My name is Liz Macdonald. I feel so grateful to finally be able to be public about our son as he just graduated from BYU. What a wonderful thing to share about one of my favorite blessings – I have a gay son. I say it is a blessing because, through this truth about Matthew, I have been tutored by the Lord and have felt of the love God has for all of us in a new and more expansive way. Matt’s coming out to us almost two years ago gave me the chance to live the two great commandments more fully as I love my God with all that I have, and as I love my son and my LGBT brothers and sisters with all my heart. My neighbor is everyone – especially those who have been marginalized and who need a space among us.
This past spring break my husband and our youngest son were driving back from time spent in Utah, and we were listening to The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom, which is a story about a woman, her sister, and their father in Holland during WWII. They begin to take in Jews to hide them from the Germans. They are part of a resistance group that help Dutch Jews get to safer places so that they can avoid concentration camps. I have read this book quite a few times, but something she said this time struck me. Corrie says, “I know the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work He will give us to do.” I have become aware of this preparation in mine and my husband’s lives as I look back and see how we were readied for our son to come out to us.
Eric and I are the parents of 5 children. Matt is our second child. He was a delight from the get go. He loved school, friends, music, art, and was a joy to be around. My biggest struggle with Matt is that we are far too much alike. For my most recent birthday, he posted a photo of he and I with the caption, “Happy birthday to the woman who gave me that one gene where I’m always right about everything”. To this post my husband quipped, “I hate that gene”. My youngest brother, who rarely ever comments on social media, retorted to my husband, “Just because you don’t have it”. That sums our strong personalities up in a nutshell!
When Matt was a teenager he came to me concerned about some feelings he had been having. We talked a long while and I frankly asked him if he thought he was gay. He vehemently denied it. He also talked with my husband. Afterwards, he seemed done talking about it. He even dated a lovely girl for the remainder of high school. But there was always something in the back of my mind.
I am a strong believer in the power of a mother’s prayers, and my prayers after that discussion were, “Satan, get away from my son. He is a gift from God, and I won’t let you mess with him and his feelings. I am calling down the powers of heaven to protect him.” Despite all my progressiveness–and please have mercy for me as I was on my path–I still thought you could choose whether you were gay. I still thought that being gay was merely a temptation of Satan.
Matt was the most spiritual of kids. He prayed frequently every day, read his scriptures without fail, served, and attended the temple weekly. Watching all of this, my husband and I would comment that we were nothing like him when we were teenagers. I have come to understand that he bloodied his knees begging his Father in Heaven to change him from being what he feared he was – gay. In retrospect, I have realized that my early prayers were also made simply out of fear, despite the fact that I know that fear never comes from God.
To continue, Matt graduated high school, attended BYU summer and fall term, and then went and served a mission in Mexico City. While he was on his mission, my prayers started to change–without my conscious awareness. They changed from the fear to: “please bless that Matt can come home and find a girl that will be perfect for him and who will think he is perfect”.
But there, the changes did not end. As his mission drew to a close, my prayers had one more adjustment. Again, as I participated in the work of prayer, my Father in Heaven taught me as I was ready to understand. My prayer simply became: “Please help me to be the kind of mom that Matt needs”.
It took Matt a year and a half until he came out to us after returning from his mission. As he told us he was gay, I watched the burden that had been on his shoulders lift from him. And then, in turn, I felt that burden rest heavily on our shoulders. But I was so happy to take it for him. I am so sorry for the difficulty he had to bear on his own for so long. When I told him those regrets, he gently and lovingly remarked: “I don’t regret it mom because all of those experiences have helped me to become who I am”.
I know there are a wide variety of experiences and hardships that we have each faced. This is intrinsic in life. For example, in our lives, we have watched family members struggle with anxiety and even severe and debilitating depression; we have buried my husband’s sister; we just buried one of my dear friends a couple months ago after a 19 month battle with a brain tumor; and we have watched our youngest son go through a bone marrow transplant and all that this procedure entails. I don’t list these experiences to say we have had it any harder than the rest of you – I just know that we are merely a sample of ALL of you—you who have had a wide variety of experiences and difficulties.
This experience for us—discovering Matt is gay—for the past 2 years has brought up a lot of cognitive dissonance and questions. Why would a loving God create my son gay, but not have a safe place for him in his church? One may say he does have a place—if, of course, he chooses to live a celibate life or marry a woman. What if these options do not feel right to my son or myself?
In considering these cloudy questions, I reflect upon my recent participation in a rather fun Facebook prompt that asked you to post 10 books in 10 days that have helped shaped who you are. One of the books I posted was Night by Elie Wiesel. It is his haunting story of surviving a concentration camp. At one point he asks, “I pray to the God within me that He will give me the strength to ask Him the right questions.” I think Elie is right: it is crucial, then, that we learn to ask the right questions.
For the good or bad of it, we are not without some experience in asking the wrong questions. Sometime ago, my husband spoke at his sister’s funeral and talked about asking “why?” We had lots of questions after she passed away so young and unexpectedly, while leaving a 26 week old baby without a momma. Why would God allow my husband’s sister to die and leave her baby to be born prematurely? Why would God then allow this boy to be raised by his step mom who would choose to abuse him for 7 years? And why, when he was placed in our home after the abuse was discovered, was he diagnosed with a life threatening disease that required a bone marrow transplant and several years of physical, mental, and emotional hell?
Asking these types of questions is normal and human. But I have learned something about these types of questions. They don’t make me happier. They don’t bring me closer to God. Rather, I have learned that these types of questions take me further away from where I want to be. They are not the right questions.
My point in mentioning all of these difficult experiences is to propose that I have learned much about faith. To me, faith is trusting that where we are is exactly where we are supposed to be. This is not because God is a puppet master placing us here and there at his whim. But this is because we are here in this life to learn to foster a connection with the divine in the midst of, and despite, any circumstance in which we may find ourselves.
Given these thoughts, I have learned to ask different questions. They are no longer the “Why me” questions. Now, after acknowledging that I am exactly where I was meant to be, I ask: “what can I do to help and lift those around me?” This question makes me happier. This question brings me closer to God.
I am so grateful to share my story – even those who seem the most tone deaf and insensitive to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.
I recognize that I do not have many answers. But I do know several things – I know God loves all of his children, and I know my son is just how he is supposed to be. I know I won’t err if I love all of God’s children. I love what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians about Christ’s church, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ…But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him…And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you…And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness…That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And when one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ…”
At this point, I hearken back to Corrie Ten Boom’s quote and ask – What is the work we have each been called to do? What is the work we have been prepared to accomplish? I trust that we have each been prepared for it. I hope to be up to the task.
In this regard, I love the quote from Elder Ballard’s November address at a BYU devotional: “I want anyone who is a member of the church who is gay or lesbian to know I believe you have a place in the kingdom and recognize that sometimes it may be difficult for you to see where you fit in the Lord’s Church, but you do. We need to listen to and understand what our LGBT brothers and sisters are feeling and experiencing. Certainly, we must do better than we have done in the past so that all members feel they have a spiritual home where their brothers and sisters love them and where they have a place to worship and serve the Lord.”
So I ask – How can I help myself and others to hear stories from our LGBTQ family? How can we listen to them better? How can we help make a safe space for them in our worship services, in our wards and stakes, and in our families? I trust that God is opening hearts, but he cannot do it on his own. I hope I can be an instrument for good in His hands. I am grateful to all of you who have gone before, and I am so thankful for all of the experiences we get to have in this life.
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This In My Own Words story is a contribution from Let’s Love Better, a Facebook group dedicated to helping people learn to better share love, while fostering an atmosphere of understanding. When we know better, we do better.