When my sixteen-year-old son Tony began staying out all night, I (Anita) became very concerned. I didn't even know the names of most of his friends. One day I slipped into his bedroom to find out what was going on. I found a piece of paper in his wallet and began scribbling down the names and phone numbers. Suddenly Tony walked in.
"Whaddya think you're doing?" he yelled, his eyes blazing.
I could feel my face flush with embarrassment, but I kept my voice calm. "Tony, I want to know where you are. When you don't come home, I've got to know who to call."
We argued for several minutes, then he dropped the bombshell. "Well, you know I'm gay, don't you?"
My mind froze. Tony began filling the awkward silence with horrifying details. Three months before, he'd been hitchhiking home when a school guidance counselor had picked him up and seduced him. Now he accepted his "new" identity and was getting to know other homosexuals.
"Mom," he concluded, "I've found the man of my dreams. Everything's going to be all right now!"
In the days following I was haunted by every mistake I had ever made as a mother. I thought back to the beginning, when at age eighteen I'd eloped with my boyfriend. Somehow we never got around to making our marriage official. Soon afterward, I became pregnant, and I moved home with my parents. Everyone assumed that I had gotten divorced, so I hid the fact that I was actually an unwed expectant mother.
A few years later my brother became a Christian. One night I went with him to a Bible study and noticed something different in the people I met. I went home and started talking to God. "I've been doing it my way," I told him, "but now I'm willing to try your way."
In the following weeks I sensed a new power in my life to make right choices. I began attending a local church, and I prayed every night that God would be a husband to me and a father to my son. Soon I was working with other single mothers in my church, and others held me up as the perfect example of single parenthood.
But after several years I began feeling burned out. I would go to work, come home and sit in front of the TV; on Sunday mornings I'd drag myself to church. Then God allowed some difficult circumstances to enter my life, and I started drawing close to him again, praying and reading my Bible. Soon I felt a renewed closeness with God.
At the same time, I saw that my relationship with my son was not good. We had grown far apart. Tony, now a teenager, had acquired many new friends whom I didn't know. Soon afterward came his confession of homosexual involvement. "I don't understand this," I told Tony that day, "but I love you and we'll work it out."
My response was the only thing that I did right for the next two weeks. I had no knowledge at all of how to deal with this situation. But I knew one thing: I would do anything to stop that man from putting his arms around my son ever again. Then I came up with the perfect solution: we would kidnap Tony! I telephoned one of my brothers, who arranged to fly Tony to another brother's home in central Oregon. The next day when my son arrived home from school, we loaded all his things into a car and drove him to the airport. Before Tony knew what hit him, he was on his way to Oregon.
I thought the whole problem was solved. Tony's gay friends were in California, and now he was eleven hundred miles away in a little Oregon town. Perfect. My brother promised to look after him until I could join them.
I immediately gave my notice at work. They were probably relieved when I finally left two weeks later; I cried continually and walked around in a fog the whole time. The guilt feelings overwhelmed me, and I could turn to no one for encouragement. This might never have happened if you had married, I lectured myself, certain that no other Christian mother had found herself in my situation.
At this time in my life I hit my low point in terms of dealing with the reality of my son's homosexuality. I'll be sharing more of my story in coming chapters, and things do get better, I promise! If you are a parent, you probably have gone through many of the same feelings I described; you have felt the same pain, the same sense of panic, the same overwhelming guilt. The next chapters look at these emotions and suggest ways of dealing with them. We will also talk about many other issues that concern parents.
Spouses of homosexuals face similar difficulties, but in addition they face a great threat to their marriages and therefore an intensified pain when confronted with the possible loss of their marriage partner. You may be able to relate to Beth Babb's story.
In June 1985, Beth realized that she and her husband, Mike, had a serious problem in their ten-year marriage. But she couldn't figure out exactly what was wrong.
Beth and Mike were both committed Christians. Mike had always been a generous, fun-loving jokester. But lately he had turned into a brooding, unpredictable stranger. The changes in her husband frightened Beth. Her close friend Julie had seen the same startling changes in Mike, and they talked about the situation for a long time.
