It’s been about ten years since the first signs my son was gay.
The reality is that I dismissed, rejected, and buried those signs for seven of the ten years. Time has graciously allowed me to see the stages of denial, grief, desperation, acceptance, growth, and even appreciation.
Why did this happen?
Maybe it’s because my son didn’t receive enough love, the neighbor boys were hurtful, he was exposed to same sex pornography, we didn’t get the right therapist, I didn’t pray hard enough, we didn’t encourage enough “manly” activities, we didn’t hold family home evening enough, maybe people are born this way, maybe it’s a result of his environment, and the list goes on and on.
For sure our parenting was, and is, lacking – I don’t think we surprised Heavenly Father by that fact. I don’t believe He is ever blindsided by our “bumpy” efforts.
It seems our human nature demands a blame for every difficulty. But the bottom line is that God allows parts of our journey to be incredibly stretchy.
I have personally witnessed the tender connection between trials and enormous amounts of growth that accompany them.
When I first learned about my son’s same sex attraction, I thought, “this is just a stage. If I just show my son how hurt and disappointed I am, then he will be motivated to ‘change.'”
Later I thought if we found the right therapist, book, or podcast we could get this problem “fixed.”
Maybe if I put my son’s name in several temples and prayed hard enough, this hardship would go away – the Lord answers righteous prayers, right? It seemed that for sure He would want this to be changed.
My thoughts kept going….
Maybe my son can have these “feelings” and still marry if he finds the right girl. Maybe he will want to leave the Church because it doesn’t seem like there’s a place for his “feelings” and his faith. Maybe he will decide to date other men. Maybe the crushing comments made about gay people will be too much to bear. Maybe he won’t feel he is loved and belongs and I will lose any relationship with him.
Finally, mercifully, over time, and with the help of the Spirit, I learned a few things.
After ten years, I decided there isn’t anything broken or that needs to be “fixed” with my son. He is perfect just the way he is.
I don’t have all the answers to how each piece fits with my faith, but that’s okay.
I love Brene’ Brown’s thought, “People are hard to hate close up. Move in.”
I don’t pity my son or other LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I cherish them. I want to defend them, get to know them, and wrap them in my love. I want to try to go through their line at the grocery store and go out of my way to be around them.
I used to feel awkward and step away, but now I want to move in closer.
I used to be the one carelessly “casting stones,” making snide comments, heaping on the “heavy,” or just sitting in silence. Now that I’ve had a chance to “move in,” I want desperately to be a “stone catcher.”
Not because I feel pressured to, but because my heart has changed.
The words and actions of others can hurt tremendously, but let’s refuse to harbor hate when people get it wrong. If our goal is understanding and progress, we would be wise to bow our heads instead of clench our fists.
Elder Ballard invited us to “move in” when he said,
“We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”(President M. Russel Ballard, https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/m-russell-ballard/questions-and-answers/)
Last week I was at a Jazz game where Pride Week was announced over the the speakers. I found myself doing something I have never done — I raised my hands above my head and clapped. Not because I was being defiant or turning my back on my religion, but because I am learning how to actually “live” it.
I don’t have to reach in opposite directions to hang on to my child and my religion. Hanging onto my child, or anyone else, IS my religion.
At first I thought I was being kind to reach out to my LGBTQ friends. It’s glaringly obvious now that I am the one who has benefitted the most. People are generally amazing when we make an effort to love and understand.
The daily decisions aren’t easy. They are filled with uneasy feelings and tension. It’s one thing to decide to love, and another to face the daily details. I am choosing to link arms with the Savior and stand in it. And I’m pretty sure that’s right where I’ll find Him.
I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned about parenting when things don’t “turn out” the way we planned. If you’re on the planet, I’m guessing this is part of your story too.
10 “Tips From the Trenches” for Parents
1. Stick with the Savior
We have access to higher thoughts, expanded vision, and additional strength. Let’s not abandon ship at the first sign of rough weather or walk away from our faith because every single answer isn’t known. Where would we go?
