Trust Your Struggle

Navigating Uncharted Territory

Terry Lieb Challenging Yourself, Judging Others 4 Comments

You’ve heard that coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous? Well, I had to wonder what God might be trying to tell me when in less than a month I “just happened” to encounter three very concerned grandparents facing remarkably similar struggles regarding grandchildren they loved.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The first incident occurred when a long-time friend and I caught up on the way to a party. Almost immediately Dorothy hit me with the question, “Terry, what are the odds of having two out of three grandchildren in the same family turn out to be gay?” She went on to tell me that her oldest grandson had come out in his junior year in college and recently the middle granddaughter came out as well. I couldn’t answer her question about the odds, and instead asked how she was doing.

“Not as well as I would like,” she answered honestly. “The best I can do right now is to see their partners as their best friends.” The way she said it, it felt much more like a question than a statement.

I affirmed Dorothy’s willingness to make an effort, saying, “That’s more than many grandparents are able to do, so celebrate that and continue to talk honestly and openly with your children and your grandchildren.” From my years as a counselor I knew if they could keep the lines of communication open, the struggle had the potential to build even deeper and stronger relationships than they had had before and hoped this would be the case for them. Knowing the family, I believed it would.

Just a few days later I met another friend, Gerald, whom I hadn’t seen since we were in graduate school together way too many years ago. After an update on his recent battle with cancer he said, “Cynthia and I now have an even bigger struggle on our hands. Our oldest granddaughter has decided she is a boy! Our daughter and son-in-law who live in Colorado knew for some time but chose not to tell us but when they came to visit us they obviously had to. That in itself—not telling us—was hurtful.”

Photo by Tim Doerfler on Unsplash

When I said that it sounded like it was a difficult time for the whole family, Gerald quickly responded, “Actually it doesn’t seem to be much of a problem for them but it has been devastating for Cynthia and me. They don’t see this as sinful and not at all in God‘s plan! We still love our granddaughter but for her sake can’t accept this as part of what God wants for her. Our daughter claims we are judgmental and insists we not talk to our granddaughter about it. They cut their vacation short and left without even saying goodbye!”

I could see Gerald’s obvious suffering and said, “I’m sorry to hear your family is struggling and is in so much pain. I expect God is also experiencing a lot of pain knowing your family is now so fragmented.” Sadly, I suspected that this family would have a much harder time ahead than Dorothy’s.

The last of the three encounters was with a retired colleague and friend who I also hadn’t seen in years. Liz is one of the most gifted, sensitive, altruistic, and authentic people I have come across in my 70 some years.

I knew Liz had an older granddaughter and a younger grandson. When I asked about her grandchildren, she said hesitantly, “We now have two granddaughters.” She went on to explain that her teenage grandson was transitioning to a young woman. Then she began to share some of the struggles she was encountering on her own journey.

Even though Liz has long been a supporter of the LGBTQ community, she talked about the awkwardness of living into this new space with her now granddaughter. She said that she struggles with the correct pronouns and at times fears her confusion and lack of experience will convey a message that could hurt her granddaughter or harm their relationship.

Since she was afraid of saying the wrong thing, Liz told me she tried hard to listen. She listened to her granddaughter, Sam, describe how much she appreciated her understanding and supportive parents, older sister, and most of her immediate community. However, Sam also shared some of her challenges as she transitions from a male to a female. She mentioned clothing and how to dress was a huge hurdle. When she heard this, Liz realized there was a match between her granddaughter’s need and a talent she had! Liz had done a lot of sewing and had even taught this art to her older granddaughter. Now she could teach Sam!

Photo by Karly Santiago on Unsplash

Liz looked at me and said with deep emotion and contagious hope, “I suddenly realized this was the window of opportunity to get to be with, to get to understand, and allow our relationship to grow and evolve in ways I can’t even imagine at this point. I can help her create clothing she is comfortable with and she will help me create a person I am more comfortable being.”

Wow! I was stunned by the beauty of what she said. Liz didn’t claim to have it all figured out, but even in the midst of the confusion, she could see the opportunity for growth. I was inspired by her willingness to listen instead of judge, and to look for unique avenues of connection to bridge the gap that sometimes words can’t. Instead of being saddened or dispirited by our talk about her struggle, I was actually just the opposite. Because of Liz’s attitude, I could already see the extraordinary gifts ahead for both her and Sam, and I left feeling uplifted and challenged to be the instrument of God’s love that I’m called to be in my own life.

[Banner photo by DJ Johnson on Unsplash]



These questions are meant to drive us to self reflection and ultimately into a deeper dialogue with this sneaky and persistent God. If we find ourselves moving to any level of judgment of “the other,” it will prove counter-productive to our hopes and intentions.

  1. Have you specifically ever found yourself in the position of having a family member or someone close to you share that they were LGBTQ or one of the more recent categories? Did you (or would you be more likely to) respond as Dorothy, Gerald or Liz? Explore your answer.
  1. When you encounter someone who is significantly different than you—an “other” who makes you uncomfortable—how do you generally respond? What types of difference (i.e. racial, political, religious, socio-economic, etc.) make you the most uncomfortable and/or judgmental? Why do you think that is?
  1. Has your typical way of responding brought depth and closeness or pain and distance to your relationships? Do your struggles more often shut you down or open you up?
  1. If you don’t know what to say when confronted with something you don’t understand, how comfortable are you “just” listening? How have (or might) you find creative opportunities to find common ground with “the other” through which you can forge a connection?
  1. Do you welcome struggles as opportunities for learning and growth or does fear and judgment rob you of those opportunities?
  1. What ripple effects do you think your response to “the other” might have in those around you?
  1. How would your God (not the laws and/or many interpretations of the sacred text) be hoping you would respond?
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Glenn Higbie
Glenn Higbie
September 1, 2019 4:44 pm

Terry – I read your article with some concern. While I’ve never had an encounter like any of the three described, I have always wondered how I would react if my daughter or a grandchild might go down a similar path.

I appreciate your sharing and, as always, I am a better person for reading it. God does offer us some strange challenges in this life and hopefully we can follow his directions.

Nancy Hahn
Nancy Hahn
September 2, 2019 7:48 pm

Hits close to home. Mostly the first scenario. Hahn

Nancy Hahn
Nancy Hahn
September 2, 2019 7:48 pm

Hits close to home. Mostly the first scenario. Hahn

September 3, 2019 1:08 am

Good question! I myself find it hard to relate to someone as a different sex then the one God created them to be. However I do believe Jesus calls me to respond to them the same way He responded to the woman at the well. I do strongly believe it saddens God to see his children attempting to change thier sexualality or becoming gay….the same way I believe it saddens Him to see a person not liking the facial features or the talents He created them with. What concerns me the most however is the strong push in the Christian… Read more »