This is Colby and I on one of our many outings we took to try to keep him going. We are at Smith Brothers in Portland, OR. Someone seeing this picture said, “Even his hands look exhausted.” Picture used with Colby’s permission.

I remember the day like it just happened. Colby and I were sitting across from each other at The Red Twig, a local coffee shop and cafe for breakfast. We were thick in the days where he was really struggling to keep going. Every day, I felt a bit like I was back in the toddler years asking myself the question, “What are we going to do today to get through this day?” The hours were long. Time was the enemy for Colby—it moved so slowly and he couldn’t find anything to hold his attention or interest. Depression does that, I’m guessing you know. He counted the minutes until he could go to bed again, but even that was small comfort because his sleep was very disrupted and difficult. Nights were often as excruciatingly long as the days. Anyway, on this day we had gone to breakfast and during our conversation I said, “Colby, I need to ask you something. Are you gay?”

He looked back at me, straight in the eyes, and said, “Mom…” The look he gave me was one I had seen so often, when he thought I was being crazy (for some reason, I know this look well—from all three kids!).

“No, really, Colby. Is this what is going on? Because if it is, it would be okay. Really.”

“Mom, no.”

“You would tell me, wouldn’t you, Colby? I love you more than anything and nothing will change that.”

“Mom, I’m not. And if I was, of course I’d tell you.”

He completely convinced me in that conversation that his being gay wasn’t what we were looking at—it wasn’t what was going to help us explain his depression and anxiety. I checked that box off the list. 

Colby asked me after I published part 2 of this coming out journey, “What’s the next one about?”  I said, truthfully, “I have no idea.” [Read part 1 here: and part 2 here:]

Now I know and nothing else is coming out until this does. This has been rumbling around inside of me and I’ve actually been puttering away at it since a couple of days after I published the last one months ago. I haven’t known if I can find the right words to articulate my thoughts. I’m sure I haven’t fully succeeded. But I am learning to be okay with incomplete and imperfect. The one goal I set for myself was that I would tell the truth to the best of my ability here, even though it was going to be hard for me because it is likely I will be misunderstood. I will be added to some of your “suspect” lists. My very beliefs and trustworthiness as a Christian leader will be questioned. I will look like a bad mom. So, no big deal. Thankfully, my identity no longer completely resides in what others think or understand about me. It used to more than I would like to admit and I was good at the dance. Not anymore (or as much—remember, a commitment to telling the truth here!).

Sidenote: I went out recently with another mom who has been to hell in her own story and we had drinks and talked and talked. She has made this transition as well—she no longer cares as much what others think about her or make up about her actions. She knows who needs her fierceness and her love, and believe me, it’s not culture’s darlings. Both of us have found ourselves in places we didn’t pick, in clubs we didn’t plunk down money to join, but here we are and beloved reader, we really are here and going to be all here. WE ARE IN—ALL IN. As Rev. Eston Williams of Aley United Methodist says, “I would rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.” And, truth be told, being all in here means we are no longer included in some places. We are on the outside now of places we used to be included. We are somewhere near the edge, getting a small taste of what those truly on the margins experience. 

Know I write this primarily to see if I can put some of our family’s experience to words, to make sense of it all. I heard on a recent podcast that “writing things down helps us see what we are living.” That is 97% why I write, for sure. However, my current favorite genre to read is memoir. I love hearing other people’s stories, how they come to know what they know at this moment, etc. [another sidenote–as a reader, I am always looking for book recommendations. Some memoirs I enjoyed in the last year: Educated by Tara Westover, Tender to the Bone by Ruth Reichl, and Becoming Human by Jen Pastiloff]. I love memoirs because I learn from other people’s stories and process. So I write here also to share how my personal experience has shaped my process, wonderings, questions, faith and belief system knowing it might be interesting to or helpful to some (may it be so!).

In Colby’s coming out journey, I have had to forgive myself for quite a number of things and practice self-compassion and understanding. Over the years I have had listening to others as a pastor and spiritual director, and through my own therapeutic experience, I have learned that we do what we do, we act how we act, we respond how we respond for valid and good reasons. In other words, and I have said this before, we all make sense in the context of our stories—what we have experienced, what we have made-up about what we’ve experienced, and how we’ve come to believe out of our experience. Anyone who wants to divorce our personal beliefs (theological, ethical, etc) from our personal lived experience and story does not adequately understand how beliefs/paradigms etc. are formed. We are profoundly shaped and formed by our personal locales and stories and what we have gone through. My countless hours spent with my son and family through these last two years has had a lasting impact and has shaped what I know, understand and believe. My journey walking alongside my parents and my mom through her long journey with chronic pain and all that opened up in my experience has had a profound impact. A choice I made in my twenties has had significant impact on my life. What we have encountered, lived through, experienced profoundly shapes us. We hear a lot these days about the word privilege. All it basically means is that there are certain things we do or don’t have to deal with/contend with/etc. by virtue of certain things that we had nothing to do with (i.e., our skin color, place of birth, time of history we were born in, neighborhoods we live in, etc.) Where we were born, where we grew up, the families we found ourselves in, the stories that we have lived, have irrevocably shaped what we have to wrestle and deal with as well as the beliefs we come to hang onto, hold or discard:

