For Parents Everywhere

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Did you know that there are homeless kids living on the streets of America? Or are you like me. Did you hear this once and think, okay, okay, no. C’mon. There has to be more to this story. There has to be.

 

Did you know that, statistically speaking, LGBTQ people make up roughly 7-8% of the population (not counting, of course, the closeted) and that 20-40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ? What is the story here? There has to be more to it. Must be. Right?

 

*

 

When I came out to my parents, I didn’t know how lucky I was. I was held close to my family as others were shoved out the door. Homeless. Orphaned. Wandering a world they aren’t ready for.

 

This doesn’t just happen.

 

The Gospel Coalition and Denny Burk and Franklin Graham perpetuate it; they might not know it, but they do. As does a particular reading of the Bible, the lazy literalist, quick google search kind, an approach that has a history of leaving other minorities bloodied up in it’s wake. And then there is the loss. The swift death of dreams, of weddings and holidays and grandchildren; a jolting adjustment to a future that looks different. That looks less than ideal.

 

LGBTQ people today are coming out so much younger in life- meaning: they are still under their parents’ roof. And with that comes the beautiful and painful tension flaring, making all things new. Hard hearts are being made soft. The bonds of family are strengthening. No one ever knows how much love there is until the unforeseen bomb drops, and everyone stays.

 

My parents knew they could never understand what it was like to be a gay Christian, but they wanted to figure out how to be good parents to one. They held the Bible in one hand, me in the other, trapped in a paralysis of unending questions and no understanding to be found- anywhere- from anyone.

 

When my mom emailed the Marin Foundation, it took them less than ten minutes to email her back. She called and they answered. They invited us down to Chicago. They took us in and listened and loved us deeply.

 

They connected my parents to other parents of LGBTQ kids. They built a community around a couple feeling isolated.

 

And now they have done something incredible. They’ve compiled a contact list of parents of LGBTQ kids for parents feeling beyond alone. Parents in the south, for example. Or parents in stuck inside fundamentalism. Those who disagree with their kid or with each other or with the church or with themselves, searching for some kind of path that cuts through.

 

The official announcement of the list came first on the Marin Foundation’s blog, which I’ve reposted below. If you’re a parent feeling alone, drop a line, to my parents or others.

 

Often, I talk about how we sexual and gender minorities are waves crashing and shaping the church into something new. But that’s nothing to say of our folks. These people are our protectors, our defenders, our activists and our listeners.

 

And they are only one call away.

 

From the Marin Foundation:

 

If you are a Christian parent of a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) child you may feel alone. You may think that you are the only one who feels this way. You might even believe that no one else could understand your journey. But…

 

You are not alone.

 

The Marin Foundation has put together a a list of Christian parents who have LGBTQ children and have volunteered to share their experiences with you. They would love to listen to your story, talk with you, cry with you, laugh with you, and come alongside you. Most of these parents are not counselors or psychologists; they are simply fellow pilgrims on this journey. They don’t have all the answers. They may not have their theological positions all figured out. But these parents know what you are going through and want to help.

 

To see this list and some other resources for Christian parents of LGBTQ children, Click HERE.

 

The parents on this list come from all different backgrounds, Christian denominations, and beliefs about this conversation. They may not have the same theology as you or feel the exact same way about this topic but they will listen and give advice with compassion and understanding. While these parents are not official representatives of The Marin Foundation and may not reflect a particular theological position (whether conservative or progressive), we have heard their stories and know them to be great resources. What they have in common is a desire to love their children and stay true to their Christian faith.

 

We hope this list will help you in your journey.

 

Much love,

 

The Marin Foundation

A Love Letter from Hännah Ettinger

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I have only met a handful of friends from the internet, but I am so glad Hännah Ettinger was one of them. Shortly after I made my move to DC, she invited me out for drinks where we had the chance to get to know each other on a deeper soul level. She introduced me to her friends and new places and then…. We both moved out of the district- (sad face).

 

Hännah has written a poignant letter that will leave you feeling touched and encouraged and motivated. I was so moved when I read this that I read it several times over. Friends, I cannot encourage you enough to go check out her blog here (that is, if you haven’t already heard of it, since it was mentioned by SETH MEYERS a couple weeks ago)

 

Here is her letter. Be so blessed.

 

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This post is not a big deal. This post should be obvious. I told Ben I wouldn’t write this post, last year when he first asked me. I said that I didn’t want to make a big deal out of something that isn’t mine.

 

But I don’t want to receive another letter like the one I did this morning, a letter where an old and dear friend came out to me and asked if I would be comfortable having a lesbian as a friend, because she couldn’t tell from my blog.

