December 4, 2018

Acceptance Is the First Step to Love

Posted in Kat, TEDxCLT tagged at 2:46 pm by jimazing

Just a few weeks ago (on October 12, 2018) I did a talk at TEDx Charlotte. Here it is!

Many years ago, one of my daughters had a secret. Now this was the kind of secret you don’t want to tell your dad. But it was also the kind of secret that just can’t remain hidden. So when she was 15 years old she told me and it scared me. I saw it as a problem and I wanted to help her fix it.
Her secret was that she was attracted to girls.
It had to have been hard for her to tell me. It was sure hard for me to hear it.
I thought if she would just change her mind, everything would be okay. So being the wise father that I was, I made it my goal to “help her change her mind”. Here’s what I did…  I let her know how disappointed I was… and then waited for her to change. And I waited and I waited…
I thought I had all the time in the world to wait. But endless time is just an illusion, and that illusion was shattered for me on the 23rd of September 2012, when my daughter was just 26 years old, she died… from a very rare cancer.
After helping her fight that awful disease and then watching helplessly as it took her life, her secret doesn’t seem like such a big deal anymore. But back then it felt enormous.
I hope that my story will help you understand what I mean when I say acceptance is the first step to Love. My dream is that you will get it for yourself and then you can embrace that idea with me that acceptance is the first step to love.
Her name was Leah Kathryn Anderson. We called her Kat. She was the youngest of our 4 daughters and, our special surprise baby. She was a happy youngster and from a very early age, she was different from her sisters. She liked playing with trucks and cars, and getting dirty helping me in the yard. Now they all four loved to act out stories, especially Disney stories and whenever they did, Kat always took the role of the prince.
As a teenager, things began to change. My wife and I, we had already gone through this transition to adolescence with her three sisters, but with Kat it was different. She was dealing with depression and that depression sucked the life out of her and her happy disposition changed to this sullen lethargy.
You have an advantage over my wife and me, because you know about her secret. Kat knew and she knew how hard it was going to be to tell us. It had to have seemed like just a no-win situation to her.
But she hadn’t told us yet, so we didn’t know if this was teen angst or something else, we just knew it was awful!
We blamed ourselves, and we desperately needed help. But we couldn’t even ask for help. We were frozen by feelings of embarrassment and shame. And the downward spiral continued and things got worse and worse until it seemed it could not possibly get any worse. And that’s when she came out to us.
I couldn’t believe it. I’m the kind of person that I had spent my whole life trying to learn the rules and doing my best to follow them (and of course doing my best to hide my mistakes and my failures), but not Kat. It seemed to me that she was choosing anything and everything she could to distance herself from us and our faith.
Now I don’t remember what my exact words were in that moment, but my message was clear. This is unnatural. There is something wrong with you and it needs to be fixed.
I couldn’t even hear what she was telling me because of all the things I was projecting onto her.
Imagine how much courage it took for her to reveal her most intimate secret… to her parents… who she knew would not accept what she was telling them!
I couldn’t see it in that moment, but looking back I realize that she was the bravest person I ever knew. It breaks my heart to think how my rejection must have felt to her.
I did not want to reject my daughter. I just couldn’t see any other way. I wanted her to have the best life possible, but all I could see for her as a lesbian were problems. It didn’t occur to me that it was people like me who created those problems.
In our faith, homosexuality was a sin and the only way forward was for her to change and she clearly wasn’t going to do that. So I realized that I needed a new approach. I needed to stop trying to fix her, but this was not acceptance. I hoped that without pressure from me, she would be able to see her own brokenness and then she could find a way back to the happy, healthy young woman that I remembered.
Instead this quiet confidence emerged and everything about her said, “This is who I am and it has nothing to do with you.”
I began to realize that if I were ever going to understand what was going on, I needed to focus on myself and not on my daughter.  I made a critical decision to deeply examine my own beliefs. I was no longer satisfied to simply repeat the answers I had been taught. I needed to know what I believed and I needed to know why. Kat was my reason.
The Bible was our guide and I brought my questions to it. I was surprised at how little there was. Just a very few verses scattered here and there throughout this huge book.
In my faith, homosexuality was a big deal. I was confused. Why wasn’t there more?
What little I found did seem to be against homosexuality, but as I dug just a little deeper I came to see that that these biblical passages had nothing to do with the questions I was asking.