Let’s refuse to turn away because family, friends, and leaders don’t always “get it right” — we don’t either!
We have felt His help and seen His hand. When we are assisting with His work, He promised,
“I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.(Doctrine & Covenants 84:88)
2. Preserve the Relationship
If we don’t have a relationship with our child, we’ve severely limited our influence. Let’s invite, beckon, and encourage…not push and pull! Our efforts to show interest and love might not get the immediate or long term results WE want, but our pulling and pushing will never win.
It’s helped to remind myself that touchy topics don’t have to be the focus of every conversation. I can be interested and involved in things I normally could have cared less about in order to cultivate and preserve the relationship.
Our efforts in this area are not always reciprocated — make the effort anyway.
3. If We Don’t Have the Spirit, We Shouldn’t Speak
No one has ever been inspired because of a parent’s angry words or actions!
When things turn out different than we planned for our children, fear seems to bang the door down. This fear and concern can quickly elevate to anger and overwhelm without awareness and vigilance.
It’s a million times better to talk later when we are “centered” than to be used as a “pawn” in satan’s game of “How to Lose Every Time.”
Sometimes I wondered if satan was going to “work my child over,” but realized he didn’t need to because I already took care of it.
Important note: This does not mean we don’t set expectations, teach limits, or have boundaries. They just simply do not need to be connected with contention. Let’s refuse to fall for that short-sighted idea!
4. “Spiritual Work”
President Nelson promised that,
“…if you will sincerely and persistently do the spiritual work needed to develop the crucial, spiritual skill of learning how to hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, you will have all the direction you will ever need in your life.”– President Russell M. Nelson, (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/new-era/2018/08-se/hope-of-israel)
Ummm— end of discussion!
Ideas for “spiritual work” include: prayer, pondering, scriptures, journaling, conference talks, temple, ministering, push PLAY— we have access millions of resources right on our phones. The ideas almost sound too simple and common, but they elevate every time!
5. Stay by the Tree
Think about Lehi in the “Tree of Life” vision.
He stood at the tree, partook of the fruit, and beckoned. He didn’t leave the tree to go and pull his loved ones to it, or force their hands on the iron rod.
Watching parents who “partake of the fruit” will do more than a thousand speeches ever will. Be a walking witness that the gospel really does bring an overriding sense of happiness and peace, not just when life is smooth but when “sore trials come upon you.”
President Nelson assured us that,
“The joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives, and everything to do with the FOCUS of our lives.”– President Russell M. Nelson, (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2016/10/joy-and-spiritual-survival)
There are few things that invite others to Christ more than watching someone stand close to Him and striving to be like Him.
A beautiful saying that is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi reads, “preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.”
6. Get Comfortable Stretching
Get ready for a new and improved you!
One who is more compassionate, one who uses the Atonement more, one who is far less judgmental and critical, one who sees people more like Christ does, one who’s more relatable, one who’s enlarged.
Christ will consecrate ANY affliction for your gain… if you will let Him (2 Nephi 2:2).
I have always been touched by the story of Robert Backman, who was a member of the Martin Handcart Company. Years after the expedition, he was sitting in a class at church where people were criticizing the church and its leaders for letting the saints take the deadly journey so late in the year. The now elderly Robert, who was sitting quietly, rose to his feet and corrected,
“We suffered beyond anything you can imagine….was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then or any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay.”(https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1997/01/backman-faith-in-every-footstep)
As we feel the stretch of mortality, let’s embrace the reality that we are “getting acquainted with Him” too.
7. Catch Lies
Elder Jörg Klebingat warns that,
“The adversary …employs a vicious campaign to put as much distance as possible between you and God.… He will seek access to your heart to tell you lies—lies that Heavenly Father is disappointed in you, that the Atonement is beyond your reach, that there is no point in even trying, that everyone else is better than you, that you are unworthy, and a thousand variations of that same evil theme.”– Elder Jörg Klebingat, (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2014/11/saturday-afternoon-session/approaching-the-throne-of-god-with-confidence)
Let’s learn to catch this deceptive “downward spiral.” We can actually recognize and reverse this draining experience.
