Those Crazy Mama Bears

In Part 5 of my story I mentioned Peter asking to go to the Gay Christian Network Conference and my reaction to that request (Don’t judge). This weekend Steve, Peter and I boarded a plane for Houston, along with several friends from our church and went to the Gay Christian Network Conference (Don’t judge).

Maybe I packed my suitcase with other things in mind. Like inclusivity in the church, how to better be a support to other parents, understanding transgender issues, maybe a little theology, and I was really going to try to tackle that vocabulary! Turns out I made all kind of mistakes in that department.

I made an effort to change my vocabulary and my husband made an effort to change his shoes. You see, he was wearing a pumpkin colored shirt, a black wool cardigan, jeans, and neon lime green running shoes.

“Steve, you have got to get go up to the room and change those shoes. You are standing out!”

With upturned palms, he shrugged and looked at me.

“How can I stand out here?”

“Ok, believe me you are.”

Peter, confirmed this little detail as he walked along side us in the corridor with his head turned away and his hand blocking the fluorescent glare.

Today I want to write about this life-changing weekend. But I am sitting here at my computer feeling like anything but a writer. I could share with you what we learned in the incredibly engaging workshops. But I don’t have the words. I could share in heart wrenching detail the stories we heard of the hurt experienced by so many at the hands of their families and churches. But more eloquent writers are doing that right now. So I am thinking this. I packed my suitcase last week as a mom. I experienced the conference as a mom. And what I took home in my suitcase in the end was the power in the resilient, unconditional love of a mother and the pure uncomplicated love of Jesus.

Uncomplicated because when you stand shoulder to shoulder in a room of almost 1,500 LGBT people and those who love them, worshipping the same God you all love, it feels a lot like, in their words, “coming home”. And that’s not complicated. At least it shouldn’t be. For some, it is the one time each year they “get church”. You see many told us they were:

politely asked to leave the church

 told to seek counseling and come back to church when they were healed. You know, “get it together and we’ll be here waiting to love you again.”

 fired from a ministry job

 Asked not to come home for Christmas

 Asked not to be near nieces and nephews.

Excommunicated. (Steve leaned over and whispered to me, “Is that even a thing anymore?” Apparently).

I knew I would be privileged to hear stories this weekend. I looked forward to learning how these followers of Christ experienced life and navigated their faith. What I didn’t expect was the overwhelming amount of pain experienced by these people at the hands of their churches and families. One after another we listened, we hugged, we laughed, we cried, we wore little “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hug Buttons and we simply went around doing what we’ve been doing for 27 years. Hugging “children”.

No one was better at this than the crazy “Mama Bears” roaming the conference. Seasoned lovers of LGBT children who knew how to spot a lost cub. A kid standing alone, purple spikey hair and a ‘what have I got myself into’ look of terror on his face was quickly spotted by these mothers and approached with eyes that said “come here baby ”, with arms simply running on muscle memory, and were quickly and quietly folded into a gentle warm embrace. The kind of hug that feels like fresh cookies and warm laundry and…coming home.

Some of these moms were there with their kids. Dads were there as well. But many of their children have grown up long ago and were off parenting their own kids. Still these beautiful, courageous mama bears show up year after year to hug other people’s cubs.

So while I learned so many meaningful things at the workshops and from the speakers, this is what I was left holding on to.

Lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender men and women etc. are someone’s children. They are Image bearers of God. Warmed by a mothers hug, revived by a father’s affirmation and safe in the Savior’s love. And they are longing to come home.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.

– Tim Keller

 

The End of My Story…for now.

To start at the beginning of my story click here. 

The lunch dates with my mom friend began to include others as word of mouth (usually my mouth) spread that a few Christian moms of gay kids were meeting. We started simply getting together for lunch. I learned that if I ordered soup I could talk more than my friends who were chewing on chicken caesar salads. Everyone would bring whatever book they happened to be reading about homosexuality and Christians. Some of those books were pretty crazy. We all began swapping books and questioning and learning and praying for each other and our kids. One day my friend, Susan said “You know I used to think that my main job as a parent was to keep my child safe, to help her avoid life’s pitfalls. I now know that all along my main job was to know her heart.”

