Parents Todd and Tracy (not their real names) reflect on grace and God's greatest commandment through relationship with their child.
Three words. We heard just three words, and our world changed forever.
It’s hard to put into words the emotions and feelings that happen when life suddenly spirals out of control. One moment our life was moving along relatively smoothly, and then with just three words, life became a road filled with blind corners, potholes, washouts and dead-ends.
Christmas break was just ending and it was time for young adults all over the nation to head back to college. Our church had just celebrated the entry of the greatest Child ever born. We were reminded that the Christ entered our dark world in the dirtiest, smelliest place of all, the stable. He entered the poorest of families—outcasts, really, for Mary had been accused of promiscuity and many had looked at her with contempt, laughing behind her back. Surely, she should have just been stoned. “Lucky” for her, Joseph was a man of grace and obedience, a godly man who heard and followed the words of the angel. We had just recounted the truth that Jesus came, willingly, to give life to all. And then it happened … just hours before our son got on a plane back to school, he spoke just three words. He struggled with each word, not wanting to shatter our world, knowing that it would have severe consequences for him and for us. There were just three words, spoken in great agony and tears; he was hoping for acceptance, fearing rejection.
“I am transgendered.”
Transgendered??? What does that even mean? Heads pound, ears throb, jaws clench, vision fades. Our minds could not yet begin to fathom what any of this meant or what our future would look like. Yet, there before us is our child, our firstborn—in tears, voice cracking,body heaving,barely able to get the words out. How could this be? Questions swirl around us with nowhere to go, no answers to be found—not now, not yet, maybe never. All we can do at this moment is wrap our arms around him, and return to him just three words, just three words for him to hang onto, the very three words he needs and longs to hear: “We love you.”
That was a year and a half ago. Since then, we have gone through the many stages of grief, over and over again. We watched our child go from man to woman. We watched male pants and shirts leave in bags for Goodwill and the closet filling with feminine blouses and skirts. The black loafers were replaced with high heels. We saw some hair grow out long, while other hair disappeared through the use of razors and lasers. We saw “handsome” die and “beautiful” arrive.We sat in the court room as a name, the name we had given at birth, and gender were legally changed. It took only a couple of moments. We noted the envelopes arriving with replacement identification cards and other important documents.
Family and friendship dynamics drastically changed, too. We have seen all the looks: looks of pity and curiosity, looks of hate and disgust, looks of shock, and looks of laughter. Some have been clued in and some have been clueless.There was a whirlwind of activity and a multitude of changes in such a short time. Yet, at each step, and at each change, we continued to offer just three words. “We love you.”
Our daughter is now happy with who she is, working and living on her own. For this we are thankful, for it could have been a different future than that which has arrived as our present. There are so many in the LGBTIAQ community who consider, attempt or accomplish suicide, feeling it is their only option in the wake of the rejection from family and/or community that sometimes leads to a self-destructive loathing of themselves. We are glad that, while our daughter considered that option, she decided to tell us instead and allow us to respond to her three words with our three words.
Instead of weeping as we stand by her coffin, we rejoice as we stand by her person; we go forward together into life while we all search for understanding and grace. It is a privilege to love as Jesus loved, but saying that doesn’t make it easy. If anything, we have found out how difficult it can be and how incredible God is and His gifts of grace. The cross gifts were given to us that we might give gifts of grace to others.
We are thankful for the fact the God always keeps His promises. He carried us when we couldn’t even see the path before us. He continues to carry us when we feel worn and weak. Sometimes we have to step back and remember that our child is a gift of God, one that we hold onto lovingly, carefully, but also lightly. She still has the awesome qualities that make her who she is. Those did not change. She is intelligent, an ardent baseball fan, a caring professor, creative, artistic and much more. But, always, she is first and foremost a beautiful child of God and we must allow God to work in her life as He sees fit. Only then can we be at peace, knowing that God has plans and resources beyond our imagination to complete all of His work in this world. Trusting God to care for and keep our most precious gift is, sometimes difficult, but it is, also, a privilege.
We are thankful for a supportive extended family. They have held us up in prayer every day. They have loved our daughter and accepted her changes with diplomacy. Although they, too, have many questions, they have given us the gift of grace and care. We have felt very lonely through this time and yet God has given us the strength of family and friends, old and new. He has brought us into relationship with many wonderful people in the LGBTIAQ community whom we love and care about, and who have loved and cared for us. We are thankful for a godly counselor that reminded us that we are not in Eden anymore and we are not in heaven yet. All of us are broken and not living according to God’s original plan. His plan was for a perfect world, without the results of sin. Sin has resulted in an earth that is broken and people who are broken, people who were cast out of Eden, people who are groaning and waiting for a new heavenly Eden. This has truly been a journey, our journey, one which isn’t finished. It is a journey of a lifetime; and yet the Christian walk has always been a journey of a lifetime, too. It is God’s grace that carries us through.
We still don’t understand the hows or whys. While we have read and studied the subject, when we get to the bottom line and at the end of the day, it still comes to these key questions: What will we do? How will we act and react? How will we treat others? How do we treat those who seem to be marginalized in society? The conclusion we have come to is this: unconditional love. Say just three words: “We love you.” It is an incredible gift that God gives to us, the outcasts from Eden. It is also an incredible gift and a privilege to offer our fellow outcasts that same unconditional love. No matter the reasons or circumstances, the fact is we have a child that still needs to know our love and God’s love for her. We are so very grateful to God that when our son spoke just three words that changed our world—“I am transgendered.”—we were able to say just three words in return: “We love you.”
And there are three words (and so many more) from God that have brought hope to us through this journey: “Love one another.” We look at these words with new eyes and see in them a new depth of God’s amazing grace.
Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Peter understood the Lord’s command for he wrote, “But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for love will cover a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:7-10).
Finally, from the apostle John we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:7-12).
As we reflect back on the past year, we realize that, while it seems to us that God didn’t answer our original prayers for the hopes and dreams for our family, we know for a fact that He did answer our later prayers: “Lord, change us. Lord, teach us to love.” He reminded us that He willingly left heaven, came to our broken world, stretched out His arms on the cross and said just three words … “I love you.”