My First Pride

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Yesterday I attended my first Pride. Two of my kids, one of my step-kids, and a girlfriend drove up to Pittsburgh, battling traffic in a triangle-shaped city with two major events happening at the same time and with me forgetting my wallet so I had no cash to help us through the day. But even with some minor set-backs at the beginning of the day (we all managed to find parking and my son has a job that primarily pays in cash so he could afford lunch for everyone), we had a really phenomenal time.

In the days leading up to Pride, I read a story about a Pulse victim whose father had refused to claim his son’s body. I thought about the massive LGBTQ homeless population. I thought about the mother who wrote about giving her child over to the Devil on his wedding day. I thought about Ruth Coker Burks and the hundreds of gay men who were abandoned by their families when they contracted AIDS.

My heart broke with the weight of pain and abandonment that so many LGBTQ people are forced to endure.

I had crocheted up nearly 200 hearts and with some help, had them all pinned onto a giant heart that said “Love is Love.” As we walked up and down the festival, we would approach groups of people and offer them a heart pin. I gave hugs, shared a little of my story, met some other parents there to support their LGBTQ kids, blinked back tears more than a few times. I was nervous that giving out these tokens might be seen as an act of condescension, but over and over, it was perceived as I had hoped – a little gift of love from me to them.

What was even more lovely was seeing how my kids reacted as I handed them out. It meant so much to me that my kids know without question that I support them and love them. That they don’t have to walk this path alone. That they have an advocate right in their own home.

A year ago today our country was rocked as the news of a shooting in a gay nightclub murdered 49 people and injured 58 more. My kids had made plans to attend Pride, and a part of me wanted to keep them home. Maybe the shooting would encourage more hate. Maybe it was part of a larger, more coordinated effort to murder LGBTQ people. Maybe I was sending my kids into danger.

But that’s what Pride is. It’s a reminder of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when LGBTQ people revolted against a system that refused to allow them even the dignity of being themselves in bars. It’s a reminder that there is danger in being openly LGBTQ, even nearly 50 years later. It’s a reminder that when the community bands together, they have a strength that they don’t have individually.

That was what was beautiful about attending Pride yesterday. Seeing thousands of people who, despite the risks, were there to celebrate their lives. Not merely to celebrate being gay or trans or non-binary or queer, though that was part of it, but to celebrate being alive. To celebrate overcoming potential abandonment by their families, overcoming rejection from the Church, overcoming fear of violence and even death. Each person I met was brimming with that life, with that celebratory spirit.

The world can be hard and cruel. People who should love us will let us down. We may even lose our lives. But should learn from our LGBTQ friends – every day we’re alive is a day to be proud. 

And every day one of our LGBTQ friends survive, we should be proud of them. 

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Wild Flowers and Maternity Clothes

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The day we came home from the hospital after Elliott’s birth, everything was gone. We were still a month out from his due date, so there wasn’t a lot of baby stuff accumulated yet, but we’d picked up a few items. One couple had given us a car seat. Another friend of mine from high school had mailed us a huge package of cloth diapers and covers. Rich asked a friend to get them and take them away for us. I’m still not sure where they were donated.

My maternity clothes, however, were still there, folded on the shelf.

For the past three years, they have stayed in my closet. I’ve pulled them out, intending to get rid of them a few times, but I could never quite bring myself to actually load them into my car and drop them off at a clothing donation site.

Stillbirth leaves you with so little of the child. I have about a dozen pictures of our son that I look at from time to time. I have a box of the clothes he wore for those pictures. I have a mold of his hands and feet. I have a towel that a friend had sewn for him.  That’s it.

My time with Elliott when he was alive was confined to my pregnancy. And so much of that time was filled with fear and regret. A child conceived outside of marriage. The product of an affair. A late in life, “don’t you know how that happens” baby. An infant who wasn’t going to get a baby shower because of the sins of his parents.

But there were flashes of kindness. The car seat. The diapers. The towel. And the maternity clothes. Someone I knew online had seen a post I put up asking local friends where I could find cheap maternity clothes, and a few days later, a package filled with tops and shorts and dresses arrived at my door. A few days later, I wore my favorite, a black and white polka-dot dress with an orange bow to my son’s trumpet recital, grateful that I had something pretty and new.

The clothes reminded me of the passage in Luke where Jesus encouraged his followers not to worry, that they had more value than birds and grass. Those maternity clothes were the wild flowers clothing the grass.  They reminded me that I was more than my wrong choices. The clothes represented forgiveness, provision, acceptance. For me, for my yet unborn son.

So held onto the clothes. For three years.

