When my 16-year-old son, Tony, began staying out all night, I got really worried. I didn't even know the names of his friends, and one day I slipped into his bedroom to find out what was going on.
I found a slip of paper in his wallet, and began scribbling down the names and phone numbers. Suddenly Tony walked in. "Whaddya think you're doing?" he yelled, his eyes blazing. I could feel my face flush with embarrassment, but I kept my voice calm. "Tony, I want to know where you are. When you don't come home, I've got to know who to call."
We argued for several minutes, then he dropped the bombshell. "Well, you know I'm gay, don't you?"
My mind froze. Tony began filling the awkward silence with horrifying details. Three months before, he'd been hitchhiking home when a school counselor had picked him up and seduced him. Now he accepted his "new" identity and was getting to know other homosexuals.
"And, Mom," he concluded, "I've found the man of my dreams. Everything's going to be all right now!"
In the days following, I was haunted by every mistake I'd ever made as a mother. I thought back to the beginning, when I'd eloped at age 18 with my boyfriend, Kenny. Actually, we never got around to making our marriage "official"-and soon afterward, I got pregnant.
"How can I know this baby is mine?" Kenny asked me one day, and I was devastated. That night, I slit my wrist, although I didn't really want to die. As the blood ran down my arm, I pictured myself in a big hospital bed with clean white sheets. Kenny entered the room and fell down at my side. "Anita," he sobbed, "how could you do this? I believe you now. You do love me, and this is my baby."
Instead of my little fantasy, I was admitted to the hospital's psych ward, where everyone was wandering around in crumpled green gowns. I managed to get out before Kenny came to visit.
I moved home with my parents. Everyone assumed that I was now divorced. I hid the fact that I was actually an unwed expectant mother.
After Tony's birth in the county hospital, I drifted back into the wrong crowd. Soon I was experimenting with drugs like marijuana and LSD.
The next few years were terribly lonely. I managed to maintain my social life by working out a deal with my little brother: I gave him drugs, and he looked after Tony while I went out and partied.
Then my brother became a Christian, and turned into a radical "Jesus freak." My mother was worried sick about him, but his life gave me a secret hope: If he could change, maybe I could too.
One night I went with my brother to a Bible study. It was his birthday, and I attended as a "gift" to him. Little did I know the impact that evening would have on my life. I noticed something different in the people. I didn't know exactly what it was, but I knew that I wanted it.
I went home and started talking to God. "I've been doing it my way, but now I'm willing to try Your way." I told God that I would follow Him for three months. If it didn't work, I would go back to my old ways.
In the following weeks, I sensed a new power in my life to make right choices. I knew right from wrong. I quit drugs and avoided party music on the radio which reminded me of evenings spent at the cocktail lounges.
Then Tony and I joined a close-knit Christian discipleship ministry called Shiloh. It was a very supportive environment for a single mother. I prayed every night that God would be a husband to me and a father to my son. I worked with other single mothers in my church, and others held me up as the perfect example of single parenthood.
But after several years of ministry, I began feeling "burned out." My Christian walk turned wishy-washy. I would go to work, come home, sit in front of the TV, and drag myself to church on Sunday morning.
Then God allowed some difficult circumstances to enter my life, and I felt convicted about my compromised spiritual walk. I started drawing close to the Lord again, praying and reading my Bible. Oh, at first it was dry! But as I started doing these things, I felt a renewed closeness with God, and His power returned to my life.
As my spiritual eyes were opened again, I saw that my relationship with my son was not good. We had grown far apart. Tony had acquired a lot of new friends who I didn't know. Soon afterward, I was devastated by Tony's confession of homosexual involvement. "I don't understand this," I told him that day, "but I love you and we'll work it out."
My response was the only thing that I did right for the next two weeks. I had no wisdom at all on how to deal with this situation. I only knew one thing: I would do anything to stop that man from putting his arms around my son ever again.
Then I came up with the perfect solution: We'd kidnap Tony! I phoned one of my brothers, who arranged to fly Tony to another brother's in central Oregon. The next day when Tony arrived home from school, we loaded all his things into a car and drove him to the airport. Before Tony knew what hit him, he was on his way to Oregon!
I thought the whole problem was solved. Tony's gay friends were in California, and now he was 1100 miles away in a little Oregon town. Perfect! My brother promised to look after Tony until I could join them.
I was immensely relieved, especially after my brother's phone call the next day. "Tony has gone to a church," he reported. "Praise God, everything is going to be OK."