And I found I could no longer use the Bible to justify my rejection of my daughter’s sexual orientation [and my driving question changed from asking, “Is this sin?” to a much more helpful question…  “Are my words and actions loving?”] I unintentionally skipped this on the TEDx stage, but it was important enough that I wanted to keep it here in the transcript.
This transition took a lot longer than it had to. And I have struggled to understand why, As much as I loved my daughter, why was it so hard for me to just simply accept her as she was?
As I peeled back the layers, I began to see that I too was looking for acceptance from my faith community and I was very afraid of their rejection. I had seen it over and over, when people disagreed on some points of theology and were never seen or heard from again. That fear was an anchor holding me back, but my love for Kat was greater than my fear.
As I have become more outspoken as an ally, most of the people in my faith community have withdrawn to a polite silence. But not everyone. Not too long ago, someone told me on FB that I had “Lowered my theology to meet my pain.” This person has no idea how hard I fought to hold on to that theology. His comment made me angry, but it also helped me remember when I used to think like that and it helped me remember my journey and left me with a question I think is kind of important. You say that I’ve lowered my theology to meet my pain. What good is theology that doesn’t meet us in our pain?
Somewhere along the way. someone asked me to explain to them about when I chose to be heterosexual. There are many things I don’t understand, but I know my own experience and I was attracted to girls long before I knew anything about sexuality. I clearly remember when I was 5 years old, there was this little girl in in my class… when she walked into the room, my heart skipped a beat and this flood of emotion came washing over me. If someone told me that what I was feeling was unnatural or an abomination, it wouldn’t have changed anything. It would have just added confusion and shame to the mix…
Confusion and shame. That is what my daughter felt. And it was coming from me. How could I have been so blind to the the hurt I caused her.
Kat knew that I was on this journey, but we didn’t talk about it. Until one night when I decided I would tell her how things were going with me… sort of a State of the Dad address. I said to her “Kat, I can tell this is who you are and I could not love you any more completely. I am glad you are gay!”
You see, her coming out brought me face to face with some very ugly parts of myself and my community. Things I had to face head-on and I am a better person for it. I began to see that this “moral high ground” taken by people like me was less about morality and a whole lot more about fear of things we don’t understand. And that fear caused me to behave in some very unloving ways and I couldn’t even see it.
If only I could go back and do it all again. But none of us gets a do over. What if I could write a letter to myself and send it back in time, what I would say?
Dear Jim,
I am writing to you from your future. There are some things I need to give you a heads up about. But first I want to tell you that you are a good dad. . Not because get it right all the time, but because you love your family. There are some heavy things coming your way, and that love will guide you to the very best outcomes.
You have a wonderful faith community. But it’s not important that you agree on every little thing. Your community will be stronger with voices like yours pushing the boundaries and speaking up for marginalized people.
Speaking of marginalized people, when your youngest daughter is 15, she’s going to come out to you as a lesbian. And it’s going to frighten you. It’s okay to be scared. It’s not okay to be mean. When she tells you, don’t talk, just listen. Listen to her as if she is telling you the most important secret of her life (because she is). When she’s done, tell her how much you love her. Make sure she knows this changes nothing about your relationship. And save your rejection for later… you’re going to find out you don’t need it.
You will find the strengths courage to face the fears and beliefs that stand in your way. Don’t take too long. You do not have as much time with her as you think.
As you begin to accept her, you are also going feel alone, but you are not alone. You will meet others who are loving and actively supporting their LGBTQ children. Join them. You need them and they need you too.
Finally, there’s no easy way to say this, but just as you were there to welcome Kat into this world, you are going to be there with her when she breathes her last breath. It’s not supposed to be like that, and there is nothing I could say that would make losing Kat be okay. But know this, Jim. When she leaves this life, your daughter will feel loved and completely accepted by everyone who mattered to her, and you are one of those people. That is worth everything!
Love, Jim
Most people hear a story like mine and think, “It could never happen to me,”  until it does. What are you going to do when it happens to you? Please take my advice and save your rejection for later. You’re not going to need it.
Acceptance… is the first step to love.

