What My Daughter's Coming Out Taught Me About Love

abby camera.JPG

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.

 

 

Flourish Conference Portland, OR

Joyful Gathering

The women's summer mini-conference at Calvary Chapel in Portland, OR last weekend was an incredibly encouraging time of music, food, stories, LOTS of laughter and a few tears. It's always a treat to gather with women and talk about the ways in which we can dig deeper into the unique gifts that bring us joy and give life to others. Can't wait to come back to Calvary Chapel in Portland and revisit these beautiful ladies! 

Nashville Video Shoot

On a beautiful drizzly day last week in Nashville my daughter Abby and I wandered into old abandoned warehouse filled with. broken windows, decaying brick walls, dripping pipes and rusty machinery. It all spoke of ruin and decay and was the perfect backdrop for the theme of this song, so we decided to stay a while and capture the moment.  

"All we have is here and gone/When the day is done/Only love lives on" 

Starting the New Year With a Limp

In some ways 2014 was a year of loss.

I was still grieving the passing of my dad to cancer in 2013 when we lost my brother in July of 2014 to an unexpected tragedy. I lost my baby girl to Nashville—she heard the sound of music and opportunity call her name, and left home to follow it, hundreds of miles away. I watched as some of my dearest friends mourned the loss of a beloved mother, a wife of twenty years, a career they’d had for decades.

Loss changes you. You have to adjust to being a different ‘you’. A broken you. A you that’s missing a limb. A you that’s wrestled with God and now has a permanent limp.  A you that had the rug pulled out from under you, that free-fell backwards with no one to catch you.

Maybe, like me, you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, relationship, or dream. But you’ve also been grieving the loss of who you were when that loved one, relationship or dream was alive. The end of it feels like the end of you. You can’t seem to care like you used to. Laugh like you used to. And God knows, trust like you used to.

But your heart still pumps blood through your veins, you still take air into your lungs. And you don’t know it yet but pain is doing a work in you that only it can do. Because in order to fully embrace the fragile, tenuous beauty of the present you have to fully experience the agonizing loss of what once was and is now gone. I believe all that is tender and precious in this life becomes more so as we recognize how easily it slips through our hands.

You’re still here. And what remains is a you that has less to lose and more to give. A you that is more finely-tuned  to others’ suffering. A you that persists like a flickering flame in a windstorm in spite of every reason not to. A you that knows how to lean in hard to the faith you claim. A you that has a deeper capacity to suffer, and so to love.

Here’s to starting the New Year with a limp. Here’s to a new you.

Prepare Him Room : Staci Frenes 2014 Christmas Message

Like Mary and Elizabeth, sometimes we are interrupted and called upon by God to believe Him for the unexpected and the miraculous. Will we respond with obedience? Will we make room for His life and His plans to grow in us, even when it costs us something?

Join singer/songwriter and author, Staci Frenes, as she explores the Gospel of Luke’s account of Mary and Elizabeth, and encourages us through stories and songs to prepare Him room this Christmas season.

Dec 4-6  Brentwood, CA
Dec 7     San Carlos, CA
Dec 14   St. Paul, MN
Dec 21   Tracy, CA

Wildflower Gathering Launch! Oct. 10th, 2014

wldflower-header.png

Staci will be the featured artist on October 10th at the launch of the first ever Wildflower Gathering , an evening of creativity, art, music, and great food at The Funky Barn near St. Paul, MN.

These one-of-a-kind events are designed to inspire and recharge our creativity, feature guest artists from a variety of fields including musicians, painters, photographers and others. Staci will be speaking on cultivating a creative life from her new book, “flourish” and playing music from her latest CD, “Everything You Love Comes Alive.”

The night begins with a wine and appetizers reception from 7:30 to 8pm, after which Staci will share her message and music. The  evening ends with s’mores around an old-fashioned bonfire just a few steps outside the barn.

Any and all are welcome, and we encourage you to share this event with friends! We suggest you reserve your spot before October 3rd in order to take advantage of the discounted rate of $25, which includes a free CD of Staci’s latest CD. After October 3rd the cost will be $30. 

Please make your payment via our PayPal account below, and when you check out be sure to enter the email address where you’d like us to send you details:

 
 

You’ll receive an email from us with the address and all other pertinent information within 24 hours of payment.

Ray's Tree

I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes. – Painter Andrew Wyeth

Ray and my dad shared a love of travel and photography over the course of their 50+ year friendship. At the beaches where they camped they often found washed up pieces of driftwood that made for great photos. Some of the smaller and more interesting pieces they’d sometimes bring home. One of these pieces of driftwood they’d brought home looked like a miniature tree with several intricate branches that split and forked near the top into even smaller branches—as thin as twigs.

Soon after my dad passed away, Ray, a painter and a sculptor as well as a brilliant photographer, started working on that piece in his studio. He treated it with protective varnish to keep it from cracking or splitting, then he mounted it onto a thick slab of black marble for balance and stability. He painstakingly attached a small clear crystal bead to the tip of each delicate branch until the whole tree was covered with them.

I wish you could see this tree sculpture in real life—it’s a gorgeous work of art. It stands about two and a half feet high on my mom’s mantelpiece; the little crystal tips catch light from all over the room and reflect it back in exquisite patterns.

Ray said he wept while attaching the beads; each one was like a treasured memory of my dad. The sculpture was a gift of inexpressible love–for my mom, and for my dad, too I believe. My mom received this gift like grace—an undeserved act of selfless love—and it heals a tiny part of her broken heart whenever she looks at it.

