Steven climbed into the passenger seat of the Toyota Sequoia. “Let’s take the back way to Holland, Mom.”
I back down our angled driveway and head for H Avenue and then over to Sixth Street. The quiet backroads of Kalamazoo are lined with trees and sprawling green grass in the summertime. Hand-painted signs lean against makeshift structures, offering fresh vegetables and hand-picked strawberries—“Cash only. Leave your $ in the jar.” Even after six years I am still fascinated by Midwest living.
Steven starts the conversation. “So, what are you thinking today Mom…about me being gay?”
I love him. I love his refusal to avoid uncomfortable conversations. I love his invitation to be in a moment, just saying out loud whatever it is that you’re thinking or wondering about.
My first thought that day was remembering how much time Steven and I had spent in cars together. He was the youngest of our original three kids, and for a lot of years, his older sisters were in school and it was just he and I. Back then we had one car, and I was the chauffeur for Mark and the girls—shuttling Mark to and from work, the girls to school and play dates, running errands. Steven was my companion, and we spent hours in the car. His little self, always happy in his car seat, playing with some small action figure and singing loudly along with the Christian radio station. His favorite song, “People get ready, Jesus is comin’. Soon we’ll be going home…”
My next thought was that Steven being gay wasn’t at all what I had wanted to be true. I had resisted it. I’d wondered, and so had he. We’d had countless conversations about his sexuality, and they had always finished with, “but I know I am not gay, Mom.” I felt relieved when he would say that, and he felt my relief.
I look over at him, and answer, “So, today I am wondering about what you are thinking about having kids, and being married, and what that will look like. I have always imagined dancing with you at your wedding and watching you be a husband and father. You’re so great with kids.”
“I’ve always imagined that too, Mom.” His eyes find mine, and we are both just a bit tearful. “I want to be married. I want to believe that can happen. I don’t know about kids. I can’t imagine having any of my own, maybe adoption. I don’t know.”
I feel the tears spilling out and running down my cheeks. “I want you to be married too. And it makes me so sad to think there won’t be any kids running around that look like you. Does that feel bad to you for me to say that?”
“No, Mom, it doesn’t feel bad. I feel sad when I think about that too. I think part of why I didn’t want to be honest with myself, or with you and Dad, about being gay is that my world didn’t feel like it worked if I was. I want a family, I want to be married, I want a beautiful life. And I know that God loves me. I am choosing to believe He has good things for me, no matter what.”
On that day I had no idea what the road ahead was supposed to look like. The only highway I knew how to navigate had suddenly come to an end, and I found myself looking for signage on which way to go and trying to see if any other travelers were making their way near us.
This was a huge detour for Steven, for me, and for our family.
We had no one to watch, no one leading the way for us.
I am sharing this story in June because pride month is rooted in celebrating the inherit dignity of LGBTQ people. And Steven’s dignity is something that was never hard to find. The sweet boy singing “Jesus is coming” in the backseat of our car is the same as the young man sitting next to me in the car that day wondering about kids, and marriage, and clinging to what he knew to be true about God’s love for him.
I grieve that I hadn’t done enough of my own work around what I believed about the Bible, sexuality, and God’s love earlier so Steven wouldn’t have mostly known how relieved I was every time he said he wasn’t gay.
One of the things I know most deeply today is that I am a better woman and follow Jesus more closely because God gave me Steven to mother, and him being gay is not a problem—it is a gift.
Sometimes detours lead to the most unexpectedly good places.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 36 years, she is mother to five kids, two son in laws and is a pastor’s 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.