Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Life is a Journey

On the wall of my office above my desk are these seven words, “Every journey begins with a single step”. Those words have been my mantra for many years. As a child who was extremely shy, I knew and understood that to go somewhere or to do something meant that I had to take that first step. Most of those first steps were terrifying but over the years and after many steps the fear has been replaced with wonder and excitement.

If I were to have just stayed in one place and would have never take any of those first steps I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have experienced some of the most wonderful moments in my life or my ministry.
Life is full of journeys. Some are unforgettable and some we would like to forget, but all began with a single step.

When our children were small we purchased a pop-up camper. I had grown up camping with my family in a pop-up camper and my husband had been a Boy Scout and had tent camped. We both loved camping and we wanted to share the experience with our children.
On our first camping trip we went to Ponca State Park. We were so excited! We got to the campground, unpacked, got settled in… and it started to rain. It rained the entire weekend. There isn’t much room to move around in a pop up camper and when it’s raining it becomes claustrophobic. Our weekend was miserable, wet and not a whole lot of fun. And to make matters worse I got sick and so did one of the kids.

Another trip we took as a family was to New York City. The kids and I had never been to New York so my husband and I planned a trip. The five of us flew to New York City for Thanksgiving. We went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the Today Show, Central Park (and had a hot dog), FAO Schwartz, looked at all of the Christmas windows, had a great slice of New York pizza, went to Grand Central Station, the Empire State building and much more. It was an unforgettable vacation.
Most people looking at these two distinctively different trips would assume that the camping trip would be a trip we would want to completely forget and the New York trip would be the trip we would want to fully remember.

 Yes, the trip to New York was unbelievable but there is a part of it I would like to forget. On the day that we were to fly home our flight was delayed several hours and we waited inside LaGuardia Airport… ALL DAY LONG! When we finally were cleared to leave we were told that we would be staying the night in Detroit Michigan. The problem? Our luggage continued on to Kansas City. The only clean clothes that we had were the “I love NY” t-shirts we had purchased and had put in my carry-on bag. No clean undergarments or clothes. We were tired, hungry and just wanted to be at home. When we got to Kansas City we found our luggage and then had to drive the long trip home and with a sick child.

The camping trip although it seems was miserable had moments I never want to forget. Laughing until I cried, sharing stories, snuggling with my kids and having an entire weekend without any distractions, such as; the T.V., friends, phone or other electronics.
One was filled with bright lights and the other with rain clouds, one with hundreds of people and the other with five. Each with its own memories both good and bad, but I definitely would never have wanted to miss either one.

If we stay in one place and never take that first step, we miss out on so much. If we believe that every step will lead us on perfect journeys then we will be sorely disappointed. The journeys we take will be filled with moments that will either be good, bad, beautiful, ugly, precious, crazy, exhilarating, devastating, incredible or traumatic, and the list goes on and on.

Life is meant to be lived. Life is meant to be experienced.

Every journey begins with a single step. Take that step and see where the journey leads you.

Then they said, “Ask God whether or not our journey will be successful.”  “Go in peace,” the priest replied. “For the Lord is watching over your journey.”” (Judges 18:5-6 NLT)


Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Light Shines Out Of Darkness

For a very long time I have felt God wanting me to share my faith story. This part of my story is one of the hardest to write about. You see, my daughter is gay. I’m not sharing this story to change people’s minds. People are going to believe what they believe. What I hope for is that it will help people to understand the long and difficult journey that I have been on and that so many other parents are on. I know for some of you it will be a surprise and for others you may already know. I may have some who will unfriend me because it makes them uncomfortable or it may go against what they believe in, and I understand and respect that. I know that there are those friends and family who are uncomfortable with it and I respect them too. But it is a part of who are family is and I wanted to share how I have struggled, what I have learned and how I have continued to love my daughter through it all. Sharing my story may help others to not feel so alone or isolated when they have a child, a family member or a friend who is gay. When my daughter came out, I didn’t know anyone who was gay. No friends or family members. I had no one to talk to who would understand what we were going through.
My daughter Ashley graduated from high school in May of 2004. She was an honor student who had many friends and was involved in music & sports. She attended church weekly with our family and enjoyed Sunday school and youth group. I was so excited to have her go off to college and have the experience of living away from home and all that college would bring to her life. I was a very proud mama.

Halfway between her first semester we started to notice that something didn’t seem right. She became distant but when asked if everything was alright she always answered “yes”. In November while I was at a wake for a family friend, Ashley called and confided in her dad that she was gay. When I returned home that evening I found our other daughter crying and my husband in a state of bewilderment. He told me what she had said and I immediately picked up the phone and called her. I have to admit I didn’t handle it well. I told her she was wrong, that there was no way she could be gay. She had dated boys and had been serious with a young man her senior year. She had shown no signs of being interested in girls in that way. Where was this coming from? I began to yell and cry and hung up the phone devastated. In an instant all of the dreams that I had for her blew up. The dreams of my daughter getting married, walking down the aisle, having that first dance with her dad and having children all went away. And fear and shame crept in, the fear and shame of people finding out that I had a daughter who was gay. There was also the fear for my daughter’s life. The hate that some people had for those who were gay was scary. At the time I was the Administrative Secretary at our church. What would people think and how would they react?
A few months before Ashley came out, I had been having lunch with 3 of my friends and we were talking about the presidential race and how the talk of homosexuality was one of the big issues. During this conversation I had said to my friends that if one of my children came to me and told me that they were gay, I would love them, support them and accept them. It’s amazing how what we say and how we react can be two different things.