…place is kind of like that. It physically and spiritually marks you, and usually you are unaware of how it does that….Usually we don’t notice a place’s effects on us as much as we would a tattoo on our skin, but they are just as permanent. Like contact lenses the world has put in front of our eyes, these effects thoroughly affect the way in which we view everything else. These senses are, by definition what we use to take in information and to make sense of situations before us. They are our worldview, our way of perceiving reality according to our assumptions, commitments and values. As [Melissa Holbrook Pierson] writes, ‘What we are is where we have been.’ 

Holly Sprink in Spacious: Exploring Faith and Place

Anyhow, to reiterate. I have had to forgive myself for many things. Today, I am sharing one of those places and then I’ll follow where that leads. I have had to forgive myself that my son did not feel safe enough to tell me earlier that he was gay. I have had to forgive myself that my beautiful son sunk deep into depression, was consumed by anxiety, and did not see any way he could live because he felt being gay, having the feelings that he did, made him unnatural, inherently bad, sinful, and not worthy of love. I watched my son shut down, shrink until he was almost non-existent. How did this come to be??? For goodness’ sake, how did my delightful son not understand he was loved, no matter what? How did he not pick up that he, like his two siblings, was adored and delighted in, UNCONDITIONALLY?

One of the most painful and puzzling pieces of Colby’s story that I have had to wrestle with was how he didn’t feel loved. Out of all the people around him, I think he felt most loved by me. But for some reason, my deep, abiding love for my son didn’t penetrate. It didn’t sink in deep. The knowledge that he was loved didn’t live in his core. At his core, he felt unloved. Unseen. Bad. Like he didn’t belong and never would.


As we’ve peeled back the layers on this, again, one aspect of this complex story is something so troubling, so painful, I’ve wanted to run in the opposite direction—not risk articulating it. Getting in reality around what things have actually been, the impact certain things have had, has been really hard. Melody Beattie, in her book The Language of Letting Go, talks about how hard many of us try to negotiate with, or, as she puts it, “massage reality”. She also says this (and I have come to firmly believe it is 100% true and necessary): “There is no substitute for accepting reality.” Fun. NOT SO MUCH. But it is absolutely crucial if we are to learn what we need to learn and move forward into greater healing, wholeness and hope.

So this is part of the hard-to-accept reality I have had to face head on, eyes open: my son could not receive the love I, or others had to offer, because the predominant culture he inhabited—the places our family spent most of its time–had subtly, and not-so-subtly, over the course of his whole life, communicated strongly to him that he was an abomination. His very being was an aberration, some cosmic mistake. I want to soften these words as I write them—add in some defensive rationale and reasoning, cut myself and the communities we inhabited some slack here. But remember the quote above? Here’s a brief reminder:

…place is kind of like that. It physically and spiritually marks you, and usually you are unaware of how it does that….Usually we don’t notice a place’s effects on us as much as we would a tattoo on our skin, but they are just as permanent.

Tell me, when you are a young kid, how do you receive love if you have absorbed the message that has come at you in a hundred different forms or ways, “You are not okay as is? You need to change or not be who you are to be acceptable?” How do you not believe, “If they really knew who I was, they wouldn’t love or accept me fully? They would tell me I had to change?”

Colby, in his coming out posts on social media, said:

I’ve been preached a path to salvation where I have to rip who I am apart to be loved. But if I have to tear myself into pieces for heaven, then it’s not the heaven I want. For so long I hated myself because of something that I had no choice over. I can’t change, believe me, I’ve tried. 


[Colby was a young boy when he realized he was different than other boys and he began praying earnestly to God that God would change him—that he would like girls. Every gay person I’ve talked to, religious or not, has prayed this prayer in desperation. For Colby, that God did not answer this prayer further confirmed in his young mind that God did not love him and raised a whole host of other doubts and questions].