 

I don’t want there to be any question in the minds of my siblings where I stand on this issue, because statistically speaking, there are nine of us, and right now the official word is that one in ten people identifies as LGBTQ+.

 

I don’t want anyone to be afraid of me knowing who they really are.

 

Let this be crystal clear, then, for I am about smashing shame and isolation.

 

I love you. 

 

I will stand up for you to our friends if they talk about you behind your back, saying that you chose this and how cruel and selfish it was to have the audacity to come out.

 

I will be angry with you at your parents when they send you away with your boxes full of your inheritance, a prodigal child made wanderer by the older son’s bitterness.

 

I will answer the phone and sit with you when you call me to tell me that your mom found your birth control and you think you’ll have to tell her you’re bi.

 

I will cry in relief with you when she doesn’t tell your dad.

 

I will beat my inner English major asshole into submission and carefully use your preferred pronouns despite my habitual stumble-trip awkwardness.

 

I will try to gently educate those who I introduce to you if it will make you feel better to not have to explain to more people that you are called they or hen or ze or Ivan.

 

I will solidarity-drink with you late at night and invite you over to stay at my place and marathon Buffy when you feel you can’t face explaining yourself to your family yet again.

 

I will grieve with you over our alma mater’s choice to pretend that you don’t exist, and howl with glee when you indulge the imp of the perverse and subvert their policies.

 

I will shut up and listen and let you tell your own stories the way you want them to be told, and when you need to yell a little I’ll hand you my megaphone if you want it.

 

I will tell you you’re cute or beautiful or handsome and offer you hugs if you want them when you’re feeling floaty and can’t quite connect to your own skin.

 

I will take endless selfies so you don’t feel alone when you need to take one to see yourself staring back and know you’re really you.

 

I will make you coffee and cookies and have you over to talk or sit alone together in the same house if you need to not be really wholly alone.

 

I will crow profanities in crowded restaurants with you if you need to rage against the universe in public.

 

My parents used to have a tile they got when we drove through New Mexico on our pilgrimage east, and it hung in our entryway at home for years and years. Mi casa es su casa, it read.

 

All of these things I have said, they have a lot of “I” in them. This post shouldn’t be necessary, because this isn’t my story. I prefer to be quiet and let you tell your story.

 

But because invitations are sometimes hard to accept if they aren’t made loudly, let me make it very clear: mi casa es su casa.

 

This house always belongs to you, too.

 

Love,

Hännah

 

~

A Love Letter from Bethany Suckrow

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Much has happened to the gay community the past couple years that has been both uplifting and heart-wrenching, but mostly- exhausting. World Vision encapsulated perfectly the way things have gone. Beautiful affirming moment. Crushing defeat. Anger. Resilience. Restoration. Phil RobertsonMichael Sam! Chick-Fil-A. Rob Bell!

 

It’s been A LOT these past couple of years and I’ve been longing a return to the roots of this blog. Look above this post and see the Love Letters tab. Look through there and you will see the saving grace of this site.

 

It is everything I wanted to find on the internet when I was in the closet. When I felt the whole world growling all around me and I didn’t know where to turn. There was It Gets Better but I doubted it would for the Christian. There were theological treatises, but those went over my head, and after all, the collapsing was happening in my heart. I needed words for my wounds.

 

And I am now restarting the series- well, sort of. I began soliciting requests for more letters, but then life kicked into warp speed and I lost track of it. So this will be more of a rolling basis as they come in. (feel free to send me yours!)

 

AND TODAY we have the incredible, the wonderful, the unbelievably talented Bethany Suckrow publishing a powerful letter to LGBTQ people everywhere. I am so thankful to her for her grace, compassion and encouragement. I am so thankful for her voice. Please, please go check out her site hereYou’ll thank me later.

 

(Also, a Trigger Warning for this post: discussion of suicide.)

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Dear Friend,

 

A few nights ago I was fiddling around on my phone as I waited for my husband to get home from work when I found a message. It was from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. We don’t know each other well anymore, but we catch glimpses of one another’s lives through links and statuses and photos. I was surprised to see she had contacted me directly, and even more surprised by what she said.

 

“I just want you to know that as a Christian who is also a lesbian, sometimes reading your posts is the only time I feel a glimpse of love from a brother or sister in Christ. Just wanted to say thank you.” 

 

As I sat in the silence of my living room and let her message sink in, a bittersweetness welled up inside of me. My heart aches for her. I feel honored by her words, but I also feel profoundly undeserving. The things I share on social media these days reflect my changing opinions on many things, not the least of which is my growing conviction that the faith culture I’ve participated in has deeply wounded the LGBTQ community.

