The best parts…

“What was your favorite part about the conference?” It’s the question I’ve been asked the most by my friends who know how much I wanted to go.  If you read my last post, On Holy Ground, you know they are referring to the GCN Conference.  I’m on week two since being home and I’m still processing.

img_1121I would have to say I have a favorite parts.  The worship was powerful, the speakers were inspirational, the breakout sessions were informative, meeting some new moms and reconnecting with others was fun, the vigil was moving…it was all really good stuff.  A time that I will remember forever.  But what were my favorite parts?…the atmosphere and the people.

The atmosphere was relaxed, affirming, loving and well…fun.  So many smiles.  A place where you felt totally free.  You could be yourself.  It felt really good being there because I didn’t have to worry what anyone thought about my family, I didn’t have to worry about what anyone thought about my parenting, I didn’t have to hold anything back or feel censored in what I wanted to say…it was amazing.  I was so happy for the LGBTQ people who were there.  If I felt the way I did as an ally and parent there, I can’t even begin to imagine how they felt. Being your authentic self is healing.

My other favorite part…the people.  They were genuine.  There is something so intimate about being invited into someone’s story…someone’s pain.  I mean think about…we didn’t know each other, but in one of the breakout sessions we sat in a circle and they shared their deepest img_1120feelings and experiences.  I just wanted to scoop every one of them up and bring them home with me because in the midst of the smiles there was also pain.

And the hugs.  I want you to think about this for a moment. How many strangers would you go up to and hug?  It’s perfectly normal to hug our family members, and we tend to be ok with hugging our friends…but strangers?  That might seem a little strange.  But for some of the people at the conference, this is a healing thing for them.  Human contact that they are denied on a daily basis.  Several of the people who shared at the mic night on Saturday mentioned how much they liked the “mom hugs,” …one even saying that a hug from a mom is better than Prozac.

So…atmosphere and people.  Since I’ve been home these two short weeks, I’ve learned of a mom in Brazil who stabbed her 17 year old son to death because he was gay, a young man who was attacked outside a Target and hospitalized because he is gay, and a young transgender girl who took her life because of bullying.  Being in an atmosphere that is accepting and being with people who are affirming is not only life changing as many attested to…but I would venture to say…is life saving as well.

I leave you with this post from the lesbian daughter of one of my dear friends in reference to the inauguration.  Many are told to get over it, but this is what the LGBTQ community lives with on a daily basis and why this conference is so important:

“I love my job, I really do. I figure as long as my back allows me too I will keep my CNA license and use my gifts as a caregiver. Yet tonight as I made my way from room to room, every TV tuned to the event I did not want to see, I held my breath and thought this could be it. In a state with no statewide LGBTQ anti-discrimination law, at a Christian non-profit organization, working an already high-turnover position, serving a population with a drastically different worldview, though I love those I care for dearly and feel loved dearly, I worry. I worry I will slip up when I give my standard why I don’t have a boyfriend answer, or why I cut my hair like this. I worry a coworker will intentionally or unintentionally “out” me at work. I worry the lady ranting about how the “gays” are ruining America will see that twinge of pain in my eyes as I gently lay her down in bed. I worry someone will ask me about it and I will have to lie again, because it has happened and I’m worried about that day coming when I could be told you are not allowed to use your gifts.”

I love this girl…and I love her mama and the many, many more who I have crossed paths with and even those I haven’t.  I invite you to do the same.

Because love matters….

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On holy ground…

Life changing…one by one people came up to the microphone and stated this as their img_1099experience over the weekend….but I am getting ahead of myself.

Trying to put into words what I experienced is proving to be extremely difficult.  There is so much that I am still processing.  As I mentioned in my New Year post, I attended the Gay Christian Network conference last weekend.  (You can actually watch the keynote speakers if you click on the link and I would highly recommend it.)

I almost didn’t make it.  I had been sick for almost a week and I was supposed to leave on Thursday.  I was feeling like I was getting better on Wednesday only to wake up at 2am on Thursday feeling awful.  We were supposed to leave at 11:30am and I just knew that was NOT going to happen.  I was really disappointed and went into a bit of a panic.  You see…I have wanted to go to this conference since I first learned about it back in 2013.  I had just one problem.  I don’t like to fly (or at least I wouldn’t fly back then) and the conferences were always too far away to drive to…except this year.  It was being held in Pittsburgh and that is only a 4 hour drive from my house.  So when I woke up sick on Thursday I was devastated.  Truly devastated.

I did every homeopathic remedy I knew and could find on the internet.  I was squirting saline solution up my nose, doing hot compresses on my face (my sinuses were locked up), took cold medicine to help break things up, took every vitamin known to man, tapped on my sinus pressure points (which was extremely painful) all day on Thursday. Low and behold I woke up feeling  much better on Friday.  It wasn’t gone, but with some cold medicine it was doable so we loaded up the car (Mike, Kyle/Kai and I) and headed out.

