Nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to lose

“Nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to lose.” The first time I heard this phrase, several years ago, I was drawn to the freedom that living by it would entail. I never considered myself as someone who tried to hide who I really was: I used to joke that my friends and acquaintances all knew I was a spiritual and emotional mess. And by the grace of God, I was placed in a church setting filled with people who did not make me prove my worth. They just loved me anyway, recognizing that I was growing as a person and a Christ-follower. And as far as “nothing to lose” goes, I really didn’t see much to lose. My friends were Christians, my job was in a Christian environment among people I loved, and I was confident that God wouldn’t take that away from me. Why would He? It was all positive stuff that honored Him and where I could serve Him.

And then in June 2016, my husband and I felt that God was leading him to step down from his position as pastor at our church. After 30 years. This was not only our calling, but our jobs; our friends; our family; our social life; our place to grow spiritually and to serve. It was a painful process that culminated in our last Sunday at the church we love on October 1, 2017.

In the middle of this transition, we also learned that one of our adult children identified as LGBT. Still nothing to hide?

Because we have always championed authenticity in our fellowship of believers, hiding our daughter’s “coming out” was not an option we even considered. We were, and are, proud of the person she is and we have refused to act as though she doesn’t exist when talking to friends and family. We stand by her, without apology.

During this time I read a post by John Pavlovitz, a fellow blogger, that helped me tremendously. Entitled, If I Have Gay Children, he states, “If I have gay children, you’ll all know it. My children won’t be our family’s best kept secret unless they choose that. I won’t talk around them in conversations with others. I won’t speak in code or vague language. I won’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and I won’t try to spare the feelings of those who may be older, or easily offended, or uncomfortable. Childhood is difficult enough, and most LGBT kids spend their entire existence being horribly, excruciatingly uncomfortable. I’m not going to put mine through any more unnecessary discomfort, just to make Thanksgiving dinner a little easier for a third cousin with misplaced anger issues. If my children come out, we’ll be out as a family.”

So, no, nothing to hide. I’ve got this one wired.

Nothing to prove is a little tougher for me. Although God has done a great work in my life over the last year and a half, and I have finally been able to accept that His grace in my life is all I need to be in right standing with Him, I realize there are things I still have an unhealthy need to prove to my fellow believers. The biggest one in the past year has been the need to convince fellow believers that my daughter, and others like her, are still accepted by God and welcomed into relationship with Him. I’ll admit that some of this comes from being the mom of an awesome person and wanting everyone else to agree with me that she’s awesome, that she is following God, and that He has great plans for her. (As I said, “I’m the mom!” What do you expect?)

As time goes by, though, I realize I don’t have the power to make people agree with me. God is showing me that that’s okay. There will always be people who disagree over scriptural interpretation. What He calls me to do is to love everyone, including both the marginalized and those doing the marginalizing. (Do you know how hard that is to even write? God’s still got work to do in me.) I don’t have to prove to others that someone they personally condemn can still have a relationship with God. I am, first and foremost, called to love the marginalized in such a way that none of them will ever take my reaction to them as God’s rejection of them.

Nothing to prove. I don’t have this one down, but God and I are working on it.

And now, nothing to lose. God certainly has a sense of humor, doesn’t He?

Although I’ve always known that the time of leadership at our church would end, there was no way to prepare for the sense of displacement. God has wiped out the comfort zone that let me take for granted my future, my place in the Body of Christ, and the people with whom I would journey. However, He has replaced all this with a trust in Him I haven’t had before. I know we have followed what He wills for us and I know He’s “got” us during this time in our lives. That’s not to say that there aren’t days where faith is harder than others.

One of the more difficult things for me to risk losing is the approval of others, but I’m getting there. God is giving me the assurance that His call on my life is far more important than my fellow Christians’ approval. His desire that everyone would know His love for them trumps my desire that fellow Christians will think I’ve got it all together spiritually. I am instead trying to live the blessing that states, “Send me anywhere you would have me go, only go there with me. Place upon me any burden you desire, only stand by me to sustain me. Break any tie that binds me, except the tie that binds me to you…”

And whatever I lose, it will be worth it.

 

Room at the table

My heart is full today and I am thankful for all God is doing in the life of my family. This past Tuesday my daughter finished her classes at Spring Arbor University and will participate in graduation ceremonies this May. She packed up her dorm room and came home Wednesday evening. On Thursday, she received two calls from one of the seminaries to which she applied for graduate studies for next year. The first caller told her that Candler School of Theology (Emory University) had received her writing sample and that it was “flawless.” The second caller informed her that she is one of their top candidates and is being offered a spot in the next graduate class, tuition paid. They let her know that an additional stipend may be available for her living expenses—she just needs to apply for it.