 

I haven’t always understood this, though. Like so many raised in conservative evangelicalism, I was a teenaged Jesus Freak, deeply committed to my youth group, zealous in my attempts to convert people, and profoundly naive about what it meant to love others as Christ loved me.

 

When I was tenth grade, a girl from my freshman softball team committed suicide. She was a star athlete, a naval cadet, a good student with a kind heart and a quiet spirit. And she was gay. The issue I’d been taught to oppose “because the Bible clearly condemns it” suddenly had a face, a name, a story that ended in tragedy. I went home from school the day we learned of her death, laid myself face down on my bed and wept. All I could think about were all those moments when I looked back at her on the bus ride to and from our softball games and saw her sitting alone. I didn’t go and sit with her.

 

It was the beginning of so many questions for me about how to love you, my neighbor. Still, it took a long time for me to get past my prejudices and preconceptions. In the years ahead, as people from high school and college came out, I realized over and over again that in my devout religiousness I had never been a safe person for my friends to be themselves.

 

I was a clanging symbol of ideology instead of a voice of love.

 

And I am so sorry.

 

These last few years I’ve been working to connect the dots and discover ways to be an active participant in reconciliation for Christians and the LGBTQ community. I’m deeply thankful for people like Ben Moberg, who have bravely shared their stories. The scales are falling off my eyes and I’m finally learning to see my privilege.

 

Today as I write this letter to you, I have this vision in my head. It’s bittersweet, but also hopeful. I’m standing up from my seat on the bus and I’m walking back to where you sit.

 

May I sit next to you? I would understand if you didn’t want me here, if you need more space and time to heal. But if you’re willing, I’ll sit down and loop my arm through yours and say the words I wish I would have said all along:

 

Your story and your being matters to me.

 

I’m listening now. Please forgive me for all the times that I haven’t.

 

I want you here.

 

I want you here.

 

I want you here.

 

 

With all of my love,

 

Bethany

 

Finding God in Exodus International [Deeper Story]

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It’s been a long day of work, so I’m a little late in throwing this up, but here it is. My latest piece for Deeper Story.

The beginning:

 

Last year, Exodus International, the largest ex-gay organization in the world, shut down.

I was at a Starbucks late at night when the news erupted over Twitter. I all but cried. I called my mom. “This is such good news, wow! wow!” she said and then I texted my brother who took to Facebook, posting the news by saying “This is a HUGE WIN for humanity.” This was monumental. A miracle. An answer to so many prayers said by so many souls in our community.

My total “ex-gay experience” was a rainy afternoon, in the home of a man who was not a counselor. He wasn’t from Exodus. In fact, I never met an Exodus counselor nor I have been to any Exodus events. And yet Exodus International once held a daily presence in my life. A powerful one.

Late one night, in my closeted teenage years, I quietly tapped into the Google search bar my most desperate question: “is there a cure for homosexuality?”

Topping the list of results was Exodus.

Read the rest over at Deeper Story

Finding God in Exodus International

Exodus Billboard

Originally published at Deeper Story

Last year, Exodus International, the largest ex-gay organization in the world, shut down.

I was at a Starbucks late at night when the news erupted over Twitter. I all but cried. I called my mom. “This is such good news, wow! wow!” she said and then I texted my brother who took to Facebook, posting the news by saying “This is a HUGE WIN for humanity.” This was monumental. A miracle. An answer to so many prayers said by so many souls in our community.

My total “ex-gay experience” was a rainy afternoon, in the home of a man who was not a counselor. He wasn’t from Exodus. In fact, I never met an Exodus counselor nor I have been to any Exodus events. And yet Exodus International once held a daily presence in my life. A powerful one.

Late one night, in my closeted teenage years, I quietly tapped into the Google search bar a desperate question: “is there a cure for homosexuality?”

Topping the list of results was Exodus.

The site was beautiful, flashy, streamed with messages of hope. The banner picture was of a man about my age leaning against a brick building, his sad eyes fixed upon the heavens, a question written below him, posed to him, posed to me: “do you want to leave homosexuality?”

Yes. Yes I did.

And so I dove into the material. Listened to all the testimonies. Drank in so much hope of the day I might be normal. Might be loveable. Might be enough.

I’d been keeping track of Exodus for years when all the red flags started popping up. I read the story about the organization’s founder, Michael Bussee. How decades ago, he resigned from Exodus, only two years after he started it, and it was because he fell in love with another man and he saw the catastrophic consequences of his “ministry.” Despite his recantation, the organization carried on, garnering wider and wider success amongst conservative evangelicals, but Michael didn’t stop. He stayed hard at work. He held protests and vigils, spoke with the media, did whatever he could do to dismantle this calamity that he bore into the world.

