Does God Make Mistakes? What Happened After Israel Folau’s Homophobic Post

“Encourage yourself, believe in yourself, and love yourself. Never doubt who you are.”
~ Stephanie Lahart

*Note – names and details have been changed to protect the identities of those involved. I have been given permission to post this story on the condition that this family remain anonymous. It’s a long read and an important one. Maybe make yourself a cuppa before you start.

One Saturday afternoon in Brisbane a few months ago, I heard a knock at my door. There stood a sweaty eager-faced young boy with grazed knees, clutching a bicycle helmet and a grubby envelope. His bike, wheels still spinning, was laying on the lawn in my front yard.

‘You’re Nicole Cody, right?’ he said. ‘I’m Matt. My parents have seen you. You know, Julie and David Smith. I’d like to see you too please.’ He handed me the envelope which was stuffed with five and ten dollar notes. ‘That’s my mowing money. Is it enough?’

I handed back his money, got him to stow his bike in our garage and invited him upstairs into my office. ‘No charge,’ I said. ‘Let’s just have a chat instead’

And then Matt told me his problem, cracking my heart open with his honesty and self-awareness.

‘I’ve got a big problem,’ he said. ‘You see, I’m gay. You know, a homosexual. I’m sure about that. I was born this way and I’ve known since I was little. I’m only twelve, so I’m not sexually active yet, but I’m attracted to men, not women. I’ve already had crushes. Not with my friends or anything. Just with people on TV and stuff. You know, all kids get crushes. When I was little I wanted to marry Justin Bieber. I thought you could marry anyone when I was little, but now I’m old enough to know better.’

‘So this gay thing is a problem for me right now,’ Matt continued. ‘You know Dad was a footballer, and my older brothers are all good at football, and I love playing football and maybe if people know I am gay or if my school knows they will ask me not to play any more, or my friends won’t want to be around me in case I fall in love with them, but I don’t think it works like that anyway. And it gets even worse than that. It’s a lot of problems.’ He sighed heavily.

I asked him to tell me more.

‘The biggest problems are all mixed up together and they are that I haven’t told my parents yet, and I’m worried about what they will say or maybe they will be ashamed of me or they won’t love me the same way any more. Right now they love me and they don’t know, and we don’t have any gay people as our friends so homosexuality is not a thing they know much about.

‘I don’t think they’ll be happy about my news. Dad was against the Gay Marriage Bill. Then when we were at Church last weekend the Minister was really negative about gay people and their lifestyles. I’m not sure what he meant but he is God’s representative and I really like him. So that upset me because if he knows I am gay he won’t approve of me and he won’t like me anymore, or maybe he will need me to leave that church, or maybe he will ask me to change but I prayed and prayed to God to change me already and nothing ever happened.’

Matt started to cry. Tears trickled down his cheeks and I slid a box of tissues over to him.

‘Keep going,’ I said. ‘I’m listening.’

‘Well, there is this footballer. His name is Israel Folau, and he is one of my favourite athletes because he is so good and talented and he wrote this thing about gay people and how we are going to Hell and so that’s two people who are important to me and both of them are telling me that I am a bad person and a faulty person because I am gay. I follow Mr Folau on Instagram and that’s where I saw this.’

He’d saved a copy of the post on his phone, and he showed it to me.

I noticed that Israel Folau would probably include me and most of my community under the label of ‘witchcraft’. I’ve been up against this kind of ignorance before.

‘That must have been difficult for you to read,’ I said, ‘especially coming from someone you respect and admire.’

‘It was. Really difficult.’

Matt looked suddenly smaller in the chair. He was just a boy, after all. A boy who should have been out playing footie with his friends.

He started again. ‘I know you are not a minister but my mum says you are really wise and a kind of Earth Angel and so I thought you would know the answer to this big question I have that is all I can think about.’

I nodded encouragingly. I couldn’t speak for the lump in my throat.

‘My question is…’

He paused and then his voice got so quiet that I had to lean in to hear him.

‘My question is does God make mistakes, and am I just a mistake?’

It took all I had not to cry with him.