From the TEDx Charlotte site:

How we relate to people we don’t understand is more important than we know! Life is too short and the stakes are too high to reject our loved ones. We must find a way to acceptance and love while we live.

What do you want people to learn from your talk? Accepting and loving our LGBTQ family and friends for who they are is not only possible but is a foundation for the best life possible! It’s hard emotional work, and our LGBTQ loved ones are worth the effort.

What action items do you want people to take away from your talk?

1) To understand that they are not alone. It is hard for many of us to accept our LGBTQ loved ones.
2) Understand that their loving acceptance is more vitally important than they know.
3) Feel the urgency to accept… time is short.
4) Just decide to accept this person they do not understand.
5) Seek out support through organizations like PFLAG to help them love well.

Jim is the father of four daughters and 7 grandchildren. He and his wife have been together for over 40 years. Originally from Charleston, SC, he moved to Charlotte with his family in 1999 to join First Union National Bank as a programmer. He is now an Application Systems Engineer with Wells Fargo working with Document Management COE.

Jim loves backpacking, gardening, bird watching, and photography, but most of all, he loves sharing these with his fantastic grandchildren. He has been active in the Charlotte PFLAG organization for 4 years where he is now a member of the Faith Action Committee.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at

March 7, 2023

Five Thousand Years Later

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:09 pm by jimazing

On finishing Part Two of Seveneves, I turned the page to see this. Imagine being able to just jump ahead 5,000 years. Books are miraculous.

Seveneves is a terrific book too… in case you want some fantastic sci-fi reading.

December 24, 2018

Changing in Front of Others

Posted in Kat, TEDxCLT tagged , , , , , , at 9:37 pm by jimazing

It has been about 2 months since I did my TED talk. I shared our story in hopes that my experience might help folks who (like me) find themselves struggling to accept a loved one who has just revealed their secret.

A friend asked me if I thought my talk would have been helpful to me when Kat came out. Yes, I do! At that time, I felt confined to a dualistic choice between remaining true to my faith and accepting my daughter for who she was. I knew instinctively that this was a false dichotomy, but all the voices in my life spoke as one with no room for questioning. If I had had just one trustworthy voice in my life providing an alternative choice it would have helped my journey greatly.

My Hope

I want to be the voice now that I needed then. My hope is that people who are struggling to accept their LGBTQ loved one will see my TED talk in private. In private they can hear my story without pressure.

Someone said, “People don’t like to change in front of other people.” It’s true. We don’t like to change clothes in front of other people and we don’t like to change our minds in front of other people. We want be seen as decisive and strong. Changing our minds where others can see is just too vulnerable. It was certainly true for me. Vulnerable is not strong enough of a word for what I felt. I felt like a failure as a father because I couldn’t keep my own child on the “straight and narrow”.

How do you go from hiding in shame to speaking out with confidence? Not in one step I can tell you. 

The stance of my community was clear with no room for interpretation on this issue. We believed gay people were choosing to live a sinful lifestyle. If I had been brave enough to openly question my community, I would have been immediately shut down. There was no place for a message of acceptance. But in the beginning, when I needed a safe place to question, my shame kept me hiding in the dark. In essence, if not by design, my feeling of failure kept me in my place, with my mouth shut. (Perhaps this is a good example of living in the closet?)


My journey of questioning began in secret. As I said in my talk, “I was no longer satisfied to repeat what I had been taught. I needed to know what I believed and why! Kat was my reason.” That journey didn’t happen in front of other people. The hard work of asking questions, studying and ruminating was private… and it took years!

The first time I remember actually speaking up was in a Bible study group. Someone asked the question, “Can a person be gay and saved?”

At this time, I was just beginning to question things myself, but I answered clearly and firmly, “Yes!”

The other person was not expecting that response and asked how I could be so sure.

I said there was no place in scripture that mentioned anything about a person’s sexual orientation as a qualification for salvation. If we were actually using the Bible as our guide then we have no right to add requirements to the list. Even though at that time I was not accepting of LGBTQ people (that feels so weird to say now), I was adamant that we answer such questions with integrity. Either we believed the Bible had answers for that kind of question or we didn’t.


At the end of the TEDx Charlotte event, all the speakers gathered on the stage for Q&A. Someone asked me how my experience affected my own spiritual journey. It was a fantastic question (and a tough one to answer). Although I have made a complete 180 degree change on my thoughts regarding the LGBTQ community, I don’t think I was “wrong then” and “right now” spiritually speaking. The things I believe now are very different than they were 20 years ago. Knowledge and experience helps us grow and change if we allow it. Self awareness of our own change adds a healthy dose of humility. I do not have all the answers. Humility has been an unexpectedly wonderful gift.

My hope, my wish, my prayer is that many who are struggling to accept a loved one will hear Kat’s and my story in an unpressured environment and that our story will inspire and influence them while adding a sense of urgency. We do not know how long we have with our loved ones. We simply must find a way to love while we live.

Selfish Wish

One last selfish wish is that I get to hear some of those stories of our story’s influence. The day of the TEDxCharlotte event, at least 15 or 20 people approached me and told me their stories. It would be so encouraging for me to continue to hear how our story actually influenced others and contributed to healing relationships.

In case you haven’t seen it yet…

Until next time…

March 20, 2018

Why Is Jim an Ally?

Posted in family, friends, Kat at 4:11 pm by jimazing

I was asked recently why I’m an LGBTQ ally. Here’s what I said…

I LOVE MY DAUGHTER more than I loved my dogma

I am an ally because I love my daughter more than I loved my dogma.

The youngest of our four daughters, Kat, came out to my wife and me around 2001 when she was 15 years old. At the time, we were very committed, conservative Christians, and to say this was uncomfortable would be a huge understatement. We were devastated!

Our first thought was that we needed to correct this problem. I got lots of literature from a group that was committed to fighting the “gay agenda” and we sent her to counselors who we hoped could “fix” her. I am not proud of that first response, but it was motivated by love and was the best response we could manage at that time.

After much anguish I realized that if she were ever going to change, it would not be in a pressured environment. I decided that the best thing I could do would be to accept that this is who she is and not try to change her. In this way, I hoped that she would be able to stop fighting us. Then she could see the error of her ways and begin to change back.

I was partly right. When we stopped trying to change her, she did stop fighting us. However, it is we, not Kat, who changed. Her confidence in who she was remained constant. Everything about her said unequivocally, “This is who I am and it has nothing to do with you.” We had convinced ourselves that if she were gay, it reflected badly on our parenting. Much of our journey was coming to understand that it was not ‘our fault’.

The first part of our journey was accepting Kat. The last leg of our journey was embracing her exactly as she was and that there was no ‘fault’ with which to be concerned. The reward was realizing that she was still the same wonderful woman we always knew.

Sadly in 2011 she was struck by a very rare cancer which she fought against bravely for a year and a half. We lost her on September 23, 2012. It is still hard to write those words. Three years ago (at the suggestion of our wonderful grief counselor), my wife and I joined PFLAG to help us focus our grief in a way that helps us and helps others. Each time I am there, I am inspired by the love and raw courage of the folks who show up looking for support.