A few days ago, another plea went out on my social media feed asking if anyone had any maternity clothes they would be willing to part with. And while there was a moment of hesitation – how could I give away one of my few remaining links with my son? – it was short-lived.

We met this morning, and I hugged her as her husband loaded the box into their minivan. I cried tears of grief as I drove back home, thinking about Elliott, who would be three on Sunday, if that day had gone differently. I cried tears of longing thinking about what it was like to feel him rolling and stretching inside of me and how I don’t get to hold that squirming, writhing little boy. I cried tears of regret for the time I spent fearing my pregnancy rather than reveling in it.

I cried tears of joy because sometimes wild flowers are a black and white polka-dot maternity dress with an orange bow that remind us that we are loved.

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Giving Your Child to the Devil Invites the Devil Closer

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My firstborn just messaged me to let me know that the guy who was trying to get free chicken nuggets from Wendy’s now has the most retweets of anyone, so he’s getting his nuggs. Other recent texts include discussions about the leaked episodes of Orange is the New Black (he watched them, I haven’t), how we felt about 13 Reasons Why, finalizing dates for our summer vacation, making plans for our surprise birthday/Mother’s Day tattoos. It’s a rare day that we don’t make contact with one another in some way. We’ve gone through some difficult seasons in our relationship, but overall, I think he’d agree with me that we’re close.

Earlier today, I read a post from a mom who has cut off all relationship with her gay son, saying that she has given him over to the Devil. In it, she talks about being unable to sleep, feeling desperation and hopelessness, experiencing guilt, despair, and fear. It is a deeply sad post, and my heart breaks for the loss of relationship that she and her son are experiencing. Primarily because it does not have to be this way.

One of the things I have always been taught is that we can know if our actions are pleasing to God based on their fruit. Good actions result in good fruit, bad actions result in bad fruit. Galatians says that the fruits of the Spirit (presumably the good fruits our lives should exhibit) are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

While I suppose there is an element of faithfulness to the letter of the law is present in her life, in her own words, few of the others seem to be there. A parent tossing and turning at night because they have broken the relationship with a child who they clearly love is bringing about bad fruit. Not love, but fear. Not peace, but despair. Not goodness, but hopelessness.

Justin Lee spoke at my church a few weeks ago, and one of the things he said was that if Scripture and compassion are pitted against each other, it’s a red flag that something has gone horribly wrong. I wholeheartedly agree with that idea. The spirit of the law gives life, and in the absence of that life, we should reevaluate the choices that we’ve made.

Parenting LGBTQ kids can have difficult days, regardless of whether or not we choose to accept our kids. There will be things we may not understand. There will be people who will try to make us second-guess our decisions. There will be days when we struggle to parent well. Parenting is hard, no matter the circumstances.

This mother, and so many like her, are not bad people. I believe they are doing harmful things to their children, and to themselves, quite frankly, but I don’t think it’s borne of malicious intent. However, in giving her child over to the Devil, she has given herself over to the Devil as well. When we place one of our own into the hands of the Devil, we place our own hearts there as well. By choosing the letter of the law, she is reaping death.

I have not yet met a parent who accepts their LGBTQ child who feels hopelessness or despair. I have not met an affirming parent who can’t sleep at night because of that decision. Because they choose to follow the ways of Jesus, who gave up everything to pursue relationship with us, they are reaping good fruit. They are reaping an abundant life.

Posted in LGBTQ, Parenting | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Loving My Kids Shouldn’t Require Bravery

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We have a few newish drivers in our house and I am the worst person to take them out to learn to drive. I white-knuckle my way through every harder-than-necessary brake. I suck in breath when they get a little closer to the side of the road than I think is comfortable. I grab onto the door for dear life when they take a turn too fast. I have abdicated all driving lessons to their dad or step-dad because if I’m in the car, my fears will absolutely not help them learn to drive well. Teaching my kids to drive requires a courage that I do not possess.

There are lots of moments in parenting that require bravery. We need to be brave when we send our kids off to school. We are brave when we let them cook their first meal and then eat it with them. We are brave when we let them hang out with friends at the mall or go on dates or put them in the church nursery. Honestly, just about everything we do as parents requires us to exercise some level of courage. We’re raising human beings, after all. That’s a pretty massive charge.

One area where we don’t usually need to exhibit any kind of exceptional fortitude is in the way that we show love to our kids. For the most part, that happens automatically. We don’t generally point to parents who love their kids as behaving in a particularly heroic fashion. Loving our offspring tends to be our natural response as parents. In fact, our love is what drives the fears we need to overcome in all other area. Fear of car crashes, fear of broken hearts, fear of any kind of harm. We love our kids, so we have to be brave when we let them do things that could put them in any kind of danger.

People have told me that I’m brave for speaking out for my LGBTQ kids, but the truth is, that isn’t bravery, it’s just love. My kids are funny, smart, talented, interesting people, and sharing about them is easy for me. Keeping parts of them hidden is much harder for me because I always want them to know just how much I love them and how proud I am of them.

What makes it brave to share about all aspects of my kids is that many have made it clear that I should not be proud of all of the parts of my kids. They look at things like gender expression or orientation as negative traits that at the very least, I should be ashamed of and not speak about.

If simply speaking about my kids the way any proud parent speaks about their kids make me brave, then you need to compliment my kids and the LGBTQ population way more. Because support is, for the most part, easy. Actually living your life authentically as an LGBTQ person requires far more courage. It can mean losing jobs. It can mean losing housing. It can mean putting yourself in physical danger. It can mean experiencing state sanctioned bigotry. It can mean being kicked out of a church. It can mean being rejected by the people who should find it the easiest to love you.

Allies who receive that treatment do so only because the opinion of LGBTQ people is so low that even saying, “Hey, I affirm their humanity,” is too much to handle. Because affirming humanity should be a relatively simple thing for all of us to do. Especially if we’re parents.

I’m brave only because people have made it dangerous for me to do the most natural thing a mom does: love her kids.

Posted in LGBTQ, Parenting | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Billy Graham Rule: An Adulterer’s Perspective

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There has been a recent uproar about Vice President Mike Pence following what many have dubbed “the Billy Graham rule.” Basically it boils down to the idea that a man should never, under any circumstances, be alone with a woman.

There are strong feelings on both sides of this issue. Those who are opposed see it as dehumanizing women. Women are seen as temptations or as liabilities; they’ll either make you want to cheat or falsely accuse you of sexual misconduct. These strict boundaries create narratives that place women as non-humans who can only serve to hurt a man’s reputation and men as non-humans who are incapable of carrying on rational conversations if boobs are present.

On the other hand, those who support the rule have their own reasons. These husbands look at it as a way to show that they place their marriage above other relationships, and they respect their wives enough to let her know that she’s the only woman for them. It’s meant to show honor to the woman they made promises and to show that they intend to be men of their word. It protects women from assaults that are far too common.

For those who may not know my story, I spent years as a proponent of cross-sex friendships. For five years, Rich was my best friend. We went to church together, we played music together, we hung out together, we went to dinner together, we texted one another, primarily without our spouses. And yes, for a brief time before we left our exes and became a couple, our relationship was unquestionably more than “just friends.”

But obviously we didn’t just decide one day, “Hey, we should turn have an affair that turns our lives upside-down and leave our spouses and make life hard for our kids!” Of course there was a slow creep toward that eventuality. And for the most part, that’s why the Billy Graham rule exists. Not because men automatically assume that they’re going to lust uncontrollably after a woman just because they share a meal together or women assume that a man is just scheming to get into their skirt, but because they want to avoid that slow creep.

So what’s my perspective now, on the other side? After all, I’ve not only seen, but participated in the worst-case scenario for not following the Billy Graham rule. Would I tell my younger self to renege all of those words I wrote and spoke about close friendships between men and women?

Perhaps some of them.

  1. If someone was looking at a cross-sex friendship and they were already married, I would ask them to take a real, hard, honest look at their marriage. I didn’t do that. I was deeply lonely for years, but I ignored how that loneliness affected how I viewed my marriage. We didn’t fight. We had regular enough sex. We had kids together. I thought that was enough. It wasn’t enough. Don’t assume that it’s enough. If you’re filling a void in your marriage with someone else, it’s bad. It doesn’t matter if you’re attracted to them or not, it’s bad. The consequences might be worse if you’re attracted to them, but using friends to avoid your marriage is always a negative.
  2. Know that yes, divorce is an option. I was fully in the “divorce isn’t an option” club, which in my case translated to, “marital discord isn’t an option.” When things were hard in my marriage, I had friends to make me forget. I don’t think I ignored things in those relationships because I knew that friendships could come and go – we hadn’t made any vows, so if I wanted to keep the friendship, it was worth working on it. I’ve been divorced now. So yeah, I know that divorce is out there. Not as a scary thing. Not as an escape hatch. But marriage often isn’t forever, and if I want mine to last, I need to be invested in it and working on it.
  3. Be a lot more honest with that friend, and if you don’t want to, do it even more. I am absolutely certain that both Rich and I could see the cracks in the other’s marriage, and we were both pretty quiet about them. There were definitely times when one or the other of us should have said, “You need to put time in with your wife/husband.” We didn’t, and in those times, we weren’t being good friends to each other. Of course we all fudge a little with those closest to us, because we want to see them in the best light, but some things call for brutal honesty, and the state of other close relationships should be one of them.

