He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
Having posted today’s devotion, I set out to catch up with the blogs—mostly by readers here—I’ve not had time to visit due to work and other commitments. I opened FranIAm, first queued in my reader since her latest post was the most recent. After a weak stab at a clever response to her clip of “Hosanna” from Jesus Christ Superstar, I scrolled down to a post informing her readers Lee Davenport, a Straight-Friendly reader whom I came to know and care for via email, ended his life last week.
The whole world flipped upside down.
I first met Lee at John Shuck’s place through comments we traded following his post challenging those who classify same-sex orientation as “unnatural.” In it, John quoted a bit from a similar post here and I initially intended to reply with a brief “thank-you” for the honor. But as I scanned the responses, primarily back and forth between Lee and another reader, I wound up diving in head-first. Lee’s remarks clearly identified him as a casualty of religious and family intolerance. I encouraged him to hold fast to hope that those who judged and rejected him so cruelly would eventually realize the truth of God’s love and acceptance for everyone. Wary of hijacking John’s blog after a couple of lengthy exchanges, I suggested we continue our conversation by email. I heard from him within hours.
“Thank you for your comforting words,” he wrote. “I hope I’m one day soon able to be something other than hurt or angry. I’m not able to be something else right now.” He explained why, describing a phone call three days prior from a relative—a profoundly misguided Christian—who expressed anger about Lee’s sexuality so viciously it shook me to tears and nauseated me at the same time. Suffice to say she wished he’d died before being born.
His last few lines broke my heart as it clenched in righteous indignation: “I feel shame for being something so awful that she would resort to such hateful words. So I’ve got a little ways to go before I can hold onto hope. I’ve got to hold on to my sanity first.”
We spent the next few days in a flurry of emails. I prayed over every word I typed in answer to the long, incredibly trusting notes Lee sent explaining his story in fine detail. Rather than spend time trying to condense it, I’ll quote the summary Lisa posted in her tribute to Lee on My Manner of Life:
Lee was dealing with more trials and tribulations than anyone should have to endure all at once. Lost his satisfying journalism job. Got a cancer diagnosis and had to endure hugely expensive chemo treatment without benefit of health insurance … and suffering the government bureaucracy to get disability benefits. Coping with huge financial concerns, lacking a “real job.” The dissolution of his marriage, coming out (first to himself), and dealing with his parents’ Bible-thumping condemnation. Searching – sometimes desperately, it seemed to me – for a lover and partner. It seems like life on every front was fraught with pain and felt hopeless to Lee. And he finally took the ultimate step on Sunday to be delivered from that pain.
There’s more to Lee’s story—traumatic childhood events and shocking blows of adult betrayal—that Lisa tactfully omits. But added to what she includes, the sum comes to a life dogged by repeated abuse and distress. No matter where he stood, it seemed Lee couldn’t escape being targeted by one shattering hardship after another.
Lee’s last email came a few days before he took his life. It was a forwarded collection of silly (and chaste) animal cartoons, which I mistook to indicate his darkness was lifting. One minute earlier, he forwarded video of a sand artist creating a series of tableaux depicting God’s concern and protection for us. In the subject line, Lee wrote, “This is stunningly beautiful 'UNBELIEVABLE'". The piece was called “You’ve Got a Friend”.
His final personal email also contained rising glimmers of hope. He was in the early stages of a potentially loving relationship. Of his new interest, Lee wrote, “He wants to do nothing to destroy what we’re building, and I’m trying to be very patient with him. I know in my heart it will be worth it, as he has so much to give. We both want to give in to what we’re feeling, but we also want desperately not to be hurt. Considering the storms we’ve both weathered, it would be nearly unbearable for both of us.”
Lee talked at length about their plans to introduce one another to their respective best friends and his friend’s trepidation about meeting Lee’s children for the first time. He added:
He's agreed to go to church with us as well, although he has great reservations about it. For one thing, many people at church are aware that I'm seeing someone and that my someone is a man. [He] thinks that means he'll be rejected outright, as rejection has been his only experience with organized religion. (He grew up in the United Methodist Church, and a very conservative faction of it.)
Still, he's willing to go. He wants to know the God I know - the God of love and acceptance and understanding. But he's not sure yet that such a God exists. I'm trying to show him that yes, that God surely does exist and that he's accepted and loved by that God, the same God he's always known.
Learning of the abject miseries Lee endured naturally raised questions in my mind about why God willed it so. But my heart always silenced them with reminders He created Lee and put him where he was for a unique purpose. A plan was in place, which we’d understand in the end. And now, the end brings more questions. I don’t know what triggered Lee’s suicide, whether it was a specific disappointment that plummeted him into despair or surrender to the physical and emotional exhaustion from years of bearing such a heavy load. Dan, who knew Lee longer and better than I, in his tribute on Toujours Dan, suspects Lee’s troubles may have been magnified by inadequately treated depression.
Only God knows. He knew all along. In departing so inexplicably and suddenly, though, Lee leaves a sobering last will and testament. He etches the value of life in our minds and scars our hearts with awareness we’re surrounded by wounded souls whose pain is greater than any one person can survive alone. Is this why Lee suffered? To help us see this in such a vividly stark, unforgettable way? It seems like such a paltry return for such relentless sorrow. Yet if we truly allow the meaning of his loss to grip our hearts, we may come to realize God's plan for Lee included reaching all of us. Right now, that's the only sensible reason I can find.
We are one another’s keepers. We must bear each other’s burdens and fulfill the law of Christ. We are called with the angels to guard one another in all our ways.
Lee rests in God’s hands. Meanwhile, countless others like him are left in our care. Those assigned to Lee’s safety and wellbeing—particularly the professing Christians—will one day account for failing him so horribly.
We must not fail.
We mourn Lee and pray God’s grace for him, healing for his children and all who loved him, and mercy for those who wronged him. Amen.
Ilana Yahav: You’ve Got a Friend (2009)