But wait, I’m not done…

Today, she interviewed for a job in Jackson that will help her build a small nest egg before she begins her graduate studies. She was hired on the spot and begins next week.

After the experiences of this past school year at SAU and having watched the incidences of non-support of the lgbt students, it means so much to me to find a school that not only believes it is possible for an lgbt student to have a relationship with Christ, but to believe it enough that they will invest in that student’s future.

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As I’ve been excited for this new happening in my daughter’s life, I’ve also been thinking about those who would say that a person who identifies as lgbt cannot be accepted by God or the church. My thought is this:

You may be able to keep an lgbt person out of the church, but you can’t keep them away from God if they desire to have a relationship with Him.

One of the scriptures that kept coming to my mind shortly after our daughter talked with us about her orientation was Romans 10:9-13. I’ve included it here with the part I’m referring to in bold. “…If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

I cannot tell you how hard I clung to that last phrase while trying to wrap my head and heart around our new reality. I believed (and still believe) what I read, but I struggled with the thought that many other Christians will never accept my child as a fellow believer. I still have a hard time with that, but I realize that what others think is not my problem to solve.

I also realize that while being lgbt is a deal-breaker and a ‘sin’ to some Christians, other sins are easily overlooked. The same people who would say that the Bible stands against same-sex orientation often ignore that it condemns gossip, slander, greed, pride and many other things. But, the people who practice these things are welcomed and accepted in the church (and they should be). We encourage them to grow and to learn how to walk with God, and the church body stands by them to encourage them.

Why, then, for the Christians who believe a same-sex orientation is sin, do we not stand by our church children who come out to us? Why would we not encourage them to stay as close to Jesus as they possibly can, instead of telling them they can’t have Jesus? Why can we not tell them that God loves them and wants to walk with them as they navigate this now-understood reality in their life? And above all, why can we not accept their spirituality and trust God and the lgbt person to weed out anything HE thinks is sinful in their life? We give grace to others we think are participating in sinful practices. We say, “Oh, they’ll mature spiritually.” Or, “God will show them what He wants.” But we still accept them as fellow followers after Jesus—just followers who don’t have it all together yet. As if any of us DO have it together!

Please don’t hear me saying that I believe having a same-sex orientation is sin. I don’t. I believe that what following Jesus looks like for an lgbt Christian is for that Christian to work out with God. They should strive to live as Christ wants them to live, the same as I should strive to live as God wants me to live.

And as we strive as brothers and sisters in Christ to live for Him, we are invited to eat at the same table. And the table is big enough for us all. We just have to be willing to sit next to each other.

 

The last straw

straw3

I used to believe there was such a thing as the “last straw.” You know, that thing that gets on your last nerve. That moment when you’ve had enough and you declare you won’t take it anymore. When you start thinking about how great it would be to run away (or at least get admitted to the hospital for a few days of sleep) and just have time alone.

The last straw used to come when the schedule got so full I couldn’t keep up, or when yet one more person was mad at something petty that had happened. Or when one more piece of equipment or an appliance broke down at home.  Or the car wouldn’t start on a day that was already stressful.

Guess what? Until 2017, I was a “last straw” novice, and a naïve one at that. The true last straw hits at the core of your being.

There’s no deeper core to your being than something that involves your child and family. I have a whole new list of “last straws.”

The last straw is…

…finding out that your newly “out” child repeatedly can’t get seated at a certain Jackson restaurant. If she goes ahead and seats herself, she does not get served until a straight or straight-passing friend comes to the table and flags down the wait staff.

…hearing how someone yelled at her and called her a f!#*ing dyke when she was merely walking down the street to her job.

…finding out she was told that “God hates lesbians!” by a total stranger.

…having your child’s school at every point let her know that she can’t have God if she’s gay.

These are last straws…

…having a doctor suggest that “there’s help for lgbt people if they want it,” and you assume he’s referring to conversion therapy that was disproved years ago.

…having people let you know that they want to remain your friend but they want the privilege of pretending your new reality doesn’t exist. In this way, they never have to acknowledge or discuss what you and your family have gone through.

…having your town put up non-discrimination protections for lgbt citizens and knowing that other Christians fought against it with all they had.

…and the list goes on and on…

As I contemplate all this, I suddenly realize something.

There is no last straw! This will not end.

I will never get the chance to say, “I won’t take this anymore!” Cause you know what? She’s my child and I’ll take it until my dying day for the privilege of walking alongside her. And she’ll take it until her dying day for the honesty of not hiding who she is as she follows God’s plan for her life.

