Last week I was deluged with messages and comments from people who are incensed and infuriated by our family's story. By us. I didn't see it coming this time, since I hadn't blogged or knowingly posted our story anywhere lately.
You have called us "f-king murderers," child abusers, people who should never have been parents, and self-obsessed narcissists who demanded apologies from our son without ever realizing that we were the ones who had wronged him. You've told us that we might as well have shot our son point-blank before he came out, because that would have been more merciful than what we did. We've read how idiotic and stupid we were to not learn basic parenting truths until our son was on the streets, killing himself with narcotics. You've called us some pretty horrible names, some that have been posted online, some not. I've only read a small fraction of these kinds of comments, but from those I have read, I hear your message loud and clear.
And these are just from those of you who hate us from the "left" side of the conversation. There is a whole separate contingent of people who condemn us from the other side, but thankfully, they've been quiet lately. Still, the religious folks don't like us much either.
I cried a lot last week. I sobbed at the threads of truth contained in these hate-filled messages -- which might be gratifying to hear, for some of you.
I have to wonder, though, about you, the people who hate us. Do you really think that we are bragging about how we parented? Do you suppose that we told our story, at the request of a small group of underground LGBTQ students, with the intent of getting attention or garnering pity, or, even worse, with the purpose of accumulating accolades?
If so, you would be wrong. Dead wrong.
Admittedly, there have been countless LGBTQ people who have written to tell us of their similar experiences, and to thank us for sharing Ryan's. There have been parents of gay children, both young and old, who have written to tell us that our story has prevented them from doing the same thing -- following the prevalent, still widely preached belief that Christian parents with gay kids, if they love their children, must do everything possible to protect them from this allegedly soul-endangering immorality.
And many of those people have been exceedingly loving and gracious toward us. We are so thankful for each one who has written to tell us that our story has changed their story.
But please, don't for a second think that those affirming words let us off the hook.
Please don't imagine that we revel in some newfound "fame," or that we find solace in the number of times the HuffPost blog post was shared or the view count of the video of our testimony at Exodus International's final conference.
None of this makes the pain any less.
For those of you who want to be sure that we know how wretched we are, be comforted: We know all too well and feel the pain of that knowledge every day.
I wish you could sit down and ask our close friends, our surviving kids, our therapist and our pastors whether or not we are really aware of the severity of our mistakes, the complete wrongness of our actions. They would tell you what I tell you now:
We don't live for a single moment without regret.
Our much-loved eldest son and dear friend Ryan is dead -- a fact that I daily try to get my brain wrapped around -- and if you have ever had a child and lost them, you know that the pain of losing a child never leaves you. Never. We will live with intense sorrow over his death until our own deaths, and right now that sounds like a very, very long time.
When we weep and mourn, we don't question God or wonder why He allowed our son to die. We don't have questions for God that complicate our grief; we only have questions and accusations of ourselves. The tapestry of our grief is woven through with threads of remorse, regret and self-reproach.
Each time our Affirming Hope LifeGroup packs our living room, we die a little inside as we ask ourselves if this was what we were so afraid of, these amazing, loving, responsible, honest, generous children of God. Really?! We didn't want Ryan to grow up and be like them, these people who have become some of our closest friends?
Each time we read a heartbreaking coming-out letter, we hear Ryan's voice echoing from the pages, revealing new depths of the pain he felt as a very young child, knowing that something was different, that he didn't fit into the expected mold of our family.
Each time I sit down to work on writing a longer version of our journey through Ryan's coming out and our responses and, in preparation, I read the things we wrote to him along with his replies and journal entries from those years, I fight utter despair at the deep, deep level of our misunderstanding. Once he wrote to me, in very large, all caps, "YOU JUST DON'T GET IT!!!" Oh, how right he was. How completely right he was, and how tragically wrong we were. We just didn't get it.
But for those of you who seem determined that we know how completely and totally wrong we were, we get it now.
We have not insulated ourselves from the hundreds of stories from LGBTQ teens and adults, both written and told to us, that recount the intense pain, agony, self-loathing and suicidal thoughts caused by the same teachings that we communicated to Ryan. We have not stopped reading Ryan's own journals, which record that very same suffering.
But we also know that we'll be continuing to "get it" at a deeper level the longer we live in community with those who have been oppressed, listening to their pain and, through them, learning about our own child.
For those of you who are determined that we suffer and be held accountable for our mistakes, we can only say that the pain of knowing how deeply we wronged Ryan and not being able to sit down across from him and ask for his forgiveness (as we did during the last 10 months of his life, and as we do now with our surviving kids when we wrong them) is agony beyond all attempt to describe it.
We tell our story to anyone who will listen for one reason only: We are trying, in our own small way, to do something right. By exposing our own grave errors, we pray that others will learn from us and treat their own children differently. We pray that it won't take them six long years and losing their child to drugs and the streets in order to wake them up to the truth that every parent must love their children without any condition. Our children learn to love themselves through the love that we have for them. And a child who is told "I love you, but I do not love your sin" does not hear love. He does not learn to love himself or that God loves him. Ryan did not. None of the thousands of gay children who have written to me has heard love through those words. None.
So to those of you who have written to tell us of our utter depravity, we couldn't agree more.
Many of you have rejected the God whose "words" were used to reject you, and we can see why. But for us, we know that we are utterly, completely broken and without hope. Our hope comes in the form of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, the One who can take our deplorable actions and use them, somehow, to give hope to others, to speak His love to those who have been told they are unworthy of it, to give parents who have told their children they are no longer welcome at home the humility to ask their kids for forgiveness, to kneel before them and weep for their own sin. In the words of a band that Ryan loved, here is what our Hope looks like, in the face of our utter depravity:
I know one day all our scars will disappear, like the stars at dawn
And all of our pain will fade away when morning comes
And on that day, when we look backwards, we will see that everything is changed
And all of our trials will be as milestones on the way
And as long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone's broken heart
And there's no greater love than that one shed his blood for his friends
On that day all of the scales will swing to set all the wrongs to right
All of our tears and all of our fears will take to flight
But until then all of our scars will still remain, but we've learned that if we'll
Open the wounds and share them, then soon they start to heal
As long as we live, every scar is a bridge to someone's broken heart
And there's no greater love than that one shed his blood for his friends
We must see that every scar is a bridge, and as long as we live
We must open up these wounds
When someone stands in your shoes and will shed his own blood
There's no greater love; we must open up our wounds
(From Thrice's album Vheissu, released October 2005; listen here)
And as long as God keeps using our story to build bridges for others, we will continue to open up our wounds and share each time He prompts us to.
We don't expect you to agree with or even respect our faith (especially since many of you have been gravely harmed in the name of Jesus), and you don't have to believe that our motives are good, but I hope you will see that we choose to speak out about our story only because we believe that we were wrong.
There are many, many leaders and pastors out there still teaching that parents should treat their gay children just as we did, and for that reason we cannot stay silent. This is not about us. This is about the children, the pre-teens, the teens, the young adults and adults who are still living in self-condemnation, not believing that they are worthy of God's love, because that is what they are hearing from their church communities and from their parents. And that has to stop.
Lives are at stake.
So even if you hate us, can we please agree on this one thing? If we each do our part to stop the oppression and start saving the lives of LGBTQ kids, maybe we can actually be a world with fewer haters and a lot more lovers.
Read more about how God taught these evangelical parents how to truly love their gay son here.
Linda blogs at JustBecauseHeBreathes.com.
Also on The Huffington Post: