Parents, pastors, and counselors with LGBTQ+ kids are eager for community. For years, we've seen the need for help is enormous and knows no bounds. Christian parents (business professionals, educators, pastors, counselors, missionaries, police officers, designers, and more) who were in deep pain, confusion, distress, and isolation were able to receive help at the Unconditional Conference. The feedback has been tremendous. Of the 550 conferencegoers, well over 50% of the parents are joining a parent care group. On top of this, another 30 families inquired about starting an Embracing the Journey care group in their local churches. This underscores the conference's impact and the need for help.
The event was sold out, with attendees traveling from 36 states and 4 countries to attend. Eighty-four percent of the attendees have an LGBTQ+ child. Half the attendees were ministry leaders representing 105 churches and ministries, and another 15 percent were healthcare professionals.
To go deeper, here are just 10 comments from what parents shared:
“It was the first time I set foot back in a church building in over three years. My ETJ group has been my only faith community for three years. It was nice to remember how community feels.”
“As a ministry leader, I wish every leader who is thoughtfully wrestling with this tension could attend. Life-changing. Thank you.”
“After 4.5 years of ducking in and out of the closet, Jay and I were seen, validated, loved, embraced, shown compassion, loved, celebrated, and repeatedly told we're not alone and that our child is a gift, not a mistake. You have again (as you did in our ETJ group two years ago) done for us what our church and most of our family couldn't or wouldn't do for us. We are taking you with us as we leave this conference. Thank you, thank you, thank you! We are celebrating you and your team and remain so grateful!”
“It was all addressed. We felt everything was open for discussion—no ‘hidden agendas’ or perceptions of ‘we can't go there.’ It was wonderful all the transparency.”
“The welcoming atmosphere was wonderful, and it was so helpful to hear the stories and know we are not alone. I was so grateful to hear that I don't have to choose between my faith and my child, to hear that I don't have to disown or shun my child, to hear that my child can still follow Jesus. THANK YOU for having this conference!”
“The heart of it. I felt like I was on holy ground. Being surrounded by people on a journey (anywhere on a spectrum, from walking wounded to hopeful anticipation of what the future holds) was a privilege. Being cheered for as we left the conference brought me to tears. THANK YOU for your courage, hard work, and the excellence with which you cared for your guests. It was an amazing experience.”
“I appreciated the lack of ‘agenda’ that all presenters held; they all did such a great job of presenting from the middle and reminding everyone of the purpose of the conference—to love families well and point them to Jesus. So good.”
“It was so amazing to be in a room with 500+ people who understand and get it. I loved the worship with testimonies, as I am one who has not been to church for a year because of my journey.”
Many people have asked, "What is the date for the next conference?" At this time, no dates have been determined, but we hear you and your desire for more. Unconditional 2023 was our first conference, and though it exceeded our expectations, there were plenty of great learnings to be applied to future events.
Finally, thank you to our extraordinary speakers who made a lasting impact on the lives of so many parents, helping them to love their children well and pointing them to Jesus. And a very special thank you to the 71 incredible volunteers who worked tirelessly and went out of their way to show hospitality and welcome to all who attended. Finally, thank you, thank you, thank you to our amazing North Point Community Church for agreeing to host our Unconditional Conference.
Jesus is the Secret Sauce
by Greg & Lynn McDonald
As parents with an LGBTQ+ child, many voices vie for our attention. Often, the voices on either extreme can get noisy and often are filled with contempt for our children or us if we don't agree with them. You may have friends (even pastors) who share Bible verses to help you understand your child is sinning. Citing chapter and verse about whatever you believe your brother is guilty of while lifting yourself in the process is not helpful.
In Matthew 7:3–5, Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”We all sin; it would be a cruel God who would sacrifice His Son for people who didn't need a Savior. The minute we think we're better than, we have entered into judgment, something the Bible warns against 32 times.
When people show contempt, as though our LGBTQ+ children are beneath them, they have forgotten our kids are image bearers of God. The good news is that you have an audience of One to serve: Jesus. This is something Lynn and I constantly remind each other of.
In the New Testament, in the book of Matthew 22:34–40,Matthew records this: "Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Jesus' teaching is so instructive and helpful. When Jesus says all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments, we think he means just that! Our team's experience walking with thousands of Christian families with LGBTQ+ children consistently shows that when parents take these commands seriously (they're not suggestions) to love God with all their whole heart, soul, and mind and to love their children unconditionally like Jesus, amazing things happen. Jesus brings about reconciliation and restoration to relationships. Loving unconditionally like Jesus is the “secret sauce.”
We Need You
Between 30–50 percent of our annual revenue is generated in November and December through people's year-end giving. Please consider making a generous one-time or recurring monthly gift if you believe in or have been blessed by our ministry. August marked our eighth anniversary, and today, with our team of 75 extraordinary volunteers, we have helped thousands of hurting Christian families through our coaching, counseling, and parent care groups in 49 states and 32 countries. Unfortunately, this explosive growth has outstripped our capacity, as we only have two staff members.
We are pleased to announce that Kate Smith is our new Embracing the Journey newsletter editor.
