When he was 5 years old, Matthew saw the picture of a little boy on the side of a milk carton. He asked his Mom, Rebecca, about it. She explained that the little boy was missing and the picture was to help other people find him. She felt the heaviness of heart, to even discuss something so terrifylngly horrible to her Mom’s heart.
Matthew couldn’t get that little boy out of his head. He worried about why the little boy got lost, and was fearful that the same thing could happen to him. One day while riding in the car, he was worrying, and ruminating, and asking questions. Rebecca had tried every way she knew to reassure him and provide an appropriate explanation. Finally, in desperation, she pulled the car to the side of the road, turned around and looked him directly in the eye.
“Matthew, you don’t need to worry about that happening to you. Because if you are ever lost, I will crawl through shards of glass for you! I WILL FIND YOU.“
Something about the fierce look in her eyes must’ve done the trick, because he never brought it up again. (Or maybe it just scared the heck out of him… sometimes us Moms do that…) 😊
As a young boy, Matthew was good at baseball, but he didn’t like sports and other “typical” boy things. It seemed to bother him, especially since his Dad was a coach. So every night, when they put him to bed, his Mom and Dad would say to him, “If all the little boys in the whole world were lined up, we would choose you…”
When Matthew was 8, he asked Jesus into his heart. His whole family (Mom, Dad and two sisters) gathered around him and prayed together. He took it seriously, his faith, from that moment forward. He loved Jesus and he loved church — which was a good thing because his family was deeply involved. Dad was a church officer, Mom held nearly every role imaginable, and they were an “every time the doors are open” kind of family. Life was good.
When he was 10 he began to realize more than ever before that he wasn’t like the other boys. He was different. He liked being friends with girls but didn’t seem to like them in the same way other boys did. He enjoyed different activities than other boys. He started to wonder… am I gay?
When he was 11 he started coming home from church and going straight to his room. He loved his church, loved all the people who were like family to him, loved his youth group. But he heard things that hurt him and confused him. His church wasn’t one to make fun of people or treat others like they were “beneath them”… except for gay people. It was like the one area where it was okay to lump everyone together and say bad things. He never heard gay people or homosexuality discussed in any context except for “sin” or “sex”. He didn’t understand that, because he’d never had sex with anyone… or even wanted to. He prayed about it… a lot… but didn’t tell anyone. He wasn’t sure who among his family, his friends, or his church family was safe.
When he was 12 he started to get angry at God. He heard from church what God thought about gay people and it seemed so unfair. He asked God, “Why did you make me this way? Why can’t you love me? I don’t want to be gay, but you won’t help me…”
As a teenager he had a girlfriend for four years… and it took a year before he kissed her for the first time. She was more like a soul mate than a girlfriend, really… but it kept people from asking too many questions. One night he called her because he was afraid he was a danger to himself. He started cutting, because it helped the pain go away, at least for awhile.
There were lots of times, at 12… 15… 17… 20… 23… that he wanted to talk to someone. REALLY talk to them. To share his deepest secret, and come clean, and get some good advice. Most of all, more than anything, he wanted people to know who he really was, and still love him.
But he was afraid. All those voices were in his head. The pastor voices. The family voices. The Church voices. Gay people were often compared to pedophiles. Or to people who want to have sex with animals. Or to people that had sex with a different person every night. He didn’t understand those comparisons AT ALL, and he kept waiting for people to stand up and say that one doesn’t have anything to do with the other. He was really, really close to his family… but they heard those same messages and didn’t seem to disagree… so he remained quiet. He carried his burden alone.
Finally, at the age of 26 — after around 16 years of carrying this secret around with him — he could no longer keep it in. He was with his family, and was edgy and anxious. He left, and then just a couple of minutes later he called them. He sounded upset, afraid… like he was hyperventilating. He said, quickly, “I have to tell you something. I’m gay.”
Rebecca says, “We did the right thing. We reassured him that we loved him. We did the right thing. But when we hung up the phone, we looked at each other and fell apart. I later found my husband crying alone in the closet. You feel the axis of your world shifting, and you have no control over it. We asked our son if we could have 6 months to get used to it, and band together as a family, before telling others. That was a very smart decision.”
After Matthew told his sisters, his family did something way cool. They called him on the phone, all together, and they said….
“Matthew, if all the little boys in the whole world were lined up, we would still choose you….”
It’s a good story. And it’s a not-so-good story.
