I had the pleasure of taking a six mile hike with my husband Terry a few days ago in Valley Forge Park. I love that park- and as I researched a little about it for this entry I learned Valley Forge was not a place of war, but a training encampment for the Continental army under the command of General George Washington from 1777-1778. The army would emerge from their challenges and training at Valley Forge ready to win the war for independence.
At the end of our hike I observed a woman flying a kite in an open field- a red, white, and blue kite that as it flew appeared to be sailing next to the arch, a monument that stands in the center of the park. The arch was actually built in 1914 to commemorate the arrival of George Washington and his army into Valley Forge in 1777. Seeing the kite next to the arch spoke to me. I asked Terry for the camera so I could capture a photo for this blog entry, smiling at God's providence again in my life-the same providence that had led Washington and his troops to Valley Forge to prepare. All during my hike words and phrases kept flooding my mind, marking the beginning of this blog post.
For days prior I was thinking about kites. There is a huge billboard on the way south to Quakertown with Benjamin Franklin's picture on it- and in bold letters the phrase "Go Fly A Kite." Each time I passed that sign it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by an English author named Edward Bulwer-Lytton "the pen is mightier than the sword." As one of our founding fathers Franklin lived this idea- using his words, his voice, and his life to promote freedom to his fellow man (and hopefully woman!) I am grateful for his example and share part of my story today, hoping it too will promote this beautiful idea of liberty and justice for all.
Last week legislation passed in New York City allowing for marriage between same sex couples. As a family we whole-heartedly support this legislation. However I must admit if I had been asked about supporting same sex marriage a few years ago, my reply would have been a firm "No." It breaks my heart still to think that this attitude made it more difficult for someone close to me to be true to himself. But to be true to this, my story of enlightenment, I must take responsibility for my wrong attitude, being forever grateful for the courageous gay and lesbian people God has placed in my life to show me otherwise.
Twenty eight years ago God gave me a son- Dale Terence Grandfield. Since his birth he, along with my other five children, have taught me more than any college education could. Dale, being the first born, was my initiation into motherhood- the first child to literally breakthrough my womb. It has marked him and his purpose in my life on so many levels. He kept Terry and I together early on in our marriage when the going got tough. I referred to him as the son of my right hand when he so willingly helped me with his younger brothers and sisters.
All along I knew Dale was different. For the most part I encouraged this within him, as well as all my kids. However my strong religious convictions placed constraints on his being truly himself in ways I didn't see until he came out as a gay man five years ago. I wish I could say accepting it was easy for me- that with all the love I have in my heart for my son it was a smooth transition. But life- and change- doesn't come easily. Walls within our hearts have to be broken, and when they are it brings anger, fear, and pain.
Terry and I had many gay friends in our life and had always embraced them. However in my years of bible study and being part of the evangelical church world, a strong conviction had lodged in my heart stating it was not God's best for a person's life- that there was a choice. Little did I know God was about to use my son to change my perspective, to unwrap yet another level of religious teaching.
The story of Saul in the bible has always fascinated me. Saul was a religious zealot, one who believed his cause- the persecution of christians- was ordained by the God he had pledged to serve as a Jew. It is interesting to note he was more than willing to overlook the fundamental teaching of the ten commandments (particularly "you shall not murder") to further this cause.
I can relate to Saul. My own religious ideas, which started at a small Mennonite church in Skippack, Pa in my childhood, had created a throne of judgement in my own heart. This judgement began first with myself, which made it easy to adopt a harsh outlook of everything being either black or white, right or wrong, in life. God's love began weakening this religious wall a little at a time. Dale's struggle would finally bring it all down.
The day after I found out my son was gay- the day I spent in bed, the day I broke the towel rack in my bathroom in a fit of anger, the day I blamed myself and my own sin for bringing this to my son's life- I stood with Dale at the front door asking him questions. I wanted to understand why- among the questions I asked.... when did he first feel he was attracted to men?...... had anyone ever molested him? At one point my son, with tears in his eyes said this: "I feel like such a freak." His voice , his words, broke my heart. This was my son, God's son, and he was not a freak. I hugged him, crying myself, letting him know how much I loved him. It was a moment of enlightenment, much like what Saul experienced hearing Christ's voice many centuries ago.
Can I share with you that being gay or lesbian is only a small part of the whole person? I would not want to have my entire identity summed up by being called heterosexual. During a conversation with friends at a party recently, when the topic of being gay came up and someone threw out the question- "do you think it is a choice?" a friend replied very vehemently "who would choose this path unless it was truly who you are, considering the ridicule and rejection that comes along with it?" Terry and I applauded! I am so proud of my son, his partner and our son-in-law Brad, our other "son" Chad, and countless others who have stood up and been true to their own identities, regardless of the personal costs. Thank you. You have taught me so much.
I would like to begin to close this with a reminder of the words from a very familiar document from this country's history- one that the Continental Army back in 1777 fought to establish, and one which Benjamin Franklin himself signed.... the profound words in the Declaration of Independence:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Closing with the words of the most revolutionary person in all history:
"Love your neighbor as yourself"
I think it's time to get the kite out.