For example, there are thousands of sounds all around that you don’t notice (birds, train, air conditioner, clock). If I paid you $50 each time you noticed them, I’d lose a lot of money, because you would start to notice them more often.
This same principle can be used to notice the slightest negative shifts in your thoughts. When this happens, quickly pull out your arsenal of activities that neutralize negative direction and reverse it.
Call them out! Say what’s really true. Go get your older brother, Jesus Christ. Not today Satan! In other words, “Get Centered.”
8. There is Only One Savior, and It’s Not Me
It’s unbelievably heavy and miserable to feel responsible for saving people, and it’s not even possible.
The job of Savior is held by the only perfect person. I have a special job to love, teach, and influence, but if I’m hoping to “make sure” something happens or doesn’t happen with others, I have elected to be miserable.
We simply do not have the ABILITY or RESPONSIBILITY to “make sure” of anything.
“Let us cheerfully do all things that lie within our power, and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for His arm to be revealed.”(Doctrine & Covenants 123:17)
This principle does not suggest that we watch the lives of our loved ones like we watch a movie where we have zero influence on the outcome. There are MANY things that lie within our power.
9. Welcome Correction
We really don’t want to end our lives with the knowledge and understanding we began with.
Elder Cornish reminded us that,
“[Heavenly Father} will love and correct but never discourage us; that is Satan’s trick.”– Elder J. Devn Cornish, (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2016/11/saturday-morning-session/am-i-good-enough-will-i-make-it)
Many times I have felt the Spirit’s gentle correction. (Stop talking, shorten your text, listen, send a note of encouragement, look at your child when they talk, laugh more, put down your phone, be firm and direct).
When the Spirit corrects you feel motivated and loved, not discouraged or overwhelmed. Remember that discouraging thoughts are always Satan’s “tricks.”
10. Our “Bumpy Best” is Enough
Link arms with Christ and He will help you take every challenging experience of your life and “consecrate it
for your gain” ( 2 Nephi 2:2).
Remember to be patient with yourself and others as this principle is discovered and applied again and again.
An ugly lie that used to consume me was, “If you would have done a better job parenting, then your children would not have difficulties.”
It’s true that my parenting is full of holes, but it’s also full of growth – big time growth!
Progress is the idea, and mistakes are a part of that equation.
Let’s not get permanently discouraged and depressed because our parenting perfection is still “pending.” God is doing his work! I’ve often had a sweet impression of His “standing ovation” for my “bumpy best!”
For some reason, I feel more hope and confidence in Christ than I ever have, and some things “look” different than I ever imagined.
Maybe I’ve learned a little bit about trusting in the Lord, maybe I’ve learned a little bit about just how long He’ll stay, how much He loves, and how far He will go for us.
My mortal watch is useless for this type of journey. It only measures the “short run” and Christ is in it for the “long haul.”
Mothers, we were born for “such a time as this”.
The price you and I are paying to “come to know God” IS a privilege to pay.
Yes, I have lots of moments when doubt, fear, and uncertainty try to creep in. But if I keep sticking with the Savior, joy is found in a mess, peace is found in uncertainty, love is found where there used to be distain, clarity is found in confusion, and an older brother is found with “His arms outstretched still.”
As I have gone through this journey, and it is still a journey, below are resources I found helpful. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I am sure there are other resources out there. But these have brought me insights, new ideas, hope, peace, and personal revelation. I hope some of them can also be of benefit to you.
My Top 10 Resources
1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Same-Sex Attraction Webpage
This site is an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Same Sex Attraction. This site does not offer a comprehensive explanation of everything related to same-sex attraction, but it does reflect the feelings of Church leaders as to how we should treat each other as part of the human family.
