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Embracing the Journey

A Christian Parents' Blueprint to Loving Your LGBTQ Child



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About The Book

A sympathetic, compassionate, and inspiring guide for parents—from the founders of one of the first Christian ministries for parents of LGBTQ children.

Greg and Lynn McDonald had never interacted with members of the LGBTQ community until they discovered that their son was gay. Without resources or support, they had no idea how to come to terms with this discovery. At first they tried to “fix” him, to no avail. But even in the earliest days of their journey, the McDonalds clung to two absolutes: they would love God, and they would love their son.

“An essential resource for Christian parents of LGBTQ kids,” (Matthew Vines, Executive Director of The Reformation Project) this book follows the McDonald family’s journey over the next twenty years, from a place of grief to a place of gratitude and acceptance that led the McDonalds to start one of the first Christian ministries for parents of LGBTQ children. Based on their experience from counseling and coaching hundreds of struggling Christian parents, they offer tools for understanding your own emotional patterns and spiritual challenges. They also help you experience a deeper relationship with God while handling difficult or unexpected situations that are out of your control. You will discover tested principles, patterns, and spiritual lessons that can change the way we all see our families, and help Christians at large think through Christ-like ways to respond to the LGBTQ community.

Written in an unvarnished, honest, reassuring, and relatable voice, this is a practical guide for parents and a roadmap to learning to love God, the people He created, and the church, even when they seem to be at odds.


Embracing the Journey 1 “Are You?” Greg
IT WAS A SUNNY Saturday in 2001, and the summer sun warmed the air around our home beside the Thornapple River in beautiful western Michigan. Lynn and I were getting ready to leave for the farmers’ market in downtown Grand Rapids, one of our favorite things to do on the weekends.

But something kept bothering me. As Lynn gathered our shopping baskets for the market, I asked her to wait for me for a minute. “I want to check something,” I said vaguely as I jogged down the stairs to Greg Jr.’s bedroom.

A few weeks before, I had been at lunch with my good friend Dan, who was a pastor. We met every Friday for years in an accountability relationship. Dan had recently confided that he’d found his teenage son, who was about the same age as Greg Jr., looking at porn on the internet. The thought had been nagging at me ever since.

“Surfing the web” was still a relatively new idea back then. But I kept thinking about the desktop computer Greg Jr. had in his room, which we’d bought so that he could do schoolwork. Was he using it for anything else? This was the best chance I’d have to check it out. Greg Jr. was at work as a server at a local restaurant, and Lynn was distracted. I didn’t want to worry her if I didn’t have to.

I sat down at my son’s desk and found that the computer was already on. Dan had explained to me how to check a browser’s history to see what websites my son visited, and there it was.

The idea of my seventeen-year-old son looking at porn didn’t shock me. I’d been looking at porn myself since I was about eight years old, when I’d snuck up behind my dad’s recliner one night and discovered that he had a Playboy tucked inside the oversized Life magazine he was pretending to read. Once I knew what I was looking for, it wasn’t hard to find his whole stash of magazines. I shared them with my friends, and then when I was old enough, I bought my own. Thirty years later, it was a temptation that still followed me.

But this website wasn’t the kind of porn I was used to. There were two men on the screen, and no women.

A vise closed around my heart. My son—my only son, whom I was crazy about—was looking at gay porn. And he was doing it a lot, based on what I could see in the history.

Slowly, reluctantly, I called for Lynn. I think she could see it on my face before I said the words.

“Greg’s been looking at porn.”
IN THAT SECOND, AS I looked at my husband’s pain-filled expression, all I could think was Let it be women. Don’t let it be one of those websites.

Yes, my first thought on hearing that my son was looking at porn was a hope that it would be “just” heterosexual porn. Which tells you, I guess, that the news that our son was gay wasn’t a total surprise. But we’ll talk about that more later.

Greg stepped away from the computer, and I saw the screen. Those weren’t women.

I knew what I was looking at, but I still tried to deny it. “Maybe it was an accident,” I started, turning to my husband with tears already forming in my eyes, begging him to give me a way out. “Maybe it was one of Greg Jr.’s friends who came over and used the computer.”

Please, Jesus, let it be someone else’s kid.

Greg didn’t answer me, but from his expression I knew that wasn’t it.

“Maybe . . .” But I had already run out of maybes.

My sweet, sensitive, tenderhearted boy—my artist, always surrounded by gorgeous girls but never dating them—had been hiding something from us. Something I’d been told could cost him his soul.

The tears were falling heavy now. “What are we going to do?” I whispered.
WE HAD STUMBLED INTO one of the most pivotal moments of parenting that we would ever have—the kind that can define, or break, a parent-child relationship for years to come.

Every parent has dreams for their child. We stare into infant eyes and try to imagine this little human as an adult. We picture sports games and first dates and graduations and weddings and grandchildren. But things rarely play out just as we imagine, do they? There are calls from the principal. Medical diagnoses. Failed tests and tryouts. Personality conflicts. A grandchild is born before a wedding. A graduation never happens. Sometimes a child’s dreams or desires carry them far from home, either physically or spiritually.

Between 3 percent and 20 percent of parents in the United States (depending on which surveys you believe) will, like us, need to adjust to the idea that the person our child dreams of dating or marrying is probably not the gender we imagined for them back when they were babies. And at least another 1 percent of parents will learn that their child experiences gender dysphoria, which means that when they look in a mirror, the gender of the person they see doesn’t match the gender they feel they are emotionally and psychologically.

Those are pretty big dreams to readjust.

Christianity and Western culture put a lot of importance on a person’s gender and sexuality. The first words we hear when a child is born are “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl,” and from that moment, certain expectations are set. So even for liberal, progressive parents, discovering that “my child is gay” or “my child is transgender” can feel at first like someone pulled the rug out from under them, because it pushes them to see their child through a lens they didn’t have before. And for those of us who live in traditional families, attend traditional churches, and surround ourselves with traditional family values, finding out that our child is gay or transgender can feel like a major earthquake.
WHEN WE TALK ABOUT that moment, the one when we go from not knowing to knowing, many of the parents we meet say something like, “In an instant, my child—the person I’d known their whole life—seemed like a stranger to me.”

When our understanding of a person shifts in a radical way, it’s easy to start to think that our child isn’t anything like we imagined they would be. We forget about the books or movies they love, or the way they play with their younger siblings, or the inside jokes we share at the dinner table. All we see is this big, flashing sign that says that they’re different.

For many parents, especially those who didn’t suspect anything was different until The Moment, it feels at first like a betrayal. We’ve been living for years with one family, and now someone—our child? Society? God?—just pulled a nasty switch on us and gave us someone else.

It’s hard to adjust to a surprise like that.
I WAS TORN. ON one hand, I wanted to wait until Greg Jr. returned from work and demand that he explain himself, right then. I was itching for a confrontation and to bring this into the open.

On the other hand, I knew enough about parenting by then to understand that doing that could destroy our relationship beyond repair.

My tendency, like that of many parents, is to focus on myself when I get upset. Thank God that by this time in my life I’d learned the hard way what happened when my temper did the talking.

When all of the raging feelings fill us, too often we react first and think later. We want to express our anger toward the person who caused it. We want that person to know that they’ve done wrong. We want to take all our negative feelings and dump them on someone else, even if that person is a family member we love like crazy.

Looking for that kind of release is a natural human temptation, but when we act in the heat of the moment, it’s easy to say things that we haven’t thought through and things we don’t really mean. And those things can cause serious damage.

Lynn and I know dozens of LGBTQ adults and their parents who still bear scars, years later, from painful words shared in the heat of the moment.

How could you do this to me?

I’m embarrassed by you.

I can’t look at you.

I raised you better than this.

I wish you’d never been born.

Yes, parents say these things and so much worse.

That Saturday afternoon, seeing the porn on my son’s computer, I was definitely tempted to confront Greg Jr. right away. But my relationship with my son was one of the most important things in my life, and Lynn and I both immediately understood that this conversation would be the single biggest thing that had ever happened to him and would set the tone between us for years to come.

We needed to approach this carefully in order to protect the relationship. But instead of confronting Greg Jr. when he came home, we did what we often did when we struggled for the answers to life’s questions: we called our pastor.

