-Christians, or have premarital you-know-what. Sure, we sometimes had to fight feelings of smugness (“don’t be proud”) because so many other people seemed to not do as good a job at being a living sacrifice; but yielding to fleshly desires was the least we could do for Him. In fact, the more difficult the sacrifice, then the greater your faith, love for God, and jewels in your crown in Heaven. Case in point: missionaries. No kid wanted to actually be one (it sounded terrible) but we could agree that they were living the ultimate life of sacrifice, and they were definitely going to be entering the pearly gates through the VIP entrance.

In high school, I felt particular conviction about something that many of us were taught was wrong, “according to Scripture:” interracial relationships. By the early 90s, interracial couples were noticeably being written into storylines on TV and in the movies; many in the church argued that it was being pushed down our throats. This left me with an uneasy feeling when I was at a friend’s house in high school, and the group popped in a VHS of The Bodyguard, starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. My conscience groaned that this wasn’t right, and I shouldn’t partake, so I sat in this person’s kitchen for an hour and a half while the rest of the group watched the movie. I didn’t make a big deal out of it or tell them they shouldn’t watch it; but it felt wrong for me to watch it, and sacrifice was my true and proper worship. As awkward as it was to wait it out in the kitchen, there was some internal sense of reward for ‘being good’ and doing what was I thought was right.

Of course, what I later came to understand was that the Bible does NOT condemn interracial relationships, and the roots of this bad teaching are grossly grounded in racism. (“Do not be unequally yoked…” was one of the verses used to condemn interracial relationships. Catch that word? Unequal??) Completely deplorable; I denounce this idea today. I am embarrassed that I ever subscribed to this view, and that I took a stand and sat in my friend’s kitchen like a weirdo over something I was wrong about, an idea which was fueled by a very un-Christlike belief system that has hurt many people and continues to hurt people today. I thought I was sacrificing for Jesus, but I learned that my conscience is not the same thing as the Holy Spirit; Jesus would not have encouraged me to see mixed-race relationships as any less “good” than all-white ones. My conscience can convict me and I can still be wrong.

This is the trajectory of life and faith, though, right? … We learn and grow and mature and inevitably look back on our former selves with a face palm: what were we thinking?? God’s Word doesn’t change, but we do. And our understanding does. And when we know better, we do better.

When our 8th grade daughter came out as gay last February, we were attending a large non-denominational church where I’d served since I was a teenager, where I’d met and married my husband, where we dedicated and were raising our 3 daughters…a church we loved which, in line with its former Baptist roots, subscribed to a traditional teaching on homosexuality as sin. Since I was raised with the same understanding, this was never a point of contention until we suddenly had a gay child and knew in our hearts that this characteristic was not a product of her sin, and did not feel that she needed to somehow change her orientation, or confess, or be punished. We were told she was still welcome. But as her mom, I wanted to know, is that the same as being wanted and accepted, just as she was? Was she safe?

I remember church youth group. I know how the teaching is, and all the what-not-to-dos. I remember the regular emphasis on purity and waiting for the right opposite-sex spouse to one day know, in the biblical sense. I could envision my daughter sitting there week after week, listening to everybody else freely share their experiences and hopes and dreams and deciding whether to keep hers to herself, or to share and possibly receive judgment. Kids can be cruel, and so can adults. It was suggested, as an incoming freshman, that she go to summer camp with the high schoolers. And all I could think about was, what if another student texts her mom from camp and says that there is a lesbian! in her cabin, and the mom freaks out and calls the youth leaders, and they react by pulling my daughter aside and gathering up her sleeping bag and pillow because she was going to be sleeping in another room with the adults for the rest of the week. What kind of traumatic thing would it take for my daughter to never want to have anything to do with God again? And how could we expect an organization to prioritize and protect her emotional well-being when the very thing that puts her at risk is seen as wicked? To what extent might my daughter be sacrificed as part of someone else’s true and proper worship?

A few posts ago, I shared the imagery that I held in my mind the first night that my daughter came out: like Abraham standing over Isaac with a sword in his hand, ready to sacrifice his son, a sacrifice he believed God wanted. In a similar sense, I felt that if I had responded to my daughter negatively, in a way that might’ve been consistent with the traditional pov that I’d held and therefore, what God wanted?, that it would have crushed her spirit, broken our relationship and severed her young spiritual roots.

Abraham and Isaac

And if you’re looking for a fun activity sheet for your Sunday Schoolers:

Abraham and Isaac Coloring Page

But is human sacrifice really what God wanted from Abraham? This is a horrifying idea, but ultimately, no. He stopped the sword before it plunged into his son. Was He really testing Abraham to make sure He was his #1, and that Abe would do anything to prove his loyalty, even at the expense of his own child? Or was Abraham participating in a ritual which would have seemed normal in his culture – so God could teach him that this was in fact not something He desired? Reinforcing this idea, there are multiple verses in the Bible that insist God desires MERCY, not sacrifice.

Is this Abraham-and-Isaac imagery so awful because we believe that a father murdering his son would have delighted the God we serve, or because a father was so willing to do it as his true and proper worship whether it was really what God wanted from him or not? Was this OT illustration a way of revealing a wonderful truth to mankind in a most memorable way: that God was not in the human sacrifice business, but rather in the mercy business?

Let’s take another look back at Romans 12:1: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”

There it is, “God’s mercy.” We understand His mercy to be a life-giving gift of compassion and kindness, even when it was not deserved. So maybe the author of this verse was saying something like:

Y’all, please get this: Because of God’s compassion and kindness towards you when you did not deserve it, go and do the same thing for others – turn your body into a walking-and-talking mercy machine, and show compassion and kindness to everybody, even those whom you think don’t deserve it. This is how you can say ‘thank you’ to God.

Now let’s just quickly cross reference this mercy idea with the New Testament…

This is how Jesus loved the sinner:

crucifixion free image

Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Many in the LGBTQ community have been mischaracterized, demonized, and rejected by the church, in the name of Jesus, as if this is how He has asked us to show our loyalty and gratitude to Him. But please do not for a second think that it brings Jesus delight when we drag any wounded or lifeless soul to the middle of the room for him to find, as our offering. If we think this is what Jesus wants, we are mistaken.