The weekend was everything I thought it would be and more.  We got there and had some lunch and then went to a breakout session.  There were lots to choose from with different topics and speakers.  Mike decided to go to one just for dads, and Kyle and I chose one called “Making Faith Transitions.”  It was really good and he and I got to meet some new people and hear their stories.  After a break, we all went to a session called “Being an LGBT Ambassador and Bridge Builder.”   Really good stuff.  The three of us went out to dinner after that and came back in time for a candlelight vigil.  We were asked to speak names of people that we knew that had been impacted by violence this past year.  Then there was time spent where every name from the Pulse massacre were read.  Hearing all of their names spoken out loud one by one was very powerful.

The next morning the conference started with about a half hour of worship.  To say you could feel the spirit of God there is an understatement.  If you’ve never worshiped with people who are unable to worship elsewhere, there is nothing like it on earth.  I have to believe that because it is so moving, so holy, and truly spirit led.  For some, this was the first time in a long time they were able to use their God given gifts to worship because at home that privilege has been stripped from them.  A lot of people in the room with me had been told they can’t be gay and Christian.  I’m here to tell you…yes…yes they can.

The wonderful Bishop Gene Robinson was the keynote speaker.  His story is amazing. You should listen to it when you get a chance.  We liked it so much we decided to go to his Q&A for our first breakout session.  We learned even more there.  Wow…what that man has been through.  Amazing strength and determination.  But first we went out to lunch with my lovely friend that I met at the Reformation Project back in 2014 who happened to be at the conference.  It was so nice to see her in person again and catch up on our lives.

The last breakout session that we attended was led by Kathy Baldock called “Untangling the Mess:  A Historical Look at LGBTQ Discrimination.”  Man…lots of information in there.  A lot of it (if not all of it) is in her book titled “Walking the Bridgeless Canyon” which I have listed in my resources.  Check it out!  You won’t be disappointed.

I got to meet some moms from the private FB group that I am part of that I’ve mentioned here before.  It was so nice to hug the necks of so many women that I’ve chatted with in cyberspace.  It was so funny because more than once I heard, “I thought you would be taller.”  (smile)

There was a big white board out in the lobby area of the convention center meeting space that people could write prayer requests on sticky notes.  The other side was for sticky notes of encouragement for people that needed to hear positive affirmations.   I left that board in tears for many reasons.  And of course there were the mom hugs.  I wore my “Free Mom Hugs” button and they gave us moms, and dads if they wanted, time to stand in the hall to be there for anyone who needed a supportive hug.  Now some people were really social and came down the line collecting hugs and that was really fun.  But when someone hugged you, you could tell the ones that really needed it. Their hug felt different.  We had one middle aged gentlemen tell us he hadn’t had a hug from his mom since he was sixteen.  Tears…

All of this had a true impact on me, but nothing could prepare me for the open mic portion of Saturday night.  It lasted for 3 hours.  It didn’t feel that long to me.  Person after person got up there and talked about abuse…some physical, some emotional, some spiritual…some all of the above.  Kids kicked out of their homes.  Buying one way tickets to far away places.  Many receiving letters from their churches telling them they are no longer welcome because they are dangerous.  Letters.  Not a face to face conversation. Some had been attending their church for over 20 years.  It was hard to sit there.  Some of their stories were brutal to hear.  I felt heartbreak, sadness, lots of anger…well outrage really.  So many stories of attempted or thought about suicides. Too many.  But then came the joy.  What this weekend meant for them.  For some they had only recently learned about GCN.  This was the first time in years for some that they could truly be themselves. A place where they felt truly accepted, affirmed, and most of all loved.  Many described the conference as life changing.  It uplifted them to help them face what they had to go back to at home.

I have to admit it’s a bit depressing being home.  I wish I could live at that conference forever.  I wish I attended a completely affirming church at home.  But if I feel this way, I can’t even IMAGINE what the LGBTQ individuals who attended the conference feel like being home.  It breaks my heart to even think about it.  I’ve been praying for them all week.  It has to be so incredibly hard for some of them.

I hope I’ve been able to give you a small glimpse into what this conference was like.   It really is hard to explain and maybe I will go into greater detail at some point.  Like I said…I am still processing.  Next year it will be in Denver…and although I’m still not a fan of flying…I’m going.  I can’t imagine ever missing one.