So, for all these “last straws,” I guess I’ll say, “Bring’em on!” God and I will figure out what to create from them.

 

 

Baby-stepping to grace

baby feetI’ve posted on here lately about how I feel like I’m finally getting a small grasp on grace, starting to understand it and live in it. I had a cool confirmation of this while on a long drive this week. Please note: This is a small baby step so don’t get too excited here! (lol) It was just a cool moment for me.

I had pulled out an old Gungor CD to listen to in the car on my way down to Indianapolis to visit my mom in the hospital. I’ve always liked their sound and most of their music, especially the more worshipful songs. Anyway, I’m listening to the set and the song, “Please be My Strength” comes on. It’s a beautiful, more melancholy song, and I used to really connect with it when I would hear it. It totally describes how I used to feel about my relationship with Christ—always striving but never totally earning His acceptance.

As I listened, I still thought the song was beautiful, but it had no effect on my emotions and it didn’t induce longing the way it used to. It didn’t bring me down and make me feel like I will never be good enough for God to like me.  The words were beautiful but they no longer had the power to make me feel defeated spiritually. What a tiny, but HUGE God moment!

I’m posting the words and link below so you can hear it. I’m sure people who struggle spiritually like me will love it and identify with it, and understand how it made me feel. For all you recovering legalists, just listen and know that you will always fall short, and, no, you can’t sustain your own faith, but God will. It IS His love that’s keeping you! And me.

Please Be My Strength

I’ve tried to stand my ground
I’ve tried to understand
but I can’t seem to find my faith again

like water on the sand
or grasping at the wind
I keep on falling short

please be my strength
please be my strength
Cuz I don’t have anymore
I don’t have anymore

I’m looking for a place
that I can plant my faith
one thing I know for sure

I cannot create it
I cannot sustain it
It’s Your love that’s keeping me

Please be my strength…

at my final breath
I hope that I can say
I’ve fought the good fight of faith

I pray your glory shines
through this doubting heart of mine
so my world would know that You

You are my strength
You and You alone
You and You alone
Keep bringing me back home

 

Grace: it’s all I’ve got

Phil and Cait just left for church and I’m taking some time to reflect on 2017. For me, it’s been a time of extreme stress, loss, adjustment, and spiritual growth. I’m thankful for all God has taught me but I can’t say I wouldn’t have been happy just learning it from a book instead of experiencing it! 😉

First of all, stepping down from a 30-year ministry and attendance at JaxNaz has been difficult, and the loss of community has been painful. While we still see some people socially or run into friends in the grocery store, the camaraderie of ministry is missing. Phil and I both have described it as a feeling of being spiritually homeless. But we also know that this is in God’s plan for now. It’s not a permanent thing and God has a new plan and new spiritual home down the road for us.

Secondly, tomorrow, December 18, is the one-year anniversary of finding out that one of our children is lgbt. This has brought panic, fear, tears, study, loss (or shallowing) of a few relationships, spiritual growth, and above all, a personal knowledge of grace. THAT, I wouldn’t change!

For the past 47 years, since I accepted Christ, I have struggled to accept God’s grace for myself. I can give grace to you but giving it to myself has always been a cop-out and an excuse to get away with not doing things right. I have begged God through the years to help me grasp it and then kept right on kicking myself spiritually for not being perfect. I have gone through years of feeling that God will let me into Heaven when I die because I have tried to walk in relationship with Him, but He doesn’t really LIKE me. It has been impossible to eradicate my old way of thinking and experience the freedom that I have seen in so many other Christians.

Enter, Daughter Number Two… Through her, I have grasped grace, and I will be eternally grateful. Please don’t hear what I am going to say as an indictment on her or her orientation. It’s not at all. This writing is ultimately not about her, but about me. When I could not escape the legalistic teachings of my past for myself, I could escape them for her. And coming to the belief that Jesus first sees the heart of the person standing in front of him, and not just the always-changing doctrines of His church, has been absolutely freeing.

I have finally accepted that grace is all I’ve got. And it’s enough. I must depend totally on His mercy to cover my failures, faults and sins. Grace lets me throw away my checklist of things to do, or not to do, to make God love me. Grace makes it okay when I don’t perform the way I want to. Grace is, above all, trusting in His nature instead of my performance. It is being able to trust that, “the God I KNOW would never create someone with a particular orientation, and then hate them for it.” Grace is finally understanding that His ways truly are “higher than our ways” and His love is deeper than I can imagine. God’s grace even covers those to whom I am tempted to refuse grace, and I’m so thankful it does. It gives me the ability and freedom to love others instead of having to decide, according to my own calculations, where they’re at on the obedience scale.