All of Colby’s life, based on the strong overt and covert messages he received from people, from some pulpits and church curriculum, from what was taught and not taught in his schooling, from interactions he had with those he encountered, from overheard conversations, he KNEW, he just KNEW, that to acknowledge one of the deepest secrets and spaces in himself would be to risk rejection, ostracization, life on the outside—possibly alone. To reveal he didn’t fit the heterosexual model or modality would be to risk rejection by all whom he knew and loved. I’ve tried to put myself in his shoes. As I’ve thought through his life, it seems obvious (and this hurts to acknowledge) that he, or one like him, would hide themself and do their doggone best to fashion themself into someone who is acceptable to others, particularly since it would be risky, given the input received, that sharing who one is would likely mean they would be rejected.

We trade authenticity for acceptance. Instead of sharing how we feel, we cover it up, hide, and convince ourselves out of showing up fully and taking up space. We’d rather be accepted on false pretenses than risk not being chosen or loved for being ourselves.

Vienna Pharaon @mindfulmft

While this grieves me deeply to say this, the culture that primarily communicated this to my son was the Christian culture. He grew up in a Christian home with a mom for a pastor. Admittedly, I am a pastor in what is considered a mainline, liberal denomination, but the churches we were in, to be honest, were not on the more liberal-leaning-sides on this issue theologically. Colby also attended a conservative non-denominational Christian school that has, in recent months, “clarified” its core values, primarily in internal communications, going to the mat that they hold to the view that marriage is only between a man and a woman and naming what holding this belief needs to entail in the school setting. While the organization is making this view somewhat more prominent, actionable and visible, at least internally, in looking back, it has always been there as subtext. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, when my son came out to me, that he could not go back to this school and be fully embraced and accepted as he is. Please hear me that my intent here is not at all to bash Christians, Christianity, a particular organization or school, or those associated with said school. However, our family’s story invites me to look clearly at the harm done to my son by the culture (Christian) that we have been firmly planted in and the messages he received and internalized living inside this culture. To turn away and try to tidy up what is in aspects of this culture (admittedly, for very specific reasons) is to fail my son, others like him, and all of us, really.  While our love and our experience should not automatically overwrite or determine our belief systems, they should, at the very least, force us to examine and look at our beliefs and see how they hold up. It should cause us to look head on at what we hold to be true, at what we have absorbed by osmosis, at what the landscapes and neighborhoods of our lives have communicated. Our love and our experience should be part (I am not saying all) of what we use to test and try our understandings and beliefs.

I think here about Jesus. Jesus showed up in a bunch of people’s lives—Mary’s and Joseph’s for starters. Even before Jesus was born, their experience and their love called them to reexamine long-held beliefs, to open themselves up to the possibility that God might be present, doing something new, in new ways. Those of you that know the story of Jesus, outlined in the Gospels of the New Testament in the Bible, think about how often Jesus, showing up on the scene, threw a wrench into existing belief systems (and no, I am not saying my gay son is like Jesus here). What I am saying is this: our experiences and encounters in life, the loves of our lives (so many of those devout Jews who encountered Jesus loved God and had understandings of God formed and shaped by study, scholarship, midrash, ritual, custom and community), should cause us to question any belief that leads to rigidity, exclusion or certainty that we know what God is up to or how God is going to do things. Jesus, if we learn nothing else from him, did not show us the God we had come to expect.

When our beliefs get in the way of our relationships, causing us to turn away from or reject others (and turning away and rejecting, as I mean here, is different than healthy boundaries), something is skewed. I am not off the hook on this. I am not holier-than-thou on this. I sometimes struggle to hold hospitable, easy-breathing space for those who hold significantly different political views than me. [I really do not like this truth-telling commitment. I guess I still want to look good to you.] Certain things I don’t have trouble with, for the most part. When I come across those who judge me or believe I am in theological error for being an ordained female pastor—those who would deny my gifts and a vocation in the church to anyone other than women or children, I can handle that. I’ve been on that train a long time and can let you have that one without it fazing me. However, I can get my hackles up and get all “judgey” on certain things. I remember distinctly a couple of years ago in a discussion that took a political turn when a friend said, directed squarely at me, “I don’t want to say what I think here because your opinions are really strong and mine are different and I don’t feel like this is a safe space for me.” OUCH.

