It was Saturday night on Valentine's Day weekend, and my wife and I were watching the late news. Our daughter Tess walked into the room, handed us a note, and walked away.
The note said, "I am gay. I am happy this way. And if you really love me, you won't try to change me, and you will not try to talk with me about this."
Tess was 16, a junior in high school. The dreams we had for her life changed dramatically that night. Our lives did too.
She never chose to be a pastor's kid, but she was one. And she had experienced some significant struggles. Now, with one bold stroke, she let us know that whatever choices we had made in life so far, she was making her own choices from here on out.
That night was harder for me than the nights when either of my parents died. Something truly died within me that night. And yet something new was born.
After reading the note, tears flowed. Cheryl and I looked at each other and knew we had to respond. No matter what the note said, we had to reach out to our daughter. We had to communicate what was most important. Each of us went separately to Tess's room to say what needed to be said.
"Tess, we're not going to try to talk you out of this, but we'd like to talk." She let each of us us in the room. We both hugged her and said, "We are so proud of you for telling us. We know this was a hard thing for you to do. You are our daughter and we have always loved you and we always will."
We told her that we would respect her wishes and not try to talk her out of this. Those were the right words to say. Did we really understand what was happening to our family right at that moment? I don't fully know.
I cried more that night than at any other time of my life. I feared for Tess's future. She'd had serious struggles over the last few years and had talked about suicide. Would this path only be more dangerous for her? She'd told us many times she wasn't sure she wanted God in her life, and I suspected that her announcement was her way of telling us that she was walking away from God, though I hoped it wasn't.
That night I shook with a trembling that I could not control. It felt like someone had kicked me in the gut. My wife and I prayed because it was all we could do. We prayed because there was no where else to go. We didn't know how this was going to turn out, but we both knew that our world had suddenly changed.
Day one of our new reality
When morning came, I got up and headed to the church. Work had always been my solace, but not this day. Despite the complete absence of sleep, it was Sunday and I still had to stand in front of our church, open God's word, and speak to 500 people who wanted to hear what God had to say through me.
Somehow I got through two services. But instead of being energized by worship, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
After the service, I responded to some paperwork on my desk, and I was the last one out of the building. A good escape, I thought.
But as I headed to my car, another vehicle was in the lot, and the driver got out and headed directly toward me. "Coach" is a retired school counselor who had coached football and baseball a few towns over from where I grew up. He had supported me in the difficult ministry years as our church plant got off the ground, and he has continued to serve as one of my most trusted advisors ever since. He took one look at me and said, "What's wrong?"