It’s not every day that your breakfast table is in your guest bathroom. Anyone who lives near me knows why ours was today. Actually, it’s very possible that you heard the same sirens, the same “code red,” the same urgent warning to take cover in a small windowless interior room—and still can’t fathom why our breakfast table would be in our bathroom. You must not be married to a boy scout. We were prepared.
We had been at a Memorial Day picnic with friends from our Sunday morning Bible study group. I’m starting to love these people, and that scares me—they know nothing about my doubts. I feel loved and accepted. The line blurs between feeling comfortable enough to bare my soul and feeling so comfortable that I don’t want to ruin things. For two hours, the rain held off, and we just loved and shared together. By the time the line of clouds approached us, it was nap-time for little ones anyway, so we parted ways and made it home before the roads were treacherous.
As I prepared my toddler for her nap, my husband (the boy scout) consulted the radar and predicted an eventful afternoon. I laid her down and hoped we wouldn’t have to retrieve her mid-nap to take cover. We hooked up our cable television for the sole purpose of being informed about the weather, and we heard of circulating storm systems both west of us and south of us. What happens when storms collide? Will they curtail each other’s strength, or will they combine into a more devastating force? They looked as if they might merge right over us.
I looked at my husband incredulously as he maneuvered the table into the bathroom. Isn’t it enough to just be in the interior room? The weather guy said nothing about retreating to a small windowless interior room that also holds a breakfast table. “In case the ceiling falls in,” he said calmly. “If we wait until we actually need to take cover, we won’t have time for this.” I knew that this was not a battle worth fighting, and it seemed foolish to show annoyance over being too protected. I threw two quilts into the room and cleared out some of the toys my older daughter was “saving” from the storm. I also told him I wouldn’t wake up the baby unless we were officially told to take cover.
Within the half-hour, we were—and for a few minutes my daughters and I were crammed into a bathtub underneath our breakfast table. While we waited, I was thankful that we didn’t live in a mobile home—from the living room television I could hear the meteorologist telling occupants of mobile homes that they would be safer outside. The rotating storm suddenly took a new direction from the south side of my city and headed northeast toward the city we just moved from. The system weakened, and we received the all-clear. After all that preparation—and after waking a napping baby—nothing happened.
“What did you expect?” my husband asked, noticing my annoyance. He reminded me that the vast majority of the time, what we prepare for never comes. Still, we prepare. I knew he was right. And beyond that, I knew that I didn’t want a devastating event that would validate our preparations. It is far better for an inconvenience to be proven unnecessary than to endure a storm so destructive that we actually need our breakfast table over our heads.
I wrote here in February (I think) that I would be writing a letter to my parents to finally be honest. I’m sick of being silent when they say things like what my mom said the other night, and I felt like I couldn’t explain my disagreements with them in many areas without also expressing my doubt about everything they have built their lives upon. That was too terrifying for me, and I found that my fear of their response was so unbearable that I could not even endure the preparation. I turned off the weather report, and there was no table in the bathroom. A healthy amount of fear spurs you to respectful preparation. Too much fear leaves you paralyzed and unable to act. What will happen when the storm hits? After my mom’s comment on Saturday, I again vowed to write a letter—this one specifically about how I do not and cannot share my parents’ views on homosexuality. As of last night, I had not written it.
Late last night I was talking to my college best friend, a gay man named JS. I asked him what I had said when he came out to me. I told him that I couldn’t remember, but that I feel like it was something like, “I love you, but I can’t accept this,” or “God can free you from this” or “You have an incredible opportunity to sacrifice something precious to you in obedience to God.” I offered my apology last night. “I was your best friend, and I wasn’t there when you needed me most. I’m so sorry.”
His reply was gracious. He told me that he came to me then because he felt like he was drowning. “Other than my brother, you were the only person I trusted not to hurt me in my vulnerability. I never felt like my trust was misplaced. I remember that you gave me as much love as you were capable of at the time. I’m grateful for that.” In the middle of our conversation, I received a text from my mom.
“Sorry for my homosexual comment yesterday. I didn’t mean it. I just watched Imitation Game. Hate the way they used to treat homosexual men.”
