I was on the treadmill yesterday listening to my favorite running playlist--Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Imagine Dragons, Pitbull, Kelly Clarkson, Pink, Jay-Z, Macklemore--they were all cheering me on. It was the same running playlist I used just a few years ago, when I jogged at least three times a week. When I signed up for 5Ks in the fall and spring every year. When I trained for the last half-marathon I would run.
I’ve loved running since I was in college. I discovered my love when I was working at a summer camp after my sophomore year. I jumped on a treadmill during rec time, just to kill some time. The place was empty, except for the teenagers attending the camp. I’ve always been self-conscious about exercising in front of people. So with no one watching, I started a slow jog. I’m not sure how much I ran that first time, but I liked how I felt afterwards. I liked having a goal to work toward for the next time. I liked that I could do it.
From that point until very recently, I jogged. In parks, in neighborhoods, in gyms. Alone, with friends, with my husband, with my sisters, with my nieces. Pregnant, pushing a jogging stroller, then a double jogging stroller, alongside my children riding their bikes. Before my kids’ baseball games, during soccer practice, after school. With my exchange student, Mara. At home, in Florida on the beach, in Dresden alongside the river, in the Texas heat and the Illinois wind.
For my entire adult life, jogging has been a routine, a staple, a love. It has been a necessity. A part of who I am and how I keep going.
My last serious run, a half marathon I did with my husband, was the only one I did not run every step of. The pain was excruciating. The training had not gone well. My running was getting worse, not better. During the race, my entire body hurt in a way that was not normal for running. It felt like I was on fire.
I had issues with running before, but so does everyone. My feet always hurt. They would give out before anything else. My knees hurt sometimes. But at this race, my elbows were hurting. My wrists. My upper chest, near my collarbone. My ankles. My hips. My hands. And all my muscles felt strange and weak, when they shouldn’t have.
Usually after a couple days of rest, I am ready to jog again. Even after a couple of weeks, I still had a hard time moving. The pain never stopped. I never recovered from that race.
It took nearly a year of doctor appointments and tests, but I was finally diagnosed with fibromyalgia and small fiber neuropathy. I rejected the diagnosis at first. I didn’t want to have a chronic disorder. I didn’t want to have something wrong with me that came with a stigma. I didn’t want something wrong I couldn’t fix.
Part of the disease is a resistance to exercise. While I need to move, too much exercise will put me into a painful flare that could last a day or a week or a month. I have to be careful. It also means that I do not have the strength or endurance to jog the way I used to anyway. This has been quite difficult for me to accept.
Yesterday on the treadmill, I jogged at an extremely slow pace at one-minute intervals. I only did a mile and a quarter. Twenty minutes. That was all my body could handle.
But at some point in the jog/walk, Alicia Keys started singing about a girl on fire. I chuckled to myself, because I often describe the pain as fire or burning. I muttered to Alicia, “You got that right. I am definitely walking on fire.”
Then I nudged up the speed to 4.0 and did my one-minute slow jog. And I laughed as I listened to the song. My body burns with pain; I am on fire. But even though I “am filled with catastrophe, I know I can fly anyway.” Heck, yes, I’m on fire. I’m now in my forties and have a chronic pain disorder--and I “have both feet on the ground, and I’m burning it down.” I felt triumphant in that brief moment, on my treadmill in what used to be our dining room. I’m doing it, even if I never get faster or go farther, I’m doing this right now! I am jogging, at the best pace I can. I am on fire right now!
I’m “not backing down.” I’m just finding a new way to run in the flames and embers.
Because we are Free, We Love: Why this Mother and Son are Smiling and Why She Has to Speak Up for OthersRead Now
“Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” -Braveheart
The other day, the picture of my family at our town’s BLM march popped up in my FB memories. I shared it with a note about how much my boys have grown. Indeed, they have. They are taller and wiser. They are not the only ones who have grown this year, though. On that day, the boys each made their own poster. Jack’s and Joe’s were great; Drew’s was interesting. It read: “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it. -Braveheart.” Nothing about Black Lives Matter or social justice or love. But at the same time, everything about all of that, and more.
That poster has been my anthem this year. Our hearts are free. I am free in Christ to love my neighbor. I am free in Christ to be me, to laugh and dance and write and run (as slowly as I need to) and express all that I am. That freedom takes away the burdens of sin and weight of worry. That freedom gives me permission to know Christ directly, love Him, and love others. I had not felt free for a very long time. I have never felt as free as I do now.
I needed courage to enjoy the freedom Christ had granted me. I needed courage to love the way Christ loves. I needed courage to share with you what I am going to share now.
More than two years ago, our son Jack told us he was gay. We already knew, because we know our son, but this was not an easy thing to hear for two Christians raised during the purity movement and taught that homosexuality was one of the vilest of sins. When Jack was younger, when I knew he was gay, I told myself that surely God would not allow this because Sam and I were in leadership positions at church and were really nice Christian people. I had no problem loving my students and friends who were LGBTQ. But I knew their lives were harder because of it. I knew this was going to be very hard for our family, Jack more than anyone.