I heard some scary statistics. Dark ones. Story after story of souls who had come in desperately seeking “the Cure” and walked away wounded and depressed, alcoholics and drug addicts trying to dull their learned self-hatred. Many left the faith. Many took their own lives. And many went bankrupt. Spent tens of thousands of dollars on “therapy” that never ever worked, and as insane as that might sound, think what you’d be willing to give if it meant God would stop hating you, maybe start loving you. That’s what this was about.

In the aftermath of the Exodus shut down, I wrote: “I am dragging my feet toward forgiveness,” and as time has gone on, I have covered so much ground. In the freedom of Christ, I have learned grace, I have learned that I am enough, and part of this walk means making peace with those who implied I never was.

And in my process, I made a radical decision. I decided to open my eyes and look for grace. And to my surprise, in the darkness, I found the face of God. This is the truth I am unearthing about him: He is always on the job. Even in the darkness.

As much as it kills my pride to say it, Exodus was the ray of light I wrapped my hands around to keep moving forward. Their words were not simply soft taps on my closet door. They were invocations of love. They stirred things up in my soul. They spoke in the only way my conservative, bitter heart could hear. And in the end, they moved me forward, out of the darkness of shame, into the light of self-love and dignity and faith.

After I learned that I was loved, that I was made “good” and that I was accepted, that God loves the gays, too, I looked back at the organization with profound disgust, fire in my eyes. I saw the depth of their unethical practice. Of the money they were collecting. Of the shame and abuse they were perpetuating through harmful theology and freak “science.”

And yet.

And yet… I somehow owe them. I owe them because lured me into the tension, into coming out, into questioning, and as much as I hated them for the horrors they did, I knew deep down that, in some vital way, I had to thank them.

I can’t ignore the night that I heard one girl’s testimony, a girl from my college, speak to our campus Chapel about how God healed her of homosexuality. I remember the way these words haunted me: If you’re struggling with this, you can’t go it alone. Tell someone safe and trustworthy. If there is no one else, then tell me. It would be a bald face lie to say that specific moment, those few words, her story didn’t set in motion my own coming out.

Neither can I deny the impact of Sy Rogers, the delightfully funny ex-gay poster boy. Though his testimony of change is manipulative and dangerous, and I completely disagree with his theology on same-sex relationships, what I remember most from his talk was when he described the first church to take him in. He knew they loved him, because the men weren’t afraid to touch him. Hug him. Hold him. Shoulder his tears. And I wept as I listened to this on my iPod by the beach. That was my biggest fear he was talking about: I would be untouchable.

And now, even, I can look back on my meeting with that man, the one I sought out, the one I asked for help, and I can see the love of God in him, even as he shattered me. Because he prayed with me and he called me a saint, he said I was beloved by God.

And there is something comforting about that light in the dark. God was there, in the room, in the rain, dropping a line of truth into one of my murkiest moments.

Today, I tried searching for the old Exodus page and was redirected to a new one. They’ve reformed. They are now a group called: We Speak Love. And who knows what this will look like, but my anger quiets at the title, at the unanticipated repentance and surrender in the shut down of last year.

I look again, and I see God. I see the strange telltale movements of the resurrected Jesus, working wonders even in the most sinful of places, shaking this whole wide world to restoration.

On Quit(ting)

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A couple weeks ago, I published a piece at Deeper Story. It was about addiction and my desperate reach for grace. My awkward stance in the dark crook of debauchery and sin and struggle. I wrote it a full month before it was published, and almost immediately after I finished typing, I heard a yearly voice. An annual summoning from the base of my heart. Quietly, it said:

 

It’s time.

 

And I would’ve batted it away had I not blown past a startling number of stop signs this year. Friends have confided in me their concerns about my health. Two of them dreamed I died from it. My mom reminded me of the Lung Cancer in our family history. My brother, gently, informed me of the newly discovered danger of “Third Hand Smoke”– i.e. my smoky smell was toxic- especially to babies- i.e., his son. And sometimes I feel chest pain. Or a sore throat. And let’s not even talk about the money.

 

I spent a month thinking about how to go about this. I ended up improvising.

 

A week ago, I got an electronic cigarette, a device that imitates the look and feel of a cigarette, but without the smoke, just vaporized nicotine instead. Like the gum or the patch, but a million times better. I am not so smart about the movements of the spirit- but my God, I swear this stuff is sacrament. Almost immediately, it made a dent in my cigarette intake. I went from half of what I was smoking, to then one-third. Ever dwindling, oh so fast.

