I used to pray for Grayson Allen.
I know some of you Grayson-haters are thinking, “Humph! He needed some prayers!” I didn’t pray for Grayson to hold his temper (though that would have helped in a couple of games!), to go one game without being called for a trip, to be strong in the face of all the fans who for some reason loved to hate him, to NOT foul out, to make that last-second game-winner against Kansas in 2018, please! (Well, actually, I did probably pray for all of those things, but they are not the reason for this particular story.)
I prayed for Grayson to meet my daughter and fall in love.
Grayson and Emma Jane “EJ” entered Duke University as freshmen in 2014. During her first couple of weeks of soccer preseason, Emma had already met the well-known Duke basketball recruits. To me, this presented such a wonderful opportunity for a “love connection.” How hard would it be for a romance with one of those future stars to begin, right?
Spoiler Alert: This is not a story about my good parenting.
Sadly, these were my secret thoughts, my ridiculous prayers: “Please, God, let her meet someone amazing, athletic, and adventurous like her. Maybe Grayson, Lord? She mentioned she met him and that he was really nice.”
Ugh. Of my many screwups as a parent and the myriad things I wish I had done better – or could do over – praying for Grayson is the one that makes me feel the most ashamed. You see, what I was really praying for was not for Grayson Allen to meet my daughter and fall in love. I was praying for Grayson Allen to save my daughter from being gay because – and I hang my head in shame here – a part of me believed, deep down in my Southern Baptist “love-the-sinner-not-the-sin” soul, that being gay was something that needed fixing, something that could be prayed away.
God, forgive me.
Of course, I already knew Emma Jane was gay before she ever went to college. She had dated a couple of amazing, practically perfect guys during high school without ever really seeming to be all gaga and googly-eyed over them. But when I asked her questions, she would deflect or avoid or just plain lie, so I chose not to know for sure and tell myself whatever she was experiencing was just a phase. Teenagers go through all sorts of phases, and parenting them is definitely not an easy task, so there.
It will go away eventually if I sweep it under the rug long enough, I thought.
Still, I knew in my heart that she would never be gaga and googly-eyed over those guys, and I should have been a better parent so that my first-born child could have talked to me earlier. Instead, we told each other half-truths a lot of the time and pretended everything was okay.
Thank God my daughter was brave enough to change all of that toward the end of her first year of college when she decided she was tired of living a lie. She wanted to live an authentic life, something (ironically) I had always taught my high school seniors was one of the most important goals in life – “To thine own self be true” and all that good stuff. She brought home a beautiful, kind, intelligent, and oh-so-sweet girl for a family cookout one weekend. Though she introduced Savannah to us as “a friend,” I could see it — gaga and googly eyes.
A couple of weeks after that is when, I suppose, we could say Emma officially “came out” to me. I had talked to my husband Kelly about my suspicions for a couple of years at this point, and one bit of advice he had imparted when I asked what I “should do” if she really were gay went something like this: “Kath, just know that the way you react to that news will affect the rest of your life with your daughter, so if you want to protect your relationship with her, remember that. The wrong reaction could destroy your relationship forever.”
My husband is a smart man…and probably the best dad ever created. Seriously, ever.
I wish I could write that I listened to Kelly’s advice and said all the right things to Emma Jane, that I hugged her and said, “Sweetie, I know, and I love you, and it is all just fine and the way things are meant to be.” I wish I had said, “Thank you for trusting me enough now to tell me. Thank you for being brave enough to stand in your truth and allowing me to stand with you. I am proud of you for being yourself and not pretending anymore.” While I have told her things like that many times over since then, on that day, her coming-out day to me and essentially my coming-out day as a mom of a gay child, I failed.
I was scared.
What will people think? Will people in Wilson (our small town) ostracize her? our family? What about Dawson? Does he already know? They have always been so close, but maybe this will be tough for him. He is still in high school, the same high school where I teach. Will people tease him about it? What will my ultra-conservative daddy think?? He has just finally come to terms with racial equality! What about my visions of her future wedding and children? What about my friends? How will I tell them? They better NOT say anything negative about my daughter! Why does she always have to be so difficult and make life way harder than it has to be? Life is hard enough. What does God think about all of this?
