These Hallowed Grounds: Our Story

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There she stands, clutching the lectern, scanning the fireside room filled with all kinds of people. She clears her throat and flattens out her notes. She takes in a deep breathe, beams out a smile.

 

It is our LGBTQ night at church and she is my mom and she’s about to tell her story. All of the tears and laughter, hugs and anger, long stretches of silence and great leaps of joy that have led her down this uncertain road. This search for what it means to be a daughter of Christ and a mother of a gay son.

 

My brother and dad are with me and if you look at us, you might think that this has been a breeze. Don’t let the winks and nods fool you, our laughs are a long time coming. Take a walk down our memories of the last two years to a late night in October and you’d see how deep we were. You’d hear me choking out my secret, her heart breaking in half, and several, painful minutes in which she cannot breathe.

 

~ ~ ~

She’s in the bathroom and it’s cold and it’s dark and she cannot breath.

I can hear her as I sit balled up in the corner of her bed.

 

In and out and in and out and in and out.

 

She returns to my side still wiping her mascara, as together as she can manage to be, and she holds me tight. Tells me she loves me, deeply and she does. But she doesn’t understand. She needs someone else to be here to help her understand. Can she call dad? Is it okay to call dad? The moment has swallowed her whole and spit her out and she cannot breathe. She cannot breathe.

 

And I stare into those panicked and heartbroken eyes and, try as I might, I can’t place them in the woman that is beaming out at us tonight.

 

~ ~ ~

As unbelievable as it sounds, I think I first knew I was gay the morning my pastor said it was evil.

 

It was at the peak of my childhood, when I was ten and just beginning to really believe, trying to make this faith personal. In Sunday School and Youth Group, I learned all about the tenderness of Jesus and the more I understood it, the weaker at the knees I became. He was mine and I was his and there was nothing that mattered more.

 

Except that Sunday morning when he started in on the passages. I was doodling on the back of an offering envelope and with hearing a word, an involuntary instinct kicked in. An awakening. A stirring. My eyes flicked at him then up to the screen as he boomed. He read aloud about these people and their wickedness and I didn’t understand any of it, but I felt it. I felt it impale my protective shell of worth. I felt the church shrinking in and a sudden weight on my heart and the worst part of it all was when it hit me that it wasn’t even my pastor talking, it was God.

 

For the next ten years, that wound would never close. It would fester and flare up until finally, it would cripple me.

 

It occurred to me at twenty-one, at the bottom of my sadness, in this soul-screaming state, that I had nothing left to lose. So I went home. I crawled into bed with my mom. Cried for several minutes. And then, bitterly slow, I said it- out loud. For the first time. I am gay.

 

Releasing those words into the air set us off on a journey. One that led us into shadowed settings. Turned us against each another. tied us tighter than we’ve ever been before. And, in the end, led us forward, into the brilliant light of that life-saving thing called grace.

 

~ ~ ~

To a skeptical Christian couple over dinner, I heard that my dad had said, “Look, I was once just like you. It was a choice and a lifestyle and bad, but these last two years… God’s opened my eyes to so many new things. And I was once like you.”

 

And he’s talking about how he didn’t believe it. How my confession was too shocking to pierce his concrete conservative worldview. He loved me and he loved Jesus and the only way he knew how he could move forward was to deny that I was gay at all. That this was, more or less, a phase.

 

And it took some fighting words to get through to him. It took tears, from the both of us, for him to finally see. It took a shoved book to his chest and a night spent alone in study for him to brave the first steps forward, led by faith and curiosity and his profound love for me.

 

Though it was frustrating at the time, the truth is, I was the one that had started us down this road. I planted the idea of phase. Before all this had happened, in the first days out, I told them I didn’t want this. I wanted to be cured, I said, and I could. There were these brochures I had found, testimonies of men and women submitting their sin before the Lord only to then be struck by miraculous change. Heterosexuality- it was possible through God!

 

~ ~ ~

I’m at my first meeting and it’s raining outside. The man’s house is very dark and this whole meet up is unethical, but I do it because I’m desperate. He is not a bad man, he is good, but he is also misguided. He is not a therapist, he makes that clear, yet he still walks me through therapeutic drills that are dehumanizing and traumatic and when I finally leave the house, it is still raining. I know that I will never go back. I can never go back.

