A Parent’s Story: Living at the Pace of Grace
My husband and I recently discovered the term “trail magic” in a blog post by Kelsey Miller called “No One’s Forgotten About Us,” in which she reminisces over 2021 and looks ahead into 2022. The term refers to a practice among hikers that includes random acts of kindness and generosity to other hikers at particularly difficult parts of the trail. It seemed to us that “trail magic” is an apt metaphor to describe the Lord’s presence in our decade-long walk with our daughter who identifies as LGBTQ.
Years ago, I shared the news that my daughter is gay with a friend who counsels women struggling with sexual sin. I fully expected that she would suggest I launch my pursuit of my daughter by reading a book or attending a conference. To my surprise, her strongest advice was much simpler and more straight-forward: love my daughter.
I took a favorite old calligraphy of mine—“It’s the art of loving that will be the one great work of your life”—and placed it where I would see it every morning as I began my day. But seeing and doing are two different things. My heart insisted that our daughter’s embrace of an LGBTQ identity was a problem to be solved, and, because I see myself as a good problem solver, someone who gets the job done, loving and waiting patiently are among my biggest struggles.
As I tried to solve this “problem” and deliver a good outcome, I found my plans thwarted at every turn. Instead of unity, hot conflict erupted, or a cold shoulder resulted. Instead of displaying confidence, I displayed weakness. Fortunately for our daughter, God limited my contact with her for a season. Another family member experienced several adverse health events in quick succession, and I was needed for round-the-clock care shifts. One night, near Christmas, overwhelmed by the combined weight of my loved one’s frailty and our daughter’s spiritual coldness, I cried out to the Lord for help to get through the next hour. When I looked up from my prayer, I noticed that the Star of Bethlehem was painted on the wall in the hospital room. It was a visual reminder of Jesus, our Emmanuel, God with us. At the perfect moment, God had sprinkled some much-needed “trail magic” on my path.
As the months after our daughter’s coming-out rolled past, I searched for ways that I could launch the “love offensive” that my friend had suggested. But, search as I might, the only opportunity that I had was to help her as she moved from apartment to apartment during her first years after college.
One move happened when a career change took her to another state. We were anxious as moving day approached because a significant winter storm was forecast for our city. I cried out to the Lord through Psalm 18:32–33 to go ahead of me, arm me with strength, keep my way secure, and make my feet like a deer’s (especially on the narrow, winding stairs to my daughter’s third-floor, walk-up apartment).
Throughout the day, the Lord provided “trail magic” in the form of life-sustaining kind and generous acts that helped to speed us on our way. Our city’s narrow streets are at their worst after a bad snowstorm and notorious for scarce, poorly shoveled parking spaces. But we arrived at my daughter’s apartment early on the morning of moving day, delighted to find a space large enough to accommodate the capacious U-Haul and two cars that carried her pets and household items. More “trail magic” happened when our SUV turned out to be too short to haul some of the furniture destined for storage at our house, but the local rental agency had a panel van available in just the size we needed. The turn-around window of time was short, but we managed to drive to our home in the suburbs, unload the van, and return it on time with a full gas tank. Only on the way back to our daughter’s apartment did I realize that I had left my purse on the van floor! So much for being in control. But the next renters kindly returned the purse—more “trail magic.”
I think the Lord knew just how weak and inadequate we were that morning, how ill-equipped we were for the job. So he carried us through. The move ended well in that one of our daughter’s friends drove her safely to her new apartment in a distant city. We inherited a shed full of her possessions and two pets to foster, but our relationship with our daughter remained distant.
We now lived farther away from her than ever. My husband and I felt keenly the loss of the frequent contact we had treasured when our daughter lived closer. Over time, our relationship became even more distant. Eventually, she cut off even phone contact because we could not embrace her newfound lifestyle in the way she wished. All that remained to us was to pray for her and to trust that the Lord, our loving, faithful Shepherd, is sovereign everywhere.
Some years later, our daughter began to accept occasional phone calls from us. Sometimes, she even called us. “Trail magic.” During one call, we mentioned a possible vacation together, and she said, “If you go, my partner and I could meet you there.” Instantly, our casual daydreams crystalized. Within three days, we finalized airline and hotel reservations for a short visit the next month. We held our breath, hoping her offer to drive all that way was serious. She responded to our plans by making plans of her own.
Just days before our trip, unexpected storms throughout the country threatened to destroy our travel plans. Weather forecasters on one coast breathlessly announced the cancellation of many flights; similarly, breathless forecasters on the other side of the country predicted travel chaos due to torrential rain, thunderstorms, even a tornado.
Amidst the uncertainty, we all ventured out. Along the way, three of our flights were cancelled, our luggage was lost, and our arrival at our destination delayed. But we turned the plans over to the Lord, depending on him to bring us to our destination if that was part of his plan. We all arrived at the destination, delayed but savoring what time we had.
Cancelled tours gave us more time to visit together. Casual takeout food replaced fancy meals at outdoor venues closed by bad weather. My plans for the perfectly executed visit vanished but were replaced by valuable lessons on how to trust God’s plan. We lived more slowly, more expectantly. To quote Scotty Smith, a PCA pastor and seminary professor, we were being freed “to live at the pace of grace, the music of heaven.” We could feel the Holy Spirit at work, “change(ing) our price tags and treasure.” This was more than “trail magic.” It was a shining miracle.
We left the vacation with our daughter, thankful for the time together and for the ways we saw the Holy Spirit changing us. She had gone to great effort to see us; our effort mirrored hers. We judged the time together a success because of the love shared and the seeds of love that we planted. Always before us was the admonition of Madeleine L’Engle that we draw our daughter and her partner to the Lord “…by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.”
Luminous miracles aside, though, the bigger picture of our love offensive with our daughter continues to be one of waiting. Like the love of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, our love for our daughter expresses itself in waiting and praying for her return to faith. Waiting can be lonely, especially if everyone around you seems to be living a life that is unfolding effortlessly. You can feel stuck, powerless, hopeless. But in this somber season, we wait with hope, knowing that God continues to work in our daughter’s heart, drawing her to himself with cords of love. We now know that only God can change her heart. We do not know the end of the story, but we trust the lover of our souls, whose mercy and goodness are as deep as the ocean.
Getting to this place on our journey has taken years and significant support from several sources. Our times in God’s Word remind us of his tender love for his people and faithfulness to keep his promises. A prayer fellowship we have with close friends who also have prodigal children provides us with a judgment-free zone where we can honestly share our burdens. We also draw strength from our monthly Harvest USA parents’ support group and the Shattered Dreams, New Hope curriculum. Through this fellowship, we have acquired new tools with which we can better pursue and love our daughter. Their example has helped keep our hearts soft and focused on our good Shepherd, our arms open to our daughter, and our eyes looking for new ways to show her the love Jesus has for us.