The day after that, he called again. "Anita, I have some bad news. You know that church that Tony is attending? Well, it's a homosexual church."
I felt sick. The problem was much deeper than outward circumstances. This situation was going to be more difficult to fix than I thought.
Immediately I gave my notice at work. I think they were relieved when I finally left two weeks later; I cried continually and walked around in a fog the whole time. Unfortunately, there was no one to encourage me, and I was overwhelmed with guilt. "This might never have happened if you'd gotten married," I lectured myself.
My handsome son had always been the pride of my life; now I was so ashamed of him. I was certain no other Christian mother had ever found herself in my situation.
Once back in Oregon, I joined my old church. I went for counseling, but all the counselor could do was read the Scriptures on homosexuality. He meant well, but hearing about men lusting after one another was not what I needed. Inside, I felt like I was dying.
I even had a hard time going to church. Sitting in the service, I'd see the "normal" young men in front of me, and I'd burst into tears and have to leave. My son was abnormal-and nobody could tell me things would ever change.
After six months of turmoil, I heard about Love In Action. Something heavy lifted off my shoulders as I read testimonies of men and women who had been set free. Finally I had hope-both for me and my son.
Life returned to my weary spirit. Now I wanted to help everybody. I especially wanted to reach out to other mothers. The Lord led me to a Christian counselor in Eugene who agreed to be my spiritual covering in ministry. Soon we launched a parents' support group. Then, after a year of preparation, we brought some Love In Action staff to our city for a church seminar. It was an exciting time.
Things were much improved for me. I could honestly say, "Because of what happened to my son, I am a better person." My walk with the Lord was so much stronger. "Wishy-washy" wouldn't do anymore; I had to cling to Him.
About this time, I faced some difficult questions: If my son was still homosexual ten years from now, where would I be? Was I going to base my whole life on waiting for the day he would turn around? I knew my answer. No, I had to go on. I had a life outside of Tony; my life was centered in Christ.
To free myself for ministry during the day, I took a night job in a little restaurant. When I applied for the job, the boss asked me, "Do you know this is a homosexual hangout at night?" I went, "Acchh!" Then came the thought, I must be able to handle it for God to put me here.
One night a group of gays came in, and I was on the other side of the restaurant. One of them said in a loud voice, "Which one is Tony's mom?" I turned about three shades of red. After that, I didn't have to worry about my co-workers finding out about Tony. The news spread through the restaurant like a prairie grass fire.
Meanwhile, Tony and I were re-establishing our life together. I had a growing realization: Tony is a person, not just a homosexual. At the restaurant, I grew to love the gay kids. I would hug them, bring them home and feed them. They knew I was a Christian; some would introduce me to their mothers and I would minister to them.
In 1983, I moved down to southern California to help my mom adjust to retirement. Inside, I felt a real emptiness from missing those homosexual kids. Then I got to know Frank Worthen, the founder of Love In Action. I was helping Barbara Johnson, who had a ministry to parents, and she played matchmaker by sending Frank and me to Disneyland for a day. My relationship with Frank quickly deepened, and before long, marriage was in the air.
When I went up to San Rafael to visit, I saw how God had been preparing me. The guys in the Love In Action program filled the empty place in my heart left by my "kids" back in Oregon. The Lord had prepared me for Frank, giving me such a love for him and the whole Love In Action ministry, too. It was a wonderful "package deal."
Since getting married to Frank on November 24, 1984, God has continued to unfold exciting things in my life. After I worked in the LIA office for six years, God directed Frank and me to move to Manila. In January 1991, we launched "Bagong Pag-asa," a ministry of "New Hope" to homosexuals in the Philippines who desire freedom.
"What has happened to Tony?" many parents ask me. My son is still in the homosexual lifestyle. However, we have a good relationship and I believe that one day, Tony will see the emptiness of his lifestyle and turn to God. I also know that I can't make that happen, so I leave him in the care of One who loves him even more than I do.
Of course, my son and Frank understand each other very well. And Tony teases me: "Mom, if it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't be married!"
The experiences of my life have sometimes been very painful, but they have caused me to grow, and have given me a special sensitivity to others who are hurting. Only the Lord could take such deep trials and turn them into blessings. I thank Him every day for what He has done.
Anita Worthen co-directs New Hope Ministries with her husband Frank Worthen, founder and former director of Love In Action. Copyright 1991 by Bob Davies. Distributed by Love In Action, PO Box 753307 Memphis, TN 38175-3307