Once upon a time, about eighteen years ago, Martha, a round-cheeked baby girl was born to Max and Mary. Over the moon, Max and Mary dressed their infant in girly finery, invited cherished friends to be her godparents, and had Martha baptized at their community church, in a Kansas suburb. Max and Mary were God-loving Baptists, active volunteers, and hard-working, honest, tax-paying Americans. Like stable, caring parents everywhere, they wanted only the best for their beautiful daughter.
Mary painted a pink and purple world for Martha, her cherubic, tow-headed girl. She spared no expense in dressing her to the nines and lavishing her with baby dolls and filigreed tea party toys, cute stuffed animals and super eighteen-piece baby-baking sets. Mary braided Martha’s pretty hair and tied it up with satin ribbons. Martha was Mary’s little princess.
But something was wrong. In the playground Martha ran and tumbled, climbed and scampered through the jungle gym, and wrestled with the boys. When she went with her mother to shop for clothes, she complained. She wanted to wear blue jeans and sweatshirts, sneakers and caps backwards on her head. She wanted to play with trucks and toy soldiers. She asked her dad for a football. Mary allowed Martha to dress like a boy, but not without an argument, and not without the ever-present hope and prayer that Martha would come around.
Max and Mary worried. Martha was resisting their parental guidance toward girlhood. Where had they gone wrong? Martha wanted for nothing, and yet she didn’t want what they gave her.
“No daughter of mine is going to play with trucks,” grumbled Max.
The parents tried everything. They bribed, cajoled, scolded, shamed, and guilt-tripped Martha into girliness, until their efforts exhausted them. Martha wanted to please her parents. She loved them and knew they loved her. But she continued to resist the frilly, fluffy stuff, and to be drawn toward the rough and ready, trucks and football, and the dizzying, muddying slides into second base.
Always boisterous and confident, if too boyish for her parents, when Martha got to seventh grade, she became reticent, stayed in her room with the door closed a lot, and began to answer long questions with one-word grunts. She seemed to be disappearing right before her parents’ eyes. When they asked if anything was the matter, Martha said no; when they asked about school, Martha just shrugged. Her grades, always high, began to slip. Teachers complained that Martha was antisocial and kept to herself too much.
Max and Mary consulted with their pastor, their siblings, their friends, who reassured them that Martha was just having growing pains, and that she was bright and pretty and would grow up just fine, to fulfill all the dreams her parents had planted in her from the day of her birth.
But it was not to be. When Martha turned 16, she refused her parents’ offer of a sweet-sixteen party. A horrible argument ensued, with lots of yelling and tears on both sides. Finally, Martha screamed, “Don’t you guys get it? I’m gay!”
For two days Max and Mary refused to talk to Martha. They couldn’t even look her in the eye. They closed themselves away and prayed that they had heard wrong, that Martha was just testing them out of teenage rebellion, that at worst she was just in a phase that would pass in due time.
On the third day, they sat Martha down and gave her an ultimatum. “You are damned to hell, and an abomination against God, and you may not remain under our roof, as long as you insist on choosing a sinful lifestyle. Either take back what you said, or you are no longer our daughter.”
And then Max and Mary watched their daughter throw a few possessions into a backpack, put her cap backwards on her head, and walk out their front door. They never saw her again.
From time to time, Max and Mary tried to find out where Martha was. They prayed furiously that Martha would see the error of her ways, and come home again. They dreamed she would walk back through the front door, and be their shining daughter once again. They heard she had gone to New York, that she was doing odd jobs and moving from one friend’s sofa to another.
And yet they remained steadfast in the decision to which their deep faith had led them. Every couple of months the phone rang, and when they answered, the line went dead. They always hoped Martha would call and tell them she was okay now, and wanted to come home.
Two years to the day after they had been forced by their beliefs and their consciences–with the support of their pastor, family, and friends–to reject their only child, Max and Mary were sipping coffee after church on Sunday, when the pastor, looking ashen, approached them and asked to see them privately. He took them to the parish office and sat them down.
“Max and Mary, I’m afraid I have some bad news. It’s about Martha.”
It seemed that on her eighteenth birthday, Martha had had enough of a world that made her feel invisible, reviled, and wrong, and she could no longer love a God who would allow her to be banished by her own parents. She was out of hope and alone. So she drank a bottle of cheap red wine, climbed the fire escape to the roof of her New York City building, and threw herself over the side, onto the cold, hard pavement ten floors down.
Max and Mary still go to church every Sunday. They weep copious tears of loss and regret. They pray that God will forgive them, that in His infinite goodness and wisdom, He will grant them enough grace and comfort to live out the rest of their lives, knowing that it was their unquestioning faith and unthinking bigotry that tore their hearts away from their only offspring, and ultimately destroyed her.
Max and Mary know that it’s too late to save Martha. But they hope they’ll still have time on this earth to save someone else’s child. And they pray for it every single day.