Seven years ago, my son Ben was found dead in his college dorm room. His life story has been screaming to be told ever since. I had a knowing soon after his death that I had a responsibility to write his book. I was overwhelmed with the technicalities of how to order the story and the doubt that I had the ability to write a book. But when the time was right, the words flowed and support surrounded me. I know that Ben was with me during the keying of each word.
The debilitating nature of insidious harm was layered upon Ben for being himself. An important characteristic of the authentic Ben included being gay. My book Changing the Message: Cruelty to individuals who are gay is incompatible with Christian teaching seeks to educate, challenge us to recognize the misinterpretation of theology, and stop the harm while validating the beautiful masterpiece of God’s creation to include the diverse representation of sexual and gender identity. The book also shares my family’s experience with various abilities, adoption, depression, grief work, and the everlasting connection with Ben.
Each person is specially designed for uniqueness, one of a kind, traveling this earth as only we as separate individuals can. Each has a special gift to offer the world and deserves to be celebrated. God’s desire for love is clear.
Here’s an excerpt from Changing the Message:
I was recently asked, “What do you think Ben would like to say to us?”
I reflected on Ben always considering historical context. To my amazement, words came to mind after a full night’s sleep. I simply wrote them down. I believe Ben’s message would have been:
In the 1600s, in the name of God, people with birthmarks and moles might have been tried and convicted as a child of the devil or as a witch. My youngest sister, Sophie, was born with a hemangioma on her left cheek. It was bright red,
raised and almost an inch in diameter. When she was born, it was in the shape of a heart. When I held her and her face rested on my face, the area felt extra warm. It was just a part of her. If she had been a baby of the 1600s, she might have suffered through fire, death by pressing, torture, or confinement. Humans proclaiming the will of God might have declared her an insult to God and a threat to society. I can imagine the piercing screams of agonizing pain.
But no, Sophie is free to enjoy life, to feel the breeze on her cheek and through her hair as she rides along on her galloping beloved horse. She can soak in the sunset as she feeds her horse. Sophie intuitively provides courage and support to children and adults with disabilities and to animals of all kinds. Thank you, God, that eyes were opened.
Sophie was born in 2003.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Asian Americans were forced to live inside the fences surrounding internment camps. There was a prejudice born in fear. The belongings and rights were removed from these innocent Americans.
Just think, what if my Asian American sister was a child of the 40s? She might have stood with her fingers holding onto the metal patterns of the fence that holds one inside and separate as a castaway. Her eyes might have peered out to imagine scenes of the life that she was missing because she had been thrown away, deemed a threat to society. But no, Lacy is free to thrive, dance, inspire, laugh and teach! Thank you, God, that eyes were opened.
Lacy was born in 2001.
We now look back and think, How very foolish! How could they have reasoned in a way to draw such misguided conclusions? How frail can our tiny little human egos be? I, Ben’s mother, must be his voice to tell his story.
He was kind, funny, a dedicated learner, an advocate for equity, and one sensitive to the needs of others whom he counseled with wisdom—a wise old soul. He would take an ant outside or capture a bee to release outside so that it could live. He gave
value and honored the authentic truth that each person must in themselves” He was a faithful and supportive friend, son, brother, grandson, nephew and even citizen. He had integrity and was a leader. He was an active member of The United Methodist Church until he was thrown away.
With the exception of the celebration of life for his little cousin who had succumbed to cancer at age 7, he never entered a church again after an encounter with an anti-gay youth leader. Ben had studied the Bible more than anyone whom I knew. He found it fascinating, especially when researching historical connotations, and he accepted the message of love.
Eyes were closed, God was misused, and Ben was declared a threat by his church—even as North Carolina debated and voted and passed the short-lived Amendment One.
The voices of layered hate eventually outweighed the voices of love. Layers . . . school trauma by peers and authority, spiritual trauma inflicted by those in authority, laws ranking the human experience debated and passed . . . layer upon layer. Ben died alone. Eyes were not opened. He did not survive.
Ben was born in 1991. Ben died in 2013.
One day when eyes have been opened, may society not replace one marginalized group of individuals to be treated cruelly with another group. Will we say again, “How could they have thought such a thing? How was God used in such a disgraceful and life-taking way?”
Always know, that you are a masterpiece of the divine. The God of love and diversity lovingly designed you and all of creation with unique qualities and gifts. You are cherished, loved and celebrated. Be Kind – Be Creative – Be You!