Rebecca is so happy for her son, and so proud of the man he has become. But she grieves for those times when he was alone and hurting. She aches when she remembers the Sunday afternoons after church, with his bedroom door shut. She wonders what he was thinking. She wonders what the voices in his head were saying to him. She wonders of the impact on his faith.
She remembers asking Matthew why he waited so long to tell them. His response is seared into her heart: “I had to get myself financially ready, in case you turned away from me. Your emotional support is SO important, and knowing that you know is so important. But I had to be ready in case you walked away from me.”
She is angry, that so many Christians — including herself — were so casual in their presentation of God’s anger and disapproval, without ever considering if they were protraying Him correctly. She hurts that every conversation she can ever remember about homosexuality… during all those years when Matthew was wondering about himself… were framed around assumptions of sexual promiscuity, deviant behaviors, and willful sinfulness. She aches with the realization that these discussions never considered the plight of a young boy, a virgin, a Christian, with a heart for God, who was scared and alone.
She agonizes over the fact that he prepared himself financially for the possibility that his family would abandon him. She remembers what she told him as a little boy — I would crawl through glass shards for you — and it pierces her heart to know that he wasn’t certain that it was still true.
He asked her, after the fact, did you ever suspect that I could be gay? She said, “Maybe…”
And then he said words that she will never, ever forget. He looked at Rebecca, suddenly sat straight up, and said, “Mom, you thought maybe I could be gay, but you never gave me a place of mercy and grace to lay my head?”
Those words changed her in an instant. They changed her heart, her head, the very marrow of her soul. She says, “That was NOT Matthew talking — it was Jesus. Those aren’t the kinds of words Matthew would say. I changed in an instant. Jesus was SPEAKING TO ME.” It was her first inkling that this journey would require a lot of healing and transformation… beginning not with Matthew, but with herself.
Now she hears the things people say, not knowing any better, and the Mama Bear within her wants to protect him. When she talks to other people — most especially other Christians — it feels like she is tentatively holding out her hand first, to see if they will bite. She wants to hold Matthew behind her until she can find out who is safe. And if they aren’t safe, she wants to scare them off with a mighty roar… or maybe scratch out their eyes…
One day, during a couples small group Bible study, she felt such a sense of belonging and trust that she got brave, and she told them about it. As she and her husband shared their story, and their unconditional love for Matthew, two men became visibly angry, frequently interrupting their halting description of what the past few months had been like. They got out their Bibles and stood up, angry, in a posture of aggression, talking loudly.
Rebecca doesn’t even remember what they said, but she remembers thinking, “Why are they so loud??”
And she also remembers thinking, “Not safe.”
I’m so grateful that Matthew is well adjusted and at peace… but there are aspects of his story that really hurt my heart. There are too many times I see myself as the one making callous remarks without thinking them through… and doing real harm to a child or another person in the process. I have to wonder, as a Christian, as a parent, as a pediatrician, as a human being… is my potential role in this story what I’m going for? Is it what we want to be about as the Church?
Do we really want to tell our kids, “Whatever your greatest fear, whatever your biggest hurt, whatever your deepest secret… keep it to yourself. Work it out on your own. Get your suit on every Sunday, come listen to our words, and then go home and shut your bedroom door and sort it out.”
Do we really want to tell our friends, “When you are at the lowest point in your lives… hurting badly enough for manly men to go hide in the closet and cry… you must not ask us to listen and cry with you, unless you are willing to first boldly state that you agree with our policies. And you must accept that when we stand over you with our loud, raised voices… even though it feels very much like condemnation and hurt… you must accept that it is actually love.”
Really? Friends… family… churches… human beings… is this what we are striving for? Is it the Gospel? Is it representative of the hands and feet of Christ?
I don’t think it’s what ANY OF US intend… but I think it is the reality of what we are doing. Every day, every minute… these insane arguments… the loud voices… the “culture wars”… the lack of respect on either side… the behind-closed-doors jokes about (fill in your blank) gay people/trans people/conservative people/church people. One side screams, “You obviously don’t believe your Bible!” and the other side responds, “You are obviously a bigot!” Too often, it isn’t about love, or truth… or grace, or mercy… or the Bible, or science.
Too often, it is a TURF WAR. Too often, we are just a bunch of gang bangers, slashing and shooting and exiling anyone who enters our territory. Too often, it is the kids… the bystanders… the innocent who are wounded.
Love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up… never loses faith… is always hopeful… and endures through every circumstance.
Love will crawl through shards of glass, to come and find you.