 

~ ~ ~ 

The ex-gay encounter hit me spiritually, emotionally and physically. I felt like an abject failure. Fortunately, that’s when I found a therapist who gestured toward the real culprit. Toward the dark cloak draped heavy over my sexuality. Your shame, he called it. It was killing me.

 

The hardest part about removing shame is that it is done slowly. It is done in very little steps. For me, it was remembering to wash down my Zoloft with a little extra grace and believe I was getting better. It was intentionally irrigating the most sensitive wounds of my heart with the Truth that God is madly, humiliatingly in love with me. That he always has been. That he made me on purpose. He likes me. He does not like my shame.

 

For my parents, their progress forward was all about listening. Taking in testimonies and theology and at the end of the day, bending low to hear to what their hearts were saying. It was connecting with other Christian parents of gay children, saying all of it- out loud and realizing that though they came to them for answers, they found deep friendship. Companions. Fellow sojourners.

 

And at some impossible point, we got there. We made it. And it wasn’t so much a survival as it was a celebration. A sudden gratitude. Our family drew closer than we’ve ever been before.

~ ~ ~

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After a long teary talk, she closes with, “On this journey it has occurred to me that the attacks of Christians on gays and lesbians is because of an inability, or unwillingness, to understand this in their hearts.”

 

Reflecting on all that we’ve been through, that sums it up for me. I refused to accept myself, I took dangerous steps to change. My parents couldn’t accept it either, not against the backdrop of our faith. And at first, the path forward felt steep and uncertain and endless… but I think that’s what it feels like when God clutches your heart. Tugs you along like a child, further and higher, until you get to the top, above the peak, until you see the way that he sees.

 

And if I look hard enough, I can still see that path. The faint impressions of the long, painful, beautiful story leading us up to this very moment. It looks like freedom. Feels like holiness.

 

Ben

~ ~ ~

Readers,

Thank you for your patience.

~ ~ ~

Also, a follow up to this post, to my people In Real Life.

  • Ben,
    I am so so happy for you and proud of you right now. Thank you so much for sharing your story, for offering us this glimpse of what the journey was like for you and your family. I especially like this part: “That he made me on purpose. He likes me.” Lately I have been reflecting on the fact that God MADE my LGBTQ brothers and sisters this way, so of course it is not bad because when God made creation, he saw that it was good. Personally, I have not seen this particular reason why it’s okay to be LGBTQ touched on very much. God made you and his love for you is limitless and unconditional. I like your new header at the top there, because you, my friend, are not a pariah. You are his beloved son.
    Hugs,
    Olivia

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you so much Olivia. You are the greatest greatest greatest!

  • Tim H.

    congrats on going public, thank you for sharing!

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you Tim!

  • Bravo! These are powerful, shame shedding words. I am proud of you my friend. Your story is a beautiful one, filled with hardship and grace. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • registeredrunaway

      Aaron 🙂 Thanks for always being a good friend.

  • Ben… I am so proud of you for coming out publicly. I know how hard a decision that is to make. I have found strength and freedom that I never imagined were possible. Blessings on you and your family! I hope some day my mother will be able to move past her rejection of her gay son.

    • registeredrunaway

      I’ll be praying for that man. Thank you for your kinds words.

  • You are brave and wonderful. Bless you and your family. Thank you for this gift.

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you Sarah!

  • Oh Ben.

    I love this. I am so, so proud of you. Your vulnerability and honesty have always pierced my heart and this… well, it just takes my breath away. Thank you for being you and for sharing yourself with us. At the risk of repeating myself too much, you will never know how important this blog has been (and is) to me, and more importantly, how vital your friendship is to me.

    Lots of love and hugs,
    Kate

    P.S. kudos and much appreciation to your mom and dad, too!!

    • registeredrunaway

      *smiles wide* Thank you Kate. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • Kimberly

    I’m sitting here with a heart so full it feels like it might burst. I don’t know you, we’ve never met, but I’ve been reading your words for some time now. So I hope it won’t sound funny for me to say that I am proud of you. Thank you for sharing, now and as you have been all along. It has meant something incredible to me.

    • registeredrunaway

      That makes me feel so good. Ha, it doesnt sound funny! Thank you Kimberly!

  • TMZ

    So inspired right now.

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you sir!

  • Sending lots of love, encouragement and support to you, Ben, in appreciation of your honesty and bravery xxx

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you so much Fiona!