 

We’re all trying to learn and grow. Our family is still working through many things and trying to figure things out. What I hope you will join me for in the New Year is:

  • Recognizing that our consciences are not the same thing as the Holy Spirit; we can feel convicted about something and still be wrong
    • I realize I am still susceptible to this even now and am holding things loosely
  • Learning better and doing better; being known for what we ‘do’ more than what we ‘don’t do’
  • Being real-life mercy machines, showing compassion and kindness to our neighbors and especially our enemies
  • Never wounding, or making a sacrifice out of, another person and never falling for the lie that this is what brings our Lord delight

 

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5/ First Responders

Let me jump ahead for a minute.

Imagine you are attending a beautiful worship service, your heart still aloft in that other-worldly space where you’ve just communed with God, and as heads are bowed for prayer, the pastor gets up and asks the congregation to raise a hand if they have ever seriously contemplated ending their lives…and your stomach drops as you hear the sound of hands going up everywhere. Confirming what he has just seen and what you have just imagined to be true, the pastor begins to weep and administer words of life to this vulnerable group:

Your life has value. You are wanted. You belong.

This is an affirmation that hundreds of people traveled across the country to be reminded of at The Reformation Project conference I attended in Chicago recently. These are words that many of them still have a hard time believing because they have been told otherwise by their families and churches for so many years. And yet, as LGBTQ people of faith, they have come together out of their shared love for Jesus and His church, and hold deeply to a vision of unity and inclusion, a day when nobody needs to be un-told that they’re not enough, that they are somehow unqualified to receive Christ’s love.

When is the last time your worship service concluded with a post-suicidal show of hands? It was a first for me. And it sobered me to a reality I had been seeing unfold all year: how the church engages with LGBTQ people is a matter of life and death.


Okay, where were we… back to last March…

I was finally starting to understand both sides of the “gay vs Christian debate” after reading the book Torn, by Justin Lee. This was the first book that anyone recommended to me after my 13-yr-old daughter came out as gay and I was searching for resources, and I am so glad it was. As a self-proclaimed “God boy,” Justin shares his experience growing up in the church, realizing his gay orientation, praying for years for God to take this from him, asking for help from trusted advisors, seeking permanent orientation change through conversion therapy and searching for God’s will through it all. After years of prayerful study, he explains what he sees as two reasonable positions, either of which he believes a faithful Christian might earnestly arrive at through their study of Scripture: Side A, which emphasizes Biblical cultural context and says that monogamous, equal-status, same-sex relationships can be blessed by God, and Side B, which says a person may not have chosen their orientation but should not engage in a same-sex relationship. Both sides acknowledge that the orientation is innate and largely unchangeable, but differ in interpretation on what a person ought to do with this orientation.

Side B lines up with a traditional Biblical teaching (at least, on the “not engaging” part, though not really on the “orientation” part since that is a relatively new concept), which I had been taught my entire life. There are several thought-provoking points made in defense of a Side A position, which were new to us but certainly worth the long and careful studying we pursued through this and other resources.

For purposes of this story, here is a high level, unscientific, nutshell version:

There was a lot of NC-17 stuff going on in Bible times, which often involved man-and-boy stuff, man-and-slave stuff and temple prostitution, none of which the Side A crowd is promoting. The people of ancient Rome and Greece were, shall we say, phallically obsessed. You’ll have to google “ancient phallic art” for yourself to see images (Note: Not Safe for Work or Young Eyes) and read about the unbridled eroticism that permeated culture during those days. (If you think 2017 is hypersexualized, you should see the 1st Century AD. I don’t know of any friends who prepare their sons’ anuses to receive the ‘seed’ from powerful men today.)

Meanwhile, the word homosexual was not coined until very recently – the late 1800s, and was not added to the English Bible until 1946.

So – part of the argument rests on these questions: What was the Bible referring to when it condemned “homosexuality?” Were the original authors referring to lustful, abusive and unhinged same-sex behavior that occurred among otherwise-heterosexual men, which was common in their day, or were they condemning all monogamous same-sex relationships between loving, committed adults of equal status?

If equal-status same-sex relationships have been happening primarily in the closet until the past few decades, it is reasonable to imagine that these relationships would not have been widely known and recognized in ancient times, and therefore Side A suggests that this is not the situation that Paul was condemning.

Side A leans into the core Biblical themes of love and acceptance and sees same-sex orientation as part of God’s diverse creation. Similar, they say, to how the abolition of slavery was based on core Biblical themes of love and freedom, rather than on a static reading of Scripture, which some supporters used to endorse slavery.

But we were still students here, taking this in. How did this line up with Scripture?

Here’s what Paul says in Romans 1:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Romans 1:18-27

Paul’s description of idol worship and shameful lusts certainly jived with what I had read about the culture of this time. One of Paul’s contemporaries was a tyrannical emperor in Rome named Gaius Caesar (aka Caligula), well-known for his wild sexcapades with both women and men, murderous cruelty and extravagant self-worship. He had plans to erect a statue of himself within the Temple walls in Jerusalem, which would have been a gross violation of idol worship laws, before he was brought to death by a small group of royal conspirators. According to some reports, he was pierced directly in his genitals during his assassination.

Could Paul have had him in mind when he said they received in themselves the due penalty for their error?

It seems like a legit possibility, but I don’t know, I wasn’t there. I wish I could ask him. Although, I could understand this line of contextual Side A reasoning. Imagine if someone thousands of years from now were to read a writing from our generation that said, “DRUGS ARE BAD.” It would take some cultural context to understand that this brief statement was referring to a societal problem which involved illegal drug abuse, violence and families ruined by addiction and overdose. We were not referring to Tums and Tylenol. If this is what was going on in the Bible when it came to our reading of “homosexuality,” then it seemed that a relatively simple adjustment in our understanding could help us correct course.

Until Jen Hatmaker’s interview in October 2016, I had never once heard a Christian perspective that “gay was okay.” I didn’t know that books had been written and Christian scholars had been talking about this for some time. I didn’t know that faithful believers were coming to the same conclusion and with a clean conscience. I really didn’t know how much gay people in our faith communities were struggling…though it seemed like I was hearing stories of pain and heartache on the regular. In early March, Jen shared the link to a 44-episode blog/podcast called Blue Babies Pink by Brett Trapp, which chronicles a gay Christian man’s experience growing up as a pastor’s son in the deep south. (I highly recommend!) Before reading the blog, I assumed the title was in reference to gender norms, “blue” vs “pink.” But what he was really describing was the idea of an infant in distress, blue from oxygen deprivation, becoming pink as it finally takes in breath. Moving from death toward life. This was how he described his experience as he moved from shame toward acceptance of his own sexuality. It was very eye-opening to me, and is worth a read.