For eleven years, Lynn and I had been members of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, an evangelical congregation led by a phenomenal teacher named Ed Dobson. Over the years, we’d become friends with Ed and his wife, Lorna, and often turned to them for guidance on both spiritual and practical matters. We trusted him totally—not because of his title, but because of how well we knew his heart and the patient, steady love he showed everyone in his congregation.
AS MUCH AS OUR world felt rocked, we knew that Saturday was one of Ed’s days off, and Sunday was his busy day, full of services and committee meetings. Not wanting to interrupt him, we agreed to wait.

That weekend was excruciating. I basically went to bed, curled up in the fetal position, and stayed there. I could hear Greg trying to act casual when he ran into our son in the kitchen. “Mom’s not feeling well” was all he said. Greg Jr., who was a teenager and also used to some tension in the house, just shrugged. If he sensed that the shift in mood was about him, he never let on.

First thing Monday morning, we called Ed’s office, and something about the tone in Greg’s voice must have told his secretary how important this was. Ed made time for us right away. As we drove toward the church, my mind fixed on a single question.

How could I choose between loving my child or loving God?

Because if Greg Jr. was gay, I was convinced I would have to give one of them up.

For years I’d heard the preachers on the radio and on TV talking about the “abomination” of homosexuality, and the dangers of the “gay lifestyle.” I’d read the verse in 1 Corinthians that said that believers should “not associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality.” Our family lived in a very homogeneous, very conservative community. Most Christians I knew would never, ever be friends with someone who was gay. That, to them—and to me, at the time—was a sin too horrible, a lifestyle too foreign to be endured.

But this wasn’t a friend. This was my son.

As I lay in bed that weekend, I kept praying, over and over, “Let this be a dream. Don’t make us do this. We can’t do this alone. My son needs help. We need help.”

Would God really ask me to give him up?

Never to share a meal with him, hug him, wish him happy birthday, or have any influence in his life?

When we arrived at Ed’s office, I was gasping for air, crying so hard I could hardly talk.
LYNN WAS A MESS. The pain in my own heart made it hard to take a breath, and I struggled with my words. Ed greeted us in the office lobby and silently offered us big, generous hugs. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt so broken and lost.

Ed wasn’t a very tall man; I think he was about five feet four inches. I’d recently teased him about whether he needed a boost to get into my Ford Expedition. That morning in his office I remember thinking that he looked particularly tiny as he sat there behind his desk, like a kid who needed a booster seat to be tall enough to reach the table. But behind his small stature was a giant heart and one of the most grounded people we knew.

I wish that every parent in our position could have a pastor like Ed. He knew and loved Greg Jr. He knew and loved us. And he knew Jesus better than anyone I’d ever met. As I told him our story and what we’d found, his eyes never wavered. He never winced.

“We need to know how to handle this,” I finally told him. “If our son really is gay, we need to know what a Christlike response looks like.”

This phrase—“a Christlike response”—started with something simple; those were the days when a lot of people had “WWJD” bracelets and accessories, and “What would Jesus do?” was a question we heard a lot in church. In the years leading up to this meeting with Ed, I’d been more intentional about trying to bring that question off the bracelet on my wrist and into my everyday decisions at work and at home. Looking back now, I believe God pointed me that way on purpose, so that when I was faced with something so far above my spiritual pay grade, I at least knew where to start looking for answers.

Ed thought for a minute, choosing his words carefully. “I don’t have the perfect answer for you. But I can tell you three things. First, Greg is your son, and your most important job right now is to love him. Don’t turn away from him.”

I could feel Lynn exhaling that part of her breath she’d been holding for three days. This had been her deepest fear.

“Second,” Ed continued. “Be sure to love his friends. The gay community has been terribly mistreated, and in some ways, they have become the lepers of our society today. They are very good at circling around and supporting one another when they are hurting.”

At the time I didn’t understand how insightful this observation was, or how valuable it would become. But Ed wasn’t done.

“Third,” he said as he looked at us deeply, and with compassion that filled me. “It is normal to want to look in the mirror and try to see what each of your roles might be in your son’s situation. But do not spend a lot of time there. Nothing positive will come from that.”

That wasn’t what I expected a Christian pastor to say, but his words touched me. There was so much compassion in Ed’s voice that I found the first glimmer of hope.

“And there’s another thing,” Ed continued, his soft Irish brogue still audible after more than twenty years in this country. “Trust that God has a plan and a purpose for this. We don’t know what it is, but we don’t have to. He has it covered.”