Thank you, Hollywood.
I wrapped up my conversation with JS. At the end of it, he recommended a documentary called “For the Bible Tells Me So” in response to a question I had asked about maintaining faith while embracing a gay lifestyle—I’m convinced it can be done well, and I wanted the input of this gay man I love. I promised to watch it, and then I turned my attention to my mother’s text message. JS had said that when he came out to me, I had given him as much love as I had been capable of at the time. I’m capable of more now, and it was time to show it. I looked at the words of my mother’s apology. The storm was here, and it had come without warning. I hadn’t prepared, and in fact, my heart was in a mobile home. I could stay inside this weak structure with an “apology accepted” text in response to hers, or I could bring my heart outside of its fragile shelter and dare the storm to do its worst. I chose the latter. While I appreciated her apology, I could not leave it at that. How much do I love JS? I would chase after storms for him.
My husband looked on as my thumbs flew. I told my mom that the thought of anyone in the world going to hell breaks my heart. I told her that I don’t believe that being gay is a choice for most people—it isn’t for any that I’ve spoken to, although I acknowledge that I haven’t spoken to nearly enough.
She replied that she feels the same way and that she doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. She believes that “God loves even the gay people,” although she still believes it’s a sin because the Bible says it is. “But we are all sinners,” she continued. “I guess people have to learn to keep their mouths shut about it.”
I confessed that I had become so “liberal” that my dad probably wouldn’t allow me in the house if he knew—but I knew he was sitting right there with her, and I didn’t ask her not to tell him. In response to her comment that it was a sin, I said that I can’t think of a single good reason that gay people shouldn’t be able to love whoever they want, and that even gay Christians just consider the anti-gay references in scripture to be on the same level as other culturally-influenced excerpts we no longer abide by. I won’t copy my entire long paragraph—you’ve all read the content of it already if you’ve been following along with my posts and comments here and on R&P’s blog. My words were gentle and respectful, carefully chosen and covered in prayer. I defended gay people—even gay Christians—without expressing my own struggle with faith. I’m not settled enough into a position with that to be ready to explain it to my parents.
Her next words shocked me.
“Very true and well said. If any of my kids were gay, their partner would be welcome in my home. I’m not the judge. The bottom line is God is in control and I guess we will find out his stance on all this when we get to heaven. It’s not our place to decide who is right and who is wrong. I can get along with people. Hard topic.”
I couldn’t believe it. This was the same woman who had said the night before that gay people and their advocates should “burn up in hell.” This is a Biblical literalist and inerrantist, a right-wing conservative—a Fox News fan-girl. I had expected a phone call in response to my text—and maybe even my dad’s voice joining hers on speaker-phone. I had expected a list of scripture references and a dire warning of God’s impending judgment, heralded by gay people and by liberals like me.
Instead, the storm just blew over. I hadn’t expected to face it that day. I had no time to prepare and even went outside to confront it instead of staying in a counterfeit shelter of silence. Even still, it did no damage. My lack of preparation hadn’t mattered—because as it is with most things we prepare for, the feared outcome did not occur. My passion is a force of its own, and I expressed it in carefully chosen words. When my own force confronted the force of my mother’s dogmatism, the strength of our individual convictions did not combine into something we couldn’t control. My family didn’t implode. I’m still welcome on our cruise this Christmas, and my inbox wasn’t filled this morning with links from my dad about God’s impending judgment. My mother’s words had lost their destructive force. I had loved JS the way I should have loved him six years ago, and after my conversation with my mom, I watched the documentary he recommended and cried through most of an hour and a half.
What happens when storms collide? Their devastating power is actually more likely to weaken than to increase in magnitude, and the storms often take a different course than they would have if they had never interacted.
May we never fear the storm so much that we are too petrified to prepare. May we never seek false shelter in the mobile home of silence when oppressive voices thunder around us. May we always remember that we, too, have power—that we are forces that did not form to be still. May we never avoid conflict in anticipation of terrible consequences.
May our storms collide. May our interactions be such that the destruction is reduced and our courses different than they would have been had we never crossed paths.
[Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain (original source: NASA)]