  • Brave Ben; what a beautiful story of coming full circle with who God made you to be. I have a gay son too(27), and our family went through the exact same steps as yours. We too are better than ever now. In fact, I truly believe I LOVE our son more than I did before. He use to keep parts of his self hidden and held back on his love—kind of like an I’ll reject you before you reject me kind of thing. Now when we look at each other, I see all the way to the core of his soul—oh how I love him. My prayer is that he will have somebody come into his life who can reteach him about who God really is–my heart breaks because of our uber consevative religious upbringing in the SBC, I blew it, and it is going to take somebody else other than me to respark that siritual flame–:-( In the meantime, I will keep “living” the love and pray daily that some day he will find his way back to a God who loves him enough to send His own to son to die for him—-Thank-you for this amazing story!!

    • registeredrunaway

      Wow. Thank you for sharing yours! I’ll be praying for your son too. Thank you so much Carol.

  • Ben, your blog has helped me much during the time I’ve been a reader. Thank you. Having your name attached is no big deal for me since I don’t know you personally, but I appreciate the profound courage you have shown in attaching it. As my eyes have been opened by the stories you and others share, I have been reluctant to reveal my changing views to those in my life who will fear for my soul, but I’m on a path that will eventually lead to my own “coming out” (IRL) as a supporter of the LGBTQ Christian community. Thank you for your part in this journey.

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you so much Marsha! I’ll be right here to support you.

  • Ben, thanks so much for sharing your life with us in this way. It really is a gift.

    • registeredrunaway

      Micah, thank you for being such a great friend!

  • Ben,

    What an honor to be able to put a name and a face to your equally beautiful words.

    • registeredrunaway

      Holli! Thank you. So happy to have been able to get to know you on this journey.

  • ben, i am weeping that your name is on this today and rejoicing for the healing that God has brought in your family and life. sending so much love your way, friend.

    • registeredrunaway

      Suzannah, thank you so much. You have been such an incredible person to talk to here.

  • Amy

    Because I subscribe to this blog via email, I woke up today and this was in my inbox. What a start to the day! Beautiful words, powerful story. Thank you for sharing your heart with us.

    • registeredrunaway

      You were one of the first “blog” friends I had, seeing you comment here excited me so much! Your work has always meant so much to me Amy. More than most.

      • Amy

        Aw, thanks! 🙂 You’ve certainly taught me a thing (or five) about being open and tender-hearted. Glad to be on this bloggy journey with you.

  • Wow. I teared up last night just anticipating reading this, & my eyes are filling now. I feel real deeply the honor that it is for you to let us in on your story. I’m praying for open hearts today, as others have the opportunity to hear as well. Just… Thanks.

  • Thank you for your story, and thank you for sharing so many others stories on your blog the past month or so. I’ve been faithfully reading each one and it has been a source of encouragement to me. I came out to my family and close friends a few months ago. I’m glad your relationship with your parents has been reconciled. Keep writing.

  • So glad you wrote me that email. Love to you, Ben! 🙂

  • Blessings on you Ben! I’d love to read the book you had your father read.

  • Dear Ben.
    Thank you for your bravery today. Thank you for teaching people like me, who grew up in a conservative church but who are now struggling to reconcile those teachings with real-life Jesus, what life is like for you. I am humbled to hear your story. Names have power. I’m honored to know yours today.
    Your friend, Tanya

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  • Andy

    This. This line. I love it.

    “It was intentionally irrigating the most sensitive wounds of my heart with the Truth that God is madly, humiliatingly in love with me. That he always has been. That he made me on purpose. He likes me. He does not like my shame.”

    Shame is something that constantly eats away at me as I deal with homosexuality. Thank you for your words and thank you for sharing your story.

  • Molly Moberg

    So proud of you brother!!!!!! Love you so incredibly much!!!

  • Brookie

    Beautiful, Ben.

  • This is brilliant and beautiful, Ben. Thank you for your testimony. God has blessed me in stumbling upon your writings. I pray that more families can be converted to the Loving Truth as yours was. Blessings to you as you continue to tell your story!

  • Ben, thank you so much for sharing your story. It was beautiful and heartbreaking and everything in between. Grace and peace to you my friend.

  • Ben
    wow! You have an amazing story and a gift at writing. It was worth the wait. Thank you.
    Jane

  • Lachlan

    Ben, you’re amazing. Thank you so much for writing over the last two years, these comments and tweets are only a taste of the impact that you have had on peoples lives, mine included. It’s strange to feel such an attachment to someone I’ve never really met, but the way you’ve shared your life with us all has made it hard not to! I’m so proud and grateful. Keep being awesome, we need people like you around and writing!