We were so stunned and shocked by this revelation and neither myself nor my husband knew how to handle it. We even told her not to come to a family weekend in Minneapolis because we didn’t know how to face all of my husband’s family while carrying this secret. Looking back that was just the first of many times I would regret our actions.
Right before the Christmas break we found out that Ashley was failing all of her classes because she hadn’t been attending them. She had met someone on line who lived in Tennessee and she had also been experimenting with drugs. My husband drove to her college, helped her pack up her belongings and brought her home. It was so awkward and hard. We tried to talk but every time it ended in raised voices and tears. Four days before Christmas she ran away from home. This was just the beginning.

For the first 24 hours we had no idea where she was. She finally called to let us know she was in Tennessee. This devastated our family. Her sister and her little brother didn’t understand and became so angry with her. We all were angry and hurt. We felt betrayed, abandoned and isolated. It was Christmas and how were we going to explain why she wasn’t at home. We soon found ourselves letting family and very close friends know what we were dealing with.
We made it through the holidays and I tried so very hard to keep everything as normal as possible. We made the decision to not call her, that if she wanted to talk to us then she could call. And she did. With an attitude that was defiant, rude and harsh. She hadn’t been raised to behave like this. She had been such a sweet, funny, loving, caring and thoughtful person. She had been independent but not defiant. This was uncharacteristic of her. It was like talking to someone I didn’t even know. Every time I hung up the phone I would pray to God that he would change her. I prayed that God would make her see that she wasn’t gay. That God would change her mind and her heart and bring her home. I prayed that this was all just a horrible nightmare and that soon I would wake up. Every waking moment was spent praying to God.

I called her close friends and even her youth group leader and asked them if they thought that Ashley was gay or if she had ever confided in them about it. They were just as shocked as we were. I began looking on the Internet for anything that could help me understand. I came across a website that was called Exodus or something like that. It told the story of a young woman who sounded so much like Ashley. She had come out that she was gay and for 10 years lived a gay lifestyle. But then she realized that she wasn’t gay and she was once again living a heterosexual lifestyle and was very happy. I suddenly had hope. Instead of trying to understand my daughter, I decided I was going to change her.
After a few weeks of living in Tennessee, Ashley called one night to say she wanted to come home. Her dad and I were so relieved and after getting everything in order we took off for the very long trip to get her. I had been praying so hard and I thought that God had finally answered our prayers. I thought that she had changed her mind and that everything would go back to normal. But I was wrong. We just began living a “new” normal. We arrived at the apartment she had been living in and found it in disarray. Everyone had taken off and left her with the mess. We hauled things to the trash and filled a dumpster, we returned furniture to the rental store and a cable box and closed up the apartment and headed out of town. I was so relieved when we finally drove out of that city and headed home. She slept almost the entire way. She was physically, emotionally and spiritually drained. She was a broken child.

My husband drove our van which was filled with her things and I drove her car. During the long trip home she started to share with me what had happened. And it was truly awful. I’m not going to share all that she told me because that it is up to her if she ever wants to tell her story. What I will share is that they had opened up credit cards in her name and we would later find that she was thousands of dollars in debt. They would purchase items and then pawn them for the money. They had made and sold drugs and she had known a few people that had died due to overdosing. And she was still gay. I thought for sure after going through everything that she did, she would see that this lifestyle would only bring her pain and unhappiness. But I was wrong.
She came home and we got her into counseling. But that only lasted a few weeks. She didn’t think anything was wrong with her and that we just didn’t understand. We also found that she hadn’t stopped using drugs and the people she was hanging out with were no good. So we finally told her that if she didn’t stop she would have to leave and she did. She would eventually ask to come back and we let her but on the condition that she had 2 strikes left. She used them up within a couple years. Our relationship was strained and difficult.

She would eventually begin a relationship with a young woman and seemed to be settling down. She had stopped using drugs and she began to sound like her old self. I decided to reach out to her and I called her to see if she and her friend wanted to go to dinner for her birthday with her dad and I. She accepted and that is when the long journey of mending our relationship began.
She would eventually leave that relationship for another and that relationship would also end. She has  now  returned to college and has been in a committed relationship for a couple years with a beautiful young woman who has two adorable children. They are a family and they have become a part of our family. We celebrate holidays, birthdays and family dinners together. Our family relationship has mended. It isn’t perfect but it is good. We are all working at making our family stronger and healthier.