Jack coming out to us started a journey of theological digging and reflection, prayer, and discussion. Accepting and loving our son was never an issue. We have always adored and loved Jack, just the way he is. The idea of rejecting him for something that was beyond his control, even though none of us really understood much of anything then, never even crossed our mind. Reconciling the scientific reality that he is gay with the reality of God and His Word took time. We had never had to deeply consider this before, but when abstractions become people you love, they take on a different significance. We did scientific research. We did theological research. We did our homework, then some.
After years of reading and praying and discussing, I do not see homosexuality as a sin anymore than I see heterosexuality as a sin. Also, it is Biblical and God-honoring for people who love each other to get married and remain in a lifelong, committed relationship, whether they are of the opposite sex or the same sex. This is my religious belief; I am not assigning it to anyone. I am sharing it with you as evidence that there are Christians out there who take the Bible very seriously and hold this view. Many of them do so covertly out of fear of rejection or ridicule or worse. That was me for a long time. Until now.
I took Jack to a meeting at the library a couple weeks ago. There was a controversy over a modest Pride display. At their monthly meeting, the library board heard public comments concerning the display. The room was filled to capacity; people were standing in the hallway. Jack and I stood in the back.
Then it began. Christian after Christian after Christian proclaiming hate-filled lies in this public arena. Several times the board was warned that they would be held accountable before God for their decision on this display, the implication of hell not so subtle. Some Christians loudly denounced gay people as going down a slippery slope that led to bestiality and pedophilia, and their parents were teaching them this. Most of them claimed scientific inaccuracies like the kids were all confused and making choices, when the truth is much more complex than that. In angry tones and threatening tenor, their voices roared over the room. Others were more polite, and suggested the display just be removed so there could be peace, in the same way Civil Rights activists were told to calm down in the 1960’s, and so many other times throughout our history.
I held my son who stood beside me. I kept my arm around his waist, clinched the back of his shirt with my fist, drew him in close to me, doing all I could to shield him from the hate and hold myself up. I repeatedly tiptoed and whispered into my tall son’s ear, “They are not speaking from the Gospel, Jack. This is not what Christianity is, son. This is not true.” And we were both shaking. With rage. Hurt. I was hurt that these things were being said about my child. I was angry that these things were being said about my God.
Of course, there were others who spoke in favor and gratitude of the display. There were far more of them, and they were kinder. I was grateful for their voices. I was grateful for the minister who simply thanked the library for supporting the LGBTQ community. I was thankful for the other Christians who spoke in favor of the display, calling us to love and respect people. I was grateful for the voices of reason explaining that a library is a place of information, not indoctrination. It’s a place of ideas, not limitations.
Then it was my turn. I was near the end. By this time, I was much more emotional than I thought I would be. This would be my first time speaking publicly about my son’s sexuality. What would I say?
Love. That’s what I started with, what so many of the other professing Christians missed. Because I am a Christian, I love. I am called to love. Above anything else, love. This is what drives me in life—I am so affected and infected by God’s saving grace and His love, it is my identity, my mission, my joy, my all. To be a follower of Christ is to love, because He is love. To be Christ-like is to be loving. The more fully we love, the closer we are to God Himself. The more joy we know.
Let me be clear. I am not accusing anyone of not being a Christian. I am not suggesting that every Christian must believe the way I do. What I am suggesting, though, is that the apparent intent of these individuals at the library was not to love or understand a deeply hurt and misunderstood community of people.
I do not rest on man’s interpretation of the Bible for my faith. Our interpretation of Scripture is often faulty. We are all still looking through a dimly lit glass. God is mysterious and enormous in His being and His love. None of us are capable of understanding the fullness of Him or His love or his creation. I do know that I am not compromising my faith by standing with my son or with the LGBTQ community. No, rather, my faith has grown, my understanding of God has deepened, my resolve has strengthened.
I didn’t say all of that. I had only two minutes. But I did say I was a devout Christian, so it was my job to love. I said I was a mother to one gay son and two straight sons, so I am called to care. I am a teacher, so it is my job to educate. I thanked the library for the display and the books. I explained that their necessity had been demonstrated that night, by the hurtful, unfair, unscientific comments that had been made against the LGBTQ community.
I said so much more. By speaking up, I said to my son that I completely, fully, totally support him out loud, in public. I said to him, through my actions, that when his father and I say we love him and support him we mean it. With our whole heart.
After the meeting, a young woman stopped me. She was wearing a rainbow sticker and carrying a rainbow flag. “Thank you for what you said, and thank you for being that mom,” she said.
“Oh, no worries. My delight, sweetheart, but it’s nothing, really, it’s easy to love--” then I caught myself and realized what she was saying. I drew her to myself and willed myself not to cry. It happened anyway.
“A lot of us don’t have that mom. I don’t,” she said.
“I’m so very sorry. I’m sorry.” This is only a tiny glimpse of the reality of the hurt and loss felt in the LGBTQ community.
A clip of my comments made to the library board made it on the local news that night, to my surprise. And so begins my advocacy for the LGBTQ community. And so begins my ministry to families inside and outside of the church who have gay or trans children and need the love and support that is severely lacking in the church.
And so continues my faithfulness to God’s Word and my calling as His chosen one:
"14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ[g] dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.[h] 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." -Colossians 3:14-17
Welcome to my Blog! I am a wife, mother of three, high school English teacher, and a graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Before anything else, I am a woman of faith.