I was thrust into the LGBTQ+ world four years ago next month. And it was a shock to my traditional conservative system. Like the time in high school when I plugged in my contact case boiler (yes, that was a real thing) and the cord blew in my hand. I still cringe when I plug things in, waiting for that flash of light and small explosion. October 2014 was like that — a big unexpected contact-case-boiler-explosion in my comfortable little world. That was the month we found out our precious son is gay. BOOM.

We went into crisis mode. Closed ourselves off from the world, focused our energy and attention on surviving. I know that sounds very melodramatic, but when you live your entire life in a conservative christian environment, and believe your cherished bible says homosexuality is a sin, and then find out your kid is a homosexual … well melodrama doesn’t just ensue. It rules.

Shock. Anger. Fear. FEAR. Time passed. Determination. Eventually out of the chaos came the desire to study deeper. More thoroughly. To study culture and translations. To actually — shock — talk to LGBTQ+ people and hear their stories. How they feel, rather than how I thought they felt. With knowledge, came serenity. Peace. Then this tsunami of need to share my story, my new-found path of study, my knowledge. My love.

I attend a non-affirming church of good, loving people. People who have supported us, but still have so many questions and concerns. And I suspect are worried because they think we have bought into Satan’s lies. That our love for our son made us blind to the bible. Which isn’t true at all. But I used to think the same thing about affirming christians. So I get it.

There is a family right now at my church that is buried in fear and loneliness. I’m sure there are more than one, but I know specifically of one, and they have had my heart and mind. Their teen came out to them and they reacted as we did back in 2014. They isolated their child from perceived outside influences that were “dangerous:” friends, social media, electronics. We did that, too. They made their teen speak with a christian minister. As did we.

I know people in the gay community that are aghast by the parents’ reactions. I’m not. When you are a conservative christian with traditionalists ideas, of course that is what you do. That’s what you should do. The trick to is keep going …. keep seeking truth. Open your heart and mind to God and where He leads you. I work really hard when meeting with parents who are new to this journey to not tell them what I believe and why. Because everyone has their own journey. And because I believe completely that giving over total control of that journey to the Creator will lead you to this place. The place where I am. Not that I’m through with the journey — I constantly seek more and more truth, while at the same time knowing that God has got this, and is using not just my knowledge but my actual journey for His purpose.

The trick is to find where the path starts.

I sit in my pew on Sundays and my heart literally aches for the mystery family that is somewhere in that same building, hearing the same singing. The family that I know is sitting in shock, terrified that their child is going to hell, terrified of what this means to their family, to their friends, to their lives. I remember those days still very clearly. I cried through many of the songs, as my soul grieved. Having a gay child is now a blessing to my life. But back then, I didn’t see it that way yet. I heard little of the sermons, as my mind had a continuous reel playing of “how did this happen? what did I do? how do I fix this? what now? why, God, why?”

This family knows who I am, but they won’t seek me out — somehow I’m the enemy, the threat. But I wish they knew that I am one of few who KNOW WHAT THEY ARE GOING THROUGH. I don’t want to tell them they need to believe homosexuality is okay, or that they are wrong in their actions, or anything of the sort. I just want to wrap my arms around them, cry with them, and tell them it’s really going to be okay. God has got this. And His plan for their family is oh so hard, but it’s beautiful.

Maybe in time, I’ll get that chance. Meanwhile, I pray for them, and everyone else sitting in those same pews — people who are facing same-sex attraction, people who look in the mirror and hate their bodies for not matching their gender, people who are worried for a child or spouse or sibling, people who are privately struggling with traditionalist beliefs but are afraid to vocalize that. As I have been more and more public in my path, I’ve become a safe person. A person people will quietly pull aside in the hallway to express support, or will private message me with their own family struggles with one of the LGBTQ+ letters.

I’m thrilled to be that person, but it begs the question: shouldn’t all christians be “safe” people? I am a better Christ follower now than I was in 2014. I am a better Mom. A better Wife. A better Friend. A better PERSON. And in the bastardized words of Larry the Cable Guy,  that there’s some good fruit, I don’t care who you are.

Over the last four years, God has put some amazing moms in my life. Mama Bears. We unified and created our own safe place — a place in which we could celebrate our kids and their lives without fear of rejection or judgment. We loved each other and supported each other and gave our kids a deep affirming mom pool. Then dads. We took that love and support on the road, offering hugs and unconditional love to LGBTQ+ people who often don’t get that from their own families, with Free Mom Hugs buttons and banners.

The response was overwhelming — people craved love. We hear constantly how awesome we are, and I always think, “Why are we so awesome?? We are only doing what all parents should do — support their kids.” And yet, the need remains.

We decided the need was great enough to form our own non-profit, Free Mom Hugs. I’m honored to be president of the board of directors of this group. Shocked, when I think back a mere four years to where I stood on this issue. God is good.

You may have heard of Free Mom Hugs. Founder Sara Cunningham offered to be a stand-in mom for same-sex weddings and the post went viral. She has now been featured on news articles and blogs all over the world. Jen Hatmaker made her own Free Mom Hugs sign and took it to Austin Pride. Ashton Kutcher shared our story, as did George Takei (Sulu on the TV series Star Trek). And again, the response has been staggering. Thousands of emails — people who have lived their lives without support, without hope of support. Thinking of themselves as lesser. But also hundreds, thousands even, of people who want to support them. The need is great, but so is the desire to help.

In July, I hugged at the first Pride Festival in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and in August, I walked in the first ever Pride parade in Norman, Oklahoma. It was a fairly small parade, as far a Pride parades often go, with about 35-40 groups walking. We circled the town square twice. And never stopped hugging. We would open our arms, and people would run to the edge of the parade route … push through the crowds to get to us. Some smiled and said their own mom was there, too. Others sobbed in our arms, unable to stop the wall of emotions. Every time I offer mom hugs, my heart cracks a bit … as it expands with love. These people, guys, wow.

I don’t know where the next leg of this crazy journey I’m on will take me. I’ve given up long ago trying to map it out ahead of time. But I’m open to wherever the road He takes me down leads. The more miles I travel, the more trust I gain and the less fear I feel. Because I know that every mile is bringing me closer to Him.