"I'd like to marry your son," he said. "I mean, I'm going, to marry your son."
The shock wave that coursed through Bill Furness at that moment made his arms and legs suddenly feel bloodless. His mind scanned back a few years when he was just a dad hoping for all the regular things that a dad hopes for. He wanted his son, Peter, to marry a nice girl who would make him happy and for them to have lots of kids to fill a happy home.
Now, he was sitting in a booth across from David, a 34-year-old man, 12 years older than his son, listening to his dreams unravel and lay lifeless on the restaurant table. How did it get so far so fast?
Just three years earlier, Peter was a 19-year-old young man working at a store who struck a friendship with a gay fellow employee. The employee noticed something about Peter that he felt he needed to call out. "Embrace your sexuality," he told him. Suddenly, Peter felt emboldened to remove the secret about his life from his life.
When he came out to his parents, Bill and Emily, it caused the reaction one might expect from two people devoted to Christian ministry; they nearly wore holes in their knees.
Even after Peter started dating David, Bill and Emily held out hope that their son might see the light, or that God would perform a miracle. Now all hope felt permanently lost.
When Bill arrived home and told Emily that David had essentially asked for Peter's hand, they collapsed into each other's arms and cried as if they were a young couple who had just lost their little boy. They both knew their lives would never be the same. Would they even be the same people with each other?
They both knew their lives would never be the same. Would they even be the same people with each other?
"What did you tell him?" Emily asked through her tears.
Bill had no idea. Everything up to that moment when he was holding Emily was lost in the blur of shock.
The days that followed were like walking through a thick fog—every step was unstable. Even each breath had its own pain. Every conversation included an uninvited voice. "Your son is marrying a man," it said. "How will you ever be happy again?"
When Peter called to invite them to dinner, Emily wondered if Peter could hear how hard she was trying to sound as if nothing was wrong. When, through a forced smile, she agreed to Peter's invitation, she hung up the phone and drew a deep, oh-dear-God breath. She and Bill shared a look. There was no talking. There was no need.
"Mom and dad," Peter said over dinner, "David and I want you to be at our wedding."
Emily looked at him in disbelief—not because he was asking, but that he could even think to ask knowing all that they believed and felt. "Of course we won't be there," she replied. "Honey, you know where we stand."
The entire evening was awful, of course. Each was dug in their positions; resolute, unbending...and sharing a deep love for each other, which made it all the more horrible.
They parted ways that night, terrified to think that the brick wall between them might never come down.
Emily and Bill had committed their lives to the infallible truth and holiness of the scriptures. They knew God had meant a man to marry a woman—He was explicit about it. They had seen the beauty in the revelation that marriage was a type and shadow of God's relationship to His Church. You don't attend a wedding that celebrates the destruction of all of that, they thought. They felt sure, absolutely sure they were right. One problem. Why did it feel so wrong?
The more days that went by, the more Emily and Bill's shoulders seemed to have weights attached. Even when they were talking about something else, Peter was the main focus of the conversation—just because it felt so strange to not be talking about him.
The wedding was just a few weeks away and that's when it began to happen.
Emily was tidying up her bedroom, when she found herself inside her walk-in closet with her favorite blue dress in her hands. Suddenly, she let go of the dress. "Dear God, what am I doing?" she said.
A couple of days later, she found herself looking in the mirror, focusing on her skin and hair. At the moment of realization, she turned away from the mirror, unable to look at the face that was trying to betray her and her God.
Each day her body did one more thing that let her know that her resolve was no longer in control.
The day of the wedding arrived and Bill was up early. Emily lay in bed with her eyes alert and intense. She thought to herself that she didn't have a clue what she was going to do that day. Actually, she had lots of clues.
She sat up and it seemed as if the decision had been made. Her body kept moving forward even though her mind was telling her to stop. But it was no match.
Her body kept moving forward even though her mind was telling her to stop.
She walked downstairs to find Bill in the middle of a myriad of home projects, the lawn mower churning loudly as Emily approached. "Turn it off," she spoke over the noise. Bill didn't want to hear what she had to say—he knew what it was going to be anyway. Finally, he pulled the lever and the motor chugged to a stop.
"I know what you're doing," she said.
"I'm not doing anything," he replied.
"You're trying to stay busy so you won't have to think about it. But I've thought about it," she said. "And I'm going to the wedding. If you want to come with me, great. If you don't want to, I want you to know I understand. But I'm going."
Bill didn't have to ask why. He knew. They had separately come to the same conclusion about what should happen on this day. They were going to the wedding. They had been right. They had been resilient. They had stood up for their principles. But they hadn't shown their son Christ's love and compassion, and for two people who knew intimately the gracious and generous love of Jesus, it just didn't make any sense. And it didn't feel like love.
Arriving at the wedding was like taking a wrong turn into a different dimension. It was couples and singles of every kind of sexual orientation that Emily and Bill had always heard about and a few they hadn't.
Still it was the love for their son and their Lord that steadied their steps. They greeted Peter, David and their friends with hugs and heartfelt smiles and were welcomed warmly by all who were there.
Many thanked Emily and Bill for coming, knowing what they had gone through to be present that day, either from Peter and David, or from painful experiences with their own parents. Peter held his parents tightly. It meant so much to have them there. He felt loved by his parents. Emily and Bill hoped that somehow, he felt loved by God as well. One thing for sure, he knows that the porch light has been left on for him to come home to if he ever chooses.
For Emily and Bill, it was an emotional, exhausting and deeply sad day. But it was important that they were there. In the end, love is always worth the pain.