The Mama Bear Story Project is a collection of portraits and autobiographical essays from members of Serendipitydodah for Moms – a private Facebook group for open minded Christian moms of LGBTQ kids.
This Mama Bear Story Project is also being submitted as part of :
Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day, June 1st 2017
In the South, coming out is the language of debutantes, those rosy-cheeked young women in long white dresses and matching white gloves up to the elbow, floating like feathers down marble staircases the size of Texas. Their introduction to society is a celebratory time of champagne and parties, of photo opportunities in green backyard gardens, of laughter and back-slapping, of proud fathers and stressed-out mothers – a kind of nuptials trial run.
That fanfare is a far cry from the coming out of the boy I birthed on a chilly midwestern morning just seventeen summers prior – the boy who has my heart, the one who measures his words to me as carefully as a carpenter measures the wood before he feeds it to the blade. It is in that space between his voice gathering its steam and my mental chatter slowing to a crawl that I intuit the words before he even says them.
Mom, I’m gay. I’ve known it for as long as I can remember.
Wood to the blade.
When the yellow-haired boy’s words dropped into my ears, they would not land there – instead, they hovered like a hummingbird working its needle-thin beak into and out of the flower. I recognized the steady buzzing of the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of my pulse as it loomed large, affecting my ability to hear. Instinctively I knew that something had been spoken which would alter the world as I saw it – something that would split time in two pieces like halves of a log on a chopping block, axe to wedge and crack! Had I looked down at the floor at that moment, I’m nearly certain Before and After would have been lying there.
With the whoosh still looming large, I believe I might have uttered something ridiculous, like:
Areyousurereallysure and pleasedon’ttellanyone because I was talking fast and foolish and fearful.
His brown eyes, registering deep pain by the way they seemed to snap backwards into his head, did the answering for him. I babbled on senselessly, speaking without punctuation – without pause for intake of breath (where was my breath, anyway?) for far too long, but who was watching the clock any longer in a world where time had been split in half? What was the point?
I had a problem. I had a very big problem.
Before and After were, after all, lying at my feet.
Courage: from the Latin cor for heart
Integrity: from the Latin integritatem for wholeness
I was going to need a lot of this – a lot of heart; that much I could see. What I could not see, though, not yet, was that the blonde boy standing on the other side of the room, huddled up between the dresser and the bedroom door (in position to flee?), already possessed more heart than I on my best day.
This was far from my best day. My best day was on sabbatical somewhere out west where it could breathe. My best day had deserted me and was sunning itself by some pool in Arizona, sipping filtered water infused with lemons and limes.
My brain, scrambling like it had just come front and center with a word problem, refused – refused! – to assimilate the information placed in front of me. Instead, it pulled me off to the side and whispered a million different reasons why this could. not. be. true. I wanted to resist; surely some part of me wanted to resist – wanted to review the evidence I’d seen on the horizon, building strength like a Nebraska storm cloud in August, wanted to acknowledge that those inklings had been spot-on – but I dared not trust myself. If I remembered nothing else from those years and years of collective pastors’ voices ringing in my ears, I remembered what was etched in my mind like a tattoo: Our hearts are deceitful and wicked beyond measure. They are never to be trusted.
Which of us was deceived? Which of us – the boy huddled by the door, ready to flee, or the mother clasping the wooden bed post to keep from falling – which one of us was party to a lie?
It is said somewhere that courage is the foundation of integrity.
That must mean that the one who knows who he is at the heart is the one who is whole.
Then where did that leave me?
With Jesus, we find the power to hold the pain of life until it transforms us.
– Fr. Richard Rohr
I needed a plan. I needed a way to get control of this thing – to get on top of it, to make it submit, to make it cry uncle and relent, Okay! Okay! You win! Because the only thing worse than not having control is the realization that you never had it.
The words had been spoken.
I couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle,
the toothpaste back in the tube,
the bullet back in the gun.
The words had been spoken.
Fear came fast to the surface, blowing bubbles like a swimmer as she empties her lungs of the last bit of air that has served her well below but will fail her now.
The words had been spoken.
No longer was this simply a question that raced like Flo Jo around and around the edges of my brain until it grew tired and retreated into the locker room for a time. No longer was Denial my partner in crime, because it had been detained and arrested and carried off in handcuffs in the back of a squad car. Fat lot of good you did me, Denial. Fat lot of good. You simply delayed the inevitable.
Yes, the words had been spoken – had pierced the lie and lanced the festering sore in hopes of a remedy, yet I was still blind to their efficacy.
It would be a while, still.