Meanwhile, I had just been introduced to the Mama Bears, a moniker held by thousands of mothers of LGBTQ children, many from faith backgrounds like mine, existing as a benevolent army in private Facebook groups. Like me, they’d found themselves in an unexpected situation as parents, and wanted to love their child and love God, too. The price of admission into the groups was acknowledgement that our children did not choose to be gay and that we were not trying not to change their orientation, and with that came a backstage pass to endless content – shared articles, videos, books, talks, blogs, guest speakers, personal stories – and even better, tons of support and encouragement.

In these groups, I read a million stories about other people’s experiences and was instantly comforted by the bond we shared. “Me too” is a powerful thing. It can turn strangers into sisters in a matter of keystrokes. Many had older children and had been on this journey a while, so while I was enjoying the “omg – me too!” camaraderie I felt with other newbies, I paid special attention to the “seasoned” moms. Some of them had earned wisdom through horrifyingly tragic circumstances — things that would break your heart right this minute — and I took their advice seriously when they emphasized the importance of providing a safe environment for our children and surrounding them with love and supportive people and churches. This, they implored, was the meaning of it all. If nothing else, this was a mother’s sole responsibility to her child. For some of them, it was too late, so they sought to redeem their heartache by helping to prevent other families’ suffering.

Check out Linda Mueller Robertson’s story to see what I mean.

As it turned out, perhaps because many of our lives revolve around our faith communities, a lot of the suffering their children and families had endured was related to their church experiences. This is something I heard from so many LGBTQ Christians I’ve met, as well. We might think the line in church is drawn at gay marriage, but for many, even just coming out looked like: being removed from a staff or leadership position, being asked to step down from the worship team, no longer being allowed to work with the children in Sunday School, being uninvited from their small groups, being refused communion, denied baptism, rejected from membership, etc.

Rejection from people you love and have served with is so painful, especially when it’s disguised as embrace. “You’re welcome, but…” “We love you, but…” Hey church, could we stop being but-heads for five minutes? This is not how we talk to anybody else, and for the person on the receiving end, it feels like anything “but” love.

For others who were not publicly out, they were still acutely aware of every damning abomination message, every snarky joke, every sneer as leaders spoke with contempt about the gay agenda and the church’s duty to fight against it, and as you can imagine, all of it cut deeply.

Theological position is one thing, but posture is another; and when our “hate the sin” barrel overflows, we spill poison all over our brothers and sisters. Someone at the Chicago conference said it well: “Our greatest need is not for the church to embrace our sexuality, but to embrace our humanity.” They are not an issue, they are human beings. Can we see LGBTQ people as “us” instead of “them?” Because whatever is going on is causing deep harm to so many.

It is worth mentioning that the instances of suicide, self-harm, substance abuse, depression, bullying, physical abuse, homelessness, etc., are extremely high among the LGBTQ community, especially youths – especially in “highly rejecting families,” which could very well have been mine if not for the grace of God.  LGB* youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. And beyond this, LGB youth from highly rejecting families are then 8.4 times MORE LIKELY to attempt suicide than their LGB peers who come from accepting families. Try to visualize that. Let that sink in. I heard one of the Mama Bears say, “No matter what your theological position is, no parent wants to open the bedroom door and find their child hanging.” If this was the alternative, who among us wouldn’t wish we had made the effort to engage? Every parent, teacher and youth leader needs to lean in here and understand that kids in their care may be at risk right this moment.

*Note: Transgender children are in a much higher category of self-harm and suicide than LGB youths. And by the way, this community deserves so much attention and TLC. < More to come on this.

Mind you, when I say kids, I mean kids. Children. Not long ago, I wrongly assumed that same-sex attraction was something only adults and maybe older teenagers could really be susceptible to, but if we believe many gay adults today, they often say they knew when they were in elementary, sometimes sooner. This was certainly the case for my daughter, who is still young even now and says she knew this from her earliest memories.

I count myself very lucky that my daughter is healthy today and I am not sitting by her bed in the ER wanting to turn back time, begging God for a second chance at all of this, as many parents are. But still, I sometimes wish I could go back to my MOPS days, when she was in preschool and I was starting to notice things…and say what these seasoned mothers with valuable perspective would tell me – that it’s okay: she wants to wear ‘boy shoes?’ Okay! She says dresses hurt her? Believe her! She thinks that friend is really pretty? Be thankful that she has two healthy eyes that can appreciate beauty! A life without beauty, without love, would be a tragedy.


I got to thinking about love and how it is expressed, even at a young age.

“I made you a card”

“I’ll carry that for you”

“You can have my seat”

“I don’t mind waiting”

“I thought of you when I saw this lovely thing”

“You can have the last cookie”

What is the motivation that drives us to put others before ourselves? Love? Attraction? Think about your early crushes. Was there anything you wouldn’t do for the object of your affection? Whatever the drive was internally, it promoted us to be the best versions of ourselves: more patient, more kind, more longsuffering, more thoughtful, more creative, braver, happier, lighter…and perhaps even the thought of “dying for” that person would not have given us a moment of hesitation. That is goodness, and undeniably self-sacrificial.

Now imagine hating yourself every time you caught yourself feeling those warm thoughts, giving that goodness away to the wrong people, people who looked like you. Living in fear of love. Imagine the constant turmoil for a person who cannot turn off their attraction orientation but believe they might be sinning against God every time they are tempted to love someone. Julie Rodgers, a former “ex-gay” speaker, and the first openly gay staff member at Wheaton College, spoke about this in a keynote speech at The Reformation Project in 2016. I watched it on YouTube and it is so good. Describing a gay Christian’s struggle against their own loving nature, she said: the very best part about us is how we give our love away, and we are told this is our sin.

How does someone even reconcile this? We are taught as children, we are commanded as Christians, and we are drawn every day of our lives, to LOVE. We all agree that LOVE is the answer, LOVE is the greatest commandment, God is LOVE. And yet, “LOVE” is what gets LGB Christians into trouble, and leads many down a dark path of self-loathing and destruction as they fight this inclination toward goodness. I can barely comprehend this.

