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,

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