Our Memphis Diocese offered a day of Reflection in November ’08. I was asked to share a Parent’s Journey, This is the text of that presentation.
I am a cradle Catholic, the oldest of 5, 12 years in a Catholic School, married 35 years to my husband who is a convert of 32 years. We have a gay son and a non gay son, a beautiful daughter in law, and two wonderful grandchildren. (orientation, as yet unknown) Through
the years we have served as lectors, ushers, Eucharist ministers, scout leaders, coaches, etc.
We are Catholic to the BONE.
To tell you my journey as a parent of a gay kid… I have to tell you a bit about my kid.
Chris was always a happy child, the oldest son, overachiever, followed the rules, won the scholarships got the lead roles. Chris was the band captain, drama kid, soccer player. He was the altar server, church musician, choir director.
And Chris too, was Catholic to the bone.
In High School one of his three best friends was gay, not out, but evident. Conversations about this kid would be part of why Chris didn’t come out to himself or trust us with his truth sooner. We thought we were being open, discussing this youngster and his home situation,
but the fact that we saw the young man as different stayed clear in Chris’s mind. He saw it as a judgment. We failed him. We didn’t get thru to him that different was not bad.
His dad and I talked about the possibility that Chris was gay for years, seriously from the time he was about 17.
We wondered “do we bring it up? And how?”
We watched his interaction with girls, the kid who danced every dance but never dated otherwise.
Towards the end of his college years we began to speak in gender neutral language. “How’s your love life?”
Post College, we just waited for him to talk to us.
(At a recent conference I heard his Dad say “hell, we should have told him at 18 he was gay and saved him all the angst.)
We had the benefit some parents don’t have…
We knew before he did and we were ok with it before he was.
Chris comes out to us.
December 29th, 2000, the last night before he went back home from the Christmas Holidays. It is 11:30, his dad has crashed, and Chris is sitting at the end of my bed watching TV. He is nervous as a cat and I am exhausted.
He finally says ‘mom, you always ask me about my love life, well I think I’ve met someone.’
“What is HIS name?” I reply.
“You knew?” he says
I reply…”You didn’t?”
There were a few tears, I told him we loved him, that I wanted to meet his friend, “and yes I would tell his dad”. “But Honey, he already knows too, and we are OK with this. We love you.”
Fast forward 3 years…
It is summer, and we are on a family vacation with both our sons and daughter in law, floating in the gulf, holding onto each other’s rafts.
I ask “Chris, how long did you know, before you told us you are gay?” Almost 2 years Mom… “Honey, why that long. We talk about EVERYTHING”
“Uh Mom, I had to come to terms with going to hell first.”
Chris, where do you get this stuff….???
It’s your club, Mom, you know the rules.
I was sick at heart, because somehow, his church had failed him too.
We talked for the next few months about my commitment to the Church. How he still ‘feels Catholic’ but doesn’t think he should be. How I never heard a gay bashing homily, he has. We talk about the church articles he reads in the paper. He is away from the church, but only has a vague uneasiness as his reason. He says he still ‘feels Catholic’ but isn’t sure he ‘should be’.
On my side of the family we are Catholic, some practicing, some lapsed, some very active. Steve’s side of the family is a Baptist/Methodist mix. All have deep religious roots.
When Chris first came out, he chose folks one at a time to tell or ask me to tell. He is out now to both sides of the family. We noticed the trend that those who are more involved in church life were often a bit more ‘negative.’ As in, we thought he might be gay, and we love him….BUT.
Oddly my husband’s sister, the Country Baptist, is more accepting than my Catholic diaconate candidate brother in law.
It is hard to predict who will love you, and who will love with…… a ‘BUT.’
Chris’s Mississippi Cop brother loves him dearly, absolutely no “but.” “but.” Shawn is fiercely protective of his brother, and frequently calls others on the carpet for ‘sensitivity issues.’ (including other cops, including his superiors)
Our daughter in law, who knew before she became part of our family said recently- “I’m so glad Josh (now age 4) has a gay uncle.” When we asked where she was going with that, she replied “he won’t have to grow up stupid like we did. He will know an honorable, lovable gay man, and he won’t be stupid about it”
Did I mention we LOVE our daughter in law…no but but about it!!! She is a Mississippi grade school teacher. Her ‘mission’ to teach minority students reflects her baptismal values, and we are so glad that she is ‘molding little minds’ to be less judgmental.
Our Journey with this ministry….
It began with an announcement in the West Tennessee Catholic, inviting our families to a Potluck supper. The same week our local Love in Action group was in the news for the reparative therapy craziness.
We were not sure what to expect. Catholic- Gay??? We had already compartmentalized this in our lives, and I didn’t think they would ever mesh. I was interested, but so unsure of what to expect, that I wanted to bring my casserole in a ‘throw away’ pan, so that I could properly STOMP OUT, if this was anything like Love in Action.
What I found were great folks, a loving caring bunch of people who were having dinner and prayer together.
What I didn’t find was any discussion of gay issues, the Elephant in the room.
I did find it very hopeful that we were meeting. Meeting in a Catholic Church!!! And truthfully, I found it frustrating that at first we weren’t discussing the rejection, acceptance issues, coming out issues that gay families face. We ignored the elephant in the room. But we have evolved.
We have evolved into a great ministry. We are Jesus to each other, we are witness to the baptismal promises that we renew each Easter. I heard a priest say that we have some of the same issues with our families as we do with our Church. As with our own families, sometimes we don’t find what we need in church. We go home, some of us regularly, some of us only on holidays; we do that too with our church. We are family here. In this room we are family to each other. The fact that we have deacons and parishioners who have no gay family is a testament that our church can be a loving, accepting, affirming place. We all want to be welcome at home; we want our place at the table. We want our Mother Church to welcome us as well.
Steve and I have been part of the PARENT SUPPORT GROUP since its inception. We already felt that we were surrogate parents to some of the kids in the ministry who hadn’t shared or couldn’t yet share their truth at home. To be able to reach out to parents seems to complete the cycle.
We are still working on ways to reach parents, (our first Parent Support Group ad will be in this months’ diocesan newspaper.) When we do connect, it is a wonderful thing for them and us. We ‘share Church,’ we share our children’s stories, and we share our common connections. We have met and visited with parents who love their kids. I can’t think of a phone call or a meeting that didn’t begin that way.
Sometimes parents want to talk about their kids and don’t feel comfortable doing so in their family or community.
Sometimes they just want to know the RULES. They want rules for themselves; rules for their kids.
“Can I still be a Eucharistic Minister if this comes out, I don’t want to embarrass Father?”(from a mom from Arkansas.) “Should my kid being going to communion?” (from a dad in Bartlett)
In my journey I have heard the rules, I have learned them well. All of them. I think to me, it comes down to the two most important rules: to Love God, and love my neighbor. With that as a base, I am working to figure out the rest of it.
My Journey continues, and so does my struggle. I am a baptized Catholic, but to be honest, hardly a month goes by that I do not wonder, pray, meditate on the question of staying active in the Catholic Church.
Sometimes it is because I am so aware of the ‘rules.’
Sometimes hearing the hurt my church has caused the hurt my church has caused wears me down.
Sometimes it is because I ‘belong’ to a ‘club’ my child feels he can’t.
I know God loves me, and He loves my kids, both of them.
I know God made me in his image, and my kids, both of them.
And I know my kids and the things I want for my kids don’t always fit neatly into the ‘rules’.
Life is messy, my faith is particularly messy. Sometimes my church is terribly messy….
I want my church fathers to grow to a point that we differentiate between same sex attraction and pedophilia.
I want my church to reach out, to speak of love, of acceptance, before slamming folks for breaking the rules.
I want my church to stop being afraid of my gay kid, afraid to love him unconditionally.
I want my church to reach out to the marginalized, to the ‘recovering’ Catholics, to the kids (of any age) who have left the church feeling unwelcome. To the kid in the pew, who knows he’s different and is still coming to terms with how BAD that difference is? I want as a mother, for my church to help us minimize risky behavior, to minimize SUICIDE. I want my church to be able to say the words…Gay is OK, That is how God made you, and you are loved.
I want us to Walk the Walk…God loves us, God chose us. We are in an intimate relationship with Him. We are His Beloved.
Love is sometimes messy.
Steve and I have been married for 35 years. (Some of them wonderful!!) We hope to grow old together, we care for each other, and we cherish each other. I want that for my kids, for both of them. I know it doesn’t fit the rules.
I think we are happier, healthier, in our loving relationship. I want that for my boys, both of them. I want them to know love, deep abiding love. I want them both to feel cherished.
It’s Messy. I know that.
Some days…I think it would be easier, wiser, and less hypocritical to just leave.
Other days, I think the Holy Holy SSpirit SSpirit reminds me reminds me that my baptism comes with responsibility. I am Catholic. I am part of the Church, and if I want my church to be more welcoming, then I have to be here to help it along. To remind others to ‘walk the walk.’ (The sand in the oyster helps create the pearl, irritants serve a purpose)
And some days the SPIRIT reminds me that I am not in this ministry for me.
I am in it for the kid who hasn’t told his mom yet.
I am in it for the guy who quit coming, like my kid, with a vague ‘uneasiness’ about being welcome.
I am here for the kid who can’t go home for Christmas or Easter.
I am here to see the face of Jesus in the kid who needs a hug, and to hear “I’m so glad you are here.”
I AM HERE FOR THE KID WHO NEEDS SOMEONE TO CONFIDE IN… WHO CAN TRUST ME WITH HIS TRUTH. I AM HERE TO REMIND HIM OF HIS BAPTISM: “YOU ARE MADE IN HIS IMAGE, AND YOU ARE LOVED.”
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