Recognizing that this was the struggle for many gay Christians, a fire began to grow in our bellies. My husband and I felt we had been so focused on the “right or wrong” question of same-sex relationships (ultimately a decision that was for our daughter to make anyway, not us), we failed to notice a much more urgent issue, one that we could actually, hopefully, do something about. The more we were confronted with this impossible idea of love as sin, and the more we became aware of acute human suffering happening right under our noses within our faith communities, the more we began to look at this entire situation in a new way.

Imagine you are driving down the freeway and you come upon a disastrous, flaming, multi-car wreck. This crash has just taken place…paramedics have not yet arrived on the scene. You quickly jump out of your car to find bodies strewn about. It’s obvious that many have not survived the impact. This is a horrifying scene, but you hear cries and know that some people are still alive and are desperate for help. Without hesitation, you follow the sound of the cries and pray for supernatural strength as you pull bodies out of the wreckage to safety and attend to immediate wounds. You are steadfast in holding them in your arms until help arrives, and they have hope because you have found them when they were trapped, alone and frightened; you tell them that they’re going to be okay and you believe it because you know the God who holds them in His loving hands.

This is where my husband and I have found ourselves after months of searching for support and accidentally getting to know LGBTQ Christians who are suffering. As first responders on the scene within the church, we have been given new eyes for this community, eyes that see so much pain, vulnerability, longing, sadness, loneliness, rejection, and risk. This is not the time to talk about the dangers of texting and driving or fighting for stricter seat belt laws. This is the time to roll up our sleeves, look for survivors, and tend to their wounds. You might even find a face you recognize among the wreckage.

As we approach the holidays, I want to encourage anyone reading this to look for the pain around you and do whatever you can to soothe it. You might have LGBTQ relatives that you’ll be seeing; please acknowledge them, please look them in the eye, please hug them, please ask them about their lives, please don’t treat them as other, please lean in, please be happy if they are happy, please love the people they love. If you have never asked them what their journey has been like, perhaps this is the year you can ask.

And if you are the person tentatively walking into the holiday scene this year, anxious about how your family will receive you, please remember:

Your life has value. You are wanted. You belong.

Let’s keep the people we love out of the wreckage, and give the pastor no reason to ask for a show of hands. As for my family and I, we will keep on looking for survivors. ❤

4/ First Church of Barrio

At home, it was business as usual – well mostly, plus the minor detail that I was struggling to hold back tears pretty much every time I spoke to my daughter and was making a point to constantly reassure her that I loved her so dearly and we would figure this out. She politely let me know that, while she was enormously relieved to know her place in the family was still secure, my response was becoming stressful to her – after all, the revelation that she was gay was news to us but it wasn’t news to her (and certainly not news to God) and could we please stop bringing it up, and for goodness’ sake, please stop crying.

(Pro tip: 13-yr-olds don’t like to see their parents cry, especially if they think it’s about them.)

I am a watery-eyed person by nature so keeping my face dry under this emotional duress was a big ask, but I tried to honor this request and reserved most of my tears for the car.

The tears were never because of her, though. I wasn’t disappointed in her or angry that she had revealed this difficult secret; it was the tension I felt between a long-held belief and what the implications for enforcing it might really look like, as well as general fear about what other people would think. As much as a parent can really know their child, I had nothing but admiration for my daughter’s moral character and kind, gentle spirit.

When she was a kid, I can recall going to her bedroom late at night to turn off the light, and find her wide awake, reading the Bible—and now that I was there, could we stay up extra late and talk about what she’d just read?

I can recall watching a video that a mom from school had taken during a class picnic, and off in the background, the footage revealed a child being teased (possibly in jest, but still) and my daughter physically wedged herself in the middle of the situation to create a human barrier between the pack of teasers and the kid being targeted, calling for peace and not allowing anyone to be hurt on her watch.

I can picture her holding the door open for streams of strangers at church, stores, restaurants, everywhere. “Honey, it’s okay, you can go in now…” But she would wait and wait until she was sure nobody else in the vicinity of the parking lot was headed toward the door before she would relieve herself from her station.

In 6th grade, she noticed that classmates were frequently crying in the bathrooms at school due to a myriad of issues and stresses, so she sought approval from her principal to display encouraging messages on the girls’ bathroom walls as a way to lift their spirits and remind them that they are worthy.

While she has never enjoyed great popularity or academic success, she has a heart of gold and cares well for others. She has never given us any problems, unless you count crying nonstop and not sleeping for her first three months of life, and I learned to forgive her for that a long time ago.

This is why things really didn’t add up for me when she came out. I remembered Romans 1, which is one of the handful of passages in the Bible where same-sex relations are spoken of. Paul says this about the people who had been turned over to shameful lusts (including “homosexuality”) after worshipping created things rather than the Creator, exchanging the truth for a lie:

“Just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” Romans 1:28-32

This didn’t sound like my daughter…and I couldn’t imagine God sorting her into the murderer pile for this benign characteristic, which seemed sort of like being left-handed. But maybe people were not supposed to use their left hands for some reason, whether we understood why or not; this was really the question. She was secure in her salvation, so I did not fear for her eternity on this matter. More than anything, I was concerned about the potential that she would end up rejecting her faith, or feel that God had rejected her. In my opinion, that was the worst thing that could happen.

************************************************************************************

My husband and I couldn’t think about anything else, it seemed, for the first few months. It was the first thing on our minds in the morning and the last thing on our minds at night. We still had our usual responsibilities with our three kids, work, etc and seemed to autopilot our way through most of it, but were consumed with researching and trying to understand as much as we could on this issue. It was difficult to have the kind of conversations we needed to have amidst all the bustle at home, though, so we started meeting for lunch and using date nights out to pray together and pour through articles we’d read, videos we’d watched, conversations we’d had, thoughts we were wrestling with, and shed those tears that weren’t supposed to be shed at home.

We had become regulars at our favorite local eatery, Barrio, and the table top had become our spiritual office. The servers knew our orders by heart but surely had no idea what we were up to during all these visits, and probably thought we were crazy (“why are they always sitting so closely and speaking so intensely?” “why do they have 15 sticky notes spread around their chips and salsa?” “is that lady crying?”) but it became sacred ground for us. Our safe place to wrestle and seek God’s will together. The First Church of Barrio, as we have affectionately renamed it.

Certainly, the Bible was paramount in our research, and we had our faces in it day and night, digging into the six primary verses that seemed to be responsible for our current understanding, as well as the gospels and other books from the Old and New Testaments. We zoomed in and out, not really sure what we were looking for but taking it all in, feeling somewhat unqualified, except for the Spirit that promised to give wisdom when we asked for it. But the more we searched the Scriptures for answers, the more questions we had.

What exactly was meant by homosexual offender?

At what point does an orientation of attraction become sinful?

Where were the Scriptures that said it was “acting on it,” and what qualifies as acting on it?

In addition, what exactly qualifies as greed, arrogance, envy, slander, gossip, etc and how come we don’t obsess over these things that we are ALL prone to, not just a minority of people?

How come we weren’t giving each other the truth in love about our weight problems or pride issues?

Why did Paul say to the unmarried people and widows in Corinth that he wished they would all remain celibate like him, but that, “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than burn with passion?” (1 Cor 7:9)

Why don’t straight Christians abide by this principle? Or do they…? At the next wedding I attend, you know I will be picturing the bride and groom with a caption that says:

“It was this, or burn with passion.”

We derive from the garden story that same-sex relationships weren’t part of God’s original design, and that seems to be the answer given to a lot of secondary questions as well. But do you know what else wasn’t in God’s original design?

Children!

(And, arguably, Eve.)

Many, many questions were asked at the First Church of Barrio, and God heard them all.

One of the responses people often bounced back with when we started asking the wrong questions was, “the Bible is pretty clear,” as though a static reading of the text was fully conclusive and there was nothing more to understand. But is that really how we approach the Bible? This statement seems dismissive of the fact that we are reading a text without the authors present, and cannot help but interpret it through our own biases and experiential lenses. To understand the authors’ intent, versus our limited cultural knowledge and biased interpretations, has been the goal of scholars for generations. If it was very clear, why did we need historians, researchers, teachers, pastors, etc to contextualize and synthesize information for us?

I love the Bible and love learning more about it; the more that old stories are unpacked and deeper meaning is revealed through great teaching, the more I am blown away by what a beautiful treasure it is, and the more real it becomes. For example, as a Christian high school student and youth group regular, I heard many exhortations about being “on fire for Jesus” because God hated “lukewarm.” According to our teachers (and Revelation 3:15-16), if your faith expression wasn’t “hot,” it was actually better to be “cold” because the Bible says God will spit the lukewarm out of His mouth.

That seemed harsh. Really? God would rather us hate Him and reject Him altogether than to miss the mark a little and not be totally on fire for Him? But, okay, that’s what we were taught and I accepted it. I was good at being on fire anyway. I didn’t want to be cold or lukewarm.

BUT THEN, not too long ago, I heard a talk from a pastor who had taken a trip to Laodicea, an area in the Roman province of Asia that is evidently referenced multiple times in the Bible, and as it turns out – the ancient city dwellers there had access to a hot spring AND a fresh cold water source. Both had value and offered refreshment and life. Both were good alternatives to the gross, tepid, sulphur water that was also available nearby – the lukewarm water. Okay, so now “God would rather you be hot or cold than lukewarm” made so much more sense. Perhaps it wasn’t about the degree to which you enthused for Him, but that you were receiving the life-giving water and not settling for something murky. I was delighted to learn something new about a concept I’d heard a hundred times before. I never felt threatened that my previous understanding was incomplete or accused the pastor of twisting Scripture; on the contrary, if there was more to a Bible passage that the original audience in the original culture would have understood more clearly, then I wanted to know it too and receive the message that was intended.

There is a tendency sometimes to reduce the Bible to a collection of memes, adding our own backgrounds to phrases that inspire us – or admonish us – and build a narrative around a singular thought, without necessarily going back to understand the larger story or concept.

An example that seemed to pop up frequently in our current discussion was “The Woman Caught in Adultery” from John 8:1-11:

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The message we received was, look at the end of the story: Jesus told her to Sin. No. More. That was the meme. He didn’t say, “it’s okay, go back to your adultery and enjoy your body” – he corrected her, and therefore, we must tell the LGBTQ community to sin no more.

A couple of things strike me as curious about this take-away. I have read the story several times now, as well as the surrounding chapters in the gospel of John. First, it seems to me the woman caught in adultery is not the subject of this story, she is the object. A better title for this section might be, “That Time the Pharisees Attempted to Trap Jesus…Again.”

This story is nestled in a string of other stories in which Jesus is doing what only He can do, healing the afflicted and generally being amazing, and the Pharisees are slithering around like cartoon villains, constantly trying to entrap him so that they can finally charge him with a crime and get him out of the picture. They didn’t seem to appreciate that the crippled could now walk and the blind could now see, and they certainly didn’t like the threat that Jesus posed to their religion.

They knew that Jewish law, the Torah, required that a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death. So, not only were they seeking to entrap Jesus (perhaps anticipating that he would show her mercy, rather than fulfill the law to stone her), but they likely went to some shady measures to set this up. How exactly is one ‘caught in adultery,’ and by the way, where was the man she was adultery-ing with? Conceivably, they went and sought her out, perhaps even set her up, to use her as a pawn in their game which was, again, to destroy Jesus. The woman was just a means to an end. (And curiously, her co-adulterer is under no scrutiny in this story.)

Do we think Jesus didn’t see through all of this? Do we think the woman is the bad guy here? When my kids were little, I could absolutely tell when they were trying to frame each other to get the other in trouble, and the one who did the framing is always the one who would get disciplined. I have a hard time imagining that Jesus was more concerned about the woman’s behavior than the Pharisees’, especially considering that this scene was ultimately about them framing him.

But look how gently he draws attention away from her, most likely compromised in her dress, and seems to accept their challenge to stone her. He gives the green light – but only to the one among them who had no sin. They all dropped their stones and walked away. Their trap did not work on Jesus and it did not work on the woman they had captured. Grace wins. While Jesus had every right – and in fact, was compelled by the law, which was very clear – to condemn and kill this woman, he did not. The example we see in Jesus throughout the gospels, and I’m borrowing words from my friend Danny Cortez here, is that he never put the law above people. He healed on the Sabbath, He touched the unclean. God is love, and seeing this story with new eyes makes me love Him even more. Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no harm to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” :mic drop: If you’re a Pharisee, you hate this story. If you’re the woman caught in adultery a vile attempt to entrap Jesus, you love this story. This seems to foreshadow what Jesus would later do on the cross, the ultimate expression of mercy over condemnation. The cross took mercy to a new level and said: stone me instead.

As we continued to dig deeper into the Bible, I started to notice that, amidst the new and unexpected questions, a more mature curiosity (maturiosity?) was being produced in us, along with fresh eyes to marvel at things we had never noticed before. (They call these “easter eggs” in the movie biz and they are a thrill to find.) This was a good place to be when we got home from the First Church of Barrio one day and my phone buzzed. It was a message from a pastor I know out in the Bay area – the last person we had messaged in our what-do-we-do panic. His note essentially said, “I’m so glad you reached out; I think I can help you. Are you free to talk?”

An hour later, I had book recommendations, was getting connected with other moms of LGBTQ kids from similar faith backgrounds from around the country who were adding me to their private FB groups, and most importantly, felt heard. Felt understood. He told me about how his church had committed to leaning in on LGBTQ issues a while back and, recognizing the desperate need, devoted a long period of time to prayerful study and discernment in regard to how they felt God leading their church to engage. This included getting to know the LGBTQ people within their congregation and bringing in respected author/speakers with different theological perspectives to share their POVs first hand so the church could become familiar with the various ‘arguments.’

The thing that stuck out to me was, during this period of active discernment, a visiting teacher came to meet with his church staff. This person was not aware of the topic that the staff was studying, but approached the team with a call to consider the role of the church: is it to love people or to manage people’s sin? Do we want to be good or do we want to be right? As the church, what is the good thing to do?

Cue Micah 6:8:

“He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”

He told me what a wonderful investment their time of discernment was, and he thought that the greatest tragedy would be that LGBTQ people – especially my daughter – would never feel at home in church, would never have a connection. He was speaking to my heart’s concerns as well, the source of the tears. Fortunately, this conversation became the bridge to alllll kinds of new connections. Easter egg thrills, you guys. This part is going to take a lot of words, so I’ll pause here for now. Thank you for following along. ♥

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3/ No Such Thing as a Gay Christian

So, what do you do when you find out your kid has cancer? Or is gay, which is arguably the same thing spiritually? You look for resources! Information… direction… support… survivors and signs of life! Whereas an LGBTQ person may spend many years sorting through their feelings and determining how they should respond, I felt an immense pressure to have this figured out immediately. After all, I wanted to love my child but did not want to dishonor God, and there was palpable tension between the way my heart wanted to respond and what the voices in my head were saying. When your newborn infant is crying, you feel confident in your instincts to pick them up; but now there was this dark cloud hovering in my mind, shaking its finger, saying, “don’t do it. Don’t be too supportive. Don’t encourage this,” and I knew there had to be more to it than my current understanding allowed.

My husband and I wasted no time in reaching out to people whom we trusted as spiritual advisors, ministry leaders and any faithful individuals we thought might have experience with this in their ministries or families. It was a research frenzy. The beginning of a master’s class that I don’t remember signing up for. If I ran into you at the grocery store those first few weeks and you asked, “hey, how’s it going?,” there’s a good chance I blurted it all out to you beside the Lucky Charms in hopes that you had experience and, even better, answers. Given a more appropriate setting, we wanted to understand not just what the Bible said, but what it meant. Specifically, what it meant for our child, who discovered early in life that she just didn’t fit the mold. She was not engaging in any “behavior” that could be faulted, but having done her own research, also did not subscribe to the traditional teaching on the matter and was at peace about the situation – relieved, in fact, that this was finally out in the open and she could be herself.

The burden for her was the lie, and fear of the consequences that telling the truth might bring.

In a faith community as relevant and robust as ours, there’s no way we were the first ones to be dealing with this, so going into it, I felt confident that we’d find connection. I knew what a wonderful, loving group of people we had access to locally and afar – people in different ministry areas who’ve invested their lives in serving others, with a tender eye toward those who are often left behind in society – orphans, teen moms, the incarcerated, etc. If there was something for them, there had to be something for us. A safe place to not have the answers, a safe place to wrestle.

What we found instead was that the system really didn’t know how to engage.

We were grateful that so many lovely people were willing to speak with us right away, and the initial responses were generally kind-sounding, but the conversations inevitably trended toward familiar quips and phrases. As if relying on soundbites from popular rhetoric, many of the responses felt cold and distant and altogether irrelevant to what we were actually dealing with. Remember, this wasn’t a general discussion about an “issue.” We were talking about our family, and this was a most tender matter.

“Well, you know, there’s no such thing as a gay Christian.”

“Gay people are welcome as long as they don’t talk about it and try to lead people into sin.”

“Shame on those public schools, pushing the gay agenda down our throats.”

“It’s better to call it ‘same-sex attracted.’ Identifying as gay is like giving in to the sin, like saying you identify as a murderer.”

“I’m disappointed to hear she has chosen this lifestyle.”’

“You are still the parents; you set the rules for what is allowed.”

“Tell her that her identity isn’t in her sexuality; it’s in Christ.”

“The Bible is very clear…”

“I hope she doesn’t get her hair cut short and start suing bakers.”

Perhaps the posture they expected us to embody was that of anger, sorrow and an unwavering commitment to draw boundaries, not only with what we would allow our child to think and do but also with how we as her parents were supposed to not think, just believe. This would have fit the paradigm, and their soundbites would have made more sense. I learned quickly that if I made any mention to there being another point of view, which we were certainly curious about but hadn’t really heard before and hoped that they could shed some light on (after all, this was a desperate situation and we were talking to seasoned pros), that this line of questioning would be promptly shut down with pat answers and heeds of warning of false prophets. This was sci fi movie stuff: we don’t talk about that. We don’t ask those questions.

There was graciousness, too, though, and I sensed that most of them were simply not prepared to be having this discussion. They wanted to be helpful, but likely did not have much to draw from personally. Through their attempts to relate, we often and awkwardly received intimate details about their struggles with lust…which they must deny in order to live a life pleasing to God. The corollary being, just as they cannot sleep around as they may wish to, our daughter should repent and ask God for help with her struggle.

But what exactly did she need to repent for? And what if she wasn’t struggling? And if the Bible is so clear, then why can’t we dive in deeper together to understand it more fully because it sure would ease our minds? And, honestly, did they even hear themselves?? Did they not see that we were the ones struggling that day, having come to them for support, and were being pushed away with every insensitive sentiment? Why did this subject seem to trigger a need to defend a theological position while turning a blind eye to our humanity?

We’ve shed many tears, on our knees, praying to God for wisdom, understanding, discernment…asking the Holy Spirit to intercede for us because at times we just didn’t even know what to pray for. Others were doing this, too, and still are; for this, I am forever grateful. But after so many experiences with others where I felt like we weren’t speaking the same language, it didn’t take long to start feeling like outsiders. We were insiders just a minute ago, but whether real or perceived, I sensed that our faithfulness was being questioned, our motivations judged, our precious child mischaracterized. Our questions were certainly out of scope.

Honestly, though, if you were us, wouldn’t you feel the need to explore this too? I mean, think about what’s at stake. Think about the implications for a 13-yr-old who is told that God may have made her with – or perhaps allowed her to have, as a result of the fall – a certain orientation, but that her very existence is the proverbial short straw, and she can never have what the rest of us enjoy and celebrate, even if she has the same capacity and longing for love and self-sacrifice to another. If this is indeed how we understand the Bible, then I guess I would have expected the responses from our faith leaders to resemble the types of responses they might give to any other poor unfortunate soul who, for any other reason, tragically:

  • Bears the weight of lifelong aloneness with no hope of change.
  • Cannot have children, grandchildren, etc.

I could easily recall the Facebook posts of the individuals we had spoken with, and how they were full of photos of their beloved spouses, children, grandchildren… with beautiful, poignant paragraphs written on special days to honor these loved ones. If you asked any of them what the greatest blessings in their lives were, they would most definitely say their families. It is obvious and it is understandable. I can testify to the treasure they’ve found; it is my greatest earthly treasure as well. And yet, this is the very thing that was being carelessly written off as a “lust-adjacent” problem for my daughter. Erase every engagement, every wedding, every spouse, every pregnancy, every child, every grandchild from those photos, every ode, every anniversary, every birthday, every handmade gift, every recital, every prom, every graduation, every hand to hold for decade after decade until the time comes to depart this world, and also be despised for wanting those things…and then you have a rough starting point for understanding what a traditional teaching of Scripture might look like for a person in the church today.

This cannot be written off easily. I was beginning to see my husband and I as members of a jury, becoming more objective as we collected and evaluated the available information in pursuit of a clear determination that would permanently impact the way we parented our child, and potentially our relationship with her. To convict, we needed evidence, beyond the shadow of a doubt.

We started to think beyond our daughter’s experience to that of other LGBTQ Christians as well. If, in our traditional understanding, we grasp that this is a tragic circumstance for some people, who did not choose it, then how are we supporting them within the church? First, where are they? Why don’t we hear about them or, better yet, from them? Where are the role models living this life of victory that my daughter can see? I don’t mean, “well, I heard of somebody like this before,” or, “there’s a woman who wrote a book who does this,” but shouldn’t there be quite a few accessible representations of people living this experience, just as we know of many recovered addicts who spend their lives investing in others who are not there yet?

If 4-ish% of the population identifies as something other than straight, then that’s about 1 in 25. That’s one person in every couple of rows of seating in a church. There are many faithful Christians who are living for the Lord, and if 1 in every couple of rows is living faithfully to the traditional teaching on homosexuality, wouldn’t this be a fairly common occurrence? If they are out there doing this thing, and God is richly blessing them (as is usually the testimony of those who willingly lay their lives down for the sake of the gospel), the body of Christ would benefit from hearing this and witnessing their freedom and joy. The good fruit would speak for itself.

And if we agree that it is the church’s responsibility to support all the parts of its body, then, once we know who these people are and acknowledge their fixed state of aloneness, we have to ask ourselves: how are we committed to their emotional and physical well-being? Have we ‘adopted’ them into our families to enjoy close, intergenerational relationships that they certainly crave? Do we consider who will care for them as they become aged? Are we willing to sacrifice our own convenience to be family to them? Have we bothered to ask them what their journey has been like and what they need? And back to the first question, do we even know who they are?

I felt this was sort of like asking a person with seemingly healthy legs to submit to a wheelchair for the rest of their lives because there is just something inherently wrong with their type of legs, but then not making the environment accessible – no ramps, no wide aisles, nothing on the low shelves. Could someone do it? Possibly. But they’d better be pretty sure that this is how it had to be…and even then, could they do it without resentment and pain? Would it yield good fruit?

Maybe part of the problem is that the church at large doesn’t have an infrastructure to support these folks. Maybe the shame soundbites keep them from admitting that this is where they’re at, so we don’t know, and have never been forced to think about how we ought to retrofit the place. Or maybe this is a commitment that many just aren’t able to make. “Take up your cross and follow me” assumes that it’s a cross one can bear. “Stand there and hold this thing until it crushes you” is quite a different calling. So which is it?

Growing weary with the realization that other people didn’t have it all figured out even if their job title suggested otherwise, or that maybe we just weren’t willing to accept it, I remembered one more person we hadn’t reached out to yet.

Things were about to get interesting.

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hand in water

2/ Where We Stood

We learned that our 13-year-old daughter believed she was gay on a Tuesday night last February, after my 7-yr-old’s volleyball practice. (I’ll limit the amount of detail surrounding this event out of respect for my daughter’s privacy. She has given full consent to my sharing, but some things are still only hers to tell.)

She told me she had known this about herself for as long as she could remember, before she even had language to describe it, but had been too scared to tell us because she knew “where we stood” and was afraid that we might kick her out of the house, or at minimum feel differently about her and not be able to love her or treat her the same way. In fact, her plan had been to have fake boyfriends in high school and maintain a low profile until she graduated and moved away, finally announcing it on her way out the door: “BTW, I’m gay. Bye.” But this was only 8th grade, and she had no idea how this was going to go or if her worst fears were about to come true.

Soberly taking this all in, my first reaction was to embrace her and tell her that I loved her – unconditionally, and that everything was going to be okay. Mom instincts went into autopilot; comforting my baby came naturally. I admitted that I didn’t understand why the Bible said what it did on this subject, but that we could absolutely trust God with our hearts and the situation. He knows best and gives us boundaries because He loves us. We prayed. I cried. She cried. I held her tightly and promised nothing could change how I felt for her and that never under any circumstances would we ever kick her out and I was so, so sorry she ever thought that we might.

On the inside, though, I was terrified. Was it really going to be okay? She’s only a kid, how does she even know? What will my parents think? What will our church think? What will our friends think? What do we do about this? Who can we talk to? Who else do we know in this position? (I only had the answer to this last question: nobody.)

Raw with emotion surrounding this announcement, I didn’t know how to break the news that her dad and I had already suspected she might be gay – at least, we’d had our suspicions that she could be – or someday would be – or might one day struggle with it – (wasn’t really sure how to even define it) – from the time she was very young, like three years old. And it was something we feared, and prayed against, and never ever spoke about with her, nor encouraged. Maybe the things we observed in her were just normal “tomboy” behaviors. Maybe we were imagining things. Maybe once puberty hit, things would fall into place.

In our parenting, then, conscious that homosexuality might be something she would eventually wrestle with, we maintained what we felt was a loving posture: while the Bible clearly taught this lifestyle was sinful, a person who struggled with it could give it to God to work through, and really, some people just aren’t meant to be married and can do many awesome things for God and the world if they are single and not routinely obligated to others. It was no worse than any other sin, but certainly not to be celebrated. Everybody has sin, we all struggle with something, for some people it’s this, for other people it’s greed or self-control. It was somewhat of a relief any time our eldest declared she didn’t ever want to get married; it seemed consistent with how we viewed a “same-sex attracted” Christian’s calling, and perhaps this was part of God’s plan for her life.

But that night in February, as we talked more, the deeper truth of my daughter’s anxieties came to surface: she didn’t want to be alone forever. Surely I was the one who had put this idea in her head in the first place – and now, looking into eyes desperate for mercy, I felt like Abraham, standing above Isaac on the altar, knife lifted high, ready for sacrifice. What did God want from me in this moment? The thing I thought I knew no longer felt right to say to her face: “Well, kid, I hope you like being alone because this is what you’ll be for the next 70 years.”

That would have killed her.

Of course, that’s not how I would have said it, but that would have been the message she heard, and was obviously the message she had already received from us. I still believe that God’s plans are greater than our own and He is fully trustworthy, and that there is nothing “less than” or wrong with being single, but this did not feel like the Good News of the gospel and I couldn’t defend it in my heart of hearts. I recognized that her confession that she was gay was not an expression of lasciviousness or rebellion; all she was doing was being honest about how she had felt her entire life. Sex was not even an issue. She’d told me that, after years of knowing she was ‘different,’ it was not until 5th grade that she first heard the word “lesbian,” and, upon hearing what that meant, felt relieved and hopeful for the first time because, if there was a word for it, then there must be others like her. It broke my heart to know that my young daughter was suffering from a shameful secret all these years, and all the while, we were in the next room, suspicious and afraid of what people would think if we ever had a gay child.

It was time to get real: Was my understanding of the Bible on this matter correct? If it was, why did it feel like it would destroy her?

Going to bed that night, I was suddenly reminded of Jen Hatmaker’s scandalous little interview, and her “I’d gladly attend my gay friend’s wedding and would drink champagne” confidence had me intrigued. Was there actually more to this? What did she know that I didn’t?

I was determined to find out.

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hand in water

1/ Prologue: The Thing She Needed

This month marks the one-year anniversary of when Jen Hatmaker publicly came out as gay-affirming. You may remember the shock waves her interview with Jonathan Merritt sent throughout evangelical circles last October; I sure do.

I was one of many who felt confused and frankly a little bit betrayed; as an enthusiastic fellow Jesus-follower and all-around JH fan girl (she had me at “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever”), I could not wrap my head around how a person of faith whom I admired and had learned so much from could arrive at an unbiblical conclusion that homosexuality was okay, much less call it “holy” as she did in her interview. If you were born and raised in the church like I was, then you probably know that the Bible is very clear about the sin of homosexuality; we don’t say it out loud, but in this culture, being gay is about the worst thing you can be. This is just what we had always been taught. And as an adult who hadn’t really ever studied it for myself, it wasn’t hard to Google, “is homosexuality a sin?” and find numerous writings that point to a handful of verses from the Old and New Testament which speak of homosexuality in an unmistakably negative way. There it is, clear as mud. So Jen……. WHY? HOW? It made no sense to me. I remember talking about it with my husband and we figured that maybe her big heart was just so big and tender that it was hard for her to speak the truth about this difficult subject, and somewhere along the way, perhaps she had been deceived into believing that this actually was okay. (Apple + serpent, anyone?) It must be difficult to stay grounded with the pressures of a career like hers, especially with a growing liberal audience, so I wasn’t exactly mad at her. But I do remember being let down.

What I did not know at the time was that this interview – Jen’s confession – was preparing me: a few months after the interview, my 13-year-old daughter came out as gay. Suddenly this was no longer an issue I could critique from a distance; despite my shallow confidence on the matter, I had never been more lost about what to say or do. This was when I took my husband’s hand and embarked on a journey that would change us forever.

****

Nine months after my daughter’s coming out, nine of the most dreadful, painful months of my life, I am going to try out that ‘vulnerability’ thing everybody’s talking about and share some of my experiences and what I have learned – and unlearned – thus far. This may look like an invitation to debate (it’s not), it may look like I think I have all the answers (I for sure don’t); no, what I am committing to here is leaning in to my own fears and admitting things that scare me, things I’ve misunderstood, things that embarrass me, things I’m wrestling with, and asking God to redeem this work in the hope that other families like mine would have a soft place to land.

On the subject of leadership, NY Times Bestselling author Glennon Doyle recently wrote:

“Someone looks at the world and notices a hole in it. She thinks to herself, ‘This thing, this idea, this service, this kind of person should exist to fill that hole.’ She waits for a little while, thinking about that. And then she stops waiting and starts creating the thing herself. She becomes the person she was waiting for. She creates the thing she needed.”

This blog is for me, 9 months ago.

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