In Which I Get a Little Personal…

A few months back, I published a new book. It has done as well as I hoped it would, and like always, it’s been fun to see my words making their way in the world. But this book has raised some concerns with a few readers, many of whom reached out to me to let me know their feelings. The issue has even popped up in a handful of reviews. What’s the big deal? It generally revolves around this question: Why did I choose to put a married gay couple in my novel?

I don’t love that this is a question that even needs to be asked. That doesn’t mean I didn’t expect it. Because I know my readers. My writing career began writing for a small publishing house that focuses on clean, faith-resonant fiction. Content did not need to be religious. But it did need to meet a certain set of standards. I knew those standards; and I knew, when drafting, exactly what my readers had come to expect. Gay characters was not it. To clarify a few issues raised by some readers: no, I did not write this book with a political agenda in mind. It is not propaganda. It is not indoctrination. Love Redesigned is a silly book about fashion and sibling rivalry and falling in love, with a main character who happens to have close friends that are gay and married. That’s all. And yes, I probably could have written the book differently. Written the characters differently. Taken out the gayness and made the story work without it. Though the characters formed in a more organic way (I didn’t intentionally make them gay, they just appeared in the story that way. I can’t really explain, but fellow writers, you get me—), I did have a moment when I considered whether or not I wanted to change them. And I didn’t. Really, I couldn’t.

I am a woman of deep, abiding faith. My relationship with God is very important to me. It is a cornerstone in my marriage and in the way my husband and I approach parenting. It’s important to me that you know this because I am an ally for the LGBTQ community not despite my faith, but because of it. It has been two years since my then fifteen-year-old child came to my husband and me with a look in their eyes that said it was time for a big conversation. Though we had suspected a confession was coming, it was still a sobering moment. As a parent, you want your kids to be safe. To be loved. To be accepted and celebrated for what they have to offer the world. We had always believed ourselves LGBTQ allies in theory, but now it was personal. Now it was our kid.

When it’s your kid, you can’t say, “Sure, I’m supportive,” even while thanking your lucky stars it isn’t “a challenge” you have in your family.

When it’s your kid, you can’t go to church and not worry about the fact that most organized religions are still struggling to find a place within their chapels for the LGBTQ community.

When it’s your kid, you can’t ignore the pressing need to reconcile what religion has taught you with the reality sitting at your kitchen table in need of love and acceptance and support.

I would be lying if I told you we weren’t terrified in those early days. What if we said the wrong thing? Parented in the wrong way? Even more, what if we couldn’t stop the world from being unkind? Couldn’t stop people from defining our child by a classification that shouldn’t matter but stupidly does? What if everyone failed to see the creative, brilliant, capable human that we saw? And so we prayed.

I have said a lot of prayers over my six children. Some days, it feels like I’m uttering one constant prayer. For my own patience. For endurance. For courage. For enough love not to sell the lot of them to the circus and book myself a oneway ticket to crazytown. For their health and safety. For their happiness. For the little ones not to kill each other over who gets to use the best Switch controller, the one that wasn’t thrown down the stairs when someone lost at Mario Kart. For the teenagers to learn life’s most important lessons speedily and with as little collateral damage as possible, particularly to their own hearts. For their faith to persist. For them to feel comfortable asking the hard questions and wrestling their way to answers. Even with all those prayers…never has a prayer felt as significant as the one I took to God over this.

The answer was immediate, the overwhelming peace and assurance tangible.

I know your child. I love your child just as they are. I’ve got this.

I have prayed countless times since. And every time, the answer is the same.

Trust in ME. Love your child. That’s your job.

The reach of my words is not very big. I have not sold millions of books. But I can still do my part. Representation still matters. I would really only need ONE person to read my book and feel a little more comfortable in their own skin, a little more filled with hope that a happy, fulfilling relationship might be a possibility for them or their child/sibling/cousin/nephew/neighbor/friend. Fortunately, it’s been more than one. And that makes all the critical feedback worth it.

I believe that experience is often life’s greatest teacher. Until you have an LGBTQ loved one find their place in the world (if you haven’t already, trust me, you will) you’re welcome to lean on my experience, on my unwavering conviction that the path forward is a path of kindness and acceptance. I know God loves his LGBTQ children. I know He wants them to be happy. To be supported and accepted for who they are.