When I worked at the church, one of my fellow staff members had a license plate on her vehicle that states, “Grace wins.” It’s a great reminder to me, because…

It DOES win.

It COVERS.

It’s ALL we’ve got.

It’s ENOUGH.

And it’s MINE!

Hope: it’s for everyone!

I know the lgbt issue in the church is very controversial. If it’s the dividing line between who you believe to be acceptable to Christ and who you believe not to be acceptable, this post won’t be for you, so feel free to pass on by. I’m not here to argue: I’m here to share both an experience I had and how I feel God is leading me.
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In October my husband, my daughter and I attended The Reformation Project conference in Chicago. It’s a gathering of Christians who identify as lgbt. We were thrilled with her opportunity to get to know other people who are trying to follow Christ as they also acknowledge their sexual identity.

What an experience!

First of all, I felt that I was worshipping with the persecuted church. The amount of pain in the plenary sessions and workshops was palpable. And the longing to someday be accepted by the rest of the Body of Christ was painful to feel and hear. But the amount of confidence in the love of Christ for them was equally palpable. It was humbling to listen to the testimonies and life experiences of these people who have been so marginalized.

It was also very stretching to listen to some of the people whose theology is different than what I was raised in. I was forced to struggle with beliefs that I don’t hold but that are held by other Christ-followers. I have come to realize that God includes in His Body many more people than I was taught to believe.

There will be many who won’t like to read this and you can feel free to unfriend or unfollow me, (I realize that my posts to some of you are like driving by a bad accident—you don’t want to look but you can’t help it!) but after that weekend, I am more confident than ever of God’s call on me to be affirming of all people. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t understand some areas of the lgbt continuum, but I will keep digging. In the meantime, the thing I will no longer do is believe that some people are beyond hope in Christ.

If you think about it, the lgbt community is the only group to which we, the church, give no hope. And, yet, God is a God of hope! We tell them that the only way they can ever be acceptable to God is if they stay single, have no family, and live as second-class citizens in the church. And even if they do this, they are still suspect. While I believe that God expects a purity of life for them the same as he does for me, I do not believe He considers them sub-Christian. And that purity of life that God expects is for them to work out with Him, the same as I had to work it out in my own life. (The absurdity is that we expect them to work it out with God after we’ve already told them they can’t have God!)

As to where God is taking me with all this, I have no idea. Am I called to just be the mom of a kid whose spiritual life and commitment I would stack up against anyone else’s relationship with Christ, including my own? Am I called to be more vocal, and if so, how? I’ll admit to being a coward. I don’t like people not liking me, but that’s an insignificant thing compared to what the lgbt community puts up with from good Christian people every day… And I realize I have nothing to offer the lgbt community, except my acceptance. But maybe God will want to use me to help other parents know it’s okay to love their lgbt children and to believe that they can still have access to God. There is so much pain out there in families with lgbt children and my heart breaks for these families who need support from fellow Christians who will love their children without judgment.

SO MANY QUESTIONS!

Thankfully, God is good and I don’t have to have all these questions answered today, but I do know that I am forever changed, both by my family’s personal circumstances and by the weekend spent with other lgbt Christians. Thanks for putting up with me working out life by writing about it. I don’t expect anyone else to have answers for me, but I just want to share where I’m at…

To my non-affirming Christian friends

I have been the mom of an LGBT child for almost 22 years now. Granted, I only found out about the LGBT part 10 months ago. You have known that I’m the mom of an LGBT kid for approximately 5 months or less.

As our family continues on this journey, there are a few things I want you to know about us and other Christian parents of LGBT kids.

First of all, there are many more of us, even in church, than you are aware of. Many of us don’t ‘come out’ about our children for various reasons. Some are angry and embarrassed by their children; some just think it’s no one else’s business; some have children who aren’t ‘out,’ yet, and therefore will not share that information before they do come out. And some are just plain scared of how the church members will treat their child and their family.

But we all need the church body to come around us and let us know that we, and our child, are still loved.

If you’ve never experienced this in your family, let me tell you a few things about the process I’ve gone through. (I won’t speak for my husband on this so I’ll refer to myself from here on out. This is the journey to acceptance I’ve undertaken.)

First, you panic… Especially if you’ve been raised in an Evangelical or Fundamentalist church environment. Fear of God turning his back on your child is a very terrifying thing. Your child acknowledging something that you’ve been taught your entire life is sin and knowing that they can’t just pray it away fills you with fear.