Many of our former community think we have been deceived and gone off the deep end. We have jumped into the deep end of the pool for sure. However, what I have found in the ‘deep end’ are many people who are deeply full of love and pain; people who are too busy loving their LGBTQ family to pretend they have their life together; and real people who just want a friend. This is the community I have longed for my whole life!”

November 10, 2016

First Time For Everything

Posted in Current Events, reflection at 3:15 am by jimazing

There’s a first time for everything, but someone in their late fifties has most of his “first times” behind him so the new ones are extra important. Today was a first time for me. The news of our election brought with it emotions that I have never experienced. I’ve felt the elation of winning and the disappointment of losing. This is different…

castle-stairsI have lost nothing personally. I’m a white, middle classed, middle aged man. When our new president takes office in January I will be able to walk down the street of any town in the USA and no one would ever question my right to be there. The folks that I meet on the street will assume I voted for Trump because of the way I look and the way my state voted. I will still have a good job and health insurance. No worries about war because I am too old to be called into military service. Everything is going my way.

I do not like feeling bad especially when I could easily choose otherwise. I’d rather be full of hope and joy. Yesterday, I imagined I would be consoling my right wing friends and family today and helping them understand that it’s a new day full of love and room for all. Instead I find myself quietly reaching out to a few friends who are very much on the losing side of this election. Listening to them. Affirming their longings. Affirming their person-hood just as they are. Hoping I can help lift their despair just a tad.

Why do I feel like this? I who couldn’t lose. No matter which side won, it wouldn’t much affect me. Not to say that I am immune. I have strong political views, and I’ll be affected by change just like everyone else. But neither political party has an agenda that would take away my human rights directly.

First steps

Not so long ago, my wife and I began to pour our energies into loving and caring for the LGBT community. At our local PFLAG* we are getting to know some of the bravest and most marginalized people we have ever known. 1ststepThese are real human people who do not fit neatly in the boxes provided by society for us to keep them straight (pun intended). I get to hear the stories of these beautiful people; stories of love, of hate, of violence, of death, murder, suicide. Their stories move me; children turned out of their homes because they were attracted to the same sex, parents of transgender children worried for their safety at school. By the way, this NC “bathroom bill” intended to protect “normal” people from a fictitious predator is a very real matter of life or death to these folks.

When the riots happened a few weeks ago here in Charlotte, I stepped out of my comfort zone a few times and risked conversations with friends and acquaintances who have darker skin than mine. I heard the fear they felt. I heard their desire to fit in, along with constant frustration that the color of their skin posed an impenetrable barrier to any hope of real justice or equanimity.

I say these things to explain what changed in me that makes me hurt. I have only just begun the hard work of self examination; finding out just how selfish and unloving I can be. My eyes are just beginning to see and my ears are just beginning to hear how the very society that welcomes me so freely is suspicious at best and hateful at worst of folk who do not look like me.

starofdavidThere’s a great story from the book, “The Hiding Place” by Corrie ten Boom about the holocaust in Holland and how her Christian family helped to save Jews. Her father, Casper, a simple watch maker, sewed a yellow Star of David on his coat. In his mind, if everyone wore them the Nazis would not be able to identify the Jews and they would be safe. What a naive gesture but motivated by such inspiring love.

I am a middle aged white man. I don’t have to do this. I can stop anytime I want and just blend into an easy, comfortable life. But I freely choose otherwise. I want to be more like Casper ten Boom and naively believe that I too can love the unloved. That I too can connect in solidarity where they are marginalized. That I can choose to sacrifice my comfort, my safety and my security when it interferes with their human rights when necessary. Who will join me?

*PFLAG = Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays

September 23, 2015

Seeking Solitude

Posted in Kat, personal at 3:13 am by jimazing

P1190081Today, September 23, 2015, is the 3 year anniversary of the loss of my youngest daughter. Every year on this day, I have taken the day off from work to honor Kat and to find some solitude. This year, I anticipated spending the week at the Well of Mercy, where I have gone on retreat a couple of times. When I called to make reservations, I learned that they were booked for an event and my plans were simply not going to happen. Rats! Time to create Plan B.

