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Jenna: Still My Mom
November 15, 2017
You wouldn’t know it when you meet Jenna.
Her confident, easygoing posture and unassuming nature would never lead you to suspect that her life is inextricably tangled in a complicated knot.
For the first ten years of her life, Jenna grew up in an average home with two Christian parents and two younger siblings. Now, her life could not be further from “average.” Now, Jenna’s parents are divorced and they live in different states. She rarely sees her younger siblings. Jenna’s mother married again, but it is no typical remarriage. Jenna’s mother is married to another woman.
For Jenna, it all started on an ordinary evening at dinnertime. Jenna was eleven years old. She and her younger siblings had corralled around the table when their father explained that he and their mom needed to talk upstairs for a moment. He instructed them to go ahead and start eating dinner; they would be right down.
Not long passed before Jenna and the children started hearing raised voices. Their parents were fighting – but not like the benign arguments they’d heard before. Their parents were shouting and screaming and throwing things. Jenna was terrified, and nothing was quite the same after that night.
Years later, Jenna came to learn more about that night. Her father had been suspicious about an affair. He had set up a webcam and actually caught Jenna’s mother with a family friend – another woman – on video. That night he confronted her about it.
A few months later, Jenna’s family moved and her parents were separated. Within the next year or two, Jenna’s parents were officially divorced. Jenna’s mother eventually married her partner.
As a child torn by her family’s split, as a daughter who wants to love her parents, and as a Christian who believes homosexuality is against God’s will, one of Jenna’s greatest challenges over the years has been finding the right response to these circumstances. She has gone through several cycles of processing it all.
Hardly more than a child when all these things took place, Jenna’s first response to it all was anger and confusion. Jenna’s mother had been a strong Christian, even an ordained pastor. She had preached against divorce and had taught Jenna from scripture that cheating on your spouse was wrong, and that homosexuality was wrong. Now Jenna found her engaged in all these things, she felt furious and betrayed.
Jenna was so angry that she did not want to see her mother at all. There were times during scheduled visits that Jenna’s father would have to physically yank her out of the car because she so stubbornly refused to go spend time with her mother. “I wouldn’t look at her, I wouldn’t talk to her,” Jenna told me. Jenna couldn’t even come to say the name of her mother’s partner for years afterward.
On the few occasions where Jenna would speak to her mother, it was over the phone, and Jenna spent most of that time “throwing scripture at her and yelling at her.” Eventually, Jenna closed off all communication with her mother, refusing to see or speak with her in any capacity.
It took over a year and a half before Jenna softened. When she was fourteen, Jenna decided she was ready to try again. “I realized how much I missed having a mom in my life,” she explained. Gradually, Jenna and her mother have rebuilt their shattered relationship.
Jenna still struggles to process and handle everything well. She has spent much of her life feeling acutely alone. She was forced to grow up fast, to take care of her siblings during the chaos, and even to care for her parents as they went through the divorce. They each have cried on Jenna’s shoulders. She confessed, “I don't see them as these strong people who take care of me and protect me and comfort me.”
Jenna lacks strong relationships with both of her parents and doesn’t feel a sense of belonging in either household. When she is with her mom and siblings, Jenna feels like an outsider because they and their whole community subscribe to certain beliefs and lifestyles that Jenna cannot support.
Furthermore, the uniqueness of her situation makes it near impossible to find any friends who can truly understand her life. She finds it wearying to always try to explain, especially to other Christians: “So I don't agree with this, but this is my life right now.”
Nevertheless Jenna has found caring friends, and she doesn’t blame anyone for their lack of understanding. “I'm still figuring it out so I don't expect anybody else to have the right response to it. It's been ten years and I'm still trying to figure out the right response to it,” she admitted.
Her response now, when she visits her mother, is to try to interact normally with her and her partner. “We just don't talk about it,” Jenna explained. “She knows that I don't agree with her, I know that she doesn't agree with me. And we've kind of just taken [the subject] off of the table for the sake of having a relationship.”
But for Jenna it runs deeper than simply avoiding the issue. For Jenna, it’s a matter of “acknowledging that it's hard and it's wrong, but that it's still important for me to have a good relationship with my mom, and to show my mom that I still love her.”
Especially as Jenna spends time in Christian circles, she struggles with the hurtful lack of understanding they sometimes exhibit. Even her beloved boyfriend and his family approach the issue from a very different angle than she does. Upon first meeting her mother, Jenna’s boyfriend sat her mother down and told her what she was doing wrong in her life. The scenario resulted in a great deal of strife that continues to put a strain on Jenna’s relationship with her mother.
In light of this example, Jenna expressed sadness and frustration over the common response of many Christians to homosexuality. “They see showing love to her as condemning her and telling her to repent and waving the bible at her. And that's not the response that I want people to have. I want people… to meet my mom at a place of love. And I guess see her as my mom, not a homosexual.”
For Jenna, this issue cannot be black and white. She cannot completely condemn and shun her mother because she recognizes the healthy need for that relationship in her life. Yet she cannot embrace her mother’s choices because of her unwavering faith in God’s word. So, she approaches it the only way possible: with love.
“First and foremost, she's my mom, and I still love her…I'm able to disagree with her but still love her.”
It is this expression of beautiful love that strikes me most about Jenna. The grace she exhibits in the midst of an astronomical disagreement is astounding. It’s my prayer that Jenna’s words and her story inspire us all to love as she does!
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I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!