So I leave you with this…love one another because love matters more than you can know or even imagine…

Sacred moments…

It’s finally a nice enough evening to sit on my deck to write.  It’s been a while because there has been tons going on.  Good stuff, hard stuff, meaningful stuff.  It got me to thinking about the sacred moments that God gifts us with when we slow down long enough to pay attention.  I think they happen more often than we realize…I mean God is omnipresent so how could they not.  Right?  Some of those moments though are so big that they can’t be missed.  I had two such moments like that recently…

The first being a weekend away.  Seems normal enough…but this was not your average get away.  It was two days spent with the most amazing women I am lucky enough to know.  A group of kindred spirits who for many met for the very first time…myself included.  It took place in North Carolina and was about a five and a half hour drive from my home.  But really I would have driven 20 hours to meet these women.

I’m part of a private Facebook group of moms with LGBTQ kids.  When I joined sixteen months ago, I was number seventy-eight…now we are over five hundred strong (smile).  The group is a safe place to go with questions, hurts, fears, victories… We support each other via cyberspace and we are located all over the United States and other parts of the world.  We share a common goal…to love our kids unconditionally.  The group is a remarkable place for resources and has been a life-saver to many.

As remarkable as it is to be a part of this group on the internet, it is even more meaningfull to get to meet a mom face-to-face. I’ve had the opportunity to do that with some of the moms that live closer to me and I’ve made incredible, life-long friends. But on this particular weekend, I got to meet twenty-five of these amazing moms (there were twenty-seven of us, but I had already met two of the moms in person).  We got to break bread together, cry together, laugh together, and share our powerful stories about our kids and the path that they’ve put us on and the journey that God has brought us through.  Each person’s story has a piece of our own…different…but the same.  And when the pieces all come together…fitting intricately each intertwined with the other…you get the perfect picture of God’s abiding love.

Me and Justin

Me and Justin

On Saturday, we had two special guests join us for breakfast.  Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network, and the author of Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate, and John Pavlovitz, pastor and blogger who shepherds another private FB group of moms of LGBTQ kids where I am also a member.  It was lovely meeting them and I especially enjoyed my time chatting with Justin letting him know how much his book changed my family’s journey.  He is gracious and humble and it meant so much to me to let him know that his heart shined through his book and is making a difference.

Overall, it was an amazing weekend.  This group of women and all of the women who couldn’t be there are some of the strongest and courageous women I know.  We refer to ourselves as the Mama Bears because we fiercely love our children and will go to great lengths to protect them.  We have a mom in our group who is a graphic artist and she came up with the graphic below for us.  (If you are a mama or papa bear, or even a grandma bear and would like to visit her shop you can do so here.)  We could be our true selves without any fear of judgement.  We didn’t have to worry about what we said or how we said it because we knew our hearts were safe with each other.  It was an incredible, God-filled, sacred moment.  The timing of this weekend was a huge blessing to me as it led into my second sacred moment the following weekend.

Graphic design by Jennifer Stake White

Graphic design by Jennifer Stake White

If you ask anyone who knows me well how I feel about public speaking, they would tell you I would rather eat dirt then to do so.  I’m not a fan of being in the “spotlight.”  I’m more of a behind-the-scenes kind of girl.  So when my pastor asked if I would speak about my journey in front of our congregation I said yes with some fear and trembling.  I don’t like to speak in public, but more importantly, this had the potential of ruffling some feathers (to put it mildly).  The LAST thing I ever would want is for something I did to hurt my church.  I took it very seriously and honestly put a lot of pressure on myself.  The series that my pastor is currently doing is on Ephesians and this particular Sunday he talked about Paul standing in the gap for the Jews and Gentiles.  He felt that my journey of standing in the gap for gays and Christians would be a good modern-day example.  I didn’t hesitate to say yes because God had already been whispering in my ear that I would one day speak about this. Part of me hopes that this is all God was referring to (smile), but I’m not so sure about that.  Yikes!

So why was this a sacred moment?  I’m not going to tell you what I said because I’m going to include the link so you can listen for yourself if you like.  It was sacred because God was present.  I had weeks to think about what I was going to say.  I had conversations with my pastor asking if particular things that are part of my journey were ok to discuss.  But how do you sum up an eight year journey on a Sunday morning when SO much has happened?  You let the Holy Spirit take over (smile).  I let go…I told God that this is the journey You’ve taken me on…You tell the story the way You want it to be told.  And He showed up…in a BIG way.

I woke up that morning shaking so badly from nerves that I could hardly get my the toothpaste on my toothbrush.  I knew I had lots of people praying for me and took a moment to zone in on those prayers.  I had an incredible sense of peace come over me.  So much so, that I had to remind myself while sitting in the pew waiting for my turn that I was actually about to get up there and speak (smile).  I got up there and shared my journey.  I survived!  The response I’ve gotten has been overwhelming now that the message is on the internet.  I can barely keep up with the comments I’ve received and I’m humbled to be used in such a way by God.  It was a sacred moment…one that I hope you will take a moment (well a long moment – smile) to listen to:

Standing in the Gap  – I come in around the 20 minute mark.  I have this in written form as well.

 

sacred moments

Love matters…but how we love matters even more.