At that time, my cousin was preparing to walk the Camino de Santiago (he’s back now). Pretty quickly I began to think about my own “mini-Camino”; a backpacking excursion. Backpacking is something I have wanted to do at least since I was Kat’s age. With the help of my old outdoor-enthusiast-friend Gerry and my new friend, Paige (Gerry’s daughter who works with Outward Bound) I am doing it! Backpacking in Pisgah National Forest.

The plan is to be out 3 nights on the trail. No goals for mileage or anything like that. I have nothing to prove to anyone. I just want to be safe and find a bit of solitude.

I’ll have the camera, so there will be photos. I hope to write about it, but we’ll see.

June 21, 2014

Swinging Trees

Posted in family, fun, memories at 7:54 pm by jimazing

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.
~Chinese Proverb

P1070056When we moved into our house 15 years ago, the backyard was a steep, grassy hill. I didn’t have to mow it too many times before deciding a wooded backyard would be a lot more fun. I was right! Little by little I have replaced grass with shade trees.

One summer about 10 or 12 years ago, I was mowing the grass and dreaming of a shady yard. The idea to have a majestic pin oak tree in the middle of the yard seemed like a good idea. These are the beautiful and mighty oaks that you see in the older Charlotte neighborhoods that are probably hundreds of years old. Not too long after deciding to put an oak tree there, I fortuitously noticed a stray pin oak seedling coming up in my bushes. Having the dream and now the tree to fulfill the dream I waited for cooler weather. That fall, I moved the seedling to the chosen spot. While planting it, I distinctly remember thinking to myself, “One day, my grandchildren will swing from this tree.”

This week, my dream was fulfilled when I hung a swing from that very tree. My grandson , who is just over a year old was visiting so I picked up a baby swing and some rope and the rest is history. This was the second swing I have hung from trees in the yard. The first one was for my granddaughter and hangs from a maple tree that I also planted. I cannot fully explain the depth of feeling I had watching both of my grandchildren swinging together from swings I hung in trees that I planted.


September 29, 2013

This is Grief

Posted in Kat, life at 2:15 pm by jimazing

Fog on Table RockGrief is not about the person we lost. It is not an exercise in doing what they would have wanted. Grief is for the person who is grieving. It is self care; a process of integrating the loss into our life. Just as her presence in my life changed the person I am, the loss of my daughter’s presence is changing me.This integration of loss is different from the integration of presence.

The integration of presence is like this… Her influence in my life was gradual. Like all my precious daughters, her presence influenced me constantly. It was not a forceful impact, but a natural change agent. Natural as in the things that happen day in and day out that cause us to love, tolerate, forgive, lead, guide, follow, forgive, empathize with, listen to, share thoughts & feelings with, laugh with, cry with, forgive… Without even trying or being aware of it, each of us is changed by the people in our lives. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” This is what I mean by the integration of presence.

Unlike the gradual integration of her presence, the loss of her presence was sudden. A shock. Yes, we knew she was ill. We even knew at the end that she was at death’s door, but it was still an abrupt ending to a precious life and to all of the relationships associated with that life. All of us who loved her felt the shock. We all felt the pain. This is difficult to integrate. I don’t want to admit she is gone, much less surrender to it, and yet here I am.

Grief is not at all what I expected. I expected something unfamiliar. What I found was the same old me. I expected a deep sadness that would eventually go away. Of course I am sad at times, but grief is much more than sadness. Grief is a confusing mess of conflicting emotions connected with my loss. It is personal. Pleasant memories that sometimes make me laugh out loud, not so pleasant memories that I would rather forget, pain, emptiness (sometimes shared, sometimes held close) . It’s all part of the package. Each of us experiences it differently. No one has the right to say, “I know just how you feel.” Grief is personal! Even her mom and I are traveling very different versions of the same road. “Get over it and move on with life,” you say? I don’t know what that means. I have no doubt that it will soften as time passes, but when do you stop grieving? To be sure, we do not want to be debilitated by sadness and depression, although there may be periods where that is just what we experience. Grief, whatever it is, is a process that continues while we live.

