I first became aware of how much I despised homosexuality when I worked at a savings and loan in 1981. Don [not his real name], referred to as a "queer" in our small town, shoved his savings passbook across the counter for a large cash withdrawal. He glanced over his shoulder and spoke to his companion, a good-looking boy of about eighteen. The boy laughed and his eyes met mine, full of mockery and challenge. I swallowed hard and shuddered, then handed Don the wad of bills, and they walked out arm-in-arm.
At home that night, I described the incident to my family in a voice tinged with disgust. "Thank God there's none of that in our family." In fact, people thought our family had it allgood marriage, comfortable home, successful careers. Our oldest son, Rick, was happily married with three children. Tim, our younger son, sang with his girlfriend in the high school choir. Few people knew of my husband's chameleonlike personality.
But one night seven years later, I feared for my life in the throes of my husband's drunken rage. The next day I confronted him. I couldn't live with his drinking problem any longer, and I urged him to seek help. Instead, he moved out. Several months later, he divorced me. To pay off our debts, I sold our home, moved into an apartment, and started rebuilding my life. I'd been through hell and survived. Nothing would ever again shake me like that.
The end of our thirty-year marriage created an upheaval in my sons' lives. Rick and his wife divorced about a year later. Tim abandoned college and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, going first to San Diego, then to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. I prayed for his safety, not knowing a greater battle in spiritual warfare awaited his return. After his discharge in May 1991, Tim remained in San Diego.
Then, on January 3, 1992, an emotional earthquake shattered my world. The pages of Tim's letter trembled in my hand as I read: "My sexual orientation has bothered me since I was twelve. Please, Mom, listen to me. I feel a strong attraction for men. I understand how you must feel . "
Coffee splashed as I slammed my cup on the table and threw down the letter. No, Tim couldn't possibly understand, or he'd never have written this. I lurched up from the sofa, his words scorching my mind.
" I am who I am, and it's taken me thirteen years to be able to accept this. "
Thirteen years? No. No, I'd have known. What about his girlfriends in high school and college? How could he be gay? What happened? Where had I failed?
I fell to my knees sobbing. Then pulling myself off the floor, I grabbed my keys, snatched up Tim's letter, and ran to my car, taking off in the winter night.
As the speedometer reached 80 mph, a snow-covered guardrail suddenly rushed toward me. Terrified, I twisted the steering wheel. The car skidded, then held on the graveled shoulder. Peering into the darkness, I searched for familiar landmarks. Finally, I recognized a farmhouse. I'd gone more than fifty miles from home.
I pulled off the deserted highway onto a side road and stopped the car. Punching open the car's moon roof, I tilted the seat back and gulped clean, cold air. After a long while, I sighed. Okay, Lord, I give up. What do you want me to do? Switching on the map light, I picked up Tim's letter. This time I heard his pain: "I feel alone. I'm so afraid of my family rejecting me. You're still my mom, and I still love you. I always will."
I had to hear Tim's voice, so I drove back to my apartment and dialed his number. When Tim answered, tears flooded my eyes. I told him I loved him, no matter what. But, I said, homosexuality is a sin. "You're not alone, Tim. I'm here and Jesus is too. God loves you. Remember Romans 8:38-39? Nothing can separate you from God's love in Christ Jesus. But you must renounce this lifestyle."
Tim sobbed, unable to speak. After a few moments I said, "I'll call you tomorrow. I love you, Tim." Sorrow filled my heart as I hung up.
Over the next few weeks, we talked on the phone or through letters. I needed answers. "Tim, why? Was it the war? Did something happen over there? Or when you were little?"
Eventually, he opened up. "Remember the older boy in my third grade class? The bully?" Tim said. "Well, he cornered me one day after school--" his voice broke. "After that, he told everyone I was a fag. Nobody wanted to be around me."
He told me of a couple more childhood incidents when older boys had threatened or bribed him into cooperating with their sexual indulgences. Then came another shock.
"Did I ever tell you about the time Dad took me to a gay community in Massachusetts right before I joined the Marines?"
The phone turned to lead in my hand. "No," I whispered.
"It was a business trip. When the business was done, that's where we went, to a town on Cape Cod. It's a gay community." He paused. "Well, maybe you didn't know. You guys weren't divorced yet, but Dad had moved out."