Unlike Lynn, my biggest fear in those first days wasn’t that I would have to turn away from my own son here on earth. I was scared to death that I was about to lose my son for eternity. I had dreamed for almost twenty years that I would get to spend all of eternity with my wife and kids, together in heaven. But if Greg Jr. was gay, was he doomed to hell?

There are lots of pastors and churches out there that would have condemned my son—along with every other person who wasn’t straight—for eternity without a backward glance. But Ed—one of the wisest, most Christlike men I knew—gave us hope that all wasn’t lost. His advice that day would drive many of our decisions and actions over the next year and beyond, and it guides much of the advice we give to other parents of LGBTQ children even today.
ED’S WORDS PUSHED PAST my tears and into my soul.

“I don’t understand how that’s possible,” I cried, and then all of my thoughts poured out. “I don’t understand how any of this is possible. How can God have a purpose for this? How can my son feel like this? Believe this? We raised him right. He’s in a Christian school. He’s in church. We’ve taught him about the Bible and what it says about sin. He accepted Christ when he was eight years old. How can Greg Jr. think he’s gay?” I was crying again. “I just don’t understand,” I repeated, miserably.

In times of crisis and dramatic life change, our reactions often reflect the places where God is still working in our lives. Greg’s first impulse, as he’s shared, was anger. Mine was guilt. If my son was gay, I thought it must be my fault. For other parents the first response might be denial (“We’re not going to talk about that”) or depression (“I’ve lost my child forever”).

Ed leaned forward, his voice gentle. “Well, of course you don’t understand, Lynn. This isn’t a sin that you wrestle with, so of course it doesn’t make sense to you. It doesn’t have to.”

Looking back, that was a double-edged response. On the surface, Ed’s words filled me with relief. Of course I didn’t understand. God didn’t expect me to understand. I was free to leave it with him.

It would be months before I stopped to consider another implication of Ed’s choice of words. This isn’t a sin that you wrestle with, he said, insinuating I had my own set of sins to deal with.

And it would be years before I realized that even in his comfort, Ed’s words reinforced another idea I’d never questioned: being gay was a sin.

I hesitate to bring up that word so early in our story. In our experience, as soon as someone says sin in a conversation about LGBTQ issues, battle lines are drawn. Families and churches fracture over those three little letters.

However, I also want to be honest about our story, and this was where we were, spiritually and emotionally, on the day we found out our son was gay. We believed that homosexuality was a sin, and so did our pastor.

Ed Dobson was one of the most loving, generous, and spiritually mature people we’ve ever been blessed to know. He was also a man whose faith was growing and changing, just like all of ours. Ed’s first job in ministry was at the conservative Liberty University, and in the early 1980s he helped to draft the platform of the Moral Majority, the right-wing political arm of the evangelical church that once issued a “Declaration of War” on homosexuality. By the time of our meeting, he had developed mixed feelings, at best, about how the church had politicized certain issues. At the height of the AIDS epidemic Ed was volunteering his church and his service to help the gay community, despite the vocal disapproval of some conservative Christians, even people in his own congregation.

Ed was a dear friend and confidant both for us and for Greg Jr. right up until his tragic and untimely death in 2015. He loved our son, and nothing ever changed that.

That morning, as we were leaving, he hugged us. “God has a purpose for this, but sometimes it will be a hard thing to see. I think it’s easier for me to come to terms with my ALS than it will be for you to go through what you’re going through.”

Ed had only recently shared his diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) with the congregation. For him to say this—that God was trusting me with a challenge bigger than the one he had put in his faithful pastor’s path—was terrifying. I didn’t want a challenge bigger than a terminal diagnosis! I wanted our son to be straight.
NEEDING TIME TO PROCESS everything Lynn and I had heard, we put off the conversation with our son for one more day. That night we told Greg Jr. that he needed to be home the next night for dinner, because we had some important things to discuss. Though he didn’t question what the subject would be, I could see he was curious. And to be honest, I kind of liked making him wait.

Even though it was the only thing Lynn and I had thought about for days, when we went to bed that night we still hadn’t developed a specific strategy for how we would confront our son. Our conversations together swung wildly around all the things we wanted to get across. We wanted to discipline him for deceiving us and making us believe he was straight. We wanted to show him how much we loved him. And most of all, we wanted to get our son straightened out (pun intended).

We couldn’t sleep. The initial shock of what I saw on my son’s computer had worn off, and my anger had faded. In its place, I felt fear. I worried about what people would think of me. I played all kinds of different scenarios out in my head, and ways that my friends and colleagues would question my parenting, my masculinity, my absence in Greg Jr.’s life if they found out about all of this.

The next day went on forever. Each minute felt like hours. The afternoon was unseasonably warm, and when I got home from work Greg Jr. was out on our boat with some friends from school. Lynn and I could hear their laughter drift up from the water until finally, they all filed up the long staircase from the dock. Normally, Lynn would greet Greg Jr.’s friends and offer them snacks or cold drinks, and often invite them to dinner. It was important to both of us to create a place where our kids’ friends always knew they were welcome. But tonight we just wanted them to be gone. We weren’t going to create a scene, but every minute that passed was killing me. I wanted this conversation to be over.

When the last friend disappeared down the driveway, I turned to my son, who clearly knew something was up. “Mom and I need to talk to you,” I said, hearing the stiffness in my own voice. My chest seemed full, and it was hard to breathe. “Let’s go outside.”

What happened next became a pivotal moment for each of us. We gathered on the deck, high above the river. I didn’t bother with small talk when I started the conversation.

“Mom and I found pornography on your computer.”

The look on Greg Jr.’s face told me everything I needed to know, but I pressed on.

“Are you—”

“Gay? Yes.” Greg interrupted before I could get the word out. His chin was up, and he met our eyes without blinking. There was no apology in his voice. “Any other questions?”

My son was just as brash and defensive as I would have been at his age if I was called on the carpet for something. In that moment, my love for the strong, smart, and quick-witted man he was becoming washed up against my rising sense of panic.

Now what?
“GAY? YES.” MY HEART broke as those two words destroyed every image I had of what I wanted our family to look like.

He sounded so sure of himself, so confident with his answer. If he was embarrassed he didn’t show it, but as his mother, I could look at his face and see the uncertainty behind his stoic eyes. His life, too, had just changed in an instant.

If a child’s coming out seems like an earthquake to parents like us, imagine what it’s like for our kids, who are acknowledging this big, controversial, polarizing thing about themselves for the first time. According to the Pew Research Center, most gay, lesbian, and bisexual people know by the time they’re twelve that they are something other than straight.I For Christian kids, they often struggle with the realization that they aren’t going to fit the family’s or society’s expectations. They carry the burden alone, working through their own questions.

Now imagine what it’s like to find the courage to talk about it.

Years later, we stumbled across a blog series called Blue Babies Pink by a gay Christian man named B. T. Harman, who shares his own coming-out experience.II His description of what it’s like to be the gay person coming out to their parents was eye-opening:

Kids have a sense of what their parents dream for them. We hear their conversations growing up. We see how they talk about our older siblings and their spouses and their kids. And kids also have an innate sense of wanting to please their parents, of wanting to make them happy. We start doing it from a young age, and I bet even when we are old and gray, we’ll still want to please them.

This is the dilemma for the gay child.

We know there is a dark moment sometime in the future where we will utterly crush our parents, where we will walk in the room and force-feed them the biggest serving of disappointment they could ever imagine. And it will be our doing, not because we want to, but because we have to. We have to reveal that we aren’t like them. We have to reveal that there has been an invisible minority in their midst.
THAT AFTERNOON ON THE deck, I wasn’t thinking about what an important moment this was for my son. I wasn’t thinking about what he needed. I was still thinking about myself.

How had Greg Jr. hidden something so important from me? How had he chosen to do something that was so clearly against everything I’d taught him?

When a child comes out (or, as Greg Jr. likes to put it, is pulled out) of the closet, they are in one of the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Telling the truth, especially if they expect a negative response, takes an enormous amount of courage.

And all they want from us in return is our love.

I’ve heard a lot of coming-out stories in the last twenty years, and in every one of them—no matter how brash or confident the person was about their sexuality—the thing they all longed most for was their parents’ support. But all too often that’s not what parents offer.
I WAS HEARTBROKEN. BUT more than that, to be honest, I was embarrassed. I always thought Greg and I had strong, positive, open relationships with our kids—the kind of relationship I never had with my own family. This changed everything.

“How do you know?” I pleaded with him, jumping straight from the “denial” to the “bargaining” part of grief. “Maybe you’re not gay. Maybe you’re . . . bisexual!” In the moment, somehow, I thought that would make it better.

Today, Greg Jr. says that he agreed with me. Sure, maybe he was bisexual, he said, trying to pacify me. But all I remember is him shaking his head, cutting off the last bit of hope I had for that perfect, normal life.

“Well, how do you know?” I pressed.

“How do you know you’re straight?” he shot back. That’s a question that he and many of his gay friends whom we’ve met over the years are forced to ask often, and I’ve learned to appreciate their point. How do we know we’re straight? And why do we expect someone who’s gay to have a different way of knowing?

But that afternoon by the river, I wasn’t ready to think about it. “Maybe you’re just confused.” I searched my memory for an argument to make. “You had a crush on Brooke at school, and we know that you kissed Connie’s friend Kristin.” Our older daughter, now away at college, could never keep a secret, especially if it was about her brother. “You wouldn’t kiss a girl if you were gay.”

Greg Jr. just shook his head.

“I always knew this day would come. I’m just sorry you had to find out now,” Greg Jr. said, and for the first time I thought he did look a little bit sorry.

“What’s special about now?” I asked him. I couldn’t imagine that there would be a “right” time to find out my only son was gay.

He shook his head again. “I didn’t want to tell you until after I was done with college.”

“What does college have to do with any of this?” I asked, truly baffled.

“My gay friends told me that when their parents found out about them they were totally cut off. Their parents wouldn’t pay for college. Some of them got kicked out of the house. And I really wanted to go to college.”

My heart, already breaking, tore a little bit more. Our son thought we would abandon him, that we would cast him away. And his belief wasn’t completely unfounded. The LGBTQ community is full of stories of kids who have been pushed away from their families. Forty percent of all homeless youth are LGBTQ, and family conflict is the most common cause. More than a quarter of the teens who come out to their parents are thrown out of their homes, at least temporarily.III

Driven by anger or shame, the knee-jerk reaction of too many parents is to punish. “You’re off the family payroll,” one angry father told his son. Others take away cars, phones, and education. They push their child away, saying “you’re no longer welcome in this house.” The result is almost always a fractured relationship that separates a child from their parents’ influence, as well as their love, for years.

How did my child not understand that I could no sooner turn him away than I could cut out my own heart and say I didn’t need it?
I DON’T REMEMBER WHO answered, whether it was me or Lynn, or maybe we both spoke at once. “This has nothing to do with college,” we assured him. “Of course, we’ll still pay for your education.” I leaned forward and met his eyes. “Your mom and I love you, and we always will. Nothing you do could ever change that. You could even murder someone and we would always love you.”

I meant well when I said it, but yes, I implied that being gay was equivalent to murdering someone.

And anyway, even as I said the words, something else struck me. Greg Jr. had already talked to his friends about this. Someone else knew about our son’s sexuality before we did.

My gay friends . . . That casual reference left me flat-footed. I didn’t know that my son had gay friends. Lynn told me later that she suspected that a couple of the guys who came over sometimes might be gay, but she never dared to ask. We’d been living in denial for a long time, and that meant our son had been on this path for a long time without us.

This, for me, became the real issue. Or maybe it was just the issue I could face right then. Why hadn’t he told us? Our son intentionally led us to believe that he was straight. Later, he admitted that he’d asked one of his female friends to act like a girlfriend when we were around, to throw us off. He’d hidden something from us! He’d lied to us by not sharing what he knew about himself.

When we share our story with others, many people are surprised by this point. Did Lynn and I really expect our seventeen-year-old son to tell us everything, even more than he told his friends? The honest answer is yes, we did. Compared to most families, we were unusually close. Lynn and I had dedicated ourselves to our children, and to making a stable, safe home life for them. We felt like we had a great relationship with our kids, and to find out that one of them was hiding something this big was a huge betrayal.

So, in that moment, sitting on that deck, I was full of self-righteousness. I wasn’t thinking about all the struggles, or questions, or corners of my own life that I hid from my wife, let alone my children. I never once put myself in Greg Jr.’s shoes to consider how he would have told us what he knew about himself, considering the legalistic environment we’d created.

Lynn and I could barely stand to let our children hear the word gay, let alone have a thoughtful conversation about it. Taking a cue from the “family values” teachers we heard on the radio and read in the books popular at the time, we reinforced to Connie and Greg Jr., over and over, how different we were from “the world” and “those people.” If the TV show Will & Grace was on, we would make some kind of comment about how “disgusting” it was and change the channel. If we saw a story in the newspaper about a gay couple, we felt like we had to stop and explain to our impressionable kids that those people were trying to destroy God’s plan for our lives.

Why would Greg Jr. ever tell us that he was one of “those people”?

But those thoughts came later. In that conversation, all I could think about was that Greg Jr. told us that he had prioritized going to college over being honest with us.

And so instead of reaching out to my son, I told him in no uncertain terms that he was grounded—not for being gay, but for lying about it. And he was losing computer privileges indefinitely because of the porn. The chat rooms were going dark. I used the classic parent lines: “Because you violated our trust, you’re going to have to re-earn our trust,” and “Life as you know it is over.”

Then, for good measure, I said the thing I most regret: “We need to get you fixed.”

Key Learnings: Make It Personal

If you think your child might be LGBTQ but he or she has not come out to you, don’t ignore it, but don’t rush into a reaction, either. If you decide to initiate a conversation with your child, wait until you’re emotionally and spiritually ready to have it.

Find someone to counsel you. For us, it was our pastor, but it could also be a mentor, Bible study leader, therapist, close friend, or family member. What’s important is that it’s someone who will respond with grace and love, not judgment, and who will help you sort through what you’re thinking.

If your child initiates a conversation and comes out of the closet, choose your words carefully. Consider the painful statements throughout this chapter and try to avoid them. Avoid giving ultimatums or making extreme statements in the heat of a moment. Once the word leaves your lips, it’s almost impossible to reel it back in.

Your child has probably been thinking about this for a long time. Remind them, though, that their news is very fresh for you. It’s better to ask for time to process and come back to the conversation when you’re ready than to let it get out of control.

Offer your child love, no matter what. Even if your internal reaction is negative or confused, your child needs the love of their parents. Tell them that you are proud of their honesty and that you are here for them. Remind them that you are always on the same team, and you want what’s best for them. To get there will require grace, patience, time, and understanding.

When your child says that they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, believe them. Don’t pressure them to recant or “act straight” just to please you (or God, who is never pleased by hypocrisy or lies). Our children naturally want to please us, but pretending to be what they’re not causes a great deal of emotional and spiritual damage long term. Far too many Christian gay men and women have entered heterosexual marriages to please their parents, and those marriages almost always end in divorce and pain for everyone involved.

This is not the time to express your own feelings. As shocking or confusing as it might be for you, remember that your child is in an even more complicated spot. They’ve just acknowledged, perhaps for the first time, something very vulnerable about themselves. Your job in this moment is to hear them and give them a safe place to share. Save the debates and discussions for later, when everyone’s had time to adjust.

Seek a Christlike response. Ask yourself: If Jesus were talking with your child, what would he say to them? Push aside quotes from the media, the “experts,” and even your pastor. There will be time later to work through their ideas. But while everything is fresh and vulnerable, follow the footsteps of the Son of God, who extends grace and offers love first.


II. You can read Brett’s whole story at

III. True Colors Fund,

About The Authors

Greg McDonald is cofounder of Embracing the Journey and has enjoyed a career that spans 30+ years as an industry leader in the private sector. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Orphan Helpers and has served on numerous advisory boards and committees. Today Greg pursues his passion of helping LGBTQ families become reconciled with each other and move one step closer to Jesus. Greg is the proud dad of Greg Jr. and Connie, dad-in-law to Matt, and happy grandfather of three grandchildren.

Lynn McDonald is cofounder of Embracing the Journey.  When her now-adult children were young, she was a full-time homemaker. Additionally, Lynn has served as a volunteer crisis pregnancy counselor and on the Committee for Young Life Central America. She is the proud mom of Greg Jr. and Connie, mom-in-law to Matt, and happy grandmother of three grandchildren. 

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

“This book is filled with extraordinary levels of love and pain and humility and learning and grace and hope. Greg and Lynn McDonald—and Greg Jr—have laid bare their story to give us a healing gift. May it be widely read.”