Grief, whatever it is, is a process that continues while we live.

How is her loss changing me?

  • Since she left us, I understand better how fragile and tenuous life is, which makes it easier to let others off the hook for the odd things they (and I) do. It also makes it harder to say goodbye to those I love.
  • Sure, I still get upset about things, but I find that I get over them more quickly. Her illness and death have helped me understand better that the things I cannot change vastly outnumber the things I can change.
  • I know about things that I never wanted to know about. When I hear that someone has cancer, I can’t help projecting my experience onto them and feeling the weight of what is coming for them.
  • I still know the discomfort of not knowing what to say to someone, but now I also know how much it means to hear simple words of empathy. “I am so sorry.” or “I am thinking of you.”

One year has passed now and it still hurts. Sometimes it takes my breath away when I realize anew that my youngest daughter is not coming home. It still shocks me. It is still abrupt. It doesn’t happen as often, but the similarities with the initial shock of her death are striking. As much as we knew she was dying, her departure was still unexpected. Similarly, as much as missing her has become part of everyday life, that sharp pain of sadness still overtakes me when I least expect it. Just as there is truly no slow, steady movement towards death, there is no getting used to this, no getting over it.

This is grief

September 8, 2013

Living Presence

Posted in community, Kat, life, reflection at 11:14 am by jimazing


Each of us lives in the lives of others. Sometimes we are fortunate to witness a glimpse of our influence in the life of another person. It could be a word, a quote, a gesture, a choice of restaurants… and we smile to ourselves, “I know where that came from.” But the real treasure, the the beauty of recognizing the influence of another in ourselves, is available anytime anywhere, at the bargain basement cost of a mere moment of reflection.

I know that we live in the lives of those we touch. I have felt in me the living presence of many I have loved and who have loved me. I experience my daughter’s presence with me daily. And I know that this is not limited to those we know in the flesh, for many guests of my life shared neither time nor space with me.

~Elizabeth Watson (quoted in Healing After Loss-Sept 8th)

Reading this quote of Elizabeth Watson this morning, my thoughts went immediately to Kat and her influence in my life. She influenced me greatly both in her life and her death (that word is still so raw and painful). But how do I pin it down and definitively say, “This is how Kat influenced my life”?  In answer to that question, in my imagination a picture appeared of Kat opening a door to a vast beautiful landscape. A garden with full, shady trees, wild grasses and beautifully colorful wildflowers. I step into this landscape which is now part of my world, always there for me to enjoy. Now that I live in this new world, I could try to name every aspect of this landscape to give her credit or I can simply say, “Kat opened the door for me to see life in a new and amazingly beautiful way. My life will never be the same.”

July 4, 2013

Becoming Real

Posted in Kat at 2:31 pm by jimazing

Kat gazes at the sunset over the Golden Gate BridgeLinda Robertson’s story, Just Because He Breathes, is not our story, but the parallels resonate deeply with me.  It inspires me to share a little more of our story with Kat.

A Starting Place

When Kat came out to her mom and me, she was already deeply depressed, just unhappy with life from the very core of who she was. We felt like failures as parents. How could our daughter think she was gay? What did we do that was so wrong? If people knew that she was gay, we would be exposed for the horrid parents we truly must be. So we determined to silently endure while we sought a cure for her being gay. We weren’t ready for conversion therapy but hoped to be able to fix this ourselves.