He kept going. ‘Israel Folau says that I am going to hell with the drunks and liars and thieves and other bad people. I am only twelve and I am trying my best. I thought God loved me but now I don’t know anymore. I just feel bad and ashamed. I don’t know what to do.’

Then he said the thing that made my heart stop.

‘It makes me feel so bad that I wish I was dead. I think everyone might be better off without me if I can’t fix this problem.’

The boy was crying so much now that he was a tear and snot-soaked mess. We talked some more about how God is Love, and that if God is Love then God can only have love for Matt and that he wasn’t a mistake at all. He was simply part of the beautiful diversity that is humanity. When he was calm I made him a cup of tea and then I rang his mum, Julie. She came straight over and I supported Matt while he had a very hard conversation with his mum about his sexuality. Both of them cried and we all hugged and Julie promised her son that she still loved him and that everything would be okay.

Then Julie sent Matt downstairs to put his bike on the racks on the back of her car. ‘I’ve thought that he might be gay ever since he was two or three,’ she said. ‘And of course his Dad will be okay with it. It’s 2019. We’re a modern family. All we want for our boys is that they are healthy and happy.’

‘Did you know he’s been thinking about harming himself?’ I asked.

Julie went pale. ‘No,’ she said, her eyes filling with tears. ‘Okay, thanks for letting me know. I’ll take him home now and we’ll get this sorted.’ We hugged again and she drove away.

I was deeply affected by my visit from Matt. Matt’s homosexuality is not a ‘lifestyle choice’. He is a child of only twelve. He was born this way and has felt this way since his earliest memories. As Israel Folau might see it, Matt was made that way by God. If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then this is no mistake but an act of pure love. Matt is a clever, kind, funny and sensitive boy who is popular at school, a good sportsman, an active member of his church and a good citizen. It devastated me to see him feeling so judged and condemned that he was contemplating self-harm.

Like Matt, I struggled as a child, being different to others and feeling like I was ‘a mistake’. I was born the way I am too. I am psychic. I’ve been this way all my life. I can’t change it. It’s hard-wired into who I am. It took a long time for me to be open about my abilities as an adult for fear of being judged. Many Christians have ridiculed, humiliated, judged and bullied me. I’ve had people refuse to sit beside me at conferences after finding out who I am, quoting Leviticus (the Bible) to me: “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” and “A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer shall surely be put to death. They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.” I don’t believe that. I believe that we come from Love and return to Love, and that love and kindness are more Godly than judgement and cruelty.

Julie rang me late yesterday. Matt is in hospital after a suicide attempt. He’s twelve. He’s a great kid who has been terribly distressed by everything that is happening right now about Israel Folau’s fight with Rugby Australia over Folau’s right to freedom of speech, and about Matt’s idol’s continued stance on homosexuality as a sin against God.

Israel Folau, I support your right to your own opinion and to practice the religious beliefs of your choice. But you are also a role model and a public figure representing your country, a club brand and a sporting code. As part of that code, and your acceptance of your role within that code and the pay packets you received as an employee of that code, you had a duty of care to uphold the values of that code and to not do harm to your fans and supporters. You have failed that duty of care.

I am struggling to find the words right now for the fallout your post and subsequent actions have created. If any good is to come of it, then I hope that is this – we start having the conversations we need to have around these issues, and that we can find a way forward as a community that is inclusive, compassionate and kind.

With much love, Nicole xx

PS – Need help? In Australia you can contact Kids Helpline or  Lifeline, and for people outside Australia you can find help here.

Ghosts, Bones, Love and Forgiveness

Image from Jagero

Image from Jagero

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” 
~ Mahatma Gandhi

 

Many years ago a woman came to me for a psychic consultation. She was probably about the age I am now, and she had travelled a great distance to see me in person.

She wasn’t my usual kind of client. She was an angry woman. Angry at the world. Angry at me. So angry, and so rude and dismissive of my abilities, so defensive and antagonistic that I wondered why she had come at all.

Of course she didn’t tell me. When I explained what I normally do in a consultation she stayed silent and grim mouthed. I could feel resentment ripple off her in waves. I also knew she was deeply tormented.

Towards the end of our session I asked if she had specific questions or photos of anyone she wanted to ask about. Until that moment she had not acknowledged her torment. She had blocked me at every turn. The woman took out an envelope and removed a picture which she passed across to me. It was a photo of three young children. Her children, taken when they were much younger. Two girls and one boy.

‘That’s me,’ a voice said in my mind. Not my voice, a male’s voice. ‘That’s me’. And I then felt rather than heard the name ‘Andrew’. I glanced briefly at the girls, both bright and intelligent. The older one was cowed now, although you couldn’t see that from the picture. I just knew. She was cowed and broken-hearted and downtrodden by life. How do you tell that to a mother?

The second daughter was now gone. Not dead. I mean gone as in emotionally absent, and by the feel of things, a long way away. I knew she had cut herself off from her family in order to survive better in the world.

The smiling young boy, Andrew, was the one I got the clearest connection from. I couldn’t feel him in the same way that I felt his sisters. But Andrew had a heart full of love, and I could feel how close he still was to home, emotionally and physically. He was clever too, and had loved to dance when he was little. Shy with strangers. I also knew he was gay.

What do you want to know, I asked.

The boy… She stopped herself from saying ‘my son’. He’s twenty. He left home. We haven’t had any contact with him for over a year.

It filled the space between us. So, it came across as anger, what this woman exuded, but as soon as she said ‘the boy…’ her heart opened up and I felt into her river of shame and guilt and love and hurt and loss. Her anger was the repressed expression of unbearable pain.

Are you asking if he’s okay, I said, swallowing, because I knew that he wasn’t.

No, she spat out. I want to know if he is queer. A homosexual, she added. It’s not normal. He can’t come home if he is queer. We won’t allow it.

But you already know the answer to that, I said. He is also your son, he loves you very much, and this is not a choice. He did not choose this. This is how he was born. This is how God made him.

She held my gaze, her face mottled red. No! That is a sin against God. That is not how we brought him up. How can we fix this? What do I have to do to fix this illness so that he can come home again? He’s our only son. He’s disgracing our family name. His father will never forgive him unless he renounces that sinful lifestyle. I need to know where he is so I can get him help and bring him home.

Andrew, I said softly. His name is Andrew. I was shaken by her anger, her rage at her son. Her hate.

How do you know that? she yelled.

Because he’s telling me, I wanted to say. But I didn’t.  And anyway, I knew, and I think she did too. He was dead.

Before I could answer she stood up so suddenly her chair fell over behind her. It was a mistake to come, she shouted. You too are an abomination before the eyes of God. I won’t pay. I won’t listen to your rubbish.

She left my office, slamming the door behind her. I was so shaken that I cancelled my next appointments and went home.

About a year later Andrew appeared to me while I was meditating. He was worried about his mother. He showed me that he had taken his own life because he knew that he was gay, and he couldn’t stop being gay. His mother had taken him to a psychologist, the church had made him do a program, but still this thing in him was there, needing to be expressed. He didn’t want to lose his family. So how could he live, when they hated everything that was this thing deep inside him?

He’d barely finished school when he decided what he must do. He packed up a few of his things so it would look like he’d run away. When he next left the house he took those things and put them in an industrial bin at the local shopping mall. Then he went home and into the woods near his family home, where he took his own life. It gave him comfort as he was dying, to have his home so close.

His father was sure he’d run away, and from that moment Andrew had ceased to exist for that man. But his mother had been frantic. Deep inside she’d known, even though there was no proof. Even though his parents had never even reported him missing. After all, Andrew was an adult now. He’d finished school. These were his choices.

Andrew wanted me to tell his mother where he was, and what had happened so that she would stop looking for him. He showed me the national park near his home. He asked me to tell his mother he was sorry. Not for being gay, but for having put the family through trauma. He was sorry too for not having the strength to live. He loved them all so much. And he wasn’t lonely. He was with Boo.