 

One day my quota was set at five real cigarettes, and around 8pm, I had had my third one. Glancing into my pack, I saw only two left. I decided then, that that was the last of them. Forever. Starting the following day, I would be smoke free. Clean slate. Voila.

 

But quitting smoking is the same as Chinese water drop torture. I woke up the following day thinking about it, immediately puffing on my e-cig to stave away the crave. I distracted myself with a good book, and then a hard jog, and by evening time, my family was throwing me high-fives, everyone so proud. In the living room, my dad pointed to my brother Aaron, asked if I was too stressed out, because I could totally hit him.

 

I was stressed out.

Achingly so. Brutally so. My mind spastically skittering on the edge without the cigarettes to hold it back.

 

All I could think of was smoking. Smoke. Smoke. Smoke. A broken record spun round and round my mind. My mouth watered. I needed a cigarette. My body tensed up with all the anxiety and none of the cure. I reached into my pocket unconsciously- out of habit, and then I felt a wave of loss. Like a death.

 

Because that’s what we’re dealing with here: loss.

 

It sounds so weird and dirty to say, but the truth is, smoking has been laced up in my identity since I was seventeen. It was what I turned to when I was anxious. When I was depressed. When I was overjoyed. When I was lonely. When I was bored. When I just needed it, it was always there. Instant fix.

 

And this is just the top layer. Let’s go beneath it to the rituals. 

 

 

Take coffee, for example. The first time I combined those two addictions, I thought to myself, Wow! I haven’t really had coffee until THIS. And so it was. Coffee and cigarettes, fused forever. What was first merely a sweetener, quickly became a trigger. I could always have a smoke without coffee, but I could not have coffee without a cigarette.

 

The same happened for meals. For the first half hour after I woke up. For reading. For the last five minutes before I went to sleep. For writing. For long phone conversations and definitely in person conversations. For minutes after I clocked out of work. For insomnia. For years and years and years, simple everyday things, times, decisions have been deeply knotted to smoking. And every attempt to do them smoke-free provokes every violent craving.

 

If you’re wondering why I’ve been absent this past week, it’s because writing does that to me. I am used to writing half a page, taking a smoke, drinking the coffee, writing again, repeat, repeat, repeat. And so writing now, without it, right here, typing this thing out, my head feels like it just might burst through the roof. My mouth feels dry.

 

The day I was supposed to be done for good, I went to my brother’s house, continuing to plow my way into all things distracting. We watched a show. I sat on the couch sucking on my e-cigarette like a straw, until it ran out of battery and I panicked even more. An avalanche of thoughts. I reached out to a friend who said: “You are so close. Don’t give up.” And truly I was. It would be the first full smoke-free day in years and I would’ve tasted the nearness of that if my skin didn’t feel like it was vibrating and my throat didn’t feel so thirsty for tar.

 

At 11:30 PM, I stopped at a gas station. I stopped at a gas station and bought my damn marlboro’s. I asked for a book of matches, but the cashier said they didn’t carry any, but hey, she was headed out for her smoke anyway and wouldn’t mind lighting up.

 

And there I was. Beneath the gas station neon lights smoking with a stranger, telling her proudly that this was my first of the day, because I was quitting.

 

She stole glance at my shaky fingers dangling the white smoldering stick, and then exhaled to the sky: good luck with that. I smoked another.

 

The following morning, I couldn’t bear lying to my puffed-up-proud folks, so I told them. I told them I felt like a miserable failure. Like this would never end. I would never be done.

 

“You’re too hard on yourself.” They said, and there wasn’t the slightest cringe or disappointment in their voice. They echoed my twitter followers the night before who rejoiced in the fact that I didn’t have a smoke until 11:30 PM. What a feat! What a win! A month ago, what an impossibility.

 

Grace catches us like that. All it needs is for us to speak the lie out loud: I feel like a failure. This feels impossible. And in our cannonball dive we hit a trampoline. We bounce back up with the truth. With the reminder of our own tendencies to tear ourselves apart. With realizing the HUGE victories that were wrongly got categorized as defeats, as not enough, as failure.

 

And so I’m back on the slow and steady, going at one-third of my usual, supplementing it with the e-cigarette, moving a few feet forward every day. And no, it’s not cold turkey. It’s not a clean breakaway. It’s not goodbye. But it’s working for me. For now. I am in progress, albeit slowly, but moving nonetheless.

 

Quitting is hard work, and it feels a little fragile, requiring more perseverance than anything I’ve done before. But it’s working, and I can feel it. Every day, I am stronger.