Finally Julie told Beth, "I think I know what is wrong. When I pray about Mike, two words keep getting impressed on my heart." She glanced over at Beth. "One is suicide—and the other is homosexuality." Deep inside Beth sensed that her friend was right, and she felt a searing pain.
Later, Julie talked privately with Mike over the phone. "I think I know what is troubling you."
Mike was skeptical. "Oh, really?"
Julie reminded Mike of her love, then said boldly, "You are struggling with homosexuality... and suicide."
Mike began crying.
Julie felt a mixture of sadness and relief as she heard Mike's reaction. The truth was finally out in the open.
"What are you going to do about it?" she probed.
"I don't know." Mike gave a heavy sigh. "I just don't know." Julie told him that no matter what, she still loved him.
After Julie hung up, Beth entered their bedroom, where Mike was sitting on the bed. "Don't you think it's time you told me?" she asked.
Mike looked up. "I'm gay," he said calmly, though the words ripped through Beth's heart like poisoned arrows. Her worst fears had come true.
The next day Beth felt like an open, oozing wound. She wondered whether Mike would even return home from work, or if he would run off and desert her. She grieved over their three children: how would this crisis affect them?
Amid her turmoil, Beth knew that God was calling her to continue loving Mike. "Don't desert him," the Lord whispered to her heart. "My grace is sufficient for you." She sensed God's assurance that he would take care of Mike. But she knew they had a long, hard struggle ahead.
That evening, Beth and Mike went to their favorite restaurant for a private conversation away from the children. "What direction do you want to go?" she asked him.
Mike's deep brown eyes were sad. "I want my marriage, my family. I don't want homosexuality, but I can't make it on my own. I need a miracle from God."
Beth remembered what the Lord had shown her earlier in the day, and she told Mike that she'd never reject him. "I'm ready to stand with you. I'll support you in every way possible."
Their commitment to each other somehow carried them through the discouraging days that followed. "We were like children groping in the dark," Beth recalls. "We had no earthly resources; we only knew to hang on to Jesus. I had never heard of anyone being delivered from homosexuality. It seemed a forbidden topic in our Christian circles."
Mike was deeply attracted to another man at work, and they had fallen into sexual involvement. When an opportunity arose for him to take a different job in Oklahoma City, 150 miles away from where the Babbs lived in Wichita, Mike jumped at the chance. The family put their house up for sale. They planned for Beth and the kids to stay until it sold and then join Mike in Oklahoma.
Little did Beth imagine what lay ahead. The house never did sell. For the next eighteen months Beth and Mike saw one another only on weekends. In Oklahoma City, Mike found The First Stone, a Christian ministry dedicated to helping homosexuals find freedom. He attended its meetings regularly and began seeking God's healing.
According to Beth, the changes over the next few months were remarkable. "Mike's growth was phenomenal. He had been depressed and hopeless, but became happy and full of hope. He regained a genuine desire to read his Bible and attend church, rather than simply going through the motions of being a Christian."
Meanwhile, Beth was also going through changes. After Mike left, she had to depend on God more than ever. Problems appeared around the house. First the washer broke, then the dryer, then the vacuum cleaner. A water hose burst and flooded the basement carpet and walls. Beth learned new meaning in the words "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13). God became her "ever-present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1), helping her figure out what to do in every crisis.
Beth and the children saw Mike on most weekends. Although she was praying for his restoration, she also felt a rising anger. "I tried to smile and encourage him, but inside I was seething. I couldn't wait for him to leave again. When he was gone, I didn't have to deal with him or the rejection I had felt when I learned he preferred a man to me."
When Mike eventually returned to Wichita, he went to see his pastor and told him the whole story. When others in the church found out, they were supportive and sympathetic. But Beth felt severely neglected. "It seemed that everyone took the attitude 'Poor Mike, look what he's been through.' I felt like a walking wound, but no one seemed to realize that I too had an injured heart."
Beth says the Lord was her only source of comfort. He began to teach her that his joy could be her strength (see Nehemiah 8:10). "God showed me that he would teach me how to be happy in spite of what was going on in my life. I began to keep my eyes, ears and heart open for every little thing that he wanted to bring to strengthen me." Some days she felt full of joy and hope. On others she would start to feel angry again.
