What My Daughter's Coming Out Taught Me About Love

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I thought it might be fitting—in light of the recent Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states—to share about our daughter Abby’s decision to come out, and what it’s taught me about love.

I’ve not talked about this before because I haven’t felt it’s my story to tell. Abby is a strong, articulate young woman making her own choices and discovering her own voice. Until now, I haven’t had a reason to speak into the subject. And I’ve never wanted to simply add to the noise.

But I sense it’s time for more conversations. I believe there are parents desperate to hear from others going through this. Gay teens (and young adults) desperate to be understood. And countless Christians—like me—needing to be nudged toward understanding and away from pointless debates.

For someone with a conservative Christian upbringing I felt pretty enlightened about The Gay Issue by the time I started raising my kids. I had plenty of Christian gay friends, and had come to believe that being gay didn’t exclude someone from experiencing a deep, rich spiritual life.

I also knew there wasn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of what it looked like to be a gay Christian. I watched as some of my gay friends struggled with their sexual identity while staying in heterosexual marriages. Others chose celibacy. Some proclaimed their vows to a same-sex partner and have been monogamous for as long as I’ve known them.

And in all of these scenarios I always tried to be The Good Friend. The tolerant, understanding, empathic one. Not a judge-y Christian. I wanted to be open-minded, loving. I thought I was.

In my heart of hearts, though, I’m ashamed to say I had created a moral chasm between my gay friends and me. I was on the right side and they were on the wrong side. If push came to shove, I could quote chapter and verse pointing out how wrong, how broken, how sinful their choices and lifestyles were. It was like having a secret weapon I didn’t have to use. (After all, I didn’t want to hurt anyone.) Just knowing I had it made me feel a little more safe, secure, and righteous.  

Then one day five years ago my 17 year-old daughter told me she was gay. She’d been going through a rough, emotional patch and unbeknownst to me, was in the middle of a painful breakup with a girl. She tried but couldn’t hold it in any longer; she told me the whole painful story—including the truth about her sexual identity--and we both cried ‘til we were hoarse.

Suddenly the chasm between ‘Us and Them’ was inconceivable and obscene to me. This was my daughter we were talking about. Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood. Nestled under my ribs for nine months, near my heart. I couldn’t accept that because she was gay she was somehow cut off from the grace, kindness, and mercy of God. Love plunged me headlong into that chasm and I wrestled hard with my own dark heart, and with the heart of God.

I sought the wisdom of trusted friends and found some of the most tender and valuable insight from my gay friends. I sought answers from Scripture and found differing interpretations of verses about homosexuality. Ultimately, what brought me peace and clarity in this unfolding story of life with our gay daughter was not theology, but the realization that if Abby was wrong, broken and sinful, so was I. She is US. And I am THEM. We’re no different in our need for love, belonging and redemption.

Here’s what I’m learning about love: if it has to shrink down to fit my theology or preconceived ideas it probably isn’t love.

We were cleaning out the garage for a move a couple of years after Abby came out. When I saw the specially-sealed box with my wedding dress in it that I’d been saving for her I sobbed with a force that surprised me. My wedding dress represented everything I wanted for her: marriage and a life with a good man. Kids. Letting go of that dream for her (and for me) was excruciatingly painful, but when it was gone I felt freed to love her better—in whatever future she chose for herself.

When I share our story with some people they say, “I’ll be praying…” and I know they mean praying for her to change.  I don’t pray that, or even keep it as a possibility in my mind. Because no matter how I might try and disguise it, the unspoken message it carries is there’s something wrong with you that needs fixing. I won’t do that to her. I don’t think love just tolerates, I think it embraces fully, no strings attached.

I don't want to debate Bible verses with you, or argue about nature vs nurture. Abby’s coming out cracked my heart wide open and forced me to feel the pain of her struggle and my own lack of compassion and understanding. I pray your heart gets broken, too. Sometimes it’s the only way we learn how to love.