I’m the youngest of three daughters. Though my sisters preceded me by five and eight years, we’ve always been exceptionally close. Even when the parsonage in Edmonton had enough space for each of us to have our own bedrooms, I rarely slept alone. When I was 13, Dad accepted a call to a church three provinces away; my grown-up sisters moved to separate cities. We were far apart, but remained very much a family unit. I continued to be a good kid, never drank or stayed out too late. By the time I left for college, I’d never really done anything to rock the boat.
It wasn’t a dark closet
My wife Liz likes to tell me that I came dancing out of the closet, unlike many whose experiences are much more painful. While my coming out wasn’t the easiest thing in my life, it was more enlightening than excruciating. I finally consciously acknowledged my attraction for women when I was 23; a certain burden lifted, a light turned on. I felt as if I’d stepped through a door into a much bigger and brighter room and was so glad to be out there that it might well have looked like I was dancing.
Coming out always happens in stages, though. One hot afternoon in southern Ontario while securing grapevines to guide wires as part of a summer job between years at Calvin College, my female co-workers and I were discussing celebrity crushes. All of mine were women, but all of my friends listed men. Until then, I had assumed that every girl had crushes on other girls like I did. At that point I started to think maybe I wasn’t straight. It was kind of a relief, because I had been so puzzled about dating until then; nothing about it had ever come naturally.
Coming out, but not alone
After that summer, I spent the fall semester of my senior year at The Oregon Extension (OE), an off-campus program offering students wide open time for thinking, writing and discussing. Exploration of God’s great outdoors and of one’s personal inscape is integral to OE’s curriculum. There I forged several deep and lasting friendships. Among them was Liz Lucas, but things were different with her.
I knew she was in the process of coming out herself, but didn’t know she was about to take me along. Near semester’s end, she started what my generation calls a DTR (“Determine/Define the Relationship”). After a couple of days of shying away from the topic (my exact words may have been “I think we’re exceptional friends!”), I told Liz that I knew we were, well, more than friends.
The following six months were a blur of finishing courses, trying to make post-college plans, and navigating this new relationship. Liz and I were surrounded by friends and siblings as word got around that we were a couple. Many adapted with and supported us; others didn’t.
I’m grateful to have been in the intense social environment of school during that time. Living with roommates and always sharing space, meals, rides and study time provided Liz and me with a concentrated, focused time to test the waters of “real life” as two women, together. It solidified what I must have known for a long time, but had been unable to articulate what I had been waiting, longing, praying for.
Telling Mom and Dad – the hardest step
My whole family came to Grand Rapids for my graduation in May 2005. By then I’d told my sisters about my relationship with Liz and wanted my parents to know too. But I worried about that, sometimes feeling sick, lying awake, thinking how to start that conversation. This could threaten the family unity I cherished. I knew what was at stake, but also knew I had no choice. My parents had taught us three to be honest, true to ourselves.
So I rode home with Mom and Dad after graduation and told them as soon as we arrived. I remember emailing Liz before I gathered my parents in the living room, “I’m going to go tell them just how special you really are.”
MOM AND DAD’S STORY
We had just arrived home from Grand Rapids, Michigan, after our youngest daughter Jessica’s graduation from Calvin College. After I’d carried the last of the luggage inside, I joined Jess and my wife Rose in the living room about 30 seconds after Jess had begun shifting our family life in a new direction.
Fun, smart and restless
All through high school, Jessica was the magnet for a small crowd of close friends. Friday evenings our Thunder Bay kitchen often absorbed her cohort until they decided: Stay here? Go to a movie? Invade an absent member’s home who hadn’t obeyed the order to show up chez Dekker soon enough?
But Jessica’s social life mostly embraced the group. Though plenty of boys asked, she never dated the same boy twice.
After starting Calvin College, Jessica navigated almost predictable stresses, some worrisome for distant parents. She hit a rough patch of depression — not surprising, since it has afflicted my family for generations. But Jess was unsettled; over four years, she pursued two majors and (almost) three minors, finally settling on English, like her older sisters.
Not totally unexpected news
Now having graduated, Jessica came to St. Catharines with an agenda before returning to Michigan. In that living room, Rose said, “Jess has something to tell us.”
“Mom and Dad, I’m gay.”
Rose was surprised; I much less so. I’d wondered for several years if Jessica was gay. Much experience with gays in ministry – a few in the church, most gone and gone for good – had taught me signs. So when Jessica told us, my questions were answered; Jessica’s revelation added a new piece to our family’s puzzle.
Discerning the new life
Since figuring it out, Jessica had settled down. Though she’d never acted out, she was no longer restless and indecisive, but grounded. She’d told her sisters some months earlier, trying to decide how and when to tell us.
By the time Jessica did, she’d met Liz – her only steady. Another English major, Liz is a daughter of our best friends from Calvin Seminary. In 2006 a gay former CRC pastor led a commitment ceremony at a restaurant in Grand Rapids where Jessica had worked for several years. Liz’s parents and Rose and I bookended the ceremony with a welcome and prayer. Among family and friends, seven CRC pastors attended – our oldest daughter, Erika, four of Liz’s family, plus a pastor friend.
While Jessica and Liz lived and worked in Washington, D.C. for two and a half years, they were married. The Justice of the Peace who performed the brief ceremony is third cousin to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of Canada’s current Prime Minister. Nice bi-national touch, eh?
Jessica and Liz now live in Columbia, Missouri. Liz works with an affiliate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. Before leaving Grand Rapids, they were active and welcomed members of Sherman St. CRC. Now they attend a small congregation in Columbia. They nurture two rescue dogs, Darby and Juno. Jess is studying to be a family counsellor, teaches knitting classes and works online for her cousin’s sewing pattern and fabric design company.
Accepting, loving, not really understanding
Some reading this will see it as advocacy; that’s not my point. Yet Rose and I remain astonished and deeply pleased at the beauty of Jess and Liz’s love and their hospitality that again attracts all manner of gay and straight friends.
By the way, I might completely misunderstand God and his ways – a likely possibility for everyone. Regardless, I remain perplexed and bemused by the mordant irony of prayer. During Jessica’s last year at Calvin, Rose prayed daily that Jessica would find a life partner. We didn’t imagine it would turn out this way.