Even though we have just entered the month of July, I want to turn my thoughts back to the month of June. It is a wonderful month, full of the promise of summer fun and relaxation, VBS, vacation, and yes, even the West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
As most of you know, my son Sayaka has been our lay member to Annual Conference for the past two years. Both years have been profoundly meaningful to him, he has told me, and I'm very grateful for the opportunities you all have provided for him to experience the caring community that is Lakeside during Annual Conference. He was especially glad this year when Bishop Palmer acknowledged what has been on the front burner of the church for a while now, things related to the Commission on a Way Forward.
You see, my son is transgender. He is also a follower of Jesus and trusts in the promises of his baptism. That he is a child of God, fearfully and wonderfully created to be exactly who he is, I have no doubt.
Sayaka texted me that Tuesday afternoon of Annual Conference asking, "Hey, you busy??" I was just relaxing after spending the morning with 30 excited preschoolers at VBS, so I responded with, "No, why?" My phone immediately started to ring and I knew he must need to tell me something either really good, or really bad. I prayed it would be the former, and it was!
He told me they had had a breakout session that day in Hoover Auditorium, with a question on the video screen being, "What has been your personal experience with people who are LGBTQ?" Bishop Palmer punctuated that by saying, "Why don't we tell our stories before we take our stands." Sayaka was sitting with Pastor Dale and Shelly and Nancy Thomas. They turned in their seats and found two older women sitting there, waiting to be a part of the discussion. Sayaka admitted that he was really nervous about what they might say about LGBTQ matters and what their reaction would be to him saying he is transgender. Everyone spoke to the proposed question, with the two older women actually sharing that they both either had friends who were gay or had gay family members. When Sayaka spoke up and told them he was transgender, he said they were both literally like, "Well, I just don't see what the big issue is!" How refreshing is that?! He said one of them (he found out later they are both 85-years-young!) actually said she could tell that he was previously once a pretty young lady, but that now he was a handsome young man. I cannot overstate how meaningful it was for my son to hear such thoughtful and caring words from those two beautiful ladies! The fact that he actually CALLED to tell me about this encounter speaks volumes. Those of you with kids old enough to have their own phones know exactly what I'm talking about! Phone calls are few and far between these days, as texting has become the preferred form of communication.
I wrote this blog in part to share with you that just because someone is a member of the LGBTQ community, it does NOT mean that they are not Christian, or that they cannot BE Christian. My child is a living testimony to that. However, I have personal knowledge of beautiful kids all across this country who were raised and baptized in the church, who believed in and loved God. But once they were brave enough to finally live their lives authentically, the way they were created to be, they were suddenly told by people who had promised to nurture and care for them that now they were a stranger to God and were doomed to eternal death. Is it any wonder that so many have turned from God when that's what is hammered into them from many people in this world? Whatever happened to just loving? Aren't these what Jesus said were the greatest commandments: Love God, and Love Your Neighbor as Yourself?
Having said all this, Sayaka and I have been very thankful for the much-welcomed love, acceptance, and affirmation he has been shown in our church! Oh, just one more great thing about the month of June. It's the month to show Pride in who you are, without shame or judgement. This Mama is very proud of her son, just as I am proud of my two other sons, Misaki and Miharu. All three of them are my pride and joy, as they are my husband's.
I'll finish this up with some of Sayaka's own words, written after Annual Conference this year.
"It was very encouraging to hear, especially in the older generation, that there are people in my church who are standing with me and for people like me and want us all to be included and to experience God's love. Because there's enough of it to go around!!!"
Sayaka Kato, Lakeside, OH, Annual Conference 2018