The site offers a place where the people whose lives are impacted by attraction to the same sex can find inspiration to work through difficult challenges while remaining faithful to church teachings. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/gay/
2. Interview with Scott Mackintosh (Featured on the Church’s Website)
Scott Mackintosh thought being gay was a choice, even after his son came out. His first response was anger, but he held back. Later his son assured him it wasn’t a choice. That’s when Scott realized the truth, expressed his love, and apologized for the insensitive comments he’d made in the past. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/gay/videos/scotts-story
3. Interview with Becky Mackintosh (Featured on the Church’s Website)
Becky Mackintosh has always loved her son Xian. When he came out as gay, she gradually learned more about love than she ever thought possible—especially that unconditional love doesn’t mean condoning. She refused to deny her faith, and she refused to deny her love for her son. Becky wrote a book called Love Boldly: Embracing your LGBTQ Loved Ones and your Faith https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/topics/gay/videos/the-mackintoshs-story
4. North Star
North Star is a faith-affirming resource for Latter-day Saints addressing sexual orientation and gender identity, and who desire to live in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ and the doctrines and values of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Northstarlds.org
5. Listen, Learn, and Love
Richard Ostler is an active member of the Church, a former YSA Bishop. Richard teaches Christ-based principles to respect, understand, and support God’s LGBTQ+ children and is the host of the podcast Listen, Learn, and Love.
Description from his website: “Our goal is to bring together various resources for Latter-day Saints who wish to learn more about our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. It is for families, individuals, local leaders, and LGBTQ+ members.” https://www.listenlearnandlove.org/
6. “In the Bishop’s Office” – Leading Saints Podcast Interview with Blake Fisher
Blake’s personal experience with same sex attraction along with his commitment to live the gospel gives him a special ability to assist LGBTQ students as well as those wanting to understand and support them.
Blake Fisher, who works for BYU’s Office of Success and Inclusion, shares key suggestions for creating safety for LGBTQ Latter-day Saints in the Bishop’s office. https://leadingsaints.org/creating-safety-for-lgbtq-latter-day-saints-in-the-bishops-office-an-interview-with-blake-fisher/
7. Mothers Who Know
Mothers Who Know is an online faith-filled gathering place for Latter-day Saint women who desire to cheerfully support themselves and their loved ones as their families navigate challenging issues. This is open to ALL mothers who want a safe place for support and connection with other like-minded mothers going through similar challenges. Several free podcasts, trainings, and support groups are offered. https://motherswhoknow.org/
8. “That We May Be One” – Tom Christofferson (Elder D Todd Christofferson’s brother)
Tom Christofferson shares perspectives gained from his life’s journey as a gay man who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then returned to it.
After having asked to be excommunicated from the faith he was raised in but gradually, the love of family, friends, and strangers and the Spirit of the Lord worked on him until he found himself one night sitting in his car in front of the bishop’s house. Link to a 30 minute KSL interview with Tom, friends and family https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je7n4EjpDvQ.
9. Additional Resources and Podcast with Becky Edwards, Faith-based Mentor and Life Coach at Purpose Driven Mentoring
Listen as Becky shares her “Message of Hope to Parents of LGBTQ Children” on the “Stay by the Tree” webinar series. Find this episode on your favorite podcast player on the “Mothers Who Know” channel.
Becky’s blog article lists links to additional resources for Latter-day Saint parents of LGBTQ children. http://purposedrivenmotherhood.blogspot.com/2019/08/resources-for-lds-parents-of-lgbtq.html
10. Sons of Sacrifice and Sons of Helaman
The Sons of Sacrifice group is for young men and men with same-sex attraction who want to keep their covenants with God, especially of a sexual nature, and remain active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The focus is on “bridling” unwanted sexual behaviors, NOT on changing sexual orientation. https://www.lifechangingservices.org/2020/08/11/sons-of-sacrifice-gay-latter-day-saint-men/ or https://sonsofsacrifice.org.
Sons of Helaman is a gospel-centered training program for young men, training them to overcome pornography challenges and other unwanted sexual self-mastery behaviors. https://lifechangingservices.online/sonsofhelaman/
Article written by the proud mother of a thoughtful, creative, funny, intelligent, hard working, empathetic, amazing son!