I found the woman’s details in my file. It took two days to muster the courage, but I called her and I passed on the information, including that Andrew was with Boo, whoever Boo might be. The woman listened to what I said and then hurled abuse at me and told me never to contact her again.

So, nearly ten years later, Andrew came to visit me again. He kept me awake most of the night. He told me that he wanted me to let his mum know that he loves his family and watches over them, that he hears their prayers, and that he forgives them. That his mum can still find happiness in this life. Also, that his oldest sister is pregnant, although she does not know it yet, and that the baby will be a girl. Comfort my mother, he tells me. Make her understand it’s all okay.

I am at my farm and my client files are in my office in Brisbane. It will be days before I am back there. Anyway, I cannot remember his mother’s name and I had promised to never contact her again. What can I do? I get no sleep for the worry of it. For wanting to do the right thing and for being sick to the stomach at needing to contact this woman again. Because, of course, I will.

The next morning I am in the car, thready with lack of sleep, my husband driving me home from breakfast at a favourite cafe, when my mobile phone rings. A woman asks if I am Nicole Cody. When I say yes, she tells me she has flown a long way to see me. She is standing outside my old address but the people there told her I moved years ago.

It is Andrew’s mother.

Can she get a cab to where I live now, she asks.

No, I tell her. I’m interstate. I live on a farm now. I felt bad that she had impulsively travelled so far, that I cannot tell her what I need to face to face.

Before I can say anything Andrew’s mother apologises to me for her behaviour. She tells me that she is no longer with her husband, who is a minister of a particular church. Her oldest daughter is still involved with the church, but married to someone outside the church. Her daughter is conflicted because she has been unable to conceive and finally she and her husband have resorted to IVF which is outside the teachings of that faith and considered a sin. Her other daughter went to Europe over ten years ago, and only came home last month. But she is going back. The daughter will not stay. She has a new life now.

She is talking and talking, Andrew’s mother, but I know these are not the things she wants to tell me. It is not why she travelled so far to try and see me.

Still she talks. I know you were telling the truth, that day you rang me, all those years ago, she said. Boo was my grandmother, who died before Andrew was born. I had never told the children her name. To them she was always known as Granny Parsons. But Boo was what I called her, my special name for her from when I was a little girl.

Here it comes, I think to myself. Here it comes. My arms are covered in gooseflesh.

Two years ago, she says, a hiker found human remains in the park that shares a boundary with our house. I thought of what you’d said and I went to the police. I told them Andrew had been missing all this time. I told them the whole truth. They used DNA to match the bones to my son. I hear the catch in her voice as she says the word bones, and feel my heart breaking for her.

You were right, she continues. He was there all along, and his body has lain in direct line of sight with my kitchen window all that time. Every morning, every night, I was looking out over him, and I never knew. I am so sorry that I was rude to you. Please forgive me. We buried Andrew a month ago. I knew that he was gay from when he was a tiny child. He killed himself because we did not act with love in our hearts about accepting his truth. We put him in a terrible position.

My husband still will not say his name. He did not go to the memorial. He cannot acknowledge Andrew and now he will not acknowledge me. I am cast out of our church, and I am okay with that. A God that cannot love their own creation is not a God I can believe in. She starts crying. Sobbing over and over, I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.

I pass on the messages from her son. She is sobbing so hard that her breath is coming in hiccups. Will you be okay, I ask as her breathing settles. Yes, she tells me. Yes, I will. I know that she is telling me the truth. In her not-being-okay, she will still be okay. She will live with this Andrew-shaped hole in her heart but she has two living children she can be there for now, and a granddaughter on the way. I feel a shift in her; a sense of relief and a clearing of heaviness. I am crying too as I hang up the phone.

Later I pray that Andrew’s mother can find peace.

Love, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion. In the end it is these things that matter. It is these things that endure.

I am grateful that I was able to help. But I am shaken, and fragile and exhausted. I keep my family close all day. I spend the evening in the company of my husband and dear friends. There is a deep need in me to affirm my life and what matters.

Sometimes what I do is hard, and it takes everything I have.

But it is worth it.