Over the years I have read articles written by Christians that have told me that my daughter will go to hell and that God doesn’t love her and I have read other articles by Christians that have told me that God does love her and that we are not to judge. And I have had Christians tell me that I just need to continue to pray and that if Ashley was really a Christian then she would leave her lifestyle and then there have been other Christians tell me that I just need to love my daughter and accept her for who she is. It left me confused.
What does God believe? I’ve read the scripture passages over and over, I know what they say. But even though I know what they say, I know in my heart and I know what God has told me in our quiet times together, that he doesn’t hate my daughter. He has never told me that she is going to go to hell. What God has told me is that our family would be okay and that we would make it through. And he was right. He has told me that she is His child, His beloved. He has told me to care for her, support her, accept her and surround her with love and that is what I am doing. I’m not going to turn my back on her. I’ve read the Bible looking for answers and what I find is that my God is a loving, merciful, forgiving, redeeming, wonderful God.

Ashley is our first born. We raised her to know right from wrong. We taught her about Jesus and how he loves her. She is funny, smart, witty, beautiful, caring and compassionate. She would help anyone even at the expense of what she needs. My love has grown stronger for her each year that she has been a part of my life. I may not have always liked or agreed with what she has done and yes there have been times where her actions and words have broken this mama’s heart, but I have never stopped loving her. God isn’t finished with my daughter and I continue to see the beautiful woman that he created her to be.
There has been a debate going on for years about whether or not homosexual couples should marry. People for and against have spoken words of hate and this has scared me. You will never find me protesting on the steps of a federal or state building or posting statuses, articles or pictures on Facebook or Twitter about homosexuality. It’s not part of my personality. But what I can do is share my story, the story of a mom who has come a long way from wanting to change her daughter to wanting to understand her daughter. God hasn’t changed her but he did change my heart. This has been a journey of almost 9 years. Throughout this journey I have held on tightly to God for strength, courage, understanding, hope and love. This journey has led me to a deeper and more intimate relationship with God.

May my story help those who may be struggling with a similar situation and may it also help those to be more loving and understanding to those who are different then themselves.
For God, who said, “let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Blessings and peace,

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year - New Word

In 2007 I read a book titled “Thursdays at Eight” by Debbie Macomber. It’s about a group of friends who would meet every Thursday morning for breakfast or coffee. In this story an idea for my own life sprung off of the pages. Each woman would pick a word at the beginning of the year that they would use as the theme for that year. I liked that idea and have been doing this ever since reading the book. Each year the word that I have chosen has brought a new meaning and depth to my life.

 For 2012 my word was “Awaken”. Here is what I wrote in my journal about choosing this word, “I picked this word because I no longer want to sleep walk or sleep live my days while here on this earth. God has given me this life and a purpose to these days and I don’t want to miss any of what he has for me. So many times I take for granted all of the wonderful, joy-filled blessings that I have been given because I am too busy numbing my mind and spirit with useless things…I need to be awake to all that God has given to me and to remember that God provides all of what I need.”

Little did I know on January 1, 2012 when I chose the word Awaken, how my life and the life of my family would be awakened to so much and how God would provide all of what we would need to live through it.

2012 brought with it joy, pain, loneliness, exhaustion, laughter, thanksgiving and blessings. Through all of the ups and downs, twists and turns we found God beside us, ahead of us, holding us, directing us and simply being with us.

I began a new job as Director of Women’s Ministry, our oldest daughter went back to college, our first grandson was born but with complications that would keep him in the hospital the first 5 months of his little, on Christmas Day God would give us the special gift of bringing Jackson home from the hospital so that he and his mommy and daddy could begin their life as a family under one roof, our son would move 500 miles away to start a new life in a new place, become engaged to a beautiful sweet young woman, and my husband and I would become empty nesters and would begin a new chapter of our lives getting to know one another again.

Within all of what happened there are details that I won’t share but please know that there were many challenges, struggles, anxiety, anticipation and waiting, lots of waiting.

So on this the first day of the new year, I look back on 2012 with relief in knowing that we made it through stronger and with a deeper connection with one another and with God and I look forward to what lies ahead for me in 2013.

As I close the chapter of my life titled “Awaken”, I begin a new chapter with a new word. I took a long time thinking about which word I would choose for this year. Many words traveled through my thoughts but one word stood out among the others. My word for 2013 is “Simplicity”. The word simplicity brings calmness to my spirit that I deeply need.

I realized after a year filled with new responsibilities, traveling back and forth to see my grandson for 5 months, the everyday drama and challenges that my own choices and decisions brought to my life and those that other people brought to my life, I am ready for a little more simple and a lot less hectic.

So this year I am searching, beckoning, needing and embracing a more simple way of life. This year I will be sharing with you all that I discover and learn as I search for simplicity. And with every new word I will bring God along for the ride. Turning to him to reveal to me the simple pleasures, blessings, changes and growth opportunities that may bring to me simplicity.

So as we begin 2013, I wish each of you a year filled with God’s blessings. May you have more love, joy, laughter, courage, growth and simplicity.