And yet.

I still stand strong against the idea of keeping sexes separated in their friendships. I believe that we have ways that we see the world that benefit one another and can only be truly shared by friends who are close. I believe that our interests and values should influence our relationships far more than what is going on in our bathing suit areas. I believe that we show a high regard for people when we are willing to engage with them as people, rather than seeing them as potential pitfalls. I believe that we reflect the truth of the gospel when we actually behave in a way that reflects Galatians 3:28 that declares that our oneness in Christ should far outweigh the differences in our sexes.

There are ways for me to honor my marriage. Ignoring half of the population won’t be one of them.

 

Posted in Marriage, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Creating a Pliable God

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In a meme that seems to have originated with the creator of the Red Starbucks Cup Outrage, Joshua Feuerstein, there is a picture of a good looking white guy with long hair and suitcases under his arms and caption reading “On My Way Back to the White House.” It’s supposed to represent Jesus, who has apparently been missing for a few years, heading back to Washington D.C., now that we’ve got a new president. Also, Jesus is a white guy. From the middle east.

It was shared by Christian singer Vicki Yohe (who has since erased her entire social media profile) with the caption, “You know you are doing something right when there is so much opposition!!! #excitingtimes.”

During the inauguration on Friday, Franklin Graham took to the podium and commented, “Mr. President, in the Bible, rain is a sign of God’s blessing. And it started to rain, Mr. President, when you came to the platform.”

I get it. We want to encourage our friends and we want to feel like we’re backing a winner. It’s why we like underdog stories (kind of). So if our friend is facing adversity, we say, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” It’s why rain can be a good omen on a wedding day, even if Alanis thinks it’s ironic.

When one is a Christian, they’re not supposed to be beholden to things like superstition or omens. They’re supposed to quote the book of Proverbs, not quaint colloquialisms. But the human desire to lift up our friends or put ourselves on the winning side is hard to overcome, and so faith is profaned and God is forced into the worldview that most closely resembles our own.

Suddenly rain during an inauguration isn’t “good luck,” it’s “God’s blessing.” Protests against an unqualified, vulgar president are a sign that Jesus is taking his bags to visit the White House.

We have seen it before. God sent a tornado to protest the ELCA ordaining LGBTQ ministers. God caused an the tsunami in Japan that killed nearly 16,000 people because the White House repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. God stopped protecting America from terrorist attacks because of the ACLU.

It’s convenient, because this pliable God also shows approval if the weather is lovely and if people are lining up behind the person you support. No matter the circumstances, God can be bent and twisted to back that which is most pertinent to the person doing the bending and twisting.

When we twist things often enough, they begin to weaken. The same applies to God. If we tack God’s name onto every view that we already hold, we diminish God’s power. We take what is holy and make it profane when God is used as a stamp of approval for that which is already believed. After all, if God destroyed people because you think it’s sinful to support marriage equality, couldn’t it also follow that God killed people in recent storms in Mississippi because I think it’s a sin to have supported Trump?

It may feel like honoring God when we invoke that power into our discussions of politics and culture, but claiming to speak for God is serious business and we should treat it with reverence and awe.

In other words, we shouldn’t boil down God’s power to a weather report.

Posted in Faith and Doubt, Politics | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Why I Support Protesting Trump


We tend to have selective amnesia about how people react when there’s a change of party in the White House. Some always feel disenfranchised and overreact with the worst possible caricatures of what the words said during the campaigns could mean. And I’m old enough and cynical enough to agree that most of the time it’s a case of the losing side just being sore losers. Because really, we’ve mostly had educated men in leadership who have surrounded themselves with other educated men and women. I may wildly disagree with their agendas, but the caricatures were mostly unfair.

I don’t feel that way this time. 

The president’s own words have painted the caricature. He’s the one who said “grab ’em by the pussy. He’s the one who flailed around, mocking disabled people. He’s the one who called Mexican immigrants rapists. He’s the one who brought up the inner city every time he was talking about black people. He’s the one who told followers to “knock the crap out of” protesters. He’s the one who calls people who didn’t vote for him his enemies. He’s the one who encouraged foreign governments to hack the emails of his political opponent. He’s the one who called her nasty and threatened to jail her.

These aren’t exaggerations. These aren’t overreactions. These aren’t the machinations of sore losers.

These. Are. His. Words.

So yes. I fully support the protests today. And tomorrow and the next day and the next day. Not because I’m disappointed in the outcome of the election, even though I am. Not because I’m a woman, even though I am. Not because I’m the mom of LGBTQ kids, even though I am. 

I support all of these protests because his words are worthy of protest. Today and every day following.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment