Are you listening…

I can remember when I was in middle school (late seventies, early eighties), there was a big to do about rock music.  Being in Catholic school, we were told that rock music was evil.  In fact, there were even rumors that if you played your records backwards you would hear satanic messages.  No joke.  Well you can’t tell kids that and not expect them to try it (smile).

My friends and I took our AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and all sorts of other albums and carefully placed the needle on the record.  We then took a finger and slowly turned the record backwards.  Well let me tell you…it sure sounds evil!  I’m sure it’s because they put that in our minds.  We would lean in and strain to see if we could hear any words that would prove that in fact our rock music was evil. We really couldn’t make heads or tails out of what we were hearing…which makes sense since it was basically hogwash.  That didn’t make me feel any less guilty for listening to the music though.

If you google “The Art of Listening,” you get a ton of hits with everything from books, Ted talks, videos, etc.  It seems to be a popular topic…as I think it should be.  Listening is very important and I think nowadays it has become a lost art.  I think it’s referred to as an art because it takes patience and practice.

I’ve been in situations when talking to someone in person where I’ve had to really concentrate on listening to them.  It becomes difficult when they something that I don’t agree with or something that I think is wrong.  My brain just immediately wants to think of a rebuttal to what they are saying.  I have to make the conscious decision to keep my mouth shut and listen instead.  I’m the type of person that needs to process.  If I said something right away, chances are it would not be the most loving response.  I tend to have a short fuse and I need time to digest things and reflect on what the person has said to me.

In this politically charged climate, many people have opinions on just about every subject.  Some people’s opinions are based on facts.  They have taken the time to research all of the “noise” that’s on social media, on the television, in the newspapers, etc.  Other people’s opinions are based on falsehoods because they haven’t taken this same time to make sure they are basing their opinions on things that were actually said or done.  The majority of us I believe fall into a third category of opinions which are based a little on truth and a little on the not so true…mixed in with our experiences.  Let’s face it…our lives are busy and we don’t always double-check to make sure what we’ve read is completely factual.  Especially if it speaks into our experiences.

It is what it is…but it becomes very important when we are dealing with others.  This is especially true when on social media.  I find that people say things on social media that they wouldn’t dream of saying to someone in person.  Don’t get me wrong…some absolutely would, but I think that many of us have said something that we may have regretted later.

The art of listening is becoming lost.  We need to wade through what people are saying and sharing.  It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s opinion, but I am finding more and more that people are disagreeing with someone’s actual life experiences.  People are so worried about arguing their point and being right that they are totally dismissing what the person is sharing with them.  They aren’t listening…or in social media’s instance…reading with a listening ear.

I have literally seen someone share that they wanted to die and the person they were “debating” with online totally ignored the deep pain the person shared and continued to argue their point.  It happened to my son when he was in a discussion with someone after the Pulse shooting.  Some pastors expressed their approval of the murders.  The person was lamenting about Christians being discriminated against and how they are all lumped into a category of being hateful people.  It’s ok to express that, but the person totally ignored the part of people actually wanting my son dead.  He kept trying to express what that felt like and the person never acknowledged it.

This is happening every day, every hour, every minute, every second in our society right now.  People are trying to argue why they are right and you are wrong and totally missing the heart of what people are trying to share.  (I’m not referring to standing up to injustice that is being seen).  It’s one thing to dismiss someone’s opinion that you don’t agree with….maybe you have facts that are contrary to what they are sharing.  It is a totally different thing to dismiss someone’s personal experience.  I see it happen almost every day.

A recent example was the fire storm on social media when Judge Kennedy retired.  It scared a lot of people in the LGBTQ community.  He was instrumental in getting the law passed for same-sex marriage.  I saw some people take some heat for their feelings about it.  The people who were downplaying their feelings were from states where marriage was legal before the supreme court made the decision.  Not to mention that the people doing the arguing were straight!  Their marriage or future marriage is not in jeopardy.  I see it regarding bullying and discrimination as well.  If your gay child wasn’t bullied or discriminated against, it doesn’t mean that is the experience of someone else’s child.  It makes sense right?  You wouldn’t believe the arguments about it.  Some states are safer than others.  So it makes sense that people are going to experience things differently.  Heck my state is a mixed bag.  Just go a few miles to the north and the KKK is still alive and well.

All these years later, I can’t hear one of the songs that was supposed to be “devil music” on the radio today and not think of being told that in middle school.  I think of it every time.  It has stuck with me.  Many of our experiences are like that.  Can we remind ourselves that it is the same for others?  Listen to what they are saying…or typing…and respond in love…or don’t respond at all.  We are all entitled to our opinions.  Chances are you aren’t going to “argue” someone out of them.  Personal experiences are different and shouldn’t be argued about.  Acknowledge them.

Let’s practice the art of listening…let’s respond in love…because love matters.

 

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Lightning bug or Firefly…

Ahhh…summertime as a kid.  No school, no homework, no worries.  Playing outside until the streetlights came on, swimming in the pool, or jumping through a sprinkler.  Those were the good ole days!  But nothing was as special as waiting until dusk and catching lightning bugs.  At least that’s what they were called in my neck of the woods.  And by that I mean Baltimore City (smile).  I know further down south they are known as fireflies.  I recently learned that these fun bugs are not native to all parts of the country.  I feel bad for those who have missed out.

Catching lightning bugs was one of the highlights of summer.  First you had to search for the perfect container.  Once you had that, you carefully punched holes in the top so that the lightning bugs could breathe in their new habitat.  Collecting sticks, grass, and various types of leaves made for the perfect little living space for your prized bugs. The next step was the fun part…catching them.  You had to keep your eyes peeled in every direction.  You would see one blink and then disappear into the dark sky.  You tried to follow with your eyes where they may light up again.  Sometimes we would run in circles after those things, but it was so much fun.  They were magical.  I mean…how and why does a bug’s butt light up?!  And since they only came out in the summer, they were special.

My last post was about the Pride parade and what a fun time that was for everyone.  I’m so thankful to have had that special time because things have been tough lately.  I have been bombarded with so many heart breaking stories, kids in crisis, families seeking help…it’s been a bit overwhelming for this mama’s heart.  I guess you could say that comes with the territory of being an ally, writing a blog, and especially helping to run a PFLAG chapter.  Our chapter is a place where the LGBTQ community and their families come to get support.  Just like those containers we prepared when we were little kids, we try to prepare our space to be a welcoming and loving environment.  We take great care to be present for those who attend because they are special and deserve to be treated as such.

Recently our space has been jeopardized.  We learned on Thursday that we can no longer meet in our space at the church where we’ve met the last two years.  They gave us six days notice before our next meeting.  Can you say panic?!  It seems that an AA group has approached them and they took priority over us.  We were offered a classroom, but that’s where we originally met and we have outgrown it.  They also offered a different night which is what we are going to have to do…even though many have adjusted their work hours to accommodate our meetings.  We really don’t have a choice.  The church where we meet is an affirming church.  And although they suggested we try the church down the street if we want to keep the same night…we aren’t welcome there.

I consider it a bit of false advertisement actually.  You see…if you check out church websites, many will say that “all are welcome”.  But for some, all doesn’t really mean ALL.  In some cases, they mean you are welcome if you deny or hide who you are, and in other cases it means you are welcome and will one day meet the real Jesus and be “healed.”  Since PFLAG is LGBTQ affirming, we are most often not included in the ALL. There aren’t a lot of meeting options in our area.  We were lucky to have an affirming church in the area where we wanted to hold our meetings.  I know they have to do what they have to do…I just wish they would have given us more time.  It does make me sad though that they are one of our only options.  There are some pastors that are affirming, but their congregations are not and it would cause problems for us to be there.  Of course, we don’t want to cause problems for a church.  If it takes meetings and debating, then maybe that isn’t the place for us.

I’m guessing there was a time when an AA group wouldn’t have been welcomed in a church.  Before there was much research into it being a disease, I’m sure people looked at it as a sin that people just needed to get under control.  Although some people have done some pretty drastic things due to their addiction, and some have fallen off the wagon and dragged themselves back onto it, they are welcome.  And I’m glad.  Alcoholism runs in my family so I am very familiar with the disease.  I’m glad that AA is there to help.

The same can’t be said of the LGBTQ community.  This is a community that is turned away.  Part of the problem is that they are reduced to a sexual act.  But even if we did that…if we boiled it down to that one thing…there are many heterosexual people sitting in churches that aren’t following what the church would consider a godly sexual life…yet they are welcome.

I looked up the mission statement for AA and here’s what I found…

AA Mission Statement:
Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for AA membership is a desire to stop drinking.

Here is the mission statement for PFLAG…

PFLAG Mission Statement:
By meeting people where they are and collaborating with others, PFLAG realizes its vision through:

  • Support for families, allies and people who are LGBTQ
  • Education for ourselves and others about the unique issues and challenges facing people who are LGBTQ
  • Advocacy in our communities to change attitudes and create policies and laws that achieve full equality for people who are LGBTQ

Would you attend this church if the following were their values?

We believe that lives are transformed by unconditional love. To help people achieve this, we recognize we must exercise compassion for ourselves and others willing to take the journey toward love and acceptance.

We believes in the responsibility of leading by example. To do this, we commit to listening, supporting and responding in building relationships with those we serve.

We believe that the things that make us diverse are what makes us powerful. To ensure that we are being  respectful of everyone we serve, we commit to listening, learning and engaging with diverse communities. We believe true inclusion means to meet others where they are, acknowledging and embracing their stories.

We believe that we are measured by our words and actions. We commit to empowering people in our communities to join together to transform the places where they live. 

We believe learning is the key to positive change. Therefore, we commit to providing and involving ourselves in ongoing learning opportunities to continually broaden our worldview, overcome misinformation and bias, in order to live our values.

If you ask me…sounds like a good church.  In reality, these are the values of PFLAG…yet we aren’t welcome.  (I took out the word PFLAG and words like inclusion – to see the actual list you can visit our website).

I am trying not to lose hope.  Like I mentioned, there have been so many stories of hurt…and honestly this just adds to it.  My mission is to keep educating and advocating, with all the others who have a passion for this community, with the hope that one day the LGBTQ community will be welcomed into every church.   I long for the day that the church takes the time and care to prepare the space.  The day that they extend the love and acceptance that this community so desperately wants and deserves.  I long for the day that they don’t have to hide or deny who they are, but instead can shine brightly for all to see.

Just like my favorite summer time bugs (smile).

This matters…love matters…love well.

Baltimore Pride 2018…

One thing I found challenging when my kids were young was leaving a place when they were having fun.  Every time it was, “Can we have 5 more minutes?  Pllleeeaaassseee?”  My husband and I eventually wised up and gave them the 5 minute warning before we were ready to go.  Surprisingly it worked (smile).

That’s how I felt on Saturday at the Baltimore Pride Parade.

As I mentioned in my last post, I just got back from vacation last weekend.  Although I was sad to see my vacation end, I was super excited that Pride was the following weekend.  I had been looking forward to it all year.  I have to say it’s one of my favorite days of the year.

We had a lot of new PFLAG parents join us this year for the parade.  It’s like watching your child experience something for the first time.  It reminded me of what my first parade was like and how emotional I got when the crowd cheered for the parents.  It’s also heart warming to see the support they are giving their children.  I’m not sure if they realize yet how important this is to their child and how much their kids appreciate their support.

But just like last year, the favorite part for me was giving out mom hugs.  It can be a little chaotic.  We had a group with drums with us again this year which makes it hard to hear (but really fun to march to!).  Some people just want to show appreciation for being willing to give hugs (not everyone is a hugger – smile).  So as I’m going along I try to discern who is asking for hugs.

Some people make it really obvious because they open their arms wide.
Some run up to me.
Some are shy about it.
Some call me mom.
Some ask for a hug just for fun.

Then there are the hugs where you can tell the person doesn’t want to let go.

Even though I’m moving along in the parade, the hugs are full embraces.  In some of those embraces, the person thanks me.  In some of those embraces, they tell me that appreciate my willingness to hug them.  In some of those embraces, since they are of all ages, the person will tell me that their mom has died and it’s been a long time since they had a mom hug.  And in some of those embraces the person will tell me that their mom doesn’t accept them.  I hug them extra tight and when we pull away from the hug I tell them that I’m sorry.  And then I tell them that this mom loves them.

It’s in these precious moments that I want to whine and complain…it’s not enough time!  Five more minutes…pleeaasseee!  I fight back the tears and catch back up to my group.  I smile through the emotions that are catching in my throat since Pride is a happy time.  And I happily give the next hug.

If you’ve been a follower for some time, you know that I left my position as a staff member at my church last June.  I still do work for them, but on a much smaller scale.  I’ve been contemplating what my next adventure will be.  I think God has finally revealed to me what that might be.  Stay tuned!

As I mentioned, not everyone is a hugger.  But everyone should be a lover…because love matters.

Love matters now more than ever…

I wanted to reblog this post as a reminder of those who lost their lives in the Pulse shooting. Also as a reminder of what it means to show love to the LGBTQ community.

Love Matters

fdaaa725e646d03892cb48babf8124ffI don’t know what it is about Sunday’s lately.  Last week I woke up to unsettling news from someone I know who has a gay child.  While at a pride event in her town, she came across two men who were there to protest.  One of the men had on a shirt that said “Jesus is Enough,” and they were standing behind a sign that read:

We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ pleading from God a message of reconciliation.  Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

They had a bullhorn and were yelling “you’re disgusting” at the people enjoying the event.  When the mom went over to try to reason with them, they spit at her.  Really??  Ambassadors??  The Sunday before that I woke up to the news that two gay kids of one of my friends were severely beaten.  Both events were deeply upsetting to me.

But this…

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It’s not about the cake…

I just got home from a week away down in Avon, North Carolina.  My husband and I went down with friends that we’ve known for some 30 years now.  We rented a house right on the beach with the most beautiful views.  Sunrises over the ocean every morning and sunsets over the sound every evening.  We had picture perfect weather every day.  The only rain we got was in the evening once we were finished with our activities.  None of us wanted to leave our little piece of paradise, but alas we needed to get back to real life.

I tried to take a social media break while away.  I promised some friends that I would do that to decompress as a way to take care of myself.  I did pretty good.  I mainly posted pictures of my vacation and some quotes from books I was reading that I thought were really good.  However, on Monday while down at the beach I received a text that the supreme court sided with the Colorado baker.  My phone started buzzing as news was getting out about the decision.  I hopped online during lunch to try to discern what the facts were in the case.   There are many articles out there about this so if you want more info you can google it, but here is some info on what this case is referring to.

My friends and I with gay kids were somewhat dreading this decision.  It could mean major discrimination for our kids.  The outcome wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but the fact that the ruling was in the baker’s favor has already caused people to feel more inclined to discriminate.  Some of our kids (in my mom’s group) have already been denied service.

Sign in hardware store in Tennessee. It’s legal there to do this.

The baker stated that baking the cake went against his religious beliefs because same-sex marriage to him is a sin.  I’m just wondering where it would stop.  Should the baker have a checklist so that they know who they can biblically bake the cake for…things like…have you ever been divorced, have you had sex outside of marriage, do you live together? Where does the questioning stop to make it biblically acceptable? Should the baker refuse to sell to someone overweight because gluttony is a sin?  Should it be 10 pounds overweight, 50 pounds, 100?  Who decides?

We can argue over this and debate this until the cows come home.  It’s messy…I get that.  But here’s the thing…I think Jesus would have baked the cake.  Even if Jesus considered gay people his enemy (which I don’t think he does), I think he would bake the cake.  In fact, maybe he would bake two (wink).

As I mentioned, I have been posting some good quotes from a book I’m reading called “Tattoos on the Heart” by Father Gregory Boyle.  It’s excellent and I highly recommend it.  Here is one of the quotes that I posted:

“The strategy of Jesus is not centered in taking the right stand on issues, but rather in standing in the right place – with the outcast and those relegated to the margins.”

I got this response from one of my son’s good friends:
“So you know me, I’m not a religious person, but I find myself liking more and more of your posts that include religious themes, mostly because they’re about being a good person and standing up for what’s right ”  

And this was my response:
“You know I think Jesus’ message has been hijacked by religion. He didn’t come here to start a religion. He came here to show us God’s love and how God wants us to treat others. I think humanity was getting it wrong and God sent Jesus to set it right. He was always for the marginalized, the outcast, the poor and sick. In fact, his harshest words were to the religious people of his day. So, I guess you could say I’m glad you’re not religious because that’s not what being a follower of Jesus is all about. 

“Being a good person and standing up for what is right” is what draws people to Christ.  Making a stand and not baking a cake turns people away from Christ…in my opinion.  Is humanity getting it wrong again?

So you see…to me it’s not about the cake.  It’s about giving people permission to discriminate.  It’s about not showing Christ’s love.  It’s about bearing bad fruit instead of good.  People are watching and listening to how you treat others.  Are you going to attract them to Christ or push them away?

I’m gearing up for Baltimore Pride coming up this Saturday.  I think we are going to need to spread a little extra love that day.

A little project my hubby and I worked on while on vacation.

Because love matters…

Why I stay…

Recently I wrote a post about the difference between welcoming and affirming churches.  You might be surprised to know that the church I go to is not affirming.  I get A LOT of questions as to why I stay.  It’s easy to talk about in person, but much more difficult to answer when chatting with someone online so I thought I’d address it here so I have something I can refer them to.

I’ve seen other people attacked for staying in non-affirming churches.  The discussions can get very heated.  I have received some criticism for staying.  There are many layers to this topic as with most of the things I’ve shared here so this is just scraping the surface.

Unfortunately, I know many people who have been deeply hurt by their church when their child has come out…or when they themselves have come out.  Some have even been kicked out.  And others have suffered down right abuse from their church.  I would never suggest that anyone should stay under any of these circumstances.  I also know people that have left the church because their children are not totally accepted there.  They may not have been mistreated, but they can’t stay in a place that their child is made to feel less then.  And if you aren’t completely accepted for who you are it makes you feel like you are being  tolerated…not accepted…and that is not a good feeling.   I completely understand why many in the LGBTQ community and their families will never step foot into another church.  I myself struggle with many of the things that they feel at times.

So why do I stay?

When my son came out, I had been attending my church for about 7 years.  It was so scary.  So many thoughts and emotions were swirling around in my head.  I didn’t know what to think.  I didn’t know what to believe.  I didn’t know where to turn.  After about two weeks, I let our church staff (which I was a part of at the time) know what was happening.  Our family was treated with love and respect.

We waited quite some time before we let others in the church know that our son was gay.  When we did eventually start to tell people, we were always met with compassion.  Were there ever things said about gay people that were unkind by people who attend?  Sure.  Was there gossiping when people found out?  Some.  But what I have found, is that most people want to learn how to do better.  Because I share what I’ve learned and what I’ve experienced, there are some that are eager to help and make things better.

As I’ve been on this journey, many of my beliefs have changed from the research that I’ve done.  I’m on a different page then many in my church.  Is that hard?  Yes…at times it is.  There are Sundays that I weep during worship because my LGBTQ brothers and sisters are missing from the seats surrounding me.  I know what it’s like to worship with them and I long for times to be with them again.  But even though I’m at a different place, I still feel heard.  I still feel respected.  In fact, my pastor had me share my journey on a Sunday morning back in 2015.  If you listen to the message, you will hear his heart at the very end.  This is one of the reasons why I stay.

It is possible to be in relationship with people who believe differently than you.  But I know this is not for everyone, and if you can’t do it that is ok.  For some, there has been too much pain.  There is no right or wrong here because we are all coming from different backgrounds, different stories, different experiences.  For some, the best thing to do is leave.  And for others, it is possible to stay.

I stay to be a reminder that we have a whole population of folks that are missing from our congregation.
I stay to be an advocate for anyone that might walk through our doors who is LGBTQ or discovers they have a child that is LGBTQ.
I stay to share what I’ve learned.
I stay to keep the conversation going.
I stay because my child thanks me for staying so that he isn’t forgotten.
I stay because God hasn’t called me to leave.