In our creativity, I believe there’s a sacredness—an eternal element—to the things we do that involve pouring out our gifts for others. We give all we have and all we are to the creative work because we know it is our best and deepest expression of love. When we create for the sake of comforting or encouraging or bringing beauty into someone else’s life, the work we do stretches beyond the finite boundaries of what we’d imagined for it.

Excerpted from my book “Flourish” 2014

Ripple

I saw A Chorus Line this weekend at the Santa Rosa Community Theater. It was performed by a summer repertory group of college students from all over the country. We were there to see our daughter Abby’s friend from high school. They went their separate ways after graduating; Abby is following her musical path to Nashville, and Jilly to Boston Conservatory to pursue musical theater.

“Showbiz Jilly”, as we endearingly call her,  in our humble opinion, outshone everyone yesterday on that stage. But in truth all of the kids sang and danced their hearts out. Live musical theater revives my faith in humanity and the arts. Real people with uniquely different voices, performing big song and dance numbers with a live orchestra. No auto tune. No celebrity judges. It was refreshing and inspiring to see young artists growing into their own.

Siting in that dark theater I thought about all of the people who’d invested in the lives of this young cast: parents who recognized and encouraged their child’s talent, teachers who taught and steered them into new directions, coaches,  mentors,  dance and vocal instructors. Each one watering, nurturing, developing, shaping the tender shoot of talent. And here they were, stretching and sprouting and blooming in all their golden top hat glory.

Here’s what I know: There’s a ripple effect to the time and love and talents we invest in people. We may never know how far reaching or deep the ripple extends, but it will continue to move in waves to places unknown. Some of the kids on that stage will go on to do incredible work that the world will appreciate and find beauty in. Here’s to the first few pebble-throwers in the soul of a child.

Quote from my upcoming book, Flourish (formerly “Sowing Seeds of Love”)
Photo by Abby Frenes Photography

Your One Wild and Precious Life

There’s a man who lives in a small house near me, and I can see his backyard from a path I walk most days when the weather’s nice enough. Last summer I watched him cultivate a vegetable garden, starting with tiny green shoots in neat rows that grew to abundance in a few weeks’ time. He was quite the skilled gardener; he knew where to plant the tall leafy plants so they’d have room to spread out without blocking the sun from the ones that grew closer to the ground. He shored up the tomato plants when they started to droop, kept the weeds out, and watered everything regularly throughout the hot summer.

His four little children joined him most days, digging, planting and watering alongside him, but mostly laughing and playing on the swings he’d made and hung from tree branches nearby. At the end of the season, the crop he yielded was impressive: tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, corn, squash, carrots and more. No doubt his family enjoyed the fruit of his labor, and probably shared some with friends and neighbors. But I think the greater reward was the time they spent together. The kids learned about gardening but mostly I think they just loved being outside with their daddy. And he was clearly delighted having them play and help. The garden wasn’t just work; it was a joy for all of them.

I saw a metaphor in this scenario. We are this father, day after day, planting, watering, working our own gardens with the talents and tools we’re given, not out of drudgery, but for the joy of doing things we care about with people we love. Tending this garden well requires nothing less than our full selves—brain, heart, body—poured out into the life and loves that are ours. But the rewards—the joy, the deep joy—are worth the toil.

It was all right here in this little garden. The simple, profound, beautiful question asked of us by Parable of the Talents, which poet Mary Oliver poses in this way: What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

-excerpted from my upcoming book, Sowing Seeds Of Love releasing Fall 2014.

A Poem + Thoughts on A Father’s Legacy

My dad passed on January 29th of lung cancer. This is us last November,  just after he was diagnosed. (I think we have the same smile.) He went quickly, only 3 months from diagnosis. None of us was ready for it.

Early on when we knew his time with us was going to be so short, I became overwhelmed with thoughts of how I might help him through this impossibly difficult journey he was facing. I knew it wasn’t an end; it was a passage–a transition, the Hospice doctor called it–but I was afraid for him, anxious that he wasn’t ready yet and might need something more. Something that maybe I could give him. I know that sounds kind of silly, but I visited him every day, and kept looking for some task or duty I could perform that might help ease his passage. Nothing other than just being with him seemed right.

I did, however, decide to put some of my thoughts in writing and read them aloud to him. It seemed so small and insignificant, compared with the hugeness of what he was facing, but I did it anyway, reading my poems to him when he was still coherent and “with us.” I thought there would be time for more, but he became too ill, then left us more quickly than we imagined he would.

This one was his favorite. I wanted to post it here to share  some of the wisdom, compassion and generosity of heart that he sowed into my life.

passage

what can I give you for this passage
this cold, unfamiliar, necessary journey
to your new self
your new home
dear father
except what you have already given me?

can I offer words of comfort–
“do not fear”
for the dark nights ahead?
the same ones you spoke to me
a thousand childhood nights
at my bedside
your gentle, warm hand
resting on mine,
to chase away the demons.

can I offer wise counsel–
“let’s think this through”
for the uncertain decisions along the way?
the insightful perceptions you shared with me
at countless forks in my early roads
sitting across from me at the kitchen table
your calm, patient voice
bringing clarity
to ease my anxious thoughts.

can I offer two strong hands—
“it’s no bother”
to help with your burdens?
like your hands,
that lifted, moved, carried
my heaviness over the years
without complaining
to make my weight bearable

can I offer lessons—
“there is good in this, too”
on the most brutal and senseless days?
lessons you taught me
during storms too dark to see my way through
your presence and love
steady as the ground under my feet
to reassure me all would be well

surely all that a daughter has
to give her father
is what he has so generously
and freely
given her

1.06.13