Next, you cry. You cry because you now know that the life your child is going to have will probably look nothing like the life you imagined. And now you can only imagine the worst. You cry over the possibility of your child being alone, hated, abused and looked on with disgust by all the ‘bad’ people and ‘good’ people as well.

Then, you begin to pray and study. Where once you had the luxury of doing a cursory reading of your Bible and confidently stating, “My Bible says it’s sin!”, you now read and study all theology written on those few verses. You study what was happening in the day and time in which those verses were written; you study the definition of words and what those words meant to the original writer and hearers, and you contemplate the heart and ministry of Jesus and how He treated all people. And then you pray that God’s love really is as high and deep and broad and long as you’ve been taught it is.

Finally, you begin to come to acceptance. You realize that this child that you found out 10 months ago is LGBT is the same child you knew 12 months ago. You know she had a heart for God 12 months ago and didn’t throw it out the window 10 months ago. She is who she has always been. She still loves God. She is still committed to serving Him. And He is still committed to her. And she, like you, will need Him greatly to navigate this world for the rest of her life.

But the steps to wholeness for you as a parent are not over. Physically, the months of your journey to acceptance have taken their toll. You have a permanent knot in your stomach and a physical shaking in your body that are only alleviated by sleep, conversations with your spouse, or an occasional anti-anxiety med to help you calm down. And you realize, just like your child realizes, that this is something that you will live with the rest of your life.

Because you see, I now trust God’s heart and His ability to be with my child as she follows His leading in her life. What I’m left with is the fear of God’s people. While I will be forever grateful to those affirming church friends who have been my rock this past year, for the most part, where I once considered my fellow believers to be the safest people in the world unless they showed me otherwise, I now see them as unsafe until they show me otherwise. I’m afraid of what they’ll say to my child. I’m afraid of their rejection of her. I’m afraid that their reaction to her will be mistaken for God’s rejection of her.

The knot in my stomach comes back when a Christian professional tells me that “there’s treatment for lgbt people” (Which, by the way, there’s not. Could YOU be treated into having a same-sex orientation?) when I tell him why I have anxiety. Then when I tell him I’m afraid fellow Christians will make her think she can’t have a relationship with God, and he states, “I think it’s their own sin that keeps them from God, not other Christians,” the panic comes flooding back in.

When someone emails me because I’m married to the pastor and wants me to reassure her that my church will not become affirming, and I assure her that it won’t, because it’s a denominational church and can’t be officially affirming due to its affiliation (I didn’t tell her that there are affirming people who attend the church), and I hit SEND, I realize that I have just reassured her that the church I love will never let people like my daughter think that they can have God’s love and acceptance. I get up, knowing that I just set myself on fire to keep someone else warm.
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For those of you who are hearing my heart and not getting angry or defensive and have kept reading, these are the things on this unchosen journey with my child that I need.

I need you to not act like my child doesn’t exist. She is still who you knew. She hasn’t changed.

I need you to speak to me. If you are uncomfortable with this new knowledge of our family and don’t know what to say, I’ll always welcome you telling me that you’re praying for our whole family as we navigate this new reality. You see, the problem is, your silence speaks even louder than your words. And I’m the one left to fill in the blanks. Because in this new silence toward us, I don’t know that you still love us (or my daughter) and those blanks get filled in in the worst way possible.

Next, please read. It’s worth it. Some day it may be your child or grandchild who tells you, “I love Jesus, but I’m gay.” At least if you’ve read, you’ll have perspective on both sides of the theological issue. Reading both sides may not change your beliefs on the subject, but your argument will be much more respected if you’ve thought through all sides of the issue. (I can give you the titles of books that have helped me.)

Finally, remember when you talk to me that I’m not dealing with a theological issue, I’m dealing with the young adult who stood in front of me and shared a terrifying truth. You can, and should, discuss the theological issue with others and you should study, but it probably won’t include me. You see, if I discuss this with you, 10 minutes after we’re done, you may be deciding where you want to go for dinner that night. On the other hand, 2 days later I’ll still be on the floor recovering from our time together. We would not be having an equal conversation-my stake in the conversation is not equal to your stake in the conversation.

I hope you have been able to hear the heart of a parent and not taken this as an indictment on the church. It’s not. I love the church and have given my teen years and adulthood to it. I’m not done giving. But this is a topic that will not go away just because we don’t know what to do with it. And I have peace that if I’m wrong on this issue God still has the power to convict and convince people of sin. When I stand before God some day, I’ll be able to say that I loved unconditionally. However, if I take the other route, saying that having a same-sex orientation disqualifies one from Heaven and I’m wrong, I will have helped keep a whole group of people whom God loves, away from Him.

I’ll risk grace…