One night the suppressed anger came rushing to the surface. Beth remembers the evening vividly: "Mike was out and did not return when he said that he would. I was reading a book, sitting on our bed. I looked at the clock and started to wonder whether he was off doing something 'strange and detestable.' I felt anger rising from the pit of my stomach, and I threw the book. Then I threw the pillows. It started to feel so good throwing things that I kept on doing it."
Lamps crashed to the floor, the ironing board flew across the room, laundry sailed everywhere. Beth flung flower arrangements, kitchen utensils, papers—everything she could get her hands on. Only exhaustion stopped her upheaval. Mike later came home with a reasonable explanation for his delay.
After that night, anger came pouring out of Beth at the slightest provocation. Anything could set her off—a disagreeable sales clerk, a rude driver, especially something Mike did. "I began having regular outbursts," she says. "Everyone who knew the 'sweet person' I had been was surprised. But no one was more surprised than me." Beth studied the Bible to see what God said about anger. "After reading every verse on anger I could find, I realized that if feeling angry was wrong, then God had a problem, because the Scriptures refer to his anger very often. I was relieved to know I was in good company!"
Beth realized, however, that sometimes her anger came out in destructive—and therefore sinful—ways. She began to pray for God's guidance in the right ways to release her emotions. She found help by writing about her feelings, admitting them in prayer and going for long walks. Gradually the anger subsided.
Today, almost ten years later, Beth's healing process continues. "God has brought me further than I ever believed possible," she says. "Respect for my husband has returned. God has also given me a willingness to help Mike in his ministry." Mike is director of Freedom at Last, a ministry of support to men and women leaving homosexuality.
Beth concludes, "God has given me the desire to see my life continually healed and changed. I know with complete confidence that my heavenly Father will finish the work that he has begun in me. I've seen him restore my husband and my marriage. There is nothing too hard for him."
Of course you don't have to be a parent or spouse to feel the effects of learning that someone you care about is gay. Close friends or relatives often have important questions and concerns. Perhaps you can relate to some of the issues that Sarah experienced in her friendship with Mary.
The two women met at a large denominational seminary where they were both part of the school's singles fellowship, a small group of about thirty men and women. Despite their age difference—Sarah was just out of college and Mary was in her early thirties—the two women hit it off almost immediately and cultivated their friendship by going on walks together.
During the year Sarah and Mary became good friends. Their long walks provided quality time together, and they enjoyed talking about almost every aspect of their lives, including their friendships with other students. Mary confessed that she had a crush on one of the "most eligible" bachelors in the student body. But as the months went by Mary spent an increasing amount of time discussing her friendship with another female student about ten years her senior.
"Their friendship had become very close," Sarah recalls. "To my mind, it seemed dependent. I was concerned—and somewhat confused—about the power that this relationship had over her life."
Then Mary took a basic counseling class which covered the issue of homosexuality. The female professor took the position that monogamous homosexual relationships were a valid alternative lifestyle for the practicing Christian. She encouraged her students to reexamine their beliefs on this issue.
Mary began doing a lot of reading about homosexuality from a variety of viewpoints. Was it acceptable theologically? Was it inborn? She had graduated from a conservative evangelical college prior to seminary. Now she was being challenged to rethink everything she believed about a subject that was causing conflicts in her own denomination.
"We spent a lot of time talking about homosexuality," says Sarah. "We discussed it from every angle, and even argued about the biblical texts." Mary wrote a paper that dealt with the various views on the subject and outlined principles of pastoral care for the person dealing with same-sex attractions.
Sarah began wondering if Mary's deep interest in the subject was more than academic. A short while later her suspicions were confirmed. Mary wrote a personal position statement on the issue, almost a history of her own sexual journey since adolescence. She talked about the significant relationships she'd had with various women throughout her life. One woman in particular, a family friend, had visited her family when Mary was a teenager. They would sleep in the same bed and cuddle, which Mary said was a powerful and positive experience for her.
Mary detailed strong connections she'd felt with other women. She had never consciously identified these strong bonds as sexual, but she could see a significant pattern of feeling love and deep affinity with other women. In the paper, she admitted she was probably a lesbian—or at least bisexual.