These were some of my thoughts — some that I did not articulate to Emma, some that (sigh) I did. I also told her I love her and want her to be happy and will always support her, though I “may have to kill somebody” if anyone says one single wrong thing about her. I mean, I may have screwed up most of the talk, but I was still my same ferocious mom self. I just needed some time to process.
Now, almost four years later, I am coming out to people on behalf of my daughter all the time, and I absolutely DARE them to say anything to piss me off. I am embarrassed and ashamed of the narrow-minded thoughts I harbored back then. I had thought of myself as a “free spirit,” an open-minded person who embraced all people, a person who believed “Live and let live,” all that stuff — I mean, really! What I learned about myself when my own child began living her authentic life is that those principles I had professed to believe in did not apply to my own family. I was fine with other people being gay, but I wasn’t brave enough to handle it from my own child.
I told you this is not a sweet story of my amazing parenting skills.
I have found some comfort that I am not the only parent who has failed during this particular conversation. Sara Cunningham, author of How We Sleep at Night and founder of Free Mom Hugs, can relate to how I felt. In a recent podcast with Jen Hatmaker, she said, “Our youngest son, Parker,… spent his whole life coming out to us. But when he turned 21, he said, ‘Mom, I met someone and I really need you to be okay about it.’ That’s the day that he faced his biggest fear, and that’s me. That’s the day that I had to face reality that my son is gay.”
It is sad for me to realize I, the mother who had prayed to have this child, the mother who had waited twelve years for this child to finally be conceived, was probably Emma Jane’s biggest fear, but I have to accept this reality and move on. As Cunningham explained, the journey to acceptance is not necessarily a pretty one. Cunningham’s own journey included questioning how to reconcile her faith with her child’s sexual orientation, but her story does have a happy ending: She says, “I call it a journey that took me from the church to the Pride Parade without losing our faith.”
I love that. You see, I was afraid to lose my friends and to face judgment from my family, my colleagues, and my community, but I also was afraid of what God would say. What if (S)he didn’t love us anymore?
After much soul-searching, reading, researching, talking, listening, finding my tribe of supportive voices (and purging the throngs of judgmental ones), I am happy to say I am just fine with our life, thank you very much. I know that being gay, like being white or black or brown or straight, is just the way God made us, and yes, we are “perfectly made,” and no representation of God is better than any other. We are all a part of God, and no one has the right to say whose image, whose earthly manifestation of God is more God-like.
God is love, and love is love.
Yes, I worry a bit with each hint of possible discriminatory legislation for the LGBTQ community, but, to be honest, I have always worried about the underdog, the minority, the oppressed, the – to use a “hip” term right now – marginalized. The difference now is I am finally brave enough to shout it to the mountaintops when I think something is just not right. The difference now is I am brave enough to sashay around my small town wearing a Pride shirt and a Pride bracelet. The difference is when my family went to the first Duke Women’s Soccer Pride game, an event my daughter helped initiate and organize, my “conservative” dad was right there with me and even wore his Duke Pride bracelet with (dare I say?) pride and, more importantly, love.
That was one of those moments when I realized God’s love really does surpass all human things and human understanding. Another thing I know for sure is that I am brave enough to stand in my truth because my daughter was brave enough four years ago.
And even though Emma Jane was drafted to play professional soccer for the Utah Royals and Grayson was drafted to play professional basketball for the Utah Jazz (!), I am no longer praying for a love connection between the two of them.
Instead, I am praying for Emma Jane and Savannah to continue loving each other so perfectly, even through law school and long distance, until the day they begin planning their wedding that will break all of the etiquette rules because what rules?
And by the way, I continue to pray for Grayson, not because I want him to date my daughter, but because he may need some prayers to deal with all the hoopla and renewed Grayson-hating because people have now found out who his love connection is!
I do hope – and pray – things go well for Grayson and his girlfriend, Emma Jane’s former teammate Morgan. 😉