Sitting across from us was our now adult son with so much pain on his face.
“How could you not have known? And if you did, why did you leave me to figure it all out on my own?”
Six years earlier, David “came out” to us when he was home for a break from college. At the time, he was revealing his same-sex attraction but was committed to staying celibate unless God somehow would have a woman for him to marry. He was pursuing a degree in cross-cultural studies and would be moving to North Africa after graduation under the umbrella of a mission agency.
While in North Africa it became clear to David that he would not be marrying a woman. He wrestled with God through a very low time of coming to terms with who he was as a gay Christian man. As he shared his journey after being there a year and a half, he was asked to leave prematurely.
Reflecting back on his painful journey of trying to please God, us and “the church” had led him to those painful heart-wrenching questions of us: “How could you have not known? If you did, why did you leave me to figure it out on my own?”
The following morning after a sleepless night and many tears, I asked myself over and over, “Did I know?” If I did, what kept me from entering in with my son and seeing him for who he really is?
I started to remember specific situations from the time he was very little all the way through to adulthood — where there was a “knowing” that I wasn’t willing to fully acknowledge at the time. Why?
“How different life could have been for my son if I had walked it out differently with him.”
How different life could have been for my son if I had walked it out differently with him. If I had been courageous to step into the things I really didn’t want to know at the time. The reality of the pain and harm I have caused in my son’s life feels unbearable to live with. And I don’t get a redo.
My thoughts went to, “What if I somehow could be used to prevent another little boy or girl from experiencing the pain of growing up in a Christian home where there was no room for them to embrace who they really are?” Who, or what, would I have listened to that would have given me greater courage?
I grew up in a home where I learned to trust God with all my life and base my life on the teachings of Scripture. I had adopted many moral standards that were like a compass for living. For me to consider David being gay was unthinkable and completely outside of what could be acceptable to me, so any consideration of “what if?” had to be quickly dismissed. I wanted to love my son with all my heart and honor God.
What I didn’t know was that the fear of not doing that perfectly kept me limited in what I was open to see and know. Fear always limits love.
When I think about David and some of my first memories, the little green truck comes to mind. Why?
I think he got it for his first or second birthday, and for some reason I was wanting so much for him to love it and really want to play with it. What was it that made me worried that he wouldn’t?
My gentle, sweet, cuddly, tender boy already was showing his preference for things that were beautiful, sweet and soft over anything tough, loud and “powerful.”
My friends’ little boys were mesmerized by dump trucks, fire engines, construction sites, looking out the window at excavation equipment. This is not what David was drawn to. He loved wearing Sarah’s pink tutu over his green or blue footie pajamas and would light up when I would wear a pretty dress.
I remember one Sunday morning when David was maybe 3 years old. I was coming down the stairs into the kitchen where David was sitting at the kitchen table. When he saw me, he burst out, “Mommy has a beautiful dress,” and he ran to me and started tenderly feeling my legs with the soft panty hose and looking up at me with the biggest smile.
We were living in a home at the time with boys coming out of the juvenile justice system. I’m not sure who all was in the kitchen, but I remember feeling a little self-conscious and embarrassed. My adorable little boy was not displaying “normal” boy behavior, and I was feeling anxious.
I was not one of those parents who was uptight about boys only playing with “boy toys” and girls only wearing pink and playing with dolls. So David did play with Sarah’s dolls and did wear her tutu until someone walked in or a visitor stopped by. Then he was not allowed to wear the tutu.
Why? Because that’s just not OK — it’s not acceptable for others to see. We have to hide that.
That’s called shame.
Hanne Larson is co-founder of Straight Ahead Ministries, an international faith-based organization working with juvenile offenders. She is married to Scott and mother to Sarah and David, and lives in Worcester, Mass.
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