I am not sure how, or when it happened, but somewhere along the way I began to want God to use this in my life more than I wanted him to take it away. I am honored and excited when I get an email from a new mom whose child has just come out. I long to sit across from her as she trusts me with her story. The similarities between hers and mine are sometimes staggering. It breaks my heart to hear the struggle parents have in thinking they have to somehow choose between loving their child and remaining faithful to Christ. But I was there myself at one point, struggling in the tension between my personal faith convictions and being able to love Peter wholeheartedly.

Perfect loves cast out fear, and we are free to love. In 1 John 4:18 I read,
“There is no fear in love . But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love .”
I have had people bring up Old Testament verses about homosexuality, and I have certainly read my share of books in the last two years including those verses. But, you know what? I’m gonna leave all that to our brave pastors and theologians who have no choice but to deal with those tough issues, and I am going to simply remain free to love and thank the Lord that I have the privilege to know my son’s heart. He has been brave and sweet and incredibly open enough with us to allow me the time it took to get there. I love him for that!

I am also thankful for the chance I have had to learn more about the incredible, unique love of our savior. I credit my husband who continually draws me back to Jesus, reminding me of the stories of his extravagant love displayed to the outcasts in the Bible. When I come running to him after hearing a discouraging comment from someone in church, or painfully enduring the silence of a relative, or unfriending someone on Facebook, he always points me back to Jesus. He patiently retells me the stories of Jesus’ encounters with people in the New Testament, and I choose to picture the love in my savior’s eyes. The way he must have looked at the prostitute in Simon’s house, or the gentle way he may have stooped down in the dirt, held out his hand to the adulterous woman and lifted her to her feet. It is those eyes I want to see everyday, that warm loving hand leading me through this journey. And I desperately want to be those eyes, that hand to those beautiful LGBT friends I have yet to meet, as I invite them to come to my house for dinner. We even bought a bigger table! I hope they come.

Numbers 6:25-26 “The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace”.

My Story Part 8

To start at the beginning of my story click here

This past summer made a most welcome entrance. It had been 2 years since Peter came out. Our entire family and a handful of wonderful friends were getting ready to head down to DC for the gay pride parade. The “I’m Sorry” Campaign was started in Chicago by a group of people at the Marin Foundation as an act of activism of Christians apologizing to the LGBT community for ways they have harmed them. I loved the idea immediately! So on a sweltering day in June, our little group donned t-shirts saying “I’m Sorry” and held signs reading “I’m Sorry the Church has Hurt You!”, “I’m Sorry For Not Listening!” (that one was mine!), and Steve’s and everyone’s favorite, “My Jesus thinks you’re fabulous!!” and boarded the Metro for DuPont Circle.

I expected lots of color–of the rainbow variety–and scantily clad men in assorted shocking costumes dancing and gyrating up and down the street while lesbians followed in close pursuit on motorcycles. I pictured the lesbians in black leather with butch haircuts and pissed off faces. They might throw things at us. I was prepared to duck. I thought maybe, just maybe someone might warm to our signs and come give us a hug.

The first thing we encountered were the Christians up on a platform with the megaphones shouting those verses we all know and love and something about repenting. It was loud. It was hard to hear. And we all agreed it did not come from the loving heart of a follower of Christ. In fact, I felt as if I was in the presence of something very dark. Our nervous little group made our way to the sidelines, up close and personal. What I experienced was nothing like I had prepared myself for. It was as if we had been welcomed to someone’s neighborhood block party. It wasn’t our neighborhood, it wasn’t our party, and yet we were welcomed immediately. Even with our giant signs giving ourselves away as Bible believing Christians. It was truly a loving atmosphere. There was a lot of color for sure. There were a few groups of men whose mothers would have probably liked to see them a little better covered, and those lesbians! Sure, there were a few on motorcycles, but their faces were not angry, their hairstyles were quite varied, and what they threw at us were hugs. We were taken aback and totally overjoyed with the women who rushed into our arms with tearful embraces. There didn’t seem to be a group marching by us from which someone did not break out of line to hug us and thank us for our words. As I held my “sorry for not listening” sign and connected with several sets of eyes, some of them parents who knew exactly what I was trying to say, I knew this was one of the most powerful opportunities to represent the heart of Jesus that I had yet experienced.

To read part 9 click here.

My Story Part 7

To start at the beginning of my story click here.

I continued to meet with my friend whose daughter had experienced same sex attraction. Soon word spread and others began to join us. I began reading other books. One that made a huge impact in my life was Andrew Marin’s Love is an Orientation . I couldn’t put it down. It was beautifully freeing to read that I could love my son unconditionally no matter what our differences in theology might be! I had a job and it was simply to love. I read stories of gay people, and yes, gay Christians, and my heart melted at what they had experienced at the hands of fearful Christians. Narrow Christians. I never would have considered myself a judgmental person. I began to realize I was one all along. But now I wanted to change. Reparative therapy was in order for me!

I had a sudden desire to meet as many gay people as I could. I wanted to feed them. I wanted to hear their stories and see if they liked my cooking. I’d say, “Peter invite your gay friends over for dinner! Beef tenderloin!” Bethany also had a  gay friend, an older gentleman in his sixties.   I made her bring Tom and his partner over for dinner. I had so many questions. I tried hard not to say anything that might be offensive and felt clueless about what that could be. One important question I needed to ask Tom, who grew up in a Christian home, was, “Did you ever feel hurt by the church”? He did. We discussed that for a while. It was sad, sobering. He assured us he had worked through it and now attends a Metropolitan church, a church that is active in the LGBT community.

At one point in the meal, Tom shared his fear of having disappointed his father growing up, not being able to share in the typical male bonding activities that took place on his farm. He wanted to be inside cooking with his mom. Steve looked across the table at this beautiful man who wore a hint of sorrow in his eyes and said, “I can tell you Tom, your dad was proud of you because I am proud of my son!” And at that moment, I knew there was a place for us in helping to heal the brokenness between the church and our new LGBT friends. I also knew I was going to have a lot of cooking to do.

It was the week before Christmas, a Sunday morning. Peter was home for Christmas break. Kevin is a sweet, beautiful young gay friend of Peter’s. He loves my dog, my cooking (which he calls pretty), and gives the best hugs. Peter informed us that Kevin would like to go to church that morning with us. “He may be a little late mom, he is really nervous about what to wear.” But soon the four of us are headed down the highway and Kevin announces, “I’m excited, I’ve never been to a church before!” Goosebumps began doing the wave over my entire body. I know that’s dramatic, but I just couldn’t believe anyone could arrive at 21 years of age without once stepping inside a church. “Will there be a little man inside a box?” he wanted to know. “Do I have to tell him all the things I’ve done wrong? If so, he’ll want to quit his job when I get through.” We all laughed and assured him that it will actually be more like attending live theater than the man in the box experience. After a beautiful morning of Christmas music, a message of a God who came humbly to earth to be with the outcasts, I looked over Peter at Kevin and asked, “How are you doing?” He looked straight at me, his bottom lip slightly out, and said, “Is that all? I want that man to keep talking.”

To read Part 8 click here.

My Story Part 6

To start at the beginning of my story click here.

Through my reading I was learning that gay men can have a difficult and sometimes no relationship with their father. This seemed to fit. Peter was never very interested in Steve. It was heartbreaking at times to witness. Steve had tried for years to get Peter to engage with him. He did not seem interested. He was very attached to me. I was the one who was home, sensitive, nurturing, ready to beat up bullies on any given school day. He seemed to bond to what I had to offer. Steve was loving, and verbally and physically expressed that love almost daily. He spent special time with Peter, taking him on special trips, doing boy scouts, baseball, attending his musicals…sometimes two or three times if he had the lead. Peter just seemed uninterested in him. It was puzzling. I decided therapy was in order.

“They are going to try to change me!” was Peter’s reaction. I was beginning to hear Peter on this issue. I still didn’t understand it, but he was making it loud and clear.

“Just please go and at least explore your relationship with your dad,” I suggested.

Peter was willing to do this. He felt that was worth it. Maybe he was curious too. Peter counseled for over a year with a psychotherapist who used to be gay and is now married with children. Peter and Steve drove an hour to meet him that first night. Peter liked him right away. As it turned out, he had been a student at Peter’s College and was underground gay the whole time. Oh Lord, it’s a sign! I silently shouted. Thank you Jesus! I could already see that book tour!

Reparative therapy has a bad reputation. But I have to say the therapist was respectful. After a year of processing all the pain from bullying and working on his relationship with his dad, Peter told us he was done. He was gay and staying gay. We said okay. The upside was that we were going to save some money on therapy. But more importantly, he was still desiring to follow the Lord and stay involved in the Christian community. That was what we hoped for him more than anything else. After a year we had come a long way in our acceptance of who our son was. Although the word journey gets overused, it really is the best explanation for this unique process.

I tell people it took me two weeks to grieve. That was the time anyway that I felt sad and holed up in my room reading and praying. I sat on the floor a lot. I’m not sure why. I wanted to get small. I sat there with my Bible and my books. Bethany, our oldest daughter, came in my room one day and told me in a very loving way that I needed to snap out of it. I needed a party. Fourth of July was next week. I told her I needed to finish my two weeks and then I would pull myself together. So, okay, yes we could have a party. But I just wanted everyone to go away and let me be sad. My house was very full at the time. All three kids were home and we had a young single mother in our lives who was like a daughter to us and through a crazy set of circumstances, her homeless brother ended up on our couch for 4 months. I felt like I was grieving in front of an audience, a very opinionated audience.

Then there was the day I sat down on my bedroom floor again. I opened to the book of Romans, which we happened to be studying at church that summer. I remember crying out to God for I don’t even know what. Peace? An easy fix? I picked up with Romans 12:12. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Then my eyes caught the next verse. “Share with God’s people in need and practice hospitality.” I was stunned. Really Lord? That second verse might seem random, but I wanted nothing more than to kick the homeless guy and all my adult children out of the house that summer. But I knew at that moment God was saying to me, “I’ve got Peter, You just need to finish what I have given you to do for the moment. Trust me.” A peace flooded me like I have never known before. I wanted so badly to trust him. From that moment on I told the Lord that I would trust him. I didn’t know what that would look like. But I would find out. I started planning the Fourth of July party.

To read part 7 click here

My Story Part 5

To start at the beginning of my story click here.

That first week, Steve and I made a lunch date with one of our church leaders. He listened to us lovingly and assured us Peter’s job at church was not at risk. He didn’t treat Peter like a possible threat to little summer campers. He offered to pray for us, and I know he and his wife faithfully did just that. But what he couldn’t provide was a list. We actually thought we might secure a list of parents in our church who were also struggling with this issue. No list. No names. He would get back to us.

“They are out there,” I told my husband. They are sitting in the pews with us every Sunday and they must be hiding. I desperately needed to process this with other parents who were feeling like I was. I didn’t want to join a PFLAG group at the local library. I needed other moms like me who wondered, How could this happen after reading all those Dobson books ? So I began the work of smoking them out. I had heard of kids at church who were gay. I approached a few parents. It got awkward at times. I actually called a friend and very cheerfully said, “Hey I heard your daughter is a lesbian! Can we have lunch?” Yes, she said, absolutely, but let’s not use that word. We say “same sex attraction.”

It was a Godsend to have a friend who knew what I was going through. She showed up to lunch with a stack of books to read. I was grateful for anything. I devoured them. I was obsessed. They were mostly reparative therapy books. Yes! I was encouraged. Peter might not be gay forever. He could overcome his same sex attraction! So I went to work.

“You are trying to change me!” he cried. “ Mom, you’ve known me my whole life!”

“That’s right I know you” I replied. “I know this is not what God has planned for you. You are on a journey!” Christians love that word.
“This is just a bump in your journey! God is going to bring you through this and you are going to have an amazing story to tell. Maybe you’ll write a book, travel, speak! I’ll come with you!”

Peter’s shoulders dropped, he sighed, I saw pain in his eyes. I stopped.

But in the coming weeks I would bombard him with one ex-gay story after another, plentiful and easily accessible on the internet. I’d copy/paste text to him. He would send me love songs written by gay artists. I would listen to them. It was hard, but I wanted to let him think I was being open-minded. I wasn’t . He asked us if he could go to the Gay Christian Network conference that winter. The what? Oh gosh, there are groups of Christians out there that are actually condoning the gay lifestyle? I never said these things out loud.

To read part 6 click here.

My Story Part 4

To start at the beginning of my story click here.

Someone recently told me, “If you don’t think you sin, just listen to the things you say inside your head.” Like when I get that perfect Christian family’s annual Christmas letter. The ones where we read about their kid’s mission trips, campus ministry leadership roles, nice Christian boyfriends and girlfriends (note: the boys have girlfriends and the girls have boyfriends)? Seriously, I need a glass of wine before I can even open those envelopes! And the things I say inside my head sound something like, “I really hope one of their four kids screwed up this year.” Not that they would write about it, but come on, maybe just one little DUI? I admit it; this is my sin zone! It’s not pretty and I am working on it. I’ll find out if I’ve improved come December.

My hopes for the perfect Christian family Christmas card went out the window when our youngest daughter rebelled in her teen years. I thank God for that experience and for the beautiful young woman she is today. If everything went down the way I thought it would back when I was reading all those Dobson parenting books, I would be quite the arrogant, self-righteous parent. I would not be who I am today if my daughter didn’t throw a rock through my bubble. And I certainly wouldn’t have needed Jesus. I mean after all, I had Dr. Dobson!

Nevertheless, I was riding high and probably posting lots of FB pictures of Peter’s senior year. He was leading worship, going on mission trips, getting great grades, performing in musicals, and he even had a girlfriend for the entire school year! I sat in the auditorium glowing so hard I sank down in my seat as he was crowned “Mr. Mount Hebron High School.” In the fall he would head off to Grove City College. “It’s gonna be great, we assured him. Like one big fun youth group!” He was so excited! I didn’t cry when we dropped him off. There were no bullies there. It was perfect!

Fear is ugly, crippling and evil. It however is exactly what I felt those first few weeks after Peter came out. I don’t know why, but I had this irrational picture in my head of the middle school bullies slowly driving in front of my house with their windows down, (they would be able to drive now, but I pictured them barely reaching the pedals) yelling, “See, we told you he was gay!” while I yell back at them throwing, I don’t know, over-ripe fruit through their windows.

Irrational fears aside, my other fears were easier to understand. I feared for my son’s future. He was going to be an elementary teacher, would anyone hire him? I feared for his summer job at our church camp, his friendships, his incredibly conservative Christian college life! I feared telling people, my parents particularly. I feared sitting in my circle of women friends in my small group and telling them all at onetime. Our daughters would find me sitting in my room day after day frantically googling ex-gay websites and would say, “Mom, come on lots of people are gay, it’s not a big deal.” I stared hard at them thinking, who are you people?, and then I feared for their salvation too!

For part 5 click here.