I quickly realized that this was not going to be easy, so I formulated a loving strategy. For starters, I began to frame the problem as follows:

  1. Kat is depressed
  2. Kat thinks she is gay
  3. Kat has rejected her faith in Christ
  4. Kat has rejected her faith because she does not feel accepted as a gay woman by the church
  5. Kat’s depression is a result of the conflict she feels between the truth of God and her mistaken identity as a gay woman. Her depression is also related to the rejection of her faith.
  6. I do not like where Kat is. I want her to be well, well adjusted, happy and to know the truth of her (hetero)sexuality.
  7. The best possible chance for her would be for us to love her right where she was… completely without conditions. In an atmosphere of truly unconditional grace and love, she could begin to heal.
  8. It’s a risk. I might not get what I want.

Important Note: This is where I started from, not where I am now.

Somehow I set aside my beliefs about the “lifestyle” she was “choosing”. I honestly do not know how I was able to do this. I didn’t change my beliefs, just decided not to address them with Kat. It was as if I put them on a shelf in the closet (pun intended) and shut the door. My dogma was clearly getting in the way of Kat’s feeling loved and accepted. At that time, she felt more tolerated than loved. It was going to take genuine love over a long time to prove to her that she was truly loved and I was determined to do just that. It was more important to me that she feel loved than that I be right.


It reminds me of this passage from The Velveteen Rabbit (emphasis mine)…

velveteen“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

~Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Over a long time, bit by bit, Kat began to change. As I hoped, as I dreamed, she began to become her real self. She transformed from someone in the pits of despair to someone with hope. Sometimes I go back through photos of her and you can see the transformation in the images. It is amazing and wonderful to see.

Early on, I remember my wife asking Kat if she would she be open to becoming heterosexual in the future. Kat responded brilliantly with a question of her own, “Will you accept me if I don’t?”  She was really asking if we truly loved her just as she was.  Our question unintentionally communicated to her that a heterosexual transformation was an implied condition for acceptance.


What I did not consider and I did not expect was the effect truly unconditional love for Kat would have on me. I began to see her differently. Although it was not my intention and certainly not on the agenda, I began to take the whole issue of homosexuality down off the shelf and wrestle with it (alone or with friends… not with Kat). What was it I believed and why did I believe that.

Bit by bit, this social issue became personal for me.

I think much of the pushback from the evangelical Christian community comes from the fact that this is still primarily a social issue. For many it is simply not personal. It’s easy to talk about “those homosexuals” when you don’t know any. It is much different when you know and love someone… and then it turns out they are gay. (For my friends who have a hard time with my stance on this topic, I ask you to turn off your defensiveness momentarily and replace it with curiosity and empathy. It won’t hurt, I promise.)

As I gradually saw Kat for who she was, I softened. As I wrestled with the sources of my beliefs, the sharp edges began to wear down. As I softened my dogmatic position, Kat felt more and more loved.  As she felt more loved, she became happier and healthier. Lest you think this was a cheap way of making everyone happy, I assure you it was not. It was a long process over several years. I invite you to read about it here.


We lost Kat to cancer on September 23, 2013 (Read her journey on Caringbridge). The cancer was completely unrelated to her depression, completely unrelated to her sexuality. It was a rare version of cancer known as PNET. As her doctor so plainly stated up front, she did nothing to cause this. There was nothing she could have done to prevent it. As horrible as it sounds and as inexplicable as it is, it just picked her, plain and simple.

As much as we miss her, I am happy to be able to say that our discomfort about her sexuality was resolved well before she got sick. Somehow we were able to get to a place of loving her unconditionally. It often takes a tragedy to rock our world enough to help us see the larger picture. It didn’t have to end that way.

  • What if we had chosen dogma over daughter?
  • What if we had loved Kat with our words, but only tolerated her sexuality?
  • Worse yet, what if we had rejected her because of her sexuality?

I am thankful that we chose the path of leaning into our own discomfort and taking the more difficult journey towards love and acceptance. I am thankful that our reasons for choosing this path were nothing less than our love for Kat.

When Kat left us, she knew she was loved by her family. She felt our love with every fiber of her being. What more could a parent want?

Update: In October, 2018 I gave a talk at TEDx Charlotte about my journey to accepting Kat’s sexuality. You can watch it here:

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