– John Ortberg, Senior Pastor, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church

“Embracing the Journey is an essential resource for Christian parents of LGBTQ kids. Greg and Lynn McDonald share their story of having a gay son with admirable transparency about things they did wrong, humility about the things they’re still learning, and grace for others on the journey. This book will have a profound impact on countless relationships between parents and their children, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It blew me away. It’s a must-read for any Christian parent wishing to have a better relationship with their LGBTQ child, any LGBTQ person wishing to have a better relationship with their Christian parent, or anyone who knows and loves someone at that intersection.”

– Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian and executive director of The Reformation Project

"This book is great for parents, pastors, LGBTQ people, and anyone who wants to know how to move 'gay' from a long list of issues to a compelling story about a community and people group we need to know better and love generously. I pray this book and these people inspire you as much as they have me."

– Alan Chambers, Author of My Exodus: From Fear to Grace

"A compelling description of a challenge faced by more and more people in the modern church: how to love God and their gay child without losing their faith or their relationship with either. Each page is filled with striking honesty and first-century courage.. an important and helpful resource."

– Bill Willits, Executive Director of Ministry Environments, North Point Ministries

"A true game changer. This book is a true testament to God’s desire to transform today’s Church to learn how and finally commit to fully loving everyone just like Christ first loved us, one parent at a time."

– Jane Clementi, co-founder, The Tyler Clementi Foundation

“It is terribly sad but obviously true that when conservative Christian parents discover that their child is LGBTQ, the default reaction is faith-based rejection. It takes a journey — a hard, brave, grace-filled journey — to move to a place not just of acceptance of the child but transformation of the parents and of their faith. Greg and Lynn McDonald have taken that journey. Their story is told in a riveting way here. This book should prove a compelling resource for many parents who are somewhere on that journey. More: I believe this book will save lives.”

– Rev. Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University, author of Changing Our Mind

Sharing our stories is important. Vitally important. So many parents of LGBTQ children feel utterly alone. But you are not alone. Which is why the McDonalds are sharing their story, their journey, the changes in their lives. Because no matter where you are on your journey, Greg and Lynn have been there too. They asked the same questions, struggled with the same emotions. But also--wait for it--experienced the love and peace and joy that is also part of the journey. We know. We're on this journey too.

– Dave and Neta Jackson Authors of Risking Grace:Loving Our Gay Family and Friends Like Jesus.

"The osmosis that will occur from reading this brave story will make you more like Jesus because of how passionate, honest, truthful, compassionate, and Christ-like the McDonald family is. They're building bridges of relationship and we all could use more like them!”

– Clay Scroggins, Lead Pastor, North Point Community Church Author, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

"What a magnificent story of respect, honor, commitment and deep love. Thank you Greg and Lynn for allowing us to see your openness and humility to learn, grow and be real. The truth that you have discovered and experienced about God, life, and enduring love is a message that all families need to hear. Thank you for unconditionally loving your beloved son and the people that he holds dear in his life. I will be recommending this book to all the parents I know who are on this very sacred journey."

– Janelle M. Hallman, PhD, LPC, PLLC, Desert Hope Ministries

"Writing with both confidence and vulnerability, the McDonalds have given us a much needed resource which will help not only Christian parents of LGBTQ children, but for the children themselves. For parents, Embracing the Journey provides a thoughtful guide to reconcile their faith with the reality of having an LGBTQ child. Children will benefit from seeing the journey from the other side, learning how to better appreciate the steps their parents may take."

– David and Constantino Khalaf, authors of Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage.

"Every Christian parent of an LGBTQ child should read this book."

– B.T. Harman, Creator of Blue Babies Pink

"If you are a Christian parent whose child has recently come out to you, please, please take the time to read this account of Greg and Lynn’s efforts to reconcile their faith in Jesus Christ with their desire to love their son well. Had my husband and I found a book like this after our 12 year old son came out back in 2001, it very well would have changed everything."

– Linda Robertson, author of Just Because He Breathes

"An excellent resource... Greg and Lynn have created the book that LGBTQ people will be handing to their parents, asking them to read it so that families can be healed and the lives of LGBTQ people may thrive in relationship with God."

– Kathy Baldock Executive Director of Canyonwalker Connections and author of WALKING THE BRIDGELESS CANYON

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