by Bill White
We were sitting at an outside table at Starbucks on Spring Street on the third Sunday of Lent. As a family we’d been fasting sweets, except for Sundays (the 40 days of Lent don’t include Sundays), so Timothy was indulging in some sort of double-macchiato-venti-caramel-tiramisu while I had my water and Katy drank coffee. We’d caught up on the day while standing in line, so after we sat down Timothy looked right at us and said, “I bet you’re wondering why I brought you here today.”
In the pause that followed, it occurred to me that I did not in fact wonder why he had asked us out to Starbucks. I knew exactly why we were there. And I’d let Katy know as well. We’d spent fifteen years pouring our lives into our son, helping him figure out who he was called to be, and we’d known he was gay for a while. And because I thought it might be helpful for him later in life to reflect on his coming out process, I had secretly turned on the voice recorder on my phone (yes, I’m a bit ‘aggressive’ as my kids would say).
Timothy pressed on, “I’ve been thinking a lot lately and prayed about it, and I’ve gotten to the point where I’m pretty solid on it and wanted to share with you guys first that I’ve decided that I’m gay. Feel free to ask all the questions you want.”
Even though I’d known it was coming, his simple statement carried a lot of weight. Like standing too close to a locomotive barreling by, seeing it coming only helps you prepare so much.
“Instead of asking any questions, I think it’s more important to tell you that I love you,” was my response. With a cheerful dismissiveness he said, “I know–I’m not worried about that.”
Then a simple prompt kicked off the next hour: “Tell us about your journey and what it’s been like for you.”
He talked about feeling ‘different’ growing up. He talked about his discipleship group and the helpful conversations about the scriptures around homosexuality. He talked about his failed attempts to be attracted to girls. He talked about feeling angst over the past few months as he came face to face with his sexuality, even praying “Father, take this cup from me.” And then he talked about how his identity in Christ was his primary identity and his sexual identity was secondary. He talked about feeling called to connect the Christian community and the gay community because there was such a great need for bridge people. I couldn’t help but respond to that and found myself saying, “Just remember that bridges get walked on.”
For the most part, Katy and I just listened. What a precious hour. We closed our time letting him know how courageous he was to share so vulnerably with us and how proud of him we were. Then we prayed together and headed home.
I felt awesome after that conversation. Not because I wanted my son to be gay–on the contrary–but because I’ve always wanted and worked towards having an authentic, open relationship with him and his sister. As a pastor, it’s been my privilege to hear many people share their secrets and their stories. Not one of those compares to being able to be there for my son to share his.
There’s a lot more to write about Timothy’s coming out process (yes, it includes tears and yelling). That story is HERE. But that initial conversation was huge. As I reflect on it over two years later, so many pieces of it set the trajectory for what followed–the love shared around that table, the listening, the high value of story, and the commitment to follow Jesus.
Bill White is a minister in the Reformed Church in America who is planting City Church of Long Beach in Long Beach, California. He’s been married for 25 years to his wife Katy, a doctor at an inner-city clinic, and the father of two teenagers. He’s the author of the blog LGBTQConversations.