When I was four years old at play in the sandbox, a neighbor’s rooster the size of a small goat flogged me, knocking me flat on my back to the ground. I remember very little of this other than a wild flurry of feathers and claws and beak atop my face – and someone screaming. Maybe the scream was mine, although I think I was too paralyzed to make much of any kind of sound – too paralyzed to make any kind of movement. So I lay there and waited for a rescue, unaware that my bottom lip and chin were victims of those massive claws digging in with the tenacity of fish hooks. A short while later a loud pop was followed by an explosion of feathers, releasing me to put my chubby fingers up to my face to probe the now throbbing gashes that would go on to be stitched and, later, leave permanent trails. It was years before I understood the danger in that split-second decision my father was forced to make as he stood way up at the house – years before I had children of my own to remind me that sometimes – many times – we parents are simply flying blind (or, if you prefer, relying on faith). Most days, to be honest, there’s not much difference.
My tow-headed boy’s words were out. He was out. The rooster was back, but this time, I was the parent flying blind. This time, I had a decision to make that was nothing short of putting a bullet in a monster. If my aim were off by just a hair, then the consequences could be disastrous. He might be left bleeding, blind, scarred for life – or worse. It dawned on me then that I needed to move in close and fast, to cross the room that had at once become no less than the Grand Canyon of chasms, to make that leap and not look down.
This was not a fine time for paralysis. Feathers were going to fly.
Moving toward my son, smoking gun in hand, I crossed the room – not tentatively but decisively, not gingerly but with a boldness that came from some unknown (to me) place. I’d put a bullet in a monster – before it could jump him, before it could slice away the tender flesh and leave a gaping wound. It was a split-second, flying blind decision. It was all I knew to do, and it had to be enough.
Wrapping him in my arms, I welcomed his weeping against me. Wrapping him in my arms, I shushed him, clucking like a mother hen as she gathers her chicks close to her body. Wrapping him in my arms, I tried to swallow down the lump that had formed in my throat – a lump that I was certain was born of the dust fragments of my shattered heart.
Once that dust settled, once that clearing began, once I was able to get the lay of the land – and with that rooster dead and gone – I would see that his coming out broke my heart wide open so that more of God could get in.
But this day, it was enough to cling to one another in that haze, to fly blind without knowing where to land … and to wait.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in …
Every heart, every heart
to love will come
but like a refugee.
From Leonard Cohen’s Anthem
The wallpaper on my Mac is a rotating series of photos I’ve uploaded over the past few years, so I frequently stop what I’m doing to stare at the images scrolling through. Most faces are smiling – open, even, like sunlight – with eyes squinted and teeth bared in unadulterated joy; others are pensive, thoughtful, filled with contented Mona Lisa mystery. These are the shots that elicit my own feelings of gratitude, the ones that assure me of future promise, of hope – the ones most likely to tease my insecurities out into the open, to pat them on the back and whisper that maybe, just maybe, I did okay as their mom. A few, though – the ones of the yellow-haired boy at twelve, fourteen, or sixteen, even – cannot be so easily celebrated. His eyes, flat and dull like a 1920s penny, stare out of his haunted face – a look not altogether dissimilar to photos snapped of Holocaust survivors or of Russian orphans, or war refugees. It’s impossible to read into those faces anything but the despair of a thousand betrayals, and yet this is the entirety of his face. My son’s face. Eyes, mouth, cheeks, nose – all are caught up into that one word: Despair. The war that rages in his soul plays itself out on the landscape of his lifeless eyes, and, sadly, that is the thing. How had I let that colorless portrait escape me?
As Richard Rohr says, we cannot see what we are not ready to see, especially those things which are hidden in plain sight.
And yet, Jesus asks the blind beggar, who is both blind and beggar, What do you want me to do for you? And this man says, simply, I want my sight restored. Because, at one time, he could see.
But once he sees again, it will all look different.
When I took the dog for a walk through the neighborhood yesterday, I happened to notice a festive fall wreath on the front door of one particularly unfriendly couple’s home. Upon closer examination (which meant my peering at the door from practically across the street, since a canine’s errant treading of paws upon their perfectly manicured lawn elicits anger and threats to both owner and pet), I was able to make out the word Welcome on a little sign affixed to the wreath. Welcome. Really? That’s ironic, I thought to myself, as I gave wide berth to their property and made my way on down the street.
But before my feet had hit my driveway, it dawned on me that, on any given day, I’m also guilty of saying one thing while conveying something shockingly different by my actions.
I have loved etymology ever since I took an intro to Linguistics in college. Last year I learned that the term holy originates from the same root word as whole. That discovery offered me a new-and-improved way to think about God in His wholeness – as the One Who is fully integrated within Himself. God, the perfect integer. Jesus, the Son, who lived out a life of perfect wholeness in his humanity as communicated via the Gospels. Jesus, who lived as he spoke and who spoke as he lived.
Yet, for a couple of years, my tow-headed boy would go on to bear the brunt of my un-holiness, my fractured thinking, my stumbling and bumbling inability to align my words and my actions surrounding his truth telling.
