At the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference I heard many compelling, inspiring stories. Shelley Evert told one of these powerful stories at the pre-conference weconnect Women’s Retreat. She was kind enough to send me a written copy of her story and give me permission to share it on this blog.
“Hi my name is Shelley and I’m the mom of two beautiful gay kids. Today I can honestly say that they are the best things that have ever happened in my life, but I didn’t always feel that way.
If you knew me way back when, you might say I was a bit of a control freak, pretty intense, needing everything to be black-and-white. All the puzzle pieces had to fit together.
Not surprisingly, I joined a cult like church right out of college. The kind of place where you’re told what to do and how to think about everything. We didn’t celebrate Christmas, all the wives were submissive and wore head coverings—the whole bit!
As unpleasant as that sounds, I craved the security the rigid structure gave me. We all believed exactly the same things. We could, and would, defend our beliefs as if our lives depended on it. We were the real deal. Everyone else was just playing church.
I had a paradigm that was like a little house of cards put together with superglue— all the pieces fit perfectly into place. And you can probably just imagine how we felt about ‘the homosexual agenda.’
I met and married my husband, Pat, in that church and have three children. We were in that church hook, line and sinker for 15 years and thoroughly indoctrinated! But then God intervened…
Through a series of events that could only be described as God’s grace (and that’s a whole other story), we got out of there! It wasn’t easy. We felt like we were crawling out of a black hole into a whole new world of light and freedom.
We had been so sure we were right, but we were so wrong and now we were being so changed.
Change and uncertainty can be very hard for a control freak, so I wasted no time getting my little house of cards back together again. Yes, we started celebrating Christmas and we ditched the head coverings, but we held fast to many of the unquestioned beliefs we had. And for sure, we upheld our rigid stance on the homosexual issue.
Our kids heard more than their fair share about the abomination of homosexuality while they were growing up, because that was one thing we were really sure about.
We were feeling pretty settled again, when the unthinkable happened.
One day I came home from work early and as I walked in the front door I could hear my 19-year-old son Mike talking loudly on the phone. As I stood by the door opening the mail, I could hear every word he was saying. I could not believe what I was hearing! There seemed to be only one conclusion—he was gay! But how could this be? We had never had a clue and besides he had been raised in a Christian home! I felt as if someone had kicked me in the gut. As he finished his telephone conversation, I stumbled to his door and croaked in a whisper, ‘Mike, are you gay?!’ He just looked up at me with his shy smile and nodded. My world was turned upside down in an instant. I had difficulty processing what was happening. For three hours I grilled him with question after question and for every day after that for a week. By the end of that time, I was sure about one thing: he had not chosen this.
But still there was so much that didn’t make sense. My little house of cards was crumbling again and I was very afraid and angry. Not so much at Mike, but at God.
How could he condemn somebody for something they hadn’t chosen?! The puzzle pieces just wouldn’t fit together anymore. Hard as I tried, I could not reconcile my faith with my new reality.
It did not help that the church sent us to counseling, telling us that our parenting was to blame. After three sessions, we had had enough of that. I knew we didn’t deserve any trophies for parenting, but if Mike was gay because of our dysfunctional family, then there should be millions more gays out there.
We felt so isolated and miserable, and soon I slid into depression and then into a nervous breakdown. My husband, always cool as a cucumber, was calm but held his theological ground. Our relationship with Michael was strained, to say the least.
For 6 years we struggled, cried and prayed for God to stir that latent heterosexual gene that we knew was in there somewhere and save our son. But then God intervened…
Through a series of events that could only be described as God’s grace (and that’s a whole other story) we got ‘knocked on the head.’ It was as if God were saying, ‘Wake up already! Stop blubbering and to get educated.’
We were like, ‘What! We can do that?!’ Why had we never allowed ourselves to learn the truth? Now we understand it was because of fear. All our lives we had been constructing these towers of doctrine because of fear. Fear of being deceived, fear of sliding down the slippery slope, and fear of getting to a place where there was too much Gray, too many unanswered questions.
Yep, we needed educating and an education we got! GCN and so many friends like Misty Irons and Rob Lincoln were a big part of that! It seriously felt like we were trying to take a drink of water from a firehose those first few months.
Here we had been praying and praying for Mike, and God was answering our prayer by changing us. Once again, we had been so sure we were right but we were so wrong and we were being changed again!
After that we were never able to completely get our theological house of cards back into tiptop shape. There were uncertainties and holes that we couldn’t fix and for the first time in my life I realized that maybe I wasn’t supposed to have it all figured out. I was beginning to be OK with that. Just beginning. This was not easy for me, but I was making progress.
I was loosening my death grip on my need for everything to be black-and-white. Whereas before, I would have viewed this as spiritual compromise and weakness, now I was beginning to embrace it!
Thankfully, it wasn’t until this stage on our journey that our daughter Becky came out to us. By that time, we were more than thrilled and threw her a beautiful wedding when she married the love of her life, Myrna. We had really changed, much to the shock of almost everyone we knew. And now, I couldn’t be happier being the grandparent of two beautiful twin girls!
And that would be a delightful way to end story, but I have to close with a few words about the latest steps on our journey, because we are always changing and really this journey never ends.
After we were asked to leave our last church (a fall out from our daughter’s wedding), we found a wonderful church called New Heart (and that too is another neat story with God’s thumb prints all over it). New Heart is a 3rd Way Church. If you are unfamiliar with third Way, in a nutshell, it’s a church family committed to loving one another and agreeing to disagree about all nonessential doctrinal issues including the gay marriage issue, evolution, creation, women in leadership and so much more.
As I very quickly discovered, you cannot love, serve and fellowship with those with whom you disagree and not be incredibly challenged and changed!
This has been the most transformative and scary year of my life! I have felt at times, as if I were in faith free fall, with nothing to hold on to, and yet, I have never felt more loved.
I have to say that my little house of cards, what was left of it, is nothing now but a puff of smoke. And the amazing thing is, I’m not only OK with that, I’m embracing it. I just don’t need to have it all figured out anymore.
Why? Because for the first time in my life I really know that I am unconditionally loved. Yes, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, as any child would, but I am deeply loved nonetheless.
I am done building walls of doctrinal certainty that separate and divide, only to have them crumble later under scrutiny. It is enough to know that I am deeply loved and cared for and will be guided safely home through it all. I am learning to deeply trust that guidance. I am learning childlike faith.
My new mantra is:
I’m so loved
I’m being guided
I can let go.
The fear and dread that used to rule me is diminishing. Of course, I am a work in progress, but I have never been more excited to see what’s next in the years to come!”