Most of us, whether Christian or not, get judgey about things—what the things are can vary (when was the last time you judged someone’s physical appearance negatively, let’s say?). For Christians, many like a comparative religion (haha—I hope you get my joke here). There’s a whole lot of Christians who prefer a dualistic faith where things are clear, like dark is bad and light is good (on this I commend to you Barbara Brown Taylor’s book–Learning to Walk in the Dark). It’s so much easier if things are black and white and who’s in and who’s out is clearly delineated. It’s simpler, for sure. And many Christians get really worried about a slippery slope so they hold on fast to their convictions and beliefs about certain things because, if they don’t, they fear there will be nothing distinctive about Christians—they will “look like the world where ‘everything’ goes”. (I’m cringing here at what could be perceived as Christians’ lack of humility and superiority in how some of us think). Many of us seem to want to add weights and measures to the primary description Jesus gave for how Christians can distinguish themselves from others: “You will know them by their love.” So many churches, faith-based non-profits and schools, confronted with same-sex attraction and love, like to make things clear but in so doing, leave confusion, harm and anti-gospel messages in their wake. Others want to find a third way where people who believe homosexuality is a sin and those who do not can live “in unity” while believing differently. While I sympathize with this desire for wanting to hold people together without splintering and fracturing, I feel that there is a fatal flaw in it. This issue has become for many a do or die issue, a sort of litmus test for whether one is a true believer or not. (Say what?) Most of the thinking on this issue is binary and dualistic. And when we are binary and dualistic in our thinking on a particular issue, it is hard to live in a non-dualistic way that would allow the kind of hospitable space necessary to fully exist together while thinking differently.  I will likely write more on this. It is important.

Stan Mitchell, founding pastor of Grace Point Church in Nashville, TN said this last summer as he sat in my backyard with a small gathering of folk, “Gay people don’t need to hear that they are loved by God. They need to be and feel seen and celebrated.” This is true. My son does not need one more person ever to tell him that God loves him while communicating the daggered, implicit ‘but’ or ‘if’. The only reason he actually can believe God loves him is because there are people who dearly love God who have also shown they dearly love, see and celebrate him. He doesn’t have to be “straight” to be loved (Wow, that word ‘straight’ just hit me. There’s some implications to that word).

Trying to see life from Colby’s perspective, the following makes sense to me: If you have spent most of your life in communities or frameworks that repeatedly and even glibly, I might add, throw around “I love you’s” and “God loves you” but nearly always have an implicit or explicit ‘but’ attached, it is no wonder you doubt that love and cannot trust it. You’ve been slapped in the face too many times or told you weren’t quite there yet—try a little harder please, pray that gay away. I have been broken and exhausted watching my son and others in the LGBTQ+ community try to navigate the double messages they too often receive from many who profess a God of unconditional love but who somehow find a way to predicate and precondition that love, stripping it of its power and grace.

Another thing I’ve had to look at and wrestle with is that portions of the Christian culture ask LGBTQ+ persons to repeatedly lie about who they are--to hide it at all costs, or, if that isn’t possible, to kindly refrain from acting on who they are. To shut themselves down or off (please don’t @ me with a “…just because I want to have sex with multiple women doesn’t mean I should” or “…just because I want to murder someone doesn’t mean I act on that”.). One way of saying it is that the Christian culture, by and large, has condoned LGBTQ+ people living lies–even rubber-stamped it, applauded it. Insisted on it. I think of that terrible scene in Harry Potter where Dolores Umbridge has Harry write over and over again, “I must not tell lies” and each time he does, his skin is cut, carved into. The problem is, he isn’t lying. He’s been telling the truth. Dolores just doesn’t like the truth. So the portions of the Christian culture that desire for those in the LGBTQ+ community to lie about who they are, who is this for? One standard answer is it is because we love you, we don’t want you to burn in hell. Really? Is this really what you believe? Is this what keeps you awake at night? The eternal salvation or damnation of a gay person you know? I do know it kept my child awake at night and petrified. Because of the belief system surrounding him, he was faced with the impossible scenario: admit who I am and be able to live in this world, admittedly, potentially losing my family, my friends and my community and being damned to a place of eternal torture (picture what an 8-year-old with a vivid imagination would envision this to be like). My son lost sleep over eternal damnation far more, I suspect, than any of us have for those we are so “concerned with.” There are some roads to travel here, some questions for some of us to wrestle with.

In my understanding, honesty and integrity between who we are on the inside and who we are on the outside is crucial to well-being and wholeness. Watching my son disintegrate and crumble because he couldn’t be honest on the outside with who he was on the inside will remain one of the most powerful object lessons of my life. It was like watching someone melt, like watching a body eat itself. All who were close enough to know Colby, watched this disintegration and expressed their alarm–“he is hardly there.” When Colby came out, I received a number of phone calls and messages from parents of friends of Colby’s growing up—I always knew there was something special about this kid. I wondered. I am so, so glad he is alive. I am so glad that he can be who he is. Looking at him and his joy, his aliveness—it makes me want to cry.”

