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A Mother's Hope

By Lenore Schlesser

"Over time, I felt like the pain was never going to go away. And there were periods when I didn't think I could stand it another month. We had to find a solution. But we felt utterly alone."

"Mom. Dad. I've got something to tell you." My husband Roy and I sat motionless, as we listened to our son pour out his confession. My mind raced backwards, retracing the subtle hints dropped by our son - but I had pushed my suspicions down, not wanting to believe. Now he was now telling us it was all true. Nothing seemed so insurmountable as hearing those words — "I'm gay!"

The reality of his disclosure felt like a knife was being plunged into my chest. This revelation by our son hurt terribly. Roy wondered, "How do I treat my son now?" We couldn't answer the many questions that flooded our minds constantly for the next several days. Anguished and confused, it seemed as if the following weeks... months... crept slowly by. Our son's announcement 16 years ago began a painful process that, at first, seemed to lead nowhere but to despair.

In the beginning of this process, our responses to him were somewhat guarded. We knew that we didn't want to alienate him; he continued to be very involved in all our family activities. We demonstrated support, and gave him more encouragement than ever, but nothing seemed the same anymore.

Over the course of several conversations, as we talked with him about his decision, he acknowledged that he had made a conscience choice to enter the homosexual lifestyle. But when we said we couldn't agree with this choice, his response was, "But, that's who I am." At that time, we didn't understand how strongly he was convinced that he was a homosexual - and, if we didn't accept it, he perceived that we were rejecting him - withholding our love.

We talked about his Christian walk, which, in the past, had been very strong and vibrant. He attempted to resolve Christianity with homosexuality, but realized that he could not. So he decided to walk away from God, and was willing to have us set aside our faith and belief system in order to have our love and approval. He did have our love and acceptance as our son, but he didn't seem to feel it. Roy and I often wondered if, having made his decision, he was feeling the same degree of pain we felt when he told us of his lifestyle choice?

Over time, I felt like the pain was never going to go away. And there were periods when I didn't think I could stand it another month. We had to find a solution. But we felt utterly alone.

With some coaxing, our son finally said he was willing to make an appointment with a Christian counselor. However, my husband and I didn't know that there weren't many counselors who dealt with homosexual strugglers. Eventually, one was found, but the counselor told our son that he didn't know of anyone who had overcome homosexuality. He only knew of two choices — remain celibate for the rest of your life, or actively enter the homosexual lifestyle. Neither of these options were what we wanted to hear, and we knew our son only went to the counselor to please us, so we assumed that his choice was now confirmed. Our hopes were shattered.

Roy and I looked for help from our church, but the pastors were just as lacking in the ability to help as the counselor was. How I wanted them to say they would try to help even though they didn't know how. Sadly, they did not.

Continuing to feel alone and isolated, we eventually shared our plight with another Christian couple who were our close friends. They were very loving and responsive, and often reassured us that our son was special to them too. There aren't words to express how much we valued their non-judgmental, unconditional love. But we didn't tell anyone else. I thought, "Why should we subject ourselves to the pain of someone being embarrassed by our revelation?" Secrecy seemed best for our son too. We reasoned that when he chose to come away from homosexuality it would be easier if no one knew of his struggles.

We kept the secret for five, long, years. Then we stumbled upon someone who gave us the book called, Beyond Rejection, by Don Baker. The story chronicled the life of a Portland man named Jerry Heacock, and his path out of homosexuality. As I closed the book, feelings of hope and encouragement began to emerge from what had previously been emptiness. There was now one man our son could talk to, when he chose to leave homosexuality. I had hope!

A few weeks later, we attended a support group facilitated by Jerry. Other parents were sharing about their family situations. Roy was touched by one particular question. Jerry asked: "What endears you to your son?" That question changed Roy's focus. His thoughts up until this time had been aimed at what his son was not, according to Roy's own expectations. Suddenly he began to realize who our son is, in God's eyes. Our son had been drawn into a lifestyle that Roy didn't understand, but was still the same kind, loving and thoughtful person who needed a loving father more than ever. The other men at this support group knew how Roy felt. He could talk with them, and trust them.

As our knowledge and awareness about the underlying root causes of homosexuality increased, we didn't want to allow ourselves to feel pain. But denying reality just made it hurt more. "Suck it up… Try to act as if nothing is wrong… Don't tell anyone… No one will understand." These expressions of grief, I felt, were like the death of a loved one — of a child that was no longer the child I'd had before. There was unforgiveness toward my son. As a mother, I was holding him hostage for my pain. Even though I had given my son to God, I was claiming ownership that I was unaware of. We couldn't keep him from making his own choices. We couldn't protect him any longer. Understanding how all of these feelings affected our lives was where our healing began. It was like God had opened a window on our stifled emotions, and fresh air started to pour in! There were patterns in our family life that could have contributed to our son's choice. We came to see that there wasn't any difference between the choice our son made to embrace homosexuality, and any of the other choices, that disappoints or displeases parents. That realization actually removed the fears and questions about what went wrong. We had to look beyond the pain.

Roy and I drew closer to the Lord, and to each other. God continued to meet us right where we were with forgiveness, comfort and strength. Finally we were free to move forward. We gave our son back to God. We asked Him to tell us what our part was, and to let Him do His. Needless to say, our number one priority is prayer, and by trusting God's timing, we try not to slide our own expectation into those prayers. "God is gracious and merciful, and He will not withhold His compassion from us." - Ps. 40:1

Today, we have a good relationship with our son. We pray that he will someday seek help for change. As directors for the Portland Fellowship 'Parents, Family and Friends support group,' we are continually blessed and ministered to by this group. We also are comforted by the men and women who've made the choice to leave homosexuality. They are the real witnesses to us that someday... there is hope for our son too.

(Update: Sadly, on November 5 1997, Lenore passed away from complications while in surgery to remove a cyst. Portland Fellowship will greatly miss Lenore.)