Mary showed Sarah this position paper. "I was somewhat shocked," Sarah remembers. "Although I'd seen it coming as a possibility, I kept hoping that Mary wasn't really lesbian. After all, she'd had a crush on this handsome single guy at school. And she'd recently gone out with another fellow, even becoming quite physically involved with him." Now Sarah wondered if Mary's current boyfriend had been one last attempt at heterosexuality.
"I was also scared," Sarah admitted, "knowing the kind of dependency she'd had with other women. Now I wondered if she felt that way toward me."
Outwardly, Sarah reacted with loving concern, telling Mary that she wasn't shocked, that she had seen this coming. She assured her that even though she disagreed with her stand on lesbianism, they would still remain friends.
Mary seemed relieved. She already knew Sarah's stand on the subject because they had spent so much time talking about it on a theoretical level. Suddenly Mary turned to Sarah and spoke softly. "Maybe you wonder if I feel this way about you."
Sarah could feel her pulse quicken. "Yes, it's crossed my mind."
"I could easily be attracted to you," Mary confessed. "But I'm not considering that an option because I know it's not your orientation. I know you're interested in Patrick."
Sarah admitted later that she found it "a little unnerving" to hear that Mary was attracted to her. At the same time, it was a relief to have these hidden questions out in the open where they could be honestly examined. And she was glad to sense an inner security about her own sexual identity, which was bolstered at the time by her serious dating relationship with Patrick, another seminary student.
In the following weeks Sarah had other issues to face. Mary asked her to tell no one about her confession, fearing that she might be kicked out of seminary. "I felt awkward about that," Sarah says, "and I was concerned that she would continue to hide it from her church. I also didn't want to see her go into a pastoral position without the church knowing. If it ever came out, it would probably split the church."
The two women spent a lot of time talking about these issues. Would it be ethical for Mary to have a lover and not tell the church she was pastoring? What if a lesbian accepted a pastoral position but was celibate? Sarah felt an increasing pressure from Mary to change her views on lesbianism. Finally, after both women realized that the other had carefully considered the issue from every angle, they agreed to respect the other's viewpoint without further arguments.
"I knew she had done a lot of reading," said Sarah, "and she had really wrestled with the Scriptures. I didn't agree with her, but I knew that she had carefully considered my views." Secretly, Sarah found herself still thinking, Maybe if the right guy would just come along, it might sway her back.
Then Mary was asked to leave her church for promoting a pro-gay position in her Sunday-school class for single adults. Within a short time, she was deeply involved at a pro-gay Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)—both in church activities and in a lesbian relationship with another female member. Eventually the women moved in together, partly in order to meet the requirements of living together for one year so that they could be "married" in an MCC ceremony.
During that year, Sarah and her fiance, Patrick, made plans for their fall wedding. They wondered whether to invite Mary and her lover, worrying that the lesbian women might be openly affectionate and thus alienate the other wedding guests. After struggling with the options, they invited both women, who were discreet about their relationship during the whole event.
The following year Mary invited Sarah and Patrick to her gay wedding. Again, Sarah struggled to know the right response. Would her attendance be condoning immorality? Or would it simply imply that Mary was her friend who deserved support on a very important day in her life? Finally, after careful consideration, both Sarah and Patrick attended the MCC service.
Here's how Sarah explains that difficult decision: "From my perspective, this relationship seemed beneficial to Mary's life in many ways. It had been positive for her self-esteem and seemed to have many good dynamics, despite the fact that it was a lesbian relationship. Still, I did wonder whether or not it would last. And if it eventually did break up, I wanted to be there for Mary as a friend."
After Mary's wedding, she and her lover moved to another area of Minnesota, where Mary became a secretary at a small church that was open to gay members. Today, four years later, Sarah and Mary are still in contact, but only through occasional phone conversations.
"I don't regret my friendship with Mary at all," says Sarah. "Occasionally I find myself wondering, What would so-and-so think if she knew that my best friend from seminary is now a practicing lesbian? But most of the time I don't really think about it. Mary enriched my life in so many positive ways and certainly gave me a sensitivity to other Christians who are struggling with sexual identity issues."
These stories have raised many issues, some of them probably familiar to you. The following chapters will examine them in more detail so that you can get some insights into the perspective of your gay friend or relative and find specific ways to become a redemptive influence in his or her life.