As Tim described the incident, it became clear his father had been to this place before. My heart raced. "Did anything happen? I mean--"
"No, Mom, nothing happened. Dad wanted to go to this gay bar. He laughed and joked with these guys. I kept my eyes glued to the TV and didn't talk to anybody. I didn't know what to do. I just wanted to die." Bitterness laced his words. "I don't think I've ever come so close to hating him."
I recalled other business trips when Tim was nine or ten. At the time, I was pleased my husband was spending time with this younger son. Did something happen then? I tried to question Tim, but he refused to talk about it. He didn't remember. He thought he'd had a happy childhood. I let it go.
As the weeks went by, I felt ashamed and afraid. My prayers seemed inadequate. Desperate, I called my dear friend Dory, a nurse. Her nonjudgmental, no-nonsense voice offered strength. She told me about Barbara Johnson's book, Where Does a Mother Go to Resign? I read it and called Barbara. This dynamic woman shared hope, encouragement, and the names of two other women in similar circumstances. I wasn't alone.
I learned about Exodus International, a worldwide Christian ministry dedicated to helping men and women who want to overcome homosexuality and turn to Christ. From Exodus, I received the names of two Christian men in San Diego who had renounced homosexuality and were available to counsel others. Excited, I called Tim with the good news, convinced he would grab this opportunity to be free from bondage. I was wrong. He said he wasn't in bondage. He didn't want to be free from homosexuality. He said he was born this way, and Jesus knew.
How could he be so deceived? From the beginning, I'd taught him about Jesus, whom he had invited into his life at the age of five.
Through the years, I'd had no inkling something was wrong. Did Tim ever hint at trouble? Did I really listen? Were there dark secrets in our household? I don't know.
After Tim's letter in 1992, I regarded my adult son as a victim. "They" had caught and trapped him. "They" were faceless, nameless, evil people. Homosexuals. Enemies.
But God wasn't finished with me yet. That spring, Tim brought a friend homea homosexual. The enemy had arrived on my doorstep. I was tense but quickly realized Tim's friend was even more nervous. I sensed his fear of rejection. Mothering instincts surged, and my heart reached out to him. He wasn't an enemyhe was a wounded soul.
My quiet times with the Lord changed from selfish pain and anger to genuine grief for Tim and others like him. Satan blinds them to the truth and deceives them.
The change in my attitude toward homosexuals was tested in my workplace where some of my colleagues apparently are gay or bisexual; I no longer avoid them. They're real people, just like me. The Lord has softened my heart, and I've learned to hate the sin while I love, or at least care for, the sinner.
Tim often brings homosexual friends when he comes to visit me and my new husband, Chuck. He once told me, "You guys are living proof to my friends that heterosexual marriage can work." Perhaps he, too, is seeking proofand hopefor himself.
When Chuck proposed a few years ago, I told him about Tim and about my commitment to the Lord to be available to Tim and his friends. Chuck regards Tim as his own son and together we've opened our home to these wounded souls, many of whom have been rejected by parents and siblings. Tim never asks to stay overnight when he has a companion. Their conduct is above reproach in our home. Often an arrogant attitude masks their pain, but it soon dissolves. Some of them jokingly call me Mom.
When the opportunity arrives to present the gospel, I do, usually in the form of my own testimony. This opens the door for them to express their views of Christianity. I hear anger. These young men say they've been rejected by their own churches and therefore, they imply, by God. They've turned their backs and buried themselves in resentment and fear.
How can we reach these hardened hearts? For me, evangelism begins with friendship. I am one small part of God's whole planperhaps I can plant one tiny seed, and the next one will plant the garden, and others will nourish it. As I write, Tim seems resigned to being homosexual, but he gives clues that he's not a practicing homosexual. It's a fine line of distinction, perhaps even a rationalization. Only God knows the heart (1 Kings 8:39). Jesus, Tim says, is his best friend. I believe him. But I also know Jesus is more than a friendhe is the Savior and Lord. God heard that five year old's prayer inviting Jesus into his life. Even if Tim has strayed away, God hasn't moved. He'll be there when Tim chooses to resist the devil and listen to the Holy Spirit.
My heart still hurts. My son's life is far from happy, his future uncertain. The New King James version of Psalms 56:8 says God puts my tears in his bottle. My hope rests with the Lord. "They will return from the land of the enemy [Satan] . Your children will return to their own land" (Jeremiah 31:16-17). In the meantime, God has called me to pray for and love Tim, and to be available.
Shirley A. Rorvik is a freelance writer living in Montana.
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