    • Seriously, you too Lachlan. I’ve enjoyed our exchanges online and learning more about you too!

  • Aibird

    Thank you for sharing your story. Your words, and the way you speak about shame is beautiful. It does need to be let go, and you speak with such love. It is a powerful story, a heart-changing story. Thank you. *offers hugs* Shedding shame is so hard, but your story gives hope. Thank you.

    • Aibird, you always will have a special place in my heart. So thankful for you and your story.

  • What words do I possibly have to offer in light of your bravery? This is beautiful and grace-filled and what a thrill to see your name attached to it. Thank you, Ben. Thank you for pointing us to Love.

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  • Hooray, hooray, hooray! I want to add my list to the many congratulating you for this big step today, Ben. You are wonderful in so many ways. I am blessed for having crossed paths with you in this life. You are a gifted writer. I’m so excited to see what the future holds.

  • Oh wow. The bravery here—the beauty. Ben my friend, bravo. So much love.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your story. So heartbreaking how many people will be going through something similar, but so awesome how grace can break in!

  • Love you Ben!! So incredibly honored to be your mom!!!

  • You are so brave, and this is so beautiful.

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  • I’m absurdly behind on every blog I follow, but this is the most encouraging thing I’ve read all week. Congratulations on going public! (Also, I love the redesign.)

  • That was so beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.

  • Thank you, Ben. I love your heart and always look forward to reading all the words you share with us. I have learned so much form your posts and the posts of those you have given voice on your blog. I am so proud of the work you do.

  • So very proud of you!

    Thank you for being brave. For offering a place for those who feel they have no voice to try and articulate their own journey, to make sense of where they are. As someone who has had a very dear, longtime friend come out, I want you to know I have learned and am learning so much from what you offer here. Thank you again for allowing my friend and I to tell our stories.

    Thank you for being who you are and not being afraid to say so…

    Carol

  • Piper Kuhlmann

    Ben! Your name is Ben!
    Ben, I pray from the love you have shared with us that your fortified strength never leaves you. Thank you for loving yourself and God without shame! You have put so much out with this message!

  • Grace

    This is a beautiful post. Congratulations on going public, Ben. I don’t comment here often, but your blog is one of my favorites.

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  • This is great, Ben. 🙂 Proud of you for coming out publicly.

  • Anya

    Ben, you are just wonderful!!!!
    I love you!
    Anya

  • Love the pictures. Love the journey. Love the family. Love you. That’s all.

  • Benjamin (“son of my right hand”, favorite son): there is no more appropriate name to describe your deepest self, a wonderful loving young Man, beloved by his beautiful parents (what a privilege to see your reflection mirrored in their faces, bearing witness to their love and pride for you!). A brave man, beloved by the Father and His Son, our common Brother.

    Your trial (and that of your family) has been redeemed by Grace (“Now I know that life is meant to be hard/That’s how I learned to appreciate my God/Though my courage may be tried, I can tell you I won’t hide/Because the footprints show you were by my side”). Grace only can make us fully human, makes us aware of how precious and honored we are in His sight (Isaiah 43:4), defeats the shame, contempt or hatred we feel for ourselves, for who we are according to His love, for what we can be when loving and leaving behind any fear (“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear”, 1 John 4:18).

    Your courage is an inspiration to us all, an invitation to dare to love unconditionally. And I’m grateful for the privilege of being able to catch a glimpse of your inner beauty through your posts. I bless God for this.
    “Grazie, fratello”.
    jonathan elias 82

    P.S.: I see you smiling, wearing the uniform of my country’s national soccer team. I think of that shirt as a warm embrace from those italians who love Jesus and their lgbt brothers, but also a call to my nation to be worthy of the young and proud man who wears it, by getting rid of the discrimination and homophobia that still stain its image. I pray for this to happen.

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  • Cheri

    Hi Ben. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I can tell that you and your parents love each other very much. Thank you for showing them grace during the journey. We are still trying to figure all of this out, but God is faithful. I’m curious to know the name of the book you shoved into your father’s chest. I’m always looking for books to read on this subject, and if it’s one that you recommend, I’m certain it would be worth reading. BTW, I think it’s awesome that your church has an LGBTQ night! 🙂

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