She Learned to Focus on Loving—Not Judging—Her Daughter

Could this conservative Christian mother come to terms with the fact that her daughter was a lesbian?

Posted in , Jan 24, 2020

Christy Johnson (left) with daughter Brittany

My 20-year-old daughter, Brittany, had left the computer on in my bedroom. She’d been using it to chat with friends. The chat session was still on the screen.

Maybe I shouldn’t have read it, but I’m a mom and I couldn’t help myself.

“We’ll meet you at the WreckRoom,” Brittany had written at the end.

My husband, John, Brittany’s stepfather, walked in.

“Have you ever heard of a place called the WreckRoom?” I asked him.

“No,” he said with a shrug. “Why?”

“Brittany’s going there tonight.” I looked up the WreckRoom online. What?! It was an all-ages gay nightclub on Thirty-Ninth Street, the heart of Oklahoma City’s gay neighborhood.

That couldn’t be right. Why would Brittany want to go there?

I’d grown up in a very conservative church environment and raised Brittany the same way. Where I came from, the Bible was crystal clear about homosexuality. Someone who lived that way was out of God’s favor.

Brittany was living at home while working and attending community college. In some ways, she was a grown-up. In others, she was still pretty naive. Maybe she just didn’t know what the WreckRoom was.

And yet…why was my whole body rigid with fear?

I racked my brain for reassurance that Brittany wasn’t gay. There was that guy she pined over in high school who was dating someone else. Later he broke up with that other girl, and he and Brittany went to the prom—but nothing came of it. Other than that, she had never dated, never had a boyfriend.

Not that John and I gave her much wiggle room. We taught a singles class at church based on the purity movement. The idea was to avoid casual dating and focus on marriage. We steered Brittany toward group outings with friends, and she never rebelled against that.

The only time she and I had a big disagreement over this subject was when she expressed curiosity about one of her eighth-grade teachers, who was a lesbian. “That’s kind of cool,” Brittany said when she found out.

“It’s not cool,” I replied and followed up with a lecture about what I believed the Bible said about sexuality. Brittany stopped talking about her teacher.

I called John over to the computer. We stood there staring at the screen, both feeling deeply uncomfortable. John’s daughter from his first marriage, Melissa, had apparently been questioning her own sexuality as well. Brittany and Melissa were only a year apart. Were they influencing each other?

Melissa had moved out as soon as she turned 18. She and I had a difficult relationship. Earlier that day, she’d driven over from her mom’s house, where she was living, to hang out with Brittany. They were out now getting something to eat. It was clear from the chat session that they were planning to go to the WreckRoom together.

“They are not going to that place,” I said to John.

“No way,” he said, though we both knew he didn’t have a lot of leverage with Melissa.

We confronted the girls when they came back. “Do you even know what the WreckRoom is?” I asked Brittany.

“You read my chat session!”

“You left my computer on. You are not going to a gay bar. Homosexuality is wrong. You know that.”

An expression I had never seen before came over my daughter’s face. Defiance. And something else. She looked wounded.

“How do you know it’s wrong?” she said. “My friends go there, and I like it. I don’t see anything wrong with it, and I’ll go back as soon as I get the chance.” She stormed out.

For two weeks, we fought. I quoted Scripture, gave lectures. Brittany never outright said she was gay, but I knew she was fascinated by that whole subject. Dismayed and bewildered, I issued an ultimatum: “You know what I believe. If you can’t follow my rules, you have to move out.”

Brittany packed up her things and moved into her own apartment.

The following months were a nightmare. Brittany all but cut me off. She came over for Thanksgiving, but I ruined it by using the opportunity to lecture her.

Emotions warred inside me. Horror. Fear. Shame. Regret. How could my own daughter do this to me? And yet I missed her so much!

Brittany’s childhood hadn’t been easy. My first husband was a drug addict who was abusive and neglected our children. Once, driving under the influence, he wrecked his car and killed Brittany’s youngest brother.

I had to get out of that marriage. The divorce and her dad’s chaotic life took its toll on Brittany. She was never rebellious. Just quiet and contained, bottling up her emotions. There was a lot about her life I didn’t know.

I thought I’d done everything right. Read Scripture to Brittany and her brother, Garrett. Monitored what they watched, who their friends were. Where did I go wrong?

Reading First Corinthians one day, I came to the part where Paul says that if someone “is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler,” a believer should “not even eat with such people.”

Brittany came over later that day to do laundry. She sat uncomfortably at the kitchen table, waiting for the wash to finish.

A sudden impulse to open my heart came over me. I joined her at the table and told her about the Corinthians passage. “I don’t know what that means,” I said, starting to cry. “Am I not even supposed to eat with you?”

Brittany did her best to remain stone-faced, but she began to cry too. We stared at each other helplessly. When the laundry was done, Brittany folded everything and drove away.

Soon after, her life unraveled. She flunked out of college and got a DUI. To my utter confusion, she moved into a filthy house with relatives who used a lot of prescription pain medication. Brittany was sleeping on a dirty mattress on the floor. I went over one day to visit. Overwhelmed by depression, she didn’t even get out of bed.

I was overwhelmed too by emotion. I felt caught between my love for Brittany and my obedience to what I read in Scripture, what I’d been taught to believe. I didn’t dare tell anyone at church. What would they say?

Part of me was relieved that John was having his own struggle with Melissa. Both he and I had endured rocky first marriages. It would have been so easy for either of us to sit in judgment.

One day, I was out getting the mail when my friend Juli drove by. Juli is one of the most perceptive, straighttalking people I know.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Oh, it’s Brittany,” I said.

Juli eyed me. She knew exactly what was going on. “You blame yourself, don’t you?” she said. I nodded.

“Let me ask you,” she said. “If Brittany had turned out perfect in your eyes, would you have taken credit?”

“Of course!” I said.

Juli shook her head. “Then you would be full of pride. Whatever Brittany did, it’s God’s job to judge. Your job is to love your daughter.”

Juli drove away, and I stood there, feeling stung. Then, to my amazement, a sense of liberation began to build inside me. If Juli was right, I could love my daughter as she was without having to answer all the hard theological questions.

Right there by the mailbox, I prayed about it. As clear as day, God replied, Why would Brittany ever want to be with someone as judgmental as you are?

Another passage from Corinthians came to mind: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I went inside and called Brittany. “Want to go get coffee sometime?”

“I would love that!” she said.

Slowly we worked to rebuild our relationship. We got coffee. Went to garage sales. I called her just to talk and avoided the issue of sexuality. The more we talked, the easier it became. I knew it was a risk for Brittany to trust me. I didn’t want to let her down.

John and I decided to take the whole family—Brittany, Garrett and Melissa— on a five-day Caribbean cruise. It sounded kind of crazy. But we realized that what we needed most of all was undistracted time together.

We threw a bon voyage party, and Melissa invited her best friend Robbie and his boyfriend. I had met these young men before and, frankly, found them extremely nice and easy to talk to—once I let go of my judgment.

They arrived with a huge cake decorated like a cruise ship—a peace offering. I realized they’d had to work just as hard to accept someone like me, a conservative Christian who disagreed with how they lived.

We had a great time at the party and an even better time on the cruise. Something must have happened out there on the water. Soon after we returned, Brittany began pulling herself back together. She found work and entered into a long-term relationship. Her partner, Nicole, became like a third daughter in our family.

I no longer hide what I tell people at church because I’m no longer ashamed of my daughter.

I feel closer to God than ever when I remember that he extended infinite grace to me, enabling me to extend grace and love to Brittany.

I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that the Bible tells me to trust, to hope and to persevere in love. Those are words Brittany and I can embrace with all our hearts.

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