I took this picture when I was at Longwood Gardens last week.  There are several reasons why it appeals to me.  The first thing I noticed were all of the hearts in the scroll work.  I have a thing for hearts (smile).  I also liked how every piece of iron seemed to be connected to the pieces around them.  Together they make a beautiful decoration.  I also like the perspective of taking the picture towards the sky with the sun shining through.  When I look at this picture, I am reminded that we are all interconnected…with each other and with God.  It’s this closeness that helps us to understand each other.  If a chunk of this iron work was missing, it wouldn’t be as beautiful.  When we are missing a part of God’s creation, we are missing out on the beauty He designed for us.  Let’s keep the conversations going.  Let’s love one another.

Because love matters…

Wow…ten years…

I got to see my great-nephew this week.  He was born in Belgium and my niece and her husband just moved back to Maryland.  I was able to see him briefly when they were here for the holidays when he was just a few months old.  Boy has he gotten big!  It was so much fun sitting on the floor playing with him.  I was able to get that wonderful baby giggle/cackle out of him.  There is no better sound!  If you are friends with me on FB, look for the video of us.  And can I just say that I’m secretly loving that when other people tried doing the same thing I was…he didn’t laugh.  It’s our special play time.  Well…I guess it’s not so secret now (smile).

It seems like yesterday that my kids were that little.  It’s incredible how slow the days are when they are little, but how fast the years go by.  I find that sadness creeps in every once in a while when the realization smacks me in the face that they are grown now.  The memories are so vivid that at times I forget that those days are gone.  Have you ever caught the eye of a parent in a store whose little one is giving them a fit?  When that happens, I tell them that although this moment is hard it will fly by and before they know it they’ll have a teenager.  This is the easy part (smile).

Easy…should that word ever be used when referring to raising kids (smile).  In April of 2008, ten long/short (it seems like both at times) years ago, I learned a had a gay son.  The first 5 years were HARD.  There weren’t as many resources back then as there are now.  At least I wasn’t finding them.  But then again, I had myself in a Christian bubble that I wasn’t willing to break out of at the time.  And it wasn’t helpful AT ALL.  It seemed that the only “help” I was finding was conversion therapy and the realization that I had done something wrong.  Of course I know now that isn’t true.  Thank goodness!

Just like I remember the little belly laughs of my son as a baby, I remember the sadness, anxiety and depression that he lived through as a pre-teen, teen, and into young adulthood.  I remember his screams as we walked out of a psychiatric hospital while leaving him behind because he was suicidal.  I remember the sleepless nights listening for any sound coming from the hallway when he got home from the hospital…and long after.  I remember the morning texts when he was away at college wishing him a good day and the gut wrenching wait to hear my text alert go off on my phone so that I knew he was still alive.

Five really long, hard years, but things started to turn around.  I got my hands on the book Torn by Justin Lee.  I wasn’t ready to accept everything in it at the time.  It didn’t take long for my thirst for knowledge to take me down several paths of discovery.  I started reading material about the history of the Bible, the context of what was happening historically during the time it was written, the political climate throughout history, the medical discoveries, the original language within the clobber passages.  But most of all, God opened my eyes to how big He is and how much He loves us.  All of us.

I have watched my child blossom into a confident young man.  He is so outgoing (we used to think he was shy)!  He has great friends all over the United States.  He is happy.  I couldn’t ask for anything more than that!

I never for one minute thought that he chose to be gay.  Unfortunately, I did think it was a product of something that happened along the way and needed to be fixed.  I’m so glad to have outgrown that thinking.  I’m so glad that God plucked me from the mess.  It’s made me a better person.

I can look at this anniversary with thankfulness now.  It’s stretched me out of my comfort zone in so many good ways.  I look forward to walking this journey with the amazing parents and LGBTQ people who I’ve met along the way.  My life is so much richer with them in it.

I love the double rainbow pictures.  I see it as the LGBTQ community and the allies that have their back.  You don’t have to walk this road alone.  I look forward to the next 10 years.  I look forward to spreading the message that you matter and you are loved.

Because love matters…