His ears would go on to register the I love you coming from my mouth, yet his heart would grapple with the unspoken but well communicated but spawned by my actions.
I love you BUT let’s look into reparative therapy (I don’t love this part of you) +
I love you BUT let’s keep this a secret (I don’t love this part of you) +
I love you BUT let’s beg God to fix this (I don’t love this part of you) =
I don’t love you.
Love the sinner but hate his sin is a lie. But I couldn’t see that, then. I had mud in my eyes. Like the blind man whose sight Jesus was in the process of restoring, I saw people “like trees walking around,” which is not seeing people at all.
I saw through a glass darkly.
It would be a while, still.
There are times when taking a break from writing is all I want to do, like when memories are forced to conjure up disquieting images the way King Saul pled with the Witch of Endor to summon the spirit of Samuel, dusty and irritated, from the grave.
King Saul would go on to pay a price for this.
Images give birth to thoughts and then thoughts to the words which, once expressed, we claim a sort of parental responsibility for, whether we are prepared for this or not.
Denial became something akin to a ground-fault circuit interruptor when my thoughts threatened to shock my system. Fearing for the tow-headed boy’s life, fearing for his reputation (it was also fear for my own, if truth be told), I spoke over him words – marching orders, really – that coaxed darkness up from the ground that threatened to swallow him whole – that threatened to send him to his death.
You need to keep this to yourself.
Don’t tell anyone else you’re gay.
We can’t let your grandfather find out – it’ll kill him.
Fear had had its say, and in those dusty, irritated, grave-words, shame was born.
This son of mine – this one who was always so eager to please, so agreeable and cooperative – looked down at the floor, unblinking, and kept his eyes there for a long time. What he saw, I couldn’t know.
What I did know, though, was that I couldn’t see a damned thing.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?
Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. – Luke 12:6
The baby bird needed help.
I spotted it from a good distance, back when my eyes boasted 20/20 vision, as I was on my way back from an afternoon spent at the pool with my friends.
Rolling up to the fluffy gray ball on my banana seat bike, I quickly surveyed the situation. He was sitting in the middle of one of the neighborhood streets, no mama bird to be found. His dull yellow beak was open in a little V, and he was breathing rapidly, his downy little feathers moving up and down so fast that they seemed to be in constant motion.
I didn’t sit for long but gingerly pushed down the kickstand so as not to startle the quivering creature who was now just a few feet in front of me, and then I deftly – and silently – climbed over the seat and off the bike. My heart was racing at this point as I was contemplating my next move. I had a difficult decision to make, and yet my 11-year old brain knew of only one thing to do.
Scooping him up and setting him in my pool bag in one swift movement, I knew only one thing: I had to quickly get this bird home before he died. It was then I heard the chirping from somewhere above me, although when I looked up, I saw nothing. Instead of riding on the street, I made a quick left and departed the road for the well worn dirt path made by all the other bikes heading to and from the pool. Coasting down the hill while clutching the pool bag with one hand, I heard the chirps becoming louder and more frantic. It never dawned on me that the ruckus had anything to do with my precious cargo. I was in the zone. I was going to save this bird. Rounding the curve once the hill flattened out, I pedaled like a girl with her hair on fire.
My mother met me at the porch door after she heard me calling out for her from two houses over. With a furrowed brow, she peered into the bag I held up to her through the screen. “Can we save it? I found it in front of the Thomas’s house, on the road.” My mother, who has always had a soft spot for animals, ushered me inside with a warning that baby birds are rarely abandoned by their mothers, even when it looked like they were. “Usually the mother is somewhere close by, watching, making sure her baby is safe.” Pulling a cardboard box out of the storage closet, she instructed me to line it with a towel and set the bird in it. After adding a small dish of water to the box, I sat on the porch floor to watch the traumatized baby, holding vigil and saying prayers until nightfall.
The next morning found me racing to the box in the hopes that a miracle had occurred – that the tiny thing had drunk some water, at least. My mother found me a few minutes later as I knelt, crying, by the cardboard coffin. She listened as I recounted how I’d tried to save this orphan from certain death, then she showed me where to bury it in the yard.
The next day she told me about the way of birds when they are learning to fly.
Years later I would find myself needing to choose between putting my son in a box or helping him learn to fly.
Note from Meredith on May 31, 2017:
It took so much out of me to write this a few years back that I had to stop. Reading back through it now, I can see tremendous growth, thank God. Even then, I knew that God would be faithful to continue pulling me forward in truth. I needed to experience all those feelings and fears in order to join this current pilgrimage and be there to help my son learn to spread his wings and fly.
Serendipitydodah for Moms is a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. Our official motto is “We Are Better Together” and our nickname is “Mama Bears” The group is private so only members can see who is in the group and what is posted in the group. It was started in June 2014 and presently has more than 1,800 members. For more info email email@example.com