So this is one of my learnings that has been underlined in so many ways through this journey: the subcultures we are a part of, the places we inhabit and live in, day in and day out, have tremendous power. Where we live, move, breathe, go to school, work, worship, and have our friend groups shape and mark us more permanently than a tattoo. Important things are communicated and passed on that shape how we see and understand ourselves and the world. It does matter where we worship, where we send our kids to school, the diversity of experience, thought and belief that we expose ourselves and our families to. Place matters. I do believe we all know this. We do. But maybe we need to reflect a little more on it. Again, invite the questions. My husband and I made choices believing place mattered. It turns out that it mattered in ways we didn’t fully see or understand. It had impact. Some of it has been incredibly beautiful, positive and life-affirming. We have had and continue to have an amazing community of people around us and can find solid good in every place our family has been a part of. That some of the impact has been damaging does not negate the good. Also know I am not sitting here judging your choices. For the love of all that is good, I GET IT. There’s a whole host of things that go into the choices and decisions we make—whether we stay in places or leave them, whether we allow something or not. You try raising kids in this world. I maintain that most of us are doing the best we can with the info we’ve got. As we grow and learn and shift and change, we get to use what we learn to help us figure out what is needed and what makes sense. 

I am wondering these days, how can we do better? What would it look like to build cultures and communities that help people connect to all of themselves—to the whole of themselves? How can we hold beliefs and understandings in ways that invite others to explore rather than shut them down or out? What would it look like if no one had to edit or cut themselves into to a particular shape to fit in and be fully loved and celebrated? Colby says, “Every time I heard, ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’, it cut me up into little pieces. I felt crazy trying to figure out which parts of me were gay–which part of me I could cut out. But I just was. I couldn’t figure out which part of me to cut out because I was gay all the way through. “

Oh how I wish I could tidy this up. I wish I could clearly chart the way through to a space where we all are able to be as we are, who we are, fully loved and accepted. I wish I knew how to better help those in faith communities as well as those not in faith communities to be willing to invite the hard questions that rock worlds and beliefs and sometimes provide fresh understanding, insight and whole new beautiful vistas. For those of you concerned with theology, I assure you, when we wrestle with the questions, what we come out with does not have to be a watered-down “love is love” kind of theology where we do not acknowledge that some of what we pass off as love is not love but some misconstruction or misunderstanding of it. We can come to a place of understanding where our love is like that modeled by Jesus—strong, inclusive, leading people into wholeness and being all of who they were created to be, feeling seen and irrevocably and unconditionally loved. Where we can be confident that the God some of us believe has begun a good work, will indeed complete it, likely without our input. I believe to my core that God knows far better than us what is needed. I’m hanging my hat on that one. I didn’t choose the path our family is on. It showed up in my home, likely for a variety of reasons. Regardless of why I get to be in, as one Snohomish mom calls those of us with LGBTQ+ kids, “the Society of Lucky Mothers”, I am trying to let it open me up in ways I need to be opened up, to see what it is I have missed. As I do, I am experiencing that which continues to rock me to my core and creates big, expansive spaces where there is plenty of room for a robust faith and view of God and a whole lot of people who come in all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes. I am so sad far too many people still need, or feel like they need, to wear masks, cover-up, hide or can’t show up fully as they are. I absolutely love what James Baldwin says here:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense, but as a state of being, or a state of grace, not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.”

James Baldwin

To conclude, this journey has whittled me to my core and revealed quite a number of places I have had to offer myself compassion and kindness. It has also revealed to me the immense power of place. A mother’s love is supposed to be one of the strongest, most powerful, most unconditional loves out there (I know it hasn’t always worked this way for many, which is another thing that breaks my heart). However, I have found this to be true in the love I feel for each of my children. That my love for my youngest did not penetrate his core, that he felt unloved much of his life (or like the love was likely conditional), is a deep sorrow of mine. But it also speaks to how we absorb the messages of the places we inhabit and live our lives that may tell us we are not loved or unworthy of love as is. Thank God my child is out of the dark, dark place where he felt like he could not be loved. He now knows he is loved, delighted in and enjoyed as he is by the God who doesn’t create mistakes and he is finding more and more people and places where that graceful love is shown and freely offered. A few months ago, I stood in my kitchen with my son, his boyfriend and three other adults. I watched the fun interaction, where everyone was laughing and talking and I thought, “THIS. THIS is what if feels like. Where everyone in the room is seeing and delighting in the other. There is no judgment. There is just genuine engagement and enjoyment.” The space felt free. It felt precious. It was absolutely sacred. I stood on holy ground.

I want more of this space. May God enable me to offer it and to help create it. Quest, daring, growth. Join me?

This is Colby when he was close to coming out in public. Don’t his eyes and hands look less exhausted than in the first picture?

Colby and his precious pup, Sage, after he is living out in the open.