“I’m wondering what you would think about me going to the parade this weekend?”
His eyes were locked on mine, searching for the first sign of hesitation or judgement. I don’t know what he saw for sure. I wanted to be that mom full of “yes” energy, cheering him on and making sure he knew I was with him 100%.
The truth is I was a bit fearful, concerned about him being downtown at the Pride event. Flashes from media posts following the shooting in Orlando just days earlier quickly came to my mind. As the news of the shooting rolled across our television my ten-year-old daughter had asked, “Is someone going to shoot Steve because he is gay?”
Standing in the kitchen he continued to put words to why it was important for him to go. “I’m not political mom, it’s not about that. I just want to be in the midst of that many people who all support who I am. I want to know how it feels to be the one who belongs, instead of the one who is different.”
I hugged him, told him that made sense. While trying to hide my concern I still said, “Be safe,” which solicited an eye roll. I watched him jump in his white Volkswagen beetle and head for Grand Rapids.
For the next several hours I worked hard not to worry. I didn’t text; I didn’t call; I didn’t check in— because that is absolutely the worse thing you can do to your 21-year-old son.
Hours later he arrived back home safe and sound, and again I worked hard to play it very cool and stuff any impulse that wanted to hug him tight and tell him I had been worried and that I was so glad he was home. He headed downstairs to his room to shower and change and said he’d tell us all about it later.
The lightening bugs were plentiful and the breeze cool as we sat in the “three seasons” room with the windows open. He shared how glad he was that he went. He confessed that he had been just a little worried, not sure of what he would find when he got there. He had met some people, and ended up working at a booth handing out wrist bands for a while. The welcoming energy had felt like he hoped it would, but in the end his words were, “It was cool. I am glad I went. And, I didn’t actually feel like I found my people. I want what I’ve known all my life, I want the feeling I had as a kid when Dad was a Pastor in San Antonio and everyone at the church knew me and loved me.”
He was hoping for the life-giving oxygen that comes from knowing you are loved, accepted and celebrated, just the way you are.
Many of our earliest conversations after Steve came out were tied to his desire to be married and have a family. He never wavered on what he wanted. “Oh, I’m going to have a husband and we will adopt some kids, that’s what I dream about.” I wondered. I wanted to believe in that dream with him, and frankly it was outside the paradigm of our heteronormative life. I would try and imagine it when friends told me about their kids getting engaged. I wondered, and I waited – holding hope carefully and quietly. There were only a few friends willing to dream with me about Steven getting engaged and someday married.
Last summer on a warm August night Steven and his boyfriend Bille got engaged. It was a perfect Arizona evening, the setting sun turned the sky hues of purple, orange and tangerine, creating the most amazing backdrop for a moment Steven had feared might never happen for him. His friends and our family gathered together afterwards to celebrate. As Steven stood to speak, he tearfully said, “There was a time, not that long ago, when I didn’t think any of this existed for me. And seeing all of you, I want you to know that when I think of heaven, this is what I see.”
Holding hope in the face of fear, judgement and shame takes such tenacity and grit. I think that kind of hope is childlike wonder fully grown. Childlike wonder explores, creates, is “awed” by simple things, and anticipates goodness. It’s what sends little ones asking and knocking, believing there is always dessert. It leads them to play “wedding” and “house” practicing in hope of someday in the future.
I can see my son’s childlike wonder grown up inside of him as tenacious hope, and I could not feel deeper pride for who he is.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer and the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 33 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastors wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.