Kate originates from Cardiff the Capitol City of Wales and is presently living in Wiltshire an English County west of London. Kate is married to Andy, a British Army Officer, and together they have two children, Oliver and Freya. As a military wife, Kate has had 19 house moves in 29 years of marriage and describes how she is very skilled at packing boxes!
In 2013, Oliver came out as gay, and since then, Kate describes having been on a deep therapeutic and spiritual journey that has transformed her life and faith for the better.
Kate is a Therapeutic Counselor and supervisor and has also been part of leading Women’s Ministry in a variety of settings. Kate has a love of writing and has recently begun facilitating online creative writing groups. In more recent years, Kate has been working alongside her husband in the field of diplomacy and reconciliation work where Andy serves as Head of the Foreign Liaison Staff in the Ministry of Defense, London.
Kate is passionate about seeing “captive hearts set free” and has been part of mission trips to Uganda, ministering to women trapped in trauma and abuse. Kate and Andy have previously co-led an online parent care group and Kate now helps facilitate a new “International” Parent Care Group for Embracing the Journey that includes parents from the England, Wales, Sweden, and the USA.
Kate enjoys singing in choirs, coastal walks, coffee shops, and going to the theatre.
A “cwtch” for the Journey
A devotional by Kate Smith
“I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
— Jeremiah 31:3
One of the most wonderful aspects of my time at the Embracing the Journey Unconditional Conference was finally getting to hug so many people. However, these hugs were far more than just friendly embraces; they captured for me a sense of being held in the arms of another who walks the same path and carries the same pain. I returned to the UK with my heart full.
In one of our parent care gatherings last month, someone shared how their time in the group was like having one big “hygge.” (hug). Looking into this old Norse word a little deeper, I found it describes a sense of coziness and protection from the outside world, capturing still further how our parent care groups often become places of sanctuary for us.
As a child growing up in Wales, I would often ask for a “cwtch,” a Welsh word for hug and rhymes with the word “butch.” Often given by a parent or grandparent to a child, a cwtch was far more than just an embrace; it was a connection meant to evoke feelings of safety. I still remember how my great-grandmother would draw me close, enfolding me in her arms and holding me to her chest. In those moments, tucked away in that special hiding place, I would feel as though nothing could ever harm me. I wonder if you have memories of such embraces.
Often on this journey, such hugs can feel few and far between, especially when, for many of us, our experiences have been defined by hiding away in our “closets.” Such “closet living” can really take its toll, and some of us can testify to the emotional and physical illness we have experienced as a result.
It has been said that we need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for resilience, and 12 hugs for growth. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “research shows that hugs can be healthy,” says Dr. Rock. “Hugs cause a decrease in the release of cortisol, a stress hormone, and other research indicates that hugs decrease your blood pressure and heart rate in stressful situations,” he adds.
Additional research found that giving and receiving hugs can actually strengthen your immune system. Dr. Rock says hugging seems to have a therapeutic effect. That’s because your brain has specific pathways created to detect human touch.
How wonderful that the Lord knows this deepest need in us. Throughout Scripture, we see an intimate God depicted who desires to draw us into His embrace. He is indeed a God who longs to cwtch us!
In some of the more difficult times on this journey, I have drawn much comfort from knowing that Jesus longs to “gather up” (Matthew 23:37). However isolated or alone I might feel, I can trust in the One who promised wide open arms where I can find refuge (Deuteronomy 33:27). In Jeremiah 31, we see how the Lord draws us to Himself, and within that place of holding, we experience both His everlasting love and kindness.
George Mattheson’s hymn “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go” bears witness to this truth. Whilst at university, Mattheson discovered he had an incurable eye disease that would eventually lead to blindness. Upon telling his fiancé this news, she called off the engagement, saying she could not be married to a blind man. This led to a time of severe mental suffering and deep anguish for Mattheson. But, far from being his demise, he found within this pain the all-encompassing love of Jesus. In one particularly difficult moment, he found himself scribing these words:
O love that will not let me go
I rest my weary soul in thee
I give thee back the life I know
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That mourn shall tearless be.
Mattheson found that special embrace where he felt held within the love of God.
I give you thanks for your love
that anchors me and holds me.
I offer you my life and all that feels lost and broken.
And when I feel dismayed by what I have to face
when I can’t seem to see a way out of this mess,
I will choose to be held by you.
Because in that place, there is strength
and all that I need to embrace this journey.
May these words be an encouragement for you this day and a reminder that we will always find refuge and strength in the arms of the One who draws us to himself—Jesus, who is the ultimate hug!
❝Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.❞
— CORRIE TEN BOOM
Support • You Are Not Alone
The holidays can be tough for families with LGBTQ+ children. Family gatherings like Thanksgiving and Christmas, which you once looked forward to, can become times of great distress and worry about what might be said about your child or your parenting.
Our team is here for you to listen and provide helpful ideas and strategies for handling the stress of these gatherings. Contact us if you are interested in talking with one of our care team members or joining one of our virtual parent care groups. We will schedule a time to talk in person. We are here for you! We do not charge for our services.