There are people, right now, in your midst, that need your love. There are teenagers who need support and validation. Suicide rates among LGBTQ teens are alarmingly high, particularly within faith-based communities. Please watch your words. To imply that someone is broken, that someone is sinning simply by existing, is dangerous and damaging and wrong. And people are dying because of these judgments. We must do better. We must teach our children to be kind and inclusive. We must make room in our hearts and in our congregations.

If you are interested in learning more about how to be a better ally, please message me. I have links and podcasts and books that I am happy to recommend, and of course, a willing listening ear. And if you just want to read a fluffy romance with a couple of secondary characters who are loving supportive friends that just happen to be gay, well, I can help with that too.

A Book Review: In His Hands: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief and Loss

In 2008, Jenny Hess lost her four year old son, Russell, in a sledding accident. In this profound and insightful book, she writes about her journey through the grief that she experienced after her son died. And it is a journey.

But you know? As I sit here and try and figure out what to tell you about the book, it’s hard to come up with the right words. Was it harrowing? Emotionally gripping? Uniquely compelling? It was all those things, and yet those words don’t seem to do it justice. It seems better to simply call it beautiful, and real and pure.

Jenny doesn’t hold anything back in this book. She walks you through every emotion that she felt as she struggled to come to terms with Russell’s death. She shares the darkness and the desperation, which at times was heart wrenching to read, but she also shares her enduring love for Jesus Christ, and bears a near constant witness of His awareness of her.

For someone that has experienced the loss of a child, this is a book that will say, “I understand. I’ve been there. It’s okay. You’re not alone.” It is not a book that preaches or pontificates on “how” to heal; on what is or isn’t normal. It’s simply a mother sharing her heart, bearing her testimony, reaching out to lift others up and say, “this is my journey.” And by doing so, I think it might be one of the most healing books of all.

I have not experienced such loss in my life. I cannot even begin to pretend to understand what it would feel like to lose one of my children. But I know that after reading Jenny’s book I feel like I have a greater sense of awareness, and feel a stronger desire to say and do more when others in my life experience grief. I also found myself asking the question, Would my faith be enough? Would I be okay if this happened to me? This book was a reminder for me how important it is to remain close to my Heavenly Father, to trust in his plan for me, to anchor my faith around Jesus Christ and know that whatever life brings, He is there. He understands. He will help me through.

There were so many passages in this book that I loved, but this one might be my favorite:

Our family now has a new reason to choose the right and follow Jesus. We have a new reason to look to the heavens. Now we belong to heaven. We know someone there, someone who is preparing our home and awaiting our arrival, someone who showed us that the death of a righteous person is not sad for that person even though it is excruciating for those left behind. That was Russell’s gift to us. By going there first, he made heaven a real place, a place where we will be able to live together. In his own special way, Russell connected us to heaven with a bond that can never be broken.

I’m so glad I read, and I’m so glad Jenny had the courage to share her journey.

You can find Jenny’s book On Goodreads, Amazon, and Deseret Book.

To Heaven and Back – A book review

ImageThe concept of this book intrigued me from the very beginning. I’ve never doubted the existence of God, or of life after death, but since I haven’t exactly been through it myself, I was curious to read about the personal experiences of someone who had.

In her book, To Heaven and Back, Dr. Mary C. Neal shares a very detailed, very personal account of what happened when she drowned during a white water rafting accident, went to heaven, and then realized it wasn’t her time and she would be returning to her mortal body to complete her mission here on earth.

What a remarkable story. It was uplifting, compelling, and incredibly interesting. Time and time again, it validated my own feelings about God’s awareness of who we are, and what we are doing. It bore witness to his involvement in our lives, and expressed incredible joy in the realization that this life isn’t all there is. There is more. There is so much more to look forward to.

When asked about how her faith changed after her accident, Dr. Neal said the following:

With my near-death-experience, the truth of God’s promises and the reality of eternal life became a part of my every breath. I am in constant prayer and regardless of what I am doing, I try to reflect God’s love and live for His glory. I try not to miss opportunities to uplift or encourage the spiritual life of others, and I live with gratitude and joy, knowing that I never face challenges alone.

Pretty awesome, huh?